Five years after its release, Clash of Clans continues to be one of the top 10 grossing games on the app stores. And Facebook and Clash of Clans creator Supercell are teaming up to promote the mobile strategy game with an augmented reality experience on a smartphone.
A week ago, Supercell revealed a video that showed the Builder, the funny character who creates structures in Clash of Clans — only to see the structures destroyed — left for greener pastures. He wants to find a place where his creations might last longer than the next battle. (Supercell said more than 100 billion town halls have been destroyed in Clash). That video received more than 38 million views. And since AR is still a novelty for users, the AR promotion has a better chance of engaging them.
And now the Builder will appear in augmented reality, using Facebook’s AR studio. Players will be able to put themselves in the Builder’s shoes. When they point the camera at themselves, they don the Builder clothes, complete with his grin, bushy eyebrows, and hat. And when they flip the camera around, they can place the Builder in the real world.
Above: The Builder in augmented reality.Image Credit: Facebook
“This is a way to celebrate the game through the camera,” said Leo Olebe, director of global games partnerships at Facebook, in an interview with GamesBeat. “As Facebook, we always look at engagement. One clear measurement will be how much this gets used, and how much people share it. Another measure is brand engagement, like how are we having conversations about this.”
Facebook’s AR studio is about getting people to celebrate what they love and letting them share it, Olebe said. Facebook announced AR studio at its F8 event. Ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) game trade show in June, Electronic Arts rolled out the first games integration using Facebook’s AR studio for Mass Effect: Andromeda. Players could select characters and an array of options to transform into and share with their friends. The effect also integrated in-game stats so people could compare their multiplayer match results with friends.
Ahead of E3, EA/BioWare rolled out the first games integration using AR studio for Mass Effect: Andromeda – players could select characters and a wide array of options to transform into and share with their friends. The effect also integrated in-game stats, letting players view and compare multiplayer match results with friends.
And outside of games, Rimmel London, a cosmetics company, launched an effect that lets users cycle through and try on different eyeliner looks, take a photo and share it to Facebook Stories. And in late July, Nike also rolled out an AR Studio effect that lets runners track and share recent running routes and milestones with friends.
Facebook hasn’t yet released any usage numbers for AR. If AR succeeds in boosting engagement with users, then it can fend of challenges from rivals such as Snapchat and keep growing both its overall engagement and users.
“AR is only going to get bigger, as the camera transforms your reality into a fantasy,” Olebe said.
Five years after its release, Clash of Clans continues to be one of the top 10 grossing games on the app stores. And Facebook and Clash of Clans creator Supercell are teaming up to promote the mobile strategy game with an augmented reality experience on a smartphone.
Facebook’s intelligent assistant M is now available for Facebook Messenger users in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the U.K. M in Facebook Messenger first became available in April. M uses machine learning to scan words used in conversations to recommend actions or services.
Tell someone good night and M may suggest a good night sticker. Chat about a plan and M may suggest you create a calendar event. M also suggests you do things like share your location, save a URL or video, initiate a voice or video call, or send best wishes when you’re speaking to someone on their birthday.
Third-party chat extension suggestions from M that bring bots for Delivery.com food orders, Food Network recipes, and Spotify music are only available in the United States.
The move to English-speaking nations beyond the U.S. continues the spread of M to Messenger’s 1.2 billion monthly active users. M for Spanish speakers launched earlier this summer in the U.S., Mexico, and Spain.
Facebook’s AI assistant M first entered the public imagination in 2015 when private beta trials began for a personal assistant to help Messenger users with daily tasks or make restaurant reservations, buy a gift, or book a vacation. However, earlier this year, reports surfaced that M was unable to handle a majority of tasks without human intervention.
M and other AI produced by Facebook researchers could more than likely play a role beyond Facebook Messenger someday soon. Earlier this month, anonymous sources told Bloomberg Facebook’s experimental Building 8 is developing a smart speaker and a laptop-sized device for video chat that could be released by spring 2018.
Webhosting service DreamHost has said that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested information on everyone who visited DisruptJ20.org, a website that was set up to organize political protests against the current U.S. administration.
The DisruptJ20.org domain, a reference to the president’s inauguration on January 20, was actually registered on DreamHost last October, a few weeks before the U.S. presidential election took place. But it launched to the public on November 11, a few days after Trump emerged as victor. The website was subsequently used as a conduit for organizing protests around Trump’s inauguration — some peaceful, some not so.
At any rate, DreamHost said that is has been “working with the Department of Justice to comply with legal process” for the past “several months” and that the company received a search warrant requesting myriad details pertaining to DistrupJ20.org in July.
Central to the request was information on the DistrupJ20.org website itself and its owner, but where things get contentious is in relation to the site’s visitors. According to DreamHost, the DOJ’s request includes 1.3 million IP addresses covering each device that connected to the website. This was in addition to “…contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website,” according to a blog post. “This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority,” the DreamHost statement added.
After challenging the DOJ’s request based on the “overbreadth” of the warrant, DreamHost received a copy of an “order to compel” filed by the DOJ in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia that sought to dismiss DreamHost’s counterarguments. Last week, DreamHost filed its legal arguments in response.
However this plays out, it’s clearer than ever that technology companies are at the center of the growing tensions between governments and the various sides of the political spectrum, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Yesterday, fellow web hosting firm GoDaddy kicked neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer off its service, and Google followed suit when the site sought shelter. But these are minor moves in the grand scheme of things, and many argue that Silicon Valley still can’t acknowledge its role in spreading hate.
For DreamHost, its core argument centers around protecting citizens’ rights to speak out against political forces they don’t agree with without fear that their identity will be revealed through an overreaching search warrant. The company added:
The internet was founded — and continues to survive, in the main — on its democratizing ability to facilitate a free exchange of ideas. Internet users have a reasonable expectation that they will not get swept up in criminal investigations simply by exercising their right to political speech against the government.
OPINION: President Trump today belatedly offered a direct condemnation of white supremacists and Nazis following the eruption of violence at a Charlottesville protest and subsequent murder of a counter protestor.
OK, fine. But what about the tech industry? Once, there was a utopian fantasy that the platforms and systems being built on the back of the internet would bring about greater communication and understanding and harmony and all sort of kumbaya crap.
Instead, your favorite sites have become a cesspool of racial hatred and organizing tools that have enabled the far-alt-right-Nazi-whatevers to connect and surge confidently into public view. Silicon Valley’s traditional response has been to sit back, fold its hands, and say, well, gee, we’re just open platforms and we support free speech and wax all sorts of mealy-mouthed platitudes about staying neutral.
The result is that on Facebook, this infamous post by neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer was going viral on Monday:
This was the post written by white supremacist Andrew Anglin that got The Daily Stormer kicked off GoDaddy, months after other users had complained about the site’s vile, racist content. Google today refused to let the site move its domain registration to its services.
Though you can still go to Google’s YouTube and watch all sorts of hate-filled videos posted by Anglin.
Why did it take months for a site that regularly writes anti-Jewish rants to be labeled in violation of GoDaddy’s terms of service?
Why do leading neo-Nazis still have Twitter accounts?
Reddit, despite attempts to clean up its act, is still littered with white supremacist sub-reddits. Which doesn’t seem to bother the venture firms that recently invested $200 million in Reddit, including Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital.
Of course, some services are taking a stand:
Love. Not hate. pic.twitter.com/5xFpvHTuI2
— Discord (@discordapp) August 14, 2017
But it’s not enough. It’s not just about building the right tools. And it’s not really a debate about free speech.
It’s about taking responsibility. It’s about taking a moral stand and weeding this stuff out.
For the moment, it appears Silicon Valley lacks the courage to do either one.
Gamer voice and chat app Discord today announced it has shut down a server for altright.com, another associated with The Daily Stormer, and removed a number of groups and accounts associated with violence that took place this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one dead and 19 injured. The closure of Discord accounts hosted by the service comes hours after GoDaddy then Google removed Nazi blog The Daily Stormer from their domain hosting services.
Discord removed the accounts from the chat app for violating Discord guidelines and terms of service, the site said. It has more than 45 million users, and it’s becoming one of the top options for in-game voice chat.
“Discord was built to bring people together through a love of gaming and our mission is to connect positive communities who share this appreciation,” a company spokesperson said in a statement shared with VentureBeat in an email. “We unequivocally condemn white supremacy, neonazism, or any other group, term, ideology that is based on these beliefs. They are not welcome on Discord. While we don’t read people’s private servers our Terms of Service explicitly forbid harassment, threatening messages, or calls to violence. When hatred like this violates our community standards we act swiftly to take servers down and ban individual users. The public server linked to AltRight.com as well as the server linked to The Daily Stormer both violated those terms and were shut down along with several other public groups and accounts fostering bad actors on Discord. We will continue to be aggressive to ensure that Discord exists for the community we set out to support – gamers.”
The company declined to provide specifics on the number of accounts, groups, or servers shut down.
Love. Not hate. pic.twitter.com/5xFpvHTuI2
— Discord (@discordapp) August 14, 2017
Prior to the events in Charlottesville, Airbnb denied service to white supremacist groups planning to take part in protests against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Like GoDaddy, Facebook, and several other tech companies, Discord has been criticized in the past for allowing groups to operate on its platform that carry out online abuse or espouse discrimination and hate.
Updated 3:39 p.m. to include additional details and statement from Discord.
Gaming is better with friends. And gaming is important at Facebook. Those are the takeaways that Brian Boland, vice president of publisher solutions at Facebook, wanted to give to game developers at the Casual Connect event in Seattle last week.
While Facebook’s audience is much broader than games, but it is in touch with a lot of gamers. More than 800 million players connect via Facebook, and 450 million people are connected to the Facebook pages of game developers. And Instant Games on Facebook Messenger have been played at least 1.5 billion times in the past 90 days.
Facebook did a survey of 6,000 players, and it found that 73 percent of them don’t mind ads in games. Those players are not expecting developers to work for free, and they see rewarded ads as away to get what they want in games without having to pay money. About 54 percent of Facebook’s audience plays games in a month, including 55 percent of all females. One in three of the players are over 45.
As a platform maker, though, Facebook has some challenges. Last week, Zynga chose to partner with Unity exclusively on Unity Ads in Zynga’s games. It’s not clear if that is bad news for Facebook, but it certainly means that the Zynga-Facebook partnership isn’t what it used to be. And while Facebook’s growth on mobile is good, its desktop gaming platform is getting weaker over time.
We talked with Boland about these topics at Casual Connect. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Above: Brian Boland says that Facebook cares about games.Image Credit: Casual Connect/Lera Polska Photography
GamesBeat: I saw your talk, and it’s an interesting point to make about saying that Facebook cares about games and game developers. The almost rhetorical question is, “Why do platform owners need to tell developers that they care about games?” It seems like there’s a lot of history to that question.
Brian Boland: I think the reality is that, when you look at an industry that’s very much a startup industry–there’s so much innovation, so many companies starting up in the gaming space, and then a bunch of startups created around the gaming space that focus on nothing but games, whether that’s for analytics or monetization or insights. People look at those as being die-hard, dedicated gaming platforms. When you look at a platform like Facebook that’s pretty broad in what we can deliver, and they know that video is blowing up huge on our platform, people can wonder. “Facebook’s not only doing gaming. They have some great offerings for us, but—“ They may not think of us first as a place that’s really a good home for gaming.
One of the things we want people to understand is not only that it is important, but why it’s important. We do really good work when things hook in to our mission, particularly with our mission focusing on community and bringing the world closer together. This is an area that’s a great marriage of all those things – our awesome experiences build community, bring people closer together, and do the things we do well around discovery and building businesses.
It’s not just telling people it’s important. It’s the why, so people think of us in the midst of all these gaming-specific platforms. They understand that we have something good to offer.
GamesBeat: Is gaming also overweighted in its importance to Facebook’s bottom line? The whole mobile game industry—there are always these stats that say 80 percent of the revenue in mobile apps comes from gaming. Is there a similar there for you guys, or is it more something else?
Boland: The thing that’s primarily interesting is the community aspect. The more that people connect through and games and play games and do that with a platform like Facebook—they can message around games, share things on Facebook, and it becomes a really virtuous cycle of things we do well, like social discovery and communication, that plug into the things developers do well around building compelling game experiences. It happens to be that our ad system will work exceptionally well for a gaming environment. That’s a nice addition, that we can not only help people with those community and communication aspects, but also grow revenue.
Above: Facebook GamesImage Credit: Facebook
GamesBeat: Games are very good at connecting people.
Boland: Exactly. Even games you tend to play solo now, you’re still playing a game that’s designed to be communal. Most card games are communal, outside of solitaire. Most games have that aspect to them. You play a mix of robots or human beings now. The opportunity to be able to play more and more games with people you’re connected with—not just strangers in the game, but a real community of people who you’re friends and family with. That’s real now, as a potential. It’s not fully real from an actualization standpoint. But that’s compelling. That’s why people play games. We’re most excited about that.
We can help them build a business so they can not worry about all the challenges that come with building a business on top of building a great game. They can focus on building a great game and then plug in enablers for their business.
GamesBeat: How do you make the argument that Facebook is the best friend of the game developer? There are other platforms out there, as you say – Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or Sony. Can Facebook can be the go-to platform?
Boland: The way we try to look at things—we don’t try to convince people with a better pitch or a flashier dashboard. We try to convince people by working with them. They see if the experience and the results are better than they see elsewhere or not. Early on in our ads business we started to really change the conversation. Carolyn Everson would say to clients, “If we’re not growing your business’s results, don’t buy ads from us.” They weren’t used to that kind of conversation.
We’ve kept that as a mantra with all our businesses. If we’re not helping games see results through increased plays and increased connections and so on, that puts the onus back on us to make that better. Measure everything. Monitor everything. We think we’ll stand up on the merits. I expect people to try a bunch of different platforms. I expect people to work with a number of platforms. With the world moving more toward bidding, that enables an opportunity for the best of both worlds for a developer, to be able to bring in a lot of demand sources and bring in more compelling user experiences. That’s great for the developer, and frankly great for us.
GamesBeat: You’re making the case for advertising in your talk. Is it clear that advertising is the winning model for games?
Boland: It should be part of the portfolio. What we’ve seen with games is that—you’ve seen a scenario develop where games will reach a very large installed base and then have a relatively small number of users who do in-game purchases. You can start to build out a portfolio of ways you drive revenue: people who want to support the game by paying and people who are willing to support the game through advertising. There may be future models of monetization. I don’t know what those are. But there’s not a reason you shouldn’t say, “Let me build a portfolio around my business and see good growth.” That’s what I would expect to see people do more of.
A lot of developers are going to move past thinking “Ads are bad” or “Ads create subpar experiences” to “Okay, no, when bad ad experiences happen they are created as bad ad experiences. Let’s create good ad experiences and get access to good supply.” That’s the shift we’re seeing on the developer side.
Above: Brian Boland is vice president of publishing solutions at Facebook.Image Credit: Casual Connect/Lera Polska Photography
GamesBeat: Do you have more business weight on ads as opposed to in-app purchases? I don’t know how much the old idea of Facebook credits still matters.
Boland: I wouldn’t say we weight one over another. It’s really about a tool kit. I think you’ll see certain games do more with certain areas. It’s just going to be specific to the game. The idea is a robust tool kit, so the developer who knows their audience better than we do—they understand the motivation of the person playing their game, the way they want to engage with the game. They understand the kind of relationship they want to have. That gives them the tool kit to decide how much they weight one area or another.
GamesBeat: I saw the Eilers and Krejcik report on Facebook’s earnings. I think they noticed the game side of revenues is declining, I guess because of Facebook and desktop gaming in general declining. I don’t quite understand that. You guys are still big and growing in the mobile space. But is there something that explains that analysis?
Boland: Outside the earnings calls we don’t comment on earnings results. But it is important to understand that we have parts of our business that are driven around credits and parts that are driven around the ad network. Those are just different business lines that we look at and report on differently. A lot of the things we’re doing on the monetization side—the ad network stuff is just a different animal than the credits part of our business.
Above: If a user views an ad in a Zynga game, he or she can get a reward.Image Credit: Unity
GamesBeat: Today I saw that Zynga teamed up with Unity on Unity ads and decided to exclude every other SDK they’d been working with. Is that a negative sign for the business in some way?
Boland: I don’t know yet. I’d heard that they made that decision today. I don’t know too many details on the what or the why, or what specifically—most of these deals that happen aren’t as universal as they sound. It’s usually for a portion of things and not the complete set of things. It also depends on how people integrate things. In a world where more things become biddable and more demand sources can play, you’re going to have tech layers, and then you’ll have multiple demand players on top of that.
GamesBeat: They said they would run “options,” so then Facebook comes back and—your SDK may not be there, but their SDK enables your presence. Maybe there’s zero impact in that scenario.
Boland: For us, the important things are—one, for advertisers, when they buy in our system, they know they’re going to get access to quality supply and real business results, real business outcomes. If we’re bidding in to their environment, great, we’ll get great business outcomes. Secondarily, the publisher knows they’ll get a highly relevant ad, very tailored to that individual, that adds to the experience. The things we’ve heard from the developer community and the excitement about our demand is not just that we cut good checks. It’s about how the ads people are seeing are not going to be bad, nasty, repetitive ads. They’re good stuff.
I’m sure depending on the details I’ll learn more about it. But I suspect that the work we continue to do to be a positive addition to both user experience and revenue will keep people engaged with us.
GamesBeat: When someone else looked at this, they said, “Well, my prediction is these six different SDK parties will all try to do the same thing and become the master layer that excludes all the others.” I guess part of Unity and Zynga’s argument is that an app is just going to run better if it has one SDK instead of six. I don’t know enough about how this all works to judge.
Boland: It’s an emerging space. The thing that I believe are true–more and more SDKs increases the size of your app, which increases the cost to download your app. That’s definitely something that is important for developers to take into consideration. That’s why you have a motivation to limit the number of SDKs.
It’s also true that the more demand sources plugged into your app – on an auction basis, not a waterfall—that’s the important trend that’s happening in the industry. It’s moving away from waterfalls to auctions. Waterfall is what you see in historical mediation platforms. You put demand sources into a waterfall. You call them one at a time. “Hey, here’s this user. Do you want to show them an ad?” If they say yes, show them an ad. If they say no, go to the next person in the waterfall. If it keeps saying no, you keep going down the waterfall until you get to a place where a user says yes. The way you do the waterfall is you do an average CPM. “This network in general pays us a dollar. This one pays us 90 cents.” You stack rank them by average CPM.
The reality of the world is that as things become more targeted and more relevant, a network that averages at a dollar will see one person who’s worth $10 and one person who’s worth five cents. What’s better for the publisher is, instead of making the call to one party, you make the call to all 10 parties, and say, “Here’s this individual in my app. What’s it worth to you to show them an ad?” One network says $10. The next one says five cents. The next one says 50 cents. “Great. $10 CPM, let’s show that ad.” It gives you real competition across all the demand sources, instead of having to go for average, average, average. You make more money because you maximize the return on each individual seeing ads in your app.
Above: Facebook Instant Games launch titles.Image Credit: Facebook
GamesBeat: And you get a better result to—one example I’ve heard was, you might have an individual who has an old phone, so you get a higher CPM if you show this person a video ad, but they have a bad experience. Maybe you take a lower CPM and show them an ad that works on their phone.
Boland: More and more of the systems have a good understanding of what’s happening there, yes. They’ll optimize around that.
GamesBeat: It seems like anybody could still serve that ad, then, even if their SDK isn’t included.
Boland: It depends on the way the SDK is implement, what demand sources they allow to plug in and how. The rules you set for an SDK can vary quite widely. We’re very committed to transparent marketplaces and real time pricing.
GamesBeat: But the game developers and publishers would probably say, then, “We still want the widest reach. We don’t want to unnecessarily shut off someone because we don’t want to run too many SDKs.”
Boland: It’s in their best interests, right. I need to understand more of the details around today’s announcement, but it didn’t strike me immediately as something to be particularly worried. Zynga’s a great company. Unity is a great company. We think highly of both of them.
GamesBeat: Your other message was that ads do not annoy people, which is encouraging. Rewarded video seems to be popular.
Boland: It’s so clear. I really wanted us to do this research, to understand how people really felt and experienced things. There is a concern in the industry around, “Oh, rewarded feels weird, that you’re telling someone they’ll get a reward for watching my commercial.” It’s taking what’s implicit in broadcast video—you know you’re watching the ads to see the TV show. People are in tune with that trade-off. It changes the mechanics there so you’re choosing to watch the ad to get credits, to get the next level, to get whatever outcome. It’s clear. People understand that trade-off.
There’s more control there, because people can choose. “Nah, I’m actually good.” Or, “Sure, I’ll watch the one ad to do that.” It really puts control in people’s hands, which is a great thing.
Above: Blackstorm Labs’ EverWing on Facebook Messenger.Image Credit: Blackstorm Labs
GamesBeat: The instant games, everybody agrees these are turning out well. Is there a lot of thought that has to go into the monetization of that? Why can’t they just have ads right now?
Boland: Part of it goes into making sure we can design and deliver the right ads experiences. What pieces do we want to have as standard plug-ins that we can just easily render, as opposed to making them available to change the rendering up? Some of those questions around the rendering, since it’s inside the Messenger experience—do you have to have it coded into the HTML 5? Do we do the hook-ins? We’re partway through some of those questions. First and foremost, we’re making sure that—if the core user experience is great, we’ll get the ads working fine. It’s really been about focusing on that growth.
GamesBeat: Are you confidently signaling to developers that this is going to pay off? This will be a revenue producer?
Boland: We take our direction from them. We’ve heard loud and clear that distribution is cool. People playing the game is awesome. We have to build a business, which is exactly what you’d expect to hear from them. We absolutely listen. We’ll work toward delivering on that.
GamesBeat: And they want you to turn this on yesterday.
Boland: Oh, yes. Always.
GamesBeat: It almost sounds like going back to the good old days of very viral social networking.
Boland: It’ll be good viral. I think the industry—Facebook is quite a bit older. We’ve learned a lot about how notifications and viral sharing and those things work to delight both the gamer and the person who receives the notifications. I think we have an opportunity to build a compelling experience where you’ll get the notifications you want and engage your friends in the games that are exciting to them and to you. It really does deliver on this new mission we’re focused on, community and bringing the world closer together. Games do that. That’s a pretty happy marriage between our ability to deliver social connections and messaging and game developers’ experiences creating compelling content for people.
Above: Blackstorm Labs’ Gamebot in EverWingImage Credit: Blackstorm
GamesBeat: I understand some of the Asian networks are already doing the monetization. I wonder if that puts any pressure on you to speed this up, or at least study what they’re doing.
Boland: Most of our learnings do come from our developer partners, people who see things that work here or elsewhere. We learn from them, find out what they like and don’t like, see what their users are saying. That always informs what we do. We very much listen to those customers. What they learn and what they find out will work informs our development path.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?
Boland: It’s a pretty exciting time. I do think that you’ve had a big shift for advertisers in figuring out mobile. Now you’ll have a big shift as advertisers shift toward mobile and toward game experiences, which is a new pattern for how people consume content. That’s a learning curve for advertisers.
Some of the best things happen when you just follow what people are doing naturally. People are playing a lot of games. People are streaming a lot of games. People are doing a lot of new activities to share all of that content. I think we’re in a spot where, clearly, games that are built on mobile are seeing great success for users, for gamers. The next shift will be advertisers focusing on how they deliver and get excited about the stuff that happens in games. That’s the next two years. But it aligns with everything we care about. It’s the people we care about. It’s high quality experiences. It’s stuff that drives results. This is going to be the next big playing field for advertisers of all sorts.
Disclosure: The organizers of Casual Connect paid my way to Seattle. Our coverage remains objective.
Yelp’s 5 years as a public company have not always been fun. Founded almost 13 years ago, the social review site hit a low point in May 2015 with rumors that it was seeking a buyer as growth sputtered.
Despite being a Web 2.0 pioneer, it has only occasionally managed to post quarterly profits. It’s seen its stock fall sharply from its most optimistic moments, when it hit $97.25 per share in 2014. In February 2016, it fell as low as $15.56 per share.
But just as it seemed time to start preparing the obituaries and post-mortems, Yelp has returned from the near-dead.
Yesterday, the company released its second quarter earnings showing that revenue grew 20 percent in the quarter from the same period a year ago. And it posted profits of $7.6 million.
Investors were thrilled. Yelp’s stock exploded 27.64 percent to close at $40.04 per share.
There were several developments from Yelp that drove this giddiness. But in general, the company seems to have pulled off a remarkable trick: It’s growing by shrinking.
Over the past year, a company that has sometimes had a history of messy operational issues has developed a newfound sense of discipline and decisiveness. The biggest move it made was deciding to exit most of its international business.
Outside of the U.S. and Canada, Yelp was only making 1 percent of its revenue from international markets by the end of 2016. So the company made a tough call: Exit the international businesses and cut 175 employees.
In narrowing its focus, the company invested in expanding the company’s U.S. sales force, which paid off with big growth in signing up new companies and holding on to those who were already customers. In addition, Yelp said yesterday that it is opening a new office in Washington, D.C.
The company also took steps to address declining traffic to its mobile apps. And as part of the parade of good news yesterday, the company said it was selling its Eat24 delivery business to Grubhub.
Narrowing its ambitions, pulling the plug on being a global company for now, might have seemed like a desperate retreat last year. Instead, it’s resulted in faster growth in its core market.
Yelp’s challenge now is to continue to expand on that momentum. As executives noted in a conference call yesterday, restaurants are still the largest portion of its revenues. It’s trying to leverage that with new services, but also by trying to convince users who come for restaurant reviews to explore other categories.
That will still be a challenge. But this new Yelp has regained a lot of credibility with investors who are ready to believe again.
Facebook announced today that it has started using neural network systems to carry out more than 4.5 billion translations that occur each day on the backend of the social network. Translations carried out with recurrent neural networks (RNNs) were able to scale with the use of Caffe2, a deep learning framework open-sourced by Facebook in April.
The Caffe2 team today also announced that in part due to work done around translation, the framework is now able to work with recurrent neural networks.
“Using Caffe2, we significantly improved the efficiency and quality of machine translation systems at Facebook. We got an efficiency boost of 2.5x, which allows us to deploy neural machine translation models into production,” the Caffe2 team said in a blog post. “As a result, all machine translation models at Facebook have been transitioned from phrase-based systems to neural models for all languages.”
The use of recurrent neural networks (RNN) has resulted in an 11 percent increase in BLEU, a metric for measuring the performance of human language translated by machines. Translations were previously performed with phrase-based models, which were unable to translate blocks of text but rather translated individual words and phrases.
“To remedy this and build our neural network systems, we started with a type of recurrent neural network known as sequence-to-sequence LSTM (long short-term memory) with attention,” software engineers Necip Fazil Ayan, Juan Miguel Pino, and Alexander Sidorov, members of Facebook’s Applied Machine Learning team, said in a blog post. “Such a network can take into account the entire context of the source sentence and everything generated so far, to create more accurate and fluent translations,” the trio added.
The switch also makes translations on Facebook more likely to take into account things like slang, typos, and context. Algorithms made for translation can be found on the Caffe2 GitHub page.
By working with the Facebook AI Research (FAIR) team, convolutional neural networks could be used in the future, the engineers noted.
(Reuters) — A website launched on Wednesday seeks to track Russian-supported propaganda and disinformation on Twitter, part of a growing non-governmental effort to diminish Moscow’s ability to meddle in future elections in the United States and Europe.
The “Hamilton 68” dashboard was built by researchers working with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic project set up last month to counter Russian disinformation campaigns.
The website, supported by the German Marshall Fund, displays a “near real-time” analysis of English-language tweets from a pool of 600 Twitter accounts that analysts identified as users that spread Russian propaganda.
The site was launched at a time when the Trump administration has shown reluctance to address Russian cyber attacks during ongoing investigations into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow during the 2016 election.
U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers have warned that Russia will attempt to interfere in the 2018 congressional elections and the next presidential election in 2020.
Twitter accounts selected by the new website include those overtly involved in disinformation campaigns pushed by Russian propaganda outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, and users that share information promoting the Russian government.
It also includes automated bots and “cyborgs,” or users identified as partially automated and partially human-controlled, that helped amplify Russian propaganda.
“We’re not necessarily saying everyone in this list is getting a paycheck from the Kremlin,” said J.M. Berger, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, adding that the group had “very high confidence” accounts selected were spreading Russian disinformation.
U.S. intelligence agencies said Russia conducted a wide-ranging influence operation to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, a Republican, win the 2016 election.
Russia has denied the allegations, and Trump has inconsistently embraced or challenged the assessment of his own intelligence agencies.
The research group is exploring ways to conduct similar analyses for other platforms, including Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube and Reddit, but such projects are more difficult because less data is openly accessible, Berger said.
Twitter said it was not involved in the project. It had no other comment.
The name for the website is taken from Federalist Paper 68, which was authored by U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton in 1788 as part of a series of essays anonymously published to defend the U.S. Constitution to the public.
Hamilton wrote of “protecting America’s electoral process from foreign meddling” in Federalist Paper 68, Alliance for Securing Democracy wrote in a blog post. “Today, we face foreign interference of a type Hamilton could have scarcely imagined.”
(Reporting by Dustin Volz, additional reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Andrew Hay)
The charitable initiative of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, has reportedly taken on Democratic pollster Joel Benenson as a consultant, further fueling speculation about his possible political ambitions.
Benenson was a strategist for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, and was the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s doomed campaign last year. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative also took on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe earlier this year to head up policy and advocacy, as well as Amy Dudley, the former adviser to Clinton running mate Tim Kaine who is now the charity’s spokesperson.
Politico reported Thursday that the charity had hired Benenson’s consultancy to conduct research. In a statement given to the publication, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative insisted that its research is only focused on the charity’s work in “science, education, housing, and criminal justice reform.”
However, while these are all areas that will require a degree of political navigation, the hire is sure to feed into those persistent rumors of Zuckerberg considering a presidential run.
Although the Facebook CEO has categorically denied being interested in the country’s top position, supporters set up a presidential Super PAC in May with the aim of “convincing the American people to convince Mark Zuckerberg to consider a Presidential run in 2020, or at least join the conversation.”
This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017