Facebook Looks To Tackle Personalized Learning In The Classroom

Facebook Looks To Tackle Personalized Learning In The Classroom

Facebook is working to give public school students an education that’s more tailored to their needs.

In a blog post today from Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, the company announced that over the past school year it has partnered with Summit Public Schools, an innovative school system in the Bay Area to improve and test their new learning technologies.

We started by working together to rebuild their tool, called the Personalized Learning Plan (“PLP”), for Summit’s use in the 2014 school year. Last year, more than 2,000 students and 100 teachers spent the school year using it.

Looking forward, Summit Public Schools is planning to open up the PLP it has built with Facebook to other public schools across the country.

For 2015, we’re supporting Summit as it partners with public schools who want to explore personalized learning through a small pilot program. We’ll use feedback from this program to improve the PLP so we can eventually offer it, for free, to any school in the U.S. that wants it.


Don’t worry, kids at these schools won’t be getting targeted ads popping up while they are trying to do their readings. The PLP is completely separate from Facebook’s main service and you don’t need a Facebook account to sign in. The entire team at Facebook that’s working on PLP is subject to some pretty strict rules to protect student data.

Summit subscribes to the White House-endorsed Student Privacy Pledge<http://studentprivacypledge.org/>, which means that the Facebook employees working on this project are required to handle Summit students’ data in accordance with the Pledge.

This definitely appears to be a pet project Facebook executives, looking to use their company’s technological talent to help improve public education, rather than some massive plan to break into EdTech. Mark Zuckerberg has donated millions of dollars to tackling these problems, but here it looks like the company felt the best way they could help was to look at improving the technologies directly themselves.

Airbnb Rolls Out An Apple Watch App

Airbnb Rolls Out An Apple Watch App

Airbnb has found its way onto the Apple Watch.

The company is releasing a new Apple Watch app today that’s centered around lightweight communication between hosts and guests. Hosts and guests can use it to get notifications as well as read messages and respond to messages. Hosts can also accept booking requests straight from the watch.

Guest-reservation-acceptedBut the goal of the app is not just to give notifications about reservations and trip planning, but also to help facilitate communication between the guest and host throughout the whole trip, Airbnb experience architecture team lead Keenan Cummings said. That means giving hosts a way to regularly keep in touch with the guests and offer answers and recommendations. For example, hosts can pre-record messages that they can send through the app that are answers to common questions (such as, “what is the Wi-Fi password?).

“After you’ve booked a place, that’s only the beginning of an experience,” Cummings said. “Your travel experience is a lot about the communication between the guest and host. Messaging is really core to that. So for the host it’s all about responsiveness, the ability to communicate quickly. For guests it’s about access to the host.”

Airbnb’s challenge with the Apple Watch was as much a microcosm of the development ecosystem around the Watch as it was a challenge for Airbnb. Like much of the rest of the world, the team had to get its hands on watches before they were able to even see what the application would look like on someone’s wrist — forcing them to get creative about the way they worked on the application.

Cummings and his team — who built the iPad application that Airbnb released six months ago — were tasked with figuring out what the Airbnb experience would look like on a watch. The team had to put together the application relatively quickly given the short lead time that pretty much everyone was given to build an Apple Watch App.

“We drew on strips of paper and wrapped them around our wrist,” Cummings said. “You have to do whatever you can do to simulate it when the tool’s not quite there yet. You are not on the watch yet, you can’t build a fully interactive prototype and put it on the watch. We had to be scrappy about uploading images, using paper and interviewing hosts and guests.”

First-time-user-experienceOnce the company had its hands on a couple of watches, Airbnb initially assembled a scavenger hunt of sorts to figure out the best experiences of the Apple Watch, and then narrowed it down to a smaller team to figure out the best Airbnb experience based on those positives.

The crux of the problem was to ensure the experience felt like an Airbnb one, while remaining simple and true to a lightweight watch experience like the ones the team found on the scavenger hunt. Cummings and his team, for example, looked to Apple Pay as inspiration for the simplicity an app on the Apple Watch should have.

“It was really exciting on the first OS because it was so constrained and forced that discipline,” Cummings said. “When you can do anything, it’s hard not to do anything. You’re forced to limit yourselves — you have to figure out. ‘What are the one or two killer features that do make sense?’ The list of could-dos was 20 times longer than the should-dos, and we picked the right things.”

Building an app like Airbnb has to be a balance between pro user features (he referred to the long-press function on the iPhone as one example) and things that are immediately apparent. Part of that involved creating a simple introduction to the application, which essentially explicitly spelled out everything that users could do on the app.

Inevitably, at Airbnb everything comes back to simplicity, Cummings said. Instead of questioning whether something would be useful, the question revolved around whether it was essential and pulling out extraneous features.

“One of this company’s strengths is that discipline and simplification, and another one of those company’s core values is to be a host,” he said. “That comes up in our design — are we being a good host to our users, are we doing what’s best for them, are they comfortable with the tone of the product? When it’s more abstract and harder to translate, you start to feel in your gut when you’re straying away from what’s best for the user.”

Featured Image: Airbnb

Instagram Direct’s 85M Users Can Now Reply With Photos In Snapchat-Style Visual Convos

Instagram Direct’s 85M Users Can Now Reply With Photos In Snapchat-Style Visual Convos

Instagram Direct felt half-baked when the in-app chat feature launched without the ability to send photo replies in December 2013. Still, the private group messaging feature built an audience of 85 million monthly users, and now it’s getting upgrades that make it a true visual communication tool to rival Snapchat.

Starting today you can reply with photos in a thread and start a convo with just text. Plus, rather than tag friends in the comments of public feed posts you want them to see, Instagram now has a new Direct share button that lets you send other people’s photos or videos in a private chat.

The changes could prime Instagram Direct for the rapid-fire back-and-forth photo messaging popular among teens that fueled Snapchat’s ascent. It could also give people a way to talk with friends about interesting public posts without their conversations getting lost in the endless reels of comments spurred by celebs and popular users.

“I definitely think it’s an evolution,” an Instagram spokesperson says regarding how Direct threads work. Previously, one person would send a photo or video, and recipients could send hearts or leave comments. But if they wanted to send a reaction photo or another image to further the discussion, they had to start a whole new thread. “Now they’re conversations, whereas before they were just a moment,” she said.

1 - Send Post as MessageTo power quick-draw convos, Direct now features an in-line camera. A quick tap adds a photo to the chat, while a tap-and-hold shoots a video. The design of the button, complete with a red line creeping around the button as you use up seconds of video, is almost identical to Snapchat’s trigger. Direct messages can also include special hearts and big emoji. You could imagine teens sending a funny photo and then all their friends replying with selfies of them laughing or related emoji.

And if you don’t have an image to share, you can now start threads with a text message. Easing these restrictions makes Instagram more similar to SMS, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, which has added its own quick cam and photo upload features for visual chat over the last few years.

Now Instagram could feasibly substitute for those traditional instant messengers, especially for netizens who might only know their friends online and not their phone numbers. Direct’s privacy model remains the same. You can message anyone. If they follow you, the thread goes right into their inbox, and if they don’t, it stays hidden in a pending cue unless the recipient approves.

4 - Direct Inbox

Instagram tells me the changes were all driven by user feedback, with one of the engineering leads on Direct Brina Lee saying “we’re going to keep our ears to the ground.” That’s how the team knew it needed to put a Direct share button on posts in the main Instagram feed.

“We noticed that 40 percent of comments are @ mentions” Lee says. It’s a hugely prevalent emergent behavior. When users see a post that reminds them of a friend, like someone being awkward or silly, they’ll tag that friend in the post’s comments to make sure their pal sees it. Some Instagrammers even request this action as a way to achieve highly personal virality.

Now, the Direct button beside ones for likes and comments will pull up a friend selector showing the people and groups you’ve recently direct-messaged. Tap a few and you can quickly send them the post privately. Similar to Twitter’s recently added feature that lets you DM tweets, it allows you to back-channel in secret. That way you can snark about your frenemies or elaborate without your convo being fragmented among other comments.

People can also share hashtag pages, location pages, and user profiles via Direct. That ties today’s update with Instagram’s larger drive to be more than just a feed. It recently launched a new Explore page featuring trusted content and trends rather than just the most popular posts.

Instagram has been focused on its public, unfiltered feed since its inception. But with about 25 percent of its 300 million-plus user base on its messaging feature, it needs more ways for people to pull content from outside their network into chat threads. Now when you discover something awesome on Instagram, it could entertain your friends, too.

Article updated to reflect correct Instagram Direct launch date.

Twitter Unveils New Dashboard To Help Users Monitor Their Data

Twitter Unveils New Dashboard To Help Users Monitor Their Data

Twitter just released a new dashboard to help users keep an eye out on how their data is being accessed by third-party apps and other services.

The dashboard, available in settings, allows users to review their log-in history and see devices that they are currently connected on. Users are also able to see the activity of apps that they have allowed access to their account.

In a post on the company blog, product manager Mollie Vandor said:

Now, your Twitter data dashboard — which you can access from the settings menu on twitter.com — shows your account activation details, the devices that have accessed your account and your recent login history. With this information, you can quickly review your account activity and verify that everything looks the way it should.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 10.38.56 AMThe data dashboard is a little bit more interesting than one might expect. By Twitter making it easier for users to check out how approved apps are harnessing their data, users may be more inclined to move to disallow access to apps that they approved long ago. Something that Twitter obviously anticipated as it links directly to the Apps page to allow users to revoke access to these applications.

For its part, Twitter says that the move marks a continued dedications to protecting users and that “privacy and account security remain a priority.”

To put you in control of your information, we’ve made a series of deliberate design decisions that help protect your privacy and security. For example, you don’t need to use your real name on Twitter. Your privacy settings let you control whether your Tweets are kept public, and you can enable login verification for greater account security. We respect Do Not Track, and we secure your Twitter experience with HTTPS by default, StartTLS and forward secrecy.