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Facebook Messenger Celebrates Reaching 1 Billion Monthly Active Users

Yesterday on Facebook, the company's dedicated messaging app, Facebook Messenger, posted news regarding its recent milestone of surpassing 1 billion monthly active users. As The Next Web pointed out, that's a growth of 200 million users since January, and roughly suggests that 1 out of every 7 members of the population are logging onto Facebook Messenger each month to text with friends and family. In the message thanking users, the Facebook Messenger team mentioned that the company will be celebrating by debuting the launch of new animated balloons into the chat app. Anyone can try it out by sending someone a traditional balloon emoji within Facebook Messenger to activate the new animation. On behalf of the entire Messenger team, we'd like to thank the more than 1 billion people who are now using Messenger every month. People use Messenger to connect with the people and businesses they care most about. They make plans, share dreams, send payments, tell jokes, play games, let their loved ones know they're thinking of them and much, much more. We know that every message is important to you - no matter what you want to say - and we're grateful that you choose to communicate using Messenger. To put its growing popularity into perspective, Facebook also released some stats related to its messaging service. According to the company, 22 million GIFs are sent every day (approximately 254 per second), and popular holidays saw a noticable uptick in user messaging, with 300 million flowers sent on Mother's Day and 360 valentine-related chats sent on February 14. Among a

Facebook Messenger Adds Support for New Peek and Pop 3D Touch Gestures

Facebook Messenger today was updated to version 79.0, bringing with it the debut of new Peek and Pop gestures within the messaging client. On the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, users will now be able to try out the pressure sensitive abilities of 3D Touch to more easily navigate through the app. Within each conversation thread, 3D Touch allows for quick previews of any links or contacts posted within a message. The company also noted that throughout the app, Peek and Pop will be available to "preview contacts, conversations, photos, videos, stickers, links and locations." Facebook Messenger previously added 3D Touch support on its app icon with a few Quick Actions that present options to jump into recent chats, start a new message, or generate your personal messenger code to add a friend on the service. Anyone who wants to check out the new 3D Touch features of Facebook Messenger can download the app for free from the App Store. [Direct Link]

Facebook Testing End-to-End Encryption in Messenger

Facebook has announced that it will begin rolling out optional end-to-end encryption within its Messenger app for iOS and Android on a limited test basis, ahead of the option becoming more widely available through early September. Messenger users will be able to create one-to-one "Secret Conversations" in Messenger that will be end-to-end encrypted and which can only be read on one device of the person they are communicating with. Within secret conversations, Messenger users will have the option to set a timer to control the length of time each message sent remains visible within the conversation. The technology is based on the Signal Protocol by Open Whisper Systems [PDF]. Facebook said secret conversations do not currently support rich content like GIFs and videos, making payments, or other popular Messenger features. End-to-end encryption will not be enabled by default, and secret conversations will not be available through Messenger.com, Facebook chat, or the desktop Messenger app for now, per TechCrunch, which also explained how to start a secret conversation:…just tap on your friend's name at the top of your current message thread. If you're part of Facebook's test group, you'll see an option called "Secret Conversation." Once you click it, a new conversation thread opens, with a notice at the top informing you that the chat is end-to-end encrypted. The timer feature that allows messages to be erased after a certain time period has elapsed is located right next to the text field. It offers a drop-down list of times you can select for how long you

Facebook to Shut Down 'Paper' News Creation and Curation App

Facebook is shutting down news creation and curation app Paper, reports The Verge. Paper, which debuted in 2014, was the first product to come out of Facebook Creative Labs, which has since been dismantled. Paper, a Flipboard competitor, consisted of a news reader that pulled content from a user's Facebook News Feed and a variety of well-known online publications, organizing it all into a magazine-style layout with sections ranging from technology to animals. A team of editors curated the most popular online content for users and for a time, it was a popular replacement for the traditional Facebook News Feed. Though it received positive reviews and was one of Facebook's most downloaded apps, it was not able to attract and maintain a large audience, leading to Facebook's decision to shut it down. Paper has been defunct for a while, going without an update since March of 2015. According to Facebook, many of the concepts introduced in Paper, like Instant Articles, have since been added to its other apps and services. Instant Articles is a platform designed to speed up the loading times of articles and news stories and it adopted much of its design language from Paper. Paper has been removed from the App Store as of today and existing app users will no longer be able to use the app after July

Facebook Promises That Location Data is 'Only One of the Factors' in Friend Suggestions [Updated]

Facebook has never specified the exact methods it uses to present friend suggestions within its "People You May Know" tab, but a new report by Fusion suggests that a shared GPS data point could be a bigger factor in curating friendship than Facebook wants users to know. A nameless source told the site that he suspected the social network of digging into his location information to curate potential friendships with parents who had attended an anonymous meeting for suicidal teenagers. When a fellow parent appeared on his People You May Know section -- without any shared contact information or interests -- he double checked the privacy settings of Facebook in his iPhone to prevent the app from "always" sharing his location. As far as he could tell, the sole factor in common between the two Facebook users had been the similar GPS location at one of the meetings. Still, when Facebook was reached out to provide a comment, the company confirmed that location data, by itself, is never used for the purpose of presenting friendships on the social network. While this could be potentially useful for connecting with people you might forget to exchange contact information with, Facebook also realizes the potential for a breach of security if you happen to be visiting somewhere more private. “People You May Know are people on Facebook that you might know,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you’re part of, contacts you’ve imported and many other factors.” “Location information by itself

Facebook App Takes on Movie-Making Feature in iOS 10 With 'Slideshows'

Facebook is shifting the movie-making Slideshow feature from its Moments app to its flagship iOS app in an attempt to counter Apple's Photos update in iOS 10. For those unfamiliar with Apple's big addition to its Photos app coming in iOS 10, a new feature called Memories uses facial- and object-recognition to automatically cluster photos based on people, scenes, dates, and locations, and intelligently creates mini-movies of occasions like vacations, birthdays, and weddings. Similarly, Facebook's Slideshow feature, which originally appeared in August as part of its photo-centric Moments app, combines user photos and videos into a short clip that can be customized with transitions, themes, and music soundtracks. In its new manifestation in Facebook's flagship app, the feature will now do this automatically whenever users take at least five photos or videos in the last 24 hours. And if users come upon a slideshow in the News Feed, they can tap a "try it" option to make their own. Images can be edited to add or remove images, and themes include Nostalgic, Playful, Night Out, Birthday, Epic, Thankful, Tropical, Bollywood, and Amped. The move represents a direct attempt by the company to take on Apple's movie-making feature in iOS 10, which is coming this fall, although both companies are actually playing catch-up to Google, which offered a similar feature last year as part of Google Photos Assistant. Earlier this month, Facebook attracted the ire of users by forcing account holders to download its Moments app if they wanted to keep synced photo albums

Facebook for iOS Now Features Human-Curated Events List in 10 Cities

Facebook today announced plans to add human curation to its Facebook Events feature on iOS devices, with designated curators set to highlight notable events in a select number of cities. Facebook Events, for those unfamiliar, is the Facebook feature that allows users to create dedicated Facebook event pages for parties, festivals, and more, and sign up to attend those events. Event pages are a useful way to share event details with a large number of people, including time, location, and information on others who are attending. According to TechCrunch, iOS users in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. will see a new "Featured Events" option on the Events section of the app. Some users, described as "highly engaged," will also receive push notifications for interesting events. Facebook's curators will cull through each city's top art, entertainment, family, festival, fitness, food & drink, learning, community, music, and sports events, and select a few with the capacity to accept some extra foot traffic. "You can think about it like a weekend or weekly digest of cool stuff that you can do in your city" Facebook Events product manager Aditya Koolwal tells [TechCrunch].Curated Featured Events will join existing event suggestions Facebook users receive, which have included events based on interest, past attendance, and friend attendance. Facebook's goal with Featured Events is to surface events early enough to give people time to plan to attend. Facebook is also enhancing its Events

Facebook Forcing Users to Install 'Moments' App to Retain Synced Photos

Facebook has begun notifying users who upload photos from their iOS devices that their synced albums will be deleted next month (via TechCrunch). Facebook's iOS photo syncing feature was launched in 2012, and let users automatically upload all photos on their mobile devices to a private album called 'Synced' or 'Synced from Phone'. The idea behind the feature was that copying the photos makes it easier to find and share pictures with friends on the social network. Users are now being informed by email and via app notifications that these albums will cease to exist on July 7, and that they should either download the albums, or install the company's photo-centric Moments app to retain their uploaded status. News of the change has seen the Moments app shoot up the App Store's Top Free Apps chart, where it currently ranks #2 ahead of Facebook's hugely popular Messenger app, which sits at #3. The forced adoption of yet another Facebook app has caused consternation among a number of social media account holders, who were subject to a similar heavy-handed approach in early 2014. I'm gonna delete @facebook from my phone before I install Messenger AND Moments! Facebook is the new MySpace. https://t.co/ewszcNBEGY— Ray Ulrich (@ulrichray) June 2, 2016 On that occasion, the company pushed all users to download Facebook Messenger after it removed the chat feature from its flagship app. Messenger has remained among the App Store's top-ranking free apps ever since. This month, the company also announced that it would be removing chat from its mobile web app

Facebook Quietly Kills Off 'Notify' News Alert App for iOS

Facebook has officially shut down Notify, its real-time, notification-based news app for iOS. The company sent an alert to users of the app last night, explaining that it would be transitioning parts of the Notify service into its other products and that the app would no longer be supported. Notify, which went live in November, enabled users to receive news notifications and choose their sources from over 70 publishers, with options for granular alerts about specific sub-topics of interest. Notifications included short summaries and allowed users to tap through to view the news articles, but the app has clearly failed to capture the attention of Facebook's user base and the wider news-reading public. Facebook told TechCrunch: Starting on Wednesday, we will begin integrating Notify functionality into other Facebook products, like Messenger, and will be removing Notify from the App Store. Since launching Notify, we've learned a lot about how to make notifications as timely and relevant as possible and we heard from people using the app that Notify helped them stay informed about things they cared about throughout the day. With more than 900 million people using Messenger each month, we think there is a great opportunity for publishers to reach even more people interested in real-time updates from their favorite sources.According to mobile app analytics startup SensorTower, Notify only achieved 63,000 downloads in its lifetime. Facebook's other iOS news-related app, the digital magazine-like Paper, appears to remain in the company's future standalone service

Facebook Considering Optional End-to-End Encryption for Messenger

Facebook is planning to introduce an optional end-to-end encryption mode for its Facebook Messenger chat platform, currently used by more than 900 million people, reports The Guardian. Citing sources "close to the project," The Guardian says the encryption will be an opt-in feature because turning it on will impact some of the new machine learning features being built into the Messenger app like chat bots. Google's upcoming "Allo" messaging app also offers an opt-in end-to-end encryption option it calls "incognito mode." Many major technology companies have taken a stronger stance on privacy, embracing end-to-end encryption following Apple's standoff with the FBI. Earlier this year, the FBI demanded Apple unlock the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook by bypassing Apple's own passcode security features. Apple refused, and the FBI eventually found an alternate way to access the iPhone, but the dispute has scared technology companies into bolstering security. Dozens of major technology companies supported Apple during its fight with the FBI, all of whom were concerned about the precedent the FBI's demand could set. Popular Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp enabled full end-to-end encryption in April, and in March, Swiss software developer Proton Technologies released ProtonMail, an email app offering end-to-end encryption. Apple is also rumored to be working on enhanced security measures for its software and hardware, and apps like Telegram Messenger have grown in popularity. It is not clear exactly when Facebook might introduce new

Facebook Moments for iOS Gets Approval in Canada and EU App Stores

Facebook yesterday released its Moments private photo sharing app in Europe and Canada, almost a year after it appeared in the U.S. App Store. The app helps users find Facebook photos of themselves, their friends, and particular places, and collects these together for private viewing or sharing. It does this by attempting to recognize who appears in them based on facial features, and also takes into account the date, time, and location where the photos were taken. The U.S. and international versions of the company's photo-centric app use facial recognition technology to identify people in Facebook photos, but the feature ran afoul of privacy laws and regulations in Europe and Canada. To get around the ban, the new modified version has been stripped of facial recognition technology and instead groups together multiple photos that "appear to include the same face", according to the social media company (via TechCrunch). It does this by relying on a less accurate form of technology that uses object recognition to analyze the distance between a person's eyes and ears. Moments also integrates with Facebook and Messenger apps, where users are alerted to the fact that their friends have shared photos featuring them. ">Moments is a free app for iPhone and iPad available for download in the App Store. [Direct Link

Third Party App 'Littlebook' Brings Facebook to the Apple Watch for $2.99

Although a number of social networks have introduced scaled-down apps for the Apple Watch, the biggest holdout thus far has been Facebook. Thanks to a third party app called "Littlebook," Facebook users will now be able to browse their news feeds right from Apple's wearable device (via The Next Web). In addition to basic browsing, Littlebook lets users interact with posts by tapping to like things, and even includes full in-line photos and videos in the news feed. An offline mode lets users save articles to read later, and the app allows for transferring over to the iPhone with Handoff support, if the small size of the Apple Watch isn't enough for lengthy reads. There's also a voice dictation feature that can be used to post full status updates to your friends and family. Reto Stuber, Littlebook's developer, does remind potential users that the app has its limitations due to the platform, including the fact that posts on the feed are limited to preview samples with no "read more" option, sharing and reactions are not yet supported, and YouTube videos won't work since playback is only supported by embedded Facebook videos at launch. Still, the developer promised that he tried his "best to recreate the Facebook-App experience," and Littlebook will continue to be supported with updates in the future. Littlebook can be downloaded from the App Store for $2.99. [Direct Link]

Facebook Developing Standalone Camera and Live Video App

Social networking site Facebook is developing a new standalone camera app aimed at encouraging Facebook users to share more photos and videos, reports The Wall Street Journal. Developed by a Facebook team in London, the app reportedly opens directly to a camera much like Snapchat, giving users a way to quickly capture photos and videos. Another feature planned for the device is the ability to live stream video, mimicking existing apps like Meerkat and Periscope. In recent months, Facebook has been making a strong push into live video. The app may be designed to combat a growing decline in the number of photos and videos Facebook users are sharing as focus has shifted towards articles and away from original content. Market research conducted by GlobalWebIndex suggests 37 percent of Facebook users uploaded or shared their own photos in 1Q 2016, down from 46 percent in 1Q 2015. Other methods Facebook is using to encourage the sharing of original content include news feed prompts based based on interests and location, an "On This Day" feature for sharing past posts, and an option to post pre-made collages taken from a user's Facebook photo repository. According to sources who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook's camera project remains in the early stages and could potentially never see a release should it be

Facebook Messenger Debuts Group Voice Calls With a Limit of Up to 50 People

Facebook has announced a new feature coming to its standalone Messenger app that will let users start up group calls with up to 50 friends and family members. Rolling out now to the iOS and Android Messenger apps, the update will use previously established group chats within Facebook's messaging client as a springboard for starting a voice call with the group's members (via TechCrunch). Users will be able to begin a group call by tapping the new phone icon at the bottom of a group chat window, picking which members they specifically want included in the call, and waiting for them to receive a Messenger notification and jump in on the conversation. The social media company confirmed that a total of 50 people can be in on one group call at a time, and that anyone late to the call can join after the fact through the same phone icon in the group's chat log. An in-progress group call on the Messenger apps for iOS and Android Group calls are an extension of Messenger's established one-on-one voice and video calling features, and the company has said that group video conferencing could be coming down the line, as well. "Group video calling is definitely a use case that a lot of our people might be interested in at some point," Stan Chudnovsky, Messenger's head of product, said in an interview last year. "It would be a big deal if the whole [shakes hand to simulate lack of video stabilization] thing goes away.” In addition to expanding Messenger into its own self-sufficient communication hub, Facebook has been slowly rolling out new features into its mainline

Facebook Introduces Chatbots for Messenger, Pushes Further Into Live Video

As was rumored last week, Facebook today announced plans to bring chatbot support to its Messenger platform. At the Facebook F8 Developer Conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated a Messenger chatbot on stage, using the Messenger platform to order flowers from 1-800-Flowers through a text conversation. "To order from 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again," said Zuckerberg, explaining that Facebook chatbots are designed to allow users and businesses to connect together in new ways. "You don't have to install an app or enter your credit card." Developers will be able to build chat programs to interface with users. These will range from product-based companies like 1-800-Flowers to news companies like CNN, another one of Facebook's partners. Facebook also plans to expand its Live Video feature, which has proven popular with users and public figures. According to Zuckerberg, Live Videos on Facebook garner 10 times more comments than standard videos, which is one of the reasons Facebook recently began rolling out a prominent video tab in the Facebook app to allow users to quickly access live videos from friends and other people. Starting today, Facebook is opening up its Live Video API, allowing the feature to be built into any device. One of Facebook's early launch partners is drone company DJI, and drone live streaming video was shown on stage. Over the next five years, Zuckerberg says Messenger Platform and Live Video will be built up over the next five years, and over the next 10 years, Facebook will focus on connectivity,

Facebook Plans to Introduce Customer Service Chatbot and Live Chat APIs for iOS Messenger App

Facebook is planning to provide developers with toolkits for customer service chatbots and live chat APIs, according to a few sources that spoke with TechCrunch. The company will debut the new features at Facebook's F8 conference next week, following in line with a host of recent institutions getting behind chatbot support. Facebook's intentions are to connect its users with businesses via its standalone chat app, Messenger. [Direct Link] The new program will connect those businesses with Facebook-approved chatbot developers, so instead of needing to navigate the construction of complex automated response systems themselves, they can focus on their company while developers create the chatbot software. TechCrunch acquired a presentation by Facebook aimed at chatbot developers, and it described some of the functionality the automated responses might have. It details how beyond just text chatbots will be able to respond with what it calls “Structured Messages.” These include a title, image, a description, a URL and calls to action such as visiting a website, viewing an e-commerce order or making a restaurant reservation. To further encourage the universality of Messenger, the social media company is also hard at work on plug-ins for the app that can be installed on a website's contact page. Facebook's idea is that this would eventually take preference over calling or emailing for questions, linking them out directly to the Messenger app on iOS or Messenger.com on the web. Going one step beyond automated responses, this would lead to live chat conversations with

Facebook Rolls Out New Video Discovery Tab With Heavy Focus on Live Broadcasts

Facebook today announced a dedicated segment of its popular iOS and Android app will find a renewed focus on both live and pre-recorded videos, taking the place of the Messenger button which sent users to that separate private messaging app. The social network's main focus in the new hub will be on starting up your own live videos, or joining in on another, but Facebook hopes the new feature makes it easier to find videos in general rather than just scrolling across them in a feed, which has been the case in the past. The company launched Facebook Live late last summer through its Mentions app, only to a handful of celebrities, and is now ready to begin a widespread rollout in the proper Facebook app. Facebook has introduced a few new features in the launch, as well, including the ability to launch a live video within a specific Facebook Group or Event. "Live in Groups" lets users begin a live video that will only notify the people in a specific group, "so you can go live in your family group, or share a workout plan in a fitness group." Alternatively, "Live in Events" means those part of an RSVP event can get exclusive live video from a performer ahead of the scheduled event, or a user could share video from a party to those who couldn't make it. The company is also introducing a new metric analyzing feature, aimed at publishers and media companies, that lets broadcasters parse the fluctuating statistics of viewers during a video with various charts and graphs. With the new update, Facebook will accommodate the growing popularity of interactive comments and

Facebook iOS App Gets VoiceOver Feature to Help Blind Users 'See' Photos

Facebook has introduced a new accessibility tool to its iOS app for blind and visually impaired people to help identify images posted on their social feed. The function, called Automatic Alternative Text, works via VoiceOver and generates descriptions of photos that are spoken out loud as a user swipes past photos in the Facebook app. Previously, people using VoiceOver would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term "photo", when they came upon an image in the News Feed. Thanks to the new function – made possible by advancements in object recognition technology – a richer description is now available. For example, a user may hear, "Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors." Automatic alternative text is currently only available in English, but Facebook plans to add the function for other languages soon. To use the feature on an iOS device with the Facebook app installed, go to Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> VoiceOver and turn on the VoiceOver function. Facebook is free on the App Store for iPhone and iPad. [Direct Link

Facebook Messenger Gains Airline Information Bot

Facebook released a new feature today for its iOS Messenger app that allows users to receive booked flight information updates. The instant messaging service's first 'airline bot' enables KLM Royal Dutch Airlines customers who have booked tickets through the airlines' website to have all their flight information delivered to a dedicated thread within the app. The bot is designed to supply customers with their itinerary, boarding pass, and check-in confirmation, as well as notify of any flight delays. An option to speak to a human KLM staff member is also included. Earlier this year, TechCrunch reported that Facebook was offering select developers access to its Messenger SDK which would allow them to build helpful service bots for the app. According to the report, Facebook was likely giving third-party developers access to the chat SDK in an effort to make Messenger more like its Asian counterparts, such as WeChat and Line, whose users can contact dedicated accounts to buy movie tickets and pay bills. In December 2015, Uber announced integration with Messenger via a new Transportation feature, which lets customers book taxis and receive live progress updates from within a chat thread. Facebook Messenger is free on the App Store for iPhone. [Direct Link]

Facebook Acquires Popular Live Filter iOS App 'MSQRD'

Apps that add real-time filters to selfies and videos are growing in popularity, and today Facebook announced the acquisition of the team behind MSQRD, a much-downloaded live filter app available on iOS and Android devices. First introduced in January of 2016, MSQRD applies live filters to photos and videos captured with the iPhone's front-facing camera. It includes face swapping capabilities, along with a range of filters and masks that include celebrities, animals, and effects like larger eyes or rabbit ears. Filters like these have been gaining popularity in recent months following their implementation in Snapchat last fall. Apple has made an investment in similar technology, having purchased real-time motion capture firm Faceshift in 2015. Faceshift worked with game and animation studios on technology designed to quickly and accurately capture facial expressions using 3D sensors, which could be used to create real-time video avatars for video chat. It isn't clear what Apple will do with the technology, but it could potentially be incorporated into Photo Booth or FaceTime. Though the technology has been acquired by Facebook, ">MSQRD will continue to be available on iOS devices as a standalone product. The app can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link