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Facebook’s Messenger Kids app redesigned to look more like Messenger

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Facebook today is rolling out an updated version of its Messenger Kids app with the goal of making it easier for kids to interact with their friends and family, navigate the app, and personalize their experience with features like custom chat bubble colors. The redesign also gives the kid-friendly app a look-and-feel that’s more like Messenger itself.

The updated app does away with the larger, colorful blocks that would flash when messages arrive for a more traditional messaging app design where chats are stacked in a vertical list. The child’s unread messages, now at the top of the inbox, are in bold with a blue dot next to them to call the eye’s attention. Media and message previews have also been added, too, allowing kids to more easily see updates for their conversations.

The redesign introduces new navigation with two dedicated “Chat” and “Explore” navigation tabs at the bottom of the screen, allowing for kids to switch between their conversations and the other in-app activities the app provides, like its mini-games

And with a new swipe gesture, kids can start a call from their inbox.

Finally, the update introduces a new option to personalize conversations, including both individual and group chats, with a custom chat bubble color.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook refers to the update as a “test,” but the changes here are not small tweaks to the layout, navigation or feature set — they’re a revamp. That makes it less likely that this is just some experiment that will later be rolled back based on user feedback. Instead, by referring to it as a test, Facebook gives itself more time before committing to a global rollout.

The company says the new features will first roll out to kids using iPhones in the U.S. and Canada. The update will later expand to other devices and markets in the months ahead.

The changes arrive shortly after Messenger itself received a significant update of its own, which included a visual makeover and new features, including support for chat themes, custom reactions, selfie stickers and vanish mode, in addition to support for cross-app communication with Instagram users. Those updates could have led to the Messenger Kids makeover as well, given there’s likely some underlying messaging infrastructure that’s shared here.

The Messenger Kids app has been steadily updated in the years since its launch, most recently with a big explainer on what Facebook is doing with all that data it’s collecting.

Image Credits: Facebook

Parents should be aware this app today collects a lot of personal information, including names, profile photos, demographic details (gender and birthday), a child’s connection to parents, contacts’ information (like most frequent contacts), app usage information, device attributes and unique identifiers, data from device settings (like time zones or access to camera and photos), network information and information provided from things like bug reports or feedback/contact forms. While some of this does allow the app to properly function, there’s also concern from some parents about how this data is really being used.

While the app does offer a suite of parental controls that make it easier for parents to monitor and restrict how and when their children chat online, Messenger Kids’ privacy policy still leaves itself a lot of wiggle room about how the data may be used to “evaluate, troubleshoot, improve, create, and develop our products” and be shared with other Facebook Companies. Parents should carefully weigh the risks of allowing their child to use a Facebook product with the conveniences of being able to use an app with a robust set of parental controls.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Uber officially completes Postmates acquisition

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Uber today announced the official completion of its Postmates acquisition deal, which it announced originally back in July. The all-stock deal, valued at around $2.65 billion at the time of its disclosure, sees Postmates join Uber, while continuing to operate as a separate service with its own branding and front-end – while some backend operations, including a shared pool of drivers, will merge.

Uber detailed some of its further thinking around the newly combined companies and what that will mean for the businesses they work with in a new blog post. The company posited the move as of benefit to the merchant population they work with, and alongside the official closure announced a new initiative to encourage and gather customer feedback on the merchant side.

They’re calling it a “regional listening exercise” to be run beginning next year, wherein they’ll work with local restaurant associations and chambers of commerce to hear concerns from local business owners in their own communities. This sounds similar in design to Uber’s prior efforts to focus on driver feedback from a couple of years ago in order to improve the way it works with that side of its double-sided marketplace.

Focusing on the needs of its merchant population is doubly important given the current global pandemic, which has seen Uber Eats emerge as even more of a key infrastructure component in the food service and grocery industries as people seek more delivery options in order to better comply with stay-at-home orders and other public safety recommendations.

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Facebook-backed Libra Association rebrands as Diem

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The Libra Association, a consortium created by Facebook to support its Libra cryptocurrency efforts, announced this morning that it has a new name — the Diem Association — and made some key hires ahead of its launch.

This is just the latest course correction since the Libra project was announced last year. In an attempt to appease financial regulators around the world, the association shifted its strategy away from creating a global stablecoin and will instead launch multiple stablecoins, each tied to a different fiat currency (such as the U.S. dollar and the euro).

The project has also seen some high-profile departures, with announced partners like Visa and Stripe leaving the project. And Facebook has rebranded its cryptocurrency wallet, changing the name from Calibra to Novi.

In a statement, Diem Association CEO Stuart Levey more-or-less acknowledged that the new name is an attempt to distance the group from Facebook, and from its earlier controversies.

“The Diem project will provide a simple platform for fintech innovation to thrive and enable consumers and businesses to conduct instantaneous, low-cost, highly secure transactions,” Levey said. “We are committed to doing so in a way that promotes financial inclusion – expanding access to those who need it most, and simultaneously protecting the integrity of the financial system by deterring and detecting illicit conduct. We are excited to introduce Diem – a new name that signals the project’s growing maturity and independence.”

As for the new hires, they include Chief Technology Officer Dahlia Malkhi, Chief of Staff Christy Clark, Chief Legal Officer Steve Bunnel and Executive Vice President for Growth and Innovation/Deputy General Counsel Kiran Raj. Diem Networks, the subsidiary that will actually operate the Diem payment system, has also hired James Emmett as managing director, Sterling Daines as chief compliance officer, Ian Jenkins as chief financial and risk officer and Saumya Bhavsar as general counsel.

While today’s announcement doesn’t include any specifics about timing, it suggests the association is positioning itself for an imminent launch — albeit one that will “proceed only upon receiving regulatory approval, including a payment systems license for the operational subsidiary of the Association from FINMA.”

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Loop Team wants to give remote workers an in-office feel

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As we’ve moved to work from home during the pandemic, it’s been challenging for remote workers to feel connected. Loop Team, a new entrant into the enterprise communications space, thinks the way we are communicating needs improvement. That’s why the startup is releasing Loop Team today, a tool that is trying to use software to reproduce the in-office experience.

Company founder and CEO Raj Singh says that he learned about the problems of feeling disconnected first-hand at a previous remote-first company, but in spite of his best attempts to use technology to produce that in-office feel, he said he continued to feel out of the loop (so to speak). That’s when he decided to build the solution he wanted.

“We’ve looked at a lot of the interactions that happen when you’re physically in an office — the visual communication, the background conversations, the hallway chatter, the serendipitous bumping, things like that. And we built an experience that effectively is a virtual office. And so it tries to represent the best parts of what a physical office experience might be like, but in a virtual form,” Singh explained to me.

While he created this company prior to COVID, the pandemic has highlighted the need for a tool like this. Before he created the software, he interviewed hundreds of people who worked from home to understand their issues working outside of the office and he heard a lot of common complaints.

“There was an office and they didn’t necessarily know what was going on. They didn’t know who was available. They didn’t know who was around. It was difficult to connect. Everything was scheduled through calendar. They were missing some of that presence — and they were feeling lonely or out of touch or out of the loop,” he said.

His company’s solution tries to reproduce the office experience using AI, good, old-fashioned presence awareness and other tech to let team members know what you’re doing and if you’re available to chat. So just as you would wander down the hall and see your colleague on the phone or deeply involved with work on the laptop, and know to leave them be, you could get that same feel with Loop.

Loop Team Highlights

Image Credits: Loop Team

It gives the current status of the person, and you can know from looking at the list of people on your team, who’s available to talk and who’s busy. As you go into virtual discussions, the team can see who’s having meetings and individuals can pop in too, just as you might do in the office.

What’s more, you can set up rooms (like in Slack), but these are designed to give you a more personal connection using video and audio for actual discussion. You can work on projects via screen share and people who miss these meetings because of other obligations or time zone differences, can always review what they missed.

While you can do all of these things in Slack and Zoom, or in some combination of similar tools, Loop’s layout and presentation is designed to help you see the conversations in a clear way and expose what you want to see, while hiding parts of the day that don’t interest you.

The product is available for free starting today, but Singh wants to introduce a pricing model sometime next year based on team size. He expects there will always be a freemium version for teams under 10 people.

The company was founded in 2018 and nurtured at the Stanford SRI Institute. It has raised $4.75 million so far. Today it starts on its journey as a startup with its first product, and it’s one that comes with good timing as more teams find themselves working remotely than every before.

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