Author Archives: Paulina Swoboda

Do you Airbnb?

Martin scrolled down the home listings in Rome for almost 2 hours…

… before deciding on booking “Sunny Side”, a one bedroom, one bath studio located “just a few blocks away from the spectacular Colosseum”. The photos of the place posted on the website were really nice and the homeowner seemed happy to reply to all of Martin’s questions and concerns, and even helped him to plan his arrival from the airport. Martin was very optimistic about this Airbnb rental. That was until he unlocked the rental place door and entered in. What was described and pictured as a “beautiful sunny terrace” was rather a tiny balcony full of disgusting ashtrays, and instead of a snow white bathroom floor that was pictured on a website, the floor color rather resembled a dirty yellowish tone that was definitely not to be touched barefoot. To add up to his disappointment, Martin who does not speak any Italian, had a really hard time finding the street on which the studio was located, and once found he had a feeling like the area was way further from the Colosseum than described on the website, and not as tourist friendly as he expected.

There are plenty of different stories like this one out there, but it is no secret that Airbnb still thrives among other hotel options.

From renting an airbed in a spare room to 3 million rental room listings later, Airbnb has successfully eliminated the friction in travel accommodations in 191 different countries, and has provided homeowners with a new opportunity to generate income. However, Airbnb does not only want to be a room rental portal, the company is moving towards becoming your go-to travel booking company.

Last November, Airbnb has launched its Trips feature, which allows users to book local experiences including all day activities such as city tours, or one-off events such as concerts, football games, restaurant trips and many more. Trips feature also includes access to user recommendations, insider guidebooks, and GPS audio walking tours that allow users to further immerse in local neighborhoods. 

This November, the company rolled out a new feature that comes in clutch when you travel with a bigger group. It is a split payment option facilitated by Apple Pay and its newly acquired peer-to-peer payment startup Tilt.

But the company did not stop there.

In its quest to organize your vacation from start to finish, Airbnb has taken the next big step – integrating AR and VR technology into your travel experience.

The company is looking to provide users like Martin with a better look at the rental place they are looking to stay in during their trip.

Augmented Reality ? or Virtual Reality?

The company wants to integrate both technologies into their operations. As for the use of VR, the company plans its integration in the first stage of trip planning to provide users with 360 degree photos and 3D scans that would allow them to step inside a home and city to get a better understanding of what to expect.

As for the use of AR, the company wants to integrate it in the second phase of traveling – when the user is already in its travel destination. The company claims that the use of AR could help guests to better navigate the city by providing them with timely information on bus services, museum hours, directions to get to places, translated labels on objects around them, information about important historical sites or places around, as well as to help them “navigate past cultural differences”.

 

AR, VR and the Travel Industry

The use of AR and VR in the travel industry is not new. There has already been many companies that have been attempting to give these new technologies a try including Mariott’s Virtual Honeymoon, KLM’s Dreamliner Boeing VR experience, the city of Florence AR travel guide, or even our local Warszawa 44′ AR app created for the Warsaw Uprising Museum that allows users to take a trip back in time.

Not only the travel industry has been experiencing with these technologies. Giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple have been modifying their platforms to fit in the new trends.

What does the future hold?

As of now, Airbnb is in the phase of prototype testing and has not provided any timeline information nor project release dates.

Although the company does have a huge potential to make a use of these technologies to possibly change the way we choose travel destinations, and how we mange to get around, it is still uncertain whether they will be successful in implementing this technologies to make our trips more fun.

So far, there has been a lot of skepticism emerging as to whether the new product will be a viral success, especially when it comes to the use of VR and its need for special headsets.

Because all travelers at one point or another face the same issue of getting lost, communication barriers, finding a place in a good location etc., the AR and VR could definitely be really helpful to first of all, get a real feel of what the place and neighborhood looks like and what’s to do around before actually booking the stay. Second of all, to maximize the time spent in the specific destination and to squeeze the most out of their experiences. If Airbnb is successful in its implementation of these technologies, the future of traveling might transform into a totally new and more advanced stage, where traditional book travel guides will be needed no more.

Although, a giant like Facebook has clearly been struggling with its sell of Oculus headset to make their VR platform go viral and to “transform the way people around the world stay connected with their communities and those closest to them.”, we are curious to see how Airbnb will handle this innovation, and whether the company will be more successful at it than Facebook and prove than AR and VR is not only a buzz word.

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One would think 

… that in today’s era of innovation and technology, advances in the field of communication would only move forward. However, it seems like instead of expanding our vocabulary, we have returned to the most basic form of communication pioneered by our ancient ancestors – the hieroglyphics.

The online world is slowly moving away from writings to the more pixeled world of what we can call today’s hieroglyphs. Nowadays, being able to navigate in the world of online communications requires the mastery of the emoji language. 

It is seen as not only more convenient, but also as a more expressive way to communicate with each other.

Sending a heart shape emoji to express something that you like or love, or an angry face emoji to express your displeasure with a person or a situation has become a social norm in the online world of communication. However, a new phenomenon has been taking place recently.

Those of us who use Snapchat are already familiar with the idea of Bitmoji –  avatars of yourself that you can customized by choosing everything from hairstyle to outfit. The founders of Bitmoji have created the app with the idea of making conversations between individuals more intimate and interesting. Jacob Blackstock, the CEO of Bitstrips, a company that created the Bitmoji app, believes that by inserting personalized cartoons of yourself into conversations, the concept of personal touch and identity that has been lost along the way with the growth of online communication platforms, could be restored. Blackstock told Business Insider that “Texting is making conversation more convenient than ever, but it’s also stripped away a lot of the things that make communication human”.
 
The Bitmoji app, which was later purchased by Snapchat has been named the fastest growing app on the U.S. market. It has consistently ranked among top 10 utility apps on the App Store.

 

 

Why has Bitmoji become so popular ?

 
While people still use traditional emojis on their keyboards, your personalized Bitmoji avatar follows you wherever you go and can be easily inserted into various communication platforms including Gmail, Messenger, or even Slack. The biggest hype comes from its real-time updates, which allow the users to talk about issues that are currently trending, such as the Super Bowl, Thanksgiving, or the infamous “Cash Me Outside” hit. Bitmoji uses your geographic location to make the updates – for example, you would get a different version of your avatar depending on the time of the day, your location, or the current weather.
 

The idea behind Genies

Bitmoji has clearly taken texting to a new level, but Sillicon Valley is not resting and is has drop on us another technical wonder that might reshape the way we interact with each other. This brings us to Genies, an app similar to Bitmoji that successfully raised $15 million to allow its users the creation of personalized avatars to represent the current news events.
According to Akash Nigam, Genies, Inc.’s CEO, the traditional news outlets had become overtaken by social media, and most of the millennial nowadays get their news from popular social sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. Nigam saw this as an opportunity to apply the model of news source into a totally new social app.
 

How does it work?

 

Step 1 – Create your Genie avatar

Once downloaded, the user’s first task is to select a personality type that would determine what kind of scenes the user would see. This is done by choosing the type of news outlet, brand, events, or buzzwords that the user is most interested in, for example, if you want to know more about tech related news, you would choose things like TechCrunch, Mashable, or Apple. While, if you are more interested in the aviation industry, you might go with FlightGlobal, United Airlines, or sustainable fuel.

After the user had chosen its avatar personality, it is time to create a similar to Bitmoji cartoon-style clone of yourself. The big difference here is that the Genies’ avatars look less cartoonish and more realistic than Bitmojis. Also, Genies provides the user with many more features to customize the avatar, including plenty of different skin tones, eye colors, nose shapes, and outfits ranging from popular brand to more generic ones.

 

Step 2 – Receive animated news scenes

Once your Genie avatar is ready, the app will send you up to 15 short animated videos throughout the day about the news that you have indicated to have the most interest in. All the videos will feature your Genie, for example, if you have indicated that you are interested in world politics, you might receive a video of your Genie looking at Jerusalem as Israel’s newly recognized capital. Each video will include a link to the source of the news article that will allow the user to tap on it in order to be redirected to the actual source of news online. In that way, the user will be able to read more on what is going on.

The videos might also include less serious news such as holiday reminders, or daily or local activities such as iceskating, or your city’s marathon.

 

Step 3 – Share with friends

The users are encouraged to share the news with their friends on other apps such as Messenger, Apple iMessage, Instagram, and Snapchat. 
Another feature of the app is the ability to add another Genie into the news, such as a person from your friend list, or a celebrity. This aspect of news personalization is not only fun to share with friends, but it also increases the virality of the news message. The idea behind that is to make the news more interesting and shareable.

What about social implications? 

The habit of reading a newspaper to a morning coffee is long gone now. The big majority of people have also moved away from reading the online versions of newspapers. As sad as it might sound, our knowledge about what is going on in the world today mostly comes from social media. It all started with Twitter, with revolutionized news reporting by providing us with real-time updates and hashtags making the news go viral. What came next was Facebook, which despite shining a light on the potential of providing fake news article content, has become the dominant platforms for news. And lastly, Snapchat with its feed-style news platform has become the dominant platform for celebrity and holiday news.

Is Genies then the next big thing?

Genies has a great potential to revolutionize not only the way we get news, but also the frequency with which we do it. The idea of seeing yourself being featured as a star of a news video sounds exciting, and it might make people tap on the actual news source and influence them to get fully informed more often. 

The app could also help to raise awareness or influence people to do something. For example, if a user sees a video featuring its Genie donating blood, or volunteering at a local shelter, then he/she might feel some kind of an internal push to actually go out and do it. 

Another way that the app might be revolutionary and might win over a big chunk of Twitter’s user base is because we are visual beings, and watching a short video resonates better and is more memorable to us than reading a short Twitter post. Therefore, Genies through its personalized storytelling has a potential to engage its audience more than any other social media site. 

Despite the advantages that this entertaining way of providing news can have, at the end of the day, everyone has different opinions about specific topics, and so while designing the video content, Genies needs to be really careful not to cross the line between sensitive news information and the way they will portray it in the video, especially when it comes to political news. The editorial team at Genies will also have to pay special attention to make sure that whatever they are depicting in the news video is actually accurate, and that the parodies that they make are not offensive to anyone.  

As we now, social media is able to strongly influence people’s behaviors, and having content related to topics such as party, drug, or sex featuring ones Genie bring a risk of negative influence. Therefore, in my opinion Genies should leave reporting on such kind of news, or events to others – mainly Snapchat. 

Another issue that I see is with the product placement and sponsored content. There is a huge potential to monetize from these two sources, however, it will be important to make sure that the content showed to the user is preferences specific, doesn’t feel like forced advertising, and its amount is not overwhelming to the user. 

In conclusion, Genies is a great app that could really help to get the younger generations interested in newsworthy events, and possibly motivate them to take an action, or a stand on a specific issue, however the way it will deliver the news must be sensitive and well-through-out in order to avoid being ignorant and getting into scandalous situations that might bring along huge repercussions. Many people seem to have faith in the success of Genies, and have poured over a lot of money. This includes a pop star Shawn Mendez. Although the potential of this avatar-based digital product is huge, I am eager to see whether it will succeed in creating a community around it, and whether it will create value in the long-run, or simply fade away as Nintendos’ Miiverse attempt at creating a social gaming community. 

The free Genius app is currently available on iOS and Android.

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Meet Genies. The mobile app with a potential to revolutionize the way we get news.

Facebook Creator – a better way of meaningful content creation or just another Facebook app?

With its new objective to change mindless video consumption into “time well spent”, Facebook has recently released an app for creators. Facebook Creator provides a wide range of offerings to influencers including new tools for video streaming and story updates, a unified inbox of comments and chats from Instagram and Facebook, a cross-posting platform, broad analytics and page insights. 
Facebook for Creators is supposed to help influencers to grow their fan base through enhancing their content so that it is more meaningful to their followers. The idea for the app  was to provide content creators with one functional platform, from which they would be able to more efficiently manage their online presence making it more personal and interactive.
Although, the goal behind the new Facebook product seems like a big wow, what Facebook failed to mention is that it has long had an app similar to the one they have just released. A celebrity exclusive Facebook Mentions was an app that allowed public figures to monitor their mentions on different social media platforms and to keep in touch with their fans and people they cared about. The app provided similar functionalities as the new Creator App.
As a matter of fact, Facebook Creator has replaced the original Facebook Mentions app, making the new product not so new anymore. What used to be an exclusive platform for celebrities has now become an open and widely available to everyone on the App Store, Creator App. Therefore, instead of coming up with a totally new product as many articles seem to call it, Facebook has only updated and rebranded its original Facebook Mentions.

A Closer look inside Facebook Creator App functionalities

Facebook Live Creative Kit
Special features have been introduced allowing influencers to create custom intros and outros, and to add interactive stickers and custom video frames. Users can also access Facebook camera and story sharing from the app and cross-post to Instagram and Twitter. This last feature is definitely helpful as it might not only save content creators’ time, but also encourage them to build higher-quality content.

 

Communication Tab
A unified inbox between Facebook Messenger and Instagram has been created giving users access to all their messages and notifications on one platform. This streamline feature might help influencers to reduce the time to answer their followers and make it easier to hold a two-way conversations with their fans without the need to bounce between the two apps.

 

Analytics
This feature will help content creators to get insights about their fan base demographics and preferences, as well as possible brands that might be interested in partnership opportunities.
In addition, Facebook has also launched a new website – Facebook for Creators, with a goal to provide content creators with inspiration and learning support. The platform and the app seem like a great way to create a welcoming community of content creators. Facebook has definitely showed their care about the community of independent vloggers, and although Youtube is still Facebook’s biggest competition, the company has taken time advantage with their product launch over the fact that many Youtubers have been experiencing issues with a bot that demonetizes and limits the ads on their videos.

 

Possible Improvements

However, to gather more influencers on the platform, Facebook Creator could think about new ways to help them monetize their content. As for now, content creators are only able to monetize through creating branded content label with Facebook’s partnership tagging feature. This  is extremely limited comparing to Youtube’s monetization options. Therefore, in order for more influencers switching to Creator app, Facebook would need to explore different business models.
Another thing that Facebook Creator could do better is introducing a way to facilitate the communication not only between content creators and their fan base, but also between Facebook groups, so that fans could interact with each other. This might help to better meet Facebook’s goal of bringing people together around their passions.

Sources:

https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/16/facebook-creator-app/
https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/16/16667030/facebook-creator-app-announced-launches
https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/14/16648348/youtube-demonetizing-iphone-x-videos
https://www.forbes.com/sites/danafeldman/2017/11/16/facebook-launches-new-app-website-for-creators/#52c2d80a1d98
https://www.facebook.com/creators#app

Google Pixel Buds – A Game Changer for the Global Communication? Or a Cultural Complexities Challenge?

Unless you have some superpowers, the odds of you understanding the language of every country you travel to are rather poor.

Think for a moment…How many times did you have to rely on Google Translator to communicate whatever you wanted to say when you were abroad?

Of course, you can buy a travel guide with a phrase book, or count on the fact that the guy at the local shoe store will understand your wild gestures…but how frustrating not being able to communicate really is?

To bridge the gap, Google has announced its new technology breakthrough – Google Pixel Buds, which are wireless headphones that serve a function of a real-time personal translator. The new device is supposed to have the capability of translating over 40 languages in real-time.

How would that work?

Imagine you are in Zanzibar, Tanzania on an exotic holiday in a 4-star hotel. You got tired of the hotel buffet food downstairs, and you decide to try out something more local. You go outside the hotel area and you notice a local women selling handmade purses. You approach her and by touching on the right earbud you ask her in your native tongue to recommend some good restaurant where locals like to eat out.

Instantly, the earbud translates whatever you said into the native language of your choice – which in case of Zanzibar would be either Arabic or English. For the local to respond in her native language, all you would have to do is to hand her the phone in order to receive an audio translation of her speech to your earbuds. Sound easy, right?

During its debut at the Google Pixel 2 event, presenters used Pixel Buds to demonstrate a conversation between two different languages, English and Swedish.

 

Where is the catch?

Although, instantaneous translation is the most groundbreaking feature of Google Pixel Buds, the device can help you out in plenty of other ways. It pairs up with Google Virtual Assistant, which is controlled with touches, swipes or spoken commands and can send text messages, make calls, listen to music or give you directions – all without getting your phone out of your pocket. Not only that, but the device is also capable of recording all your conversations if you wish to. Pixel Buds will be available in the U.S. at the beginning of November, and its cost will be $159.

It all sounds pretty great, however, it appears that as for now the translation feature will only work on the Google Pixel phones. Therefore, if you own an iPhone you might as well get AirPods, which provide you with similar smart functions as Google Pixel Buds, minus the translation feature.

Another issue that might come up when using Google Pixel Buds translating feature abroad might be the amount of mobile data needed for it to work, and the cost associated with it. Between the EU countries, data plans can be acquired at relatively reasonable rates, however if you travel further and need international roaming, that might cost you a fortune.

 

What about the language nuances?

There are countless examples roaming around the internet of inaccurate and at the same time funny translations from one language to another.

As human beings, we try to make logical sense out of the translated sentences. However, when a technology is brought up into the equation the potential for misunderstandings is even greater.

Google had in the past received legal threats from a small Spanish town when its translator made a mistake of translating a simple word for an offensive one. I can only imagine that when more people will start using the translating feature of Google Pixel Buds, the possibility of inaccurate translations bordering the line of offensive will be even higher.

Another issue that comes to my mind is, how well Google technology is going to take into the account the cultural grammatical aspects and complexities of the spoken language?

Let’s take the Spanish language as an example. There are about 405 million native Spanish speakers in the world. However, even within this number, not all of them speak the same Spanish. Each country, and each region has its own colloquialisms, and regional variations. How is Google translator going to coupe with that to make sure that the technology provided is inclusive to everyone?

 

What about the future?

Despite, all the potential issues that might come up with more frequent usage of the device, Google has provided us with leading-edge technology that has the power to unite and bring people closer together.

Real-time translation for now will probably be only used in simple, daily conversations, rather than technical talks, however Pixel Buds do sound promising, and our modern society is definitely prepared for such a global communication game-changer.

 

Sources:

 

 

Game Changer: New Google Earbuds Translate 40 Languages in Real Time

New Google ear buds offer real-time translation of spoken conversations

Google’s Pixel Buds will find cultural complexities a challenge

Google’s New Earbuds With Real-Time Translation Have Huge Implications for Travel

https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201710131058199333-google-pixel-buds-headphones-translators/

 

http://www.techradar.com/news/google-pixel-buds-can-translate-in-real-time-through-your-pixel-phone