Crown, a new app from Tinder’s parent company, turns dating into a game

If you’re already resentful of online dating culture and how it turned finding companionship into a game, you may not be quite ready for this: Crown, a new dating app that actually turns getting matches into a game. Crown is the latest project to launch from Match Group, the operator of a number of dating sites and apps including Match, Tinder, Plenty of Fish, OK Cupid, and others.

The app was thought up by Match Product Manager Patricia Parker, who understands first-hand both the challenges and the benefits of online dating – Parker met her husband online, so has direct experience in the world of online dating.

Crown won Match Group’s internal “ideathon,” and was then developed in-house by a team of millennial women, with a goal of serving women’s needs in particular.

The main problem Crown is trying to solve is the cognitive overload of using dating apps. As Match Group scientific advisor Dr. Helen Fisher explained a few years ago to Wired, dating apps can become addictive because there’s so much choice.

“The more you look and look for a partner the more likely it is that you’ll end up with nobody…It’s called cognitive overload,” she had said. “There is a natural human predisposition to keep looking—to find something better. And with so many alternatives and opportunities for better mates in the online world, it’s easy to get into an addictive mode.”

Millennials are also prone to swipe fatigue, as they spend an average of 10 hours per week in dating apps, and are being warned to cut down or face burnout.

Crown’s approach to these issues is to turn getting matches into a game of sorts.

While other dating apps present you with an endless stream of people to pick from, Crown offers a more limited selection.

Every day at noon, you’re presented with 16 curated matches, picked by some mysterious algorithm. You move through the matches by choosing who you like more between two people at a time.

That is, the screen displays two photos instead of one, and you “crown” your winner. (Get it?) This process then repeats with two people shown at a time, until you reach your “Final Four.”

Those winners are then given the opportunity to chat with you, or they can choose to pass.

In addition to your own winners, you may also “win” the crown among other brackets, which gives you more matches to contend with.

Of course, getting dubbed a winner is a stronger signal on Crown than on an app like Tinder, where it’s more common for matches to not start conversations. This could encourage Crown users to chat, given they know there’s more of a genuine interest since they “beat out” several others. But on the flip side, getting passed on Crown is going to be a lot more of an obvious “no,” which could be discouraging.

“It’s like a ‘Bachelorette’-style process of elimination that helps users choose between quality over quantity,” explains Andy Chen, Vice President, Match Group. “Research shows that the human brain can only track a set number of relationships…and technology has not helped us increase this limit.”

Chen is referring to the Dunbar number, which says that people can only really maintain a max of some 150 social relationships. Giving users a never-ending list of possible matches on Tinder, then, isn’t helping people feel like they have options – it’s overloading the brain.

While turning matchmaking into a game feels a bit dehumanizing – maybe even more so than on Tinder, with its Hot-or-Not-inspired vibe – the team says Crown actually increases the odds, on average, of someone being selected, compared with traditional dating apps.

“When choosing one person over another, there is always a winner. The experience actually encourages a user playing the game to find reasons to say yes,” says Chen.

Crown has been live in a limited beta for a few months, but is now officially launched in L.A. (how appropriate) with more cities to come. For now, users outside L.A. will be matched with those closet to them.

There are today several thousand users on the app, and it’s organically growing, Chen says.

Plus, Crown is seeing day-over-day retention rates which are “already as strong” as Match Group’s other apps, we’re told.

Sigh. 

The app is a free download on iOS only for now. An Android version is coming, the website says.

 

Gmail proves that some people hate smart suggestions

Gmail has recently introduced a brand new redesign. While you can disable or ignore most of the new features, Gmail has started resurfacing old unanswered emails with a suggestion that you should reply. And this is what it looks like:

The orange text immediately grabs your attention. By bumping the email thread to the top of your inbox, Gmails also breaks the chronological order of your inbox.

Gmail is also making a judgement by telling you that maybe you should have replied and you’ve been procrastinating. Social networks already bombard us constantly with awful content that makes us sad or angry. Your email inbox shouldn’t make you feel guilty or stressed.

Even if the suggestions can be accurate, it’s a bit creepy, it’s poorly implemented and it makes you feel like you’re no longer in control of your inbox.

There’s a reason why Gmail lets you disable all the smart features. Some users don’t want smart categories, important emails first and smart reply suggestions. Arguably, the only smart feature everyone needs is the spam filter.

A pure chronological feed of your email messages is incredibly valuable as well. That’s why many Instagram users are still asking for a chronological feed. Sure, algorithmic feeds can lead to more engagement and improved productivity. Maybe Google conducted some tests and concluded that you end up answering more emails if you let Gmail do its thing.

But you may want to judge the value of each email without an algorithmic ranking.

VCs could spot the next big thing without any bias. Journalists could pay attention to young and scrappy startups as much as the new electric scooter startup in San Francisco. Universities could give a grant to students with unconventional applications. The HR department of your company could look at all applications without following Google’s order.

When the Gmail redesign started leaking, a colleague of mine said “I look forward to digging through settings to figure out how to turn this off.” And the good news is that you can turn it off.

There are now two options to disable nudges in the settings on the web version of Gmail. You can tick off the boxes “Suggest emails to reply to” and “Suggest emails to follow up on” if you don’t want to see this orange text ever again. But those features should have never been enabled by default in the first place.

Facebook’s longtime head of policy and comms steps down

A prominent figure that helped shape Facebook public perception over the course of the last decade is on the way out. In a Facebook post today, Elliot Schrage, vice president of communications and public policy, announced his departure.

Schrage joined the company in 2008 after leaving his position in the same role at Google. He had come under fire over the last year at Facebook for his influence in shaping Facebook’s highly criticized public reaction to a series of scandals that began with the platform’s policies during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In response to questions about Facebook’s potential unwitting role in influencing the outcome of the election, Mark Zuckerberg famously dismissed such concerns as a “pretty crazy idea.”

via Facebook/Elliot Schrage

In a Facebook post, Schrage elaborates:

After more than a decade at Facebook, I’ve decided it’s time to start a new chapter in my life. Leading policy and communications for hyper growth technology companies is a joy — but it’s also intense and leaves little room for much else. Mark, Sheryl and I have been discussing this for a while. I’ll lead the search to identify someone new to oversee our communications and policy teams. We expect to find someone with the same passion, integrity, determination and energy that our teams bring to Facebook every day. Mark and Sheryl have asked me to stay to manage the transition and then to stay on as an advisor to help on particular projects – and I’m happy to help.

Earlier this week, Schrage reportedly apologized for comments made in response to questions from Arjuna Capital Managing Partner Natasha Lamb during an investor meeting. Lamb inquired about Facebook’s plans to correct its gender pay gap among other uncomfortable lines of questioning for the company. Schrage reportedly told Lamb that the company would not answer her questions because she was “not nice.” It’s not clear if that event influenced the timing of Schrage’s departure.

Facebook says it gave ‘identical support’ to Trump and Clinton campaigns

Facebook’s hundreds of pages of follow-ups to Senators make for decidedly uninteresting reading. Give lawyers a couple months and they will always find a way to respond non-substantively to the most penetrating questions. One section may at least help put a few rumors to rest about Facebook’s role in the 2016 Presidential campaigns, though of course much is still left to the imagination.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), whose dogged questioning managed to put Mark Zuckerberg on his back foot during the questioning, had several pages of questions sent over afterwards. Among the many topics was that of the 2016 campaign and reports that Facebook employees were “embedded” in the Trump campaign specifically, as claimed by the person who ran the digital side of that campaign.

This has raised questions as to whether Facebook was offering some kind of premium service to one candidate or another, or whether one candidate got tips on how to juice the algorithm, how to target better, and so on.

Here are the takeaways from the answers, which you can find in full on page 167 of the document at the bottom of this post.

  • The advice to the campaigns is described as similar to that given to “other, non-political” accounts.
  • No one was “assigned full-time” on either the Trump or Clinton campaign.
  • Campaigns did not get to hand pick who from Facebook came to advise them.
  • Facebook provided “identical support” and tools to both campaigns.
  • Sales reps are trained to comply with federal election law, and to report “improper activity.”
  • No such “improper activity” was reported by Facebook employees on either campaign.
  • Facebook employees did work directly with Cambridge Analytica employees.
  • No one identified any issues with Cambridge Analytica, its data, or its intended use of that data.
  • Facebook did not work with Cambridge Analytica or related companies on other campaigns (e.g. Brexit).

It’s not exactly fire, but we don’t really need more fire these days. This at least is on the record and relatively straightforward; whatever Facebook’s sins during the election cycle may have been, it does not appear that preferential treatment of the two major campaigns was among them.

Incidentally, if you’re curious whether Facebook finally answered Sen. Harris’s questions about who made the decision not to inform users of the Cambridge Analytica issue back in 2015, or how that decision was made — no, it didn’t. In fact the silence here is so deafening it almost certainly indicates a direct hit.

Harris asked how and when it came to the decision not to inform users that their data had been misappropriated, who made that decision and why, and lastly when Zuckerberg entered the loop. Facebook’s response does not even come close to answering any of these questions:

When Facebook learned about Kogan’s breach of Facebook’s data use policies in December 2015, it took immediate action. The company retained an outside firm to assist in investigating Kogan’s actions, to demand that Kogan and each party he had shared data with delete the data and any derivatives of the data, and to obtain certifications that they had done so. Because Kogan’s app could no longer collect most categories of data due to changes in Facebook’s platform, the company’s highest priority at that time was ensuring deletion of the data that Kogan may have accessed before these changes took place. With the benefit of hindsight, we wish we had notified people whose information may have been impacted. Facebook has since notified all people potentially impacted with a detailed notice at the top of their newsfeed.

This answer has literally nothing to do with the questions.

It seems likely from the company’s careful and repeated refusal to answer this question that the story is an ugly one — top executives making a decision to keep users in the dark for as long as possible, if I had to guess.

At least with the campaign issues Facebook was more forthcoming, and as a result will put down several lines of speculation. Not so with this evasive maneuver.

Embedded below are Facebook’s answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the other set is here:

Here are 454 pages of Facebook’s written follow-up answers to Congress

Facebook finished its homework. In a pair of newly uploaded letters, the two Senate committees that grilled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in April have published the social media giant’s written answers to their considerable body of questions.

Zuckerberg faced criticism for not answering many of the more intricate or controversial questions from members of Congress in the moment, but by playing it safe the company bought two months’ worth of time to craft its answers in perfect legalese. If you’re interested in combing through the 454 pages worth of explanations on everything from accusations of conservative censorship to Cambridge Analytica, you can dig into the documents, embedded below.

Facebook’s answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Facebook’s answers to questions from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation:

Twitter’s emoji for Trump’s North Korea nuclear summit is very weird

As U.S. President Trump preps for a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Twitter doesn’t want you to forget to tweet about it under the right hashtag.

In a choice that seems to make light of a lot of really quite serious things at once, Twitter is promoting its new #TrumpKimSummit emoji for Tuesday’s summit in Singapore.

The event-specific symbol features what appears to be a high-five between a hand representing the U.S. president and one representing the North Korean dictator known for executing his political enemies and exiling large swaths of his nation to prison camps where they face starvation and torture.

Presumably they are high-fiving over the successful but by no means guaranteed or likely negotiation of an extremely delicate denuclearization agreement and the deescalated international threat of the mass loss of life through nuclear annihilation.

The summit won’t be Trump’s first foray into treating an established despot and human rights abuser like or perhaps better than the leader of an allied nation, though it is Twitter’s first time treating such an event like a Game of Thrones season finale. Twitter’s event-specific emojis, sometimes called hashflags, are usually reserved for things like Coca-Cola branding campaigns (#ShareACoke) or the Super Bowl, not possibly misguided diplomacy efforts between international adversaries. In the future, they should probably stay that way.

We’ve reached out to Twitter with questions about what inspired the #TrumpKimSummit emoji campaign and will update this story if we hear back or manage to make any sense of it ourselves. Assuming that nuclear war doesn’t break out.

Facebook cuts down annoying ‘now connected on Messenger’ alerts

“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook” BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.

Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:

We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.

So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.

Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too, so no need to pester me with a notification.

But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.

Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow,” and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about overuse, we may be able to make swifter progress toward them respecting our attention.

Facebook alerts 14M to privacy bug that changed status composer to public

Facebook has another privacy screwup on its hands. A bug in May accidentally changed the suggested privacy setting for status updates to public from whatever users had set it to last, potentially causing them to post sensitive friends-only content to the whole world. Facebook is now notifying 14 million people around the world who were potentially impacted by the bug to review their status updates and lock them down tighter if need be.

Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote to TechCrunch in a statement:

We recently found a bug that automatically suggested posting publicly when some people were creating their Facebook posts. We have fixed this issue and starting today we are letting everyone affected know and asking them to review any posts they made during that time. To be clear, this bug did not impact anything people had posted before – and they could still choose their audience just as they always have. We’d like to apologize for this mistake”.

The bug was active from May 18th to May 27th, with Facebook able start rolling out a fix on May 22nd. It happened because Facebook was building a ‘featured items’ option on your profile that highlights photos and other content. These featured items are publicly visible, but Facebook inadvertently extended that setting to all new posts from those users.

The issue has now been fixed, and everyone’s status composer has been changed back to default to the privacy setting they had before the bug. The notifications about the bug leads to a page of info about the issue, with a link to review affected posts.

Facebook tells TechCrunch that it hears loud and clear that it must be more transparent about its product and privacy settings, especially when it messes up. And it plans to show more of these types of alerts to be forthcoming about any other privacy issues it discovers in the future.

Facebook depends on trust in its privacy features to keep people sharing. If users are worried their personal photos, sensitive status updates, or other content could leak out to the public and embarrass them or damage their reputation, they’ll stay silent.

With all the other issues swirling after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, this bug shows that Facebook’s privacy issues span both poorly thought-out policies and technical oversights. It moved too fast, and it broke something.