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Gillmor Gang: Room to Grow


The Gillmor Gang — John Borthwick, Robert Scoble, Dan Farber, John Taschek, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, October 24, 2014. A heavy news week crescendoed with Facebook’s release of its Rooms iOS app, topping Twitter’s Fabric platform , Google’s InBox, a big Microsoft quarter, and the refactoring of the TV business.

The mechanics of Room’s camera roll authentication may be less than intuitive, but the ease with which an @borthwick tweet turned into viral on boarding turned us into believers — of what we’re not sure. Instagram for Adults, UberNotifications, or Room Service Plus?

@stevegillmor, @scobleizer, @borthwick, @dbfarber, @jtaschek, @kteare

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

Live chat stream

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

Our sister show

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The Groups App I Wish Facebook Would Build


About once a week, if not more, I find myself typing these words or something similar on Facebook: “I just PM’d you, check your ‘Other’ inbox.” Or, “sorry, I’m on mobile, I can’t get to the ‘Other’ inbox right now.” Or sometimes, just “bump.”

If any of these phrases sound familiar, you’re probably also a member of several Facebook Groups like I am.

Over the years, Facebook’s Groups product has evolved beyond being a private place for a few friends to chat outside of a traditional Facebook post and comment thread scenario. Instead, today’s Facebook Groups section is a busy, semi-public area on Facebook’s network which resembles a Facebook-flavored Craigslist competitor…or a Meetup competitor…or a Nextdoor competitor, depending on your use case. Here, users are busy selling on virtual yard sales, networking around topics of interest (health, parenting, politics, hobbies, etc.), helping each other find work, chatting with neighbors, and more.

According to data shared on Facebook’s homepage, the Groups product, launched back in fall 2004, has over 500 million users. Third-party sources claim there are hundreds of millions of Groups on Facebook, and these communities continue to grow.

Being involved with Facebook Groups sometimes feels like you’re on a whole different social network. In Groups, Facebook users are establishing connections with people outside of their personal “social graph” of friends, family and colleagues, and are more broadly connecting with the community at large, whether that’s others in their own neighborhood, with people city-wide, or with those who share your same beliefs or interests.

Having largely ignored Facebook Groups for some time outside of a few one-off use cases, I became a more active participant this year after some gentle prompting from Facebook in the sidebar of my neighborhood’s group. The “Suggested Groups” module that Facebook rolled out last fall on mobile recommended other groups I might like – and noted which of my friends had already joined. I finally took note of this section and started joining more and more groups.

As of today, I regularly follow over half a dozen local “yard sale”-type groups where members are offering up everything from secondhand clothes and kids’ toys to furniture, appliances and even vehicles. I’m a member of a few special interest groups focused around who am I outside of work (e.g., a parent, a bargain hunter, etc.) as well as subjects I like to track, if not actively discuss.

To stay on top of the most recent posts in all these groups, you have to click on each of them individually from the Facebook sidebar navigation on either web or mobile, and then scroll through the new activity, which is like scrolling through a News Feed.

The problem with participating in Facebook Groups today is that it can be time-consuming and frustrating to do so. After you join, say, around a half-dozen groups or more, you stop being able to keep up. It would be like trying to track all of Craigslist by clicking around each section daily. There’s so much happening, that you become reliant on Facebook’s News Feed algorithm to surface the posts from your favorite groups for you.

Unfortunately, that’s a bad idea. By the time Facebook has determined a post in a group to be buzzy enough to interest you, it’s often information that arrives too late. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for missing a great deal on a piece of furniture or other item that was quickly snatched up on a local yard sale group, or saw a post about a local community event pop up after the event had already wrapped.

In many cases, Group activity is something you want to more actively watch – especially if it’s related to something timely – like information about new job openings, good deals or sales, a neighbor’s report of criminal activity a few doors down, a big wreck that’s causing road closures or re-routing traffic, and more.

But the interface on Facebook today isn’t ideal for tracking your groups easily, whether you’re on either web or mobile.

The Perfect Groups App

A dedicated mobile app for Groups would be better. If I could build one for myself, I’d make it so that I could organize groups into categories – that way I could pop into one section to track my favorite local yard sales separately from the mommy and kiddie groups, or the bargain hunter groups, or those related to technology news and startups. (Yes, I’m in a few of those too!)

I’d also like to configure smarter, and more personalized notifications for my groups. Sometimes, after I view a post, I want the option mark it as read, and not be notified about additional comments. Other times, I’d like to track the post’s changes and comments. This should not a group-wide setting, but something I could enable on a per-item basis.

In addition, if a post in a group about what’s happening around town contained a specific date and time, it would be great if Facebook’s clever algorithms could turn that into a reminder or event I could add to my Facebook calendar.

And why can’t the search feature for groups be turned into an alerts function? If I happened to be looking for a great, but kind of cheap new coffee table (ahem), it would be super useful to get a push notification when the keywords “coffee table” were mentioned on the groups I track.

And most importantly – and I can’t stress this enough –  a dedicated Groups app should have a functional private messaging inbox. Or even better, Facebook should stop putting communications in between Groups members into the “Other” inbox.

In case you’re unaware, the “Other” inbox was created to help Facebook users cut down on spam and other unsolicited messages they’d receive from people who are not their Facebook friends. It arose from Facebook’s failed attempt to turn itself into an email platform. When you launch the Messages section on, the “Other” inbox appears grayed out – an easy-to-miss home for all the unimportant messages you’ll probably just ignore forever.

But when you’re communicating with Groups members – like to share a home address related to an item on a yard sale, for example, or to arrange a spot to meetup, or to share personal information like an email address or phone number, or for a variety of other reasons that regularly come up – those messages by default go into this “Other” inbox.

Why? Because the people on the receiving end of those communications are not typically a Facebook friend.

The issue with this process is that Facebook’s mobile Messenger app – the one it’s now forcing users to download – doesn’t support the “Other” inbox. In fact, there’s really no good way to access the Other inbox from your mobile phone, outside of a janky workaround for pulling it up on the web. It’s beyond annoying.

(Note that the “Groups” section in the Messenger app today is not about Facebook Groups – it’s for sending out a message to a “group” of your Facebook friends. In other words, same name, entirely different function.)

So to sum up: the thriving, semi-public Facebook network that is Facebook Groups is difficult to track on web and mobile due to all the clicking around you have to do, prevents private communications between members from being easily accessed, and offers no help for those who want to participate in a larger number of groups with smart tools for group organization and personalized notifications.

Please Build Something Useful

And yet, instead of rolling out a product that would solve a problem with a significantly sized, heavily trafficked portion of Facebook’s site, the company seems to be more obsessed with not missing out on whatever the next new social networking craze may be. When it can’t set fire to billions to acquire its way further in to mobile messaging, it clones popular apps which often then flop even when they’re well-designed. See for example, Poke, (a would-be Snapchat); Slingshot or Bolt (a Taptalk clone); Paper (similar to Flipboard); or now, Rooms (inspired by Secret and Slack). And Facebook is currently trying to clone a private photo-sharing app that looks like Cluster, we’ve heard.

Meanwhile, Facebook has proven that when it pushes a dedicated product related to a particular feature or function on its existing site – as it did with the forced download of the Messenger app, which is still in the top of the charts on the App Store – it can establish a solid mobile foothold with an app that is not Facebook proper.

Word was that Facebook would break out other portions of its website into dedicated apps like it did with Messenger, in order to launch standalone experiences for Groups and Events. This could still be happening. But where are these already? Why are we getting a bunch of me-too apps instead of something hundreds of millions of Facebook’s users already use, and would likely be thrilled to see improved on mobile?

That’s not to say that these newcomer Facebook social apps won’t eventually hit it big, or aren’t thoughtfully envisioned or well-designed – they are. But they aren’t currently solving the ongoing challenges a large number of Facebook users encounter today – they’re trying to create new and different ways for people to network.

But Facebook itself is already facilitating new kinds of social networks through Events and Groups and communities of Page followers.

If only there were tools that made these features easier to access and use on our mobile phones.

Images: Bryce Durbin/Shutterstock photo

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AT&T Breaks The Apple SIM’s Best Feature, Locks It Down If You Pick AT&T


The idea behind the Apple SIM that comes in the new iPads is most excellent: one SIM, many carriers. Whenever you want to switch carriers, you’d just pop into settings and pick the new one. If you want to bring your own SIM, you can — but otherwise, everything happens through software. No swapping SIMs, no ordering new SIMs, no hassle.

Alas, someone had to go and throw a wrench in the gears. ATT (who else?) is mucking up the whole thing.

For now, the Apple SIM is compatible with four carriers: T-Mobile, Sprint, and ATT in the US, and EE in the UK. (Note the lack of VZW support in the states; seems they’re not very into this idea just yet.)

With three of those four compatible carriers, you’re free to stretch your legs, hop between the offerings, and find the carrier that fits your needs.

Pick ATT, however, and you get a nasty little prompt: “Once activation is complete,” it reads, “this Apple SIM can only be used with ATT. You will need a new Apple SIM if you change carriers in the future.”

As MacRumors notes, an Apple support page notes this ugly little tidbit:

Using Apple SIM, you can choose from different cellular carriers and their various programs. The data plans vary by carrier. For instance, in the United States, you can choose a domestic plan from either Sprint or T-Mobile and also pick an alternate plan from the other carrier as needed. When you choose ATT on iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, ATT dedicates Apple SIM to their network only.

I’ve received confirmation from ATT that they’re doing this, though I’ve requested further clarification as to why they’re doing it. No response there yet.

Now, this only really applies if you’re buying a new iPad with an Apple SIM installed out of the box — which, confusingly, isn’t all new iPads. It depends on where you purchase the device. Buy it through Apple, it’ll have an Apple SIM. Buy it through an independent reseller, Apple SIM. Buy it directly through Sprint, for example, and it’ll come with a Sprint-only SIM.

But when you get an Apple SIM, you expect it to work a certain way — and for it to continue working that way. ATT — or anyone else, moving forward — doing this to an Apple SIM post-purchase is really just screwing up the whole idea. If this is its way of resisting the wave of change heading in its direction, then it’s just going to look like a jerk in the long run.

As you might expect if you’re familiar with the guy, T-Mobile John Legere (who also posted the image above) seized the chance to declare a victory:

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This Week On The TC Gadgets Podcast: iPads, Disrupt London, And iPads


You might have heard that Apple released some new iPads last week. A lot of them. Plus, TechCrunch ventured across the pond for Disrupt London, where a number of incredible hardware startups debuted their wares. It was a long, but awesome, week.

We discuss all this and more on this week’s episode of the TC Gadgets Podcast featuring John Biggs, Matt Burns, and Jordan Crook.

Have a good Friday, everybody!

We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern and noon Pacific. And feel free to check out the TechCrunch Gadgets Flipboard magazine right here.

Click here to download an MP3 of this show.
You can subscribe to the show via RSS.
Subscribe in iTunes

Intro Music by Mendhoan.

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Google Rolls Out An Invite System For Its New Email App, Inbox By Gmail


Good news, you don’t have to scour eBay for an invite to Google’s new email application, Inbox. You just have to know someone who got in. Today, Google announced by way of its “Inbox by Gmail” Twitter account that each Inbox user will now receive three invites they can hand out to friends. Hilariously, the invite button emoji is a golden ticket.

If you aren’t seeing this option yet in your Inbox app, you soon will.

To locate the invite button, just tap the red “Compose” plus icon at the bottom right of the screen. The “Invite to Inbox” button will be the first option above the red Compose button after doing so.

The funny thing about Inbox requiring an invite in order to get in is that it’s such a manufactured attempt at creating a sense of exclusivity around Google’s new product. By limiting access, Google is mimicking the path its buzzy email competitor Mailbox once took. Mailbox, now owned by Dropbox, famously established a “queue” users had to join before they were able to try the product everyone was talking about.

At the time, the startup claimed this would help it manage its growth without succumbing to a massive influx of users who joined all at once. But many also saw it as a marketing ploy designed to increase demand, or even an experiment in human behavior.

And of course, the original Gmail product launch also had an invite system of its own when it first arrived years ago. Gmail invites were a hot item then, too, as everyone clamored for a way into this revolutionary email system that was offering a preposterous 1 GB of free storage and instructed users to archive, not delete, their emails.

But Google isn’t some scrappy upstart anymore. It has access some of the most powerful, scalable technology that exists. As one TechCrunch colleague pointed out, “If anyone could scale any garbage to run for the entire planet without really trying, it’s Google.”

In other words, Google doesn’t need to foist an invite system on would-be Inbox app users. Instead, it’s trying to re-create a sense of buzz around this new app, purportedly a reinvention of email, in hopes of being able to increase demand and grow a user base virally.

Despite the sort-of fakeness to this methodology, I hate to say it, but it’s working. There’s a bit of FOMO going on. Those without Inbox invites are hitting up their contacts at Google, and bugging their friends. Or yes, selling invites on eBay.

Guys, chill. It’s really just a prettier Gmail with some new organizational features, and a new workflow. It’s not even ideal for advanced users who get a lot of email, or who already use Gmail filters and rules. It’s a bit of an adjustment, and you might even decide it’s not for you in the long run.

But time will tell if Inbox is the second coming of Gmail, I suppose.

P.S. Sorry, my three are gone. Move along. 

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Don’t Open Random PowerPoint Presentations From Strangers Right Now (Or Ever, Really)


Heads up! In what feels like a throwback to the late 90s/early 2000’s, Microsoft has discovered one helluva bug in Microsoft Office. Executed properly, the bug could be exploited to take over your entire system running just about any version of Windows.

You can find Microsoft’s full disclosure on the bug here, but here’s the bulk of what you should know:

  1. This bug is being exploited in the wild, though Microsoft only knows of “limited, targeted attacks” so far
  2. It affects Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, and Windows RT. XP isn’t mentioned as Microsoft no longer supports it — but yeah, it’s probably affected too.
  3. If executed properly, the exploit gives the attacker the same permissions on your system as whatever type of user you’re currently logged in as. If you’re an admin, that means full admin rights — code execution, app installs, etc.
  4. If you have Window’s User Account Control feature enabled, it’ll throw up a prompt asking if the file is okay to execute. If you aren’t 100% sure that the file is legit, avoid doing so.
  5. The bug is part of PowerPoint’s OLE system, which lets you embed things like spreadsheets into a presentation. It’s supposed to be fairly well sandboxed; alas, it looks like someone found a gap.
  6. Microsoft says that hacked presentations e-mailed to users and hacked presentations sitting on the web are potentially dangerous. The short version: avoid all but the most-trusted PowerPoint presentations right now.

So just how gnarly is this bug? Says Microsoft (emphasis ours):

An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could gain the same user rights as the current user. If the current user is logged on with administrative user rights, an attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could take complete control of an affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.

But should you panic?

Nah. Do a few things things, and you should be safe:
1) Play it smart about what presentations you open
2) If you’re on a build of Windows that has User Account Control as an option, enable it (it should be on by default, in most cases.) This won’t fix the bug outright, but it’ll throw up a big permissions prompt that’ll remind you not to open mystery files.
3) Check out this advisory page from Microsoft, which offers up a temporary patch until Microsoft finalizes a security update.

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