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In September, Amazon announced it was adding support for Alexa voice control to its Amazon Music app for iOS and Android. However, it was implemented as a tap-to-talk function – something that didn’t quite mesh with the hands-free voice control experience Alexa is known for. Today, Amazon is addressing that problem by rolling out hands-free listening to the Amazon Music app instead, as a result of user feedback.
That means customers can command Alexa to do things like play or pause music, move back and forth between songs, and create playlists by asking, as well as take advantage of Alexa’s more innovative features around playing music by mood, activity, genre, lyrics, artist or song title.
For example, you can ask Alexa to do things like “play the song that goes ‘I’m lovin’ I’m livin’ I’m picking it up” and she’ll play Ariana Grande’s latest single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” notes Amazon. Or you can say things like “Alexa, play that Drake playlist I was listening to last week.”
The update to hands-free voice control could help better establish Amazon’s Music service as a viable competitor to Apple Music, which includes Siri voice control, and Spotify, which began testing its own voice search functionality this March.
Amazon Music is still seen as an underdog in the streaming music battle, compared with these two market leaders, but it may not be as far behind as people though.
Last month, for instance, Billboard reported the number of people subscribing to Amazon Music had doubled over the last six months, and Amazon was claiming “tens of millions” of paid customers. (Apple Music had 40 million paid members as of April and Spotify had 70 million.) An earlier report had also found that Amazon’s service had grown to become the third largest music subscription service worldwide.
Voice control – and specifically the hands-free experience offered by Echo speakers – has been a huge contributor to Amazon Music’s growth, as has been its inclusion with the Amazon Prime membership program.
It makes sense, then, that Amazon would want to offer a similar hands-free experience across devices – especially as voice assistants like Google’s and Apple’s Siri have the advantage of being built-in. (And Google has also just launched its own YouTube Music service, which could be a disruptor to this space.)
Amazon says hands-free Alexa is rolling out starting today on the iOS and Android versions of the Amazon Music mobile app for both Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music listeners. The feature can be turned off in the settings if you don’t want to use it.
ClassPass, the studio fitness platform that gives users access to thousands of boutique fitness classes, has said it plans to expand internationally into nine new countries by the end of 2018. The company’s top priorities are consolidating its position in the UK and launching in three countries in Asia, according to chief executive Fritz Lanman. Lanman declined to disclose which countries the fitness subscription service was targeting.
ClassPass’s further international expansion isn’t exactly a surprise. The company already serves parts of Canada, the UK and Australia alongside its 50 cities within the US. ClassPass also raised a whopping $70 million Series C last year which Lanman tells me was purposefully large to fuel this type of expansion without being dependent on another round of financing.
As part of the expansion initiative, ClassPass has hired Chloe Ross as VP of International. Ross has worked on international strategy at Microsoft and has helped in developing policy in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.
In 2014, ClassPass found its footing with a brand new model for the fitness world. The company aggregated fitness classes and studio partners while offering a subscription model for users, letting them pick and play as they choose across a wide variety of classes. In essence, the company brought a media model, not unlike Netflix, to the real world industry of fitness.
Lanman says that this kind of business model innovation has spurred a large number of clones, both domestically and internationally, and that international expansion is integral to cementing ClassPass’s spot at the top of the heap.
As it stands now, ClassPass currently has 9,000 studio partners, but Lanman and founder Payal Kadakia see the opportunity to grow that to 90,000 as the company ventures outside of the U.S.
Moreover, ClassPass has played with the idea of expanding into new verticals for quite some time, with wellness being first in line. But before ClassPass can dive deep into a wellness vertical, it must first solidify its place as a global aggregator of studio fitness.
The company recently unveiled a new at-home workout program called ClassPass Live, letting users stream classes from the comfort of their own home. No word yet on when ClassPass Live will debut in new international markets, Lanman said.
ClassPass has raised a total of $154 million since launch.
Elie Dolgin is a science writer specializing in biomedical research and drug discovery. After a PhD spent studying the population genetics of nematodes, he swapped worms for words—entering journalism as an editor at The Scientist, Nature Medicine, and STAT. Now a freelancer, Elie is a frequent contributor to New Scientist, Nature, IEEE Spectrum, and more.
All told, 16 years is a pretty good run in the social media world. After launching in 2002, website discovery platform StumbleUpon is shutting down on June 30. Over its existence, the service racked up 60 billion stumbles for 40 million users, cofounder Garrett Camp wrote in a Medium post this week.
Those of us who wrote for sites at the height of the tool’s power know it was capable of driving a tremendous amount of traffic in its prime. One of StumbleUpon’s greatest strengths was its simplicity, offering up content with a single click. But Camp notes in his post that its simplicity was ultimately its detriment in the ever-changing online world.
eBay bought the service for a reported $75 million in 2007, but failed it relevant. In 2013, the service underwent significant layoffs, allowing Camp to buy a majority share two years later.
“Since starting SU the number of people with internet access has grown nearly 10x, and mobile phones and social media have changed our lives. The number of platforms to share or host content has increased significantly, yet we still need better tools to help us filter through the exploding amount of content on the web, and find signal within the noise. And we’ve learned from SU that while simplicity and serendipity is important, so is enabling contextual curation.”
Those lessons, it seems, will be informing Camp’s product, Mix.com — as will StumbleUpon’s use base. Existing StumbleUpon accounts will be transitioned to Mix ahead of the June 30 deadline.
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Most high-end restaurants don’t get their beef from the local grocery store. Well-regarded chefs and restauranteurs build relationships with small farms and family ranchers to procure what’s known in the industry as craft beef.
Just like coffee or chocolate or wine, the smallest differences (type of grass, breed of cow, lifestyle, etc.) can make a big difference in overall taste. But you and I have never had easy access to this beef outside of hitting up a Michelin-star restaurant.
And then Crowd Cow came along.
Crowd Cow, based in Seattle, works with small family farms to let users choose their cow and their cut. Crowd Cow then ships this craft beef directly to a user’s home.
Before Crowd Cow, five or six families would have to go in together on more than 500 LBs of beef in order to be a compelling customer to these small farms. That means they need a large meat freezer, upfront cash, and all the time and resources necessary to get the product from the farm to the home.
Crowd Cow founders Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry realized the whole process would be much better for everyone if they could crowdsource 50 families, instead of four or five, to buy a cow. The company handles logistics and offers users a way to learn about the ranch, the cow, and more via the app.
Today, the company is announcing that it has closed an $8 million Series A funding led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Ashton Kutcher of Sound Ventures and existing investor Joe Montana of Liquid 2 Ventures.
Since launch, Seattle-based Crowd Cow has expanded to offer chicken, olive wagyu, and pork and now serves the entire contiguous United States. The company generates more than $1 million in revenue a month and revenue has grown 10x over the last year.
The greater vision is to de-commoditize beef.
The Seattle-based company isn’t the only startup to raise money in an attempt to get people to eat better beef. Earlier this month, Porter Road closed on $3.7 million to go after the market with a similar mission.
Backed by a slew of New York venture firms including Slow Ventures, Max Ventures, BoxGroup, Tribeca Venture Partners and the Collaborative Fund, Porter Road was founded by trained chefs and butchers Chris Carter and James Peisker. Originally working out of a butcher shop in Nashville, Tenn. since 2011, the two partners work with sustainable local farmers to source the best meat.
Both companies are putting a new spin on a model made famous by Omaha Steaks, the meat packer and mail order distributor founded over 100 years ago, which is now pulls in $450 million in revenue a year.
“Before Starbucks and microbrew, coffee was 50 cents and there were a handful of beers and no one really cared,” said Crow Cow’s Heitzeberg. “The reality is that beef is varied. There are 300 breeds, and there are different types of grass in these pastures, and these factors will lead to a very different taste. Beef doesn’t have to be a commodity.”
Crowd Cow plans to use the funding to continue expansion into different proteins and new markets, as well as opening new distribution centers to speed up delivery to customers.
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Starting this week, Facebook will begin asking users worldwide to review their privacy settings with a prompt that appears within the Facebook app. The experience will ask you to review how Facebook uses your personal data across a range of products, from ad targeting to facial recognition. This request to review Facebook’s updated terms and your settings follows a similar experience rolled out to users in the European Union as a result of the new user data privacy regulation, GDPR.
However, EU users have to agree to the new terms of service in order to continue using Facebook, Recode point out, after asking Facebook how the worldwide experience differs from the one being shown in Europe.
Elsewhere in the world, users who dismiss the prompt twice will be automatically opted in.
But before you close that window too quickly, you may want to take a look at what Facebook is asking.
In the new prompt, which appears when you visit News Feed, Facebook will allow you to review details about advertising, facial recognition, and the information you’ve chosen to share on your profile.
For example, you may no longer feel comfortable having your religion, political views or relationship information exposed, and the new experience will allow you to change those settings.
As you continue reviewing your information, each screen will walk you through what data is collected and how it’s used, allowing you to make better decisions about Facebook’s use of your data.
Specially, Facebook says the feature will include the following information:
- How it uses data from partners to show more relevant advertising
- Political, religious, and relationship information you’ve chosen to include on your profile
- How it uses face recognition, including for features that help protect your privacy
- Updates to its terms of service and data policy (that were announced in April)
If you’ve already disabled some of these settings, you won’t be shown that information or encouraged to turn the features back on.
Though the GDPR is aimed at protecting user data in the EU, Facebook has come under fire for its breach of trust with its user base due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal – where data was hijacked from 87 million users without their consent. The company is now revisiting a lot of its user data privacy practices and making changes as result of both that and GDPR’s requirements.
The experience will start popping up on Facebook this week.
Created to help app developers find and fix bugs more efficiently, Sentry announced today that it has raised a $16 million Series B led by returning investors NEA and Accel. Both firms participated in Sentry’s Series A round two years ago.
Co-founder and CEO David Cramer tells TechCrunch that the new round puts Sentry’s post-money valuation at around $100 million. The company recently launched Sentry 9, which, like its other software, is open source. Sentry 9 lets app developers integrate error remediation into their workflows by automatically notifying the developers responsible for that part of the code, letting them filter by environment to hone in on the issue, and manage collaboration among different teams. This reduces the amount of time it takes to fix bugs from “five hours to five minutes,” Sentry claims.
The company will “double down on developers and their adjacent roles,” in particular product teams, Cramer says. Next in the pipeline is tools that will answer more in-depth questions related to app performance management.
“Today we answer ‘this specific thing is broken, why?’ Next we’ll expand that into deeper insights whether it’s ‘these sets of things are broken for the same reason’ as well as exploring non-errors. For example, if you deploy an update to your product and traffic to your sign-up form goes to zero that’s pretty serious, even if you’re not generating errors,” Cramer says.
Sentry’s technology originated as an internal tool for exception logging in Djana applications while its founders, Chris Jennings and Cramer, were working at Disqus. After they open-sourced it, the software quickly expanded into more programming languages. Sentry launched a hosted service in 2012 to answer demand. It now claims to have 9,000 paying customers (including Airbnb, Dropbox, PayPal, Twitter and Uber), be used by 500,000 engineers and process more than 360 billion errors a year.
In a press statement, Accel partner Dan Levine said “Sentry’s growth is a testament to the now-universal truth that app users everywhere expect a flawless experience free of bugs and crashes. Poor user experience kills companies. In order to keep moving forward as quickly as possible, product teams need to know that customers will never leave because of a broken app update. Sentry lets every developer build software that is functionally error-free.”