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Facebook launches Workplace, a business version of Facebook

You probably already use Facebook at work. Now, Facebook is creating a separate version aimed at helping you do actual work instead of catching up on baby photos and campaign chatter.

Facebook is launching a communications tool on Monday for businesses, nonprofits and other organizations. Called Workplace, the platform is ad-free and not connected to users’ existing Facebook accounts. Instead, businesses sign up as an organization and pay a monthly fee based on the number of users. It’s free for nonprofits and educational institutions.

Julien Codorniou, head of Workplace at Facebook, said in an interview that the tool’s aim is to “connect everyone” in all sorts of workplaces — from desk-bound professionals to on-the-go employees who don’t have email or a computer. Think baristas at a coffee shop, field workers for a disaster-aid charity, salespeople at a clothing store or people making electronics at a factory.

Besides group chats and video calls, Workplace has live video and a news feed, much like the regular Facebook. In a departure from Facebook, the background is grey, not blue. Users can build profiles and see updates from co-workers on their news feed. As with the regular Facebook, the company will display posts that are more relevant based on its own formula. The idea is that because more than 1.7 billion people already know how to use Facebook, Workplace, which works much in the same way, will be easy to learn and use.

Organizations have used Workplace, previously called Facebook at Work, on an invite-only basis for the past 18 months. Facebook says more than 1,000 places use it, up from 450 six months ago. They include the non-profit Oxfam, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the soup maker Campbell’s and the vacation rental site Booking.com. The tool itself, though, has been in the works for much longer; it’s based on an internal service that the company’s own employees have been using for almost as long as Facebook has existed.

tec-facebook-workplace

Facebook says the top five countries now using Workplace are India, Norway, the U.S., U.K. and France. Workplace is available worldwide. About 85 per cent Facebook’s user base is outside of the U.S. and Canada.

For one to 1,000 active users, Workplace will cost $3 US per user per month. The cost declines with more users, so for 1,001 to 10,000, it’ll cost $2 US, and $1 US for more than 10,000 monthly users. Facebook says it won’t charge for inactive users.

By comparison, Slack, a messaging and group call service, costs $6.67 per user per month for a standard version. Slack is also available for free to try out, and an enterprise version, aimed at entire organizations rather than smaller teams, is in the works. There won’t be an unlimited free version of Facebook’s Workplace for businesses, though the company is offering a 3-month free trial.

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Augmented reality takes makeover tech to the next level.

It’s called the “makeup counter panic,” and we’ve all experienced it. At least, those of us who wear makeup. I’m at the store, trying to find a new foundation or shade of lipstick, but I have no idea what to go with. The tester samples look gross, and not one counter person is in sight. Do I steal a sample from an actual container, trust the color on the label, and hope for the best? It can be a mess.

Luckily, makeup has a new weapon in the fight against makeup counter panic: augmented reality.

Tech developers are teaming up with makeup, hair, and skincare companies to create augmented reality beauty simulators. Creative agency Holition recently paired up with Rimmel London to create an app, set to come out this September, where customers can test out makeup they can then purchase through the app. Mary Kay has a makeover app, and you can find independent apps like YouCam Makeup and ChouChou: Virtual Hair Makeover.

Makeup tech developer ModiFace has made apps for Urban Decay, L’Oréal, Avon Beauty, and other companies. Jennifer Tidy, ModiFace’s vice president of partnerships, said it gives makeup wearers the ultimate tool in “try before you buy.”

“Having the option to explore and try on an orange lipstick or a purple hair color really stretches the boundaries,” Tidy said. “[You can] have some fun with it without being horrified with the results.”
How ModiFace’s live effects work.

Tidy said augmented reality makeovers are great for people who buy their makeup or hair products online, or if they’re shy about getting professional consultations in person. ModiFace mostly licenses its product to outside makeup companies, but it also has several apps of its own for trying on things like makeup, hair and cosmetic surgery procedures. They have in-app purchases like more contact lens colors or celebrity hairstyles, but Tidy said the apps are more like product testers, showing beauty companies the type of work that they can do.

Makeup technology first came around in the late ’90s with Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover CD-ROM, which The New York Times hailed as “part of a growing way of interactive computer applications directed at women.” The CD-ROM, which I owned as a teenager and used on a regular basis, let users upload a photo of themselves and create different “looks” from the safety of their computer. It was fun but rudimentary, definitely encouraging more outlandish, garish looks than realistic makeovers.

I asked Tidy what’s changed since Virtual Makeover.

“Everything,” she laughed. “That Cosmopolitan CD you can put into your computer and upload is a bit of a dinosaur, but it was the original. The technology now has a level of accuracy that makes showcasing the products in a realistic way easier. We’re light years ahead compared to where we started in 1999.”
YouCam can add hair and makeup to your face for an AR makeover.

Computer programs like Virtual Makeover required users to visibly trace their eyes, lips, and eyebrows, which mostly yielded troublesome results, but augmented reality apps like ModiFace use assisted tracking to shape those difficult areas. After a user takes or uploads a picture, ModiFace has them move targeted points around to frame where the eyes and lips are, as well as hair if you’re adding a new color to your existing style. Other apps like YouCam don’t even require you to make adjustments; it will automatically map your face and put the makeup on. It’s not as precise as others like ModiFace, but it still works well.

Having tried some of the latest makeup and hair apps, I was impressed. Augmented reality has taken makeover technology to the next level. I tried out a couple of looks and sometimes couldn’t tell what was real and what was digitally added. I was especially surprised to learn I could pull off mauve lipstick. Tidy herself said she discovered a new look thanks to the technology.

“I tried some hairstyles and I realized I looked good in bangs, which I wouldn’t thought of before,” Tidy said.

Even with all the advancements, the technology isn’t perfect. It absolutely depends on good positioning and lighting. When you use a bad photo, it’s easy to see the makeup as just being piled onto the face. Tidy recommended taking the photo in a well-lit area without a lot of shade or wind, ideally indoors.

“The thing with this type of technology is really, the type of photo you upload it does impact,” Tidy said. “If you’re in a shadow or your hair is covering up your face, there’s only so much compensation we can do to help that.”

The hairstyles also tend to fall short of the Uncanny Valley. While hair colors are surprisingly easy to integrate into your natural hue, as well as contact lenses, hairstyles end up feeling a bit layered on. ChouChou works all right, with cute hairstyles from Tokyo, but it still falls short of looking like your actual hair. It’s more a prototype than something to fool the neighbors. Even though the hairstyles don’t look the most realistic, the app did help me discover my inner Khaleesi.

Several of these apps don’t offer many, if any, options for men. A few have men’s hairstyles, but they definitely have less than those that focus on female beauty. And I couldn’t find any apps where the makeup or cosmetic surgery sections had comprehensive male options. That’s something companies should definitely take note of and improve in the future.

But the technology is constantly changing, and new features are being added all the time. Tidy said ModiFace’s newest venture was Live Video, where makeovers can be shown in real-time on the face with adjustable mapping. ModiFace’s Urban Decay app uses Live Video for trying on new lipstick shades, shown a few paragraphs above. Other apps like YouCam include tutorials for how to achieve the different looks, including costume makeup like “Queen Cleopatra.” We’re also seeing better brand integration and purchasing options, like with the upcoming Rimmel London Get the Look app. Tidy said it’s all about giving people a way to experiment with their look, and possibly discover something new about themselves in the process.

“You’re not committed to having to purchase something without trying it on first,” Tidy said. “You can explore every single color of lipstick or eyeshadow or eyeliner, with that zero commitment factor. It’s an entertaining way of exploring the brands.”

This post first appeared on UploadVR.

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Nvidia claims its new chip is the ‘world’s fastest GPU’ for game and VR design

Nvidia announced today the Quadro P6000 graphics card for workstations, using the “world’s fastest GPU,” or graphics processing unit. The graphics card is targeted at designers who have to create complex simulations for everything from engineering models to virtual reality games.

The Quadro P6000 is based on Nvidia’s new Pascal graphics architecture, and it uses a GPU with 3,840 processing cores. It can reach 12 teraflops of computing performance, or twice as fast as the previous generation.

Nvidia unveiled the new platform for artists, designers, and animators at the Siggraph graphics technology conference in Anaheim, Calif. Nvidia says the new workstation GPU and new improvements in software will enable professionals to work faster and with greater creativity.

Nvidia is also announcing VRWorks’ 360 video software development kit, to enable VR developers to create applications to stitch together 4K video feeds into 360 videos. It is also adding graphics acceleration to the mental ray film-quality renderer, and it is releasing Nvidia Optix 4, the latest version of its GPU ray-tracing engine for creating ultrarealistic imagery. Artists can use it to work with scenes up to 64 gigabytes in detail.

“Often our artists are working with 50GB or higher datasets,” says Steve May, the chief technology officer at Pixar. “The ability to visualize scenes of this size interactively gives our artists the ability to make creative decisions more quickly. We’re looking forward to testing the limits of Pascal and expect the benefits to our workflows to be huge.”

The Quadro graphics cards will be available soon from major computer makers and system integrators.

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UX the Future of SEO: How to Adapt

The ultimate goal of all SEO endeavors is to attract visitors to your website. Yet all the traffic in the world won’t help you if your site is failing at conversions. The heart of any site’s ability to turn a visitor into a customer lies in the overall UX. UX is crucial aspect of SEO and Google has even been quoted as saying its “goal is to provide users with the most relevant results and a great user experience.” It’s the secret to its own behemoth success, and it’s the biggest factor in yours, too.

For your site to meet the expectations of all, it must provide a unique and enjoyable encounter for its visitors that is highly intuitive and easy to navigate. Yes, the keywords, images, meta tags, and so forth are still absolutely critical, but you must also infuse elements that provide a second-to-none user experience. There is no one-size-fits-all usability solution, however; to nail this, you need to know the audience you are serving.

Here are the basic rules to help you coalesce a powerful UX with your thoughtfully crafted SEO blueprint.

1. Establish Your Goals

Before any progress can be made on site design and UX, SEOs and Web designers must come to an agreement on what the goals of the website are. This will help push forward the ideas for design, content marketing strategies, and overall success.

Create buyer personas to help guide the questions and decisions that will be confronted in order to develop a premier UX. If there is ever a disagreement, simply refer back to the buyer persona outlines and ask a few key questions about the decision you’re making:

  • What goal does this help to attain?
  • Is this the best route to achieving this goal?
  • Will the user enjoy this feature?
  • How will this affect the visitor’s decision-making process?
  • Will this drive conversions?

2. UX and Website Design

The very foundation of a great UX is a great website design. Major sites like Amazon and Zappos.com are constantly redesigning and testing various elements to their sites for peak UX and, therefore, peak conversion rates. By doing this, sites like these are directly responding to consumer habits. When weak areas of the experience are identified, changes are made and tested. If folks are abandoning the process or bouncing off the site, you need to find these discrepancies, test alternatives, and get the process ironed out.

If your site is unattractive, difficult to navigate, or cluttered, you should most certainly consider a redesign. Your metrics aren’t lying to you; plug these holes or you will keep sinking.

To gain a clear understanding of which areas of your site are less than desirable, ask friends, family, employees and customers for their feedback on which portions of the site they found problematic. Additionally, websites like User Testing can provide an unbiased view of how visitors perceive your site.

3. Engage and Inspire

By now, you should understand the massive benefits that blogging puts forth toward SEO. Not a blog here or there, however, but a full-fledged content marketing effort. But there is one largely underutilized facet of this tactic that many businesses aren’t taking advantage of; the opportunity to engage with your visitors.

UX isn’t just about the design of the site, it’s also about making connections with people. By posting content on a regular basis, you open up an awesome opportunity to engage your following in a meaningful way. Answer questions, respond directly to comments, and add additional value by discussing current trends in your industry. This demonstrates that you have some serious knowledge about your niche. Don’t just start the conversation; continue to engage with those who chime in, and brand loyalty will start to quickly emerge.

4. Measuring UX

Your first indicator of unsuccessful UX is bounce rates; if you are experiencing a high level of bounces, try to determine why. What page is leading to the highest numbers? Figure out what it is about these sections that is turning off visitors. If it’s a straight up mystery, ask them. Place a one question poll on the offending page and ask about prices, content, site experience; whatever you suspect might be the culprit. Your audience always has the answers.

Your second clue is the granddaddy of all metrics: Conversion rates. If you are not seeing the volume of conversions that you aim to produce, establish why this is. Does your site guide visitors through the conversion funnel? Are there clear and prominent calls-to-action on each page? What is it that you want your visitors to do next after arriving on a particular page; and is that clear to visitors as well? You essentially want to hold your customer’s hand through the site experience. Don’t make them think; make it obvious where to go next.

Much like SEO itself, UX is a constantly evolving process. Never allow your site to become sedentary; always seek out new ways to innovate and improve. Conduct A/B tests to see if different versions produce superior results. Send out surveys to your audience to find out what they would like to see. It is imperative to generate the most outstanding user experience you can possibly muster; UX is the cornerstone of SEO success.

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The local search landscape continues to evolve quickly. New vendors and local optimization tactics are emerging almost daily. Here's a recap of the state of local search, the key players, and how to chart your way forward in this complex area.

With the rise of smartphones and mapping apps we’re living in the era of local search and discovery.

Before we dive into the thicket of what it takes to win in the space and who the players are, let’s take a step back and review the basics of local SEO.

Google’s Knowledge Graph – showing information directly on the search results page -and the presence of the ‘Carousel’ results are just two of the game changers making local SEO a moving target.

The carousel will make images and reviews a key driver of clicks. It may also imply that ranking number one in local results is less important as results are listed horizontally.

pizza-savannah-google

Before we dive into the thicket of what it takes to win in the space and who the players are, we will review the basics of local SEO.

The Key Drivers for Local Search

In general, SEOs agree the key factors driving local search results boil down to:

  • Keyword-targeted, indexable landing pages (where the keyphrase is the location and the service)
  • Consistent, accurate business listing data across multiple listing data providers
  • Consistent, accurate name, address and phone number on the site landing page, business listings, and search engine local page
  • Good reviews, content, and engagement on search engine local pages (Google+)
  • Inbound links and citations / mentions for the target web page and the domain
  • User searches for the business name in the geographical area
  • Google Map Maker engagement (for Google, obviously)
  • A good mobile experience (50 percent of mobile searches have local intent)

Given a basic understanding of the tactics and the user experience for local search, we can now review the various options for local search optimization.

Local SEO for the Truly Clueless

Say you are a lawyer, a plumber, or an exterminator and you don’t have time to worry about this stuff. Setting aside the fact that you likely aren’t reading this article, let’s look at the 100 percent outsourced options.

These vendors will set you up with a website, a local ad or marketing campaign, and some kind of local off-site page presence for a monthly fee, all you need to do is give them a call and a credit card number.

  • ReachLocal: Pretty much the first players in this space and the industry leader. They tend to target the larger end of the small business market (more than a few employees and more than a few hundreds of dollars a month to spend). ReachLocal will set you up with a web presence and an online marketing (search, social, display, mobile) campaign that fits your budget.
  • Yodle: Lesser known, but providing pretty much the same service as ReachLocal, Yodle targets the small end of the small business segment. They will set you up with a basic template-driven, search optimized website on a domain they own and control. They will also set up a paid search campaign assuming you have the budget, and will track and forward any calls they generate.

One thing to consider with these outsourced solutions is once you stop paying them, you may lose your website, the leads stop coming, and any SEO equity you may have established goes bye-bye.

If you really don’t think you can figure out how to create a website and do basic SEO, the outsourced approach is the solution for you. Just be aware of the downsides and the fact that you are paying them for the service. Otherwise, buck it up and make your own website and follow the instructions below to optimize it for local search.

The Do-It-Yourself Approach to Local SEO

So you are going to do it yourself. As we have seen above, you need good on-page SEO to rock in local search and a good mobile site or responsive design since a ton of your local searches will be on mobile devices.

Step 1: Basic SEO

You need to get your on-page SEO in order – create a nice, responsive site with a local keyword-targeted home page (e.g., “Childrens Resale Store, Brooklyn, NY”). Then go about the usual SEO tasks of getting good inbound links, citations, and mentions in the media.

With basic SEO out of the way, you now need to think about straightening out your business listings and optimizing your off-site local pages like Google+, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, and many others.

Step 2: Business Listings

For a small business, you can manually create and update your business listings at several places. For example, you can get a Dun & Bradstreet number, and update or create a listing with your name, address, and phone number at InfoUSA. These guys gradually feed many other local services like the Yellow Pages vendors with data.

Step 3: Off-site Local Pages

Now it’s time to get your off-site act together. With a few more basic steps like claiming your Google+, Bing, Yahoo, and Yelp pages and enriching your location on Google Map Maker you are on well on your local search way.

Go get some great reviews, upload photos, and make sure you’re your name, address and phone number (NAP) data is visible on your home or store page and exactly matches your listing data. Add semantic markup code to your NAP data to be 100% sure the engines get the message.

Large Enterprise Local SEO

The same basic rules apply for larger businesses with a big local footprint, but things get considerably more complex and time consuming. Welcome to the world of enterprise local search vendors. And, if you’re really busy, you may need a local search agency or specialist.

Enterprise Listings Management

Let’s take a look at some of the main local search vendors. If you work with an agency, they will most likely be using some combination of these in their service.

  • Universal Business Listings: UBL directly feeds business databases like Acxiom, Dun & Bradstreet, and InfoGroup (last time we checked). These are primary datafeed providers to multiple publishers. UBL also has a bulk claiming service for sites like Google+, allowing you to make a one-time claim and update of your data. UBL is not the company to work with to streamline management and updating of social / local sites, but they can get your basic business listings created or cleaned up so they can work their way through the local data ecosystem.
  • Localeze: Recently acquired by Neustar, Localeze is similar to UBL in that it provides business listings data directly to a variety of publishers and primary data sources. In some ways Localeze is complementary to UBL as it provides data to a different set of distribution partners including Yahoo, Bing, Yellowpages.com, Facebook, Twitter, and TomTom. Localeze has created an impressive roster of sites it feeds with data.

There are other options as well, but for the sake of brevity, let’s move on to:

Enterprise Local Pages Management

Keeping third-party local sites like Google+, Yahoo Business Listings, and Yelp current and enriched with offers, campaign content, and offers is a big job, especially for brands with hundreds of locations. Previously, it was pretty much a manual job. Nowadays, there are several players who have stepped up and created APIs and interfaces that allow you to manage off-site local pages centrally.

Once you get into the space of managing multiple off-site pages for multiple locations you are going to be spending serious coin. If you have the budget, here are some folks to take a look at:

  • Yext: While not exclusively aimed at large enterprise, the Yext team offers a range of services including the ability to centrally claim and enrich (with offers or other content) a large number of 3rd party sites. Yext charges a yearly fee for management with additional costs that vary with the amount of content you want to push to the managed sites. If you want to quickly push out a short-term offer to dozens of sites for hundreds of locations, and you have the budget, Yext may be for you. Recently, Yext and Yahoo announced Localworks – a service aimed at small businesses that gives them access to Yext and Yahoo listing and management services for $30 per month.
  • Rio Local: Pretty much focused on larger companies with multiple locations, Rio has the only complete hosted local search solution. They 1) Host the local landing page and 2) Claim any number of off-site local pages (G+, yelp, etc) and 3) Create and verify the business listings. If you are OK with having them host your local on-site pages, Rio may be the option for you as they have the most control and due to ‘owning’ the landing page they can give pretty complete end to end reporting.

I am sure I missed a ton of vendors, so feel free to let me know what I left out in the comments.

Conclusion: Local Search Offers Great ROI

For a small business, local search may something that can be done in an afternoon, followed up by a quick daily or weekly review of off-site pages.

For a large business – say 1,000 locations – the costs and difficulty rapidly escalate. While it might seem crazy to spend $500,000 in vendor fees and $50,000 in agency management time to locally optimize your franchises, I would argue that it offers a great return. For some industries (e.g., finance) the ROI could truly be stellar.

Local search results are also less competitive than core web results. While you might not ever be able to rank for ‘Life Insurance’ your might very well be able to rank for ‘Life Insurance broker’ queries in Albany and every other city your do business in. Big brands, small brands, take note.

So if you haven’t already it’s time to add local search optimization to your marketing plan. But there’s no need to hurry – my small local business in Brooklyn would rather not have the competition.

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Iit's unlikely the FTC will conclude that Google's Waze buyout will significant harm other mapping services such as Bing Maps and Tomtom. But the FTC will consider whether Google is buying Waze to eliminate a potential future competitor.

Google’s $1.1 billion acquisition of navigation firm Waze will be reviewed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to check that the deal won’t harm the firm’s competition.

waze-logo

The FTC has contacted Google about its recent acquisition of mapping firm Waze, according to The Wall Street Journal. Apparently Google didn’t file for a review with the FTC before announcing the buyout because Waze turns over less than $70 million annually, which is below the bar for an automatic review.

While lawyers told the newspaper that the U.S. antitrust regulator is unlikely to throw out the deal, as it’s unlikely to conclude that Google’s Waze buyout will significant harm other mapping services such as Bing Maps and Tomtom, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FTC might direct Google not to integrate Waze with its own services.

The FTC apparently will also consider whether Google is buying Waze to eliminate a potential future competitor, looking at whether the navigation firm would have managed to challenge Google Maps. At present, Waze’s revenues are too low for the company to be considered a credible threat.

Google announced its acquisition of Waze earlier this month, and said that the navigation service will continue to operate as a standalone app. It’s not clear what plans Google has for Waze in the long run, but assuming it gets FTC approval, it’s likely to add the Israeli firm’s traffic data into its own mapping service.

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