Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Facebook Pulls Find Friends Nearby ‘Test’

Facebook killed the “Find Friends Nearby” feature only a day after it rolled out unannounced to some mobile users and under threat of a lawsuit from a company that claimed copyright infringement.

Find Friends Nearby, first called “Friendshake,” was created in-house by one of its engineers during a company hackathon and was merely a test which was rolled out to some users, according to Facebook.

“This wasn’t a formal release — this was something that a few engineers were testing,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable. “With all tests, some get released as full products, others don’t. Nothing more to say on this for now –- we’ll communicate to everyone when there is something to say.”

However, a company called Friendthem, which makes an app that use smartphones’ GPS signals to track friends nearby, accused Facebook of copyright infringement and threatened a lawsuit almost immediately after the feature launched. Charles Sankowich, the CEO of the company, previously told Mashable that he shared his idea with a senior Facebook executive earlier this year.

“I was amazed on Sunday to read that Facebook is blatantly stealing our idea with what they are calling ‘Find Friends Nearby,’” said Friendthem CEO Charles Sankowich in a statement on Sunday. “Facebook engineer Ryan Patterson claims the feature was born at a hackathon as ‘Friendshake,’ but we believe they simply stole trademarked materials of We are consulting attorneys and assuming this is true and expect to commence a lawsuit very shortly.”

After learning that the new feature was missing on Tuesday morning, Sankowich indicated that his company’s legal threat was the impetus for Facebook’s removal of the feature, while still hinting that a lawsuit could be imminent. 

“We are continuing to explore all options pertaining to filing a suit against Facebook and we will continue to seek all necessary information regarding the matter,” wrote Sankowich in an email to Mashable. “We were pleased to see that our voice has been heard and Facebook has made the right judgment to pull the feature. We strongly believe that Facebook’s decision to explore the location based friend request shows the importance and need surrounding our service.”

Find Friends Nearby notified Facebook users who enabled the feature on their cellphones whenever a Facebook friend also using the feature was near their physical location by using phones’ GPS systems. The idea was to turn Facebook into a conduit for impromptu hangout sessions with friends.
Why do you think Find Friends Nearby was pulled by Facebook? Share your ideas in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, ymgerman

By courtesy of:  Alex Fitzpatrick

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Getting started with MenuTab for Facebook

This free Mac app may or may not feed your Facebook addiction.

If the Internet and Facebook specifically have become a distraction during your workday, MenuTab for Facebook may help you stay on target. This Mac app gives you quick access to Facebook from your Mac's menu bar, saving you from having to open a new browser tab or window. Whether this leads to less frequent or shorter Facebook sessions is a question only you can answer for yourself. The app is free, so it won't cost you anything to give it a whirl.

(Credit: Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET)

When the app installs, it places an icon in your Mac's menu bar. Click on the icon and a small window opens with a mobile version of your News Feed. Click the button in the upper-right corner to access links to your profile page, your favorites, your pages, and your apps. Three buttons sit at the top of the window to view friend requests, messages, and notifications. If you are a regular Facebook user via your phone, you'll be immediately comfortable navigating Facebook on MenuTab.

(Credit: Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET)

At the bottom of the page are five small buttons: Home, forward and back, refresh, and settings. In settings, you can assign a hotkey to open the app and adjust how often the app refreshes your Facebok feed. In settings, you can also keep the MenuTab window open at all times (I would discourage such a setting for most users) and keep it open and above other open windows (strongly discouraged). You can also choose whether you want an audio alert for notifications or for the MenuTab icon to turn red, or both.

While MenuTab is free, it does hit you up with in-app purchase offers if you want color-coded menu bar alerts, pop-up notifications, or the full desktop version of Facebook. You can also pay to remove advertisements or adjust the opacity of the MenuTab window. You can get all five for $2.99 (if you are using Mac OS X Lion), but I found that the free app suffices for my Facebooking needs. I don't want to get too comfortable with the app; I just want it for quick breaks during the workday.

(Credit: Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET)
Unlike with SkipTunes, which has garnered a permanent spot in my MacBook's menu bar, the jury is still out on MenuBar. I'm not sure if I'll use the app to access Facebook during the workday because (as my wife will gladly tell you) my iPhone is never far. I'm more than likely to grab that for a quick check of Facebook than clicking on MenuTab. Tell me, would you (or do you) use an app like MenuTab to access Facebook? Kindly discuss in the comments below.
By courtesy of:  Matt Elliott

Google scientists find evidence of machine learning

A neural network created by connecting 16,000 computer processors appears to support biologists' theories on how the human brain identifies objects. Hint: It's all about the cats.

Google scientists working in the company's secretive X Labs have made great strides in using computers to simulate the human brain.

Best known for inventing self-driving cars and augmented-reality eyewear, the lab created a neural network for machine learning by connecting 16,000 computer processors and then unleashed it on the Internet. Along the way, the network taught itself to recognize cats.

While the act of finding cats on the Internet doesn't sound all that challenging, the network's performance exceeded researchers' expectations, doubling its accuracy rate in identifying objects from a list of 20,000 items, according to a New York Times report.

To find the cats, the team fed the network thumbnail images chosen at random from more than 10 billion YouTube videos. The results appeared to support biologists' theories that suggest that neurons in the brain are trained to identify specific objects.

"We never told it during the training, 'This is a cat,'" Google fellow Jeff Dean told the newspaper. "It basically invented the concept of a cat."

Falling computing costs has led to significant advancements in areas of computer science such as machine vision, speech recognition, and language translation, The Times noted.

Machine learning is useful for improving translation algorithms and semantic understanding and a favorite topic of Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, according to Google.

By courtesy of:  Steven Musil