Uber now lets U.S. riders book trips for $50 an hour

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Uber is introducing an option that allows riders in the U.S. to book trips by the hour, the latest in a string of offerings the company has launched to offset the impact of the pandemic. Uber has in recent weeks been trialing its new hourly service in a handful of cities around the world, including in Europe, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East. From June 2, riders in 12 U.S. cities will also be able to book by the hour.

With demand for ride-hailing services plummeting due to social-distancing measures, Uber has had to double down on food delivery and micromobility, among other investments — though the company still had to lay off a significant chunk of its workforce. With lockdowns beginning to ease in the U.S. and elsewhere, demand for ride-hailing services could rise a little — but with many cities reclaiming roads from cars to make more room for pedestrians and bikes, Uber and its ilk are unlikely to see normal service levels resume in the near future. Hourly bookings effectively open Uber up to new use cases, such as running errands, moving to a new home, or even sightseeing.

The initiative follows an extensive safety program through which Uber distributed millions of pieces of personal protective equipment to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 between drivers and their passengers.

Hourglass

For the new hourly booking service, riders enter a destination and can add up to three intermediate stops per hour, though they can also edit these stops during the journey. It’s worth noting that they can’t choose airports or a location outside the city that they’re in.

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When the rider selects the hourly tier, they are charged a set $50 amount — so even if they cut the trip short, they will still pay the full hourly rate. They can choose to pay for up to seven hours in advance, with the price rising by $50 for each additional hour.

Above: Uber: Hourly bookings

The rates don’t include tolls and other surcharges, and there is also a mileage limit for each hour booked — this varies by city, but a typical limit is around 40 miles. Any trip that runs over the hour will be charged additionally on a per-minute basis, and if a trip goes beyond the mileage limit, riders will also be charged a per-mile rate for the extra miles.

Hourly bookings make some sense for Uber, opening the company to a market previously held by the likes of Zipcar — though with the addition of a personal driver and at a vastly inflated price. But it also highlights the lengths Uber is going to as it prepares for the likelihood that social distancing will continue for some time. Last month, Uber launched a service that allows its users to deliver anything they want, with drivers effectively serving as couriers.

Uber’s new hourly bookings will go live from Tuesday in the following 12 cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C., Dallas, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tacoma, and Seattle. More locations will be added in the weeks to come.

Twitter hides Trump’s Minneapolis tweet and labels it for ‘glorifying violence’

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Twitter has placed a warning label on a tweet posted by President Trump that seemed to call for violence in retaliation against protestors in Minneapolis if looting continued.

The decision is the latest riposte against Trump by the social media platform, which earlier this week placed a fact-checking label on a tweet about mail-in ballots. In response, Trump signed an executive order calling for a review of legal protections for speech afforded platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

The latest step by Twitter is even more severe. It hides the original tweet under a warning label. Users can click the label to see the tweet, but they cannot like it or retweet it.

“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” read a tweet from Twitter’s public relations team.

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The killing of a George Floyd, an African-American man, this week by Minneapolis police has sparked widespread protests in that city which have also include scenes of people storming stores and seizing items. Some businesses have also been burned, and protestors took control of a police precinct and set it on fire.

While city leaders have called for calm and a return to peaceful protest, Trump took a more incendiary tone by threatening to send in the National Guard. Then, he added, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Many people noted that the phrase seemed to reference a former Miami police chief who used strong-arm tactics against minority protestors in the 60s.  That proved to be enough for Twitter to take action.

The label now looks like this:

Google will rank webpages based on Web Vitals, but not in 2020

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Google today announced that a webpage’s experience will eventually be a ranking factor in Google Search overall and in the Top Stories feature on mobile. Earlier this month, Google unveiled Web Vitals, an initiative to provide web developers and website owners with a unified set of metrics for building websites with user experience and performance in mind. Core Web Vitals, Google’s attempt to spell out the metrics it considers critical for all web experiences, will help determine how the company measures a webpage’s responsiveness and visual stability.

Google promised not to make the ranking change this year and to give six months’ notice before it does. A Google spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that the search ranking change would be rolled out in 2021 at the earliest. The company cannot commit to specific timing at this point due to general unpredictability thanks to the coronavirus, the spokesperson added. Indeed, in its announcement, Google noted that “many site owners are rightfully placing their focus on responding to the effects of COVID-19.”

Born online, Google’s revenues are directly tied to the web. The company has a vested interest in improving the web’s user experience. Given Google’s reach, including over 1 billion Chrome users and over 2.5 billion monthly active Android devices, not to mention Google Search, anyone with a website needs to track what Google prioritizes. Web developers and website owners that didn’t pay attention to the original Web Vitals announcement should definitely reconsider now that Google has confirmed Web Vitals will be a search ranking factor.

Page experience ranking

Over the years, Google has tweaked its search ranking based on webpage metrics. In November 2014, Google started labeling sites as “mobile-friendly” to denote pages optimized for phones. The company then experimented with using the label as a ranking factor, ultimately pushing those changes in April 2015 and increasing the effect in May 2016. Google removed the label in August 2016, noting that most pages had become “mobile-friendly.” In 2018, Google Search started ranking faster mobile pages higher.

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Google Core Web Vitals as a search signal for page experience

Google Core Web Vitals as a search signal for page experience

Now Google is pointing to internal studies and industry research to say that users prefer sites with a great page experience. A new signal that combines Core Web Vitals with Google Search’s existing signals for page experience (mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines) will apparently provide “a holistic picture of the quality of a user’s experience on a web page.” Because changes aren’t happening this year, Google says “there is no immediate need to take action.” Think of this more of an early warning of what’s to come.

As its name implies, Google Search’s page experience signal is meant to measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Google says optimizing for these factors is supposed to make the web “more delightful” and “contribute to business success” on all types of devices.

Core Web Vitals annual updates

Google plans to update Core Web Vitals annually. That will trickle down to the search ranking. Google will incorporate more page experience signals on a yearly basis to “both further align with evolving user expectations and increase the aspects of user experience that we can measure.”

This year’s Core Web Vitals include loading experience, interactivity, and visual stability of page content. As an example of a webpage it wants to punish, Google showed a user accidentally tapping the wrong button because the page shifted:

Page experience wrong button example

Page experience wrong button example

Google says Core Web Vitals capture important user-centric outcomes, are field measurable, and have lab diagnostic metric equivalents. Specifically:

  • Largest Contentful Paint measures perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content has likely loaded.
  • First Input Delay measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content.

Google’s hope is this ranking change will give people better webpage experiences, with valuable information and higher engagement. Page experience will not be the only signal, of course. Google promises to prioritize pages with “the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”

Top Stories feature on mobile

This upcoming Google Search update will also incorporate page experience metrics into the ranking criteria for the Top Stories feature on mobile. Google will also remove the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) requirement from Top Stories eligibility. The company emphasized, however, that it will continue to support AMP and link to AMP pages when available.

On the face of it, this seems like an odd change since Top Stories currently emphasizes AMP results, which are all about speed and “a good page experience.” On closer inspection, it looks like Google is removing the AMP eligibility criteria for the Top Stories experience because page experience will become a ranking factor.

Allowing any story that meets the Google News content policies to be featured in Top Stories should make site owners who don’t use AMP quite happy. While Google notes that site owners who publish AMP versions of their pages will see no change in behavior, one has to wonder if Google hopes to phase out AMP altogether one day and rely solely on Core Web Vitals.

In any case, developers should know that Google has updated developer tools such as Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights to surface Core Web Vitals information and recommendations. Search Console’s Speed Report should also help site owners improve their sites.

Kippo raises $2 million for a dating app for gamers

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The days when gamers couldn’t get dates are over. Case in point: Kippo has raised $2 million for a dating app for gamers who want to find like-minded companions.

The company’s larger idea is to create a next-generation gaming app that modernizes the way that people connect and meet. While stereotypes of the lonely male gamer in a basement persist, CEO David Park said it’s perfectly normal for people to meet through their passions, such as playing video games. In fact, many people think gamers are new jocks, Park said.

“We always talk about how the rates of anxiety and depression and loneliness are increasing,” Park said. “We thought about the solution. And it seems so simple. It’s to connect people. It’s for people to have meaningful human relationships with others.”

He added, “I’ve been a gamer my entire life. And it’s kind of a niche demographic that is no longer niche. It’s growing more and more mainstream. Historically, there were so many stereotypes and stigmas about gamers. We know that that’s just not true anymore. And this is something that this community really needed.”

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Primer Sazze Partners led the round, with participation from Tinder executives and partners at Eaton Workshop, NextGen Venture, and IHeartComix. The capital will primarily be used to expand the interactive features on the app. The name for the company comes from a Korean word, and it’s a twist on “happiness,” Park said.

The grand vision is to create a platform for everybody, a platform that is a gamified experience for people to meet new people,” Park said. “The demographic that’s most comfortable with interacting with others in an online virtual setting has been gamers for decades. Because of COVID-19, other people are starting to learn the joys of interacting online.”

Unique gamer profiles

Above: Kippo is a twist on the word “happiness” in Korean.

Image Credit: Kippo

Most dating and social apps abandon users’ virtual selves, failing to recognize the benefits of bonding over a digital activity like gaming and its value in getting to know someone. (This reminds me of Skillprint, which wants to recommend careers for gamers based on what they play).

With Kippo, gamers identify what games they like and include a lot of photos in their profiles. They also connect using in-game names, rather than phone numbers. If a date goes bad, then you don’t have to worry that the other person has your phone number.

In some cases, users may not be looking for dates. They may just want someone to play with, and so many of the users get together without concern to location. They could be in different countries, but they can still get together just to play games, Park said.

96% of Kippo users have filled out their entire profile using its interactive profile builder that highlights each personality through a variety of “cards.” The most popular cards are This or That, Star Sign, and Myers–Briggs Type Indicator.

93% of Kippo users go on a virtual date and play video games together before ever meeting in-person. That allows them to relieve some pressure from the awkwardness of dating, Park said.

Steady growth

Above: Kippo

Image Credit: Kippo

So far, the app has been live for eight months and there are 45,000 users, without any real promotion. The usual users so far are ages 18 to 24, which is generally younger than other dating apps. 40% of the users are female. Park hopes to raise awareness through gaming influencers, some of whom work for the company.

The company’s revenue has consistently increased 50% every month. Additionally, in the current time of social distancing measures, app usage has increased by 275%, Park said.

Kiha Lee, general partner at Primer Sazze Partners, said in a statement that Kippo has a one-of-a-kind approach for dating and social connections, as consumers are looking for ways to meet and stay in touch virtually, especially during the lockdown.

The company was founded in 2019 by David Park, Cheeyoon Lee, and Sean Suyeda.

“As a gamer myself, I’ve made a lot of friends. I have found platonic friends and romantic relationships and friends in general through video games,” he said. “We believe the best way to interact online and to get to know each other is to play video games together.”

Gamer data

So what does the data say about gamers and non-gamers getting into relationships?

“I only have anecdotal data,” Park said. “Anytime one person in a relationship is immersed in an activity that defines them and the other person doesn’t at least understand that activity, and there’s always gonna be friction.”

Park also said that gamers are more socially attractive and diverse than they once were.

“Gamers historically have been known as the losers or less popular kids, but it’s changing so quickly,” Park said. “The new rock stars, superstars, and celebrities are professional gamers or people that are highly ranked in games. Gamers are the new jocks.”