Pandora switches up its classic listening experience with Modes

If you’ve ever tried Pandora, you know the basic deal. The service offers a more passive form of music discovery than other streaming services, encouraging users to let algorithms do most of the heavy lifting, as radio stations are generated based on thumbs up and down.

Today, the company puts a new spin on the stalwart service, offering a half-dozen distinct “Modes.” Standard Pandora is still the core here (and there’s always the “My Station” mode for those who want to stick with Pandora Classic), but each offers a different way to interact with the stations.

Here’s the break down, per Pandora,

  1. My Station: The classic station experience you know and love.

  2. Crowd Faves: You’ll hear the most thumbed-up songs by other listeners within that station

  3. Deep Cuts: You’ll go deeper into the catalog of that station artist/genre.

  4. Discovery: You’ll hear more artists who don’t usually play on that station.

  5. Newly Released: You’ll hear the newest releases from that station artist/genre.

  6. Artist Only: You’ll hear only songs by that station artist.

As ever, the thumbs up and thumbs down icons serve as the basis of the customized curation. That limited interaction helps each of the stations figure out where to go, within the above outlined parameters.

The feature, which launches today, is designed to encourage users to “‘lea[n] in’ to the experience instead of just ‘leaning back,’” according to the company.

Of course, the move can just add easily been seen as a response to a changing music landscape. Believe it or not, it’s been 19 years since the company was founded, and these last several have seen a big shift toward streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Modes is an interesting attempt to have it both ways, serving Pandora’s loyal base of just below 70 million users, while addressing increased interest in customizing the user experience.

Facebook settles ACLU job advertisement discrimination suit

Facebook and the ACLU issued a joint statement this morning, noting that they have settled a class action job discrimination suit. The ACLU filed the suit in September, along with Outten & Golden LLC and the Communications Workers of America, alleging that Facebook allowed employers to target ads based on categories like race, national origin, age and gender.

The initial charges were filed on behalf of female workers who alleged they were not served up employment opportunities based on gender. Obviously all of that’s against all sort of federal, state and local laws, including, notably, section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Today’s announcement finds Facebook implementing “sweeping changes” to its advertising platform in order to address these substantial concerns. The company outlined a laundry list of “far-reaching changes and steps,” including the development of a separate ad portal to handle topics like housing, employment and credit (HEC) for Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

Targeting based on gender, age and race will not be allowed within the confines of the new system. Ditto for the company’s Lookalike Audience tool, which is similarly designed to target customers based on things like gender, age, religious views and the like.

“Civil rights leaders and experts – including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Laura Murphy, the highly respected civil rights leader who is overseeing the Facebook civil rights audit – have also raised valid concerns about this issue,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post tied to the announcement. “We take their concerns seriously and, as part of our civil rights audit, engaged the noted civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax to review our ads tools and help us understand what more we could do to guard against misuse.”

In addition to the above portal, Facebook will be creating a one-stop site where users can search amongst all job listings, independent of how ads are served up. The company has also promised to offer up “educational materials to advertisers about these new anti-discrimination measures. Facebook will also be meeting regularly with the suit’s plaintiffs to assure that it is continuing to meet all of the parameters of the settlement.

“As the internet — and platforms like Facebook — play an increasing role in connecting us all to information related to economic opportunities, it’s crucial that micro-targeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” ACLU senior staff attorney Galen Sherwin said in the joint statement. “We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”

Further details of the settlement haven’t been disclosed by either party, but the update is clearly a bit of a consolatory move from a company that’s landed itself on the wrong side of a large lawsuit. Even so, it ought to be regarded as a positive outcome for a problematic product offering.

Google scores a custom AMD GPU to power its Stadia cloud gaming hardware

Google’s new Stadia game streaming service may be great for people who don’t own a powerful PC or console, but those games have to run somewhere — specifically, in a Google datacenter. And the hardware they run on will be largely powered by a custom graphics card from AMD that, on paper at least, puts the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X to shame.

In its presentation at GDC today, Google touted its partnership with AMD, which created the unnamed card for integration with its Stadia “instances,” the Linux-based computers that will actually run the games players stream.

The actual specs shown on screen don’t mean much to hardware fiends — teraflops are how supercomputers are rated, not graphics cards, which have sophisticated custom units and pathways for different effects and calculations.

So although it’s impressive that this one produces 10.7 TF, more than the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X combined, unless you’re using this hardware for sequential logic operations, it’s more important to know its actual game-specific chops. Of course, I’m sure the GPU is also quite competent there — it has to handle both running a modern game at 4K and 60 FPS and may have some extra load from streaming the video as well.

The 16 GB of “total” RAM is also suspicious. The way it’s phrased suggests it may be inclusive of video RAM, i.e. that in the graphics card, which makes the most likely combo 4 GB in the card and 12 for the system. That’s just speculation, though.

Interestingly, shortly after announcing the single-GPU system that the Stadia will use, a multi-GPU instance was teased in order to show the possibilities of fluid dynamics in games. It’s unclear how this would come into play — perhaps it’s necessary for 4K instances of some games, or would be an upsell for performance-obsessed players.

Whatever the specifics, this gives an idea of what kind of power and cost the Stadia backend infrastructure is going to necessitate. Every concurrent player will require a dedicated instance, which at the scales Google hopes for means at least a couple hundred thousand of these things, increasing to millions if it takes off. Call the bill of materials $150 plus $50 a year in maintenance and upgrades (this is all just napkin math) and you’re easily looking at a hundred million dollar bottom line, probably way more.

As of this writing (the presentation is ongoing) there’s still no mention of how Google plans to make money from this whole… situation. Show ads every 10 minutes of play? Take a cut of game sales? Publishers pay Google to make instant games available? Perhaps, as with plenty of other Google products, they’ll just release it first and figure out how to make money later. That works sometimes.

Google’s new Stadia game controller has a few tricks up its sleeves

Google’s Stadia game-streaming platform works on a number of screens, but Google wants to give you a controller to take on all of these displays. Sure, you can use your regular keyboard and mouse or a third-party controller but Google has also opted to showcasing their own Stadia controller.

It’s not just a pretty look, Google’s controller connects to WiFi directly rather than your device to reduce latency in input. We didn’t get too many details on exactly how this works, so hopefully we’ll get a more technical breakdown soon.

You’ll also see a couple of other interesting things on the controller, namely a capture button that lets gamers share their experiences to YouTube or their friends. That’s not necessarily unique among other game controllers, but a Google Assistant button, which the controller also has, lets users make voice commands for special in-game features and general requests.

The controller also seems to have a built-in easter egg on the bottom…


Google’s Stadia game-streaming platform kills downloads and lets you play anywhere

Onstage at GDC, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced the company’s latest big initiative, taking on the entire gaming industry with a live-streaming service called Stadia that will be launching this year.

The service will let gamers leave their hefty GPUs and expensive systems behind. Pichai says that the service can be used on devices with a chrome browser and an internet connection. To Google that means Stadia will launch on desktops, laptops, TVs, tablets and phones. The service will work across platforms so you won’t just be competing with other Stadia users.

Google working on new gaming efforts here isn’t exactly a surprise. Last fall, the company launched a pilot program of sorts with Project Stream, allowing gamers to stream gameplay of Assassins Creed Odyssey in their internet browser at 1080p in 60fps.

At launch Stadia will support 4K at 60fps with surround sound and HDR. They say they are also working on 8K 120fps support in “the future.” The stat we’re waiting to hear about is latency and what sort of ranges the service has been hitting ahead of launch.

The company showed off a dedicated Stadia controller though you’ll also be able to use your existing third-party controllers or keyboard and mouse.

Speaking of hardware, Google has partnered with AMD to create a custom high-end GPU for Stadia that the company says pushes more than 10.7 teraflops, dwarfing the GPU output of both the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro.

When it comes to gaming, Google is an underdog here, though the company obviously has a massive mobile gaming platform with Android. When it comes to desktop gaming, the tech giant doesn’t have a ton of background aside from their sporadic efforts on PC virtual reality. One would imagine that Microsoft or Valve are the best positioned here, but Google has some pretty heavy mindshare with YouTube Gaming and some pretty heavy infrastructure with Google’s data centers.

Viewers will be able to move from YouTube directly into gameplay without any downloads just by clicking a “Play Now” button. Google says this process can take as little as 5 seconds.

Google certainly has ample reason to want gamers to move away from Windows PCs to systems with more lightweight onboard compute. The idea of running something heavier than minesweeper-equivalents on a Chromebook can be pretty interesting, the idea of doing that across all of your devices could be game-changing.

No word on exact release timing or pricing, so we’ve still got some questions here though Google says they’ll have more details around their I/O developer conference.

Glossier triples valuation, enters unicorn club with $100M round

Glossier, known for its flagship line of barely there beauty products, has landed a $100 million Series D led by Sequoia Capital. The round values Emily Weiss’ business at a whopping $1.2 billion, fully cementing the company as a startup “unicorn” and tripling the valuation it garnered with a $52 million Series C in 2018.

News of the round was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by Glossier.

“We are building an entirely new kind of beauty company: one that owns the distribution channel and makes customers our stakeholders,” founder and chief executive officer Emily Weiss said in a statement.

As part of the round, which included support from newcomers Tiger Global Management and Spark Capital and existing investors Forerunner Ventures, Thrive Capital, IVP and Index Ventures, Glossier has hired Vanessa Wittman as its chief financial officer. Wittman previously held the same role at Oath and Dropbox. She replaces Henry Davis, who left the direct-to-consumer makeup brand in late 2018. Other recent additions include Edith Chen, Glossier’s new vice president of supply chain operations, and Nick DeAngelo, vice president of operations.

To date, New York-based Glossier has brought in nearly $200 million in venture capital investment, making it one of the most well-funded privately held beauty businesses. What’s next for the company? Weiss tells The WSJ an initial public offering isn’t out of the question, but didn’t provide a timeline. It’s been about five years since Glossier went from blog to business; it still has plenty of time before investors are pushing for an IPO.

Since it launched as a beauty blog in 2010, Glossier has grown into a 200-person business with $100 million in annual revenue in 2018. It has established two brick-and-mortar shops and expanded from au naturel makeup to “dialed-up extras” fit for the Instagram crowd. The recent launch of its first spin-off brand, Glossier Play, hints at a future where Glossier is a multi-brand beauty empire competing with the likes of Ulta and Estée Lauder.

Makeup is a huge and growing industry venture capitalists have been sleeping on. Megan Quinn, a general partner at Spark Capital, who led the round in Glossier on the firm’s behalf, says online beauty sales are expected to reach $120 billion by 2024. She expects Glossier to win the beauty market as a result of its intimate connection with customers, word of mouth customer acquisition channel and community-building tactics.

“To say that [Weiss] is a force of nature obfuscates her true superpower: she is a fantastic listener,” Quinn writes in a blog post. “By weaving her unique point of view with the feedback loops of her community, she has built a platform to power additional brands that respond to her customer’s needs. More importantly, she has built a world-class team of product designers, supply chain experts, marketing muscle, and arguably one of the largest engineering teams in beauty to make it happen.”

3 million Venezuelans have fled. Who will rebuild?

3 million Venezuelans have fled. Who will rebuild?Diana Feliú was studying for a master’s in business administration when she decided her future in Venezuela was reaching a dead end. “In a way, I feel like Venezuela kicked me out. Ms. Feliú is one of the estimated 3 million Venezuelans who have fled the country in recent years amid multilayered economic, humanitarian, and political crises, rapidly accelerating a nearly two-decade trend.