Rate your friends like they’re restaurants with Peeple

A ‘Yelp’-style app for rating people is not a new idea, but nobody’s been terrible enough to actually build one in real life — until now. A startup company has launched an app called “Peeple” which has already raised $7.6 million in venture capital, according to theWashington Post. It lets anyone with a Facebook account and cell phone rate another person and assign them a star rating out of five in one of three categories: personal, professional and romantic. Though Peeple calls itself “a positivity app for positive people,” the idea of the app is largely being panned on social media.

 

For the many, many people who raised concerns about online bullying and shaming, Peeple founder Julia Cordray told the Post that the app’s “integrity features” will largely stem such problems. Namely, you must be 21, have a Facebook account at least six months old, and make reviews under your real name. In addition, you must affirm that you know the person you’re reviewing and input their cellphone number if they’re not in the database. Negative ratings for people won’t show unless they’ve registered for the site, and you have 48 hours to dispute a negative rating if you do register.

As Twitter users have already pointed out, there are a host of potential issues, however. Isn’t assigning a person a number Orwellian and ridiculous? What about the aforementioned bullying? What about the fact that reviews for restaurants, objects or sites are usually biased, a problem that could be exponentially worse with people? What if you give your phone number to someone on a date and they decide to use it to rate you romatically? And finally, what if you don’t want unsolicited opinions? Even the founder thinks that’s a bad idea, apparently.

 

Such issues haven’t discouraged the team, however — they think they’re “bold innovators” who help people get “feedback” on their lives. In fact, they created a blog post dedicated to themselves called “An Ode to Courage,” saying that “people are scared and they don’t understand” the app. “We are… sending big waves into motion and we will not apologize for that because we love you enough to give you this gift.” (We’re assuming the whole thing isn’t a joke, of course, because it certainly seems like one.)

Ironically, for a time they set the Peeple Twitter account to private following the deluge of criticism, though it’s now public again. In response, one Twitter critic said, “color me shocked; two blond-haired, conventionally pretty, well-off white women can’t conceptualize of why a ‘Yelp for people’ is a bad idea.”

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Graph Search – coming to a Facebook near you

If your Facebook language is set to US English, you might find that your account has added a new feature from today.

Facebook is rolling out Graph Search, a new search tool that will allow users to quickly find out information from across the site. Essentially, it’s an attempt tokeep hold of an active user base by keeping them on the site for longer.

In some ways, Graph Search is simply a natural extension to the News Feed. In the book about her experiences while at Facebook, The Boy Kings, Katherine Losse writes:

“The general concept of News Feed was simple: An algorithm was now surfacing content that it believed, based on your activity on the site (what you looked at), you would find interesting.”

Now, instead of having to follow a social graph containing your friends’ activities, Graph Search opens up your information even further. You can ask Facebookquestions about your friends and find out the results, quickly.

Facebook would argue that they are making it easier to find useful information that’s relevant to you. Say, for example, you’re planning a holiday to Istanbul and you’re looking for somewhere to stay. You’ve gone through Trip Advisor and every hotel that you’ve looked at has one of those delightful one-star reviews (“I was sitting by the side of the glorious pool when I suddenly saw one of the catering staff push a little child into the pool. DO NOT RECOMMEND.”).

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Microsoft beefs up Windows Phone voice recognition technology

Good news for Windows Phone owners in the US: you can now shave 0.5 seconds off the time it takes to find a decent pizza in Seattle by speaking to your smartphone.

Okay, this isn’t earth-shattering news, even for pizzaphiles. But Microsoft is excited about the technology behind this development: improvements to the speed and accuracy of Windows Phone’s voice-to-text and voice search features.

“Now when you compose a text message or search using your voice, Bing will return results twice as fast as before and increase accuracy by 15 percent,”announces Bing’s speech team in a (possibly dictated) blog post.

The team has been working with Microsoft’s research division for a year to improve the technology. Here’s the science bit:

“To achieve the speed and accuracy improvements, we focused on an advanced approach called Deep Neural Networks (DNNs). DNN is a technology that is inspired by the functioning of neurons in the brain. In a similar way, DNN technology can detect patterns akin to the way biological systems recognize patterns.

By coupling MSR’s major research breakthroughs in the use of DNNs with the large datasets provided by Bing’s massive index, the DNNs were able to learn more quickly and help Bing voice capabilities get noticeably closer to the way humans recognize speech.”

Actually, there’s an even deeper science bit in a separate post on the Inside Microsoft Research blog, where senior researcher Dong Yu contributes this anecdote on a crucial point in the project:

“I first realized the effect of the DNN when we successfully achieved significant error-rate reduction on the voice-search data set after implementing the context-dependent deep-neural-network hidden Markov model. It was an exciting moment. I was so excited that I did not sleep that night.”

Don’t laugh: this is a genuinely charming insight into the work going on behind the scenes of the technologies we increasingly take for granted. Not least because Yu’s sleepless night may contribute to a much wider range of benefits than just slightly-quicker ordering of a deep-pan Hawaiian with extra pineapple.

It’s the smartphone battle between Apple, Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry and other platforms that’s pumping investment into speech recognition, voice search and related technologies with wide applications.

Or, as Yu puts it: “I believe this is just the first step in advancing the state of the art. Many difficult problems may be attacked under this framework, which might lead to even greater advances.”

Microsoft’s challenge is to make the fruits of this research a big selling point for Windows Phone, as it tries to secure a bigger foothold in the market against iPhone and Android, which both feature their own prominent voice recognition features.

Many people’s purchase decisions will come down to more basic questions: whether the phone looks nice, how good its camera is and whether their favourite apps are available for it, rather than its speech recognition speed and accuracy.

Nokia is working hard on the design and camera questions, while Microsoft seems well aware of the challenge faces on the apps side of things. Just this week, Business Insider claimed it is paying some developers up to $100k to bring popular apps to its platform.

In some areas, like games – N.O.V.A. 3, Temple Run: Brave, MapQuest, Jetpack Joyride, Rayman Jungle Run and Angry Birds Rio in the last month alone – its efforts are paying off. Elsewhere, even long-term holdout Instagram is rumoured to be on its way to Windows Phone, possibly as soon as the end of this month.

Microsoft’s efforts, whether in the research labs with DNN technology or out in developers’ offices with a cheque book, are important.

Apple and Google’s fierce rivalry with iOS and Android means neither can afford to rest on their laurels, but stronger competition from a third player in Microsoft / Windows Phone (with BlackBerry, Firefox OS and Tizen all hoping for a say as well) is good news for smartphone owners. Whatever their pizza preferences.

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