Google’s smart messaging app hits market

google-aloSAN FRANCISCO: US Internet giant Google launched yesterday a smart messaging app aimed at muscling into a busy market with popular rivals such as WhatsApp and Facebook’s messenger. Allo’s “smart” capabilities aims to make it easier to respond to messages and over time adjusts to users’ own style, Google said in an official blog. The app introduces Google Assistant where users just type @google to ask the US search engine questions and have it help you directly in chats, it said.

“You no longer need to leave a conversation with friends just to grab an address, share your favorite YouTube video, or pick a dinner spot,” it said. The app works on phones using Google’s Android system and Apple’s iOS. “Google Allo can help you make plans, find information, and express yourself more easily in chat. And the more you use it, the more it improves over time,” Google said.

It said, for instance, the app will adjust according to whether its user’s style is usually an emoji or written response. Like other messaging apps, it has tools for personalizing chats including changing the size of emojis and a choice of stickers. Allo was unveiled by Google in May at the same time as Google Duo, an app for video calls, which hit the market last month. Google faces carving a place in a sector with already popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

Apple has also sought to catch up with rivals, upgrading its own messaging app in its latest iOS 10 launched last week. In July, Facebook said the number of users of its Messenger application had topped one billion. WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook for some $20 billion in 2014, also counts more than a billion users.

Meanwhile, The New York Times said Tuesday it was teaming with Google parent Alphabet in an effort to help filter its online reader comments to maintain a “civil and thoughtful” atmosphere. The newspaper said it would work with Jigsaw, a technology incubator at Alphabet, to improve and expand its comments section. The move comes amid frustration at many media organizations which have been seeking to boost reader engagement without allowing abusive and offensive comments.
“Maintaining a civil and thoughtful comments section is no easy undertaking, as evidenced by the number of publishers who have shut down their comment capabilities in recent years,” said Kinsey Wilson, the editor for innovation and strategy at the Times. “But the Times has been and will continue to be dedicated to providing our readers with a safe online community to discuss the most important issues.”

Currently, the prestigious daily employs a team of 14 moderators who manually review some 11,000 comments each day. Only about 10 percent of Times articles are open to comments because of the time required for review. Jigsaw uses algorithms to help this process, based on the moderated comments in the newspaper’s archives. The open-source system will also be made available to other online publishers, according to the statement.

“We believe open sourcing nearly a decade of Times comment archives will benefit the entire journalism industry and potentially make it easier for other publishers to manage comments on their sites,” Wilson said. The Times “hopes that the project will expand viewpoints, provide a safe platform for diverse communities to have diverse discussions and allow readers’ voices to be an integral part of nearly every piece of reporting,” according to a Times statement.

In 2014, The Washington Post and The New York Times agreed to work together on a project funded by the Knight Foundation to create open-source software that can be adapted for news websites to get a better handle on online discussions. – Agencies

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