November in digital: see it, sing it, talk to it

Tech should bring us closer. Make life easier for everyone. Inject a bit of fun into our lives. Fortunately, this month’s digital news roundup shows it’s doing just that.

INSTAGRAM ADDS FEATURES FOR USERS WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENT

Just because it’s a highly visual social platform doesn’t mean visually impaired users have to miss out. This month, Instagram announced two new features that will help people with visual impairments get more out of the app. This includes screen readers, which will allow users to hear photo descriptions, either generated automatically using artificial intelligence or from using custom text added by users.

The automatic method relies on object recognition to create descriptions. The feature will be used on Instagram’s Feed, Explore and Profile pages. Users can scroll through and hear what Instagram thinks it sees in each photo. This isn’t the first time a social media platform has added accessibility features – Facebook and Twitter have included image descriptor text for years. However, it signals a positive move in terms of experience inclusion, especially for such a photo-heavy app.

TIKTOK BECOMES THE LATEST SOCIAL NETWORK SENSATION

It’s been labelled ‘the Chinese lip-syncing app your kids love, but you’ve never heard of’. Globally, it has over 500 million monthly active users spread across 150 countries. It’s surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube in terms of downloads in the US. It’s recently sponsored the MTV European Music Awards, furthering its momentum with its young target audience. And it’s even spurred Facebook to launch a competitor app, called Lasso. So, what is it?

The app’s premise is simple. Users create short videos set to music, where they can lip-sync along, dance or perform a short skit. Music, camera effects and superimposed animations mean even the most basic video can be made with an appearance of professionalism. Most likely, it’ll be coming to a phone near you.

GOOGLE LETS USERS CONNECT WITH BUSINESSES WITHIN MAPS

Gone are the days when Google Maps was just a simple navigation tool. It’s now brimming with features, including the ability to add location reviews and share arrival times with friends and family. And the list of features continues to grow. As of this month, iOS and Android Google Maps users can directly message businesses through the app.

The idea is for users to quickly get answers to their questions or place an order without having to leave Google Maps. Google even notes that because this will further separate business and personal communication, “you’ll never have to worry about accidentally sending ‘I love you, mum’ to that shoe store you’ve been sending messages to” again.

FACEBOOK LETS USERS ‘UNSEND’ MESSAGES

Earlier this year, it was reported that Facebook was deleting old messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg from its recipients’ Messenger inboxes. Now, for the first time, Facebook Messenger users can do the same. Users have a grand total of ten minutes to unsend a message. Once unsent, a tombstone icon will appear to indicate a message was retracted.

In an effort to prevent bullies from covering their tracks, Facebook will hold onto unsent messages for a short period of time in case they are reported and need to be reviewed for policy violations. The feature is being rolled out to users in Poland, Bolivia, Colombia and Lithuania.

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