Friday Five: Facebook News launches in the UK

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Facebook News feature launches in the UK

Facebook News, a dedicated section for news content, is launching in the UK. Several major news publishers, including Channel 4, Sky News and the Guardian, have signed deals with Facebook to provide content. The UK is the second market to get Facebook News, which launched in the United States last year.

Facebook News is the social network’s attempt to address the long-running friction between it and news publishers, as advertising spend has increasingly moved to the large tech firms instead of individual news outlets. The feature will include a mix of major news stories and ‘personalised news’, as decided by Facebook’s algorithm.

2. Cash machine usage plummets due to Covid

A sharp fall in the usage of cash machines in 2020 has led to warnings that many ATMs could close or start to impose fees. Link, the UK’s largest cash machine network, said there was a 38% decline in ATM transactions last year due to Covid, with fewer people visiting shops and many preferring not to handle physical money.

And while Link’s research shows that 75% of people say they will use less cash going forward, millions — particularly poor or vulnerable people — still rely on cash and aren’t ready to go digital. Link is a voluntary scheme, so banks could leave if the costs were too great, which could see the whole free-to-use model collapse.

3. Twitter releases new tools for researchers

Twitter is releasing new tools to make it easier for academic researchers who want to analyse the platform’s data to study topics such as the coronavirus, hate speech and misinformation. Researchers will get free access to public tweets that are older than a week and be able to retrieve more precise data in a greater volume.

Twitter said the most common topics researchers are interested in studying include misinformation and disinformation, the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 US elections and hate speech. But Twitter has to also balance concerns about privacy, so data doesn’t include tweets from suspended accounts (including a certain Donald Trump).

4. Google makes VR painting app open source

Google has made its Tilt Brush app — a VR painting tool — open source. The app allows users wearing VR headsets to ‘paint’ sculptures in three-dimensional space. Google has announced it is discontinuing work on the app, but rather than shutting it down, it is making the code publicly available for people to create their own versions.

After Tilt Brush was launched in 2016, a community of artists sprang up around its unique feature set. And there has been an outpouring of relief from people who have created works for the platform. Patrick Hackett, who co-created Tilt Brush, tweeted: “To some, this may look like the end of Tilt Brush. To me, this is immortality.”

5. A chance to really, really get away from it all…

After being cooped up for so long, many of us are planning a big trip in 2022. But maybe not quite as big as three space tourists who are paying an eye-watering $55m for a seat on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will take them on a jaunt to the International Space Station, which is orbiting 250 miles above Earth.

The crew — which comprises a Canadian investor, a US entrepreneur and a former Israeli Air Force pilot, plus a former NASA astronaut as mission commander — will stay on the ISS for eight days, working on their chosen research and philanthropic projects. I’d be happy with a beach and a cocktail, but each to their own, eh?

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