A month into quarantine in New York City, software developer Evan Lewis found himself missing the subway. Maybe not so much the smells, but certainly the sounds. The screech of the brakes, the clack-clack of the train rolling over the tracks, the stern reminder to “stand clear of the closing doors please.”
“It was weird because pre-COVID-19 I would always listen to music on my commute to drown out the announcements and the music of the subway performers,” Lewis told me, “but when I stopped taking the train I realized I sort of missed those sounds!”
Assuming others were also missing riding the nation’s largest mass transit system, he created a soundboard app called NYC Subway Sounds. That way he (and others) could immerse themselves in the sonic experience of a daily commute without ever leaving his couch.
Stuck inside and miss the subway? I made an NYC subway soundboard so you can “STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS PLEASE” right from your couch! https://t.co/lwFTJ319gT
— Evan Lewis (@evanlws) April 17, 2020
The list of over two dozen includes includes all the classics — the “ding dong” of the closing doors, the “mind the gap” announcement, the harsh beep of a MetroCard swipe — as well as a handful of the busier station arrival announcements. It’s an aural melange designed to immediately send the listener onto a speeding 7 train hurtling through the darkness beneath a restive city.
Designing the app was the easy part, Lewis said. The hard part was locating all the sounds. He enlisted his friends to help him track down as many as they could. Other sounds he found on YouTube or obscure internet forums for transit enthusiasts that he didn’t previously know existed.
Arguably the best sound is a garbled conductor announcement called “Tempererer derler” — though Lewis admits it may not actually be a real subway sound. “It may not have been genuine but it reminded me of the subway so I added it anyways,” he said.
The app has been downloaded about 500 times so far, Lewis said. “Although the daily usage has been going up every day,” he added, “which makes me think people are missing the subway more and more.”
Lewis’ app is a rare bright spot in an otherwise grim picture for public transportation in the era of COVID-19. The MTA has reported a 90 percent drop in ridership since the start of the pandemic (though some riders are slowly returning). Earlier this month, the agency said it would be shutting down subway service between 1AM and 5AM to disinfect the trains and address the growing population of homeless people in the system. Over 80 MTA employees have died from the virus.
Like Lewis, I haven’t ridden the subway in months. Of course I don’t miss the crushing congestion or the frequent delays. But I do miss my fellow straphangers, even the ones who wear too much cologne. I miss the Showtime dancers and people playing music you didn’t ask to hear (both featured in Lewis’s app). The proselytizing preachers and construction workers scarfing down steaming containers of halal food. (Where’s my NYC Subway Smell app? Just kidding.)
The idea of being in an enclosed space with a bunch of strangers seems so weird now — an artifact from The Before Time. Did we really do that? Yes we did, and hopefully we’ll get back there soon. We have to. The alternative is crippling car traffic and pollution. Lewis’s app gives me hope that we will get back. He certainly seems to agree.
“I think when this is all over,” he told me, “I’m going to leave my headphones at home for a while to just take in all the sounds.”
White House organizes harassment of Twitter employee as Trump threatens company
The White House has set its sights on a single Twitter employee after the company attached a fact-checking link to two of the president’s tweets containing lies and misinformation related to voter fraud. The charge was led on Fox News Wednesday morning, with Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway targeting Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, after digging up some tweets that were critical of Trump, Conway, and the administration.
Conway called the employee “horrible” and directed listeners to go after him. “Somebody in San Francisco go wake him up and tell him he’s about to get a lot more followers,” she said on air. Immediately, the call was picked up by right-wing personalities and Trump supporters, who began sharing screenshots of the employee’s tweets. Roth is already facing a torrent of abuse and harassment, including multiple death threats, reports Protocol.
Twitter won’t be taking any action against Roth for his tweets, and the company tells BuzzFeed News he was not responsible for the fact-checks. “No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions,” a Twitter spokesperson tells The Verge.
Twitter fact-checked Trump’s tweets late on Tuesday afternoon by attaching information designed to clarify common lies and misinformation on mail-in voting resulting in rampant voter fraud, which is untrue and unsupported by any evidence. According to a Twitter spokesperson, the tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.” Tapping or clicking the link attached to Trump’s tweets that says “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” leads to a series of news articles and links debunking the lies.
Trump and the Republican National Committee are targeting states trying to expand mail-in voting as a way to help enfranchise more voters and to create safer conditions for voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, as higher voter turnout rates among historically disenfranchised voters tend to harm Republican candidates. The RNC, in fact, sued California over the weekend for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mail-in voting expansion plan for the 2020 election, claiming mail-in voting leads to voter fraud and calling the move an “illegal and brazen power grab.”
Trump has consistently targeted tech companies that don’t show him unquestioning adulation. Twitter’s decision to label his falsehoods sent him on a tirade against the company. Trump immediately responded to Twitter’s actions with threatening messages, writing on his Twitter account on Tuesday evening that the company is “now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election,” and reiterating his false statement that mail-in ballots “will lead to massive corruption and fraud.”
Trump on Wednesday then threatened “big action” against the company and said he will regulate or shut down any social media platform. While he doesn’t have the authority to shut down private companies for exercising their constitutional rights, Trump’s escalation of rhetoric, combined with the targeting of individual employees, is a disturbing new advancement in his culture war.
Facebook’s latest TikTok-inspired app is a music-making platform called Collab
Facebook’s experimental app division has a new product out today called Collab that promises to deliver a new approach to collaborative music making. The app, launching as an invite-only beta on iOS, is from Facebook’s NPE division (short for new product experimentation). If it already in that brief description sounds like another swing at the cultural and creative juggernaut that is TikTok, that’s because it is.
Collab’s primary pitch is that you can create short-form videos split into three simultaneous sources, so you can perform a single song by playing three different instruments and stitching it all together. Or you and one or two other friends can collaborate together by each supplying one of three parts.
Here’s the real TikTok-style feature: these videos, for now, can only be posted publicly to the Collab feed, where any other user can use it to create a video of their own. Say you like one person’s guitar part, and another’s vocals. You can put your own beat over it with a virtual drum pad on your iPhone and make a whole new song. Facebook says you can’t remix the underlying music, and everyone whose parts are used in a new Collab post get properly credited. You also won’t be able to just use other people’s parts to create a new song — you’ll have to record something new to contribute yourself.
Facebook says you’ll still be able to share them to other platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, but only after they’re posted to Collab. There also won’t be a “save to camera roll” option for getting the videos off Collab, at least for now.
Facebook said it expedited the release of an in-progress version of Collab to give people a creative outlet during the pandemic, hence the invite-only beta. “Facebook’s New Product Experimentation team is launching an invite-only beta of Collab, an iOS app that brings together creators and fans to create, watch, and mix and match original videos, starting with music. Digital spaces can connect us when we can’t be together in person, and Collab is a new way to create together,” a company spokesperson tells The Verge.
The key words there in that statement are “starting with music.” This may be designed around music making and short-form music videos, but the entire point of the NPE division is to experiment and move quickly with new app ideas to see which might stick. If Collab proves successful in the music realm, it may grow organically as a powerful set of tools for other media formats, too. And Facebook doesn’t yet know what exactly a new community might do with the ability to use and remix content so freely.
The same was true of TikTok, which barreled toward mind-bending popularity in its earlier days thanks to near-identical features like react and duet, which allowed users to borrow others’ posts to react to or collaborate with, without needing permission. In fact, TikTok only became a massive, worldwide phenomenon by first starting as a Chinese lip-syncing platform and growing from there into a unique fusion of Instagram, Vine, and YouTube.
Thanks to its music licensing deals that ensure posts can sample brand new pop and hip-hop singles and its powerful recommendation algorithm, TikTok is now one of the most popular social media apps on the planet. It has its own fast-growing culture, newly-minted celebrities, and the attention of Hollywood’s elite — just last week, Disney’s head of streaming, Kevin Myers, resigned to take a job as TikTok’s new CEO. It’s clear this is the kind of global pop culture cachet, with the massive engagement metrics that come with it, Facebook wants for an app of its own.
Facebook has tried, and failed, to emulate TikTok in the past, most notably with the Reels editing feature on Instagram and the standalone app Lasso. The company also goes to great lengths to monitor up-and-coming startups that might steal its social thunder. For those reasons, Collab is as much a set of unique music-making tools as it is another stab at reclaiming the teenage cool factor every Facebook product, from the main app to Instagram, inevitably cedes to younger, more culturally savvy apps over time.
The company says you can sign up to try Collab here, and availability will start with iPhone owners in the US and Canada. But the NPE team has been working on the product for a few months, and the company says it already has creators using it to fill the feed with usable clips new users can draw from.
Samsung Money is the company’s new Samsung Pay-linked debit card program
Samsung has announced further details for its upcoming debit card program: it’s called Samsung Money by SoFi (which, as previously announced, is partnering with Samsung on the program), and it’ll tie in directly with the existing Samsung Pay app.
Originally announced earlier in May, today’s news offers more concrete information on what Samsung Money will actually offer — specifically, a cash management account and a Samsung Money debit card (a Mastercard issued by The Bancorp Bank).
Samsung is promising that Samsung Money will feature no account fees (although the fine print reserves the right to change that in the future) and “higher interest” compared to the national average (although Samsung doesn’t go into specifics).
A key part of the Samsung Money program is the Samsung Pay app integration: customers will be able to easily apply for the card directly from the app and start using it through Samsung Pay on their phones once approved, before the physical card even arrives. Furthermore, you’ll be able to use the Samsung Pay app to check your balance, review past purchases, freeze your card, and flag fraudulent purchases.
All of those features, however, are pretty standard in today’s world of tech company-backed cards. Samsung Money, however, is looking to stand out with a few Samsung-specific perks. Purchases made with the Samsung Money card earn Samsung Rewards program points, which can be redeemed on future Samsung purchases.
Samsung also promises that Samsung Money accounts will be FDIC insured for up to $1.5 million (six times higher than the usual $250,000 guarantee of most debit cards). And through the SoFi partnership, Samsung Money customers will be able to use any of the 55,000 ATMs in the Allpoint ATM network without any charges.
Samsung isn’t the only tech company looking to expand into the world of finance: Apple, of course, has its full-fledged Apple Card credit card, Venmo has offered a debit card since 2018, and Uber offers branded credit and debit cards. Google is also rumored to be working on a similar debit card program that would tie into its Google Pay system for managing and tracking payments, much like Samsung’s new program.
The Samsung Money card will be available later this summer, but customers can sign up for the waitlist starting today on Samsung’s website here.
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