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3 new technologies ecommerce brands can use to connect better with customers

Ecommerce was already a fast-growing industry at the beginning of 2020. Now it’s experiencing an unprecedented boom as billions of shoppers seek to replace their physical shopping carts with virtual ones.

What’s more, customer loyalty has been uprooted and is now up for grabs. A study by McKinsey & Company found that consumer behaviors have changed drastically across the globe with extremely high numbers of consumers having tried new shopping behaviors, including purchasing products from new brands, in the past few months. 

These changes are creating new opportunities but also increased competition. 

As a result, companies have been investing in new tech, from AR-generated apps being used to allow customers to ‘try on’ make-up and clothes virtually to gamified shopping promotions. 

But, in the rush to adopt the latest trends and attract new customers, many companies are feeling more out of touch with their audience than ever. 

We spoke with three ecommerce experts to find out what companies are getting wrong and how they can better connect with their audiences using technology. As part of Techleap.nl’s most recent batch of Rise Programme participants, these fast-growing scaleups represent the best of the best in Dutch innovation. Here’s what they had to say: 

Go where your customers are

ChannelEngine logo and CEO Jorrit Steinz

When choosing a spot for a brick-and-mortar store, everyone knows the most important consideration is location, location, location. You want to set up your store where your customers like to hang out and shop regularly. According to Jorrit Steinz, CEO of ChannelEngine, your ecommerce strategy should be no different. 

And just where is your audience shopping online? According to a study by Digital Commerce 360, sales on marketplace sites accounted for 62% of global web sales in 2020, with the top online marketplaces in the world selling $2.67 trillion in products. 

“While consumers were first searching on a search engine, now they’re searching on marketplaces. Even if they’re searching on Google, they will still find marketplaces so it’s essential for brands to be where consumers are searching,” Steinz said.

Even if consumers do start with a Google search, individual retailers still have to compete with marketplaces for top spots in search results. 

Most new webshops completely rely on Google driving traffic. Then you see the marketplaces competing for the same set of keywords. On top of that, Google itself is competing with Google Shopping. So it’s getting harder and harder to optimize for your own webshop. There’s a whole ecosystem of brands that are only selling on marketplaces, social media, and not even on their own webstore.

ChannelEngine is a software as a service platform that connects brands, retailers, and wholesalers to online marketplaces. Instead of having to manage an Amazon account, eBay listings, and a Zalando portal, companies can manage multiple marketplaces across the globe from this one platform. This means stock levels and orders can be synchronized, product updates can be made automatically, and price levels can be controlled in one place. 

For brands looking to break into new markets, rather than spending time on translating websites, researching keywords, and creating specialized campaigns, the transition can be as simple as selecting the marketplace with the best reach in that country. 

As Steinz pointed out, it’s not just about traditional marketplaces. Social media channels are also now transitioning towards becoming virtual shopping malls.

A lot of click channels, like Instagram, Google, and comparison sites, are all turning into transactional channels, which is basically a marketplace. So that means there’s going to be more and more entry points for potential customers.

Instead of navigating to an online shop, consumers will now have their credit cards linked to their Instagram accounts, allowing them to simply click on an ad and buy directly in the app.

“That’s going to be a massive shift for any ecommerce retailer and, if they’re not prepared, it’s going to cost them some potential revenue,” Steinz predicted.

You get the best customer insights by simply listening 

Wonderflow logo and CEO Riccardo Osti

“We’re always talking about digital data sources now online. The tendency is to think that ecommerce is something and then traditional retail is something else. This is absolutely not true,” said Riccardo Osti, CEO of Wonderflow. 

BazaarVoice found that 56% of online shoppers and 45% of brick and mortar buyers read reviews online before purchasing a product. This has created a multiplier effect for some product categories, meaning that each dollar a company makes online is equal to between four and six dollars they make offline. 

“Whatever happens online has an impact on the real world. When I buy something offline, I first read reviews online. Then I go to the shop already knowing which products I want to see and buy,” Osti said.

The more companies realize this and begin to combine online and offline data to inform their strategy as a whole, the better. 

I think a very big mistake is that most companies don’t try to connect with their audience. Historically many brands, especially ones that have a very technical product offering, focus a lot on their product and not on their customers. But times have changed.

Customers are more than willing to share their opinion and connect with brands in the form of online reviews, NPS scores, and customer center feedback. This means there’s already a plethora of customer data at companies’ fingertips. The problem is, many simply don’t know how to translate this data into usable information. 

Wonderflow is a Voice of the Customer (VoC) analytics solution that allows companies to glean insights from different customer feedback sources. Their platform leverages natural language processing to aggregate and analyze all of this feedback (both public and private) in one place.  

The next, and more difficult step, is to translate this information into actionable advice and that’s where Wonderflow’s strength lies. Their predictive technology is able to take current consumer insights, and use them to create actionable predictions for the future. Osti explained:

At Wonderflow we’re now trying to predict what your future appreciation score or new star rating of a specific product is going to be in one month or in one year. 

We start by analyzing what customers say about the product and we identify where there’s space for improvement. So, for example, if the star rating is 3.8 out of five, we can tell you ‘if you want to get a 4.5-star rating in the future, you need to improve features x and y.’ 

The second step we’re working on is the prescriptive part. This allows us to tell you which action you should take to make that improvement happen. For example, ‘run an engineering workshop to identify what the problem is with this specific component of the product.’

Perhaps one of the most exciting things about this new technology is that, by providing narrative text-based prescriptions, absolutely anybody in your company will be able to glean insights from them, not just data analysts. 

“This is the big change that we will see in the industry for the next few years, moving from the old fashioned, unreadable business intelligence platforms that we’ve seen for decades, to intuitive charts and narratives,” Osti told TNW. 

Embrace niche audiences

SocialDatabase logo and CEO Thomas Slabbers

Thomas Slabbers, CEO of SocialDatabase, believes that the biggest mistake companies make when it comes to connecting with their audiences is not spending enough time defining who those audiences are.

At SocialDatabase, we believe in the following formula: RESULT = CONTENT X DATA. Brands spend a lot of time creating the right content, but when it comes to creating the right audience, they often fall short. With just native targeting options available and limited access to data, brands struggle with reaching the right audience. We believe that enriched public data should be the starting point of every campaign.

SocialDatabase created a unique solution for this.

By amplifying publicly available Twitter data, we’ve created SUPERAUDIENCES. SUPERAUDIENCES allow brands to selectively target more relevant audiences through a deeper analysis of public data. These are custom audiences designed to match campaign goals, increasing receptivity and media effectiveness, without using third-party data.

But do we really want to narrow our audience? Isn’t casting a wider net better?

“First of all, the majority of social media users feel the communication coming from brands is irrelevant or unimportant to them. A more narrow audience would make ads more interesting and relevant. Secondly, reducing the waste in a target audience simply saves a lot of budget that would have been spent on the wrong audience. Finally, a more focused audience enables brands to make more impact in a shorter amount of time,” Slabbers explained.

SUPERAUDIENCES are particularly relevant for use cases where quality is more important than scale, whether you’re looking for a niche, B2B, or relevant consumer audience.

As a Formula 1 partner, Heineken used SUPERAUDIENCES to distinguish hardcore F1 fans from casual fans during the Grand Prix of Australia, China, and Spain. Meanwhile, Nutricia, a company that specializes in therapeutic food and clinical nutrition, is using SUPERAUDIENCES to specifically reach healthcare professionals.

There you have it, location, listening, and spending more time in defining your audience will help you build a stronger connection with them. Although brick and mortar stores are starting to open up again in some countries, the continued rise and preference for ecommerce is not something that’s going away. But, as Osti explained, combining your retail and ecommerce strategies is the best way to get ahead of the game.

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Covid 19

US banks turn to AI to tell homeless people to go away — along with fraud prevention and stuff

Banks have long embraced surveillance systems to prevent robbery. But they’re also using the technology to monitor customers, workers, and homeless people.

Several US banking giants are implementing AI cameras to analyze customer preferences, track what staff are doing, and observe activities around their premises, Reuters reports.

The tools are being used for a variety of purposes. Wells Fargo is leveraging the tech to prevent fraud, while City National plans to deploy facial recognition near ATMs as authentication methods.

JPMorgan, meanwhile, has been using computer vision to analyze archive footage of customer behavior. Their early analysis found that more men arrive before or after lunch, while women are more likely to visit in mid-afternoon.

[Read: The biggest tech trends of 2021, according to 3 founders]

One unnamed bank is using AI to arrange their layouts more ergonomically, while another is monitoring homeless people setting up tents at drive-through ATMs. An executive told Reuters that staff can play an audio recording “politely asking” the loiterers to leave. Sounds delightful.

All these new applications of AI come amid growing concerns about AI-powered surveillance.

Biometric scans can encroach on democratic freedoms, and facial recognition is notorious for misidentifying people of color, women, and trans people.

Critics have also noted that consumer monitoring can lead to income and racial discrimination. In 2020, the drug store chain Rite Aid shut down its facial recognition system after it was found to be mostly installed in lower-income, non-white neighborhoods.

Bank executives told Reuters that they were sensitive to these issues, but a backlash from customers and staff could stall their plans. Their deployments will also be restricted by a growing range of local laws.

A number of US cities have recently prohibited the use of facial recognition, including Portland, which last year banned the tech in all privately-owned places accessible to the public. The Oregon Bankers Association has asked for an exemption, but their request was rejected.

Still, in most places in the US banks are free to roll out AI monitoring tools. It’s another step in the sleepwalk towards surveillance capitalism.

Greetings Humanoids! Did you know we have a newsletter all about AI? You can subscribe to it right here.

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Covid 19

NASA just made history by flying an autonomous helicopter on Mars

NASA has made history after successfully conducting the first-ever controlled flight on another planet.

The space agency’s Ingenuity helicopter briefly flew over Mars this morning, in what NASA previously described as a “Wright Brothers” moment.

The 1.8 kg chopper ascended three meters above the red planet, hovered for around 30 seconds, made a turn, and then touched back down on the Martian surface.

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Ingenuity took this photo while hovering over Mars.

[Read: The biggest tech trends of 2021, according to 3 founders]

The autonomous drone arrived on Mars inside NASA’s Perseverance rover on February 18. It was slated to make its first experimental flight on April 11, but the launch was twice postponed due to technical issues.

At around 07:00AM EST, NASA confirmed that the maiden voyage had been successful. Ingenuity will now attempt a series of more challenging flights.

While pilots planned the chopper’s route, Ingenuity had to fly autonomously because of communication delays. A combination of sensors and computer vision navigated the flight path.

Cameras on the helicopter will capture a new perspective of conditions on Mars. But Ingenuity’s primary mission is testing the potential of flying on other worlds.

NASA will use insights from the flights to develop future helicopters, which could one day help astronauts explore the red planet.

Greetings Humanoids! Did you know we have a newsletter all about AI? You can subscribe to it right here.

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How to turn your ebike into a cargo-hauling car replacement

Let’s get this out of the way: an ebike can never fully replace a car. At least, not in the sense of carrying four passengers and a trunk full of groceries while being shielded from the rain. There will be times where having a car is more convenient.

But sometimes bikes are the more convenient vehicle too. As a city-dweller who used to occasionally drive, not having to park and cutting through traffic saves me a bunch of time. I’ve been riding ebikes for transportation almost exclusively for the past couple of years, and I’ve come to realize that for almost all day-to-day tasks, and even some irregular ones, an electric bike is more than enough.

Yes, you’ll have to be a little bit creative, especially if you haven’t got yourself a proper cargo ebike. But in my case, the biggest barrier for getting stuff done on two wheels was really the mental one. When I started testing ebikes, I was a noob to cycling in general and had no idea of the wealth of accessories available to help make carrying stuff easier.

What follows are some of the most useful accessories I’ve found for carrying stuff on the ebikes I’ve tested. Most I have tried myself, but for those I haven’t, I’ve done research thorough enough to be comfortable recommending them.

Some disclaimers first: this guide was written with the assumption that you’re a newcomer riding an ebike. So while all of the accessories here work just as fine on a regular bike, I’m giving little consideration to things like weight or aerodynamics. Practicality is my only concern. I also know this list doesn’t include every cargo accessory in the world, sue me.

Onward.

A rear rack

The rear rack is the go-to cargo accessory because it allows you to carry stuff without affecting control over your bike too much. You can hang panniers from them (essentially tote bags meant to be attached to a bike rack, more on these in a bit), and they usually have a flat top for carrying more stuff — like a pizza. Alternatively, you can attach a bag or basket to the rack top; for a cheap DIY setup, attach a milk crate with some zip ties.

If you bought an ebike, there’s a good chance your bike already comes with a rack. If not, check with the manufacturer for compatible models; it might have one it’s tested to be compatible with your bike. In any case, there are about a bazillions racks on the market, so you’ll almost certainly be able to find one for your bike.

Many, if not most, bikes come with mounting points for a rack, but if not, there are racks designed to be virtually universal too. There are racks that can attach to your bike’s seatpost, others that attach to your wheels like the heavy-duty Old Man Mountain racks, or the Thule Pack N Pedal, which wraps around your bike’s seat stays.

Bungees and straps

If you want to attach stuff to the top of your rack, you’ll need some kind of strap to tie it down. Bungee cords are the classic choice, keeping items under tension; you can find whole kits of them for cheap. There are also cargo nets that can help tie down larger, more pliable items, or cover up a basket.

Personally though, I’m a big fan of ROK straps. These are a bit more expensive, but attach securely to your bike’s rack and only have a small elastic portion to them, keeping your items more secure than a typical bungee strap.

Panniers

Panniers are probably the easiest ways to carry a small to medium set of groceries on your bike. These bags hang off the sides of your rack and are quick to attach and detach.

They usually come with some kind of handle so you can use them as shopping bags, and some also double as backpacks or messenger bags for commuters. They come in a myriad of shapes and sizes.

A front basket or rack

Rear racks are super-versatile, but they don’t allow you to see your cargo. That’s why I prefer carrying stuff on the front of my bike whenever possible.

Many ebikes have mounting points on your bike’s headtube that fixes a front rack or basket directly onto the frame. If these are available, they are probably your best bet for front cargo, as they will be more stable than accessories that attach to your handlebars or forks; those will sway when you turn the bike, making it trickier to balance.

If no frame mount for a rack is available, I’m a big fan of Wald’s quick-release front basket. This lightweight basket attaches to your handlebars and can be used as a fairly sizeable shopping basket when you arrive at your destination. Being able to remove the basket also helps keep the bike more maneuverable if you need to squeeze it through a tight staircase like me. Alternatively, there are about a million handlebar bags out there.

If going with a front basket, I definitely suggest keeping a cargo net on your bike — it’ll help prevent stuff from flying out and allow you to carry a bit more than you might’ve dared otherwise.

If you prefer a front rack that attaches to your fork, Soma’s PortFolder is pretty neat. When folded, it keeps a minimal profile and can carry some front panniers(they make those too), but it’s also able to unfold into a large flat surface for carrying multiple pizzas (you can tell that carrying pizzas is a concern of mine).

Another advantage of a front rack (as opposed to a handlebar bag or basket) is that it keeps your cargo’s center of gravity lower, helping keep your bike more stable.

And if your fork doesn’t have mounting points for a rack, the aforementioned universal Old Man Mountain and Thule Pack n Pedal racks can actually be attached to the front rack too.

A backpack

I almost never go grocery shopping on my ebike without a backpack. While on a regular bike carrying a backpack in warm weather will likely mean a sweaty back, this is much less of an issue on an ebike.

Credit: Henty

You probably have a backpack lying at home somewhere. Use it. If not, and you want something fancy that can double as a travel bag, I absolutely love Henty’s Travel Brief. It can fit 30 liters of stuff, which in my case often mean fitting a 12-roll pack of toilet paper with some room to spare. It also really is quite a nice travel bag.

A reusable bag or two

I always keep a reusable shopping bag or two with my bike that I can hang around the handlebars. The goal isn’t to use them regularly — the aforementioned accessories are all for that — but rather to serve as an overflow buffer. There’s nothing worse than going to get a bunch of groceries, realizing that you wanted to get more stuff, and then not being able to fit that last box of croissants on your setup.

You could just take a bag with you before you go shopping, but I recommend keeping one with your ebike at all times. Having an extra shopping bag handy is useful for fitting those last items — preferably lighter ones so your weight distribution doesn’t get too wonky.

A cargo trailer

But what about those times you need to just carry a lot of stuff — or something really big? That’s when a cargo trailer can be a lifesaver.

Bike trailers come in all shapes and sizes, from flatbeds to big ol’ buckets, but my favorite as a city dweller is the Burley Travoy. I reviewed it a while back, but suffice to say it’s a cross between a cargo trailer, a handtruck, and a granny cart. It folds up compact when not needed, but I’ve also used it to carry anything from groceries…

…to office chairs…

I picked up an office chair from staples with the older version of the travoy. Note I had to use separate cam straps as the uncluded tie downs straps were not long enough for this particular package.

…to a pair of large dog crates.

The Travoy comes with tie-down straps, but for larger items, I replaced them with heavy-duty cam straps. It’s an incredibly versatile trailer that only requires a little creativity for carrying oddly shaped items. Plus, you can bring it into a store to use it as a shopping cart.

It’s also a great option if you have multiple bikes, as it attaches directly to your seat post and the process only takes a few seconds. Likewise, it’s a useful accessory if you want to keep your bike light or aesthetically minimalist; it does not require anything to be permanently affixed onto your bike.

I like this thing a lot. If I had to make just one purchase for cargo purposes, it would probably be the Travoy.

Just about the only thing it’s not so great at is carrying items that need to be flat (like a bunch of pizzas) and people (well, you probably could if you really wanted to, buy tying someone down onto a bike trailer might look a little suspicious).

A child/pet trailer

Want to take your child/dog/cat/iguana with you? There are trailers for that too.

I have a dog and two cats, for which I requested a review unit of the Burley Tail Wagon — it’s a sturdy trailer that folds compact and can double as a pet stroller. The brand has built a reputation for the safety of its trailers, so it’s among the few I’d trust to haul my fluffy ones around.

Okay so, truth be told, I actually haven’t used the Tail Wagon for its primary purpose much, because my dog has extreme separation anxiety and we’re slowly working our way towards acclimating her to it.

But it’s been really great for carrying larger items, including for stuffing even more groceries and large boxes. Although it might be a little cumbersome to attach compared to panniers or the Travoy, it can fit a lot more stuff without needing tie-downs, and feels super stable over long rides.

So much more

This list only scratches the surface of how to carry stuff on your bike. There are small saddle bags, top tube bags, large bikepacking seat bags, frame bags, child seats, sidecars, and even surfboard racks. Not to mention that there are cargo bikes specifically designed to haul stuff, like the compact Tern GSD or the Long-John Urban Arrow Family.

You might have to get creative to carry some larger items, but after spending the past couple of years carrying all sorts of stuff on ebikes, it’s clear that where there’s a will (and a few useful accessories), there’s a way.

This post includes affiliate links to products that you can buy online. If you purchase them through our links, we get a small cut of the revenue.


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Amazon’s new algorithm will spread workers’ duties across their muscle-tendon groups

Amazon is often accused of treating staff like expendable robots. And like machines, sometimes employees break down.

A 2019 survey of 145 warehouse workers found that 65% of them experienced physical pain while doing their jobs. Almost half (42%) said the pain persists even when they’re not working.

That’s a real shame — for Amazon. Those pesky injuries can slow down the company’s relentless pace of work.

But the e-commerce giant may have found a solution. Is it a more humane workload? Upgraded workers’ rights? Of course not. It’s an algorithm that switches staff around tasks that use different body parts.

[Read: The biggest tech trends of 2021, according to 3 founders]

Jeff Bezos unveiled the system in his final letter as CEO to Amazon shareholders:

We’re developing new automated staffing schedules that use sophisticated algorithms to rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups to decrease repetitive motion and help protect employees from MSD [musculoskeletal disorder] risks. This new technology is central to a job rotation program that we’re rolling out throughout 2021.

The world’s richest man added that Amazon has already reduced these injuries.

He said that muskoskeletal disorders at the company dropped by 32% from 2019 to 2020. More importantly, MSDs resulting in time off work decreased by more than half.

Those claims probably shouldn’t be taken at face value, however. Last year, an investigation found that Amazon had misled the public about workplace injury rates.

Bezos did acknowledge that the company still needs to do a better job for employees. But he disputed claims that employees are “treated as robots.”

Employees are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to stretch, get water, use the restroom, or talk to a manager, all without impacting their performance.

He added that Amazon is going to be “Earth’s Best Employer” and “Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” Reports of staff peeing in bottles, shocking injury ratesunion-bustinginvasive surveillance, and impossible performance targets suggest he’s got a long way to go.

Greetings Humanoids! Did you know we have a newsletter all about AI? You can subscribe to it right here.

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The Flair 58 espresso maker is a coffee-lover’s dream machine

The best money I ever spent on coffee was buying myself the original Flair Espresso Maker.

The Flair has a cult following among espresso aficionados for making it easy to make espresso at coffee-shop quality in a compact, affordable design that requires no electricity. The roughly 6-9 bars of pressure necessary for a proper espresso are created with your own arm strength, rather than any fancy machinery.

But while the original Flair (and the Flair Pro follow-up) were capable of delivering incredible shots, there was a bit of a learning curve, and the process of actually pulling a shot was a little finicky, involving the assembly of a multitude of components with each shot.

This was particularly an issue with light roasts, which require high brewing temperatures. Likewise, delivering multiple shots in a row could be a time-consuming process.

Enter the Flair 58, currently on pre-order. It is so named because it uses the same 58 mm portafilters (the bit that holds the coffee) you find in commercial coffee machines. By introducing a larger basket, making a few design tweaks, and allowing just one electrical component — a temperature controller — the Flair 58 fixes every complaint I had about the earlier models.

At $529, it is the most expensive Flair yet, but for the quality of shots and flexibility you get, it is an absolute steal. I simply do not know how you can get a coffee maker this good, this consistent, and with so much flexibility for less money. The Flair 58 isn’t competing with entry-level coffee machines — it aims straight for the multi-thousand-dollar espresso makers of high-end coffee shops.

Here’s how making coffee works on the new model:

  • Turn on the Flair 58’s temperature sensor to preheat the brew chamber for the right roast setting: dark, medium, or light. This takes about 30 to 90 seconds.
  • Boil water in a kettle while you grind your coffee. It’s essential to have a good burr grinder and freshly roasted beans.
  • Place your grounds into the portafilter, tamp — a nice hefty one is included — and lock the portafilter onto the Flair 58.
  • Pour the water into the brew chamber
  • Pull down the lever for your shot, maintaining adequate pressure (as visible on the pressure gauge) for roughly 30-50 seconds.
  • Empty the coffee grounds, repeat (except your water is already boiling now).

It takes hardly any more time than making coffee on a traditional machine. The only limitation is really how quickly you can grind beans, which is no different than on a commercial or high-end machine setup.

If you’re not familiar with how the earlier Flair models worked, you should read my reviews of the original and Pro. But suffice to say, the Flair 58 significantly cuts down on the time to make a shot, especially if you’re making multiple shots; I always make a shot for my girlfriend before my own.

It is also much more comfortable when preparing for a second shot, as all the hot components are isolated (taking apart the brew chamber on the old Flairs always felt a bit too close to burn hazard). And the longer lever arm makes reaching 9 bars of pressure a cinch.

As for the quality of the shots, they’re sublime. Admittedly, I haven’t tried very many home coffee machines, but that’s only because I was spoiled early on by the Flair. The Flair’s lever allows you to intuitively do something called pressure profiling, something you’d normally have to spend thousands of dollars for.

The pressure gauge and lever make it easy to control your coffee’s extraction.

Despite the fact I make coffee almost daily at home, I still like to visit my local and new coffee shops fairly often. But I still don’t feel like any can give me a better shot than I can make for myself with the Flair 58.

Though truth be told, I already felt like even the original Flair gave coffee shops a run for their money, but the lack of temperature control made it harder to be consistent with light roasts. But with the Flair 58, the only limitation is your own skill.

This actually wasn’t that great of a shot compared to what the Flair 58 can produce because I ran out of fresh beans, but I had to get at least one photo of a coffee extraction in here.

I’m aware this is more of a rave than a review, so I can nitpick about some things:

  • The use of electricity and the power cord sticking out of the brew chamber makes the 58 just a little less elegant than its predecessors.
  • It’s larger than its predecessors, so it’ll take more counter space. You also need a fair bit of vertical clearance for the lever arm, and it’s not quite as portable either.
  • It might take you a couple of seconds longer to make coffee than on a regular machine.
  • It requires a bit of a finer grind than the earlier Flair models.
  • It is perhaps a little less forgiving than the earlier models, so you’ll have to refine your tamp and dial in your grind a hair more, although the variable pressure still makes it much more forgiving than a standard machine.
  • It’s hard to get a yield of over 60 grams.
  • There’s still no way to steam milk, something you’ll find on most espresso machines.

For that last one, I’ve found the $39 Submininimal Nanofoamer to be a fantastic solution. Heat up milk (they also sell a stovetop Milk Jug), and the Nanofoamer handles the texture, allowing me to make latte art at least good as I can with the steamer on my Breville Bambino (which given my lack of art skills, is not very good).

Although the Flair 58 is the company’s most advanced model and makes the best shots, it is also the easiest and fastest to use for barista-quality shots.

I wouldn’t be surprised if actual coffee shops started to adopt a multitude of Flair 58’s instead of spending money on a fancy La Marzoco or La Pavoni. The Flair 58 will likely require a lot less maintenance too due to its deceptively simple design.

Newcomers to making their own espresso without a good grinder may be better served by the $119 Flair Neo, and the Classic and Pro models still make fantastic shots for less money.

But if you want the best of the best, the Flair 58 offers improved usability and can make some of the best coffee you’ll ever have at a price that’s still basically a steal in the world of espresso.

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Instagram apologizes after algorithm promotes harmful diet content to people with eating disorders

Instagram has apologized for a “mistake” that led its algorithm to promote harmful diet content to people with eating disorders.

The social network had been automatically recommending terms including “appetite suppressant,” which campaigners feared could lead vulnerable people to relapse.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, told the BBC that the suggestions were triggered by a new search functionality:

As part of this new feature, when you tap on the search bar, we’ll suggest topics you may want to search for. Those suggestions, as well as the search results themselves, are limited to general interests, and weight loss should not have been one of them.

The company said the harmful terms have now been removed and the issue with the search feature has been resolved.

[Read: The biggest tech trends of 2021, according to 3 founders]

Content that promotes disorders is banned from Instagram, while posts advertising weight-loss products are supposed to be hidden from users known to be under 18.

However, the error shows that policies alone can’t control the platform’s algorithms.

Greetings Humanoids! Did you know we have a newsletter all about AI? You can subscribe to it right here.

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TCL teased a phone that both folds and rolls, and I totally love it

The past year or so has been one of the most interesting periods for smartphone design since the early days of iOS and Android. After the bezel wars of a few years ago, we’re now seeing companies explore wackier form factors that break the typical. We’ve seen phones that can fold and phones that can roll, so it was only a matter of time until somebody combined the two.

That’s precisely what TCL has done with its new “Fold ‘n Roll” concept. Behold (start around the 30-minute mark):

The device has a hinge that can both fold as well as unfurl the flexible screen tucked inside the body of the device, going from a 6.87-inch phone to a 10-inch tablet. It also appears to feature a stylus, at the bottom of the device, making it enticing for scribbling on the go.

Now, I should make it clear the Fold ‘n Roll is just a concept device. TCL didn’t give any specs or time frame for release. For all we know, this is little more than something marketing came up with to add a bit of pizzazz to TCL’s presentation; the company did not show off a working prototype, only renders.

The device also features an ‘outer’ screen, which means it’s more likely to get damaged with a pliable display like this.

Still, I absolutely love the idea. It gives you a bit more flexibility over your aspect ratio and form-factor than a folding or rollable phone on its own, but mostly, it just feels like the type of futuristic phones we might see in a sci-fi movie.

TCL does say it has a folding phone on the way this year, just not this one. One for 2022, perhaps?

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Amazon’s new $120 Echo Buds are 20% smaller and cancel twice the noise

Amazon today announced a new set of Echo Buds, promising improvements to the sound quality and noise-canceling abilities of the original while maintaining a low price of $120 — less than half the price of the AirPods Pro, its most obvious competitor. That’s cheaper than most earbuds with ANC in general, too.

The earbuds have a sleeker design available in either black or white, and, crucially, are 20% smaller than their predecessor. It also uses shorter nozzles that are less likely to dig up earwax and is vented to reduce pressure on the ear. There are many times I’ve tested a pair of earbuds and offered to let my girlfriend try them out, only to find out they don’t fit her at all, so I definitely appreciate the size reduction.

Performance-wise, Amazon promises to maintain the sound quality while making noise-canceling twice as effective as their predecessor. You are able to turn the feature on and off via Alexa, as well as enable a Passthrough mode to help you be more aware of your surroundings instead. Meanwhile An optional ‘VIP filter’ also helps you minimize the notifications by only allowing alerts from priority contacts to ring on your earbuds.

I generally refuse to use Alexa on my phone — sorry, I’m team Google Assistant — but I appreciate being able to access some features without touch controls. I often use a single earbud when riding my bike, and being able to bark commands at my headphones rather than finagle with a tiny touch surface is something I appreciate a lot.

Also, mercifully, the headphones now charge via USB-C, the one port to rule them all. May Micro USB forever disappear from our collective memories.

While it would be easy to dismiss the Echo Buds as just another me-too Amazon product, the originals did have some objectively solid performance, and were among the cheapest way to get active noise canceling in a pair of true wireless earbuds. The new buds look a lot better, if you ask me (though I still detest the Amazon logo), and hopefully, their smaller size will make them suitable to a wider range of users.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and we’ll let you know what we think when we get our hands in a pair. If you’re interested in picking a pair up already, Amazon is currently selling the Echo buds at $100 for a limited time before their release in May.

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Spotify made a thing for your car called the Car Thing

Spotify‘s first-ever piece of consumer hardware has landed, and it’s literally called the Car Thing.

As you might’ve surmised by now, it’s a thing… that you put in your car. Said ‘Thing’ is essentially a touchscreen with a big volume knob and voice controls that you can use to play Spotify music through your car’s speakers. The device also has four preset buttons at the top you can use for podcasts or playlists you regularly listen to.

It also needs to connect to your phone via Bluetooth and to a power source on your car (either USB or the 12V outlet), so it’s not exactly a completely seamless experience. But Spotify acknowledges that it’s not meant to compete with in-car infotainment systems.

It’s an interesting choice for a first piece of hardware. As someone who drove a bit of a clunker for a while, I appreciate the ability to modernize an older car, but I’m surprised Spotify didn’t opt for headphones, speakers, or something a little more mainstream instead.

Car Thing will be available to a limited number of people the US, and is currently being offered for free, although potential users will have to pay for shipping and will need a Spotify Premium account. If you want your own Car Thing, you can join the waitlist at carthing.spotify.com.

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