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China censors hit popular WeChat accounts

The censors are once again targeting China's popular messaging app WeChat.

Chinese government officials on Thursday closed down a host of popular accounts run by journalists and columnists, according to reports out of the country. The move was seen as a response to possible criticism of the government, which held its annual parliament meeting on Thursday. The accounts were shuttered before Premier Li Keqiang started a news conference to announce the end of those meetings, according to reports.

Tencent Holdings, WeChat's owner, didn't seem upset by the government's move. Speaking to Reuters, which reported on the … Read more

The 404 1,441: Where we ride the green wave (podcast)

Leaked from today's 404 episode:

- An Estonian photographer discovered an abandoned movie theater in the Sinai desert.

- This photographer just made $15k in one day on Instagram.

- Audi's new tech can turn every traffic light green.

- Banter tries to reinvent the chat room.… Read more

BBM to land on Windows Phone this summer

BlackBerry Messenger will expand its reach in the coming months.

In a blog posted Monday, BBM product and marketing chief Jeff Gadway revealed that the Messenger app will debut for Windows Phone users sometime this summer. The app will also travel to the newly-announced Android-powered Nokia X platform, though Gadway didn't reveal an ETA for that rollout.

BBM already supports BlackBerry OS, iOS, and Android. Users had been asking BlackBerry to extend BBM to other mobile systems, such as Windows Phone, Gadway added.

"BBM continues to grow in popularity as millions of people use our mobile platform for … Read more

Libon to IM friends for free, even if they don't have its app

European operator Orange's Libon messaging and calling app will add a new feature that lets you send text, picture, and audio messages to your contacts for free -- even if they're not Libon users themselves.

The Open Chat feature goes live on iOS later Thursday, with an Android update planned "in the coming weeks." When a Libon user sends a message to a non-Libon user, they'll be sent a link that takes them to an HTML5 chat window where they can continue the conversation. The HTML5 interface will also work on desktop browsers, as well … Read more

Skype helps keep half of long-distance relationships alive, survey says

Ten years ago most people would caution someone from entertaining a long-distance relationship -- they're almost always doomed to fail. When significant others can't see each other the heart can grow cold.

However, new research shows Skype could be lessening long-distance relationships' bad outcomes. Microsoft's Idea Lab conducted a survey of Skypers in the US and UK in January and found that 96 percent of respondents said the video call service gives them a closer connection to their far-away loved one.

It's not only about a closer connection, however, because one could argue a phone call … Read more

Review: Privy Chat for Facebook lets you chat with friends, but doesn't stand out

Privy Chat for Facebook does let you chat with Facebook friends, but it doesn't offer any features that you can't find in the standard chat apps. In fact, this app offers less than Facebook's own chat app, making it especially bare when compared to some of the more advanced chat apps available. Still, if you want a minimalist chat experience, this app may be your best bet.

Privy Chat connects to your Facebook to help you send messages to your friends. It takes a while to get your Facebook fully connected, as the app demands all sorts … Read more

Review: WordArt Chat Sticker Free offers dozens of clip-art phrases

WordArt Chat Sticker Free includes lots of phrases and greetings that are easy to share in any messaging app. There are almost enough phrases here to make an entire conversation using the app. While it would be nice if you could design your own stickers, the amount of options you have in the app will be enough to please you.

WordArt Chat Sticker Free gives you a handful of decorated word art to share with your friends through text or chat. Standard greetings like "Hi" and "Hello" are here, as well as more abstract questions and … Read more

LG HomeChat lets you text with your appliances

LG has partnered with the free Line messaging app to create a service dubbed HomeChat. HomeChat relies on Natural Language Processing (NLP) to let you send texts to your compatible LG appliances. It works on Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Nokia Asha, and Windows Phone devices as well as OS X and Windows computers.

This is an interesting update, since one major complaint we have about LG's Smart ThinQ line is that the range, the fridge, and the washer/dryer all use different apps. That makes for a fairly chaotic connected experience. Why separate everything when some other brands let you … Read more

Instagram treks into well-worn territory with direct messages

A little unsolicited advice to tech companies wanting to hold an event: Bring something at least moderately interesting or new to the table.

Otherwise, you end up like Instagram, which on Thursday unveiled Instagram Direct, its take on the direct and instant messaging feature that's available on virtually every other major service. The moment was, to say the least, disappointing.

Instagram, a unit of Facebook, is just the latest company to focus on upping its one-to-one messaging capabilities after building its business and customer base on its social turf. Founder Kevin Systrom spoke of Instagram as more than a … Read more

Review: Flamingo for Mac

Flamingo is a unified messaging client for OS X that lets you chat with all your Facebook, Google Hangouts, and XMPP-based contacts in one visually pleasing interface.

Pros:

Sleek design: With features ranging from slide-out animations to great contact flow, Flamingo is a premium app for a relatively premium price. However, the design is nothing short of wonderful: The left column slides in and out to display all your contacts, tabbed under each respective service. As you select a friend to chat with, the center displays your most active conversations, and the chat lines are all on the far-right panel. … Read more