WhatsApp delays controversial update after user backlash

WhatsApp has caused quite a bit of commotion with a planned update to its privacy policy, which spooked users as it added more detail on how Facebook and third party businesses can use and interact with user data on the platform. 

Now, amid user backlash, the company has announced the new policy will go into effect on May 15 instead of Feb. 8, as originally planned. 

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the company said in a blog post dated Jan. 15. 

“We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the post says. 

In the post, WhatsApp once again reiterates what it said last week — neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see your private messages, and the company is still committed to using end-to-end encryption for conversations. The updates are all about communication between users and businesses, and they do not affect people’s private conversations. (WhatsApp does share some metadata with Facebook, but that’s largely been in place since 2016). 

Still, the company acknowledges that it’s “going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp.” 

I can provide a very palpable example of WhatsApp means by this. The company recently provided some information on a page precisely to address confusion around its new Privacy Policy. But the latest version of that page, as I see it at writing time, is missing a paragraph that was there just five days ago.

The paragraph in question, as seen on an earlier version of the page (via Wayback Machine), is as follows:

“New commerce features: People increasingly want to be able to shop from businesses online. With Facebook branded commerce features like Shops, some businesses will display their goods right within WhatsApp so people can see what’s available to buy. If you choose to interact with Shops, your shopping activity can be used to personalize your Shops experience and the ads you see on Facebook and Instagram. Features like this are optional and when you use them we will tell you in the app how your data is being shared with Facebook.”

I don’t know why WhatsApp removed this paragraph from the page (I’ve asked, and will update this article when I hear back), but it certainly only adds to confusion around this matter. 

You can read WhatsApp’s updated Terms of Service here

It’s hard to say how many users WhatsApp has lost due to the new policy, but its competitors, such as Telegram and Signal, are seeing a massive influx of new users in the last week or so. 

Notably, the company also launched front-page ads in India to mitigate the user outflows. 

This clever bot turns Reddit arguments into video game scenes

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There’s plenty of drama on Reddit, but it’s not often that drama gets to play out on the screen.

Until now, at least.

On Sunday, 24-year-old software engineer Micah Price from Cape Town, South Africa, unveiled what can only be described as a niche-but-genius creation: a bot that takes everyday arguments on Reddit and has them play out in the style of scenes from Ace Attorney, Capcom’s animated courtroom-based video game series.

The end result is a gloriously dramatic affair that shines a whole new spotlight on Reddit’s comment section. Price’s video was shared on Reddit’s r/Videos sub shortly after it went live on YouTube, and at the time of writing it’s racked up over 21,000 upvotes.

Price told Mashable he’s always been a fan of Ace Attorney, which sees players taking on the role of defense attorneys who must carry out investigations to protect their clients (the game’s episodes culminate in a courtroom trial where you have to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence to a judge). Price got the idea for the bot from other meme-based videos of the game on YouTube.

“The dramatic music is great,” he said, “especially for the melodramatic debates on Reddit.”

Even better, everybody can join in the fun — all you need to do to trigger the bot is add “!objectionbot” or “!objection-bot” to a Reddit comment on certain supported subreddits (you can view the full list of those here). The bot then scans the thread, finds the top commenters, and turns their discussion into a YouTube video that’s then automatically linked to in the thread (the “objection!” graphic happens when a comment has a negative score, or if the bot’s neural network detects the tone of the comment to be negative).

Price said the whole thing took him about three days to put together. “I wasn’t sure if it would be popular so didn’t want to spent much longer on it,” he said. “I used Python and a bunch of computer vision and machine learning libraries. It’s uber buggy at the moment, though.”

And as for the bot’s future?

“I’ll see how it goes,” said Price. “Only costs me $10 a month to run so no harm leaving it for a couple months. If it’s anything like my other side projects I’ll just end up abandoning it though. Although maybe someone else will pick it up, it’s open source.”

No matter what lies ahead for objection-bot, it’s ripples are already being felt throughout the Reddit-sphere. Godspeed.

How to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day from home

The third Monday in January has returned to remind us of the legacy of one of our nation’s greatest civil rights leaders at a time when we need it most. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federally recognized day of service, traditionally observed with nationwide service projects and volunteer opportunities. As AmeriCorps, the organization that oversees the national day of service, says, it’s “a day on, not a day off.”

But this year is different. Not only is the country dealing with an ongoing health crisis keeping the majority of Americans at home, but we also enter the new year on the heels of an intense cry for racial justice and healing seen in last summer’s movement for Black lives. You might not be able to get out to attend a service project this year, but you can still find ways to honor the work of activists present and past. 

Joy Bivins, associate director of collections and research services at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, described this year’s commemoration and the current political moment as the right time to really understand King’s message and find creative ways to uplift Black communities in his honor. 

“It’s a perfect time to revisit his philosophy and take advantage of the programs that are happening out there, that are interrogating who Dr. King was…within the context of what’s happening in our nation today,” Bivins said.

Here are a few ways to honor the legacy of King, his colleagues, and the activists building on his work, during a year when you can’t go out and march yourself.

Attend a virtual event or talk

Traditional service opportunities might not be possible this year, but many institutions are still hosting virtual commemorations.  

Aaron Bryant, curator for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, says the museum’s programming is built on the framework of social justice and the fight for equality in line with King’s message. The museum has moved its annual celebration, A People’s Holiday, online. You can sign up to attend the event, featuring Grammy award-winner Christian McBride, here

The King Center, a memorial and nonprofit established by Coretta Scott King, will host its annual Beloved Community Commemorative Service on the holiday (starting at 10.30 a.m. ET). You can register on eventbrite.

For the rest of the year, check out other programming by Black-led cultural organizations. The Schomburg Center, for example, hosts virtual events about Black culture and history every month. “That’s our bread and butter,” Bivins explained. The organization just hosted its annual Black Comic festival, and will continue cultural programming ahead of Black History Month. Check out the schedule here

Donate to legal defense funds

Bivins explained that while many consider King only through his legacy of “peaceful protest,” he also had a “very robust interaction with the criminal justice system” — a history that continues in the unequal treatment of Black versus white protesters. 

She recommends donating to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a leading nonprofit fighting for racial justice through litigation and advocacy, or supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center, which builds on the legal victories of the early civil rights movement. 

Support HBCUs

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) arose prior to 1964 in response to systemic education inequality. With enrollment expected to increase this year, they represent safe spaces for Black students and award a significant portion of bachelor’s degrees held by Black students.   

Bivins said that advocating for HBCUs honors spaces where “our activists and heroes are trained.” Call on your representative to support continued federal funding for these institutions. 

Connect with community organizers and institutions

The fight for racial justice is ongoing and starts on the ground. Bivins recommends seeking out your local Black Lives Matter chapter and finding ways to support their work.

You can also donate to Black cultural institutions or support digital collection initiatives. The National Museum of African American History & Culture, for example, created a digital repository of stories from last year’s protest movement and invites others to share their stories to the online collection. It’s called Voices of Hope and Resistance and is still accepting submissions.

The museum’s curator Bryant understands King’s work as a fight for community, equity, and human dignity. He says it’s also the perfect moment to share small acts of community service that don’t require grand gesture or money — things like sharing food with community food banks, volunteering your time to assist a neighbor, or uplifting social justice conversations online. 

Learn more about Dr. King’s activism

Take this day (week, month, or whole year, while you’re at it) to read up on King’s life. The holiday, proposed the year he was assassinated in 1968, was contentiously debated and wasn’t formally adopted by every state until 2000, Bivins explained. 

Bivins says this history allows us to critique the glorification of King’s “peaceful movement” and the myth that he was widely beloved, something we’ve had to reconcile with this past year. “He was assassinated because he believed certain things. That idea — it makes us a bit uneasy,” Bivins said. “I think that uneasiness in wrestling with our nation’s history can be a challenge to some, but it is a worthwhile moment to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we like to see ourselves go.” 

Both Bivins and Bryant recommend reading King’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. “That’s the question we’ve been asking, this year and this week in particular,” Bryant said. “How do we become a national community?” 

Life after death: Woman recounts ‘pleasant’ afterlife experience – ‘Everything connected’

An incredibly-detailed firsthand account of the afterlife has emerged on the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) blog. In her story, a woman known only as Anne W has this week published what she believes happened to her post-cardiac arrest period.

In a lengthy account, the woman begins by explaining she felt ill at a poker tournament with her boyfriend.

She said: “I mentioned to my boyfriend, something was up, I didn’t feel right, I was sweating, experiencing high anxiety feeling, shaking. It wasn’t nerves, I said ‘I just don’t feel right’.”

Anne then reveals she proceeded to fall asleep and experience a very vivid dream.

She said: “It was Jesus surrendered on the cross. The Romans crossed his ankles and were pounding a Roman stake through both of his ankles on the cross.

“The excruciating pain I felt for him, I felt all his pain and suffering.

READ MORE: Near death experience: Visions of the afterlife should be taken more seriously’

“I woke up sobbing, sad, grief stricken that another human could possibly do this to another.

“I was very shocked and confused at the vividness of this dream.”

And it was only shortly afterwards she had an apparent heart attack.

Anne said: “It began with chest pains, I was holding my chest for a while as we sat and talked; it felt like my heart had clamped down tight.

“I began hyperventilating and my heart felt like it was popping out of my chest. All the sudden I became weak and cold, said I need to lay down on the floor.”

“I was shown through energy that I was one with all that is, all that ever was and all that will ever be.

“All that existed was within me. I was shown this and experienced this within every fibre of my being.

“Everything was connected. I was everything, everywhere; omnipresent, omniscience!

“I knew in this place of oneness that I was connected to everyone and everything. there absolutely was no separation.”

Then, after a prolonged and highly detailed account of her religious experience, Anne believes she eventually arrived at a “barrier she was not permitted to cross”.

She said: “I got a huge revelation and then I heard a loud pop or click and then I was literally snapped back into my body patting myself down, screaming, ‘I’m alive, I’m alive’.

“My girlfriend was walking into my apartment at the same time; but before she walked in physically, I saw her coming.”

However, while Anne appears certain her experience is empirical evidence of the afterlife researchers reveal such vivid visions are simply associated with a surge in brain activity occurring as one approaches death.

University of Michigan scientists arrived at this conclusion after monitoring brain activity clinically-induced cardiac arrest in rats.

They found a huge surge in brain activity in the final few seconds of the rodents’ lives.

Professor Jimo Borjigin said at the time: “This study, performed in animals, is the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow.”

Zombie apocalypse map shows the best place to be in UK if the dead rose

This Morning: Alison Hammond left TERRIFIED by zombies

In the event of a societal collapse, such as a zombie apocalypse, researchers believe the best place to be would be somewhere which already has an environmentally friendly and sustainable infrastructure in place. For that reason, energy firm Save On Energy has been ranking the most sustainable cities in the UK, which would also be best suited for a zombie apocalypse.

The company’s analysis revealed that Cambridge would be the best place to head if the dead began to rise up.

This is because it has a lot of access to farmland, as well as being home to a number of onshore wind farms and recycling centres.

As such, the people of Cambridge could easily sustain themselves in the event of the collapse of society.

The next on the list is Swansea, according to Save on Energy.

Zombie apocalypse map shows the best place to be in UK if the dead rose

Zombie apocalypse map shows the best place to be in UK if the dead rose (Image: GETTY)

zombies

Could a zombie apocalypse happen? (Image: GETTY)

cambridge

Cambridge was ranked as the most sustainable (Image: GETTY)

The firm said: “When taking into account each of the eight ‘survival’ factors, the Welsh city is not only home to the most outdoor space per 100,000 population, it also has vast amounts of farmland that could be used in the event of an apocalypse and farmers”

Belfast completes the top three, as the Northern Irish city has access to onshore wind farms and it has a large farming community.

Oxford was ranked as the least likely place where the people could survive a zombie apocalypse.

Save On Energy said: “Despite having some of the most farmland of all cities studied, Oxford was let down by its lack of onshore wind farms, lack of outdoor space, and clean air.”

READ MORE: Millions of mink infected with coronavirus to be BURNED after ‘ZOMB…

Preston came in as the second-worst place to be, due to it having one of the lowest parks per population in the entire UK.

Derby is the third least likely place where its inhabitants would survive the living dead.

This is because it had one of the worst air qualities of the cities studied, and also one of the lowest numbers of recycling centres per 100,000 people in the population.

Save on Energy said: “Whilst much of the population believe that a zombie apocalypse is little more than a fictitious scenario, a number of Brits still fear the possibility, with pop culture leading some to believe that a zombie takeover remains a reasonable explanation of how the world might end.

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best and worst places to survive

Zombie apocalypse: The best and worst places to survive (Image: SAVE ON ENERGY)

“But if zombies were to take over, how prepared would your city be?

“Our zombie survival index sought to find out which cities are least prepared for a zombie apocalypse based on each of the eight different factors: solar energy produced per year, farming area, the number of farmers per city, air quality, outdoor space, recycling centres, wind farms, and the number of electric vehicle charging points.”

A recent study from Penn State University revealed that those who are fans of zombie movies were most prepared for the current coronavirus pandemic.

The researchers asked more than 300 participants to fill out a survey which calculated an individual’s positive and negative resilience to situations.

The survey then asked a set of six questions which analysed how prepared someone was for the outbreak.

zombie pandemic

Those who are fans of zombie movies were most prepared for the current coronavirus pandemic. (Image: GETTY)

Participants were then asked to indicate which movie genres they most cared for, according to the research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

The researchers found that those who were fans of horror and zombie movies were most mentally prepared for the pandemic.

John Johnson, professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State, said: “My latest research collaboration was unique in that my colleagues wanted to identify factors beyond personality that contributed to people’s psychological preparedness and resilience in the face of the pandemic.

“After factoring out personality influences, which were actually quite strong, we found that the more movies about zombies, alien invasions and apocalyptic pandemics people had seen prior to Covid-19, the better they dealt with the actual, current pandemic.

“These kinds of movies apparently serve as mental rehearsal for actual events.”

This smart light from GE works with Alexa to make your life brighter (and easier)

Products featured here are selected by our partners at StackCommerce.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.

Use Alexa to control your ring light.
Use Alexa to control your ring light.

Image: GE

TL;DR: Light up your home with the GE Sol WiFi Alexa Enabled Smart Light, on sale for $89.99 as of Jan. 17, giving you a 55% savings.


You’re probably used to ring lights being associated with TikTokers or YouTubers who use the inventive design to, well, make them look better on screen. You may have even noticed someone on a Zoom call with a bright circle illuminated in their pupils, which is another dead giveaway that someone’s using a ring light. But if you’ve ever found yourself leaving yours on to illuminate your space, there’s actually a ring light on the market that’s specifically made for home decor. The futuristic lamp is designed to be left on and helps cozy up a little corner of your house.

Even better, this one from GE comes with Alexa-enabled abilities. The GE Sol (pronounced like soul) is the world’s first light product with Alexa built-in. That means you can use it for all the things you’d normally use your voice assistant for — like scheduling meetings, making grocery lists, playing your favorite music, and even updating you on the current weather. Clock radios are, after all, so 20 years ago.

The Sol features 360-degree omni-directional audio, which means you don’t have to invest in a Bluetooth speaker in addition to this light (or a separate Amazon Alexa device) if you don’t want to. It offers high-quality and immersive sound, so you can pare down on purchasing extra items. When you provide voice control for Alexa, it’ll hear you even from further away, since it includes two far-field microphones. It’s perfect for city living and can even be kept near a bustling, noisy window.

Here’s a look at everything the Sol can do:

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Normally, a light fixture that can do all of this and boasts innovative design to boot can run you close to $200 (or more). But for a limited time, the GE Sol is on sale for 55% off, knocking the price down to just $89.99.

Prices subject to change.

7 of the best online learning platforms to advance your career (or side hustle)

When we spend so much of our time online, we’re bound to learn something while clicking and scrolling. Discover something new with Mashable’s series I learned it on the internet.

In the past few years, technological advancements and high demand for accessible, low-cost education have led to ridiculous growth in the online learning sector. (For some perspective, experts predicted in 2018 that the e-learning industry would hit $325 billion by 2025 — that’s triple its revenue from ten years prior.) So, while the coronavirus pandemic didn’t launch the online learning boom, it sure didn’t hurt its case. 

Yet even after several semesters of mandatory distance learning, an important question lingers: Can an online education truly replace in-person learning? 

It’s not a universal panacea, but for many of us, absolutely — especially if you want to kickstart a career, move up in your current field, make the switch to a completely different industry, or pursue a new hobby.

What are the pros and cons of online learning?

According to BestColleges’ 2020 Online Education Trends report, just over half of students who pursue an online education instead of in-person learning do so for the sheer convenience factor: When you can learn from anywhere at your own pace, you’ve got more flexibility to study around other commitments (be it a job or family responsibilities) and play catchup on evenings and weekends.

Online learning programs, even whole-ass degrees, also tend to be significantly cheaper than their in-person counterparts. (Student loans? In this economy?) More on that in a moment.

Just over half of students who pursue an online education in favor of in-person learning do so for the sheer convenience factor.

Of course, online learning presents its own challenges. Zoom fatigue is very real, as many of us have learned. There are also distractions aplenty — good luck trying to slog through a boring assignment on the same device that could otherwise connect you to social media or run The Sims. It doesn’t help that most programs offer very little oversight from an instructor to keep you on task, either.

Overall, though, the benefits of online learning seem to outweigh any issues it poses: A whopping 94% of the students surveyed for that aforementioned trends report said online learning has (or will have) a positive return on investment, with 95% of them recommending online education to other prospective learners.

What kinds of online classes are out there?

Along with traditional online courses and degrees, which are restricted to students at certain universities and typically require an admissions process with prerequisites, you’ll also run into “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, their more affordable and widely available cousins.

MOOCs are virtual classes that are available to anyone with an internet connection; popular online courses can enroll thousands of students at any given time, hence the “massive” part. They’re often free, focus on a single topic, and usually feature pre-recorded, self-paced video lectures, though “synchronous” versions with real-time lessons by course creators are also a thing.

For the purpose of this piece, we’ll be focusing primarily on MOOCs and MOOC providers (or third-party online learning platforms). 

What does it mean if a class or school is “accredited”?

“Accredited” programs have been officially recognized and approved by some sort of institution after meeting a set of standards. Accreditation is basically the mark of a great reputation.

For what it’s worth, the vast majority of MOOCs and MOOC providers are not accredited (though the rare platform like Coursera will work with leading universities and companies to offer some accredited coursework). That doesn’t mean you should avoid them completely: Taking a MOOC online course can help you figure out whether you’re actually interested in a given subject or industry before you pursue it full-time (and spend a good amount of money doing so). Besides, any sort of professional development you do in your free time is a sign to employers that you’re a real go-getter.

Can I earn certificates online?

Most online learning platforms only dole out certificates of completion once you’re done with a class — sometimes for a fee, and sometimes in the in the form of an achievement “badge”/icon that can be displayed on social sites (which is an easy way to to showcase your achievements to prospective employers).

Those that do offer professional certificates in select subject areas are fewer and far between. If you want to go that route, look for platforms like Coursera that officially partner with colleges and business.

How much does it cost to take a MOOC?

Some good news: Tons of MOOCs are completely, totally free, though you’ll probably have to make an account on their hosting platforms to enroll.

Depending on the site, paid classes are usually either sold à la carte for anywhere from $20 to $200 apiece (see: Udemy) or as a part of an all-access subscription for a couple hundred bucks a year (hi, MasterClass). Note that most MOOC providers offer a mix of free and paid classes.

Relatedly, keep an eye out for platforms that offer enterprise plans for businesses and teams — you might be able to get your employer to pay for your continuing education.

Who teaches MOOCs?

It’s not ubiquitous, but many MOOCs are created and taught by industry experts, not trained teachers or professors who have put in years at a university. Instructor vetting also varies from platform to platform: Some require a thorough application with essays and video demonstrations of their teaching style, while others let just about anyone publish a class (barring explicit, offensive, or dangerous topic restrictions). 

This means coursework quality and production value can vary greatly from class to class even on the same site, which one of the biggest drawbacks to this type of learning.

All things considered, what are the best online learning platforms?

Now that you’re an expert on all things MOOC, keep reading to check out our top picks. 

Looking for the scoop on the best online learning platforms for kids, specifically? Click here.


Lifetime access to all course materials • Learn at your own pace • Student ratings are readily accessible on every course’s landing page • Certificates of completion available for paid classes • 30-day money-back guarantee • Offline viewing on the Udemy mobile app available for iOS and Android) • Frequent sales • Lots of free classes • Huge range of topics
Instructors are experts in their respective fields, but most aren’t actual teachers/professors
The most affordable way to dip your toes into a new industry or hobby.

Udemy

With tens of thousands of classes on both hard and soft skills, Udemy lets you curate your own education on a budget.

  • Accredited:
    No
  • Price:
    Select classes are free; paid courses range from $19.99 to $199.99
  • Free trial:
    No
  • Number of courses available:
    130,000+
  • Subject areas:
    Design, development, marketing, IT and software, personal development, business, photography, and music
  • Team/enterprise plans available:
    Yes (Udemy for Business)
Udemy is an extremely popular online platform with hundreds of free video classes and tens of thousands of paid ones starting at just $19.99. (Pro tip: They can get even cheaper if you catch one of its regular sales.) Each class is sold à la carte, so you’ll only pay for the skills you really want to learn.
You’ve got plenty to choose from, too. Subject-wise, Udemy’s course “marketplace” covers the broadest range of personal and professional development topics we’ve seen — everything from finance, Python, and digital marketing to soapmaking and watercolor landscape paintings. Plus, they’re all self-paced and include lifetime access, in case you ever need a refresher; once you buy a class, the course material is yours to learn from and revisit anytime.
Here are the three most popular classes on Udemy as of Jan. 2021:

1-month free trial • Free with LinkedIn Premium • Most classes offer “badges” that can be showcased on your LinkedIn profile • Learn at your own pace • 50+ new classes released every week • Offline viewing through the LinkedIn Learning mobile app (available for iOS and Android) • Classes are available in 7 languages
Classes are taught by “real-world practitioners” and professionals, not professors • Not as useful if you aren’t active on LinkedIn • You’ll lose access to paid course content if you cancel your subscription • Very corporate vibe
A serious résumé-booster that unlocks all the perks of LinkedIn Premium.

LinkedIn Learning

This subscription-based e-learning platform from the site that powers your job search can help you flesh out the “professional skills” portion of your résumé.

  • Accredited:
    No
  • Price:
    $29.99/month or $239.88/year; free with LinkedIn Premium
  • Free trial:
    Yes
  • Number of courses available:
    16,000+
  • Subject areas:
    Project Management Institute (PMI), programming languages, illustration, drawing, leadership skills, spreadsheets, NASBA Continuing Professional Education (CPE), data analysis, design thinking, personal effectiveness, data science careers, creativity, job searching, big data, and web design business
  • Team/enterprise plans available:
    Yes
Your résumé may claim that you’re proficient in Excel, but are you really? Enter: LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda.com). 
Members get access to its library of instructional videos and receive personalized class recommendations based on their LinkedIn profiles, though you’re free to go off-script if you’re considering a different career path — dozens of new courses covering in-demand creative, business, and tech skills are added every week. For a deeper dive into specific topics or career tracks, you can also pursue “learning paths” that curate several related classes.
Note that LinkedIn Learning comes free with a LinkedIn Premium subscription, which get you further professional benefits like InMail messaging, application insights, interview prep, and improved search features.
Here are the three most popular LinkedIn Learning courses of 2020: 

7-day free trial for new members • Thousands of free classes • Big course library • Offline viewing available to Premium members via the Skillshare mobile app (for iOS and Android) • Students can share work and offer feedback among themselves
You’ll lose access to class videos and any downloadable learning content if you cancel your Premium membership • No certificates offered (professional or completion) • Course creators are “working professionals, experts, and subject matter enthusiasts,” not professors
An excellent resource for right-brainers.

Skillshare

Skillshare students come out of its hands-on classes with strong, portfolio-worthy projects.

  • Accredited:
    No
  • Price:
    Select courses are free; upgrade to Skillshare Premium for $19.99/month or $99.99/year
  • Free trial:
    Yes
  • Number of courses available:
    29,000+
  • Subject areas:
    Animation, design, illustration, lifestyle, photo/film, business, technology, and writing
  • Team/enterprise plans available:
    Yes (Skillshare for Teams)
If you’ve been biding your time in quarantine by watching crafting tutorials on TikTok and YouTube, consider signing up for Skillshare. The recently revamped educational platform covers mostly artsy-fartsy and DIY topics, with a sprinkling of business and personal development lessons added to the mix for all you entrepreneurial spirits out there (in case you want to turn a side hustle into your main gig). More than 2,000 of its offerings are free, but a $20/month Skillshare Premium membership gets you unlimited access to all 29,000-plus of them.
Most courses are bite-sized at about 30 to 40 minutes; each one features pre-recorded video lessons capped off by a project that allows you to get some real-world experience with your new skills. Skillshare won’t give you a professional or completion certificate for completing them, unfortunately, but you can always pad your portfolio with those projects.
Here are the three most popular classes on Skillshare as of Jan. 2021:

Offers accredited classes • Financial aid and scholarships available • 7-day trial to enroll in a Specialization for free • Instructors are extremely qualified (either professors from leading universities or experts from top companies) • 14-day money-back guarantee for Coursera Plus • Partnered with top universities • MasterTrack Certificate programs include live instruction • Most classes have flexible deadlines • Student ratings for each course are readily accessible • College students can enroll in unlimited Guided Projects and one course/year with a free Coursera for Campus Student plan (sign up with school email) • Lots of free classes • Audit paid courses for free • Offline viewing • Mobile app available for iOS and Android
Convoluted pricing • Certificates of completion aren’t free • Many courses have specific enrollment periods
A university-level education with fewer strings attached.

Coursera

From short, portfolio-worthy projects you can complete in an afternoon to full-fledged online degrees, Coursera is your one-stop shop for an online college-level education.

  • Accredited:
    Coursera itself is not accredited, but some of its classes are
  • Price:
    Free to $99 per course; $9.99 per Guided Project; $39 to $99/month per Specialization; $39 to $99/month per Professional Certificate; approx. $2,000 $6,000 per MasterTrack Certificate; approx. $9,000 – $45,000 per degree; $399/year for Coursera Plus
  • Free trial:
    Yes
  • Number of courses available:
    4,600 courses plus 1,000 Guided Projects, 500+ Specializations, 45 certificates, and 25 degrees
  • Subject areas:
    Arts and humanities, business, computer science, data science, IT, health, math and logic, personal development, physical science and engineering, social sciences, language learning
  • Team/enterprise plans available:
    Yes (Coursera for Business)
Founded by a pair of Stanford University professors, Coursera is the rare MOOC provider that’s partnered with top universities and companies to offer a solid mix of accredited and non-accredited online learning.
Its website is structured in a way that makes it tough to compare all of its different online course programs and pricing without creating an account, so we reached out to its press team for a detailed breakdown. Here’s the scoop:

  • Individual Courses are comprised of video lectures, auto-graded and peer-reviewed assignments, and discussion forums. Some are self-paced, while others have set enrollment periods; either way, they last about four to six weeks each.
  • Guided Projects are brief assignments that offer real-world experience with different tools and skills. They can be finished in two hours or less, and all necessary learning materials (like software and data) are provided via cloud desktops.
  • A Specialization is a curated set of courses and projects that’ll turn you into an expert on a specific topic. They tend to be more involved, and most take three to six months to complete.
  • Coursera’s Professional Certificates are three- to nine-month training programs run by leading universities and companies (think IBM and Google). They’re designed to prep you for a job in a new field and/or industry certification exams.
  • A MasterTrack is an online module of an accredited university Master’s degree program with live instruction and hands-on projects. Upon completion, you’ll earn a certificate and credit that can be applied toward the full degree. 
  • Online Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree programs on Coursera take one to four years to finish and are typically far cheaper than their in-person counterparts. 

Not sure which program’s right for you? A $399/year Coursera Plus subscription unlocks unlimited access to more than 3,000 classes, Guided Projects, Specializations, and Professional Certificates. For an even more flexible approach, you can also audit most paid classes to unlock all course materials for free.


7-day free trial • Techdegree graduates earn a certificate • Learn at your own pace • Advanced students can test out of subjects they already know • In-house teachers (all instructors are full-time staffers) • Offline viewing available • Lots of projects for practical, hands-on experience and portfolio material
No certificates of completion for individual courses and tracks • Minimal support/resources available if you’re not pursing a Techdegree • No mobile app
Expand your programming skillset while building a network.

Treehouse

Friendly and collaborative, Treehouse is the place to go for a coding education that’ll help you land a sweet gig in tech.

  • Accredited:
    No
  • Price:
    $29.99/month for access to Treehouse’s library of courses and tracks; $199/month per Techdegree
  • Free trial:
    Yes
  • Number of courses available:
    285 individual classes, 93 practice exercises, 196 workshops, 41 tracks, and 5 Techdegrees
  • Subject areas:
    21st-century skills, Android, APIs, business, C#, computer science, CSS, data analysis, databases, design, development tools, digital literacy, EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion), Go, HTML, Java, JavaScript, learning resources, machine learning, PHP, Python, quality assurance, Ruby, and security
  • Team/enterprise plans available:
    Yes (Treehouse for Teams)
Learning on Treehouse is done across thousands of hours of on-demand video classes covering all things coding and web design/development (including game and mobile dev), which are geared toward n00b and advanced programmers alike. (You can test out of subjects you already know, which is really nice if you’ve already mastered the basics — you don’t have to waste time rehashing stuff.)
Treehouse offers two different membership tiers: Thirty bucks a month gets you unlimited access to its community forum along with a collection of individual courses and “tracks,” which are mini-programs comprised of several classes on a particular skillset. For a more intense learning experience that dives deep into a specific topic, you can instead opt to pursue a self-paced, project-based, bootcamp-style “Techdegree” for $200 a month. (Students in these programs get exclusive access to Treehouse’s Slack community, where they can build a network of professional contacts; unlock live chat support; have the option of participating in weekly office hours; receive guided learning paths; and earn certificates upon graduation.) At the time of writing, Treehouse offered Techdegrees in Front End Web Development, Full Stack JavaScript, PHP Development, Python Design, and UX Design.
Not sure where to begin your online education with Treehouse? Click here to take its placement quiz.

Distance learning resources • Free tool to combat Zoom fatigue • Educational content available anytime, anywhere • Earn badges for completing challenges • Self-paced • Test and college prep • Lots of former teachers on staff • Recommends lessons based on your performance on previous tests • Customizable accessibility settings for those with low vision or colorblindness, students who are deaf or hard of hearing, and learners who are sensitive to animations • Lessons offered in 46 languages • Two mobile apps for iOS and Android (Khan Academy and Khan Academy Kids for children ages 2-7) • Download any videos for offline learning
Minimal human interaction • Strictly academic topics • No language-learning classes • No certificates (professional or completion)
Back to basics without breaking the bank.

Khan Academy

This nonprofit educational platform won’t bring any extra pizazz to a résumé, but if you need to brush up on some core academic skills (or help your kiddo with their homework), it’s just the ticket.

  • Accredited:
    No
  • Price:
    Free
  • Free trial:
    N/A
  • Number of courses available:
    Not specified, but there are 70,000 practice problems available in addition to videos, articles, and quizzes
  • Subject areas:
    Math, science, computing, test prep, arts and humanities, economics, reading and language arts, and life skills
  • Team/enterprise plans available:
    N/A

Khan Academy offers free online courses, learning resources, and test prep on STEM and history topics for toddlers through young adults. The former are comprised of highly accessible readings, video lectures, and interactive quizzes; some are taught by founder Sal Khan, while others are led by the organization’s in-house team of former teachers and industry experts. You can track your progress across its “Mastery System,” where points are dolled out for mastering different skills, and earn badges for acing different challenges. 
For these ~unprecedented times~, check out Khan Academy’s distance learning guides and free Zoom fatigue tool if the grind of remote learning is wearing on you.


Unlimited courses for one annual fee • Stellar video quality/production value • New classes added all the time • Wide range of subjects • Suitable for all skill levels • 30-day money-back guarantee • PDF workbooks included with every class • Select number of video courses can be downloaded for offline viewing on the iOS app • TV app available • A fun gift!
No certificates (professional or completion) • No offline viewing on the Android app • You’ll lose access to all content if you end your subscription • Smaller range of topics compared to other online learning platforms • Zero student/teacher interaction
Like TED Talks but better.

MasterClass

MasterClass isn’t a replacement for a traditional education, but its celebrity instructors’ video demonstrations make for some fascinating TV.

  • Accredited:
    No
  • Price:
    $15/month billed annually
  • Free trial:
    No
  • Number of courses available:
    100+
  • Subject areas:
    Sports and gaming, arts and entertainment, music, writing, food, design and style, science and tech, business, home and lifestyle, community and government, and wellness
  • Team/enterprise plans available:
    No
More edutainment than anything, MasterClass gives you an up close and personal look at the skills and talents your faves are known for — a peek into their genius, if you will.
One of the platform’s biggest draws is the super high production value on its pre-recorded video lectures and demos — the lighting is great, the audio is crystal-clear, and the course structure is easy to follow. Each one’s divided into about twenty 10-minute lessons and includes in-depth workbooks and notes. 
The other appeal of MasterClass is, of course, its ever-updating lineup of A-list instructors. Who better to teach cooking than Gordon Ramsay, or TV writing than Shonda Rhimes? (As of Jan. 2021, its most recent additions include Issa Rae’s class on how to make it big in Hollywood and an art/creativity course led by Jeff Koons.)

What else do I need to know about choosing an online learning platform?

Above all, a good MOOC provider will put its student reviews front and center so you know exactly what you’re getting into in terms of teacher quality/teaching style, time commitment, and course difficulty level.

It’s also nice to be able to fall back on a platform’s free trial or money-back guarantee, in case your schedule changes, you wind up straight-up hating a subject, or you don’t mesh well with an instructor’s teaching style.

I’m interested in a very specific topic. How can I find online classes on it?

This one’s easy: Just head to Class Central, a search engine and reviews site for more than 15,000 free online classes.

Twitter taught me I have no visual imagination

When we spend so much of our time online, we’re bound to learn something while clicking and scrolling. Discover something new with Mashable’s series I learned it on the internet.


On a summer Friday a few years ago, I collapsed on my living room floor in a transformative defeat. I sprawled out in the middle of the carpet, tightly clutched a throw pillow to my face, and squeezed my teary eyes shut before impatiently repeating the words, “BEACH. SAND. OCEAN. LIFEGUARD CHAIR. COME ON.” I said them out loud — with real feeling — in hopes that the sheer sounds would trigger my brain to do what I’d just learned it wasn’t capable of: creating a mental image.

Minutes before taking refuge on the floor I was scrolling through Twitter. (I know. Classic pre-anxiety attack words.) My timeline was its usual mess of memes and politics, but a tweet that linked to an experience piece from The Guardian, titled “I can’t picture things in my mind” caught my attention. “How sad,” I naively thought while clicking to learn what exactly the writer meant. By the time I finished reading the excerpt, however, I could tell this stranger was about to describe my own lifelong experience with mental visualization. 

The article explained that a number of people go through life with “aphantasia,” a term coined by neurologist Adam Zeman in 2015 to describe a lack of visual imagination. When most people try to imagine a beach they likely conjure some sort of picture in their heads, be it fuzzy or crystal clear, of sand, water, and perhaps a lifeguard chair. When I try to imagine a beach, though, I close my eyes and only see darkness. I encounter the same frustrating block when trying to picture anything. My childhood home, the Mashable office, and the face of loved ones I’ve known all my life are stored somewhere in my brain as memories, but I can’t intentionally summon mental pictures of them no matter how hard I try.

“Aphantasia is a lack of a mind’s eye. By mind’s eye, I mean the capacity that most of us have to visualize things in their absence,” Zeman, a professor of cognitive and behavioral neurology at University of Exeter, explained on a call. “Most people, if they’re asked to think of an apple, or their front door, or their best friend, can have an experience which has a visual field. It’s not usually as good as seeing the thing in the flesh, but they can usually get some of the way there. People with aphantasia can think about things just fine, but they can’t visualize them.”

You’ve likely never heard of aphantasia as it’s still not a widely recognized, everyday term. But an estimated 2 to 3 percent of people can’t form mental imagery.

Before seeing that tweet, I had no idea aphantasia existed let alone that my own imagination was something out of the ordinary. I simply assumed all people saw the same vapid, nondescript nothingness when they closed their eyes, and that the majority of language associated with mental imagery — such as picturing your happy place or counting sheep to fall asleep — was metaphorical rather than literal.

When I learned that wasn’t the case, I questioned everything.

Learning you’ve been living life in the dark

When I finally picked myself up off the floor on that August day, I returned to my laptop and descended into an aphantasia Google hole. I read numerous articles that described similar surprise realizations, and even watched half a TED Talk before reaching out to two friends for comfort. I hammered them with visual imagination questions, but each response only confirmed what I feared: People were living with a remarkable ability that I lacked.

I assumed all people saw the same vapid, nondescript nothingness when they closed their eyes.

I called my mom to break the news, but much like the mom detailed in The Guardian piece she was in denial and tried to reassure me that I have a wonderful imagination. “You’re telling me you can’t picture Barack Obama’s face?” she asked in a baffled tone. “I can’t even picture your face!” I sobbed.

My mind kicked into overdrive and hastily cycled through a series of concerns: Does a lack of visual imagination mean I’m not creative? How did I major in creative writing? Is this why I sucked at penning concrete details in poetry class? Should I even be a writer? Does this explain my struggle to focus when reading fiction? Is Lorde’s “Supercut” about a *literal* supercut in her head? Can people just direct personal short films and watch their wildest fantasies play out whenever they damn well please?

That last thought hit me the hardest. As someone who worships television and cinema to a borderline unhealthy extent, the realization that I was essentially missing a screen in my mind that contained endless possibilities — a place where I could project and replay scenes from my own life, envision an endless string of future scenarios, and visually conceptualize my most ambitious and outlandish ideas  — was soul crushing.

How to tell if you have aphantasia

If my experience sounds at all like your own, you may be aphantasic, too. Welcome to the unique, albeit slightly stressful, club.

Since individual visualization can be difficult to describe, a tool I find helpful when explaining aphantasia is the below image of a person picturing an apple. I’m a hard five on this scale, but my friend who identifies as a one claims he can not only picture the apple on a black background, but he can rotate the piece of fruit, change the background to whatever his heart desires, and perform an endless slew of other impressive mental feats.

You can try to imagine an apple as a test, but Zeman suggests picturing a few different things before assessing your capabilities.

“Think of a scene: the sun setting over the mountains in a misty sky. Think of your breakfast table, or your mum. Once you’ve run through a few possibilities, if somebody says they see nothing at all you’ve got the beginnings of evidence that they’re aphantasic,” he explained. As part of Zeman’s aphantasia-centered research with the University of Exeter, his The Eye’s Mind study also includes an online survey you can take to help further assess your visual imagery.

It’s crucial to note that aphantasia isn’t a singular experience. A group of people who lack visual imaginations may also struggle with prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize familiar faces). And though ordinary memory in those with aphantasia is fine, about one-third of aphantasic people have poor autobiographical memory, give less rich descriptions when recalling past events, and have trouble imagining future events. For some, it can affect the ability to imagine sensations associated with touch, smell, or sound, too.

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“There’s a question about whether that lack extends to other senses, and that seems to vary between people with aphantasia. Some people say they have no mind’s ear or that they can’t imagine the touch of velvet. Whereas other people say that it’s just a visual limitation. They have quite vivid imagery in other senses,” Zeman explained. “But for most people with aphantasia it’s across the board. It affects imagery generally.”

“There’s a question about whether that lack extends to other senses, and that seems to vary between people with aphantasia.”

Though aphantasic people can’t voluntarily conjure mental images, some, including myself, are able to see pictures in their mind when they’re sleeping, because images associated with dreaming are called upon or unlocked involuntarily. 

“There’s a group of people, maybe about 30 percent, who say they don’t [dream]. So it’s not everyone, but certainly many do. That’s really a quite interesting dissociation, isn’t it? The differentiation between wakeful and dreaming imagery,” Zeman noted.

There’s also speculation that hallucinogenic drugs may allow folks with aphantasia to freely see imagery. But the research is scant, and taking a trip to free your mind may be illegal where you live. Even if you never can trick your mind into seeing what others see naturally, know that at least you’re not alone.

Why isn’t aphantasia more well known?

Everyone I’ve come across who has aphantasia came to the realization by reading an article, seeing a social media post, or chatting with someone about the mind’s eye. My editor, for instance, had no idea she was aphantasic until I pitched this piece. And if I hadn’t stumbled across that article in 2018 I might still be under the impression that my visual imagination is perfectly normal.

An estimated two to three percent of people have aphantasia, but because it’s still not a recognizable, everyday term it’s possible that people can go their whole lives without even learning it exists. So why isn’t a lack of visual imagination more well-known in 2021?

Zeman started researching aphantasia in the 2000s after a 65-year-old man who lost the ability to mentally picture things after undergoing a medical procedure sought him out. Prior to hearing the man’s story, Zeman had never encountered this particular symptom before, and though he isn’t aphantasic himself (he describes his visualizations as “very average”) he was intrigued by the new neurological phenomenon.

Upon researching blindness of the mind’s eye, Zeman discovered so little information on the subject that he dubbed the lack of attention a “historical oddity.” In 1880, Francis Galton, an anthropologist and eugenicist, touched on the topic after asking 100 men to recall the lighting, definition, coloring, and details of their breakfast tables. Galton, who was a relative of Charles Darwin, found 12 of the men lacked positive visualization and he reported their struggle to conjure mental images. In 2009, American psychologist and professor Bill Faw also wrote about a lack of visual imagination after administering a questionnaire to 2,500 people and determining that about two percent of people surveyed struggled to conjure mental imagery. But until Zeman really invested in research, the neurological phenomenon largely remained a mystery.

“I think the trick was to produce a name. That’s very useful. It kind of allows people to identify what’s unusual about them,” Zeman explained. Another reason he feels aphantasia is so difficult to discover is because “we all take our own experience to be the standard.”

“Until you have some moment of realization, we assume that everyone else is similar to us. And that reflects the fact that that visualization is a very private experience. It’s something in your head, not something that other people can inspect and kind of check against the norm,” Zeman explained. “And it’s quite easy to assume the language people are using to describe imagery is metaphorical… So it’s easy to persuade yourself that that’s the case.”

Don’t let aphantasia get you down

If you’ve made it this far and are now wrapped up in the same mind-blowing emotional spiral I experienced, trust me, I get it. But Zeman has some words of encouragement.

Since 2015 when he and his team published a study on aphantasia based off questionnaires taken by 21 people, he estimates around 15,000 people have reached out to discuss the neurological phenomenon — either because they’re interested or have aphantasia themselves.

Aphantasia can occasionally be a symptom of something that’s happened to the brain, but it shouldn’t be regarded as a medical condition or disorder, rather “a variant of normal human experience.” Though you may encounter some mental imagery-related FOMO, having aphantasia isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“There are many ways of imagining which don’t require visualization. So I think you can be perfectly imaginative and aphantasic.”

“Although [aphantasia] makes a big difference to the inner experience, it doesn’t make much difference to performance. People with aphantasia get along fine… even possibly, in some ways, they get along better than the rest,” Zeman said, listing high-achievement individuals who have aphantasia, including Craig Venter, the geneticist who decoded the genome; Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and president of Walt Disney Animation Studios; Blake Ross, co-creator of the Mozilla Firefox; and neurologist Oliver Sacks. 

“There are many ways of imagining which don’t require visualization. So I think you can be perfectly imaginative and aphantasic,” he said. “It’s just one piece of the big jigsaw. We’re complicated beings.”

Zeman, who’s also consultant for The Aphantasia Network, a resource for people to learn more about aphantasia and connect with others who have it, plans to continue his research and data collection on the mind’s eye. He encourages people to get in touch with questions or to partake in studies.

Antarctica mystery: Melting ice uncovers huge remains of ‘ancient creature’ on Google Maps

The mysterious skeleton of a creature has been found on Google Maps in Antarctica in footage which has since gone viral. YouTuber Michael Bradbury, who hosts the conspiracy channel MrMBB333, suggested that the skeleton remains indicated a dinosaur which had been preserved in the Antarctic ice. The video has recorded nearly 300,000 views, sparking fierce debate among conspiracy theorists online.

The video was titled ‘Antarctica Melting Ice MAY have revealed ANCIENT skeletal remains fully INTACT! Rare find’.

The near-perfect skeleton remains were located in a remote inland area of Antarctica.

The MrMBB333 host told viewers: “What you’re about to see here is intact, very large skeletal remains.

“I would guess this is somewhere in the region of 15 to 20ft. It’s intact.”

JUST IN: Stonehenge builders branded ‘just as clever as us’ 

He added: “I don’t know if this recently thawed and this has been frozen for thousands of years or if this is something new.

“This could be very, very old, going back to prehistoric Antartica.

Antarctica is a very mysterious place. It could be an old dinosaur. It could be a lot of different things.

“I know there are seals in Antarctica but I don’t know how they would get 50 miles inland.”

However, sceptics were quick to claim that the remains look like a seal.

One user said: “What looks like hands, fingers and feet and toes is what’s hidden in it’s webbing.”

Another remarked: “Google search for images of seal skeleton shows a pretty good match.”

However, others supported the ‘ancient creature’ claims, adding: “It looks like an alligator skeleton, definitely some type of reptile that walks on land.”

One viewer noted: “Seals don’t have back legs.”

MrMBB333 has previously posted videos of ‘mysterious’ Google Maps in Antarctica, including what he alleged was a huge man-made disc emerging from the snow in the region.

UFO sighting: Claim video captures ‘close encounter’ with alien craft over Fargo, US

“The lights didn’t fly away, but were hovering in place in the fog.

“From what I see when I slow down the video, there is a black thick disk at the centre of these lights.”

Waring proceeds to outlandishly claim, without offering any substantial evidence, this is a UFO hovering in place.

He wrote: “It’s possible what this person was witnessing was a close encounter with a UFO that had just landed and had aliens disembark to study the inhabitants of this small town before they woke up.