It is a year since I last wrote about Adobe Flash and why everyone should stop using it. Since then, the leaks from the hack of the mass surveillance company HackingTeam have revealed three serious bugs (called zero-day) bugs) in Flash that they were exploiting to take over victims’ machines. It is likely that more Flash vulnerabilities will be revealed as security researchers work through the documents the hackers removed from the HackingTeam. The leaked exploits have already appeared in hacking toolkits and are presumably already being used on the general public. Since these bugs have come to light, both Mozilla and Google have blocked various versions of Flash from running on their browsers. Other companies are removing Flash from installs on new computers. The momentum behind the movement to rid the web entirely of Flash has picked up with the Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos saying: It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day. The reality is, there really is no reason for Flash to still exist or be supported by modern browsers. Steve Jobs made this point in 2010. Unfortunately, the reason that it still persists is because Adobe still makes money from it, a large number of people can’t be bothered changing how they produce their ads and websites and an even larger number of people are still running versions of software that is too old to run the modern replacement for Flash, HTML 5. The latter group probably also can be split into those who can’t be bothered to upgrade and those who can’t afford to. One has to believe that Flash has become a huge liability for Adobe. Being known as a company enabling a large part of the Internet’s security problems is not good reputationally. However, Flash is still a part of its Creative Cloud product suite and so it seems that any moves to abandon it won’t come from Adobe voluntarily. Usage is decreasing, albeit not fast enough. Flash is still used on around 11% of websites. This is down 2 - 3% from a year ago. The environment has changed however, even from a year ago. Mobile is rapidly becoming the dominant platform for accessing the Internet and these devices don’t run Flash. More importantly, the pervasiveness of government surveillance and cyber-crime in general has become all too apparent, even to the general public. Whilst, surveillance by our own governments may not impact everyone, cyber-crime has become so prevalent that the public is becoming more security conscious. This is being helped in part by companies making security and privacy a bigger part of what they do and simplifying access protection with mechanisms like fingerprint recognition on mobile devices. Another factor is that Flash use is tightly coupled with how annoying and intrusive ads are displayed on websites. Removing Flash may be an inconvenience for accessing a small amount of functionality, but users actively removing and blocking ads has become much more common. As more ads get blocked, the incentives for advertisers to use Flash to create web ads diminishes significantly. If you do want to remove Flash, and as a security measure, it is really advisable to at least limit its use, there are a number of different ways to disable it temporarily or permanently. An added benefit from removing Flash is that you won’t have constant messages asking to update it as daily security flaws are discovered and fixed by Adobe. David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Australian rugby league games could be heading online following reports the National Rugby League (NRL) has been in discussions with Google as part of the sporting organisation’s latest media rights. The discussions are said to be associated with having NRL games broadcast via Google’s YouTube video website. These are not the first discussions rumoured to have taken place between YouTube and an Australian sporting organisation. Last year it was said that the Australian Football League (AFL) was in discussions with YouTube, as part of its new media rights deal to start in 2017. It should also be noted that YouTube has made a shift toward professional sports media over the past few years. In 2010 it secured the live-streaming rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket. Three years later, YouTube began to experiment with major American sports, including Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). How would a deal between an Australian sports organisations and YouTube impact Australian sport media rights? International sport media rights Sports media rights are much sort after. The investment banking group Jefferies Group LLC sees sports as vital for TV channels because 97% of all sports programming is watched live. This is evident by the high stakes of the sports media rights globally. In the UK recently Sky and BT paid a record £5.136 billion (A$10.48 billion) for live Premier League soccer television rights, almost doubling the previous £3 billion (A$6.12 billion) deal. The annual amounts paid for sports media rights in the US range from US$1.5 billion (A$1.93 billion) annually for Major League Baseball to US$3 billion (A$3.85 billion) per year for the National Football League (NFL). The NBA’s recent media rights deal of US$2.66 billion (A$3.42 billion) annually more than doubled its previous deal. How does this compare to Australian sport media rights? The AFL’s current media rights, which includes Seven West Media, Foxtel, Fox Sports and Telstra, are valued at A$1.25 billion. The new media rights are expected to reach more than A$2 billion for a five year deal. The current NRL media rights deal with Nine and Fox Sports are valued at A$1.025 billion over five years, just under the AFL. There is a clear gap between the value of Australian sporting media rights and those in the UK and US, which is arguably one factor in YouTube’s interest in the Australian sports market. Could YouTube become a sport broadcaster? Today the online video market is estimated to be worth US$200 billion to US$400 billion (A$275 billion to A$514 billion), with YouTube having the largest share. YouTube currently has more than 1 billion users, has more than 300 hours of video uploaded to its site every minute, is localised in 75 countries and available in 61 languages. It was recently reported that in the US YouTube reached more Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 than any cable channel, including ESPN. There has also been a 50% growth in the amount of time users spend watching videos on YouTube year over year, of which 50% of viewing is via a mobile. The live streams on YouTube have the potential to far outweigh the highest audience ratings of Australian television broadcasters. Felix Baumgartner’s world record free fall skydive, for example, had 8 million simultaneous viewers. VIDEO 1 Who will pay? Advertisers or the users If YouTube was to commence broadcasts of Australian sports, the question is, who will pay? YouTube has a subscription based services already available that would allow Australian sports to charge per game, per month or per year. But how would this impact the current alternative platforms that both the AFL and NRL have? Both have services for mobile and online viewing, part of digital rights deals with Telstra. The AFL’s deal worth A$153 million and the NRL deal worth A$100 million. Any digital rights deal with YouTube would have an impact upon the current approach toward digital rights. A similar deal could be struck as with the IPL, where YouTube “involves every country outside the US”. YouTube could become a digital partner to broadcast AFL and NRL for countries other than Australia, assisting in the internationalisation of the codes. YouTube and new ways to watch sport In addition to the shear reach of YouTube globally, the other area to consider is broadcast technologies and the way in which YouTube has begun to experiment in this area. In recent months Virtual Reality (VR) and 360 degree video, has been a big talking point. Particularly with the release Microsoft’s Hololens and more recently the new Oculus Rift VR headset, now owned by Facebook. Google has also released Google Cardboard which gives anyone with a smartphone a cheap entry to the VR headset. Google also recently announced its Jump camera rig for 360 degree videos, which holds 16 GoPro cameras, costing well over US$8,000 (A$10,280) with cameras. But there are cheaper alternatives to Jump coming into the market. The Giroptic camera is under US$500 (A$643) and the Bubl camera is US$799 (A$1,027), both are smaller than Jump and extremely affordable in comparison. YouTube allows for 360 degree video to be upload to its site, something that has been taken up by artists such as Björk and the Red Bull Formula 1 racing team. The 360 degree effect only works when viewed in Google’s Chrome web browser. Sporting organisations are willing to experiment with new technologies. This is evident by the recent virtual reality content filmed for Samsung’s Gear VR at the NBA’s all-star weekend. The National Hockey League (NHL) also experimented with using GoPro cameras for its all-star weekend to give viewers a point-of-view perspective. Example of NBA All-Star Virtual Reality via a Samsung Gear VR Headset These new ways of viewing video content could have a major impact on the future of sports broadcasts and what the viewer sees on a screen, but does not need to entirely replace the current methods. Future of sports broadcasting In the current media environment it seems that YouTube will not replace the current broadcast of sport. For Australia, the anti-siphoning laws prevent subscription or pay-for view only broadcasting many Australian major sporting events. This would prevent YouTube from having a major impact in the near future of sports broadcasts, but it could shake up the digital rights component. The other factor is Australian viewing habits of television. The current reports still show a strong difference between television viewing and online video viewing habits. What YouTube could do for Australian sports is allow for both the AFL and NRL to be internationalised by making it available to people outside Australia, something that the AFL in particular has been strongly working on. In addition to providing a liner stream, YouTube could be a potential platform for sporting organisation to experiment further with new broadcast and viewing technologies, such as the 360 degree video. Imagine being able to experience being in the crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A 360 degree video could allow the viewer – both in Australia and overseas – access onto the ground, a fly on the wall perspective, via cameras installed on goal posts or positioned above the ground. YouTube thus does have the potential to lead the way in new forms of sports broadcasting. Marc C-Scott is Lecturer in Digital Media at Victoria University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Promoting the value of entrepreneurship to the Australian economy will be the focus of new StartupAUS chief executive officer Peter Bradd. On Friday, StartupAUS announced Bradd, a foundation member of its board, would become the organisation's first ever CEO. Prior to joining StartupAUS, Bradd was a founding director of Sydney co-working space Fishburners and the founder of personalise postcard startup ScribblePics. Bradd says he wants to work to change the perception of entrepreneurship in Australia. “People say things like those entrepreneurs are good at selling the dream and putting their hands out, but what do they really contribute to economic growth?” he says. “People in government ask things like why support technology entrepreneurs when nine out of 10 fail and those that don’t go overseas. I really want to change that conversation. It’s the wrong conversation to be having. PwC estimated tech could create 500,000 jobs by 2034.” Bradd argues that narrative makes it sound like startup founders are segmented from the broader Australia community. “Entrepreneurs are a group of people with similar needs. Innovators across every industry, be it financial services, mining, agriculture, aged care, health services, transport,” he says. “You’ve got people creating apps and websites to aggregate or provide services through tech enablers. People creating high technology, like Wi-Fi, which was created in Australia. Then you’ve got a whole heap of different things. “They need venture capital. A higher percentage of their staff need to have technology skills. They’re entrepreneurial, they need entrepreneurship skills and education. There’s a whole heap of things they all need, but they do work in industry.” Bradd says Australia’s startup ecosystem is growing organically but could do with a push. “Australia is quite far behind and the way that ecosystem’s grow is they need to grow the ball and push it down the hill and it will then pick up speed and size,” he says. “That’s the PayPal effect, and before that the GE effect. The IPOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google created 4000 millionaires. And those 4000 went and created new businesses, they had money, they had knowledge. They knew how to work in a high growth startup and they knew each other. They knew how technology worked and they spawned some amazing companies. “Australia’s ecosystem is growing organically, we just need a bit of support.” StartupAUS also announced that Steve Baxter would retire his position on the board to become the organisation’s chief advocate. Andrew Larsen, investor, and founder of co-working space SyncLabs, joins the board. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The race is on to get billions of people connected to the internet via a global network of satellites. Europe’s Airbus announced this week that it is to design and build up to 900 satellites for the privately owned OneWeb Ltd, which includes Richard Branson as a board member. A statement from OneWeb said the plan was to begin launches in 2018 to bring “affordable internet access for everyone” by providing approximately 10 terabits per second of low-latency, high-speed broadband. That estimate of 10 terabits per second may be misleading, though. The broadband access rates experienced by customers are more likely to be in the range of 2 to 50 megabits per second (Mb/s). It is an ambitious move and follows reports that the entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is seeking US government approval of a network of 4,000 satellites to provide similar internet access. Accessing the internet via satellite is nothing new. Our own NBN Co plans to launch a satellite this September to help bring people in regional areas to its high-speed network. But what makes OneWeb and SpaceX’s ventures interesting is their plan to connect people anywhere on the planet, similar to Google’s plan revealed last year. Facebook’s internet.org is another project that aims to make it easier for more people anywhere to connect to the internet. A truly world wide web Only about 40% of the world’s population currently has access to the internet and annual growth has been slowing from from 10.5% in 2013 to 8% in 2013 and 7.9% last year. Any further growth requires cost-effective access such as a global satellite network. With the mass production of micro-satellites, building such a pervasive broadband internet powered by a constellation of satellites opens up many possibilities. It makes business sense for large internet companies such as Facebook and Google to increase access in the developing world. Having benefited from the huge uptake of internet connectivity among developed countries, these companies see an as-yet-untapped market opportunity among those who do not currently have internet access. If other large technology companies hungry for users want to increase affordable internet access, then governments should take advantage of these opportunities. Connecting the unconnected to the internet has many positive advantages for the community. The internet supports development by transforming a younger generation’s ability to acquire knowledge and skills and contribute productively to national growth. It can also help an ageing population to remain active and access cost-effective health care. Connectivity is transforming transport, manufacturing, logistics and environment management. All forms of government can achieve greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness through their citizens being online and connected. Access to digital connectivity is essential in the networked society and it is imperative that there is equitable and universal access throughout the world. Access needs to be affordable The Alliance for Affordable Internet has long highlighted the need to increase access by making the internet affordable to a greater percentage of the global population. Its latest Affordability Report says only 5% of the population of the world’s 49 most underdeveloped countries are online. But for the two billion people living on less than US$2 per day, basic broadband access can exceed 40% of their monthly income. The low income of many regions does not create the necessary demand to drive investment in affordable internet access options. This leaves these communities in a vicious cycle, which is widening the gap between the connected and non-connected. A global satellite network may be one solution to providing such access. But how will it work? Delivering broadband over such a network faces significant challenges in design, deployment and operation of such a global infrastructure. It must also make sure it’s affordable for those from economically disadvantaged or remotely located regions. A large constellation of satellites requires agile and cost-effective backhaul technology to provide interconnections between the satellites to form an extension to the internet. Backhaul refers to the links or network required between satellites and the internet to provide customers with internet access. This can be achieved with laser beams or microwave beams operating at millimetre-wave frequencies. They will also require self-aligning systems to pin-point other satellites and maintain links despite fluctuations in their relative positions. Alternatively, the satellites could form the necessary backhaul by connecting to ground stations suitably connected close to major internet gateways. Either way, satellite networks also need ground stations and internet gateways, which adds to the cost and the complexity of deploying and managing the network. With a large constellation of satellites, we can expect a portion of satellites to be dysfunctional at times. The operators need to factor that into the operation and also account for potential impacts and risks of losing satellites. That is why the OneWeb/Airbus deal is for 900 satellites but a plan to launch only 700. The current cost of satellite-based broadband access may only be within the reach of those living in rural communities of developed countries and for emergency communications. The key question remains whether operators can reduce the cost further by leveraging these early markets to deliver affordable access to the remaining two billion people earning US$2 a day. The world needs connectivity and it is now needed in places where it has been nearly impossible. Micro-satellites could offer real potential that needs to be explored and may fuel a space race once more among the internet companies. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Technolog is the first in a (mostly) weekly wrap up of the highlights of the technology news and events of the week. These are the tech stories that hopefully are the most relevant to knowing what is likely to have an impact on our daily lives. Former CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop is fired from Microsoft Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, this week announced the departure of ex-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and several other Microsoft executives in a reorganisation of the company that saw the creation of three groups; Windows and Devices, Cloud and Enterprise, and Applications and Services. Whilst at Nokia, Elop arguably destroyed any chances of Nokia remaining relevant in the smartphone world by insisting that all of Nokia’s smartphones move to support the Windows platform instead of Android. Nokia’s death blow came when Elop steered the sale of the smartphone business to Microsoft where Elop then presided over its inexorable journey into obsolescence and the sacking of most of the former Nokia staff. The reorganisation is a good one for Microsoft and will allow them to concentrate on their core strength, namely enterprise software. They are also having increasing success with the move of this software to the cloud. Security Password Manager provider LastPass is hacked Users of the password manager LastPass were advised this week to change their master password after hackers stole users' details including emails from LastPass servers. The hackers did not compromise users’ stored password information itself. It seems unlikely that they will be able to crack the stolen encrypted master passwords with the information they obtained because of the particular security measures LastPass uses. The hack of LastPass showed that even though almost anything can be hacked, how you handle customers afterwards can make all of the difference. LastPass’s fast response and disclosure was praised along with the extensive security measures that they had in place to protect user data in the event of this type of occurrence. Using a password manager is still seen as preferable to using the same password for every account or keeping passwords in Notepad on your computer. Finally, using two-factor authentication with the password manager would still have protected users even if their passwords were compromised and so is still seen as a must with this type of software. 600 million Samsung Phones vulnerable to being hijacked A security researcher this week demonstrated a vulnerability that exists in Samsung phones which allows hackers to send malicious code to install and run on those phones. The vulnerability is specific to Samsung phones, and comes from the way Samsung updates the SwiftKey software embedded in its keyboard on the phone. These updates are not encrypted and Samsung allows code downloaded in this way to get around the normal protections of the Android operating system. Although Samsung has issued an update for this problem, it will depend on phone carriers to actually push it out to customers, and they are typically very slow at doing that. In the meantime, there is little users can do to protect themselves, other than not connect to unprotected Wifi, and this may be a good time for them to consider switching to another brand of Android phone? E3 Game Expo 2015 E3 is the biggest electronic games expo for the games industry held each year in Los Angeles. Upcoming releases of games are announced at the expo along with new games hardware and accessories. There were simply too many announcements to summarise here, but the remake of the first-person shooter game Doom, although stunning in its detail, seemed gratuitously graphic and violent. Another anticipated release was the action role-playing open world game, Fallout 4. Set in post-nuclear apocalypse Boston, the game player can adopt a male or female role, enters a fallout shelter and after 200 years have passed, emerges to explore the world above. What will be interesting about this game is the addition of a device (Pip-Boy wrist mounted computer) that will hold a mobile phone and strap to the wrist of the player, allowing them to interact with the game through that device. Other top upcoming games include Star Wars: Battlefront, Batman: Arkham Knight, Final Fantasy XV and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. On the console side, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One will support streaming of games to a Windows 10 PC where it will also be able to support Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Microsoft’s also showed off their own augmented reality headset Hololens being used with Minecraft. The video highlights some of the amazing potential of this technology that will be available in the not too distant future. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
I’m going to say something you might not like to hear. Why? Because it’s probably the easiest way to excuse all of your problems. Not getting enough leads? Sales are sluggish? No people signing up to your newsletter? Haven’t acquired a new user in weeks? Traffic isn’t high enough, we need more visitors. Quick, spend more money on ads and the best SEO guy your limited amount of money can get and make sure MORE people come because that means MORE money, right? Wrong. The answer to your woes is not always the amount of traffic you are getting, rather the amount of conversions coming from this traffic. Conversion rate is, quite simply, your conversions (sales, signups, downloads) divided by the amount of website visitors. So, yes you need a level of traffic you can convert on your website, BUT... All traffic is not good traffic What do we mean by this? Well, let’s say you sell an awesome B2B CRM platform. You’ve spent all this time, money and effort on driving traffic to your sleek, modernist, perfectly-designed landing page. There are so many hits! So many new visitors! We are going to make so much money off this game-changing CRM, finally! And yet only one person converts. Only one person hands over their credit card. One out of thousands. Why? Because the traffic you had driven was not good traffic. It was not qualified. It was not comprised of business owners looking to better manage their customer relations; it was comprised of teenage girls and uni students (NOT your target market). Therefore, NOT helpful and most of all not qualified! And this is why a tonne of traffic is not always the best goal to have. So, how do you become a magnet to your target market, then? Step 1: Do your research. Talk to potential customers. Find out where they hang out, what they read, and what they think about goats grazing their overgrown lawns. Do they google stuff or ask their Twitter and Facebook friends? What words do they use? There are tools for these, by the way. SEMRush and Social Mention is a good start. Step 2: Use this information to your advantage. Hang out where they hang out. If they’ve never heard of Twitter, no point hanging around there either. Be seen where they are. Speak their language. Sooner or later they’ll want to talk to you about your products or services. Also, it’s not enough to push raging rapids of people to your site when it’s like a bucket that has holes, is it? Make sure your bucket doesn’t have holes Buckets? Sorry, what? Your bucket is your website. Imagine filling a bucket with water when it is riddled with 50 holes anyway. Why are you filling it with water? It is pointless. It’s all going to run out again. This holey-bucket could be your website if all you are doing is focusing on traffic instead of optimizing it for your visitors. The water is your traffic in the form of lost leads. Plug those holes. Here are the absolute basic conversion tactics every marketer needs to nail. 1. Make sure your website is super-fast because speed is a killer Did you know that visitors expect your website to load in just 2 seconds? They also tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds! 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with website performance say they won’t return to the site to buy again and around 44% of them would tell a friend if they had a poor experience shopping online. And guess what? Kissmetrics says that once you lose a conversion from a visitor, they are almost CERTAIN to pass on the negative experience to their friends and colleagues too. That’s a lot of lead loss due to a simple sluggish load time. 2. Have a compelling value proposition Why would customers use your new CRM platform over well-established brands? Answer that question. 3. Make it easy to find stuff If anything is more than one click away, you’ve lost more than half of your web traffic. Why? Because people are busy and want everything instantly, and they are easily annoyed if they have to work hard. Do some usability testing to eliminate annoying experiences for your customers. Don’t test it as you, test it as them. Their annoyance threshold is much lower than yours! 4. Look like someone that can be trusted Show off your happy customers and what they have to say about your service. An ecommerce site needs to have an SSL Certificate or trust badges that tell people you’re legit and that their information is safe and secure. 5. Do some A/B testing If you change the colour of your “buy now” button to green, do you get more sales? Does a $1 offer work better than “free”? Test it. Test everything. So, which is more important then? That is the question. We say plug your bucket. Optimise your website so you know it will convert. Make sure you have done everything possible on your site to capture your leads. Then focus on driving those few people who want your goats eating their lawn into your intact bucket. And they will convert. Optimise first, drive traffic second. Gary Tramer is CEO at LeadChat – a Melbourne-based tech startup that helps businesses turn their web visitors into hot leads around the clock. For more info, visit www.leadchat.com or tweet @leadchat. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
In This Will Destroy That, also known as Book V, Chapter 2 of Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo presents his famous argument that it was the invention of the printing press that destroyed the edifice of the gothic cathedral. Stories, hopes and dreams had once been inscribed in stone and statutory, wrote Hugo. But with the arrival of new printing technologies, literature replaced architecture. Today, “this” may well be destroying “that” again, as the Galaxy of the Internet replaces the Gutenberg Universe. If a book is becoming something that can be downloaded from the app store, texted to your mobile phone, read in 140-character instalments on Twitter, or, indeed, watched on YouTube, what will that do to literature – and particularly Hugo’s favourite literary form, the novel? Click to enlarge Debates about the future of the book are invariably informed by conversations about the death of the novel. But as far as the digital novel is concerned, it often seems we’re in – dare I say it – the analogue phase. The publishing industry mostly focuses on digital technologies as a means for content delivery – that is, on wifi as a replacement for print, ink, and trucks. In terms of fictional works specifically created for a digital environment, publishers are mostly interested in digital shorts or eBook singles. At 10,000 words, these are longer than a short story and shorter than a printed novel, which, in every other respect, they continue to resemble. Digital editions of classic novels are also common. Some, such as the Random House edition of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962), available from the App store, are innovatively designed, bringing the novel into dialogue with an encyclopaedic array of archival materials, including Burgess’ annotated manuscript, old book covers, videos and photographs. Also in this category is Faber’s digital edition of John Buchan’s 39 Steps (2013), in which the text unfolds within a digital landscape that you can actually explore, albeit to a limited degree, by opening a newspaper, or reading a letter. But there is a strong sense in which novels of this sort, transplanted into what are essentially gaming-style environments for which the novel form was not designed, can be experienced as deeply frustrating. This is because the novel, and novel reading, is supported by a particular kind of consciousness that Marshall McLuhan memorably called the “Gutenberg mind”. Novels are linear and sequential, and post-print culture is interactive and multidimensional. Novels draw the mind into deeply imagined worlds, digital culture draws the mind outward, assembling its stories in the interstices of a globally networked culture. For the novel to become digital, writers and publishers need to think about digital media as something more than just an alternative publishing vehicle for the same old thing. The fact of being digital must eventually change the shape of the novel, and transform the language. Click to enlarge Far from destroying literature, or the novel genre, digital experimentation can be understood as perfectly in keeping with the history of the novel form. There have been novels in letters, novels in pictures, novels in poetry, and novels which, like Robinson Crusoe(1719), so successfully claimed to be factual accounts of actual events that they were reported in the contemporary papers as a news story. It is in the nature of the novel to constantly outrun the attempt to pin it down. So too, technology has always transformed the novel. Take Dickens, for example, whose books were shaped by the logic of the industrial printing press and the monthly and weekly serial – comprising a long series of episodes strung together with a cliffhanger to mark the end of each instalment. So what does digital media do differently? Most obviously, digital technology is multimodal. It combines text, pictures, movement and sound. But this does not pose much of a conceptual challenge for writers, thanks, perhaps, to the extensive groundwork already laid by graphic novel. Rather, the biggest challenge that digital technology poses to the novel is the fact that digital media isn’t linear – digital technology is multidimensional, allowing stories to expand, often wildly and unpredictably, in nonlinear patterns. Novelistic narratives - as we currently know them - are sequential, largely predicated on the presence of a single unifying consciousness, and designed to be read across time in the order designated by the author. Last year, this presented a serious problem for many would-be readers of David Mitchell’s short story The Right Sort, a fictional work composed of 280 tweets, sent out in groups of 20, twice a day, for seven days. Frustrated readers complained that they couldn’t catch the tweets - that half the narrative had gone missing in the digital ether. It was basically far more comfortable reading the printed version via the link in the Guardian – where readers found a beautifully turned albeit somewhat conventional short story, whose major concession to its digital environment was that it was composed of short scenic snatches 140-characters long. Another difference between digital and print technologies is that the printed novel encourages private reading, whereas digital readers tend to share their experiences in networked, highly social environments. Click to enlarg Today, even authors of traditional novels are expected to maintain an online presence for themselves. In order to publish a book, you need a hashtag, a Facebook page, a blog tour, a book trailer on Vimeo or YouTube and a Twitter account. Much was made of the potential for this type of media to supplement a novelistic text when Richard House’s “digitally augmented” thriller The Kills (2013) was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. But potential exists for this kind of interaction to go beyond merely “augmenting” a novel, to integrating with, and actually expanding it. In the not-too-distant future, digital novels will find themselves expanding horizontally across platforms, and readers may well be finding themselves interacting with, transforming, and even contributing the content. This may well be the moment when the walls of literature (as we know it) come tumbling down. Yet, the scathing critic might do well to remember that Dickens was revolutionary in his day, not only for charting the course of serialisation, thereby making literature popular and accessible, but also for making ordinary people the subject matter of his writing. One novel that gives you a glimpse of what the digital novel might turn out to be is The Silent History (2014), created by Eli Horowitz – best known as an editor at the New York based literary journal McSweeneys – in collaboration with Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. Click to enlarge The story is set in the second quarter of the 21st century, when children begin to be born who fail to develop the necessary cognitive functions to acquire, understand or use language. The prose is dazzling, the characters, and their predicaments are moving, and just as importantly, the digital aspects of the book are set deeply in its design. They are not only present in its themes – though these aptly deal with the problem of communication – but also in its collaborative structure, and interactive details. The Silent History is available in print and ink, but it was originally developed as an app. The written sections of the text – called “Testimonies” – which contain the main trajectory of the story, were uploaded sequentially, along with a variety of mixed-media elements, including video and photographs. One of the striking aspects of the work is its capacity to grow through user-generated content. The writers gradually expanded the “Testimonies” through the inclusion of “Field Reports” – that is, short narratives submitted by readers and other writers. These can only be unlocked using the map on your mobile or tablet device at a specific location – a bit like a GPS-activated and endlessly proliferating instalment of Dickens. The digital novel wasn’t on show at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last week, but there are clear signs that this counter cultural curiosity is edging its way into the literary mainstream. But the wary can rest assured. Despite Hugo’s protestations, architecture wasn’t destroyed by the printing press. It was only transformed. So too, the novel isn’t over yet. This article orignially appeared on The Conversation.
Facebook has launched a ‘lite’ version of its Android app that works well on poor networks and outdated phones and is designed specifically for the developing world. TechCrunch reports the app doesn’t offer data-intensive features like videos or Nearby Friends. These stripped-back features allow Facebook users to access the app quickly and cheaply from some of the most remote corners of the globe. It’s part of a long-running push from Facebook to grab users from the developing world. Five years ago it launched Facebook Zero, a text-only version of Facebook that aimed to encourage people to use the internet. Recently it’s been running Internet.org a program which plans to bring five billion people online. Uber celebrates 5th birthday Transportation network startup Uber has celebrated its fifth birthday where founder and chief executive officer Travis Kalanick outlined his broad vision for the company. The Verge reports Kalanick told the audience in plain terms Uber wants to make its service so inexpensive that it’s not just cheaper than owning a car, but even public transport. TechCrunch writer joins 500 Startups TechCrunch writer Ryan Lawler is joining 500 Startups as venture partner. He describes the decision to move from TechCrunch to 500 Startups as choosing from “two delicious pieces of cake”. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 170.69 to 17,905.58. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US77 cents. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Augmented reality startup Magic Leap has announced it is launching an augmented reality developer platform, according to TechCrunch. Last year Google invested more than $600 million in the company, which says it can project light and graphics into the human eye alongside what it sees naturally. Speaking at the MIT EmTech Digital conference, Magic Leap chief executive Rony Abovitz said the company was ready to start training developers. “We’re out of the R&D phase and into the transition to real product introduction,” he said. “There is no off-the-shelf stuff that does what we’re describing.” Native Americans and domestic violence survivors protest Facebook’s naming policy Native Americans, domestic violence survivors, drag queens and others have come together to protest at Facebook’s headquarters in response to the company’s policy of only allowing people to use their “real” names. Fairfax reports more than 50 protesters held up picket signs and chanted outside Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Facebook says people need to use their real names in order to prevent instances of bullying or inappropriate behaviour on the social network, but has softened that position after complaints from the LGBTIQ community. However, the protesters said they wanted Facebook to do more by not putting the onus on vulnerable groups to prove their identity. Apple chief lashes out against companies that compromise customer privacy Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook has lashed out at companies that make a trade-off between customer privacy and security, according to TechCrunch. Speaking at the EPIC Champions of Freedom event in Washington, Cook said people have the fundamental right to privacy. “I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” he said. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.” Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 28.43 points, falling 0.16% to 18,011.94. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.72 US cents. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Spending management company Coupa Software has raised $US80 million, making the cloud startup the latest fast-growing businesses to land a valuation of more than $1 billion. The found was led by T Rowe Price along with Iconiq Capital, the firm managing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s personal investments, according to Re/code. The latest capital injection is the startup’s seventh investment round, bringing the total capital raised to date to $US169m. Microsoft buys German startup for more than $100 million Microsoft will purchase the German startup behind the Wunderlist to-do list app for more than $100 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. The acquisition is part of a bid to improve Microsoft’s mobile, email and calendar applications. The Berlin-based 6Wunderkinder GmbH is backed by US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and other VCs. Apple to launch music streaming service Apple is launching its own music streaming service to compete with Spotify, according to The Wall Street Journal. The new Apple service will reportedly cost $10 a month; however, unlike Spotify, the company will not allow users to stream its entire catalogue. The move represents a significant shift away from the downloading model that helped Apple revolutionise music a decade ago. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 29.69 points, rising 0.16% yesterday to 18,040.37. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 76.08 US cents. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Advertising represents 90% of Google’s $USD 66 billion in annual revenue. What makes this figure especially astounding is the suggestion that the vast majority of web advertising may never actually be seen by end users, and if it is, is largely ineffective. Google, Facebook, and other online advertising companies, are less worried about the effectiveness of ads and are more concerned that they show the ads to users in order to bill their customers. This business is being made harder however as a result of the rise in the use of ad blocking software in the past 10 years. Ad blocking Ad blocking software basically applies a list of filters to every web page that is loaded and either hides the ad from showing, or blocks the request to the site that hosts the ad. Not all ads are blocked however. Depending on the software, some sites and their ads can be “whitelisted” and allowed to show. Adblock Plus for example, applies a principle that it is only “bad” advertising that should be blocked. Bad ads are those that do not fit a set of criteria that advocates that ads should not be annoying, intrusive, should not distort the page that they are embedded in, and are appropriate for the context. Companies that produce “good” ads can then pay Adblock Plus to have their ads whitelisted. uBlock, another popular ad blocking software plugin for browsers, simply blocks anything that looks like advertising. Ad blocking software is now used by 25% of users in the US, increasing to 40% of users in countries like Germany. Native advertising Partly in response to the decline in effectiveness of traditional online ads, advertisers have turned increasingly to native advertising. Native ads have been around for some times. They can span from the placement of products in a TV show or film, through to sponsored articles or posts on social media that are written to look like they are part of the normal content of the site. Sponsored tweets on Twitter and posts on Facebook have become more prevalent and have been shown to be far more effective than banner or search-based ads. However, even though these types of ads are more effective, those on social media at least, are still considered not terribly so. Here again, users are turning to software to remove native ads. On Facebook, products like Facebook Purity give the user a high degree of flexibility in removing advertising from Facebook on the web. Advertisers in Germany decided to tackle the problem of ad blocking head on by taking Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, to court. This avenue was shut down, at least in Germany, when the Munich court ruled that ad blocking was indeed legal. The threat to mobile If matters on the web were not bad enough, advertisers face an even bigger problem on mobile. Several telecommunications companies are in the process of deploying ad blocking software to their mobile networks. One technology that they are using is from an Israeli startup called Shine that works at the level of the mobile network to block ads. From the mobile carrier’s perspective, advertising has been estimated to use anything between 10% and 50% of a mobile phone users bandwidth which ultimately the end user is paying for. Ironically however, the telecommunications companies are possibly seeking part of that income by forcing companies like Google to pay them a share for ads transmitted on their networks. Even if this doesn’t succeed, the carriers can switch on ad blocking to enhance the service for their users or charge them for an ad-free environment. An ad-free world? If ads are successfully blocked in the mobile world, which is seen as becoming the dominant platform for advertising in the future, Google, and others, contend that they will need to start charging for software that has been provided for free but funded through advertising. From an end user perspective, moving from a free service to a paid one would actually be a good thing because it would make the relationship between the user and companies like Google more explicit. It is hard to argue that it is acceptable to secretly track users and capture their personal details when the user is paying for a service. Whether this model is going to be as financially lucrative for Google as selling ads is yet to be seen. Advertising, even invasive and disruptive ads ones is not going to disappear overnight. In-app advertising provided on Android and Apple devices is going to be harder to block, even at the mobile carrier level. Advertisers will move increasingly to native formats which are harder to block. In the online landscape where competition is global and there are only a few gatekeepers who control the platform for advertising, it is hard to see how to arrive at a solution that will keep all parties in the equation happy. David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Above: GoPro's Jump-ready 360 camera array uses HERO4 camera modules and allows all 16 cameras to act as one. Key announcements by Google at its annual Google I/O developer conference have put virtual reality on the cusp of going mainstream, according to two key figures in the Australian virtual reality community. During the conference, Google unveiled a new virtual reality ecosystem known as Jump, as well as new camera arrays that can capture 360-degree vision, and streaming stereoscopic virtual reality videos on YouTube. Virtual Reality Ventures managing director Stefan Pernar told StartupSmart the commodification of virtual reality is likely to happen over the next 12 to 18 months. “The big news from Google I/O is a virtual reality targeted Go Pro rig, one in a six-camera version and one in a 16-camera version, along with the Jump initiative. There’s also a set of assembly tools that allows you to stitch the thing together and extract 3D info from a range of perspectives,” Pernar says. Pernar says that creating and sharing a virtual reality experience will soon be as easy as buying a GoPro rig and uploading the video clip on to YouTube 360. He also points out that a string of consumer virtual reality headsets are set to hit the market in late 2015 and the first half of 2016, including Sony Morpheus, the HTC/Valve device and the consumer version of Facebook’s Oculus Rift. Samsung is also likely to heavily push its Gear VR headset in the lead-up to Christmas. “That’s what Facebook buying Oculus was all about – sharing your user-created virtual reality experience with your family and friends on Facebook,” Pernar says. “The landscape is changing. Virtual reality company’s focus will not so much be on stitching video together. That problem has been solved. “Instead, they will need to add value, in the form of interactive and value added content.” According to Pernar, creating more professional virtual reality shoots is a potential growth opportunity for virtual reality producers. “The smartphone camera in your pocket is now better than the cameras used to shoot Star Wars. So why doesn’t everyone just whip out their phone and shoot Star Wars? It’s not just a matter of hardware – there’s also cinematography. “A year ago, virtual reality was just a tech process. Even simple, stationary shots were state-of-the-art. Now you need to manage movement.” The announcements mark a very exciting time for the VR industry, according to Anton Andreacchio – whose virtual reality production company Jumpgate Virtual Reality recently released a 90-second trailer for the upcoming Cyan Films horror film Scare Campaign. “It’s what happened with film – it’s democratisation. On the tech side, equipment isn’t cost-prohibitive anymore. From a hardware perspective, this solves the post-production issue of stitching video clips together,” Andreacchio say. “This is another big step, the process of making [VR] a systematic production method, and getting big companies a clearer path. As for Pernar’s sentiments about VR going mainstream, Andreacchio is cautiously optimistic. “I know I should say yes 100%, but we don’t know. But certainly a lot of time, money and energy is being thrown at this at the moment. So I suspect we are, but ultimately that’s up to the consumers,” he says. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
New user onboarding turns signups into successful users as quickly and easily as possible. Done well, it generates excitement about future use, provides learning by using the product, and takes care of basic configuration in a fun and engaging way. As a designer on the Atlassian Growth team, one of my responsibilities is coming up with these onboarding flows for us to test in our products. We run A/B experiments to determine what ideas will increase various success metrics like conversion, monthly active users (MAU), and usage minutes. Popularised by consumer products like Facebook & Twitter and the work that Samuel Hulick has been doing, user onboarding is taking the product design world by storm. It seems every startup in the valley is focused on delivering an incredible onboarding and setup flow to beat all others, all in the name of increasing MAU. However, I believe if a product is intuitive by default it should require no onboarding flow at all. The days of RTFM are gone; the best products don’t require hand-holding to understand core functionality from the get-go. Which begs the question, what makes a product intuitive? 1. A clear value proposition A whisk is a steel instrument. A bowl is a concave surface. A chicken egg is the unfertilised gamete laid by a female bird. This is listing and describing features. Instead what you need to do is show your customer how she can make an omelette. (Thanks to Jay for the great metaphor.) If you haven’t heard of the Jobs-to-be-Done framework from Clayton Christensen, I suggest you check it out. In short, customers ‘hire’ your product for a job they want done, and you need to succinctly communicate how your product will do this job for them. In the example above, our customer is after an omelette, so you need to provide not just the tools and ingredients, but also the recipe so she gets what she’s after. 2. Unambiguous terminology Do you introduce a lot of bespoke terminology? Are you using words which most people associate with a different definition? Unless you’re Apple, you probably can’t invent a new word or change the definition of existing words. We have a product called Confluence which is a collaborative wiki and knowledge base. It’s kind of a hybrid between Google Docs, Wikipedia, and StackExchange for your company. Everything in Confluence lives within multiple ‘spaces,’ kind of like folders on a computer. The problem with the word ‘space’ is that it’s incredibly abstract and has many different definitions. Customers trialling Confluence are confused when they encounter it, so our onboarding flows spend a lot of time explaining what we mean by the term. Terminology like Share, Menu, Project, and Avatar all have distinct definitions within the context of software (and associated well-known symbols). When people interact with these words or icons in your interface, they expect one thing and are confused when you show them something else. Ensure your definition and usage is the same as what people expect, and try to use as little bespoke terminology as possible. 3. Well-designed affordances “An affordance is often taken as a relation between an object or an environment and an organism, that affords the opportunity for that organism to perform an action. For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling.” — Wikipedia Put simply, affordances are the things your users interact with. Buttons, gestures, drop-downs, inputs. We have a Breville toaster and a Breville microwave at home. One thing I love about the toaster is this ‘A bit more’ button: This button is neat because it explains what it will do in a simple and human way, it is physically a button that can be pressed, it looks like a button differentiated against its surroundings, and it has a ring light that shows you when it’s on. It’s quite straightforward and simple. Contrast that with our Breville microwave: What’s the difference? The affordances on the toaster are clear and intuitive. I know what they’ll do; I don’t need a manual to tell me. The microwave on the other hand is interface voodoo: a myriad of bespoke icons on the display, inconsistent long presses and short presses, a multi-function contextual knob, and complex button labels. What does Time Weight Defrost do? Or the button simply labeled Microwave? It even has an oddly-specific, dedicated Potato button! Why? Does anyone cook potatoes in their microwave? It sounds obvious but it’s often overlooked: make sure your product has intuitive affordances like the toaster, and not the microwave. 4. Sane defaults There’s an old computer science saying that a computer should never ask you a question that it can answer for itself. In most cases your product should be able to determine a lot of configuration on its own; for example the user’s timezone and location. In the case of new users, you absolutely know that people don’t start with their own data in your product. When you create a new email account, it usually doesn’t come with a bunch of emails in your inbox. Your users will be looking at a lot of blank screens. Make sure you have well-designed empty states or sample data to catch them and highlight their next steps. For times when the product can’t easily know how to set itself up, rely on qualitative research and analytics to inform your default configuration. If you know most people have four steps in their workflow, the default column count on your task management app should be four. If you know most of your audience are signing up to design a newsletter, surface that above other options, like designing a birthday card. If you know most people are using two of your products together, perhaps connect and integrate them both by default. 5. Meeting expectations You have the ability to affect a potential customer’s expectations before they log in for the first time: you control the advertisements you run, the content on your marketing website, the emails you send, and what you post on your Facebook page. So if you’re saying one thing on your marketing website (“our product is great for thing x!”) and then don’t follow through in-product, you’re going to lose that customer because you’ve built up their expectations and then demolished them. How do you begin to address this? Conduct an audit of your whole customer journey from initial impression right through to success (whatever that is) and make sure you’re sending the same consistent message about what your product does the whole way through. This exercise is also a great way to surface differences of opinion in your organisation. Your marketing department might think your product does one thing well, whereas the product managers might disagree! You now have a good base for making your product intuitive. Once you feel that you’re satisfying most of the points I’ve outlined here, start iterating on the new-user onboarding experience through experimentation to further optimise each of these points. But if you’ve been nodding your head the whole way and saying, “yep, our product isn’t here yet”, then perhaps go back to the drawing board and aim to make your product more intuitive by default before throwing everything you have into new-user onboarding experiments. A/B experiments are useful for turning a good product into a great one through iteration, but not that useful when your product has a long way to go before it’s somewhat intuitive. Make sure you’re starting off at a certain level before iterating through experimentation, and remember, the best onboarding is an intuitive product by default. Benjamin Humphrey is a designer at Atlassian. If you enjoyed this post and want more of the same, you might consider following Designing Atlassian! This article first appeared on Medium.
Just a week after announcing it will begin publishing news articles straight into users’ newsfeeds, Facebook has revealed plans to add the next level of editorial content to the platform: critics' reviews of restaurants, according to The Verge. When users browse through restaurants on the platform, critics’ reviews from popular media outlets will now show up next to their friend’s reviews and reviews from other Facebook users. The feature is currently only available for a select number of restaurants in the US and includes reviews from publishers Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler, Eater, New York Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle to begin with. "Since reviews are such an important part of helping people make informed decisions about what to do locally, we're excited to be incorporating a new way for people to use Facebook to find the best real-world experiences," a Facebook spokeswoman told The Verge. Facebook confirmed it would display negative reviews if the publishers provide them but most of the reviews so far come from "best of" lists. There is no information on when the feature might be rolled out to Australian restaurants. This article was originally published at SmartCompany.
The term “fintech” – the marriage of financial services with technology companies – has only recently come into vogue in Australia, with venture capital starting to flow into the sector. It was only around October 2014 that the term fintech started to appear in Australia’s mainstream media – rather late given it was just two months later peer-to-peer lending platform LendingClub listed on the New York Stock Exchange. LendingClub reached a valuation of US$8.5 billion in the closing days of 2014, making it the 15th largest US lending institution by market capitalisation at the time, the company’s estimated. Taken at face value, it would seem Australia has simply been late to the fintech party. But that is not really the case. There are four roles that financial services companies perform in any economy: they facilitate payments; create credit; manage wealth through investment platforms; and assist with risk mitigation through either insurance or facilitating price discovery in the traded financial markets. Outside of Australia – in the US particularly – startup fintech companies have launched a relentless assault on all of these functions. In every case, they have succeeded by offering customers a cheaper, simpler product, more suited to exactly the type of transaction customers were looking to undertake. This is the classic model of business disruption. To be clear, fintech companies are not just online banking platforms. Their products are unique. First, many platforms directly match buyer and seller, taking out the finance middleman and large balance sheets. Second, most innovate new ways to use personal information for product creation and sales – such as mining social media sites to support customer identification and credit scores. Finally, fintech platforms often cross-sell other, non-financial products to their customers, accruing value to the platform rather than to the product itself. This is an inversion of the traditional financial services model that asks customers to pay for products, and uses product revenue to subsidise its “free” distribution platform of branches, offices, salespeople and online transaction platforms. Australian banks have held back the tide Fintech companies have sprouted like mushrooms across the payments, credit, investment and markets space outside of Australia. Why are the first green shoots in Australia only starting to appear now? Three reasons spring to mind. One is that Australian financial services firms have been innovating from within, reducing the incentive for their customers to go in search of cheaper, more convenient options. Second is that traditional financial institutions have used their market power to maintain market share. Finally, Australia’s regulatory settings have been too restrictive, making it difficult for young startups to enter the market. This last point was particularly noted in the Murray Financial Services Inquiry, which recommended a more finely attuned regulatory structure to promote greater competition in the financial services sector. Perhaps the most noteworthy absence of fintech startups in Australia is within the payments system space. This stands in contrast with countries like the US, where PayPal’s dominance in online payments is unquestioned. Customers choose PayPal in the US because its banks never created a unified national online payments system and were too late to realise customers would rather transact online than write out and mail cheques. But PayPal is not alone. Google has launched Google Wallet, Facebook and WeChat in China have announced debit cards for online “sharing money", and AliPay in 2014 announced it had facilitated nearly US$150 billion in mobile transactions. Not all of these startups have entered Australia, and the reason may be that Australia already has one of the most advanced online and cashless payments systems in the world. The system – which most Australians will know as Eftpos (electronic funds transfer at point of sale), PayAnyone (online account-to-account transfers) and its compatriot BPay (online bill payments system) – are innovations created by a consortium of Australia’s major banks around the same time as PayPal’s founding in the US. Australian banks have remained competitive in this part of financial services. Where the gaps are The gap in the payments space is in international money transfers, where anti-money laundering regulations and compliance reporting are so onerous that the major Australian banks have closed their doors to remittance businesses. In their absence, we see firms such as CoinJar utilising digital currencies like bitcoin to transmit across borders. CurrencySpot offers a more traditional foreign exchange service, but also anti-money laundering compliance reporting on foreign exchange transactions. Competition is even hotter in credit markets. On what seems like an almost daily basis, another peer-to-peer (P2P) lender announces it is entering the Australian market. Local player SocietyOne has in the last 12 months been joined by RateSetter (UK), OnDeck (US) and Kiva (US), among others. But the P2P lending industry in Australia is still niche, emerging only in the spaces where the large Australian banks have voluntarily withdrawn: consumer lending and small business lending. The chart below highlights the extent to which banks have preferred to grow their loan books through mortgage lending – almost certainly driven, at least in part, by the preferential risk weighting on capital assigned to mortgage lending under the Basel III framework. Lending and credit aggregates in Australia In contrast, this chart below highlights the rather slow growth of business lending. Moreover, since the global financial crisis, new business credit has increasingly gone into loans of a size in excess of A$500,000 - a loan amount much more suggestive of a large corporate than a small or medium-sized business. In aggregate, the data suggests that credit from the banking system has not been flowing to either consumers (outside of housing) or the smaller end of the business market. Australia’s business credit flow by loan size The space left by banks is where P2P lenders are entering the market. SocietyOne (Australia) and RateSetter (UK) are operating in the consumer lending space, while OnDeck (US) and ThinDeck (UK) specialise in small business loans. MoneyPlace (Australia) handles both consumer and small business lending. A key advantage of P2P lenders – aside from their generally lower cost of capital and ability to use unstructured sources of data – is that they are able to vary the interest rate offered to individual borrowers in a way that is unrealistic for a large bank. While now a relatively small share of overall credit growth in the Australian economy, there is no question that the ability of the financial system to meet the credit needs of smaller borrowers – especially SMEs – is critical for economic growth. The experience in the US has suggested that, over time, established banks can work with the P2P community, using P2P platforms to identify new customers and benefit from a superior online customer experience. Similar trends are being seen in the financial investment market with “robo-advice” - investment advice that is online and automated by the use of algorithms to produce an individual’s optimal portfolio allocation. Other investment start-ups include names like Macrovue, which helps unsophisticated retail investors to diversify their portfolios and easily track returns. The number of robo-advice providers in the Australian market is still relatively small, but suits the estimated 80% of Australian superannuation fund holders who do not seek professional financial advice. The future here may also be one of accommodation, where financial advisers look to take advantage of tools made available by robo-advice to find a less expensive way to service their customers. Either way, it’s a competitive gain for consumers, and a productivity boost for the Australian economy. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Being the best possible founder comes down to having strong skills in one or two areas and mitigating your weaknesses by hiring the right people, according to the head of Stripe for Australia and New Zealand, Susan Wu. Speaking at The Sunrise conference in Sydney on Monday, Wu said if we only live once then we “may as well do some pretty big stuff”. With that in mind, here are four tips from the serial entrepreneur and investor on how to become a better founder. 1. Hire well instead of hiring quickly Wu says one of the most important things she has learnt in her career so far is the importance of taking the time to hire the right people instead of snapping up employees after raising money. “There’s nothing more important than hiring well,” she says. “Sometimes that means hiring very slowly. Whenever I hear a company say we just hired 20 people last month it’s always a red flag. It demonstrates to me a lack of understanding of culture and how organic team collaboration happens. So I would never, never make that mistake again of hiring too quickly.” When asked what employee retention rate founders should be aiming for, Wu said in an ideal situation well over half of a startup’s employees should be staying with the company for 12 months. “Obviously you’re going to make hiring mistakes and if you’re a first-time founder you don’t know what you’re looking for,” she says. “And when you’re hiring for an early-stage startup most of the roles are so loose and undefined… but 70% sounds about right to me.” 2. Understand the technology behind your product It is possible for your startup to succeed even if you don’t have the technical skills to build it yourself, according to Wu. However, she says founders really should be familiar with the technology behind their company in order to better understand the user experience. “Your chances of success are much higher if you have a hands-on knowledge of your product and how your customers are interacting with that product,” she says. “What is that internal, unconscious relationship your user has with that product? For example, when I wake up am I thinking about Twitter? Am I thinking about Facebook? What product am I thinking about when I go to bed? I don’t think you understand that unless you have a deep understanding of your product.” 3. Focus on your long-term vision and don’t get distracted by competitors Wu used to read industry news “religiously”. She now admits she hardly pays attention to what is making headlines and who is raising money. “I really go out of my way to not pay attention to what other people are doing,” she says. “I find it creates noise… I think really great founders and really great leaders know what they’re going to build. To some extent what my competition are doing or the rest of the industry is doing may impact that in the short term, but not the long-term strategy, what users really need, what customers are feeling or what their pain-points are.” 4. Embrace diversity Wu says women are “untapped” resources not just in the startup ecosystem but the economy more broadly. “There are gender differences and barriers to women succeeding in the startup world,” she says. “There are barriers for women succeeding in life in general. And it’s a personal passion of mine to level the playing field for not just women but all minorities generally… women are one of the great untapped resources.” Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Coffee Meets Bagel, the startup which entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban offered to buy for $US30 million on the US version of Shark Tank earlier this year, has launched in Australia. The matchmaking app offers its users a daily match with a Facebook friend of a friend. Users then have 24 hours to decide whether or not to like or pass on that match. In-app currency, coffee beans, can be used to unlock additional information, like who the mutual friend is. Global expansion is a key part of Coffee Meets Bagel’s business plan. On their Shark Tank appearance, which was filmed in the middle of 2014 and aired in January, the startup’s co-founders – sisters Arum, Dawoon and Soo Kang – said they were planning to add four million users by the end of 2015. At the time Coffee Meets Bagel had between 100,000 and 500,000 users, and was projecting $1 million in sales for 2014. Its goal of an additional 4 million users by the end of 2015 would bring a projected $10 million in sales – at which point the startup would break even. Its three founders were all taking $US100,000 salaries. Speaking to StartupSmart ahead of its Australian launch, Dawoon Kang would not provide specific details about the startup sales and user growth. “We’re tracking well. There are of course challenges,” she says. “For example our international expansion, I wanted to do that earlier. A lot of other cities have been delayed to the third quarter, and one of our big growth strategies is international expansion. Things never go as you planned.” Australia is the second market Coffee Meets Bagel has entered outside of the United States, following its launch in Hong Kong in March. In February, shortly after its Shark Tank episode aired, the startup raised $US7.8 million in Series A funding, led by DCM Ventures and including Quest Ventures and Azure Capital. Australia, and more specifically Sydney, is an appealing market for Coffee Meets Bagel, Dawoon says. It’s online dating market is estimated to be worth $113 million. According to the ABS, 50% of Sydney residents over 15 are single and 38% are migrants – a section of the community more willing to meet new people. Dawoon says appearing on Shark Tank was a move the team thought long and hard about. “It was one of the best decisions we’ve made, we closed our Series A not long after we aired and one of the investors saw us on Shark Tank and really liked our attitude. The consumer exposure you get is also phenomenal, I highly recommend it for any consumer focused startups,” Dawoon says. Title image: Mark Cuban. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Appetite for disruption: Founders Institute founder Adeo Ressi on why Australia needs to embrace risk to grow5:39AM | Monday, 25 May
Australia has the talent, the money, and needs only the risk appetite for its startup ecosystem to thrive, according to Founders Institute founder Adeo Ressi. Ressi is in Australia for Sydney’s Vivid Ideas festival and has been meeting with Australian investors, at the invitation of Unstoppables founder Julio De Laffitte, to help them understand the opportunity that startups present to investors. “You can have all the policies in the world, all the incentives in the world, but people still need to understand what they’re doing, take some money out of very conservative investments, and consider very high growth investments,” Ressi says. “I think to date in Australia, because there’s been such a boom in conservative investments, it’s much easier to make them by comparison. But there’s a slowing growth rate and you’re seeing surrounding economies really booming. Australia is now falling further behind, rather than leading the pack.” Australia’s digital readiness stalling That’s true, according to the latest Digital Evolution Index, which measures a nation’s readiness for a digital economy from 2008-2013. Australia was one of the “stall out” countries – a nation that has achieved a high level of digital evolution in the past, but is losing momentum and risks falling behind. Neighbours Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Korea all fell under the “standout” category, countries that have shown high levels of digital development and are continuing on an upward trajectory. China, Malaysia, Thailand were all categorised as breakout nations, countries with potential to develop strong digital economies. Ressi, who recently founded Expansive Ventures, a venture capital firm that will leverage off the Founder Institute network, says there’s no doubt there’s a lack of funding in Australia. “That’s part of the reason I’m coming to Australia: To bring together as many investors as possible and really explain the process and opportunity. Because, as I mentioned, Australia has the talent and it has the money, but right now there isn’t the willingness to take the risk that comes with investing in startups,” he says. “The truth of the matter is today, hundreds of billions of dollars a year is being made by investors betting on these young companies. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago companies might go public sooner and that gives an opportunity for more conservative investors to ride the value creation. “But you get a company like Uber, Facebook, Twitter, and even Rocket Internet, many others. They’re waiting quite a long time, many years before they consider going public. As a result the wealth created is being concentrated in the hands of the investors that are willing to look at them as a serious investment opportunity.” Fixable problems The upside, Ressi says, is that the problems facing Australia’s startup ecosystem are all fixable. “Australians as entrepreneurs rank well against the rest of the world. Some of the most important companies of our time have been founded or run by Australians, so there’s no question the talent is there,” he says. “I think the ecosystem of Australia is still weak, but that presents more of an opportunity than a detriment. There are unfixable problems and fixable problems and Australia has more fixable problems than the other kind.” Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Australian virtual reality production company Jumpgate Virtual Reality has released a 90-second trailer for the upcoming Cyan Films horror film Scare Campaign, which will be the first Australian movie to be accompanied by a virtual reality experience. Jumpgate Virtual Reality’s managing director, Anton Andreacchio, told StartupSmart the pioneering effort is designed to help uncover the value proposition for the new technology. “We started a company called Convergen about eight years ago. That’s an animation company that designs visuals for infrastructure projects,” Andreacchio says. “I first became aware of Oculus Rift DK1 [development kit] a few years ago, and began talking to architects and builders to see if it was relevant. They loved it and thought it was novel, and we began searching for a value proposition. The problem was the first headset was very low resolution, but it was indicative of what the technology could do. “In the past year, you’ve had a number of big developments, including Facebook buying Oculus, the DK2 has been announced, and Samsung has released its own headset. “We decided to start another company, called Jumpgate VR, that’s a production company specialising in virtual reality. We pulled across a few people from Convergen and began working on entertainment, events, AFL clubs and symphony orchestras to try to find the value proposition of virtual reality.” Jumpgate Virtual Reality’s latest VR production is titled Scare Campaign: The VR Experience, and includes an elaborate set (the decommissioned Beechworth Lunatic Asylum in north-eastern Victoria) and a storyline. A 90-second trailer, free for anyone with a compatible headset, is now available on the company’s website. “The main story is a conventional feature film by the two directors who did [2012 film] 100 Bloody Acres – Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes – and stars Olivia DeJonge,” Andreacchio says. While not disclosing at this stage what the AFL project involves, Andreacchio says Jumpgate VR is working on interactive virtual reality projects for a major toll road operator and an induction training project. The company has also created virtual reality films of live concerts and events. “One of our early pieces was a concert by [chamber music ensemble] Seraphim Trio… We shot them at the Melbourne Recital Centre in full 3D, and we’ve also recorded a few earlier proof-of-concept concerts,” Andreacchio says. Andreacchio says the technology is moving very fast. The aim of the projects is not to just “do a piece here and there”, but to explore the technology and help Australia remain at the cutting edge of the virtual reality industry. “The way we look at it is this: look at smartphones. At first, people wanted one because of the novelty. After seven or eight years on the scene, it’s only now that something like Uber has emerged, and that’s a massively disruptive development.” Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Like all digital media startups, The House of Media and our first publication, Sinoway, is working hard to build up readership and viewers on a daily basis. Moreover, like all new media companies, we understand that the value of our publications increases with readership and accessibility. Obtaining readership across the world wide web takes time because a publication needs to build up quality and relevant content that presents a point of difference. To succeed, digital publications require a combination of breaking stories and quality analysis on issues of the day. For a process that usually takes years and decades to achieve, Facebook has the power to do it in months. With over 1.4 billion users, Facebook has become the most popular go-to place for news, updates and stories across all technological platforms. In order to get more users to stay on its site, developing partnerships to host media articles is an innovative way to go. For media organisations, getting more eyeballs to their stories and content is an attractive option. To make this option more appealing to news publishers, Facebook has outlined initiatives for publishers to make more money from advertising that would run alongside its content on its site. A few months ago, sources revealed that Facebook was in talks with a number of news organisations about hosting their content inside the social media site rather than making users tap a link to visit an external site. The initial news organisation partners interested in Facebook’s proposal are the National Geographic, Buzzfeed and The New York Times. Facebook has announced publicly its intention to enhance the streaming experience of news content. Currently, news articles on Facebook link to the media publication’s own website normally taking an average of eight seconds to load. Facebook has claimed it can reduce the load time to quicken the delivery of articles to readers. As a new digital publication fresh on the scene, it is difficult to break into a competitive market, a market dominated by only a few main media players in the Australian market. For a company like The House of Media, Facebook’s proposal is very attractive to build more readership and catch up to our more established competitors. Facebook’s proposal does carry a number of risks for media organisations. The first and most obvious one is the loss of consumer data. When readers click on an article, analytics and tracking tools allows the website to obtain information on who they are, how long they stayed on the website, the topic they are reading, what device they are reading it from and how often they visited. For media organisations, consumer data is a valuable source of information to attract investors, sponsorships and advertisements. If news publications take up Facebook’s proposal, this valuable information will most likely go to Facebook leaving publications with the loss of a critical revenue stream. Speaking at the 2015 International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress in New York, Australian futurist Ross Dawson warned publishers to be cautious in handing over their content to Facebook. By doing this, he warned publishers may well be “giving them your future.” Dawson is right. While media publications may get a boost in readership and accessibility, they are giving away the two most important aspects that make them valuable and profitable: consumer data and content. For Facebook, it sees the long-term potential and benefit to increase visitation time by providing news content and stories. Unfortunately, it is unable to achieve this in the short run because Facebook does not possess the journalistic and media expertise within its operations to generate quality news and content. While faster online accessibility is a plus, established writers and journalists working in publications do have a strong following from readers. This is something that Facebook simply does not have. Therefore, my advice to established and startup digital new media organisations is do not give in to the Facebook temptation. You should focus on developing your own strategic online platforms to involve readers, advertisers and investors. We have the expertise to develop independent quality content to keep readers and society informed on what’s happening around us. We do not need help from external platforms to do this, even if it does boast a membership of 1.4 billion users. Jieh-Yung Lo is a new media entrepreneur and founder of The House of Media. Follow him on twitter at @jiehyunglo Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.