The computing cloud we have created supports much of our day-to-day office and leisure activity, from office email to online shopping and sharing holiday photos. Even health, social care and government functions are moving towards digital delivery over the internet. However, we should be wary that as we become more dependent on it, the cracks will show. The systems are often a patchwork of interconnected services provided by various companies and industry partnerships. A failure of one can lead to a failure in others. For example, Skype recently went down for almost an entire day, while Facebook was down for more than an hour – the second time in a week – meaning that many sites that depend on Facebook accounts as authentication were locked out too. Losing Facebook is an annoyance, but interruptions to major health and social care services or energy supply management systems can lead to real damage to the economy and people’s lives. A few weeks ago Google’s data centres in Belgium (europe-west1-b) lost power after the local power grid was struck by lightning four times. While most servers were protected by battery backup and redundant storage, there was still an estimated 0.000001% loss of disk space – which for Google’s huge data stores meant a few gigabytes of data. The lesson is not to trust cloud providers to store and provide backups for your data. Your backups need backups too. What it also shows is our dependence on power supply system which, as long runs of conductive metal, are more prone to lightning strikes than you might imagine. Facebook response graph, showing outage. Bill Buchanan When the lights go out Former US secretary of defence, William Cohen, recently outlined how the US power grid was vulnerable to a large-scale outage: “The possibility of a terrorist attack on the nation’s power grid — an assault that would cause coast-to-coast chaos,” he said, “is a very real one.” As a former electrical engineer, I understand well the need for a safe and robust power supply, and that control systems can fail. It’s not uncommon to have alternative or redundant power supplies for important equipment. Single points of failure are accidents waiting to happen. Back-up your backup. The electrical supply grid will try to provide alternative power whenever any part of it fails. The power supply system needs to be built with redundancy in case of problems, and monitoring and control systems that can respond to failures and keep the electricity supply balanced. Cohen fears a major power outage could lead to civil unrest. Janet Napolitano, former Department of Homeland Security secretary, said a cyber-attack on the power grid was a case of “when,” not “if”. And former senior CIA analyst Peter Vincent Pry went so far as to say that an attack on the US electrical power supply network could “take the lives of every nine out of ten Americans”. The damage that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could cause, such as from a nuclear weapon air-burst, is well known. But many now think the complex andinterconnected nature of industrial control systems, known as SCADA, could be the major risk. An example of the potential problem is the north-east US blackout on August 14 2003, which affected 508 generating units at 265 separate power plants, cutting off power to 45m people in eight US states and 10m people in Ontario. It was caused by a software flaw in an alarm system in an Ohio control room which failed to warn operators about an overload, leading to domino effect of failures. It took two days to restore power. As the world becomes increasingly internet-dependent, we have created a network that provides redundant routes to carry traffic from point to point, but electrical supply failures can still take out core routing systems. Control systems - the weakest link Often it’s the less obvious elements of infrastructure that are most open to attack. For example, air conditioning failures in data centres can cause overheating sufficient to melt equipment, especially the tape drives used to store vast amounts of data. This could affect anything from banking transactions worth billions, the routing of traffic around a busy city, or an emergency services call centre. As we become more dependent on data and data-processing, so we are more vulnerable to their loss. Safety critical systems are built with failsafe control mechanisms, but those mechanisms can also attacked and compromised. The cloud we have created and upon which we increasingly depend is not as hardy as we think. The internet itself, and the way we use it, is not as distributed as it was designed to be. We still rely too heavily on key physical locations where data and network interconnections are concentrated, creating unacceptable points of failure that could lead to a domino-effect collapse. The DNS infrastructure is a particular weak point, where just 13 root servers worldwide act as master lists for the entire web’s address book. I don’t think governments have fully thought this through. Without power, without internet connectivity, there is no cloud. And without the cloud we have big problems. Bill Buchanan, Head, Centre for Distributed Computing, Networks and Security, Edinburgh Napier University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
It’s not surprising that new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s appointment has been well received by the startup community. When he talks about the Australia of the future being agile, innovative and creative, he is speaking their language. There is only one question. How do we get there? There are at least a few countries in the world that could be characterised as agile, innovative and creative. Among them: the USA, Singapore and Estonia. What could we learn from them? The United States has led the digital revolution. It started in Silicon Valley. There, Stanford and other universities provided a skilled STEM research base, the industry contributed venture capital and business expertise, and the government added steady and sustainable funding to the mix. In America, creativity, innovation and agility are deeply ingrained in society. The maker movement, exemplified by the global phenomenon of Maker Faires, started in California. Creativity is taught from the youngest age through initiatives such as City X, born in Wisconsin. Singapore is one of the most advanced digital economies and benefits heavily from the commitment of its government. Singapore wants to become the world’s first “smart nation”. The government has established institutions that focus on creating a vibrant startup ecosystem. Generous funding of startups and an attractive taxation system are “icing on the cake” that the government serves. Singaporeans want to be smart and well educated. The perception that knowledge can be the most valued resource of the country has been consistent over the 50 years of its existence. Estonia is a young economy, moving fast in the digital space. Lack of legacy systems means that Estonians can quickly introduce digital solutions. There is no need to think about maintaining previous ones - there aren’t any. It’s an inventor’s heaven. A strong push for STEM education has always been present in Estonia’s educational system. This, married with entrepreneurial spirit triggered when independence was restored in 1991, created a perfect storm. And it would not have been possible without the strong support of the government. In the US, Singapore and Estonia, it is all about government support, education and the right innovation culture. Governments need to play a very active role. A robust ecosystem, like Silicon Valley, can be developed when a government is strategically focused. The US government is now switching to a supportive role, with the digital economy becoming very mature. The government of Singapore behaves more like a startup, with a clear vision, defined investment and incentive strategy. And Estonia, the youngest economy of the pack, is in a seeding phase, looking to implement and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Education is a top priority. The decentralised model in the US has enabled grassroots movements resulting in great creative talent. The structured model in Singapore produces highly skilled and technically capable citizens. Estonia has traditionally focused on STEM skills and aims to digitise all learning experiences by 2020. Be bold While policies and education are important, innovation culture eats them for breakfast. Obama brings inventors to the White House. Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong uses Facebook and Google Drive to share and discuss C++ code he wrote years ago. Estonian President Toomas Ilves reminds everyone that this young country is behind such disruptive technologies as Skype. Estonians are bold, curious and not afraid of experimenting. Singaporeans are rigorous, ambitious and use their skills wisely. Americans are proud, entrepreneurial and global in their actions. They are all explorers of the digital economy in their own ways. Governments that foster innovation are more about how they behave than their structure. In this case “talking the talk” is almost as important as walking it - to build the right innovation culture. Turnbull’s beliefs, values and assumptions, born of his business experience, will be vital to keep innovation and entrepreneurship on the agenda while developing the ecosystem in Australia. A well-designed educational system is crucial. There has to be a strong focus on developing STEM skills, while remembering that creative skills are just as important. We need to foster curious, creative and entrepreneurial minds. And we need to remember that education never ends: lifelong learning and digital literacy skills are key to a successful digital economy. Innovation, creativity and agility need to be cherished and celebrated. Just like Obama praises creative kids in his tweets, we hope to see Turnbull continuously recognise individuals and organisations that exhibit entrepreneurial traits. And just like other successful economies, we need to create an environment where successful startups stay here. Australians need to be bold and aspire to have the strongest and fastest-moving digital economy in the world. There is no reason to doubt it is possible. If the first vision is not right, we can pivot. Just like any startup would. Marek Kowalkiewicz, Professor and PwC Chair in Digital Economy, Queensland University of Technology This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Brisbane-based startup Skedulo has a simple mission – to make scheduling tasks in enterprise as easy as ordering an Uber ride. The startup began as a Salesforce consulting company before pivoting and creating a cloud-based scheduling platform for enterprise. Users can access the platform via desktop or mobile app and identify available team members, assign tasks, and manage them on the fly. Speaking to StartupSmart at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Skedulo founder Matt Fairhurst says during his time consulting he noticed many companies were using Google Calendar and Outlook for scheduling or relying on legacy software. “On-demand products in the consumer world were becoming very popular at the time. All of these verticals were suddenly finding that all of their employees had a mobile,” he says. “We wondered, what would it mean for enterprises apps to be as exciting to use as something like Uber, Airbnb or Facebook. “It’s taking those same on-demand scheduling principles and applying it in business and the partners they work with.” The startup, which has raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding, has an engineering team based in Brisbane, and small go-to market team in San Francisco. Over the past 12 months Skedulo has grown significantly in Canada and the US, to the point where those two markets are now the source of the majority of the startup’s customers. Recently Skedulo signed on John Hopkins International Medicine, a large healthcare provider which operates six hospitals, four suburban healthcare and surgery centres, and 39 primary and speciality care outpatient sites. While Skedulo was not built with any particular industry vertical in mind, healthcare now represents about 30-40% of the startup’s customer base. “We’re a fairly horizontal application in that we service a number of different key verticals but we’re seeing a pattern where certain industry verticals are at this catalyst point,” he says. “Enough of their workforce is being mobilised around a scheduling problem, what I would call non-traditional field service. It’s healthcare workers, cleaning companies, maintenance guys, event scheduling around casual labour. So we have started to see vertical patterns emerge, but healthcare is one of the more dominant ones. “It’s a really exciting opportunity to disrupt the way field service and workforce mobility is viewed in enterprise.” StartupSmart attended Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce. Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help.
Is there a social media platform that can make your existing customers more loyal to your brand? Jane Lu, founder of online fashion retailer Showpo, says there is and that platform is Snapchat. One of the new kids on the social media block, Snapchat allows users to send photos or short video clips to each other that disappear as soon as the user as seen it. Snapchat was launched in September 2011 and although it does not have the same reach as its more established social media counterparts, this is starting to change. As of May this year, Snapchat reportedly had 100 million daily active users and at the time was valued at more than $US15 billion ($20.9 billion). According to the 2015 Sensis Social Media Report, 15% of Australian consumers are using Snapchat, which is not far behind the likes of Twitter and Pinterest (both 17%), Google+ (23%), Instagram (26%) and LinkedIn (28%). Facebook still dominates, however, with 93% of the population using the social network. Snapchat users are most likely to be aged between 18-29 years, with 38% of those in that age bracket surveyed by Sensis reporting having a Snapchat account. Less than 10% of those aged between 30-39 years (7%) and those between the ages of 40 and 49 (9%) use Snapchat. Brands have begun to take notice of the rapidly growing social platform, with the likes of US brands Taco Bill and McDonald’s creating a Snapchat presence and global fashion retailer ASOS using the platform to offer immediate discounts to followers. A bit closer to home, KFC Australia used Snapchat to launch its Double Soft Shell Zinger Taco in June, Cricket Australia took the plunge in July to tie in with the latest Ashes series and Commonwealth Bank established its Snapchat account at the start of August. Also in August, fashion lovers were able to see Myer’s Spring Fashion Week parade via Snapchat. Making customers more loyal For Showpo’s Jane Lu, using Snapchat is not about generating more traffic to her $7.5 million online retail store, but about making her “existing followers more sticky”. “If they like the content, they will be more loyal,” Lu told SmartCompany. “It gives them a more candid look at the business; it shows it is more than just a website.” Lu created her personal/business Snapchat account – TheLazyCEO – only a few months ago after she was introduced to the platform by her partner’s younger sister. There is no way of tracking how many followers Lu has on Snapchat but to date, each of the videos she has snapped have notched up to 10,000 views. Lu readily admits Snapchat is not as effective as the likes of Instagram and Facebook for attracting new followers to her brand or even converting followers to paying customers, she says the platform’s ease of use makes it appealing as a business owner. “People spend a lot of time and thought on Instagram but Snapchat is quite easy,” Lu says. “Snapchat is about capturing the moment; you can’t redo the moment.” But the ease of use can also be a pitfall, Lu says, warning other business owners to be careful about what they post, especially if it is later at night and they may have had a few drinks. Using the Stories feature of Snapchat, which allows videos to stay accessible for longer than normal photo ‘snaps’, Lu offers her followers behind-the scenes clips of her day as chief executive of Showpo – from shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as she travels to a meeting or her dancing with some of Showpo’s models at a fashion shoot. “It targets a younger market,” she says. “Millenials and people in the 20s are really on it.” “A whole new ball game” Bree Johnson, co-founder of Frank Body, describes Snapchat as “a whole new ball game” for the cult coffee scrub that has achieved success on other social media platforms, including Instagram. Johnson told SmartCompany Frank Body started trialling Snapchat in April and developed a strategy for using the platform in July from its account frankbod. “Everything we do is driven by our customers and quite simply, a lot of our customers are using it as a platform so it made sense for us to be playing in the same space as them,” Johnson says. Like Showpo, Frank Body’s target market is young women, aged between 16 and 24 years, and Johnson says this group “really responds” to the more natural, related and “less polished” content that Snapchat is made for. “Each [social] platform is made for a different type of content or serves a different purpose,” Johnson says when comparing Snapchat to Instagram or Facebook. “We try to offer unique content or raw footage that we wouldn’t necessarily put on the other platforms.” Frank Body’s Snapchat account is made up of “Stories” or longer videos that go behind the scenes or feature social media “influencers”. Last week, the brand offered fitness tips from Sam Wood, star of this year’s season of Channel Ten’s The Bachelor. Frank Body has a lucrative business model – the business turned over $14 million last financial year and is on track to more than double that figure to approximately $30 million this financial year – but Johnson says Snapchat is “not sales driven”. “It’s about offering our loyal followers a bit extra,” she says. Despite the less commercial focus, or perhaps because of it, it seems Frank Body’s fans like what they see: the brand’s Snapchat videos are attracting more than 10,000 views each. As marketers, Johnson says it has been challenging for the Frank Body team to get their heads around posting “everything in real-time”. “You can’t edit it so we are learning to let go a little bit,” she says. “And when we get influencers to post for us, there is a large element of trust.” “But that is part of what attracts people to Snapchat … it’s a lot more organic.” “The Holy Grail for marketers” According to Steve Vallas, social media expert and co-founder of social commerce agency Chunky Media, Snapchat has become “the Holy Grail for marketers” because of demographic it attracts. “Eighteen to 24-year-olds are living on it,” Vallas told SmartCompany. “So the question becomes how can you get to them without putting them off?” However, Vallas questions whether it is worth small businesses experimenting with the Snapchat, given it is an “immature platform” and one that large corporates are splashing huge amounts of cash at with little return. “By and large, the experience with Snapchat has been overseas,” Vallas says. “It’s the big brands chasing Snapchat.” Vallas says the resources and effort being poured into the platform currently outweigh the returns brands are getting, especially as it is virtually impossible for brands to actively find new Snapchat followers. “In terms of scale, we’re not talking about numbers in the tens of thousands, we talking about a few hundred voucher redemptions,” he says. Vallas says brands in the sporting and entertainment sectors appear to be favouring Snapchat as its instantaneous marketing is ideally suited for live events such as sporting matches or music festivals. Those brands that are getting some traction use social media influencers or celebrities or are capitalising on the fact that Snapchat is still an “uncluttered space” with fewer brands competing for users’ interest. As Snapchat continues to grow, however, Vallas says it will be the brands that hold true to that age-old marketing practice of simply creating compelling content. “It’s the coolest place to be but it will be difficult for some brands,” he says. “They will stick out like a sore thumb if they can’t create content that is interesting.” This article was first published on SmartCompany.
Social network ad spending is set to reach over $US25 billion this year and is only set to increase, according to new research. Market reserach company eMarketer says this is largely down to the increased focus on this area by social networking giant Facebook, which accounts for more than 60% of total ad spending. In positive news for our egos, this means that we’re becoming more valuable for Facebook, with each user estimated to be worth about $US12.76 in ad revenue for the site worldwide. Facebook will reach over $US16 billion in ad revenue this year according to eMarketer, up more than 40% from last year. Facebook’s ad revenue expected to rise by more than 37% by 2017. Instagram is also playing a large part in the increase, with the photo-sharing platform now accounting for 5% of the total revenue. As Re/Code reports, user value can be increased by Facebook in two ways: increasing the amount of ads appearing on news feeds, or upping the price of these ads, and it appears both of these methods will be employed going into the future. While Facebook seems to have found an effective way to monetise its extensive user base, eMarketer says rival Twitter’s ad revenue is slowing down slightly. “Twitter has improved its ad targeting capabilities, and it still has a lock on real-time conversation,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Williamson says. “However, advertisers want to reach a mass audience and that’s harder to do on Twitter than Facebook.” Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help.
Facebook has begun rolling out 360-degree videos on the news feed, with the launch allowing users to immerse themselves in, and explore, the new Star Wars trailer. The videos are made using a set of cameras that simultaneously record 360 degrees of a scene, and viewers can then choose what angle they want to see while watching by using a cursor, their finger or even tilting a phone. The launch includes videos from partnering media companies such as comedy/variety show Saturday Night Live, where you can spin away from Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake to see the crew or crowd. Users can also access 3D content from GoPro and VICE. Facebook’s focus on these virtual reality videos was revealed earlier this month, with claims the social networking giant was working on a standalone app for the medium, but at the moment it seems they’ll also be fully integrating into the normal news feed. “We’ve seen that people enjoy more immersive content on their news feed,” Facebook engineering director for video Maher Saba says in a blog post. “This is one reason video has been so successful on Facebook and we’re excited to take it a step further with 360 video.” Facebook has taken a big bet on virtual reality with the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift last year, and this is the first attempt to take the new format to the masses. Although others like YouTube already boast a similar feature, this is the first time it’ll be widely available without the need to search for them. The 3D videos have begun rolling out on the web and Android phones already, will they’ll be seen on iOS in the “coming months”. You can try out the 3D Star Wars trailer here, which allows the user to move all the way around while riding on some sort of aircraft. Facebook is making it clear that the platform isn’t just for big media companies though. “In the future, imagine watching 360 videos of a friend’s vacation to a small village in France or a festival in Brazil – you’ll be able to look around and experience it as if you were there,” Saba says. Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the company is finally working on a much-desired feature: a “dislike” button. According to Zuckerberg, this feature has long been one of those most-requested by the Facebook audience. Although his comments suggest that the new button more likely will express sympathy or empathy, rather than simple dislike, Facebook users have nevertheless greeted the announcement with enthusiasm. But why is Facebook introducing the button now, after so many years of audience lobbying and corporate resistance? One explanation could be the changing profile of the site’s users. Facebook is increasingly a technology used by mature adults, not vulnerable teens. A dislike button as too negative While Facebook users have expressed a desire for a “dislike” button for many years, the company resisted its development because it did not want to, in Zuckerberg’s words, “turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts.” As he explains: You don’t want to go through the process of sharing some moment that’s important to you…and then have someone down-vote it. That isn’t what we’re here to build in the world. In other words, Facebook tried to keep its community positive; it did not want to invite the type of engagement that sites like Reddit thrive on – up voting, down voting posts off the page, trolling and pointed criticism. By limiting users’ ability to express negative emotions with a single click, Facebook tried to create a space that was emotionally safe, an important consideration when many users were teenagers, whose parents were concerned with issues like cyberbullying. This continues to be a concern of users who aren’t clear on the nuances of the emotion the new button will express. Super idea. #dislikebutton will really help improve shy, awkward or anxious teenagers' levels of self esteem. Spectacularly unpleasant. — Muriel Gray (@ArtyBagger) September 16, 2015 Furthermore, by avoiding the “dislike” option, Facebook created an environment that is appealing to advertisers, who would not want to see their brands down voted. And the “like” button plays an important role in the economics of Facebook. Users’ decision to “like” brands, products, artists and other items serves as a valuable piece of information that Facebook is able to sell to advertisers, and it’s unclear how the information generated by a “dislike” button will be used. The ageing Facebook user However, as Facebook’s users, and their activities, have changed, the calculation behind the “dislike” button has evolved. When Facebook got its start in 2004 as a network for Harvard students, virtually all its users were in the 18- to 22-year-old range. After it expanded to high school students in 2005, the social media site’s demographics skewed even younger. However, once Facebook opened up to everyone with an internet connection in 2006, older users began to move onto the platform. Today, large majorities of older online adults are on Facebook, and there is evidence that younger users are jumping ship. Facebook reads the news As demographic shifts among Facebook users have taken root, the company has begun to focus on areas that are of greater interest to more mature users – in particular: news. Facebook has established itself as a key portal through which people access news. According to Pew, 30% of US adults got news from Facebook, far exceeding the 8% who got news from Twitter and the 3% who gt news from LinkedIn in 2014. (It’s still lower than the 87% of Americans who got their news from TV, and the 65% who got it from radio.) We know from years of research by organizations like the American Press Institute that, across all news categories, older audiences are more interested in the news than younger ones. Facebook’s prominence as a news portal can be understood as a consequence of the growing number of older users. Facebook users share what interests them. For older adults, that is often the news of the day, and Facebook has begun to embrace its role in the news business. The recently launched Instant Article function is an example of the company’s new focus on itself as a news source and portal. So, why the ‘dislike’ button? Facebook is not what it was a decade ago. Instead of vulnerable teens, its user base largely comprises adults. And with the increased tendency of these users to share news, the ability to express something other than “liking” has become more pronounced. As Zuckerberg notes: Not every moment is a good moment, right? And if you are sharing something that is sad…like the refugee crisis that touches you…it might not feel comfortable to Like that post. The development of a “dislike” button – in whatever empathetic format Facebook eventually releases – can thus be seen as an acknowledgment that the site has changed. It’s become, in part, a forum in which grown adults discuss adult issues. A new form of expression is necessary to support this changed reality. This article was first published on The Conversation.
There are now more than 400 million people using photo-sharing social network Instagram. In a blog post, the company announced the figure, which is a 100 million jump from nine months ago. More than 75% of these users are from outside the US. The startup also says that more than 40 billion pictures have been shared on the platform, and that’s a whole lot of photos of breakfasts and cute pets. “When Instagram launched nearly five years ago, 400 million seemed like a distant dream,” the blog post says. It’s a pretty impressive milestone for the Facebook-owned company, proving it’s still enjoying very consistent growth in its fifth year of existence. It has a much higher user base than the likes of Twitter, which has about 316 million monthly active users, and Pinterest, which has 100 million, as Re/Code reports. Instagram users have probably been seeing a lot more targeted sponsored posts in their feed as the company looks to capitalise on, and monetise, these 400 million people. Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help.
It took some persuading, but Facebook has agreed to join an international social media task force to help combat online hate in the wake of anti-refugee xenophobia on its pages. It’s a good outcome for the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her Justice Minister, Heiko Maas, who last week called on Facebook to remove racist comments in line with German law. This came after users complained that Facebook was not responding to their reports of racist abuse and threats. It’s also a relative win for the tech giant, which recently boasted about one billion active users in a day and has a market value of US$245 billion. Facebook is keen to avoid any new legislative limits on its operations and to minimise direct censorship. The company said it preferred to allow “robust” debate and discussion, rather than deletion. But Germany has now joined the Israeli, French and Australian governments in asking Facebook to remove dangerous, offensive or illegal content. So the pressure is mounting for it to develop more open and responsive ways of dealing with these problems. To ban or not to ban The escalating debate about who Facebook should protect, ban or report to local authorities, and how fast it should intervene, is a reaction to the way social media companies are carving out their own transnational, libertarian policies. To a large extent, this imposes a US free speech paradigm on countries used to more interventionist media regimes, even though the legal limits of that paradigm are being thoroughly tested by hate speech. Facebook would much rather we police the pages and posts we make and read, rather than it having to regulate other people’s bad behaviour. Safety, it says, is “a conversation and a shared responsibility”. Users are advised to keep themselves safe by hiding or deleting offensive comments and blocking abusers. Where content does breach local laws but not its community standards Facebook says “we may make it unavailable only in the relevant country or territory”. But neither strategy stops hate posting, they just reduce its social visibility. Another way the free speech push plays out is with Facebook’s policy on public figures. Its community standards say the company will act on complaints of harassment and direct threats against private individuals, but it allows more critical discussion of public figures. The company’s definition of a public figure is worryingly broad: We permit open and critical discussion of people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience based on their profession or chosen activities. This would include academics, journalists and community spokespeople. The presumption seems to be that people who enter public debate should expect abuse, or that they are better equipped to deal with it than average users. This premise is demolished by the suicide of Australian celebrity Charlotte Dawson who was the focus of much abuse on social media. Facebook’s standard partly explains why it didn’t immediately act on explicit, sexualised threats made recently against journalist Clementine Ford, after she visually sledged Sunrise, posting a selfie that included some explicit language written on her bare chest. Ford claims moderators moved to temporarily close her account because she had breached the community standards. Facebook denies this. As the company is not publicly accountable for the policing of its standards, we do not have a clear account of what actually happened. Regulating alone or together? Ford’s experience, and that of UNSW after its site was hacked twice recently, illustrate the problems that Facebook has in managing and accounting for its procedures for tackling online violence. Facebook’s infographic (below) shows how complicated the workflow is for responding to a complaint. There’s frustration among those Facebook business partners who find they can’t get a quick resolution to reports of anti-social or illegal activities. The ABC struggled for several months to get vigilante sites taken down after presenter Jill Meagher’s murder. There’s no doubt that Facebook is investing in research, policy and education measures to combat online violence. Its psycho-social strategies, suicide prevention tools and other safety measures demonstrate this. But promoting self-protection is a small part of a larger equation. Facebook needs more open, collaborative approaches to tackle violence online. At the recent SWARM 2015 conference of Australian online community managers, conference co-founder Venessa Paech noted that Facebook had yet to formally consult members of its network about the efficacy of its universal standards. She said the community managers were keen to give feedback about the challenges of applying these standards across very different types of communities, many of which are built on Facebook groups or its commenting platform. As one of the world’s largest digital intermediaries, Facebook is at the vanguard of a new industry sector that is confronted by violent online behaviour every day. So while the company is rightly wedded to the free and open credo of internet communication, it has to recognise that collaborative policy development – with governments and professionals – is paramount. It’s the principle of working with all your stakeholders, rather than on behalf of them, and it’s vital to our mutual investment in social media. This article was first published on The Conversation.
In the early days of Web 2.0, the arrival of blogs and similar sites heralded an explosion in the number of news feeds we could follow. But such abundance also came at a price: it became increasingly difficult to keep up with all this content without having to browse at length from site to site every day. In response, a friendly acronym briefly flourished: Rich Site Summary, better known as Really Simple Syndication or RSS. Coupled with a feed reader tool, RSS enables users to quickly scan the headlines and click through only to those stories that pique their interest. Feed readers were never widely popular, though – they remain the domain of news junkies and other power users. Adding all those RSS feeds to track takes time, and often requires some technical skills. And internet user practices have changed. Reader loyalty to specific news sites has declined, and many now receive a constant stream of news from diverse sources through the social filtering activities of their Facebook and Twitter contacts instead. As a result, feed readers have fallen out of fashion. Market leader Google Reader was discontinued in 2013 as a result of its declining user base, and while other tools (such as Feedly) have replaced it, they remain speciality products by comparison. An advertising nightmare News publishers, incidentally, might have breathed a sigh of relief. Scanning the news headlines in a feed reader necessarily reduces revenues from online advertising. Feed reader users click through to the news site (and thus trigger ad impressions) only for a fraction of all headlines. But then, most modern browsers use some form of ad blocking, so even loyal website visitors no longer reliably generate ad impressions. Publisher attempts to overcome the limited returns from online ads have also involved a number of other revenue-raising approaches. These include full or partial content paywalls, or subscription- or advertising-supported apps for smartphones and tablets. Neither of these options represent guaranteed success. Unless the paid content is unique, paywalls tend to drive users to the competition (such as the news sites of public service media). News apps may look great, but often fail to offer the convenience and flexibility of reading news on the web. Plus, users may end up having to switch between half a dozen news apps from different sources. Apple loves simplicity This messy state of affairs looks set to be disrupted by Apple News, a new default app to be provided with the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, on September 16. Until Apple’s own Apple News Format standard becomes available, the new app will use RSS feeds to retrieve content from its publishing partners. It will serve, in essence, as a modern take on the feed reader, providing a standardised interface to the latest content from news and other online publishers. But while users of RSS tools can add the feeds they want, Apple News will offer only the content of those publishers it has signed up to the service. This creates a walled garden of news sources, and eventually perhaps an opportunity for Apple to request a payment from publishers seeking to be included. Pre-release information indicates that joining Apple News as a publisher is free, but there is no guarantee it will remain so. For ordinary users interested in mainstream news sources, this may not matter much, but it does position Apple as the ultimate gatekeeper of publishers. Apple will be able to censor content, as it also does in the App Store – and it remains to be seen how the company will exercise that role. Power shift Down the track, the proprietary Apple News Format is set to offer more fully featured news experiences than RSS itself is able to do. In particular, while it remains possible to click through to an original article on a publisher’s site, users can also choose to read it, reformatted to fit their screen, within the app itself. If the majority of users choose to remain within the app, this further reduces the publishers’ takings from on-site ads, of course, but in return also enables them to generate revenue from any in-app advertising they might choose to run. This, however, also means that Apple itself, through its iAd advertising service, positions itself as a quasi-monopolist advertising provider for news content delivered through Apple News – a position of considerable power if Apple News becomes widely popular. Given the popularity of iOS devices, minor publishers might even be tempted to forego the web altogether. They could push their content exclusively to Apple News, in the same way many iOS (and Android) apps are no longer scaled-down versions of desktop software, but stand-alone products designed to utilise the native affordances of these portable hardware platforms. Such exclusive content could become a major drawcard for Apple News, but also makes these publishers entirely dependent on Apple’s platform. Ultimately, Apple News constitutes a powerful play at the online news market, by a company with the resources to pull it off. At the same time, we would do well to remember that Apple’s own apps have at times failed to compete with third-party offerings. Many iOS users still haven’t forgiven the company for the disastrous shortcomings of the original Apple Maps app, for example, and are quickly replacing Apple’s own apps with more appealing alternatives as they upgrade from one iOS version to another. If Apple News can escape that fate and become popular with iOS users, though, it could thoroughly upset the prevailing but unstable balance of relationships between publishers, readers, and advertisers. Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The “digital assistant” is proliferating, able to combine intelligent natural language processing, voice-operated control over a smartphone’s functions and access to web services. It can set calendar appointments, launch apps, and run requests. But if that sounds very clever – a computerised talking assistant, like HAL9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s mostly just running search engine queries and processing the results. Facebook has now joined Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon with the launch of its digital assistant M, part of its Messaging smartphone app. It’s special sauce is that M is powered not just by algorithms but by data serfs: human Facebook employees who are there to ensure that every request that it cannot parse is still fulfilled, and in doing so training M by example. That training works because every interaction with M is recorded – that’s the point, according to David Marcus, Facebook’s vice-president of messaging: We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do. Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to [make money] over time. Facebook, through M, will capture and facilitate that “intent to buy” and take its cut directly from the subsequent purchase rather than as an ad middleman. It does this by leveraging messaging, which was turned into a separate app of its own so that Facebook could integrate PayPal-style peer-to-peer payments between users. This means Facebook has a log not only of your conversations but also your financial dealings. In an interview with Fortune magazine at the time, Facebook product manager, Steve Davies, said: People talk about money all the time in Messenger but end up going somewhere else to do the transaction. With this, people can finish the conversation the same place started it. In a somewhat creepy way, by reading your chats and knowing that you’re “talking about money all the time” – what you’re talking about buying – Facebook can build up a pretty compelling profile of interests and potential purchases. If M can capture our intent it will not be by tracking what sites we visit and targeting relevant ads, as per advert brokers such as Google and Doubleclick. Nor by targeting ads based on the links we share, as Twitter does. Instead it simply reads our messages. ‘Hello Dave. Would you like to go shopping?’ summer1978/MGM/SKP, CC BY-ND Talking about money, money talks M is built to carry out tasks such as booking flights or restaurants or making purchases from online stores, and rather than forcing the user to leave the app in order to visit a web store to complete a purchase, M will bring the store – more specifically, the transaction – to the app. Suddenly the 64% of smartphone purchases that happen at websites and mobile transactions outside of Facebook, are brought into Facebook. With the opportunity to make suggestions through eavesdropping on conversations, in the not too distant future our talking intelligent assistant might say: I’m sorry Dave, I heard you talking about buying this camera. I wouldn’t do if I were you Dave: I found a much better deal elsewhere. And I know you’ve been talking about having that tattoo removed. I can recommend someone – she has an offer on right now, and three of your friends have recommended her service. Shall I book you in? Buying a book from a known supplier may be a low risk purchase, but other services require more discernment. What kind of research about cosmetic surgery has M investigated? Did those three friends use that service, or were they paid to recommend it? Perhaps you’d rather know the follow-up statistics than have a friend’s recommendation. Still, because of its current position as the dominant social network, Facebook knows more about us, by name, history, social circle, political interests, than any other single internet service. And it’s for this reason that Facebook wants to ensure M is more accurate and versatile than the competition, and why it’s using humans to help the AI interpret interactions and learn. The better digital assistants like M appear to us, the more trust we have in them. Simple tasks performed well builds a willingness to use that service elsewhere – say, recommending financial services, or that cosmetic treatment, which stand to offer Facebook a cut of much more costly purchase. No such thing as a free lunch So for Facebook, that’s more users spending more of their time using its services and generating more cash. Where’s the benefit for us? We’ve been trained to see such services as “free”, but as the saying goes, if you don’t pay for it, then it’s you that’s the product. We’ve seen repeatedly in our Meaningful Consent Project that it’s difficult to evaluate the cost to us when we don’t know what happens to our data. People were once nervous about how much the state knew of them, with whom they associated and what they do, for fear that if their interests and actions were not aligned with those of the state they might find ourselves detained, disappeared, or disenfranchised. Yet we give exactly this information to corporations without hesitation, because we find ourselves amplified in the exchange: that for each book, film, record or hotel we like there are others who “like” it too. The web holds a mirror up to us, reflecting back our precise interests and behaviour. Take search, for instance. In the physical world of libraries or bookshops we glance through materials from other topics and different ideas as we hunt down our own query. Indeed we are at our creative best when we absorb the rich variety in our peripheral vision. But online, a search engine shows us only things narrowly related to what we seek. Even the edges of a web page will be filled with targeted ads related to something known to interest us. This narrowing self-reflection has grown ubiquitous online: on social networks we see ourselves relative to our self-selected peers or idols. We create reflections. The workings of Google, Doubleclick or Facebook reveal these to be two-way mirrors: we are observed through the mirror but see only our reflection, with no way to see the machines observing us. This “free” model is so seductive – it’s all about us – yet it leads us to become absorbed in our phones-as-mirrors rather than the harder challenge of engaging with the world and those around us. It’s said not to look too closely at how a sausage is made for fear it may put you off. If we saw behind the mirror, would we be put off by the internet? At least most menus carry the choice of more than one dish; the rise of services like M suggests that, despite the apparent wonder of less effortful interactions, the internet menu we’re offered is shrinking. mc schraefel, Professor of Computer Science and Human Performance, University of Southampton This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Apple is about to open a new front in the ongoing war against online advertising. The new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9, will support ad blocking by Safari, its mobile web browser. A study by Adobe and pro-advertising company PageFair finds that the popularity of ad blocking extensions in desktop web browsers is responsible for US$22 billion in lost revenue to the websites that host ads. They estimate that there are now 198 million users worldwide actively blocking ads. Amongst 400 users surveyed by the report’s authors, the main reasons cited for using ad blocking software were avoiding privacy abuse by targeted advertising as well as the number of ads encountered when browsing. A typical message from a website about the use of any ad blocking. TheGuardian.com screen grab The practice of trying to guilt users into switching off their ad blocking software when visiting sites doesn’t appear to be working and the display of messages to ad blocking users by web sites has diminished. Ad blocking apps that will be available for Safari on iOS 9 are already being made available to beta testers. One such app, Crystal, not only blocks ads but experiments by the developer has shown that using this ad blocking software speeds up web pages loading in the browser by four times. This also results in a significant reduction in data being used, which is significant on a mobile device using cellular data. Another ad blocking app Purify that is also in beta testing appears to also block ads on YouTube. The stand out, and that’s precisely why so many people block them. Pascale Kinchen Douglas/Flickr, CC BY-SA Ad blocking on mobile is not completely new Ad blocking has been available for some time on Android for users of the Firefox mobile browser and for Google Chrome. In the case of blocking ads by Google Chrome, an app needs to be installed which is not from the Google Play app store. Ad blocking has also been available on Apple devices but have worked by blocking access to certain domains that serve up the ads. AdBlock for example works by pretending to be a virtual private network (VPN) connection and filters out access to specific sites. This of course only works if the list of sites to block is up-to-date. It also doesn’t allow for “whitelists”, which are sites that are allowed through because they are deemed “acceptable”. However, the move by Apple is going to boost ad blocking on mobile dramatically because it is going to make the process of doing so that much easier. This has advertisers, and sites that make money from advertising, increasingly worried because it raises their costs in terms of creating ads that are less intrusive and deemed more acceptable (although this may still not convince the public to view them). Apple’s iOS 9 is due to be released later this year and will include content blocking. Apple For Apple, though, the move to allow ad blocking gives iPhone users a better browsing experience at no cost to Apple. Apple makes no money from online advertising through mobile browsing. And, of course, its own ads that are served up through apps are unaffected by ad blocking software. As a bonus to Apple, the company who is most affected by ads being blocked is Google, which derives 90% of its revenue from advertising. Apple is able to increase the level of privacy it offers its customers without directly getting involved itself and risking annoying companies that rely on revenues from advertising. The advertisers' dilemma Many ads can be deliberately deceptive. Create Meme It is hard to feel sorry for the advertisers and the sites that resort to displaying targeted invasive ads, such as those sold by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others. These ads are designed to target individuals based on information gathered about them as they use the internet. So not only are they annoying, but they are exploiting people’s privacy. Adding insult to injury, the inclusion of ads slows down web page loads and potentially ends up costing end-users money by using their data allocation. The argument that content providers are only able to provide content based on the exploitation of their visitors is not a good one because it implies that those visitors signed up to an agreement to view ads in exchange for the content. Of course, users generally do no such thing. And given the explicit choice, might easily opt simply not to visit the site. Most users don’t necessarily mind being provided with information that allows them to make a reasoned choice about a product when they have decided to buy it. But advertising that tries to persuade a consumer to buy something they weren’t considering buying is a different matter. Once advertisers do more of the former and less of the latter, perhaps ad blocking will no longer be necessary. 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.
Making a hugely successful app like Snapchat or Angry Birds has little to do with luck. There are some consistent patterns among these apps that make it possible to reach that kind of popularity. Even before you get on wireframing your idea, this is an area to study. Here are some of these patterns. They’re Simple Using Instagram requires 3-4 taps. And you’re just sharing and browsing photos. Playing Angry Birds also requires a couple of taps to get the full experience. The list goes on, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. they’re all built around one feature. Not five features or ten features, just one key feature. The reason simple apps succeed is that to get people adopt something new, it must be easy. The more straightforward and easier it is, the more likely they are to keep using the app. Fewer features also mean broader appeal. It’s harder to satisfy many users if you make your app complex. They Nail The Onboarding The vast majority of users who download an app, only use it once, before they delete or abandon it. Only about 16% try out an app more than twice. The reason behind these demoralizing numbers is that there’s a disconnect between what the user expects from the app and what they feel they’ll get based on their first impression. In other words, they don’t get the app when they first use it. For example, Evernote promises to organize your work but if you fail to understand how you can do it with its app, you won’t feel motivated to use it. So Evernote creates an onboarding experience that educates users on how to achieve their desired goal by using the app. It’s called reaching the AHA moment. The AHA moment is when the user gets the app. Best apps are doing a great job in helping users to reach the AHA moment the first time they use the app. They’re Addictive Have you ever heard someone referring to another person as Instagram addict, Snapchat addict or Facebook addict? As you can see in the chart below, for most apps the average weekly use is one to nine times. Compare that to e.g. ten or twenty times a day for Facebook, SnapChat or AngryBirds. The difference is mind-blowing. It’s not just about getting users to come back; it’s also about getting them back on a regular and frequent basis. For most apps, this never happens. As the chart below shows, most users who start using the app, abandon in less than 12 months. But how do they do it? There’s a thing called the hooked model, first described by Nir Eyal which explains how these apps become addictive. They’re basically designed as a trigger – reward loop, something that makes our brain form some behaviour into a habit if repeated enough times. And how do they make us repeat the cycle? By turning our actions into the next trigger. For example, you post a photo on Instagram and close the app. Next thing that happens is that someone comments on it, you get a notification (trigger) and reopen the app to use it again. They Make Their Users Promote the App While most business schools teach their students about writing marketing plans and setting budgets for advertising, the reality is that apps like WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram never really made any. They spent close to $0 on marketing. There’s no other way, in fact, can you imagine reaching one billion users by paying for them? No startups has that kind of money. Twitter onboarding To scale most of these apps are designed to make users do the marketing for them. For example, Duolingo allows users to brag about their results on social media and invite friends to compete. Instagram allows cross-posting to other social networks, and many gaming apps bribe users to invite their friends. E.g., asking the user to pay or invite friends to get an extra life. They Focus on a Specific User While successful apps eventually reach the mainstream market, they never target it initially. A big part of growing virally comes from using the network effects of small communities. For example, Uber launched in San Francisco and spread via the word of mouth. Facebook launched on Harvard. Instagram targeted hipsters and foodies initially. Crossing the Chasm theory by G. Moore We can go on with more examples. The point is; mainstream customers are hard to impress by a novelty. The mainstream wants proven products and brands. It’s easier to dominate completely a small community and use their excitement to impress the mainstream customers. This article was originally published on Appster
In today’s mobile media environment, an incredible amount of information is available to every one of us, every minute of every day. With our cell phones close by, we can easily search for answers to trivia questions, word definitions or find the perfect recipe for the confetti eggplant bought at the farmers’ market. When traveling, we have instant access to the conversion rate between the euro and the dollar and can map directions to any location. And then there is all the personalized information posted by our Facebook friends. So, how do we keep up with and understand the wide array of information? How do we integrate this into our lives as we participate in a connected world? And how do we make meaningful additions to these spaces as originators of information in the online venues that matter to us? As researchers of library and information science, we use the term metaliteracy as a way to look at literacy in the social media age. Previously, the usage of the term metaliteracy was mostly in connection with literacy studies. We expand the idea further in our book: Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners. We use it as a way to recast information literacy for reflective learning with social media and emerging technologies. So, what exactly is metaliteracy, as we define it? Metaliterate mindset To understand it, let’s consider some common web-based situations that we encounter daily. When browsing the web or scrolling Facebook, you may have noticed the ads that appear often align very closely to searches you’ve performed previously. For instance, after searching for consumer products such as a new sofa, you probably encountered the same exact products and stores you originally sought out. At times, this might be just what you want. But after a while, it might start to feel a bit intrusive. Yes, you can adjust your ad settings to increase the chances that relevant advertisements appear only when you are on Google sites such as YouTube. But did you also know that you can opt out of this feature? Here is where metaliteracy comes into play. A metaliterate learner would always dig deeper into the search process, ask good questions about sources of information, consider privacy and ethical issues, and reflect on the overall experience, while adapting to new technologies and platforms. Filtering in a connected world There is more going on here than we might think we know. For instance, did you know that often the information we see online is being filtered for us, by someone else? Google has been personalizing your search results since 2005 if you were signed in and had your web history enabled. If you were being cautious and didn’t sign in, starting in 2009 they began using 180 days of your previous search activity to accomplish the same thing. Google might call it personalizing, but others see it as constricting. Yes, but how many of us use other search engines? Patrick Barry, CC BY-SA Information filtering, or “filter bubbles,” as author and cofounder of Upworthy Eli Pariser calls it in his TED Talk, can circumscribe the information we see when we conduct those searches. Filtering results in isolated information ecosystems of our own making. What about other search engines? If we are willing to break away from the convenience of Google, we could use other search services. DuckDuckGo and Startpage are just two of several search engines that provide more privacy than some of the big names. For, instance, DuckDuckGo does not engage in “search leakage,” as that firm calls it. It notes that other search engines save not only individual searches, but also your search history: Also, note that with this information your searches can be tied together. This means someone can see everything you’ve been searching, not just one isolated search. You can usually find out a lot about a person from their search history. But worse, search engines may release searches without adequately anonymizing the information, or that information may be hacked. Startpage allows you to funnel your search in a way that obtains Google results without your personally identifiable information traveling along with the query. But, how many of us opt to use a search engine other than Google? Google is still the dominant search engine worldwide. Filtering information So, then, are we weaving our own webs without carefully thinking about the many implications of doing so? Look at how we selectively create and share our experiences on the fly, editing and filtering digital information along the way, and making choices about permissions to view and to share. For instance, imagine the millions of selfies that reflect our individual personas while being shared within a larger social mosaic of interconnected audiences. Sometimes we may not even be aware of who can access our content or how it is distributed beyond our immediate circle of friends. Consider our focused concentration on texting while being in large crowds and ignoring the chance encounters with others or missing the random scenery of everyday experience. Information-filtering is ongoing in all these contexts and is both internally and externally constructed. Empowered contributors What does metaliteracy do? Metaliteracy prepares us to ask critical questions about our searches and the technologies we use to seek answers and to communicate with others. We do not just accept the authority of information because it comes from an established news organization, a celebrity, a friend, or a friend of a friend. Metaliteracy encourages reflection on the circumstances of the information produced. It prepares us to ask whether or not the materials came from an individual or an organization and to determine the reason for posting or publishing it. As part of this process, the metaliterate learner will seek to verify the source and ask questions about how the information is presented and in what format. Metaliterate individuals gain insights about open environments and how to share their knowledge in these spaces. For instance, they are well aware of the importance of Creative Commons licenses for determining what information can be reused freely, and for making such content openly available for others' purposes, or for producing their own content. They also understand the importance of peer review and peer communities for generating and editing content for such sites as Wikipedia, or open textbooks, and other forms of Open Educational Resources (OERs). The truth is that we can all be metaliterate learners – meditative and empowered, asking perceptive questions, thinking about what and how we learn, while sharing our content and insights as we make contributions to society. Trudi Jacobson is Distinguished Librarian at University at Albany, State University of New York.Thomas P Mackey is Vice Provost for Academic Programs at SUNY Empire State College. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Twitter has been in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons. Business media report that Twitter shareholders are disappointed with the company’s latest results; this follows recent turmoil in the company’s leadership which saw the departure of controversial CEO Dick Costolo and the (temporary) return of co-founder Jack Dorsey until a permanent replacement is found. All this has served to feed rumours that Google, having recently called time on its own underperforming social network Google+, might be interested in acquiring Twitter. From one perspective, this would clearly make sense – social media are now a key driver of Web traffic and a potentially important advertising market, and Google will not want to remain disconnected from this space for long. On the other hand, though, given its chequered history with the now barely remembered Google Buzz as well as major effort Google+, Twitter users (and the third-party companies that serve this userbase) may well be concerned about what a Google acquisition of the platform may mean for them. I had the opportunity to explore these questions in some detail in an extended interview with ABC Radio’s Tim Cox last week. In a wide-ranging discussion, we reviewed the issues troubling Google+ and Twitter, and the difficulties facing any player seeking to establish a new social media platform alongside global market leader Facebook. Here’s the audio: Let us take this conversation further: what if Google did buy Twitter? From my point of view, this could turn out a positive move, if Google treats the platform appropriately (as it did, arguably, with past acquisitions such as Blogger, YouTube, and Google Maps). It’s become very obvious over the past months that Twitter’s stock market listing has been a curse at least as much as a blessing: while it’s raised substantial new capital, of course, it’s also exposed the company to the expectations of shareholders who seem to fundamentally misunderstand what Twitter is or can be. As a platform, Twitter is not and will never be a competitor to Facebook, whatever its shareholders seem to think. Both might be classed under the overall rubric of “social media”, but any direct comparisons constitute a category error: the appeal of a strong-ties, small-world networks platform like Facebook, where we tend to network predominantly with family and friends, is necessarily fundamentally different from that of a weak-ties, large-world space like Twitter, where we can follow – and attempt to strike up conversations with – celebrities, politicians, and other users outside of our immediate networks. That’s a very different kind of social network, with its own unique uses, and it is futile to hope that Twitter will eventually attract the same number of users, or the same user activity patterns, as Facebook. Worse still, to try to reshape Twitter in Facebook’s image by force will almost inevitably kill off the platform. If Google understands this, and treats Twitter appropriately (which probably includes accepting it as a loss leader for the time being), this could well turn the platform’s fortunes around. Twitter’s recognised strengths are as a flat, public, and open network that excels especially in live contexts; Twitter is the place where most recent breaking news stories first broke, and a space where users gather as a temporary public and community to collectively participate in shared experiences from the World Cup to Eurovision. Beyond any marketing hype, it genuinely serves as the pulse of the planet in a great many contexts. This live insight into what news stories and other information are currently hot (and thus should be served as search results, too) may well be valuable enough for Google to fork out a few billion, even if there still doesn’t seem to be a workable model for generating significant direct advertising revenue from the platform. But whoever takes on Twitter, one of the first things the new CEO will need to do is to fundamentally rebuild Twitter’s relationship with those on whom, historically, its successes have most depended: the flotilla of third-party developers and researchers that surrounds the Twitter mothership. As Jean Burgess and I have documented in our contribution to the forthcoming collection Digital Methods for Social Science, those developers – and the early adopters and lead users whom they have served – have made the platform what it is: they developed powerful Twitter clients and tools, and laid the groundwork for the social media analytics approaches that have become crucial for making sense of trends on Twitter and elsewhere. Sadly, though, especially under Dick Costolo Twitter’s relationship with these crucial allies in the promotion of Twitter as a platform and a community soured significantly: abrupt and radical changes to the terms of service of the Twitter API (which govern what data companies and their tools could gain access to) in pursuit of more revenue undermined this crucial third-party ecosystem and stymied further innovation. And if anything, the handful of exceptions from this new, more restrictive régime – such as the Twitter Data Grants for researchers, which supported a total of only six out of 1,300 proposed projects – caused further offence rather than restoring goodwill. Absent any major new investments, a Twitter relying mainly on the support of its shareholders seems unlikely to change tack in this way – it will continue to chase revenue by attempting to commercialise its data, and in the process also continue to alienate the crucial third-party developer community. This is a path of diminishing returns: the data are valuable only as long as there are popular and meaningful applications for Twitter as a platform, but those applications have historically been created by the third-party developers and the power users they support. Freed from the short-term, unrealistic demands of the stock market through an acquisition by Google (or another cashed-up investor), on the other hand, Twitter could dial back its desperate efforts to commercialise its APIs and the data they provide, and return to its original, more permissive data access régime in order to nurture and support new efforts at research and development. Such a shift in policy could well be the shot in the arm Twitter needs to ensure its longer-term survival – but it depends on the intervention of a new benefactor. Is Google ready to play – or is it still too disheartened from its past attempts to enter the social media market? Axel Bruns is Professor, Creative Industries at Queensland University of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
UK communications regulator Ofcom has released a report that gives a fascinating snapshot of digital society in the UK. It highlights the dominance of mobile, and the centrality of social media in social interactions and relationships. The change has been brought about, not by improvements in fixed broadband but by the availability of larger, more capable phones and faster 4G mobile networks. Phones and 4G are in turn facilitating communication through a variety of channels, especially social media. Bigger phones allow people to do more In terms of the importance of mobile, 33% of UK residents now view their smartphone as the most important device to connect to the Internet compared to 30% who chose their laptop. This switch in preference has come about because of the general increase in the size of phones. The release of Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6S in response to the popularity of Android phones of the same size has helped cement the larger form-factor as a standard. People can now comfortably carry out many of the tasks that would have normally been reserved for a laptop, PC or tablet. 4G is the other key enabler of move to mobile The second reason has been the increase in speed of the average smartphone connection. 45% of UK smartphone users have access to 4G networks, a 28% increase on the previous year. The faster speeds have not only resulted in greater use of mobile data generally but has shifted what users will do with their phones. 4G users are more likely to use their phones to access audio-visual content(57% 4G users compared to 40% non-4G users). They are also more likely to use their phones to make online purchases and use online banking. Faster fixed broadband plays a smaller part What is interesting is that the changes brought about by the increased use of smartphones have had more impact than the increase in speeds of fixed broadband services to the home. 83% of UK premises are able to receive broadband speeds of 30 Mbit/s or higher. 30% of homes have connected to broadband at these higher speeds. Mobile 4G users were less likely to use their home wireless than those not on 4G showing a general trend to “cutting the cord” even in the area of Internet access. Changing communication and social media UK Internet users believe that technology has changed the way that they communicate and that these new forms of communication have made life easier. Traditional forms of digital communication such as email and text messaging are still dominant but 62% of online adults use social media and 57% instant messaging to communicate regularly with family and friends. Technologies such as Skype, Facetime and Google Hangout are also used by 34% of adults. In terms of social media use, Facebook is by far the dominant platform with 72% of adults having a social media profile and 97% of those having one on Facebook. Although teenagers are likely to use other social media platforms, 48% of social media users use Facebook exclusively. People are also spending greater amounts of time on Facebook than any other service. In March of 2015, users spent 51 billion minutes on Facebook’s website and apps compared to 34 billion on Google’s. YouTube was also watched by more people via mobile devices than on desk/laptops. Change, but not in productivity Although digital technologies have brought about a major change in society in the UK, this hasn’t been reflected in any changes in productivity in the UK economy. The UK continues to rate behind France, Germany, US and even Italy in terms of worker productivity. The results of surveys such as these enable several important points to be underscored. The first is that investment in fixed broadband infrastructure is not necessarily as important as investment in universal high speed wireless access in terms of its impact on society. Second, although we may see radical changes in social norms through the use of digital technologies, it won’t show up in increased productivity. The last point has to be qualified however. It may well be that existing businesses do not show any improvements in productivity but new forms of industry and business are enabled by a mobile economy which may well bring about radical changes in productivity. Uber, Airbnb, and other industries as part of the so-called “gig economy” threatens to disrupt industry and this will only be possible through the use of mobile phones and high speed wireless. 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.
Windows 10, it seems, is proving a hit with both the public and the technology press after its release last week. After two days, it had been installed on 67 million PCs. Of course, sceptics may argue that this may have simply been a reflection of how much people disliked Windows 8 and the fact that that the upgrade was free. For others, though, it is the very fact that the upgrade is free that has them concerned that Microsoft has adopted a new, “freemium” model for making money from its operating system. They argue that, while Apple can make its upgrades free because it makes its money from the hardware it sells, Microsoft will have to find some way to make money from doing the same with its software. Given that there are only a few ways of doing this, it seems that Microsoft has taken a shotgun approach and adopted them all. The question is whether it’s really ‘free’. Microsoft Free upgrade Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer, has declared that Microsoft’s strategy is to “acquire, engage, enlist and monetise”. In other words, get people using the platform and then sell them other things like apps from the Microsoft App Store. The trouble is, that isn’t the only strategy that Microsoft is taking. Microsoft is employing a unique “advertising ID” that is assigned to a user when Windows 10 is installed. This is used to target personalised ads at the user. These ads will show up whilst using the web, and even in games that have been downloaded from the Microsoft App Store. In fact, the game where this grabbed most attention was Microsoft’s Solitaire, where users are shown video ads unless they are prepared to pay a US$9.99 a year subscription fee. The advertising ID, along with a range of information about the user, can be used to target ads. The information that Microsoft will use includes: […] current location, search query, or the content you are viewing. […] likely interests or other information that we learn about you over time using demographic data, search queries, interests and favorites, usage data, and location data. It wasn’t long ago that Microsoft was attacking Google for similar features it now includes in Windows 10. Internet Archicve It was not that long ago that Microsoft attacked Google for doing exactly this to its customers. What Microsoft is prepared to share, though, doesn’t stop at the data it uses for advertising. Although it maintains that it won’t use personal communications, emails, photos, videos and files for advertising, it can and will share this information with third parties for a range of other reasons. The most explicit of these reasons is sharing data in order to “comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies”. In other words, if a government or security agency asks for it, Microsoft will hand it over. Meaningful transparency In June, Horacio Gutiérrez, Deputy General Counsel & Corporate Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, made a commitment to “providing a singular, straightforward resource for understanding Microsoft’s commitments for protecting individual privacy with these services”. On the Microsoft blog, he stated: In a world of more personalized computing, customers need meaningful transparency and privacy protections. And those aren’t possible unless we get the basics right. For consumer services, that starts with clear terms and policies that both respect individual privacy and don’t require a law degree to read. This sits in contrast to Microsoft’s privacy statement, which is a 38 page, 17,000 word document. This suggests that Microsoft really didn’t want to make the basic issues of its implementation absolutely clear to users. Likewise, the settings that allow a user to control all aspects of privacy in Windows 10 itself are spread over 13 separate screens. Also buried in the privacy statement is the types of data Cortana – Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri or Google Now – uses. This includes: […] device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you interact with them on your device. Cortana also learns about you by collecting data about how you use your device and other Microsoft services, such as your music, alarm settings, whether the lock screen is on, what you view and purchase, your browse and Bing search history, and more. Note that the “and more” statement basically covers everything that you do on a device. Nothing, in principle, is excluded. Privacy by default It is very difficult to trust any company that does not take a “security and privacy by default” approach to its products, and then makes it deliberately difficult to actually change settings in order to implement a user’s preferences for privacy settings. This has manifested itself in another Windows 10 feature called WiFi Sense that has had even experts confused about the default settings and its potential to be a security hole. WiFi Sense allows a Windows 10 user to share access to their WiFi with their friends and contacts on Facebook, Skype and Outlook. The confusion has arisen because some of the settings are on by default, even though a user needs to explicitly choose a network to share and initiate the process. Again, Microsoft has taken an approach in which the specific privacy and security dangers are hidden in a single setting. There is no way to possibly vet who, amongst several hundred contacts, you really wanted to share your network with. There are steps users can take to mitigate the worst of the privacy issues with Windows 10, and these are highly recommended. Microsoft should have allowed users to pay a regular fee for the product in exchange for a guarantee of the levels of privacy its users deserve. 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.
Microsoft’s aim to make Windows 10 run on anything is key to its strategy of reasserting its dominance. Seemingly unassailable in the 1990s, Microsoft’s position has in many markets been eaten away by the explosive growth of phones and tablets, devices in which the firm has made little impact. To run Windows 10 on everything, Microsoft is opening up. Rather than requiring Office users to run Windows, now Office365 is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. A version of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s key application for programmers writing Windows software, now runs on Mac OS or Linux operating systems. Likewise, with tools released by Microsoft developers can tweak their Android and iOS apps so that they run on Windows. The aim is to allow developers to create, with ease, the holy grail of a universal app that runs on anything. For a firm that has been unflinching in taking every opportunity to lock users into its platform, just as with Apple and many other tech firms, this is a major change of tack. From direct to indirect revenue So why is Microsoft trying to become a general purpose, broadly compatible platform? Windows' share of the operating system market has fallen steadily from 90% to 70% to 40%, depending on which survey you believe. This reflects customers moving to mobile, where the Windows Phone holds a mere 3% market share. In comparison Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure platform Azure, Office 365 and its Xbox games console have all experienced rising fortunes. Lumbered with a heritage of Windows PCs in a falling market, Microsoft’s strategy is to move its services – and so its users – inexorably toward the cloud. This divides into two necessary steps. First, for software developed for Microsoft products to run on all of them – write once, run on everything. As it is there are several different Microsoft platforms (Win32, WinRT, WinCE, Windows Phone) with various incompatibilities. This makes sense, for a uniform user experience and also to maximise revenue potential from reaching as many possible devices. Second, to implement a universal approach so that code runs on other operating systems other than Windows. This has historically been fraught, with differences in approach to communicating, with hardware and processor architecture making it difficult. In recent years, however, improving virtualisation has made it much easier to run code across platforms. It will be interesting to see whether competitors such as Google and Apple will follow suit, or further enshrine their products into tightly coupled, closed ecosystems. Platform exclusivity is no longer the way to attract and hold customers; instead the appeal is the applications and services that run on them. For Microsoft, it lies in subscriptions to Office365 and Xbox Gold, in-app and in-game purchases, downloadable video, books and other revenue streams – so it makes sense for Microsoft to ensure these largely cloud-based services are accessible from operating systems other than just their own. The Windows family tree … it’s complicated. Kristiyan Bogdanov, CC BY-SA Platform vs services Is there any longer any value in buying into a single service provider? Consider smartphones from Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft: prices may differ, but the functionality is much the same. The element of difference is the value of wearables and internet of things devices (for example, Apple Watch), the devices they connect with (for example, an iPhone), the size of their user communities, and the network effect. From watches to fitness bands to internet fridges, the benefits lie in how devices are interconnected and work together. This is a truly radical concept that demonstrates digital technology is driving a new economic model, with value associated with “in-the-moment” services when walking about, in the car, or at work. It’s this direction that Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 10, focusing on the next big thing that will drive the digital economy. The revolution will be multi-platform I predict that we will see tech firms try to grow ecosystems of sensors and services running on mobile devices, either tied to a specific platform or by driving traffic directly to their cloud infrastructure. Apple has already moved into the mobile health app market and connected home market. Google is moving in alongside manufacturers such as Intel, ARM and others. An interesting illustration of this effect is the growth of digital payments – with Apple, Facebook and others seeking ways to create revenue from the traffic passing through their ecosystems. However, the problem is that no single supplier like Google, Apple, Microsoft or internet services such as Facebook or Amazon can hope to cover all the requirements of the internet of things, which is predicted to scale to over 50 billion devices worth US$7 trillion in five years. As we become more enmeshed with our devices, wearables and sensors, demand will rise for services driven by the personal data they create. Through “Windows 10 on everything”, Microsoft hopes to leverage not just the users of its own ecosystem, but those of its competitors too. Mark Skilton is Professor of Practice at University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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.