Samsung is developing a VR headset for its phones and tablets. Sources told Engadget a Samsung VR headset is not only under development by the company’s mobile division, but it’s set to be announced this year. The urgency is said to be in order to beat Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus to market. More problems for Apple’s iMessage The problem of having text messages trapped in the cloud when customers move a phone number from an iPhone to an Android has been made worse. A recent server glitch undermined one of Apple’s key methods of trying to fix the issue. The company says a fix is coming, although it hasn’t indicated when. The matter is now the subject of legal action by a Californian woman who is seeking class-action status against Apple. The suit claims Apple has violated California’s unfair competition law and also interferes with a wireless carrier’s abilities to deliver its promised service to customers. HP to cut up to 16,000 jobs The company reported results for its second fiscal quarter with sales figures slightly below expectations. HP says it expects to add to the 34,000 job cuts it announced in 2012. Between 11,000 and 16,000 more jobs are expected to go. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 10.02 to 16,543.08. The Australian dollar is trading at US92 cents.
When Jo Burston stood up on the podium to accept the Pearcey Entrepreneurship Award for her contribution to ICT in 2012, she was struck by one thing: looking out across the crowd she noticed only a handful of women at the event. As founder and managing director of Job Capital, and as someone who “needs to change things I see wrong with the world”, Burston could not shake her “a-ha!” moment and recently set up Inspiring Rare Birds, a movement aimed at encouraging women to be entrepreneurs. She has set a target of creating one million more female entrepreneurs by 2020, but how that would be quantified is not known. One of the first things she did was visit a number of schools and talk to young women about what they thought about being an entrepreneur. She found many didn’t know what the word was, and those who did mostly identified entrepreneurs who were men. It made her even more determined to change things. The initial project for Inspiring Rare Birds is a book that profiles successful Australian female entrepreneurs and the launch of a website as a platform to showcase their successes. Burston is hoping to launch both in August. It’s not far from Burston’s own profile, with her business turning over $500,000 in its first financial year and growing rapidly in three years to have a turnover of $3.7 million. After six years, the business had reached $38 million and had gone from two staff members to 13. Over the course of her career she has founded seven startups, “some of them great successes and some of them great failures”. Burston stresses she doesn’t want Inspiring Rare Birds to be seen as a feminist movement. In fact, its Facebook page points to a story with a disclaimer that IRP is “feminist neutral.” “Women are only the first port of call because at the moment that is where the problem is,” Burston says. “Women only make up 12% of entrepreneurs. In some cities that is as little as 4%.” She says she preferred for the movement to be identified with entrepreneurship, which is her passion.
News that Telstra plans to build a national wi-fi network, as reported by The Australian and Fairfax mastheads, shouldn’t come as a shock. Given the volatility of anything and everything to do with mobile internet use, nothing should surprise us any more. But it should scare you. Telstra’s plan, which is being announced right on Crikey’s deadline, will — according to tweets from ZDNet’s Josh Taylor — reportedly see $100 million spent showering the country with new modems for broadband customers who choose to act as wi-fi hotspots using Fon sharing technology. It’ll be free to use by the telco’s fixed broadband customers, although any data used will count towards their quota, and a “small daily fee” for others. Arranging free wi-fi for fixed broadband customers is not uncommon in Asian and North American cities, although the Fon sharing is a less common twist, and it’s a logical move for Telstra for the same reasons. It makes the telco’s fixed broadband packages more attractive, it reduces the load on 3G/4G mobile broadband services in high-traffic areas, and — not talked about so much — it provides more opportunities to track customer behaviour for all those data mining and monetisation strategies that make modern telcos into something much more like a media company. For all the hype around the “mobility revolution”, and while consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices away from the home or office, the growth in Australia’s mobile broadband market was just 3% in the 12 months to December 2013, according to research released yesterday by analyst firm Telsyte. The proliferation of public wi-fi hotspots, which Telsyte analyst Alvin Lee says are “sprouting like mushrooms and are now widely supported by local councils, shopping centres, local businesses and increasingly our transport networks”, means that there’s less need for a dedicated mobile broadband device — particularly as most smartphones can now operate as a wi-fi hotspot, and people are becoming more comfortable pressing that button. “The opportunity for dedicated mobile broadband is diminishing even as mobile traffic continues to grow,” Lee said. As a result, Telsyte believes telcos will only be able to monetise 20% of the consumer media tablet market. Indeed, why would anyone want to load yet another device into their pocket, perhaps with yet another charger, and certainly with another monthly bill? Whether this will play out well commercially for Telstra remains to be seen. As Fairfax’s David Ramli points out: “Other Australian companies have attempted to use Wi-Fi hotspots to give customers more internet services on the go with very low success rates.” iiNet sees its wi-fi offering more as a marketing tool. My weekend in San Francisco showed how this might play out. AT&T has wi-fi hotspots across the city, and you see their branding every time you look for a connection. It left an impression. But at the same time, most bars, cafes and shopping malls have “free” wi-fi too — along with power outlets and somewhere to sit. “Free” is in scare quotes there because the use of wi-fi for tracking consumers is becoming ever more sophisticated. Toronto-based Turnstyle is just one of the companies pushing the boundaries in this regard. By rolling out a unified wi-fi network throughout the shopping district, they can track people as they go about their business. As The Wall Street Journal reported in January: “Turnstyle’s weekly reports to clients use aggregate numbers and don’t include people’s names. But the company does collect the names, ages, genders, and social media profiles of some people who log in with Facebook to a free wi-fi service that Turnstyle runs at local restaurants and coffee shops… It uses that information, along with the wider foot traffic data, to come up dozens lifestyle categories, including yoga-goers, people who like theater, and hipsters.” If Telstra is planning something similar — and given that this is increasingly the way things are done, I suspect it’s likely — then this could be the start of one of the most comprehensive consumer tracking databases in the country. This article first appeared on Crikey.
Recently, I was looking back through the very first plan I put together for what has now become Canva. It’s amazing to look at the similarities between what I first imagined seven years ago and what we’ve now built. After we had built our very first version of our online design platform in 2007, I wrote an instruction manual. It explained how all the buttons functioned, how to create a design, everything you needed to know. After flicking through all these pages, it struck me: why should a user need to read a manual before they can use your program? Technology should adapt to the user, not the other way around. This guiding principle has stuck with me over the past few years. With Canva, we’ve done everything to make it as simple as possible to take an idea and turn it into a design. There is so much involved in building a compelling product. Here are a few pieces of advice based on my experience. Make your product work the way your users expect Users go on an emotional journey when they use a product. We did lots of user testing before we launched Canva. We ran design workshops where we asked different groups of people to come in and try our product. Usertesting.com was also incredibly helpful. Despite spending years building the simplest tool we could possibly imagine, we found through user testing that people doubted their own creative ability and felt scared to experiment in case they broke something. We realised we needed to change people’s entire mindset in a few minutes. They had to realise that Canva was a safe and fun place to create; that they didn’t need to invest years of learning our design tool. They needed to realise that they could create something that looked good. We introduced a 23-second animation which walked the user through the basics of how to use Canva. This is followed by a series of five Starter Challenges which allow users to play with Canva. Now in the first few minutes of entering Canva a user’s entire belief about design tools being hard to learn and self-belief about their own creative abilities is transformed. This new onboarding experience dramatically increased net promoter score and people are now much more likely to recommend Canva to others. Solve a real problem I optimistically believe that in the future, the world will be better, healthier, safer, friendlier, wealthier, and smarter. For a long time, I’ve had a vision for the way design should be done. There was simply no doubt that in the future, design would be simple, online and collaborative. Back in 2007, when I was teaching design at university, students were using Facebook to connect with each other. Yet design software was still expensive and difficult to use. The vision for Canva hasn’t changed. While we’ve applied a lot of polish along the way, the plan for the product has been as we originally imagined it. Find a real problem that you know exists and solve it. That’s the best way to create something compelling. Focus on the user experience When a user lands on your product, it should be so intuitive that a user doesn’t need to read instruction manuals or spend years learning how to use your software. They should be able to do what they need to do right away. Since launching eight months ago, Canva has grown to 400,000 users. We’ve learned a lot about our users during that time. Getting to know your users is essential. We’re now seeing 150,000 designs created each week and people are coming back daily to use the product. Every decision you make is an important one. Focus on the details of each interaction in your product. While we know where we want to take the product, we’ll always test new features to make sure users find it simple to navigate. Sometimes a small tweak to a menu or a different icon can make all the difference. Listen not only to what your users say, but also what they do. While every step of the way has its challenges, that’s one of the best things about starting a company. The most important thing is to get started. For me, that was writing out a plan for how an online design platform would work. Only once you start can you gather feedback, test out your ideas and put the wheels in motion. Melanie Perkins is CEO of Canva, which makes graphic design simple for everyone. Since launching eight months ago, the company has grown to 400,000 users who’ve now created more than 2 million designs. Connect with Melanie on Twitter: @MelanieCanva
In almost every industry there are innovators, ‘smart companies’ who are leveraging disruptive technologies to stay ahead of competitors and offer the latest and greatest features to their customers. The world of app development is no different. Here are a few recent innovations and some thoughts on what they might mean for your business. 1. Facebook and IBM active in mobile app space Facebook and IBM aren't usually linked together, but both are currently marketing their presence in the mobile app space as a critical path for their future. Facebook announced at f8 (their annual developers conference) that they are launching the mobile ads Audience Network. Facebook will start serving ads to third-party mobile apps via this new network. This means that partnerships between mobile companies will increase, and app developers can now serve Facebook ads in their apps. Ads will be more targeted to the recipient, as Facebook understands their members and their interests. This is good news for companies interested in reaching mobile users who often log into apps via their Facebook account, as this increases the effectiveness of your mobile-delivered marketing messages. Global behemoth IBM is fuelling an open-source platform movement to help generate more business value from mobile computing. At IBM’s Impact2014 conference held last week in Las Vegas, the company announced a significant expansion of its MobileFirst Business Acceleration portfolio, which includes IBM Ready Apps offering standardised customisation to reduce time and resources required to create apps. It is also introducing 18 ‘development studios worldwide’ to foster innovation in custom apps – with mobile experts from designers, developers and architects. If IBM is investing so significantly in making apps more accessible to its customers, shouldn’t you be considering making your company’s services just as open and easily accessible? 2. Mobile app-linking New technology is now directing users to specific areas of mobile apps instead of website pages (Instagram is a good example). This is another leap in mobile innovation as Facebook and others continue to challenge the key issue of the mobile-computing world – ‘users spend most of their time inside apps rather than on the web’. Consider the importance of this in increasing convenience for customers if your business still relies on an old-style, non-responsive (i.e. mobile un-friendly) website. 3. Mobile payments Smartphone apps such as Venmo are now replacing cash on many US university campuses. The era of ‘mobile payments’ – leaving your wallet at home and using your phone to pay for everything – is still in its early days, but its mainstream take-up seems inevitable. Think about your own ease of purchase in the app stores. It’s plain to see that if the next generation of consumers is eschewing cash and using an app to pay for everything from their lunch to their rent to their parking to their bar tab, then they’ll also expect the convenience of buying your goods or services through an app. Of course, most companies don't have the internal resources, or actually need the resources to get themselves into the app space. The creation of links within apps and how to take advantage of this new wave of opportunities should be left to companies that specialise in it. Having your own branded app and promoting it well to your customers will pay off – delivering more engagement, more loyalty and more convenience. Don’t be the one who gets left behind. Dennis Benjamin is the founder and chief executive of mobile apps specialists AppsWiz and the Informatel Group. He is an expert in the areas of mobile trends, mobile apps, apps for businesses, entrepreneurship, and startups. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
Australia’s first cat café will soon open its doors after the owners announced they have found the “perfect location” nearby the popular Queen Victoria Market. Speaking to SmartCompany, Anita Loughran says the idea of a cat café in Melbourne came after her husband suggested it after visiting Japan for their honeymoon. “He just kind of threw the idea out there and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she says. Cat cafés are popular in Asia, where customers can pat a friendly feline while enjoying brunch or a cup of coffee. Loughran says one of the biggest difficulties the business venture faced was complying with local council regulations. “It did take three months for us to get permission from them and with the permission there was a list of regulations we’re going to have to comply to,” she says. “We need to have airlocks between any food areas and the cat areas and just a lot to do with the health and hygiene side of things.” Loughran says this includes cleaning stations for customers to wash their hands with soap and hot water before and after touching the cats. One of the business’s other obstacles, said Loughran, came from property owners turning them down because they didn’t want cats to be on the premises. However, her advice to those with a quirky business idea is not to give up. “It can be hard, even in a city like Melbourne where there’s generally quite different things around and you’d think people would be more open minded,” says Loughran. “It’s just persistence and if one way of doing something doesn’t work, do it a different away.” Loughran says the business owes a lot to the popularity of cats on the internet. “I can’t tell you why cats have taken over the internet,” she says. “But it’s definitely helped us. We have got a lot of followers on social media.” According to Loughran, Twitter and Facebook were integral in raising awareness of the business idea. The business has more than 7000 likes on Facebook. The couple has also launched their last crowdfunding campaign on website Indiegogo in order to help cover refurbishment costs of the shopfront—a space which was a lot larger and older than they originally anticipated. “Reaching out on social media you never know who’s going to come back with some advice or help,” says Loughran. “It completely changes the way business is done.” Loughran says because the cat café is effectively going to be two businesses in one, they are going to start with a traditional café menu before trying anything adventurous with the food. “As the business grows we will be able to develop the menu and meals,” she says. Cat Café Melbourne will be located at 375 Queen Street, adjacent to the iconic Queen Victoria Market. Loughran says an online booking system will be set up on the business’s website in order to prepare for an influx of customers. The café hopes to be open by July and will be working with the Geelong Animal Welfare Society. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
“Australian startups and Australian entrepreneurs find the American market very, very accessible. We need to do a better job of commercialising technology here in Australia.” That was what Federal Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull said, at an event in February last year, when he was still in the shadow cabinet. While in opposition, Turnbull talked about better R&D incentives, criticising the Howard government for creating uncertainty by changing eligibility rules on this one; he blasted red tape that slowed down the speed of innovation; and was critical of the fact that the number of startups funded by public organisations had decreased over time. “As we continue to pursue the important goal of improved productivity, which is closely linked to a better utilisation of technology, we have to ensure that governments are doing everything they can to make it easier for people to innovate,” he said at that time. So when Turnbull took up his mantle in the Abbott government in September last year, there were high hopes of improved government support for startups. This, thought the startup community, was a man who ‘gets’ what we’re about. Despite the fact that his stance on NBN is a source of much contention (that is another seven columns in itself), most in the startup community still saw Turnbull as the answer to getting some much-needed government attention. And he continued to say all the right things when in power. In January this year when conducting a live Facebook Q&A session (while visiting Facebook as part of a tour visiting leading US startups), he praised the potential for crowdfunded equity and said more needed to be done to encourage innovative companies. “We need to do more to encourage innovative companies in Australia . . . an obvious area is rectifying the anomalous treatment of employee shares and options in Oz,” Turnbull wrote at the time. “There is a lot of potential for crowdfunding-type models for aggregating venture capital. We need to think laterally on this critical issue.” It was only in March this year when he responded to a conversation between Nitro chief executive Sam Chandler and BlueChilli CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin discussing later stage funding options for Australian startups. Turnbull waded into the conversation and invited both of them to meet and chat about the issue with him. A meeting, by the way, that never happened. Turnbull also wrote an opinion piece of his own for The Sydney Morning Herald, telling Australian startups that the government can help them. When it comes to funding, wrote Turnbull, “The role for government here is to foster a framework in which investors are protected and yet start-ups can raise money without hiring teams of lawyers and financial advisers.” Again he mentioned that the government was investigating ways to simplify rules for crowdfunding. “And finally, the government has a role in making life easier for start-ups to do business in Australia and stay here, as opposed to moving offshore,” he wrote. “One of the key priorities for the government is changing employee share schemes so that employees are not taxed on receipt of shares and options. But hopes were shattered on Tuesday when the federal budget was released. Nothing that Turnbull had floated was mentioned, and the limited support that startups had was effectively abolished. The budget announced the creation of the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program with an allowance of $485 million over five years, at the expense of the Innovation Investment Fund, Commercialisation Australia and other smaller support programs, saving $845 million over five years. That means even less public money for startups (about half of what it was), something that Turnbull had us believe was an important issue for him. Details of the new program still remain unclear. The government also cut the R&D Tax Incentive Scheme, and lo and behold, it appears it will become a more complicated process, as BDO points out “in a practical sense, the change in rates results in a more complex calculation of the benefit of the R&D tax incentive”. That was the very thing that Turnbull was critical of the Howard government for. But that’s not even where it ends. What about his ideas of better employee share option schemes and changes to rules around crowdfunded investment? Two things Turnbull has consistently argued would make a difference to the Australian startup scene. It was only a few days before the budget was announced that the government delayed plans to introduce a new regime for the employee share scheme. The delay was meant to be until later this year, but there was no mention of it in the budget. Ways to liberalise the rules to allow greater involvement from investors to facilitate crowdfunded investment are still under review, but there is no deadline on when the report on that will be delivered. You’d be forgiven for thinking it's not going to happen.
Facebook for iOS is trialling suggesting contextual content to keep users browsing after they share. The test is being rolled out to a small section of iOS users. Those users will notice cards of content which relate to what they’ve just posted. By reacting to what users are thinking about then and there, Facebook could unlock new monetisation potential. Mozilla backs down on DRM Mozilla has reluctantly agreed to build a web standard called Encrypted Media Extensions for Firefox which will allow the use of copy-protected video from Netflix and the other sources. The company announced the move on its blog. “We very much want to see a different system,’’ the statement said. “Unfortunately, Mozilla alone cannot change the industry on DRM at this point.” iPhone 6 to get 1704 x 960 resolution display? After months of speculation about the size of Apple’s iPhone 6 screen, a report has surfaced claiming it may also feature a higher resolution. 9to5mac reports that sources indicate iPhone 6 will not only be larger, but Apple is also testing a 1704 x 960 resolution display. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 101.47 to 16,613.97. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.
We asked some Australian startups what they thought of the budget and how it might affect them. Here’s what they had to say. Michael Fox, CEO, Shoes of Prey: It's a challenge for tech startups raising capital in Australia and the temptation to move to the US where it's significantly easier to raise funding is high, and a lot of startups move for this reason. The IIF and CA were both designed to help fill this funding gap in the Australian market, so with both of them gone we'll lose a lot more Australian tech startups to the US. The reduction in the refundable percentage of the R&D tax credit will further exacerbate this. Alan Jones, head of marketing, BlueChilli: Support for the tech startup industry is not about handouts to lazy businesses, it's about arresting the innovation brain drain. In five years we can build a $50m tech startup with a team of 10 and a few laptops and mobiles. But unlike a manufacturer or a miner, that IP is highly mobile and can be based anywhere the industry support is greatest. This budget is the right step forward if what we want to do is create more Atlassians – creating most of its value for the US economy and paying most of its tax in the UK. Bosco Tan, co-founder, Pocketbook: The impact for early stage and fast growing startups is staggering. The pulling back of government support makes our companies immediately less competitive to economies like Singapore. The temporary R&D cutback conditions and the scrapping of CA & IIF to start a new program means that there will be at least one year where funding sources will be even tighter. In our world, all startups look for is a supportive and stable environment for us to compete globally. This also means a tax system around employee share schemes that actually works for companies of our size. It should be in our government’s interest to help build economic value and jobs like how Facebook and Google have contributed to the US economy. Damien Andreasen, co-founder, LawPath: Technology in Australia is a developing industry with the potential to create over half a million jobs in the next 2 decades*. Reducing funds available to support innovation and early stage tech businesses shows a lack of foresight. Reducing the R&D incentive by 1.5% will hurt startups like LawPath, we depend on the rebate to plan product development, staffing levels and even a slight reduction can have a big impact. The upside of the 1.5% reduction in company tax won't offset the R&D loss, most startups are yet to hit breakeven. The loss of the CA and IIF grants are regrettable but shouldn't stop Australian entrepreneurs getting on with the job of bringing innovative new tech business to life. Shane Greenup, co-founder, Rbutr: The largest companies in Australia are all mining, banking and supermarket conglomerates, and BHP has an annual revenue of $72 billion, followed by Rio Tinto at $59.8 billion and Wesfarmers at $58 billion. Then you look at the tech giants in the USA: Microsoft’s revenue is $77.8 billion; Google is $59.8 billion; and Apple is $170 billion. There is really no reason why companies as large and successful as these couldn't be founded in Australia and grown here. Tech doesn't require resources like mining does, and isn't limited to the local Australian market like supermarkets tend to be. You would think that investing in the development of companies like these would be a huge priority for any government.
Having some form of anonymity online offers many people a kind of freedom. Whether it’s used for exposing corruption or just experimenting socially online it provides a way for the content (but not its author) to be seen. But this freedom can also easily be abused by those who use anonymity to troll, abuse or harass others, which is why Facebook has previously been opposed to “anonymity on the internet”. So in announcing that it will allow users to log in to apps anonymously, is Facebook is taking anonymity seriously? Real identities on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been committed to Facebook as a site for users to have a single real identity since its beginning a decade ago as a platform to connect college students. Today, Facebook’s core business is still about connecting people with those they already know. But there have been concerns about what personal information is revealed when people use any third-party apps on Facebook. So this latest announcement aims to address any reluctance some users may have to sign in to third-party apps. Users will soon be able to log in to them without revealing any of their wealth of personal information. That does not mean they will be anonymous to Facebook – the social media site will still track user activity. It might seem like the beginning of a shift away from singular, fixed identities, but tweaking privacy settings hardly indicates that Facebook is embracing anonymity. It’s a long way from changing how third-party apps are approached to changing Facebook’s entire real-name culture. Facebook still insists that “users provide their real names and information”, which it describes as an ongoing “commitment” users make to the platform. Changing the Facebook experience? Having the option to log in to third-party apps anonymously does not necessarily mean Facebook users will actually use it. Effective use of Facebook’s privacy settings depends on user knowledge and motivation, and not all users opt in. A recent Pew Research Center report reveals that the most common strategy people use to be less visible online is to clear their cookies and browser history. Only 14% of those interviewed said they had used a service to browse the internet anonymously. So, for most Facebook users, their experience won’t change. Facebook login on other apps and websites Facebook offers users the ability to use their authenticated Facebook identity to log in to third-party web services and mobile apps. At its simplest and most appealing level, this alleviates the need for users to fill in all their details when signing up for a new app. Instead they can just click the “Log in with Facebook” button. For online corporations whose businesses depend on building detailed user profiles to attract advertisers, authentication is a real boon. It means they know exactly what apps people are using and when they log in to them. Automated data flows can often push information back into the authenticating service (such as the music someone is playing on Spotify turning up in their Facebook newsfeed). While having one account to log in to a range of apps and services is certainly handy, this convenience means it’s almost impossible to tell what information is being shared. Is Facebook just sharing your email address and full name, or is it providing your date of birth, most recent location, hometown, a full list of friends and so forth? Understandably, this again raises privacy concerns for many people. How anonymous login works To address these concerns, Facebook is testing anonymous login as well as a more granular approach to authentication. (It’s worth noting, neither of these changes have been made available to users yet.) Given the long history of privacy missteps by Facebook, the new login appears to be a step forward. Users will be told what information an app is requesting, and have the option of selectively deciding which of those items Facebook should actually provide. Facebook will also ask users whether they want to allow the app to post information to Facebook on their behalf. Significantly, this now places the onus on users to manage the way Facebook shares their information on their behalf. Video explaining the new Facebook login. In describing anonymous login, Facebook explains that: Sometimes people want to try out apps, but they’re not ready to share any information about themselves. It’s certainly useful to try out apps without having to fill in and establish a full profile, but very few apps can actually operate without some sort of persistent user identity. The implication is once a user has tested an app, to use its full functionality they’ll have to set up a profile, probably by allowing Facebook to share some of their data with the app or service. Taking on the competition The value of identity and anonymity are both central to the current social media war to gain user attention and loyalty. Facebook’s anonymous login might cynically be seen as an attempt to court users who have flocked to Snapchat, an app which has anonymity built into its design from the outset. Snapchat’s creators famously turned down a $US3 billion buyout bid from Facebook. Last week it also revealed part of its competitive plan, an updated version of Snapchat that offers seamless real-time video and text chat. Video introducing chat for Snapchat. By default, these conversations disappear as soon as they’ve happened, but users can select important items to hold on to. Whether competing with Snapchat, or any number of other social media services, Facebook will have to continue to consider the way identity and anonymity are valued by users. At the moment its flirting with anonymity is tokenistic at best. Tama Leaver is a senior lecturer in internet studies at Curtin University, Emily van der Nagel is a PhD candidate, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design and The Swinburne Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology. This piece originally appeared at The Conversation.
Amazon is giving English and American customers the chance to shop without leaving Twitter. The online shopping giant is rolling out a new feature called #AmazonCart, which allows users to connect their Amazon and Twitter accounts and add products to their Amazon shopping basket by simply replying to any tweet containing an Amazon link, with #AmazonCart Apple and Samsung damages recalculated A US federal jury has recalculated the damages awarded in the court case involving the two smartphone competitors. The jury raised the amount owed for some patent infringements and lowered it for others. The changes offset each other meaning the total damages awarded in the new verdict stay the same as the original. The court awarded Apple $US119.6 million for patent infringements and Samsung $US158,400. Google and Facebook top three in tech by 2020, Apple not? One of the world’s top tech investors, Fred Wilson of New York’s Union Square Ventures, believes Apple will cease to be important by 2020. Wilson, speaking at the TC Disrupt conference in New York, said Apple is too rooted to hardware and isn’t invested enough in the cloud, something he says will provide the company significant challenges moving forward. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 17.66 to 16.530.55 and the Australian Dollar is trading at US93 cents.
Perhaps inspired by the collective sigh of the internet when Facebook bought Oculus Rift, a team of enthusiastic Queenslanders are hoping to make virtual reality, well, a reality. The VR SmartView team won the first ever Startup Weekend on the Sunshine Coast last weekend with their idea – a head mountable display that enables users to clip their smartphones into position allowing it to act as the screen, with the intent of creating a mobile virtual reality device. Wilfrid Watson, who co-founded the startup along with fellow University of Sunshine Coast students Ben Lowe and Danum Harris-Lusk, Metaweb owner Stephen Maher and industrial designer Neil Waldbaum, says virtual reality has always been a passion of his. “VR is amazing to me, it’s really taken my interest, and with Oculus Rift, that sort of took virtual reality to the masses,’’ he says. “What VR is as a philosophy, when people first experience it they giggle with joy, it’s a new experience.” The VR SmartView team played with an Oculus Rift dev kit and say they noticed a few problems: the need for cables, low resolution and high cost. The idea to use a smartphone as a screen came from that indomitable source of inspiration, YouTube, while browsing do-it-yourself versions of virtual reality, in order to solve some of their grievances with the Oculus Rift. It was here he stumbled across a video of someone who had made a similar headset for their phone out of cardboard. “I did a lot of research about who has done what, I think the first guys to do this concept were the University of Southern California, and I’ve looked at the competition and only one guy is selling it at the moment in Germany and it’s a really clunky design,” Watson says. “Reddit forums have had a lot of mixed feedback, we’ve got a digital mock-up and we’re looking at ways in which to make it more user friendly.” Watson says he’s heard the scepticism when it comes to the viability of virtuality reality, but he really believes it’s time is now. “Smartphones are immensely powerful, they’re disruptive devices, and now we’ve got a ridiculous level of pixel density, and for virtual reality the more pixel density in the smartphone the better,’’ he says. “VR was around in the eighties, when it first came out everyone was like VR! VR! VR! “It has existed to now with solutions; they’re very, very complex and expensive set ups.” Watson says the product he and the VR SmartView team want to develop is possible now thanks to the upward trend in pixel density on smartphones, which might not have been the case five years ago. Having won the Startup Weekend Sunshine Coast, the VR SmartView team will now focus on producing a physical prototype.
So much for not mixing business and pleasure, newly launched dating app LinkedUp! is using business networking site LinkedIn to hook up dates. LinkedUp! is like a mixture of LinkedIn and dating site Tinder and pulls information from LinkedIn user profiles, like their industry, schools and job. The app allows users to chat after they have a mutual match. Like Tinder, LinkedUp! users can swipe right or swipe left to allow users to like and dislike profiles. LinkedUp! allows users to connect with anyone on the LinkedUp! platform and similar to other Facebook-based mobile dating apps is not based on your immediate network or connections. LinkedUp! chief executive Max Fischer is based in Los Angeles in the United States but spent some time studying at University of New South Wales in Australia. He told SmartCompany he got the idea for LinkedUp! after noticing people, including himself, using the business networking site to find dates. “LinkedUp! users get a very true sense of who someone is, where they are from, where they went to school and what they do, giving users a sense of comfort and trust,” he says. “These are also the first questions people ask in terms of gaining rapport in first date interactions!” Fischer says there is no indication on a user’s LinkedIn profile that they are on LinkedUp! and the app never posts anything to LinkedIn. “What's great about our application is that a user has to opt-in and download our app to be part of our platform, which helps keep LinkedIn professional,” he says. “So only people who want to be a part of our LinkedUp! app are using it.” The app is in no way affiliated with LinkedIn but uses the networking sites API key. Fischer declined to reveal how LinkedUp! is making money and how many users it has so far. “The current traction and metrics are very encouraging since the app went live,” he says. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
Location check-in app Foursquare will introduce a new app called Swarm as part of its attempt to reinvent itself after hitting a growth plateau over the past couple of years. Foursquare became popular in the late 2000s but its growth has stagnated since then, with the likes of Facebook incorporating and popularising aspects of Foursquare’s location check-in features. In its official blog, Foursquare justifies the splitting of its Foursquare app into two separate apps – Foursquare and Swarm – by saying most people used the app to either “keep up and meet up with their friends” or “to discover great places”. “But, as it turns out, each time you open the app, you almost always do just one of those things,” the statement on the blog said. “We built Swarm because you’ve told us how often you still have to text your friends: ‘where are you?’ and ‘what you up to later?’ We wanted to build a quick way for you to know these two things for all of your friends.” Swarm will be available on iOS and Android in the coming weeks, and soon after on Windows Phone. The company goes on to say in the blog that changes are also imminent for the original Foursquare app as it attempts to carve out a niche for each of the standalone apps. It promises that a new, improved search and discovery capability for the Foursquare app will provide for a more nuanced user experience than what is currently available. “Local search today is like the digital version of browsing through the Yellow Pages (remember those?). We believe local search should be personalized to your tastes and informed by the people you trust. The opinions of actual experts should matter, not just strangers. “We’re right now putting the final touches on this new, discovery-focused version of Foursquare. It’ll be polished and ready for you later this [American] summer.”
Four Australian startups have been announced as participants in Silicon Valley-based accelerator 500 Startups latest program intake. One of the four is ZootRock, a social media tool founded by former Melburnian Audrey Melnik, who’s been in the United States for the past two years. ZootRock helps people and businesses manage their social media content by posting curated tweets and Facebook posts on their behalf, helping boost engagement and followers. “It’s really exciting because it’s great validation,’’ Melnik said of the announcement. “You get a dedicated point of contact and that person is your go-to person. They check in every week or twice a week and help keep you on track and keep you focused.’’ Joining ZootRock in 500 Startups accelerator program’s ninth batch are Stitch.net: a clean Tinder for adults over 50, Sportshold: a free prediction game for sports, and one yet to be announced company. Melnik came up with the concept for ZootRock after hiring a social media consultant while working on her first startup, WotWentWrong.com. “I was working on my other startup, which I pivoted away from towards (ZootRock),’’ she says. “I knew I needed to have a strong presence on social media, but I didn’t have the time. “I hired a social media consultant and I was unhappy with the results.’’ Without a social media consultant, Melnik was faced with the problem of how to maintain her social media presence. “I basically built the utility to do that,’’ she says. That utility is ZootRock. “I had just put a bunch of utilities together, I took a few more months working on it and ending up getting more software built for it and I started working on ZootRock full-time in the middle of last year,’’ she says. “What was also great, it was a lot easier for me to monetise than my startup at the time. I was able to get people to pay for it on a subscription billing basis.” The company has recently hired an operations manager. Melnik says it has really helped her, as a solo founder, to have someone to bounce ideas off. Although, she adds, being in Silicon Valley there’s no shortage of help on hand. “There’s a lot of support in the valley. What’s different to Melbourne is my whole social circle is all in this world – entrepreneurs, investors, journalists – there’s so many people to lean on and ask advice from,’’ Melnik says. “What I noticed in Melbourne is often your business network is very separate from your social network, but here’s it’s entwined.’’ As part of 500 Startups’ latest batch, ZootRock will hold a demo day, and Melnik says over the next 12 months they will be looking to raise money to build their team and scale up.
School Places, a startup which aims to lower prices for private education in Australia, while helping schools fill places, is the product of a genuine “light bulb moment”, according to chief executive Natalie Mactier. The startup, which is backed by Seek founder Paul Bassat’s venture capital firm SquarePeg, launched this month and so far 11 Victorian schools have signed up. Mactier says School Places plans to launch in New South Wales by July and hopes to be a nationwide by the end of the next financial year. “In actual fact we’ve had a range of enquiries from schools outside of Victoria already,’’ she says. School Places’ 25-year-old founder, Jeremy Wein, who attended private school in Melbourne growing up, says the business idea came about thanks largely to his family’s long association with private education. “My family have been involved with private education for most of their lives, as a student, teacher and board member,’’ he says. “We would often be talking about private school issues at the dinner table. “The number one issue that kept coming up was fees, and that they were getting far too high and something needed to be done.” One night his parents were speaking about it and Wein just happened to be browsing a discount travel website, within earshot of their conversation, when a thought popped into his head. “If revenue optimization is as important for schools as it is hotels and airlines, and there are discount websites for hotels and airlines, then shouldn’t there logically be one for schools.’’ And with that, School Places was born. “This is the first of its kind locally, and globally we haven’t been able to find anything similar,’’ Mactier says. “I firmly believe that most research this day and age is done online, and mums are definitely online, whether it be on Facebook or social media keeping in touch with friends, or researching schools.’’ According to the Independent Schools Council of Australia, in 2012 Catholic and independent schools accounted for almost 35% of Australia’s student enrolments. The startup hopes to offer discounts of between 10% and 30% for places. Mactier says School Places has been met with a “little bit of trepidation” by some schools who prefer a more traditional approach, but those that are open to the startup’s idea appreciate what it is trying to achieve.
Facebook has released its first quarter results, announcing its net income has nearly tripled year-on-year to $US642 million ($A690m), up from $US219 million a year earlier. The social media giant’s quarterly revenues hit $US2.5 billion, up 72% from the same quarter last year, as its operating margin has grown from 26% to 43%. Advertising remains Facebook’s dominant source of income, growing 82% to $2.27 billion in revenues, with 59% of ad revenue now coming from mobile users. However, the company’s growth rate has also led to 32% increase in expenses to $US1.43 billion, with the increase attributed largely to the company’s increased headcount and infrastructure spending. Its non-payroll expenses grew 26% to $US1.13 billion, up from $US895 million during the first quarter of 2013. During the quarter, Facebook announced a takeover of WhatsApp that saw investors in the mobile messaging service gain $US12 billion in Facebook stock and $US4 billion in cash, with a further $US3 billion in restricted Facebook stock going to WhatsApp’s founders and employees that will vest over the next four years. Despite the social media mega-deal, Facebook reported cash and marketable securities of $12.63 billion at the end of the quarter. In terms of subscribers, the company now claims 1.28 billion monthly active users, up 15% from a year earlier, while mobile monthly active users grew by 34% to 1.01 billion. Of its total user base, 802 million users use the company’s services daily, with 609 million people using its mobile sites each day. Alongside the results, Facebook announced chief financial officer David Ebersman is standing aside, to be replaced by David Wehner, who is currently Facebook's vice president of corporate finance and business planning. Wehner had previously served as the chief financial officer of online game developer Zynga, before defecting to Facebook in November 2012. In an official statement, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg described the quarter as a “great start to 2014” for the company. “We've made some long term bets on the future while staying focused on executing and improving our core products and business. We're in great position to continue making progress towards our mission,” Zuckerberg said.
Apple has reported a 7% jump in net profit, along with a seven-for-one stock split and a share buyback during the March quarter. The iPhone maker beat analysts’ forecasts by reporting quarterly revenues of $US45.6 billion, up from $US43.6 billion year-on-year, while net income grew to $US10.22 billion from $US9.55 billion for the March quarter last year. The company also announced it sold 43.7 million iPhones, beating analysts’ predictions of 38.2 million units. Along with the strong results, the company announced a seven-for-one stock split in June, an increase in its share buyback scheme from $60 billion to $US90 billion, and an increase in its capital return program from $US100 billion to $US130 billion. Facebook’s quarterly net income nearly triples Facebook has released its first quarter results, announcing its net income has tripled year-on-year to $US642 million. The social media giant’s quarterly revenues hit $US2.5 billion, up 72% from the same quarter last year, with advertising revenue contributing $2.27 billion, with 59% of ad revenue coming from mobile users. Its total subscriber base grew to 1.28 billion monthly active users, up 15% from a year earlier, while mobile monthly active users grew by 34% to 1.01 billion. Hockey foreshadows pension cuts, tax cuts Treasurer Joe Hockey used a speech in Sydney to reveal the May budget will increase the number of means tested payments, introduce co-payments for medical benefits and slash government spending, while also providing tax cuts. Hockey defended providing tax cuts while slashing benefits to pensioners, saying bracket creep would “have a serious impact on Australia’s economic growth prospects” without tax cuts. The Treasurer also foreshadowed co-payments for GP visits, a means-test for Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, tighter eligibility rules for family tax benefits and the age pension, as well as a welfare crackdown. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 16501.6. The Aussie dollar is down to US92.89 cents.
Opening a venture capital branch seems to be the new “thing” in the corporate world. While Telstra and Westpac are the new big national players, Google is clearly ahead of the curve, with two distinct venture capital firms: the newly launched Google Capital and the five-year-old Google Ventures. But why are so many companies, across a range of sectors, now running to open their own venture capital funds? And why does a company like Google, which has already delivered tremendous innovations in the past, now need to innovate “on the outside” with not one, but two, venture capital branches? How it works Venture capital has evolved as a tool to provide financing to firms in situations of extreme asymmetric information: young companies with no history, no assets and no track record, the proverbial “two kids in a garage”. In this situation bank debt is not viable because the bank has no way to control how the money is spent and no collateral to fall back on. Direct access to the stock market is also out of the question because investors would not be able to judge quality and risk of the project. The venture capitalist, on the other side, has industry specific know-how and can structure the financing in a way that allows them some control over the firm: in exchange for a capital injection the venture capitalist receives a portion of the equity and, usually, a seat on the board. Moreover, as a common practice, the investment is usually staggered into multiple tranches, with subsequent infusions conditional on the achievement of predetermined “milestones”, such as the completion of a prototype. Incentives for innovators While venture capital is a powerful tool, there is another way for companies like Google to innovate: internal development. If the “two kids in the garage” were to work as Google employees, the company would be able to allocate capital with the best possible knowledge of the project. So why use venture capital and not just develop internally? While this question hasn’t yet been directly addressed by academic research, pulling together different strands of literature can provide some useful insight. A first problem is the incentive structure for the “innovator”. Disruptive innovation is highly reliant on the talent and ideas of a small number of individuals. In a startup, innovators can reap the entire value of their idea when they sell their shares. For instance, the founders of WhatsApp, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, are now worth a combined US$9.8 billion after it was acquired by Facebook. When the innovation is promoted within a larger company the key actors will, at best, receive stock options with a value based on the performance of the entire company, only marginally reflecting the potential value of the innovation. Consider Paul Buchheit, the Google employee who developed the first Gmail prototype. While the details of his compensation are unknown, it is unlikely that it contained the full value of the world’s largest email service. Buchheit later left Google to join a startup incubator. This situation can get even more extreme: the CIA finances the development of strategic technologies via its own venture capital fund – In-Q-Tel. The entrepreneurs the fund financed would know that beyond the government getting the “first bite” of their products, they’d be able to benefit from the commercial applications. This would be impossible for public employees developing the same ideas in a basement at Langley. Taking a punt Another important factor: investing in disruptive innovation means accepting a high failure rate. While precise estimates are impossible, high levels of risk for venture capital investments have long been documented. Large public companies may be unwilling to accept this risk, not because of financial constraints, but because of pressure to maintain quarterly profitability. A recent survey has shown the majority of CFOs are willing to abandon valuable projects in order to meet quarterly profit expectations. Google was forced to close its in-house development playground Google Labs after it was criticised for a lack of focus. Other research has shown that firms whose financial statements are analysed by a large number of financial analysts tend to produce less innovation: they generate fewer patents and patents with lower impact. The authors of that study concluded that “analysts exert too much pressure on managers to meet short-term goals, impeding firms' investment in long-term innovative projects". Startups and venture capitalists do not suffer the same pressure: they are intrinsically less transparent and thus “protected” from the scrutiny of financial analysts and activist investors. They are free to experiment, free to take big risks, free to fail miserably, and eventually free to come up with an idea that will shake the market. Marco Navone is senior lecturer in the Finance Discipline Group of UTS Business School - University of Technology, Sydney and research fellow at CAREFIN, the Center for Applied Research in Finance at Bocconi University (Milan, Italy). This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article
Facebook’s latest changes to its layout creates more problems for small business using social media, as the real estate available on its site for eyeballs gets smaller. The social media giant has been catching criticism recently for changes to its algorithm that make it harder for businesses to be seen online. In the hospitality industry, discontent was articulated by the Eat 24 website, which closed down its Facebook Page after finding the problems too hard. With the changes to the online advertising feed, it makes it even harder for small business to be seen on the platform as reduced space means higher prices for the space that remains available. It’s hard to see small businesses getting much traction with the changes when they’re up against big brands with large budgets. On the other hand for the big brands, the importance of proper targeting becomes even greater. A challenge for small business The big problem now for small business is where do you advertise where the customers are? A decade or so ago, this was a no-brainer – the local service or retail business advertised in the local newspaper or Yellow Pages. Customers went there and, despite their chronic inefficiencies, they worked. Now with Facebook’s changes, it’s harder for customers to follow small business and this is a particular problem for hospitality where updates are hard. The failure of Google Google should have owned this market with Google Places, however the service has been neglected as the company folded the business listing service into the Plus social media platform. Today, it’s hard to see where small business is going to achieve organic reach – unpaid appearances in social media and search – or paid reach as the competition with deep pocketed big brands is fierce. Services like Yelp! were for a while a possible alternative, but increasingly they are stitching up deals with companies like Yahoo! and Australia’s Sensis, which marginalises small business. So the online world is getting harder for small business to get their message out onto online channels. For the moment that’s a problem although it’s an interesting opportunity for an entrepreneur – possibly even a media company – to exploit. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.