THE NEWS WRAP: Ad-free subscriptions on the agenda for YouTube

10:19PM | Tuesday, 28 October

YouTube is considering offering paid ad-free subscriptions, according to chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki.   The company is in the early stages of exploring new subscription services, Wojcicki told Re/code at the Code/Mobile conference overnight.   “YouTube right now is ad-supported, which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users; but there are going to be cases where people are going to say, ‘I don’t want to see the ads, or I want to have a different experience’,” she says.   Google X is developing an early disease detection system Google’s research arm, famous for taking ‘moon shots’ and running some of the most ambitious projects in the technology industry, is creating a system for early detection of disease, Wired reports.   The system involves ingesting specially “painted” nanoparticles that target various molecular signs of disorder. When they detect such signs of disease they send out signals that will be picked up by wristbands. The early alerts mean potentially deadly ailments could be caught and treated sooner.   Facebook beats earning projections, user growth slows Social media giant Facebook released its financial results and for the ninth quarter straight it beat earning projections.   Facebook earned $US3.203 billion ($A3.62 billion) in revenue with earnings per share of $US0.43. Total user count grew 2.27% to 1.35 billion monthly users, slower than its 3.125% user growth in the previous quarter.   Mobile advertising revenue accounted for 66% of advertising revenue, up from 49% year-on-year.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 187.81 to 17,005.75. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US89 cents.

Breaking news with the crowd: How Newzulu plans to make news cheaper to source

10:47AM | Tuesday, 28 October

Media startup Newzulu is looking to the crowd to make breaking news cheaper for large media organisations.   The startup, founded in Australia in June 2012, by Alex Hartman and Peter Scarf, is a crowdsourced media platform for the distribution of verified news photos, videos and text.   Co-founder and executive chairman Hartman says the nature of news is changing, and sees Newzulu becoming a big part of the traditional wire service.   “AP (Associate Press) has 6500 full-time journalists around the world, sitting in bureaus, waiting for things to happen, and we think those days are long gone,” he says.   “There’ll still be a place on the global news wire for most of the capabilities of AP, for instance the White House would never allow a crowd-sourced reporter to travel with the president. We feel those agencies have an important role in those local media landscapes.   “But with most of the breaking news, we’re using the crowd with 600 editors, to do what 6500 editors would do.”   With the proliferation of smartphones, Newzulu says the likelihood of a journalist being the first person to document a breaking news story nowadays is slim.   “Breaking news on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the pervasiveness of smartphones in pockets is disrupting the media,” he says.   “We can harness the power of the crowd to report, not just any news but validated news.”   What that means is Newzulu has an editorial department of 50 staff, working around the clock in English and French to validate news submissions from the crowd. Newzulu was founded by Matilda Media, which last year acquired a French startup called Citizenside that was founded in 2006. Citzenside had developed a platform that can “rapidly review and validate” crowdsourced material, detecting if photos have been edited or altered in any way.   It’s that platform that enables Newzulu to validate crowdsourced material within 30 minutes of its submission. Contributors are then paid on a case-by-case basis.   Last week, Newzulu announced it had entered an agreement to purchase Canadian company Filemobile, a software company that provides solutions to media outlets for the gathering, curation and publishing of user-based content. Its customers include Fox News, Wall Street Journal, USA Today/Garnett, The Weather Network, Hearts TV, iTV, London Live, Network Ten, CTV, CBC and Canadian Geographic.   The proposed purchase price – roughly $5 million, will be funded by an upcoming capital raise.   “Newzulu and File Mobile will together form the world’s foremost crowdsourced media company,” Hartman says.   “The acquisition of Filemobile is consistent with Newzulu’s growth strategy and further strengthens the company’s product solutions and global directory platform.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Digital death and the digital afterlife: How to have one and how to avoid it

10:16AM | Monday, 20 October

In 2012, the UK’s Sunday Times reported that actor Bruce Willis was going to sue Apple because he was not legally allowed to bequeath his iTunes collection of music to his children. The story turned out to be false (and shockingly bad journalism) but it did start a conversation about what we can, and can’t, do with our digital possessions.   It turns out that “possessions” is actually a misnomer. We actually don’t own the music, books and movies we “buy” from Apple and Amazon. As Amazon puts it in its license terms, “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider”. In other words, we are allowed to read the content but we are not allowed to pass it on.   It comes as no surprise then that 93% of Americans surveyed were unaware or misinformed when asked about what digital assets they were able to pass on in the event of their death.   But the problems don’t stop there. Relatives of the recently deceased are frequently left with a range of decisions and challenges when it comes to dealing with their online accounts, especially social media. This is not made easier by the fact that every company implements different strategies in dealing with accounts belonging to a deceased user, coupled with the fact that in the UK in 2012 at least, the average user had 26 accounts. In most cases, getting an account shut down requires close family to produce a range of documentation to prove that they have the right to request that the account is terminated. This doesn’t allow for those relatives to get access to the content of the accounts however.   Taking a lead in making the process of handling accounts of the deceased simpler, Google has implemented their Inactive Account Manager. This allows anyone to specify what should happen in the event that an account has not been accessed for at least 3 months. Up to 10 people can be notified and the contents of the accounts, including services such as YouTube and Google+, shared with them. Alternatively, the accounts can simply be automatically deleted.   Facebook will, on request, “memorialise” a person’s Facebook page. This freezes the page with the same permissions as it had when it was last accessed by the user but will stop the page from being discovered in a search and will not actively promote the page to others.   The role of social media in the bereavement process has been the focus of an increasing amount of research. Generally, it is thought that social media can help in the bereavement process, although the persistence of a person’s profile online may make final acceptance of the passing more difficult. An interesting finding has been that when people post on a memorial page, they frequently do so in the present tense as if the person was still alive.   In the UK, a survey has found that 36% of people would like their profiles to continue being available online after they die, with a larger proportion of 18-24 year olds preferring this option than over 55s.   It doesn’t have to stop there. There are now services which allow you to continue Tweeting after you die using a bot that has studied your tweeting style. Other services allow users to send final messages via Facebook and LinkedIn.   Digital estate planning is starting to become more of the norm and people are being prompted to think about what they want done with their digital assets and accounts after they die. This is going to be a significant issue for social media companies in the future. Since Facebook started, about 10-20 million users will have died. This number will increase and eventually overtake the number of living users on the site, by one estimate, in 2060.   In one humorous envisioning of the future, Tom Scott has produced a disturbing possibility in his video “Welcome To Life: the singularity, ruined by lawyers”. In it, he describes a corporate sponsored network as a resting place for the digital version of your consciousness, that is, of course, ad sponsored. In this case as with the question today, it is perhaps best for all if your online social presence ends when you do.   David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian tech company taking market by storm, files for IPO

10:53PM | Sunday, 19 October

Aeeris, the company that operates Australia’s only national location-based weather and hazards early warning service, is seeking to raise $6 million through an initial public offering (IPO) on the ASX.   Aeeris executive chairman and chief executive Kerry Plowright told Private Media the original idea for the company and its Early Warning Network (EWN) came in 2006, while he was working on an e-commerce collaboration project.   “I looked out the window at storm clouds – this was a year that was a bad one for bushfires and natural disasters – and I asked ‘why doesn’t anyone warn people about disasters based on location’,” Plowright says.   “So we spent the year in development and rolled it out at the end of 2007 with an operational system. It was the first system for severe hazards in the world, and it’s been in operation since then.   Since launching, Plowright says there have been over 20,000 separate events the company has sent alerts for, covering everything from solar flares and bushfires to floods and cyclones.   “No one understood what we were doing at first, so we made it free for the first two years. Brisbane City Council was one of our first customers. They piloted it for a year and then tendered that out. We won the tender to provide services for their residents,” Plowright says.   The company now boasts 185,000 subscribers, over 43,000 app and Facebook users and over 100 paid corporate and government clients. It provides bespoke services across a number of industry verticals including local government, construction, mining, containers, heavy haul/freight and rail.   The system delivers warnings through SMS, voice, email, push notifications, Twitter, directly into the client’s own IT systems. Aside from preventing loss or damage, this allows businesses to save money by continuing operations without being overly cautious.   With company directors increasingly liable for the safety of their employees, it’s unsurprising the EWN has attracted interest both at home and abroad.   “Initially, an IPO wasn’t on our mind, but with our company growing internationally and piloting successfully with a company in North America. We have huge opportunities, and we needed to resource those opportunities appropriately,” he says.   “You could potentially go down the route of bringing in new investors, but [an IPO] was the cleanest opportunity for us.”   Plowright says while he would not have been comfortable with taking a company to an IPO three or four years ago because it would have been a speculative investment, he now feels he has a mature business model.   “We’re different to a lot of the tech companies you see out there, because we’ve got a rapidly growing revenue base. We have a mature and proven business model and over 100 customers,” he says.   He also says assembling the right team and accurate costings going into the IPO has been “most important” as it has prevented a cost blowout.   The IPO is being managed by Veritas Securities and the listing application for the ASX will be lodged in the next few weeks once the prospectus has approval from ASIC.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Canva launches an iPad app

10:34PM | Thursday, 16 October

With a focus on growth, Australian startup Canva has launched an iPad app version of its easy to use graphic design platform, its most requested feature to date.   The app uses a simple drag-and-drop design interface with a library of more than one million photographs, graphics and fonts, and it makes creating graphics fast and easy. The advantage of the iPad app is that photos taken can be immediately integrated with design.   “In the past year since our launch we have been overwhelmed by the many ways people are using Canva every day. Our new app brings everything people love about Canva to the iPad,” says Canva chief executive Melanie Perkins.   Canva’s iPad app is free to download and provides access to Canva’s library of millions of stock photographs, illustrations and layouts. Users can upload photos from their device or Facebook account, or pay $1 per premium element when they publish their design.   Canva also provides professional designers with a faster way to create layouts and collaborate with clients, removing the need for frustrating back-and-forth email exchanges. The iPad app makes it especially easy to collaborate on the go.   Canva has been backed by investors including Facebook director of engineering and co-founder of Google Maps, Lars Rasmussen, Yahoo chief financial officer Ken Goldman, and funds including Matrix Partners, InterWest Partners, and 500 Startups.   Canva will be available in the app store starting from today. Find out more here.

Is anything ‘private’ anymore? How social media and tech companies sniff out your data

10:49AM | Thursday, 16 October

With all the new mobile devices come the potential new methods for advertisers to keep track of you across all your devices. They are given access through deals done by the large platforms and gatekeepers of your information.   Here are a few of the ways the big social media and tech companies are accessing your data and using it for profit.   Facebook: It has access to enormous amounts of very personal metadata collected from all of its users, including everything from employment, family, hair colour, friends, travel, home location and many other details. Mined from its users, this information is considered very valuable for advertisers and marketers.   Another way Facebook tracks your movements is when you use your Facebook sign-in for other websites. This is also tracked by Facebook.   And Facebook owns a number of apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram, that collect your information through your usage of the app. Facebook is large and looking to expand both its platform and ability to track your movements. It will keep purchasing and creating new ways to find and sell your information as this is its greatest income source.   Apple: Its main tracking is through your email address and iTunes account, which tracks your credit card data and usage. When you purchase anything through an Apple device or using any Apple system, this information is used so the ads you see are normally reflecting your past activities.   Google: When you log in to any Google account, you are then tied into the massive Google network. It also uses an Android mobile operating system which assigns each user a Google Ad ID. Google has many ad products and services such as AdSense, which access your ad identifier and compile the information with all the other YouTube, Gmail, Search and other personal digital history information, irrespective of what device you may be using. So why don’t they have to notify you of the use of your personal information? Because when you sign up to their services, you agree to their terms which include using your personal data as they please for advertising purposes. However, Google is still involved in class-action suits in various states in the US regarding its right to analyse message content and sell byproducts to advertisers. It is argued as beyond the scope of what is intended by the use of personal information.   Google maintains it has the right to collect even your most sensitive data as long as it flows across an open Wi-Fi network. Google has been doing a lot more than its lobbyists and executives are disclosing when they are defending their initiatives.   They could easily make collection of information for advertising more privacy-friendly if they wanted or were forced to, but at the moment we are at the mercy of the dominant operating system vendors who are not required to do so. Be aware: deals are being struck selling your information As you may have seen in the news recently, Facebook has struck a deal to sell access to your data to MasterCard. It claims it is not your ‘personal data’ but it includes your location, spending, connections and much more. This may not be personal data to some but it still seems very ‘personal’.   This is likely the first of many deals to help monetise the ‘free’ Facebook model and seems to be the model for many large platform service providers on the internet. It is likely not to be the last.   One thing that is important to remember about all this: it does not matter whether you are using an Android or an iOS device; you can still turn off many of the tracking mechanisms in the menu settings.   Yet it still makes one wonder what is left under the ‘personal data’ legal definition anymore.

Do we want an augmented reality or a transformed reality?

10:06AM | Tuesday, 14 October

It seems we are headed towards a world where augmented reality (AR) systems will be as common as smartphones are today – it’s already about to revolutionise medicine, entertainment, the lives of disabled people and of course advertising and shopping.   The big three tech companies have all invested heavily in research and development in the AR domain. Google will be releasing Google Glass later in the year, Microsoft has been working on its own AR device and not long ago Facebook bought the virtual reality (VR) company Oculus Rift.   The notion of AR that these companies are proposing is a kind of “smartphone for the eyes”, as traditional AR and VR converge in the optic realm. The reality boost We are moving into an era where we will, on a commercial scale, be taking our visual information in real time and integrating this with a wealth of external information to transform our daily lives. This will give us some degree of control over how we see the world, in the fundamental sense.   For example, we might be offered information about people or objects as they pop into our field of view. Or it could introduce into our visual field view things that don’t exist at all in the real world to potentially filter out of our vision things that are in fact there, such as giant advertising billboards (see below).   But this is not just another article about the radical changes that AR is likely to bring about. Rather it’s a call to begin thinking critically about the possibilities AR presents and the idea that perhaps instead of merely augmenting reality, we could transform it. The unspoken future Extrapolating from the recent history of technology gives us a glimpse of what the future of AR is likely to look like in the hands of the big tech companies.   First, the idea of the “app” will extend into the visual domain, giving us apps that aid us in all the things we already do: building a house, studying at a distance, travelling in a new city and even making love.   Second, the price for access to these new services and of having information at our fingertips is likely to involve surrendering ever more of our personal information. Critically, it will open up new markets for advertisers to promote their products and services in both tacit and explicit ways – an extension of the world of “advertising everywhere”.   The increased human consumption of advertising – driven perhaps largely by the increase of screens in the world – has begun to be referred to by some as the pollution of the mental environment.   By surrendering control over our immediate field of vision, advertising no longer needs to be limited to a screen or a surface but could become truly ubiquitous. Transformed reality? The name “augmented reality” gives it away. The vision of AR that we are seeing in the media and in press releases for products such as Google Glass is a vision of our world as we know it, but perhaps made a little easier through this technology.   In contrast, this technology, that can change what we sense in real time, has the potential to fundamentally change how we live. Do we have the imagination to dream about how instead of merely augmenting reality we could be aiming to transform it?   The transformative potential of this technology has begun to be envisioned by a number of different artists.   In the Artvertiser project, artists have developed an application that replaces billboards within the visual field with images of art. So instead of subconsciously consuming giant advertisements on a billboard from the bank, users could perhaps be consuming artworks by Banksy.   The example above is just the tip of the iceberg. What kind of a built environment do you want to inhabit? Your AR has the potential to change both the cityscape and the horizon, to overlay worlds upon worlds.   Other artists have begun experimenting with ways that the technology could be used to add extra dynamics to public artworks, bringing them to life.   The advent of AR presents a significant choice. Through detection, replacement and synthesis AR has the potential to both add to and subtract from our sensations. Aspects of the environment, even buildings and people could potentially be filtered in or out based on personal preference – our generation is the first in human history that holds this possibility.   The proposal is that rather than simply waiting to see what purposes are dreamed up by the purveyors of this technology, we need to begin thinking about how we want to use it.   Now is the time to start dreaming about how the advent of ubiquitous AR could not merely augment society, but transform it for the better.   Nick Kelly does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A new social network aims to reduce the isolation faced by new mothers

10:24AM | Friday, 10 October

A new social network called Mothers Groupie aims to reduce the isolation felt by many new mothers by helping them to meet both face-to-face and online, with the site also recently adding a directory of "helpers".   Co-founder Leanne Sexton told StartupSmart the idea for Mothers Groupie was born out of necessity and frustration after moving from Sydney, where she had previously worked in the media industry on titles such as Woman's Day, Cosmopolitan and Madison.   “When I fell pregnant with our first child, we decided to have a change of lifestyle and moved away from family and friends to the [NSW] Northern Rivers at Lennox Head,” Sexton says.   “There was honestly nothing for a pregnant mother until you had a baby, when you were put in a mothers’ group by the hospital with a group of women you might have nothing else in common with. When I searched online, there were mothers trying to find each other by posting messages on online forums, but those messages date quickly.”   Sexton says the experience led her to develop a social network to facilitate face-to-face meetups with local mothers, allowing for online catch-ups in between. The site began as a local service, before expanding its reach and features, and eventually adding apps for the iPhone and Google Play app stores.   “Within a month we had over 40 mothers in Lennox Head. That was at the start of the year, after having a baby late last year and we’ve been refining the product since. We started basic and then have been refining it based on feedback from mothers on features they’d like to see,” Sexton says.   “A couple of months ago we added an app. Mothers are incredibly time poor – many don’t have time to even use a laptop. They have their baby in one hand and a smartphone in the other, where many do much of their admin.   The website now has close to 2000 members and around 300 groups with very little marketing. According to Sexton, privacy concerns, especially the risk of baby photos being shared with strangers, is drawing many mothers away from established social networks such as Facebook.   “Women in general are very social beings. When they become mothers, they become active on social media. I can understand first hand, going from working in the media on Cosmo to being at home in Lennox Head. It’s such a growing space, and privacy is a big concern,” she says.   “We find there’s a real mix of ages. You go from young mums to mums in their 30s to a growing proportion over 30. There are many demographics that need something like this, such as mothers in rural areas or with FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) partners.”   “Post-natal depression is a real issue, and research shows isolation and a lack of support can be a key cause. We’re creating a platform for people to catch up face-to-face and online in between to reduce that isolation.”   A feature Mothers Groupie recently added is a directory of reputable "helpers" such as nannies, babysitters, au pairs, cleaners, lactation consultants, child sleep consultants and fitness experts. Mothers can post job ads or search for helpers, read ratings and testimonials, and can pay a small fee to see the contact details of helpers they like.   “From a business perspective, it’s a demographic that’s sought after by brands, and it’s a closed and very trusted environment.   “We’ve tested the model, it’s working well, and we’re now looking for $500,000 in seed funding to really push marketing, fine-tune development and expand to the US where there’s nothing quite like it.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Australian innovation: Three stereotypes we need to turn upside down

10:27PM | Tuesday, 7 October

Stimulating startups, innovation and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is critical for Australia’s economy. But we need to challenge some of our beliefs about who can and can't do these things if we want to lay the groundwork for substantive change.   I'm confident there is a growing sense of urgency around the critical link between startups, STEM and technology and Australia’s future prosperity, with tangible initiatives, focus and metrics in how these are stimulated appearing in many corporate, education and community initiatives.   If Australia is truly going to increase innovation and leverage digital tech on a global scale, then we must make some key changes. "Start ups" and "STEM" are stereotypically synonymous with a younger generation. These stereotypes are unnecessarily narrow. At some stage our ideas of who can and can’t innovate with technology (which currently exclude corporate, small business and those outside their 20s or 30s) will become self-fulfilling and self-defeating.   We need to invest in building a nation that leads in STEM and critical thinking. Australia invested just $4.5 per capita in venture capital for startups last year, compared with $120 in Israel, $85 in the US, $20 in South Korea and $15 in the UK.   We must also take steps to stimulate innovation beyond the stereotype of the young, tech-enabled crowd.   Here are three stereotypes we’d do well to reverse.   Stereotype #1 – Young entrepreneurs belong only in startups   Young entrepreneurial types start from the beginning with building a customer base or idea, and without the constraints of towing caravans of what they should adhere to. We know that a lack of business skills, networks and scale are the main reasons startups often fail, and venture funds look for these very things – previous attempts in the form of second-time-around founders, or those with prior business exposure.   What if we took entrepreneurs starting out and gave them a position in large corporates? Switch the assumption that young entrepreneurs only belong in startups and create an employment construct where, say for two years, they have a direct reporting line into leadership to work on new services or products.   It’s possible to find the right balance of new thinking, to create options from alternate perspectives, and in delivery, to combine the skills and diversity of that approach with leveraging the commercial, scale, marketing and regulatory expertise of a large corporate.   Stereotype #2 – People who work in corporates can’t innovate and don’t have a startup persona   It’s evident that after a few years’ experience and building expertise, there are corporate or medium-sized business employees who have a good balance of business experience and feel an urgency to fill a gap in the market. If they don’t, it’s often because they have financial commitments or dependents and fear if they leave the paid workforce, they’ll be locked out.   According to a Kauffman Org report, the average age of successful founders is 40, with twice as many successful entrepreneurs over 50 as there are under 25 years of age. Experienced entrepreneurs will probably have had experience in people management, scale and financial management to assist the odds in expanding.   We'd do well to reverse the cliché that those of middle age are too late to the game. Such people are experienced in business, scale and leadership and have strong relationship networks to leverage, as well as second nature digital literacy.   The suggestion is to offer more middle management the opportunity to take a leave of absence to focus on a new startup idea. Benefits to the sponsor organisation are many. An employee who has been with you for eight years would be revived and focused when they returned after 12 months establishing their own business idea. The sponsor organisation may offer a program, part salary, grant or leave without pay for the employee to have that opportunity.   It could then take first right to buy, bring the idea into the organisation under terms, partner or procure. It could be the organisation's data or API is leveraged. We know corporates aren’t short of ideas or highly intelligent people, and we know Australia needs more successful startups.   As a quick litmus test, in the PwC innovation team 80% have had their own successful startups or been working in the startup scene, with each returning to corporate life passionate about re-inventing Australia’s corporates and governments.   Stereotype #3 – More experienced people are neither innovative nor technology literate, and the business of solving problems is best left to younger generations   There’s nearly everything wrong with this perception. Reversing it, and providing the missing link, could have a profound network effect. By the time many in this older generation retire they will have been using smartphones, downloading apps – with higher mobile adoption rates than most countries in the world – and using Google, Amazon, eBay, for example, for 15-20 years.   The size of the generation ranging 50-60+ years is increasing as a percentage of population. This generation consists of people who are mostly still fit and active, will live 20 more years after retiring, have good business networks and employment experience, have paid off their assets and have access to their super funds.   As Bernard Salt pointed out in The Australian recently, the way we think about 55+ year olds is now different in an age when we live to beyond 85. Most aren't retiring, but adopting "portfolio lifestyles".   How great would it be to see this generation of entrepreneurs celebrating a new phase of their lives, and instead of being positioned as a social services consumer, becoming the innovator or mentor or partner with young Australians in business: An architect in her 60s combining with a manufacturing tech-savvy person in a 3D printing venture; or a semi-retired doctor using augmented reality for remote patient diagnosis.   Reversing these three myths and providing the missing support will stimulate innovation across the nation, leverage established human capital and accelerate Australia to fire on all innovation cylinders. Reversing each stereotype embodies diversity of thought. It would help accelerate a nation of innovators and create momentum in the economy for technology-literate people and jobs.   Kate Eriksson is the head of innovation at PwC Australia’s Digital Change services. A stalwart of the digital industry, Kate’s experience and network spans across some of the most iconic digital businesses in the world such as Google, Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

THE NEWS WRAP: Cloud-storage provider Box puts IPO plans on hold until 2015

10:33AM | Thursday, 2 October

Cloud-storage provider Box has decided to delay its planned initial public offering until 2015.   Sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that the IPO, which Box filed for in March, won’t occur until next year because of volatile market conditions.   Box chief executive officer Aaron Levie gained some financial flexibility in July by raising $150 million at a valuation of $2.4 billion, after delaying the IPO in May.   One of the sources says the next logical time for an IPO is during the company’s fourth quarter, which ends in January.   Facebook to refine name authentication process   Facebook says that it would be building new authentication tools to verify accounts flagged as fake, amid protests by members of the LGBT community regarding the need to be able to use pseudonyms.   The protests arose two weeks ago when Facebook cracked down on several hundred drag performers whose accounts had been reported as fake. The site’s only process for verifying accounts involves asking for some form of ID as evidence of a real name.   Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox says the policy had done a good job up until recently, and that Facebook wants people to use the name they use in real life, rather than their legal name.   Houzz raises $165 million   Fast-growing US-based home-remodelling site Houzz says it has raised a $US165 million ($189 million) Series D round, led by Sequoia Capital.   The funds will be used to accelerate the startups global expansion plans. It’s already opened offices in Berlin and London, and more recently Sydney.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 238.19 to 16,804.71. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US87 cents.

Meet the Australian startup that wants your complaints

9:01AM | Tuesday, 30 September

Complaints have never really had a specific home on the internet. They’ve always just been kind of everywhere.   Melbourne social network startup Vent wants to change that. It’s providing a platform that is specifically for people to moan, rant or complain about whatever might be upsetting them.   Users sign up, choose one of five moods which comes with a corresponding colour, for example red matches up with anger, and then post their complaint. The platform is much like Twitter, users can follow people they know and curate their own feed of Vents, or browse posts from the wider Vent community.   It’s the community that Vent is building that co-founder Dean Serroni says is where the startup’s value lies.   “We don’t want to become a junky place for people to discuss random things. We want people who have problems or complaints to come to our app, where they’ll be associating with people in similar situations,” he says.   Serroni and co-founder Duncan Turner came up with the idea over coffee last year. It was around the time of the Essendon Football Club supplements controversy and the last throes of the Gillard/Rudd Labour government. They didn’t want to launch their complaints into the internet ether on general purpose social networks like Twitter and Facebook, nor did they want to damage their “online personalities” either.   So they decided to build Vend. After launching a beta version on the Apple App Store in January the platform grew to 3000 users in July, before more than tripling the two months since to over 10,000 users. To date they’ve raised $100,000 in funding from an investor Serroni is unable to name yet.   What Serroni and Turner didn’t expect was the warmth of the community they had created. Serroni says users are supportive of one another and help each other through tough times.   “It’s been really comforting to be honest. People are able to share their experiences and come out feeling comforted. A negative experience can become a positive one,” he says. “People understand they’re not alone in their issues. People share in their miseries and feel better for it.   Protecting that supportive vibe, and the value that come with it, is one of Vent’s greatest challenges. As it scales it becomes more and more difficult to police the site. Many websites require users to link Facebook accounts in an attempt to encourage civilised debate. Vent asked that of its users initially, but was inundated with requests to remove that requirement. Anonymity is key to venting they said.   Now anyone can sign up to an account; all that’s needed is an email address. The startup is rolling out new features in the coming weeks that will give users more control over what they do and don’t see. Serroni says they’re also considering providing individual users with powers that allow them to curate and moderate other users. It’s also adding more emotions and a feature which allows users “hugs” or “WTFs” in a similar manner to Facebook ‘likes’ as a way to endorse and sympathise with posts.   As for monetisation, Serroni says the startup is examining a number of options, none of which will be advertising.   “As our user base shapes up and we start to understand it better, we’ll start to think about it more he says. We want to understand them to ensure when we do monetise we’re providing value rather than spamming with ads,” Serroni says.   “We’ve got some ideas at the moment, one idea being professional counselling services that can be engaged directly through the app. And a few others that I’d prefer not to mention.”   Vent comes out of beta later this week and is available on iOS with an Android release slated for December.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tinybeans sprout with a $2 million capital raise

9:34PM | Monday, 29 September

Tinybeans, a social network that has amassed 500,000 users in its two years since launch, has raised $2 million.   The Sydney-based startup allows parents to share family photos privately and securely while helping track their children’s development.   Tinybean users sign up to the platform and can upload pictures via a web or smartphone app, and share those pictures privately with friends and family. Followers can access a user’s Tinybeans Journal, where all those moments are collated, via email, website, or the app.   The $2 million investment comes from “a consortium of high network private investors” mostly based in Sydney but also London and Hong Kong.   Eddie Geller, who co-founded the startup in 2012 along with Stephen O’Young and Sarah Jane Kurtini, was unable to elaborate on exactly who the investors were.   Prior to this raise, its first round of institutional investment, Tinybeans had bootstrapped its way to over 500,000 users.   More than 50% of those users are based in the US and the startup plans to set up operations there next year to help support its biggest market. Its project is to double its user base in the next three months, and reach a million users by the end of the year.   “We’re ambitious but hopefully realistic,” Geller says.   To achieve that target, Tinybeans is relying on its users sharing the platform with friends and family, growing via mutually beneficial partnerships with other companies, and by ramping up a public relations and marketing campaign, an effort made possible by the funding round.   That funding will also be used to build out the Tinybeans team and develop new and existing features that help families raise their children.   “Unlike other social networks we are so much more than just sharing pictures and updates – we’re a private social network focused around the well-being of a child,” Geller says.   “Parents are creating a keepsake/journal rather than a timeline. Our users own their content and we provide value beyond printing services and sharing photos through our focus on helping families raise their children and support their child’s development.”   Tinybeans does that by helping parents track not only their children’s general milestones, like their first Christmas, or first tantrum, but also developmental milestones based around things like gross motor skills and fine motor skills. It offers advice to parents by suggesting activities that will help their children develop those skills.   “It becomes a tool for parents to help them understand the developmental stages of a child’s life and how they can help them,” Geller says.   The idea for that feature came from co-founder O'Young's own experience parenting. He couldn’t find a solution to help his eldest child overcome speech delays. In addition he was reluctant to share photos of his children on Facebook.   “As Tinybeans is a private social network you can confidently share your precious moments without risking alienating friends who may not like having their feeds clogged with your baby picture,” Geller says.   Geller says the startup had no trouble securing investors and has several revenue models based primarily around brand partnerships.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Fitness app Zova gets smart about health tech with iOS launch

9:04AM | Monday, 29 September

Brisbane startup Zova is hoping its contextual awareness will carry its female-focused health and fitness app to mainstream popularity.   Zova launched for iOS two days ago, and thanks to its Apple Health integration, it is one of 14 apps being featured on Apple Health App Store page.   Co-founder Niall McCarthy says while there’s no shortage of health and fitness apps available, none really make the most of a smartphone’s capabilities, nor the communities that want to use those products.   The Zova team, in conjunction with its “Zova Ambassadors”, a bunch of exercise and lifestyle professionals, has created a number of exercise programs that combine custom-made music with “exercise science” to achieve better results.   The app is also aware of the context. What that means, McCarthy explains, is when its user opens the app, it suggests workouts based on factors like time of day, weather, and location.   “Once you’ve downloaded the app, it will recommend based on your time and location. For example, you can click on your workout stream, and follow immediately, visual and vocal cues, along with music and rhythm that will help you,” he says.   The music and rhythm aspect of Zova was central to its development. McCarthy and his fellow co-founder James Tonkin originally came up with an idea to use rhythm to help kids exercise, while washing dishes at a pizza shop. They went on to develop a sports product which helped kids get active and rolled out the product to schools around the world.   About a year ago they decided to pivot to enter the consumer fitness market with support from the investor and founder of health and fitness company Jetts, Brendon Levenson.   “Health and fitness is the next thing to be disrupted, and the time is now with companies like Apple and Google providing wearables to help realise that,” McCarthy says.   Users will be able to try the app for a week for free and after that they’ll be asked to pay $25 for a 12 week subscription, or $75 for a yearly subscription.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Ever regretted a drunken tweet? This Australian startup has a solution

9:47AM | Thursday, 25 September

Australian startup Social Check wants to stop drunken tweets and Facebook rants costing people jobs.   The startup allows consumers to audit their social media accounts. For a fee of $89.95, Social Check produces a report that scans an individual’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ accounts, including profile data and the last 10,000 posts. It searches for profanity, misspellings, posts with a certain tone, inappropriate content, and incomplete and inconsistent information.   It then gives that user a score out of 1000, based on comparison with peers and best practice, and provides recommendations on how to improve their “online personal brand”.   It’s common knowledge that one of the first ports of call for employers in the recruitment process is googling a candidate’s name. Founder David Griffiths says it was with this in mind that he launched Social Check.   “When I was growing up, I had it drummed into me how much that first impression matters, polished shoes, eye contact,” he says.   “Behaviourally, what’s happening now is first impressions aren’t occurring when you meet them face to face, it’s when people are looking at your LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook profiles, and it’s at that point when they decide whether we get to meet them or not.”   He says opting out of social media is no solution either, as increasingly companies are looking for people who embrace technology, are adaptive to change and can build and maintain relationships. Using social media well is an example candidates can use to meet such criteria.   It’s not just job hunters that Social Check is aimed at. Griffiths says Social Check will also give companies a way to get ahead of any social media scandals that might arise from their employees social media habits.   “(Social media) has occurred quite quickly, and most businesses only have a stick, an electronic communication policy where they say if you step out of line we’ll whack you over the head,” he says.   “There needs to be greater awareness and understanding of how you look online and what it might say about you.”   To help with this, Social check offers its customers content which includes recommendations, tips and tricks, to help avoid using social media in a way which damages their personal brand or their employer’s reputation.   Social Check launched three months ago and is in the midst of its first capital raise.   Griffiths was not willing to say exactly how many people are using the platform, but he says the number has been growing week on week and includes people from all over the world.   “This is a universal problem, it’s not unique to Australia and we’re getting about 80% of our traffic and business from elsewhere,” he says.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The story of Bugcrowd, from Startmate to San Francisco

9:03PM | Wednesday, 24 September

There are many more bad people hacking computer systems than good ones helping them not get hacked. Each week it seems that some huge institution reveals that their customer's financial information has been breached or passwords compromised. There was Target earlier this year and Home Depot in the US more recently and hundreds more that never see the light of media attention.   So what do companies do to get help? Smooth sounding salespeople from trusted large organisations sell the time of security penetration testing consultants at a rate of $2000 per day. The client doesn't know if they'll be any good and the cost means they can't hire as many of them as they would like.   Bugcrowd was setup to change the way this corner of the world works. Casey Ellis and Serg Belokamen had worked together in a small consulting firm selling their services one day at a time before starting Bugcrowd and joining Startmate last year.   The premise of Bugcrowd was to pay for results not hours. Companies like Facebook and Google had pioneered the concept of a bug bounty program where good hackers would responsibly disclose vulnerabilities and the companies would reward them, first with t-shirts and now with serious cash. Bugcrowd would let all the companies in the world who weren't the size of Facebook and Google run similar bug bounty programs.   The second insight was to help security testers build a reputation. By sitting in the middle of helping security problems get fixed, Bugcrowd could audit and verify if a security consultant was any good or not. The tester could then take that reputation and help win more consulting work, more reliably and not have to work for a big accounting firm. You can see an example here in Pinterest's bug bounty hall of fame, who use Bugcrowd's platform to manage their security testing.   What was once a whacky idea is now a common practice, at least in Silicon Valley, and Bugcrowd has grown very quickly. But not without some heartfelt moments. The company decided to relocate to San Francisco to be nearer to its customers and Serg, the original co-founder, had to make the personal decision to stay in Australia and leave the company. Chris Raethke, who was a founder of another company in the same Startmate batch last year that had failed, joined the company as a founder.   The company's growth though, meant they were able to raise a large multi-million dollar seed round from some great investors like Icon Ventures, Paladin Capital and Square Peg Capital, as well as a bunch of angels.   We filmed an interview with Casey and Chris about their journey so far and the help Startmate gave them in this mini documentary. Applications for Startmate 2015 close next Tuesday and we'd love for you to begin your own story. Apply now.     Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Apple and Google make changes in the battle for new markets

9:47PM | Tuesday, 23 September

Has Google finally decided to take total control of its Android destiny with the release of its Android One operating system?   Aimed at “emerging markets”, such as India, Google will operate the smartphone device rather than handing over to hardware partners such as Samsung and HTC.   Historically, Google has taken a hands-off approach to Android, providing it “free” to manufacturers as an open source product.       These manufacturers have a reputation for adding on their own extra features such as the Samsung TouchWiz user interface.   The assumed goal was that a better mobile experience for consumers would funnel them towards Google’s other products such as its popular search.   In contrast, Android One will not allow that customisation, giving Google full control of the operating system users get. So perhaps the latest move represents a paradigm shift for the company?   The life and times of Android   The approach taken with the Android operating system has always been more open than that taken by rival Apple with its iOS operating system.   In fact, in general Android has always been considered more open than iOS, starting from the very beginning before the company was acquired by Google and the original Android operating system was released open source to the community.   That version of the operating system still exists today and is used by companies such as Amazon on its Kindle Fire tablet. This creates what software developers call a “fork”, with the base Android operating system sitting underneath the customisations that Amazon makes.     But in recent times Google has begun to demonstrate a desire to take more control of its operating system. Starting with the Nexus phones and devices, which involved Google providing a reference design for both phone and operating system free of the extras added by the hardware manufacturers and the carriers.   This has continued with the announcement of Android One, with Google starting to become more involved in the entire process and trying to own the user experience.   Products such as Google Glass represent other forays into this vertical integration, an area traditionally embraced by their main competitor, Apple.   But Apple is starting to change its approach as well.   A more open Apple?   Apple has always been a product focused company. Starting with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 and continuing with the iPhone and other iOS devices, Apple has always strived to control the whole experience of hardware, software and services.           Earlier this month in a television interview with Charlie Rose, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple values vertical integration and wants to control their primary product.   But looking at Apple, industry insiders can begin to see a shift in the way that the company operates. The most recent hardware and software announced by Apple (announced one week before the first Android One smartphones) provides a lot more control for developers and users than they’ve ever had before.   Features such as extensions allow apps to communicate with each other and users to share data among apps through the share pane. Developers can add features to place small apps called widgets in the notification centre or to enable actionable notifications, allowing you to (for instance) respond directly to a Facebook message from within the notification.   And, in an unprecedented move, users can replace the Apple provided keyboard with a third party alternative. While all of these sound like small changes, they represent Apple relinquishing control of some parts of their iOS experience back to developers, a major departure from when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007.           In his interview with Charlie Rose, Tim Cook was also asked what companies Apple competed with and, without hesitation he nominated Google as the main competitor, even going so far as to downplay Samsung as a competitor as the Android operating system was created by Google.     This is especially interesting given that Apple has slowly moved Google out of its phones, (in)famously replacing Google Maps with Apple Maps a couple of years ago as well as slowly enhancing the voice recognising personal assistant, Siri, to perform many of the functions that Google performs with search.   Even though the Apple Maps launch was riddled with problems (with users claiming the experience was sub par compared to the Google offering and prompting Tim Cook to issue an apology), Apple is clearly looking to shed itself of Google and own more of this part of the experience too.   A new battle for market (and mind) share   So, over the course of September, both Google and Apple have shown a new side to themselves. Both are pushing into new markets, with Android One specifically targeted at the China/India market.   Many analysts suggest that the iPhone 6 Plus is an Apple foray into the desire for “bigger phones” in the same market.   To conquer this market and maintain a foothold on the market in existing developed countries, it would appear both companies are making some changes - with Google taking control of its destiny while Apple becomes more open.   Both are baby steps for now, but perhaps this is the beginning of a new battle, for the market (and mind) of more and more consumers.

Emotions fuel Alibaba’s historic IPO

9:13AM | Monday, 22 September

The story of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba has become almost as magical as the original Arabian story that gave it its name.   It has become compelling because of the dazzling success of its public listing on the New York Stock Exchange last Friday. Alibaba’s shares opened at $92.70, already some 27% above their listing price of $68 and ended up raising US $21.8 billion for the company, making it the world’s largest technology IPO. Alibaba is now valued at $231 billion, making it bigger than Facebook ($200 billion), Amazon ($150 billion) and eBay ($65 billion).   The curious aspect of this phenomenal success is that immediately prior to the IPO, the general US public were largely unaware of the company, what it actually did, and why it would be worth that much money. A poll held on the 18th September in the US showed that only 12% of those surveyed had ever heard of the company or the IPO. In the case of Alibaba’s IPO, what was important was not its visibility with the US general public, but with the institutional investors involved in the initial allocation of shares.   The emotional drivers of the stock market   It is easy to assume that when it comes to buying and selling shares that the large investment banks, fund managers and brokers are all acting on the basis of objective calculations and financial models. Behind the rhetoric however, are decisions based on emotions. Not only is there good evidence that emotions drive a great deal of the day-to-day trading, even in the professional and seasoned trader, but that key events such as IPOs are driven in much the same way. This is perhaps stating the obvious. The price of shares will ultimately be decided by what buyers in the market are willing to pay for them and so if there is a collective view that a company is worth a particular valuation, then it doesn’t really matter what the company fundamentals are actually saying. In the case of Alibaba, sentiment is being driven by a rich and gripping story that could well have come from the “Arabian Nights”.   Jack the hero   The hero of the piece is of course Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma who started his working career reputedly as a street seller and english teacher and last week became a multi-billionaire worth $18.5 billion. Ma is a true maverick who professes no technical knowledge and is prone to spontaneous decisions about how his money is spent. He bought half of the Chinese Guangzhou Evergrande Football Club after discussing the deal over drinks. But he has built a company that is growing faster than Amazon and is making a consistent profit, which Amazon has been unable to do.   Setting the scene   The backdrop to the story is China, where e-commerce is set to overtake the US this year, heading towards being double its value by 2016. Even before that happens, China’s online commerce is already breaking records. Single’s Day, a special online shopping day held each 11th November, saw Alibaba process $5.75 billion in sales last year. This was 2.5 times more than the total sales on Cyber Monday in the US, a special day of sales held by companies like Amazon and eBay.   Trials and ordeals in the hero’s journey   Of course, no story of the hero’s journey would be complete without the tests and ordeals. Academics have already warned that the corporate structure of Alibaba, with a few people wielding enormous power, represents an enormous governance risk. The corporate structure is partly a reflection of how the company has had to structure to get around regulations in China, but also in part to deals that Ma did with early investor companies like Yahoo and Softbank. Yahoo was forced to sell 121.7 million shares at the offering price of $68, potentially losing nearly $3 billion if they had been able to sell them on the open market later that day.   Other challenges range from normal concerns of competition through to ongoing issues with the quality of traders and fake products on Alibaba’s sites.   The Alibaba story was captivating enough to make investors clammer after their shares on the opening day. Of course, investors could also have simply been displaying the irrational exuberance that accompanies an Internet stock bubble. In any event, it is still a story that has a long way to play out and it is guaranteed to be a page turner.   David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation.   Read the original article.

Here’s what I learnt by launching 10 startups and losing $43k along the way

10:55AM | Tuesday, 7 October

For years, the overnight success story he was craving eluded Nic Blair.   The digital entrepreneur has 10 startups to his name, and has personally lost $43,000 along the way.   “Failure is how you learn, though. It’s all part of the journey,” he says.   Blair began turning his ideas into business ventures in 2007, and spent the next year juggling his time between six startups with a couple of business partners. These included a Facebook app, a directory for a martial arts business, online marketing agency NSM Digital and online content network Luscious Media, which included Knockout Bids and Play Free Online Games.   But none of the ideas worked, and the trio walked away from all the businesses and returned to the traditional workforce.   The 28-year-old Brisbane man had lost $25,000 all up, though landed a job in online marketing for Flight Centre and wanted to repay his debts.   “I had to accept that I needed a job to pay the bills. It was hard, because I had so many ideas.”   He started his seventh startup, SEO and SEM agency Search Factory, on his own in 2011 after quitting Flight Centre, and it has been successful.   Search Factory has grown to employ a team of 27 people and a further 25 contractors (all based in Australia). It has almost quadrupled turnover from around $560,000 in their first year to $2.2 million in their third year.   “We’re constantly cleaning up digital messes for clients, getting penalties removed so they’re ranking again, that sort of thing. We focus on high quality search, so we don’t outsource to overseas, which is a model that has worked well for us.”   At the same time, he launched number eight – a network of 25 travel websites called the All Site Network – which he hoped to turn into a lead generation business, though this ultimately failed. “The whole concept was good, but I wasn’t practising what I was preaching about lead generation, so it fell over. Google changed its algorithms, which hurt the business, too. I sold it cheaply and walked away with an $18,000 loss.”   In September 2012 he launched yet another startup, mobile apps business Brus Media, which has also been a success. This was his ninth startup.   Brus Media is an affiliate network focused on performance-based advertising for mobile apps. It helps clients monetise and grow their iPhone, iPad and Android apps.   In a nutshell, Brus Media offers promotional opportunities for advertisers and game developers. Blair and his co-founders have helped grow some of the largest gaming apps, including Candy Crush Saga, Castle Clash, Clash of Clans and Slotomania.   Back on the very first day of business, Brus Media generated just $1 in revenue. Fast forward, and its generating $1 in revenue every 7.6 seconds, which equates to almost $4000 per day, based on an eight-hour work day. In March this year, Brus Media had over 19,000,000 clicks for mobile apps, over 550,000 installs and made over $225,000 in revenue.   Both Brus Media and Search Factory were launched with no capital and present huge overseas growth opportunities, which Blair is focused on now. He was recently named in the 2014 Australian Anthill 30 Under 30 list.   A recent opportunity to purchase FreeRiderMX magazine (print circulation of around 8000) also presented itself, which Blair seized upon. He’s trying to revive it by focusing on a stronger digital strategy to grow print sales, which marks his tenth business, which he’s rebuilding from the ground up.   The biggest lesson he’s learned has been the importance of focusing on one startup at a time.   “The gap between closing down and opening a new business hasn’t really existed for us. Sometimes if the idea strikes, we’ve just gone out there and launched a new startup. I probably wouldn’t do that again. It’s far better to focus on one thing at a time,” Blair says.   “I’ve also learnt that you don’t need a bunch of money to start a business. The marketing side of business is definitely a skill learnt, because that’s going to make the startup, or not.”   Don’t put barriers between yourself if you’re thinking of starting a business, he says.   “Most people I speak to are thinking about starting a business, but tell me all the reasons why they can’t do it now. Don’t wait until everything is perfect to get started. Particularly in the tech world.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Pitching to investors: Three top tips from Carsales founder Greg Roebuck

9:08AM | Thursday, 18 September

Speaking in front of a healthy crowd of entrepreneurs at a Startup Grind Melbourne event at the NAB Atrium on Tuesday, Carsales.com.au founder and managing director Greg Roebuck gave his top three tips for startup founders to consider when pitching to investors.   1. Don’t expect to be an overnight success   “The chances of someone being an Instagram, two or three years of hard work, a billion dollars; sorry, it’s unlikely. You’ve got to have the view you’re going to be doing this for years. I don’t want someone that’s built something that’s enough to get some money and then walk away. In my view, people say why are you still working in the same business all these years later, they ask why haven’t you done something else?”   “It was never a let’s build it to a point where we can flick to someone else and move on. I like businesses that the people have a genuine passion for, and have passion for it for a longer period of time. It doesn’t mean a great idea can’t be sold to a Google or a Facebook or a Twitter, but it’s probably not how I think about businesses.”   2. Belief and passion   “Nobody will tell you it’s a good idea, otherwise they would have done it themselves. Everyone will tell you a bad idea, and it’s always easy to say no. I like people that are prepared to get a few noes and are prepared to keep giving it a go.”   3. Solve a real-world problem   “Car sales were broken. And a lot of things we do in Carsales people take for granted now: like list until sold. We were the first people in the world, certainly in Australia, to offer listing until sold for a classified. I love the old classified model. It was put an ad in The Age on a Saturday it’ll cost you $70 bucks. If it doesn’t sell, well give me another $70 bucks. If it still doesn’t sell give me another $70 bucks.   The problem with that model is they made more money if they did a bad job. Then I came along and said give me your money and my job is to get you a sale and you never have to pay me again because you’ve given me the money for the job I have to do. So solving real-world problems that help people.”   Startup Grind Melbourne’s next event will feature Envato co-founder and CEO Collis Ta’eed on Wednesday, October 29. For tickets, head over to Startup Grind Melbourne’s Eventbrite page.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The dark art of Facebook fiddling with your news feed

9:33AM | Thursday, 4 September

Facebook’s news feed is probably the most-used feature of the social network. It organises posts, photos, links and advertisements from your friends and the pages you follow into a single stream of news. But lately we’ve seen the news feed making headlines of its own.   In August, users and journalists began to question Facebook’s news feed after noticing a scarcity of links and posts about the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.   Facebook also announced changes to the news feed to decrease the visibility of clickbait-style headlines. These are headlines that attempt to lure visitors to a webpage with intriguing but uninformative previews, and Facebook made up a typical example.   Facebook says it will be tracking the amount of time that users spend on a website after clicking such a link, and penalising the publishers of links that don’t keep reader attention.   In June, Facebook faced criticism after the publication of research findings based on an “emotional contagion” experiment that manipulated the news feed of almost 700,000 users. It raised some ethical concern among both Facebook users and observers.   Given how little we understand of Facebook’s internal affairs and the machinations of the news feed’s filter algorithms, the growing public concern around Facebook’s operations is understandable.   Why do the algorithms matter?   As users, our readiness to trust Facebook as a hub for social, professional and familial interactions, as well as a source for following and discussing news, has afforded the company a privileged position as an intermediary in our social and political lives.   Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s announcement that Twitter decided to censor user-uploaded images of American journalist James Foley’s execution is a timely reminder of the many roles of social networking platforms.   These platforms and their operators do not simply present data and human interaction in a neutral way — they also make editorial judgements about the kinds of data and interaction they want to facilitate.   This should lead us to question the ways in which Facebook’s roles as an intermediary of our information and social connections allows their operators to potentially influence their users.   Why does Facebook need algorithms to sort the news?   One of the most common responses to criticism of the news feed is the suggestion that Facebook does away with sorting entirely, and simply show everything chronologically — just like Twitter.   Showing everything can make the news feed seem a bit more like a news firehose. Facebook engineers estimate that the average user’s news feed would show around 1,500 new posts each day.   The “firehose model” is not without its own issues. By showing all posts as they happen, Twitter’s approach can tend to favour the users who post most often, and that can let the noisiest users drown out other worthy voices.   This concern may be an influence on Twitter’s recent changes to show tweets favourited by other followers in a user’s timeline, and its apparent readiness to experiment with algorithmic changes to their users' timelines.   Algorithmic filtering may well be helpful given the amount of information we deal with on a day-to-day basis but the unexplained “black box” nature of most algorithmic systems can be headache too.   Changes to Facebook’s algorithms can dramatically affect the traffic some websites receive, much to the chagrin of their publishers. Publishers who have registered with Facebook receive some basic metrics as to the number of users who have seen their post. Individual users receive even less feedback as to how widely (if at all) their posts have been seen.   These algorithms are ostensibly created by the developers of Facebook and Twitter in service of creating a better experience for their users (both individuals and corporate).   But social platforms have a vested interest in keeping users engaged with their service. We must recognise that these interests can shape the development of the platform and its functions.   A social network’s filtering may be biased against showing content that engineers have deemed controversial or potentially upsetting to help users enjoy the the network. These filters could stop you from seeing a post that would have upset you but they might also limit the visibility of a cry for help from someone in need.   Are there antidotes to algorithms?   If users are concerned by the choices that a social media platform seems to be making, they can demand a greater degree of transparency. That being said, these systems can be complex. According to Facebook, more than 100,000 different variables are factored into the news feed algorithms.   Another option might be to regulate: subject sufficiently large technology companies and their social algorithms to regular independent auditing, similar to the regulations for algorithmic financial trading.   Alternatively, users could use the platform in unintended ways or learn to subvert and scam the system to their own advantage.   Users could also lessen their usage of Facebook and seek a less-filtered stream of news and information from a variety of other sources to suit their needs.   For better or worse, algorithmic filtering will likely become a staple of our data-fuelled, internet-mediated lives, but in time we may also see services that give users more direct control over the algorithms that govern what they get to see.   Andrew Quodling does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.