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Five ways to make your marketing more strategic

5:59PM | Monday, 26 May

Too often businesses take an unplanned approach to their marketing, either following the crowd or acting on a hunch they decide to "try it and see". But it's the fastest way to blow your marketing budget.   True marketing magic happens when the right product or service, with the right message meets the right people, at the right time, on the right marketing platform. Though, to do that, you need a strategy, and you need to test and measure your results.   So stop doing what you think you should be doing, what the company down the road is doing or what you heard would be good to try and start strategising the best way to create the marketing magic for your business. Here are five tips to get you started.   1. Qualify your marketing efforts   In order to make the most of your marketing campaign and investment you need to: Check there is a need for your products or services Craft messages that are relevant and emotionally engaging with the audience that have the need Ensure the platform or strategy you use will reach a large number of the audience you are targeting By evaluating your marketing efforts, strategies and opportunities on the simple criteria of relevance, target and reach, you can quickly protect your budget from marketing strategies that "everyone is doing" and decide what you will and won’t do. 2. Know the purpose   Whatever marketing or advertising you do, there needs to be a clear purpose for it. You need to know what you want someone to do after reading or hearing the specific message you have created, as this will impact the call to action you use.   Is it to call you? Go to your website? Sign up to the mailing list? Buy immediately? Once you know what you need them to do, you can then make sure your copy, call to action and incentive all work together to make it happen.   3. Ensure there are real benefits or an opportunity to get a return   It sounds obvious, but many marketing campaigns proceed under the guise of "increasing brand awareness" (sponsorship can be an ideal example of this), which is fine if you already have brand awareness, have a large marketing budget to play with or if it's a highly relevant and targeted opportunity, but it's impact is very hard to measure.   Whatever you look to invest your marketing dollars in, there needs to be real benefits and return. So, to use the sponsorship example, find a way to proactively reach your audience in a measurable way like sponsoring a prize and getting the business cards of those who enter.   4. Test your message on a smaller campaign   Before you embark on a larger marketing or advertising campaign test your headline and message on a smaller one.   It could be through a focus group, survey, Facebook advertising campaign, a Google AdWords advertisement or a smaller mail out to test and measure the results. Better to find out a message doesn't work on a small scale with a small investment rather than a large one.   5. Don't confuse persistence with foolishness   While you need to allocate a set amount of time to tell if a product, message, platform or strategy is working, you don't want to keep wasting time, money and effort on something that isn't.   To prevent this from happening, set a cap or measurement on your efforts. It could be a time limit, or a set amount of mail outs you do in order to test the product or service, message or platform to see if it is getting a response.   As entrepreneurs we need to be mindful that sometimes business ideas, products or services and marketing campaigns don't work out.   When this is the case, it is important for your business and your bottom line to stop instead of persisting, put it down to education and move on to the next thing.   How do you ensure your marketing is strategic?

How I started a business just using Facebook

5:12AM | Monday, 26 May

I started a page for Floragram and shared it through my personal Facebook. Initially, it was family and friends that liked my updates and photos, as well as sharing a few posts. As they engaged with the page, I found their friends started to notice the activity and became aware of Floragram as well.   For each of my posts I try to include a photo of a bunch I have made, as visual content grabs more attention in the news feed, particularly when people like a post or comment on it (this activity often comes up in their friend’s news feed as well).   The more active I am on the Floragram page then the more likely people will be to see the brand and trust the brand. They can see the style and quality, and the fact that other people are ordering bunches and hopefully think of the brand when they need flowers next.   Fortunately, no real capital was required to get the basic idea up and running. My first Facebook post simply told people that I would be delivering flowers on Sunday, and asked them to send me a message if they would like to order a bunch for 'someone special'.   I took a photo of the first orders and posted them to the page, along with photos of other bunches I had made up to experiment with wrapping, bunch size and colour mixing and test demand.   So far I have also created a basic logo, printed my own gift tags to send with the flowers and have been completing the deliveries myself, which was based on that testing and feedback.   Awareness is starting to grow organically through social media and word of mouth – I'm now starting to get page likes and enquiries from people who have seen the posts, seen the flowers delivered or know someone who has ordered them.   Currently, I am taking orders through Facebook messages and organising bank transfers – both of which do not incur a fee. To start off small and keep costs down, I only purchase flowers on days that customers have placed an order. As Floragram grows, I would love to buy a minimum number of bunches and start selling them each day.   Through Facebook messaging I have really enjoyed building a direct relationship with customers. Because word of mouth has been important for growth, I think it's been crucial to build trust and that one-on-one relationship. I also like to send a follow-up message to confirm once the flowers have been delivered, and the majority of the time I get a message back from the sender saying the recipient loved them.   In general, I've been getting a lot of positive feedback about the idea and the bunches, so I think my next step is building awareness. And of course, now that I’ve proved the idea, creating a website is at the top of my list.

Watches, thermostats and fridges: Where next for advertising?

5:26AM | Tuesday, 27 May

Google has predicted advertisements could soon be featured on places such as refrigerators and watches, in a bid to capitalise on the roll-out of ‘smart’ appliances.   In a December 2013 letter to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, released earlier this week, the tech giant said it expects to see itself and other companies develop advertising on devices beyond mobile phones.   “We expect the definition of ‘mobile’ to continue to evolve as more and more ‘smart’ devices gain traction in the market,” the letter reads.   “For example, a few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses and watches, to name just a few possibilities,” said the company.   In the letter, Google described this approach as “device-agnostic”. This means rather than traditional desktop or tablet marketing campaigns, advertisers’ campaigns will not be tied to a particular device.   Michelle Gamble, founder and chief executive of Marketing Angels, told SmartCompany she isn’t shocked by Google’s suggestion that advertising could intrude further into the home.   “I think we’re already seeing it,” says Gamble.   “It’s the price you pay for having amazing technology offered to you very cheaply. As things have gotten cheaper and moved to the cloud, you’re starting to see advertising being integrated into your applications more and more,” she says.   Gamble says consumers could react negatively at first, but examples such as Facebook jumping on the advertising bandwagon show that if the product is good enough, people will eventually get used to the idea.   “I think there will be a bunch of early adopters that will rally against it, but much like anything else they’ll eventually accept it,” says Gamble.   “Consumers are always going to protest against more advertising. But they’re certainly not going to stop paying for a service they’re hooked on,” she says.   They key here is striking a balance between the advertiser and consumer, says Gamble.   “One thing Google has always done though is put the user first,” she says. “They’re great at technology and rolling out new ideas, and quickly canning them if they don’t work. I’m sure they’ll somehow find the right balance between pushing advertising onto the consumer and interrupting the consumer too much.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Samsung joins the race to get real with VR headsets

5:14PM | Thursday, 22 May

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.

Inspiring Rare Birds aims to increase the number of women entrepreneurs

5:27AM | Wednesday, 21 May

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.

Wireless world: Telcos invest as we become more mobile

5:44AM | Tuesday, 20 May

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.

How to build a compelling product: Canva founder Melanie Perkins

5:56AM | Tuesday, 20 May

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

Latest app trends and what they mean for your business

5:54AM | Tuesday, 20 May

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.

Hello kitty: Australia’s first cat café to launch in Melbourne

5:19AM | Friday, 16 May

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.

OPINION: How Malcolm Turnbull let startups down

5:42AM | Thursday, 22 May

“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.

THE NEWS WRAP: Facebook set to trial contextual content suggestions for iOS

5:37PM | Wednesday, 14 May

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.

Budget makes US look even more appealing, startups say

5:59PM | Wednesday, 14 May

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.

Facebook and the problem of anonymity

5:21PM | Tuesday, 6 May

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.

THE NEWS WRAP: Amazon turns Twitter into a shopping cart

5:25PM | Monday, 5 May

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.

Queensland startup wants to get real when it comes to virtual reality

5:09AM | Monday, 5 May

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.

Tinder-meets-LinkedIn app gets risque with business

5:14AM | Friday, 2 May

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.

Foursquare pivots into two apps, adding Swarm

5:57AM | Friday, 2 May

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.”

Australians represent at 500 Startups as ZootRock gets social in the valley

5:39AM | Friday, 2 May

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.

Seek founder Paul Bassat backs startup to lower private education costs

4:09AM | Tuesday, 29 April

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’s quarterly net income nearly triples

4:57AM | Thursday, 24 April

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.

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