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How the Mondelez Mobile Futures program is creating opportunities for startups and corporates

8:21AM | Thursday, 7 August

A team from Cadbury Daily Milk had their first taste of startup life last week, when they worked closely with startup Snaploader, as part of the Mondelez Mobile Futures program.   Cadbury Dairy Milk brand manager Steph Sarantakos and head of marketing Anthony Ho underwent an ‘immersion week’, which saw them work alongside the Snaploader team and experience startup life.   Snaploader director Vernon Williams says the clash of cultures was most evident during a morning meeting, when he and Eric Fink, founder and chief executive of Snaploader, were noting how much more structured their work environment had become.   Sarantakos says for her and Ho it was the opposite, they were working with much less structure than they were used to.   “We’re coming from polar opposites, but we’ve found a really happy middle ground with the Cadbury team,” Fink says with a laugh.   “The biggest challenge was aligning our expectations, but we overcame that really well,” Fink adds.   The Mondelez Mobile Futures program sees a number of startups work closely with Mondelez brands like Cadbury Dairy Milk and Philadelphia Cream Cheese to come up with mobile solutions for problems facing those brands.   Six startups were chosen including Snaploader, to receive $40,000 in funding, with the goal of launching a pilot program with their brands in three months’ time.   Fink describes Snaploader’s technology as “QR codes on steroids”.   It enables consumers to take a photo of any activated image and then links them to digital “touch points” like the brand’s Facebook page or Twitter account. It differs from QR codes as it links users to a host of digital content and allows them to find whatever suits them best.   Fink says working closely with Cadbury Dairy Milk has given the Snaploader team access to valuable data they would never get without such a partnership.   “As a startup we don’t have the luxury of having stats, we have to rely on our guts a lot more,” he says.   “It’s very refreshing for a company like Mondelez to be leaders in looking for innovation, rather than picking it up when it’s something safe and tested.”

Why your marketing strategy needs a sales funnel

8:05AM | Wednesday, 6 August

One of the most common problems I hear when talking to potential clients is that money they’ve spent on marketing hasn’t driven results. Nine times out of ten, it’s because precious dollars are being spent on campaigns, but there’s no supporting activity to turn awareness into interest and then subsequently sales.   Spending money on advertising without a supporting process to turn awareness into action is like turning up to a gun fight with a knife. You’ve shown up armed and ready but without the equipment to be effective.   For marketing to drive results it must address and pull prospects through the buying process, not just promote your product or brand. Effective marketing that delivers a good return on investment is finely tuned to nurture someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t care about what you offer into a raving fan.   Your marketing strategy should ideally address the key stages of the buyer journey to deliver strong returns.   Each stage of the buying process and the tools you need:   Stage 1 – Cold suspects (don’t know about you and don’t care about you) This is where advertising comes in. Your marketing plan should be talking to enough people who don’t know about you and don’t care about you. It’s the most expensive part of the process but these days very measurable. Focus on measurable tactics such as search engine marketing, social ads, direct marketing, online advertising (banners, etc) to ensure you are getting your campaigns seen.   Stage 2 – Warm leads (your “offer” brings them into your funnel) To turn cold suspects into warm leads you need a strong offer. It could be a free trial, first experience free, flash sale or added bonus. Whatever it is, it needs to be a genuine offer and not a thinly veiled sales pitch.   If you are offering a free consultation or free follow-up report, post a meeting showing an example. If you want people to try your food – give it away for a short period of time. Don’t waste those advertising dollars with a lacklustre offer.   Stage 3 – Hot prospects (ready to buy but is cautious) Now it’s time to build trust: This where objections usually come up and you need to consider them and counteract them.   “I won’t buy online because it will take too long?” (guaranteed delivery time). “It’s a big investment, what if I don’t like it” (limited time return policy). “I don’t want to commit to the service and then discover I don’t like my account manager or I can’t carry on long term” (no lock in contracts). You need to understand all the reasons a prospect might back out of the purchase and address them.   Stage 4 – Qualified buyer (is ready to buy and wants the process to be efficient) Your offer has drawn them in, they trust you and they are ready to buy. Now it’s all about the sales process, the quality of your proposals, the efficiency of your frontline staff, to turn interest into the till ringing or your sales team reaching its target.   Stage 5 – Raving fan (loves your product or service and is ready to tell others) So often this is the most neglected stage. Bedazzling your customer with unexpected service levels, high quality product and constant improvements get them raving about you. This brings more people into the funnel at the stage 2 or 3 level, lowering your overall costs to attract new customers.   With social media, it’s now more important than ever. How often do you see companies do a special offer or promotion on Facebook to see fans tag their friends to alert them to the offer?   The current Thermomix craze is a great example of this. They run special cooking classes , provide free cookbooks to buyers, which has now driven a huge community of Thermomix users online who publish specific blogs, etc, about cooking with a Thermomix.   The days of set-and-forget advertising as a marketing strategy are long gone. To be effective, you need to attract new prospects through multiple channels and then have strong systems, processes and tools to support your customer acquisition and nurture prospects through to sales.   Since starting her outsourced national marketing consultancy Marketing Angels in 2000, Michelle Gamble has helped hundreds of SMEs get smarter marketing. Michelle helps businesses find more effective ways to grow their brands and businesses. ' This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

Dating website OKCupid admits to ‘experimenting’ on users: When is it OK to use your customers as lab rats?

7:59AM | Wednesday, 30 July

All is fair in love and war, according to online dating service OKCupid, which this week owned up to “experimenting” on its users.   Just weeks after a research project involving Facebook’s manipulation of users’ news feeds caused a stir, the US-based service, which is also available in Australia, said it regularly uses user experiments to update and improve its service, going as far as telling some users who recorded “bad matches” of around 30% compatibility that in fact they were 90% compatible.   What’s more, co-founder Christian Rudder said in a blog post in the digital age, we’re all online lab rats.   “We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook ‘experimented’ with their news feed,” said Rudder. “Even the FTC is getting involved.”   “But guess what, everybody: if you use the internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.”   While OKCupid users sign an agreement when they register for the site which specifies “personal data may be used in research and analysis”, Ben Neville, a senior lecturer in management and marketing at Melbourne University, told SmartCompany consumers will decide if companies are ethical based on their motivations, how they undertake an action, and the outcome.   “It could well be that their motivations were fine, even if they did not go about it the right way, if they were motivated to improve the computational algorithm they use for their site so that, ultimately, the outcome was to improve the service,” says Neville.   But Neville says the way in which OKCupid revealed the experiments was “a little bit flippant”.   “They should recognise that although there might be an excuse because the motivation was fine, it is ethical and polite to be upfront with your customers,” he says.   “They could so easily have a notice on their website that says, ‘from time to time, we will run experiments to improve our service”.   Neville says if businesses are seen “not to care about their users’ consent, then the users will start to question if they care about the outcomes”.   “They’ll ask: is this just another money-making venture?” he says. “Could it be that if they provide users with matches that don’t work, does it keep these people in the system longer and make them more money?”   Neville says the revelation also highlights “quite an interesting generational divide” in terms of the information consumers share online and what they expect companies to do with that information.   While he says Gen X and older generations have some scepticism about the use of their personal data by social media giants like Facebook, Gen Y are more willing to “trade off” the ability to use the platforms with the knowledge that the companies will use their data for commercial purposes.   However, Neville says it’s important for businesses to understand the importance of trust “as a commodity” with consumers.   “It is something that is lost so quickly, but it’s such an easy driver of repeat business,” he says.   While Neville says there will always be companies such as Facebook and OKCupid which “push the boundaries” of what is acceptable, the better option is to “take into account the wellbeing of your customers”.   SmartCompany contacted OKCupid but did not receive a response prior to publication.   This article was originally published on SmartCompany.

What data retention is, and why it’s bad

7:15AM | Tuesday, 29 July

With the Australian government “actively considering” data retention, and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation chief David Irvine telling a Senate committee that it is crucial to intelligence-gathering and that Australians have nothing to fear from it, it’s time for a clarifier on exactly what data retention is and the concerns it raises.   What is data retention?   The compulsory retention of information about a citizen’s telecommunications and online usage, either by telcos and internet service providers themselves, or by a government agency, so that law enforcement and intelligence agencies can use it to investigate crime and national security threats.   What sort of data?   Depends. The European Union scheme (now ruled illegal) was limited to telecommunications metadata — whom you called and when, duration of call, location, and the account linked to a particular IP address. The previous Australian government cited the EU model as what it had in mind when it invited a parliamentary inquiry into the idea in 2012. However, some individual countries (like Denmark) went further than the Eu directive and included web browsing history. Most Australian agencies officially only want metadata, not content data (like browsing history and email contents), but some agencies and police forces want the lot. Some things, like email subject lines, could arguably be either metadata or content data. The definition of what data will be subject to a data retention regime is thus crucial.   What would it cost?   In evidence to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that considered the issue in 2012, iiNet said it might cost them $5 a month for every customer to store data. That, in effect, is a $60 a year surveillance tax on every household. iiNet has recently significantly increased its estimate of the likely cost. Remember, both companies and government agencies will not merely need to store this data, but ensure it is stored safely — the vast trove of personal data that data retention will produce will be immensely attractive to criminals (and online activists looking to demonstrate how unsafe it is — in 2012, Anonymous hackers released customer data obtained from AAPT to protest the then-government’s data retention proposal).   What happens currently?   Traditionally, telcos have retained phone records because that was how they billed you. But there is decreasing need for specific call-based billing as consumers move to data-based plans. Moreover, companies have no need for metadata beyond the billing cycle, and given there’s a cost to storing such data, they are keeping less of it for the sort of periods agencies prefer — usually two years. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies call this “going dark” — losing access to phone information of the kind they’ve had for decades.   So what’s the problem - isn’t this just maintaining the status quo?   No. Let’s just focus on phone data. Your mobile phone data includes your location as your phone interacts with nearby phone towers, so in effect it can be used as a tracking device. But more importantly, forget that “it’s just metadata” (or “just billing data” as the Prime Minister said). A single phone call time and duration won’t tell anyone much about you. But in aggregate, metadata will reveal far more about you than content data.   With automated data-sifting software, agencies can accumulate a record of everyone you have called, everyone they have called, how long you spoke for, the order of the calls, and where you were when you made the call, to build a profile that says far more about you than any solitary overheard phone call or email. It can reveal not just straightforward details such as your friends and acquaintances, but also if you have medical issues, your financial interests, what you’re buying, if you’re having an affair or ended a relationship. Combined with other publicly available information, having a full set of metadata on an individual will tell you far more than much of their content data ever will.   And if you don’t believe us, ask the people who know: the General Counsel for the United States National Security Agency has publicly stated, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content”. According to the former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, the US government kills people based on metadata it has accumulated on them. As Edward Snowden says: “You can’t trust what you’re hearing, but you can trust the metadata.”   OK, but we’ve already given away our privacy to Facebook etc, haven’t we? Why shouldn’t agencies that want to protect us get the same data?   This is an argument routinely used by data retention advocates, and by Irvine himself. But going on Facebook isn’t compulsory. Citizens choose to use social media or other online platforms and voluntarily engage in the swap of privacy for services that so many applications are built on. Maybe they don’t understand the full nature of what they’re losing in that transaction, but it’s still voluntary. There is nothing voluntary about data retention — not unless you want to withdraw from the 21st century and not use telecommunications and online services.   But agencies say they need it to help prevent and solve crimes.   Let’s look at what happened in Europe. A German parliament study concluded data retention in Germany had led to an increase in the crime clearance rate of 0.006%. (The German scheme was later ruled unconstitutional.) Danish police, who have a much wider metadata and content data retention scheme, said the sheer amount of information was too unwieldy to use.   But such-and-such a high-profile crime was solved with metadata.   Maybe. But that metadata was available without a data retention regime. As the German study demonstrates, the number of crimes solved because of old metadata that would not otherwise have been available is negligible. And anyway, in western societies, we have long accepted that there is a trade-off between the rights of the individual, including a right to privacy, and the state’s power to protect its citizens. We understand that our civil liberties make it harder for the state to prevent, detect and punish crime, but value them enough to keep them anyway. Data retention alters this balance in favour of the state.   But we can trust our agencies to do the right thing.   Australia’s agencies generally have a better record of behaviour than foreign agencies. For example, repeated abuses such as stalking women, sharing intimate photos and listening in to intimate conversations, have been revealed to have occurred in the NSA; the CIA recently spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee while it was preparing a report exposing the agency’s use of torture; MI6 abducted and rendered Libyan dissidents to the Gaddafi regime for torture in exchange for help in the War on Terror.   However, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service are by no means perfect and serious questions remain, for example, about both ASIS’s bugging of the East Timorese cabinet in 2004 and ASIO’s efforts to intimidate and gag the whistleblower who revealed it late in 2013. We also know from Edward Snowden that Australians intelligence agencies use electronic surveillance not for protecting us from terrorists, but for economic espionage.   The problem is that, unlike normal government bureaucracies, intelligence agencies have minimal public oversight or accountability, and can use national security as a justification to resist media scrutiny. The lack of oversight means incompetence, corruption, mission creep and criminal activity are far less likely to come to light than in normal government agencies. Public transparency is one of the key motivations for public servants to behave appropriately, and it doesn’t exist for agencies engaged in surveillance. And the more personal data they have access to, the greater the temptation.   But if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.   Wear clothes in warm weather and have blinds in your windows? What are you hiding?   Are you happy for everyone to know where you are all the time, who your friends are, whom you’re having a relationship with, everyone you call, whether you have a medical or financial problem? It is not up to privacy advocates to “prove” the right to or importance of privacy. All governments acknowledge it is a fundamental right. If you support breaching that right, it is up to you to make the case, not demand privacy advocates defend it.   And law enforcement and intelligence agencies don’t merely target people “with something to hide.” People as diverse as whistleblowers, journalists, politicians, non-government groups and activists are subject to surveillance by such agencies, despite not having “done anything” other than reveal wrongdoing by governments and companies and protest against it. Data retention thus indirectly threatens core processes of democracy like whistleblowing, political organisation and scrutiny of governments. And once information is collected, agencies will press for its permanent retention. Some already argue that information should be retained forever. That means all future governments will have access to it. You may be comfortable with the current government having access to your data - but what about all future governments?   And law enforcement and intelligence agencies aren’t the only groups who have access to metadata. In Australia, bodies as diverse as local councils, the RSPCA and health bodies can obtain telephone metadata on citizens without a warrant.   But this is about stopping terrorism – the ends justify the means.   Terrorism is a wildly overhyped threat in western countries. About three times more Australians have died falling out of bed since 2001 than have died at the hands of terrorists; more Australians die from diseases like shingles and chickenpox than from terrorism. More women and children die at the hands of the partners and parents in Australia every year than the total number of Australian victims of terrorism. More Americans die from causes like malnutrition, falls, swimming accidents and work accidents each year than the entire death toll from 9/11. The level of spending we direct toward national security is completely unjustified in terms of the harms it prevents.   As a threat to the health and lives of western citizens, terrorism is negligible compared to deaths caused by poor infrastructure, bad health policies, unsafe workplaces or poverty. Data retention would be yet another expensive, intrusive national security policy that has no objective justification. Doing things in the name of stopping terrorism relies on our emotional fear of attacks, rather than making the case for taking away our rights.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This story first appeared on Crikey.com.au.

C'mon girls, let’s program a better tech industry

7:56AM | Tuesday, 29 July

Twitter is the latest tech company to reveal figures showing women are still underrepresented in the information and communication technology (ICT) workforce.   Men make up 70% of the overall staff and women just 30%, according to a blog post by Janet Van Huysse, the company’s vice president for diversity and inclusion.   But within technical jobs at the social media giant only one in ten of employees are women, she also revealed.   Lately everyone seems to be talking about attracting women to ICT. Last year, Stanford University released the She++ documentary about recruiting women to study computing that was screened in 11 countries.   Google made a big splash last month with its new venture, Made with Code, aimed at inspiring girls to try coding.   {qtube vid:=Bo11JJgj1cU}   Other ventures include TechGirls, Digital Divas and RoboGals.   Why the focus on girls and women?   Twitter isn’t the only ICT company in which women are vastly underrepresented.   Pinterest has also revealed that only 40% of its overall staff are women and that figure drops to just 21% of the technical workforce.   Google said in May that 30% of its overall workforce is female, although only 17% of its technical workforce. LinkedIn and Facebook have similar numbers.   Australia’s gender numbers look much the same. A 2013 survey by the Australian Computer Society found that women made up 28% of all ICT workers across a range of industries, and about 18% of the technical and professional workforce within the ICT industry itself.   Why does this matter?   The ICT sector is doing well, regardless of this gender imbalance. Technology is one of the primary drivers of the modern economy and a sector where productivity is rapidly increasing.   Salaries are good and rising. Job growth has remained consistent, despite the current economic crisis. But Europe projects a deficit of at least 700,000 skilled ICT workers by 2015, and the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency projects shortfalls in most ICT occupations by 2025.   An ICT workforce without women is bad for women. Women will be left behind economically. Women will be shut out of some of the most influential positions in industry and government due to lack of relevant skills and experience. Women’s interests will not be adequately represented in the products and services produced by the ICT industry.   An ICT workforce without women is bad for the ICT industry and more broadly for the economy. If women do not enter the industry, it will be difficult to meet projected demand for ICT skills.   Perhaps more importantly, diversity is good for business. According to the US National Center for Women in Technology:   Groups with greater diversity solve complex problems better and faster than do homogenous groups, and the presence of women in a group is more likely to increase the collective intelligence of the group.   Why is this happening?   University enrolments in ICT tell a clear story: women are not choosing to study courses that lead (directly) to ICT careers. Completions of ICT degrees are down across the board, approximately 30% since 2003.   The relative proportion of women has decreased as well. Only 19% of ICT enrolments in Australia in 2013 were of women, down from 25% in 2001.   This then begs the question of why women aren’t studying ICT. The Victorian ICT Development Plan cites research that confirmed negative and stereotypical attitudes to ICT careers among high school students.   A Victorian study suggests that lack of early exposure to software tools impacts female students' interest in ICT.   Is there a solution?   There are general programs aimed at stimulating interest in ICT among young people, such as the Digital Careers program and the National Computer Science School.   But such programs typically attract students who are already interested in technology, rather than providing a venue to discover a new interest. As a case in point, when I offered a term-long Computer Science Unplugged enrichment class at my daughter’s primary school, the students who signed up were all boys who were avid gamers (plus my daughter).   Career expos can go some way to highlighting career paths and identifying the tremendous opportunities available in technology, possibly also correcting misconceptions about the impact of off-shoring on ICT jobs.   Capturing girls' interest   So, if we can agree that we want more women in tech, how do we draw them in? Here are my suggestions, based on my personal experience as a woman and a computer scientist.   DO start early   We must engage girls in ICT long before tertiary education, preferably starting in primary school. While our young students gain basic computer literacy, the focus is too much on using computers, and not enough on innovating through them.   DO provide opportunities for girls to experience the creative side of ICT   With visual programming tools such as MIT’s Scratch and Carnegie Mellon’s Alice (used in New Zealand’s Programming Challenge 4 girls), it’s easier than ever to jump right in to building things with code. Similarly fun, hands-on projects are available for other areas of ICT.   DO highlight role models and diverse career paths   It’s not easy to aspire to be part of an industry where you can’t see yourself in the people already there. One of the more inspiring experiences of my career was attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, simply because it was a convention centre full of females excited about technology. Who knew there were so many of us? We’ll be trying to do that here in Victoria next month, with the Go Girl, Go for IT event aimed at female high school students.   DON’T overly stereotype girls   In an attempt to target ICT activities specifically at girls, it is important not to go overboard in making those activities too “girly”. US high school student Abby Wheat wrote eloquently:   Do people really think that the only way you will ever get a girl to write coding for innovative software is to stick a butterfly somewhere in there?   Google’s Made with Code has been criticised for starting with a project that creates jewellery with code.   Jewelry, pink and sparkles don’t appeal to all girls. More importantly, it reinforces the message that girls in ICT are outsiders and need their own special (separate) space to do ICT. Women should be drawn into the common space, not a pink-walled zone.   Now, about those stereotypes …   When young people think of ICT, they apparently imagine a nerdy hacker working in solitude in a dark room (or so my teenager tells me). This simply does not reflect the reality of the many collaborative and creative ICT workplaces.   Misconception #1: ICT requires mathematical skills   There are many aspects of ICT that don’t use mathematics at all. Web programming and software engineering are much more about algorithms – a sequence of instructions that a computer must follow to solve a problem or to respond appropriately to a request.   Misconception #2: Programming is logical and sterile   Programming does require translating an idea into a logical breakdown of that idea that a computer can understand. In my experience the process of working out that logic often requires tremendous creativity. Solutions to problems are not always obvious, and there may be many different ways to solve the same problem.   Misconception #3: People who work in ICT aren’t social   As technology becomes more complex, diverse project teams must work together to design and build solutions. Teams might involve a user experience expert, a graphic designer, a database expert, a domain expert and programmers with various areas of focus.   Many of these suggestions apply equally to boys and girls. But girls do seem to be disproportionately disinterested in ICT.   Targeted action is needed to help girls find rewarding career paths in ICT, and to support them to stay on those paths. The effort will pay off in innovation benefiting us all.   C'mon girls, ICT is fun!   Karin Verspoor is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computing and Information Systems at University of Melbourne.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tracking your digital fingerprint online raises privacy issues

7:28AM | Monday, 28 July

Just how much information we give away about ourselves as we browse the web has been raised again by a tracking device used in thousands of websites.   Researchers at Belgium’s University of Leuven have revealed the widespread use of a technique called “canvas fingerprinting” that tracks the activities of people on a website without their knowledge.   More than 5,600 websites were identified using the fingerprinting technique including Australian websites such as Australia Post, the Fairwork Ombudsman and the Sea Shepherd conservation group.   While this technique is relatively new, it represents another front in a very long battle to find out what users do online, and raises concerns about our ability to control our online privacy.   Here, have a cookie   Technical mechanisms for uniquely identifying web users date back to the introduction of the cookie in the Netscape browser in 1994.   When the user loads a webpage they get all the information necessary to display the page, such as the text, layout and images. But they also a small amount of “cookie” data sent along too, which is stored by the browser on the user’s computer.   When the user requests another page from the same website, the browser appends the cookie to the request to the server. In this way, the server hosting the website knows that the request came from the same computer.   Cookies are extremely useful and without them there would be no support for website logins.   But they can also be used to provide a complete record of a user’s use of a website. The use of “tracking cookies” allows this recording to extend across many, many websites, providing a comprehensive picture of a user’s browsing history to whoever controls the tracking cookie.   This becomes particularly intrusive if this browsing history can then be tied to any identifying data.   Privacy management   Understandably, many internet users aren’t terribly enthusiastic about their browsing history being so readily available to third parties. Tools to manage cookies have been incorporated into internet browsers and third-party privacy tools.   Deleting cookies, or controlling whether particular cookies are sent back to particular websites, gives the user more control over the extent of monitoring.   The technical response of browser developers has been combined with legal measures, such as the European Union’s privacy directive.   Under these rules, cookies used in a potentially privacy-invading manner must be disclosed to website visitors and explicit consent obtained.   Browser fingerprinting   Some internet companies have now turned to another ingenious technique for uniquely identifying and tracking users.   Rather than relying on browsers to send back a previously sent cookie, they collect enough information about the user’s browser environment to uniquely identify the user.   Modern computers have specialised hardware that greatly speeds up the computations needed to draw pictures on the screen. These graphics chips, made by companies such as NVidia, have made possible the amazing graphics of modern games, and speeded up your browsing and spreadsheets on today’s high-resolution monitors.   But the wide variety of such hardware, and the software used as “drivers” to control them, means that different computers will render such pictures in subtly different ways.   Images rendered by the graphics hardware (and thus subtly different on different computers) can be created from within a browser, analysed and sent back to a web server.   On its own, this is not enough to uniquely identify a user. But when combined with information such as the browser name and version number, and the list of fonts available on the system, it can provide a unique “fingerprint” of a user’s computer.   This provides a tracking mechanism that can be operated across many websites; a “super-cookie” that can’t be deleted as it is inherent to the computer it’s running on.   Again, this is most intrusive if it can be combined with personally identifying information. But even without this, it is very much against the spirit of the cultural norm (and the EU law) that requires internet sites to explicitly gain the consent of their users to enable tracking.   The University of Leuven research indicates that around 5% of the world’s top 1,000 websites make some use of this fingerprinting method, which was originally identified by University of California researchers in 2012.   Interestingly, however, the vast majority of websites using browser fingerprinting had done so by incorporating a third-party element into their website.   Free tools come with a hidden price   The primary product of AddThis is sharing tools – an easy-to-add component that website developers can incorporate on their sites that allow visitors to easily share the page they are viewing on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.   While AddThis charges for some use of some these components, others are available for free. Free and good-looking website components are to website developers what honeypots are to bears, so it’s not surprising that they have been widely adopted.   But AddThis extracts an additional quid pro quo – collecting browser data about those who visit sites usings their tools, much more than either the visitors, or the website owners, would have realised.   AddThis’s Rich LaBarca said it carried out a six month test using the fingerprinting and that any data collected was used for “internal research”. The code has since been disabled.   But the White House blog on the website of the US President didn’t realise that incorporating AddThis tools to its website violated its own privacy policy.   Taking what most of us give away anyway   As a computer geek from way back, I can’t help but grudgingly respect the ingenuity of those who perfect these privacy-invading tools, even as I deplore their ethics.   But my outrage is also tempered by the knowledge that these companies are taking by stealth what most of us choose to give away freely to other companies.   As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff observed, we – or, more precisely, our personal information – are “products” to many online companies such as Facebook, Google and AddThis.   The greatest fortunes of the 21st century have been founded on collecting and exploiting the personal information of billions of people, with a level of detail that companies such as AddThis can only dream of accessing.   And they’ve found that providing an easy way for us to share webpages of amazing cat videos and pictures is compelling enough that most of us will freely give them that information.   So what of ethics?   Do those who actually build these technologies – the programmers, analysts, testers and other IT professionals – have any obligation to consider the ethics of the tools they build? In theory, they do.   The two largest global professional bodies of the IT profession – the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (IEEE-CS) – have jointly developed a Software Engineering Code of Ethics. The Australian Computer Society also has its own code of ethics.   Unfortunately – and unlike law, medicine or other fields of engineering – professional societies and their codes of ethics have virtually no influence within the information technology community.   Despite occasional efforts to set themselves up as gatekeepers through licensing, they have had little success. As such, however virtuous these codes of ethics may appear, they have no teeth.   Much as I would personally like it to be otherwise, it’s unlikely that attempts to violate the privacy of individuals will reduce through the self-regulation of IT professionals.   The financial incentives for companies to do so are likely to continue. Privacy protection will have to come through some combination of public pressure, legal means, and individual adoption of technical and behavioural countermeasures.   Robert Merkel receives has previously received Australian Research Council grants to investigate aspects of software testing and reliability.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Internal documents reveal Amazon plans for credit card reader

7:24PM | Sunday, 27 July

Amazon is reportedly set to launch its own mobile credit card reading technology, according to internal documents from the office supply store Staples, obtained by 9to5mac.   The documents say Staples stores are preparing to stock a new product called the “Amazon Card Reader” alongside existing card readers from Square, PayPal, and Staples’ in-house brand.   Amazon recently launched a new wallet app for smartphones and 9to5mac speculates that Amazon’s card reader will likely connect to that.   Rocket Internet’s Easy Taxi raises $40 million   Easy Taxi, a taxi calling app from Rocket Internet, has raised $40 million in a Series D funding round.   The company launched in 2011 and has roughly 185,000 drivers, with 150,000 of those added over the past year. It’s available in 160 cities across 30 countries predominantly in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.   Easy Taxi co-CEO Dennis Wang says the funding will allow the startup to continue its growth in existing markets, while also scaling its operations and improving its service so as to appeal to “more audiences and geographies”.   US cable companies say Google and Netflix biggest threat to net neutrality   In a filing to the US Federal Communications Commission, Time Warner Cable claimed that the controversy over internet providers potentially charging websites for access to “fast lanes” on the internet is a “red herring”.   It says the real danger is that Google or Netflix could start demanding payments from internet providers, as customers expect access to the most popular websites, an internet provider would have no choice but to pay.   The National Cable and Telecommunications Association says a relatively connected group of large internet companies such as Google, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have enormous and growing power over people’s ability to access what they want on the net.

Will this app be the next social media giant?

7:40AM | Thursday, 24 July

Move over selfies, duckfaces and sepia-toned photographs – GIFs are about to crank it up a notch.   Phhhoto, a new camera app, allows users to record GIFs and upload them to a feed much like Instagram. From there, you can “heart” and comment on other people’s GIFs, post them on Facebook or even message them to friends.     The idea is to revamp the traditional selfie, and it is reported Phhhoto is already being used by celebrities such as Katy Perry.   The app works by taking a series of successive photographs and looping them together to create an animated frame. And unlike Instagram, Phhhoto only has two filters – a normal view and a black-and-white option.   The app is free from the iTunes store and Google Play. While Phhhoto has launched worldwide, a spokesperson told StartupSmart the app had to be taken down from the Australian iTunes store for “technical reasons”.   “It will be back up in a few days,” the spokesperson says.     It goes without saying, but photo sharing apps are wildly popular around the world. Last year Snapchat was reportedly offered a $US3 billion takeover deal by Facebook which it rejected. Meanwhile, Instagram has more than 200 million active monthly users.

How the internet was a big reset button for business

7:59AM | Thursday, 24 July

"Every large company is just another color of a spore in a petri dish."   In the latest ‘Decoding the New Economy’ video, internet pioneer Doc Searls discusses The Respect Network, online privacy and the future of business on the web.   Doc Searls is one of the internet's pioneers who helped write The Cluetrain Manifesto, which laid out many of the ideas that underpinned the philosophies driving the early days of the internet.   Searls' visit to Sydney was part of the rolling worldwide launch of the Respect Network, a system designed to improve internet users' privacy through 'personal clouds' of information where people can choose to share data with companies and others.   A big reset button for business   In many ways The Respect Network shows how the internet has evolved since the days of the Cluetrain Manifesto, something that Searls puts in context.   "We wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1995," says Searls. "At that time Microsoft ruled the world, Apple was considered a failure – Steve Jobs had come along and they had the iMac but it was all yet to be proven – Google barely existed and Facebook didn't exist at all."   "On the one hand we saw the internet, we being the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and this whole new thing in the world that basically hit a big reset button on 'business as usual'."   "It did that. I think we're vindicated on that."   New giants, new data   "What we have now are new industrial giants; Apple became an industrial giant, Microsoft are fading away, Nokia was the number one smartphone company and they're all but gone."   One of the key things with today's markets in Searls' view is the amount of information that businesses can collect on their customers; something that ties into the original Cluetrain idea of all markets being conversations.   With the evolution of Big Data and the internet of things, Searls sees challenges for companies using old marketing methods which rely upon online tracking. Something that's a challenge for social media services and many of the existing internet giants.   "The interesting thing is there's a lot more intelligence that a company can get directly from their customers from things they already own than following us around on the internet."   Breaking the silos   Searls also sees the current trend towards the internet being divided into little empires as a passing phase, "every company wants a unique offering but we need standards."   For Searls, the key thing about the current era of the internet is we're only at the beginning of a time that empowers the individual, "the older I get, the earlier it seems."   "Anyone of us can do anything," Searls says. "That's the power – I'm optimistic about everything."   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

The top seven insights from Stripe co-founder John Collison for Australian startups

7:24AM | Wednesday, 23 July

On Tuesday night John Collison, who co-founded online payments startup Stripe with his brother Patrick Collison, spoke with SEEK co-founder Paul Bassat on all things Stripe, startup and internet related, to help celebrate Stripe’s Australian launch.   Here are our top seven pieces of advice Collison offered startups on a range of topics.   1. On co-founders:   “You want to have a very high level of trust and the ability to work together because there’s so much for you to do, there isn’t time to sort out other stuff. Every day there’s this big lump of work and you both attack it and it works great, but as the company grows in size you really have to start splitting the responsibility.”   2. On co-CEOs:   Collison recalled a chat he had with an investor while searching for funding for Stripe during which the investor highlighted appointing co-CEOs doesn’t work.   “He tells this to people anytime they come in and say they are co-CEOs,” Collison says.   “He says ‘ok just to clarify here, you’re trying to be co-CEOs? So you’re making everything confusing for all your employees today and all the employees you’ll ever hire. Who will get decisions from the both of you and they’ll never quite understand where they stand, just so you guys don’t have an awkward conversation right now?”   3. On hiring:   “We hired fairly slowly throughout Stripe.   “We’ve always been willing to simply not hire for a role and leave it unfilled rather than settle and be willing to compromise. And I think it’s been really important if you’re looking at it from a really long term perspective.   “When you’re hiring a person you’re not just hiring them, you’re hiring the next ten people after them. I remember when we were hiring a graphic designer, it took a year to find the right person and so for that intervening year Stripe was just really ugly.   “But again we preferred to be ugly for that year and have the right designer over the next many years, than settle immediately. They’re going to affect the quality or the calibre of people you recruit after that. You’re not hiring on a role by role basis, you’re gradually corralling people into this nebulous sphere.   “Your ability to directly influence hires actually decreases as the group grows in size so you better hope you’re doing a good job with those early hires.   4. The future of e-commerce?   “The way we think about it is, if we’re just getting people to move over from a competitor to Stripe, stirring up the existing pot but not actually changing things, that’s not actually that interesting.   “The global e-commerce market, coming up with these figures always involves a heavy dose of making up numbers, but people generally put it at around a trillion dollars, and it sounds like a big figure, but is it actually that big?   “Around two per cent of consumer spending globally happens online right now. You can kind of argue where that’s going to end up, and if you base it on the time you all spend online on our phones, we’re going to end up with a very significant spend of our portion online.”   5. How to build a successful global business?   “If you think of any global business that has been very successful, you quickly find they have a pretty clear idea about their core competency.   “I use this app if I need to travel, and I’m not using Airbnb, I’ll open Hotel Tonight and book the first thing available, they’re heavily discounted, but I realised my loyalty has shifted, it’s not with any particular hotel chain, it’s now with the app itself and staying in Hotel Tonight.   “They decided that the really valuable brand, the really valuable piece to own is the app and the booking experience and who runs the hotel and who employs all the people that’s not that important.   “If you’re a hotel that’s terrible. You’ve spend decades building up this brand. A lot of these companies have backed themselves into these corners.”   6. Do you need to go to Silicon Valley to start a startup?   “In general I think people see Silicon Valley as this place that has a monopoly on tech innovation and I think there’s actually some pretty good reason to believe it’s becoming increasingly spread out.   “You’re getting to a point where a team of 50 or a team 100 talented people can completely disrupt a market.   “I think the jury is still out a bit on how much the availability of capital affects things, because certainly there are plenty of problems where you do need outside capital for the tech to grow quickly, otherwise it can be very slow.”   7. Is Silicon Valley encouraging the best and brightest of our generation to only solve problems felt by the middle class?   “I think it’s actually a very good thing to be worried about. We solve problems for people like us, and so we come from a very privileged background so we’re going to solve problems of people from our background and there’s a large spate of the population that you ignore.   “People talk about WhatsApp being acquired by Facebook for $19 billion dollars, but I think there’s kind a bit of an availability bias here. You only hear about the most egregious examples right. You hear about Yo! getting funding, but you don’t hear about Theranos in Silicon Valley which does blood diagnostics on your iPhone and they’ve raised $400 million. No one talks about it because it’s more fun to talk about Yo!   “You look at where WhatsApp was most popular, it was in reasonably poorer countries like India where the cell phone providers who previously were charging these extortionist rates. [WhatsApp] came along and used the fact that people had smartphones to completely eliminate $100 million of carrier revenue from SMS.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Secret raises $25 million

7:14PM | Monday, 14 July

Anonymous messaging app Secret has raised $25 million from a group of investors led by Index Ventures.   Sources tell the Wall Street Journal investors now value the company at $100 million.   It follows a valuation of $40 million just four months ago.   Secret was founded just nine months ago in San Francisco and it is likely among the fastest of any startup to reach a nine-figure valuation.   LinkedIn acquires Newsle   LinkedIn has announced it has acquired Newsle, a service that lets users important their contacts from Facebook or LinkedIn and scans the web to alert them whether anyone in their network has been mentioned on the web.   In a post on LinkedIn’s blog, the company says LinkedIn and Newsle share a common goal.   “We both want to provide professional insights that make you better at what you do,” it says.   “For example, knowing more about the people in your network – like when they’re mentioned in the news – can surface relevant insights that help you hit your next meeting with them out of the park.”   Google X director joins Amazon   Babak Parviz, Google X director and founder of the Google Glass and contact lens projects at the tech giant has left the company to join Amazon.

Aussie startup aims to wrestle back its users’ personal data

7:27AM | Monday, 14 July

An Australian startup is pushing back against businesses using people’s data without their consent by allowing its users to manage and understand their online identity.   Founder and chief executive of Meeco, Katryna Dow, told StartupSmart she hopes her platform will make it easier for people to organise their digital life and put themselves in control of their own data.   “It’s a way for people to own, aggregate and analyse their personal data for them to be able to draw insight from that and to decide who or how they want that information to be shared,” she says.   The idea for Meeco came to Dow while watching the film Minority Report just over a decade ago. In the film, there is a scene where the protagonist is being bombarded by targeted advertising.   “I remember walking out of the cinema thinking I’m not sure that’s a world I would like to be living in,” says Dow. “I then pushed it out of my mind for a number of years but kept returning to it.”   Three years ago, Dow decided to forge ahead with the idea – bootstrapping the project until January when she found an angel investor.   There is an increasing awareness around online security and the fact people’s online data is valuable. According to Dow, more than 80% of online activity is tracked and sold by third parties – often without users’ direct consent or knowledge.   “What most people don’t realise is that it is a multi-trillion dollar industry,” she says. “Most people don’t realise that their data or information is actually monetised every single day.”   Recently, social media giant Facebook came under fire for attempting to manipulate people’s emotions. The issue made headlines around the world and raised serious questions about the ethical conduct of technology companies. Dow says she would like to see more people discuss issues around how people’s data is used.   “Your data is the most valuable when it’s accurate, in context, up to date and if it’s matched to your intention,” she says. “Right now we give a lot of that intention away and it is monetised. We want brands and businesses to respectively connect with people, use the data with transparency and incentivise people for sharing their data.”   When asked what her advice would be to entrepreneurs just starting out, Dow says it is important to recognise it isn’t easy for startups to get off the ground.   “As a woman who is not an engineer who is doing a tech startup, if I was to say it was simple and I was welcomed with open arms that would be a lie,” she says.   However, Dow points out the tough startup environment in Australia has helped her grow not just as an entrepreneur but as a person.   “You have to be really good at rejection, at hearing feedback,” she says. “Feedback helped me refine the idea.”

Seven ways to make business blogging deliver results

7:20AM | Thursday, 10 July

Business blogging is now firmly wedged in the consciousness of Australia. Organisations of all sizes are increasingly heading online to share their thoughts about everything from product development to industry commentary and expert advice. While this enthusiasm is admirable, simply writing content and hoping people will come to your site isn’t enough anymore, especially if you’re starting from scratch.   To really get the most out of your brand's blog, it’s essential to have a degree of technical know-how, or you’ll end up wasting a huge amount of time, effort and money. This is an issue we’re going to be discussing a lot at Social Media Week Sydney in September, and here’s our guide to maximising the potential of your brand blog.   1. Think carefully about how you build your blog   There’s a multitude of platforms available to build a blog in, and each web developer will have their preference. Getting this right is important. From a search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective WordPress is the best option. It’s extremely cost-effective, and having run blogs across many platforms, WordPress just seems to perform better and is extremely easy to use.   2. Think about Plug-ins   One of WordPress’ great advantages is that its software is open source. That means there’s huge amount of free plug-ins available that can enhance the performance of your blog and tailor it to your requirements. All these can be searched for and uploaded via the WordPress ‘plugins’ tab on the left of the back-end dashboard. Essentials include Yoast, a simple-to-use SEO tool to maximise the visibility of your posts, and Google XML Sitemaps, a tool that generates a special XML sitemap which will help search engines better index your blog. Both these tools result in a more visible blog, which can only be a good thing.   3. Properly research your content   As dumb as it sounds, planning and researching what content you write about is an essential part of running a successful blog. Q&A app, Quora is a good starting point, allowing you to track the most popular questions around a particular topic. Once you know what people are asking, then you can answer it in your blog post. And if you’re one of the lucky people to be on Facebook Graph Search, you can see what your brand community is into. Just go to Graph Search and type: Pages liked by people who like ________ (inserting your page name). This will give you a list of pages your fans like and follow, which you can then use as a basis to keep on top of the topics and issues your fans care about – and craft your content around this.   4. Properly optimise your content for search   Once you’ve decided what you’re going to write about, then make sure your blog post is properly optimised. We’ve already mentioned Yoast, but you also need to tag each post with the relevant key words, and come up with a killer headline. This should both draw people in (think BuzzFeed), but also be optimised for search. A quick and easy way to do this is through Soovle – simply start typing your proposed headline and see what people are searching for around this. Also get your head around Google’s keyword planner, which allows you to identify the most popular key words used around a particular topic. Once you’ve found them, make sure you include them in your headline and first paragraph.   5. Embrace ‘hub and spoke’   One of the key ways to create an audience for your blog is by channelling readers from your existing social media channels. This approach is known as ‘hub and spoke’ where each time you make a blog post, you also post about it on your social media channels. If you’ve not got any social media channels, then get some, quick! Start with Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and you’ve got the lion’s share of audience.   6. Get your head around metrics   Whatever blog platform you use, you should have Google Analytics set up for it, as well as on your company website. Your in-house tech expert will know how to do this. Key metrics in analytics include bounce rate – this is the percentage of people visiting your blog then ‘bouncing’ straight off it. A lower bounce rate indicates a more engaged readership. Analytics also gives you an idea of what blog content is most appealing, allowing you to refine it accordingly. The emphasis should always be on using the data to constantly refine your creative approach when it comes to blogging.   7. Think about what success looks like   Finally, think honestly about what success looks like. Forget about your blog driving sales (for now). That’s a long way off. Is it about building an engaged, loyal readership? Is it about driving traffic to your website? Or is it about establishing a thought-leadership position for your company? Whatever it is, stay focused on achieving it, and set challenging but not impossible metrics.   This post was written by Will Ockenden, a UK and Sydney-based social media consultant, and executive member of Social Media Week Sydney.

Digital literacy in the developing world: a gender gap

7:44AM | Tuesday, 8 July

In the pervasively connected world of the 21st century, creating and sharing knowledge has never been easier. But the fact remains that many people still lack the skills required to access this information and an inequity gap is growing.   Consider this quote:   You know you’re from the ‘90s if you remember being disappointed when the CD’s leaflet didn’t have the lyrics to the songs. How else were you going to learn that damn line on track three?   For those of us with smartphones in our pockets, we simply Google the lyrics and voilà! The answer materialises in less than a second. Yet this is a privilege available only to those who have access to the internet and the means to use it.   Inequality of access   Two-thirds of the world’s population do not have access to the internet, many of whom are women. These 4.6 billion people rely on the lyrics in the CD case to learn that song, assuming they have a CD player at all. This is a representative issue on the far side of the great digital divide between the technically literate and illiterate.   The benefits of digital technology can only be realised if people are empowered with the knowledge and skills to access and use them. In developing countries, women are 25% less likely than men to be online. This gap soars to 45% in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. By way of comparison, in both France and the US, women’s internet use exceeds that of men.   Illiteracy is a barrier to online access that affects women more than men. Averaged across all developing countries, 75% of women are literate compared to 86% of men. In India, as few as 51% of women are literate compared to 75% of men.   Internet-based economic activity in India accounts for more than 5% of GDP growth. Without access to the internet, and the fundamental skills required to use it, women cannot benefit from the tools, resources and opportunities that the internet affords.   Bringing women into the mainstream of the digital revolution can empower them with access, information, choices and opportunities that they have never had before. Not just for themselves, but for their families, communities and nation.   But what might this look like? Being digitally literate means more than simply knowing how to operate a computer. Digital literacy means having the ability to find resources, critically evaluate and create information, and to do this by using digital technology. UNESCO considers it a necessary life skill.   Technology is knowledge and power   Digital literacy promotes democracy by giving access to a vast repository of knowledge. It also provides a platform from which to speak out and make your views heard.   An Iranian woman, for example, who posted a scarf-less photo of herself on Facebook, now has over 230,000 followers who are supporting her crusade of bareheaded subversion. These women want to voice their opposition to the compulsory hijab. Facebook gives them the means.   Social networking sites greatly increase women’s understanding of what is possible, giving them a powerful tool that can be used to change their situation.   For women in developing countries, the internet is an open doorway to tangible benefits; education and employment opportunities. According to Plan UK, an extra year of education increases a woman’s income by 10-20%. It is a necessary step on the road to breaking the cycle of poverty.   A number of worthy initiatives are underway to develop women’s digital literacy skills. The Women’s Annex Foundation was established to train women in digital literacy so they can create a viable economic model for themselves and their families.   The She Will Connect project, an initiative by Intel, is similarly committed to improving the digital literacy skills of women in developing countries. Intel recognises the role that technology plays in improving the quality of and access to education.   Closing the gender gap   There is a recognised link between a woman’s level of education and the size of families. The more educated she becomes, the fewer children she is likely to have. With over-population being one of the principle difficulties faced by developing countries, digital literacy has the potential to give women access to education and the means to begin reversing the trend towards ever-expanding populations in the developing world.   The inequality of internet access around the world is compounded by where you live and your gender.   If you are a woman in a developing part of the world, you are likely to be coming up very short on access to the kinds of digital resources that are readily available elsewhere. This can make a big difference to the quality of life for your whole family.   The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: YouTube gives slow video providers the name-and-shame treatment

7:06PM | Sunday, 6 July

YouTube has followed in the footsteps of Netflix and is now publicly shaming internet providers who provide slow video.   When videos have trouble buffering, blur or won’t play at all, YouTube offers a new service which allows them to find out why.   It takes you to a new Google website which displays video playback quality for internet service providers in your area.   Information gathered by NSA on ordinary internet users far outweighs specific targets   Nine out of 10 account holders found in a large cache of conversations intercepted by the NSA were not the intended surveillance targets, according to the results of a four month-investigation by the Washington Post.   The investigation reviewed roughly 160,000 intercepted email and instant message conversations and included medical records sent from one family member to another, resumes from job hunters and academic transcripts of schoolchildren.   Facebook experiments had little oversight   Until recently, Facebook’s Data Science group operated with few boundaries, a former member of the team has told the Wall Street Journal.   At a university, researchers normally have to rely on consent from participants to conduct studies.   Facebook relied on its Terms of Service, which now say that user data may be used for research.   Former Facebook data scientist Andrew Ledvina recalled a minor experiment in which he and a product manager ran a test without telling anyone else at the company.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 92.02 to 17,068.26. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

When it comes to generating revenue, Twitter is the most valuable social channel in Australia

7:08PM | Sunday, 6 July

Events e-commerce platform Eventbrite, which officially launched in Australia in March, has released data to quantify the return on investment (ROI) social media is having on those who use it to promote and market their events.   By analysing all sales across its marketplace in 2013, Eventbrite found that a single share on social media generates nine visits to an event page and $4.80 in additional revenue back to Australian organizers. This compares with a return of $3.70 (AUD) globally.   Twitter shares are the most effective generating two to four times more revenue and pageviews than other social channels.   The findings from Eventbrite’s data analysis, which have not included Australia before, offer a great insight into the monetary and promotional value of a customer sharing through social channels – namely Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.   Eventbrite’s International Expansion Manager, Elsita Meyer-Brandt told StartupSmart that the findings could be extrapolated to other marketing activities though for their purposes they were purely focussed on events.   “The bottom line is that social media is an effective way for people to promote and generate revenue for those in the event space,” Meyer-Brandt says. “This is especially important for startups trying to build a community around their brand.”   The value of customers sharing on social media   Eventbrite’s data reveals that a share on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn drives an average of $4.80 in additional revenue back to the organizer.   Twitter drives the most value at $10.90 per share, followed by Facebook at $4.10 and then LinkedIn at $3.20.   “If you think about it, every share is essentially ‘free revenue’,” Meyer-Brandt says.   Social media is also proven to drive traffic, with a single share resulting in nine additional visits, on average. Again, Twitter leads this trend with one share generating 38 additional visits, while LinkedIn drives 11 visits per share and Facebook drives seven visits per share.   For additional sales, on average it takes four shares, with Twitter again being the most effective channel, with only two shares resulting in an additional sale, followed by Facebook and LinkedIn both at five.     Twitter is the most valuable social channel   Compared to Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter is by far the most effective driver of revenue and traffic in Australia. Over the last two years, Eventbrite has seen Twitter’s influence increase while Facebook’s has decreased.   Meyer-Brandt believes this is because Facebook feeds have become cluttered and news feeds are potentially becoming less relevant.   On the other hand, she says Twitter is less saturated, meaning less distraction for users.   “The 140 character limit means users often need to click on links to see more information,” Meyer-Brandt says.   Events that have the most social shares   The types of events that see the most value from social media sharing are food events and performances, followed by seminars and music events.   In comparison, conventions and participatory sports events slightly lower value. In terms of traffic, social and food events see the highest number of visits from social media posts, followed by seminars, conferences and then entertainment events.   Eventbrite has processed nearly $3 billion in ticket sales in 187 countries worldwide. Since launching in Australia in 2012, it has hosted over 75,000 local events and recently opened an APAC office in Melbourne.

THE NEWS WRAP: Facebook COO Sandberg apologises for News Feed experiment

7:28PM | Wednesday, 2 July

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says the company never meant to upset its users after an experiment on nearly 700,000 of them was reported recently.   “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was, it was poorly communicated,” she told The Wall Street Journal.   “And for that communication we apologise. We never meant to upset you.”   Facebook acquires LiveRail   The social media giant has just bought video advertising technology startup LiveRail.   LiveRail connects marketers to publishers on the web and mobile to target 7 billion video ads to visitors per month.   According to TechCrunch sources Facebook paid between $400 and $500 million for the company.   Facebook and LiveRail will share data in order to improve their respective ad targeting.   Tim Draper lone winner of Silk Road bitcoin auction   Investor Tim Draper has bought 29,655 bitcoins from the US government’s Silk Road bitcoin auction.   The government seized the bitcoins following the closure of the Silk Road online marketplace.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 20.17 to 16,976.24. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

OPINION: Should Facebook have experimented on 689,000 users and tried to make them sad?

6:45AM | Monday, 30 June

In a move that has as many people puzzled as outraged, Facebook has published research that involved a deliberate attempt to manipulate the emotional state of 689,000 of its users.   Experimenters from Facebook, Cornell University and the University of California, San Francisco conducted experiments over a week period in January 2012 in which they manipulated the contents of users' News Feeds, screening out posts that had emotional content. The results of the study have recently been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.   In the experiment, users were split into three groups and posts which contained either positive or negative words were screened from the users' news feed. One of the groups acted as a control and had random posts screened from their feeds. They then counted the percentage of emotion words that the test subjects used in their own posts.   The results showed that there was a very small, but statistically significant result. People who had fewer positive posts shown to them reduced their own use of positive words by 0.1% and increased their use of negative words by 0.04%. Conversely, people who had fewer negative posts shown to them increased their use of positive words by 0.06% and decreased their use of negative words by 0.07%.   The emotional responses shown by the unwitting participants in the study are nothing compared to the sense that Facebook, as a private company, has taken another step too far in the use of its network and created mistrust and resentment in its user community.   Although the experiment may not have breached any of Facebook’s user agreements, it is clear that informed consent was not obtained from the participants of the research. The study itself allegedly received approval by the Institutional Review Boards at the researchers' universities. According to the article’s editor Susan Fiske, this was given on the basis that “Facebook apparently manipulates people’s News Feeds all of the time”.   Professor Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University who reviewed the paper said that she was “creeped out” by the nature of the research. Despite this, she believed that the regulations had been followed and there wasn’t any reason the paper should not be published.   The ethics of good research   We don’t know the full nature of the ethical clearance that was given to the researchers from their respective universities and so it is hard to comment fully on the nature of the approval they were given for the research to go ahead. If this was indeed on the basis of Facebook’s agreement with its users, then it would be fair to say that this was a very liberal interpretation of informed consent.   Facebook’s Data Use Policy only says that it has the right to use information it receives for research. It does not make explicit that this involves actually carrying out experiments designed to manipulate emotions in their customers, especially not negative ones.   Federal US guidelines on human research provided within the “Common Rule” are quite clear about what is and isn’t acceptable in this type of research. It includes details of how informed consent must be obtained and the information, including the risks and benefits, of them being involved. They must also be allowed to opt out of the research. Although Institutional Review Boards are required for organisations conducting research funded by or on behalf the Government, private companies are also signatories to the regulations.   The fact that the researchers and Facebook did not ask for consent suggests that they knew that there would be a backlash when it became public and that it would be easier to deal with this after the fact.   Right now, the researchers involved are not allowed to answer questions on the research and this is being handled by Facebook itself.   What did the research itself prove?   It is not at all clear that the research actually did say very much concerning the transfer of emotional states via emotional contagion as it stated. The measurement of the frequency of emotion words in very short status updates is clearly not a measure of the overall emotional state of the writer.   Even if it were, the results of the experiment found differences of 1 word in a 1,000 in the number of emotional words used between the experimental and control groups. Remember that this is the number of positive or negative words used not the total number of words written. At the level of the individual, these differences are meaningless and hardly a demonstration of “emotional contagion”.   Big Data brings with it the naive assumption that more data is better when it comes to statistical analysis. The problem is, however, that it actually introduces all sorts of anomalies especially when dealing with extremeley small differences that appear in one single measure at scale.   There may yet be another twist to this story. Given that it would be particularly strange that a prestigious journal would publish what seems to be quite weak research, perhaps this is all part of a bigger experiment to see how society reacts, especially on Facebook, to the idea that Facebook believes that its customers are actually just test subjects to be examined at will.   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.

Facebook data scientist explains why it experimented on its users: We care about you

6:12AM | Monday, 30 June

Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer (aka Danger Muffin) – the man who wrote and designed the controversial Facebook mood study – has put up a public post on Facebook explaining why it experimented on the emotional impact of Facebook on its users.   Defending the work of Jamie Guillory, post doctoral fellow at UCSF, and Jeff Hancock from Cornell University, Kramer writes they did the research "because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product", but admits the motivations for the study are not clearly stated in the paper. He apologised for the anxiety the study has caused.   “We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out,” he writes.   “At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.”   Kramer also outlines the methodology for the research “by very minimally deprioritizing a small percentage of content in News Feed (based on whether there was an emotional word in the post) for a group of people (about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500) for a short period (one week, in early 2012).”   The study was published on June 2 in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) Social Science.   Here is the full text of Kramer's post:   “Okay, so a lot of people have asked me about my and Jamie and Jeff's recent study published in PNAS, and I wanted to give a brief public explanation. The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn't clearly state our motivations in the paper.   Regarding methodology, our research sought to investigate the above claim by very minimally deprioritizing a small percentage of content in News Feed (based on whether there was an emotional word in the post) for a group of people (about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500) for a short period (one week, in early 2012). Nobody's posts were "hidden," they just didn't show up on some loads of Feed. Those posts were always visible on friends' timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent News Feed loads. And we found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses is.   And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it -- the result was that people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand words, over the following week.   The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.   While we’ve always considered what research we do carefully, we (not just me, several other researchers at Facebook) have been working on improving our internal review practices. The experiment in question was run in early 2012, and we have come a long way since then. Those review practices will also incorporate what we’ve learned from the reaction to this paper.”   It's not the first time Facebook has experimented on users with a study in 2012 looking at social influence and political mobilisation, which also cites Kramer as an author. 

THE NEWS WRAP: Facebook study plays with users’ emotions

6:14PM | Sunday, 29 June

A Facebook data scientist, along with two university researchers, turned 689,003 users’ News Feeds positive or negative to see if it would elate or depress them.   The purpose of the study was to find out if emotions were contagious on social networks, which they are.   Facebook is able to conduct such a study because of a line in the site’s Data Use Policy which says users’ information could be used for research.   Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer helped run the study and says the company wanted to use the results to make Facebook better.   “We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out,” he says.   “At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook… In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.”   Silk Road bitcoins auctioned off When the FBI shutdown Silk Road, it seized a large amount of bitcoins, about 175,000 of which still remain in US government hands.   In an effort to cash in on these assets, the US government auctioned off nearly 30,000 of them, valued at around $US17.4 million.   The bitcoins were only available for bid in nine blocks, each containing around 3000 bitcoins.   The winning bidders will be notified early this week.   Google delays multi-language support in Google Now   The tech giant had previously announced multi-language support in Google Now would be arriving in the coming days, but a spokesperson has told CNET the company is holding back the feature because of software problems discovered in the final testing phase.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 5.71 to 16,851.84. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

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