SEO may seem like a complex concept, but it’s actually pretty simple. Just think of Google as a concierge whose job is to connect its users with what they are looking for. It has to assess the user’s intent and list the results it feels will be most helpful. SEO is the process of making your website the most helpful to the user and sending Google these signals. So how do you send Google the signals? The first step is to make your website the most helpful in your niche! This is a critical step that is often overlooked. Often businesses want to ‘do’ SEO without changing their online strategy or considering the user experience. Or in other words, take an ordinary website and make it miraculously rank well in Google. But there is more to it than that. Along with improving the website and user experience, you need to communicate that to Google and this comes in the form of relevant links to the website, quality site architecture and fresh content. What does this mean for SEO in 2014 and beyond? Well, with Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update at the start of this year the trend is now towards natural language search. These keys will help your site to rank well in search results. 1. Natural language – diversify keywords Figure 1: image source from researchperspectives.org Google removed exact-match searches in its Keyword Planner in its recent update for the tool, and it is a big problem for us SEOs because it is more difficult to calculate the performance of a certain keyword, making it harder to identify which keywords we need to focus on. Google is trying to drive us towards using keyword themes rather than exact-matched keywords. Google doesn’t want us to put the stress on exact-match keywords too much as it also leads to irrelevance when you target a certain keyword even if the relevance is unclear, just because it has a significant volume of searches. A survey conducted by Kelton Research shows that 65.4% of adult Americans spend more than two hours online searching for information on specific topics, with 72.3% experiencing search engine fatigue when searching websites. However, when the study was conducted SEO focused on exact keyword searches. Google is trying to take its keyword searching to the next level, by improving it to better understand natural language queries. This is also likely to solve the “search engine fatigue” problem caused by the implementation of the Hummingbird update. According to Danny Sullivan in his post, “FAQ: All About the New Google ‘Hummingbird’ Algorithm”, Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than particular words. This means that pages that match the meaning do better, rather than pages with matching keywords. Key takeaways: Use natural language in keyword targeting Target keyword themes, not just specific keywords Use Google’s suggestions for what people are searching for Avoid slapping exact match keywords together, if they don’t read well Try predicting the intent of the searcher when judging a keyword’s importance 2. Use links more cautiously – but still use them Figure 2 A few years ago, building links for the sake of it worked very well – I tried it too, but moved on from that practice out of necessity. In years past even a low-quality website could outrank better ones through building links using the targeted keywords and spam link building tactics. Now more than ever Google is guarding its search results, trying to ensure the most relevant and high-quality results possible. With that being said, Google has implemented the Penguin algorithm to help it fight spam by penalising websites that were over-optimised for certain keywords, and websites who practice buying links that passed link juice. Key points to optimise your website better for Penguin: Avoid using link building software that creates content for you and posts it everywhere Avoid participating in link networks Diversify link sources Build links from trusted websites Aim to build links (relationships) to website owners/webmasters (it may result in higher quality links in the future) Aim to create value. Otherwise, don’t do it. 3. Quality content is king Figure 3: Image sourced from blog.joelx.com Quality content has always been king, and writing content just for the sake of it is futile. If you use your valuable time to create content without having a goal or knowing your audience, chances are it will get you nowhere. When creating content, you have to consider your audience, what matters to them, and if the content is good enough for them to share with people they know. Writing content for SEO is tied to content marketing, as it needs to perform well, by giving valuable and relevant information. As the Content Marketing Institute says: Figure 4: Source from Content Marketing Institute When you don’t think about your audience when creating an article, it’s likely that it won’t matter to them and they won’t share it. This just wastes your time without giving back something in return. How do you know when your content matters to your audience? It gains editorial links It gets shared Visitors are likely to stay on page to read the entire content and post their comments Increase in newsletter subscriptions You can track the performance of your pages/contents through tracking software, with Google Analytics the tool most commonly used. Always remember to track, analyse, reassess, and tweak if necessary. Writing content without prioritising quality will backfire and cause Google Panda to kick in and devalue your website. Key takeaways: Write content that will matter to your audience Write content that educates and sells your services to a normal degree It’s OK to publish content on a regular basis (weekly or even monthly) as long as it’s useful Creating content for the sake of it is a waste of time Always track the performance of your content and tweak if necessary. 4. Leverage local search Start using local optimisation as one of your strategies, if you aren’t already. According to Bright Local Consumer Review Survey, 57% of users search online for a local business more than six times a year, 39% search online for local businesses at least once per month, and 15% search online for a local business almost every day. Figure 5: Source of image and information from BrightLocal.com Benefits of local SEO: Visits from local searches are more likely to convert More targeted audience Fewer competitors (depending on the niche) Attract more people in your area If you have done local SEO properly, the visits you get are more likely to convert into customers. If you have served those customers right, they are also going to become returning customers. The customers who loved your business will share their experience and impressions with their colleagues, family, and friends in neighbouring places, thus giving you free advertising. Just imagine if those colleagues, and friends of theirs, do the same thing. Doing local SEO is like killing two birds with one stone. If you are a starter business, ranking in top organic searches is hard so stay in your local, but don’t limit yourself to it. Having little competition is another advantage, as opposed to targeting global audiences. This is going to save you a lot of money in your investment to SEO. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Value proposition – what is your website worth? Figure 6 SEO is a very challenging investment to put your money into. If the SEO campaign you invested in returned a negative ROI, then it is considered a failure. What’s the purpose of initiating SEO if you are not getting a positive ROI? Before blaming SEO, however, make sure your website is adding value for your customers. Consider SEO as just part of your overall sales pitch. Improving your website’s value is hard. Especially when you have to come up with great headlines that visitors will notice and get them enticed. Some guidelines to creating website copy that will increase the value of your website for your visitors include: Stating the problem you will help them to solve Educating them in what you do Showing them what your other customers have to say about your services. Be relevant Relevance is one factor that increases website value and depends on if the visitors to your site find what they are looking for. They won’t find your website valuable if you don’t provide what they’re trying to find. Highlight benefits, not features One of the things that matters to consumers are the benefits they will get from you, so state them. As opposed to the traditional method of stating the features of your services, stating the benefits is effective marketing. Save the features for later. State the problem you will help them solve Is there a problem that your business will help your customers solve? Write it in your website copy. The users that reach your website are probably looking for a solution to the problem they need help solving. Key takeaways: Don’t assume your website visitors understand your website copy. Test and refine. Feature the benefits your customers will receive Remember to tell them what you do Provide customer reviews 6. Conversion optimisation – leveraging current success Figure 7: Image source from consummo.com Conversion optimisation and search engine optimisation are different concepts. In order to see the fruitful efforts of your SEO campaign, you need to optimise your website for conversion. There’s a very thin line that separates SEO and CRO. One will optimise your website to drive more traffic to it, and the other one optimises your website to convert those visitors into customers. As industry expert Kate Morris said in her post, “CRO and SEO: SEM Civil War”: “Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is simply focusing on the conversion as the core metric when optimizing any particular page.” A search engine optimiser will usually know how to optimise your website for conversion if they are truly experienced. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to judge the effectiveness of your SEO campaign without optimising your website for conversion. Failing to do so leads to false judgement as to whether or not your SEO is effective as some faults may lie with how the website treats its visitors. Key takeaways: SEO (search engine optimiser) is different from CRO (conversion rate optimiser) You need a CRO to boost your SEO campaign and to help you get more out of your investment. 7. Traffic strategy, opposed to just rankings Figure 8: Data source from chitika.com According to online advertising network Chitika, having the top position in search results will give you 33% of search traffic. This research proves the value of SEO for online businesses. Just imagine your website ranking with a keyword that is highly searched, resulting in say, 18,000 searches per month and your website receives 33% of that traffic every month. While this provides great value to online businesses, ranking in top search results is not guaranteed. As an SEO, traffic is one of my main goals as it opens the floodgates for conversions – assuming that your customers are satisfied with your services and you have great reviews, along with several other factors. With that said; our main goal is to generate more traffic and then achieve rankings. It might sound in reverse but it’s true, and that is what makes our career more challenging. The only way to do this is by adding value with each link we create. Remember that value is also quality, and in today’s SEO, quality is better than quantity. Getting 12 links per month that drives traffic is more important than getting more links that only aim to improve rankings. Again, no one can guarantee you top rankings because of unpredictable algorithmic changes, but increase of traffic is always possible. Key takeaways: SEO is important to online businesses Ranking is not the only means of traffic When building links, think of the traffic you will get from each link you build Adding value to the places you build links from, as they are more likely to drive traffic to your site A balance of quality and quantity is important No one can guarantee rankings SEO – keeping you on top 2014 has been an exciting time for SEO and it is now much more about quality than ever. Apply these tips and make the most of your online presence. What are your thoughts about SEO in 2014? Add a comment below. Scott Donald runs CreativSEO and has worked with successful start-ups and established businesses alike, helping them succeed online. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
YouTube is considering offering paid ad-free subscriptions, according to chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki. The company is in the early stages of exploring new subscription services, Wojcicki told Re/code at the Code/Mobile conference overnight. “YouTube right now is ad-supported, which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users; but there are going to be cases where people are going to say, ‘I don’t want to see the ads, or I want to have a different experience’,” she says. Google X is developing an early disease detection system Google’s research arm, famous for taking ‘moon shots’ and running some of the most ambitious projects in the technology industry, is creating a system for early detection of disease, Wired reports. The system involves ingesting specially “painted” nanoparticles that target various molecular signs of disorder. When they detect such signs of disease they send out signals that will be picked up by wristbands. The early alerts mean potentially deadly ailments could be caught and treated sooner. Facebook beats earning projections, user growth slows Social media giant Facebook released its financial results and for the ninth quarter straight it beat earning projections. Facebook earned $US3.203 billion ($A3.62 billion) in revenue with earnings per share of $US0.43. Total user count grew 2.27% to 1.35 billion monthly users, slower than its 3.125% user growth in the previous quarter. Mobile advertising revenue accounted for 66% of advertising revenue, up from 49% year-on-year. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 187.81 to 17,005.75. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US89 cents.
With your business reputation directly linked to your bottom line it is important to do everything you can to build and maintain it. While your business will inevitably take knocks from unhappy customers, mistakes you make and decisions you wish you could do-over, by following these four ways to safeguard your reputation you can still preserve your standing in the business world. 1. Be personable, not personal A lot of people get this concept confused, especially in the online world. Keep your personal life out of your business life as much as possible. Know what you will and won’t disclose and discuss with your customers, and be mindful of who is on – and who can see, your personal social media profiles. 2. Assume that nothing is private As a publicist I can’t tell you how many times I see private information become public. Be careful what you put out in the public sphere and who you trust with information. You can only protect your content so much. What you write or say can be taken out of context, forwarded on to others or downloaded before you have deleted it, and programs or website changes to rules and settings can leave your information vulnerable. The best way to protect yourself and your business is to assume that nothing online or on your devices is private. If you aren’t happy for everyone to see it, don’t send or upload it. 3. Don’t run from adversity or negative feedback You don’t need to be a saint to maintain a good reputation. We all make mistakes; it’s what we do after that makes the difference to our reputation. Your character is proven in how you handle adversity, conflict and negative feedback. By taking responsibility for mistakes and handling adversity and negative criticism well (whether right or wrong) not only protects your reputation, it also wins you respect, and can result in more people coming to your aid and wanting to work with you simply because of the attitude you have. 4. Monitor your reputation As your profile builds it is important to monitor what is being said or published about you. Monitor social media, do regular searches and set Google Alerts for your name, key staff and business name. Being proactive will not only allow you to stay on top of any negative feedback, you will also be able to thank those who are referring and promoting you. If you do find negative feedback (depending on what has been said), don’t rush to delete it or complain, it can be an opportunity to turn the situation completely around. Many businesses gain likes and customers from social media simply by acknowledging, apologising and offering a solution to an unhappy customer. How do you manage your business reputation?
Microsoft officially launched two Australian data centres today as part of its Azure cloud computing platform at the start of the tech giant’s 21st TechEd Conference in Sydney. The launch comes after Azure cloud platform became the first public cloud service in Australia to pass an Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Industry Security Registered Assessors Program (IRAP) compliance assessment. The announcement was delivered at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion by Microsoft Australia managing director Pip Marlow. It marks part of a major push into the Australian government, businesses, independent software vendors (or ISVs) and startup market by the company. The launch sees two data centres or "Azure Geos" go live in Australia, with one each located in Melbourne and Sydney, which are now available to all Australian Azure customers. The local cloud computing regions mean local Azure accounts will be hosted in a data centre within Australia, in turn allowing businesses to be able to assure customers their key data will never leave Australia. Each data centre building is roughly the same size as a rugby field and can hold two jumbo jets or 600,000 servers. In turn, both locations are large enough to allow 16 data centres to be built next to each other. In addition to local data centres, Microsoft announced it would allow businesses to get a dedicated fibre-optic link to an Azure data centre through either Equinix and Telstra through its ExpressRoute service. "Today is a historic day, a monumental day, because it's the first day Australian customers can log on and choose the Azure Australian Geo," Marlow said. "The data centre is up and running in Australia for the first time." "The time and the tools are here and now to concentrate on what it is you do everyday." Globally, Azure is signing up 10,000 new customers per week. It currently hosts 1.2 million SQLdatabases, 30 trillion objects, 350 million users, 18 billion authentications per week, over 2 million registered developers and 60% of customers are using higher level services. Executive vice president of Microsoft's cloud and services group, Scott Guthrie, predicted the cloud computing marketplace will eventually shrink to three key players in Amazon AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure. Guthrie said a key differentiating feature of Azure compared to other services is its large size (or "hyper-scale") including the ability to scale-up services based on demand. It also includes enterprise grade support, as well as hybrid cloud support, meaning on-premises servers can connect any on-premises server to the cloud. "We plan to differentiate from the other two based on our level of enterprise support," Guthrie says. "Going forward, we believe all our customers will need to take advantage of this hyper-scale activity and that elastic capability to save costs." Guthrie also highlighted the recently launched Azure Marketplace, similar to a smartphone app store, allows a range of both Linux and Windows server images to be installed on virtual machines at the click of a mouse button, along with higher-level cloud-based services. "It's a strategy where you can take the best of the Windows ecosystem and the best of the Linux ecosystem," Guthrie says. Microsoft revealed 19 regions will get local datacentres by the end of 2014, which is twice the number offered by Amazon AWS and six times the number offered by the Google Cloud. Amazon currently has one region in Australia. One company mentioned during the keynote speech was event management software developer Centium Software, a Brisbane-based company with 70 staff that helped organise the London Olympic Games. Centium chief executive Trevor Gardiner told StartupSmart it will help his Brisbane-based company of less than 70 staff to scale up for major events. "Our customers range from small event organisers right through to significant world events," Gardiner says. "Historically, the world event space has been difficult for us because of the infrastructure involved with that, and customers being unwilling to pay for that scale in the early days. "What Azure is doing for us is that it's allowing us to say to our customers that you don't need to pay for a lot of expensive infrastructure in the early days, you can scale up and have that data locally." Andrew Sadauskas attended TechEd as a guest of Microsoft. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Aviation app developer Avsoft is gaining altitude across Australia, New Zealand and the US following an investment from entrepreneur Simon Hackett, with the company recently releasing an entry-level version of its CASA-approved app for Android devices. Avsoft chief executive Bevan Anderson says before the company’s AvPlan EFB iPad app, pilots used to carry bags filled with flight and gadget manuals. “Traditionally, pilots did all their flight planning using rulers on maps. They used rulers and protractors to measure distances and headings to fly. They then needed to manually take into account winds and other factors when flight planning,” Anderson says. “All this information, maps, airport diagrams and others then needed to be carried into the cockpit. Depending on the flight to be undertaken, this could be kilos of paper.” Following the release of the Apple iPad in April 2010, Anderson started thinking about how a flight book could be compressed into next to no weight in the form of an electronic flight bag app, or EFB, for the new device. “I imagined an app on the device which replaced my pilot’s kneeboard. On my kneeboard I clipped my flight plan on one side and the maps, charts and airport information used for the flight on the other. AvPlan EFB was to be an electronic replacement for this, and that is what it has become (and a whole lot more),” Anderson says. “These days, AvPlan EFB replaces all this, plus more calculations and other performance optimisation functionality in a small device weighing 100s of grams. We can then take it everywhere with us, so no matter where a pilot is, we have all the tools at our disposal. Over the past few years we gained approval from CASA for pilots to use AvPlan EFB instead of carrying all this bulky paper.” The app came to the attention of Australian entrepreneur Simon Hackett soon after he purchased his Pilatus PC-12 aeroplane. In November last year, Hackett invested in a 40% stake in the company, allowing it to expand overseas. “As he got familiar with it and saw what we had achieved, he reached out to us and offered us some investment to assist us to add capability and to grow the product into new markets. Since Simon came on board we have expanded into the United States and New Zealand, and begun the process of bringing AvPlan EFB to a new platform, in Android,” Anderson says. Hackett explains that a key distinction between AvPlan and its rivals is that it began life as a flight planning and flight management application for high end/professional/commercial pilots. “It offers functions that are extremely sophisticated, and that are hugely valuable to this type of pilot. It also works wonderfully well right down to a 'weekend warrior' flying his two-seat sports aircraft to the next airfield for a Saturday BBQ,” Hackett says. “The latter usage model is a perfect fit to our 'Lite' (entry level) version, and the software then lets you unlock more and more features via additional/optional subscription packs, to turn on all the professional pilot tools if you need them. “Because we started life at the high end, AvPlan does these sophisticated things really well (by design, and by intent). Some of our competitors started out as a cheerful tool for the weekend warrior and have grown more sophisticated features later, and in a far more haphazard manner – and we think the result is far less effective than our 'designed-in' sophistication. “In effect, we started at the high end of the industry and we're reaching down toward simpler mission support, where our competitors started simple and have bolted stuff on over time to climb 'upward' to the harder stuff. We think the way around we did it creates a better outcome.” The new Android version, dubbed AvPlan Lite 1.0, is an entry-level version of the app available as a free one-month trial from the Google Play store, with a full subscription costing $69 per year in Australia. “We only exist today as the companies who produced flight planning software for the PC never adapted their businesses when mobile devices began to appear,” Anderson says. “This example is a lesson to us to never rest on your accomplishments, and never bet your business on what is currently the big thing. Always look for new opportunities and respond to market demands, and in our case, the market demands multiple platform support.” “We certainly feel that we have only just begun. With what we are doing, and with the assistance of our fantastic industry partners we expect to see mobile devices bringing more efficiency to aviation: A future where aviation is more accessible to existing and new pilots.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The new Gmail app, Inbox, is not just an email app, according to its developers. Inbox is being released as an invite-only system that works on the Chrome browser, Android phones, and iPhones. It’s still a Gmail app, but instead of giving its users the traditional lists of emails, it tries to intelligently give you more information so you don’t even have to open them. Google Now-style information cards appear in line with the message list and include things like flight times, package tracking and photos. It also tries to bundle emails into groups that you can quickly dismiss. Former EA CEO takes over at Unity Unity founder and chief executive officer David Helgason is stepping aside to let former Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello take over the job, VentureBeat reports. Unity is a company that makes game-creation tools for developers. Helgason says not much will change at Unity and he believes Riccitiello is the right person for the job. “I will be heavily involved in the company’s direction,” Helgason says. “(Riccitiello) is the right person to help guide the company to the mission that we set ourselves over a decade ago: democratize game development. “John completely agrees with our vision and our strategy. If anything it means that we’ll be more focused than ever about making sure everyone has access to the best technology and services.” Twitter releases new developer toolkit Twitter has unveiled Fabric, a new developer toolkit with software products to help build better third-party apps. Fabric was showcased by Twitter executives in San Francisco at the social media giant’s first mobile developers conference, Flight. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average down 153.49 to 16,461.32. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US88 cents.
Spring.me, an Australian question-and-answer-based social networking site with five million regular monthly visitors, is looking to raise up to $5 million and hopes to list on the Australian Securities Exchange by November. The company is the latest in a string of Aussie businesses to list via a reverse takeover, a method which involves a privately held company purchasing a company that is already listed on the stock exchange. Spring.me’s reverse takeover will see its parent company Helpa taken over by listed diversified financials firm GRP Corporation Limited, with the full listing expected to be completed by December. The new listed entity will be renamed Spring Networks Limited. Co-founder and chairman Colin Fabig told SmartCompany the company had found a new niche in the social media world through the simple idea of ‘making friends’. “It took a year after launching to realise the question and answer format was a way of meeting new people and most people were coming to the site to meet people,” says Fabig. Functioning much like a message board which allows users to post Q&A’s, photos, opinion polls and utilise ‘friend matchmaking’ technology, Fabig says the site acts as an “interest matching forum” bringing people together with interests as broad as volleyball to wine making. “People don’t do community activities anymore; they are online or watching TV. So why not make new friends while you are online or watching TV?” Fabig says the company did a pre-IPO round earlier this year, which saw it raise $1.8 million, and was advised by stockbroking firm DJ Carmichael its quickest route to market would be the reverse takeover method. He says the capital raised will go towards general operations of the website and believes Spring.me should not be too concerned with revenue at this stage. Fabig says internet companies shouldn’t be worried about revenue in their first years, instead needing to focus on their customer proposition. “You need to make sure people love what you’re doing and they come back. It took Google seven years to get revenue,” he says. “If you want to be a global player, that’s what you have to do.” Fabig says once Spring.me, which is currently free for users, reaches critical mass it will start to introduce advertising or paid premium subscription models. The South African-born entrepreneur, who started the company with partner Ari Klinger, has previously founded and successfully sold several startups, including deals website Jumponit, which was snapped up by Living Social for $30 million in 2012. But he says he’s in Spring.me for the long run. “This will be our company… This is our baby.”
Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, are likely to be seen more widely on roads in 2015. Already, legislation authorising the use of autonomous vehicles has been introduced in the US states of Nevada, Florida, California and Michigan, with similar legislation being planned for the UK. To date, these laws have focused on legalising the use of autonomous vehicles and dealing, to an extent, with some of the complex issues relating to liability for accidents. But as with other emerging disruptive technologies, such as drones and wearables, it is essential that issues relating to user privacy and data security are properly addressed prior to the technologies being generally deployed. Understanding autonomous vehicles There is no single, uniform design for autonomous vehicles. Rather, it is best to understand an autonomous vehicle as a particular configuration of a combination of applications, some of which – such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, collision avoidance and parking assistance – are already part of current car design. The most well-known prototype, Google’s self-driving car, uses a variety of technologies, including: a laser range finder (LIDAR) that generates a detailed 3D map of the environment; radars; cameras for detecting traffic lights; and a GPS. Other projects, including prototypes being developed by Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Toyota and Oxford University, use different combinations of technologies. This means that the privacy and data security problems arising from autonomous vehicles depend upon the precise technologies applied in any particular design. Some generalisations are, however, possible. The relationship between the virtual and the real The rules (or “code”) governing the online world have been different to those that apply offline. For example, online activities invariably generate digital traces, including metadata, which can be used to build profiles of users. With emerging technologies, such as drones, wearables and autonomous vehicles, we are increasingly seeing the transposition of virtual models onto the real. One consequence of the range of sensors and data collection devices being deployed (and interconnected) is that our offline activities can leave traces at least as extensive as those generated online. One way to understand types of autonomous vehicles is by reference to the kind of data collected and the ways in which that data is processed. For instance, autonomous vehicles often incorporate event recorders, or “black boxes”, to provide essential information in the event of an accident. This raises questions about who has rights to this data and about who can have access to the data. Anonymising data There is an overlap here with questions of liability, as insurance companies have clear incentives to collect as much data about user behaviour as possible. The potential for intrusive surveillance of personal activities is particularly jarring, as the car has been an archetypal space of personal privacy and freedom. A fundamental distinction must be drawn between self-contained autonomous vehicles, in which the data collected from sensor devices installed in the car are stored and processed in the vehicle itself, and interconnected vehicles, in which data is shared with a centralised server and, potentially, with other vehicles. Regardless of whether a vehicle is self-contained or interconnected, design decisions have to be made about whether or not the data collected is anonymised or linked to individual users. If the data is not anonymised, especially with interconnected vehicles, this poses serious surveillance threats. After all, once the data exists, and especially if it is connected to a server, it is vulnerable to access by third parties. It is possible to envisage implementations of autonomous vehicles where data about a particular user is linked to other data sources, such as an online profile, for purposes such as tracking or marketing. This might take the form of personalised advertising displayed in the car, or even adjusting a vehicle’s route so that it passes retail outlets which match a user’s imputed preferences. What else is at stake: human autonomy and hacking We are now familiar with technologies, such as predictive search, which in the online context, attempt to predict what we want to do and make more or less persuasive suggestions. It is likely that some versions of autonomous vehicles will implement predictive technologies. In any case, the progressive delegation of human decisions to machines raises system-wide questions about the cumulative impact on human autonomy: the more people are habituated to decisions being made for them, the less likely they may be to make their own decisions. We are also now depressingly familiar with the vulnerability of computer systems to malicious third parties. Just as effective data security is essential to online safety, autonomous vehicles must be designed with a high level of data security, especially given the potentially calamitous consequences of hacked vehicles. As interconnected data processing systems are progressively rolled out in applications such as wearables and autonomous vehicles, we seem likely to see an offline version of the same sort of perpetual guerrilla warfare played out online between information security and hackers. Protecting privacy at the design stage Autonomous vehicles promise significant social and economic benefits, especially in potential improvements to road safety. There are, nevertheless, considerable legal and regulatory challenges. As with other emerging disruptive technologies, it is vital that privacy and anonymity be properly protected at the design stage. To date, in the face of significant challenges relating to the legality of autonomous vehicles and liability issues, the privacy rights of users have been relatively neglected. But unless the era of artificial intelligence is to be accompanied by us sleepwalking into ubiquitous surveillance, we must recognise that safety and security needs to be balanced against the legitimate rights of people to control their own data and to retain their fundamental rights to privacy. David Lindsay is a board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
In 2012, the UK’s Sunday Times reported that actor Bruce Willis was going to sue Apple because he was not legally allowed to bequeath his iTunes collection of music to his children. The story turned out to be false (and shockingly bad journalism) but it did start a conversation about what we can, and can’t, do with our digital possessions. It turns out that “possessions” is actually a misnomer. We actually don’t own the music, books and movies we “buy” from Apple and Amazon. As Amazon puts it in its license terms, “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider”. In other words, we are allowed to read the content but we are not allowed to pass it on. It comes as no surprise then that 93% of Americans surveyed were unaware or misinformed when asked about what digital assets they were able to pass on in the event of their death. But the problems don’t stop there. Relatives of the recently deceased are frequently left with a range of decisions and challenges when it comes to dealing with their online accounts, especially social media. This is not made easier by the fact that every company implements different strategies in dealing with accounts belonging to a deceased user, coupled with the fact that in the UK in 2012 at least, the average user had 26 accounts. In most cases, getting an account shut down requires close family to produce a range of documentation to prove that they have the right to request that the account is terminated. This doesn’t allow for those relatives to get access to the content of the accounts however. Taking a lead in making the process of handling accounts of the deceased simpler, Google has implemented their Inactive Account Manager. This allows anyone to specify what should happen in the event that an account has not been accessed for at least 3 months. Up to 10 people can be notified and the contents of the accounts, including services such as YouTube and Google+, shared with them. Alternatively, the accounts can simply be automatically deleted. Facebook will, on request, “memorialise” a person’s Facebook page. This freezes the page with the same permissions as it had when it was last accessed by the user but will stop the page from being discovered in a search and will not actively promote the page to others. The role of social media in the bereavement process has been the focus of an increasing amount of research. Generally, it is thought that social media can help in the bereavement process, although the persistence of a person’s profile online may make final acceptance of the passing more difficult. An interesting finding has been that when people post on a memorial page, they frequently do so in the present tense as if the person was still alive. In the UK, a survey has found that 36% of people would like their profiles to continue being available online after they die, with a larger proportion of 18-24 year olds preferring this option than over 55s. It doesn’t have to stop there. There are now services which allow you to continue Tweeting after you die using a bot that has studied your tweeting style. Other services allow users to send final messages via Facebook and LinkedIn. Digital estate planning is starting to become more of the norm and people are being prompted to think about what they want done with their digital assets and accounts after they die. This is going to be a significant issue for social media companies in the future. Since Facebook started, about 10-20 million users will have died. This number will increase and eventually overtake the number of living users on the site, by one estimate, in 2060. In one humorous envisioning of the future, Tom Scott has produced a disturbing possibility in his video “Welcome To Life: the singularity, ruined by lawyers”. In it, he describes a corporate sponsored network as a resting place for the digital version of your consciousness, that is, of course, ad sponsored. In this case as with the question today, it is perhaps best for all if your online social presence ends when you do. David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
With all the new mobile devices come the potential new methods for advertisers to keep track of you across all your devices. They are given access through deals done by the large platforms and gatekeepers of your information. Here are a few of the ways the big social media and tech companies are accessing your data and using it for profit. Facebook: It has access to enormous amounts of very personal metadata collected from all of its users, including everything from employment, family, hair colour, friends, travel, home location and many other details. Mined from its users, this information is considered very valuable for advertisers and marketers. Another way Facebook tracks your movements is when you use your Facebook sign-in for other websites. This is also tracked by Facebook. And Facebook owns a number of apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram, that collect your information through your usage of the app. Facebook is large and looking to expand both its platform and ability to track your movements. It will keep purchasing and creating new ways to find and sell your information as this is its greatest income source. Apple: Its main tracking is through your email address and iTunes account, which tracks your credit card data and usage. When you purchase anything through an Apple device or using any Apple system, this information is used so the ads you see are normally reflecting your past activities. Google: When you log in to any Google account, you are then tied into the massive Google network. It also uses an Android mobile operating system which assigns each user a Google Ad ID. Google has many ad products and services such as AdSense, which access your ad identifier and compile the information with all the other YouTube, Gmail, Search and other personal digital history information, irrespective of what device you may be using. So why don’t they have to notify you of the use of your personal information? Because when you sign up to their services, you agree to their terms which include using your personal data as they please for advertising purposes. However, Google is still involved in class-action suits in various states in the US regarding its right to analyse message content and sell byproducts to advertisers. It is argued as beyond the scope of what is intended by the use of personal information. Google maintains it has the right to collect even your most sensitive data as long as it flows across an open Wi-Fi network. Google has been doing a lot more than its lobbyists and executives are disclosing when they are defending their initiatives. They could easily make collection of information for advertising more privacy-friendly if they wanted or were forced to, but at the moment we are at the mercy of the dominant operating system vendors who are not required to do so. Be aware: deals are being struck selling your information As you may have seen in the news recently, Facebook has struck a deal to sell access to your data to MasterCard. It claims it is not your ‘personal data’ but it includes your location, spending, connections and much more. This may not be personal data to some but it still seems very ‘personal’. This is likely the first of many deals to help monetise the ‘free’ Facebook model and seems to be the model for many large platform service providers on the internet. It is likely not to be the last. One thing that is important to remember about all this: it does not matter whether you are using an Android or an iOS device; you can still turn off many of the tracking mechanisms in the menu settings. Yet it still makes one wonder what is left under the ‘personal data’ legal definition anymore.
How safe is Microsoft Windows? After all, the list of malware that has caused major headaches worldwide over the last 15 years is long – viruses, worms and Trojans have forced computers to shut down, knocked South Korea offline and even overloaded Google’s servers. Now, how safe do you feel knowing that cash machines across the world run Microsoft Windows? An exploit has been discovered, apparently spread across Russia, India, and China, whereby cash machines can be turned into a free money vending machine. The hack requires re-starting the cash machine – essentially a Windows terminal – from a prepared CD that injects malware into the system to circumvent the security. At set times of the week, a unique code is generated and given to a “mule” who would approach the machine, enter the code, and withdraw up to 40 notes, anonymously and without trace. From skimming to hacking Attacks on ATMs (those more sophisticated than removing the cash machine and cutting into its safe) started around 10 years ago with card reader devices containing a tiny integrated camera and card reader. As a user withdraws cash, the device reads the account details from the card’s magnetic stripe and videos the pin number entered into the keypad. Earlier generations of ATM machines were often built around computer terminals running IBM’s OS/2 operating system (which started life as a joint IBM-Microsoft venture, and which somewhat ironically spawned Microsoft’s Windows NT, the grandparent of modern Windows, and IBM’s OS/2 when that project collapsed). Due to its more esoteric and rare nature there are far fewer attacks for OS/2, but now it is standard builds of Windows, potentially vulnerable to all the usual malware and exploits, that run modern ATMs. So it is not surprising that intruders have started to find ways inside the ATM’s card processing and cash dispensing systems. Malware that can offer external control to an ATM have been reported for some years, allowing attackers to dispense cash, record and print out card details and PIN numbers. Under the hood This latest malware is Backdoor.MSIL.Tyupkin, which while running continuously will only listen for commands on a Sunday and Monday night. The criminal gangs operating the malware generate a random, unique, six-digit keycode that activates the program, which is given to the “mule” who is withdrawing the money. Like previous efforts to crack into ATMs, the malware requires physical access to the ATM, typically by booting the ATM from a CD prepared to install the malware. At present the malware has been active on at least 50 ATMs in Russia and Eastern Europe, but also in the US, China and India. The malware is the file ulssm.exe, which is copied into the c:\windows\system32 directory and which is protected and maintained on the system between reboots by modifying the Windows registry (a database of configuration settings) so that Windows automatically runs the program at startup. The program then interacts with the ATM through the Extension for Financial Services (XFS) library, MSXFS.dll. To avoid detection it will only allow access controller commands on Sunday and Monday evenings. This shows an example of malware installing itself onto a system, updating the Windows registry to autorun when started (at 25:20), and then going into hiding. Playing catch up The threat of re-booting machines from CDs or bootable USB sticks in order to install malware and abusing Windows autorun feature to sustain the program in memory, is an exploit that has been common for over a decade. It seems few lessons have been learned in terms of securing physical access to the device, and also in the privileged rights that malware can gain. Even as companies focus on improving and securing the user interface, often the debugging and diagnostic side can provide further routes into a system. Versions of Windows used in embedded control systems are now sufficiently secure, but as ATM manufacturers use standard installations of Windows they are opening themselves up to further problems – not least because it allows hackers the opportunity to simulate and craft their malware on well-known versions of the operating system. However, at the core of this attack – as with those before it – is the need for physical access to the device, which implies an insider working in the bank. That means with monitoring of who has access to the cash machine, this can be prevented. The key lesson is that the ATM operating system is a weak link in the chain which needs to be closed. *This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
Four health tech startup competition finalists take home a $10,000 prize, as local sector gains critical mass10:09AM | Tuesday, 14 October
The four finalists for the inaugural Janssen Health and Technology Challenge (HaTCH) have been named, with one of the judges saying Melbourne, in particular, is close to developing “a critical mass of ideas”. Each of the four finalists receives $10,000 to go towards the further development of their concepts. They will further workshop their ideas with the judges in a full-day session on October 30, before pitching their ideas to the independent judging panel on December 2 for a chance to win $100,000 to commercialise their idea. The judging panel includes World Medical Association council chair Mukesh Haikerwal and former General Practice Registrar Australia chief executive Amit Vohra. They are joined by Strativity Group Australia and New Zealand partner Cyrus Allen, Janssen Australia/New Zealand managing director Chris Hourigan and Muru-D’s Mick Liubinskas. Vohra told Private Media health tech and biotech sectors have the potential to create a long-term home in Australia, but warned it’s still early days for the sector. “For the first time, Australia is creating an ecosystem around health startups. A lot of innovative stuff comes out of Silicon Valley because you have a lot of startups in a small area,” Vohra says. “As with most entrepreneurial activity, it needs a critical mass of ideas and Melbourne for the first time is starting to experience this.” Vohra explains Australia has never been a natural hub for robotics because it never had a strong local robotics industry, and that much of the early use of devices such as Google Glass for therapeutic purposes has been in Silicon Valley. Instead, he says the key strengths of the local health tech and biotechnology sector centre around data systems, data analysis, information sharing, wearables and nanotechnology. “There’s a whole space around consumer wearables that kicked off in the past two years. Before that, there was the app revolution, and now we’re in the next phase of that, with wearables that log that information,” Vohra says. “The next phase gets more sophisticated, where the information gets sent back to your medical practitioner, rather than just collected for lifestyle purposes.” Vohra says another area Australian health tech startups are strong in is information sharing systems, which allow a patient’s electronics records to be stored in a single repository. “Another area, and not just in Australia, is around information exchange. There’s a huge amount of fragmentation in information sharing across the health system,” he says. “Your local general practitioner has a raft of information. But if you go somewhere else for a procedure, that information is sitting in a different silo.” Storing information in a single repository allows for better quality of care at a lower cost, according to Vohra. This is because each intervention, whether it is delivered through a general practitioner, a hospital or a nursing home, will be logged in a single system, allowing medical professionals access to more accurate and complete data about a patient’s health. The four 2014 HaTCH finalists, chosen from 40 entrants, are as follows: 1. Footprints: Falls in the elderly are often result to a deterioration of gait. The Footprint sensor will improve monitoring of gait levels and thereby allow intervening before a fall happens. 2. Life Picture: Chronic diseases involve changes to the molecular pathways of individuals. The Life Picture health monitoring system uses biomarkers and smartphone technology to improve early disease detection. 3. Respiro Flu Test: Seasonal influenza kills more Australians than car accidents. The Respiro Flu Test is the first non-invasive ultra-sensitive test for influenza infection in children and adults. It takes less than 20 minutes and detects all strains of human influenza including H1N1 and bird flu. 4. Track Active: Exercise is considered to be the single most important treatment modality for addressing chronic health and musculoskeletal problems. Track Active is a cloud based platform for health and medical professionals to efficiently prescribe customized, evidence-based exercise programs to assist patients in recovery. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Negative reviews have been around just about as long as the internet itself. Now Brisbane-based startup SayBack is giving businesses the tools to monitor what’s been said about them online, and respond before too much damage is done to their brands. The platform, aimed primarily at restaurant and café owners, monitors reviews on a number of popular review websites like Trip Advisor, Yelp and Google+. When a negative review is posted about a user’s business, they are notified via text message, giving them a chance to respond quickly. SayBack launched about a month ago, and has between 30 and 35 businesses signed up to the service. Founder Kumar Lang, a restaurant owner himself who has bootstrapped the startup, came up with the idea for the platform after finding a negative review posted about his own business. “I only realised about a week later. During that one week, we don’t know how many people would have looked at the review,” he says. “If I was able to respond quickly and help take care of my customer’s needs, hopefully I can win back the client, and perhaps we can turn a negative into a positive review.” Similar services are offered by individual platforms like Trip Advisor, but Lang says he couldn’t find a service which watched over all the popular restaurant review sites. “The problem with Trip Advisor was it doesn’t notify you when there’s a bad review on Menu Log, a bad review on True Local, a bad review on Yelp,” Lang says. In addition to the notification service, SayBack also offers an online brand manager option, which essentially outsources the businesses responses to those reviews. “It’s not about deleting negative online reviews, but it’s about educating people about those negative reviews,” he says. “I’ve spoken to business owners. The reason they don’t want to respond themselves is because the business is very emotional for them. The way the respond is not always professional. So having some other people that are online reputation managers and can potentially respond on behalf of the business is valuable.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
It seems we are headed towards a world where augmented reality (AR) systems will be as common as smartphones are today – it’s already about to revolutionise medicine, entertainment, the lives of disabled people and of course advertising and shopping. The big three tech companies have all invested heavily in research and development in the AR domain. Google will be releasing Google Glass later in the year, Microsoft has been working on its own AR device and not long ago Facebook bought the virtual reality (VR) company Oculus Rift. The notion of AR that these companies are proposing is a kind of “smartphone for the eyes”, as traditional AR and VR converge in the optic realm. The reality boost We are moving into an era where we will, on a commercial scale, be taking our visual information in real time and integrating this with a wealth of external information to transform our daily lives. This will give us some degree of control over how we see the world, in the fundamental sense. For example, we might be offered information about people or objects as they pop into our field of view. Or it could introduce into our visual field view things that don’t exist at all in the real world to potentially filter out of our vision things that are in fact there, such as giant advertising billboards (see below). But this is not just another article about the radical changes that AR is likely to bring about. Rather it’s a call to begin thinking critically about the possibilities AR presents and the idea that perhaps instead of merely augmenting reality, we could transform it. The unspoken future Extrapolating from the recent history of technology gives us a glimpse of what the future of AR is likely to look like in the hands of the big tech companies. First, the idea of the “app” will extend into the visual domain, giving us apps that aid us in all the things we already do: building a house, studying at a distance, travelling in a new city and even making love. Second, the price for access to these new services and of having information at our fingertips is likely to involve surrendering ever more of our personal information. Critically, it will open up new markets for advertisers to promote their products and services in both tacit and explicit ways – an extension of the world of “advertising everywhere”. The increased human consumption of advertising – driven perhaps largely by the increase of screens in the world – has begun to be referred to by some as the pollution of the mental environment. By surrendering control over our immediate field of vision, advertising no longer needs to be limited to a screen or a surface but could become truly ubiquitous. Transformed reality? The name “augmented reality” gives it away. The vision of AR that we are seeing in the media and in press releases for products such as Google Glass is a vision of our world as we know it, but perhaps made a little easier through this technology. In contrast, this technology, that can change what we sense in real time, has the potential to fundamentally change how we live. Do we have the imagination to dream about how instead of merely augmenting reality we could be aiming to transform it? The transformative potential of this technology has begun to be envisioned by a number of different artists. In the Artvertiser project, artists have developed an application that replaces billboards within the visual field with images of art. So instead of subconsciously consuming giant advertisements on a billboard from the bank, users could perhaps be consuming artworks by Banksy. The example above is just the tip of the iceberg. What kind of a built environment do you want to inhabit? Your AR has the potential to change both the cityscape and the horizon, to overlay worlds upon worlds. Other artists have begun experimenting with ways that the technology could be used to add extra dynamics to public artworks, bringing them to life. The advent of AR presents a significant choice. Through detection, replacement and synthesis AR has the potential to both add to and subtract from our sensations. Aspects of the environment, even buildings and people could potentially be filtered in or out based on personal preference – our generation is the first in human history that holds this possibility. The proposal is that rather than simply waiting to see what purposes are dreamed up by the purveyors of this technology, we need to begin thinking about how we want to use it. Now is the time to start dreaming about how the advent of ubiquitous AR could not merely augment society, but transform it for the better. Nick Kelly does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Third party Snapchat site Snapsaved has confirmed that its site was breached and 500MB of Snapchat images were leaked, The Guardian reports. Over the weekend thousands of photos and videos from the Snapchat service, a disappearing messaging app for smartphones, were put online. The photos and videos were apparently taken from sites including Snapsaved.com, which ask people to log in using their Snapchat username and password to offer desktop-based rather than handset-based access to Snapchat. Snapchat blamed third party apps for the breach. Reddit loses its GM Reddit general manager Erik Martin, who has been with the startup since its early days, is leaving having spent six years with the company, VentureBeat reports. Martin led some of the popular community news sharing site’s biggest moments, helping organise charity raises, lobbying against bad tech policy like the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Personal Information Protection Act, as well as making Reddit the largest Secret Santa gift exchange in the world. He confirmed the decision in a tweet. Hard decision, but after 6 outstanding yrs I’m leaving reddit. Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way & made it an amazing ride! — erik martin (@hueypriest) October 13, 2014 Amazon is Google’s largest search competitor Speaking in Berlin this week, Google’s Eric Schmidt says the company’s biggest search competitor is Amazon. “People don’t think of Amazon as search but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon. They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering questions and searches, just as we are,” he says. However, he is more concerned about the development of an unknown Google-killer, which he says is inevitable. “…someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. Change comes from where you least expect it,” he says. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 223.03 points to 16,321.07. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US88 cents.
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella’s excruciating gaffe that women should not ask for a raise but trust in “karma” that they would be rewarded eventually has been met with widespread condemnation. He made the statement, ironically enough, during an interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference. The conference , dedicated to women in technology, had a largely female audience who were confounded when Nadella gave his advice. The statement was met with an instant reaction on social media and Nadella, realising the seriousness of his mistake, issued a retraction saying that his answer to the question on whether women should ask for a pay raise was “completely wrong”. Nadella’s statement is completely wrong for a whole host of reasons but in particular, it highlighted the fact that he seemed completely unaware of the context of the question given that Microsoft’s workforce is made up of just 29% women. When looking at the high status tech jobs at Microsoft, that number drops to 17%. Nadella also seemed unaware that the 17% of the female tech work force at Microsoft are likely to be paid salaries of around 87% the salaries of men. Of course, when you take merit-based bonuses into account, the gender pay gap is even greater, as women receive bonuses that are half the size of men’s. He must have been unaware of these facts, because if he was aware of them, how could he possibly have thought that a woman’s silence would result in the “right thing” happening? For Nadella, a 22 year veteran of Microsoft it is perhaps not surprising that he would have been unaware of the reality of being female and working at the company. The truth of the matter is that he may rarely have encountered women in his day-to-day job other than those employed in non-technical roles. As CEO of the company however, it is particularly revealing that he would have been insensitive to the challenges women face in that working environment. His statements perhaps point to the limitations of his abilities and will now remain as the “elephant in the room” when he is trying to navigate Microsoft from being relegated into irrelevance by its stronger rivals, Apple and Google. At the very least, Nadella joins the ranks of other CEOs who have made similarly public missteps, three of whom lost their jobs as a result: Mozilla’s CEO, Brendan Eich eventually was forced to step down over his support of anti-gay marriage legislation Lululemon’s CEO Dennis “Chip” Wilson also stepped down after blaming the fact that some of their yoga pants became see-through on overweight women saying that “Some women’s bodies “just don’t actually work” for Lululemon trousers” BP CEO Tony Hayward was forced to resign after a series of PR bombs in dealing with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that included his famous quote “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” The fact that a CEO can lose their job over a single statement reflects the nature of the job. The perceived importance of the CEO to a company’s performance is highly debated, especially when it is framed in terms of how much pay they are worth. However, the consensus is that CEOs have little impact on the overall performance of a company. Nadella comes as a novice to the job of chief executive and his turn in this position follows on from a long reign of the founders running the company. A chief executive’s main role however is to present the public face of the company and to inspire the market and their customers as a visionary. Perhaps we should have expected less of Nadella given that his first email to Microsoft employees encapsulated this vision as Microsoft enabling people to “do more” and that staff should “believe in the impossible”. Presumably the latter was aimed at female staff wanting equal representation and pay at the company. 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.
Popular online music and audio sharing platform SoundCloud’s rapid growth is seeing its costs runaway from its revenues, TechCrunch reports. The platform is now exceeding 175 million listeners each month, and is on track to reach 200 million. The company posted a turnover of $US14.1 million ($A16.2 million) in 2013, up 40% from 2012. However, its operating loss for the period more than doubled to $US29.2 million. The company says it’s trying to grow SoundCloud into the market-leading platform for listening to, creating and sharing sound. “This has necessitated investment in technology, headcount and marketing. Our overhead base has increased faster than our revenues,” it says. Raspberry Pi sales pass 3.8 million Sales of the Raspberry Pi microcomputer have now passed 3.8 million, dwarfing its creator’s original expectations. Its creators, the Pi Foundation, envisaged selling as few as 10,000 boards of the course over its lifetime. The Pi shipped just over a million in its first year on sale, and two and a half years later sales continue to trend upwards. Patent trolling pays Statistics published by the lawfirm Goodwin Protector as part of a manual that provides tips for fighting patent trolls show that in the US, from 2010 to 2013, non-practising entitles (patent trolls) received three times more in damages than real companies, Gigaom reports. Michael Strapp, one of the manual’s authors, says the result is because of patent trolls squeezing settlements from dozens of smaller companies and then suing larger companies like Apple or Google. He also says another factor is a dysfunctional feature of the American patent system, which allows the trolls to choose the venue of legal action. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 115.15 to 16,544.10. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US87 cents.
A new social network called Mothers Groupie aims to reduce the isolation felt by many new mothers by helping them to meet both face-to-face and online, with the site also recently adding a directory of "helpers". Co-founder Leanne Sexton told StartupSmart the idea for Mothers Groupie was born out of necessity and frustration after moving from Sydney, where she had previously worked in the media industry on titles such as Woman's Day, Cosmopolitan and Madison. “When I fell pregnant with our first child, we decided to have a change of lifestyle and moved away from family and friends to the [NSW] Northern Rivers at Lennox Head,” Sexton says. “There was honestly nothing for a pregnant mother until you had a baby, when you were put in a mothers’ group by the hospital with a group of women you might have nothing else in common with. When I searched online, there were mothers trying to find each other by posting messages on online forums, but those messages date quickly.” Sexton says the experience led her to develop a social network to facilitate face-to-face meetups with local mothers, allowing for online catch-ups in between. The site began as a local service, before expanding its reach and features, and eventually adding apps for the iPhone and Google Play app stores. “Within a month we had over 40 mothers in Lennox Head. That was at the start of the year, after having a baby late last year and we’ve been refining the product since. We started basic and then have been refining it based on feedback from mothers on features they’d like to see,” Sexton says. “A couple of months ago we added an app. Mothers are incredibly time poor – many don’t have time to even use a laptop. They have their baby in one hand and a smartphone in the other, where many do much of their admin. The website now has close to 2000 members and around 300 groups with very little marketing. According to Sexton, privacy concerns, especially the risk of baby photos being shared with strangers, is drawing many mothers away from established social networks such as Facebook. “Women in general are very social beings. When they become mothers, they become active on social media. I can understand first hand, going from working in the media on Cosmo to being at home in Lennox Head. It’s such a growing space, and privacy is a big concern,” she says. “We find there’s a real mix of ages. You go from young mums to mums in their 30s to a growing proportion over 30. There are many demographics that need something like this, such as mothers in rural areas or with FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) partners.” “Post-natal depression is a real issue, and research shows isolation and a lack of support can be a key cause. We’re creating a platform for people to catch up face-to-face and online in between to reduce that isolation.” A feature Mothers Groupie recently added is a directory of reputable "helpers" such as nannies, babysitters, au pairs, cleaners, lactation consultants, child sleep consultants and fitness experts. Mothers can post job ads or search for helpers, read ratings and testimonials, and can pay a small fee to see the contact details of helpers they like. “From a business perspective, it’s a demographic that’s sought after by brands, and it’s a closed and very trusted environment. “We’ve tested the model, it’s working well, and we’re now looking for $500,000 in seed funding to really push marketing, fine-tune development and expand to the US where there’s nothing quite like it.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Australia’s national startup festival Startup Spring returns this week promising to build upon the gains it made last year, when it helped push the industry further out onto the national stage. The event, organised by StartupAUS, launches on Friday, with the full schedule of events getting underway on October 13 and running through to November 3. StartupAUS board member Peter Bradd says last year’s event has helped build awareness of Australia’s startup industry, which in turn has led to an increased level of influence with the federal government. Most recently, Bradd, representing StartupAUS, has met with Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson, and Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane, with whom he discussed things like visa reform, digital education, employee share options and crowdfunding regulation. “We hope it raises awareness that we do have a strong startup ecosystem here in Australia,” Bradd says. “We want to tell the stories of what’s happening in the startup ecosystem here and take people on a journey that many are not familiar with. Show them what life is like as an entrepreneur. “I would encourage people to get down to the events. One thing I often hear from people outside the startup ecosystem is how welcoming it is. Everyone has an open door policy it’s very easy to connect and to go from knowing nothing, to knowing quite a lot. “It’s a great opportunity for anyone that has a business idea, or if they’re a university student wanting to know what it’s like to join a startup or go and found a startup.” This year there are 165 events taking place as part of Startup Spring all over the country. StartupAUS board member and Director of Engineering for Google Alan Noble says the festival is the perfect opportunity to place Australia’s startup sector centre stage and celebrate the startup community. “From coding sessions and bootcamps, to awards and networking drinks, there is an event for everybody who has an interest in tech startups,” he says. “We really hope that the Startup Spring festival will inspire the next generation of Australian entrepreneurs. Today’s startups can be tomorrow’s Tesla Motors, iRobot or Google. I believe that, with the right attitude to skills, innovation and entrepreneurship, we can create a very bright future for Australia.” For a full list of Startup Spring events visit www.startupspring2014.org. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
For some years now, I’ve been getting an email newsletter from an old colleague of mine who has his own web design business. The newsletter contains fairly standard fare from design businesses of this type – latest projects, staff tos and fros, even the latest work party. But if we weren’t friends, I would have well and truly unsubscribed from it a long time ago. Not so much because I already know about most of the news he includes, but because – despite working in a constantly evolving and information-rich area of business, the newsletter completely fails to provide any information or advice that the reader can learn from and apply to their business. Just when smaller businesses are crying out to be informed and educated about this complex and ever evolving world, this designer turns a blind eye and instead focuses completely on itself. In other words, they fail to create WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and instead create IAAU (It’s All About Us). Creating WIIFM Not only is that approach, dare I say, narcissistic, it also maximises its chances of being sent to the trash folder. Even the most reluctant computer user knows that the digital world is completely overwhelmed with information of all shapes, sizes and quality. Unfortunately they would also know that much of it is nothing more than storage-hogging junk. And because we are overwhelmed by so much information landing in our inboxes and social networks, the information that your business and my business releases better be damn good or it wont survive an inbox cull or social network scan. This means that anything that is even vaguely self-centred won’t even see the light of day. What is your content worth? It also means that we need to work extra hard to deliver content that is actually worth something. Content that will genuinely save or make your readers money, or give them an advantage in whatever world you are writing about. It may even be content that not so long back you would have been paid to provide. It’s this point that makes many hesitate. Why should I part with information that I can rightly charge for? Isn’t this my bread and butter? There’s one compelling answer to this and its name is ‘competition’. Cutting through the clutter The truth is that in the battle to gain critical ‘cut-through’ and to gain the position of ‘thought leader’, individuals and organisations are now releasing information that not so long ago, readers would have paid very handsomely for. Outstanding blogs, white papers, eBooks, videos, podcasts, presentations and even online courses are now widely available on websites throughout the internet, sometimes without so much as handing over your email address. And these resources are not from some backyarder. Some of the top brains and institutions in the world are freely providing this amazing content. If in doubt, pick a topic, any topic. Then Google search it to find out just how much free and quality content there is on that topic. All free. And all right there at your fingertips. Find the true value So if you think you will attract attention and subscriptions and most importantly conversions by releasing news about latest projects and staff milestones, it might be worth thinking again. Because your competitors are bound to be offering something far more valuable to your potential customers. So be honest with yourself. Just how valuable is the information you’re releasing into the online world? If its not, it may be a good time to re-evaluate this strategy, before you get unsubscribed or unliked for good. In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. This article was originally published at SmartCompany.