Web users are caught in a tug-of-war between advertisers and ad-blockers

10:05AM | Monday, 12 October

 The battle between the advertising industry, mobile phone operators, publishers and privacy advocates has reached new heights, with Apple’s decision to allow ad-blocking extensions in its Safari browser sparking fears that the multi-billion dollar mobile ad industry could be about to take an expensive haircut. While third-party ad-blocking apps have been around for a while, few are used on mobile platforms – they are more commonly found on desktop and laptop computers.   A recent New York Times article looking at 50 top mobile news websites indicated that of all the data downloaded as part of each web page, more than half was made up of ads. Recent studies of large volumes of mobile traffic from a European telecoms firm has also revealed that a large proportion of the bandwidth used while browsing the internet is in fact consumed by the adverts, trackers and widgets embedded in web pages. In addition to being an annoyance, cluttering up the screen, draining battery life and slowing down the whole mobile browsing experience, many poorly targeted ads are really just another form of spam.   But why are mobile ads so inefficient? This is mostly due to the complex ecosystem in the mobile advertising industry. The majority of apps in the popular markets such as Apple App Store and Google Play are free. Many developers provide a small space for advertising to earn some cash from their work. These spaces are populated by ads and ad-broker services, which pass onto the developer a percentage of the profits, as measured in terms of views (known as impressions) and clicks. Earnings are usually paid on impressions by the thousand, so ad brokers aim to maximise the number of ads and their frequency with which they’re displayed on the user’s screen.   How the mobile ad ecosystem works. ACM, Author provided   There are two major issues in this ecosystem: firstly, the cost to the consumer in terms of bandwidth and energy – and their privacy. Personal data is the main fuel for the advertising industry, and thousands of companies work within the ad ecosystem collecting, tracking and selling data on users and their browsing habits. Second, the fact that the basis of the ecosystem, generating payments through impressions and clicks, can be gamed by bots – click fraud – generating huge, unwarranted costs for advertisers.   Doing ads better is better for everyone The internet-connected smartphone for a mass market is barely ten years old, so the mobile advertising industry is still in its infancy. One could compare the tension between the market players with the early days of MP3 music sharing sites (Napster, Limewire, Shareaza) and the eventual success of the legal, paid model that evolved from them. Consumers’ reliance on free apps in exchange for their personal data has boosted the aggressive data collection behaviour of the advertising industry. This in turn has encouraged privacy and consumer rights advocates to create and support ad-blocking software. Inevitably, this three-way tension will lead to more oversight and legislation to tame the industry’s excesses, particularly in the highly regulated European market.   As an extreme example, a small mobile operator this week decided to block mobile ads altogether. This is certainly one solution, but if such a step were to be widely taken this would severely limit the degree to which app developers could continue to innovate and create while maintaining a free product and free content for users.   Handing control of the web ecosystem to telecoms companies or small yet powerful ad-blocking businesses that allow advertisers to whitelist their ads so that they’re still seen by users, is an undesirable outcome for most. On the other hand, research into privacy-preserving mobile advertising methods is underway, and there have been numerous calls for users to have more control over their personal data. Done properly, in a way that doesn’t hit users in the pocket or degrade their web browsing experience, there’s no reason why ads, perhaps less targeted ads, wouldn’t be accepted again. Alternatively it will be a case for model can certainly return to the scene.   Hamed Haddadi, Lecturer Assistant Professor in Digital Media, Queen Mary University of London This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It's not just Facebook that goes down: the cloud isn't as robust as we think

10:13AM | Thursday, 1 October

 The computing cloud we have created supports much of our day-to-day office and leisure activity, from office email to online shopping and sharing holiday photos. Even health, social care and government functions are moving towards digital delivery over the internet.   However, we should be wary that as we become more dependent on it, the cracks will show. The systems are often a patchwork of interconnected services provided by various companies and industry partnerships. A failure of one can lead to a failure in others.   For example, Skype recently went down for almost an entire day, while Facebook was down for more than an hour – the second time in a week – meaning that many sites that depend on Facebook accounts as authentication were locked out too.   Losing Facebook is an annoyance, but interruptions to major health and social care services or energy supply management systems can lead to real damage to the economy and people’s lives.   A few weeks ago Google’s data centres in Belgium (europe-west1-b) lost power after the local power grid was struck by lightning four times. While most servers were protected by battery backup and redundant storage, there was still an estimated 0.000001% loss of disk space – which for Google’s huge data stores meant a few gigabytes of data.   The lesson is not to trust cloud providers to store and provide backups for your data. Your backups need backups too. What it also shows is our dependence on power supply system which, as long runs of conductive metal, are more prone to lightning strikes than you might imagine.   Facebook response graph, showing outage. Bill Buchanan   When the lights go out Former US secretary of defence, William Cohen, recently outlined how the US power grid was vulnerable to a large-scale outage: “The possibility of a terrorist attack on the nation’s power grid — an assault that would cause coast-to-coast chaos,” he said, “is a very real one.”   As a former electrical engineer, I understand well the need for a safe and robust power supply, and that control systems can fail. It’s not uncommon to have alternative or redundant power supplies for important equipment. Single points of failure are accidents waiting to happen. Back-up your backup.   The electrical supply grid will try to provide alternative power whenever any part of it fails. The power supply system needs to be built with redundancy in case of problems, and monitoring and control systems that can respond to failures and keep the electricity supply balanced.   Cohen fears a major power outage could lead to civil unrest. Janet Napolitano, former Department of Homeland Security secretary, said a cyber-attack on the power grid was a case of “when,” not “if”. And former senior CIA analyst Peter Vincent Pry went so far as to say that an attack on the US electrical power supply network could “take the lives of every nine out of ten Americans”. The damage that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could cause, such as from a nuclear weapon air-burst, is well known. But many now think the complex andinterconnected nature of industrial control systems, known as SCADA, could be the major risk.   An example of the potential problem is the north-east US blackout on August 14 2003, which affected 508 generating units at 265 separate power plants, cutting off power to 45m people in eight US states and 10m people in Ontario. It was caused by a software flaw in an alarm system in an Ohio control room which failed to warn operators about an overload, leading to domino effect of failures. It took two days to restore power.   As the world becomes increasingly internet-dependent, we have created a network that provides redundant routes to carry traffic from point to point, but electrical supply failures can still take out core routing systems.   Control systems - the weakest link Often it’s the less obvious elements of infrastructure that are most open to attack. For example, air conditioning failures in data centres can cause overheating sufficient to melt equipment, especially the tape drives used to store vast amounts of data. This could affect anything from banking transactions worth billions, the routing of traffic around a busy city, or an emergency services call centre.   As we become more dependent on data and data-processing, so we are more vulnerable to their loss. Safety critical systems are built with failsafe control mechanisms, but those mechanisms can also attacked and compromised.   The cloud we have created and upon which we increasingly depend is not as hardy as we think. The internet itself, and the way we use it, is not as distributed as it was designed to be. We still rely too heavily on key physical locations where data and network interconnections are concentrated, creating unacceptable points of failure that could lead to a domino-effect collapse. The DNS infrastructure is a particular weak point, where just 13 root servers worldwide act as master lists for the entire web’s address book.   I don’t think governments have fully thought this through. Without power, without internet connectivity, there is no cloud. And without the cloud we have big problems.   Bill Buchanan, Head, Centre for Distributed Computing, Networks and Security, Edinburgh Napier University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Broadband is the key infrastructure for the 21st century

9:33AM | Wednesday, 30 September

 Earlier this month, the US Broadband Opportunity Council declared that broadband is “taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities”.   Descriptors like “very fast” (Australia), “superfast” (UK), “ultra-fast” (New Zealand) or “ultra-high speed” (Singapore) reinforce the message that speed is an essential component of good broadband.   But what would a genuinely 21st century broadband infrastructure look like? And can the National Broadband Network (NBN) under the stewardship of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull fit the bill?   High bar Around the world there are broadband projects that give us a taste of what 21st century broadband might look like. One is Google Fiber, which promises “endless possibilities” along with 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) download and upload speeds in three American cities.   In comparison, the ADSL2+ broadband serving more than 5 million Australian households today has a maximum download speed of about 20 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload of 8Mbps. However, real-world speeds are typically significantly lower.   Today’s fastest NBN plans offer 100Mbps download and 40 Mbps upload, although NBN Co’s original fibre-to-the-premises approach could match Google Fiber’s gigabit speeds.   Google has plans to expand Google Fiber to more cities in the US, making it one of the most high profile private sector broadband initiatives globally. But it is far from the only one.   In cities around the world, many companies are building new broadband networks that offer symmetrical gigabit speeds (1,000Mbps downloads and uploads) and more competitive pricing than incumbent broadband providers.   In the US, more than 100 cities have joined the Next Century Cities alliance, sharing expertise to bring “fast, reliable, and affordable Internet – at globally competitive speeds” to their communities.   A successful example of this approach is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the community-owned electric utility company built and operates a fibre network connecting every home and business.   In addition to offering symmetrical gigabit broadband, the network has improved the reliability, resiliency and responsiveness of Chattanooga’s electrical services. It also provides a platform for economic development that drives growth and innovation in the city.   The people of rural Lancashire in England were tired of waiting for better broadband, so they took matters into their own hands. They raised money from the community, and volunteers learned how to install fibre.   Their broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) project now delivers gigabit symmetrical broadband to more than 1,000 households.   Singapore’s Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network connects all Singaporean homes and businesses to an open access fibre network, meaning that any qualified provider can deliver services using the network. Many ISPs now offer symmetrical gigabit connectivity over this national network, with plans to offer even faster speeds in future.   These initiatives serve different constituencies in different ways, with three very important commonalities. Each project has built, or is building, a new fibre-optical network that connects directly to homes and other premises. Each has developed a business model that allows customers unlimited symmetrical access at the fastest possible speeds.   Speeds can also be increased in future by upgrading networking equipment, allowing for faster data transfer over the fibre. Additionally, these fast, unlimited internet services are offered at a reasonable price, typically less than A$100 per month.   By demonstrating what is possible, these projects are likely to shape expectations of what fixed-line broadband networks can deliver in future. The willingness of local communities, municipal and national governments and private sector organisations to invest in new fibre networks demonstrates that there are business models that work, today.   Bringing it home Opportunities for using broadband to deliver services to citizens in innovative, economical and convenient ways are well understood. Research also suggests that increased uptake of broadband technologies results in economic growth, providing strong rationale for public investment in broadband infrastructure.   However, when he was Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull instructed the National Broadband Network company (nbn) to meet short-term needs by incorporating existing copper and HFC networks into a multi-technology mix network.   Research for the government’s NBN Panel of Experts concluded that Australians would not need very fast broadband service in the immediate future.   But if broadband is indeed becoming as essential as roads, water and electricity, the current patchwork approach will be insufficient to enable the innovation, productivity and socio-economic activities already possible on the networks described above.   The approaches discussed above show that investment in broadband infrastructure can deliver uniform, affordable, and very high quality service. New models provide services without limits or constraints, enabling innovation and experimentation with the possibility of increasing network capacity to meet demands for services that have yet to be invented.   Malcolm Turnbull has an opportunity to build world class broadband infrastructure in Australia AAP   Embracing broadband A few days after taking office, Prime Minister Turnbull announced “a 21st Century Government and a ministry for the future”. He called for Australia to become more competitive, more innovative and more productive. He called for increased efficiency in service delivery, and spoke of integration across all levels of government to ensure the prosperity of Australian cities.   He did not mention the National Broadband Network, but he would understand the important role that broadband can play in facilitating his objectives and know that there is enormous opportunity for his government to explore the potential of 21st century broadband.   A good first step would be to articulate the ways that broadband underpins innovation, productivity and integration across his ministries and across the Australian economy, in cities and in rural and remote regions.   With a clear set of outcomes in mind, the government may then reconsider its commitment to a plan that constrains and limits the capacity of the NBN, and may even hinder Australia’s future prosperity.   Catherine Middleton, Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

To change our economy we need to change our thinking

9:21AM | Tuesday, 29 September

 It’s not surprising that new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s appointment has been well received by the startup community. When he talks about the Australia of the future being agile, innovative and creative, he is speaking their language.   There is only one question. How do we get there?   There are at least a few countries in the world that could be characterised as agile, innovative and creative. Among them: the USA, Singapore and Estonia. What could we learn from them?   The United States has led the digital revolution. It started in Silicon Valley. There, Stanford and other universities provided a skilled STEM research base, the industry contributed venture capital and business expertise, and the government added steady and sustainable funding to the mix.   In America, creativity, innovation and agility are deeply ingrained in society. The maker movement, exemplified by the global phenomenon of Maker Faires, started in California. Creativity is taught from the youngest age through initiatives such as City X, born in Wisconsin.   Singapore is one of the most advanced digital economies and benefits heavily from the commitment of its government. Singapore wants to become the world’s first “smart nation”. The government has established institutions that focus on creating a vibrant startup ecosystem. Generous funding of startups and an attractive taxation system are “icing on the cake” that the government serves.   Singaporeans want to be smart and well educated. The perception that knowledge can be the most valued resource of the country has been consistent over the 50 years of its existence.   Estonia is a young economy, moving fast in the digital space. Lack of legacy systems means that Estonians can quickly introduce digital solutions. There is no need to think about maintaining previous ones - there aren’t any. It’s an inventor’s heaven.   A strong push for STEM education has always been present in Estonia’s educational system. This, married with entrepreneurial spirit triggered when independence was restored in 1991, created a perfect storm. And it would not have been possible without the strong support of the government.   In the US, Singapore and Estonia, it is all about government support, education and the right innovation culture.   Governments need to play a very active role. A robust ecosystem, like Silicon Valley, can be developed when a government is strategically focused. The US government is now switching to a supportive role, with the digital economy becoming very mature.   The government of Singapore behaves more like a startup, with a clear vision, defined investment and incentive strategy. And Estonia, the youngest economy of the pack, is in a seeding phase, looking to implement and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.   Education is a top priority. The decentralised model in the US has enabled grassroots movements resulting in great creative talent. The structured model in Singapore produces highly skilled and technically capable citizens. Estonia has traditionally focused on STEM skills and aims to digitise all learning experiences by 2020.   Be bold While policies and education are important, innovation culture eats them for breakfast. Obama brings inventors to the White House. Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong uses Facebook and Google Drive to share and discuss C++ code he wrote years ago. Estonian President Toomas Ilves reminds everyone that this young country is behind such disruptive technologies as Skype.   Estonians are bold, curious and not afraid of experimenting. Singaporeans are rigorous, ambitious and use their skills wisely. Americans are proud, entrepreneurial and global in their actions. They are all explorers of the digital economy in their own ways.   Governments that foster innovation are more about how they behave than their structure. In this case “talking the talk” is almost as important as walking it - to build the right innovation culture.   Turnbull’s beliefs, values and assumptions, born of his business experience, will be vital to keep innovation and entrepreneurship on the agenda while developing the ecosystem in Australia.   A well-designed educational system is crucial. There has to be a strong focus on developing STEM skills, while remembering that creative skills are just as important. We need to foster curious, creative and entrepreneurial minds. And we need to remember that education never ends: lifelong learning and digital literacy skills are key to a successful digital economy.   Innovation, creativity and agility need to be cherished and celebrated. Just like Obama praises creative kids in his tweets, we hope to see Turnbull continuously recognise individuals and organisations that exhibit entrepreneurial traits. And just like other successful economies, we need to create an environment where successful startups stay here.   Australians need to be bold and aspire to have the strongest and fastest-moving digital economy in the world. There is no reason to doubt it is possible.   If the first vision is not right, we can pivot. Just like any startup would. Marek Kowalkiewicz, Professor and PwC Chair in Digital Economy, Queensland University of Technology This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Skedulo makes it easy to organise on the move

9:48AM | Friday, 25 September

Brisbane-based startup Skedulo has a simple mission – to make scheduling tasks in enterprise as easy as ordering an Uber ride.   The startup began as a Salesforce consulting company before pivoting and creating a cloud-based scheduling platform for enterprise. Users can access the platform via desktop or mobile app and identify available team members, assign tasks, and manage them on the fly.   Speaking to StartupSmart at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Skedulo founder Matt Fairhurst says during his time consulting he noticed many companies were using Google Calendar and Outlook for scheduling or relying on legacy software.   “On-demand products in the consumer world were becoming very popular at the time. All of these verticals were suddenly finding that all of their employees had a mobile,” he says.   “We wondered, what would it mean for enterprises apps to be as exciting to use as something like Uber, Airbnb or Facebook.   “It’s taking those same on-demand scheduling principles and applying it in business and the partners they work with.”   The startup, which has raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding, has an engineering team based in Brisbane, and small go-to market team in San Francisco.   Over the past 12 months Skedulo has grown significantly in Canada and the US, to the point where those two markets are now the source of the majority of the startup’s customers.   Recently Skedulo signed on John Hopkins International Medicine, a large healthcare provider which operates six hospitals, four suburban healthcare and surgery centres, and 39 primary and speciality care outpatient sites.   While Skedulo was not built with any particular industry vertical in mind, healthcare now represents about 30-40% of the startup’s customer base.   “We’re a fairly horizontal application in that we service a number of different key verticals but we’re seeing a pattern where certain industry verticals are at this catalyst point,” he says.   “Enough of their workforce is being mobilised around a scheduling problem, what I would call non-traditional field service. It’s healthcare workers, cleaning companies, maintenance guys, event scheduling around casual labour. So we have started to see vertical patterns emerge, but healthcare is one of the more dominant ones.   “It’s a really exciting opportunity to disrupt the way field service and workforce mobility is viewed in enterprise.”   StartupSmart attended Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help.

Why Snapchat's the coolest kid on the social media block

9:12AM | Friday, 25 September

Is there a social media platform that can make your existing customers more loyal to your brand?   Jane Lu, founder of online fashion retailer Showpo, says there is and that platform is Snapchat.   One of the new kids on the social media block, Snapchat allows users to send photos or short video clips to each other that disappear as soon as the user as seen it.   Snapchat was launched in September 2011 and although it does not have the same reach as its more established social media counterparts, this is starting to change.   As of May this year, Snapchat reportedly had 100 million daily active users and at the time was valued at more than $US15 billion ($20.9 billion).   According to the 2015 Sensis Social Media Report, 15% of Australian consumers are using Snapchat, which is not far behind the likes of Twitter and Pinterest (both 17%), Google+ (23%), Instagram (26%) and LinkedIn (28%).   Facebook still dominates, however, with 93% of the population using the social network.   Snapchat users are most likely to be aged between 18-29 years, with 38% of those in that age bracket surveyed by Sensis reporting having a Snapchat account. Less than 10% of those aged between 30-39 years (7%) and those between the ages of 40 and 49 (9%) use Snapchat.   Brands have begun to take notice of the rapidly growing social platform, with the likes of US brands Taco Bill and McDonald’s creating a Snapchat presence and global fashion retailer ASOS using the platform to offer immediate discounts to followers.   A bit closer to home, KFC Australia used Snapchat to launch its Double Soft Shell Zinger Taco in June, Cricket Australia took the plunge in July to tie in with the latest Ashes series and Commonwealth Bank established its Snapchat account at the start of August.   Also in August, fashion lovers were able to see Myer’s Spring Fashion Week parade via Snapchat.   Making customers more loyal   For Showpo’s Jane Lu, using Snapchat is not about generating more traffic to her $7.5 million online retail store, but about making her “existing followers more sticky”.   “If they like the content, they will be more loyal,” Lu told SmartCompany.   “It gives them a more candid look at the business; it shows it is more than just a website.”   Lu created her personal/business Snapchat account – TheLazyCEO – only a few months ago after she was introduced to the platform by her partner’s younger sister.   There is no way of tracking how many followers Lu has on Snapchat but to date, each of the videos she has snapped have notched up to 10,000 views.   Lu readily admits Snapchat is not as effective as the likes of Instagram and Facebook for attracting new followers to her brand or even converting followers to paying customers, she says the platform’s ease of use makes it appealing as a business owner.   “People spend a lot of time and thought on Instagram but Snapchat is quite easy,” Lu says.   “Snapchat is about capturing the moment; you can’t redo the moment.”   But the ease of use can also be a pitfall, Lu says, warning other business owners to be careful about what they post, especially if it is later at night and they may have had a few drinks.   Using the Stories feature of Snapchat, which allows videos to stay accessible for longer than normal photo ‘snaps’, Lu offers her followers behind-the scenes clips of her day as chief executive of Showpo – from shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as she travels to a meeting or her dancing with some of Showpo’s models at a fashion shoot.   “It targets a younger market,” she says.   “Millenials and people in the 20s are really on it.”   “A whole new ball game”   Bree Johnson, co-founder of Frank Body, describes Snapchat as “a whole new ball game” for the cult coffee scrub that has achieved success on other social media platforms, including Instagram.   Johnson told SmartCompany Frank Body started trialling Snapchat in April and developed a strategy for using the platform in July from its account frankbod.   “Everything we do is driven by our customers and quite simply, a lot of our customers are using it as a platform so it made sense for us to be playing in the same space as them,” Johnson says.   Like Showpo, Frank Body’s target market is young women, aged between 16 and 24 years, and Johnson says this group “really responds” to the more natural, related and “less polished” content that Snapchat is made for.   “Each [social] platform is made for a different type of content or serves a different purpose,” Johnson says when comparing Snapchat to Instagram or Facebook.   “We try to offer unique content or raw footage that we wouldn’t necessarily put on the other platforms.”   Frank Body’s Snapchat account is made up of “Stories” or longer videos that go behind the scenes or feature social media “influencers”. Last week, the brand offered fitness tips from Sam Wood, star of this year’s season of Channel Ten’s The Bachelor.   Frank Body has a lucrative business model – the business turned over $14 million last financial year and is on track to more than double that figure to approximately $30 million this financial year – but Johnson says Snapchat is “not sales driven”.   “It’s about offering our loyal followers a bit extra,” she says.   Despite the less commercial focus, or perhaps because of it, it seems Frank Body’s fans like what they see: the brand’s Snapchat videos are attracting more than 10,000 views each.   As marketers, Johnson says it has been challenging for the Frank Body team to get their heads around posting “everything in real-time”.   “You can’t edit it so we are learning to let go a little bit,” she says.   “And when we get influencers to post for us, there is a large element of trust.”   “But that is part of what attracts people to Snapchat … it’s a lot more organic.”   “The Holy Grail for marketers”   According to Steve Vallas, social media expert and co-founder of social commerce agency Chunky Media, Snapchat has become “the Holy Grail for marketers” because of demographic it attracts.   “Eighteen to 24-year-olds are living on it,” Vallas told SmartCompany.   “So the question becomes how can you get to them without putting them off?”   However, Vallas questions whether it is worth small businesses experimenting with the Snapchat, given it is an “immature platform” and one that large corporates are splashing huge amounts of cash at with little return.   “By and large, the experience with Snapchat has been overseas,” Vallas says.   “It’s the big brands chasing Snapchat.”   Vallas says the resources and effort being poured into the platform currently outweigh the returns brands are getting, especially as it is virtually impossible for brands to actively find new Snapchat followers.   “In terms of scale, we’re not talking about numbers in the tens of thousands, we talking about a few hundred voucher redemptions,” he says.   Vallas says brands in the sporting and entertainment sectors appear to be favouring Snapchat as its instantaneous marketing is ideally suited for live events such as sporting matches or music festivals.   Those brands that are getting some traction use social media influencers or celebrities or are capitalising on the fact that Snapchat is still an “uncluttered space” with fewer brands competing for users’ interest.   As Snapchat continues to grow, however, Vallas says it will be the brands that hold true to that age-old marketing practice of simply creating compelling content.   “It’s the coolest place to be but it will be difficult for some brands,” he says.   “They will stick out like a sore thumb if they can’t create content that is interesting.”   This article was first published on SmartCompany.

MapJam co-founder says chances are it’s still best to be in San Fran

9:32AM | Thursday, 24 September

San Francisco serendipity is the biggest advantage of moving to the world’s startup hub, according to MapJam co-founder Jack Gonzalez.   It was a few chance encounters, the type Gonzalez says are far more likely to occur in San Francisco than any other part of the world, which led to Aussie-founded US-based MapJam closing a $950,000 capital round earlier this year, and being accepted into the 500 Startups accelerator program.   “I love Australia and I miss it,” Gonzalez told StartupSmart from 500 Startups office in downtown San Francisco.   “I have some friends in Sydney that will contradict me, but you really have to be here. It really is all about relationships and relationship building. I was going down the elevator yesterday, and I ran into a VC. We had a good half an hour chat in the lobby, she gave me her card and said, ‘hey you’ve just closed a round but reach out to us when you next go fundraising.   “The other day, I was in the elevator with the head of marketing for Airbnb.  That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, I’m sorry to say.  Serendipity happens here a lot.”   MapJam’s platform allows users to create custom maps that can be embedded and shared across the web, without needing to know how to code. Its product has been used by the Huffington Post, and the startup is currently in discussions with a large American real estate agency, and a “huge retail brand”.   In the days after appearing on the Huffington Post front page, MapJam received more traffic than it had in the prior three months. Since then traffic has continued to grow 15% week-on-week.   A basic MapJam map.   Although the sheer density of startup founders, talented potential employees, and venture capital, makes networking easy in the San Francisco area, Gonzalez says there’s a misconception that fundraising there is a breeze.   “It really takes a minimum of three months, you’ve got to knock on a lot of doors, it’s a full-time job,” he says.   “Again it’s about relationship building. We actually managed to raise 30% of the latest round thanks to an Aussie who gave us a warm intro. He did, we got the meeting, and bang, (the investor) was in.   “We’ve actually met a couple of Aussie VCs who have visited. But there’s a different mentality .   “Here it’s all about getting traction, getting adoption, then working out your revenue. “   Gonzalez wouldn’t go into the details of MapJam’s revenue model, but said when a large retail brand approached the startup earlier this month, the first question the representative asked was “How much?” and “didn’t bat an eyelid” at the response.   “So that’s great, but that’s secondary,” Gonzalez says.   “(Co-founder) Scollay Petry and I are really passionate about geography and about mapping, but also about simplifying technology. And if you think about it, when Google Maps first came out, about 10 years ago, it was all about coding, an API, and you needed somebody to stitch it all together.   “There are other websites that have made building a website so simple that you don’t need to write a single line of code. This is what we’ve done with MapJam. It’s all drag and drop, click and point, share and embed.   “We’re really focused on getting our platform embedded everywhere.”   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help.

The war on online advertising is intensifying, and the ads are losing

9:34AM | Wednesday, 23 September

A new front in the war against online advertising has opened up with the official release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 9. The most contentious feature was the ability for the mobile version of Safari to allow extensions to block ads.   Not only was there ad blocking software ready for installation on the day of the launch, but one application, Peace, became the top downloaded paid app on the iTunes App Store. The developer, Marco Arment, justified the need for ad blocking because online ads were engaging in excessive tracking and taking up space, data allowance and generally making the mobile browser experience worse for everyone.   But then, barely a day later, Arment pulled the app from the App Store, declaring that he didn’t “feel right” profiting from blocking other peoples’ ability to make money from ads. On Twitter, Arment went from being “immensely proud” of his app hitting the number one spot on iTunes to announcing that he was pulling it from the store.   I’ve pulled Peace from the App Store. Why: — Marco Arment (@marcoarment) September 18, 2015 Although Arment hasn’t elaborated on the precise technical reasons for pulling the app, it seems that the people behind Ghostery, the ad blocking technology that underpinned the app, decided that his implementation was not how they imagined their software being used.   Ghostery advocated for users of ad blockers to be “empowered” to decide for themselves what ads and trackers to block rather than the preemptive blocking that had been implemented in the initial version of Peace.   The public makes its views crystal clear   Since Peace has capitulated, another ad blocker, Crystal has taken the vanguard as the most downloaded paid app on iTunes.   Setting aside the arguments for or against online advertising, one thing is absolutely clear: the public do not want advertising to be part of their web browsing experience. So it really doesn’t matter whether web sites see this as the only way that they can find to provide free content.   The argument that this is all about bad vs good ads is also clearly not an issue any more. Ad blockers could render all ads obsolete, regardless of their perceived quality. Nobody is going to spend any time worrying about whether they should unblock particular ads.   Ghostery may have had laudable ambitions for an honest dialogue about ad tracking and ad quality, but it isn’t a conversation that the general public is interested in having. They simply want a total victory over online advertising.   The fallacy of the implied contract of ads for content   In the debate about the role of advertising, advocates have argued that it enables the supply of free content. If not for advertising, people would have to pay for the content through subscriptions.   So, in essence, there is an “implied contract” between consumers of a site and those providing the free content: web site visitors get access to the content in exchange for being subjected to ads and providing private information through tracking their use of the site.   The problem with this argument is that visitors are never given the explicit choice to make that informed decision. The “contract” also conveniently leaves out the fact that, in addition to the loss of privacy and the visual experience of ads, their data allocation is going to be used, web pages will load slower, and overall, their experience of the site will be diminished.   The argument for the need for advertising is a weak one. There are plenty of businesses that have shown that people are willing to pay for content if it is packaged such that they can easily see value for money.   Netflix and Hulu are examples of services that people are prepared to pay for in exchange for both the content and it being advertising free. In fact, many companies see the annoyance that customers feel with ads as a way of driving them to pay for versions of their apps that get rid of them.   The ad wars will continue   The war on advertising is far from over. Google, Apple and others are still going to provide ads in the protected environments of their apps, and in Google’s case, its videos.   Advertisers will continue to sell ads to clients who will, in turn, hope that they can get their ads in front of the remaining people who don’t use ad blocking software.   What the enormous popularity of ad blocking software has shown is that, if there is an “implied contract” for access to content in return for viewing ads, the public clearly is not willing to agree to it.   This leaves content providers with a clear message that they will need to find alternative ways of supporting the provision of that content like many other businesses do, without the use of advertising.   This article was first published on The Conversation.

Rest in Peace: Popular ad blocking app taken down as debate rages

9:32AM | Monday, 21 September

In just two days, Marco Arment’s app had flown to the top of the App Store charts.   Then he decided to take it down.   Arment’s ad blocking app Peace proved to be an immediate hit, soaring to the top of the paid charts, but due to moral problems with the practice, he made the tough and financially detrimental decision to pull it from the store.   The ad blocking debate has been reignited this month, with Apple allowing for developers to incorporate the software with the new iOS 9 updates.   With iOS 9, apps can now be easily created that facilitate ad blocking on the Safari app and in just a week, many have sped to the top of the App Store charts.   “Ad-blocking is a kind of war with damage hitting both sides,” Arment says in a blog post explaining his decision.   “Even though I’m ‘winning’, I’ve enjoyed none of it. That’s why I’m withdrawing from the market.   “Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”   It’s the fact that blocking software allows for blanket bans of all ads that most worries Arment.   “Peace required that all ads be treated the same – all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white,” he says. “This approach is too blunt.”   “If we’re going to affect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.   “I don’t feel good making one and being the arbiter of what’s blocked.”   Pouring fuel on the ad blocking fire   The advent of ad blocking on iPhones has poured fuel on the fire that is the debate surrounding this technology and how developers and publishers should react.   It was a big move from Apple in allowing the software, but seems like a well-thought out one for them. With no skin in the online advertising game, it’ll likely to hit Google hard and leave in-app advertising unscathed.   But it will have severe and widespread repercussions, as pointed out by Arment. It’s already something that has come to a head in terms of desktop web browsers; with ad blocking becoming a much more mainstream practice in the last few years.   According to a study conducted by Pagefair, ad blocking on desktops was responsible for $US22 million in lost revenue, with an estimated 198 million users worldwide actively blocking advertisements.   With the immediate demand for iOS ad blocking, it seems there will be very similar problems with mobile advertising.   Rattling the advertising industry   Co-founder of advertising agency BigDatr Avrill D’Costa tells StartupSmart the changes are likely to “rattle” the advertising industry.   “Publishers will have to face Apple’s decision,” D’Costa says. “This change will deny publishers advertising revenue in the tune of millions, whilst still allowing users to access their content ad-free.”   “It wouldn’t surprise me if those publishers running on tight margins and relying on advertising revenue as the sole income stream throw in the towel and call it quits.”   Power to the users   But Paul Chan, the CEO of online marketer PureProfile, says it could force advertisers to innovate and create more user-friendly ads.   “Pureprofile is an advocate of anything that allows publishers to improve advertising,” Chan says. “We believe advertising has a genuinely useful place in people’s lives, but it needs to be less intrusive and more relevant, particularly when it comes to video content.   “There should be other mechanisms that do not interrupt the content experience and provide high-value advertising interactions.”   It’s about giving users more control, perhaps to the detriment of advertisers and publishers, Chan says.   “We truly support anything that puts the user in control and gives them the settings to exercise their right to choose how they consume content, including advertising,” he says.   As well as a push to produce better ads, some websites have been publishing messages directly to users asking them to remove the ad blocker or sign up.   In a move that many are saying isn’t coincidental in the slightest; Apple also launched its new default News app with iOS 9.   Apple News will use RSS feeds to get content from publishing partners, and perhaps a new means of revenue for publishers.   It’s a debate with many technical and moral intricacies, and one that’s likely to only become fiercer in the coming months.   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help

Mum’s the word: YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki on why she’d quit without good maternity leave

9:13AM | Monday, 21 September

Generous parental leave packages are good for business, according to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.   Wojcicki, who Forbes recently named one of the 10 most powerful women in the world, alongside the likes of Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel, recently took her fifth paid maternity leave from Google.   Speaking at Salesforce's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco last week, Wojcicki says if the company didn't have a good maternity leave program in place, she'd quit. Parent company Google currently offers 18 weeks paid leave for mothers, and 12 weeks paid leave for fathers.   "So what we found, and I just went through this so I felt like I had the same experience, you're more ready to come back to work when the kids are a little bit older," she says.   "You're sleeping better, they're sleeping better, they're getting closer to eating real food, instead of just you, and milk. So I thought about it on day 10, and I could barely walk, you're barely sleeping, you're very sore. And you're homes are readjusting. I thought, what would happen if I had gone back to work on day 10. I thought I'd quit, that's what I would do, because I wouldn't be able to do that.   "The really sad thing in the US is a lot of women don't have that choice."   Google has found that since increasing its maternity leave program from 12 weeks to 18 weeks in 2007, the rate at which mothers left the company declined by 50%.   It's these sorts of policy changes, which aim to foster a more supportive working environment, that are required to bridge the diversity gap in tech, Wojicicki says.   She also blames misconceptions about the industry for reducing the number of women entering technology, and low diversity figures for pushing out those that do.   "If you look at the number of women who have degrees in computer science, it's less than 20% right now in terms of graduating from US universities," she says.   "And then I think it's a retention problem. Women who come into tech are more likely to leave. Whenever you have an environment that's a majority of something, it's hard for the minority.   "But I think there are other things. I think computer science has, incorrectly, got a reputation that's not completely accurate and that's scared away a lot of women.   "This is a field that's very creative, there's lot of opportunities, you get to work with groups and teams, you get to build products and change the world. These are all things that should be interesting and attractive to women and diverse audiences.   "I think (computer science) should be a required course for everybody when they're going to school. Just like we take biology, and chemistry, and physics.   "That's one way to address the issue, suddenly, instantly, everyone has access and is digitally literate."   StartupSmart attended Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.

Apple News could change the news business - will readers win?

9:11AM | Friday, 11 September

 In the early days of Web 2.0, the arrival of blogs and similar sites heralded an explosion in the number of news feeds we could follow. But such abundance also came at a price: it became increasingly difficult to keep up with all this content without having to browse at length from site to site every day.   In response, a friendly acronym briefly flourished: Rich Site Summary, better known as Really Simple Syndication or RSS. Coupled with a feed reader tool, RSS enables users to quickly scan the headlines and click through only to those stories that pique their interest.   Feed readers were never widely popular, though – they remain the domain of news junkies and other power users. Adding all those RSS feeds to track takes time, and often requires some technical skills. And internet user practices have changed. Reader loyalty to specific news sites has declined, and many now receive a constant stream of news from diverse sources through the social filtering activities of their Facebook and Twitter contacts instead.   As a result, feed readers have fallen out of fashion. Market leader Google Reader was discontinued in 2013 as a result of its declining user base, and while other tools (such as Feedly) have replaced it, they remain speciality products by comparison.   An advertising nightmare News publishers, incidentally, might have breathed a sigh of relief. Scanning the news headlines in a feed reader necessarily reduces revenues from online advertising. Feed reader users click through to the news site (and thus trigger ad impressions) only for a fraction of all headlines. But then, most modern browsers use some form of ad blocking, so even loyal website visitors no longer reliably generate ad impressions.   Publisher attempts to overcome the limited returns from online ads have also involved a number of other revenue-raising approaches. These include full or partial content paywalls, or subscription- or advertising-supported apps for smartphones and tablets. Neither of these options represent guaranteed success.   Unless the paid content is unique, paywalls tend to drive users to the competition (such as the news sites of public service media). News apps may look great, but often fail to offer the convenience and flexibility of reading news on the web. Plus, users may end up having to switch between half a dozen news apps from different sources.   Apple loves simplicity This messy state of affairs looks set to be disrupted by Apple News, a new default app to be provided with the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, on September 16.   Until Apple’s own Apple News Format standard becomes available, the new app will use RSS feeds to retrieve content from its publishing partners. It will serve, in essence, as a modern take on the feed reader, providing a standardised interface to the latest content from news and other online publishers.   But while users of RSS tools can add the feeds they want, Apple News will offer only the content of those publishers it has signed up to the service. This creates a walled garden of news sources, and eventually perhaps an opportunity for Apple to request a payment from publishers seeking to be included. Pre-release information indicates that joining Apple News as a publisher is free, but there is no guarantee it will remain so.   For ordinary users interested in mainstream news sources, this may not matter much, but it does position Apple as the ultimate gatekeeper of publishers. Apple will be able to censor content, as it also does in the App Store – and it remains to be seen how the company will exercise that role.   Power shift Down the track, the proprietary Apple News Format is set to offer more fully featured news experiences than RSS itself is able to do. In particular, while it remains possible to click through to an original article on a publisher’s site, users can also choose to read it, reformatted to fit their screen, within the app itself.   If the majority of users choose to remain within the app, this further reduces the publishers’ takings from on-site ads, of course, but in return also enables them to generate revenue from any in-app advertising they might choose to run. This, however, also means that Apple itself, through its iAd advertising service, positions itself as a quasi-monopolist advertising provider for news content delivered through Apple News – a position of considerable power if Apple News becomes widely popular.   Given the popularity of iOS devices, minor publishers might even be tempted to forego the web altogether. They could push their content exclusively to Apple News, in the same way many iOS (and Android) apps are no longer scaled-down versions of desktop software, but stand-alone products designed to utilise the native affordances of these portable hardware platforms. Such exclusive content could become a major drawcard for Apple News, but also makes these publishers entirely dependent on Apple’s platform.   Ultimately, Apple News constitutes a powerful play at the online news market, by a company with the resources to pull it off. At the same time, we would do well to remember that Apple’s own apps have at times failed to compete with third-party offerings. Many iOS users still haven’t forgiven the company for the disastrous shortcomings of the original Apple Maps app, for example, and are quickly replacing Apple’s own apps with more appealing alternatives as they upgrade from one iOS version to another.   If Apple News can escape that fate and become popular with iOS users, though, it could thoroughly upset the prevailing but unstable balance of relationships between publishers, readers, and advertisers.   Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The web has become a hall of mirrors, filled only with reflections of our data

9:32AM | Thursday, 10 September

 The “digital assistant” is proliferating, able to combine intelligent natural language processing, voice-operated control over a smartphone’s functions and access to web services. It can set calendar appointments, launch apps, and run requests. But if that sounds very clever – a computerised talking assistant, like HAL9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s mostly just running search engine queries and processing the results.   Facebook has now joined Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon with the launch of its digital assistant M, part of its Messaging smartphone app. It’s special sauce is that M is powered not just by algorithms but by data serfs: human Facebook employees who are there to ensure that every request that it cannot parse is still fulfilled, and in doing so training M by example. That training works because every interaction with M is recorded – that’s the point, according to David Marcus, Facebook’s vice-president of messaging: We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do. Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to [make money] over time.   Facebook, through M, will capture and facilitate that “intent to buy” and take its cut directly from the subsequent purchase rather than as an ad middleman. It does this by leveraging messaging, which was turned into a separate app of its own so that Facebook could integrate PayPal-style peer-to-peer payments between users. This means Facebook has a log not only of your conversations but also your financial dealings. In an interview with Fortune magazine at the time, Facebook product manager, Steve Davies, said: People talk about money all the time in Messenger but end up going somewhere else to do the transaction. With this, people can finish the conversation the same place started it.   In a somewhat creepy way, by reading your chats and knowing that you’re “talking about money all the time” – what you’re talking about buying – Facebook can build up a pretty compelling profile of interests and potential purchases. If M can capture our intent it will not be by tracking what sites we visit and targeting relevant ads, as per advert brokers such as Google and Doubleclick. Nor by targeting ads based on the links we share, as Twitter does. Instead it simply reads our messages.       ‘Hello Dave. Would you like to go shopping?’ summer1978/MGM/SKP, CC BY-ND   Talking about money, money talks M is built to carry out tasks such as booking flights or restaurants or making purchases from online stores, and rather than forcing the user to leave the app in order to visit a web store to complete a purchase, M will bring the store – more specifically, the transaction – to the app.   Suddenly the 64% of smartphone purchases that happen at websites and mobile transactions outside of Facebook, are brought into Facebook. With the opportunity to make suggestions through eavesdropping on conversations, in the not too distant future our talking intelligent assistant might say: I’m sorry Dave, I heard you talking about buying this camera. I wouldn’t do if I were you Dave: I found a much better deal elsewhere. And I know you’ve been talking about having that tattoo removed. I can recommend someone – she has an offer on right now, and three of your friends have recommended her service. Shall I book you in?   Buying a book from a known supplier may be a low risk purchase, but other services require more discernment. What kind of research about cosmetic surgery has M investigated? Did those three friends use that service, or were they paid to recommend it? Perhaps you’d rather know the follow-up statistics than have a friend’s recommendation.   Still, because of its current position as the dominant social network, Facebook knows more about us, by name, history, social circle, political interests, than any other single internet service. And it’s for this reason that Facebook wants to ensure M is more accurate and versatile than the competition, and why it’s using humans to help the AI interpret interactions and learn. The better digital assistants like M appear to us, the more trust we have in them. Simple tasks performed well builds a willingness to use that service elsewhere – say, recommending financial services, or that cosmetic treatment, which stand to offer Facebook a cut of much more costly purchase.   No such thing as a free lunch So for Facebook, that’s more users spending more of their time using its services and generating more cash. Where’s the benefit for us?   We’ve been trained to see such services as “free”, but as the saying goes, if you don’t pay for it, then it’s you that’s the product. We’ve seen repeatedly in our Meaningful Consent Project that it’s difficult to evaluate the cost to us when we don’t know what happens to our data.   People were once nervous about how much the state knew of them, with whom they associated and what they do, for fear that if their interests and actions were not aligned with those of the state they might find ourselves detained, disappeared, or disenfranchised. Yet we give exactly this information to corporations without hesitation, because we find ourselves amplified in the exchange: that for each book, film, record or hotel we like there are others who “like” it too.   The web holds a mirror up to us, reflecting back our precise interests and behaviour. Take search, for instance. In the physical world of libraries or bookshops we glance through materials from other topics and different ideas as we hunt down our own query. Indeed we are at our creative best when we absorb the rich variety in our peripheral vision. But online, a search engine shows us only things narrowly related to what we seek. Even the edges of a web page will be filled with targeted ads related to something known to interest us. This narrowing self-reflection has grown ubiquitous online: on social networks we see ourselves relative to our self-selected peers or idols. We create reflections.   The workings of Google, Doubleclick or Facebook reveal these to be two-way mirrors: we are observed through the mirror but see only our reflection, with no way to see the machines observing us. This “free” model is so seductive – it’s all about us – yet it leads us to become absorbed in our phones-as-mirrors rather than the harder challenge of engaging with the world and those around us.   It’s said not to look too closely at how a sausage is made for fear it may put you off. If we saw behind the mirror, would we be put off by the internet? At least most menus carry the choice of more than one dish; the rise of services like M suggests that, despite the apparent wonder of less effortful interactions, the internet menu we’re offered is shrinking. mc schraefel, Professor of Computer Science and Human Performance, University of Southampton This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor 2.0: why we shouldn't fear the 'sharing economy' and the reinvention of work

9:48AM | Monday, 7 September

Uber suffered a legal blow this week when a California judge granted class action status to a lawsuit claiming the car-hailing service treats its drivers like employees, without providing the necessary benefits.   Up to 160,000 Uber chauffeurs are now eligible to join the case of three drivers demanding the company pay for health insurance and expenses such as mileage. Some say a ruling against the company could doom the business model of the on-demand or “sharing” economy that Uber, Upwork and TaskRabbit represent.   Whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely to reverse the most radical reinvention of work since the rise of industrialization – a massive shift toward self-employment typified by on-demand service apps and enabled by technology. That’s because it’s not a trend driven solely by these tech companies.   Workers themselves, especially millennials, are increasingly unwilling to accept traditional roles as cogs in the corporate machinery being told what to do. Today, 34% of the US workforce freelances, a figure that is estimated to reach 50% by 2020. That’s up from the 31% estimated by the Government Accountability Office in a 2006 study.     Many aren’t ready for the on-demand economy that Uber represents, such as these taxi drivers in Brazil. Reuters   Rise of the gig-based economy In place of the traditional notion of long-term employment and the benefits that came with it, app-based platforms have given birth to the gig-based economy, in which workers create a living through a patchwork of contract jobs.   Uber and Lyft connect drivers to riders. TaskRabbit helps someone who wants to remodel a kitchen or fix a broken pipe find a nearby worker with the right skills. Airbnb turns everyone into hotel proprietors, offering their rooms and flats to strangers from anywhere.   Thus far, the industries where this transformation has occurred have been fairly low-skilled, but that’s changing. Start-ups Medicast, Axiom and Eden McCallum are now targeting doctors, legal workers and consultants for short-term contract-based work.   A 2013 study estimated that almost half of US jobs are at risk of being replaced by a computer within 15 years, signaling most of us may not have a choice but to accept a more tenuous future.     Robot suit via   The economic term referring to this transformation of how goods and services are produced is “platform capitalism,” in which an app and the engineering behind it bring together customers in neat novel economic ecosystems, cutting out traditional companies.   But is the rise of the gig economy a bad thing, as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton suggested in July when she promised to “crack down on bosses misclassifying workers as contractors”?   While some contend this sweeping change augurs a future of job insecurity, impermanence and inequality, others see it as the culmination of a utopia in which machines will do most of the labor and our workweeks will be short, giving us all more time for leisure and creativity.   My recent research into self-organized work practices suggests the truth lies somewhere in between. Traditional hierarchies provide a certain security, but they also curb creativity. A new economy in which we are increasingly masters of our jobs as well as our lives provides opportunities to work for things that matter to us and invent new forms of collaboration with fluid hierarchies.   Sharing into the abyss? Critics such as essayist Evgeny Morozov or the philosopher Byung-Chul Han highlight the dark side of this “sharing economy.”   Instead of a collaborative commons, they envision the commercialization of intimate life. In this view, the likes of Uber and Airbnb are perverting the initial collaborative nature of their business models – car-sharing and couch-surfing – adding a price and transforming them from shared goods into commercial products. The unspoken assumption is that you have the choice between renting and owning, but “renting” will be the default option for the majority.   Idealists take another tack. Part of the on-demand promise is that technology makes it easier to share not only cultural products but also cars, houses, tools or even renewable energy. Add increasing automation to the picture and it invokes a society in which work is no longer the focus. Instead, people spend more of their time in creative and leisurely activities. Less drudge, more time to think.   The “New Work movement,” formed by philosopher Frithjof Bergmann in the late 1980s, envisioned such a future, while economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin imagines consumers and producers becoming one and the same: prosumers.   From self-employment to self-organization Both of these extremes seem to miss the mark. In my view, the most decisive development underlying this discussion is the need for worker self-organization as the artificial wall between work and life dissolves.   My recent work has involved studying how the relationship between managers and workers has evolved, from traditional structures that are top-down, with employees doing what they’re told, to newer ones that boast self-managing teams with managers counseling them or even the complete abolition of formal hierarchies of rank.   While hierarchy guarantees a certain security and offers a lot of stability, its absence frees us to work more creatively and collaboratively. When we’re our own boss we bear more responsibility, but also more reward.   And as we increasingly self-organize alongside others, people start to experiment in various ways, from peer to peer and open source projects to social entrepreneurship initiatives, bartering circles and new forms of lending.   The toughest tension for workers will be how best to balance private and work-related demands as they are increasingly interwoven.   Avoiding the pitfalls of platform capitalism Another risk is that we will become walled in by the platform capitalism being built by Uber and TaskRabbit but also Google, Amazon and Apple, in which companies control their respective ecosystems. Thus, our livelihoods remain dependent on them, like in the old model, just without the benefits workers have fought for many decades.   In his recent book “Postcapitalism,” Paul Mason eloquently puts it like this: “the main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial.”   To avoid this fate, it’s essential to create sharing and on-demand platforms that follow a non-market rationale, such as through open source technologies and nonprofit foundations, to avoid profit overriding all other considerations. The development of the operating system Linux and web browser Firefox are examples of the possibility and merits of these models.   Between hell and heaven Millennials grew up in the midst of the birth of a new human age, with all the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. As they take over the workforce, the traditional hierarchies that have long dictated work will continue to crumble.   Socialized into the participatory world of the web, millennials prefer to self-organize in a networked way using readily available communication technology, without bosses dictating goals and deadlines.   But this doesn’t mean we’ll all be contractors. Frederic Laloux and Gary Hamel have shown in their impressive research that a surprisingly broad range of companies have already acknowledged these realities. Amazon-owned online shoe retailer Zappos, computer game designer Valve and tomato-processor Morning Star, for example, have all abolished permanent managers and handed their responsibilities over to self-managing teams. Without job titles, team members flexibly adapt their roles as needed.   Mastering this new way of working takes us through different networks and identities and requires the capacity to organize oneself and others as well as to adapt to fluid hierarchies.   As such, it may be the the fulfillment of Peter Drucker’s organizational vision: … in which every man sees himself as a “manager” and accepts for himself the full burden of what is basically managerial responsibility: responsibility for his own job and work group, for his contribution to the performance and results of the entire organization, and for the social tasks of the work community. Bernhard Resch, Researcher in Organizational Politics, University of St.Gallen This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why did Google's logo rollout go smoother than Yahoo's?

9:44AM | Monday, 7 September

  We’re uncomfortable with change. From a cynic’s perspective, the bevy of adages embracing it (flashback to high school yearbook opening page: “The only constant is change”) is evidence: it’s as if we’re trying too hard to convince ourselves.   Perhaps the most illustrative phenomenon of this aversion is the logo switcheroo. Remember Gap’s logo disaster in 2010? Oh wait, you probably don’t; they reverted back to their original logo only four days after the rollout. And more recently, after spending five months and more than US$125,000, Penn State’s new logo had disenchanted students and alumni taking to Twitter in droves.   So it’s no surprise at all that Google’s new logo has ruffled some feathers: an informal Ad Age poll shows a majority dislike it.   Google’s new logo: yay or nay? Wikimedia Commons   Yet, at least anecdotally, the Google logo unveiling has not solicited quite the vitriol that Yahoo did when it rolled out a logo redesign in 2013.   Why was this the case?   On the face of things, there are plenty of similarities: Both Google and Yahoo are tech behemoths that have been around since what seems like the beginning of the internet – long enough that each likely had its respective logo done by a developer experimenting with CorelDRAW in a nondescript Northern California garage.   But this is not really about design. Yahoo’s final product could have been the 21st century’s answer to the Mona Lisa, but I suspect reactions would have been the same.   When it comes to logo redesigns, it’s not what’s done so much as when it’s done and how it’s rolled out.   Tech years are like dog years Brand scholars posit that brands age much like humans: there’s birth, childhood, adolescence, marriage (mergers and acquisitions), parenthood (brand extensions), aging (market share decline) and death.   Yahoo, which launched in 1994, had four real years on Google, which appeared in 1998. In the tech world, that’s at least a generation. So while Google is arguably somewhere around marriage/parenthood, Yahoo was already well into the aging stage when Marissa Mayer (formerly of Google) became CEO in 2012.   Let’s face it: staging a late-life comeback is tricky (see: Arby’s and IHOP). On the other hand, making significant changes is baked into the marriage and parenting “life stages” of brands.   It’s all in the execution In 2013, crowdsourcing was a hot (kinda) new thing, so it’s no wonder Yahoo jumped on the train. The company pushed out 29 versions of its logo – the reason for which is still unclear to me. I do believe the public was under the impression that it had a say. But then Mayer announced she and a team had spent the past weekend hammering out the new logo. It’s like we got all riled up and then learned, post-hoc, that we didn’t score an invite to the slumber party.     Yahoo’s roll out video.   Google, on the other hand, incorporated its change in a way that felt organic. Google Doodles – those delightful animations that often stand in for the organization’s logo on the Google homepage – have been around nearly as long as the company itself.   So to introduce the new logo in a way that was consistent with previous Google Doodle animations was genius; I might be thicker than most, but I didn’t actually realize a logo rebrand was going on. I just thought it was kind of cute how the hand reached up and tilted the last “e” ever so slightly.     Google’s roll out video.   The aspirational unveiling Both companies announced the logo changes via blog and video channels, but that’s where the similarities stop. Mayer’s blog post gives a rational appeal, outlining a step-by-step explanation of the design choices in detail that only an engineer could appreciate. The video is equally mathematical (news flash: Americans are terrified of math), with music that, inexplicably, sounds like it should be blaring in a Gap store, circa 1999.   Meanwhile, the Google post, signed by the VP of product management and director of user experience, is emotional without being at all personal, and the video is simply a multimedia translation of this message (though it does feel a bit like a frenetic timeline of Dr Evil’s mounting world domination). It’s a rallying cry for where Google has been and where it’s going.   Yahoo, once the leading search engine, made a huge fanfare of its intent, and the rollout was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair.   Google, on the other hand, has been evolving since nearly Day 1, so the new logo felt like just another iteration; its communique stayed consistent with this theme.   After all, for Google, the only constant is change. Kay Tappan, Lecturer of Public Relations, University of Florida This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Give me location data, and I shall move the world

9:37AM | Thursday, 3 September

  Behind the success of the new wave of location based mobile apps taking hold around the world is digital mapping. Location data is core to popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, but also to companies such as Amazon or Domino’s Pizza, which are testing drones for faster deliveries.   Last year, German delivery firm DHL launched its first “parcelcopter” to send medication to the island of Juist in the Northern Sea. In the humanitarian domain, drones are also being tested for disaster relief operations.   Better maps can help app-led companies gain a competitive edge, but it’s hard to produce them at a global scale. A few select players have engaged in a fierce mapping competition. Google leads the race so far, but others are trying to catch up fast. Apple has enlarged its mapping team and renewed its licensing agreement with TomTom. TomTom has plans to 3D map European and North American freeways by next year.     DHL’s prototype ‘parcelcopter’ is a modified microdrone that costs US$54,900 and can carry packages up to 1.2kg. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters   In Europe, German carmakers Audi, BMW and Mercedes agreed to buy Here, Nokia’s mapping business. The company had been coveted by Uber, which has gained mapping skills by acquiring deCarta and part of Microsoft Bing.   Further signs of the fever for maps are startups such as Mapbox, Mapsense, CartoDB, Mapillary, or Mapzen. The new mapping services are cloud-based, mobile-friendly and, in most cases, community-driven.   A flagship base map for the past ten years has been OpenStreetMap (OSM), also known as the “Wikipedia of mapping”. With more than two million registered users, OpenStreetMap aims to create a free map of the world. OSM volunteers have been particularly active in mapping disaster-affected areas such as Haiti, the Philippines or Nepal. A recent study reports how humanitarian response has been a driver of OSM’s evolution, “in part because open data and participatory ideals align with humanitarian work, but also because disasters are catalysts for organizational innovation”.   A map for the commons? While global coverage remains uneven, companies such as Foursquare, Flickr, or Apple, among others, rely on OSM free data. The commercial uses of OSM primary data, though, do not come without ongoing debate among the community about license-related issues.     The steering wheel is seen resting in the middle of the dashboard inside a Rinspeed Budii self-driving electric city car in Geneva. Ard Wiegmann/Reuters   Intense competition for digital maps also flags the start of the self-driving car race. Google is already testing its prototypes outside Silicon Valley and Apple has been rumoured to work on a secret car project code named Titan.   Uber has partnered with Carnegie Mellon and Arizona Universities to work on vehicle safety and cheaper laser mapping systems. Tesla is also planning to make its electric cars self-driving.   The ultimate goal Are we humans ready for this brave new world? Research suggests young people in North America, Australia and much of Europe are increasingly becoming less likely to hold a driver’s license (or, if they do, to drive less).   But even if a new generation of consumers were ready to jump in, challenges remain huge. Navigation systems will need to flawlessly process, in real time, position data streams of buildings, road signs, traffic lights, lane markings, or potholes. And all this seamlessly combined with ongoing sensing of traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, road works, or weather conditions. Smart mapping at its best.       Legal and ethical challenges are not to be underestimated either. Most countries impose strict limits on testing self-driving cars on public roads. Similar limitations apply to the use of civilian drones. And the ethics of fully autonomous cars is still in its infancy. Autonomous cars probably won’t be caught texting, but they will still be confronted with tough decisions when trying to avoid potential accidents. Current research engages engineers and philosophers to work on how to assist cars when making split-second decisions that can raise ethical dilemmas.   But the future of digital maps is not just on the go. Location-based service revenues are forecast to grow to €34.8 billion in 2020. The position data deluge of the upcoming geomobile revolution gives maps a new frontier: big data analytics. As Mapsense CEO Erez Cohen notes: “the industry is much larger than the traditional GIS industry. It’s actually growing at a massive rate, and there are a massive number of new companies that need the services of mapping analytics because they’re generating all this location data.”   Digital mapping technology promises to unveil our routines, preferences, and consumer behaviour in an unprecedented scale. Staggering amounts of location data will populate our digital traces and identities. The impact on our lives, organisations, and businesses is yet to be fully understood, but one thing is sure: the geomobile revolution will be mapped.   Marta Poblet is VC's Principal Research Fellow, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How cybercrime has changed over the past 5 years (it hasn't got any better)

9:31AM | Thursday, 3 September

 Intel has used the 5th anniversary of their purchase of security company McAfee to release a review of how the cybersecurity landscape has changed in that time.   There are a number of surprising observations from the report and a few that were expected. Of little surprise has been the continued lack of importance a large number of companies, and individuals, have placed on implementing basic security practices like applying updates to software and implementing policies around passwords. The reasons for this may be that people are “playing the odds” by believing that the risks are relatively small of cybercrime happening to them. It may also be that they simply don’t want to put in the effort or pay for the computer support or advice.   Cybercrime as an industry More surprising, to McAfee at least, has been the rapid development of cybercrime into a fully fledged industry with “suppliers, markets, service providers (“cybercrime as a service”), financing, trading systems, and a proliferation of business models”. The growth of this industry has been fuelled by the use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and the protective cloak for criminals provided by technologies like Tor).   The sophistication of the cybercrime industry has led to changes in the focus of criminals away from simply stealing credit cards to the perhaps more lucrative, large scale implementation of “ransomware”. This has ranged from encrypting the contents of a user’s computer and then demanding payment to unlock it, to the recent exploit of users caught up in the publishing of personal sexual information from the Ashley Madison dating site.   Mobile phones have remained “relatively” cybercrime free What hasn’t come to pass (yet) is the pervasive hacking of mobile phones. Part of the reason for this has been Apple’s, and increasingly Google’s, approach of controlling the software that is allowed to be installed on the devices. The other reason is perhaps the fact that these devices are backed up more frequently and automatically, making recovery a much easier option. There is also potentially less of interest to cybercriminals on a mobile phone device as most of the actual important, and valuable, personal content is stored in the Cloud.   The recent exception to the relative safety of mobile devices was the report that up to 225,000 Apple accounts had been compromised from Apple phones. The compromise in this case only affected mobile phones that had been “jailbroken”, a process that allows the user of the phone to circumvent Apple’s restrictions on what apps can run on the phones. Of course, what this has demonstrated is that the restrictions on what software can run on Apple and Android phones is actually a major security feature and so avoiding that increases the risk of being compromised significantly.   The threat to the Internet of Things Along with mobile phones, smart devices that make up the Internet of Things have also been relatively free of large scale hacks. Researchers have demonstrated that it is possible to hack things like cars, including being able to apply the brakes of a car by sending the control system of the vehicle an SMS. In the case of this type of vulnerabilities, car manufacturers have moved to plug security holes quickly. The fact that criminals haven’t turned their attention to smart devices however is probably because of the lack of means of commercialising these types of compromises.   People are still the problem Organisations like McAfee are fighting a largely losing battle as long as companies continue not to take security seriously. In fact, US companies are spending and doing less where security is concerned than in previous years. This has led organisations like the OECD to recommend national strategies around the development of cybersecurity insurance. A benefit of having this type of insurance would be the requirements that insurance companies would place on implementing a basic level of security best practice.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple's mobile ad blocking will hasten the death of online advertising

8:07AM | Thursday, 27 August

 Apple is about to open a new front in the ongoing war against online advertising. The new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9, will support ad blocking by Safari, its mobile web browser.   A study by Adobe and pro-advertising company PageFair finds that the popularity of ad blocking extensions in desktop web browsers is responsible for US$22 billion in lost revenue to the websites that host ads.   They estimate that there are now 198 million users worldwide actively blocking ads. Amongst 400 users surveyed by the report’s authors, the main reasons cited for using ad blocking software were avoiding privacy abuse by targeted advertising as well as the number of ads encountered when browsing.     A typical message from a website about the use of any ad blocking. screen grab   The practice of trying to guilt users into switching off their ad blocking software when visiting sites doesn’t appear to be working and the display of messages to ad blocking users by web sites has diminished.   Ad blocking apps that will be available for Safari on iOS 9 are already being made available to beta testers. One such app, Crystal, not only blocks ads but experiments by the developer has shown that using this ad blocking software speeds up web pages loading in the browser by four times. This also results in a significant reduction in data being used, which is significant on a mobile device using cellular data.   Another ad blocking app Purify that is also in beta testing appears to also block ads on YouTube.     The stand out, and that’s precisely why so many people block them. Pascale Kinchen Douglas/Flickr, CC BY-SA   Ad blocking on mobile is not completely new Ad blocking has been available for some time on Android for users of the Firefox mobile browser and for Google Chrome. In the case of blocking ads by Google Chrome, an app needs to be installed which is not from the Google Play app store.   Ad blocking has also been available on Apple devices but have worked by blocking access to certain domains that serve up the ads. AdBlock for example works by pretending to be a virtual private network (VPN) connection and filters out access to specific sites. This of course only works if the list of sites to block is up-to-date. It also doesn’t allow for “whitelists”, which are sites that are allowed through because they are deemed “acceptable”.   However, the move by Apple is going to boost ad blocking on mobile dramatically because it is going to make the process of doing so that much easier. This has advertisers, and sites that make money from advertising, increasingly worried because it raises their costs in terms of creating ads that are less intrusive and deemed more acceptable (although this may still not convince the public to view them).     Apple’s iOS 9 is due to be released later this year and will include content blocking. Apple   For Apple, though, the move to allow ad blocking gives iPhone users a better browsing experience at no cost to Apple. Apple makes no money from online advertising through mobile browsing. And, of course, its own ads that are served up through apps are unaffected by ad blocking software.   As a bonus to Apple, the company who is most affected by ads being blocked is Google, which derives 90% of its revenue from advertising.   Apple is able to increase the level of privacy it offers its customers without directly getting involved itself and risking annoying companies that rely on revenues from advertising.   The advertisers' dilemma   Many ads can be deliberately deceptive. Create Meme   It is hard to feel sorry for the advertisers and the sites that resort to displaying targeted invasive ads, such as those sold by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others.   These ads are designed to target individuals based on information gathered about them as they use the internet. So not only are they annoying, but they are exploiting people’s privacy. Adding insult to injury, the inclusion of ads slows down web page loads and potentially ends up costing end-users money by using their data allocation.   The argument that content providers are only able to provide content based on the exploitation of their visitors is not a good one because it implies that those visitors signed up to an agreement to view ads in exchange for the content. Of course, users generally do no such thing. And given the explicit choice, might easily opt simply not to visit the site.   Most users don’t necessarily mind being provided with information that allows them to make a reasoned choice about a product when they have decided to buy it. But advertising that tries to persuade a consumer to buy something they weren’t considering buying is a different matter.   Once advertisers do more of the former and less of the latter, perhaps ad blocking will no longer be necessary. David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Uber vs regulators: the heavyweight bout of 2015

8:59AM | Thursday, 27 August

Ride sharing, both the legal and “illegal” type is growing rapidly around the world, with new Australian entrant RideBoom the latest to take on market leader Uber.   Uber, which began in San Francisco in 2009, now operates in more than 50 countries with 300,000+ driver-partners (as they are known in “uberspeak”) in the US alone. In Australia it’s moving towards 20,000 driver-partners.   The difference between Uber and many of its competitors though, is that most of Uber’s direct competitors operate within the legal confines of the countries they’re in. Uber on the other hand, is paying for its drivers to ignore local laws.   Uber is in a global fight to win a regulatory environment favourable to its business model. This fight largely relies on ambiguity on how Uber should be defined as a company. Uber steadfastly denies any suggestion it is a service provider, insisting instead that it’s a “technology company” … “seamlessly connecting riders to drivers”.   Uber maintains that its driver-partners are not employees. This has been, and continues to be, challenged in the courts and on the streets.   Uber also wants to manipulate regulation that extends well beyond labour law, in order to boost its competitive advantage. The impact is being felt by non-Uber taxi drivers, prompting street protests everywhere from Paris to Mumbai; London to Mexico city.     Taxi drivers came out in force to protest against Uber in London. Facundo Arrizabalga/EPA/AAP   Fighting on multiple fronts In Australia, the current round of regulatory sparring has Uber contesting decisions across state and federal jurisdictions. In Queensland driver-partners have been hit with more than A$1.7 million in fines for providing “unlicensed” taxi services. Despite it being Uber practice around the world to pay drivers’ fines, the penalties in Queensland are being disputed and have not yet been paid.   Similar situations can be seen around Australia and internationally. In California Uber collected a US$7.3 million fine for failure to provide information to the California Utilities Commission about the nature of the services provided by its drivers, including access for disabled clients.   These are just a few of the multiple examples of Uber using its economic clout to promote regulatory recalcitrance, to reform rules with which it doesn’t agree.   In some cases the stakes are even higher. Earlier this month in Hong Kong five drivers were arrested for illegally hiring out their vehicles. In France two Uber executives have also been arrested and in South Korea 30 people associated with Uber have been charged with running an illegal taxi firm.   Multiple legal challenges and ongoing penalties are costly but do not seem to be a deterrent to Uber, a company valued at over US$50 billion and backed by the likes of investment bank Goldman Sachs. Uber is not pulling punches in its attempt to fashion the regulatory landscape, influence public opinion and policymakers.   To that end, it has recruited lobbyists ranging from David Plouffe, one of the orchestrators of the Obama’s 2008 campaign, to Rachel Whetstone, former head of Google communications, and Jack Lanvin formerly chief of staff to the Illinois Governor.     An Uber executive speaks to the media while Uber riders and driver-partners take part in a rally against proposed legislation limiting for-hire vehicles in New York. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters   A high stakes game Uber seems to have made a strategic decision to take the legal hits associated with flouting local regulations, with the view that this is unlikely to land a knockout blow. But the business will need to be able to survive a succession of assaults from regulatory bodies and individuals, sometimes in the form of class actions.   Using contractors while playing with regulatory frameworks and uncertain judicial responses is a high-risk strategy. Homejoy, a housekeeping platform, became a victim of risk adversity among investors in the face of similar lawsuits. Investors began to back off and after failing to raise enough capital to pursue its growth plans it shut down.   Likewise, if Uber were to see a significant proportion of its partner-drivers reclassified as employees, or face a government crackdown on its aggressive tax minimisation practices, it could come under pressure at a time of escalating losses because of its determined expansion efforts.   So, if we were to take a guess, what might be the likely outcome of this rumble in the jungle? Here are two possibilities.   Scenario 1 Individual lawsuits, class actions and aggressive regulation generate increasing costs for Uber. In several countries, tribunals condemn Uber to pay heavy compensation and to reclassify its drivers as employees. Investors start to back out because of the financial and reputational risk.   Competition increases, saturating the market and increasing the cost of drivers. The business model is no longer sustainable and Uber goes bust. Competitors take over, with a more traditional model of employment, which means a higher cost of operation but lower cost of litigation. This new generation of taxi drivers enjoys working conditions comparable to other workers in the economy. Regulators (and drivers) win in a knockout.   Scenario 2 Uber adopts a risk-mitigation strategy, meeting existing regulation when necessary but maintaining its model in several countries and as a result its market leadership. It continues to co-invest in the development of a self-driving car. In 2020, the company operates the first self-driving car.   The program to replace the millions of partner-drivers starts immediately in the US and is progressively deployed globally. Robots produce the cars. If Uber’s partner-drivers are lucky enough to find another job, they can always use the new self-drive Uber service to get to work. Uber declared winner on points.   Sarah will be one hand for an Author Q&A between 3 and 4pm on Thursday, August 27. Post your questions in the comments section below. Sarah Kaine is Associate professor in Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations at University of Technology Sydney and Emmanuel Josserand is Professor of management at University of Technology Sydney This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bitcoin's marketing problem

8:55PM | Monday, 24 August

 Bitcoin has been declared the “end of money as we know it” and as a currency for our times; decentralised, and created specifically for seamless exchange on the Internet. That is, it would be, if everyone knew exactly what it was and was actually prepared to use it.   The problem is, for most of the general public, Bitcoin still remains a mystery. In a recent survey of consumers carried out by analyst firm PWC, only 6% said that they were very familiar or extremely familiar with currencies like Bitcoin. 83% of those surveyed said they had little to no idea what Bitcoin was.   Contradicting this is the fact that there has been a great deal of publicity around Bitcoin which is reflected by people searching for the term. Google Trends for example, shows that searches for Bitcoin exceeded those for two other payment systems, Apple Pay and Google Wallet.   Bitcoin search frequency Google Trends   Most of this attention has come from well publicised stories of Bitcoin and its association with drug crime on the Internet or hacks of Bitcoin exchanges like Mt Gox, where hundreds of millions dollars worth of the currency was stolen.   So what is it exactly? Bitcoin is first and foremost a currency like any other. One Bitcoin can be exchanged for almost every other type of currency, on any number of “exchanges”. At the moment, 1 Bitcoin is worth about US $230.   Once a Bitcoin is bought, it can be used to buy goods at a price in Bitcoins that is determined by the current exchange rate quoted on the various exchange markets. This is no different to using Australian dollars or Euros to buy things on the Internet priced in US dollars say.   Using Bitcoin to buy things is very much the same as using electronic payments from a bank. The merchant will have an account number that is used when sending the required number of Bitcoin.   Once sent, the merchant will confirm payment has been received and everything then proceeds just as if payment was made in any other currency.   If it is that simple, why does everyone get confused? The trouble Bitcoin has had from the start is that it was an invention of computer science. Many of its attributes are based on the intricacies of the technology that makes it work and of interest only to specialists.   For it to replace current payment systems, Bitcoin had to be marketed as having distinct advantages over using credit cards or services like PayPal. The difficulty with this is that the advantages are subjective. And merchants, and the public as a whole, have had a hard time in seeing them. The advantages of Bitcoin have certainly not been enough to warrant using it in preference to credit cards.   But what about the “block chain”? As the marketing around Bitcoin hasn’t fared too well in targeting it as a replacement for credit cards and electronic banking, people have instead started talking about the really confusing part of Bitcoin called the “block chain)”.   Needing to explain how the block chain works has also been a real weakness in the marketing of Bitcoin. Very few people care how banks agree that a transaction has taken place. They only care that they can look at their bank account and see a withdrawal of a specific amount at a specific time. What magic happens behind the scenes to make that work is really of no consequence.   People have focused on the technology because somehow it was put forward as being more clever than how banks do things at present. But they argued this without actually acknowledging that the current system operates incredibly well and is extremely efficient. The current banking system has been baked into society for thousands of years and despite some of its failings (high charges and service quality) has succeeded because, it just works.   It’s not that complicated Whilst the average member of the public is still puzzling over why they should care about Bitcoin, technologists and finance specialists will continue to argue about the relative merits, or otherwise, of the specific attributes of cryptocurrencies over our current payment systems. None of that is central however to understanding what Bitcoin is.   All that is really important to know is that Bitcoin is simply another form of money.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Understanding the Amazonian workplace – it's the law of the jungle

8:22AM | Monday, 24 August

 In virtually every science fiction novel or film, there is an evil corporation which dominates the world – from LexCorp in the Superman franchise to Weyland-Yutani in Alien. Their masterminds tend to hide their ambitions behind stretched smiles and a language of care. That is, until the story’s protagonist exposes their plans and saves the world by exposing the evil afoot.   Compare this to the real world. We have corporations with huge influence which do bad things, we are well aware of it and yet we continue to let it happen. Why?   The recent New York Times exposé of life working for Amazon used old-fashioned investigative journalism to reveal the harsh reality of working in the company’s head office in Seattle. It documents a culture of relentless criticism, with a reliance on continual measuring of performance and long working hours. Unsurprisingly, this results in high labour turnover, as those who refuse to become “Amabots” (a term used to describe someone who has become part of the system) get spat out like returned parcels.   Nothing new to see here There has been predictable criticism of Amazon following these revelations – rightly so. But consider what we already know about the company. We have known for some time that it has a tax structure which ensures that it minimises its responsibilities in paying for the roads which allows it to transport its goods and the education that allows its employees to be able to read and write (Amazon’s British business paid just £4.2m in tax in 2014, despite selling goods worth £4.3 billion).   We know, following the work done by Spencer Soper in the US and Carole Cadwalladr in the UK that the conditions in its warehouses are punishing. Long hours, low wages and continual monitoring by technology result in high labour turnover. Oh, and (surprise surprise) Amazon doesn’t like trade unions.     Amazon factory workers in Germany striking last year for better pay and conditions. EPA/Roland Weihrauch   What else do we already know? That Amazon is a company which seeks to dominate markets through cost efficiencies, putting competitors out of business, or ensuring that they have to do their business through Amazon. There are well-documented accounts of its attempts to ensure that publishers offer the same discounts that it does, or that all print on demand has to go through its own company.   And, if that fails, it simply buys the competition with the huge piles of cash it has built from doing what it does, as it did with AbeBooks, LoveFilm, Goodreads, Internet Movie Database, The Book Depository, BookFinder, to name a few. And this isn’t even to mention its domination of the e-reader market through Kindle. Even if it doesn’t say so on the website, you might well be doing business through an Amazon subsidiary. If this isn’t a strategy for world domination, what is it?   In 21 years, Amazon has grown to become a company with almost US$89 billion in turnover every year. To put this in context, that’s greater than the GDP of countries such as Cuba, Oman and Belarus. And it has made Jeff Bezos, its driven founder, a personal fortune of around US$47 billion, which is about the same as the GDP of Costa Rica or Slovenia.   As one of his many plaudits, he was named “World’s Worst Boss” by the International Trade Union Confederation at their World Congress in May 2014. He also now owns the Washington Post.   All this, and much much more, is known about Amazon, but it continues to grow, recently suggesting a move into delivery by drones and beginning a food delivery service in a few US cities.   In his recent novel, The Circle, Dave Eggers describes a US internet company (a cipher for Google) that gradually moves towards world domination, using relentless monitoring of its employees and a continual rhetoric about exceeding customer needs. In the novel, when the customers or employees are confronted by criticisms of what the company does, they don’t see it, instead pointing to all the ways in which the company is making their lives easier. Criticism is seen as negative, practised by people who want to turn the clock back.     Results driven: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. EPA/Michael Nelson   Talk to most people about why Amazon is a problem and you will get similar responses. “But it makes things so easy.” “They are cheaper than anyone else.” “What’s wrong with efficiency?”   The law of the jungle But this isn’t just a debate about Amazon, as if it is a bad company surrounded by lots of good ones. It raises much broader questions about what corporations do. Essentially, they are machines which are designed to grow, to externalise their costs and privatise their profits. The fact that this produces a management culture of extreme bullying, or anti-union practices in its workplaces, or anti-competitive strategies in its marketplaces shouldn’t really amaze us.   It’s the law of the jungle, right? What should amaze us is the extent to which we know that this happens and yet – unlike the heroes in the sci-fi films – we continue to do nothing about it.   Behind the reflective surfaces of its buildings and website, Amazon is selling us something else. It’s a vision of a different world of work and consumption. This is a privatised, measured and monetised world, in which every social value is for sale. You can even buy books which tell you what’s wrong with corporations through the website, because the content doesn’t really matter that much.   All that matters is that the company makes money, dominates markets, keeps customers happy. That is what Amazon sells, and we continue to keep buying it.   Martin Parker is Professor of Organisation and Culture at University of Leicester This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.