February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on The Nimb aims to be a smart personal security platform, not just a cool ring
If you ever find yourself in danger, trying to whip out your phone, switch it on and open the Phone or Message app is just far too slow, especially when time is of the essence. So the makers of a new device had an idea: place an emergency panic button on the inside of a ring, which is connected to an app on your phone: press the button and help comes running. The Nimb ring does just that, and is now looking to scale-up its production.
How it works
The idea is simple: A ring with a panic button sends emergency alerts via Bluetooth to a pre-set list of contacts on your phone, including friends, family members, first responders, people nearby and other people you can specify in the Nimb app.
You would be unlikely to accidentally press the panic button on the ring — in theory at least — because you have to deliberately hold it down for 3 seconds. The button is also recessed and positioned to avoid accidentally responding to pressure. But once you do press it, the ring will gently vibrate, confirming that the signal has been sent to the Nimb app. Once activated, the Nimb will message relevant contacts with your GPS location and your profile details.
If you do send the alert but immediately realize that it is a false alarm, you can cancel it in the application using the pass-code 30 seconds after the alert activation. And in case someone is forcing you to cancel the alert, you can use a secret pass-code to indicate it was a forced cancellation, which makes your responders aware you may be under duress.
The idea of the Nimb doesn’t end there, however. The founders plan to create the Nimb Platform, connecting to “the best and fastest response teams” anywhere in the world anyone who is in need of help in case of an emergency. They want to transform emergency alerting, in the same way that Uber transformed personal transportation.
Part of the reason Nimb aims to be more of a platform than just a ring is that the Nimb app is how responders can respond, locking them into the platform, as well. Upon setup, the user will have to choose at least three contacts to be part of their “response team.” Once the contacts are entered, they will receive an SMS notification that a user has added them as a responder.
However, responders will still be notified in case of an emergency even if the app is not downloaded. Users will be able to add as many friends and family members as they want for free. But an extra monthly fee will be charged for access to monitoring stations that will be available 24/7 and will be able to call and coordinate any first response team.
The battery on the Nimb lasts for two weeks once fully charged, but it may last up to one month depending on usage. You can pre-order it now for $129. Once fully in production, the price will be $149. It comes in U.S. sizes from 3 to 12.
So far the startup says more than 2,500 rings have been pre-sold, with 500 of those sold after the Kickstarter campaign. That campaign raised more than $290,000 through crowdfunding and the startup is now fundraising from investors to go to the next level.
Nimb has as a team of five: Leo Bereschansky (founder and CEO), Nick Marshansky (founder and CMO), Alex Medvedev (CTO), Kathy Romanovskaya (communications director) and Davor Tomic (sales).
It’s early days for Nimb, and there are plenty of other “panic button” solutions out there (some hardware, but most are apps). If it can crack the market with a stylish piece of hardware that is also practical — and perhaps expands into more functions and alerts — Nimb could have a bright future.
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Kudi wants to make it easier to pay bills in places where internet access is limited
Making payments and sending money to friends and family in Nigeria can be cumbersome. Y Combinator-backed Kudi, which recently launched in Nigeria, is aiming to make it easier for people to pay bills and pay each other via messaging. At its core, Kudi is a chatbot, which lives inside Facebook Messenger and eventually Skype, that helps you transfer money, buy airtime for your phone, pay bills and stay on top of your accounts.
Although it’s possible to pay TV, energy cell phone bills online in Nigeria, only 39% of the population in Nigeria has access to the internet, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center report. For comparison’s sake, over 80% of the population in the U.S. and 94% of the population in South Korea has access to the internet. What that means for a lot of people in Nigeria is that they’ll need to physically go somewhere to pay their bills.
Since Kudi is part of Facebook’s Free Basics, it doesn’t cost any data to use. In order to send a payment to someone via Kudi, all you need is someone’s phone number.
Unlike other money transfer services in Nigeria, people who use Kudi don’t have to pay any fees when transferring money to bank accounts. Kudi, however, does charge a convenience fee of 100 Naira (about 30 cents) for bill payments. So far, $15,000 worth of transactions have been made through Kudi and it’s grown 125% week over week in revenue.
Kudi is not the only startup trying to fix the payments problem in Nigeria. Paga, perhaps one of the more well-known payments startup in the country, combines online payments with offline components. To date, the startup has raised $13 million in venture funding. There’s also KongaPay, a mobile app for paying bills and buying both products online and in person. But Kudi seems to be well aware of the competition.
“A few services have tried mobile apps but consumers are tired of installing and figuring out new apps,” Kudi co-founder Pelumi Aboluwarin told TechCrunch. “Some aren’t even that sophisticated to handle the nuances that accompany every new mobile app and will rather stick with those they already use. Messaging on the other hand is a more compelling interface as it works for people across generations. This is because everyone understood messaging right from the days of SMS and chatapps have been the most successful apps on the continent.”
After Kudi finishes participating in Y Combinator, the plan is to raise money and then expand to Kenya and Ghana.
Adding airtime to phone via kudi
Transferring money on Kudi
Featured Image: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / Stringer via Getty Images/Getty Images
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Facebook is pushing record labels to let you soundtrack your videos
How can Facebook and Instagram make their amateur videos more interesting than those you see on Twitter or Snapchat? A killer soundtrack. That’s why Facebook is now pressing record labels even harder for a licensing deal.
Successful negotiations could allow users to either edit popular music into their creations or record clips with popular music in the background without their videos getting taken down for copyright infringement. Facebook could even build a way for people to easily select songs to add as the soundtrack to their videos, as we’ve previously suggested.
Facebook has been in talks with record labels since at least 2015, when the NYT said it was looking to get music videos in to people’s feed. Some wrongly speculated that Facebook would soon launch its own full-fledged music streaming service to compete with Spotify.
Billboard reported late last year that Facebook was building an anti-piracy tool for music, which would complement its Rights Manager tool that thwarts video freebooting. Now Bloomberg says Facebook has redoubled its efforts with a focus on securing copyrighted music for user-generated videos.
Without these deals, Facebook has to disappoint and anger people by preventing the upload of videos or removing ones that contain label-owned music. For example, a compilation video of moments from a family vacation set to Dad’s favorite classic rock tune might not be allowed. Or a silly clip of friends goofing around in a car could get taken down because it picked up the radio playing a hit song in the background.
That can discourage users from creating videos for Facebook in the future, depriving the social network of its most vivid and monetizable content.
YouTube addressed this same problem with its Content ID system. It detects the use of copyrighted music and gives the music’s owner the option to have the video removed, or become the beneficiary of a revenue share from ads shown with the video. That second option is widely preferable because users don’t get their videos annoyingly removed, artists gain grassroots promotion for their music and labels earn a fee in exchange for the art they own.
Facebook already built its own audio fingerprinting technology that it unveiled in 2014 to automatically show you songs you’re listening to or shows you’re watching so you could tag them in a status update. Now it’s a matter of striking an agreeable deal with the labels so they can get paid for video soundtracks.
If the labels are smart, they’ll find some way to make it work rather than letting these distribution and revenue options go to waste. Facebook just hired former director of Google and YouTube music partnerships Tamara Hrivnak to lead its music strategy and work with the labels.
The question is whether Facebook can draw a line between incidental uses of music, where a song is more of an accompaniment to a video, and deliberate piracy, where the video is really just a place-holder so users can search and listen to a song for free. The latter practice that some record execs despise is common on YouTube.
Forging a deal for music accompaniment to legitimate user-generated videos could open the door to a deeper partnership with labels around professional music videos. Facebook could also gain leverage over labels and open sponsorship opportunities by creating a feature that suggests particular songs for people to use as soundtracks.
But for now, Facebook is just trying to remove any growth obstacles from its current blockbuster product. Most people aren’t great videographers, let alone sound engineers. User-generated videos can be boring to watch and sound awful. But with the right song, suddenly those shaky party clips and stiff landscape panoramas become epic.
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on These 6 systems will get rid of Wi-Fi dead spots in your house
As history flows along, we find ways to snuff out conditions that make us miserable. We invented plumbing so we didn’t have to carry water. We invented tractors so we didn’t have to break our backs in the fields. We invented air conditioning so we’re no longer uncomfortable in the summer.
And now, you are alive to see the snuffing out of another source of misery: Wi-Fi dead spots.
For years, we’ve tried to solve this problem with various imperfect solutions like Wi-Fi repeaters/extenders. But they all have downsides, like diminished speed and having to change Wi-Fi network names when you move around the house.
But now, there’s mesh Wi-Fi.
Instead of one Wi-Fi transmitter too weak to fill your entire home with signal, a mesh system uses a set of them, spaced evenly through your house. The result is a single “mesh network,” a roaming network, that blankets the entire house in good, strong signal.
<p type="text" content="The revolution began a year ago with the introduction of the Eero. After I tested it (my review’s here), I was so exhilarated that I actually bought a set for myself, at the nosebleedy price of $500.” data-reactid=”14″>The revolution began a year ago with the introduction of the Eero. After I tested it (my review’s here), I was so exhilarated that I actually bought a set for myself, at the nosebleedy price of $500.
Today, every networking company and its sister now offers a similar system. And man, they are great.
Because a router out in plain sight offers better coverage than one in a closet, they’re all great-looking. Because we’re human beings and not engineers, they all include phone apps that make setup simple. And because many of us have children, most offer either parental controls (to block iffy websites) or a Pause button for specified offspring (so we can have dinner conversation face to face).
Each manufacturer touts its routers’ top speed in megabits per second (“867 mbps/sec!”, for example). But trust me: You’ll get those speeds only on the moon. In the cluttered airwaves of a community, among the walls and furniture obstacles of a home, your top speed will probably be less than half the advertised maximum. Move 30 feet away, and it drops by half again.
<p type="text" content="In fact, any of these mesh systems can pass along data faster than your Internet provider passes it into the average American home (54 mbps/sec.). If your concern is transferring files between drives within your home, or if you’re paying for much faster Internet, then consider one of the beefier systems here: The Velop, Orbi, or Amplifi HD.” data-reactid=”38″>In fact, any of these mesh systems can pass along data faster than your Internet provider passes it into the average American home (54 mbps/sec.). If your concern is transferring files between drives within your home, or if you’re paying for much faster Internet, then consider one of the beefier systems here: The Velop, Orbi, or Amplifi HD.
<p type="text" content="I tested each system by wandering through my house with a laptop running Netspot, an app that builds a “heat map” of Wi-Fi strength. All of them totally blanketed both floors of the house. (I even spot-checked the attic and basement. They had Wi-Fi, too.)” data-reactid=”39″>I tested each system by wandering through my house with a laptop running Netspot, an app that builds a “heat map” of Wi-Fi strength. All of them totally blanketed both floors of the house. (I even spot-checked the attic and basement. They had Wi-Fi, too.)
I also did an internet speed test twice per system: in the room closest to the cable modem, and the room farthest from it. Here’s what I discovered.
The modules are small and good-looking; the terrific app gives you insight into every aspect of your system. All the key features are here, like guest networks (for visitors—they can access the internet, but not your computers) and individual, pause-able profiles for your offspring.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="If you have an Amazon (AMZN) Echo, you can even control your Eeros by voice: shutting off certain kids’ internet access, turning the Eeros’ status lights on or off, or finding your phone/tablet/laptop in the house according to its closest Eero.” data-reactid=”83″>If you have an Amazon (AMZN) Echo, you can even control your Eeros by voice: shutting off certain kids’ internet access, turning the Eeros’ status lights on or off, or finding your phone/tablet/laptop in the house according to its closest Eero.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Eero’s price has not come down in its year on the market, though. At $500 for a set of three, it’s almost goofily overpriced—$200 more than Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Wi-Fi, for example. I’m glad to own it, but it wouldn’t be my first choice today.” data-reactid=”102″>The Eero’s price has not come down in its year on the market, though. At $500 for a set of three, it’s almost goofily overpriced—$200 more than Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Wi-Fi, for example. I’m glad to own it, but it wouldn’t be my first choice today.
Speed tests: 57 megabits/second downloading in the closest room, 47 in the farthest.
Ethernet jacks: Two per unit. (The pod by your cable modem therefore has only one empty jack for a printer, network hard drive, or other gizmos. I bought a cheap five-port switch box to solve that problem.)
Price: Three for $500, 1 for $200.
Google’s Eero-like system costs $300 for the set of three.
It, too, is fast, full-featured, and beautifully designed. (For example, there’s no traditional power brick—only a simple cord with USB-C on the router end and standard two-prong plug on the other.)
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The app makes it incredibly simple to set the whole thing up. You use your phone to scan a barcode on the bottom of the first pod; after that, one tap is all it takes to set up each additional pod. The app even tests the placement of each unit and lets you know if you’ve chosen wisely.” data-reactid=”146″>The app makes it incredibly simple to set the whole thing up. You use your phone to scan a barcode on the bottom of the first pod; after that, one tap is all it takes to set up each additional pod. The app even tests the placement of each unit and lets you know if you’ve chosen wisely.
Features: You can pause individuals or groups, even remotely. You can control the colorful LED ring around the equator of each unit, although they make fantastic night lights. Voice control is coming soon, Google says. Port forwarding, guest networking, device prioritization (“favor the Roku when I’m watching videos!”): all present.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Feels like a cheap Eero knockoff; minor irritations abound. Do I really have to surrender my phone number just to use my new router? The units are hexagons, but unlike the Eeros, they can’t lie flat, because the power cord sticks out of the back. The setup process goes like this.” data-reactid=”171″>Feels like a cheap Eero knockoff; minor irritations abound. Do I really have to surrender my phone number just to use my new router? The units are hexagons, but unlike the Eeros, they can’t lie flat, because the power cord sticks out of the back. The setup process goes like this.
The app is strong on parental controls and security; for example, you can set up accounts for each kid in your family and specify what kinds of sites they’re allowed to visit (rated PG, R, etc.).
But the Lumas’ power is on the weak side; a set of three left fading signal at the fringes of the house.
Price: $400 for three (choice of white, gold, orange, or silver plastic), $150 for one
Netgear’s approach to mesh networking is radical: Only two units to cover an entire big house. Including the front and back yard!
How? First, these are big, honking towers, crammed with antennas and power to drive them. (A ring on the top glows in colors during setup to show its happiness with the current signal strength.)
Second, most routers communicate with your devices on one of two radio bands (2.4 or 5 gigahertz)—but this one uses a third channel exclusively for communications between the two towers. As a result, that channel remains strong enough to drive through ceilings, floors, and walls. Netgear suggests putting one unit right by your cable modem, and the “satellite” tower in the middle of your house, even if that’s upstairs and several rooms away.
It works. (The “Mesh routers” heat map shown near the top of this article is the Orbi’s result.)
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="By the way, the Orbi also offers MU-MIMO streaming. (That stands for Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output, but it basically means fast—at least when talking to gadgets that also speak MU-MIMO. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S7 and certain other Android phones do; no Apple products do.)” data-reactid=”273″>By the way, the Orbi also offers MU-MIMO streaming. (That stands for Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output, but it basically means fast—at least when talking to gadgets that also speak MU-MIMO. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S7 and certain other Android phones do; no Apple products do.)
Alas, Netgear’s software engineers aren’t anywhere near as impressive as its hardware designers. The setup instructions are filled with terms like “credentials” and “redirect,” and they make no mention of a smartphone app that could make the process easier. You’re supposed to use a web-browser interface to set up your Orbis.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="When I contacted the company, they told me that there is a setup app—they just forgot to mention it! In fact, there are three apps, each governing a different aspect of the Orbis (setting up guest network, parental controls, etc.).” data-reactid=”293″>When I contacted the company, they told me that there is a setup app—they just forgot to mention it! In fact, there are three apps, each governing a different aspect of the Orbis (setting up guest network, parental controls, etc.).
For $490, you get three gorgeous, sculptural white towers, with cables that sneak out of a corner cutout, a physical reset button (instead of a paper-clip hole), and packaging that out-elegances Apple’s. The towers deliver fantastic speed and coverage, thanks in part to a three-band system like Netgear’s for better comms between towers.
The Velop (pronounced VELLup) also offers MU-MIMO streaming, if you’re scoring at home.
All the perks are here: parental controls, guest networking, device prioritization, port forwarding, Alexa commands (“Turn the guest network on,” “What’s my password?”), and so on. The app is, therefore, more dense than on simpler devices, but it’s not hard to navigate.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="My one beef: it takes a long time to recognize each new satellite as you hook it up. Minutes.” data-reactid=”339″>My one beef: it takes a long time to recognize each new satellite as you hook it up. Minutes.
Price: Three for $480; two for $350, or one for $200.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="If you took the concept of mesh routers—multiple transmitters spaced around the home—to its logical conclusion, you’d wind up with Plume. Here, you buy a bunch of super-cheap, tiny routers—the size of night lights, available in black, silver, or bronze—and plug them directly into power outlets, one per room or hallway! (Once you’re about a room away from the nearest Plume, your signal weakens dramatically.)” data-reactid=”345″>If you took the concept of mesh routers—multiple transmitters spaced around the home—to its logical conclusion, you’d wind up with Plume. Here, you buy a bunch of super-cheap, tiny routers—the size of night lights, available in black, silver, or bronze—and plug them directly into power outlets, one per room or hallway! (Once you’re about a room away from the nearest Plume, your signal weakens dramatically.)
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Setting them up is insanely easy. You don’t even have to introduce them to the network one at a time, as you must the other systems; you can just plug in all six, or all nine, or whatever, and they just work. (If you want to name them, you can: Just hold your phone very close to one of the plugs until it offers its name for changing. Very cool.)” data-reactid=”364″>Setting them up is insanely easy. You don’t even have to introduce them to the network one at a time, as you must the other systems; you can just plug in all six, or all nine, or whatever, and they just work. (If you want to name them, you can: Just hold your phone very close to one of the plugs until it offers its name for changing. Very cool.)
These pods are so cheap because they don’t contain processors, as their rivals do; all the analysis is done online. As a result, the company says that it takes 24 hours of analysis before the plugs begin to deliver their best speeds. Then, in the coming weeks, they shift bandwidth to the pods that need it most, according to your use patterns.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Here’s the problem, though: Economics. If your home is small enough that you can get by with three Plumes ($180) or even six ($330), you’d save money and complexity by buying a modern, standard, regular router. And if your house is big enough that you need a mesh system, you’ll probably need $600 worth of Plumes—and any of the competitors here would cost a lot less than that.” data-reactid=”402″>Here’s the problem, though: Economics. If your home is small enough that you can get by with three Plumes ($180) or even six ($330), you’d save money and complexity by buying a modern, standard, regular router. And if your house is big enough that you need a mesh system, you’ll probably need $600 worth of Plumes—and any of the competitors here would cost a lot less than that.
There are no features to speak of, either: No guest network, device prioritization, or parental controls.
Here’s another fresh take on the mesh system. This time, the three modules aren’t identical and interchangeable. There’s a base module and two satellite antennas.
The base is a cube with a color touch screen; tap it to view various network-info screens. (Most of the time, it just shows the time and date.)
The satellites are very cool: the antenna part connects to the power-outlet part with a magnetic ball joint, meaning that you can adjust the antenna’s angle. Note, though, that it can be tough finding spots to plug these things in where they’re not stymied by a floor, a countertop, or a wall. Baseboard outlets are pretty much it—which limits your positioning options (and attracts small children). They’re not exactly fashion accessories, either.
The app is lovely, and gives you access to all kinds of advanced router settings (port forwarding, DHCP settings, etc.)—but doesn’t offer parental controls.
If money were no object, I’d tell you to buy the LinkSys Velop. These babies look great, they’re absurdly fast, the features are all there, and the software has its act together. A set of three is designed to cover 6,000 square feet of house—far more than the Google WiFi (4,500 square feet), Netgear Orbi (4,000), or Eero or Luma (3,000). (Then again, if your pad is more of a palace, you ‘ll want the Amplifi HD, which says it can cover 20,000 square feet!)
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="But if money is an object—namely, if you object to a $490 price tag—then you can save $200 by getting the Google WiFi trio. The modules are gorgeous and not so ostentatious, and the app offers a smoother setup.” data-reactid=”455″>But if money is an object—namely, if you object to a $490 price tag—then you can save $200 by getting the Google WiFi trio. The modules are gorgeous and not so ostentatious, and the app offers a smoother setup.
Unfortunately, the three-pack of Google WiFi is currently sold out everywhere. If you can’t wait, you can save almost as much money, and still get unbelievable coverage, with the Amplifi HD ($350) or the Netgear Orbi ($380).
In any case, if your house’s size or construction stymies any single router you’ve tried, treat yourself. Dead spots are the latest scourge of humanity that we’ve now wiped out.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s email@example.com. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email. ” data-reactid=”458″>David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.
Last week the NBA released new rules preventing teams from “mocking and/or ridiculing” each other on social media. It didn’t take long for teams to poke fun at the regulations with a little sarcasm.
The Sacramento Kings — whose persistent trolling on Twitter probably had something to do with the NBA’s new rules — decided to take things in a friendlier direction on Friday night. Playing the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento congratulated Hawks forward Paul Milsap on a nice shot from downtown and wished him a happy birthday.
The sarcasm only accelerated when Atlanta responded.
@ATLHawks You know, we really appreciate Philips Arena too. That organist – just wow. Great touch.
Teams in the NHL took some shots at the NBA’s new social media rules, too. The Dallas Stars started to display some affability toward the Nashville Predators, but quickly corrected themselves.
The NBA’s rules are meant to keep things more cordial on social media, which some teams have had trouble with lately. In the span of a couple weeks, the Portland Trail Blazers trolled an opposing player for missing a shot and Sacramento roasted the Cleveland Cavaliers after an overtime win.
“Recently, social media postings (e.g., on Twitter) by some teams have crossed the line between appropriate and inappropriate,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum wrote in the memo sent to teams on Thursday. “In addition to other concerns, such conduct by teams can result in ‘Twitter wars’ between players that can cause further reputational damage and subject players to discipline by the League.”
The Kings and Hawks took that direction to extreme lengths on Friday.
@ATLHawks Is it because you guys are playing electric on the court right now? 🔥🔥🔥
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Twitter plans to trim down its ads products
Twitter continues to bleed cash and its advertising business has begun shrinking, so it’s time for a change. Twitter will pare down three areas of its ad product, according to sources who spoke to TechCrunch.
Twitter foreshadowed the shift during last week’s lackluster earnings report that showed a year-over-year decline in Q4 ad revenue, from $641 million in 2015 to $638 million in 2016. Meanwhile it saw little growth in monthly active users (currently 319 million, up 4 percent year-on-year). That added up to a $167 million loss last quarter.
Together these facts underscore a critical issue for the company: It has yet to find the right formula for products that attract both users and revenues.
But Twitter is trying to course-correct, and its solution is two-fold: it’s redefined itself around a core mission — last week described as “the best and fastest place to see what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about,” and, TechCrunch has learned, it’s looking at ways of paring down its ad business to have more focus, too.
Three areas that Twitter is reassessing include the company’s direct response business, aspects of the Promoted Tweets products and the legacy TellApart business.
Twitter has not shuttered any of these yet, but from what we understand, it is now concentrating on what is driving more revenues. If there are products that are not getting significant buy-in from advertisers (say hundreds of millions in revenue), Twitter wants to stop supporting them.
Twitter declined to comment for this story. Though, as CEO Jack Dorsey forecasted on the earnings call, “2017 will be about simplifying and differentiating our revenue products. It’ll take time for all the results we want to see.”
What’s holding Twitter back
The problem is this: Just as Twitter the consumer product was confusing to most new (and even some older) users, requiring too much work from people just to use it, Twitter the ad platform had become confusing too. It’s overstuffed with options built up over time that no longer fit into the simplified mission that Twitter sees for itself. Advertisers were finding it too complicated, paralyzing their buying decisions.
Twitter’s direct response Promoted Tweets blend into the feed and feel skippable
Plus, several of these ad products don’t feel memorable to users. The typical behavior on Twitter is to skim the timeline, in part because people expect some noise since the app only recently started algorithmically sorting its content. Twitter’s interest graph differs from fully relevancy sorted feeds on networks filled with friends where you might be more inclined to read every post.
This all makes it natural to skip over Promoted Tweets and direct response ads that blend into Twitter at a time when mobile advertisers are increasingly looking to momentarily dominate people’s attention with full-screen video ads like on Snapchat and Instagram. Twitter’s user growth slump may have made it hesitant to push more aggressive ad products.
Now it’s time to double-down on what works and trim the fat. This will be a significant shift in the company’s strategy, after years of testing lots of different services and ad formats on the platform to see what took off, and thus leaving the question of focus open-ended.
“People would ask internally, ‘what is Twitter good for?’ and you would get 1,000 answers,” said a source close to the company who requested to remain anonymous. “The approach was to let 1,000 flowers bloom, but if products are hard to use I don’t even know where to start with what to use it for. Picking news and talk, that simplification has driven some clarity. Now they are trying to drive the same kind of clarity with the monetization products.”
Likely to stay are products that can support how Twitter wants to position itself in its latest bid to grow: specifically video and other ad formats that support its more vivid new media efforts.
If you look at Twitter’s earnings last week, you could also see some of the writing on the wall.
Promoted Tweets — essentially Twitter’s first ad product from back in 2010 — were mentioned three times in the shareholder’s letter, and direct response ads — first launched in 2013 — five times; all in the context of declining revenues that “muted” increases in newer areas like video. (Direct response has been a lagging business for a while, it seems.)
We need to rethink.
— Anthony Noto, Twitter COO
Twitter’s best hope for the future is to combine the first and second screen, becoming both where you watch video of big zeitgeist events and where you discuss them. That content can be monetized with lucrative video ads, but Twitter needs to free up resources to expand their traction.
Anthony Noto, Twitter’s COO, gave some insight into the state of its ads business during the earnings presentation:
“We’ve . . . had success in some of our direct response products that have achieved significant scale, and we’ll continue to invest in those. [But] in the shareholder letter we talked about some of the direct response products that are challenged. We’re going to reevaluate whether we can be competitive in those products, or if we’re better off reallocating those resources to products that are doing really well or new areas of innovation that are more organic and more unique and differentiated to Twitter and that drive really strong engagement. And so that’s the philosophy.
Meanwhile, TellApart was a big acquisition for Twitter — it acquired the adtech startup for $532 million in 2015 — giving the social media platform the infrastructure to better target ads to potential customers. It sat within Twitter’s strategy to build out its direct response business. Yet during earnings, it was only mentioned briefly, and as a business in decline.
“Significant gains in revenue from the Twitter Audience Platform were offset by significant year-over-year declines in revenue from TellApart,” the company wrote in its shareholder letter. “We expect contributions from non-owned-and-operated advertising revenue to face significant headwinds in 2017 from factors impacting TellApart.”
To note, some of the original TellApart tech — which identified viewers and served them personalized ads — plus more created by the TellApart team, runs across other parts of Twitter’s business that are doing well and will remain. Co-founder Josh McFarland rose to become Twitter’s VP of Product, overseeing a number of ad initiatives. But in another blow to its strategy, he’ll be leaving at the end of the month to join the VC firm Greylock.
On TellApart, Noto said:
“We are taking a step back and looking to simplify our product and putting our resources behind those products that we think have the greatest probability of success, that can deliver the best long-term growth potential, and that frankly leverage our competitive advantages in a unique way. That may cause us to deemphasize some products that are producing revenue in addition to decisions that we’ve already made as it relates to . . . TellApart.”
It’s unclear if that de-emphasis will mean reassigning team members, layoffs, cancelling products or putting them up for sale to another business.
Former TellApart CEO and Twitter VP of Product Josh McFarland is leaving to become a VC with Greylock
Twitter is no stranger to shutting down or selling off things that are not working for it, especially recently. The last few months alone have seen it sell off its app development platform Fabric to Google and announce the closure and then eventual transition of Vine to a pared-down service. On the monetization front, it’s already removed the Buy button and downshifted the whole Commerce operation; and shuttered its lead generation product.
Noto made it sound like Twitter will be including some of its more experimental ad tests in that cull, as well:
“We’ve made some investment decisions in some direct products that have not come to market that have had significant resources allocated to them, that haven’t gotten to the point that we could launch them, and we need to rethink about those resources and that level of investment and whether we should reallocate it.”
While these changes can be painful for employees and users alike, they’re what’s necessary to get Twitter in flying shape again. The company’s core consumer product remains indispensable for legions of journalists and readers, celebrities and fans. By streamlining its monetization, Twitter will be able prioritize serving ads as memorable as the news it breaks.
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Yahoo Mail’s mobile app now does Caller ID, syncs photos
Yahoo may be a troubled company, with its multiple data breaches, SEC investigation, and delayed acquisition* proceedings, but its Yahoo Mail product still has 225 million monthly active users. Today, the company is rolling out a few changes to that service in an effort to boost adoption of the Yahoo Mail mobile app. Now, the app will do more than deliver your mail, it will also sync your mobile phone’s photos to the desktop and help you identify phone numbers via a new Caller ID feature.
The Caller ID feature is fairly clever, in fact. (Google/Gmail, please copy this?). It works to identify the incoming phone calls you receive by cross-referencing the telephone numbers with those found in your email inbox. Most people have hundreds of phone numbers in their email, the company explains, thanks to email signature lines and other references, but these aren’t necessarily saved in your phone’s contacts.
On iOS, the Yahoo Mail app takes advantage of a particular caller ID and block setting (Settings –> Phone –> Call Blocking & Identification). After installing the updated version of Yahoo Mail for iOS, users simply toggle the switch for the Yahoo Mail app on in order to enable the Caller ID function. This will also update names in your call history or when you dial the phone, Yahoo says.
The other feature arriving today is a photo upload function. The idea here is to make it easier to email photos from your phone when you’re on your desktop computer.
The feature integrates a new Yahoo photo and video sharing platform called “Tripod,” born out of Flickr, that also lets you do things like search photos by keyword.
The new Yahoo Mail mobile app on both iOS and Android now makes your Camera Roll’s photos available to you from your Yahoo Mail account on the desktop. Essentially, it’s enabling a background upload between your phone and the Yahoo Mail service, but the photos are not being made public, nor are they being posted to Flickr. Instead, only you, the signed-in Yahoo Mail user, can access the photos.
You can also search the photos using keywords to help you find the right ones you want to attach. The feature is not enabled by default, but can be switched on through Settings –> Photo Upload. Users can remove photos from Yahoo Mail without affecting their Camera Roll, the company notes.
The app will upload photos in their original size for screenshots and 1600px for all other images. Yahoo says it’s exploring 2048×1536 along with other resolutions, and may make changes in the future.
Both features are launching today in the updated mobile app found in the iTunes App Store (iOS ver. 4.13) and Google Play (Android ver. 5.13).
*Disclosure: Verizon is acquiring Yahoo, with plans to close later this year. Verizon own AOL, which owns TechCrunch.
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on To detect prying eyes in the sky, Dedrone raises $15 million
For better or worse, drones are about to become a lot more prevalent in US airspace. The FAA expects sales of drones to spike domestically from 2.5 million last year to 7 million by 2020. Now, a startup that detects drones and helps prevent unwanted aerial intrusions, Dedrone, has closed a $15 million Series B round of venture funding.
Investors in San Francisco-based Dedrone included Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers, and Felicis Ventures, which led the round. The founder and Managing Director of Felicis Ventures, Aydin Senkut, said the deal represents the largest check his firm has cut in a single round to-date.
Dedrone works with physical security companies to set up sensors, cameras and RF scanners on the ground and on rooftops at a given venue. Its technology has been used to monitor the skies over data centers, sports stadiums and the homes of high net-worth individuals and political figures. The company’s drone security product has only been available on the market for one year, but the company recently surpassed 200 installations, according to CEO Jorg Lamprecht.
The CEO said he loves the positive promise of unmanned aerial systems, which can produce beautiful aerial photography, enable hyper-convenient deliveries, and all frequent inspections of tall structures without putting workers on shaky scaffolding. But he also noted drones carry the risk of aerial espionage, contraband or drug smuggling across borders, and amateur accidents.
Dedrone can set up around cities where major events are scheduled, so the company often works with federal and city governments to monitor airspace. Its technology was used to detect drones, for example, over Davos, and two presidential debates.
According to Lamprecht, Dedrone will use its funding, primarily, to bring its existing technology to more businesses and government offices, with a special focus on companies operating data centers. Additionally, he said Dedrone will continue research and development in drone security.
Why the early uptake and continued focus on data centers? The CEO explained, “The data center is so vulnerable. Most have a rooftop installation with cooling elements. If a drone crashses into this, you can break down a whole data center in seconds. That’s with a $500 commercial drone flown by an amateur, or in a deliberate attack. They have had guards with machine guns on the ground, but now they need to watch the skies.”
Felicis’ Aydin Senkut tells TechCrunch his firm backed Dedrone because of its ability not just to spot drones in the sky, but precisely locate a drone’s operator on the ground, enabling a wide range of so-called “counter measures” to deal with unwanted drones. Senkut said, “Everyone says if a drone flies where you don’t want it to be, why not just take it down? Many are small and light but can still cause a lot of damage if you shot it out of the sky. It can be a safer option to communicate with the pilot first, depending on the situation.”
He also said Dedrone was an appealing investment because its technology remains useful no matter how regulations around drones or counter-drone measures may shift. It’s not clear that any business will be permitted to use lasers, nets, jammers or other systems to take down drones in their airspace. But, Senkut said, “To do anything with drones, or about the drones that you don’t want around, you need to just be able to accurately identify them first.”
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Google’s Valentine’s Day Doodle has one pangolin journeying to its soulmate
Why it matters to you
Monday’s Google Doodle is an effort to educate people about pangolins and how they range from vulnerable to critically endangered.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Google has an adorable Doodle game that also doubles as an awareness campaign to save the vulnerable and sometimes critically endangered pangolin.
Pangolins, according to the World Wildlife Fund, are the “most trafficked mammals in the world” due to high demand of their meat and unique scales. Monday’s Google Doodle is a game that focuses on a pangolin’s efforts to meet its long-distance soulmate for Valentine’s Day — but throughout the four chapters you learn “a thing or two” about the scaly mammals.
The side-scrolling game has you collecting food to make a cake in Ghana. Once complete, the pangolin finds itself in India to “construct a lovely melody” for its soulmate; and then in China, the pangolin collects colorful fans to learn to dance; and finally in the Philippines, it collects flowers to build a bouquet.
“Once our pangolin heroes have found their hearts’ desire, show your own Valentine they’re the king or queen of hearts by sharing your score when the game is complete,” writes Jordan Thompson, software engineer for the Doodle team. “After all, Valentine’s festivities are always sweeter when they’re shared.”
The game’s home screen offers a search button that asks Google “what is a pangolin,” and Google’s blog post links to the World Wildlife Fund to help you learn more about the animal. The WWF says there are eight species of pangolin and all are under threat — two species are listed as critically endangered. A 2016 treaty signed by more than 180 governments announced an end to all legal trade of the mammals, but illegal trade continues.
You can play the game by visiting Google’s home page on a desktop, or mobile via the Google app or a mobile browser.
February 13, 2017 / Comments Off on Tesla Goes Underground and Uber Takes to the Skies: The Birth of Magic
As in crazy short, in a very short period of time we have two very different companies looking at two very different ways to eliminate traffic. Tesla wants to tunnel under the ground to avoid traffic, while Uber wants to fly overhead.
This is just the start. There are amazing efforts cropping up all over the U.S., suggesting that we may be building a lot of things that truly are magical. I’ll share my thoughts on this coming industrial revolution and close with my product of the week: a very advanced, almost pocketable drone that is small enough for inside and powerful enough to fly outside.
The Death of Innovation
Both transportation and advancement have a mixed history. At the beginning of the 20th century, we moved from horses to cars. Ford even created one of the most reliable airliners in the world and was well down the path toward creating a flying car.
During the Great Depression, perhaps in response to an increase in regulations, advancements in personal transportation seemed to slow and become far more linear. Yes, cars in the 1960s were better than those in the 1930s — but given that we’d come from horses, the speed of advancement was far slower.
Air travel seemed to peak with the brief creation of supersonic transports, which proved uneconomical and unsafe. The current U.S. president, Donald Trump, is looking into why the next Airforce One is basically a plane that was designed back when Ronald Reagan was president and was considered obsolete in many ways even then.
Largely because of fuel shortages and regulations (sound, environmental, safety) we hit a wall in the 1970s in all forms of transportation. Trains in the U.S. are kind of an international embarrassment, given that we once were the leader in rail technology.
I still remember the $9M that California put into studies to determine that the monorail Walt Disney wanted to build to the airport, which was budgeted to cost just $3M, would be unprofitable. It was that kind of regulatory insanity that likely killed what once was the most innovative industry in the U.S.
It seemed that after we made it to the moon, we just stopped pushing the envelope — but that now seems to be changing, a lot.
Innovation Is Coming Back?!
I think what is going on, in part, is that a new breed is transforming the workforce — people who haven’t had it drummed into them that they couldn’t do something different. They’re not just filling entry positions, either. A large number of successful startups have come from trailblazers like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who, rather than asking “why?” effectively are asking “why not?”
It is fascinating that their ideas are all over the map. We suddenly are making advancements both above and below the ground. We are applying ever more intelligence to everything from toys to cars. The result is the emergence of what some are calling the “new industrial revolution.”
It is very difficult to see just how unprecedented this level of change is while we’re in the middle of it.
Consider this: In the 1990s Amazon started out as a bookseller in a garage in Seattle. Now it scares the crap out of Walmart. Google didn’t even exist until 1998, but it now is arguably the most powerful company in the world. And then there is Facebook.
Still, traditional industries like transportation were left alone until recently — that is, until Tesla popped in, made GM’s electric car efforts look foolish, and spun the auto market on its head.
Now, giant car companies all over the world are working to catch up, and Musk isn’t just running a car company. He has a solar energy company and a rocket ship company as well. Seriously, he has a rocket ship company, and he isn’t alone — Jeff Bezos has one too.
Wrapping Up: Thinking out of the Box
What’s happening is that folks like Bezos and Musk are forcing other CEOs to step their game up a lot. For instance, Michael Dell decided to build one of the most powerful tech companies in the world and make it private. He’s another guy who seems to be asking “why not?” and now his catch phrase is “go big or go home.” It kind of makes you wonder what he’ll do next.
Nvidia basically is building artificial brains in a box, and even Microsoft is attempting to alter the way we view reality.
This is the kind of competition that drives amazing change — and new above ground and underground transportation systems are just the start. It isn’t just transportation that is going nuts — it’s everything from the way we order and get products, to how we build them, to how we view and interact with the world — and even which world we live on. (Yes, we are going to Mars.)
This already has been an amazing decade, but what is even more amazing is that we likely are in the slow startup phase. What comes next will even be more amazing. Did I mention drone swarms?!?
I think we should call this “the birth of magic,” because what we’ll be able to do in a few short years will seem like magic to those of us living today. I can hardly wait.
Apparently I am building a drone air force. My latest acquisition is the Zerotech Dobby Pocket Drone. At $400 for a small drone, this is no cheap date — but what makes it different is that is has the necessary hover sensors and a full 4K streaming camera.
The small form factor of this drone and the fact that you can fold up the arms to make it pocketable (jacket pocket, that is — this won’t go in your pants) make it a unique offering for a fully featured drone.
Zerotech Dobby Pocket
This is an indoor/outdoor offering, in that it is stable and easy enough to fly indoors (once you get the hang of it) but powerful enough to deal with wind, so you can fly it outside.
If you set it up properly, it has core features like hover and automatic return home. Like most current generation mid-range drones, it uses WiFi and your phone or tablet for navigation. Like all small drones, battery life can be an issue, so you’ll want several spare batteries, which charge off a USB-C cellphone charger.
It has GPS positioning, so it knows where it is. It has a fixed camera — not a gimbal camera — so you don’t get the stability of a fully professional product. However, those tend to be big and far harder to transport — I know, I have two.
In the end, if you want a good transportable mid-range drone that you can carry easily, the Zerotech Dobby Pocket Drone is my recommendation, and it’s my product of the week.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.