Posts tagged could
Guest author Derek Brown is a technology executive and analyst who blogs at One Blind Squirrel.
Pinterest is a three-year-old start-up with what is rumored to be no revenue to date. Zero. In fact, by all accounts, it hasn’t even attempted to generate revenue yet. In three years! Hard to fathom in this day and age, isn’t it?
And, yet, some of the sharpest minds in the venture capital community are so confident in Pinterest’s team and business that they recently invested in the company at an eye-popping valuation of $2.5 billion. Yes, billion!
If you were involved in the Internet economy of the late-1990s, as was I, you may be rolling your eyes right about now and muttering to yourself about Pets.com, Kozmo, Webvan, theGlobe.com, govWorks, Boo.com, eToys and all the other so-called-companies that were, for one brief moment in time, valued as if they had discovered the cure to cancer, only to be out of business a few short quarters later. Ahh… the memories.
Assuming that Pinterest’s investors share many of the same recent memories (or, more aptly, nightmares), what could be so compelling about the company and opportunity that would justify their support of such a lofty valuation this time around?
Passion At Scale
In short, I believe it is the economics of passion at scale.
Pinterest, in its own words, is “a tool for collecting and organizing things you love).” (Italics mine.) By pinning images from around the Web to their own board(s) or browsing others’ pinboards for images (which can then be “liked” or “re-pinned” to their own board(s)), users are able to create, manage, share and discover highly personalized image collections that define their passions.
Vintage fashion. Wind surfing. Gourmet cooking. Disneyana. Digital photography. Wedding gowns. Home decor. Camping. Italian design. Rolex watches. Travel planning. Architecture. Mid-century furniture. Urban farming. Knitting. Cross-Fit… The list of people’s passions is literally endless; and, Pinterest helps its users collect, organize and maintain all of them. On their own (or, with the help of the broader community). In granular, image- and/or SKU-specific detail.
Self-identified passionistas on a product-by-product basis — are you kidding? I’m not sure a marketer or merchant could dream of more fertile ground among a set of unknown people, short of seeing a prospective customer standing directly in front of items on a shelf, with cash already in hand. And, I’m not even convinced that would be more compelling on a long-term basis.
What could possibly be better? How about having that level of insight into the interests and intents and aspirations of not hundreds of thousands, but tens of millions, of people per month! According to press reports, Pinterest is already doing just that, hosting roughly 30 million unique monthly visitors who are generating more than 2.5 billion page views, the majority of which are likely coming through little more than domestic word-of-mouth promotion.
Fast forward three years and I think it’s entirely reasonable to assume that Pinterest is successful at growing its user base and traffic flows by 5 times, fueled by existing users continuing to build out their identities, waves of more mainstream domestic users finally catching on and contributions from millions of new pinners (their word, not mine) in overseas markets. That’s a lot of passion under one roof!
On the business side of the house, passion pays. Extremely well.
Advertising, alone, could generate several hundred million dollars of revenue per year. Let’s say, hypothetically, that Pinterest follows in the footsteps of virtually every sizable media company on the planet, by introducing advertisements of some sort across its pages in the next few years. With marketers across every vertical likely salivating at the prospect of reaching into the company’s massive, impassioned and finely segmentable audience, it seems more than plausible that advertising rates across the company’s site could be at least 50% higher (if not considerably more) than the current industry average. Accordingly, with 12.5 billion page views per month (three years from now) and a site-wide CPM of, say, $4, Pinterest would generate advertising revenue of roughly $50 million per month, or about $600 million per year.
And yet, despite this sum, Pinterests more intriguing revenue opportunity at Pinterest lay in its role as a direct facilitator of online commerce.
Passions, as we all know, cost money — lots of it, over extended periods of time; and, it is money that we are, on some level, actually excited to spend. So, whether it’s a weekend warrior who pins a Burton snowboard, or a hobbyist portrait photographer pinning a Zeiss lens, or a budding interior decorator who pins the perfect accent table on Fab, Pinterest has the potential to become an economic kingmaker when these enthusiasts transition into consumers looking to purchase the goods/services that bring their passions to life.
Projecting Pinterest’s Numbers
To appreciate the financial implications of Pinterest’s role in the transaction cycle, think of the service as a massive affiliate that gets paid for delivering customers to online merchants. If just ~3% of its 150 million+ users (three years from now) decide to indulge in their passions by clicking from a “want-to-have” product image on one of their own Pinterest boards to a relevant online merchant, the company could claim a direct role in driving 4.5 million transactions per month. Assuming an average transaction size of $200 (remember, people are buying their passions, not everyday staples), Pinterest’s users would account for ~$900 million worth of monthly purchases. Were the company to receive a 7% affiliate “take”/lead fee/commission on these sales, it would generate transactional revenue of about $60 million per month, or $720 million per year.
As if annual revenue of $1.3 billion (from just two sources) weren’t enough, the company’s margin profile has the potential to be the envy of most. Based on my 15+ years of experience evaluating a wide variety of online marketplace business models, it wouldn’t surprise me if Pinterest were able to sustain gross margins of 90% or more and adjusted EBITDA margins comfortably in excess of 25% (even while continuing to invest heavily in future growth). At these levels, the company would generate adjusted EBITDA of approximately $325 million per year.
Worth It? Or Not?
So… were Pinterest’s investors ultimately wise to value the company at $2.5 billion? No comment.
Will the company generate any annual revenue, let alone $1.3 billion, and adjusted EBITDA of $325 million in a few short years? I don’t know.
Will Pinterest eventually be worth $5 million or $50 billion? I can’t wait to find out.
Those purposeful vagaries aside, though, I clearly see the underpinnings of a company with tremendous potential and, if I squint just enough, a business that could be the driver of billions of dollars of passion-fueled online commerce each year — and that’s a position that few companies ever even have the chance to dream about.
View full post on ReadWrite
Who needs apps? Microsoft buying Nook Media would be a a brilliant move: Microsoft would add millions of e-books that consumers want, to supplement tens of thousands of apps that, well, they don’t.
Is Microsoft About To Buy Nook For $1 Billion?
TechCrunch reported Thursday that Microsoft is considering paying $1 billion for Nook Media, the division of Barnes & Noble that includes both the Nook tablet as well as its e-book business. That works out to a discount of about $700 million to $800 million compared to what Barnes & Noble valued the Nook at just a few months ago. A deal at that level would be a clear indication that B&N wants out of the digital business.
So much so, in fact, that there have been rumors that Barnes & Noble plans to kill the Nook by the end of April 2014, instead selling its e-book content on apps from “third-party tablets” from an undisclosed manufacturer or manufacturers. That could mean Microsoft’s own tablet, the Surface, steps in to replace it – and we’re already getting reports of smaller, Nook-like Windows tablets in the works. Of course, Nook is already available on the iPad and non-Amazon Android tablets.
TechCrunch’s report suggests two key factors: developing, manufacturing and selling a tablet like the Nook isn’t a profitable business. But e-books are. By itself, the Nook unit lost $262 million on $1.2 billion for the fiscal year ended April 30, TechCrunch’s secret documents alleged. Meanwhile, B&N itself publicly disclosed that its Nook segment revenue dropped 26% last quarter, but e-book sales grew 6.8%. (Some 10 million Nook tablets and e-readers have been sold, and the service boasts more than 7 million subscribers.)
We also know that Microsoft has already forged ties with software developers, including game creators; has established relationships with the music business to create Xbox Music; and has developed a network of cloud servers which can serve that content up virtually anywhere. Adding book publishers to the list should be relatively simple.
Microsoft has already proved its interest in the Nook platform. In 2012, Microsoft dumped $300 million into Nook Media, which later generated a Nook app for Windows 8 and not much else. It certainly looks like Barnes & Noble isn’t heavily invested into the relationship. It’s time for Microsoft to take over.
Patching The Windows App Store With Books
People need a compelling reason to buy a new device, and Microsoft hasn’t given them much of one. Microsoft’s Surface is a terrific piece of hardware, but is overpriced compared to rival tablets. Meanwhile traditional PCs are on the decline, perhaps even being pushed down the slope by Windows 8. Microsoft’s platforms simply lack the app support of iOS and Android.
Moreover, if apps are now a key tablet selling point, Microsoft doesn’t have that much to offer. Microsoft’s app store is growing quickly – but that’s due to the fact that it’s starting from a very small base. As of Thursday, MetrostoreScanner, which tracks the apps that appear and are updated on Microsoft’s Windows Store, showed a total of 70,182 apps in the Store – about double what it had at the end of December. Google and Apple, on the other hands, each claim about 800,000 apps in their respective app stores.
In the company’s defense, Tami Reller, Microsoft’s Windows chief, has argued that the Windows Store has aggregated more than the number of apps that iOS did during the same period. She also said that almost 90% of the entire app catalog is downloaded every month – a puzzling statement, meaning that either Microsoft is doing an excellent job promoting app discovery, based on its Mimvi technology – or that Windows uses really don’t have that much to choose from.
E-Books Complete The Windows Store
Adding e-books won’t make Microsoft’s app problems go away. But they could provide a pretty big distraction. Not to mention that owning the Nook platform would dramatically broaden Microsoft’s content strategy to include iPads and Android tablets. Microsoft has also hinted at plans to integrate Nook content in Office, putting its digital content in front of millions more users. That would be a welcome change from Microsoft’s decision not to rush out Office for iOS and Android.
Finally, it may seem simplistic, but one of the more compelling reasons to add Nook content is simply what users see – or don’t see – on the Windows 8 Start screen: Games, Music, Video – but not Books. It’s a glaring omission, and one that Microsoft could solve with a single stroke of the pen – and a billion dollars.
Image Sources: Pearson Media (Nook App) Barnes & Noble (Nook)
View full post on ReadWrite
There is a secret digital war happening all around us. The Enlightened and the Resistance battle for control of hidden portals scattered throughout our cities and neighborhoods. At times, the fighting can be fierce with rhetoric from both sides heated as hackers vie for control.
This is not a battle between secret nationalist hacker armies and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. This is Ingress, the augmented/alternate reality game from Google’s clandestine Niantic Labs. And, if you are going to Google I/O later this month, you will soon be able to play, too.
Ingress has been in closed beta since it rolled out to its first wave of users in late 2012. Google is now extending invites to the game to all registered attendees of its developers’ conference later this month in San Francisco and encouraging participants to sign in and test the game out before the conference.
What Is Ingress?
If you are not familiar with Ingress, the rules are pretty simple. When you sign up you are asked to pick the Enlightenment or Resistance. From a practical purpose, it does not really matter what side you pick except for the color of your side in the game (green for Enlightenment, blue for Resistance). Which side you choose depends on your stance on the dangers or potential of the game’s primary currency – Exotic Matter (XM). XM can be collected by moving around the physical world with your smartphone and spent to “hack” portals for your side.
For instance, if I am in my neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I can find a portal (which are usually landmarks, public buildings or other significant areas) and hack it with my smartphone using XM (and other various tools found in the game) and take control of it for my side. In my neighborhood, the closest portal is a post office.
The game is kind of like an alternate reality massive-multiplayer online game played through your smartphone using the real world as your map. When ReadWrite reviewed it Ingress November 2012, we thought that the game (from a conceptual level) had a chance to reinvent what mobile gaming could look like in the coming years. Google probably thinks so too as it rolls out invites to all the developers attending I/O.
Battle San Francisco
Google will be hosting two Ingress games during I/O. On Tuesday, May 14th the first floor of the Moscone West will be the stage for an Ingress battle from 4 to 6 p.m (all times PDT). The next day an Ingress battle is scheduled to break out at the I/O After Hours Party at Moscone West on the third floor between 7 and 10 p.m.
A “major Ingress-wide game event” will take place in San Francisco on Thursday, May 16th from 7 to 9 p.m. This event will be open to non-Google I/O conference attendees.
Google will also have a developer session during the conference at 3:30 p.m. on May 15th.
The Template For The Future Of Android
Ingress is a bit of a curiosity. Only a handful of people have had access to the game to this point as Google has used its classic invitation-only method for rolling out the game. Ingress also has its own kind of underground, conspiracy theory marketing plan where the people from Niantic Labs come up with crazy storylines about fictional characters and their nefarious dealings. The plot line of Ingress is shrouded in mystery and heavily invested in the real world, but it is definitely an “alternate” version of reality.
By rolling out Ingress to developers at I/O, Google hopes to show how mobile, location, multi-player and augmented reality functions can be integrated into developer application offerings. In that way, Ingress becomes a kind of “how-to” template to developers looking to create vibrant new offerings for Android games and apps, something that could benefit Google in a variety of ways.
Google’s two most high profile projects could directly benefit from the features and functions found in Ingress. Google Now is Google’s future of search feature and provides semantic information to users by aggregating their data from search queries, Android location data and interests. Users are sent “cards” as notifications on their smartphones such as the scores of their favorite sports teams, weather or how long it will take them to get home from their current location. Google could easily add Ingress updates to Now while also using the location and activity data to better target ads to people.
Ingress also seems like a game tailor-made for Google Glass, the company’s new augmented reality goggles. An application layer could be added to Glass that shows players where portals and other players are, allowing them to interact with the Ingress world from their field of vision.
It behooves Google to show off the capabilities of Ingress to developers. Ingress is much more than a game, it is a map for developers and points to the future of Android. The way in which Ingress players interact with the real world could be a boon a variety of Google services and app developers. With Ingress, Google is showing people the way.
View full post on ReadWrite
Twitter’s Vine could be the killer app for Google Glass. They (should) go together like strawberries and chocolate.
Yes, Google Glass needs a killer app. Beyond the breathless hype by white guys in Silicon Valley, what exactly is the mass market supposed to do with Google Glass? The most talked-about Glass uses, like augmented reality and instant data presentation, don’t have obvious appeal outside of the early adopter community.
Vine on Glass, however, could be something almost everyone could get into. Vine on Glass would let all your followers – and potentially the whole world – see what you see, almost as soon as you see it, in an easily digestible form. While you could do much of this with a smartphone, when you see something you want to record, you need to pull out your phone and power up the video camera. Not so with Glass, which promises an almost frictionless experience. If you are wearing Glass, you could Vine, effortlessly.
This has never been possible before.
Making The Vine-On-Glass Match
The six-second limit on Vine videos also means that Glass wearers don’t need to constantly stream everything they see, allowing Glass users to maintain full control and ownership over what they record, and what they share. Six seconds is long enough to capture the moment – the feel of an event or experience – in a way that is powerful, easy to record and share, but not so long that viewers get bored or creeped out. And Vine videos don’t require the kind of editing and composition skills that it takes to make watchable longer form movies.
I suspect both Twitter and Google are already working on a partnership – though neither responded to my request for comment. Venture capitalist John Doerr has hinted that Twitter is already working on a Twitter – Glass app. First stop tweet, next stop picture, then… Vine: Hands-free, real-time, short videos, shot instantly with Glass, distributed instantly to the world via Twitter. And the companies are hardly strangers: Google used Twitter to help choose who would be first to own Glass with its #ifihadglass promotion.
Sure, Google would rather users share their videos on Google+. But Twitter has proven that no one does real-time sharing better, and the short, bursty Vine format combines the best of Twitter and Glass.
How Would It Work?
Admittedly, there are some issues with creating Vine videos on Glass. Do you move your head? Stand still? How many taps to initiate recording and/or uploading? Based on the latest Project Glass “how to” video, however, even those minor barriers appear to be falling.
Vine On Glass Use Cases
Unless and until we actually get Vine on Glass, we won’t know how the combo would be used. But here are some likely scenarios:
- Ask your followers if the awesome shoes you are trying on are right for you.
- Impress followers with your amazing view of the San Francisco skyline – or just tease them with what you see in real, physical space.
- Show them how the guy three persons ahead of you in line is being a total jerk.
- Let them cry with you as you hold your newborn for the first time, or coo with you when you take your new puppy home – all while your hands remain completely free and in the moment.
- You witness a traffic accident and immediately report all details, including video and audio of the aftermath.
- POV video from sports events – as a spectator or even a participant.
The Vines embedded below offer more examples of Vines that would work even better if they had been recorded with Google Glass instead of an iPhone:
View full post on ReadWrite
After months of promises, Microsoft finally integrated Skype with Outlook.com, its cloud email and calendaring service. But for its next act, Microsoft may well put Skype on its Xbox console — a move with far more intriguing, and even disturbing, ramifications.
As of today, a select group of Outlook.com users in the UK can begin placing video or voice calls, or sending instant messages, to their existing Skype contacts. Within Outlook, users will have a choice: traditional email will work as before, although the new “Messaging” options will trigger the Skype capabilities. Users can either type in a friend’s name within People, or — in a nice touch — simply click on their picture to launch a message.
Microsoft paid $8.5 billion for Skype two years ago in order to “adapt to a changing market, primarily characterised by permanent and ubiquitous connectivity,” as the IT analyst outfit Duquesne Group put it at the time. So far, Microsoft has steadily moved Skype forward as its ubiquitous communications interface across PCs, Windows tablets, and smartphones. That leaves the Xbox.
Video Kinect To Xbox Skype?
It’s virtually a given that Skype will come to the living room. In February, Giovanni Mezgec, a Skype enterprise product marketing manager, told me that Skype users at home might use a “set-top box” — like, say, the Xbox! — to access the service.
“You are the same time a consumer, the same time a mother, the same time an employee, the same time a person that travels on the bus, you get the idea,” he said in an interview at the time. “What we wanted to do was to offer a set of tools from the living room to the boardroom, a communication platform that is rationalized, but different.”
Officially, though, Microsoft is keeping mum. “We are always thinking about what is next for our platform, but we have nothing further to share at this time,” a spokeswoman said in an email. Rumors of the Skype-Xbox integration popped up earlier this year, following a Microsoft job posting.
And Microsoft’s Xbox already has a videoconferencing solution: Video Kinect, which allows Xbox players to set up video chats with their Xbox Live friends of they own the Kinect depth camera peripheral.
Separate But Equal
In many ways, Skype is playing catchup to features already offered by Video Kinect and the Xbox Live service itself. There’s the video chats, of course, but Xbox Live also supports presence (who’s playing or watching what, provided that users allows their friends to see this); group chats or play experiences, known as “parties”; text and video messages; and private chat.
So far, Microsoft has kept its Xbox Live community separate and distinct from its other online services. That means that each Xbox user can have several collections of friends: Outlook contacts, Messenger contacts, Skype contacts, and an Xbox Live group. If you include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which Microsoft also integrates with, that’s seven separate groups. Granted, many of these contacts overlap — but many don’t. (Note that Microsoft asks you for a Microsoft Outlook.com or Hotmail account when you sign up as a new user on the Xbox, for support purposes.)
Microsoft may not be able to do much with how Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn manage their own contact databases, but if and when it integrates Skype with the Xbox, will it merge a user’s Xbox contacts with his or her Skype contact list — or even Outlook contacts?
Turns Out Ubiquity Has A Downside
The question is really a cultural one. Does it make sense for a company like Microsoft to obliterate the distinction between work and play this way?
If you own a Surface tablet, and set up Skype for the first time, Microsoft will ask you to merge your Hotmail contacts with your Skype contacts. That’s not really that big of a deal. But do you really want your boss calling you when you’re playing Lego Batman with your son? I don’t.
What might be interesting, however — from either Skype or Video Kinect — would be the option to replace video avatars with actually small video screens of my friends. I might not like losing screen real estate in Gears of War, but it might add more of a communal sense while playing Hearts or Xbox poker.
Anything else, though, runs the risk of alienating users who just want to be left alone in the evenings. Slowly, we’re all being forced to integrate our jobs into other aspects of our lives. Microsoft may want to eventually push Skype into the Xbox, but it needs to do so delicately.
View full post on ReadWrite
Over time, great cities tend to inspire their own iconic comedies: New York’s Seinfeld. Boston’s Cheers. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Now Betas is the show that could put Silicon Valley on the comedy map – but only if you help.
Betas is one of the eight comedy pilots that Amazon has been featuring on its Instant Video page. If enough voters back Betas – or any of the other comedies – then Amazon will greenlight its development into a full-fledged original series, taking on shows like House of Cards and Lilyhammer on Netflix.
Betas = Heart, Surrealism And Desperation
To its credit, Betas integrates much of what made 1980s comedies great – heart, a touch of implausibility that borders on surrealism – and swirls it all together with the desperation and ambition of the Silicon Valley feeding frenzy. For many entrepreneurs, the right handshake is all that separates them from poverty and untold riches, a cruelty that can instantlyreduce months of work to ashes. Chasing that dream is frustrating. And funny.
Betas reminds us that Silicon Valley is has become high school writ large: geeks may be the new jocks, but the popular kids still have all the money, and dweebs are still dweebs. And owning all the toys is still the high score.
Betas begins in the sort of community workspace many techies could imagine working in, if they weren’t, you know, working: Employees chase each other around with Nerf guns, others grind Cheetos into their keyboards. “Nash,” the neurotic, socially-inhibited engineer played by Karan Soni, can’t take it. He freaks out and hides in one of the telephone booths the workspace has put against the wall, a quasi-ironic homage to older technology. Nash, despondent, tells his company’s founder, Trey (Joe Dinicol), that the latest build of their Highlight-like social discovery app, BRB, bricked the phone.
“Who cares? Investors are making investments from napkin sketches made by high school dropouts!” Trey responds.
“I don’t make napkin sketches!” Nash wails.
The plot of the pilot revolves around a meeting that Trey is convinced BRB needs with George Murchison (Ed Begley, Jr.) who plays electric flute with Moby and slices his own “Ferrari of trout” with an Asian shortsword. Part of the reason is one-upping the team behind “Valet Me,” a parking app whose sudden success makes the douchebag developers instant stars. Trey is convinced that the when Murchison hears BRB’s pitch, he’ll invest – and talks his way into Murchison’s home using “Larry Page” as an alias.
The other members of the BRB team include Hobbes (Jonathan C. Daly), a bearded, jaded developer whose idea of relaxing is watching Webcam porn at a local laundromat, and Mitchell (Charlie Saxton) a pudgy dweeb whose biggest goal is to talk to Mikki (Maya Erskine), the cool Asian chick who’s looking for just about anything to spark her empty life. “I would never say damp,” Mikki muses. “It makes my vaj seem like the Dagobah system.”
Betas Brings Silicon Valley To Life
Betas may be a scripted comedy, but it feels a hell of a lot more real than Randi Zuckerberg’s reality TV fiasco, Startups: Silicon Valley that debuted last year. Then, a cast of pretty wannabes partied their way from meetup to meeting to hangout to loft party, leaving everyone in Silicon Valley muttering, “What the hell is this?” Startups worst crime, however, wasn’t that it was vapid; it was just boring, and we’d seen all the tricks that reality series could throw at us before. It’s hard to fathom how anyone got beyond an episode or two.
The Big Bang Theory may hold the crown of TV’s geekiest show. But BBT mocks geeky science culture – Star Trek, Iron Man, and ins and outs of academic life – without really touching on what makes a life in technology so great. Betas tosses you in the deep end; it assumes you know what “Series A” funding is, and who Mark Zuckerberg and Page are. Little touches – bumping phones to swap digits, for example – lend the series the “oh yeah, people really do do that” feeling. Silicon Valley will hit the big screen this summer, when The Internship looks inside life at Google – but do you really think a sanctioned look inside the Googleplex is going to end up all that funny?
Think Scrubs: Silicon Valley
Think of Betas as Scrubs Silicon Valley: the four members of BRB are starting at the bottom, hoping to climb to the top. In Scrubs, there’s a natural progression: the young residents must earn their way up the medical ladder to become full-fledged doctors. What makes Betas so compelling is that Silicon Valley isn’t like that. Instead, it’s a roller-coaster ride: This week it’s a funding deal, next week it’s a show-stopping bug. What happens if Trey and the team accidentally leak their user information? What if they’re hacked? Do they attract the attention of Anonymous? Does Microsoft make a pitch to buy them? Does IBM?
Look, crazy stuff happens in Silicon Valley every day. But there’s no reason why we can’t watch it on our TVs at night, too. Watch Betas. Vote for it. Let’s make this happen, people.
View full post on ReadWrite
The University of San Francisco launched a clever advertising campaign last year that stated, “There’s no ‘Moral Compass’ app.” Turns out that’s not exactly true.
I’m not even talking about the apps MoralCompass or Moral Compass: The former is a rudimentary flow chart and the latter is more of a daily delivery of famous quotes and self-help mantras. The real moral compass for your smartphone is Seesaw, an app that lets you crowdsource decision making. It launched back in February and Seesaw Decisions Corp. announced its first major update Thursday morning.
Seesaw’s strength lies in helping users with basic queries aided by photos: Which hat should you buy, or what should you eat for lunch? The update loosens the chains weighing down Seesaw’s sign-up process (you now can sign up using social media instead of your phone number), and as Seesaw’s user base grows its crowdsourced decision-making assistance is beginning to expand into tricky questions about right and wrong.
Case in point: on Thursday morning one Seesaw user explained his groundhog problem and asked whether he should release the offending varmints or “make them vanish from the earth.” The crowd answered early on by voting for ‘eliminate for good’ (emphasized with a picture of a rifle), but eventually shifted towards ‘catch and release’ by 22-18. Groundhogs may be annoying, but killing is not the answer – at least that’s what Seesaw users say.
Spanning Preference To Morality
The original purpose of Seesaw was not to let you ask thousands of strangers whether should, say, put your dog to sleep or break up with your significant other. Its intended function was to help users get affirmation and organize advice based on the opinion and who supplied it.
“Often times I’ll ask my friends for feedback, and I’ll already know the answer. You’re just looking for moral support and encouragement. You need that reinforcement to do it,” explains Aaron Gotwalt, Seesaw’s founder. If you’re really trying to make a tough decision, you want input the people whose opinions you value. “There are the people that are important to you, and then there’s everyone else,” Gotwalt says.
The new update lets you both sign up and log in through social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram. (Because Facebook and Twitter don’t let Seesaw access the API that would let the app send invites, getting your friends to start using it is still handled via SMS.) Seesaw is working letting you split votes by social network so that you could compare what your Facebook friends think you should do against advice from other circles.
Can An App Provide A Moral Compass?
For me, Seesaw becomes truly fascinating when moral issues come unto play. Not only did Steve the potential groundhog exterminator get a lesson in animal ethics, he got valuable insight into what others might do in his shoes.
My first Seesaw question addressed whether or not I should crowdsource my moral decision making. (How meta is that?) Not surprisingly, strangers on the app overwhelmingly think I should. But my query also expose flaws in the Seesaw’s ability to serve as a true moral compass.
For one, as everyone knows, it’s far easier to tell someone else what to do than it is to make actually make a decision yourself. I have no reason to think people didn’t answer my question seriously, but they could have just found it funny. As for Steve’s groundhog problem, a yes-or-no question can’t possibly get at all the nuances of the situation.
Then there’s the follow up issue. Steve has no particular incentive to actually follow through on the crowd’s suggestion. It’d be an interesting if Seesaw could let users notify the crowd what they actually decided to do.
Obviously, Seesaw is more focused on its ability to gather friends around simple decisions centered on clothing, accessory purchases or food, and the app is a solid decision-making tool for these relatively trivial situations.
Crowdsourcing moral decisions, on the other hand, is uncharted territory. Seesaw is inadvertently emerging as a leader in this space. At the very least, when it comes to letting a crowd make decisions for you, Seesaw is a better choice than turning yourself into a publicly owned company.
View full post on ReadWrite
Let’s say the rumors are true, and that Microsoft does in fact bring back the Start button and a boot-to-desktop option to address longstanding user complaints. Can that fix what’s ailing Windows 8?
Perhaps, eventually — but Microsoft is still treating the symptom rather than the disease. The problem is the PC itself, not the operating system that runs it. And that’s what Microsoft (and, secondarily, its Wintel partner Intel) really needs to transform.
At this point, it seems clear that the tiled, touch friendly Start screen and the lack of a boot option to the familiar “desktop” interface scared off some people who might otherwise have upgraded to Windows 8. Instead, those PC users stuck with their familiar Windows 7 or Windows XP interface, or powered down their PCs altogether and turned to their phones or tablets.
All of which has the onetime Wintel duopoly in a bit of a panic. Microsoft needs an OS that will delight consumers. It’s so far failed in that, so it’s apparently retrofitting Windows 8 for folks who need more handholding to move to the new OS. Similarly, Microsoft needs a robust apps environment, so it’s looking to entice developers to its Windows Store. That’s not going so well, either.
Intel, meanwhile, continues to push down the cost of its microprocessors to a point where Windows tablets running on its Core microprocessors can compete with the Android and iOS markets. By the holiday season, Intel executives said, we should see Core-based laptops at between $499 to $599, with new, more powerful Atom options in the $200 price range.
Put those together, and here’s what needs to happen.
1. Downplay The Start Screen
If Microsoft brings back the boot-to-desktop option, the company faces an interesting marketing dilemma: Should it still promote the tiled Start screen that turns off at least some of its customers? No. That doesn’t mean that Microsoft should change the Windows 8 interface — the Start screen was designed as a tablet interface, and should remain so. But Microsoft should make the Start screen the face of the Surface tablet, and make the Windows desktop the face of its Windows 8 advertising for PCs.
2. Gently Push New Users To The Desktop
Clearly, a portion of Microsoft’s customer base has been traumatized by its initial reaction to Windows 8. There’s a real risk that these users may never return to the Windows fold.
But gently managing a boot-to-desktop option may mitigate some of that. Boot-to-desktop should be presented as one of the first options in the Windows installation, perhaps accompanied by something like this: “Would you like Windows 8 to boot to the Windows Desktop? The Windows desktop provides a familiar environment for users of Windows XP and Windows 7.”
From there, let them explore and do as they wish. If the Start Screen is as compelling as Microsoft seems to think, at least some users will eventually move over of their own volition.
3. Solve The Blah Windows Apps Problem
One of the bigger problems with the Start screen that Microsoft so far hasn’t been able to address is that most of the applications featured there are basically uninspiring (Fresh Paint excluded). With Windows XP and Windows 7, those applications were tucked away behind the Start button, where users were free to ignore them. With the Windows 8 Start screen, they’re out there for the world to see and grow disillusioned with. And it’s not immediately clear how booting to the desktop’s empty expanse will be much of an improvement.
But by making the Windows 8 Desktop the focus, Microsoft’s advertising, at least, can encompass the broad expanse of Windows apps out there. Mix and match! Steal a page from Apple. Highlight the flashiest apps, whether they be from the Windows 8 world or even from Windows 7. Legacy OS support is a feature, too. And free advertising for Adobe, EA, or some other developer can only engender goodwill.
4. Make Windows Shine On Tablets — Cheaply
Microsoft also desperately needs a successful mobile strategy. And the only real way to to do that is to offer more for less.
In other words, if Microsoft wants to leverage Windows in the mobile space, it needs to really leverage Windows. The Windows RT version of Surface failed in part because it was a crippled version of Windows 8; it’s time to retire it. The Surface with Windows Pro, by contrast, could be a hit if its price falls far enough. And if Microsoft pushes hard to convince buyers that they can accomplish a whole lot more with a full-fledged Windows tablet than they can with competing products.
Microsoft needs to show that a Windows tablet — derivative of the Surface, or one based on the new quad-core “Bay Trail” chips — can offer desktop PC-class performance at tablet prices. We know tablets are mobile. Microsoft Stores need to feature a Windows tablet or convertible running the flashiest piece of software it can, on a conventional desktop monitor, with the price tag prominently displayed. The message: all this for $299??!! Why would I ever want an Android tablet?
5. Find A Mobile Apps Tiger Team
Tucking your Android or iOS phone in your pocket is an unconscious decision. And as more game developers choosing to write for iOS and Android, fewer are around to focus on Windows. There’s another key advantage for iOS and Android, too: chances are that you can play the same game on your iPad and iPhone, or your Android phone and tablet. You can’t often say the same for Windows Phone and Surface.
If users can’t share apps, files, and other documents between the PC, notebook, tablet and phone, they’re going to start looking elsewhere. Microsoft’s realized this with its core apps, including Office and the Xbox. Netflix traverses the range of Microsoft’s platforms, but that’s about it.
There is no easy fix here. If Microsoft can’t develop the apps it needs itself, it’s going to have to go out and buy them. This is the Nintendo problem, writ large. Without AAA third-party software, Microsoft will have to go it alone.
Delaying The Inevitable
IDC’s right; the PC is dying. It’s inevitable, and Microsoft is merely rearranging desk chairs on the Titanic. But in this case, there’s a chance the ship could make harbor before it sinks.
Notebooks will eventually give way to tablets, whether or not they have a keyboard attached to them. Microsoft won the desktop, and it won the notebook. Now it needs to win tablets. If it shows weakness now, it will be buried.
Can Microsoft throw enough money at these problems to fix them? It may have to. It can patch Windows 8, and Intel can help keep prices falling. But the apps and mobile problems require more extensive surgery, and the time to act is now.
View full post on ReadWrite
The European Commission is now seeking feedback on Google’s cosmetic search result changes that aim to settle a years-long antitrust investigation. The EC also revealed some images illustrating what Google’s results might soon look like.
View full post on Search Engine Watch – Latest
I suffer from panic attacks. At least, I used to – I’ve not had a single one since I got my iPhone. And I’m convinced these two things are related.
You may not know this, but panic attacks are surprisingly common. According to a study backed by the National Institutes For Health (NIH), 1 in 8 Americans will experience a panic attack at least once during their lifetime.
Perhaps any smartphone would help, or even any device capable of creating both distractions and social connections. For me, though, having my iPhone always nearby, always on, its many features and functions ready to occupy my mind, my eyes, ears and fingertips, is often enough to reduce the onset of an attack. The device seems to draw out, bit by bit, all those fears, worries and repetitive patterns that used to conspire to throw me into despair, fear and then panic.
If it really is the iPhone that’s helped mitigate my symptoms, and I believe it is, then perhaps others who suffer from similar attacks – and own a smartphone – can also find some relief.
What Is A Panic Attack?
The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as:
A sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
In a panic attack, the overwhelming sense of fear, as real as it is inexplicable, wreaks havoc not only on your psyche but on your daily contribution to the world. An attack can strike seemingly at random: at home, with friends at a bar, at work, standing in line at Starbucks; anywhere, anytime. That’s what makes them so debilitating.
Twice, I went to the hospital, convinced my symptoms meant an impending drop-dead heart attack. Both times I was told I was not having a heart attack. Eventually, I was diagnosed as suffering from anxiety disorder – which can lead to panic attacks.
To treat anxiety, doctors recommend exercise, meditation, more sleep and visualization techniques. For those who suffer full-blown panic attacks, professional help is suggested, as is medication. I was prescribed Prozac. Since getting an iPhone, however – though my case absolutly may not be typical – I have been able to gradually reduce my daily Prozac to its lowest available dosage. I expect to soon be off it entirely. I have also stopped seeing a therapist.
Using The iPhone To Improve My (Mental) Health
The potential for the iPhone to aid physical healthcare delivery and diagnostics is well documented. The market for smartphone tools that aid mental health is far less robust. But they do exist. For example, the iPhone app Viary, leverages traditional cognitive behavior therapy techniques:
Together with a therapist, Viary’s clients choose specific actions that will help them achieve a desired goal. For example a client may decide that exercising, eating healthier food, and listening to classical music makes them feel less depressed. Viary sets reminders for these behaviors – walk for 15 minutes every morning, take a vegetarian lunch, tune into some Beethoven etc, – and the app then collects data on these completed actions. Therapists or coaches can then monitor a client’s progress in real time and even respond.
For me, however, I’m convinced that simply possessing an iPhone has improved my mental health. No matter what symptom crops up, using the iPhone helps calm me down and makes me feel more connected. If I feel inexplicably worried, no matter where I am, no matter who I am with – and this is out of necessity – I pull out my iPhone and start texting. I later apologize to those I am with.
If I feel alone, I call someone. If I get angry, I play a game – preferably online, with friends. When I am bored, I read on my Kindle app. When I can’t get a song out of my head, I take to Twitter. If my breathing seems off, I make reminder lists of what I need to do for the day, the week, the rest of my life. If the feelings persist, I open Evernote and scroll through all the notes that have a “thankful” tag attached to them.
If I feel like I can’t leave the house, I check my Fitbit app, find out how many steps I’ve taken that day, then tell myself I will go outside just long enough to add 1,000 more to my total. This usually works.
Sometimes, when things get really dark, I scroll through my photos, which makes me happy. If that’s not enough, I make notes to myself of everything I am grateful for – then email them, knowing my wife can later access the account.
And when I feel good, good enough even to help others, I sit in the sun, pull out my iPhone and write a blog post. Like now.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
View full post on ReadWrite