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No one would accuse me of being a Microsoft shill. Having grown up in Linux, I have a longstanding antipathy to Microsoft’s machinations against open source (which have been thawing of late, thankfully). But after more than 10 years of raging against the Redmond machine, I’ve also developed a profound appreciation for Microsoft’s ability to make difficult technologies approachable to average users.
I’m therefore encouraged by Microsoft’s foray into Big Data. Given surveys indicating that enterprises still don’t have a clue as to what to do with their data, it’s very possible that Microsoft’s penchant for end-to-end, easy-to-use solutions could make Big Data consumable by the masses.
Raising A Data Culture In Redmond
Microsoft has a long history of data, providing data management tools to front-office workers (Excel) and back-office database administrators (SQL Server), consumer-facing services like Bing and Hotmail, not to mention its new work with Hortonworks to offer Hadoop. Given this history of data, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called out Microsoft’s ability to make Big Data accessible:
Developing the ability to convert data into the fuel for ambient intelligence is an ambitious challenge. It requires technology to understand context, derive intent and separate signal from noise. Building out a comprehensive platform that can enable this kind of ambient intelligence is a whole company initiative that we are uniquely qualified to undertake.
Of course, Microsoft’s plans at the present are merely visions. And visions can take a looooong time to realize. Anyone remember when Oracle first announced Fusion? How about when it finally delivered? Still waiting?
To Microsoft’s credit, its vision is still very cool, especially given the rampant confusion over Big Data, as Gartner discovered:
Could Microsoft do better than the existing vendor tools or open-source projects? Definitely, maybe.
A DNA Of Ease-Of-Use
Consider what Microsoft did for system administrators—or developers. Microsoft made managing networks or servers much easier by building excellent tools so you didn’t have to be a UNIX gearhead to get a good job and be productive. The same is true of Microsoft’s effect on enterprise development: The company built developer tools that made it really easy for good developers to be great, and average developers to be good.
If anyone could make Big Data accessible to rank-and-file employees, Microsoft can.
And that’s what Microsoft wants to do. As Microsoft corporate VP Quentin Clark noted, “[Microsoft's] view is that it takes the combined effect of three elements to bring big data to a billion people: robust tools that everyday people can use, easy access to all kinds of data sets, and a complete data platform.” Nadella furthers this—he said he looks forward to a time “when every employee can harness the power of data once only reserved for data scientists and tap into the power of natural language, self-service business insights and visualization capabilities that work inside familiar apps such as Office.”
Earlier this week, Nadella started to lay out more specifics to his Big Data plan. According to Nadella, the idea is to “take an architectural approach that brings together Excel on one end and SQL Server and Hadoop on the other end.” It’s still not a very concrete course of action, but it points to a future where Big Data is what everyone uses, not some special thing that an enterprise enlists PhDs to tackle.
From the front-end data analyst to back-end data infrastructure, Microsoft seems to have a holistic view of Big Data—one that seems very promising, given the company’s history of making complicated technology accessible to the average system administrator, office worker, or developer.
But will it work? That is, of course, the trillion-dollar question. Microsoft, for all its problems over the years, has the right DNA to answer “yes.”
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock
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ReadWriteDrive is an ongoing series covering the future of transportation.
Here’s something gruesome to consider: More than 200 people are killed every year when cars are reversing—most of these deaths are children. Back-up accidents also injure more than 15,000 people each year.
These factoids get more tragic when you consider that it’s usually a parent behind the wheel, and the cost of preventing nearly all of these accidents is a cheap piece of technology: A $50 camera.
Take heart. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) took a big step on March 31 to prevent those horrific accidents when it ruled that all new cars must be equipped with back-up cameras by May 2018.
Auto companies usually dig in their heels and fight against any new mandate that adds cost to a vehicle. But in this case, the cost is modest—about $150 if both a camera and screen are required, and just $50 for a car that already has a dashboard screen.
“There’s a reason we have a timeline now,” said Thilo Koslowski, a Gartner analyst for vehicle information and communication technology. “Most manufacturers are planning to put displays and screens in the cars anyway. The cost of doing this is less than one-percent of purchase price of your average new vehicle.”
There’s a well-established process of flashy new car technology eventually migrating to more proletariat vehicles. In the case of safety technologies, it started decades ago with air bags, pre-collision warning systems, and electronic stability control—first seen in brands like Mercedes or BMW models as costly options, and then finding its way to Ford, Chevy and the like.
These days, when everybody loves geek gear, consumers are only too happy to pay another fifty bucks for something cool like a back-up camera.
“Heads-up displays used to be luxury,” Koslowski said. “Now, it’s in cars from Toyota and Mazda.”
Koslowski believes more futuristic features—like self-parking and 360-degree cameras for parking assistance—will also become commonplace. That’s because these technologies, usually developed by tier-one automotive suppliers, are designed and priced at a premium when introduced in low volume. Then, these features ramp-up to larger quantities and the cost drops as they go mainstream.
“This is all planned,” he said. “It doesn’t happen by accident.”
We are already at mainstream levels with back-up cameras, which are found in approximately half of today’s new cars. Even more models have screens, due to an insatiable consumer desire for entertainment, navigation and connectivity features.
Independent car technology expert Doug Newcomb said “any automaker that’s going to have an infotainment experience needs some kind of screen.” At the same time, the cost of cameras has significantly dropped in recent years—mainly because camera components have integrated into hundreds of millions of smart phones and mobile devices.
Common Sense, Mandated
To recap in simple terms: Back-up cameras are cheap and they save lives. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to get the government or the auto industry to make them ubiquitous. It took a lawsuit by Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, to get NHTSA to act—even after it blew past deadlines established by the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007. Backup safety regulations were expected in 2011.
Cars with rear-visibility technology already earn brownie points in NHTSA safety scores—the same way the federal safety agency gives higher scores to cars with electronic stability control, autonomous braking systems, early collision warnings and lane keep assist.
“NHTSA and others have shown, statistically, that a lot of lives can be saved by these systems,” Newcomb said.
The final rules on the rear-visibility mandate, which applies to cars built after May 1, 2018, requires the field of view from the camera and screen to include a 10-foot by 20-foot zone directly behind the vehicle. The system must meet other requirements including image size, linger time, response time, durability and deactivation.
Now that we’re on course for back-up cameras, perhaps it’s a matter of time before side-view-mirrors are replaced with cameras. One week after the NHTSA ruling on back-up cameras, Tesla Motors applied to the safety agency to allow side-view cameras to replace side-view mirrors—a move that increases the efficiency of cars through better aerodynamics. And they also look pretty cool, to boot.
Images courtesy of VW XL1
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Amazon took on the big boys of streaming television at its press event in New York City Wednesday morning. On a stage decked out like a living room, the company took the wraps off its top-secret project: the much-rumored—and now very real—Amazon Fire TV.
See also: Amazon’s TV Streaming Box Is Almost Here
This little box comes with a big-ticket price: $99. No matter what the presentation slides say about “Premium Products, Non Premium Prices,” a c-note is nothing to sneeze at—especially when some competitors charge half to a third of that amount.
I previously championed a lower price, but strangely enough, the company didn’t take my advice. Well, maybe that’s not a bad thing. If it cost less, it could have disappeared into a sea of increasingly cheap competition. And that would be a shame, because maybe—just maybe—this device could be a contender.
The Fire TV comes loaded with some creative features, including voice search (through the remote control), ASAP predictive streaming (which guesses what you’ll watch next and automatically starts buffering it), and what appears to be robust—dare I say nearly console-worthy?—gaming from the likes of Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Gameloft, Disney and others. The presentation even trotted out Minecraft, which will be coming to the device later this year. (Sorry, Oculus Rift.)
Granted, some of these features could use a little work. Voice search definitely needs to cover more apps—like Netflix, for example—before it can really be handy. But I like where all this is going. At the very least, anything that gets the major streaming TV players to stop and think about attacking everyday frustrations is a good thing. Chief among them, at least for me, is searching via a directional remote control. (That’s just no one’s idea of fun.)
Chromecast made a name for itself by stripping down the streaming experience and making it dirt cheap, just $35. That seemed to inspire the trend to strip down parts and features, and charge as little as possible. And that strategy succeeded. But if everyone moves in this direction, none of streaming’s bigger issues will ever get solved.
Amazon threw hardware at the scenario. And features. It doesn’t want to offer a minimal, stripped-down experience. It dares to do something different—like be a premium product. Unlike many of its competitors.
Amazon had a front row seat for Chromecast’s success, having watched the Google gadget dominate Amazon’s own list of electronics best sellers since it launched. Had Amazon wanted to play copycat, it would have released a dongle—as many pundits predicted—and practically given it away.
Amazon clearly didn’t do that. And now, it’s pretty clear the name of the game isn’t “copycat.” It’s “chicken.”
“We’re selling millions of streaming media devices on Amazon.com,” Amazon VP Peter Larsen said at Wednesday’s media event in New York City—an oblique reference, of course, to Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV. “We hear what’s working, we hear what’s not working.”
So what does a company do with all that user feedback, which is mostly culled from its own user reviews? It goes in a different direction—head on, straight at the competition. And it’s going at high speed.
That was a recurring theme at Amazon’s event, and the audience of tech bloggers, journalists and analysts seemed genuinely wowed by the device’s demo performance. Of course, all tech demos make the hardware look amazing. That’s what they’re designed to do. But what’s more interesting is that Fire TV seems to have fans among the developer community that can attest to its responsiveness.
Plex, one of the early partners for Fire TV, vouched for the Fire TV’s speed. Plex Chief Product Officer Scott Olechowski, who has been working with the pre-release device since last September, told me he was impressed by his test unit for Fire TV, which performed for him faster than the Apple TV.
Much of that quickness comes courtesy of the hardware packed inside. “Everyone’s trying to figure out how low they can get on the hardware,” Olechowski told me. “This box feels like they put the experience first, then figured out the hardware.”
Getting developers on board is crucial for Amazon. Simply put, you need to hook the people who will be making the apps, games and streaming sources, otherwise all you have is a fancy paperweight tied to a television. And that quad-core processor, dedicated GPU, 2 GB of memory, 1080p video support, and dual-band Wi-Fi goes to waste.
In other words, those specs won’t matter if there aren’t enough streaming sources to keep customers happy.
Ready. Apps. Fire.
Amazon didn’t just pay attention to consumer experience. It courted developers. Hard.
Amazon released the developer tools for Fire TV on the same day of its release. The press announcement emphasizes particular areas, like gaming and casting features using the DIAL protocol (which allows mobile devices to interact with set-top boxes and TVs). It also underscored how easy it is for developers to bring their existing Android apps (presumably for Kindle Fire tablets) to the TV box.
Olechowski, who put Plex on sale for a limited time (from $4.99 to $0.99 now), says new Plex users can download the Android app from the Amazon Appstore to their Fire TVs, just like they do for their Kindle Fire tablets. And, he added, “if you’ve already got it on your Kindle Fire, you’ll already be entitled to this big screen version.”
Plex and others, like RealPlayer Cloud, enable users to stream their own media files to the television, and both of these are available on Fire TV at launch. So is game developer Frogmind.
“Porting to Fire TV from our existing Android version was quick and the support from Amazon was excellent,” CEO Johannes Vuorinen said in the press statement. “Combined with how good BADLAND looks from a large HDTV made the decision to port to the Fire TV platform an easy one.”
These companies join other brand-name apps that are available at launch, including Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, YouTube, WatchESPN, Showtime, VEVO, Bloomberg TV, Amazon MP3 and Pandora, among others. And Amazon’s pushing for even more to join the Fire TV’s bandwagon, with initiatives like the Appstore Developer Select Program. The plan offers help to app makers with ads, incentive programs and other revenue-generating approaches.
All this means customers could have a slew of their favorite apps ready to usher them into the TV fold—that is, if they’re Kindle Fire apps. Once again, this doesn’t extend to those other Android apps, i.e. those from the Google Play store. The reason seems obvious. The Kindle Fire HDX and Fire TV run Google’s mobile operating system at their cores, so naturally, Amazon would want to urge Android lovers to their own devices. (Sorry Samsung, HTC and Motorola. You seem to be Android non grata here.)
Another exclusion, at least at launch, is one particular big-name app: HBO GO. Its omission seems pretty glaring. (And no, Showtime just isn’t the same.) It’s likely that Amazon is working hard on this deal, and we may very well see an announcement before long. But for now, there’s no peep about the Game of Thrones’ purveyor.
Time To Stream Up Or Shut Up
Fire TV clearly has a few omissions. (It’s a bummer that there are no special perks for Prime subscribers like me.) But a quick look around the Web reveals that early impressions are generally positive—partly due to the box’s fast performance, and partly because, on Day One, it already has more streaming options than some of its other competitors. (Ahem, Apple TV and Chromecast.)
Those omissions may also be something else—perhaps a show of confidence. The company didn’t try every trick in the book or bend over backwards to beg for business. Instead, it got busy focusing on what it sees as the fundamentals. The company laid important groundwork that speak to the device’s potential, which—like anything Amazonian—is big.
Amazon will, of course, nail distribution for Fire TV. That’s what it is good at. (The device is available on Amazon online, and it will head to Staples on April 5.) The company also got developers in early, charmed them, and made sure the device was powerful enough to handle whatever they wanted to throw at it.
Meanwhile, Amazon also took a hard look at the consumer experience and vowed to solve everyday issues—like slow buffering, clunky interfaces, irritating search functions and pointless second-screen mobile experiences. And it promises to make them better with fresh thinking and creative approaches. If nothing else, that would be a welcome change.
But the Fire TV is no longer in development. It’s crossing the threshold and becoming a real product now with real customers. And it must deliver on everything it promises. Many people pardoned Chromecast for its limitations. But if they’re shelling out a hundred bucks, Fire TV consumers may not be as forgiving.
Feature image courtesy of Amazon; all others by Dave Smith for ReadWrite
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I’ve known you for a long time, though it’s been a while since we’ve talked. I know that you’re a really smart guy. So your public support for Proposition 8, an attempt to ban same-sex marriage in California, confounded me. Your boss, Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s executive chairwoman, expressed “surprise” when she learned about those views.
And now that you’re CEO of Mozilla—a position you’re eminently well suited for, and an appointment that we at ReadWrite applauded—many other people are puzzled, too.
Some members of your own staff are calling for you to step down as CEO. I actually don’t think that’s the right outcome here.
Let’s remember what’s at stake: Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser and other new technologies, is a bulwark against profit-seeking companies who seek to warp the standards of the Web to their own ends. Your ability to lead Mozilla without distraction or distrust is of vital interest—not just to your organization, but to every single human being who uses the Web.
A Marriage Of The Minds
I’ll admit that the legalization of same-sex marriage is a personal issue for me, one that I’ve dealt with for a decade. My husband and I have attempted to get married three times, with the last one finally sticking. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year overturning Proposition 8 and key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, both my state and my country now recognize my marriage.
One consequence of that: My husband and I will be able to file our federal taxes as a married couple for the first time this year. To understand the crazy illogic of this country’s shameful history of prohibitions on same-sex marriage, I really think you need to sit down and do your taxes four times, four different ways—as my husband and I have done in an attempt to comply with the various mutually contradictory state and federal laws around our relationship.
I take you at your word that your support of Proposition 8 (and political candidates who supported the gay-marriage ban) was not an act of personal animosity. But I do not understand how you can defend that decision today. That ban, after all, was found unconstitutional in California and the United States.
More importantly, key members of your most vital constituencies, Mozilla employees and developers, have expressed concerns about the personal views that led to your support of Proposition 8 in the first place. Key partners throughout the technology industry like Google and others opposed Proposition 8; it is hard to see how you can engage with these people while declaring your stance on the issue a personal, private matter. The distrust engendered by your silence threatens your ability to effectively govern Mozilla, and that’s a shame.
You’ve already said that you won’t bring any personal exclusionary beliefs to the workplace. But your actions in 2008 were not personal or private: They were public acts of speech, for which your constituents are rightly holding you accountable now. You did not merely express a personal view on same-sex marriage; you attempted to persuade others to support your point of view.
While no one can argue that your donation tipped the scales by itself, financial support for Proposition 8 played a role in its passage. And the temporary enactment of this unconstitutional attempt to deprive people of their civil rights led to real damage—damage that was eventually corrected by the courts, as injustices typically are.
An Apology That’s Due
So here’s what you need to do—not for your own sake, but for Mozilla, its employees, its developers, its partners, and Internet users everywhere.
Stop saying that this was merely a private matter that won’t affect your work as Mozilla’s CEO. That’s disingenuine and beneath a leader of your stature.
Say that whatever chain of logic led you to conclude that your personal views required you to support Proposition 8 was flawed, erroneous, incorrect. You may well maintain those same views—that’s your prerogative—but you don’t have to draw the same conclusions from them today as you did six years ago.
Go further. Say that you support the rights of people to enter into same-sex marriages everywhere. Say that you will not only support employees in the United States who are in same-sex marriages, but that you will also fight for the civil rights of Mozilla employees who work in societies with less progressive views.
Finally, make a donation equal in amount to the money you gave to Proposition 8 and candidates who supported it to the Human Rights Campaign or another organization that fights for the civil rights of LGBT people.
I honor those achievements and the new position they have earned for you. I want you to honor them, too, by making this right.
Don’t let a mistake you made six years ago become a distraction. Just admit you were wrong. Say you’re sorry. And make amends.
Photo by Frédéric Chateaux
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For consumers, Box still pitches itself as “online storage,” the kind of digital warehouse for files that’s rapidly becoming a commodity. But the fast-growing startup, as it races to take itself public, long left that market behind for its real customers—businesses both large and small.
For its big, paying customers, Box bills itself as a way of managing “content”—the virtual reams of company data generated in the course of doing business. The distinction is crucial as it seeks to convince investors that it’s not just roadkill for Google and Dropbox.
Just what is so different about this business-focused storage player? And what makes Box CEO Aaron Levie think it can succeed as a publicly traded company?
Escaping The Storage Box
Box started nearly a decade ago, at a time when the world of online storage was obviously a very different place. Levie and his cofounder, Dylan Smith, didn’t initially anticipate selling to businesses. But they came calling, and eventually Levie realized that should be his company’s focus. That was a heady insight for a college dropout. Storage may become free, he told ReadWrite in 2012—but there are other services businesses will pay for.
It won’t be easy. Google has more online capacity than just about anyone, and it’s using that clout to push prices ever lower. What it lacks, however, is a feel for the kind of customization businesses like. Its products and pricing are one-size-fits-all.
Dropbox, by far the most popular consumer file-sharing service, is now making a big push into the business market, but it has only recently tweaked its product to separate personal and business files.
That’s where Box, which now has more than 500 people working in sales and marketing, may have an edge.
A Platform For More Than Storage
For Box, that strategy includes expanding into making itself into a service that allows other companies to build their own applications using Box’s technology. Finance, accounting, and HR software all end up generating documents, and those documents need not just storage but a way to flow to the right people at the right time. That’s where Box comes in.
Box is also experimenting with new tools, like Box Notes, a document-creation tool that’s still in private beta that puts it in competition with Microsoft Office.
As well, Box hopes that businesses will build their own specialized internal applications using its infrastructure—and pay it for the privilege. Instead of relying on the traditional seat-license model, Box now aims to charge by how much customers access it services through its application programming interface, or API.
Under the new model, introduced this week at the Box Dev conference, Box is free to use until an enterprise customer makes more than 25,000 API “actions” a month. Then a $500 per month fee kicks in. (An API action might involve uploading or retrieving a file, getting a list of files, adding a comment to a file, and the like.)
How much does that allow? Kloudless, a service for integrating multiple cloud services, goes through about that many API calls in a week, Vinod Chandru, a company cofounder, said in an interview. Initially, he was worried he’d have to pay the fee. But as it turns out, third-party developers like Kloudless can keep using Box for free. Only business customers building custom applications on top of Box, like Sungevity and Random House, will have to pay up in this new way.
Meanwhile, it’s aiming to sign up customers in specific industries, like design, retail, banking, and construction, by fine-tuning its offerings for those businesses. That level of customization makes Box less of an online-storage player and more of a purveyor of specialized applications that revolve around documents
That willingness to specialize, whether it’s for customers in particular industries or for developers looking to build on top of its platform, that promises to differentiate Box from its competition. The question is whether all of these new versions of Box—outside of its original mission of storing files—will generate enough revenue to close its massive profitability gap.
Photo of Box CEO Aaron Levie by Anthony Myers for ReadWrite
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Amazon has cut the price of its online storage and compute services again, the 42nd time that the company has slashed prices on Amazon Web Services.
The price cut, announced at the AWS Summit in San Francisco, comes as little surprise. Just the day before, Google slashed its prices for Google Cloud Platform. The Amazon price cuts to AWS include:
- A 51% average reduction for Amazon S3 with tier prices decreasing from 36% to 65%
- For Amazon E2, the M3 instance type will see a 38% reduction while the C3 instance will have a 30% price decrease. Other EC2 instances (M1, M2, C1 and CC2) will be reduced between 10% and 40%.
- Amazon RDS (Relational Database) will be reduced 28% on average. The ElasticCache will have a 34% average reduction in price.
- Amazon EMR (Elastic MapReduce) will have between a 27% and 61% reduction.
With the price cuts from Amazon and Google, Microsoft is all be certain to reduce its Azure cloud prices in the near future, perhaps next week at the Microsoft Build developer conference in San Francisco. The three companies are locked into a war for developer attention, cutting prices in what has become a cutthroat market for cloud and computing services.
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Ten years ago, open source was a developer movement for developers. Not so anymore.
As a new Linux Foundation survey suggests, “business managers recognize open source software as a business imperative and are taking the lead in initiating open source participation.” This, in turn, refashions open source as a critical business driver, not merely an efficient way to write code.
Business Inmates Running The Open Source Asylum?
Once an imitator of proprietary innovation, open source has set the agenda on industry innovation for years. The biggest trends in computing—from cloud to Big Data to mobile—are all powered by open source. And business users have taken notice.
Developers used to be able to get away with delivering on business requirements by leveraging open-source software, but today’s business managers are openly asking for more open-source software.
The business reasons for getting started with open source, while different from those of developers, are compelling, according to the survey of 686 software developers and business managers:
From the Linux Foundation survey, other interesting facts arise, each of which points to a future filled with even greater business influence and involvement in open source:
- 35% of software developers get started with open source and collaborative development by contributing to an open source project in their free time;
- 44% of software developers surveyed indicate that job requirements are the top reason they started contributing;
- Interestingly, software developers with 10 or more years of experience were more likely to have started in their free time, whereas developers with fewer than 10 years of experience were more likely to start due to job requirements.
The subtext in these results is clear: Business is driving more open-source development. In fact, among business managers, 44% indicated they would increase their investments in collaborative software development over the next six months, with another 42% said they planned on sustaining their current investment. No respondents said they had plans to decrease their investment.
The Business Of Open Source
While some of this heady optimism for open collaborative development is fueled by specific projects like Hadoop or Android, much of it comes down to collaboration with industry peers and even competitors to solve hard technology problems. OpenStack, OpenDaylight, Eclipse and Linux are all exemplars of industry collaboration; for some companies like IBM, collaborative foundations are the new default for development entirely.
But the purpose behind collaborative software development has little to do with holding hands and singing “kumbaya” around a campfire. Rather, organizations look to collaborative software development to drive tangible business benefits:
This shouldn’t be shocking news. As the free and open source software movement has matured, it has tended to embrace less dogmatic licensing approaches, favoring Apache over the GNU General Public License (GPL), and to generally err on the side of adoption rather than religion. Things have moved so far, in fact, that the GitHub generation often eschews formal licensing of any kind (which, in turn, creates business problems of its own).
In every industry, organizations are pressed to do more with less and deliver software on far tighter timeframes than ever before. Google, for one, has said it couldn’t exist as it does today without open source and open standards. Other organizations are discovering that they can’t, either.
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Business 2 Community
2013: The Year SEO Just Became Marketing
Business 2 Community
2013: The Year SEO Just Became Marketing image mad men mac Google's algorithm changes have kept online marketers on their toes. We chased links, and then we ran from them. We stuffed any and all keywords, and then we turned out nose up if they …
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