A couple of months ago, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone launched an app called Jelly, meant to make asking and answering random questions more fun. So, in a world where we wear out Google with inquiry after inquiry, is there really a place in the world for a QA app?
This is the question we pose on this week’s episode of Fly Or Die. Welcome.
According to John, it’s hard to get addicted to using an app like this? In fact, “it’s the stupidest thing in the world.”
I have trouble arguing here. We have dozens of social networks we can ask questions on. Twitter is great for it, and if you need video or image to ask your question, try Vine or Instagram in tandem with Twitter. Why dedicate time and energy to a whole new app for this?
There’s also the matter of networking. When a question is asked on Jelly, it’s broadcast to the whole network, as opposed to just friends and followers. This means that you can’t ask people you trust about a question, but have to ask hundreds of strangers.
At the end of the day, I gave Jelly a tentative Fly based on the fact that it’s designed well, works quickly, and seems to have some solid engagement (I got answers for every question I asked relatively quickly). John, on the other hand, hates the app with a fiery passion and gave it a very adamant Die.
Time shall tell.
Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/Fl6nbMWIOuc/
The Gillmor Gang – Doc Searls, Keith Teare, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — talk the usual smack about the complete fantasy known as IM interoperability. You’d think these stalwarts would acknowledge the Sisyphean nature of the task, but no siree Bob. Instead we have a real life get together brought to you in 6-frame stop animation courtesy Kevin Marks’ LTE.
Doc Searls and Keith Teare have more luck in the frame rate department, less in keeping secret what’s next. Something very much like what’s talked about is apparently on the way from Teare’s Just.me startup. Doc seems happy to avoid a guaranteed lifetime of dull employment, and me, I just provide no redeeming value.
@stevegillmor, @dsearls, @kteare, @kevinmarks
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
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Greetings from a rainy (but always fun) Austin, TX. As is the case leading up to every SXSW, many wonder what will be the breakout app. As someone who works in, invests in, and writes about mobile, the app that’s come up the most in conversation, offline and online, is no “secret.” It’s not too surprising given Secret launched publicly at the right time (a little over a month ago), received both critical acclaim for its design and ability to motivate people to create original content (it’s a very clever app) as well as criticism for the potential negativity and bullying which could take root inside the app (which are very valid concerns), and has updates key features at the right time — most recently adding location (nearby secrets) and the ability to share secrets to the web and, thereby, spread information to an even wider audience. Most recently, it’s been reported that Secret closed a larger round of funding.
For a number of reasons, Secret is a fascinating app. It emerges during a time when many new apps allow for (relative) anonymity and aren’t built from online social graphs but, instead, from a mobile phone’s address book. It transforms the passive-aggressiveness of a subtweet into a product, creating a space for people to speak their minds with less of the filter required by traditional social networks. It created a new type of newsfeed — the SecretFeed — which is not bound by being presented the traditional, reverse-chronological manner, which allows secrets to resurface over time. Personally, while I see the concerns, I do like the app and open it about once a day because the content is so new, fresh, raw, different — despite the fact that I stumbled across a secret where my name came up negatively in the comments from a variety of users (see picture).
Like any new product that has people buzzing, questions remain. In Secret’s case, I find those big, unanswered questions to be fascinating. In my opinion, here are the big open questions about Secret:
What Will The Company Do To Control Abusive Behavior? The top concern seems to center around the app’s potential to be used as a bullying tool, especially among young folks. My belief is the founders and investors are well-aware of these unsavory risks and will build tools, as well as empowering their community, to flag, report, and trace repeated mean-spirited behavior. I prefer to take the founders at their word and the thoughtfulness around exposing their hashing techniques and other statements leads me to believe they won’t take this lightly. (Along similar lines, how “anonymous” is identity inside the app?)
When Will The App Be Used To Break Big News? This is an exciting one. We all assume news breaks on Twitter and Facebook, but if we pause, often someone has to leak that news to a source who then puts it online. With an app like Secret, a user could post an original photograph and write a post about it, and people connected to that user can help the secret propagate through the app’s network, as well as through the web. Of course, people will also report fake news, misreport news, and other pranks. Yet, I do think Secret will be used as a whistleblowing tool and to break news and could be an interesting growth-driver as it expands, as journalists outside of tech could see it as a place to mine scoops (see below).
How Will Secret Scale Across Platforms? I’ve noticed Secret is a bit slower to load every now and then. It’s a great problem to have. While the images and posts that load appear to carry a bit of weight (which may impact load-time), I’m sure the team is working on making the system faster, as today’s mobile users have come to expect the speed of zippy apps like Snapchat. I’m sure the team is also working on their Android app, but I wonder if they’ll release it soon (to increase their user base and activity) or wait a bit. I’m also curious if they’ll ever allow user interactions through content shared from the app to the web, though that seems doubtful given the network is built from users’ mobile phone address books. (I do expect them to offer each secret on the web to be embedded as content elsewhere.)
Will Brands Find Affinity Inside Secret? I spoke about mobile at an event yesterday where many brand managers of large, international, recognizable consumer brands were in attendance. While we didn’t discuss Secret specifically, they all mentioned to me that mobile networks like Instagram and Snapchat, among others, provided a tremendous amount of interactivity with consumers. They seemed most concerned about where attention was focused. Some have tried to release their own mobile apps only to learn, after the fact, that the majority of mobile app attention is not siloed by brands, but rather through news streams and communication networks where users often opt-in to specific brands or marketing messages. If Secret grabs more and more attention (and if it grows, see below), I do think brands will pay attention and dollars will follow.
And, The Big Question: How Will It Grow? I have often argued (perhaps incorrectly, time will tell) that mobile apps which truly achieve breakout status come from one of a few buckets. There’s gaming, of course. After that, it’s apps that leverage the phone camera in some way (Instagram, Snapchat), or apps that benefit from network effects (Whatsapp and other messaging apps), or apps which aggregate consumer demand through the phone but fulfill the demand offline (Uber). Otherwise, most apps that do well have an influential “parent” with a web audience that helps move that audience to another platform.
Secret, today, doesn’t have these elements. Of course, it could (and likely will) add private messaging, as well as the ability to take pictures directly within the app. The question remains then — how will it grow into a breakout? Perhaps it grows simply on the power of lightweight web sharing combined with strong word-of-mouth. That was certainly the case during my conversations with people around the country here at SXSW. As it has done inside the Valley and tech circles, gossip seems to drive attention inside Secret, so it’s plausible to think the app would do well inside other chatty networks addicted to insider information, such as Hollywood and the Washington DC beltway.
It’s too early to call this one, and while the odds seemed stacked against Secret breaking out, any analysis is ultimately rendered moot because it will — like most things — come down to the product, to whether or not the app changes many peoples’ behavior and creates a space for people to share the things they wouldn’t in traditional manners or networks. So far, just a few months in, I’ve read Secret posts and rich comment threads on a range of topics — some trite, some thoughtful, some heartbreaking, some hilarious, and nearly everything in between. In a limited sample, people do seem to have bottled up thoughts for too long, either afraid to share them or not having the place to do so. One way or another, with all the publishing tools and sharing networks available to all of us, those secrets will eventually come out — it’s just a matter of time. It will be interesting to see this trend powers Secret’s growth outside of the echo chamber. On paper, it shouldn’t — but it just might anyway.
Photo Credit: My Secret Feed
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In 2013, eBay announced a big focus on growth in emerging markets for its marketplace, in particular, Russia, Brazil and China. Some of this growth can be enabled through localization, but the marketplace has tested a more technical approach — with machine translation — with its first big expansion effort in Russia.
To spearhead these efforts, eBay brought on machine translation expert Hassan Sawaf, a data scientist whose career spans more than 20 years in speech recognition and human translation technologies. He’s also the patent holder on hybrid machine translation, a system and method for using machine translation to translate from one language into another.
As Sawaf explains to us, language translation can be a source of friction between buyers and sellers on eBay, and his goal was to go beyond word-for-word translation into what he calls context translation. This means that Sawaf is helping build engines that ‘learn’ from context of the data (like item descriptions) rather than just more standard word-by-word translations.
Here’s the current problem eBay faces in emerging countries like Russia. eBay is trying to curate inventory from a global base of sellers and surface this to buyers in emerging eBay markets based on what ships to them in their respective countries. A Russian user can go to the localized version of eBay and see all products that are listed in Russian. When they are inputting search terms in Russian, this engine will produce search results of listings that match the query in Russian. But the Russian user’s query will not be able to see posts that match their query that were written by sellers listing in English. In order to access English listings, which do represent a considerable number of the listings on eBay’s platform, Sawaf explains, the Russian user would have to input the query on eBay in English.
“Machine translation normalizes this,” says Sawaf.
For the past year, Sawaf and his team of 14-15 data scientists and engineers have built a technology that allows Russian users to search in Russian, but be able to return queries with English listings that match. Sawaf’s technology takes it one step further, and will determine that a ‘purse’ in an item description, also refers to ‘bag,’ or ‘item,’ or ‘piece,’ providing a more accurate representation of the item in the Russian language. Sawaf says that the search technology, which just launched a month ago, returns signficantly more results for Russian eBay users. And twice the amount of users in Russia are inputting search queries in their native language. It’s unclear how this has translated into an increase sales and transactions in the marketplace, which is the ultimate goal.
Now that Sawaf has this scalable infrastructure in place, the team will be expanding this to other languages in emerging markets. We hear that the team is tackling Spanish and Portuguese, focusing on Brazil and Latin America.
Some e-commerce companies outsource some of the machine translation work to third-party providers, and eBay considered this, but Sawaf tells us that, “to develop the best, you have to do it on your own.” Plus, there is some third-party user data that eBay did not want to share with third parties.
We’re told that along with this improvement in search, eBay is also attempting to make improvements for Russian users with payments, shipping (an area that has faced some challenges in Russia) and other services in these markets. Another interesting takeaway is that eBay’s ultimate goal in these emerging markets is to offer more in B2C selling on the platforms, and find ways to get more local businesses selling on eBay online.
While eBay says Russia has been a No. 1 priority, it will be interesting to see how the improvement in technologies translates into actual sales. And how eBay’s localization performance in other markets will also be a way in which we can grade whether machine learning is working.
It’s worth noting that India hasn’t been a success story for eBay. As TechCrunch writer Pankaj Mishra wrote recently, despite entering India early, eBay has not become the dominant leader. eBay backed local e-commerce marketplace SnapDeal in a possible effort to make up for past mistakes. SnapDeal is six to seven times bigger than eBay in volume of business. Interestingly, Sawaf and eBay didn’t really mention India in the localization and machine-learning efforts.
But if eBay’s machine-learning technology can translate into an increase of sales in emerging e-commerce markets like Latin America and Russia, this could represent billions in new revenue. Stay tuned.
Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/pAP6LQO5SRg/
Google could face a penalty of up to $5 billion if found guilty by the Competition Commission of India in a two-year old probe launched to investigate if the company abused its dominant position in the business of Internet search and advertising.
India started antitrust investigation against Google in 2012 based on complaints from the advocacy group, CUTS International, and a local matrimony website.
When contacted, a Google India spokesperson said the company is cooperating with the CCI in the investigation.
Google is not new to such probes. In February this year, it settled a decade-long antitrust investigation with the European Commission and even avoided potential penalty worth $5 billion or any restructuring of the company’s businesses.
A research paper published on the website of India’s competition regulator explains the scope of this probe. According to the research first published in 2012, Google ‘s Chrome, Android smart phones and Chrome OS, all encourage use of Google’s search, which makes a thorough investigation even more essential. This is what the CCI paper accused Google of:
The issues identified in respect of Google definitely raise doubt about the conduct of the Google and needs in- depth investigation to determine whether such practices relating to search engines and advertising search market are also being resorted to in India. This is because Indian market also has no. of vertical search engines which may be feeling the brunt.
In the 2012 paper, India’s competition regulator also said it had early proof about Google abusing its dominant position in search-based advertising.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has already found “prima facie”evidence that Google had abused its dominant market position by being discriminatory in allotting keywords to matrimonial site Bharatmatrimony.com”. The probe is to focus on Ad Words – Google’s flagship advertising product and main source of revenue.
With around 200 million Internet users and a booming e-commerce sector, India offers a great opportunity for Google to make up for its lack of presence in China — the world’s biggest Internet market. But questions have been asked about how Google has been using search to promote its own services.
A Forbes India story in July last year highlighted how Google was using its dominant position in Internet search-based advertising to its own advantage. It cited examples where flight search results would display Google’s “Flight Search Service” ahead of others.
We will be updating this story with additional insights from Google and the Indian government officials.
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A few days ago Sony announced it has now sold a total of 6 million PlayStation 4 consoles. Microsoft’s next-gen equivalent, the Xbox One, has likely racked up sales of around 4 million so far. Both flagship consoles were released around the same time in late November last year, in time for the 2013 holiday season. And both companies have been shouting loudly about who’s beating whom for cumulative console and games sales globally and in key markets like the U.S.
On the cumulative console sales score at least, Sony’s PS4 appears to be edging out the Xbone, for now.
The thing is neither of these new generation console flagships is selling very well when compared with previous generations of flagship consoles. The console market appears to be shrinking significantly — and that’s evidently having a knock-on impact on games studios and game development. The big games studios don’t exclusively develop for a single platform, after all, so the health of the entire market is key to keeping games studios in business.
Crunching the numbers on sales of the new generation of consoles is a little tricky, as console makers aren’t as keen as they used to be about releasing data. That reticence itself is rather telling. But it’s possible to paint a fuller picture by looking at North American console sales data leaked by market researcher NPD’s subscribers — data that’s finding its way onto games industry forums.
Here’s NPD’s official data on console market sales in North America for January 2007 – i.e. after the last generation of flagship consoles launched back in the 2006 holiday season:
Add those numbers up and the total sales figure is just shy of 2 million.
Now here’s an equivalent list of sales for consoles this January (not an official list, since as noted above much of this data is not being officially released, but rather these figures are drawn from leaked NPD subscriber data – with further caveats being that NPD doesn’t like subscribers leaking its data so releases slightly different figures to try to identify leakers, hence the lack of concrete numbers for certain consoles):
Wii U: ~49,000
Add the January 2014 figures up and the tally is closer to 700,000. So that’s 2 million vs. ~700K — a very big market contraction, even if some of those sales figures are underestimates.
The Wii U has certainly flopped – but, taken as a whole, the console market is generally not shipping the numbers it once was. The Xbox One’s sales look especially bad compared to the previous gen Xbox 360. But even the PS2 was selling more units than the PS4 at the equivalent point in its sales cycle.
It’s been noted elsewhere that total industry sales (hardware and software) in January 2014 were down 1 percent year-over-year – and that in a year when two new flagship consoles have just been released vs the low bar set by consoles sales last year with no such flagship hardware releases to accelerate games sales. So again, not exactly a sign of a healthy market overall.
And before you say “yes but the PS4 didn’t even launch in its home market till late February,” early sales indications from Japan aren’t great either. In its second week the PS4 sold just 65,685 units, according to Japanese market researcher Media Create. That’s less than week-two sales of the PS Vita (72,479) and far less than the second week performance of the (now considered a flop) Wii U (130,653).
For a shiny new system just landed in its home market PS4 sales aren’t exactly knocking it out the park in Japan either.
One thing is certain: the cost of developing flagship console games titles continues to rise. And with fewer consoles being sold than previous generations that’s a circle that’s looking increasingly tough to square.
Even big name games studios are throwing in the towel – last year’s well-reviewed Bioshock Infinite title sold some 4 million units but that evidently wasn’t enough to keep Irrational Games in business. And that’s just one example. (See also this sobering list of games studios that have been shuttered since 2006, compiled by a member of the NeoGAF forum.)
Whatever the exact truth of the new generation of consoles sales – and it is still certainly early days for the PS4 and Xbone – it looks pretty clear that the console market overall has a big problem: aka the C-word, market contraction.
It’s not just new flagships failing to sell as well as new consoles used to; previous generations of consoles are evidently not sustaining long-tail sales as once they did either. Sales of the PS3/360/Wii are declining at an alarming rate compared to the transition from the prior outgoing platforms (PS2/GC). Those consoles stuck around selling in larger numbers for longer than their current-gen equivalents so there’s a wider market collapse going on.
Why the shrinking console market? There are likely multiple factors in play here. Not least increased gaming competition from mobile devices. And, well, increased competition for free time in general. Since 2007 mobile apps have taken off, social networking has gone mainstream, mobile gaming has spawned huge casual gamer franchises like Angry Birds and Candy Crush and the rest, and mobile messaging has gone massively over-the-top to make IMing your buddies free and easy (and yet another pull on free time).
Another problem console makers are facing is rival devices’ faster refresh cycles. Mobile devices typically get upgraded with shiny new hardware every year. While, from the other side, top-of-the-range PC hardware is now outperforming console hardware – so really hardcore gamers looking for the best in class gaming experience (at least from a a graphical fidelity/frame-rate point of view) are actually better off with a high end gaming PC than the current console flagships.
As one veteran games developer, who has worked in the industry for more than a decade and who pointed me in the direction of the leaked NPD data, put it: “The PS4/XB1 is the first generation to have technology that is worse than what is already out there. There are 2+ year old GPUs that outperform these boxes, and even budget GPUs releasing now in the $150 range outclass these machines. If you buy the highest end GPU on the market now, you have almost 3x the performance of these machines, and we are at the start of the generation. This is unprecedented.
“This means whilst the casuals are moving to mobile/web, the high end enthusiasts are moving to PC where games are better looking. The traditional consoles are caught in a pincer movement.”
Yet another troubling reality for consoles — which is really a symptom of an ailing ecosystem — is dwindling choice of games titles. The days of a wide range of console experiences – from niche small games, through a diverse array of mid-sized titles, up to the flagship triple A blockbuster titles – are gone.
The industry has condensed games development to focus on blockbuster titles – likely because of the rising costs of development requiring a commensurately sizeable pay-off at the end — and even those blockbusters are diminishing in quantity, as there are fewer big games companies left to make these increasingly expensive titles. It’s now a couple of big titles per company per year – titles that are also mostly sequels or proven formula games, rather than something new.
The result: less choice for console gamers – ergo, less incentive to buy a console in the first place. If there’s only a handful of exclusive titles to push you to buy a console, only hardcore fanboys are going to shell out the $400/$500 required to own new generation hardware. That doesn’t sound like a sustainable market.
If you look at cumulative console sales for the last generation of home gaming boxes, it’s clear how far the current gen has to go just to remain flat. The Wii sold 100 million+, while the 360 and PS3 sold ~80 million apiece — making a total of ~260 million home consoles.
At this relatively early stage the new generation stacks up as follows: Wii U at 6 million, XB1 at ~4 million and PS4 at 6 million: a total of ~16 million. So only around 244 million to go — just to perform as well as the last generation. But with game budgets increasing a flat console market isn’t a good thing. This new generation needs to be outselling the last, not looking like it’s going to have a really tough time shipping the same.
One more troubling recent development: Sony Santa Monica – the PS4 maker’s flagship North American studio — recently announced staff cuts of (purportedly) almost a quarter of the studio’s workforce. It also reportedly canned a major PS4 title it had in development.
And that’s Sony wielding the axe.
The company also just parted ways with its two-decade veteran U.S. PlayStation chief Jack Tretton — literally just last week.
To spell it out using the developer’s words again: “If the platform holder is already canceling projects (and worse, laying off development staff), then people should be looking over their shoulders.”
The big question hanging over the dedicated gaming machine is this: Is the current-generation market contraction something that can be overcome — or does it signify a more fundamental console category crisis?
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