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Date: Saturday, 19 Apr 2014 01:49

Nike has let go most of the members of its FuelBand wearables unit and will stop developing new versions of the device, according to a report by CNET. The tech news site quoted an unnamed person “familiar with the matter” as saying that the firm has laid off 70 to 80 percent of its 70-person hardware division and will not produce a new version of the FuelBand, but will continue to sell the existing version. Some industry observers believe Nike has decided to align itself with Apple, which is expected to launch an iWatch or other wearable device that might run Nike’s Fuel software. Apple CEO Tim Cook is a member of Nike’s board.

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Author: "Mathew Ingram" Tags: "FuelBand, nike, wearables"
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 21:23

For a generation obsessed with selfies and taking pictures of any meal set before us, mobile photography has become second nature. We reach for the closest camera — normally our phones — and take photos of everything from sunsets to coffees, posting them to Instagram to see how many likes we can get. Snapwire, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based startup emerging from beta mode, wants to connect the new photography generation with clients who need their talents and are willing to pay for it.

“This new generation of photographers did start out on mobile and they are the ones who have the most passion for their photography. They’re the ones who are assembling in San Francisco to do Instameets and to really get that validation on the photographs,” said Chad Newell, founder and CEO. “So we built Snapwire to give them the opportunity to sell their work, the ultimate validation really.”

Snapwire's homepage invites users to search for an image from their growing library or to create their own request. Photo courtesy of Snapwire

Snapwire’s homepage invites users to search for an image from their growing library or to create their own request. Photo courtesy of Snapwire

The site has already attracted more than 8,000 users and 50,000 image uploads — not to mention the eye of some bigger advertising clients like Denny’s who are looking for images — and they’re now working to secure another round of funding. Snapwire is different from normal stock photography websites in that it specializes more in creative collaboration and crowdsourcing — think 99 Designs more than Shutterstock.

Anyone looking for an image — whether it’s Denny’s wanting a late-night diner shot or a mobile app looking for a brand image of strangers falling in love — can post a creative request and assign a price based on their budget. Photographers can then upload photos to match or ask questions to the requester, similar in style to TaskRabbit.

Screenshots of the mobile app show a list of requests, a sample request for a photo and a photgrapher's profile. Photos courtesy of Snapwire

Screenshots of the mobile app show a list of requests, a sample request for a photo and a photgrapher’s profile. Photos courtesy of Snapwire

The buyer goes through and nominates finalists, which in turn rewards the photographer with points, before purchasing their final photograph under a royalty-free license. Snapwire then collects 30 percent of the earnings with 70 percent going to the photographers themselves, who also get to keep the copyright. Snapwire also has the option of selecting some of the images to add to its standalone stock photography library that anyone can search and buy from (although the pricing and payouts are different).

The advantage of the request system is how well it works in mobile. A photographer can open the app and see that someone needs an artsy photo of coffee and take a quick photo next time they stop for a cup of joe. But to avoid flooding the marketplace with every image of a coffee cup ever taken, photographers first have to submit a portfolio of four photos to be approved by the Snapwire staff. Once approved as a photographer in the app, users can earn points when their images are purchased and move up in the site’s photographer rankings, essentially gamifying it too, Newell said.

And the site isn’t strictly mobile either. About 30 percent of the images still come from DSLRs and can be uploaded through the main site or through Dropbox integration in the app, Newell said. Someone with a DSLR can check the app on their phone, see an assignment for the Golden Gate Bridge and grab their camera to shoot it.

“The lines are blurring right now on mobile versus traditional,” Newell said. “So many of our devices can be used because it’s the most convenient camera that we have with us.”

Snapwire’s not the first to head into the mobile realm of stock photography though — and it’s a tough market to break into. Other companies like Twenty20 also allow photographers to shoot more authentic photos and upload from their phones. Foap also specializes in the the camera phone to company, including a Foap Missions feature similar to Snapwire’s request function to help brands direct the photos they want.

Most recently, Getty Images quietly released Moment, a similar app to Snapwire that lets mobile users directly upload to Getty and respond to requests. That means a very big dog just entered a very crowded fight for mobile photography talent.

Author: "Biz Carson"
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 19:30

After months of delays, SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off today carrying cargo bound for the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule inside the rocket, which will complete the final leg of the journey to the ISS, contains an array of important science experiments, including NASA’s OPALS project, which will test using a laser to transfer data between the space station and Earth. SpaceX will also deliver parts to repair a broken backup computer that is involved in the ISS’s robotics system.

The launch was originally tentatively scheduled for September 2013, but was pushed by repeatedly by NASA due to limited docking opportunities and equipment issues on the ISS. SpaceX scrubbed a launch on April 14 after experiencing a helium leak.

Today’s take off marks SpaceX’s third mission carrying cargo to the ISS for NASA.

The Dragon spacecraft separates from the upper stage of the Falcon rocket minutes after liftoff. The enhanced Dragon includes additional powered cargo locations and double cold bags, avionics water-proofing for post splashdown survivability, enhanced cargo racks for down mass return and cameras and lights in the unpressurized section. Photo credit: NASA

The Dragon spacecraft separates from the upper stage of the Falcon rocket minutes after liftoff. The enhanced Dragon includes additional powered cargo locations and double cold bags, avionics water-proofing for post splashdown survivability, enhanced cargo racks for down mass return and cameras and lights in the unpressurized section. Photo credit: NASA


Author: "Signe Brewster" Tags: "Rockets, space, SpaceX"
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 17:55

This spring is shaping up to be a very contentious season for almost everyone that has a stake in the country’s wireless airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission on Friday released its recommendations for how the upcoming broadcast airwaves incentive auction should be conducted. It will impact mobile carriers, internet companies, TV broadcasters and proponents of free-to-use unlicensed spectrum.

The incentive auction will be the first of its kind, requiring an enormously complex process involving a reverse auction, a reconfiguration of the UHF TV band, and a forward auction of newly created 4G licenses – and there’s no guarantee that the FCC can pull it off.


FCC incentive auction

Source: FCC

The spectrum in question is in the 600 MHz UHF band, which now carries TV signals in markets all across the country. However, mobile carriers have long had interest in the band, because its low frequencies would enable their LTE signals to propagate further, creating higher coverage networks.

Now the FCC has to convince hundreds of TV stations around the country to sell off their licenses and instead share channels with other stations, migrate to the VHF band or go off air entirely. If enough broadcasters participate, the FCC will get enough spectrum to hold a traditional spectrum auction for mobile carriers – if they’re willing to meet the broadcasters’ prices. That’s a lot of ifs.

The nuts and bolts

The FCC’s report and order (R&O) – which will go before the full commission in its May 15 meeting – tries to maximize the chances that the incentive auction doesn’t flop by creating as much leeway in the process as possible. The R&O recommends splitting the airwaves into the small discrete chunks of 10 MHz (5 MHz for the uplink and 5 MHz for the downlink). Then it would split those licenses up geographically into partial economic areas (PEAs) that would allow operators to bid on them on market-by-market basis (as opposed to the big nationwide or regional licenses the FCC has auctioned in the past).

Source: Shutterstock / Refat

Source: Shutterstock / Refat

So, for instance, if many broadcasters in LA decided to part with their airwaves, the FCC could still auction off multiple 4G licenses in southern California even if broadcasters in New York decide not participate. And if only a few broadcasters in any given market are interested, the FCC could still pull out some usable 4G spectrum (it only takes two 6 MHz broadcast licenses to create a single 10 MHz mobile broadband license).

The other big issue is how much new unlicensed spectrum would be created in the band. As opposed to licensed airwaves, which are controlled by a single carrier, unlicensed are open to anyone to use and form the backbone of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communications. In lower bands like 600 MHz, those airwaves could be used for new longer-range white spaces broadband technologies.

While unlicensed advocates want the FCC to dedicate as many as 24 MHz for free-to-use airwaves, the FCC’s proposal would set aside one specific band for unlicensed: Channel 37, which is used today for radio astronomy and medical telemetry. But the FCC would also allow unlicensed use in the “guard band” between TV and mobile broadband – think of it as DMZ where no cellular or broadcast signal can tread – and a section of airwaves called the duplex, which divides the uplink 4G signals from downlink signals.

Source: Shutterstock / iconmonstr

Source: Shutterstock / iconmonstr

When repacking broadcasters’ 6 MHz channels into 10 MHz licenses, the FCC would add all of the leftover megahertz onto the guard and duplex bands, so the more broadcasters participate in the auction, the more unlicensed airwaves will be created in a given market. FCC officials estimated that could be anywhere between 12 and 20 MHz.

What’s at stake

There’s a lot on the table, and there are lot of competing interests taking their seats, some of whom may elect to take their chips and leave. The FCC has to convince broadcasters — who tend to have a deep distrust for their regulator — that this auction is in their best interests. Meanwhile, the carriers are fighting amongst themselves about how the spoils will be split.

The FCC’s R&O doesn’t even address one of the most controversial parts of the auction: whether AT&T and Verizon will face restrictions on how much spectrum they can bid on in any given market. Congress is calling for an unfettered auction where AT&T and Verizon have free rein, though lawmakers seem more concerned about boosting auction revenue for federal coffers than they are about competition.

FCC Commissioners (L to R): Commissioner Ajit Pai, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Chairman Tom Wheeler, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly (Source: FCC)

FCC Commissioners (L to R): Commissioner Ajit Pai, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Chairman Tom Wheeler, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly (Source: FCC)

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is backing plans that would limit those two megacarriers’ ability to bid in the auction to ensure smaller regional carriers, as well as Sprint and T-Mobile, will be able to pick up licenses. AT&T this week threatened to back out of the auction entirely if the final rules go against it. Whether AT&T is just posturing remains to be seen, but if it sticks to its threat it would take a major bidder out of the auction, and increase the chances the FCC fails to meet its bidding revenue targets.

The auction is still over a year away, scheduled for mid-2015, but one thing is for certain. Nailing down the rules of the auction is going to be a long, controversial process, all the way up until the first bid is placed.


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Author: "Kevin Fitchard" Tags: "4G, AT&T, Bluetooth, broadcasters, c..."
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 17:00

In this week’s bitcoin review, we recap how MtGox and the hunt for bitcoin’s creator have managed to dominate headlines again.

This week in Satoshi Nakamoto: Is it Nick Szabo?

It’s a new month, so it’s time for a new bitcoin creator candidate and MtGox scandal. Up to bat for Satoshi Nakamoto this week is Nick Szabo.

Szabo, a respected blogger, was identified as a potential creator of bitcon after a forensic linguistics study said his writing patterns had an “uncanny” likeness to that of the original bitcoin paper. The Aston University study matched a different, independent study from December that also identified Szabo as a possible author.

Reaction on Twitter and Reddit has been mixed — while Szabo has been on the top of many people’s lists for some time, he’s also repeatedly denied it and people who know him are stepping forward to support his denial. While the study possibly matches Szabo to the paper, it doesn’t mean he’s the sole creator either. Another commonly held belief is that Satoshi Nakamoto might be a group of people under that pseudonym — if so, Szabo might just be a piece of that puzzle.

Meanwhile, MtGox continued its struggles in court. Last week, it was rumored that the exchange’s CEO Mark Karpeles would be arrested if he attended a hearing about the exchange in the US. He obviously didn’t attend, but his legal team is pushing ahead in the U.S. courts and is trying to recover $5 million that had been seized by the Department of Homeland Security. In Japanese bankruptcy court, the MtGox team asked to switch to liquidation proceedings rather than restructuring, lessening the chance of recovering any of the missing money.

The market this week

Bitcoin didn’t stay below $400 for long. The price has climbed more than $100 this week, closing some days as high as $530. The market closed at $494.10 on Thursday, but had fallen to $478 at 9 a.m. PST.
Coindesk bitcon chart 41714
For background on why we’re using Coindesk’s Bitcoin Price Index, see note at bottom of the post. 

Here are some of the best reads from around the web this week:

  • Don’t hold your breath for bitcoin purchases on Amazon — the e-commerce titan said it doesn’t have any plans to “engage” in bitcoin commerce.
  • If you’re bitcoin mining, it might help to have your dad’s power plant be the one to generate the electricity.
  • It’s been a week for bitcoin documentaries. CNBC has a great one here while there’s also a more stylized documentary, The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin, circulating the film festival crowd.
  • Dogecoin, meet Dogecon. The shiba inu and comic sans-loving altcurrency is hosting a meet up next week in San Francisco. I’ll be attending, but City AM is right to question whether Dogecoin is starting to cannibalize itself.

Bitcoin in 2014

The history of bitcoin’s price

A note on our data: We use CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index to obtain both a historical and current reflection of the Bitcoin market. The BPI is an average of the three Bitcoin exchanges which meet their criteria: Bitstamp, BTC-e and Bitfinex. To see the criteria for inclusion or for price updates by the minute, visit CoinDesk. Since the market never closes, the “closing price” as noted in the graphics is based on end of day Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or British Summer Time (BST). 

Feature image from Pond5/StevanoVicigor

Author: "Biz Carson" Tags: "BST, GMT"
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 16:53

Distributed computing is nothing new, but like the Big Bang, what was once contained as a singular node of computing has exploded into an ever-expanding number of real and virtual machines traveling farther and farther from any central origin. It’s not a perfect metaphor. There was never just one mainframe or one data center, but the thinking is similar. The number of nodes is increasing and their placement on the network is moving further and further out.

Which is why this year at Structure we’re pushing further and further into use cases and an understanding of how one builds computing that no one organization has control over. Can computing embrace entropy while still delivering reliable results? The event, held in San Francisco on June 18 and 19, attempts to discover how big names in webscale computing are thinking about the edge and designing applications that can span both the cloud and individual sensors. But while the Googles and Facebooks might be the leading edge, how far can companies like HP or VMware drag enterprise clients into the future, and what’s keeping them back?

1. An application that lives in every time zone

Over the years Google has driven the technology behind distributed computing with technologies such as Map Reduce and Spanner. It is clearly thinking about how to build applications that aren’t isolated in one data center or even one time zone. This type of distributed thinking is behind its latest networking investments and is why Urs Hölzle, SVP Technical Infrastructure and Google Fellow, is speaking at the Structure. But we’re also bringing in others who understand these problems including Facebook’s Jay Parikh and Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie.

Urs Hölzle

Urs Hölzle

2. Building trust on untrusted hardware

Securing more and more devices isn’t just hard, it’s becoming impossible as we span different clouds, data centers and networks. With security flaws like Heartbleed or weak physical endpoints such as the point of sales terminals that led to the Target data breach, we’re going to need a new model for security. Matthew Prince, the CEO of CloudFlare has a some ideas on how we implement security in this brave new world.

Matthew Prince

Matthew Prince

3. Going to light speed

It’s not enough to say that computing will need to occur over a greater number of devices. We also have to improve the speed that information travels over the myriad networks it will have to traverse to help with real-time data processing. We’ll also need new forms of memory capable of holding more data close to the compute and possibly containing its own processing. Speakers such as Andreas Bechtolsheim of Arista Networks, Dianne Bryant of Intel and Vinod Khosla can help us understand the hardware problems in these three areas and potential solutions in the works.

Andy Bechtolsheim

Andy Bechtolsheim

4. Leave no computer or company behind

This concept of an explosion of data and endpoints is nothing new to enterprise, which has dealt with this since mainframes evolved to the personal computer and now to every employee bringing his or her own device. But each evolution has led to more complexity and now the pressure is on to rethink the overall architecture to focus on agility. We’re bringing in Jamie Miller, the SVP and CIO of GE; Jeffery Padgett, Senior Director, Infrastructure Architecture for Gap; Don Whittington, VP and CIO of Florida Crystals; and Stephan Felisan, VP Engineering & Operations at Edmunds.com to explore how old-line companies will make this next evolution.

Jamie Miller

Jamie Miller

5. Abstract everything you hold dear

Part of the promise of this new style of computing architecture is that more people without deep technical skills can use technology to improve their business. But to make this possible, you have to make hard tech easy. Abstraction is how most companies are choosing to do this. We’ll have the granddaddy of abstraction, Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogels, onstage to discuss how far the world’s most popular public cloud can take that concept. Mike Curtis, the VP of Engineering at Airbnb, will also join in, discussing the practical limitations of such a strategy.

Mike Curtis

Mike Curtis

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Author: "Stacey Higginbotham" Tags: "Amazon, cloudflare, Facebook, Intel, Mic..."
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 16:50

On Friday, social network and recruiting site LinkedIn announced via blog post that it had officially surpassed 300 million members, with 100 million members based in the U.S. alone. Acquiring roughly 100 million users since January 2013, the company noted that much of the growth in traffic has come from two areas: internationally and on mobile. LinkedIn stressed that it was on the verge of its “mobile moment,” meaning that sometime in 2014, mobile use will actually surpass desktop traffic. Both feed directly into each other — apparently mobile accounts for more than 50 percent of LinkedIn’s international traffic already. But the company conveniently side-steps any stats related to Monthly Active Users, perhaps a sign that the company is still trying to make its platform a daily destination.

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Author: "Lauren Hockenson" Tags: "business, LinkedIn, Mobile, social media..."
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 16:00

At Nokia’s Here connected car division in Chicago, researchers are pouring over crowdsourced vehicle data from all of the world, trying to figure out how our future autonomous vehicles should comport themselves on the road.

By comparing high-definition mapping data against the measured behavior of real vehicles, Here is determining the most optimal, safest and most fuel-efficient way for autonomous vehicles to drive on any given highway or through any feasible intersection. There’s only one problem.

The optimal way to drive is not the way real humans actually drive. The traffic patterns on our highways and roads today would look very different if they were completely populated by autonomous cars. Those cars would space them themselves far more closely than all but the most aggressive tailgaters would feel comfortable with. They’d brake too soon when coming at curves, and then they’d accelerate through those curves at speeds fast enough to turn some people’s stomachs.

Ogi Redzic, Nokia Here VP of Connected Driving (Source: Gigaom / Kevin Fitchard_

Ogi Redzic, Nokia Here VP of Connected Driving (Source: Gigaom / Kevin Fitchard_

This presents a problem for Nokia and other companies developing driverless car technologies, Here VP of Connected Driving Ogi Redzic said. In these early days of autonomous driving, the auto industry has to take into account the foibles of human nature and the ingrained wisdom of the road when programming the driver logic of the first autonomous cars. Otherwise independently acting vehicles might create the congestion and cause the accidents they’re intended to avoid as human drivers react to their seemingly erratic behavior.

“Autonomous cars have to drive similarly to how humans drive,” Redzic said. “We have to humanize autonomous driving for it to gain acceptance.”

That doesn’t mean training driverless cars to weave within their lanes or flip off pokey drivers as they pass them on the shoulder. But it does mean programming some inefficient behavior into vehicles, getting them to match the typical patterns of human drivers as they, say, navigate a particularly sharp curve or position themselves between vehicles in traffic, Redzic said.

Nokia Here's depiction of traffic speed patterns in a European city (Source: Nokia)

Nokia Here’s depiction of traffic speed patterns in a European city (Source: Nokia)

That won’t always be the case, Redzic added. Emulating human driver behavior will be key in emerging Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, which will take control of the wheel and peddles in emergency situations or give the car a slight nudge when it meanders outside of its lane, and in the early days of fully autonomous cars. But as more autonomous cars make it onto the road, Redzic believes humans will start adapting their behavior to the driverless cars, rather than the other way around. Redzic said he couldn’t predict an exact moment, but the day the number of autonomous cars match the number of human-controlled vehicles would be a good starting point.

Ultimately human driver behavior will have to change. We tend to think of driverless vehicles as a convenience — putting your car on autopilot so you can check your email without careening into a school bus — but there’s a much bigger picture.

Source: Shutterstock / TonyV3112

Source: Shutterstock / TonyV3112

Autonomous and connected cars will be much more efficient cars. Vehicles with similar destinations will “platoon” on the highway, minimizing lane changes and easing congestion. Vehicles connecting to our transportation infrastructures will be able to route around accidents and make more efficient use of all the streets, roads and highways available.

With governments reluctant to invest more money in transportation infrastructure and the number of vehicles on roads only increasing, a key mission of the autonomous driving will be to pack as many automobiles as possible onto our existing roads, moving them from their various point As to Points Bs in the most efficient manner possible while minimizing the fuel they consume and the greenhouse emissions they produce. The alternative is global gridlock.

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Author: "Kevin Fitchard" Tags: "ADAS, autonomous cars, connected car, dr..."
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 15:55

This week make sure you check out our latest research report on utilizing cloud computing, big data and crowdsourcing to stay ahead of the competition. Also, Gigaom’s Structure conference is happening on June 18 and 19 in San Francisco and registration is picking up, so be sure to register before it is too late. Now the jobs for this week:

We also have other listings from companies like Zappos.com, Booking.com, Raytheon and more. Click here to see what else is on our job board.

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Author: "Nicholas Walter" Tags: "Adecco, Booking.com, Northrop Grumman, T..."
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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 15:30

There is better than a good chance that while relaxing on a beach somewhere or sipping a martini in your favorite lounge you have heard music that makes raise your eyebrow and ask ”what kind of music is that?” That kind of eclectic sound — a beat blend of Asian, Middle Eastern, Reggae, Bossa Nova, dub, electronica and chillout — is something Thievery Corporation has pioneered.

Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton and Rob Garza formed the group in 1996 and captured music fans’ imagination with the release of their 1996 debut Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi. They have released eight studio albums; the latest of them being Saudade, which hit the stores on April 1, 2014. (They have also released 18 compilation albums as well.) They also started a label, Eighteen Street Lounge Music (ESL) and have introduced many genre-bending acts such as Ursula 1000 and Nicola Conte.


I have been listening to their music for almost two decades and recently I caught up with Rob Garza, who has moved to the Bay Area. The topic of our conversation was their new album, the Bossa Nova inspired Saudade, which is perhaps one of the more important releases of 2014.

Our chat wasn’t long — about 30 minutes — but we covered a whole series of topics. Of various topics, his comments about Internet culture, streaming, Spotify and label economics were the ones that were most illuminating. Here is a highly edited version of our conversation.

Om: Thank you for making time. The first question I wanted to ask you was about the creative process and the Internet — how it has changed and influenced folks like yourself.

Rob Garza: Back when we started, the internet was no were near as large as it is now in terms of music. Now everybody is using it. Back then you would actually have to go to record stores. Music was one of the ways of traveling through time and distance. Whether you go back to 1977 in London, to the punk movement or mid ’60s in Brazil to listen to Bossa Nova.

Music was a major form of that type of traveling and communication. Now it’s almost, people kind of take it for granted you can go and Google and find all the most influential Bossa Nova records, and kind of be an expert within a day or two, not really but you know what I’m saying.

I think it’s changed everything, how we make music, how we listen to music. How we consume music, how we take pictures, how we write and communicate with each other. It’s a very different world.

Do you think because of the friction to get information has gone done and out ability to get more information quickly has gone up, do you think that has given you a better ability, to understand newer music forms faster, or has it taken away that ability?

What I mean by that, when I listened to the Rolling Stones the first time, it was really expensive to buy a record when I was a kid in India. I was emotionally and financially very vested in the record and spent a lot to time trying to understand that music by listening to it again and again. Over a period of time I developed an emotional bond with it. Now, I find it much more difficult to form a bond with and artist or a song, or album in that sense.

It’s very interesting, how we value music these days. In some way’s music has lost a lot of its value, and the emotional bond that you would have with a record back in the day.

You would put it on, you would read the liner notes, you would spend the afternoon with it. You maybe listen to it a couple times and you would try to understand this particular piece of art. Now what people do — I’m even guilty of it — you have every song that you’ve ever loved on your iPod or iPhone.

I go through and I’ll listen to 30, 40 seconds of 30 different songs without getting to have, that emotional bond that I would if I actually put on a piece of vinyl, and just sit in a room and listen and connect with the whole experience of, say an album, which is kind of a foreign concept today because a lot of it is built on popularity on iTunes or Spotify, which songs are more popular by a particular artist.

That kind of connection doesn’t really exist the way that it did back in the day. With this new record, I think that we wanted to kind of explore a form of music, that’s very inspirational to us and just really dive into it. We wanted to dive into it as a whole album, rather than just one or two songs on the B side of a record.

Thievery Corporation (Rob Garza and Eric Hilton) in Washington DC

Photo of Rob Garza (left) and Eric Hilton (right) by Andrzej Liguz

One of the things which I found about this new album was that I had to listen to it at least 20 times before I actually started feeling it. I got so used to listening to tidbits of your songs, in a sense; one song somewhere, another one as part of somebody else’s playlist on Spotify, that I forgot how an album really sounded like.

Most people don’t listen to records that way (any more) and that’s the reality. Let’s say I’m a person who’s never heard of Thievery Corporation and I hear a couple songs. What am I going to do? I’m probably going to go to iTunes, pick out probably the three or four most popular songs. Download one or even a couple of them and that’ll be my experience with Thievery Corporation. Very few people probably are going to go and buy the whole record and listen to the whole record back to front, front to back, the way that we used to.

Do you think we can have an album experience in this culture of snacking, this culture of Spotify? Is there room for album listening?

There is, but it’s in the minority. Most people just want to…did you use the word snack, snack on things? That’s a good way to put it. People are just snacking. “Oh, I want to try a little bit of this. Oh, I want to try a little bit of that.” The information is just moving so quick that, in a way it’s a little rebellious to kind of make a record that’s just a soft listening, beautiful record.

Especially when we look at it, like last week it was number one on the iTunes electronic charts all week, and there’s nothing really electronic about this album, so I thought that was kind of funny.

You have an incredible vantage point. You are an artist yourself, you work with other artists; you also have a record label. You are constantly on tour. Can you talk a little bit about impact of things like Spotify, iTunes and all the digitization of music? There’s a lot of people who don’t care much about Pandora and Spotify.

Rob: It’s great that people can explore different artists, find music on Spotify, YouTube, things like that. At the same time, do I think that it’s sustainable for the music community? I don’t think so, because a lot of this money just goes back into the pockets of the tech companies. Before, it would go to major labels some things like that.


I’m not defending major labels, but at least major labels would take some of that money, and invest it to find and develop new artists, and trying to give artists a career. That’s the one…for me kind of missing link in this whole equation is that, that money goes to Google Play or goes to iTunes or goes to Pandora or Spotify.

The royalties are miniscule. Also, those companies don’t make it a habit to invest in new music, new art and new talent. It keeps a lot of resources from coming back into the community.

If you look at something like Spotify many record labels are investors in the company. So from that standpoint the money is all going back into the labels. You can say the same for Beats Music, which is owned by the music industry insiders. So, if you were to tell, for instance, the Spotify CEO what he should do in order to make the life of artists better?

The first thing to do is to be open to having a discussion to figure out what is, beneficial to everybody. What makes it win-win. What makes it more fair for people. It’s so difficult for artists today, to have a career unless you already have your, I hate to use the word “brand,” but unless you’re already an established artist, it’s more difficult than ever to make a career, or you’re able to live from making music. First, be open to discussing all of this and hearing what the artists have to say.

If you were to ask them, to do just one thing that changes a lot for the artist, what would be that thing, in your opinion?

The biggest thing people will say about Spotify is how minuscule the royalties are compared to when people were actually purchasing the music. It’s a totally different business model. You’re never going to put that genie back in the bottle, getting people to go and buy music.

We live in a streaming world…trying to increase the royalties…I hear where they’re coming from in terms of trying to increase the volume. Then if you increase the volume, more artists will get paid. I’m not sure I totally have an answer to that [laughs] question. That’s the million dollar question.

As a music lover, it used to be a lot of friction in buying your music. Internet for all its faults exposed me to a lot more music. A lot of your artists have become part of what I have acquired and I listen to often. Before that, one had to think twice before buying a CD. The internet has increased the size of your audience. There’s a lot more people who are aware of you, your group and your label worldwide, right?

It’s interesting you bring that up. One of the things that has happened through that…It’s not so much the awareness that has triggered it, but we’ve basically, essentially shut down the record label ESL.


We’re putting out Thievery records, but we’re not working with any more artists, because we’ve gotten to the situation where…Let’s put it this way. Back in the day, we knew any artists we signed, and put out the record, it would sell at least 5,000 copies. Right? You give artists an advance. There was some money to be made through selling CDs and through licensing, and touring.

Now, a lot of these artists…I don’t know if you saw that thing with David Lowery, from Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, where he talks about how, he had a million plays on either Spotify or Pandora, one of these streaming services. Basically, he earned less money than he would have made selling a t-shirt at one of his concerts.

Those are the kind of economics we’re dealing with. When you run a small independent label, at a certain point, it becomes like trying to squeeze a dry lemon. It’s a lot of work, and you’re not getting a lot of juice. In one way, it’s allowed people to learn more, about these different artists that we have on our label. Even when we were dealing when it was just, iTunes was the only thing on the block, it was a lot more beneficial and sustainable for artists.

Wow. I did not know that you had shut down, essentially, your record label, which is too bad, because you were the global sound, curator from my standpoint. Always had a lot, of interesting groups on your label. What a shame.

Yeah. It’s tough too, because these are your friends. You’re coming up to them, and they’re, “What did we earn this last six months?” Here’s the $100. Here’s the numbers to show it. You do that enough times and you’re like, “I don’t really want to be in this part of the business, because it’s kind of depressing.”

All photos courtesy of Thievery Corporation.

Author: "Om Malik" Tags: "Rob Garza, Thievery Corporation, ESL"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:53

If you know what to look for, those endless rows of corn that paint the Midwest in summer are full of a lot more than just cattle feed and future Doritos. They’re full of data.

Now, it’s not news that data science can and should be applied to agriculture. The field of precision agriculture has received a lot of attention over the past few years thanks to advances in sensors and computer vision technologies, and Silicon Valley venture capitalists are now lining up to fund startups that can apply the power of predictive models to all that data. Last year, agri-business giant Monsanto bought a San Francisco-based startup called Climate Corporation, which crunched weather, soil and all sorts of other data to power crop-insurance models, for $930 million.

But the story of Mankato, Minn.-based company Farm Intelligence is still interesting. For one, it proves that you don’t need a Silicon Valley connection to make it big in the data business. It also highlights just how much data we’re talking about when it comes to quantifying the farm. Hint: It’s a lot.

The way Farm Intelligence works, according to CTO Steve Kickert, is by working with corn and soybean farmers to help them make better and more timely decisions. It analyzes sensor data, data from other precision agriculture tools, aerial images, government data and weather data to try and figure out what’s going on in the field. It might notice that plants aren’t high enough or some are missing, for example, perhaps suggesting the presence of disease or some environmental stress. It might recognize the telltale signs of aphids.

Like a loudspeaker over the field, Kickert said, “The crop is actually talking to us.” And then Farm Intelligence talks to the farmer via visualizations and alerts telling them what it has found.

If the numbers are any indication, the product, which is delivered as a cloud service and is only a few years old (it’s actually an affiliate of an older company called Superior Edge) seems to work. Farm Intelligence is managing about a million acres of land right now (most of its users have at least 1,000 acres), but Kickert expects that number will be well into the eight-figure range soon enough. And as the technology advances, it’s figuring out ways to capture even more data about each one of those acres.

“We’re getting wider as well as taller, so to speak,” he said.

Already, added Scott Colestock, the company’s director of cloud operations, “we expect to be at petabyte scale at the end of this growing season.”

Maps of soybean production and land use in Brazil. Source; USDA

Maps of soybean production and land use in Brazil. Source; USDA

If the company can expand out of the United States and into, say South America, which produces a large percentage of world’s soybeans, its total acreage and data volume could skyrocket. Kickert stopped short of saying Farm Intelligence will outpace Google should such an expansion happen, but he does think the company could have more data than a lot of other more well-known companies.

That’s why when Kickert joined the company in 2013, one of his first orders of business was to move the company’s infrastructure into the cloud where it could scale at a moment’s notice. Now, all of its computing infrastructure is running on Amazon EC2, but it’s using a provider called Zadara to manage its growing cloud storage infrastructure.

However, while the scale of Farm Intelligence’s operations (and likely the whole field of data-driven agriculture) might be impressive, its underlying mission is the epitome of the knowledge economy. Like everyone from fertility prediction app Ovuline to music data specialist The Echo Nest, it’s taking advantage of easy access to data and cheap (easily outsourced) computing power and storage capacity in order to put information into the hands of people — farmers, application developers, hopeful mothers — who don’t want to bother with any of that.

“Our primary and, frankly, only goal is to help the farmer … increase the yield they’re getting on their crops,” Kickert said. Some of the techniques for doing that have been proven in academia for years, so now it’s just a matter of commercializing them into a product that scale across thousands of individual users.

“We’re not trying to invent the science side of it,” he said, “as much as we are trying to help the farmers access that.”

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user rsooll.

Author: "Derrick Harris"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:39

Google is apparently experimenting with making the home screen of its Chromecast streaming stick a bit more useful. A Reddit user unearthed some mentions of a weather forecast in the HTML source of Chromecast’s home screen Tuesday, which suggest that the screen could soon show the current weather as well as a one-day forecast for a user’s current location.

chromecast weather homescreen source

The code also contains links to icons used to display the weather, which look like this:

Chromecast weather icons. Background simulated.

Chromecast weather icons. (Background simulated.)

Further investigation of the Javascript code used to render the Chromecast home screen reveals that Google may actually be experimenting with a number of topics to be displayed at the home screen, which also includes a mention of personal photos.

Third-party developers have been experimenting with adding weather forecasts and other information to Chromecast ever since Google opened up the Chromecast SDK in February. It only makes sense for Google to explore this kind of functionality as well.

This post was updated at 12:54pm with an image of the weather icons.

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Author: "Janko Roettgers" Tags: "Chromecast"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:38

Well this is disappointing. Google is telling a local Austin news station that it plans to open signups for Google’s fiber-to-the-home service this summer, putting off the launch of the service until “later this year.” KXAN, an NBC affiliate, also looked at some of the permits that Google has filed to see where it might be planning to lay fiber first.

Google must apply for right of way in areas where it wants to dig and string fiber. So far, the map included with the story shows the current permits filed for areas south of the Colorado River (which is confusingly called Lady Bird Johnson Lake). Delays aren’t unusual for Google’s gigabit network deployment, but it is nice to have a new deadline. When Google said last April it was bringing fiber to Austin it had planned to connect the customers by mid-2014 and open up the signups sometime around the first of the year. It doesn’t seem like the date has slipped too far, and I was wondering what the holdup was.

Meanwhile for folks eager to get a gig today, Grande Communications is offering gigabit access for $65 to select neighborhoods where it has existing network infrastructure while AT&T is offering a 300 Mbps service that it plans to upgrade to a gigabit network later this year in two service plans (the cheaper one lets AT&T serve ads based on where you have surfed). The other incumbent ISP in town, Time Warner Cable has promised to boost speeds to 300 Mbps in Austin this summer as well.

Google isn’t even offering service in town yet, and already parts of Austin are getting better broadband. That’s cool.

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Author: "Stacey Higginbotham" Tags: "AT&T, Austin, fiber, FTTH, Google, T..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Along with the Samsung Galaxy S5, the company’s Gear Fit wearable goes on sale this week. I was impressed by the design when Samsung showed it off and a review unit is on the way so I can take a deeper dive with it. Well, not literally; the Gear Fit is water-resistant, not waterproof.

gear fitOne particular aspect of the device bugged me as soon as I saw it, however. Maybe these pictures will illustrate the problem.

Note how all of the data is displayed horizontally across the device display? Now think about how you wear and read a traditional watch: Everything is shown vertically or in portrait mode because that makes the most sense when on a wrist with your elbow bent for reading the watch.

Here’s an example showing the difference between a standard watch and the Gear Fit. As you read the watch, the traditional timepiece aligns nicely for reading while the Gear Fit requires a head tilt to read.

Gear Fit next to watch


Thankfully, Samsung appears to understand the problem. SamMobile says the company has the Gear Fit working in a vertical mode, at least in a Samsung retail store in its home country of South Korea. That suggests a software update will soon follow the Gear Fit hardware launch to align the information in a more comfortable reading orientation, making for a better end-user experience.

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Author: "Kevin C. Tofel" Tags: "Gear Fit, Gear Fit, Samsung, Samsung, sm..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 18:37

As the use of mobile devices continues to climb, the use of dedicated apps is also increasing — but is this a natural evolution, or should we be worried about apps winning and the open web losing? Chris Dixon, a partner with venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, argues in a recent blog post that we should be concerned, because it is creating a future in which the web becomes a “niche product,” and the dominant environment is one of proprietary walled gardens run by a couple of web giants — and that this is bad for innovation.

Dixon’s evidence consists in part of two recent charts: one is from the web analytics company comScore, and shows that mobile usage has overtaken desktop usage — an event that occurred in January of this year. The second chart is from Flurry, which tracks app usage, and it shows that apps account for the vast majority of time spent vs. the mobile web, an amount that Flurry says is still growing. I’ve combined the two charts into one (somewhat ugly) graphic below:

Apps vs. web

If apps are winning, is the web losing?

The implication of all this is obvious, says Dixon. Mobile is the future, and what wins on mobile will win the internet — and “right now, apps are winning and the web is losing.” Not only that, but Dixon argues that the problem is likely to get worse, as more companies realize that an app gives them much more control over the user experience than a website. And with less and less investment in making the web experience better on mobile, it will continue to deteriorate, which in turn will push users even further towards the use of apps.

“The likely end state is the web becomes a niche product used for things like 1) trying a service before you download the app, 2) consuming long tail content (e.g. link to a niche blog from Twitter or Facebook feed).”

Why is this worth getting concerned about? Because the app economy creates an environment in which “the rich get richer,” Dixon argues: popular apps dominate the user’s home screen, and therefore get used more, get ranked higher in apps stores, etc. and make more money. The result, he says, is a future “like cable TV – a few dominant channels/apps that sit on users’ home screens and everything else relegated to lower tiers or irrelevance.”

In his own blog post on the topic, Union Square Ventures founder Fred Wilson said the mobile app explosion is already having an impact on innovation. In a recent meeting, Union Square partners looked at their portfolios and “there was a palpable sense that the wide open period of innovation” that existed in 2004 or even 2008 was not as present now, thanks in large part to the rise of native mobile apps.

“It has gotten harder, not easier, to innovate on the Internet with the smartphone emerging as the platform of choice vs the desktop browser.”

Is the open web becoming less relevant?

Open sign

For me at least, this debate brings back memories of a classic Wired magazine cover story from 2010, co-written by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, with the alarming headline “The Web Is Dead.” There was much criticism of the piece at the time — including some from me in a post here — because of the way it described web usage, and also because it didn’t really distinguish between using native apps and apps that were built from open-web technologies like HTML5. That said, however, the future that Wired described — in which users primarily engage with digital content through dedicated apps from providers like Facebook and Twitter and the New York Times — has largely come true.

As a number of commenters on Dixon’s post and at Hacker News have pointed out, the Flurry chart doesn’t break out how much of the app activity is game-related, and this inflates the numbers substantially, given all of the Flappy Bird and Dots and Candy Crush behavior we have seen over the past few years. You can see that in this chart that tech analyst Ben Thompson shared in a guest post on Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg’s blog, in response to the Flurry data:


Thompson notes that there are a number of reasons why we shouldn’t panic about the “death of the web,” including the fact that in many cases mobile usage is additive — that is, the size of the pie continues to grow. John Gruber, meanwhile, says the distinction between apps and the web is in some sense almost meaningless, since most apps (including Facebook’s) are just web content in a different wrapper. He also notes that WhatsApp, Instagram and other success stories could never have happened with just the web.

Thompson and Gruber are right on many of those points. But while Thompson says writing is still relatively open despite the trend toward apps, and that “the web is like water — it fills in all the gaps,” I am left wondering how much writing and other content creation is occurring now inside walled gardens that could be outside of them. Even the New York Times has said that it sees its future being driven primarily by multiple segregated apps for its content. Is that a good thing?

Dixon and Wilson aren’t the only ones who are concerned about this trend: although his focus isn’t necessarily on innovation per se, the web’s creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has talked a number of times about his fear that the open web will be smothered by walled gardens or “closed worlds,” and proprietary services that make interaction difficult if not impossible. In a piece for Scientific American in 2010, he said that if this continued unchecked:

“We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want [and] the ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.”

Berners-Lee’s concern, not surprisingly, revolves around links — the whole purpose of the web being to link things together in interesting or relevant ways. How does that happen with apps? The answer is that it doesn’t. Even app makers whose entire business is content, like the New York Times, seem to include links begrudgingly, if at all. It may be imperceptible, but the loss of that kind of connection could have very real repercussions — and they likely won’t become obvious until it’s too late.

Post and photo thumbnails courtesy of Shutterstock / noporn

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Author: "Mathew Ingram" Tags: "Apps, Chris Anderson, Chris Dixon, Faceb..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 17:40

Lyve Minds, the personal media startup founded by former Apple exec Tim Bucher, is opening up pre-orders for its Lyve Home device on April 22nd, according to a newsletter sent out to subscribers Tuesday. Lyve Home, which helps to back up photos and synchronize them across your devices, will sell for $300, and the company just previewed some of its functionality in a stylish new YouTube video. Lyve Minds was previously known as Black Pearl Systems, and Bucher told me all about his plans at CES.

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Author: "Janko Roettgers" Tags: "Black Pearl Systems, Black Pearl Systems..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 17:29

Parents of preschoolers, get your credit cards ready: Sesame Workshop launched a new subscription video service called Sesame Go Tuesday that offers kids access to full-length, ad-free episodes of Sesame Street on the web as well as on mobile devices for $4 a month or $30 a year.

This isn’t the first time Sesame Workshop has been embraced digital distribution. Sesame Street clips are already available through the PBS Kids offering as well as on YouTube, and kids can watch some full episodes on Netflix, Hulu and elsewhere. Sesame Workshop SVP of Worldwide Media Distribution Scott Chambers told me that the non-profit likes to experiment with different platforms. “Our general approach to life is that we don’t build all of our experiences in one place,” he said.

Sesame Workshop was also one of the launch partners for YouTube’s paid subscription service. Chambers called paid YouTube channels “a great experiment,” but added that his organization is still measuring the impact it has been having. “It’s been moderately successful” so far, he said, which didn’t exactly make it sound like a big money-maker. YouTube’s free channels, on the other hand, have been a huge distribution platform for Sesame Street, to the tune of more than 1.3 billion video views and close to one million subscribers.

Sesame Workshop’s standalone subscription service follows a bigger trend of kids-focused content offerings, ranging from Netflix’s Just for Kids service to niche services like Movile’s Play Kids service. But it’s also an interesting example for unbundling, since Sesame Go offers access to episodes currently airing on TV, but doesn’t require a subscription to a cable offering. Kaltura co-founder and President Michal Tsur, whose company is powering Sesame Go, told me that she could see more media brands strike on their own with niche offerings, and that subscriptions will play an increasing role in this space. “We are moving away from ad-based monetization,” she said.

For Sesame Workshop, part of going alone was also the ability to experiment. The service offers viewers access to 30 minute long episodes of the show, which may work better when kids want to watch the whole thing but parents don’t have an hour to spare. Chambers told me that these shorter versions have originally been produced for Australian TV, and that this is the first time viewers in the U.S. have access to them. Sesame Street had always been about experimenting, he said, adding: “Back in 1969, we used a new platform called television.”

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Author: "Janko Roettgers" Tags: "Children's television series, Elmo,..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 16:47

It was only a matter of time before the over-the-top messaging apps got tired of upturning the mobile carriers’ SMS businesses and developed ambitions of becoming carriers themselves. WhatsApp is getting its own prepaid SIM card on Germany’s E-Plus, which combines unlimited WhatsApp usage with a small bundle of traditional mobile voice, data and text messages for €10 ($13.80).

WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum announced the partnership at Mobile World Congress in February, but TechCrunch and German media spotted the launch of the service on E-Plus’s website on Monday. The deal isn’t your typical mobile virtual network operator deal because WhatsApp isn’t supplanting E-Plus’s brand and selling voice and data directly to consumers. But the partnership is unique in that the prepaid service seems to focus on WhatsApp as the primary mode of communication. As WhatsApp rolls out its planned voice services this quarter, that focus could become even tighter.


We’re starting to see examples of messaging and social media companies working closely with carriers around the world. WhatsApp’s future corporate parent has led that charge. In the past Facebook penned deals with carriers like Orange to exempt its social networking traffic from customer’s data plans in its North African and Eastern European markets. And as part of its internet.org initiative, Facebook is working with Globe in the Philippines and Tigo in Paraguay to provide free or subsidized Facebook access to their customers.

In some cases OTT apps are becoming true MVNOs. In the U.S., TextNow started out as an IP messaging and VoIP provider targeting customers with iPod touches and other data only devices. But thanks to a wholesale deal with Sprint, TextNow has become an all-IP mobile carrier.


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Author: "Kevin Fitchard" Tags: "E-Plus, Facebook, Germany, messaging, MV..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 16:17

Elementum, a startup that wants to revolutionize the stodgy world of supply chain management the way Salesforce.com did customer-relationship management, announced some new headline-name investors Tuesday in Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box; Dave Duffield, who founded PeopleSoft and then Workday; Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, and others. Another new investor, Jim Davidson, co-founder and managing director of private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, now joins Elementum’s board.

The company did not disclose the amount of the investment.

With Elementum’s Transport app, companies can monitor and manage their transportation network and view each route and shipment.

Supply chain management, or SCM, is a key technology that helps manufacturers and other companies make sure they have product to build and deliver when it’s needed.  Traditional SCM players include Oracle and SAP, two companies that have already seen — and thus far withstood — a lot of disruption.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, initially spun out of Flextronics, has logged just north of $60 million in venture funding since it was launched two years ago by founder and CEO Nader Mikhail, a Flextronics veteran. Previous investors included Lightspeed Venture Partners.


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Author: "Barb Darrow" Tags: "Box, Elementum, elementum, Flextronics, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 15:55

SurveyMonkey is the world’s largest survey company and collects more than 1.5 million online survey responses every day. However, this huge volume of data presented challenges for the company’s business intelligence and site engineering groups. Typical website metrics tools were unable to provide the scope, depth and granularity of information that they required. They needed a more flexible way to drill down into data and associate online customer activity with business results.

They now use Splunk to pull all logs and other system information into their central SQL server data warehouse where it is shared via reports generated using SQL server reporting services (SSRS) and made accessible via SharePoint.

The company uses Splunk to track user activity to determine where visitors come from, such as survey pages, search engines or affiliate links. Seeing the origin of customer conversion across multiple channels allows them to optimize their marketing efforts and maintain customer satisfaction.

SurveyMonkey was able to eliminate three different analysis tools and the separate licensing costs for each with Splunk. In addition to immediate ROI, Splunk also helped to streamline metrics collection and analysis since the data is now accessed from a single solution.

SurveyMonkey also uses Splunk for SEO across their global sites. They look at page view volumes from different countries to estimate traffic spikes and determine where to devote resources to support country-specific domains.

Read more about how SurveyMonkey is using Splunk to gather business intelligence, in-depth metrics tracking and superior customer insights.

Author: "Gigaom" Tags: "Uncategorized, SSRS"
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