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Wed, 12 Dec 2018 20:30:37 +0000
Facebook – TechCrunch

In the summer of 2012, I had just learned of a new service where a driver would pick you up in their own car, not a taxi or licensed town car. You’d be able to recognize the car by the pink mustache strapped to the front. I quickly downloaded the new app called Lyft and, intrigued, started to share it with others around the Airbnb offices.

Almost everyone gave me a same response: “I would never use it.” I asked why. “Well, I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting into someone else’s car.” I said, “Wait a minute, you are comfortable allowing others into your home and staying in others’ homes while you travel, but you don’t want to get into someone else’s car?” The reply was always a version of “Yeah, I guess that’s it—a car is different than a home.”

I was dumbfounded. Here was a collection of adventurous individuals — who spent their days at Airbnb expanding the boundaries of what it means to trust another person — but they were stuck on the subtle behavior change of riding shotgun with a stranger. I then had another quick reaction: this product was going to be huge.

Behavior Shifts in Consumer Internet

Truly transformative consumer products require a behavior shift. Think back to the early days of the internet. Plenty of people said they would never put their credit card credentials online. But they did, and that behavior shift allowed e-commerce to flourish, creating the likes of Amazon. Fast forward to the era when Myspace, Facebook, and other social networks were starting out. Again, individuals would commonly say that they would never put their real names or photos of themselves online. It required only one to two years before the shift took hold and the majority of the population created social media profiles. The next wave included sharing-economy companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber, prompting individuals to proclaim that they would never stay in someone else’s home or get into their car. In short order, times changed and those behaviors are now so commonplace, these companies are transforming how people travel and move about the world.

The behavior shifts were a change in socially accepted norms and previously learned behavior. They alone don’t create stratospheric outcomes, but they do signal that there could be something special at play.

Build an Enhanced Experience

Still, just because a product creates a behavior shift does not mean that it will be successful. Often, though a handful of loyal users may love them, there is ultimately no true advantage to these products or services.

One prime example comes to mind, the product Blippy. In late 2009, the team built a product to livestream a user’s credit card transactions. It would show the purchase details to the public, pretty much anyone on the internet, unlocking a new data stream. It was super interesting and definitely behavior shifting. This was another case where many people were thinking, “Wow, I would never do that,” even as others were happily publishing their credit card data. Ultimately there was little consumer value created, which led Blippy to fold. The founders have since gone on to continually build interesting startups.

In successful behavior-shifting products, the shift leads to a better product, unlocking new types of online interactions and sometimes offline activities in the real world. For instance, at Airbnb the behavior shift of staying in someone else’s home created a completely new experience that was 1) cheaper, 2) more authentic, and 3) unique. Hotels could not compete, because their cost structure was different, their rooms were homogenized, and the hotel experience was commonplace. The behavior shift enabled a new product experience. You can easily flip this statement, too: a better experience enabled the behavior shift. Overall, the benefits of the new product were far greater than the discomfort of adopting new behavior.

Revolutionary products succeed when they deliver demonstrable value to their users. The fact that a product creates a behavior shift is clearly not enough. It must create enormous value to overcome the initial skepticism. When users get over this hurdle, though, they will be extremely bought in, commonly becoming evangelists for the product.

Unlock Greenfield Opportunity

One key benefit of a behavior-shifting product is that it commonly creates a new market where there is no viable competition. Even in cases where several innovative players crop up at the same time, they’re vying for market share in a far more favorable environment, not trying to unseat entrenched corporations. The opportunity then becomes enormous, as the innovators can capture the vast majority of the market.

Other times, the market itself isn’t new, but the way the product or service operates in it is. Many behavior-shifting products were created in already enormous markets, but they shifted the definition of those markets. For instance, e-commerce is an extension of the regular goods market, which is in the trillions. Social media advertising is an extension of online advertising, which is in the hundreds of billions. Companies that innovated within those markets created new greenfield but also continued to grow the existing market pie and take market share away from the incumbents. The innovators retrain the consumer to expect more, forcing the incumbents to respond to a new paradigm.

(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Shape the Future

A behavior shift also allows the innovator to shape the future by creating a new product experience and pricing structure.

When it comes to product experience, there are no prior mental constructs. This is a huge advantage to product development, as it allows teams to be as creative as possible. For instance, the addition of ratings in Uber’s and Lyft’s products changed the dynamic between driver and rider. Taxi drivers and passengers could be extremely rude to each other. Reviews have altered that experience and made rudeness an edge case, as there are ramifications to behaving badly. Taxis can’t compete with this seemingly small innovation because there is no mechanism to do so. They can’t enhance quality of interaction without taking the more manual approach of driver education.

Another benefit to the innovator is that they can completely change the economics of the transaction, shaping the future of the market. Amazon dictated a new shopping experience with online purchasing, avoiding the costs of a brick-and-mortar location. They could undercut pricing across the board, focusing on scale instead of margin per product. This shifted the business model of the market, forcing others to respond to follow suit. In many cases, that shift ultimately eroded the competition’s existing economic structure, making it extremely challenging for them to participate in the new model.

Expect Unintended Consequences

It can be difficult to imagine at the outset, but if your product is encouraging massive behavior shifts, you will undoubtedly encounter many unintended consequences along the way. It is easy to brush off a problem you did not directly and intentionally create. But as the social media companies are learning today, very few problems go away by ignoring them. It is up to you to address these challenges, even if they are an unintended byproduct.

One of the most common unintended consequences nearly all behavior-shifting companies will run into is government regulation. Regulation is created to support the world as it is today. When you introduce a behavior shift into society, you will naturally be operating outside of previously created societal frameworks. The sharing-economy companies like Airbnb and Uber are prime examples. They push the boundaries of land use regulation and employer-employee relationships and aggravate unions.

I want to emphasize that you should not ignore such matters or think that their regulation is silly. Regulation serves a purpose. Startups must work with regulators to help define new policy structures, and governments must be open to innovation. It’s a two-way street, and everyone wins when we work together.

What’s Next

My advice is to start by thinking about existing categories that represent people’s biggest or most frequent expenditures. The amount of money you spend on your home, transportation, and clothes, for example, is enormous. Is there an opportunity to grow and capture part of these markets by upending old commercial models and effecting a behavior shift?

Scooter networks are a real-time example of a behavior-shifting innovation that is just getting going. It has the same explosive opportunity of prior game-changing innovations. There are still many individuals who state that they will never commute on scooter. But applying this framework tells me that it is just a matter of time before it is more widely adopted as the technology keeps evolving and maturing.

There is no magical formula for uncovering massive, behavior-shifting products. But if you come up with an innovative idea, and everyone initially tells you that they would never use it, think a little harder to make sure they are right…

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Wed, 12 Dec 2018 18:22:47 +0000
Changing consumer behavior is the key to unlocking billion dollar businesses

Nearly five years after announcing its acquisition of Oculus VR, Facebook is finally ready to put behind it the drama surrounding its founding.

Gaming giant ZeniMax Media’s lawsuit against Facebook over the misuse of intellectual property related to the founding of Oculus VR has finally been settled.

In a statement, ZeniMax CEO Robert Altman confirmed the settlement, saying, “We are pleased that a settlement has been reached and are fully satisfied by the outcome. While we dislike litigation, we will always vigorously defend against any infringement or misappropriation of our intellectual property by third parties.”

At the trial’s conclusion, the judge awarded ZeniMax $500 million in damages to be paid by the defendants, including Facebook and some of the Oculus VR co-founders, a figure that Facebook appealed and had reduced to $250 million. Following the initial verdict, ZeniMax sought an injunction on sales of Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset, claiming the device violated key IP. Terms of this settlement weren’t disclosed.

The trial was notable in that it offered a rare moment on the stand for a number of Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It also gave rare insight into the details surrounding the company’s founding and acquisition.

“We’re pleased to put this behind us and continue building the future of VR,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.

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Wed, 12 Dec 2018 16:37:30 +0000
Facebook settles Oculus VR lawsuit with ZeniMax

Nvidia is a company that has reached the highest highs and the lowest lows, all in the span of a couple of weeks.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

Over the past two months, Nvidia’s stock has dropped from a closing price of $289.36 on Oct. 1 to today’s opening of $148.42, a decline of 48.8%.

It takes a lot for a company to lose nearly half its value in such a short period of time, but Nvidia is proving that an otherwise strong technology business can disappear in a blink of an eye. The company faces an almost perfect barrage of headwinds to its core products that is stalling its plans for long-term chip domination.

To step back a bit first though, Nvidia has traditionally made graphical processing units (GPUs) that are excellent at the kinds of parallel computation required for gaming and applications like computer-assisted design (CAD). It’s a durable and repeatable business, and one that Nvidia has a commanding market share in.

Yet, these markets are also fairly narrow, and so Nvidia has endeavored over the past few years to expand its product offerings to encompass new applications like artificial intelligence / machine learning, autonomous automotive, and crypto hashing. These applications all need strong parallelized processing, which Nvidia specializes in.

At least part of that story has worked well. Nvidia’s chips were extremely popular in the crypto run-up over the past few years, causing widespread shortages of the chips (and annoying its core gaming fans in the process).

This was huge for Nvidia. The company had revenues of $1.05 billion for the quarter ending Oct 31, 2013, and $1.31 billion two years later in 2015 — a fairly slow rate of growth as would be expected for a dominant player in a mature market. As the company expanded its horizons though, Nvidia engorged on growth in new applications like crypto, growing to $3.2 billion in revenue in its last reported quarter. As can be expected, the stock soared.

Now, Nvidia’s growth story is being hammered on multiple fronts. First and foremost, the huge sales of its chips into the crypto space have dried up as crypto prices have crashed in recent months. This is a pattern we are seeing with other companies, namely Bitmain, which has made specialized crypto chips a major part of its business but has lost an enormous amount of its momentum in the crypto bust. It announced it was shuttering its Israel office this week.

That bust is obvious in Nvidia’s revenues this year: they are essentially flat for three quarters now, hovering between $3.1 and $3.2 billion. Some have called this Nvidia’s “crypto hangover.” But crypto is just one facet of the challenges that Nvidia faces.

When it comes to owning next-generation application workflows, Nvidia is facing robust competition from startups and established players who want access to this potentially gigantic market. Even its potential customers are competing with it. Facebook is reportedly designing its own chips, Apple has been doing so for years, Google has been in the game a while, and Amazon is getting into the game fast. Nvidia has the know-how to compete, but these companies also understand the nuances of their applications really, really well. It’s a tough market position to be in.

If the challenges around applications weren’t enough, geopolitical tensions are also causing Nvidia serious harm. As Dan Strumpf and Wenxin Fan wrote in the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago in a deep dive, the company is emblematic of the challenge Silicon Valley firms face in the US / China trade standoff:

Nvidia executives are watching the trade fight with growing unease over whether it will curb its access to Chinese customers, according to a person familiar with the matter. Almost 20% of Nvidia’s $9.7 billion in revenue last year came from China. Many of its chips are used there for assembly into other products, and it has invested heavily to tap China’s burgeoning AI industries.

The company also is concerned that deteriorating relations between the world’s two biggest economies are causing Beijing to double down on efforts to reduce reliance on U.S. suppliers of key hardware such as chips by nurturing homegrown competitors, eating into Nvidia’s long-term business.

Crypto, customers, and China. That’s how you lose half your company’s value in two months.

Quick Bites

HWed, 12 Dec 2018 14:55:39 +0000
After losing half its value, Nvidia faces reckoning

Facebook today announced a redesign of its “Life Events” feature, which allows people to share significant milestones in their life, like an engagement, graduation, a new job, a move to a new city and more. The feature has existed since the launch of Timeline, but has to date offered a fairly nondescript type of post. Today, that’s changing, Facebook says. Now, users will be able to add animated photos or videos, photos from the people or Page you’ve tagged (like those of your partner or your new workplace), or you can pick an image from Facebook’s own art collection, if you don’t have your own.

The photos and videos you post will also have subtle animations, like slowly zooming in, to give the post more attention. And you can still pick an icon to represent the life event, as before.

The idea behind the redesign is to give these sorts of posts a better way to stand out from other posts, the company explains.

Of course, Facebook likely wants to increase the feature’s adoption, too, as it’s a straightforward way to collect profile data on an individual that they may not have otherwise filled out — like where they live, where they work or their alma mater, for example.

Facebook will also now alert your friends directly when you’ve shared some life events, it says.

For certain types of life events — like changes in your current city, work, education and relationship status — your friends may receive a notification to let them know about the news. This ensures they won’t miss the update if they were just casually scrolling their News Feed. And it’s a way to make sure the event gets seen by your broader network of Facebook friends — including those acquaintances whose updates don’t regularly show in your News Feed, as Facebook’s algorithms have determined you aren’t close.

In addition, when you react to a life event someone else posted, with a like, wow, heart, etc., Facebook now shows all the other reactions from friends alongside your own.

Perhaps most importantly is that Facebook is finally giving life events a place of importance on users’ profiles.

While the feature for years has been touted as a way to remember significant events, it’s actually been fairly difficult to relocate your older life event posts from years ago. With the update, however, life events will have their own dedicated section on user profiles. (You can opt to hide a life event here by tapping the “…” button then selecting “Hide from Timeline,” if you choose).

This will give people visiting your profile for the first time a way to get to know you by way of the most important moments you’ve shared through this feature. That may not be something everyone is comfortable with, though, so you’ll want to check to see if there are any older life event posts you need to hide or delete.

The updated life events are rolling out worldwide on iOS, Android and desktop beginning today, and will be completing in the days ahead.

Facebook Life Events

Posted by Facebook on Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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Wed, 12 Dec 2018 03:02:02 +0000
Facebook redesigns Life Events feature with animated photos, videos and more

Update 2: Everyone has been cleared to return to the buildings. Facebook spokesperson Genevieve Grdina issued this statement: “Late this afternoon, we received a bomb threat and took swift action to evacuate several buildings at our Menlo Park campus. We take the safety and security of our people at Facebook extremely seriously and are glad that everyone is safe. We are working closely with local authorities to investigate this threat and further monitor the situation.”

Update: Facebook has confirmed that it is looking into a bomb threat on its Menlo Park campus. A few buildings, but not all, were evacuated, and everyone is safe. 

A building in Facebook’s Menlo Park campus was evacuated after a bomb threat early Tuesday evening. Around 5PM, the Menlo Park police department warned people to avoid the area around the 200 block of Jefferson Drive as they investigated a bomb threat. Then they said 200 Jefferson Drive, the address of Facebook Building 24 and Instagram’s headquarters, has been evacuated and a bomb unit is on the scene.

According to NBC Bay Area, a tip about a threat to the Facebook campus came from the New York Police Department’s Crimestopper Unit, which notified the Menlo Park Police.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is available.

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Tue, 11 Dec 2018 18:08:51 +0000
Building in Facebook’s Menlo Park campus evacuated after bomb threat

It’s an ad duopoly battle. Facebook is starting to test search ads in its search results and Marketplace, directly competing with Google’s AdWords. Facebook first tried Sponsored Results back in 2012 but eventually shut down the product in 2013. Now it’s going to let a small set of automotive, retail and e-commerce industry advertisers show users ads on the search results page on mobile in the U.S. and Canada.

They’ll be repurposed News Feed ads featuring a headline, image, copy text and a link in the static image or carousel format that can point users to external websites. Facebook declined to share screenshots as it says the exact design is still evolving. Facebook may expand search ads to more countries based on the test’s performance.

The reintroduction of search ads could open an important new revenue stream at a time when Facebook’s revenue growth is quickly decelerating as it runs out of News Feed ad space, the Stories format that advertisers are still adapting is poised to overtake feed sharing on social apps and users shift their time elsewhere. In Q3 2018, revenue grew 33 percent year-over-year, but that’s far slower than the 49 percent YOY gain it had a year ago, and the 59 percent from Q3 2016. While 33 percent is still relatively swift for a 14-year-old company and Facebook is far from in existential crisis, the revenue growth rate has been the focus of this year’s earnings calls and sagging projections about it have caused massive slides in Facebook’s share price.

Opening up new ad inventory for search could reinvigorate the sagging revenue growth rate that, combined with Facebook’s privacy and security scandals, has put intense pressure on Facebook’s leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

Facebook’s revenue growth rate has slowed significantly over the past two years

“We’re running a small test to place ads in Facebook search results, and we’ll be evaluating whether these ads are beneficial for people and businesses before deciding whether to expand it,” Facebook product manager Zoheb Hajiyani told TechCrunch in a statement. The announcement of the search ads comes as Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is under fire from Congress over data privacy, though the move could help Google look less like it has a monopoly in search.

Back in 2012, Facebook desperately sought extra revenue streams following its botched IPO. Sponsored Results let game companies, retailers and more inject links to their Facebook apps, Pages and posts as ads in the search type-ahead results. Since advertisers could target searches for specific other Pages and apps, brands and game developers often tried to swoop in and steal traffic from their competitors. For example, dating app Match.com could target searches for competitor OkCupid and appear above its results. Facebook isn’t allowing advertisers to be quite as cutthroat with this test.

Facebook’s 2012 Sponsored Results ads let competitors swoop on each other’s traffic

With the relaunch, advertisers with access will be able to simply extend their existing News Feed ads to the new “Search” placement through the Facebook Ads Manager, similar to how they’d pick Facebook Audience Network or Instagram. No video ads will be allowed, and search ads won’t appear on desktop. Marketplace search ads will appear on iOS and Android, while Facebook search ads are only testing on Android. For now, advertisers won’t pick specific keywords to advertise against, and instead may appear in search terms related to auto or retail topics. Still, the placement will let advertisers dive deeper down the conversion funnel to reach people who might already have intent to buy something and fulfill that demand. Facebook’s News Feed ads (other than those retargeted based on web browsing) are better for demand generation, and sit higher in the funnel reaching users who don’t know what they want yet.

Ads will feature a “Sponsored” tag, and are subject to the same transparency controls around “Why Am I Seeing This?” Facebook plans to evaluate the benefits for users and advertisers in order to determine whether to roll out the ads to more countries and categories. Users will not be able to opt out of seeing search ads. They can “hide” ads using the drop-down arrow as with News Feed ads, but that won’t prevent different ones from showing up in search later.

Facebook’s share of the $279.56 billion total worldwide digital ad market will grow to 19.5 percent this year, trailing No. 1 Google, which has 31.5 percent. After gaining multiple percentage points of share the last few years, eMarketer estimated Facebook’s cut of total digital ad spend would fall to around 1 percent the next two years. Unlocking search ad inventory could perk up those projections. Facebook would only need to hit 3.3 percent of total search ad share to surpass Microsoft for the No. 3 spot, or 6.5 percent to top Chinese search engine Baidu.

One major concern is that Facebook already collects as much information as possible about people and their behavior to target its ads. With the reintroduction of search ads, it’s even more incentivized to gather what we do online, what we buy offline and who we are.

Facebook will have to balance the injection of the ads with remaining an easy way to search for friends, content, businesses and more. Search is far from the core of Facebook’s offering, where users typically browse the News Feed for serendipitous content discovery rather than go looking for something specific. The most common searches are likely for friends’ names which won’t be great ad candidates. But given how accustomed users are to search ads on Google, this new revenue stream could help Facebook boost its numbers without too much disruption to its service.

[Updated with context on Facebook’s revenue growth rate]

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Sat, 08 Dec 2018 15:50:14 +0000
Facebook relaunches search ads to offset slowing revenue

The internet is a community, but can it be a nation-state? It’s a question that I have been pondering on and off this year, what with the rise of digital nomads and the deeply libertarian ethos baked into parts of the blockchain community. It’s clearly on a lot of other people’s minds as well: when we interviewed Matt Howard of Norwest on Equity a few weeks back, he noted (unprompted) that Uber is one of the few companies that could reach “nation-state” status when it IPOs.

Clearly, the internet is home to many, diverse communities of similar-minded people, but how do those communities transmute from disparate bands into a nation-state?

That question led me to Imagined Communities, a book from 1983 and one of the most lauded (and debated) social science works ever published. Certainly it is among the most heavily cited: Google Scholar pegs it at almost 93,000 citations.

Benedict Anderson, a political scientist and historian, ponders over a simple question: where does nationalism come from? How do we come to form a common bond with others under symbols like a flag, even though we have never — and will almost never — meet all of our comrades-in-arms? Why does every country consider itself “special,” yet for all intents and purposes they all look identical (heads of state, colors and flags, etc.) Also, why is the nation-state invented so late?

Anderson’s answer is his title: people come to form nations when they can imagine their community and the values and people it holds, and thus can demarcate the borders (physical and cognitive) of who is a member of that hypothetical club and who is not.

In order to imagine a community though, there needs to be media that actually links that community together. The printing press is the necessary invention, but Anderson tracks the rise of nation-states to the development of vernacular media — French language as opposed to the Latin of the Catholic Church. Lexicographers researched and published dictionaries and thesauruses, and the printing presses — under pressure from capitalism’s dictates — created rich shelves of books filled with the stories and myths of peoples who just a few decades ago didn’t “exist” in the mind’s eye.

The nation-state itself was developed first in South America in the decline and aftermath of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Anderson argues for a sociological perspective on where these states originate from. Intense circulation among local elites — the bureaucrats, lawyers, and professionals of these states — and their lack of mobility back to their empires’ capitals created a community of people who realized they had more in common with each other than the people on the other side of the Atlantic.

As other communities globally start to understand their unique place in the world, they import these early models of nation-states through the rich print culture of books and newspapers. We aren’t looking at convergent evolution, but rather clones of one model for organizing the nation implemented across the world.

That’s effectively the heart of the thesis of this petite book, which numbers just over 200 pages of eminently readable if occasionally turgid writing. There are dozens of other epiphanies and thoughts roaming throughout those pages, and so the best way to get the full flavor is just to pick up a used copy and dive in.

For my purposes though, I was curious to see how well Anderson’s thesis could be applied to the nation-state of the internet. Certainly, the concept that the internet is its own sovereign entity has been with us almost since its invention (just take a look at John Perry Barlow’s original manifesto on the independence of cyberspace if you haven’t).

Isn’t the internet nothing but a series of imagined communities? Aren’t subreddits literally the seeds of nation-states? Every time Anderson mentioned the printing press or “print-capitalism,” I couldn’t help but replace the word “press” with WordPress and print-capitalism with advertising or surveillance capitalism. Aren’t we going through exactly the kind of media revolution that drove the first nation-states a few centuries ago?

Perhaps, but it’s an extraordinarily simplistic comparison, one that misses some of the key originators of these nation-states.

Photo by metamorworks via Getty Images

One of the key challenges is that nation-states weren’t a rupture in time, but rather were continuous with existing power structures. On this point, Anderson is quite absolute. In South America, nation-states were borne out of the colonial administrations, and elites — worried about losing their power — used the burgeoning form of the nation-state to protect their interests (Anderson calls this “official nationalism”). Anderson sees this pattern pretty much everywhere, and if not from colonial governments, then from the feudal arrangements of the late Middle Ages.

If you turn the gaze to the internet then, who are the elites? Perhaps Google or Facebook (or Uber), companies with “nation-state” status that are essentially empires on to themselves. Yet, the analogy to me feels stretched.

There is an even greater problem though. In Anderson’s world, language is the critical vehicle by which the nation-state connects its citizens together into one imagined community. It’s hard to imagine France without French, or England without English. The very symbols by which we imagine our community are symbols of that community, and it is that self-referencing that creates a critical feedback loop back to the community and reinforces its differentiation.

That would seem to knock out the lowly subreddit as a potential nation-state, but it does raise the question of one group: coders.

When I write in Python for instance, I connect with a group of people who share that language, who communicate in that language (not entirely mind you), and who share certain values in common by their choice of that language. In fact, software engineers can tie their choices of language so strongly to their identities that it is entirely possible that “Python developer” or “Go programmer” says more about that person than “American” or “Chinese.”

Where this gets interesting is when you carefully connect it to blockchain, which I take to mean a technology that can autonomously distribute “wealth.” Suddenly, you have an imagined community of software engineers, who speak in their own “language” able to create a bureaucracy that serves their interests, and with media that connects them all together (through the internet). The ingredients — at least as Anderson’s recipe would have them — are all there.

I am not going to push too hard in this direction, but one surprise I had with Anderson is how little he discussed the physical agglomeration of people. The imagining of (physical) borders is crucial for a community, and so the development of maps for each nation is a common pattern in their historical developments. But, the map, fundamentally, is a symbol, a reminder that “this place is our place” and not much more.

Indeed, nation-states bleed across physical borders all the time. Americans are used to the concept of worldwide taxation. France seats representatives from its overseas departments in the National Assembly, allowing French citizens across the former empire to vote and elect representatives to the country’s legislature. And anyone who has followed the Huawei CFO arrest in Canada this week should know that “jurisdiction” these days has few physical borders.

The barrier for the internet or its people to become nation-states is not physical then, but cognitive. One needs to not just imagine a community, but imagine it as the prime community. We will see an internet nation-state when we see people prioritizing fealty to one of these digital communities over the loyalty and patriotism to a meatspace country. There are already early acolytes in these communities who act exactly that way. The question is whether the rest of the adherents will join forces and create their own imagined (cyber)space.

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Fri, 07 Dec 2018 11:38:04 +0000
The nation-state of the internet

Following speculation that SoftBank is hiring a China-based team, the Japanese investment giant has brought on its first venture partner for its $100 billion Vision Fund.

Kirthiga Reddy, a former executive with Facebook, has taken the role and, in doing so, she becomes the first female investing partner with SoftBank’s Vision Fund team. She will be based in San Carlos, Silicon Valley.

Reddy spent eight years at Facebook, mostly as managing director for its business in India and Southeast Asia before a two-year stint in the U.S. leading global partnerships.

In her new role, she will work closely with Deep Nishar, senior managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisors who is located in the Bay Area and was previously an exec at Google and LinkedIn . Reddy said her focus will be frontier technologies such as AI, robotics, health, bio engineering, IoT and more. In a comment to Bloomberg, she revealed that she is “actively recruiting” for the firm, especially for female investors.

Kirthiga Reddy [right] is interviewed alongside India Today Group Chief Creative Officer Kalli Purie [left] in 2012 (Photo by Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)

“I look forward to contributing to their mission to positively shape the future by seeking to back the boldest, most transformative optimistic, and ideas of today. Like in other investment firms, the Venture Partner role enables quick integration of new talent from non-investing backgrounds, which is a perfect fit for me. I look forward to bringing my technical and business expertise – from both enterprise and consumer technology, in developed and emerging markets – to the Vision Fund team,” Reddy wrote in a post on LinkedIn announcing the move.

The Vision Fund has been criticized for an all-male cast of 10 deal-makers. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son said in September that he has “no prejudice of any kind,” and first-in-command Rajeev Misra has led an effort to hire women for the team.

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Thu, 06 Dec 2018 17:35:13 +0000
Ex-Facebook exec Kirthiga Reddy becomes first female investing partner at SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Want to run your own home shopping network? Facebook is now testing a Live video feature for merchants that lets them demo and describe their items for viewers. Customers can screenshot something they want to buy and use Messenger to send it to the seller, who can then request payment right through the chat app.

Facebook confirms the new shopping feature is currently in testing with a limited set of Pages in Thailand, which has been a testbed for shopping features. The option was first spotted by social media and reputation manager Jeff Higgins, and re-shared by Matt Navarra and Social Media Today. But now Facebook is confirming the test’s existence and providing additional details.

The company tells me it had heard feedback from the community in Thailand that Live video helped sellers demonstrate how items could be used or worn, and provided richer understanding than just using photos. Users also told Facebook that Live’s interactivity let customers instantly ask questions and get answers about product specifications and details. Facebook has looked to Thailand to test new commerce experiences like home rentals in Marketplace, as the country’s citizens were quick to prove how Facebook Groups could be used for peer-to-peer shopping. “Thailand is one of our most active Marketplace communities” says Mayank Yadav, Facebook product manager for Marketplace.

Now it’s running the Live shopping test, which allows Pages to notify fans that they’re broadcasting to “showcase products and connect with your customers.” Merchants can take reservations and request payments through Messenger. Facebook tells me it doesn’t currently have plans to add new partners or expand the feature. But some sellers without access are being invited to join a waitlist for the feature. It also says it’s working closely with its test partners to gather feedback and iterate on the live video shopping experience, which would seem to indicate it’s interested in opening the feature more widely if it performs well.

Facebook doesn’t take a cut of payments through Messenger, but the feature could still help earn the company money at a time when it’s seeking revenue streams beyond News Feed ads as it runs out of space there, Stories take over as the top media form and user growth plateaus. Hooking people on video viewing helps Facebook show lucrative video ads. The more that Facebook can train users to buy and sell things on its app, the better the conversion rates will be for businesses, and the more they’ll be willing to spend on ads. Facebook could also convince sellers who broadcast Live to buy its new Marketplace ad units to promote their wares. And Facebook is happy to snatch any use case from the rest of the internet, whether it’s long-form video viewing or job applications or shopping to boost time on site and subsequent ad views.

Increasingly, Facebook is setting its sights on Craigslist, Etsy and eBay. Those commerce platforms have failed to keep up with new technologies like video and lack the trust generated by Facebook’s real-name policy and social graph. A few years ago, selling something online meant typing up a generic description and maybe uploading a photo. Soon it could mean starring in your own infomercial.

[PostScript: And a Facebook home shopping network could work perfectly on its new countertop smart display Portal.]

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Thu, 06 Dec 2018 04:03:13 +0000
FB QVC? Facebook tries Live video shopping

The humble business card is a target for disruption in Southeast Asia after Japanese contacts management startup Sansan raised JPY 3 billion ($26.5 million) to expand its business into the region.

Founded way back in 2007, Sansan helps bring business intelligence to companies through a system that helps build connections between users and both internal employees and external contacts using, among other things, business cards.

“Our purpose is to use tech to enhance the utility and value of business cards,” Sansan co-founder and director Kei Tomioka told TechCrunch in an interview. “They are customary for business in most parts of the world, especially Japan, but there’s no easy way to digitize them.”

This new round will bring that focus to Southeast Asia, where Sansan already has an office in Singapore. The capital — which is a Series E round — was provided by Japan Post Capital, T. Rowe Price, SBI Investment and DCM Ventures, and it takes Sansan to around $100 million raised to date.

Sansan claims that 7,000 corporations use its core product — also called Sansan — which helps build and organize networks. At its core, users scan another person’s business card, which is then digitized, uploaded to the cloud and made part of their database. The Sansan system then allows interactions, such as meetings, calls, notes and more to be added to the entry to help track interactions. The resources are held within companies, rather than employees themselves, which means strategies around sales, marketing and more can be kept organized and centralized.

In addition, Sansan operates a LinkedIn -like service called Eight which is available for free and is linked to the core product, allowing users to update their job, company, etc. without having to provide a new business card. Eight has some two million users today, according to Sansan.

Unlike LinkedIn, however, which is commonly used for finding jobs, Tomioka suggested that Eight and Sansan help maintain networks and increase communication and engagement.

Sansan CEO Chikahiro Terada started the business in 2006 alongside fellow co-founders Kei Tomioka, Joraku Satoru, Kenji Shiomi and Motohisa Tsunokawa

Tomioka — who previously worked for Oracle in Thailand — said that he sees much potential for the services in Southeast Asia, where the region’s digital economy is expected to triple by 2025, albeit with a greater focus on SMEs rather than Japan-style mega corporations.

Already, Sansan has picked up some 100 or so clients in the region — mostly by targeting Japanese corporations in Singapore — while Eight has reached 100,000 registered users across Southeast Asia since a soft launch in October 2017.

“We want to expand globally and Singapore is our first step,” said Tomioka, indicating that there are future plans to look at business in India, Europe and potentially the U.S. further down the line. Elsewhere, the firm is hiring data scientists as it aims to bring additional smarts to its services.

The proposition is interesting — personally speaking I have multiple stacks of business cards sitting idle — but it remains to be seen how open businesses in Southeast Asia will be to paying for the service, even with clear benefits. SaaS as a model is still establishing its roots among SMEs, while there are already popular options. LinkedIn is, of course, the de facto professional social network, while Facebook, which has been ramping up its efforts in that space lately, is also a popular option.

Update: The original version of this article was updated to reflect that quoted comments were from Sansan co-founder Kei Tomioka not Chikahiro Terada.

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Wed, 05 Dec 2018 21:21:21 +0000
Japan’s Sansan raises $26.5M to help Southeast Asia get more from business cards

Five years is an awful lot of time in the tech industry. Darling startups find ways to crash and burn. Trends that seem unstoppable sputter-out. In the field of artificial intelligence, the past five years have been nothing short of transformative.

Facebook’s AI Research lab (FAIR) turns five years old this month, and just as the social media giant has left an indelible mark on the broader culture — for better or worse — the work coming out of FAIR has seen some major impact in the AI research community and entrenched itself in the way Facebook operates.

“You wouldn’t be able to run Facebook without deep learning,” Facebook Chief AI Scientist Yann LeCun tells TechCrunch. “It’s very, very deep in every aspect of the operation.”

Reflecting on the formation of his team, LeCun recalls his central task in initially creating the research group was “inventing what it meant to do research at Facebook.”

“Facebook didn’t have any research lab before FAIR, it was the first one, until then the company was very much focused on short-term engineering projects with six-month deadlines, if not less,” he says.

LeCun

Five years after its formation, FAIR’s influence permeates the company. The group has labs in Menlo Park, New York, Paris, Montreal, Tel Aviv, Seattle, Pittsburgh and London. They’ve partnered with academic institutions and published countless papers and studies, many of which the group has enumerated in this handy five-year anniversary timeline here.

“I said ‘No’ to creating a research lab for my first five years at Facebook,” CTO Mike Schroepfer wrote in a Facebook post. “In 2013, it became clear AI would be critical to the long-term future of Facebook. So we had to figure this out.”

The research group’s genesis came shortly after LeCun stopped by Mark Zuckerberg’s house for dinner. “I told [Zuckerberg] how research labs should be organized, particularly the idea of practicing open research.” LeCun said. “What I heard from him, I liked a lot, because he said openness is really in the DNA of the company.”

FAIR has the benefit of longer timelines that allow it to be more focused in maintaining its ethos. There is no “War Room” in the AI labs, and much of the group’s most substantial research ends up as published work that benefits the broader AI community. Nevertheless, in many ways, AI is very much an arms race for Silicon Valley tech companies. The separation between FAIR and Facebook’s Applied Machine Learning (AML) team, which focuses more on imminent product needs, gives the group a “huge, huge amount of leeway to really think about the long term,” LeCun says.

I chatted with LeCun about some of these long-term visions for the company, which evolved into him spitballing about what he’s working on now and where he’d like to see improvements. “First, there’s going to be considerable progress in things that we already have quite a good handle on…”

A big trend for LeCun seems to be FAIR doubling down on work that impacts how people can more seamlessly interact with data systems and get meaningful feedback.

“We’ve had this project that is a question-and-answer system that basically can answer any question if the information is somewhere in Wikipedia. It’s not yet able to answer really complicated questions that require extracting information from multiple Wikipedia articles and cross-referencing them,” LeCun says. “There’s probably some progress there that will make the next generation of virtual assistants and data systems considerably less frustrating to talk to.”

Some of the biggest strides in machine learning over the past five years have taken place in the vision space, where machines are able to parse out what’s happening in an image frame. LeCun predicts greater contextual understanding is on its way.

“You’re going to see systems that can not just recognize the main object in an image but basically will outline every object and give you a textual description of what’s happening in the image, kind of a different, more abstract understanding of what’s happening.”

FAIR has found itself tackling disparate and fundamental problems that have wide impact on how the rest of the company functions, but a lot of these points of progress sit deeper in the five-year timeline.

FAIR has already made some progress in unsupervised learning, and the company has published work on how they are utilizing some of these techniques to translate between languages for which they lack sufficient training data so that, in practical terms, users needing translations from something like Icelandic to Swahili aren’t left out in the cold.

As FAIR looks to its next five years, LeCun contends there are some much bigger challenges looming on the horizon that the AI community is just beginning to grapple with.

“Those are all relatively predictable improvements,” he says. “The big prize we are really after is this idea of self-supervised learning — getting machines to learn more like humans and animals and requiring that they have some sort of common sense.”

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