Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Dishes On The Cloud, Gender Inequality In Tech And Piracy-As-Freemium

After recently managing to stuff two feet into his mouth at the same time, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stopped by CNBC for a wide-ranging interview covering not only his recent comments on women in the workplace, but also his company’s bets on the cloud, and how Microsoft has long had an implicitly freemium business model. Read More

Why Does Google Want to Deliver Dog Food in Rural Australia?

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Google made waves on Thursday by revealing its secret project to deliver dog food to areas of rural Australia via drones

But why would Google, a company that has worked on projects like driverless cars, personal jet packs and a space elevator, want to deliver dog food — even if it is by flying robots?

Google is a massive company with a variety of exciting projects, but it makes money almost entirely from advertising. Space elevators are great, but they don't pay the bills

To stay competitive against companies like Facebook and Amazon, which are making major inroads on Google's turf, the company must develop offerings to attract companies and users — including drone delivery. Read more...

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The Platform Wars

platform-battle2 During its WWDC keynote this year, Apple took on the world: Dropbox, Box, OneDrive and Google Drive for cloud storage; WhatsApp, Snapchat and BBM for messaging; Skype and your cell phone for calls; Google for search; and so on. Hell, Apple even took on Objective-C. Read More

Fauxsumerism: Cyber Window Shopping Is a Millennial Habit

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Ever since there were shops, people have enjoyed window shopping. But a new phenomenon is emerging that takes the habit to the extreme.

If you save things to your Amazon wishlist without ever actually buying them, browse gadgets, clothes and offers online as a pastime or fill your shopping cart without going through with the payment, you may be a fauxsumer.

This “false consumerism”, particularly prevalent among millenials, is the process of discovering products online without purchasing anything. Shopping without having the goal of actually buying.

The rise of fauxsumerism was revealed in a recent study of 1,300 14-to-34-year olds in the US. These millenials, born between 1980 and 2000 are browsers rather than buyers. The report found they create wishlists, both to engage with brands and for fun, with no intention of actually buying. Sometimes they don’t have the money to make the purchase but save the item anyway. There is even the suggestion that these fauxsumers get the same kick out of saving an item as they would if they had bought it. Read more...

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Facebook, Amazon, Netflix Come Out Against FCC on Net Neutrality

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The leading tech companies in the U.S. have a message for the Federal Communications Commission: Don't do it.

More than 100 big and small tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Netflix and Amazon, signed off on a letter urging the FCC to rethink its proposed changes to previous net neutrality regulations, calling these changes "a grave threat to the Internet."

"According to recent news reports, the Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them," the companies wrote in the letter. "If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet." Read more...

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What I Want For Christmas From Each Major Tech Company Next Year

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Here’s my wish list. I realize it’s too late for this year, but I’m hoping the companies are already planning for next year, and this way they have all of 2014 to deliver. Many of these are pretty big asks, I admit, but the companies in question have pretty deep pockets and access to world-class resources. So how about let’s all deliver.

1. Microsoft

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Skype torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. Skype is terrible on every platform, and yet I’m cursed to use it every day. It delivers in VoIP pretty reliably, but not as reliably as you might imagine given its origins. Also, it’s terrible at text-based chat communication, and key features like group chat are locked behind a paywall, even though I already pay the company a bunch annually for Skype Out, Voicemail and Skype In numbers.

2. Nintendo

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Put Mario (and others) on iOS and Android. I’m really hoping that the Wii U was a secret plot to tank the stock and force management to reconsider licensing properties for other mobile platforms, because if so, stroke of genius. Let’s have Mario, Pokemon, Donkey Kong, etc., on iOS and Android, and we’ll give you lots of money in exchange.

3. Google

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Kill Glass and focus on making Android better on phones and tablets. Google Glass doesn’t make any sense to me, and continues to make less the more I learn about it. I’m sure this will be greeted with ample fanboy froth and fury, but honestly, any resources Google has devoted to this project would be better used to help make Android on smartphones and tablets less something you check interminably and more a seamless part of your everyday life. Glass’ goals are fine, in other words, but focus on the platform people will actually use.

4. Amazon

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Nail that grocery formula on a global scale. I love the idea of Amazon Fresh, I just hate the painstakingly gradual rollout. I also understand there are a lot of moving pieces and it’s going to take time to get things right, but selfishly, I want the same company I count on for most of the rest of my shopping to solve the remaining inconvenience of grocery shopping, too.

5. Facebook

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Stop trying to be Yahoo mixed with Twitter. It’s crazy to even consider, but I actually miss the endless stream of baby pictures and pointless posts lamenting some minor mundane inconvenience a friend from high school had during the day. Facebook wants to be a source for news and real-time info, but that’s not what I want it to be. I’m at the age where I’d actually appreciate the quaint sentimentality of an old friend posting their kid’s first crayon drawing, and ironically FB’s trying to mature past that.

6. Twitter

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Keep evolving Direct Messages. DMs want to be more than they are, and Twitter has finally started recognizing that and is building on it. I want more of that, and I think this is one gift on my list that I’ll actually get in 2014. Here’s hoping I don’t regret asking in the first place.

7. Apple

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A MacBook Air with Retina Display. Apple, you’ve been working towards this for so long, but you keep the Retina Air just out of reach, just on the horizon. The MacBook Air now has tremendous battery life, and is near perfect in a 13-inch version, but the screen on the 13- and 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro just blows it out of the water. The Retina MacBook Air is the Holy Grail of personal computing, so let’s make that happen.

Those are my wishes: Some are selfish, some are realistic, some are definitely not going to happen; all are what I’d genuinely like to see coming from the major players in the tech space in 2014. Oh and maybe some socks, most of mine are looking pretty threadbare.

Feature image courtesy gagilas on Flickr.


Rubin’s Robots: Google Gears Up To Revolutionize Manufacturing And Logistics

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Andy Rubin left the helm of the Android team back in March, replaced by then-Chrome VP Sundar Pichai, and it’s been a bit of a mystery what he’s been up to since. Now, the New York Times reveals that he’s moved to a much more experimental department at the Internet giant, spearheading the company’s efforts to revolutionize the use of robots in real-world applications.

The timing of the reveal seems too neat to be coincidental, as Amazon stole headlines and owned the post-holiday news cycle earlier this week with the announcement that it has been working on automated drone delivery for packages. Rubin’s work at Google seems to have a similar thrust; the robotics advances his group at Google is working on will focus on the underserved manufacturing and logistics markets, Rubin told the NYT.

It’s likely that some of the innovation Google is looking at is in shoring up the same kinds of deficiencies that UPS may be exploring, like the transport method for shuttling goods from central depots to local sort and delivery facilities. But Google at the direction of Rubin has been quietly acquiring a number of robotics firms in the U.S. and Japan including Industrial Perception (computer vision); Schaft, Meka and Redwood Robotics (humanoid bot and bot limb builders); Bot & Dolly (robot camera makers involved in the film Gravity); Autofuss (advertising and design); and Holomni (design firm specializing in robot wheels). There’s an awful lot of humanoid in that mix, which means Google is doing something more than improving on existing industrial robotics, which mostly bear no resemblance to their creators.

Google could make parts of the manufacturing process that involve simply carting goods from one place to another much more efficient with robotics, or it could attempt to streamline the process of getting a package from a supplier in Asia to a homemaker in Spokane.

Back when Rubin left his post at the head of Android, he sent a note to Android partners that said he’s an “entrepreneur at heart,” and was starting a “new chapter” within Google. With this robotics project, he told the New York Times that it’s something he’s been considering for a decade, but it only recently has become commercially viable to build automated systems on the scale he envisioned.

As with Google’s driverless cars, this is a big project that likely won’t bear fruit immediately, but it’s something the company is making serious investment in, as evidenced by the many acquisitions it has already made to further its efforts. Of course, any work in robots also has the advantage of capturing the public’s imagination and attention, which is something Amazon proved without a doubt thanks to its big delivery drones reveal. Google may not be building you a housebot tomorrow, but whatever does come out of Rubin’s Remarkable Robot Factory will undoubtedly be worth having a front row seat for.


Wibidata Machine Learning Platform Offers Capabilities Comparable To Amazon.com And Google

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store warriorWibidata, a big data application provider, has a new platform for building real-time apps that shows the increasing accessibility of machine learning and how e-commerce companies can provide an experience similar to a giant like Amazon.com.

The new WibiEnterprise 3.0 platform allows a company to power a site with advanced analytics that fine-tunes itself, providing better recommendations and other features over time, including more relevant search results and personalized content.

The platform is designed for the customer who is beginning to use data science, said Omer Trajman, vice president of field operations at Wibidata. “They are not classically trained but they have an analytics background. They have been doing marketing analytics. The mechanics are similar, what has changed is the availability of data.”

WibiEnterprise 3.0 is built on an open source framework called Kiji, which provides a common platform for building applications that leverage large data sets.

At its core, Wibidata is offering a platform that takes into consideration the fact that companies often have just a few seconds to engage their customers. People use all sorts of personal devices and can turn to a competitor with just a few clicks. But with all this data, companies also have an opportunity to learn about their customers by analyzing their digital interactions. Doing that means building a storage system that provides a 360-degree view of the customer.

Like Google and Amazon, Wibidata’s Kijii framework uses a central storage system that allows a customer to collect user interactions across all of its applications, searches, purchases, likes, clicks and requests for product information. It’s what is called an “entity-centric storage system,” which essentially pools all the data so a company with sophisticated apps and services can do real-time queries and act on a customer’s recent information to deliver content personalization, relevant search results and recommendations.

Wibidata’s approach is in contrast to traditional data warehouse systems that manage data in a much different way. In the context of e-commerce, these older systems store transactional information such as likely purchases, or shopping cart manipulations in a central fact table. For a retail bank, this data might include credits and deductions from accounts. SKU information or geographic location data are stored in dimension tables to provide a detailed view of the transaction.

There are two problems with the approach, Wibidata argues. It can get expensive and it centers around the transaction instead of the user that is generating those transactions. Furthermore, it gets even more complex when using historical data, which has to get extracted from other systems, cleansed and then integrated with the current transaction data.

Companies using WibiEnterprise 3.0 include a top 10 retailer which has integrated it with its website to create relevant, contextual shopping recommendations during the online sales process. An international retail bank is also using WibiEnterprise 3.0 technology to combine multiple customer data sources and apply in-house debt models to better detect fraud and credit risks. Opower uses WibiEnterprise 3.0 to deliver personalized reports to utility provider customers explaining how to reduce energy usage and save money. And one of the largest SaaS providers uses WibiEnterprise 3.0 to help their customers identify prospective customers.

Wibidata is a powerful platform but it also reflects the complexity that comes with managing data across so many different devices. There is an infinite data supply but the technology needed to use it means a new way of organization that cuts across the way a company treats its own historical investments. There are the added cultural hurdles that come with a change in business approach that is more customer, than transaction-focused.

These sets of challenges also impact new startups like Wibidata, which are advocating disruptive approaches that put them in direct competition with companies like Oracle and established SaaS providers like Baynote.

There is no doubt that it is getting easier to have the same capabilities as a company like Amazon.com. But the challenges come with the will of the customer and the ability of a company like Wibidata to keep ahead of the competition.

(Feature image courtesy of Trevor on Flickr via a Creative Commons License)


When Tech Giants Lobby Congress, This Is What They Ask For

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When you think of industry giants lobbying Congress, you may envision massive oil companies. But tech giants of Silicon Valley are getting a piece of the action, too.

Google, for instance, spent $3.4 million on lobbying in the last quarter aloneFacebook and Apple are also strengthening their lobbying efforts, and their main reasons for doing so include net neutrality, surveillance reform, self-driving vehicle and immigration.

Several big tech companies recently joined forces in their lobbying pursuits to create the Internet Association to work for an "open, innovative and free Internet." Read more...

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Report: Apple Is the World’s Most Valuable Brand

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Over the last couple of years, Apple has been either the first or the second most valuable brand in the world, depending who you believe

Now, we can chalk one up for the first camp: According to Interbrand's 2013 global brand rankings, Apple has overtaken Coca Cola to become the world's most valuable brand, with its value estimated at a whopping $98.3 billion

Apple's rise through the rankings has truly been meteoric: In 2011, the company sat at eight place with an estimated $33 billion brand value

Google has also leaped past Coca Cola this year, and it now sits in second place, with its brand value estimated at $93.3 billion. It's followed by Coca Cola with $79.2 billion, IBM with $78.8 billion and Microsoft with $59.5 billionGeneral Electric, McDonald's, Samsung, Intel and Toyota round up the top 10Amazon and Facebook, which are placed 19th and 52nd, have been labeled "top risers," having risen by 27% and 43%, respectively, since last year. Read more...

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