A new app for The Economist

Serving readers the stories they want, when and how they want them

I am delighted to tell you about the new mobile app for The Economist, which we have just released for iPhone and iPad. It is the first major change to The Economist on mobile in almost eight years: when the original Digital Editions Economist app was released in 2010 the iPad was brand new, and at that stage the success of the iPhone and its app ecosystem was not yet guaranteed. Continue reading “A new app for The Economist”

What The Guardian has learned trying to build a more intelligent story format — one that knows what you know

Over the past several months, the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab has introduced a new format that we have been working on: the Smarticle. We’ve now run three Smarticle experiments, and learned a lot about how readers like the format and what topics work well in it. Most significantly, we learned that there’s an appetite for this story format: Through a combination of written feedback from users and analytics, we learned that people enjoyed consuming news in this way, and they were comfortable only receiving elements of the story that were new to them. Continue reading “What The Guardian has learned trying to build a more intelligent story format — one that knows what you know”

Facebook’s user engagement dips on News Feed tweaks, WhatsApp passes 1.5 billion monthly users


(Reuters) — Facebook said on Wednesday that time spent on the social network fell at the end of last year by about 50 million hours a day, even before the company made changes to its flagship News Feed that may further reduce user engagement.
On the Q4 2017 earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg announced that WhatsApp passed 1.5 billion monthly active users and sees 60 billion messages sent per day. Continue reading “Facebook’s user engagement dips on News Feed tweaks, WhatsApp passes 1.5 billion monthly users”

Google Search will start ranking faster mobile pages higher in July

Google today announced a new project to improve its mobile search results: factoring page speed into its search ranking. As the company notes, page speed “has been used in ranking for some time” but that was largely for desktop searches. Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches on Google as well. Continue reading “Google Search will start ranking faster mobile pages higher in July”

2017: Year of the podcast

The year 2017 will likely be remembered for many things across the technology spectrum, from major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and milestone moments in autonomous vehicles to Amazon conceding that a major offline presence in groceries was needed to compete in retail.

But buried within the big headline-grabbing stories of the year were microtrends that sprang up almost by surprise. And one of those relates to the humble podcast. Continue reading “2017: Year of the podcast”

Creating an app: “What, like it’s hard?”

Let’s just say it’s not as easy as the bend and snap.

Anyone who knows me knows that app development has never really been “my thing.” I (sadly) enjoy talking about the Kardashian-Jenner clan, and I love fashion and binge-watching rom-com movies such as “Legally Blonde.” Just as most people don’t wake up one morning and think, I think I’ll go to law school today, as Prof. Callahan speculated about “Legally Blonde” heroine Elle Woods, I am not the type who just wakes up one morning and thinks, I really want to learn how to make an app! Yet, being the the stereotype-defiers that Elle and I are, both of us decided to give new ventures a try — even if others may scoff. Continue reading “Creating an app: “What, like it’s hard?””

Don’t start 2018 without catching up on the data from this year

You can measure the year in top songs, top movies, or top recipes, taking a look at what made this year “special” using data. But what was special about the data of this year? We’re taking a look at the biggest trends that we found in 2017 using data, and using it to figure out what the big questions will be in 2018. Continue reading “Don’t start 2018 without catching up on the data from this year”

Germany: Facebook abuses dominance in the way it harvests and monetizes user data

(Reuters) — Germany’s cartel office has found that Facebook abused its dominant market position, in a ruling that questioned the U.S. social network’s model of monetizing the personal data of its 2 billion users through targeted advertising. Presenting preliminary findings of its 20-month-old probe, the Federal Cartel Office said Facebook held a dominant position among social networks – a characterization that Facebook repudiated as “inaccurate”. Continue reading “Germany: Facebook abuses dominance in the way it harvests and monetizes user data”

Here’s how social video will evolve in 2018


Over the past few years, the internet has evolved from a text-based medium to the new TV. Cisco estimates that video accounts for 69 percent of all internet traffic in 2017. When the next-generation wireless network, 5G, hits in 2019 and 2020, we can expect that number to grow as more consumers are able to enjoy high-bandwidth video on their mobile devices.

With that growth comes complexity, though. Today’s marketers have to grapple with variables like video length, placement strategies, and ever-present threats from tech giants that traffic in video.

Looking ahead, marketers will face quite a bit of change in 2018 as the market evolves. Here are seven trends that will impact social video in 2018:

1. Six-second ads will gain more currency. Though advertisers have experimented with short-form ads for some time, Google gave its blessing to the format in January when it challenged advertisers to tell their stories in six seconds flat. Since then, Fox also began running six-second ads during NFL games. Talk all you want about decreasing attention spans, the real draw of six-second ads is that they are good for nudging consumers deep in the funnel towards making a purchase. A quick reminder ad can be all you need to get that consumer to take action. That’s why I expect to see a lot more of these ads next year.

2. More advertising on Netflix. Yes, there are ads on Netflix. The company began running promos for its shows this summer. In addition, Accenture has spoken about how it would like to use its digital product placement technology to infiltrate Netflix shows. (A Coke can be superimposed into Orange Is The New Black, for instance.) We’ll see a steady increase in advertising on Netflix in 2018 in part because Netflix is now creating shows at such volume (it planned to release 1,000 hours of new shows in 2017) that it will be hard to make viewers aware of such content without promoting it on the network. With around 52 million subscribers and possibly 100 million by 2020, it will be harder and harder to resist the lure of advertising in 2018. I predict at some point there will be two versions of Netflix: premium ad free and a cheaper iteration with ads.

3. More midroll. While Google got behind six-second ads, Facebook put its weight behind midroll — ads that run in the middle of a video à la TV. What took them so long? While preroll ads might prompt a viewer to flee, with midroll, you are reaching a viewer who is already engaged in the content. The interruptive nature of advertising can be mitigated via effective targeting. If you’re in the market for a new washing machine, then you really won’t mind seeing an ad for one. In addition to backing from Facebook, the reason we’ll see more mid-roll advertising in 2018 is because of consumers’ increasing resistance to ad messages. As more consumers turn to ad blockers and reject preroll, brands will see midroll as a vehicle to reach consumers who are already engaged in content and are more likely to sit through an ad message.

4. Continued consolidation of third-party verification of metrics. With so much ad fraud, marketers are right to be skeptical and ask for third-party verification. In the last year, I’ve seen more consolidation in this area as most have used Google’s DoubleClick, Moat (which is now part of Oracle), or Integral Ad Science. Overall, marketers will continue to be skeptical of their digital advertising partners. That’s a good thing, since such skepticism will weed out the charlatans and fraudsters and allow the ethical companies to prosper. The consolidation of third-party verifiers means that verification will improve and the industry can start winning back marketers’ trust.

5. Amazon will throw its weight around. Amazon has the best consumer data in the business, but advertising has always been a sideline because its main business — retail — has been so good. That’s changing. The company is looking to hire some 2,000 execs in its new New York Office, and most of those jobs will be in advertising. In addition, brands like Geico and Hyundai, who don’t sell their goods on Amazon, have recently come around to advertising during Amazon’s telecasts of Thursday Night Football. In October, the company also began inviting merchants to create product videos to run on Amazon.com to compete with YouTube this holiday season. The idea is to keep consumers from straying elsewhere to get product info. Expect Amazon to continue to tighten its grip next in 2018.

6. More personalization. Personalization is an ad industry mantra that’s more spoken about than executed upon. Video in particular has been tough to personalize since it isn’t customizable the way a banner is. But as addressability and video technology continue to improve, expect to see more efforts at personalizing content in 2018. That could mean more relevant videos or even videos addressed personally to you, like this ad for Alien Covenant on the UK’s Channel 4 that addressed consumers by name.

7. The introduction of 5G. The next-generation wireless network will make its debut to the world during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games in February and we’ll see sporadic 5G implementations throughout the year. The industry will need to prepare for a sea change, though, as higher-speed wireless’ long-term effects become evident. 5G will be a catalyst for everything from mobile VR to cord cutting to even greater consumption of mobile video. Smart marketers will spend 2018 laying the groundwork for 5G by boosting their VR efforts and taking advantage of the continued erosion of linear TV.

What else? It’s impossible to predict how much advances in AI will affect the marketing world and whether 2018 will be a breakthrough year for other game-changing technologies, like IoT. The only constants will be the continued evolution of technology overall and its effects on how consumers experience brands.

James G. Brooks is CEO and Founder of GlassView.

Matrix PowerWatch: The smartwatch powered by your body heat

I have a habit of losing my charger or forgetting to charge my devices. That’s why I like the idea behind the PowerWatch. Built by startup Matrix Industries, the PowerWatch is charged by your own body heat. As long as it is touching your skin, it needs no charge.

After almost six years of research, and a year after a successful Indiegogo campaign, Menlo Park, California-based Matrix Industries is shipping its PowerWatch. The technology behind the watch could pave the way for a new era of wearables that never run out of power, said Akram Boukai, CEO and cofounder of Matrix Industries, in an interview with VentureBeat. The PowerWatch sells for $170 on PowerWatch.com. It doesn’t look like much, as it is designed to conserve power.

“We went after people who don’t want fancy bells and whistles,” Boukai said. “As long as you are active and take maybe 10,000 steps a day, you don’t have to charge it.”

This smartwatch harvests energy from body heat, using a chip with a thermoelectric energy converter. Matrix engineered its advanced thermoelectric generators to operate with extreme efficiency. It created more efficient conversion circuitry to power the electronics and charge the internal battery. And its thermal design is built to harvest the small amount of heat available to the wearable device.

Above: PowerWatch uses a temperature difference to convert energy into electricity.

Image Credit: PowerWatch

Boukai said the outside of the wrist is a bad place to harvest energy because it doesn’t produce nearly as much heat as the head, the bottom of the feet, or even the inside of the wrist. The whole secret is maintaining a temperature difference between the part of the watch that touches your skin and the part on the other side. The process takes heat from your wrist and expels it from the other side of the watch.

The company found a semiconductor material that can conduct electricity but does not transfer heat easily. The team created the material by introducing defects into the material at a nano scale, or a billionth of a meter. This material produces a voltage when there is a temperature difference between the two sides of the chip.

When you take the watch off, the data is stored in memory, and the device goes to sleep. When you put it back on, the watch returns to where you left it. It can store data for two years in idle mode. It also has an always-on power meter that tells you how much electricity your body heat is producing. This means it can accurately calculate how many calories you are burning.

The device has aircraft-grade aluminum, and it syncs wirelessly with your smartphone. It automatically adjusts to the current time zone, tracks your steps, counts your calories, and measures your sleep. It is water-resistant up to 50 meters.

It essentially offers the same capabilities as battery-powered fitness wearables, without the hassle of chargers. The watch has no touchscreen, so you maneuver through the functions using two buttons.

Above: PowerWatch has no touchscreen.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Boukai said that the No. 1 reason consumers stop using wearables is that they take them off to charge them, and then they forget about them. You never need to take the PowerWatch off.

Boukai and his Caltech friend Douglas Tham cofounded Matrix Industries as a materials science startup in 2011. They saw that wearables had a problem with poor battery life and so they pivoted to making a smart watch and focused on shrinking down the size of the bulky electronics. The work they did to solve this problem has earned them 10 patents.

“Just a few years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible,” Boukai said.

Matrix Industries won first place at the Last Gadget Standing, a gadget competition at the Consumer Electronics Show. It raised $1.64 million in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in January and raised $3.5 million more in additional funding. All told, it took in more than $24 million in venture capital from backers such as Khosla Ventures. The company has 11 employees, and it currently creates the chips in-house in Menlo Park, though operations will move to China in future.

The PowerWatch is now shipping to the more than 12,000 people who preordered the device.

A premium version, the PowerWatch X with a color display from Sharp, is expected to ship before the end of the year.  Boukai expects to launch it on Amazon and at retailers next year. The full retail price will be $200.

“It’s a great feeling to have revenue for the first time,” Boukai said.

He said that Matrix is also researching self-charging ear buds and various kinds of devices, as other parts of the body can produce considerably more energy than the wrist.

Google’s Chatbase bot analytics platform opens to all

Google’s chatbot analytics platform is now open to everyone, more than six months after its quiet debut during the company’s I/O developer conference. Called Chatbase, it’s intended to help developers better analyze and optimize their bots so they can improve conversion rates and accuracy — and avoid having users feel bots are useless.

Anyone can use Google’s Chatbase for free, similar to Google Analytics, and it’ll work across any platform, including Facebook Messenger, Kik, Slack, Viber, and Skype. But it’s more than messaging services where Chatbase could prove invaluable: With the rise of voice assistants like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, and Apple’s Siri, understanding analytics will be important.

A product of Google’s Area 120 internal incubator, Chatbase currently has “hundreds” of companies using it, including Ticketmaster, HBO, and Viber. A spokesperson for the Rakuten-owned messaging service said in a statement: “We increased query volume by 35% for a popular stickers bot by optimizing queries with high exit rates. Chatbase has been immensely helpful … instead of combing through logs, we rely on its machine-learning capability to help prioritize required optimizations.”

Ofer Ronen, Chatbase’s team lead, told VentureBeat that since the platform’s early release, Google has learned that “building and analyzing bots can be challenging because the tools are relatively new and still maturing. Unlike websites and apps which are well understood, bot development is still establishing best practices.”

He went on to say: “An aspect that makes bots especially challenging is how open-ended they are: Users expect bots to handle a request containing any phrasing they choose. This is an area that Chatbase is especially focused on, by exposing popular requests to which a bot is not responding well.”

Google isn’t the only one in the analytics space for bots, as it competes against Dashbot, Botanalytics, BotMetrics, Manner, and others. But what might be an advantage to Google is what it’s done with Google Analytics, one of the top analytics tools for mobile and website developers. Ronen added that, besides the extensive array of things that could be tracked, Chatbot’s machine learning capabilities gives it leverage over the competition, clustering “similar problematic user messages. One example would be for finding and fixing ‘misses’, or alternate phrasing of supported actions that weren’t originally anticipated by the developer,” he said.

“Putting some of Google’s machine learning capabilities to work for our users is a clear differentiator, and our users are really excited about that.”

If Google is successful in positioning Chatbase as being platform-agnostic and the service becomes as widely used as its Analytics sibling, then the breadth of data that the company will receive around conversation, be it voice or text, will be enormous. That would not only allow Google to improve its bot ecosystem, but to see a significant boost in the machine learning space. Plus it may eventually lead to helping the company figure out ways to properly monetize bots — using a chatbot version of Google AdWords, perhaps?

Chatbase won’t give you the exact same metrics that you’d expect from a traditional analytics platform, although there are some overlaps. Among the data you’ll receive include the number of active users, sessions, and retention, while also comparing performance by platform.

Anyone can sign up for Chatbase. Those using Dialogflow, the service formerly known as API.ai, will automatically have access to Chatbase’s basic features within Dialogflow.

Firefox Quantum arrives with faster browser engine, major visual overhaul, and Google as default search engine


Mozilla today launched Firefox 57, branded Firefox Quantum, for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. The new version, which Mozilla calls “by far the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004,” brings massive performance improvements and a visual redesign. Continue reading “Firefox Quantum arrives with faster browser engine, major visual overhaul, and Google as default search engine”

How Google and Amazon are hooking kids from an early age

Google announced a notable update to YouTube Kids this week, one that gives parents a range of tools to tailor the app for their kids. Among the new features is one that lets parents create individual profiles for each of their offspring. They can set each kid up with their own passcode to keep siblings out — though parents can override it — and the general design now reflects the child’s age. This revamp is the latest in a line of recent initiatives from big tech firms as they double down on efforts to suck kids into their ecosystems.

Continue reading “How Google and Amazon are hooking kids from an early age”

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