Swipe or Use Keyboard >>>
What you will find in the following pages is a concept we are hoping to launch. iTracker is designed to improve the experience of reading online content by combining the latest in aggregation technology with the design techniques honed in the past decade by the magazine industry. By blending the two worlds together, we can accomplish a couple things. The first is that you can remain connected to all the content you care about, without being overwhelmed by it's volume or the labor of visiting each separate source, including social networks. We can also personalize the content delivery to you as a complex individual, and to provide interactive feedback that traditional magazines just can't.
Our vision is that you get to decide the experience you want to have. Essentially, to be our own editors of the information we consume. So Loyal Readers..., I mean Editors, let's begin that journey together.
The iTracker Team
iTracker is the next generation digital magazine whose content engine is based around you.
We are currently in BETA mode, but please feel free to look around.
Continue to Content >>>
Connectify, a Philadelphia-based software company obsessed with making the Internet faster and using Kickstarter to do so, this week pulled the plug on Switchboard, its most recent connectivity campaign. Alex Gizis, Connectify’s CEO, said his backers wanted it that way.
Connectify is no stranger to Kickstarter. When the company launched its Dispatch software that aggregates multiple broadband connections to boost speed, it raised over $100,000 and delivered its rewards on time.
But Dispatch, which worked at the socket level, had some limitations. It performed well accelerating web browsing and torrenting, but didn’t do much for streaming video and could spell trouble for a VPN connection. The company thought the solution was to move the connection aggregation to the cloud.
“You log in, and and now your Internet is faster,” says Gizis, who notes that the software, like Skype, simply navigates firewalls without having to fiddle with settings like port forwarding. And so it returned to Kickstarter, proposing to build a global server network called Switchboard that would accelerate Internet access from just about anywhere. Users would be rewarded with a year of access to the service.
The Switchboard campaign got off to a solid, if not breathtaking, start. Ten days into its $100,000 campaign, 244 backers had contributed nearly a quarter of its funding goal. It’s not uncommon for companies at that point to turn up the volume, launch more attractive reward tiers, and make a strong social media push. Connectify, though, yanked the campaign.
Many Kickstarter campaign owners say that the feedback they receive during a campaign is one of the most valuable parts of running it. Usually, these are ideas for enhancements or thoughts on which design or feature roads a company can take. In Connectify’s case, though, the feedback was that running the cloud itself was actually the wrong path.
Gizis says he got tons of messages with a common overriding theme: Potential customers liked the technology but wanted to run the servers themselves; they wanted to put their own Linux servers in the cloud. It was the sweet sound of failure. Connectify’s core competence in software would allow it to sell Switchboard directly to corporations without the risky proposition of investing in a pricey global server network.
The shift of Switchboard from hosted service to enterprise infrastructure could spell bad news for your average Jane seeking to eke out a meager few extra megabits per second on the mean streets, but it will still be available to consumers as a personal server for $90 that runs on personal PCs and Macs that you can access from the road.
Furthermore, in addition to the many companies that wanted to own the Switchboard servers themselves, Connectify heard from hosting companies that said that they could run the service more cost-effectively than the company could; Gizis expects that at least one of them will make the service available directly to individuals the way many hosting companies offer hosted Exchange servers.
When asked if Connectify could have received this kind of feedback without Kickstarter, Gizis said he couldn’t think of an alternative. He notes that the company conducted research among its current customers before it launched the aborted Kickstarter campaign. In the end, he notes, the real test comes when you ask people for their credit cards.
The emerging Internet of Things — essentially, the world of physical devices connected to the network/Internet, from your Fitbit or Nest to industrial machines — is experiencing a burst of activity and creativity that is getting entrepreneurs, VCs and the press equally excited.
The space looks like a boisterous hodgepodge of smart hobbyists, new startups and large corporations that are eager to be a part of what could be a huge market, and all sorts of enabling products and technologies, some of which, including crowdfunding and 3D printing, are themselves far from established.
The chart to the right is an attempt at making sense of this frenetic activity. From bottom to top, I see three broad areas – building blocks, verticals and horizontals:
The concept of the Internet of Things is not new (the term itself was coined in 1999), but it is now in the process of becoming a reality thanks to the confluence of several key factors.
First, while still challenging, it is easier and cheaper than ever to produce hardware – some components are open sourced (e.g. Arduino microcontrollers); 3D printing helps with rapid prototyping; specialized providers like Dragon Innovation and PCH can handle key parts of the production process, and emerging marketplaces such as Grand St. help with distribution. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo considerably de-risk the early phase of creating hardware by establishing market demand and providing financing.
Second, the world of wireless connectivity has dramatically evolved over the last few years. The mobile phone (or tablet), now a supercomputer in everyone’s hand, is becoming the universal remote control of the Internet of Things. Ubiquitous connectivity is becoming a reality (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G) and standards are starting to emerge (MQTT). The slight irony of the “Internet of Things” moniker is that things are often connected via M2M (machine to machine) protocols rather than the Internet itself.
Third, the Internet of Things is able to leverage an entire infrastructure that has emerged in related areas. Cloud computing enables the creation of “dumb” (simpler, cheaper) devices, with all the intelligence processed in the cloud. Big data tools, often open sourced (Hadoop), enable the processing of massive amounts of data captured by the devices and will play a crucial role in the space.
Unlike the Big Data space, where the action is gradually moving from core infrastructure to vertical applications, the Internet of Things space is seeing a lot of early action directly at the vertical application level. Some notable players like Nest Labs seem to have adopted a deeply integrated vertical strategy where they control key pieces of the product, including both hardware and software, in order to have complete control over the end-user experience (a lot like Apple, which is not surprising considering the founders’ background).
Beyond the Nest, home automation in general has become the central battlefield of the Internet of Things, with some of the most exciting startups in the space jockeying for position. Another hot consumer-facing area is obviously quantified self, which is playing a huge role in developing consumers’ awareness of the potential of the Internet of Things.
Beyond consumer, B2B/enterprise vertical applications of the Internet of Things, fueled in part by robotics, hold considerable promise in a number of areas such as manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, retail and energy. Some of clearest revenue opportunities for IoT startups are in the enterprise area.
While a lot of the action is happening at the vertical application level, the ultimate prize for many ambitious players in the space is to become the software platform upon which all vertical applications in the Internet of Things will be built. For example, several of the home automation providers (SmartThings, Ninja Blocks, etc.) also provide a software platform, and seem to be leveraging their vertical focus as a way to kickstart activity on the platform.
Large corporations (GE, IBM, etc.) are very active in the space and are developing their own platforms. Carriers (AT&T, Verizon) have a large opportunity in the area, as well.
One open question is whether a platform developed for a vertical will easily translate to another vertical. In addition, whether the winning platforms are open or closed will play a huge role in the future of the space. My bet would be on openness.
The related area of connectivity (connecting objects to the network/Internet and to one another through all sorts of rules) is also a very significant opportunity.
The space is extraordinarily exciting, but still very much in its infancy – expect this chart to change dramatically over the next few months and years.
It’s that time of the week for CrunchWeek, the show where a few of us writers chat up the most interesting stories from the past seven days.
Ryan Lawler, Greg Kumparak, and I chatted about Yahoo’s $1.1 billion purchase of Tumblr (and the reports that the company is eyeing a purchase of Hulu); Lyft’s $60 million raise from Andreessen Horowitz and the big reveal of Microsoft’s next generation gaming console, the Xbox 1.
Tune in above for more!
Heads up, Android fans. If you took the plunge and backed the rather sleek Shine wearable activity tracker from Misfit Wearables, you may want to get your money back. According to a recent update posted to the project’s Indiegogo listing, the Founders Fund-backed company has decided to drop Android support from the final version in a bid to better focus on polishing the experience for iOS users.
Seriously, that’s the only reason they gave, which is likely little consolation to the backers who were originally told that the Shine would support certain devices running Android 4.1 and up when the thing officially launched. But let’s back up a moment first — in case you haven’t been following the Misfit Wearables odyssey, the Redwood City/Vietnam startup aimed to inject some style into the world of personal activity tracking with the $99, quarter-sized Shine doodad that could seamlessly sync your motion information to a slew of supported smartphones. It’s not entirely unlike what you would do with a Jawbone Up or a Fitbit, except that the hardware involved was designed to be as unobtrusive as possible — a welcome quality for a device you’re meant to wear all day long.
There’s no firm count on how many Android users wound up backing the project, but I’d wager there’s a decent chunk of them considering that the project raised more than eight times the $100,000 funding goal the team was originally shooting for. For what it’s worth, the decision seems to have been made fairly recently — a response on the Misfit Wearables Facebook page posted on May 8 confirmed to one fan that the team intended to have Android support ready for the masses when the Shine officially launches in July.
That said, the team has been working on the Shine Android app for at least a few months now, and they provided a first glimpse at the app in the form a of a render (see above) before ultimately putting it on the back burner. I’ve reached out to Misfit to see if they would clarify the issues they’ve been having on the Android front, and I’ll update if/when they respond.
Sad to say it’s hardly the first time a purveyor of fitness gadgets has decided to drop support for Google’s mobile operating system. Despite claiming that an Android version of its FuelBand syncing app was in the works for the better part of summer 2012, Nike unceremoniously pulled the plug on the project earlier this year noting that it would instead focus on building out the Fuel experience for iOS and the web.
The Xbox One is more or less a known quantity now, but its price has yet to be revealed by Microsoft. Price and ship date are always the biggest concerns when new gadgets or hardware hits the market, but in the case of the Xbox One, it’s likely to help determine whether the “home entertainment system,” as Microsoft is characterizing it, becomes the category-busting, revolutionary, multipurpose living room command center it’s being billed as, or ends up just another console with niche appeal that makes it a target of lust for core gamers, but few outside that circle.
The Xbox One continues what Microsoft started with the Xbox 360, building in plenty of non-gaming services, apps and tools that could appeal to a broad range of audiences, including sports fans and people who just generally enjoy media content of all stripes. The Kinect interaction potential looks to be able to provide pretty extensive feedback for athletes and people training, and its new voice-recognition tricks offer a chance at a completely revamped way of interacting with the television. Microsoft also looks to be courting partners for a la carte TV content delivery, which is a huge potential alternative market to traditional cable and satellite providers.
New features of the Xbox One are clearly designed to cast a wider net and rope in people who might not care all that much about games. But price will determine whether Microsoft actually lands those customers or whether the Xbox One remains a gaming machine first, which just happens to provide gamers with a number of other benefits besides.
Rumors have pegged the new Xbox One pricing at anywhere from less than the initial cost of the Xbox 360 and PS3 (each was around $350 U.S.), to $770 (likely a high guess to prevent sticker shock later on) as it has been listed on Amazon Germany, to anything in between. A gap of just a couple hundred dollars could make all the difference here: Users who aren’t so interested in the gaming aspects have plenty of options now for over-the-top services from providers, including Apple, Google and Roku, all of which offer similar access to custom content, if not the unique interaction methods and Snap multi-information streams of the Xbox One. And most of those are available for around $100 or less, which will have a significant impact on buyer choice.
It’s possible that what Microsoft wants is to append a layer on top of live TV, similar to what Google initially attempted with Google TV, as our columnist Tadhg Kelly suggested in his column earlier today. But I think Microsoft is doing much more feeling out with the Xbox One, with a variety of services and a focus that could easily shift depending on where consumers take it. But getting them there in the first place involves either pricing the console right or demonstrating irrefutably that the value added by the console and its services make up for a steep premium over other alternatives.
I’m not convinced Microsoft has the guts to price the Xbox One where it needs to be to truly start breaking down device category walls, but we’ll see if they surprise us when they talk price, which could happen as early as E3 next month.
During the 1940s Howard Hughes spent millions developing and building a plane with the largest wingspan in history and a huge carrying capacity. The Spruce Goose was meant to solve a problem of moving troops and material for the second world war effort, but by the time it was tested, the war was already over and the plane’s engine technology was being superseded by jets. Even with more money at his disposal than Solomon, Hughes could not convince the world that his propellered giant had a place.
I think it might be a similar story for the Microsoft Xbox One.
Even at a physical level the Xbox One idea just doesn’t work for me. For one thing, it looks huge and ugly, like an old Toshiba VCR. Its next-generation Kinect is farcically large for what amounts to a fancy webcam, and the console also needs to be connected to your cable box in order to serve up all of its television features. That’s a lot of technology to find room for under your TV set at a time when everything else seems to be getting smaller.
Unlike the miniature Apple TV or OUYA, Xbox One demands pride-of-place and lots of room, and when I put those two ideas together it just doesn’t work. It fails my wife’s test of asking that our living room not be overrun with technology. It fails the small-apartment test, the small bedroom test and the crowded family home test. The fact that the Kinect needs to be attached before it can even be switched on merely reinforces that fact.
And even after all that, what is Xbox One’s core function? TV TV TV. TV you can control with gestures. TV you can command with your voice. TV that can be sidebarred. TV that can trend, find, recommend and socialize. Transmedia TV. Gamelike additions to TV. Halo the TV show. It’s a fancy remote controller, an adjunct to your existing services whose job is to make it slightly easier to search for Game of Thrones. It’s also a way to have Skype chats with friends while watching Star Trek, listening to both friend and film speak over each other in real time.
What else? A music player perhaps, but doubtful one that will work with your iTunes library. A social networking device if you can get voice recognition to actually work. A Netflix box perhaps, but what isn’t these days? A games machine, but not for all of the varied types of innovative games that now populate your smartphone. Only the big and the bold will do for Xbox One.
When you say it like that this new console does seem rather odd, doesn’t it?
What started when the Xbox 360 went from a much-beloved home of indie games in 2008 to a monotone Metro-powered top-10s machine in 2011, Xbox One continues. It’s what Chris Anderson might call aiming for the short head. Microsoft only wants to talk big, top 10, top 25. It seems to believe that that’s the only conversation that anyone cares about.
As part of the event, Microsoft had Electronic Arts showing us a demonstration of a new game engine delivering water dripping off NFL players’ helmets and UA fighters getting slow-mo kicked in the face. It had Activision showing Call of Duty clips and dog animations that gave the Internet plenty of GIF ammunition. It had next generation Forza.
These are all big-game plays, and between showing them off and talking about key partnerships, the implication is that Xbox One intends to use a strategy similar to the old Nintendo Entertainment System. That is to say: tentpole releases only, nothing but strikes. No great depth of diversity, but instead a system targeted solely at mass audiences. Madden-as-a-service, hooked up to your real NFL tv shows and fantasy games. A way for big connected plays to capture all of their value and place Microsoft at the heart of gaming.
Subsequent revelations seem to confirm this. The lack of a viable way for independent game makers to publish on the system is a big one, especially in an age where every other device does. The lack of backwards compatibility (in the Xbox universe “backwards compatibility is backwards thinking“) is another, although less so. And the third is the very confused message regarding buying and installing games, especially used games. It screams of a concern only with big new things.
All three say “we only want the big stuff, that’s all that matters”. This platform holder does not believe in the long tail and intends to spend zero time worrying about it. It only wants the biggest media experiences, the key apps, the banner games. It has concluded that the rest of the market either doesn’t exist or isn’t worth chasing. The market wants big TV, big shows, big games, big sports, big plays. Or does it?
There is often value in making a very clear choice as to who your customer is. Apple does it all the time, preferring not to enter a bunch of cheap markets and instead hold onto the value of the premium computer user both through hardware and software. Microsoft’s big bet seems to be the same sort of idea, that there is a high value gaming and TV audience out there wants a big vertical solution, wants all of this awesome tech and premium games, features up to the eyeballs and so on. The central idea of Xbox One’s all-in-one promise is basically a console for those who can afford it.
The problem for me is that that’s exactly the same argument that Sony tried to make with the PlayStation 3, one of power and promise and Blu-Ray movies, and it fell flat on its ass. It relies on the idea that there is such a thing as a premium-priced gamer out there, and historically this has always proved to be untrue. The console industry’s most successful business model tends to work more like razors-and-blades (cheapish machine, expensive games that can be traded) because that’s what the teenagers, students and 20-somethings can afford. With Xbox One being set up the way it is, it seems only targeted at people who can afford premium all the time.
And, just like PS3, there are simpler and cheaper options on the horizon. Back then it was Wii. Now it’s OUYA and Steamboxes.
TV may suck, but it doesn’t suck so badly that most people want to spend $4 to $500 to fix a menu problem. It’s also not used in the same mode as when the “owning the living room” idea was born. Nicholas Lovell characterized Xbox One as an example of a brilliantly executed plan based on faulty strategy. Meanwhile, Leigh Alexander called it “a desperate prayer to stop time” and go back to an era when we all consumed entertainment at the altar of television.
What both are picking up on is the rise in personal technology like the laptop, smartphone and tablet and the decline of the living room as a battleground. Rather than the battle being about owning rooms, it’s about personal screens and personal connections. Alexander writes how she didn’t watch the Xbox Reveal event on a television, but on a computer while talking on a phone and using a netbook. Lovell writes about how personal technology largely circumvents the need for worrying about television at all.
They make the case that today’s problem is not about cramming tentpole features into big boxes to bring everyone back to television, but rather how to acknowledge that television has become the second screen. More lightweight Apple TV that shows your HBO Go iPad stream, less 2001-style entertainment monolith. More consoles that are nimble and unobtrusive, and provide app-style game experiences with app-style liberal game making conditions. Less heavy handed overbearing grand plans that leave everyone behind.
The failure to adapt to this new reality makes Xbox One looks like the console for last year’s man. Live TV is a mode of watching that many people don’t do any more because they have long-tail services like Netflix and Hulu. Rather than watch scheduled programming like a sucker, they sit in and watch the entirety of Arrested Development as a batch. Rather than stare all eyes-a-goggle at the big screen, they have other devices open and switch back and forth. The living room of people all sitting around their Kinect dancing for joy and swiping over to read Internet Explorer is not a real place, and never will be.
Maybe there was a time when owning living rooms made sense, but not any more. It’s almost incomprehensible to watch how singularly Microsoft seems not to acknowledge how times have changed. “Not getting it” doesn’t even begin to describe the cognitive dissonance that watches the world diverge in thousands of app-shaped directions and concludes that it only wants to be able to watch NFL while tweeting, playing Madden and racing.
Victor Hugo once said that “one cannot resist an idea whose time has come,” but the corollary of that is that one cannot perpetuate an idea whose time has gone. Microsoft can continue to dream like Howard Hughes of a grand world in which we all hook up our consoles and Kinects to our cable boxes and then sit around Father Television to watch The Price is Right. But it’s doing so at the expense of a market that it helped to create, while searching for a customer which arguably no longer exists.
Alas, it seems more like Xbox Done.
The Gillmor Gang — Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, Keith Teare, John Taschek, and Steve Gillmor — neatly sidestepped the Yahoo Tumblr acquisition and segued into the wonderful world of messaging. As Facebook Home settles into a cot at the homeless shelter, Google is revving up for an all-out assault on the service suite. Google Glass is just the tip of the iceberg; below the waterline, the search giant is sucking image, location, traffic, and advertising data in realtime.
It may seem like the Gang is tilting over into Google love, but scratch the surface (no pun intended) and you’ll find just as much Apple love lurking beneath. The consensus is not so much a two-horse race as a widening duopoly that makes it very hard for Yahoo or Microsoft or Amazon or any new player to break the hold these two giants maintain. Of course, that’s what they said about Microsoft, which in reality was the duopoly of Windows and Office.
@stevegillmor, @scobleizer, @kteare, @jtaschek, @kevinmarks
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
Carmel Winter Park officially opens on May 28 - featuring quality food, diverse wines and cocktails, a vibrant ambiance, and innovative technology paired with the best service in town!
Overall, pretty good Thai food and a nice, welcoming, (if a bit too dark) atmosphere, but cannot say it quite lives up to the hype: if this is Orlando's best Thai restaurant, then that's Orlando's…
Most authentic Italian food I have yet to taste here in Florida. Very pleased with the service and the quality of food! Definitely will be swinging by again!!
Do not use this place. Over priced horrible costumer service and rude staffing. Save your money and time and go some place else. the pep boys on 27 is amazing and well priced and fast.
Google Buzz, the social service that Google launched way back in 2010 and then killed in 2011, reminded former users that their data still lives in and will be moved over to your Google Drive accounts in July. That’s lovely.
The email describes exactly what will happen with your data, which won’t count against your Drive storage limits, thankfully.
If you don’t delete the data and let Google move your stuff to Drive, it says that the public Buzz posts you shared in the past “may appear in search results and on your Google Profile.” OK, then.
Here’s the entire email in case you’ve filtered out Buzz communication to go directly to Spam or Trash:
In October 2011 we announced Google Buzz was shutting down. On or after July 17th, 2013, Google will take the last step in the shutdown and will save a copy of your Buzz posts to your Google Drive, a service for storing files online. Google will store two (2) types of files to your Google Drive, and the newly-created files will not count against your storage limits. If you’d like to wipe Buzz from your online world completelly, go here and delete the data now: https://profiles.google.com/me/deletebuzz
1. The first type of file will be private, only accessible to you, containing a snapshot of the Google Buzz public and private posts you authored.
2. The second type of file will contain a copy of only your Google Buzz public posts. By default it will be viewable by anyone with the link, and may appear in search results and on your Google Profile (if you’ve linked to your Buzz posts). Note, any existing links to your Google Buzz content will redirect users to this file.
3. Any comments you made on other users’ posts will only be saved to those users’ files and not to yours. Once the change described in this email is final, only that user will be able to change the sharing settings of those files. This means that if you have commented on another author’s private post, that author could choose to make that post and its comments public. If you would like to avoid that possibility, delete all your Buzz content now.
4. The new Google Drive files will only contain comments from users that previously enabled Google Buzz, and the files will not contain comments that were deleted prior to moving the data to your Google Drive.
Once the files are created, they will be treated the same as any other Drive file. They are yours to do with as you please. This includes downloading them, updating who can access them, or deleting them.
Before these files are created, you can view the Google Buzz posts you have authored here. If you do not want any of your Buzz posts or comments saved to Google Drive files, you can immediately delete your Google Buzz account and data.
Thank you for using Google Buzz.
Since Google mentions in the email that you can delete your data not once, but twice, that’s the course of action that I’ll be taking.
Buzz never took off, and Google went on to focus all of its efforts on Google+. There were a slew of reasons why Buzz didn’t work, mostly centered around privacy. The close integration with Gmail made the entire experience a mess, blurring the lines between what should be personal and what should be public.
This is clearly the last step for Google to completely rid itself of the product, and all of the privacy concerns and issues that cropped up around the product. Oh, and just in case you missed that delete link, here it is again.
Thank you, Google.
Although 3D printing technology has existed for some time, it’s only now beginning to cross over into mainstream awareness, thanks to increasingly affordable access to the printers themselves, as well as attention-grabbing headlines about 3D printed guns and life-saving medical applications. While less eye-catching, perhaps, the innovation is also powering a new class of creatives, who are using 3D printers to produce art instead. Their “handmade” goods, including jewelry, home decor, gifts and more, appear on sites like the marketplace for crafters, Etsy, and the 3D printing resource center and online shop, Shapeways.
These modern-day artists don’t always fit the traditional mold – or stereotype, rather – of what an artist should be. They don’t necessarily have a studio or workshop, nor do they always have an art background or related experience. Sometimes, they’re drawn in because of the technology and science involved, only then discovering their more artistic side.
And sometimes, they’re just everyday people working day jobs in unrelated fields who have discovered 3D printing as a new way to express themselves creatively, communicating their visions and ideas to a wider audience than they had ever thought possible.
These are their stories.
This is part two of an ongoing series which will showcase some of the art that’s being fueled by the ever more accessible 3D printing technology, and the artists behind the work. In part one, we profiled a formally trained artist who was inspired to use 3D printing for her work, after first coming across the technology years ago.
Part Two: The Self-Taught Learner
When Dutch designer Maaike van der Horn wanted to learn how to use 3D modeling software, she turned to YouTube. The site, she says, is filled with several tutorials that walk you through the basics, and sometimes she would watch these over and over while trying to find her way.
“If you have an idea in your head, and you spend a little bit of time – well, a lot of time, actually – you can actually get pretty far,” she says with a chuckle.
Hoping to make a career change, van der Horn has been training part-time at a school for goldsmiths in the Netherlands in order to learn the trade.
“But I got frustrated because I had all these ideas in my head about things I wanted to make, but I realized that with the traditional goldsmithing techniques and practices, I wouldn’t be able to make those, or would only be able to make those after 20 years of experience, maybe,” she says.
Even if she became an expert in goldsmithing, the soldering and welding techniques wouldn’t have allowed her to make some of the jewelry that’s she’s able to make today using 3D printing, and whatever she had ended up producing because of those limitations wouldn’t have been her original vision — only some watered-down version instead.
“You wouldn’t be able to make such complex and very geometric objects,” she explains. “You wouldn’t be able to be so precise.”
3D printing offered a better alternative.
Van der Horn first heard about the technology after spotting an article in her local newspaper, which talked about the website Shapeways – a site offering printing services as well as tools and help to guide those who are new to using the technology, and which just closed on $30 million in Series C funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz. The website soon became a valuable source of information for van der Horn.
She then began teaching herself how to use free software like SketchUp and Blender - a feat that’s even more impressive considering that she never had formal training, nor does she have any sort of technical background that would lend her to being able to quickly pick up and adapt to new software programs. In college, in fact, she had studied Psychology, and even at her day job, she only uses basic Office software.
But YouTube tutorials and 3D modelers’ forums have gotten her a long way. Once, when she really got stuck, she hired a fellow modeler to help, paying him $50 to solve a particular problem.
Van der Horn heaps praise on Shapeways, saying that the site made it so easy for her to learn and the prices for materials and printing costs were affordable. Although her initial efforts were a bit rocky – her first printed object was a 2D item – she’s now able to produce interesting, unique and complex shapes.
Although she’s always been crafty – van der Horn has filled her house with homemade furniture – her real love has always been jewelry. So that’s what she’s making today via Shapeways, where she tends to prefer working with metals. Stainless steel powder, printed, then fixated by being placed in a gold bath or bronze bath becomes modern, wearable jewelry like rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
“It really stays close to the essence of what I’m trying to do. But I love gold and silver, and right now it’s not possible to directly print in silver or gold at Shapeways,” van der Horn explains. So sometimes, she prints the jewelry in plastic, then has it cast locally. “It’s a mix of traditional techniques (the casting), plus modern techniques (the printing of plastic models). It’s interesting to explore how those two worlds can mix together,” she adds.
Today, most of her jewelry designing is done from the kitchen table or couch, from a beat up old laptop she wants to replace soon. In comparison, her goldsmith training takes place in a joint workshop where several artists pay to share the tools and equipment and split the cost of any repairs.
Does 3D Art Have A Soul?
Like many of the early 3D artists, van der Horn’s jewelry reflects its technical underpinnings with geometric shapes and sharp lines. In time, as people become more familiar with the techniques, that might change. Meanwhile, though van der Horn has always been drawn to geometric shapes herself, she’s still trying to make sure her customers see that her jewelry is coming from her – an artist – not a machine.
“Many people place a lot of value on something that’s handmade and has a direct connection to the artist. The challenge is to show that I put a little bit of myself into my designs,” van der Horn explains. “You can do that by making things that are not so geometrical, or making every branch just off of where it should be. And maybe you can convey a sense that something comes from the heart of the artist,” she says.
Now her shop is around a year old, and she sells her items both online and in local markets in Amsterdam. These days, she ships around 30 or 40 items per month, though that differs depending on the fairs and markets she attends.
Given the recent interest (some may even claim hype) around 3D printing, we asked van der Horn whether or not she thought the technology could produce items of long-lasting value, the way that her goldsmithing skills may do.
“It’s more than hype,” van der Horn asserts. “I do like to think we’re at the beginning of development and we’re only just exploring what anyone – people like you or me – can do with those techniques. For me, it feels like the new industrial revolution. Before, we were all more or less dependent on factories or multinationals who had production capabilities.”
“Now,” she adds, “production methods are opening up to anyone.”
Your government is worried. The world is “going dark.” Once upon a time, telephones were the only way to talk to someone far away, and the authorities could wiretap any phone they wanted. Nowadays, though, suspects might be communicating via Facebook, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype, Viber. And so, inevitably: “Today, if you’re a tech company that’s created a new and popular way to communicate, it’s only a matter of time before the FBI shows up with a court order to read or hear some conversation.”
But some of those providers have no interest in spying on their users. The FBI is not amused. “A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Facebook and Google to enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur,” according to the Washington Post, by fining them increasing sums until they build government-accessible back doors into their systems.
Which invites the titular question of this post.
The FBI may be looking back with dewy-eyed nostalgia on the phone wiretaps of yore, but I think we can all agree that those would have been ridiculously ineffective if anyone with anything to hide had been able to easily acquire and attach tiny devices that made wiretapping impossible. That’s exactly the case today: anyone even remotely au fait with technology can securely encrypt their digital communications themselves, via eg RedPhone.
So the FBI would only be able to wiretap suspects who are either too dumb to use encryption — in which case they ought to be easy enough to catch without wiretaps — or who think they have nothing to hide. Meanwhile, they’d be setting a terrible precedent for other, more draconian governments. Critics say “We’ll look a lot more like China than America after this” … but the Obama administration, which not coincidentally appears to hate whistleblowers above all else, still seems poised to support this initiative.
But wait, it gets worse. In order to claim this empty chalice, the powers that be will require a surveillance system that could be abused by the very kind of people it’s supposed to be used against. Could, and almost certainly would: if you build a tool that can be used malevolently, then inevitably it one day will be. Consider how Google was hacked in 2010 by adversaries who used the intercept facilities built into GMail – at the government’s insistence – to access the private email of Chinese dissidents, and:
Put another way:
Is the FBI actually too stupid to realize that this is a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good idea? Or — get your tinfoil hats on — is the pretext of hunting criminals and terrorists merely a smokescreen for requiring what in effect will be a gargantuan cross-platform surveillance system that will let them spy on anyone’s conversation at any time for their own ulterior motives?
Probably not. (At least, he said paranoiacally, not yet.) But that is exactly what’s happening in other countries. Witness this post by legendary security guru Moxie Marlinspike, the creator of RedPhone among other tools, who was approached by the Saudi Arabian government to help monitor and block tools like Twitter, Viber, Line and WhatsApp. When he declined, they suggested:
If you are not interested than maybe you are on indirectly helping those who curb the freedom with their brutal activities.
That’s right, folks: if you’re not helping the government of Saudi Arabia secretly spy on all of its residents, then you’re on the side of the terrorists! Good to know. I vastly prefer Moxie’s take:
While this email is obviously absurd, it’s the same general logic that we will be confronted with over and over again: choose your team. Which would you prefer? Bombs or exploits. Terrorism or security. Us or them. As transparent as this logic might be, sometimes it doesn’t take much when confirming to oneself that the profitable choice is also the right choice.
If I absolutely have to frame my choices as an either-or, I’ll choose power vs. people.
Similarly, a recent Citizen Lab report indicates that the FinFisher surveillance software is now being used in 36 countries, including those well-known pillars of enlightened human rights Bahrain, Ethiopia, and Turkmenistan, and the Syrian government has an entire electronic army targeting dissidents (who, unfortunately, continue to use Skype even though it’s not secure and Microsoft can and does tap into Skype chats.)
So we’re left with the last option: the FBI is simply technically incompetent. Unable to come to terms with the new world of technology, and take advantage of the many ways in which new technology can aid their investigations in new ways without turning America into a panopticon, they’re instead still thinking inside the box of 20th-century wiretapping, and insisting that tech companies implement a counterproductive, expensive, and ultimately pointless toolkit…purely to satisfy their own blinkered lack of imagination.
It’s sad, depressing, and dangerous. Let’s hope clearer heads and more farsighted visions prevail before this pathetically bad and dumb idea is actually implemented — but alas, I see no reason to believe that we can expect anything but more of the same high-level cluelessness for the foreseeable future.
Digital dating is nothing to scoff at; it’s a big business, and it’s changed a lot of lives — mostly for the better. Yet, while dating has seen enormous progress during the Digital Era, there’s still a lot garbage out there, and the space is still mostly dominated by a handful of old names. A gaggle of dating sites and apps have appeared over the past five years, but few have had real staying power, and many have gone the way of the dinosaur.
While it’s still too early to make any pronouncements, it’s looking more and more like Tinder could buck the trend. Created by Hatch Labs — an LA-based startup backed by IAC, the same Barry Diller-led digital media giant that owns Match.com and OKCupid — Tinder has grown like a weed since it launched in October. A crazy, dating weed.
In part, that’s due to timing, and in part because Tinder is based on a familiar, throwback model, drawing on the same addictive formula behind Hot or Not. Essentially, it’s Hot or Not made mobile, casual and connected to Facebook, but rather than promising to introduce people to their one true soul partner/life mate, Tinder just wants to make it easier to flirt — and get you off your ass to meet people. In the real world.
By focusing on reducing the “creepiness” factor (always a relative term in dating, mind you), reducing spam and by targeting young people, Tinder has been able to find that elusive, exponential growth curve. (Unsurprisingly, it’s initial growth spike came from college campuses, and the average age of its users is still 23.)
It’s also fairly easy to use: It’s free, it doesn’t focus on building traditional profiles, instead pulling basic info from Facebook, is location-enabled, and matches users to other people nearby based on similar behavior, interests and so on. If you’re not interested, you can pass. If you are, it connects you with the other person, allowing you to chat and arrange a meeting offline.
Thanks to the above, the app has been seeing the same kind of growth that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter saw in the early days, Tinder co-founder and CEO Sean Rad tells us. But what does that mean, exactly? When we wrote about Tinder in early January, it had served one million matches and users had made 35 million profile ratings. Today, Rad says, Tinder has served 50 million matches and users have made 4.5 billion ratings.
So, while the team is keeping a tight lid on the number of downloads and users it’s attracted to date, from what we do know (and what we’ve been hearing from other sources), it’s safe to assume that both number well into the millions. And keep in mind: The app was released in late October.
Tinder also seems to be avoiding a common trend among popular mobile apps: High number of downloads, but comparatively low engagement. In Tinder’s case, Rad tells us that around 50 percent of users open the app once a day, while approximately 75 percent open the app once a week and around 85 percent use the app every month.
Based on this growth, rumors have been circulating for months now that claim Tinder is in the proces of raising a big round of outside funding, or is in the process of being acquired. At this point, the founder says, neither of those are true. While the company isn’t sharing how much it’s raised to date, we do know that IAC is it’s primary investor, and owns a minority stake in the business, having been the sole investor in its seed and series A rounds (which we hear total in the millions). And the startup was incubated within IAC.
IAC would likely love to own Tinder outright, as would others, but at this point the startup is resolved to stay independent, and go public rather than sell. Of course, there’s a long road ahead, and these things have a habit of changing. Furthermore, while Tinder has opted not to raise outside capital, our sources tell us that this hasn’t stopped venture capitalists from courting Tinder in every way possible.
With plenty of runway ahead and initial growth and scalability snags behind, Tinder has begun to focus more on product development as well as an area that will be key to its future: International markets. To date, 15 percent of Tinder users hail from outside the U.S., the CEO tells us, with the highest adoption coming from Canada, Australia, Brazil and Ireland. (In recent weeks, Rad says, Tinder was seeing 2,000 downloads/day in Brazil.)
Going forward, the team of 13 will begin its international growth efforts in the UK, Australia, Latin America, Germany, France and China, in particular. To do that, the company is working on additional language support, targeted marketing and hiring local reps in each of these countries. Rad also sees big opportunity for growth in Asia, thanks to the explosion of mobile adoption, and is currently working on partnerships that will help it move into Asian markets and localize the Tinder experience to native languages, networks and so on. (Like how to leverage the biggest Chinese and Asian social networks for authentication, as opposed to relying on Facebook, for example.)
Tinder has also been busy building tools that will help it follow through with its mission to solve social, discovery and networking problems outside the confines of dating. Today, for example, the startup is releasing a new feature called “Matchmaker,” which allows users to create matches between any two Facebook friends — for any purpose.
Once users establish that connection, the two friends can chat within Tinder without sharing their contact information. The idea is to create a casual, simple way to make an introduction, whether you want to set two friends up on a date or make professional connections. Rad tells us that Matchmaker is anonymous and solves the awkward problem of introducing people and then being included on the resulting thread — an annoyance often experienced in email and Facebook intros.
With Matchmaker, the introducer doesn’t have to be removed from the thread, they can send the message to the two people they want to connect, and that’s it. If the recipient isn’t on Tinder, they’ll see that they get a message on Facebook, and they can then quickly create a Tinder login if they want to see the post.
Another cool feature of Matchmaker is that the person who makes the introduction can see if the match is active and they can get a sense of their success rate. Rad assures me that this feature is intended to be high level so that it’s not creepy, allowing users to get just enough of a sense of the activity level of the intros they curate so that they can check back in (or send a reminder) if the conversation goes silent.
Again, the idea is that, while there are plenty of media through which people can make digital introductions, those connections tend to carry more weight if they’re friend-approved. If that intro comes from a close friend, you’re more likely to follow through on it than if not. Of course, there’s the question of whether or not people will want to make introductions in a professional context through a networking that’s primarily associated with dating. For this reason, the startup is launching the feature in beta to test it out and to see if it catches on.
As part of this new release, Tinder is also making some improvements in the areas where its user experience has been less-than-impressive. In particular, many users have complained that the app’s sorting algorithm has matched them with teenage or underage users. (Not cool, Tinder, not cool.) So, in this release, Tinder now includes age filtering, so that users can select their preferred age range, along with making some general improvements to the accuracy of its matching algorithm and improving the speed of chat within the app.
As of now, Tinder remains exclusively an iPhone app, but the CEO tells us that the team is working on an Android version, which will be ready “within the next few months.” The team also has plans to develop tablet apps, but don’t expect Tinder to show up on the Web anytime soon. Tinder is going to remain mobile-centric for the foreseeable future.
In a crowded space, Tinder has, so far, managed to buck the trend and find that elusive, exponential growth curve. Of course, the next year will be critical. As growth inevitably levels out a bit, Tinder will have to keep evolving if it wants to avoid being another flash in the pan. International could hold the key to sustaining that growth, but it remains to be seen whether users will be willing to think of Tinder as more than a casual flirting and dating tool. That could be a tough sell, but if they get there, expect Tinder to stick around for awhile — and be on the receiving end of calls from every VC on the block.
For more, Find Tinder here.
A few weeks ago, Google briefly made a “Google Now” topics page available on the web and then took it down again. The page showed a list of topics Google believed you were interested in, based on your search history. Now this feature is back, but it’s a bit different from the leaked page. A few days ago, it seems, the company quietly (re-)launched this feature with the latest Google Now update. The leaked page was also visible on the desktop, but it looks like Google has plugged this hole the cards are now only available on Android – and only by going through Google Now‘s research cards.
On this page, you can still see many (but not all) of the topics that Google thinks you are interested in. The feature will now pop up at the bottom of Google’s research cards, which often appear after Google realizes that you’ve been researching a certain topic in depth. One of the reasons for this card to pop up, for example, would be when Google detects you are planning a trip.
To see this information, Google Now offers a link will appear underneath these cards (“Explore now,” then look for the “More of your topics” links in the top right) that allows you to delve a bit deeper into the topics you recently looked for and to get a different view of your search history. Indeed, besides powering the research cards, they mostly offer you a richer view of your search history.
Unlike Google’s search history page, however, this feature shows you an aggregate view of what Google believes you are interested in, not just a list of all of your searches.
In my case, for example, Google knew that I was looking for a hotel last weekend and had been looking at hotels in New York a few weeks ago, too. It also knows that I was looking for restaurants in Portland, did some research on web browsers, smartphones and Sim City.
For now, this feature is only available on Android, as the Google Now research cards haven’t launched on iOS yet (where they would be available trough the Google Search app).
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to just surf to this page without having a research card available through Google Now.
Google Now has always been about anticipating your needs and performing searches for you before you. The research cards clearly fit into this pattern and so does the ability to delve a little bit deeper into what Google thinks it knows about you.
This, of course, shows you how much Google really knows about you – which is either really cool or creepy, depending on your overall thoughts about Google and privacy.
When Google mistakenly leaked the topics page earlier this year, it looked like this would be another step in bringing Google Now to the desktop. Sadly, it looks like that isn’t quite the case and that we’ll still have to wait a bit before Now makes it debut on Chrome for the desktop, but with the new notifications system and a flag to enable Now in Chrome, it’s just a matter of time before Google will launch this feature.
Editor’s note: Jon Gottfried is a Developer Evangelist at Twilio, Co-Founder of the Hacker Union, and a StartupBus Conductor. Follow him on Twitter @jonmarkgo.
Being one of the first cyborgs in the world, I have been privy to a unique set of bizarre experiences that have led to some early observations and theories about the future of Google Glass and wearable technology.
At Glass Foundry SF, among the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, the New York Times and Hearst, was a rag-tag group of independent developers building Ice Breaker: myself, Song Zheng, and Rajiv Makhijani. When I pitched the idea of creating a Google Glass version of the dorm-room game Assassins, I thought it would be an interesting tongue-in-cheek jab at the Terminator-esque form of this new piece of technology. I could not have imagined it would turn into a six-month secret project slated to launch at one of the largest tech conferences of the year. We were building the first (and only) game for Google Glass. We had a six-month head start, early access to the Google Glass Mirror API and Glass devices as early as they were available.
Let’s start off by talking about the reality of what it is like to develop applications for Google Glass. Like many of you, I expected it to be very similar to building mobile applications for Android. In fact, I began learning to build Android applications in preparation. My efforts were for naught, because the Mirror API is a RESTful web service. This means that developing applications for Glass is actually more similar to building a website than it is to building an Android application.
Once a user logs in to your application, they grant you permission to push “cards” to their Glass devices and to receive responses from it. It is purely asynchronous, and is not designed for real-time applications, such as an augmented-reality game or a Call of Duty-style, heads-up display. This will likely change with the upcoming release of the GDK, but for the moment you are restricted to building asynchronous applications. No problem for Twitter or Tumblr, where there is no need for instantaneous interactions. However, it certainly puts a damper on many of the science-fiction-esque predictions for Glass.
But there are still many reasons why I am excited about Glass and will continue to develop applications for it:
1. It gives us all a “nerdgasm.”
Developers love technology for the sake of technology. People flock to line up for product launches with the same excitement that a tween feels when they spot Bieber for the first time. Glass is exclusive, mysterious and futuristic. As the first wearable-computing platform to have even a hint of mass availability, it makes us feel as if we are truly living in the future. You could meet a thousand Valley founders all creating the “next big social network,” but no amount of SoLoMo innovation can match the excitement or fear that we will all soon be addicted to The Game, only to be saved by a young Wil Wheaton.
2. We are defining the future.
As developers, we have the unique opportunity to quite literally define the experiences that consumers have with technology. The first third-party applications for the iPhone set the stage for all mobile apps to follow. The same rings true for Glass. Whether or not the product itself is successful, we have the opportunity to create the canonical user experience for wearable computers. In the future, when there are both iGlass and Microsoft Senior Professional Heads-Up™ Displays for Business, they will all be modeled off of these initial applications for Glass – consciously or not.
3. There is money to be made.
While it is unclear whether there will be mass consumer adoption of Glass, it is obvious that this will be a valuable platform. Imagine being a real estate agent walking down the block and seeing information on all of the homes for sale without having to shuffle around with folders and papers. Imagine being a doctor who can immediately see the medical history for an unconscious ER patient without having to manually look it up on a computer and waste precious life-saving seconds. We are not yet comfortable interacting with these new cyborgs in social situations, but I have no doubt that there are an immense number of professional uses that will prove to be more valuable than the potentially awkward social stigmas surrounding them.
4. It is exclusive and attractive.
We are nerds. We have traditionally been at the bottom of the social pyramid. Sure, nerds might be the new rock stars in some circles. But the only thing cooler than a rock star nerd is a rock star nerd wearing a $1,500 pair of glasses that very few people in the world have even heard of, let alone seen in person. A friend of mine described it as the Air Jordans of the 21st century. Whether you are trying to network or get a date, Google Glass is truly one of the best conversation starters I have ever seen. And I promise you, the Glass Explorers are doing both.
5. There is hype.
The press loves Glass. For now at least, every application is the first X for Glass. My app GlassTweet was the first Twitter client for Glass. Ice Breaker was the first game for Glass. And what reporter doesn’t want to be first? It is a perfect opportunity for a developer to build a reputation as a Glass expert, and I have already met many developers attempting to do exactly this.
There are always skeptics. And they would be right to be skeptical – this is a new frontier and we are still defining the social norms involved with wearing a computer on your face. Some have even proposed that providing developers with Glass before the general public will make it seem too nerdy or awkward – what average person concerned about their appearance wants to be associated with a naked geek in the shower?
I would argue that Google took the only option available to them. The only truly scalable products of the future will be developer platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Twilio, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Arduino – all of these products have been successful in large part by embracing and empowering their developer communities. No company is omniscient enough to imagine every potential use of their products.
This gives developers an immense amount of power to define the success or failure of an entire product line. If they innovate and create amazing experiences, it can pave the way for mass consumer adoption of a product, and if they fail or are mistreated by their platform providers, they can create a product wasteland. It is a symbiotic relationship, and ultimately these developers in the Explorer program will define the consumer success of Glass. People will forget about Showergate if the applications on Glass are useful or fun enough to outweigh the initial awkwardness associated with any new product.
All concerns aside, the hard truth that skeptics must face is that this is an inevitable evolution of computing. We will continue to debate the pros and cons of wearable technology for decades to come, but one thing is crystal clear: wearable technology is coming, it is inevitable, and Google is steamrolling a path to this unavoidable future.
Will you join me in defining this future or will you be defined by it?