Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba‘s plans for a mobile version of its annual shopping festival generated little buzz, the company admitted, which makes it seem like the company’s grand mobile shopping event fell flat.
However, Alibaba says the event was meant instead to shine the spotlight on online-to-offline purchases. This means consumers reserve and pay for purchases that have to be redeemed in real life by using mobile devices instead of cash.
In total, more than 2 million discounted movie tickets, 35,000 restaurant reservations and 19.8 million karaoke songs were redeemed on March 8 during the Mobile Taobao 3.8 Life Festival. Alibaba didn’t reveal how much consumers spent.
Comparatively, Alibaba’s annual 11.11 Shopping Festival – China’s answer to America’s Cyber Monday shopping bonanza — saw Chinese shoppers splurge a jaw-dropping record CNY35.01 billion ($5.7 billion) in just 24 hours last year. About 21 percent of the orders were placed via mobile devices, which could have made Alibaba tempted to tap on this potential.
Yet if Alibaba wants to focus on using mobile devices to drive purchases that can be redeemed offline, it seems like there’s still some way to go — as witnessed in its Mobile Taobao 3.8 Life Festival. Alibaba’s mobile efforts come as Chinese Internet giant Tencent announced a strategic partnership with online retailer JD.com today, waging war on the e-commerce stalwart in China.
Headline image via Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
Sometimes it’s just not possible for you to spend the whole weekend gallivanting around tech land, watching the skies for the most interesting new developments. It’s OK, we understand. And for exactly that reason, here’s a handy cheat sheet for everything you missed this weekend.
So, go grab a coffee and spend 15 minutes catching up on all the tech news you weren’t paying attention to in the last two days.From The Next Web over the weekend:
- Google’s Chromecast Coming to “Many More Countries” Soon
- Julian Assange Plans an “Important” New WikiLeaks Release
- Google to Launch Android Developer SDK for Wearables
- Facebook Brings Back F8 Conference for Developers on April 30
- Soundwall: a Wireless Speaker and a Work of Art
- Microsoft hints DirectX 12 is coming to the Xbox One
- Flickr Teases a Slick Visual Revamp of its Photo Data Display
- PayPal to Waive Braintree Fees for Startups
- Banjo updates mobile apps to create TiVO for social media
- AI Could Kill Us All: Meet the Man Taking the Threat Seriously
- Why Admitting You Don’t Know Everything is Perfectly Okay
- Getting Your Company Back On Track Isn’t Impossible
- Show, Don’t Tell: How to Live Your Mission Statement
- The Disappearing Paper: Why Cash Is A Dying Payment Method
- Why Being a VC Fund Partner is Like Running a Start-Up
- Google Searches for an App Role [The Wall Street Journal]
- On Instagram, A Bazaar Where You Least Expect It [NYT Bits Blog]
- Tomorrow’s Apps Will Come From Brilliant (And Risky) Bitcoin Code [Wired]
- Popcorn Time: Open Source Torrent Streaming Netflix for Pirates [Torrent Freak]
Featured Image Credit – Thinkstock
Apple is tipped to launch the iPhone 6 later this year — and a concept of the “iPhone Air” that designer Sam Beckett has come up with may just be the approach Apple is taking for its next smartphone.
The concept showcases an iPhone that is only 8 percent larger than the iPhone 5s, but with a 17 percent larger display and 68 percent more pixels. Beckett decided that the iPhone Air will sport a 4.7-inch screen supporting a resolution of 1920x1080p — that’s 468ppi. According to Beckett, “some extra space could be potentially utilized by reducing the width of the side bezels and by also slimming down the top and bottom of the phone frame.” The depth of the iPhone Air’s conceptualized version is 7mm, coming in 0.6mm thinner than its predecessor.
Other features include the use of sapphire crystal as opposed to Corning Gorilla Glass, as well as a 10-megapixel camera and a faster A8 chip.
Yet apart from these tweaks, the iPhone Air that Beckett has thought of is actually very reminiscent of the iPhone 5s — which makes it seem likely that Apple may very well be already taking this design route. All we can do is wait and see what the next iPhone brings.
Thumbnail image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Chinese Internet giant Tencent, which is best known for its wildly popular messaging service WeChat (known as Weixin in China), has officially combined its e-commerce operations with online retailer JD.com, after rumors last month hinted at such a move.
The two companies have inked a strategic partnership that will see JD tap on Tencent’s significant mobile and Internet user base — WeChat, for example, has 272 million monthly active users – and Tencent will be able to leverage on JD’s e-commerce services. As part of their cooperation, Tencent will support JD in its e-commerce business by offering priority access points in its chat platforms, WeChat and mobile QQ, as well as provide support from other key platforms.
Tencent will initially hold a 15 percent stake in JD upon the completion of this deal, which Bloomberg pins at $214.7 million, and it will further subscribe at IPO price for an additional 5 percent of JD on a post-IPO basis. JD just filed for a $1.5 billion IPO in January this year.
In the meantime, JD will acquire 100 percent interests in Tencent’s e-commerce businesses — including QQ Wanggou and Paipai marketplace, logistics assets and personnel, as well as a minority stake in Tencent’s e-commerce site 51Buy.com (known as Yixun in China).
Both companies will also cooperate on online payment services, as they seek to improve the online shopping experience of customers. WeChat in China has already integrated payment options, and the partnership will no doubt give more emphasis to that.
Martin Lau, the president of Tencent, says: “ Our strategic partnership with JD will not only extend our presence in the fast-growing physical goods e-commerce market, but also allow us to better develop our enabling services such as payment, public accounts and performance-based advertising network to create a more prosperous ecosystem for overall e-commerce activities on our platforms.”
Tencent has been thirsty for success in e-commerce as it seeks to tap on its large userbase from its social platforms, especially WeChat, seeking to come up against Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
A combination of Tencent and JD’s e-commerce businesses will no doubt lead to a stronger push for e-commerce on WeChat. It’s still an early start to the year, but Tencent has already been taking steps to boost its e-commerce presence on WeChat via a $50 million investment in ‘China’s Yelp’ announced yesterday, as well as a logistics deal last month.
Tencent and JD’s partnership can be viewed as waging war on China’s e-commerce stalwart Alibaba — and it will pose a huge threat to the latter, which is already stepping up its mobile social efforts. Alibaba’s CEO Jonathan Lu has pledged to continue the e-commerce giant’s string of big investments as it continues focusing on improving its services for mobile – and the company has launched mobile games and upped efforts to promote its chat app, woo mobile shoppers with free data and even give away free smartphones to retailers in China.
Headline image via faykwong/Flickr
At SXSW, AMC previewed the pilot episode of “Halt and Catch Fire,” an upcoming drama about a group of programmers trying to clone the IBM PC in Texas during the early 1980s. We definitely liked what we saw, but the show feels like the slow burn kind of drama that draws you in over the course of a few episodes.
The first season of Halt and Catch Fire will run for 10 episodes beginning with its June 1, 2014 premiere.
With Breaking Bad and Mad Men, AMC has proved that it can make extraordinary TV shows out of unexpected topics. The network is taking another such risk with Halt and Catch Fire by setting it in the so-called Silicon Prairie.
“We thought there was this great opportunity to tell the story you don’t know about computers,” show creators Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers said during a post-screening panel.
Texas also gives the writers a chance to overlay a Wild West theme onto an origin story for personal computing. If the show’s title strikes you as a bit odd, it’s a reference to a computing command that stops a CPU’s operations, though you can expect that it will take on multiple layers of meaning as the show progresses.
Halt and Catch Fire quickly establishes a compelling dynamic between the two lead characters: Joe MacMillan, a fast-talking sales guy played by Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies) who comes up with the idea to reverse engineer his former employer’s PC, and Gordon Clark, an engineer Scoot McNairy (Argo, 12 Years a Slave) who believes in his own greatness but is held back by alcohol and the demands of his family.
It’s hardly a direct comparison, but there are echoes of the working relationship between Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. As Pace put it, “Joe Macmillan is absolutely aware of Steve Jobs and thinking of what he’s cooking up on the West Coast.”
Wozniak himself hosted Halt and Catch Fire’s post-screening panel at SXSW and praised the show for both its accuracy and production values.
“I give this show a 10 and that’s so rare for me,” he said.
Coming from The Woz, that’s quite the compliment, and AMC is undoubtedly proud to have such a breathless endorsement from one of the PC’s original pioneers. Incidentally, Wozniak added that he only watches two TV shows at the moment, one of which is The Big Bang Theory.
Period pieces have a way of commenting more on the time that we live in than their original settings, and Halt and Catch Fire is no exception. The main thread of the story could just as easily be one from today: a group of hackers with daddy issues disrupt an existing technology monopoly while walking the narrow path between cloning and innovation.
We’re interested to see how the show develops its two main female leads, both of which have technical backgrounds. In researching her role, actress Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment, Breathe In), who plays a confident programmer on the show, found that the role of women coders has regressed from the 1980s until now.
Both of Halt and Catch Fire’s women leads show depth in the first episode, but there were a couple cliche interactions that, for spoilers’ sake, I’ll leave unmentioned. AMC can hardly change history, but we’ll still be watching whether it can handle the topic with more finesse than previous series like Breaking Bad and Mad Men.
The inspiration for the show comes from one of the show’s creators, whose father moved the family down to Dallas to work for a computer company in the 1980s.
“That really stuck with me on an emotional level. That was at the emotional core for me,” Chris Cantwell said.
While the show’s arc is fictional, enough of the real-life participants of the birth of the PC are around that AMC turned to them for help in making the show technically accurate. Geeks will find that the show has a number of easter eggs relating to a number of early computing pioneers like Charles Babbage. The Clark family, for instance, is inspired in part by Gary and Dorothy Kildall.
If anything, Halt and Catch Fire will be too technical for most viewers, but that isn’t any more of a problem than Walter White’s explanations of the complex chemistry behind a P2P cook.
In explaining how the show treats the process of building new technology, showrunner Jonathan Lisco (Southland, K-Ville) noted that “in some ways society becomes the recipient of whatever psychopathology they put into their creations.”
That same principle applies for art and filmmaking. These last 30 years of tumultuous progress have caused our relationship with technology to become a mixture of fear, awe and obsession.
Halt and Catch Fire tries to express the psychopathology of our connected, mobile world by looking back at the genesis of the personal computer movement. One episode isn’t enough to judge by, but my first impression is that, while the show won’t grab us by the throat like Breaking Bad, it will slowly reel us in the way Mad Men did.
Michael Cerda, Vevo’s SVP of Product and Technology, said that the he has received many requests from companies to be able to use Vevo videos. The SDK will allow developers to query the Vevo database of video metadata and serve up relevant videos. The videos will be monetized with advertising, although the prominence of the ads will vary from partner to partner.
While the SDK will initially be available on a partnership basis, Vevo plans to eventually make it open to any developer once early partners have helped iron out any initial bugs.
Cerda also revealed upcoming overhauls of Vevo’s mobile apps. They’ll soon feature an Instagram-style social feed that will include advertising. Additionally, Vevo TV, the linear, old-style MTV-style service that the company launched last March, will be offered via three channels in the new apps.
The first platform to receive the new updates will be iOS, with a new universal app that offers a simplified UI based around swipes and gestures. It will include the ability to continue watching a video in the corner of the screen while you navigate the app, this works in the same way as the mini-player in YouTube’s mobile apps, and it can be dismissed with a swipe.
Vevo built the new iOS app with its own SDK in order to ‘dogfood’ it, and an Android version is in the works to follow the release of the iOS app.
Google has some good news for those of you outside the US: Chromecast is coming to “many more countries” in the next few weeks. The announcement came from an SXSW keynote by Sundar Pichai, the company’s SVP of Androids, Apps and Chrome.
Last month, reports emerged that Chromecast would soon arrive in the UK and Australia. Google first released the HDMI dongle last July, before opening the device up to developers with an SDK in February.
While Pichai wouldn’t reveal specific sales figures for the Chromecast, he did note that customers have bought “millions” of units and sales continue to grow rapidly.
At $35, Chromecast is a phenomenal deal, but new features and services have come to it slowly over the past few months. Now that the device has an SDK and is expanding internationally, we can hopefully expect a quicker pace for improvements to the platform.
Pichai also revealed during his talk that an Android SDK for wearable devices is coming in two weeks’ time.
You can keep up with all of our SXSW coverage on our event page.
Image credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
At SXSW today, Sundar Pichai, Google’s SVP of Android, Apps and Chrome, announced that the company will soon release an Android developer SDK specifically designed for use with wearable devices.
Pichai noted that Google will lay out a “vision for developers of how we see this market working” as part of the SDK.
From CES to MWC, wearable devices have been a major theme at this year’s tech events. Pichai said he’s particularly excited about the potential that the small, powerful sensors in wearables can bring to Android.
During the Q&A time, Pichai clarified that the new SDK isn’t just for smartwatches. In his view, Google’s role is to developer the system software and API, but it’s up to developers and partners to figure out which new form factors to use.
You can follow all of our SXSW coverage on our event page.
It’s easy to miss interesting things in the mass of press emails that flood a journalist’s inbox before SXSW, but the invitation to try Soundwall stood out to me because the entire premise sounded so ridiculous that I just had to check it out.
Soundwall is a wireless speaker and work of art combined. Why would you want that? It turns out that a large flat-panel speaker provides better clarity of sound than many standard wireless speakers can provide. This isn’t a canvas with a speaker attached, the entire canvas is the speaker. Because you probably wouldn’t want a to have a speaker of between 24″ x 36″ and 40″ x 60″ taking up wall space, the art gives you something to look at.
Nestled behind the art is a Raspberry Pi computer that can receive firmware updates to automatically improve Soundwall over time. Prices range from $949 to $2,499 depending on the canvas size that you choose.
I met the founders of Soundwall in downtown Austin to discover the story behind this unusual combination of sound and vision. You can listen to the interview below.
Jason Freedman is the co-founder of 42Floors, making it easy for everyone to rent office space. He’s a two-time Y Combinator alum and blogs regularly on humbledMBA. This post was originally published on the 42floors blog.
I want to share an interesting conversation I had with Kiran Divvela back when he was still interviewing for our company.
Kiran runs all of our data supply chain activities. He’s one of those rare types that communicates well, has solid management skills, is fluent technically, and was a perfect startup culture fit.
Kiran was one of our toughest hires. We knew he had options. We thought that we were in the lead for him culture-fit wise. The big question left for Kiran was learning enough about our industry since commercial real estate was new to him. He needed to truly believe he was going to be part of building a big company.
After we made him the offer, I made myself available to talk through any questions he had. It was like fundraising due diligence all over again. We went through the deck, and I showed him our short, medium and long terms plans. We went on long walks where we talked about each piece of our strategic plan.
One moment has stuck in my mind. He was asking me how we were going to keep our data updated once we were at scale. It was an important question. If you fail at it, users have the worst experience possible, calling on listings that actually aren’t available. If you’re great at it, you become known as the best source of information anywhere and everyone flocks to you.
Kiran would be leading our data efforts and that would include not only acquiring the data but keeping it updated. At this point, in the young life of our startup, simply getting commercial real estate listings was the most important activity. Keeping them updated was a challenge I knew was on the horizon but we hadn’t had to deal with it too much yet.
With our small scale at the time, we had been able to solve this problem manually. That wouldn’t really work at scale. As we walked down the street, doing yet another lap around South Park, I shared a few of my ideas with him.
But they weren’t great ideas. More like trying to write with a crayon when the rest of our conversation had been written in pen.
Finally I cut myself off and told him flatly, “Look, I don’t really know.”
It was the truth.“I don’t know”
Every commercial real estate listings company – actually every real estate tech company, commercial or residential – has struggled to figure out how to keep listings updated. While there are lots of tactics, there is no one true silver bullet.
I had lots of ideas I wanted to try. One of the reasons I was so excited to have Kiran on board was that he would be the one who would actually get to try them, as well as come up with tons of new ideas. But at this moment, the most truthful answer I could give him was, I don’t know.
And he smiled and responded back, “I was waiting for that. I like it when people say I don’t know.”
I burst out laughing.
Kiran explained that he likes it when people say I don’t know because it lends credibility to everything else that they’ve said. He was already pretty close to making up his mind that he was coming to 42Floors, he just wanted an honest accounting of what we had answers to and what remained as questions.Why don’t people ever admit it?
Ever since that encounter, I’ve tried to pay attention a lot more when people say I don’t know. We did a whole bunch of Y Combinator mock interviews during the last session. The YC alumni in our company try to offer some time before each batch to work with the people that are preparing.
I found that very few of the startups were willing to use the words I don’t know. A couple of times a founder was in such a salesy mode that we both knew he was bullshitting his answers, but he refused to show anything other than total confidence. I just saw it as foolishly naïve.
One startup that got in actually used the words ‘I don’t know’ several times. The founder was super confident in her product, super confident in her team but had some uncertainties about how she was going to acquire users and didn’t really know how big her market was, both of which were problems she said she would address. But it was so refreshing to hear her honesty.
I don’t have enough data points to generalize yet, but it seems promising. If you have the confidence and honesty to say I don’t know, you’re probably going to win over a lot of people.You don’t need to know all the answers
One place I’ve always struggled to say I don’t know is when talking with engineers about technical stuff beyond my knowledge. No one wants to look stupid so it’s easier to nod your head when you don’t know what someone is talking about. I realize now it creates the opposite effect.
Every time I appear to understand something I don’t, it just makes me look foolish.
I try now to just simply say that I don’t know and ask people to explain things to me. Fairly regularly, one of our engineers, Aaron O’Connell, will take time to explain what it is he’s working on. He’s got a Ph.D. in physics and he’s a gifted coder, but he never seems to mind taking the time to explain it to me in a way that I can understand.
See, no big deal.
I also say I don’t know a ton to my board. We have super smart guys on our board and nothing gets past them. Saying I don’t know with them turns a question into a homework assignment.
As long as I follow up with the answer later, they never mind. And it’s 1000x better than bullshitting a half answer.
Thank you Kiran for inspiring this post.
Andre Lavoie is the CEO of ClearCompany, a real-time talent alignment platform that helps companies connect all aspects of talent management to their business strategy.
It can happen to anyone… all is going well with your company, when something just seems a bit off, nothing major at first, but something just isn’t quite right.
As Global Managing Director at Thomson Reuters, I decided I needed to spend time checking in with employees using a method I called “five levels to find out” to encourage organizational alignment and attempt to get us back on track. I isolated employees five levels removed from my tier of the organizational chart and listened to them talk about their work experience and how they believed they contributed to organizational objectives.
This made it clear that alignment needed to be one of my top priorities, because it mattered so much to our success. Let me explain why.The importance of alignment
What every manager must understand is their primary purpose in a business structure is to cascade a company strategy. They are to take what in most cases is a big theme and break it down into smaller bits their people can grasp onto and run with.
Companies literally depend on this kind of alignment to succeed, and employees depend on it for their own engagement and personal success.
Simply put, companies without aligned employees are underutilizing their resources. And underutilized people are disengaged people, just as certainly as unaligned companies are dead ones.
A recent survey called “How Leaders Grow Today” backs up my personal experience. It found that, while 43 percent of workers are familiar with company goals, they couldn’t specifically name these objectives.
Think about this for a minute: 43 percent of employees can’t articulate their company goals. They’re walking without a destination, so it’s no wonder so many of your people are becoming lost.
Getting your business back on track isn’t impossible, but you’ll have to first look into your organization a little deeper. Here’s how:Break up the game of telephone
Have you ever played the game telephone? As your message travels from person to person, the meaning can sometimes change dramatically. It may be an exciting game for parties, but it’s much less fun when it’s happening in your organization.
Still, far too many companies have communication structures mirroring this game, with employees losing the meaning behind their efforts as tasks cascade down the organizational chart.
The cost of this can be exorbitantly high. According to research, mistakes due to miscommunication cost approximately $37 billion a year. One of the reasons I used the “five levels to find out” method was to see how this game of telephone was playing out in my own company. I discovered it’s all too easy for goals to get misaligned when directives are veering off course as they make their way down or up the food chain.
The key is to link your teams’ everyday efforts to overall goals, and to make it easy for managers and employees to visualize how work flows up to larger company strategies. By aligning all the middlemen — through a clear alignment of their goals — you can ensure your team gets the right message every time.Make goals a daily part of life
As an employee at a medium or large-scale company, the levels of upper management can look particularly serpentine. Maybe at one point the employee understood how their contributions impacted company goals, but it’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of piling work.
Instead of focusing on how a particular project will contribute to your company’s goals, employees are most likely just focused on hitting deadlines and punching the clock. Talent alignment platforms can help here, by allowing employees to easily visualize how their specific project dovetails with company-wide strategies.
You don’t have to schedule weekly meetings or quarterly gatherings in order to restate goals if employees have a clear view through the company hierarchy. Most importantly, this can ensure your people don’t get caught up in small tasks and miss the larger picture.Connect your employees together
Getting your company back on track means getting everyone together on the same page. When I would move up and down the chain of command in my company, I was always surprised at the lack of shared focus between departments and branches.
As a leader, you probably think everyone in your company is pulling in the same direction, but this often couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Transparency into the productivity of your workers allows you to recognize and reward the right people. This cuts down on toxic office politics, since your workforce will see hard work rewarded.
After all, a Gallup study found strengths-based employee feedback resulted in a 12.5 percent increase in productivity. So understanding how your employees work best and encouraging managers to play to strengths can mean happier and more productive workers.
It’s time to get your company back on track, and now you know it’s not impossible. Using proper talent alignment and focusing on goals means your employees receive the right message, every time.
What do you think? How do you use goals to keep employees on track? Share in the comments!
Andrea Ayres-Deets is the Lead Writer at ooomf, an invite-only network connecting short-term software projects with handpicked developers and designers. Andrea writes about psychology, creativity, and business over on the ooomf blog.
I once worked for a company who was really proud of their mission statement. They had it printed on everything and talked about it often.
For all that talk, there was very little action. Somewhere along the way I realized that we were deluding ourselves. We weren’t changing the system, we were working directly in the confines of it.
We weren’t only lying to ourselves, but we were being disingenuous to the consumer about what the main intention of the company was. You could turn on your television and see the management reciting the mission statement with an impassioned plea to viewers, but no one in the company was living it.
This is not an isolated problem. It’s one so many companies, especially startups, must confront. How do you live your mission statement, honestly, thoughtfully, and with purpose?
If there was any doubt in your mind about the precarious position of mission statements, look no further than the mission statement generator:
The mission statement has become the cornerstone of corporations, higher education, CEO’s, and even families. Beginning in the 1970s the mission statement began its surge in popularity—dominating the corporate world for the next thirty-odd years. You couldn’t turn around without being assailed by books touting the benefits of mission statements.But do they work?
“The fact that there is no reliable and recognized base of research on mission statements is somewhat amazing because the virtues of having a well-articulated mission statement are extolled in almost every current management textbook.”
Perhaps the best explanation for why we continue to use mission statements comes from Christopher C. Morphew:
“Mission statements are normative—they exist because they are expected to exist.”
We’ve become so accustomed to seeing mission statements that the absence of one would cause us to question the company or organizations legitimacy.Where do mission statements go wrong?
They are either too boring or too presumptuous to make any impact. The worst mission statements over exaggerate and rely on flowery language to give the impression that they are a company of action—even if the reality is much different.
Let’s take a look at this mission statement as an example:
“Serving corporations, institutions, entrepreneurs, and individuals, our attorneys build enduring relationships by providing legal counsel informed by business insight to help clients achieve their objectives.”
Ah, yes the age old tradition of achieving objectives. It’s certainly vague enough to give you the impression that the company acts with the best interests of all people. Unless I told you this is from a corporate law firm composed of a few hundred attorneys who mostly help Fortune 500 companies obtain their objective of absolving themselves of expensive asbestos litigation.
Does saying you are committed to serving stakeholders really put you in a better position to actually serve these stakeholders? Isn’t there a better way to get employees to buy into your company without offering them a slice of bullshit pie?
Why yes, yes there is.
Mission statements can provide a sense of purpose and clarity, but they mean nothing if you can’t fulfill the objectives of your mission statement. Here are five tips to help you live your companies mission statement:1. Lose the hubris
Success doesn’t come because someone chose the right buzzword. If your mission is to provide a free app for people as a utility to improve their lives, than let this guide your mission statement.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t be optimistic, but a healthy dose of realism is needed. Overreaching only undermines your company instead of helping it.2. Do be concise
If your mission statement is longer than eight words, you may want to reconsider it. Employees and customers won’t remember what your company is about if they have to consult a jargon filled paragraph.
Your mission statement should be something no one easily forgets.3. Be inclusive and ask questions
You should not write your mission statement in a vacuum, devoid of any outside help. It’s important to have as much input as possible about the purpose of the company.
Ask employees why they believe the product or service is needed? What values are important to them? What’s more important than money?
These are just some of the questions Warren Berger of FastCo believes companies should answer in the quest to define your mission. Questions before content; make sure you’ve thought it all through.4. Don’t hire someone to write your mission statement
Hiring someone to write a mission statement gives the impression that there is more concern about outward appearances than the real purpose of the company.
The act of writing a mission statement is about learning what matters the most. The exercise of writing the statement is almost as important as what you finally end up with.5. Enough talk, do it
The mission statement means nothing if you aren’t living it. Your mission statement has to be clear, it has to quantify what you want to accomplish. If it does that, it will help crystalize what policies and decisions you need to achieve your goal.
Mission statements should evolve as your company evolves. Always search for how to improve, for ways to better live your mission statement. This means constantly asking questions and searching outside for inspiration.
Writing a mission statement should help you focus on what matters most in language that is clear and accessible to everyone. Do that, and living your mission statement should come effortlessly.
Three years later, Facebook is bringing back its F8 developer conference to San Francisco on April 30
At SXSW today, Parse co-founder and CEO Ilya Sukhar announced Facebook’s F8 conference will be held this year on April 30 at the San Francisco Design Concourse. That the announcement comes from Sukhar is fitting because Facebook, Instagram, as well as Parse engineers and product team members will be available throughout the conference to provide 1:1 help and advice.
The conference will be a little different this year: it will be squarely aimed at developers eager to learn how to best use Facebook, Instagram, and Parse to build, grow, and monetize their apps. The company is promising a full day of technical sessions and hands-on labs, open to more than 1,500 mobile and Web developers from all over the world.
By having a pure developer conference, Facebook says it is “going back to its roots.” The first F8 event, held in May 2007, introduced developers to the social graph. In July 2008, Facebook showed off Facebook Connect for websites, but also introduced a new profile design. In April 2010, Facebook unveiled social plugins (including the Like button), the Open Graph Protocol, Graph API, and OAuth 2.0 support. In September 2011, Facebook introduced the Timeline profile and a broader version of its Open Graph.
In 2012 and 2013, Facebook chose not to host F8 in favor of multiple smaller events. Now, three years later, the company looks eager to build on its Parse acquisition. If we are to believe the message going out today, there won’t be much user-focused news at F8. That being said, if Facebook has decided to bring back its only major conference, chances are it has something notable to share.
F8 2014 will open with a morning keynote, followed by four tracks that cover getting started guides, technical best practices, infrastructure strategies, engineering deep dives, and advertising tips for apps and games. Facebook says it will also have sessions dedicated to open source technologies.
Facebook will start accepting applications for the event “soon.”
Top Image Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Banjo has released an update today for its Android and iOS applications as well as a brand new website that brings a new feature called “Rewind.”
The new feature allows users to pinpoint a specific time during an event to view the updates and experiences of others at that moment, which the company says will do to the Internet what TiVO did for TV.
Once you click on an event — such as SXSW or the Kiev protests — you’re able to quickly go back in time to see how the event unfolded on social media and in the news and see how it unfolded through the updates of those who were there.
It’s amazing just how powerful this functionality is for following events as they unfold, especially since Twitter itself doesn’t provide any tools that help with tracking developing stories or for following events in a meaningful way.
Banjo captures social media updates from across many platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook to try and piece together the best picture of how an event unfolded. What’s amazing is just how high-quality the content is; Banjo automatically filters out a lot of the spam that’s seen on social media so that it’s clean and easy to read.
The new Banjo presents itself as something that appears on the surface to be very similar to Storify, except much of the service is automated and uses a secret algorithm to analyse social media in real time to present it in a readable banner.
A few days ago, Microsoft posted up a teaser site that announced the company will be unveiling the next version of DirectX at Game Developer Conference on March 20.
Today, the company added the Xbox One logo to the site and tweeted a second tease, saying that the new version of DirectX will also work on its flagship console.
— DirectX 12 (@DirectX12) March 7, 2014
The Xbox One shares a kernel with Windows, which means it’s likely much easier for the company to port such innovations across to the console quickly. It’s not yet clear what changes DirectX 12 will bring, but if Microsoft is making a fuss like this it probably has something big to show off.
Headline image via Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Yahoo has unveiled the beta version of an upcoming user interface for showing EXIF data on its Flickr photo sharing site. EXIF data—those specs that detail how a particular photo was shot, such as camera make and model, lens type, ISO, F-stop, flash, and other image-specific information—are now available in a standard tabbed listing.
The new interface currently features artistically rendered line-art illustrations for some 40 of the top cameras used on Flickr, as shared in a tweet by Flickr’s product manager, Markus Spiering.
“Where applicable, we show the device name, a line-art illustration of the device (and a generic lens if lens data is present), along with camera settings,” wrote Scott Schiller, a Flickr front-end engineer, in a post.
According to Schiller, “If we don’t have an exact match for a given camera, we try to fall back to the general device class/category if known (i.e., smartphone, DSLR, point-and-shoot, and the like. EXIF data can vary widely since it’s generated per-device, so there may be some variations in formatting of values and numbers.”
For camera bodies, there are generic designs for a range of DSLRs. “The Canon 1D through 5D for example, as shown, looks more like it would in real life with a battery pack attached,” Schiller said. There will be some design compromises, but Schiller said that Flickr aims to represent the most common and popular devices sooner and revise later.
Lens renditions are still largely under construction—there’s only one lens icon right now. However, some ideas include pancake lenses for 4/3rds and flat circle lenses for smartphones.
The new interface is out there for observation, but is not widely available to Flickr subscribers right now.
While the new EXIF data interface is only one small aspect of the overall Flickr interface, it does speak to the detailed attention Yahoo is devoting to all aspects of the site.
Image Credit: Shutterstock
At SXSW today, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Skyped in from the Ecuadorian embassy in London to take part in an hour-long Q&A session. While the main topic of the discussion – government surveillance of the Internet – and his opposition to it, was unsurprising, Assange had some interesting points worth sharing.
He said that the most important transition of the past decade has been the politicization of the Internet, as demonstrated by the likes of WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. He noted that Greenwald and other national security reporters have had to leave the US for countries that are more amenable to them to avoid the fear of being arrested at any time due to the “growing militarism in the USA and UK.” However, he pointed out that this allows them to do work that is even more powerful than they did in the US.
Assange referred to Internet surveillance as “the penetration of our human society,” stating “now that human society and the Internet have merged – the laws of the Internet become the laws of human society.”
On his enforced exile in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid deportation to Sweden where he faces sexual assault charges, Assange described his situation as “a bit like a prison,” although “arguably prisoners have it worse due to the restrictions on visitors (at the embassy)… I operate in a situation that’s any security reporter’s dream,” he said, as he’s free of subpoenas and police interference.
Indeed, Assange said a new WikiLeaks release of “important” material was in the works although he didn’t want to offer a timeframe for its publication as he didn’t want to tip-off “alleged perpetrators.”
He criticized the standard journalistic practice of approaching subjects of stories for comment ahead of publication, as it simply gave them time to spin a counter-argument to the allegations. While this may annoy many journalists, it will come as no surprise to anyone who followed the unredacted release of the US diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011.
While the content of the session wasn’t Earth-shattering, it amused us to note the irony that Assange was criticizing NSA surveillance while his head was being displayed next to a Skype logo.
Startup Blueprint launched last October as an initiative to help startups focus on growth during their early stages.
The 15 new partnerships, which include TechStars and the program’s first VC firm, Kima Ventures, brings the total number to 18 with a global reach of 5,000 startups. PayPal already had agreements in place with 500Startups, Elevator Fund and SeedCamp.
Other new partner organizations include: Better Ventures, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, Founder Institute, LeCamping, H.FARM Ventures, K5Launch, StartupBootcamp, StartupWiseGuys, SURF Incubator, TheFamily, UpWest Labs, Venture Hive, and Village Capital.
Through the program, startups can get have their Paypal fees waived for up to $1.5 million in payments and up to $100,000 on Braintree (US-only), potentially saving them as much as $50,000.
“One of our primary ways that we’re looking to enable [a new way of doing payments] is startups and early stage companies. We think by giving them fantastic payment capabilities, we’ll make their jobs easier,” PayPal CTO James Barrese told TNW in an interview.
Also part of the announcement, Braintree has expanded its new Ignition program to include any US startup. Previously the initiative, which waives processing fees for the first $50,000 of revenue, was limited to 1,000 companies.
Head over to our SXSW event page for all of our coverage from the show.
Photo credit: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images
Thinking about the end of the world is something that most people try to avoid; for others, it’s a profession. The Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, UK specializes in looking at the ‘big-picture’ future of the human race, and notably, the risks that could wipe us out entirely.
As you’d probably imagine, the risks considered by the Institute include things like nuclear war and meteor strikes, but one perhaps unexpected area that it’s looking into is the potential threat posed by artificial intelligence. Could computers become so smart that they become our rivals, take all our jobs and eventually wipe us all out? This Terminator-style scenario used to seem like science fiction, but it’s starting to be taken seriously by those who watch the way technology is developing.
“I think there’s more academic papers published on either dung beetles or Star Trek than about actual existential risk,” says Stuart Armstrong, a philosopher and Research Fellow at the institute, whose work has lately been focused on AI. “There are very few institutes of any sorts in the world looking into these large-scale risks…. there is so little research… compared to other far more minor risks – traffic safety and things like that.”
“One of the things that makes AI risk scary is that it’s one of the few that is genuinely an extinction risk if it were to go bad. With a lot of other risks, it’s actually surprisingly hard to get to an extinction risk,” Armstrong explains. “You take a nuclear war for instance, that will kill only a relatively small proportion of the planet. You add radiation fallout, slightly more, you add the nuclear winter you can maybe get 90%, 95% – 99% if you really stretch it and take extreme scenarios – but it’s really hard to get to the human race ending. The same goes for pandemics, even at their more virulent.
“The thing is if AI went bad, and 95% of humans were killed then the remaining 5% would be extinguished soon after. So despite its uncertainty, it has certain features of very bad risks.”An AI meets a human in a bar…
So, what kind of threat are we talking about here?
“First of all forget about the Terminator,” Armstrong says. “The robots are basically just armoured bears and we might have fears from our evolutionary history but the really scary thing would be an intelligence that would be actually smarter than us – more socially adept. When the AI in robot form can walk into a bar and walk out with all the men and/or women over its arms, that’s when it starts to get scary. When they can become better at politics, at economics, potentially at technological research.”
The first impact of that technology, Armstrong argues, is near total unemployment. “You could take an AI if it was of human-level intelligence, copy it a hundred times, train it in a hundred different professions, copy those a hundred times and you have ten thousand high-level employees in a hundred professions, trained out maybe in the course of a week. Or you could copy it more and have millions of employees… And if they were truly superhuman you’d get performance beyond what I’ve just described.”Why would AI want to kill us?
Okay, they make take our jobs, but the idea that some superior being would want to kill us may seem presumptuous. Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, for example, has an optimistic view of how organic and cybernetic lifeforms will become increasingly intertwined in a more positive way – Skynet doesn’t have to become a reality, and if it does, it doesn’t necessarily have to turn against its creators. Armstrong thinks we should be aware of, and prepared for, the risks though.
“The first part of the argument is they could get very intelligent and therefore very powerful. The second part of the argument is that it’s extremely hard to design some sort of motivation structure, or programming… that results in a safe outcome for such a powerful being.
“Take an anti-virus program that’s dedicated to filtering out viruses from incoming emails and wants to achieve the highest success, and is cunning and you make that super-intelligent,” Armstong continues. “Well it will realise that, say, killing everybody is a solution to its problems, because if it kills everyone and shuts down every computer, no more emails will be sent and and as a side effect no viruses will be sent.
“This is sort of a silly example but the point it illustrates is that for so many desires or motivations or programmings, ‘kill all humans’ is an outcome that is desirable in their programming.”
Couldn’t we program in safeguards though? A specific ‘Don’t kill humans’ rule?
“It turns out that that’s a more complicated rule to describe, far more than we suspected initially. Because if you actually program it in successfully, let’s say we actually do manage to define what a human is, what life and death are and stuff like that, then its goal will now be to entomb every single human under the Earth’s crust, 10km down in concrete bunkers on feeding drips, because any other action would result in a less ideal outcome.
“So yes, the thing is that what we actually need to do is to try and program in essentially what is a good life for humans or what things it’s not allowed to interfere with and what things it is allowed to interfere with… and do this in a form that can be coded or put into an AI using one or another method.”Uncertain is not the same as ‘safe’
Armstrong certainly paints a terrifying picture of life in a world where artificial intelligence has taken over, but is this an inevitability? That’s uncertain, he says, but we shouldn’t be too reassured by that.
“Increased uncertainty is a bad sign, not a good sign. When the anti-global warming crowd mention ‘but there are uncertainties to these results’ that is utterly terrifying – what people are understanding is ‘there are increased uncertainties so we’re safe’ but increased uncertainties nearly always cut both ways.
“So if they say there’s increased uncertainties, there’s nearly always increased probabilities of the tail risk – really bad climate change and that’s scary. Saying ‘we don’t know stuff about AI’ is not at all the same thing as saying ‘we know that AI is safe’. Even though we’re mentally wired to think that way. ”When might we see true AI?
As for a timeframe as to when we could have super-intelligent AI, Armstrong admits that this is a tough question to answer.
“Proper AI of the (kind where) ‘we program it in a computer using some method or other’… the uncertainties are really high and we may not have them for centuries, but there’s another approach that people are pursuing which is whole-brain emulations, some people call them ‘uploads’, which is the idea of copying human brains and instantiating them in a computer. And the timelines on this seem a lot more solid because unlike AI we know exactly what we want to accomplish and have clear paths to reaching it, and that seems to be plausible over a century timescale.”
If computers can ‘only’ think as well as humans, that may not be so bad a scenario.
“(With) a whole brain emulation… this would be an actual human mind so we wouldn’t have to worry that the human mind would misinterpret ‘keep humans safe’ as something pathological,” Armstrong says. “We would just have to worry about the fact of an extremely powerful human – a completely different challenge but it’s the kind of challenge that we’re more used to – constraining powerful humans – we have a variety of methods for that that may or may not work, but it is a completely different challenge than dealing with the completely alien mind of a true AI.”
As for those true AIs that can outsmart any human, timeframes are a lot more fuzzy.
“You might think you can get a good estimate off listening to predictors in AI, maybe Kurzweil, maybe some of the others who say either pro- or anti-AI stuff. But I’ve had a look at it and the thing is there’s no reason to suspect that these experts know what they’re talking about. AIs have never existed, they’ll never have any feedback about how likely they are to exist, we don’t have a theory of what’s needed in any practical sense.
“If you plot predictions, they just sort of spread over the coming century and the next, seemingly 20 years between any two predictions and no real pattern. So definitely there is strong evidence that they don’t know when AI will happen or if it will happen.
“This sort of uncertainty however goes both ways, the arguments that AI will not happen are also quite weak and the arguments that AI will not happen soon are also quite weak. So, just as you might think that say it might happen in a century’s time, you should also think that it might happen in five years’ time.
“(If) someone comes up with a nearly neat algorithm, feeds it a lot of data, this turns out to be able to generalize well and – poof – you have it very rapidly, though it is likely that we won’t have it any time soon, we can’t be entirely confident of that either.”The philosophy of technology
What became apparent to me while talking to Armstrong is that the current generation of philosophers, often ignored by those outside the academic circuit, have a role to play in establishing the guidelines around how we interact with increasingly ‘intelligent’ technology.
Armstrong likens the process behind his work to computer programming. “We try to break everything down into the simplest terms possible, as if you were trying to program it into an AI or into any computer. Programming experience is very useful. But fortunately, philosophers, and especially analytic philosophers, have been doing this for some time. You just need to extend the program a bit. So see what you have and how you would ground it, so theories of how you learn stuff, how you know anything about the world and how to clearly define terms become very useful.”
The biggest problem Armstrong faces is simple disbelief from people that the threat of mass extinction from artificial intelligence is worth taking seriously.
“Humans are very poor at dealing with extreme risks,” he says. “Humans in general and decision makers at all levels – we’re just not wired well to deal with high-impact, low-probability stuff… We have heuristics, we have mental maps in which extinction things go into a special category – maybe ‘apocalypses and religions or crazy people’, or something like that.”
At least Armstrong is making headway when it comes to something that seems a little more impactful on our day-to-day lives in the nearer term – the threat AI poses to our jobs. “That’s perfectly respectable, that’s a very reasonable fear. It does seem that you can get people’s attention far more with mid-size risks than with extreme risks,” he says.
“(AI) can replace practically anybody, including people in professions that are not used to being replaced or outsourced. So just for that, it’s worth worrying about, even if we don’t look at the dangerous effect. Which again, I’ve found personally if I talk about everybody losing their job it gets people’s interest much more than if I start talking about the extinction of the human species. The first is somehow more ‘real’ than the second.”
I feel it’s appropriate to end our conversation with a philosophical question of my own. Could Armstrong’s own job be replaced by an AI, or is philosophy an inherently human pursuit?
“Oh interesting… There is no reason why philosophers would be exempt from this, that philosophers would be able to be AI much better than humans because philosophy is a human profession,” he says.
“If the AI’s good at thinking, it would be better. We would want to have done at least enough philosophy that we could get the good parts into the AI so that when it started extending it didn’t extend it in dangerous or counterproductive areas, but then again it would be ‘our final invention’ so we would want to get it right.
“That does not mean that in a post AI world that there would not be human philosophers doing human philosophy, the point is that we would want humans to do stuff that they found worthwhile and useful. So it is very plausible that you would have in a post-AI society philosophers going on as you would have other people doing other jobs that they find worthwhile. If you want to be romantic about it, maybe farmers of the traditional sort.
“I don’t really know how you would organise a society but you would have to organize it so that people would find something useful and productive to do, which might include philosophy.
“In terms of ‘could the AIs do it beyond a human level’, well yes, most likely, at least to a way that we could not distinguish easily between human philosophers and AI.”
We may be a long way away from the Terminator series becoming a documentary, but then again maybe we’re not. Autonomous robots with the ability to kill are already being taken seriously as a threat on the battlefields of the near future.
The uncertainty around AI is why we shouldn’t ignore warnings from people like Stuart Armstrong. When the machines rise, we’ll need to be ready for them.