- NBA 2K17 and GTA V help Take-Two Interactive crush earnings
- Fitbit holiday sales forecast falls short, stock tanks 30%
- Take-Two Interactive’s Mafia III shipped 4.5 million copies in first week
- Facebook passes 1 billion mobile-only monthly users
- Facebook reports strong $7.01 billion in revenue with 1.79 billion monthly users
- Google finally stops supporting and developing Android Developer Tools in Eclipse
- CSR2 mobile racing game helps Zynga hit $197 million in bookings for third quarter
- Pokémon Go’s Halloween event continues to give out sweet treats
- Chatbots are getting better at conversation. Or are they?
- Message.io launches enterprise bot converter to tear down walled gardens
- Nintendo finally reveals Miitopia in Japan with an interactive trailer
- Microsoft: ‘We do not have any plans for a free or consumer offering of Teams’
- Hillary Clinton’s other big email problem, and why Donald Trump is no better
- Twitch finds way to make ads better while bypassing blockers
- Animal Crossing: New Leaf gets Amiibo support in a free update
- Zarget raises $6 million to let small businesses create their own marketing strategies
- Uber is rolling out a big redesign powered by machine learning
- IFTTT scraps recipes for multi-device commands called applets
- How bots will work on Microsoft Teams
- Microsoft Teams is a Slack competitor that’s part of Office 365
- Slack takes out full-page ‘Dear Microsoft’ ad in NYT ahead of Microsoft Teams announcement
- Gigwalk Reaches One Million Gigwalkers and Delivers New Enhancements to its Enterprise Cloud Solution
- Fove VR headset lets you play games using eye controls
- Octane AI launches with bots for 50 Cent, KISS, and Aerosmith
- Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Announces Inaugural Moore Inventor Fellows
- Mac management startup Fleetsmith launches out of stealth with $3.1 million
- ToneTree launches Kickstarter for Oak augmented reality playground
- Gupshup’s new development tools help you build a chatbot without writing code
- Spotify acquires Preact, a startup that helps companies acquire and retain subscribers
- Mobile app market to grow 270% to $189 billion by 2020, with games accounting for 55%
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 01:37 PM PDT
The money is in basketball and crime simulators. At least, that’s the case for one of the biggest gaming publishers in the world.
Take-Two Interactive generated $420.2 million in revenues during the second quarter of its fiscal 2017, and that’s up 21 percent year-over-year. The Grand Theft Auto V and NBA 2K17 publisher earned 39 cents per share, according to generally accepted accounting practices (GAAP). For non-GAAP earnings, it brought in 45 cents per share, which was 16 cents higher than Wall Street’s prediction. That’s a huge beat for Take-Two, and it shows the continuing strength of its core franchises.
“Take-Two's business continued to outperform during the second quarter, enabling us to deliver strong net revenue and better-than-expected bookings growth," Take-Two chief executive Strauss Zelnick said in a statement. "Our outstanding results were highlighted by the series’ record-breaking launch of NBA 2K17, ongoing robust demand for Grand Theft Auto V, and increased recurrent consumer spending, including year-over-year bookings growth from Grand Theft Auto Online.”
NBA 2K17 is one of the top-selling annual franchises. It is highly regarded among critics and fans, and this has helped it build up a loyal audience that returns year after year and keeps it in the top 10 best-selling games in the United States for months at a time.
GTA V, meanwhile, debuted in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It has since landed in the top 10 best-selling games in the United States every year since. It will likely do the same in 2016. But on top of the full game sales for GTA V, developer Rockstar has turned that game into a revenue factory thanks to the GTA: Online mode that gives players the opportunity to spend real-world cash on in-game currency.
Rockstar hasn’t released a new game since GTA V, and Zelnick noting that the game’s microtransactions are generating more sales this year than last year is likely a major reason why.
As for the rest of this year, Take-Two is updating its fiscal 2017 outlook. For the Q3, ending December 31, the company expects to generate $475 million to $525 million in revenues and earnings of 30 cents to 40 cents per share. For the entirety of fiscal 2017, which ends March 31, the company expects $1.75 billion to $1.85 billion in revenues and $2 to $2.25 per share.
The publisher has already kicked off its push toward those goals with the launch of Mafia III, which it claims is the fastest-shipping 2K game yet. But it also has the critically acclaimed Civilization VI and the annual entry of WWE 2K. On top of that, Take-Two is jumping into VR with a new take on the Carnival Games series it started on the Nintendo Wii.
"Our holiday season is off to a great start with a diverse array of successful new releases, including Mafia III, WWE 2K17 and Sid Meier's Civilization VI, as well as our first virtual reality offering – Carnival Games VR,” said Zelnick. “We intend to support our titles with innovative offerings designed to promote ongoing engagement and drive recurrent consumer spending, including additional free content for Grand Theft Auto Online.”
Looking ahead to next year, Take-Two is touting Red Dead Redemption 2, which is a sequel to one of the most beloved releases on the last generation of consoles. Fans have long asked for this, and Rockstar is finally planning to deliver it.
“Fiscal 2018 is poised to be another strong year for our company,” said Zelnick. “We expect to grow both bookings and net cash provided by operating activities driven by our release slate led by Rockstar Games' highly anticipated launch of Red Dead Redemption 2."
Of course, 2018 will likely also see Take-Two bringing in a lot more cash from GTA: Online and NBA 2K.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 01:34 PM PDT
(Reuters) – Wearable fitness device maker Fitbit Inc’s revenue forecast for the key-holiday shopping quarter fell well short of analysts estimates, hurt by stiff competition from rival device makers.
Shares of the company, which also reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue, plummeted more than 30 percent in extended trading on Wednesday.
Fitbit forecast revenue of $725 million to $750 million for the key holiday-shopping quarter, well below analysts’ estimates of $985.1 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Fitbit is the leader, according to research firm IDC, in the market for wearable devices such as wristbands that track the wearer’s calories, sleeping patterns and heart rate.
But, the San Francisco-based company is facing increased competition from devices made by rivals such as Xiaomi, Garmin Ltd, Samsung Electronics and Apple Inc.
Fitbit, which launched two new fitness wristbands Charge 2 and Flex 2 in late August, said it sold 5.3 million devices in the quarter ended Sept. 30, up from 4.8 million a year earlier.
Analysts on average had expected shipments of 5 million devices, according to research firm FactSet StreetAccount.
Still, Fitbit’s revenue increase of 23.1 percent to $503.8 million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30 missed analysts estimates of $506.9 million.
Net income fell to $26.1 million, or 11 cents per share, from $45.8 million, or 19 cents per share. Excluding items, it earned 19 cents per share, in line with analysts’ expectations.
Fitbit’s shares have fallen about 13.5 percent since Sept. 7 when Apple launched its latest smartwatch.
(Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza)
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 01:27 PM PDT
Take-Two Interactive shipped more than 4.5 million units to retailers in its first week, and the company said in its earnings release today that it is the fastest-selling game in the history of the 2K label.
Mafia III shipped after the September 30 close of Take-Two’s second fiscal quarter, debuting on October 7. 2K didn’t provide early copies of the game to the press, and the reviews came in pretty poor. I rated it at 75 out of 100, largely because of bugs and other problems in the execution of the gameplay. But the story about Lincoln Clay, an African American man who took on the Italian mob in 1968 in a fictional city that resembles New Orleans, was spectacular.
Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, estimated before the earnings were released that sell-in to retailers for Mafia III was likely around 3.5 million units. He noted that negative reviews with lower scores surfaced the week after the launch. Those negative reviews will likely have an impact on re-orders by retailers, Pachter wrote.
I’m glad to see that Mafia III sold well at the outset, as the story really gives players something to think about. Were it not for the problems with gameplay and bugs, I would have rated the story at 95 out of 100. It’s a pretty good outcome as the first game from Hangar 13, a brand new studio in Novato, Calif., which was formed to make the game.
Mafia III is being supported with downloadable add-on content, including a Season Pass, as well as a free-to-play mobile battle RPG game, Mafia III Rivals, for iOS and Android devices.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 01:25 PM PDT
In its third quarter 2016 earnings announcement today, Facebook revealed it now has 1.79 billion monthly active users (up 16 percent year over year) and 1.66 billion mobile users (up 20 percent year over year). The company also shared that it now has 1.18 billion daily active users (a 17 percent bump year over year) and 1.09 billion mobile daily active users (a 17 percent increase year over year).
Breaking the numbers down, 65.9 percent of all Facebook members use the service daily, and 65.7 percent of mobile members use it daily as well. All of Facebook’s numbers are still slowly growing, even on a quarter-over-quarter basis. Facebook’s total monthly active user base grew 4.68 percent in the third quarter.
But the big highlight for this past quarter is yet another new 1 billion figure milestone. For the first time in the social network’s history, 1 billion users access the service monthly only on mobile daily.
At the end of 2015, Facebook passed the halfway mark for mobile-only users (51.7 percent to be exact). And that number continues to grow: 58.9 percent of Facebook users now access the social network exclusively from a mobile device.
Between Q2 and Q3, Facebook added 88 million mobile-only users. This number has been climbing every quarter at a staggering rate, with no slowdown in sight.
Here is how Facebook describes this category of users:
We’re surprised Facebook still doesn’t break out this number in its earnings release. And the company still isn’t sharing how many mobile-only daily users it’s seeing.
Here are the other four charts for the numbers Facebook traditionally highlights in its releases:
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 01:21 PM PDT
Facebook announced its third quarter financial earnings today, revealing that it had $7.011 billion in revenue and an earnings per share (EPS) of $1.09.
For those of you playing at home, Wall Street analysts predicted the social networking company would have have $6.92 billion in revenue and an EPS of $0.97.
The stock traded down 1.73 percent at $127.26, but after the market closed, it’s currently up 0.14 percent.
“We had another good quarter,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive said in a statement. “We’re making progress putting video first across our apps and executing our 10 year technology roadmap.”
On the user front, it’s just the gift that keeps on giving, as Facebook now counts 1.79 billion monthly active users, up 4.67 percent from last quarter’s 1.71 billion and 17 percent from a year ago. eMarketer said that it estimated there would be 1.43 billion users worldwide, so clearly Facebook has blown past that prediction.
While 1.18 billion people access the site daily, an uptick of 17 percent year-over-year, 1.09 billion will do so by mobile devices.
The company has a lot of things going for it to spur such growth, including not only the massive adoption of its Messenger platform, the push for virtual reality through its Oculus acquisition, and around photos and live video. It has also remained a advertising powerhouse and has shown its strength once again this past quarter.
Mobile advertising continues to play a big part in Facebook revenue generating scheme, contributing 84 percent of its ad dollars. As a whole, advertising makes up 78 percent of the company’s total revenue for the third quarter. In the past several months, the social networking company has rolled out new ways for publishers and brands to monetize on its platform including Instant Articles, but it has also come under fire with reports alleging targeting can be done by racial groups.
But that hasn’t deterred advertisers and publishers. In fact, according to AdRoll President Adam Berke: “Facebook continues to enjoy its position as a 'must have' inventory source within just about any marketer's media strategy. The combination of highly-engaging native formats and an array of targeting options powers the type of performance that modern marketers demand. Facebook is also benefiting from a mature API platform. As marketers look for opportunities to allocate incremental budget, it's easiest to turn the knob up through advanced buying tools versus trying to figure out a whole new system or one that is still very new, like Snapchat or Pinterest.”
The company declined to break out revenue or any additional details from its individual properties.
Average revenue per user worldwide has gone up to $4.01 which is an increase of 35 percent from a year ago. In the U.S., it has gone up 49 percent to $15.65, up 35.9 percent to $1.89 in Asia-Pacific, up 36 percent to $4.72 in Europe, and up 28.7 percent to $1.21 in the rest of the world.
But as Facebook extends its reach beyond just being a social network, it’s encountering more competition, such as Twitter, Google, and Snapchat. Facebook hasn’t been too secretive with its intentions to take what’s good about the ephemeral messaging app and cannibalize it into its own apps, which is apparent with Instagram Stories and other recent features.
It’s also facing criticism from those around its filtering and censorship and it’s categorization that it’s not a media company. Facebook has previously tried to assuage fears and allay suspicions by updating its policies and also explicitly state that it’s not about censoring newsworthy stories.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 01:14 PM PDT
Google today said that it has stopped supporting and developing Google Android Developer Tools (ADT) plugin for the Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE). Android Studio is the official IDE for Android development, and now Google wants to push all Android developers to it, following the release of version 2.2 in September.
The move doesn’t come as a surprise; in fact, Google actually said back in June 2015 that support would end by the end of 2015, and it essentially continued 10 months after that.
“All of your favorite ADT tools are now part of Android Studio, including DDMS, Trace Viewer, Network Monitor, and CPU Monitor. We’ve also improved Android Studio’s accessibility, including keyboard navigation enhancements and screen reader support,” Android product manager Jamal Eason wrote in a blog post.
ADT for Eclipse dates back to 2009, whereas Android Studio first emerged in 2013.
The open source Android Studio software is available for free here.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 01:05 PM PDT
On the strength of new titles like CSR2 and FarmVille: Tropic Escape, Zynga reported third fiscal quarter earnings that beat Wall Streets estimates for the three months ended September 30.
Based on new financial reporting rules, it might look like Zynga actually missed its targets. Analysts expected Zynga to report earnings per share of 1 cent a share on bookings of $187 million. On a GAAP basis, Zynga reported a loss of 5 cents a share and bookings of $182 million.
But the analyst estimates are based on non-GAAP numbers, which remove one-time anomalies from the results. On that basis, Zynga reported a slight profit on bookings of $197 million.
“The quarter was a good one,” said Frank Gibeau, CEO of Zynga, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We executed well. And we gained some momentum in our turnaround.”
In early after-hours trading, Zynga’s stock price fell 3.2 percent to $2.65 a share. Zynga’s value is about $2.3 billion, far below its $9 billion value in 2011 after its initial public offering.
During the quarter, Zynga launched CSR2, the sequel to its successful racing game, during the quarter. The game is No. 1 in top-grossing in 50 countries.
“We were a little worried when we released it in the same week as Pokemon Go, but it is performing extremely well in the face of crazy competition,” Gibeau said.
Zynga also launched FarmVille: Tropic Escape in the quarter and the quarterly results included a full quarter of Wizard of Oz: Magic Match, a social casino game. All of those helped boost earnings before income taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA, a measure of profitability) during the quarter.
Gibeau said the company is working hard on Dawn of Titans, a new real-time strategy game coming from the company’s U.K. studio. That game is in soft launch and will likely launch before the end of the year. Since that game is launching late in the quarter, it is not expected to have a big impact on fourth quarter bookings, which Zynga expects to be about $185 million to $195 million.
Meanwhile, during the third quarter, Zynga’s key mobile games – Words With Friends, Zynga Poker and Slots – continued to drive growth with bookings up 26 percent from a year ago.
“We are executing in delivering high-quality games, growing our existing franchises, and reducing operating expenses,” Gibeau said.
Zynga also announced today it will buy back shares in a $200 million program that will be executed over two years. During the quarter, Zynga hired its new chief financial officer, Gerard Griffin, from a finance job at Electronic Arts. Gibeau said he was pleased with the work that the newly recruited management team has done, but he added, “Our work isn’t done.”
For live mobile, Words With Friends saw good growth in the quarter with bookings up 33 percent from a year ago and 7 percent sequentially. Zynga introduced the game on iMessage as a new experiment. Social slots grew mobile bookings 26 percent from a year ago.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 12:32 PM PDT
All the ghosts should’ve returned to their graves by now because it’s time to go turkey shopping (at least in the States), but spooky creatures still haunt Pokémon Go.
Developer Niantic threw its first seasonal event for its map-based, augmented reality monster-catching game for Halloween last week, and the festivities were only supposed to run from October 26 through November 1. But a day past that deadline, you are still likely to encounter a ton of Haunters and Cubones when you go out walking. For the event, Niantic increased the spawn rate of its ghost and other frightening critters. The studio also amped up the drop rate for candy, which has helped players evolve their Pokémon faster. All of that was a remix of existing content in the game, but it was enough to significantly increase player spending for Pokémon Go in the $36.6 billion mobile-gaming market.
I’ve asked Niantic why the event is still live, and the company confirmed that it is letting it continue for a few more hours today. But it is still planning to end it soon.
Of course, fans are going wild with speculation. A thread on Reddit details a theory that this is delay is a precursor to a major update, and Niantic allegedly doesn’t want to pull the event until it can roll its momentum into the new features. Other people think the company is simply making too much money, and it doesn’t want to ruin that. The more skeptical fans, however, think the developer is just encountering technical difficulties that are preventing it from ending the event.
Niantic instead claims it just wants to give you a few more hours to enjoy the benefits of the event. And I’m happy to continue grinding out some more Magikarp candies. It’s the sweet treat that won’t rot your teeth!
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 12:10 PM PDT
Bots are hot. We imagine them to be wickedly intelligent, like Samantha from the movie Her. The reality is duller. Early chatbots suck. They can’t chat. There is no “I” in their AI. They are so hopeless that some people argue that bots would be better without conversation. But without conversation they are not bots. They are more like the Internet on Nokia feature phones (a.k.a. WAP) from 1999. A screen full of dumb buttons. Seriously?
These button-based “bots” are not Siri-like conversational virtual assistants. They are menu-driven programs with a simple graphics UI. They are IVR reincarnate. Remember “Press 1 for arrivals, press 2 for departures, press 3 to check-in”? It was called IVR, for interactive voice response. You loved it, didn’t you?
Conversational AI is not here yet. That said, the buttons-based alternative is not an alternative either. The downsides are many:
Who said the bots must be intelligent? In China, 10 million organizations have “bots” inside WeChat messenger. Are they all like Samantha? No, they aren’t. They are as dumb as a brick. They are not intelligent. They are not conversational. They are screens full of buttons. However, the Chinese use them and seem to be happy.
If it works there, maybe it will work here, too. Shall we forget about Star Trek, Her, and Ex Machina and just build millions of dumb bots?
In fact, that’s what Mark Zuckerberg wants us to do. Facebook’s subliminal message to developers is: “Your AI sucks. If you build a conversational assistant it will be crappy. And we don’t want crap on our platform. So don’t even try.”
Facebook is not alone. WeChat, Slack, Kik, or virtually any other messenger will tell you the same thing: “Don’t let users talk!” Some people are even considering removing the text entry box from the bot framework (or at least hiding it by default). Dan Grover, who worked at WeChat, once wrote a very popular article advancing this point of view.
Back to HTML 1.0?
Messenger is the new browser. Unfortunately, it’s a rather lousy browser. In its feature set it would hardly match Netscape 1.0. For example, Facebook Messenger API doesn’t support even basic formatting. There is no bold, no italic, no font size, no color, not even line break.
To add insult to injury, these new browsers don’t support existing websites. Developers must rewrite their websites to work with these new messenger interfaces. And they have to do it not once, but nearly a dozen times: for Facebook, Slack, Kik, Telegram, Skype, WeChat, WhatsApp, Google Allo, and who knows what else. Needless to say, messenger platforms cannot agree on a single standard. (Thank you, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, for giving us HTML!)
No deep linking, no random access
Most of the buttoned-up bots don’t even support free-text search. You cannot ask them. They ask you! (“In Soviet Russia, Google asks you!”) It’s like a police interrogation. And you cannot even answer their questions in your own words. They give you a couple of predefined options to choose form, by tapping on a button.
Can you imagine a Wikipedia bot that cannot answer a specific question like “What is the capital of Brazil?” How would you find the answer through all these buttons and interactive menus? You would have to somehow click through a menu like Geography -> South America -> Brazil -> Key facts -> Capital.
In fact, the buttoned-up bots are even worse than websites without site search. They are like websites without bookmarkable webpages. The are no page URLs. There are no deep links. Unlike a website, you cannot even browse the site by following the links. There are no links. There is only a tree you must traverse from the top.
This is not a Borg Collective
After the bot revolution erupts, every organization that has a website will also have to have a bot. Can you imagine completely isolated websites, not connected in a world wide web?
This is what the buttoned-up bots future would look like. The bots will be siloed. The lack of random access means that the best interconnection between these bots could only be at the top of their menu trees. The web is great. Losing it would be a huge leap backward. Are we willing to give up on it?
Want Google’s referral traffic? Understand natural language!
Unlike Facebook, Kik, Slack, and others, Google Allo and its embedded Assistant are built around natural language interactions. And Assistant will be the master bot, a virtual 411 operator. You won’t talk directly to those millions of bots representing every organization on the planet. You would ask Google Assistant and it will figure out which bot can handle your request and pass it on. That bot must be intelligent enough to understand and act on it.
Amazon’s Alexa and Samsung's recently acquired Viv also want to be such master bots, forwarding natural language queries to subordinate bots.
Apparently, dumb “buttoned-up” bots are a throwback and a dead-end. Is there an alternative? To be continued…
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 11:46 AM PDT
Message.io launched a private beta of its enterprise tool to convert Microsoft Teams, HipChat, Skype, and Slack bots today. The startup launches its bot converter the same day as the launch of new collaboration and chat app Microsoft Teams.
Salesforce Chatter conversions will come next, CEO Tom Hadfield told VentureBeat in a phone interview. Ultimately the company plans to extend its reach to 25 different enterprise chat apps.
Roughly 80 early partners are part of a Message.io private beta, including Kayak, HubSpot, news app Nuzzel, and weather bot Poncho.
A public launch of Message.io is scheduled for early 2017. Conversion of business-to-consumer bots will also begin next year, Hadfield said.
“We believe that all bots should be able to work on all messaging platforms,” said Hadfield. “Kind of challenging that there’s such a thing as a Facebook bot or a Slack app, because we don’t think that makes any more sense than a website that’s optimized for Netscape or Internet Explorer, because we see the messaging clients as just like browsers, with some slight variation in UI.”
Message.io is a company that operates between chat platforms. Providing services between chat platforms is a good place to start a business, said Howdy CEO Ben Brown. Howdy offers Botkit, the de facto toolkit to make a Slack bot. IFTTT CEO Linden Tibbets and Ozlo CEO Charles Jolley have made similar arguments.
“We think that the ecosystem around and between these messaging platforms is super fertile ground for developers and entrepreneurs,” Brown told VentureBeat in a phone interview last month.
Historically, Hadfield argues, communication technology trends toward interoperability, and there’s no reason to believe bots will be any different.
“It’s important that for the ecosystem to evolve in such a way that it’s easy for developers to just build once and deploy it everywhere. That’s our vision: of bots that work everywhere,” Hadfield said.
Based in Austin, Message.io has 12 employees and was part of the Winter 2015 Y Combinator batch. Founded by Hadfield and James Cundle, the company was the pair’s third startup since 2008. Former HipChat head of engineering Joe Lopez is also part of the team.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 11:10 AM PDT
The publisher released a special trailer for its upcoming Japanese release Miitopia on 3DS today. Those with a Japanese 3DS can download the demo of Miitopia, and the game will put your Mii character (the one you made as your digital representation in Nintendo games) into a narrative-based trailer. Nintendo is planning a Nintendo Direct video event to explain the game in its home country later this week, and Miitopia will launch in December for Japan. The company hasn’t said anything about bringing it to those of us in other territories.
While you may have trouble checking out the Miitopia demo for yourself, GoNintendo reporter Daan Koopman uploaded some footage of the trailer in action. You can see that the demo puts Daan’s Mii into the action, which looks like a mixture of Tomodachi Life and a fantasy role-playing game:
As for what the game plays like, it looks like you and your friends’ Miis will take on specialized roles — like wizard, knight, and paladin — to fight off bosses and take on quests. On top of that, your Miis will interact with one another in what almost looks like a Fire Emblem-esque partner system.
Nintendo has explored using Mii characters to produce emergent stories in games before with Tomodachi Life. That game has players managing an island of Miis that can dance, get married, and vote. Miitopia takes some of those elements and potentially puts them in a more traditional gaming experience.
Because, of course, nothing is more traditional than fighting an evil wizard alongside Miis of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 10:40 AM PDT
Microsoft today launched a preview of Microsoft Teams, an obvious Slack competitor (even Slack thinks so). The big difference? There’s no free version and no consumer version, and there are no plans to offer either.
Given that Slack still doesn’t have threaded comments while Teams does, our editorial team was naturally interested. We asked Microsoft if there was any way to try Teams without purchasing Office 365 business subscriptions (the cheapest option is Office 365 Business Essentials, which starts at $5 per user per month). Nope.
“Teams is available in all our enterprise and small business suites, reaching 85 million monthly active users,” a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We do not have any plans for a free or consumer offering of Microsoft Teams.”
That 85 million number refers to last quarter’s earnings report, where Microsoft shared that Office 365 has surpassed 85 million commercial monthly active users. It just so happens that on the same day, Slack shared it had passed 4 million daily users and 1.25 million paying users.
But the second part of the statement is much more interesting: Not only is there no free version, but Teams isn’t meant for consumers at all. This is arguably the biggest differentiator in Microsoft’s strategy with Teams.
One of Slack’s biggest advantages is how easy it is to try. Anyone can visit the service’s homepage, type in their email address, and click the green “Create New Team” button.
We have no doubt that Microsoft Teams will see decent traction given that businesses already paying for Office 365 can try it out. IT admins simply have to open the Office 365 admin center, click on Settings, Services & Add Ins, and then choose Microsoft Teams.
But a lot of Slack’s growth has come from the fact that people are using the service in their personal lives as well. This is a trend that other companies have tried to replicate. Facebook is trying with Workplace, for example.
Microsoft doesn’t like this approach, likely because it wants to keep its Office 365 business running smoothly. After all, the company successfully converted its traditional Office software business, once its biggest cash cow, into a subscription revenue stream. That’s where the money is, so those customers are served first.
Microsoft’s statement doesn’t say “never” — it just says there are no plans right now. That could change, but don’t hold your breath. For the foreseeable future, Microsoft Teams is for businesses, and businesses only. For everyone else, there’s Slack.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 10:08 AM PDT
Hillary Clinton’s emails have been a constant source of news throughout this election cycle. And while attention on Donald Trump has been focused on secret servers that allegedly talk to the Russians recently, it turns out both candidates have a lot in common when it comes to sending emails.
Today, a new study from Persado explains the similarities, differences, and mistakes both camps are making when it comes to the emails they send supporters, and the results are both surprising and a lesson for all businesses, since email is still the most efficient marketing channel in existence.
Persado, a cognitive content platform, analyzed more than 6,000 subject lines using a neural network classifier that identifies and categorizes emotional elements found in the text. The emails were sent from January 1 through August 31 of 2016. At a high level, there are some distinct differences in approach between Clinton and Trump.
Clinton uses savvy marketing techniques that are more akin to the types of emails seen from major retailers and leading marketers. There is evidence of A/B split testing, a standard conversion rate optimization technique, and a third of her emails include an explicit request for action or response.
The most used phrase in her emails is “thank you,” suggesting a personal touch is important in her messaging. Trump’s most used phrase, by comparison, is “approval rating.” Her camp sends a high number of emails that feature an inquisitive, inviting tone and demeanor to help build personal connections with supporters.
How high a number of emails? Clinton sends 900 percent more emails than Trump. That’s how high.
But volume isn’t everything. While nearly half (45 percent) of email subject lines sent from the Clinton camp use first-person (“I”) and second-person (“you”) pronouns, true personalization is lacking.
Clinton doesn’t appear to understand the value of merchandise for her supporters. Only 4 percent of her emails leverage merchandising, but these are precisely the emails that seem to be driving interest from her followers, generating an average response rate of 21 percent. That’s high considering the average for her emails is 16 percent.
Trump, on the other hand, uses a smaller number of bold, short messages that emphasize his personal brand through positive, emphatic language. His emails are designed to fire up his supporters. But the intention of many of these emails is, on the whole, much more self-serving. While that may not be surprising, the results of his promotional emails might be.
Trump frequently plugs signed editions of his book, Trump: The Art of the Deal. His supporters, on the other hand, do not seem to respond to the book promos, and mentions in the subject line of merchandise sales dropped the average response rate by approximately 14 percent. With his supporters shunning business book opportunities, the suggestion that Trump would be better off building a right-wing media empire from his email list isn’t such a bad idea.
In fact, Trump’s open rates typically improve whenever his camp capitalize entire words or phrases (“FW: WE. WANT. TRUMP.”) These subject lines show up in 8 percent of Trump’s emails and drive “yuge” attention, generating an average 22 percent open rate. Exclamations work well for Trump, too. Subject lines like “Disgraceful!” and emotionally charged introductory clauses such as “BREAKING: Big Endorsement” were efficient, with open rates jumping from an average 18 percent to 29 percent.
We know from our research and webinars at VB Insight, and studies from the likes of Experian Marketing Services, that something as simple as including the recipient’s name in the subject line provides a serious uplift in click rates. However, both candidates seem to be lacking when it comes to real personalization. Why is that?
“Ultimately, real personalization transcends using someone’s name,” Greg Dale, COO at Persado, told me. “To truly inspire a person to act, the message needs to resonate on an emotional level. The science behind the thousands of marketing campaigns we’ve been involved with proves this, again and again. That’s why we were curious to see whether Trump and Clinton, who certainly elicit an emotional response in all of us, used emotional language to get people to open their emails, and if those emotions were effective.”
And both camps aren’t leveraging emotional triggers with any real effectiveness, either.
“Turns out, they usually made an emotional appeal, but there’s definitely room for improvement when it comes to really understanding what would motivate their audiences,” Dale said.
What were the most surprising results from the findings?
“Two surprises,” Dale said. “Trump was positive and Hillary less so; and that the emotions each candidate utilized were almost identical.”
That’s right. Trump, it turns out, is marginally more positive than Clinton when it comes to tone.
“Subject lines coming from the Trump camp with a positive emotional tone edged out the neutral and negative, 51.6 percent versus 46.7 percent,” Dale said. “Hillary’s was flipped, more often employing a neutral or negative tone (51.36 percent) than positive (46.6 percent).”
And while Trump is seemingly more associated with fear, uncertainty, and doubt — based on what we read in the press and on social media — it turns out that both candidates use the same combination of emotions in the emails they send.
“You would expect differences in their individual posturing and style, but it was eye-opening that Trump and Clinton used a nearly identical lineup of emotions as their top 5 (in order: anticipation, joy, fear, trust, pride for Clinton and joy, anticipation, fear, trust, pride for Trump),” Dale said. “Their messages might have been different, but the emotion they’re trying to tap into were almost exactly the same.”
The problem with these emotional triggers? As an aggregate across all U.S. emails analyzed by Persado, “pride” and “trust” are the most effective motivators. Unfortunately for both Clinton and Trump, those two emotions are in fourth and fifth place when it comes to usage throughout the analyzed email messages.
With a lack of any real personalization — possibly due to a lack of accurate data beyond an email address — a failure to understand how merchandising affects both groups of supporters, and a misunderstanding of which emotions motivate people to action, both camps are making email marketing mistakes that, with less than a week to go until the vote, could move the needle.
The full report, which includes 30 in-depth points of comparison, is available from Persado today.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 10:00 AM PDT
Few people want to watch ads, even on Twitch, but that’s not stopping the streaming site from trying to improve them.
Twitch today announced SureStream, which it says will optimize the delivery of video ads and ensure that viewers experience fewer freezes during them. The site has over 100 million viewers a month, and ads remain a key source of revenue for both Twitch and it streamers, who can make money from the commercials that play during their broadcasts.
SureStream will also bypass ad-blockers, software that some download to avoid advertisements. More than 198 million people are active adblock users around the world. This may cause frustration with some on Twitch, but more people watching ads means more revenue.
If you really don’t want to watch any ads while viewing Twitch, you can always subscribe to Twitch Prime.
“With SureStream, video advertising becomes a first-party product on Twitch that leverages the brand's extensive expertise in the live video space,” Twitch noted in a press release sent to GamesBeat. “This means more ads are delivered directly from Twitch versus a third party ad network, which has been known to cause technical issues stemming from inserting videos from an external source. By hosting ads natively, Twitch has greater control over the types of advertisements delivered on the site and can ensure viewers see the highest quality version of the advertisement, better representing the brand's message. These improvements also mean media buyers on Twitch can reach a wider audience, many of whom are difficult to reach otherwise.”
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 09:19 AM PDT
You might want to dust off your copy of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
That 3DS game came out back in 2012, but Nintendo today released a free update for the life sim that adds new features. Notably, New Leaf now has support for Amiibo capability, Nintendo’s toys-to-life line that stars figurines based on game characters.
Animal Crossing Amiibo originally worked with spin-off games in the series Happy Home Designer for 3DS and Amiibo Festival for Wii U. Now, using them for New Leaf will attract new residents to your virtual town that live in an RV park. These characters can offer players items like an in-game Wii U console or a new New Nintendo 3DS, which unlock new minigames Desert Island Escape and Animal Crossing Puzzle League. That last one is especially exciting, as Puzzle League is one of the best puzzle series released on Nintendo consoles, as anyone who ever played Pokémon Puzzle League on the Nintendo 64 can tell you.
Nintendo is also releasing new Amiibo cards for Animal Crossing on December 2. Amiibo cards can interact with the 3DS just like actual Amiibo, although they aren’t nearly as fun to collect and display. A new packaged version of the game, Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Welcome Amiibo, will also come out on December 2.
Looks like 3DS owners will have something besides Pokémon Sun and Moon to play this month after all.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 09:00 AM PDT
Zarget, a startup offering a "marketing automation software for the masses," scored a $6 million investment led by Sequoia India, the company announced today. The funds will be used to scale Zarget's products.
Zarget's conversion-rate optimization tool helps small businesses and early-stage startups access data analytics in a comprehensive way. Using this information, they can easily manage the marketing performance of their websites, even if they don’t have coding experience.
Founded last year, Zarget says it saw more than 1,000 customer sign-ups form 10 countries in its first four months of operation.
Earlier this year, the Walnut, California-based startup raised a $1.5 million seed investment from Accel and Matrix Partners. Both VC firms were back for Zarget's latest funding round.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 09:00 AM PDT
For more than six years, Uber has been known as a mobile app that let you request a ride, and that was a simple enough concept. But the company has never considered itself to be a transportation service similar to taxis — instead, it calls itself a logistics and technology provider. And starting today, Uber will begin rolling out a redesign of its rider app that puts forward its mission to be all about the first and last mile, while also simplifying and predicting your needs.
When some companies reveal they’ve redesigned their product, you might expect it to be just a reskin with a couple of bells and whistles. In Uber’s case, it’s a bit more than that; the entire experience gets an upgrade that not only makes it cleaner and simpler to use, but also adds integrations with the likes of Snapchat, Uber Eats, Pandora, and likely many more.
Your Uber knows where you want to go
The new Uber app features an interface its 40 million monthly riders worldwide will recognize, at least for the most part. You can request a ride just like always, but the app uses machine learning to better understand your routines. It now features “shortcuts” that will vary based on recognized travel patterns and where you are. So if you happen to be at your work office at 5 p.m., a shortcut that might appear is one for your home, a significant other’s place, a bar, or a school to pick up your kids.
Uber now supports calendar integration, meaning you can sync the native calendar app from your mobile device so shortcuts will be based on upcoming appointments, such as to your dentist office or your next meeting. The goal is to eliminate seconds wasted jumping between apps just to find the address of your destination — Uber wants to give you your time back, according to company design director Didier Hilhorst.
He outlined four “pillars” that Uber made the foundation of this redesign, with the first being: Time is a luxury for riders. “If you think of a lot of apps, they want your time. Think of Facebook, Twitter, or Netflix; they take the time and sell the time. Uber is in a different business — we want to give time back. We want to be respectful of your time and get you on your way as fast as possible,” he remarked.
The second pillar is being more predictive, which is where machine learning and data have been used to restructure the app to anticipate what you as a rider want. The last two pillars are reimagine the experience where it’s not about getting you from point A to B, but instead connecting you with someone else, adding the human spirit into the equation. It’s here where Uber wants riders to feel this change in attitude and have a more “fluid” perspective.
Uber’s overall experience changed because the company felt it was just getting too cluttered. Depending on where you are, there were a myriad of choices you had to make, such as whether you wanted an Uber Pool, UberX, Uber Black, Uber SUV, Uber Assist, and more. Now the app lets you pick between new, functionally based categories — economy, premium, extra seats, and more. From there you’ll filter down into the appropriate vehicle offering and be displayed the fares up front, pickup time, and estimated travel time to your destination.
With perhaps millions of rides completed over the past six years, there’s quite a bit of information Uber has on you, and its algorithm is leveraging that data to reduce the amount of stress riders have when requesting a car. In fact, the new app includes a feature to suggest optimal pickup points, so if a road is blocked off for some reason or if the area is too complicated to navigate around, Uber will inform you where to go. A variety of factors come into play here, including the direction of your destination. However, it’s unclear whether this algorithm will solve the age-old issue about having an Uber pick you up from the wrong side of the street.
If you frequent public transit such as a commuter train, Uber will also help you time it so you don’t experience too much of a layover between when you arrive at the station and when you board the train.
Although getting from point A to B is a logical use case for Uber, sometimes it’s not a physical location, but you’re trying to meet up with friends, a business contact, family, or another person. And what happens if they’re mobile? After all, we’ve been in situations where we’ll tell someone that we’ll meet them later and then have to go through an ordeal trying to find them. In one of the more interesting new features, Uber will connect with your mobile device’s address book and, when you’re ready to meet up, will send a push notification asking your friend to allow their location to be shared for up to 30 minutes. When authorized, the Uber will head to them. The people you’re meeting don’t need to use Uber in order for this to work.
The people finder feature won’t be available right away, but should be launching in the next few weeks.
Beyond having an intelligent app, Uber includes native integrations from some of the most popular apps, including Snapchat, Pandora, Foursquare, Yelp, and even its own Uber Eats. Not all of these features will be available immediately, and they’re likely to be enabled based on specific markets. However, there are plans to expand to other third-party services in the future.
The basis of these integrations is to help riders get more done and have a better experience in the vehicle. Oftentimes, we’re in an Uber and look at our phones to keep busy, but the app just shows us a map of where we are and how long until we approach our destination. The redesigned app reimagines this scenario to create something similar to United’s mobile app, where there’s other content and activities to do.
If you happen to be running late for a meeting with a friend or a close associate, Uber now has dedicated Snapchat filters in its app that you can send to them to prove you’re on your way. And if you’re heading to a restaurant for a meal with friends or going out on the town to a particular neighborhood, you can take advantage of Yelp and Foursquare to help you get informed about what’s good by the time you step out of the car.
Some integrations have already existed, such as Uber’s Pandora deal. The company had provided Pandora radio to drivers through their dedicated app, but has now incorporated it into the rider side, along with Spotify. When asked about why Spotify wasn’t mentioned, senior product manager Yuhki Yamashita informed us that it would still be included, but that availability was “based on location,” without providing any more specifics.
Additional integrations will be released over the next few weeks, so it’s quite possible that other services could be included. Yamashita declined to state what other third-party services are forthcoming, but one could imagine maybe YouTube, TripAdvisor, or even Airbnb’s Neighborhood feature could be useful for tourists using Uber to explore new areas.
As for Uber Eats, this is the first time that the service has become mixed in with the core service app. But it serves a useful purpose since, again, we’ve all have situations where we’re on our way home after a long day and don’t know what we want to eat. Rather than getting home and waiting an hour for delivery, why not place the order right from the car? Now instead of jumping from one app to another, you can make it happen within a single app.
“We designed the new Uber app around you — and our core beliefs that time is a luxury and that the information you need should always be at your fingertips. Gone are the days when everyone’s app looks the same,” Yamashita wrote in a blog post. “The new Uber experience is reimagined around a simple question — ‘Where to?’. After all, you use Uber to get somewhere — or to someone. And by starting with your destination, we can tailor the journey to you.”
The redesigned Uber app will be available for iOS and Android, and will be rolling out globally over the next few weeks.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 09:00 AM PDT
Today IFTTT, a company that connects AI-powered assistants, wearables, apps, and the Internet of Things, will terminate three of its apps, launch a new app, and kill off the recipes its been known for since its launch in 2010.
Recipes will be replaced by “applets.” Some applets will have the same 1-1 connections that allow you to post an update to LinkedIn and Facebook at the same time or turn on your sprinklers with Google Assistant. Other applets will be more like bundles of multiple actions that take place all at once, so you could say "Morning routine" to Alexa or Google Assistant to have the coffee maker turn on, the temperature change, the lights switch on, and your morning playlist begin.
In August, IFTTT began to allow partner companies to create their own recipes. Last week, about 60 Google Assistant recipes were added to IFTTT that allow you to connect so you can control electronics, send messages, or create your own custom commands.
Companies that will make the first bundles of applets include FitBit, Philips Hue, and D-Link motion sensors. The more than 100,000 developers who have used IFTTT will be invited to make more complicated processes to tie together the 360 services available, CEO Linden Tibbets told VentureBeat in an interview at the IFTTT office in San Francisco.
The three apps that are being consolidated into a new IFTTT app are Do Camera, which built recipes right into the camera; Do Notepad, which did the same for notes; and Do Button, which acted as a dashboard for quick one-tap actions, like turning on lights or turning up the temperature.
Created in 2010, IFTTT has been through several technological evolutions. In the beginning, IFTTT was mostly a blend of social networks and apps like Evernote, so you could save a link to the tweet you favorited in Pocket or automatically post an Instagram photo on Twitter. Over time, wearable and Internet of Thing devices were incorporated into recipes, and now virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are part of the platform. Today, the company connects more than 360 different wearable and Wi-Fi enabled IoT devices.
For a while, the company was known for automation, but IFTTT isn't about automation, Tibbets said, and he doesn't want IFTTT to be thought of as a dashboard for Internet of Things — like Apple Home or the startup Mosaic.
“Rather than a kind of work flow or automation tool, what IFTTT is really about is PayPal for access, so when one service wants to access another service, we think over time that can happen through IFTTT, and it's happened like that already in a lot of cases,” Tibbets said.
Despite the new names for recipes and the changes through the years, the focus on connecting services will continue, Tibbets said.
“You can have the world's best assistant, best voice interaction, but if it doesn't have access, it's kind of like Einstein in a dark closet. It's this really smart thing that can't do anything for you, it can't know anything about you, and so we're really excited to be in that mix trying to enable [a more intelligent] future,” he said.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 08:45 AM PDT
Businesses and developers will be able to make bots for the newly announced Microsoft Teams using the Microsoft Bot Framework, the company announced today in an event held in New York.
Built into Office 365, Microsoft Teams is an immediate competitor with enterprise chat apps like Slack, HipChat, and Cisco Spark.
“We’re supporting the Microsoft Bot Framework to bring intelligent first and third party services into your team’s environment,” according to Microsoft Office corporate vice president Kirk Koenigsbauer.
This means that several bots should be available on Microsoft Teams soon, since 45,000 developers have already used the framework to create bots.
Microsoft Teams will also feature bots made by Microsoft. The company is currently working to create its own enterprise bots, a Microsoft engineer told VentureBeat.
In addition to bots made by Microsoft, businesses, and developers, an intelligent assistant named T-Bot will answer questions and help guide Microsoft Teams users.
Instructions for how to make a bot or integrate or bot or app are in the Microsoft Teams Develop Preview.
Launched in April, the framework can create bots for more than half a dozen chat apps including Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Kik. A month before the announcement of Microsoft Teams, the Microsoft Bot Framework integrated with the Howdy botkit, the de facto bot creation kit for Slack bots so people can quickly convert Slack bots to Microsoft bots and vise versa.
The services of startup Message.io, whose bot converter launched in private beta today, can also be used to make Slack bots intto Microsoft Teams bots.
The first bot referenced in the debut of Microsoft Teams today was Polly, and that’s probably not an accident. The polling bot Polly is the most popular bot in the Slack App Store and was created by former Microsoft engineers Samir Diwan and Bilal Aijazi.
The Polly team provided feedback on the platform in months prior to launch, Diwan told VentureBeat today. Other early partners for Microsoft Teams launch include Zendesk, Asana, Hootsuite, and Workato, Microsoft said in a post today.
Polly on Slack and Polly on Microsoft Teams are different because bots in Microsoft Teams can operate both in group chat channels and dedicated tabs.
"The tab allows you to create an experience within the application," Diwan said. "Pro of Slack: There's more interaction since we can dynamically change the state of the message (and let users control that dynamic). Pro of Teams: It shows you all the relevant info in one place so we can essentially create "dashboards" within these tabs."
Some bots made with the Microsoft Bot Framework can be found in the Microsoft Bot Directory. The Microsoft Bot Directory currently features roughly 50 bots, a mix of select startups, corporate partners, and bots made by Microsoft engineers, but there are no enterprise bots.
In a recent interview, creators of the Microsoft Bot Framework expressed an interest in an expanded bot directory and the creation of a single bot search engine that draws in bots made for the most popular platforms to improve bot discovery and support the burgeoning bot industry.
Updated 11:55 a.m. Nov. 2 to include additional context on how bots will operate on Microsoft Teams and comment by Polly cofounder Samir Diwan.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 08:26 AM PDT
The service — with Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and web apps — is available as a preview in 181 countries and 18 languages. Microsoft is aiming for general availability in the first quarter of 2017, Office corporate vice president Kirk Koenigsbauer wrote in a blog post. Until then, customers of Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, and Enterprise E1, E3, and E5 tiers can turn on the preview (IT admins can go to the Office 365 admin center, click Settings, Services & Add Ins, and then Microsoft Teams). There are no plans for a free or consumer version.
Microsoft Teams is a web-based chat service aimed at businesses and schools that have multiple teams working on various projects at once. It features channels/groups, private messages, Skype video and audio calls, Office 365 integration (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files), OneDrive support, Power BI and Planner integrations, as well as emoji, Giphy images, memes, and so on. Threaded conversations, which Slack sorely lacks, are included in Microsoft Teams.
The app is “designed to facilitate real-time conversations and collaborations while maintaining and building up that institutional knowledge of a team,” Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said at today’s event.
After waxing poetic about the way that teams of athletes and musicians work together, Nadella presented Microsoft Teams in the context of other collaboration tools, including Yammer, Skype for Business, and Groups in Outlook, not to mention SharePoint. Until this point, Yammer was Microsoft’s obvious team communication tool that most directly competes with Slack, but after almost three years of Slack growth, Microsoft is now shooting more directly at the San Francisco startup.
Slack is firing back today with a full-page New York Times ad containing a letter to Microsoft. “We're genuinely excited to have some competition,” Slack says. It’s interesting to recall that Microsoft once considered acquiring Slack for as much as $8 billion, as TechCrunch reported earlier this year, citing an unnamed source.
When Microsoft Teams becomes generally available, it will have more than 150 integrations, including Asana, Hootsuite, Intercom, and Zendesk, Koenigsbauer wrote. Others include Polly.ai, Meekan, Workato, Statsbot, Careerlark, Hipmunk, Zapier, Zoom.ai, Growbot, and Busybot.
In terms of security, Microsoft Teams supports two-factor authentication, single sign-on through Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory service, and encryption of data in transit and at rest. The service is hosted in Microsoft’s data centers. Microsoft did not say anything about a way to deploy it in companies’ on-premises data centers, which would be a significant point of distinction from Slack.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 08:13 AM PDT
As Microsoft prepared to launch its much-touted Slack rival later today, Slack went to some lengths to explain what its competitor will need to do to succeed in the team collaboration tool realm.
The San Francisco-based startup, funded to the tune of $540 million, has taken out a full-page “Dear Microsoft” ad in the New York Times today, before Microsoft had officially announced its intentions. Slack cofounder Stewart Butterfield posted this to Twitter earlier today.
“Wow. Big news! Congratulations on today's announcements. We're genuinely excited to have some competition,” the letter begins, before going on to outline what Microsoft will need to do if it’s to emulate Slack’s success in the business communications realm.
The letter highlights three areas that Slack has identified as the keys to its traction, and begins by pointing out that it won’t be enough for Microsoft to simply copy Slack. “You're not going to create something people really love by making a big list of Slack's features and simply checking those boxes,” the letter says. “The revolution that has led to millions of people flocking to Slack has been, and continues to be, driven by something much deeper.”
Notably, Slack attributes part of its success to its being an open platform that integrates into third-party services, something it says Microsoft doesn’t have a great track record with. “We know that playing nice with others isn't exactly your MO [modus operandi], but if you can't offer people an open platform that brings everything together into one place and makes their lives dramatically simpler, it's just not going to work,” the letter continues.
At any rate, if you don’t have easy access to a copy of the New York Times, Slack has reprinted its open letter to Microsoft here. The move is actually a smart marketing initiative from the company, which has cleverly inserted itself into the conversation as Microsoft prepares to launch what’s expected to be called “Microsoft Teams” this morning.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 08:05 AM PDT
SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–November 2, 2016–
Gigwalk, a leader in enterprise cloud for workforce management, today announced a milestone of reaching over one million Gigwalkers (mobile-enabled independent contractors) using its Cloud Market solution, making it the world’s largest on-demand mobile workforce.
Gigwalk’s Cloud Market solution instantly connects businesses to a network of over one million Gigwalkers in North America who can provide immediate, actionable insights that help Gigwalk customers improve their sales and operations. In the past twelve months, Gigwalkers completed Gigs in over 7,500 cities and 13,000 postal codes across the United States and Canada.
Gigwalk also announced enhancements to Gigwalk Enterprise Cloud, a SaaS-based, mobile-first workforce management application that enables organizations to simplify how they manage and execute work for internal and external workforces.
Gigwalk continues to develop and expand the capabilities of its Enterprise Cloud for work execution for medium to large organizations to help improve productivity, reduce costs, and drive sales. Recent enhancements include the following:
“Gigwalk has a long and successful history in the on-demand economy with the Gigwalk Cloud Market app for crowdsourcing, as clearly demonstrated by our milestone of one million Gigwalkers,” said David Hale, CEO of Gigwalk. “We are excited that we have been able to adapt this same mobile-first technology for our enterprise customers, to help them manage their employees and contingent workers.”
Gigwalk, a leader in enterprise cloud for workforce management, enables organizations to connect their internal and external workforce with work, leveraging the latest innovation in mobile and GPS technology. Based in San Francisco, California, Gigwalk is backed by August Capital, Harrison Metal, Nokia Growth Partners, Randstad Innovation Fund, and SoftTech. For more information, visit www.gigwalk.com.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 08:00 AM PDT
Fove is taking preorders for a very different kind of virtual reality headset, one that enables you to control games and other apps using your eye movements. I tried it out, playing a shooter game demo in VR by staring at targets.
The Japan-based company is charging $600 for the Fove 0, an eye-tracking headset. It has also partnered with TechnoBlood to provide headsets for Internet cafes in Japan and South Korea. Fove hopes to reach nearly 25 million monthly uses through 7,000 Internet cafes. The headset is discounted for its first week at $550.
Headsets will begin shipping to original Kickstarter backers by the end of 2016, while all other preorders will begin shipping early next year.
"Eye-tracking is really critical for VR control," said Fove CEO Yuka Kojima in an interview with GamesBeat. “For me, it’s so natural. This is for early adopters now. But soon we think it will be a world standard.”
Fove designed everything for the eye-tracking VR headset, said Jim Preston, director of business development at Fove. It uses six infrared sensors per eye inside the headset to track the direction of a person's gaze, changing focus on objects within a scene with a high level of precision, creating immersive and natural interactions with virtual worlds and characters. By focusing where a user is looking, Fove is able to simulate greater depth of field and create a more natural image by blurring unfocused peripheral areas, all the while minimizing motion sickness by reducing the need for unnatural head movements.
The headset has a OLED screen (2,560-by-1,440), with a frame rate of 70 frames per second. It has a 100-degree field-of-view. It uses a 120 FPS infrared eye-tracking system and two cameras. It weighs 520 grams, and has HDMI, USB 3.0, and USB 2.0 connectors. The headset connects to a Windows PC, and it requires a system with an Intel Core i5-4590 or better or and AMD Radeon R9 290 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or better.
Preston said the task of designing the headset wasn’t easy, as Fove figured out that headsets tend to move around on a person’s head and lose calibration. So the Fove headset takes such “drift” into account. The company has applied for a number of patents.
The Fove 0 will ship to Kickstarter backers in all countries across the globe. Preorder headsets will ship to the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States.
Founded in May 2014, Fove is targeting entertainment, education, gaming and medical industries with gaze control in virtual reality interfaces. Fove is the first batch member of River, the first Virtual Reality acceleration program by Rothenberg Ventures. The name Fove comes from “foveated rendering,” a process wherein the graphics on the side of an image remain blurry and only the parts you are looking at directly are sharp.
Kojima said she started the company with Lochlainn Wilson because she felt like the artificial intelligent characters (NPCs, or nonplayer characters) were so dumb. She and her cofounder thought that real people would create a much better experience inside a social game. The company did a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, raising $500,000. It is now shipping headsets to those Kickstarter supporters.
“People say that VR encourages isolation and miscommunication,” Kojima said. “But I don’t think so. I think it can improve communication.”
Fove also completed the Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator Program in December 2014, and was a semi-finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in 2014. Fove has raised over $480,000 through its Kickstarter campaign in 2015, and most recently raised $11 Million in venture funding from Samsung, Colopl VR Fund, Hon Hai (parent of Foxconn), and Mistletoe.
Rivals include Eyefluence, which Google bought in October. Fove works with an estimated 258 Steam VR titles automatically, Kojima said. But Fove is also working with game developers to put eye-tracking features in games.
Fove has 25 employees in Tokyo and the U.S.
“Most VR companies are in the U.S. and China, but we have a nice base in Tokyo,” Kojima said. “The Japanese market is a big supporter of VR.”
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 08:00 AM PDT
Octane AI launched its bot creation platform today, beginning with bots for 50 Cent, Aerosmith, KISS, Magic Mike, and SPiN. The startup also announced that it has raised $1.5 million in a round led by Phil Libin and General Catalyst Partners.
The Octane AI platform can make Facebook Messenger bots to showcase content or merchandise, launch product or content campaigns, generate forms, or help businesses with customer service.
Apps like YouTube, Medium, and Facebook can be integrated into an Octane bot so every time you upload a new video on YouTube, for example, a message can be sent to everyone who subscribes to your bot.
Facebook Messenger launched beta APIs in August for marketers to be able to send promotional message and publications.
Octane AI was created by founder Matt Schlicht, known best as creator of the website Chatbot Magazine and the Bots Facebook group, which has grown to more than 17,000 bot enthusiasts in about six months. Cofounders Ben Parr, an early stage startup investor and former Mashable editor, and Leif K-Brooks, creator of anonymous chat service omegle.com, joined the company shortly after its formation.
“Our goal is to just lower the barrier to creating and managing a bot and make it so you don't have to design anything, you don't have to program anything, you don't have to be an expert on bots. You don't have to be an expert in designing conversation. You can have a bot up and running in three to four minutes, not just as a big business but as a mom and pop shop…the 99 percent of people that don't know how to program,” Parr said.
Artificial intelligence is in the Octane name, but don’t expect much intelligence from Octane bots.
If you're heading over to chat with the Aerosmith bot because you're a big fan, don't get your hopes up. These are not bots meant to bring you on a journey or answer every question.
Octane bots are simplistic by design, and they perform very specific tasks. In the case of KISS and Aerosmith, that means inviting people to join a fan club, buy merchandise, or speak with a human in customer service.
“A lot of these Facebook pages, people already send them messages every day and nobody was responding, and that’s a huge missed opportunity. So just having these bots up, even though they’re not the fanciest things in the world, is still much better than having nothing,” Schlicht said.
Today, there are dozens of startups, most less than a year old, with bot creation platforms. Many of them, especially those who claim their platforms make bots in five minutes or less, are in a race to become the Wix or SquareSpace of the bot world.
Octane keeps that promise of five minutes or less, and keeps the bots simple, Schlicht said, because conversations with potential clients have made it clear that most people have no idea what they want from bots. The company’s exploration of bots in past months has also made it clear that all bots have room for improvement.
“I don't think there are a lot of incredibly interesting bots right now, and I think that's why we're starting really simple,” Schlicht said. “We're just trying to take a simple approach to this and say if you don't have a bot right now, here's a simple bot that's better than what you have…”
The Octane AI funding round was led by Phil Libin and General Catalyst Partners, with additional investment from Boost VC, Dimension 6, Ustream founder Brad Hunstable, and Talkable founder Allan Grant.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 07:05 AM PDT
Committing $33.75M to invest in early-career inventors at U.S. universities
Committing $33.75M to invest in early-career inventors at U.S. universities
PALO ALTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–November 2, 2016–
Today, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation selected five aspiring inventors as the inaugural cohort of Moore Inventor Fellows. This new fellowship program recognizes early-career innovators at U.S. universities with a high potential to accelerate progress in scientific research, environmental conservation and patient care.
This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20161102005463/en/
In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted the doubling of components on an integrated circuit every 18 months. With the creation of the Moore Inventor Fellows, the foundation hopes to enable breakthroughs that accelerate progress over the next 50 years. Photo courtesy of Intel Corp.
Each fellow will receive a total of $825,000 over three years to drive their invention forward, including $50,000 per year from their home institution as commitment to these outstanding individuals. Beginning with these five fellows in 2016, the foundation will invest nearly $34 million during the next ten years to support 50 Moore Inventor Fellows.
In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted the doubling of components on an integrated circuit every 18 months. From careful observation of an emerging trend, Moore extrapolated that computing would dramatically increase in power, and decrease in relative cost, at an exponential pace. This observation helped fuel the technological advancement and acceleration we have seen in the past 50 years. With the creation of the Moore Inventor Fellows, the foundation hopes to enable breakthroughs that accelerate progress over the next 50 years.
“We are investing in promising scientist-problem solvers with a passion for inventing – like Gordon Moore himself,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “By providing support to these early-career researchers, we can give them the freedom to try out new ideas that could make a real and positive difference.”
The fellows will be recognized at an event later today at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA highlighting the importance of invention in Silicon Valley and beyond. The event includes panel discussions with the fellows and champions of invention from academia, government, venture capital and industry who will discuss the conditions needed to nurture invention in the United States.
“We cannot know in advance that an invention we support will change the world – but giving passionate inventors the resources to develop a good idea can accelerate progress in the areas we care about,” said Robert Kirshner, Ph.D., chief program officer for science at the Moore Foundation.
The inaugural Moore Inventor Fellows are:
Deji Akinwande – University of Texas, Austin
Shane Ardo – University of California, Irvine
Xingjie Ni – Pennsylvania State University
Joanna Slusky – University of Kansas
Mona Jarrahi – University of California, Los Angeles
For this inaugural year, the Moore Inventor Fellows competition drew from early-career researchers at Association of American Universities member institutions and 15 additional institutions from the top 50 National Institutes of Health-funded medical schools.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and the preservation of the special character of the Bay Area.
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 07:00 AM PDT
Fleetsmith, a startup that has developed software that automates the management of multiple Mac computers, is launching out of stealth mode today and announcing a $3.1 million seed round. The service is now available in beta, at $8.25 per month when paid annually or $10 per device per month when paid monthly, with access for at least 50 devices.
Fleetsmith is meant to be easy for pretty much anyone to manage. Even getting on board is easy. Thanks to an integration with Google’s G Suite through Fleetsmith’s web app, signing in takes just one click. Once end users and their devices have been added and a native Mac app has been installed, admins can deploy applications and force app and operating system updates for everyone or just for certain groups of employees. Security features like disk encryption and firewalls can also be centrally managed.
From Fleetsmith, it’s easy to see which devices people are using and which specs they have. It will even alert admins when a Mac’s battery should be replaced. Plus, admins can be informed when registered devices haven’t checked in for some time.
Typically, updating a single app like Google Chrome across everyone’s device involves going to Google’s website, downloading the installer, automating the deployment, uploading it to a management system, and then manually deploying the update, Fleetsmith chief product officer and chief security officer Jesse Endahl told VentureBeat.
When you have to do that for every app, “it becomes a real rabbit hole in terms of time,” said Endahl, who previously helped develop a centralized laptop management system at Dropbox.
While there are many companies that sell software for managing Windows machines, the Mac management market is not so crowded. One competitor is Jamf, but Fleetsmith’s target customers are smaller than Jamf’s, said Fleetsmith chief executive Zack Blum, who was previously director of IT at Wikia.
Harrison Metal and Index Ventures jointly led the round. Scott Cannon, Arash Ferdowsi, Zane Lackey, and Kevin Mahaffey also participated.
Based in San Francisco, Fleetsmith now has around a dozen employees. Blum and Endahl started the company earlier this year with Kenneth Kouot and Stevie Hryciw. Fleetsmith is identifying five customers: Blurb, Nuna, Patreon, Sentry, and Signal Sciences.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 07:00 AM PDT
ToneTree is launching a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for its Oak augmented reality playground system. The Oak is a dock for your iPhone that turns any tabletop into an AR playspace.
The product brings together digital and physical toys to create an AR experience. Augmented reality is expected to become a $90 billion market by 2020, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.
To get started, just place your iPhone on the Oak Dock, launch the Oak App, pick up an Oak Kit, and play. Oak comes with a variety of kits that let you immerse yourself in AR experiences, whether you want to play drums, fly through space, or create your own app.
The Rockstar Kit lets you play any instrument anywhere. Just place the included pads down in front of Oak and break out into a jam session. The Gamer Kit turns your table into a battlefield. Collect powerful AR trading cards, place them in front of the Oak, and watch them come to life as you battle your friends. The Explorer Kit lets you pilot your own spaceship. Use a toy ship to dodge asteroids and battle enemies as you explore deep space. With your ship in your hand, you're in full control. And the Developer Kit lets you create your own augmented reality apps.
Much like the Osmo apps on the iPad, Oak uses patented computer vision technology to see and understand the space in front of your iPhone. The items included in the kits are called “totems.” Totems are simple pads, cards, and plastic toys that Oak uses to control the virtual world. Oak also includes a laser in its base that detects when the user is interacting with totems.
Oak came to life through an art project. The original idea was to turn the walls and floors of a building into an augmented reality musical instrument.
“At the project’s premier, a little girl's wonder with the musical instrument inspired us to push the idea further,” the company said.
The team went through an accelerator program led by Intel Education. Oak will ship in August 2017. ToneTree was founded by three self-described nerds — Brian Cook, CEO; Ronald Sardarian, chief technology officer; and Max Escaler, chief marketing officer — from three different countries who roomed together at Rensselær Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 06:58 AM PDT
Let’s say you run a restaurant, and you want a chatbot to take orders. Or you run a hair salon, and you need a chatbot to help schedule appointments for blowouts and coloring. Or, for fun, let’s say you’re me, a journalist, and you’re jealous of Chris Messina and Esther Crawford, who have their own personal bots.
The trouble for many of the people running these small businesses (as well as the person writing this article) is a lack of coding skills needed to make such chatbots. But in about 10 minutes, while sitting at my kitchen table in front of my MacBook Air, I built a simple chatbot, TheBeeZeeChatbot for Facebook Messenger. I built it using two new development tools from Gupshup: Flow and Template Bot Builders.
Gupshup has previously helped large companies like Barclays and Sage Software and partnered with Cisco Spark and Twilio to target enterprise customers. The company says its platform is used by 30,000 developers. Today’s launch of Flow and Template Bot Builders represents an expansion of the usual definition of a bot developer. “Who needs to build a bot?” asked Beerud Sheth, CEO of Gupshup, in an interview with VentureBeat. “It’s everyone with a website or an app.”
For starters, that means people in the 28 million small businesses across America. Gupshup’s new development products use drag-and-drop tools to “program” chatbots that are based on menus of typical use cases. As the names suggest, with Flow Bot Builder, users design the conversational flow for the bot, and with Template Bot Builder, they use pre-defined templates that are customizable to fit their audience and business needs.
As an example, Sheth says the template for restaurant bots is based on the most common variables, like location, price, hours, menu, and order placement. The new tools walk the restaurant’s bot builder through the conversation flow, prompting them to customize the conversational text in accordance with their style — all without writing a single line of code.
“Our goal is to democratize bot building,” says Sheth. “Before, high-end bots required high-end coding skills. We’re now helping small- and medium-sized enterprises create, test, and deploy bots for dozens of messaging platforms.”
Both Flow Bot Builder and Template Bot Builder are available to try at www.gupshup.io.
Below is a screenshot showing the result of my 10 minutes with Gupshup’s Flow Bot Builder: TheBeeZeeChatbot for Facebook Messenger. (And no, it’s not publicly available!)
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 06:33 AM PDT
Spotify has announced that it has acquired Preact, a cloud-based service that helps companies acquire and retain subscribers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“Finding the trends and behavior patterns in our data that correlate with paid subscriptions is incredibly valuable,” said Jason Richman, VP of product at Spotify, in a statement. “The addition of Preact to Spotify's team will help us design experiences that grow our premium customer base.”
Preact’s raison d’être is in predicting customers’ behavior around subscription sign-ups and upgrades, and it does so using behavioral science, machine learning, and analytics. Preact looks at existing behavior in free users, including metrics on how they engage across all platforms, and predicts who is likely to drop off and who could be encouraged to upgrade. It also serves to help retain those who are already signed up. Preact is ultimately all about reducing churn.
Despite criticism, Spotify has maintained its free ad-supported tier as a way to encourage people to sign up for its service, at which point it pushes to convert users to a $10 / month subscription. At last count, Spotify claimed 40 million paying subscribers — up 10 million in six months — out of a total user base of around 100 million people.
Spotify has made six previous known acquisitions, kicking off with music discovery service Tunigo back in 2013. This was followed by the Echo Nest in 2014, in a deal that has proven to be a key tool in Spotify’s music-recommendation arsenal. And last year, Spotify snapped up Seed Scientific, a consulting confirm that specializes in data science and analytics. In 2016, Spotify has boosted its product development ambitions with the acqui-hire of two startups, Soundwave and Cord Project. And earlier this year, Spotify acquired CrowdAlbum, a service that aggregates photos and videos from artists' live shows — this was Spotify’s first acquisition since raising a new $1 billion war chest.
Originally founded out of Los Angeles in 2012, Preact upped sticks and moved to San Francisco, where it raised a $4.6 million round of funding in 2014, followed by another $7 million round a year later. As a result of the Spotify acquisition, Preact’s team will work out of Spotify's existing hubs in New York and San Francisco. But there is no word on whether Preact will continue to offer its service to other companies or not — we’ve reached out to Spotify and will update here when we find out.
Posted: 02 Nov 2016 06:30 AM PDT
The mobile app market is expected to grow 270 percent — from $70 billion in 2015 to $189 billion by 2020 — according to a new report by market researcher App Annie.
Time spent in apps is expected to increase 114 percent during that time, and games will account for 55 percent of app store revenues. But other categories will also grow quickly, as time spent in shopping and transportation apps is expected to grow three-fold.
“Today, app publishers come from every industry — not just game studios and media and entertainment companies, but also banks, retailers, airlines, ride-sharing services, and government agencies, to name a few,” the report said. “To fully capitalize on the app economy's exceptional growth, publishers need to anticipate future market opportunities when planning for a variety of business scenarios, including product launches, performance goals, international expansion, and portfolio management.”
By 2020, in-app advertising and app store revenue will each exceed their combined 2015 total. Both categories will see strong growth, yet in-app advertising is outpacing app stores, and the former’s share of revenue will expand from 58 percent to 62 percent. Two key factors driving this growth are the dramatic increase of time spent in apps (which has doubled over the past two years) and the doubling of the global installed base of smartphones and tablets to 6.2 billion in 2020.
While game publishers will continue to capture the majority of revenue, advertising will fuel apps publishers (excluding games), as their share of revenue climbs from 34 percent ($24 billion) in 2015 to 45 percent ($85 billion) in 2020.
By the end of 2015, Asia Pacific had grown larger than the Americas in terms of revenue, with much of this growth driven by China. By 2020, Asia will deliver more than $85 billion to publishers. However, the U.S. market's maturity in advertising delivers high ad rates and more brand dollars. This, coupled with a higher percentage of app store revenue passed through to publishers, means the U.S. market will remain the single largest market for publishers, delivering $59 billion in 2020, compared to $54 billion from China.
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