Category Archives: Know How

Facebook touts the strength of its developer tools

Facebook is tooting the horns of its various developer tools by sharing how DoubleU Games, a South Korean developer, used them to learn more about Facebook users who play in the virtual casino of its flagship DoubleU Casino.

A case study provided exclusively to Gigaom shows that DoubleU Games used Facebook’s log-in feature to make it easy for people to sign up for DoubleU Casino; used App Install Ads to promote the game; and used the Analytics for Apps tools introduced in March to learn more about how the game is played.

Facebook claims the audience gained from App Ads now represents 80 percent of DoubleU Casino’s desktop revenue. The company behind the virtual casino found that most of its users (80 percent) sign in to the app with Facebook’s login feature. It also used the social network to drive increasing traffic to the game.

Other case studies have been used to drive home the same point: Facebook’s attempts to woo the developer community with new tools are working. Given the rocky past the company had with developers, especially those working on games that went viral before fading into obscurity, that might be a tough line to sell.

Just look to the cautionary tale of Zynga. That company used Facebook’s network to make games like “FarmVille” the darling of the social games market. Then, Facebook made it harder for the company to spam users with messages about their virtual farms, and “FarmVille” became a pale vision of its past glory.

Zynga’s fall makes it hard to believe that other companies can find lasting success on Facebook. That’s a hell of a counterpoint to case studies like this: Facebook could’ve written something similar about Zynga’s past successes, but that would only describe the highs it reached before it came crashing down.

Still, it’s clear that Facebook wants to earn back the trust of developers who can build things for its apps. (This is especially tru for App Instal ads, which Zuckerberg has long touted as a big deal for the company.) Sometimes that manifests as the addition of an app platform to Facebook’s increasingly popular Messenger service; otherwise it crops up as tools like Analytics for Apps, which debuted around the same time.

Then it writes up case studies like this to show that, at least for a while, these tools can make a real difference for developers. That certainly appears to be the case for DoubleU Games: Facebook’s tools helped the company find more users, keep them engaged, and figure out how it could squeeze more money out of ’em.

The trick is for these companies to use all these tools to support a lasting business. Until then we can’t be sure these case studies are capturing more than a snapshot of companies that are cresting the peak of their success. So, sure, look to DoubleU Games to see what Facebook can do. Just remember Zynga, too.

Snapchat rethinks content discovery with Story Explorer

A new Snapchat feature called Story Explorer will allow people in New York and Los Angeles to view specific moments from perspectives shared by other users.

Snapchat says in a blog post today that Story Explorer works by taking Snaps curated into its Live Stories and making other Snaps of the same event available with a swipe. (That sentence would have been gobbledygook just a few years ago.) Put another way: It’s like viewing a movie through multiple views instead of just one.

“It’s the first time you’ll be able to experience that incredible game-winning dunk from thousands of perspectives throughout the stadium — or feel like you’re right there on the scene when breaking news unfolds,” Snapchat says. It adds that this is possible because its users contribute “so many diverse perspectives” all at once.

A report from the Los Angeles Times says that Snapchat’s curators will still be tasked with choosing the content that appears in the company’s Live Stories. This feature simply makes it easier for people interested in a particular moment to view relevant content without requiring the curator to find similar Snaps.

Story Explorer feels a bit like Snapchat’s attempt to replicate the hashtag. That omnipresent symbol often serves as a gateway to similar content, but it’s limited because it requires people to categorize whatever they’re sharing. Snapchat’s doing something similar with an automated system that requires no user effort.

“Story Explorer relies on technology developed by our research team to provide more depth to every Snap in a Story,” the company says in its blog post. “When you see a moment that inspires or excites you, simply swipe up to see more Snaps of that same moment – from every perspective.” Who needs hashtags?

It will be interesting to see how Snapchat’s users respond to having their Snaps made available to anyone who swipes up on something shared to a Live Story. Despite the app’s utility as something more than a sexting service, its beginning as a private and ephemeral social network doesn’t lend itself to features like this.

Not from the person sharing the Snap’s perspective, anyway. For everyone else this little bit of communal voyeurism makes perfect sense. Why view something from one angle when you can view it from a thousand? And who cares about how Snapchat began if this is what it is now? The first answer’s clear; the second isn’t.

Amazon is reportedly running a secret shipping operation in Ohio

Amazon is steadily expanding its delivery infrastructure, whether it’s by driving items to consumers in select cities or testing a secretive drone delivery program. Could the company also reduce its reliance on shipping companies like UPS and FedEx by running its own air cargo operations instead of using others’ planes?

A report from Motherboard indicates that Amazon is most likely behind a secretive operation from an Ohio airport dedicated to shipping consumer goods. If the report is accurate, it would appear that Amazon is at least testing a system that could give it more control over the paths its wares take to reach consumers.

This control would help Amazon sidestep any issues other carriers face. Instead of being at the mercy of UPS and FedEx, the company would be responsible for making sure items reach their new owners on time, and it would have the power to fix anything that goes wrong instead of just mopping up after others’ messes.

It could also help reduce shipping costs. As Motherboard notes in its report:

With shipping, as with all of Amazon’s $250 billion empire, efficiency is key. Amazon’s net shipping cost in 2014 was $4.2 billion, up from $3.5 billion in 2013, according to a 10-K filing from 2014 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. With delivery costs weighing heavily on Amazon and ongoing headaches with UPS and other third party shippers, the company has a lot to gain from its own logistics network, whether just supplementing shipments in peak seasons or cutting out other carriers entirely.

This is what Amazon is all about — owning everything its customers might ever have to interact with. Take digital media, for example. Amazon sells the devices used to access online content; runs services used to stream that content; and operates the network that delivers all those bits and bytes to people’s devices.

Those efforts pay off by making Amazon an integral part of digital media, convincing people to continue purchasing things from its website, and even create an incredibly valuable business devoted to the cloud computing market. Why wouldn’t the company want to replicate that success in the physical realm?

Given all that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Amazon might be testing its own air cargo operations. If anything, it’s more surprising that it’s taken this long for a company whose greatest strength is owning every aspect of whatever business it’s in took this long to run an experiment like the one taking place now. (I reached out to Amazon for comment and will update this post if I hear back.)

‘Breaker’ mixes content discovery with a messaging platform

Holiday dinners hosted by my wife’s family are bound to have three things: sugary desserts; copious amounts of wine; and heated discussions about politics. The exact mix changes depending on the holiday, but each of those things is bound to be there, just as sure as there will be a smorgasbord of different foods.

A new messaging app called Breaker wants to encourage people to have those conversations without requiring them to gorge themselves on turkey or guzzle untold glasses of wine every time they want to discuss something in the news. Instead, it blends content discovery features with a dedicated message platform.

The app works by asking people to identify their interests. Once they do, it will recommend content it culls from hundreds of different sources to them. If they like what they read and want to discuss it with someone else, they can do so right from the app, instead of switching between services like Nuzzel and WhatsApp.

Breaker chief executive Shailo Rao says the app is supposed to facilitate private, meaningful conversations. “Instead of broadcasting to all your friends or all the people who follow you,” like you would via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, “it’s all about having a focused conversation with just a few friends.”

Those conversations are facilitated by a feature that allows people to send the same link to multiple people either as a group or as individual conversations. This makes it easier to talk about things with more than one person without forcing people to participate in hellish group messages they can never escape.

Rao says this feature rose from research he did as an intern at Google, when he found that Google Chat users would often send links to multiple people at the same time, but didn’t want to lump everyone into the same conversation. This seems small, but in day-to-day usage it could make life a lot easier for people.

Breaker in action via its iOS app.

Breaker in action via its iOS app.

That’s the thinking behind another feature that allows Breaker users to hold conversations through the platform even if their friends don’t use the app. If that’s the case, Breaker will send an SMS message to the non-user with a link to a Web view where they can see the article being discussed and talk about it.

That isn’t the most elegant process — who wants to tap a link to have a conversation through a mobile Web browser? — it could help Breaker sidestep the problem of consumers being overwhelmed by the sheer number of services they have to use if they want to be able to communicate with all their friends.

“People have enough messaging apps on their phones,” Rao says. “It’s okay because there’s a centralized inbox with the lockscreen, so people can manage multiple messaging apps because that’s the pathway into them, but it is tough to get all your friends to download another messaging app.” That’s understating it.

There’s also the problem of convincing people to use another content discovery platform. Many could already use something like Flipboard or Nuzzel, which have the benefits of being around longer and name recognition, and they might not be keen to switch to a different app just to make it easier to chat with friends.

Breaker has raised $375,000 from Tandem Capital and undisclosed angel investors. The app is currently available on iOS, and will debut on Android later. Right now it’s available for free, but Rao says eventually the app could utilize in-app purchases or advertising, once it has a large enough user base to do so.

Will that happen? It depends on how well the politically-charged conversations held around dinner tables across the country translate to a messaging app, how many people want to download another messaging app when they can send links via existing apps without too much hassle, or how often people really talk about their interests with friends and family with any sort of depth or meaningfulness.

Why CIOs must pursue ‘eventual symmetry’ for their cloud strategies

Sinclair is CEO and cofounder of Apprenda

The idea that hybrid cloud is the end state of enterprise computing is no longer controversial. Nearly all technologists, IT executives, and analysts subscribe to the idea that public cloud and on-premises computing both have a place in modern enterprise IT strategy.

A hybrid end state isn’t a bridging tactic or a strategic consolation prize, but a desirable outcome. In fact, a strong case could be made that a hybrid model allows for specialized optimization based on use cases – there are many scenarios both now and in the future that may map best to on-premises or public cloud.

There are two primary ways to implement a hybrid end state: asymmetric and symmetric.

1. Asymmetric – In asymmetric orientations, an enterprise consumes public cloud as one endpoint, and builds an on-premises cloud that is a distinctly separate, second endpoint. For example, we could look at the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) layer and say that an enterprise could use OpenStack on-premises and AWS in public cloud, and use processes, operations, and a brokering abstraction across the two endpoints to help normalize the consumption of IaaS regardless of what side of the firewall it came from.

In asymmetric hybridity, the technology used on-premises is different than that used in the public cloud, resulting in the need for reconciliation and the need to accept a lossy factor (i.e. the two technologies may have different features and evolutionary paths) since points of differentiation between the two need to be ignored or marginalized to ensure consistency.

2. Symmetric – Symmetric hybridity means that an enterprises on-premises assets and public assets are using the same technology, and that technology reconciles the assets on both sides of the firewall as a single endpoint. An example of this would be a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) layer that can be installed on-premises that could use local OSes and OSes from one or more public clouds all under one logical instance of the PaaS.

The PaaS hides the fact that resources are coming from disparate providers and only exposes that fact where appropriate (e.g. at the policy definition level to shape deployments). In this case, the PaaS is the single endpoint where interaction happens, and resources on both sides are used as resource units by the PaaS. Any organizational processes and consumption processes would be ignorant to the idea that a border exists in the resource model.

Pros and cons of symmetric and asymmetric models

Symmetric models guarantee that anyone within the enterprise consuming cloud infrastructure is shielded from the distinction between on- and off-premises resources and capabilities. If the end user  of cloud infrastructure (e.g. a developer or data scientist) is required to acknowledge any asymmetry, they will have to deal with it in their project. This explicit need to deal with a fractured cloud creates an immediate “tax” related to consuming infrastructure and it will generate consumption biases.

For example, if one side of the asymmetric deployment is easier to consume than the other, then an end user will prefer that even if the not-so-easy side is more aligned with the project, and will cause IT itself a number of headaches when it comes to operations related to that project.

It’s important to understand symmetry doesn’t mean the on-premises and public cloud side of a hybrid deployment must be equal. Certainly, workloads may need on-premises or public assets to satisfy certain requirements the other side couldn’t possibly satisfy.

What symmetry guarantees is that a workload that is indifferent to on-premises or public never be exposed to those concepts. Symmetry also ensures a workload with requirements that can only be satisfied by one part of a hybrid cloud or another is never exposed to the technical divide between the clouds. Instead, a workload communicates its preference in the language of requirements.

Eventual symmetry

Asymmetric models might be good starting points or appropriate for certain layers of the infrastructure stack, but they’re not ideal as a final end state. Symmetric models are clearly superior in almost all other aspects.

In response to this, CIOs should pursue a strategy of ‘Eventual Symmetry.’ Eventual symmetry means that any cloud strategy must:

  1. Choose symmetric models over asymmetric models where possible
  2. If asymmetric is the only possible approach, ensure that the implementation lends itself to eventually being replaced by a symmetric model or that processes and technology be used to abstract the asymmetry into a perceived symmetric model

By establishing eventual symmetry as a core cloud strategy pillar, a CIO can guarantee that any disjointedness in their strategy will be resolved. He or she can also ensure consumers of IT resources are abstracted away from details related to on-premises and off-premises.

Health care’s future is data driven

Darren is the chief executive at Apixio.

Despite spending more than $3 trillion a year on health care in the U.S., we do not yet have a way to easily access your complete medical history. The average hospital reinvests in MRI machines every five years or so at a cost of millions of dollars. Yet, comparatively little has been directed toward unlocking some of the most valuable information health insurers, physicians, and hospitals already have about you.

The U.S. produces 1.2 billion clinical care documents annually, but nearly 80 percent of the data they contain is unstructured. This information is difficult for entities to understand and use. The medical chart contains a record of your health care — visits with doctors and hospitals, treatments, procedures, medications, diagnoses, and the results of workups. It is the key to understanding your health and improving the care provided to you. Yet, the challenge of accessing and making that information useable is immense.

The typical medical chart is stored in various fragments across different locations and systems. Your primary care physician has their record of you but not the record from your cardiologist or gynecologist or from the emergency department doctor you saw six months ago for bronchitis, for example. Imagine your entire medical record as a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces are scattered and stored in different locations and different types of boxes, each of which is hard to open. No wonder people feel as if they are repeating themselves every time they visit a medical facility.

Luckily, technologies that make sense of the immense amount of data and preserve the patient narrative are rapidly emerging. With the rise of  cognitive computing, natural language processing (NLP), and data science in health care, we now have the power to unlock untold value in health care data and drive proactive, targeted health care.

Enabling insights

The first step is being able to make sense of the rich narrative in the medical chart whether from a primary care physician or specialist practicing in different organizations, different regions or both. While your doctor is familiar with your record, the medical system as a whole is not. So medical care continues to be reactive rather than proactive.

This is where cognitive computing and NLP enter the picture. NLP tools can help extract data from free text found in the patient record creating valuable material for big data technologies to analyze. Cognitive computing platforms use NLP along with pattern recognition models and data mining techniques to simulate human thought processes in a self-learning computerized system. A cognitive computing platform refines the way it looks for patterns as well as the way it processes data so it becomes capable of anticipating new problems and modeling possible solutions.

Once doctors have access to patient data, the question is how can they use it to accurately predict what treatments are most effective. Data science gives rise to a better understanding of the relationship between treatments, outcomes and patients. Now health care organizations have the tools to combine data from different sources and paint a more complete picture of the patient to personalize their treatment.

A data-rich health care future

These technologies give health care organizations the ability to access the previously untapped 80 percent of health care data so providers have real-time access to information and a deeper understanding of patients. If doctors know more about patients, then they can make more intelligent decisions that will result in quicker recoveries, fewer readmissions, lower infection rates and fewer medical errors. Ultimately, it will supercharge the value of care.

Beyond benefiting individual patients, access to this data will also create a living laboratory of clinical data to better inform health care decisions. Now that information about clinical care can be machine read, physicians can access it and base research on the everyday clinical care of millions of patients. Rather than depending on narrowly designed studies that do not directly relate to individual patients, health care organizations and researchers can learn about health care delivery from everyday real-world data.

Big data technologies can make use of information that is locked up in our medical charts in different systems and locations so we can transform how we look at and interpret patient health. With access to the untapped 80 percent of patient data and tools that put the data to use, we can change the delivery and consumption of health care as we know it, and usher in a new data revolution in health care that will improve patient care and result in high-quality outcomes.

New features make it easier to use Facebook after a breakup

It’s not an application that plays Nickelback songs whenever you contact your ex, but new Facebook features could still make it easier to avoid the breakup blues.

The features allow Facebook users to hide a former partner’s posts and profile; edit past updates in which both people are tagged; and control the status updates, photos, and other content their ex-lover will be able to view after the breakup. Facebook has basically created the inverse of a couple being “Facebook official.”

“Facebook is a place for sharing life’s important moments, which for many people include their romantic relationships,” product manager Kelly Winters said in a blog post. “When a relationship ends, we’ve heard from people that they sometimes have questions about the options available to them on Facebook.”


People in the United States will be prompted to test these features if they change their relationship status. Other users won’t be told if someone uses the utilities; the point of hiding someone’s profile or posts is to make it easier to do so without un-friending or blocking that person, and the other features are equally discreet.

Introducing these features is a tacit admission of two things: There are real risks connected to using a service where people are encouraged to share everything about their daily lives. (Or at least to post images, talk to people, or check-in to events and venues.) And not everything posted to Facebook has to be positive.

Reports have shown that Facebook is a powerful tool for domestic abusers. NPR reported in 2014 that nearly half the domestic violence shelters it surveyed had a policy against using Facebook on premises because it could reveal their location. More recently, the Daily Beast reported on how Facebook’s real name policy puts women who escape domestic abuse at risk, because they can be found on its site.

These new features won’t do much to prevent those problems, but they can make it easier for people leaving toxic relationships to protect themselves. Not having to see an abuser without having to block them, which could make them angry, is a valuable ability. Being able to hide new posts could help address the same issue.

Beyond that, these new features also allow people to use Facebook without having to confront bittersweet memories about the time they spent with an ex. Sometimes it’s nice to think that an entire life can be catalogued on Facebook — other times it’s nice to be able to forget someone is no longer part of your life.

“This work is part of our ongoing effort to develop resources for people who may be going through difficult moments in their lives,” Winters said in the blog post. “We hope these tools will help people end relationships on Facebook with greater ease, comfort and sense of control.” Most users will probably think that they do.

Twitter Start-Up Funding, By The Numbers

New funding may be sluggish, but there’s at least one category that investors are more than happy to pour money into: Twitter-related startups. On its blog today (via Silicon Alley Insider), startup site ChubbyBrain tallies up the action and finds that to date, $23 million has been put into 11 startups hoping to make a business around the microblog. (That’s half the $55 million that Twitter itself has raised).

In a sign, perhaps, that investors aren’t quite sure how to place their bets, however, no one sub-sector accounts for the majority of the startups getting funded — and most of the investments tend to be small. However, expect search-related fundings to take the majority of funding amounts going ahead, considering how the debate around Twitter is now moving from adoption to real-time search and discovery. Analytics is likely to the second biggest pie, as publishers and marketers try to make sense of the data around Twitterverse.


Review Round-Up: iPhone 3G S Offers Improvements, But Nothing Revolutionary

Some of the first reviews have started to trickle in on the new Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iPhone coming out this Friday. Above and beyond the consensus seems to be that the 3G S upgrades will be nice, but it’s nothing that will blow your socks off.

Instead, the software update — which everyone can start downloading today — is much more important in terms of new features, especially since it’s accessible to all. Here’s a look at what the technology reviewers are saying:

WSJ’s Walt Mossberg: “I don

Over-the-Top Consumption and Revenue Will Rocket: Report

More than 100 million households in the world will have an Internet-connected TV by 2011, according to The Diffusion Group (TDG). That’s way more than current estimates, including one for GigaOM by Dan Rayburn. TDG says game consoles with lead the way with 20 million of those households using their Xboxes and the like to get online. What’s more, in a report prepared for GigaOM Pro (paid subscription), TDG analysts links together these estimates to paint a picture of tripled web video usage and significant revenue.

tdgottBy 2013, U.S. broadband users will consume about 32 minutes of web video per day, up from 10 minutes per day currently, according to TDG. At the same time, users will watch 4.2 hours of TV per day.

That online video usage, both on the TV and the PC, will bring in more than $10 billion in revenue in the U.S. by 2013. These numbers aren’t exactly parallel, since they’re for separate years, but the rest of the world is supposed to account for $5.5 billion in ad revenue by 2012. Over-the-top revenue is expected to come primarily through subscriptions at first — until a market builds big enough for advertising — with movie rentals worth $4 billion before the end of 2011. Niche content services like Kylin.TV (Chinese TV), &TV (Korean TV) and SkyAngel (Christian family-centric TV) will bring in $1 billion by the end of 2011.

TDG concludes that over-the-top delivery is a significant threat to payTV, especially if net neutrality can be maintained. More than half of adult Internet users surveyed by TDG said they are somewhat likely to cancel their existing payTV service in favor of an over-the-top replacement.

At this point cord-cutting is far too partisan a topic for anyone to believe projections that don’t align with their preset notions of reality. But as time goes on, we’ll see whose vision turns true.