new web technologies
- PayPal: Give Us Some Credit
- Hey Code School, Don't Bro Me If You Don't Know Me
- How Companies Can Unlock Billions With The Value of Code
- Why Your Apps Keep Asking To Use Your Microphone
- Three Signs That Enterprise Tech Is Booming
PayPal: Give Us Some Credit
Lend PayPal your ears: The eBay-owned payments company doesn't want to just process your transactions. It wants to fund them, too.
The most visible move it's making is changing the name of BillMeLater, a provider of consumer credit eBay bought in 2008 for a little under $1 billion, to PayPal Credit.
That minor branding fix is just the tip of a financial iceberg. PayPal is also rapidly expanding PayPal Working Capital, a financing program for small businesses. It is taking PayPal Credit international. And it plans to make PayPal Credit an option for the growing number of mobile-app transactions that its Braintree subsidiary processes.
The interchange fees charged by banks for credit- and debit-card transactions have long been an annoyance for technolibertarians. (It's not clear if their objections boil down to anything aside from a preference that they, not fusty banks, get to be the money-making middlemen in all transactions.)
That's one of the attractions of Bitcoin. The launch of the digital currency-cum-transaction-engine promised a financial fantasy: instantaneous, irreversible digital transactions, bypassing banks and payment processors.
What that ignores is that the current cumbersome credit-card system has persisted in large measure because it enables people to buy things they can't pay for with the cash they have on hand.
It helps to remember that drugstores and grocers used to employ clerks in back rooms to track customers' accounts and dun them for payments. The few points of interchange credit cards charged seemed like a far better deal. Handling cash, too, has cost and risk, from embezzling employees to fake bills.
Dee Hock, the technological visionary behind Visa, didn't like to emphasize the lending aspect of credit cards. He didn't even like the term "credit card," according to Joe Nocera's A Piece of the Action. But a key part of why credit cards took off is that consumers could make a purchase now and pay for it up to 30 days later, interest-free; merchants, meanwhile, got paid far faster than they might if they were the ones collecting on the debt.
Yes, all of that sounds slow compared to Bitcoin. But Bitcoin's digital-cash-upfront approach doesn't help consumers juggling mortgage payments and waiting for paychecks. The fact is that well-developed credit markets are clearly linked to increased economic activity.
That macroeconomic theory seems to work on the micro scale, too. Steve Allocca, the vice president in charge of PayPal Credit and related products, says that consumers who use a PayPal credit product spend an average of 30 percent more than they would otherwise.
Even Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious inventor of Bitcoin, acknowledged in his first paper describing the Bitcoin protocol that the present-day system "works well enough for most transactions."
Cash isn't king. Cash flow is.
Both A Borrower And A Lender Be
If you look at PayPal's competitors, the most interesting rivals aren't the ones trying to duplicate PayPal's card-processing business, like WePay, Square, and Stripe.
They're companies you may not have heard of. Like Klarna, a primarily European business that lets customers pay after receiving an invoice—as Swedish and German consumers prefer—or over time. Or the soon-to-launch Affirm, a company started by PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, which promises to let buyers split payments over time.
Besides the renamed BillMeLater, PayPal also offers options like Pay After Delivery, which allows buyers to schedule a payment for 14 days out. It doesn't charge fees but it requires use of a linked bank account, which makes the transaction far more profitable for PayPal.
A couple of weeks ago, eBay announced that it will take over the cobranded credit-card line it issues with GE Capital—giving it one more way of extending credit to consumers.
In March, PayPal's then-president, David Marcus, told me about a bridal shop to which PayPal was loaning money to buy more inventory. That shop then lets brides pay for their dresses over time with BillMeLater. Marcus may be gone, but that vision of lending money on both sides—greasing the rails of commerce with credit—remains and is animating PayPal's latest moves.
PayPal Working Capital has lent $150 million to date, says Darrell Esch, the company's executive in charge of small-business lending, and is making $1 million in loans a day. So far 20,000 PayPal merchants have taken loans—approximately 10 percent of those who have been offered them. (Square has a very similar program, Square Capital, which it offers to retail merchants who use its card-swiping app.)
PayPal's Worst Enemy
PayPal has many risks here. The chief risk is risk itself—the possibility that it will lend out money and not get paid back, whether by consumers or small businesses.
Against that risk, it is wielding a decade-plus of data on consumers' purchases and merchants' sales, which Allocca says will let it make faster and better credit decisions than it might using credit scores and other traditional sources of data used by banks.
The other risk is complexity, the cruft of dozens of product launches, brand extensions, and acquisitions. ReadWrite has long noted PayPal's cultural problem with imperial overreach. It wants to be in every niche within the payments world, and it seems to want that more than having a straightforward mission executed with a simple set of tools.
Marcus, who left PayPal in June for Facebook, departed with an unfinished effort to cut back on the company's sprawling product lines. It's not clear who's wielding that ax now, since PayPal has yet to replace him. (eBay CEO John Donahoe is running PayPal directly on an interim basis.)
Here, the move to rename BillMeLater takes on more than just symbolic importance. PayPal Credit makes sense as part of PayPal's core product—a flexible credit line joined at the hip with PayPal's stored-value account. If PayPal can roll all of its cobranded cards and financing offers into one coherent product, it stands a far better chance of fending off Klarna, Affirm, and its other eager competitors.
It also points to how PayPal might make money in a Bitcoin future. Bitcoin may well drive down transaction costs over time. But digital cash won't answer consumers' and businesses' need to pay for some purchases over time. It may be that moving money from point A to point B may not be PayPal's long-term destiny. Fronting the cash to make commerce happen may be.
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2014 09:00:00 -0700
Author: :: Category: Web
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Hey Code School, Don't Bro Me If You Don't Know Me
I’ll admit that I’ve got a habit of calling people of both genders “bro.” But there’s a time and a place for it. I wouldn’t use it, for example, when I’m teaching my WordPress development class.
Instructor Jason Millhouse warned me away from using dollar signs in my variables, chiding “don’t be that guy.” A properly named variable was presented in the form of praise: “goodNameBro.”
Great variable, but I’m not your bro.
Sexism Or Oversensitivity?
Language has power, and for programmers that’s true on multiple levels. It can be exclusionary in what it doesn’t include … just as missing code can crash a program. Likewise, enough subtle omissions and a woman or girl might think she ought not to pursue code at all.
To Equalize Code, Begin With Real Life
There’s a Magic: The Gathering comic I love (yes, those are M:TG posters in my photo) that sums up the freedom of not always ruminating on equality.
“Can’t I have fun without dealing with these social issues?” a man in the comic exclaims. “That’s the same thing I’m asking for,” a woman replies.
In other words, the Code School module that made me feel invisible probably wouldn’t even have registered a thought about gender equality for a man.
Pollack said this was the case at Code School a few years ago, before the company began hiring more women. It wasn’t a matter of leaving women out intentionally, only that male employees were creating avatars that applied to people like them.
“When employees created the modules, they were thinking about what they knew, people like them,” said Ashley Smith, operations head at Code School. “As more and more women joined the team, that changed.”
Pollack told me Code School began making a special effort to hire more women a few years ago. Today, the Orlando-based company is one-third female. To attract women, he said Code School offers perks that appeal to women, like yoga classes.
“We take these issues as seriously as bug fixes," said Smith. "If a course leaves a student with the feeling that it isn’t for them, we’re not meeting our goal."
Readers might wonder why I’m taking Code School to task. While programming education sites like CodeBabes—which features female instructors who remove their clothes—make me feel disgusting, all Code School did was make me feel invisible for a moment. But if our standard in tech education is simply not to be as exploitive as CodeBabes, that’s a pretty low bar to set.
Instead, it’s worth celebrating that Code School holds itself to a higher standard, where even a few minutes of user discomfort is a big enough problem to need fixing.
Photo by Lauren Orsini for ReadWrite
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2014 08:11:51 -0700
Author: :: Category: Hack
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How Companies Can Unlock Billions With The Value of Code
Guest author Paul Roehrig is global managing director at Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work.
Here’s some tough love for the MBA crowd: The biggest challenge faced by living, breathing business leaders is not something that can be solved with the scary math of a capital-asset pricing model. The problem keeping most leaders awake at night is nearly always some form of, “How do I identify what information really matters to my business? How do I separate signal from noise?”
If you’re skeptical, just wander into a bookstore. Not a digital one that ends with dot-com. Find a physical one—they still exist—where you can see and touch an actual book that would be familiar to Johannes Gutenberg. Now go to the business section. If you’re at all interested in the world, you’ll find stacks of fantastically enticing books; wisdom collected from past and current leaders and thinkers; more than you could ever get through (with more coming in every day).
How can any of us possibly pick out the ones we should read? Which will give us the most value? From this wall of information, how do we find what really matters vs. what might be merely interesting (or worse)?
Mo' Data, Mo' Problems
It’s this confounding challenge—separating signal and value from noise and distraction—that has fueled the current fixation with Big Data. Since you’re already in the business section, look at all the latest titles. Many have something to do with data and information. What is it? How big is it? Where do we put it? My data seems small, so do I need more? Should my data go on a diet? Is there a 12-step program for data?
Back at work, the problem gets even worse. We all know our company has valuable data, but we don’t know where it is, what to do about it, or whether it’s worth doing anything. Most decision makers stay stuck because there’s so little justification for why you should divert focus to what often feels like some sort of science project.
In this context, enterprise data starts to feel like that kitchen drawer we never clean out because we don’t really have a compelling reason. We don’t know what lock that old key fits into, but maybe we’ll need it someday, so there it sits, unlocking nothing.
What's At Stake
But a path forward is finally coming into focus, and it’s almost alarmingly simple. Winning companies are creating business value by building a richer understanding of customers, products, employees, and partners. They are successfully extracting business meaning from a torrent of data to drive performance.
We say this with confidence because—with the help of the Oxford Economics group and futurist Thornton May—we studied over 300 companies to understand the real-world economic impact of making real-world business meaning out of data, and the impact couldn’t be more critical.
Big Data Is A Big Deal
Firms we studied achieved a total economic benefit of roughly $766 billion in just one year (including roughly $399 billion in increased revenue and $367 billion in cost reductions) based on their use of business analytics.
Business Analytics Can Reshape Your Income Statement
Investment in business analytics yielded an average 8.4% increase in revenues and an average 8.1% improvement in cost reduction over the previous fiscal year. Companies that generated the most value from business analytics—what we called the “Meaning Makers”—did even better than the average.
Companies Are Leaving Billions On The Table
If the surveyed companies used all the analytics techniques currently available, respondents estimate they could release an additional 11.9% of economic value in the next 12 months. Right now, that’s real money being left on the table.
A common misconception is that wrangling data well simply drives down operating costs. That’s still true, but another lesson that came through loud and clear is that companies that separate the signal from the noise do better than their competitors in both revenue generation and cost cutting.[*] Those that did a good job extracting value from information had significantly better business results.
[*] We identified 78 of 300 companies (26%) as “meaning makers” who generated significantly more value than others. “Data collectors” are those that lag significantly behind industry leaders (24%). The remaining 50%—“data explorers”—are companies in the middle of the pack.
How You Can Make Your Data Work For You
These results aren’t science fiction or unattainable goals reserved for the current crop of high-fliers like Google or Apple. This matters for all of us.
UPS has become a technology company with trucks, and it saves millions every year by harnessing data to shape decisions about loading, delivery runs, and even truck engine efficiency. Netflix has driven business analytics and meaning making deeply into the core of its product development process to create hits like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Toyota is harnessing data from multiple sources to better understand how cars are performing and anticipate problems before they arise. Clorox uses unstructured data to determine what is resonating with clients and better connect advertising spend to business results.
So what to do tomorrow? Every company is different, so there is no single “right” answer, but there are a few simple tactics companies can start tomorrow.
Become A "Meaning Maker" (Or Pay The Price)
Companies that use data to connect customers, partners, devices, and their brands can thrive. Companies that do not act to become "meaning makers" will undoubtedly face a tough journey—or even an extinction event. Executives should look at their businesses and decide where to apply the new economics of meaning-making in the near-term.
It's All About The SMAC Stack
Social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) technologies are coalescing into a new IT architecture that can help rewire virtually every business. Data from mobile devices, social tools, and cloud-enabled solutions contains massive value if de-coded and harnessed. Business process owners and technology leaders should be proactive about finding ways to leverage these tools.
Narrow Your Focus
The imperatives to “do analytics” or “use big data” are just too broad to be useful. Focus on a specific business process. Whether it’s your underwriting process, clinical drug trials, wealth management service, supply chain or customer relationship management process, target work that shapes at least 10% of your costs or revenues. This is exactly what companies such as Zappos, Netflix, UPS, Toyota, Pandora and others do around key processes.
Don’t Overlook Your Small-Data Problems
Most companies have tremendous wisdom locked up in spreadsheets, call centers and employees’ heads. You don’t always need a billion records to derive business meaning. Start by exploring the data you do have. Get the right people in the room and dig deeply into what you have. This will help break the inertia and start people thinking about how to make business meaning.
Build A Business Analytics Ecosystem
Winning based on knowledge requires a new set of skills. The harsh reality is that there will not be enough people with the right skills to keep up with demand, so most companies won’t be able to go it alone. Savvy decision-makers know that building an ecosystem of consultants and service providers can help deliver the right capabilities to the company.
The power of insight is starting to shape markets and disrupt business processes. We’re well beyond theory building, and these trends will only accelerate in the coming quarters and years. The companies that ultimately win will be those that de-code the new economics of meaning-making. They will reimagine work, see business processes and customers as sources of insight, and find ways to keep human judgment and values embedded in real-world business decisions.
Cognizant's Malcolm Frank and Benjamin Pring contributed to this piece. Together with Paul Roehrig, they are the authors of Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business.
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2014 08:00:00 -0700
Author: :: Category: Work
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Why Your Apps Keep Asking To Use Your Microphone
High-pitched sound is making a comeback. Engineers have discovered that ultrasonics, which have been around almost as long as electronics of any sort, can give modern devices some cool, futuristic features.
Mankind has been capable of making high-frequency ultrasounds for at least a century. Today, we use them to clean our teeth, capture the first images of our smallest humans or improve our photography. Tomorrow, it looks like we’ll be using them to link our gadgets or control them with the wave of a hand.
Google announced its Chromecast TV streaming stick will pair ultrasonically with phones, so you won’t have to share Wi-Fi passwords with friends anymore. Elliptic Labs has figured out how to use ultrasounds to enable mid-air (read: touchless) control over our phones, tablets and laptops. It’s gesture control that actually seems to work well, and it’s heading to the market next year. And they're not alone.
The Sweet Sound Of Hooking Up
At its bare bones, ultrasonic technology requires a speaker to emit sound and a microphone to pick it up. But not just any sound. These are audio waves that oscillate at a high frequency beyond the range of human hearing (20 kHz or higher). Nearby mobile gadgets and appliances, however, can hear them just fine.
That’s why companies like Shopkick and Clinkle pursued ultrasonics as a proximity technology, at least at first. Shopkick let retailers locate customers in the store, so they could push promotions onto the phone tied to specific aisles or departments. (Later the company switched to Apple’s iBeacons, which does the same thing over Bluetooth.) Clinkle hasn't officially ditched its ultrasonic approach to payments, but it hasn't publicly launched it either. (Perhaps it's too busy dealing with the revolving door in its C-suite.)
Plenty of other companies, though, are trying out ultrasound controls in other realms—like our living rooms.
The engineers behind the popular Chromecast streaming stick knew they had a hit on their hands, but they also knew it wasn’t perfect. Pals can’t just come over and start slinging streamed video to your television; first you have to dig up your Wi-Fi password, and then they manually punch it into their devices before your Chromecast party can get started.
To eliminate that first-world digital drudgery, Chromecast product manager Jagit Singh Chawla and his colleagues decided on ultrasonic pairing. It uses a sort of PIN code to connect devices directly, instead of over a Wi-Fi connection. The numbers get encoded into an ultrasound signal played by the TV over its speakers. The smartphone picks it up on the microphone and decodes it—no typing necessary.
In this case, ultrasound communication was a fitting solution. “It’s a universal technology,” Chawla said. “Most TVs have speakers, and phones have speakers and microphones.” So most devices already have the bare minimum hardware. Plus, the short range offers a limitation that, it turns out, actually improves security.
“All we need to do is to prove that you’re in the same room,” he said. “Ultrasonic being high frequency doesn’t travel too long.… There’s no way to take it outside.” In other words, your neighbors won't be able to hijack your Chromecast from their easy chairs next door.
When ultrasounds hit objects, the audio waves get disrupted or echo back. That’s how devices can detect when other things are in the way—much like bats, who echolocate using high-pitched squeaks.
In a rudimentary sense, that’s how ultrasound imaging works, by registering the feedback. It’s also the way Elliptic Labs can tell where your hands are when you’re gesturing near your tablet or smartphone.
The use of ultrasound in mobile devices is not a new idea. Qualcomm’s purchase of Israeli ultrasound technology firm EPOS in 2012 led to the mobile chip maker unveiling ultrasonic pen technology at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. It’s an intriguing concept—partially because this souped-up alterna stylus doesn’t actually have to touch the screen (or NotePad) to work. A user could theoretically write on a piece of paper nearby, and those scrawls could register on the device anyway.
Mid-air gesture control isn’t new either. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Leap Motion controller both promise the same sort of alakazam! functionality that ties hand-waving to device actions. But those products use cameras to track movement, whereas Elliptic relies on ultrasonic waves.
The primary differences seem obvious. With no camera, there’s no field of view to limit the working range or sunlight to battle. Indeed, Elliptic’s gesture control—which uses a specialized high-resolution speaker—works in a 180-degree range around the device. And judging from this demo video, shot by TalkAndroid, it appears to be pretty accurate.
At only a 5x5x5 size, the tiny speaker can fit inside today’s mammoth smartphones, not to mention tablets and laptops; some gadgets may even be able to use their existing microphones. Ultimately, the cost for manufacturers can be quite low; the speakers don't put much strain on precious battery life, either.
No wonder device makers have been beating down CEO Laila Danielsen’s door. “Every single OEM [original equipment manufacturer] is coming to us or talking to us,” she said. “There’s at least one that’s trying to do it themselves, which is good. But the rest are talking to us.” Among them was Amazon, which first contacted Elliptic Labs a year and a half ago.
Ultrasonic’s On Fire
Amazon’s Fire Phone, which just launched last week, now relies on four cameras for its Dynamic Perspective feature. But back then, it was exploring an alternative way to track user movement in front of the device, presumably so that it could deliver the 3D-like visuals based on their viewing angle.
“We were not ready,” said Danielsen, sounding a little disappointed. She had just joined the San Francisco and Oslo, Norway–based company, and it was in the process of shifting from a research to product focus. But that didn’t stop Elliptic Labs from scooping up one of the Fire Phone team members.
“One of the the key leads on this Dynamic Perspective project really believed in ultrasound,” she told me. “I told him that we weren’t ready for what you’re trying to do.” The product would’ve needed redesigning to work with the Fire Phone.
“He said, ‘Ugh! I could do a much better job at this…. Let me know when I can join your team!’,” Danielsen said. “He joined in January.”
With the Amazon defector in tow, Elliptic Labs now seems to be in the catbird seat, cherry-picking partners that can move swiftly to get its technology into consumers’ hands. The company currently offers software development kits for Windows, Windows 8 and Android, and “we are building products as we speak for launch,” said the CEO, who also recently opened a Shanghai office to cater to Asian OEMs. “We are targeting the next 12 months, for products to come out on the market.”
Where could Elliptic’s technology show up next? Danielsen’s not sure yet, but she has a team “looking for longer term areas.” Possibilities range from connected health gadgets and wearables to smart homes and cars—anywhere people might want to control the action with the flick of a hand.
For now, though, Danielsen and her crew are focused on mobile devices. Which may be wise, considering momentum could be building there.
Samsung hopped on the ultrasonic wave recently, debuting a new ultrasonic cover for its low-end Galaxy Core Advance smartphone. An assistive technology, the case was designed to detect the presence of physical obstacles. The South Korean tech company said it plans to expand accessibility of other Galaxy devices, which means ultrasounds could find a home in the Android maker's other smartphones and phablets. It also filed a patent (.PDF) covering an ultrasonic stylus, not unlike Qualcomm’s invention, for its upcoming Note 4.
Samsung loves to experiment with features, and these moves strongly suggest that ultrasonics has become music to its ears.
Feature image by Tess Watson; Shopkick ultrasound transmitter image courtesy of Shopkick; Ultreo ultrasound toothbrush photo courtesy of Ultreo via Amazon; Qualcomm ultrasound pen image screencapped from Qualcomm YouTube demo video; Amazon Fire Phone images by Taylor Hatmaker for ReadWrite; Ultrasonic Cover photo courtesy of Samsung
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:00:00 -0700
Author: :: Category: Play
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Three Signs That Enterprise Tech Is Booming
Never has it been so cool to be boring. For years Box CEO Aaron Levie has waged a lonely campaign to make suit-and-tie business software less stuffy and more exciting. Based on some recent data, it looks like the world is taking notice.
Venture Capital As A Lagging Indicator
Box may have postponed its IPO, but VCs haven't cooled their newfound interest in the enterprise tech sector. If VCs are investing in the enterprise, then it's a good sign that it's already a hot market. After all, as much as VCs may like to portray themselves as risk takers, they tend to lag innovation, not lead it. VCs like to invest in packs, chasing after whatever the big trend is.
It takes a very special VC to stand alone and make an investment in something that isn't obviously "hot," despite Y Combinator president Sam Altman's (@sama) observation that "the 'hot seed rounds' that everyone is fighting to get in are anti-correlated with very successful investments."
Which is why it's telling that VC investment in enterprise technology startups is booming, hitting $5.4 billion in the first half of 2014, as TechCrunch reports:
While the overall volume of investments is down, the scale of those investments is way up. Cloudera, Box and others have raised gargantuan sums of money as investors bet on a complete restructuring of enterprise IT.
But this isn't the only indication that the enterprise is cool.
Look To The Cloud
But it's arguably an even bigger sign of enterprise "cool" that Microsoft Azure is growing even faster than AWS, as Nancy Gohring points out. AWS has been the cool kids club. When Azure grows even faster, that's saying something significant.
Sure, Azure is growing from a much smaller base, making its growth look more dramatic.
But it's also seeing the kind of growth that other vendors aren't. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on the company's earnings call, Microsoft "started to see adoption of [its] high-value services on top of our base cloud infrastructure" last quarter. This likely stems from enterprises rolling out hybrid cloud workloads, with Microsoft the most likely place to deploy these given its footprint in both public cloud and private data centers.
Developers Show The Way
Finally, it's clear from reading the programming language tea leaves that however much the enterprise may fade from media hype, it remains a mainstay of developer attention. Java and C/C++ have long dominated the top of the programming charts, as recent IEEE data shows:
The consistent money is in the enterprise, as much as we've tried to spend the last decade forgetting it. As VisionMobile found, this is as true for mobile developers as it is for others. Mobile app developers that focus on the enterprise may not have more fun, but they make more money:
In short, not only is selling to businesses cool, but it's profitable. Rather than build out your next Instagram or SnapChat knock-off, consider disrupting 30 years of clunky software with horrendous user interfaces. The office-drone masses will bless you for it.
Lead image by Flickr user DVIDSHUB, CC 2.0
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:00:00 -0700
Author: :: Category: Work
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