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March 31 2015 4:25 PM

Finally, Google Is Trying to Meld Its Two Operating Systems

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

It's always been a little puzzling why Google had two operating systems, Android and Chrome OS. Over time, Google seems to have realized that itself, and is bringing the two closer and closer together.

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Today, Google took the wraps off some new features coming to Chrome devices that will make them more like Android than ever before. At a media event meant to spotlight Google's dirt-cheap Chrome hardware, including the Asus Flip tablet/laptop combo and the Chromebit computer-on-a-stick, Google Chrome user interface chief Josh Anderson was also on hand to show off some of the changes coming to the operating system. "We're rethinking our [user interface] for portable devices," said Anderson.

We already knew that Google was working with developers like Vine, DuoLingo, and Evernote to get their Android apps up-and-running on Chromebooks, but we have our first glimpse of how that's going to work. When you press the "search" button that's on every Chromebook's keyboard, up will pop something that looks a lot like an Android home screen, including a search bar and some app icons, for both Android and your stock-standard Chrome Web Apps. 

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The new Google Chrome OS app launcher lets you see Google Now cards and launch apps.

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Plus, you'll be able to see your Google Now cards for up-to-the-minute personalized information like weather, travel times, and news—the same as you can from your Android phone or tablet.

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You'll soon be able to see Google Now cards on Chromebooks.

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Anderson showed a demo of the Android version of popular chat app Viber running on Chrome OS. It worked well, and even let him place a phone call. Similarly, Anderson played a video of a high-speed motorcycle race being played on the Android version of VLC Media Player running on a Chromebook that was smooth and with a minimum of stutter.

Android apps on Chrome OS will be available first on the Hisense and Haier low-end $149 Chromebooks, but thanks to a speedy Chrome release cycle, they should be out on every Chromebook within six weeks of today. Google has also released tools for any Android developer, not just Google's chosen few, to bring their apps to Chrome OS.

Beyond apps, there are some other ways the two platforms are coming together, too. The Asus Flip, a Chromebook revealed today that's half laptop, half tablet, will bring a new touch interface for Chrome OS that takes as much from Android as it does from Windows 8's Live Tiles, making it easy to work with it while it's in tablet mode. 

Also, Chrome OS will soon get a feature called SmartLock, where you can use an Android phone as a key to unlock a Chromebook without a password and without having to take the phone out of your pocket. (If your stuff gets stolen, in what Anderson calls "the gym bag scenario," you can remove that ability remotely.) And on a much more subtle note, Anderson says that the team is slowly changing little things like the typefaces on Chrome OS to be closer to Android.

There's one thing that Android is hoping to take from Chrome OS, too: That speedy, six-week release cycle. As anybody with an Android device knows, waiting for a system update to come through can be a frustrating waiting game, and Google is looking into ways to speed it up. 

Google VP of Product Management Caesar Sengupta, also at the event, said it was a pet peeve to see outdated Android operating systems on products currently for sale. "Every time I see a Jellybean [Android] phone out there for sale, a little part of me dies," says Sengupta.

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March 30 2015 4:01 PM

Why America’s Historically Black Colleges Are Struggling

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Across the U.S., historically black colleges and universities are struggling financially—and the nation's oldest public black college is even on the verge of financial collapse. Historically black colleges and universities—known as HBCUs—have been part of American higher education for over 150 years. In the past few decades, though, the financial health of many schools has taken a turn for the worst.

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HBCUs have struggled with unequal government funding, declining enrollment, and poor leadership. These problems have plagued both private and public HBCUs, and have gotten worse following the financial recession at the end of the last decade, according to University of Pennsylvania education professor Marybeth Gasman—who heads the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). "With majority institutions, when a recession hits, they might go from brie to eating cheddar cheese," Gasman said. "HBCUs go from cheddar to nothing."

Despite their difficulties, these schools have an undeniable impact on minority students—11 percent of African-American students are enrolled in HBCUs, even though the minority institutions only represent 3 percent of all colleges and universities, according to the Penn Center for MSIs' website. Additionally, HBCUs graduate around 20 percent of African-Americans who earn undergraduate degrees.

Not every HBCU is in danger of closing, though. Gasman noted that even now there is still a wide range in the stability of historically black institutions. "There are some of them that are quite strong, and have good enrollment, and then there are some that are sort of in the middle, that have to really ramp up their fundraising, and make sure their students graduate," Gasman said. "And then there are some—probably about 15 of them—that are having a really difficult time."

Gasman listed several HBCUs that fall into that last category, including the public South Carolina State University and private Wilberforce University. At SCSU, the university's accreditation is on probation and state legislators say its total debt exceeds $83 million, according to the Associated Press. The university's trustees recently fired president Thomas Elzey, the AP reports, while South Carolina's House and Senate have approved separate proposals to dismiss all the trustees. Wilberforce—the oldest private HBCU in the nation—is also at risk of losing its accreditation, owing millions of dollars in debt.

Even upper-tier HBCUs are not excluded from the financial hardships. In 2013, a much publicized letter from a Howard University trustee warned that "Howard will not be here in three years if we don't make some crucial decisions now.” 

HBCUs struggle often struggle because they have fewer resources than other colleges—typically due to lower endowments and less money coming in from alumni giving, according to Gasman. Gasman highlighted Spelman College, an all-women's school that has an 86 percent graduation rate and is one of the strongest black colleges, but still can't compete financially with a predominately white institution (PWI). "Even though they have a nearly 50 percent alumni giving rate, Spelman still doesn't have the same resources of a Wellesley or a Bryn Mawr," she said.

Many students at HBCUs faced a more pressing issue in recent years with what Gasman referred to as the "debacle with the Parent PLUS loans.” PLUS loans are direct federal loans that families of students can receive if the student has maxed out their federal financial aid options. However, in fall 2011, the government tightened the criteria for the PLUS loans, and by some accounts did a poor job of informing applicants of the change.

Due to this change, many families were unexpectedly rejected from the PLUS loans program, and unable to send the students stay in college. Between 2011 and 2013, according to US News & World Report, there were 45 percent fewer PLUS loan recipients at HBCUs. "Morehouse College, for example, was suddenly thrown into a financial crisis in 2012 after the PLUS credit changes. Many freshmen who had paid their deposits suddenly could not afford Morehouse. This enrollment decline forced a faculty and staff furlough," according to a report from New America's Education Policy Program.*

Public HBCUs have even more problems, typically receiving inequitable government funding at both the federal and state level, compared with PWIs. "One may argue that these flagship institutions deserve a lion's share of the funding because of their higher enrollments. Yet, when one compares the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill's $15,700 in state funding per student to North Carolina A&T University's $7,800 in state funding per student, inequities in funding per student are revealed," Grand Valley State University education professor Donald Mitchell, Jr. wrote in a 2013 article.

Recently, other factors have also made it more difficult for public HBCUs, Gasman said, such as an emphasis on outcome-based funding. State-level funding for public colleges used to be based on enrollment criteria, not outcome—which is tied to factors such as graduate rate, Gasman explained. Since public HBCUs tend to enroll a greater number of low-income underprepared students, who are less likely to graduate from college, their funding has taken a hit in many states across the country.

Overall, Gasman emphasized, people need to better understand the contributions of HBCUs on a national scale, both for providing academic opportunities to African-Americans and for opening doors to higher education for a diverse range of students. "HBCUs provide an environment for students who need to feel empowered and need to feel nurtured in their learning environment," Gasman said.

These schools, she said, are "doing the work a lot of institutions aren't willing to do.” Perhaps most importantly though, if these HBCUs close, they likely won't be replaced. "We're never going to get more," Gasman said. "You can only get less.”

Correction, March 31, 2015: This article originally misidentified Morehouse College as Morehouse University.

March 25 2015 3:25 PM

Study: When Companies Perform Poorly, Female Execs Face Bigger Docks in Pay

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

The New York Fed has a new paper out on gender differences in executive pay, and it's downright scary. 

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Not only do men get paid more in general, but their compensation is usually structured such that they get paid much more than executive women do when their company does well. On top of that—and this is where it gets frightening—the researchers find that female executive pay tends to get docked more when a company does poorly.  

"So, roughly, it's heads men win, tails women lose," says Matt Levine. 

This is how the authors of the paper explain the problem:

First, female executives receive a lower share of incentive pay in total compensation relative to males. This difference accounts for 93% of the gender differences in total flow compensation. Second, the compensation of female executives displays a lower pay-performance sensitivity relative to males. A $1 million dollar increase in firm value generates a $17,150 increase in firm specific wealth for male executives and a $1,670 increase for females. Third, female executives’ pay is more exposed to bad firm performance and less exposed to good firm performance than for males. A 1% increase in firm value generates a 13% rise in firm specific wealth for female executives, and a 44% rise for male executives, while a 1% decline in firm value generates a 63% decline in firm specific wealth for female executives and only a 33% decline for male executives.

The authors control for the fact that women are generally younger, and therefore less senior with lower pay. They also look at whether it's just because women are more risk averse and tend to spend fewer hours at work than their male counterparts. They find that those aren't satisfactory explanations for the huge gaps (not to mention the fact that at the executive level, the difference in hours worked between genders is much lower than in the general population).

The authors think that a lot of this disparity can be explained by informal networks, which men have access to to a greater degree than women. Men, they say, are more "entrenched," which gives them greater bargaining power when negotiating a contract. 

The only way to solve this, really, is to increase transparency in pay within an organization. One of the authors of the paper, Stefania Albanesi, told Bloomberg that "increasing transparency in general in an organization but specifically with how your pay is set relative to others in similar positions is going to be helpful."

This is especially true as people further down the ladder start to get performance-based pay, which has become more popular in recent years.  "Our analysis suggest that performance pay schemes should be held to closer scrutiny and raises a note of concern for the standing of professional women in the labor market as incentive pay becomes more prevalent," the authors write.

Leaning in still doesn't necessarily get women into the old boys' network—and it seems like the easiest way to make pay fair is to recognize that and structure organizations accordingly.

March 24 2015 4:39 PM

Soon, All Your Internet Ads Will Be Prettier—and Maybe Creepier

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Amazon's advertising platform may only account for a small proportion of the global digital ad market—a scant 0.75 percent in terms of revenue share according to eMarketer—but the e-commerce giant has ambitions to make advertising across the web a better experience for consumers.

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Amazon has three advertising areas: Across its own sites, across its mobile devices such as the Kindle and Fire tablet, and the Amazon ad platform which extends Amazon ads to other websites. Speaking to Business Insider at Advertising Week Europe in London, Amazon Media Group's European director Dan Wright said the company is actively working to build "centers of excellence" with advertising agencies in the region to help produce the kind of advertising consumers actually enjoy and find useful.

The net result won't just be more advertising revenue flowing into Amazon, but that consumers will feel like advertising on the Web is getting better. Wright thinks the "potential is untapped" in terms of the design and utility of ads—particularly in the area of e-commerce, which he described as a "trillion dollar industry." The ambition is to create a set of guidelines and rules that will hopefully develop best practice across the entire ad industry.

He said: "On this trip [to Ad Week Europe] I'm spending a lot of time with media agency partners to discuss center of excellence capabilities to develop a greater experience for consumers, because when we do that we create revenues for advertisers."

It's a big ambition. And it's also quite a big ask. Agency staff are constantly being pulled in different directions from different advertising partners. Facebook holds "Publishing Garages," assembling agencies with their clients to develop Facebook campaigns in-house; trade associations are constantly looking to create advertising standards which involves numerous meetings and working groups; and their clients, the advertisers themselves, are more demanding than ever when it comes to getting more bang for their buck.

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Wright acknowledges that Amazon is asking for a big-time investment, but he thinks it's one that will pay off. "In the end it's about what value we are creating as a partnership. If the value is great enough they will invest their time and they can come to a place that's worthwhile," he added.

In its mission to be "customer obsessed," as Wright calls it, Amazon isn't seeking to build out an ad tech stack like rivals Google and Facebook, which are constantly rolling out new adtech products or acquiring adtech companies so they can own every bit of the ecosystem—from the supply side to the demand side.

"We don't think about a stack," he said. "We think about things we can implement for the ecosystem that's for the benefit of the customer experience. It doesn't have be big and bold, it's about how advertising serves for a good customer experience. For us a simple area is creative consumers will appreciate. E-commerce ads [an Amazon ad format where brands can display their products and consumers can see ratings, review, and click to buy] are ads that customers appreciate."

Amazon's real sweet spot, though, is its data. It may only have a small slice of the digital advertising market, but with 370 million active accounts, it has a wealth of data for advertisers to tap into. And that is probably what will get agencies and advertisers interested in signing up to its center of excellence plan.

March 23 2015 2:32 PM

How Taylor Swift Bought the URL Taylorswift.porn Before Anyone Else Got the Chance

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Starting June 1, anyone will be able to purchase domains ending in .sucks, .adult, .porn, and hundreds of other options, with new suffixes released every month. So to protect Taylor Swift's name and brand, the singer's team has reportedly already purchased TaylorSwift.porn and TaylorSwift.adult.

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—the nonprofit group behind this expansion of generic top-level domains, or gTLDs—is allowing public figures and companies to get ahead of the game by purchasing domains before they open to the public.

"For example, Microsoft has already registered Office.porn and Office.adult," Stuart Lawley, CEO of ICM Registry, which operates the .porn and .adult top-level domains, told CNN Money. "The same goes for TaylorSwift.porn and TaylorSwift.adult." Starting in June, "It's first to the buzzer," Lawley said.

It's a smart move for Swift to claim her name before the trolls can, but the pop star has always been business-savvy. She recently trademarked lyrics from her latest album; beat the paparazzi out of a $100,000 payday; and in a controversial move, pulled all her music from Spotify because "piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically."

But note to Swift's team: .Sucks is operated by another company, so it's still available for purchase. The .sucks domains will cost up to $2,500 to buy out, according to Marketingland.

Before he left office, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller told ICANN he thought it was "little more than a predatory shakedown scheme" to get businesses to spend big money on defensive domain registrations.

But according to CNN Money, "[ICANN] claims that its program to expand gTLDs will be beneficial for all internet users, because descriptive domains, such as .healthcare, .deals, and .amsterdam, help ensure web users arrive at their intended destination."

"To me it's very responsible," said Steve Miholovich, senior vice president of marketing at Safenames, a domain registrar and advisory firm for websites. According to CNN, he added that "another benefit to having more descriptive domains is greater parental control over which websites their children visit. Blocking isn't always as easy for .com adult content sites."

March 19 2015 4:10 PM

Google and Apple Are Now in a Mobile-Payments War

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Despite slower adoption than Tim Cook may like, Apple Pay is still the fastest-growing way to pay for things with your smartphone. But Google isn't resting on its laurels, suggests a new analyst report from Barclays, and will be coming after Apple hard—with Samsung gearing up for its own assault on your wallet. 

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The key issue is the underlying technology behind these mobile payment services. Apple's big innovation was to take the iPhone 6/6+ design and build in an "embedded secure element"—basically, a middleman that takes your credit card number and encrypts it so that the cash register never actually gets your real information.

It's built straight into the phone and sits near the NFC antenna in the device that does the actual transmission. Since Apple was able to muster its corporate might to get the banks, the credit card companies, and the retail chains on board, that embedded secure element has the most support in stores and with banks.

Google, on the other hand, launched its original Google Wallet NFC mobile payment service for Android devices back in 2012. To make life easier for retailers, Google chose what we call "host card emulation," where software in the phone pretends to be a card, as opposed to the embedded hardware that Apple would later go with.

Google's approach is easier for phone makers and retailers alike to use, because it's all in easily updated software. But it's less secure, and importantly, it won't ever work with the kinds of contactless card readers common on public transit systems, like the San Francisco Bay Area's Clipper. 

Since then, Google Wallet has added support for embedded security elements, like the kind built into every Samsung Galaxy phone since the S3. But it doesn't need one to work. Barclays also notes that using both embedded security elements and host card emulation could provide better security than either alone.

So the big question for Google, then, is whether it will follow Apple's lead and encourage more Android manufacturers to put in more of those embedded security elements—and whether the phone makers will follow through.

That's an especially big question in light of Google's acquisition of Softcard, a mobile payments platform that was originally owned jointly by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to compete with Apple and Google, but never went anywhere. All phones that had Softcard pre-installed will soon have Google Wallet instead, drastically increasing its reach. After all, there are more Android devices than Apple in the world. 

Google may be starting from a disadvantage, but it's coming after Apple Pay hard. This is especially true as Google adds more devices with fingerprint sensors, used for authentication as with Apple TouchID, to its roster. We'll probably hear more about Google's ambitions for mobile payments at the I/O event this May.

The wild card here is Samsung Pay, launching this summer in the U.S. and South Korea, which uses payment technology similar to Apple Pay. But thanks to Samsung's acquisition of LoopPay, it has something that neither other company has: The ability for a phone to pretend to be a simple magnetic-striped card. It's an add-on to the usual NFC chip, and is still contactless from the phone, but as far the cash register is concerned, you just swiped plastic.

Apple Pay is popular, sure, but it still requires specialized hardware that not every business can afford. But even the shady liquor store on the corner should be able to take a Samsung Pay swipe.

And that's not to mention that banks may start offering their own mobile payment services that bypass those altogether, especially on Android where there's no restriction on using it.  

The mobile payment wars are only getting started. As more people get more devices that can use Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Samsung Pay, these types of payments are only going to take off.

March 18 2015 5:12 PM

New York City Has More Uber Cars Than Taxis

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Less than four years after Uber started operating in New York City, Uber vehicles now outnumber yellow taxis on the streets there, the New York Post reported Tuesday. New data from NYC's Taxi & Limousine Commission indicates that Uber has 14,088 cars operating in NYC's five boroughs, and that there are 13,587 medallion taxis in the city.

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Yellow cab drivers can also work for Uber using the company's uberT program, a taxi service accessible for Uber customers through the company's mobile platform. But uberT taxis aren't considered Uber cars in this case.

Uber launched in May 2011 in New York City. New York City is one of Uber's largest markets, and was the first city Uber expanded to outside of its hometown, San Francisco.

New York City has not been without obstacles for Uber. Some drivers have contested Uber's claims that they stand to make $90,000 a year driving in New York City for the service, and in January, New York City's Taxi & Limousine Commission briefly shut down five of Uber's six bases (a basically toothless penalty for an organization that dispatches its drivers remotely).

But Uber is no worse for any troubles it's had in New York. In fact, it's doing quite well there. According to a leaked internal document, in December 2013, Uber generated $26 million in New York City, or $312 million annually. Of course, that was more than a year ago, and those numbers would presumably be even higher today.

March 18 2015 4:05 PM

You Can Now Buy an Electric Car Directly From Tesla in New Jersey

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that allows Tesla to sell its electric cars directly to consumers, no dealers necessary.

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"I said last year that if the Legislature changed the law, I would sign new legislation put on my desk and that is exactly what I'm doing today," Governor Christie said in a statement. "We're pleased that manufacturers like Tesla will now have the opportunity to establish direct sales operations for consumers in a manner lawfully in New Jersey."

According the governor's office, "the bill changes the law in New Jersey and removes the prohibition on direct sales by auto manufacturers who do not have franchise agreements, giving manufacturers of zero emission cars, including Tesla, the ability to sell directly to New Jersey consumers at up to four locations in the state."

The law stipulates that manufacturers will have to maintain service centers at locations where they conduct direct sales. Tesla has been waging an ongoing battle against the very entrenched network of car dealers in the U.S. Franchise laws prohibit automakers from selling the cars directly to buyers. 

Instead, car dealers act as middlemen, holding cars in inventory, providing financing and insurance services, marketing in their regions, and servicing vehicles. Each state has its own laws on the books, so Tesla has been fighting its battle on a state-by-state basis. With the New Jersey bill becoming law, Tesla buyers can now go to one of the company's stores in the state and actually place an order for a car. 

Technically speaking, Christie's action on Wednesday altered the existing law—and restored Tesla's legal right to use a direct-sales model in New Jersey that it had been forced to abandon in early 2014. It remains to be seen whether New Jersey will be an isolated case—or spur other states to change their dealer franchise laws.

In late 2014, Tesla seemed to have conceded that the company might have to pursue a hybrid of direct sales and dealer franchising as it expands.

March 17 2015 5:02 PM

Robo-Advisers Are Marching Into the Wealth-Management Industry

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

UBS, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley stand out in the global wealth-management industry, with each responsible for handling more than $1 trillion in investors' assets. But they're now under siege from well-funded startups that offer a wide array of advisory services at a low cost thanks to broad use of automated functions.

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These are the robo-advisers. 

We're only in the first round of the wealth-management wars, but the sector—which has historically been dominated by well-staffed big banks and a network of good-old-boy relationships—is seeing its competitive landscape evolve rapidly. 

While these old-school firms continue to draw multimillion-dollar clients, the robo-advisers have attracted so-called HENRY (that's “High Earning, Not Rich Yet”) clients, a new Goldman Sachs report says.

Betterment, Wealthfront, FutureAdvisor, and Personal Capital are among these new firms.

Many of these startups are actually backed by the competitors to Wall Street's incumbents in the wealth-management space. Citi Ventures is among the backers that have contributed more than $100 million to Betterment, and Personal Capital counts both USAA and BlackRock among its investors. 

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Startups in the wealth-management arena differentiate themselves, particularly with new HENRY millennials, through automated advising. According to Goldman, “viral customer acquisition strategies” target clients' tendency to tap into their social network to generate investing ideas. They're also doing it with lower fees than the incumbents.

In the short run, it's meant to get more millennials onto wealth-management platforms earlier. In the long run, it aims to keep them engaged as they grow older and need to manage more cash—by that point, startups are aiming to have scaled up client services to better compete with the bigger players.

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Via Business Insider

The fees are key to big banks and other fund managers. Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit is responsible for a double-digit portion of the bank's top line. It's even more meaningful for other fund managers, like Charles Schwab.

Another big advantage startups enjoy is their low investment minimums: between $0 and $100,000 (with Personal Capital being the highest). They need less in fees to pay a smaller staff, and lower fees also lets startups scale up faster with smaller investors. 

One Wall Street source notes that banks' wealth-management operations offer services that most startups cannot: estate planning and a broader range of investment options.

“The robo-advisers work for middle class, or young people, who don't have much and just need to avoid fees,” one Wall Street pro points out. “They can't replace full-service advisers.” 

Still, the Wall Street incumbents aren't just sitting there. Competitors to the new class of wealth-management firms have clearly taken note of the HENRY trend: Earlier this month, fund manager Charles Schwab launched its Intelligent Portfolios platform, promoting lower fees through automated technology.

Again, we're only in the first inning of the wealth-management wars.

March 16 2015 3:14 PM

If You Want a “.Sucks” Domain Name, It Could Cost You $2,500

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Starting March 30, you'll be able to buy a .sucks name for your website—if you can afford the prices of up to $2,500, as MarketingLand reports. 

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Vox Populi, the company that will be selling the .sucks website names, will charge $2,500 for certain registered trademarks with a .sucks name. For your own, nontrademarked usage (like MattWeinberger.sucks), it's $199 until June 1, when the price goes up to $249. 

There's some controversy amid the buildup to the release of .sucks domains. Before he left office, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia called Vox Populi's pricing plan "little more than a predatory shakedown scheme” designed to gouge companies who will rush to buy their own names to defend against trolls and other Internet mischief-makers, reports MarketingLand.

(Just as an example of what companies should be worried about with ".sucks," check out the very unofficial Walmart.horse website.)

Consumer advocate groups will be able to buy a subsidized .sucks domain for only $9.95 per month, but they won't be able to use it for a website criticizing a company. Instead, Vox Populi will force users at this price tier to go to a discussion forum hosted on its own site, Everything.sucks.

For its part, Vox Populi says that by pricing domains in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, it's stopping trolls and scalpers from buying them in bulk. As Ars Technica points out, using a .sucks website to criticize of a company is most likely protected under the law, as long as the site's not libelous.

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