Analyzing the top news stories across the web

Oct. 24 2014 12:14 PM

Don’t Get Used to Mobile Apps—Their Days Are Obviously Numbered

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

A few years ago, everyone was creating desktop-first startups. Now you're behind if you're not building a mobile application first, and a website second. Apple blogger and Google Ventures partner MG Siegler believes the first app you open in the morning is the equivalent to the new homepage on a web browser.

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But apps are very clearly not going to be around forever. Certainly not in their current, bulky square form. There isn't enough mobile homepage real estate for each of the web's 500-million-plus active websites to have its own app and for everyone to download all of them.

Mobile apps are popular right now because mobile search is terrible and they lay out content in a small-screen-friendly way. If apps do stick around, they may transform more into bookmarks, where people have only a few favorites on their home screens, and all other mobile content can be accessed some other way.

"There is no doubt what we have today—screens of apps—is going to dramatically change," former Googler and Facebooker Paul Adams writes on Intercom, where he's now vice president of product. "The idea of having a screen full of icons, representing independent apps, that need to be opened to experience them, is making less and less sense."

Intercom thinks that apps might still exist in the future but will serve as notification systems that push content as necessary — not big bulky apps that take up prime homepage real estate on our phones. Notifications are getting more interactive, too, letting you text message someone back or take an action without fully firing up the app.

How could simple notifications fulfill all the needs of current apps? Adams thinks they'll morph into content cards, which will allow users to see more information and take more actions straight from a pop-up. Adams believes you'll be able to book a table, send an email, or post to Facebook all without unlocking your phone.

The cards could eventually become personalized and ordered by favorite sources, most important contacts, etc.

This will become increasingly important as screen sizes decrease to the size of a watch face or glasses, or even jewelry.

"In a world where notifications are full experiences in and of themselves, the screen of app icons makes less and less sense," Intercom concludes. "Apps as destinations makes less and less sense. Why open the Facebook app when you can get the content as a notification and take action—like something, comment on something—right there at the notification or OS level."

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Oct. 24 2014 11:21 AM

Why a Professor Is Teaching an Entire Class About Beyoncé

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

You know you’ve made it when people recognize you by your first name. Cher, Robyn, and Madonna have all become single names, and now Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter has too.

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One of the best-selling artists of all time, the multi-talented performer and businesswoman is a superstar to millions around the world. 

But to the professor Kevin Allred and 32 students at Rutgers University, Beyoncé is something more—a feminist, a gay icon, and a powerful political figure.

Allred teaches a wildly popular women’s studies course, Politicizing Beyonce: Black Feminism, US Politics, & Queen Bey.

The class is at capacity, and the room is cramped—especially because Allred encourages students to bring their friends. But that doesn’t stop them from rocking out to Beyonce’s greatest hits. 

“They usually sign up because they're big fans of Beyoncé's music, but they quickly start to make connections beyond just being fans," Allred says.

Allred, 33, says he’s been a huge fan of Beyoncé for a long time, but he didn’t think of her as a political actor until he came across an essay by Yale Professor Daphne Brooks that linked the singer to black, female disempowerment.

“She argued that Beyoncé's 'B'day' album should be seen in the same trajectory as more explicitly recognized black female protest singers,” Allred says. “I was compelled by the article and began to use Beyoncé in my teaching to spark students' interest in having conversations around gender, sexuality, and race.”

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Getty

Beyoncé’s music challenges many of society’s conceptions about gender, sexuality, and race, according to Allred, who says her prominence gives her political influence.

“Beyoncé is a political figure because she commands attention—perhaps the most attention of any entertainer today. People listen when she talks and people question things when she raises the question herself,” he says.  

While Allred admits her influence isn’t explicitly governmental or legislative, he says she has the power to inspire cultural movements for change.

The Queen Bey wrote a note on gender inequality for the Shriver Report, hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for Barack Obama, is a champion of LGBT equality, and increasingly highlights feminism in her work. 

"Her song lyrics also stress equality and partnership over traditional gender roles," Allred says. "Some songs even go so far as calling out the ways relationships and the ways we perceive sexuality are bound to fail because they have been based on these outdated stereotypes."

In a track from her latest album, Flawless, Beyoncé samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's viral TED talk on feminism. The image the track produced when Beyoncé performed it at this year’s Video Music Awards was unmistakable. In letters 12 feet high, “FEMINIST” lit up the stage.

“I've already had students in my Intro Women's Studies courses that say they wanted to learn more about gender and take a class because they heard Beyoncé talk about it on the new album,” Allred says.

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Michael Buckner

Gay men and women also identify with the artist. Allred says she frequently adopts lesbian styles by wearing suits and "men's" shirts, carries herself with a masculine swagger, and often jumps between gender styles—especially as her alter ego Sasha Fierce.

Speaking on the issue of same-sex marriage, and in a reference to her song "Single Ladies," Beyoncé said, "If you like it you should be able to put a ring on it." Her husband, rapper Jay-Z, said, "It's no different than discriminating against blacks—it's discrimination, plain and simple."

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Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In Allred’s course, Beyonce’s music is paired with black, feminists texts, another love of his.

“That way, students are getting an education in the history of black feminist theory in the US, just using Beyoncé as the focal point,” he says. “I let them be pretty fan-oriented on the first day, but urge them for the remainder of the semester to push past that and engage academically.” 

When he tells people what he does, Kevin says people are often surprised. “Tons of jaw drops, a lot of exclamations over how excited they are to hear that something like that exists. Overwhelmingly positive stuff,” he says. 

"I've only ever had one really really nasty email that classes like mine would mark the end of the world," he added, but I eventually made peace with the guy and he's not so mad about it now."

Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM

Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Data centers are typically shrouded in secrecy because they are the brains behind tech companies. 

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But not Google. The search giant has shared with the world photos that lift the veil off its massive and beautiful data centers around the world, in places both domestic, including Iowa, Oregon, Georgia, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, and abroad, in Finland and Belgium.

Google says when you're on its website, you're accessing one of the most powerful server networks in the known universe. Looking at these images, it's hard to disagree.

Google has been working on building its data centers for over 12 years. The search giant's centers are efficient, take advantage of renewable energy, and are as environmentally friendly as possible.

The following tour is a glimpse inside a few of Google's data centers, which it calls the "physical internet."

Our tour starts outside one of Google's data centers in Council Bluffs, Iowa. There is a family of deer outside to greet us.

Inside the Council Bluffs, Iowa data center, there is over 115,000 square feet of space. These servers allow services like YouTube and search to work efficiently.

This place is actually enormous!

In the campus network room, routers and switches allow data centers to talk to each other. The network connecting these sites can run at speeds that are more than 200,000 times faster than a typical home Internet connection.

Moving over to the Oregon data center, we see that this space is equally impressive.

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Here is a view inside the Douglas County, Georgia data center. The colorful pipes send and receive water for cooling the facility. Bikes are the preferred method of transportation inside the massive center.

Google keeps pipes like these ready with highly-pressurized water, in case of a fire. The water is cleaned and filtered, so it won't contaminate the facility in the off chance they need to use it.

The blue LEDs on this row of servers let employees know that everything is running smoothly. Google has purchased 1000 megawatts of renewable energy to power these data centers now and into the future.

Failed drives are immediately destroyed on site. Google says this is part of its commitment to keeping users' data safe.

This is where all data is backed up. A robotic arm helps in loading and unloading tapes when employees need to access them. Each tape has a barcode so that the robotic arm can easily locate them.

This is rare look behind the server aisle. Hundreds of fans can be seen taking hot air up and away from the racks, cooling it, and recycling the air back through.

This beautiful view was taken outside of Google's data center in Finland which sits on the shores of a frozen gulf. This building was once used to house a paper mill.

Here is another view inside Google's facility in Finland. Server floors like these require massive space and efficient power to run all of Google's products. Google's data centers use 50 percent less energy than an average data center.

Running the machines to compute this much data can create some serious heat. That's where the coolant systems come in. Seawater from the Gulf of Finland entirely cools the data center there.

Inside the former paper mill is a gorgeous conference room. This is just outside of a sauna where employees can go to relax whenever they like.

Here is a group photo of the Hamina team enjoying ice fishing right outside of the office. Google says that they chose Hamina because the town "has the right combination of energy infrastructure, developable land and available workforce for the data center."

Kevin Smith wrote an earlier version of this post.

Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM

Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Facebook paid $0—zero—in corporation tax in the UK last year, despite making an estimated $596 million (£371 million) in revenue in the region in 2013, its latest financial filings with Companies House reveal.

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Facebook is among other US companies such as Amazon and Starbucks that have been criticized in recent years because they generate substantial revenues in the UK but only pay a small amount (or in this case, nothing at all) in corporation tax. Facebook, like some of its US technology counterparts, funnels its UK sales via its Ireland subsidiary where corporation tax rates are lower, at 12.5 percent. In the UK the rate in 2013 was 24 percent.

According to the annual report and financial statements Facebook filed Tuesday with Companies House, the company declared $79.89 million (£49.8 million) in revenue in last year (up from $58.75 million in 2012, when it also paid no corporation tax). Research company eMarketer, however, has estimated Facebook generated $595 million (£371 million) in UK revenue in 2013.

The official filings also declare that Facebook posted an operating loss of $18.6 million (£11.6 million) in 2013. That’s up a substantial amount from the $3.85 million loss it posted in 2012—a period it has previously said was “an anomaly year” given the costs associated with its IPO. Corporation tax is only paid if a company posts a profit.

The company would have had to pay a UK corporation tax charge on its loss for the year of $5,089 (£3,169), but that was wiped out by a $292,024 (£182,027) adjustment credit made on previous periods.

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Companies House

The document says that this year’s “anomaly” accounting for its operating loss was “share based payments”, paid out to its 208 London staff, who have received big compensation packages as the company continues to perform well worldwide. It took a “share based payment charge” of $24.88 million last year (£15.5 million, up from $7.5 million in 2012). In total, UK employees collected 1.5 million free shares last year, currently worth $119 million based on the company’s current stock price.

Wages and salaries for its staff totaled $35.31 million (£21.99 million, up from $22.68 million), meaning the mean average annual Facebook UK employee salary was almost $170,000 (£106,000). It’s worth bearing in mind that all UK employees pay personal taxes on their income and stock-based compensation to the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs.

Facebook declined to comment when contacted by Business Insider.

Oct. 21 2014 11:27 AM

There Is Now a Real-life Hoverboard You Can Preorder for $10,000

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

It may rely on magnets, but there’s finally a real-life hoverboard that isn’t just a marketing hoax.

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It’s called the Hendo hoverboard, and you can currently preorder one on Kickstarter for $10,000.

The Hendo relies on the simple concept of using magnets to levitate the hoverboard over a metal surface, but the requirement of a special surface means you won't be floating over water or concrete any time soon.

Founded by Jill and Greg Henderson, the Hendo uses their proprietary Magnetic Field Architecture system to focus the magnetic field so that the board can support the rider and cause the Hendo to hover over a 1-inch cushion of air.

The Hendo does currently exist as a prototype, and the Hendo team even dreams of building of a skate park specifically designed to work with the hoverboard. You can even get a brick engraved with your name in their “hoverpark” for donating $59.

In order to be funded, the Hendo will need to raise $250,000 by Dec. 15, but it’s already on its way with more than $8,000.

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The Hendo team is aiming to launch the hoverboard next October, but if you’re anxious to get your hands on the technology behind the Hendo, you can donate $449 for a non-working Hendo replica, or $299 for a Hendo Whitebox developer kit.

The Whitebox developer kit includes a “Hendo hover engine” packaged inside of a white box, along with enough surface material to keep it afloat. You can watch it hover on its own, but the Hendo team also encourages people to take it apart and use its hover engine to create their own levitating products.

A more advanced version of the Whitebox, the $699 Whitebox +, also includes technology to control the Whitebox like a remote-controlled vehicle, allowing you to use your smartphone to control the propulsion.

To read more about the technology behind the Hendo, or to pledge, head on over to the official Kickstarter page.

Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM

Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

The Denver Police Department has issued a PSA on its Facebook page warning parents about marijuana-infused trick-or-treat candy. 

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"With Halloween fast approaching, Colorado citizens are in a unique position in the country, watching our kid's candy for marijuana edibles," a Denver Police statement said.

The video, shot inside of a pot shop called the Urban Dispensary, shows how the pot-laced candy is indistinguishable from name-brand candy.

"There is really no way a child or a parent or even an expert in the field to tell you whether a product is infused or not," said Patrick Johnson, the owner of Urban Dispensary in Denver. 

The police department recommends parents throw away candy with tampered-with wrappers or from unrecognizable sources. Since Jan. 1, people have been able to buy pot in Colorado for recreational use. 

Here is the PSA video from the Denver Police Department:

Oct. 17 2014 6:15 AM

The Name of Google's New Text-Messaging App Is Really Going to Annoy Facebook

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Google is introducing a text-messaging app called "Messenger" with the launch of Android 5.0 Lollipop, the new version of its mobile operating system.

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That, obviously, will be confusing because it has the same name as Facebook's existing messaging app. Do not expect folks at Facebook to jump for joy at this news.

Facebook Messenger is a juggernaut: It's currently No. 1 in the app store charts, according to App Annie. It has more than 200 million users, and that number will climb as Facebook requires its users to do their messaging separately inside Messenger instead of Facebook (the company's new policy). It's also a really good app.

Facebook also has another "messenger" app you may have heard of: WhatsApp Messenger. It's No. 3 in the app store charts. It has more than 600 million users.

It gets even more confusing because Google already has a really good messaging app. If you're an Android user, you'll know that Google's Hangouts app is one of the best things about Android—chat messages from your Gmail account follow you automatically on your phone. It's seamless.

So it's not clear why Google wants people on a traditional SMS/MMS text messaging platform as well. Google told the 9to5Google blog:

Messenger and Hangouts offer users choice, each have their own benefits. Hangouts work great for cross platform (web, iOS, Android) and cross medium communications (video, voice, messaging, SMS). Messenger will be specially designed to be a quick and easy way to send and receive SMS and MMS messages on Android; more to come (Nexus 6 will come with both apps).

And just to be even more confusing, "Messenger" used to be called "Messaging," according to Phone Arena.

OK, so users will have choices. That's great. It would be easier to figure out those choices if the product names were a little more distinctive, though. Just a suggestion.

Here's a chart:

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Oct. 16 2014 3:41 PM

Carl Icahn Lost $200 Million On Netflix Overnight

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Carl Icahn has lost $200 million on Netflix stock since Wednesday, when the company's stock plunged 27 percent in after-hour trading.

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It all fell apart when Netflix reported subscriber growth in its third-quarter earnings report that was lower than expected. Then it cut its growth expectations for the fourth quarter.

It didn't help either that HBO chose Wednesday to announce that it would launch a streaming-only content service by next year.

Icahn owns almost 1.8 million shares of Netflix, according to government filings dating back to June 30.

This could all be much worse for Icahn. He sold off a lot of Netflix stock last October, making $647 million and cutting his stake in half.

"It's sort of an Icahn rule," he said in an interview after the sale, "when you make 5x your money, it doesn't mean you're not a long termer ... you take some chips off the table ... The model of Netflix is an excellent one and it's very hard to compete ... it took me 20 minutes to say, this is going to be one of greats of all time."

Icahn isn't the largest holder of the stock, either. That's Coatue Management, a hedge fund helmed by Philippe Laffont. Coatue holds over two million shares of Netflix.

Netflix added two million international subscribers vs. expectations of 2.36 million and 975,000 domestic streaming subscriptions vs. expectations of 1.33 million.

In the chart below, you can see how Netflix's new estimation of subscriber growth for the next quarter diverges even farther from the rest of Wall Street's estimates (from Estimize).

The company's guidance looks as if it's falling off a cliff. 

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Estimize

Hastings told CNBC's Julie Boostein that he believed the decline in subscriber growth was due to a $1 price increase back in May.

"Our best sense is it's an effect of our price increase back in May," Hastings said. "With a little bit higher prices, you get a little bit fewer subscribers. So that's our sense of it. But we can't be 100 percent sure. We had so much benefit from Orange in Q2 and the early Q3, but that's what we think."

Hastings said that the news about HBO was "exciting" and that though it would be a big competitor for the long term, customers would most likely subscribe to both HBO and Netflix. HBO's price point for its service has not been announced.

Either way, it's important to keep in mind that HBO is bigger internationally than Netflix. Netflix has 53 million members worldwide to HBO's 120 million.

That's a part of the story that could have investors spooked for a while.

Oct. 15 2014 12:57 PM

Is Europe Experiencing Deflation?

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Inflation is crumbling across Europe. In fact, in several countries, it’s already negative. Economists are increasingly worried that the whole continent is going to drop into deflation.

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Most people don’t know what deflation means. We’re familiar with its opposite, inflation. That’s the condition in which prices keep rising, the value of money keeps falling, and people end up having to pay huge sums for small amounts of goods—as they are in Venezuela right now.

For most people, deflation will be a scary and rare kind of economic meltdown. And it can be far more difficult to fix than inflation. It means that prices will start to fall. While that sounds great—everything is getting cheaper!—it’s actually a disaster because in deflation no one wants to buy anything, demand plummets, and economic growth grinds to a halt, bringing employment with it.

Here is how we got into this mess.

The European Central Bank and the Bank of England both target 2 percent inflation, like the U.S. Fed. That rate keeps prices basically stable, and people are encouraged to be productive because they know in the future their money will be worth a little bit less. But that “less” isn’t too catastrophic in the short term—it allows people to plan ahead, in other words, and plan for growth.

But Europe is nowhere near that level of healthy-but-minimal inflation. It is way below it, flirting with deflation.

Here are the latest deflation figures from Europe, for September. 

  • Italy: -0.1 percent. Italy is in its second month of deflation
  • Spain: -0.3 percent. Spain has the most serious deflation of any large eurozone economy; it’s in its third consecutive month
  • Germany: 0.8 percent. The fact that Germany has some of the highest inflation in the eurozone tells you a lot.
  • France: 0.4 percent. A five-year low. Core inflation is actually now at zero, the lowest in modern history. 
  • The U.K.: 1.2 percent. The U.K. isn’t in the eurozone, but inflation is also at a five-year low.

That’s making economists extremely worried about deflation, when prices go completely into reverse. The International Monetary Fund’s latest world economic outlook has put the probability of deflation in the eurozone at 30 percent, up from 20 percent earlier this year.

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IMF

So prices are falling. Who cares? When the price of goods falls, isn’t that a good thing?

There’s a Good Kind of Deflation

It seems completely counterintuitive to be annoyed about deflation. Economists seem to get wound up, but when was the last time you heard a normal person complain about spending less on their shopping?

Of course, that’s true. There’s such a thing as benign deflation. Take, for example, smartphones. The phone in my pocket has more computing power than several slightly older devices put together, so the price of that computing power has clearly dropped.

That’s good, supply-driven deflation. Productivity and technological development mean with that the same amount of money, I can now afford a far superior product. 

But There’s a Pretty Awful Kind, Too

That sort of deflation isn’t the kind that economists are getting wound up about. Prices aren’t grinding lower in Spain because workers there are suddenly massively more productive.

In fact, falling prices are a symbol of a lack of demand. In a recession, demand drops significantly, and so companies cut prices to offload what they’re making. That’s the negative type of deflation, and if it sets in, it can be pretty harmful. Economist David Beckworth wrote a great, longer explanation about the difference between benign and malign inflation.

Here’s Why It’s So Dangerous

Let’s take Italy as an example. Italy is still running a deficit and accumulating a national debt. When deflation sets in, tax revenues from sales decline, because prices fall. If property prices decline, income from property taxes decline, and so on. When your public debt looks like this, that’s a concern:

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Capital Economics

They could cut government spending, but if deflation continues, they’ll have to keep cutting forever, going into a sort of permanent austerity. 

Falling prices also discourage business investment. Why spend money on machinery today, when you could buy it in two years for a lower price? For normal consumers, why spend today when I could just hang onto my cash? It’ll be worth more in a year's time.

Over the long term, wages also have to fall or unemployment will rise. Companies taking a decreasing amount of income from what they make and sell will eventually have to cut their wages or lay people off. Nobody likes taking a pay cut, so this usually means a lot of people being laid off. Feel-good effects from lower prices aren’t likely to last very long if you lose your job. 

And that’s the nightmare scenario that Europe is gazing at right now: Long-term deflationary unemployment, in which no one works because no one is buying anything.

Oct. 14 2014 2:40 PM

How Hackers Got Your Passwords for Snapchat and Dropbox

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

On Monday an anonymous hacker claimed to be in possession of 7 million passwords to Dropbox accounts. While that claim was probably false, it demonstrates the increasingly common way that hackers are using to gain access to your passwords.

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The hacker posted around 400 usernames and passwords on anonymous note site Pastebin in a series of "teasers" for the main list. Some Reddit users were able to successfully log into Dropbox using the information posted before the company deactivated all of the leaked passwords. 

But Dropbox was quick to cast doubt on the claims, denying that it had been hacked and claiming that many of the usernames and passwords were not even related to Dropbox accounts.

So where do the passwords come from? After all, they worked, for a time.

The most likely source of the information is a third-party site that had poor security. Hackers know that most internet users re-use their passwords, so they often target smaller apps made by amateur developers. These easy targets have poor security — so usernames, passwords or files may be stored in a way that's easy for hackers to steal them.

The recent Snapchat hack, which saw nearly 100,000 private photos and videos posted online, happened because an amateur developer hadn't securely set up his website. In a post on the Snapsaved Facebook page, the site's anonymous founder explains that a mis-configured Apache server left the files vulnerable to hackers.

Hackers don't need to try and target the tech giants anymore. Why bother trying to hack into Google, Apple or Facebook's servers when you can simply take advantage of a poorly built website to get the same information?

We're now seeing hackers use a new approach. Instead of spending months finding vulnerabilities in large sites, they re-use login information stolen from amateur third-party apps. Chances are that the information works for several sites, so compiling these caches of data together can quickly create a list of millions of passwords.

In September, Russian hackers published a list of 5 million passwords to a variety of different email providers, including Gmail. It wasn't a new leak, but a collection of older password leaks compiled together to seem new. Sure, many of the email accounts had closed, but the information could still be downloaded and used by hackers to break into other accounts.

So why are hackers re-using old information? There's rarely evidence that they actually use the passwords to log into sites. Instead, it seems like they just post the information online. Or at least, they post some of the information online. As we mentioned before, hackers leak partial collection of passwords as "teasers." This is often accompanied by a request for Bitcoin donations.

We can use the public nature of Bitcoin addresses to see just how much hackers gain for posting passwords online. It's often less than they expect to receive. The hacker who shared the collection of Dropbox passwords received just 8 cents. Similarly, OriginalGuy, the anonymous forum poster behind the first wave of hacked iCloud celebrity photos, expressed dismay at the small trickle of donations that came his way, remarking:

Sure, I got $120 with my Bitcoin address, but when you consider how much time was spent acquiring this stuff (I'm not the hacker, just a collector), and the money (I paid a lot via Bitcoin as well to get certain sets when this stuff was being privately traded on Friday/Saturday) I really didn't get close to what I was hoping for.

We're seeing more and more passwords leak online. Amateur developers aren't stepping up password security, and existing leaks continue to resurface. While the information made public is often several years out of date (many of the emails posted along with the Dropbox passwords were deactivated in 2012), it's still valuable to hackers compiling large lists of email addresses and passwords to be used in attacks against other sites.

And, just in case it isn't clear, this is your fault, too: If you're using the same passwords over and over with different apps then hackers don't need to get into Apple or Facebook's servers to find them. They simply identify the smaller apps with the weakest password security.

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