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Aug. 28 2015 4:21 PM

In Praise of Aerogel, Spongelike Industrial Wonder

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Aerogel is about as perfect a contradiction as you could imagine. It holds the record as the lightest solid ever created, yet is durable enough to support the weight of a car or survive the vacuum of space. Because of these seemingly magical qualities, researchers have woven the material into capacitors, lasers, spacecraft, and nuclear weapons.


Aerogel hasn't languished inside laboratories, though. You can find it inside modern carpets, cosmetics, paints, pipes, wetsuits, and roofs, to name just a few products. And today inventors are creating new recipes and manufacturing techniques for aerogel, leading to novel applications that include thin yet incredibly warm (and stylish) jackets and oil spill-cleanup kits.

Without Samuel Stephens Kistler's fortuitous discovery of aerogel in the early 1900s, however, we might still be dreaming about the existence of this incredible, cloud-like substance. Here's what aerogel is, where it came from, and how it's increasingly working its way into everyday life.

People often describe aerogel as feeling like Styrofoam or that flaky, green foam that serves as potting for fake plants. That's because of aerogel's internal sponge-like structure; the material is so dehydrated that it's about 99 percent air. "The first thing most people do when they touch a piece of silica aerogel for the first time is shatter it into a million pieces," says the E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website on silica aerogels.

Despite this fragility, aerogel is very strong. It can support up to 4,000 times its weight. Scientists have created recipes for more than a dozen different types of aerogel, but they all share a similar process: mix chemicals together, let them settle into a wet gel, and then suck all of the liquid out. (You can make aerogel yourself if you're patient, determined, and have about about $1,000 sitting around.)

It's actually a pretty complex process and material, so it helps to think of aerogel as similar to Jell-O. The gelatin powder in Jell-O forms a flexible, liquid solution when mixed with warm water. As it cools, the liquid solution sets into shape by forming a stiff, tangled network. Under a powerful microscope it looks like an unruly ball of yarn. But if you heated up the set Jell-O, it would dry out and you'd be left with a lump of Jell-O powder once again.

Aerogel, on the other hand, isn't made of gelatin but one of a variety of substances, depending upon its intended use. Chemists most often make it from silica—the most abundant mineral in Earth's crust. Unlike the process of simply leaving Jell-O to set, however, they cycle wet aerogel through multiple phases of cooling and heating under pressure, which retains the silica network's shape even after completely drying out.

The resulting aerogel is almost entirely air, making it the most lightweight solid we know of. And because air is pretty terrible at conducting heat, so is aerogel.

The details surrounding Kistler's discovery of this incredible material are disappointingly murky. In fact, no one knows exactly when or where the revelation happened. We also don't know if Kistler coined the term "aerogel" or pillaged the name from someone else. (It's even hard to find a good photo of Kistler.)

Still, most historians agree the magical moment happened at some point between 1929 and 1930, when Kistler taught undergraduate courses at College of the Pacific in Stockton, California. The apocryphal tale goes that he and colleague Charles Learned were in a friendly competition: to see who could replace the liquid in a jar of jam with a gas, but leave the structure and shape of the jam in tact. (Every teacher's favorite after-class game.)

Kistler won the bet, and ended up discovering aerogel as a fortuitous bonus. He went on to publish his first study about aerogels in the journal Nature in 1931, then patented the method of producing aerogel on Sept. 21, 1937. In the early 1940s, Kistler signed a contract with Monsanto Company—today an agricultural company known for developing and selling genetically modified plants.

A Monsanto plant in Massachusetts manufactured the first silica-based aerogel products under the trade names Santocel, Santocel-C, Santocel-54, and Santocel-Z. Their first application: a lightweight thickening agent for paints, makeup, and napalm. Aerogel even made its way into cigarette filters and freezer insulation. A 1951 Monsanto annual report boasted its exceptional applications:

Significant and unusual applications for Santocel, outside the flatting and insulation fields, were developed for civilian and military use. Among these were the Department of Agriculture's approval of Santocel as a thickening agent for screwworm salves for sheep, and its use as a thickening agent in the jelly of the fiery Napalm bomb. Santocel also has become an essential ingredient in the manufacture of silicone rubber.

But Monsanto reportedly discontinued the line in 1970. It was expensive to manufacture, and competition from other, newer, and well-marketed products pushed aerogel to the bottom of their business priorities. Kistler died in 1975—just a few years before his supermaterial really took off. 

In the late 1970s, researchers in France developed a novel method of producing aerogel in just a few hours instead of weeks. Then, in the early 1980s, scientists in Germany realized its potential use in particle physics applications, according to This would pave the way for Aerogel's bright future.

As Kistler neared retirement, he self-published a collection of writings on non-scientific topics called "Memorabilia.” In one excerpt from 1955, he wrote, "We are finite beings in the midst of an infinite universe ... as far as we can perceive, space is limitless in all directions ... the farther we probe into the structure of matter ... the more we discover that in generations to come will have bearing upon the everyday activities of people."

His musings on space turned out to be apt, because in the late 90s, NASA scientists fashioned silica-based aerogel onto a massive, tennis-racket-shaped collector that sat outside its Stardust spacecraft to collect pristine pieces of the infant solar system. During NASA's Stardust mission, aerogel proved essential fragile particle fragments trailing behind the Comet Wild 2.

It was the perfect choice because the material's tangled structure acted as microscopic baseball gloves to capture fast-moving comet particles without damaging them. It's relative transparency also helped scientists back on Earth easily find and extract the comet dust for analysis.

Today, the world is taking advantage of its many properties for use in modern-day products. It lines the walls of buildings in the form of insulation. Clothing companies use it to create super light-weight and warm ski jackets. It's even inside some tennis rackets.

Researchers are also looking to the energy-absorbing properties of silica aerogels for novel uses, such as shock-absorbers in cars, cradling aircraft flight data recorders, and protecting fragile electronics such as laptop computer hard drives. They're even testing cellulose-based aerogels for cleaning up oil spills, and are mixing up new types of aerogels that are stronger and more resilient than the silica aerogels of days past.

Then there are polymer-based aerogels, which are essentially made from plastics and make excellent insulators for refrigerators and clothing. They're more robust than the flaky silica-based aerogels, yet just as light.

Mary Ann Meador, a senior research scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center, told Tech Insider that the only challenge now is manufacturing aerogels at a higher scale and lower cost, which she hopes will happen within the next one or two years.

"We’ve demonstrated a lot of properties of these materials and they're useful now, but we can only make things on a pilot scale or less," Meador told Tech Insider. "As more products come online, I think that they have the potential to revolutionize the field."

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Aug. 26 2015 5:14 PM

Merriam-Webster Doesn't Think the Definition of Success Should Mention Happiness. This College Disagrees.

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

According to Merriam-Webster, success is "the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame." However, a 2014 survey from Herndon, Virginia-based Strayer University found that the dictionary's definition may be a bit outdated and in need of a revision.


The survey, which was conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Strayer, found that a whopping 90 percent of the 2,011 Americans ages 18 and up who participated believed that success is more about happiness than power, possessions, or prestige.

In total, 67 percent said they associate success with achieving personal goals; 66 percent defined success as having "good relationships with friends and family"; and 60 percent said it's about "loving what you do for a living." Only one in five respondents cited monetary wealth.

When the study findings were released in October 2014, Business Insider spoke with Dr. Michael Plater, then-president of Strayer University, who said: "This indicates a clear change in the way Americans are thinking about their personal journey. It's no longer about the car or the house. Instead, people are focused on leading a fulfilling life, whether that means finding a better career, achieving personal goals, or spending more time with their families."

Given the shift, which Plater attributed to economic, social, and cultural changes in the U.S., Strayer is now attempting to officially revise Merriam-Webster's definition of success with the support of business executives, athletes, and social influencers through an initiative called "Readdress Success." The goal is to expand the dictionary's definition to: "Happiness derived from good relationships and the attainment of personal goals."

A spokesperson for Merriam-Webster told Business Insider that they "appreciate Strayer University's interest in our definition of 'success.'"

"Today's official definition of success doesn't reflect the reality of how Americans think about, discuss and ultimately pursue success," said Brian W. Jones, president of Strayer University, in a press release.

"If we take it literally, it would mean people who love their jobs, have happy families, or help their communities aren't successful. This is a dangerous notion as it can lead people to believe they are unsuccessful because they haven't amassed a certain amount of wealth or fame. Our belief is that there are many definitions of and paths to success and that all journeys to success are unique and should be celebrated. We believe the official definition of success should reflect that," he said.

Strayer has launched a petition through that aims to "draw as much attention from Merriam-Webster to the initiative as possible," and has promised to donate $0.50 for every signature collected to Dress for Success, a not-for-profit organization that promotes "the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools to help them thrive in work and life," according to its site.

Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, Inc., said in a press release that Strayer's intention of conducting the "Success Project Survey" last year was "never to change the definition of success, but rather to inspire people to turn inward and think about what success means to them personally.

"But the more we talk with our working adult students and become a part of their lives, and the more we delve into this ongoing movement, we have discovered that a critical and real change needs to happen in the way we talk about success. Certainly Americans are feeling it and thinking about it in these broadened ways and Strayer University … wants to be part of that dialogue," he concluded. 

Aug. 25 2015 3:31 PM

If the U.S. Economy Nosedived, Which Tech Companies Would Suffer?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Every boom has its bust. But every bust looks different.


Thanks to the memories of the dot-com era, a lot of investors assume that the next bust will look the same—a bunch of overfunded, overvalued tech companies that are burning too much cash and not generating enough revenue will go up in smoke. All those unicorns will turn out to have been mere horses, or worse.

But as optimists including Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans have pointed out, some things are different this time. For example: In 2000, less than half a billion people were online, and there were no smartphones. Now, the online population is around 3 billion, with 2 billion smartphones, and both of those numbers will reach 4 billion by 2020.

So imagine that this week's stock market downturn becomes a broader recession. As consumers and businesses tighten their wallets, what will happen? Who will be hurt? Perhaps, instead of the tech startups vaporizing, the old inefficient businesses they've started to replace will finally topple over and die.

For instance:

  • Taxi rides are generally more expensive than hailing an Uber X. So as people look to save money, overall ride volume will go down. But the already ailing cab industry will then have an even harder time competing with cheaper, more efficient service from Uber.
  • Hotels are generally more expensive than AirBnb. As price-conscious consumers look to save money on vacations, they're more likely to book an AirBnb than drop hundreds of dollars a night on a hotel.
  • At least some goods in some retail stores—think consumer electronics—are more expensive than the same goods on Amazon and other e-commerce stores.
  • Going to the movies is a lot more expensive than just staying home and renting via Netflix.

And so on.

On the B2B or enterprise side:

  • It's generally a lot cheaper for companies to rent computing infrastructure and software delivered over the internet—think cloud services such as Amazon Web Services or Workday—than it is to buy and maintain the hardware and software yourself.
  • There are lots of other new enterprise trends that help customers squeeze more cost out of their IT infrastructure—for example, by having in-house developers double up on operations. (DevOps.)

As companies look to cut costs, they're more likely to give these newfangled services a serious look. Sure, there are different break-even points depending on the size of the company and how much it has already dropped into its existing infrastructure. But for the typical mid-size business that never wanted to be in the technology business in the first place, running your own data center seldom makes sense over the long haul.

Yes, a serious recession will kill a lot of pretenders. Companies that are burning tons of cash and can't raise another round to cover their burn will definitely vaporize. Companies that are spending like mad on customer acquisition and hoping to make it up on lifetime value per customer may not get the chance to turn that corner.

But if you believe even for a second that some of the current tech darlings are actually disrupting older industries, why would that disruption suddenly stop just because the economy turns down?

Remember: Google and Salesforce emerged out of the dot-com bust. Facebook emerged out of the financial crisis of 2008. That same downturn helped kill Blockbuster, while Netflix grew stronger than ever.

There will be some big winners next time, too.

Aug. 24 2015 1:42 PM

Google Maps Will Now Accommodate Your Obsession With Photographing Your Food

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

The business of taking photos of your food is so large that there's even a catchy term to describe it—"foodography."


Google tried to tap into the foodography trend earlier this year with an experimental service attached to Google+ called Tablescape. The food-focused social network only got to the testing phase and was shuttered before an official launch.

Now Google is testing a new Google Maps feature that lets you tie certain photos to the place where they were taken, Android Police reports. The feature will alert users when Maps has found a new photo taken at a public place that might interest other users. It will then offer to attach that photo to the location so other users can see it.

Right now Google is rolling out the feature to its "Local Guides"—people who write reviews of the places where they eat, drink or shop for Google. Android Police picked up an email sent out to guides who have contributed more than 50 reviews to the Local Guides program. The email mentions notifications that "show up after you've taken a photo in public places that Google thinks are interesting to other people, like restaurants and bars."

It doesn't actually specify that only photos of food will be flagged up, so the unnamed feature might attach other snaps to Maps too. It does call for guides to upload photos of their "epic meals" though, so it's safe to say that if it ever goes live the feature will be fairly food-focused.

Aug. 21 2015 5:23 PM

Meet the Hotels That Want to Look Like Airbnb Rentals

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Extended stay hotels are often synonymous with barren rooms and tiny kitchenettes stranded out in the suburbs. These hotels have long attracted business travelers hoping to save money on a long term trip.


But that's changing. A whole new crop of long term hotels are popping up, and they're setting their sights on competing with rental sites like Airbnb. 

Part of Airbnb's appeal is that it offers alternative housing options in big cities and it lets guests feel like they're at home, since they're actually staying in someone else's home. Now, extended stay hotels are opening in hip, urban locations with more amenities, like chic designer decor and in-house gyms with personal trainers, in the hopes of attracting a younger group of travelers.

That's just some of what's available at the new ROOST Apartment Hotel, which recently opened in the heart of Philadelphia. Billing itself as a trendier alternative to more traditional corporate long term hotels, ROOST wants its accommodations to feel more like residences rather than hotel suites. 

The studios—which were designed by the same architects responsible for the Wythe Hotel—come fully furnished with Bonavita coffee makers, complimentary La Colombe coffee, bath products, Apple TV, and Bosch washers and dryers. Besides that, there's a bike share program, fitness center, and a 24-hour front desk, and it's pet-friendly. There's a second ROOST property set to open in the Rittenhouse neighborhood of the city soon. A studio suite starts at $175 per night, and a one-bedroom starts at $191.

AKA is another brand that caters to the long term traveler by combining the hospitality you would receive at a hotel with the comfort you would experience at a luxury condominium. There are services that you would find in an apartment building such as a doorman and maintenance services, but then there's also more hotel-oriented services such as in-suite dining and valet laundering. 

AKA even partnered with places such as New York City's Museum of Modern Art, and the wine store Acker Merrall & Condit in order to help guests immerse themselves in the culture of their temporary home. Besides New York, AKA has hotels in multiple other major US cities (LA, Washington, and Philadelphia), as well as one location in London.

AKA's rates vary greatly depending on location—in Washington DC, suites start at $194, at Central Park they start at $305, and in Beverly Hills they start at $395. Guests also have the option of purchasing and owning a condominium at three of AKA's NYC locations. 

The Redbury is a trendy version of the extended stay boutique hotel with locations in Hollywood, California, and South Beach, Florida. Guests have the choice of staying long term or short term. The hotel is made up of all suites—57 at the Hollywood location and 69 in South Beach—that are described as warm, Bohemian, and old-world. The suites' kitchens have gas burners, the bathrooms have walk-in rain showers, and there are even vinyl collections curated by Capitol Records. In South Beach, there's a rooftop pool. Suites at the LA location starts at $252 per night, and $239 at the South Beach location.

The concept of cool luxury extended stay hotels is making waves in Europe as well. The London-based Living Rooms has four locations in hip neighborhoods throughout the city. Like its name suggests, this "hotel alternative" aims to make travelers feel like they are staying in a private space that's their own. A little pricier than some of its other long term competitors, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment at Living Rooms costs $703 per night.

Zoku—which is Japanese for family, tribe, or clan—is set to open this fall in Amsterdam. It offers a "flexible home/office hybrid" where guests can live, work, socialize, and relax with other guests. The hotel offers a living room, working space, kitchen / dining area, game room, meeting spaces, and a 24-hour store. Most of the rooms are loft spaces—meaning that unlike most other hotel rooms, the bed is not the focal point of the room—which guests can decorate and make their own.

The trend isn't limited to boutique hotels, though. Marriott's Residence Inn is set to open this fall in downtown Chicago, and according to Conde Nast Traveler, Element by Starwood has over 20 hotels set to open in the U.S. and Canada by 2018 that will feature modern interiors, pantries stocked with gourmet options, and a lobby that doubles as a work space and bar.

Aug. 20 2015 4:44 PM

If You Bought Twitter Shares When It Went Public, You've Officially Lost Money

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Investors who bought Twitter's public debut are officially underwater. 


On Thursday, shares of Twitter fell below $26—the level where Twitter shares priced for the November 2013 IPO—for the first time ever. 

This means even the earliest Twitter buyers are now losing money and that Twitter is officially in the red for the entirety of its life as a public company. On Thursday alone, shares of Twitter were off more than 5.5 percent to as low as $25.97 per share. 

On its first day of trading as a public company, Twitter shares opened for trading on November 7, 2013 at $45.10 and eventually closed at $44.90, a ~70 percent gain in their first day of trading. 

During the summer, and particularly following Twitter's disastrous second quarter earnings call, the stock has been making new lows and creeping up on the magic $26 per share number. And now, that has been breached. 

Here's the brutal chart:


Googlel Finance/Business Insider

Aug. 20 2015 3:08 PM

San Francisco Is Suing Uber for Allegedly Hiring a Convicted Murderer as a Driver

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Because of flaws in Uber's background-checking system, 25 drivers with criminal records—including murder, child abuse, and assault—were allowed to drive for the ride-hailing service in San Francisco and Los Angeles, according a complaint filed Wednesday by the San Francisco District Attorney's office.


One of the drivers in question is a convicted murderer who spent 26 years in prison before being released on parole in Los Angeles in 2008, the complaint shows. This driver joined Uber in 2014, and the company's background check failed to turn up his criminal record, largely because he gave a fake name when he signed up. He's given 1,168 rides with Uber, the complaint says.

In another case cited by the complaint, a driver had been convicted of the felony of "committing lewd or lascivious acts against a child under 14," which didn't turn up on the background check. He's given "5,697 rides to Uber passengers, including unaccompanied children," says the complaint.

Another driver was convicted of felony kidnapping for ransom with a firearm. The complaint listed other incidents in this driver's criminal history, including felony robbery with a firearm, selling cocaine, and DUIs in southern California.

In fact, several of the drivers listed in the complaint have DUIs. 

Most of the rest are convicted of less severe, nonviolent crimes, including "filing a forged power of attorney and filing a forged real estate grant deed," the complaint says. One driver received a citation at Los Angeles International Airport for driving with an expired license, and the driver "stated that he was leasing his car from someone else and using their Uber account," according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, Uber has long maintained that its background-check system is comprehensive and keeps consumers safe. It used to say that it was "industry-leading," but doesn't anymore.

“A lot of the information that Uber has presented to consumers has been false and misleading," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said in a press conference, per an SFGate report.

Last December, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco filed a joint civil suit saying that the ride-hailing service was misleading consumers with its claims of in-depth driver vetting. The service's background checks go back only seven years (as do competitor Lyft's), and simply aren't in-depth enough to catch everybody's histories, says the complaint.

The city of San Francisco is urging Uber and its ilk to use Livescan, a fingerprint-based method, but Uber is resisting.

In a statement Uber said:

While we agree with the district attorneys that safety is a priority, we disagree that the Livescan process used by taxi companies is an inherently better system for screening drivers than our background checks.  The reality is that neither is 100% foolproof—as we discovered last year when putting hundreds of people through our checks who identified themselves as taxi drivers.  That process uncovered convictions for DUI, rape, attempted murder, child abuse and violence. In addition, Livescan includes people who have been arrested but not always charged or convicted, which can discriminate against minorities. 

Uber has also defended its hiring practices in a recent blog post, explaining that there's a seven-year limit on many tracking tools that look at past criminal records, and that "the California State Legislature decided—after a healthy debate—that seven years strikes the right balance between protecting the public while also giving ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves."

Not long ago, Lyft had to pay $250,000 in fines for a similar court finding, but didn't change anything about its background-check processes.

Aug. 19 2015 4:28 PM

Japan Now Has a Train Station That Can Tell If You’re Drunk      

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Japan seems to be a breeding ground for interesting innovations, whether it's the first "car" in a bag or a hotel staffed by robots. 


Now a train station located in Osaka will be able to tell if its passengers had a long night and one too many beers. The West Japan Railway system that was just installed this week is using 46 cameras to detect telltale signals of an intoxicated citygoer to notify attendants in case of danger, reports The Wall Street Journal

The West Japan Railway announcement reveals that the automated system will be able to tell when someone's staggering, lingering motionless on the platform for too long, or has passed out on the benches. Installed for safety purposes, the camera system won't be used to call out its offenders and identify them due to privacy concerns. 

Japan has had a track record of drunken people causing fatal train-related accidents, and this new camera system could be the first step in lowering those numbers. In 2010, according to Japan Today, a prominent figure of a Japanese university was killed because a man had stumbled drunkenly onto a platform and caused him to fall on the tracks.

Three years later, there were 221 cases of passengers being struck by trains by April of the year, and a whopping 60 percent of them had been drunk. An internal study, reported by AFP News, found that most alcohol-related incidents were caused by people waking up on the benches, walking off the platform edge, and falling down. 

Although this system only currently runs in the Kyobashi station, the company says it wants to install it at more stations.

Aug. 18 2015 3:57 PM

Why Did Web Traffic for the World’s Biggest Publishers Take a Massive Dive at Once?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Many of the world's biggest and best-known online news publishers saw significant drops in traffic between March and April this year. It appears Facebook might be a culprit in some way, but nobody can agree on a solid theory as to why.


The BBC, the Daily Mail, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Fox News, and many others were among the publishers that lost traffic from March to April, according to data from SimilarWeb. Some of these sites lost tens of millions of visitors, while others lost multiple millions. The findings also tally with data from Millward Brown's Compete.

While any publisher will tell you that its traffic is susceptible to fluctuations, it's highly unusual for every single publisher to report the same fluctuation at the same time. Previously it's happened when Google changed its search algorithm. Sites like Upworthy saw their traffic crushed last year when Facebook changed its algorithm to feature more "high-quality" stories in the News Feed. Similarly, news sites got a boost from Facebook in early 2014 when Facebook changed its news feed to favor more serious stories over cat photos.

But this time around the drop in traffic can't be pinned on one huge change. Moshe Alexenberg, director of content at Similar Web, told Business Insider: "All these sites clearly lost significant traffic over this period. The only two common trends were the loss of direct and social traffic to every one of these sites, some less than others, but all significant amounts. The main culprit for the loss of social traffic to these sites was Facebook while Reddit came in a close second in some cases."

A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider: "We looked at the aggregated referral traffic for the 1,000 publishers who receive the most referrals from Facebook and did not see an overall decline from March to April.” Now, all the publishers we analyzed appear to be back to their pre-March levels, or higher, in terms of traffic. But any dips in traffic are highly worrisome to publishers who base their online advertising rates on the amount of traffic they receive.

For the purpose of this article, we decided to look the top 10 most shared Facebook publishers, according to NewsWhip's monthly "most shared publisher" rankings. 

There we met our first hurdle: NewsWhip didn't publish its rankings in April—the month that showed the huge decline in traffic across a sweep of publishers! NewsWhip's marketing director Will Bancroft told us this was due to the company receiving "notably different data from Facebook during this period." He added that NewsWhip couldn't be sure of the data quality and consistency—due to much smaller reported numbers of Likes, Shares and Comments—and was unable to build its rankings over April and May.

However, he said he did not know if this data issue was correlated with the traffic dip experienced by publishers— although he said "we've heard our clients almost universally mention that traffic dip as well." Facebook also now appears to have fixed this data issue, Bancroft said.

So instead we looked at data from NewsWhip's "most shared Facebook publishers, July 2015." Seven of the 10 publishers saw big traffic drop-offs in April. Only Conservative Tribune, blogging site Little Things, and (which, arguably, is a portal more than a publisher) saw traffic lifts between March and April. We also threw The Daily Mail into our comparison as it's the biggest English-language newspaper site in the world.

BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Fox News—all down between March and April.

SimilarWeb/Business Insider

BBC, Daily Mail, The Guardian. Down, down, down.

SimilarWeb/Business Insider.

  • Between March and May, lost a huge 27 million visits—the majority (11 million) from social, with 8.7 million lost from Facebook. 
  • lost 22 million visits—the majority (12.1 million) from social, with 8.2 million lost from Facebook. 
  • lost 18.9 million visits—the majority (10.2 million) direct visits. 
  • lost 36 million visits—the majority (9 million) from search.
  • lost 18.5 million visits—the majority (6.4 million) from Facebook (although social showed a gain overall as Reddit referral traffic was up 1.9 million.)
  • lost 11 million visits—the majority (6.1 million) was from search.
NBC and NYT both decreased too.

SimilarWeb/Business Insider.

Business Insider contacted all the publishers in NewsWhip's "most shared Facebook publishers, July 2015" top 10 that experienced traffic declines between March to April. We also spoke to a couple of publishers not in the list, but that also saw a decline. Of those who replied to our request for comment, none wanted to speak to us on the record.

Here are some of the theories they suggested:

March was a strong month for web publishers and April was just returning to normal levels. This table from comScore shows March was a strong month for lots of publishers.


comSCore?Business Insider

That said, publishers seemed to quickly rebound past their March levels. Like Fox, for example, which had even better months before March.


Millward Brown Compete

And The Daily Mail seems to have quickly recovered from April too.


Millward Brown Compete

A Facebook algorithm change. For those publishers experiencing dramatic drops in traffic from Facebook, some people have suspected an algorithm tweak rolled out in April may have had an impact. 

The change included: Relaxing previous rules that prevented users from seeing multiple posts from the same source in the news feed, promoting content from friends higher up in the news feed, and pushing "stories" about when a friend has liked or commented on a post further down the feed.

NewsWhip reported in March that publishers were seeing a drastic drop-off in Facebook shares between mid-February and March. One UK publisher called it the "Facebookcalypse." News Whip's Bancroft told Business Insider there were lower numbers than usual in April and May too.

But that still doesn't explain why traffic has rebounded (shares also climbed up beyond their previous highs, according to NewsWhip)—surely an algorithm change would be permanent and continue seeing publishers punished?

Facebook promoting more native video in the feed. It's no secret that Facebook has been ramping up its video strategy in recent months. One publisher suggested that the pages posting more videos were likely to be those rewarded by their content being placed higher up in the News Feed. And perhaps now more publishers are posting video as a result.

April is a short month. This is true, but September, June, and November are short months too. And those can be huge traffic months. And some sites were reporting some very large dips. Then again, comScore told Business Insider that publishers performed well in March 2014 too. Perhaps March is seasonally the biggest news month?

All of these theories are reasonable. But what is so bizarre is that they differ so vastly, and they don't all apply to each publisher, yet the world's biggest names in publishing all saw a major blip that in some cases will have been rather concerning from an ad revenue perspective.

Where did the traffic go? Could it happen again? The answers are still a bit of a mystery.

Aug. 17 2015 4:02 PM

The Ongoing Debate That Could Tear Apart Bitcoin Users

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

An ongoing debate wracking the bitcoin community became significantly more heated this weekend after two high-profile developers released a competing version of the codebase—risking splitting the digital currency in two.


For the past several months, developers and bitcoin users have debated the merits of increasing the "block size." A block is a record of recent transactions, and currently has a 1MB limit; increasing it would allow more transactions on the network at once, helping it to scale up to meet growing demand.

But it would also make it more difficult for ordinary users to host full network "nodes" that validate new transactions on the network, potentially making the digital currency more centralised as a result.

Because bitcoin is open source (meaning the full code is available for anyone to alter) and decentralized, no one can unilaterally push an update on other users without widespread consensus—consensus that has so far been lacking. Gavin Andresen and Mike Hearn, two high-profile developers, have now released Bitcoin XT, an alternative version of the core software that supports increasing the block size when required.

Bitcoin users will now be forced to decide between "Bitcoin Core" and Bitcoin XT, raising the prospect of a "fork," where the digital currency divides into two competing versions.

Right now, Core and XT are compatible, and both exist on the same blockchain, the public ledger of all bitcoin transactions shared across the network. Bitcoin is still running as one digital currency. However, if XT is adopted by 75 percent of users by January 2016, it will upgrade to a larger block size. This will be incompatible with Core—meaning that if the other 25 percent don't then choose to convert, it will effectively split the currency into two.

But will it work?

The choice between XT and Core can be thought of as a kind of referendum on the block size debate, brought about after months of heated discussion failed to come to a consensus decision. So far, 7.7 percent of the network has adopted XT, according to website It's a relatively quick uptake, but it remains to be seen whether it can reach 75 percent by next year.

Samson Mow is the COO of BTCChina, one of the largest mining pools. A mining pool is a group of users who pool their resources to improve their chances of successfully "mining" bitcoin—authenticating transactions on the network in return for a bitcoin reward.

He told Business Insider that BTCChina and the broader Chinese mining community "has decided not to adopt Bitcoin XT. The foundation of bitcoin is consensus and what we need is for core devs to reach consensus on changes to bitcoin core. Without that consensus from the core devs, it falls upon the mining community to maintain the stability of bitcoin, and that is what we will continue to do."

Collectively, the biggest Chinese pools make up more than half the network. If they refuse to adopt XT, it's difficult to see how it can reach the 75 percent majority it requires to increase the block size. That said, Hearn remains confident. "At the moment, we think it's plausible we can get majority," he told CoinDesk. "But it will likely be a lot of work."

During this weekend's discussion on the bitcoin developer mailing list, a user purporting to be Satoshi Nakamoto—the mysterious creator of bitcoin—chimed in on the subject, condemning the XT project. However, the email was not cryptographically signed, and is probably a fake—Satoshi's email accounts have been hacked before, after all.

Even if XT isn't adopted, it's possible that its creation will create new urgency and help encourage a clear decision on the block size debate sooner than would otherwise be the case. The Chinese mining community, while not supporting XT, does in principle support an increase in size.

But the ongoing debate and failure to risk consensus about this important issue also risks spooking the general public, damaging the digital currency's image and risking its chances of more mainstream adoption.