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May 6 2015 3:07 PM

Here’s Why a Country With Only 10,000 People Just Banned Facebook

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Facebook has officially been banned in the small island nation of Nauru, a move refugee advocates and opposition leaders have slammed as an act of "dictatorship," according to ABC Australia.

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The ban is reportedly part of a larger government plan to censor "internet sites that show pornography, particularly those featuring children." But many believe the government is concerned about the number of people who had been using the social media site as a platform for political protest.

"The real agenda here is curbing the rights of people to access social media," opposition MP Matthew Batsiua told Pacific Beat. "This is all about [Justice Minister David] Adeang and his cronies being worried about the ever increasing number of people who have taken to social media to criticise his dictatorial style, which even the president is either unwilling—or too scared—to rein in."

Many of the country's 10,000 inhabitants have become frustrated with the government's lack of transparency, evidenced by its "shutting out members of the opposition, having an ineffective parliament where basically there's no scrutiny or debate on policies and activities," and now curbing social media, Batsiua said.

The ban won't just affect political activists, however. Refugees being housed in the Nauru detention center who used Facebook to keep in touch with family members overseas will now be cut off. The government has reportedly also put restrictions on where and when people can protest.

"The ability to arrest ... assemblies three or greater now extends to public areas and that effectively means inside the refugee compounds itself," Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition told ABC. "It's not far short of being a dictatorship."

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May 5 2015 3:38 PM

The 1977 Magazine Article That Said Apple Computers Might Be a Huge Hit

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

And now, some breaking news from 1977: There is a new company in California that makes computer kits for individual hobbyists. It's called The Apple Computer Company, according to Kilobaud magazine, and it looks like it might be a huge hit.

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"Rich Travis of Sunshine Computer Company in Southern California reports he sold ten Apples in three weeks ... his customers were looking for a complete, ready-to-run system that was inexpensive," writes Sheila Clarke of Kilobaud. "Because the system is really easy to buy and use, the system may well be in the homes of several hundred hobbyists within a few months."

After Business Insider recently published a charming set of photos taken by Apple's earliest employees, veteran tech writer Sheila (Clarke) Craven got in touch and sent us this gem from February 1977: "The Remarkable Apple Computer," a lengthy dissection of Apple's launch product that Craven wrote after flying to San Francisco and interviewing founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. (Kilobaud eventually went out of business and its founder, Wayne Green, died in 2013.)

Craven says she believes it was the first article ever written about Apple. We checked with Wozniak, and he agrees. "Seems quite the way it was," Wozniak told us. "The only thing I can note is that we were demonstrating the Apple ][ before we shipped any Apple I’s, so we knew that it was a temporary project."

We've published the entire Kilobaud article below. But be warned—it's a dense catalog of computer arcana from the days when using a computer required knowledge of the BASIC programming language.

"My interview with the two Steves took place while they were still in the folks’ garage," Craven tells Business Insider. She remembers it this way:

"I flew up from LA, and the two Steves picked me up in a red Chevy Luv Truck, tossed my suitcase in the back, and put me between them in the front seat. We went someplace for lunch, and talked about their plans.

Of course, Steve Jobs did all the talking. After lunch we drove to his parents home in Palo Alto—never went inside the house—straight to the garage. On a workbench sat a PC board. above the workbench on a shelf sat a TV set where wires dangled from it to the PC board.

The whole time Steve Jobs was talking, explaining, outlining future plans for marketing and development, he was just about dancing on his tippy toes in his tennies. Then Woz sat at the workbench, initiating the operating system (I suppose) to demonstrate a program. Woz was pretty quiet. I got that he was the engineering brain power, and Jobs was the idea guy.

One of the things Jobs told me was that they would make certain there would be an Apple in every classroom and on every desk, because if kids grew up using and knowing the Apple, they would continue to buy Apples and so would their kids. The computers would be donated by Apple Computer. I understand that when that article came out, orders starting pouring in, and Apple Computer was seriously launched."

At the time, Apple consisted of just the two Steves in Jobs' parents' garage. There was no office, Craven says. Craven spent four hours with the pair, including lunch. After Wozniak booted up the machine, Jobs loaded a game of Blackjack onto it to demonstrate its powers.

Craven regarded the Apple I as "just another homebrew product" rather than the beginning of a machine that would change the world. "We never met again, although of course I continued to encounter Jobs at computer expos, Comdex, CES, etc.," Craven says, although "I don’t think he ever manned a booth."

The article says some things that were true of Apple then and, 40 years later, remain true today. Such as:

  • "For the inexperienced, getting a program up seems to have been made relatively simple."
  • Updates would be made available to existing customers for free.
  • Apple was trying to create "a network of program exchange" to develop games and other apps that would make the computer more fun and more useful.
  • "Steve Jobs confesses that the Apple is not for everybody." (It cost $788.66, a lot of money at the time.)

At the same time, the article contains some nuggets that illustrate how comically primitive computing was at the time. For that $788 you would get:

  • "A complete system on a board. Complete that is if you're willing to forgo extras now, like hard copy output, floppy disk storage, and color graphics."
  • "If you must purchase a black and white monitor, add the cost to the system; but you'll probably run over my proposed budget."
  • "Although the Apple-1 comes with 4K bytes of RAM, 4K more is available for $120."
  • "BASIC is the language of the people," say Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak, Apple Computer Company owners. Soon, they add, people won't care which chip is used in the CPU, but will want to know more about the computer's capability and how easy it is to use."
  • "We're not in the business of making things more expensive," say Jobs and Wozniak, when discussing their design philosophy."

Craven's main impression was that "the two Steves care ... they're responsive to user enquiries and are open to suggestions and criticisms (to a point)."

Here is the article.

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May 4 2015 4:49 PM

Why Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook Really, Really Want to Get Into the News Business

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

In late November, Twitter CFO Anthony Noto accidentally sent a public tweet he'd rather have kept private. "I still think we should buy them," his tweet, which has since been deleted, read. "He is on your schedule for December 15 or 16—We need to sell him. I have a plan."

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Noto was most likely trying to send a direct message to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. And the company he was interested in buying was Mic, tech industry sources tell Business InsiderMic is a media start-up that has received more than $10 million in financing to become a publication of choice for millennials. The sources say Twitter made a loose verbal offer to buy the start-up late last year and that a dollar amount nearing $90 million was discussed. But Mic wasn't interested, and the brief talks never went any further.

Mic isn't the only media company Twitter has been interested in. Twitter is in talks to buy the news application Circa, Business Insider reported on Friday. (A Twitter representative declined to comment on Noto's direct message or say whether Twitter had acquisition interest in Mic or Circa. Both Mic and Circa declined to comment.)

Twitter may not end up buying a media company, but its interest in Mic and Circa is just one battle in an ongoing war over the future of news. Every social-media platform, from Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat, is trying to find a way to win control over content and its distribution. Even Pinterest is hiring a media team in New York to chat with publications about how they can partner together, a social-media executive told Business Insider.

Traditionally, media companies have operated independently and controlled their own destinies. They owned the whole content supply chain, from research to writing to publication to distribution. In the digital era, they built their own websites, which drew loyal readers (direct traffic), and they sold most of the ads that ran on their sites, keeping 100 percent of the revenue.

Those days are gone. Now the fate of publishers increasingly depends on social platforms such as Facebook, where billions of people discover news to read and videos to watch. And the social platforms are equally interested in the media business.

There are three reasons media and social platforms are converging:

  • Engagement. Having original, native content keeps people in apps like Facebook and Snapchat longer.
  • Mobile. Increasingly, content is being consumed on mobile devices, not desktops. Social platforms offer better mobile experiences than many publishers do.
  • Money. Advertising companies spend about $80 billion on television ads in the U.S. Those ad dollars are finally shifting toward digital video content in a meaningful way. All the social platforms want a chunk of it. That means they need video content to sell ads across. Those videos can be generated by users, media companies, or internally.
  • Though publishers might be worried that the platforms are going to siphon off the ad dollars that keep them alive, publishing straight to platforms isn't a new concept. Dan Roth implemented this at LinkedIn a few years ago, encouraging people referred to on LinkedIn as influencers to write articles there first. While LinkedIn's referral traffic to some publishers decreased, it is still a complement to many of them rather than a competitor.

    Facebook wants media companies to start publishing articles on its platform first and their websites second. The company has reportedly met with a dozen publishers, including BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and National Geographic, and it may host advertisements next to the content and split the revenue. Or Facebook may give some publishers all the revenue from certain ads to get publishers on board, according to a recent story by The Wall Street Journal.

    These partnerships are most likely weeks away from launch. For Facebook, the decision to focus on media is “100 percent" being driven by the industry's movement toward mobile, a person familiar with the company's plans said.

    Right now, it takes a long time—eight seconds on average—for an external article or video to load once a Facebook user clicks a link. It takes an especially long time if the user is browsing Facebook on a phone because many news companies have sites that are not perfectly optimized for mobile. If Facebook starts hosting articles itself, it can speed up the process and create a better user experience, which ensures users will continue engaging with content in the future. "Mobile [news consumption] is a terrible experience, and the mobile web is a wreck," a source familiar with Facebook's thinking told Business Insider. 

    Facebook doesn't seem interested in buying media companies. Still, the idea of Facebook hosting original content has some publishers concerned. Facebook's native content plans could mean its algorithm, which dictates content in a user's News Feed, will favor publishers that partner with the company. Anyone who doesn't cooperate with Facebook's native plans could be punished from a traffic-referral standpoint. A Facebook representative says the company's media partnership plans are still being developed and tested. 

    In January, Snapchat launched Discover, a section of its app reserved for select media companies. It chose 11 launch partners and stuck their logos on its app. It then asked them each to create five articles a day in a Snapchat-friendly format (short and visual with a vertical layout).

    Snapchat lets publishers keep 100 percent of the revenue if they sell an ad campaign for the platform and 40 percent if Snapchat sells it. Snapchat also has an internal team producing original videos and short news stories for the app. CNN political reporter Peter Hamby was just poached to be the startup's head of news.

    Some partnering publications love Discover. Daily Mail U.S. CEO Jon Steinberg wrote on Medium that Snapchat channels saw hundreds of thousands, or even millions of views per day. That means the opportunity for his advertising sales team is massive. Steinberg says selling Snapchat ads is his team's No. 2 priority, behind selling The Daily Mail's own website.

    Other publications, however, have complained that Discover views have seriously declined over the past few months. The Information's Tom Dotan says publishers have seen views drop as much as 50 percent since January. Recently, Business Insider polled a group of heavy Snapchat users and found a lot of them didn't use or didn't like the product.

    Snapchat-sold ads also seem to be sparse; a number of its sales executives including COO Emily White have left the company in recent months. Publishers who weren't invited to participate in Discover also have cause for concern. Snapchat's product is currently extremely selective, and it dictates exactly which 11 media brands its users should be reading. If a reader is loyal to another publication, that reader must go elsewhere to find that content.

    Still, Snapchat feels there's an opportunity to bring branding and loyalty back to media companies. On Twitter, for example, all links look the same, and users aren't always sure whether they're clicking on a reliable news source.

    "We tried to build something that tried to bring back the editorial perspective, because we believe it's really valuable to have someone who's smarter than us figure out what's important, because that's a full time job and a really hard one," CEO Evan Spiegel said in February.

    A Snapchat representative warned that it's the "early days" for the company's media efforts and it's too soon to say whether Discover will include more publishers in the future.

    It's one thing for social platforms to partner with publications or deeply integrate their content. It's another for them to produce, own, and distribute news. If Twitter were to acquire a media company like Mic.com, it would suddenly make the company a direct competitor to many of its power users—journalists and media organizations—instead of a distribution partner. Twitter, unlike Facebook, does not use an algorithm to dictate which tweets show up in a user's stream. Would that change if Twitter had internal content it wanted to promote?

    A source familiar with Twitter's interest in media says the company has no desire to cannibalize other media companies. Instead, owning a media company would allow Twitter to more quickly test tools and products for publishers before rolling them out to the broader community. Twitter today can use partnerships with publications to test things, but that process is slower than if it owned a content creator outright.

    Any such deal would be similar to Comcast's 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal. Comcast didn't block competing networks from its cable service. Instead, the acquisition gave Comcast a better understanding of media companies and their needs and made them better able to serve all the networks. "Twitter wants to be the No. 1 place for news, but what it is really concerned about is beating Facebook," a person familiar with the company's thinking said.

    "If Twitter owned a media company, it could pilot stuff all the time, and if it performs well, they can allow other publishers to [use the same tools] ... They're not trying to alienate other publishers because they're going to give them everything they'd give a media company they own ... Anything to get a leg up on Facebook is what they want to do.” A Twitter representative stressed that the company had "always been a complement to news" and intended to be one moving forward.

    While social platforms might love media companies, publishers aren't sure how to feel about their suddenly gigantic partners. "For publishers, Facebook is a bit like that big dog galloping toward you in the park," David Carr of The New York Times wrote in October. "It's hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you."

    Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter have hundreds of millions of visitors every day, meaning they can drive a lot of referral traffic for publishers. But partnering with platforms means giving up control of who sees their articles and how those stories are promoted. It also means splitting a meaningful chunk of revenue with a third party. Then there's the question of who will get to collect user data and who will get to own analytics.

    Currently, media companies sell advertising based on how large their readership is (uniques and page views). But if their readership moves to other platforms, the whole business model gets disrupted. Steinberg, the CEO of The Daily Mail U.S., believes digital media companies should be prepared for a "post-traffic era.” "Direct traffic is almost like a measure of how much the audience loves your content," Steinberg says. "This will be the way publishers secure carriage on networks/platforms. Not unlike getting a cable channel on the Comcast system. And then you will monetize on these platforms."

    BuzzFeed, where Steinberg was formerly president, is already focused on that. CEO Jonah Peretti says only 5% of BuzzFeed's billions of monthly video views happen on buzzfeed.com. Most of its content is watched on YouTube or Facebook. "Our goal is to be agnostic or indifferent about [where our content lives]," Peretti told Re/code in March. "In an ideal world we'd do whatever is best for the consumer.” He isn't worried about splitting revenue with platforms. He believes there are more companies demanding content than there are media companies who know how to produce quality work.

    May 1 2015 6:20 PM

    Snapchat Is Pushing Out More Than 30 Small Businesses to Move Into its Latest Office

    This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

    Snapchat has signed a 10-year lease at a 47,000-square foot office complex in Venice. The lease includes the option to extend by an additional five years. 

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    "Today is Snapchat's first official day leasing the space," Jim Abbott of Realty Advisor Group, who brokered the deal for the complex's owner, told Business Insider. 

    Snapchat had been rumored to be negotiating a takeover of a 55-unit office complex at the corner of Abbot Kinney and Venice Boulevards, one of the busiest intersections in the neighborhood.

    Snapchat will be renovating the office buildings at the complex, called the Venice Connection and Studio Village. "They're paying for some significant improvements that will raise the value of the property," Abbott said.

    The property owners have leased the space as a multitenant complex since 1973. According to Abbott, Snapchat had been negotiating the lease with the owners for nearly 10 months. Several other tech companies, including Uber, had also shown interest in the office space.

    "There was some concern, since the property owners weren't familiar with Snapchat," he said. "But we really worked through the lease with them. Snapchat has been growing so much over the last 10 months that it helped to solidify them as a tenant, as a company that is keeping business in Venice."

    More than 30 smaller businesses already make their home there—including mobile advertising startup Briabe Mobile, drone and robotics company Ctrl.Me, design agency Clever Creative, and several law and insurance offices. Most tenants were on a month-to-month lease, all of which will likely be terminated by the end of the summer, Abbott said.

    "We’re looking on the west side of L.A., maybe Marina del Rey. It’s going to be a struggle,"  Briabe Mobile CEO James Briggs, whose company leases about 2,600 square feet in the complex, told Business Insider earlier this month. "There are not a lot of business complexes like this in Venice, and we’re completely priced out of what’s left. Venice is out of the question now." 

    Snapchat declined to comment on its real estate negotiations. A spokesperson told Business Insider, "We love being in Venice and we strive to be great neighbors within the community where we live and work."

    Snapchat also leases several buildings on Market Street and at the Thornton Lofts on Ocean Front Walk. It's unclear if the new office space will become Snapchat's main headquarters, or if the company views the collection of Venice offices as a broader headquarters. 

    April 29 2015 5:01 PM

    The Apple Watch Is Having Trouble Getting Along With Wrist Tattoos

    This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

    Now that the Apple Watch has arrived, some buyers are reporting that the high-end smartwatch doesn't work properly if they have wrist tattoos.

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    Normally, the Apple Watch can automatically detect whether it is on your wrist. This means users do not have to enter a password every time they put it on. But the ink in tattoos appears to interfere with Apple Watch's infrared sensors that enable wrist detection. These sensors also give users access to heartbeat-tracking capabilities and Apple Pay, so wrist tattoos may obstruct those features as well.

    Disgruntled customers with wrist tattoos have complained about the problem on Reddit and YouTube. On Reddit, guinne55fan said he thought his device was faulty until he "decided to try holding it against my [un-tattooed] hand and it worked ... Once I put it back on the area that is tattooed with black ink the watch would automatically lock again." Another Reddit commenter, 711minus7, says his friend had "exactly the same issue."

    Here's a video from YouTuber Michael Lovell showing the problem. When worn on his untattooed left side, the watch worked fine. But after being transferred to his right wrist with a sleeve tattoo, the device stopped working and asked for his passcode. The tech blog iMore tested the device on numerous tattoos and concluded that the sensor readings "varied wildly depending on colors and shading."

    Big, block dark colors are most problematic, while the Apple Watch can deal with lighter shades just fine. People with darker skin tones will not have issues, though, because "natural skin pigmentation doesn't block light the same way artificial ink pigment or even scar tissue does," iMore writes.

    There is a workaround. Apple Watch users can turn off wrist detection so they don't need to enter a passcode at all. But doing so makes their device less secure.

    Apple has had issues during new product launches before—notably with "Bendgate." After the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, some users reported that their new devices were accidentally bending while in their pockets.

    April 28 2015 4:24 PM

    Dear Skype, This Just Isn't Working. Love, Facebook.

    This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

    Social media can make a relationship a lot more complicated. Take, for example, Facebook and Microsoft's Skype. Back in 2011, they were the happiest of couples, telling everybody how they were working together to make video calling in Facebook Messenger a reality. Mark Zuckerberg said at the time that he and then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer were "really aligned on this."

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    But now, with the launch of video calling in Facebook Messenger for iPhone and Android, there's no longer any doubt: Facebook and Skype have broken up, and Skype seems to be the one who was dumped. While no announcements have been made, we started to suspect Facebook and Skype were no longer quite so close in 2013, after Facebook introduced a voice calling option that used Facebook's technology.

    But the real rupture appears to have happened a few months back. That's when Facebook quietly stopped using Skype for video calls made from the desktop, replacing Skype with technology that Facebook developed in-house, Facebook confirmed to Business Insider.

    This change was made because Skype-powered video calls required users to install a browser plug-in, while the technology Facebook whipped up works without one—not important for call performance, video quality, and letting Facebook more quickly make changes and upgrades to video chat, according to a person familiar with the matter.

    For users, the change was basically invisible. But for the Facebook and Skype partnership, announced with so much fanfare in 2011, it seems it was the beginning of the end. The demise of the Skype partnership represents the second major example of Facebook cutting ties with Microsoft recently. In December, Facebook unceremoniously stopped using Microsoft Bing to provide web search results on its social network.

    Microsoft and Facebook have a long history together—Microsoft in 2007 invested $240 million in what was then a promising young social-networking company. Now that Facebook is a tech behemoth in its own right, it no longer needs to rely on others for technology such as search and voice calling. And keeping things in-house gives Facebook more control.

    Microsoft declined to comment on the end of its Skype deal with Facebook.

    Two weeks ago, in mid-April, Skype community manager Claudius Henrichs made a post to the official Skype forums, saying: "Facebook is making a number of changes to the way they connect their products with partners like Skype.” He gave a laundry list of Facebook integrations that will no longer work in Skype as of the end of April, including the ability to message Facebook friends from within the Skype desktop app.

    "We never like it when features have to go away like this," Henrichs wrote. Skype users will be able to use their Facebook account to find friends who have a Skype account, but it's not the same. Skype's partnership with Facebook may have been a casualty in the social network's mission to never, ever, ever let its user base leave the site for even a single second.

    April 27 2015 2:49 PM

    How Alibaba Is Spreading E-Commerce to Chinese Villages Without Internet

    This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

    With an estimated net worth of $23 billion, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is one of the richest people on earth. His e-commerce company is now worth more than $200 billion.

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    But Ma’s success didn’t just fall from the sky. He grew up poor and was rejected from dozens of jobs before fighting his way to founding one of the largest internet companies in the world. Now Ma wants to help others replicate his success. In order to do so, Ma’s deploying a pretty unique strategy.

    According to Jim Kim, World Bank’s president, Ma looks for rural Chinese villages with no internet connection. Then he builds the infrastructure needed for them to start and expand their own companies. Kim explained it in more detail in an interview with Quartz:

    “The latest thing [Ma] told me was, ‘We’re identifying the villages where there is no access to internet. Then we go out there, as long as there is a road and there is cell phone service—and there is cell phone service just about everywhere—and I’—Jack told me this—‘I go and find two or three young women who are very savvy and have learned computers. I give them a computer, and they start taking orders for the whole village.’”

    This helps that village in a number of different ways. First, it gives everyone in the village a chance to order things like washing machines online at a much affordable price. It also lets those “two or three young women” to carve out a nice little business by taking orders for others. But most importantly, it gives other businesses in the small village a way to reach a bigger market because now they have access to delivery trucks going in and out of that town.

    “Now that the trucks are going out there delivering the washing machines, they are going back [to the cities] with products from that village, right? He is really changing, in a pretty fundamental way, the model of development,” Kim said.

    One of the beneficiaries of this model is Huang Jianqiao, a farmer-turned-online bag store owner who’s banking $4.8 million a year in sales. Because of Alibaba's online platform, Huang has been able to build a business that sells and delivers to “cities and villages across China,” according to AFP.

    "Now we can stay with our family when doing Internet business, and we earn more than working in other cities," Huang told AFP.

    April 24 2015 4:40 PM

    Study: How Much Paper Would It Take to Print the Entire Internet?

    This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

    A quick and dirty calculation reveals that you could print the entire internet on 136 billion pieces of standard 8-by-11 sheets of paper.

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    Stack that many sheets of paper one on top of the other and you would get a column about 8,300 miles high! (Assuming that the average thickness of each sheet is .0039 inches.)

    George Harwood and Evangeline Walker, students at the University of Leicester in the UK, determined this by first estimating how many pages it would take to print every Wikipedia webpage, which came out to a staggering 70,859,865 pieces of paper.

    They then extrapolated that value to the number of total webpages on the internet, roughly 4.5 billion, tweaked their final guess to account for the variable size of different websites, and discovered it takes quite a lot of paper to print the internet, but not an immeasurable amount. (They don't specify the size, type, or spacing of the print you would use, which could change their final result.)

    But they didn't stop there. They went one step farther to then gauge how many trees it would take to manufacture 136 billion sheets of paper. "It is possible to obtain approximately 17 reams of paper per usable tree," they write in their report

    There are about 500 sheets of paper per ream. After that, it just takes a quick calculation to figure out that it would take 16 million trees to print 136 billion sheets of standard 8-by-11 sheets of paper. That's more than three times the number of trees growing in New York City at this moment.

    Harwood and Walker report the results of their intriguing thought experiment in a peer-reviewed student journal run by their university's Center for Interdisciplinary Science. The journal gives students the chance to write, edit, publish, and review scientific papers.

    Correction, April 27, 2015: This article originally stated that Birch and Oak were softwood trees. They are hardwood. The information has been removed.

    April 23 2015 12:58 PM

    Airbnb Now Says It Has a Solution to San Francisco's Affordability Problem

    This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

    Room-rental service startup Airbnb is going on the offensive.

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    In New York, state legislators have failed to pass a bill that would make partial-apartment rentals under 30 days legal. Meanwhile, Airbnb's home city of San Francisco struggles with regulating Airbnb, despite what the startup characterizes as good-faith efforts to work closely with city authorities. 

    And this week, California state legislators as well as city legislators in San Francisco are discussing a bill that Airbnb says would let local authorities sift through personal information about its customers in order to make sure that they're paying all of their related taxes properly, in what could be a gross invasion of privacy. 

    Airbnb seems to have had enough of playing nice. Now, it's going straight for politicians right where it hurts: their constituents. On a new website, launched today, the startup is highlighting one citizen of each of San Francisco's 11 districts who say they couldn't afford to live in the hyper-expensive city without the revenue they earn by renting out rooms on Airbnb.

    In fact, Airbnb says the average host in San Francisco makes $13,000 a year, on an average of 6.5 nights stayed in a rented room. "In neighborhoods across this city, home sharing is making this city more affordable for thousands of San Franciscans," Airbnb says in a statement. "Instead of Trojan Horse proposals designed to effectively ban home sharing, lawmakers should focus on making it easier for San Franciscans to share their homes and follow the rules."

    It's a transparent marketing ploy designed to confront San Francisco councilpeople with the impact any anti-Airbnb legislation might have in their districts, but it tells some emotional stories. Here's one from Kevin & Esther Krejci, who live in San Francisco's District 4, the residential Sunset area: 

    My husband and I have been sharing a room in our Sunset home. Since Kevin was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, it has been the money we make hosting on Airbnb that makes it possible to pay his medical and physical therapy bills. The visitors we've welcomed from across the world have taught us so much, especially our children, who learned to welcome people of different cultures, and understanding their own stories that they have. San Francisco is expensive, very expensive, and for our family hosting on Airbnb has made it affordable.

    Here's another from PK Paksaichol, who lives in District 11, the working-class Excelsior neighborhood:

    For years my wife wanted to go back to school to earn an MBA and obtain her real estate license. But doing so was expensive and felt out of reach. Without sharing a room in our Excelsior home, there was no way we could have afforded tuition. It just wasn't possible. For our family, home sharing has made San Francisco affordable—and for my wife, it has allowed her to pursue her dreams.

    Obviously, these stories are supposed to tug on the heartstrings. But it is true that Airbnb is an alternative revenue stream for those who need one. At the same time, though, it's hard to ignore rampant abuses, like people renting out their rent-controlled apartments at a profit. Airbnb rentals may also reduce long-term rental supply in the already crowded San Francisco.

    But at the same time, these are real people who rely on Airbnb to subsidize a big part of their livelihood. It'll be up to local regulators to decide which way they want to go. 

    April 20 2015 3:44 PM

    Small Businesses, Brace Yourselves: Google's Mobilegeddon Is Upon Us

    This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

    On Tuesday, April 21, Google is making a major update to its mobile search algorithm that will change the order in which websites are ranked when users search for something from their phone.

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    The algorithm will start favoring mobile-friendly websites (ones with large text, easy-to-click links, and that resize to fit whatever screen they're viewed on) and ranking them higher in search. Websites that aren't mobile-friendly will get demoted. About 60 percent of online traffic now comes from mobile and Google wants users to have a good experience whenever they click on a mobile link.  

    The company announced its impending changes back in February, giving webmasters nearly two months and plenty of information to make the changes necessary to keep their sites from disappearing from mobile search results. But the update is still expected to cause a major ranking shake-up. It has even been nicknamed "Mobile-geddon" because of how "apocalyptic" it could be for millions of websites, Itai Sadan, CEO of website building company Duda, told Business Insider.  

    "I think the people who are at risk are those who don’t know about it," Sadan says. To him, that mostly means small businesses. "Come April 21, a lot of small businesses are going to be really surprised that the number of visitors to their websites has dropped significantly. This is going to affect millions of sites on the web," he says.

    Businesses that depend on people finding them through localized search—like, if someone typed "coffee shops in Sunnyside, Queens," into Google on their phone—could see a decrease in foot traffic as a result of this update, Sadan says.

    "Google has always been about relevancy, and content is king," he says. "But that's changing. Yes, they're saying content is still extremely important, but user experience is just as important. It's not sufficient to have all the right content—if people come to your site and the content is there but it's not readable, that's not good."

    It's not only small businesses that are going to be affected by mobile-geddon, though. Marketing company Somo released a study last week that found that a bunch of big brands, like American Apparel, The Daily Mail, and Ryanair, will all get punished when the change takes place, unless they update their sites before Tuesday.  

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