Autonomous retail startup Inokyo’s first store feels like stealing

Autonomous retail startup Inokyo’s first store feels like stealing

Inokyo wants to be the indie Amazon Go. It’s just launched its prototype cashierless autonomous retail store. Cameras track what you grab from shelves, and with a single QR scan of its app on your way in and out of the store, you’re charged for what you got.

Inokyo‘s first store is now open on Mountain View’s Castro Street selling an array of bougie kombuchas, snacks, protein powders and bath products. It’s sparse and a bit confusing, but offers a glimpse of what might be a commonplace shopping experience five years from now. You can get a glimpse yourself in our demo video below:

“Cashierless stores will have the same level of impact on retail as self-driving cars will have on transportation,” Inokyo co-founder Tony Francis tells me. “This is the future of retail. It’s inevitable that stores will become increasingly autonomous.”

Inokyo (rhymes with Tokyo) is now accepting signups for beta customers who want early access to its Mountain View store. The goal is to collect enough data to dictate the future product array and business model. Inokyo is deciding whether it wants to sell its technology as a service to other retail stores, run its own stores or work with brands to improve their product’s positioning based on in-store sensor data on custom behavior.

We knew that building this technology in a lab somewhere wouldn’t yield a successful product,” says Francis. “Our hypothesis here is that whoever ships first, learns in the real world and iterates the fastest on this technology will be the ones to make these stores ubiquitous.” Inokyo might never rise into a retail giant ready to compete with Amazon and Whole Foods. But its tech could even the playing field, equipping smaller businesses with the tools to keep tech giants from having a monopoly on autonomous shopping experiences.

It’s about what cashiers do instead

Amazon isn’t as ahead as we assumed,” Francis remarks. He and his co-founder Rameez Remsudeen took a trip to Seattle to see the Amazon Go store that first traded cashiers for cameras in the U.S. Still, they realized, “This experience can be magical.” The two met at Carnegie Mellon through machine learning classes before they went on to apply that knowledge at Instagram and Uber. The two decided that if they jumped into autonomous retail soon enough, they could still have a say in shaping its direction.

Next week, Inokyo will graduate from Y Combinator’s accelerator that provided its initial seed funding. In six weeks during the program, they found a retail space on Mountain View’s main drag, studied customer behaviors in traditional stores, built an initial product line and developed the technology to track what users are taking off the shelves.

Here’s how the Inokyo store works. You download its app and connect a payment method, and you get a QR code that you wave in front of a little sensor as you stroll into the shop. Overhead cameras will scan your body shape and clothing without facial recognition in order to track you as you move around the store. Meanwhile, on-shelf cameras track when products are picked up or put back. Combined, knowing who’s where and what’s grabbed lets it assign the items to your cart. You scan again on your way out, and later you get a receipt detailing the charges.

Originally, Inokyo actually didn’t make you scan on the way out, but it got the feedback that customers were scared they were actually stealing. The scan-out is more about peace of mind than engineering necessity. There is a subversive pleasure to feeling like, “well, if Inokyo didn’t catch all the stuff I chose, that’s not my problem.” And if you’re overcharged, there’s an in-app support button for getting a refund.

Inokyo co-founders (from left): Tony Francis and Rameez Remsudeen

Inokyo was accurate in what it charged me despite me doing a few switcharoos with products I nabbed. But there were only about three people in the room at the time. The real test for these kinds of systems are when a rush of customers floods in and cameras have to differentiate between multiple similar-looking people. Inokyo will likely need to be more than 99 percent accurate to be more of a help than a headache. An autonomous store that constantly over- or undercharges would be more trouble than it’s worth, and patrons would just go to the nearest classic shop.

Just because autonomous retail stores will be cashier-less doesn’t mean they’ll have no staff. To maximize cost-cutting, they could just trust that people won’t loot it. However, Inokyo plans to have someone minding the shop to make sure people scan in the first place and to answer questions about the process. But there’s also an opportunity in reassigning labor from being cashiers to concierges that can recommend the best products or find what’s the right fit for the customer. These stores will be judged by the convenience of the holistic experience, not just the tech. At the very least, a single employee might be able to handle restocking, customer support and store maintenance once freed from cashier duties.

The Amazon Go autonomous retail store in Seattle is equipped with tons of overhead cameras

While Amazon Go uses cameras in a similar way to Inokyo, it also relies on weight sensors to track items. There are plenty of other companies chasing the cashierless dream. China’s BingoBox has nearly $100 million in funding and has more than 300 stores, though they use less sophisticated RFID tags. Fellow Y Combinator startup Standard Cognition has raised $5 million to equip old-school stores with autonomous camera-tech. AiFi does the same, but touts that its cameras can detect abnormal behavior that might signal someone is a shoplifter.

The store of the future seems like more and more of a sure thing. The race’s winner will be determined by who builds the most accurate tracking software, easy-to-install hardware and pleasant overall shopping flow. If this modular technology can cut costs and lines without alienating customers, we could see our local brick-and-mortars adapt quickly. The bigger question than if or even when this future arrives is what it will mean for the millions of workers who make their living running the checkout lane.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop “Login with Coinbase” or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded in 2015 that was building an identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.

The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and his co-founder Alex Kern are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the Login with Coinbase product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says, “No one really understood what we’re building,” and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”

Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks with multiple major players in the blockchain space, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance, or Coinbase,” having been in formal talks with at least one of the first three. Of Coinbase the CEO said, they “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the Login with Coinbase-style platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate, though that won’t necessarily be the feature’s name. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.

Developers eager to improve conversions on their signup flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.

This morning Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed these plans to work on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction,” Armstrong replied “On it :)”

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your Social Security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent, and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity,” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity B. Byrne, who’ll oversee Srinivasan’s new decentralized identity team. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”

Considering Distributed Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well position it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

‘Unhackable’ BitFi crypto wallet has been hacked

‘Unhackable’ BitFi crypto wallet has been hacked
The BitFi crypto wallet was supposed to be unhackable and none other than famous weirdo John McAfee claimed that the device – essentially an Android-based mini tablet – would withstand any attack. Spoiler alert: it couldn’t.
First, a bit of background. The $120 device launched at the beginning of this month to much fanfare. It consisted of a device that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage and was instead a standalone wallet similar to the Trezor. The website featured a bold claim by McAfee himself, one that would give a normal security researcher pause:

Further, the company offered a bug bounty that seems to be slowly being eroded by outside forces. They asked hackers to pull coins off of a specially prepared $10 wallet, a move that is uncommon in the world of bug bounties. They wrote:
We deposit coins into a Bitfi wallet
If you wish to participate in the bounty program, you will purchase a Bitfi wallet that is preloaded with coins for just an additional $10 (the reason for the charge is because we need to ensure serious inquiries only)
If you successfully extract the coins and empty the wallet, this would be considered a successful hack
You can then keep the coins and Bitfi will make a payment to you of $250,000
Please note that we grant anyone who participates in this bounty permission to use all possible attack vectors, including our servers, nodes, and our infrastructure
Hackers began attacking the device immediately, eventually hacking it to find the passphrase used to move crypto in and out of the the wallet. In a detailed set of tweets, security researchers Andrew Tierney and Alan Woodward began finding holes by attacking the operating system itself. However, this did not match the bounty to the letter, claimed BitFi, even though they did not actually ship any bounty-ready devices.

Something that I feel should be getting more attention is the fact that there is zero evidence that a #bitfi bounty device was ever shipped to a researcher. They literally created an impossible task by refusing to send the device required to satisfy the terms of the engagement.
— Gallagher (@DanielGallagher) August 8, 2018

Then, to add insult to injury, the company earned a Pwnies award at security conference Defcon. The award was given for worst vendor response. As hackers began dismantling the device, BitFi went on the defensive, consistently claiming that their device was secure. And the hackers had a field day. One hacker, 15-year-old Saleem Rashid, was able to play Doom on the device.

Well, that's a transaction made with a MitMed Bitfi, with the phrase and seed being sent to a remote machine.
That sounds a lot like Bounty 2 to me. pic.twitter.com/qBOVQ1z6P2
— Ask Cybergibbons! (@cybergibbons) August 13, 2018

The hacks kept coming. McAfee, for his part, kept refusing to accept the hacks as genuine.

The press claiming the BitFi wallet has been hacked. Utter nonsense. The wallet is hacked when someone gets the coins. No-one got any coins. Gaining root access in an attempt to get the coins is not a hack. It's a failed attempt. All these alleged "hacks" did not get the coins.
— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) August 3, 2018

Unfortunately, the latest hack may have just fulfilled all of BitFi’s requirements. Rashid and Tierney have been able to pull cash out of the wallet by hacking the passphrase, a primary requirement for the bounty. “We have sent the seed and phrase from the device to another server, it just gets sent using netcat, nothing fancy.” Tierney told TheNextWeb. “We believe all conditions have been met.”
The end state of this crypto mess? BitFi did what most hacked crypto companies do: double down on the threats. In a recently deleted Tweet they made it clear that they were not to be messed with:

I haven’t really been following this Bitfi nonsense, but I do so love when companies threaten security researchers. pic.twitter.com/McyBGqM3bt
— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green) August 6, 2018

The researchers, however, may still have the last laugh.

Claiming your front door has an unpickable lock does not make your house secure. No more does offering a reward only for defeating that front door lock, and repeatedly saying no one has claimed the reward, prove your house is secure, especially when you’ve left the windows open.
— Alan Woodward (@ProfWoodward) August 14, 2018

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

HQ Trivia downloads spiral downward as it hits Apple TV

HQ Trivia downloads spiral downward as it hits Apple TV

HQ Trivia’s app store ranking has continued to sink the past three months, but it’s hoping a new version on your television could revitalize growth. HQ today launched an Apple TV app that lets users play the twice-daily live quiz game alongside iOS Android players. “Everything about the game is still the same – same questions, same time, same rules,” says a spokesperson, except you’ll play with the Apple TV remote instead of your phone’s screen. But that might not be enough to get HQ’s player count rapidly growing again.

According to App Annie’s app store ranking history, on iOS HQ has fallen from the No. 1 U.S. trivia game to No. 10, from the No. 44 game to No. 196, and from the No. 151 overall app to No. 585. It’s exhibited a similar decline on Android. Analytics firm Sensor Tower estimates HQ has seen 12.5 million lifetime installs by unique users, with about 68 percent on iOS. “Installs have been on the decline. For last month, we estimate them with about 560K, which is down from their height of more than two million per month back in February,” Sensor Tower’s head of mobile insights Randy Nelson tells TechCrunch.

 

The question is whether this is just a summer lull as people spend time outside and students aren’t locked in the schedule of school, or if HQ is in a downward spiral beyond seasonal fluctuations. But if we zoom out, you can see that HQ has been dropping down the charts through the school year since peaking in January. At one point it climbed as high as the No. 3 game and No. 6 overall app. The app’s record high of concurrent players has also declined from a peak of 2.38 million in late March.

[Update: The CEO of HQ Trivia parent company Intermedia Labs and the former co-founder of Vine, Rus Yusupov, weighed in on the decline in downloads and HQ’s plans. He says, “Games are a hits business and don’t grow exponentially forever,” signalling the drop-off was expected and the team is still optimistic. But he also notes that HQ is “developing new game formats, one of which we think is really special and complements Trivia nicely”, indicating that HQ will branch out beyond its 12-question everyone vs everyone approach.]

Meanwhile, new clones keep popping up. After the initial wave of Chinese live trivia apps, now U.S. television studios are getting into the mix. This week Fox unveiled FN Genius, which looks and works almost exactly the same as HQ. One of HQ’s long-time rivals, Trivia Crack, where users play asynchronously over the course of days, also declined earlier this year, but has bucked HQ’s trend and started rising on the App Store charts again. There are also new 1-on-1 trivia games like ProveIt that let players bet real money on whether they can outsmart their opponent.

Fox’s FN Genius. Image via Deadline

With themed games, celebrity hosts, big jackpots like a recent $400,000 prize and new features like the ability to see friends’ answers, HQ has tried to keep its app novel. But it’s also encountered cheaters and people playing with multiple phones that make normal players feel like they’ll never win. While the live aspect adds urgency, it also can feel interruptive with time as users aren’t always available for its noon and 6pm Pacific games. HQ may need to launch a second game app, come up with some new viral hooks or find ways to revive lapsed players if it’s going to make good on the $15 million its parent company raised in March.

 

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook buys Vidpresso’s team and tech to make video interactive

Facebook buys Vidpresso’s team and tech to make video interactive

Zombie-like passive consumption of static video is both unhealthy for viewers and undifferentiated for the tech giants that power it. That’s set Facebook on a mission to make video interactive, full of conversation with broadcasters and fellow viewers. It’s racing against Twitch, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat to become where people watch together and don’t feel like asocial slugs afterward.

That’s why Facebook today told TechCrunch that it’s acqui-hired Vidpresso, buying its seven-person team and its technology but not the company itself. The six-year-old Utah startup works with TV broadcasters and content publishers to make their online videos more interactive with on-screen social media polling and comments, graphics and live broadcasting integrated with Facebook, YouTube, Periscope and more. The goal appears to be to equip independent social media creators with the same tools these traditional outlets use so they can make authentic but polished video for the Facebook platform.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but it wouldn’t have taken a huge price for the deal to be a success for the startup. Vidpresso had only raised a $120,00 in seed capital from Y Combinator in 2014, plus some angel funding. By 2016, it was telling hiring prospects that it was profitable, but also that, “We will not be selling the company unless some insane whatsapp like thing happened. We’re building a forever biz, not a flip.” So either Vidpresso lowered its bar for an exit or Facebook made coming aboard worth its while.

For now, Vidpresso clients and partners like KTXL, Univision, BuzzFeed, Turner Sports, Nasdaq, TED, NBC and others will continue to be able to use its services. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that customers will work with the Vidpresso team at Facebook, who are joining its offices in Menlo Park, London and LA. That means Facebook is at least temporarily becoming a provider of enterprise video services. But Facebook confirms it won’t charge Vidpresso clients, so they’ll be getting its services for free from now on. Whether Facebook eventually turns away old clients or stops integrating with competing video platforms like Twitch and YouTube remains to be seen. For now, it’s giving Vidpresso a much more dignified end than the sudden shutdowns some tech giants impose on their acquisitions.

We’ve had a lot of false starts along the way . . . We finally landed on helping create high quality broadcasts back on social media, but we still haven’t realized the full vision yet. That’s why we’re joining Facebook,” the Vidpresso team writes. “This gives us the best opportunity to accelerate our vision and offer a simple way for creators, publishers, and broadcasters to use social media in live video at a high quality level . . . By joining Facebook, we’ll be able to offer our tools to a much broader audience than just our A-list publishing partners. Eventually, it’ll allow us to put these tools in the hands of creators, so they can focus on their content, and have it look great, without spending lots of time or money to do so.”

Facebook Live has seen 3.5 billion broadcasts to date, and they get six times as many interactions as traditional videos. But beyond public figures, game streamers, and the odd moment of citizen journalism, it’s become clear that most users don’t have compelling enough content to stream. Interactivity could take some pressure off the broadcaster by letting the audience chip in.

Facebook already has some interactive video experiments out in the wild. For users, it recently rolled out its Watch Party tool for letting Groups view and chat about videos together. It’s also trying new games like Lip Sync Live and a Talent Show feature where users submit videos of them singing. For creators, Facebook now let streamers earn tips with its new Stars virtual currency, and lets fans subscribe to donating money to their favorite video makers like on Patreon. And on the publisher side, Facebook Live has also built tools to help publishers pull in social media content. It’s even got an interactive video API that it’s developing to allow developers to launch their own HQ Trivia-game shows.

But the last line of Vidpresso’s announcement above explains Facebook’s intentions here, and also why it didn’t just try to build the tools itself. It doesn’t just want established news publishers and TV studios making video for its platform. It wants semi-pro creators to be able to broadcast snazzy videos with graphics, comments and polls that can aesthetically compete with “big video” but that feel more natural. This focus on creators over news outlets aligns with reports of Facebooks head of journalist relations Campbell Brown allegedly saying that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care about publishers and that “We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals any more. That is the old world and there is no going back.” Facebook has contested these reports.

Every internet platform is wising up to the fact that web-native creators who grew up on their sites often create the most compelling content and the most fervent fan bases. Whichever video hub offers the best audience growth, creative expression tools and monetization options will become the preferred destination for creators’ work, and their audiences will follow. Vidpresso could help these creators look more like TV anchors than selfie monologuers, but also help them earn money by integrating brand graphics and tie-ins. Facebook couldn’t risk another tech giant buying up Vidpresso and gaining an edge, or wasting time trying to build interactive video technology and expertise from scratch.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Founder Zain Jaffer may be looking to take back control of Vungle

Founder Zain Jaffer may be looking to take back control of Vungle

Zain Jaffer may be gearing up for a fight to take back control of Vungle, the mobile ad company he founded.

Jaffer was removed from his role as CEO last fall following his arrest on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and performing a lewd act on a child.

However, a San Mateo County judge subsequently dismissed the charges. The district attorney’s office released a statement offering more context for the dismissal, saying that they did not believe there was any sexual conduct on the evening in question, and that “the injuries were the result of Mr. Jaffer being in a state of unconsciousness caused by prescription medication.”

So what’s next for Jaffer and Vungle? There are hints in a recent letter from Jaffer’s attorney, John Pernick, which was sent to current Vungle CEO Rick Tallman.

TechCrunch has obtained a copy of the letter, which requests access to Vungle’s records, specifically the names and addresses of company shareholders. Pernick’s letter suggests that this could be a prelude to further action (emphasis added):

Mr. Jaffer is considering various options with respect to Vungle and his shares of Vungle. He has considered selling some portion of his Vungle shares. However, he is also considering pursuing a leadership change at Vungle through calling for a shareholders meeting for the purpose of voting on a new board of directors and/or purchasing shares of additional Vungle stock. Communicating with Vungle shareholders with respect to their interest in purchasing or selling Vungle stock or in a change in the board of directors is an entirely proper purpose for Mr. Jaffer’s request to inspect the shareholder information that will enable him to make these communications.

When TechCrunch contacted Pernick, he confirmed the authenticity of the letter but declined to comment further. A spokesperson for Jaffer also declined to comment, and Vungle did not respond to our inquiries.

As you can see in the quote above, the letter indicates that Jaffer is considering multiple courses of action.

But if he decides to pursue a leadership change at Vungle, either by winning over existing shareholders or by purchasing a controlling stake in the company, it sounds like there are investors willing to back him — for starters, Jun Hong Heng at Crescent Cove Capital Management confirmed that his firm is working with Jaffer.

“We think Zain and Vungle have incredible potential,” Heng said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Zain and giving him the support he needs to help him regain control of his company.”

We also reached out to Anne-Marie Roussel, who recently resigned from Vungle’s board of directors. Roussel said via email that “the Vungle controversy is an interesting proxy for a much larger debate: the fuzziness surrounding ethical conduct in the tech industry.”

She added, “My personal prediction is that boards of tech companies will be held increasingly accountable for the ethics of the key decisions they make.” As for how that applies to Vungle, she said:

How does it reflect on ethical values when a CEO is dismissed based on presumption of guilt? Don’t we live in a democracy where one of the key legal right is “presumption of innocence” (as in a defendant is innocent until proven guilty). Upholding that principle by collaborating with his defense team was what led to my resignation from Vungle’s board.

Letter to Vungle by TechCrunch on Scribd

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Goodly looks to give companies student loan payments as an employee benefit

Goodly looks to give companies student loan payments as an employee benefit

As employers duke it out over hiring the best possible candidates, especially ones coming out of school, they are starting to get a little bit more creative with their incentive packages — and that includes offering an option for paying down student debt.

Goodly is a new startup that’s looking to help those employers offer that as a benefit. Smaller companies without the resources to create complicated incentive packages especially need tools that help shortcut the process of offering those benefits. It’s following a similar playbook of companies looking to make it easier to get the tools they need in place and focus more on the set of products that are going to make it an actually differentiated company. Goodly is launching out of Y Combinator’s summer class this year.

“We found it to be a really great tool for recruiting and retaining,” co-founder Gregory Poulin said. “When people hear student loan benefits, they instantly think it’s very expensive. You can offer student loan benefits starting $25 to $50 per employee per month, up to $200. Our system is completely flexible. You can offer any company size for any budget. You can offer meaningful benefit for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day. For the average borrower, when they have an employer contributing an extra $100 per months, it could help your average employee get out of debt almost a decade faster.”

There are more common benefits like stock packages, 401(k) matches, insurance, better time off policies, or others along those lines. But as student debt increasingly becomes a factor in a candidate’s decision on where they work, it’s another way that companies — ones without larger compensation packages or very aggressive recruiting operations like, say, Google or Facebook — can still get the attention and interest of good candidates coming out of school. Like other companies (like Human Interest for 401(k)s, for example), the goal is to make it easy to get started and maintain the whole process.

Employees connect their student loans to Goodly, which takes a few minutes to verify them before setting up the contribution plan. Goodly integrates with payroll operations and gives companies and employees a pretty flexible way to set their spending schedule. Then, it goes from there, without the employees having to manage it on a per-period basis. While it might have the robust tax incentives in place like a retirement plan, it’s still a way to help companies offer some way of showing employees that they’re invested in their employees’ future success, which is another way that those companies might be able to retain that talent. Goodly then brings back detailed reports on the company’s implementation to help it better understand whether the policies are working for their employees.

It’s certainly an area that’s attracted interest — and funding — from a number of startups like Tuition.io which look to help employers get a little more creative about their benefits. Much like contributions to retirement plans, it’s another way to offer employees a way to invest in their future by reducing the financial stress they have through some of their biggest financial decisions like where to go for college. Poulin also said it’s a way to help discover a more diverse talent pool as it surfaces up underrepresented parts of the population that are acutely dealing with student debt as a factor in their decision-making.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Portal offers an easy way to pay creators for their content

Portal offers an easy way to pay creators for their content

Portal founder Jonathan Swerdlin is just the latest media pundit to point to advertising as the root cause of the industry’s problems. But he’s not content to diagnose the illness — he thinks he’s created a cure.

“Digital media has become toxic, in part, because of advertising,” Swerdlin said. “The unmet and unarticulated need is a peer-to-peer economy where you’re rewarded for creating value, rather than a quantity model” where a publisher or creator’s main economic incentive is to attract as many eyeballs as possible.

Naturally, that’s what Swerdlin is trying to offer in Portal. When you open the app, you follow creators and topics that interest you, then get presented with a feed of videos. During or after the video, you can tip the creator in Portal coins — the current price is 1 cent per coin, and individual payments can be anything from 10 to 10,000 coins.

This changes the equation for creators. If you’re monetizing a video with ads, 1,000 views would represent a negligible amount of ad revenue — but if 1,000 people like the video and are willing to pay a dollar, then then you’re starting to talk about real money.

Conversely, there’s no financial incentive to post a video on Portal that gets a million views if everyone’s going to think it’s a complete waste of their time.

Jonathan Swerdlin

Swerdlin said removing advertising changes the incentives for Portal too, because the startup doesn’t benefit from promoting content just because it’ll get clicks.

In fact, he said Portal will pretty allow users to post anything, as long as it doesn’t violate community standards around things like pornography and hate speech. And it presents a purely reverse chronological feed of content based on what you follow — the question of surfacing interesting content in the feed will probably get more complicated as more users join the platform, but Swerdlin argued, “We don’t need algorithms to solve feed problems.”

“We’re not going to bury things that are not advertiser-friendly,” he added. “It’s a very different game. Portal is very much about people having a place to freely express themselves and not worry about being buried by an algorithm.”

Swerdlin acknowledged that these aren’t entirely new ideas or strategies — micropayments have been touted as a solution to media monetization for years, and he pointed to services like Netflix and Medium as offering models that help creators “break free of advertising.”

At the same time, Swerdlin said Portal’s approach to payments is truly offers “no friction” — it’s uses your App Store payment info, so you don’t even need to enter your credit information. He also said that by creating an app for content (rather than just a micropayment platform that plugs into existing websites), Portal can truly solving the problem by offering a media environment that’s “safe, it’s a healthy media diet, as opposed ot the juunk food.”

Currently, Portal’s content is limited to videos, but those videos cover a range of topics and genres like advice (personal- and business-related), comedy, music and personal vlogging. Over time, Swerdlin wants to expand to other content formats.

You also need an invite code to access the app, but if you want to try it out, feel free to use mine: “anthonyha”. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t choose it.)

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Fabric offers an alternative to Facebook sharing with a private timeline of personal moments

Fabric offers an alternative to Facebook sharing with a private timeline of personal moments

Fabric, a personal journaling app that emerged from Y Combinator’s 2016 batch of startups, is relaunching itself as a Facebook alternative. The app is giving itself a makeover in the wake of Facebook’s closure of the Moves location tracker, by offering its own tool to record your activities, photos, memories and other moments shared with friends and family. But unlike on Facebook, everything in Fabric is private by default and data isn’t shared with marketers.

Instead, the startup hopes to build something users will eventually pay for, via premium features or subscriptions.

The idea for the startup came from two people who helped create Facebook’s core features.

Co-founders Arun Vijayvergiya and Nikolay Valtchanov worked for several years at the social network, where Vijayvergiya built the product that would later become Facebook Timeline at an internal hackathon. He also worked on products like Friendship Pages, Year in Review and On This Day, while Valtchanov developed integrations between Facebook and fitness applications.

After leaving Facebook, both were inspired to work on Fabric because of their interest in personal journaling – and that became the key focus for the original version of the Fabric app. But while other journaling apps may offer a blank space for recording thoughts, Fabric automates the process by pulling in photos, posts from elsewhere on social media, places you visited, and more, and put those on its map interface.

The longer-term goal is that Fabric users will be able to look back across their personal history to answer any kind of question about where they had been, what they did, and who they were with – but in a more private environment than what’s available on Facebook.

Facebook could have built something similar, but its focus has been more on how personal profile data could be useful to advertisers.

Despite numerous check-ins, posts where you tagged friends, shared photos and more, there’s still not an easy way to ask Facebook about that great Indian restaurant you tried last March, or who was on that group beach trip with you a few years ago, for example. At best, Facebook offers memory flashbacks through its On This Day feature (now available at any time via the Memories tab), or round-ups and collages that appear at various times throughout the year.

As a search engine for your own memories, it’s not that great.

What’s New 

This is where Fabric comes in. It will automatically record your activities, checking you in to places you visit, to which you can then choose to add friends.

While the idea of automatic location gathering may turn off a good number of users, the difference is that Fabric’s data collection is meant for your eyes only, unless you explicitly choose to share something with friends.

Fabric doesn’t use third-party software for its location system – it’s written in-house, so the data is never touched by a third-party. It also uses industry standard encryption for data transfer and storage, and login information is stored in a separate system from the rest of your data as an added precaution.

Notably, Fabric doesn’t plan to generate revenue by selling data or offering it to advertisers for targeting purposes. Instead, the company hopes users will eventually pay for its product – perhaps as a subscription or through premium upgrades. (It’s not doing this yet, however.)

“The whole motivation behind Fabric is that many meaningful parts of your life do not belong in the public sphere,” explains Vijayvergiya. “In order to be able to capture these moments, user trust is essential and is something we have baked into our company culture. Internally, we refer to ourselves as a ‘private-first’ company. Everything on Fabric is private by default. You have to choose to include friends in your moments. We don’t share any data with marketers, and we don’t intend to share personally identifiable information with advertisers,” he says.

Since its 2016 release, Fabric has been downloaded 70,000 times by users across 117 countries, and has seen 112 million automatic check-ins.

The new version of the app has been redesigned to be something users engage with more often, as opposed to the more passive journaling app it was before.

The app now offers an outline of your activities, which it also calls Timeline. Here, you can add people, photos and memorable anecdotes to those automated entries. You can jump back to any day to see your history with any person or place that appears on the Timeline.

You can also turn any moment into one you collaborate on with friends, by allowing others to add photos and comments. That is, instead of broad post to a group of so-called “friends” on Facebook, you share the moment with those who really matter. This isn’t all that different from how people use private messaging apps and group chats today – in order to share things with people that aren’t necessarily meant for everyone to see.

In addition, Fabric allows you to add your friends to the app, so you can be automatically tagged when you both spend time together in the real world. This also simplifies sharing because you won’t have to think about which posts should be shared with which audience.

For instance, Vijayvergiya says, “this means you can add your mom as a friend, and only share with her the moments you spend together in the same place.”

The most compelling feature in the updated app may not be check-ins or sharing, but search.

In Fabric, you can now search for past events in your life similar to how you search the web. That is, you could type in “restaurant rome 2017” or “camila los angeles birthday” and find the matching posts, Vijayvergiya suggests. And because you can import your Facebook, Instagram, and Camera Roll to Fabric, it’s now offering the search engine that Facebook itself forgot to build. (You can import your Facebook Moves history, too, ahead of its shutdown.)

Fabric’s search will also be available on the desktop web, where it’s currently in beta.

Fabric’s real challenger, as it turns out, may not be Facebook, though. It’s Google Photos.

Because of advances in image recognition technology, Google Photos (and some other photo apps) have built advanced search capabilities that let you pull up not places, things, people, and more, using data recognized in the image itself. Users can also share those photos with others, collaborate on albums, and leave notes as comments.

The difference is that Fabric offers import from a variety of sources and encourages journaling. But that may not be enough to attract a large user base, especially when automatic check-ins rely on the app’s use of background location which has some impact on battery life.

Fabric is a free download on iOS.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

MoviePass borrowed $5M to end yesterday’s outage

MoviePass borrowed M to end yesterday’s outage

More bad news for subscription movie ticket service MoviePass, which acknowledged yesterday that there was an unidentified issue preventing people from using their MoviePass credit cards to get tickets.

A regulatory filing from parent company Helios & Matheson offers more insight about what happened. The filing (first spotted by Business Insider) announces a “demand note” of $6.2 million, including $5 million in cash that the company borrowed. It goes on to explain:

The $5.0 million cash proceeds received from the Demand Note will be used by the Company to pay the Company’s merchant and fulfillment processors. If the Company is unable to make required payments to its merchant and fulfillment processors, the merchant and fulfillment processors may cease processing payments for MoviePass, Inc. (“MoviePass”), which would cause a MoviePass service interruption. Such a service interruption occurred on July 26, 2018.

In other words, it looks like MoviePass wasn’t able to pay one of its service providers, which led to the outage. In order to make those payments, it borrowed $5 million.

This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in MoviePass’ finances. A Helios & Matheson filing from earlier this month suggested that the company was looking to raise up to $1.2 billion in equity and debt financing to fund MoviePass’ operations and growth.

Meanwhile, although the service is best-known for offering access to unlimited movie tickets for $9.95 per month, the specifics of the pricing model have been changing pretty frequently.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch