Picking Up the ‘Slack’ in Communications

The Economist: “It is rare for business software to arouse emotion besides annoyance. But some positively gush about how Slack has simplified office communication. Instead of individual e-mails arriving in a central inbox and requiring attention, Slack structures textual conversations within threads (called ‘channels’) where groups within firms can update each other in real time. It is casual and reflects how people actually communicate, eschewing e-mail’s outdated formalities, says Chris Becherer of Pandora, an online-music firm that uses Slack.”

“Slack’s rise points to three important changes in the workplace. First, people are completing work across different devices from wherever they are, so they need software that can work seamlessly on mobile devices … Second, communication is becoming more open. Just as offices went from closed, hived-off rooms to open-plan, Slack is the virtual equivalent, fostering a collaborative work environment … Slack’s default setting is to make conversations public within a firm.”

“Third, software firms are trying to automate functions that used to be done by people in order to make employees more productive. Slack has made a big push into ‘bots,’ algorithms that can automate menial tasks which used to be done by humans. Slack offers bots that compile lunch orders and projects’ progress reports, or generate analytics on demand. In the future employees will be able to chat with software agents to get more done, working alongside bots as well as their peers.”

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Polaroid Story: The Camera Does The Rest

The Wall Street Journal: As described in The Camera Does The Rest, by Peter Buse: “There aren’t many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world … it was engineer Edwin Land’s daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation … Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.”

The first Polaroid camera was introduced in 1948: “People loved watching the image emerge on paper—even in bright sunlight. Users of the early cameras waved the picture in the air believing that it would develop faster (it didn’t). Taking a photograph was suddenly fun in itself. You could view the good times while the good times were still going on … ‘One minute’ pictures owed nothing to the past; they celebrated the present.”

“The party might have gone on forever had it not been for … the digital revolution … The corpse of Edwin Land’s company was not yet cold when a wave of nostalgia for the Polaroid look swept over the digital-photo community. Today there are several apps that will duplicate the 70-year-old Polaroid appearance—white borders and all—including one app called ShakeIt Photo. The shooter snaps a photo with a smartphone, then shakes the phone to hasten development of the ‘film.’ And in an instant, like magic, the picture appears.”

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Google Paints Murals To Enliven The Cloud

The Verge: “Data centers are boring places. Even Google’s massive facilities — with all the colorful walls and pipes inside — can get a little stale and repetitive. So to liven up the vibe a little bit, the company has invited artists to create murals at several of its data centers. The artwork, already in Oklahoma here in the US and overseas in Belgium, is a great way of showcasing the talent of those participating, but beyond that, Google hopes that it’ll lead visitors to maybe pay more attention to all the technology inside that powers the company’s immensely popular services.”

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In What Universe Is Salad a Technology?

Slate: “Walk past a Sweetgreen during lunchtime, and you’re bound to find a line of famished office workers snaking out the front door for a shredded-kale caesar salad or quinoa bowl. But when the Los Angeles-based farm-to-table salad chain launched a new app in January, it curiously referred to itself as a business that had developers—not produce or salad dressing—at its core. ‘We’ve always acted more like a tech company than a food one,’ read its press release.”

“In recent years, Sweetgreen has grown an in-house tech team and created an algorithm to make ordering more efficient … These days, businesses across every sector—from fashion to finance—are claiming the tech label. The recasting is seductive: It’s simply a lot cooler to be about the internet of things than to be about just things.”

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The True Cost of Good Content

Jesse Weaver: “We want our web and we want it for free. However, the inconvenient truth is that there is a cost to doing business and at some point companies have to make money …. And so we sacrifice the magic. We devalue content and products by refusing to pay for the work it takes to create and maintain them. We are satisfied wading through poorly designed, ad-based experiences. And we allow our most precious resource, our time, to become a commodity to be traded, sold and manipulated. Our data is mined, our privacy discarded and our actions tracked all in the name of more targeted advertising.”

“And it’s not even the best scenario for companies either. In Q4 of 2015 Facebook brought in $5.9 billion in revenue with 1.59 billion active users/month. That’s roughly $1.23 of revenue/user/month. If, in the same quarter, Facebook moved away from ads and instead charged each active user just $1.50 a month for the service, their Q4 2015 revenue would have increased by $1.2 billion dollars, from $5.9 billion to $7.1 billion.”

“Now, what if Facebook started using that extra $1.2 billion to pay content creators for posting quality content on the platform? … Suddenly the revenue sources for content creators starts to diversify. The reliance on advertisers wanes. Feeds … are designed to promote connection and shine a light on creators. Bloated, ad-filled UIs start to disappear … Creators develop more immersive content experiences focused on the people using them. The balance of power flips back to the user … we stop being the commodity and we start being the driver. And when users are the driver, companies will focus on adding value, not just grabbing our attention.”

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Shakespeare & Co: Amazon Isn’t Its Problem

Wall Street Journal: “Soon after Dane Neller bought Manhattan bookseller Shakespeare & Co. last May, he shut the doors and built the bookstore where he wanted to shop … After Mr. Neller got done tinkering … the store, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, had a distinctly different look. Space inside the store dedicated to books has been cut by nearly 40% to 1,200 square feet.”

“Mr. Neller … is also chief executive of a company that makes a desk-sized device called the Espresso Book Machine, which prints new paperbacks in five minutes or less. An $85,000 unit is featured prominently at Shakespeare & Co. ‘It’s the secret sauce,’ says Mr. Neller. ‘The machine enables a bookstore to have a much smaller footprint’.”

He “says book sales from September through the end of March are up 10% compared with the same period when the store was under different ownership” and “attributes the gains to better-chosen titles, increased store traffic attracted by the store’s new cafe and the Espresso machine … ‘Amazon isn’t my problem,’ he says. ‘My customer is here because they care about more than price. They want to be greeted, they want a sense of community, and they have a craving for culture’.”

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Cutting The Cord: Not Just for the Poor Anymore

The Washington Post: “Low-income Americans are still one of the biggest demographics to rely solely on their phones to go online.” However, “even people with higher incomes are ditching their wired Internet access at similar or even faster rates compared with people who don’t earn as much.”

“In 2013, 8 percent of households making $50,000 to $75,000 a year were mobile-only. Fast-forward a couple of years, and that figure now stands at 18 percent. Seventeen percent of households making $75,000 to $100,000 are mobile-only now, compared with 8 percent two years ago. And 15 percent of households earning more than $100,000 are mobile-only, vs. 6 percent in 2013. Stepping back a bit, as many as 1 in 5 U.S. households are now mobile-only, compared with 1 in 10 in 2013. That’s a doubling in just two years.”

“This suggests that having only one form of Internet access instead of two may no longer be explained simply as the result of financial hardship — as might be the case for lower-income Americans — but could be the product of a conscious choice, at least for wealthier people, who are deciding that having both is unnecessary.”

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App-arel: The Internet of Evrythng Wearable

Quartz: “Avery Dennison will attach special labels, sometimes including sensors, to clothes when they’re manufactured. The firm counts Nike, Under Armor, Hugo Boss, and others among its clients. These labels function as unique identifiers for each piece of clothing, and the data is stored in a platform developed by Evrythng … a London internet of things startup.”

“Unique identities pave the way for brands to write apps that can account for a specific item of clothing, so a pair of sneakers might advise you how best to recycle it when it’s worn out; or you might be able to verify that those yoga pants are indeed made of organic cotton. You might also track down whether your shoe size is available in a particular store. ‘The internet of things is still at the margins in the way it hits consumers’ lives; now you have billions of everyday objects with identities in the cloud,’ says Andy Hobsbawm, a co-founder of Evrythng.”

“Evrythng says its platform is different because of its granularity–giving an identity to each product, and not classes of products, as is common with QR codes–and because it formats the data so it can be manipulated with popular programming languages … Evrythng stresses data privacy and security. It says brands will control what data gets accessed by whom, and that it has safeguards in place to ensure data is adequately protected.”

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Conversational Commerce: Meet The Chatbots

The Washington Post: “While a Web browser might once have been our front door to the Internet and apps often play that role today, experts say that bots could soon become our primary digital gateway … The case for a bot-centric future goes like this: Smartphone users have proved they are only willing to download and spend time in a limited number of apps. So companies might be better off trying to connect with consumers in the apps where they are already spending plenty of time. And proponents say that a bot can potentially provide greater convenience than apps and Web searches because it can understand natural speech patterns.”

“Because bots are designed for one-to-one conversation, they may ultimately find their most logical home in messaging apps, which are seeing explosive growth in users and are the digital-communication channel of choice for Generation Z … It is against that backdrop that big retailers and Silicon Valley are racing to develop ways to use bots within messaging apps to deliver customer service or to enable browsing and buying … In retail industry jargon, this is coming to be known as “conversational commerce,” and brands are betting on it because of some distinct advantages it could provide in connecting with shoppers.”

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