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You Can Now Buy Stuff From Pages Without Leaving Facebook

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 19:06

Categories:

Web

Facebook wants to make it easier for you to buy things.

On Thursday, the company announced it’s testing a new way for people to buy stuff through ads and page posts with a new buy button, allowing users to purchase products and services without leaving Facebook. The company said in a blog post that the test is limited to “a few small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S.”

It’s not the first time Facebook has tried to tackle payments. It has launched and killed a number of features wanting your money, including both virtual and physical gift shops that let you buy presents for your friends through Facebook, instead letting users send digital gift cards to one another. Last year it introduced a donate button as a way for people to give money through their favorite charities’ Facebook pages.

Anticipating mistrust from users regarding data privacy and security, Facebook said that no credit or debit card information shared with Facebook will be shared with other advertisers, and people can choose whether they want Facebook to save payment information to buy more stuff in the future. Users who have second thoughts about saving their credit card to Facebook can delete saved payment information after making a purchase.

Which Social App Will Win At Payments?

Facebook isn’t the first company to attempt to make e-commerce a natural fit for a social network. Twitter’s efforts have largely failed, after partnering with companies for tweet-to-buy features like AmericanExpress, Starbucks, and Amazon.

Even ephemeral messaging service Snapchat wants to facilitate transactions. According to a report from TechCrunch, Snapchat has filed two trademarks for payment software that could become a revenue source in the future.

Pairing your credit card with your social identity makes sense for buying stuff on the Internet, but whether or not people trust Facebook or any other social media company with payment information remains to be seen. When browsing Twitter or Facebook, it’s likely people aren’t looking to shop—instead, we use these platforms to connect with people.

The onus is on these companies to convince users they’re a place for both chatting and shopping. Otherwise, the buy button might go the way of virtual gifts—another experiment in payments that failed. 

Image courtesy of Facebook.

Forget Algorithms, Follow An Interest On Pinterest

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 18:12

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Web

2014 has been a tipping point for Pinterest, in which the site has gone from visual social network to visual search engine. Increasingly, Pinterest is not a site for socializing with friends but instead, a place to laser-focus in on your specific favorite things.

See also: How The Visual Web Could Achieve Its Potential

On Thursday, Pinterest launched a new way to track your interests in the form of a Follow button. Since the beginning of the year, Pinterest has had an “Explore” option in which the site’s algorithm attempts to suggest topics that are appealing to you, like hiking or climbing. Click on the Explore button and you’ll get a row of computer-generated related topics like “Ice Climbing.”

If you click on any related topics and press the red Follow button in the upper right hand corner. You’ll get Pinterest pins, or images, from that category regularly delivered to your main feed.

The Hegemony Of The Visual Web

Following people has never been the focus of Pinterest. People come to Pinterest to find material and content on things they are interested in. A reinforced emphasis on topics was inevitable for Pinterest. Following another person on Pinterest has never been about adopting that person’s entire presence into your feed, but only the places where your interests overlap.

However, the follow button is also indicative of a Visual Web-wide trend. Tumblr, and just recently Imgur, give users the ability to follow topic tags they find interesting. As each of these sites comes to the same conclusion independently, it indicates that as the Visual Web comes into its own, each of its denizens is tackling a similar problem.

See also: In Challenge To Google, Pinterest Launches Guided Search

The problem here is clearly image overload. Without some way to discover specific images, like Pinterest's guided search or Imgur's new tags, users will only see the most popular topics and content. Imgur CEO Alan Schaaf sought to expose the “dark matter” of Imgur; Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann adds an element of serendipity. Silbermann said, “Pinterest at its heart is about discovering things you didn't even know were there.”

There are now more than 30 billion pins on Pinterest, so the possibility of relevant images never getting viewed by interested audiences is very real. Pinterest has a strong motivator—in the form of advertisers using its Promoted Pins tool—to make sure these images are seen.

For the first half of 2014, Pinterest focused on getting the algorithm to meet users halfway, assessing their passions both through the Interests tool and through guided search. Now, the Follow tool is putting the other half of the equation in users’ hands.

Perhaps the reason Tumblr, Imgur and Pinterest are finding follow tools helpful is because they don’t have to actually limit the amount of content there is to be shown. The ability to follow or unfollow, to narrow or expand their onsite experience, is in the user’s hands.

Nokia X Gets Axed By Microsoft

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:41

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Web

Adding insult to injury, Microsoft will kill some of the Nokia X Android smartphones that Nokia released earlier this year.

“We plan to shift select Nokia X product designs to become Lumia products running Windows. This builds on our success in the affordable smartphone space and aligns with our focus on Windows Universal Apps,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an email explaining the 18,000 job cuts coming to Microsoft, including 12,500 from the Nokia division.

See also: Why Microsoft Won't Immediately Kill The Nokia X Smartphone

Microsoft was never really happy that Nokia built and Android smartphone right before the acquisition of the smartphone manufacturer became official earlier this year. Reports said that Microsoft thought the Nokia Android phone was “embarrassing.”

One source was overheard at a Nokia dinner at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February saying, “Microsoft is a Windows company.” Nokia twisted the fork on Microsoft a little bit with the Nokia X announcement, even if Microsoft claims to have known the plan all along. That’s why the Nokia X ran Android in the background but utilized Microsoft’s cloud and core services, instead of Google’s.

At least that was the theory.

In conversations with both Microsoft and Nokia executives at various industry events this year, each and every one said that there were no plans to kill the Nokia X series of Android devices.

“Essentially the story is that Microsoft wants to connect the next billion people to the cloud,” said Jussi Nevanlinna, Nokia’s VP of product marketing for smartphones at Nokia before the acquisition, to ReadWrite in an interview in February. “What we bring is very wide reach. We have access to these consumers … We are a volume platform to connect the next billion people to Microsoft’s cloud and services.”

When asked about what Microsoft thinks of the Nokia X smartphone during Mobile World Congress earlier this year, VP of Windows Phone at Microsoft Joe Belfiore hedged his bets.

“We have a terrific engineering relationship with Nokia. What they do as an independent company is what they do. They will do some things we are excited about and some things that we are not excited about,” said Belfiore.

As recently as Microsoft’s Build developer conference in April this year, Nokia VP of marketing for smart devices Hans Henrik Lund unequivocally said that the Nokia X would continue into a second generation.

“Oh absolutely. Of course they will. Because again, it makes sense. Because we can get consumers onto Microsoft services as opposed than potentially going to Google services,” Lund said in an interview with ReadWrite.

New Nokia X devices are unlikely at this point at Microsoft focuses on its Lumia portfolio. In an email announcing the layoffs to the Nokia team, former Nokia CEO and current VP of devices at Microsoft outlined the strategy for device manufacturing going forward.

We will be particularly focused on making the market for Windows Phone. In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest growing segments of the market, with Lumia. In addition to the portfolio already planned, we plan to deliver additional lower-cost Lumia devices by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices. We expect to make this shift immediately while continuing to sell and support existing Nokia X products. 

Currently, three sizes of Nokia X Android smartphones running Windows cloud services are on the market around the world.

Facebook Mentions Is The App For Famous People

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:33

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Web

Celebrities always get the VIP treatment, and now they can get it on Facebook, too. On Thursday, the company launched Facebook Mentions, an app that’s currently only available to verified pages in the U.S.

That means, if you’re not a celebrity or “influencer,” you can’t use it.

The new app encourages famous people to post more photos, videos and live Q&As to engage with fans. The news feed on Mentions will let celebrities toggle between “Following” and “Trending” posts, and celebs are encouraged to add commentary about trending topics on Facebook.

The biggest difference, and the namesake of the app, is a “Mentions” tab, similar to the one Twitter has. Now verified page users can see what people are saying about them, and reply if they want. Sound familiar? It’s just the latest in a slew of updates that Facebook has copied from Twitter.

A Facebook spokesperson told me that celebrities using Mentions post twice as much as they did before. It’s likely you’ve seen at least one post created on the app—the now infamous video of Tyrese bragging about the $3 billion Apple-Beats deal with Dr. Dre was reportedly created with the new app. 

You can download the app today, but it's unusable, unless you've got a verified page. The company said it plans on rolling it out to more countries and to people with verified profiles in the coming months.

Images courtesy of Facebook. 

Imgur Is Trying Flickr's Old Recipe For Photo Search

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 13:26

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Web

You may not have heard of Imgur, but the site serves 5 million images a day to an audience of 130 million visitors a month. And its popularity among viral meme makers is both its strength and its weakness.

“It’s almost like, before, one big firehose of images came through the site,” said CEO Alan Schaaf. “There was no way to slice it—you just got bombarded with everything.”

Schaaf is changing that. On Thursday morning, Imgur (pronounced "image-er") is unveiling a new tagging system—and putting you to work solving its biggest problem.

Tags—simple, topical text labels—for online images are nothing new. The way Flickr put its community of photographers to work labeling each others' work was a major reason why Yahoo bought it back in 2005.

Imgur users can now categorize all the images that make their way onto the site by tagging them. The most relevant tags for an image will be decided by consensus. And once those tags are in place, users will be able to track and follow a tag of choice—just like you do on Tumblr, Pinterest and Twitter.

(On some sites, tags are known as "hashtags" because the convention there is to use a hash mark—"#"—before a tag. Imgur isn't using hashtags.)

Where Imgur does Tumblr and other sites that offer tag-based feeds one better is its combinations of tags. Where Tumblr might let you follow "cute" or "kitten," Imgur lets you track those tags together, so you can see images labeled with both. You can also filter out tags you don’t want to see.

For example, Schaaf has a custom Game of Thrones gallery that tracks “got,” “Game Of Thrones,” and each character’s name. He knows the results he gets will be accurate, since Imgur users are voting on the tags. Meanwhile, another user might want to filter out these tags in order to avoid spoilers from the latest episode. Now, each user can choose to sample the gush of the Imgur firehose however he or she prefers

Thanks, Folksonomy

This human-powered way of organizing the Web, dubbed a "folksonomy" a decade ago, stands in contrast to the machine-driven image analysis companies like Google and Facebook are known for.

Imgur, long known for its stripped-down approach to image uploading and viewing, isn’t doing anything groundbreaking. But its choice to pursue people power over the increasingly advanced computational approaches available to it is interesting.

When asked to explain, Schaaf gave me the example of a black, red, and yellow layered cocktail. It was a popular image when Imgur tested tagging with a small group of users. Most testers, recognizing the festive drink's connection to German soccer fans, correctly tagged it with “Germany” and “World Cup.”

“It’s about Germany and soccer as well as drinks, but a computer would only recognize the drink part,” he said. “It would never guess it’s related to the World Cup.”

Photo via Imgur

Since Schaaf founded the site roughly five years ago out of his dorm room, the site has found a lot of popularity with users of Reddit, another site where users vote to find the most interesting articles and images online.

Imgur's learning from Reddit's flaws—for example, the way the site forces people to pick a single section, or subreddit, of the site when posting a link. Tim Hwang, director of special projects at Imgur, said it was important to find a tagging solution that would unite the community instead of fragment it. With multiple tags, images can fit into to several galleries instead of just a single designated one.

“We could have a ‘cat images’ category, but then people would identify with the ‘cat’ subgallery, or start forming rules around certain subgalleries that specified what kind of cat pictures were OK,” he said. “Tagging is something users can all do collectively.”

All Visual Web sites risk image overload. Without some way to discover specific images, like Pinterest's guided search or Imgur's new tags, users will only see the most popular stuff. That leads to a winner-take-all scenario where only images that make the homepage get seen. Schaaf’s goal is to help users expose the “dark matter” of Imgur that might get lost in the deluge.

“Whether they want to browse everything at once and filter out a couple of things, or drill down into a specific topic, people will make their own experience,” he said.

12,500 In Nokia Division Laid Off By Microsoft

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 12:42

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Web

The job cuts are deep at Microsoft and Nokia got slashed the deepest.

Microsoft today announced that it will lay off 18,000 people (of about 127,000) over the next year with most of those cuts coming in the next six months. Of those cuts, Nokia will lose 12,500 employees that had come when Microsoft bought the cellphone manufacturer in a $7.17 billion acquisition that became official in April of this year.

“12,500 professional and factory positions will be eliminated through synergies and strategic alignment of the Nokia Devices and Services,” Microsoft said in a press release.

Microsoft did not go into specifics of which particular programs and departments are being cut in the Nokia division or in the remaining 5,500 positions that will be eliminated.

“[W]e are working to integrate the Nokia Devices and Services teams into Microsoft. We will realize the synergies to which we committed when we announced the acquisition last September. The first-party phone portfolio will align to Microsoft’s strategic direction. To win in the higher price tiers, we will focus on breakthrough innovation that expresses and enlivens Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an email to employees published by the company.

The cuts at Microsoft are larger than most analysts predicted. The projection was that Microsoft would cut about 10% of the workforce with most of those cuts coming on the Nokia side and global marketing positions. The 18,000 positions that Microsoft cut about to almost 15% of its total workforce.

Lead image: Former Nokia CEO and current Microsoft executive Stephen Elop at Mobile World Congress 2014 by Dan Rowinski for ReadWrite.

Apps Are Eating Wearables' Lunch

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 09:33

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Web

My Jawbone Up24 fitness band failed the other week during a session of hot yoga. I knew better than to take the water-sensitive device into the shower, but it didn't occur to me that the river of sweat coming off my body, combined with the heat in the room, would be similarly hazardous to the device's health.

It was time for the Up to go anyway: I needed to make room on my overcrowded arm to test yet another fitness-tracking device. But I found I was missing my Up when Jawbone recently unveiled new food-tracking features.

How will fitness trackers earn their place on our wrists?

No need: When I launched the Up's companion app, it complained meekly about my missing band, but I discovered that it worked perfectly well as a food tracker, no $150 gadget required. 

And before it failed, I'd found that many of the Up's features really lived in software, not hardware. Before that final, fatal yoga session, I'd log my workouts with a "stopwatch" feature, which really wasn't that different from recording them in a smartphone app like GymGoal or MapMyFitness. 

Amusingly, my Up band would often trigger an inactivity alert an hour into my practice, because its accelerometers couldn't recognize that while I wasn't bouncing around, I was actually working pretty hard. In this case, the hardware wasn't just superfluous—it was counterproductive to tracking my activity.

Wearables Wearing Thin

Jawbone isn't the only wearable company whose moves I see as putting the whole "wearable" thing in question. Fitbit's iPhone app no longer requires one of the company's devices to track steps if you use it with an iPhone 5S, whose M7 chip can accurately track movement. You can also log your sleep manually

While Fitbit won't get profitable hardware sales off of users who just use the app, it benefits from their data, and they also join the social network of friends using Fitbit, which may encourage them to stick with Fitbit's family of products versus switching to competing devices.

Misfit, the maker of an activity tracker called Shine, also appears to be reconsidering the whole hardware thing. It recently introduced a version of its software which essentially turns a Pebble smartwatch into a fitness tracker—no Shine required. Its latest product, Beddit, tracks your sleep from your mattress—nothing to wear on your body.

One experienced digital-fitness entrepreneur notes that the company, which originally went by "Misfit Wearables," is less inclined to use its full name these days. (Misfit hasn't responded to a request for comment on whether it plans to formally drop "Wearables" from its name.)

Where does all this leave fitness-oriented hardware? As I've long argued, they'll have to track more than just steps to merit a place on the wrist. But it's increasingly smartwatches like the Samsung Gear Fit and Gear Live that include more sophisticated biosensors for measuring things like heart rate.

One way for devices to distinguish themselves will be to fully embrace their role as fashion items, as Fitbit is doing with its new Tory Burch line. Another direction is to melt into smartphones as apps, with some small percentage of users opting for hardware that adds a little more detail to their data.

The challenge for fitness apps borne out of trackers will be facing off with companies who have always lived purely in the app world, like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal. They've learned to live with the limitations of phone hardware, in exchange for the broad reach they get with consumers. And these apps are typically free—making it a hard transition for companies used to hardware profit margins.

Twitter Buys CardSpring To Help You Shop In Tweets

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 08:38

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Web

Twitter wants to make it as easy to buy as it is to tweet. On Tuesday, the company announced the acquisition of CardSpring, a payments startup that makes it easy for developers to add payment services to apps and products. 

The social media company has tried to capitalize on e-commerce with tweet-to-buy initiatives that have yet to gain visible steam. 

The acquisition of CardSpring will add experts to Twitter's staff who have particular experience helping developers add payments features.

"The CardSpring team and the technology they’ve built are a great fit with our philosophy regarding the best ways to bring in-the-moment commerce experiences to our users," Twitter's head of commerce, Nathan Hubbard, wrote in a blog post.

Twitter's announcement comes on the heels of Facebook's push into payments earlier Thursday. The social network announced it is testing a buy button on pages and advertisements that will let people buy things directly in the social network, without clicking away to a separate online storefront. Twitter likely aims to do something similar.

Image via CardSpring.com

Why Samsung Buying SmartThings Should Have Us Worried

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 11:54

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Web

These days, every tech giant of note is staking a claim in the smart home, and Samsung’s no exception. In April, the company imagined a universe of smart-home appliances and devices hooking to its smart TVs and apps for automation and control. 

Now it appears to be rethinking this approach. The South Korean tech giant is reportedly negotiating to buy SmartThings, according to TechCrunch. SmartThings, a Kickstarter-backed project to connect your home devices together, makes a hub that talks over various network protocols so you don't have to worry about whether individual devices are compatible with each other or with your phones and tablets.

Such a deal would make perfect sense—for Samsung. And yet, I can’t help but feel some dread over this prospect. Here’s why. 

Sammy Needs To Bring Some Smarts Home

See also: Apple Makes Its Move In The Smart Home With HomeKit

Samsung's peers in the tech industry have all been very plain about their intentions toward wiring up our homes recently. 

This summer, Apple announced plans to rally connected home devices under its new iPhone-friendly HomeKit protocol. Earlier this year, Google picked up Nest, which has been busy buying Dropcam, another smart-home device maker, and creating its own home-networking protocol.

Microsoft has been playing around with its connected “Home of the Future” concept for years, but only recently got serious by pursuing a relationship with Insteon, a long-time player in this space. The pair even worked on the smart home’s first viable voice-command feature, courtesy of an update to Insteon’s Window Phone app and Cortana, the platform’s baked in voice command.

Samsung, perhaps more than any of these competitors, should have been in front of this movement. The parent corporation has numerous home-appliance divisions, some of which make things like connected refrigerators. And a connected oven is in the works.

Samsung Galaxy S4

But Samsung’s connected appliances operate within a very limited universe. Apart from integration with its own TVs, they don’t connect or cooperate with other devices, especially those from other manufacturers. In other words, what Samsung lacks is the interoperability that a cohesive platform could provide.

Big surprise for a company that still can’t stop bouncing between different operating systems for its TVs, phones, tablets and smartwatches. 

Is It A Match Made In Heaven ... Or Hell? 

The smart thing about an acquisition is that Samsung wouldn’t have to grow its own smart-home platform from scratch, or get its various corporate division to play nicely together. 

SmartThings hub and sensor kit

SmartThings seems like an ideal candidate. The startup has been lighting up the DIY segment of the smart-home industry, where people set up devices themselves instead of paying thousands of dollars for a professional installation.

After having raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter in 2012, the company added another $12.5 million from investors, putting it all to good use by focusing on developers—and marketing buzz—to build out its platform. 

Now it can boast a growing, creative network of more than 5,000 developers, as well as compatibility across a slew of devices, from moisture sensors and lighting kits to fitness trackers and home audio speakers.

SmartThings has now gained a reputation for creativity—perhaps more so than simplicity and reliability—and that too makes it a perfect fit for Samsung, a company known for having a “pray and spray” approach to consumer technology. 

Just take Samsung's Galaxy line of mobile devices, for example. While these are terrific phones, they’re also full of bloated house-made apps, including S Health, S Translator, S Voice and other features users generally ignore. Meanwhile, on the hardware side, the minute size differentials in its ever-burgeoning line of mobile devices just keep on coming, complicating developers' efforts to target specific screen sizes.

In other words, you put a startup that likes creativity and values developers with the vast resources of a multinational corporation that loves to experiment, and what do you have? Maybe a major new smart-home contender that can give your home limitless possibilities. But more likely, a big fat mess of complication, confusion and bloat. 

And that's why, if Samsung-SmartThings happens, it may make Samsung's corporate strategists look clever for a day. But we doubt it will make our homes any smarter.

Airbnb's New Logo Prompts A Vagina Dialogue

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 08:37

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Web

Certainly, there's nothing homier than a vagina. Regardless of sexual preference, we all once cozied up in one. It's the doorway to life!

What better new logo for Airbnb, the website that facilitates your home away from home, than an abstract rendition of the female orifice?  

On Wednesday, the San Francisco-based company rolled out a new logo, along with the looping new mark, opening its "doors to a new brand identity centered around the feeling of belonging," according to a press release. 

Airbnb introduced the new logo along with a new  website "that allows its community to create their own unique symbols—something no company has ever done before."

Airbnb calls this new customizable logo "Bélo." More than a few Twitter users are seeing a vagina. But like much great art, it's open to interpretation. Some see an anus, others a scrotum. (ReadWrite asked Airbnb what its designers saw, and what they intended, and we're waiting to hear back.)

 This is, after all, a company that prides itself not only on great customer service, but also design. (Seriously y'all, have you seen Airbnb's website? Stunning!) Airbnb cofounders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia both went to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, for cryin' out loud.

It Takes One To Know One

If a woman's most sacred flower isn't Airbnb's intention, well ... that's embarrassing. An argument could be made—and has been, within the ReadWrite offices—that this is yet another example of male-dominated Silicon Valley's "vagina blindness." 

One need not look as far back as the unfortunately named iPad (which still sounds like Jony Ive's vision for a sanitary napkin) to see the ongoing slights to the female form. 

Then again, Georgia O'Keefe claimed not to have seen the whole vagina-flower thing everybody else insisted she had going on in her posy paintings, going so far as to say in 1943:

 “Well—I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.” 

Vagina or no, I like it. What's more, Airbnb has a new catchphrase that accompanies the logo: "Belong Anywhere." What's more welcoming to a vagina than that? 

The Pros And Cons Of Open Sourcing Your Code

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:12

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Web

Despite starting as a "cancerous" and purportedly "anti-American" blight on the software world, open source has come to be as American (and capitalist) as apple pie. Everyone uses it, big companies like Facebook bake it into their standard development practices and practically no one questions its value anymore.

Which is interesting, because it's by no means clear that your software needs to be open source. Before you make assign your code to The Community, here are some considerations that should factor into your decision.

First, Some Myths

Whether you're new to open source or and have been around for years, you will have heard about The Community. You've been warned not to make The Community angry. You've been advised that The Community is huge and will shower code on you if you open source your code. You have heard The Community described as a loose affiliation of pizza-eating hackers who code for love. 

In other words, you've been fed a lot of nonsense.

First of all, there is no Open Source Community, as John Mark Walker insisted years ago. Open source is, instead, a community of communities. The nature of open-source communities differ markedly from one to the next. 

See also: The Open-Source Witch Hunts Have Returned

Yes, there are common traits of successful open-source communities, but even if you follow them a certain amount of good fortune is required, just like in proprietary software (e.g., getting market timing right). Also, don't expect your project to work if you assume that "if I open source it, developers will come."

Why? Because all open-source projects get the vast majority of code contributions from a small group of dedicated developers, and the gargantuan majority of open-source projects never attract more than the founding developers and are discarded within the first year.

(By the way, "dedicated" is a nice way of describing developers who are paid to contribute. This is as true of "community" projects like Linux as it is for "commercial" projects like Alfresco. Few people can afford to work full-time for free.)

Finally, you've no doubt heard of The Community's best efforts to tear itself apart with fights between GPL and Apache advocates. (I've argued for both GPL and Apache at different phases of my career.) The license wars are over: Apache won. Actually, if the GitHub generation is indicative of trends, and I think it is, then actually "no license at all" licensing has won. 

Why Not To Open SourceOpen source isn't the panacea some proponents would have you think

Despite an increasingly blasé attitude toward licensing on the part of many developers, open sourcing your project will almost certainly involve significant costs. 

For one thing, if you're opening your code, it's going to require extra work to ensure that it won't embarrass you. The other day, I was talking to a MongoDB engineer who used to work for big, brand-name proprietary software companies. The biggest difference between proprietary code and open-source code, he told me, is quality. 

In his experience, proprietary software tends to be written for business-mandated deadlines. The important thing is to ship the code, even if it's not great. In open source, by contrast, his experience suggests code doesn't get released until it's ready, even if business tries to impose release dates.

While neither characterization is perfect, the principle is correct: when your code is on display, you're going to make sure it's of higher quality than if it's hidden behind license restrictions.

That may be great for the ultimate users of open-source software, but it means that open sourcing code isn't simply a matter of picking a license, releasing the code and popping a bottle of champagne as you wait for The Community to start beavering away. If you choose to open source your software, you also choose to spend a lot more time getting it in shape—that is, making sure it's modular and well-documented so that contributors can easily get involved, as Matt Harrison highlights.

Even when you go through this trouble, do you really want help? Noah Kantrowitz just took Chef Inc. to task for being open source in name only:

We have ChefInc putting in a massive amount of time and money along with a few individuals, then a small handful of companies and even fewer individuals contributing through one project or another, and then the long tail of pure consumers.

In such a world, does open source code matter? I'd still argue that the answer is yes. But let's be clear: This approach means you're adopting a more difficult business model.

Open sourcing your code usually cuts your business off from easy revenue streams. Dropbox can open source its Go libraries because its business doesn't depend on selling these libraries. But if you sell a CRM system, open sourcing that system will significantly impact your ability to make money from it.  

No wonder Marc Andreessen got so much retweet love when he quipped:

For those of you who've tried it, that statement rings of both mirth and misery.

Even if you fit more into the Dropbox model and want to open source code to attract The Community to help you build it out, the cruel reality is that most projects, most of the time, are on their own. 

So What Good Is Open Source?

With this in mind, why would you ever open source your code?

Well, if you write infrastructure software (operating systems, databases, etc.), you don't have a choice. As Cloudera co-founder Mike Olson declares

[T]here's been a stunning and irreversible trend in enterprise infrastructure. If you're operating a data center, you're almost certainly using an open source operating system, database, middleware and other plumbing. No dominant platform-level software infrastructure has emerged in the last ten years in closed-source, proprietary form.

If you want your project to be noticed, more likely than not it's going to need to be open source. Whether you like it or not, "open" is the primary currency that developers understand. 

While some have succeeded in getting around this requirement with "cheap and easy to adopt" (e.g., Amazon Web Services), or with "cheap and immediately available," as Tim O'Reilly discusses, using an open source license tends to be an easy shortcut. 

It also offers all sorts of other benefits, from free advertising to technical recruitment to frictionless code sharing and more. When I asked a few members of various open source development communities, it became clear that open sourcing one's code also affords personal freedom, per Tony Yarusso:

And personal satisfaction, per Paul Ramsey:

Beyond such personal reasons, it's also true that open code can be a great way to disrupt incumbent vendors if you're an upstart looking for ways to prove yourself against established vendors.

Besides, open source is fun. I've worked at open source companies for nearly 15 years, and have witnessed firsthand the camaraderie and  collaboration that open code fosters. Oh, and plenty of flamewars—but The Community has gotten better about that.

No, open source isn't the perfect option for everyone. But in my experience, "open" should be the default for all software and all companies. You may find the same.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock

The Evolution Of The Cell Phone—How Far It's Come!

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 08:25

Categories:

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 Editor's note: This post was originally published by our partners at PopSugar Tech.

 In April 1973, Motorola engineer Marty Cooper made the first call from a "real handheld portable cell phone," a point he made very clear during that historic conversation with Joel Engel, the head of rival research firm Bell Labs. Fast forward to June 29, 2007, and the iPhone was born. Now in 2014, innovation is showing no sign of slowing down.

Since that fateful phone call four decades ago, mobile phones have evolved dramatically. Those magical portable technology boxes have become an essential part of interpersonal communication, and their significance will only increase with time. From the rise of SMS to anywhere, anytime Internet connectivity to mobile photography, cell phones have been the catalyst for cultural and technological changes over the past 41 years. Let's relive the defining moments and trends of the mobile era.

Radio Common Carrier (RCC) 

This soldier was using a radio common carrier, which was introduced in the ’60s as a precellular system. Like a radio, it could transmit voice communication through a push-to-talk system, but it used a public telephone network and had its own telephone number.

Brick Phone 

Gordon Gekko may have been the star of Wall Street, but his Motorola DynaTAC played a major supporting role. The classic brick phone had an LED screen and boasted 30 minutes of talk time with eight hours of standby. The DynaTAC was priced at almost $4,000 in the early ’80s — no wonder it made its first appearance in the hands of bankers on Wall Street!

It was this phone with which Motorola employee Marty Cooper made the first mobile phone call.

Brick Phone 

Here's Marty showing off the cell phone he used to make that historic call.

The Clamshell 

The first foray into truly portable devices was the clamshell form factor. Motorola was a pioneer in this front, with the MicroTAC, which looked much like the one Whoopi Goldberg was using in 1989.

The MicroTAC had a red LED display and a standard 12-button keypad, plus a menu of options including a calculator, hands-free operation, keypad tones, and much, much more. By the time that MicroTAC was announced, the phone still cost consumers upward of $2,500.

The Candybar 

Nokia was at the forefront of this type of device. The candybar phone was named as such, because it was approximately the size and shape of, well, a bar of candy.

The Elites 

The mid-’90s was a period of evolution for the mobile industry. The clamshell phone shed some heft and paved the way for the modern flip phone.

Satellite Phone 

This Motorola hybrid satellite/GSM phone was one of the first of its kind. A satphone connects to orbiting satellites, rather than Earth-bound cellular towers, which means it can make a call from essentially anywhere in the world.

The PDA 

The personal digital assistants of the '90s ushered in a wave of pocket computing and touchscreen devices. The industry game changer was popularized by Palm, which launched the Palm Pilot in 1997 for a retail price of about $200–$300. The virtual keyboard, handwriting recognition, and Internet connectivity were cutting-edge technologies during that time.

Nokia 6000 Series 

Snake! Interchangeable face plates! You either knew someone who had a Nokia 6000 Series phone or owned one yourself. The popular cell phone of the early ’00s made mobile communication affordable and widely available for the masses.

Creative Keyboards 

Mobile-phone manufacturers looking to capitalize on the rise of SMS created a variety of wacky-looking phones that incorporated full-size QWERTY keyboards.

Razr 

Ohhhh, the Razr. The slim, sleek, and superpocketable form factor made the Motorola flip phone, which launched in 2004, a surefire hit among the fashion-forward crowd.

BlackBerry 

The BlackBerry email client and BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry instant messaging took the mobile world by storm when it made its debut in the early ’00s. Thumbs were never the same again.

T-Mobile Sidekick 

Originally named the “Hiptop,” the T-Mobile Sidekick was an SMS-friendly phone for the next generation of texters. Like, for texting your BFF Jill.

The iPhone 

The world wasn't quite ready for the iPhone when it was unveiled in 2007. Apple founder Steve Jobs launched the all-in-one digital music player, camera (2MP!), and Internet-enabled PDA device, and the rest is history.

Apps Take Over 

App-enabled smartphones took over the market after the release of the iPhone. Google's open-sourced Android platform made it possible for manufacturers like Samsung, LG, HTC, and others to create devices based on the mobile operating system.

The Fire Phone 

In June 2014, Amazon got in on the cell phone game with the Fire phone. It comes with pretty innovative features, including a better camera and free photo storage in the cloud, 3D features, and Firefly technology, which can recognized 100 million items in the real world.

The Future 

The Future Touchscreen phones are getting lighter, wider, and more powerful—but what else can we expect for the future of mobile communication?

Devices will be more resistant to their environments and (hopefully) get much better battery life as technology advances. Sony launched the waterproof Xperia Z at 2013’s CES, and Samsung followed suit in 2014 with the waterproof Galaxy S5.

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5 Instagram Tips For Shooting Fireworks Photos

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 13:06

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It’s that time of year again. Tonight in the U.S., millions of people will flock to a neighborhood street corner, park or Independence Day Festival to stare at the sky. And after a few beautiful moments, many will attempt to snap photos of fireworks with their smartphones. 

Watching fireworks displays can be an exciting, awe-inspiring experience. Flipping through photos of them later on is usually anything but. This time last year, I remember trying to capture the spectacle of light exploding above me and my friends, only to scroll through an Instagram feed of terrible, blurry images the day after. 

Don't let the same thing happen to you. Before you take off for the evening's festivities, take a look at these tips for capturing and sharing your photos (and videos!) on Instagram.

Pro tip: No matter which advice you follow, always make sure your flash is turned off. Camera LED flashes yield terrible night-time shots anyway, but if you're in a crowd, all you'll see is the back of people's heads—brightly lit and set against a dark sky with a speckle of light that may or may not be a firework. 

Get As Close As Possible

One of the big reasons fireworks photos tend to be a total failure is because spectators sit far away from the subject. But the closer you can (safely) get, the better the pictures will be. The lights will be closer and brighter, and with a more direct line of sight, you'll have fewer pesky phones getting in the way. 

Don’t try to take photos during the first few fireworks. Wait a moment to see where in the sky the fireworks explode, then angle your phone at the spot where most of the action appears.

Brace your smartphone with both arms to stabilize the picture.Put Your Body Into It

Last year, my fireworks photos were awful, partly because I, like everyone else, raised my hands high in the air before taking the pictures.

Instead, try the old trick teachers tell budding photographers and videographers: Use your body to stabilize the shots. 

Essentially, the idea is to use your arms and torso as a tripod. Just hold the device in your right hand and bring your right elbow in against your abdomen (nestling it in there), so that your right hand is in front of your face. Bring your left arm tight against your body, and grasp your right wrist. Southpaws out there can do the same, but with the opposite arms.

Use Focus Tools

Similar to the stock iPhone or Android camera app, Instagram has a tool that lets you change the focus, and lightness or darkness of a photo, with a simple tap. A circle will appear where you touched the screen, and automatically adjust based on the area you chose. Try tapping a few different spots to get the best exposure. 

See Also: Capture A Moment: The Best Photo And Video Apps

You could also use the built-in camera app on your phone, and import the photos from your camera roll or gallery into Instagram. Android users can even lock the exposure by holding down the capture button. 

Before you take any photos, turn on HDR (or high dynamic range) to balance the luminosity and retain the best parts of the picture. For iPhones, you can do this by tapping the top of your display. To take multiple photos at once, hold down the capture button; you’ll see how many photos you’ve taken appear at the bottom of your screen. On Android phones, you can turn on HDR and multi-shot options on under “settings.” 

Use The New Instagram Filters To Amp Up The Light Show

Thanks to the new filter and editing tools Instagram rolled out last month, you can take even more creative control of your photos.

Tap on the wrench icon to adjust the brightness, contrast, warmth, highlights, shadows and more on each photo. And if you don’t want the filter to overtake your image—which happens to me more than I’d like to admit—you can now double-tap on the filter and lower the strength of it.

Don't Forget The IRL Experience

You might get the urge to scroll through your Instagram feed and see what all your friends are up to tonight in real life, but chances are good they’re posting fireworks photos, just like you are.

After you’ve got a nice shot or two, put the device back in your pocket and enjoy the show. It’s amazing how immersive and stunning fireworks displays are now, and trapping your view in that smartphone screen is no way to celebrate independence.

Because let’s be honest, no matter how good your photos are, they'll never be as good as seeing the real thing. 

Images by Richard on Flickr.

Here Are All The New Ways To Spend Bitcoin While You Weren't Paying Attention

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 18:29

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Only a year ago, "living on Bitcoin" meant merely surviving.

When Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill experimented by only buying in Bitcoin for a full week, she struggled to pay her rent and even to find food. Had Hill done her experiment today, however, she likely would have had a much easier time.

See also: A Year In Bitcoin: Why We'll Still Care About The Cryptocurrency Even If It Fades

Today, you can live a life of luxury spending only your BTC. As of this writing, BTC payment provider Bitpay processes Bitcoin transactions for 35,000 merchants worldwide—up from just 1,000 merchants in September 2012.

It’s not just Bitcoin miners and e-cigarettes anymore, either. You can buy a much larger variety of goods and services with Bitcoin than you could in the cryptocurrency’s early days.

If you’ve got some bitcoins squirreled away from back when the hype was high, here are just a few of the well-known companies that will gladly accept them:

Travel

Take your bitcoins and get out of town.

Book your vacation surreptitiously through Expedia. So far, the travel booking company only accepts Bitcoin payments for hotels, but plans to expand to flights, car rentals and more, a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

Need to book your flight (or Amtrak train, or hotel room) with bitcoins right now? CheapAir already has you covered.

Image courtesy Virgin Galactic

Need to get even farther away? In November 2013, Richard Branson announced that his space travel company, Virgin Galactic, will accept bitcoins.

Shopping

Buy bits and pieces with Bitcoin.

Amazon, Target, CVS and other chain stores don’t accept Bitcoin directly. But with Gyft, you can use bitcoins to buy a gift card to any of these stores and get around that. And in good news for people attempting to live on Bitcoin, Gyft’s cards include chain restaurants like Burger King and grocery stores like Whole Foods.

Looking to buy in bulk? Wholesale site Overstock claimed to be the first major U.S. retailer to accept Bitcoin back in December 2013. By May, the company said that customers had made $1.6 million worth of purchases using Bitcoin.

Technology

Use Bitcoin to build your electronic world.

Working your way through some ReadWrite tutorials? Buy a new Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or any of their components and accessories at Adafruit.

In news surprising nobody, major computer retailer Newegg announced in July that it will accept Bitcoin. Being that you could already buy parts on Newegg to build Bitcoin miners, the move makes sense for its audience.

Media

Pay for access to Bitcoin news with your bitcoins.

This May, satellite TV provider Dish Network claimed to become the largest company yet to accept Bitcoin. Dish doesn’t know how many of its 14 million subscribers desired this payment option, but in July they’ll find out for sure.

The Chicago Sun-Times became the first major newspaper to accept Bitcoin after it tested a BTC paywall in April. Now it receives 11% of new subscriptions in bitcoins.

Entertainment

Have a good time with Bitcoin.

Online gaming site Zynga now accepts payment in Bitcoin for some of its most popular titles, including FarmVille 2.

The Sacramento Kings became the first professional sports franchise to permit fans to pay for professional basketball tickets and merchandise in Bitcoin.

Luxury

Live large with Bitcoin.

Buy your next diamond with Bitcoin. Reeds Jewelers, a national jewelry chain, now accepts Bitcoin in all of its retail locations.

BitPremier, a luxury Bitcoin marketplace, just celebrated its first anniversary. But even though you’ve probably heard of it, the company continues to push the envelope. You can now buy an $11 million yacht there. In March, BitPremier confirmed the largest Bitcoin purchase on record: a $500,000 villa in Bali.

iOS Developers Make More Money, But Android's Volume Is Closing The Gap

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 18:22

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Looking at smartphone and tablet sales, Google's Android ecosystem should be printing money for developers. After all, not only are Android device sales outpacing Apple's iPhone and iPad sales, but Google also shares more Android-related revenue with its ecosystem than Apple does with the iOS ecosystem. 

And yet iOS developers earn more than Android developers. What, or rather who, gives?

The answer is in efficiency. Apple is able to centralize its revenue stream while Google shares with a wide variety of partners. But Android, on pure volume, may soon outstrip the mighty iOS.

Android's Larger Ecosystem

It's no surprise that Android devices have been outselling iOS devices for some time. Given Apple's insistence on charging a price premium, falling behind was a foregone conclusion. Analyst Mark Hibbens estimates Android's widening lead over iOS in shipments.

Credit: Mark Hibbens

Which means, of course, that in the first quarter of 2013 the population of Android's installed base surpassed that of iOS and will almost certainly never look back.

Credit: Mark Hibbens

And yet this hasn't translated into more money for the Android app economy.

Who Does Android Pay?

According to a new VisionMobile study, Apple's app economy is considerably larger than Google's Android, at $163 billion:

Apple's Ecosystem: All About Apple

Google's is smaller at $149 billion:

But there's a key difference between the two economies, from hardware to apps to accessories: Apple claims much of its ecosystem's revenues, whereas Google shares among manufacturers, developers, carriers and advertising partners. To highlight this point, both Apple and Google take a 30% from developers for paid app downloads and in-app purchases. Google used to hardly keep any of this money, passing it along to distribution partners (like cellular carriers and payment processors) and paying fees. As of Google I/O 2014 though, that policy has changed and Google will keep nearly all of the revenue from Google Play. Apple keeps nearly all of the 30% it takes from app developers.

Not that Google is necessarily playing a charity here. Part of Google's problem, as ABI Research notes, is fragmentation. While ABI says Android was used in 77% of smartphones shipped worldwide in the fourth quarter, 32% of those 221 million devices used forked versions (up from 20% of shipments the year before and up from 27% in Q3 2013).  

So a fair amount of Android's adoption does not generate revenue for Google, even if it wanted to. Google is trying to minimize the negative impact from fragmentation "by giving primacy to Google Play Services as the hub for new Android capabilities," as Crittercism's Michael Santa Cruz highlights, but it has a long way to go. 

Even so, Google's strategy inherently shares more with its ecosystem: by design, Google doesn't care about capturing hardware or accessories revenue, and even in software it is less concerned with app revenue than ad revenue. Google's goal has long been to get more people on the Internet, using the Web, searching for more items. Google's view is that the more eyeballs there are on the Internet, the more potential it has to advertise them through search.

Google announced that it payed app developers about $5 billion dollars between Google I/O 2013 and I/O 2014, with a rate increase of 2.5x in that span.

And yet iOS developers make more. $500 - $1000 per app per month, according to VisionMobile, compared to Android's $101 to $200 per app per month. 

At least, for now.

Go East, Young Man

While Hibbens suggests that Apple's higher app spend per device accounts for the chasm between the Android and iOS economies, and that this gap will only widen over time, this feels like a short-term perspective. Yes, it's true, as Andreessen Horowitz's Benedict Evans posits, that Apple benefits from a "wealth gap" between its customer base and Google's. 

Apple enjoys market share superiority in the comparatively rich North American and Western European markets, as VisionMobile illustrates:

This isn't something to celebrate, however. As I've written before, emerging economies can't afford Apple's price premium. And when "emerging economies" include China, set to become the world's largest economy in 2014, and India, another market serving over one billion people, the future for Android looks very bright indeed.

It will likely continue to be the case that Apple will earn more app revenue per device than Google, but that's just fine for Google. Android has always been a volume play. With few exceptions, Google's business model is always about skimming small amounts of money from vast amounts of transactions

Which is not to say Apple is doomed. It's simply to argue that developers should tune their monetization strategies differently for iOS and Android ... just like Apple and Google do.

Article updated to correctly reflect Google's cut of Play app earnings.

Tech Genius Doesn't Need To Be White, Male And Wearing A Hoodie

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 15:51

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When you picture a successful tech CEO, what comes to mind? Probably a white man, maybe one wearing a hoodie. 

Technology is a caucasian male-dominated industry, that's why getting more diversity in tech has never been more of a priority. In fact, in the last month, a handful of the most well-known tech companies have released data that illustrates this trend, with male employees far outnumbering females, and in the U.S., a white majority rules.

Though these numbers clearly show there’s not enough diversity in the tech workforce, part of the imbalance stems from a lack of diversity in technology education at a young age—many students are unable to access resources that can set them up for a career path in tech.

In 2013, of the 30,000 students that took U.S. high school Advanced Placement computer science exam, less than 20 percent were female, eight percent were Hispanic, and three percent were black. No female, black or Hispanic students took the exam in Mississippi or Montana.

The poorest communities, often the most diverse, have the most limited access to technology. According to a Pew Internet study, just three percent of teachers of the poorest classrooms feel that their students have access to the digital tools they need at home.

#YesWeCode, an ambitious initiative to encourage 100,000 minority and low-income students to learn skills in technology, aims to change that, and provide a resource for students, parents and teachers to find out how best to teach the next generation of entrepreneurs, builders, and makers.

Officially launching July 4 at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, the largest festival celebrating African-American culture and music in the U.S., #YesWeCode will host a hackathon and a “technology village,” making technology a central part of the event for the first time ever.

Prince is headlining the event this year, and the music megastar was partially responsible for the creation of #YesWeCode.

“#YesWeCode came out of a conversation I was having with Prince about Trayvon Martin,” Van Jones, president of Rebuild The Dream Innovation Fund and one of the creators of #YesWeCode, told me in an interview. Martin, a teenager, was shot in a Florida neighborhood in 2012. “Prince said, ‘When an African-American kid is wearing a hoodie, people think he’s a thug, but when a white kid is wearing a hoodie people think he’s the next Mark Zuckerberg.’”

Jones mentioned something about racism to which Prince replied: “No, it’s because we haven’t produced any Mark Zuckerbergs yet.”

Though there are many organizations across the country looking to encourage more minorities to pursue STEM skills—science, technology, engineering and math—resources are still very fragmented. In order to unite these organizations and create a pipeline of underrepresented talent that can equalize the ratio at companies like Google and Facebook, #YesWeCode teamed up with education and career training organizations to provide low-income and minority students with the opportunity to learn technological skills.

Black Girls Code is one of those partner organizations. Founder Kimberly Bryant is in New Orleans this weekend to host a series of events in tandem with the festival that focus on getting young girls excited about coding.

Bryant says getting girls interested in technology and keeping them in the industry through college and into their careers is the key to changing the dynamics in the tech industry overall. Her organization has reached 3,000 students to date.

“The importance of starting early is to give girls the skill set and the confidence for them to go into these male-dominated environments,” Bryant said in an interview. “A lot of the women I’ve seen across generations who have come into the program as students or mentors, we’ve all faced similar challenges—it’s just a different decade.”

Tech Industry Partners Will Help Bridge The Gap

#YesWeCode worked with Facebook to create an online portal that brings together all the organizations working to bridge the gap between low-income and minority students and careers in technology, and give them the tools and resources they need to exponentially grow.

See Also: Google’s Gender-Diversity Push Is Paying Off

The #YesWeCode website will act as a central support database for organizations across the U.S. that work with low-income and minority youth, and partners will work with these organizations to strengthen computer education programs, as well as support and fund workforce development programs like coding boot camps.

For example, a mom of a 13-year-old girl in Atlanta will be able to use the #YesWeCode database to find the best coding courses, camps and resources to send her daughter this summer.

Maxine Williams, Facebook’s head of global diversity, said getting underrepresented students interested in tech is a matter of letting these students know these opportunities actually exist.

“Inspiration comes in so many different forms,” Williams told me. “It was never a question whether people had the ability, but rather people knew this was an opportunity. Having people that have similar experiences to you allows you to feel like you can get there too.”

Of course, companies like Facebook will undoubtedly benefit from such a partnership. Graduates from #YesWeCode programs who pursue technology as a career may find themselves working at a tech corporation like Google or Facebook who have pledged to increase diversity in their workforces since releasing their diversity data in June.

“It’s impossible to quantify the difference it makes when you have people that apply diversity to problems,” she said.

Creating The Next Generation Of Diverse Entrepreneurs

“Genius and talent doesn’t know any age or racial barrier,” Jones said. “Even though we’re starting off at an African-American event, our commitment is to low-opportunity talent.” Included in that group are low-income Asian, Latino, Native American, and Appalachian students.

“We’re letting genius go to waste—there are so many people in communities of color that have the mathematical talent to do this work,” he said. “Some are former veterans, some are moms ... some of them are using their math skills as hustlers on the street corner.”

With the help of programs that connect youth through #YesWeCode, the next Mark Zuckerberg could be a technologist from the minority community, giving future generations an entrepreneur to look up to for affirmation that they, too, can build the next billion-dollar company.

Lead image sreencapped from the #YesWeCode YouTube video. 

When Fitness Gadgets Declare Independence From Our Phones

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 10:06

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<a href="http://readwrite.com/series/body">ReadWriteBody</a> is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

A recent Apple commercial, "Strength," highlights all the ways you can use an iPhone with fitness apps and gadgets. At Google's I/O conference last month, the tech company unveiled Google Fit, a set of software which aims to put your Android phone similarly at the center of your digital workout routine.

To my eye, those visions, though presented as innovative, seem less futuristic and more about maintaining the status quo. As the dominant players in smartphones, it's very much in Apple and Google's interests to keep the phone in a central role. But as new technologies emerge, that may be changing.

The thing the smartphone has going for it is an always-on Internet connection. If a heart-rate monitor or activity tracker wants to talk to a server in the cloud, right now, a phone serves as the gatekeeper—typically using Bluetooth to tie everything together.

That state of affairs is so much better than the so-last-decade alternative of connecting devices to our laptop or desktop computers. 

And yet it's limiting. For one thing, not everyone wants to exercise with a smartphone strapped to their arm. ReadWrite's Matt Asay runs phone-free. And there are some places where you won't want to take a phone, like a swimming pool or heated yoga studio.

The answer is not likely to be a general-purpose smartwatch with a few fitness sensors added, like the Samsung Gear Live. Like the other recently released Android smartwatches, it's crippled without an Android phone nearby. As Dan Rowinski has written, we need to wait for a new generation of components to see standalone smartwatches that aren't mere smartphone companions.

You don't need a do-it-all device to track your fitness, though. You just need one that does a few specific functions well.

Living The Phone-Free Life

See also: Apple May Be Giving Fitness-App Makers The Bluetooth Blues

The Bia Sport Watch is one phone-free device that I find particularly interesting. For $279, it tracks running, swimming, and biking, and can display heart rate from a separate chest strap. Most intriguingly, it can send a distress text message with a map of your location. And it uploads workouts directly to MapMyFitness or Strava.

It does all of this with a companion gadget called a Go Stick, which is essentially a specialized cellular modem. It uses 2G wireless—an older, cheaper form of connectivity that works well for small amounts of data. (The Bia doesn't need a fast 4G connection to just transmit run data or send a text.) Right now, the emergency-text and upload features are included as part of the price, though Bia says it may charge for more connectivity features in the future.

Another interesting example of a smartphone-free device is the Whistle activity tracker for dogs. While you use your phone to configure it, the Whistle thereafter independently connects to Wi-Fi networks to report your dog's walking and playing time. The forthcoming WhistleGPS, due out next year, will actually track your dog's location through a new kind of low-cost wireless network known as "sub-Gigahertz" technology. 

Of course, we'll still use smartphones in conjunction with these devices. You'll review Bia workouts using a MapMyFitness app on your phone. Whistle has a companion smartphone app that lets you see your dog's activity. For data display and device configuration, smartphones will remain the remote control for our digital lives.

Among general-purpose devices, the Pebble smartwatch is the one to beat. While Apple and Google will want to keep phones at the center of things, Pebble has no smartphone business to protect. Right now, the device may depend on a smartphone, but Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky told me he hopes the watch itself will become a hub for other wearables. Or just take over their functions: Pebble now offers new fitness-tracking software from the fitness-device maker Misfit that essentially duplicates its standalone Shine wearable on the Pebble.

The end result of this move toward independence is that won't need to spend as much time syncing, twiddling, and troubleshooting device-to-phone connections. Right now, there's a lot of finger-pointing between app designers, device makers, and smartphone platforms when things go wrong—as they too often do.

When devices have their own Internet connection, it's easier for their manufacturers to take full responsibility for how they perform, from gathering data to transmitting it to servers to sharing it with other apps. We'll require new networks, new components, and new thinking—but independence is coming.

What Not To (Android) Wear: One Woman’s Search For Smartwatch Bliss

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 10:05

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I have a confession: My name is Adriana, and I’m addicted to arm notifications. 

When I began checking out smartwatches last year, I didn’t realize how dependent I’d become on having alerts piped to my wrist. Now I’m obsessed with finding just the right device to deliver them.

The LG G smartwatch, powered by Android Wear

This is a tricky mission. I’ve had a Pebble smartwatch strapped to me for several months. Now I’m running around with the LG G Watch, the first Android Wear device to hit the market. In between, I’ve peeked at numerous other contenders vying for the valuable real estate on my arm. 

The current crop's giant offerings tend to elicit two responses: Curiosity from male onlookers, and weird looks from female friends that seem to come with an unspoken hashtag: #JustNo.

The gadgets offer different features to satisfy various needs, but none can give me the one thing I really want: an attractive, functional device that doesn’t look ridiculous on my delicate lady wrists.

In other words, I am screwed.

Looking ... Smart?

Smartwatches aren’t a mainstream movement yet, but that could be about to change drastically. And soon.

This year alone, the global wearable technology market is projected to garner $5.26 billion. In the next four years, it’s expected to hit $9.2 billion, with smartwatches very likely to lead the way.

Tech companies are jumping on this bandwagon in droves. Android Wear devices are just the most recent options capping a long list, including offerings from Sony, Pebble, Martian, and many more. Each one tries to differentiate itself. And yet, most just wind up looking like some variation of these: 

Really? Come on now. These are massive. (Samsung Gear Live, left; Pebble Steel, middle; LG G, right)

To be fair, the $229 LG G Watch offers stock watch faces that are attractive, even fun. But at the end of the day, it’s a black slab on a rubber strap. The flattened box looks downright comical on a smaller arm like mine—way too basic to even work as a “boyfriend watch” (an oversized women's timepiece that takes cues from men's watches). 

Well, at least the wrist strap is a standard 22 mm size, so that rubber can hit the road. And yes, it is rubber, black-grey that is not attractive or unattractive, but certainly not a stylish leather or metal band that could enhance its cool quotient.  

Style in general has become an important issue for wearables. (Oh, please—we wear them on our bodies. Of course we want them to look good.) Even your choice of smartphone is a fashion statement these days. For wearables, women’s fashion may be even more crucial. Analyst firm NPD Group believes women will fuel the wearables market, with more than half of prospective buyers skewing female, at 58%.

Some wearables companies are getting it right. I gave Ringly credit for making a gorgeous piece of jewelry that doesn’t skimp on the technology. Fitness-tracking watches such as Gear Fit and Withings Pulse O2 figured out that watches don’t have to be fat, chunky slabs. Even Google finally got a clue, hiring high-powered fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg to work on Glass (though even she can't seem to make the whole "camera on your face" thing attractive. Go figure). 

At least it’s a start. Hopefully the tech giant’s Android Wear partners will consider putting the same thought into their watches. Perhaps the best designer of Google's Android partners—HTC—can take Android Wear aesthetics to the next level.

See also: Meet Ringly, An Attractive Wearable Gadget Women Might Actually Want

Of course, these manufacturers may have no choice but to build beautiful watches. Apple, after years of iWatch rumors, seems primed to finally get into the wearables game some time this year. Whether that will be a fitness-oriented device or a full-fledged smartwatch isn’t clear. But if it exists, it will surely be beautiful. We hope. Apple’s strongly honed design chops likely wouldn’t have it any other way.

Is Android “Ready To Wear”?

When it comes to the LG G, the sex appeal obviously does not lie in the hardware. It’s in the software, which also graces the next Android Wear watches Samsung Gear Live and the upcoming Moto 360. Good thing the software looks like a decent start. 

Pebble may get credit for setting off today’s smartwatch craze, but the Android Wear experience might bring it home. Pebble launched its software development kit last year, so it has had more lead time to usher in and encourage the smorgasbord of watch apps in its now swelling app store. By contrast, Google only just released the SDK for Android Wear last week. And yet, the initial set of test apps does a good job of showing the company’s vision of how applications and notifications should work on the wrist. 

The main way to interact with the watch is via voice command, and using that, I can reply to texts, call a ride, send an email, show my step counts and much more. For times when I’m shy, I can also pull up some of those features by tapping the touchscreen. Swipe-able cards deliver full-color notifications or snippets of useful, contextual (or even location-aware) information, thanks to Google Now. 

Swiping vertically on the 1.5-inch screen conjures different cards—whether for Eat24, Fancy, Delta flight details, appointments, messages or other apps—while swiping the card horizontally drills into the app further, for more info or settings. I even like the ability to put the display to sleep by placing my palm or forearm on top of the screen.

See also: Why The All-In-One Smartwatch Isn't Happening Any Time Soon

But all these features come with a downside, and primary among them is battery life. The Pebble, with its non-touch, e-paper display, runs for 5 to 7 days on a single charge. So does the ill-fated Qualcomm Toq with its MEMS display. The LG G, with its 400 mAh power cell, may charge quickly in its battery cradle, but only offers about a day and a half. That's more than the one day the company promises, but it's still unacceptable for any active person on the go.

Square Hole, Meet Round Peg

The LG G Watch is just the beginning of what will probably be a flood of Android Wear watches. So it's possible that some of my criticisms will be addressed later on. What probably won’t, though, is this: The predominant design ethos yields an awfully clunky gadget that's just not comfortable to wear. 

Does that look comfy? Because it's not.

Like wrists tend to be, mine are rounded. The G watch’s large, unforgivingly straight body teeters on top, with the rubber strap lashing it in place. It feels like having a stiff board tied to my arm. 

For the size, I would expect the device to at least pack some high-powered internals that could, say, let it work as a standalone smart gadget, separate from a phone. But I would be disappointed. Android Wear requires pairing with phones loaded with Android 4.3, at minimum. 

There's no getting around the fact that larger screens offer better usability. The problem is, when they're not in use, they hang on the body like the fashion equivalent of an albatross. 

Hope is not lost, though. There’s still one stunning style statement for Android Wear on the way: the Moto 360.

The Moto 360 on a company rep's arm.&nbsp;The Moto 360 on my arm. It's chunky, but more like a boyfriend watch than the LG G.

It’s a genuinely good-looking smartwatch, which is a rarity in the current market. While it too boasts a big screen, the Moto 360—like the Martian analog-digital smartwatch mash-up before it—offers a rounded aesthetic that bucks the boxy dictum. This is sexy hardware design that might work as a high-tech boyfriend watch, at least. 

It's also more comfortable. When a Motorola representative let me try it on at the Google I/O developer conference last week, I expected it to be just as ill-fitting as the other large watches. It wasn’t. The device is big, that's true, but somehow it sat well on my wrist. And the software also adapted nicely to the circular frame, displaying a pleasing interface. I was surprised. 

Now I’m incredibly impatient. The Moto 360 is expected to ship sometime in August. Maybe it’s too much to hope that this pretty watch will offer decent battery life as well. But maybe, just maybe, users won’t get screwed after all.

Fingers crossed. Wrist waiting.  

LG G screens courtesy of LG. All other images by ReadWrite.

Stampede Of Teens: What YouTube's Convention Taught Me About Its Culture Of Superfans

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 08:46

Categories:

Web

As I entered the Anaheim Convention Center last Thursday, the first noise I heard was the bellowing of hundreds of teenage voices. I was here to learn the latest about YouTube at VidCon, the video site’s largest annual event, but I was surrounded by thousands of fans who had a different goal: to catch just one glimpse of a YouTube personality.

VidCon attendees wait to get inside the Anaheim Convention Center—and catch a glimpse of their favorite YouTube celebrities.

I was late to the party. Lines of fans had already gathered early that morning, waiting to get inside. They interrupted their quiet, anxious buzzes of chatter with piercing shrieks whenever a YouTube creator casually strolled by and waved at them.

"Creator" is a catch-all term that includes everyone from webcam videobloggers to keyboard-cat uploaders to the increasingly professional stars whose channels have attracted millions of subscribers. At VidCon, the latter meaning prevails: Insiders and fans alike use "creator" to call out the particular class of celebrity whose work and fame have become an intimate and singular part of the YouTube experience.

In this case, the creators who set off a particularly loud uproar right as I walked in were Jack and Finn Harries. As soon as the twin brothers from the UK set foot in the convention center, it was like they set off a sonic boom. 

VidCon attendance has grown from 1,400 in 2010 to 18,000 this year.

There was the silence right before chaos. First one teen turned around and gasped, then hundreds of others whipped their heads in that direction. Then, the rising wave of screams—primal, animalistic, unbridled emotion.

Rethinking YouTube

If you think of YouTube as a place for music videos and funny animal hijinks, VidCon will forever change your views. The annual convention, first held in 2010, is the beating heart of YouTube—a niche community so passionate and alive, but so committed to the nuances of visual storytelling that it struggles to explain itself through bare text.

To plunge into the chaos and charm of VidCon, to embrace YouTube’s community in the crowded, sweaty flesh, to surround yourself with 18,000 community members in one gargantuan yet impossibly packed convention center, may be the only way to understand it. Like YouTube itself, the experience at its best is visual and visceral.

If you've seen historic footage of the Beatles’ 1965 tour in America, it's like that—but add smartphones, selfies, and social media. I watch as fans of YouTube personality catrific, known for comedic vlogs about her life, snap selfies in unending rotations with the star.

Here’s the fundamental difference between Beatlesmania and VidConmania: Like YouTube itself, fame on the site is two-way and participatory. Unlike the gated-off crowds of A Hard Day’s Night, fans are playing paparazzi with the YouTube celebrities, and putting themselves in the picture. They're not just trailing behind their favorite creators, desperate for a glimpse. They're running in front of them, face to their own cameras, framing themselves in the center of a selfie. The YouTube stars are just there to photobomb.

VidCon attendees pose with a cardboard cutout of beauty guru <a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/missglamorazzi">missglamorazzi</a>, one of many all-too-popular YouTube celebrities at the show.

Five years in, this behavior has led to absurdities, like cardboard cutouts of YouTube stars, which seem to defeat the whole point of VidCon's meet-in-the-flesh appeal. These cutouts of creators—hardly less virtual than the interactions fans and creators have on YouTube itself—stand in front of booths like the one for AwesomenessTV, an operator of multiple YouTube channels.

Joe Penna, known on YouTube as mysteryguitarman, fights off imaginary mobs with a banana.

While setting up an interview with YouTube creator Joe Penna, his management warned me that "VidCon is huge and chaotic so we need to make sure this [interview] is either in one of the green rooms or someone's hotel room or Joe will get mobbed." 

Penna's channel, mysteryguitarman, showcases amazing editing and musical skills, and has amassed close to 3 million subscribers since his start on YouTube in 2006.

"Doing videos that involve my audience is important to me," Penna told me. "Here at VidCon I'm printing out 700 frames of my next video and letting them draw all over it. It's important to keep your fans involved.

"It's building a club, basically. It's cool to be a part of the mysteryguitarman fan club."

The trick of the new YouTube celebrity is keeping your fans feeling like they're in the club as their sheer numbers grow ever more overwhelming.

DIY expert Brittani Louise Taylor turns on the charm in a hotel room.

As I prepped for an interview with Brittani Louise Taylor, a comedian and DIY expert, her reps told me they couldn't get ahold of her. Then we got word that Taylor had been swarmed by fans and was now trapped in her hotel room.

Escorted by a 7-foot-tall bodyguard, I rode up a hotel elevator in search of Taylor. (He wasn't worried about me, but he wanted to make sure she could get out of her room after the interview.) Despite the fracas in the convention center, she was as sparkly in person as she is in her videos, and said she still adored her fans, even when they gathered in overwhelming throngs.

"It's way crazier this year," said Taylor. "Just getting out of the car outside of the hotel took 45 minutes." 

And yet Taylor wouldn't go without the close-up interaction.

"I always go home feeling so loved because you get so many hugs throughout the day," she said. "And they hug you. It's like a 'you've been my friend throughout all these years' hug."

The Perils Of YouTube Fame And Fandom

I heard similar stories of VidCon mania from other YouTube creators. I also heard echoes from the people who surround and support them—the executives, managers, and community members. They’re the ones who are making and remaking YouTube into a place for 21st-century celebrity.

No one could stop talking about YouTube personality and heartthrob Connor Franta, who is best known for his comedic, topical vlogs and for melting the heart of every teen in radius. With wide, terrified eyes, attendees told me stories about getting caught in a Franta-fangirl stampede, snagging and ripping their toenails after being caught in the crowd. (Never wear open-toe shoes to a convention.)

VidCon attendees sit for a keynote address by conference organizers Hank and John Green.

VidCon is about much more than fan meet-and-greets for the teen set. Attendees on the "industry track," who include salespeople, marketers from big brands, and YouTube and Google employees, are steered toward panels extolling the selling power of YouTube stars.

They're hardly necessary. One experience of being in the midst of a stampede of con-goers chasing a passing YouTube star, and you're a believer.

Even Internet-video insiders are taken aback by this side of the business. “It is absolute fandemonium,” said Wadooah Wali, head of communications at Fullscreen, a multi-channel network (MCN) that signs YouTube creators to their management, with a blank face. It was her first VidCon experience, and mine too, and we both felt a sense of awe.

Epic Meal Time's stars meet fans at VidCon.

Con-goers will wait hours in line to meet their favorite YouTubers in person. Some stars, like the Epic Meal Time crew, a team best known for their extreme cooking show, will organize signings at set times and locations. (What does a YouTube star sign? Posters, hats, body parts—anything you want.)

Other YouTube stars will find a random corner in the convention space to hold an impromptu signing, somtimes tweeting out the location to their fans or just letting them gather. 

The Anaheim Convention Center is across the street from Disneyland, and that's somehow a fitting backdrop to the VidCon experience. The whole routine brings to mind Disney characters standing in a section of the theme park to sign autographs, smile brightly, and pose for photos.

I was witnessing a cultural phenomenon that has touched billions of people around the world, yet somehow stayed completely below the radar of other media. 

YouTube's challenge is to replicate this fandom offline, beyond the teens and tweens who roved the halls of VidCon. The site is already rolling out billboard and video advertising campaigns to expand their stars' reach, and to make them more than just Internet famous. 

VidCon attendees Adrianne and Rae hoped to see YouTube star Tyler Oakley at VidCon. Oakley has 4.5 million subscribers.

When I wandered just a few steps outside and spoke to food vendors or hotel employees, I found no one had heard of stars like Meghan Tonjes or Tyler Oakley—the kind who drew crowds inside the convention center.

For VidCon attendees who grew up with YouTube, the distinction between "YouTube famous" and "famous famous" may be meaningless.

Amber and Kody wait for a panel to begin.

With them, YouTube has a different challenge: to hold their loyalties as competitors like Yahoo court the creators they adore with better financial terms and promises of more promotion.

Ryan, Tristan, and Adrian hoped to meet comedian duo Smosh, also known as Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, and Toby Turner, whose channel Tobuscus has close to 6 million subscribers.

If YouTube is to keep its lead, it will have to keep that magic connection between fans and creators alive. Even as YouTube channels grow to millions of subscribers and some turn into very successful businesses, fed by all the ads Google sells, there's something peculiarly intimate about the link between YouTube viewers and the personalities who beam themselves onto the screens of their laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Chris, Matt, and Adam enjoy prank videos like those of Roman Atwood, a creator who films original pranks and who has accumulated close to 4 million subscribers.

That may explain the intensity of YouTube's fan culture on display at VidCon. But it doesn't give many clues on how YouTube's rivals might replicate it—or how YouTube itself will preserve it.

Joycelin and Joy tell me about the extensive list of creators they are trying to meet—the twin filmmakers Jack and Finn, personality and singer Troye Sivan, musician Meghan Tonjes, and beauty guru Zoella.

YouTube's transformation from a collection of bedroom webcam videos into full-blown celebrity machine seems nearly complete. With thumbs-up and clicks on that big red Subscribe button, they turn niche performers into stars. 

Next thing you know, stampedes of teens are obliterating a walkway in Anaheim just to try to touch them. Finally these fans have a chance to see their favorites. In that moment, they realize that these creators are really their creation.

Images by Stephanie Chan

An Early Fourth: Welcome To ReadWrite 4.0

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 17:53

Categories:

Web

You may notice that the site you love has a new look. But the visual refresh, while substantial and welcome, is just the tip of the iceberg. We've changed far more in the deep infrastructure of ReadWrite.

ReadWrite 4.0: ReadWrite's July 2014 redesign

Since its earliest days, one of ReadWrite's core obsessions has been the tools used to create the Web. And yet for most of our history, we didn't have the resources to make the most of those technologies ourselves.

That changed two and a half years ago, when Say Media acquired ReadWrite. Say Media is a media company and a technology company. Some organizations struggle to reconcile those identities, but one of the things that makes this place special is that we don't see a contradiction.

Since Say became ReadWrite's publisher, we've released three new versions of the site. You can call this one ReadWrite 4.0. And the best news is that the software underpinning the site will let us engage in even more rapid change in the future.

Say Media's Ross Hattori and Ben Trott discuss ReadWrite 4.0's launch.The Fourth Is Strong With This One

ReadWrite is now running on Tempest, Say Media's internally developed publishing system. As a result, while it looks like a website, it's really a Web app—a single-page application, if you want to use the technical term, like Gmail or Twitter.

This doesn't change the goal of the site, which is to deliver a great reading experience. Expectations of readers have changed in the past 11 years, though. It's no longer about serving up a static mix of text and images for a desktop computer monitor. A great reading experience must adapt to different devices, screen sizes, and environments—as well as learning about readers and giving them information suited to their needs.

As a result, it makes more sense to deliver a compact Web app in the browser which then fetches and displays the text, images, and other elements of a story, and arranges them intelligently. That's what Tempest does. And it's a radical change from the past two decades of how Web servers have worked, particularly for content sites.

Tempest uses Web technologies ReadWrite has written about frequently, like AngularJS and Node.js. Say Media engineers have extended those software libraries further and contributed the code to the public as open source: For example, software engineer Martin Atkins built angularjs-server, a specialized tool for making Angular sites friendly to search engines, which are peculiarly old-fashioned in how they expect Web servers to work.

As a result of this new, modern infrastructure, ReadWrite's pages should load quickly and look good on a variety of devices. One particular benefit will be an ability to move very quickly from page to page within the site. I hope that will encourage readers to take a deep dive on topics they are passionate about, and spend more time with our rich and illuminating archive.

Moving our substantial body of work from 11 years of continuous publication was itself arduous, especially with our habit of testing the boundaries of what one could do in the canvas of HTML. While we've carried all but a tiny fraction of our articles over, a few are still being migrated. If you encounter a missing article or any other bugs with the site, please let us know at bugs@readwrite.com.

 

Say Media's Paul Devine and Matt Matson prepare to move ReadWrite to new infrastructure, as Ramona the Love Terrier supervises.&nbsp;Now, To Take Action

As part of this redesign, we've renamed two of our sections. Enterprise is now Work. Small Biz is now Start.

With every article we write, we hope to inform you about new aspects of technology—the Web, cloud, mobile, and social. But we also aim to inspire you to take action. To work more effectively. To play with more joy. To hack new things. To start your own adventure.

And so those are ReadWrite's sections: Web, Cloud, Mobile, Social. Work, Play, Hack, Start. They don't limit or contain our coverage, but they help define it. We describe the world of technology. And we help you figure out what to do with it.

Extending The Web To All Who Need It

By "you," we mean all of you. Everyone in the world. With ReadWrite 4.0, we're also beginning a new focus on our longtime cause: the democratization of technology. Technology is only useful if everyone can participate in its benefits and its future direction.

We will continue to champion those left behind and left out, and advocate for their inclusion in technology. To be a support for them, we require a sturdy platform of our own.

You need a Web server to serve the Web.

ReadWrite thanks all of the Say Media engineering, design, and product team members who worked on our relaunch on Tempest, including but by no means limited to Adrian Cleave, Antoine Imbert, Brad Choate, James Cabrera, John Vars, Paul Devine, Pradheap Babu, Ross Hattori, Shane Dosch, Steven Cook, Ben Trott, Dave Lerman, Bryan Wyman, Franck Cuny, Matt Matson, Smith Schwartz, Michael Hunter, Shanna Chambers, Madeleine Weiss, and Alex Schleifer.