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Why Your Company Needs To Write More Open Source Software

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 16:32



The Wall Street Journal thinks it's news that Zulily is developing "more software in-house." It's not. At all. As Eric Raymond wrote years ago, 95% of the world's software is written for use, not for sale. The reasons are many, but one stands out: as Zulily CIO Luke Friang declares, it's "nearly impossible for a [off the shelf] solution to keep up with our pace."

True now, just as it was true 20 years ago.

But one thing is different, and it's something the WSJ completely missed. Historically software developed in-house was zealously kept proprietary because, the reasoning went, it was the source of a firm's competitive advantage. Today, however, companies increasingly realize the opposite: there is far more to be gained by open sourcing in-house software than keeping it closed.

Which is why your company needs to contribute more open-source code. Much more.

A Historical Anomaly

We've gone through an anomalous time these past 20 years. While most software continued to be written for internal use, most of the attention has been focused on vendors like SAP and Microsoft that build solutions that apply to a wide range of companies.

That's the theory, anyway.

In practice, buyers spent a small fortune on license fees, then a 5X multiple on top of that to make the software fit their requirements. For example, a company may spend $100,000 on an ERP system, but they're going to spend another $500,000 making it work. 

One of the reasons open source took off, even in applications, was that companies could get a less functional product for free (or a relatively inexpensive fee) and then spend their implementation dollars tuning it to their needs. Either way, customization was necessary, but the open source approach was less costly and arguably more likely to result in a more tailored result.

Meanwhile, technology vendors doubled-down on "sameness," as Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady describes:

The mainstream technology industry has, in recent years, eschewed specialization. Virtual appliances, each running a version of the operating system customized for an application or purpose, have entirely failed to dent the sales of general purpose alternatives such as RHEL or Windows. For better than twenty years, the answer to any application data persistence requirement has meant one thing: a relational database. If you were talking about enterprise application development, you were talking about Java. And so on.

Along the way, however, companies discovered that vendors weren't really meeting their needs, even for well-understood product categories like Content Management Systems. They needed different, not same.

So the customers went rogue. They became vendors. Sort of.

Scratching Their Own Itches

As is often the case, O'Grady nails this point. Writing in 2010, O'Grady uncovers an interesting trend: "Software vendors are facing a powerful new market competitor: their customers." 

Think about the most visible technologies today. Most are open source, and nearly all of them were originally written for some company's internal use, or some developer's hobby. Linux, Git, Hadoop, Cassandra, MongoDB, Android, etc. None of these technologies were originally written to be sold as products.

Instead, they were developed by companies—usually Web companies—building software to "scratch their own itches," to use the open source phrase. And unlike previous generations of in-house software developed at banks, hospitals and other organizations, they open sourced the code. 

While some companies eschew developing custom software because they don't want to maintain it, open source (somewhat) mitigates this by letting a community grow up to extend and maintain a project, thereby amortizing the costs of development for the code originators. Yahoo! started Hadoop, but its biggest contributors today are Cloudera and Hortonworks. Facebook kickstarted Cassandra, but DataStax primarily maintains it today. And so on.

Give It Away (Now)

Today real software innovation doesn't happen behind closed doors. Or, if it does, it doesn't stay there. It's open source, and it's upending decades of established software orthodoxy.

Not that it's for the faint of heart. 

The best open-source projects innovate very fast. Which is not the same as saying anyone will care about your open-source code. There are significant pros and cons to open sourcing your code. But one massive "pro" is that the best developers want to work on open code: if you need to hire quality developers, you need to give them an open source outlet for their work. (Just ask Netflix.)

But that's no excuse to sit on the sidelines. It's time to get involved, and not for the good of some ill-defined "community." No, the primary beneficiary of open-source software development is you and your company. Better get started.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Vacationers, Let Your Smart Home House-Sit Itself

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 13:00



ReadWriteHome is an ongoing series exploring the implications of living in connected homes.

Three years ago, a pipe burst in Alex Hawkinson’s family vacation home when he was away.

“We found it totally destroyed by moisture,” he told me in an interview earlier this year. “The electricity went out, and the pipes froze and burst. The electricity came back on, and the water ran through the walls, ceilings and floors.” 

The thing that drove him crazy: The water damage could have been prevented. If he’d known, he would have called a handyman immediately. 

Any number of disasters can happen to our homes when we’re out of town—which is an unnerving scenario, considering the three-day Labor Day weekend coming up. It's equally worrying whether you're thinking about the place you're going to stay, or the home you're leaving behind.

In my parents' day, people would ask friends and neighbors to look in on their abodes. Now, with smart-home systems and connected devices, our houses can practically watch themselves. 

Guarding Against Random Acts Of Plumbing

Everyone loves long weekends and lengthy vacations, but there’s always something unsettling about leaving our homes unattended.

There’s good reason for the concern: Burst pipes and other sources of water damage are among the most common and expensive disasters affecting residences across the United States, costing homeowners and renters billions every year, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Hawkinson knows this first-hand. That’s why he founded SmartThings, the smart-home company he just sold to Samsung that connects sensors, lights, locks and other gadgets to the Internet. With this and systems like it—including Revolv, Insteon, Staples Connect, Lowe’s Iris, ADT, and packages from cable and broadband providers—people can keep tabs on their homes while they are down the street or across the country. 

Moisture sensors, motion detectors and cameras make easy work of this. Any sign of trouble, like a burst pipe or electrical fire, and an alert pops up on your smartphone. From there, the display can offer more information or, in some cases, even a live feed of what's happening inside the dwelling. 

Functionality like this used to be expensive, back when architects and contractors had to install them. Now, there are plenty of do-it-yourself kits and individual devices that cost $100 to $200. If you're scrappy, you can set your home up for even less. 

These aggressive price points could help make smart homes more mainstream. While they're not there yet, it could just be a matter of time. By 2020, Markets and Markets predicts, equipping smart homes will become a $22.4 billion-dollar business in the Americas.

Something else that could help: Google and Apple are getting in the game. The former scooped up two popular smart-home startups this year—the Nest learning thermostat and Dropcam camera. And just two months ago, Apple announced HomeKit, its ambitious initiative to let its iPhone and iPad connect and control various systems and smart-home products. 

It seems the market is just getting started, which means consumers will see plenty more home devices go on sale before long. 

See also: 5 Things To Consider Before Wiring Up Your Smart Home

New contenders will join a crowded marketplace that includes Nest and Honeywell smart thermostats; Dropcam, Piper and Canary connected cameras; Yale and Kwikset connected locks; and numerous other products covering smart lights, speaker systems and more.

Which means there will be more ways to monitor our homes for acts of God—and man.

Taking A Byte Out Of Crime

When I was little, my parents used to leave our living-room lights on when we went away, to suggest to onlookers that someone was staying there. Now, my husband and I can turn on a Philips Hue lightbulb remotely, to discourage would-be burglars. We can doublecheck that the Yale or Kwikset doorlocks are bolted shut, even when we’re at the airport. We can even set a Sonos speaker to loudly bark if an intruder enters the house. 

Our connected cameras are smart enough to tell us when they detect strange movement, so we can look in and see what's happening. (Bonus: We also use them to look in on our kitties when we’re at work.) 

While we're protecting ourselves from real-world burglars, are we exposing ourselves to hackers? The benefits of smart-home systems seem to outweigh these vague threats. 

True, smart-home systems may not be totally locked down, but at this point, you're far more likely to be a victim of real home break-ins than virtual ones. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Uniform Crime Reporting Program, an estimated 8,975,438 property crimes occurred in 2012, including residential burglaries, larceny-thefts, car thefts and arsons.

Some police departments recognize that connected devices could discourage such criminal activity. So they’re not waiting for people to hook up their houses on their own—they’re offering to do it for them.

Recognizing the growing problem of break-ins when people go out of town, the Redlands (California) Police Department (RPD) launched a program called “While You're Away—Electronic Home Surveillance Program” last September. With this initiative, people going on vacation can sign up to get a Bluetooth tracking device. Residents attach the gadget to a high-value item in their home, like a laptop or other home electronics, and if a burglar steals it, the police know immediately and can respond quickly. 

“This program is being replicated now throughout the nation,” Redlands police officer Lt. Travis Martinez told me over the phone. He cited the recent example of the southern California town of Rialto, whose police force announced in March that it too would deploy motion-sensing devices to vacationing residents. 

Lt. Martinez himself is no stranger to smart-home devices. At his own residence, he uses a Honeywell Internet-connected thermostat. 

“Anything you can control over your phone makes it easier for you to use,” he said. 

The police officer also sees how such devices help in his line of work. “With [connected] cameras, we’ve had some occasions where people have called, saying, ‘Hey, we see them at our location right now,’ so we’re able to respond.”

In the old days, it might have been a concerned neighbor who called the cops. Now your home can do it for you.

Vacation and pipe photos courtesy of Shutterstock; Dropcam photo courtesy of Dropcam

Apple's Executive Page Just Got More Diverse

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 11:07



Just days after Apple released a report that revealed it's not much more diverse than the rest of Silicon Valley, the company updated its executive leadership page in a way that spotlights more diversity among a lower rung of executives.

Apple's website now features five additional executive profiles, two of which are women: Lisa Jackson, vice president of environmental initiatives, and Denise Young-Smith, vice president of worldwide human resources. The recent additions are all vice president-level executives who report to CEO Tim Cook.

See also: Tim Cook Takes A Diverse Stance: Apple's Gay And Disabled Employees Matter Too

Cook mentioned both Jackson and Young-Smith as examples of diverse executives in a letter that accompanied its transparency report on Tuesday. Apple hired both women within the last year and a half, 9to5 Mac reports.

Though they're in non-technical roles—men make up 80% of Apple's technical workforce—both positions are high profile, public facing jobs. At the very least, they make women much more visible at the male-dominated company.

Apple is clearly making an effort to increase workplace diversity, at least the public perception of it. It's following a trend in which several big tech companies have admitted they’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of hiring talent that isn’t white and male.

Perhaps this brings us closer to the day when Apple will feature a female executive on stage at its annual WWDC meeting for the first time ever

Lead image by matt buchanan

In Exposing Followers, Medium Fails Readers

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 09:42



If Medium wants to turn itself into a respectable publisher, it probably shouldn’t behave like a social network.

On Wednesday, the company announced it would make lists of followers public to Medium members. Writers and readers can see who's reading whom.

Ev Williams, the cofounder of Twitter, created the site with the idea that writing can and should be social. You must log in with Twitter or Facebook to start following authors of pieces and collections of articles on the site. And Medium's editing tools make it easy for writers to share and receive feedback from other people before actually publishing a story, who then get credit for their assistance.

That's all well and good—credit where credit's due, and an easy way to find people you're already following elsewhere are sensible social features. But Medium's latest move may alarm people—as well as the way the company announced it.

The initial post suggested that Medium would take it slowly, first displaying follower information to authors privately, then making it public. But the feature is already live, giving people almost no time at all to react—by, say, unfollowing writers and collections they don't want others to know they're reading.

Why Medium Is Getting More Personal

If you think of Medium as a social network with sharing features—like, say, Yahoo's Tumblr—the move makes sense. Who you follow on Medium is largely based on who you follow on Twitter and who you’re friends with on Facebook. Those lists are public by default on those services, and Medium requires at least one social account—you can't log in with just your email.

Up until now, the only information writers were able to see was a follower count, privately listed on a Medium statistics page. Now, there will be people and profiles behind those numbers, publicly displayed for any Medium member to see.

Displaying followers could signal to new readers which writers are popular, as well as show writers who is interested their stories—something, as a Medium writer myself, I think is quite appealing. At the very least, seeing a close friend or a big name following you can be an ego boost.

“We feel that publicly showing follow lists will encourage more of these relationships through seeing who your friends are reading, and help you expand your audience as a writer, as well as improve the discovery and diversity of stories that we present to you as a reader,” Greg Gueldner, a Medium representative, wrote in an email to ReadWrite.

That would be great—if Medium had given its members any warning this could potentially happen. In its post on Wednesday, Medium put the news about its privacy settings in the very last sentence. Any editor could have told Medium management what's wrong with that: It's called "burying the lede."

(After ReadWrite inquired about the potential privacy issues publicizing followers could create, Medium edited its story to add an additional three paragraphs at the end of the post.)

When I first signed up for Medium, I followed all my Twitter friends who had done the same, some of whom I still read regularly. Eventually, I started following more writers whose work I admired on Medium. Those choices reflected my expanding interests, based on suggestions from Medium and stories I encountered elsewhere and liked. At no point did Medium warn me that these interests might eventually be made public.

Before founding the company that became Twitter, Williams worked at Google, which bought his first online-publishing company, Blogger.

Googlers know all too well just how bad making private information public could be. In 2010, the company’s Buzz product, an early attempt to imitate Twitter, launched and made email contacts public by default. The privacy misstep wound up saddling Google with 20 years of independent privacy audits.

Buzz didn't merely scandalize privacy advocates. Google's mistake hurt real human beings—like the woman whose abusive ex-boyfriend learned who her new boyfriend and employer were, as well as how to contact them.

Unhappy Medium: The Absence Of A "Block" Feature

Some people may not want people to know what they read. There are others who don’t necessarily want people to know what they write.

On most social networks that have a follower system, companies provide a block function that prevents people from following and reading the information they contribute. Medium does not.

“We have no plans to enable a blocking feature,” Gueldner said in an email. “While we do start your follow list on Medium based on who you follow on Twitter and your friends on Facebook who also have Medium accounts, the actions you take on Medium are independent of those other networks.”

This means, even if I block someone on Twitter, they can still follow me on Medium.

Some companies took longer to realize the importance of the block function than others. LinkedIn only implemented a block function in February of this year after complaints from members reached critical mass. Now on LinkedIn’s publishing platform, as well as across its other services, blocked users cannot read what you write. 

Can Medium Be A Publisher And A Social Network?

Medium is lies in a gray area between platform and publisher. It lets people write and publish posts longer than Twitter's 140-character limit, and it displays longer essays more elegantly than Blogger or Tumblr. But it's otherwise hard to succinctly define, because some pieces on Medium are written for free by authors seeking exposure for their ideas, while some are commissioned and paid for by Medium, which employs its own editors.

The company features some interesting journalism. Matter, a digital magazine Medium acquired in 2013, is one of my favorite reads.

With serious journalism created at Medium's behest sitting alongside users' contributions, the question of what Medium is becomes crucial. If it's a publisher, then Medium's publication of its follower lists seems like a betrayal of a crucial trust. In the print world, magazines guard the privacy of their subscriber lists zealouslyThe Advocate, a magazine for gays and lesbians, used to send issues out with a wrapper to disguise the nature of the periodical.

What if the parents of a teenager discover that she's following That's So Gay, a collection of articles on "unstraight issues by unstraight people," and thereby deduce her sexual orientation before she's disclosed it to them?

Though its founder created Twitter, Medium is nothing like it. As sharing everything with everyone becomes the standard across the Web, there are fewer places where people can be themselves, without every action disclosing some portion of their identity.

Before this latest move, Medium was a quiet, well-lit place where you could explore ideas with some sense of privacy. Now, in the name of "discovery," we've been exposed.

Lead image by Erin Kohlenberg

Cable TV’s Core Business Is No Longer Cable—It’s Broadband

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 09:02



For the first time, the leading cable TV operators' broadband business edged out its TV figures last quarter, says a new report from the Leichtman Research Group

On the surface, the difference looks tiny—49,915,000 Internet subscribers versus 49,910,000 TV customers—but it’s a significant and definitive tipping point. Those Internet pipes are sure to become even more important as time goes on, much to the relief of cable providers watching streaming services chip away at their core service.

See also: With Time Warner, Comcast Wants Total Control Of The Internet Pipes

And what a secondary business online service has turned out to be. You’d be hard-pressed these days to find anyone who doubts that the future runs on Internet. Something has to feed all those streaming boxes, gaming consoles, smart home gadgets and laptops, after all. And cable companies are right there to control those pipes (for a healthy fee, of course).

Recode points out that broadband may be the real reason Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable. The former argues that the deal would only put 30% of the nation’s cable business under its control—not significant enough to raise concerns. What should is that the deal would lump together a bigger share of the broadband market—as much as 40%. Comcast, of course, tries to downplay that, saying in June that it’s more like 35%.

Either way, traditional TV entertainment just got definitively upstaged. We brace ourselves now, waiting to see how the cable giants turn more of their attention to the bigger business of controlling our data pipes. 

Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock

That New YouTube Hashtag Tells Us How Video Fans Really Feel

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 08:40



For the latest confirmation of the porous boundaries that separate YouTube stars and their devoted fans, look no further than the latest trend on Twitter. Though it's not what you might think at first glance.

The Twitter hashtag #YouTubersIWantToBang has been trending since earlier Friday. As you'd expect, it's popped the lid off the YouTube id, giving fans and video creators alike an excuse to shamelessly overshare their YouTube-celebrity fantasies:

Surprisingly, though—at least if you're not in tune with YouTube fandom—the resulting salacious tsunami was mostly not the work of men lusting after perceived video hotties.

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

Quite the opposite, in fact. The tag’s feed is mainly populated by YouTube's ardent community of teen-girl fans, whose relationships with their favorite male webstars resembles that of groupies fawning over the latest boy band. 

Some YouTube stars got into the act themselves:

Most YouTube celebrities are known for cultivating extremely close relationships with their audiences. They nurture that feeling of Internet-closeness through social media oversaturation, in-person meet-and-greets, and videos that showcase stars' homes, friends, and families.

Given just how close—even incestuous—that relationship can grow, it was probably only a matter of time before something like #YouTubersIWantToBang, um, burst onto the scene.

See also: Teens Love YouTube Superstars, But Advertisers Aren't Biting—Yet

At the same time, the relationship is increasingly tinged with a sense of untouchability. That's particularly true these days, since YouTube is working hard to make mainstream stars out of its top celebrities—so far with mixed results.

As YouTube stars grow in fame and mainstream appeal, they inevitably become less accessible to their fans. So a kind of counterreaction may also be setting in—one that makes it easier for some fans to see YouTubers less as people and more like ordinary, unattainable celebrities.

Which makes it that much easier for some fans to view modern vloggers as objects onto which they can project their inner desires. As YouTuber Hank Green of vlogbrothers fame lamented:

Image of YouTubers Jack and Finn Harries by Gage Skidmore

Shoes On The Run: Why Your Fitness App Wants To Sell You Stuff

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 19:46



ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series in which ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

My Nike+ Running app is free, like most of the running apps I've tried. So how does Nike make money off of it?

It's all in the shoes. Nike's app asked me which shoes I run with, and when I've logged enough miles to run my soles into the ground, it gently suggests I get myself down to Niketown to replace them.

MapMyFitness, another big running-app maker, has now copied Nike's moves with a new feature called Gear Tracker that it unveiled Thursday. You can now track the mileage you've logged on a particular set of kicks, and get reminders to replace them. MapMyFitness has partnered with, the apparel store, to sell shoes.

If The Shoe Doesn't Fit

This isn't a shoe-selling gimmick, by the way: Runner's World recommends replacing running shoes after 300 to 500 miles, something I didn't realize as a novice runner. I found Nike's nudge helpful rather than annoying.

And MapMyFitness isn't doing this for the money—at least not the easy kind. While Zappos has a program to share a percentage of revenues with sites and apps that direct customers to it, MapMyFitness spokesperson Allison Glass tells me her company isn't participating and that Zappos is keeping all the revenue.

A few years ago, most of the big running apps introduced premium subscription options, offering more advanced run-tracking features like live run broadcasts or more detailed analysis for a monthly or annual fee. Strava has done particularly well with its subscription offering, and MapMyFitness, RunKeeper, and Runtastic all have them as well.

Selling Fitness

But selling gear may be the real secret to making money in fitness. MapMyFitness and Runtastic have the most advanced strategies here.

MapMyFitness's success at pushing fitness apparel and hardware is a big reason why Under Armour paid $150 million to buy the Austin, Texas-based company last year. Shortly before Under Armour announced the deal, MapMyFitness had struck a partnership with Brooks Running.

Under Armour is making a big move to sell more than just athletic clothing, including wearables like its Armour39 activity tracker and shoes, a market where it hopes to go toe to toe with Nike

Unlike Nike+, MapMyFitness's Gear Tracker will track any kind of shoe—which is a sensible strategy for an upstart like Under Armour. Gear Tracker's openness mirrors MapMyFitness's digital strategy: Its application programming interface connects to a wide array of other fitness apps and devices—including Nike's.

In contrast, there's Runtastic, a fitness app maker which has put its brand on a number of devices it sells, from heart-rate monitors to apparel to bike cadence sensors to wireless scales. Some are just generic devices with the Runtastic name attached, while others, like the Libra scale and the Orbit activity tracker, are deftly integrated into Runtastic's mobile apps and website. (The only thing Runtastic isn't selling, it seems, is shoes.)

Collecting The Data, Sale Or No

The underlying thread here is that the savviest fitness-app developers are finding ways to link free software with paid hardware. Rather than slap tiny mobile banners on their apps, they're getting directly involved in the sale, by tying shopping to specific moments in an active person's life. Your shoes are worn out? Buy some new ones. Not making progress on your bike rides? Try a heart-rate monitor or cadence sensor to analyze your performance.

And ultimately it may not matter if MapMyFitness sells a lot of shoes, or gets a cut of the proceeds. Just knowing what its users are wearing could be invaluable market research for Under Armour as it tries to gain share of feet in the shoe market. 

Nike's running-app strategy, which assumes people live in a Nike universe, works well for retaining current customers and prompting them to buy new shoes. But it closes it off to what's happening in the world outside. Once people stop buying Nike shoes, Nike stops gathering data. And in a digital world, without data, you might as well close up shop.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Google's Got An Open Source Android Problem

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 17:12



Never has a tweet been more true, or potentially more disastrous for a vendor. Years ago Google's Andy Rubin, stung by Steve Jobs' criticism that Android wasn't truly open, tweeted that anyone could fork - i.e., modify - Android, making it "open" in the truest sense of the word.

Unfortunately for Google, many OEMs took Rubin at his word.

Today, Google's Android business is booming, but it's clear that Android fragmentation minimizes just how much Google—or its ecosystem of app developers—can make from the open-source mobile OS. Unfortunately, according to new ABI Research data, it's only going to get worse.

Unleashing The Freedom Genie

Despite concerns over the years as to just how open Android truly is, Andy Rubin's tweet set the concerns to rest:

Google open source chief confirmed Rubin's point, telling me that more than 10 million lines of Android code are free to anyone to use under an open-source license.

Yes, Google controls the development process for Android. And, yes, it may release code selectively to favored third parties. But on balance, Google has been an exceptional steward for Android (not to mention many other open-source projects).

Perhaps too good a steward, it would seem.

Making Android Dominance Pay...For App Developers

Open source has been very good to Google's Android operating system. Unlike previous mobile operating systems like iOS (available only to Apple) or Windows (available for a fee and on Microsoft's terms), Android was free to use (or, as venture capitalist Bill Gurley pointed out in 2011, sometimes under generous subsidies). 

How good? Well, once a non-entity in mobile, Android now has a clear lead in terms of devices sold and shipped:

Credit: Mark Hibbens, Seeking Alpha

Oddly, this hasn't turned into a financial bonanza for Android app developers.

It's long been the case that iOS developers make more money than Android developers. While Android's superior volume has been serving to cut this lead, it remains true that Android fragmentation makes it hard for app developers to monetize Android efficiently. 

Source: Google / I Download Blog

How hard? So hard that 64% of Android developers live below the "app poverty line" of $500 per app per month, according to VisionMobile. 

It may not be much better for Google.

Making Android Dominance Pay ... For Google

Fragmentation, it turns out, hurts Google, too. No, not in the same way that third-party developers feel it, but it hurts all the same. 

Google has responded to Android fragmentation by forcing Android OEMs to certify against newer versions of Android in order to get the right to distribute Google Mobile Services (GMS) or Google Apps. Google has also introduced new developer APIs that tie directly into Google Play, sidestepping OEMs to ensure end-users can get the latest Android experience. 

That is, provided end-users are running official Android builds. But many OEMs have a stock response for Google and its attempts to own the Android experience:

Fork you.

As ABI Research uncovers, forked Android ("AOSP smartphones") grew 20% sequentially from Q1 2014 to Q2 2014, compared to total market growth of 3% sequentially. Forked Android, in other words, is now 20% of the global smartphone market, and growing much faster than the overall market.

It's also growing faster than the certified (Open Handset Alliance, or OHA) Android market. While this official Android market tops 65% of all smartphones shipped today, it's growing at a 13% sequential rate. 

This wouldn't matter if these were mom-and-pop OEMs with little reach. But as  VisionMobile data highlights, Android's biggest growth comes from a geography that is happy to go it alone on software: Asia.

ABI Research analyst Nick Spencer unpacks what this means:

AOSP’s growth is driven by the development of Chinese and Indian handset manufacturers, not only in their domestic markets, but increasingly throughout Asia and beyond. Chinese and Indian vendors accounted for the majority of smartphone shipments for the first time with 51% share. While many of these manufacturers are low cost, some are making inroads in the mid-tier, including Xiaomi and Gionee, hence the growing challenge to Samsung in particular.

In other words, two of the world's biggest markets are filled with AOSP/forked Android vendors that are starting to sell far beyond their home markets, challenging Google's ability to monetize Android globally.

Charging For The Internet

Could Google still make money from all this forked Android adoption? Possibly. As Asymco explains, excluding China, Google earns roughly $6.30 per Internet user per year. So in theory a significant percentage of these Android (or iOS or Windows name it) devices should turn into money for Google, because each comes with a gateway to the Google Internet.

In practice, however, this isn't the case.

Asymco further explains that while there are plenty of reasons OEMs fork Android (e.g., a reluctance to deal with Google’s obligations, Microsoft’s IP licensing costs, etc.), "the most likely reason is flexibility."

Vendors competing on price and localization are looking to move quickly against each other and can’t wait for blessings from above. Belonging to some “Alliance” and all that it entails is just too much to ask for companies that are, so to say, delicate. The result is that the “more open” version of Android is beginning to threaten the “less open” version of Android

This "more open" Android will often include "a unique UI and set of services," including search and other non-Google apps made in China. In other words, forked Android may mean no $6.30 per user for Google.

All that said, while I imagine Google would like to exert more control over Android in order to minimize fragmentation for users and maximize revenue for itself, it's also the case that Android's open source nature has seriously diminished Apple's once impregnable lock on mobile. In an Apple world, Google's ability to make money is precarious at best.

In other words, "too open Android" is far better for Google than "too closed iOS."

GitHub May Actually Be Dragging Government Into The 21st Century

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 16:00



Ben Balter wants to get all up in the U.S. government’s code, and he thinks you should be able to as well. Balter, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, is GitHub’s official Government Evangelist. His purpose: to educate government agencies about adopting open-source software.

Balter’s battle is an uphill one, but it’s finally beginning to pay off. GitHub, the nation's most popular Web-based hosting service for mostly open-source coding projects, has just surpassed 10,000 active users within federal, state, and local governments—a number that's roughly two and a half times larger than it was at this time last year.

GitHub revolves around the repository—basically, a directory where users store the underlying code for computer programs. In exchange for free hosting, GitHub requires repositories are open source; that means anyone can copy or suggest edits to software hosted there. That includes major open source projects like Ruby On Rails and some projects by companies like Facebook and Twitter.

The United States Of GitHubBen Balter

GitHub began training its sights on government last fall with the launch of GitHub and Government, a portal designed to help government workers take advantage of open source software and tools so they can reuse pieces of code that are known to work—and so don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Balter’s job is to be GitHub’s eyes and ears in Washington by meeting with agencies and educating them about the basics of open source software. The biggest problem is the culture, he says.

See also: GitHub Goes Government, Aims To Open Source Civics

For instance, when Balter sends government agencies links to GitHub repositories, they frequently ask him to resend PDFs or PowerPoint slideshows instead. Such "closed data" formats—meaning there's no way to extract data and do something (anything!) with it—are anathema to the freewheeling, flexible GitHub culture.

As Balter told me: 

You’ve got government contractors that only know legacy languages. You’ve got administrators within government that don’t know whether open source can be trusted. So there’s a lot of education that needs to happen. Plus, there’s an entire industry dedicated to selling closed solutions to the government, and open source has to compete with that.

But the government is more open to modernization than it once was., the Obama administration’s initially disastrous website for Affordable Care Act signups, was a wake-up call regarding the atrocious interfaces and outdated technology of some government Web pages and their underlying services.

When The Feds Go Digital

Now, the White House has taken a page from San Francisco. Earlier this week it established a new U.S. Digital Service that, among other things, will set out technology best practices for the federal government. Running it will be Mikey Dickerson, the former Google employee who led a team credited with fixing the problems at

See also: The White House Now Has A Digital SWAT Team

It’s one small step for a government mainly stuck in the dark ages of technology. Balter told me that while he was on the White House SWAT (Software Automation and Technology) team, he wrote a script that cut the time one White House lawyer had previously spent messing around with spreadsheets from 45 minutes—to one:

As a taxpayer, we want these people working on law stuff, not busywork. And they would collect FOIA requests in spreadsheets and they would spend 45 minutes a day merging those spreadsheets. So we coded a script in 30 minutes so they can press a button and do that 45 minutes of work in one click. And if we share this script with other agencies, that’s the value of open source. We can free up government employees’ time to work smarter.

When usability and modernization are still major problems with some government websites, it’s a little early to be thinking about citizen participation. However, Balter is optimistic. He wants to have all 50 state governments using GitHub in some capacity by year’s end.

“I want your average 18-year-old to have the same facts and figures as a K Street lobbyist,” he said. “Where he or she can walk into a congressional office and point out a discrepancy with the open data he or she found in the government’s GitHub repository. And in my dream, the congressperson says, ‘You can submit a pull request to fix it.’ All of a sudden everyone’s on equal footing and we have participatory democracy.”

Local Government Wins, Too

One of GitHub and Government’s major success stories is the city of Chicago, where government employees and citizens are working side-by-side to map the city's bike routes. Meanwhile, the city of Philadelphia’s proposed data specifications for flu shot locations was so successful, Chicago and San Francisco later borrowed the code.

When GitHub says that it has 10,000 “active” government users, it really means government users who have “done something on GitHub other than signing up.” So while it’s unrealistic to assume 10,000 government employees are regularly using open source technology, it’s still possible that 10,000 of them think open source is a very good idea.

“There’s nothing preventing the government from modernizing,” he said. “If we hit the reset button, I think more people would envision a more open government that ‘shows its work’.”

Lead photo courtesy of GitHub; photo of Ben Balter courtesy of Ben Balter

Flipboard's Mike McCue On The Future Of Digital Media, Video Ads

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 15:26



With over 100 million active accounts and 10 million user-created digital magazines, Flipboard has changed the way people read and share news around the Web. The application lets users aggregate social feeds into a digital magazine, as well as follow and build magazines based on different topics, like cooking or international news.

At Wednesday evening’s ReadWrite Mix, Flipboard CEO Mike McCue laid out his vision for the future of digital media, although he couldn’t explain it without playing a little Buzzword Bingo.

“The world of TV, and the world of print, these worlds are merging,” he said. “We’re moving towards this ... world where content can be atomized and reconstructed around interests or topics that someone’s really passionate about.”

In other words, you're in control of what you want to read, and advertising still pays the bills.

Unlike other applications that use algorithms to learn your likes and dislikes to display information, Flipboard uses people and algorithms to select what’s most interesting for readers.

“As we thought about how we’d populate this personal magazine, one approach was totally algorithmic, we’d find content and sort it by keyword,” McCue said. “But we realized there needed to be a human touch here, and have people who were thoughtful about who were the best sources, and what was the best content.”

Flipboard editors hand-pick stories they think readers will find interesting. But it's also largely in the hands of readers to build and contribute to magazine selections that can range from kale smoothie recipes to politics.

Making Advertising Pretty

Part of the personalized experience, McCue said, is advertising. The problem with Web-based news and information is that it’s surrounded by banner advertisements that people have learned to block out. There are even multiple browser extensions that serve that very purpose. Flipboard is in a unique position to provide advertisers and publishers with magazine-like advertisements—large, beautiful images—on the Web.

And it’s not just large publishers that Flipboard works with to increase advertising revenue, but smaller publishers are beginning to capitalize on the Visual Web-based ads.

“In April, we launched a program that enables smaller publishers to be able to have these full-page, really awesome brand advertisements in their content as well,” McCue said. “We want to have [smaller blogs] have an ad from Gucci running in their content.... For a range of smaller publishers, in the first quarter of this program, we were able to generate over $1 million in advertising revenue.”

Video Ads Coming Soon

Like many other social companies, Flipboard is preparing to launch video advertisements that will mirror the magazine-style advertisements the company already displays.

McCue said that video advertisements will be rolling out in September; the first advertiser on board is the fashion brand Chanel. There is already a lot of video on Flipboard, so people may be accustomed to watching them as they scroll through their digital magazine. But this is the first time the company will be presenting them as ads.

Missing Out On Developers

Flipboard is built for consumers who like to create and devour news and information around their interests. But there is one key group of people Flipboard is still ignoring—developers.

The company has done very little with the developer community so far: They don’t have an API (see our API explainer), and there’s no way for developers to build tools that interact with the app. Though according to McCue, this is going to change.

“It’s just a matter of when,” he said. Soon, other apps might be able to publish on Flipboard, and pull information from the application and present it in different ways.

McCue gave no timetable for when developers could anticipate the change.

Flipboard: Ads Still Work

Just like at printed magazines, the lifeblood of Flipboard is advertising. And it seems to be paying off. According to McCue, Nielsen studies have shown that people remember Flipboard advertisements better than television ads.

That business model isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. McCue said if there’s one lesson he’s learned from being an entrepreneur, it’s that it’s hard to make money in a bunch of different ways—once you find something that works—in this case, advertising—you should stick with it.

“We’re focused on advertising,” he said. “That is now, and will always be, our focus.” 

Lead image by Ken Yeung

Where And How To Code: Choosing The Best Free Code Editor

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 13:34



Ready to start your first coding project? Great! Just configure Terminal or Command Prompt, learn to use it and then install all the languages, add-on libraries and APIs you’ll need. When you're finally through with all that, you can get started with installing Visual Studio so you can preview your work.  

See also: Don’t Fear The Command Line

At least that's how you used to have to do it.

No wonder beginning coders are increasingly turning to online integrated development environments (IDEs). An IDE is a code editor that comes ready to work with languages and all their dependencies, saving you the hassle of installing them on your computer.

I wanted to learn more about what constitutes the typical IDE, so I took a look at the free tier for three of the most popular integrated development environments out there: Cloud9, Koding, and Nitrous.IO. In the process, I learned a lot about the cases in which programmers would and would not want to use IDEs. 

Why Use An IDE?

If a text editor is like Microsoft Word, think of an IDE as Google Drive. You get similar functionality, but it's accessible from any computer and ready to share. As the Internet becomes an increasingly influential part of project workflow, IDEs make life easier.

I used Nitrous.IO for my last ReadWrite tutorial, the Python app in Create Your Own Obnoxiously Simple Messaging App Just Like Yo. When you use an IDE, you select the language you want to work in so you can test and preview how it looks on the IDE’s Virtual Machine (VM) designed to run programs written specifically in that language.

See also: Angular, Ember, And Backbone: Which JavaScript Framework Is Right For You?

If you read the tutorial, you'll see there are only two API libraries that my app depended on—messaging service Twilio and Python microframework Flask. That would have been easy to build using a text editor and Terminal on my computer, but I chose an IDE for yet another convenience: when everyone is using the same developer environment, it’s easier to follow along with a tutorial.

What An IDE Is Not

Still, an IDE is not a long term hosting solution. 

When you’re working on an IDE, you’re able to build, test and preview your app in the cloud. You’re even able to share the final draft via link.

But you can’t use an IDE to store your project permanently. You wouldn't ditch your blog in favor of hosting your posts as Google Drive documents. Like Google Drive, IDEs allow you to link and share content, but neither are equipped to replace real hosting.

See also: Friday Fun: Create Your Own Obnoxiously Simple Messaging App Just Like Yo

What's more, IDEs aren't designed for wide-spread sharing. Despite the increased functionality IDEs add to the preview capability of most text editors, stick with showing off your app preview to friends and coworkers, not with, say, the front page of Hacker News. In that case, your IDE would probably shut you down for excessive traffic.

Think of it this way: an IDE is a place to build and test your app; a host is a place for it to live. So once you’ve finalized your app, you’ll want to deploy it on a cloud-based service that lets you host apps long term, preferably one with a free hosting option like Heroku.

Choosing An IDE

As IDEs become more popular, more are popping up all the time. In my opinion, there’s no perfect IDE. However, some IDEs are better for certain work process priorities than others.

I took a look at the free tier for three of the most popular integrated development environments out there: Cloud9, Koding, and Nitrous.IO. Each has its benefits, depending on what you're working on. Here's what I found. 

Cloud9: Ready To Collaborate

When I signed up for Cloud9, one of the first things it prompted me to do was integrate my GitHub and BitBucket accounts. Instantly, all my GitHub projects, solo and collaborative, were ready to clone and work on in Cloud9’s development tool. Other IDEs have nowhere near this level of GitHub integration.

Out of the three IDEs I looked at, Cloud9 seemed most intent on ensuring an environment where I could work seamlessly with co-coders. Here, it’s not just a chat function in the corner. In fact, said CEO Ruben Daniels, Cloud9 collaborators can see each others coding in real time, just like co-authors are able to on Google Drive.

“Most services’ collaborative features only work on a single file,” said Daniels. “Ours work on multiples throughout the project. Collaboration is fully integrated within the IDE.” 

See also: How To Build A WinJS App In 10 Easy Steps

Koding: Help When You Need It

IDEs give you the tools you need to build and test applications in the gamut of open source languages. For a beginner, that can be a little bit intimidating. For example, if I’m working on a project with both Python and Ruby components, which VM do I use for testing?

The answer is both, though on a free account, you can only turn on one VM for testing at a time. I was able to find that out right on my Koding dashboard, which doubles as a place for users to give and get advice on their Koding projects. Of the three, it’s the most transparent when it comes to where you can ask for assistance and hear back in minutes.

“We have an active community built into the application,” said Nitin Gupta, Chief Business Officer at Koding. “We wanted to create an environment that is extremely attractive to people who need help and who want to help.”

Nitrous.IO: An IDE Wherever You Want

The ultimate advantage of using an IDE over your own desktop environment is that it’s self-contained. You don’t have to install anything to use it. On the other hand, the ultimate advantage of using your own desktop environment is that you can work locally, even without Internet.

Nitrous.IO gives you the best of both worlds. You can use the IDE on the Web, or you can download it to your own computer, said cofounder AJ Solimine. The advantage is that you can merge the integrations of Nitrous with the familiarity of your preferred text editor.

“You can access Nitrous.IO from any modern web browser via our online Web IDE, but we also have handy desktop applications for Windows and Mac that let you edit with your favorite editor,” he said.

The Bottom Line

The most surprising thing I learned from a week of using three different IDEs? How similar they are. When it comes to the basics of coding, they’re all equally helpful.

Cloud9, Koding, and Nitrous.IO all support every major open source language, from Ruby to Python to PHP to HTML5. You can choose from any of those VMs.

Both Cloud9 and Nitrous.IO have built-in one-click GitHub integration. For Koding there are a couple more steps, but it can be done. 

Each integrated easily with the APIs I needed. Each let me install my preferred package installers, too (and Koding made me do it as a superuser). They all have a built in Terminal for easily testing and deploying projects. All three allow you to easily preview your project. And of course, they all hosted my project in the cloud so I could work on it anywhere.

On the downside, they all had the same negatives, which is reasonable when you consider they're free. You can only run one VM at a time to test a program written in a particular language. When you’re not using your VM for a while, the IDE preserves bandwidth by putting it into hibernation and you have to wait for it to reload next time you use it (and Cloud9 was especially laborious). None of them make a good permanent host for your finished projects.

So to answer those who ask me if there’s a perfect free IDE out there, probably not. But depending on your priorities, there might be one that’s perfect for your project.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

Samsung Buys Smart-Home Outfit SmartThings, Reportedly For $200 Million

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 11:21


Alex Hawkinson, founder of SmartThings

It’s official: Samsung’s long-rumored acquisition bid for smart-home company SmartThings is now a reality. Neither company announced terms of the deal, although Recode reports that the sale price was $200 million. If that’s true, Samsung got quite a steal, considering Google blew $3.2 billion on Nest, maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors. 

Unlike those gadgets, SmartThings isn’t a standalone product, but a developer-friendly platform that's compatible with many devices from other companies. That makes this deal a shortcut for Samsung, which now doesn’t have to grow its own smart home initiative from scratch. 

See also: Why Samsung Buying SmartThings Should Have Us Worried

On the SmartThings blog, founder and CEO Alex Hawkinson wrote, “We believe that there is an enormous opportunity to leverage Samsung’s global scale to help us realize our long-term vision.” Ideally, in other words, Samsung’s worldwide reach in product areas ranging from smart TVs to smartphones to kitchen appliances could rocket SmartThings devices into homes around the globe.

Perhaps. But the SmartThings crew may want to brace itself anyway. Samsung loves throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Hopefully SmartThings’ carefully nurtured developer relationships and evolving ecosystem won't be among them. Because no one ever wants to see a smart home loaded down with confusion and bloatware.

Hawkinson said that SmartThings, which will technically become part of the Samsung Open Innovation Center (OIC) in San Francisco, will continue to run as an independent operation under his leadership.

Lead image courtesy of SmartThings

After Zelda Williams Abuse, Twitter May (Finally) Protect Users

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 09:57



In response to hateful tweets to Robin Williams' daughter, Zelda following her father's death, Twitter issued a statement claiming that it is "evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one." 

This is cold comfort for those Twitter users who attempted to bring attention to Twitter's impotent user protections during CEO Dick Costolo's CNBC's #AskCostolo interview. And it's unclear how "evaluating policies" will aid Twitter users targeted with rape and death threats, and other forms of abuse on the site. 

Harassment is a known problem on Twitter, and the Internet overall, and it's largely geared towards women. Some women suffer harassment every day, including rape and murder threats.

In Amanda Hess' article "Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet," she describes a scenario in which an anonymous account was created specifically for sending her rape and death threats, and when she took it to the police, they did nothing.

According to a PewResearch study, 12% of Internet users have been stalked or harassed online, and 4% of have been led into physical danger because of something that happened online. 

But even after years of outcry from users, it took a famous person, and the world paying attention, to make Twitter admit it needs to change its policies.

Harassment Leads To Quitting Twitter

On Tuesday, amid the Internet's ongoing commemoration of her father's life, Zelda Williams, 25, announced on her Twitter and Instagram accounts that she was abandoning social media, maybe forever. 

As she posted on Instagram:

I will be leaving this account for a bit while I heal and decide if I'll be deleting it or not. In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary.

Since her father's death announced on Monday, the younger Williams shared her grief on the Internet, along with her father's fans, posting a poignant farewell to her father on Tumblr. Unfortunately, between the tweets of condolences, Williams received cruel messages that eventually drove her off the social network.

In response to this very bad publicity, Twitter suspended the accounts which harassed her, and Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, said in a statement that the company is working to improve its policies.

We will not tolerate abuse of this nature on Twitter. We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one. This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users.

The statement is notably vague on how Twitter will enforce any improved policies that might emerges from this evaluation. (Twitter refused to provide information to ReadWrite beyond the statement.) Further, the statement is targeted specifically to Zelda Williams' situation and experience, so it's also unclear whether any policy changes will apply to those countless users who receive other forms of harassment such as rape and death threats. 

Twitter's Silence Equals Consent

Twitter is historically hesitant to address harassment experienced by its users, and current tools are largely ineffectual. 

Twitter’s current system recently came under fire during CNBC's July 28 Twitter chat #AskCostolo. Over 30 percent of the questions aimed at Twitter's CEO asked about the company’s faulty safety policies, including criticism of the complicated reporting process, and the length of time it takes for someone to be reported in the first place. Twitter didn’t officially address the criticisms from the #AskCostolo question and answer session, but Costolo himself replied to a handful of inquiries, and said the team was working to address those concerns the very next day. 

For many people, blocking and reporting abuse isn’t enough. Sometimes harassers create multiple accounts when theirs are blocked, and trying to get rid of them all is like playing an impossible game of whack-a-mole. 

In one case, when Feminist Frequency host Anita Sarkeesian reported a rape threat to Twitter, the company responded that the account was not in violation of Twitter's rules. Our own editor-in-chief Owen Thomas recently ran into problems while trying to report a rape threat against a another person, but was told by the company it would not act because he was not the individual involved, or responsible for her safety.

In December of last year, Twitter riled critics by changing the “block” function to effectively mute someone in an effort to keep trolls from antagonizing blockers once they’ve learned they’ve been blocked. Twitter erupted in outrage, and in response, Twitter quickly backtracked and reinstated the block feature—adding a separate mute function months later to silence annoying tweeters without letting them know. Twitter, for its part, implemented a block function in 2007 when the service was still a year old.

To combat perpetual harassment, users created their own workarounds. 

Former Twitter engineer Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, now a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently launched "Block Together,"a tool that allows users to automate block functions, and share their block lists with other people on Twitter to help prevent harassment. Other user-created products like BlockBot and provide similar services.

See Also: The People Who Make Twitter Don't Look Like The People Who Use Twitter

Luckily, resources like Block Together provide examples of what the company should be building internally. And while harassment on Twitter won’t magically disappear over night, finally taking it seriously and admitting new policies are needed to better handle Internet bullies, may result in a safer Twitter in the future.

It’s just a shame that it took a tragedy to finally push Twitter to change.

Lead image by xinem.

HBO's "Silicon Valley" Is Getting More Women

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 10:07



The actors and creators behind the hit HBO show Silicon Valley took to Twitter Wednesday to answer questions from fans with the hashtag #AskSiliconValley. The hit show parodies the technology industry from its perch in Hollywood, but it's beloved by techies and critics alike. 

The second season begins airing in April 2015—which seems like a long time to wait in an era of binge-watching. Until then, we'll have to make do with the tidbits of information the cast and crew shared on Twitter. One key point: The show's gender balance is changing for the better.

How Silicon Valley Is Really Like "Silicon Valley"

The show follows a startup named Pied Piper through its battle with Hooli, a Google-like giant. It's a David vs. Goliath battle of algorithms, and, although humorous, the show features a number of aspects of the tech industry that are all too real—including the fashion, the absurd aspects of startup marketing, and an obsession with jokes about male genitalia

The #AskSiliconValley Twitter chat was in part a marketing ploy by HBO to get fans to purchase the first season on Apple's iTunes, but creator Mike Judge and actors Thomas Middleditch and Kumail Nanjiani shed some light on behind-the-scenes aspects of filming and what to expect in Season Two.

Many viewers asked about the lack of women in the show, specifically in technical roles. This was a case of art mirroring life, as many big tech companies have revealed how skewed the gender ratios are in their workforces—but some hoped "Silicon Valley" could show a better vision for the industry.

So here is a bit of good news: According to Judge, two new female characters will be added to the cast. It's unclear whether their roles will be technical. In the first season, women were mostly treated as disposable props or love interests for men—and every episode failed the Bechdel Test, a yardstick which measures movies and TV shows for meaningful female characters.

Bay Area locals have noted the show's visual faithfulness to the real Silicon Valley, a bland realm of suburban houses and office parks. That's because the show filmed many exterior shots in northern California.

Middleditch, the lead actor who plays awkward Pied Piper founder Richard on the show, dropped some hints about what people can expect from the upcoming season. One person suggested comedian John Hodgman should make an appearance as a relative of venture capitalist Peter Gregory. Middleditch hinted he might.

Maybe we'll also see a glimpse of Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak. Perhaps not. Judge managed to give fans a tiny bit of hope while throwing some shade in Woz's direction.

Nanjiani, the comedian who plays Dinesh, has some experience working as a programmer. He received a degree in computer science, and says his role on Silicon Valley playing a startup programmer is much more exciting than being an actual programmer.

If you were disappointed that the first season of Silicon Valley only lasted eight episodes, you might be excited for this: Season Two will run for 10 episodes.

Big Head, the friend of Richard who ditched Pied Piper in favor of a cushy gig at Internet giant Hooli, made a handful of cameos in the show after his startup departure. Fans of the deserter will be pleased to know that he will be back for season two.

During the season finale, the Pied Piper team developed a particular method of stimulating ... well, let's just say data to get their pitch to fly at TechCrunch Disrupt. So how long did it take the team to film that one scene?

If you haven't seen the show yet, you have plenty of time to catch up before its April 2015 return. And we'll be recapping every episode on ReadWrite.

How The Internet Grieves

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 09:44



The beautiful tributes flooding social media following the death of Robin Williams far outnumber the "cruel and unnecessary" comments from trolls that drove his daughter Zelda from Instagram and Twitter on Tuesday. But this is the nature of shared grief in the Internet age: communal—and complicated. 

Celebrity deaths have always affected the public. But in the Internet era, fans are no longer spectators. We flock to Twitter or Facebook when tragedy strikes.We express our reactions through the immediacy of social media, looking for the connections humans crave in times of sorrow. And for some, expressing our deepest feelings somehow comes more easily when we type than talk.

See also: Dealing With Death In A Digital Age

The Fisher King

Known for manic, stream-of-consciousness hilarity, Williams had more than just comedic brilliance. He had a career you could mark your life by, whether you grew up with Mork and Mindy or got to know him through his impressive, decades-long list of feature films. Williams, however, was more like the pal who cracked you up in math class or a wacky uncle you adored your whole life. His sudden passing felt personal.

Fans and friends of Williams continue to hit their social media accounts in force with shared clips and comments. Many paid their respects with the hashtag #standsondesk, a shout-out to a scene from Dead Poets Society in which students recited a Walt Whitman poem to honor their departing teacher, played by Williams. Others, acknowledging reports that Williams took his own life, tweeted advice and resources to help those suffering from depression or considering self harm.

News outlets called attention to the actor's last tweet, sent on July 31, in which he wished his 25-year-old daughter a happy birthday. It included an Instagram photo of a smiling Williams holding his daughter when she was little more than a toddler. The message now stands as a sort of online memorial for her father, a place for well-meaning visitors to pay their respects.  

On her Tumblr account, Zelda Williams shared with fans a poignant farewell to her father.

For the briefest moment, it seemed much of the Internet put away its snark and cynicism to mourn. And that says as much about us as a people as it does about the individuals we've lost. 

The Crazy Ones

On the other hand, sharing your grief in public these days means you also have to reckon with the griefers.

Reliably, some news outlets grabbed clicks by treating the event as spectacle. In ABC News' case, unfortunate site design juxtaposed terrible news judgment (to hover a helicopter over Williams' home) with proper reporting (that the family wants to grieve in private). The result: a grand cognitive dissonance of bad taste. 

For at least one group of publicity hounds, the star's death was yet another golden opportunity to attract attention. As the Westboro Baptist Church geared up for its region-wide tech protest in the Bay Area yesterday, the hate group couldn't resist taking jabs at Williams, even implying that his home could wind up on its list of protests

Some jihadis tweeted videos of Williams cracking wise post  9/11, accompanied with comments such as "may Allah make him burn."  

Ironically, the comedian probably would have seen such tweets—however grossly inappropriate they may seem to many—as irresistible fodder for jokes. 

The highs and lows of social media are clearly amplified for celebrities and their families. So maybe it should come as no surprise that last night, Zelda announced she was stepping away from Twitter, as well as Instagram. The trolling and negative comments were more than she could handle. As she posted on Instagram:

I will be leaving this account for a bit while I heal and decide if I'll be deleting it or not. In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary.

Before the harrassment began, Zelda, in honor of her father, tweeted a quote from French writer and poet Antoine De Saint-Exupéry:

The quote reminded me of my husband posting a picture of his dad as a young man on Facebook as a remembrance after he died a few years ago. The outpouring of support and condolences touched us very deeply. It wasn’t physically tangible, but it felt like a lasting tribute. We were grateful to be able to connect with people without adding to the sadness and stress of the moment. 

And griefers were nowhere to be seen.

Photos courtesy of Featureflash / Shutterstocks_bukley / Shutterstock

Galaxy Alpha Won’t Stop Samsung's Bleed

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 08:03



In an attempt to stop its financial bleed, Samsung pulled the trigger on a brand-new metallic Galaxy Alpha smartphone today. And the debut looks like a change in course in both product design and marketing. 

The long-awaited, much-leaked Android device silences critics of the company’s plasticky design ethos with an all-new flat metal banding. Overall, the device itself is flatter and lighter than, say, the Galaxy S5. Combined with a soft touch, leatherette backing (not unlike that other Galaxy phone or the Galaxy Note 3 phablet), the handset looks like a premium gadget. 

This is Samsung's “fresh approach,” if you can call it that. Others might call the banding and flatter profile rather iPhonesque

No matter. Beauty is more than skin deep, and here the insides are ... well, not all that beautiful. The Alpha's hardware specifications don’t quite live up to its premium promise. Although the device comes with a beefy “octa-core” processor that can do a lot of heavy lifting—think fast multitasking, gaming and even mobile video editing—the other specs come up short compared to, say, the Galaxy S5. 

The 4.7-inch screen is smaller than the S5’s 5.2-inch display, the 12 megapixel camera also clocks in under the previous Galaxy’s 16 megapixels, and unlike the incumbent flagship, the 32 GB internal storage is a fixed limit. There’s no microSD card slot in the phone.

But Samsung hasn’t changed everything. The tech company loves to experiment with new features, and on the Alpha, that shows up as an all-new fingerprint scanner and ultra-power-saving mode. 

All that makes this new smartphone appear rather uneven—and its maker seems to knows it. Uncharacteristically, Samsung eschewed a big splashy press event to quietly unveil this device. Subtlety has never been the company’s strong suit, which leaves people wondering what it really has up its sleeve. Perhaps bigger changes are in the works in that other smartphone the company has been testing.

Whatever they are, they need to be major. The tech company posted weak Q2 earnings, with a 25% dip in operating profits. Samsung, citing falling price cuts in the smartphone market, expressed doubts about rallying in the second half of this year:

Samsung expects to see its sales of mobile devices increase with the rollout of flagship products and new models, but profitability may suffer due to a heated race over price and product specifications.

So when the Galaxy Alpha launches in September—maybe in the United States, maybe not—it probably won’t stop the hemorrhage. We’ll have to see if the second handset can. But the odds are rather slim, mostly because the company itself doesn’t even seem to believe it. 

Photos courtesy of Samsung.

Facebook Puts An End To Apps That Beg For Likes

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 17:32



You’ll now see fewer spammy applications begging you for Facebook Likes.

On Thursday, Facebook made some changes to its Platform Policies that will stop app creators from asking users to Like their page in order to view special videos, win prizes, or get other giveaways.

First reported by The Next Web, this policy change means that Facebook-linked apps will have to get people to like them the old fashioned way—simply because they do. This ban on Like incentives for app pages goes into effect on November 5.

This doesn't just affect games you play on Facebook—a wide variety of consumer brands and publishers have Facebook-connected apps, and there's a good chance some of them have hit you up at some point to Like their page. That's a common reason why Facebook users sometimes complain that the site reports them as having clicked Like on a page when they don't recall doing so. 

Developers can still give incentives for other behaviors, like logging in with their Facebook account or checking into a store location on Facebook. They can also offer promotions and contests—they just can't ask users to Like a page in order to participate in them.

In a post, Facebook engineer Harshdeep Singh described the new policy:

You must not incentivize people to use social plugins or to like a Page. This includes offering rewards, or gating apps or app content based on whether or not a person has liked a Page. It remains acceptable to incentivize people to login to your app, checkin at a place or enter a promotion on your app's Page. To ensure quality connections and help businesses reach the people who matter to them, we want people to like Pages because they want to connect and hear from the business, not because of artificial incentives. We believe this update will benefit people and advertisers alike.

In addition to the Likes policy getting stricter, Facebook now requires developers to disclose whether their games include mandatory or optional in-app charges.

The move to be more transparent about pay-to-play games comes on the heels of the European Union demanding developers and app stores to be clear about the real price of playing mobile games. 

Lead image by Luca Sartoni.

What Twitter Can Learn From Pinterest Conversations

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 16:26



Whenever I see something on Pinterest that reminds me of a friend, I immediately want to share it. Usually I’ll share it on my friend's Facebook wall, or text a link to the post—emailing just seems rather clunky. I don’t want to repin a friend’s style on my board, and sometimes it’s too personal to share publicly.

That’s why I’m excited about the new Pinterest Conversations, a private messaging feature that makes sharing pins with friends—and then chatting about them—so much easier.

While Pinterest's new messaging feature is focused on sharing pins, the premise of taking a public post and sharing it privately could apply to text or links, like, say, tweets. And I hope Twitter is paying attention, because Conversations is exactly what Twitter’s direct messaging feature should be.

Kicking Off The Conversation

To send someone a pin, simply tap on the paper airplane icon and add your friend’s name. It’s the same icon that sends a pin as an email. In the mobile app, you can tap the notifications icon, and toggle to “messages” to reply to or compose chats. Chat heads—almost identical to those in Facebook Messenger—are used to label chats.

On the Web, you’ll see a messaging option under your notifications, and messages will appear to the left of your screen. It’s a bit slower to chat on the Web—if you’re having problems sending and receiving messages and notifications, try logging out and logging back in to Pinterest first.

Conversations can come in quite handy for a maid of honor helping plan her sister’s bridal shower or a group of friends creating a trip itinerary. You can add as many fellow pinners to a chat as you want, as well as search pins and add pins directly from the chat.

It’s a great way to get feedback on a particular pin, but it also works as a smooth and simple messenger. There are no sticker packs, and no ephemeral photos—just pins, links, and texts.

It took five Pinterest employees one week to build a Conversations prototype, a Pinterest spokesperson told ReadWrite. When they presented it to company executives, the product was fast-tracked and implemented on all Pinterest platforms within three months. 

Twitter, Please Learn From Pinterest

Twitter’s direct messaging feature is in desperate need of an update. CEO Dick Costolo has been hinting about it for months, but short of a few minor tweaks, including adding the ability to send photos privately, nothing has changed. Direct messages still don’t accept most links, and on both mobile and the Web, messages are still frustratingly slow and unintuitive.

There is hope, however. In an interview with Business Insider on July 29, Costolo said that the difference between Twitter direct messages and other messaging services like Facebook Messenger will be the ability to take a public tweet and discuss it privately with other people. In other words, Pinterest Conversations, but for tweets.

“Specifically, being able to take a public conversation and being able to migrate it to a private channel,” Costolo told Business Insider. “So, taking a public tweet, and being able to have a conversation about that public tweet with a private group of people is a compelling use case.”

Pinterest Conversations are simple to start, and because the application sticks to the basics—it’s not bulging with unnecessary features—it does one thing and does it well: Starts the conversation around pins.

Replying publicly to tweets on Twitter can be intimidating. Most people have public accounts, and that means anything they tweet or link to can be seen by anyone on the Web. The only place there is any private communication on the network is in direct messages. By implementing a feature that allows people to send tweets to friends to reply in private, people might be inclined to have more intimate conversations around news and events, and share more frequently on Twitter.

Twitter has been slow to implement features of the Visual Web—something Pinterest pioneered. The social network took their time adding in-line images and GIF support, and recently acquired Madbits that will help them dive even deeper into images. 

With Conversations, Pinterest once again introduced a feature Twitter should implement on its own platform. And hopefully it won't take Twitter as long to catch up this time. 

Lead image courtesy of Pinterest.

Monkey Selfies Drive Internet Ape-Sh**

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 14:01



Here's another entry for the selfie hall of shame. When photojournalist David Slater got mugged by a camera-hogging monkey in 2011, he couldn't have imagined that three years later, he'd still be fighting a rights dispute over the resulting monkey selfies.

Much to his dismay, the pictures wound up in Wikimedia Commons, the sister site to Wikipedia that's a massive online clearinghouse for millions of free-to-use images. He’s been trying to get the photos removed ever since, but the organization refuses. Reason: Slater doesn’t own the rights, the site said in its transparency report Wednesday

"If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me—that’s their basic argument," Slater told The Telegraph. “What they don’t realize is that it needs a court to decide that.”

See also: Me, My Selfie and I

Well, that’s not exactly what Wikimedia’s asserting here … which is good, because that’s asinine. Even so, as Slater says, maybe we should leave it up to the courts to suss this out.

But what would be the fun in that?  

Monkey See, Monkey Do…But Monkey Can’t Own

Let’s get one thing straight: Animals cannot legally own property, intellectual or any other kind. Any good estate planner will tell you that. But it doesn't stop humans from trying to give things to our furry friends. 

A few years ago, Leona Helmsley snubbed her two grandchildren in her will, leaving $12 million to her maltese Trouble. (Poor pup. After the family challenged the will, he trotted off with just $2 million.) Maria Assunta, wife of an Italian property tycoon, left her $13 million fortune to her cat, Tommaso. Kalu the chimp's gold vines come from his $80 million dollar inheritance, and a German shepherd named Gunther IV would laugh at Tumblr founder David Karp's $200 million dollar net worth, thanks to his $372 million windfall. Even Oprah's getting in on the act; the modern-day sage to housewives everywhere plans to leave her pooches $30 million

Looks like a good time to be a pet (or primate). But even so, those funds go to human executors or trusts listing the pets as beneficiaries. So not even these animals own anything directly. 

Neither can a monkey own rights to intellectual property, as Harvard Law grad and writer Sarah Jeong tweets:

This is exactly the basis for Wikimedia’s argument. If the monkey can’t hold a copyright, and Slater didn’t hit the shutter button, then no one owns those selfies. There's only one way to get around this, the organization told The Telegraph, but it doesn't apply here: 

To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they'd only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain.

TechDirt’s Mike Masnick makes a compelling case supporting Wikimedia’s position. He points out that before the 1976 Copyright Act, formal copyright protection required a published copyright notice. Since then, he wrote, people have "been trained incorrectly to believe that everything new must be covered by copyright." 

It's a good point, and he makes a strong argument for copyright minimalism. 

Consider The "Ellen" Factor

This isn't the first time we've seen the Internet chewing over who owns the rights to selfies. Earlier this year, Ellen DeGeneres shilled for Samsung by getting a glam group of Oscar attendees together for an epic, star-studded selfie. But ultimately, it was Bradley Cooper who actually took that viral photo, though using Ellen's Galaxy Note 3. 

Well, at least he's human.  

The conversation about who owns this selfie was hot for a moment last March, but wound up fizzling—probably because even Ellen and Brad didn't really care about it. (They had better things to do, like host a popular talk show and promote blockbuster Guardians Of The Galaxy.) 

Now the selfie rights topic is back, this time dragging a three-year-old issue into the spotlight again. And the details of this controversy matter. 

While on assignment in Indonesia, Slater left his camera and tripod unattended, giving a crested black macaque monkey the opportunity to swoop in. Amid the blurry crop of digital detritus, a few gems snuck in there—this beautifully clear shot and others among them. 

By his own admission, Slater's not the author. But since the monkey can't hold the copyright to these pictures—a fact that some seem to have a problem with—should ownership of the rights go to the man who owns the equipment? The kneejerk reaction, i.e. Wikimedia's reaction, is no. But it might not be as cut and dried as that. 

On one hand, if you create a masterwork of Photoshop art or write a game-changing program on a friend's borrowed laptop, a library terminal, an Internet cafe desktop, etc., can the computer's owner claim that work? Hecks no! But suppose someone takes your picture with your smartphone or camera. Does it now belong to them? 

There's plenty of room for argument when two humans vie for the rights to the same intellectual property. In Slater's case, he's the only party capable of retaining ownership or rights.

That doesn't automatically make the images his. But it should spark a deeper conversation, not an automatic dismissal. Because ultimately, it's a grey area in copyright law, and its outcome affects anyone who shoots photos, captures videos, writes code, or creates any other copyrightable work. 

Earlier this year, my cat happened to tiptoe onto the shutter button of my husband's iPad. I had just put it down in selfie camera mode, after failing to take our picture together. But Gojira succeeded in taking a random feline selfie. It's a little blurry and not well-framed, but I still think it's super cute. 

I'd show it to you, but I'm not entirely sure I'm allowed to post it. Sorry. 

Hey, Android Developers—Why Should iOS Coders Have All The Fun?

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 13:02



Apple iOS developers spend most of their time coding. Android developers? They use the bulk of their time testing and debugging their code, according to an Evans Data report.

This isn't because Android developers must compensate for poor code with increased QA, or that iOS developers are blasé about code quality. Rather, it's due to Android fragmentation, which forces developers to spend more time testing disparate hardware, a problem no other mobile platform has. 

Making matters worse, iOS developers make more money, on average, than their Android peers.

What's an Android developer to do?

Different Platforms, Different Schedules

The platforms developers choose will guide where they spend the majority of their time, as an Evans Data survey of 400 mobile developers suggests. 

Among those surveyed, more Android developers (36%) say testing and debugging is the most time consuming phase of development than any other group. By contrast, the largest group of iOS developers (31%) say they spend most of their time doing actual coding. For developers targeting Windows Phone, it’s the design phase.

Coders want to code, so why do they spend so much time testing and debugging with Android? 

Given that there are over 1,600 devices in the Android SDK, it's not surprising Android developers must spend an inordinate amount of time testing and debugging. That's a heck of a lot of hardware and software configurations to QA.

And while Android co-founder Rich Miner has called Android fragmentation "an overblown issue," it's hard to look at this visualization noted on the Droid Report and not recognize the impact it has on developers:

For iOS developers, of course, there's far less fragmentation, as the company has (over)stated on its developer site.

Apple's simple pie chart isn't a true apples-to-apples comparison with Android's, in part because it doesn't account for different iDevices running the various operating system versions. Still, the point is made: iOS developers deal with far less fragmentation and so get to spend more time on their code.

But wait, it gets worse.

The iOS Piggybank

To add insult to injury, iOS developers make more on average than their Android peers, as VisionMobile highlights:

Still, as The Guardian's Charles Arthur illustrates, while Android volumes should favor developers sprinting to that platform, the money still tends to flow toward the platform with users that spend more on apps:

[F]ollow the money—a big factor for the important developers, who can easily spend thousands writing a new app.... Distimo and analyst firm CCS Insight launched their App Vu Global service in early April 2012, tracking downloads and revenues from the app stores. Its initial findings claimed that Apple's App Store is generating $5.4m every day in app sales for the top 200 grossing iPhone and iPad apps. For Google Play, their estimate was just $679,000 for the top 200 grossing apps on Google Play, or about 12% of Apple's revenue.

This isn't quite as good as it looks. As VisionMobile finds, 50% of iOS developers and 64% of Android developers are below the "app poverty line" of $500 per app per month. So it's not as if iOS developers are driving around their Bentleys while Android developers settle for old Pintos.

But if Android development is more onerous and less profitable, why do developers still bother?

The Language Trap

For many developers, especially those in Asia-Pacific where Android is far and away the most dominant mobile platform, there's simply no other choice. And once that choice is made, it's hard to back out of it, given language constraints:  

Yet there's still hope.

As VisionMobile uncovers in its Developer Economics Q3 2014 report, a "surprisingly high 47% of iOS developers and 42% of Android developers are using something other than the native language on their platforms." Not exclusively, and not necessarily as their primary development language. But "something else" keeps creeping into their apps.

See also: Google Needs To Double Down On HTML5—And Soon

Quite often, that "something other" is HTML5, which many developers use to build core functionality into their apps so that this core can be used across different platforms (e.g., both Android and iOS), then they wrap it in and extend it with native code for those different platforms. 

This doesn't give Android developers an easy out, of course, as they still need to test and debug apps that must perform on a dizzying array of hardware and software configurations. And it says nothing of the buying behaviors of Android users.

But HTML5 could help to lower their overall development costs while also making it easier to dally with iOS as they wait for Android to catch up in terms of well-heeled app buyers. That's a strategy worth trying.

Lead image by Flickr user Steve Jurvetson