What 2 runaway llamas taught us about net neutrality

"Katy was so worried when you two just took off like that"

For about two hours today, all the Internet wanted to talk about was the FCC’s historic net neutrality decision. (They’re in favor of it.)

Then, suddenly, all work stopped as the digerati focused their collective attention on two runaway llamas scampering around Phoenix.

Short attention span much? Sure. Never accuse the Twitterverse of being able to focus on any one thing for very long. And if it involves cute animals, a skycam, or — wonder of wonders — both of those things, well, it’s hard for those of us brought up in the school of quick clicks to resist.

But the two events are more connected than you might think. Without belaboring the point too much, it’s clear that the Llama Drama could never have happened without a fairly substantial stack of technologies, all working together smoothly.

Helicopters? Check. High-bandwidth, real-time digital video connections from the helicopter to the TV station? Check. A social network primed to share links (and jokes) about an entertaining, developing “news” situation as it happens? Check.

The ability for a local TV station in Phoenix to broadcast live video anywhere in the world, in real time, with a minimum of lag and pretty decent video quality? Check.

Now imagine a world where that TV station wasn’t able to broadcast real-time HD video without paying extra fees. Where Netflix, because it had paid extra fees to your ISP, could guarantee that you’d be able to watch the upcoming release of House of Cards season 3 without hiccups, but at the expense of the live video feed from ABC 15 in Phoenix. Where ABC 15 couldn’t even be sure its video feed would get across at all, because it hadn’t made extra payments to every ISP and content delivery network along the path from its servers to your browser.

Now, this argument works for both sides of the net neutrality debates. The FCC just made its decision today, but as of today’s Llamapalooza, those rules were not yet in effect.

ISPs and wireless carriers — starting with Verizon — have mocked the FCC for trying to apply ancient, 1930s-era communications policy to the modern world’s technologies. And we were all able to watch the llamas without an explicit net neutrality mandate just fine, thank you very much.

But net neutrality proponents point out that there are plenty of examples already where carriers have prioritized the content of paying customers over others. It’s only a matter of time, the argument goes, until you can’t get through to customers in any kind of reasonable way without paying extra. Just because you could watch Llamarama today doesn’t mean it’ll be streaming smoothly the next time it happens — and that’s why we need regulatory enforcement.

As for me, I can see both sides of the argument, but I feel there’s a strong argument to be made for the FCC to ensure that everyone — individual consumers as well as small-time video broadcasters — have access to a basic level of service. That shouldn’t eliminate the option for companies like Netflix to hire CDNs to ensure fast, timely delivery — as long as that priority channel doesn’t adversely affect the transmission of basic email, web content, and video.

In other words, as FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said today, this isn’t a restrictive regulatory move (unless you’re a rapacious carrier). This is a guarantee of non-restriction.

This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech!” Wheeler said today, nearing yelling.

As for the llamas: Well, they’ve now been regulated. Both were eventually lassoed, bringing an end to the epic that future generations might call the Llamayana.

We mourn. But, like the Left Shark, the images of the llamas will live on. And so will the Internet.

from VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney http://ift.tt/18rYsYm

What 2 runaway llamas taught us about net neutrality

Dylan’s Desk: Why the coming messaging economy will be very big business

WhatsApp, Line, Skype, WeChat -- how do you want to chat?

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There’s a deep shift in the way we communicate happening, and it’s about to turn media and marketing businesses upside-down.

In short, the Web-based world is about to become secondary to the message-based world.

Messaging apps like WhatsApp (now part of Facebook), WeChat, Line, Snapchat, and Kik are sitting pretty in this new world. That’s because they’re the apps that young people increasingly use to communicate. Some striking stats:

  • WhatsApp: 700 million monthly active users
  • WeChat: 468 million monthly active users
  • Line: 181 million monthly active users
  • SnapChat: 100 million monthly active users
  • Tango: 70 million monthly active users

Kik, whose cofounder and chief technical officer Chris Best was on a panel discussion with me earlier this week, doesn’t report monthly active users for some reason. Instead, it reports that it has 200 million registered users — of which some unknown, smaller proportion are active users. Tango also reports 200 million registered users, so we can estimate that Kik, like Tango, probably has about 1/3 as many active users, or about 70 million.

But Kik claims that 40 percent of people in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 25 have Kik accounts. Forty percent! That’s an astonishing number that gives some hint of how ubiquitous messaging apps are becoming.

At first glance, you might wonder what the big deal is. Why does anyone need one of these apps to communicate when we’ve already got email, instant messengers from Facebook, Google or AOL, and SMS-based text messages?

The answer is complex, but boils down — I think — to the fact that these message apps let people create unique identities that aren’t tied to their email accounts or phone numbers, and they support a wider range of content. You can send funny GIFs to your friends. You can send them custom stickers. You can send them goofy selfies that (usually) disappear in a few seconds. You can play games with them.

And, increasingly, you can read the news or make purchases via message apps.

In this, the U.S. is a bit behind Asia, where you can even buy insurance and apply for a mortgage via WeChat. But transactional features are coming to our shores.

And content: Snapchat’s move into content, with its Snapchat Discover channel, is just the start.

And search: As NYC Techstars’ Alex Iskold recently wrote, I’ve seen the future of search, and it ain’t Google.

And even more: One new startup out of Y Combinator called Magic is promising to fulfill whatever it is you need — whether that’s a pizza and a Pepsi, an order of sushi and some flowers, or a tiger. Magic works via SMS right now, but it’s easy to imagine it working in any of the major messaging apps.

Web- and content-based businesses, like Google and Facebook, will have to recalibrate their entire business models. (Facebook seems to understand this, and was willing to spend an enormous amount, $22 billion, in acquiring WhatsApp as a hedge against this message-centric future.) That goes double for publishers like Yahoo, Buzzfeed, Vox Media, the New York Times, and, yes, VentureBeat.

Apps that aren’t message-centric will need to transform themselves, or else find a way to insert themselves into the message economy somehow. Instagram’s recent direct message feature is a perfect example of a content-centric app trying to turn itself into a messaging app.

For marketers, messaging apps are incredibly tempting — and potentially revolutionary. Kik, for instance, says that 70 percent of the branded messages it has sent to its users are opened in the first hour, an enormous open rate. That’s not based on a small sample size, either: It has sent 100 million of these messages to date. What’s more, it says that the click-through rates on those messages are 10 to 50 times higher than on Twitter or Facebook. The reason it’s seeing such high rates of engagement are because people have already opted-in to receive those message. If you’re following Funny or Die (a content partner on Kik), you’ve already self-selected as someone who is interested in that brand’s content. Also, Kik limits marketers to just four branded messages per month, to help keep the frequency low and the novelty high.

Other message-centric apps are taking different approaches. WhatsApp claims that it will not carry advertising — though that’s the fundamental raison d’etre for its parent company, Facebook, so we’ll see how long that lasts. Snapchat has just started to experiment with making money. WeChat hasn’t made nearly the traction here that it has seen in Asia, and offers fewer features to its English-speaking users (and marketers). Tango has been aggressively courting game developers.

Whatever approaches win out, one thing seems clear: Message apps are flush with cash, and know that they’re sitting on top of an incredibly valuable resource — the time and attention of a young and tech-savvy demographic. Look for a lot of experimentation to happen in the next year or two.

And who knows, maybe the next big media brand will emerge on a messaging app instead of on the Web.


from VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney http://ift.tt/1FZNOGa

Dylan’s Desk: Why the coming messaging economy will be very big business

I want to go there.

This week, Science published a noise map of the U.S., showing where the loudest and quietest places are.

It reminded me of a tree map of the U.S. published a couple of years ago.

If I were a maps geek, I’d try to combine these two maps so I could see at a glance the places that are both filled with trees and quiet. Because those are the places I want to go.

Sometimes a tree-filled and noisy place, like Central Park, can be invigorating, while a quiet and treeless desert, like Death Valley, has its own special charms, too. But most of the time what I’m missing is being among the trees, in silence, like a druid.

New map show's America's quietest places, from Science Magazine
New map show’s America’s quietest places, from Science Magazine
Where the trees are, from the NASA Earth Observatory
Where the trees are, from the NASA Earth Observatory
I want to go there.

Think mobile is big? You ain’t seen nothing yet

Mobile technology has been one of the biggest drivers of growth in the tech sector since the iPhone’s launch in 2007. But if Digi-Capital‘s predictions hold water, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

According to the research and advisory firm’s latest Mobile Internet Investment Review, investors plowed more than $32 billion into mobile tech companies in 2014.

These 68 companies have $1B+ valuations.

The most valuable of those companies — the 68 mobile “unicorns” with a valuation of $1 billion or more — added $28 billion to their combined value in just the fourth quarter to reach a total of $261 billion.

“To put the $28B value added last quarter in perspective, that’s $300M [per day] — or more than 30 Tim Cooks (who got paid over $9M last year) a day,” said Tim Merel, the managing director of Digi-Capital.

“But it wasn’t all plain sailing, as fourteen of the billion-dollar companies lost value (in some cases multiple billions of dollars). Admission also doesn’t guarantee lifetime membership, with two former unicorns falling below $1B in Q4 for a total of five dropouts last year.”

You might think that these unicorns are the cream of the crop, and you’d be right. But even within this exclusive club, there’s a tier of truly successful elite companies.

Just 20 of those 68 billion-dollar mobile companies account for almost 70 percent of the entire group’s value, or $178 billion of the $261 billion total. Those top 5? Uber, WhatsApp, Twitter, Flipkart, and Snapchat.

The Pareto principle at work: The top 5 mobile unicorns account for 70% of the value.

Digi-Capital predicts that revenue from the mobile Internet will top $700 billion annually by 2017, more than tripling its 2014 figure. The vast majority of that, $500 billion, will come from m-commerce, or purchases made by people using their phones to order things online.

The U.S. and Europe will account for a fair amount of m-commerce growth. But where the market will really boom is in Asia, which will account for almost half of the m-commerce total by 2017, Digi-Capital predicts.

There are some other intriguing data points in this report. Not surprisingly, Android app downloads greatly outnumber iOS app downloads, while iOS apps are far better at making money. That’s a story we’ve been hearing for a couple of years now.

But what surprised me is that the Google Play store only accounts for a minority of Android app downloads worldwide. Google Play has 20 percent of overall downloads, while iOS has 17 percent — but competing Asian Android stores are close behind, with Baidu at 17 percent, Tencent at 16 percent, and Qihoo at 11 percent.

Android and iOS app store market shares and monetization, 2014.

Not surprisingly, mobile games dominated mobile app revenues, with 74 percent of the total.

And if there’s a power law operating in the valuations of the biggest mobile companies, it’s an even more powerful effect when you examine the performance of the top mobile apps. For instance, the top 1 percent grossing apps have 35 times more sessions per day than the top 5 percent, and 20 times the customer lifetime value. That’s an enormous differential that shows where the money is mostly going in this market.

The question, then, is how to capture some of this epic growth. That’s where VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit comes in. I’ll keep my pitch short: This small, invitation-only event that we’re hosting next week will bring 180 of the top mobile executives, founders, and investors into one place to talk about ad tech, user acquisition strategies, how to make the best use of mobile data, and how to optimize and personalize apps for your customers.

And Digi-Capital will be giving a detailed, 47 page summary of its extensive 578 page report to all attendees.

If you’re in the mobile industry and want to find out how to get on the leading edge of the growth curve described in these charts, the Mobile Summit is well worth the price of admission. I hope to see you there.


Think mobile is big? You ain’t seen nothing yet

Marc Andreessen was right — people do love to fish

FishBrain's app is now used by 700,000 anglers.

FishBrain, an app and social network for anglers, just caught its 700,000th user yesterday.

It is also releasing a new version of its app today, which includes a “FishBrain Forecast” feature that uses a combination of algorithms and crowdsourcing to help you figure out, based on the weather, time of year, and other factors, where the ideal fishing spots are.

The new app also includes a “Teams” feature so you can compete with your friends in impromptu fishing tournaments.

FishBrain is based in Stockholm, Sweden, but is used by people all over the world. According to the company, it is the largest fishing network around. The next-closest competitors appear to be Madison, Wisconsin-based Fishidy, which was aiming for 300,000 users by the end of 2014, and Houston, Texas-based FishingSkout, which claims 100,000 users on its iTunes page.

So clearly there are a lot of people who love to fish and don’t mind using an app to help them.

Last year, I got into a Twitter conversation with Andreessen and some journalists about whether a fishing app that had won a tech conference prize deserved the label of “disruptive technology.”

Andreessen schooled me, pointing out that fishing is a huge pastime for many people — and more than that, it’s an enormous industry.

Now we’ve got an additional data point showing that the man is a smart investor and trendspotter.

FishBrain, by the way, has not received any investment from Andreessen. The company got started in 2010, and recently took a $2.4 million investment led by Northzone and Active Venture Partners.

from VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney http://ift.tt/1FIelEN

Marc Andreessen was right — people do love to fish

Facebook is blowing it with its ‘real name’ policy

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I’m not sure which Facebook to believe: the Facebook of October, the Facebook of December, or the Facebook of now.

In October 2014, Facebook issued a very clear statement saying that it’s never been the company’s policy to require legal names, but rather, to require people to use the names they go by in real life. “For Sister Rosa, that’s Sister Rosa. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess,” a company spokesperson said.

In December, CEO Mark Zuckerberg walked that statement back, insisting that the company requires “real names,” although he didn’t define what he meant by that. “There are a lot of online communities that are separated from reality and the world. That we ask everyone to use their real name kind of grounds it to reality and ties it back to the person’s real identity,” Zuck said.

But Facebook is repeatedly reneging on its October promise. For Native American author Dana Lone Hill, it said her name doesn’t meet its guidelines, and then it required documentation. For punk music writer Legs McNeil, it required a more legitimate-sounding name. For video blogger Jay Smooth, it briefly suspended his account and then reinstated it when Smooth, who has quite a following, complained about it on Twitter.

Sure, the company is willing to accept library cards or student IDs as acceptable proof, so technically speaking, it’s staying true to its promise that it doesn’t require legal names. At least the company isn’t asking for passports or driver’s licenses. But that seems like a quibble, since it’s starting from the presumption that someone has to prove their identity, rather than letting people choose their own identities.

It also makes people like Dana Lone Hill wait for months while it reviews the documentation they’ve submitted.

Of course, you can cut to the front of the line if, like Jay Smooth, you have enough of an online following to turn the story into a potentially embarrassing PR gaffe.

Whenever Facebook gets called on this behavior, it says each individual instance was a mistake. But this is a repeated pattern. The “mistake” excuse does not hold water.

This is not responsible corporate behavior. This is the behavior of a company that says one thing publicly and does something completely different in daily practice. And that daily practice amounts to making people wade through paperwork and long wait times — or, if they’re Twitter famous, they can get a quick fix and a public apology.

What Facebook should do

Facebook’s “real name” policy comes from a good place, I think.

In theory, it makes it easier for marketers to target individuals when Facebook holds the keys to their real identities, but so far Facebook has shown good faith in managing personal identities.

Instead, I think the policy comes from Zuckerberg’s stated intention: Real identities help keep people accountable for what they say online. It’s what prevents Facebook from devolving completely into a cesspit of name-calling and threats made by anonymous trolls using disposable accounts.

Like, say, Twitter.

Twitter, as it happens, is a perfect example of what happens when people can use any name they want, with no consequences. It’s no coincidence that #GamerGate flared up and turned into a pathological witch hunt on Twitter, not on Facebook.

If Facebook doesn’t want to turn into Twitter, however, there may be solutions that fall short of requiring identification but still provide some accountability. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let people submit an even wider variety of identification methods, and make it their choice what to use.
  • Presume that someone is using their real name unless proven otherwise, rather than the other way around.
  • Give people the option of identifying themselves publicly via nicknames, while tying those nicknames back to a verified identity that Facebook can keep tabs on, but which is not publicly shown.
  • Add more staff to whatever customer service desk is handling name verification — and give them some cultural sensitivity training.
  • Flag people’s accounts not merely when they have dubious-sounding names, but when they have dubious-sounding names combined with other problematic behavior, like trolling.
  • Let people verify their real-world identities by location, rather than name: Mail them a postcard with a secret code on it, the way NextDoor does. Bonus: This will give Facebook a physical address and ZIP code — extremely valuable details for its marketing database. (Hat tip for this idea: Jason Calacanis.)
  • Let people tie their Facebook identities to identities on other social networks, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, or Pinterest, as a way of providing additional layers of verification.

I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface. A little creativity here would go a long way. So would a little sensitivity to the variety of names and identities people use in the real world.

And, mind you, implementing some of these techniques would also help Twitter find a balance between its laissez-faire approach to identity and the swarms of trolls that threaten to poison the network for the rest of us.

At the end of the day, Facebook may not be the best choice for people who, as many of us do, have multiple identities. For instance, sometimes I’m a father and husband; sometimes I’m a writer and editor. Fortunately, there are multiple social networks, and the way I manage these identities is by using some networks primarily for personal use and some primarily professionally.

But if it adjusted its real name policy — and lived up to its public statements about that policy — Facebook might become a more welcoming place for people who don’t fit neatly into one “official” identity all day long.

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Facebook is blowing it with its ‘real name’ policy

Facebook’s fake “real names” policy

Dana Lone HillIn October, Facebook issued a very clear statement saying that it’s never been the company’s policy to require legal names — but rather, to require people to use the names they go by in real life. “For Sister Rosa, that’s Sister Rosa. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess,” a company spokesperson said.

But Facebook is repeatedly reneging on that promise. For Native Americans, for instance, it insists that names like “Dana Lone Hill” don’t meet its guidelines — and then it requires legal documentation (copies of a driver’s license, for instance). For punk music writers like Legs McNeil, it requires a more “legitimate” sounding name. For video blogger Jay Smooth, it briefly suspended his account (and then reinstated it when Smooth, who has quite a following, complained about it on Twitter.)

Whenever the company gets called on this behavior, it says each individual instance was a mistake. But this is a repeated pattern. The “mistake” excuse does not hold water.

This is not responsible corporate behavior. This is the behavior of a company that believes it can say one thing publicly and do something completely different in daily practice.

Facebook’s fake “real names” policy

Why Twitter will always be #2

Twitter buttons

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Twitter’s got an interesting problem: Its revenue is booming, but — as with all the major social networks — its user growth has slowed to a crawl.

That’s not a good place to be for Twitter: It means that the odds are very, very good that the company will forever remain #2 or #3 in its market.

Here are the numbers.

In its earnings call today, the social network reported Q4 revenue of $479 million, up 97 percent over the same quarter in 2013, when it posted $243 million in revenue.

Meanwhile, the number of people using Twitter at least once a month increased 20 percent year-over-year to 288 million — but that was actually a decrease of about 4 million from the previous quarter. Last year, it reported 30 percent year-over-year user growth. So growth is slowing.

Compare that to LinkedIn, often regarded as an also-ran social network that’s focused on the lucrative but boring business niche. But LinkedIn is doing pretty well. LinkedIn reported just 93 million monthly active users (a year-over-year increase of 23 percent) and revenue of $643 million for Q4 (44 percent growth year-over-year). Same slow growth, but much larger revenues.

Or the giant in this market, Facebook, which grew its count of monthly active users 13 percent year-over-year to 1.39 billion, while its revenue grew 49 percent to $3.85 billion for the same quarter.

Let’s look at the annual figures:

2013 vs 2014 figures for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

What these three companies tell is a similar story: Growth is slowing down to the 10-30 percent range, while each of the companies gets far better at actually making money from those users. Of course Facebook has the lion’s share of both users and revenue, but there’s probably a healthy amount of the market left over for the other two.

Networks like Facebook-owned Instagram and Twitter-owned Vine attempt to capture the younger crowd, but let’s stipulate for now that these sub-networks aren’t a major force — yet. (Though Snapchat’s reported 100 million user figure, and its forays into original content, suggest that there might be another chapter to this story.)

For now, Twitter’s main challenge is hanging on to its existing user base, so it doesn’t fall even further behind Facebook. But it’s also got to figure out what makes it special.

What does Twitter do uniquely well?

There are a few possibilities. Twitter plays a key role in the news ecosystem: For me, as for many journalists, Twitter is both a valuable dashboard of what’s going on in the world and in the tech industry. It’s also a useful tool for publicizing the news that VentureBeat publishes.

But I think I am in a minority, and our traffic figures — like those of most publishers — show that far more people use Facebook to learn about the news.

Twitter is a useful mobile tool that offers great control to end-users than Facebook does. Rather than try to anticipate what you want to see, Twitter lets you curate your own lists — or just follow the whole tweetstream generated by everyone you’re following — without mediating that too much, other than with the occasional promoted tweet. So it probably appeals to control freaks who get weirded out by Facebook’s algorithms. Again, a minority.

It’s a uniquely public place to hold conversations, so famous people — or even slightly famous people, like tech journalists and VCs — can have intelligent conversations with one another that other people can follow along with. But along with that public quality comes a significant downside, which is that anyone can troll anyone else. Just ask Anita Sarkeesian about the downsides of public conversations.

It’s one of the last major bastions of pseudonymity, so you don’t have to use your real name on the service. Again, the downside is trolling. To his credit, Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo seems to recognize that this is a serious problem, and says he will make dealing with it a high priority. How he does that remains to be seen.

And finally, Twitter helps people form more emotional connections with each other — and with the content they’re consuming. A very intriguing and somewhat creepy study done by Twitter’s marketing science team shows that actively using Twitter while browsing the web increases the sense of that web content’s relevance by 51 percent.

That’s powerful evidence that Twitter can play a key role in making content more persuasive, powerful, and effective. That’s news that should be incredibly interesting to digital marketers as well as publishers of content.

For the most part, Twitter has avoided being tarred with the same kind of brush that’s often used to paint Facebook as a privacy-hating, opportunistic marketing machine. It even won an award last night at the Crunchies (an annual tech industry event cosponsored by VentureBeat and TechCrunch) for positive social impact.

So Twitter’s future lies somewhere along that line: The smaller, more likeable social network that news publishers and marketers use to forge stronger ties with their readers and viewers.

Maybe it will always be #2 or #3 in users and traffic — but as LinkedIn has shown, if it can identify a lucrative segment, even a smaller social network may be able to turn its users into an ever-larger slice of revenue.

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Why Twitter will always be #2