posted 7 days ago on gigaom
The public price wars are fun to watch. A day after Google announced sweeping price cuts last month, Amazon Web Services lowered prices for the 42nd time in its history. Moreover, Microsoft, which is trying to be as big in the cloud as AWS and Google, matched AWS’ price cuts. At Structure 2014, we have all the major cloud players at the same event to tell you why their cloud is best, and, perhaps, now the cheapest. Joining us will be Google’s Urs Hölzle, a senior VP for Google’s technical infrastructure and a Google fellow; Scott Guthrie, corporate VP of the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise division; and Amazon Web Service’s CTO, Dr. Werner Vogels. Will Google’s plans in the cloud computing market continue to dictate what AWS and Microsoft offer? What does Microsoft’s new transformation to an IaaS cloud provider mean for new and potential users? Moreover, is the concept of not pushing Windows in the Azure cloud really a good idea? And will the 800-pound gorilla who currently has a huge market lead on both Microsoft and Google be able to keep up the momentum? What will the race for dominance in the cloud computing market look like in five years? Come to Structure 2014 to better understand what’s out there, where it’s going and how it will impact your enterprise. Register for Structure by this Friday, April 11 and save $300. –Clare Ryan

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Free Mobile has already kicked off a price war in France with its ultra-cheap mobile voice and data plans. It could be looking to lead a consolidation drive in its home country as well. According to a report in Le Parisien,Free’s parent company Iliad is in discussions with Bouygues Telecom to buy out its wireless operations, haggling over a price somewhere between €5 billion (USD $6.9 billion) and €8 billion ($11 billion). Free’s aggressive pricing is already putting pressure on French mobile operators. Vivendi decided to sell off SFR, France’s third-largest carrier, to cable provider Numericable. Bouygues was in the running to buy SFR as well, but failing to win the prize, it appears to have become an acquisition target itself. Free Mobile has kicked of a French Revolution of its own (source: The Louvre) If the deal goes through, Free would gain access to a nationwide mobile voice and data network, something it has so far managed to do without. Free has adopted a Wi-Fi-first strategy by turning Iliad customers’ broadband gateways into hybrid public-private hotspots. The idea is to move as much mobile traffic as possible onto these those Wi-Fi nodes to avoid the cost of using expensive cellular networks. Wi-Fi-first is a strategy that virtual operators Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless have adopted in the U.S., and it may even wind up being the path that Comcast and Google use to get into the mobile carrier business. Free is augmenting that Wi-Fi network with home femtocells and strategically placed cellular towers, but it’s also tapping Orange’s cellular networks through a wholesale agreement to fill in the many gaps in between. Buying Bouygues means Free would no longer need Orange, which as the largest carrier in France is also Free’s biggest competitor. But by running its own extensive cellular network, Free’s operational and infrastructure costs would increase enormously. Free’s lean Wi-Fi-first strategy would wind getting much more bulbous.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Gigaom Research predictions for 2014What to watch in mobile in 2013How the mobile-first world will transform the data center

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The Senate Judiciary Committee began grilling Comcast at 10 AM ET on Wednesday morning over its $45.2 billion proposal to swallow Time Warner Cable. The hearing, which comes a day after the company justified the merger in an FCC filing, features Comcast executives, consumer advocates and academics explaining why the deal is good — and bad — for consumers. The hearing will showcase some of the potential antitrust issues related to the deal, which could in turn lead the Justice Department to threaten a lawsuit to stop it. Here’s an overview of those issues, and what people are saying about them. Vertical, not horizontal, concerns Comcast has been quick to point out that its acquisition of Time Warner Cable would not affect horizontal competition since the two companies don’t operate in the same markets. It has even volunteered to divest 3 million subscribers so that the combined entity would have less than 30 percent of the pay TV market. This puts the deal on solid ground when it comes to concerns about eliminating competitors. “There’s not much in terms of horizontal competition problems,” said Andre Barlow, an antitrust lawyer who formerly worked at the Justice Department. “The government really needs to make out a great vertical case to support an anti-competitive theory.” Such a vertical case, based on antitrust issues up and down the cable TV supply chain, is a harder case to make, especially as the government has rarely succeeded on vertical antitrust theories in the past. Monopoly and monopsony Among the wonks, the debate over Comcast acquiring Time Warner Cable has led to renewed discussion of “monopsony” — the notion of an all-powerful buyer –rather than monopoly, which relates to an all-powerful seller. In this case, the combined cable company’s monopsony would stem from its unprecedented power over content creators like TV studios and broadcasters: Comcast could be in a position to demand that the studios lower prices or abide by other terms in order to reach Comcast subscribers. As Reuters and the New York Times reported, the monopsony theory has been getting traction in the Justice Department and among academics. Successful legal challenges, however, have been few, and a case based on a monopsony theory would be even harder if the arrangement resulted in lower prices being passed on to consumers. (Indeed, Comcast would point out that broadcasters have typically come out on top in retransmission fee disputes with cable companies, leading to higher consumer cable bills.) While a monopsony case is unlikely, the Justice Department could still decide to act based on more familiar grounds related to Section 2 of the Sherman Act, which addresses abuse of market power. And any such case would not look just at cable TV, but larger internet issues. Look at broadband, not cable As my colleague Stacey Higginbotham explained yesterday, this deal isn’t really about cable, but about broadband services. It is not about a choice of cable company, but instead about deciding who will control the the pipe of information that comes into our home alongside our gas and electricity. And it is on this front that the antitrust issues are most profound. If Comcast and Time Warner Cable merge, the combined company could control at least 40 percent of the country’s broadband market. Despite Comcast’s claims that there are plenty of broadband options, the reality is that most households only have one or two choices for high-speed internet. One problem, as Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica explained this week, is that it is extremely difficult for new internet service providers to get off the ground — in part because of legal threats they face from incumbents. At the same time, Comcast’s existing control over content giants like NBC, and recent disputes with the likes of Netflix over content delivery, have already raised the question of whether further consolidation of broadband services will harm consumers. The fate of the proposed merger, then, will turn on what degree the senators focus on the pay TV issues — and what degree they focus instead on the real issue of broadband delivery.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Gigaom Research predictions for 2014How the truly smart home could finally become a realityHow consumer media consumption shifted in the second quarter

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Q&A platform Quora has raised $80 million in Series C funding, the company announced Wednesday. The round was led by Tiger Global and including participation from Benchmark, Matrix, Northbridge, and Peter Thiel. Mark Bodnick, Quora’s head of business operations, declined to confirm how much money the company has raised in total since it launched in 2010, but estimates based on reports at the time of those rounds put total money raised to $141 million. Bodnick said that the money will largely be banked away to keep the platform online indefinitely, and may also be used for international expansion. Right now, Quora can only be accessed in English, but the company will likely begin translating into international languages to boost accessibility. No particular plans or languages have been decided upon, but Bodnick said that it’s a high priority down the road — and one of the ways that Bodnick says Quora continues to model itself after Wikipedia. “We want to keep the service running no matter what happens in the future,” Bodnick said. “ Quora has been angling for the past few years to set up a monetization model, whether through ads or other means, but nothing has yet to come to fruition and the company won’t confirm that any plans are in place. Since its launch in 2010, Quora has gathered content on more than 500,000 topics. It most recently introduced a verified profiles system, which it launched with President Barack Obama’s account. Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Listening platforms: finding the value in social media dataManaging infinite choice: the new era of TV user interfacesConnected Consumer Q3: Netflix fumbles; Kindle Fire shines

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Smart homes, connected cars and personal health care devices may grab the bulk of the headlines, but every business can benefit from the internet of things (IoT). Whether you want to add intelligence to factories, increase the efficiency of your shipping, advertise to new demographics, or simply deliver enterprise applications to the personal devices of your employees and/or customers, the IoT should be central to your IT strategy. The sky is the limit, but getting from here to there is no simple task. Connecting end points to backends with the necessary speed, scale and security takes planning, focus and a clear understanding of the end goal. In this webinar, our panel will address these topics: How will the IoT affect businesses of various sorts? What are the benefits to greater device connectivity? Which businesses and industries have made best use of the IoT so far? What traits do they share? What are the most common implementation challenges? What process and technology changes must businesses make to support IoT-based initiatives? Speakers include: David S. Linthicum, SVP, Cloud Technology Partners Craig Foster, freelance analyst, writer and consultant Rich Morrow, founder and head geek, quicloud  Jonas Jacobi, co-founder and president, Kaazing Register here to join Gigaom Research and our sponsor KAAZING for “The internet of things: making it happen in your business,” a free analyst roundtable webinar on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. PT.

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One of the issues Amazon Web Services customers cite is how difficult it can be to track and project their cloud costs over time — there’s just so much stuff up there! Well, Amazon apparently has been paying attention — it just announced Cost Explorer, a tool that shows a customer’s cloud spending for the current month and “automatically pre-populates your last 4 months of AWS spend so you can visualize your AWS costs, and start analyzing trends and spending patterns,” according to an AWS blog post. One AWS partner said this is a tool AWS needs to offer. “Cost management continues to be one of the top pain points we hear from the AWS customers we speak to. Given billing is so core to the service AWS provides, I’ve been surprised AWS hasn’t been more aggressive here,” said Izzy Azeri, co-founder of Stackdriver said via email. “Based on the description to do granular filtering and event based cost analysis, I think this can be very compelling to customers.  My guess is this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of spend management and optimization tools for AWS.” Cost Explorer comes with some pre-set views — monthly spend broken out by service, monthly spend by linked account and daily spend. One AWS watcher said it was unclear how Cost Explorer differs from Amazon’s existing CloudWatch service, although the latter appears to track usage of various AWS resources but not the associated costs. I’ve reached out to AWS for clarification here. A cottage industry has grown up around helping AWS customers assess, map out and cut their AWS costs — third parties like Cloudability and Cloudyn play here — but Amazon keeps adding more user-friendly dashboards, including Trusted Advisor, which helps customers optimize their use of AWS services. Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Sponsored Research: How direct-access solutions can speed up cloud adoptionHow carriers can catch up in the cloud raceBig data: beyond analytics

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IControl Networks, the company behind the home automation and security offerings of several large ISPs, has purchased the company that makes the Piper connected home security device. The amount of the deal was undisclosed, but it’s a notable one for a variety of reasons, starting with it helps get iControl into the growing DIY home automation and security market. It’s also a pretty noteworthy achievements for Blacksumac, the Ottawa, Ontario-based startup that built Piper from an Indiegogo campaign late last summer to this point. Russell Ure, the CEO of the almost two-year-old Blacksumac, says he’ll stay on at iControl as head of the Piper division. Ure told me that Blacksumac has sold a “few thousand” Piper devices since making it available in January, which makes me think this was probably a good deal for all involved, especially given that Piper is an Indiegogo-backed device made by a startup that had angel, but not venture funding. Piper is a connected device that contains an HD camera, several sensors and Wi-Fi and Z-wave radios that allow Piper to integrate with other home sensors. You can use the camera feature to see inside your home, environmental sensors built into the device or external to it to detect a break-in or external sensors to detect things like flooding. It sells for $239, with compatible sensors costing extra. The idea was to build a security system for apartments and renters that have no real way to install a security system. It also appeals to consumers who don’t want to pay a monthly fee to ADT or other big name security companies. Piper competes with similar offerings from Canary, which recently raised $10 million, as well as other DIY home security and automation offerings. As part of iControl, Piper might be integrated into some of the cheaper security and home automation products that ISPs offer customers, but it’s likely that the product will be aimed at the rental and international markets said iControl’s VP of Marketing Greg Roberts. Regardless of where Piper ends up, the deal is worth noting either as a harbinger of things to come as larger providers buy out the crowd-funded hardware startups that they find interesting or as the beginning of a smart home roll up by iControl. Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How the truly smart home could finally become a realityGigaom Research predictions for 2014Sponsored content: Why the smart home is finally ready for the mainstream market

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We all love our mobile apps and want them to run fast. And now that more people are running mobile apps for business purposes, that’s become even more important. Crittercism,which measures that performance, now has $30 million in new funding to beef up its application performance measurement capabilities. New investors include VMware, Accenture, and Interwest Partners who join existing backers Google Ventures, Opus Capital in the series C round which brings total funding to about $48 million. The fact that enterprise tech powers VMware and Accenture are aboard reflects the growing importance of mobile apps in the workplace — VMware bought Airwatch for $1.5 billion in January to boost its mobile capabilities, for example. Crittercism customers include NPR, Hotel Tonight, Netflix, and LinkedIn. “An entirely new market has essentially opened up over the past few months in the form of B2B and employee-facing apps,” said Crittercism CEO and co-founder Andrew Levy via email.. “As apps are becoming commonplace and mission critical in the enterprise, they impact both the top- and bottom-lines of businesses. Crittercism will use the funding investment to enhance our product to target this new market.” The company also plans to build out its sales and marketing and channel efforts outside the U.S. he said. Competitors include Crashlytics, which Twitter acquired in January, Bugsense, and app performance management power New Relic is adding more mobile management and monitoring capabilities to its offering as well.   Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.10 ways big data changes everythingIn Q3, Big Data Meant Big DollarsVMware’s Cloudy Ambitions: Can It Repeat Hypervisor Success?

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Robots have been put to work in manufacturing and other industries for decades now. But until recently, most were so dangerous that they needed to be kept behind barriers to protect their human coworkers. Steve Cousins, the former CEO of famed robotics lab Willow Garage, wants to move the new generation of human-friendly robots into the service sector. His latest startup, Savioke, announced today that it has raised $2 million in seed funding to further develop its first autonomous, easy-to-use robot. Morado Venture Partners led the round, joined by AME Cloud Ventures, Google Ventures and individual investors. Steve Cousins. Photo courtesy of Savioke. “We think there is a huge [opportunity] in the service industry: places where people live, sleep, work eat, but they are not homes,” Cousins said. “It will signal a very important step in moving robots out of the lab and out of the factory and really starting to see them among us.” Savioke isn’t yet ready to release specifics on the robot, but Cousins said in an interview that a prototype exists. He said the design process involved “simplifying down” from Willow Garage’s PR2 robot (pictured above), which was highly functional but retailed for hundreds of thousands of dollars, to find the right combination of value and price. Savioke’s robot is made possible by a new generation of affordable sensors, the rise of low-power computing and a general understanding of robots from years of working at Willow Garage. Willow Garage, which is best known for the PR2 and TurtleBot robots and ROS open source software platform, spun off eight startups before losing most of its remaining employees to Suitable Technologies in August. Cousins said Savioke was brought to life after Willow Garage wound down and several members of his team still wanted to work on robots for everyday life. While the home might be too hectic for a robot more complicated than a Roomba right now, the service industry offers more structure. He named hospitals, offices and elder care centers as places that might make use of the robot. The startup is looking to do trials with customers as soon as this year. Cousins added that he expects people will begin seeing the robot in their everyday lives over the next few years. “Seeing robots that are actually starting to help us in our own lives is the direction we want to go, and this is a very important step along that path,” Cousins said.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.GigaOM Research highs and lows from CES 2013CES 2013: disruptions and disappointments from consumer tech’s biggest show

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We knew Asus was going to supplement its Chromebox with a pair of Chromebooks but only one so far has leaked. The C200 is an 11.6-inch Intel-powered Chromebook that comes with pre-loaded software just like the Samsung Chromebook 2. Samsung is now taking pre-orders for that device. And there’s hidden code in the Chromecast showing that Google could be adding weather and more to the low-cost wireless dongle; perhaps a personal dashboard is in the works for the big screen? Join us for this week’s podcast as we discuss those topics as well as the new beta of Chrome Remote Desktop for Android and a slick little extension to sync clipboard data between Chrome on different devices. Download This Episode The Chrome Show RSS Feed Subscribe in iTunes SHOW NOTES: Today’s Chrome Show episode is sponsored by New Relic. Hosts: Janko Roettgers and Kevin C. Tofel Asus Chromebook C200 smiles for the camera Samsung Chromebook 2 now available for pre-ordering in the U.S. Chrome Remote Desktop for Android is in beta for a select few Now that XP is officially “dead”, might there be an uptick in Chrome OS device sales with trade-in deals? Google is working on document scanner support for Chrome OS YouTube now allows live streaming to Chromecast Google may add personal photos, weather forecasts to Chromecast home screen App / Extension of the week: Sync ClipboardRelated research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Is Android broken and if so, will Google fix it?Google Chrome OS: What to ExpectWhat we expect for wearables in the near-term future

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It seems as though every week or so there’s a new hack or exploit that reveals millions of passwords or important data from a popular web service, and this week is no exception. On Tuesday, IT professionals got word of a serious flaw in OpenSSL — the browser encryption standard used by an estimated two-thirds of the servers on the internet. The flaw, which was dubbed “Heartbleed,” may have exposed the personal data of millions of users and the encryption keys to some of the web’s largest services. Here’s what you need to know: What is Heartbleed? It’s a bug in some versions of the OpenSSL software that handles security for a lot of large websites. In a nutshell, a weakness in one feature of the software — the so called “heartbeat” extension, which allows services to keep a secure connection open over an extended period of time — allows hackers to read and capture data that is stored in the memory of the system. It was discovered independently by a security company called Codenomicon and a Google researcher named Neel Mehta, both of whom have helped co-ordinate the response. As cryptographer and Johns Hopkins professor Matthew Green describes it, the problem is “a tiny vulnerability — a simple missing bounds check — in the code that handles TLS ‘heartbeat’ messages. By abusing this mechanism, an attacker can request that a running TLS server hand over a relatively large slice (up to 64KB) of its private memory space” (if you’re interested, Green has more technical info about the details of the bug and potential hazards at his site). The Heartbleed site set up by Codenomicon, which also has more technical information on the bug, calls it “a serious vulnerability… that allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content.” As Tim Lee at Vox points out in his overview, the lock that you see in your browser’s address bar when you visit a website “is supposed to signal that third parties won’t be able to read any information you send or receive. Under the hood, SSL accomplishes that by transforming your data into a coded message that only the recipient knows how to decipher.” But researchers found it was possible to “send a cleverly formed, malicious heartbeat message that tricks the computer at the other end into divulging secret information.” The Guardian says the vulnerability was introduced in 2011, apparently by accident when the open-source code was updated, and quotes Matthew Bloch of the hosting company Bytemark as saying: “it is not clear at the moment that there is any way to know whether [hacks based on the bug have] already happened, since the vulnerability has been around for two years.” Why does it matter? OpenSSL is used by an estimated two-thirds of the servers currently on the internet, and those known to be affected include most of Yahoo’s web properties, the dating site OKCupid and the image-sharing service Imgur, which handles a lot of the image-sharing on sites like Reddit (Yahoo said late Tuesday that it had patched most of the servers for its core websites). The weakness could allow a hacker to pilfer personal information about users of those sites, including login details, passwords and other important data. The Guardian says the bug means “servers vulnerable to Heartbleed are less secure than they would be if they simply had no encryption at all.” Heartbleed is a rare bug: a failure in a crypto library that leaks data beyond what it's protecting. So worse than no crypto at all.— matt blaze (@mattblaze) April 08, 2014 Matthew Green says that unlike some of the fancier crypto-related attacks we’ve seen recently, “Heartbleed doesn’t require any interesting crypto. In fact it’s the result of a relatively mundane coding error. And predictably, this makes it more devastating than all of those fancy attacks put together.” Ars Technica points out that OpenSSL is “by far the Internet’s most popular open-source cryptographic library and TLS implementation. It is the default encryption engine for Apache, nginx, which according to Netcraft runs 66 percent of websites.” The anonymity project Tor said in a note about the bug: “Expect everybody who runs an https webserver to be scrambling today. If you need strong anonymity or privacy on the Internet, you might want to stay away from the Internet entirely for the next few days while things settle.” Who is affected by it? According to a report in the Guardian, “among the systems confirmed to be affected are Imgur, OKCupid, Eventbrite, and the FBI’s website, all of which run affected versions of OpenSSL. Attacks using the vulnerability are already in the wild: one lets a hacker look at the cookies of the last person to visit an affected server, revealing personal information.” Amazon told The Register that it has dealt with some of the parts of its infrastructure that were vulnerable but still has work to do to seal all the holes. Do not login to Yahoo! The OpenSSL bug #heartbleed allows extraction of usernames and plain passwords! http://t.co/OuF3FM10GP— Mark Loman (@markloman) April 08, 2014 There’s a list of affected companies and sites on Github (as of mid-day Tuesday). The Wall Street Journal says that security researcher Ivan Ristic spent much of Monday creating a tool to test whether a website is affected and estimates that the bug affects 30 percent of servers that are using SSL. The Verge points out that one of the worst things about the Heartbleed weakness is that “it’s old — the bug dates back two years, and it’s still unclear how long anyone’s known about it.” Codenomicon’s Heartbleed site says the company tested some of its own services from outside, as though it was an attacker, and found that “without using any privileged information or credentials we were able steal from ourselves the secret keys used for our X.509 certificates, user names and passwords, instant messages, emails and business critical documents and communication.” Tim Lee at Vox points out that the bug is likely to be most valuable to intelligence agencies, which have the infrastructure to intercept user traffic on a mass scale: “We know that the National Security Agency has secret agreements with American telecommunications providers to tap into the Internet backbone. Users might have thought that the SSL encryption on websites such as Gmail and Facebook protected them from this kind of snooping. But the Heartbleed bug could allow the NSA to obtain the private keys needed to unscramble these private communications.” What can you do about it? If you are a web user, the short answer is not much. You can check the list of sites affected on Github, or you could try a tool from developer Filippo Valsorda that checks sites to see if they are still vulnerable (although false positives have been reported). If you are a network administrator or website manager, then you should already be applying the patch and/or recompiling your version of OpenSSL to remove the vulnerability — and you should also be reissuing your SSL security certificates and getting users to create new passwords. The problem is that doing all of this on every server and for every user and service is going to take some time. As the Verge points out, “the most troubling lesson might be how hard vulnerabilities are to discover, and how damaging they can be once fully revealed.” ICSI security researcher Nicholas Weaver tells the site that the Heartbleed bug is the kind of thing that you would only be able to detect if you ran it through a sophisticated memory-checking test. “This is not the kind of thing that just shows up looking at the code.” Post and photo thumbnails courtesy of Thinkstock / aetbRelated research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How the truly smart home could finally become a realityHow new devices, networks, and consumer habits will change the web experienceHow the mobile-first world will transform the data center

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Gogo is gradually adding satellite services in an effort to boost speeds on its highly-congested inflight internet networks. It’s already announced a plan to launch a hybrid ground-to-air and satellite connectivity network this year, but next year it will go all satellite, offering more capacity to its current airline partners as well as support for international flights. The new service is called 2Ku and it will make use of the extensive network of geo-stationary satellites to beam high-capacity transmissions to planes flying both over land and over the open ocean. At an aviation conference in Europe, Gogo demoed a 70 Mbps downlink connection to an aircraft using a new high-gain antenna design that Gogo CTO Anand Chari said squeezes out twice the performance of any service provided by its in-flight connectivity competitors. Gogo’s new mechanically steered satellite antenna rig (Source: Gogo) Compared to the 3.1 Mbps of capacity – which is in turn divided among all Gogo users in an aircraft – its current ground-to-air network provides, that’s a massive improvement. According to Chari, that capacity will let Gogo’s airline partners offer not only just rote internet connectivity, but also allow them to sell services like premium on-demand video to passengers. Japan Airlines is one of the first airlines looking at the new network, and several other domestic and international providers will likely trial it, Chari said. Still, even when the new network comes online, don’t expect to get the same speeds on your flight as you would off your cable modem and Wi-Fi network at home. Gogo will buy capacity as needed from its satellite providers, which today include SES and Intellisat. So if only a handful of passengers are using the network, Gogo may only provision 10 Mbps to the flight. Bandwidth, however, can be dynamically allocated Chari said, so if a bunch of passengers rush the network, it can boost that satellite link to 20, 30 or even the full 70 Mbps of capacity.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Gigaom Research predictions for 2014How to balance cloud-based and edge-based mobile data with hybrid application designSponsored content: Why the smart home is finally ready for the mainstream market

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Facebook has been in a longstanding tug-of-war with its users over privacy: as the platform expands the Social Graph, more users have dug in their heels in the name of keeping personal information private. Now the company may finally get the upper hand in the struggle by simply shifting the responsibility of privacy to the user. At a Privacy Whiteboard meeting for journalists in Menlo Park on Thursday, Facebook Engineering’s Raylene Yung and Michael Nowak shared some of the privacy-focused user features that the company is currently testing. But the features aren’t really privacy safeguards — they just provide more “educational opportunities” for users to learn about privacy. For example, the company has been testing a Privacy Checkup feature, which periodically checks in to remind users when they’re posting publicly. The company is also working to make sharing options more explicit, by naming the different groups that users can share their information with and reminding users that when an item is shared, it can only be viewed by mutual friends unless otherwise changed. These measures break Facebook’s privacy down into plain language in order to educate users about what Yung and Nowak repeatedly referred to as the “right mindset” for posting. The pop-ups, disclaimers and clarifiers that populate the platform are not only informative for users but also important pieces of protection for Facebook itself. The more the user knows, the less Facebook can be blamed for privacy outrage.  Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Sector RoadMap: Content personalization in 2013Listening platforms: finding the value in social media dataConnected world: the consumer technology revolution

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A federal judge this month ordered Mark Karpeles to appear in Dallas on April 17 to explain how his company, the bankrupt bitcoin exchange MtGox, lost at least $400 million worth of customer deposits. It’s a safe bet that Karpeles won’t turn up in Texas anytime soon. According to lawyers involved in the bankruptcy process, Karpeles would likely be snatched up by law enforcement as soon as he set foot on American soil. “I assume he would be arrested,” said Roger Townsend of Breskin Johnson & Townsend, adding that the FBI would likely want to question Karpeles about alleged fraud at MtGox, which collapsed in February, or about connections he may have to the notorious online marketplace, Silk Road. Townsend speculated that the FBI may already be sitting on a grand jury indictment for Karpeles, and pointed out that the FBI has already arrested Karpeles’ friend, Charlie Shrem, for alleged money-laundering associated with Silk Road. Townsend made the remarks on Tuesday following a presentation at a New York bitcoin event where he and another lawyer, Edgar Sargent of Susman Godfrey, explained the ongoing legal fallout related to Mt. Gox. The lawyers represent a Seattle company Coinlab, which sued MtGox for $75 million last year over a soured deal to offer bitcoins to the North American market. Since MtGox filed for bankruptcy, lawyers and creditors have been engaged in a global chase in search of what amounts to digital dust. The legal process has been especially complicated, owing to the borderless nature of bitcoin, and to the case’s multiple jurisdictions: the bankruptcy proceedings are underway in Japan and the United States, and the related CoinLab proceeding has so far involved deposing a French national — Karpeles — in Taiwan. On the Texas side of things, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stacey Jernigan reportedly said of Karpeles, “If he avails himself of this court, my God, he is going to get himself over here.” The lawyers, though, expect that Karpeles will not “get himself over here” and that MtGox will name someone else as head of the failed company who will appear at the Texas bankruptcy process instead. The lawyers also insisted that the missing money will eventually be found. “We’ll find out where these bitcoins are, and find they’re in the possession of individuals,” said Townsend. An “imbecile” and a failed rescue plan Even as the legal process winds its way through the courts, details are still emerging about MtGox’s dramatic collapse in February, and a failed plan to save it. A Silicon Valley source who is well-known in the bitcoin community but who did not want to be named told me last month that he was approached by other bitcoin stakeholders in February about joining a plan to save and stabilize MtGox. The person says he declined to join the plan, details of which appeared in a leaked “Crisis Strategy” document in February, in part because the plan lacked information. He also described Karpeles as “an imbecile” who had discovered it was easy to cover up earlier accounting irregularities, and then continued to do so until he was in over his head. He added that question at the time of the collapse was “Is it a JP Morgan that needs to be saved or just a fucking broker?” This story was updated at 5:50pm ET to clarify that the deposition in Taiwan was related to the CoinLab case.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Bitcoin: why digital currency is the future financial systemGreen IT Q3: Solar stumbles while car sharing zooms ahead

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A key element of mobile app success is the performance of cloud services. Most apps depend on six or more cloud services, and many of them are outside of your app’s control. For example, an app might use Facebook for logins, Amazon Web Services for storage and Flurry for analytics. The performance of services impacts end-user experience. To understand the impact, you should track responsiveness and error rates. Responsiveness is the time it takes for each service call to respond to your app.  Poor responsiveness leaves users waiting. People expect responses in under a second; any longer and you lose their attention. Unfortunately, our data shows that 9 percent of service calls take longer than 1 second. Error rate is the percentage of HTTP or network errors an app experiences while making cloud service calls. High error rates mean apps can’t provide content or functionality to the user. Our data shows that 18 percent of service calls from apps have an error rate of 5 percent. Unfortunately services are unpredictable and often further complicated by factors outside of  your control. Location, for example, is an element one cannot control: A mobile app user in India experiences responses that are 2.1 times slower than in the U.S. Mobile application performance solutions like Crittercism help organizations monitor, prioritize, troubleshoot and trend the performance of cloud services used by mobile apps to deliver superior end-user experience. Proactively manage your apps and the services they depend on with Crittercism.

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The Comcast-Time Warner deal may not do anything to spur competition in broadband, but it might give consumers additional options for connecting their smartphones, tablets and laptops. In its 180-page merger filing with the FCC, Comcast confirmed what we’ve suspected all along: it’s weighing using its growing footprint of wireless home gateways and outdoor hotspots to create a “Wi-Fi-first” network that could both complement and supplant the carriers’ 4G data networks. I say both complement and supplant because such a Wi-Fi network would take enormous quantities of data traffic off traditional cellular networks, but because of the range limitations and concentration in dense populated areas, mobile data networks would need to fill the gaps in between. Source: Getty Images / William Thomas Cain: Comcast didn’t say whether it is considering offering such a hybrid mobile service itself or selling Wi-Fi access capacity to carriers, who could use it to amp up speeds and capacity available in cities and other high-demand areas. As I’ve written before, it could do both. Since it sold its 4G spectrum to Verizon in 2012, Comcast has gotten cozy with the country’s largest mobile carrier, making it a likely candidate for such a partnership. Verizon could sell 4G access to Comcast outside of its footprint in exchange for access to Comcast’s Wi-Fi networks. The Information today got independent confirmation Comcast is investigating just such a partnership with a mobile provider. Comcast didn’t go into any details about what such a Wi-Fi network would look like, and there’s the chance this all could be a ruse. Comcast could just be holding out the carrot of a 4G alternative to convince regulators to approve the deal. But the filing leads little doubt that Comcast plans to invest heavily in Wi-Fi. It referenced Wi-Fi 36 times in the filing, and noted it’s already built a network of 870,000 hotspots, compared to the 29,000 operated by Time Warner. Comcast’s hotspot network in the mid-Atlantic (source: Comcast) The reason Comcast’s network has grown so large is because it’s been turning its residential and business customers’ broadband gateways into hybrid public-private access points. Comcast began the rollout in June so only a small percentage of its broadband customers have the new gateways, but considering 8 million broadband customers get their Wi-Fi routers from Comcast, that footprint can grow considerably larger. Basically Comcast’s Wi-Fi strategy has three prongs: neighborhood hotspots through these hybrid gateways, retail hotspots in local businesses like coffee shops, and high-powered outdoor hotspots it hangs off its own pole-strung cables in high-traffic areas such as commercial shopping areas, parks and busy intersections. A fourth prong is its membership in the CableWiFi consortium, giving its customers access to the hotspots provided by other cable operators. That will give Comcast dense clusters coverage in key areas, but solely using Wi-Fi solely as a mobile data service has many limitations. Even in dense clusters of access points, there are still plenty of gaps between Wi-Fi “cells,” to say nothing of the vast Wi-Fi-free expanses outside of metro areas. The CableWiFi network is focused narrowly at big cities, leaving huge coverage gaps (Source: CableWiFi) There’s no seamless handoff between Wi-Fi nodes, meaning the network functions best when users are standing still. And then there’s interference: A powerful Wi-Fi node could provide much more capacity than an LTE cell, but it relies on unlicensed airwaves, forcing it to compete with a myriad of other access points and other devices for spectral bandwidth. That’s why it would be critical for a 4G network to provide a ubiquitous layer of coverage to fill in those gaps and supplement capacity. It’s a model that other carriers are proving out, though, most notably France’s Free Mobile, which uses a network of more than 4 million residential access points as the backbone of its voice and mobile data service. Comcast could easily do the same, offering cheap data buckets and expanding its Voice 2Go VoIP calling service to any manner of smartphone or tablet. So does all this amount to a good reason for regulators to approve the Comcast-TWC deal? Not necessarily. There’s big difference between broaching the possibility of competing mobile carrier and actually committing to building one. Also, Comcast doesn’t need Time Warner to make any of this happen. Comcast already has access to Time Warner’s hotspots – along with the hotspots of several other cable operators – through the CableWiFi partnership. Just as Comcast doesn’t need to buy a mobile operator to make Wi-Fi-first work, it also doesn’t need to buy another cable operator.  Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Gigaom Research predictions for 2014Why LTE in the iPhone mattersThe living room reinvented: trends, technologies and companies to watch

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If you know what to look for, those endless rows of corn that paint the midwest in summer are full of a lot more than just cattle feed and future Doritos. They’re full of data. Now, it’s not news that data science can and should be applied to agriculture. The field of precision agriculture has received a lot of attention over the past few years thanks to advances in sensors and computer vision technologies, and Silicon Valley venture capitalists are now lining up to fund startups that can apply the power of predictive models to all that data. Last year, agri-business giant Monsanto bought a San Francisco-based startup called Climate Corporation, which crunched weather, soil and all sorts of other data to power crop-insurance models, for $930 million. But the story of Mankato, Minn.-based company Farm Intelligence story is still interesting. For one, it proves that you don’t need a Silicon Valley connection to make it big in the data business. It also highlights just how much data we’re talking about when it comes to quantifying the farm. Hint: It’s a lot. The way Farm Intelligence works, according to CTO Steve Kickert, is by working with corn and soybean farmers to help them make better and more timely decisions. It analyzes sensor data, data from other precision agriculture tools, aerial images, government data and weather data to try and figure out what’s going on in the field. It might notice that plants aren’t high enough or some are missing, for example, perhaps suggesting the presence of disease or some environmental stress. It might recognize the telltale signs of aphids. Like a loudspeaker over the field, Kickert said, “The crop is actually talking to us.” And then Farm Intelligence talks to the farmer via visualizations and alerts telling them what it has found. If the numbers are any indication, the product, which is delivered as a cloud service and is only a few years old (it’s actually an affiliate of an older company called Superior Edge) seems to work. Farm Intelligence is managing about a million acres of land right now (most of its users have at least 1,000 acres), but Kickert expects that number will be well into the eight-figure range soon enough. And as the technology advances, it’s figuring out ways to capture even more data about each one of those acres. “We’re getting wider as well as taller, so to speak,” he said. Already, added Scott Colestock, the company’s director of cloud operations, “We expect to be at petabyte scale at the end of this growing season.” Maps of soybean production and land use in Brazil. Source; USDA If the company can expand out of the United States and into, say South America, which produces a large percentage of world’s soybeans, its total acreage and data volume could skyrocket. Kickert stopped short of saying Farm Intelligence will outpace Google should such an expansion happen, but he does think the company could have more data than a lot of other more well-known companies. That’s why when Kickert joined the company in 2013, one of his first orders of business was to move the company’s infrastructure into the cloud where it could scale at a moment’s notice. Now, all of its computing infrastructure is running on Amazon EC2, but it’s using a provider called Zadara to manage its growing cloud storage infrastructure. However, while the scale of Farm Intelligence’s operations (and likely the whole field of data-driven agriculture) might be impressive, its underlying mission is the epitome of the knowledge economy. Like everyone from fertility prediction app Ovuline to music data specialist The Echo Nest, it’s taking advantage of easy access to data and cheap (easily outsourced) computing power and storage capacity in order to put information into the hands of people — farmers, application developers, hopeful mothers — who don’t want to bother with any of that. “Our primary and, frankly, only goal is to help the farmer … increase the yield they’re getting on their crops,” Kickert said. Some of the techniques for doing that have been proven in academia for years, so now it’s just a matter of commercializing them into a product that scale across thousands of individual users. “We’re not trying to invent the science side of it,” he said, “as much as we are trying to help the farmers access that.” Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user rsooll.

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Google is apparently experimenting with making the home screen of its Chromecast streaming stick a bit more useful. A Reddit user unearthed some mentions of a weather forecast in the HTML source of Chromecast’s home screen Thursday, which suggest that the screen could soon show the current weather as well as a one-day forecast for a user’s current location. The code also contains links to icons used to display the weather, which look like this: Chromecast weather icons. (Background simulated.) Further investigation of the Javascript code used to render the Chromecast home screen reveals that Google may actually be experimenting with a number of topics to be displayed at the home screen, which also includes a mention of personal photos. Third-party developers have been experimenting with adding weather forecasts and other information to Chromecast ever since Google opened up the Chromecast SDK in February. It only makes sense for Google to explore this kind of functionality as well. This post was updated at 12:54pm with an image of the weather icons.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How mobile will disrupt the living room in 2014Why the TV industry matters for Google

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Well this is disappointing. Google is telling a local Austin news station that it plans to open signups for Google’s fiber-to-the-home service this summer, putting off the launch of the service until “later this year.” KXAN, an NBC affiliate, also looked at some of the permits that Google has filed to see where it might be planning to lay fiber first. Google must apply for right of way in areas where it wants to dig and string fiber. So far, the map included with the story shows the current permits filed for areas south of the Colorado River (which is confusingly called Lady Bird Johnson Lake). Delays aren’t unusual for Google’s gigabit network deployment, but it is nice to have a new deadline. When Google said last April it was bringing fiber to Austin it had planned to connect the customers by mid-2014 and open up the signups sometime around the first of the year. It doesn’t seem like the date has slipped too far, and I was wondering what the holdup was. Meanwhile for folks eager to get a gig today, Grande Communications is offering gigabit access for $65 to select neighborhoods where it has existing network infrastructure while AT&T is offering a 300 Mbps service that it plans to upgrade to a gigabit network later this year in two service plans (the cheaper one lets AT&T serve ads based on where you have surfed). The other incumbent ISP in town, Time Warner Cable has promised to boost speeds to 300 Mbps in Austin this summer as well. Google isn’t even offering service in town yet, and already parts of Austin are getting better broadband. That’s cool.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Gigaom Research predictions for 2014OTT technologies and strategies for broadcastersWhat the shift to the cloud means for the future EPG

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Along with the Samsung Galaxy S5, the company’s Gear Fit wearable goes on sale this week. I was impressed by the design when Samsung showed it off and a review unit is on the way so I can take a deeper dive with it. Well, not literally; the Gear Fit is water-resistant, not waterproof. One particular aspect of the device bugged me as soon as I saw it, however. Maybe these pictures will illustrate the problem. Note how all of the data is displayed horizontally across the device display? Now think about how you wear and read a traditional watch: Everything is shown vertically or in portrait mode because that makes the most sense when on a wrist with your elbow bent for reading the watch. Here’s an example showing the difference between a standard watch and the Gear Fit. As you read the watch, the traditional timepiece aligns nicely for reading while the Gear Fit requires a head tilt to read.   Thankfully, Samsung appears to understand the problem. SamMobile says the company has the Gear Fit working in a vertical mode, at least in a Samsung retail store in its home country of South Korea. That suggests a software update will soon follow the Gear Fit hardware launch to align the information in a more comfortable reading orientation, making for a better end-user experience.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How to balance cloud-based and edge-based mobile data with hybrid application designFlash analysis: smart watchesWhat the global tablet market will look like by 2017

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As the use of mobile devices continues to climb, the use of dedicated apps is also increasing — but is this a natural evolution, or should we be worried about apps winning and the open web losing? Chris Dixon, a partner with venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, argues in a recent blog post that we should be concerned, because it is creating a future in which the web becomes a “niche product,” and the dominant environment is one of proprietary walled gardens run by a couple of web giants — and that this is bad for innovation. Dixon’s evidence consists in part of two recent charts: one is from the web analytics company comScore, and shows that mobile usage has overtaken desktop usage — an event that occurred in January of this year. The second chart is from Flurry, which tracks app usage, and it shows that apps account for the vast majority of time spent vs. the mobile web, an amount that Flurry says is still growing. I’ve combined the two charts into one (somewhat ugly) graphic below: If apps are winning, is the web losing? The implication of all this is obvious, says Dixon. Mobile is the future, and what wins on mobile will win the internet — and “right now, apps are winning and the web is losing.” Not only that, but Dixon argues that the problem is likely to get worse, as more companies realize that an app gives them much more control over the user experience than a website. And with less and less investment in making the web experience better on mobile, it will continue to deteriorate, which in turn will push users even further towards the use of apps. “The likely end state is the web becomes a niche product used for things like 1) trying a service before you download the app, 2) consuming long tail content (e.g. link to a niche blog from Twitter or Facebook feed).” Why is this worth getting concerned about? Because the app economy creates an environment in which “the rich get richer,” Dixon argues: popular apps dominate the user’s home screen, and therefore get used more, get ranked higher in apps stores, etc. and make more money. The result, he says, is a future “like cable TV – a few dominant channels/apps that sit on users’ home screens and everything else relegated to lower tiers or irrelevance.” In his own blog post on the topic, Union Square Ventures founder Fred Wilson said the mobile app explosion is already having an impact on innovation. In a recent meeting, Union Square partners looked at their portfolios and “there was a palpable sense that the wide open period of innovation” that existed in 2004 or even 2008 was not as present now, thanks in large part to the rise of native mobile apps. “It has gotten harder, not easier, to innovate on the Internet with the smartphone emerging as the platform of choice vs the desktop browser.” Is the open web becoming less relevant? For me at least, this debate brings back memories of a classic Wired magazine cover story from 2010, co-written by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, with the alarming headline “The Web Is Dead.” There was much criticism of the piece at the time — including some from me in a post here — because of the way it described web usage, and also because it didn’t really distinguish between using native apps and apps that were built from open-web technologies like HTML5. That said, however, the future that Wired described — in which users primarily engage with digital content through dedicated apps from providers like Facebook and Twitter and the New York Times — has largely come true. As a number of commenters on Dixon’s post and at Hacker News have pointed out, the Flurry chart doesn’t break out how much of the app activity is game-related, and this inflates the numbers substantially, given all of the Flappy Bird and Dots and Candy Crush behavior we have seen over the past few years. You can see that in this chart that tech analyst Ben Thompson shared in a guest post on Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg’s blog, in response to the Flurry data: Thompson notes that there are a number of reasons why we shouldn’t panic about the “death of the web,” including the fact that in many cases mobile usage is additive — that is, the size of the pie continues to grow. John Gruber, meanwhile, says the distinction between apps and the web is in some sense almost meaningless, since most apps (including Facebook’s) are just web content in a different wrapper. He also notes that WhatsApp, Instagram and other success stories could never have happened with just the web. Links are valuable and silos are bad Thompson and Gruber are right on many of those points. But while Thompson says writing is still relatively open despite the trend toward apps, and that “the web is like water — it fills in all the gaps,” I am left wondering how much writing and other content creation is occurring now inside walled gardens that could be outside of them. Even the New York Times has said that it sees its future being driven primarily by multiple segregated apps for its content. Is that a good thing? Dixon and Wilson aren’t the only ones who are concerned about this trend: although his focus isn’t necessarily on innovation per se, the web’s creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has talked a number of times about his fear that the open web will be smothered by walled gardens or “closed worlds,” and proprietary services that make interaction difficult if not impossible. In a piece for Scientific American in 2010, he said that if this continued unchecked: “We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want [and] the ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.” Berners-Lee’s concern, not surprisingly, revolves around links — the whole purpose of the web being to link things together in interesting or relevant ways. How does that happen with apps? The answer is that it doesn’t. Even app makers whose entire business is content, like the New York Times, seem to include links begrudgingly, if at all. It may be imperceptible, but the loss of that kind of connection could have very real repercussions — and they likely won’t become obvious until it’s too late. Post and photo thumbnails courtesy of Shutterstock / nopornRelated research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.What future mobile customer experience management looks likeHow the app economy could reboot the EU economyImportant notes for IT decision-makers from the fourth-quarter 2013

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Lyve Minds, the personal media startup founded by former Apple exec Tim Bucher, is opening up pre-orders for its Lyve Home device on April 22nd, according to a newsletter sent out to subscribers Tuesday. Lyve Home, which helps to back up photos and synchronize them across your devices, will sell for $300, and the company just previewed some of its functionality in a stylish new YouTube video. Lyve Minds was previously known as Black Pearl Systems, and Bucher told me all about his plans at CES.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.AWS Storage Gateway jolts cloud-storage ecosystemThe Backup Barrier: Obstacles to Online Storage Strategies

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Parents of preschoolers, get your credit cards ready: Sesame Workshop launched a new subscription video service called Sesame Go Tuesday that offers kids access to full-length, ad-free episodes of Sesame Street on the web as well as on mobile devices for $4 a month or $30 a year. This isn’t the first time Sesame Workshop has been embraced digital distribution. Sesame Street clips are already available through the PBS Kids offering as well as on YouTube, and kids can watch some full episodes on Netflix, Hulu and elsewhere. Sesame Workshop SVP of Worldwide Media Distribution Scott Chambers told me that the non-profit likes to experiment with different platforms. “Our general approach to life is that we don’t build all of our experiences in one place,” he said. Sesame Workshop was also one of the launch partners for YouTube’s paid subscription service. Chambers called paid YouTube channels “a great experiment,” but added that his organization is still measuring the impact it has been having. “It’s been moderately successful” so far, he said, which didn’t exactly make it sound like a big money-maker. YouTube’s free channels, on the other hand, have been a huge distribution platform for Sesame Street, to the tune of more than 1.3 billion video views and close to one million subscribers. Sesame Workshop’s standalone subscription service follows a bigger trend of kids-focused content offerings, ranging from Netflix’s Just for Kids service to niche services like Movile’s Play Kids service. But it’s also an interesting example for unbundling, since Sesame Go offers access to episodes currently airing on TV, but doesn’t require a subscription to a cable offering. Kaltura co-founder and President Michal Tsur, whose company is powering Sesame Go, told me that she could see more media brands strike on their own with niche offerings, and that subscriptions will play an increasing role in this space. “We are moving away from ad-based monetization,” she said. For Sesame Workshop, part of going alone was also the ability to experiment. The service offers viewers access to 30 minute long episodes of the show, which may work better when kids want to watch the whole thing but parents don’t have an hour to spare. Chambers told me that these shorter versions have originally been produced for Australian TV, and that this is the first time viewers in the U.S. have access to them. Sesame Street had always been about experimenting, he said, adding: “Back in 1969, we used a new platform called television.”Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Is Facebook Video Chat the Future of Social Media?

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It was only a matter of time before the over-the-top messaging apps got tired of upturning the mobile carriers’ SMS businesses and developed ambitions of becoming carriers themselves. WhatsApp is getting its own prepaid SIM card on Germany’s E-Plus, which combines unlimited WhatsApp usage with a small bundle of traditional mobile voice, data and text messages for €10 ($13.80). WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum announced the partnership at Mobile World Congress in February, but TechCrunch and German media spotted the launch of the service on E-Plus’s website on Monday. The deal isn’t your typical mobile virtual network operator deal because WhatsApp isn’t supplanting E-Plus’s brand and selling voice and data directly to consumers. But the partnership is unique in that the prepaid service seems to focus on WhatsApp as the primary mode of communication. As WhatsApp rolls out its planned voice services this quarter, that focus could become even tighter. We’re starting to see examples of messaging and social media companies working closely with carriers around the world. WhatsApp’s future corporate parent has led that charge. In the past Facebook penned deals with carriers like Orange to exempt its social networking traffic from customer’s data plans in its North African and Eastern European markets. And as part of its internet.org initiative, Facebook is working with Globe in the Philippines and Tigo in Paraguay to provide free or subsidized Facebook access to their customers. In some cases OTT apps are becoming true MVNOs. In the U.S., TextNow started out as an IP messaging and VoIP provider targeting customers with iPod touches and other data only devices. But thanks to a wholesale deal with Sprint, TextNow has become an all-IP mobile carrier.  Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.The state of the converged-mobile-messaging marketGigaom Research predictions for 2014Forecast: the converged mobile messaging market

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Elementum, a startup that wants to revolutionize the stodgy world of supply chain management the way Salesforce.com did customer-relationship management, announced some new headline-name investors Tuesday in Aaron Levie, co=founder and CEO of Box; Dave Duffield, who founded PeopleSoft and then Workday; Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, and others. Another new investor, Jim Davidson, co-founder and managing director of private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, now joins Elementum’s board. The company did not disclose the amount of the investment. With Elementum’s Transport app, companies can monitor and manage their transportation network and view each route and shipment. Supply chain management, or SCM, is a key technology that helps manufacturers and other companies make sure they have product to build and deliver when it’s needed.  Traditional SCM players include Oracle and SAP, two companies that have already seen — and thus far withstood — a lot of disruption. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, initially spun out of Flextronics, has logged just north of $60 million in venture funding since it was launched two years ago by founder and CEO Hader Mikhail, a Flextronics veteran. Previous investors included Lightspeed Venture Partners.  Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Data discovery tools and companies to watch in 2014How LinkedIn is evolving its media businessCloud security market landscape, 2013–2017

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