What were your best nine Instagram photos from 2017?



You might have noticed a new end-of-year trend on Instagram the past few days. If so, you can thank 2017bestnine.com, a website that lets you automatically collect and collage your most-liked photos of 2017.

Best Nine has been around for a while, so many of you may be familiar with the tool already. But for those of you who are new to that Best Nine game, here’s how it works.

First of all, your Instagram profile must be public for this to work, so if you have it set to private, quickly switch it to public to allow Best Nine to get in there and do its magic. Once your profile is public, head to 2017 Best Nine and input your Instagram ID.

After a few seconds (or minutes, depending on traffic to the site), the Best Nine service will offer you options for your final collaged photo that includes your best nine photos from 2017.

The ‘original version’ includes a caption that says “Thank you for your likes!” with the hashtag #2017bestnine at the top. You can also choose the photo only version or check out your best nine from 2016.

The final version looks something like this:

And with that, 2017 is nearly over. Happy New Year, everyone!

Featured Image: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty Images



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Voice interfaces beginning to find their way into business



Imagine attending a business meeting with an Amazon Echo (or any voice-driven device) sitting on the conference table. A question arises about the month’s sales numbers in the Southeast region. Instead of opening a laptop, opening a program like Excel and finding the numbers, you simply ask the device and get the answer instantly.

That kind of scenario is increasingly becoming a reality, although it is still far from common place in business just yet.

With the increasing popularity of devices like the Amazon Echo, people are beginning to get used to the idea of interacting with computers using their voices. Anytime a phenomenon like this enters the consumer realm, it is only a matter of time before we see it in business.

Chuck Ganapathi, CEO at Tact, an AI-driven sales tool that uses voice, type and touch, says with our devices changing, voice makes a lot of sense. “There is no mouse on your phone. You don’t want to use a keyboard on your phone. With a smart watch, there is no keyboard. With Alexa, there is no screen. You have to think of more natural ways to interact with the device.”

As Werner Vogels, Amazon’s chief technology officer, pointed out during his AWS re:Invent keynote at the end of last month, up until now we have been limited by the technology as to how we interact with computers. We type some keywords into Google using a keyboard because this is the only way the technology we had allowed us to enter information.

“Interfaces to digital systems of the future will no longer be machine driven. They will be human centric. We can build human natural interfaces to digital systems and with that a whole environment will become active,” he said.

Amazon will of course be happy to help in this regard, introducing Alexa for Business as a cloud service at re:Invent, but other cloud companies are also exposing voice services for developers, making it ever easier to build voice into an interface.

While Amazon took aim at business directly for the first time with this move, some companies had been experimenting with Echo integration much earlier. Sisense, a BI and analytics tool company, introduced Echo integration as early as July 2016.

But not everyone wants to cede voice to the big cloud vendors, no matter how attractive they might make it for developers. We saw this when Cisco introduced the Cisco Voice Assistant for Spark in November, using voice technology it acquired with the MindMeld purchase the previous May to provide voice commands for common meeting tasks.

Roxy, a startup that got $2.2 million in seed money in November, decided to build its own voice-driven software and hardware, taking aim, for starters, at the hospitality industry. They have broader ambition beyond that, but one early lesson they have learned is that not all companies want to give their data to Amazon, Google, Apple or Microsoft. They want to maintain control of their own customer interactions and a solution like Roxy gives them that.

In yet another example, Synqq introduced a notes app at the beginning of the year that uses voice and natural language processing to add notes and calendar entries to their app without having to type.

As we move to 2018, we should start seeing even more examples of this type of integration both with the help of big cloud companies, and companies trying to build something independent of those vendors. The keyboard won’t be rendered to the dustbin just yet, but in scenarios where it makes sense, voice could begin to replace the need to type and provide a more natural way of interacting with computers and software.

Featured Image: Mark Cacovic/Getty Images



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Twitter ended the year on a fascinating run



It’s been pretty easy to point at Twitter and, with each quarterly moment when it discloses its financial guts, let out a long exasperated sigh.

Twitter since going public at a now in retrospect astounding valuation has for much of its public life been quite the disappointment to Wall Street. But then something interesting happened in the back half of 2017: it went on a rather spectacular run, and though ending on a bit of a slump, it looks like it could finish the year up more than 25 percent — which, by Twitter terms, is pretty good.

Much of that is thanks to a (finally) good report in October this year and a blessing from a Wall Street firm, but we could potentially chalk up getting to those events to some actual things Twitter has done. The product updates haven’t been absolutely transformative (like the earth-shattering bump to a 280-character limit per tweet), but since the introduction of the algorithmic timeline last year, it would seem that Twitter is getting slightly less allergic to changes to its core product — even if it alienates part of its very loud user base.

Twitter has also seemingly begun taking more action when it comes to enforcing new rules around harassment and abuse, a problem that has been hounding the company for years and is even more visible this year. Earlier this month it said it would begin enforcing new rules around how it handles hateful conduct and abusive behavior. Twitter’s strategy here has been often opaque, and while it’ll take a while to reach some kind of middle ground, it’s actually doing stuff.

And doing stuff, it seems, is currently enough for Twitter to figure out how to get a nice up-and-to-the-right-ish chart like this one:

While these stocks — especially volatile ones — will swing often, sometimes the general idea is to try to gauge the future potential of the company. For Twitter, that means it’s going to have to figure out a way to re-ignite growth and get users coming back and using the platform. It has some very deep core issues, and sometimes seems to flip-flop on its own actions and have troubles communicating. But if Twitter is somehow able to right this ship, it may have an opportunity to get that growth engine moving again.

Most executives will probably give the boilerplate “we are committed to delivering long-term value for shareholders” argument for stock swings in the near term, but those swings are really significant for the company. It’s the closest thing to a near-term public barometer for the company’s success, which means it does a lot for employee morale. And it also can be significant for attracting talent, as the company may need to offer more generous compensation packages to rip people away from companies that are high-growth or well-established.

Twitter, going forward, it appears, needs to keep doing stuff. It’s made a lot of moves in the video space in addition to building business tools — like a video-centric ad format. And it certainly has done that to some extent, trying to extend its pitch as a real-time communications platform to video. It needs to continue cracking down on harassment and abuse if it’s going to attract new, more casual users. It needs to keep making tweaks to its products even under the risk of alienating some of its users to make it more user-friendly. In short, there’s a lot of stuff to be done.

What’s arguably the richest part of this whole story, however, is that Twitter now has roughly the same market cap as Snap following its back-of-the-year run. Hovering at around $18 billion, it’s the tale of two runs here: Twitter found some way to turn its story around, and Snap is still having some pretty dramatic issues telling its story to Wall Street. Both have the specter of user growth over them, but somehow Twitter has been able to at least throw a rock in the opposite direction to get the attention of investors temporarily.

Will Twitter get its wish of finally escaping the MAU? Probably not. But for now, it looks like Dorsey and the rest of them have figured out at least some small way to sell the promise of Twitter to Wall Street and get them on board for the time being.

Featured Image: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg/Getty Images



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It’s the Jons 2017! | TechCrunch



Happy New Year! It’s been a transformational year in tech. The golden era of startups ended. Sorry about that. The tech industry finally rolled over a big rock it had ignored and/or leaned on for years, and exposed the squirming morass of sexual harassment beneath. We witnessed major AI breakthroughs, a cryptocurrency megaboom, really truly self-driving cars, and 18 SpaceX launches.

But the Jons are not about those kind of accomplishments. The Jons, an annual award named (in an awe-inspiring fit of humility) after myself, celebrate tech’s more dubious achievers — and hoo boy oh boy were there a lot of those this year. So let’s get to it! With very little further ado, I give you: the third annual Jon Awards for Dubious Technical Achievement!

(The Jons 2015) (The Jons 2016)

THE WHOLE WORLD OWES THIS GUY AN APOLOGY BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN HE ISN’T A LUNATIC AWARD FOR REVEALING THE TRUTH WHICH IS ACTUALLY OUT THERE, WELL KINDA, BUT STILL I MEAN HOLY SHIT

To Tom DeLonge of Blink-182, whose apparently delusional disquisitions about a secret Deep State government organization dedicated to tracking UFOs and harboring mysterious and possibly otherworldly alloys in warehouses, etc. etc. etc., turned out to be, incredibly, at least half true, per the New York Times’s revelation that such a program did exist until 2012. But wait, there’s more! That program’s principals are now employed by — that’s right — DeLonge himself. WTF. Does this mean UFOs are real? Probably not. Was this program pure pork? Very possibly. Is this nonetheless the most excellent story of 2017? You betcha.

THE IF YOU DISRESPECT THE SACRAMENT OF LINEAR REGRESSION ONE MORE TIME I WILL GET OLD TESTAMENT ON YOU AWARD FOR TRULY GODLIKE SELF-REGARD

To Anthony Levandowski, former “Alphabet self-driving car impresario” turned “Otto CEO” turned “Uber self-driving car impresario” turned “man in the dock staring down a whole heap of legal trouble which in turn unearthed even more jaw-droppingly bad Uber behavior,” but believe it or not that’s what this award is even about:

Two years ago, ‘Levandowski founded a religious organization, Way of the Future, to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.” And people say tech is secular! I for one look forward to a novel legal defense arguing that the secular authorities should recuse themselves entirely from his case because of their long problematic history of misunderstanding and suppressing God’s prophets.

THE IF WE COULD PUT DRM ON AIR WE WOULD AND DON’T THINK WE AREN’T THINKING ABOUT IT AWARD FOR COMMODIFYING THE UNCOMMODIFIABLE

It was bad enough when Juicero applied DRM to juice before flaming out spectacularly. Worse yet when DRM was responsible for the virtual genocide of Second Life’s puffins and rabbits. But Reefill really took the cake, or, as Marie Antoinette might put it, ate the brioche: they want people to pay for the right to unlock tap water stations. I sure look forward to our air filters that must be fed quarters/satoshis every few hours so that we don’t have to breathe the raw polluted mutagenic biohazard air of our brave new DRMed dystopian future.

THE WE’RE VERY EXCITED THAT OUR TERRIBLE ARTICLE HAS STARTED SUCH AN INTENSE CONVERSATION THOUGH ADMITTEDLY ON CLOSER INSPECTION IT DOES SEEM TO CONSIST OF EVERY EXPERT IN THE ENTIRE WORLD TELLING US WE DONE FUCKED UP AWARD FOR OVERSTANDING YOUR JOURNALISTIC GROUND

To The Guardian — for decades, one of my favorite, most-trusted, most-read news organizations, for whom I’ve written myself — for their colossal WhatsApp screwup, which, inexplicably and indefensibly, took them five months to accept and semi-sorta-kinda-retract, despite an ongoing chorus of fury and horror from basically every security expert alive throughout that period. For shame.

THE THROW THEM UNDER THE BUS AWARD FOR THE BUCK STOPPING, UH, OVER THERE SOMEWHERE

To Equifax’s former CEO, Richard Smith, who blamed the massive security breach that exposed 143 million Social Security numbers etc. on one engineer not doing their job, rather than on, oh, say, the person responsible for a corporate structure so pathological that the security of the company’s data — and data management is this multibillion-dollar company’s one job — wound up being delegated to a single person with no oversight or backup.

THE IF YOU LIKED IT YOU SHOULD HAVE PUT A BLOCKCHAIN ON IT AWARD FOR BEST CORPORATE REBRAND

To the Long Island Iced Tea comnpany, an unprofitable micro-cap soft-drink manufacturer which eleven days ago abruptly rebranded itself Long Blockchain Corp and promptly saw its stock soar 500%. Now that’s a pivot!

THE DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK AWARD FOR MOST TONE-DEAF ATTEMPT TO TURN DISGRACE INTO A BUSINESS MODEL

To former VC Justin Caldbeck, who retired in disgrace after an array of accusations of sexual harassment, and then, not five months later, tried to reinvent himself as a motivational speaker warning students about the dangers of “bro culture” while also sending more-or-less form emails to people “who have expressed public interest and a passion for this space,” asking for advice regarding “the website that I am making which is intended to be a [information about sexual harassment] resource.”

THE IT SEEMS PRETTY WIFTY AT FIRST BUT ON CONSIDERATION MAYBE WE SHOULD HAVE THESE AROUND EVERY CORNER AWARD FOR MOST INNOVATIVE CONFERENCE FEATURE

To the MAPS Psychedelic Science conference I covered earlier this year, and specifically its Healing Oasis zone for those for whom, uhhhh, the stresses of, uhhhh, the subject matter might have become a little too much. But you know what, the Ethereal blockchain conference a few months later had a yoga and chill-out zone too. Is this a trend? Will future tech conferences include sessions that consist largely of chanting in Haskell and new asanas named “The Drone,” “The Blockchain,” and “The Internet Of Things”? We can but hope.

THE YOU DO HAVE A HISTORY OF BEING A LITTLE UNCLEAR ON BASIC ECONOMIC CONCEPTS AWARD FOR SILLIEST MAJOR CRYPTOCURRENCY PROPOSAL

Note that weasel world major in there, but, I mean, c’mon, otherwise we’d be here all day: the government of Venezuela wants to issue a Proof-of-Work cryptocurrency backed by 5 billion barrels of oil. This is apparently not a joke. It is, however, very silly. I’ll let “Marmot Man” Preston J. Byrne explain exactly why:

This is absurd. Where an issuer can be identified (say, a sovereign) and the thing being bought and sold comes with legal rights (say, dividends from oil production), you obviate the need for mining. If you’re a country, the kind of system you want to run is a permissioned system where you control the validators, not an open system that can be hijacked by a bunch of anonymous electricity thieves in China.”

THE MATH IS BAD AND MUST BE BANNED MMMKAY AWARD FOR FAILING TO UNDERSTAND THE LIMITS OF DEMOCRATIC POWER

To all the clueless morons who keep hoping to ban end-to-end encryption, most notably the current UK government. Repeat after me: encryption is math. What’s more, many implementations of that math are open-source. You cannot ban math. If you force some companies to remove math from their software, people who want to use math will just use different software which does have math. All you will do is strip the benefits of math from the people for whom math is an ancillary rather than primary benefit. Everyone will lose. Please stop being idiots.

(UK government readers: please replace “math” with “maths” in the above paragraph to aid comprehension. I would assume this goes without saying but, well, this does not appear to be the case if you are part of the UK government.)

THE HOKEY INTELLIGENCE AND TECHNICAL COMPETENCE ARE NO MATCH FOR IGNORANT BIGOTRY, KID AWARD FOR CONFUSING WANTING SOMETHING WITH BEING ABLE TO DO IT

To the alt-right’s “parallel Internet,” which has become a land of: “ghost towns, with few active users and no obvious supervision. As technology products, many are second- or third-rate, with long load times, broken links and frequent error messages.” I’m shocked, shocked, that furious bigotry is inversely correlated with intelligence and technical competence.

THE PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN, THE FINE PRINT IN THE CONTRACT, OR THE CURIOUS BEHAVIOR OF THE WEREWOLF IN THE NIGHT-TIME AWARD FOR MYSTERIOUS FINANCIAL SHENANIGANS

To the … one or more entities … some of whom seem to be related in some way to the Bitfinex exchange, and the Tether cryptocurrency, who have apparently been engaged in a whole galaxy of shady, sketchy, manipulative, and/or market-warping cryptofinancial behavior over the last year or so, as doggedly and faithfully documented by yet another anonymous entity known as Bitfinexed, via the latter’s Medium posts and Twitter feed. Got a bunch of free time and an interest in financial skulduggery? Then I encourage you to dive down that rabbit hole and marvel at what you find.

THE FEET, LEGS, TORSO, ARMS, AND HEAD OF CLAY AWARD FOR THE FARTHEST FALL FROM GRACE TO FARCE

To Julian Assange, who over the last seven years has gone from a radical “we open governments” cipherpunk hero to a more-or-less Putin apologist and apparent misogynist obsessed with Hillary Clinton who is now fundraising by selling CryptoKitties. The line between whimsical and pathetic is, I’m afraid, somewhere back thataway.

THE CALLING ME A CONSPIRACY THEORIST MEANS YOU’RE PART OF THE CONSPIRACY AWARD FOR MOST SELF-AGGRANDIZINGLY DELUSIONAL WORLDVIEW

Jointly awarded to Eric Garland, Seth Abramson, and Louise Mensch, whose breathless, incoherent, interminable, and consistently wrong Twitter tweetstorms, which basically try to remix reality with badly written Hollywood legal/political thrillers, exemplify a whole new kind of train-wreck political performance art informed by spectacular lack of self-awareness.

Mensch is perhaps the most unhinged of the three, but Garland is first among equals, because a) he apparently believes there is a million-dollar conspiracy to label him a conspiracy theorist and b) in the months and months and countless, endless tweets since he first rose to prominence with his “Guys, it’s time for some game theory” tweet, he has still, so far as I can tell, never actually discussed any game theory. As such his award shall come with a bonus shaggy-dog bobblehead.

THE REALLY IT DIDN’T EVEN SEEM LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME TO BE HONEST AWARD FOR THE MOST ILL-CHOSEN TATTOO

Welcome to the future: Your tattoo has a EULA…

THE THAT’LL SHOW THEM AWARD FOR THE MOST INEFFECTIVE ACT OF TECHNO-POLITICAL DEFIANCE

To the entire parliament of the Republic of Chechnya, who quit Instagram en masse in solidarity with their leader, notoriously brutal thug Ramzan Kadyrov, after he was kicked off the platform. As a consequence of this bold move … no, hang on, turns out there were no consequences whatsoever, unless you count widespread mockery such as this.

THE WORM HAS TURNED AWARD FOR THE MOST INEFFECTIVE ACT OF TECHNO-POLITICAL ADVOCACY

To PotCoin, a cryptocurrency that focuses on marijuana transactions, who sponsored former NBA great Dennis Rodman’s January trip to North Korea in the hope of, and I quote, ‘something that’s pretty positive’ happening. I mean, in fairness, nothing disastrous happened, but it seems to me that peace has not yet returned to the Korean peninsula despite Rodman’s GOAT rebounding skills. Maybe next time?

Congratulations, of a sort, to the winners of the Jons! All recipients shall receive a bobblehead of myself made up as a Blue Man, as per the image on this post, which will doubtless become coveted and increasingly valuable collectibles. (And needless to say sometime next year they will become redeemable for JonCoin.) And, of course, all winners shall be remembered by posterity forevermore.


1Bobbleheads shall only be distributed if and when available and convenient. The eventual existence of said bobbleheads is not guaranteed or indeed even particularly likely. Not valid on days named after Norse or Roman gods.



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These apps will help you keep your New Year’s resolutions


Almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Far fewer stick to them.

“Losing weight” and “exercising more” are among the most popular goals. A sizeable percentage of Americans also aim to “be a better person.”

TechCrunch reviewed apps that are designed to help people stay on track with these plans. Here are a few that will help you remain focused in 2018.

8fit

8fit

There are countless fitness and diet apps. But if you’re looking for a new one, 8fit is worth checking out. Whether you want to “lose fat” or “gain muscle mass,” 8fit lets you track specific fitness goals. There are workout videos for yoga and tabata. It’s soon adding videos to target your core and arms. You can also log exercises and sync steps with Apple Health. 8fit additionally has a diet section, for monitoring what you eat. Whether you’re vegetarian or looking to avoid carbs, there are plenty of options suitable for various diets. 8fit will help you build a customized meal plan, complete with recipes. The basic app is free and available on both iOS and Android. Users are charged $5 per month for 8fit Pro, with added functionality. The app is currently ranked #10 in the health & fitness category on Apple’s App Store.

Done

 

Done

Regardless of what your resolutions are, this app will help you get it done. The aptly named “Done,” lets you set your own goals and get reminders. Done charts your progress, so you can see how you performed this week or this month. The data is exportable and can be backed up by Dropbox. The beauty of the app is the simplicity. Another similar one is Habit List. (It actually helped me keep my fitness resolution last year!) I also use iHydrate, but that’s just for water-tracking. Done is free and available on iOS.

 

ShareTheMeal

sharethemeal

Forget self-improvement, what about helping others? ShareTheMeal is an app created by the United Nations World Food Programme to help children in poverty. For just 50 cents, the app will let you feed a child for a day. Or for $15, you can feed the child for a month. Whether its Syrian refugees or kids in Haiti, ShareTheMeal will let you determine which region your food is going to. You can also spread the word about the program, by using the app to share photos of your meals on social media. Over 18 million meals have been donated so far. The app itself is free and available on both iOS and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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The food revolution may have just needed a cup of Blue Bottle



Each massive exit in the tech ecosystem usually follows the same cycle: an upstart becomes a huge business, it goes public or sells for a huge sum of money, many of the best people that built it take off and then they use their newfound wealth to start companies.

But in addition to tech, the venture community has its own pet project: coffee. With investors pouring money into companies like Blue Bottle Coffee, La Colombe and Philz, you’d probably think it’s still a pet project. Then, earlier this year, Nestlé acquired a majority stake in Blue Bottle at a valuation north of $700 million. And with that kind of an exit for a coffee startup, we’ll now test the ecosystem to see if we’ll see whether a diaspora of a class of coffee graduates will jump into the startup ecosystem themselves.

“If you view the startup ecosystem as a garden, this is a really good, healthy thing,” Collaborative Fund founder Craig Shapiro said. “Now there’s gonna be a bunch of new seeds put into the soil. There’s liquidity for all those employees and the founders who are each gonna be active in starting something new and trying something new. Maybe five years from now you and I could be talking about the Blue Bottle Mafia.”

There’s already been an array of startups that are looking to do things like make plant burgers like Impossible Foods, which raised $75 million earlier this year led by Temasek. There are also synthetic meat startups like Memphis Meats, which raised $17 million in financing from people like Bill Gates (whose name seems to come up a lot here) and Richard Branson, as well as DFJ. So the food ecosystem is not necessarily a new one. But despite a lot of venture funding flowing into this area, there doesn’t seem to have been a splashy exit in Silicon Valley’s pet project.

While it was a pet project, coffee may have made the most sense for a lot of funds like those putting money into coffee to test the waters. The operating margins aren’t bad, it’s a bit of a trendy pick and coffee may be a bit of a habit in addition to a consumer experience. Whether it’s selling and delivering roasted beans or having a shop on the way to work, coffee is a recurring experience, and there’s probably some internal metric somewhere of weekly active re-roasters or something like that. Silicon Valley loves that kind of recurring revenue model, should it actually take off.

Here’s a look at Starbucks’ operating margins for the past fiscal year, for example:

So, not really bad. But if you look at the company’s stock price, it’s had a bit of a middling year. Despite that, Starbucks still has a market cap of more than $80 billion:

I’ve made the not-so-much-of-a-joke suggestion that Amazon should buy a coffee startup. The company spent more than $13.7 billion acquiring Whole Foods, and there’s an opportunity for a brand match with Amazon and a true trendy coffee brand like Philz. And the market opportunity, as we’ve seen with the case of Starbucks, is actually quite big. Were a startup (or Amazon) to open a coffee shop across from even a fraction of each Starbucks store and try to sell a better coffee experience than that get-in-get-out-with-your-latte consumer behavior, and then sell at a slight premium, that already offers a pretty significant opportunity. And if you’ve ever been to a Blue Bottle, you’ll see that attempt at whatever an Apple Store experience looks like in coffee form is seemingly the goal.

Consumer packaged goods companies, or CPG for short, are already looking for different avenues to pick up brands that have some strong consumer affinity. Coca-Cola, for example, bought the Topo Chico — a superb sparkling water startup that’s very popular in Texas — earlier this year (thanks for spoiling that, NYT). These kinds of product-focused companies with strong consumer brands are clearly wildly valuable to larger food and beverage companies, and all this M&A activity will surely catch the eye of investors.

Shapiro argues there will be a lot of interest in clean-ingredient movements beyond just the noise happening around plant-based foods. Bigger food and beverage companies have challenges changing their procurement strategies, Shapiro said, so it could indeed make sense to pick up a startup or smaller company that is already a self-contained operating unit. He pointed to RXBar, which Kellogg acquired for $600 million earlier this year.

“I think between new funds focused on this as well as existing funds that are now paying attention to it, I think we’re gonna see significant investment and orders of magnitude more than what most people anticipate,” he said.

A splashy exit like this will probably catch the attention of investors and potential entrepreneurs with experience in the CPG space. CircleUp, for example, raised a $125 million fund to invest in consumer products earlier this year. What we’ll have to see is if an exit like Blue Bottle actually provided the liquidity investors and founders or early employees needed to get started on their own companies — but at the very least, it looks like the spark may soon evolve into a flame.

Featured Image: Richard Levine/Corbis/Getty Images



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Hyperscale data centers reached over 390 worldwide in 2017



Hyperscale operators are defined as enormous companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google that need to provide computing on a massive scale. You would think that there would be a limited number of this type of highly specialized data center, but recent research from Synergy Research found that 2017 was actually a breakout year for new hyperscale data centers across the world — with no sign of slowing down in 2018.

Synergy reported that the year closed with over 390 web-scale data centers worldwide with Google being particularly active. Chinese companies Tencent and Baidu also built hyperscale data centers this year. Still, the vast majority are in the US with 44 percent of the total. China is second way back with 8 percent, followed by Japan and the UK with 6 percent each and Australia and Germany with 5 percent each.

 

Synergy reports that on average, the 24 hyperscale firms have 16 data centers each. The companies with the largest number won’t come as a surprise to anyone with Amazon/AWS, Microsoft, IBM and Google each having at least 45 worldwide.

The definition of hyperscale varies, but IDC says it requires at least 5000 servers and 10,000 square feet of available space, but is often much larger. Synergy defines it having “several hundreds of thousands of servers — or sometimes millions.”

These operators often build their own equipment to deal with the specific needs of their immense computing requirements. By designing their own hardware and software, these companies can control every aspect of the computing experience to squeeze out the maximum amount of efficiency, which is crucial when you are dealing with the massive scale of these organizations.

To do this, they need to understand and be able to manipulate every configurable element, something that is typically not possible when buying equipment off the shelf. Because of these unique demands, it limits the number of companies who build these kinds of data centers to the largest technology companies in the world.

As these companies in this exclusive club continue to grow, they will continue to require additional hyperscale presence throughout the world and Synergy reports 69 additional facilities were in various stages of planning or construction, but not completed, as the year closed. At the current pace, Synergy predicts there will be over 500 worldwide by the end of 2019.

Featured Image: StockFinland/Getty Images



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Apple’s $29 iPhone battery replacements are available starting today



Those $29 battery out-of-warranty replacements Apple promised are now available for impacted users with an iPhone 6 or later. The company was initially aiming for a late-January timeframe in the States when it first offered up the discount, following blowback against its admission that it had slowed down older model phones to maximize performance.

“We expected to need more time to be ready,” the company said in a statement offered up to TechCrunch this weekend, “but we are happy to offer our customers the lower pricing right away. Initial supplies of some replacement batteries may be limited.”

In other words, get ‘em while the getting’s good. The steep $50 discount on battery replacement marked a rare public apology for the company, and many users are likely to jump on the opportunity to breathe a little extra life into their phone. The competition has certainly made the most out of the news. Chief competitors including Samsung, HTC, LG and Motorola have all used the opportunity to note that they haven’t taken similar approaches with their handsets.

Yesterday, meanwhile, iFixit used the apology as an excuse to discount its own iPhone battery replacement kit to $29, even as the news was already driving a spike in purchases. The company cited the potential wait time for battery replacements as a reason to jump on its offer.

The delay as the company ramped up battery availability, coupled with the timing of scheduling a Genius Bar appointment have been a source of subsequent frustration for users already put off by a lack of transparency around the phone slowing policy. If you put in for a replacement prior today, the $50 discount would not apply to your phone.

For now, however, the offer’s good, as least as long as supplies last. Apple will be offering more details on the replacement program on its site.



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How a simple tech upgrade at the IRS could transform the economy



Our credit system runs on the power of data. A simple IT upgrade at the IRS would put more of this power in your hands.

When you apply for credit, such as a loan, credit card or mortgage, you essentially ask a lender to evaluate your financial picture to make an informed decision about your approval, rate and terms. Right now, the information that lenders use primarily comes from two sources: you (the applicant) and private credit bureaus that keep track of things like your payment record to your current and past creditors.

This system is imperfect for a variety of reasons. It frequently leaves lenders with gaps and distortions in assessing your creditworthiness. Critical information that could make the picture clearer can’t be accessed at the speed our modern economy moves. Notably, this includes detailed, verified, multi-year financial data from your tax return, which can prove facts such as the applicant’s steady income. It’s held back by outdated technology at the Internal Revenue Service.

New legislation would change this. The IRS Data Verification Modernization Act of 2017, recently introduced in Congress by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), would set up an application programming interface (API) at the IRS.

This API would turn a cumbersome, manual process into an automated one. An API would allow the agency to provide your transcripts the instant you give your authorization. Credit providers would then have more information to make better decisions about your approval and rate. This could cut financial fraud and improve credit prices, speed and access for everyone.

Here’s how it would work

Right now, you can file what’s called a 4506-T form with the IRS. This form gives the IRS permission to send summarized transcripts of your tax returns to a third party, like a lender. It might take weeks to provide the information. It can happen quicker, but often only if you can afford to pay a private expeditor to speed things up. Lenders use these transcripts to confirm the details of your application, but it’s usually too late to factor them into your approval or rate in the first place.

Current technology makes this unnecessary. An API is essentially a specification that allows one program to request data from another one, securely and in real time. If you’re reading this article, or if you’ve ever used Facebook or gotten directions on your phone, you can thank an API. They’re commonplace — already enjoying widespread adoption and usage across the internet and our financial system.

Like the U.K. and the EU, the United States is seeing a digital transformation across its financial services industry.

 

Setting up the API that the legislation calls for would have huge results. For example, you could get a better rate on a mortgage because your lender could have instant access to more information to price your loan more accurately. If you were teetering on the edge of a bad credit score, it could mean getting a loan when you otherwise wouldn’t.

Leveling the playing field would be especially helpful for small businesses. It’s common for entrepreneurs to run a large balance on personal credit cards to get their business going, leading to a lower credit score. If they seek a business loan to consolidate this debt or grow their companies, they have trouble getting anything but the worst terms. A 4506-T API would mean the credit provider could consider more comprehensive financial data. They could see, for instance, that an applicant has been growing steadily and maintaining a stable profit margin.

Similar models across the Atlantic

The API proposed by Rep. McHenry and Sen. Booker is just the start. Other places around the world are beginning to adopt more comprehensive initiatives that expand access to financial data through innovation.

For example, by early next year, the United Kingdom will implement its Open Banking measures, which will enable people and small businesses to share their transactional-level current account data securely between banks and third parties through an API. This will transform the borrowing process by making credit assessment faster and more efficient, and reduce the likelihood of fraud, among other benefits.

This is in addition to the business data already available through Companies House, which serves as a central national repository that anyone can access for business information, including financial statements. Today, credit providers rely on this information, along with other data, to assess applications. In fact, the U.K. has had a public register of companies since 1844, but we have nothing comparable in the United States on a national level.

The European Union is instituting its own data access framework with the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which requires banks to open up APIs by 2018 to give third-party providers access to their customers’ accounts. The directive aims to drive increased innovation, transparency and competition in payments and other financial services.

Like the U.K. and the EU, the United States is seeing a digital transformation across its financial services industry. People and businesses are seeking new options, enabled by technology, for making payments, getting loans, managing their budgets and more. But unlike our neighbors, we have no plan for getting our financial data, which these new services depend on, out of its current chokehold.

Setting up a 4506-T API at the IRS does not require legislation. But the IRS has been unable or unwilling to make it a priority to date, and, in fact, a similar measure in the previous Congress failed to garner enough support to pass.

It’s encouraging to see the bipartisan support this current bill has received so far in both houses of Congress. As our economy speeds ahead, we must ensure that this important tech update does not get left by the wayside.

Featured Image: ronfromyork/Shutterstock



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