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Main article: Google

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 354

Former Stitch Fix COO Julie Bornstein is rewriting the e-commerce playbook

07:00 | 22 October

More than two years after Julie Bornstein–Stitch Fix’s former chief operating officer–mysteriously left the subscription-based personal styling service only months before its initial public offering, she’s taking the wraps off her first independent venture.

Shortly after departing Stitch Fix, Bornstein began building The Yes, an AI-powered shopping platform expected to launch in the first half of 2020. She’s teamed up with The Yes co-founder and chief technology officer Amit Aggarwal, who’s held high-level engineering roles at BloomReach and Groupon, and most recently, served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bain Capital Ventures, to “rewrite the architecture of e-commerce.”

“This is an idea I’ve been thinking about since I was 10 and spending my weekends at the mall,” Bornstein, whose resume includes chief marketing officer & chief digital officer at Sephora, vice president of e-commerce at Urban Outfitters, VP of e-commerce at Nordstrom and director of business development at Starbucks, tells TechCrunch. “All the companies I have worked at were very much leading in this direction.”

Coming out of stealth today, the team at The Yes is readying a beta mode to better understand and refine their product. Bornstein and Aggarwal have raised $30 million in venture capital funding to date across two financings. The first, a seed round, was co-led by Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green and NEA’s Tony Florence. The Series A was led by True Ventures’ Jon Callaghan with participation from existing investors. Bornstein declined to disclose the company’s valuation.

“AI and machine learning already dominate in many verticals, but e-commerce is still open for a player to have a meaningful impact,” Callaghan said in a statement. “Amit is leading a team to build deep neural networks that legacy systems cannot achieve.”

Bornstein and Aggarwal withheld many details about the business during our conversation. Rather, the pair said the product will speak for itself when it launches next year. In addition to being an AI-powered shopping platform, Bornstein did say The Yes is working directly with brands and “creating a new consumer shopping experience that helps address the issue of overwhelm in shopping today.”

As for why she decided to leave Stitch Fix just ahead of its $120 million IPO, Bornstein said she had an epiphany.

“I realized that technology had changed so much, meanwhile … the whole framework underlying e-commerce had remained the same since the late 90s’ when I helped build Nordstrom.com,” she said. “If you could rebuild the underlying architecture and use today’s technology, you could actually bring to life an entirely new consumer experience for shopping.”

The Yes, headquartered in Silicon Valley and New York City, has also brought on Lisa Green, the former head of industry, fashion and luxury at Google, as its senior vice president of partnerships, and Taylor Tomasi Hill, whose had stints at Moda Operandi and FortyFiveTen, as its creative director. Other investors in the business include Comcast Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures

 


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Google’s Pixel 4 launches next week, here’s what we expect

17:51 | 11 October

Here in New York, the air is crisp and the leaves have begun to turn crimson and brown. That can only mean one thing: hardware season is upon us. Backdropped by cloudy, gray Manhattan skies, Google is set to take to the stage on Tuesday, October 15, to show off its just-in-time-for-the-holidays hardware line.

As ever, the event will be headlined by the latest version of the company’s flagship smartphone, the Pixel. But this event has always been packed. The Google Nest (née Home) line has long been a highlight. This time last year, we got our first peek at the company’s very good Home Hub smart display.

Based on the rumors, this year is shaping up to be a veritable deluge of Google Hardware news. In addition to multiple Pixel versions, we’re also anticipating a new addition to the Pixelbook line and, perhaps even a new take on the company’s lukewarmly received Pixel Buds.

As ever, let’s start with the main attraction.

This much we can say for sure. The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are coming. Google’s not done a particularly good job keeping its new device under wraps. The reasons are likely two-fold. First, leaks happen. There are a million points of failure when launching a new phone. Stuff gets out. That said, the company’s felt to pain of slowing smartphone sales as much as anyone. It’s certainly not above priming the rumor pump (check the above video).

The phone has been leaking for months now, including a fresh batch of marking photos that dropped this morning, courtesy of Evan Blass. The big constant among the leaks so far has been the company’s adoption of a similar trypophobia-inducing circle-in-square camera pattern as the latest iPhone. This is just how phones look now, I guess.

pixel 4 marketing images 4

Google’s seemingly bucking the whole one camera is enough bit for the Pixel XL, with a dual set up (featuring a 16 megapixel telephoto). Given what the company has been able to accomplish with a single setup, we can probably expect some pretty impressive imaging from the device. Other new addition include face unlock and motion sensors, which let users do things like quiet calls and skip songs with hand gestures.

Expect Android 10 to come loaded on the device, because Google. 5G is also rumored for the device, but seems considerably less likely. Other rumors include a new emergency service feature and built in audio transcription capabilities, with could be a boon for people who do interviews for a living like yours truly.

Once again, the phones will be available in standard and XL versions. There’s also an orange version (“oh so orange,” as it were), continuing Google’s colorful experimentation.

dscf2981

The company’s premium line of ChromeOS devices is reportedly getting a new family member. The Pixelbook Go. Per 9to5Google, the device is less a direct sequel to the original than a new take on the line. The device is said to eschew the more convertible form factors of the original and the Pixel Slate, instead going for something more like a straightforward laptop design.

Google’s admittedly been a bit…wishy washy when it comes to the future of the line, but given how successful the broader Chromebook category has been, it would be silly to abandon it altogether. The smart approach would be offering a premium take on the category at a budget price, though it sounds like the new version will more or less be the same price as the other models.

Leaks suggest a 13.3 inch touchscreen device that can be spaced up to 4K. The laptop will reportedly sport the the same two USB C port setup as the original, which is a bit of a disappointment, as a lack of ports was one of the bigger complaints on the original.

New Pixel Buds?! Hey, why not. Google admittedly whiffed a bit with the originals. But with every other hardware company tackling the space, why wouldn’t Google give it another go? The company’s got some stiff competition from Apple/Beats, Samsung and Sony, but Google’s got the software smarts to make a compelling play. Probably.

Details for the product are still sparse, at the moment.

The Nest/Home line is getting a bunch of updates next week (most likely). Google’s best selling Home Mini is finally getting an update. There’s a new Nesty name and a few new bits and bobs, including better sound and new colors. Otherwise it’s probably mostly the same, which is fine assuming, the price stays low.

Another long awaited refresh is a new version of Google Wifi. That, too, is becoming a Nest product. It’s also going to bring more smart home synergy by building a smart speaker into the product, per rumors.

The event kicks off at 10AM ET on Tuesday, October 15. Join us live here on TechCrunch.com, won’t you?

 


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How ‘the Internet broke America’ with The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz

00:44 | 5 October

When Elizabeth Warren took on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook earlier this week, it was a low moment for what New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz calls “techno-utopianism.”

That the progressive, populist Massachusetts Senator and leading Democratic Presidential candidate wants to #BreakUpBigTech is not surprising. But Warren’s choice to spotlight regulating and trust-busting Facebook was nonetheless noteworthy, because of what it represents on a philosophical level. Warren, along with like-minded political leaders, social activists, and tech critics, has begun to offer the first massively popular alternative to the massively popular wave of aggressive optimism and “genius” ambition that characterized tech culture for the past decade or two.

“No,” Warren and others seem to say, “your vision is not necessarily making the world a better place.” This is a major buzzkill for tech leaders who have made (positive) world-changing their number one calling card — more than profits, popularity, skyscrapers like San Francisco’s striking Salesforce Tower, or any other measure.

Enter Marantz, a longtime New Yorker staff writer and Brooklyn, N.Y. resident who has recently trained his attention on tech culture, following around iconic figures on both sides of what he sees as the divide of our time — not between tech greats whose successes make us all better and those who would stop them, but between the alternative figures on the “new right” and the self-understood liberals of Silicon Valley who, according to Marantz, have both contributed to “hijacking the American conversation.”

Author Photo Andrew Marantz credit Luke Marantz fix

Image via Penguin Random House

Marantz’s first book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation,” will be released next week, and I recently had a chance to talk with him for this series the ethics of technology.

Greg Epstein: Congratulations on your absolutely fascinating new book Antisocial, and on everything you’ve been up to.


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Nigeria’s CcHub acquires Kenya’s iHub to create mega Africa incubator

15:30 | 26 September

Two of Africa’s powerhouse tech incubators will join forces. Nigerian innovation center and seed-fund CcHub has acquired Nairobi based iHub — CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani confirmed to TechCrunch.

The purchase amount is undisclosed, but Tijani said CcHub will finance the deal out of its real-estate project to build a new 10 story innovation center to replace its Herbert Macaulay Way building in Lagos.

Details are emerging on how the two entities will operate together, but Tijani noted some degree of autonomy.

“The names will stay the same…iHub will remain iHub…it is a strong brand…but iHub will be supported from the central CcHub, which will help them strengthen what they do,” he said.

Per the acquisition, Tijani becomes CEO of both organizations, while Nekesa Were continues as iHub Managing Director. iHub’s existing programs will remain, according to Tijani, but CcHub will extend some of its existing activities in education, healthcare, and governance to Kenya.

CcHub will also use the iHub addition to expand its investment scope. “We’ll now have access to pipeline in Nigeria, Kenya, and Rwanda,” he said.

CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani

Tijani views the arrangement as a boost to the continent’s tech ecosystem. “It strengthens our ability to support innovation. iHub and CcHub…coming together makes us stronger; it gives us a chance to attract greater resources and talent,” he said.

The acquisition joins two of the Africa’s most recognized tech hubs. These innovation spaces, accelerators, and incubators—which tally 618 per GSMA stats—have become focal points for startup formation, training, and IT activity on the continent.

TechHubsinAfricain2019 Briter Bridges

There aren’t official rankings for Africa’s most powerful tech hubs, but if there were, CcHub and iHub would arguably be up top. This would be based on the size of their membership networks, volume of tech related programs, startups incubated, partnerships, and global visibility.

Founded in 2011 in Lagos’ tech-synonymous Yaba suburb, the Co-Creation Hub has grown into a multi-faceted innovation center. The organization manages digital skills programs for entrepreneurs and school kids, startup incubation, and a portfolio of investments through its Growth Capital Fund.

CcHub is considered a go-to spot for any tech related visit to Nigeria. It was Mark Zuckerberg’s first public stop on his 2016 Africa trip. While leaving a CcHub event in 2018, I noticed the Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, and his entourage packing into the elevator.

CcHub ZuckerbergTijani and team have mastered gaining partnerships with big global tech names. When Facebook launched its tech space in Nigeria—NG_Hub—CcHub was named lead partner. Google for Startups sponsored CcHub’s Pitch Drive, an African startup tour to Europe and Asia. CcHub also collaborated with the Government of Rwanda this year to open its Design Lab in Kigali, focused on innovating impact solutions in health, education, and governance.

The Design Lab launch extended CcHub’s West Africa reach further east and closer to iHub. The innovation center was co-founded by

in 2010 out of what he saw as a need in Africa’s emerging tech scene “for…creating community spaces…in major cities [for] young entrepreneurs. The nexus point for technologists, investors, [and] tech companies.”

iHub became that central spot in East Africa. Along with M-Pesa mobile-money and a vibrant startup scene, it is one of the pillars that inspired Kenya’s Silicon Savannah moniker.

iHub is also widely seen as giving rise to the Africa’s innovation center movement that inspired the upsurge in tech hubs across the continent.

IHub Kenya PeopleSince 2010, 170  companies have formed out of iHub. It has 16,000 members and has played host to most major visitors to Kenya’s tech scene. After seeing CcHub in Nigeria in 2016, Zuck then headed to Kenya and toured iHub.

There’ll be plenty for continuing coverage on how these two prominent African incubators settle into becoming one big Africa mega-hub. That includes the sustainability question and what this all means to the continent’s tech scene.

At a high level, for now, the CcHub-iHub union creates a direct innovation link between two of Africa’s most active markets for VC and startup formation—Nigeria and Kenya.

In the past, both countries’ techies have shared a healthy rivalry. That could now turn to more  collaborations, as CcHub’s acquisition connects East and West in African tech.

 

 

 

 


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Google Express to close in a few weeks, will become part of Google Shopping

17:15 | 11 September

Google’s failed online shopping service Google Express is closing in a few weeks, as its features will be merged into a revamped version of Google Shopping, Google says in an email sent to its customers this week. The company had already announced its plans to shutter the Google Express brand, as part of a wider redesign of how it approached online shopping. This included new advertising options for brands and online sellers, as well as a universal shopping cart across its platform of services, like Search, Shopping, Images, and even YouTube.

While Google is characterizing Google Express’s closure as an “integration,” it’s really more of a sunsetting of a failed product and brand.

Google Express was Google’s high-profile attempt to compete with Amazon for online shopping clicks and ad dollars buy creating a virtual mall on the web filled with top retailers’ products. Because Google is not a retailer itself, it did what it knows best — it organized information. At Google Express, you could find products from thousands of retailers — including big names like Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Best Buy, and others. And you could shop through a dedicated online storefront on the web, a Google Express mobile app, or even Google Assistant.

In the latter case, Google Express partnered with retailers like Walmart and Target for deep integrations for voice-enabled shopping. As direct competitors with Amazon, these retailers didn’t want to offer third-party skills for Echo users or others on Amazon’s Alexa platform. Google represented a safer third-party platform for their experiments with voice commands and personalized shopping.

But even several years after launch, Google Express had failed to offer any real threat to Amazon. Its retail partners, meanwhile, were building out their own fulfillment businesses for their customers’ online orders — like Walmart Grocery’s curbside pickup and delivery, for example, or Target’s Shipt, Drive Up, and Restock.

Not too much later, Target and Walmart were pulling out of Google Express.

Google has tried to downplay the news of Google Express’s demise by including it as just another part to the larger Google Shopping revamp. After all, it’s not a shutdown, the company implied. Its features were simply becoming a part of Google Shopping! Nothing to see here! Just a rebrand!

But clearly, Google Express had been unable to establish itself in consumers’ minds as its own dedicated shopping destination. If customers wanted an online mall, they already had one with either Amazon or Walmart and their vast third-party marketplaces where you could find just about anything you’d need. Nor had Google innovated (or acquired) across key areas like warehousing or logistics, while others like Amazon, Target and Walmart had been spending billions.

With Google Shopping, Google goes back to its search engine roots. It aims to simply capture consumers’ clicks, ad dollars and now conversions no matter where they are on Google’s sites — whether that’s shopping from Merch shelves under YouTube videos, browsing photos in a Pinterest-y manner on Google Images, or through more traditional Google searches for products where ads become shoppable, and shopping carts follow you around Google’s part of the web.

In an email to Google Express shoppers that was sent this week, Google says Google Express will be integrated with Shopping in a few weeks’ time.

The redesigned Google Shopping will then be available across the web and through apps for iOS and Android later this month. At that point, the Google Express apps will automatically update to become Google Shopping, if you already had them installed.

The full email about Google Express’ closure is below:

google express shutdown

 

 


0

Google releases Android 10

20:00 | 3 September

Android 10 is now available, assuming you have a phone that already supports Google’s latest version of its mobile operating system. For now, that’s mostly Google’s own Pixel phones, though chances are that most of the phones that were supported during the beta phase will get updated to the release version pretty soon, too.

Since the development of Android pretty much happens in the open these days, the release itself doesn’t feature any surprises. Just like with the last few releases, chances are you’ll have to look twice after the update to see whether your phone actually runs the latest versions. There are plenty of tweaks in Android 10, but some of the most interesting new features are a bit hidden and (at least in the betas) off by default.

The one feature everybody has been waiting for is a dark mode and here, Android 10 doesn’t disappoint. The new dark theme is now ready for your night-time viewing, with the promise of improved battery life for your OLED phone and support from a number of apps like Photos and Calendar. Over time, more apps will automatically switch to a dark theme as well, but right now, the number seems rather limited and a bit random, with Fit offering a dark mode while Gmail doesn’t.

The other major tweak is the updated gesture navigation. This remains optional — you can still use the same old three-button navigation Android has long offered. It’s essentially a tweak of the navigation system the launched with Android Pie. For the most part, the new navigation gestures work just fine and feel more efficient than those in Pie, especially when you try to switch between apps. Swiping left and right from the screen replaces the back button, which isn’t immediately obvious, and a slightly longer press on the side of the screen occasionally opens a navigation drawer. I say ‘occasionally,’ because I think this is the most frustrating part of the experience. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The trick to opening the drawer, it seems, is to swipe at an angle that’s well above 45 degrees.

Also new is an updated Smart Reply feature that now suggests actions from your notifications. If a notification includes a link, for example, Smart Reply will suggest opening it in Chrome. Same for addresses, where the notification can take you right to Google Maps, or YouTube videos that you can play in — you guessed it — Youtube. This should work across all popular messaging apps.

There are also a couple of privacy and security features here, including the ability to only share location data with apps while you use them and a new Privacy section in Settings that gives you access to controls for managing your web and app history, as well as your ad settings in a slightly more prominent place.

The new Google Play system updates, the company can now also push important security and privacy fixes right to the phone from the Google Play store, which allows it to patch issues without having to go through the system update process. Given the slow Android OS upgrade cycles, that’s an important new feature, though it, too, is an evolution of Google’s overall strategy to decouple these updates and core features from the OS updates.

Two other interesting new features are still in beta or won’t be available until later this year, but Google prominently highlights Focus mode, which allows you to silence specific apps for a while and which is now in beta, and Live Caption, which will launch in the fall on Pixel phones and which can automatically caption videos and audio across all apps. I’ve been beta testing Focus Mode for a bit and I’m not sure it has really made a difference in my digital wellbeing, but the ability to mute notifications from YouTube during the workday, for example, has probably made me a tiny bit more productive.

Oh, and there’s also native support for foldable phones, but for the time being, there are no foldable phones on the market.

Like with most recent releases, those are just some of the highlights. There are plenty of small tweaks, too, and chances are you’ll notice a few new fonts and visual tweaks here and there. For the most part, though, you can continue to use Android like you always have. Even major changes like the updated gesture controls are optional. It’s very much an evolutionary update, but that’s pretty much the case for any mobile OS these days.

 


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September’s Mate 30 launch could be a major test for Huawei

17:09 | 30 August

Apple isn’t the only smartphone manufacturer planning a big September launch. Huawei’s got a big event on the books as well, set for September 18 in Munich, just over a week after the new iPhones are unveiled. For Huawei, however, the Mate 30 announcement is about more than just smartphones.

The event is effectively the first big handset launch since the embattled Chinese manufacturer was added to the U.S. trade blacklist. The move had seemingly been a long time coming, after years of allegations ranging from spying to sanctions violations, but with the ban in place, the move will mark a key moment of truth for a company that has so far been dependent on offerings from U.S. companies like Google.

The Mate 30, which also marks a push into 5G, could potentially launch without Google apps. The recent U.S. government reprieve only applied to already announced products, according to a statement Google gave to Reuters. Trump has suggested that ban on Huawei products could be lifted with a new U.S.-China trade deal, further clouding the suggestion that the move made purely out of concerns for security.

The smartphone maker gave its own comment to Reuters, noting, “Huawei will continue to use the Android OS and ecosystem if the U.S. government allows us to do so. Otherwise, we will continue to develop our own operating system and ecosystem.”

That last bit is a clear allusion to HarmonyOS. The recently unveiled operating is largely limited to low end handsets and IoT device, but Huawei is also certainly readying itself for a longterm life after Google.

Meanwhile, CNBC is citing a source that suggests the phone will launch with or without Google apps, depending on how things shake out over the next few weeks. That would likely amount to a minor nuisance, requiring users to download them after purchase, while a full out Android brand would prove far more harmful to its bottom line.

It seems quite unlikely at the moment, however, that the company would attempt to launch such a high end device with its own partially baked operation system.

 


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‘The Operators’: Finance in startups with Duda CFO Stephanie Hsiung and Zeus Living’s Head of Finance Mark Kang

19:03 | 29 August

Tim Hsia & Neil Devani Contributor
Tim Hsia is the CEO of Media Mobilize and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Neil Devani is an angel investor and venture capitalist focused on companies solving hard problems.

Welcome to this transcribed edition of The Operators. The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Calm, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Slack, Uber, WeWork, and Zeus Living sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

This week’s edition features two finance experts with experience from Calm, AdRoll, Morgan Stanley, Change.org, Zeus Living, and Duda. Listen in as they unpack how to build a career in finance at a tech startup and how founders should be thinking about hiring and managing this function.

Stephanie Hsiung is the CFO of Duda, a new and exciting enterprise website builder. Prior to taking the CFO role at Duda, Stephanie served as the VP of Finance at Calm, the leading meditation and mental wellness app and recent unicorn. She was also previously the VP of Finance at Change.org, and was at AdRoll before that.

Mark Kang is the Head of Finance at Zeus Living, which is one of the fastest-growing providers of furnished housing for business travelers. He brings experience from venture capital, banking at Morgan Stanley, where he managed IPOs, and also spent time at Barclays.

image1 6

Mark Kang, Neil Devanie, Stephanie Hsiung. Image via The Operators

Neil Devani and Tim Hsia created The Operators after seeing and hearing too many heady, philosophical podcasts about the future of tech, and not enough attention on the practical day-to-day work that makes it all happen.

Tim is the CEO & Founder of Media Mobilize, a media company and ad network, and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Tim is an early-stage investor in Workflow (acquired by Apple), Lime, FabFitFun, Oh My Green, Morning Brew, Girls Night In, The Hustle, Bright Cellars, and others.

Neil is an early-stage investor based in San Francisco with a focus on companies building stuff people need, solutions to very hard problems. Companies he’s invested in include Andela, Clearbit, Kudi, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Solugen, and Vicarious Surgical.

If you’re interested in starting or accelerating your marketing career, or how to hire and manage this function, you can’t miss this episode!

The show:

The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Calm, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Slack, Uber, WeWork, and Zeus Living sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

In this episode:

In Episode 6, we’re talking about finance. Neil interviews Stephanie Hsiung, the CFO of Duda, a new and exciting enterprise website builder, and Mark Kang, the Head of Finance at Zeus Living, one of the fastest-growing providers of furnished housing for business travelers.

Neil Devani: Hello and welcome to the Operators, where we talk to entrepreneurs and executives from leading technology companies like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Calm about how to break into a new field, how to build a successful career, and how to hire and manage talent beyond your own expertise.

We skip over the lofty prognostications from venture capitalists and storytime with founders to dig into the nuts and bolts of how it all works. Hear from the people doing the real day to day work, the people who make it all happen, the people who know what it really takes… The Operators.

Today we’re talking to two finance experts with experience in investment banking and billion-dollar tech startups. I’m your host, Neil Devani and we’re coming to you from Digital Garage here in downtown San Francisco.

Joining me today is Stephanie Hsiung, CFO of Duda, an enterprise website builder, and formerly the VP of finance at Calm, the leading meditation and mental wellness app. She was also the VP of Finance at Change.org and AdRoll before that.

Also joining us is Mark Kang, Head of Finance at Zeus Living, a rising provider of furnished housing for business travels. They have 1400 homes under management in four major metro areas. Mark has experience as a venture capitalist as well and was previously a banker at Morgan Stanley and Barclays. Stephanie and Mark, thank you for joining us.

Stephanie Hsiung: Thank you for having us.

Mark Kang: Yes, thanks for having us.

 


0

‘Behind the Screen’ illuminates the invisible, indispensable content moderation industry

22:26 | 28 August

The moderators who sift through the toxic detritus of social media have gained the spotlight recently, but they’ve been important for far longer — longer than internet giants would like you to know. In her new book “Behind the Screen,” UCLA’s Sarah Roberts illuminates the history of this scrupulously hidden workforce and the many forms the job takes.

It is after all people who look at every heinous image, racist diatribe, and porn clip that gets uploaded to Facebook, YouTube, and every other platform — people who are often paid like dirt, treated like parts, then disposed of like trash when worn out. And they’ve been doing it for a long time.

True to her academic roots, Roberts lays out the thesis of the book clearly in the introduction, explaining that although content moderators or the companies that employ them may occasionally surface in discussions, the job has been systematically obscured from sight.

The work they do, the conditions under which they do it, and for whose benefit are largely imperceptible to the users of the platforms who pay for and rely upon this labor. In fact, this invisibility is by design.

Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at UCLA, has been looking into this industry for the better part of a decade, and this book is the culmination of her efforts to document it. While it is not the final word on the topic — no academic would suggest their work was — it is an eye-opening account, engagingly written, and not at all the tour of horrors you may reasonably expect it to be.

After reading the book, I talked with Roberts about the process of researching and writing it. As an academic and tech outsider, she was not writing from personal experience or even commenting on the tech itself, but found that she had to essentially invent a new area of research from scratch spanning tech, global labor, and sociocultural norms.

“Opacity, obfuscation, and general unwillingness”

“To take you back to 2010 when I started this work, there was literally no academic research on this topic,” Roberts said. “That’s unusual for a grad student, and actually something that made me feel insecure — like maybe this isn’t a thing, maybe no one cares.”

That turned out not to be the case, of course. But the practices we read about with horror, of low-wage workers grinding through endless queues of content from child abuse to terrorist attacks, while they’ve been in place for years and years, have been successfully moderated out of existence by the companies that employ them. But recent events have changed that.

“A number of factors are coalescing to make the public more receptive to this kind of work,” she explained. “Average social media users, just regular people, are becoming more sophisticated about their use, and questioning the integration of those kinds of tools and media in their everyday life. And certainly there were a few key political situations where social media was implicated. Those were a driving force behind the people asking, do I actually know what I’m using? Do I know whether or how I’m being manipulated? How do the things I see on my screen actually get there?”

A handful of reports over the years, like Casey Newton’s in the Verge recently, also pierced the curtain behind which tech firms carefully and repeatedly hid this unrewarding yet essential work. At some point the cat was simply out of the bag. But few people recognized it for what it was.

 


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Downloads need to rank No. 1 on App Store is down 30% since 2016 for apps, up 47% for games

17:55 | 26 August

With the App Store’s big makeover in fall 2017, Apple attempted to shift consumers’ attention away from the Top Charts and more towards editorial content. But app developers still want to make it to the No. 1 position. According to new research from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, it’s become easier for non-game apps over the past few years to achieve the top ranking.

Specifically, the firm found that the median number of daily downloads required for non-game applications on the U.S. iPhone App Store to reach No. 1 decreased around 34% from 136,000 to 90,000 in 2018, then increased a little more than 4% to 94,000 this year.

At the same time, the number of non-game installs on the U.S. App Store had increased by 33% between Q1 2016 and Q1 2019.

These findings, Sensor Tower suggests, indicate that the U.S. market for the top social and messaging apps has become saturated, with downloads for top apps like Facebook and Messenger decreasing over time. In addition, no other apps have found the same level of success that Snapchat and Bitmoji did back in 2016 and 2017, the report adds.

median downloads no 1 ios

For example, Messenger saw 5 million U.S. App Store installs in November 2016 while Bitmoji and Snapchat passed 5 million installs in August 2016 and March 2017, respectively. And no other non-game app has topped 3.5 million installs in a single month since March 2017.

Meanwhile, the decline in downloads needed to reach the No. 1 spot on Google Play was even more significant.

The median daily downloads for the top non-game app decreased by 65% from 209,000 in 2016 to 74,000 so far in 2019.

Similarly, the store saw a decrease in installs among top apps, including Messenger, Facebook, Snapchat, Pandora and Instagram. Messenger, for example, saw its yearly installs fall by 68% from nearly 80 million in 2016 to 26 million in 2018.

Games

With mobile games, however, it’s a different story across both app stores.

On the Apple App Store, it has taken 174,000 downloads for a game to reach the top of the rankings on any given day in 2019 — 85% more the 94,000 installs required for non-game app to reach the top of the charts.

This figure also represents an increase of 47% compared to the 118,000 median daily downloads required to top the charts back in 2016, Sensor Tower said.

median downloads no 1 google play

In part, this trend is due to the rise of hyper-casual gaming. So far in 2019, 28 games have reached the No. 1 position on the U.S. App Store, with hyper-casual games making up all but 4 of those. And of those four, only Harry Potter: Wizards Unite spent more than one day at the top of the charts. Meanwhile, hyper-casual games like aquapark.io and Colorbump 3D have spent 25 and 30 days at No. 1, respectively.

On Google Play, the median daily installs to reach the No. 1 position increased from 70,000 in 2017 to 116,000 so far in 2019, or 66% growth. Overall game downloads, however, decreased 16% from 646 million in Q1 2017 to 544 million in Q1 2019.

Similarly, 21 out of the 23 games that reached the top spot this year have been hyper-casual titles, like Words Story or Traffic Run.

Breaking the Top 10

While topping the charts has gotten easier for non-game apps over the years, breaking into the top 10 has gotten more difficult. Median U.S. daily installs for the No. 10 free non-game app increased 11% from 44,000 in 2016 to 49,000 in 2019.

median downloads top 10 ios

On Google Play, meidan daily installs for non-game apps fell nearly 50% from 55,000 median daily installs in 2016 to 31,000 in 2019.

For games, the No. 10 game’s spot on the App Store had 25,000 median daily installs in 2016 to 43,000 so far in 2019, and Google Play saw 26% growth from 27,000 to 34,000 during the same period.

median downloads top 10 google play

Categories making the Top 10

In terms of breaking into the top 10 by category, Photo & Video apps on the App Store present the most challenge. The category where YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat reside saw a median daily amount of more than 16,000 downloads for the No. 10 app.

This was followed by Shopping (15,300 daily downloads for the No. 10 app), Social Networking (14,500), Entertainment (12,600), and Productivity (12,400).

On Google Play, Entertainment apps — like Hulu, Netflix and Bitmoji — need around 17,100 U.S. installs in a day to reach the top 10. This is followed by Shopping (10,800), Social (9,100), Music (8,200), and Finance (8000).

Beyond the U.S.

Outside the U.S., a non-game app needs approximately 91,000 downloads to reach the top 10 on the App Store in China — higher than the 49,000 installs needed in the U.S. For games, the U.S. is the most difficult to crack the top 10, with a median of 43,000 daily downloads for the No. 10 game.

median downloads top 10 by country ios

On Google Play, India required the most downloads to reach the top 10 with apps needing 256,000 downloads in a day and games needing 117,000 downloads.

median downloads top 10 by country google play

Of course, the App Store’s ranking algorithms — nor Google Play’s algorithms — rely on downloads alone to determine an app’s ranking. Apple takes into consideration downloads and velocity, among other undocumented factors. Google Play does something similar.

But these days, developers are more concerned with showing up highly ranked in app store searches than they are on top charts, where they’ll need to consider numerous other factors beyond downloads — like keywords, description, user engagement, and even app quality, among other things.

 

 

 


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