Articles filed under Technology

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  • Outbrain, Taboola turn shark attacks, hair tips into big IPO plans Feb 14, 2015 7:41 AM
    If you’ve come across stories like “13 Things Your Hairstylists Won’t Tell You” and, the “Top 10 Most Terrifying Shark Attacks!” when surfing the Internet, then you’re already familiar with what may be the next big initial public offering out of Israel. Critics may love to accuse Outbrain Inc. and Taboola of degrading publishers’ websites with tacky content, but the Israeli companies have investors’ attention because readers are clicking away. They served up articles, videos and lists (or ‘listicles’ in the industry’s vernacular) that were viewed by more than one billion people worldwide in December, according to comScore Inc. Now Outbrain is planning an IPO in the U.S. at a valuation of about $1 billion, and Taboola is in the final stages of a pre-IPO funding round, according to people familiar with the companies’ plans. While Outbrain hasn’t indicated its deal is imminent, the offering is one of the most anticipated — if not the most anticipated — IPO out of Israel this year. The two rival startups, whose algorithms spit out a mix of free and sponsored stories that appear at the bottom of online articles, have grown by winning over publishers seeking to boost readership and ad revenue as Facebook and Twitter remake the media landscape. “It’s really necessary in an age where Google and Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly careful about how they direct traffic for free,” Ian Sigalow, a partner at Greycroft Partners, a venture capital firm that has invested in rival ad tech companies, said by phone from New York. “It’s hugely scalable, it’s going to make a lot of money.” Outbrain and Taboola make their recommendation algorithms free to web publishers like Time.com or CNN.com, who use them to promote their own stories. The startups make money by charging outside parties — publishers looking to buy more traffic, or companies marketing products — to have their links included in the algorithm’s index of recommended articles. If a reader clicks on a link that takes them off the host publisher’s site, Outbrain and Taboola get paid, and they split that revenue with the publisher. Taboola and Outbrain are the dominant distributors of so- called sponsored content, or ads designed to mimic news stories, a niche of the advertisement industry that’s forecast to reach $3.4 billion in revenue by 2018, according to Business Intelligence. To go public, Outbrain will have to distinguish itself from the last wave of ad tech IPOs, many of which did not end well for investors, said Sundeep Chanana, a partner at Waller Capital Partners, a New York-based investment bank focused on technology and media companies. Rocket Fuel, a digital-advertising firm that went public at $29 a share in 2013 and sold equity again in 2014 at $61 a share, now trades at $12.34. Millenial Media, a mobile-ad company, has tumbled almost 90 percent from its IPO price. The ad tech industry is still nascent and sales are highly variable because they’re based on clicks, something stock investors don’t like, Chanana said. Taking ad tech firms public “is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” he said. Taboola generated more than $200 million in revenue in 2014, compared with less than $10 million in 2008, according to founder and chief executive officer Adam Singolda. Outbrain’s revenue is 25 to 30 percent higher than that, according to a person familiar with the company’s sales. Outbrain CEO Yaron Galai declined to comment on current revenue and the company’s IPO plans. Outbrain, founded in 2006, filed confidentially with U.S. regulators to go public in the first quarter of 2015, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public. It hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to manage the offering, and may seek a valuation of about $1 billion, the people said. Taboola raised more than $100 million in a funding round arranged by Credit Suisse Group AG that will be finalized in the coming weeks, a person familiar with the matter said. Beyond Outbrain, the Israeli IPO pipeline looks thin. Approximately six companies, mostly biotech firms, are planning offerings worth about $60 million this year, following a record $1.6 billion in 2014, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Outbrain and Taboola have come under fire from technology and media critics who say the content they recommend is lowbrow clickbait and that readers will grow bored and stop clicking. “The business model is revenue now for a tiny erosion in trust that won’t hurt until later,” Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said in an interview. “There is no fix for that.” While both companies acknowledge the quality concerns, they espouse opposing philosophies on how to deal with it. Outbrain co-founder Galai, a soft-spoken 43-year-old on his fourth Internet startup, has staked Outbrain’s success on policing the quality of content he recommends. He prunes his stable of advertisers for violating Outbrain’s content guidelines, something that cost him 25 percent of revenue in 2012, he said. He complains that less scrupulous competitors are giving the industry a bad name. “Every time we make one of these cuts, it’s a party” for the competition, he said in an interview at Outbrain’s New York headquarters. “I want users to know exactly what they’re seeing and what they might be clicking on, and click only if that has merit.” Singolda, a musician’s son who spent seven years in the encryption unit of the Israeli army, has a more laissez-faire approach. He outsources the decision to publishers with a feature called “Taboola Choice,” and lets readers give negative feedback on stories to refine future suggestions. “You may think Kim Kardashian is low quality, others think it’s OK,” he said in an interview at Taboola’s New York headquarters. “We became editors’ best friends, because instead of telling them what’s good or bad, we empower them to make decisions.” Questions about sustainability haven’t stopped larger companies like Yahoo and AOL from getting into the recommendation business. Competition to win publisher contracts is so intense it’s forcing some industry players to promote more low-quality links or reduce their revenue cut in order to win publisher contracts by guaranteeing higher ad revenue up front, said Reggie Renner, the founder of a rival startup called ZergNet that allows publishers to boost traffic by recommending each others stories. The competition was fierce enough that IAC/InteractiveCorp shut down its own content-recommendation unit, nRelate, in December. IAC spokeswoman Valerie Combs declined to comment. “Guarantees are king right now,” Renner said by phone from Indianapolis. “They all want to raise as much money as they can to outbid everybody, to win the distribution and try to put the other guys out of business.”

     
  • Interpro marks 20 years of translating, growth, mobile apps Feb 13, 2015 11:30 AM
    Anna Kukec's eBuzz column features Lisle-based Interpro Translation Services, which translates web sites, mobile apps and other products for companies worldwide. The company marks its 20th year.

     
  • Obama focuses on cybersecurity in heart of Silicon Valley Feb 13, 2015 4:35 PM
    President Obama told more than 1,500 business leaders, students, professors and reporters that threat information must be shared and responded to quickly. And he signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for private firms to have access to classified information about cyber attacks.

     
  • Some postal services down due to network outage Feb 13, 2015 5:56 PM
    A network outage disrupted some services late Thursday and through Friday at the U.S. Postal Service, including package handling at some local post offices, the agency said.

     
  • Now someone can manage your Facebook account after you die Feb 12, 2015 4:24 PM
    The world’s biggest online social network said Thursday that it will now let users pick someone who can manage their account after they die. Previously, the accounts were “memorialized” after death, or locked so that no one could log in.

     
  • Motorola Solutions buys Emergency CallWorks Feb 12, 2015 2:43 PM
    Schaumburg-based Motorola Solutions Inc., which makes communication equipment for public safety and commercial customers, has acquired Emergency CallWorks, a privately held provider of 9-1-1 call-taking software.

     
  • Analyst: Motorola Solutions sale possible, buyer needs 'deep pockets' Feb 10, 2015 4:09 PM
    Schaumburg-based Motorola Solutions continues to be the subject of sale rumors. So any company considering the acquisition will need "deep pockets," according to analysts.

     
  • FCC chair proposes strict net-neutrality rules Feb 8, 2015 7:34 AM
    FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that by placing broadband Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon Wireless under a stricter regulatory framework, the government would ensure an open Internet for consumers. Under the new regime, broadband providers would be explicitly banned from blocking content or creating fast lanes for Web services that can pay for preferential treatment in American homes.

     
  • Investors’ appetite for startups fed by stock market gains Feb 8, 2015 7:31 AM
    Some Entrepreneurs looking for startup funding got a wad of money near the end of last year, but there are concerns the boom may not last. Startup iFunding is a beneficiary of the surge. The website focused on real estate investing raised nearly $2 million in just a month. Typically, it would take at least six months to raise that kind of cash, says William Skelley, the New York company’s CEO. “It’s gone much faster than I thought,” said Skelley, who has a background in venture capital investing. Investors whose portfolios swelled as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose more than 11 percent last year had more money for alternative investments like small businesses and felt more confident about taking risks on young companies. But there are concerns about how long the good times will last. The market has been more erratic since the beginning of the year and the S&P 500 dropped 3 percent in January. Some pros also worry that investors may get spooked if high-profile companies that have gotten windfalls — like ride-hailing app Uber — fail. The Wealth Factor One of Skelley’s investors, Alicia Syrett, says the stock market factored into her decision to buy a stake in iFunding. Syrett is an angel investor, who focuses on young companies. “When you see the stock market is up, there’s that general feeling of wealth and so you feel comfortable spending more,” says Syrett, CEO of Pantegrion Capital, an investment company in New York. She also recently invested in NoMad, a San Francisco company that makes cables for charging smartphones. The rallying stock market encouraged Zack Schuler to take a chance on a startup. “If my portfolio is up and it’s doing really well and I feel really solid about my long-term financial stability, then I’m willing to gamble on other things,” says Schuler, who’s based in Los Angeles. In December, Schuler invested in Buddytruk, a smartphone app that helps people quickly find trucks to help them move or make pickups or deliveries. Buddytruk CEO Brian Foley found it easy to raise the money at the end of last year. He was seeking $500,000 but got $570,000 in two weeks. “December is notorious for being the worst month of the year to raise money,” said Foley, whose year-old company is based in Santa Monica, California. The company’s first round of funding, which began in January 2014 raise $175,000 in near six months. Foley wasn’t prepared for the second round’s speed. “I was shocked,” he says. How Long Will It Last? With the economy still growing and the stock market near historic highs, startups may keep finding people willing to back them. “Investors are excited by the potential of the companies that are being formed now and are raising money,” says Steve Harrick, a partner in the venture capital firm Institutional Venture Partners in Menlo Park, California. Still, there are concerns of a bubble. Uber’s $40 billion valuation has more people looking for a windfall, says Schuler, the Buddytruk investor. But investors could become wary if high-profile startups that are valued at over $1 billion fail, Harrick says. For now, the pent-up demand for investing after the recession is likely to keep the money flowing, says Tyler Newton, research director with Catalyst Investors, a private equity firm in New York. “We’re maybe in the sixth inning of the long investment cycle,” he says.

     
  • Solution to missing jets as elusive as Malaysia Air Flight 370 Feb 8, 2015 7:43 AM
    Almost a year after the jet disappeared, however, regulators, safety advocates and the airline industry still can’t agree on what to do. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has recommended tamper-proof devices to transmit the location of crashes, as well as beefed up flight data for investigators. An industry task force and the United Nations’ aviation arm plan to meet this week to consider proposed tracking options that, at least initially, don’t include that.

     
  • There is no better illustration of smartphone addiction than this app Feb 7, 2015 7:43 AM
    Welp, so, this is what we’ve come to: We now need to use apps ... to control our app use. Pocket Points, a recent-ish invention by students at California’s Chico State, shot up Apple’s trending chart on Tuesday as millions of college students anointed it the hot new thing. The app’s premise is pretty simple: Just show up to class, lock your phone, and earn points redeemable at local businesses. Because if a lifetime of crushing student loan debt wasn’t reason enough to pay attention in class, Pocket Points provides another incentive: free snacks! “You guys rock!!” tweeted one student at Penn State, where the app launched two weeks ago. (Current in-state tuition: $34,000/year.) “Couldn’t imagine going to class without this app.” Pocket Points, which started at Chico State in September, has since expanded, per the company’s Twitter account, to the Universities of Michigan, Arizona and Colorado-Boulder, San Diego, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. While it’s unclear exactly how many students use the app, it already had 3,000 users at Chico State within weeks of launch. In fact, Twitter is now crowded with the cries of deprived students, begging the app to come to their campus next: What about Austin! What about high school! What incentives do we have to pay attention in class?! In all seriousness, though, this type of “productivity” app -- Silicon Valley speak for apps that address app addiction -- is really a booming field. Moment will track how much time you spend on your phone every day, even enforcing screen-free periods like a “family dinner time.” Pause invites users to “compete” over who can keep airplane mode on the longest. Checky logs how many times you unlock your phone, and then (oddly?) encourages you to tweet it. An app specifically for college classrooms -- where, by all accounts, smartphones have become a scourge -- is only the next logical step. “I find it ridiculous that it takes an app to get students paying attention in class,” wrote one college editorialist soon after the app launched. “(But) ‘Pocket Points’ is actually a really good idea and has the potential to be successful.” You heard it here first, you guys. Big in 2015: technology that makes you use technology less. • Dewey writes The Post’s The Intersect web channel covering digital and Internet culture.

     
  • App Reviews: 1+2=3, Producteev Feb 7, 2015 7:42 AM
    “1+2=3” is a math puzzle game that limits itself to asking players to solve equations that only involve those three numbers, against the clock. Producteev is a mobile and desktop program that lets you easily assign tasks, coordinate work and keep a top-level view of what’s going on with your project.

     
  • Google, Uber on collision course Feb 7, 2015 7:41 AM
    Racing to win the future of transportation, two companies appear to be heading for a pretty big collision: Google and Uber. Both firms appear to be crossing into each other’s territory. Uber on Monday announced a par tnership with Carnegie Mellon that could enable it to get into driverless cars — a major project in development at Google. And Bloomberg News reported this week that Google is preparing its own ride-hailing service. That bit of news raised eyebrows in Silicon Valley because Google is a big investor in Uber and one of its top executives sits on the ride-sharing company’s board of directors. But if the two tech companies are going to go at it in this space, it won’t exactly be a fair fight. Uber already depends on Google’s tech, using Google Maps to help drivers navigate. And Uber’s business model is much more easily replicated — as evidenced by the hoard of competitors, including Lyft and SideCar, which run essentially the same business. Creating a working driverless car is much harder. Google’s research into the development of self-driving cars also has the potential to upend Uber and its peers just as they upturned the taxi industry. The majority of an Uber riders’ fare currently goes to the driver — the company just takes a cut off the top. Imagine a world in which the company owned a fleet of self-driving vehicles instead — paying only for the vehicles and their maintenance. Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick certainly has. “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car,” Kalanick said at the Code Conference last year. “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.” But Uber, which declined to comment for this article, is just starting to invest in that future. On Monday, the company announced that it is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to create the “Uber Advanced Technologies Center,” which will “focus on the development of key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission.” Google, on the other hand, is years into researching driverless cars — first modifying a Toyota Prius and now creating its own prototypes. That gives it a healthy head start over competitors that are preparing to enter the autonomous vehicle race — not to mention its considerable advantage as one of the largest and well-heeled tech companies in the world. Google declined to comment for this story. Uber also may find it more difficult to navigate the legal headaches associated with getting self-driving cars on the road. The company has a notoriously tense relationship with many cities and state governments due to its tendency to launch services without asking permission first. Uber brought on former Obama campaign adviser David Plouffe to help wage a multi-front campaign for its services last year and has tried to curry goodwill by offering to share some of its rider data with cities to some success. But Uber’s lobbying efforts are no match for Google’s prowess in the policy space. The search giant is among the top lobbying spenders in the country and has a sophisticated approach to getting its way with those in power, at both the federal and the state levels. Four states and the District have regulatory approaches in place to support the testing of autonomous vehicles. Google and Uber have long been intertwined: The tech giant’s venture-capital arm, Google Ventures, invested more than $250 million in Uber in 2013, and Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond sits on Uber’s board of directors. Many observers assumed Google’s initial investment in Uber signaled that it might at some point acquire the company — much as Google Ventures investments in Nest previewed the company’s $3.2 billion purchase of the company. But Uber’s skyrocketing valuation, above $40 billion in December of last year, may have made it a less attractive candidate for a takeover. It was Drummond who alerted Uber to Google’s possible interest in starting up its own service, according to Bloomberg. Now, the board is reportedly weighing whether to remove Drummond — a situation that bears striking resemblance to when Google chief executive Eric Schmidt resigned from Apple’s board while the two companies waged a battle for control over the smartphone market. But Uber is no Apple. If Google takes on the ride-sharing space with its driverless car tech in tow, Uber may find itself spinning out.

     
  • Report: Silicon Valley tech economy booming Feb 7, 2015 7:36 AM
    A study released Tuesday shows Silicon Valley’s tech economy is continuing to boom, with 58,000 new jobs and 42,000 new residents last year and all indications the record growth will continue. The annual Silicon Valley Index released by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, representing businesses, government and the broader community, also shows record venture capital investment in technology.

     
  • Review: 4 different ways to rate potential dates Feb 7, 2015 7:31 AM
    You may be tired of the old standbys such as Match, OKCupid or Tinder, but the popularity of those services makes it more likely to find a variety of people there. It can be daunting to weed through thousands of profiles on the big sites. But on smaller networks you may find the fish you threw back returning to you again and again. With that in mind, here are alternatives to the more popular dating apps — and their pros and cons.

     
  • 5 Questions About Amazon Prime That Jeff Bezos Still Won’t Answer Feb 7, 2015 7:44 AM
    Amazon has never bothered to supply simple answers to some basic questions that would make it possible to understand how well Prime is working. Here are a few of them.

     
  • Some of Amazon’s experiments didn’t quite work Feb 7, 2015 7:32 AM
    Amazon is expanding in every direction — and that has made some investors nervous. The company’s stock price skyrocketed after a strong holiday quarter last week. Yet while its shares are trading 11 percent up at a price of $354.53 Monday morning, its 52-week high was still, well, just about 52 weeks ago. Now, Amazon has the reputation of being a company more focused on the long-term game than any short-term profit. Investors in the company have to know that, said Motley Fool analyst Jason Moser, who himself owns some Amazon stock.

     
  • Audio tour app takes Groupon founder on new journey Feb 7, 2015 7:33 AM
    Two years after his ouster as Groupon’s CEO, Andrew Mason is embarking on a new entrepreneurial journey selling unconventional audio tours of major cities on a new iPhone app called Detour. The initial selection of seven different San Francisco expeditions released Tuesday meander from the city’s beatnik bars to the weathered docks of the bay while regaling listeners with colorful tales about local lore. Each excursion costs $5.

     
  • The political potential of Instagram Feb 7, 2015 7:35 AM
    Twitter and Facebook are old news; Instagram is where it’s at. And that matters, politically speaking. While much of the political world and official Washington converses on Twitter and the Obama campaign in 2012 revolutionized how Facebook is used in campaigns, neither is as ascendant as Instagram.

     
  • Virgin Galactic gets back on track toward space tourism Feb 7, 2015 7:34 AM
    Virgin Galactic had proclaimed 2015 was finally going to be the year. That was until the company’s rocket-powered spacecraft broke apart over California’s Mojave Desert during a test flight last fall, killing one pilot and igniting speculation about the future of commercial space tourism and Spaceport America.

     
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