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The Last Week In Digital - 4th September 2017

ICOs become unicorns, Tinder proves subscription works, Microsoft and Amazon work together, and Facebook goes after ‘fake news’

4Sep

First ICO unicorns emerge

As cryptocurrencies edge closer and closer to the mainstream, we are beginning to see initial coin offerings (ICOs) reach unicorn status at an unforeseen pace. According to coinmarketcap.com, last week saw both OMG and Qtum hit a valuation of more than $1 billion. It took just months for both companies to do so, with tokens ballooning in value to give early investors huge returns. Almost unbelievably, as TechCrunch points out, neither company actually has a product on the market at present, painting the valuation indicative of an industry that has seemingly boundless potential.

Interestingly, China has announced an immediate ban on ICO funding, citing the fact that it has ‘seriously disrupted the economical and financial order’ of the world as its reason for doing so. The SEC in the US has given warnings over ICOs, but China has gone one step further in actually looking to implement restrictive measures. The billion dollar valuations being attributed to relatively new companies says more about the potential of the projects than their current worth, but this should change quickly once the companies grow and start dealing proper.

Amazon and Microsoft to work together on voice

Both Amazon and Microsoft are piling resources into artificial intelligence (AI), with many seeing it as the future of UX. The two heavyweights have made headway in the field with Amazon’s Alexa dominating the e-commerce and entertainment market while Microsoft’s Cortana controling the business sector. And, last week, the two announced a collaboration project which will see both Alexa and Cortana able to summon the other to ask it to perform tasks. They will have access to each other’s unique features, a boon for both products that the two giants hope will push AI adoption forward.

‘The world is big and so multifaceted,’ said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. ‘There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience. It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.’ TechCrunch have pointed out the relative lack of overlap in terms of competition There are question marks over how well two different AI will be able to work with each other, but having two key players work together can only be a good thing for the development of the tech.

Tinder shows success of subscription model

One of the most difficult things for even successful apps to achieve is effective monetization. Whether you advertise to your users or encourage them to become paid subscribers, turning an audience into profit is rarely easy. Tinder proved the efficacy of using both models last week, as it ranked number 1 in the App Store’s ‘top grossing’ category for the first time in its near-five year history. The app’s success is down, in part, to its clever use of a subscription model, with a wildly popular freemium product underpinning intelligently priced premium features.

It is almost certainly no coincidence that Tinder holding the top spot came just after the launch of Tinder Gold, an extension on Tinder Plus, the premium model the company first rolled out in 2015. Tinder Gold allows users to see who has ‘liked’ them already, a feature that essentially speeds up the process of using the app, a tier for those who perhaps don’t enjoy the gamified core premise. Tinder is a shining example of how brands can make a success of subscription services - the free version of the app is entirely usable, only it limits daily ‘likes’ and is without the premium features. Many never upgrade, but Plus offers just enough that a regular user can see value in paying a small fee every month.

Google launches ARCore

In a bid to keep up with Apple’s augmented reality (AR) framework ARKit, Google has unveiled the similarly named ARCore, a platform that will give Android phones the capability to become AR devices in their own right. The tech is launching on the Pixel and the Galaxy S8 initially, before a wider roll-out somewhere down the line. In a promo video, Google showed off ARCore’s ability to recognize surfaces and lighting conditions as well as its playful rendered characters (which interact with the room they’re in in quite charming ways). ‘We’ve architected ARCore to be able to perceive a wide variety of sensors,’ Google AR/VR head Clay Bavor told TechCrunch. ‘We foresee, in the future, many more phones having depth-sensing capabilities and as those come into mainstream phones, that’s great, ARCore will work seamlessly with those and benefit from the additional sensing capabilities.’

As many commentators have pointed out, the move is something of a reactionary measure made in response to Apple’s impending iOS 11 update, which will see AR capabilities rolled out to hundreds of millions of Apple devices. Google has, up until this point, primarily been working on high-end AR technologies like Tango, and ARCore represents a more stripped down, more entry-level incarnation of that technology to ensure that it keeps pace with its Silicon Valley competition.

Facebook attacks fake news by removing ads

Facebook has had a problem with ‘fake news’ for a long time. Last year’s US election brought the term into the mainstream - it is widely acknowledged that the proliferation of bogus content on social media made an impact on Donald Trump’s shock victory - but the spread of misleading or false stories is nothing new. After the election, though, Facebook was called upon to step up its work combatting bogus news. As part of its crackdown, the social media giant is beginning to block pages that share fake news on Facebook - or ‘stories marked as false by third-party fact-checkers’ - from advertising on the platform. Facebook hopes that a loss of ad space will be enough of a deterrent.

In a blog post announcing the move, Zuckerberg and co. did not specify how many flagged news stories pages would have to share to be blacklisted, which in of itself should deter pages from sharing any at all. The ban is not permanent; pages are given the chance to reform and will be allowed to advertise again once they stop sharing dodgy content. Interestingly, Facebook seemingly considers the term ‘fake news’ to be too politicized for use, preferring to call hoaxes ‘false news’, which seems almost certain to be a response to President Trump’s liberal use of the term. 

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