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July 26 2013

Podcast: quantum computing with Pete Worden and Bob Lee

Hangar One at Moffett Field, built for the US Navy's early dirigible program.Hangar One at Moffett Field, built for the US Navy's early dirigible program.

Hangar One at Moffett Field, built for the US Navy’s early dirigible program. Photo via Wikipedia.

At Sci Foo Camp a few weeks ago we recorded a conversation with Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and Bob Lee, CTO of Square. Among our topics on this wide-ranging podcast: quantum computing, which Ames is pursuing in partnership with Google; fraud prevention; and the remarkable Hangar One, built to accommodate dirigible aircraft at Moffett Field (the former Navy base that’s now home to Ames).

On this recording from O’Reilly: Jon Bruner, Jim Stogdill and Renee DiResta. Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

April 08 2013

Four short links: 8 April 2013

  1. mozpaya JavaScript API inspired by but modified for things like multiple payment providers and carrier billing. When a web app invokes navigator.mozPay() in Firefox OS, the device shows a secure window with a concise UI. After authenticating, the user can easily charge the payment to her mobile carrier bill or credit card. When completed, the app delivers the product. Repeat purchases are quick and easy.
  2. Firefox Looks Like it Will Reject Third-Party Cookies (ComputerWorld) — kudos Mozilla! Now we’ll see whether such a cookie policy does deliver a better user experience. Can privacy coexist with a good user experience? Answers on a tweet, please, to @radar.
  3. How We Lost the Web (Anil Dash) — excellent talk about the decreasing openness and vanishing shared culture of the web. See also David Weinberger’s transcription.
  4. 3D From Space Shuttle Footage? — neat idea! Filming in 3D generally requires two cameras that are separated laterally, to create the parallax effected needed for stereoscopic vision. Fortunately, videos shot from Earth orbit can be converted to 3D without a second camera, because the camera is constantly in motion.

January 06 2012

Commerce Weekly: Yahoo's new CEO has data focus

As the payments world roused itself from its holiday hiatus, here are some of the items that caught my eye.

Former PayPal chief brings data focus to Yahoo CEO position

YahooScott Thompson's move from leading eBay's PayPal division to becoming CEO of Yahoo received ample coverage in this light news week. The most interesting aspect to me was this former chief technology officer's focus on the importance of data to Yahoo's success. While past CEOs have focused on advertising, the company's role in the media landscape and alliances with U.S. and Chinese companies, Thompson showed his tech-centered origins in an interview with Ad Age:

At PayPal, we were able to create an unbelievably compelling business because we used data to understand risk and fraud better than anyone on earth. And that was the secret sauce. We had more data than anyone else, better tools and models, and super smart people who were challenged by the problem. It doesn't seem glamorous, but that was the reason.

Fast Company emphasized Thompson's background as PayPal's CTO and made clear to its lay-business audience that when he's talking about data, he's not just talking about a better dashboard to understand advertising opportunities. He's talking about the "big data" opportunity, tapping into large datasets produced by the transactions and interactions of Yahoo's 700 million members around the world.

From E.B. Boyd's Fast Company post:

Every day, those 700 million souls log in to the Yahoo universe and start making their way around its sites, moving from story to story to story to story — effectively giving Yahoo a media mogul's dream: the largest petri dish in the world to understand what sorts of content appeal to which sorts of people and what sorts of things will make them likely to consume more and more.

Of course, this is hardly news to Yahoo's data engineers or the big data community, but it will be interesting to see what effect a data-savvy CEO will have on Yahoo's prospects.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at

Flurry: More than one billion apps downloaded in 2011's final week

While most retailers focus on the crucial weeks leading up to the holidays, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day — when customers are off work playing with their newly received devices — is more important for app developers. In fact, Flurry reports that this particular week was the largest ever for iOS and Android device activations and app downloads.

Flurry estimates that more than 20 million iOS and Android devices were activated, and 1.2 billion applications were downloaded on the two platforms. Christmas day itself was the biggest day ever for downloads: Flurry estimates that 242 million apps were downloaded while happy recipients explored their new toys.

Flurry also predicted that Apple's App Store will have delivered more than 10 billion apps in 2011 — more than twice the number downloaded in 2008, 2009 and 2010 combined.

EBay's mobile VP goes shopping with Robert Scoble

Just before the holiday, we reported on the "Watch with eBay" feature in eBay's iPad app, which offers viewers a sort of real-time catalog, proffering goods related to the program they're viewing on TV. Robert Scoble has an interesting follow-up interview with Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice president of mobile. Yankovich dropped by Scoble's home office with the app to show him how it works, and he revealed a new feature that identifies fabric patterns in clothing and taps related clothing items in eBay's inventories.

Posters on Scoble's related Google+ thread were more fascinated (or irritated) by Yankovich's comments that even though Android devices are dominating the market, the iOS platform is still more important from a commerce perspective.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


September 15 2011

ePayments Week: Three startups bet on commerce

Here's what popped onto my radar in the commerce space this week.

Commerce startups at TechCrunch Disrupt

Openbucks, Rewardli, LemonThree startups in the commerce space caught my eye at TechCrunch Disrupt:

Openbucks lets users pay for credits in online games with gift cards purchased from some major retailers (Subway, Circle K, Sports Authority, etc.). CEO and cofounder Marc Rochman told me that the service was designed primarily for the "unbanked" — teenagers or others who don't have credit cards or bank accounts. But feedback from customers during the service's beta period this year showed him it also has legs with people who want a little privacy in their gaming. Rochman said they intend to branch out to other digital goods, including music and other media, as long as it's appropriate for the brands. That rules out one fairly large online industry where users would want to pay for online content while remaining anonymous — and Rochman confirmed, they intend to stay far away from adult content in order to protect their own brand.

Rewardli creates buying groups for small businesses to get volume discounts from retailers, tech vendors, and travel companies — the places that small businesses already buy from. George Favvas, cofounder and CEO, said this isn't another daily deal program. First, it's aimed at helping businesses save on the things they're already buying, like plane tickets, PCs, and paper. Second, it's not focused on limited-time offers or daily deals. Once you've signed as part of a group, you can buy from any of the 60 retail partners, including Staples, Lenovo, Virgin Atlantic, Expedia and GoDaddy. The size of your group and its activity with that retailer determines the size of your discount. You don't see your discount immediately, but you do get a bulk refund deposited in your PayPal account after a few weeks. It's a good idea and easy to join, but it will be interesting to see if businesses save enough to make it worth the wait.

Lemon is a service for organizing your receipts online. Retailers are beginning to follow the Apple Store's lead in offering to email receipts, and you can have yours sent to an address to keep them all organized. Co-founder Meyer Malik said they are developing smartphone apps (Android is ready; iOS, Rim and Windows are on the way) to digitize snapshots of your physical receipts and add them to the records. While I can't think of anyone (with the possible exception of myself) who would spend time photographing grocery and gas receipts, I think there's potential here in managing receipts for returns and warranties. Maybe that's where Lemon got its name: one of its best uses could be to help recover the value of products that don't outlast their warranties.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Daily deals still rising

A couple of weeks ago I wondered whether daily-deal fatigue was setting in, given Facebook's abandoning of its program and an anecdotal sense that the offers were too niche and too expensive to fit into consumers' monthly budgets. But perhaps the wave hasn't crested yet: research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey projects strong growth for daily deals. Back in March, the firm had predicted that deals would grow from $873 million in 2010 to $3.9 billion in 2015. This week, they goosed up the 2015 figure to $4.2 billion, based on a few new developments: more people signing up than expected, more active users, more targeted deals, and (to my surprise) a rise in the average price per transaction. Even so, BIA/Kelsey's chief economist Mark Fratirik sees "a ceiling on how many deals consumers will buy." At some point, presumably, people will decide it's cheaper to buy their own kayaks.

Feature phones

A few weeks ago, telecom research firm Ovum reminded us that there is still life in the feature-phone (or, non-smartphone) app market, predicting that the market would double to $1 billion by 2016. The report noted that the combination of large numbers of feature-phone owners and an uncrowded playing field offer lucrative potential for developers. Widgets from Nokia and Opera, along with the advent of HTML5, could also make feature phones more capable competitors to smartphones.

A report this week from comScore MobiLens, paired with analysis by Asymco, however, suggests the feature-phone market is quickly yielding ground to smartphones. ComScore's report focused on the growth in smartphone usage in Europe's five largest markets, particularly among Android users. Asymco looked at the flip side of that gain and found that Android hadn't taken its share from other smartphone operating systems as much as it had taken it from feature phones. Still, Asymco notes, there are billions of people on the planet without phones, and the first one they're likely to afford will probably be a feature phone.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


April 21 2011

ePayments Week: Where adds context to PayPal

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

EBay buys a hyper-local friend for PayPal

WhereEBay's purchase of Where, a mobile app for finding local deals, gives the gift of context to PayPal. It's the second deal in recent weeks that connects a payment provider with a check-in service or advertiser to make a complete loop from discovery to payment. FourSquare demoed a similar link-up at SXSW last month. EBay will bring the whole deal in house, integrating PayPal into the Where app so that users can discover deals in Where and then pay for them with a single click. Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch offers a solid rationale for the purchase, and also notes the data play inherent in it. All that data that eBay has on its and PayPal's users could help Where server up more relevant offers and advertising to PayPal's users.

PayPal explained the deal in the context of other acquisitions it's making. Amanda Pires, PayPal's senior director of global communications, said in a blog post that "Local commerce companies like Where are blurring the lines between in-store and online shopping." Last month, EBay made another purchase that similarly crossed lines when it said it would buy GSI Commerce, a provider of e-commerce services for retail brands. That deal could eventually put PayPal at the register of physical stores. With the Where acquisition, now they'll have a way to get you to the store, too.

O'Reilly authors discuss iPhone's built-in travel log

iPhone trackThis week's big news in geolocation came from Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, who reported their discovery of an unencrypted file on iPhones (and their synced computers) tracking their movements since they upgraded to iOS4 sometime last summer.

Allan and Warden discussed their discovery at Where 2.0 on Wednesday. Although Apple had yet to offer an explanation of the file to them (or to media inquiries), Allan and Warden said they speculated that the data was from interactions between the phone and radio cell towers, whether that was a call, a text, a data packet, or simply a locating signal. For Allan, it added up to 29,000 points of data over 293 days.

As both hastened to point out, telecom carriers already have this kind of information on you, regardless of what kind of phone you carry. But that data is treated with a higher level of security, since it's considered sensitive. "What's interesting about this data is that it's unencrypted and available," said Allan. "It's insecure." (See Alasdair's post for more details on the discovery and the open source app they created to manipulate and visualize the data.)

Responding to comments that this data had already been discovered and was well known, Allan said during a Where 2.0 session: "It's not well known. We're pretty geeky. If we didn't know, then a lot of people didn't know."

White House calls for identity ecosystem

Just days before Barack Obama headed out to Palo Alto to host a virtual town hall meeting in the real-world space that houses Facebook's headquarters, the White House backed a plan to spur private industry to create more secure forms of online identity. Noting that identity theft and online fraud are serious problems that cost the economy billions every year, the administration called on private industry to come up with a solution that might free the citizenry from the tyranny of dozens of username/password combinations.

Kashmir Hill on wrote that the government's aim is to create an "identity ecosystem," which sounds a lot like the plan that OpenID has been advocating for a while. Emily Badger on looked closely at the line the administration is walking between showing leadership or looking like Big Brother. Badger talked with Amie Stepanovich, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. The interview gives the sense the White House tiptoed carefully around this point, making sure it wasn't suggesting a government-issued national online identity number (something that's been kicked around before but wouldn't be received well by most citizens) and scrubbing any sign of the Department of Homeland Security's involvement (even though, Badger notes, they've been involved in the formative thinking on this issue for years).

Any authentication system raises new risks. If a security key fob is necessary, like the ones provided by RSA, people will lose it. Mobile phones could be used, too, but they're just as easy to lose. Biometrics tap a validation mechanism that's harder to lose, but it's not clear whether people are willing to put up with a retina scan just to access their Netflix queues.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


March 24 2011

ePayments Week: Visa moves into PayPal territory

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

Visa announces P2P payments

PayPal customers have grown used to the ability to send money to someone just by typing in their email address — that's much easier and quicker than writing out a check and getting it in the mail. Now payments giant Visa is moving into the P2P payments market with two partnerships that will let its 1 billion cardholders send funds to someone via their 16-digit Visa number (hard), phone number (easy) or email address (even easier). Penny Crosman at Bank Systems & Technology detailed the deals, explaining that they'll make use of a couple of existing services by partners: Fiserv's ZashPay, which lets a Visa card holder send money to someone else's bank account, and Cashedge's Popmoney, which lets you send money to someone via their mobile number or email address. Visa expects to bring the services online this summer.

Meanwhile, Visa continues to experiment with contactless payments, most recently in a trial with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. Fifty employees used an iPhone sleeve that includes near-field communications (NFC) hardware. MasterCard Worldwide's Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Affairs David Masters applauded the trial with the backhanded compliment that it looked a lot like the proof-of-concept trials that MasterCard launched … in 2007.

Groupon gets even more local (and more daily)

GrouponGroupon announced some details on a secondary service it intends to launch next month. Groupon Now promises to be more timely and more local than its original offer. In Groupon 1.0, users buy a coupon to be used at some future date. Groupon Now intends to offer more dynamic deals, managed by the merchants themselves and delivered to mobile devices. This could be used to take advantage of a big conference in the area or to boost business when things are slow. As Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason explained to Bloomberg Businessweek: "The daily deal is like teeth whitening and Groupon Now is like brushing your teeth. It can be an everyday thing to keep your business going."

Groupon also announced that its president and chief operating officer Rob Solomon was stepping down (and returning to Woodside, California — or "God's Country" as Mason called it in an internal memo). Groupon has grown from about 200 employees to more than 6,000, and Solomon and Mason both said the company needed a different kind of operations exec to manage a team that size.

Where 2.0: 2011, being held April 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif., will explore the intersection of location technologies and trends in software development, business strategies, and marketing.

Save 25% on registration with the code WHR11RAD

Apple to Amazon: App off

If nothing else, Apple's lawsuit against Amazon for calling its upcoming app store for Android apps, well, "Appstore" has raised the visibility of Amazon's effort.

As we reported back in January, Amazon's scrutiny and classification of Android apps will likely be a little more rigorous than Google's app marketplace (with its 200,000 apps), though less stringent than Apple's care for iOS apps. But the announcement of Amazon's upcoming marketplace didn't travel much wider than developer circles. Now everyone with an Android phone (or without) knows that Amazon has an app store — or whatever they wind up calling it.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


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