IBM buys Ustream: is it a workforce communication play?

IBM has added Ustream to a long list of video technology company acquisitions in the recent past — like Clearleap acquired last month — buying the streaming video vendor for around $130 million (according to Fortune). The company had raised $50 million in venture funding, and was the sole video partner involved in the launch of IBM’s cloud marketplace in 2014.

The typical analysis is that this rounds out a spectrum of technologies that now make IBM a player in corporate streaming video, particularly targeting customer contact and marketing activities.

But I’m betting that IBM’s primary focus will be — although not be limited to — workforce communications.

Marcia Conner makes my case in a tweet.

Ustream Align is an inside-the-company video ‘collaboration’ — or ‘workforce communication’ — product built on the

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Work chat Fleep’s slash commands and email integration

I’ve been closely watching the development of work chat vendor Fleep, and since I reviewed the product in August (see Work chat tool Fleep has native task management: Is that a key feature, or just nice to have?) the company has addressed so many areas I won’t try to cover them all, I’ll let them do that for you.

I am just going to focus on the slash commands and email integration.

Slash commands — Fleep’s chat (or ‘conversations’ as they call them), support a number of commands that are preceded by a slash (‘/’):

/pin <message> — create a new pinned message
/task <message> — create a new task message
/taskto @someone — create and assign a new task
/bug <message> — create a new bug report task with ((bug))
/add <email> — add new members to the conversation
/kick <email> — remove members from the conversation
/leave —

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Zappos sees more staff departures, but is Holacracy to blame?

More departures at Zappos leads commentators to question if Holacracy is the culprit. Recalll that Tony Hsieh offered employees a big payout if they decided to quit during the transition to Holacracy. But that’s not the only transition going on there. Zappos has been involved in a major web transition, moving onto parent Amazon’s back-end technology platform:

David Gelles, The Zappos Exodus Continues After a Radical Management Experiment

The latest departures came from a group of employees who were helping Zappos migrate to Super Cloud, a back-end infrastructure run by Amazon. The arduous, years-long effort to move Zappos to Amazon’s servers has effectively frozen the company’s website, and employees working on the project were offered more time before taking the buyout.

Mr. [Arun] Rajan [Zappo’s Chief Operating Officer] said that the migration to Super Cloud, which he had hoped to complete last year, was still ongoing. Meanwhile, 38 percent of

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Is the PC going extinct?

New numbers tell a dark story for PC manufacturers, except perhaps Apple. New Gartner stats are unequivocal: worldwide sales are down 8.3%.


Source: Gartner

Apple is the only brand bucking the tide, with growth of 2.8% and market share of 6.7% at this point.

The economic downdraft is likely having a large impact, and even Microsoft’s Windows 10 might not be able to counter that trend.

The elephant in the room is tablets: are they now at the point where they can replace PCs, even for the most hardbitten PC users? I know that I am not ready to make the shift, although I do travel with an iPad, and use it frequently. I’ll have to take another look at the new iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4, because that’s where we are all heading.

Is Twitter going past the 140 character limit?

Yesterday, Jack Dorsey hinted at relaxing the 140 character limit on Twitter:

I wonder if that’s a response to users concerns, like mine:

Jack Dorsey seems to be saying that Twitter will soon be letting people write Tweets with more than 140 characters without resorting to images of text.

I’ll turn it around: Twitter should be based on modern mobile communications (chat, IM, etc.), not old school mobile communications (SMS).


Sortd and the trajectory of the email inbox

Email is often characterized as hellish: at best a necessary evil and at worst a monstrous time sink.

Email has evolved into a weird medium of communication where the best thing you can do is destroy it quickly, as if every email were a rabid bat attacking your face. — Paul Ford

In this post I am not going down that rat hole (as worthy a digression as it may be), and I will simply accept the fact that email exists, we use it, and it is an integral part of many working folk’s workflow. I won’t be talking about email zero, or other approaches that take a Fordian slant.

There’s been a great deal of innovation in email clients for mobile devices — a topic I’ve written about a great deal — but this is about the breadth of what is in email clients, rather than in the gestural and

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The web economy will chopshop the car industry

A few news stories make it clear that the venerable automobile industry is going to wind up sliced, diced, and consumed by the new economics and technologies of the web, and in short order.

Ford has announced that it’s working with Amazon to integrate the Alexa virtual assistant service that runs on the Echo smart speaker and Fire TV devices, so that we can turn the on the lights in our homes with a voice command from the car, or start the car as we walk out the back door in the kitchen.

Ford is also integrating with Wink, the smart home hub company formerly an arm of Quirky purchased by Flextronics when Quirky filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

I get an odd pleasure thinking of an automobile as an extension of the smart home, like a thermostat or washing machine. But that’s one of the trends we are witnessing. And the

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The headset cometh: A virtual reality content primer

When we talk about VR, we tend to talk in broad strokes. “Experiences,” we call them, as if that term is somehow covers and conveys the depth and disparity that exists between gaming, watching, and interacting with VR content. The reality of virtual reality, however, is not so easily categorized or described.

VR content is the big blanket term that clumsily and imprecisely covers large and vastly divergent portions of the content market as it stands. VR games, immersive video, and virtual cinema all fall under “VR content”, but they’re fundamentally different experiences, possibly appealing to very different portions of a potential mainstream VR market.

Let me get this out of the way: the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony Playstation VR systems that are coming en masse in Q1 2016 are wildly dissimilar creatures. From hardware to headware, these headsets have commonalities (gyroscopes, accelerometers, lenses) but

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Twitter flip-flops on Politwoops (again)

Twitter has reversed its decision to bar Politwoops, a service which collects and preserves deleted tweets from public officials, from using the public Twitter API.

“Today we’re pleased to announce that we have come to an agreement with The Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation around Politwoops,” the company said. “We look forward to continuing our work with these important organizations, and using Twitter to bring more transparency to public dialogue.”

Both organizations previously criticized Twitter for attempting to hide what public figures said in public but later recanted by deleting their tweets. Here’s what a spokesperson for the Sunlight Foundation, which backs the US version of Politwoops, told me when Twitter moved to block the international version:

‘To prevent public oversight when our representatives try to discreetly change their messaging represents a significant corporate change of heart on the part of Twitter and a major move on their

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Facebook’s free Internet service stumbles in Egypt

Facebook just can’t give the Internet away.

A week after Indian regulators halted the company’s Free Basics program, which provides free access to select online services by partnering with local telecoms, the Associated Press reported that the program has also been halted in Egypt.

Free Basics is part of the initiative Facebook created to provide free Internet access to people around the world through programs like this, satellites, drones, and other delivery mechanisms that haven’t yet been publicly revealed.

“We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt,” Facebook told the Associated Press. “More than 1 million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts.”

It’s not clear why the Egyptian government halted the program. Indian regulators did so due to concerns about how Free Basics might affect net neutrality — concerns which have hounded the program since its

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What to expect from social companies in 2016

Social networks are in a time of upheaval. Established players are experimenting with new services to maintain their relevance, upstart messaging companies are doing their damnedest to knock incumbents off their thrones, and people have more options than ever before when it comes to connecting with other humans.

Below I’ve tried to think up some of the changes we’re most likely to see in 2016 as companies try to diversify their products, renew competition with their rivals, and make good on some of the things forecasted by changes made this last year. And, this being the holidays and all, I decided to do so in a handy-dandy listicle.

Facebook Messenger learns from Asian services

“For social in 2016 I think we will see a further entrenching of messaging and it will have a more important role in personal communications, especially in mature markets such as the US,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau

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Twitter continues anti-abuse campaign with updated rules

Twitter has made changes to the “Twitter Rules” that dictate how people are allowed to use its service as part of its efforts to curb abuse on the platform.

Former chief executive Dick Costolo recognized Twitter’s abuse problem in February. Since then, the company has devoted more staff to moderating its service, introduced new harassment reporting tools, and taken steps to limit abusers’ ability to spew filth at their target from numerous Twitter accounts.

Now the company has updated the Twitter Rules to make its stance on abuse even clearer. The updated rules bar Twitter users from making violent threats; sharing another user’s personal information; harassing someone; misusing multiple accounts; impersonating others; and encouraging others to self-harm.

“We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power,” the company says in the new rules, “But that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people

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Indoor farming: Good for cannabis, not so good for food

Marijuana is a natural candidate for experimentation — and not just the kind that leaves New York Times columnists in hallucinatory states for eight hours. Because it’s often grown indoors, and growing it legally is just becoming legal in a few states around the country, the plant is almost begging to be messed with. And, if those experiments go well, they could affect more than just Mary-Jane.

That’s according to Fluence, a startup that builds LED-based lighting systems for legal cannabis growers and partners with researchers to study their impact. Want to know if a particular strain of marijuana grows best under one spectrum instead of another? Or how much money could be saved by switching from incandescent lighting systems to LEDs? Fluence wants to be the company to ask.

The company, which was formerly called BML Horticulture, currently has to run all these experiments from a research lab in California —

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This was the year social networks turned into news organizations

Social networks are the overworked writer’s best friend. It’s easy to observe the latest outrage on Twitter, grab a few good jokes from Reddit, or screen cap the ridiculous things people write on Facebook and turn them into blog posts. Writers used to have to find stories to chase — now they just have to be willing to sift through gargantuan masses of shit to find a few nuggets of social media gold.

There are a few problems with this: the people whose content has been lifted don’t always like someone else taking credit for their words, photos, or videos; relying on outside platforms can lead to the meat of a publisher’s blog posts falling right out of their sandwich of context and witticism; and social networks don’t need writers to surface their best content. They can collect it themselves.

That’s what many decided to do this year. Reddit created a publication called Upvoted to

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Amazon makes empty boasts about another holiday season

Amazon is making it seem like consumers signing up for its Prime service just in time to take advantage of free two-day shipping on last-minute gifts is a victory. But, much like its celebration of a record-breaking holiday shopping weekend in November, the company hasn’t offered many details about its boastful posturing.

The disingenuousness begins with the company bragging that 3 million people signed up for its Prime service in the third week of December. That seems like a victory — Prime customers are far more likely to remain loyal to Amazon than shoppers who don’t want to pay around $100 per year for access to the service.

But it doesn’t count the number of people who might have signed up for free trials — Amazon often pushes customers to give Prime a try — just so they could get free two-day shipping during the holidays. As long as those people cancel

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Facebook’s stumbles in India

Facebook’s attempt to provide free access to some Internet services has hit a roadblock: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has told the company’s wireless partner, Reliance Communications, to halt its support of the program.

At issue is the idea that providing free access to some services but not others violates the principles of net neutrality, which basically asserts that Internet providers shouldn’t be able to charge more or less for access to specific websites.

Those concerns have surrounded the Free Basics service affected by this request ever since the initiative started rolling it out earlier this year. It even lost a number of high-profile partners worried about its potential ramifications.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg responded to those concerns in a post on his public Facebook page. “If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity,” he said in a status update, “it is always better to have some access

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Google’s working on a chatbot-filled messaging service

Google isn’t content to let Facebook dominate the messaging market in the West. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company is working on a platform that will allow consumers to message assistive “chatbots” as well as real-live humans.

Details about the service are scarce. A name wasn’t revealed, for instance, nor was a timeframe for when consumers might expect to be able to use the app. But the report did reveal that Google’s been working on the product for about a year.

Including the chatbots will make this new service different from Hangouts, Messenger, and the other communications platforms Google has introduced. (Anyone remember Wave, the company’s short-lived real-time messaging tool?)

The chatbots, according to the Journal’s report, will allow people to send a query to an automated tool that “will scour the Web and other sources for information to answer a question” much like the question-answering function of Google Now.

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Ello, the startup formerly known as the anti-Facebook, grows up

Remember Ello, the social network that was first portrayed as the anti-Facebook well over a year ago? Well, it’s still around, but the anti-Facebook framing is something it never should have been billed as, according to the founders.

Sure, there are some aspects of the service that make it seem like a response to the world’s largest social network. It started out small. It’s promised never to display advertisements, which means it doesn’t track its users around the Web. And it’s based around the idea of communicating with other people which, due to the lens through which we view the Internet, makes it a Facebook competitor.

But it doesn’t matter that Ello wasn’t meant to compete with Facebook. That’s how the service was perceived, and it was called the “anti-Facebook” so much that it became the service’s tagline in the mind of the general population. (Well, the portion of the

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Are microservices just SOA redux?

Sinclair is CEO and cofounder of Apprenda, a leader in enterprise Platform as a Service.

It seems like every conversation related to cloud-native software projects these days involves microservices. During those conversations, someone inevitably draws a comparison with service-oriented architecture (SOA) or hesitantly asks the question, “Aren’t microservices just SOA?” While it might not seem important on first glance, this is actually a pressing question that gets little attention.

Usually this question is either outright dismissed in the negative or unquestionably accepted in the affirmative. As an exercise in more deeply answering the question, let’s spend time a little time understanding SOA and microservices independently and then comparing.

In the early 2000s, service-orientation became a popular design principle. Driven by backlash against highly coupled, binary-oriented systems, service-orientation promised significant increases in flexibility and compatibility. Microsoft’s Don Box was one of the first to truly spell out the guiding

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