These debaters know it will be a struggle to make facts great again

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—There was no faking it. The Daily News Innovation Lab meetup last February 8 at Microsoft was packed for a good reason. The debate, “Proposition: We can solve fake news” had people giddy with anticipation. The debaters would not disappoint.

The hopefuls were Sally Kohn, political commentator and columnist, CNN and The Daily Beast; Dean Pomerleau, co-director, Fake News Challenge; and Melissa Ryan, expert in politics and technology.

The skeptics were John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks; David Carroll, associate professor of Media Design at Parsons The New School for Design; and Jane Elizabeth, senior manager at the American Press Institute.

Justin Hendrix, executive director at NYC Media Lab moderated the debate with an equal dose of Orwellian seriousness and aw-shucks disbelief following the rise of fake news on social media platforms in the 2016 presidential elections.

Continue reading “These debaters know it will be a struggle to make facts great again”

Credit card tipping via Dipjar, now with 2,000 devices

NEW YORK—If George Constanza of Seinfeld lived in the 21st century, he would have solved the issue he had with tip jars back in the day. They never made a sound. When a pizza hired hand took his eyes off him for a second, he didn’t see Constanza show his generosity. So what does Constanza being Constanza do? He tried to grab his dollar back only to be caught as if he were stealing the latter’s tips.

It’s one colorful story among many that DipJar founder Ryder Kessler shares with the audience at the Mobile Payments NYC meetup last December 8 at Alley. DipJar enables cashless generosity via tip jars and donation boxes for credit cards—with a loud “clinking” sound this time, so a staff will you know you’ve tipped. You simply dip your credit card to make a donation in the amount illuminated in this gadget.

Kessler said he was inspired to think of a solutions eight years ago when he was at a café and he saw how baristas were not getting enough tips, although he didn’t pin down DipJar then just yet. He said he would try lots of different things, working for a startup for four years, before he eventually got around to conjuring the idea for the DipJar.

Initially, Kessler said he cast a wide net of potential customers, but he eventually found his market – the non-profit sector. There are reportedly 1.5 million non-profit organizations collecting $240 billion per year in donations, 90 percent of which are made offline.

Released initially in 2012, the patented DipJar now has 2,000 of these devices collecting nationwide for customers, with more than 6 large organizations as customers.

Kessler thinks DipJar is also addressing the overall decline in fundraising in general, because of the diminished use of cash and checks, which makes the device even more relevant now, especially when many low-income workers rely on tips. Tablets solve this somehow as it works as a payment system now–with a prompt for adding tips.

For this reason, targeting non-profit organizations is even more vital for Kessler. However, being in this sector also means getting VC money is not easy. “Some VCs are allergic to hardware,” plus he is in the non-profit space – not a priority for VCs.

What has he learned these years with DipJar? He acknowledges that he “underweighted hardware, payments, VC money and sales and marketing”.

How does one tip with DipJar? Inside the jar is a standard credit card reader. One only needs to insert his card and pull it out to swipe and it will automatically deduct an assigned amount set by the business or DipJar owner.

Derek Webster hosted the meetup.

Yes, even content strategy can start at back end

NEW YORK—Is content strategy going to be more effective if you consider it part of back-end development? If companies think marketing is all after the website or app is done, they should really think again. More than ever, structure is essential to making content future-friendly.

Carrie Hane of Tanzen Consulting, who works in both front and back end, said developers appreciate it even more if a content strategist can communicate with them about how content should be structured on the back end. Hane spoke last December 7 at the Huge meetup at its offices in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Hane is an independent consultant who helps organizations increase income and decrease costs by rethinking how they create, manage and connect their content.

“You will take blocks of content and break them down into smaller chunks which can be reused, remixed, restyled, and repurposed as needed. With a detailed content model in place, you can plan for implementation in a content management system (CMS) and for display across all your target interfaces,” she said.

She outlines the benefits of having back-end content strategy through the following:

  • Takes content out of its silos
  • Atomizes content, so it can be reused, remixed, restyled
  • Makes content available for each channel device, audience segment
  • Put technology to work to deliver content
  • Focuses on author as user in the design of the CMS
  • Ensures extensibility and scalability
  • Future friendly – ready for whatever is next

Taking this further, she said structured content is cross-platform ready and robot-readable.

Semantic meaning and relationships stored in the database and expressed through the interface. With relationships held at data level, rather than just at page level, you can design interfaces that allow readers to explore the content many different ways.

The future-friendly approach, she said, looks at structure as a developer would—separating out the model, the various interface views, and controlling interactions. “Designing content-first ensures the interface design supports the content. Not only will this process better serve the users, it will allow content to be created in parallel with the design and implementation.”

“Designing future-friendly content means applying as much effort to planning and creating content structures as you would to designing interfaces,” she said.

Some UX designers may consider a site or app’s flow and neglect to think about content as part of an entire back-end strategy, which could help immeasurably in terms of managing content and marketing it properly. It’s time designers think that loren ipsum text has a purpose beyond just being a placeholder text.

How IoT is improving processes, interaction, even computer vision

NEW YORK—When a meetup isn’t just a meetup, it’s an actual learning experience. Vaughn Shinall, head of product outreach at Temboo, did more than the usual company profile in his talk by providing the audience with some valuable tips for bringing IoT (Internet of Things) to anyone’s business at the Hardwired meetup last November 16 at WeWork in Chelsea.

Shinall’s Temboo, which offers software stack for IoT applications, gave the following tips:

  1. Start with a small but real, concrete problem
  2. Focus on saving time or money to create real value at the start
  3. Quick wins will help build confidence and expertise for IoT
  4. Get internal backing based on having a working system
  5. See how the data and functionality you’ve created can have additional uses
  6. See how existing applications can be modified for other uses
  7. Build new IoT capabilities on top of existing ones

Providing these tips is essential, as over half of business processes are projected to incorporate IoT by 2020, with about 22 billion IoT devices estimated to be connected already to the internet by 2018.

Shinall showed a factory that has retrofitted its existing operations IoT capabilities to reduce waste. It added automated alerts and sensors to its processes.

It was the modular music studio BLOCKS, however, that was the highlight for the evening for people hearing it for the first time. ROLI, the music tech startup behind it, has raised $43 million from FirstMark Capital. It will reportedly be in all Apple stores globally this holiday season.

The other presenters were Charlie Key, founder and CEO of Losant (IoT solution platform); David Lyman, founder and CEO of BetterView (drone marketplace for aerial photography jobs) and Leif Jentoft, co-Founder of RightHand Robotics (intelligent machines for e-commerce order fulfillment)

Key of Losant talked about real time GPS asset tracking which is expected to grow, as sensors, GPS units and cellular modems have become readily available.  About 38 billion devices are equipped with tracking capabilities. As such, many now see the value of tracking the location and health of nearly everything, including shipments.

The actual devices used will rely on cost, physical size, environmental conditions, geographical location and many more. Losant provides systems integrators and product manufacturers with the flexibility to choose and connect to any hardware using any communication method on any network. Its application services and additional platform capabilities cover remote asset management, GPS tracking and mapping, reporting and M2M data integration.  Understanding GPS data natively to visualize locations and geofence the information is crucial.

How does it make money? “People pay us based on data points,” explaining that the compay “works with companies with physical assets like tow trucks.”

As a platform for capturing and analyzing drone data, Lyman of BetterView claimed that they have software that makes it easy to capture data.  It reportedly combines drone-gathered, expert-analyzed imagery with public data like assessor’s permit, fire station proximity, and historical weather to pinpoint risks, estimate costs, and drive action around buildings and properties.

Founded two years ago, BetterView combines public data, drone imagery and computer vision plus human experts to analyze data to its 70 customers. It claims to have a 3,500 pilot network, analyzed, 4,200 rooftops or the equivalent of 130 million square feet.

Lyman said if you’re too early (in the drone space), you can get burned. If it holds its promise, he estimates the industry to rake in 1.8 million sales in by 2020. “We see adoption in commercial business.”

Already, drones and AI are improving insight and transforming how we interact with the physical world.

Another presenter, RightHand Robotics provides end-to-end solutions that reduce the cost of e-commerce order-fulfillment of electronics, apparel, grocery, pharmaceuticals, and countless other industries.

Analyzing data and extracting insights from IBM Watson Analytics

NEW YORK— Last November 10, the meetup called Data Science & Analytics for Communications Industry showed us how IBM Watson Analytics is making it easier for business professionals to analyze data and extract insights for businesses across data intensive disciplines, including marketing (social media and networks), sales, operations, finance and human resources.

Host Rachel Wells showed us how Watson Analytics works a smart-data discovery tool with guided data exploration, automated predictive analysis, dashboard creation and visualization service. It is designed to help different professionals — from salespersons to company CEOs – find patterns and pursue ideas for their business.

In collaboration with industry partners, its new data discovery models called Expert Storybooks is aimed at helping guide users on how to understand, learn and reason with different types of data sources to surface the most relevant facts and uncover patterns and relationships for predictive decision making. Examples of the types of Storybooks IBM will make available are as follows:

  • AriBall – a Storybook that will help users analyze the performance of baseball players to build predictions about player performance that they can use to gain an edge in their fantasy lineup.
  • Deloitte – a Storybook that measures the effectiveness of incentive programs to help sales leadership determine how and when to effectively deploy short term incentives for revenue uplift.
  • The Weather Company – a Storybook that helps users incorporate weather data into their revenue analysis to understand how weather is impacting their business.
  • OgilvyOne – a Storybook that shows users how to analyze marketing campaign data while integrating disparate data points such as weather information to bring creative inputs into campaign planning.
  • Twitter – a Storybook that helps users analyze social media data from Twitter to measure reputational risk, and also get a better understanding about how social sentiment could reveal drivers behind fluctuations in stock prices in real time.
  • American Marketing Association – a Storybook that helps users identify and analyze the key drivers of customer profitability.
  • Nucleus Research – a Storybook that enables users to benchmark projects for return on investment (ROI) and to project expected returns for proposed technology projects based on Nucleus Research data from more than 500 ROI case studies.
  • MarketShare – a Storybook that helps users achieve a clear understanding of how their investment strategy compares to industry standards, as well as a view into how to optimize investments across online and offline media channels such as TV, paid search, digital display, online video, radio, print, and others.
  • Intangent – a Storybook that will help finance managers examine the relationships between pay, performance, and credit risk in lending to better align incentive compensation with risk taking.

Instead of fumbling over data, searching for answers or testing hypotheses, the Watson Analytics user can focus on understanding the business and effectively communicating results to stakeholders. Business users often struggle figuring out what analysis would be relevant and how to tell the story in a report or diagram. Watson Analytics automates these steps to accelerate users’ ability to get to the answers quickly and on their own.

As users interact with the results, they can fine-tune their questions and the data to surface the most relevant facts and uncover unforeseen patterns and relationships, which will enable predictive decision making for all levels of users.

However, Wells is quick to point out the differences between IBM Watson, which means the whole process of reasoning which does its full A to Z job, while IBM Watson Analytics is all about helping anyone explore data easily.

So many visual storytelling ways, but who’s watching?!

NEW YORK–“I don’t believe in VR (virtual reality),” said Olivier Laurent, editor at Lightbox, a blog by the TIME’s photo department, in a meetu on the topic, “Visual Storytelling and the Future of Photos” last November 2 at the Libris by Photoshelter in Union Square. It was  certainly a gutsy admission, considering that tech titans have rolled out or are launching their own VR devices with fanfare.

Laurent moderated the discussion with panelists Paul Melcher, founder of Kaptur Magazine; Ben Plomion, chief marketing officer at GumGum, a computer vision company and; and Peter Krogh, photographer for PBS and The Library of Congress, among others.

Laurent challenges VR’s potential by referring to technological devices in the past, “Who has a 3D TV?” There was one raised hand in the packed room. What Laurent is saying makes perfect sense, of course. Yes, Facebook has the Oculus; Google recently launched its Daydream VR. Samsung and Sony have their own VR devices as well. This was not the main topic of the evening but it resonated with us because some tech products get some hype but never hit critical mass (eg. Google Glass).

But companies are latching onto VR because there’s always a craving for new ways to tell stories. Photographers, videographers and all practitioners then try to adapt to the new tools–for the purpose of adding a skill as the market demands.

Whether we want to embrace this or not is no longer a question, though. At some point, everyone will need to use cinemagraphs, VR, 360 and still movement in camera and gif, as enumerated by Melcher. There’s GoPro, Drones and many more.

“(Over the years), professional photographers have had to learn Photoshop and LightRoom,” he said. That was years ago but with more tech tools coming out, it seems the visually inclined will need to acquaint himself with more tools, software and equipment as technology keeps reinventing ways for us to tell stories.

However, there’s an even more problematic scenario other than the constant flow of new tech tools at our disposal. How do you get people’s attention span when a study by Microsoft last year pointed to how the ill-focused goldfish is said to have the attention span of nine seconds? How do people compare? We now lose concentration after eight seconds, it turns out. The survey consisted of 2,000 participants whose brain activities were studied using electroencephalograms (EEGs).

These are all compounded by the billions of images uploaded daily. Who has the time to tell their visual stories, if not absorb them?

Laurent, however, may be a purist in his observation about what images stick with people the most. He cites how the Tiananmen protester’s photo blocking a tank is remembered more than its video where he was shown moving left to right to block the tank.

What is future of photography? It may be about create an image that will feel like you’re in there, according to Melcher. “It may be better than any set of cameras.”

“We are developing a new vernacular. Image as data,” Krogh said.

On images as ads, Plomion said, “Ads that follow you. This already started four years ago. There will be more ads catered to us.”

Going back to the future of VR, Melcher said VR is mostly focused on hardware but the growth will be in content.

“In terms of aggregated reality, we’re not there yet,” Plomion said.

General Assembly’s sprint process; Meetup’s rebranding

NEW YORK — If you’re rebranding and you didn’t go to the Design Driven meetup last November 1 at WeWork, you missed the outstanding presentations of Bryan Berger, Product Design lead at General Assembly and Jennifer Gergen, Design director at Meetup.

Among the presenters in the New York meetups this year, Berger and Gergen seem to have the most material for the audience, if only there were enough time for them to present them. The two took their time to explain the design processes of their respective companies.

General Assembly holds bootcamp-style tech, business and design classes in the Flatiron district, while Meetup offers a platform for people to form communities based on their interests.

For General Assembly, Berger took us to through the results of its “distraction-free” design sprint, taking us to the company’s product design process “to position ourselves to be more effective.”

“We mapped out who’s who and where we are,” he said.

It was interesting to learn how they took the initiative to look back into its library of materials to see if they are still relevant. Not many companies would bother to do so and to see if previous works still mattered, as the torrent of materials can be overwhelming, for any company.

“This is how I do it with my team: ‘Get aligned, set expectations, pre plan, get buy-in and make it real,” Berger said.

In aligning objectives, Berger said General Assembly followed patterns that champion reusability, consistency and efficiency across products and teams. “We had a single style guide to help our production cycle. We spoke the same languages across design and engineering.”

“We optimize team efficiency and design impact, fix processes and sunset old cluttered systems and shed light on things that have been overlooked,” he added.

After its sprint, Berger was only too willing to share its learnings:

  • Empower your team
  • Draft a design team charter
  • Pair new hires with veterans
  • Cross-product design collaboration is very powerful
  • Make research insights accessible to everyone
  • Frame stakeholder discussions in the present

(It’s easier to work with wish lists if we understand the facts first)

  • It’s extremely inefficient to achieve growth and future goals without the foundational pieces in place
  • Teams can now visualize the complexity and work to simplify it
  • We stubbed out a huge chunk of our Pattern Library
  • We identified key areas for additional research in our ecosystem
  • We have actionable roadmaps to tackle each initiative in order to keep the momentum going

What to avoid? “Silos are destructive,” he said. “They resist change. They promote one-off solutions. Scalability isn’t top of mind. They burn people out.”

Gergen talked about the redesign of Meetup, which now sports a new logo that captures the spirit of the platform: it’s a swarm (of people).

Her presentation was very illuminating because she talked about the company’s journey, its beginnings as a company that “didn’t have a design team when we started and who did usability before design.”

It helped explain the time it took the company a long time to rebrand since it was founded after 9/11 when there were no apps and UI was an abbreviation still alien to many. There was a lot to “unlearn.” There was a need to define design. Its rebranding, unveiled this year, took 2 years. It included a “remade Meetup that is personal, lightweight and a (good) mobile experience.”

Gergen showed how a design director’s job goes beyond the creative, as she made use of spreadsheets to do a health checkup and a design team health benchmark for Meetup.

She also made sure that everyone was involved. The primaries: the key decision makers; the secondaries: the designers who know their work and the subject matter experts. Depending on the tasks, it had IOS experts providing assistance for its app development or marketing people for its marketing efforts.

How do you get your team to become design driven? “Get lucky,” she said.

She elaborates, “Do user research. Do stakeholder surveys. Do a company wide survey.” For the latter, some staffers produced essays that were 10 pages long.”

Because its company actually makes people meet in person, she had some of her design team go to actual meetups. “We organized teams to go to meetups and interview people.”

Percolate and TeachersPayTeachers were other presenters.

Facebook shows roadmap to AI, Qubole addresses Big Data’s low success rate

NEW YORK—Why do companies struggle with Big Data and why is Ashush Thusoo, founder and CEO at cloud-scale data processing Qubole, concerned about it? The answer is obvious: Big Data gives you competitive advantage if companies can manage it; unfortunately, not all the time. It has been reported that only 27 percent of Big Data initiatives are classified as successful in 2014.

Thinking of doing a startup? Do hackathons first

NEW YORK—Nine out of 10 startups fail, studies say. Why? Because many of these startups make products no one wants. This is almost common knowledge by now if you’ve been reading up or attending meetups, at least. Being aware of the high failure rate can be discouraging, of course, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dream.

There are still ways to lessen the risk — and among the three panelists speaking at the Tech in Motion meetup last October 20, it was Dom Tancredi who probably gave the best advice, summed up in three words. “Do a hackathon.” In 48 hours of creating a product, he added, you’ll learn (a lot of things you can bring to your startup). It’s like a “microcosm of a startup.”

Even for someone already established in his web and mobile development business, Dom & Tom, he said, “I make it a point to attend 3 hackathons a year to keep myself relevant.”

Tancredi admitted to failing with 2 of the 3 startups that he started with his brother Tom. Unlike other startups, Tancredi started with 3 startups and proceeded to concentrate on one when the two other startups wouldn’t cut it.  He has more than 18 years of experience as a full-stack web developer and has led Dom & Tom since 2009.

He gave more tips: “Just know where you are spending your time. Spend 30 percent of your time on your customers another 40 percent on your product and 30 percent on yourself. Strive for equal balance.”

Josh Brenner, founder and CEO of bTreated, a yield management technology platform for the wellness industry, thinks failure starts even earlier. “People build this big idea in their head, but who (unfortunately) did not talk to people to validate their idea.”

“Immerse myself in the business. Everyone is better for it in the end,” he said.

Drew Silverstein, CEO and founder of Amper Music has a different take on the 9-out-10 failed startups observation. “5 of those 10 should not have started.”

He agrees with Brenner, though that you need to test each idea at its core and then validate that. Again, we go back to what you need to do: talk to customers.

Tancredi cautions though that talking to your customers is just “half the battle.”

When do you think you can reach some measure of success? For Tancredi, you’ll need to have to have “IP, the technology, the team and your efficacy and sustainability.

Silverstein has a more practical measure of success. When he hits his goal for 90 days, then he thinks he’s had some measure of success.

Brenner took his turn in giving cautionary advice. “People underestimate how much it’s hard to (build and run) a startup. You can be very successful one day and be a failure another day. You will have extreme highs and lows.”

To keep going, Silverstein said, “It is incumbent upon you to find a mentor. Ask a mentor for coffee. Solve one problem at a time.”

Brenner, for his part, thinks that “if you have a passion outside of your job, it helps (to give you ideas). “You don’t have to kill yourself, you need (time) to be creative.”

“You cannot overanalyze,” he added. “Just put out an MVP (minimum viable product) out there,” he said.

As for growing your startup, everyone agreed that you should learn marketing as well.

Fintech panel gets real about the challenges facing app economy

NEW YORK—“Is the app economy dead? When was the last time you bought an app?” The question was directed at Vivek Nasta, founder & CEO, Scout Finance at the panel discussion on fintech by Empire Startups last October 17 at Rise

Nasta was suddenly speechless, as the audience chuckled nervously. Who bothers to purchase an app when many of them are free to download?

Even if Nasta didn’t respond, he did say how it’s tough to satisfy customers these days. “They want speed…They’ll ask for everything. And use one percent (of a feature),” he said. Still, he thinks it’s important to address this and find an answer, even if he it’s very hard to make money on mobile.

“It’s about anticipating what people need,” he said.

In the talk about the challenges of mobile fintech, Nasta was joined by Ed Robinson, cofounder, Stash; Raffaelle Breaks, VP of Global Digital Experience, American Express and Travis Skelly, SVP of Venture Investing, Citi Ventures. It was moderated by Matthew Hooper, VP of Open Innovation at Barclays.

It was Breaks who probably gave the most relevant question of the night, “How do we emulate customer experience online on a desktop and from one’s smartphone?” She also craves for some proper automation in fintech.

Skelly, for his part, thinks it’s still hard to aggregate all accounts.

Hooper asked the panel about the sustainability of apps, as there’s only so much space you can use on your smartphone.

“Apps will still be there,” Robinson said.

Answering for American Express, Breaks said, “Desktop still comprises most of our user base. While engagement is higher on mobile, people just don’t check their account all the time.”

This was echoed by Skelly who said fintech apps are not meant for heavy use or activity compared to some social media apps, naturally.  However, he thinks apps will still be there. He even sees incumbents and startups fighting it out.

Breaks noted how its customers still prefer to call someone at the company instead of interacting with an app.

On making apps relevant, Nasta said apps should have some two-way interaction and good user experience.  He doesn’t believe in a mobile only solution for fintech.

What makes them successful in this challenging environment?

Robinson believes it’s his 24/7 approach to the business. He believes in building trust and engagement. “We provide information ASAP or we lose them.”

For legacy companies, targeting millennials has not been easy as they’re likely to use instruments that are popular in their age group. “These customers may heavily skew toward iOS which is hard to infiltrate,” Breaks said.

In terms of targeting a broad audience, Breaks thinks small countries are good test areas for new fintech initiatives, especially underserved and underbanked markets.

Fintech is also looking into replicating their platforms with artificial intelligence, but it’s still early to tell where that is leading.

What do new fintech startups need to do to succeed in this space? Robinson said, “The more you can get the cadence of iterating, making changes and updating the app, the better off you’ll be.”

With fintech becoming more democratized, however, Skelly thinks branding will take a hit. “People don’t need to know what card they use on an uber, for example.”

This development should allow small underserved markets access to new fintech tools which is in contrast with countries like the US where banks are strictly regulated.

“(In the US), it’ll take a year’s worth of specking to make an app for a bank,” Nasta said.

“We’re still in the early innings,” he concluded.