Early this afternoon Y Combinator released a letter, written by its own Alexis Ohanian, calling on the FCC to abandon its current plan to pursue net neutrality regulation under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, and instead work to manage broadband providers under Title II of the Communications Act.
Classifying broadband under Title II would grant the FCC wider purview to regulate and control the industry.
YC, a popular technology company incubator, is not the first firm to push for a strong form of net neutrality. A steady beat of young technology companies have recently pushed for similar reform, including Dwolla and Etsy.
Y Combinator’s call for Title II reform is notable for its technicality. Its missive digs into the technical side of why the group favors that specific form of reform, which is contrary to what the FCC is currently proposing:
The Court held that, absent reclassifying broadband providers as Title II carriers, the FCC would be treating broadband providers as common carriers unless it left open room for “substantial room for individualized bargaining and discrimination in terms.”
Therefore, the FCC cannot impose a nondiscrimination rule–unless it classifies broadband providers under Title II. The Court also held that, without classifying broadband providers under Title II, the FCC could not ban charging fees for priority access, even though the FCC recognized such fees would be a “significant departure from historical and current practice.”
This section is interesting given that ISPs themselves have argued that under Title II, paid prioritization would not be illegal.
AT&T for example had the following to say in May:
We noted in particular that calls for reclassification of broadband Internet access services as a Title II telecommunications service would cause risks and harms that dwarf any putative benefits, all but scuttle the administration’s ambitious broadband agenda, and would not, in all events, preclude the paid prioritization arrangements that seem to be the singular focus of reclassification proponents.
So, there is dissension among the ranks.
The technology group is joined today by Senator Ron Wyden, who also called for the reclassification of broadband service under Title II. In the same note the Senator disparaged paid prioritization, which is often called the allowance for the creation of ‘fast lanes’ for some providers of Internet services.
Y Combinator’s complaint matters as it lends a fresh institutional voice to the idea that the economic impact of net neutrality being enacted would be net positive, not negative. Currently entrenched market players like AT&T have argued that open Internet rules would restrict investment in broadband and the like. (The Internet Association, which counts a host of technology companies as members, has a decent rebuttal of the idea that is worth considering.)
The technology incubator certainly has a profit motive in the matter. Y Combinator has benefited financially, on the back of an open Internet. For shame? Not in this case. Financial incentive can sometimes put corporations on the right sides of an issue. Microsoft has spoken out in favor of less active government surveillance in recent weeks. Bad for its business? The opposite. But that doesn’t mean that its notes are out of key.
The first public comment period comes to an end tomorrow evening. Expect more dissonant cries of dissent in the coming 34 hours.
Apple’s app store has let developers create promo codes for ages. It’s also supported In-App purchases for ages.
But promo codes for in-app purchases? That’s crazy talk. You want to give a user a promo code for a free bag of virtual cat food to feed their virtual cat? Get the heck out of here.
But that might be changing!
While it doesn’t seem to be a widely rolled out feature just yet, Apple looks to be letting EA generate and distribute promo codes for a free allotment of gold (usually valued at 2 bucks) in their latest racing sim, Real Racing 3. As MacRumors points out, 148Apps’ Jeff Scott has a few screenshots of the process:
The most interesting part? You can use the code whether or not the user has the original app installed. If they already do, they unlock the in-app purchase. If they don’t, the relevant app is automatically installed.
Why that matters, of course, is because it’s a damned good form of promotion. Giving someone a code and saying “Here, have an app!” is one thing. But saying “Here, have an app plus some free stuff that other people don’t get that may or may not give you some sort of advantage!“? That’s an easy pitch.
The bad news, of course, is that this really just further encourages the nickel-and-dime freemium model that has turned many an App Store chart topper into a matter of smashing your wallet into your phone until you win or get bored. Alas, that ship sailed a while ago.
See the original post here: Apple Is Testing Promo Codes For In-App Purchases
A few years ago, film critic Roger Ebert royally put his foot in it when he declared that video games could never be art. Tone deaf though his reasoning was (he got hung up on their functional nature and saw the capacity of play as destroying all possible representation), the most interesting aspect of the debate was just how pilloried he became. Ebert wasn’t just wrong, he was on the wrong side of history.
It was an example of how games are increasingly political, and of how some of the next gamer generation finds personal significance in them. I don’t mean stuff like players who cosplay their favorite characters at conventions. I mean issues of representation, reflection and the dynamics of power.
Just look at how Nintendo got caught up in a PR vortex this week around Tomodachi Life. The game is a lighthearted sim intended to be played for laughs. Players can use their Miis to play the game, largely watching them interact and do silly stuff. One of the things that their Miis can do in that context is marry. But the game doesn’t support gay marriage. Reports first indicated that it initially did, but was phased out as “a bug”, but later proven untrue.
There are several articles considering why gay marriage was left out of the game. For the most part they concluded that, because it’s a Japanese game and Japan is more conservative, perhaps it was considered too far. Or maybe in all honesty is just never occurred to the developers to include. Regardless as the issue gained momentum ahead of the game’s launch in the West it become a question that Nintendo had to answer. And its first answer was profoundly dumb (“Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life“) for not realizing that the addition or removal of gay marriage was itself an act of social commentary. Everything is, whether you intend it to be or not.
For every noble cause there are also opportunities for the reactionary voice. Witness the small furore surrounding Depression Quest designer Zoe Quinn as she documented an experiment with implantable tech. Quinn is a fan of implanted chips and wanted to toy about with having a programmable one in her hand. The actual device she implanted (an NTAG216) seems pretty rudimentary, but it’s still an interesting experiment.
Yet to look at some of the comments on the Kotaku article that featured her experiment is to see the dark political underbelly of gaming. You know, the one that thinks that anything that women do is basically an act of being a fame-crazed showy whore. Or that they clearly have a flexible relationship with sanity and need to have their derangement mansplained to them.
Perhaps no-one gets this treatment more than Anita Sarkeesian. In her most recent Tropes vs Women essay Sarkeesian makes the perfectly reasonable point that female characters in games often tend to be feminized versions of male characters. In many games you’ll have a slew of character choices for instance (the tall one, the fat one, the small one etc) and one of them will be the female character. The female character is often attired in pink, girlish and annoying. It’s woman reflected in man rather than woman as woman.
Sarkeesian’s point is that we should enjoy our games but also consider their culture. And maybe be a little less blinkered and more willing to think of female character representation on its own terms. Seems perfectly reasonable doesn’t it? And yet she receives heavy backlash. Some are valid counter-arguments but many are ad hominem attacks on her person. And she’s often threatened.
Another form of the politics of play is to be found in crowdfunding. We seem to be past the novelty phase which drove huge amounts of money to some games, but in 2014 there’s a lot of crowdfunding going on. Many of the kinds of game that do well in crowdfunding tend to be aligned with tribal causes. Funding the return of retro classics or spiritual successors, for example, is pretty common. So is funding what-games-should-be projects like Storium.
Yet consider Harmonix’s Amplitude campaign. Amplitude is one of those games from back in the day, a forerunner (along with Frequency) of Guitar Hero. It’s considered a cult classic and – like many cult classics – there is a latent market for its return. However unlike many a similar campaign, Harmonix’s campaign raises a lot of political questions because it seems like a game belonging to “The Man”.
Peter Molyneux faced similar questions when he raised funds for Godus in late 2012. Surely, many a journalist asked, a guy like Molyneux could gain funding through official channels like publishers. And similarly with Amplitude, surely crowdfunding is supposed to be about the little guy against “The Man”. Indeed I wrote recently about how Oculus Rift’s sale exposed a very deep divide between how games people think about this stuff as opposed to tech people. In tech crowdfunding is for neat stuff. In games crowdfunding is supposed to be a statement of loyalty according to some.
In a sense crowdfunding seems like it should be a reinforcement of that Supreme Court ruling that money equals speech, but whose speech? The sentiment that some games are worthy of funding regularly runs through the gaming media yet by this standard there have been some notable failures such as 1979 Revolution. And at the same time Amplitude is may well make it (going on its current performance), which leads to this question: Is the politics of play actually that important, or is it just loud?
Do the politics of Titanfall really matter to its sales? Does the conspicuous lack of a female character in Grand Theft Auto V actually matter? Or, more darkly, is the vague suspicion that such omissions happen for fear of hurting sales true? Do the economic perceptions around what crowdfunding should be in the media really matter? Or does it all just amount to lip service?
And that brings up an uncomfortable thought: The politics of play may (not to be insensitive) essentially be a sideshow. The Nintendo example may be interpreted as a lesson in how not to do PR, but not really change anything as such. We may see a phase of game makers inserting token characters and other elements by way of appeasement, but not taking the political issue any further than that. Game developers, publishers and platforms need to be smarter than that.
One way to read the dynamics of crowdfunding is to think that the politics matter only so far, but that’s only to consider where it is today. It forgets that the younger generation are simply cash-strapped. Maybe current Kickstarter success is largely about affluent mid-40s white guys and their childhood obsessions with games involving Cthulhu or fantasy sagas and so on, but that dynamic won’t last forever. They’re simply the ones with disposable income for whom games are a certain kind of passion, but it’s different for their successors.
The younger generation may well be up to its eyes in college debt and unable to pay rent while middle-aged moms burn money in Candy Crush, but that will change. The indie kids of today care about identity, representation and consider their play as more than simple amusement. The dynamic of a smarter and more sensitive culture is stirring all around us (from the NFL through to the Eurovision) and that’s just in free media.
As today’s generation gets better jobs and start having more disposable income it’s eventually going to be the decisive force, the one that gets to with its wallet and make the crowd decisions. Society is on the move in games just as in every other part of culture, and it’s up to us game makers to engage with rather than token-ize it. Otherwise we’ll be replaced by those who get it.
See more here: What Games Are: The Politics Of Play Matter
Facebook is making things easier for marketers by updating its Pages Manager app for iOS app with a few useful features. One of the biggest changes introduced is that you can finally create and edit events in the app on your iPad.
Version 3.0 of the also app lets you pin and unpin posts to the top of your page’s Timeline, so admins can conveniently select which posts they want to highlight. They can also turn photos on their page’s timeline and photo albums into profile pictures with just a tap of the button.
Interestingly enough, the changelog for the updated app also claims to let page admins send feedback and report problems simply by shaking your mobile device — but no matter how I shook my iPhone, nothing happened. Even if the feature may be a tad gimmicky, it could be a useful shortcut for marketers in urgent situations when they experience problems with Facebook Pages. Here’s hoping Facebook addresses this soon.
Thumbnail image via West McGowan / Flickr
Ask three different smart, knowledgeable people in tech about their views on smartwatches, and you’re bound to receive at least four plausible opinions on the matter. As someone hilariously snarked on Twitter, “even a broken smartwatch opinion will be write twice a day.” Jokes aside, I’ve been getting more excited about smartwatches with the news dribbling out over the past few months and speculation rising. As Google and potentially Apple join the popular Pebble, along with companies like Jawbone, FitBit (which already claim wrist real estate), Runkeeper, and others, the looming, high-level question for consumers may not just be platform-specific apps and functionality, but the effects (and potential handcuffs) of mobile platform and ecosystem lock-in.
Here’s how think about the choices consumers may face, assuming they want technology on their wrists — which, depending who you talk to, isn’t a foregone conclusion. “If” Apple does eventually develop a device for the wrist, we’d expect it to run on iOS, to seamlessly set up and pair with the iPhone, and to interoperate with other iOS systems and some suite of apps. Based on Google’s initial tip of the hand regarding “Android Wear,” they may view the wrist as a new interaction frontier to extend the power of its anticipatory computing service, Google Now. For those who would rather not feel locked in by a mobile platform, a range of existing and new platforms will be on the market in different shapes and forms.
Despite all the speculation about what could adorn our wrists – and it is fun to speculate – there’s just no way to know what the big players will do, how good these new experiences will be (out of the gate), and whether even early adopters and fanatics will buy these new devices at the same pace at which we’ve been accustomed to buying cell phones. (I won’t try to reconstruct the countless posts on the matter here, though for reference, I’d encourage people to read Mark Gurman’s excellent post on Healthbook (for iOS, which should be noted, isn’t about a watch), The Verge’s piece on Android Wear (by Dante D’Orazio) and Benedict Evans’ great piece analyzing both experiences. Instead, I’ll try to run through what choices consumers may make based on the evidence today, though its based on hearsay and not matters of fact, yet._
In such an unknown world, having vibrant third-party platforms is not only healthy, it may also be what consumers want to escape the handcuffs of any mobile platform lock-in. In this scenario, outfits such as Jawbone, Fitbit, Runkeeper, and others may have enough institutional expertise (and focus and passion!) to make this transition and/or morph into new interfaces with the advent of new motion sensors. And then, there’s Pebble, the already-popular independent smartwatch-maker, headquartered right in Silicon Valley, composed of a team which has built and shipped newer versions of its watches to rabid fans. On Pebble, which already has partnerships with other third-party apps, users interact on their phones through a Pebble app that helps setup and control the watch. This allows users the option to switch mobile platforms and keep their smartwatch, with less of a lock-in effect. Whether mobile platforms will slap users on the wrist with their lock-in techniques, no one knows — but what is certain is that those in the market for smartwatches and/or sensor-based wearables (or even connected jewelry) won’t handcuffed nor left without plenty of choice. And that is a very exciting thing.
Photo Credit: Kim Carpenter / Creative Commons Flickr
See original here: Mobile Platforms, Smartwatches, And Golden Handcuffs
Twitter is down. I repeat, Twitter is down.
Twitter says that “most users are experiencing issues accessing Twitter on web and mobile apps. We’re looking into it.”
And it’s not just the desktop website that’s failing — Twitter for iPhone is down, as well as TweetDeck. We’ve confirmed that most activity out of Twitter, including the API and streams to third-party apps shut down right around 11am PST/2pm EST.
Users are experiencing issues with loading their timelines and posting tweets (which, it turns out, is more difficult to track without the help of Twitter). Unlike partial outages where certain features go down one at a time, Twitter currently shows no signs of life.
We just noticed the outage as of 2:00pm ET, and are reaching out to Twitter for more information.
Update 2:34pm: Things are working off and on.
Update 3:03pm: We seem to be back on track, but don’t be shocked to see things lag a bit.
Update 3:34pm: Twitter has posted the following statement on the matter:
During a planned deploy in one of our core services, we experienced unexpected complications that made Twitter unavailable for many users starting at 11:01am. We rolled back the change as soon as we identified the issue and began a controlled recovery to ensure stability of other parts of the service. The site was fully recovered by 11:47am PDT. We apologize for the inconvenience.
View post: Twitter Goes Down For Almost An Hour
There’s a whole stack of apps named “Paper” in the App Store, but Facebook’s new one may come out on top despite a requested name change from drawing app maker FiftyThree. One problem is that FiftyThree registered its app’s trademark as “Paper By FiftyThree” not “Paper”, and while it’s a lame legal loophole, it may be enough to let Facebook keep the name.
“It came as a surprise when we learned on January 30th  with everyone else that Facebook was announcing an app with the same name—Paper…We reached out to Facebook about the confusion their app was creating, and they apologized for not contacting us sooner. But an earnest apology should come with a remedy…Facebook should stop using our brand name…What will Facebook’s story be? Will they be the corporate giant who bullies their developers? Or be agile, recognize a mistake, and fix it?”
It’s a reasonable take on the issue. FiftyThree’s app is well-known and loved. It won Apple’s 2012 iPad App Of The Year award. And it was in the App Store first. Yet today, Facebook launched a content reader and beautified Facebook client called “Paper”.
The argument conveniently ignores fellow drawing app Paper, released in October 2011 by studio Contradictory which has 25 other apps in the store. There’s also another drawing app called Paper released in September 2012 by miSoft. Plus there’s more than 50 other apps with Paper in their name. Paper Doll, Paper Camera, Paper Ninja.
Still, FiftyThree’s accusation that Facebook uses its size to bully developers rings true. But it might not matter because of the name FiftyThree registered its trademark under. I asked Facebook if it had a statement regarding FiftyThree’s complaint and was given a “no comment”. But if the complaint was elevated into a formal lawsuit, Facebook could likely tell the court “We didn’t release an app called ‘Paper By FiftyThree.’”
Though that position could hold weight legally, it’s not exactly honorable. Especially considering Facebook asserted its trademark on the word “book” to force other companies to change the names of products like Lamebook and Placebook. Though in those cases, third-parties were directly piggybacking on how Facebook used “book” to popularize their own brands.
Here, it’s more of a coincidence that Facebook wants to use a name already employed by FiftyThree rather than it trying to coin off the existing mindshare of the word. But it still feels like Facebook is trying to muscle in.
In the case of a legal battle, the court would be deciding if Facebook’s Paper is confusingly similar to Paper By FiftyThree. Since they’re distinct apps with distinct icons, Facebook’s has no drawing element, Paper is a common name other apps use, and the names are techncially different, Facebook may escape being forced into a change.
Mark Zuckerberg wanted Facebook to become the modern newspaper, offering high-quality content no matter what your area of interest. Though colloquially used by another developer, FiftyThree doesn’t have the legal rights to the name, so “Paper” may have just been too juicy for Facebook to pass up.
Editor’s note: Neil Sequeira is a general partner and managing director at General Catalyst Partners. He invests in alternative commerce, SaaS, online/mobile marketplaces and digital media. He previously was with TimeWarner, AOL, CMGI, GoldmanSachs, Accenture and Goldenvoice. Follow him on Twitter @neil_sequeira.
Alternative Commerce is a piece of cake, right? After all, while big box retailers are suffering, fun things like “the Internet” and “mobile phones” make it easier to sell stuff to customers without the expense of stores and make a bunch of money. Just ask WebVan, Kozmo, eToys.com, or Pets.com. Okay maybe it isn’t that easy.
At the end of the day, even in the alternative commerce world, you still have to create, market, sell and deliver an actual product to consumers and make money in the process. That’s the rub. If you build a product, make sure your customers come and make sure it makes money.
Don’t fret and refocus your attention on the next “app” or creating the next “SaaS business.” Follow your alternative commerce dream, but also follow a few simple rules — many of which come down to business fundamentals — and you, too, can create a great company that doesn’t just ship products but focuses on creative business models, alternative distribution channels, brand and loving your customer. With the right recipe, it can indeed be a piece of cake.
1) Preheat the oven
Bottom line, it’s all about the team. Our firm has been early investors in RueLaLa (GSI/eBay), Kayak (Priceline), Warby Parker, TheFancy and many other great companies. I am an early investor in The Honest Company (next-generation consumer products for babies/kids/families), NatureBox (subscription healthy snack product delivered to your door), Listia (the largest barter marketplace), StyleSaint (an online fashion brand that creates product based on social interaction/input) and Plum District (deals for moms).
The reason we invested in these companies is simple: the teams. The basic tenet of a successful alternative commerce company (or any early-stage business) is to start with great people. Get your key chefs in place before you preheat your oven and get cooking.
2) Mix Together Your Product and Customer
This is the part of the recipe where you can really get your creative juices flowing. Here are a few of the key ingredients.
Net Promoter Score. First introduced by Fred Reichheld in a 2003 Harvard Business Review piece, this can’t be more simple. The basic idea is to ask, How likely are you to recommend this product, company or service to your friends or colleagues? That’s it. This basic and fundamental idea is all that really matters. When this became clear to our firm a few years ago, it made clear why we believed in companies like Honest, Warby Parker, etc. – people loved what they were doing. When it comes to product, nothing else matters. Nothing.
Solving a Problem. Are you solving a problem or making something easier, e.g. not having to go to a store? Google Express, eBay Now and Amazon are making logistics and visits to the store easier (and getting a lot of information in the process!). You can compete with them and get blown out of the water or actually solve a problem they can’t. Create healthier products, deliver a differentiated service, build something special, delight your customers. If you don’t, they win.
Brand. Building a brand is hard. There are folks like Michael Kors and LuLulemon who have built amazing brands in the last few years (Kors has been a fashion icon for 20+ years) in the public markets. If you don’t want to build a brand, don’t try alternative commerce. Don’t. Walk away. People need to know you, need to love you, need to want you and have a personal connection to the brand. The only way to increase margins and grow a business is to own a brand. If you are selling someone else’s brand, you are dead.
3) Bake in business model and financials
No matter how delicious the ingredients are, the cake will not come out right unless you have the right temperature, cooking time, etc. Some key metrics to consider:
Business Model. The reason I call this alternative commerce and not e-commerce is that if you sell things online that exist in the offline/online world, you are dead. The margins will continue to drop until you can’t be profitable. Sure, you can try to get a better deal with UPS or FedEx but it won’t matter. You can try to get more margin from the manufacturer but someone will do better. If you’re not Amazon, you will lose. We all learned this with Pets.com in the first version of the web but people don’t remember. If you keep selling widgets that are available at Target or on Amazon you will lose.
Margins. When it comes to new alternative commerce ventures, if you sell product that has low margins, you will fail. Over time, other entrants will enter and your margins will drop even lower. Sell high-margin products (build a brand, have unique channels, offer high margin product). It’s that simple.
Customer acquisition. If you need Google and Facebook to acquire customers you are in a heap of trouble. The “crack” seems really great for a while because of the economics but over time those economics will change. In fact, we have seen they usually flip. If you pay for your traffic, other people will fast follow and that’s a problem.
Customer acquisition cost/lifetime value. When we started investing in alternative commerce 14 years ago, we thought it was a metrics-driven business. It is not – you need a team, killer product and brand. The numbers change the longer you stay in the business. That said, the cost to acquire a customer and the lifetime value of a customer are important.
If your CAC to LTV is 2-4X (i.e. it costs $10 to acquire and it pays back 20-40 before folks churn) don’t keep going. One issue is you need to acquire. The other issue is that you are too close to the sun when acquisition increases. We tend to focus on 5X+ businesses. We may be wrong but I would rather be wrong here.
These are the basic building blocks of my favorite recipe – no secret sauce here. In fact, all of the ingredients for success in alternative commerce are really the same fundamentals that have held true for years when building a business. The good news for new entrants is that the big box retailers are dead or dying. If you want to disrupt them, build an amazing product and brand that solves a real problem for your consumers and reaches them in a creative way. It’s a piece of cake, right?[Image via Shutterstock]
See the rest here: The Alternative Commerce Recipe