While heavily funded companies like Airbnb, Lyft and Uber capture the spotlight as companies that controversially shape city life around transportation and space, cities and their governments have a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes needs too.
That’s the premise behind San Francisco’s entrepreneur-in-residence program, which pairs tech founders with city government workers in everything from the planning department to the transit agency. This is “civic tech,” or software that aids local governments in responding to the needs of their citizens. Think of it as a form of enterprise software for governance.
In San Francisco’s EIR program, six startups voluntarily work alongside city officials for 16 weeks. (No, there isn’t some kind of equity component where the city invests in companies. Entrepreneurs get the benefit of learning first-hand alongside their prospective government customers.)
Six companies showed off prototypes or concepts in City Hall this morning:
Berkeley-based Synthicity would be a pretty cool tool for people who had childhood obsessions with Will Wright’s SimCity. It’s a software tool for urban planners that lets them test all kinds of scenarios on the fly around building heights and setbacks. It factors in existing regulations and market factors that may or may not make a project pencil in financially for developers.
“It’s a complex problem because market forces, regulations and design all interact in very complicated ways with economic, environmental and social impacts,” said Jason Oliveira, a product manager who presented Synthicity. “We ask what the impacts are if height limits are changed, whether rents go up or down, whether construction or financing costs change, whether green space is needed or whether more affordable units are needed.”
The company was founded by UC Berkeley’s current chair of the city and regional planning department Paul Waddell.
MobilePD is an app for city police officers, that lets them pull up interactive crime maps or field interviewing records on the fly.
“Now officers walking around the streets of San Francisco carrying mini-police departments in their pocket,” said the startup’s vice president of business development Jamieson Johnson.”
Birdi is an Internet-of-things detector that measures air quality and poisonous fumes like carbon monoxide. It tracks temperature, humidity along with pollen and particulate counts.
Co-founder Mark Belinsky said that while people perceive outdoor air to be full of pollution like car exhaust, indoor air is usually less healthy.
“Indoor air is often two to eight times more polluted. The question is what can we do about it?” he said.
BuildingEye could be a NIMBYist’s dream (except that’s not the intent.) They’re a software startup that makes permit and noticing information about construction and development easier to discover through a mapping interface.
Indoo.rs worked with the San Francisco International Airport on enhanced navigation and location-based services. They are set to launch an app tomorrow that will help the blind and visually impaired passengers make their way through an airport terminal to their right gate. Indoo.rs’ technology can also be used to take in real-time sensor data about flows of people and congestion through an indoor space.
Lastly, ReGroup worked on emergency group messaging that could give people up to a minute’s notice about an impending earthquake based on sensor data. They worked with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management to create something akin to those federal AMBER alerts that you see on your phone when a minor goes missing. In this case, you’d get a message about an earthquake that sensors have detected tens or hundreds of miles away before it reaches you, giving anywhere from a few seconds to two minutes to find shelter.
85% of the 5 billion people without Internet simply can’t afford data plans. So Facebook’s accessibility initiative Internet.org today launches its Android and web app for the developing world with free data access to a limited set of services including Facebook, Messenger, Wikipedia, and Google Search. It also provides local health, employment, weather, and women’s rights resources.
Internet.org’s app is launching in Zambia before coming to other developing countries eventually, and is a partnership with local carrier Airtel who provides the free access in hopes that Zambians see the web’s value and buy pre-paid data through the app to explore the rest of the Internet. The Facebook Zero has been giving the developing world access to a stripped down version of Facebook since 2010. But this new Internet.org app with other services will be available as a compact, standalone Android app, baked into the Facebook for Android app, or freely available as a mobile website that the feature phones carried by the vast majority of Zambians can access.
Internet.org, Facebook’s partnership with six telecom companies, is also working on drones and satellites to deliver Internet connection infrastructure to the 15% of people who are unconnected because they’re in remote areas with no cellular towers in range. The initiative to get more people on the Internet is sometimes criticized as a Facebook growth tactic masquerading as altruism. In this, Internet.org’s app will in fact grow Facebook by making usage free in Zambia.
But Internet.org product manager Guy Rosen defends the project’s benevolent side by reiterating Mark Zuckerberg’s white papers, telling me that Internet access can have a profound positive impact on the carrier opportunities and education for people in the developing world. “We’re here to build a program that covers more than Facebook so we can accelerate the pace at which people are connecting to the Internet which is 9% a year” says Rosen. “We really want to make that happen faster.”
Internet.org’s app is designed to provide critical services to all Zambians for free, while also spreading awareness of why the Internet is useful and might be worth paying for. The 4.25 billion people who aren’t on the Internet but could be because traditional cellular connections are available fall into two buckets, says Rosen. Those who want the Internet but can’t afford it because data plans are too expensive. And those who don’t fully understand the web. Rosen tells me “a lot of people don’t know what the Internet is. They don’t know what it could do for their lives and livelihood. It’s a vague concept.”
Of course this perspective assumes the Internet is equivocally good for people, which may not be true for all cultures. But the app is designed for people who would want the Internet if they about it and could afford it.
To promote the Internet.org app in Zambia there will be call-outs in the Facebook app, an awareness campaign, and notifications to Airtel subscribers. The country’s residents can then visit Internet.org from their smartphone or browser-equipped feature phone for an entirely free entry point. Alternatively, they can pay for a little data to download the Internet.org app that’s just 800 kilobytes, or the Facebook For Android app where the Internet.org app is baked into a tab.
From these three identical entry points, users can use one of a selection of apps entirely for free. These include:
If Google’s inclusion seems a little odd considering it has its own Internet accessibility initiative Project Loon, know that Facebook tells me content providers in the app don’t need to be official Internet.org partners.
Airtel pays for all this free access. Rosen tells me Facebook and Internet.org don’t pay at all. Instead, the free access acts as an on-ramp to Airtel’s data plans.
If users click through to links outside of these services or use other apps, Internet.org will show users a roadblock screen that warns them they’ll be expending their data plan or need to buy one. Zambians would then go to a local store and top-up with pre-paid credit on Airtel if necessary. The model works because Airtel believes it can earn more money using the free limited access as a loss leader to drive data plan purchases. This works out well for locals, because those who can’t afford these plans get a ton resources at no cost because they’re effectively subsidized by those who can.
Facebook has been offering free access to a stripped down version of its service under the name Facebook Zero since 2010 when it launched with 50 operators in countries around the world. The program has been hailed for driving Facebook penetration in Africa.
In the last six months, though, Internet.org own deals have come to fruition. On last week’s earnings call, Zuckerberg said that “our initial partnerships in the Philippines, Paraguay, and Tanzania have helped around 3 million people connect to the Internet who had no access before.” And back in February at Mobile World Congress, he highlighted how the deals are delivering customers to its carrier partners. Discussing a Filipino Network Globe when he said “what we’re seeing in Globe users is the number of people who are using the internet — the data — was doubled, and Globe subscribers have grown by 25%, so it’s a home run.”
Zuckerberg wrote today that “We believe that every person should have access to free basic internet services – tools for health, education, jobs and basic communication.” That’s powerful stance that could do a lot of good. Still, it is a little scary that Facebook and Internet.org could decide what qualifies as a basic Internet service that should be offered free and what doesn’t. You’ll notice Twitter isn’t on the list. Facebook’s worldwide appeal makes it a valuable ally to carriers who need flagship services to point to for why people should want the Internet. So it gets to call the shots.
If the app is a success in Zambia, you can expect Internet.org will roll it out in other carriers and countries in Africa, Asia, and South America where the same data affordability problem persists. And if Facebook can be one of the first ways people experience the Internet, they won’t forget it as they become full-fledged Internet users. Seems altruism can be a business model.
Refresh, the mobile app that helps make you smarter at meetings, has refined its look and feel in an effort to make its users even more efficient. It’s also launching a web app that will enable users to find out more about the people they’re meeting even when they’re not on the go.
The app officially launched in April to provide mobile dossiers of people that you plan to meet. By connecting with your social networks and email account, Refresh can quickly find publicly available information about the people that you have planned meetings with. Giving those insights into past work experience and interests can be a life-saver for those who hope to stand out from the pack.
With the latest release, Refresh simplifies the information flow that it has created, boiling that information down into sections that can be swiped through. The app analyzes data from more than 100 different sources, and attempts to surface only the most important and relevant information for any given meeting.
Earlier builds of the app provided a scrolling feed of info about a person, but the newest version breaks that down into different sections that can be perused at a glance, depending how in-depth (or not) users want to go. At a high level, though, the app serves to highlight shared contacts and interests between users and the folks they’re meeting with, and also how they got connected.
The app alerts you by push notification or email the key information you need to know ahead of the meeting, so that you’re well-prepared when you walk in. It also lets you take notes about the people that you’re meeting with, so you have them for next time.
The key upgrade in this version of the app, however, is the way in which it simplifies post-meeting action items. That includes the ability to make introductions and connections between contacts and sending emails directly within the app.
In addition to the mobile update, Refresh is launching a new web experience as a complement to the iPhone app. The web version has many of the same features for the contact dossier, enabling users to get the information they need on their smartphone or on their desktop — where, frankly, they are most of the time.
Refresh CEO and co-founder Bhavin Shah acknowledged in an interview that Refresh, like other productivity apps, needs to be available across multiple screens and platforms to be truly useful. “Mobile-first is great but it’s not the entire experience,” he told me.
In addition to web and iOS, the startup is also working on a version for Android, which it hopes to release over the coming months. To reach all those platforms, the company has raised $10 million in funding from investors that include Redpoint Ventures, Charles River Ventures, and Foundation Capital.
Continued here: Refresh Updates Its Mobile Dossier App And Adds A Web View
At O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore., today, Microsoft’s Open Technologies subsidiary announced two new partnerships that bring support for more open source technologies to the Microsoft Azure platform. Developers will now be able to use Azure with Packer.io, for example, a service for creating machine images for multiple platforms from one source configuration. The other service the team now supports is OpenNebula, a tool for managing heterogeneous data center infrastructures.
OpenNebula now supports hybrid cloud deployments on Azure, and existing OpenNebula users — many of which are large telecom firms — can now move their applications to Microsoft’s cloud. They could, of course, use Microsoft’s own Azure tools to manage these deployments, but many of these users have made deep investments in OpenNebula already. It’s worth noting that Amazon and a number of other cloud vendors already support this service on their platforms.
“We believe in the coexistence of the private and public cloud, and all the team is excited about giving the OpenNebula users using the hybrid model the possibility of on-demand access to a leading cloud provider like Microsoft Azure,” said Rubén S. Montero, Chief Architect of the OpenNebula project in a statement today.
As for Packer, Microsoft will soon allow developers to create their customized images (including on Windows Server), save them to Azure’s blob storage and then quickly launch them from there. While this may sound like a replacement for the likes of Chef and Puppet, Microsoft notes that it actually plays together nicely with these technologies.
As Doug Mahugh, Microsoft Open Tech’s lead technical evangelist, and Robin Bender Ginn, a senior technical evangelist at Open Tech, told me earlier today, Microsoft OpenNebula’s existing users look at Azure as a virtual datacenter that they can now move to if they choose to move away from their existing solutions.
Microsoft argues that these two new partnerships complement the work Open Tech is already doing in the cloud space. As Mahugh told me, the team is constantly looking at what developers are interested in and how it can support them. Right now, that’s containers (and virtualization in general), for example, so Open Tech teamed up with Google and others to bring support for Kubernetes, Google’s technology for managing Docker containers, to Azure.
For many people, the fact that Microsoft does open source still comes as a bit of a surprise, but as Open Tech launches more of these projects, this surprise is slowly making way for acceptance. Open Tech now has a rotating group of over 200 engineers who work on a large variety of projects, and their contributions are clearly starting to make a difference in how Microsoft is perceived in the open source world.
“A few years ago, the news was that we were at these events [like OSCON],” Mahugh said. “Now, that’s not news anymore. Now people want to know what we’ve been doing lately.”
Six months after its launch, award-winning iPad app Storehouse has formed a strong community of storytellers, including the likes of GQ Germany, RTÉ, and its most recent participant — National Geographic.
Just a few hours ago, National Geographic posted its first story about its Your Shot meet up. Your Shot is a program from National Geographic that brings photographers together to share their photos and get feedback from the editors at the magazine.
While individual photographers such as Jim Richardson from National Geographic have been using the iPad app for a while, the magazine joining Storehouse shows that it sees a potential in the storytelling app.
Mark Kawano, CEO and co-founder of Storehouse, said print publications like National Geographic are inspirations for what started Storehouse.
“This story is really just the story of a meet up they had in Brooklyn … they said they’ve been experimenting with this platform for a whole bunch of different stories,” he said.
Kawano said since the launch, the most interesting aspect of seeing Storehouse kick off is seeing how people use it. Some people see it as a great business tool, while others use it to share recipes or restaurant reviews.
Last week, the company redesigned the website from a static page describing the app to actually showcase stories created by community members.
If Storehouse moves to a another platform, Kawano said it will come to the iPhone, and said that the company doesn’t have plans at the moment to move to Android.
IMAGE BY Oresti Tsonopoulos (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)
Continue reading here: National Geographic Experiments With Storehouse
Xiaochang Li is the cofounder of Somaware, an eyes-free, ears-free, hands-free wearable navigation device. This post is part of the Lessons Learned series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way.
One of the first things I noticed when my co-founder, Mike, and I began speaking to people about tactile navigation devices was how just about everyone had ideas about what (and whom) they could be useful for.
It was encouraging, of course, to see that people not only understood what we were trying to do, but also found the idea compelling enough to begin imagining their own scenarios for how it might be used. And admittedly, I was a bit taken by the thrill and novelty of that kind of immediate comprehension and enthusiasm.
As a PhD student, I’m more accustomed to polite nodding and the occasional glazed expression when I try to describe my work to people outside my field.
But, in trying to go from a cool concept to a functioning company, we needed to narrow down who our customers are and how they would use our tool. Yet, the more we talked to people, the more the use cases seemed to proliferate. Figuring out our unique use case, and by extension our customer, quickly became a top priority in our customer development research.
During our customer interviews, we began to track, differentiate and categorize various use cases, such as different kinds of cycling habits, activities, preferences, and environments, hoping to find a pattern. While we uncovered some great insights that will certainly influence design and functionality of our device, we were still failing to identify anything that resembled a clear signal.
Interest remained scattershot, and it began feeling like a whole lot of noise.
Over time I began to realize that thinking of the customer as an extension of a use case was the problem. We had become so focused on figuring out the use case that we were reducing our customers to their activities and attributes — the surface data.
We had to get beyond the visible traits and behaviors to the social factors that shaped their key ideas, values and priorities. In other words, we didn’t need to look more closely at the customer. We needed to look from their vantage point and understand how they see themselves.
This is, of course, far easier said than done, but through our mistakes and the advice of those around us, I’ve picked up a few helpful tactics for getting into your customer’s mindset:
When conducting customer interviews, it’s easy to assume you know what the customer means when they say something is interesting, or frustrating, or useful and so on, particularly since many of our product ideas come from challenges we face ourselves.
Instead of assuming familiarity, imagine yourself as an alien: smart and curious enough to manage interstellar travel, but completely lacking any kind of context for what everyday life is like for your customer. Asking your customer to explain what they mean, even (or especially) when it seems obvious often leads to great insights.
For instance, one of our best discoveries about what our customers needed came out of asking cyclists what they meant when they said they looked for “pleasant” roads. Asking them to elaborate on that single word led to the understanding the detailed criteria they have for evaluating streets and how it’s underserved by most mapping apps.
Finding out things that surprise you is great, but one of the best pieces of practical interviewing advice I’ve ever received was to ask our customer what they found surprising about something they did or used.
Surprises are informative because they reveal assumptions and expectations that are, by definition, deeply ingrained and largely invisible. In the same way that we only become aware of the electrical grid when there’s a blackout, asking your customer what didn’t happen as expected can tell you about the assumptions that make up their mindset.
Customers are, in a way, kind of like television genres. Over time, we’ve developed a lot of standard categories for defining them, such as demographics.
But genres aren’t authoritative categories; they’re habits. There’s no reason TV shows have to be grouped as police procedurals or soap operas. You could just as easily decide to define a genre based on shows that take place in Chicago.
Similarly, with your customers, sometimes you have to step back and ask yourself if you’re defining them by the most relevant characteristics. If you thought your customers were young and urban, but discovered that interest is popping up across all kinds of age and geographic groups without any kind of pattern, maybe you’re defining the genre wrong. Maybe your customer is actually people who like small dogs.
In general, what I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that in order to get into my customer’s frame of reference, I have to step out of my own, and let go of a lot of the habits and assumptions I’ve built up over time.
Here is the original post: Getting beyond the use case: How to get the most out of customer interviews
Telling your senator how to vote is as easy as “liking” a Facebook picture, thanks to a new app from the creators of TV streaming service SideReel.
Countable, available for iOS and coming to Android soon, presents a succinct summary of each piece of legislation Congress is considering, along with a short one-sentence argument in favor of the bill or against it. You are then able to vote “yay” or “nay.” When you are logged in through Facebook, Countable can automatically generate a message and send it to your representatives based on your location.
Countable also keeps track of how the lawmakers vote and then informs you how your representatives’ votes stack up to your own, generating “compatibility rankings.”
Co-founders Bart Myers and Peter Arzhintar came up with Countable when trying to figure out their next move after selling SideReel in 2011. Myers said they wanted to move away from TV and into something Myers said was more meaningful. As they brainstormed ideas, they kept coming back to one.
“We kept coming back to the disconnect that the American people feel with their representatives, that disconnect that we felt ourselves,” Myers says. “We decided to take a new bent at it … create a product where … what my representatives are doing can basically be made bite-sized, pushed to me like updates from our friends pushed through Facebook.”
And browsing the app’s colorful interface feels a lot more like swiping through friends’ pictures than wading through pages of lengthy bills. Countable’s team, which includes writers and consultants with experience in both the Democratic and Republican parties, has prepared short summaries and explanations that are easy to understand. Myers says the app allows users to go as deep into an issue as they want, linking to media coverage and the full text of the bill.
But will the Millennial generation, which the media constantly paints as uncaring and distrustful of political institutions, actually use it? As a college student myself, I’m a little skeptical. But Myers thinks making the political process a “continual conversation,” rather than something that only comes up in election years could make a difference.
“That’s the key thing about what drives people to vote is why should I?” Myers said. “We can basically build that narrative of you and your representative are alike or not alike, or you should support them or one of their opposing candidates.”
As Myers told me, although there are hundreds of apps for one entertainment function or financial tool, there are very few apps related to political engagement. The closest to Countable is probably iCitizen, which has a similar layout and allows users to support or oppose legislation. But Countable takes that a step further. Although iCitizen lets you see how other people are voting, share your vote on social media or see how your representatives are voting, it doesn’t facilitate contact with lawmakers.
Countable is planning a push on college campuses this fall, and is still assessing how it can use social media to attract new users.
Right now, sharing on Facebook that you voted on a piece of legislation in Countable is optional. Myers tells me it’s a tricky area for them to navigate due to the political nature of Countable. He wanted to respect users’ privacy who don’t want their political views automatically broadcast to Facebook or Twitter. When you share, you share only that you voted, not how you voted. He said he could see Countable eventually adopting features that would allow users to discuss policy within the app.
Myers says Countable is just getting started, making a value proposition to its users. Eventually Myers says he expects Countable to use custom advertising, similar to Facebook or Twitter, within the app. He said the app could also gain profits by becoming white label platform, where advocacy groups like the Sierra Club could pay to push constituents to a specific policy or policymaker.
Original post: Countable Wants To Make Politics A ‘Continual Conversation’
It’s Hardware Alleyin’ time and we want to see you in San Francisco for Disrupt SF 2014, our annual celebration of all things startup. It’s a great time. You get to meet great funders and VCs, and I’d love to meet you. Hardware is my favorite thing in the world and you’re some of my favorite people.
What is Hardware Alley? It’s a celebration of hardware startups (and other cool gear makers) that features everything from robotic drones to 3D printers. We try to bring in an eclectic mix of amazing exhibitors and I think you’ll agree that our previous Alleys have been roaring successes.
We’d like you to register as a Hardware Alley exhibitor. You’ll get to exhibit on the last day of Disrupt SF, September 10 (or take a full, three-day package), to show off your goods and get access to some of the most interesting people (and most interesting VCs) in the world.
All you need to demo is a laptop. TechCrunch provides you with: 30″ round cocktail table, linens, table-top sign, inclusion in program agenda and website, exhibitor WiFi, and press list.
You can reserve your spot by purchasing a Hardware Alley Exhibitor Package here.
If you are Kickstarting your project now or bootstrapping, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “HARDWARE ALLEY.” I will do my best to accommodate you.
Hope to see you in SF!
Excerpt from: It’s Hardware Alley Time!
Dashlane has introduced new features for its desktop password manager that allows you to share passwords with other Dashlane users.
A tool specifically designed to help you share something that you’re always told not to share might seem a bit strange at first, but there are plenty of good reasons you might want to share a password, or a whole bunch of passwords, with a group of people. New starters in the office, for example, are often given numerous passwords to get up and running.
By using Dashlane’s new ‘Sharing Center’, you can automatically share lists of passwords or secure notes with specified people via email and control the level of access that they have. However, they’ll need to be Dashlane users too – quite obviously passwords aren’t just emailed across. It’s all done safely within the confines of Dashlane’s client.
To keep things up-to-date, if a password is changed after being shared, the change syncs to all users. This makes it handy if you need to change passwords for a shared service regularly, or need to effectively revoke access when a member of staff leaves.
The update has also introduced an Emergency Contact option which allows you to specify a certain person (or people) to have read-only access to passwords you specify in the event of an emergency.
Small businesses or families also now have the option to buy multiple licenses at once, making things a bit more simple in the event that you’re not the only Dashlane user in your house.
Clearly, with a number of new features aimed at small teams and group pricing plans, Dashlane now wants to now start making its overall proposition more appealing to small businesses as well as family users.
The new features are available now in Dashlane for desktops and will be made available for its Android and iOS apps “soon”, the company said.
Google is teaming up with Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis – specifically its Alcon eye care division – to bring its smart contact lens to market. Originally unveiled in January, the futuristic lens analyzes the user’s tears to consistently monitor blood glucose levels.
Google[x], the team known for its work on ‘moonshot’ projects within Google, will now collaborate with Alcon to develop the lens further. The final product will require “non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics” to work accurately and seamlessly at all times.
Although diabetic patients are the target market, Google and Alcon said the “smart lens” technology could also offer vision correction for people living with presbyopia – a condition that makes it difficult to focus on near objects.
“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” Google’s Sergey Brin said. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”
Go here to see the original: Google teams up with Novartis to develop its smart glucose-tracking contact lens for diabetics