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UberPool Lets You Split Uber Fares With Other Passengers Along The Same Route

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In the ongoing war between Uber, Lyft, and all of the other me-too ride-sharing services, competitors are looking for any way they can better utilize their supply of drivers and reduce costs for their riders. Today, Uber is announcing UberPool, a new feature that will let you pick up other riders on the way to your destination and split the bill.

While the feature should do a lot to cut costs for passengers, not everyone will want to ride with a stranger in addition to the driver picking them up; Uber notes that the new feature also serves as a kind of “social experiment.”

Since there’s not much data about how people will react to the new service, Uber isn’t going to release UberPool across every market it serves. The company has begun rolling out a private beta, and starting August 15 a public beta will launch in the San Francisco Bay Area. Uber also notes that the company’s “friends at Google” will be joining the beta as early adopters, as they “share [Uber's] vision of a more energy-efficient world with less traffic congestion and pollution in our cities and are excited to be early adopters of UberPool.” This signals continued cooperation between the companies following Google integrating Uber into Google Maps for iOS and Android.

Getting more riders into a single car to make rides cheaper isn’t exactly a novel idea. In June we covered Hitch, a ride-sharing service whose biggest differentiator from Uber and Lyft was the fact that it tries to use software to maximize the number of passengers in a single car to increase driver utilization and reduce prices for riders.

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Google Adds Bitcoin Price Conversions

One fun Google trick is the ability to type in “5 Euro in USD” and get an acceptably accurate currency conversion in a few seconds. Now, however, you can get your BTC on by simply typing “price of bitcoin” or “X bitcoin to euro.” The feature rolled out yesterday as a reaction to Bing’s addition of BTC pricing in that search engine.

Google partnered with Coinbase to support BTC conversions, according to bitcoin news site Coindesk.

The ability to use BTC in queries follows Google Finance’s addition of a special bitcoin page on the site last June.

It’s one small step for Google, one giant leap for the obsessives who track every single apparent change in Bitcoin adoption.

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Mesosphere Grabs $10M In Series A Funding To Transform Server Management

Mesosphere, a Silicon Valley startup based on the open source Apache Mesos project, announced $10M in Series A funding today.

The funding round is lead by Andreessen Horowitz with help from Data Collective and Fuel Capital. This follows seed funding a year ago of $2.25M  from Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Foundation Capital and SV Angel.

The company wants to change how companies manage resources on servers inside the datacenter, based on the open source Mesos project by essentially allowing you to pool the all of the computing resources in a datacenter as a single machine, thereby distributing resources in a much more efficient manner (as the graphic above illustrates).

According to Matt Trifiro, SVP at Mesosphere, this is possible because of  containerization technology developed by Google. Building on Google’s concept,  Mesos allows system administrators to take complex applications that run at scale and use the resources of the entire datacenter as a single unit inside a container.

As Trifiro explained, this is markedly different from virtual machines, which break a single machine into multiple smaller machines. This has allowed system administrators to run applications in a much more organized manner by using the entire machine. He said that approach worked well when applications were relatively small, but as they got bigger and more complex, one machine, no matter how many smaller machines it was sliced into, was no longer sufficient.

Cloud applications that run at scale actually required the resources of more than one machine. The single container approach lets them use whatever resources they require, but while Mesos has been in production across a number of companies including Twitter, Airbnb, eBay and Netflix, the actual implementation remained highly complex and required skilled engineers to implement.

Mesosphere co-founder, Florian Liebert, say they saw an opportunity to simplify this and started Mesosphere. Among the first products it developed is a tool called Elastic Mesos, which lets system administrators create a fully running Mesos cluster in the Amazon cloud in just three steps, simplifying what had been a highly complex process.

But Trifiro says they won’t stop there. “We are bringing that level of simplicity and management to any target platform, from on-premises/private Ubuntu, Redhat, Debian, etc. to private clouds like OpenStack to public clouds like Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine and Digital Ocean,” he said.

What’s more, regardless of the underlying platform, it’s fault tolerant because if one machine inside the cluster fails, so long as there are available resources, Mesosphere’s product will simply transfer it to another machine without intervention from any human personnel.

The underlying administration tools, let you add different elements such as a web server, a web cache and a Hadoop cluster. In a traditional datacenter, these tools might be spread out across multiple servers in a highly inefficient manner that wasted much of the server capacity (as illustrated in the picture above).

Mesosphere fills up the space on one server before it starts adding applications to additional server space. If a job is running that requires a certain amount of  server resources, it will fill the available resource capacity on one server, rather than simply starting on the next available one.

Mesos was originally developed as a Ph.D thesis by Benjamin Hindman, et. al., at University of California at Berkley. Liebert was working at Twitter when he discovered this research and brought Hindman on board to help solve Twitter’s infamous ‘Fail Whale’ problem where when the servers were pushed beyond capacity, Twitter simply stopped working and displayed the Fail Whale graphic. Twitter open sourced much of the code, which became the Apache Mesos project.

Liebert says his company’s product works for large and small companies alike because it simplifies these highly complex activities and that allows every datacenter, regardless of size, to use its personnel and computing resources much more efficiently.

In addition to Elastic Mesos, they have other products including Marathon for large-scale orchestration, and Deimos for Docker integration

IMAGE BY Mesosphere

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Hugh Howey, Author Of The “Silo Saga,” Talks About Making It Big In Self-Publishing

Hugh Howey is a best-selling Sci-Fi author with a long and interesting pedigree. He’s been a yacht captain, a computer guy and, most recently, a bona fide publishing sensation. His book, the Wool Omnibus, started as a novella on the Amazon Kindle Store and suddenly blossomed into a massive, multi-volume opus that is a #1 Bestseller on Amazon and the winner of Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Book of 2012 Award. It’s been optioned by Ridley Scott and recently appeared in hardcover under the Random House imprint in the U.K.

Plus, he’s a pretty cool guy.

As part of the the Mytro Project on self-publishing for the entrepreneur, I thought I’d ask him a few questions about his books, his writing, and the business of doing it yourself. He was kind enough to oblige.

TC: So the story for you is that things were quiet for you for a long time with your writing and suddenly things ballooned? What happened? Where are you now in terms of sales?

Howey: My writing career took off with the publication of a short story, Wool. But I was happy with my career up to that point. I had been writing and self-publishing for three years. My first six novels had sold around five thousand copies between them, which was far more than I ever thought I would sell. I was getting $100 – $150 in the mail every month, and the amount was creeping up. But then Wool came out, and the sales shot through the roof. 1,000 copies in October. 3,000 in November. 10,000 in December. I wrote four more stories, which turned the short piece into a full novel, and the collected work went to the top of the Amazon charts.

Within months of publishing Wool, I was flooded with emails from agents and people in Hollywood. I had to quit my day job just to handle all the media requests and fan emails. It was insane. I had previously dreamed of being able to work at the bookstore I was helping manage no matter how popular my books became, but that just proved impossible. For the past two years, I’ve been on the road constantly. Wool has been picked up in over 30 countries, and I’ve sold over two million books worldwide. Not what you expect to happen as you’re working in a bookstore and writing stories in your spare time.

TC: Who are you? What inspired you to write Wool?

Howey: I’m a bit of a vagabond. I dropped out of college, where I was studying physics and English, and I sailed off to the islands for a year. I went through a couple hurricanes and had to take on odd jobs to effect repairs to my sailboat. This led to a career as a yacht captain. I did that for the better part of a decade, and then I met my wife and started spending more and more time on dry land. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but I couldn’t get past the first few chapters of any book I started. It wasn’t until I began reviewing books for a crime fiction website that I learned the skill of writing every single day on a deadline. This lesson — plus traveling to book conventions — motivated me to try my hand at a novel, just to be able to say I’d done it.

Wool was my 7th or 8th published work. It’s an idea I’d come up with year earlier, about what it does to us to see nothing but bad news on the TV and in the papers all the time. We live in a Plato’s Cave of sorts, and the shadows on the walls are the worst of what’s behind us. I wanted to write a story about a people terrified of the outside world, where the heroes are the ones brave enough to go out and see for themselves and fight to make the world a better place.

TC: What kind of marketing did you do during those first few weeks and months?

Howey: I didn’t do any marketing for Wool until after it took off. I mean, I didn’t even have a link to the story on my website. I didn’t Tweet about it or Facebook about it. I think I published sample chapters early on, while it was still in rough draft. But nobody was reading my website then (or now, really). I did some stuff for my first novels. I did signings around town, spoke to some classrooms about writing, and I kept up a blog about the writing process. But the best promotion was just to write the next work. And the success came from word of mouth.

TC: What are some current best practices that you’re using to sell books?

Howey: I’m not great at selling books, to be honest. I don’t like asking strangers to check out my works. I find it embarrassing, and I’m just not good at it. My approach is to write stories that I find engrossing and then get them out there. And do it again. The way I use social media is to make myself available to my existing readers, not to win over new ones. I cherish every single reader, and I think that shows. If they enjoy my works, they are the best people to go out and spread the word.

TC: Why self-publish?

Howey: Man, we probably don’t have enough space here. Because I can write whatever I want. I’m working on a children’s picture book right now. I’ve written horror, YA, sci-fi, dystopia, general fiction, literary fiction, fan fiction, you name it. I can publish as often as I want. I don’t have deadlines. I make 70% on my e-books and $4 on my paperbacks (nearly twice what most Big 5 authors make on their hard backs). I can price my works however I want or give them away. I get to publish without DRM, which is a very important stance for me. I can even celebrate people pirating my work and only paying for it if they want. It’s hard to do any of this with a major publisher.

TC: Is traditional publishing dead, dying, or doing just fine?

Howey: It’s doing just fine. Publishers are seeing great profit margins. But that’s because they aren’t paying their authors a fair rate on e-book sales. This could backfire on them in the future. My guess is that we’ll see major publishers move to 50% of net on e-book royalties in order to keep their authors from bolting to self-publishing.

TC: What’s next? Now that you’re well known, how do you keep going?

Howey: I plan to continue publishing at least two works a year, but I want to do other things as well. I’m going to get into publishing in a different way soon. And I’m exploring opening up an independent bookstore.

TC: Very cool. What’s that about?

Howey: It’s a bricks and mortar store. I’m looking at spaces with a real estate agent now.

TC: Is this a full-time business for you now?

Howey: Oh, yeah. It’s all I do.

TC: How did you make it one?

Howey: My goal when I first started out was just to write a single novel. It has been a dream of mine since I was 12. So that was as far ahead as I was looking. But once I knew I could do this, I was hooked. And that’s when I decided I’d make a real go of becoming a full-time writer. My plan was to write for ten years before I judged my sales and earnings. I thought I could publish two works a year for a decade, and then I’d have a library of twenty works to promote. I didn’t waste my time trying to sell that first novel; I just kept writing. And I didn’t stick to one genre; I wrote a wide variety of stories in order to gauge my strengths and interests.

Being patient and having a long view was crucial, I think. I didn’t get discouraged, because I had no expectations. It isn’t like my books go stale. They’re all e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks. They are brand new and always in print, just waiting to be discovered. I firmly believe that if a well-read author commits to honing their craft and writing two novels a year for ten years, they will be able to make a career out of writing. The beauty of self-publishing is that you can give yourself that ten-year chance. You don’t have to rely on being discovered by an agent. You don’t have to waste your time querying and spending the two or three years it can take to get a single book published. And you aren’t limited to the narrow window in which your book will be displayed on a store shelf. You can publish now and publish forever. That’s a huge benefit, one that I recognized very early on.

My one other piece of advice is that you should publish your works as if millions of people will read them. Invest in quality cover art that looks great both in print and on a small online thumbnail. 90% of the bad covers out there are due to horrible font selection. Don’t get fancy; use something big, bold, and blocky. And get help with the editing, even if that means exchanging services with other writers. Don’t be in a rush to publish. Make your work shine.

The rest is here: Hugh Howey, Author Of The “Silo Saga,” Talks About Making It Big In Self-Publishing

Flickr shows it could still be the ultimate home for storing and sharing photos

While I was studying photography in college, Flickr was the best place to store, organize and share photos. Almost everyone with a DSLR used it, poring over photosets and meticulously crafted albums.

As smartphones grew in popularity, casual and professional photographers alike adopted mobile-centric apps such as Instagram. Flickr was slow to recognize this trend, however, and its relevancy slowly faded as the volume of photos captured, edited and shared from mobile devices grew.

I’ve always wanted a superlative service that offers the best of both. A place where I can store and share all of my favorite photos, regardless of whether I’ve shot them on a smartphone, compact system camera or full-frame DSLR.

169138735 730x477 Flickr shows it could still be the ultimate home for storing and sharing photos

Instagram’s success stems from its simplicity, but the platform’s limited presence on the Web makes it difficult to share photos from a traditional camera. Other apps and services offer workarounds, but it’s less than ideal.

I had hoped Google+, with its excellent Auto-Backup service on mobile and extensive photo-storage options on the Web, would become the Flickr and Instagram hybrid I was looking for. In some respects Google has succeeded on that front, although its aspirations to be a broader social network arguably dilute the experience on mobile. For instance, it’s almost impossible to view just photos in a single feed at the moment, similar to Instagram.

Flickr, reborn

Under Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer’s stewardship, Flickr has been making a comeback. It has been a glacial rebirth, but inch-by-inch the renowned photo-storage service has been rethought and modernized.

Last week, the company released new versions of its Android and iOS apps. Both were given a radical redesign, combining the user experience of Instagram with the endless supply of beautiful photos already stored on the Web. Yahoo is one of the first companies to successfully bridge those two worlds and create a single, unified photo-sharing and storage service. A truly platform-agnostic service where everyone’s favorite smartphone and DSLR photos can coexist.

A fresh start

When you first open the Flickr app, you’ll be greeted with a vertical feed for recently uploaded photos. It looks almost identical to Instagram, with square-crop images and prominent icons for resharing, comment and favoriting. Everything is fast, clearly labeled and simple to use.

I suspect many will criticise Yahoo for “copying” Instagram, but personally I don’t have any complaints. The latter cracked the ideal UI for a mobile photo-sharing app, so why shouldn’t Yahoo follow its successful blueprint?

flickr1 Flickr shows it could still be the ultimate home for storing and sharing photos

Moreover, in some ways Flickr actually improves upon the Instagram formula. Although the feed shows each photo as a square-crop, a single tap reveals the original image and pixel dimensions. The transition is seamless so you can quickly bounce between the two as you hurtle down the feed.

Flickr also offers a novel information pane for each photo. In the tapped view – where the original image dimensions are shown – it can be activated by selecting the “i” button in the bottom right-hand corner. Where possible, an illustration of the device is displayed alongside various exposure settings, including aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance.

flickr2 Flickr shows it could still be the ultimate home for storing and sharing photos

It’s an area that Instagram has never delved into, due to the fairly restrictive manual controls available to iOS and Android devices. Inside Flickr, this feature is an important tool to help users differentiate between smartphone shots and those taken with a more serious, standalone camera. That’s not to say one group of photos is more important than the other, but when you pull them together into a single feed it’s just nice to know when curiosity grabs hold.

Unlike Instagram, Flickr supports albums too. The feature is a staple part of its web-based service, but it’s now tightly woven into the mobile experience as well. You can easily organize photos and group them together, or view other people’s collections from within their profile page. It brings a much-needed sense of order and hierarchy to people’s collections.

When multiple images are uploaded and shared, Flickr instantly groups them together in your feed. They appear as a collage, although you can swipe through to see each of them in turn. Photo essays are an established part of photography and Flickr is one of the first mobile apps to appreciate and cater for the format.

Change is afoot

I’ve already witnessed a few promising knock-on effects from the redesigned mobile apps. A revamped set up process gives you the option to follow users that you already know through Facebook and Twitter. In the past, I’ve only used the service to follow inspirational photographers, but this approach encourages a more personal network of friends, family and colleagues.

flickr3 Flickr shows it could still be the ultimate home for storing and sharing photos

Since they arrived on the App Store and Google Play, I’ve connected with a bevy of people on Flickr that, until now, I had no idea were even using the platform. Likewise, I’ve picked up new followers; some of which I know from Facebook and others, presumably, have found me through their Twitter following list. It’s a simple but effective way for Yahoo to rebuild and reinvigorate the community on Flickr. With a flood of new people and photos to interact with, users are more likely to open the app on a regular basis and post new photos of their own.

A long road ahead

Flickr isn’t in a position to dethrone Instagram any time soon. The Facebook-owned photo-sharing service is still incredibly popular and that’s part of its appeal – because so many people open the app on a daily basis, users know their photos will be seen and appreciated by the largest possible audience. Flickr just doesn’t hold that sort of clout just yet.

The editing tools could also be improved, especially in comparison to renowned photo-editing apps such as VSCO Cam and Snapseed. The real-time filters are a nice touch, but most of them are overblown and the modifiers – which you access by swiping vertically on each filter card –can be difficult to grasp.

flickr4 Flickr shows it could still be the ultimate home for storing and sharing photos

Even so, Yahoo has created the foundations for a rich, unified photo-storage and sharing service. Flickr’s mobile apps are now completely different to its website, but that’s entirely the point. Both platforms are fundamentally different, but that doesn’t mean they can’t relate to the same users and content.

It’s been a long wait, but it seems Flickr is finally on the right track again.

Image Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images (2)

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Google Analytics Now Lets You Track Web And App Data In A Single View

Here is a small but important update to Google Analytics: Developers can now create a single reporting view that includes both web and app data. Google says this will help businesses that have multiple digital touchpoints for their users (web, mobile apps, other devices) to better understand them.

Until today, Analytics users had to choose between an app view or web view when they created views. Both options provided a slightly different experience.

Now, no matter how users collect their data (whether on the web or from a mobile app), all of the stats can appear in a single view, which should indeed give businesses an easier way to gain insights from their users’ behavior through Google Analytics. This also means that the current web “Visitor” and “Active User” app metrics are now combined in a single “User” metric.

Instead of talking about “Visits” — which really only makes sense on the web — Analytics now refers to “Sessions” across the service. According to Google, this will give you “a clear and consistent way to analyze and refer to all of your Google Analytics data.”

Users who want to keep their web and app metrics separate will have to filter them in their reporting views.

As part of this update, Google’s analytics.js library for web apps now also includes the ability to track the user’s screen name, app name, app version and exception tracking.

These new features will roll out to all Analytics accounts over the next few weeks.

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Anonymity’s Moment: Secret Is Like Facebook For What You’re Really Thinking

In the mid-90s, it was all about a/s/l. Then a decade later, Facebook conquered the web, becoming the dominant identity provider on the web. Mark Zuckerberg himself once said that having two identities for yourself was a lack of integrity.

But perhaps the pendulum swung a little too far. Not only did Zuckerberg recently concede on his original point, apps centered on ephemerality and anonymity are now the rage.

Secret is the latest.

It’s an app that lets you share thoughts with friends without revealing who you are. It’s like a riff on Frank Warren’s PostSecret project and it shares similarities with Sequoia-backed Whisper, but what makes Secret stand out is that you’re communicating primarily with friends.

So even though you don’t know who is saying what, you have a higher level of curiosity or empathy because they’re likely to be people you know.

“Secret feels like a masquerade ball,” said co-founder David Mark Byttow, who was the lead on Square Wallet before starting the company. “You know who’s on the guest list, but you don’t know who is saying what.”

He said that the point was to share things you wouldn’t otherwise attach to your name. The kinds of things people share on Secret are a little bit more vulnerable, insecure, emotional, sad, goofy or angry than what you might see on Facebook or Instagram, where people are trying to groom images of picture-perfect lives.

When you think about it, yes, it is kind of absurd that people would need a mobile app to be more vulnerable or self-aware with their friends. But Byttow says that Secret creates a very different space for sharing feelings or thoughts than currently exists through other social networks.

“This isn’t necessarily about sharing secrets. It’s about sharing secretly,” Byttow said. “People feel a sense of belonging or validation when we’re all feeling the same things. I hear people’s internal dialogues and they resonate with me.”

A secret can spread to a friends of a friend or a stranger if they attract ‘likes.’ In the app, I’ll see half of the updates come from friends or friends of friends, while others have arrived from Colombia, New York or Wisconsin if one of my friends has liked them.

Byttow and his co-founder Chrys Bader-Wechseler say that the community is surprisingly non-trollish.

“People give each other advice and there’s this camaraderie,” Bader-Wechseler said. “It touches on this fundamental basic human need to relate to others or help them. And you don’t need to have identity to get that fulfillment.”

Each secret is also its own unit. You can’t see a record or history of secrets from any single user, to keep user privacy safe. The company explains more of its privacy safeguards here. Contacts are hashed, so no raw phone numbers or personal details are sent to Secret to match friends to different friends. Metadata for each secret is also stored without referencing any single user.

The company has raised $1.4 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan through their Initialized Capital vehicle, Index Ventures, Matrix Partners, SV Angel and Fuel Capital.

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