Big Auto Doubling Down on Big Data

Source: ZDNet.com

Ford’s new CEO eyes software, tech stack as differentiator vs. rivals

New Ford CEO Jim Farley’s plan for the automaker includes a heavy dose of software and services for its commercial vehicle business as well as new consumer experiences to drive loyalty.

Why It’s Hot // The convergence always-on connection and data commercialization brings a world of new opportunities to marketers and brands seeking to redefine their businesses – while also adding fuel the the fiery debate about the trade-offs between privacy and personalized experiences.

Tech and the future of transportation: From here to there

Ford, which is in the middle of a turnaround of its core business, is trying to navigate a shift to electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles as well as an industry that is increasingly more about software. Farley takes over for Jim Hackett, who streamlined the automaker over the last three years.

Farley outlined a series of leadership changes and a plan that includes “expanding its commercial vehicle business with a suite of software services that drive loyalty and recurring revenue streams” and “unleashing technology and software in ways that set Ford apart from competitors.”

In addition, Ford is looking to develop connected vehicles and create new businesses from the Argo AI self-driving system.

Ford is also looking for a new CIO as Jeff Lemmer is retiring Jan. 1. His successor will lead Ford’s technology and software platform.

The tech strategy from Farley lands after a Sept. 16 investor presentation by Kenneth Washington CTO. Washington outlined the connectivity required from smart vehicles in the future that will include 5G, satellites and edge, cloud, and fog computing.

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Washington added that Ford has hired more than 3,000 advanced computing experts to work on the tech stack and surrounding technologies including things like smart cities, mobility services, edge computing, and analytics.

ford-tech-stack.png

He said:

If you were to tear down a future Ford, say, 10 years from now, the biggest difference you’d see is that the software, compute and sensing services are being serviced by a central compute module. And that’s really important because that’s more like we’re accustomed to seeing with the smartphones and the smart devices that we surround ourselves in our homes with every day. So this design that you would see would enable us to really leverage the power of high bandwidth connectivity that happens around the vehicle.

In the future, vehicle changes will be handled with updates via software and algorithms instead of hardware, said Washington. These updates would start with software, but design of electrical architecture as well as shared memory and power systems for various zones of the vehicle would be critical.

Other key points about Ford’s tech stack include:

  • Ford uses QNX, Autosar and Linux to develop is operating system and tech stack.
  • The automaker builds on top of that OS with middleware from its internal software team.
  • In 2020, Ford began equipping most of its redesigned vehicles with the ability for advanced over-the-air updates.
  • The data from those updates on vehicles like the F-150 and Bronco will help Ford iterate.
  • There are 5 million Ford connected vehicles in the field today.
  • Ford sees opportunities in services to optimizes Ford fleets for small business owners.

LA star chefs re-imagine the drive-thru for the fine-dining set

Ten of L.A.’s most beloved restaurants will come together to serve diners—in a way that you’ve never experienced them before, designed with COVID precautions in mind.

In partnership with American Express® Gold Card, Resy is transforming the exterior of the Hollywood Palladium into a whimsical labyrinth, which you’ll drive through to visit each restaurant pop-up. Don’t worry about leaving your car; each dish will be handed to you at each local restaurant’s pit stop. -Resy

Restaurants have had to reinvent themselves during Covid, with fine dining hit particularly hard since its value prop comes largely from the atmosphere and experience it creates, which is very difficult to replicate under covid restrictions.

From Fast Company:

The restaurant industry has been pummeled by the pandemic, prompting a wave of creative new dining ideas across the country, from bars offering carry-0ut cocktail mixes to pizzerias transforming into produce stands. Now, 10 well-known Los Angeles chefs are joining forces in an ambitious new experiment.

On October 15 and 16, restaurant tech platform Resy is hosting a 10-course drive-through dinner at the Hollywood Palladium catered by these chefs that could be a model for bringing high-end restaurants back to life. “This could be done in any city,” says Mei Lin, chef and owner of Nightshade. “It would require organization and logistics, but it’s possible.”

The event, called the Resy Drive Thru, is sponsored by American Express. Diners will stay in their cars and move through a track made up of 10 stations, where they’ll be served one course prepared by each of the 10 restaurants.

Guests will be served food in single-use containers and given a tray to eat on, which is theirs to keep. Each car will have its own designated waiter who will guide them through the process. (All event personnel will wear gloves, masks, and face shields; they’ll also be tested for COVID-19 before they arrive at the event, and will have their temperature taken at the door.) The entire experience costs $95 per person, and can be purchased in groups of up to four in a single vehicle. There is room for 600 guests over two nights.

It was obvious from the start that it wasn’t possible to mimic the charm or elegance of a dining room, but this project prompts chefs to think outside the box.ng

The dining industry is currently being devastated by COVID-19, particularly restaurants that don’t have pandemic-friendly options, like outdoor seating or take-out and delivery. The sector has already lost $120 billion and is expected to reach $240 billion by the end of the year. More than six million jobs have been permanently cut.

Why it’s hot: Fine dining is all about having a special experience that rises above the typical and the common. It’s interesting to see how these fine dining restaurants are trying to achieve that proposition during covid, and how they make — and sell — a unique experience to potential guests.

Source: Fast Company

Life Beyond the Cookie

With 3rd-party slowly-but-surely going the way of the dodo, the drive for marketers to develop data strategies that accelerate 1st-party data growth and utilization is fast becoming an existential imperative.

WHY IT’S HOT:  Relationships and Relevance will matter more than ever, as marketers of all shapes and sizes strive to survive and thrive in a fundamentally changed world. (From “nice-to-have” to “mission-critical”)

From Digiday:

‘Re-architecting the entire process’: How Vice is preparing for life after the third-party cookie

Vice Media Group pulls in 57.5 million global unique visitors a month, according to Comscore; Vice itself says it has a global audience of “more than 350 million individuals.” But only a minority of those users are logged in at any time. With third-party cookies soon to be obsolete and Apple clamping down on the free-for-all sharing of mobile IDs, Vice’s first-party data strategy aims to improve its registration process and double down on contextual ads.

In the latest example of bolstering its first-party data offering for advertisers, Vice Media Group is using a new tool from consumer reporting agency Experian and data platform Infosum.

That tool, Experian Match, those companies say, offers publishers more insights on their audiences without needing to use third-party cookies or requiring users to log in. In turn, they can offer advertisers more precision targeting options.

“What interests me the most is that there’s so much bias within data — for example, proxies to get into the definition [of an a target audience on an advertiser brief],” said Ryan Simone, Vice Media director of global audience solutions. “We are looking to eliminate bias in every instance. If a client says ‘this specific … group is what we are looking for,’ we can say on Vice — not through the proxies of third-party data or other interpretation’ that product A [should target] this content, this audience [and that’s] different from product B. It’s a much more sophisticated strategy and re-architecting the entire process.”

Publishers provide a first-party ID, IP address and timestamp data, which is matched with Experian’s own IP address and household-level socio-demographic data. This initial match is used to create the Experian Match mapping file, which is then stored in a decentralized data “bunker.” From here, all matching takes place using InfoSum’s decentralized marketing infrastructure, with publishers creating their own private and secure ”bunkers” and advertisers doing likewise, so individual personal customer data is never shared between publishers and advertisers.

Privacy and security were important considerations before committing to use the product, said Paul Davison, Vice Media Group vice president of agency development, for international in statement. But, he added, “Those concerns are solved instantly as no data has to be moved between companies.”

As for login data, Vice’s user registration process is fairly basic and doesn’t offer users much explanation about the benefits they will receive if they do so. Updating that is a work in progress, said Simone.

“There will be a lot more front-facing strategy” for encouraging sign-ups, he said. “We are looking to create greater value …. for our users.” (The company also collects first-party data through newsletters and experiential events, such as those held —pre-covid, at least — by Refinery29.)

Vice has worked with contextual intelligence platform Grapeshot long before it was acquired by Oracle in 2018. Beyond offering advertisers large audiences around marquee segments like “fashion” or “music,” Vice has begun working more recently to open up more prescriptive subsegments — like “jewelry” for example.

“People are scared to send out smaller audiences — but I’d rather provide something that’s exact. Opening that up provides greater insights,” especially when layered with first-party data sets gleaned through partnerships like Experian and Infosum, said Simone.  Vice might not have a wealth of content around high fashion, for example, but consumers of a particular fashion house might still visit the site to read about politics or tech.

“Contextual has evolved and with the absence of the third-party cookie it’s all the more significant,” said Simone.

Publishers’ biggest differentiating features for advertisers are their audiences and the context within their ads will sit, said Alessandro De Zanche, founder of media consultancy ADZ Strategies.

“If they really want to progress and be more in control, publishers need to go back to the basics: rebuilding trust with the audience, being transparent, educating the audience on why they should give you consent — that’s the very first — then building on top of that,” De Zanche said.

“With all the technical changes and privacy regulations, if a publisher doesn’t rebuild the relationship and interaction with its audience, it will just be like trying to Sellotape their way forward.”

Rent your wardrobe through Wardrobe

Clothing has seen some grand shifts over time. First we had retail that churned new styles every season to churn more every season then mid season. Then fast fashion brands come onto the scene to accommodate the ever wanting consumers eye to flip social media looks. Then we realized how completely unsustainable that was.

So then renting wardrobe became a thing with Rent the Runway and Haute Look. And thrifting is a blast from the past now current future trendy thing to do as we up-cycle our way to a better environment. (Which is secretly not that much better but it is better than buying from Zara). Sustainability is a hot topic, from all the emissions we have spewed out to get it. And from fashion it requires answers like Rent the Runway, Le Tote, Vince Unfold and many others, including now, Wardrobe.

Wardrobe is a, launched last year in NYC growing national, peer to peer clothing rental service.

Wardrobe has users take their “extra high quality” clothes from their own closets, and rent them out to other people. Once someone has rented an item from your closet, it goes to a dry cleaning facility, where it’s cleaned and then sent to the renter. After the item is worn, it’s returned to local dry cleaners to then clean and house there.

This is different from other renting brands as it’s entirely community based and relies on local dry cleaners to help ensure part of a consumer worry which is cleanliness and hygiene. Wardrobe doesn’t have to house any inventory, or create and maintain the worlds largest dry cleaning facility, (Rent the Runway). As the Dry cleaners are the ones holding on to, and shipping out each clothing piece.

Although not revolutionary to the game as Tulerie offers the same peer to peer clothing rental service. They do require an interview before you can fill your closet with other peoples clothes. No word on dry cleaning and cleanliness.

What makes Wardrobe different is that they don’t leave it to the users to send out items and maintain it’s hygiene. Reliability from someone looking to rent out their clothes as a side gig becomes difficult to maintain and then whether or not the clothing item was taken to a dry cleaner was harder to pin down. Wardrobe took this into their own hands, and brought this tricky part in house. And owners of the clothes maintain their ownership, and possibly end up selling it on another platform. Which Wardrobe hopes to take in house in the future.

Why it’s hot:

With Covid, consumer mindset has shifted to be geared towards community, locality, and transacting for purpose.

Wardrobe is apart of that larger conversation of sustainability and living in excess, but then relies on local businesses to upkeep. It seems like a win, win, win, win. You aren’t just apart of a community, you’re apart of an ecosystem of reuse, that aids in a locally driven business, serves your want, and by serving your want you are apart of solving a problem.

Source: Fast Company

What won’t Amazon know about us…?

Amazon Announces a New Fitness Tracker

Amazon’s new fitness band adds body fat, movement, sleep and mood to the mountain of data Amazon is amassing. Whether streaming on Amazon Prime, shopping on Amazon.com, buying groceries at Whole Foods, Amazon is ready to…errrr…help?

Why it’s Hot – The increasing convergence of our digital and analog lives is brining the questions of privacy and data sovereignty to the forefront, while also creating new potential opportunities for marketers (just think about what a partnership between Microsoft and Walmart to buy TikTok could mean).

From The Verge:

mazonAmazon is getting into the health gadget market with a new fitness band and subscription service called Halo. Unlike the Apple Watch or even most basic Fitbits, the Amazon Halo band doesn’t have a screen. The app that goes along with it comes with the usual set of fitness tracking features along with two innovative — and potentially troubling — ideas: using your camera to create 3D scans for body fat and listening for the emotion in your voice.

The Halo band will cost $99.99 and the service (which is required for Halo’s more advanced features) costs $3.99 per month. Amazon is launching it as an invite-only early access program today with an introductory price of $64.99 that includes six months of the service for free. The Halo service is a separate product that isn’t part of Amazon Prime.

The lack of a screen on the Halo band is the first indicator that Amazon is trying to carve out a niche for itself that’s focused a little less on sports and exercise and a little more on lifestyle changes. Alongside cardio, sleep, body fat, and voice tone tracking, a Halo subscription will offer a suite of “labs” developed by partners. They’re short challenges designed to improve your health habits — like meditation, improving your sleep habits, or starting up basic exercise routines.

The Halo band “is not a medical device,” Amazon tells me. As such, it hasn’t submitted the device to the FDA for any sort of approval, including the lighter-touch “FDA clearance” that so many other fitness bands have used.

The Amazon Halo intro video | Source: Amazon

THE HALO BAND HARDWARE

TheThe Halo Band consists of a sensor module and a band that clicks into it on top. It’s a simple concept and one we’ve seen before. The lack of a display means that if you want to check your steps or the time, you’ll need to strap something else to your wrist or just check your phone.

The three color options for the Halo Band
The three color options for the Halo Band
 Amazon
Amazon will sell lots of different band styles and colors
Amazon will sell lots of different band styles and colors
 Amazon

The band lacks increasingly standard options like GPS, Wi-Fi, or a cellular radio, another sign that it’s meant to be a more laid-back kind of tracker. It has an accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a heart rate monitor, two microphones, an LED indicator light, and a button to turn the microphones on or off. The microphones are not for speaking to Alexa, by the way, they’re there for the voice tone feature. There is explicitly no Alexa integration.

It communicates with your phone via Bluetooth, and it should work equally well with both iPhones and Android phones. The three main band colors that will be sold are onyx (black), mineral (light blue), and rose gold (pink-ish).

There will of course be a series of optional bands so you can choose one to match your style — and all of them bear no small resemblance to popular Apple Watch bands. The fabric bands will cost $19.99 and the sport bands will be $15.99.

Amazon intends for users to leave the Halo Band on all the time: the battery should last a full week and the sensor is water resistant up to 5ATM. Amazon calls it “swimproof.”

But where the Halo service really differentiates itself is in two new features, called Body and Tone. The former uses your smartphone camera to capture a 3D scan of your body and then calculate your body fat, and the latter uses a microphone on the Halo Band to listen to the tone of your voice and report back on your emotional state throughout the day.

Halo’s body scanning feature, which calculates body fat percentage.
Halo’s body scanning feature, which calculates body fat percentage.
 Amazon

BODY SCANS

BodyBody scans work with just your smartphone’s camera. The app instructs you to wear tight-fitting clothing (ideally just your underwear) and then stand back six feet or so from your camera. Then it takes four photos (front, back, and both sides) and uploads them to Amazon’s servers where they’re combined into a 3D scan of your body that’s sent back to your phone. The data is then deleted from Amazon’s servers.

Halo scans your body with four photos
Halo scans your body with four photos
 Amazon video

Once you have the 3D scan, Amazon uses machine learning to analyze it and calculate your body fat percentage. Amazon argues that body fat percentage is a more reliable indicator of health than either weight or body mass index. Amazon also claims that smart scales that try to measure body fat using bioelectrical impedance are not as accurate as its scan. Amazon says it did an internal study to back up those claims and may begin submitting papers to peer-reviewed medical journals in the future.

Finally, once you have your scan, the app will give you a little slider you can drag your finger on to have it show what you would look like with more or less body fat.

Halo uses AI in Amazon’s cloud to create the 3D scan and calculate body fat percentage
Halo uses AI in Amazon’s cloud to create the 3D scan and calculate body fat percentage
 Amazon video

That feature is meant to be educational and motivational, but it could also be literally dangerous for people with body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia, or other self-image issues. I asked Amazon about this directly and the company says that it has put in what it hopes are a few safeguards: the app recommends you only scan yourself every two weeks, it won’t allow the slider to show dangerously low levels of body fat, and it has information about how low body fat can increase your risk for certain health problems. Finally, although anybody 13 years of age and up can use the Halo Band, the body scan feature will only be allowed for people 18 or older.

Halo listens to your voice and guesses at your emotional state
Halo listens to your voice and guesses at your emotional state
 Amazon video

TRACKING THE TONE OF YOUR VOICE

TheThe microphone on the Amazon Halo band isn’t meant for voice commands; instead it listens to your voice and reports back on what it believes your emotional state was throughout the day. If you don’t opt in, the microphone on the Band doesn’t do anything at all.

Once you opt in, the Halo app will have you read some text back to it so that it can train a model on your voice, allowing the Halo band to only key in on your tone and not those around you. After that, the band will intermittently listen to your voice and judge it on metrics like positivity and energy.

It’s a passive and intermittent system, meaning that you can’t actively ask it to read your tone, and it’s not listening all of the time. You can also mute the mic at any time by pressing the button until a red blinking LED briefly appears to show you it’s muted.

Amazon is quick to note that your voice is never uploaded to any servers and never heard by any humans. Instead, the band sends its audio snippets to your phone via Bluetooth, and it’s analyzed there. Amazon says that the Halo app immediately deletes the voice samples after it analyzes it for your emotional state.

It picks up on the pitch, intensity, rhythm, and tempo of your voice and then categorizes them into “notable moments” that you can go back and review throughout the day. Some of the emotional states include words like hopeful, elated, hesitant, bored, apologetic, happy, worried, confused, and affectionate.

We asked Amazon whether this Tone feature was tested across differing accents, gender, and cultures. A spokesperson says that it “has been a top priority for our team” but that “if you have an accent you can use Tone but your results will likely be less accurate. Tone was modeled on American English but it’s only day one and Tone will continue to improve.”

The Halo app’s main screen
The Halo app’s main screen
 Amazon

DATA PRIVACY

BothBoth the Body and Tone features are innovative uses of applied AI, but they are likely to set off any number of privacy alarm bells. Amazon says that it is being incredibly careful with user data. The company will post a document detailing every type of data, where it’s stored, and how to delete it.

Every feature is opt-in, easy to turn off, and it’s easy to delete data. For example, there’s no requirement you create a body scan and even if you do, human reviewers will never see those images. Amazon says the most sensitive data like body scans and Tone data are only stored locally (though photos do need to temporarily be uploaded so Amazon’s servers can build the 3D model). Amazon isn’t even allowing Halo to integrate with other fitness apps like Apple Health at launch.

Some of the key points include:

  • Your Halo profile is distinct from your Amazon account — and will need to be individually activated with a second factor like a text message so that anybody else that might share your Amazon Prime can’t get to it.
  • You can download and delete any data that’s stored in the cloud at any time, or reset your account to zero.
  • Body scans and tone data can be individually deleted separately from the rest of your health data.
  • Body scans are only briefly uploaded to Amazon’s servers then deleted “within 12 hours” and scan images are never shared to other apps like the photo gallery unless you explicitly export an image.
  • Voice recordings are analyzed locally on your phone and then deleted. “Speech samples are processed locally and never sent to the cloud,” Amazon says, adding that “Tone data won’t be used for training purposes.”
  • Data can be shared with third parties, including some partners like WW (formerly Weight Watchers). Data generated by the “labs” feature is only shared as anonymous aggregate info.
Halo’s activity tracker does more than count steps
Halo’s activity tracker does more than count steps
 Amazon

ACTIVITY AND SLEEP TRACKING

TheThe body scanning and tone features might be the most flashy (or, depending on your perspective, most creepy) parts of Halo, but the thing you’ll likely spend the most time watching is your activity score.

Amazon’s Halo app tracks your cardio fitness on a weekly basis instead of daily — allowing for rest days. It does count steps, but on a top level what you get is an abstracted score (and, of course, a ring to complete) that’s more holistic. Just as Google did in 2018, Amazon has worked with the American Heart Association to develop the abstracted Activity score.

The Halo band uses its heart monitor to distinguish between intense, moderate, and light activity. The app combines those to ensure you’re hitting a weekly target. Instead of the Apple Watch’s hourly “stand” prompts, the Halo app tracks how long you have been “sedentary.” If you go for more than 8 hours without doing much (not counting sleep), the app will begin to deduct from your weekly activity score.

Halo’s sleep tracking feature
Halo’s sleep tracking feature
 Amazon

The Halo band can automatically detect activities like walking and running, but literally every other type of exercise will need to be manually entered into the app. The whole system feels less designed for workout min-maxers and more for people who just want to start being more active in the first place.

Speaking of heart tracking, the Halo band doesn’t proactively alert you to heart conditions like a-fib, nor does it do fall detection.

The Halo band’s sleep tracking similarly tries to create an abstracted score, though you can dig in and view details on your REM sleep and other metrics. One small innovation that the Halo band shares with the new Fitbit is temperature monitoring. It uses a three-day baseline when you are sleeping and from there can show a chart of your average body temperature when you wake up.

The Halo Band’s sensor array
The Halo Band’s sensor array
 Amazon

HALO LABS, PARTNERSHIPS, AND THE SUBSCRIPTION

Finally,Finally, Amazon has partnered with several third parties to create services and studies to go along with the Halo service. For example, if your health care provider’s system is compatible with Cerner, you can choose to share your body fat percentage with your provider’s electronic medical records system. Amazon says it will also be a fully subsidized option for the John Hancock Vitality wellness program.

The flagship partnership is with WW, which syncs up data from Halo into WW’s own FitPoints system. WW will also be promoting the Halo Band itself to people who sign up for its service.

There are dozens of lower-profile partnerships, which will surface in the Halo app as “Labs.” Many of the labs will surface as four-week “challenges” designed to get you to change your health habits. Partners creating Labs range from Mayo Clinic, Exhale, Aaptiv, Lifesum, Headspace, and more. So there might be a lab encouraging you to give yoga a try, or a set of advice on sleeping better like kicking your pet out of your bedroom.

Amazon says each Lab needs to be developed with “scientific evidence” of its effectiveness and Amazon will audit them. Data crated from these challenges will be shared with those partners, but only in an aggregated, anonymous way.

Virtually all the features discussed here are part of the $3.99/month Halo subscription. If you choose to let it lapse, the Halo band will still do basic activity and sleep tracking.

In charging a monthly subscription, Amazon is out on a limb compared to most of its competitors. Companies like Fitbit and Withings offer some of the same features you can get out of the Halo system, including sleep tracking and suggestions for improving your fitness. They also have more full-featured bands with displays and other functionality. And of course there’s the Apple Watch, which will have deeper and better integrations with the iPhone than will ever be possible for the Halo band.

Overall, Halo is a curious mix. Its hardware is intentionally less intrusive and less feature-rich than competitors, and its pricing strategy puts Amazon on the hook for creating new, regular content to keep people subscribed (exercise videos seem like a natural next step). Meanwhile, the body scanning feature goes much further than other apps in directly digitizing your self-image — which is either appealing or disturbing depending on your relationship to your self image. And the emotion tracking with Tone is completely new and more than a little weird.

The mix is so eclectic that I can’t possibly guess who it might appeal to. People who are more serious about exercise and fitness will surely want more than what’s on offer in the hardware itself, and people who just sort of want to be a little more active may balk at the subscription price. And since the Halo band doesn’t offer the same health alerts like fall detection or abnormal heart rate detection, using it as a more passive health monitor isn’t really an option either.

That doesn’t mean the Halo system can’t succeed. Amazon’s vision of a more holistic health gadget is appealing, and some of its choices in how it aggregates and presents health data is genuinely better than simple step counting or ring completion.

We won’t really know how well the Halo system does for some time, either. Amazon’s opening it up as an early access program for now, which means you need to request to join rather than just signing up and buying it.

Babe Wine & Bumble find a quarantine niche

What meaningful role can a dating app and a wine brand both play in the lives of those going through a Covid breakup? They can be those two dependable besties, one who pours you a drink and says they always hated your ex, while the other tells you you’re better off and helps you move your things. This seems to have been the insight behind the brand collaboration of Babe Wine and Bumble, who have offered people a chance to have their move-out costs covered (plus a Babe Wine gift-card and a free Bumble profile) by being tagged by a IRL friend — who thinks you really could us a pick-me-up during your covid-breakup woes — in the comments on Babe Wine’s Instagram.

 

From Mobile Marketer:

Babe Wine, the brand of sparkling canned wine owned by AB InBev, is working with women-first dating app Bumble on a social media campaign to cover the moving costs of people who are stuck living with an ex during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an announcement shared exclusively with Mobile Marketer.

To win a chance to have their moving costs covered by Babe and Bumble, users of photo-sharing app Instagram can tag themselves on the “moving on” post on Babe’s @drinkbabe account. The brand will choose five winners from the comments who appear to be “turning their breakup into a glow up,” per the announcement.

Babe and Bumble created a flyer showing a mock moving company named “B&B Movers” that touts its services, including moving furniture, removing all traces from an ex from a smartphone and tailoring a Bumble profile to get back into the dating scene.

The stunt is most likely to reach the 75% of U.S. consumers ages 18 to 24 and the 57% of people ages 25 to 29 who use Instagram, as measured by Pew Research Center. Those consumers helped to drive a 79% surge in off-premise sales of canned wine to $163 million for the 12-month period ended in June, per Nielsen data cited by Forbes. The growth in canned wine indicates how younger consumers are seeking convenience and value consistent with their easy-drinking style, Wine Spectator reported.

From Marketing Brew:

The dating app and AB InBev wine brand are offering to cover moving costs (and more) to turn five breakups into glow ups via an Instagram giveaway.

The prize? Not having to quarantine with your ex anymore, plus wine and a new Bumble profile.

Price of entry? Commenting on B&B’s Instagram post about the campaign.

Find a friend: Like any relationship, it’s important to make sure your partner isn’t your competitor. Bumble and Babe swiped right because they sell different things to similar audiences.

Go hard on cobranding: Bumble’s outline font, meet Babe Wine’s high-performing brand colors. Even B&B’s cobranded moving van now provides brand equity for both partners.

Provide more than cash: In addition to covering $600 worth of moving fees, Babe & Bumble promote their products by offering a $100 Babe gift card and a “hand tailored” Bumble profile as prizes.

Why it’s hot:

Right time, right product, right message. The lighthearted and encouraging copy is just what the recently heartbroken are looking for, as well as a moving company and some wine in a can to drown their sorrows.

Leveraging IRL friends. Asking friends to nominate someone who needs some “love” helps draw a connection from the brand into the sphere of someone’s actual friend. Psychologically, this feels a little like community, and that’s just what you’re desperate for when you’ve just broken up.

“Brand as friend” is strong with this one. Babe Wine is was built on social media, so a campaign on social that drives interaction has them very in their element, and every comment reply offers them an opportunity to reinforce their brand identity. Fun Fact: Babe Wine was co-founded by The Fat Jew, someone who knows a thing or two about social media marketing.

Source: Mobile Marketer, Marketing Brew

What is in a name?

The first step to know anything, is know the name of it.

What is in a name? Why does Destiny’s Child command you to say it?

Names are an indicator of value.

When someone knows your name, you probably know them. If you go to a store enough and they know your name, and others can imply you’re probably there all the time, this translates into better interactions because you are then valued.

Pronunciations are an indicator of knowledge.

There are approximately 1001 ways to butcher a name, and most of us have heard ours sliced and diced in a few ways. If not your first name, then probably your last. I know my own knife is pretty sharp at times. Albeit, a forgivable mistake, but when someone gets it right, doesn’t it feel like they get you a little bit better? You’re astounded, taken back a little, you probably think, How did they know that? 

The difference between knowing a fashion brand like Vetments by name and knowing it’s pronounced – (Vet-Mo). Knowing Louis Vuitton and knowing it’s pronounced (Loo-wie V-wo-ee-to). You become closer to the brand.

Ignorance is not bliss.

On the other hand when someone does get it wrong, depending on the person, it can spark quite negative emotions and can be quite triggering for some. Henrich Heins – a German poet in his 1839 autobiography goes in depth about his name and all of the emotions he felt at one point or another. He says, “…there is something unpleasant in having one ‘ s name mispronounced . Some people are made very angry by it.” (Him being one of them but don’t worry in his older age he came to terms with it.)

Where would this value matter most?

Places like job interviews where you need to show your skills or that you’d be a fit employer or employee. You are showing off you value the person by knowing their name, knowledgeable by pronouncing the name correctly and bonus points of memorable if they have a difficult name. If someone knows how to say your name, you can skip the apologies, awkward acceptances, or glazing over the you-already-told-them-how-to-say-your-name-but-they-still-get-it-wrong-after-anger and get to showcasing all your skills.

LinkedIn Pronunciations

LinkedIn has had for a long time the option to phonetically enter your name in so people would know how to say it. They will now be rolling out a new feature where you can upload a 10 second audio clip of you saying your name.

There are a plethora of ways that using someones name can enhance conversation. It’s direct and it’s personal, it’s not Hey! it’s Hey Chantelle! You are engaging them to speak, you are showing them you value them, and know them. And you are nominating them to engage with you, in a personal and direct way, vs the Hey which is impersonal. (Social Science & Conversation Analysis by Harvey Sacks) We see this in email marketing as well, seeing an email addressed to you is more attractive than one that doesn’t include it.

Source: The Verge

Why it’s hot:

A place for personalization that enable better and more valuable social interactions.

What if

When you placed an order to a store, and you actually got in the store they knew how to pronounce your name when you got there.

What if this was a security measure? To access an account you have to pronounce the name.

What if you pronounced your name when you call a customer service number, and they answered with the correct pronunciation of your name?

A Revamped Online Shopping Experience- Yeezy Supply

Returns are painful. 

I’ve recently been thinking about returns and the increase of shopping online due to retail locations not being readily available. Returns are pretty painful in store but online, they are even more so. Not only because they are not immediate but you have more to keep up with. No surprise but people return more when shopping online than in-store.

Because online experiences are lacking. 

Long have we searched for a ways to combat returns from online sales. (A link to Ben’s previous return post here.) There is video content of the model in the clothing items, reviews from fellow shoppers, Instagram influencers, and content like YouTube Try-On Hauls.

These additives have not abolished the need to get just a little bit closer to seeing, feeling and trying the clothes on in person, albeit retailers/brands have inched closer with those additions. Consumers long for an in-store experience with and online stock room.

We turn to enhance the online experience. 

Carlings “Neo-Ex” digital clothing collection – Clothes that are for the sole purpose of buying and photo shopping on your body in photos. This focuses on the need to buy just for a photo, to break away from the norm.

Snapchat AR – Ability to use the filters and to impose products on your body before you buy. (A post about Adidas/Snapchat collab by Lisa here.) This focuses on the try-before-you-buy and promotional aspect of the internet.

Everywhere but their own sites.

Every online buying experience is the same, looking at clothes on a mostly static model, and scrolling through pages of poses. Enter Yeezy Supply website. A different way to shop, a video-game-esque way to buy your ‘elevated basics’.

Choose a model. These aren’t just your regular models. They have a story, and have done something to better their community. They are nurses, firefighters, and public school teachers. Along with different body shapes that you can then choose.

This unto its own I think speaks to the introspection that I’ve been seeing more and more. These people aren’t a deemed extravagant ideal, they are beautiful for substantive and meaningful reasons. Essential heroes that we can respect because of their story and we can connect to physically. In this video game we are them, we aren’t a cartoon or a model.

Dress yourself, I mean the model. The clothes scroll through your 3D model and you choose what you want to see them in. After a choice is made, your model vanishes out of frame in a transport-like fashion, then walks back into frame in the choice you have made.

Ability to mix and match clothes that you would wear or pair on your own. There is control here, no stylist needed to bring about the ideal pairing. You are your own stylist, as you are one in your own room.

Information can be gathered on the product by hovering and choosing the ‘i’ icon.

This answers a few concerns and closes the gap on seeing a more realistic view of product but also simultaneously creating a memorable online experience with a story that melds into your own.

Is this realistic for everyone?

This is very expensive to do. The old layout works because its available and usable for everyone in almost every browser. The ability to handle traffic and show the product is easier on this type of model.  What is still unclear is how the Yeezy Supply site will handle users scrolling through and what check out will look like, and how fast users will be able to adapt to this different layout.

Why it’s hot:

Bringing human to the shopping experience.

Connecting through a story, with a body that may not be a size 00.

Better visualization of product. A ‘3D’ realistic view of clothes on a body similar to yours.

And because it is a ‘3D’ view, it changes an experience that may last but also aids in a business problem, like returns. You’re able to visualize and see a article of clothing.

Source: FastCompany

 

 

 

Twitter gets into the voice game

Select Twitter users on iOS will now be able to upload voice files in addition to traditional text, image and video files. This gives users more options to interact while getting into the voice space.

Interestingly, this could make it harder to moderate content, but I’m sure AI will fix all of that.

Why It’s Hot
It’s hot if the feature is based on user needs and it will be interesting to see how Twitter power users integrate voice in their tweets. But I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t catch fire.

Google releases Action Blocks for people with disabilities

Google released a new tool called Action Blocks for people with cognitive and motion disabilities. The system allows users and their caregivers to add Assistant commands to the home screen of Android phones and tablets. Each command is represented by a custom image and it can be controlled with just one tap. For instance, when a user taps an Action Block icon of a cab, the system might order a rideshare.

 

Also worth mentioning that Google has also improved its Maps apps to show if businesses or public venues have accessible entrance. When enabling this feature, you can see a wheelchair icon next to the location.

Why it’s hot: Embracing the diversity trend goes beyond race and gender. With something like 630 million people having some form of cognitive disability, this is not a niche group and it’s great that Google is providing services that ‘level the playing field’ for them.

Self care as a video game

What if there were something that could help snap you out of your rut, be it a temporary funk or actual, clinical depression? And what if this something were designed to make doing good things for yourself as addictive as a video game? That’s the premise of The Guardians: Unite the Realms, a new app developed by the Affective Computing group at MIT Media Lab.

Out now for iOS and Android, it’s a free game, modeled after character collection games like Pokémon and Skylanders (though without any fighting). Instead of urging you to spend money on microtransactions as most of these games do, The Guardians urges you to spend effort on yourself. If you want to progress in the game, you have to invest in your own well-being.

The data shows that people who are depressed don’t want to use self-improvement apps (only about 3% will complete a regimen in these apps). At the same time, people with severe depression still play games as much as people who aren’t experiencing depression, making gaming a promising avenue for introducing mental health interventions.

Over years of both formal study and informal play-testing in the lab, lead platforms engineer at the Affective Computing group and game director for the Guardians Project Craig Ferguson morphed the app into what it is today – a fantasy land filled with magical animals that attempt to take their world back from an evil villain. Last September, he got tired of the research and started thinking about releasing something—even something still unproven—to help people battling depression. Then with COVID-19 trapping so many of us at home, he made the choice to publicize what was done.

That release, while a fraction of what the game will be in the future, he says, can still take months to complete, and it’s presented with as much glitzy animation and character design as you’d find in any high-end mobile app.

When you load the game, a big button glows and bounces in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, reading “new adventure available.” This is essentially a good-for-you button, because each adventure is focused around the phenomenon of “behavioral activation.” Behavioral activation is a proven therapy that can be used casually or clinically for depression. It gets people to partake in positive experiences rather than spending time doing the things that reinforce their own damaging behaviors. And there are dozens of options to choose from.

Some suggested adventures are practical, such as knocking things off your to-do list that might otherwise cause anxiety: Manage finances. Vacuum. Do Laundry. Others help you grow: Watch an online class. Write a poem. Read a classic. And others help you stay active: Spend time in nature. Learn a new dance. Or, my personal favorite, Jazzercise for 20 minutes. You are also completely free to make up your own adventure, and repeat it whenever you’d like.

Why it’s Hot:

With so much content promoting self care and wellness during shelter-in-place, wellness can begin to feel like a chore. This is especially true for people who struggle with depression, where even small tasks can feel unmanageable. This app helps to make those small tasks fun and purposeful (albeit in an imaginary game). With a mental health crisis looming on top of our current physical health crisis, it’s interesting to see an app that tackles this very serious situation in a seemingly light-hearted way.

Source

Self-destructing communal journal lures users to interact

A basic site This Website Will Self Destruct, created by artist Femme Android allows users to send an anonymous message into the void in order to keep the website alive. It’s been live since April 21, 2020.

Because the site tends to attract the lonely and despondent, there is a “Feeling Down?” button that links the user to mental health services.

Fast Company:

You can choose to leave your own note. Or you can merely observe, hitting the “read a message” button to see what others have posted, while leaving it to others to save the website from imminent annihilation. A death counter on top of the page refreshes every time someone posts something new, which, by my estimation, was happening about once every 5 or 10 seconds.

Like Post Secret, This Website Will Self-Destruct feels refreshingly Old Internet because, if nothing else, they are each equal parts gimmicky and sincere. This Website Will Self-Destruct offers an anonymous place to express yourself in a world where social media thirst traps and virtue signaling has trumped innocent and earnest discourse alike. It requires no subculture of rules to understand like a Reddit message board, no esoteric platform-specific memes like on Twitch, no subtweet agenda of the day to unpack like on Twitter, and no autoplay force-feeding you the next piece of content like on YouTube.

No, This Website Will Self-Destruct is just a website. It’s a place to jot down some thoughts, have a two-second laugh or cry, and kill some time until nobody cares about it anymore. And that moment that its purpose has been served, don’t worry—it’s happy to see itself out.

Why it’s hot:

It’s an interesting phenomenon, that just using the site: reading a note, or posting something silly (or sincere) makes one feel connected and part of a bigger, benevolent community with a shared goal.

The nature of the site (self-destructing if no one posts) activates our desire for continuity, compelling us to act.

Source: Fast Company

NBA and ESPN bring lofi games of HORSE to the fans via Zoom

The NBA has given basketball fans something to hold on to while the season has been cancelled due to Coronavirus. Using Zoom, ESPN and the NBA put on a HORSE tournament with players shooting hoops from their own back yards or at local courts.

The viewership is not as high as games, but it’s still around half a million for many of the matches and the 1 – 1 nature of the game could provide a wealth of content to keep fans engaged until the next season begins.

From Fast Company:

For the NBA, which suspended its 2019-2020 season on March 11, the challenge has been to keep fans interested and engaged.

Since then, the league has launched a number of new content initiatives, all under the umbrella of “NBA Together.” Those include Instagram Live sessions with star players, a new interview stream with broadcaster Ernie Johnson on the league’s Twitter feed, posting practice drills for young players stuck at home, new programming on NBA TV that has players commenting on classic games, and more.

But last Sunday, the league took its experimentation a step further, teaming with ESPN to take the big leagues to the playground with a televised pandemic version of H-O-R-S-E. The tournament started with eight players that span current stars from the NBA and WNBA, as well as a few retired legends, and was whittled down to four semifinalists playing for the crown on Thursday. Aside from bragging rights among the players, as part of the game league sponsor State Farm is donating more than $200,000 to COVID-19 response efforts.

Paul Benedict, the NBA’s associate VP of broadcasting content management, said, “I think it’s forcing everyone, not just in sports and entertainment, to approach things differently given the limitations, and to approach things more efficiently,” says Benedict. “The countless number of Zoom calls we’ve been on, you just have a different mindset when you approach collaborative efforts like these. H-O-R-S-E was a scaled-down production in some ways, but a massive effort in others that required quick thinking, split-second decision-making, and a lot of cooperation across the board. I think we’re going to come out as a league better from this, stronger, and more collaborative. It’s a great building block.”

Why it’s hot:

It’s interesting that the Zoom format gives a more intimate experience with the players than what you’d get with a typical ESPN broadcast. How will this change what fans expect of players and of ESPN content in the long run?

This format gives players the opportunity (or obligation) to connect on a different level with their fans, one where personality is perhaps taking on a bigger role.

Source: Fast Company

Relationships in the times of COVID-19: Facebook rolls out Tuned, an app for couples.

Facebook has quietly released a new messaging app for couples called Tuned, the latest app to debut from an experimental group within the company that was established last year.

Tuned lets two people send each other text and voice messages, along with photos and songs, after adding each others’ phone numbers. The app was recently made available for download in Apple’s App Store in the U.S. and Canada, according to the app research firm Apptopia. Tuned bills itself “a private space where you and your significant other can just be yourselves,” although it adheres to Facebook’s data policy, which allows for the collection of communications and other behavior to inform ad targeting.

Source: The Information

Why it’s hot: 

The Tuned app comes during a very interesting time for couples. Couples that live together are spending every waking moment in each other’s presence in the midst of quarantine and could probably never have less of a need for an app like this. For couples that don’t live together, there’s more of an appeal, as people are emboldened to build out digital toolsets to stay close with their partners during an unprecedented time.

Continue reading

Quarantine can’t keep Thao & The Get Down Stay Down down

From The Verge (emphasis mine):

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Oakland-based band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down had a problem. Their plan to shoot a music video for their single “Phenom” was abruptly canceled as shelter-in-place orders rolled in. The band, crew, and dancers could no longer meet up in person, and they were faced with a decision: put everything on hold or figure out a way to make the music video remotely. “At first we didn’t know if we would even release the song because it’s about people unifying,” Thao tells The Verge. “So it was never an option for me to shoot the video solo.” But then her manager had an idea. What if they shot the music video entirely within Zoom?

Featuring Thao alongside eight dancers, the “Phenom” video went from concept to completion within a week. There was one pre-production meeting, one five-hour rehearsal, and one shoot day, all of which took place on Zoom. “If we were going to do such a thing and commit to it,” says Thao, “we had to do it really quickly because it is so of the moment.”

Why it’s hot:

It’s cool to see creative people using the medium of the moment (video conferencing) to create art in a short amount of time. It goes to show that what’s most important is not having the highest production value, but connecting with your audience.

Using Zoom as a medium places the viewer in emotional proximity to the band, making them relatable, but the creative approach to choreography within the Zoom frames heightens the medium from mere communication to the level of art.

Source: The Verge

Hands-free@Home

COVID-19 pandemic pushing sales of voice control devices

Sales of voice control devices are expected to experience a boom in growth, thanks to people being locked down and working from home. This is also expected to fuel growth in the broader ecosystem of smart home devices – as instructions to minimize contact with objects that haven’t been disinfected, make things like connected light switches, thermostats and door locks more appealing than ever.

Why It’s Hot:  A critical mass of device penetration and usage will undoubtedly make this a more meaningful platform for brands and marketers to connect and engage with consumers.

With so many millions of people working from home, the value of voice control during the pandemic will ensure that this year, voice control device shipments will grow globally by close to 30% over 2019–despite the key China market being impacted during the first quarter of 2020, according to global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research.

Woman Preparing Meal At Home Asking Digital Assistant Question

Last year, 141 million voice control smart home devices shipped worldwide, the firm said. Heeding the advice to minimize COVID-19 transmission from shared surfaces, even within a home, will help cement the benefits of smart home voice control for millions of consumers, ABI Research said.

“A smarter home can be a safer home,” said Jonathan Collins, ABI research director, in a statement. “Key among the recommendations regarding COVID-19 protection in the home is to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas,” such as tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, and sinks.

Voice has already made significant inroads into the smart home space, Collins said. Using voice control means people can avoid commonly touched surfaces around the home from smartphones, to TV remotes, light switches, thermostats, door handles, and more. Voice can also be leveraged for online shopping and information gathering, he said.

When used in conjunction with other smart home devices, voice brings greater benefits, Collins said.

“Voice can be leveraged to control and monitor smart locks to enable deliveries to be placed in the home or another secure location directly or monitored securely on the doorstep until the resident can bring them in,” he said.

Similarly, smart doorbells/video cameras can also ensure deliveries are received securely without the need for face-to-face interaction or exposure, he added. “Such delivery capabilities are especially valuable for those already in home quarantine or for those receiving home testing kits,” Collins said.

He believes that over the long term, “voice control will continue to be the Trojan horse of smart home adoption.” Right now, the pandemic is part of the additional motivation and incentive for voice control in the home to help drive awareness and adoption for a range of additional smart home devices and applications, Collins said.

“Greater emphasis and understanding, and above all, a change of habit and experience in moving away from physical actuation toward using voice in the home will support greater smart home expansion throughout individual homes,” he said. “A greater emphasis on online shopping and delivery will also drive smart home device adoption to ensure those deliveries are securely delivered.”

The legacy of COVID-19 will be that the precautions being taken now will continue for millions of people who are bringing new routines into their daily lives in and around their homes and will for a long time to come, Collins said.

“Smart home vendors and system providers can certainly emphasize the role of voice and other smart home implementations to improve the day-to-day routines within a home and the ability to minimize contact with shared surfaces, as well as securing and automating home deliveries.”

Additionally, he said there is value in integrating smart home monitoring and remote health monitoring with a range of features, such as collecting personal health data points like temperature, activity, and heart rate, alongside environmental data such as air quality and occupancy. This can “help in the wider response and engagement for smart city health management,” Collins said.

Source: TechRepublic

Experience Virtual Travel from Yosemite to Amsterdam with These Livestreams

Virtual Travel: Webcams activated around the world are giving millions of shut-ins access to new ways of keeping cabin fever at bay. A low-fi solution for people facing bandwidth challenges, or burned out on Netflix.

Why It’s Hot: In a world where people are disconnected from one another in so many ways – unified by a common tragedy, but primarily “seeing” one another through the lens of news media – it’s nice to nice to have real, unfiltered reminders of the amazing and beautiful things that are still out there, connecting us all to one another.

As more cities around the world feel the effects of the coronavirus and government shutdowns, virtual travel is becoming more of a necessity. Cities and hotels around the world are opening up webcams, so you can tap into life far, far away from your own home. These live streams let you see Hawaii’s oceans, Croatia’s islands, Tokyo’s streets, and Kenya’s highlands (among others) in real time, making it even easier to picture yourself in far-off places. So grab a plate of your favorite food, snuggle up in your comfiest chair, and get ready to virtually visit some seriously beautiful destinations.

Sydney, Australia

Easily one of the higher-quality videos on this list, Webcam Sydney provides a gorgeous livestream of the Sydney Harbour. You can easily spot the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay, and The Rocks in the panoramic shot; make sure to sneak a peak when the sun goes down (which is about when the sun comes up in the U.S.) to see the harbor’s glittering nighttime lights.

Watch the livestream here.

Northern Lights, Canada

Trying to spot the elusive Northern Lights usually involves camping out in the cold in the middle of the night, desperately hoping for perfect weather and conditions (and even then it still might not happen). This Northern Lights webcam in Manitoba, Canada, makes the process much easier, letting us watch the night sky from the warmth of our homes. If the idea of waiting for a spark of light on your computer screen is still too much effort, the site also shows a highlights reel and lets viewers post screenshots of their findings.

Watch the livestream here.

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Possibly the most famous fountain in the world, the Trevi Fountain is a Baroque masterpiece depicting Neptune atop a chariot pulled by sea horses. The Roman landmark is typically surrounded by masses of tourists, but currently sits quiet thanks to Italy’s nationwide lockdown. The resulting livestream really shows off the fountain’s design—and it’s strangely relaxing, too.

Watch the livestream here.

Yosemite Falls, California

The Yosemite webcam is one of our favorites. It streams the 2,424-foot-tall waterfall’s top section, Upper Yosemite Falls, in its scenic, roaring glory. The peak flow occurs in early summer as the snow starts to melt, but it’s looking pretty awesome right now.

Watch the livestream here.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is on display, thanks to a live webcam.

Getty

Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda

Sailboats, yachts, sunsets: What more could you want while stuck at home? This webcam gives viewers an all-encompassing look into the waterfront life of Bermuda‘s historic Royal Naval Dockyard, which is still used to house cruise ships, museums, and artsy shops.

Watch the livestream here.

CN Tower, Toronto

Get sweeping views of Toronto from this webcam located on top of the CN Tower, the city’s tallest—and most iconic—landmark at 1,815 feet. You can switch between east- and west-facing cameras, letting you see Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands, the Royal Ontario Museum, and much more.

Watch the livestream here.

Hvar, Croatia

The country’s most popular island for nightlife and yachters, Hvar is also Croatia’s sunniest spot. Luckily for those of us stuck with cramped quarters and cloudy weather, the Croatian island offers a 24/7 panoramic webcam showing off its port and the Pakleni islands in the distance. The view is especially gorgeous during sunrise and sunset.

Watch the livestream here.

Thailand

Thailand has just about everything we’re craving right now: Beautiful beaches, rich culture, and some of the most luxurious resorts on the planet. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has a live stream view conveniently located on YouTube, where people can take a look at a number of Thai destinations (arranged in a tidy collage) from the comfort of their home.

Watch the livestream here.

Cancun, Mexico

The beach is the main attraction at NIZUC Resort & Spa, located on the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. Anyone craving some waves and sunshine can now tune into the resort’s live webcam, which offers a perfect shot of the shoreline and stretches of water.

Watch the livestream here.

Shibuya Crossing, Japan

The Japan National Tourism Organization is currently encouraging people to satisfy their wanderlust remotely, with virtual experiences showcasing the best of the country. Our favorite is the Shibuya Crossing webcam, which overlooks Tokyo’s busiest intersection. It’s not quite as crowded as usual these days, but it’s still pretty crowded by current social-distancing standards—you might even end up grateful for your quarantine situation after watching the “Shibuya scramble” for a few seconds.

Watch the livestream here.

Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing is usually packed with pedestrians.

Getty

Kauai, Hawaii

Bring some real-time Hawaiian surf into your living room, courtesy of rental company Great Vacation Retreats. Their webcam faces the popular PKs surf break on Kauai, showing off the island’s natural landscapes among the killer waves.

Watch the livestream here.

Niagara Falls

While most of Niagara’s tours and visitor facilities are closed (on both the Canadian and U.S. sides), the surrounding state parks and trails are still open—for now, at least. But if you want to practice true social distancing, we recommend checking out the Niagara Falls live webcam, presented by the Hilton Fallsview Hotel in Ontario. The sound of the crashing water is pure white noise bliss, and the camera’s aerial view is better than what you’d see in person.

Watch the livestream here.

Dam Square, Amsterdam

Like many major cities around the world, Amsterdam has closed its attractions, restaurants, and bars to curb the spread of COVID-19. We love this webcam of Dam Square (the city’s hopping central spot), which oscillates to provide great shots of the area’s streets, sculptures, and stunning architecture. And if you’re feeling really lonely, there are still a few residents strolling around.

Watch the livestream here.

Central Kenya

Situated in the highlands of central Kenya, the Mpala Research Centre is a 48,000-acre “living laboratory” that welcomes scientist and researches from around the globe. Their webcam provides a 24/7 feed of one of the watering holes on their property, where you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot hippos, leopards, zebras, and more at any given moment. (I’m watching three very hungry giraffes as I type this.)

Watch the livestream here.

Wildlife webcams, multiple locations

Do you want even more action in your livestream life? Be sure to check out our compilation of wildlife webcams around the world, showcasing elephants in South Africa, endangered gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and tons of sea creatures in zoos and aquariums. The eerily hypnotic sea jelly cam at California’s Aquarium of the Pacific is a personal favorite.

Water ATM’s in Rural India

How Piramal Sarvajal is using IoT to tackle safe drinking water issue for rural India

“Water is wealth; water is life. Without water, life would not endure, and access to freshwater and sanitation is a basic fundamental right of humans.”

Having said that, the availability of freshwater is still a significant challenge in India, especially in rural areas. According to reports, 25 million people in India lack access to safe drinking water, and rural Indian women waste 700 hours annually collecting water. It is also estimated that by the year 2025, almost more than half of the urban population of India will live in water-stressed areas as this precious commodity is becoming scarce rapidly.

In this context, Piramal Sarvajal is committed to leveraging innovative technology to create easy access to safe drinking water in rural areas. Seeded by the Piramal Foundation in 2008, Sarvajal has been working in the water space to provide clean drinking water in the far-flung rural regions of India.

Even today, three-quarters of India still drink unfiltered water, which, in turn, leads to diarrheal deaths and permanent fluorosis. To change this, Sarvajal founder Anand Shah created a program to achieve low-cost scalable solutions serving “safe water for all.”

Why it’s Hot: (In case you’re not sure if you want to read the loooong case study.) This is a really innovative convergence of technology, data and business model – aligned to solve a pervasive public health challenge, which negatively impacts the lives of millions of people every day. Interesting perspective, as we collectively consider ways in which clients might respond to the current global public health challenge.

A Mission To Provide ‘Water For All’

Water scarcity has been a global issue; however, Piramal Sarvajal believed that the problem is multidimensional, and therefore the solutions had to be locally suited. Additionally, the voluminous nature of water, coupled with its vulnerability to contamination demanded a localised and efficient purification-cum-distribution system. While many well-intentioned NGOs have tried to implement charity-based water delivery solutions, these ventures have not proven financially sustainable over time. And therefore, the need of the hour was to apply business thinking to solve public service delivery problems.

In recent years, decentralised solutions for community-level drinking water installations have achieved significant success in creating safe water access, even in remote rural areas. Serving large enough numbers at affordable prices leads to financial sustainability while creating a local entrepreneurial ecosystem. A market-based, pay-per-use model aims to democratise drinking water access and achieve operational break-even by selling drinking water to the community at affordable prices. Piramal Sarvajal has been at the forefront of developing technologies and business practices in the safe drinking water sector that are designed to ensure sustainable solutions in both rural and urban deployment conditions. Sarvajal created a business model that operates at community levels to provide decentralised drinking water solutions to underserved communities.

Challenges

During its inception, Piramal Sarvajal had their first version of its purification unit, which had no governance-based technology involved, and all the operations were done manually. Since the initiative was bound to be a multi-location affair, distributed operations posed a severe challenge to efficiently and cost-effectively managing the project. Besides, generating sufficient demand meant breaking existing taboos around buying water by educating consumers about water-health linkages was also a challenge. Sarvajal’s team, therefore, innovated a solution that could be customised for the water contamination profile of any location with pioneering remote monitoring technology. It also invested in community awareness activities while tapping into local entrepreneurial drive and resources by adopting a franchise model.

The company used to charge to the franchisee, based on the volume of water purified by our unit. Although there was a mechanical flow meter installed in the unit that used to measure the volume of water purified by our unit, every month, a person had to go to the field to note down the reading from each unit. This process, therefore, used to take about two weeks to complete the round and collect the data. This manual reading process created a delay in the billing cycle. Additionally, they noticed some tampering with water meters at various locations, which indeed is a separate challenge altogether. To resolve these, Piramal Sarvajal explored applying cloud-based technology in order to create a smooth process by using sensors for the measurement of vital parameters like quantity, quality, pressure etc.

Water ATMs: Automated Water Dispensing Units

The company started its technological journey using the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) with sensors and Human Machine Interface (HMI), which were attached with the PLC. “PLC-based automation has helped us in automating the unit’s operation and in remotely managing and monitoring the purification unit from our centralised location,” said Anuj Sharma, the CEO of Piramal Sarvaja. “Due to the fast-paced changes in PLC technology, we needed to update our software frequently. This triggered the design of our own, micro-controller based, control unit.”

Being the first organisation in India to develop the Water ATM, Piramal Sarvajal, operated the project in collaboration with a local entrepreneur or the local panchayat and community-based organisations to create sustainable livelihood opportunities within the chosen community. These cloud-connected and solar-powered WaterATM dispenses purified water 24×7. Villagers were issued RFID cards for collecting water, and these cards have a pre-paid balance, which can be recharged periodically as per consumption pattern. The RFID card gave the consumer the convenience of taking water anytime, anywhere across connected ATMs in a given location of flexible litres.

The IoT enabled technology installed at the purification level, ensuring the quality of every drop dispensed and supported oversight management on a real-time basis, while remotely managing locations for better governance. “The dispensing solution via Water ATM not only helps us manage and monitor user-level data but also supports targeted subsidies and variable pricing to support equitable and sustainable solutions at the last mile,” said Sharma.

The adoption of IoT technology for remote monitoring of the units helped the company in bringing transparency in operations across every transaction and ensured governance of widespread locations for both the service provider and the donor. This technology also assisted in managing the pay per use model, which, in turn, helped the consumers to pay an affordable price for clean drinking water — paying only for the service.

Operating Models

The technology that the company deployed was the Internet of Things (IoT), which required GSM/GPRS network as it acts as a backbone for communication between device and server. And, Sarvajal’s devices communicate with their centralised server over GSM/GPRS (2G) network. And ensuring that every installed unit has the availability of proper signal strength at the desired location. “Sometimes, we have noticed that even though there is a proper signal strength available at the place, still there is a delay in data exchange, which was due to the network latency,” said Sharma. And, hence, the company considered other network options like NB-IoT, which works on LTE (4G); considering its availability in most of India. The company also considered other alternate non-standard options, where telecom network is still not available, but it is under feasibility study.

Piramal Sarvajal also has enabled a technology device called Soochak, which is a remote monitoring device designed to be mounted on a commercial-scale water purification plant, to capture minute-by-minute machine status. This process works on Piramal’s technology backend, which allows the company to bring affordable, safe drinking water to underserved communities sustainably. At the same time, the touch screen of the machine easily guides the local operators on the daily functioning of the plant in the local language.

The company aimed to deploy technology at every stage — for specific parameter measurement Piramal Sarvajal have used state of the art sensors. As part of their regular preventive maintenance, these sensors are calibrated periodically so that they provide accurate data. With the help of IoT, the company gets its data from all units installed in the field, and these data are stored in their server’s database system. Also, considering the received data is large in volume; it practically wasn’t possible to do analysis manually, hence, decided to apply data analytics that provided them with meaningful information from the available data. “This helped us to know how many units are working in normal condition and how many units require attention from our maintenance team,” said Sharma. “Our devices are intelligent enough to provide real-time alerts to our operations team for any attention needed by them. Our operations team immediately acts on alerts and attends the situation.”

Application & Benefits

Sarvajal’s proprietary technology played a vital role in providing a comprehensive solution for delivering low-cost drinking water at the last mile. The various components of the technology include — water purification plants, monitoring device, the water ATM, and Sarvajal’s enterprise management system.

Sarvajal’s purification model was agnostic of the method of filtration and was utilising purification technology as per the source water. The water was getting purified through a site-designed five-step filtration process including media filtration, micron filtration, reverse osmosis (RO) filtration and UV purification. The employed proprietary technology of Sarvajal helped them in monitoring and controlling the machine operations, the source water quality, product water quality, litres produced (both rate and total), the overall health of the machine, and the amount of effluent created in the process. This real-time online monitoring enabled the company to assure a greater uptime in machine usage.

Sarvajal’s Enterprise Management System is the information processing hub of the entire company’s network of distributed installations. The SEMs receives all data sent over the cellular network for the Soochaks and Water ATMs and serves as the conduit for all operational activities within the business, such as inventory management, maintenance tracking, accounting, and asset tracking.

Additionally, the water ATM devices were solar-powered, cloud-connected, and operated automatically, which was designed to dispense water at the swipe of an RFID card. The ATMs tracked every transaction that took place, which enabled a sophisticated market forecasting and proactive multi-unit management. It also enhanced the scale of impact and optimised net investment per installation. Consequently, the ATMs established water-price transparent markets and assured 24×7 access to safe drinking water. Sarvaj’s initiative also presented an option to provide direct-targeted subsidies through government-run programs. Currently, the company is serving more than 7.30 lakhs of people daily, directly from our 1765+ touchpoints in 20 states.

While there are many players in the water space, Sharma believes, “What sets us apart is our effort of conducting community engagement activities to improve impact to increase the off-take.” Also, “Soochak throws data about machine health, so all maintenance activities are planned. Service tickets are even generated to track and also study the data generated. Our database shares information on all machines functionality at any given point in time.”

Sharma further added, “Being a technology expert in the water sector, we also aim to help the government by demonstrating the use of technology, so that the government can monitor the water supply schemes very effectively.” Sarvajal has extended the application of this model for a water pipe model too. The company partnered with the central government-run Jal Shakti mission to create a pilot model of monitoring the IoT-based water tracking mechanism at villages of Gujarat, Assam and Bihar.

Indie performing artists embracing Twitch amidst widespread tour cancellations

Due to COVID-19, Twitch, the streaming site popular with gamers is beginning to have a new constituency: Musicians. “50% of millennial males in America use Twitch. If you want to reach millennial males (which odds are, you do) Twitch is a good place to do it.” But now that musicians are using the platform more, Twitch may draw in more than just the male/18-34 demo.

From The Verge:

Mark Rebillet is part of a fast-growing community of musicians who are migrating to digital platforms to perform “quaranstreams” during the pandemic. Many larger artists, like Charli XCX, John Legend, and Diplo are choosing Instagram, but indie artists are overwhelmingly flocking to Twitch.

There’s one likely reason: while Instagram is an easy option to reach lots of people en masse, Twitch offers an abundance of ways to make money. “It’s more financially focused,” says musician and longtime Twitch streamer Ducky. “It supports different tiers of subscriptions and donations. People can subscribe to a channel for free with their Amazon Prime account. Fans can tip in micro amounts with things like Cheers. Other platforms usually just pay out on ad revenue or number of plays.”

Will the interactivity of live-streamed performances be enough to draw a crowd comparable to what an artist might draw on tour? It might not matter, because musicians have multiple revenue streams that are compatible with the Twitch platform. The vibe of a live show will never be captured via Twitch, but live-streaming shows may be a bigger part of the future of music due to covid.

Why it’s hot:

Artists might end up making more money

1) Because they can now reach a worldwide audience all at once, and eschew the high costs of touring, including the cuts venues and ticket vendors take on ticket sales.

2) Because of the ease of “tipping” on Twitch, audiences may end up paying their favorite artists more than they would for a ticket to a concert.

Musicians streaming on Twitch may offer brands a new way-in to the platform.

Aside from going the gamer route, brands may want to get in front of viewers watching a concert in real time. What kind of interesting interactive activation could brands do that would not undermine the musicians credibility?

Source: The Verge

Hefty makes a brawny claim about reducing waste

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to recycling and reducing waste is in educating people on what it is, why it matters, and how to do it, all while not boring people to death about it, or coming off as preachy. Hefty takes on that messaging hurdle with a little humor and smartly keeps the details vague.

Another issue with marketing a brand’s waste reduction is in equating it to something people can understand. How do you wrap your head around the fact that globally we produced 275 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2010! You can’t. People need a frame of reference to understand these abstract numbers, and this campaign does that with the help of a somewhat goofy strongman pulling a passenger jet, which represents the weight of the plastics that Hefty has managed to reclaim.

Once interest is piqued, people are taken to a micro-site that explains in more detail Hefty’s sustainability efforts: Hefty Sustainability.com

And what they’re doing is actually pretty cool and innovative. They have created a special bag in which to put hard-to-recycle plastics (those that are not accepted by most residential recycling programs) such as plastic food packaging, straws, candy wrappers, etc., which would otherwise most certainly end up in a landfill, in a tree, or choking the windpipe of a seabird.

Why it’s hot:

1. It doesn’t require you to identify as “green” in order to get it: A lot of “sustainable” brands lean into the lifestyle of the eco-conscious in their messaging, but that can turn off a lot of people who don’t identify that way. For a nationwide brand like Hefty, it makes more sense to stay away from identity and focus on their product and accomplishments.

2. It’s not much of an accomplishment actually, but it’s a start, and it’s backed up by action: Given the fact that more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year, a well-informed consumer might scoff at Hefty’s accomplishment of converting one measly airliner’s worth of hard-to-recycle plastic into new materials. But they have a model that helps collect plastics that you can’t normally recycle, and uses their product in a way people are already using it to do so.

3. Mining trash is actually a way to generate revenue: This is a mostly untapped market for raw materials, which is essentially TerraCycle’s business model, of gathering material others can’t (or won’t) and reselling it, which had it earning $20+ million in revenue in 2018.

Source: Marketing Dive

Panera coffee subscription is the new free-wifi, but it costs $9+/month

Panera has launched a coffee subscription as a part of its loyalty program. For $8.99/month, you get unlimited drip coffee — 1 cup every two hours for as long as you can handle it. They may be burning through beans, but what this really means is they’ll be selling a lot more sandwiches.

From Fast Company: “Though Panera is pitching the subscription as a way for you to save money on coffee, Panera’s 150 test locations over the last three months saw subscribers visit three times more frequently and purchase 70% more in add-on items than the average customer. In other words, watch your wallet. These metrics, in addition to a surge of new customers, are inspiring Panera’s quick nationwide rollout.”

Because most Panera locations are suburban, customers tend to drive to the location. When they’ve made the commitment to drive, people are more likely to “bundle” their shopping by also eating at Panera once they’ve picked up their subscriber coffee.

Bonus points: being mostly suburban, Panera also avoids the on-foot, in-and-out commuter coffee buyers who are not likely to purchase any additional goods.

For consumers, it’s a novel way to think about coffee purchase.

For Panera, it seems like a smart way to lure people into their stores, in order to sell them higher-margin products like sandwiches and soups.

Why it’s hot:

1. Data: Registered subscribers will give Panera a huge amount of consumer data that they could use to understand menu preferences by a variety of demographics, as well as better identify core customers and understand their habits.

2. Earn brand loyalty by exploiting commitment bias: If you get someone to buy into the subscription, they are far more likely to continue to go to you for their coffee fix even if they ultimately cancel their subscription as brains subconsciously associate their body’s physiological coffee high with your store, and those neural pathways are difficult (and cognitively costly) to change.

3. It’s a smart lure: A big challenge for suburban food and beverage shops is getting people in the door. This encourages that, and a lot of people who go into a shop to buy coffee end up buying a muffin, or a sandwich, which is where these companies really make their money. If you stay (or return) to Panera to take advantage of the every-two-hour refill, you’re likely to buy even more.

Source: Fast Company

Skincare + AI: Making Mass Personalization Easy

A skincare startup is tackling the complexity consumers face when navigating the category to select the best products for their skincare needs. Rather than adding to the clutter of products, ingredients and “proprietary formulas”, or attempting to educate consumers through exposure to research + science, Proven Skincare simply prescribes personalized solutions for each individual.

After collecting customer input based around 40 key factors, Proven Skincare’s AI combs through a comprehensive database of research, testimonials and dermatology expertise, to identify the best mix of ingredients for each person’s situation.

Ming Zhao, Proven’s CEO, co-founded the company while struggling with her own skincare issues.

“The paradox of choice, the confusion that causes this frustrating cycle of trial and error, is too much for most people to bear,” says Zhao on the latest edition of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast. “There’s a lot of cycles of buying expensive product, only for it to then sit on somebody’s vanity shelf for months to come.”

As the human body’s largest organ, skin should be properly cared for—using products and ingredients that have been proven to work for specific individuals. That’s the core mission behind Proven Skincare, a new beauty company that has tapped technology to research the best skincare regimen for consumers.

Why It’s Hot: In a world where the benefits of things like AI and big data are not often apparent to the “average” person, this is an example of technology that solves a real human problem, while remaining invisible (i.e. it’s not about the tech).

Cadbury EATertainment

To promote the return of its Creme Eggs, Cadbury has launched a Netflix-style streaming service in the UK and Ireland.

All content on the EATertainment website contains references to the chocolate Easter treat that are both subtle and obvious. The programs include Girl Vs. Goo,  which document host Jahannah James’s quest to seek out ‘the best Creme Egg dishes in the country’, Armeggeddon, a mini film following three friends hiding away in an underground bunker and The Gooru, a series of Creme Egg-inspired yoga classes.

Anyone can register to gain limited access to the site by entering their personal details. But to watch all the content and enter a competition to win up to £10,000 ($13,450), users need to purchase a Cadbury Creme Egg and upload a picture of it to the website.

Cadbury has also partnered with Amazon as part of its Creme Egg promotional campaign. Amazon has written and produced two pieces of Creme Egg-themed content, which it is hosting on its Prime Video streaming hub to drive viewers to the EATertainment site. Meanwhile, the EATertainment site directs visitors to a branded page on Amazon where they can purchase a box of 48 Creme Eggs. Cadbury is also handing out £5 ($6.50) Amazon vouchers to 1000 people as part of its competition.

To promote its EATentertainment site, on 23 January Cadbury is throwing a Creme Egg-themed culinary event in London’s Leicester Square. For 24 hours Cadbury will host a Facebook Live stream of visitors sampling dishes from Creme Egg spaghetti to Creme Egg curry. The brand will also inviting people to star of their very own Creme Egg movie.

Why it’s Hot: In addition to being a fun content marketing activation, this is also a really well thought out consumer journey. An undertaking this massive truly becomes worth it when you factor in the data collection component and the direct link to purchase.

Source

ThredUp launches Fashion Footprint Calculator

Behavior change is very hard and the second-hand ecommerce fashion retailer ThredUp relies on it as a key component of their business model. To aid their efforts to convert new-clothing buyers into used-clothing buyers, they just launched their fashion footprint calculator.

We’ve all heard about the carbon footprint of our cars and our eating habits, but we mostly ignore our closets’ role in ruining the planet. However, the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, thanks in large part to the the fast-fashion trend.

Fun Fact: “Fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste per year globally, representing 4% of the 2.12 billion tons of waste we dump globally each year. That is more than toxic e-waste, and more than twice as much as supermarkets toss in food waste.” –EcoCult. This is bad because clothing is organic material, meaning it releases methane in landfills, a greenhouse gas that is dramatically more potent than carbon dioxide.

ThredUp is framing itself as the solution to this sustainability problem at the heart of fashion, by scaling second-hand clothing to the level of its new clothing counterparts. And it turns out that buying used clothing can have a pretty big impact.

“Lifecycle analyses of garments have found that buying used garments instead of new reduces your carbon footprint by between 60% and 70%.” -Fast Company

Why it’s hot:

1. Much like the global average temperature, awareness of our impact on the environment is ramping up exponentially. It’s interesting where different brands fall on the sustainability spectrum and how they use that position to promote themselves.

2. Our impact on the climate threat is a vague concept removed from our direct experience of short-sighted pleasure seeking and impulsive desire fulfillment. Personalizing the impact of one’s habits makes clear the need for personal change, and importantly, offers a simple way to make a difference, without sacrificing one of life’s chief pleasures.

3. ThredUp’s business model is based on the second-hand clothing market. Beyond the price savings, ThredUp needs to develop RTBs that will inspire loyal customers. If people are more aware of the impact their fashion-purchase habits have, they may be willing to consider the second-hand clothing platform, giving ThredUp a chance to turn them into loyal customers and advocates of reuse to their friends.

Source: Fast Company

Norwegian fashion retailer makes AR T-shirts to promote sustainability

“Scandinavian clothing brand Carlings has created an augmented reality T-shirt designed to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion.

People can buy the T-shirt – which is white aside from a graphical logo at the top – from Carlings’ website for €39.90 ($44). The T-shirt is then mailed directly to the customer.

Upon delivery of the item, customers can visit Carlings’ dedicated Instagram account, select the filter icon and choose from a variety of designs, before pointing a phone camera at the T-shirt’s graphical logo. This will digitally superimpose the selected design onto the T-shirt.

The designs are emblazoned with environmentally conscious messages such as ‘Stop Denying Our Planet is Dying’ and ‘I’m Sure The Dinosaurs Thought They Had Time Too.’” (Contagious)

Why it’s hot

1. Designs that can be changed to match new causes extends the shirts timescale of relevance, combating fast-fashion disposability.

2. The shirt comes to life where it can have the most impact: on social media. Also gets folks going to the brand’s IG and creating lots of UGC.

3. Interesting how the 4th digital dimension is being employed to push social issues, in a cool, shareable, and potentially viral way.

4. Also, profits from the line go to a water charity, so seems like another fashion brand hoping their good works will turn into net profits.

Source: Contagious

Tik Tok tries to combat bullying, suppresses bullied groups from platform

Hey Social Media …

TikTok pulled a very Scumbag-Steve move recently, admitting that in an effort to curb bullying on its platform, it had asked moderators to flag accounts from people who “looked like the type of person others might want to bully” and then suppressed those accounts. #victimshaming

Via Slate: “TikTok, a social network video app with more than 1 billion downloads globally, admitted Tuesday to a set of policies that had suppressed the reach of content created by users assumed to be “vulnerable to cyberbullying.” As examples of users “susceptible to bullying or harassment,” the policy listed people with facial disfigurement, autism, Down syndrome, and “Disabled people or people with some facial problems such as birthmark, slight squint and etc.”

The admission came after the German site Netzpolitik reported that TikTok asked moderators to watch 15-second videos and decide if the creator looked like the type of person others might want to bully. If so, moderators were instructed to add flags to the accounts of these “vulnerable” users. These flags would stop their videos from being shown to audiences outside their home countries and, in some cases, would even prevent their videos from appearing in other users’ feeds. A list of flagged users obtained by Netzpolitik included people with and without disabilities, whose bios included hashtags like #fatwoman and #disabled or had rainbow flags and other LGBTQ identifiers.”

Why it’s hot:

Loss of trust: Social media plays a roll in both exacerbating and alleviating many social problems, including the bullying epidemic, but when those at the helm display their ignorance coupled with a reluctance to curb abusive users, trust is diminished.

Lack of control (or willingness): One more chapter in social media’s terrible track record of encouraging the worst parts of humanity and then exposing just how inept they are at controlling malicious activity on their platforms.

Source: Slate

So you think you can Freddie?

Image result for Freddiemeter

In honor of the first live performance of Bohemian Rhapsody 44 years ago this month, Google partnered with Queen to create “FreddieMeter”. This web experience available for Android, iOS, and desktop rates how closely you sound like Freddie Mercury.

Behind the scenes, FreddieMeter leverages on-device machine learning so no audio is being sent out to servers for the rating. Google trained the models using Mercury’s isolated vocals from original studio tapes and sample covers.

With FreddieMeter people can record a video and audio clip of their performance to share on social media. This minute-long clip features YouTube Music branding and can be downloaded after a performance, with Google deleting it afterwards.

Why its hot?
Other than the fact you’ll know how close you are to sounding like a super rockstar, it’s a great use of AI – analyzing your pitch (how well you hit the notes), melody (how well you hit the notes in relation to each other), and timbre (how much your vocal style matches Freddie’s).

And BTW no data is being stored on the Google servers.

 

Source: 9to5google.com

 

Inside Amazon’s plan for Alexa to run your entire life

The creator of the famous voice assistant dreams of a world where Alexa is everywhere, anticipating your every need.

Speaking with MIT Technology Review, Rohit Prasad, Alexa’s head scientist, revealed further details about where Alexa is headed next. The crux of the plan is for the voice assistant to move from passive to proactive interactions. Rather than wait for and respond to requests, Alexa will anticipate what the user might want. The idea is to turn Alexa into an omnipresent companion that actively shapes and orchestrates your life. This will require Alexa to get to know you better than ever before.

In June at the re:Mars conference, he demoed [view from 53:54] a feature called Alexa Conversations, showing how it might be used to help you plan a night out. Instead of manually initiating a new request for every part of the evening, you would need only to begin the conversation—for example, by asking to book movie tickets. Alexa would then follow up to ask whether you also wanted to make a restaurant reservation or call an Uber.

A more intelligent Alexa

Here’s how Alexa’s software updates will come together to execute the night-out planning scenario. In order to follow up on a movie ticket request with prompts for dinner and an Uber, a neural network learns—through billions of user interactions a week—to recognize which skills are commonly used with one another. This is how intelligent prediction comes into play. When enough users book a dinner after a movie, Alexa will package the skills together and recommend them in conjunction.

But reasoning is required to know what time to book the Uber. Taking into account your and the theater’s location, the start time of your movie, and the expected traffic, Alexa figures out when the car should pick you up to get you there on time.

Prasad imagines many other scenarios that might require more complex reasoning. You could imagine a skill, for example, that would allow you to ask your Echo Buds where the tomatoes are while you’re standing in Whole Foods. The Buds will need to register that you’re in the Whole Foods, access a map of its floor plan, and then tell you the tomatoes are in aisle seven.

In another scenario, you might ask Alexa through your communal home Echo to send you a notification if your flight is delayed. When it’s time to do so, perhaps you are already driving. Alexa needs to realize (by identifying your voice in your initial request) that you, not a roommate or family member, need the notification—and, based on the last Echo-enabled device you interacted with, that you are now in your car. Therefore, the notification should go to your car rather than your home.

This level of prediction and reasoning will also need to account for video data as more and more Alexa-compatible products include cameras. Let’s say you’re not home, Prasad muses, and a Girl Scout knocks on your door selling cookies. The Alexa on your Amazon Ring, a camera-equipped doorbell, should register (through video and audio input) who is at your door and why, know that you are not home, send you a note on a nearby Alexa device asking how many cookies you want, and order them on your behalf.

To make this possible, Prasad’s team is now testing a new software architecture for processing user commands. It involves filtering audio and visual information through many more layers. First Alexa needs to register which skill the user is trying to access among the roughly 100,000 available. Next it will have to understand the command in the context of who the user is, what device that person is using, and where. Finally it will need to refine the response on the basis of the user’s previously expressed preferences.

Why It’s Hot:  “This is what I believe the next few years will be about: reasoning and making it more personal, with more context,” says Prasad. “It’s like bringing everything together to make these massive decisions.”

College, was it really worth the amount you paid?

65% of jobs require some type of college degree. As tuition skyrockets, how much is it really worth when you can basically learn all the things you actually are interested online.

Trends like the Gig economy, smaller boot camps and more directed programs that don’t take as long are gaining momentum not to mention huge interest in educational classes from places like Lynda, Pluralsight, LinkedIn and Youtube are recognizing the need for knowledge in the market.

This is all happening while tuition’s skyrocket. So is it even worth it?

Georgetown set out to find out. They considered 4500 Schools for non-profit, profit and private schools in the country.

Georgetown Study

Best long-term plan: Four-year private, nonprofit colleges. These pricey degrees take a while to bear their fruits. For example, Babson College, a private college in Massachusetts, ranks 304th in value at 10 years, but 7th after 40 years, with a payoff of $1.98 million—edging out Harvard University at $1.96 million.

Best short-term plan: A two-year certificate or associate’s degree can have a high return on investment after 10 years, particularly in nursing. Veeb Nassau County School of Practical Nursing and Putnam Westchester BOCES-Practical Nursing Program rock 40-year payoffs of $1.4 million, which are in line with the payoffs of four-year degrees from Northwestern University or the University of Chicago. #gonursing

Chart to look it up your school

Was your college worth it?

Why it’s hot:

Because of all the questions it arises!

Is it worth it for some people to go to certain schools? Shines a bit of more light not only on the institution but a bit on the actual attendees.

average age of entry for CUNY schools is higher than private schools. Why is that?

And some of them average 33. So the idea of the typical college grad is different than the norm.

What are the stats for you school?