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?

Road Tales

Looking out of the car window used to be what kids did on road trips–but now, screens mean that they barely glance outside sometimes. Volkswagen has decided to counteract this with an interactive solution which, while it still relies on an app, means that kids are more connected with their journey.

“Road Tales” is an app featuring interactive audiobooks that creates unique tales based on the location of the user and transform ordinary road objects into  characters in a story. To make this happen, the Amsterdam based agency scanned all major Dutch highways (over 5000 km of road) to identify objects like bridges, windmills, trees, petrol stations and turn them into story elements. It collaborated with children’s book writers to write the story chapters, which are triggered by objects along the road.

The whole family can use the books, explains creative director Kika Douglas: “Parents can play the story through the sound system of the car and then put the phone away.  The characters of the story also ask the passengers to play family games, like guessing a color of the next car or doing a countdown to launch a rocket before entering the tunnel, or warning them to put their head down before going under a bridge.”

Developed for Dutch children between 4-11 years old, the app can be downloaded for free. It’s being promoted to parents via a social campaign, influencer strategy and online video.

Source: https://adage.com/creativity/work/volkswagen-road-tales/969896
Why it’s hot
The Screen-less era is coming with voice-first solutions. Surprises like Road Tales can live in both digital and physical worlds. According to Gartner, web browsing will be screen-less by 2020. It’s about time we start thinking about voice-only experiences that can transform how we interact digitally.

Apple Card investigated for gender bias

Apple’s tech-oriented credit card is at the heart of a new investigation into alleged gender discrimination.

New York state regulators have announced an investigation into Goldman Sachs, the bank that issues the Apple Card, after a series of viral tweets from a consumer who shared the vastly different credit limits that were issued to him and his wife when they both applied for the card.

The NYSDFS was first tipped off by a viral Twitter thread from tech entrepreneur David Heinemeier Hansson, begun on Nov. 7. He detailed how his card’s credit limit was 20 times higher than his wife’s, even though she has a higher credit score and they file joint tax returns. Hansson referred to the Apple Card as a “sexist program” and said that its over-reliance on a “biased” algorithm did not excuse discriminatory treatment.

After his complaints on Twitter, Hansson found his wife’s Apple Card’s credit limit was increased to match his. However, Hansson’s frustration was not only with the credit line issue, but also how customer support is trained to handle the accusation of gender bias: blame the algorithm.

Hansson’s complaints were even echoed by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, who responded to Hansson’s tweet, saying “the same thing happened to us.” Wozniak said that his credit limit was 10 times higher than what his wife had, even though they did not have any separate assets or accounts. In his view, Apple should “share responsibility” for the problem.

Others shared similar stories…

The CEO of Goldman Sachs denied wrongdoing on Monday, stating unequivocally that “we have not and will not make decisions based on factors like gender.” He added that the company would be open to re-evaluating credit limits for those who believe their credit line is lower than their credit history would suggest it should be.

Superintendent of the NYSDFS Linda Lacewell said Sunday in a statement that state law bans discrimination against protected classes of individuals, “which means an algorithm, as with any other method of determining creditworthiness, cannot result in disparate treatment for individuals based on age, creed, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or other protected characteristics.” She added that this “is not just about looking into one algorithm” but also about working with the tech community more broadly to “make sure consumers nationwide can have confidence that the algorithms that increasingly impact their ability to access financial services do not discriminate.”

Why it’s Hot:

Apple and Goldman Sachs may blame “the algorithm,” but ultimately that algorithm was created by humans – and that excuse doesn’t cut it with customers. As we increasingly rely on algorithms and AI, how do we ensure they’re built without our innate biases?

Sources: Time, Mashable

Firefox founder launches privacy-first browser that rewards users for allowing brands access to them

The beta version has been out for a while, but “Today marks the official launch of Brave 1.0, a free open-source browser. The beta version has already drawn 8 million monthly users, but now, the full stable release is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.

Brave promises to prioritize security by blocking third-party ads, trackers, and autoplay videos automatically. So you don’t need to go into your settings to ensure greater privacy, though you can adjust those settings if you want to.” (The Verge)

Internet heavy hitter Brendan Eich (creator of JavaScript/co-founder of Firefox/Mozilla) just launched the stable version of new privacy-focused Brave browser, employing the idea of a Basic Attention Token (BAT), which allows users to be paid in crypto-currency tokens for allowing brands access to their eyeballs. Eich calls it “a new system for properly valuing user attention.”

He explains it best:

Why it’s hot:

1. As tech giants increasingly impinge on privacy and gobble up every imaginable byte of data about everyone in exchange for “a better user experience,” Brave is claiming to have found a non-zero-sum game that everyone (users, advertisers, and publishers) can benefit from:

  • Users get lots more control over the ads they see and get rewarded with tokens for allowing ads.
  • Advertisers get more precise and engaged audiences, so in theory, better ROAS.
  • Content creators get more control over their publishing and their income. And users can tip content creators on a subscription-style basis not unlike Patreon.

That’s the idea, at least.

2. Its look and feel is very similar to Chrome, so migrating to Brave may be smooth enough to encourage more people to abandon the surveillance-state-as-a-service (SSaaS) that Google is verging on.

Source: The Verge

The jet lag app you never knew you needed

Introducing Timeshifter: an easy-to-use, straightforward app that helps people fight jet lag. Users simply enter in their full flight details (including multi-leg flights, stopovers), chronotype (morning person or a night owl), along with their individual sleep patterns. The latter is composed of your preferred bedtime/wake-up times as well as any other favorite aids, like melatonin or coffee intake.

Timeshifter then instantly delivers a personalized sleep schedule. It’s a full plan accompanied by push notification alerts like “avoid caffeine for the next 6 hours,” “expose yourself to light starting in 30 minutes,” or “take melatonin.” One can start it three days in advance of one’s flight or up until a minute before take-off, though the plan changes depending on advance lead time. The service costs $10 per jet lag plan or $24.99 for an annual subscription.

“Our plans have a practicality filter, where the advice fits with what you can really achieve in the real world,” says Dr. Steve Lockley, a neuroscientist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. The renowned expert in circadian rhythms and former NASA consultant developed the Timeshifter app algorithm after a decade of devising custom jet lag plans for Formula 1 drivers and astronauts.

The app is unique in that it’s entirely based on sleep neuroscience and focused on shifting one’s internal clock forward. As Timeshifter cofounder and CEO Mickey Beyer-Clausen, explains, beating jet lag involves moving one’s circadian cycle to the new time zone as soon as (feasibly) possible. But it’s not one-size-fits-all. Based on the information provided by each user, Timeshifter could have hundreds of different versions of the same trip, depending on sleep patterns or even when they started using the app.

The app also strives to make actions attainable based on your schedule. “So if you’re asked to avoid light, it doesn’t mean being in complete darkness or closing your eyes. It means being exposed to less light than [usual],” explains Lockley. “There’s no point in advising you go to bed at 7:00 PM because the chances are you’re not really gonna do that.”

While several other jet lag apps exist, such as Jet Lag Rooster, they do not base circadian rhythm on personalized details. Others, like Uplift, recommend timed acupressure to prevent jet lag.

Why it’s Hot:

This is an awesome use of technology and human knowledge. It would have been an amazing piece of technology for a modern travel brand to create to build a more holistic user experience. I could also see travel brands like Away including a trial for this app with a purchase of their suitcases.

Source

The race to get your face in space

Samsung has sent one of its Galaxy S10 5G smartphones into space inside a balloon to allow its users to take selfies with the Earth in the background.

It launched a balloon equipped with a specially designed rig to take the S10 up to 65,000 feet into the stratosphere to receive selfies transmitted from the Earth and send them back to the ground using a 5G network.

The first person to undertake the “SpaceSelfie” mission was Cara Delevingne, an English actress and model, who shared her photo on social media. South Korean football star Son Heung-min will also join the campaign.

Why its hot?
Well, its your face in the space

“Emotional Communication” With Tech…Through Our Device’s Skin

 

It looks like a chunk of flesh, lopped out of someone’s arm and placed on a table. And it’s pretty much just that. You can touch it, tickle it, pinch it, etc. and it will know. But this skin isn’t human skin. It’s skin for our tech.

Skin-On is modeled after the layers of real human skin, it’s made of silicone, molded with the human skin patterns. Under the “epidermis” aka the top layer is the “dermis” or a grid of electrode wires. These are the same electrodes as the inside of a smartphone touchscreen, and they sense touch using electromagnetism, just like in phones. But embedded with silicone, they have the ability to measure not just contact, but squeezes and twists.

“The trick is it’s insulated and slightly stretchable,” says lead researcher Marc Teyssier, a PhD student at Telecom ParisTech, of the electrode layer. Then under this electrode layer is a microprocessor and a layer of silicone that has a different consistency and thickness than the epidermis to really simulate that human feel.

“I think the weirdest thing is to hold the phone.” says Teyssier. “Because when you hold the phone, it’s like holding someone’s arm . . . [though] once you interact, it feels quite natural.” Spooky.

Why It’s Hot:

Even though the project would be easy to scale (according to the founders), it’s not something they actually want to do. The hope of the project is that it helps us question the philosophical relationship of people and machinery. Think of Skin-On Interfaces as functional art that asks whether we should be so quick to add technology onto our human bodies, rather than reshaping technology to be more human.

“For the last 50 years, the end goal in sci-fi has been the humans are mixed with the machine. That drove research in human-computer interaction. We’ve added devices onto humans,” Teyssier explains, no doubt referencing phones, smartwatches, and augmented reality headsets. “So my point of view is that I’m trying to do the opposite.”

Video +Source

Your Google Home / Alexa could spy on you

By now, the privacy threats posed by Amazon Alexa and Google Home are common knowledge. Workers for both companies routinely listen to audio of users—recordings of which can be kept forever—and the sounds the devices capture can be used in criminal trials.

Now, there’s a new concern: malicious apps developed by third parties and hosted by Amazon or Google. The threat isn’t just theoretical. Whitehat hackers at Germany’s Security Research Labs developed eight apps—four Alexa “skills” and four Google Home “actions”—that all passed Amazon or Google security-vetting processes. The skills or actions posed as simple apps for checking horoscopes, with the exception of one, which masqueraded as a random-number generator. Behind the scenes, these “smart spies,” as the researchers call them, surreptitiously eavesdropped on users and phished for their passwords.

The malicious apps had different names and slightly different ways of working, but they all followed similar flows. A user would say a phrase such as: “Hey Alexa, ask My Lucky Horoscope to give me the horoscope for Taurus” or “OK Google, ask My Lucky Horoscope to give me the horoscope for Taurus.” The eavesdropping apps responded with the requested information while the phishing apps gave a fake error message. Then the apps gave the impression they were no longer running when they, in fact, silently waited for the next phase of the attack.

SRLabs eventually took down all four apps demoed. As with most skills and actions, users didn’t need to download anything. Simply saying the proper phrases into a device was enough for the apps to run.

There’s little or no evidence third-party apps are actively threatening Alexa and Google Home users now, but the SRLabs research suggests that possibility is by no means far-fetched.

 Why it’s Hot:
This is potentially very, very scary. With all of the backlash around Facebook, it seems inevitable that voice devices will soon face similar scrutiny. What safety measures will they take to ensure this never happens in real life?

Blockchain Meets Broadway

Buying tickets for a Broadway show can involve a lot of unwelcome drama, so it’s not surprising that some of the theater industry’s biggest players are looking for ways to make ticket buying more secure. One possible solution to ticket fraud is blockchain technology, which has a ledger system that allows new transactions to be recorded but not erased. And now the Shubert Organization, the biggest theater operator on Broadway, is giving it a try.

The organization, through its Telecharge and Shubert Ticketing division, has teamed up with a Boston-based startup called True Tickets, which offers a mobile ticketing solution that runs on IBM’s blockchain platform. The startup was one of two companies selected to take part in this summer’s inaugural Broadway Tech Accelerator—the results of which included pilot programs aimed at refining the ideas.

True Tickets’ pilot with Shubert will begin next year and will integrate the startup’s digital ticketing service into “targeted components” of Shubert’s ticket-selling businesses, including Telecharge.com and Broadway Inbound (its group discounts service), among others. The details are a little vague, but the companies say they hope the pilot will help reduce the risk of fraud and that buyers who have tickets sent to their phones through the service can be “guaranteed” that they’re real.

Why it’s Hot:

For years we’ve been hearing about how blockchain would change the future – is the future finally here? This technology could have a huge impact on all ticketed events, providing transparency and helping to eliminate illegal reselling.

Source

MeetUp tests new revenue model, faces immediate backlash

Users who have a stake in MeetUp are privy to the fact that it’s owned by the currently discredited and struggling WeWork, so when the platform started testing a new revenue model in which it charged users $2 to RSVP to certain events (even free ones), people assumed it was a shortsighted way to pad the pockets of its cash-strapped parent company, and they weren’t happy about it.

1. Users made their plans to abandon the site clear on Twitter.

2. Open-source projects took the opportunity to court spurned MeetUp users to their own coming-soon event-scheduling platforms:

“To be 100% clear: the freeCodeCamp.org community is still hard at work on an open source alternative to Meetup, and we are making steady progress.”


For now, I’m calling it “MeetingPlace”, and have put up a super simple landing page up here: http://meetingplace.io 

Enter your email there to get updates, and to share the features you’d need to switch your group away from meetup.

MeetUp responded quickly to say they were only testing this model on a small number of events, but tech and business news outlets picked up the story, and it’s not a good look for the brand.

Whether this actually hurts MeetUp in the long run remains to be seen, but it seems to have made them vulnerable.

Why it’s hot: Between offering ad-supported, fremium, and subscription services, platform-based tech companies must navigate a tenuous relationship with users when extracting money from them.

This negotiation with the public happens within a consumer culture that increasingly requires business transparency and imposes a collectively agreed-upon level of “fairness”.

Companies that violate this perceived fairness, or don’t offer a (perceived) commensurate level of value in return are liable to find themselves on thin ice.

 

 

All drinks are on the house

A new bar opened its doors in St. Louis, and it’s charging customers by the hour. According to Open Concept’s website, when you open a tab, you’re paying for access to the space — not the booze. The rates: $10/hr for a regular open bar, and $20 for top-shelf liquor.

The entire experience is powered by a backend technology that the bar developed and owns. Customers are encouraged to buy their time in advance on the bar’s website, though walk-ins are also accepted. (Guests are able to tip the bartenders either in advance at the door or with cash after each order.) Those who booked online will receive a confirmation code to show at the door; all customers also receive text messages at the bar alerting them as to how much time they have left on their booking.

Open Concept also uses its technology to track all of a customer’s consumption and keep the bar in compliance with legal limits.

Founder and proprietor, Michael Butler, who also moonlights as the city’s current recorder of deeds, got the idea from fundraising parties while running for office after open-bar fundraising events were successful during his campaign.

Why it’s hot:
At a time when younger generations are notoriously cutting back on their alcohol consumption, that flat guaranteed rate might be more valuable than hoping customers keep buying more the longer they stay.

You can still be a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid

Toys ‘R’ Us back… sort-of…

uncaptioned

Tru Kids, the owner of the Toys ‘R’ Us brand is “bringing back the Toys ‘R’ Us brand in a modern way through a strong experiential and content-rich omnichannel concept,” Richard Barry, CEO of Tru Kids, said in a statement.

Learning from its prior mistakes of not embracing technology and a digital transformation, this relaunch is purely digital and content-focused in nature, partnering with Target and Candytopia to help with ecommerce and real-life, memorable experiences.

Dubbed “The Toys R Us Adventure,” the company partnered with Candytopia to create the experiential pop-ups in Chicago and Atlanta and feature more than a dozen interactive play rooms, larger-than-life toys, and installations featuring Geoffrey, the brand’s giraffe mascot.

Why it’s hot: Toys ‘R’ Us’ was the poster child for death by tech, with its rejection of ecommerce and digital transformation. Now the company is trying to show everyone it can learn from its mistakes. The question is, will the nostalgia of Toys ‘R’ Us be enough to drive expensive experiential store visits. It’ll be interesting to see if this attempt at jumping into the digital deep end will have a happy ending. If it does work, will we start seeing the return of other brands who failed to innovate? Blockbuster Video? Tower Records?

Sources: FastCo, Business Insider, ToysRUs.com, Forbes

 

Toys ‘R’ Us: Back Like it Never Left

Months ago we said farewell to a childhood friend. Adulthood told us to put away childish things but maybe there’s still reason to hold on.

Toys ‘R’ Us is back with a full online experience through a partnership with Target. Users that visit toysrus.com will be redirected to Target.com after hitting the “buy” button under any product to complete a purchase.

Toys “R” Us would be able to quickly establish cash flow from the still top-ranked, well-established domain name toysrus.com, while Target could get an influx of new sales from shoppers who visited ToysRUs.com, unaware of the toy chain’s bankruptcy and relaunch.

Why it’s hotter than the Red Ranger:

  1. Because nostalgia.
  2. This isn’t Target’s only deal. Target also secured a deal with Disney to open mini-stores within a location where shoppers can purchase official Disney apparel and products. I would assume Target wants to become a marketplace similar to Amazon. It will be interesting to see how the war between Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Target pans out.

Get tackled

https://twitter.com/Jason15Robinson/status/1172529834792296449

https://twitter.com/MastercardUK/status/1172524888512520192

Mastercard: sponsor of Rugby World Cup

As the official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, Mastercard set up a environment where fans experienced a “contactless tackle”. Rugby fans are brought closer to the game by experiencing the sensation of a professional tackle. This is possible with a special suit made by Teslasuit.  You see a rugby player storming towards you and you have to choose between dodging or taking the hit. If you’re too late, you feel the impact via pressure made within the suit. The goal of the experience is to bring the fans closer to the action, and to encourage and inspire people  to get involved with rugby ahead of the world cup in Japan.
The experience leverages VR and haptic suit by Teslasuit.

Why it’s hot
If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be tackled by a professional rugby player, this is as real as its going to get!. Plus it’s a nice way to own the conversation around contactless payment.

 

Tinder Created a Show to Give Its Users Something to Hook Up About

For all of their success, swipe-y dating apps like Tinder or Bumble face a problem once their users have matched: It’s hard to find things to discuss with total strangers. What exactly are you supposed to say in response to “”?

In an effort to solve this, Tinder has created a scripted choose-your-own adventure series that it hopes will supply its young users with raw material for conversations on its platform. The goal is to counteract that chronic dating-app issue: conversations that die almost as soon as they begin.

The project, called SwipeNight, consists of four episodes. One will air each week on the Tinder app. In each episode, users who participate will be ushered through an apocalyptic scenario and prompted to make a series of choices, from the seemingly unimportant (how to best D.J. a party) to the critical (whose life to save). The show features a cast of young diverse actors and, like a video game, gives the user a first-person perspective on the action.

Participants will then show up in each other’s lists of potential matches. Some of the choices they made during the show will be visible on their profiles. That is when, the company hopes, a number of those people will swipe right on each other and talk about what they experienced.

Last year Tinder set up a team to survey hundreds of young people. This research helped the company see members of Generation Z as fundamentally different from older generations: Gen Z’s immense comfort on social platforms and immense discomfort with defining relationships, or even using words like “dating” and “flirting.”

SwipeNight also looks to take advantage of their facility with the raw material of pop culture.

“They speak in gifs, they react in emojis, they talk in stories,” said Elie Seidman, the chief executive of Tinder, of 18-to-25-year-olds, who already make up more than 50 percent of the app’s user base.

Tinder allows users little space to provide information about themselves on their profiles. That can lead to a particular shortage of subjects to discuss. On Tinder, Mr. Seidman said, approaching strangers is much easier than it is offline. “But you get to the next thing, and there’s no context,” he said. “What’s the context? ‘Oh, you’re also on Tinder.’ ‘Like, yeah, obviously.’”

Tinder has traditionally been viewed as a predate experience. SwipeNight looks to collapse some elements of a first date — the mutual experience of some diversion — into its platform.

Episodes of SwipeNight will be available on Tinder on Sundays in October from 6 p.m. to midnight in a user’s time zone. For now, the show will be available only to Americans.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

Unexpected time and place for what essentially is content marketing to drive stickiness with a platform. I do wonder if it’s too “cheesy” for Gen Z daters though?

Silent Drive-Thru: An Introvert’s Dream Come True?

Multinational fast-food chains conforming their menus to cultural tastes is as old as Pulp Fiction’s Royal Cheese. Agency Superson helped Burger King Finland take this to another level, playing off the stereotype of shy Finns. Understanding it as an experience product, Burger King applied this concept to the drive thru, nodding to the common Finnish sensibility of reticence.

The brief was to increase app use, so they reconfigured the ol’ stand-by of the drive thru, to show how fast and easy it was to order via their app.

The spot is playful and funny, placing fast-food ordering into the realm of a clandestine caper.

And it turns out, it’s not just the Finns who resent talking to the muffled voice of the drive-thru.

Why it’s hot: Nodding to local culture inherently endears customers to the brand. The sense of collective understanding, and feeling known is a powerful bonding agent.

The drive-thru model didn’t align with the value proposition of the app, wherein you could order ahead and pick-up, so rethinking the model required a relatable story to encourage users to do the same.

Source: Contagious

 

Pulp Diction

Interactions with Amazon’s virtual personal assistant Alexa could soon become considerably more entertaining – and profane – after actor Samuel L Jackson signed up to lend his voice to the device. Jackson will be the first celebrity voice for Alexa.

For 99 cents, you can hear the Hollywood star read you the news, give you a weather report and even tell jokes. The price will increase to $4.99 post launch. To get the voice, users simply will need to say, “Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson” and decide whether they would like the explicit or clean version.

The Jackson feature will allow users of Alexa-enabled devices to interact with an AI version of the actor developed using the company’s neural text-to-speech technology. Jackson is not the first celebrity to feature on Alexa, but previous celebrity voice features have relied upon pre-recorded audio.

Why its hot?
The voice of the assistant is the new ringtone or the voice store could be the new app store
If you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing Samuel L. Jackson lobbing profanities at you, Amazon has worked hard to fulfill your fantasy. This is a great way to generate interest in Alexa among people who don’t want a bland sounding voice assistant. But more importantly Amazon has created a new revenue stream – we could very well be shopping for voices in everything for every occasion.

Source: Guardian, CNN, Geekwire, Twitter