Week 35

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Facebook are trialling a virtual digital assistant with some unique features:

Facebook is running a small trial of a new service built into Messenger, a virtual assistant called M. The system will be a mix of artificial intelligence and human supervisors who will check to make sure every query is answered.

Facebook M has the potential to disrupt software-mediated personal concierge propositions such as that provided and will inevitably raise the bar for other Instant Messaging and text chat based solutions.  Wired provided more detail on how M works under the hood:


When a Facebook user asks a question (top), M’s artificial intelligence engine analyzes what is said (middle) and shares this analysis with Facebook’s human “trainers,” who then respond to the user (bottom).

It’s worth considering how Facebook have executed their “move fast, break things” strategy since identifying OTT Messaging as a key value proposition for their brand.  In the last three years alone they have:

The acquisitions above provide the key to Facebook’s ability to operate at such speed.  The lesson for anyone working with now is to partner, license or acquire specialist SW startups to hyper inflate features.  Not roll your own solution.  Unless it’s part of your core business proposition or you are operating at Facebook scale and have access to a large and talented engineering pool.

There remains a remarkable lack of general awareness of the scale of technical achievement at Facebook which some of the answers to this Quora question help illuminate.  Many people still seem to see the company as one large web site rather than a progressively strategic collection of platform properties.   In fact the sheer number of users which reached a new height of one billion this week and the unique performance requirements they introduce have driven some of the Facebook’s greatest technical achievements.  Any would be unicorn seeking to take them on would need to address the same issues.

Devices and Manufacturers

  • Not so long ago only the likes of Nokia or Samsung had the resources and connections to deliver complex phone propositions.  Now almost anyone with funding, a degree of determination and a product and brand vision can build a cutting edge Android smartphone with access to the predominantly Chinese software and hardware component supply chain.   Companies like PCH provide the crucial link for Western startups trying to access this scene.   Fortune recently profiled PCH veteran CEO Liam Casey who has observed first-hand over many years the growing power of Chinese supply chain dynamics:

Factories in China simply manufacture and ship items directly to consumers after they’re ordered, Casey says; he sees a future where inventory and even warehouses are “history.”

  • WileyFox is the latest entrant in the increasingly over-crowded budget Android smartphone space.  The “edgy” brand announced their arrival last week announced two Cyanogen-based models called Storm and Swift built on Qualcomm SoC both retailing at sub-£200 and available for pre-order online now.  The Telegraph made much of a specifically British connection and a specific focus on security.  Ironically it’s likely the product was effectively built in China:

WileyFox is targeting consumers keen to try a smartphone with a “European” look and those seeking transparency on issues such as handset privacy and security. … Among the new features offered by Cyanogen are security features that will appeal to consumers worried about their privacy. The unlock screen can scramble the numbers to make it harder for snoops to spy on your PIN.”

Robin only has 32GB of storage built right into it, but it’s linked very tightly to 100GB of cloud storage. Enter the secret sauce: Robin’s software will figure out what apps and data have gone untouched lately and shuffle them up into ethereal storage space.

Sony Xperia Z5 family

  • Smartisan have the distinction of being a Chinese handset manufacturer.  Their T1 launched last year to considerable acclaim.  Smartisan have now launched their second Android smartphone, “the U1 aka JianGuo (which means “nuts” in Chinese), to cater to the younger audience with an 899 yuan (about $140) base price.”  It also seems to have taken a few colour and style leads from the iPhone 5c:

BlackBerry Venice in the flesh

Google and Android


  • Android-based mobile ultrasound imaging offers the potential for revolutionising the scope of use of such technology in many parts of the developing world where it isn’t practical or affordable today:

Android Based Mobile Ultrasound Imaging :A Revolution in On Demand Imaging.


Apps and Services

Startup metrics by Dave Mcclure

  • The over-55’s in the UK spend over £14 billion on online shopping but according to the Telegraph, they’re “still ignored” as a target customer base by brand marketers.



Wearables and the Internet of Things

  • This Wired post makes the point that given technology obsolescence, a large Millenial consumer base and the need for wearable brands to undertake rapid product innovation, a rental model may make better business sense:

A disposable or rental model makes sense in today’s Millennial marketplace. Young consumers and early tech adopters don’t have the need, attention spans, or space for long-term purchases. They chase experiences and care about identity.


“it’s so good, it actually broke the magazine’s rating system, achieving 103 points on a 100-point scale. The reviewers call the sedan “a glimpse into the future of the auto industry.” They actually had to re-evaluate their criteria to give the EV a maximum score.”

Machine Learning

  • A visual introduction to machine learning looks like a tremendous resource with a lovely, fluid UI powered by D3.js to illustrate the mechanics of machine learning in action.  Part 1 focuses on decision trees:


Software Development

“Six out of ten parents said they want their primary school age children to learn the coding language over French. And 75% of primary school children said they would rather learn how to programme a robot than learn a modern foreign language.”

  • Absorbing and insightful video on software development at leading music software outfit Ableton.  Refreshingly presented from a practitioner rather than manager perspective:

You know what never looks anything even close to what the user actually wants? A small three-bar icon tucked in the corner of a website. It has no information scent. Even after the user has exhausted every other option, it still might not occur to them that the answers they seek are hiding behind those three bars. Users generally aren’t inclined to click it.

Digital Enterprise

  • Timely blog post aimed at CIOs warning that time is running out for old school thinking for businesses wishing to survive the forces of digital transformation:

The business is looking for IT not just to support innovation but also to be a source of innovation. With the consumerization of IT, many IT organizations have found themselves behind their users in adopting new technologies. IT needs to invest in research and development capabilities to evaluate emerging technologies and support joint pilots and POCs with the business. IT needs to get ahead of its customers and lead, not follow when it comes to exploiting technology.

  • This HBR post suggests an even more radical therapy – CIOs should learn to code to get the best understanding of the technology at the heart of digital transformation.


A new method for taking carbon dioxide directly from the air and converting it to oxygen and nanoscale fibers made of carbon could lead to an inexpensive way to make a valuable building material—and may even serve as a weapon against climate change.

Startups and hiring

  • Really useful insight from a16z on key metrics investors use to measure startup health.  They range from revenue and profit with a particular focus on GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) to CAC (customer acquisition cost) and MAU (monthly active users):

When initially evaluating businesses, investors often look at GMV, revenue, and bookings first because they’re an indicator of the size of the business. Once investors have a sense of the the size of the business, they’ll want to understand growth to see how well the company is performing. These basic metrics, if interesting, then compel us to look even further.

we know success in any area hinges on having the right people. Think about that the next time you fill an opening.



Culture and Society

  • This week has provided a terrible reminder this week of the tragedy of a toddler washed up on a Mediterranean beach further amplifying the other grim disasters of war this year has already yielded.   Many of those on the move away from Syria will continue to take their chances with migration than risk indiscriminate government carpet bombing on the one hand and an implacably apocalyptic death cult fixated on bringing about a Doomsday type scenario on the other.  Echoes through time of eschatologies past on a break in Italy this week where Primo Levi wrote his harrowing post-Holocaust examination of human capacity for inhumanity, The Drowned and the Saved.  And where in Pompeii an exhibition in the excavated ruins of the colloseum brought together a collection of unforgettable plaster casts of the Drowned of all ages that met their grisly fate 2000 years ago.

For now we see through a glass, darkly;

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2015-08-26 12.06.13

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