Monthly Archives: January 2019

HQ2 fight continues as New York City and Seattle officials hold anti-Amazon summit

Posted by on 7 January, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

The heated debate around Amazon’s recently announced Long Island City “HQ2” is showing no signs of cooling down.

On Monday morning, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) hosted a briefing in which labor officials, economic development analysts, Amazon employees and elected New York State and City representatives further underlined concerns around the HQ2 process, the awarded incentives, and the potential impacts Amazon’s presence would have on city workers and residents.

While many of the arguments posed at the Summit weren’t necessarily new, the wide variety of stakeholders that showed up to express concern looked to contextualize the far-reaching risks associated with the deal.

The day began with representatives from New York union groups recounting Amazon’s shaky history with employee working conditions and questioning how the city’s working standards will be impacted if the 50,000 promised jobs do actually show up.

Two current employees working in an existing Amazon New York City warehouse in Staten Island provided poignant examples of improper factory conditions and promised employee benefits that never came to fruition. According to the workers, Amazon has yet to follow through on shuttle services and ride-sharing services that were promised to ease worker commutes, forcing the workers to resort to overcrowded and unreliable public transportation. One of the workers detailed that with his now four-hour commute to get to and from work, coupled with his meaningfully long shifts, he’s been unable to see his daughter for weeks.

Various economic development groups and elected officials including, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and New York State Senator Mike Gianaris supported the labor arguments with spirited teardowns of the economic terms of the deal.

Like many critics of the HQ2 process, the speakers’ expressed their beliefs that Amazon knew where it wanted to bring its second quarters throughout the entirety of its auction process, given the talent pool and resources in the chosen locations, and that the entire undertaking was meant to squeeze out the best economic terms possible. And according to City Council Speaker Johnson, New York City “got played”.

Comptroller Stringer argued that Amazon is taking advantage of New York’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program (REAP) and Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP), which Stringer described as outdated and in need of reform, to receive the majority of the $2 billion-plus in promised economic incentives that made it the fourth largest corporate incentive deal in US history.

The speakers continued to argue that the unprecedented level of incentives will be nearly impossible to recoup and that New York will also face economic damages from lower sales tax revenue as improved Amazon service in the city cannibalizes local brick & mortar retail.

Fears over how Amazon’s presence will impact the future of New York were given more credibility with the presence of Seattle City Council members Lisa Herbold & Teresa Mosqueda, who had flown to New York from Seattle to discuss lessons learned from having Amazon’s Headquarters in the city and to warn the city about the negative externalities that have come with it.

Herbold and Mosqueda focused less on an outright rejection of the deal but instead emphasized that New York was in a position to negotiate for better terms focused on equality and corporate social responsibility, which could help the city avoid the socioeconomic turnover that has plagued Seattle and could create a new standard for public-private partnerships.

While the New York City Council noted it was looking into legal avenues, the opposition seemed to have limited leverage to push back or meaningfully negotiate the deal. According to state officials, the most clear path to fight the deal would be through votes by the state legislature and through the state Public Authorities Control Board who has to unanimously approve the subsidy package.

With the significant turnout seen at Monday’s summit, which included several high-ranking state and city officials, it seems clear that we’re still in the early innings of what’s likely to be a long battle ahead to close the HQ2 deal.

Amazon did not return requests for immediate comment.

Posted Under: Tech News
GitHub Free users now get unlimited private repositories

Posted by on 7 January, 2019

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If you’re a GitHub user, but you don’t pay, this is a good week. Historically, GitHub always offered free accounts but the caveat was that your code had to be public. To get private repositories, you had to pay. Starting tomorrow, that limitation is gone. Free GitHub users now get unlimited private projects with up to three collaborators.

The amount of collaborators is really the only limitation here and there’s no change to how the service handles public repositories, which can still have unlimited collaborators.

This feels like a sign of goodwill on behalf of Microsoft, which closed its acquisition of GitHub last October, with former Xamarin CEO Nat Friedman taking over as GitHub’s CEO. Some developers were rather nervous about the acquisition (though it feels like most have come to terms with it). It’s also a fair guess to assume that GitHub’s model for monetizing the service is a bit different from Microsoft’s. Microsoft doesn’t need to try to get money from small teams — that’s not where the bulk of its revenue comes from. Instead, the company is mostly interested in getting large enterprises to use the service.

Talking about teams, GitHub also today announced that it is changing the name of the GitHub Developer suite to ‘GitHub Pro.’ The company says it’s doing so in order to “help developers better identify the tools they need.”

But what’s maybe even more important is that GitHub Business Cloud and GitHub Enterprise (now called Enterprise Cloud and GitHub Enterprise) have become one and are now sold under the ‘GitHub Enterprise’ label and feature per-user pricing.

Note: this story was scheduled for tomorrow, but due to a broken embargo, we decided to publish today. The feature will go live tomorrow.

Posted Under: Tech News
Daily Crunch: Nvidia breaks with tradition at CES 2019

Posted by on 7 January, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Nvidia launches the $349 GeForce RTX 2060

Nvidia broke with tradition and put a new focus on gaming at CES. Last night the company unveiled the RTX 2060, a $349 low-end version of its new Turing-based desktop graphics cards. The RTX 2060 will be available on Jan. 15.

2. Elon Musk’s vision of spaceflight is gorgeous 

This spring SapceX intends to launch the next phase in its space exploration plans. The newly named Starship rocket, previously known as the BFR, intends to to be rocket to rule them all. And it’s going to look good doing it.

3. Apple’s increasingly tricky international trade-offs

Far from its troubles in emerging markets like China, Apple is starting to face backlash from a European population that’s crying foul over the company’s perceived hypocrisy on data privacy. It’s become clear that Apple’s biggest success is now its biggest challenge in Europe.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

4. Marc Andreessen: audio will be “titanically important” and VR will be “1,000” times bigger than AR

In a recently recorded podcast Marc Andreesen gave some predictions on the future of the tech industry. Surprisingly, the all-start investor is continuing his support of the shaky VR industry saying that expanding the immersive world will require us to remove the head-mounted displays we’ve become accustomed to.

5. Fitness marketplace ClassPass acquires competitor GuavaPass

ClassPass, the five-year-old fitness marketplace, is in the midst of an expansion sprint. The company announced yesterday that it’s acquiring one it competitors, GuavaPass, for an undisclosed amount to expand into Asia. The move now puts ClassPass in more than 80 markets across the 11 countries, with plans to expand to 50 new cities in 2019.

6. Apple shows off new smart home products from HomeKit partners

Apple gave a snapshot of its future smart home ecosystem at CES. Looks like an array of smart light switches, door cameras, electrical outlets and more are on the way and will be configurable through the Home app and Siri.

7. Parcel Guard’s smart mailbox protects your packages from porch thieves

Danby is showing off its newly launched smart mailbox called Parcel Guard at CES, which allows deliveries to be left securely at customers’ doorsteps. Turns out you won’t need a farting glitter bomb to protect your packages after all. The Parcel Guard starts at $399 and pre-orders are will be available this week.

Posted Under: Tech News
How Trulia began paying down its technical debt

Posted by on 5 January, 2019

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As every software company knows, over time as code ages and workarounds build on work-arounds, the code base becomes bloated. It becomes ever more difficult to get around the technical debt that you’ve built up over time. It’s really impossible to avoid this phenomenon, but at some point, companies realize that the debt is so great that it’s limiting their ability to build new functionality. That’s precisely what Trulia faced in 2017 when it began a process of paying down that debt and modernizing its architecture.

Trulia is a real estate site founded way back in 2005, an eternity ago in terms of technology. The company went public in 2012 and was acquired by Zillow in 2014 for $3.5 billion, but has continued to operate as an independent brand under the Zillow umbrella. It understood that a lot had changed technologically in the 12 years since its inception when engineering began thinking about this. The team knew it had a humongous, monolithic code base that was inhibiting the ability to update the site.

While they tried to pull out some of the newer functions as services, it didn’t really make the site any more nimble because these services always had to tie back into that monolithic central code base. The development team knew if it was to escape this coding trap, it would take a complete overhaul.

Brainstorming broad change

As you would expect, a process like this doesn’t happen overnight, taking months to plan and implement. It all started back in 2017 when the company held what they called an “Innovation Week” with the entire engineering team. Groups of engineers came up with ideas about how to solve this problem, but the one that got the most attention was one called Project Islands, which involved breaking out the different pieces of the site as individual coding islands that could operate independently of one another.

It sounds simple, but in practice it involved breaking down the entire code base into services. They would use Next.js and React to rebuild the front end and GraphQL, an open source graph database technology to rebuild the back end.

Deep Varma, Trulia’s VP of engineering, pointed out that as a company founded in 2005, the site was built on PHP and MySQL, two popular development technologies from that time. Varma says that whenever his engineers made a change to any part of the site, they needed to do a complete system release. This caused a major bottleneck.

What they really needed to do was move to a completely modern microservices architecture that allowed engineering teams to work independently in a continuous delivery approach without breaking any other team’s code. That’s where the concept of islands came into play.

Islands in the stream

The islands were actually microservices. Each one could communicate to a set of central common services like authentication, A/B testing, the navigation bar, the footer — all of the pieces that every mini code base would need, while allowing the teams building these islands to work independently and not require a huge rebuild every time they added a new element or changed something.

Cousine island. Seychelles. Photo: Martin Harvey/Getty Images

The harsh reality of this kind of overhaul came into focus as the teams realized they had to be writing the new pieces while the old system was still in place and running. In a video the company made describing the effort, one engineer likened it to changing the engine of a 747 in the middle of a flight.

Varma says he didn’t try to do everything at once, as he needed to see if the islands approach would work in practice first. In November 2017, he pulled the first engineering team together, and by January it had built the app shell (the common services piece) and one microservice island. When the proof of concept succeeded, Varma knew they were in business.

Building out the archipelago

It’s one thing to build a single island, but it’s another matter to build a chain of them and that would be the next step. By last April, engineering had shown enough progress that they were able to present the entire idea to senior management and get the go-ahead to move forward with a more complex project.

Photo of Rock Islands, Palau, Micronesia: J.W.Alker/Getty Images

First, it took some work with the Next.js development team to get the development framework to work the way they wanted. Varma said he brought in the Next.js team to work with his engineers. He said that they needed to figure out how to stitch the various islands together and resolve dependencies among the different services. The Next.js team actually changed its development roadmap for Trulia, speeding up delivery of these requirements, understanding that other companies would have similar issues.

By last July, the company released Neighborhoods, the first fully independent island functionality on the site. Recently, it moved off-market properties to islands. Off-market properties, as the name implies, are pages with information about properties that are no longer on the market. Varma says that these pages actually make up a significant portion of the company’s traffic.

While Varma would not say just how much of the site has been moved to islands at this point, he said the goal is to move the majority to the new platform in 2019. All of this shows that a complete overhaul of a complex site doesn’t happen overnight, but Trulia is taking steps to move off the original system it created in 2005 and move to a more modern and flexible architecture it has created with islands. It may not have paid down its technical debt in full in 2018, but it went a long way on laying the foundation to do so.

Posted Under: Tech News
Cloudera and Hortonworks finalize their merger

Posted by on 3 January, 2019

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Cloudera and Hortonworks, two of the biggest players in the Hadoop big data space, today announced that they have finalized their all-stock merger. The new company will use the Cloudera brand and will continue to trade under the CLDR symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.

“Today, we start an exciting new chapter for Cloudera as we become the leading enterprise data cloud provider,” said Tom Reilly, chief executive officer of Cloudera, in today’s announcement. “This combined team and technology portfolio establish the new Cloudera as a clear market leader with the scale and resources to drive continued innovation and growth. We will provide customers a comprehensive solution-set to bring the right data analytics to data anywhere the enterprise needs to work, from the Edge to AI, with the industry’s first Enterprise Data Cloud.”

The companies describe the deal as a “merger of equals,” though Cloudera stockholders will own about 60 percent of the equity in the company.

The combined company expects to generate over $720 million in revenue from its 2,500 customers who rely on it to help them manage the complexities of processing their data. While Hadoop itself is open source and freely available, Cloudera and Hortonworks abstract away most of the infrastructure. Both focused on slightly different markets, though, with Hortonworks going after a more technical user and a pure open source approach, while Cloudera also offered some proprietary tools.

“Together, we are well positioned to continue growing and competing in the streaming and IoT, data management, data warehousing, machine learning/AI and hybrid cloud markets,” said Hortonworks CEO Rob Bearden back when the deal was first announced. “Importantly, we will be able to offer a broader set of offerings that will enable our customers to capitalize on the value of their data.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise platform, adds another major customer, Nestle

Posted by on 3 January, 2019

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While Facebook continues to repair its image with consumers disenchanted with the social network’s role in disseminating misleading or false information and mishandling their personal data, it’s ironically been finding some traction for its enterprise-focused service, Workplace. Today, the company announced that it has added another huge company to its books today: Nestle, the coffee, chocolate and FMCG giant with 2,000 brands and 240,000 employees, has signed up as its latest customer.

Facebook’s enterprise service competes against the likes of Microsoft Teams, Slack and smaller players like Crew and Zinc, among many others in a crowded market of mobile and desktop apps built to address a growing interest among organizations to have more user-friendly, modern ways for their employees to communicate.

Workplace positions itself as different from its competitors in a couple of different ways: it says its communications platform is designed for all different employment demographics, covering so-called knowledge workers (the traditional IT customer) as well as waged and front-line employees; but it also claims to be the most democratic of the pack, by virtue of being a Facebook product, designed for mass market use from the ground up.

In the workplace, that translates to apps that do not require company email addresses or company devices to use; a strong proportion of employees at Workplace’s bigger customers, such as Walmart (2.2 million employees) and Starbucks (nearly 240,000 employees) do not sit at desks and, until relatively recently, would not have been using any kind of PC or phone on a regular basis on any average day.

But as smartphones have become as ubiquitous as having your keys and wallet, acceptance of having them and utilising them to communicate workplace-related information has changed, and that is the wave that services like Workplace are hoping to ride.

But despite the strong engine that is Facebook behind it, Workplace has a lot of challenges up ahead.

The company has not updated its total number of customers in over a year at this point — its last milestone was 30,000 customers, back in November 2017 — and today Facebook VP Julien Codorniou said that the company might put out a more updated number later this year.

“We’re not using that metric to communicate our success,” he said, “but we have to communicate growth, I feel the demand from the market.” Slack claims 500,000 organizations, over 70,000 of which pay; Teams from Microsoft has some 329,000 customers, the company says.

There is also the issue of how a customer win is actually translating to usage. Last month, a much smaller competitor, Crew, with 25,000 customers, noted that at least some of them were in fact those that Workplace was claiming to have secured.

“Starbucks is theoretically using Workplace, but it’s been deployed only to managers,” Crew CEO Danny Leffel told me. “We have almost 1,000 Starbucks locations using Crew. We knew we had a huge presence there, and we were worried when Facebook won them, but we haven’t seen even a dent in our business so far.”

Codorniou said that this also doesn’t tell the full story. He describes the approach that Crew and others take as “shadow IT” in that the companies don’t talk to central HQ when winning the business. “You can’t give a voice to everyone by going in through the back,” he said. He also contends that it just takes time to deploy something across a massive business. “Workplace only works if you get 100 percent of the company using it,” he added. Notably, today Facebook announced that Nestle has already onboarded 210,000 customers to Workplace.

There is also the bigger question of how these products will develop technically to further differentiate from the pack. For now, it feels like Slack still reigns supreme when it comes to desktop knowledge worker functionality — even without usefully threaded comments — because of the fact that you can integrate virtually any other app you might want to into its platform.

Crew, meanwhile, has differentiated by focusing on providing handy tools to help businesses managing scheduling for shift workers, who comprise the majority of its user base.

While others like Teams, and yes, Workplace, have also added in integrations and their own functionality — Workplace’s most interesting features, I think, are how it has translated consumer-Facebook features like Live into the Workplace environment. But there is still a lot of space for apps to consider what other features and functionality will be most useful and stick for the most employees and for the business customer at large.

It will be interesting to see how and if this is affected by way of a key leadership appointment. Last month, Facebook appointed a new “head” of Workplace, Karandeep Anand, who came to Facebook three years ago from Microsoft (and thus has a close understanding of enterprise software). Codorniou said Anand be relocating to London, where Workplace is developed, and will focus on the technical development of the product while Codorniou focuses on sales, client relations and business development.

Technical leadership for Workplace had previously come straight from CTO Mike Schroepfer, Codorniou said. “We decided that we needed someone full time, here in London,” he said.

It’s not clear if Workplace’s win at Nestle is replacing another product: it seems, however, that it is more likely a trend of how more businesses are making an investment in company-wide communications platforms where they may never have had one before, in hopes of it helping keep employees switched on, linked up, and generally more happy and feeling less like expendable cogs.

“Nestlé is a people-first environment,” said EVP Chris Johnson, in a statement. “We really rely on our talented teams to manage more than 2,000 Nestlé brands worldwide. We help our employees develop and we give them the right tools, so Workplace is a perfect fit.”

Posted Under: Tech News
PR management firm Cision is acquiring Falcon.io to expand into social media marketing

Posted by on 3 January, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Social media has become a primary conduit for getting the word out, in some cases proving to be an even stronger force for publicity than more traditional media outlets and paid advertising, and so today, a company that has grown its business around public relations services has acquired a social media management company to make sure it has a foothold in the medium. Cision, which provides press release distribution, media monitoring and other PR services to businesses and the media industry, has acquired Falcon.io, a startup founded in Denmark that lets companies post, manage and analyse their presence on social media platforms.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, the companies tell me, but the whole of the Falcon team, including CEO/founder Ulrik Bo Larsen, are joining the company, where they will continue to operate its existing product set as well as integrate it into Cision’s wider business. The last valuation noted in April 2017 at the Danish Companies House was about $52 million (€45 million), but they have been growing very rapidly, and one source tells us that the price paid was around $200-$225 million, while Danish publication Borsen says it’s 800 million Danish kroner, or around $122 million. I’m still trying to get more detail.

Falcon had raised around $25 million according to PitchBook, and it has never disclosed its valuation. Cision — well-known to many journalists — is publicly traded and currently has a market cap of just under $1.6 billion. For some context, two other prominent social media management firms that compete with Falcon, Sprout Social and Hootsuite, are respectively valued at $800 million and anywhere between $750 million and $1 billion (depending on who you ask).

The latter two are bigger firms — Falcon has around 1,500 businesses as customers that use it to manage their social profiles and read social sentiment across platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, while Sprout says it has around 25,000 and Hootsuite counts millions of individual users — and both have raised significantly more capital, but their valuations underscore the demand that we’re seeing for platforms and user-friendly tools to target the world’s social media users — estimated to number at upwards of 2.5 billion people globally.

Kevin Akeroyd, who came on as Cision’s CEO after long stints at both Oracle and Salesforce, among other places, describes Falcon as a “top five” social media marketing and analytics firm, and in an interview he said that the new acquisition will form a key part of the “communications cloud” that Cision has been building.

As with Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe (which also use similar cloud-themed terminology to describe their product suites), Cision’s strategy is to build a one-stop shop for customers to manage all their communications needs from one platform. Falcon itself may be smaller than its competitors, but the idea is that it will be cross-sold to Cision’s customers, which currently number 75,000 businesses.

“We’re seeing too many of our customers using one application for content, another for something else, and so on. There are too many apps,” Akeroyd said. “We have always believed in earned media” — that is, media mentions that are not in the form of paid advertising — “and the role of influencers alongside paid and owned marketing. We believe we could provide the first solution for businesses across earned, communications services and public relations, helping to build a better data stack to measure and attribute what you are doing in comms.”

As social networking companies like Facebook and Twitter build more of their own tools in-house to serve the social media needs of organizations that want to better manage their profiles and interactions on these platforms, this has led to some consolidation and shifts among social media management companies. Some are merging or getting acquired, and some are shopping themselves around.

And in that wider trend, it’s not too surprising to see public relations firms get in on the action. Social media has completely changed the landscape for how information is disseminated today, sometimes complementing what traditional media organizations do — there are many examples of how newspapers and other news outlets leverage, for example, Facebook to grow and communicate with their audiences — and often replacing traditional media altogether. (Pew last month said that social media outpaced newspapers for the first time as a news source in the U.S., although TV and radio are still bigger than social… for now.)

Given that public relations management has long been the connecting link between organisations and media outlets, they have had to take a bigger step into social media in order to provide to their clients a more complete picture of the media landscape. Cision is not the first to have done this: Last year, Meltwater, another media monitoring firm, acquired DataSift to add social signals and traffic to its platform mix.

“This consolidation has to come because there is just too much value for the user,” Akeroyd said. “CMOs and CCOs do not want their own islands, they want something bigger.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Mozilla promises a faster, prettier Thunderbird with better Gmail support

Posted by on 2 January, 2019

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Thunderbird, Mozilla’s desktop email client, doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of mindshare of the organization’s Firefox browser, yet even in this age of web-based email services, it still has a sizable user community. For 2019, those users can look forward to a faster and more beautiful application, Thunderbird community manager Ryan Sipes announced today.

Only a few years ago, Mozilla’s relationship with Thunderbird looked rather rocky. Back in 2015, the organization decided to decouple Thunderbird’s technical infrastructure from Firefox’s and to look for other organizations that would like to invest in it. In the end, though, Mozilla decided to keep Thunderbird in-house and not move it to another organization and continue to support the project. That gave Thunderbird some much-needed stability and as Sipes announced today, there are now eight full-time staffers who work on the project, with plans for hiring six more soon.

For 2019, the expanded team promises to make the application run faster and address performance issues — and to rewrite some parts of the client in an effort to build a multi-process version that can make better use of modern processors (it’s worth noting that Firefox went through a similar rewrite).

At the same time, Thunderbird will also get a few user interface updates, better notifications and, maybe even more importantly, better Gmail support. The current Gmail setup procedure isn’t actually all that complicated, but once you do have Thunderbird set up to work with your Gmail account, you don’t get access to many of Gmail’s proprietary features. To work around some of this, the Thunderbird team will soon offer better label support, for example.

Posted Under: Tech News
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