Start up: Amazon’s profitable cloud, Apple Music woes, early days of search, and more

Kepler 452b
“Hello! Have you heard of ‘Greece’? Do you have spare money?” Artist impression by Nasa.

A selection of 9 links for you. Lather them all over yourself. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Lycos almost won the search engine wars » Gizmodo

Jim Gilliam with a tale from the pit:

A few months later, our team made a huge discovery. In our ongoing efforts to make search results better, Dennis set up an eye-tracking lab and began scientific testing of how people used search. We watched where people looked on the pages and noticed something shocking: people didn’t look at the ads. Not only that, but the more we tried to make the ads stand out, the less people looked at them. Our entire advertising philosophy was based on making ads flashy so people would notice them. But we saw, quite counterintuitively, that people instinctively knew that the good stuff was on the boring part of the page, and that they ignored the parts of the page that we—and the advertisers—wanted them to click on.

This discovery would give us an edge over everyone in the industry. All we had to do was make the ads look less like ads and more like text. But that was not what the ad people wanted, and the ad people ran Lycos. The advertiser was seen as our true customer, since advertising was where our revenue came from. Our team argued that our customers were also the people searching, and without them, we’d lose the advertisers. The eye-tracking revelation wasn’t enough to convince them, so we tried another tack.

In the ultracompetitive world of search engines, the biggest factor aside from the quality of the results was how fast they loaded. We were constantly trying to take things out of the pages to make them load faster. So I created a program that took queries coming into our site and ran them on all the major search engines, ranking them in order of speed.

And guess which speed-obsessed, blinky-ad-ignoring company came along next? It’s an extract from Gilliam’s new book, The Internet Is My Religion. Have a free download of the book.
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Amazon Web Services is now a $6 billion-a-year cloud-computing monster » Quartz

Dan Frommer:

AWS generated almost $400m in operating income during the quarter, and almost $1bn over the past four quarters. It represented almost 40% of Amazon’s consolidated-segment operating income for the second quarter in a row—despite only generating about 8% of the company’s sales.

In short: AWS is one of Amazon’s most valuable assets.

That 40%-8% ratio is something to ponder. Prices are going to fall as Microsoft and Google keep trying to win share. Will profits remain as strong?
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Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it » Loop Insight

Jim Dalrymple had a terrible experience:

I went through about 15 albums one night and manually added all of the missing songs. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I did it. I nearly lost my mind the next morning when I checked my iPhone and Apple Music and taken out all of the songs I added the night before. I was right back where I started.

In some cases, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, a few of the songs show up twice on one album. When you tap to play the song, they both show the animated icon in iTunes, as if they are both playing. Note in the screenshot that the songs are different in terms of their length of playing time. Either Apple Music shaved a few seconds off one of the tracks, or they’re from different albums.

I’ve had some problems a little like this – duplicate tracks on iOS devices, ie not the originating device, which is the desktop. But nothing like Dalrymple’s awful loss of thousands of tracks. I’ve lost nothing. (People, don’t suffer the same way; make backups.) I’m just waiting for it to sort itself out. And I have a backup.

I suspect that Apple’s servers are suddenly under a colossal load, and that this is related in some way. Apple Music is very, very complicated. Not that that excuses track deletion. But it’s Spotify plus the iTunes Music Store plus iTunes Match. A gigantic beast.
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An identity thief explains the art of emptying your bank account » Bloomberg Business

Dune Lawrence:

On this particular winter night [in Minsk] in 2009, [Dmitry] Naskovets checks the online orders that have come in and sees a routine assignment. A client has tried to buy a MacBook Pro online with a stolen credit card, but American Express blocked the purchase. Now it’s Naskovets’s job to work it out with Amex.

He calls the toll-free number, using software that makes it look as if he’s dialing from the U.S. Any information the customer rep might ask for, Naskovets’s client sends him instantly by chat. The questions don’t usually get beyond the cardholder’s date of birth, Social Security number, or mother’s maiden name, but the woman fielding this call is unusually thorough. She notices that the phone number on the account has changed recently, triggering extra security. She puts Naskovets on hold while a colleague dials the old number and gets the actual cardholder on the line.

Thus begins an absurd contest: Naskovets against the man he’s impersonating. The agents throw out questions to distinguish the fake. When did you buy your home? What color was the car you bought in 2004? Each time Amex puts him on hold, he knows the legitimate cardholder is being asked the same question. At last, the rep thanks him, apologizes, and approves the purchase. Naskovets was even better than the real thing.

Scary.
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Apple Watch: a work in progress but packed with potential » CCS Insight

Ben Wood says his initial expectations were too high, and that he has been left underwhelmed. But, he adds:

this is version 1.0 and Apple has a proven track record of making a nice first device and then slowly but surely making it better and better. I’m not going to lie — I was among those who misjudged the original iPhone. It was easy to pick holes in the first model when it launched: poor battery life, no concessions to operators or subsidy, and missing features like 3G and MMS made it easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. But over time it’s become one of the most transformative electronic devices of our generation. That’s because the product that appeared in 2007 is not the product that hundreds of millions of people are using today. It was a full year before Apple opened the App Store, a major catalyst to the iPhone’s success. I predict we’ll take a similar journey with its watch.

When you go beyond the basic features and think about the sheer potential of the device you start to realise how significant it is. To me, it comes down to offering capabilities that are so compelling it’s not even worth the milliseconds it takes to whip your smartphone out of your pocket.

A perfect example of this is payment. Apple Pay landed in the UK this month. Although I’ve only used it a few times, my initial impression is that having a secure, predictable payment mechanism easily accessible on your wrist is hugely useful, whether you’re buying a coffee or hopping on a bus.

Another inspiring application is an electronic hotel room key – something Apple is already supporting at some Starwood hotels. No more arriving at your room struggling to get an unreliable plastic keycard out of your pocket or wallet, with a coffee in one hand and a suitcase in the other. A tap of the wrist and you’re in.

Things get even better when you add another layer of intelligence. At some point in the future, you’ll arrive at the hotel or approach the counter to pay for your coffee; a nearby beacon will tell your Apple Watch what information you’re likely to need. As if by magic the relevant loyalty card appears on the watch face ready to help you check in or pay for the coffee. These types of rich application are limited only by developers’ imagination and the software needed to create them.

Judging devices that obey Moore’s Law on their first incarnation really is a mug’s game.
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NASA just discovered ‘Earth 2.0’ » Business Insider

Jessica Orwig:

Kepler 452b will forever be remembered as the first, second Earth or what NASA refers to as “Earth 2.0” ever discovered:

Here’s what we know so far about this Earth 2.0:

It’s 60% larger than Earth.
• It’s most likely rocky, meaning it has a solid surface as opposed to a gaseous one, like Jupiter.
• It’s about 1,400 light years from Earth.
• It orbits its star every 385 days, very similar to Earth’s orbital length.
• The planet and star it’s orbiting are about 6 billion years old — 1.5 billion years older than our sun.

Any chance they could bail out Greece? Just asking.
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Google+: a case study on app download interstitials » Official Google Webmaster Central Blog

David Morell, software engineer at Google+ on why “hey, get our app!” things that take over the page might bug users:

Despite our intuition that we should remove the interstitial, we prefer to let data guide our decisions, so we set out to learn how the interstitial affected our users. Our analysis found that:
• 9% of the visits to our interstitial page resulted in the ‘Get App’ button being pressed. (Note that some percentage of these users already have the app installed or may never follow through with the app store download.)
• 69% of the visits abandoned our page. These users neither went to the app store nor continued to our mobile website.

While 9% sounds like a great CTR for any campaign, we were much more focused on the number of users who had abandoned our product due to the friction in their experience. With this data in hand, in July 2014, we decided to run an experiment and see how removing the interstitial would affect actual product usage. We added a Smart App Banner to continue promoting the native app in a less intrusive way, as recommended in the Avoid common mistakes section of our Mobile SEO Guide. The results were surprising:
• 1-day active users on our mobile website increased by 17%.
• G+ iOS native app installs were mostly unaffected (-2%). (We’re not reporting install numbers from Android devices since most come with Google+ installed.)

So much is weird about this. Why were they ever showing the interstitial to Android users, since “most” already had it? The news that not blocking a screen leads to people not giving up (especially for an app they’re likely to already have) isn’t that astonishing. Also: only 17% more read the page? That doesn’t seem so great, given that there were 69% abandoning before. Note too how the measurements aren’t congruent: in the first set, you’re told how many follows to the app there were, and how many abandoned. In the second, you’re told how “1-day active users” increased and how nothing happened to iOS installs – not how many clicked through.

When you aren’t given congruent statistics (in experiment A, X happened; in experiment B, X changed by Y), be distrustful.

And the other missing stat: the balance between iOS users and Android users who came to the page. It all just seems like a study in “what were you even thinking by trying to force people to click past an interstitial?”
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Worldwide smartphone market posts 11.6% year-over-year growth in Q2 2015, the second-highest shipment total for a single quarter » IDC

According to the latest preliminary release from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 337.2 million smartphones worldwide in the second quarter of 2015 (2Q15), up 11.6% from the 302.1 million units in 2Q14. The 2Q15 shipment volume represents the second highest quarterly total on record. Following an above average first quarter (1Q15), smartphone shipments were still able to remain slightly above the previous quarter thanks to robust growth in many emerging markets. In the worldwide mobile phone market (inclusive of smartphones), vendors shipped 464.6 million units, down -0.4% from the 466.3 million units shipped 2Q14.

Quite a contrast with the gloomier number from Trendforce on Tues/Weds. That gives smartphones 73% of sales; the 90% point, when featurephones are just edge cases, is fast approaching. Minor details: Samsung was the only top vendor to see a fall in shipments (and that by about 1m, so within margins of error). Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi all seeing growth faster than the market.

A notable quote from Melissa Chau on the phone team: “IDC now tracks over 200 different smartphone brands globally, many of them focused on entry level and mid-range models, and most with a regional or even single-country focus.”
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Lottery IT security boss guilty of hacking lotto systems to win $14.3m » The Register

Iain Thomson:

Iowa state lottery’s IT security boss hacked his employer’s computer system, and rigged the lottery so he could buy a winning ticket in a subsequent draw.

On Tuesday, at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa, the disgraced director of information security was found guilty of fraud.

Eddie Tipton, 52, installed a hidden rootkit on a computer system run by the Multi-State Lottery Association so he could secretly alter the lottery’s random number generator, the court heard. This allowed him to calculate the numbers that would be drawn in the state’s Hot Lotto games, and therefore buy a winning ticket beforehand.

The prosecution said he also tampered with security cameras covering the lottery computer to stop them recording access to the machine.

Hmm – worth a one-hour drama. Not really a miniseries or a film.
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One thought on “Start up: Amazon’s profitable cloud, Apple Music woes, early days of search, and more

  1. Pingback: Start up: adblocking animus, Amazon’s aims, Ubuntu phone reviewed, the iPod Watch, and more | The Overspill: when there's more that I want to say

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