Start Up: death of the web startup?, how Google paid for academic coverage, Daily Mail sued, and more

Windows Phone’s first incarnation: the world was very, very, very different then, as the BBC story indicates. Photo by JesarArts on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Windows Phone dies today • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Microsoft is killing off Windows Phone 8.1 support today, more than three years after the company first introduced the update. The end of support marks an end to the Windows Phone era, and the millions of devices still running the operating system. While most have accepted that the death of Windows Phone occurred more than a year ago, AdDuplex estimates that nearly 80% of all Windows-powered phones are still running Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, or Windows Phone 8.1. All of these handsets are now officially unsupported, and only 20% of all Windows phones are running the latest Windows 10 Mobile OS.

Windows Phone 8.1 was a big update to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system, and included the company’s Cortana digital assistant. A new notification center, UI changes, and updates to the core mobile OS. It marked one of Microsoft’s biggest efforts with its Windows Phone work, but it wasn’t successful at competing with Android and iOS. 99.6% of all new smartphones now run Android or iOS, and Microsoft has given up producing its own Lumia-branded hardware as a result.


Flashback to September 2010:

This was the funeral – allegedly – for the iPhone, because Windows Phone v 1.0 had been released to manufacture. Life comes at you.. quite slowly sometimes.
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McDonald’s takes domain names off the menu • Domain Name Wire

Andrew Allemann:


McDonald’s had decided it doesn’t want to run new top level domain names after all.

The restaurant chain applied to run the .McDonalds and .MCD top level domain names, but it recently sent termination notices (pdf) to domain name overseer ICANN voluntarily relinquishing the two domains.

It joins a host of companies that applied for so-called .brand top level domain names that have decided it’s not worth the expense or effort.

ICANN also just published a termination notice from Pampered Chef, a Berkshire Hathaway company, for .PamperedChef.


Another example of the new top-level domains being pointless. They really are the deforested wastelands of the web. (OK, nothing had to be torn down, but who is there at all that finds them useful?)
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The end of the internet startup • Vox

Timothy Lee:


the 2010s seem to be suffering from a startup drought. People are still starting startups, of course. But the last really big tech startup success, Facebook, is 13 years old.

Until last year, Uber seemed destined to be Silicon Valley’s newest technology giant. But now Uber’s CEO has resigned in disgrace and the company’s future is in doubt. Other technology companies launched in the past 10 years don’t seem to be in the same league. Airbnb, the most valuable American tech startup after Uber, is worth $31 billion, about 7% of Facebook’s value. Others — like Snap, Square, and Slack — are worth much less.

So what’s going on? On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, I posed that question to several technology executives and startup investors.

“When I look at like Google and Amazon in the 1990s, I kind of feel like it’s Columbus and Vasco da Gama sailing out of Portugal the first time,” said Jay Zaveri, an investor at the Silicon Valley firm Social Capital.

The early internet pioneers grabbed the “low-hanging fruit,” Zaveri suggested, occupying lucrative niches like search, social networks, and e-commerce. By the time latecomers like Pinterest and Blue Apron came along, the pickings had gotten slimmer.


This doesn’t make sense. There aren’t big startups, apart from the gigantic Uber, Snap, AirBnB, Square, hang on, don’t go, I’ll run out of names in a minute, Slack…

One could have thought this at any time from 1997. It still isn’t true. There will be other big startups; you just aren’t looking in the right place.
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News publishers team up to take on Facebook, Google • WSJ

Lukas Alpert, Deepa Seetharaman and Brent Kendall:


The News Media Alliance—a trade coalition representing some 2,000 organizations across the U.S. and Canada, including Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones—says antiquated antitrust laws have had “the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position,” by limiting publishers’ ability to push for changes together.

Federal antitrust law bars competitors from coordinating on business decisions and market strategy. If granted a limited waiver by Congress, the group said it would seek stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for digital subscription models and a fairer share of revenue and customer data.

“Quality journalism is critical to sustaining democracy and is central to civic society,” the alliance’s president and chief executive, David Chavern, said in a statement. “To ensure that such journalism has a future, the news organizations that fund it must be able to collectively negotiate with the digital platforms that effectively control distribution and audience access in the digital age.”


No, no, no, no. The monopoly that Facebook and Google have in this space – search and social – is entirely legally acquired. It’s not right to allow a cartel – illegal in every other area of business – just because publishers are having trouble with the shift to digital. Had they made different choices earlier on, things might have been different.
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Paying professors: inside Google’s academic influence campaign • WSJ


Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley.

Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying stipends of $5,000 to $400,000, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found.

University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald pitched an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google, and he received $18,830 to fund the work. The paper, published in 2012, didn’t mention his sponsor. “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad,” he said in an interview. “That’s purely oversight.”…

…Google has paid professors whose papers, for instance, declared that the collection of consumer data was a fair exchange for its free services; that the company didn’t use its market dominance to improperly steer users to Google’s commercial sites or its advertisers; and that it hasn’t unfairly quashed competitors. Several papers argued that Google’s search engine should be allowed to link to books and other intellectual property that authors and publishers say should be paid for—a group that includes News Corp, which owns the Journal. News Corp formally complained to European regulators about Google’s handling of news articles in search results.


News Corporation’s long-running struggle against Google continues. Put like this, though, Google’s position doesn’t look great.
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Daily Mail sued for ‘pirating’ dozens of viral videos • TorrentFreak



Initially, [viral video maker] Rumble and the Daily Mail had a license agreement to use the videos on their website. However, according to the complaint, the British tabloid continued to publish them after the license expired.

When the infringing usage continued, Rumble retained legal counsel to solve the matter, but that didn’t help either. This eventually culminated in legal action.

“Rumble asserts that the infringement here is of the most bold and bald-faced kind, exhibiting an utter disrespect for the copyrights of others,” the complaint reads.

“That [the infringment] is ‘willful’ in the factual and legal sense of the word is beyond dispute, such that the ultimate damages to be awarded will be reasonably and justifiably enhanced, including an award of Rumble’s attorneys fees as well.”

Rumble expects that Daily Mail will claim that they were not aware of the infringing activities so cautions the court not to fall for these type of excuses. The video platform stresses that turning a blind eye to the copyrights of others is part of the tabloid’s playbook, and plans to prove this at trial.

With dozens of videos listed in the legal paperwork, the potential piracy damages requested by the company are around $10m. In addition, Rumble asks for an injunction to stop the infringing activity as soon as possible.


Hmm, this is going to be a tough one for the Mail to argue.
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Unjust, unreasonable, and unduly discriminatory: electric utility rates and the campaign against rooftop solar by Ari Peskoe :: SSRN

Ari Peskoe of the Harvard Environmental Policy Initiative:


The century-old technology and business model for electricity distribution is under threat. Decentralized technologies and services now allow consumers to buy less power from their local monopoly provider and customize the timing and price of the electricity they do buy. In response, investor-owned utilities (IOUs), which distribute power to 75% of U.S. homes, are urging state utility regulators to take action to protect the incumbent paradigm.


This is a followup to the NYT story from the other day about lobbying by utilities over the rates paid for solar installations.

From the paper itself (free download):


the average price charged by IOUs to residential ratepayers increased by 50% between 2000 and 2014, and some analysts predict that PV [photovoltaic] power will soon be less expensive than the local IOU’s rate across the country. As the price of central grid power and PV power converge, more ratepayers will find it economical to purchase or lease their own PV, rather than rely solely on the IOU.

The potential for this new paradigm raises several questions, such as: does an electricity system that connects thousands of PV systems ultimately benefit consumers, and how does society socialize the costs of this new grid? This paper does not seek to answer either question. Rather, it presumes that there is enormous uncertainty about how the electricity system will develop. Using regulation to prevent the deployment of a particular set of technologies and services is ill-advised because it locks the industry into existing models and inhibits innovation, which could ultimately harm consumers.

This paper does not argue that specific technologies or services should be deployed today, or even ever. Rather, the paper provides context for understanding ongoing debates between factions representing the central grid and those in favor of increasing decentralization.


In short: solar is disruptive.
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Facebook to show ads on Messenger to bolster revenue growth • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:


Facebook has spent years developing two of the world’s most popular messaging apps. Now, with slowing revenue growth in its core service, it wants to cash in.

Starting Tuesday, Facebook will show advertisements inside Messenger, the chat app that Facebook says is now used by 1.2 billion people every month. The ads will be shown between users’ messages, similar to the way ads are sandwiched between posts in Facebook’s news feed, the main scroll of pictures, videos and posts that greets everyone who uses the service.

Facebook plans to roll out the ads “slowly and carefully” to Messenger’s users, said Stan Chudnovsky, Messenger’s head of product, replicating the strategy followed by its photo-sharing app, Instagram, which started showing ads to users in 2013 and took a couple of years to implement more widely.

Facebook also has been studying ways to profit from WhatsApp, the company’s other messaging app…

…Both Messenger and WhatsApp, which also claims 1.2 billion users, have been studying moneymaking strategies centered on connecting users to advertisers. Facebook has said two billion messages are sent between people and businesses every day over Messenger. Barclays Capital estimates that figure is about 2.5 billion for WhatsApp. But Messenger is more popular in affluent markets like the U.S. and Europe, while WhatsApp is more popular in developing countries that haven’t yet been lucrative for Facebook.

Facebook could net an extra $11bn in revenue from the two messaging apps by 2020, Barclays Capital estimates.


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Bitcoin is having a civil war right as it enters a critical month • Bloomberg

Lulu Yilun Chen and Yuji Nakamura:


After two years of largely behind-the-scenes bickering, rival factions of computer whizzes who play key roles in bitcoin’s upkeep are poised to adopt two competing software updates at the end of the month. That has raised the possibility that bitcoin will split in two, an unprecedented event that would send shockwaves through the $41bn market.

While both sides have big incentives to reach a consensus, bitcoin’s lack of a central authority has made compromise difficult. Even professional traders who’ve followed the dispute’s twists and turns aren’t sure how it will all pan out. Their advice: brace for volatility and be ready to act fast once a clear outcome emerges.

“It’s a high-stakes game of chicken,” said Arthur Hayes, a former market maker at Citigroup Inc. who now runs BitMEX, a bitcoin derivatives venue in Hong Kong. “If you’re a trader, there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what happens. Once there’s a definitive signal about what will be done, the price could move very quickly.”…

…after previous counter-proposals championed by Wu [Jihan, cofounder of the world’s largest bitcoin mining organisation Antpool], fell through, miners last month agreed to compromise and support SegWit, in exchange for increasing the block size. Wu says the plan will alleviate short-to-medium term congestion and give Core enough time to flesh out a long-term solution. That proposal is what is known as SegWit2x, which implements SegWit and doubles the block size limit.

“You can think of the SegWit2x proposal as an olive branch,” said Wu.

Support for SegWit2x has reached levels unseen for previous solutions. About 85% of miners have signaled they are willing to run the software once it’s released on July 21, and some of bitcoin’s largest companies have also jumped on board.

The unprecedented level of endorsement is partly prompted by anxiety of bitcoin losing its dominant status to ethereum, a newer cryptocurrency whose popularity has soared thanks to its ability to run smart contracts and its more corporate-friendly approach.


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Samsung rebuts reports of lackluster Galaxy S8 sales • AndroidAuthority

Bogdan Petrovan:


Reports out of Korea suggest the Galaxy S8 has failed to outsell its predecessor in the first months of availability.

Financial publication The Bell, via The Investor, cited reports from industry analysts that put Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus sales at around 9.8m units in the first two months. That’s 20% lower than the 12m Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge’s that Samsung is estimated to have moved in the same period last year. According to the unnamed analysts, Samsung has reduced component orders, a sign of lackluster sales.

A Samsung official refuted the reports, pointing that the Galaxy S8 initially launched in a smaller number of markets compared to the wide global launch that the Galaxy S7 enjoyed. “We estimate S8’s sales volume to be similar to that of S7 for now,” the Samsung representative added.

If the analyst reports would be accurate, it would be a major reversal for the well-reviewed Galaxy S8. On May 16, Samsung announced it sold 5m Galaxy S8 units in the first three weeks of availability, 20% to 30% higher than the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. To go from 20% higher to 20% lower, sales in the second month of availability must have been extremely poor, which is unlikely.


I changed the headline, which originally said “refutes” (which means offers evidence disproving); “rebut” means “to contradict”. There’s no evidence from Samsung, only some pointers on why something might not be true.

While reading this article, I wondered how long sites like Android Authority and Android Police can continue. Now that the white heat of smartphone sales expansion is over, their narrow focus looks, well, narrow, and hence unsustainable. Who’s going to care about the minutiae of Samsung phone sales, Google Maps feature tweaks, and other marginalia in five years’ time?
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Fitbit acquires the Vector smartwatch startup, as the wearable giant continues its roll-up • TechCrunch

Mike Butcher:


Well this is a relatively fast exit. In March last year a brand new smartwatch brand appeared, hoping to offer something different. Combining the incredible engineering talent in Central Europe’s Romania with the business smarts of London and former executives from Citizen watches, the Vector startup carved out a very credible slot in the “affordable luxury” smartwatch sector.

Only a year later, Vector has been acquired for an undisclosed price by global wearable giant Fitbit. Founder and CTO Andrei Pitis confirmed to TechCrunch that the company was acquired for its software platform and design team. This does not, however, signal a move into the luxury smartwatch sector by Fitbit.

What is does confirm is that Fitbit is continuing its roll-up of talent associated with watches, wearables and fitness devices. In November, Fitbit acquired a pioneer in the smartwatch space, Pebble, with all its engineering talent being sucked into Fitbit. The same fate now awaits Vector, which raised only a small amount of cash, but turned heads with its clever hardware and software integration and design smarts.


Race against time for Fitbit. Has to get to successful smartwatches because the step trackers aren’t going to sustain them.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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