If you want to disrupt higher education, you’ve gotta look the part.
So when the team at HarvardX, the university’s online learning initiative, began setting up its new offices in Cambridge, down came the walls and the cubicles, in came the long tables and shared work spaces. And out went the landlines.
Or most of them anyway.
“The space was developed de novo and it was meant to have a kind of start-up feel,” said Michael Patrick Rutter, a spokesman for HarvardX.
Instead of traditional desk phones, employees at HarvardX use their own cell phones and collect $50 per month from the university to help cover the bills.
As Justin Reich, a 36-year-old researcher at HarvardX, sees it, they’re just embracing the obvious.
“I think it’s more convenient,” he said. “I probably would have just given people my cell phone number anyway.”
The Great Landline Purge started years ago, when colleges began disconnecting dorm-room phones. Americans have also been ditching their relics. About 40 percent of American households were wireless-only at the end of 2013, up from 10 percent in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
When Harvard’s IT department set out a strategic plan in January, one of its main goals was to reduce use of “legacy phone infrastructure.” (Apparently that’s what we’re calling landlines now.)
“The landline system that the university uses is older and rates are increasing,” said Kevin Donovan, a spokesman for Harvard IT.
Donovan says the university isn’t forcing employees to dump their landlines. It’s already happening. And, true to form, Harvard has collected the data to back it up.
The number of calls from Harvard desk phones dropped 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, from more than 6.5 million to fewer than 4 million, according to the IT department.
Which means that most faculty and staff, should their department choose to follow HarvardX’s lead and dispense with office phones, are likely to respond like Reich did — with a shrug and a monthly expense report.
As the university move-in season gets into full swing, many freshmen will be meeting their roommates for the first time. At the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the housing department is using a service called Room Sync to streamline the process.
Click the media player above to hear Matt Austin, Associate Director for Resident Life at UMass Lowell, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.
The software asks prospective roommates a series of lifestyle questions, allowing them to filter others by majors and other lifestyle preferences. They can then view other freshmen and choose among a list of possible roommates.
Students can communicate through Facebook accounts, and send roommate requests similar to “friend requests.”
According to Austin, students that don’t use the site request a new roommate 8% of the time, while those who use it and find a match are only 1% likely to change roommates.
“Students that continue with the same roommate throughout the freshman year are more likely to return to housing in their sophomore year, which keeps them more engaged on campus,” says Austin, also citing statistics showing on-campus students receive higher grades.
While Austin admitted that the software may reduce the chances of students living with a roommate markedly different from themselves, he argued that the makeup of the floors and residences as a whole would still provide the opportunity for that cross-pollination of experiences.
It is arguably just a synchronicity, but I've been thinking about how two Twitch-related events that happened this week are connected.
The big one is, of course, Amazon's $970 million purchase of the live-streaming video game website, which I chatted about with David Gura.
The second is a smaller event: the shutdown of schools and some buildings in Littleton, Colorado. Littleton may sound familiar because it's near Columbine, where the Columbine High School Massacre occurred in 1999. It's a place where you could probably forgive law enforcement for reacting immediately and intensely to a 9-1-1 caller who claimed to have shot two co-workers and to be holding more hostage.
When that call came in Wednesday, it was taken seriously. But it was apparently fake -- an example of something called "swatting." Swatting is when someone with some technical chops calls 9-1-1 and makes it look like the call is coming from a victim's phone or a location in a building where something has gone very wrong, sending large numbers of law enforcement to a place where they're not actually needed. Hilarious, right?
Admittedly the popular -- get this -- video game streamer and Twitch user Jordan Mathewson, a.k.a. "Kootra" did crack a smile when heavily armed officers busted into his office in search of a shooter. Maybe it was because he realized his Twitch viewers were seeing the whole thing via his live webcam. Or maybe he was actually amused by the irony or meta layers of having your first person shooter video game session be interrupted by actual real life rifles. But Mathewson looks nervous more than anything. Here's the video, where officers burst in on the gamer just after he says "I think we're being swatted."
Police figured out that the call was fake and luckily there were no injuries. But businesses were evacuated, and parents got a message from a nearby school saying their kids were under lockdown because of an "active shooter situation." Law enforcement now think they've found a Twitter account connected with a person who may have made the phone call.
Swatting, which is apparently on the rise, is not a good prank. It sends heavily armed law enforcement looking for possible armed resistance to a place where there is none. That's insanely wasteful and dangerous. What is interesting about this case is that people were watching someone's live feed as it all happened.
For a cybercriminal, hacker or troll, the promise of a big live audience via a live streaming website like Twitch could be really attractive. And that might be bad news.
The New England supermarket chain that has been in turmoil for weeks over a workers' revolt and customer boycott announced that former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas will buy a majority stake in the business.
Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty in federal court to taking under-the-table payments when he switched sides between GOP presidential candidates. The former state senator previously denied the rumors.
Under the deal, immigrants who are in the country illegally must be informed of their right to a hearing before an immigration judge. The ACLU was representing nine Mexicans and three organizations.
So, what is your online activity worth? You know: social media posts, web history, GPS location—the works. Right now, data brokers trade with advertisers in a multi-billion dollar market. There are also a bunch of new ways you can sell your own data. But it may not add up to as much as you would hope.
Big data brokers like Acxiom want to create a precise file on you. They want to know things like how much money you make and where you shop – online and in person.
Matt Hogan says amassing an accurate, personal file filled with info is no easy task. “If you're Acxiom, you're the largest data broker, you're cobbling together all these different piece-meal, publicly available, stale, maybe leaked data sources and what you get is a profile that is not correct.”
Hogan is the founder of Datacoup, a start-up where consumers can sell their data directly to advertisers. He says his platform gives marketers a clearer picture of consumers, and it will give consumers some return for their data. “Why not sell your information?" he asks. "Companies already do it.”
The information sold through Datacoup is currently anonymous, and not tied to a user's identity. Still, it's an advertiser's dream—disparate information from our online lives all packaged up and sent straight from the source: us. Datacoup pays users $10 a month for it all.
Katryna Dow, CEO of a start-up called Meeco, says your info will soon be worth much more. Meeco allows users to hide data from outsiders and record it themselves. The personal information users save could become more valuable in the future, especially as their files becomes fatter and fatter.
Dow says, “there's no reason why you wouldn't take information from your teen years and mash it up with time in your twenties or thirties or forties which just makes that core data more valuable.” She says that information may have all kinds of unforeseeable applications ten years down the road.
Dow envisions private data becoming a kind of cryptocurrency in a “Me Economy.” It could be used in transactions to purchase items and get discounts, or even secure mortgages, loans, and insurance. In a way, it would alter how we define personal identity.
All this terrifies Jeffrey Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy.
“A huge depersonalized system has emerged that treats bits of our self like we were simply hog bellies at a commodities market,” he says. “Our data is much more valuable than just a few dollars a month it might bring us. It is really the key to who we are as, as human beings.”
Trying to put a price on that, he says, is a dangerous thing.
By the way, you can find out what Axciom knows about you through a website they launched: www.aboutthedata.com. But beware: It requires you to input some personal information. And its Private Policy section discloses that the company may use that data at a later date.
When the monthly jobs report comes out Friday, many eyes will undoubtedly shoot to the unemployment rate. But that number alone doesn't tell the whole story.
"It's gotten harder [to figure the unemployment rate] because Americans have become less willing to respond to surveys of all kinds," says David Leonhardt, columnist and editor of the Upshot at the New York Times.
A large part of that, Leonhardt says, is our changing behavior when it comes to answering our phones.
"Think back to 1975 — you're sitting at home, your phone rings, you have no idea who it is, you pick it up, it's a pollster, you're willing to answer it," he says. "Today, you've got your cell phone, you don't even have a landline, it may be harder for the poll firms to figure out where you are and thus [how] to reach you. But it's also a case of, you see '888' pop up and you think to yourself, 'I'm not answering that.'"
It's a reminder, Leonhardt says, that the unemployment numbers aren't the be-all, end-all of economic data.
"I would encourage some people to take the attention that now goes to the unemployment rate and shift it to job growth, which actually comes from a larger survey of businesses, or look at the number of Americans who are employed, which captures this phenomenon of discouraged workers," Leonhardt says.
Some governments recently said that agricultural investments should supply "culturally acceptable food." Now they're trying to define what that is.
Warning: this is not for the arachnophobes among you.
Suzuki has had to recall 19,000 of its mid-sized cars because of spider webs in the fuel lines.
It turns out spiders are attracted to gasoline vapors. They build webs in gas tank vent lines. Those lines get blocked. Gas tanks get damaged.
And oh, by the way, THERE ARE SPIDERS IN YOUR GAS TANK.
American Airlines and Orbitz are having a tiff. American has pulled its flight listings from Orbitz websites.
Since American and US Airways have merged, their fares will disappear, too. Orbitz's corporate clients aren't affected. Still, will Orbitz take a big hit if you can't buy American or US Airways tickets on its sites? How does it make its money, anyway?
Well, when you book a flight online you spread the love. Everybody gets a cut; the airline and ticket distributors, who then pay travel websites like Orbitz.
American and Orbitz aren’t saying much about their dispute.
“But ultimately it all comes down to economics,” says Robert Mann, a former American executive who started his own consulting business, R.W. Mann & Company.
He says big carriers like American are trying to stay competitive with budget guys like Southwest. Southwest tickets are only available from the airline. It doesn’t use Orbitz.
"And airlines have gotten really attentive to this because of the difference in cost,” Mann says.
Of course, online travel agencies like Orbitz are happy to take the airlines’ cash, but they have lots of other ways to make money.
Tom Parsons, CEO of Bestfares.com, says agencies need to sell plane tickets because that’s the first thing consumers buy. But after that, travel sites will try to sell you packages including rental cars and hotel rooms.
"Where you make your better money is on the hotels," he says. "It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to make 10 to 12 percent on a package.”
That is, Bestfares would get 10 to 12 percent of the total package price. Travel sites also sell cruises. But just as Orbitz needs American, American needs Orbitz, or it’ll lose business to other airlines.
Gary Leff writes the View From the Wing. Here’s how he describes the situation: "This is a lose-lose if it goes on," he says. "It’s a do-what-I-want-or-I’ll-shoot-myself kind of a scenario.”
Leff expects American and Orbitz to smooth things over in a matter of weeks, but no one really knows how long this will drag on.
The U.S. Commerce Department will impose new duties on sugar from Mexico, responding to complaints from U.S. growers that Mexico was dumping sugar here for less than it sells for there. Sugar growers have a track record of getting what they want from policymakers: Government protections have kept U.S. sugar more expensive than the world market price for decades.
That doesn't sit well with bakers and gumball makers.
Make that gumball-maker. Singular. George Stege, president of Ford Gum and Machine Co. in upstate New York, says he is the only gumball manufacturer left in the United States. His last domestic competitor, he says, moved production to Canada more than a decade ago.
"The advantages of being in Canada are that they can acquire sugar at world sugar pricing, which tends to be 40 to 50 percent lower than what I’m paying," he says. "The cost of sugar becomes an insurmountable edge."
He says the newest ruling is just more of the same: Government policy protecting sugar growers at his expense.
Iowa State University economist John Beghin recently looked at how many jobs the U.S. could save — making things like candy, baked goods and breakfast cereal — by changing policy to lower the cost of sugar. His best estimate is 15,000 to 20,000. That's lower than some industry estimates, he says. "But still, 15,000 jobs is nothing to neglect."
Similarly, costs to U.S. consumers from high sugar prices look modest. Beghin pegs them around $3 billion dollars a year for the whole country — which breaks down to about $10 a year per person. Not enough, he says, to write your senator about.
On the other hand, the American Sugar Alliance, which lobbies for sugar growers, is a diligent bunch of letter writers. "You have to admire them for their effectiveness," says Beghin.
"Thank you for saying that the sugar industry is an effective lobby," says Sugar Alliance spokesman Phillip Hayes. "I would certainly agree with that."
He says they have to be — in order to protect their members from sugar growers in other countries, who pressure their own governments to protect their interests in much the same way.
Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers made a pretty breathtaking bet today. It agreed to invest in a deal that values Snapchat at nearly $10 billion. Snapchat is a social network where people share photos that self-destruct within 1-10 seconds.
It seems like things go this way. One day, you're a struggling start-up, making no profit, paying people in stock options...
and the next...
Someone is telling you’re worth almost as much as the GDP of Iceland.
James McQuivey is an analyst at Forrester Research. I asked him what exactly Snapchat’s 100 million users share with the service.
"Among my children, it's really just 'this is what my face looks like in response to something that I just read or heard or saw or a song that I’m listening to.' It’s a way of expressing emotions… think of it as a live emoticon."
But can Snapchat be a face that launches 10 billion real dollars?
"Not even... It’s about $9 billion too much," says tech analyst Rob Enderle. Enderle says Snapchat doesn’t know how it plans to spin its 100 million users into money yet. Still, he says, in today’s overheated tech sector, the nuts and bolts of the business plan take a backseat to the buzz.
"There’s two ways you can value a company: One of them is legitimately based on how much money they’re returning to investors and the other is based on screwy math largely based on the hopes and dreams of those that think that social networks every place should be made of gold and honey."
The question now is whether Snapchat has the makings of a social media Cinderella…or will end up being an ugly stepsister.
Enderle says it’s all about where Google and Facebook drop their magic. Messaging service WhatsApp had no profit plan and only 55 employees, and Facebook snapped it up for $20 billion.
We'll just have to wait and see how the story ends for Snapchat.
The Department of Homeland Security is settling a lawsuit with the ACLU, which deals with immigrants who were improperly pushed to leave the country.
The Freemasons are arguably one of the world's most famous men's organizations. Membership has been falling in the U.S. since the 1960s, but millennials are now showing an interest in the fraternity.
CNBC called it a “wacky” idea when it launched a year ago: a fund that invests in companies solely because they’re based in a particular city — in this case, Nashville. The Nashville exchange-traded fund has beat the odds, but maybe not for long.
Having a single share of this exchange-traded fund, or ETF, is like buying stock in all the public companies headquartered in Nashville. It’s heavy in health care, with hospital chains like HCA. There are also companies like Dollar General and Cracker Barrel in the mix. The pitch to locals was “invest in companies you know.”
“You can say you are investing in Nashville,” says financial advisor Stephen Frohsin of Woodmont Investment Counsel. “There’s a story that goes along with that, that people can understand a little bit easier.”
Frohsin attended the first annual shareholders meeting Thursday. Personally, he is trying out the ETF. He says his clients are dipping their toe in the water as well.
Shareholders range from community leaders and politicians who see it as an exercise in civic pride. One woman said she asked for a few shares for her birthday.
Analyst Paul Britt says he’s got a soft spot for the concept because it’s got a real “support-your-community” feel. He also says it probably won’t last.
“The short answer is yes, I am surprised it’s still with us,” says Britt.
Britt’s company ETF.com has a rating for funds, and by its estimate, the ticker symbol NASH may not last long on the New York Stock Exchange. A year in, the fund has fewer than $9 million in assets. Many investors won’t touch an ETF with less than $50 or $100 million.
Without more money in the fund, there’s not enough trading volume for big investors to be able to sell on a moment’s notice, which is supposed to be one of the selling points of an ETF and trading volume creates fees to operate the fund.
“We see [Nashville ETF] as a high risk for fund closure right now,” he says.
Currently, the Nashville ETF is operating at a loss, but founder Beth Courtney says that’s not unusual for any one-year-old start-up business. She says she knows there’s some proving left to do.
“You know, we’re the first in the country. I think that there were obviously people who wanted to take a closer look at it and watch it,” Courtney says. “And they might continue to watch it and see the performance and that will speak for itself and the fund will grow.”
While the fund is still tiny, investors aren’t complaining. They earned a nearly 20 percent return for year one.
The ALS Association has raised more than $94 million in recent weeks via its online ice bucket challenge — compared with $2.7 million this time last year. Now what?
American troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by year's end. So the military is sifting through 13 years of accumulated stuff to see what will be scrapped, given away or sent home.