Instagram, the social media photo sharing site, has introduced a new feature -- Instagram Direct. Normally, if you post a video or photo with the service, anyone (and I mean anyone) can see it. Starting today, you can share your snapshots and comments back-and-forth in real time -- only with the users you want.
If you’re wondering if Instagram’s new private feature was motivated by concerns about privacy...the answer is, not so much.
“I really believe that this new feature that Instagram has released is about competition,” says Brian Blau, research director in consumer technologies with Gartner, a technology research firm, "It's about 'me too.'"
Blau points out that Facebook, which owns Instagram, had tried to buy Snapchat, a photo and messaging service, for billions of dollars. So if you can't buy 'em -- build the same features on your site so your users don't leave.
"They’re all starting to look the same. These services are really starting to be homogenous, starting to look like one big pile of goop," Blau says. "That probably isn’t good for them."
Instagram’s game of copycat, says Julie Ask, a principal analyst with Forrester research, is actually part of a larger phenomenon.
"What's happening now is there's lot of applications that want to become platforms," she says. "They want to become that interface between the consumer and the phone-that-does-all-things."
Ask says in order to reach 'platform' status, companies are willing to take some risks -- like offering similar features.
"It's a very powerful thing, it's something that they can monetize if they can achieve it and so the stakes are very high. So while there is a chance that all of these services begin to seem the same, you've got to take a shot," she says.
Ask notes that while Instagram has 80 million users, WeChat, an app popular in Asia, has attracted hundreds of millions and in the process gained coveted 'platform' status.
"I used WeChat in Beijing a month ago," she says, "and we ordered takeout food from a micro app within WeChat."
Ask says the Americans needs to catch up with the global market for mobile technology.
"We don’t write about it because we don’t see it and live it every day," says Ask. "But if you go to Korea, or Indonesia, or the Philippines or China, that’s where you’re engaging everyday. That’s your environment, that’s where your friends are."
While there is a lot that is not in the House-approved budget deal crafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), it does take most of the sting out of "the sequester” -- the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts aimed at trimming the deficit. The second round of those is supposed to kick in next month.
Sequestration came to life on March 1, with cuts to the tune of $85 billion dollars. According to Bruce Cain, a political science professor at Stanford University, it was designed to be unappealing to lawmakers in both parties.
“The idea was that it would be so unpalatable that eventually they would come to the table,” he says.
But that took a while. Some programs were exempt, and Congress passed exceptions for air traffic controllers and FBI agents. So, for many Americans, that first round of cuts seemed abstract, Cain says.
“It didn’t ripple out to the public in the same way that, say, cuts at the local government level and the state level do,” he says.
Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, wonders if we will see more sequesters in the future, because politicians might now see it as a viable way to reduce spending.
The fear of more cuts next year is what finally got negotiators to compromise. But according to Alice Rivlin, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, it is too soon to do a postmortem.
“The sequester is not dead,” she says, noting Ryan and Murray’s deal is just a partial replacement for only two of the sequester’s remaining eight years.
“This sequester is still moving,” says Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University. “It’s still alive. This is going to come up over and over again.”
By law -- until Fiscal Year 2021.
The communications agency's commissioners voted 3-2 to consider new rules allowing voice calls while jetliners are in the air — something that's been forbidden on U.S. flights. But the head of the Department of Transportation says he's "concerned" by the prospect of such calls.
He defied a military dictator, sacked a prime minister, and persistently called generals and intelligence chiefs to account. Now, Iftikhar Chaudhry has retired after a tenure that changed the balance of power in his turbulent nation.
The giant cutter is designed to bore through rock and soil without a problem. But it has hit something that has brought work on a highway tunnel to a stop. Officials say it may take a couple weeks to figure out what's going on. Theories, anyone?
The former Price Is Right host is backing Republican David Jolly in a special election next month for a St. Petersburg-area congressional seat. The 90-year-old tells voters, "When you get to be as young as I am, you call it like you see it."
The world needs new antibiotics because so many of the existing drugs are losing their punch. Some people are already talking about a "post-antibiotic era," when bacteria can defeat all the drugs doctors have at their disposal. Two scientists are crowdfunding a campaign to get everyone digging for new antibiotics.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made headlines a couple weeks ago when he talked about using drones to deliver packages. It's an idea lot of people dismissed as pie in the sky. But in southwest Ohio, Amazon’s high-flying plans sound like money in the bank.
Right now, the Dayton region is competing with two dozen areas around the country to become a federal testing range for commercial drones. Above the cornfields and strip malls, you’d see tiny helicopters and planes, taking to the skies to do all kinds of things.
Frank Beafore, who runs SelectTech Geospatial, a small high-tech manufacturer in the city of Springfield, lists the possibilities: “Disaster management, power line surveys, telecommunications, television news coverage, making movies, sporting events, environmental monitoring, oil and gas exploration."
Beafore says some uses for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, could be just a couple years out.
In the company hangar at Springfield Airpark, Beafore shows off a UAV that looks sort of like an insect, with four helicopter blades and four spindly legs. The drone lifts off smoothly from the warehouse floor and passes over our heads, creating a little breeze and hovering in midair like a bird in the wind.
“The economic benefit is really only limited by our imagination,” says Maurice McDonald with the Dayton Development Coalition.
Ohio expects to bring in more than $2 billion from drones by 2025, with people here working to build, test and research them. This area could use the boost -- it’s been battered by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
But there’s a hang-up.
“The FAA really needs to address the procedures and policies associated with flying these systems,” says McDonald.
The trouble is, right now most companies can’t actually fly UAVs because the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t decided how to regulate them yet. The agency plans to pick six sites to open up air space where companies can test commercial drones, in anticipation of issuing general rules by the end of 2015.
The hope is companies come to places like Springfield for the air space, and then stay for good. But not everyone around here wants commercial drones to rule the skies.
“I don’t like it when machines take over,” says Teresa McKenzie, a Springfield resident. “It would be very weird.”
As UAVs get smaller, and cheaper, many people are worried about privacy, which is one of the reasons the FAA is taking its time on regulations.
“I certainly don’t want ‘em flying over my house,” Beafore says. But he emphasizes surveillance is not what his UAVs are about. The first uses will probably be agricultural, checking crops for mold or standing water.
And what’s a few candid pics of Ohio’s cornfields?
“The corn doesn’t care,” he says.
The FAA decision on where to let drones test their wings could come out as soon as this week, and Ohio's in the running against 23 states including North Dakota, Wyoming, New York and California.