Category Archives: Criticize

No, The New Gmail API Is Not Killing IMAP

At Google’s I/O developer conference, the company announced a new way for developers to build apps that integrate with Gmail, via its brand-new Gmail API. Designed to allow programmatic access to messages, threads, labels and drafts, the API was initially misunderstood by some as Google’s attempt to “kill off IMAP,” an older email protocol that offers email access, retrieval and storage.

That confusion seemed to come about largely because of the wording in one highly trafficked Wall St. Journal article, which originally said that the new API would “replace IMAP, a common but complex way for applications to communicate with most email services.” (The article has since been updated with new language that says “instead of” as opposed to “replace.”)

Google’s developer’s documentation also backs this up: the new Gmail API will not be killing off IMAP – at least, not yet – but it will make Gmail application development easier.

The Gmail API does not offer full inbox access for all operations, explains Google in a blog post detailing the API’s new features; it’s about giving fine-grained control to applications which don’t need “full-fledged email client access,” as the developer documentation states.

Instead, the API would work well for apps that need to scan through your inbox, looking for e-receipts, itineraries or order confirmations; those that let you schedule email to be sent later; CRM applications; email “snooze” buttons; and more. In these cases where full inbox access is not required, the Gmail API would be quicker than using IMAP to perform a search or find a particular email thread.

And while the Gmail API means Google is inviting developers to build ever more applications that dig into your most private social network – that of your email inbox – it’s also doing so in a way that actually better respects the sensitivity of that data.

Now, if a user wants to authorize an app that only performs one function, like sending mail on the user’s behalf, but not retrieving incoming messages, the Gmail API could allow for this, where before that same app built with IMAP would mean the developer would have to access all of your emails just to get their app to work.

However, the Gmail API stops short of enabling the lineup of mobile email clients, like Accompli, CloudMagic, Boxer or Gusto, for example. Those apps will still need to work with the older protocols like IMAP and SMTP, at least until Google decides to expand the Gmail API further to include all the functionality of IMAP, if the company ever chooses to go that route.

The Gmail API is now in beta, as Google solicits developer feedback before a wider launch.

Big Next Step for Bitcoin: Meeting the Regulators

With China’s example at hand, one may think the idea of pegging the Bitcoin to the US dollar may become the salvation to most of bitcoin’s problems.

China became the second biggest economy in the world by pegging their currency to the dollar at an artificially cheap rate. This boosted exports and built up reserves to the multi-trillion yuan level – of which more than a 1 trillion is US dollars.

The Chinese workers themselves cannot afford the goods they make for Apple and hundreds of other companies that manufacture their products on ‘the world’s factory floor’ but they are better off working in these sweatshops than working the land; so we are told.

With Bitcoin, there is an interesting corollary with China and its currency peg. And the question is, why not peg Bitcoin to the dollar, at let’s say $100 BTC to the dollar.

This might solve two problems. First, the volatility issue – with merchants and spenders of Bitcoin uncomfortable with the exchange rate of Bitcoin’s wild fluctuations – having a fixed exchange rate would introduce stability and predictability into the economy. Secondly, having a fixed exchange rate would open up a possible workaround of the the FinCEN problem.

“At least three exchanges in the U.S. that traded the digital currency Bitcoin have shut down, apparently as a result of guidance issued last month by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. That agency has emerged as the top threat, at least in the United States, to the decentralized Bitcoin network – more so than the widely reported price volatility and hacker attacks.” John Matonis writing in Forbes.

FinCEN, a captured regulator (like the SEC, and CFTC) is muscling Bitcoin exchanges and shutting them down, hoping to take off the market any potential competitor to entrenched oligopolists Visa, Mastercard and PayPal. Having a fixed rate of exchange for Bitcoin would allow all Bitcoin exchanges to ‘go dark’and hide behind cryptology. The conversion price of $100 is known so there is no need to ‘see’ the market.

Without the need to publish trading activity, exchange rates, and current prices; there would be no need to operate within eyesight of troublesome thugs-for-hire working for the payment and currency cartel looking to shut down a competitor.

The fixed exchange rate could be managed by the Bitcoin Foundation who would publish the official ‘fix’ every day and continuously be adjusted upward to keep miners incentivized to continue mining.

At some point in the future, when the Bitcoin industry and economy are big enough to lobby politicians and regulators sufficiently to get them to back off, the exchanges can come out of the dark and business can be transacted more transparently. But until then, having a fixed rate and dark exchanges might be the most expedient way to grow this new economy.

For those who scream… But Max, this defeats the idea of non-fiat currency! Consider this an interim solution to what is a very nettlesome problem: bitcoin’s vulnerability on the exchanges – that are being shut down right now. An ‘invisible’ dollar peg would allow the entire exchange business to go dark behind cryptology – allowing for the capitalization of Bitcoin to rise to the critical $50 – $100 bn. level unmolested by governments.

What if all the bitcoin exchanges were shut down?

Here’s a thought exercise. What if all bitcoin exchanges were shut down by various governments? What would the current value of a bitcoin be?

This is an important question because of the implied outcome of the current trend by governments to shut down – or prevent the creation of – bitcoin exchanges.

The mining of bitcoin would continue but transferring them and spending them becomes a problem since there would be no quoted price. The bitcoin protocol is about mining bitcoin not pricing bitcoin. There is nothing in the protocol about establishing a market price for bitcoin; you need a market for that, but what if all the exchange markets are shut down?

As a medium of exchange and barter, those looking to transact using bitcoin who name their price in individual transactions would continue to do so. And these transactions, in aggregate can be reported to give market participants a general idea of where the price per bitcoin generally is; like beaver pelts in early American history. But will this approach satisfy bitcoin’s aspirations to take on the Dollar, Yen, Pound and Euro? I don’t think so.

For this reason, I have suggested that some entity, possibly the Bitcoin Foundation (and this can be done on a non-profit basis), make a market in bitcoin and broadcast a current price for bitcoin (a peg) that various exchanges and merchants can use as a benchmark.

This market making activity should be done completely out of reach of regulators. Honesty on the part of the ‘peg’ maintainers would come by way of interacting with various exchanges (that are open) since maintaining this peg would require lots of buying and selling on the various exchanges to maintain an inventory (of bitcoin) that is necessary to maintain a peg and any resultant price gaps or arbitrage would be quickly closed by savvy traders. (By the way, if the VC community is serious about funding bitcoin start-ups they should pool their capital to fund such a mechanism).

With this added layer of price discovery in the bitcoin’s existence as a currency, the possibility of scaling up to the multi-hundred billion valuations necessary to get it on the first rung of the global currency market becomes a possibility. Without it, we’re talking about beaver pelts.

Authorities in Boston bombing helped, hindered by social media

boston

Boston Police have asked for help via Twitter in tracking down the remaining bombing suspect, while also telling tweeps not to give too much away.

Authorities pursuing a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing have a love-hate relationship with social media. After initially asking for help via Twitter, law enforcement later requested that social-media users be a little more conscientious about the kind of information shared (or fabricated) on social networks.

In the immediate aftermath of the dual blasts that killed three and injured dozens near the marathon finish line on Monday, law enforcement turned to the public via Twitter and other platforms for help crowdsourcing leads. On Thursday, the FBI released video footage of two young men carrying backpacks near the finish line of the marathon before the blasts, asking the public again for help in identifying the suspects.

Then, as photos and videos of the suspects were circulating on Facebook, Reddit, and other sites, more news broke overnight. You can find far more detail on the latest developments at our sister site CBSNews.com, but briefly, there was a convenience store holdup, the fatal shooting of an MIT officer, and a high-speed pursuit through a Boston suburb. It soon became clear that the individuals involved in these events were in fact the two suspects in the images released by the FBI.

Identified as brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the elder brother was reported to have been killed overnight while Dzhokhar escaped, leading to a citywide lockdown and manhunt. Friday morning, the Boston Police Department tweeted the above photo of the younger brother, as well as this rendering of a license plate authorities were searching for 316 ES9.

But authorities also found that Twitter could be a nuisance as well as a tool in the process of pursuing the suspect.

As fake Twitter accounts using the name of the suspect popped up Friday and other tweeps began sharing updates of the pursuit gleaned from police scanners, the department tweeted this stern order:

#MediaAlert: WARNING: Do Not Compromise Officer Safety by Broadcasting Tactical Positions of Homes Being Searched.

Around the same time, streams of Boston Police scanners available online through services like TuneIn became unavailable. I’ve been unable to access the streams all morning, and other users on Reddit and other forums also report the streams suddenly going offline Friday morning.

Google Reader might be gone, but RSS isn’t dead yet

google reader

When tech giant Google announced that it was pulling the plug on Google Reader and the service won’t be available after July 1, 2013, it stirred up strong reactions. Google cited decline in usage of the RSS feed service, which was started way back in 2005, as the reason behind its decision to axe the service. While Google may want us to believe its version of the story, the buzz the news of the closure has generated on the social networks tells a different story.

Badgering Google to change its decision, there has even been a petition directed to the White House, appealing the Obama government to request Google to reconsider its decision. It’s rather amusing and easy to laugh this off. However, the fact is, there may be some truth behind Google’s claim of declining usage, but it clearly doesn’t mean that there aren’t enough people who care.

Google Reader made keeping up with everything you cared about on the Internet so much easier. It was much like getting a fix of your daily newspaper. You could subscribe to the RSS feeds of your favourite site, blog etc. and you would get a feed as soon as the site or the blog was updated. Additionally, you had the option to organise these feeds into folders, star the feeds, search, email and even share them on Google+. And what made it all the sweeter was the fact that it synced across devices, so the feeds that you have read will be marked read everywhere. Simply put, it was the best RSS feed reader out there.

However, there has been a shift in the way people consume information. Rather than subscribing to feeds and skimming through tons of information, what they seem to prefer is reading something that those in their network think they may like or is recommended. Then they can get the latest information first hand directly from the source, say, by following their favourite author on Twitter. And there is no question of missing out on anything big as the social networks will be quite abuzz.

Though comparing the two will be foolish, the fact remains that today social networks are also emerging as a source of information with people pushing their content on these sites. Thanks to their popularity; today every site, blog and even brands are compelled to make their presence felt on the platform that is most popular amongst the masses. However, having said that, social networks will never be able to replace RSS. There are many users who crave for information, sans the fluff, and seek control on what they want to read, rather than being told what to read.

As a technology, RSS is still very much relevant. And the shutting down of Google Reader, which was no doubt amongst the best RSS feed services, shouldn’t be a cause of concern. RSS as a technology tool is still relevant and will continue to exist. Already there are tools and apps that offer RSS feed service; in fact, many of them used the Google Reader at the back-end. What they need to do now is to step up their offerings. Some of these tools – Feedly, Flipboard, Pulse, to name a few – have gained popularity as they have managed to grab the eyeballs by presenting feeds in a more appealing social manner.

Where Google also failed with Reader and received a lot of flak was when it limited the social aspects like following others and sharing links back in 2011. It was a step backwards, probably taken to promote Google+, which ended-up infuriating its loyal users. In all likelihood, this was the beginning of the end for Google Reader.

What we need is a service that is able to leverage RSS to bring information to users, while at the same time have features that will make it relevant and appealing today. Digg has announced that it will soon be launching a service on the lines of Google Reader; let’s hope it manages to fill the void that Google Reader will leave behind.

How Marketers in China Are Using WeChat

Durex

Durex uses WeChat in a culture where public discussion about private issues is uncommon. Fans curious about love, sex and relationships get a response from a real person, even at 2 a.m. “We try to be there when you expect a friend to be there for you,” said Ben Wilson, marketing director for Reckitt Benckiser in China. Each week, a “newsletter” of Q-and-As is sent to Durex’s WeChat friends.

Nike

Tens of thousands flocked to Nike’s Festival of Sport last summer, sampling everything from skateboarding to football to golf.
AKQA created a badge-collection system using WeChat’s QR-code scanner, replacing a paper passport. Fans completing certain challenges could win a chance to meet stars like LeBron James.

Intel

London Olympics competitions largely took place in the middle of the night in China. So Intel hired two celebrity hosts to provide audio updates three times a day. Each morning, they summarized the previous night’s events. At lunchtime, fans were given an Olympics or Intel-related contest question. In the evening, the hosts announced winners along with another sports update.

Starbucks

To reach customers through music, Starbucks asked fans: “How are you feeling today?” They responded with an emoticon, and Starbucks answered with a song to match the mood. The chain added 270,000 WeChat friends over the four-week campaign. “We don’t just push offers at you,” said Marie Han Silloway, Starbucks’ marketing chief for China. “We start a personal conversation.”