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Alex Hawkinson, founder of SmartThings

It’s official: Samsung’s long-rumored acquisition bid for smart-home company SmartThings is now a reality. Neither company announced terms of the deal, although Recode reports that the sale price was $200 million. If that’s true, Samsung got quite a steal, considering Google blew $3.2 billion on Nest, maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors. 

Unlike those gadgets, SmartThings isn’t a standalone product, but a developer-frien

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dly platform that's compatible with many devices from other companies. That makes this deal a shortcut for Samsung, which now doesn’t have to grow its own smart home initiative from scratch. 

See also: Why Samsung Buying SmartThings Should Have Us Worried

On the SmartThings blog, founder and CEO Alex Hawkinson wrote, “We believe that there is an enormous opportunity to leverage Samsung’s global scale to help us realize our long-term vision.” Ideally, in other words, Samsung’s worldwide reach in product areas ranging from smart TVs to smartphones to kitchen appliances could rocket SmartThings devices into homes around the globe.

Perhaps. But the SmartThings crew may want to brace itself anyway. Samsung loves throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Hopefully SmartThings’ carefully nurtured developer relationships and evolving ecosystem won't be among them. Because no one ever wants to see a smart home loaded down with confusion and bloatware.

Hawkinson said that SmartThings, which will technically become part of the Samsung Open Innovation Center (OIC) in San Francisco, will continue to run as an independent operation under his leadership.

Lead image courtesy of SmartThings



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The first thing I did after downloading Foursquare’s new Swarm app was drastically cull my friends list on Foursquare from over 100 people down to just 19. 


When I joined Foursquare a few years ago, I was living in Arizona, still in college—a completely different lifestyle. As the years went by, things changed but my friends list kept growing. I stopped using Foursquare for checking in, and started using it as a location recommendation service, similar to Yelp. In my mind, it wasn’t really a social network anymore—in fact, I started keeping it among the travel apps on my iP

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hone.


This is the concept Foursquare wants to build: to move beyond the check-in. The company's recent unbundling of its services yielded two separate entities—Swarm, the social network; and Foursquare, the app you’ll use when trying to figure out what to do next.


Foursquare isn’t the first social network to experiment with splitting up its services. Facebook, most notably, has been trying to unbundle itself for years, sometimes failing along the way. Its latest move—forcing Facebook users into Messenger if they want to chat on mobile devices—was largely criticized, for example.


Foursquare is also taking a risk by dividing its efforts for two distinctly different services seemingly working in opposite directions. Yes, Foursquare's location discovery application will use your check-in data from Swarm, but Swarm also wants to create a different social experience entirely.


Swarm—Creepy Or Convenient? 











Swarm was Foursquare's way of ripping the check-in from its flagship app. The new social app uses your phone's GPS function to broadcast where you are at all times, and view others' locations, too. 


Named after the Foursquare “Swarm Badge” that signifies a busy location, Swarm is the latest “ambient location” app to launch this year. "Ambient location" apps rely on mobile phones' location services to display your general area to your friends in a passive way, without the need to check into any specific location. That's how Swarm works. 


If you decide you want to share your exact location with friends, Swarm's check-in feature is basically the same, but now you can also share your future plans with friends and invite them to join in. Ambient location sharing can be turned off, but it’s on by default.



See Also: Why Foursquare Is Breaking Up With The Check-In

I’m skeptical of location sharing in general. I rarely check into places until I’m ready to leave, and even then, I don’t see the benefit. And with Swarm, my general location is visible to anyone at any time. There are only a handful of people I’d be okay with knowing that information, and it's not anyone on the friends list I’d amassed since joining Foursquare four years ago. 


I’m probably not alone here. Ambient location apps haven’t taken off, and even Facebook’s attempt to get friends to share their general locations has fallen flat. Most people don’t mind telling their friends where they are, as long as they’re okay with those friends joining them. I bet most people don’t have 100 or more friends they’d enjoy meeting up with randomly on the street. 


Foursquare doesn’t disclose monthly active user numbers, but the company boasts over 50 million app downloads. Still, one would imagine users stay in contact with friends over Twitter and Facebook more often than they do with Foursquare, and moving check-ins to Swarm may not help Foursquare in that regard. 


Foursquare is simply not as popular as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, even though the company is technically in the same category as those companies. In 2010, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley was even dubbed "The New King Of Social Media"—but four years later, Foursquare may be doing more rebuilding than refining.


Swarm, Foursquare's new social arm, will more or less need to build its community from the ground up; Crowley says the company is building tools to make it easier to bounce between Foursquare's apps, but I doubt users like me, who primarily use Foursquare as a recommendation tool, will find Swarm appealing. 


A New Direction For Foursquare


As Swarm tries to popularize proximity apps, Foursquare will have its own hurdles to jump.


The new Foursquare app to be released later this year will offer suggestions on where to go and what to order, based on users' unique location histories. On the plus side, Foursquare’s directory of places consists of over six billion check-ins, which is more than any other service—arguably enviable by Google or Yelp. 



See Also: Foursquare CEO: How We'll Tell You Where To Eat And What To Order

Foursquare will learn your behavior based on your previous check-ins and ambient location data—such as where you like to eat, or when you like to go to the movies—and tailor suggestions for where you should go next. The Foursquare app will eventually deliver push notifications when you are at a new location, and serve up suggestions for what to do there. 


Many places have “tips,” or small reviews written by Foursquare after they check in. Unlike Yelp, these Foursquare reviews tend to be short and concise. As Foursquare moves away from the check-in, these reviews will be the focal point of the new application.


The only way for Foursquare to collect your location data once check-ins are removed is to use location services running in the background to track where you’ve been, which is concerning for privacy-conscious folks. In order to receive tailored push notifications, you’ll have to let Foursquare track you.


Foursquare’s collection of places is likely robust enough on its own to succeed as a competitor to Yelp. But will users be comfortable giving up their location information to both Foursquare and casual contacts on a regular basis? I'm not convinced. 


Lead image via John Fischer on Flickr



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E-commerce has skyrocketed in the last decade. Creating your own online business is a great way to make a buck. Learn about starting an online business and how to make it work for you.
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Mt. Gox, the Bitcoin exchange that was the victim of a massive hacker attack that stole hundreds of millions of dollars of its users’ bitcoins—forcing the company to file for bankruptcy protection—is under attack again. This time, the exchange says a group of hackers has broken into the company’s servers, allegedly targeting the company’s CEO, Mark Karpeles, in a search for answers.


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lass="p2">According to Forbes, hackers on Sunday allegedly hijacked Karpeles’ personal blog and Reddit account to post a pair of angry letters, which said the Mt. Gox CEO had stolen at least some of users’ bitcoins for himself. Included with the letters was a large file that contained an Excel spreadsheet, which purports to show Mt. Gox’s company balances in 18 different currencies, including Bitcoin—something the hackers hoped to use as proof of Karpeles’ lying about users’ lost or stolen money.



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Today Facebook announced plans for a new data center in Luleå, Sweden—one based on modular architectural concept the company calls “rapid deployment data center,” or RDDC. One of the construct approaches, “flat pack”—basically a way of packing together the modular walls of a data center into easily transportable units, much like a box containing a disassembled bookshelf—was inspired by Ikea, the minimalist furniture and

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home accessory company that's also based in Sweden. 


Sadly, there's no word on the assembly instructions, which are presumably in pictorial form, or whether hex wrenches are included with every set.


Image courtesy of Facebook



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Soon you’ll be able to order food or book an appointment by using a Square app.


On Wednesday, the payments company announced the acquisition of BookFresh, a booking tool for services businesses. It is also testing a new application called Square Pickup that lets users order directly in the application, pay with Square, and pick up their food in the restaurant when they're ready. 


The moves represent a broadening of Square’s payments business beyond its original, iconic credit-card swiping device, which let businesses accept in-person payments with a smartphone o

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r tablet—a substitute for cash registers and credit-card terminals.


Last year, it expanded into e-commerce with Square Market, which let existing Square merchants take online orders. It also has apps for consumers, like Square Cash, which allows people to send and receive transactions via a mobile device, and Square Wallet, which lets buyers pay with stored payment information rather than having to take out a card to swipe it.


Square Pickup, like Square Market, is best thought of as an extension of Square’s existing in-person payments for restaurants, delis, and cafes already using Square. Rather than having customers call in an order and then pay for it by swiping a card, it lets buyers order and pay through an app. It’s helped by the fact that Square merchants have already loaded their menu into Square's Register app.


BookFresh, a San Francisco-based startup, will similarly help service providers who use Square to accept payments to also manage appointments.



See Also: How Square Cash Could Put Money In The Company's Bank Account

Robin Dhar at Priceonomics first noticed Square's new application when he picked up lunch from a local eatery. The app is still in beta and only available at select locations. In order to use Square Pickup, you need an invite code.


A spokeswoman for Square declined to comment about Square Pickup, though the signup form is publicly available on Square’s website.


Square Pickup faces competition from order-on-demand applications from Seamless, Postmates, Yelp, and PayPal. But rather than taking those companies heads-on, Square is more likely making a defensive play to keep Square merchants from trying those competing services for orders, and consolidating their transactions with Square.


The BookFresh acquisition, by contrast, could help Square expand its business among service providers.


Image courtesy of Square



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Soon you may be able to mirror what's on your Android smartphone or tablet to your television through Chromecast.


Google's Chromecast television streaming dongle has become a bit of a cult hit. At $35, it is one of the cheapest over-the-top media streamers on the market, can connect to virtually any television and allows you to use your smartphone or a tablet as a remote. The problem the Chromecast has had in its seven months or so of existence is lack of depth for apps that can use it.


Cyanogen developer Koushik Dutta—the developer of the popular AllCast app—has fig

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ured out how to hack the Chromecast to be able to mirror what's on your Android device to your television. He posted a short demo video on his Google+ profile on Sunday showing him playing Flappy Bird and using Twitter on his phone while also casting it to his television.


There appears to be a lag in the video and Google does not officially support device screen mirroring for Chromecast at this point, but the capabilities may soon come to Google's popular dongle.



In a post to his Google+ profile today, Dutta notes that Google may be working on screen mirroring for the Chromecast from Android, but that it's not yet ready. Dutta speculates that Google may be about to add a protocol to the Chromecast firmware to allow screen mirroring, and notes that it looks like Google is not using WebRTC, can't package and stream MP4 videos without buffering, can't stream H264 or VP8 and that mirroring frame by frame is slow.


Dutta says:


Did some poking around to see how far along Google is with their Chromecast mirroring solution. There's plenty of evidence that there's some (possibly half baked) solution in the Play Services APK and it is not totally disabled. This is why people are seeing their "Cast" quick setting tile sometimes light up.

21

Venture capitalist and erstwhile open source entrepreneur Peter Levine thinks it's dumb to try to emulate Red Hat.


In a TechCrunch post, Levine insists it's almost certain we won't "see another Red Hat" as "the odds are long and the path is littered with the corpses of companies that have tried the support model."


Levine is right, of course. But then again, we already knew this. 


Redmonk's Stephen O'Grady argued back in 2006 that we wouldn't see another billion-dollar open source company like Red Hat. Indeed, it has been a long, long time since

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anyone has mustered a serious attempt to emulate Red Hat like-for-like—the one exception being Hortonworks.


It turns out there are other open source-friendly ways to build "open source businesses," making the Red Hat model just one of several different ways to build a business around open source. Which, perhaps, helps to explain why it's virtually impossible to find any significant open source company that leads its marketing with open source as a differentiator. Yes, including Red Hat.


Value, Not Open Source


Red Hat led the charge to sell open source as a means, rather than an end. Back in 2008, I interviewed Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst and CTO Brian Stevens, and both were quick to position Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscriptions as value generators, not a matter of cost savings or even open source freedom.


This isn't to say Red Hat downplays its open source message; it's just more nuanced about doing so.


Back in May 2000, open source was a primary marketing message on the RedHat.com website. But today you won't find open source mentioned on its home page. Instead you'll find pointers to Big Data, an anti-patent pledge and the usual links for partners, customer case studies, etc.


Red Hat is selling value, not open source. However, if you search for Red Hat on Google, the company largely advertises its open source credentials, as Twitter's Chris Aniszczyk points out:









But for those who find their way to its website, Red Hat does what every other software company does—it attempts to sell the value of its products.


Where Are The Red Hat Protegés?


As for companies trying to be "The Red Hat Of...", each of them has abandoned open source as the leading marketing message.


In 2010, SugarCRM's main landing page prominently advertised itself as open source. Today? Not a single mention.


My alma mater, Alfresco? In February 2009, Alfresco declared itself "the open source alternative for Enterprise Content Management." No mention of open source on the home page today.


The same goes for Acquia, the Drupal company (see 2009 vs. today), and most every other significant company that sells support or software around an open-source project.


"But those are fake open source companies!" you might say. Okay... how about JBoss? That company was open source and proud of it back in February 2006, just before it was acquired by like-minded Red Hat. And even after the acquisition in February 2008, Red Hat's JBoss division continued to maintain the JBoss.com website with its open source branding. The website got a significant refresh in May 2012, but it still continued to feature open source. But what about today? Well today, JBoss' home page doesn't even mention it's open source.


This is not meant to criticize Red Hat's whitewashing of open source from its websites. It's just not marketing open source as its primary differentiator as it once did. 


Open Source Is A Means, Not An End


The biggest companies making serious money with open source don't even bother to pretend to be "open source companies." They're companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google, which have offered significant contributions to open source without expecting to make a dime from selling open-source software directly. This isn't too different from most of the companies mentioned above, either, which provide value—including proprietary software—around open source. 


Levine's primary thesis—"combining open source with a service or appliance model is producing staggering results across the software landscape"—is well-known. It's not new, and it's one big reason that open source companies don't bother selling open source as their primary differentiation anymore, and haven't for years. 


Levine is right in a trivial sense—there will never be another Red Hat as a "company peddling open source support as its primary value"—and wrong in the much more profound sense: There will be other "open source companies" making as much as or dramatically more than Red Hat. Open source will be central to their value, but it won't be what they sell


The only surprising aspect of Levine's article is that he still has entrepreneurs promising him they'll be "The Next Red Hat." Maybe he needs better deal flow.


Image courtesy of Shutterstock.



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Flappy Bird is the latest weirdly addicting game to captivate mobile users. The reason is simple, if not straightforward: In the guise of a cartoonish time-waster, Flappy Bird offers some of the most punishing, hardcore gameplay you can imagine. And it's sucking in players by the millions.


Flappy Bird rakes in a reported $50,000 per day through in-app ads and at the time of writing, it holds the coveted number one slot in the iOS App Store. In the latest manifestation of the game's strange success, players are flocking to social media to post their high scores (mine is 4).

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A search on Instagram for the hashtag #flappybird yielded 826,956 “game over” screenshots.











Flappy Bird seems really simple, and it is: tap the screen to avoid obstacles (Mario-style green pipes) and keep your pixelated bird in flight for as long as possible. Hit anything and your bird drops to the ground. Game over.


The physics are lifted straight out of a Mario Bros. underwater level, but Flappy Bird is nowhere near as forgiving as that classic. The gameplay is a psychologically punishing blend of ruthless difficulty and incredible simplicity.


Flappy Bird actually picks up its torch from a long line of similarly unforgiving, albeit more obscure, games. Flappy Bird just turned over 50 million unsuspecting casual mobile users into bonafide hardcore gamers. This ain't no Candy Crush Saga.


Flappy Bird’s Punishing Lineage


Everything about Flappy Bird is derivative, from the Mario-style sprites right down to its “one strike and you’re out” gameplay formula. The interesting part is that those unoriginal components are remixed into a very simple product that has even the most casual mobile gamers absolutely hooked.


But simple and easy aren't at all synonymous. Flappy Bird offers a brutal flavor of gameplay that rewards extreme precision and little else. The game is randomly generated anew each time your bird thwacks into the game over screen, so you can’t just memorize a level sequence to improve.


Flappy Bird, unbeknownst to most of its addicts, distills the formula for a hardcore game right down to its core. Precision and permadeath are the only two constants; screw the first one up and it'll rapidly reward you with the latter.


“Permadeath,” a staple of only the most hardcore gameplay, is exactly what it sounds like. There are no saved games, no rush of relief at reaching a safe checkpoint and knowing your progress won’t be lost. Permadeath, like Flappy Bird, offers players no safe harbor at all—and that’s part of its twisted, addictive calling card.


Cheating Death Is Not An Option


In Flappy Bird, there is no boss, no treasure chest, nothing to play for at all, save your own burning psychological drive to not screw it up. It requires a fascinating exercise in mental exceptionalism paired with a powerful suspension of disbelief—namely, ignoring the fact that, at some point, you will indeed screw it up.


Flappy Bird, in all of its ripped-off glory, calls to mind some of the most challenging games ever made. In the infamous “roguelike” genre, which has its roots in the ancient ASCII game Rogue (1980), the player is tasked with wending through a randomly generated virtual dungeon until one fatal misstep leads to—you guessed it!—permadeath. Later, 2009's Demon's Souls earned its place as perennial entry on lists of the hardest video games ever made.


Plenty of games are really, really hard and keep gamers coming back for more, though most, like the Monster Hunter series, reward players for honing their skills to razor-sharp precision over time. Flappy Bird is decidedly more masochistic, a mass un-kickable bad habit perpetuated via internet virality.


Flappy Bird’s unpredictable popularity is no doubt fueled by the core tenets of those ultimate hardcore games that gamers love to hate (and in turn, love). The natural social media pop-up communities for viral phenomena serve as a Web-wide commiseration platform, adding fuel to Flappy Bird’s unlikely, perhaps undeserved fire.


But like so many brave hardcore gamers before us, we persevere: tap, tap, tapping our way toward the unobtainable— and inexplicably loving every second of it.



2
When you start a business, a lot can fall through the cracks if you’re not careful. You’ve got to make sure that you’ve got your products and services set up and ready to go, your business registered with state agencies so that it’s legal, and then you need an idea of how you’ll get customers in the door or to your site. It can be a lot to remember! Here are ten things you absolutely should know before you launch your business:



1. What You’re Selling. A lot of businesses try to offer too many types of products or services to appeal to a wider audience, but that rarely works well.
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Instead, zero in on a handful of things you can deliver well.



2. Your Business Strategy. Starting a business without at least a rough business plan will only set you up for failure. You need to know your competitive advantage and how you’ll market your business before starting.



3. Your Competitors. If you don’t know who you’re competing against, how can you get a game plan on how you’ll win over more custom
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