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Issac Avila

Issac Avila

Wednesday, 15 March 2017 06:39

Why Apple Should Be Scared of This Company

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) reign at the top of the smartphone market is under threat. Slowly but steadily, Chinese telecom giant Huawei has been spreading its wings across key global markets, in a bid to displace Apple and Samsung from the top of the smartphone heap.

Huawei's ambition of becoming the second-largest smartphone company in the world received a shot in the arm in 2016, as its smartphone sales increased close to 27% from the year before. In stark contrast, both Apple's and Samsung's shipments fell 4.3% over the same period, according to Gartner. The strong growth in shipments gave Huawei 8.9% of the smartphone market in 2016 compared to 7.3% a year ago.

By comparison, the market shares of both Apple and Samsung took a beating. The Cupertino-based smartphone giant's share of the market fell by 1.5 percentage points to 14.4%, while Samsung's market share fell by two percentage points to 20.5%. Huawei, however, has managed to consistently increase its smartphone shipments, leading to market-share gains:

Data sources: Strategy Analytics and Counterpoint Technology Market Research. Chart by author.

Having already occupied the third place in the smartphone race, the Chinese vendor will now go all out to achieve its lofty ambitions. In November 2016, the chief executive of Huawei's consumer business group told Reuters that it wants to become the second-largest smartphone company in two years. But will it be able to meet this aggressive target?

China and India will be tailwinds for Huawei

The Chinese company has been seeking growth in its home market. Last year, Huawei shipped 76.6 million phones in China and sat in the second place with a market share of 16.4%. Meanwhile, Apple's Chinese shipments dropped an alarming 23% to 44.9 million units, giving it a single-digit market share of just 9.6%.

This means that Huawei has opened a huge gap over Apple in China, as its smartphone shipments there are up almost 22% in 2016. China will be the key to Huawei's global smartphone dominance, since it is the world's biggest smartphone market and accounted for 21% of global shipments last year.

What's more, the growing adoption of LTE connections in China means that smartphone demand in the country will remain strong. GSMA Intelligence forecasts that China will have 1 billion 4G connections by 2020, compared to 762 million at the end of 2016. The increased adoption of 4G means that customers will need to upgrade to smartphones from feature phones as they move away from legacy technologies such as 2G and 3G.

On the other hand, Huawei is also looking to make inroads into the Indian market. Last year, it said that it aims to have 10% of the Indian smartphone market by the end of 2017. In fact, Huawei's Indian consumer operations reports directly to the Chinese headquarters, showing the company recognizes the importance of this market.

This is not surprising as annual smartphone sales in India are expected to top 200 million units in 2020 (rising from 102 million units last year), making it the world's second-largest market. If Huawei manages to carve out a 10% share for itself in India, it can add 20 million units in smartphone sales.

This looks like an uphill task since it had just 0.5% of the Indian market in the first half of 2016. But in September 2016, Huawei began its smartphone manufacturing operations in India, and it plans to manufacture 3 million units by the end of 2017. If it is able to convert all these units into sales this year, the company's Indian market share will gain respectability.

By comparison, Apple is yet to get its manufacturing operations in India into full swing. Though its manufacturing partner Wistron has set up a plant in the southern part of the country, it will only produce around 300,000 to 400,000 units of the iPhone SE initially. This is a far cry from Huawei's manufacturing capacity.

The secret behind Huawei's growth

Huawei has a smart formula to win over customers in big smartphone markets -- offline sales. In China, Huawei plans to set up 1,000 stores across all counties, apart from striking partnerships with distributors and retailers. It also plans to deploy 460 service stores in 45 nations.

Meanwhile, Huawei has partnered with more than 50,000 retail outlets in India and is going to set up more than 200 service centers. The company's offline-store strategy for emerging markets is a smart one, allowing it to gain more eyeballs and eventually increase sales.

In fact, offline sales in markets such as India have been the key to the success of Chinese smartphone companies, since customers have been able to touch and feel their phones before buying. And, just 35% of the Indian population had access to the internet last year, which could be another reason that Huawei has been busy opening retail outlets in smaller cities.

A similar scenario is unfolding in China, where offline smartphone sales are gaining momentum. The growing shift toward offline smartphone sales has encouraged Huawei to drastically ramp up its company-owned stores.

Huawei had bumped its global store count by 116% to 35,000 toward the end of May 2016. The company has further strengthened its retail presence as it planned to open another 15,000 stores in 2016 itself. Around half of its stores are on the Chinese mainland and across the rest of Asia, with the next-largest fraction in Europe.

By comparison, Apple has 491 stores spread across the globe, and over half of them are in the U.S. What's more, its store presence in markets such as India and China is negligible compared to Huawei's. Apple reportedly had 40 stores in China by the end of June 2016, when Huawei had over 11,000 stores on the mainland. On the other hand, Apple's plans to open stores in India have been slowed by regulations, though it might open up three of them this year.

Huawei's strong retail presence is complemented by the company's strategy of offering both budget and premium smartphones. The Honor 5C, which some reviewers count among the top budget phones, costs less than $170 in India at current exchange rates, placing it way below the global-average smartphone price of $256.

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In fact, Huawei also sells feature phones in emerging markets that cost less than $100. These budget phones help bring customers to its stores and improve brand awareness. The company is now gradually moving into the higher segment of the market by launching more mid-range and premium phones, which should eventually improve the average selling prices of its phones.

The takeaway

A strong retail presence and an extensive product portfolio that covers all segments of the smartphone market have been the catalysts behind Huawei's growth. In fact, the company's two-pronged strategy has put it in the limelight, as the value of its brand grew 28% in 2016 on the back of high-end devices and marketing campaigns.

Apple and Samsung, therefore, have a fierce competitor that looks capable of breaking into the top two in the smartphone market.

10 stocks we like better than Apple

When investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has tripled the market.

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the 10 best stocks for investors to buy right now… and Apple wasn't one of them! That's right -- they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

Author : Harsh Chauhan

Source : http://host.madison.com/business/investment/markets-and-stocks/why-apple-should-be-scared-of-this-company/article_efd040d5-f525-526e-b170-68a23ad6ba81.html

One of the men accused of running the Hamilton Ponzi scheme is no stranger to criminal probes.

In January, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Joseph Meli and Matthew Harriton with perpetrating a $97 million Ponzi scheme involving tickets for Hamilton and the planned Broadway run of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Over 138 individuals, including billionaires Paul Tudor Jones and Michael Dell, invested in the suspected scam.

According to the government, the defendants claimed to have an agreement with Jeffrey Seller, the producer of Hamilton, to procure 35,000 tickets to the Tony Award-winning musical. Investor funds were sought in order to purchase the block of tickets, which the two men said would be resold at a profit. The backers were promised the return of their investments within eight months, as well as a 10% annualized return and 50% of residual profits.

In addition, federal authorities allege, the defendants purported to have a similar agreement to buy 250,000 tickets to the planned Broadway production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Cash was raised in order to purchase the block of tickets for $62.5 million, and investors were promised the return of their investments and a pro rata share of certain profits.

However, federal authorities insist that the defendants never had a deal with either show, and no investor money was ever used to purchase blocks of tickets. Instead, less than 14% of the funds were used to pay entities engaged in the ticket sales or live entertainment business, and over $74 million was diverted to “to perpetuate a Ponzi scheme and to enrich themselves and certain family members and others.”

The complaint indicates that the entrusted funds were spent on expensive jewelry, private school tuition, summer camps, automobiles, private club memberships, travel expenses and casino bills. One of the men also bought a $3 million house in East Hampton using cash from the scheme.

Paul Ryan, a former government lawyer, told Bloomberg that “the idea that there were blocks of Hamilton tickets available for purchase should have been a giveaway.” No one could get their hands on a large set of tickets.

But, exercising simple due diligence should have revealed another potential red flag. One of the defendants, Matthew Harriton, was reported to be a subject in a large white-collar criminal investigation two decades ago.

His father, Richard Harriton, was banned from the securities sector back in 2000 for helping a boiler-room business stay afloat while evading its net capital requirements. He served as the president of Bear Stearns' clearing subsidiary firm, and the government found that, “[t]o protect [the subsidiary] from having to absorb large losses, [the subsidiary], at Harriton's direction, charged unauthorized trades to [A.R.] Baron customers, liquidated property in customer accounts to pay for unauthorized trades, refused to return customer property that had been liquidated to pay for unauthorized trades and disregarded customer instructions.” But, like most defendants, Richard Harriton did not admit or deny the findings in his settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

One of the other brokerage firms which cleared its trades through Richard Harriton at Bear Stearns was Sterling Foster, which defrauded thousands of customers, and inspired the popular crime film Boiler Room. Rooney Pace, an old friend of Richard Harriton who was banned from the securities business, secretly controlled the firm and crafted illegal arrangements that allowed insiders to sell their restricted shares in small companies when the firms went public.

The government also alleged that Sterling Foster engaged in rampant stock manipulation, and The New York Times reported that “Mr. Harriton's son Matthew was closely involved in three of the five companies whose shares, prosecutors say, were manipulated by Mr. Pace and his colleagues.” One of the firms, where Matthew Harriton served as the Chief Financial Officer, for instance, raised $5 million in its initial public offering before its stock price plunged from $13.25 to $0.03.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation into Matthew Harriton. “One question has been whether Mr. Pace and some associates granted business favors to the younger Mr. Harriton as part of an effort to get Bear Stearns, through the elder Mr. Harriton, to clear trades for Sterling Foster,” observed The Wall Street Journal.

Nothing ever came of the investigation, and Matthew Harriton was never charged with a crime.

Yet, some of the most sophisticated investors on Wall Street should have taken a moment to peek into his past. Reports of the probe might have made them more skeptical of him and his investment offer that apparently was too good to be true.

Author : Marc Hershberg

Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/marchershberg/2017/03/13/internet-search-would-have-revealed-past-probe-into-alleged-broadway-scammer/2/#ac98c23691fd

Google could have a record of everything you have said around it for years, and you can listen to it yourself.

The company quietly records many of the conversations that people have around its products.

The feature works as a way of letting people search with their voice, and storing those recordings presumably lets Google improve its language recognition tools as well as the results that it gives to people.

But it also comes with an easy way of listening to and deleting all of the information that it collects. That’s done through a special page that brings together the information that Google has on you.

It’s found by heading to Google’s history page and looking at the long list of recordings. The company has a specific audio page and another for activity on the web, which will show you everywhere Google has a record of you being on the internet.

Gadgets and tech news in pictures 

The new portal was introduced in June 2015 and so has been active for the last year – meaning that it is now probably full of various things you have said, which you thought might have been in private.

Everyone should cover up their laptop webcams right now, says FBI director

The recordings can function as a kind of diary, reminding you of the various places and situations that you and your phone have been in. But it’s also a reminder of just how much information is collected about you, and how intimate that information can be.

You'll see more if you've an Android phone, which can be activated at any time just by saying "OK, Google". But you may well also have recordings on there whatever devices you've interacted with Google using.

Google beats Oracle in one of tech's most important court cases

On the page, you can listen through all of the recordings. You can also see information about how the sound was recorded – whether it was through the Google app or elsewhere – as well as any transcription of what was said if Google has turned it into text successfully.

But perhaps the most useful – and least cringe-inducing – reason to visit the page is to delete everything from there, should you so wish. That can be done either by selecting specific recordings or deleting everything in one go.

To delete particular files, you can click the check box on the left and then move back to the top of the page and select “delete”. To get rid of everything, you can press the “More” button, select “Delete options” and then “Advanced” and click through.

The easiest way to stop Google recording everything is to turn off the virtual assistant and never to use voice search. But that solution also gets at the central problem of much privacy and data use today – doing so cuts off one of the most useful things about having an Android phone or using Google search.

Author : Andrew Griffin

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/google-voice-search-records-stores-conversation-people-have-around-their-phones-but-files-can-be-a7059376.html

A new eBay Advertising survey found that 63 percent of respondents are either “extremely likely” or “likely” to purchase a vehicle online in the future.

For the two-part survey, eBay Advertising says it garnered responses from more than 1,000 U.S. consumers between the ages of 18 and 65 who had purchased a vehicle in the last six months. The company also analyzed eBay Motors data based on approximately 1,000 consumers who had either made purchases from the “cars & trucks” category on eBay Motors, or who had browsed through eBay Motors in 2016.

The eBay Motors platform houses thousands of vehicle listings from dealerships and private sellers.

The eBay report comes at a time when an increasing number of dealers are taking the plunge into online vehicle transactions. Some dealers are offering online services via in-house projects like those at giant retailers AutoNation Inc. and Penske Automotive Group Inc., or through third parties such as Roadster, which launched an online-shopping platform for dealership websites last summer in California.

While dealers look to adopt the Amazon experience for vehicle purchases, data shows that the public demand for such services is still evolving. Although eBay’s survey found intense interest for buying vehicles online, a recent report from dealer software provider Dealersocket told another story when it said that a mere one-third of shoppers want to complete an entire transaction online.

But no matter what survey you look at, the online wave isn’t going anywhere. With a growing number of digital outlets to buy vehicles from, eBay Motors continues to make a play in the space by providing leads to dealers who populate the site with a plethora of new and used listings.

Some dealers start accounts on eBay Motors and don’t realize the site can integrate with a store’s customer relationship management and inventory tools.

Dealers using the eBay Motors integration receive lead notifications through their CRM platforms. The site also has a vehicle merchandising platform that links to dealer inventory systems and allows them to automate which models are selected for display on eBay Motors.

Kevin Considine, eBay Motors’ senior merchant of vehicles in the U.S., said he feels the rise of other online shopping platforms won’t detract from eBay’s offerings, but complement them.

“We are trying to serve that same demand from buyers in the marketplace, which is to take that process as far as they can online. A lot of those dealers that are offering those services on their own platforms, or are planning to do that, are also the same dealers that are reaching our buyers through the eBay marketplace,” Considine told Automotive News. “They’re not just relying on traffic to their own site. Many of them are finding those shoppers on eBay.”

The eBay Motors marketplace provides other tools to enable online deals. Shoppers have the option to get vehicles inspected, access history reports and sift through pricing offers from shipping companies. The site also has partnerships with finance and insurance companies such as Allstate, Progressive and State Farm, which could be a convenience for those buying from private sellers instead of franchised dealerships.

“We’re definitely looking at finding those partnerships where we can blend an important service to a purchase decision like a vehicle,” Josh Wetzel, eBay Advertising’s senior director of sales and marketing, told Automotive News.

Online research

The eBay survey also found that 87 percent of respondents use the internet to research vehicles. While that number is extremely high, Considine thought it would be even higher.

He said those who don’t research online likely have close relationships with neighborhood stores that they’ve always done business with.

“They have a trusted salesperson,” Considine said. “They go through a process that they’ve done many times before and they may still be happy with that cycle.”

More highlights

  • The survey had a few more highlights:
  • The average length of the purchase journey is two months, which consists of researching, reading reviews, etc.
  • Sedans and SUV/ crossovers were the most popular vehicles purchased.
  • Women are more likely than men to plan to keep their vehicle until it dies.

Author : Vince Bond Jr.

Source : http://www.autonews.com/article/20170216/RETAIL/170219866/ebay-survey:-63-percent-of-car-shoppers-likely-to-buy-online

Wednesday, 08 March 2017 07:14

A Visual Search Engine for the Entire Planet

At this moment in history, there are more satellites photographing Earth from orbit than just about anyone knows what to do with. Planet, Inc., has more than 150 orbiting cameras, each the size of a shoebox. DigitalGlobe has five dump-truck-sized sensors. And more startups are planning to launch their own.

What should we do with all that imagery? How can we search it and process it? Descartes Labs, a startup that uses machine learning to identify crop health and other economic indicators in satellite imagery, has created a tool to better index and surf through it. They call it Geovisual Search.

Geovisual Search allows users to find similar-looking objects in aerial maps of China, the United States, and the world. It’s free and available online right now. Click on a visible feature—like an oil tank, an empty swimming pool, or a stack of shipping containers—and Geovisual Search will find other objects like it on the map.

Here’s a search, for instance, for solar farm-looking features in China:

(Courtesy of Descartes Labs)

“Imagine these big data sets coming along from Planet. Suddenly you’re getting daily pictures of the globe. You kind of want to count these things, every single day, and watch how they change through time,” says Mark Johnson, the CEO of Descartes Labs.  

“The neural nets that we trained here are the beginning of counting oil tanks, or buildings, or windmills. Imagine we wanted to look at sustainable energy infrastructure—solar farms, solar panels on roof—you could start to think about counting their growth through time. You start to get really interesting data streams,” he told me.

It’s a legitimately cool way to search satellite imagery, and it’s great to be able to surf through the terrain of China and the United States as a whole. It reminded me of Terrapattern, an art project created by artists and geographers at Carnegie Mellon University last summer. Terrapattern had a near-identical interface and near-identical capabilities to Descartes Search, but it only accessed certain urban areas in the U.S., including Pittsburgh, New York, and the Bay Area.

The Decartes team tips their hat to Terrapattern in their announcement blogpost, calling the earlier project a “ground-breaking demonstration of visual search over satellite imagery.”

“We loved it.  The demo aligned with many ideas we had been kicking around at Descartes Labs, and it was great to see somebody just go out and do it,” the blog post says.

Despite this admiration, Descartes only ran their implementation past the Terrapattern team 12 hours before its release. “Their approach is virtually the same as what we did a year ago, with some tweaks to deal with scale,” said Golan Levin, who led the Carnegie Mellon team, in an email.

“It’s quite typical for new-media artworks to, er, ‘inspire’ commercial projects—this is unfortunately quite common,” he said. “Since our team is artists and students and academics, the chance or option to have collaborated would have been much more fun.”

In fact, Levin has written about how Google Streetview, Sony Eyetoy, and a Nike product called the “Chalkbot” were all inspired by new-media artistic experiments. He added that Terrapattern is now working with a major satellite-imagery provider and a design firm to create a similarly scaled-up version of its product.

Perhaps this method of searching a geographic environment will eventually have the same renown as Google  Streetview. If the sheer amount of new daily satellite imagery continues to expand, it seems like a possible fate. For its part, Descartes plans to keep expanding the use of machine-learning algorithms on satellite imagery. It will also continue producing its corn-health forecasts.


Source : https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/03/a-new-way-to-search-satellite-imagery/518757/

A "Google" website is promising to predict a user's future in order to make an important statement about a population whose future continues to be less and less clear.

Called "Google Fortunetelling," the site, which is unaffiliated with the search engine, invites visitors to ask a question about the future. When text is added to the search bar, the site automatically completes the inquiry with questions such as "Where can I find a safe place?" and "Will I be reunited with my family?"

Screenshot / Google Fortunetelling
Screenshot / Google Fortunetelling

Users are then directed to a page with the statement "Of course we can't predict your future!" written across the top with information about the site's real intention below.

The site explains: 

But 60 million refugees ask themselves every day if they have a future at all. So we used a fake Google site to get your attention because apparently you were interested in your own future. Please take a moment to think of their future. 
Syrian children at a refugee camp in Suruc. Procyk Radek / Shutterstock
Syrian children at a refugee camp in Suruc. Procyk Radek / Shutterstock

As politicians work to close U.S. borders to refugees, the future of those affected by what has been called the world's worst humanitarian crisis remains uncertain now more than ever. 

"We started this campaign because we wanted to create awareness about this big problem in Europe," Jort Boot, one of the creators of the site told Inverse. "We tried to let people feel that their own future at this moment is not more important than the future of a refugee." 


Source : http://aplus.com/a/Google-Fortunetelling-Refugee-Awareness?no_monetization=true

YouTube fans may soon see an end to irritating unstoppable adverts interrupting their videos.

Google, which owns the world’s most popular video site, has said it will soon stop including 30-second adverts or promo videos that currently show up whenever a user starts viewing.

The company says that the move will help make using YouTube more entertaining and engaging for customers - but unfortunately there’s one crucial caveat to Google’s announcement.

That’s because the move won’t be introduced until 2018, leaving YouTube users with at least ten more months of having to endure unskippable videos.

Google told Campaign that from 2018, it will instead look to focus on other commercial formats that will provide a better ads experience for users online. 

“As part of that, we’ve decided to stop supporting 30-second unskippable ads as of 2018 and focus instead on formats that work well for both users and advertisers,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

youtube home page video adverts stoppedGETTY

YouTube says it will look to change it advertising policies in 2018

However there’s no on whether the decision will affect other intrusive and annoying YouTube advertising tactics that users currently still have to suffer through.

As well as the 30-second advert format, YouTube also currently displays ads in 15 and 20 second versions.

It also shows longer-length “bumper” adverts that take up just five or six second, which will likely become a more common presence on the site after the change.n

The news comes shortly after Facebook announced that .

The "mid-roll" ads will begin once a user has been viewing the content for more than 20 seconds.

Facebook hasn't yet confirmed when this change will come in to force, and how long the adverts will be, but it’s likely  to be a similar length to YouTube’s current format.

Facebook has enjoyed a huge rise in advertising revenues in recent years after it greatly expanded its video hosting capabilities.

Last year the social network was racking up a staggering 100 million hours of video playback per day, with a large proportion of posts now featuring a video.


Source : http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/science-technology/769057/youtube-unskippable-preview-adverts-stopped-google-ad-spam

Saturday, 11 February 2017 06:35

The Internet’s hidden science factory

In a small apartment in a small town in northeastern Mississippi, Sarah Marshall sits at her computer, clicking bubbles for an online survey, as her 1-year-old son plays nearby. She hasn’t done this exact survey before, but the questions are familiar, and she works fast. That’s because Marshall is what you might call a professional survey-taker. In the past five years, she has completed roughly 20,000 academic surveys. This is her 21st so far this week. And it’s only Tuesday.

In the past five years, Sarah Marshall has completed roughly 20,000 academic surveys.

Marshall is a worker for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online job forum where “requesters” post jobs, and an army of crowdsourced workers complete them, earning fantastically small fees for each task. The work has been called microlabor, and the jobs, known as Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITs, range wildly. Some are tedious: transcribing interviews or cropping photos. Some are funny: prank calling someone’s buddy (that’s worth $1) or writing the title to a pornographic movie based on a collection of dirty screen grabs (6 cents). And others are downright bizarre. One task, for example, asked workers to strap live fish to their chests and upload the photos. That paid $5 — a lot by Mechanical Turk standards.

Mostly, Marshall is a sort of cyber guinea pig, providing a steady stream of data to academic and scientific research. This places her squarely inside a growing culture of super-savvy, highly experienced study participants.

Sarah Marshall makes about 50 percent of her income from Mechanical Turk, mostly doing research studies. She works at home while watching her son. Photo by Mike Fritz.

As she works, she hears a rustling noise. “Grayson, are you in my garbage can?”

In the kitchen, the trash can’s on its side. Her son has liberated an empty box of cinnamon rolls and dumped the remaining contents on the floor. She goes to him, scoops him up and carries him back to the living room, where he circles the carpet, chattering happily as she resumes typing.

“I’m never going to be absolutely undistracted, ever,” Marshall says, and smiles.

Her employers don’t know that Marshall works while negotiating her toddler’s milk bottles and giving him hugs. They don’t know that she has seen studies similar to theirs maybe hundreds, possibly thousands, of times.

“It’s hard to reproduce a gut response when you’ve answered a survey that’s basically the same 200 times.”

Since its founding in 2005, Mechanical Turk has become an increasingly popular way for university researchers to recruit subjects for online experiments. It’s cheap, easy to use, and the responses, powered by the forum’s 500,000 or so workers, flood in fast.

These factors are such a draw for researchers that, in certain academic fields, crowdsourced workers are outpacing psychology students — the traditional go-to study subjects. And the studies are a huge draw for many workers, who tend to participate again and again and again.

These aren’t obscure studies that Turkers are feeding. They span dozens of fields of research, including social, cognitive and clinical psychology, economics, political science and medicine. They teach us about human behavior. They deal in subjects like energy conservation, adolescent alcohol use, managing money and developing effective teaching methods.

“Most of what’s happening in these studies involves trying to understand human behavior,” said Yale University’s David Rand. “Understanding bias and prejudice, and how you make financial decisions, and how you make decisions generally that involve taking risks, that kind of thing. And there are often very clear policy implications.”

As the use of online crowdsourcing in research continues to grow, some are asking the question: How reliable are the data that these modern-day research subjects generate?

The early adopter

In 2010, the researcher Joseph Henrich and his team published a paper showing that an American undergraduate was about 4,000 times more likely than an average American to be the subject of a research study.

But that output pales in comparison to Mechanical Turk workers. The typical “Turker” completes more studies in a week than the typical undergraduate completes in a lifetime. That’s according to research by Rand, who surveyed both groups. Among those he surveyed, he found that the median traditional lab subject had completed 15 total academic studies — an average of one per week. The median Turker, on the other hand, had completed 300 total academic studies — an average of 20 per week.

“Which is just crazy,” Rand said. “And for a lot of experiments, that’s a big problem.”

Dave Rand speaks at Pop!Tech 2012. Photo by Thatcher Cook

David Rand, director of Yale University’s Human Cooperation Laboratory, presents at the PopTech Conference in Camden, Maine in 2012. Photo by Thatcher Cook

Rand, a young, energetic behavioral economist, who accessorizes his suit jacket with gray converse shoes and orange-striped socks, works on the second floor of a beautiful cathedral-like building on Yale’s main campus. Behind his desk are shelves of robot toys, a nod to his pre-professor days, when he fronted an electro-punk band called Robot Goes Here. “I actually had a record deal,” he said.

Rand was an early proselytizer for Mechanical Turk. In fact, he authored the first study in his field that encouraged scientists to tap Turkers for surveys. At the time, he gave talks to fellow researchers, telling them recruiting via Mechanical Turk could be done more quickly, cheaply and easily and could be “just as valid as other types of experiments.”

That was in 2010. Since then, his early enthusiasm has been tempered with caution. He’s been following the forum for nearly a decade and has come to believe that it has some serious limitations. First, there’s the question of dropout rates. Turkers are more likely to drop out mid-study, and that can skew the results. Then there’s the question of environmental control. Read: There is none. In the lab, it’s easy to monitor survey takers; not so online. Who’s to say they’re not watching reality television while working, or drinking a few beers on the job? To guard against this, researchers test a worker’s focus by planting “attention checks” in their surveys. “Have you ever eaten a sandwich on Mars,” a question might read. Or “Have you ever had a fatal heart attack?” But the attention check questions are often recycled, and experienced workers spot them immediately. (“Whenever I see the word vacuum, I know it’s an attention check,” Marshall has said.)

But it’s the absence of gut intuition from experienced workers that concerns Rand the most.

A person’s gut response to a question is an important measurement in many social psychology studies. It’s common to compare the automatic, intuitive part of the decision-making brain with the part that’s rational and deliberate. But a psychologist testing for this among professional survey takers may very well be on a fool’s errand.

Katie Hays, 28, makes about $200 a week Turking in Biloxi, Mississippi, and has observed a change in her own survey performance. “It’s hard to reproduce a gut response when you’ve answered a survey that’s basically the same 200 times,” she said. “You kind of just lose that freshness.”

The humans behind the machine have essentially become machines.

Recently, Rand recruited a group of college students and Turkers — 5,831 total subjects — to perform a series of experiments testing whether cooperative behavior that’s successful in daily life will spill over into what’s known as a Public Goods game. In the game, participants were given a small amount of money and asked to make a choice: how much cash do they keep and how much gets contributed to the common pool, which benefits other players. He then made the players more or less inclined to rely on their gut responses by forcing them to answer quickly or to stop and consider their choices. Among college students, the pattern was clear. When forced to answer quickly, they were more likely to contribute to the common good; the more time they had to deliberate, the more they hoarded for themselves. But experienced Turkers behaved differently. Among them, the impulse to share had largely disappeared, likely because they knew the game, and had learned that sharing was not a good strategy. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications in April 2014.

There are two critical points here as they relate to Mechanical Turk. The first is that frequent Mechanical Turk workers are fluent in these experiments on arrival. They know how to play the game. But also, perhaps more importantly, their natural human impulses from daily life, as they apply to the game, no longer exist.


“If you’re running social psychology studies on Turk, watch out, because [the subjects] have gotten experienced, and that can change effects,” Rand said. “So if you run my experiment on Turk right now, you won’t get any effect. Which sucks for me.”

To be clear, extreme experience isn’t always a problem, Rand said. There are some psychological tests that are so robust that no amount of experience will override the effect, said Jesse Chandler, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. The Stroop effect, for example, which involves identifying colors when the color of a word doesn’t match the color spelled out by the text. When the word “red,” for example, is colored green, it takes longer to override the automatic reading of the text and choose green.

“It’s a really powerful effect,” Chandler said. “No amount of practice, no amount of awareness will completely override that happening.”

And some puzzles with tricky instructions can benefit from a professional survey taker — someone who’s fluent in the game, said Rand, who notes that he still uses Mechanical Turk often and considers it a great tool, provided that you understand its limitations.

Can you answer these questions commonly seen on Mechanical Turk?

“But if a puzzle has a trick to figure out, once people have seen it a few times, they get it,” Rand said. “If they’ve done the task a lot of times before, their intuitions are corrupted, basically. That original impulse just isn’t there anymore.”

It could be argued that the qualities that make these subjects natural and fallible, the very things that make a human human, get swallowed up by experience.

Mechanical Turk takes its name from a late-18th century automaton chess player that wowed crowds, outthinking humans and defeating nearly every opponent it faced, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. But it had a secret. After some 50 years of winning, it was revealed that a hidden chess master was concealed inside, working the pieces. There was a human behind the machine.

Amazon’s modern-day Mechanical Turk has humans too, gobs of them, powering its virtual machine. But is it possible it has its own dirty secret? If so, it’s this: The humans behind the machine have essentially become machines.

You can’t trick the Turk

It was in 1675 that physicist Sir Isaac Newton, in a letter, famously scrawled the words, “If I’ve seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Scientists are forever teetering on the shoulders of other scientists, and nowhere is that better represented than by the well-tested paradigms used by researchers who deal in surveys. Games, puzzles or individual questions that have proven effective at measuring something are reused constantly with minor modifications. When something has been proven to work, there’s value in not reinventing the wheel.

Back in Booneville, Mississippi, Marshall pulls up a screen with one of the most commonly used study questions: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

Think about it for a second. The answer is 10 cents, right? Nope. It’s a nickel.

“The first time I saw this question, it would have tripped me up,” Marshall said. “It’s one of those things — it’s supposed to challenge your critical thinking. It doesn’t do that for me anymore.”

caption goes here Photo by Mike Fritz

The train tracks cut through downtown Booneville, where Sarah Marshall lives and works. Photo by Mike Fritz

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, a behavioral economist at Princeton University, wrote about this puzzle in his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” “Many thousands of university students have answered the bat-and-ball puzzle and the results are shocking,” he wrote. “More than 50 percent of students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the intuitive — incorrect — answer.” At less selective universities, he continued, more than 80 percent got it wrong. “The distinctive mark of this easy puzzle,” he wrote, “is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing, and wrong.”

Marshall answers it correctly every time. That’s because it appears, on average, in one survey she sees every single day.

She not only knows the answer, but also the two questions that will almost inevitably follow. The first involves using machines to make widgets, and the second is about the rate that lily pads expand in a pond. “They’re always in the exact same order and the exact same questions,” she says.

Marshall admits that in her line of work, she sometimes observes her behavior becoming mechanical. “You just get in a motion,” she said. “And you’ll see particular questions and it’s like, if I see the same block of questions twice on the same day, I even know the pattern for my answers.”

‘I knew I was playing a robot’

To get to Marshall’s house in Booneville, you drive south from Corinth on 45, past the Thrasher Baptist Church, the Ol’ 45 One Stop and acres of empty fields. The town is partly rundown, with trailers overgrown with weeds, a gutted town theater and abandoned stores with scratched out signs.

But the 24-year-old has managed to eke out a living independent from Booneville. Inside the apartment, duct tape holds together an old air conditioning unit; a red blanket pinned to the window is a makeshift curtain. Marshall’s husband, Isaiah, paints cars at a nearby auto-body shop, and she “Turks” to help pay the bills. What began as a hobby turned into a job after Grayson was born. That’s when she realized she could make more money Turking than she was making as a line cook in a nearby deli — and not come home with aching legs, smelling like sandwiches. Plus, she could spend her days at home with her son.

It’s noon, and she’s now working on a UC San Diego survey — a game that pits her against another worker, who lobs nasty comments at her as they play.

“I think they might be testing the psychological impact of trash talk,” Marshall says. She suspects the other worker is actually a “bot” pretending to be a person. To test her theory, she throws out a nonsensical comment. “I enjoy walruses,” Marshall types. The response from the other player: “Also, I’m taking that bonus money. And you’re going to lose.”

“Yeah, it’s a robot,” Marshall says.

Under the desk, Grayson sneezes. It’s a slow day. Marshall has completed five surveys so far, and made $8.35. In a message, she alerts the researcher, “I knew I was playing a robot.”

“I can’t comfortably separate my honesty from money, because at the end of the day, all you really have is your integrity,” she says. “And if you are willing to sell that for a dollar, it says a lot about the kind of person you are.”

Photo by Mike Fritz

Sarah Marshall dresses her son, Grayson, between Mechanical Turk HITs.

Marshall prides herself on being honest. There are jobs she won’t do. She won’t engage in what she calls the “seedy parts of the Internet,” like the HITS that pay workers to write a five-star review for a restaurant they’ve never dined at or an app they’ve never used. She has other limits too: For example, no more jobs involving cartoon characters having sex: “I’ve seen Inspector Gadget doing very dirty things to Penny,” she says.

As for surveys, when she thinks her experience might be compromising the data, she sends the research team an alert: “I realized there was some deception,” she’ll write. Or: “I’ve seen these questions before.”

And as for becoming too robotic in her answers?

“When I start to feel like I’m becoming really mechanical or like I am a machine who takes surveys, I’ll say, ‘I’m going to stop now and regain my humanity,’” Marshall says. “And I’ll start again tomorrow when I start to feel like a person again.”

Sometimes Rand wishes he and other early adopters had never let the Mechanical Turk genie out of the bottle.

“Everything that I study is public goods, right?” he said. “Exploitable resources and how you get people to not overexploit resources. But in some sense, Mechanical Turk is just that. Because it got so popular, it’s overexploited, and now it doesn’t work for the things that I was originally wanting to use it for. There’s a little bit of ‘Man, couldn’t we have just kept our mouth shut and kept it as this nice, clean thing for ourselves?’”

But, as Rand acknowledges, if it wasn’t him, some other researcher would have discovered Mechanical Turk eventually and let it loose on the masses. There was no keeping it contained.

Flawed by design?

Not long ago, Chandler and other researchers tackled head on the question of extreme experience, which they refer to as “nonnaïveté.” Early in their article, published March 2014 in the journal Behavioral Research Methods, they sum up their concerns about experience: Turkers repeat the same or similar studies, they share information through discussion boards, and plug-ins allow them to complete the tasks of favored requesters.

They shouldn’t blame the market, they should blame themselves.

“While participant nonnaïveté can also be an issue in traditional participant pools, M. Turk workers might share information in a more systematic, permanent, and searchable manner, with more dramatic consequences for data validity,” the article reads.

The team took a sample of 16,408 Mechanical Turk HITs, completed by 7,498 workers and found that a fraction of the workers had completed a disproportionate number of the HITS: 10 percent of workers had completed 41 percent of the HITs. (Study authors refer to this group as “super Turkers.”) However, in another sample of 132 published papers, the team found that only 5 percent of researchers had addressed worker experience or “nonnaivete” as a possible limitation of the study.

“We found that researchers basically ignore this,” Chandler said. “They’ll run multiple studies, and there will be no mention of whether they excluded duplicate workers.”

Why aren’t researchers more forthcoming about this information?

The sheer number of experienced respondents is an issue that is currently not appreciated by researchers, the study concludes, along with a recommendation: that researchers avoid commonly-used paradigms and, “at minimum, make an effort to measure whether participants have participated in similar experiments before.”

Researchers need to think carefully about how they’re using Mechanical Turk and whether it’s appropriate for their studies at all, said Gabriele Paolacci, one of the study authors, and an assistant professor of marketing at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. If researchers receive poor data after using the forum mindlessly, relying on common questions or underpaying workers, “they shouldn’t blame the market, they should blame themselves,” he said.

Early results by the team suggests another potentially interesting finding. Turkers seem more likely to provide false negatives – failing to observe a phenomenon that exists — than false positives — falsely observing something that doesn’t exist. (An example of a false positive would be a study that shows a relationship between vaccines and autism that doesn’t really exist. A test that fails to show the effectiveness of a successful drug would be a false negative.)

“It’s debatable which one’s worse,” Chandler said. “But we could imagine an alternate world where workers follow requesters, and they want to be helpful, so they learn their hypotheses and create fictional data to support that. That’s the more troubling outcome.”

“Historically, science has treated false positives as more worrisome,” Paolacci said.

The humans inside the machine

But consider this.

Numerous studies in various academic fields — social psychology, cognitive psychology and clinical psychology, among others — have shown that Turkers provide data of equal or better quality than more traditional participant pools. They’re also more diverse.

Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University who has used Mechanical Turk “dozens of times” in her lab, said, compared to undergraduates, “it’s way more representative of American people.”

“From my point of view as a social psychologist, this is so much better than running college students,” Fiske said. “And hands down so much better than college sophomores.”

A study slated for publication in the journal, Field Methods, found that Turkers, compared to people who are asked to participate in surveys via Google ads, provided better data, fewer “don’t know” responses and more disclosure. They were also more likely to provide their cell phone numbers and report their household incomes, said Christopher Antoun, a doctoral candidate in survey methodology at the University of Michigan, and the study’s lead author.

“We were surprised by it,” Antoun said. “My intuition going into it was that these workers might provide low-quality data. They might rush through to get to the next task. But there were fewer ‘don’t know’ answers provided by M Turk recruits.”

In other words, they weren’t phoning it in.

You just can’t fill out 40,000 surveys and not get a better sense of what you do and don’t think.

Independent reporting by the NewsHour supports that. To report this story, we decided to go “meta” and post our own HITs to Mechanical Turk. First, we sought experienced workers to interview about their own experiences in this line of work. We offered them no money, though Amazon did charge us 5 cents to post.

Since we were particularly interested in those with experience, we asked for workers with a 98 percent approval rating and an Amazon-awarded “Master’s degree.” (The Master’s degree, we would later learn, is like the unicorn of Mechanical Turk. No one knows why or when Amazon awards it. But once acquired, it’s a window into a whole new dimension of HITs, and that means more earnings opportunities.)

In our second HIT, we asked workers with a 95 percent approval rating who had completed more than 5,000 HITs to rank the questions they most commonly see repeated. No Master’s required this time. For this one, we paid each worker $1. The responses flooded in — 100 answers in 28 minutes.

Like Marshall, the workers we interviewed said they recognized many repeated questions and were aware of attempts to manipulate them. But many also reported a degree of pride in their work, despite the tedium and lousy pay. And, notably, despite the lack of oversight, they weren’t even tempted to game the system.

“I think most of us who do this with any form of seriousness realize that we’re representing not only all of the Turkers, but M. Turk as well,” said Clay Hamilton of Chenango Forks, New York, who Turks to pay for heating fuel and family travel. He estimates he’s done about 40,000 academic surveys. “If we start providing garbage information and garbage data, the work is going to slowly dry up.”

In fact, there’s a whole underground community made up of watchdogs for this sort of thing. William Little is a moderator on Turker Nation, one of the many online subcommunities that have grown out of Mechanical Turk. Among Turker Nation’s official rules, he said: “No disclosure or discussion of attention memory checks. No discussion of survey content, period. That can affect the results.”

There’s no escaping the fact that doing thousands of experiments could lead to behavior that’s more automated than spontaneous — driven more by rote memory than gut instinct. But the ultimate effect on the workers, and on the research, may be more nuanced.


Many Turkers report an increasing degree of self awareness that they attribute directly to their jobs.

Marshall says the surveys she has completed have inspired her to become more educated and more grounded in her own beliefs. She has been asked to think deeply about things she might not otherwise consider. And what could be more fundamentally human?

Hamilton summed it up this way: “I’d always considered myself a conservative, but the more of these surveys I’ve taken, I’ve realized I’m more of a moderate liberal. I’d always considered myself a Christian, but now I consider myself more of an agnostic. You just can’t fill out 40,000 surveys and not get a better sense of what you do and don’t think.”

Scientists undoubtedly will continue to wrestle with questions about Mechanical Turk and its use in academic research. Is the machine duping researchers — the way its chess-playing namesake once duped 18th-century audiences? Are Turkers misleading scientists and corrupting their science? Or, in a universe of imperfect study participants, is Mechanical Turk the best option available?

Both are certainly possible.

Then again, maybe Mechanical Turk isn’t a corrupt model at all. Isn’t it possible that, with the help of its savvy group of workers, the research it feeds is actually as strong, or stronger, than ever? How ironic it would be to find out the “robots” in the machine have become better than anyone at telling us about the human condition.


Source : http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/inside-amazons-hidden-science-factory/

Teaching proper research methods is about so much more than enabling students to turn in the perfect paper. When done thoroughly, it imbues them with the ability to evaluate resources for credibility, avoid misleading misinformation and mount a cogent argument.

Teaching students how to research is about empowering them to think critically, both in the classroom today and beyond. In many ways, the Internet has made research easier.

In many others, however, it’s complicated the task of discerning verifiable, accurately sourced and cited material from the misinterpretations, half-truths and flat-out falsehoods that live online.

A lengthy study by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education concluded in June 2016, found that even older students could stand to improve their skills in correctly identifying true stories online.

Meanwhile, the role of librarian continues to evolve in support of long-term learning. Research technology specialists are 21st century figures, standing at the nexus of technique, knowledge, community and social collaboration.

For Aron, whose students in Washington have come to rely less on textbooks and more on the Internet, this means actively coaching them on ways to refine their information-gathering abilities, both in the classroom and the library.

Aron has also found help in Researcher, a tool within Microsoft Word that makes finding those credible sources simpler. With Researcher, anyone can search for and incorporate reliable sources and content, including properly formatted citations, all within a few clicks and without having to leave the document.

“It’s really bringing the library to the students and enabling them to be good researchers,” Aron says. “Being able to research sites, collect and curate your information all in one program is kind of amazing.”

Researcher displays source material found using Bing’s Knowledge Graph, which is tailored per a mix of algorithms, human oversight and measured criteria for what constitutes a “trusted” source.

By vetting for sources that have an established history of accuracy and high level of online citations, Researcher can present a body of reference materials that includes national science and health centres, well-known encyclopedias, history databases and more.

In managing how sources are both gathered and displayed, Microsoft’s engineers consider Bing’s role in Researcher as a pro-active step, making good research quicker and less daunting.

“How do we get people to the good information and get them away from the bad information as quickly as possible?” asks Microsoft Researcher Engineer Douglas Taylor. Veracity, he says, and timeliness are the goals with Researcher.

“We think the fact that people spend so much time learning, teaching and scrutinising any website to see if it’s trustworthy is a problem worth solving.”

Aron adds that Researcher is not intended to replace the library for students, but rather to complement it. “As much as we are bringing the library to them digitally, we also want to make sure the library stays important in a student’s life,” he says.

To that end, Bing and Researcher can point users to the nearest library for source material that isn’t yet digitised.

Ultimately, Aron views Researcher as a valuable teaching tool with the power to promote critical thinking among students and adult users alike.

Source : https://educators.co.nz/story/how-modern-librarian-guiding-research-online-era/

The internet is a hectic place and at any given moment millions of people are searching, tweeting and emailing all at once.

Internet Live Stats created a live map that shows exactly how much activity is happening around the globe –down to the second.

Every second more than 54,000 Google searchers are conducted, 7,000 some Tweets are shared and more than 2 million emails are sent -67 percent of which are deemed spam.

Internet Live Stats has created a live map that shows exactly how much activity is happening throughout the globe –down to the second. Every second more than 54,000 Google searchers are conducted, 7,000 some Tweets are shared and more than 2 million emails are sent --67 percent of them are deemed spam 


About 6,000 to 7,000 tweets are shared every second which equals to more than 350,000 every minute, 500 million per day and around 200 billion tweets every year.

Every second 729 photos are uploaded to Instagram, 125,406 videos are viewed on YouTube and 2,177 calls are made via Skype.

And at any given second there are 20,00 people on Facebook and during this time five more people open an account.

On Reddit, Alexa revealed that every second 286 votes are cast and 23 comments posted.

Google will received more than 3 billion searches, which averages to the 54,000 queries a second – that is over 90 billion each month and about 1.2 trillion a year worldwide.

Netflix reports it has 81 million users across the globe that binge some 1,450 hours of TV shows and moves each second.

And about 41 percent of its members pull something up to watch on the platform every day.

Although one second doesn't seem like much in the real world, it means quite a lot on the internet.

About 46.1 percent of the world is online, which is about 3.4 billion people – although there are still 4 billion people without access to the internet.

But compare this number to about five years ago, when there was just 31.8 percent surfing the web in the world, and we can image how much the worldwide web is growing.

About 6,000 to 7,000 tweets are shared every second which equals to more than 350,000 every minute, 500 million per day and around 200 billion tweets every year. 

The first tweet hit the internet on March 21, 2006 and it wasn’t until 2009 did the firm reach its billionth tweet.

Now it takes less than two days for one billion tweets to be sent. 

On any given day, Google will received more than 3 billion searches, which averages to the 54,000 queries a second – that is over 90 billion each month and about 1.2 trillion a year worldwide.

When the search giant first debuted in 1998, it was only serving 10,000 search queries each day.

Flash-forward to 2006 and that was the amount it served in one second.


Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3662925/What-happens-internet-second-54-907-Google-searches-7-252-tweets-125-406-YouTube-video-views-2-501-018-emails-sent.html


World's leading professional association of Internet Research Specialists - We deliver Knowledge, Education, Training, and Certification in the field of Professional Online Research. The AOFIRS is considered a major contributor in improving Web Search Skills and recognizes Online Research work as a full-time occupation for those that use the Internet as their primary source of information.

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