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Monthly Archives: October 2019

A bike lover’s take on the Cowboy e-bike

October 24, 2019 No Comments

Electric-bike maker Cowboy recently let me spend a couple of weeks with one of their e-bikes. It’s a well-designed e-bike that makes biking effortless, even if you’re going uphill.

Cowboy is a Brussels-based startup. The company raised a $ 3 million seed round a couple of years ago and an $ 11.1 million (€10 million) Series A round last year.

The company designs e-bikes from scratch. Components feel more integrated than in a normal e-bike. And it also opens up some possibilities when it comes to connectivity and smart features.

Cowboy sells its bikes directly to consumers on its online store. It is currently available in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria for €2,000 ($ 2,220).

I rode 70 kilometers (43 miles) in the streets of Paris to try it out. For context, riding a bike in Paris is nothing new for me. I primarily use my non-electric bike to go from point A to point B — bikes are commuting devices for me. And given that Cowboy is primarily designed for densely populated cities, I thought I’d give it a try.

Cowboy 5

From the outside, the Cowboy e-bike is a sleek bike. It features a seamless triangle-shaped aluminum frame, integrated lights and a low-key Cowboy logo near the saddle. The handlebar is perfectly straight like on a mountain bike. The only sign that this is an e-bike is that the frame is much larger below the saddle.

The e-bike is relatively light at 16 kg (35 lbs). Most of the weight is at the back of the Cowboy e-bike because of the battery. But an investor in the startup told me that it wasn’t a problem and that he was even able to attach a baby seat at the back.

There are two things you’re going to notice quite quickly: there are no gears and there’s a rubber and fiberglass belt. Cowboy has opted for an automatic transmission — motor assistance kicks in automatically when you need it the most, such as when you start pedaling, accelerate or go uphill.

Cowboy 4

If you usually ride on a normal bike, this feels weird at first. I constantly shift from one gear to another. With the Cowboy e-bike, you have to trust the bike and forget about gears.

The electric motor kicks in a second after you start pedaling. It means that you are much faster than people using regular bikes. And you can reach a speed of 30 to 35 kmph in no time (18 to 22 mph). Yes, this bike is fast.

Fortunately, the brakes work surprisingly well. You have to be careful with them. If you’re braking too hard, you’ll skid, especially if it’s raining.

I was able to ride from one end of Paris to another without breaking a sweat. Sure, the Cowboy e-bike is fast, but I only saved a few minutes compared to my non-electric bike. You still spend a lot of time waiting at big intersections.

In fact, riding the Cowboy e-bike felt more like riding a moped-style scooter. You start your engine at a green light, ride as quickly as possible, brake aggressively at a red light and spend more time waiting at intersections. I believe an e-bike makes more sense in larger cities with huge hills. Paris is much, much smaller than London or Berlin, after all.

Cowboy 6

You may have noticed that the Cowboy e-bike doesn’t have fenders. Cowboy will start selling custom-designed fenders for €89 in a few weeks ($ 100).

Another thing worth noting is that you have to be relatively tall to use the Cowboy e-bike. I’m 1.75 m tall (5’ 8”) and I lowered the saddle as much as possible. If you’re just a tiny bit smaller than me, chances are it’s going to be too high for you. Similarly, naming your brand “Cowboy” doesn’t make your bike particularly attractive for women.

Cowboy 2

When it comes to connectivity, the Cowboy e-bike isn’t just an electric bike — it’s also a smart bike. It has built-in GPS tracking and an integrated SIM card.

After pairing the bike with your phone using Bluetooth, you can control it from a mobile app. In particular, you can lock and unlock the bike, turn on and off the lights and check the battery. It would have been nice to put a light sensor on the bike itself as you may forget to turn on the lights at night. You also can get a rough idea of the current battery level without the mobile app — there are five LEDs on the frame of the device.

Thanks to GPS capabilities and the integrated SIM card, you can locate your bike using a feature called “Find my Bike.” The company also sells insurance packages for €8 to €10 per month with theft insurance and optionally damage insurance.

Cowboy 10 1

I recharged the battery once during my testing. According to the company, you can get up to 70 km on a single charge (43 miles). I got less than that, but I also tried the off-road mode, which consumes more battery. Unless you’re going on a long bike trip, range isn’t an issue for city rides.

When it’s time to recharge the battery, you can detach the battery with a key and bring it back home. This is a great feature for people living in apartments, as you can leave your bike at its normal parking spot and plug in the battery at home. The battery was full after three to four hours.

Cowboy 11

Cowboy battery charger; tomato for scale

Overall, the Cowboy e-bike is the perfect commuting bike for people living in large cities. It’s a smooth and well-designed experience. If you’re looking for an e-bike, you should definitely consider the Cowboy e-bike as one of your options. I recommend you book a test ride before buying one though.

If you’re happy with a normal bike like me, the Cowboy e-bike is 100% an e-bike. Don’t expect to get the same experience on a Cowboy e-bike. It’s a completely different thing. But I’m glad e-bikes exist, because they are going to convince more people to ditch their cars and moped-style scooters.

Cowboy 1

Gadgets – TechCrunch


YouTube For Action Leads Form Ads: Early PPC Results

October 23, 2019 No Comments

Curious how this Google beta product is performing? After testing for a short while, we have the data and insights just for you!

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Snapchat beats in Q3, adding 7M users & revenue up 50%

October 22, 2019 No Comments

The Snap-back continues. Snapchat blew past earnings expectations for a big beat in Q3, as it added 7 million daily active users this quarter to hit 210 million, up 13% year-over-year. Snap also beat on revenue, notching $ 446 million, which is up a whopping 50% year-over-year, at a loss of $ 0.04 EPS. That flew past Bloomberg’s consensus of Wall Street estimates that expected $ 437.9 million in revenue and a $ 0.05 EPS loss.

Snap has managed to continue cutting losses as it edges towards profitability. Net loss improved to $ 227 million from $ 255 million last quarter, with the loss decreasing $ 98 million versus Q3 2018.

CEO Evan Spiegel made his case in his prepared remarks for why Snapchat’s share price should be higher: “We are a high growth business, with strong operating leverage, a clear path to profitability, a distinct vision for the future, and the ability to invest over the long term.”

Snapchat’s share price had closed down 4% at $ 14, and had fallen roughly 4.6% in after-hours trading as of 1:50pm pacific to $ 13.35 despite the earnings beat. It remains below its $ 17 IPO price but has performed exceedingly well this year, rising from a low of $ 4.99 in December.

Snapchat DAU Q3 2019

That’s partially because of the high cost of Snapchat’s growth relative average revenue per user. While it notes that it saw user growth in all regions, 5 million of the 7 million new users came from the Rest Of The World, with just 1 million coming from the North America and Europe regions. That’s in part thanks to better than expected growth and retention on its reengineered Android app that’s been a hit in India. But since Snapchat serves so much high-definition video content but it earns just $ 1.01 average revenue in the Rest Of World, it has to hope it can keep growing ARPU so it becomes profitable globally.

Some other top-line stats from Snapchat’s earnings:

  • Operating cash flow improved by $ 56 million to a loss of $ 76 million in Q3 2019, compared to the prior year.
  • Free Cash Flow improved by $ 75 million to $ (84) million in Q3 2019, compared to the prior year.
  • Cash and marketable securities on hand reached $ 2.3 billion.

Snapchat ARPU Q3 2019

Interestingly, Spiegel noted that “We benefited from year-over-year growth in user activity in Q3 including growth in Snapchatters posting and viewing Stories.” Snapchat hadn’t indicated Stories was growing in at last the past two years, as it was attacked by clones including Instagram Stories that led Snapchat to start shrinking in user count a year ago before it recovered.

Since Stories viewership is critical to total ad view on Snapchat, we may see analysts insisting to hear more about that metric in the future. Snap also said users opened the app 30 times per day, up from 25 times per day as of July 2018, showing its still highly sticky and being used for rapid-fire visual communication.

The other major piece of Snapchat’s ad properties is Discover where total time spent watching grew 40% year-over-year. And rather than being driving by just a few hits, over 100 Discover channels saw over 10 million viewers per month in Q3. With Instagram’s IGTV a flop, Discover remains Snapchat’s best differentiated revenue driver, and one it needs to keep investing in and promoting. With Instagram trying to compete more heavily on chat with its new close friends-only Threads app, Snapchat can’t rely on ephemeral messaging to keep it special.

3 TikTok Ad

TikTok buys ads on Snapchat that could steal its users

Surprisingly, Spiegel said that “We definitely see TikTok as a friend” when asked about why it allowed the competitor to continue buying ads on Snapchat. The two apps are different, with Snapchat focused on messaging and biographical social media while TikTok is about storyboarded, premeditated social entertainment. But this could be dangerous friendship for Snapchat, since TikTok may be taking time away that users might spend watching Snapchat Discover, and its growth could box Snapchat out of the social entertainment space.

Looking forward, in Q4 Snap is estimating 214 to 215 million daily active users and $ 540 million to $ 560 million in revenue. It’s expecting between break even and positive $ 20 million for Adjusted EBITDA. That revenue guidance was below estimates for the holiday Q4, contributing to the share price fall.

 

Snap has a ways to go before reaching profitability. That milestone would let it more freely invest in long-term projects, specifically its Spectacles camera-glasses. Spiegel has said he doesn’t expect augmented reality glasses to be a mainstream consumer product for 10 years. That means Snap will have to survive and spend for a long time if it wants a chance to battle Apple, Facebook, Magic Leap, and more for that market.


Social – TechCrunch


Shine Bathroom raises $750K for a smart home add-on that flushes away your toilet doldrums

October 22, 2019 No Comments

One ongoing theme in the world of smart homes has been the emergence of gadgets and other tools that can turn “ordinary” objects and systems into “connected” ones — removing the need to replace things wholesale that still essentially work, while still applying technology to improve the ways that they can be used.

In the latest development, a smart home startup from Santa Barbara called Shine Bathroom has raised $ 750,000 in seed funding to help build and distribute its first product: an accessory you attach to an existing toilet to make it a “smart toilet.”

It’s a dirty business, but someone had to do it.

Shine’s immediate goal is to flush away the old, ecologically unfriendly way of cleaning toilets; and to provide the tools to detect when something is not working right in the plumbing, even helping you fix it without calling out a plumber.

The longer-term vision is to apply technology and science to rethink the whole bathroom to put less strain on our natural resources, and to use it in a way that lines up with what we want to do as consumers, using this first product to test that market.

“Bathrooms are evolving from places where we practice basic hygiene to where we prepare ourselves for the day,” said Chris Herbert, the founder and CEO of Shine. “Wellness and self care will be happening more in the home, and this is a big opportunity.”

Intro

Shine’s first injection of money is coming from two VCs also based in Southern California: Entrada Ventures (like Shine, also in Santa Barbara), and Mucker Capital, an LA fund specifically backing startups not based in Silicon Valley (others in its current portfolio include Naritiv, Everipedia and Next Trucking).

The Shine Bathroom Assistant, as the first product is called, is currently being sold via Indiegogo starting at $ 99, with the first products expected to ship in February 2020.

It’s a fitting challenge for a hardware entrepreneur: toilets are a necessary part of our modern lives, but they are unloved, and they haven’t really been innovated for a long time.

Herbert admitted to me (and I’m sure Freud would have something to say here, too) that this has been something of a years-long obsession, stretching back to when he made a trip to Japan as a sophomore in high school and was struck by how companies like Toto were innovating in the business, with fancy, all-cleaning (and all-singing and dancing) loos.

“We thought to ourselves, how could we make a better bathroom?” he said. “We decided that the answer was through software. When you take a thesis like that, you can see lots of opportunity.”

Sized similar to an Amazon Echo or other connected home speaker, Shine’s toilet attachment is battery operated and comes in three parts: a water vessel, a sensor and spraying nozzle that you place inside your toilet bowl, and a third sensor fitted with an accelerometer that you attach to the main line that fills up the toilet’s tank. The vessel is filled with tap water (which you replace periodically).

That water is passed through a special filter that electrolyzes it (by sending a current through the water) and then sprays it with every flush to clean and deodorize. Shine claims this spraying technique is five times as powerful as traditional deodorizing spray, and as powerful as bleach, but without the harsh chemicals: the water converts back into saline after it does its work. (And to be clear, there are no soaps or other detergents involved.)

Alongside the cleaning features, the second part of the bathroom assistant is Sam, an AI on your phone. Linked up to the hardware and sensors, Sam identifies common toilet problems, such as leaks that trickle out hundreds of gallons of water, by measuring variations in vibrations, and when it does, it sends out a free repair kit to fix it yourself.

Users can also link up Sam to work with Alexa to order the machine to clean, check water levels and do more in the future.

AlexaAskSam

The solution of monitoring vibrations, and using smart sensors to connect dumb objects is notable for how it links up with a past entrepreneurial life for Herbert and some of his team.

Herbert was one of two co-founders of Trackr, a Tile-like product that also played on the idea of making “dumb” objects smart: Trackr’s basic product was a small fob with Bluetooth inside it that could be attached to keys, wallets, bags and more to find their location when they were misplaced.

The company’s longer-term goals extended into the area of IoT and how “dumb” machines could be made smarter by attaching sensors to them to monitor vibrations and sounds to determine how they were working — concepts that never materialised at Trackr but have found a new life at Shine.

Trackr, indeed, makes for a cautionary tale about how a good idea can be inspiring, but not always enough.

The startup in its time raised more than $ 70 million, from a set of top investors that included Amazon, Revolution, NTT, the Foundry Group and more. Ultimately, the basic concept was too commoditized (Bluetooth trackers are a dime a dozen on Amazon), and Tile emerged as the market leader among the independents — a position it’s used to evolve its product and ink lucrative investments and partnerships with the likes of Comcast.

But even with that momentum, I’d say the market has not definitively determined if there really is a profitable business to be had here, and what effect it might have if platform companies potentially make their move to upset it in a different way (Apple being the latest rumored to be considering a Tile competitor).

Eventually, Trackr’s team (including Herbert) scattered and a new leadership team came in and rebranded to Adero. Now, even that team is gone, with the CEO Nate Kelly and others decamping to Glowforge. Multiple attempts to contact the company have been unanswered, and I’ve received a note from a current employee noting that Adero has sent out notices saying the company is now insolvent.

Apparently, there may be more coming despite that.

“There is still something there, and I hope they can do something,” Herbert said of his previous startup.  

Meanwhile, he and four of his ex-Trackr colleagues have now turned their attention to a new shiny challenge, the toilet and the bigger bathroom where it sits, and investors want in.

“We were impressed by Shine’s vision for a bathroom to better prepare us for our day head and saw a massively overlooked opportunity in the bathroom space,” said Taylor Tyng from Entrada Ventures.

Updated with more information about Trackr/Adero .

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Figma’s Community lets designers share and remix live files

October 22, 2019 No Comments

As designers grow both in sheer numbers and within the hierarchy of organizations, design tool makers are adapting to their evolving needs in different ways. Figma, the web-based collaborative design tool, is taking a note from the engineering revolution of the early aughts.

“What if there were a GitHub for designers?” mused Dylan Field, early on in the lifecycle of Figma as a company. Today, that vision is brought to life with the launch of Figma Community. (Figma Community is launching in a closed beta for now.)

In a crowded space, with competitors like Adobe, InVision, Sketch and more, Figma differentiates itself on its web-based multiplayer approach. Figma is a design tool that works like Google Docs, with multiple designers in the same file, working alongside one another without disrupting each other.

But that’s just the base level of the overall collaboration that Figma believes designers crave. Field told us that he sees a clear desire from designers to not only share their work, whether it’s on a portfolio webpage or on social media, as well as a desire to learn from the work of other designers.

And yet, when a creative shares a design on social media, it’s just a static image. Other designers can’t see how it went from a blank page to an interesting design, and are left to merely appreciate it without learning anything new.

With Figma Community, designers and even organizations can share live design files that others can inspect, remix and learn from.

Individual designers can set up their own public-facing profile page to show off their designs, as well as intra-organization profile pages so other team members within their organization can learn from each other. On the other hand, organizations can publicly share their design systems and philosophy on their own page.

For example, the city of Chicago has set up a profile on Figma Community for other designers to follow the city’s design system in their own materials.

Screen Shot 2019 10 22 at 11.26.39 AM

As far as remixing design files goes, Figma is using a CC4 license, which allows for a remix but forces attribution. That said, Field says the company is using this closed beta period to learn more about what the community wants around different license types.

Community is free and is not meant to drive revenue for the company, but rather offer further value to designers using the platform.

“It’s early,” said Dylan Field. “This is just the scaffolding of what’s to come. It’s the start of a lot of work that we’re going to be doing in the area of collaboration and community.”

Figma has raised a total of $ 83 million from investors like Index, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Grelock, according to Crunchbase.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Accessibility and SEO: Where they overlap and how to optimize for both

October 22, 2019 No Comments

The general misunderstanding is that web accessibility standards stand in a way of search engine optimization tactics preventing SEO experts from doing their job properly. Well, that’s not true. In fact, SEO and web accessibility overlap in many areas.

Web accessibility has recently become a hot topic in the digital marketing industry due to a wave of widely publicized scandals, that is, web users suing big and small businesses for failing to provide them with a smooth user experience.

Moreover, Google helps to raise awareness by helping web accessibility standards to be widely adopted. Google has official guidelines explaining accessibility and how they help create a better user experience.

Broadly speaking, when we say a site is accessible, we mean that the site’s content is available, and its functionality can be operated, by literally anyone.

And yet, while smart marketers have recognized the tangible benefit of making your site accessible (that is, making it possible for more web users to buy from your site), web accessibility seldom makes it to marketing priority lists.

What if I told you that by making a site accessible you can actually improve your SEO? Let’s see how:

1. Site and page structure

The foundation of web accessibility is very similar to that of an SEO strategy: You need a clear, logical site and page structure.

1.1. Site structure

Site-wise this includes:

  • Clear navigation
  • Sitemaps
  • Breadcrumbs

All of those elements are considered essential for SEO too to provide search bots with an easy way to crawl and understand the site structure. According to Google:

The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly  find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand  what content the webmaster thinks is important.

Although Google’s search  results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense  of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.

For WordPress sites, an easy way to quickly improve navigation is to add breadcrumbs using a free Yoast plugin: It’s really one-click integration.

Image: Screenshot created by the author

1.2. Page structure

When it comes to page structure, this includes:

  • The meaningful use of subheadings
  • Clickable table of contents taking you to a specific subhead

Both are recommended for web accessibility purposes as they enable screen readers to navigate a page. From an SEO perspective these two elements have very important benefits:

  • Using your target keyword in subheadings improves its visibility (helping the page rank higher)
  • A table of contents generates “Jump to” links in search snippets improving its click-through

  • For guidelines on how to use subheadings refer to this detailed article on article structure
  • To create a clickable table of contents, use a plugin called “Easy Table of Contents”. It automates the process, so you don’t have to do anything apart from ensuring the consistent use of H2-H3 subheadings:

Image source: wpbeginner.com

Additionally, structured markup helps all types of devices to better understand and interpret information, so using schema never hurts. Here’s are a list of six free Schema generators to semantically structure your content.

2. Alt text for visual content

The basic SEO principle is that you need keyword-optimized alt text for every image on your page to make it easier for Google to understand what it is about.

This rule applies to web accessibility as well. The only difference is that when it comes to web accessibility, the alt text should make sense. Imagine going through your page without actually seeing any images but instead reading the alt text. Are you able to understand the full context?

People with visual difficulties are using assistive technologies that rely on image alt text to describe the image contents to the user. This makes alt text so important for usability.

The featured snippet tool may be of help here showing you which images are missing an alt tag and which images show a meaningless alt tag, on-page by page basis:

Image: Screenshot created by the author

If you operate a huge website and going from page to page is not an option, accessiBe can automate the process. AccessiBe utilizes AI image recognition technology to provide accurate alt text to images site-wide. This is a great way to make your site accessible (and SEO-friendlier) without too much money or time investment.

Check out multiple examples of how the tool works to better understand what it does:

Image source: Screenshot from the demo video

3. Video transcripts

Providing text context for your video page helps deaf users to still understand what it is about. In fact, when it comes to accessibility video transcript is the only required element.

A video transcript also helps the video page to rank for a wider variety of queries because text context is as important to Google.

Youtube video description is what Google uses to rank the page in organic results, as well as featured snippets and people also ask results:

Image: Screenshot created by the author

There are lots of automated solutions for creating video transcripts but I really prefer Speechpad.com.

4. Readability

Finally, another accessibility principle that can also boost your SEO, making your copy readable means writing in a clear way, using simple words. Basically, this includes:

  • Write in short sentences and paragraphs
  • Use simple short words
  • Provide definitions for any professional terms or slang

We don’t know exactly how Google is using readability level analysis in its algorithm but what we know for sure is that focusing on easier readability levels will help:

  • Get featured more: Google prefers concise, easy-to-understand answers to feature
  • Rank in voice search: Voice search devices are just screen readers. They need easy wording and structure to adequately transfer the message to a human being. Google knows that, so it is featuring easier answers and consequently those are the ones that are being read in response to a voice query.

Keep readability in mind when having your content created. Some smart content creation platforms already have readability integrated. For example, Narrato uses artificial intelligence to match content orders to content writers, allows them to select the writing style, specify the writer’s expertise, and upload content guidelines to keep your content quality and readability to the required level.

Image: Screenshot created by the author

[You can read more about Narrato’s process]

Again, Yoast has a reading level analysis integrated into its free plugin version, but there are also multiple tools to analyze and improve the readability of your content.

At the end of the day, web accessibility is basically about making your site easier to navigate and understand. It’s pretty much what SEO is about too.

Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. She can be found on twitter @seosmarty

The post Accessibility and SEO: Where they overlap and how to optimize for both appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Search Engine Watch


Four steps to create an effective content marketing strategy for your eShop

October 22, 2019 No Comments

The importance of content marketing cuts across all niches and the e-commerce niche is not left behind. Content marketing is the kind of marketing that attracts your target audience or gets them to take a particular action through content.

In this article, you’ll learn four content marketing steps you can take as an ecommerce store owner that will lead you to an increase in your conversion rate and sales. Plus, thanks to technology, we’ll also be dropping some content marketing tools that’ll give you the backup you need.

P. S. You don’t need to be a guru to try content marketing.

But first, let’s lay some foundation before you take your first step.

You may run your eShop from the comfort of your computer on your secure browser, but just like any brick and mortar business, you’ve got to know your ideal customers like the palm of your hand.

The effectiveness of this content marketing strategy relies on how well you understand your target customers.

Who exactly are the products you’re selling on your eShop for?

Don’t give some vague answer like “women who like jewelry” or “men who like fun logo tees”. If you want to get the full benefit of content marketing then you need to get crystal clear with who you’re selling your products to and allow them to help you generate the kind of content that can grow your business too.

The reason why this is important is that knowing exactly who you’re targeting makes it so much easier to target them. You have a laser focus on who your customers are and you won’t have to waste time on people who aren’t your customers. So you need to be clear on their:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Occupation
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Activities they’re interested in

And then form as clear a description of who your target customer is as possible. One smart tool that will help you get some insight into your target audience is Quora. You can use it as a search engine and search keywords relevant to your niche. What you get is a list of questions people ask around that keyword. When you go through the results and read through the responses, you’ll begin to get more insight as to who your ideal clients are.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s hop right into the content marketing steps you must take.

1. Zeroing in on consumers’ social media habits

Once you have a clear idea of who your ideal customer is, next on the agenda is to know where those ideal customers hang out.

Social media is a great place to put yourself right in the midst of your target customers. There are 3.5 billion people online and over two-thirds of those people are on social media.

To kickstart your content marketing efforts you have to know the kind of content that will appeal to your target audience. To do this, you need to find out which platform they spend their time on and study how they spend their time on social media.

This step is crucial because it will point you in the right direction of:

1. How they use each social media platform

You log in to a social media platform for various reasons like watching videos, scrolling through pictures or reading short captions. Knowing this will help you define the kind of content you should be posting on those platforms.

2. What kind of content attracts their attention on those platforms

Once you know which platforms your ideal customers spend time the most and why you’ll be able to know which content they enjoy consuming the most. This will help inform you of the kind of content you can create when you’re executing your content marketing strategy.

3. What time are they most active on those platforms

Each platform has its peak periods where your target audience is the most active on those platforms? That time is the best time to make posts, comment, and even schedule your ads. Being active during the times when your audience is the least active will kill your content marketing effort and it will be a complete waste of time. The infographic below will guide you when those peak periods are.

Source: Sumall.com

2. Mastering content formats

By now you should start having a deeper understanding of your target audience. Probably you’ve already started developing some content ideas that you’re sure they’d be interested in.

There are so many different types of content you can create to advance your content marketing strategy. Content primarily can come in the form of text, video or audio. Whatever form of content you decide to go with you need to bear in mind that your content must be something that educates, entertains or enlightens your audience. Providing value is the key.

Here are some ideas you can get started with:

  • Tutorials – Depending on the kind of items you sell in your ecommerce store, there are a lot of people out there who will appreciate a detailed tutorial on how to use it.
  • Product reviews – Before making a decision on whether to buy an item or not, people look up reviews on the product. This is a good way to capture the attention of your target customers.
  • Listicles – Who doesn’t like them? Listicles like “Top 10 Christmas Gift Ideas” or “Six Things You Need to Start a Bullet Journal” are creative ways you can mention the items you sell in your eShop while providing value for your audience at the same time.

3. Reverse engineering competitor’s content portfolio

Who said taking a sneak peek of what your competitors are doing is a bad thing? As a newbie in content marketing, it’s a great way to get ideas on what works in the market and what your target audience finds interesting.

Check what kind of content other eShop owners (especially the big time e-commerce stores) are doing and how they are using their content to convert their target market to sales leads.

A handy tool that will show you the kind of content your competitors are creating is Buzzsumo. It gives you the ability to analyze which topics worked best for your competitor and, by extension, what kind of topics you should be creating content around. So ask yourself:

  • What is the common thing you notice?
  • How do your ideal customers respond to the content?
  • How can you put your own spin to their approach and enjoy the same results they’re enjoying?

Reverse engineering your competitors’ content will act as a guide on what you can apply in your business. They’ve done it and they’re getting the attention from your ideal customer, so why not you?

4. Boosting content distribution

Now you’ve got your content ready and published, what next? Content is basically useless unless visible and the way you do that is by increasing your content distribution efforts. This is where the information you gathered in the first tip will come in handy. Knowing the behavior of your ideal customers on social media and the peak periods when your ideal customer is active on social media will help you know just where and when to share your content.

Stick with two to three platforms to prevent yourself from spreading too thin. But note: Sharing your content once will not be enough! You have to push out your content regularly. This article by Louise Myers gives you a fair idea of how often you should post on each social media platform.

Scheduling tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, or Coshedule will help you ensure that you’re posting the recommended number of times per day. You can schedule your posts for the day, the week or even for the month and each post will be automatically posted at the exact time you schedule them.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to spam. The idea is to put your content in front of as many of your ideal customers as possible so that they know about you and buy from you too.

Now it’s your turn

Content marketing is a process. But when you follow through the steps you will be able to get the traction you need to help grow your e-commerce store and increase your sales. But remember you won’t see results overnight.

But as you learn more about your ideal client, create and distribute your content, slowly you’ll start to see that you not only build customers but also raving fans.

What better time to get started than now?

Segun Onibalusi is the Founder and CEO at SEO POW, an organic link building agency. He can be found on Twitter @iamsegun_oni.

The post Four steps to create an effective content marketing strategy for your eShop appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Click & Bot Fraud: The Spookiest Specters of PPC

October 22, 2019 No Comments

What’s the scariest thing in PPC this October? Click and ad fraud. Learn who’s committing click fraud, how to tell if you’re the target, and how to combat it.

Read more at PPCHero.com
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Catalan separatists have tooled up with a decentralized app for civil disobedience

October 21, 2019 No Comments

Is our age of ubiquitous smartphones and social media turning into an era of mass civil unrest? Two years after holding an independence referendum and unilaterally declaring independence in defiance of the Spanish state — then failing to gain recognition for la república and being forced to watch political leaders jailed or exiled — Catalonia’s secessionist movement has resurfaced with a major splash.

One of the first protest actions programmed by a new online activist group, calling itself Tsunami Democràtic, saw thousands of protestors coalescing on Barcelona airport Monday, in an attempt to shut it down. The protest didn’t quite do that but it did lead to major disruption, with roads blocked by human traffic as protestors walked down the highway and the cancelation of more than 100 flights, plus hours of delays for travellers arriving into El Prat.

For months leading up to a major Supreme Court verdict on the fate of imprisoned Catalan political leaders a ‘technical elite‘ — as one local political science academic described them this week — has been preparing to reboot Catalonia’s independence movement by developing bespoke, decentralized high-tech protest tools.

A source with knowledge of Tsunami Democràtic, speaking to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity, told us that “high level developers” located all around the world are involved in the effort, divvying up coding tasks as per any large scale IT project and leveraging open source resources (such as the RetroShare node-based networking platform) to channel grassroots support for independence into a resilient campaign network that can’t be stopped by the arrest of a few leaders.

Demonstrators at the airport on Monday were responding directly to a call to blockade the main terminal posted to the group’s Telegram channel.

Additional waves of protest are being planned and programmed via a bespoke Tsunami Democràtic app that was also released this week for Android smartphones — as a sideload, not yet a Google Play download.

The app is intended to supplement mainstream social network platform broadcasts by mobilizing smaller, localized groups of supporters to carry out peaceful acts of civil disobedience all over Catalonia.

Our source walked us through the app, which requires location permission to function in order that administrators can map available human resources to co-ordinate protests. We’re told a user’s precise location is not shared but rather that an obfuscated, more fuzzy location marker gets sent. However the app’s source code has not yet been open sourced so users have to take such claims on trust (open sourcing is said to be the plan — but only once the app has been scrubbed of any identifying traces, per the source).

The app requires a QR code to be activated. This is a security measure intended to manage activation in stages, via trusted circles of acquaintances, to limit the risk of infiltration by state authorities. Though it feels a bit like a viral gamification tactic to encourage people to spread the word and generate publicity organically by asking their friends if they have a code or not.

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Whatever it’s really for the chatter seems to be working. During our meeting over coffee we overheard a group of people sitting at another table talking about the app. And at the time of writing Tsunami Democràtic has announced 15,000 successful QR code activations so far. Though it’s not clear how successful the intended flashmob civil disobedience game-plan will be at this nascent stage.

Once activated, app users are asked to specify their availability (i.e. days and times of day) for carrying out civil disobedience actions. And to specify if they own certain mobility resources which could be utilized as part of a protest (e.g. car, scooter, bike, tractor).

Examples of potential actions described to us by our source were go-slows to bring traffic grinding to a halt and faux shopping sprees targeting supermarkets where activists could spend a few hours piling carts high with goods before leaving them abandoned in the store for someone else to clean up.

One actual early action carried out by activists from the group last month targeted a branch of the local CaixaBank with a masked protestor sit-in.

Our source said the intention is to include a pop-up in the app as a sort of contract of conscience which asks users to confirm participation in the organized chaos will be entirely peaceful. Here’s an example of what the comprometo looks like:

TD-app

Users are also asked to confirm both their intention to participate in a forthcoming action (meaning the app will capture attendance numbers for protests ahead of time) and to check in when they get there so its administrators can track actual participation in real-time.

The app doesn’t ask for any personal data during onboarding — there’s no account creation etc — although users are agreeing to their location being pervasively tracked.

And it’s at least possible that other personal data could be passed via, for example, a comment submission field that lets people send feedback on actions. Or if the app ends up recording other data via access to smartphone sensors.

The other key point is that users only see actions related to their stated availability and tracked location. So, from a protestor’s point of view, they see only a tiny piece of the Tsunami Democràtic protest program. The user view is decentralized and information is distributed strictly piecemeal, on a need to know basis.

Behind the scenes — where unknown administrators are accessing its data and devising and managing protest actions to distribute via the app — there may be an entirely centralized view of available human protest resources. But it’s not clear what the other side of the platform looks like. Our source was unable to show it to us or articulate what it looks like.

Certainly, administrators are in a position to cancel planned actions if, for example, there’s not enough participation — meaning they can invisibly manage external optics around engagement with the cause. Not enough foot soldiers for a planned protest? Just call it off quietly via the app.

Also not at all clear: Who the driving forces are behind the Tsunami Democràtic protest mask?

“There is no thinking brain, there are many brains,” a spokesman for the movement told the El Diario newspaper this week. But that does raise pretty major questions about democratic legitimacy. Because, well, if you’re claiming to be fighting for democracy by mobilizing popular support, and you’re doing it from inside a Western democracy, can you really claim that while your organization remains in the shadows?

Even if your aim is non-violent political protest, and your hierarchy is genuinely decentralized, which is the suggestive claim here, unless you’re offering transparency of structure so as to make your movement’s composition and administration visible to outside scrutiny (so that your claims of democratic legitimacy can be independently verified) then individual protestors (the app’s end users) just have to take your word for it.

End users who are being crowdsourced and coopted to act out via app instruction as if they’re pawns on a high tech chess board. They are also being asked (implicitly) to shoulder direct personal risk in order that a faceless movement generates bottom up political pressure.

So there’s a troubling contradiction here for a movement that has chosen to include the word ‘democractic’ in its name. (The brand is a reference to a phase used by jailed Catalan cultural leader, Jordi Cuixart.) Who or what is powering this wave?

Tsunami Democratic

We also now know all too well how the double-sided nature of platforms means these fast-flowing technosocial channels can easily be misappropriated by motivated interest groups to gamify and manipulate opinion (and even action) en masse. This has been made amply clear in recent years with political disinformation campaigns mushrooming into view all over the online place.

So while emoji-strewn political protest messages calling for people to mobilize at a particular street corner might seem a bit of harmless ‘Pokemon Go’-style urban fun, the upshot can — and this week has — been far less predictable and riskier than its gamified packaging might suggest.

Plenty of protests have gone off peacefully, certainly. Others — often those going on after dusk and late into the night — have devolved into ugly scenes and destructive clashes.

There is clearly a huge challenge for decentralized movements (and indeed technologies) when it comes to creating legitimate governance structures that don’t simply repeat the hierarchies of the existing (centralized) authorities and systems they’re seeking to challenge.

The anarchy-loving crypto community’s inability to coalesce around a way to progress with blockchain technology looks like its own self-defeating irony. A faceless movement fighting for ‘democracy’ from behind an app mask that allows its elite string-pullers and data crunchers to remain out of sight risks looking like another.

None of the protestors we’ve spoken to could say for sure who’s behind Tsunami Democràtic. One suggested it’s just “citizens” or else the same people who helped organize the 2017 Catalan independence referendum — managing the movement of ballot papers into and out of an unofficial network of polling stations so that votes could be collected and counted despite Spanish authorities’ best efforts to seize and destroy them.

There was also a sophisticated technology support effort at the time to support the vote and ensure information about polling stations remained available in the face of website takedowns by the Spanish state.

Our source was equally vague when asked who is behind the Tsunami Democràtic app. Which, if the decentralizing philosophy does indeed run right through the network — as a resilience strategy to protect its members from being ratted out to the police — is what you’d expected.

Any single node wouldn’t know or want to know much of other nodes. But that just leaves a vacuum at the core of the thing which looks alien to democratic enquiry.

One thing Tsunami Democràtic has been at pains to make plain in all (visible) communications to its supporters is that protests must be peaceful. But, again, while technology tools are great enablers it’s not always clear exactly what fire you’re lighting once momentum is pooled and channeled. And protests which started peacefully this week have devolved into running battles with police with missiles being thrown, fires lit and rubber bullets fired.

Some reports have suggested overly aggressive police response to crowds gathering has triggered and flipped otherwise calm protestors. What’s certain is there are injuries on both sides. Today almost 100 people were reported to have been hurt across three nights of protest action. A general strike and the biggest manifestation yet is planned for Friday in Barcelona. So the city is braced for more trouble as smartphone screens blink with fresh protest instructions.

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Social media is of course a conduit for very many things. At its most corporate and anodyne its stated mission can be expressed flavorlessly — as with Facebook’s claimed purpose of ‘connecting people’. (Though distracting and/or outraging is often closer to the mark.)

In practice, thanks to human nature — so that means political agendas, financial interests and all the rest of our various and frequently conflicting desires — all sorts of sparks can fly. None more visibly than during mass mobilizations where groups with a shared agenda rapidly come together to amplify a cause and agitate for change.

Even movements that start with the best intentions — and put their organizers and administration right out in the open for all to see and query — can lose control of outcomes.

Not least because malicious outsiders often seize the opportunity to blend in and act out, using the cover of an organized protest to create a violent disturbance. (And there have been some reports filtering across Catalan social media claiming right wing thugs have been causing trouble and that secret police are intentionally stirring things up to smear the movement.)

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BARCELONA, SPAIN – OCTOBER 17: Protesters take to the streets to demonstrate after the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between 9 and 13 years in prison for their role of the 2017 failed Catalan referendum on October 17, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

So if a highly charged political campaign is being masterminded and micromanaged remotely, by unknown entities shielded behind screens, there are many more questions we need to be asking about where the balance of risk and power lies, as well as whether a badge of ‘pro-democracy’ can really be justified.

For Tsunami Democràtic and Catalonia’s independence movement generally this week’s protests look to be just the start of a dug-in, tech-fuelled guerrilla campaign of civil disobedience — to try to force a change of political weather. Spain also has yet another general election looming so the timing offers the whiff of opportunity.

The El Prat blockade that kicked off the latest round of Catalan unrest seemed intended to be a flashy opening drama. To mirror and reference the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong — which made the international airport there a focal point for its own protests, occupying the terminal building and disrupting flights in an attempt to draw the world’s attention to their plight.

In a further parallel with protests in Hong Kong a crowdsourced map similar to HKmaps.live — the app that dynamically maps street closures and police presence by overlaying emoji onto a city view — is also being prepared for Catalonia by those involved in the pro-independence movement.

At the time of writing a handful of emoji helicopters, road blocks and vans are visible on a map of Barcelona. Tapping on an emoji brings up dated details such as what a police van was doing and whether it had a camera. A verified status suggests multiple reports will be required before an icon is displayed. We understand people will be able to report street activity for live-mapping via a Telegram bot.

Catmap

Screenshot of Catalan live map for crowdsourcing street intel

Our source suggested police presence on the map might be depicted by chick emojis. Aka Piolín: The Spanish name for the Loony Tunes cartoon character Tweety Pie — a reference to a colorfully decorated cruise ship used to house scores of Spanish national police in Barcelona harbor during the 2017 referendum, providing instant meme material. Though the test version we’ve seen seems to be using a mixture of dogs and chicks.

Along with the Tsunami Democràtic app the live map means there will soon be two bespoke tools supporting a campaign of civil disobedience whose unknown organizers clearly hope will go the distance.

As we’ve said, the identities of the people coordinating the rebooted movement remain unclear. It’s also unclear who if anyone is financing it.

Our source suggested technical resources to run and maintain the apps are being crowdsourced by volunteers. But some commentators argue that a source of funding would be needed to support everything that’s being delivered, technically and logistically. The app certainly seems far more sophisticated than a weekend project job.

There has been some high level public expressions of support for Tsunami Democràtic — such as from former Barcelona football club trainer, Pep Guardiola, who this week put out a video badged with the Tsunami D logo in which he defends the democratic right to assembly and protest, warning that free speech is being threatened and claiming “Spain is experiencing a drift towards authoritarianism”. So wealthy backers of Catalan independence aren’t exactly hard to find.

Whoever is involved behind the scenes — whether with financing or just technical and organization support — it’s clear that ‘free’ protest energy is being liberally donated to the cause by a highly engaged population of pro-independence supporters.

Grassroots support for Catalan independence is both plentiful, highly engaged, geographically dispersed and cuts across generations — sometimes in surprising ways. One mother we spoke to who said she was too ill to go to Monday’s airport protest recounted her disappointment when her teenage kids told her they weren’t going because they wanted to finish their homework.

Very many protestors did go though, answering calls to action in their messaging apps or via the printable posters made available online by Tsunami Democràtic which some street protestors have been pictured holding.

Thousands of demonstrators occupied the main Barcelona airport terminal building, sat and sang protest songs, daubed quasi apologetic messages on the windows in English (saying a lack of democracy is worse than missing a flight), and faced off to lines of police in riot gear — including units of Spanish national police discharging rubber bullets. One protestor was later reported by local press to have lost an eye.

‘It’s time to make our voice heard in the world,’ runs Tsunami Democràtic’s message on Telegram calling for a blockade of the airport. It then sets out the objective (an airport shut down) and instructs supporters that all forms of transport are “valid” to further the mission of disrupting business as usual. ‘Share and see you all at T1!’ it ends. Around 240,000 people saw the instruction, per Telegram’s ephemeral view counts.

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Demonstrators during a protest against the jailing of Catalan separatists at El Prat airport in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (Photo by Iranzu Larrasoana Oneca/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Later the same evening the channel sent another message instructing protestors to call it a night. ‘Today we have been a tsunami,’ it reads in Catalan. ‘We will make every victory a mobilization. We have started a cycle of non-violent, civil disobedience.’ At the time of writing that follow-on missive has registered 300k+ views.

While Tsunami Democràtic is just one of multiple pro-independence groups arranging and mobilizing regional protests — such as the CDRs, aka Comites de Defensa de la Republica, which have been blocking highways in Catalonia for the past two years — it’s quickly garnered majority momentum since quietly uncloaking this summer.

Its Telegram channel — which was only created in August — has piled on followers in recent weeks. Other pro-independence groups are also sharing news and distributing plans over Telegram’s platform and, more widely, on social media outlets such as twitter. Though none has amassed such a big following, nor indeed with such viral speed.

Even Anonymous Catalonia’s Telegram channel, which has been putting out a steady stream of unfiltered crowdsourced protest content this week — replete with videos of burning bins, siren blaring police vans and scattering crowds, interspersed with photos of empty roads (successful blockades) and the odd rubber bullet wound — only has a ‘mere’ 100k+ subscribers.

And while Facebook-owned WhatsApp was a major first source of protest messaging around the 2017 Catalan referendum, with Telegram just coming on stream as an alternative for trying to communicate out of sight of the Spanish state, the protest mobilization baton appears to have been passed more fully to Telegram now.

Perhaps that’s partly due to an element of mistrust around mainstream platforms controlled by tech giants who might be leant on by states to block content (Tsunami Democràtic has said it doesn’t yet have an iOS version of its app, despite many requests for one, because the ‘politics of the App Store is very restrictive’ — making a direct reference to Apple pulling the HKmaps app from its store). Whereas Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, is famously resistant to authoritarian state power.

Though, most likely, it’s a result of some powerful tools Telegram provides for managing and moderating channels.

The upshot is Telegram’s messaging platform has enjoyed a surge in downloads in Spain during this month’s regional unrest — as WhatsApp-loving locals flirt with a rival platform also in response to calls from their political channels to get on Telegram for detailed instructions of the next demo.

Per App Annie, Telegram has leapt up the top free downloads charts for Google Play in Spain — rising from eleventh place into the third spot this month. While, for iOS, it’s holding steady in the top free downloads slot.

Also growing in parallel: Unrest on Catalonia’s streets.

Since Monday’s airport protest tensions have certainly escalated. Roads across the region have been blockaded. Street furniture and vehicles torched. DIY missiles thrown at charging police.

By Thursday morning there were reports of police firing teargas and police vehicles being driven at high speed around protesting crowds of youths. Two people were reported run over.

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Anti-riot police officers shoot against protesters after a demonstration called by the local Republic Defence Committees (CDR) in Barcelona on October 17, 2019. – After years of peaceful separatist demonstrations, violence finally exploded on the Catalan streets this week, led by activists frustrated by the political paralysis and infuriated by the Supreme Court’s conviction of nine of its leaders over a failed independence bid. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP) (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Helicopters have become a routine sound ripping up the urban night sky. While the tally of injury counts continues rising on both sides. And all the while there are countless videos circulating on social media to be sifted through to reinforce your own point of view — screening looping clashes between protestors and baton wielding police. One video doing the rounds last night appeared to show protestors targeting a police helicopter with fireworks. Russian propaganda outlets have of course been quick to seize on and amplify divisive visuals.

The trigger for a return to waves of technology-fuelled civil disobedience — as were also seen across Catalonia around the time of the 2017 referendum — are lengthy prison terms handed down by Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday. Twelve political and civic society leaders involved in the referendum were convicted, nine on charges of sedition and misuse of public funds. None were found guilty of the more serious charge of rebellion — but the sentences were still harsh, ranging from 13 years to nine.

The jailed leaders — dubbed presos polítics (aka political prisoners) by Catalan society, which liberally deploys yellow looped-ribbons as a solidarity symbol in support of the presos — had already spent almost two years in prison without bail.

A report this week in El Diario, citing a source in Tsunami Democràtic, suggests the activist movement was established in response to a growing feeling across the region’s independence movement that a new way of mobilizing and carrying out protests was needed in the wake of the failed 2017 independence bid.

The expected draconian Supreme Court verdict marked a natural start-date for the reboot.

A reboot has been necessary because, with so many of its figureheads in prison — and former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in exile in Brussels — there has been something of a leadership vacuum for the secessionist cause.

That coupled with a sense of persecution at the hands of a centralized state which suspended Catalonia’s regional autonomy in the wake of the illegal referendum, invoking a ‘nuclear option’ constitutional provision to dismiss the government and call fresh elections, likely explains why the revived independence movement has been taking inspiration from blockchain-style decentralization.

Our source also told us blockchain thinking has informed the design and structure of the app.

Discussing the developers who have pulled the app together they said it’s not only a passionately engaged Catalan techie diaspora, donating their time and expertise to help civic society respond to what’s seen as long-standing political persecution, but — more generally — coders and technologists with an interest in participating in what they hope will be the largest experiment in participatory democracy and peaceful civil disobedience.

The source pointed to research conducted by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, who found non-violent, civil disobedience campaigns to be a far more powerful way of shaping world politics than violence. She also found such campaigns need engage only 3.5% of the population to succeed. And at 300k+ subscribers Tsunami Democràtic’s Telegram channel may have already passed that threshold, given the population of Catalonia is only around 7.6M.

It sounds like some of the developers helping the movement are being enticed by the prospect of applying powerful mobile platform technologies to a strong political cause as a way to stress testing democratic structures — and perhaps play at reconfiguring them. If the tools are successful at capturing intention and sustaining action and so engaging and activating citizens in a long term political campaign.

We’re told the stated intention to open source the app is also a goal in order to make it available for other causes to pick up and use to press for change. Which does start to sound a little bit like regime change as a service…

Stepping back, there is also a question of whether micromanaged civic disobedience is philosophically different to more organic expressions of discontent.

There is an element of non-violent protest being weaponized against an opponent when you’re running it via an app. Because the participants are being remotely controlled and coordinated at a distance, at the same time as ubiquitous location-sensitive mobile technologies mean the way in which the controlling entity speaks to them can be precisely targeted to push their buttons and nudge action.

Yes, it’s true that the right to peaceful assembly and protest is a cornerstone of democracy. Nor is it exactly a new phenomenon that mobile technology has facilitated this democratic expression. In journalist Giles Tremlett’s travelogue book about his adopted country, Ghosts of Spain, he recounts how in the days following the 2004 Madrid train bombings anonymous text messages started to spread via mobile phone — leading to mass, spontaneous street demonstrations.

At the time there were conflicting reports of who was responsible for the bombings, as the government sought to blame the Basque terrorist group ETA for what would turn out to be the work of Islamic terrorists. Right on the eve of an election voters in Spain were faced with a crucial political decision — having just learnt that the police had in fact arrested three Moroccans for the bomb attacks, suggesting the government had been lying.

“A new political phenomenon was born that day — the instant text message demonstration,” Tremlett writes. “Anonymous text messages began to fly from mobile phone to mobile phone. They became known as the pásalo messages, because each ended with an exhortation to ‘Pass it on’. It was like chain mail, but instant.”

More than fifteen years on from those early days of consumer mobile technology and SMS text messaging, instant now means so much more than it did — with almost everyone in a wealthy Western region like Catalonia carrying a powerful, Internet-connected computer and streaming videocamera in their pocket.

Modern mobile technology turns humans into high tech data nodes, capable of receiving and transmitting information. So a protestor now can not only opt in to instructions for a targeted action but respond and receive feedback in a way that makes them feel personally empowered.

From one perspective, what’s emerging from high tech ‘push button’ smartphone-enabled protest movements, like we’re now seeing in Catalonia and Hong Kong, might seem to represent the start of a new model for democratic participation — as the old order of representative democracy fails to keep pace with changing political tastes and desires, just as governments can’t keep up technologically.

But the risk is it’s just a technological elite in the regime-change driving seat. Which sums to governance not by established democratic processes but via the interests of a privileged elite with the wealth and expertise to hack the system and create new ones that can mobilize citizens to act like pawns.

Established democratic processes may indeed be flawed and in need of a degree of reform but they have also been developed and stress-tested over generations. Which means they have layers of accountability checks and balances baked in to try to balance out competing interests.

Throwing all that out in favor of a ‘democracy app’ sounds like the sort of disruption Facebook has turned into an infamous dark art.

For individual protestors, then, who are participating as willing pawns in this platform-enabled protest, you might call it selfie-style self-determination; they get to feel active and present; they experience the spectacle of political action which can be instantly and conveniently snapped for channel sharing with other mobilized friends who then reflect social validation back. But by doing all that they’re also giving up their agency.

Because all this ‘protest’ action is flowing across the surface of an asymmetric platform. The infrastructure natively cloaks any centralized interests and at very least allows opaque forces to push a cause at cheap scale.

“I felt so small,” one young female protestor told us, recounting via WhatsApp audio message, what had gone down during a protest action in Barcelona yesterday evening. Things started out fun and peaceful, with participants encouraged to toss toilet rolls up in the air — because, per the organizer’s messaging, ‘there’s a lot of shit to clean up’ — but events took a different turn later, as protestors moved to another location and some began trying to break into a police building.

A truck arrived from a side street being driven by protestors who used it to blockade the entrance to the building to try to stop police getting out. Police warning shots were fired into the air. Then the Spanish national police turned up, driving towards the crowd at high speed and coming armed with rubber not foam bullets.

Faced with a more aggressive police presence the crowd tried to disperse — creating a frightening crush in which she was caught up. “I was getting crushed all the time. It wasn’t fun,” she told us. “We moved away but there was a huge mass of people being crushed the whole time.”

“What was truly scary weren’t the crowds or the bullets, it was not knowing what was going on,” she added.

Yet, despite the fear and uncertainty, she was back out on the streets to protest again the next night — armed  with a smartphone.

Enric Luján, a PhD student and adjunct professor in political science at the University of Barcelona — and also the guy whose incisive Twitter thread fingers the forces behind the Tsunami Democràtic app as a “technological elite” — argues that the movement has essentially created a “human botnet”. This feels like a questionable capability for a pro-democracy movement when combined with its own paradoxically closed structure.

“The intention appears to be to group a mass movement under a label which, paradoxically, is opaque, which carries the real risk of a lack of internal democracy,” Luján tells TechCrunch. “There is a basic paradox in Tsunami Democràtic. That it’s a pro-democracy movement where: 1) the ‘core’ that decides actions is not accessible to other supporters; 2) it has the word ‘Democràtic’ in its name but its protocols as an organization are extremely vertical and are in the hands of an elite that decides the objectives and defines the timing of mobilization; 3) it’s ‘deterritorialized’ with respect to the local reality (unlike the CDRs): opacity and verticality would allow them to lead the entire effort from outside the country.”

Luján believes the movement is essentially a continuation of the same organizing forces which drove support for pro-independence political parties around the 2017 referendum — such as the Catalan cultural organization Òmnium — now coming back together after a period of “strategic readjustment”.

“Shortly after the conclusion of the referendum, through the arrest of its political leaders, the independence movement was ‘decapitated’ and there were months of political paralysis,” he says, arguing that this explains the focus on applying mobile technology in a way that allows for completely anonymous orchestration of protests, as a strategy to protect itself from further arrests.

“This strategic option, of course, entails lack of public scrutiny of the debates and decisions, which is a problem and involves treating people as ‘pawns’ or ‘human botnets’ acting under your direction,” he adds.

He is also critical of the group not having opened the app’s code which has made it difficult to understand exactly how user data is being handled by the app and whether or not there are any security flaws. Essentially, there is no simple way for outsiders to validate trustworthiness.

His analysis of the app’s APK raises further questions. Luján says he believes it also requests microphone permissions in addition to location and camera access (the latter for reading the QR code).

Our source told us that as far as they are aware the app does not access the microphone by default. Though screenshots of requested permissions which have circulated on social media show a toggle where microphone access seems as if it can be enabled.

And, as Luján points out, the prospect of a powerful and opaque entity with access to the real-time location of thousands of people plus the ability to remotely activate smartphone cameras and microphones to surveil people’s surroundings does sound pretty close to the plot of a Black Mirror episode…

Asked whether he believes we’re seeing an emergent model for a more participatory, grassroots form of democracy enabled by modern mobile technologies or a powerful techie elite playing at reconfiguring existing power structures by building and distributing systems that keep them shielded from democratic view where they can nudge others to spread their message, he says he leans towards the latter.

“It’s a movement with an elite leadership that seems to have had a clear timetable for months. It remains to be seen what they’ll be able to do. But it is clearly not spontaneous (the domain of the website was registered in July) and the application needed months to develop,” he notes. “I am not clear that it can be or was ‘crowdsourced’ — as far as I know, there was no campaign to finance Tsunami or their technological solutions.”

“Release the code,” he adds. “I don’t understand why they haven’t released it. Promising it is easy and is what you expect if you want to present yourself with a minimum of transparency, but there is no defined deadline to do so. For now we have to work with the APK, which is more cumbersome to understand how the app works and how it uses and moves user data.”

“I imagine it is so the police cannot investigate thoroughly, but it also means others lose the possibility of better understanding how a product that’s been designed by people who rely on anonymity works, and have to rely that the elite technologists in charge of developing the app have not committed any security breach.”

So, here too, more questions and more uncertainty.


Social – TechCrunch


The Bizarre Aye-Aye Isn’t Giving Us the Finger After All

October 21, 2019 No Comments

The primate uses its long middle finger to fish for grubs. But scientists just discovered its “pseudothumb,” meaning it’s got six digits, not five.
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