Mozilla announces an open gateway for the internet of things

Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung have all been working hard to create their own standard to control all the connected devices around your home. Mozilla just announced that anybody can now create an open gateway to control the internet of things. The organization also confirmed that it is still working on a set of frameworks and open standards so that we don’t end up with an internet of things controlled by big tech companies.

Connected devices are great, until you realize that your connected thermostat only works with the Amazon Echo and your connected lightbulbs only work with Siri and the Home app.

Accessory makers also don’t necessarily want a handful of big tech companies to control the internet of things. Tech giants could end up charging expensive licensing fees to work with their ecosystem. And customers end up having to make tough decisions.

Mozilla is a big proponent of the open web. So it seems natural that the not-for-profit organization has plans for connected devices. Project Things encompasses multiple projects, so let’s look at Mozilla’s work.

First, Mozilla wants to create an open standard with the W3C around the Web of Things. The idea is that accessory makers and service providers should use the same standard to make devices talk to each other. The specifications rely on JSON, and a REST and WebSockets API. Those are standard data and API models on the web, and they should work perfectly fine for connected devices.

Second, Mozilla is working on a Web of Things Gateway so that you can replace your Amazon Echo, Philips Hue hub, Apple TV and Google Home with an open device. You can already create a gateway using a Raspberry Pi 3, and ZigBee and Z-Wave USB dongles.

Eventually, manufacturers could leverage this work to create their own gateways. Maybe Netgear could embed a Web of Things gateway into their next router — your router is connected to the internet and runs 24/7 after all. Developers could also create bridges between the HomeKit API or Amazon’s Smart Home Skill API so that all devices work with your Amazon Echo, Google Home or iPhone without too much effort. Web of Things could become the common language between those proprietary APIs.

Finally, Mozilla is creating the interface to control your connected devices. You can add Mozilla’s progressive web app to your smartphone home screen and control your home. For instance, you can use your voice to turn on the lights, create IFTTT-style rules to automate your house, add a floor-plan to lay out your devices and more.

Mozilla has designed an add-on system so that you can add support for new devices and protocols by installing plugins. It’s important to note that all of this runs on your own gateway in your house. Google or Amazon can’t see when you turn on the light using your voice.

Eventually, I could also see app developers leveraging the Web of Things protocol to create native apps to control your house. But it’s clear that Mozilla wants to attack this issue from all angles. And developers can already start playing around with Project Things and contribute to development.

Google brings an AR mode to its Motion Stills app on Android

Google’s Motion Stills video/gif editing app is getting an augmented reality upgrade, with the app bringing some of the fun from AR Stickers on the Pixel 2 to a bevy of Android devices.

In practice, the app delivers some pretty solid augmented reality surface tracking, pinning 3D models from Poly like chickens, robots or dinosaurs onto surfaces inside your environment. Users are able to record gifs and videos inside the app. Unlike other AR features requiring ARCore support, the Motion Stills app is available across a wide variety of Android phones running 5.1 and up.

“AR mode is powered by instant motion tracking, a six degree of freedom tracking system built upon the technology that powers Motion Text in Motion Stills iOS and the privacy blur on YouTube to accurately track static and moving objects,” Google engineers Jianing Wei and Tyler Mullen wrote in a blog post. “We refined and enhanced this technology to enable fun AR experiences that can run on any Android device with a gyroscope.”

Google dropped AR Stickers on the Pixel 2 in December, and in conjunction with the latest Star Wars film, released  Porgs and Stormtroopers into people’s homes as living advertisements.

This mode had been one of Google’s first features for Android to make good on their ARCore augmented reality developer platform. Like Apple’s ARKit, ARCore senses surfaces and allows you to drop objects onto them, it doesn’t have wall detection yet, which ARKit has just recently added, but given the fractured nature of the Android device landscape, product development is going to be a more arduous process.

Motion Stills relies on many of the same technologies, but with this latest update, Google is making moves to enable AR experiences that are good-enough so they can bring that technology to more people and devices.

Download Motion Stills for Android here.

Backing Robinhood, Jay Z’s Roc Nation invests in would-be Rockefellers

Roc Nation, the full service entertainment management company created by the music impresario Shawn Carter (better known as Jay Z), is making an investment in financial trading platform Robinhood.

The investment, through Roc Nation’s Arrive subsidiary, is the latest instance of a celebrity rapper plowing cash into Robinhood’s free-to-trade investment platform. The company also counts Snoop Dogg and Nasir Jones (also known as Nas) among its big-time backers.

Robinhood is actually Arrive’s third investment into a high-growth startup tech company. The firm has also backed Devialt, a French audio technology company, and InSite Applications, a location sharing platform that’s planning to launch its services later this year.

In addition to boatloads of cash, which has valued Robinhood at roughly $1.3 billion, the San Francisco startup has also picked up 3 million users trading in both stocks and cryptocurrency.

Launched last year, Arrive was created to partner with early-stage startups and provide them with brand services, business development, advisory and capital services to increase growth (it’s unclear that this would be all that useful for Robinhood since the company raised $176 million).

“ARRIVE was created to leverage our experience and resources in building brands, developing consumer facing businesses, managing artists and representing athletes.  We’ve opened that diversified, global range of expertise to a new vertical: entrepreneurs and their early stage businesses” said Neil Sirni, Head of New Ventures at Roc Nation in a statement at the time of the company’s launch.

Arrive said at the time it would launch a traditional venture fund to support company growth after the seed round. The New York-based venture firm Primary Venture Partners and GlassBridge Asset Management are both advising Arrive on its operations.

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIDAL)

Featured Image: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Should I buy an Apple HomePod?

If you want to read a lot of words about the Apple HomePod, you can do so here and here. Obviously, I’d recommend you do so before plunking down $350 of your hard earned cash on a first generation product, but the long and short of it is actually pretty straight forward. Apple made a very nice speaker — arguably the best on the market in its class.

But there are caveats. As is often the case, Apple’s made a device that plays to its base — as such, there are a few big asterisks contained herein that are important to note before considering a purchase.

Here’s a handy flow chart designed to clear things up.


Chart design by Bryce Durbin

Kapor Capital promotes Ulili Onovakpuri to partner

Kapor Capital, the venture arm for the Kapor Center for Social Impact, has promoted Ulili Onovakpuri to a partner role. As partner, Onovakpuri will focus on health tech and people operations tech, she told me over the phone.

With health care, she’s interested in technology that makes access to health care more accessible, either through reimbursements to low-income people or through subsidized payments. On the people operations side, Onovakpuri is looking at investing in startups that help create inclusive cultures.

“What we have found is that more needs to be done in order to keep [people from diverse backgrounds] in and happy, so that’s what I’ve invested in,” Onovakpuri said.

So far, she’s led investments in mSurvey, which started as a text message platform to identify disparities in the world and tEQuitable, which aims to help companies be more inclusive.

Onovakpuri joins Kapor Capital’s five other partners, including Brian Dixon, Mitch Kapor, Freada Kapor Klein, Benjamin Jealous and Ellen Pao, who joined the firm last January.

Before becoming partner, Onovakpuri worked as a principal at Kapor Capital. She first joined Kapor Capital as an analyst back in 2011, after working with the Kapor Center for Social Impact’s Level Playing Field Institute.

“Ulili had a nontraditional path to the VC world,” Kapor Klein said in a statement. “While working with our non-profit Level Playing Field Institute, we quickly saw that she had the instincts of an investor. After inviting her to sit in on a pitch meeting many years ago, her questions blew everyone away. The company was designing a math app, and she instinctively understood the tech, the customer, and the problems of access for low income kids of color. Mitch immediately asked if Kapor Capital could get more of her time, and the rest — including a lot of hard work on her part — is history.  I’m incredibly proud to have her join our partner table today.”

Onovakpuri’s promotion makes her part of a growing number of black women in venture capital at the top. Big ups to Sydney Thomas, an associate and head of operations at Precursor Ventures for compiling a list of black women in VC.

Meanwhile, only 2 percent of investment team members at VC firms identify as black and just 1 percent identify as Latinx, according to a 2016 survey from the National Venture Capital Association.

Twitch now has 27K+ Partners and 150K+ Affiliates making money from their videos

Twitch today announced new metrics related to the growth of its game streaming service, including, most notably, that the number video creator Partners who profit from their Twitch content has climbed to 27,000 over the course of 2017, and the number of Affiliate streamers reached 150,000.

Until mid-2017, Twitch had only allowed a smaller subset of its creator community to make money from their videos after achieving “Partner” status. As of last April, there were 17,000 Partners on Twitch, out of a total of 2.2 million unique monthly broadcasters.

Now, there are 27,000 Partners out of roughly the same number of monthly streamers.

Twitch today puts the monthly streamers figure at “2 million plus” – possibly because it’s waiting to hit the next milestone before announcing a more specific number.

However, that could also be an indication that the creator community itself hasn’t grown that much over the past year, even though the number of people who make money from Twitch has.

The arrival of YouTube Gaming may have something to do with that, if so. An independent report released last month found that YouTube Gaming had grown its streamer base by 343 percent in 2017, while Twitch grew 197 percent.

Still, it’s notable to see the number of Partnered streamers climb by another 10,000 in less than a year.

Twitch requires creators to have a high number of concurrent viewers over a period of time in order to enter these exclusive ranks; it’s not an easy goal to reach. That points to a highly-engaged audience of viewers on the site, tuning into to watch these gameplay videos.

Last spring, Twitch made it easier for regular streamers with smaller channels to make money, too, with the launch of the Twitch Affiliate Program. Twitch Affiliates are able to generate revenue from their videos through things like cheering, subscriptions, and game sales, after hitting a much lower bar in terms of eligibility criteria.

At launch, Twitch invited tens of thousands of non-Partnered channels to participate in the new program. By October – only six months after going live – the Twitch Affiliate Program had grown to include over 110,000 video creators. Today that number is 150,000.

Twitch won’t say how much Partners and Affiliates are earning, nor will it disclose its own revenue. But the company did note that 223 percent more creators are now earning money from their video content on Twitch, compared with last year.

Meanwhile, daily visitors to Twitch has grown to over 15 million, and the site now hosts over 124 million clips, the report says.

In addition, over 1,700 developers have registered to create extensions –  the add-ons that allow  gamers customize their channels, introduced last August.

The company typically releases its year-end data in some sort of fun, interactive format. Last year, it was a video game. This time around, it’s a digital comic – a change the company says it meant to showcase the creative side of its community, given its expansions in to vlogging and creative content over the past couple of years.

The year-end “report” delves into a few other milestones around content, games, emotes and more, and is available on Twitch’s site here.

ProcessOut chooses the best online payment service for each transaction

Meet ProcessOut, a French startup that automatically routes transaction to the best payment provider. This way, big online services can start using multiple payment providers, pay less fees and reduce the number of declined transactions.

The startup has just raised $1 million from various business angels, such as BlaBlaCar CTO Francis Nappez, former PayPal Director of Global Business Development Benjamin Blasco, Logmatic CEO Amirhossein Malekzadeh and Amadeo Brenninkmeijer. ProcessOut is also backed by Techstars and 50 Partners.

“Look at how companies, such as Airbnb and Dropbox, handle payments. Those companies have teams of 10, 15 or 20 people who work full time on optimizing the technical and economical performance of payments.” co-founder and CEO Cyril Chemla told me. “ProcessOut acts like those payment teams for Datadog, BlaBlaCar or Vente-Privée.”

Behind the scene, ProcessOut has built a smart routing service that works with dozens of payment service providers. The startup’s biggest clients save a ton of money by using ProcessOut.

These days, many small startups start accepting payments by signing up to a developer-friendly payment provider, such as Stripe or Braintree. But using Stripe doesn’t necessarily make sense when you’re processing millions of transactions a year. You want to optimize and create some redundancy.

For instance, banks often have their own payment service providers. They are often hard to deal with and quite ugly, but they are also much cheaper than modern alternative service.

But that doesn’t mean you should switch altogether to a bank’s payment service provider. Many transactions fail because of a technical reason, or because the payment service provider or the customer’s bank have deemed the transaction too risky — it’s a non-negligible parameter.

ProcessOut has built two different services. First, Telescope lets you monitor all your transactions in a few minutes and give you recommendations. For instance, the service can tell you that you’re overpaying for transactions in the U.S., that your decline rate has been going up lately and more. This service is free and a great way to attract new customers.

Second, ProcessOut has built its own checkout module to act as an intermediary between your client and your payment service providers. The startup can store credit card information, which makes it easier to switch to a new payment service provider.

ProcessOut customers can then hook the service with multiple payment service providers and let the startup handle payments. While it’s easy to figure out the cheapest provider, it’s much harder to understand if the bank that issued your customer’s credit card is going to accept or decline the transaction. That’s why ProcessOut is slowly learning how each bank works.

The startup takes 1c to 5c per transaction. ProcessOur says that it represents less than 10 percent than what you save on fees and failed transactions. It should be an easy sell.