Yahoo Labs faces big changes as two execs depart

yahoo-marissa

Yahoo today announced big changes to its research operations and two prominent departures.

Yahoo Labs head and former chief scientist Ron Brachman and Yahoo vice president of research Ricardo Baeza-Yates are both leaving.

Meanwhile some Yahoo researchers will begin to work much more closely with Yahoo employees who work on product. Yahoo vice president of research Yoelle Maarek explained the changes in a Tumblr post:

Our new approach is to integrate research teams directly into our product teams in order to produce innovation that will drive excellence in those product areas. We will also have an independent research team that will work autonomously or in partnership with product partners. The integrated and independent teams, as a whole, will be known as Yahoo Research. Yahoo Research will drive the company’s scientific efforts, look to the future, think out of the box, and be responsible for pushing the frontiers of the consumer internet. I will lead the independent research team, and together with Ben Shahshahani and the other integrated product research partners, will guide our research activities across the company.

This is another big change hitting Yahoo, following closures of some digital magazines, layoffs, and other strategic moves intended to cut costs.

The change suggests that having all researchers isolated from product people in a way that won’t necessarily lead immediately to product development isn’t necessarily the best approach.

Yahoo Labs, which was once called Yahoo Research, began in 2005. Brachman and Baeza-Yates were among the first people to join the group.

Yahoo Labs recently released a very large-scale machine learning data set for academic researchers to use free of charge.










Funding Daily: Giphy, a Gif search engine, is now valued at $300 million

Giphy_Logo

Gif search engine Giphy has taken in $55 million in funding, setting its valuation at $300 million, the company announced today.

giphy

Giphy’s latest round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, while General Catalyst Partners, RRE, and Betaworks followed.

The company isn’t trying monetize itself yet, as TechCrunch points out,  but the company has expanded beyond Gif searching with a Gif making app called Giphy Cam and a tie-in with Facebook Messenger.

We’re not sure what’s to come for Giphy as investors appear to grow more cautious amid a “tech correction.”


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Google open-sources TensorFlow Serving for deploying machine learning models

Google notebook Eduardo Woo Flickr

Google today announced that it has open-sourced TensorFlow Serving, a piece of software that makes it easy to deploy machine learning models that can make inferences about new data. The software, which is available on GitHub, works natively with Google’s previously open-sourced TensorFlow deep learning framework, but it can also support other tools.

“TensorFlow Serving makes the process of taking a model into production easier and faster. It allows you to safely deploy new models and run experiments while keeping the same server architecture and APIs,” Google software engineer Noah Fiedel wrote in a blog post.

Written primarily in C++, the technology should make it a little easier for people to get off the ground when serving up machine learning models using open source tools such as TensorFlow. And while TensorFlow Serving is flexible, because it natively supports TensorFlow, it could help boost adoption of that framework from Google. As more developers start to use the TensorFlow software, Google could improve its capabilities and even uncover new talent.

Deep learning is increasingly popular, not only at web companies like Google and Facebook, but also among startups, as it can help with image recognition, speech recognition, and natural language processing. The process involves training artificial neural networks on large sets of data and then having them make inferences about new data. The TensorFlow serving software is specifically geared toward the inference phase.

An overview of the architecture of TensorFlow Serving is here.

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The 5 absolute, must-do essentials of content marketing (webinar)

content strategy.shutterstock_275423846

Content marketing isn’t just another arrow in your quiver — our panel of top marketing professionals argue that when it’s used correctly, it’s a nuclear-grade weapon in the war for customer engagement and real ROI.

Missed it? Access the webinar on demand right here.


Content is king, and content marketing is essential in a world where increasingly savvy consumers are shying away from the hard sell, but still looking for reasons to trust a business with their cold, hard cash.

In our latest webinar, “Content marketing: The most important tool in a CMO’s toolbox,” VB analyst Stewart Rogers and Jun Group COO Corey Weiner talk about how to nail your content marketing strategy. Here are some of the top takeaways our panel of experts have for you.

1. Set the tone

Throughout the buying process, from the top of the funnel and every step of the way down, your content needs to take the right tone.

“The key is that you have to start with knowing your customer,” says Weiner. “Once you know your customer, you’ll know how you want to talk to them.” Who are you trying to reach, and what are you trying to communicate to them? How do they expect to be spoken to?

Rogers notes that the traits you choose and the way you intend to write content on your website and everywhere else is intrinsically tied to what business you’re in and how you make money.

For instance, a service industry company will use complex language to demonstrate their mastery of the category. A product-led business will take a friendly, persuasive, and direct tone to get a user to click on that Buy Now button.

2. Document and share

Once you’ve settled on your company’s tone — formal, casual, humorous, direct, educational, etc. — the most important thing you can do right out of the gate is document that learning, because it’ll drive your strategy in more than one way.

A tone document, with correct and incorrect copy examples, helps keep the message consistent across marketing.

Perhaps even more important, documentation is key for getting executive buy-in.

Creating a business case around content marketing, creating a strategy, getting that tone of voice and having it all documented will get you that green light, so you can leap to the next step: employee buy-in.

3. Mine your resources

Hidden behind unexpected titles and job descriptions are the content rockstars who can help you get your marketing produced and delivered.

“Documentation gives you a way to distribute it around the business and get buy-in from staff,” Rogers says. “It gets them to raise their hand and say they’d like to be involved.”

4. Develop a killer content marketing team

 “One of the things clear from the research,” Rogers says, “is structuring the content marketing team for the best effect is something that needs to be gotten right.”

Creating relevant content requires broader, multi-faceted perspectives than just the C-level crew in a conference room. Listen to your internal subject matter experts across the organization — introduce tech people, product people, and sales people, Weiner urges. “By adding people who don’t do marketing every day, we got insights that were really quite valuable,” says Weiner.

5. Measure

Executives are always looking at the bottom line — but content marketing ROI is notoriously hard to calculate.

The lost opportunity cost is almost always high — neglecting the personalization demands of digital citizens, for instance, almost always drives them away. But there are some trackable content marketing metrics:

  • Brand awareness marketing such as sponsored events create trackable opportunities for the sales team
  • Google analytics and other tools can track engagements at a granular level as customers move through the funnel
  • Content promotion, depending on the channel, is especially trackable — particularly email promotions
  • On social sites, mechanisms like UTM codes under URLs help you understand where results came from, and what messages generated them

For even more insights on how to sharpen the most important tool in your marketing toolbox, tune in to our free webinar on demand.


After this webinar, you’ll know:

  • How to design a content marketing program that complements your marketing initiatives
  • The way to find your voice – and how to adhere to it across media and platforms
  • Which internal professionals to target for particular platforms (and how to get them to agree to do it)
  • The benefits of content marketing, such as lead generation, expanded social presence, cementing brand recognition, and building individual executives’ brands
  • How to determine the ROI of content marketing, plus the tools and metrics to use.

Speakers:

  • Stewart Rogers, Director of Marketing Technology, VB Insight
  • Mitchell Reichgut, CEO, Jun Group
  • Wendy Schuchart, Moderator, VentureBeat

    This webinar was sponsored by Searchmetrics, Inc.










GameStop CEO Says PlayStation VR Will Start Shipping This Fall

morpheusss With launches already looming for both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, virtual reality fans have been earnestly awaiting details for the last major HMD to join the party, the Playstation VR. Yesterday, in an interview with Fox Business‘s Maria Bartiromo, Gamestop CEO Paul Raines declared that GameStop “will launch the Sony product this fall,” in reference to the… Read More

Samsung Sweden got a llama to unbox the Galaxy S7 while Samsung Indonesia leaked the phone on video

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We’re in the final week before Samsung unveils the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge on February 21 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The details leaked last month and images from every angle have been leaking ever since. Now the videos are showing up, courtesy of Samsung itself — and we’re not just talking about a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75yxusHkcB0″>the boring “interview” with Samsung Mobile president Dongjin Koh who merely mentions the Galaxy S7.

Samsung Sweden is trying to drum up excitement with a “Seven Days of Unboxing” campaign. The first honor goes to a llama named Kuzco. After spending an amazing 30 minutes with the phone (or phones, as Samsung still isn’t acknowledging it confirmed the S7 edge on its own website), Kuzco deftly drew what he saw:

We’re assuming Samsung Sweden will be letting a different animal unbox the S7 every day. It’s a cute idea, but it’s hard to build up excitement when Samsung Indonesia has decided to simply show off the phones.

You see, in addition to all the leaked images, Phone Probe has discovered a Samsung page that hints at the improved camera. As we’ve already heard, it should be better in low-light conditions:

Galaxy_S7_bring_light_to_the_night

Even more interestingly, the page features an unlisted YouTube video, also from Samsung Indonesia. It’s a one-minute commercial for the new S7 featuring Indonesian archer Dellie Threesyadinda training with the help of the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge.

Two obvious features appear to be highlighted. Threesyadinda places her phone on a wireless charging pad and uses the phone in the rain, suggesting some level of water resistance.

But don’t be fooled. The upcoming phone apparently doesn’t handle water well, according to the Samsung Indonesia page:

THE SCENE IN THE VIDEO IS FOR DRAMATIZATION PURPOSES ONLY. THIS PRODUCT IS NOT WATER RESISTANT AND IT SHOULD NOT BE EXPOSED TO AND/OR SUBMERGED INTO WATER/LIQUID.

Samsung is clearly trying to keep a lid on this one. Oddly enough though, the video was first uploaded on February 1 and still hasn’t been pulled.










Game developers bet mobile virtual reality has mass-market appeal

Artwork for the upcoming VR fishing game from developer Resolution.

AMSTERDAM — In a few months, consumers will have multiple high-end virtual reality devices to choose from, but many developers may stick with mobile solutions instead.

Smartphones and their VR peripherals — like Samsung’s Gear VR for its Galaxy phones — offer an enormous opportunity for game developers, according to a talk Resolution Games chief executive Tommy Palm gave at the Casual Connect Europe event today. Palm explained that VR is likely the next step in the chain of computational platforms that started with graphical user interfaces on personal computers and most recently gave the world smartphones with multitouch interfaces. This is one of the reasons Palm and Resolution are jumping into the VR space with games for Gear VR. Other reasons include predictions from investment bank Goldman Sachs and tech advisor Digi-Capital that virtual and augmented reality (a related tech that combines real and digital imagery) will grow to somewhere around $110 billion to $120 billion over the next several years.

Digi-Capital highlights that $30 billion of that will come directly from VR, and half of that spending will go toward gaming. For Palm, who was one of the designers behind King’s megahit Candy Crush Saga, the best bet to get a piece of that is to support the mobile side of the market.

“Mobile VR has a really attractive price point,” said Palm. “It’s also very portable. It looks much more mass market.”

Palm points out that smartphones are already ubiquitous in most places and for most people. They are multipurpose devices that all kinds of consumers build their personal and professional lives around. And he thinks people will prefer to add virtual and augmented reality to their smartphones rather than trying to integrate yet another specialized piece of hardware into their lives.

The Resolution executive further illustrated his excitement for this space by comparing the exponential growth of smartphones to the fast-selling Nintendo Wii console. He showed that while the dedicated Wii platform stalled around 100 million units sold, Android and iOS devices are already into the billions sold worldwide when combined. He suggests that the opportunity for mobile VR is somewhere in the gap between smartphones and consoles because gamers will easily fork over an extra $100 to buy something like the Gear VR to partake in the next major revolution in interactive software.

Palm wrapped up by giving some pointers for developing for this promising sector. He explained that his company has discovered it is easy to build VR experiences for an office-style swivel chair, but he says that it is a rare use case among consumers. Most people will likely use their Gear VRs on a couch or maybe a seat on an airplane, so they won’t have the freedom to spin all the way around.

Finally, many women (in general) hate single-player VR experiences during social events. They feel isolated from the people around them and won’t enjoy their time in VR. But if you give them a multiplayer VR experience, that changes. You can expect that a lot of early VR developers will focus on social experiences as they try to bring in a diverse audience.

Disclaimer — Casual Connect paid for my travel to Amsterdam. Our coverage remains objective.

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Industrial Light and Magic is talking VR — and likely Star Wars — at Game Developers Conference

"Fighting for Vader sucks! His stupid laser sword and his asthma ... oh ... oh no ... He's right behind me, isn't he?"

Lucasfilm is bringing some (industrial) magic to virtual reality.

Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects arm of Star Wars studio Lucasfilm, announced today that it will give a talk at the Virtual Reality Developers Conference, itself a part of this year’s Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. The VRDC will take place on March 14. The virtual reality industry could be worth a projected $120 billion, and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars franchise is hitting new levels of popularity thanks to the success of The Force Awakens, which grossed over $900 million domestically. Together, these two things could make a lot of money. While Industrial Light and Magic doesn’t specifically say that it will talk about Star Wars, it heavily implies it.

“At VRDC, Lucasfilm Industrial Light and Magic will describe bringing Cinematic Virtual Reality to one of the most iconic movie franchises of all time in their session titled the session, ‘Immersive Cinema: Stories from the experiments underway at Lucasfilm’s Lucasfilm Industrial Light and Magic,'” a press release from Industrial Light and Magic noted. “Bringing Cinematic Virtual Reality to life requires the kind of tight collaboration between technical and creative forces that Lucasfilm has thrived on for over 40 years. In this session, attendees will hear from artists and engineers from Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound, and Lucasfilm itself who will show a rare look into the creative and technical experiments underway at the studio.”

We’re going to go ahead and guess that the iconic movie franchise it’s talking about is Star Wars, unless it surprises us and throws Indiana Jones out there. Star Wars is much more likely, however, since it’s riding high off the success of a new movie, and its sci-fi setting lends itself to technology like virtual reality. We’ve even seen the franchise play around with VR a bit last year, including a special trailer for mobile VR that allowed viewers a 360 degree view of the planet Jakku. But imagine a more elaborate Star Wars experience in VR that puts you in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. I think we’d all pay a bit of money for that.

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Vinebox’s monthly wine-by-the-glass subscription service begins deliveries

Vinebox

If you’re like me and enjoy wine occasionally, but find it difficult to select a good bottle, then joining a wine club won’t necessarily be a great investment for you. After all, why would you risk getting an entire bottle when you’re not sure if it’s something you want? Instead, you might want to check out Vinebox, a monthly delivery service that will ship wine by the glass to you from Europe to improve your palette.

Today, the company announced that it has now opened sales to the public and has begun delivering shipments to its customers, which it disclosed have tripled since September and are increasing almost 10 percent weekly.

Every month, this Y Combinator-backed startup sends out a shipment containing three individual glasses of wine it curated from European vineyards. Once you’ve tasted them and found one you like, you can order a whole bottle directly from Vinebox. The company considers itself like the Birchbox for wine.

VINEBOX: LAUNCH PARTY
“Right now we live in a society where we’re all about testing things out. It’s about immediate gratification. You can listen to a sample of music or watch an episode for free,” said Vinebox chief executive Matt Dukes. “We’re extending the example to wine because picking it can be an intimidating thing.”

Operating as a wholesaler, importer, and retailer, Vinebox is licensed to ship wine to 49 out of the 50 states (sorry, Utah). Its three largest markets are New York, Texas, and California. Customers can select from one of three tiered offerings: They can pay $35 per month, $33 for three months, or $30 per year. Each option comes with three glasses of wine each month from bottles costing between $25 and $55.

It believes it can be a viable business because it controls the entire process from purchasing to bottling to delivery. Dukes told VentureBeat that his company has a rebottling factory in Bordeaux, France, which takes the wines and pours them into individual serving glasses. Additionally, Vinebox purchases the bottles directly from the vineyards, so if you want to purchase a particular wine after sampling it, the company acts as a wholesaler — you don’t have to deal with the winemaker directly.

VineBox

The company launched a preorder campaign in September and started shipping in January. It currently sends wine from several countries in Europe, specifically France, Italy, and Spain, choosing wines that aren’t readily available in the United States. Working with two sommeliers, Vinebox will send you two glasses of wine coming from well-known regions — the first shipment contained a Sauvignon Blanc and a Bordeaux — and another one that Dukes described as “exciting.” Some of them may even be from vintages that are going to be in short supply. Unfortunately, Vinebox will not be shipping sparkling wine or Champagne.

VineBoxCurrently, the service doesn’t personalize wine to each customer, although that may be coming in the future, along with ratings. Duke also said that the team is looking to find ways to include domestic wines in its offering.

“We want to make Vinebox as simple and accessible for our members to have wine. We want to create the connection with our members, the people in the U.S., and the wine producers behind the scenes,” Duke explained.

In a Vinebox shipment are three individual glass tubes surrounded by foam, which ensures that the wine is transported safely. Tasting notes can be found inside the shipping box.

Mostly bootstrapped, Vinebox has raised some funds from Y Combinator. It competes alongside traditional wine clubs like Club W and Wine Awesomeness, which offer monthly deliveries of wine bottles, and Copa Di Vino, which focuses on single-serve deliveries. Duke believes his service stands out because Vinebox offers premium wine by the glass in a great presentation.

“Your understanding of wine completely changes if you can visit the vineyards and go to a tasting room,” he said. “This is the experience that we want to bring to users.”