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Israeli Companies Purchases
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Jon Medved interviewed on recent Israeli exits

Great interview with Jonathan Medved, on Bloomberg TV in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress (MWC), about Israeli companies and the many large exits recently, both acquisitions (shown in the graphic above) and the recent IPO of Wix.

Last time I saw Jonathan Medved was actually in Barcelona at an earlier MWC when he was CEO of Vringo. Now he’s running the very interesting OurCrowd crowdfunding firm, where accredited investors can invest a minimum of $10,000 into startups (a VC for the masses – or at least the accredited masses). Take a look:


or view it on Bloomberg’s web site.

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Stabilized Biking
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What happens when you try to video mountain biking using your phone?

This is just a fun post of some video I filmed last week while mountain biking in my hometown of Modi’in. This trail is on a hill behind a major highway. There are a few things I’d like to point out about the video.

I filmed it using an iPhone 4S mounted very securely to my bike using a machined aluminum Rokform bike mount that screws into the steering tube. The mount and the phone do not move at all. The blurry parts and wavy video that makes it look like I’m on an acid trip must have something to do with the CMOS sensor in the camera. A GoPro this is not. I don’t know how current iPhones perform with extreme video situations like this, but I hope they’re better.

The stabilization correction is done using software called Elasty. It normally would remove the black edges, making the video rectangular as it was originally (losing some of the edges), but I think the rotating box is more dramatic and gives you a better sense of what the stabilization software is doing. Youtube added the extra black space on the left and right sides of the video, I guess everything they do needs to fit into their box.

That’s it, just a bit of pre-weekend fun.

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Viber Sticker Store
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What the heck are stickers? A half billion dollar and growing business…

I’ve noticed something when talking to friends about messaging. If they’re not from Asia (yes, technically I live in Asia, but Israel is not Asian in that sense) they don’t get what stickers are all about. Why would they really? In the United States, and I believe Europe as well, stickers are more or less irrelevant. I would venture to guess that most Americans think stickers are just fancy emoticons.

Facebook Messenger Sticker Store
Facebook Messenger Sticker Store

Facebook added stickers to it’s messenger app, but although it’s called the ‘Sticker Store’ it appears they’re all free. Perhaps this is a first step towards commercialization in the future, but I think if you get something for free you don’t really appreciate it, and in this case it probably means most Facebook users ignore this feature. It’s also, as I mentioned, viewed as just bigger emoticon.

Viber, which just sold a couple of days ago for $900M to the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, implemented a sticker store as its first monetization strategy, followed by connecting calls to the traditional phone network.

Stickers, in fact, are available on all the major messaging platforms with the solitary exception of WhatsApp. See the nice chart from Mark Watts-Jones on the 10 ways messaging apps monetize at the end of my earlier article on messaging, and you’ll notice that stickers are the only monetization strategy used by every single messaging app (except, again, WhatsApp). No other monetization strategy is so universal.

The question is for a feature that most people in the US hardly understand, or rather misunderstand, how is it such an important money-maker in other parts of the world? For the most part, it is a cultural difference. In the US, people like cute things like Hello Kitty, and perhaps buy Hello Kitty backpacks for their daughter in first grade. For the most part, however, Americans don’t OBSESS over Hello Kitty. In fact I would say that in general Americans aren’t really into cute at all, at least not as adults. Every country has a different cultural view of cute marketing. In Asian countries, especially Japan, it is a major force. Perhaps just slightly less so in countries like China and South Korea. It’s no surprise then that stickers, which are for the most part super-cute, have found a market in Asia, and in the Asian-origin messaging applications like WeChat, KakaoTalk, LINE and the Rakuten-purchased Viber. It’s also possible that stickers took off in Asia first due to the difficulty in typing in their native languages on cell phones. Inserting an animated sticker can convey a person’s emotions or feelings quickly that would take a lot of work to send via text.

Viber Sticker Store
Viber Sticker Store

So if you come from a culture where cute is paramount, and then selling cute makes sense. The next leap, however, is a little harder for people not used to it to understand. Watch the video above. It’s a television commercial for LINE (a Japanese messaging company), broadcast in the Philippines. Do you notice the difference between how they’re using stickers in the commercial as opposed to how you may have used a emoticon in the US? Emoticons are usually punctuation. They end the conversation. Perhaps there’s a little back and forth with them, but it’s usually short and at the end of the conversation. In the commercial above, the stickers ARE the conversation.

Imagine for a moment that you had to converse using pictographs only. Chances are you’d want a lot of pictographs to choose from, right? Actually, pictograph isn’t strictly speaking the correct word. A pictograph is an image that represents a word or words. Many stickers would be better described as representing emotions, not words. In addition, stickers are frequently animated. So if you had to communicate using stickers, you’d probably want a lot to choose from, which would explain the estimated half billion dollar market that currently exists for stickers.

Will that number go up or down? Right now Facebook is offering brand-name stickers from companies like Disney and Dreamworks for free. Are they receiving funding from those media companies, or are they eating the cost? How does that effect the ability of companies like LINE and Viber to charge for sticker packs? What if Rakuten starts giving away sticker packs to try to hurt LINE’s revenue stream as they start implementing their e-commerce revenue streams into Viber? It’s an interesting market, with a lot of disruption coming in the near future.

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OTT Messaging at Telecom NZ
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Lots going on in the mobile messaging space

It’s an interesting time to be in the mobile messaging space. I discussed the history of Internet and mobile messaging less than two weeks ago in my post The history of messaging, and where it’s going, but even in just the past few days, lots of things are shifting in the space.

Just yesterday Skype (a division of Microsoft) announced that they are enhancing the chat functionality of their apps, enabling them to sync properly between apps on different platforms. Clearly, this is an attempt to take the fight to the mobile-first messaging companies that started with text, but started moving into Skype’s audio and video call space. Skype has had text messaging for a long time, but if you looked at your messages on your computer, they would not show up as read on your phone, or visa versa. This is what Skype is fixing.

A few days ago it was rumored that an un-named Asian messaging company was looking to buy Viber for up to $400M. Speculation was rife, with obviously names like WeChat, Kakao, and LINE being bandied about. The head of Viber, CEO Talmon Marco, denied it outright. Well, he was not lying. Viber was not being sold to an Asian messaging company for up to $400M. It is being sold to Asian e-commerce company Rakuten for $900M.

One interesting aspect of this deal is that Viber competed at one point with another Israel-based text/audio/video company, Fring (technically Viber is based in Cyprus, with development in Israel and Belarus, but it was founded by Israelis). Fring was the more traditional VC-backed startup, and raised $30M in VC funds in several rounds. It sold last year for $50M, which by any VC-standard, was a massive failure. I don’t know what the details of that deal were, but if you consider that some of the shares must have been owned by founders and other employees, then it’s even possible that investors lost money on the sale. At least, I suppose, they didn’t lose everything. Viber, on the other hand, raised no VC funds at all. The founders, also founders of iMesh, rolled money they made from iMesh with some friends and family money into Viber. What that means is that the founders of Viber, which sold for a bit less than Waze did to Google recently, will be considerably more wealthy than the Waze founders from the deal.

In looking at some of the background on this deal I stumbled upon an interesting statistic that is worth taking a look at in the wake of the Viber sale. Recently, a New Zealand telecom company revealed the number of customers that used each of the major messaging apps through their mobile service. Of the 1.81 million users of  Telecom NZ, they tracked the usage of the various messaging services in October 2013 as follows:

  • 150,000 used Apple’s iMessage service
  • 140,000 used Facebook messenger
  • 78,000 used Viber
  • 35,000 used Microsoft Live messenger
  • 32,000 used Microsoft Skype
  • 25,000 used Google Talk
  • 23,000 used WhatsApp messenger

 
It’s a fascinating breakdown. Keep in mind that usage on this particular carrier, in New Zealand, is not necessarily the same as usage in Europe or in the United States. The carrier doesn’t offer Blackberry phones, so BBM is not a possibility in the rankings. The carrier also offers the iPhone 5s for free, based on signing up for a certain plan. It’s not thus surprising that iMessage is the most-used service, since it integrates with SMS in the phone, and can be the default service, whether the person is calling someone who has a smartphone or not (if they don’t have an iPhone an SMS would be sent, and the usage not recorded in these stats though). Facebook, being the biggest social network and with over 800 million messaging users worldwide, is also not surprising. Based on the stories going around about the number of active users of WhatsApp and Viber, you might however think WhatsApp would be next on the list. It’s not even close. Viber is next, and ahead of the others by far. Perhaps now, the $900M selling price is beginning to look a little more understandable.

To put things further into perspective I’ve put the above numbers into a chart below which is broken down by percentage of total users (i.e. number of users of a specific service divided by total number of subscribers (1.81M), then spread out over 100% – i.e. 150K users out of 1.81M is 8.29% of all users, but when combined with all the other users of other services, is roughly 31% of the total OTT messaging users). Here’s the chart:

OTT Messaging at Telecom NZ

That nice big mustard yellow slice is Viber. Not too bad. Maybe Rakuten has found quite a good service with which to push its massive e-commerce platform through, considering the success of e-commerce in the Chinese version of WeChat, I think its likely Rakuten has some very specific ideas on how they will be making back that $900M, and then some…

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Twitter Spam Accounts
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More than I wanted to know about Twitter

While I’ve used Twitter since 2007, I was generally a fairly passive user. One account I used was mainly automated postings from another blog of mine, and the account I’m now using was largely dormant. My original account I just used to follow people and read their tweets. Recently, I’ve decided to build up @trauring as my tech-focused account, and I’ve been trying to learn the intricacies of the world of Twitter. As part of that I’ve been trying to watch who follows me, and in general I want to determine what I do that causes more people to follow me. When I post an article on this site or tweet a tweet, what topics result in more followers? It’s a bit narcissistic perhaps, but I look at it as a temporary experiment and challenge. Eventually I’ll get the hang of things and leave well enough alone.

It was thus with some amusement that I’ve been watching some of the accounts that have been following me. I say accounts, not people, because clearly some of these accounts are not real people. Today I noticed two new followers, Reita and Jed. What was so unusual about Reita and Jed? Here’s what I saw:

Twitter Spam Accounts

The funny thing was, I had even seen the same photo before in a previous follower. I tried to check back and see if the account was still there, but couldn’t find it. That could be because the account was closed by Twitter as a spam account, or it could be because one of the scripts I’m experimenting with for my account automatically blocked it because it determined it was spam. I also might have manually blocked the account thinking it was spam. Truthfully I don’t usually do that because I want to see if they get blocked automatically. Twitter it seems requires maintenance, and I’m hoping not to have to do it manually. In a few weeks I’ll go back and review manually what spam accounts still exist and try to figure out why they’re still there.

What of course jumped out here was that that there were two accounts with the exact same photo. And a woman named Jed. Whoever is programming these spam Twitter accounts isn’t trying very hard.

Interestingly enough, while I’ve been writing this post I’ve been peering occasionally at my followers list and seeing if anything changed. At first I noticed both accounts were steadily rising in the number of accounts they followed. About 40 when I first looked. About 50. About 75. Both accounts were always within a few follows of each other, so it seems they were being generated at the same time, automatically following accounts. The Jed account actually got a follower at one point. Then I noticed the Jed account disappeared. Did the creator of that spam accounts realize that a woman named Jed wasn’t a good idea? Did they realize they were following the same accounts with two different fake accounts? I’m not sure, but I tried loading the Jed account and it has been suspended. I’m not sure if that could be that the user deleted it, or if it must mean that it was deleted by Twitter as a spam account, but in either case it’s gone.

Reita is currently up to following 193 accounts, and holding steady. I guess Twitter hasn’t figured out she’s a spam account yet. Perhaps the spam account owner stopped following at 193 to keep below some follow limit that triggers the attention of Twitter. Maybe it will continue following more accounts tomorrow.

Wait, no, I was wrong. She’s up to following 296 accounts, and has 2 followers! Who knows where she’ll be tomorrow. I’m guessing suspended, but you never know…

Update 2/15/2014:

It’s two days later and Reita’s account has been suspended. Today, however, I have a new follower – Adelina:

Adelina Otiz Spam Account

She’s following 148 people and has 7 followers already. Maybe we’re watching a new spammer who is learning the ins and outs of creating more believable accounts? Maybe they realized following over nearly 300 people in a day brought the account to the attention of Twitter? You’d think they’d come up with another photo, however.

Update 2/16/2014 (#1):

Oops. my mistake. This spammer isn’t learning anything. Adelina is suspended, and Melissa and Silvana have taken their place:

Melissa and Silvana Spam Accounts

Each are following over 200 accounts, and have 5 followers. Like the others, neither has tweeted at all yet. It’s probably a big red flag for Twitter when accounts follow hundreds of people without having ever tweeted. I’m guessing these accounts will both be suspended within a day or two. Seriously, how dumb is this spammer?

Update 2/16/2014 (#2):

As soon as I posted the above update I noticed both accounts were already suspended. I wonder how many other accounts have been created and followed me when I wasn’t watching that got suspended before I noticed.

Update 2/16/2014 (#3):

The day is not over yet. Anjelica and Treena have joined the gang:

Anjelica and Treena Spam Accounts

Anjelica only has 7 followers, but Treena who has no number at the end of her Twitter name has 22 followers already. I wonder if the spammer will learn something from that or not. Neither account has tweeted yet. I don’t expect either account to make it through the day.

Update 2/16/2014 (#4):

I have to say, I thought Anjelica would be booted first, but apparently she’s still around while Treena (who peaked at over 30 followers) has been suspended. Anjelica now has 20 followers (and is following 356 accounts).

Update 2/17/2014 (#1):

Anjelica is still going strong. She has 43 followers now, and is following 357 accounts. I thought it was strange that since yesterday she only followed one more account, so I took a look at her followers. The odd thing is that the last three accounts she followed are all protected. How does a spam account follow protected accounts? It seems unlikely that someone who checks every follower would allow a spam account like this, who has never tweeted before, to follow them – unless perhaps they are also spam accounts. Here are those accounts:

Three Protected Accounts

The really odd thing about the accounts is that there is very little odd about them, and very little in common (other than being protected). One is from Brazil (Beatriz), one from the US (Alessandra), and one from Turkey (Esra). The Brazilian one has tweeted 50 times, the US one twice, and the Turkish one 2828 times. The Brazilian account has over 400 followers, and follows over 500 accounts. That doesn’t look particularly spammy to me. The US account looks like a spam account or the account of someone who set up an account and never uses it, having only tweeted twice and having very few followers. (of course being protected doesn’t help). The Turkish account has under a hundred followers, which maybe is odd for an account that has tweeted 2828 times. So what are these accounts? Are they spammer accounts too? Why would three protected accounts accept a spam account as a follower at the same time? Maybe it’s just coincidence that three protected accounts allowed this spammer to follow them at the same time?

While away from my computer I noticed another spam account, which I took a screenshot of on my phone, but was gone by the time I was back on my computer. Giovanna joins the crew, if briefly:

Giovanna on my phoneApparently having only one account is never enough though, as I did find Leonel waiting as a new follower when I got back to my computer:

Lionel Spam Account

Leonel is already following 399 people, and is followed by 1 account. I suspect Leonel won’t make it very far.

I think I’m going to have to give up following what’s going on with these accounts. I didn’t think there would be this many. I guess I should just be happy to realize that eventually Twitter suspends all of them,, and I don’t really have to deal with them myself.

Update 2/17/2014 (#2):

As soon as I published the above update I noticed a new follower, which based on the name and its spelling I took a look and sure enough:

Jacqulyn spam account

Leonel, by the way, is already suspended. That took, minutes?

Update 2/17/2014 (#3):

Wait, Jacqulyn isn’t alone:

Jacqulyn and Eleonor spam accounts

Okay, now I really need to stop following these accounts. While at the beginning it was interesting to see if I could figure out the strategies the spammer was using to gain real followers, now it just seems like there are no strategies at play here, at least no good ones, or ones that learn from mistakes. At the very least I won’t be updating this as often. Maybe I’ll check back in a few days and see if any of the accounts still exist.

Update 2/20/2014:

So this will likely be the last update on this particular spammer. As I mentioned in my previous update, there appears to be no strategy at play here, and newer accounts don’t improve on older accounts in their ability to not get caught as spam accounts. I thought at first there was a perhaps a real person creating the accounts or at least adjusting the algorithms used to create them, but now it seems clear that no human is involved here, and no changes are occurring to the algorithms to improve how realistic the accounts are to casual observation (or Twitter’s automated checks).

The worst thing is what makes these accounts so obvious to the human observer – is that they all use the exact same photo. That it is still using male names for an account with a female photo avatar is also pretty bad. They haven’t entered a description into any of these accounts, nor tweeted a single time from any of the accounts. I don’t know what the point of all these accounts are, but either there isn’t one, or the person trying to make these accounts is really really dumb. In any case, I think this topic is no longer particularly interesting. Short some huge change, this will be my last update to this post. As a parting gift, here are all the accounts I’ve noticed in the few days since my last update:

Frederick spam account Kenneth and Kittie spam accounts Katina and Jacquelyne spam accounts Hee spam account Saul Spam Account Jenna and Trudie spam accounts Vella spam account Lory spam account Dedra spam account Terrie and Hyo spam accounts Darin and Lou spam accountsAlida spam account

Oh, and Anjelica Rattner is amazingly still around, with 59 followers currently. Almost all of the other accounts above have been suspended.

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