Viral communications app Plague changes its name – sort of

When Lithuanian developer Deep Sea Marketing launched its app Plague last year, there was a fair bit of confusion over its app and a popular game by Ndemic Creations called Plague Inc. Now Ndemic has asked Deep Sea to change the app’s name, and Deep Sea is kind of obliging. The new name of the app will be “Plag**” with the two asterisks representing blacked out letters in its logo.

Yes, Deep Sea is being cute, but the company has always had a rather twisted sense of humor. After all it named an app designed to facilitate communications between people in disparate parts of world after a global biological catastrophe. For those of you who haven’t tried out Plag**, it doesn’t use social networking principles to spread its content. Rather it distributes content like a disease, infecting users of nearby smartphones who further infect new users they come in contact with.

To be fair, Plague Inc. is pretty twisted as well, though highly addictive. In the game you control a pathogen, and your goal is infect and wipe out the entire world’s population before the globe’s scientific community can research a cure. My favorite level is “Neurax Worm,” a parasitic organism that burrows into its host’s brain.

Deep Sea is launching a new website as well, and while Deep Sea may not be thrilled it needs to undergo a semi-rebranding as it’s just gaining international attention – it reported 150,000 users in January two months after launch – the move will hopefully prevent some confusion. Web and apps store searches for “Plague” intermix results for both apps, and they both use many of the same epidemic-related terms in their marketing.

“Anonymous” hackers attack European Parliament president’s site

The personal website of European Parliament president Martin Schulz was hacked last week, his office has confirmed.

On Friday someone posted information on Pastebin indicating that they had retrieved database and password information from the website. A spokeswoman for Schulz stressed that this was not a page on the European Parliament website itself (although Schulz’s personal sites are now redirecting to his official page there.)

“The investigation is ongoing,” the president’s spokeswoman added.

The Greek security site SecNews reported that the attackers had emailed it, claiming responsibility in the name of Anonymous. It should be noted that, as is so often the case, attribution to “Anonymous” is a tricky matter. The group is nebulous and anyone can claim the name.

That email reportedly claimed that the attack was motivated by Schulz’s alleged aim of “destroying Greece and then other countries” – presumably something to do with the German European Parliament president last week urging the country’s new hard-left government to stick by the agreements made by its predecessors.

The attackers also included screenshots that detailed how they used a SQL injection attack to steal data from and deface the website.

Former editor-in-chief at Whisper has left the company for good

Neetzan Zimmerman — the former Gawker writer who joined Whisper as editor-in-chief, and later became embroiled in a controversy over the anonymous social network’s use of private information — has left the company, according to Capital New York. Zimmerman and other staff members were suspended last October while the company conducted an internal investigation into comments that were made to a British newspaper about Whisper’s practices. The Guardian ran several stories alleging that the service monitored the location of its users even if they turned off location-sharing features, and quoted one unnamed executive as saying that the service would be able to track the location of a sex-obsessed Washington lobbyist “for the rest of his life and he’ll never know.”

Yup, 2014 was a big year in cloud

2014 was the year in which both Microsoft and Google got serious about their public cloud options and taking on Amazon Web Services directly with their own Infrastructure as a Service and associated services.

That both of these companies have extremely deep pockets is not lost on the market leader AWS which continues to roll out new, and higher-level services frequently. If you’re a cloud deployer or would-be cloud deployer, AWS Re:Invent is a must-attend event.

Long story short: [company]Google[/company] and [company]Microsoft[/company] have made huge strides, but AWS, with its 8-year head start, remains the cloud to beat. It’s a good time to be a cloud customer provided you can track the dueling product releases and price cuts and can manage to keep yourself out of the vendor lock-in that afflicted many IT shops in the past few decades.

Cybersecurity fears grow

The counterpoint to all of the above is that 2014 was also a year that saw scary security breaches including the latest: Anonymous is claiming credit for filching 13,000 passwords and credit card data of users with [company]Sony[/company] PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox LIVE, and [company]Amazon[/company] accounts. And, if you don’t think these attacks don’t put even more fear of God (and cloud) in corporate IT buyers, you have another think coming.

Data security concerns remain the biggest inhibitor to cloud adoption. This is true even though most IT folks who, if they’re being honest, would admit privately that their own on-premises server rooms, are hardly paragons of security. But perception is reality and people are wary of putting valuable data in a cloud they can’t control. This is a problem that will only grow with the new year.

As [company]General Catalyst[/company] Managing Partner Steve Herrod wrote recently:

… As bad as 2014 has been, and it has been bad, we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Given the steady increase in value going through our systems (credit cards numbers, personal information, IP), organized crime and nation-sponsored attacks will continue to rise in quantity and sophistication.

Cloud turf war

This is worrisome for Jane Q. Consumer, but even more so for big IT vendors. all of whom are trying to woo corporate customers to their respective clouds. Legacy giants [company]IBM[/company], [company]HP[/company], [company]Oracle[/company], [company]VMware[/company], [company]Dell[/company], Microsoft all want to keep their existing customers in house and (dare they hope?) win new customers as well. Their well-founded fear — other than that security fiascos will keep people away from cloud altogether — is that a ton of those jobs are flowing to AWS which is somehow both an IT upstart and the industry leader in cloud.

[company]Google[/company] is the wild card here. The company which knows a little something about building massively scaled services, is showing itself to be serious about wooing enterprise customers to its  cloud as well — although there was some skepticism on that front which it has allayed somewhat with new peering agreements and VPN options; the hiring of enterprise savvy execs most notably former Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens; and a Microsoftian-looking partner program.

Brian Johnson onstage at Google Cloud Platform.

Brian Johnson onstage at Google Cloud Platform Live.

The biggest personnel move in cloud this year was the ascension of Satya Nadella to Microsoft CEO after a very public and somewhat painful 6-month search. Now even some Microsoft haters see the company as an up-and-comer in cloud. To be fair most of that hard work was accomplished on former CEO Steve Ballmer’s watch but Nadella is seen as more pragmatic and much less doctrinaire than his predecessor, who exhibited an almost pathological hatred of all things Apple or Google. Nadella, after all, broke tradition to bring Office to non Windows devices, a huge departure for the company.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft already has enterprise customers and partners in spades which could help in its hybrid cloud push. Ditto VMware, HP, IBM. But public cloud kingpin AWS is making a push into that hybrid scenario with products targeting VMware admins their Windows counterparts.

Structure Show: Docker, Docker, Docker

We didn’t do a show on this holiday week, but check out our last podcast with Docker CEO Ben Golub if you haven’t already. Golub addresses how the competitive landscape has shifted with the CoreOS decision to launch Rocket, a container of its own.

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Secret tries to save itself by imitating Yik Yak

Secret’s “dramatic” app update (which I foreshadowed earlier this month) has arrived. The Verge has published an in-depth look at the confessional app’s attempt to relaunch itself after user downloads and app engagement plummeted.

Secret now looks and operates a whole lot more like its rising competitor Yik Yak. Images no longer dominate the feed. Instead, it’s primarily text-based, with the pictures appearing as thumbnails. It has turned away from the media emphasis of its nemesis Whisper and has abolished the website that curated the popular Secrets.

Power Secret users (if there are any left) will cheer about the new addition of one-to-one messaging. In the first version of Secret, users wanted a chatting tool so badly they turned en masse to alternative service Anonyfish, which was created to address the hole in the Secret product. But now when someone posts a Secret, others can directly chat them, keeping their anonymity.

The biggest change in Secret’s relaunch is that users’ feeds will be divided into “friends” and “nearby” instead of “friends” and “explore.” The nearby function shows posts from anyone within set locations, like cities or universities. “It’s more important what is said than who said it,” Secret CEO David Byttow told The Verge. “Our goal is to facilitate conversation — either in a physical location, or socially, with your friends.”

That’s a total ripoff of Yik Yak’s core function, but before you scoff at the move you should know Secret isn’t the only one doing so. Twitter previewed a nearly identical feature itself during its recent earnings call and is reportedly working with Foursquare to power it. Take a look at the three product comparisons: Yik Yak first, Twitter second, and Secret third. See some similarities?

Screenshots of Yik Yak's location based post tool

Screenshots of Yik Yak’s location-based post tool

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

Screenshot of Secret's new feed, via The Verge

Screenshot of Secret’s new feed, via The Verge

Yik Yak clearly has these other social apps on the run, lest they get overtaken by a newcomer. Since Yik Yak’s appearance, it has skyrocketed through the app download charts, gone viral in college communities (much the way [company]Facebook[/company] did), and raised $62 million from WhatsApp backer Sequoia in late November. Its location-feed premise is by no means proven, but it has shown enough traction to worry far bigger companies.

When I wrote a feature on Yik Yak in October, I asked “Could Yik Yak be the real winner among anonymity apps?” It looks as if the answer may be yes.