Embedded Experiences Are Coming to the Browser

One of the most interesting and valuable developments in enterprise social software (ESS) over the last few years has been the introduction of embedded experiences. Simply put, these are event-driven notifications, usually from other enterprise applications and systems, that surface within the activity stream of an ESS application. Embedded experiences go beyond merely notifying of something important; they also allow one or more actions to be taken to move a business process to the next step.
chatter notification vacation approval
 
Embedded experiences are great, but they have been written in proprietary code tied to a specific ESS vendor’s offering. It has not been possible to reuse actionable notifications across vendors’ solutions.
Google has announced a new feature in the latest beta version of its Chrome browser that will provide an open standard alternative for the delivery of extended experiences. Chrome 48 Beta enables developers to quickly create notifications with buttons that let users complete tasks. Those notification can be pushed from browser-based applications and webpages, as well as from Chrome OS applications and extensions to the Chrome browser.
Google and Mozilla employees have contributed to the development of the fledgling Notifications API standard under the auspices of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) community. This specification is what has been implemented in Google’s Chrome 48 Beta.
A Notification Generator built to define HTML-based embedded experiences has been created by Peter Beverloo. The generator shows how easy it is to define an embedded experience that can appear in any HTML5-compliant web browser.

Notification GeneratorSource: http://tests.peter.sh/notification-generator/#actions=1;;requireInteraction=true

As previously noted, embedded experiences have been proprietary to individual vendor’s applications and platforms. Google’s beta implementation of the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification is a first important step toward embedded experiences that will work across operating systems and applications. When the feature is properly vetted and becomes part of the stable release of Chrome (and, we assume, Mozilla’s Firefox browser), open, actionable notifications will be reality.
This is important because it will make the development and use of embedded experiences far more practical and widespread. Enterprise software vendors who choose to implement the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification will empower their customers to more easily create interoperability with other vendors’ browser-based tools. Actionable data embedded in notifications will be able to be passed between systems, business process execution will be accelerated, and personal productivity will be increased.
This news further intensifies the browser-based versus operating system-dependent application debate, especially with regards to mobile computing. The current preference for native applications on mobile devices will be challenge to the uptake of the Notifications API specification, given its dependence on the Web browser. Development of more of these types of Web standards is precisely what is needed to swing the pendulum back toward browser-based applications.

Recent Enterprise File Sync and Sharing News

Here is a brief round-up of some recent news from the Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing market segment.

EFSS Application Security

MobileIron published a whitepaper, titled “State of App Security”, that includes results of a survey conducted with its customers. The survey and white paper are briefly summarized in this post.
Survey respondents were asked to list the cloud applications that had been blacklisted by their IT departments. Of the top ten apps listed, five were EFSS solutions: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and SugarSync.
It’s important to note that all of these blacklisted apps are consumer-oriented and their vendors do offer business versions that are not commonly blacklisted because they include better security features. However, the unauthorized or “shadow” use of consumer EFSS solutions within businesses continues to pose significant information security risks.

Dropbox Doubles Down on Business

Dropbox made several product and business strategy announcements at its inaugural customer event, Dropbox Open, which was held on November 4th, in San Francisco. Most were directly relevant to the company’s increasing focus on businesses, rather than consumers. They are  briefly summarized in this Dropbox post, but here’s the skinny on a few.
First, it’s clear why Dropbox is doubling down on its efforts to win over organizations. The company announced that it has signed up around 50,000 new organizations as paying Dropbox Business customers in the last year. Dropbox now claims to have 150,000 business customers; that’s organizations, not seats. The company stated that business is it’s fastest growing target market.
To underscore the point, Dropbox announced a new product, Dropbox Enterprise, which “provides the same core security features, admin capabilities, and modern collaboration tools as Dropbox Business — plus new deployment tools, advanced controls, and services and support designed specifically for large organizations.”
Dropbox also announced three new administrative features that will be included in Dropbox Business as well as in Dropbox Enterprise. The new capabilities ‒ suspended user state, sign in as user, and custom branding ‒ are available now through the company’s Early Access program, with no general release date given.
Dropbox is going down the same road that Box has already traveled. It started with a consumer grade product, added functionality to make it more attractive and useful for small and medium businesses, and now is incorporating the robust security and control features that IT departments in large enterprises demand. The big question now is can Dropbox overtake Box in the EFSS market?

Google Drive Adds New Features

Google announced three new capabilities that are intended to improve the usability of Google Drive. These new features apply to all Google Drive users, not just business employees.
It’s now possible to receive a notification from the application on your Android or iOS device when someone has shared a file or folder with you. Previously, those notifications were made via email. The new notifications are actionable; clicking the link will take you to the document or folder that has bee shared.
Google Drive users can now request and grant access to a file or folder to which a link has been sent, but the owner forgot to extend access rights. The feature is mobile friendly. Android users can request access with a single tap. File and folder owners can instantly be notified of the request and provide access from their Android or iOS device.
Finally, it’s now possible to preview files stored on Google Drive on Android devices even if you don’t have a Google account. That feature has been available in Web browsers for a while and makes sense in that context. It’s hard to imagine why an Android device owner wouldn’t have a Google account, but, apparently, its is a problem and Google chose to address it.

Syncplicity Plays Catch-Up on Mobile Security

Syncplicity announced partnerships with AirWatch and MobileIron to help customers secure files on mobile devices. It should be safe to assume that the integration with AirWatch had been ready (or nearly so) for quite a while, since both were owned by EMC until it spun off Syncplicity a couple of months ago. At any rate, these partnerships merely bring Syncplicity even with its competitors, who have had similar partnerships or their own mobile device containerization capabilities for some time now.

Box Expands Its European Presence

Box has opened two new offices in Europe in the last 3 weeks, one in Amsterdam and another in Stockholm. This continental presence is crucial to Box as it seeks to grow by expanding overseas sales efforts. However, the new offices also raise questions about how Box (and competitors) will deal with the recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement that had been in place between the European Union and the United States.

ownCloud Brings Control of Open Source EFSS On-Premises

ownCloud announced the newest version (8.2) of its open source EFFS offering, which moves it to a hybrid model. With ownCloud 8.2, it’s now possible for customers to deliver security and control of their files residing in the cloud through an on-premises adminstrative console.

Linoma GoDrive Customers Gain Mobile Access

In another transformation to a vendor’s existing EFSS model, Linoma Software unveiled its GoAnywhere mobile apps for its GoDrive on-premises EFSS solution. Linoma customers can now access files residing in GoDrive from iOS and Android mobile devices. While files and folder are encrypted during transit, Linoma does not secure files while they are on a mobile device. However, they do provide an administrative capability to deactivate and wipe files and folders from devices that have been lost or stolen.

Google Inbox Smart Reply: Cognition Meets Communication

How hot is work chat in the enterprise? So trendy that it’s now being used to improve the very thing it’s supposedly killing off – email.
Google announced yesterday a new feature for its Inbox application, which is an alternate Gmail interface designed for use on mobile devices. That feature, called Smart Reply, lets Inbox users reply to an incoming email with a short message (one phrase or sentence) that has been suggested by the application.
Google’s blog post announcing the new feature highlights the natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies that work behind the scenes. Inbox uses these technologies to formulate three possible short responses for each incoming message. The user taps on the most appropriate one to embed it in her response and has the option to manually type or verbally dictate additional text. (Click on the image below to enlarge it and see this in action.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

How Smart Reply Works

The three auto-generated, suggested responses are based on the content of the incoming email message and the responses that were generated and selected for previous, similar messages. Smart Reply uses separate neural networks that work in tandem; one network reads and makes sense of every word in the incoming text and the second network predicts best-fit responses and synthesizes them into grammatically correct replies. (See this post on the Google Research Blog for more technical details on Smart Reply.)
The principles and even some of the technologies behind Smart Reply are not new. The Autonomy IDOL technology that Hewlett-Packard infamously acquired four years ago is used to auto-classify digital documents based on their content. Once classified, the documents can more easily be searched for, used in workflows, and archived.
Just last week IBM announced its new intelligent data capture solution, IBM Datacap Insight Edition, which uses cognitive computing capabilities to read document-based content and auto-classify it. Like Google’s and H-P’s technologies, IBM’s software must initially be trained with a set of control documents and then continues to learn as it reviews documents in a production environment.

Smart Reply and Chatbots

Inbox’s new ability to read text and formulate multiple, viable short responses doesn’t quite turn email into real-time messaging, but it does help individuals respond more quickly to the incoming messages in their email queue. Pair that with instant notifications of new incoming email messages on a mobile device and email becomes much more like instant messaging and other forms of work chat.
Google has taken a significant first step toward creating an intelligent bot that replies to email messages for you based on their content. Contrast this with the current practice of employing prebuilt, user-defined rules to reply with a canned response depending on who sent the incoming email or based on the recipients schedule (think vacation autoreplies).
If Google were to apply its deep neural network technology in Hangouts, it would move closer to Slack, HipChat, Telegram and other work chat tools that use bots to reply to user generated queries and as intermediaries between users and integrated third-party applications. In fact, Hangouts would have a differentiated advantage – the ability to parse not only incoming messages and suggest appropriate responses, but to do the same with text-based documents that are attached to chat messages.
It is likely that Google will go beyond applying this new technology in apps like Inbox and Hangouts. Imagine the power of having Smart Reply baked into Android, so it could be deployed on watches, in cars and as part of other emerging hardware-based platforms that run on that operating system. Tap on the watch’s or car’s display and quickly choose and send a response to an incoming message.
Some more advanced variant of Smart Reply might be used to semi-automate communication between nodes in mixed networks of machines and humans – Networks of Everything. Take as an example the current generation of software (the machine) that listens to social media and discerns trending topics related to a company’s customer-facing operations. This type of software could be enhanced with cognitive capabilities so that it would be able to suggest appropriate Twitter-length responses to an individual tasked with responding to relevant incoming social content. Eventually, the software might be able to respond, without human intervention, directly to someone expressing their opinion on social media.
The possibilities are numerous and mind-boggling. For now, Google has taken an important step toward a computing future in which real-time communication at work is increasingly semi- or fully-automated.

Here’s how Sidecar took the lead in the carpool race

It’s been four months since Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar officially launched their carpool features. And although all three rideshare companies have marketed their new carpool feature to the masses, one of them is pulling ahead: Sidecar.

It has expanded its carpool option to the most cities and seen record-breaking use in the process. The company trotted out a host of statistics and facts during a recent interview with me. The overall picture was clear: Sidecar’s carpooling feature is now its main source of growth, and a welcome injection.

Sidecar’s Shared Rides feature is now available in five cities, compared to three for both Lyft and Uber. In the cities where it launched the feature, 40 percent of the rides Sidecar offers are carpool. Uber wouldn’t disclose its percentage of UberPool rides. Lyft told me that as of a few months ago, 30 percent of its rides in San Francisco were Lyft Line, but it declined to share more up-to-date figures or the percentages of other cities.

It’s worth noting that since Lyft does a higher volume of rides than Sidecar, 30 percent of its total is likely far greater in absolute number of rides than 40 percent of Sidecar’s total.

For those who don’t track every change in the transportation industry: This carpooling option is different from these companies’ original “ridesharing” services. Instead of traveling alone with a driver (as with original ridesharing), in carpooling you get matched with another passenger going the same direction, making it cheaper to get across town than if you were traveling solo.

You might be surprised to hear that Sidecar has expanded its carpooling feature more quickly than Uber or Lyft. After all, it’s the company which I have previously referred to as the forgotten stepsister of ridesharing. It’s the smallest, with far less passengers and far less venture capital funding ($35 million) than Uber ($3.3 billion) and Lyft ($332.5 million).

But the company’s smaller size may actually be the reason for its fast carpool expansion. It has been able to focus its resources on the carpooling part of the business, making it a priority above all else. The company raised its latest round, a comparably paltry $15 million, solely on the premise of expanding Shared Rides.

Since introducing Shared Rides, Sidecar’s business has grown in multiples. It had a record week last week, with rides up 60 percent from the average prior weeks, despite the fact that there wasn’t a holiday like New Years or Halloween to propel the growth. The number of rides it offered in Chicago increased 10 times since it launched Shared Rides there in early November.

Contrary to outward appearances, Sidecar was first to market with the carpool feature, giving it a head start on Uber and Lyft. The media narrative around carpooling originally went: Lyft was the creatorUber upstaged Lyft’s big launch with a preemptive release, and Sidecar belatedly chased the pack.

But as this June article shows, Sidecar had actually been doing shared rides months before its competitors — it just hadn’t made much fanfare announcing it. The company claims it started testing Shared Rides in May. It had months of time to hone its operations, and as Uber and Lyft were just launching their SF markets, Sidecar had already tried out its feature with 13,000 passengers.

It has by no means won that war though. Sidecar may have gotten a head start, but its rivals are still far better funded. All it takes is Lyft or Uber placing a priority on carpooling — making it their main raison d’être — for them to take over.

Kik’s new hashtags reveal the potential of a chat network

Kik continues to ship new features for its chatting application. Following on the heels of Promoted Chats and its in-app browser comes the hashtag. It’s an easy way to create a group chat and invite people to join it within the Kik app. You send them the hashtag name (like #SFSoccerMoms or #CollegeDebateFriends). When they click it they’re taken to a group chatting page, which allows up to 50 participants.

“It’s a way to let you be whoever you want to be, with whoever wants to talk to you,” Kik CEO Ted Livingston wrote in a blog post announcing it. “It’s a social network on your terms.”

Kik’s group hashtag isn’t news that will particularly excite many people over the age of 25 (Kik’s prime demographic is under that age). But it’s a compelling feature, if only because of what it represents.

Group hashtags offer a rudimentary look of what could constitute a social network focused on “chatting.”

It’s almost a Path-like feature, recreating the intimacy of the Facebook of yore. With a chat cap of 50 people, it keeps conversations to smaller, more contextual groups. You don’t have to worry about sharing the details of your weekend with the world, trying to whitewash it for grandma, while simultaneously entertaining your friends. Instead, you can embody your particular sense of self with each individual group.

Group chatting is nothing new of course, and as a standalone feature, it’s not a company. But in conjunction with Kik’s other features, like individual messaging, promoted chats, and an in-app browser, the group hashtag element has great promise. It allows users to communicate easily, without the hassle of an administrator having to invite select members. It provides the same kind of thematic discovery and social organization that hashtags do on Twitter, for tracking news events, or on Instagram, for exploring similar images.

This is what a social network with a core of texting, instead of a newsfeed, could look like.

Animated Gif showing how Kik's hashtags feature works

Animated Gif showing how Kik’s hashtags feature works

 

 

 

 

 

Zite introduces multiple profiles for shared iPads

On Friday, Zite introduced a new update to its iPad app that includes a feature called Sybil, which allows Zite to create and switch between multiple profiles on one device. Zite can now recommend uniquely tailored content to more than one individual in a single household.

New Patent Reveals Possible Scrollable Menus in OS X Lion

Patently Apple has found a new patent detailing new methods of menu navigation that could see introduction in Mac OS X Lion (s aapl). The patent describes interface elements perfectly suited to touch input, something central to both iOS and OS X according to Apple.

What Went Wrong at Veoh?

Veoh is shutting down and about to file for bankruptcy, despite raising ample funding and having solid search and recommendation technology. The site had also procured a decent audience, with more unique users than Hulu up until about a year ago, when Hulu launched an ad blitz following Super Bowl XLIII.

In a phone call with NewTeeVee, Veoh founder Dmitry Shapiro placed a lot of blame on the Universal Music Group copyright infringement suit, as well as the broader macro-economic situation. The UMG lawsuit might have limited its strategic opportunities or scared off new investors, but Veoh made a number of missteps before its final demise. Here are a few:

Read More about What Went Wrong at Veoh?

iTunes Web Previews Now Live for Apps, Too

Apple’s (s aapl) .itms links are either the scourge of the universe, or a very handy little shortcut to getting at iTunes content, depending on who you ask and what mood they happen to be in. My personal policy is always to give people fair warning (warning: this Pastebot link opens iTunes) when I’m linking to the iTunes store, to prevent unexpected program launches when they might not be most convenient.

Recently, Apple introduced preview launch pages for its iTunes musical content. The new pages, which replace the boring “iTunes is launching, please wait” dialog that used to appear, provide basically a snapshot of what you’ll find when that iTunes icon eventually stops bouncing and you’re taken to the relevant page on the iTunes store. And now iPhone apps have received the same treatment. Read More about iTunes Web Previews Now Live for Apps, Too