September 14, 2016
SLI Systems offers an eCommerce search system. If you followed the history of NBC’s search efforts, you may know that SLI Systems has some DNA from Snap Search. The company is an interesting one. It competes with EasyAsk, another eCommerce search vendor.
SLI released its financial results in a news release titled “SLI Systems Announces Financial Research for the Year to 30 June 2016.” (Some news releases have the ability to disappear or become a pay to play feature. The release was online an free as of September 6, 2016.)
The write up confirmed what most stakeholders in search and content processing systems may avoid thinking about: Generating revenue in today’s economic climate is difficult.
SLI Systems is a $35 million dollar company. The firm lost several big accounts for a range of reasons. The good news is that instead of losing $7 million in FY2015, SLI reported a before tax loss of $162,000. There are no details about what caused the hefty loss 12 months ago or what a new management team to reduce the shortfall by almost $8 million. Great management? Magic?
I circled this chunk of management explanation:
SLI Systems Chairman Greg Cross said: “The 2016 financial year has been a period of significant change for the company. Chris Brennan took over as Chief Executive Officer in October 2015 and since then we have recruited three key executives: a new Chief Revenue Officer, a new Chief Marketing Officer and a new Vice President of Customer Success. Drawing on the expertise of these new recruits and the broader management team, SLI has put in place new business processes and organizational structures to lift the performance of the business for the long term.
“The company remains in a strong financial position. Although we expect net cash outflows in the coming year as we return to a growth trajectory, we remain confident that we have sufficient cash resources to support the company’s plan. We are looking forward to the remainder of the year with cautious optimism,” Mr. Cross said.
SLI is based in New Zealand. The mot recent version of the company’s Web site does not make it easy to locate the company’s address at 78 – 106 Manchester Street. Christchurch 8011. New Zealand. New Zealand Phone: 0800 754 797. The company’s office appears to be in the Enterprise Precinct Innovation Center. The firm has an office in San Jose, California. SLI’s office locations are available at this link.
Stephen E Arnold, September 14, 2016
September 1, 2016
Did you know some sites on the Dark Web have a sleek look and intuitive user experience? VeriClouds published this information, including screenshots and more in a piece called Dark Web: Sophisticated eCommerce platform trading in your personal information. Channels for cybercriminals allow users to search for Dark Web commodities such as personal or sensitive information by: category, product type, price, sale type, location and shipping options. Mirroring the processes and policies of traditional retail, some sellers also have refund options. The article states:
Platforms like these are so much more than just rudimentary command line setups or chat rooms. They offer many of the same features as online stores like Amazon or Ebay with vendor ratings, buyer feedback, detailed search options and facilitated transaction and delivery services. Collections of data are presented with detailed descriptions (similar to an ecommerce product pages), and some even provide tutorials on how to best utilize that data to scam victims.
On one level, this report shows us how much an intuitive user experience has become the expectation, not an added bonus — anywhere on the web. Related to this heightened expectation for even intangible “things” to have an effective look and feel, we are reminded this is the information age. As information is a commodity, it is no surprise to see the rise in cyber theft of such invisible goods on the Dark Web or otherwise. For example, as the article mentioned, last year’s estimate by the Federal Trade Commission showed 9.9 million victims of identity theft.
August 8, 2016
German TV journalists recently discovered acquiring weapons on the Dark Web may be more challenging than media coverage suggests. Vice’s Motherboard published an article on this called TV Journalists Try Buying AK-47 on Dark Web, Fail. Producers for German channel ARD, working for a show “Fear of terror—how vulnerable is Germany” lost about $800 in bitcoin during the attempted transaction through a middleman. We learned,
“It’s not totally clear if this was because the seller wasn’t legitimate, or whether the package had been intercepted. Regardless, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise: The dark web gun trade is rife with scammers. One con-artist previously told Motherboard he would ask legal sellers to send him photos of weapons next to a piece of paper with his username. From here, he would “just send a bag of sugar,” when an order came in. And undercover law enforcement agents also sell weapons in order to identify potential customers.”
Motherboard is careful to reference cases of successful Dark Web gun sales. Not that readers would be so quick to assume guns cannot be easily purchased on the Dark Web after seeing numerous media coverage that is the case. For the average reader, is the knowledge of the Dark Web from media or personal experience? We see a lot of articles reporting number of web sites that exist, perhaps because of the inability to accurately report a number of users on the Dark Web. While that may not be retrievable, perhaps the number of Tor downloads may be.
Megan Feil, August 8, 2016
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden /Dark Web meet up on August 23, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233019199/
August 4, 2016
Data-management firm Semantify has secured more funding, we learn from “KGC Capital Invests in Semantify, Leaders in Cognitive Discovery and Analytics” at Benzinga. The write-up tells us primary investor KGC Capital was joined by KDWC Venture Fund and Bridge Investments in making the investment, as well as by existing investors (including its founder, Vishy Dasari.) The funds from this Series A funding round will be used to address increased delivery, distribution, and packaging needs.
The press release describes Semantify’s platform:
“Semantify automates connecting information in real time from multiple silos, and empowers non-technical users to independently gain relevant, contextual, and actionable insights using a free form and friction-free query interface, across both structured and unstructured content. With Semantify, there would be no need to depend on data experts to code queries and blend, curate, index and prepare data or to replicate data in a new database. A new generation self-service enterprise Ad-hoc discovery and analytics platform, it combines natural language processing (NLP), machine learning and advanced semantic modeling capabilities, in a single seamless proprietary platform. This makes it a pioneer in democratization of independent, on demand information access to potentially hundreds of millions of users in the enterprise and e-commerce world.”
Semantify cites their “fundamentally unique” approach to developing data-management technology as the force behind their rapid deployment cycles, low maintenance needs, and lowered costs. Formerly based in Delaware, the company is moving their headquarters to Chicago (where their investors are based). Semantify was founded in 2008. The company is also hiring; their About page declares, toward the bottom: “Growing fast. We need people;” as of this writing, they are seeking database/ BI experts, QA specialists, data scientists & knowledge modelers, business analysts, program & project managers, and team leads.
Cynthia Murrell, August 4, 2016
July 21, 2016
I love Amazon almost as much as I love Google. I would have a tough time deciding which of these services warrants more of my affection, trust, and respect. I said to myself “Bummer” when I read “Amazon’s Dominance Is Bad for Your Business.” I recently ordered a paperback from Amazon and noticed that the 150 page monograph was a $1,000, not $10. Anyone could have clicked the incorrect link between the correctly priced volume and the used discounted books. Amazon respected my klutziness, and I think I got my money back after I sent the $1000 paperback back to the outstanding merchant. This firm obviously valued its paperback more highly than the half dozen vendors selling the same paperback for $10. What more could one want? (One of my goslings asked me, “Why does Amazon list certain products at vastly inflated prices? I don’t know. I love Amazon. Love is blind.)
The write up includes a quote allegedly generated by the world’s smartest person, Jeff Bezos; to wit:
“…Amazon should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.”
I like that. Google’s meat eating dinosaur is, after all, dead unless the team solving death brings T Rex back to life. A cheetah is a here and now creature able to snag small, sickly, or inept prey with a batting average a major league player would covet.
The write up also states:
Amazon has done a very good job with search and discovery on mobile,” BloomReach marketing chief Joelle Kaufman said. “They are capturing the lion’s share of mobile revenue. Consumers said they start on a cellphone and they use it as a research tool. But 81 percent want to buy on that laptop/desktop.”
Google, it seems, is an also ran in the shopping search sector. But what about Amazon’s competitors and merchants who do not want to sell their products via Amazon?
The answer is, according to the write up:
There are still a plethora of avenues to make sales through, and portals to gain consumer attention. Despite Amazon’s utter dominance in the U.S. e-retail market, you can still grow your business, and become highly successful along the way. Just remember the importance of content, social media, and a great attitude. If David had submitted to Goliath’s size before the battle had begun, he never would have realized his own strength and capabilities.
This sounds like Google Adwords, Snapchat, and YouTube videos to me? Those work really well for mom and pop merchants (at least for the small number remaining in the good, old USA), small businesses, and unfunded start ups.
Is what’s good for Amazon good for us or was it “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA”? When will Amazon address the shortcomings I find in Amazon search? Maybe never. If it is not broken, why try to fix it. That’s why suggested prices are irrelevant in the Amazon jungle.
Stephen E Arnold, July 21, 2016
July 14, 2016
Amazon offers its clients cloud storage, software development help, and more services via their Amazon Service Works. The global retailer is also taking on electronics and cable TV with the Kindle and Amazon Fire TV, but now, according to Trusted Reviews, “Amazon Now Selling Own-Brand Computer Chips.” Amazon wants to diversify its offerings even more with its own brand of computer chips.
The Amazon brand computer chips are made by Annapurna Labs that the company purchased last year. Amazon recently announced these chips are now available to the open market and the ARM-based processors can be used in home gateways, WiFi routers, and networked attached storage devices. They are meant to be used as cheap alternatives for home smart devices and data centers, nothing that can compete on the scale of Qualcomm.
The purpose of a capitalistic society is to drive competition and Intel has the computer chip marker monopoly:
“However, it does mark a notable challenge to another major chip manufacturer. As Bloomberg points out, Intel currently has the data-centre infrastructure field pretty much to itself, with a whopping 99% share of the server chip market. Amazon’s entry to this one-sided market could start to change that, although it won’t initially be targeting the kind of high-end servers that represent Intel’s stronghold. Amazon appears to be attacking the low-power edges of the market, which could see it powering (or at least helping to power) that hottest of networks, the Internet of Things.”
Great, Amazon is still working on developing other products, but we want to know when they are going to deploy image search.
July 11, 2016
Twiggle sounds like the name for a character in a children’s show. Rather Twiggle is the name of an Israeli startup. It is working on the algorithms and other operating factors to power ecommerce search, using machine learning techniques, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing. Venture Beat shares an insightful story about how Twiggle is not going to compete with Google, but rather Amazon’s A9: “Twiggle Raises $12.5 Million To Challenge A9 Ecommerce Search Engine.”
The story explains that:
“Rather than going up against well-established search giants like Google, Twiggle is working more along the lines of A9, a search and ad-tech subsidiary created by Amazon more than a decade ago. While A9 is what Amazon itself uses to power search across its myriad properties, the technology has also been opened to third-party online retailers. And it’s this territory Twiggle is now looking to encroach on.”
Twiggle has not released its technology, but interested users can request early access and it is already being incorporated by some big players in the eCommerce game (or so we’re told).
Twiggle functions similar to A9 with the ultimate goal of converting potential customers into paying customers. Twiggle uses keywords to generate results based on keywords and it might transition into a visual search where users submit an image to find like items. Natural language processing will also take regular human conversation and turn it into results.
The series A round funding of $12.5 million was led by Naspers with other contributors. Yahoo Japan, State of Mind Ventures, and Sir Ronald Cohen. Twiggle says it is not copying A9 and has powerful search technology behind it, but are the rebranding the same product under a new title? When they deliver the goods, then the tests will tell.
June 17, 2016
Digital assistants are smarter than ever. I remember when PDAs were the wave of the future and meant to revolutionize lives, but they still relied on human input and did not have much in the ways of artificial intelligence. Now Cortana, Siri, and Alexa respond to vocal commands like an episode of Star Trek. Digital assistants are still limited in many ways, but according to Venture Beat Alexa might be changing how we interact with technology: “How Amazon’s Alexa Is Bringing Intelligent Assistance Into The Mainstream”.
Natural language processing teamed with artificial intelligence has made using digital assistants easier and more accepted. Predictive analytics specialist MindMeld commissioned a “user adoption survey” of voice-based intelligent assistants and the results show widespread adoption.
Amazon’s Echo teamed with the Alexa speech-enabled vocal device are not necessarily dominating the market, but Amazon is showing the potential for an intelligent system with added services like Uber, music-streaming, financial partners, and many more.
“Such routine and comfort will be here soon, as IA acceptance and use continue to accelerate. What started as a novelty and source of marketing differentiation from a smartphone manufacturer has become the most convenient user interface for the Internet of Things, as well as a plain-spoken yet empathetic controller of our digital existence.”
Amazon is on the right path as are other companies experimenting with the digital assistant. My biggest quip is that all of these digital assistants are limited and have a dollar sign attached to them greater than some people’s meal budgets. It is not worth investing in an intelligent assistant, unless needed. I say wait for better and cheaper technology that will be here soon.
June 16, 2016
Another Dark Web drug marketplace has gone offline, at least for now. Vice’s Motherboard published an article that reports on this incident and offers insight into its larger implications in their piece, Dark Web Market Disappears, Users Migrate in Panic, Circle of Life Continues. Nucleus market mostly sold illegal drugs such as cocaine and cannabis. Now, the site is unresponsive and has made no announcements regarding downtime or a return. The article hypothesizes about why Nucleus is down,
“At the moment, it’s not totally clear why Nucleus’s website is unresponsive. It could be an exit scam—a scam where site administrators stop allowing users to withdraw their funds and then disappear with the stockpile of bitcoins. This is what happened with Evolution, one of the most successful marketplaces, in March 2015. Other examples include Sheep Marketplace, from 2013, and more recently BlackBank Market. Perhaps the site was hacked by a third party. Indeed, Nucleus claimed to be the targetof a financially motivated attack last year. Or maybe the administrators were arrested, or the site is just suffering some downtime.”
The Dark Web poses an interesting case study around the concept of a business lifecycle. As the article suggests, this graph reveals the brief, and staggered, lifetimes of dark web marketplaces. Users know they will be able to find their favorite vendors selling through other channels. It appears the show, and the sales, must go on.
Megan Feil, June 16, 2016
June 14, 2016
Countless “as-a-service” models exist online. A piece from SCMagazine, Dark web forums found offering Cerber ‘ransomware as a service’, reveals more information about one such service called ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS), which we’ve heard about now for quite some time. Ransomware injects a virus onto a machine that encrypts the user’s files where they remain inaccessible until the victim pays for a key. Apparently, an Eastern European ransomware, Cerber, has been offering RaaS on Russian Dark Web forums. According to a cyber intelligence firm Sensecy, this ransomware was setup to include “blacklisted” countries so the malware does not execute on computers in certain locations. The article shares,
“Malwarebytes Labs senior security researcher Jerome Segura said the blacklisted geographies – most of which are Eastern European countries – provide “an indication of where the malware originated.” However, he said Malwarebytes Labs has not seen an indication that the ransomware is connected to the famed APT28 group, which is widely believed to be tied to the Russian government. The recent attacks demonstrate a proliferation of ransomware attacks targeting institutions in the U.S. and Western nations, as recent reports have warned. Last week, the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT) released a study that predicted previously exploited vulnerabilities will soon be utilized to extract ransom.”
Another interesting bit of information to note from this piece is the going ransom is one bitcoin. Segura mentions the value ransomers ask for may be changing as he has seen some cases where the ransomer works to identify whether the user may be able to pay more. Regardless of the location of a RaaS provider, these technological feats are nothing new. The interesting piece is the supposedly untraceable ransom medium supplanting cash.
Megan Feil, June 14, 2016