Archive | September 18, 2015

Will the self-storage market be disrupted by new on-demand storage solutions?

We all know the traditional self-storage warehouses in which you can store stuff that you don’t need on a daily basis or during a certain period of the year. Storing your stuff often is very time consuming and sometimes even expensive, e.g. requiring you to rent a van, trailer wagon or to buy moving boxes and other shipping supplies. According to Rocket Internet startup SpaceWays from London, this traditional self-storage is not fit for urban areas. Their ‘new, easy, convenient, safe and affordable way’ to store all our stuff is an on-demand storage solution that means customers no longer need to haul stuff back and forth to a self-storage facility.

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The business model is based on a monthly subscription for which in return SpaceWays picks up, stores and returns boxes or bulky items in just a few clicks via their website. If a customer orders a pick-up, first some boxes will be dropped off to your door so you can pack the things you don’t have room for. Once you’re ready, the company will collect your boxes (or bulky items e.g. bicycles that don’t fit in the boxes) and bring them to their warehouse. When you want your stuff back you can easily view your online inventory page and select which boxes and articles you want to have returned within a promised 24 hours.

The service offered by SpaceWays seems to perfectly fit a generation with a ‘hassled urban life’ in which flexibility, efficiency and convenience are highly valued. However, personally I’m still not completely convinced of the (potential) success of the offered solution. I see the advantages of never having the hassle of having to drive somewhere and access a self-storage unit again. Yet, I wonder if it wouldn’t be too much of a threshold for people to put their stuff into the hands of others that are supposed to take good care of it and safely bring it to (or return it from) a warehouse. Some might argue that this wouldn’t be a problem since people usually don’t store their most valuable items in a storage box. However, since people do want them to be stored (instead of e.g. throwing away) it means the stuff does matter to them.

What do you think? Would you use on-demand storage services without worrying about how your stuff is being taken care of? And do you see a disruptive potential?

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Source: https://www.spaceways.co.uk/

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Amazon knows what you´re going to buy BEFORE you even push “buy” – they know you too well!

Everybody is highly aware about the data-driven culture at Amazon, and how they are utilizing Big Data in every direction to boost revenues. Now they are going down another avenue of their business models powered by Big data, more specifically, their distribution channels and how they are delivering products to their customers. Amazon wants to ship products to their customers even before they make a purchase – Amazon knows their customers very well through Big Data patterns. They use previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns and even how long an Internet user’s cursor hovers over an item to decide what and when to ship. This “anticipatory shipping” will dramatically reduce delivery time and probably increase customer satisfaction to the extent that the customer will be even more willing to use online-channels. Amazon continues the battle of customers with instant order fulfillment, which everybody I assume has experienced at IKEA. IKEA´s business model and its value proposition is reflected upon their capability of instant order fulfillment, maybe not on all products, but especially the fast movers. We love to get the products we order and buy right away, so imagine the case of ordering from home and get it the same day or even within a couple of hours. It is important to mention that this is not something that Amazon has implemented yet, but only filled a patent. Anyway, this truly reflects the capabilities of Amazon´s data scientists to utilize Big Data to transform their business model and in the end use their supply chain as a strategic weapon. This shows the relentless implications of predicting customer behavior/demand.

If we take this predictive shipping to the next level and combine it with Amazon´s vision of transporting products using unmanned flying vehicles, they will dramatically change the order fulfillment process of both online and offline players. The drawback of this predictive shipping process would of course be costly return and unnecessary impact on the external environment. But as this algorithm is constantly fed with new data, the prediction will strengthen by time. So next time you´re diving into Amazon´s endless world of products it might be the case that one of these products is already on its way!

Source: http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/18/amazon-pre-ships/

Surveillance by the German government through data – First Source insights

In the past years, many secret surveillance programs by governments have been unmasked through portals like Wikileaks or through individual persons like Edward Snowden. The basis for surveillance techniques are data that intelligence agencies gather from internet organizations. For example, the PRISM program, conducted by the American intelligence agency National Security Agency (NSA) is built on partnerships with nine major American internet companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple (nsa.gov1.info). Through these partnerships, the NSA is able to get access to audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs. By conducting the PRISM program, the NSA is able to closely track individuals over time and gather information about thoughts and intentions of them.

Figure 1: PRISM Collection details (nsa.gov1.info)

In the past, the NSA yielded information through extracting data from fiber cables, which can be found around the world. However, the magnitude of data that is processed through web applications has experienced a significant growth in the last decade. Hence, the NSA decided to start partnerships with the above mentioned internet firms, in order to extract data directly from the servers of those organizations. This increased the effectiveness of extracting data, since the NSA had direct access to user information. Thus, besides yielding data from intercepting fiber cables, PRISM can be understood as an additional tool to collect data.

Figure 2: PRISM as an additional source of information (nsa.gov1.info)

Government surveillance is a highly ambivalent topic. On the one hand, surveillance is needed to protect homeland security from criminals. On the other hand, privacy rights of individuals should not be harmed. Having these kinds of worries, I decided to contact a good friend of mine, who is working as server-consultant for a worldwide leading organization in the information and communication industry. As a skilled employee, he consults data and server related projects for businesses and governments. It is needless to say that the content of his work is strictly confidential and highly sensitive. I will not talk about his duties at work (he wouldn’t tell me details anyway) but I will display his opinion and concerns about data security and data privacy.

Often it is argued that using data is a powerful tool to protect the national security of governments. Programs like PRISM help to protect citizens from criminals. For example, the actions and plans of the “Sauerland Zelle”, a fanatic, criminal group of islamists, were exposed in 2007 by the German Verfassungsschutz (domestic intelligence agency of Germany) in correlation with American intelligence agencies. The Sauerland Zelle planned to detonate at least two car bombs in German cities. The agencies exposed the plans of the criminals by observing their E-Mails and by intercepting their phone calls (Spiegel.de, 2007). Hence, by tracking and analysing the data of the Sauerland Zelle, many lives could be saved and hometown security could be defended.The downside of the story is that nearly every German citizen is under general surveillance by the government. I think we should ask ourselves what price we are willing to pay in order to live in safety. After reading the story of the Sauerland Zelle, you might think that every price is justifiable to protect homeland security. Many lives could be saved through the actions done by the German agencies. But after the following story, you might rethink your opinion.

Due to work related topics, my friend had to take part of a workshop, which was led by a manager of another multinational company that is also operating in the information and communication industry. During that time, the PRISM program has been unmasked to the general public – thus, government surveillance was a major topic in that workshop. The manager of the multinational company told a story to my friend that actually really happened to him. Here’s what my friend told me about the story of the manager:

“He (the workshop manager) explained to us that there were certain algorithms applied by the German government that serve as a huge filter program to scan for signal words in order to find suspects and criminals. When he learned about the practices done by the government, he decided to test the filter program, by integrating signal words into his daily phone conversations. Examples for signal words are bomb, war, dschihad or explosion. For instance, during ordinary phone talks he said sentences like ‘The atmosphere of yesterday’s party was explosive!’. Or ‘my wife and me, we had an argument. I feel like I am in a situation of war with her’ (edit: note the signal words “explosive” and “war” in his sentences). After one week of integrating those signal words into his conversations, the BND (edit: Bundesnachrichtendienst – federal intelligence service of Germany) stood in front of his home and confiscated all electronic devices that were able to store data. Hence, they took his smartphone, his laptop, his USB sticks and many other things, because the filter program recognised him as a suspect due to the high usage of the signal words. When he told me this story I said to him that the things that happened to him were normal. In the end, he is working with highly sensitive information that are crucial for the government. Hence, it is no surprise that he is being monitored by intelligence agencies. Germany is a leading country for protecting privacy rights; the story couldn’t happen to ordinary citizens. When I said that to him, he laughed at me and replied that I am seeing the world through pink glasses. He told me, that the filter program is applied to nearly every phone or chat conversation in Germany. He went on and said that nearly any kind of information about anyone is readily available through the internet if users publish any information online. Smart devices like smartphones or smartwatches support the information gathering. For instance, if necessary, agencies could determine the pulse rate of an individual, if that individual would possess an Apple Watch (edit: the Apple Watch is able to measure the pulse rate of its owners). By hacking such a device, agencies could track your emotional state – if you had a high pulse rate, they would know that you are in a distressed situation. If you had a low pulse rate, they could interpret that you are in a relaxed mood.  Agencies even have access to highly personal information like fingerprints, when they hack smartphones that possess fingerprint sensors”.

The things my friend told me might seem very abstract. To some extent, it sounds unbelievable and crazy. But keep in mind: this story was not told by random persons who are keen to conspiracy theories. This story was told by highly professional and credential data managers, who are into their topic and who know what they are talking about. After the conversation with my friend I recognised how much data I already published in the internet. For instance, through my Facebook profile, people can see to which school I went, when I did my military service, where I did my Bachelor and where I am doing my master, currently. After hearing such a story it feels odd to have published so much personal data, so I deleted these information instantly, which apparently is of no use: once you have entered some information online, they will be stored, no matter whether you delete them afterwards. The internet doesn’t forget.

It is appreciated that the government exposes criminal groups like the Sauerland Zelle through the use of data. But you have to agree that it feels strange to know that you and me and every other individual is monitored by governments (I suppose that Germany and the USA are not the only governments that adopt surveillance programs). Even if the surveillance of ordinary people is not happening under a big scale like it was for the Sauerland Zelle, to some extent everybody is being monitored. My intention is not to ban the work of people, who are responsible for national security. However, I think it is important to establish more transparency between citizens and public agencies. We should ask ourselves in what ways our data is used by the government.

References:

Stark, H. (2007). Terror-Zelle aufgeflogen: Showdown im Sauerland. Retrieved September 18, 2015, from http://www.spiegel.de/jahreschronik/a-521535.html

Surveillance Techniques: How Your Data Becomes Our Data. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2015, from https://nsa.gov1.info/surveillance/

PRISM Slides. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2015, from https://nsa.gov1.info/dni/prism.html

Steve Jobs Schools

Earlier this week I read in the Dutch financial paper that the Netherlands now have 25 Steve Jobs schools. Curious as I am, I wanted to know what the fancy sounding Steve Jobs schools where. I found out that this are (unsurprisingly) elementary schools that extensively make use of iPads.
A Dutch man, Maurice de Hond, developed a business idea and software based on this concept and is trying to export it to other countries. The paper says Mr. de Hond claims it is a very profitable concept, but the article reads with a bit of a sarcastic undertone. Schools would pay hundreds of euros per student for software which would make the education of the children more individualized and evolved around the use of iPads by both children and teachers. A similar US concept is Altschool, which propagates the use of modern technology (not iPads particularly) in education as well.

I can see how children could gain from becoming more familiar and comfortable with using technology. The US National Educational Technology Standards give a good idea of knowledge and skills that children should be developing in their early years. On their website they say that maybe it is time to rethink education. New ways to educate children have to be developed to prepare them for a still unimaginable future. Education must not only adapt to technological changes but must be innovative. Innovating education goes far beyond just learning how to use new tools such as iPads. Incorporating modern attributes in the classroom should be a new look on how we teach, communicate, learn and work.

Such a foundational change is never easy to achieve. There have been teachers that enounced their concerns, as they fear children will miss out on key (social) experiences when technology infiltrate the schools (Murphy et. al., 2003). Basics can be forgotten, such as reading an actual book or having real life conversations. Thereby, the world wide web includes a lot of information that is inappropriate for a child’s eye. Having an iPad can make other materials seem redundant.
On the other hand, studies have provided compelling evidence that computer use can have a major positive impact on children’s social, emotional, language and cognitive development. The use of technology can reinforce critical skills, such as information gathering, evaluating, analyzing and presenting skills (Kenney, 2011). An example of using technology in education that makes the students obtain multiple skills may be that children look up the weather in different countries in different languages on their iPad. They can make use of the iPad to present their finding.

I’m an advocate of striving for the best and preparing your children to live in the grown up world and if technology is a well-integrated part of the daily teaching routine, it is beneficial for both student and teacher. Basics such as reading a book and human interactions should be maintained. Though, in my opinion, it should not specifically be based on a “special” software that is mainly just very expensive.

R.L. de Vries
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http://fd.nl/ondernemen/1118546/maurice-de-hond-exporteert-zijn-steve-jobs-school

http://www.iste.org/standards

Murphy, K., DePasquale, R., & E, M. (2003, November). Meaningful Connections, Using Technology in Primary Classrooms. Beyond the Journal, NAEYC.

Kenney, L. (2011). Elementary education, there’s an APP for that: Communication
technology in the elementary classroom. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in
Communications, 2, 67-75.

Dislike the “dislike” button

downloadEverybody knows the Facebook and (almost) everybody in the western world has a Facebook account. Everybody uses Facebook in a different way, to keep in touch with friends, to share photo’s, to peak at the lives of others and so on, but the main idea is simple “strengthen how people relate to each other” (Mark Zukerberg, 2015).

For the people who know and use Facebook probably the most known Facebook icon is the “like” button. Facebook made a statement this week that there working on a “dislike” button on the social media site. According to Mark Zukerberg the

quote “dislike” button is made because there was so many requests for it. According to Andrea Forte, Professor and expert in social and participatory media, “it will mainly be used to express mild disapproval, or to express solidarity when someone posts about a negative event like a death or a loss” (BBC, 2015). This is also what Mark Zukerberg think, but a lot of people, like Jennifer Guinyard, a social worker, think that the “dislike” button is going to be used in a negative way and that Facebook is promoting conflicts i.e. to Bully people.

According to Marcel Becker, professor ethics at the Radboud university thinks that the permissiveness disappears. People need to explain why they post something online. This is not the type of medium Facebook is and wants to be, he thinks.

Myself I agree with the statement of Ms Guinyard. I think that the advantages of the “dislike” button don’t are bigger than the advantages of the button. Bullying online is becoming a serious issue nowadays, with the controlling of online content becoming harder and harder for parents the amount of bullying online keeps increasing (Childline, 2015).

What do you think, does the “dislike” button is going to be used for its intended purpose, to pay respect to others or comment on some negative post which you dislike, or is it going to be used for bullying and other online conflicts?

http://time.com/4035551/facebook-dislike-button-zuckerberg/

http://prosperosworld.com/mark-zukerbergs-ipo-letter-describing-facebooks-purpose-values-social-mission/2012/

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34264624

http://qz.com/503361/facebooks-dislike-button-is-going-to-be-a-disaster/

http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/5133/Media-technologie/article/detail/4143698/2015/09/16/Met-een-dislike-button-verdwijnt-de-vrijblijvendheid.dhtml

https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-cyber-bullying

https://www.childline.org.uk/Explore/Bullying/Pages/online-bullying.aspx

The New Education: ‘EdTech’

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The way we educate and learn is rapidly becoming more efficient and more digital. Nowadays, if we want to know something or have question we just turn on our computer and use an Internet surge. Most of the materials we need are exclusively available online and because of the rapidly changing information carrying books around is not efficient enough anymore. Now that the world is becoming more and more digital the schools and universities cannot stay behind (Groot, E. 2015).

At the summit for ‘Effective Education and Innovative Learning ‘ rectors of 56 international research universities international came together. At this summit Suh Nam-Pyo, emeritus president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), said: “the current education at universities, which is primarily based on readings from professors to groups of students in lecture rooms, is pedagogic inefficient en too expensive. By eliminating this form of education, professors and students can use more effective forms of education and can the increasing costs finally be reduced.”

In silicon Valley Educational Technology (EdTech) is the new trend. Last year, EdTech start-ups funded 1,36 milliard dollar. EdTech is a study and ethical practice for facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. EdTech is on its way to become industry changing for educators and educational institutes (Helena, L., 2014).
One of these technologies EdTech companies invest in is the use of smart algorithms that monitor and predict the progress of students (adaptive learning). A teacher will not have the time for personal attention, however a computer can track every student in detail and places this information into a database. This way the computer can accurately evaluate and change the offered teaching materials to the level of an individual student (Groot, E. 2015).

EdTech companies will improve the level of education and will make it available for everyone. Students will be able to independently educate and study without the need for a professor or lecture rooms. The list of possibilities is endless, therefore educators and educational institutions need to collaborate with tech-companies. Social education platforms provide enormous benefits, however it is essential that the correct data is used because of the diversity and quality of it. Therefore, educators and institutions need to preserve the diversity and quality of education. Also, ethical questions arise about the way students are reviewed by these computer systems. Specialist and educators need to collaborate together to make the educational system more innovative and to warrant the quality and safety of the system. We need to go along with the technology and new methods without losing the lessons we have learned before.

Sources:

Groot, E. (2015) ‘Goedemorgen Professor Algoritme’, Elsevier Juist, September 2014, 3, 21: pp. 41-44.

Helena, L. (2014) What is EdTech and Why Should it Matter to You? https://blog.generalassemb.ly/what-is-edtech/, September 17, 2015.