Less than a year ago, Hacker Noon replaced Medium’s software with its own content management system. Since then they’ve created over 100+ years of reading time, and historically have published over 12k+ writers, according to the company’s about page.
I caught up with Hacker Noon’s Founder & CEO David Smooke to discuss the publishing platform’s growth over the last year, the company’s recent funding announcement, and where the future of digital publishing could be headed.
Streaming Micropayments in the Browser
Coil was founded in 2018, uses a proposed open web standard called Web Monetization to stream micropayments to creators in real time. Coil has been making other strategic investments in community content destinations, like Imgur.
“With this partnership, Hacker Noon writers can now add their Web Monetization meta tag to their stories, and we’ll experiment with streaming micropayments to writers based on how much time Coil users spend reading their stories,” said Smooke.
Will automatically streaming payments via the browser actually work?
“As the ecosystem is young and innovation requires experimentation, these payments will start small,” said Smooke. “But from the beginning, the browser was designed to power the exchange of monetary value. The HTTP status code ‘402 Payment Required’ is a nonstandard client error status response code that has been reserved for future use. Maybe that future is sooner than we think? Additionally, we’ll offer a way for writers to donate their earnings to charities that are dedicated to making the Internet a better place.”
On the Hacker Noon platform, here’s what it looks like for contributing writers to add their Coil Web Monetization Tag:
A Total Frontend Overhaul on Hacker Noon
On April 20th, Hacker Noon announced that they had switched their primary reader experience from static pages to the open source NextJS framework.
“It allows us to deploy changes at Hacker Noon without having to re-render every post and to publicly cache pages,” said Smooke. “So between deployments, if one user visits a new story that hasn’t been pre-rendered, it gets rendered, hydrated, and then stored for future visitors.”
With this frontend re-architecture, the Hacker Noon product team made major improvements to all of its public facing pages. Writers can now add their call to action not only to their profile page but also on the story pages themselves, driving more traffic to an external source. And readers, who are not required to log in since the launch of the new site, have a generally better and less distracting reading experience with wider images, better typography, and even a dark mode.
“We still have a long way to create the best reading experience we can,” said Smooke. “Currently, we rely on Algolia integration to allow for a clean pathway to content discovery, that includes filters by tag among other things. With the next iterations, we want to optimize for reader-centric features such as subscriptions by tags and authors, annotations and emoji reactions, and overall more meaningful engagement to each piece of content.”
Quantitative Social Proof
Platforms are under siege: how should they frame contextual information to the users’ content? And when should they step in to actually take down the content? Instagram has addressed this by removing like counts, and Twitter – in a more explosive manner – has started fact-checking the President’s tweets.
Hacker Noon has made their own move to provide quantitative social proof. The publishing platform has started to surface “time reading created” on contributing writers public profiles:
“A platform has a responsibility to frame how others interact with the content,” said Smooke. “The simplest measure of engagement is time. As we are a place to read, it makes sense for us to provide our readers with quantitative measurements, such as reading time created.”
Smooke confirmed that writers only ‘earn’ this feature when they exceed one day of reading created, and writers can turn on or off this data on their profile page via their settings page.
The Future of Publishing
Hacker Noon exists in an interesting overlap between traditional columns and opinions (think Forbes, WSJ, and NYT) and social platforms (like Twitter or Reddit). Many publishers are trying to become more like social networks, and many social networks successfully capture publisher revenue. Hacker Noon has never charged its readers but also is not focused on paying writers, until the introduction of the Web Monetization tag. But even now, it’s a third party, Coil, that is paying the writers.
What does Smooke think the role and responsibilities of platforms like Hacker Noon with its contributors?
“We have never been, and will never claim to be, the Jesus of publishing. Our writers are responsible for their own content. We provide another set of eyeballs to help improve the quality and distribution of the story. We call it the second human rule. And we will continue to provide more rewards and opportunities for publishing on Hacker Noon. We are not the arbiters of truth. What we can do right now, is amplify the voice of technologists who have deep expertise in their domains. We have a good business and well on our way to making a better business. In my humble opinion, Hacker Noon’s highest ceiling remains the creation of the time reading token.”
In the short term, Hacker Noon has raised money, and will expand software, sales, and editorial resources. I’ll be following where this goes…
The Future Is Clear: Connected Glass Will Redefine Commerce, Lifestyle Trends – ReadWrite
How we shop, how we work out, how we receive medical care – you name the sector and odds are good that it underwent some major transformations during 2020. That being said, many of the most dramatic changes were less the result of the COVID-19 pandemic than accelerated by it, and this is particularly true in the world of connected tech. Companies didn’t invent entirely new processes to remedy pandemic-related service gaps, but hurried in-progress solutions to market. And, in so doing, they also transformed our lives at home and out in the world.
What types of new technology have been particularly major players in our lives during 2020? At the heart of it all were a variety of Augmented Reality (AR) products, like virtual dressing rooms and Face AR for video conferencing, as well as well as AI-based fitness tools like Mirror, a connected fitness device acquired by Lululemon Athletica last year. But as critical as such technology appears to be to our new lifestyle ecosystem, such elements represent significant challenges, especially for the manufacturing sector.
Automated Manufacturing Meets Glass
Automation has been central to the manufacturing sector for years and it’s long been recognized that the only way the industry can keep up with demand today is by continuing to build on industrial automation. When it comes to glass, though, that’s easier said than done. After all, in premise, glass’s value comes largely from the fact that it’s clear. That’s not a problem for human workers who can still perceive its bounds and work with it in industrial settings, but it can present real challenges to robotic vision systems and create barriers to mass manufacturing new technologies.
In typical manufacturing settings, robotic vision programs use reflected light to scan materials and identify key points, allowing for precision work with minimal human involvement. When this same vision is turned on glass or highly reflective metal, however, these vision systems can’t collect the necessary information; the glass or metal is essentially invisible. Observing this issue, there are now new manufacturers working to develop advanced robotic vision programs that use different systems, such as light filters and changing points of view, that can enable such systems to successfully work with glass or shiny metals.
What does such robotic vision look like in practice? Imagine that a business wants to install new glass storefronts that allows customers to interact with displays or browse without even setting foot inside the store. It’s a good idea, and one that shares many traits with other display trends that have been in the news for nearly a decade, but tricky to execute in practice. To create a transparent glass display that’s actually a functional LCD screen, manufacturers will need to be able to apply the same types of automated manufacturing technology that they use for computers, and that means using robotic vision that can see the glass its working on. It’s a tall order, but it’s also the reality of modern technology.
Fitness AIs Rise
Another area in which improved glass-detection will be key to manufacturing is in the growth of the connected fitness sector. Connected fitness has been all the rage since the launch of products like Fitbit, but that was just a starting point. Since then – and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in interest in home fitness – the market for connected fitness tech has exploded. In addition to Fitbit, there are now countless other fitness and health wearables, home fitness equipment like the Peloton bike and SoulCycle’s competitor bike, and the Mirror fitness system mentioned above. All this is to say that people want to work out at home and they need tools to do it.
The Mirror fitness system represents many of the challenges facing glass manufacturing today. Placed in your home, it acts precisely as the name implies – as a mirror – but turn the device on and it’s a mirror, a screen playing a class, and an AI-connected system offering workout modifications and tracking fitness goals. That’s some complicated engineering, and it raises questions about how the device, and other devices like it, is made.
Most of the high-tech mirror and glass products on the market function, at least to some degree, on proprietary technology, so a full glimpse behind the curtain isn’t possible. However, we can infer based on our understanding of robotic vision systems that these products rely on cutting edge technology. Unlike other AI-powered machine vision programs, the ability to detect objects isn’t enough. Instead, it needs to be able to detect items that are, in many ways, meant to avoid detection.
Windshields And Other Glass Innovations
Where else is new glass manufacturing technology in use or on the verge of emergence? There are a number of areas of interest, including smart windshields that could prevent distracted driving, AR smart glasses, which have proved their growth potential in recent years after the initial failure of Google Glass, and much more. All of that indicates high demand for more complex, precise glass manufacturing and processing tools, with invisible but overlaid sensor systems.
One product that may be especially influential in understanding connected technology engineering and manufacturing is the subsector of smart glass known as light control glass of LCG. This glass product has recently experienced an explosion of growth stemming from its use in construction.
LCG has been embraced by builders and property financiers who recognize the health benefits of access to sunlight. Instead of installing tinted glass in window-heavy buildings, then, they choose digitally modifiable glass; individual users can adjust their windows with the power of touch. Better manufacturing technology now allows these glass products to filter out specific light forms, include hazardous UV rays, or darken to mimic traditional privacy glass. Within its niche, this is what’s known as a dynamic material and its applications are extensive.
Now, a significant part of what makes glass so valuable in all of the above applications, as well as in our smart phones and tablets, is that it works well in conjunction with the types of plastic conductive materials commonly used together. Essentially, the plastic conductive film touches the glass and completes a circuit. Typically, that doesn’t work with an all-plastic system, though, which is why we all have to go around worrying that we’ll drop our cellphones and crack the screens. The glass is just too important.
What some new equipment manufacturers are now attempting to develop is a plastic alternative that can stand in for glass’s conductive properties, which would allow for touch-sensitive but durable and lightweight products. Essentially, the more products that rely on touchscreens, the more incentive there is to develop an affordable, plastic alternative. Glass may function well and feel high-end, but it’s expensive and often impractical and our connected environment demands innovation.
Smart Glass Goes Plastic
Among the many potential applications of plastic alternatives to conductive smart glass products include high wear and tear, including AR-based virtual dressing rooms, the high-tech reinvention of stores like Toys R Us, which now features numerous touchscreen stations, and many children’s products. Plastic alternatives are also ideal for outdoor applications like the National Parks, local hiking trails, and even amusement parks, where touchscreens are more likely to be subject to weather conditions and other activity. Durability is a common manufacturing priority across industries, so everything we learn about smart glass manufacturing should be quickly applied to plastic analogs.
Over the last decade, we have steadily made progress towards a moment when users expect everything to be touchscreen equipped, but that moment remains elusive. Still, we’re getting closer, and sturdier material options will bring us closer still. Other improvements in projected capacitive technology allow for faster response times from touchscreen tools, greater durability that prevents scratches and cracks from significantly impacting overall device function, and new anti-glare and anti-stiction technology for greater interactive ease.
Ultimately, transparent conduction technology is going to steadily move away from glass, but most innovations will likely still begin with glass manufacturing. Because of the many advantages that glass offers in terms of quality and conductive capacity and its preference as a material in high-end connected tech, glass is the obvious template. New practices and materials will develop from there.
Four Ways to Get Online from Anywhere – ReadWrite
The Internet is an integral part of our lives – some of us are probably more dependent on it than we would like to be. Fortunately, the market offers plenty of ways to access the Internet anywhere — either through a travel modem, a satellite dish, or a free public hotspot. Of course, these options are not really interchangeable, with each occupying its own niche. Below is a close look at the popular ways of getting online, along with highlights of their strengths and weaknesses.
How to Get Internet Anywhere in the World?
Strictly speaking, the only way to get online from anywhere is through a satellite Internet connection. The satellite method has been a media darling for the last few years thanks to the still ongoing Starlink project. However, satellite Internet providers have actually been on the market for quite some time now.
The biggest advantage of this option is availability. With satellites, there’s no need for laying trunk lines or having a massive tower — all you need is the sky above (so yes, it often doesn’t work in a cave — at least without an antenna). A satellite makes it a perfect match for remote areas and regions with underdeveloped communication infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the sky is not exactly an industry-grade data transfer medium and will create interference by simply acting like nature. Various forms of precipitation and other weather conditions can deteriorate the quality of the satellite signal.
And the drawbacks do not end there. Getting a satellite signal, let alone sending data yourself, requires much larger equipment than a portable WiFi device — think a sizeable dish plus a satellite modem. In other words, this is by no means an easy portable solution.
WiFi Everywhere You Go: Public Hotspots
A more realistic way of getting wireless Internet anywhere is by connecting to an available WiFi hotspot. Such hotspots come in two varieties — free WiFi provided by various amenities and services that offer connection for a fee.
The former is a familiar option that can be found at your local Starbucks or in the airport. However, while it is free, it rarely works at decent speeds sufficient only for simple activities like messaging and checking mail. More importantly, to get a secure Internet connection from a cafe, you are expected to know how to stay safe on public WiFi. Even with all the precautions, you’ll still be better off using a travel modem for sensitive operations like online banking.
The second option is somewhat more intricate. Recently, several startups came up with the idea of a service that lets users rent unused Internet bandwidth. This is actually a clever idea that, theoretically, should benefit everyone. Unfortunately, it is still in its infancy, so the coverage is quite scarce. Cost-efficiency is also far from optimal – sometimes, the Internet comes at a higher price than simply using your own WiFi anywhere device. In other words, it is a promising direction to look into but not a reliable method as of now.
Hotspot for Laptop: Mobile Tethering
It may not have occurred to you, but you are already carrying around a pocket WiFi — your phone. You can turn it into a WiFi hotspot for your laptop or any other device that works with the wireless network protocol by using mobile tethering. This can be especially handy if you can’t accomplish the task through the phone directly — for example, when you have software on your PC that you need to communicate with a server.
Modern phones also support several simultaneous connections, so you can share the Internet with several friends or co-workers.
Keep in mind, however, that it comes at a cost. For starters, it requires a working mobile connection, so it’s not exactly an international pocket WiFi. Even with no roaming involved, the total bandwidth of such a connection will be limited by your data plan.
On top of that, mobile tethering is taxing for the device, so be ready for a drained battery after prolonged use. In other words, it is a handy backup plan but not a particularly universal one.
Devices to Get Internet Anywhere: Mobile Modems
Perhaps the most versatile and convenient solution for going online from anywhere is a portable WiFi device. In broad terms, it is a middle ground between a satellite modem and a tethered connection. A modern travel modem is a lightweight, energy-efficient device that supports multiple connections, works with several data plans, and may come with integrated security measures like a built-in VPN.
Of course, it is still limited by its data plan’s bandwidth and connection speed. However, a dedicated travel WiFi device will probably offer several options to choose from. It will also not work without cellular coverage, which may be an issue for sparsely populated areas. Otherwise, when it comes to using WiFi internationally, it strikes a balance between convenience and reliability.
There is no shortage of ways to get online nowadays, with new creative options emerging nearly every year. Some are suitable for casual browsing, while others require industry-grade equipment. It is totally reasonable to expect that in the near future, we will have services that are more secure, convenient, affordable, and powerful than anything we have now.
However, even today, it is possible to choose the one that suits you perfectly — you just need to know what you are looking for.
An Analogy of Types of Mobile Apps and Which is Best Suited for Your Business – ReadWrite
Apps or applications have become a part of our daily lives over the past decade. Applications are programs or software that run (usually) on smart devices and have a specific purpose.
The term “app” has become so popular that Microsoft decided to stop using the word “program” from Windows 10.
A good example of an app or app name would be a shopping app — such as Amazon. You could access it through your laptop browser and also through the dedicated app. It is the same for the New York Times, Accuweather, and at least a million more names. However, not all smart device apps have a browser-based counterpart.
If you own a business and have decided to go digital, you would want to launch an app sooner or later.
At the stage of conceptualizing, you would run across three types of mobile apps – Native, Hybrid, and Web.
This blog aims at demystifying the terms and making you acquainted with the pros and cons of each type of mobile apps.
Native, Hybrid, and Web – Three Classes of Apps
Native Mobile Apps
Native apps are designed to work with a particular operating system. The world of mobile computing is largely divided into two OS platforms Android and iOS.
A Native app designed for one of these would not work on another. Not only would it not work, but it also cannot even be installed.
If the Native app is designed for Android, it will use Java, and for iOS would use Swift and Objective C. Windows phones used C#, but that is an outdated OS.
Most of the apps that you use are Native apps. They have been built using the platform SDK (software development kit).
Native SDK is, without a doubt, the best platform for app development until now. The SDK provides necessary direction to a coder with tools, libraries, sample code, parameters, and self-use guides.
For example, Google gives the Android Studio a very capable IDE with a code editor, compiler, and debugging tools packaged into a single-window system.
Advantages of Native Apps
- Since they are designed using platform IDE, they work faster and seamlessly. This causes fewer app crashes.
- A Native app can use the hardware, compass, GPS circuitry, GPU in a more productive manner.
- A large part of the app framework is preloaded. Only the current data is fetched from the net. This also allows the app to work offline if it does not need fresh data. You can continue to listen to the currently loaded page of a meditation app such as Headspace even if you are in a subway tunnel.
- Native apps have a more natural navigation flow. This is because developers are using the same libraries in different apps. Most apps have the same layout. Developers tend not to spring a surprise in this department because if a user is uncomfortable, they will uninstall the app.
- They are able to provide better visual output and maintain aspect ratio. There are no misplaced icons or sudden changes in font size.
Disadvantages of Native Apps
- Effectively the same app has to be designed twice, once for each OS. Each following version also needs two sets of coders for simultaneous release. This is more expensive, especially for a small business.
- Native apps require visiting the official app store, finding an app through search or ratings, and downloading it. Thereafter one has to sign up and log in. This makes installation a lengthy process of 10-30 minutes, depending on network speed.
- The app development process is, to a large extent, controlled by the OS since the SDK and IDE are proprietary.
Mobile Web apps are not full-fledged applications. They are not completely installed on the OS. Rather they use a mobile browser (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and others) for several functionalities.
On the whole, a mobile app looks very similar to a Native app. It mimics a simplified menu compared to the full-fledged website that runs on a laptop and uses very few system resources.
They have grown in popularity as HTML5 has made Flash redundant. Flash was not made for mobile OS except very ancient versions such as Symbian used by Nokia back at the turn of the century.
To make it look and feel like a Native app, browser navigation is not visible, and both vertical and horizontal scrolling is enabled.
Web app development has now evolved into PWA or Progressive Web Applications. Twitter and Pinterest are the most well-known examples of Progressive Web App development.
Advantages of Web-based Apps
- They cost far less. This is the principal advantage. This is because they are being designed for browser-based usage and do not need the huge amount of coding that Native apps require. There is no need to develop a separate version for each OS.
- PWAs do not need a frequent update. This is because the update features can be added to the backend, and the browser would fetch the new version.
- PWA is SEO sensitive. Any clicks made in the app count towards user engagement. Since SEO is what makes or breaks a digital business, it is an important contribution indeed.
- PWAs are increasingly app store independent. They can be found via a simple search or even social media. Being free of the app store ecosystem gives a business owner greater independence in running subscription-based services.
- They are light on resources. PWA apps use less RAM and are popular in regions where budget smartphones are used. They also save battery. Most PWA apps can run on very little data.
- Due to the use of HTML, an app owner has greater access to manpower. There are plenty of HTML coders, but few are experienced in Swift.
Disadvantages of Web-based Apps
- They do not have an appealing look. A PWA cannot access the contact list or camera. The overall UI lacks sophistication. Unless the brand has huge name recognition, a PWA cannot be successful.
- PWA is unable to use critical features such as hardware acceleration. This makes the app quite basic, and at most, it can fetch information and display the same. But often, an app is required to do much more, render complex graphics, and even perform extensive calculations (such as video games). PWAs remain rudimentary till now.
These have tried to tap into the advantages of both Native and Web-based apps. They rely on a browser, but the app comes with browser access baked into its code.
Hybrid apps such as Uber are usually single-page app and look remarkably like their website counterparts.
Advantages of Hybrid Apps
- The reason Hybrid app development has become popular is the reduced cost of development. There is only one set of code to be written.
- At the same time, unlike a PWA, a hybrid app allows greater access to system functions such as a camera and microphone.
- Hybrid apps do not use the native SDK but allow reasonably high-level emulation.
Disadvantages of Hybrid Apps
- Hybrid apps use an embedded browser known as webview. The webview variant of the browser is not as efficient as the original browser. This affects app performance. The UI is most often bland and unexciting.
- In theory, the same Hybrid app works on both Android and iOS, but in reality, the differences between the OS and the way they allow browsers to run shows through. To make the app smooth on both these platforms require an investment that is comparable to Native apps.
How to Select?
This would depend on a number of parameters – cost, purpose, time to market, manpower availability, and necessary scalability.
If you are running a small business, it makes sense to go for a PWA app. Your upfront costs are less, and you could get an initial response of the market to your idea and find what needs to be fixed. Thus a PWA can be used as a prototype for full-fledged Native app development.
App development is complex, and you would need to perform a SWOT analysis to find which app type offers you the best bang for your buck.