The Next Age of the Internet: Over-the-Air Connectivity

While the FCC has been applying new rules to hardwired Internet service providers, the next age of Internet technology is already in the works.

Whitespace Internet TV Tower

Companies worldwide are exploring the means of delivering Internet service via whitespace radio waves, sometimes called Super WiFi. We in the United States know those gaps in radio frequencies best as those that once delivered analog local television channels to our rabbit-ear TV antennas, until 2009, when TV networks migrated to DTV digital signals. Nowadays, these radio frequencies are largely unused except for emergency services communication. Whitespace frequencies are better at penetrating walls than traditional Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and have been approved for Internet service by the FCC. In fact, the frequencies have already been used to deliver Internet connectivity at a handful of sites around the US, Europe, and India.

In developed countries, whitespace radio frequencies are an untapped resource waiting for an enterprising company to acquire the rights, develop a device that can accept Super WiFi signals for home and office use, and then sell subscriptions or even offer free over-the-air service (as broadcast TV networks do). The first commercial uses of Super WiFi technology are expected in Great Britain by the end of 2015, and then the possibilities are endless in providing Internet access to underserved rural areas, remote islands, and Third World countries. In fact, Microsoft is already experimenting with whitespace Internet networks across Africa and Asia.

So as the FCC quibbles about what speed constitutes “broadband,” companies are already starting to blanket the world with over-the-air Internet connectivity.

Further reading:

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/white-space-the-next-internet-disruption-10-things-to-know/

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/free-super-wifi-tv-white-space-proposed-new-study-1476446

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Wi-Fi

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/534786/microsoft-starts-slashing-african-internet-prices-with-white-space-networks/

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/jason-hope/prweb12530125.htm

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-02/13/white-space-spectrum

VisitIthaca.com’s Self-Deprecating Destination Marketing

These past couple weeks have seen some pretty heavy snowstorms and bone-chilling temperatures hit the Northeast, and while it’s been tough for many businesses trying to work through the snow, I’m sure it’s been especially hard for tourism and visitors bureaus in those areas trying to do their jobs. Aside from avid skiers, most potential tourists do not find a destination with a wind chill of 20 below and buried under several feet of snow to be a particularly attractive weekend getaway spot.

VisitIthaca.com, located in central New York, therefore decided to have a bit of fun with their predicament. Starting on Sunday, February 15, the VisitIthaca.com homepage switched to a photo of sandy tropical beaches with the headline:

“That’s it. We surrender. Winter, you win. Key West, anyone?”

The homepage was fully committed to encouraging tourists to just go to Florida instead, including hotel and flight information for the Florida Keys, where it was 77 degrees and sunny.

According to Bruce Stoff, director of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the majority of Ithaca’s visitors come from nearby Northeast cities, such as Boston and Philadelphia, that were just as snow-covered as Ithaca. So there was little benefit in pretending like it was just as great a time as ever to take an excursion to the Finger Lakes region.

The joke became so popular across the wintery United States that VisitIthaca.com started receiving 80,000 visitors per day (as opposed to its usual 1,500), and the website inevitably crashed. The viral Key West campaign has since been removed, but I’m sure VisitIthaca.com is continuing to receive more visitors than normal—thanks to an ongoing wave of news stories and blog posts (like this one) about the stunt—and those website visitors are now seeing beautiful photos of Ithaca’s waterfalls and wine country.

It seems to be conventional wisdom that visitors bureaus should only publicize the positive aspects of their destinations. But after Visit Ithaca’s self-deprecating antic, I guarantee that Americans are now more aware of Ithaca, New York, than ever before.

Further reading:

http://www.newsradio1290wtks.com/onair/laura-anderson-48761/listen-now-why-visitithacacom-told-folks-13269381
http://www.cnbc.com/id/102431795#

Using CSS to Generate Icons Instantaneously

Page load speed is becoming an increasingly important aspect of website functionality, responsiveness, and SEO. Google even sets the high standard that a website should load within one second, and while this is understandable for the sake of user experience in an increasingly mobile, 3G world, it’s a tall order for a website with any number of images.

So what if there were a way to render images on a website without having to load them?

With some relatively new features in CSS, namely the :before and :after selectors, it is possible to generate images using solely CSS code. Starting with a single <div> element in HTML, programmers can generate visual graphics from small icons to complex works of art using solely CSS.

For example, the PAC-MAN and ghost below are generated 100% with CSS (from One-Div.com):

Images on websites, no matter how small, require a server request in order to transfer from the host server to your browser, which takes up precious load time. A small social media icon image often takes more time to load than the entirety of even a large website’s CSS file. (Test your website’s page load speed at tools.pingdom.com.) CSS can instruct the browser on how to generate those icons instantaneously with just a few lines of CSS code. The social media icons below (which link to Robertson & Markowitz’s accounts) are generated instantaneously with the power of CSS (again from One-Div.com):

So if page load speed is critical for your website down to the millisecond, CSS icons are a neat trick to explore.

Further reading:

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/05/15/zocial-button-set-72-css3-buttons/

http://a.singlediv.com/

http://codepen.io/jaysalvat/pen/HaqBf/

http://one-div.com/

Yahoo Search Gets a Google-Inspired Makeover

Yahoo has undoubtedly gained some search market share after its deal with Mozilla and the release of Firefox 34. Reports vary, but all show gains for Yahoo.

But how long will Yahoo’s gains last? Some bloggers assumed that most all Firefox users would eventually manually switch their preferred search engine back to Google. Others expected Yahoo to benefit quite significantly, assuming that typical Internet users may not know much of the difference between Google and Yahoo and will just roll with the change. But the general consensus was that Yahoo would experience a spike in usership and would then decline to an arguable degree as Google fans switched back over time.

Yahoo itself seemed to know that this gradual switchback would happen and made a move to prevent it. Last week, Yahoo released a beta interface layout that looks much more like Google, with fewer ads, a simpler navigation, and more concise search engine results. I first noticed the change when my Firefox upgraded and my default search engine automatically switched to Yahoo. Initially, I admit I didn’t even notice that I wasn’t on Google. But then I noticed the purple branding and realized I was on a new, cleaner version of Yahoo.

New Yahoo Search

SearchEngineLand has reported on this Yahoo layout change but fails to connect the dots to the timely Firefox-Yahoo partnership. Yahoo seems to be adjusting its interface to prevent a kneejerk reaction for Firefox users to switch back to Google because of the obvious difference in the number of advertisements. To be fair, Yahoo is and has always been at its core an Internet marketing company and unabashedly displays revenue-generating ads across its variety of free popular services, including search, email, stocks, weather, sports, news, answers forums, automotive, and so on. Google’s founders, on the other hand, had to be dragged reluctantly into the inevitability of advertising on their new search engine. The plentiful ads on Yahoo and the simpler ads on Google should be understood in that context.

To Yahoo’s credit, users tend to frequent Yahoo’s array of Internet services as much or more than they do Google’s (roughly 192 million unique monthly visitors on Yahoo vs. 189 million on Google as of January 2014). For many online services, folks obviously don’t have a problem seeing ads, and in those realms, Yahoo tends to lead the pack.

But the world of online search is apparently unique. Search users clearly prefer SERPs with as few paid ads as possible (and as relevant ads as possible) that the Google brand has become known for. So Yahoo, hoping to capitalize as much as possible on its new search deal with Firefox, has evidently taken some pages out of the metaphorical Google search handbook.

Further reading:

http://searchengineland.com/report-yahoo-search-losing-firefox-users-switchback-google-212472

http://searchengineland.com/yahoo-search-testing-googles-search-results-design-213107

http://searchengineland.com/yahoo-sees-big-1-6-percent-monthly-search-gain-new-comscore-data-213206

http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Press-Releases/2014/2/comScore-Media-Metrix-Ranks-Top-50-US-Desktop-Web-Properties-for-January-2014

The Debut of Amazon Prime Now

We wrote a couple months ago about Google Express, Google’s new same-day delivery service that seeks to outdo the 2-day shipping included in Amazon Prime, the paid membership service first introduced in 2005. By partnering with brick-and-mortar retailers, Google Express aims to provide same-day delivery in medium- to large-sized cities, whereas it typically takes Amazon Prime two days to accomplish delivery through freight. After all, it stands to logic that Google’s most lucrative ads are those for consumer products and services, and as Amazon grows as a one-stop-shop for those same consumer products, Google feels the need to step up its services in order regain its prowess in consumer advertising. We predicted that this was only the beginning of the unfolding of a heated rivalry between Google and Amazon.

Amazon Ups the Ante
Amazon has indeed answered the challenge and has unveiled Amazon Prime Now, a 2-HOUR delivery service for Prime members. Yes, within only two hours (or just one hour if you’re willing to pay a little extra), an Amazon courier will deliver a Prime Now order to your front door. While the service is only currently available in Manhattan, it has generated plenty of online buzz.

While Amazon Prime Now seems to have been unveiled rather suddenly, those who have been following Amazon in the news know that a service like this has been in the works for quite some time.

It All Started with a Drone
It was about one year ago that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appeared on 60 Minutes and unveiled his visionary plans to accomplish package delivery via small drones. Drones would allow Amazon to circumvent multi-day freight service and deliver packages to customers directly and far more expediently. As Amazon continues to open new distribution centers across the United States, the possibility of short-range drone delivery between Amazon and most American households has become more feasible, and maybe only a few years away. Parcel carrier DHL, in fact, has begun testing drones for delivering time-sensitive packages to remote outlying German islands. When the technology becomes available and reliable, Amazon will likely be the first to use it.

But Google Express has challenged Amazon’s online retail dominance in the here and now, so Amazon cannot wait for the drones. Amazon has to implement its streamlined delivery vision using current-day technology. Hence, speedy delivery with human curriers, branded Amazon Prime Now.

Further reading:

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2860451/amazon-prime-now-delivers-your-order-in-an-hour-if-youre-in-manhattan.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/amazons-jeff-bezos-looks-to-the-future/

http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/24/6838443/dhl-drone-making-deliveries-to-german-island-juist

http://www.amazon.com/b/ref=pn_surl_lp/?node=10481056011

Yahoo-Firefox Synergy Part 3: Cross-Promotion

The new Firefox-Yahoo partnership rollout keeps getting more interesting and industry-changing. Yahoo, the fourth most popular website in the world, now includes the message “Upgrade to the new Firefox” in its top-right corner next to the precious real estate of its email button. Of course, “the new Firefox” is key because only in the new Firefox 34 does the Yahoo integration appear.

Firefox on Yahoo.com

This further highlights that the Yahoo-Firefox contract is proving beneficial to both parties. News has already broken that Yahoo’s search market share has skyrocketed from 10% to 29%. And reciprocally, Firefox now gains, in addition to whatever monetary sum Yahoo has agreed to, a plug on the fourth most popular website in the world.

From this point forward, the more folks who use Firefox, the more web traffic and ad revenue Yahoo will acquire. And the stronger Yahoo becomes as an Internet powerhouse thanks in part to Firefox’s referrals, the more users Firefox will potentially gain from the publicity on Yahoo.com. We should expect both Yahoo and Firefox to expand their Internet presence in the coming months and years far beyond their “also-ran” statuses of yesteryear.

As a final note, this cross-promotion is, of course, giving Google a dose of its own medicine. Google’s Chrome browser undoubtedly acquired its 60% browser market share in large part from its longstanding promotion on Google’s homepage (the #1 website in the world). Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Internet Explorer likewise prop one another up. The blossoming partnership between the counterpart-less entities Firefox and Yahoo, to us, makes perfect sense.

Further reading:

http://venturebeat.com/2014/12/12/yahoo-sites-start-telling-chrome-ie-users-to-upgrade-to-firefox/

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/12/12/yahoo_suggests_firefox_upgrade/

http://www.alexa.com/topsites

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