App Developers: The self-sabotage of set-it-and-forget-it data management

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This post is produced by IronSource.


When it comes to their data, most app developers focus on the visualization layer — and with good reason. Their focus is on being able to have visibility into user behaviour in-app.

But in order to be able to visualize your data, you first have to collect and manage it, and if you want to get serious about really using your data to drive further app success across every area, you need to start paying attention to how that data goes from your app to whatever data warehouse you choose.

How do you collect the data? How do you handle spikes in traffic? What amount can your infrastructure handle in real time? What happens if the flow of data is interrupted? Do you have backups setup? Can you fix bad logs without breaking other things?

When it comes to data flow management, app developers tend to have a ‘set it and forget it’ attitude. As long as it’s working, they don’t want to worry about it. But while it may feel like a luxury, strong data management is actually fundamental for your app’s long-term health.

What is data flow management?

As the name suggests, data flow management refers to the movement and transfer of data from the ‘client’ or system (in this case, your app), through a data pipeline to a data storage warehouse (for example, Amazon Redshift). Data tools like visualization and analytics are then layered on top of this infrastructure, enabling you to more easily access the insights your data reveals.

Why does It matter?

If you’re developing an app that sends live updates, generates personalized experiences, or has other data-intensive demands, then it goes without saying that you depend on your data moving with precision from your app into the database.

Having control over your data flow is also important because it allows you to gain truly granular insight into your app and your users. What you see in your visualization dashboard is just an abstraction of this data. If you want to truly understand user behavior on a granular level, it’s critical to have access to all of your data all of the time.

Being able to understand exactly how many rewarded video ads it takes before a non-paying user becomes a paying user, or when a level in a game becomes too hard and users fall off, or even to predict the LTV of a user or when they are likely to uninstall your app, is vital information which can have a far-reaching impact on the success of your app.

What are your options?

When creating the backend for an app, most developers start off using free solutions for managing the flow of their data events. In fact, data management often comes included in free ‘end-to-end’ solutions that also store your data in their database and provide a dashboard where you can see some basic information about user behavior. For apps with scaling data needs, however, free solutions are often insufficient for dealing with more than a limited number of events.

At this point, app developers have two options: a paid end-to-end solution, or separate third party solutions for each of the three critical data layers (collection, insertion, visualization). While paid end-to-end solutions can be an excellent choice for some (cash-laden) enterprises, small- and medium-sized app operations are better served with separate third-party solutions.

Simply put, third-party solutions are cheaper and more practical than developing on your own. In a perfect world, you would be able to build data infrastructure specific to your operation. In fact, many large technology companies do this.

But this simply isn’t realistic for the vast majority of app developers. Building a unique data flow solution requires an experienced team of developers with a lot of time on their hands. Until this day comes, third-party solutions make a lot more sense.

Going end-to-end

End-to-end data management can save you a lot of headache, offering a comprehensive solution and enterprise-grade reliability to make your life easier. The downside of these solutions is that they prevent you from getting the control you need to query your data when you want, and how you want. In short, without being able to get on-demand access to your raw or log data, you will ultimately lack the ability to get granular insight from your data, and may also end up lacking the insight your competitors probably have.

Going independent

The challenge of going independent is sourcing different solutions for each layer of your data infrastructure — and then ensuring that they can all interface as needed. On the upside, you will be able to source best-of-breed solutions for each of those levels — combining/incorporating between different service providers — as opposed to relying on one provider for every step. A further advantage is the pinpoint control you will have over your raw data, giving you the access you need to deeply understand how your users are interacting with your app and how you can improve the experience.

What you want to avoid are solutions that own your data, give you few customization options, or don’t give you granular vision that will limit your ability to leverage the power and intelligence of your data in the long run. So, not sure which solution is best for you or what your app’s needs will be in the future? Let flexibility be the determining factor.

Shimon Tolts is General Manager, Data Solutions at ironSource.


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Blizzard integrates Facebook login and live video into Overwatch

Overwatch


Blizzard Entertainment and Facebook have teamed up to weave Facebook identity and social networking services into the enormously popular Overwatch PC and console video game as well as other popular Battle.net games.

For Facebook, which has its hooks into a lot of social and mobile games, the deal with a Triple-A blockbuster company like Blizzard is a stamp of legitimacy ahead of the big industry trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which starts next week in Los Angeles. For Blizzard, it means it will be easier to verify a player’s real-world identity and share gameplay in a massively social way.

Facebook integrated its Facebook Login and Live applications programming interface into Blizzard’s Battle.net online game service and its Overwatch game, which reached more than 7 million players in its first week. Facebook has made a big push to make its livestreaming video more popular in competition with Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube livestreamed videos.

“It’s now exciting that Facebook Login and Facebook Live are now a part of Battle.net,” said Leo Olebe, global games partnerships director at Facebook, in an interview with GamesBeat. “So for any Blizzard game, and Overwatch is the newest, you can use Facebook Login to connect with friends better and do social gaming.”

The Facebook Login will go live later this month with Battle.net games such as World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, Diablo III, StarCraft II, and Blizzard’s most recent blockbuster release, Overwatch, using their Facebook accounts. That could help Blizzard address the problem that comes with anonymous accounts, such as hate speech and bullying.

Adding Facebook Login will also pave the way for new social functionality in Blizzard games while highlighting Facebook as a platform of choice for sharing, viewing, and discussing AAA game content. As an example, Blizzard is in the process of incorporating Facebook’s Live API in order to add “Go Live” streaming functionality for its games.

“We’ve worked on it for many months,” Olebe said. “The most important thing was to build something that is incredible for people, and Blizzard is always amazing at that. They had to really get behind this.”

Overwatch

Above: Reaper prepares to annihilate.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Players will be able to livestream their Blizzard-gaming sessions directly to their Facebook news feeds, timelines, and friends. Friends can subscribe to feeds and get notified when new streams are available.

“Blizzard games are best when played with friends, so it’s important to us to provide our players with features and services that make it easy and fun to share their experiences with each other,” said Gio Hunt, executive vice president of corporate operations at Blizzard Entertainment, in a statement. “We’re working closely with Facebook on this integration for Overwatch, as well as our other games, and we look forward to sharing further details on our plans as development progresses.”

As part of the collaborative arrangement on between the two companies, Blizzard recently hosted multiple livestreams via Facebook. The first series of streams centered on Heroes of the Dorm, Blizzard’s collegiate tournament featuring its popular team-brawler Heroes of the Storm. Last week, Blizzard hosted a livestreamed launch event for Overwatch on Facebook.

In preparation for the Overwatch launch, Facebook worked with Blizzard on a mix of Facebook and Instagram marketing solutions, including Carousel ads, Canvas, and Instagram Marquee. Using the platforms’ powerful targeting capabilities, Facebook helped Blizzard present the game to a broad set of gaming and entertainment audiences within Facebook’s and Instagram’s global audiences of 1.65 billion and 400 million people respectively.

Olebe said that more than 650 million people play games connected to Facebook every month across web, mobile, and console.

Facebook is also holding a summit for gaming CEOs next week in London, with a focus on the success of developers in Europe and the Middle East, which are its most popular regions for game developers.

Tracer (and her butt) from Overwatch.

Above: Tracer (and her butt) from Overwatch.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment
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Cloudability raises $24 million to grow its cloud cost management platform

Clouds


Cloudability, a Portland-based startup that provides financial management tools for companies to track and analyze their cloud spending, has raised $24 million in a Series B round led by the Foundry Group. This takes the company’s total amount raised past the $40 million mark.

Founded in 2011, Cloudability helps firms track trends and spikes in their cloud infrastructure spending and receive reports and alerts if they’re about to go over budget. It’s not the only company operating in this space — Israeli startup Cloudyn raised $11 million for something similar just six months ago, while in March last year Cloudability acquired the assets of one-time competitor CloudVertical.

Cloudability

Above: Cloudability

With public cloud infrastructure spending growing more than 20 percent to $29 billion in 2015, companies such as Cloudability are carving a niche for themselves by helping companies optimize their spending on vital cloud services such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Cloudability claims it can save organizations around 30 percent on cloud costs in the first six months.

“As enterprise companies move more of their IT spending to public clouds they need new tools to manage and optimize their spending and to make sense of the mountain of billing and usage data that big clouds generate every day,” said Mat Ellis, CEO of Cloudability. “For five years, Cloudability has been helping companies like GE, Uber and Atlassian to rapidly build bigger and more complex clouds with confidence and control.”

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Microsoft brings Cortana to the Xbox One in latest dashboard makeover

Xbox One's dashboard update now includes Cortana voice commands.


Microsoft is announcing today that it will soon bring its Cortana voice-recognition system from Windows to the Xbox One. It is also tightening the integration between Xbox One and Windows 10 and creating a fresh makeover for the Xbox One dashboard.

The integration is all in the name of unifying the technologies behind both Windows 10 and the Xbox One, and improving the experience for console users by adding the battle-tested recognition capabilities that Cortana has picked up from tons of usage on both mobile phones and the PC.

Cortana is expected to be a big improvement because it will support better natural language recognition, said Albert Penello, senior director of product management and planning at Microsoft, in an interview with GamesBeat. Microsoft will sunset the existing voice commands for Kinect on the Xbox One in favor of Cortana. Cortana will still use the microphone for Kinect, but it will now have access to all of the machine learning improvements that make the natural commands work so much better with Cortana. Cortana will also work with consoles that don’t have connect, where the user has a microphone-headset instead.

Xbox One's dashboard update now includes Facebook friend finder.

Above: Xbox One’s dashboard update now includes Facebook friend finder.

Image Credit: Microsoft

You start out by saying, “Hey Cortana, Xbox on.” The light indicates that the system has heard you.

Today, talking to Kinect is a little like talking to your dog. You have to issue a very specific command to get it to recognize what you mean. Penello demonstrated how Cortana works in a demo.

He said, “Hey Cortana, I want to play Killer Instinct.”

Cortana was smart enough to call up three different possible versions of Killer Instinct that are available. Speaking with the voice of Cortana from the Halo video game series, Cortana presented the options.

“The third one,” Penello said.

The language is much more conversational. If you only had one version of the game installed, Cortana would go directly to that option.

You could also say something like, “Invite Ralph to my party.” Cortana seeks out the real name associated with an Xbox Live gamertag and send the invitation to join the party on the Xbox One. It sends the invite so that Ralph can join a multiplayer game.

If the current system doesn’t understand you, it doesn’t do anything. Cortana will always try to take some kind of action. If you ask, “Hey Cortana, what is there to eat around here.” She will answer with a web search that shows restaurants nearby. You can’t do that today. But Cortana knows how to do web searches, and it knows your location.

As Cortana improves on the Xbox One, those improvements will get rolled back to the PC.

You will also soon see some cosmetic changes Microsoft is making to the Xbox One dashboard. In the past, you had scroll down to get to “My games and apps.” Now you can simply see it on the right side of the screen. And for those with large libraries, you can scroll vertically, rather than horizontally, to find your games. You can see the progress of your installs, the speed of your current downloads.

Xbox One's dashboard update

Above: Xbox One’s dashboard update. Now it’s easier to find games.

Image Credit: Microsoft

The store will change too where you will see a lot more apps available from the Windows app store, which is possible because of Microsoft’s integration of the Universal Windows Platform. UWP has been rolling out gradually, but it has also drawn some criticism. Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, said at our GamesBeat Summit even in early May that UWP could result in a much more closed platform for game and app developers.

Penello echoed what other Microsoft executives have said: Windows, the Windows app store, and UWP are open, and Microsoft is going to make features available that expand the openness over time. Developers can deploy UWP apps on the console or Windows 10 and deploy them to the store. Those apps will be accessible to both the console and the PC. The result is more apps should be available to console owners than it the past. Games will still be submitted through the filter of ID@Xbox, so that Microsoft can screen the games as needed.

The store has some new features. The Windows store had strikethrough pricing, where an old price is visible next to a new price. If you own a game like Rocket League, you can look at that game and all of its accompanying downloadable content (DLC) will be nested and visible.

“We get some nice benefits by having the stores merge,” Penello said.

The Windows store wasn’t really designed for blockbuster Triple-A game launches. Now app makers can do things like preorders, bundles, and DLC orders in the Windows store for Triple-A games.

Cortana makes it easier to send Xbox party invites.

Above: Cortana makes it easier to send Xbox party invites.

Image Credit: Microsoft

On the PC side, Penello showed the Xbox app running on Windows 10. You can see your friends activity feed, the same one as you see on the console. You can purchase Windows and Xbox games through the app. You can stream games from the console and view them on the PC.

“We’ve been iterating a lot on this app over time,” Penello said. “This has been focused on Xbox Live and UWP games.”

But people on the PC are playing a lot of non-UWP games such as Overwatch from Blizzard and other Win32 games, which aren’t part of Xbox Live. You can see a game like Age of Empires 2, a Win32 game purchased on Steam. The app allows for game DVR and party chat in any game. So you can capture video of your gameplay of Age of Empires 2. And you can see game details on the top 1,000 or so PC games.

“Xbox Live is aware of the presence of Win32 and Steam games,” Penello said. “If I am on the console and see what you are doing, I can see you are playing Age of Empires 2. That allows you to keep in touch with your gaming community even when you are not playing a Xbox Live game.”

This is the first major update for Xbox One since last November. Cortana will debut in the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain first.

You can edit the game DVR clips on the PC and upload them back to the Xbox Live service. You can make title changes or edit length. You can chop a video or add title screens, and then push it back to the console or PC for others to view. You can do this for both PC games and Xbox Live games. You can find friends who are Facebook friends and are also Xbox Live gamers. You can add those friends on Xbox Live now quite easily.

With productivity apps, you can now add Xbox Live friends to the Windows people app. That means that you can add Xbox contacts and email or message those Xbox Live friends directly from Office.

“This app is getting more robust all the time,” Penello said. “Our goal is to have you running the app all the time.”

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FDA Clears Cerêve Device for Treating Insomnia Patients by Helping Them Get to Sleep Faster

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage


OAKMONT, Pa.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–June 6, 2016–

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted commercial clearance for the CerêveTM Sleep System, a prescription device that reduces latency to Stage 1 and Stage 2 sleep for people with insomnia.

A staggering 55 million Americans meet the clinical definition of insomnia, experiencing not only problems getting to sleep but also serious impairment in their daytime activities. The cost of insomnia in the U.S. is over $100 billion annually, including poorer workplace performance, increased health care utilization, and increased accident risk. To date, sleeping pills have been by far the most common medical treatment with nearly nine million adults having taken prescription sleeping pills in the last 30 days. Unfortunately, these pills come with well-established safety risks, in particular decreased mental alertness the morning after use, even if users feel fully awake. These medications can cause next-day impairment of driving and other activities that require full alertness, leading physicians and consumers alike to seek a drug-free alternative.

“We are thrilled that the FDA has cleared the Cerêve Sleep System for treating people with insomnia,” states Eric Nofzinger, M.D., a board-certified sleep physician and the company’s founder. “This is the first and only insomnia device cleared to reduce sleep latency to Stage 1, the first stage of sleep, as well as Stage 2, a stage of sleep that typically represents over 50% of the sleep period. The Cerêve System offers a clinically-proven and safe alternative to pills, with the potential to help millions of Americans get to sleep fast.”

The inspiration behind the Cerêve System came from pioneering functional brain imaging studies that Dr. Nofzinger conducted at the University of Pittsburgh. Patients with insomnia often describe “racing minds” that prevent them from sleeping soundly. The functional brain imaging studies confirmed that the frontal cortex, or executive brain, stays active in people with insomnia during sleep, preventing them from getting deeper, more restorative sleep. Dr. Nofzinger’s solution: gently cooling the forehead within a precise, clinically-proven therapeutic range in order to reduce this activity in the frontal cortex.

Three independent clinical studies conducted on more than 230 patients over 3,800 research nights demonstrated the safety and efficacy of this novel device. The Company’s pivotal clinical study was a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of people with primary insomnia at seven clinical sites across the U.S. Results from polysomnographic sleep measurements of subjects in sleep labs (the gold standard for evaluating sleep) showed a statistically significant reduction in latency to Stage 1 sleep, the time it takes to get into the first stage of sleep, as well as latency to Stage 2 sleep. Across two additional studies, self-reports from patients demonstrate that the quality of their sleep improved over 30 days of in-home use of the Cerêve Sleep System. The FDA evaluated the company’s application under a de novo classification for novel, low risk devices. Clinical studies over 3,800 nights confirmed this low-risk safety profile.

With seven issued and nineteen pending patents, the Cerêve System is comprised of a software- controlled bedside device that cools and pumps fluid to a forehead pad that is worn through the night. Clinical subjects found the device easy to use and to wear, and commented that it was a calming and comfortable experience.

“We are working hard to bring our new technology to market to relieve the suffering experienced by those with chronic insomnia,” states Craig Reynolds, President and Chief Executive Officer. “The importance of sleep as a vital pillar of health (along with diet and exercise) is ever increasing, and current therapeutic options available to physicians and insomnia patients are limited. The Cerêve Sleep System, which is slated to launch during the second half of 2017, will help to meet an important clinical need.”

About Cerêve

Based near Pittsburgh, PA, the privately-held company was formed in 2008 after the company’s Founder, Eric Nofzinger M.D., performed pioneering brain imaging studies on patients with insomnia at the University of Pittsburgh. The Cerêve management team includes former executives from Respironics, a global leader in sleep and respiratory markets that was acquired by Philips in 2008 for $5 billion.

Cerêve was funded in part by a grant from the National Institute of Health as well as by venture capital firms Arboretum Ventures, Versant Ventures and Partner Ventures.

For more information, or to receive updates as Cerêve becomes available, visit www.cerevesleep.com.

SOURCES:

National Sleep Foundation. Sleep in America Poll – Sleep, Performance and Workplace. Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation. 2008;1(2):7.

Roth T, Coulouvrat C, Hajak G, et al. Prevalence and perceived health associated with insomnia based on DSM-IV-TR; International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision; and Research Diagnostic Criteria/International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Second Edition criteria: results from the America Insomnia Survey. Biol Psychiatry. 2011;69(6):592-600.

Wickwire, Shaya and Sharf: Health economics of insomnia treatments: The return on investment for a good night’s sleep Sleep Medicine Reviews, Volume 30, December 2016, Pages 72-82

Chong Y, Fryar CD, Gu Q. Prescription sleep aid use among adults: United States, 2005–2010. NCHS data brief, no 127. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db127.htm

Consumer Reports, February 2016: http://www.consumerreports.org/sleep/why-americans-cant-sleep/

Cerêve
Damian Rippole, 412-794-8152
contact@cerevesleep.com

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Check out the mind-blowing Sensus Smart Guitar that won best startup at Midem in Cannes

Sensus Smart Guitar from  Mind Music Labs.


Disclosure: Midem paid for my hotel and travel to the conference where I served as a judge for a startup-pitching contest.

Over the past weekend, I got a chance to see and hear from 20 impressive music startups working on everything from aggregation to hardware at the Midemlab startup contest in Cannes.

While judges were impressed overall, there was no question about which offering would take the top prize: the Sensus Smart Guitar by Mind Music Labs of Sweden.

The Sensus basically packs all the audio equipment a guitarist needs into the guitar itself. It’s a wireless instrument that lets players add modulations and effects with no need for array of pedals. The speakers are built-in to allow 360-degree sound. And the guitar can record and stream the music directly online.

While the summary is intriguing, it was the demo video that pretty much put Sensus over the top:

Here’s a bit more about the guitar’s development:

The company hasn’t said when Sensus will go on sale. But they recently raised $500,000 from investors to continue the development.

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Pandora CEO says ‘no plans’ to sell company: ‘We are on a path to do something big.’

Tim Westergren, CEO of Pandora (right) is interviewed by Daniel Glass, president of Glassnote Entertainment Group at Midem 2016.


Disclosure: Midem paid for my hotel and travel to the conference where I served as a judge for a startup pitching contest.

Making one of his biggest public appearances since returning as CEO of Pandora, Tim Westergren struck a defiant tone insisting the company was not for sale and that it is on the cusp of a reinventing itself.

“We are on a path to do something big and something for the long-term,” Westergren said when asked on stage about sale rumors. “That’s why I got back in the saddle, so no plans for that.”

Westergren was being interviewed this past weekend at Midem, a music industry conference held in Cannes, France. His appearance comes three months after he returned as CEO of the company he founded, replacing Brian McAndrews, who served in the role from 2013.

Pandora has been a music streaming pioneer with its Internet radio format. Founded in 2000, it survived the dot-com bust and enjoyed explosive growth following the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the smartphone era. Its rise was capped by a big IPO in 2011.

But as a public company, Pandora has struggled to show consistent profits and growth. It is often buffeted on one side by artists who claim they are not being paid fairly, and new entrants such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon who offer on-demand streaming services.

That stagnation led to rumors earlier this that Pandora might be for sale. In seeking to quash that idea, Westergren detailed his vision for how Pandora will evolve.

Currently, Pandora relies on is music database, known as the “Music Genome Project,” to create radio stations that are tailored to a listener’s preference to an artist or style of music. Most users listen to the ad-supported version, but a smaller subset subscribe to Pandora’s premium service, Pandora One, which has no adds and allows users to skip more songs.

Westergren noted that Pandora experience has catered the “lean back” experience where you switch something on and just let it go. Yet Pandora understands that when people want to hear a song again, or dive deeper into an artist, they leave the service and jump to YouTube or Spotify.

So the company is trying to keep and monetize those types of active listeners by building a hybrid service using the assets that it acquired when it bought Rdio last year for $75 million. The goal is develop a subscription that costs less than the standard $9.99 that Spotify and others offer for their ad-free, on-demand services.

“We think there are some people who will pay less for fewer features,” he said. “That’s our working thesis.”

He argued that part of Pandora’s advantage will be the learning it has done over the year through the Genome project. Westergren says Pandora will have a vastly superior music discovery and personalization experience than most on-demand music services which he described as: “30 million songs and a search box and good fucking luck.”

He was also responded to claims that Pandora’s business model was unfair to artists. He noted that in the U.S., traditional radio does not pay royalties to artists, so every listener who migrates to Pandora was increasing revenue for music creators.

“Every 1 percent of market share that moves from broadcast radio to Pandora creates an incremental revenue of $60 million a year to the industry,” he said.

At the same time, he understand the frustrations. He blasted services like Spotify that offer unlimited, free, ad-supported on-demand services because he felt they’re teaching people that music should be available for free.

“What drives me crazy is there is a substantial part of the digital music world that is educating listeners to believe that they can get music for free, and for free on demand.,” Westergren said. “It creates bad habits.”

You can see Westergren’s entire talk here:

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