Remember Watson? The supercomputer that in an elaborate but interesting publicity stunt beat humanity at the game show “Jeopardy” a few years back, and then for a follow-up went on to become a big shot doctor (sort of), and more recently has started to specialize in cancer research now has yet another new job.
This one doesn’t sound at first quite as interesting, but when you think about it from the point of view of complex computing tasks, it’s pretty cool. When you think about all the ways that companies have to try to engage with and then make their customers happy and the ways they can do that more effectively, you can probably imagine how a deeply analytical computer might be useful.
IBM calls it the Watson Engagement Advisor and its an offshoot its Smarter Commerce initiative. Consider that Watson is smart enough to understand the natural ebb and flow of human language and is designed to answer questions in much the same way that humans do, and then quickly sort through a set of known information to determine the best answer, you realize it’s a fit for customer service.
In that way, Watson can learn over time, and like a good bartender with a lot of regulars, keep track of the unique likes and dislikes of customers and get better at it over time. And that’s important as consumers come to expect to be able to interact with companies pretty much wherever they are and on whatever device they happen to be using at the time: Whether it’s a smart phone, tablet, PC or whatever, they will expect — already are expecting — consistent experiences. Consumers, especially the younger ones will expect, companies to shift with the marketplace as tastes change and evolve.
Watson can be the voice that customers hear when they reach out to the company asking questions. Watson has only gotten smarter since its run on “Jeopardy,” speeding up its performance by 240 percent while slimming down the size of the system required to run it by 75 percent. Already the Nielsen Company and the Royal Bank of Canada are among those kicking the tires in trials.
HasOffers, a four-year-old company that helps companies track its affiliate marketing programs, has raised their first outside funding — a $9.4 million round led by Accel Partners, along with angels including RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser. The company also offers a service that lets app developers track installs and other engagement metrics they can attribute to advertisers.
SoftBank, which is in the process of trying to acquire Sprint, gave the U.S. carrier permission to hold deeper talks with Dish Network, which also wants to buy Sprint.
The waiver allows Sprint to share certain details with Dish in order that Dish might make a formal bid. Previously, Sprint only had permission to get more information from Dish on its bid.
Both Dish and SoftBank say theirs is the best offer for Sprint. Sprint’s board has recommended approval of the SoftBank offer at a shareholder meeting next month. However, a special committee of Sprint directors is currently evaluating the Dish proposal to see if it might lead to a higher bid.
“We continue to believe that our agreed transaction, which we plan to close in approximately six weeks, creates substantially greater value and provides far greater certainty for Sprint shareholders,” SoftBank Holdings President Ron Fisher said in a statement on Monday. “We are providing this waiver because we are confident in the value of our transaction, and to ensure that Sprint and Softbank can move quickly and with no risk of delay or confusion, towards implementing our detailed investment plans.”
SoftBank said it hopes the waiver will allow the Sprint directors to promptly evaluate Dish’s offer and to complete the SoftBank deal as scheduled by July 1.
Yahoo, which had dropped off the important BrandZ Top 100 ranking several years ago, scratched its way on again this year at No. 92.
The Silicon Valley Internet giant had last been on the key list of brands in 2009, when it had a brand value of $7.9 billion. It now has a brand value of $9.8 billion, which is still down from its $11.4 billion in 2008.
And that’s tiny in comparison to Apple, which remains No. 1 on the list with a brand value of $185.1 billion. Google ranked as No. 2 with a brand value of $113.7 billion.
Apple rival Samsung’s brand value rose by by 51 percent to $21.4 billion, clocking in to the No. 30 spot.
In tech, Amazon’s brand value was $45.7 billion, rising 34 percent to No. 14. IBM is No. 3 with a brand value of $112 billion.
And more: Microsoft (No. 7, $69.8 billion, down nine percent); Facebook (No. 31, $21.3 billion, down 36 percent); and eBay (No. 47, $17.7 billion, up 40 percent).
The eight-year-old BrandZ list, which is much watched by marketers, is commissioned by WPP and conducted by Millward Brown Optimor.
Here’s the full list and report:
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BrandZ Top 100 Media Deck 2013 U S
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The billion-dollar startup club may soon get a new member.
Online design retailer Fab Inc. is in advanced talks to raise $250 million to $300 million in venture capital in a deal that would value the fast-growing but unprofitable company at $1 billion not including the new capital, people familiar with the matter said.
The deal and its list of final participants hasn’t closed, but it is expected to wrap up in mid-June, with existing investor Atomico is leading the round, the people said. Atomico did not respond to requests for comment.
Satellite mogul Charlie Ergen bid $2 billion for certain spectrum from LightSquared Inc., the wireless venture spearheaded by financier Philip Falcone that is currently navigating bankruptcy proceedings, said people familiar with the offer.
Mr. Ergen, the chairman of satellite-TV operator Dish Network Corp., made the offer to LightSquared on Wednesday, one of the people said. Mr. Ergen’s offer is for LightSquared’s so-called L-band spectrum, this person said. Spectrum is the limited pockets of airwaves that telecommunications firms need to operate wireless networks.
Google announced Monday that it will close down its online payment processing product Google Checkout in six months, as it looks to build support for the multi-screen Google Wallet product. Merchants who use Google Checkout have one of two choices: Those in the U.S. with payment processing can apply for Google Wallet Instant Buy; those without their own payment processing can get discounts to transition over to payment services Braintree, Shopify or Freshbooks, Google said in a blog post.
Will the Labour leader read the riot act to Google?
• It must have seemed a no-brainer. The people who rule the 21st century offering a platform to the man who would run the country. And so it was little surprise that Ed Miliband made himself available. He wasn't to know that in the intervening period, his hosts Google would be reborn as public enemy No 1; castigated as tax-dodging "evil" by Margaret Hodge, the Labour chair of the public accounts committee; condemned by Vince Cable as "immoral". So what will he do now, as keynote speaker on Wednesday at the Google conference Big Tent UK, alongside Google's top man Eric Schmidt. He'll send a message says the party: "loud and clear". Something PM Dave was apparently reluctant to do when he met Schmidt yesterday? Perhaps he will speak truth to power? A first time for everything.
• Now what was it we said about the enforced departure of Peter Davies, the former un-PC supermayor given his marching orders by the electorate of Doncaster a fortnight ago? "He came, he served. But the mess he caused can be rectified." Here's a matter from the supermayor years that recently needed sorting. When he was being patted on the back by the Daily Mail and the self-styled Campaign Against Political Correctness for socking it to the lefties his administration cut funding to ethnic minority groups. When they complained, a letter was sent justifying the cuts. It was signed, not by the mayor, but Nadeem Murtuja, then one of the council's most senior minority employees. This, one assumes, was to head off accusations that the cuts were discriminatory. And perhaps it might have done just that. But what we now know is that, in fact, Murtuja never signed it at all; it was never his decision. His signature was electronically inserted without his consent. The council has apologised "unreservedly". Davies has gone, of course, and Labour's Ros Jones runs Doncaster now. One wonders what other legacy items she will find in the coming weeks.
• While attention is focused on Ukip's talisman Nigel Farage, what are we to make of the party's other talent, chairman Stuart Agnew. The Ukip MEP for Eastern England (and former Rhodesian ranger) is certainly colourful enough to take his place alongside the idealists, waifs and oddballs who proudly wear the colours. A fixture on the pundit circuit, he's due to debate with Will Hutton at Hertford College Oxford next month on the EU, and there'll be no problem recognising him on arrival. The registration number of his car is EU03 OUT.
• On the subject of Oxford, is the Murdoch name still toxic at his alma mater? Readers will recall that Rupert was a bit of a red when at Worcester College six decades ago. Time and experience changed him drastically, as we know. But he never forgot Oxford, and some of the Murdoch millions found their way back to endow an annual News International visiting professor of broadcast media. Big names sat on that chair: ex-ITN editor Stewart Purvis, film and TV producer Stephen Garrett and, in 2011, the writer and editor Matthew Engel. But since the Milly Dowler affair and the closure of the News of the World, the chair has sat empty. Will it ever be filled again?
• An innovative answer, meanwhile, to the rodent problem at the all-new citadel of truth that is Broadcasting House. Someone has officially rota-ed a kitten – black with pointy ears – to deal with it. "There's been a never-happen event and someone has saved a picture of their cat in the rota folder. If anyone recognises it can they pls return it to the rightful owner," says the sniffy guardian of the work schedules. "I've deleted it." Quite right. A serious problem demands a serious solution.
• Finally this from the exciting new commercial brand that is Melanie Phillips in the Mail. Under the headline The more abuse Mr Gove gets from teachers, the more you know he's right, she says: "Sometimes, you can gauge someone's quality from the enemies they make. By that standard, education secretary Michael Gove is a person of the highest quality." After his barracking by the headteachers, it's Brand Mel to the aid of the education secretary. If that doesn't mark this out as a time of crisis for Michael Gove, nothing will.
twitter: @hugh_muirHugh Muir
Caterpillar is best known for making heavy equipment, but the machinery brand thinks it can add something to the phone business.
Cat has partnered with Bullitt Mobile, a British electronics firm that builds products using well-known brands to develop a rugged, waterproof Android phone.
The easiest way to make phones rugged is to just wrap them in a ton of rubber. But that also makes them big and bulky — something Floyd said his group was looking to avoid.
“It’s got to be a great phone — something that everybody would feel comfortable carrying,” said Dave Floyd, director of technology for Bullitt.
The result of their work is the Cat B15, a phone that is debuting at the CTIA trade show in Las Vegas and will sell for $349 without subsidies. The device packs a 4-inch screen, a dual-core MediaTek processor and the Jelly Bean version of Android into a device capable of surviving a 6 foot drop onto concrete and withstanding up to 30 minutes in 3 feet of water.
Its screen is also designed to work with a wet finger — something that trips up most smartphones. And all that in a phone that weighs just under six ounces.
Bullitt isn’t talking carriers yet, but it’s a GSM phone with support for HSPA+ networks, so either AT&T or T-Mobile USA would be a good fit.