Marketplace Tech®

with Ben Johnson

About the Program

Hosted by Ben Johnson, this daily "journal of the Digital Age" airs during broadcasts of Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Edition.

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Silicon Tally: Gameboy becomes a Gameman

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Nilay Patel, Editor-in-chief of The Verge.

(08/01/2014)

On Twitter, addition by gender subtraction

Earlier this week, Twitter surpassed investor expectations on both revenue and user growth.

However, for frequent users, one of its challenges is that depending on whom you follow, the conversation can feel repetitive. Katie Notopoulos, senior editor at Buzzfeed, decided to solve the problem by unfollowing men on Twitter. 

Notopoulos drew much of her inspiration from a similar social experiment of only retweeting women for a year

While she started the unfollowing six months ago as part of a stunt, she says she stuck with it because it markedly improved her Twitter experience. 

"It turns out it's really nice," Katie says.

She says a major reason this has turned out so well is that being forced to follow a new set of people exposed her to a whole new set of voices and perspectives. 

(07/31/2014)

The contents of the internet, via satellite

Outernet is a new project aims to deliver online content, but not the internet itself—only its information. The method? Large satellites and simple radio waves.

If it works, it might be a useful way to deliver information to people who don't have regular access.

“Instead of providing direct internet access to everyone, we’re providing the content that exists on the internet,” says Syed Karim, founder of the project. 

The satellites will broadcast the data to anyone with a receiver who can then turn them into files viewable in a browser.

Currently, the site will only be updating pages such as Wikipedia on a weekly or biweekly basis. As bandwidth increases, a page can be “rebroadcast” — re-transmitted — and it can be locally updated for those who are “listening” to it.

The project expects to launch in a few weeks.

(07/30/2014)

A start-up incubator for veterans

Veterans often face unique challenges getting conventional employment when returning from military service; challenges which can be compounded when trying to found or staff their own business.

The Bunker, an incubator in Chicago opening later this year, looks to close that gap. Joseph Kopser is the CEO of RideScout, a company that has been selected to join.

“The first thing they have to do is learn the language,” he said. In fact, one of the chief benefits of an incubator that is veteran-focused is that it teaches participants the language of the business world, which becomes important when pitching the venture to others.

Additionally, he advised veterans reach out to former colleagues in the military who can vouch for their character. 

Click the media player above to hear Joseph Kosper in conversation with Marketplace Tech guest host Noel King.



CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Joseph Kopser. The text has been corrected.

(07/29/2014)

Mobile payments app offers a window on intimacy

Venmo is an app that allows users to exchange money easily with the click of a few buttons, which makes it particularly useful when it comes to everything from going to the movies to splitting the dinner check. The app is also a kind of social network, where both the parties involved in a transaction and the purpose of that transaction can be publicly available, sometimes in humorous ways. Freelance writer and author Chiara Atik recently published an article in Medium’s “Matter" on the topic.

One of the major issues with using more established platforms to see what people are doing is that users are pretty savvy at this point to social media — they know not to post about things they don’t want publicly consumed. However, Venmo currently exists outside of that frame of mind.

“Because Venmo has this utilitarian aspect to it, people are a little bit looser,” Chiara said. 

Even so, money has the power to be a large window into how people interact.

Said Chiara, "It’s a snippet of people’s relationships with each other."

However, as with Facebook and other social networks, this period won’t last. Once enough people are using the app — especially parents — most users will likely make their transactions private. 

(07/28/2014)

Launching a reusable spacecraft

Private space transport company SpaceX announced a notable success recently: it soft-landed a Falcon 9 rocket in the Atlantic Ocean after it successfuly re-entered earth's atmosphere.

It's a significant development in that spacecrafts tend to be only good for one-time use. SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell is someone who's looking closely at space travel in the future. She says the next step in the evolution of space travel is rapid and complete reusability:

"What would air travel look like if airplanes were thrown out after each flight? No one would be flying in airplanes. We want to be able to re-use rapidly, just like an airplane."

It's a process that Shotwell thinks is inevitable, and in a lot of ways, just makes logical sense:

"From my perspective, it's really risk management, to ensure that humans have the ability to go somewhere else in case there were to be some huge disaster on earth."

Click the media player above to hear SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

 


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Gwynne Shotwell's name. The text has been corrected.

(07/25/2014)

Silicon Tally: Trash to power

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Marketplace's own Lizzie O'Leary, host of Marketplace Weekend.

(07/25/2014)

Demographics, tech, and the digital divide

In the tech industry, one of the central debates has been over whether continued technological innovation can do much good for a wider group of people than just a narrow slice of the urban upper middle class. Tessie Guillermo, CEO of the tech consulting company ZeroDivide, has been thinking about these issues.

The “digital divide” — the gaps between technology haves and have nots — which inspired the name of her firm, is a real and pressing issue. The skewed demographics of the tech industry can also make using technology to improve social outcomes a challenge.

“It creates a lot of anxiety and fear,” says Guillermo.

The ability to give digital literacy to these groups — community organizations and underserved communities — is difficult, and the demographics compound the challenge.

Furthermore, the way the tech industry sells these improvements could be counterproductive.

“There’s not necessarily an app for everything,” says Guillermo.

There is an impatience to how the tech industry deals with problems, in terms of the constant iteration, that doesn’t always translate to other contexts. 

(07/24/2014)

In search of better email encryption

Since the Snowden revelations, it has become clear that email as a basic internet protocol is essentially insecure, and other options -- texting, messaging apps, and the like -- are not much better. 

"If you really want to have secure communication, don't use email," says New York Times Tech Columnist Molly Wood.

There has been signifigant movement on creating simpler encryption tools -- Virtru, for example, is a browser plugin that encrypts messages for the recipient when emails are sent from a browser using the program.

However, even a potentially game-changing method like this has its issues: a third party is still being given the information. 

 

(07/23/2014)

Mapping the city, statistic by statistic

The map, one of the central elements of navigation, has expanded in capability since the form has been translated to digital. Case in point, the MIT Media Lab’s “You Are Here” project is a collection of maps that visualize a variety of datasets over space. Things from bike accidents to coffee shops, graffiti reports, and transit connectivity are all laid out, using a variety of open data and other online resources, such as Google’s map directions services API.

Sep Kamvar, one of the leaders of the MIT project, says he was prompted to start this project by noticing the subtle ways in which cities differed — often due to deliberate decisions.

“I realized that the cities are quite different, and they’re quite different because of lots of tiny little design decisions that were made, from the width of sidewalks, to the number of trees on the streets, to the proximity of independent coffee shops,” he says.

Kamvar goes on to argue that a typical map does not show these other factors that shape the city — all important, but often underestimated.

The goal of the maps, according to Kamvar, is to illuminate where things are happening in the city, not just how to get around.

“My hope is that each of these maps gives information on how to make the city a better place,” he says, citing as a partiuclar example a map that allows users to map where trees throughout the city are located. 

The MIT project is not the only initative using open data to illuminate cty-level statistics. Last week, another project visualized the distances travelled by by New York City taxicabs in a single day, using data obtained from the city's taxi regulator. Below is one of the project's "Fastest Mode of Transit" maps.


Check out this map of the fastest modes of transportation in Manhattan

(07/21/2014)

Silicon Tally: The coolest cooler

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by Julia Turner, recently named editor-in-chief of Slate.com.
(07/18/2014)

Students experiment in zero-gravity

This week, a group of students are heading to NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. True to its name, the program puts particpants in a plane that flies up and down, approximating zero gravity so the young scientists can do their work. 

Ish Sanchez, who is studying Mechanical Engineering at San Jose State University, is one such student participating in the program. He says being in an environment without gravity is profoundly different from the typical human experience.

“Your whole outlook on life -- up until the point when you experience zero gravity -- is completely shifted,” says Sanchez. “There’s no up and down, there’s no side walls. The mere act of pushing a button can send you off in another direction.”

The group wants to study particles created in potential in-space manufacturing or asteroid mining operations — The experiment will cut some carbon fiber rods and observe the different particle trajectories from cutting in zero gravity.

Though after this round of experiments, there may be a failure to launch -- The program is being cancelled due to budgetary constraints after this flight.

(07/17/2014)

Why Google and Novartis are teaming up

First, there was Google Glass. Now, Google is getting into contact lenses, teaming up with the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. 

They're working on smart lenses that will be able to monitor blood sugar levels for diabetics through the natural tears in our eyes.  

Google and Novartis also say they’re developing another lens that can auto-focus the eye. It could help with reading, because as the eye ages, it’s harder to see things up close.   

The two companies complement each other pretty well: Google doesn’t need any money from Novartis, while Novartis can help Google navigate the clinical and regulatory side of things.

“They need more the expertise in terms of running clinical trials, getting approval from the FDA, and then marketing after approval,” says John Mack, who follows the pharmaceutical industry as publisher of "Pharma Marketing News."

Google could definitely use an FDA go-between. About five years ago, the FDA went after pharmaceutical companies about ads that popped up in Google searches. The FDA said the ads didn’t contain relevant risk information. 

The partnership also benefits Novartis. Its contact lens division, Alcon, will get a huge jump into smart contact lens technology with the deal. 

Novartis sees a lot of potential for contact lenses that monitor our health. The company says it sees the Google deal as an opportunity to “develop and commercialize” Google’s smart lens technology.


CORRECTION:  The original version of this story misidentified the publication of John Mack. The text has been corrected.

 

(07/15/2014)

Cellphones as logging detectors

Illegal logging has been a worldwide problem for conservationists, as it is often only possible to tell that logging has occurred once it has already happened. But Topher White, CEO and founder of Rainforest Connection, has an innovative solution: use cellphones to listen for the sounds of trees being cut down.

The hardware consists of a black box with the phone located inside. "Petals” located on the outside of the box act as solar panels, maximizing the brief flashes of light in the rainforest bed. The generated power then goes to microphones attached to the phone, which in turn listens for the sounds of trees being cut.

While it might sound daunting to pick out the exact sounds, it is far from impossible.

“With a chainsaw, they do have an internal combustion engine, which turns at about 110 times per second, so we are able to pick out these spikes that occur at very set frequencies,” Topher says.

The sound is then uploaded — even at the edges, forests do have cell service — to the cloud, where it is analyzed, and sent to local law enforcement.

Topher is currently looking to fund an expansion of the project on Kickstarter.

 

(07/15/2014)

eBay and Sotheby's join forces again

eBay and Sotheby’s want you to buy more high-end stuff (from them, of course). So, they're marrying Sotheby’s cache and eBay’s technological know-how.

eBay is creating a new marketplace where it will stream some of Sotheby’s New York auctions, so customers can bid online. The idea is to reach new, younger consumers, who'd never go to an auction.

“You’ve got millennials who are starting to make  some money, and they’ve grown up around this technology, and would find it silly to go somewhere to do something like this,” says Paula Rosenblum, a managing partner with RSR Research.

Sotheby’s can just piggy back on eBay’s existing technology, the question is: What’s in it for eBay? 

“There’s never any harm from having a venerable brand like Sotheby’s sprinkle some of its pixie dust, hopefully, onto eBay,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst with Forrester Research.

Mulpuru says eBay wants to attract more affluent consumers to its site. But they won’t be able to use PayPal for their new paintings and purses - at least not right away.  

 The two companies tried a partnership a dozen years ago, but it didn’t work. They're hoping this time will be different.

(07/14/2014)

European court ruling continues to vex Google

In the wake of the European Court of Justice ruling that Google had to address individuals' “Right to be Forgotten” online, the company has already had over 70,000 takedown requests. Google has begun dealing with requests and pulling things down, including links to articles in British publications, while others were brought back after uproar. 

 One major issues is that these thousands of takedown requests are targeted geographically.

“When a request is granted to have a search result de-linked from someone’s name, that delinking will only take place in the localized Europe-based versions of the Google search engine,” says Jonathan Zittrain of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

According to Zittrain, both the ECJ decision and the Facebook experiment are two sides of the same coin — In both, the question is tinkering with online streams of content. In the case of Facebook, people objected to the idea that humans are hand-tweaking the feed, which is essentially what the ECJ decision asks for more of from Google.

Says Zittrain: “There’s going to be many hands on that tiller for search results, and we might have been better off with the roulette wheel.”

(07/14/2014)

Silicon Tally: The World Cup
It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by Nando Vila, VP of programming for Fusion and host of Soccer Gods, for a World Cup-themed Silicon Tally.
(07/11/2014)

New device aims for paranoid-parent market

The electronics-maker LG is, like many of its competitors, making a foray into wearable technology. However, this device has a distinctly different purpose — not to keep the wearer informed, but to keep a parent informed on their child.

The device, the KizON, is a child-tracking wristband — paired with the band is a smartphone app, where parents can look on a map and see where their kid is.

They can also call the wristband and talk to the child — if the child doesn’t answer, it will still connect to the child and hear surrounding sound.

While the device may reduce parental paranoia, it could be hard to get kids, especially older ones, to wear it

“It’s still think it’s going to have a steep climb for total acceptance, and probably easier is something that’s built into something your child already wants,” says Lindsey Turrentine, Editor in Chief of reviews at CNET.

(07/10/2014)

Bringing a smarter approach to American healthcare

In the debate over improving American healthcare, one issue that has come into focus is how hospital record-keeping is largely stuck in the past. It's something Dr. David Bates, Senior Vice President for Quality and Safety at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has thought a lot about. He recently published a study on the most effective ways hospitals should be using big data to reduce healthcare costs.

According to Bates, one of the major elements of a big data approach is having an algorithm.

“A triage algorithm is a tool that helps you predict how sick a someone is going to be,” he said.

One of the bigger issues that’s prevented the implementation of these strategies is hospital record-keeping procedures.

Two years ago, only 20 percent of hospitals in the US were using electronic records. Now, the number is 80 percent. However, electronic records don’t equal big data approaches; the data itself still needs to be analyzed.  

(07/09/2014)

Congress considers federal social media strategy

The House of Representatives is back from summer recess, and among the items on the agenda is the Social Media Working Group Act of 2014. While the government is already working with social media to inform and interact with citizens, one of the proposals under consideration is establishing a standard operating procedure for the Department of Homeland Security's Twitter account during a crisis.

According to Nate Elliott, social media analyst at Forrester Research, typically “The hope is when government or another authority tweets something, people will share it for them.”

However, because of the noisy environment of social media platforms, that generally doesn’t happen.

“Messages wash away very quickly,” according to Elliott. It's why the government is looking for a more cohesive social media strategy.

But there are challenges. Twitter, for example, does not use an algorithm to decide what the typical user sees in the same way as Facebook manages its feed. Plus, both allow increased visibility with paid posts, giving the government another challenge in reaching citizens on these platforms.

(07/08/2014)

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