Weekend news-round-up: Minecraft’s enigmatic rise, the future of Reddit

28 Jul 2014

In our round-up of tech stories from the weekend, Apple buys BookLamp.org, Reddit wants to go from the red into the black financially, the secret of Minecraft, and the history of the underwater internet.

Apple gets bookish in war with Amazon

TechCrunch reported Apple has made another secret acquisition – this time it is BookLamp.org, described as a kind of ‘Pandora for books’.

“Apple has confirmed our report of the acquisition. The company tells us ‘Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.’

“A second source says Apple bought BookLamp’s employees and technology for a price that was ‘higher than US$10m, and lower than US$15m’.

“BookLamp’s most well-known product was the Book Genome Project, a platform that let users find suggestions for books to read based on natural language analysis of other titles. BookLamp’s tech and talent could help Apple improve its iBooks service with better recommendations, search, and categorisation.”

Amazon has a Square deal of its own in mind

Aside from books, Amazon, however, is eyeing a big enough prize in terms of mobile payment technologies and plans to take on Jack Dorsey’s Square, according to 9to5Mac.

“Amazon could be preparing to launch its own mobile credit-card reading hardware in the coming weeks, according to internal Staples documents hinting at such a launch that we’ve obtained. According to the documents, Staples stores will prepare next month to stock a new product called the ‘Amazon Card Reader’ alongside existing card readers from Square, PayPal, and Staples’ own in-house brand. The small hardware, which will likely connect to smartphones to process payments, will cost US$9.99, according to the Staples internal sales systems …”

The changing structure of the VC industry

Veteran investor Mark Suster blogged at the weekend about the future of the venture-capital industry. He pointed out that seed capital represents 67pc of all funds.

“Just three years ago there was talk of institutional investors ‘not being able to write small enough cheques’. The new narrative is ‘will my seed funds be able to fund the pro rata of their winners’?

“Stated simply – if you seed funded Uber at US$4.5m pre-money valuation you certainly would want to exercise your right to continue investing if you had prorata rights.

“Seed funds now represent 67pc of all funds being created now, which is up 100pc from six years ago. And while it only represents 6pc of the total capital of the VC industry – this is a meaningful shift in structure.”

Reddit’s plan to get into the black

The New York Times reported on popular message board site Reddit’s plans to get profitable without alienating its users. The key is to avoid the mistake of Digg 10 years ago of trying to monetise too quickly.

“Since its founding nine years ago, Reddit has stuck to its own weird guns.

“The site, where users find, share and talk about web links and photos, has been faithful to an antiquated design and still looks like an online message board plucked from the 1990s — think Craigslist, but with more Lolcats. You don’t need to hand over any personal data, not even an email address, to sign up and post or view an item. Discussions are often peppered with vulgar schoolyard humour.

“And unlike many other internet start-ups, Reddit has never fully embraced the dominant business model of selling advertising to support its free service.

“But that is about to change.”

Snaps to riches

Forbes reported on the rise of an interesting new phenomenon – that of Snapchat celebrities.

It reported brands are shelling out up to US$30,000 for advertising deals with Shaun McBride, better known as ‘Shonduras’ and other power users, hoping to reach Snapchat’s demographic: the fickle and influential 13- to 25-year-old bracket.

“Brands such as Disney, Taco Bell, Major League Soccer and television networks see what McBride, a 27-year-old from Utah, can make for them: branded content with authentic Snapchat style that teens will actually pay attention to.

“I think brands are starting to notice now that they can put something on Instagram or Facebook, but the youth isn’t on Facebook, and if they’re on Instagram, they’re going to just scroll past it,” McBride said.

The secret of Minecraft

Another phenomenon that is stumping most people under 20 is the rise and rise of Minecraft. An insightful piece on Medium nailed the secret of Minecraft’s success: it requires its players to co-create it.

The game, released in 2009 by programmer Markus Persson, has gone on to sell tens of millions of copies, as well as merchandise such as books, T-shirts and even a documentary. It is an enigma.

“No help menu. No manual. People often compare Minecraft to LEGO. Both support open-ended creation (once you’ve mastered the crafting table, you can build nearly anything) and, of course, they share an essential blockiness. But I think this comparison is misleading, because a LEGO set always includes instructions, and Minecraft comes with none.

Minecraft is a game about creation, yes. But it is just as much a game about secret knowledge.”

Tales from the deep

Builtvisible catalogued the history of the internet deep sea going back to the laying of the first undersea cables that transported the internet during the Cold War to the fast fibre cables that criss-cross the world today.

“In October of 1971, in the midst of the Cold War, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Halibut entered heavily guarded Russian waters in the Sea of Okhotsk. Orchestrated by the joint efforts of the CIA, NSA, and U.S. Navy, her mission – code named Operation Ivy Bells – was to find and tap into an undersea communications cable that was connecting a Soviet naval base on the Kamchatka Peninsula with the Pacific Fleet’s mainland headquarters in Vladivostok. The cable was a vital pipeline for Soviet communications, and as such represented a tremendous potential intelligence resource for the United States.”

Minecraft image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years