Education

Kahoot, the educational gaming startup, has raised another $15M, now at a $300M valuation

Posted by | Education, Europe, Gaming, Kahoot!, TC | No Comments

School’s back in session and a startup that’s building games to help students learn has moved to the top of the class. Kahoot — the educational gaming startup out of Norway that has been a quick hit with schools in the US and elsewhere — today announced that it has raised 126.5 million Norwegian krone (around $15.4 million), its second round this year, at a valuation of about 2.55 billion krone ($300 million), tripling its valuation in 7 months.

For some context, the company raised $17 million in March at a $100 million valuation.

Kahoot has been around since 2006 — originally as a gamified education app called Lecture Quiz — although its rise in popularity and usage has been a more recent shift, dovetailing with how teachers are increasingly using more learning aids that are in tune with two of the more popular pastimes among kids these days: playing around on devices with screens, and playing games.

Kahoot is a notable standout at a time when gaming among kids is dominated by Fortnite, a top-grossing app, but a controversial one because of how addictive it is. (Even Prince Harry — yes, Prince Harry — has weighed in on this one.)

Åsmund Furuseth, Kahoot’s CEO and co-founder, said in an interview that the money will be used to continue investing in building the platform, and also to make acquisitions — likely to be announced in the next couple of months.

“It’s about strengthening our position in learning and the platform,” he said in an interview. This latest round comes from Nordic investors in the company led by existing investor Datum AS, and Furuseth said that there is likely to be another round in the company that brings in international investors and strategic backers.

“Disney is an investor already and they have an option to become a larger shareholder,” he noted. Others that have already backed Kahoot include Microsoft and Northzone. “This round was specifically around the Nordic region and Nordic investment bankers, who were interested in acquiring shares because of our growth and what we are doing in the learning space.”

As we have written before, Kahoot in January this year passed the 70 million user mark with about a 50 percent penetration among K-12 students in the US, with about 51 million games created on the platform.

Furuseth today said that the company is on track to pass 100 million users by the end of this year, with rises in its other metrics. Alongside its push into the K-12 education sector, it’s also been growing its enterprise line, building “games” for businesses to use in helping onboard employees and other services. 

“Our largest amount of users come from the education sector, but when it comes to revenue and growth, it’s the business segment that is larger,” he said. The plan is to continue building products for audiences, he added.

He did not say whether the company is closer to being cash-flow positive. Notably, he took over as CEO earlier this year on a platform of aiming for just that, after a period in which the company appeared to be bulking up quickly with an ambitious plan to ink content partnerships and build out more products.

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As some pricey coding camps fade away, Codecademy barrels ahead with affordable paid offerings and a new mobile app

Posted by | codecademy, eCommerce, Education, Mobile, Naspers, TC, Union Square Ventures, zach sims | No Comments

Between 2013 and last year, the number of boot camp schools tripled to more than 90 in the U.S. alone, according to Course Report, an outfit that tracks the industry. Some — including The Iron Yard and Dev Bootcamp — have since folded, unable to find enough eager recruits willing to pay top dollar to learn coding skills. (The average cost of a 14-week program last year was $11,400.)

At the same time, it has become apparent that when it comes to massive open online courses, a very high percentage of students don’t stay the course.

New York-based Codecademy, which began offering free coding courses at its outset, has managed to keep plugging away — and grow — despite these headwinds. In fact, the company today employs 85 people, up from 45 when we last sat down with co-founder and CEO Zach Sims in 2016. Its revenue is also up 65 percent year over year.

None of it has been a walk in the park, admits Sims, who dropped out of Columbia University in 2011 to start the company. “There’s been a ton of ups and downs,” he says, explaining that the company struggled for years with how to produce meaningful revenue before introducing two premium products in the last couple of years, both of which are affordable by design.

One of these is Codecademy Pro, meant to help users learn the fundamentals of coding, as well as develop a deeper knowledge (and receive certification from Codecademy) in up to 10 areas, including machine learning and data analysis. The cost is $20 per month, money that Pro users often see back in the form of a a $5,000 to $10,000 raise from their employer, insists Sims. He says the course “isn’t so much for those who are transitioning to full-time jobs but people who are learning skills to level up in their existing career.”

A second offering is Codecademy Pro Intensive, which is designed to immerse learners from six to 10 weeks (depending on the coursework) in either website development, programming or data science. Students follow a structured, detailed syllabus that’s divided into focused units to organize the learning experience, which is synchronous but collaborative. To wit, users are placed in a moderated Slack group and can chat with people who are learning the same materials at the same time. They also receive unlimited access to a pool of 200 mentors who work with Codecademy, some of them “graduates” of Codecademy themselves.

Sims declines to talk about what percentage of the 45 million people who’ve taken a Codecademy course has paid the company, but he notes that the “macro trends in the market are going our way. People still need to find jobs, and tech is still an important skill to get them there.” Indeed, according to Code.org, a nonprofit that seeks to expand computer science instruction in schools, there are more than 540,000 open computing jobs. At the same time, fewer than 50,000 computer science majors graduated from school last year.

Sims also stresses the importance to Codecademy of ensuring its offerings remain “free and low cost everywhere in the world.” Toward that end, the company is today rolling out its newest product, a mobile app that enables users to learn on the go, though it is accessible to paying customers only after a seven-day trial for everyone. (No credit card is required.)

The idea, says Sims: “Lots of people use mobile phones, and we should be letting them practice whenever and wherever they want. They end doing twice as many exercises if they can learn on the subway, then pick up where they left off on the desktop later.”

How much of an accelerant the app will be remains to be seen, but certainly, Codecademy’s approach — catering to people who can’t take or aren’t interesting in expensive offline programs — seems as relevant as ever as some of its competitors fade into the distance.

“When we first started,” says Sims, “the skills gap was just making itself evident. There were tons of tech reports about tech jobs and not a lot of people to fill them. A lot of boot camps and other options emerged to fill that vacuum because, at the time, colleges weren’t equipped to handle [the knowledge gap]. Plus, student debt continued to be an issue, which made [underprivileged] students particularly ill-prepared for the workforce.”

What has changed since then is, well, not much, argues Sims. He notes that aside from a glut of hyped offerings to come and go, people still need ways to adapt to rapid-fire technological change, and with college costs as high as they’ve ever been — prices have soared upwards of 200 percent over the last 20 years —  they need affordable alternatives in particular.

If Codecademy requires more capital to continue providing as much, it isn’t saying. Asked about fundraising — Codecademy has raised $42.5 million to date, including from Union Square Ventures and Naspers — Sims says it isn’t talking currently with VCs. “We’re pretty capital efficient. We still have the majority of our last round (raised in 2016) in the bank. And we’ve been able to grow pretty sustainably.

“If we see opportunities to accelerate growth down the line,” he adds, “we’ll go raise it.”

Asked if it can see a day where it works more closely with enterprise customers that want to help employees burnish their skills, he says that’s a high likelihood, too. But “so far,” he says, “we’ve seen pretty good consumer growth. It kind of comes down to how many things can you focus on.”

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Apple adds student ID cards into Apple Wallet to access buildings, buy food and more

Posted by | Apple, apple wallet, Apps, contactless, eCommerce, Education, Mobile, smart cards, university | No Comments

The education market has long been one of the cornerstones of growth for Apple’s hardware business, and today the company is leveraging its popularity in it, specifically among college-aged students, to build out a newer effort. Today, Apple started to integrate university student ID cards — used to access buildings, pay for food or books, and any other transactional campus services — into Wallet, its contactless payment system on the Apple Watch and the iPhone. The first schools to come online are Duke University, the University of Alabama and the University of Oklahoma.

Apple had actually announced the service back in June, during WWDC, earmarking the three schools going live today. It said that Johns Hopkins University, Santa Clara University and Temple University will start using the service by the end of this year.

The expansion comes at a time when Apple is riding on a growth high for its mobile wallet. iPhone and Watch owners have been shown to be enthusiastic users of their devices for making purchases (thrice as more avid, it seems, than Android users), and on the back of that, Apple Pay — which is now live in 24 markets — has laid claim to being the most popular mobile contactless payment in use today, with some 1 billion transactions in the last quarter alone, up three-fold from a year before.

Many of those transactions are specifically related to Apple Pay, made using more traditional payment cards such as American Express or Visa credit cards, and at traditional retail locations — Apple says it expects 60 percent of all US retail locations to support Apple Pay by the end of this year, including over 70 of the top 100 retail chains.

But Apple has also been pursuing a second wave of growth to make Wallet useful, by encouraging people to upload and use the myriad cards they have for various other services, such as loyalty cards and passes for city transport systems. Twelve US metro areas already use Apple Pay, and there is ground being gained internationally too in markets like the UK, China and Japan.

Adding in university student cards falls within that scope, Apple says.

“iPhone and Apple Watch have brought us into a new era of mobility, helping to transform everyday experiences,” said Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Internet Services, said in a statement. “When we launched Apple Pay, we embarked on a goal to replace the physical wallet. By adding transit, loyalty cards and contactless ticketing we have expanded the capabilities of Wallet beyond payments, and we’re now thrilled to be working with campuses on adding contactless student ID cards to bring customers even more easy, convenient and secure experiences.”

Apple Pay may not appear to massively profit Apple in a direct way — as it’s been pointed out by others, the percentages on payment transactions are tiny — but what it does give the company indirectly is another tie into how people use their phones and watches, making the devices more valuable to their owners, and those users more tied into the Apple ecosystem.

At colleges (and other schools), we’ve seen an increasing use of student ID cards not just as a way to identify yourself, but to access services and buildings, and also to pay for things, and use of contactless versions of these has been on the rise. Part of the reason for this is safety: having one card for everything means students need to carry less valuables, and if they lose it or it’s stolen, the card can be more easily replaced. At the same time, watches and phones are not items they’re leaving behind, so further consolidating, and making those cards more secure by way of Apple’s device locks, makes sense.

What we don’t know is if Apple is getting a commission (even a tiny one) on the payment transactions made via these student cards. We have asked the company and will update as we learn more.

Educational institutions aren’t the only not-strictly-retail locations that are being put into Wallet. Apple’s been adding sports venues to let attendees use Wallet to carry their tickets, and to then buy food and other concessions once you get in. (See how Apple uses one non-commissioned transaction to lead you into using it for one that might be?)

Today, Apple is estimated to account for between 14 percent and 17 percent of the K-12 education market in the US, and with the likes of Google and Microsoft also pushing hard for growth both here and in higher education, you can see how adding in more services like this could help Apple expand its piece of the pie.

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Kano’s latest computer kit for kids doubles down on touch

Posted by | alex klein, computing, connected devices, Education, Europe, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, Kano, learn to code, London, Minecraft, Raspberry Pi, United Kingdom | No Comments

Learn-to-code startup Kano, whose products aim to turn kids into digital makers, has taken the wraps off the latest incarnation of its build-it-yourself computer kit.

With the new flagship Kano is doubling down on touch interactions — urging kids to “make your own tablet”. The Computer Kit Touch packs a 10.1″ HD touchscreen, along with Kano’s now familiar bright orange wireless keyboard which comes with a built in trackpad.

While touch is becoming increasingly central to its products, Kano says the keyboard remains an important component of the product — supporting text-based coding apps which its platform also provides access to, as well as the more approachable drag-and-drop block-based coding systems that do really benefit from having a touchscreen to hand.

The kit, which Kano says is generally (but not exclusively) aimed at the 6-13 age range, is on sale from today, priced at $279.99 — via its website (Kano.me), as well as from selected retailers and e-tailers.

The Raspberry Pi powered computer is also getting increased storage capacity in this upgrade — of 16GB. But the main refresh is around updating Kano OS, Kano’s kid-friendly Pi topper, with expanded support for touch controls, according to founder Alex Klein .

Last year Kano combined touch and keyboard based interaction into a single product, the Computer Kit Complete — calling that a DIY laptop.

The 2018 refreshed version looks much the same, with enhancements generally behind the scenes and/or under the hood.

“The big moves this year are advancing the software and content ecosystem,” says Klein. “How it’s all integrated together.”

He points to another coding kit the team has up for pre-order, slated to ship next month — a co-branded Harry Potter gizmo in which kids get to build a motion-sensitive “coding wand” and use it to cook up their own digital spells, helped along by Kano’s software — adding: “With the Potter kit we’re bringing Kano code — to create a system, the ability to blend and change physics engines and sounds and particle systems — to tablets. So we’ve now got a touch-based interaction model for that e-product, as well as mouse and keyboard, and so we’ve brought that software system now to the Computer Kit Touch.

“You can code by dragging and dropping blocks with your fingers, you can paint and draw. You can change the pitch of a loop or a melody by running your fingers up and down and then using a change of a parameter mess with how quickly that melody changes, mess with the number of layers, you can make a beat or a loop using a touch-based digital audio workstation style X-Y plane. You can go into any one of our creative coding apps and pull in touch-based interactions, so instead of just using a mouse, a click and point, you can make an app that responds to swipes and taps, and different speeds, and in different locations.”

“On the touch kit itself there’s also a set of new content that demystifies how touchscreens work and peels back the layer of the screen and shows you what’s behind, and you’re kind of touching the intersection of the different copper wires and seeing what’s happening beneath,” he adds.

“There’s obviously a big hardware upgrade with the new ability to touch it, to take it with you. We’ve refined a lot of the components, we’ve improved the speed, the battery life. But really the core of it is this upgraded software that integrates with all the other kit.”

Talking of other kit, the learn-to-code space is now awash with quasi-educational gizmos, leaving parents in Western markets spoiled for choice of what to buy a budding coder.

Many more of these gizmos will be unboxed as we head into the holiday season. And while Kano was something of a startup pioneer here — a category creator, as Klein tells it — there’s now no shortage of tech for kids promising some kind of STEM-based educational benefit. So it’s facing an ever-growing gaggle of competition.

Kano’s strategy to stand out in an increasingly contested space is to fix on familiar elements, says Stein — flagging for example the popular game Minecraft — which runs on the Kano kit, and for which there’s a whole subsection of the Kano World community given over to hacking Minecraft.

And, well, aside from block-headed Minecraft characters it’s hard to find a character more familiar to children than the fictional wizard Harry Potter. So you can certainly see where Kano’s trying to get with the coding wand.

“We broke our first month pre-order target in one day,” he says of that forthcoming e-product (RRP ~$130). “There was massive coverage, massive traffic on our site, it was picked up all over the place and we’re very happy with the pre-orders so far. As are our retail partners.”

The Potter co-branding play is certainly Kano trying to make its products cast a wider spell by expanding the appeal of coding from nerdy makers to more mainstream child consumers. But how successful that will be remains to be seen. Not least because we’ve seen this sort of tactic elsewhere in this space.

Sphero, for example, is now rolling back the other way — shifting away from Star Wars co-branded bots to a serious education push focused on bringing STEM robotics to schools. (Although Kano would doubtless say a programmable bot that rolls is not the same as a fully fledged kit computer that can run all manner of apps, including familiar and fashionable stuff like Minecraft and YouTube.)

“We’re very pleased to see that this category that we created, with that Kickstarter campaign in 2013 — it’s become more than what some people initially feared it would be which was niche, maker ‘arcanery’; and it’s becoming a major consumer phenomenon,” he says. “This notion that people want to make their own technology, learn how to code and play in that way. And not just kids — people of all ages.”

On the hard sales front, Klein isn’t breaking out numbers for Potter kit pre-sales at this stage. But says the various incarnations of its main computer kit have shipped ~360,000 units since September 2014. So it’s not Lego (which has also moved into programmable kits) — but it’s not bad either.

In recent years Kano has also branched out into offering Internet of Things kits, previewing three code-your-own connected devices in 2016 — and launching Kickstarter campaigns to get the products to market.

It’s since shipped one (the Pixel kit) but the other two (a build-it-yourself camera kit and a DIY speaker) remain delayed — leaving crowdfunder backers waiting for their hardware.

Why the delay? Have Kano’s priorities shifted — perhaps because it’s focusing efforts on cobranded products (like the Potter wand) vs creating more of its own standalone devices?

“We are still committed to shipping the speaker kit, the camera kit,” Klein tells TechCrunch. “A big reason for [the delay] is not only the fact that the company is in a position now where we have mass distribution, we have great partners — perennially testing new product ideas — and we want to make sure that products are going to resonate with, not just a small group of people but many, many people, of many different age groups and interests before we release them.”

He also points out that any backers of the two devices who want refunds can get them in full.

Though he also says some are choosing to wait — adding that Kano remains committed to shipping the devices, and saying for those that do wait there will be a few extra bells and whistles than originally specced out in the crowdfunder campaign.

The delay itself looks like the market (and consumer tastes) moving quicker than Kano predicted — and so it finds itself wishing its products could deliver more than it originally planned (but without a wand to wave to instantly achieve that).

This is also a pitfall with previewing anything months or years ahead of time, of course. But the expense and complexity of building hardware makes crowdfunding platforms attractive — even for a relatively established brand like Kano.

“The delay is really unfortunate,” he adds. “We did say they would ship earlier but what we have done is we’ve offered any backer a full refund on the camera and the speaker if they don’t want to wait. But if they do wait they will receive incredible camera, incredible speaker. Both of them are going to benefit from the advancements made in low cost computing in the last year.

“The speaker as well is going to have elements that weren’t even part of the original campaign. On our side it’s critical that we get those products absolutely right and that they feel mass, and that they demystify not only coding and the Internet of Things, which was part of the original purpose, but in the case of the camera and the speaker there are elements that have come to the fore in more recent months like voice interaction and image recognition that we feel if our mandate is to demystify technology and we’re shipping a camera and a speaker… that’s kind of part of it. Make it perfect, make it of the moment. And for any backer who doesn’t want to wait for that, no problem at all — we’ll refund you 100%.”

Beyond reworking its approach with those perhaps overly ambitious connected devices, Kano has additional release plans in its pipeline — with Klein mentioning that additional co-branded products will be coming next year.

He says Kano is also eyeing expanding into more markets. “There’s a significant market for Kano even beyond our traditional leading position amongst 6-13 year olds in the US and the UK. There’s a really strong market for people who are beyond the US and the UK and we’re now at a scale where we can start really investing in these distribution and localization relationships that have come our way since year one,” he says.

And he at least entertains the idea of a future Kano device that does away with a keyboard entirely — and goes all in on touch — when we suggest it.

“Would we move to a place where we have no keyboard in a Kano computer? I think it’s very possible,” he says. “It might be a different form factor, it might be smaller, it might fit in your pocket, it might have connectivity — that kind of stuff.”

Which sort of sounds like Kano’s thinking about making a DIY smartphone. If so, you heard it here first.

The five and a half year old London-based startup is not yet profitable but Klein flags growth he dubs “fast enough” (noting it doubled sales year-over-year last year, a “trend” he says continued in the first half of this year), before adding: “It’s not impossible for us to get to profitability. We have a lot of optionality. But at the moment we are making investments — in software, in team — we have partner products coming out like Harry, we’ll have more coming out next year. So in terms of absolute positive EBITDA not yet but we are profitable on a units basis.”

Kano closed a $28M Series B last year — and has raised some $44.5M in all at this stage, according to Crunchbase. Is it raising more funding now? “I think any entrepreneur who is looking to do something big is always in some sense keeping an eye out for sources of capital,” replies Klein. “As well as sources of talent.”

He points by way of a connected aside to this study of C-suite execs, carried out by Stripe and Harris poll, which found that access to software developers is a bigger constraint than access to capital, saying: “I read that and I thought that that gap — between the 1% of 1% who can develop software or hardware and the rest of us — is exactly the challenge that Kano set out to solve from a consumer and education perspective.”

“In terms of fundraising we do get a lot of inbound, we have great investors at the moment,” he adds. “We do know that the scale of this particular challenge — which is demystify technology, become synonymous with learning to code and making your own computers — that requires significant support and we’ll be continuing to keep our eyes out as we grow.”

 

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NASA’s Open Source Rover lets you build your own planetary exploration platform

Posted by | DIY, Education, Gadgets, Government, jpl, mars rover, NASA, robotics, science, Space | No Comments

Got some spare time this weekend? Why not build yourself a working rover from plans provided by NASA? The spaceniks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have all the plans, code, and materials for you to peruse and use — just make sure you’ve got $2,500 and a bit of engineering know-how. This thing isn’t made out of Lincoln Logs.

The story is this: after Curiosity landed on Mars, JPL wanted to create something a little smaller and less complex that it could use for educational purposes. ROV-E, as they called this new rover, traveled with JPL staff throughout the country.

Unsurprisingly, among the many questions asked was often whether a class or group could build one of their own. The answer, unfortunately, was no: though far less expensive and complex than a real Mars rover, ROV-E was still too expensive and complex to be a class project. So JPL engineers decided to build one that wasn’t.

The result is the JPL Open Source Rover, a set of plans that mimic the key components of Curiosity but are simpler and use off the shelf components.

“I would love to have had the opportunity to build this rover in high school, and I hope that through this project we provide that opportunity to others,” said JPL’s Tom Soderstrom in a post announcing the OSR. “We wanted to give back to the community and lower the barrier of entry by giving hands on experience to the next generation of scientists, engineers, and programmers.”

The OSR uses Curiosity-like “Rocker-Bogie” suspension, corner steering and pivoting differential, allowing movement over rough terrain, and the brain is a Raspberry Pi. You can find all the parts in the usual supply catalogs and hardware stores, but you’ll also need a set of basic tools: a bandsaw to cut metal, a drill press is probably a good idea, a soldering iron, snips and wrenches, and so on.

“In our experience, this project takes no less than 200 person-hours to build, and depending on the familiarity and skill level of those involved could be significantly more,” the project’s creators write on the GitHub page.

So basically unless you’re literally rocket scientists, expect double that. Although JPL notes that they did work with schools to adjust the building process and instructions.

There’s flexibility built into the plans, too. So you can load custom apps, connect payloads and sensors to the brain, and modify the mechanics however you’d like. It’s open source, after all. Make it your own.

“We released this rover as a base model. We hope to see the community contribute improvements and additions, and we’re really excited to see what the community will add to it,” said project manager Mik Cox. “I would love to have had the opportunity to build this rover in high school, and I hope that through this project we provide that opportunity to others.”

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PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell to talk high school esports at Disrupt SF

Posted by | delane parnell, Disrupt, disrupt sf 2018, Education, Gaming, playvs, Sports, Startups, TC | No Comments

The gaming world is evolving at a rapid clip. No longer is the idea of the lonely gamer a reality. Twitch and Discord have brought gamers together and given everyone the opportunity to see just how talented some of these young players are. Meanwhile, publishers and esports organizations have built out an infrastructure.

But there is plenty left to do, and PlayVS founder and CEO Delane Parnell is well aware of this.

We’re amped to announce that Parnell is joining us at TC Disrupt SF in September to talk about how high school esports could pave the way for even more growth in this industry.

PlayVS is a startup that has partnered with the NFHS to bring esports to the high school level, providing infrastructure around scheduling, refs, rules and state tournaments. Not only does this allow high school students to get extracurricular experience doing what they love (playing video games), but it offers a new way for esports orgs and colleges to look at the bright young talent coming up through the ranks.

PlayVS launched in April after securing its partnership with the NFHS. Through this partnership, the company will be able to bring organized esports to more than 18 states and approximately 5 million students across 5,000 high schools.

The company has since raised $15 million in Series A, and the inaugural season begins in October of this year.

We’re absolutely thrilled to get the chance to sit down with Parnell to discuss the launch of the platform and hear about how high school esports could set the tone for the industry as a whole.

Passes to Disrupt SF are available here at the Early Bird rate until July 25.

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20 takeaways from Meeker’s 294-slide Internet Trends report

Posted by | Advertising Tech, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrency, eCommerce, Education, internet trends, Mary Meeker, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

This is a must-read for understanding the tech industry. We’ve distilled famous investor Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report down from its massive 294 slides of stats and charts to just the most important insights. Click or scroll through to learn what’s up with internet growth, screen addiction, e-commerce, Amazon versus Alibaba, tech investment and artificial intelligence.

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Roblox follows Minecraft into the education market

Posted by | coding, Education, Gaming, kids, Roblox, Teens | No Comments

Roblox, the massively multiplayer online game favored by the under 13 crowd, is following in Minecraft’s footsteps with a move into the education market. The company this morning announced a new education initiative, Roblox Education, that will offer a free curriculum to educators, along with international summer coding camps, and a free online “Creator Challenge” in partnership with Universal Brand Development, which will see kids building Roblox games inspired by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. 

The gaming company has been around for many years, but only recently reached a critical mass where it was ready to talk about its numbers. Today, Roblox sees over 60 million monthly active users, and its creator community building new worlds for kids to explore has doubled to 2 million this year from the year prior, it said earlier this year.

Roblox gets kids coding by hooking them on the game itself when they’re young – around elementary school age. By middle school, users are downloading Roblox Studio to build their own games and experiences. And by high school, they’ve learned to code to customize their games even further.

And the kids aren’t just building for fun – there’s money to be made, too. The top creators make two to three million a year, the company claims. The games are free, but creators monetize through the sale of virtual goods. Roblox says it paid out $30 million to its creator community last year, and is now cash-flow positive.

With Roblox Education, the aim is to get more kids coding by working with educators directly.

The new curriculum offers teachers 12 hours of step-by-step tutorials, handouts, technical setup guides, outlines, lesson guides, and more. It’s shared freely under a Creative Commons license so teachers can use or modify it as they see fit. In the future, the curriculum will be expanded to include other subjects, as well, like Physics and Design, the company says.

In addition, teaching kids how to use Roblox Studio will be the main focus of more than 500 coding camps and online programs this summer in the U.S., U.K. Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal. The kids will learn how to create, publish and market their games to others.

The company will also run its 4th annual Roblox Summer Accelerator, and host 45 young developers at its HQ for the summer. The program has previously produced some of the more popular Roblox titles, like MeepCity and Lumber Tycoon.

And it will host its annual Roblox Developer Conference in San Francisco July 13-15, 2018, and in Amsterdam August 17-19, 2018. It’s doubling the number of attendees this year at both.

Finally, Roblox will host its first Creator Challenge with Universal, where kids learn tricks of game building via a Jurassic Park-themed, self-paced course.

“Roblox’s mission is to power and fuel imagination while inspiring a new generation of creators,” said Grace Francisco, VP of Developer Relations at Roblox, said in a statement about the launch. ”We are thrilled to be launching our education initiative that gives young people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to develop the crucial skills needed to be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and creators.”

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Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, automotive, Collaborative Consumption, cryptocurrency, eCommerce, Education, Enterprise, Finance, Government, Health, internet trends, Mary Meeker, Media, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC, Transportation, Venture Capital | No Comments

Want to understand all the most important tech stats and trends? Legendary venture capitalist Mary Meeker has just released the 2018 version of her famous Internet Trends report. It covers everything from mobile to commerce to the competition between tech giants. Check out the full report below, and we’ll add some highlights soon. Then come back for our slide-by-slide analysis of the most important parts of the 294 page report.

  • Internet adoption: As of 2018, half the world population, or about 3.6 billion people, will be on the internet. That’s thanks in large part to cheaper Android phones and Wifi becoming more available, though individual services will have a tougher time adding new users as the web hits saturation.
  • Mobile usage: While smartphone shipments are flat and internet user growth is slowing, U.S. adults are spending more time online thanks to mobile, clocking 5.9 hours per day in 2017 versus 5.6 hours in 2016.
  • Mobile ads: People are shifting their time to mobile faster than ad dollars are following, creating a $7 billion mobile ad opportunity, though platforms are increasingly responsible for providing safe content to host those ads.
  • Crypto: Interest in cryptocurrency is exploding as Coinbase’s user count has nearly quadrupled since January 2017
  • Voice: Voice technology is at an inflection point due to speech recognition hitting 95% accuracy and the sales explosion for Amazon Echo which went from over 10 million to over 30 million sold in total by the end of 2017.
  • Daily usage – Revenue gains for services like Facebook are tightly coupled with daily user growth, showing how profitable it is to become a regular habit.
  • Tech investment: We’re at an all-time high for public and private investment in technology, while the top six public R&D + capex spenders are all technology companies.

Mary Meeker, analyst with Morgan Stanley, speaks during the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010. This year’s conference, which runs through Nov. 17, is titled “Points of Control: The Battle for the Network Economy.” Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • Ecommerce vs Brick & Mortar: Ecommerce growth quickens as now 13% of all retail purchases happen online and parcel shipments are rising swiftly, signaling big opportunities for new shopping apps.
  • Amazon: More people start product searches on Amazon than search engines now, but Jeff Bezos still relies on other surfaces like Facebook and YouTube to inspire people to want things.
  • Subscription services: They’re seeing massive adoption, with Netflix up 25%, The New York Times up 43%, and Spotify up 48% year-over-year in 2017. A free tier accelerates conversion rates.
  • Education: Employees seek retraining and education from YouTube and online courses to keep up with new job requirements and pay off skyrocketing student loan debt.
  • Freelancing: Employees crave scheduling and work-from-home flexibility, and internet discovery of freelance work led it to grow 3X faster than total workforce growth. The on-demand workforce grew 23% in 2017 driven by Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, Upwork, and Doordash.
  • Transportation: People are buying fewer cars, keeping them longer, and shifting transportation spend to rideshare, which saw rides double in 2017.
  • Enterprise: Consumerization of the enterprise through better interfaces is spurring growth for companies like Dropbox and Slack.
  • China: Alibaba is expanding beyond China with strong gross merchandise volume, though Amazon still rules in revenue.
  • Privacy: China has a big opportunity as users there are much more willing to trade their personal data for product benefits than U.S. users, and China is claiming more spots on the top 20 internet company list while making big investments in AI.
  • Immigration: It is critical to a strong economy, as 56% of top U.S. companies were founded by a first- or second-generation immigrant.

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Students confront the unethical side of tech in ‘Designing for Evil’ course

Posted by | Education, ethics, Gadgets, privacy, Social, TC | No Comments

Whether it’s surveilling or deceiving users, mishandling or selling their data, or engendering unhealthy habits or thoughts, tech these days is not short on unethical behavior. But it isn’t enough to just say “that’s creepy.” Fortunately, a course at the University of Washington is equipping its students with the philosophical insights to better identify — and fix — tech’s pernicious lack of ethics.

“Designing for Evil” just concluded its first quarter at UW’s Information School, where prospective creators of apps and services like those we all rely on daily learn the tools of the trade. But thanks to Alexis Hiniker, who teaches the class, they are also learning the critical skill of inquiring into the moral and ethical implications of those apps and services.

What, for example, is a good way of going about making a dating app that is inclusive and promotes healthy relationships? How can an AI imitating a human avoid unnecessary deception? How can something as invasive as China’s proposed citizen scoring system be made as user-friendly as it is possible to be?

I talked to all the student teams at a poster session held on UW’s campus, and also chatted with Hiniker, who designed the course and seemed pleased at how it turned out.

The premise is that the students are given a crash course in ethical philosophy that acquaints them with influential ideas, such as utilitarianism and deontology.

“It’s designed to be as accessible to lay people as possible,” Hiniker told me. “These aren’t philosophy students — this is a design class. But I wanted to see what I could get away with.”

The primary text is Harvard philosophy professor Michael Sandel’s popular book Justice, which Hiniker felt combined the various philosophies into a readable, integrated format. After ingesting this, the students grouped up and picked an app or technology that they would evaluate using the principles described, and then prescribe ethical remedies.

As it turned out, finding ethical problems in tech was the easy part — and fixes for them ranged from the trivial to the impossible. Their insights were interesting, but I got the feeling from many of them that there was a sort of disappointment at the fact that so much of what tech offers, or how it offers it, is inescapably and fundamentally unethical.

I found the students fell into one of three categories.

Not fundamentally unethical (but could use an ethical tune-up)

WebMD is of course a very useful site, but it was plain to the students that it lacked inclusivity: its symptom checker is stacked against non-English-speakers and those who might not know the names of symptoms. The team suggested a more visual symptom reporter, with a basic body map and non-written symptom and pain indicators.

Hello Barbie, the doll that chats back to kids, is certainly a minefield of potential legal and ethical violations, but there’s no reason it can’t be done right. With parental consent and careful engineering it will be in line with privacy laws, but the team said that it still failed some tests of keeping the dialogue with kids healthy and parents informed. The scripts for interaction, they said, should be public — which is obvious in retrospect — and audio should be analyzed on device rather than in the cloud. Lastly, a set of warning words or phrases indicating unhealthy behaviors could warn parents of things like self-harm while keeping the rest of the conversation secret.

WeChat Discover allows users to find others around them and see recent photos they’ve taken — it’s opt-in, which is good, but it can be filtered by gender, promoting a hookup culture that the team said is frowned on in China. It also obscures many user controls behind multiple layers of menus, which may cause people to share location when they don’t intend to. Some basic UI fixes were proposed by the students, and a few ideas on how to combat the possibility of unwanted advances from strangers.

Netflix isn’t evil, but its tendency to promote binge-watching has robbed its users of many an hour. This team felt that some basic user-set limits like two episodes per day, or delaying the next episode by a certain amount of time, could interrupt the habit and encourage people to take back control of their time.

Fundamentally unethical (fixes are still worth making)

FakeApp is a way to face-swap in video, producing convincing fakes in which a politician or friend appears to be saying something they didn’t. It’s fundamentally deceptive, of course, in a broad sense, but really only if the clips are passed on as genuine. Watermarks visible and invisible, as well as controlled cropping of source videos, were this team’s suggestion, though ultimately the technology won’t yield to these voluntary mitigations. So really, an informed populace is the only answer. Good luck with that!

China’s “social credit” system is not actually, the students argued, absolutely unethical — that judgment involves a certain amount of cultural bias. But I’m comfortable putting it here because of the massive ethical questions it has sidestepped and dismissed on the road to deployment. Their highly practical suggestions, however, were focused on making the system more accountable and transparent. Contest reports of behavior, see what types of things have contributed to your own score, see how it has changed over time, and so on.

Tinder’s unethical nature, according to the team, was based on the fact that it was ostensibly about forming human connections but is very plainly designed to be a meat market. Forcing people to think of themselves as physical objects first and foremost in pursuit of romance is not healthy, they argued, and causes people to devalue themselves. As a countermeasure, they suggested having responses to questions or prompts be the first thing you see about a person. You’d have to swipe based on that before seeing any pictures. I suggested having some deal-breaker questions you’d have to agree on, as well. It’s not a bad idea, though open to gaming (like the rest of online dating).

Fundamentally unethical (fixes are essentially impossible)

The League, on the other hand, was a dating app that proved intractable to ethical guidelines. Not only was it a meat market, but it was a meat market where people paid to be among the self-selected “elite” and could filter by ethnicity and other troubling categories. Their suggestions of removing the fee and these filters, among other things, essentially destroyed the product. Unfortunately, The League is an unethical product for unethical people. No amount of tweaking will change that.

Duplex was taken on by a smart team that nevertheless clearly only started their project after Google I/O. Unfortunately, they found that the fundamental deception intrinsic in an AI posing as a human is ethically impermissible. It could, of course, identify itself — but that would spoil the entire value proposition. But they also asked a question I didn’t think to ask myself in my own coverage: why isn’t this AI exhausting all other options before calling a human? It could visit the site, send a text, use other apps and so on. AIs in general should default to interacting with websites and apps first, then to other AIs, then and only then to people — at which time it should say it’s an AI.


To me the most valuable part of all these inquiries was learning what hopefully becomes a habit: to look at the fundamental ethical soundness of a business or technology and be able to articulate it.

That may be the difference in a meeting between being able to say something vague and easily blown off, like “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” and describing a specific harm and reason why that harm is important — and perhaps how it can be avoided.

As for Hiniker, she has some ideas for improving the course should it be approved for a repeat next year. A broader set of texts, for one: “More diverse writers, more diverse voices,” she said. And ideally it could even be expanded to a multi-quarter course so that the students get more than a light dusting of ethics.

With any luck the kids in this course (and any in the future) will be able to help make those choices, leading to fewer Leagues and Duplexes and more COPPA-compliant smart toys and dating apps that don’t sabotage self-esteem.

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