Tag Archives: bitcoin

Blockchain Could Maximize its Potential in the Industry of Trade Finance

Blockchain Could Maximize its Potential in the Industry of Trade Finance

A large number of companies, banks, financial institutions,

Blockchain consortia and even governments have focused on testing Blockchain technology’s potential in the industry of trade finance. Most notably, the Hong Kong monetary authority introduced the development of a Blockchain-based trade finance platform in March. Additionally, IBM announced its long-term strategy to focus its Blockchain development initiative on trade finance.

What is trade finance and why does it need Blockchain?

Trade finance refers to the financing for trade and it always involves a wide range of intermediaries, banks, and third-party services providers that are contracted to facilitate transactions and finance the trade. The most widely utilized method of payment within the industry of trade finance is an open account, in which business partners have their accounts with correspondent banks open for the processing multiple transactions.

Essentially, the aim of banks and companies that are currently utilizing the Blockchain to optimize trade finance operations is to replace traditional and inefficient financial networks with a smart contract-based protocol which can process, update and broadcast transactions in real-time. With Blockchain technology and its ability to secure transactions on a decentralized and immutable ledger, governments and companies are attempting to replace banks and intermediaries with a trustless financial network. Banks are also attempting to develop trade finance platforms based on the Blockchain to cut operating costs and manual verification time.

Joshua Kroeker, the senior product manager for global trade and receivables finance at HSBC, stated:

“As the largest trade finance bank in the world … we were interested in assisting corporates to track transaction flows, reconcile transactions through invoice or purchase order matching and reducing the risk of duplicate financing for the participating banks. This development puts Hong Kong at the heart of a global effort to digitize trade, making it easier, faster and cheaper for businesses.”

More Blockchain use cases

On February 7, the government of Dubai went as far to launch an actual pilot trade finance platform based on the Blockchain with IBM to streamline operations between banks and optimize various operations involved in the trade finance industry.

At the time, Ali Sajwani, group chief information officer for Emirates NBD Group, said:

“The bank has always had a culture of innovation and several of the bank’s most successful products and features can be attributed to this forward-thinking mindset. We are excited to participate in the ecosystem on streamlining the trade finance process using the futuristic Blockchain technology, which has the potential of transforming the way we conduct business between heterogeneous entities.”

At a recent event covered by Global Trade Review, Zach Piester, chief development officer of the Blockchain consultancy Intrepid Ventures, and Connie Leung, financial services industry director at Microsoft, reaffirmed the progress being made by organizations in implementing Blockchain technology on existing trade finance platforms. Leung of Microsoft further emphasized the increasing demand for Blockchain technology to fight financial fraud within the industry of trade finance.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Regulations Likely By 2019, Russian Ministry Says

Blockchain Regulations Likely By 2019, Russian Ministry Says

  

Russia's government is said to be moving ahead

with plans to introduce rules for blockchain use by 2019. According to state-owned news service TASS, the disclosure came from a report from the Ministry of Communications, which at press time was not publicly accessible. TASS reports that the documents touch on "the adoption of legal acts" related to the blockchain, positing 2019 as the time frame for the update. Notably, the Communications Ministry was one of the several public institutions in Russia tasked with researching blockchain by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year. In March, the former president also instructed the Ministry of Economic Development and the Russian Development Bank to research applications of the tech. Medvedev has struck a somewhat bullish tone toward the technology in recent months.

During an investor event in Sochi in late February, he said:

"I'm not against the use of [blockchain] technologies that have become widely circulated and which may thus decisively change our lives. It's quite an interesting story, but so far we do not see results."

What remains unclear is how the regulation might dovetail with efforts in Russia to regulate cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Recent statements from senior officials of the Russian Finance Ministry suggested that bitcoin could be recognized as a kind of financial instrument next year, yet other Russian officials – namely one of its central bankers – cautioned that any determination is subject to review.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Tech is Disruptor for Telecoms: EncryptoTel CEO

Blockchain Tech is Disruptor
for Telecoms:
EncryptoTel CEO

  

Exploration of Blockchain technology

has gone far beyond financial industry. Today many companies in a variety of industries are testing the potential of this innovation to streamline complex processes and transactions, making them faster, cheaper and more transparent. The telecommunication industry is no exception and industry players are now looking into how Blockchain can impact their businesses. Cointelegraph had a chat with Roman Nekrasov, CEO, and Founder at EncryptoTel, an intriguing project offering privacy-oriented encrypted audio and video calling for individuals and groups through secure Blockchain-based communications infrastructure.

Is Blockchain indeed a disruptor for telecoms?

Until quite recently Blockchain technology has been going hand in hand with Bitcoin, its most successful use-case so far. However, the new generation of programmable Blockchains allows going far beyond cryptocurrencies and financial services. It certainly might be very hard to do any prediction concerning the exact forms of change caused by the Blockchain in a very particular industry of telecommunications, or whether it is to cause any change at all. It has already provided us with at least one key benefit – it allows ensuring transparency of transactions.

Nekrasov shares with Cointelegraph how his team is making use of Blockchain:

“Nowadays Blockchain technology is being explored in a number of industries, it is right about the time for the telecom industry to take a closer look at it. The technology offers huge advantages for building decentralized systems. We are planning to integrate this technology at least for enabling verification of outgoing calls, along with ensuring the integrity of the whole network. I am not even mentioning the benefits of payments in cryptocurrencies (anonymity and transparency for both parties). Besides, we are working on the cryptographic protocol deploying Blockchain technology, which is our killer feature. It is still too early to announce any specific solutions, but our developers already have something in store. I am certain that our investors are going to be satisfied with their investments – everything goes according to what we have outlined in the Roadmap.”

Rethinking the role of intermediaries

Telecom providers are connecting people and things to each other, therefore, essentially they are sort of intermediaries, who need to manage databases, back-office systems, and purchase third parties services. Blockchain allows rethinking the roles of intermediaries in the telecom industry,

Nekrasov says:

“With our project, we are trying to eliminate intermediaries in the telecom industry. Possibility to communicate directly and anonymously implies the absence of third parties. In the beginning we would not be able, however, to eliminate middlemen completely. As our customers would need to have a possibility to register a direct phone number with other mobile operators or use a number they already have, we can’t avoid involving third parties, but we are working on it. Another advantage brought by Blockchain technology is that it plays a role of a guard in a sense that it prevents unauthorized intervention of third parties.”

What telecoms are looking for

All efforts in the telecom industry nowadays are directed towards keeping maintenance costs low while exploring new services. The market is growing at an incredible speed and traditional players are forced to look for ways to improve the quality of existing services, maybe even reimagine them, offering innovative approaches and tools which haven’t been available before. Nekrasov believes that Blockchain technology in this sense is like a whiff of fresh air offering new perspectives in the way we think of telecom services. “Technology has a huge potential in building new reliable services allowing to compete with industry giants,” he says. Competition in the telecom industry is heightened, revenue from voice calls is decreasing, while expenses due to the high bandwidth demands are rising, all of which is forcing telecoms to both look for a way to reduce these costs and find new sources of revenue.

Nekrasov agrees:

“Revenues from traditional voice calls are indeed decreasing, however, the market of VoIP services is expanding, especially in B2B sector. It is one of the most fast-growing markets nowadays, and the positive dynamic will remain for upcoming five to 10 years.”

Nekrasov says that offering a free and secured connection with the focus on quality and encryption is among the main priorities at the moment.

He continues by explaining:

“At the moment ensuring privacy and protection from bugging is very important, especially for business. I think that Blockchain technology can shoulder a part of network load, as a result cutting down the expenses for network maintenance. Besides, exploration of cryptocurrency market allows attracting additional investments into business, telecoms mistakenly underestimate this market.”

Nekrasov and his colleagues possess an extensive experience of working in the industry. They have identified what is exactly missing to make customer’s experience better – security, ease of use, user-friendly interface, and affordable pricing.

Where exactly is Blockchain applicable?

According to a report by Deloitte Germany, the telecom industry will see a huge impact of Blockchain in upcoming years. Precisely offering new solutions for fraud management, Identity-as-a-Service and data management, enablement of 5G and building secure IoT connectivity. Fraud detection and prevention are still the hot topics in the industry, mostly due to massive losses annually. The blockchain is believed to offer an effective and sustainable tool for fraud prevention, especially in roaming and in subscription identity management.

5G technology implementation is said to be another example of how the industry can benefit from the deployment of Blockchain in streamlining the process. Thus, to ensure ubiquitous access to the networks through 5G, telecoms would need to handle heterogeneous access nodes and diverse access mechanisms. The central challenge here is expected to be the selecting the fastest access node for every user or machine. Blockchain technology is believed to enable the new generation of access technology selection mechanisms for building sustainable solutions.

Nekrasov agrees:

“Blockchain can indeed offer solutions to tackle fraud – here we talk about smart contracts and the overall transparency of transactions allowed by technology. The combination of solutions built on top of Blockchain and Identity-as-a-Service has a huge potential for identity and access management, allowing for stronger protection from hackers’ attacks. Blockchain is indeed useful for ensuring of communication between IoT devices, they are often more vulnerable to attacks, technology can help solving this problem.”

Remaining challenges

There is still a number of challenges in the industry, which should be addressed. These challenges mostly concern ensuring of security and confidentiality of calls and text messages, prevention of all kinds of attacks and hacks carried aiming at stealing customers’ personal data. There are certain challenges related to the deployment of VoIP, many customers face certain difficulties switching to this type of services. Nekrasov says that EncryptoTel aims at tackling these challenges. EncryptoTel is a complex telecommunication system which can be deployed for establishing simple and more complicated scenarios. The company is building an extensive platform for setting corporate networks for businesses, private customers are not left out of focus.

Nekrasov notes:

“It is actually not so common for PBX systems to be oriented at personal customers. We are trying to simplify the platform to make it available for less tech-savvy customers. Our competitive advantage is that we are trying to take the best out of innovative technologies, including Blockchain technology, and expanding payment methods to cryptocurrencies.”

EncryptoTel is developing encryption protocols deploying Blockchain technology to ensure the security of customers’ personal data. In addition, the team is deploying multilevel authentication system. Centralized storing of data always raises a number of concerns,

Nekrasov explains to Cointelegraph:

“Currently in beta version we are working with a centralized database, however, later we are planning to reconsider it and develop a new approach where we store only minimum amount of data in a centralized way while ensuring encryption.”

Ongoing ICO

EncryptoTel is now in the middle of ICO, Nekrasov shared with Cointelegraph preliminary results. Thus, during the first week of ICO, EncryptoTel saw a huge interest in the project and managed to attract $1,800,000. Nekrasov expressed his gratitude to the community actively supporting the initiative and wishing best of luck to the team, it is certainly a great motivator. Besides, EncryptoTel team wished to thank Waves community, which demonstrated their support, also in the form of extensive investments amounting to over 1,000,000 Waves ($700,000).

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

Mauritius: The Tropical Paradise Looking to Become a Blockchain Hub

Mauritius:
The Tropical Paradise Looking to
Become a Blockchain Hub

  

Known as the home of lush tropical beaches,

the world's second-oldest horse racetrack and the now-extinct Dodo bird, the East African island nation of Mauritius is seeking to brand itself as a regional haven for blockchain innovation. Since its independence in 1968, the former Dutch, French and British colony has become one of the most successful economies in the region by building itself up as a technology and financial services hub. Now, Mauritius is looking at blockchain as a catalyst to fortify its competitive advantage and drive continued innovation on the island.

"We are working to take our economy to another level, and these kinds of technologies are very important in our strategy," said Atma Narasiah, head of technology, innovation, and services at the Board of Investment Mauritius, the national investment promotion agency of the island.

He told CoinDesk:

"Blockchain is an area where we will be focusing, building competencies and ensuring that it permeates other sectors of the economy and government."

The island nation has well-established financial services, information, and communications technology industries, so attracting investors and entrepreneurs in blockchain and financial technology could be seen as a logical next step. "Blockchain is one of these technologies we want to drive. We see a window of opportunity here to be able to leapfrog others," Narasiah said.

Open invitation

In its quest to become the blockchain hub of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius has issued an open call for innovators to take advantage of the country's new Regulatory Sandbox License (RSL). The sandbox allows companies operating in areas such as financial, medical and communications technology to start operating despite the absence of a formal legislative or licensing framework. "We've been receiving innovative project [proposals] over the years but couldn't execute them because of the gap in the regulatory framework. We've got a very good legal system, but at the pace at which technology is changing, we haven’t been able to keep pace on the regulatory front," said Narasiah, adding:

"So we came up with Regulatory Sandbox License to be able to catalyze the execution of these projects."

Modeled after similar approaches employed in Australia, Singapore, and the UK, the RSL is open to all innovators, but there's an emphasis on attracting blockchain innovators across all verticals. The expectation is that completed projects will help drive domestic and cross-border commerce and eventually expand into a smart city concept that links to other hub cities. Since launching in November 2016, the RSL has fielded 11 project proposals, with most under the fintech umbrella.

To be considered for approval, applicants must demonstrate their project is innovative, beneficial to the Mauritian economy and it cannot be accommodated in the investor’s home jurisdiction because of legal or regulatory gaps. Qualified applicants can obtain licensure in as little as 30 days, provided that all relevant information is received and risks are properly addressed.

Regional force

So, why should blockchain investors consider setting up in Mauritius? Narasiah points to the nation's strong business and governance environment, which has been internationally recognized as the strongest in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank's annual "Doing Business" survey, Mauritius has the best business climate of any country in the region and ranks 49th out of 190 countries worldwide. The World Bank's rankings weigh factors such as ease of starting a business, enforcing contracts, obtaining credit, protecting investors and paying taxes.

In its annual competitiveness rankings, the World Economic Forum said Mauritius possesses Africa’s most competitive economy, best infrastructure, and highest-educated workforce. Narasiah also highlighted an ongoing build-up of the country’s communications infrastructure – including projects to roll out free Wi-Fi across the island and install fiber optic connections in every residence – as a key attraction for technology investors.

Bridge to big markets 

Such stability and its geographic location has made Mauritius a popular venue for financial services companies looking to make the jump into new markets on the African continent – where many of the world’s largest unbanked populations exist. "Mauritius is a country that many of the governments of African states would like to emulate. So if you have systems that have been tested properly in Mauritius – it gives a kind of assurance and credibility to that solution when you market it in Africa," said Narasiah.

He added:

"Having done it in Mauritius gives it lots of mileage for you to expand into Africa."

Mauritius also possesses a bilingual workforce speaking both English and French – two of the African continent’s lingua francas – and tax treaties with more than 20 African nations including South Africa, Zambia, Uganda and Rwanda. The island nation also maintains close cultural and economic ties to India – a $2tn economy projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation in the next decade. Roughly two-thirds of Mauritians are of Indian descent, and Mauritius has been the largest single source of foreign direct investment into India in recent years because of a favorable double taxation avoidance treaty between the two nations.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

Bonding Experience: Can Kenya Pave a Path for Blockchain Change?

Bonding Experience:
Can Kenya Pave a Path for Blockchain Change?

 A country with rickety infrastructure

and a reliance on agriculture could be poised to kickstart mainstream use of blockchain technology. I'm talking about Kenya, where last month, the government issued infrastructure bonds – with a twist. They were only available via mobile phones. In a world first, the general public had access to government debt via an app. The M-Akiba project (akiba is Swahili for 'savings') aims to: 1) broaden participation in public financing, 2) stimulate the savings rate, and 3) raise funds for infrastructure investment. The target was $1.5m, with the minimum investment set as low as KSh3,000 (approximately $30). It was open to all Kenyans with an M-Pesa mobile money account – well­ over half the population. The issue sold out two days ahead of schedule.

Blockchain sweet spot

As CoinDesk reported this week, the World Bank plans to formally support the project with research on, among other things, how blockchain technology could simplify the underlying platform. The use case is appealing. A recent World Bank report pointed out that the two main weaknesses of the bond issue were: 1) the intermediaries between the Treasury and investors, each charging fees, and 2) the lack of a liquid secondary market for the bonds. A blockchain platform connecting the issuer and the buyer could lower costs and enhance yields. And a blockchain-based secondary market could improve liquidity and make the investment more attractive to retail investors.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is also looking at the blockchain for issuing bonds, as are Japanese securities firm SBI and French bank BNP. However, comparing M-Akiba to other bonds-on-blockchain projects is missing the point. This isn't about adapting a current system to a new technology – it's about bypassing the current system altogether. In 2007, Kenya’s leading network operator Safaricom started offering M-Pesa mobile banking accounts to anyone with a Safaricom phone number.

For many, the choice wasn't between their current banking system and M-Pesa, it was no banking system and M-Pesa. The lack of a strong infrastructure propelled Kenya into the lead position in global rankings of mobile money use. A similar trend could be happening to public investment in government bonds. While Kenya has one of the most developed bond markets in Africa, it's still relatively new. It is also dominated by foreign and local institutional investors. With a minimum investment of KSh50,000 and significant paperwork requirements, small retail investors are largely excluded.

Opening up

But that could soon change. Offering a 10% tax-free return (almost double that on standard savings accounts) with a low minimum investment and easy inscription, the bond is likely to appeal to a broad demographic, from long-term savers to first-timers. The April issuance was a trial, and the government is planning a much bigger tranche of KSh4.85bn ($48m) on the M-Akiba platform for June. The World Bank research on the blockchain potential is part of a broader initiative, and will not be completed for some time. Meanwhile, the technology will continue to develop, gradually removing obstacles to implementation. And the experience in Kenya shows that the market is eager for a platform that directly connects issuer and investor, and removes access barriers.

If this takes off, it could herald a new form of public financing and private savings.

The system could end up expanding, not only to other countries but also other sectors, bringing in private issuers and offering the public an even broader choice of saving and investment vehicles. If users get accustomed to parking their money with bond issuers accessed via easy-to-use apps on their phones, this could change how they view banking. And, as such, it could change the banking industry. The irony is that a country with a relatively unsophisticated financial infrastructure could end up kickstarting a fundamental reform that might achieve what higher-profile and better-funded projects have yet to pull off: putting the blockchain in the hands of the man on the street. And in the process, improving public finances and private wealth.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

How Ripple is Targeting an Entirely Different Market to Bitcoin

How Ripple is Targeting an Entirely Different Market to Bitcoin

Bitcoin was introduced in 2009 as an alternative network to the global financial system monopolized by centralized institutions and strictly regulated financial service providers. By providing a peer to peer protocol wherein users can send and receive transactions with the absence of intermediaries, Bitcoin essentially became the first decentralized financial platform.

Replicating or being inspired by Bitcoin’s structure, alternative cryptocurrencies or altcoins emerged. One of the most successful cryptocurrencies that has maintained its market cap and client base over a relatively long period of time is Ripple. It consistently has ranked in the top three altcoin, falling behind Bitcoin and Ethereum. Ripple’s vision was to provide a more efficient infrastructure for the centralized institutions and the conventional finance industry.

Ripple is significantly different to Bitcoin philosophically and structurally. If bitcoin is described as a decentralized peer to peer network developed to operate as an alternative financial network to that of the existing global financial system, Ripple can be explained as a protocol structured to serve and enhance the existing global financial system. It has partnered with leading banks and major financial institutions to settle cross-border and cross-bank transactions transparently, with strong security measures in real time.

The current global financial system operates on top of an outdated and inefficient IT infrastructure and system. For a transaction to become fully verified and settled, it could take days to weeks with a substantial fee, usually in the range of $30 to $50 per transaction. Often times, transactions initiated by banks through an international financial network such as SWIFT get lost within the system, requiring manual confirmation and a period of weeks for the transaction to be recovered and settled.

Essentially, Ripple utilizes blockchain technology and the concept of digital tokens to simplify global banking. Major banks and financial institutions are in agreement with Ripple’s vision and strategy and have adopted Ripple’s system. Most recently, CryptoCoinsNews reported that Spanish banking giant BBVA began to utilize Ripple blockchain for Spain-Mexico money transfers.

“This pioneer initiative is a clear demonstration of how payment processes can be vastly improved through the implementation of emerging technologies. These improvements will benefit our clients’ transnationality,” head of digital transformation in investment banking at BBVA stated.

However, an ambiguous component of Ripple’s services is the necessity of intermediaries. In an email, Ripple representative told CryptoCoinsNews that Ripple executives believe “bank’s aren’t going away” and that “bitcoin is getting it wrong.” Yet, by growth, bitcoin has evidently appealed to a wider range of users, businesses and investors as it is valued at $23.7 billion at the time of reporting. Ripple’s market cap is below 10 percent of bitcoin’s.

`An intermediary such as BBVA utilizing the Ripple network for a customer can be understood as an intermediary using another intermediary to process transactions. Thus, in the long run, one of the two intermediaries could be rendered ineffective. Either users will solely rely on the Ripple network and utilize XRP to make transactions with each other or banks will develop their own blockchain network similar to SWIFT and simply discard its partnership with Ripple.

The issue with banks developing their independent blockchain networks is the necessity of cooperation and collaboration. Hence, by relying on an existing blockchain network structured to serve financial institutions, banks can cut development costs.
 

Three advantages Ripple offers to its banks is speed, certainty and cost. By utilizing a decentralized blockchain in Ripple, banks can potentially see a reduction of billions of dollars in operating costs. Whether banks will remain with Ripple and work on the development of a cross-bank network or form their own blockchain network like JP Morgan is still difficult to speculate.

David Ogden
Entrepreneur

Source: CryptoCoinNews

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

Zuckerberg realizes the dangers of the social-media revolution he helped start

Zuckerberg realizes the dangers of the social-media revolution he helped start

In early January, I went to see Mark Zuckerberg at MPK20, a concrete-and-steel building on the campus of Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The Frank Gehry-designed building has a pristine 3.6-hectare rooftop garden, yet much of the interior appears unfinished. Many of the internal walls are unpainted plywood. The space looks less like the headquarters of one of the world's wealthiest companies and more like a Chipotle restaurant with standing desks. It's an aesthetic meant to reflect one of Facebook's founding ideologies: that things are never quite finished, that nothing is permanent, that you should always look for a chance to take an axe to your surroundings.

The mood in overwhelmingly liberal Silicon Valley at the time, days before US President Donald Trump's inauguration, was grim. But Zuckerberg is preternaturally unable to look anything other than excited about the future. "Hey, guys!" he beamed, greeting Mike Isaac, a New York Times colleague who covers Facebook, and me.

"Hey, guys!"

  

No one at the company has a private office.

"2016 was an interesting year for us," he said as the three of us, plus a public relations executive sat in a glass-walled conference room. No one, not even Zuckerberg, has a private office. It was an understatement and a nod to the obvious: Facebook had become a global political and cultural force, and the full implications of that transformation had begun to come into view last year.

"If you look at the history of Facebook, when we started off, there really wasn't news as part of it," Zuckerberg went on. But as Facebook grew and became a bigger part of how people learn about the world, the company had been slow to adjust to its new place in people's lives.

The events of 2016, he said, "set off a number of conversations that we're still in the middle of".

   

The News Feed team at Facebook headquarters.

Nearly 2 billion people use Facebook every month, about 1.2 billion of them daily. The company, which Zuckerberg co-founded in his Harvard dormitory room 13 years ago, has become the largest and most influential entity in the news business, commanding an audience greater than that of any American or European television news network, any newspaper in the Western world and any online news outlet. It is also the most powerful mobilizing force in politics, and it is fast replacing television as the most consequential entertainment medium. Just five years after its initial public offering, Facebook is one of the 10 highest market-capitalised public companies in the world.

But over the course of 2016, Facebook's gargantuan influence became its biggest liability. During the US election, propagandists – some working for money, others for potentially state-sponsored lulz [mischief] – used the service to turn fake stories into viral sensations, such as the one about Pope Francis endorsing Trump (he hadn't). With its huge reach, Facebook has begun to act as the great disseminator of misinformation and half-truths swirling about the rest of media. It sucks up lies from cable news and Twitter, then precisely targets each lie to the partisan bubble most receptive to it.

After studying how people shared 1.25 million stories during the campaign, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard implicated Facebook and Twitter in the larger failure of media in 2016, finding that social media created a right-wing echo chamber: a "media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyperpartisan perspective to the world". After the election, former president Barack Obama bemoaned "an age where there's so much active misinformation and it's packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television."

Zuckerberg offered a few pat defenses of Facebook's role. "I'm actually quite proud of the impact that we were able to have on civic discourse overall," he said in January. Misinformation on Facebook was not as big a problem as some believed it was, but Facebook nevertheless would do more to battle it, he pledged.

"I'm actually quite proud"

   

It was hard to tell how seriously Zuckerberg took the criticisms

of his service and its increasingly paradoxical role in the world. Across the globe, Facebook now seems to benefit actors who want to undermine the global vision at its foundation. Supporters of Trump and the European right-wing nationalists who aim to turn their nations inward and dissolve alliances, even ISIS with its skillful social-media recruiting and propagandizing – have sought to split the Zuckerbergian world apart. And they are using his own machine to do it.

Since election day Silicon Valley has been consumed with a feeling of complicity. Trump had benefited from a media environment that is now shaped by Facebook – and, more to the point, shaped by a single Facebook feature, the same one to which the company owes its remarkable ascent to social-media hegemony: the computationally determined list of updates you see every time you open the app. The list has a formal name, News Feed. But most users are apt to think of it as Facebook itself.

If it's an exaggeration to say that News Feed has become the most influential source of information in the history of civilization, it is only slightly so. Facebook created News Feed in 2006 to solve a problem: In the social-media age, people suddenly had too many friends to keep up with. To figure out what any of your connections were up to, you had to visit each of their profiles to see if anything had changed. News Feed fixed that. Every time you open Facebook, it hunts through the network, collecting every post from every connection. Then it weighs the merits of each post before presenting you with a feed sorted in order of importance: a hypersonalised front page designed just for you.

Scholars and critics have been warning of the solipsistic irresistibility of algorithmic news at least since 2001, when the constitutional aw professor Cass Sunstein warned, in his book Republic.com, of the urgent risks posed to democracy "by any situation in which thousands or perhaps millions or even tens of millions of people are mainly listening to louder echoes of their own voices". (In 2008, I piled on with my own book, True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.) In 2011, the digital activist and entrepreneur Eli Pariser gave this phenomenon a memorable name in the title of his own book: The Filter Bubble.

Facebook says its own researchers have been studying the filter bubble since 2010. In 2015, they published an in-house study, which was criticized by independent researchers, concluding that Facebook's effect on the diversity of people's information diet was minimal. When News Feed did show people views contrary to their own, they tended not to click on the stories. For Zuckerberg, the finding let Facebook off the hook.

Then, last year, Facebook's domination of the news became a story itself. In May, Gizmodo reported that some editors who had worked on Facebook's Trending Topics section had been suppressing conservative points of view. To smooth things over, Zuckerberg convened a meeting of conservative media figures and eventually significantly reduced the role of human editors. Then in September, Facebook deleted a post that included the photojournalist Nick Ut's iconic photo of a naked nine-year-old girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running in terror after a napalm attack during the Vietnam War, on the grounds that it ran foul of Facebook's prohibition of child nudity.

Facebook, under criticism, reinstated the picture, but the photo incident highlighted the difficulty of building a policy framework for what Facebook was trying to do. Zuckerberg wanted to become a global news distributor that is run by machines, rather than by humans who would try to look at every last bit of content and exercise considered judgment. "It's something I think we're still figuring out," he told me in January. "There's a lot more to do here than what we've done. And I think we're starting to realize this now as well." It struck me as an unsatisfying answer, and it became apparent that Zuckerberg seemed to feel the same way. A month after the first meeting, Zuckerberg wanted to chat again.

The Zuckerberg who greeted us was less certain in his pronouncements, more questioning. Earlier, Zuckerberg's staff had sent me a draft of a 5700-word manifesto that, I was told, he spent weeks writing. The document, "Building Global Community", argued that until now, Facebook's corporate goal had merely been to connect people. According to the manifesto, Facebook's next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for the community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for an inclusion of all". If it was a nebulous crusade, it was also vast in its ambition.

"There are questions about whether we can make a global community that works for everyone," Zuckerberg writes, "and whether the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course." He also confesses misgivings about Facebook's role in the news. "Giving everyone a voice has historically been a very positive force for public discourse because it increases the diversity of ideas shared," he writes. "But the past year has also shown it may fragment our shared sense of reality."

At the time, the manifesto was still only a draft. When I suggested that it might be perceived as an attack on Trump, he looked dismayed. A few weeks earlier, there was media speculation, fuelled by a post-election tour of America by Zuckerberg and his wife, that he was laying the groundwork to run against Trump in 2020, and he took pains to shoot down the rumors. If the company pursues the aims outlined in "Building Global Community", the changes will echo across media and politics, and some are bound to be considered partisan. The risks are especially clear for changes aimed at adding layers of journalistic ethics across News Feed, which could transform the public's perception of Facebook, not to mention shake the foundations of its business.

The solution to the broader misinformation dilemma – the pervasive climate of rumor, propaganda and conspiracy theories that Facebook has inadvertently incubated – may require something that Facebook has never done: ignoring the likes and dislikes of its users. Facebook's entire project, when it comes to news, rests on the assumption that people's individual preferences ultimately coincide with the public good, and that, if it doesn't appear that way at first, you're not delving deeply enough into the data. By contrast, decades of social-science research shows that most of us simply prefer stuff that feels true to our world view even if it isn't true at all and that the mining of all those preference signals is likely to lead us deeper into bubbles rather than out of them.

After the election, Margaret Sullivan, a Washington Post columnist and a former public editor of the Times, called on Facebook to hire an executive editor who would monitor News Feed with an eye to fact-checking, balance and editorial integrity. Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed, told me that he wanted Facebook to use its data to create a kind of reputational score for online news.

Late last year, Facebook outlined a modest effort to curb misinformation. News Feed would now carry warning labels: If a friend shares a viral story that has been shot down by one of Facebook's fact-checking partners (including Snopes and PolitiFact), you'll be cautioned that the piece has been "disputed". But even that slight change has been met with fury on the right, with Breitbart and The Daily Caller fuming that Facebook had teamed up with liberal hacks motivated by partisanship. If Facebook were to take more significant action, such as hiring human editors or paying journalists, the company would instantly become something it has long resisted: a media company rather than a neutral tech platform.

In many ways, the worry over how Facebook changes the news is really a manifestation of a grander problem with News Feed, which is simply dominance itself. News Feed's aggressive personalisation wouldn't be much of an issue if it weren't crowding out every other source. By my second meeting with Zuckerberg, Facebook had announced plans for the Facebook Journalism Project, in which the company would collaborate with news companies on new products. Facebook also created a project to promote "news literacy" among its users, and it hired the former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown to manage the partnership between it and news companies. Zuckerberg's tone towards critics of Facebook's approach to the news had grown far more conciliatory.

"I think it's really important to get to the core of the actual problem," he said. "I also really think that the core social thing that needs to happen is that a common understanding needs to exist. And misinformation I view as one of the things that can possibly erode common understanding. But sensationalism and polarization and other things, I actually think, are probably even stronger and more prolific effects. And we have to work on all these things. I think we need to listen to all the feedback on this."

Still, Zuckerberg remained preoccupied with the kind of problems that could be solved by the kind of hyperconnectivity he believed in, not the ones caused by it. "There's a social infrastructure that needs to get built for modern problems in order for humanity to get to the next level," he said. "Having more people oriented not just towards short-term things but towards building the long-term social infrastructure that needs to get built across all these things in order to enable people to come together is going to be a really important thing over the next decades." Zuckerberg continued, "We're getting to a point where the biggest opportunities I think in the world … problems like preventing pandemics from spreading or ending terrorism, all these things, they require a level of co-ordination and connection that I don't think can only be solved by the current systems that we have." What's needed is some global superstructure to advance humanity.

Zuckerberg is arguing for a kind of digital-era version of the global institution-building that the Western world engaged in after World War II. But because he is a chief executive and not an elected president, there is something frightening about his project. He is positioning Facebook – and, considering that he commands absolute voting control of the company, himself – as a critical enabler of the next generation of human society. His mission drips with megalomania, albeit of a particularly sincere sort. Building new "social infrastructure" usually involves tearing older infrastructure down. If you manage the demolition poorly, you might undermine what comes next. In the case of the shattering media landscape, Zuckerberg may yet come up with fixes for it. But in the meantime, Facebook rushes headlong into murky new areas, uncovering new dystopian possibilities at every turn.

A few months after we spoke, Facebook held its annual developer conference in San Jose, California. At last year's show, Zuckerberg introduced an expanded version of Facebook's live streaming service which had been promised to revolutionize how we communicate. Live had generated iconic scenes of protest but was also used to broadcast a terrorist attack in Munich and at least one suicide. Hours before Zuckerberg's appearance, a Cleveland man who had killed a stranger and posted a video on Facebook had shot himself after a manhunt.

But as he took the stage in San Jose, Zuckerberg was ebullient. For a brief moment, there was a shift in tone: Statesman Zuck. "In all seriousness, this is an important time to work on building community," he said. He offered Facebook's condolences to the victim in Cleveland; the incident, he said, reminded Facebook that "we have a lot more to do". Zuckerberg then pivoted to Facebook's next marvel, a system for digitally augmenting your pictures and videos. The technical term for this is "augmented reality". The name bursts with dystopian possibilities – fake news on video rather than just text – but Zuckerberg never mentioned them. The statesman had left the stage; before us stood an engineer. –

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

The Future of Social Media Marketing

The Future of Social Media Marketing

 

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

Types of negative SEO to watch out for

Types of negative SEO to watch out for

Is negative SEO real?
Should you be worried?
Is there anything you can do to stay safe?
This post is an attempt to answer these questions.

The threat of negative SEO is remote

but daunting. How easy is it to for a competitor to ruin your rankings, and how do you protect your site? But before we start, let’s make sure we’re clear on what negative SEO is, and what it definitely isn’t. Negative SEO is a set of activities aimed at lowering a competitor’s rankings in search results. These activities are more often off-page (e.g., building unnatural links to the site or scraping and reposting its content); but in some cases, they may also involve hacking the site and modifying its content. Negative SEO isn’t the most likely explanation for a sudden ranking drop. Before you decide someone may be deliberately hurting your rankings, factor out the more common reasons for ranking drops. You’ll find a comprehensive list here.

Negative off-page SEO

This kind of negative SEO targets the site without internally interfering with it. Here are the most common shapes negative off-page SEO can take.

Link farms

One or two spammy links likely won’t hurt a site’s rankings. That’s why negative SEO attacks usually involve building links from a group of interconnected sites, or link farms. Typically, most of these links use the same anchor text. These exact-match anchors may be completely unrelated to the site under attack; or they might include a niche keyword to make the site’s link profile look like the owner is manipulating it.

A while ago, this happened to WP Bacon, a WordPress podcast site. Over a short period of time, the site acquired thousands of links with the anchor text “porn movie.” Throughout 10 days, WP Bacon fell 50+ spots in Google for the majority of keywords it ranked for. This story has a happy ending though: the webmaster disavowed the spammy domains, and eventually, WP Bacon recovered most of its rankings.

How to stay safe: 

Preventing a negative SEO attack isn’t something in your power, but spotting the attempt early enough to reverse the damage is possible. To do that, you need to regularly monitor link profile growth. SEO SpyGlass, for example, gives you progress graphs for both the number of links in your profile, and the number of referring domains. An unusual spike in either of those graphs is reason enough to look into the links you suddenly acquired.

To actually see the links that made up the spike, go to the Linking Domains (or Backlinks) dashboard in SEO SpyGlass and sort the links by Last Found Date by clicking on the header of the column twice. Look for the links that were found around the same time when the spike on the graph appeared.If you’ve no idea where the links are coming from, it’s useful to look at their Penalty Risk. Switch to the Link penalty risk tab, select those suspicious backlinks you just discovered, and click Update Link Penalty Risk.

In a few minutes, the column should be populated with values on a scale from 0 to 100. It’s a pretty accurate metric to tell if the links are coming from link farms, as, among other things, it looks at the number of linking domains that come from the same IP address or C block.Lastly, once you’ve identified the spammy links, you can create a disavow file right in SEO SpyGlass. To do that, right-click the backlink/linking domain and select Disavow (make sure to select Entire domain under Disavow mode). Do the same for all unnatural links you spotted. Finally, go to Preferences > Disavow/Blacklist backlinks, review your disavow file, and export it once you’re happy with it.

Scraping

   

Scraping your content and copying it across other sites is another way a competitor can ruin your rankings. When Google finds content that is duplicated across multiple sites, it will usually pick only one version to rank. In most cases, Google is clever enough to identify the original piece… unless they find the “stolen” version first. That’s why scrapers often automatically copy new content and repost it straightaway.

How to stay safe:

Copyscape is an essential tool if you’re determined to find instances of content duplication. If you do find scraped copies of your content, it’s a good idea to first contact the webmaster asking them to remove the piece. If that’s not effective, you may want to report the scraper using Google’s copyright infringement report.

Forceful crawling

There are examples of desperate site owners trying to crash a competitor’s site by forcefully crawling it and causing heavy server load. If Googlebot can’t access your site for a few times in a row… you guessed it — you might get de-ranked.

How to stay safe: 

If you notice that your site has become slow, or, worse, unavailable, a wise thing to do is contact your hosting company or webmaster — they should be able to tell you where the load is coming from. If you know a thing or two about server logs, here are some detailed instructions on finding the villain crawlers and blocking them with robots.txt and .htaccess.

Negative on-page SEO

Negative on-page SEO attacks are way more difficult to implement. These involve hacking into your site and changing things around. Here are the main SEO threats a hacker attack can pose.

Modifying your content

You’d think you’d notice if someone changed your content, but this tactic can also be very subtle and difficult to spot. As the attacker adds spammy content (usually links) to a site, they often hide it (e.g.: under “display:none” in the HTML), so you won’t see it unless you look in the code.

Another possible negative SEO scenario is someone modifying your pages to redirect to theirs. This isn’t a threat for most small businesses, but if your site enjoys high authority and link popularity, it could be someone’s sneaky way to increase their own site’s PageRank, or to simply redirect visitors to their site when they try to access yours. For the site under attack, such redirects aren’t just a temporary inconvenience. If Google finds out about the redirect before you do, they can penalize the site for “redirecting to a malicious website.”

How to stay safe:

 Regular site audits with a tool like WebSite Auditor are the best way to spot such subtle attacks. To start your first audit, just launch WebSite Auditor and create a project for your site. Whenever you need to re-run the audit, use the Rebuild Project button. As long as you do this regularly, you should be able to spot changes that could otherwise go unnoticed, such as the number of outgoing links on the site or pages with redirects. To look into those links or redirects in detail, switch to the All Resources dashboard and go through the External Resources section. If you see an unexpected increase in the count of these, look through the list on the right to see where those links point to, and the lower part of the screen for the pages they were found on.

Getting the site de-indexed

A small change in robots.txt is one alteration that could wreak havoc on your entire SEO strategy. A disallow rule is all it takes to tell Google to completely ignore your website. There are multiple examples of this online, including this story. A client fired an SEO agency he wasn’t happy with, and their revenge was adding a Disallow: / rule to the client’s robots.txt.

How to stay safe:

 Regular ranking checks will help you be the first to know should your site get de-indexed. With Rank Tracker, you can schedule automatic checks to occur daily or weekly. If your site suddenly drops from search engines’ results, you’ll see a Dropped note in the Difference column.When this happens across a big number of keywords, it usually implies a penalty or de-indexation. If you suspect the latter, check the crawl stats in your Google Search Console account and take a look at your robots.txt.

Hacking the site (per se)

Even if the hacker has no negative SEO in mind, the attack per se can hurt your SEO. Google wants to protect its users, which is why, if they suspect a site has been hacked, they may de-rank it, or at the very least add a “this site may be hacked” line to your search listings.Would you click on a result like that?  Negative SEO aside, stepping up your site’s security should be high on your list of priorities for obvious reasons.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member

Machine learning & neural networks: The real future of SEO

Machine learning & neural networks:
The real future of SEO

Columnist Benjamin Spiegel takes a look at how machine learning and technologies like TensorFlow will change the way we think about SEO.

   I

The good old days of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

I grew up in the good old days of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) when the keyword tag still meant something and you could make it to the top of SERPs by using the same keyword over and over in the website’s title or keyword tag. That was back when exact match results were the only ones returned from consumers’ searches, and crawlers like Google spent 99 percent of their time crawling and indexing instead of cataloging and evaluating the content’s actual quality and relevance. Those days are (thankfully) over.

Those good old days were followed (for good or ill) by years of SEO practitioners focused on chasing the constantly evolving algorithms, which, in my personal opinion, we have been doing all wrong. Most SEOs start out with something like Search Engine Land’s periodic table of SEO ranking factors or similar guides. We use tools like DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog to help chase down broken links and then ask tools like Moz and others to tell us where to place keywords in the title relative to the overall title length, or how our meta descriptions need to be X pixels less and our body copy has to have X outgoing links…

WE SERIOUSLY NEED TO STOP IT!

Although these are all great practices to follow, they are really corrective actions taken after something has already been done wrong, and none of these tactics will give brands position No. 1 for any high-value keywords. Instead, these should be considered from day one of the website build, implemented during site development, and not be an afterthought once the site is launched. We recently did a test against 150,000 different SERPS, and based on a simple scoring model, the majority of the top three results didn’t follow even half of the best practice rules commonly found in the ranking feature lists.

In this test, we extracted 83 features from each of the SERPS (page speed, content length, link scoring, content density, social signals and so on) and used different models in an attempt to reverse-engineer the algorithm. Even with 83 features, we did not get any meaningful results; we found that websites in the top of the SERPs were just as poorly optimized as those on page 2. This clearly shows us that while all those tactics are important for many reasons, even if you follow them exactly, it will not move your rank from 10 to 1.

So here comes the disappointing part of this article: I also have no idea how to get you a guaranteed position 1 — NOBODY does. But what I can tell you is that there is no simple way to recreate the algorithm, no easy script you can run, no simple linear regressions that can solve for it. We have seen No. 1 rankings that literally did everything wrong, and position 60 rankings that did everything right! Here’s the good news: About two years ago, we got a look under the hood and learned why it has become so much harder to “manipulate” rankings, and why no matter how large the test or sample, it is impossible to re-create the actual algorithm.

It was November 9, 2015, the day Google publicly released TensorFlow. TensorFlow is a (now) open-source software library for machine intelligence. It is, in fact, the library that powers most of Google’s technology like Gmail, Photos, Voice and RankBrain. TensorFlow originally was released as an evolution of Google’s internal neural network training framework “DistBelief” by the Google Brain team. On the simplest level, TensorFlow enables the large-scale and parallel manipulation of “Tensors,” multi-dimensional arrays that carry vectorized data. The latest releases of TensorFlow have improved the scalability with new features that add APIs and deployments onto all types of devices.

TensorFlow & SEO

So what do machine learning and TensorFlow have to do with SEO, algorithms and reaching that coveted No. 1 spot in the SERPs? As Google’s RankBrain gets smarter in understanding users and their intent, it’s also learning to better understand content, information and if that content will provide the right answer, not only to the query but also to the individual user. With the algorithm now truly understanding the query intent on a linguistic level, it can deliver new kinds of results that are correlated and weighted in a way that a human brain can’t even begin to predict. This dramatically changes two aspects of SEO: technical SEO and content SEO.

Technical SEO

As many have said before, the role of technical SEO in the context of fixing links, optimizing title tags and ensuring correct markup is no longer a valid SEO role, meaning there should be no brands out there hiring a practitioner just for that purpose. This nuts-and-bolts work should be done from the beginning of the website build and audited by the web dev team on an ongoing basis.

Instead, the true technical SEOs of the future need to understand more than just HTML and XML; they need to understand how machine learning works, how TensorFlow handles data and weighs inputs, and how to understand and train models. There will always be crawling and discovery, but the main focus is now more analytical — truly data-driven, with the SEO practitioner more a mathematician and software developer than a web designer.

Content SEO

The last few years have seen a convergence of SEO content and content marketing. We know we must now create contextually relevant content that is authoritative, not just keyword-stuffed. Now it’s time to look at more than minimum/maximum character counts and keyword density. We have to start using machine learning models and linguistic analysis to weigh and score our content to ensure it truly answers the consumer question, instead of just telling a brand story.

Personally, I am excited about the new frontiers of SEO and the evolution of the field, and I invite anyone out there who’s in doubt to just look at the growth of voice and conversational search. It’s all powered by machine learning and technologies like TensorFlow. The time is now.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor


Alan Zibluk – Markethive Founding Member