Categories
Business

Amazon – destruction and revival

Amazon's LogoAmazon. A great big, greedy multinational company. Destroying countless companies and even eradicating whole industries in a matter of years.

France has recently taken measures to protect book shops, as it understands the devastating impact Amazon’s operations can have on a country. Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s founder) argues that “Amazon is not happening to book selling, the future is happening to book selling” suggesting that people want to buy books online now, and that virtual books would be rising in popularity without Amazon’s help.

In the UK, Amazon have come under scrutiny for not paying their fair share of tax.

BBC research suggests that the way in which Amazon treat their employees, means that their employees face a higher risk of mental illness.

There are numerous other scandals surrounding this online retail giant, but is it all bad? Believe it or not, Amazon is also proving a critical element in the survival of some industries and communities.

Royal Mail

Royal Mail and AmazonThe Royal Mail has had a turbulent decade. The internet has started to reduce the number of letters sent. Why pay to send a letter when you can send an email for free? Why fill your house with bank statements and insurance documents, when you can now access them all online? There are of course reasons why you might want to send a letter or receive a hard copy of something, however ultimately, the rise of the internet has significantly impacted the demand for postal services.

Amazon has actually played a critical role in the success of Royal Mail over the last few years. Yes if someone shops online, shops loose out on purchases, however online orders have to be delivered somehow, and the organisation with by far the biggest distribution network in the UK, is the Royal Mail. As a result, Amazon currently work closely with Royal Mail and provide the organisation with a massive amount of business.

So am I saying Amazon is actually good for Royal Mail? Well until Amazon opens up its own distribution network, and fills the skies with drones, yes, I think it is.

Rural Communities

Remote communities are often cut off from the rest of society in many ways. They often have very few local shops, which do not stock a wide range of goods, meaning local residents often have to travel miles to shop, or just go without. If you want to buy a new radio alarm clock (costing £20) do you take a 30 mile round trip to the nearest town to buy it, or do you order it on Amazon – probably for £15 – and have it delivered to your door the next day?

Without Amazon (and other online retailers) such communities would be cut off, leading to people either having to leave, or them feeling isolated and outdated.

Small Retailers

Like eBay, Amazon lets anyone buy and sell their goods through the site. Customers have the assurance that they will get good customer service, and if something goes wrong, Amazon will deal with the problem.

Many individuals now make a living from selling goods through Amazon. Some manufacturers sell directly through Amazon. Some people buy goods somewhere else and then sell them on Amazon for a profit. So Amazon is creating more jobs than just those who work for the company.

Authors

Amazing, J.K. Rowling struggled to get the first book of her Harry Potter series published. She was turned down several times, before she eventually managed to persuade Bloomsbury to publish her book. Amazon lets anyone publish a book. Nobody reviews it to see if it is any good, it just gets ran through a copyright checker, which determines whether it is original or not, and therefore how much of any profits the author is able to take home.

Our in-house expert on this is Mr Hankins, so if you want any more info, check out his article on the book he wrote and published on Amazon, and feel free to ask him question there.

Are Amazon another Google? Do they want to own everything, and destroy all their competition. Probably yes. But need everything they do be negative? No, almost everything they do will have some good related to it.

Categories
Internet Technology

Fighting spam and recapturing books with reCAPTCHA

A CAPTCHA is an anti-spam test used to work out whether a request has been made by a human, or a spambot. CAPTCHAs no longer seem to be as popular as they once were, as other spam identification techniques have emerged, however a considerable number of websites still use them.

CAPTCHA pictures
Some common examples of CAPTCHAs.

CAPTCHAs can be really annoying, hence their downfall in recent years. Take a look at the different CAPTCHAs in the image above, if you had spent 30 seconds filling in a feedback form, would you be willing to try and decipher one of the above CAPTCHAs, or would you just abandon the feedback?

The top left image could be ZYPEB, however it could just as easily be 2tPF8. If you get it wrong, usually you will be forced to do another, which could be just as difficult.

The BBC recently reported how The National Federation for the Blind has criticised CAPTCHAs, due to their restrictive nature for the visually impaired. Many CAPTCHAs do offer an auditory version, however if you check out the BBC article (which has an example of an auditory CAPTCHA), you will see that they are near impossible to understand.

reCAPTCHA

Luis von Ahn is a computer scientist who was instrumental in developing the CAPTCHA back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. According to an article the Canadian magazine The Walrus, when CAPTCHAs started to become popular, Luis von Ahn “realized that he had unwittingly created a system that was frittering away, in ten-second increments, millions of hours of a most precious resource: human brain cycles.

Anti-spam reCAPTCHA
An example of a reCAPTCHA CAPTCHA.

In order to try and ensure that this time was not wasted, von Ahn set about developing a way to better utilise this time; it was at this point that reCAPTCHA was born.

reCAPTCHA is different to most CAPTCHAs because it uses two words. One word is generated by a computer, whilst the other is taken from an old book, journal, or newspaper article.

Recapturing Literature

As I mentioned, reCAPTCHA shows you two words. One of the images is to prevent spam, and confirm the accuracy of your reading; you must get this one right, or you will be presented with another. The other image is designed to help piece together text from old literature, so that books, newspapers and journals can be digitised.

reCAPTCHA presents the same word to a variety of users and then uses the average response to work out what the word actually says – this helps to stop abuse. In a 2007 quality test, using a standard computer text reader, (also known as OCR) 83.5% of words were identified correctly – a reasonably high amount – however the accuracy of human interpretation via reCAPTCHA was an astonishing 99.1%!

According to an entry in the journal Science, in 2007 reCAPTCHA was present on over 40,000 websites, and users had interpreted over 440 million words! Google claim that today around 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved each day.

If each CAPTCHA took 10 seconds to solve, that would have been around 139 years (or 4.4 billion seconds) of brain time wasted; I am starting to see what Mr von Ahn meant! To put the 440 million words into perspective, the complete works of Shakespeare is around 900,000 words – or 0.9 million.

Whilst the progress of reCAPTCHA seems pretty impressive, it is a tiny step on the path to total digitisation. According to this BBC article, at the time von Ahn is quoted saying:

“There’s still about 100 million books to be digitised, which at the current rate will take us about 400 years to complete”

Google

In 2009 Google acquired reCAPTCHA. The search giant claimed that it wanted to “teach computers to read” hence the acquisition.

Many speculate that Google‘s ultimate aim is to index the world, and reCAPTCHA will help it to accelerate this process. That said, if that is its goal, it is still a very long way off.

We won’t be implementing a CAPTCHA on Technology Bloggers any time soon, however next time you have to fill one in, do spare a thought for the [free] work you might be doing for literature, for history and for Google.

Categories
Business Computers Tablets Technology

Which tablet works best for you?

With the holidays fast approaching, tech companies are readying new products to woo people looking for the latest hot item in the tech industry. Games consoles, flat screens, and smartphones have had their time in the sun as popular holiday purchases, but this year belongs to the tablet.

Apple dominated the tablet market last holiday season with the introduction of their revolutionary iPad, a wild success with consumers. Since then competitors have tried to emulate the magic of the iPad in an effort to cash in on the new tablet market, but to little avail: HP’s tablet failed to impress consumers, while Motorola’s Xoom tablet has struggled to establish a solid consumer base since its release in January.

But Apple now has two serious contenders to face in the tablet arena: Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are both wildly successful companies in their own right, are looking to transform the popularity of their digital reading devices into sleek, user-friendly tablets. Now that there are at least three viable tablets to choose from, it’s time to determine which would be the best buy for the holiday season.

Price

We can separate the tablets from each other right from the beginning by looking at their price ranges. The Apple iPad 2 starts at $499, while the Kindle Fire Starts at $199 and the Nook Tablet is priced at $249. Now the disparate prices may be enough to determine a consumer’s purchase; the $300 price gap between the Kindle Fire and iPad 2, for instance, will likely drive many consumers to choose the cheaper tablet.

An iPad 2
An iPad 2 showing off how ‘amazingly thin’ it is

But of course these tablets are priced according to their features. The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are much closer in price, and analysts expect that consumers will transfer their digital reader loyalties to the tablets — Kindle users will go to the Kindle Fire and Nook users will likely follow suit with the Nook Tablet. Both tablets will be optimal for digital reading, web browsing, and multimedia functions.

Part of Nook’s more expensive price tag can be attributed to the better hardware: the Nook Tablet has 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, compared to the 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage on the Kindle Fire.

While the iPad 2 stands as the most expensive tablet on the market, it also boasts more attractive components than either other tablet. With a larger screen (9.7 inch), built-in 3G, and access to hundreds of thousands of apps from the Apple store, the iPad 2 certainly offers a host of features that would make any tablet competitor blush. Is it expensive? Yes. Do you get what you pay for? Yes.

Stand-Out Features

There are certainly stand-out features to consider with every tablet. The Kindle Fire may not have the hardware on par with the other two tablets, it will have optimized internet usage through Amazon’s cloud service based browser, Silk. In theory Silk will allow the user to perform multiple functions online at once without overburdening the tablet because part of the computing power will be done via Amazon’s cloud system. The Kindle Fire also has the Amazon name in its favor, one of the most trusted names in online retail.

The Nook Tablet has the distinct advantage of being sold at brick and mortar Barnes & Noble stores. A consumer can walk into a store and purchase a Nook Tablet on a whim, something that the Kindle Fire simply can’t compare to.

Barnes & Noble have also hinted at creating spaces similar to Apple’s genius bar, built solely for the maintaining and assistance for all things Nook related. If there’s any credence to that rumor, it could help jettison the Nook Tablet to the top of the market.

As for the iPad 2, its standout feature is simple: it’s an Apple product. The brand loyalty alone has driven millions to purchase the tablet, regardless of the high price tag. But it remains to be seen if Apple will continue to charm potential tablet users in the face of these newly minted tablets from its competitors.

Categories
Apps Reviews

MobiReader Pro Android App Review

Misplacing a valuable work document or losing the biz cards of important contacts is every businessman’s nightmare. Having to locate some paperwork just before a conference or hunting through scores of cards to find a particular phone number is indeed stressful. I recently found an Android app called MobiReader Pro that solves this problem.

If you are looking for a iPhone app for business card scanning, check out my review of WorldCard Mobile, it has loads of features and is a good tool.

What is the app about?

MobiReader Pro scans business cards and documents. The contact details from cards are sorted out and saved in the respective fields of your phone’s address book. Printouts of your projects, text from books, magazines or newspapers and any other paperwork can be scanned quickly and saved on your phone.

MobiReader Pro Android AppHow does it work?

The app works on OCR and transfers details from business cards and documents to your iPhone. It focuses on a card automatically, captures an image of it, recognises the details on the scanned card and saves them in the correct fields. There is a virtual card holder that sorts out cards according to contact or company names.

Scanned documents can be organised in folders, edited, converted to pdf, renamed, deleted, sent as MMS or through email and uploaded onto Google docs. This app can even recognise the structure of a document in addition to its ability to recognise text.

Special features

The app has an image correction function that improves the quality of scanned content. It is efficient in organizing your documents and has a separate indication for pdf files, making it easy to locate documents when you have many in your folder.

As MobiReader Pro can process text written in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian, you don’t have to worry about receiving cards with information in different languages. Details like the contact’s name, designation, the company’s name, phone number, postal address, email address etc., are sorted out by the app with a high level of accuracy and you don’t have to manually type in the info. You can use this app to translate your documents to as many as 54 languages.

I found the augmented reality function to be very useful getting info about a location by recognizing the details in the address field of a business card. The convenience of looking up word definitions in a dictionary, without having to type in words through the keypad, is another feature I found very helpful.

Low points

The only low point is that the OCR is not hundred percent perfect. I did encounter a few errors and one needs to have a keen eye to spot those. But as any OCR based app, I assume there are some kinds of readability problems attached to them is no surprise.

To conclude, MobiReader Pro is a smart and quick way to digitise your cards and documents and carry them around wherever you go. By efficiently managing your cards and documents, it takes the strain out of your work life. The app is available in the Android market for US $4.

EDITOR NOTE: This app no longer exists, so links to it have been removed – note by Christopher