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SocialDrift Review – What I learned from using Instagram automation

There’s a lot out there about Instagram automation right now. In particular, there’s been mixed opinions about if automation tools are worth your time and money. Some discourage its use entirely, while others claim that they’re essential to any brand’s success.

After looking around and doing some research, I decided to check it out for myself. For the last two and a half months I’ve been using SocialDrift to see what automation is like for myself.

Here’s what I discovered through my experience with it:

1. Stick with one tool at a time.

A common mistake that people make is that they give multiple automation services access to their Instagram account. They assume that more tools running at once will result in even more growth.

Contrary to this line of reasoning, that’s just not the case. In fact, it will likely do more harm than good.

The dilemma here is that Instagram will find this sort of activity suspicious. The app is built to monitor your activity and make sure that it stays within sensible human capacities. If you are giving out too many likes and comments per minute, there is a chance that you’ll get banned.

Most automation tools are built to obey these restrictions. For instance, SocialDrift uses SecureBoost to prevent your account from going outside the limits. So you’re better off trusting them to do their job on their own, rather than trying to stack several of them and pushing it to the brink.

Thankfully I learned about this prior to getting started, so everything went smoothly. Always remember to dig around and investigate before you try anything!

2. Always go over the tutorial.

Sometimes it’s hard to resist the temptation of jumping in and learning on the fly. I know I’m certainly bad about this. Patience has never been my strongest suit. However, this is an instance where I would strongly advocate for it.

That’s not to say that SocialDrift isn’t intuitive. Its layout is actually very clear and easy to understand. Yet, I still think there’s a lot to be gained from getting a quick primer about the controls. The same goes for any other automation tool.

Many tutorials give you handy tips and suggestions that you might not have considered. They’re also helpful to refer back to when you forget how something is supposed to work.

3. Define your desired audience.

Is your automation tool not working as effectively as you had hoped? One reason for this issue might be that you haven’t set your targeting filters to be specific enough.

The first thing you need to do is narrow down which demographics you are trying to reach. Forming a clear, distinct profile of your intended audience will make it easier to tailor your interactions to their needs and interests.

One approach that is severely underutilized is engaging with smaller accounts. This includes users whose posts don’t tend to get a lot of activity. They are most likely to appreciate your recognition and return the favor. With SocialDrift, you can set a minimum and maximum amount of likes for the content that you interact with.

If you run a local business with a physical location, it’d be wise to target users within the nearby area. SocialDrift has a feature called Place Targeting that can aid you with that. It also has options to interact with users that use certain hashtags or follow certain accounts.

4. Use the Unfollow option strategically.

Some might wonder why you would ever need to unfollow others. The more the merrier, right?

The problem is that Instagram doesn’t let you follow any more than 7,500 accounts. The only way you can follow more people than that is if you did it before the limits were implemented.

So, it’s sometimes necessary to prune your following numbers. Generally you want to cut it down to about half the size of your followers once you’ve gained a decent amount. This will make your account seem more unique and popular.

SocialDrift has an automatic unfollowing feature that can be found at the top of the page in the Activity Types box. Initially I was skeptical about using it, as I was concerned it’d start unfollowing too many people, but it does a great job at being selective and gradual.

5. Customize and change up your automated comments.

Just about every automation tool offers the ability to send comments on your behalf. It cuts down on the tedious and time-consuming work that it would take to comment on hundreds of posts every day.

SocialDrift’s approach is to let you create these comments, which it will use in rotation. I would recommend writing at least a dozen of them. A greater variety of comments will make your activity seem more organic and less generic. Make sure to add new ones periodically, and replace old ones that have been used for awhile.

6. Continue answering questions and talking to your followers.

While automated comments are extremely useful, they shouldn’t completely replace all interaction with your audience. You should still address any concerns or queries they might have, and strike up friendly conversations whenever you have the chance. Show them that there’s still humans running the account, ready and willing to pay attention to them.

7. Optimize your settings.

Here’s an embarrassing admission: when I started my first month of SocialDrift, I mostly ignored the button labeled Optimization above the Account Settings. I took a cursory glance at it, of course, but for some reason I dismissed it as extraneous and didn’t return for awhile. This is something that I regret immense now.

The page features an evolving list of recommended settings adjustments for your account. Its purpose is to help you generate the most optimal results possible. The list is also color coded and assorted based on urgency, with red being the most important.

Taking heed of optimization advice could make a big difference and noticeably increase your growth. That was certainly the case for me, and I only wish I had taken it seriously sooner.

8. Focus on delivering high-quality content.

The greatest benefit from using automation is that it gives you the freedom to put more time into developing your content. While automation tools undoubtedly will bring more people to your page, it’s your content that will make them stick around and follow you.

SocialDrift has proven invaluable in this regard. Thanks to it’s assistance, I feel like I’m at the top of my Instagram game now.






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ZombieChain Comes Alive: Can Ethereum Sidechains Save the Dapps?

That decision will cost you half a cent. Are you sure that’s the right move?

If you’re a gamer, decentralized applications (dapps) hold an enticing promise: you might finally be able to truly own virtual in-game items and accumulate them without worrying about a company changing the rules and taking them away. But as with other big blockchain ideas, that’s not quite a reality today.

One reason is the economics of how this would work are uncertain. To commit an action to the ethereum blockchain, users need to expend gas, a unit of value that’s priced in ether, the network’s cryptocurrency, and that fluctuates based on how much other people are using the network at any given time.

For Loom Network, a startup specializing in applying blockchain technology to gaming dapps, that just won’t do. Constant microtransactions harm user experience, even if network traffic isn’t pushing up gas prices at a given moment, as happened during the recent CryptoKitties boom.

Loom co-founder James Duffy told CoinDesk in a recent interview, “there’s just a mental transaction cost.”

He continued:

“Even if you’re spending a fraction of a penny every time you move your character, people still have to make decisions about whether it’s worthwhile to make a move [when] they know every single thing they’re doing is costing them.”

With that problem in mind, Duffy announced Loom’s newest offering – a ready-made “shared sidechain” that dapp developers can use in exchange for a monthly fee – this week. ZombieChain, as it’s called, is expected to launch in a month or two.

So far, not developers have signed up to build dapps on it, but the Loom team is excited about how it advances their ideas and vision.

“ZombieChain’s model more closely parallels traditional web hosting,” Duffy wrote in the announcement, “where developers pay a flat monthly fee based on the resources consumed by their application, upgrading their web server and paying more as their app grows in popularity over time.”

The idea of a shared sidechain, Duffy believes, has the potential to help gaming dapps achieve scale while making life easier for users and developers alike.

The alternatives, as the stand today, are: one, to house games on ethereum’s main chain, with its poor user experience; or two, to build a dedicated sidechain for each game.

“Not everyone wants to do that,” Duffy told CoinDesk – hence ZombieChain has come to life.

Sidestepping scalability

Broadly, sidechains have a long pedigree in cryptocurrencies, going back to Adam Back and other developers’ 2014 proposal for bitcoin “pegged sidechains.”

The idea is to complete transactions on smaller, nimbler chains that are later reconciled to the main blockchain – ethereum, in Loom’s case. Sidechain users sacrifice some of the security and decentralization of the main chain, since they depend on a smaller number of “validators” – analogous to miners – to register their transactions.

But they gain in terms of throughput, that is, the time it takes to complete transactions.

Loom Network took this idea and introduced the concept of “application-specific sidechains” or “dappchains.” Using Loom’s software development kit (SDK), developers can build a dedicated sidechain to house their dapp, with ethereum serving as a secure, decentralized base layer.

Loom has already built DelegateCall, a kind of decentralized Stack Exchange, on a dappchain. In addition, two games are under development in-house, according to Duffy: one he compares to Magic: the Gathering, the other to Pokemon. The user experience, he says, is like any mobile game: “fully immersive, graphics – you actually wouldn’t really know that it’s running on a dappchain.”

As the company’s head of business development Michael Cullinan told CoinDesk in March, the Loom developer platform aims “to make it simple to make highly-scalable apps on the blockchain.”

However, the company’s since found that not every project wants its own dappchain – at least not in the beginning. Developers would have to set up validators to act as the nexus between the sidechain and the ethereum blockchain. Then, in order to achieve decentralization, they would have to incentivize users – if they had users – to act as validators themselves.

Many early-stage projects were looking for a simpler solution, so Loom came up with the idea of a shared dappchain. Duffy told CoinDesk: “this way, when someone launches a new application they don’t know how popular it’s going to be, so they can start on kind of a shared hosting plan.”

If the game does take off, the developers can “fork it and run it on its own dappchain.” Eventually, Duffy says, Loom may roll out multiple shared chains for different use cases: a games chain and a social media chain, for example.

The monthly fees the developers pay will depend on the cost of committing their users’ data to ethereum. How developers collect money from users is up to them: donations are one possibility, as are monthly charges through a smart contract.

Reckoning with the trilemma

Designing decentralized networks involves tradeoffs, and sidechains are no exception. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin described these tradeoffs as a trilemma, in which three different priorities are in tension: decentralization, security, and scalability.

Duffy recognizes this fact, and argues that ZombieChain is a kind of “middle ground.”

First, it’s important to note that Loom Network’s focus is on applications that need high levels of throughput: decentralized games and social networks. And Duffy argues that these use cases “don’t really need that high level of decentralization that you need on ethereum.”

On a decentralized social network, he says:

“Someone’s not going to pay millions of dollars to attack the network to censor someone else’s tweet.”

For that reason, Loom Network has opted to base its sidechains – including ZombieChain – on delegated proof of stake (DPoS), a consensus algorithm in which the network elects “validators” to serve in place of miners. How many validators is up to the developer: the higher the number, the slower – but more decentralized – the network.

As for the shared ZombieChain, Duffy says the number of validators hasn’t been decided. He notes, though, that “in the beginning, it’s fully centralized because we’re running all the validators. Then in the future we want to open it up to let other people run validators.”

To be clear, that’s the case with any new sidechain: until a user base develops, and some of those users are willing to serve as validators, the chain is centralized in the hands of its creator.

Down the line, therefore, ZombieChain can actually help to ensure that new projects to some degree decentralized and scalable form the outset. Rather than setting up on the slow and costly ethereum mainnet, or spinning up a new centralized dappchain, they can join ZombieChain.

Even projects that are already set up on mainnet, says Duffy, “could very easily port that same application to ZombieChain,” adding:

“It would reduce the cost significantly and also let them have a more fluid user experience.”

As for the third leg of the trilemma, security, Duffy does not appear to be worried. “It’s really important to have that decentralized base layer of ethereum,” he says, “because then you can use it like the high court.

The mechanism for doing that, he continues, is plasma cash, which allows users to store valuable data – ether, for example – on the main blockchain, while still being able to trade it on the sidechain.

“If the sidechain did something dishonest,” he says, “you could contest it on mainnet and you would be able to withdraw your assets back to mainnet.”

For now, ZombieChain is just an idea, but it has the potential to allow new projects to deploy their dapps without sacrificing too much in terms of either scalability or decentralization.

Game image via Medium

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Transaction Fees Temporarily Favor Bitcoin but Bigger Picture Looks DifferentBitcoin Fees Temporarily Less Than BCH, Can This Continue?

Transaction fees are a hot topic of debate in the cryptocurrency world. There are numerous discussions regarding Bitcoin versus Bitcoin Cash fees in this regard. It now seems the average Bitcoin transaction cost is lower than that of BCH. As is usually the case, such a temporary snapshot can look very different in a few hours.

The Bitcoin Fees in Perspective

When directly comparing BTC with BCH fees, it seems there is no real contest. The cost of a Bitcoin Cash transaction has been far lower compared to the world’s leading cryptocurrency. In fact, the BHC costs have been relatively flat for quite some time now. Bitcoin’s fees, on the other hand, are erratic as they have always been.

However, temporary snapshots often tell a different story. The Tweet by Ven Verret shows the BTC fees are lower than BCH in a six-hour period. An interesting development, albeit one that only tells a small part of the story. The screenshot itself shows these fees for Bitcoin have spiked just an hour or two prior. Why that sudden increase took place, remains a bit unclear at this time.

This doesn’t mean Bitcoin has suddenly become cheaper to use. When timing transactions correctly, that may be the case temporarily. Additionally, users with patience can still send transactions at 1 Satoshi per byte. It may take several hours to confirm, but it is another interesting option worth exploring.  When looking at the bigger picture, however, BCH remains the cheaper option by quite a margin.

The Debate Continues

As is usually the case when trends like these are pointed out, the public backlash is palpable. Bitcoin Cash supporters do not take kindly to this development. However, they also point out how their average TX fee is 0.24 cents or lower. That is quite cheap, although others will argue this point. The overall use of the BCH network compared to Bitcoin is very different.

The bigger question is how this situation will evolve. More specifically, there is a growing need for faster and cheaper Bitcoin transactions. The Lightning Network may effectively provide that functionality. Thanks to the growth in payment channels, it seems this logical development may occur pretty soon. Even so, the technology is still in beta testing, and an “official” launch has not yet been announced.

Developments like these are interesting to keep an eye on. However, keeping the bigger picture in mind needs to be a top priority first and foremost. That picture clearly shows Bitcoin has the highest market cap and Bitcoin Cash remains the altcoin. It also shows Bitcoin has higher fees in general, and that situation may not change soon. As such, the current status quo between BC and BCH will not swing in favor of either currency.

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First Bitcoin Mining Conference Hashes Over the High Cost of Energy

Bitcoin mining uses as much electricity as Ireland, and by the end of 2018, the Bitcoin network will be using as much energy as Austria, according to a new report by Alex de Vries of the Experience Center of PwC in the Netherlands.

Billed as the first serious, peer-reviewed study of energy use in crypto mining, the report has set off alarm bells, adding to current concerns about the impact of future mining energy consumption on environmental issues like climate change.

At the first-ever conference for crypto mining, held on May 17, 2018, in New York City, an expert panel hashed out the implications of rapidly growing energy consumption among miners worldwide.

Amber D. Scott, CEO of Outlier Solutions, moderated a panel of experts that spoke about the energy issue as part of a discussion on the topic of proof of work (PoW) vs. proof of stake (PoS).

Scott told Bitcoin Magazine that there was a lot of discussion at the conference about the new energy report in part due to the attention it’s currently receiving in the press.

“This is an area where there is a spectacular amount of FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt],” she noted. “This is in part because it’s a nuanced issue that can’t be summed up in simple statements about net energy consumption.

“I think that part of the reason that Bitcoin has been a ‘target’ in this respect is that there are relatively straightforward calculations in terms of power consumption in conjunction with the underlying value not being well understood or widely accepted. For instance, few people question the utility costs of a bank or ATM, and the energy consumption cannot be calculated in a straightforward way,” she added.

Scott Howard, CEO and co-founder of Toronto-based ePIC Blockchain Technologies, told the conference audience what many there were already saying: that the energy consumption issue is “fake news” and has been oversimplified to suit Bitcoin opponents.

High Energy and Environmental Costs of Traditional Fiat and Banking

Traditional banking and fiat creation have their own high energy costs, noted a number of conference panelists, including Alex Petrov, CIO of Bitfury; Jan Čapek, CEO of Slush Pool; Samson Mow, CSO of Blockstream; and Howard.

They talked about the high infrastructure costs, in terms of both energy and the environment, associated with traditional banking systems, including ATMs, security and servers.

“There are 3.6 million ATMs deployed in the U.S. Each of them are using 7 to 800 watts just in standby mode,” said Petrov. “This alone generates huge numbers of electricity usage, slightly higher than the Bitcoin network.

“If you add … internal banking systems, CTVs, communicating with other banks, additional protection … you get higher costs than the cost of Bitcoin,” he added.

“Gold mining consumes enormous energy. Portions of the electricity crypto mining consumes come from power generation and distribution originally built to supply ore and precious metals extraction or processing,” said Howard.

“Where traditional energy consumers like gold mines really fall down is all the other negative externalities of the ‘wealth’ they create. Gold mining during and after is one of the most toxic and destructive operations on the planet.”

Howard talked about the use of abandoned industrial sites for Bitcoin mining, like pulp and paper mills that had been closed due to dwindling forestry supplies and increased concerns about energy use and toxic waste pollution.

“Lots of crypto mines are sitting in old industrial sites with a 100-megawatt transformer sitting next to them,” he said.

By way of example, in the Q&A session that followed the panel, one conference participant talked about his mining operation in British Columbia in a partly abandoned manufacturing site where water is pumped through his mine for cooling and then recycled into a warm-water fish farm.

Mining Doesn’t Create New Hydro Infrastructure: Power Is Produced Even If Unused

After the panel, Howard reiterated to Bitcoin Magazine what other conference panelists had said: that large energy mega-projects like hydro dams produce electricity whether they’re used or not.

“To my knowledge, no one has built out any net-new power generation to supply a crypto mine. Power generation stations are major pieces of infrastructure that take years to put in place and in the range of a decade to pay off. Most power generation is done, certainly in the western world, by publicly owned and/or regulated utilities. Those stations run 24/7, 365 for decades. The energy goes onto the grid no matter what and, until we figure out storage, is a perishable commodity.

“Crypto mining takes full advantage of this, typically sucking up energy at very low prices. The prices are low because the energy can’t find more productive use, often taking over abandoned industrial sites far away from urban centers,” he added.

Čapek told the conference that “China has been overinvesting in hydro power and has large amounts of power that is not being used” as a result of overbuilding hydro dams in anticipation of industrial needs (principally aluminum manufacturing) that never materialized.

“Cheap hydro power has helped China dominate the world’s Bitcoin mining business, and this power would be generated with or without Bitcoin mining,” said Čapek, who recommended a recently released study on the energy costs of mining in China.

Čapek said a rough estimate of global Bitcoin mining energy use is 25 terawatt hours per year, only a fraction of the amount of energy used in manufacturing aluminum globally.

PoW vs. PoS

The panelists mostly agreed that proof of work’s higher energy use is necessary for real security and that proof of stake is not likely to happen soon. They noted that PoS would not give the Bitcoin network the security it needs, even if it was more energy efficient.

“The more energy that’s expended, the more security you have,” noted Mow. “The system has to be nuclear-proof.”

Petrov defended the possibility of a hybrid model of both PoW and PoS, saying, “Proof of stake may work for some specific purposes, not necessarily in the financial area but inside private blockchains.”

Mow responded that using both PoS and PoW “brings out the worst of both worlds,” while Howard noted that Dash is using a hybrid model with some success, though it’s very expensive to use.

Howard concluded: “It [Bitcoin mining] is a positive economic activity, typically in places where it is needed, as well as meaningful revenue to the utilities which are major employers and usually profit centers for governments. The ‘waste of energy’ argument, like most establishment arguments against blockchains, does not pass the test of science.”

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Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin Less Wasteful Than Fiat Money


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Earlier this week, I wrote on social media that it costs significantly less energy to produce cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Ethereum. The responses were, “that’s not true, once fiat money is created, no additional energy is required.”

Perhaps a better way to phrase the statement was to replace energy with resources, as fiat currencies do require significantly more resources than cryptocurrencies.

Myth

Currently, the vast majority of people are comparing bitcoin’s electricity consumption to the production of paper money at central banks like the Federal Reserve, dismissing manual labor, energy, and electricity required to distribute and transfer money.

Fiat requires commercial banks, central banks, ATMs, armored cars, hundreds of thousands of employees, among other things to work. The central bank, in this case the FED, does not magically distribute the US dollar to every person in the country at their doorstep. The FED distributes its US dollar to banks and its friends, who then distribute money with the hopes of trickling down the US dollar to the bottom of the economy.

Cash requires a truly massive infrastructure to function. In the US alone, there are more than 6,000 banks that process cash transactions. Most people no longer uses cash in its physical form to transact. They rely on third party service providers and banks like JPMorgan, Visa, and MasterCard to process payments. The amount of resources and energy these companies and their hundreds of thousands of employees consume should be included in the comparison between the energy consumption of bitcoin against banks.

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer financial network and due its decentralized nature, no third party is required to transact. Alice can send Bob $100 by broadcasting the transaction to the mempool, which is than picked up by miners to process. In return, miners are incentivized by receiving bitcoin and transaction fees included in the block.

Hence, while it may be accurate to claim it requires more electricity to mine cryptocurrency, it is false to claim that to create or generate bitcoin, more resources are required than to create cash or paper money, as the majority of the energy used by the miners is attributable to confirming and validating transactions, which most of the banks do globally.

Improvement

bitcoin mining farm
Bitcoin Mining Farm

John Lilic, member at Ethereum blockchain development studio ConsenSys, stated that the cost per transaction is significantly higher with crypto and that is undoubtedly correct. Major banks like JPMorgan processes trillions of dollars on a daily basis. Lilic said that in the long-term, blockchain projects will have to find better ways to process transactions and information more efficiently.

“The per unit cost of each tx is significantly higher with crypto. Data centres banks use are much more efficient than mining operations & legacy systems process orders of magnitude more tx’s per day than crypto. We need specificity around the energy issue, not conjecture. The real question is whether the gross energy inefficiency costs in crypto is worth the benefits like custody over assets. My contention is Yes! It is worth it but only if our industry prioritizes & continues to work towards energy efficiency gains like Proof of Stake.”

As cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology mature, they will experiment with more efficient methods of consensus algorithms and mining methods that may decrease the energy output of cryptocurrencies in the long-term.

Images from Shutterstock

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In-House vs. Outsourcing Software Development

It will certainly be a thought process you will go through again and again as you ponder whether to utilise in-house or outsourced software development. There are pros and cons to both and your individual circumstances will clearly define your exacting requirements. Here we will define those pros and cons so you can make an informed decision on what you will do for your business.

In-House Development

Utilising and building an in-house team may appear the most strategically sound direction for your business to go. Your staff will be under your direct control and working towards the same long-term goals. However, it is not without challenges and can leave you exposed.

Advantages of In-House App Development

  1. A Bourgeois Interest in Your Organisations Goals. Having an in-house team will ensure you are all collaboratively working to the same goals with the same drive to achieve them.
  1. Company Standards Adhered to. You will have no doubt detailed in your business plan a strict set of company standards to adhere to legal and commercial aspects. In-house you are assured your staff will follow the standards. Coding standards will also be aligned and you are in total control of the convention used and the future maintenance requirements.
  1. Cultural Alignment. Building rapport and a positive culture in your workplace is far easier with in-house staff. You can undertake team building activities or target annual reporting with behaviours. By having control over your culture you will have a team who can all work together.
  1. Long Term Collaboration. By having your own software development team you can assure your project success by having the same people work it from the start. They will know the product inside out and understand how to fix things quickly.
  1. Expeditious Reaction. An immediate reaction to any requests or issues will be possible with in-house teams. They will only be focussed on your software.

What are the Disadvantages?

  1. Recruitment Costs. It can be very expensive to recruit staff through a recruitment agency, typically 5-10% of the annual salary. Even taking recruitment into your own hands will be expensive to advertise the openings in the right places, it can range from £250-£999 to place an advert on a well known jobs board.
  1. Set-up Costs. Procuring hardware and software for your start-up will be your biggest expenditure. To keep up with competitors you will need to provide all of the equipment and licenses for your software engineers to operate.
  1. Operating Costs. Once you have taken the fiscal hit of procuring your equipment, you then have to pay to run and maintain it!
  1. Set-up Time. To set your software team up will take a lot of time, lead times for equipment and running recruitment campaigns can take several weeks or even months.
  1. Availability of IT Expertise. It is highly unlikely you will be able to recruit highly experienced and specialised experts from the outset, they will be on the higher end of the salary scale and may not want to leave current employers for a start-up.

Outsourced Software Development

An outsourced team provides many benefits to your start up. Many large, global businesses started out in a garage outsourcing their embryonic ideas to build up. Whilst there are some risks to outsourcing, they are typically outweighed by the pros.

Outsourcing Advantages

  1. Reduced Costs. By utilising an outsourced team you will only pay for the services you require and they are defined from the start in your contract.
  1. Defined Contracting Periods. By clearly defining how long you require the services you are able to forecast costs.
  1. Scalability. An outsource team will be able to undertake many different tasks and services for you. This enables you to expand your business far quicker by exploiting new technologies or opportunities as they emerge.
  1. Access to Expertise. By definition, an outsource team will only employ experts in their field. You are able to access this expertise through your contract and get advice on improving efficiency and cost-cutting.
  1. Adaptability and Resilience. In the same sense as scalability, your outsourced team are able to adapt to your changing requirements by bringing in staff from other departments of their organisation to work on your project. Giving you a flexibility not afforded in-house.

Outsourcing Disadvantages

  1. Conflicting Priorities. You will almost certainly not be the only client the outsourcer has, so there may be conflicting priorities depending on who shouts the loudest or who pays more. This can affect your business as you may not get the instant response you require.
  1. IPR Risks. Giving your data, sensitive information and trust to an outsourcer can be risky. It only takes one breach for you to have your business at risk from competitors or hackers.
  1. Logistical and Geographical Issues. Your development team may be located on the other side of the world which clearly may not be compatible when arranging conferences, meetings or visits.
  1. Control of Quality and Process. You will not have control of the quality and processes used in your software development until the product is delivered to you. Then you may find a bit of rework to align to your goals and standards.
  1. Cultural and Organisational Differences. With the ability to work round the globe it is possible to use an outsourcer from almost anywhere. Whilst a brilliant opportunity it can brings problems if you do not research the cultural and organisational differences. This can be simple things like shorter working weeks of extended religious holidays but in extreme cases can be illegal activity or discrimination.

The Bottom Line

In-house may give you control but it can be costly and very time consuming. It can be done but only with a lot of financial backing and patience from customers.

Outsourcing has grown over 2 decades and continues to do so. The pros are clear to see, the cons, whilst they need to be acknowledged can be managed by careful planning.






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Blockchain Must Adapt to Build Trust in the Internet of Things

Mic Bowman is a principal engineer at Intel and a member of CoinDesk’s advisory board. Camille Morhardt is the director of IoT strategy at Intel. 

The following article originally appeared in Consensus Magazine, distributed exclusively to attendees of CoinDesk’s Consensus 2018 event.


The edge is messy.

And the edge, where billions of interacting devices that will make up the Internet of Things will reside, is where IoT data is generated and acted upon.

There are often no secure physical perimeters where the raw sensing of the physical world takes place: on rooftops and space stations, inside mines and aircraft engines, on container ships and solar panels. Even edge counterparts that aggregate, filter, normalize, and increasingly interpret data, or send it to a cloud for additional analysis, are often mobile, have intermittent connectivity, and are subject to shock, vibration, or extreme temperatures.

As Things increase their connectivity and intelligence, so too will our demand for them to autonomously form networks, exchange information, and coordinate action on our behalves.

When we order an article of clothing online, for example, we indirectly call on, among others, a fashion designer, raw goods suppliers, logistics companies, customs, a distributor, an importer, a buyer, an inventory management system, a customer management system, a bank, a web management system for product placement and pricing, a retailer, and a last-mile delivery driver.

Were each of these participants able to gain near real-time insight into our purchase and its progression from factory to front door, they might be able to collaborate to optimize multiple independent systems near real-time to get me the product as fast and in as good condition as possible – especially if there are unforeseen setbacks en route – a flat tire! – while preparing for their next order.

Yet the formation of these networks is rife with problems. In the best case, information collected, shared, and acted upon is inconsistent in quality and availability. In the worst case, it provides a completely new attack vector for malicious participants. When Things plan and act on our behalves, we want assurance that the data they utilize to make decisions is trustworthy.

Ensuring that information is trustworthy is hard enough when a central authority orchestrates device configuration, data collection and cleaning, and data dissemination.  However, distributed networks can’t rely upon a central authority.

Traditional means to assert and verify participant identity and integrity fail, because participating Things are made by different manufacturers, run different operating systems, communicate with different protocols, and act on behalf of different owners who have different motives. The answer may well lie in the emerging technology that has become known as “blockchain.”

Blockchain – or distributed ledger technologies in general – offers hope for expressing and establishing shared trust in information created and exchanged by Things: the immutable log of events that is the blockchain provides a means to establish authoritatively the provenance of information; to record and enforce policies for accessing the information; and to act on the information autonomously through “smart contracts.”

However, while there is tremendous promise, blockchain technologies must evolve substantially to meet IoT’s unique demands. The unique characteristics of IoT applications impose both technical and economic requirements that lead us to conclude that IoT applications must be situated within an economic, legal and regulatory context that extends beyond the blockchain. In particular, whereas traditional blockchain applications ascribe all authority to the blockchain, we believe IoT applications must achieve a balance of authority.

Technology requirements

Establishing trust in the information shared among Things creates new requirements for blockchain technologies. Generally, blockchain technologies operate as an authority for well-defined, deterministic systems. However, information created by Things sits outside the blockchain and is notoriously ambiguous and non-deterministic. Providing information assurance for qualitative data imposes new requirements on the technology.

Requirement 1: Identity and reputation of participants is central to trust and must be exposed.

Public blockchains like Bitcoin typically provide a history of the transactions on assets while anonymizing (or at least attempting to hide) the identity of those performing the transactions. For IoT applications, however, information becomes more complex than simple ownership of an asset.  In particular, most information generated at the edge is strongly qualitative; and once information becomes qualitative, its provenance – including the identity and reputation of the source – is critical. For example, a blockchain can accurately record the transfer of access rights to a piece of information that asserts that a container was shipped across town. However, a blockchain is unable to assert the authenticity of the GPS readings captured in the shipping record.

Purists from the cryptocurrency world will argue that a “permissioned blockchain” is an oxymoron; however, some form of identity verification is required for participants who join the network so they can trust the information the Thing contributes to the collective. This demand has led to the formation of private, permissioned, closed, and enterprise blockchains – all variants on the theme of restricted participation in the distributed network. There is another possibility that Things may be identified or otherwise certified to contribute information to an otherwise public blockchain – some sort of hybrid model that attempts to validate input but not restrict inputters. Other possible solutions involve the use of anonymous credentials and verifiable claims.

Requirement 2: Controlled access to information is critical.

Typically, blockchain transactions are transparent. The introduction of smart contracts that codify and execute detailed agreements between participants complicates this notion. Businesses don’t like to share confidential data with competitors. Smart contracts will be powerful tools in IoT, particularly in supply chains that include third party logistics companies. It’s quite common for disputes to arise at handoff points where there is transfer of custody of an asset. The ability to prove that the temperature of the container remained within contract parameters should allow immediate trigger of payment. Or conversely, proof that the good spoiled under party eight’s custody in a twelve-party supply chain that all participants can view will quickly resolve finger pointing.  And this proof must be constructed without revealing additional confidential information. For example, if an organization is collecting bids on produce that was in that container, the organization may not want all bidders to see every bid or to know the final sale price. In general, the information shared through transactions is subject to a potentially complex set of access policies.

Requirement 3: Efficiency matters.

Another core principle of blockchain is redundant compute and storage: every participant processes all transactions and maintains the ledger, creating an ever-growing demand for storage across the network. In IoT, where lightweight nodes at the edge frequently have extremely limited storage and compute power (because their primary purpose is to sense raw data as economically as possible), IoT blockchains will likely need to recognize the variety of nodes in the network and their relative capabilities. The blockchain itself may need to orchestrate which clients act as lightweight nodes, and which act as validators. Further, we are likely to see an increasing variety of consensus mechanisms that do not require massive quantities of computing power or specialized hardware, and are thus easier to scale or run on existing deployed equipment.  (Note, also, that while redundancy is often viewed as a feature for blockchain integrity, one that increases the cost to a malicious actor that seeks to break network consensus and introduce fraudulent transactions, it also simultaneously expands confidentiality risks. Ledger replication offers a wide surface area for attackers seeking access to individual nodes’ sensitive data.)

Requirement 4: Connectivity is intermittent; action must be taken when disconnected.

Intermittent connectivity seems paradoxical to the Internet of Things. As Jacob Morgan defined IoT in Forbes in 2014, “Simply put, this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other).” The IoT community spent a lot of time espousing pervasive connectivity and a reduction in transmission and storage costs; however we now confidently make tradeoffs between connectivity and battery life, connectivity and transmission cost, connectivity and infrastructure cost. There are many, many edge nodes which by design receive or send data only intermittently and in small quantities. In essence, the same forces that drive autonomous interaction to the edge also require blockchains to accommodate connectivity constraints.

Requirement 5: Actions must be reversible.

To this point, the requirements we’ve discussed have been rather peripheral to the core of blockchain technology, focusing on performance and deployment characteristics; this one, however, represents a fundamental shift in one of the central tenets of the technology. Specifically, blockchain technology is founded on the principle of immutability; once something is committed to the log it never changes. This principle is particularly appropriate for the preservation of a record of unambiguous and deterministic events (such as transactions that represent the transfer of ownership of assets). However, data from the edge is often messy.

Precision and accuracy are limited by the physical capabilities of the Thing. And information generated at the edge is subject to a variety of malicious attacks that are difficult to detect. The messiness of data created (and consumed) by Things leads to a level of ambiguity and non-determinism that conflicts with blockchain technologies. Consider, for example, a smart contract that adjusts the target speed of vehicles on a road based on measured traffic flow. Weather issues that affect the accuracy of the flow sensor might trigger adjustments in the target speed that are unintended. A more troublesome example might occur when automatic payments are triggered when a shipping container arrives at a facility. A faulty RFID reader could report the existence of a container that has not actually arrived triggering an inappropriate transfer of funds.

Often, some form of external recourse can audit and prescribe corrective transactions that address these problems (though this implies the existence of an external authority). However, issues arise where the information itself is problematic. For example, personal information might leak into a transaction; the effect of GDPR and other privacy regulations may require that information be removed from the record. This problem is not unique to IoT applications though we expect it to be more common in them.

Economic Requirements

Beyond the technical requirements are simple economic barriers to blockchain adoption in IoT. Enterprises are familiar with centralized systems and in traditional, linear supply chains, they work well. When there is a strong purchaser at one end of a supply chain, there is every reason for that entity to simply set up a distributed database (that it manages centrally) and require all vendors participating in its supply chain to enter their data into it.

Until we enter the realm of multiple overlapping ecosystems and complex non-linear, dynamic supply chains (think: distributed manufacturing with over a dozen contributors to any given Thing printed, each with unique IP, equipment, and certifications), it is difficult to find an economically compelling use for truly decentralized ledgers.

However, the competitive environment in which these incumbents operate in is rapidly changing, with 3D-printing enabling distributed manufacturing, and barriers to entry around machine learning and other fast-developing technologies lowering. To compete, enterprises may be forced to adopt more open systems. The IoT industry is inevitably expanding into more complex ecosystems. As a result, we expect compelling use cases for blockchain will become more apparent.

Herein lies a conundrum. Single strong purchasers orchestrate ecosystems around a supply chain because they accrue revenue by doing so. Distributed collaboration results in distributed value, so there is little incentive for any single, incumbent entity to set up the infrastructure to distribute orchestration. Blockchains are uniquely suited to micro-transactions, so scale may help solve this problem. The IoT community has seen a few subscription models and nonprofit models. However, until there emerges a clear, repeatable, compelling business model, adoption of blockchains for IoT will be slow.

Over the next couple of years we will likely see an increasing number of pilots and small scale deployments using the technology in sub-optimal usages, e.g. standard supply chains with a dozen or so participants to improve speed of asset tracking or provenance and reduction of disputes through audit – all important advances in IoT. In these early trials, industry and ecosystem leaders will seek to prove cost savings or incremental revenue.

We will then witness the evolution of standards that allow for cross-organizational device identity and configuration, with early methods for partitioning workloads across the variety of IoT devices, and protecting data or its meta-inputs via linked trusted execution engines or retention of encrypted states as data moves across edge, fog, and cloud nodes. Devices will autonomously form communities, exchange information, and present us with options for action based on their interactions.

Finally, we will likely see commensuration of data generated at the edge – not just across autonomous Things or organizations, but across autonomous ecosystems. At this point the blockchain will be more efficient than centralized systems at managing the complexities of non-linear supply chains, managing identity, provenance, shared data sets, and running smart contracts.

While we will be trusting machines to make some decisions and take some actions on our behalves, businesses in IoT will always want to retain the ability to revoke or reverse the actions taken by a smart contract, since humans are notoriously bad at contingency planning or future prediction, and the equipment that will be acting on our behalves will also often be responsible for keeping us safe.

Recommendations

We often talk about a blockchain as a replacement for a trusted third party for interactions within a community; that is, the community ascribes to the blockchain ultimate authority about “truth.” For applications built around a network of Things, however, the blockchain must be situated within a much larger context that incorporates institutional relationships, legal requirements, and regulatory control.

There is a very real danger for those deploying blockchain-based solutions for IoT to believe that the tamper-proof nature of the blockchain provides assurances about the integrity and trustworthiness of information (and about actions driven by that information).

A more realistic view is that the role of the blockchain transitions from a source of “shared truth” about the state of a system to a log of “decisions and actions” that might need to be adjusted in the future.

Network visualization via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Analyst Says Bitcoin May Drop to $5,500 Before New Upside In Q3/Q4 2018

The price of Bitcoin has faced unexpected downward pressure in May as Consensus 2018 did not produce enough enthusiasm for a bullish move. Analyst Willy Woo said the virtual currency may only find its upside in Q3/Q4 2018. Until then, bulls may find bid opportunities at prices as low as $5,500.

Bitcoin to Complete Downside At $5,500-$5,700, Analyst Says

The cryptocurrency market has been under pressure in 2018 following an extensive race to the top, with Bitcoin breaching the $20,000 level. Traders were expecting the Blockchain Week in New York to trigger a new bullish momentum, but the market lost $52 billion after a disappointing event.

Bitcoin stalled below the $10,000 area in early May and has been steadily returning to the 2018 lows. Willy Woo, a BTC technical analyst with 62,500 followers on Twitter, is not very optimistic about where the market is moving next. Woo expects the market to give in to bears for a downswing towards $5500-$5700.

“NVT Signal is still too high. We need more blockchain transactional activity to justify the current price, or the price to drop to reconcile the difference. To drive up transactional activity in a bear slide is very unlikely IMO”, Woo said, also referring to the extreme market moves. “Volatility is still too high. I’m looking for a sustained low band of volatility which tends to be a signal for the end of the detox and the next accumulation phase. It’s still got some time to ride down.”

The BTC analyst argues that his $5500-$5700 prediction is further supported by a high Standard NVT and a Volume Profile cliff below $6800.

“When I run the above scenarios against detoxing at a $6800-$7000 floor, it seems a very unlikely path we’ll play out at the $7000 level. This is given the time we need for NVT and volatility to baseline. (…) I don’t necessarily think we’ll fall through the 5000s… sure it’s a possibility but it doesn’t have to. It’s not a repeat, it’s not Mt Gox and Willybot pushing up price with faked orders, we aren’t detoxing from a scam bubble. Technically $5000s is a very strong support band.”

The cryptocurrency market in 2018 is more mature compared to 2014 as there no longer “a few whales randomly pushing things around anymore”, which provides a more reliable understanding of price based on fundamentals. Woo says that BTC is not a market on long time frames. Instead, it is an adoption curve (climb, consolidation, climb, consolidation).

The analyst expects Bitcoin to steadily drop to $6,800 before plunging to $5700, which should be followed by a leveling out of the drop and a flat zone. The next bullish momentum should come in Q3/Q4 2018, according to Woo.

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Podcast Platform Castbox Launches Blockchain Project to Reward Creators …

Award-winning global podcast platform Castbox has announced the release of ContentBox, a blockchain-based infrastructure for decentralized digital content. The project is backed by Bo Shen — the founder of Fenbushi Capital and an early adopter of Ethereum — who will serve as both a cornerstone investor and strategic advisor to the team.

Shen said, “The nature of blockchain technology is to take a slice of the pie from vested interest groups, where you are bound to encounter resistance. To get your project off the ground, you must have vast industry and product resources. I invested in ContentBox because it has a strong technical team and a wealth of industry experience, and I believe it will become the first killer app for the digital content industry.”

Founded two years ago by former Google manager Renee Wang, Castbox allows listeners to find, access and create spoken audio content in multiple languages through virtually any device. The company’s proprietary technology includes in-audio deep search so listeners can customize their audio experiences, and curated podcast recommendations powered by natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning. With over 16 million users in 175 countries, the company has raised roughly $30 million in funding from top venture capital firms like ZhenFund, SIG China and IDG.

Since the days of Napster’s inception, audio content publishers and creators have fought over who should have control in how content is monetized and distributed. Speaking with Bitcoin Magazine, Castbox representative Mark Lee says that the creation of ContentBox was inspired by the ongoing fight against copyright infringement and piracy in the digital content arena.

“Independent creators and publishers are under attack from all sides,” he said. “Take YouTube as an example. There was once a time when the platform democratized the creation and distribution of user-generated videos. Creators that produced great content were rewarded accordingly, and YouTube quickly became a major player in the entertainment industry.”

More than a decade later, smaller, independent creators are struggling to make a living, he noted.

“They pour their hearts and souls into their work, but these big platforms have taken full control over the way content is handled, leaving the average creator with little to no income, and virtually no ownership over their content. This issue is rampant across all major content platforms. Publishers face the same challenge, as more and more of their content is shared and consumed on third-party channels like Facebook.”

Wang says that the digital media industry was originally built on principles of inclusivity, but that it has also become too top heavy to support independent publishers and creators. In addition, most advertising revenue winds up in the hands of major studios instead of the creators, where it belongs.

She says the blockchain can solve this problem by removing middlemen and high transaction fees, while also introducing new streams of revenue like activity-based income (i.e. creators are paid when someone listens to their content) and subscriptions.

“The digital content industry has remained relatively opaque over the years regarding paid media, and advertisers typically rely on vanity metrics like impressions to determine returns on investments (ROIs),” said Lee.

He suggested that the blockchain can allow advertisers to tap into shared statistics and pay via advertisement viewership automated by smart contracts.

“By decentralizing the podcast industry with a shared content pool, a shared user pool and a unified payout system, this new project creates an open source community that can’t be controlled by a few industry giants.”

This is where ContentBox comes in. The system provides listeners with an array of blockchain-based solutions that power a unified payout system for the digital content arena. Users can access content by paying with digital tokens through what’s known as BOX Payout, a secure and borderless payment transaction network.

“The base asset of ContentBox are BOX tokens which are Ethereum-based and are standard ERC20,” said Wang. “There won’t be an ICO but there will be an airdrop. BOX tokens are the only way to transact within the app but they will be listed on a couple crypto exchanges by early July, so users will be able to cash out to Ether if desired.”

Users garner these tokens by sharing content with others, inviting friends and joining the company’s Telegram channel. They are also granted access to digital wallets that manage their rewards.

“Consumers engage in a wide variety of value-creating activities vital to the growth of the podcast community, like helping to share and create content, but are never financially rewarded,” said Lee. “Blockchain allows listeners to become stakeholders that get rewarded for their contributions. In turn, they can directly reward their favorite podcasters with the tokens they earn, or unlock premium content.”

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Monero Mining Malware Hits Apple Macs


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A new Mac-based cryptojacking attack was reported this past week on Apple’s forums, forcing users to unwittingly run software that mines privacy coin monero.

According to a Malwarebytes Labs blog post, the software was discovered when a user noticed that a process called “mshelper” consumed suspiciously-large amounts of CPU time. The user said that mshelper was constantly appearing in the CPU section of their Activity Monitor at high levels. They noticed this after installing BitDefender, which constantly relayed that mshelper was deleting it. This user tried using Malwarebytes, which proved unhelpful.

One reader suggested running Etrecheck, which immediately identified the malware and allowed the victim to remove it.

Malware Components Identified

Malwarebytes Labs said there were other suspicious processes installed, for which it was able to find file copies.

The “dropper” is the program that installs the malware. Mac malware oftentimes is installed by decoy documents users mistakenly open, downloads from pirate sites, and false Adobe Flash Player installers. The dropper remained elusive for cryptominer, but Malwarebytes Labs believes it to be a simple malware.

The researchers found the location of a launcher file called “pplauncher,” which is maintained by a launch daemon. This means the dropper likely had root privileges.

The pplauncher file was written in Golang for macOS, its purpose being to install and begin the miner process. Golang requires a certain amount of overhead that causes a binary file of more than 23,000 tasks. To use this for a simple purpose indicates the creator is not highly knowledgeable about Mac devices.

Also read: Hackers injected cryptocurrency mining malware into 4,275 government websites — they only made $24

Modeled On A Legitmate Miner

CPU
Cryptojacking attacks hijack a computer’s CPU power and use it to mine cryptocurrencies like monero for the attacker.

The mshelper process gives the appearance of an older version of XMRig miner, a legitimate miner that can be deployed using Homebrew on Macs. Information from the current XMRig indicates it was built on May 7, 2018 with clang 9.0.0.

When the same information was sought from the mshelper process, it indicated it was built on March 26, 2018, also with clang 9.0.0.

Malwarebytes Labs concluded that mshelper is an older XMRig copy used to create the cryptocurrency for the benefit of the hacker. The pplauncher gives command line statements, including a parameter that specifies the user.

The researchers said that the mining malware is not dangerous unless the user’s Mac has damaged fans or clogged vents that can result in overheating.

The mshelper is a legitimate tool that someone is abusing, but it still needs to be removed, as well as all of the malware.

The new malware — now known as OSX.ppminer — falls in line with cryptominers such as Creative Update, CpuMeaner and Pwnet for macOS.

Images from Shutterstock

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