Walmart Grocery app sees record downloads amid COVID-19, surpasses Amazon by 20%

Record demand for online grocery shopping amid the COVID-19 pandemic has sent the apps for grocery pickup and delivery services up the charts. Walmart Grocery, as a result, has now hit an all-time high in downloads — grabbing the No. 1 ranking position across all Shopping apps in the U.S. on April 5, 2020, and surpassing Amazon by 20%, according to a new analysis from app intelligence firm App Annie.
The Walmart Grocery application retained that No. 1 position for at least two days, the firm said, citing data from both the Google Play store and the Apple App Store, combined. While App Annie’s data was calculated on April 7, 2020, Walmart Grocery today is still No. 1 on Google Play as of today, April 9. It’s also now No. 2 on the App Store.

The surge of interest in Walmart Grocery may complicate Walmart’s plans to wind down the standalone app to instead merge Walmart Grocery into the retailer’s flagship mobile application and website. Earlier in March — before government lockdowns and home quarantines were widespread — Walmart announced a new strategy that would make its online grocery shopping service a part of the overall Walmart.com website and Walmart mobile app (the blue one).
The goal was to eventually wind down the separate Walmart Grocery experience entirely after customers had made the shift.
There are multiple benefits to this plan, including the ability to direct marketing dollars into only promoting one Walmart app, instead of two. It could also help drive sales across departments, as grocery shoppers may choose to buy other in-store items and Walmart shoppers may discover the grocery option while browsing the site for something else. In addition, Walmart Grocery’s millions of customers would be shifted to the main app, boosting its ranking on the app stores.
However, the COVID-19 health crisis has changed things quite a bit. As of April 5, 2020, the Walmart Grocery app saw a 460% growth in average daily downloads, in comparison with its January 2020 performance. That indicates a surge of brand-new customers to Walmart Grocery who may have never before placed an online grocery order.
Walmart Grocery isn’t the only Shopping app surging due to increased demand amid COVID-19.
An earlier report from Apptopia in March saw Walmart Grocery, Instacart and Shipt climbing the charts.
Overall, demand for retail delivery is now booming with Shopping app global downloads hitting 106 million during the week of March 29 and April 4, 2020, App Annie says — that’s up 15% from the weekly average in January 2020. Downloads in the U.S. alone were 14.4 million — up 20% from the same period. While Walmart Grocery’s jump was much larger (460%), Amazon also saw 20% growth in average daily downloads from January.
Even Walmart’s internal, employee-facing app is growing, App Annie found. The [email protected] app for associates using the Walmart scheduling system grew 220% on Android phones during the week of March 22 compared to 4 weeks prior. That reflects the increased demand for in-store workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walmart had said in March it planned to hire 150,000 new employees in both its stores and fulfillment centers to help it meet the increased demand for e-commerce orders and deliveries. Since the March announcement, Walmart said it has hired around 5,000 new employees per day and may even surpass the original 150,000 figure. While Walmart’s intention was to hire these workers on a more temporary basis, it may find that things don’t revert to “normal” any time soon. Newcomers to online grocery may discover it’s an easier and now less riskier way to shop, and will continue to do so even when lockdowns are lifted.

Starling Bank isn’t furloughing permanent staff after all

Starling Bank, the U.K. challenger founded by veteran banker Anne Boden, isn’t furloughing any of its U.K. staff after all.
In what appears to be a u-turn, it has been decided that the 41 staff who were going to be put on furlough, under the U.K. government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, are now able to continue working, meaning that Starling will not be applying for government furlough support.
It was originally communicated that the reason for furloughing staff was that they hadn’t completed their full training, and to do so would require being on premise (ie at Starling’s offices), which wasn’t possible once the coronavirus-related lockdown began. However, pragmatically, the challenger bank has put in place a process to enable this to happen (presumably) remotely.
Starling provided TechCrunch with the following statement:
On our staffers, there were 41 staff who had not completed their training. We have now developed a way of training these staff to our usual high standard and so we do not need to use government’s Job Retention Scheme after all. We are continuing to hire, especially in software engineering, where will continue to deliver new features such as Cheque Imaging and Connected Cards both launched this week.
Meanwhile, TechCrunch understands that, separate from directly employed (and permanent) staff, post-lockdown, Starling has ended its contract with around 40 temporary workers who worked in customer support and were employed via agencies.
Initially, those temporary staff were given an additional two weeks pay by Starling, but were not offered furlough by the agency they worked for. However, at least one of those agencies — Tempo — has since decided to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, meaning that the ex-Starling temps should now receive further financial support.

Don’t apply for a PPP loan unless your affiliation issues are resolved

Wiliam Carleton
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William Carleton leads the Tech, Video Games & Emerging Media practice at McNaul Ebel Nawrot & Helgren PLLC in Seattle.

Many presume that the SBA’s “affiliation” rules will prevent venture-backed startups from applying for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of the CARES Act. I think that’s unfortunate, because the potential benefits of a PPP loan are compelling. For sure, you’re prudent to assume that, if you’ve closed on one or more preferred stock financings, your startup will indeed have an affiliation issue, based on protective covenants found in your charter and investor agreements; but you may be pleasantly surprised to hear of ways to amend your startup’s governing documents that, at least arguably, do not do essential violence to minority investor protections.
Because the terms of the PPP are so compelling – a loan that becomes a tax-free grant if spent on payroll, rent and utilities (in essence, for earlier stage startups, your burn) – it simply has to be looked at as a financing source. If the initial problems with the SBA’s rollout of the PPP can be fixed, this program may be the best way out there to mitigate the uncertainties that arise from the global pandemic. The brutal reality is that your next priced equity round is significantly further down the road than you had planned.
At the same time, no one wants to re-trade on essential terms with their startup’s preferred stock investors. The affiliation “fixes” should, if they are to be feasible, focus on preferred stock class voting thresholds or the makeup of voting groups in your charter and/or to selectively eliminate preferred director veto power in your Investors’ Rights Agreement.
Let’s step back for a second and address another common misperception: it’s important to understand that an affiliation analysis is distinct from application disclosure requirements driven by the PPP’s 20% owner threshold. The 20% threshold pertains to the scope of information an applicant needs to provide, what representations need to be made, and the like. An affiliation analysis, by contrast, speaks instead as to whether the applicant even qualifies as a “small business.” For the most part, this means, will the SBA deem the applicant to have fewer than 500 employees. If your business is “affiliated” with other startups in your VC firm’s (or firms’) portfolios, your company may be deemed big, not small, and so not eligible for the PPP.

Yelp lays off 1,000 employees and furloughs 1,100 more

Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman announced in an internal email that the company is going through difficult times. Yelp has to cut expenses, which means a large round of layoffs and some additional measures. 1,000 employees have been laid off.
According to an SEC filing, Yelp had 5,950 employees as of December 31, 2019. Today’s layoffs represent a 17% staff reduction.
The company has shared Stoppelman’s internal email on its website. In addition to layoffs, another 1,100 employees are now on furlough. Those employees are considered on unpaid leave until further notice (with some exceptions) — they will receive two weeks of additional pay and retain their benefits.
Before considering layoffs, Yelp tried to cut costs in different ways. The company has reduced server costs, which makes sense given that traffic has shrunk both on mobile and on the website.
Many projects have been “deprioritized” and executives accepted 20-30% pay cuts. Stoppelman himself won’t take a salary nor vest any stock awards for the remainder of the year.
“The physical distancing measures and shelter-in-place orders, while critical to flatten the curve, have dealt a devastating blow to the local businesses that are core to our mission,” Stoppelman wrote. “Interest in restaurants, our most popular category, has dropped 64% since March 10, and the nightlife category is down 81%. Gyms are down 73%, and salons and other beauty businesses are down 83%.”
Given that Yelp is a service focused on recommending the best local businesses around you, the lockdown has a direct impact on usage. Fewer eyeballs mean shrinking ad revenue as well. A restaurant chain isn’t going to spend money on Yelp ads if it is closed.
The company expects $8 to $10 million in charges due to severance and benefits costs. Yelp shares are trading at $21.74, up 0.46% compared to yesterday’s closing price.

CDC’s new guidance around COVID-19 contact sends potentially exposed critical employees back to work

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued updated, interim guidance for “critical infrastructure” employees during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that could have big implications for labor groups, gig economy workers, and tech company employees. The new guidance relaxes restrictions on employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19, focusing on implementing precautionary measures in the workplace rather than sending them home for self-isolation, as was the practice previously.
The CDC’s updated guidelines, which were adapted in order “to ensure continuity of essential functions” according to the agency, state that someone working in an essential capacity who has been potentially exposed (either through contact with a household member with COVID-19, or having come within 6 feet of someone who has a confirmed or suspected case) should remain at work, provided they don’t show any symptoms.
That’s not to say the CDC is advising they carry on as usual: they say that anyone who has had this kind of exposure, should have their temperature taken and their symptoms assessed prior to any shift, and that they should be engage in self-monitoring. They should also wear a mask whenever in their place of employment for at least 14 days following the exposure – including cloth masks where proper face masks aren’t available because of shortages. They should also observe physical distancing from other employees, and all shared use areas and equipment should be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
The CDC further advises that anyone who comes sick during the day should be sent home immediately, and the employer should comply a list of anyone they might’ve been exposed to within two days prior to the symptoms showing up.
These changed rules were mentioned during the White House coronavirus task force briefing on Wednesday, and seem to be considered a necessary step by the agency and the administration to ensure that critical services continue to operate uninterrupted as COVID-19 continues to spread. The guidelines apply not only to full-time employees in essential roles, but also to “contracted vendors,” which likely includes Amazon warehouse employees and delivery drivers for services like Instacart and Uber Eats.
The updated guidelines come as a number of labor actions have arisen with contract workers instituting work stoppages, facility closures or job walk-outs to protest COVID-19 working conditions and pay.

As VCs pull back, Clearbanc launches a way for startups to get runway

Startups are preparing for fundraising to become even harder to secure, due to a venture market slow down caused by COVID-19. The pandemic has led to less market activity, which means fewer liquidity deals for investors, which translates into less fresh capital (or dry powder) to put into startups.
As a result investors have told already-funded startups that they need to extend their runway until deal flow bubbles back up. Investors say this could take a couple of quarters, and looking at 2008 data, it could take a couple of years.
Canadian company Clearbanc has launched Clearbanc Runway, a new loan product to help startups secure money.
On Clearbanc’s website, founders can input the amount of their current runway, as well as cash balance, overhead, revenue, margin, growth rate and other criteria. Clearbanc will analyze the data and offer a loan in the form of non-dilutive capital. Founders can repay the loan through a revenue share agreement. In order to be eligible, companies must have a minimum of $10,000 monthly revenue and at least six months of consistent revenue history.
The revenue share agreement charges a 6%flat fee, with repayments already a part of the funding plan. And if the startup that has taken a loan is doing better month to month, the funding total that they can access will reflect that.

Clearbanc Runway is very similar to the company’s  flagship product, the 20-minute term sheet.
Clearbanc created the 20-minute term sheet to help companies get non-dilutive capital for advertising spend on Google and Facebook advertisements. The premise there was that startups should spend valuable venture capital money on other expenses since equity is involved. Clearbanc Runway fulfills a broader goal.
“Originally, we were just focused primarily on ad spend. Now we can fund any expense that used to maintain your company, said Andrew D’Souza, the co-founder of Clearbanc. Clearbanc Runway will fund enterprise and software businesses, along with e-commerce businesses.
The subtle difference between the two products is that the new launch has a hint of conservatism in it. Clearbanc is in a unique position during this pandemic because it largely funds e-commerce businesses. Those internet businesses are experiencing an increase in traffic as brick-and-mortar stores close amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, noted D’Souza, “there’s a lot of volatility and a lot of uncertainty.”
“We’re certainly going to be more conservative than we would have been six months ago. It probably looks like us writing smaller checks, more frequently.”
Clearbanc isn’t competing for deal flow with venture capital firms. Instead, the company is going up against fintech companies that loan money to small businesses. And that’s neither a rare or new focus.

Here’s why so many fintech startups are loaning to small businesses

Last month, Plastiq raised $75 million to help small businesses pay for items with credit as an alternative to traditional lending resources. Payment processing giant Stripe also has Stripe Capital, its lending product that gives money to internet businesses for a flat fee.
In January, Lighter Capital raised $100 million to lend money to other startups, similar to Clearbanc’s revenue sharing agreement format. It all comes to show that there are a lot of players willing to give out loans, and it’s up to small businesses to decide which terms are the friendliest.
Not all small business loans will be accessible for venture-backed startups. For example, the $2 trillion stimulus package provided by the U.S. government shows that $349 million was set aside to loan out to small businesses. However, new guidance shows that most startups are still excluded from getting monetary help. Still, some are applying for the loan because it will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis.
Clearbanc says it can differentiate from competitors because of its speed.
“It’s great that people apply for [SBA loans], but it can take a long time,” D’Souza said. “There’s a huge backlog and it depends on your bank and what their systems are set up to do.”
Almost exactly a year ago, Clearbanc’s co-founder Michele Romanow was talking in terms of IPOs and unicorns. Clearbanc Runway has noticeably less grandeur, as D’Souza was talking in terms of helping companies avoid shuttering or undergoing mass layoffs.
The firm has loaned over $1 billion across 2,200 companies.
Clearbanc has traditionally pitched itself as a way for e-commerce founders to grow their startups without giving up as much ownership as a traditional equity deal would include. Now, the company is pitching itself as a way for all founders to stay afloat, as venture capital becomes less of an option across the world.

Stocks gain despite 6.6M new US unemployment claims

Domestic stocks rose today in the United States, with all major indices opening higher.
TechCrunch has slowed its daily coverage of the US stock market as volatility has receded. We try to avoid covering the stock market too much, but there are days when doing so would be derelict. The value of public companies impacts the value of private companies like startups, so we have to pay at least some attention on days when shares rise or fall sharply.
Today’s opening normally wouldn’t qualify as sufficiently violent to warrant coverage. But what the open today misses in total movement it makes up in oddness: This morning the US government reported that 6.6 million individuals filed for unemployment in the last week, adding to the roughly 10 million that did so in the preceding two weeks. Canada’s March unemployment, out this morning as well, was similarly awful.

Ahead of earnings, SaaS stocks show resilience

And the layoffs have continued, with Yelp this morning announcing around 1,000 layoffs and 1,100 furloughs. Startups are cutting staff at a pace not seen in a decade, the economy is broadly expected to enter a recession and venture capitalists are slowing their investment cadence as revenue losses rise and valuations are expected to dip.
And yet, stocks are higher. Sure, the Fed announced a wave of new action this morning, but reactive band-aids to bleeding wounds don’t net out to zero in the short-term.
All this is to say that if you don’t get what you are seeing in the ticker tape this morning, you’re not alone. What the fuck is going on? I don’t know.
But, I suppose, here’s where things are at start of the day:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: +305.81, +1.31%
S&P 500: +30.63, +1.11%
Nasdaq Composite: +67.94, +0.84%
Bessemer cloud index: +13.73, +1.20%
More at the close.

App development shop V/One is giving away 50,000 free mobile app builds to budding LA mobile businesses

The Los Angeles-based app development shop, V/One, is giving away 50,000 free mobile app builds through the rest of April as the company officially launches its platform for would-be, LA-based mobile app moguls.
Since its soft launch, December 20th of last year, the app development company has built over 100 new applications.
The company’s December launch featured an “app accelerator” and offered a guidebook for people who wanted to develop mobile applications to work with the development shop on early applications.
Under the terms of the development agreement, wannabe app creators get their application for free as long as they sign up for the monthly hosting service. “They can walk away at any time and cancel the hosting if they don’t want the app anymore. Builds of the apps will be delivered around 60 days upon signing up,” said V One founder, Jeremy Redman.
For founder Jeremy Redman, V/One was a business that solved a problem he had faced himself as an entrepreneur just starting out, but lacking the technical experience to build his own applications.
“I had an app idea but no real idea how to executive it. I’m non-technical, meaning I can’t code. I tried finding a technical co-founder but got abandoned when things got tough. Dev shops were too expensive and on the verge of predatory, and cookie cutter builders don’t address the designs I had in mind,” Redman said. “But, I wasn’t going to let someone tell me I couldn’t be a tech entrepreneur.”
Image Credits: Chris Ede / Getty Images
The app development toolkit that V One uses was built entirely in-house to automate the build process on the back end, says Redman.
For small businesses, the plan is to charge $297 per month for app development and customization along with any future builds, hosting, and product support and maintenance. The company’s more robust place is a $997 per month package. Both offer the option to cancel anytime with the ability to own the code for the app.
“So far the only limitations are one’s creativity. Essentially speaking, if you can design it it can be made a functional app in our builder,” Redman wrote in an email. “If I had to put a constraint on it I would say we are not good at AR/VR and machine learning and some obscure features 99% of people don’t need [or] want.”
Redman thinks that roughly 98% of an app can be built using the company’s toolkit and then the final bit of coding and development (specifically for augmented or virtual reality — or other components) can be added in a final customization.
“If customers can describe their idea in one, clear sentence then it can be made in our builder and it can be made quickly,” Redman wrote. “What we don’t do is take pages and pages of details and make an app out of it. They can fill in the details later.”
V One uses a cross-platform framework, serverless technology and modern development practices to generate apps using an easy to use app builder, the company said. Users can think of it like Wix or WordPress for mobile app development.
“Never before has someone been able to build an app from just typing their idea out, let alone for this low a cost,” says Redman.

12 major league edtech VCs discuss top trends, opportunities

Ready or not, edtech has been shoved into the spotlight as millions of students shifted to remote learning due to pandemic-related school shutdowns.
But backing these companies are investors who have long believed that edtech was always set up for great returns and a big impact. We reached out to several to find out about which trends they’ve been willing to put their money behind. (And frankly, what we’ve been missing.)
We got into how tech can help — or hurt — underserved students struggling to find Wi-Fi or a laptop and how braintech still is ripe for innovation. Investors also shared the parts of edtech that Zoom video conferencing doesn’t address and why gamifying learning is so important.
Here’s who we talked to:
Jenny Lee, GGV
Tetyana Astashkina, LearnLaunch
Jean Hammond, LearnLaunch
Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital
Mercedes Bent, Lightspeed Venture Partners
Jennifer Carolan, Reach Capital
Shauntel Garvey, Reach Capital
Jan Lynn-Matern, Emerge Education
Lesa Mitchell, Techstars 
Tory Patterson, Owl Capital
Ian Chiu, Owl Capital
Tony Wang, 500 Startups
Next week, we’ll publish the other findings we received from these investors, focusing on edtech in a post-COVID-19 world.
Responses below have been edited for length and clarity.
Jenny Lee, GGV
What trends are you most excited about in edtech from an investing perspective?
GGV Capital is focused on how technology is allowing startups to innovate and create new business models to (1) lower the reliance on physical locations and (2) to allow for teachers to teach online with multi-format (1:1, 1:n) virtual classrooms [and] (3) deliver highly interactive and personalized content via use of virtual characters, machine learning, natural language and voice recognition/processing. Edtech can be broken down into the process of (a) learning (reading, speaking, comprehension), (b) practicing, and (c) testing, and targets different age groups from 0-3 years old, 3-6 years, K-12 years and into exam prep and adult training. Over the last four to five years, we have invested in over 10 companies in the areas of language learning, test prep, holistic learnings (like logical thinking, programming etc) and K-12 homework assistant.
How much time are you spending on edtech right now? Is the market under-heated, over-heated or just right?
It’s a key investment sector for me, so I spend about 20-30% of my time with edtech startups. Over the last few years, it has been a steady sector, not over-heated, but the COVID-19 situation has thrown a bright spotlight on it as a sector benefiting from more stay-at-home children and parents anxious to keep them busy, learning and engaged. I expect the sector to heat up quite a bit as we have seen our portfolio companies attract a lot of new users, new revenue and new interested investors over the last several months as much of the world manages lock-down mode. We expect this trend to continue for our US-based and Asia-based edtech startups as well.

Japanese payment service provider Paidy raises $43 million from ITOCHU

Paidy, a Japanese fintech startup that allows customers to make online purchases without credit cards, announced today that it has raised a $48 million Series C extension from ITOCHU.
The company says it has now raised a total of $281 million in equity and debt. Its latest investment from ITOCHU, one of the largest Japanese trading companies, was equity funding. ITOCHU previously participated in Paidy’s Series B and C rounds, and this brings the total it has invested into the startup to $91 million (the company said it did an extension round instead of moving onto a Series D so it could issue the same type of preferred shares).
Paidy’s last funding announcement was in October 2019, with investors including PayPal Ventures. The company has now raised a total of $281 million in equity and debt.
The latest funding will be used to strengthen Paidy’s balance sheet during the COVID-19 pandemic and also support the development of more “buy now pay later” services it will launch later this year.
Paidy’s payment service allows users to make purchases online, and then pay for them each month in a consolidated bill. The company uses proprietary technology to score creditworthiness, underwrite transactions and guarantee payment to merchants. Since many Japanese consumers prefer not to use credit cards for online payments, Paidy’s service can help vendors increase their conversion rates, average order values and repeat purchases.
During the pandemic, the company says usage of its service has increased since more people are buying essential items online, despite declines in spending on travel, hotels and large-ticket items (a state of emergency was declared in Japan last week in Tokyo and six other prefectures).
Shuichi Kato, the executive officer and executive president of ITOCHU’s ICT and Financial Business company, said in a statement that, “We strongly beieve that they will keep playing a critical role in our retail finance strategy as their one-of-a-kind credit examination has been creating a new type of trust, appealing to a wide range of customers. Paidy has also proved that they are capable of implementing prompt solutions in the inevitable battles against fraud, evolving their services to the next level.”

Sony invests $400M in Chinese entertainment platform Bilibili

Sony said on Thursday that it is investing $400 million to secure a 4.98% stake in Chinese entertainment giant Bilibili.
10-year old Bilibili started as an animation site, but has expanded to other categories including e-sports, user-generated music videos, documentaries, and games. The service, which has amassed over 130 million users, has attracted several big investors over the years, including Chinese giants Tencent and Alibaba.
The announcement pushed Bilibili’s share up by 7.6% in pre-market trading. Sony has made the investment through its wholly-owned subsidiary Sony Corporation of America.
In a statement, Sony said the company believes China is a key strategic region in the entertainment business. BiliBili says it targets China’s Gen-Z. The vast majority of its users — about 80% — were born between 1990 and 2009.
The two companies have also agreed to pursue collaboration opportunities in the entertainment field in China, including animation and mobile game apps, they said.
You can read more about Bilibili’s business and dominance in China in my colleague Rita Liao’s piece here.

France’s competition watchdog orders Google to pay for news reuse

France’s competition authority has ordered Google to negotiate with publishers to pay for reuse of snippets of their content — such as can be displayed in its News aggregation service or surfaced via Google Search.
The country was the first of the European Union Member States to transpose the neighbouring right for news into national law, following the passing of a pan-EU copyright reform last year.
Among various controversial measures the reform included a provision to extend copyright to cover content such as the ledes of news stories which aggregators such as Google News scrape and display. The copyright reform as a whole was voted through the EU parliament in March 2019, while France’s national law for extended press publishers rights came into force in October 2019.
A handful of individual EU Member States, including Germany and Spain, had previously passed similar laws covering the use of news snippets — without successfully managing to extract payments from Google, as lawmakers had hoped.
In Spain, for example, which made payments to publishers mandatory, Google instead chose to pull the plug on its Google News service entirely. But publishers who lobbied for a pan-EU reform hoped a wider push could turn the screw on the tech giant.
Nonetheless, Google has continued to talk tough over paying for this type of content.
In a September 2019 blog post the tech giant dug in, writing — without apparent irony — that: “We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That’s also why we don’t pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result.”
It has also since changed how Google News displays content in France, as Euractiv reported last year — switching to showing headlines and URLs only, editing out the text snippets it shows in most other markets.
Screengrab showing how Google News displays content in France
However France’s competition authority has slapped down the tactic — taking the view that Google’s unilateral withdrawal of snippets to deny payment is likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant market position, which it writes “seriously and immediately damaged the press sector”.
The company has a dominant position in Europe’s search market — with more than 90% marketshare.
The authority cites Google’s unilateral withdrawal of “longer display article extracts, photographs, infographics and videos within its various services (Google Search, Google News and Discover), unless the publishers give it free authorization” as unfair behavior.
“In practice, the vast majority of press publishers have granted Google licenses for the use and display of their protected content, and this without possible negotiation and without receiving any remuneration from Google. In addition, as part of Google’s new display policy, the licenses which have been granted to it by publishers and press agencies offer it the possibility of taking up more content than before,” it writes in French (which we’ve translated via Google Translate).
“In these conditions, in addition to their referral to the merits, the seizors requested the order of provisional measures aimed at enjoining Google to enter in good faith into negotiations for the remuneration of the resumption of their content.”
Hence issuing an emergency order — which gives Google three months to negotiate “in good faith” with press agencies and publishers to pay for reusing bits of their content.
Abusive practices the agency says it suspects Google of at this stage of its investigation are:
The imposition of unfair trading conditions;
circumvention of the law;
and discrimination (i.e. because of its unilateral policy of zero renumeration for all publishers)
The order requires Google to display news snippets during the negotiation period, in accordance with publishers wishes.
While terms agreed via the negotiation process will apply retrospectively — from the date the law came into force (i.e. last October).
Google is also required to send in monthly reports on how it’s implementing the decision.
“This injunction requires that the negotiations actually result in a proposal for remuneration from Google,” it adds.
We reached out to Google for comment on the Autorité de la Concurrence’s action. In a statement attributed to Richard Gingras, its VP News, the company told us:
Since the European Copyright law came into force in France last year, we have been engaging with publishers to increase our support and investment in news. We will comply with the FCA’s order while we review it and continue those negotiations.
A Google spokeswoman also pointed back to its blog post from last year — to highlight what she described as “the ways we already work with news publishers for context”.
In the blog post the company discusses directing traffic to news sites; providing ad tech used by many publishers; and a funding vehicle via which it says it’s investing $300M “to help news publishers around the world develop new products and business models that fit the different publishing marketplace the Internet has enabled”.
Interim measures are an antitrust tool that Europe’s competition authorities have pulled from the back of the cupboard and started dusting off lately.
Last October EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager used an interim order against chipmaker Broadcom to stop applying exclusivity clauses in agreements with six of its major customers — while an investigation into its practices continues.
The commission EVP, who also heads up the bloc’s digital strategy, has suggested she will seek to make greater use of interim orders as an enforcement tool to keep up with the fast pace of developments in the digital economy, responding to concern that regulators are not able to respond effectively to curtail market abuse in the modern Internet era.
In the case of France’s competition authority’s probe of Google’s treatment of publishers content the authority writes that the interim protective measures it’s ordered will remain in force until it adopts its decision “on the merits”.

Google subsidiary agrees to pursue internet “diversification” in Asia to block China access to U.S. market

The global internet continues to disintegrate into regional internets.
Yesterday, the FCC authorized a Google subsidiary, GU Holdings, to open a submarine fiber optic link between the U.S. and Taiwan, while continuing to block the company’s expansion of the cable to Hong Kong.
The cable, operated by Pacific Light Data Communication, has faced years of delays over its ties to the Chinese mainland. The Trump administration, through the Team Telecom review process, has placed an exacting magnifying glass on the deal structure and its operating processes, arguing that a direct link between Hong Kong and the U.S. would pose grave risks to the security of America’s internet infrastructure.

How US national security agencies hold the internet hostage

Team Telecom has been a quiet bureaucratic group within the federal government reviewing internet infrastructure and telecom business licenses as our reporter Mark Harris has described, and the working group only received formal approval for its operations earlier this week in an executive order signed by President Trump.

The US is formalizing Team Telecom rules to restrict foreign ownership of internet and telecom assets

The original goal of the cable was to connect the U.S. to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, offering Google and other tech companies like Facebook the ability to move large quantities of information from their data centers domestically to the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region. That sort of bandwidth is even more acutely needed today in the context of the global pandemic of novel coronavirus and the rapid increase in work-from-home activities that are driving record internet usage.
Yet, when Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group bought a stake in the cable’s operating company in late 2017, concerns intensified among DC national security professionals that the cable could come under the sway of Beijing’s influence.
Those delays have proven costly for GU Holdings, which has argued in filings with the FCC that the project was increasingly non-viable given the extensive review process.
With today’s announcement, Google’s subsidiary has agreed to an extensive set of national security constraints on the project, including a moratorium on expansion to Hong Kong, extensive disclosure of the network’s operating processes to the U.S. federal government, and using security-cleared personnel in operating the cable.
In the government’s filing, the Team Telecom agencies, which include Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense, said that they “believe that in the current national security environment, there is a significant risk that the grant of a direct cable connection between the United States and Hong Kong would seriously jeopardize the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States.”
As part of the national security agreement, “Google will pursue diversification of interconnection points in Asia, including but not limited to Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. This diversification will include pursuing the establishment of network facilities that allow delivery of traffic on Google’s network as close as practicable to the traffic’s ultimate destination.” In other words, internet traffic will not be relayed through China or Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China.

GDPR, China and data sovereignty are ultimately wins for Amazon and Google

The agreement will ultimately allow Google and other large tech companies to advance their interests in this important region, but it does underscore the increasing disintegration of the vision of one, global internet. Data sovereignty rules in Europe, India, China, and Russia are forcing tech companies to offer specialized cloud services tailored to each region’s privacy and censorship interests rather than offering one open and free infrastructure for global internet users.

Google has little choice to be evil or not in today’s fractured internet

According to GU Holdings’ filing, the U.S.-Taiwan segment of the cable is operationally ready, and will presumably start handling traffic in relatively short order.

Bugcrowd raises $30M in Series D to expand its bug bounty platform

Bug bounty and vulnerability disclosure platform Bugcrowd has raised $30 million in its Series D funding round.
The San Francisco-headquartered company said the round brings the total amount raised to $80 million since the company was founded in 2011. This latest round was led by Rally Ventures, which previously invested in the startup.
Bugcrowd acts as an intermediary between security researchers that find bugs and security flaws and the companies with products and services that need to be fixed. By mediating from the middle, the process ensures that bugs are appropriately triaged, mitigated, and rewarded, and that both sides follow the rules to protect both sides from potential abuse.
Reputable and mainstream bug bounty platforms are few and far between, but are in high demand. Bugcrowd for one has scored some major customer wins, including Mastercard, Fitbit, and other Fortune 500 companies.
As for the round itself, Bugcrowd CEO Ashish Gupta said the $30 million will help the company ramp up its expansion of its platform, particularly in Europe and Asia.
“The fight against cybercriminals is never-ending and attack surfaces are constantly expanding,” Gupta told TechCrunch. “We’re expanding our offerings, applying the intelligence from our crowd to a variety of different security use cases to help customers find and fix vulnerabilities faster, and continue to scale the platform.”
Gupta said Bugcrowd serves 65 industries in 29 countries. “We want to continue that growth trajectory,” he said.
Even though large swathes of the world have ground to a halt thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the security world hasn’t shown any signs of slowing. In fact, vulnerability reports during March are up 20%, Gupta said. And Bugcrowd as a business is largely unfazed by the stay-at-home orders, given that its staff are remote-first. “We did temporarily close our five physical world-wide offices but have seen no disruption of services,” he said.
The funding comes at an important time for the company. In the past year, Bugcrowd expanded its relatively new penetration testing offering, a service where companies ask trusted researchers to stress-test their systems to find and shore up holes before an attacker can. That side of the business — less than two years old — grew by 400% year-over-year since its debut, said Gupta.
“Our customers see a ten-times higher number of critical vulnerabilities from our pen test solution compared to other assessments because we bring the right researcher with the right skills to deliver insightful submissions,” said Gupta.

Playing board games online

One of the things that keeps me fairly upbeat these days is playing board games and D&D with my friends online. Since others might want to do the same, I thought I’d jot down some notes on how I do it.

I briefly tried Tabletopia but didn”t like it. I understand why they built the interface as they did, but I found it very hard and very confusing to use, and it took us about 45 minutes to even start understanding the system. Granted, we picked Teotihuacan for our test game, which may not have been the best of choices.

So I continued using my homebrew system, and it works great so far.

Technical set-up

I use Whereby (the former appear.in), a WebRTC service that works absolutely GREAT. I totally recommend it to everyone for your online communication needs. The greatest thing about it is that you just go to a URL, ask the people you want to communicate with to go to the same URL, give permissions, enter the room, and start talking. No sign-ups or logins or whatever.

I have a pro account (or whatever it’s called) that allows 12 simultaneous connections to my room. You can also just grab a room name, go there, and start communicating, but these free rooms have a maximum of four simultaneous connections. So I advise you to take a paid account; you will most likely need more than four connections for playing board games online.

Besides, fuck free. The free Internet is slowly coming to an end and you should pay for services you like and use, or they won’t survive (or sell your data; see also Zoom).

Whereby works on modern Chromium-based browsers, and also in Firefox (though I haven’t tried Firefox on Android yet). It does not work in Safari iOS, but an app is available that works as simply as the web client.

Then figure out how many devices you own that you can use. On the whole, I send out three streams: my ‘social’ stream (my face, basically) from my laptop, the main board stream from my iPad, and a secondary board stream from a Samsung S6 I happened to have lying around. I occasionally use my real Samsung phone (an S7) as a third cam, for instance to make sure that everyone has the same bits and pieces on mirrored player boards.

Mute Whereby on all devices except for your social stream. One very annoying thing I noticed is that, both on the iPad and on the Samsungs, it is impossible to turn off the sound completely. Therefore you need to do two things:

Disable sound input by clicking on the microphone icon in the bottom bar.
Disable sound output of all connections by clicking the Mute option in the menu you get after clicking on the three bullets icon in the upper right corner. You must repeat this for every connection.

You can only mute the output once everyone else has joined the stream. If someone drops out and re-joins you must mute them again. This is annoying; but it’s caused by idiotic device vendors not allowing you to mute the sound completely by using the provided hardware buttons — don’t ask me why they took this stupid step.

Now ask the others to join you. If possible and necessary they can also add their own cameras, for instance to show their player boards.

Picking the game

With the technical set-up out of the way, you should pick your game. I found that there are two absolute necessities here:

All players must own the game, so that they can copy the moves of the other players.
The game should have little to no hidden information.
So you might need to buy the same game as your friends. If you are in the Amsterdam area, please support your friendly local game store Friends & Foes instead of the big online retailers. Friends & Foes deliver in Amsterdam (I just ordered Tzolkin from them).

The two games I played most often so far are Azul and Alchemists. I am currently gearing up to try Madeira,
Istanbul and Tzolkin; they should work as well.

Azul, Madeira, and Tzolkin have no hidden information at all. They have a variable set-up (and in case of Azul this is repeated each round), but that should be no problem.

Appoint one player or group of players as the Master; the other ones have Copies. The players with the Master draw all the randoms and show them to the other players, who copy them on to their Copy boards. Having the Master set provide all random draws is very important, since usually quite a bit of design thought went in to deciding exactly how many of one type of card or tile are available. These distributions should not be disturbed!

Azul

With Azul it is very important that all players set up copies of all other players’ personal boards. Part of the game is figuring out which tiles other players are likely to want, and for that all players need an overview of who has which tiles in which position.

Wnen I stream Azul, the main camera is on the central part with the available tiles. Other players can copy that if they like, but it’s not really necessary if the stream is clear enough. My secondary camera is on my own player board, so that everyone can see what I’m doing.

During the game all players clearly state their moves; for instance “I take the two blues with the star, and I put them on my three row.” I take the tiles from the central part, and the other players see me doing that, so they can correct me. They don’t see my copy of their playing baords, but that has never been a problem yet, as long as everyone gives clear instructions.

After a round has ended but before scoring I start up my tertiary camera to stream my copies of everyone else’s player boards, just to make sure no mistakes were made. Then I score each player’s board while showing it on camera. We repeat our final scores orally, just to be sure, and then the Master player sets up for the next round by drawing random tiles from my Master bag.

Alchemists

Alchemists does have a little bit of hidden information: random ingredients drawn, and random helper cards we always call Friendly Friends. (I forget their official name.) The Master player draws these cards for me and shows them on their camera without looking. I take the corresponding cards from my own copy of the game. This works fine, and the distribution of ingredients and Friendly Friends remains intact.

Alchemists really only needs a Master main board stream and social streams; there is no reason to add more cameras.

Although Alchemists’ board is pretty big, it doesn’t contain all that much information, which is good for online gaming. I just need to see which artifacts and ingredients are drawn (and copy them to my own board), and where players place their action cubes (and copy them as well). If I can’t see it clearly I just ask, and that works fine.

Part of Alchemists becomes much easier. In real life every player needs a beautifully-designed but sometimes cumbersone player contraption to both visualise their research and hide it from the other players.

Credit: Karel_danek

Online, it’s not necessary, and I find that my research and thinking flows much easier. Other players cannot see my board, and that gives me a lot more space to work with.

Madeira, Istanbul and Tzolkin

I haven’t played Madeira, Istanbul and Tzolkin yet, but they do not contain hidden information; just start-of-game randoms, plus the random buildings that occasionally appear in Tzolkin and the bonus cards in Istanbul. I do not think these will cause a problem.

The bigger problem might be that their boards are much more involved, and there’s a lot of game state to track. I might need to use two cameras to stream them accurately; I’m not sure yet. We’ll figure that out once we do the first session.

Pepper, a platform for restaurants and suppliers, pivots to deliver food to consumers

Though the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on restaurants has been crystal clear, many forget the impact this disease has had on food chain suppliers. With restaurants closed, these suppliers — who still have access to tons upon tons of food — no longer have customers.
Meanwhile, end consumers are dealing with their own stresses around securing food, deciding between venturing out to the grocery store and ordering food through increasingly unreliable grocery delivery services.
That’s where Pepper comes in.
Pepper launched late last year with an enterprise product focused on connecting restaurants with their suppliers. Most restaurants have 6+ different suppliers, and manually placed orders with each of them individually each night either by email, voicemail or text message. Oftentimes, there was no confirmation that the order was received, with employees receiving orders and hoping that everything arrived on time as it was requested.
To digitize the industry, Pepper developed an app that let restaurants input the contact information of suppliers and place orders quickly, and then let those suppliers press a single button to confirm the order was received and in progress.
In the six months since launch, things have changed dramatically for the startup, which has led cofounder and CEO Bowie Cheung to rethink the business.
Alongside facilitating orders between restaurants and suppliers, Pepper has now opened up a consumer-facing portal called Pepper Pantry, allowing everyday users to place an order directly with a food supplier.

Folks pay a flat $5 payments processing fee on the platform, and can choose from fresh meats, produce, dairy and other categories to have food delivered directly to their home.
Of course, this involved considerable adaptation on the part of Pepper and their suppliers, who are used to shipping pallets of food rather than bags or boxes. However, it has created some jobs on the supplier side as folks repackage food to amounts that are suitable for families or individuals, rather than businesses.
Cheung says the portions are still ‘bulk’ but more on par with a Sam’s Club or Costco purchase than the types of orders restaurants were placing.
Suppliers are able to choose their minimum order amount, which can range between $0 and $150. Thus far, eight suppliers have signed on to the Pepper Pantry platform, serving the greater NYC area (NYC, NJ, CT) and the greater Boston area.
Pepper declined to disclose its total funding amount, but did share that it has received investment from Greylock’s Mike Duboe and Box Group.

MIT develops privacy-preserving COVID-19 contact tracing inspired by Apple’s ‘Find My’ feature

One of the efforts that’s been proposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 is a contact trace and track program, that would allow health officials to keep better tabs on individuals who have been infected, and alert them to potential spread. Contract tracing has already seemingly proven effective in some parts of the world that have managed to curb the coronavirus spread, but privacy advocates have big reservations about any such system’s implementation in the U.S.
There are a number of proposals of how to implement a contact tracing system that preserves privacy, including a decentralization proposal for a group of European experts. In the U.S., MIT researchers have devised a new method to would provide automated contact tracing that taps into the Bluetooth signals sent out by everyone’s mobile devices, tying contacts to random numbers that aren’t linked to an individual’s identity in any way.
The system works by having each mobile device constantly be sending out random strings of numbers that the the researchers liken to “chirps” (though not actually audible). These are sent via Bluetooth, which is key for a couple of reasons, including that most people have Bluetooth enabled on their device all the time, and that it’s a short-range radio communication protocol that ensures any reception of a “chirp” came from someone you were in relatively close contact to.
If any person tests positive for COVID-19, they can then upload a full list of the chirps that their phone has broadcast over the past 14 days (which at the outside, should represent the full time they’ve been contagious). Those go into a database of chirps associated with confirmed positive cases, which others can scan against to see if their phone has received one of those chirps during that time. A positive match with one of those indicates that an individual could be at risk, since they were at least within 40 feet or so of a person who has the virus, and it’s a good indicator that they should seek a test if available, or at least self-quarantine for the recommended two-week period.
MIT’s system sidesteps entirely many of the thorniest privacy-related issues around contact tracing, which have been discussed in detail by the ACLU and other privacy protection organizations: It doesn’t use any geolocation information at all, nor does it connect any diagnosis or other information to a particular individual. It’s still not entirely left to individual discretion, which would be a risk from the perspective of ensuring compliance, because MIT envisions a health official providing a QR code along with delivering any positive diagnosis that would trigger the upload of a person’s chirp history to the database.
The system would work through an app they install on their phone, and its design was inspired by Apple’s “Find My” system for locating lost Mac and IOS hardware, as well as keeping track of the location of devices owned by loved ones. Find My also uses chirps to broadcast locations to passing Apple hardware.
“Find My inspired this system,” ays Marc Zissman, the associate head of MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Cyber Security and Information Science Division and co-principal investigator of the project in a blog post describing the research. “If my phone is lost, it can start broadcasting a Bluetooth signal that’s just a random number; it’s like being in the middle of the ocean and waving a light. If someone walks by with Bluetooth enabled, their phone doesn’t know anything about me; it will just tell Apple, ‘Hey, I saw this light.’”
The system could be adapted to automate check-ins against the positive chirp database, and provide alerts to individuals who should get tested or self-isolate. Researchers worked closely with public health officials to ensure that this will suit their needs and goals as well as preserving privacy.
MIT’s team says that a critical next step to making this actually work broadly is to get Apple, Google and Microsoft on board with the plan. This requires close collaboration with mobile device platform operators to work effectively, they note. Extrapolating a step further, were iOS and Android to offer these as built-in features, that would go a long way towards encouraging widespread adoption.

Ahead of earnings, SaaS stocks show resilience

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
This morning we’re taking a brief look at SaaS stocks ahead of earnings, making note of their recent movements (and recovery), and what those somewhat violent movements could mean for SaaS startups as we head into the new economic world.
Investors generally expect churn (revenue loss) to rise at SaaS firms. For modern software startups that need to raise new capital, more churn means slower growth. If public software companies trip over their earnings reports, clipping their valuations, it could set up a double-bind for a number of startups. Let’s explore.
A recovery, a return
Tracking the value of public SaaS companies is a fun way to understand a piece of the venture capital market. If public SaaS shares rise, their gains help founders raise new money at attractive prices, defending and extending private valuations. When SaaS stocks fall, they do the opposite.

Baking Structured Data Into The Design Process

Baking Structured Data Into The Design ProcessBaking Structured Data Into The Design Process

Frederick O’Brien

2020-04-09T11:30:00+00:002020-04-09T11:48:27+00:00Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for almost every kind of website, but its finer points remain something of a specialty. Even today SEO is often treated as something that can be tacked on after the fact. It can up to a point, but it really shouldn’t be. Search engines get smarter every day and there are ways for websites to be smarter too.

The foundations of SEO are the same as they’ve always been: great content clearly labeled will win the day sooner or later — regardless of how many people try to game the system. The thing is, those labels are far more sophisticated than they used to be. Meta titles, image alt text, and backlinks are important, but in 2020, they’re also fairly primitive. There is another tier of metadata that only a fraction of sites are currently using: structured data.

All search engines share the same purpose: to organize the web’s content and deliver the most relevant, useful results possible to search queries. How they achieve this has changed enormously since the days of Lycos and Ask Jeeves. Google alone uses more than 200 ranking factors, and those are just the ones we know about.

SEO is a huge field nowadays, and I put it to you that structured data is a really, really important factor to understand and implement in the coming years. It doesn’t just improve your chances of ranking highly for relevant queries. More importantly, it helps make your websites better — opening it up to all sorts of useful web experiences.

Recommended reading: Where Does SEO Belong In Your Web Design Process?

What Is Structured Data?

Structured data is a way of labeling content on web pages. Using vocabulary from Schema.org, it removes much of the ambiguity from SEO. Instead of trusting the likes of Google, Bing, Baidu, and DuckDuckGo to work out what your content is about, you tell them. It’s the difference between a search engine guessing what a page is about and knowing for sure.

As Schema.org puts it:

By adding additional tags to the HTML of your web pages — tags that say, “Hey search engine, this information describes this specific movie, or place, or person, or video” — you can help search engines and other applications better understand your content and display it in a useful, relevant way.

Schema.org launched in 2011, a project shared by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex. In other words, it’s a ‘bipartisan’ effort — if you like. The markup transcends any one search engine. In Schema.org’s own words,

“A shared vocabulary makes it easier for webmasters and developers to decide on a schema and get the maximum benefit for their efforts.”

It is in many respects a more expansive cousin of microformats (launched around 2005) which embed semantics and structured data in HTML, mainly for the benefit of search engines and aggregators. Although microformats are currently still supported, the ‘official’ nature of the Schema.org library makes it a safer bet for longevity.

JSON for Linked Data (JSON-LD) has emerged as the dominant underlying standard for structured data, although Microdata and RDFa are also supported and serve the same purpose. Schema.org provides examples for each type depending on what you’re most comfortable with.

As an example, let’s say Joe Bloggs writes a review of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22 and publishes it on his blog. Sadly, Bloggs has poor taste and gives it two out of five stars. For a person looking at the page, this information would be understood unthinkingly, but computer programs would have to connect several dots to reach the same conclusion.

With structured data, the following markup could be added to the page’s <head> code. (This is a JSON-LD approach. Microdata and RDFa can be used to weave the same information into <body> content):

<script type=”application/ld+json”>
{
“@context” : “http://schema.org”,
“@type” : “Book”,
“name” : “Catch-22”,
“author” : {
“@type” : “Person”,
“name” : “Joseph Heller”
},
“datePublished” : “1961-11-10”,
“review” : {
“@type” : “Review”,
“author” : {
“@type” : “Person”,
“name” : “Joe Bloggs”
},
“reviewRating” : {
“@type” : “Rating”,
“ratingValue” : “2”,
“worstRating” : “0”,
“bestRating” : “5”
},
“reviewBody” : “A disaster. The worst book I’ve ever read, and I’ve read The Da Vinci Code.”
}
}
</script>

This sets in stone that the page is about Catch-22, a novel by Joseph Heller published on November 10th, 1961. The reviewer has been identified, as has the parameters of the scoring system. Different schemas can be combined (or tiered) to describe different things. For example, through tagging of this sort, you could make clear a page is the event listing for an open-air film screening, and the film in question is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou by Wes Anderson.

Recommended reading: Better Research, Better Design, Better Results

Why Does It Matter?

Ok, wonderful. I can label my website up to its eyeballs and it will look exactly the same, but what are the benefits? To my mind, there are two main benefits to including structured data in websites:

It makes search engine’s jobs much easier.They can index content more accurately, which in turn means they can present it more richly.
It helps web content to be more thorough and useful.Structured data gives you a ‘computer perspective’ on content. Quality content is fabulous. Quality content thoroughly tagged is the stuff of dreams.
You know when you see snazzy search results that include star ratings? That’s structured data. Rich snippets of film reviews? Structured data. When a selection of recipes appear, ingredients, preparation time and all? You guessed it. Dig into the code of any of these pages and you’ll find the markup somewhere. Search engines reward sites using structured data because it tells them exactly what they’re dealing with.

(Large preview)

Examine the code on the websites featured above and sure enough, structured data is there. (Large preview)
It’s not just search either, to be clear. That’s a big part of it but it’s not the whole deal. Structured data is primarily about tagging and organizing content. Rich search results are just one way for said content to be used. Google Dataset Search uses Schema.org/Dataset markup, for example.

Below are a handful of examples of structured data being useful:

Recipes
Reviews
FAQs
Voice queries
Event listings
Content Actions.
There are thousands more. Like, literally. Schema.org even fast-tracked the release of markup for Covid-19 recently. It’s an ever-growing library.

In many respects, structured data is a branch of the Semantic Web, which strives for a fully machine-readable Internet. It gives you a machine-readable perspective on web content that (when properly implemented) feeds back into richer functionality for people.

As such, just about anyone with a website would benefit from knowing what structured data is and how it works. According to W3Techs, only 29.6% of websites use JSON-LD, and 43.2% don’t use any structured data formats at all. There’s no obligation, of course. Not everyone cares about SEO or being machine-readable. On the flip side, for those who do there’s currently a big opportunity to one-up rival sites.

In the same way that HTML forces you to think about how content is organized, structured data gets you thinking about the substance. It makes you more thorough. Whatever your website is about, if you comb through the relevant schema documentation you’ll almost certainly spot details that you didn’t think to include beforehand.

As humans, it is easy to take for granted the connections between information. Search engines and computer programs are smart, but they’re not that smart. Not yet. Structured data translates content into terms they can understand. This, in turn, allows them to deliver richer experiences.

Resources And Further Reading

“The Beginner’s Guide To Structured Data For SEO: A Two-Part Series,” Bridget Randolph, Moz
“What Is Schema Markup And Why It’s Important For SEO,” Chuck Price, Search Engine Journal
“What Is Schema? Beginner‘s Guide To Structured Data,” Luke Harsel, SEMrush
“JSON-LD: Building Meaningful Data APIs,” Benjamin Young, Rollout Blog
“Understand How Structured Data Works,” Google Search for Developers
“Marking Up Your Site With Structured Data,” Bing

Incorporating Structured Data Into Website Design

Weaving structured data into a website isn’t as straightforward as, say, changing a meta title. It’s the data DNA of your web content. If you want to implement it properly, then you need to be willing to get into the weeds — at least a little bit. Below are a few simple steps developers can take to weave structured data into the design process.

Note: I personally subscribe to a holistic approach to design, where design and substance go hand in hand. Juggling a bunch of disciplines is nothing new to web design, this is just another one, and if it’s incorporated well it can strengthen other elements around it. Think of it as an enhancement to your site’s engine. The car may not look all that different but it handles a hell of a lot better.

Start With A Concept

I’ll use myself as an example. For five years, two friends and I have been reviewing an album a week as a hobby (with others stepping in from time to time). Our sneering, insufferable prose is currently housed in a WordPress site, which — under my well-meaning but altogether ignorant care — had grown into a Frankenstein’s monster of plugins.

We are in the process of redesigning the site which (among other things) has entailed bringing structured data into the core design. Here, as with any other project, the first thing to do is establish what your content is about. The better you answer this question, the easier everything that follows will be.

In our case, these are the essentials:

We review music albums;
Each review has three reviewers who each write a summary by choosing up to three favorite tracks and assigning a personal score out of ten;
These three scores are combined into a final score out of 30;
From the three summaries, a passage is chosen to serve as an ‘at-a-glance’ roundup of all our thoughts.
Some of this may sound a bit specific or even a bit arbitrary (because it is), but you’d be surprised how much of it can be woven together using structured data.

Below is a mockup of what the revamped review pages will look like, and the information that can be translated into schema markup:

Even the most sprawling content is packed full of information just waiting to be tagged and structured. (Large preview)
There’s no trick to this process. I know what the content is about, so I know where to look in the documentation. In this case, I go to Schema.org/MusicAlbum and am met with all manner of potential properties, including:

albumReleaseType
byArtist
genre
producer
datePublished
recordedAt
There are dozens; some exclusive to MusicAlbum, others falling under the larger umbrella of CreativeWork. Digging deeper into the documentation, I find that the markup can connect to MusicBrainz, a music metadata encyclopedia. The same process unfolds when I go to the Review documentation.

From that one simple page, the following information can be gleaned and organized:

<script type=”application/ld+json”>

{
“@context”: “http://schema.org/”,
“@type”: “Review”,
“reviewBody”: “Whereas My Love is Cool was guilty of trying too hard no such thing can be said of Visions. The riffs roar and the melodies soar, with the band playing beautifully to Ellie Rowsell’s strengths.”,
“datePublished”: “October 4, 2017”,
“author”: [{
“@type”: “Person”,
“name”: “André Dack”
},
{
“@type”: “Person”,
“name”: “Frederick O’Brien”
},
{
“@type”: “Person”,
“name”: “Marcus Lawrence”
}],
“itemReviewed”: {
“@type”: “MusicAlbum”,
“@id”: “https://musicbrainz.org/release-group/7f231c61-20b2-49d6-ac66-1cacc4cc775f”,
“byArtist”: {
“@type”: “MusicGroup”,
“name”: “Wolf Alice”,
“@id”: “https://musicbrainz.org/artist/3547f34a-db02-4ab7-b4a0-380e1ef951a9”
},
“image”: “https://lesoreillescurieuses.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/a1320370042_10.jpg”,
“albumProductionType”: “http://schema.org/StudioAlbum”,
“albumReleaseType”: “http://schema.org/AlbumRelease”,
“name”: “Visions of a Life”,
“numTracks”: “12”,
“datePublished”: “September 29, 2017”
},
“reviewRating”: {
“@type”: “Rating”,
“ratingValue”: 27,
“worstRating”: 0,
“bestRating”: 30
}
}
</script>

And honestly, I may yet add a lot more. Initially, I found the things that are already part of a review page’s structures (i.e. artist, album name, overall score) but then new questions began to present themselves. What could be clearer? What could I add?

This should obviously be counterbalanced by questions of what’s unnecessary. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. There is such a thing as ‘too much information’. Still, sometimes a bit more detail can really take a page up a notch.

Familiarize Yourself With Schema

There’s no way around it; the best way to get the ball rolling is to immerse yourself in the documentation. There are tools that implement it for you (more on those below), but you’ll get more out of the markup if you have a proper sense of how it works.

Trawl through the Schema.org documentation. Whoever you are and whatever your website’s for, the odds are that there are plenty of relevant schemas. The site is very good with examples, so it needn’t remain theoretical.

The step beyond that, of course, is to find rich search results you would like to emulate, visiting the page, and using browser dev tools to look at what they’re doing. They are often excellent examples of websites that know their content inside out. You can also feed code snippets or URLs into Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper, which then generates appropriate schema.

Tools like Google’’s Structured Data Markup Helper are excellent for getting to grips with how structured data works. (Large preview)
The fundamentals are actually very simple. Once you get your head around them, it’s the breadth of options that take time to explore and play around with. You don’t want to be that person who gets to the end of a design process, looks into schema options, and starts second-guessing everything that’s been done.

Ask The Right Questions

Now that you’re armed with your wealth of structured data knowledge, you’re better positioned to lay the foundations for a strong website. Structured data rides a fairly unique line. In the immediate sense, it exists ‘under the hood’ and is there for the benefit of computers. At the same time, it can enable richer experiences for the user.

Therefore, it pays to look at structured data from both a technical and user perspective. How can structured data help my website be better understood? What other resources, online databases, or hardware (e.g. smart speakers) might be interested in what you’re doing? What options appear in the documentation that I hadn’t accounted for? Do I want to add them?

It is especially important to identify recurring types of content. It’s safe to say a blog can expect lots of blog posts over time, so incorporating structured data into post templates will yield the most results. The example I gave above is all well and good on its own, but there’s no reason why the markup process can’t be automated. That’s the plan for us.

Consider also the ways that people might find your content. If there are opportunities to, say, highlight a snippet of copy for use in voice search, do it. It’s that, or leave it to search engines to work it out for themselves. No-one knows your content better than you do, so make use of that understanding with descriptive markup.

You don’t need to guess how content will be understood with structured data. With tools like Google’s Rich Results Tester, you can see exactly how it gives content form and meaning that might otherwise have been overlooked.

Resources And Further Reading

“Getting Started With Schema.org Using Microdata,” Schema.org
“Schema.org Project Repository,” GitHub community
“Structured Data Markup Helper,” Googe Webmasters
“Add Structured Data To Your Web Pages,” Google Developers Codelabs
“Rich Results Test,” Google
Quality Content Deserves Quality Markup

You’ll find no greater advocate of great content than me. The SEO industry loses its collective mind whenever Google rolls out a major search update. The response to the hysteria is always the same: make quality content. To that I add: mark it up properly.

Familiarize yourself with the documentation and be clear on what your site is about. Every piece of information you tag makes it that much easier for it to be indexed and shared with the right people.

Whether you’re a Google devotee or a DuckDuckGo convert, the spirit remains the same. It’s not about ranking so much as it is about making websites as good as possible. Accommodating structured data will make other aspects of your website better.

You don’t need to trust tech to understand what your content is about — you can tell it. From reviews to recipes to audio search, developers can add a whole new level of sophistication to their content.

The heart and soul of optimizing a website for search have never changed: produce great content and make it as clear as possible what it is and why it’s useful. Structured data is another tool for that purpose, so use it.

(ra, yk, il)

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