Google backtracks on search results design

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Earlier today, Google href=”https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/1220768238490939394?s=21″> announced that it would be redesigning the redesign of its search results as a response to withering criticism from politicians, consumers, and the press over the way in which search results display were made to look like ads.

Google makes money when users of its search service click on ads. It doesn’t make money when people click on an unpaid search result. Making ads look like search results makes Google more money.

It’s also a pretty evil (or at least unethical) business decision by a company whose mantra was “Don’t be evil”(although they gave that up in 2018).

Users began noticing the changes to search results last week and at least one user flagged the changes earlier this week.

Google responded with a bit of doublespeak from its corporate account about how the redesign was intended to achieve the opposite effect of what it was actually doing.

“Last year, our search results on mobile gained a new look. That’s now rolling out to desktop results this week, presenting site domain names and brand icons prominently, along with a bolded ‘Ad’ label for ads,” the company wrote.

Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner took a break from impeachment hearings to talk to the Washington Post about just how bad the new search redesign was.

“We’ve seen multiple instances over the last few years where Google has made paid advertisements ever more indistinguishable from organic search results,” Warner told the Post. “This is yet another example of a platform exploiting its bottleneck power for commercial gain, to the detriment of both consumers and also small businesses.”

Google’s changes to its search results happened despite the fact that the company is already being investigated by every state in the country for antitrust violations.

For Google, the rationale is simple. The company’s advertising revenues aren’t growing the way they used to, and the company is looking at a slowdown in its core business. To try and juice the numbers, dark patterns present an attractive way forward.

Indeed, Google’s using the same tricks that it once battled to become the premier search service in the U.S. When the company first launched its search service, ads were clearly demarcated and separated from actual search results returned by Google’s algorithm. Over time, the separation between what was an ad and what wasn’t became increasingly blurred.

“Search results were near-instant and they were just a page of links and summaries – perfection with nothing to add or take away,” user experience expert Harry Brignull (and founder of the watchdog website darkpatterns.org) said of the original Google search results in an interview with TechCrunch.

“The back-propagation algorithm they introduced had never been used to index the web before, and it instantly left the competition in the dust. It was proof that engineers could disrupt the rules of the web without needing any suit-wearing executives. Strip out all the crap. Do one thing and do it well.”

“As Google’s ambitions changed, the tinted box started to fade. It’s completely gone now,” Brignull added.

The company acknowledged that its latest experiment might have gone too far in its latest statement and noted that it will “experiment further” on how it displays results.

Los Angeles-based CREXi raises $29 million for its online real estate marketplace

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Los Angeles is one of the most desirable locations for commercial real estate in the United States, so it’s little wonder that there’s something of a boom in investments in technology companies servicing the market coming from the region.

It’s one of the reasons that CREXi, the commercial real estate marketplace, was able to establish a strong presence for its digital marketplace and toolkit for buyers, sellers, and investors.

Since the company raised its last institutional round in 2018, it has added over 300,000 properties for sale or lease across the U.S. and increased its user base to 6 million customers, according to a statement.

It has now raised $29 million in new financing from new investors including Mitsubishi Estate Company (“MEC”), Industry Ventures, and Prudence Holdings . Previous investors Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the financing.

CREXi makes money in three ways. There’s a subscription service for brokers looking to sell or lease property; an auction service where CREXi will earn a fee upon the close of a transaction; and a data and analytics service that allows users to get a view into the latest trends in commercial real estate based on the vast collection of properties on offer through the company’s services.

The company touts its service as the only technology offering that can take a property from marketing to the close of a sale or lease without having to leave the platform.

According to chief executive, Mike DiGiorgio, the company is also recession proof thanks to its auction services. “As more distressed properties hit the market the best way to sell them is through an online auction,” DiGiorgio says.

So far, the company has seen $700 billion of transactions flow through the platform and roughly 40% of those deals were exclusive to the company.

“The CRE industry is evolving, and market players, especially younger, digitally native generations are seeking out platforms that provide free and open access to information,” said Gavin Myers, General Partner at Prudence Holdings, in a statement. “CREXi directly addresses this market need, providing fair access to a range of CRE information. As CREXi continues to build out its stable of services, features, and functionality, we’re thrilled to partner with them and support the company’s continued momentum.”

CREXi joins the ranks of startups based in Los Angeles that have raised money to reshape the real estate industry. Estimates from Built in LA count roughly 127 companies, which have raised in excess of $2.4 billion, active in the real estate industry in Los Angeles. These companies range from providers of short-term commercial office space, like Knotel, or co-working companies like WeWork, to companies focused on servicing the real estate industry like Luxury Presence, which raised a $5 million round earlier in the year.

Memphis Meats raised $161 million from SoftBank Group, Norwest and Temasek

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Memphis Meats, a developer of technologies to manufacture meat, seafood and poultry from animal cells, has raised $161 million in financing from investors including Softbank Group, Norwest and Temasek, the investment fund backed by the government of Singapore.

The investment brings the company’s total financing to $180 million. Previous investors include individual and institutional investors like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Threshold Ventures, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Finistere, Future Ventures, Kimbal Musk, Fifty Years and CPT Capital.

Other companies including Future Meat Technologies, Aleph Farms, Higher Steaks, Mosa Meat and Meatable are pursuing meat grown from cell cultures as a replacement for animal husbandry, whose environmental impact is a large contributor to deforestation and climate change around the world.

Innovations in computational biology, bio-engineering and materials science are creating new opportunities for companies to develop and commercialize technologies that could replace traditional farming with new ways to produce foods that have a much lower carbon footprint and bring about an age of superabundance, according to investors.

The race is on to see who will be the first to market with a product.

“For the entire industry, an investment of this size strengthens confidence that this technology is here today rather than some far-off future endeavor. Once there is a “proof of concept” for cultivated meat — a commercially available product at a reasonable price point — this should accelerate interest and investment in the industry,” said Bruce Friedrich, the executive director of the Good Food Institute, in an email. “This is still an industry that has sprung up almost overnight and it’s important to keep a sense of perspective here. While the idea of cultivated meat has been percolating for close to a century, the very first prototype was only produced six years ago.”

Two Sigma Ventures raises $288 million, complementing its $60 billion hedge fund parent

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Eight years ago, Two Sigma Investments began an experiment in early stage investing.

The hedge fund, focused on data-driven quantitative investing, was well on its way to amassing the $60 billion in assets under management that it currently holds, but wanted more exposure to early stage technology companies, so it created a venture capital arm, Two Sigma Ventures.

At the time, the firm was backed primarily by the hedge fund with a $150 million commitment. Now, eight years and several investments later, the firm has raised $288 million in new funding from outside investors and is pushing to prove out its model, which leverages its parent company’s network of 1,700 data scientists, engineers and industry experts to support development inside its portfolio.

The world is becoming awash in data and there’s continuing advances in the science of computing,” says Two Sigma Ventures co-founder Colin Beirne. “We thought eight years ago when when started, that more and more companies of the future would be tapping into those trends.”

Beirne describes the firm’s investment thesis as being centered on backing data-driven companies across any sector — from consumer technology companies like the social networking monitoring application, Bark, or the high performance, high-end sports wearable company, Whoop.

Alongside Beirne, Two Sigma Ventures is led by three other partners, Dan Abelon, who co-founded SpeedDate and sold it to IAC; Lindsey Gray, who launched and led NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute; and Villi Iltchev, a former general partner at August Capital.

Recent investments in the firm’s portfolio include Firedome, an endpoint security company; NewtonX, which provides a database of experts; Radar, a location-based data analysis company; and Terray Therapeutics, which uses machine learning for drug discovery.

Other companies in the firm’s portfolio are farther afield. These include the New York-based Amper Music, which uses machine learning to make new music; and Zymergen, which uses machine learning and big data to identify genetic variations useful in pharmaceutical and industrial manufacturing.

Currently, the firm’s portfolio is divided between enterprise investments, consumer-facing deals, and healthcare focused technologies. The biggest bucket is enterprise software companies, which Beirne estimates represents about 65% of the portfolio. He expects the firm to become more active in healthcare investments going forward.

“We really think that the intersection of data and biology is going to change how healthcare is delivered,” Beirne says. “That looks dramatically different a decade from now.”

To seed the market for investments, the firm’s partners have also backed the Allen Institute’s investment fund for artificial intelligence startups.

Together with Sequoia, KPCB, and Madrona, Two Sigma recently invested in a $10 million financing to seed companies that are working with AI. “This is a strategic investment from partner capital,” says Beirne.

Typically startups can expect Two Sigma to invest between $5 million and $10 million with its initial commitment. The firm will commit up to roughly $15 million in its portfolio companies over time.

Industrial technologies get a big backer with Anzu Partners’ new $190 million fund

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Advances in biology, biochemistry, sensors and automation have the potential to reshape the ways manufacturing in America is done and a relatively new firm called Anzu Partners has just raised $190 million to invest in companies turning these scientific achievements into new products and services.

Far from Silicon Valley, Anzu is investing in technology companies coming from places as disparate as Durham, Omaha, and Santa Fe, in addition to the traditional technology hub of Boston and its surrounding area.

“We started in early 2016 with a focus on venture capital and early stage private equity,” says firm managing partner Whitney Haring-Smith. “The majority of the transactions that we do are minority, but there are a subset that are control.”

One of those acquisitions, for the optical electronics equipment manufacturer Axsun Technologies, yielded one of the firm’s early exits when the Massachusetts-based company was sold to Excelitas in a roughly $80 million transaction. The firm saw at least one other exit last year when Siemens bought its portfolio company MultiMechanics in November.

Co-founded and managed by former Boston Consulting Group leadership David Seldin and David Michael, the leadership team has expanded to include another BCG, alum, John Ho, who was just named partner with the close fo the fund.

Anzu Partners writes checks in the $3 million to $8 million range and follows that capital with commitments of up to $15 million, according to Haring-Smith.

“We focus today on investing in the technologies that enable tomorrow’s industries,” Haring-Smith said of the firm’s thesis. “We don’t know whether this biologic drug or that biologic drug will succeed but we know that all biologic drugs will need certain things.”

Examples include the company’s investment in the Santa Fe-based NTX Bio, which was made not because the startup manufactures particular biologics for the pharmaceutical industry, but because it makes technology which can produce lower cost, higher purity and higher stability biologics. “It doesn’t make vaccines, but makes vaccine manufacturing more cheap and efficient,” says Haring-Smith. 

The firm has already made six investments from its new fund since it first began fundraising efforts last April.

Portfolio companies include the Durham-based BioSkryb, which makes technologies to improve gene sequencing; Boston Microfluidics, which develops blood collection devices; GelSight, which makes 3D imaging systems to improve quality control in manufacturing; immunoSCAPE, which profiles immune systems to provide better data on potentially applicable therapeutics for patients; Sofregen, which tissue support and regeneration products based on a novel process for manufacturing silk proteins, and Solchroma Technologies, which uses a unique manufacturing process to make digital displays.

Anzu operates from offices in Tampa, San Diego, Washington, and Boston and Haring-Smith believes that the geographic diversity gives the company a leg up on deals.

With the new fund, the firm expects to expand its geographic footprint to other under-capitalized regions around the U.S.

 

 

 

In Los Angeles, the Women’s March embraces technology to organize and inspire

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The roughly 300,000 marchers that filled the streets of downtown Los Angeles for the third annual Women’s March received more than just an opportunity to hear from some of the state’s high powered politicians, they were also part of a new experiment from local March organizers in bringing technology into the movement.

Using an organizational tool called SameSide, whose launch coincided with the Women’s March and a joint effort with RockTheVote, Women’s March organizers are hoping to transfer excitement about the march into broader political engagement with local and national women’s issues in this Presidential election year.

At the same time, the March organizers were trying to find a way to incorporate art and artists into the event, while being respectful of public spaces. That’s where a new, pre-launch application called Mark, came into the picture.

Mark, a joint venture between the Danish game development firm Sybo and the Chinese mobile game publisher iDreamSky, uses augmented reality to permanent installations of digital street art. The two year old company is still in beta, but decided to work with the Women’s March as an initial test of its product.

The company agreed to donate up to $300,000 in total, and up to $100 per-person for new users who downloaded the application. Mark donated $1 per download and initial share by a user for an account created during the march. Subsequent donations will be made fo consecutive days in app and multiple shares of posts made using MARK, according to the company. Login for 60 straight days and share 20 Mark AR posts and the company agreed to donate $100 to The Women’s March.

Image courtesy of Mark

“Any movement encompasses art,” says Women’s March Los Angeles Foundation executive director Emiliana Guereca. “Social justice art and technology and the movement really melded for us. Even though it’s technology, it’s organic.”

Using Google’s persistent cloud anchors in ARCore, Mark users are able to create permanent images that can be viewed and modified through the company’s app. In Los Angeles, the company worked with American and international artists Amy Sol, Sam Kirk , Faith XLVIILedania, and Fatma Al-Remaihi to create pieces that would be available at specific sites throughout the march route.

Though the Women’s March may serve as Mark’s debut, the company intends to avoid picking political sides. “We want to be as politically neutral as possible,” says Mark’s chief executive Jeff Lyndon Ko. The former founder of the publicly traded Shenzhen-based gaming publisher iDreamSky, acknowledged that his new company couldn’t work in China’s tightly controlled social media market.

“This project will have a lot more legs outside of the Greater China reach,” Ko said.  As for the company’s Chinese shareholders (iDreamSky is an investor in Mark), the politics of the women’s movement in the U.S. were a foreign concept. “MyChina team was like, ‘What is that?’” Ko said.

If the collaboration with Mark was designed to inspire, the work that The Women’s March Foundation Los Angeles is doing with SameSide is intended to incite action.

A graduate of the politically focused accelerator, Higher Ground Labs, Sameside is the work of Nicole a’Beckett and her brother, a former Navy Seal. Together the two worked to create a social network that would combine political engagement and social activities to develop communities built around shared ideologies and purpose.

The company offers push notifications and reminders of important dates as well as a database of potentially engaged activists who could be organized around social events. It’s kind of like a politically focused “Meetup” with the added ability to message members about important dates and include calls to action for future activity.

“The Women’s March is the unofficial launch of SameSide, and is making the Women’s March in Los Angeles a catalyst for action by providing a platform for people everywhere to set up affiliated events — things like sign making parties, meet-up coffee parties the morning of the march, house parties for those who can’t attend a march — and delivering a voter registration action kit powered by Rock the Vote to everyone who RSVPs to any affiliated events or the Los Angeles Women’s March,” wrote a’Beckett in an email.

The Women’s March Foundation Los Angeles organizers view political engagement as a crucial next step for march participants. “There is a ‘to-do’ list after marching,” says Guereca. “The draw to Sameside is now people can plug in. How to continue the movement via your phone is critical.”