TL;DR: the week in tech, for you

Lewis Ashman
Some cute bots line up to shout into an oversized megaphone

We know. The news is a little Too Long; Didn’t Read sometimes. TL;DR is our roundup of the week in tech, just for you. We digest the biggest stories and trends in technology, business and innovation from across the web, and dish it out to you in 5 easy bytes (get it?).

The week in tech

1/ Can you really buy influence online?

Bots have made their way – reluctantly, and presumably without realizing it – into the media spotlight in recent weeks and months. And now people are posing hard questions to social media ‘influencers’ and the platforms they stand tall on. This week, The New York Times shined a light on those asking how big some Instagram audiences really are, and how far we can trust influencers to meaningfully engage with the percentage of their followers who are actual human beings. Because let’s face it, bots just don’t care about your brand (… unless you’ve programmed them to).

2/ The customer is always right…

…But what about the crowd? Spotify has put more faith in its users, recently rolling out software that lets desktop app users input their own metadata. As Variety reported this week, Spotify listeners can now express their opinions on ‘mood’ and ‘genre’, whether a given track or album can be referred to by another name, and how it should be tagged. Unlike Wikipedia, the ultimate power rests with Spotify, not the crowd; and users’ suggestions have to be accepted before they take effect. Nonetheless, this is a notable step toward data crowdsourcing in the music streaming business, and a perfect example of how to make the most of a devoted fanbase.

3/ Virtual assistants are getting easier to talk to (and weirdly spontaneous)

After Alexa’s random laughing fits disconcerted people last week, you’ll be relieved to hear we’ve now overheard some good news about Amazon’s virtual assistant. Now that she’s made herself comfortable in millions of homes across the world, Amazon’s CTO gave the heads up on their next target: the office. And conversations are set to get easier, as a new feature now allows Alexa owners to relay a string of commands without having to say “Alexa” before each one (that’ll usually kill a conversation, right?). It sounds like virtual assistants are about to get a lot more useful – albeit with an occasionally creepy side.

4/ Email etiquette could cost you dear-ly

Hi. If reading that just gave you a warm fuzzy feeling inside, Inc.’s lowdown on a new piece of research into email greetings will come as no surprise. Recent analysis of 300,000 email conversations has apparently proved “dear” is a less effective salutation for encouraging a positive reply than “greetings”, “hi”, “hello” and “hey” (in that order). We think it’s probably more complicated than that – and depends a lot on who you are and who you’re emailing – but we’re always pleased to see email etiquette taken seriously. There’s a lot to think about if you want people to actually reply to your emails – we broke it down for you in a recent post.

What we’ve been consuming this week…

5/ Mental block

If you’ve heard someone say “blockchain” recently it’s probably been swiftly followed by the words “the future”. But if you still don’t actually know what it is, don’t worry – you’re not alone. After last year’s giddy interest around the skyrocketing share price of bitcoin, Facebook and now Google have banned cryptocurrency ads – and people are still trying to get their heads around blockchain, the technology which underpins bitcoin (as well as other cryptocurrencies and a whole host of non-financial applications). This short, friendly video explainer from Wired will put your mind at ease. We enjoyed that, as well as this handy myth-buster which appeared on TNW. And why these myths need busting in the first place is the subject of a long piece in the Wall Street Journal (you might need to sign up to read it), which argues that blockchain will keep its mysterious reputation until a “killer-app” hooks it up to the mainstream.

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