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Real Estate Technology

The new Amazon Echo is straight out of Y2K

(TECHNOLOGY) Amazon’s latest version of the Echo boasts a new feature that is sure t bring up flashbacks to the early 2000s.

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echo

New old tech

The future! Eternal, shiny and chrome. We all know what it will look like, right? A little bit of immersive VR, a splash of zero UI, maybe a tiny bit of artificially intelligent robot conquest.

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And… this thing, apparently.

Echo

That there is a recently leaked new look for Amazon’s Echo, and it may just be the future home of Alexa, the House Bezos entry in the apparently mandatory Charming If Subtly Creepy Female Sounding Virtual Assistant Contest, alongside Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s… Google Assistant.

Google is not so much with the naming of things other than Google. Except Alphabet, I suppose.

As linked, ink has already been spilled over the seriously retro form factor of the screen-enabled Echo, but… seriously, that is a retro form factor. I mean, integral speaker? I’m pretty sure I saw Ally McBeal answer a phone call on one of those, no doubt in a charmingly flustered fashion.

I’m going to swim against the already-forming current, however: I like it.

Obviously I’m 90s enough to make Ally McBeal references and use all the letters in the word “obviously,” but my fondness for the device goes beyond the fact that modern world frightens and angers me.

Remember setting up Bluetooth for the first time? Or a wireless peripheral? Because I’ll bet a shiny quarter a fair number of y’all had to use a wired device in the process.

I know I did.

That’s the unavoidable curse of new interfaces and connection protocols: if they don’t work, by definition you can’t ask them what their problem is, because you need it to work before you can ask.

Looming over the otherwise utterly welcome shift to voice-controlled zero UI is the prospect of the most severe case of Can’t Talk To The Thing ever. This time, if the cheerful Dalek of your choice turns blue and falls over – and it is a universal truth that everything, everything eventually turns blue and falls over, it’s the Tao of Tech – you literally won’t be able to talk to it.

It’ll be straight up “I can’t do that, Dave,” and nobody wants HAL in their house, even if he’s just queueing up Netflix reruns.

What about redundancy?

By all appearances, this is a touchscreen interface stuffed in a very large, very grey box. Touching Alexa might be a plus (that sounded less creepy in my head) but how is that functionality not duplicated by your phone?

My thing with that is… ever lose your phone?

The whole point of zero UI is that it runs everything. Techie types have been saying for decades that personal tech is eventually going to come down to two things, the thing you have in your house and the thing you carry around. Make the one depend on the other and the next time you leave your phone on the bus, when you get home, your house won’t work. Undesirable.

But look at this guy

It really, obviously isn’t going anywhere. It’s a beast. You’d need worshippers with ropes and a bunch of log rollers. It’s gonna hang in your house, shining the time, hanging on to your IMs and absolutely, positively guaranteeing you can talk to all the tech that runs your life.

It might just be, in this one case, the way forward is taking a step back.

#Echo

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

Upgrade your spreadsheets and integrations with this intuitive tool

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Rows modernizes spreadsheets by adding integrations and sharing features that take your ordinary spreadsheet to the next level.

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Spreadsheets open on desktop with man in office setting.

People and businesses everywhere use spreadsheets. They help us manage budgets and spending. They store and sort our data, and we use them for all sorts of business administrative tasks. They aren’t anything fancy, but they work. Functionality is important, but does this ubiquitous tool need a facelift? Well, one Berlin-based startup thought it did.

Rows is an online spreadsheet platform that has built-in integrations and a live sharing experience that helps teams work faster.

The tool is a low-code platform, which means you don’t need to learn a coding language to use it. You can use the spreadsheet skills you already have to automate your workflows. Basic spreadsheet math, text, and logic functions like SUM, VLOOKUP, and INDEX are all supported. So, there really isn’t any learning curve, if any.

“Our purpose has always been to create tools that make computation accessible to everyone,” said Rows Co-Founder and CEO Humberto Ayres Pereira. “We want to allow the 1 billion Excel and Sheets users worldwide to easily build tools catering to their personal and professional needs without code and using a familiar interface — a spreadsheet!”

So, what makes Rows stand out? Here are a few things for starters.

Integrations

It has built-in integrations that allow you to seamlessly connect to your favorite data services and business apps, such as Slack, Salesforce, Crunchbase, Twitter, and Instagram. With each integration, you can set custom functions so you can automatically send and retrieve data within your spreadsheets. By connecting your core tools and managing them in a single spreadsheet, you can eliminate writing a custom script or installing a plugin.

Collaboration and Sharing

It’s easy to collaborate using Rows. You can create workspaces and invite your team members so you can work together as a team. Together you can build and edit the spreadsheets in real-time, and you can also add interactive elements like buttons and checkboxes.

If you’d like to see how your spreadsheet will look, you can easily toggle between editing and live mode. When your spreadsheet is complete, you can make it live by turning it into an interactive web app, report, or dashboard that you share with anyone on mobile or desktop.

Templates

If you don’t know where to begin, Rows has pre-built templates for everyday tasks to get you started. There are templates for marketing, sales, HR, finance, etc. These templates are installed and customized to fit your needs.

The facelift Rows gives to your average spreadsheet looks pretty cool, and it’s something Pereira says we need today. “Excel is pre-internet, and Google Sheets, as developed as it is, is pre this API world and pre-app economy,” said Pereira. “Rows is built for today with integrations and shareable web apps.”

The all-in-one approach where your spreadsheet integrates with the apps you need to automate work, analyze data, and turn those cells of columns and rows into a neat web app you can share is the upgrade I think we’ve been looking for.

Last month, the company announced the results from their Series B funding led by venture capital firm, Lakestar. The company raised $16 million in the round, which they plan on using to invest in the platform and use for sales and marketing purposes.

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Real Estate Technology

Avoid real estate scams with these virtual investigators

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) As real estate scams increase, services such as Fireball Approves are joining the fight by offering an array of background check services.

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Man seated at kitchen table with laptop and checking phone, searching to avoid real estate scams.

Daily business across every industry has continued to find a home online, as more consumers are using websites, apps, and other digital services to complete any number of tasks. Real estate is not immune to this, with trends year over year showing users flocking to digital tools to assist with every step of the process. Whether it’s looking for a new home, rental property, apartment, or anything else, it’s clear that this industry is embracing the internet to power transactions.

Unfortunately, this also means that there is a growing number of real estate scams being carried out as well, which can include fake listings for properties, landlords, realtors, and associated services. Apartmentlist.com states that as many as 5.2 million U.S. renters are affected annually, and that 43.1% of people encounter a listing they believe to be fraudulent during their search.  Forbes reports that the FBI estimates as much as $150 million is lost per year in relation to real estate, with wire fraud being a major factor.

Sadly, this appears to be tied hand in hand with the current pandemic, as it has forced more online interactions in a time where face-to-face help may not always be possible or available.

Some services have already appeared that aim to help consumers combat and avoid such schemes, such as Scamlord.ai, which is operated by Onerent and was featured on Product Hunt. Using machine learning, it has analyzed thousands of fake listings in order to observe and find patterns. From this data, it can help guide users away from anything that might be part of real estate scams.

Another service is Fireball Approves, which utilizes background checks to help customers find information over a number of possible inquiries. From their website, Investicheck covers a wide variety of options that are broken down into people and real estate categories (with more to come). The former covers things such as a background sweep, asset confirmation, social media perusal, and even locating someone who might be missing.

The real estate side of things promises ways for renters to look into the validity of listings in order to protect themselves. This includes confirming that the lister is who they say they are (owner or landlord) and checking for past criminal or court actions. Fireball Approves can do this for short and long term properties, and even covers vacation options.

Likewise, additional offers include student housing checks (proper zoning and management validation), obtaining photos of the exterior and interior of a property, and researching legal matters such as liens, the deed, and anything related to possible foreclosure.

In a sense, Fireball Approves is another necessary safeguard against a new and emerging type of crime. A blog post on the site details ways such actions are performed, including international AirBNB impersonations, local scammers breaking into properties and listing them as available, or bypassing lockboxes and then inviting customers to sign a fake lease. Even as this new type of fraud has appeared in the form of real estate scams, Fireball Approves has worked diligently to remain informed on their tactics, responding to new scams and combating the issue with experience.

Simply put, you can never be too sure what may be a real or fake listing. Just as you might take necessary precautions to confirm identities, it will always be in your best interest to be as safe and thorough as possible. Fireball Approves and Scamlord.ai are part of the growing number of tools at your disposal. With losses potentially in the thousands, it may be worth the small investment for the peace of mind it affords.

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Real Estate Technology

COVID-19 remote work is no reason to spy on employees

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) COVID-19 related remote work is bringing with it some remote surveillance…and it can be a lot. With the new blend of work and home, privacy is paramount.

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Think that remote work means you’re off the hook when it comes to being monitored on your productivity? Unfortunately, the technology that makes working from home possible also provides supervisors with the means to keep an eye on your efficiency.

In other words, surveillance doesn’t stop just because you aren’t in office anymore.

Take, for example, a software called Sneek, which promises “human contact for remote teams.” It’s a group conference call that is always on by default and can take photographs of users upwards of once every minute. Yikes. Now, Sneek representatives insist that the software wasn’t intended for “spying,” but that’s no guarantee for how some employers will utilize it.

Even if Sneek isn’t explicitly designed for monitoring employees, though, there are plenty of applications that have been created for that purpose. TeamViewer, for example, gives employers a real-time glimpse into what’s happening on employees’ monitors, and it’s just one of many applications designed to provide real-time updates on potential productivity – or lack thereof.

Of course, this sort of questionable violation of privacy is insane by any standards, but the whole thing is made more ridiculous by this entirely unprecedented pandemic situation. Not only are we all dealing with the stress of an overarching pandemic, but there’s been a lot of major adjustments to how life works now. With both schools and work pivoting to remote access, families are being cooped up together. On the flip side, others who relied on the office as a way to connect to the world are now completely isolated as quarantine continues for many parts of the United States.

The point is, now, more than ever before, is a time to cut employees some slack. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of complaints about the rise of coercive surveillance, but the more pressing matter at hand is that things are not normal. Our routines have been upended, collective stresses have increased, and there’s no definite end in sight. The last thing anyone needs is to worry about getting in trouble for something like not promptly replying to a random check-up email.

Employees are humans, not machines, and we’re all going through a hard time right now. A bit of kindness can go a long way.

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