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Austin startup to offer blockchain tech to mortgage industry

(TECHNOLOGY) An Austin startup is heading the initiative to move mortgage industry to move towards blockchain technology.

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For a guy who has on two occasions written in favor of the robot apocalypse, I can be pretty twitchy about security in tech. I surf behind a VPN (because the NSA is super interested in my herbal tea blends) encrypt important files for storage, all that good paranoid stuff.

But of course, the real nightmare when it comes to tech security isn’t on the consumer end. We’re not worried about robots swiping unused RAM or reading our browser history (well, I’m not; I don’t know what you’ve being doing lately, you deviant) nearly so much as the new reality that everything from money to mortgage papers is digital, and 1s and 0s don’t much care who’s futzing with them.

A fine state of play on the issue can be found here, but the TL;DR is that to date a money-based economy has required an intermediary between buyer and seller, someone whose only job is to manage the money itself. That middleman’s big job is verifying the value of what’s being exchanged, resolving the “double spending problem” of spending the same unit of value more than once.

Fun fact: that’s literally why there are coins.

Originally the heads on the “heads” side weren’t just rulers showing off, they were stamps from the royal treasury that confirmed the proper amount of precious metal was in that particular lump. The authenticity problem is literally as old as money, and now we’ve gone and thrown away the stamp.

Thanks to the authenticity problem, historically it’s been impossible to perform a straight peer-to-peer exchange of value with money: note that yours has deceased politicians on it. In theory, digital exchange makes that unnecessary. Cryptographic technology can guarantee authenticity better than a green picture of a dead guy, and exchange can occur between people directly.

That’s bitcoin, for example. But bitcoin is just the application of the idea. The idea behind bitcoin and a bunch of other clever digital things is blockchain.

Blockchains are “distributed ledgers.” All transactions made by members in a set time period are put in an encrypted “block,” then the blocks are distributed to the network and the first member to validate the encrypted transaction gets a bonus.

As soon as that’s done, the block is timestamped, locked, and added to the chain. Every member’s ledger is identical because the records are generated automatically, and instead of going through a bank or credit card company, users have direct access to all their information at any time.

Best of all, with current technology, blockchain is effectively hack-proof.

Once a block is stamped it never changes again, permanently linked to every other block, every block is safe behind the kind of crypto that – no hyperbole – a hacking tool can’t finish the necessary math because the Sun will blow up first, and you have to hack every block to get to any of them. It’s a big deal.

And it’s come home in a big way.

Austin startup Factom just blew away their latest funding round. Factom is about “blockchain as a service,” implementing blockchain for transaction security and information storage in vital industries.

Their new hotness is Harmony, a service aimed at the mortgage industry that will integrate blockchain into existing tech to guarantee security for sensitive housing data. World-class VCs like Tim Draper and corporate stalwarts like Overstock and Stewart Title have already bought in.

Nobody was ever sure if bitcoin was a monster, a punchline or the Big New Thing, and it suffered for it. But the blockchain tech created for it is legitimately important, a straight-up new way of doing business, and courtesy of Factom, it sounds like Austin will kick off the revolution.

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

Google Nest: A sneak peek of the new and improved version

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) The secretive Google Nest speaker has been leaked. It looks fantastic and sleek–but will it sound better?

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Google Nest

There’s no denying that Google Nest has done a lot to make the modern smart home accessible and easy to set up, but the common consensus remains that the system doesn’t quite meet the audio demands of many users. Thanks to leaked photos of a new Google speaker, it seems that those demands are to be addressed.

The photos originated from a regulatory establishment in Japan, and while there isn’t anything to see in the way of press from Google as of now, it’s clear that the device is the upcoming Nest speaker associated with Google’s smart home line.

Google Nest–an amalgam of the aptly named Nest and Google Home–is a series of smart devices poised to turn any house into a fully functioning smart home. While the Google Home setup includes a hub that includes built-in speakers to report various metrics and information depending on your preferences, the actual sound fidelity was, reportedly, somewhat lacking.

And, even though the Nest Mini improved upon Google Home’s audio flaws, it still left something to be desired–a space that, ideally, the Nest speaker will fill.

9 to 5 Google also points out that the sound disparity between different iterations of the Nest Mini shows vast improvement in terms of audio output and overall quality, so it seems appropriate to assume that the Nest speaker–with larger dimensions and more advanced architecture than the the most recent Nest Mini–will vastly outshine Google’s audio solutions thus far.

As for the speaker itself, Google seems to have grown away from both the conical Google Home device and the Google Home hub in favor of an oval, cloth-covered speaker that seems reminiscent of the Nest Mini’s overall presentation. There are a couple of design updates, too–the mute button is now a switch, and there’s a lot more rubber on this rendition of the speaker.

Users will be able to use a standard wall outlet to power the speaker, a design choice that may raise some questions since it detracts from the otherwise sleek presentation.

Google has yet to list the speaker on its website, but it’s worth noting that the Google Home, formerly listed alongside the Nest Mini, is no longer available. If you have a smart home endowed with Google products and you’re looking to upgrade, keep an eye out for the Nest speaker in the coming months.

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Real Estate Technology

Instagram now allows you to pin comments

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Instagram introduces pinned comments; with this feature comes possibility for positivity in an overwhelmingly negative space.

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instagram pins

Bad press is forthcoming and constant in any industry, and social media often bears the brunt of such negativity. Perhaps that’s why Instagram, following in YouTube’s footsteps, now offers the option to pin comments under posts.

Pinning a comment typically refers to placing said comment at the very top of the comment section (say “comment” one more time, I dare you). However, Instagram comment-pinning doesn’t just apply to the comment section itself: Any pinned comments will appear directly under the post when scrolling, negating the need to open the thread at all.

This is incredibly handy for anything from highlighting positive user reviews to calling out a voice that mimics or adds to the message you hoped to send with your initial post. In fact, the applications here are virtually endless; Lifehacker even suggests using the pin feature to update followers on winners of virtual give-aways or other competitions, for example.

To pin a comment, you’ll need to use the Instagram mobile app on Android or iPhone. Once at the comment you want to pin, you can swipe from right to left over the comment and then tap the thumbtack icon that appears. Keep in mind that you can’t pin a comment from your feed–you’ll have to open the comments section by tapping the top comment before you can adjust anything.

Removing a pinned comment is as simple as swiping left and then tapping the pin again.
You can’t use the Instagram website to pin comments, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given Instagram’s limited functionality on desktop. Both iOS and Android users should be able to access the pin feature immediately, but if you find your Instagram app doesn’t allow it, try updating and restarting. Instagram is set to roll the feature out universally, so you shouldn’t have to wait.

Being able to call attention to community voices is especially important in 2020, and Instagram’s implementation of this feature couldn’t be more timely. It’s clear that there are substantial marketing and outreach implications for pinned comments, but this is also a chance for users to highlight culturally significant standpoints or alternative positions where appropriate. As people begin engaging with this feature in earnest, we can only hope to see it used in such a capacity.

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Real Estate Technology

Send personalized, automated texts to your customers with Respond Flow

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Respond Flow is the new “Mailchimp of SMS”, allowing you to easily automate personalized text conversations with your customers.

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CRM Respond Flow

CRM solutions in 2020 are all over the place, but one factor among them has not changed: the engagement aspect. This is something that Respond Flow, an SMS-based CRM tool, hopes to address by helping you craft realistic, convenient messages to make your customers feel valued.

Respond Flow is, self-admittedly, the “MailChimp of SMS”. This means that they cover everything from your location-based phone number to your marketing resources and strategies, all of which are available from an easy-to-use dashboard.

It’s a lofty comparison to be sure, but while Respond Flow doesn’t incorporate the web-hosting aspect of customer management that one finds in MailChimp, it more than makes up for that discrepancy through customer engagement, thereby earning its place in the CRM line-up on principle.

Respond Flow also leans into the personalized communication style that many brands have embraced in the last few years. Perhaps one of the most obnoxious aspects of any automated communique is that feeling of being just another number on a list; this is something the company is clearly aware of.

Instead of making customers feel like cash resources, Respond Flow allows you to reach out to or engage with customers at all hours–a process for which you can control the parameters from your Respond Flow dashboard. The best part of this system is that Respond Flow allows you to create lists of customers that, based on your interactions with them, enables custom content depending on those customers’ preferences.

Respond Flow also boasts a bevy of other features that make your life substantially easier. These include everything from social media integration and mobile app support–you know, the things you expect in 2020–to the aforementioned list feature and some customization options to help customers feel like you’re actually talking to them one-on-one. Keyword integration and formulaic messages based on customer responses are, of course, part of the deal as well.

Similarly, you can set up different location-appropriate numbers for each of your brick-and-mortar locations that use Respond Flow, thus affording more credibility to your communications with local customers. It’s a subtle touch that is sure to save you countless hours, headaches, and cash along the way.

Currently, Respond Flow offers a two-week free trial. If you’re interested in checking out a new CRM solution, consider giving this one a shot.

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