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What the heck are blockchains?!

(TECH NEWS) You’re hearing more and more about banks and startups using “blockchain” technology. Confused? We got you.

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The first, original blockchain came from Bitcoin, an “electronic cash system” created by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. Satoshi aside, there’s nothing secret about the Bitcoin software, as anyone can read the massively disruptive source code that Satoshi unleashed on the world in 2009.

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Bitcoin and the “blockchain” are more or less interchangeable words, as they both have the same origin. But over time, the original Bitcoin idea has inspired 100s of new “altcoins” such as Litecoin, Peercoin and Dash.

Altcoins have blockchains too

Just like Bitcoin, each altcoin has its own blockchain, which you can think of as a breadcrumb trail of confirmed transactions that floats around the world with trusted participants rubber-stamping new transactions as authentic along the way. These participants are called “nodes” and each one keeps a backup copy of the blockchain for reference. According to Bitnodes, there’s approximately 5,300 nodes in the world confirming new Bitcoin transactions.

If you combine the value of all the Bitcoins and altcoins, it’s about $12 billion dollars.

Altcoins comprise about 20% of that market cap. That sounds huge, until you realize Chipotle Mexican Grill is worth more than all the “crypto” coins combined.

What’s the point?

Right now, the Bitcoin blockchain is about 100 gigabytes in size and continues to grow. Hypothetically, an oppressive government could try to detect and block the blockchain, but thus far it’s not a problem for the Bitcoin network.

It seems Bitcoin was designed by Satoshi with resilience in mind, with new transactions (blocks) sized small enough to slip through the greedy fingers of Internet filters.

Early advocates of Bitcoin argued it would mostly appeal to the billions of unbanked people in the world that can’t easily buy and sell goods and services due to prohibitive paperwork, travel distance and other obstacles.

Beyond the coin: trust networks

Speaking of digital money, Bitcoins and altcoins seem to have cracked the code that E-gold trailblazed in the 90s. But beyond the “coin” aspect of blockchain technology, new applications are emerging.

Ethereum aims to use its secure network to create autonomous organizations and decentralized applications to form a “world computer.” And Austin-based Factom uses the blockchain to “safeguard the most critical government, commercial, and non-profit systems.” And Storj offers a blockchain-based encrypted storage service. Also IBM has invested billions in various blockchain technologies, from tracking identity through Bitcoin transactions to enhancing the privacy of cognitive computing for medical applications.

“Blockchain” sounds more credible

For a business, credibility is important and “blockchain” is maybe the safer word compared to “Bitcoin” because it emphasizes the computer science innovation rather than the disruptive economic innovation, which might still make some people nervous. Whatever your point of view, Bitcoin is still the most prominent blockchain by far, and its secure DNA has captured the imaginations of developers and businesses wanting to capitalize on the success of Bitcoin.

#Blockchain

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PJ Brunet is a writer, full stack developer, and abstract artist. His first computer was a Texas Instruments TI-99. As a teen, he interned at IBM in Boca where the first PC was born. Graduating with a BFA, he gave California and New York a shot, but fell in love with Texas in 2004, the same year he started blogging about technology.

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Real Estate Technology

Microsoft adds a powerful security layer and you should use it now

(TECHNOLOGY) Microsoft is packing a punch with their new feature dedicated to folders – and because you likely handle sensitive info, you’ll want to start using it immediately.

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In an era during which online privacy’s validity is underscored by leaked personal information and doxxing attempts, any attempt to add a layer of security is appreciated. To that end, Microsoft OneDrive users will be pleasantly surprised by its new feature: an encrypted folder protected by two-factor authentication.

Microsoft OneDrive’s aptly named Personal Vault is the answer to skepticism around online storage. The folder will be added to existing and future OneDrive users’ file pages, and any files synchronized between your desktop and the Personal Vault folder will be encrypted both on your computer and in the cloud. To access these files, you will need to go through Microsoft’s two-factor authentication.

For those not in the know, two-factor authentication—often abbreviated as “2FA”—requires you to log in from two points: the credential page and a secondary location, such as your phone or a verified email address. Typically, 2FA services prompt you for your login information, after which point they will send a login code to your registered phone number or a different email address; you’ll enter the code before being allowed to continue.

As you might imagine, 2FA makes it nearly impossible to fake someone’s credentials in order to log into their account; to do so, one would need both the correct credentials and physical access to the user’s 2FA device or email address. It’s this layer of security that makes the Personal Vault folder a step up from competing cloud storage services, but hopefully we’ll see 2FA working its way into Google Drive soon.

It’s also pertinent to note that the Personal Vault will avoid caching your files if you’re using the web version of OneDrive on an unregistered computer, so it’s clear that OneDrive’s emphasis on security this time around extends past the initial file access.

There are a few drawbacks to 2FA, chief among which is the lack of convenience. If you leave your Personal Vault folder open and idle for more than a few minutes, it will lock again, forcing you to go back through the 2FA process. Additionally, if you lose access to your phone or your backup email address unexpectedly, recovering your files can be a hassle.

That said, you can’t put a price on the peace of mind that this security brings — especially when it means the files you handle with sensitive info, are safe. It’s worth the mild inconvenience and the extra few seconds to keep them that way.

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RealEye tracks more than site clicks, it tracks where people look

(TECHNOLOGY) RealEys is website tracking software that tells you more than just how many people look at your site or where they click. RealEye tells you where they look, too!

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One of the beauties of the Internet era is the data we can see on direct consumer behaviors. Heat maps and website analytics can allow us to see how consumers actually act.

However, unconscious behaviors, the kind that lead to actions taken on a site or app, continue to elude us. RealEye wants to change that.

This software, which can be viewed on ProductHunt, uses “webcam eye-tracking software you are able to follow your user’s eyes and see exactly what they see while looking at your website.”

This way, you can see what people study (and don’t study) before they engage an action on a specific page.

Because this tech is tied to a webcam, you aren’t limited to testing on web pages. According to a comment from creator Adam Cellary, “you can test layouts (png/jpeg) and based on results – correct your designs!”

The company utilizes a vetted pool of testers to review sites with the software, and the data is sent back to customers for their analysis. Customers pay for frequency of access to that test group.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “that’s a lot of sensitive data on someone’s face being recorded. What about the privacy issues associated with that?”

Thankfully, the product doesn’t collect recordings.

Instead, it records behavior as data points. The point on the page where users look is logged on an x/y axis, along with time spent looking at that particular coordinate. The app also tracks scroll offset.
Because this data is set up as raw numbers, privacy is protected and the data can be easily migrated into a heat map format.

A/B testing is the most obvious application. If you want to see which product page layout leads to a better conversion rate, RealEye provides some of the most accurate data on how consumers perceive each design.

That’s because users can’t “cheat” this kind of testing.

Using the eye mapping data, you can see which page features instantly draw in your users.

Right now, the most effective testing results are found on desktop. Because mobile screens are so small, it is hard to find meaningful variety in user behavior using those results.

One would imagine this will change down the road.

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No tech skills needed to build a lead gen chatbot in 5 minutes

(TECH NEWS) Create your very own AI chatbots with this awesome new free to start service, no tech knowledge required. Warning: It’s kind of fun and can lead to shenanigans.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the rise and innovating quickly. Chatbots featuring AI are becoming increasingly prominent on company websites for more cost-effective, 24/7 customer support and lead generation.

You don’t need to be tech savvy to set up Landbot’s new easy-to-use AI chatbot builder. As long as you have a basic grasp of how to use a computer and the internet, Landbot has you covered.

Landbot offers users a platform to create customized chatbots for customer support, lead generation, and analytics tracking. It launched eight months ago on Product Hunt, earning over 1,700 upvotes and ranked in the Top 200 Products of all time.

Their homepage features a friendly chatbot happy to answer all of your questions. The chatbot also serves as an example of what your very own chatbot could look like if you sign up.

Signing up is as easy as briefly chatting with the bot, providing your name, company or project title, and email address. Lucky you, the sandbox version is not only super user-friendly, but also free to use.

And trust me, the two hours I spent playing around with it are testament to how fun and easy it is to build a chatbot.

No AI, coding, or chatbot knowledge are required to use Landbot 1.0. Simply follow along with the tutorial, learning how to drag, drop, and connect blocks to create conversational interfaces.

Begin with the start message, which is the first thing customers will see. From here, you can create new blocks to build flows. Each block functions as either a question or a message.

Question blocks can have any number of answer types, including pre-set buttons, free text fields, or specific information like asking for contact info.

In the simple message blocks, you can add links, photos, YouTube videos, or custom HTML. Everything is laid out on a grid and connected by dragging an arrow from one block to the next.

Blocks can loop back to previous ones, creating a customizable loop. For bonus fun, you can test out a preview version of your bot to make sure you connected everything correctly.

Once you’ve got your basic conversation flow laid out, customize your bot’s appearance by editing a template or creating a design scheme from scratch. Background, fonts, and color can all be edited to personalize your bot.

Special features include app integration, where you can get Slack notifications when someone using the bot needs help. Automated emails can be sent to qualified leads, ensuring a human on your team follows up with the customer.

Manage leads with access to a table of details, exportable as a .CSV file for record keeping. Analytics are available showing user metrics, flow analytics, and if you incorporated surveys, then collected results.

While Sandbox is free to use, some of the more advanced features are only available if you throw down for a monthly subscription. Landbot offers three pay-to-play options, starting at €20 /month (around $25 USD) for the Starter plan.

Play around with Landbot’s platform and craft yourself a neat new chatbot pal, pal!

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