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By THE NEW YORK TIMES

With more people reading the Times on smart phones, you can now experience Lens on the New York Times iPad/iPhone or Android app.

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Original author: 
Kara Swisher

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Earlier today, Yahoo said it had acquired the trendy and decidedly stylish news reading app Summly, along with its telegenic and very young entrepreneur Nick D’Aloisio.

Yahoo said it plans to close down the actual app and use the algorithmic summation technology that the 17-year-old D’Aloisio built with a small team of five, along with a major assist from Silicon Valley research institute SRI International, throughout its products.

While Yahoo did not disclose the price, several sources told me that the company paid $30 million — 90 percent in cash and 10 percent in stock — to buy the London-based Apple smartphone app.

And despite its elegant delivery, that’s a very high price, especially since Summly has been downloaded slightly less than one million times since launch — after a quick start amid much publicity over its founder — with about 90 million “summaries” read. Of course, like many such apps, it also had no monetization plan as yet.

What Yahoo is getting, though, is perhaps more valuable — the ability to put the fresh-faced D’Aloisio front and center of its noisy efforts to make consumers see Yahoo as a mobile-first company. That has been the goal of CEO Marissa Mayer, who has bought up a range of small mobile startups since she took over nine months ago and who has talked about the need for Yahoo to focus on the mobile arena above all.

Mayer met with D’Aloisio, said sources, although the deal was struck by voluble M&A head Jackie Reses.

Said one person close to the deal, about the founder: “Nick will be a great person to put in front of the media and consumers with Mayer to make Yahoo seem like it is a place that loves both entrepreneurs and mobile experiences, which in turn will presumably attract others like him.”

Having met the young man in question, who was in San Francisco in the fall on a fundraising trip, I can see the appeal. He’s both well-spoken and adorkable, as well as very adept at charming cranky media types like me by radiating with the kinetic energy of someone born in the mobile world (you can see that in full force in the video below with actor and Summly investor Stephen Fry).

Still, D’Aloisio is very young and presumably has a lot of other entrepreneurial goals and that’s why he agreed as part of the deal to only officially stay 18 months at Yahoo, multiple sources told me. In many cases, startup founders strike such short-term employment deals with big companies, agreeing to stay for a certain determined time period.

He will also remain in England, where he lives with his parents, said sources. In addition, only two of Summly’s employees will go to Yahoo with D’Aloisio.

That’s $10 million each, along with a nifty app Yahoo will not be using as is (too bad, as it would up the hip and fun factor of Yahoo’s apps by a factor of a gazillion if it were maintained).

“It works out on a lot of levels,” said another person close to the situation. “Nick is a founder that will make Mayer and Yahoo look cutting edge.”

Cue the parade of PR profiles of the young genius made millionaire, helping Yahoo become relevant again.

I have an email for comment into the always friendly D’Aloisio. But I don’t expect a reply, since he has apparently been specifically instructed by the martinets of Yahoo PR not to talk to me any longer — well, for 18 months at least! (Don’t worry, Nick, I don’t blame you and will still listen to whatever you are pitching next, since you are so dang compelling and I enjoyed using Summly!)

Until then, here’s the faboo Summly video, with the best chairs ever:

Summly Launch from Summly on Vimeo.

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[ See post to watch video ]

I’ll admit it: I still use a BlackBerry. I also use an iPhone and an Android phone, but I don’t mind being teased by friends when I need to crank out a long email in seconds, because the BlackBerry keyboard is still the best. My thumbs can speed along on its tactile keys without forcing me to look down as I walk, and it never makes an embarrassing word change using autocorrect.

But really, typing on glass keyboards — like those found on iPhones, Android phones and Windows Phones — should be much easier by now. This week I took a look at a few technologies that gave me hope.

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BlackBerry 10 | The keyboard on RIM’s newest smartphone will suggest words right on the keyboard; swipe up on a word to add it to a sentence.

I tested two apps for Android phones that use very different approaches: the $3.99 SwiftKey 3 by TouchType Ltd., which is available now, and Snapkeys Si by Snapkeys Ltd., which will be available free in the Google Play Store Jan. 16. (Apple doesn’t allow third-party companies to take over core features, like the keyboard, on devices running its iOS mobile operating system.) I also got to briefly try out the smart predictive keyboard technology on Research In Motion’s upcoming BlackBerry 10.

Of the two new apps, I had an easier time adjusting to SwiftKey 3, which uses a traditional on-screen keyboard and guesses what you’ll type next by using a predictive language algorithm. It also incorporates touch gestures, like a right-to-left swipe across the keyboard to delete the last word and left-to-right swipe from the period button to insert a question mark.

Snapkeys Si was a tougher adjustment: It abandons the traditional keyboard altogether, forcing users to type on just four squares that hold 12 letters; all other letters are produced by tapping in the blank space between these four squares. Like SwiftKey 3, it uses some swipe gestures, like a right-side diagonal swipe down to create a period. Snapkeys Si aims to solve fat-finger syndrome, giving people’s fingers bigger targets and guessing the words they mean to type.

The BlackBerry 10 is scheduled to be launched on Jan. 30. I got some hands-on time with its on-screen keyboard, and was impressed by its suggested words, which users can swipe up to throw into sentences. This is designed to make the device easy to use with one hand. The BlackBerry 10 keyboard also reads and learns exactly where a user taps each key to better predict which letter to type, so clumsy fingers make fewer mistakes.

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Snapkeys Si | The traditional QWERTY keyboard layout is abandoned in this app, replaced by just 12 letters displayed in four squares.

SwiftKey 3 for Android is an app that has a healthy understanding of how language is used in everyday conversation, and supports 54 languages, including variations like American, British and Australian English. Creator TouchType scraped Internet language data from around the world to understand how people speak in real-life situations — not by studying a dictionary. It then used this knowledge to create a predictive algorithm that guesses what you’re likely to type next, suggesting three options above the keyboard as you go.

This app can also detect where you meant to add a space, automatically adding it in for you. I found this feature to be a handy time saver as I typed since I could just keep going rather than stopping to tap the space key after each word.

During setup, SwiftKey 3 users can opt to give the app access to their Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and SMS interactions so that it can study a user’s language to further understand how the person talks. For example, if someone always preferred to spell “thanks” as “thx,” SwiftKey 3 would learn this behavior and add “thx” in as a word rather than continuously trying to correct it. A TouchType spokesman says later this year the company may add a feature allowing users to customize the app to write out complete words when they type abbreviations, like typing “abt” to get “about.”

For privacy purposes, the app only stores this data locally on your phone rather than sending it back to the company for making improvements. And you can erase the app’s personalized data at any time in Settings, Personalization, Clear Language Data.

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SwiftKey 3 | This app supports more than 50 languages, and remembers how you use words, like knowing to type ‘MacLaren’s’ above.

SwiftKey 3 is free for the first month, and then costs $3.99 to continue using it. The app will remember all of your custom language settings when you upgrade, so you don’t have to reteach it.

Snapkeys Si, made by Israeli startup Snapkeys, lets you see more of your smartphone screen while you’re typing by using just four squares containing 12 letters instead of the traditional keyboard. Although these bigger finger targets made it so I never accidentally typed the wrong square, it took me a while to get used to knowing where each letter was and which letters weren’t in squares at all.

Typing words with letters that aren’t in squares requires using the blank space in the middle of these squares. So to type the word “wish,” I’d find the first three letters in squares, selecting each of them. But the “h” isn’t in a square, so I’d tap the blank space between these squares. In the case of “wish,” Snapkeys Si got it right, but other words were more challenging to type, which frustrated me. Suggested words appear on the right side of the four squares, and tapping one of them adds it to a sentence. Once a new word is added to Snapkeys Si dictionary, it will be suggested from then on.

Like SwiftKey 3, Snapkeys Si only saves your personalized language settings on the phone.

The space key is to the right side of these four squares, and the backspace key is to the left. I added periods to the end of sentences by swiping diagonally down from right to left, and added commas by swiping diagonally down left to right.

Snapkeys Si is worth a try if you’re looking for a fresh alternative to traditional keyboards. But I found that it was a lot of work to learn after years of using the traditional QWERTY keyboard layout. The app is still in its beta, or first version, and the company says it will continue to improve.

Smart keyboard apps like SwiftKey 3, Snapkeys Si and others make typing on glass less painful and more intuitive. Just beware of the steep learning curve you may have to climb to start using them.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.

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Rick Smolan, creator of the epic “Day in the Life” photography books, is taking on a new challenge: Big data.

“Big data” has become a buzzphrase many people like to hate for its vagueness, but Smolan’s book format brings out all sorts of specificity and examples.

© Joe McNally 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data

His new 7.5-pound book, “The Human Face of Big Data,” includes vignettes about wirelessly sensing disproportionate electricity and water consumption by individual home appliances, restoring human sight with a pair of computer eyeglasses that analyze light and other input in real-time, predicting repeat heart attacks by screening large samples of patients’ EKG data, and taking personal health tracking to the extreme. It will be released Nov. 20.

Smolan has been creating these massive photography projects for the last 30 years, but they’re usually about more naturally visual subjects, most recently President Obama and global water problems.

“This is the most difficult set of assignments I’ve ever worked on,” he told me. “How do you photograph data?”

Smolan also said he is well aware that the next step beyond “big data” is often thought to be “big brother.” He said the aim of the project is to get people to talk about the potential for big data, without ignoring the privacy implications.

While the book may be a static piece of work, Smolan is also trying to create a participatory experience that generates its own data, hopefully a big amount of it. Before the book comes out, he is releasing a Human Face of Big Data app for iOS and Android that asks people to measure themselves from Sept. 25 to Oct. 2.

The app will collect data about each user implicitly from smartphone sensors as well explicitly through quizzes, with everything promised to be anonymized (though I’m not clear on how exactly that will happen, given the depth of access a smartphone has to its owner’s activities).

For example, the app might count the number of contacts in people’s phone address books or track how far they travel in a single day. Then it will inform users about their “data doppelgangers” with similar attributes somewhere else in the world.

At the end of the week, all the data will be made available to scientists at Webcast “Big Data Lab” events in New York City, London and Singapore. And there’s a whole bunch of more ambitious (dare I say big) ideas beyond that, including a kids’ education day and a documentary film.

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This Q&A is part of a biweekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 80+ Q&A sites.

Alfredo O asks:

I'm in the early stages of developing an application geared toward business use, but I'm unsure whether I should develop a web-based app or a native mobile app.

Developing a separate mobile app seems to mean more maintenance—any time a change goes through online, I'll have to make sure the update carries over to the app. But I know only native apps can utilize certain features such as GPS and digital rights management, and native apps don't require an Internet connection.

Ultimately, what is the best way to go?

Read the rest of this article...

Read the comments on this post

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Ecuador-based photojournalists Ivan Kashinsky and Karla Gachet visited The Wall Street Journal last week to show their work–including a new app they developed for the iPad called “Short Stories: From Ecuador to Tierra Del Fuego”—the result of visiting five South American countries in seven months in their trusty jeep, Sancho, named for Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza.

Mr. Kashinsky and Ms. Gachet met at the newspaper at San Jose State University in California, eventually married and headed for the equator. Ms. Gachet became the first woman photographer at El Comercio, a major newspaper in Ecuador, and both have received multiple awards for their work. To see more images, visit their new website, Runa Photos.


Herding vicunas in the Peruvian Andes, near the pueblo of Cotobambas, on July 25, 2009


Boys jump into the ocean in the isolated fishing pueblo of Limones in the province of Esmeraldas, on August 17, 2008. Limones can only be reached by boat and lies on the border of Ecuador and Colombia.


A bullfighter performs during the Yawar Fiesta in the Peruvian Andes in Coyllurqui, on July 29, 2009. Every year, during Peru’s Independence Day, the Blood Fest is celebrated in the highland communities of Apurimac.


Miners chew coca leaves, which give them energy to work, deep in the mines of Oruro, Bolivia, February 2009.


Lago Roca in Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina, April, 2009.

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