How Interbots Will Change Chatbot Development By Ilker Koksal

In the past couple years, chatbots have made great strides in disrupting the way brands and publishers get to know consumers. Far from being just a fad, conversational UI has changed the way we interact with machines, discover content and accomplish tasks. But now that bot-to-human interaction has made its impact, what’s next?

Enter interbots, the latest phase in chatbot development enabling bot-to-bot communication. With bot-to-bot communication, chatbots can work together to accomplish tasks—which means they can get accomplish even more than before. You could, for example, ask a bot to delegate tasks to others to complete a task that it otherwise couldn’t do alone. When bots can work together to expand their features and surpass their individual limitations, the possibilities are endless.

What Interbots Mean for Chatbot Development

This new phase in chatbot development means taking a modular approach to using and making bots. With a chatbot development platform, bot makers and users alike can mix and combine chatbots into entirely new ones. Think of it as building a high-tech Frankenstein’s monster: you might combine an already-existing bot that books hotel rooms with another that books flights, creating the ultimate digital travel assistant in the process. The sky’s the limit as you absorb more and more bots’ skills.

We might also find new communities of hobbyists and consumers spring up focused on finding new and unexpected ways to use bots. After designing your bot to fulfill a specific role, you might release it to your brand’s community to iterate and improve as they add new features to it. A chatbot development platform allowing this wouldn’t be very different than IFTTT, which allows users to build and share “recipes” that connect different services together to get more done. By empowering users to connect your interbot with others, you’ll discover new uses for the chatbot—and your community will feel a pivotal role in shaping what it can do.

Interbots Give Rise to Real Digital Assistants

Finally, it may become more common for the average user to have their own personal, representative chatbot interbots. These bots would then go out in the wild and work with others to fulfill their users’ needs. For example, let’s say you want to buy a specific product and want to find it at the best price. Instead of comparing prices in a small handful of stores, your bot could enquire with shop bots to compare dozens—if not hundreds—of listings in a matter of seconds.

If an interbot runs into a problem or is confused by another bot, it could ping its owner to ask for clarification. Users could conceivably access an archive to see how the interbots communicated or finished a task.

Interbots and bot-to-bot communication can revolutionize the way we look at and work with bots. Instead of viewing them just as conversation partners, they can be a powerful development in moving conversational data behind the scenes to power various services. Of course, conversational analytics will be crucial for interbots to analyze their capabilities for sure, and not only humans will be reading their data, interbots themselves will be also reading data of their own and improve themselves with AI-based systems.

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How Does the Dark Web Put Your Business at Risk? By Andrew Heikkila

Denver-based OWL Cybersecurity recently released a report showing that nearly every Fortune 500 company is exposed and has a presence on the the Dark Web. OWL gave each of the companies a darknet intelligence (DARKINT) index rating, stating that “the Index ranking reflects the attractiveness of the target. It is not a “risk of breach”. It is more closely aligned to the attractiveness of the target to a hacker while taking into account the effectiveness of their cyber defenses.”

While OWL isn’t assigning or citing a specific risk-breach, they are exposing the dangers of the dark web — and it isn’t just Fortune 500 companies that should be concerned. Everybody is at risk because of dark dealings in this shrouded corner of the internet, and nobody should take it lightly.

What Exactly Is The Dark Web?

Not to be confused with the deep web, the dark web/darknet is a collection of thousands of websites that you can’t access via normal means and that aren’t indexed by search engines like Google or yahoo. In order to access it, you need to download special anonymization software like Tor.

Photo via Wiki Commons

This software allows the dark web to exist unhindered by a centralized authority, because everything that goes on there is almost completely anonymous. Nevertheless, it functions as the world’s largest black market, where you can find anything ranging from human organs to illicit substances — and worse.

While officials in several countries have dealt blows to the black market dealings of these online marketplaces, it’s hard to tell whether these efforts are working, or whether cutting off the head of the snake only causes two more to replace it. After the Silk Road was busted back in 2013, and with a new ring of busts by US and Dutch authorities on AlphaBay and Hansa in August, it appears that other black market sites are booming, with listings rising as much as 28% over the last week of July.

How Is My Business At Risk?

You might think that since you don’t do that much business, or that you don’t handle very much information, that you’ll probably never have to deal with problems stemming from the dark web — but I’m sure that’s also what the victims of the Amazon-related fraud incident in April thought too. Somehow, Amazon back-end credentials were leaked to the darknet, allowing fraudsters to log in to the accounts of third-party sellers (even ones that had been long-dormant!), change associated bank information to divert funds into their own accounts, and then sell fake items at deeply discounted prices. Nearly hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost before authorities were alerted and the true businesses owners were able to get their accounts back.

Other ways that you might not realize your computer is risk is via the spread of ransomware and other types of malicious code. Ransomware like WannaCry, which spread massively in May, are sold via the darknet. Hacking as a service is now in high demand, and common criminals are able to obtain malicious code on the black market, meaning that the days of high technical literacy as a barrier to entry for committing white collar crime is gone.

In one sense, you must protect yours and your customer’s information from falling into the hands of the dark web. In another sense, you need to be vigilant and prepare for when the tendrils of the dark web come to your business’s doorstep.

How Do I Protect Myself?

You may have heard it before, but it’s hard to overstate: a cyber attack on your business is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. This is out of your control. What is in your control is how you prepare and how you respond. A successful combination of both will see you through even the worst virtual affronts. According to the article “7 Deadly Cybersecurity Sins Small Businesses Should Avoid” published via the Charlotte Business Journal, you should:

  • Create backups and have a disaster recovery plan. Ransomware, in particular, relies on encryption to enforce its ransom. The only way around this is a full system restore.
  • Educate employees on security protocol. This means you too. Social engineering, phishing, and email blunders are the main reason cybercrime is still so successful.
  • Use dual factor authentication and strong passwords. Dual factor authentication ensures there is no single “key to the kingdom,” while strong password protocol is a redundant must.
  • Consider cybersecurity insurance. In the event that your best prep doesn’t cut it, cyber-insurance can help you recoup your damages.

This list is by no means extensive, but the important thing to remember is that preparation and response are your responsibility and yours alone. This increasingly digital world will continue to wow and wonder us — but new threats that nobody has dealt with before will continue to rise in turn. Be vigilant, be safe, and protect your business against the dark web.

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3 SaaS Applications You Aren’t Using (But Should Be) By Dale McIntyre

StockSnap / Pixabay

Now that software as a service (SaaS) is commonplace and cloud-based services are practically everywhere, you might think you’ve heard about every available offering. But cloud services are still expanding their reach into some surprising areas.

The worldwide market valuation of SaaS is predicted to increase to $164 billion by 2022. Here are a few industries that SaaS has only begun to penetrate.

1. Disaster recovery services

Just one hour of downtime can cost some medium-sized companies more than $70,000. That’s why, in the event of a catastrophe, you want software that can replicate and/or host your virtual servers to ensure successful failover. This is where disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) comes in. With DRaaS, data doesn’t need to be restored over the internet, so the service dramatically cuts down on the time it takes to return applications to production.

Moreover, if you’re a small or medium-sized business, your IT department may not have the resources or know-how to configure and implement a recovery plan in case of an emergency. With this service, you won’t have to maintain your own off-site disaster recovery environment. Using DRaaS, a fairly small investment will allow your business to recover from catastrophe in minutes.

2. Print management services

Many businesses spend between 1 and 3 percent of their revenue on printing, and yet printing is often overlooked as an expense that needs to be managed. And even when it is managed, the effort is often focused on the hardware and related consumables, instead of attacking the demand for printed documents.

Companies can save millions of dollars on office printing by implementing an effective print strategy, starting with the collection of printing data to establish a baseline from which to measure future results.

With cloud print management services, you can quickly discover how much printing is taking place across your organization or within specific departments, who is printing, what applications employees are printing from, the cost of each print job, and many other key details. Print data analytics can help you discover why your printing costs are out of hand and light the path to saving money and improving efficiency.

3. Energy management services

With energy management technologies, you can monitor your company’s energy demand in real time, discovering events that hint at a crisis before they reach crisis level. By exposing patterns that identify outliers and opportunities to take action, you can save thousands.

When you receive an alert, you can run applications at times when prices are lower or scale usage up or down. Reporting and alerts are simplified, so they don’t require skilled personnel — you can monitor dashboards and consult with subject matter experts as needed. EnerNOC estimates that its technologies saved consumers $11.8 billion over the course of one year. Best of all, once your company starts working in tandem with the power grid, you’ll reduce its environmental footprint dramatically.

The age of SaaS has really only just begun. That’s why it’s worthwhile right now to take a hard look at your operations, think critically about areas of your business that can be improved, and identify opportunities to implement cloud-based services that can save your organization time and money.

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Investing in Market Research? Find Better Insights by Being a Better Client By Mike Dickerson

Deedster / Pixabay

The good, the bad and the ugly. A classic film or the possible outcomes of a market research project? Unfortunately, it’s both. There’s nothing that can make a research project go bad – or even ugly – faster than a lack of teamwork. Companies generally hire a market research firm to apply expertise and solutions that will help evaluate past business decisions and guide future ones. In order to get to that point, they invest a large amount of time, money, meetings, paperwork and more to get a research project approved and choose the right firm. But this care needs to extend beyond the hiring of a firm and well into the project itself in order to garner good outcomes – not bad or ugly ones.

From my market research agency perspective, we need the participation of our clients in order for us to deliver solid insights. This isn’t about personalities, and it’s not really about work habits. A solid, professional research firm won’t need hand-holding about how to ask questions or who to sample. But there is a lot of value that clients can add by being willing to collaborate on the project. Providing that internal input will help determine the quality and utility of the research insights.

Most companies are pressed for time and resources, which is why a research firm has been hired in the first place: to help with customer insights programs. However, there are still some low-resource ways in which clients can help contribute to a more successful project.

  1. Be a consultant to the consultants – this can be as simple as answering questions fully and promptly. The research team may be experts when it comes to fielding and analyzing surveys, but the internal team can provide crucial category knowledge to help better craft the survey and deliverables. Letting researchers know hypotheses about the market before they begin analyzing the data will help to improve the quality and specificity of insights.
  2. Focus on substance, not just logistics – too often, kickoff calls with clients merely focus on issues of scheduling, budgeting and timelines. Companies should carve out time when communicating with their research team to provide substantive feedback in addition to logistical coordination. We suggest assigning this task to someone internal up front, when the project starts.
  3. Be the voice of the stakeholder – as researchers, we like to think of ourselves as providing “the voice of the customer” to our clients. Similarly, in project meetings, part of the client role is to clarify not just the goals of the research, but the people and departments that requested it in the first place. The research team needs to know who will use the research and how they will use it.
  4. Advocate for good research practices – any external research team will love their client if that client is willing to help get internal stakeholders on board with good research practices. Is there a different, better way to get at the insights? Our recommendation is that clients aren’t guided by inertia – instead, they should work with their research team to develop a methodology that can be advocated to the internal team.
  5. Push back against the research team – this is a collaborative process, but the best way to accomplish end goals is for the client to advocate for their needs. The client ultimately knows its organization’s goals better than any external consultant or vendor, so the best clients speak up if things seem like they are going in a direction that won’t clarify the most critical problems or identify the most lucrative opportunities.

Being a good client is not about having a winning personality or the largest research budget. Instead, what researchers want out of their clients is someone who is willing to invest their time in the research project. We’ve been hired us to help find important answers and we’d like to do that. The best way for us to do our jobs often begins with a better understanding of how our clients and their colleagues do their jobs. A willingness to spend just a few extra hours at critical project phases – brainstorming the best solution to a thorny questionnaire issue or the best way to tailor the report to your specific audience -can make a huge difference in getting actionable, high-quality, and relevant insights.

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How to Protect Your Business From Cyber Crime By Susan Friesen

geralt / Pixabay

Is your business secure? It may not be. Many unscrupulous individuals are operating online looking for new ways to exploit honest people.

I was recently pulled into a scam enacted by someone yet to be identified via a freelance work website. Because of how personally this affected me and my brand reputation, I’ve decided to write today’s blog post about securing your business online.

My personal experience involved, which is a website boasting about the value of freelance talent.

As the old saying goes: there is nothing more expensive than cheap labor.

Someone posing as me purporting to be a writer/editor from NYC took a job writing a book for a client and the results were bad. 3 chapters completely plagiarized bad.

Even worse – the fraudulent work got blamed on me! This person’s profile had my name and my photo and her client found me (the real me) through a Google search that matched my profile photo. You can imagine the shock I felt of being falsely accused of ripping someone off!

After realizing this was a clear case of identity theft, I immediately contacted UpWork to have the fake profile taken down. This person’s client did the same; we hope they were able to get a full refund of the monies spent on the useless book written for them.

Scary stuff. But compared to what others have encountered it’s small potatoes.

While hiring and supporting local talent has always been my thing, if you have to outsource (overseas or via those freelance sites), then a great idea to protect yourself is to insist on seeing a scan of a government issued ID. Take your identification proof one step further and insist on a video conference before making any commitment.

Fraud is on the rise

2016 saw a significant increase in fraud over 2015. While the numbers show the amount stolen went slightly down the volume of theft went up. A lot.

While those figures relate more to consumer fraud if you’re the seller, you can be out of pocket money if the claim means sending the now used product back to you.

The point to take home is fraud is up so you need to take action to prevent yourself and your customers from becoming victims.

How to prevent and report cyber crime

According to The National Cyber Security Alliance there are several steps you should take to protect your business and customers:

  • Evaluate Risks

    Identify what types of fraud or crime you may be most susceptible to. Do you work with medical information? Financial information?

    Even if the purpose of your business is simply B2C there are steps to be taken to protect yourself.

    Users who purchase through your website are trusting you to keep their financial information safe so take steps to do so such as having SSL installed for any e-commerce or sensitive information and it’s wise not to store it.

  • Monitor Threats

    This can be as simple as making sure no spam messages are opened or any emails with attachments are scanned with some sort of antivirus software. While the software is not 100% effective it will stop the better circulated scams.

  • Report Attacks

    If you are the victim of a cyber attack you are going to get frustrated and with good cause.

    Currently Canada is really vulnerable when it comes to cyber crime and your best hope is just to call the police. While promises have been made to address this, very little has been done and international criminals are impossible to go after.

    If you are a victim of cyber crime contact local law enforcement and cross your fingers. But the bad news is you are likely to get no resolution. This is something to consider if you’ve been hiring anyone overseas.

    In the US reporting cyber crime is much easier. You contact the FBI via this website. They have the capacity to address international criminals and recently America has cracked down on international crime operating within its borders.

    For those reading from any other country I encourage you to do your own due diligence regarding protocol for reporting cyber crime so you’re prepared should you ever need to be.

  • Execute a Security Plan

    For this the recommendation is to work with your ISP on a cyber security plan. While your ISP may be worth talking to you should really speak with your website’s hosting company first and foremost.

    The security of your customer’s info and your business is delicate so make sure your host knows to have things such as routine backups of all information made and stored on another server.

    Most of the majors stay on top of things but it’s always worth calling them for a quick review especially if you have pertinent info for them that may help.

    If you have been a victim already let your host know what happened. The information may help others down the road.

  • Safeguard Your Clients

    The suggestion found in this article of scanning all USB drives routinely is a good one. Sometimes the information can be air tight behind the most advanced firewall but it still gets out.

    One of the easiest ways to exploit technology is social engineering. Many times the information isn’t so much stolen as leaked by someone internally.

    Have a privacy policy in place and make sure your employees know that any time they connect anything to your computer network it will be scanned.

    Make sure all software is updated and that all computers connected to your network are running the most updated version of their operating system.

  • Educate Your Team

    This is an easy one.

    Have protocol in place that ensures your employees follow all steps noted above.

    All computers must be scanned when attached to a network and all USB drives as well.

    Most people are accustomed to this now so don’t worry about implementing it suddenly.

Stay Safe

By taking measures to protect yourself you’re ahead of the game should something occur. Scrambling after you’ve been a victim only helps the people who have stolen from you by giving them time to disappear.

Online business is only likely to grow even more and along with it fraud. The complexity of the scams will evolve and hopefully so do the solutions. In the interim I hope you enjoyed these tips and that you never become the victim of cyber crime.

If you have been a cyber-crime victim, share your story in the comments section below.

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Why It’s Important for Your Business to Make Your Mobile App Work Offline By Serhiy Kozlov

It happens.

Your connection is lost in the middle of a payment via a mobile app and you keep wondering where that money went.

Now imagine, a patient wearing an IoT monitoring device when the connection fails. The medical data gets lost forever.

A user of a map app is trying to follow the verbal instructions on his smart phone while driving to a job interview. His connection dies, he becomes lost and is late for the interview. Now he is trying to explain to the hiring manager, who is clearly irritated. Big fail.

How About a New Scenario?

That user of the map app doesn’t lose his directions. They continue. How? When he connected and requested those directions, they were loaded into his device where they sit and continue until he has arrived at his destination. Payments can continue offline and be processed once back online; that medical provider can access the data from the monitor once it is back online and so on.

And this is precisely why building offline mobile applications is both critical and a huge trend.

As early as 2010, developers began to figure out ways that computers could continue to work offline.

In 2014, Google rolled out offline support for its both Android and iOS map apps. It also developed an offline version of Google Search and enhanced the offline capabilities of its Chromebook. It was soon followed by Facebook, allowing users to create content for later posting. Square also “joined the club.”

Since these events in 2014, there has been a rush to build offline mobile apps on the part of all types of mobile app developers. As it turned out, the ability to make apps work offline has been a relatively simple procedure.

Why You Should Support Offline Mode

Let’s consider a few stats first, and then what those implications might be for offline business apps.

As of March 2017, the lowest penetration of internet access is still Africa and Asia (China excluded). However, between 2000-2017, that penetration has increased by 7,557.2% and 1,539.4% respectively. And this shows no sign of stopping. This is a huge population of current and potential app users. Unfortunately, infrastructure still lags and consistent connectivity is a big issue.

Many in Africa and Asia do not have geographical access to banks and have never used them. They bank and shop using fintech apps when they make purchases; they access apps that provide news and education because they have skipped the whole “television” thing. Many are involved in online education programs because they do not have the wherewithal to get to physical institutions.

Even in the U.S., it is estimated that 15% of users are actually using offline apps at any given time. They are on airplanes; they are on subways; they are in areas famous for “dead zones”.

Businesses and organizations that do not build an offline app mode lose all of these people. The implications for e-commerce are obvious – customers (and thus revenues) are lost. But here are some other losses that organizations can incur.

Online news agencies depend upon large followings. When they have large followings, they get more advertisers (revenue again) and, if in early startup phases – investors. One of the things that an offline app can do is continue to track readership even when users are not connected. That business traveler who has downloaded a daily newspaper before getting on an airplane is reading that newspaper in the air, and he will be counted. The ability to add another 15% to readership can have financial consequences.

Educational enterprises, both for-profit and non-profit can ensure that their students will have the lessons and the assignments they need to complete their coursework. For-profit institutions ensure more revenue, and non-profit ones can prove their enrollment and retention figures.

Medical institutions. When medical care has to be remote, data that must be transported between providers and between patients and their providers will never be lost.

How Offline Apps Are Developed

To make an app work offline, you can chose either of the next approaches:

  • Use local storage/database to cache data on the user’s device.
  • Enable data synchronization with a central repository.

In the first case, you can take advantage of the browser application and set up an app cache manifest, which would prompt the browser to render the downloaded pages and content in certain ways, when no network connection is available.

You can also rely on cookies for storing downloaded user data. However, those can support only 4KB of data. Their nature isn’t long term either.

Additionally, you can rely on internal device storage and retrieve it whenever there’s no network connection. Or better, use an SQLite database to store files externally. It’s a powerful open source database system supporting all mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone), which can store and retrieve large chunks of data at lightning speed.

Data synchronization will allow you to add more interactivity to your app in offline mode. In that case, users would be able to perform certain actions in offline mode e.g. add favorite items to wishlists or edit documents and have that data synced once they are connected to the network again.

There are multiple approaches to enabling data sync within an app, yet the golden rule here is to use the simplest implementation that meets the requirements. In a nutshell, that how offline apps are developed.

Features You Can’t Ignore

Now, if you study how some of the most popular apps operate in offline mode, you will experience some great features and some not-so-great ones.

As you scrutinize these, you can then identify those features that will be important for you to include in your own offline app development. Here are a couple of tips that will help you weigh the pros and cons of offline apps:

Be consistent with messaging, especially informing the user that they are now offline.

Create a custom screen informing the user what they can and cannot do and what kind of data will be saved. Instagram recently introduced offline mode for Android users, which supports a lot of common online interactions:

Source: Facebook

As users access cached pages, be certain that there are messages for them. For example, when a user creates a Facebook post, they are told that the message will not post and why, but also that the post will be submitted as soon as the user is back online.

Consider a page that lists all of the things your users can do when using the offline app.

If you have multiple apps a list of those that will work offline will be very useful. Google lists these for its users, both in its app store and for users of Chrome.

Source: Google Play

Inform Users About Data Sync

If your app is collecting important information or data (e.g., payment or medical), then be certain that users know that a sync with the database exists and that the data will be moved into that database upon connectivity.

Test your app regularly

When an offline app is first developed, it must be treated as any online app. Every function must be tested. You can do this using AWS Device Farm.

Experiment with offline connectivity.

Though it has not gained a great deal of popularity yet (there are certain requirements and bugs still to work out), there are methods by which someone can actually get online without a connection on their device. This is called “mesh networking” or “peer-to-peer” connections.

Wireless mesh networks use radio nodes that can connect devices with wireless mesh. A type of chain is developed from one device to the next and, ultimately to a device with internet connectivity.

The important thing is that you identify all that you want your offline app to do for your users and that you find the right people to then develop according to your specifications.

Developing an offline app mode will involve additional time and cost, but not all that much if you find the right developer. You really have nothing to lose and quite a bit to gain if you do!

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