Thirteen months ago I interviewed former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in San Francisco for the annual walk-up dinner to the summertime Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen. In his inimitable animated way, Ballmer talked excitedly about basketball, passionately about his former company, and even poignantly about his strained friendship with former bestie Bill Gates.
He also divulged that he’d been funding a personal project to create a kind of “10-K for government,” a way to express in clear numbers how governments in the U.S. spend their citizens’ money. Companies file 10-K annual reports, reasoned Ballmer, shouldn’t someone produce one on behalf of the government?
Now he has done it exceedingly well. His group, USAFacts, not only has followed through on Ballmer’s promise, it has done so in a really clever way. Its starkly readable website is so clear it could have been designed by Apple. (Sorry, Steve. I couldn’t resist.) Its organizing principle, smartly, is the U.S. Constitution. “The Constitution gives us four missions,” the site declares, proceeding to explain how it has organized the voluminous data it has collected and analyzed. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union …:” 1) “establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility” (followed by links to justice-related spending); 2) “provide for the common defense” (military and immigration spending, among other things); 3) “promote general welfare”; and 4) “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity.”
The site is quite user-friendly and includes detailed reports on its findings. It is designed to be explored. And its aim is nonpartisan. Ballmer gave a typically entertaining interview about his project to Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times. It’s worth the read to hear the retired executive’s thinking behind his effort.
I got enough feedback about my comments Tuesday about Vista Equity Partners to regret having suggested that “cost-cutting, a typical PE tool, doesn’t work so well in software.” Vista is rather well known for squeezing costs out of software concerns that don’t grow the way they used to. I’ll follow up on this at a later date.
BITS AND BYTES
IBM still isn’t reaping the rewards of its big bets. The tech giant’s first-quarter revenue slipped to $18.16 billion—marking its 20th consecutive quarter of falling sales. As has become its custom, the company stressed that revenue from its “strategic imperatives”—cloud, mobile, data crunching, and mobile—rose 13% to $7.8 billion for the period. (Fortune, Reuters)
Actually, Verizon isn’t interested in a big cable merger right now. The company’s CEO Lowell McAdam set off all sorts of speculation last year when he remarked that a union with a big cable television company would make “industrial sense.” But during an interview Tuesday, McAdam said he hasn’t seen the right architectural fit or, for that matter, a “willing seller and a willing buyer.” That said, he’s willing to listen. (Fortune, Bloomberg)
Yahoo reported respectable results in its final quarter as a standalone company. The company logged a 22.1% increase in revenue to $1.33 billion. The sales related to its “Mavens” businesses—the mobile, video, native, and social advertising units—grew 35.6% to $529 million. Yahoo’s takeover by Verizon should be finalized by June. (Reuters, Bloomberg)
China’s Baidu plans to launch its self-driving car technology by July. Rivals like General Motors and Google have a pretty big head start, so the Chinese Internet giant plans to open source its software for features such as route planning and vehicle control in order to cover more distance more quickly. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)
Here’s how shopping malls are using technology to hold onto shoppers. Some landlords are introducing kiosks to reward customers for frequenting their stores. Others are experimenting with marketing software to offer visitors specialized promotions via mobile app. (Wall Street Journal)
Oracle is buying a high-profile digital ad-tracking company. Moat has been working with companies such as Procter & Gamble, Nestle, and Unilever to independently measure their campaigns on Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. (Wall Street Journal)
This could be big for mobile payments: PayPal’s digital wallet is coming to Android. The move will allow people to use their PayPal accounts to shop “in store” at Walgreens, Dunkin’ Donuts, and other retailers that have invested in support Alphabet’s mobile app platform. (Fortune)
The truth behind that Snapchat hack claim. Reports have been circulating that allege Snap, the ephemeral messaging firm that recently went public, suffered a data breach at the hands of anonymous Indian hackers last year, and that the hackers this week leaked the information they supposedly obtained on 1.7 million users online. Some digging revealed the claims were likely to be false and misleading, which is hardly a surprise. (Fortune)
Facebook’s next big bet. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday that the social networking giant is debuting a new platform—essentially a suite of developer tools—that coders can use to build augmented reality apps on top of Facebook’s core service.
Unlike companies such as Microsoft with its HoloLens AR headset and Snapchat with its freshly debuted glasses that overlay flashy graphics on pictures, Zuckerberg said Facebook wants to focus on incorporating AR on smartphones.
Fortune‘s Jonathan Vanian weighed in from the scene with this report while Mathew Ingram opines about how Zuckerberg’s team is building on the groundwork laid by the success of Snap’s popular 3D “lenses.” (Here’s how Snap plans to stay ahead.)
Other tidbits from the conference:
- You can now stream music and other services, right within the Messenger chat app.
- The Workplace collaboration app now comes with tighter access controls.
- The company’s international push is working—more than 80% of the developers building on top of the platform now hail from outside the United States.
- You can now “meet” your friends in a virtual version of the social site.
- The list of companies now using Messenger for customer services includes Wells Fargo, which has built a chatbot for sharing account information, and Subway, which now uses it to accept orders.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Apple CEO Tim Cook Takes a Swipe at ‘Alternative Facts’, by Madeline Farber
Netflix Says It’s Willing to Work with Movie Theaters (Sort of), by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
Why Uber Doesn’t Want a Built-In Tipping Option, by Aric Jenkins
Cyber Risk Auditor Raises $20 Million Amid ‘Viral’ Customer Growth, by Jeff John Roberts
This Google Chrome and Firefox Phishing Scam Is ‘Practically Impossible to Spot‘, by Robert Hackett
Uber Has a New Way for Businesses to Schedule Rides for Clients, by Rachel King
ONE MORE THING
Please be extra careful when driving in these states. Vermont, Mississippi, and Louisiana have the highest rates of “phone-distracted” drivers—those who communicate on their handhelds while they’re on the road. Oregon had the lowest, following by Washington and Idaho. (Fortune)