Apple, Google, and AWS Kick Parler Off—the Social Media App Used by Trump’s Supporters

IBL News | New York

Apple, Google, and AWS/Amazon kick Parler off their platform this weekend, arguing that it has not sufficiently examined its users’ posts, allowing “dangerous and harmful content” that incites violence and lawless action.

For example, a post, written by L. Lin Wood, a lawyer who had sued to overturn Mr. Trump’s election loss, posted on Parler on Thursday morning: “Get the firing squad ready. Pence goes FIRST.” The post was viewed at least 788,000 times.

Parler—the alt-tech micro-blogging service and alternative to Twitter—has a significant user base of Donald Trump supporters, as well as users banned from mainstream social networks.

Over the past months, it became one of the fastest-growing apps in the U.S. This Saturday, Parler was listed as the Number 1 in the App Store. Yesterday, it was fighting for its survival, according to its CEO, John Matze, as the service could go soon offline for not being able to find a new hosting service.

“Big tech really wants to kill competition” and “completely remove free speech of the internet,” he said in a statement online and in several interviews. John Matze also reported that “every vendor from text messages to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too on the same day”. [Watch the interview below].

After President Trump was kicked off Twitter, Parler was a logical choice to become his next megaphone.

In a letter to Parler on Saturday, AWS/Amazon said that it had sent the micro-blogging company 98 examples of posts promoting violence that were still active. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with Amazon’s rules.”

On Friday, Apple gave Parler 24 hours to clean up its app or face removal from the App Store. On Saturday, Apple told the company its measures were inadequate and blocked iPhone owners from downloading the Parler app. (Users who already have installed the app will still be able to use it, as long as it is online.)

“We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity,” Apple said in a statement.

Several social media startups have promised to offer “unbiased” and “free speech” to Trump supporters, such as Gab / MeWe, Rumble, DuckDuckgo, Brave Browser, Telegram, Dlive, CloutHub, and MyMilitia.

De-Platforming Trump

On the other hand, several Silicon Valley companies announced they were cutting off President Trump and his supporters from using their services, in light of last Wednesday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol.

So far, the firms de-platforming the President are the following: Stripe, Snap, Pinterest, Spotify, TikTok, Shopify, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, AWS/Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Twitter Permanently Suspends President Trump’s Account

IBL News | New York

Twitter permanently suspended yesterday President Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account “due to the risk of further incitement for violence.”

In a blog-post explaining its decision, Twitter argued that the two latest Donald Trump’s tweets “were likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as an encouragement to do so.”

The two mentioned tweets were posted by the President on Friday, January 8th:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape, or form!!!”

Shortly thereafter, the President tweeted:

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Twitter acted after Facebook, Snapchat, Twitch and other platforms placed limits on the President. Facebook warred Trump from using its service for the remainder of his term.

Cutting off  Trump from his favorite method of communicating directly with the public, Twitter caused a big disruption in the direct access of the President to the public and the press.

Donald Trump—with 79.5 million followers—regularly tweeted dozens of times a day. He was the eighth-most followed account on the platform. Former President Barack Obama has the most followers at over 127 million, followed by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Cristiano Ronaldo, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga.

De-platforming Trump came as a surprise. When it was raised the possibility of social media companies banning him, he repeatedly replied, “They’ll never ban me.”

Donald Trump Jr. was the only one on President’s entourage responding. He tweeted: “We are living Orwell’s 1984. Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what’s left is only there for a chosen few.”

Higher Ed Institutions Function Only at 75% Capacity. This Gap Costs $50 Billion

IBL News | New York

Higher Education in the United States is only functioning at 75% capacity—leaving as many as 5 million empty classroom seats each year, says a report by Lumina Foundation. This is the result of the fact that in the last 10 years, higher education capacity has grown 26% while enrollment has only grown by 3%.

On average, schools with fewer than a thousand students are down to 59% utilization.

This imbalance between supply and demand has been deepened by the 2020 pandemic’s impact.

Underutilization—from empty classrooms to vacant labs to unused dorms—translates into higher costs for students and risks the future of higher education. Overall, it costs students, institutions, and states around $50 billion annually, according to a study completed by EY Parthenon.

“Institutions whose enrollments are flat or decreasing must adapt to the reality of today’s demographics and stop acquiring land, building more dorms, hiring new faculty, and stop constructing rock walls for the 2% of students who might find them interesting,” write Brad Kelsheimer and Courtney Brown, from the Lumina Foundation.

Lumina encourages higher ed institutions to reinvent themselves, rethinking who they serve (i.e., adults), what they provide (i.e., employment-aligned credentials), and how they deliver.

Being more relevant and accessible to adults seems a good opportunity given that 90 million working-age adults have no credentials beyond a high school diploma.

Another piece of advice to reduce costs and increase efficiencies is to develop collaborations and partnerships between schools, like consortia, or shared service agreements between schools.

Training Company Acquired by Equity Firm Vista for $3.5 Billion

IBL News | New York

Private investment firm Vista Equity Partners announced yesterday it was acquiring publicly-traded Pluralsight, Inc. (NASDAQ: PS) in an all-cash transaction that values the training company at approximately $3.5 billion.

Shareholders will receive $20.26 in cash for each share of common stock they own.

The purchase price represents a premium of 25% of the company’s closing stock over the past 30 days.

The agreement was unanimously approved by the Pluralsight Board of Directors. The training company indicated that “the shares subject to the voting agreement represent a majority of the current outstanding voting power.”

Upon completion of the transaction–expected to close in the first half of 2021–, Pluralsight will become a privately held company and shares of Pluralsight common stock will no longer be listed on any public market.

Another Utah educational company, Instructure–the owner of Canvas LMS–was bought by another equity firm this year for $2 billion.

Headquartered in Silicon Slopes, Utah, Pluralsight claims to serve 17,000 customers, including 70% of Fortune 500 companies. It was founded in 2004. After raising over $190 million, it went public in May 2018. Today, it offers under a monthly subscription model a catalog of 7,500 online video courses developed mostly by paid third-party authors. It has a workforce of 1,700 employees.

Vista Equity Partners owns two education technology companies: PowerSchool and EAB. Its CEO, Robert F. Smith was recently in the news after paying off the debt for the spring 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

A StartUp Brings Together Online Students in a COVID-Safe Campus Resort in Texas

IBL News | New York

Three Princeton University grads–in the picture below–have created a university-like environment at a resort in Texas. Students will take online classes with the colleges they are enrolled in while staying in a COVID-safe environment. It costs a $10,000 minimum for housing and meal packages.

So far, it has received over 1,500 applications, enough to fill the 150 available slots, the startup company said.

The U Experience plans to bring students for the spring 2021 semester, from January 28 to April 18 at Tanglewood Resort near Lake Texoma, Texas. It accepts students from traditional four-year universities as well as virtual programs.

The resort includes rec sports, weekly “TEDx-style” guest lectures, nightlife, and a private room for each student. “No masks. No social distancing. A real college experience. Spring 2021,” advertises the company. However, people chatting on social media are skeptical about keeping the premises virus-free and a possible outbreak.

Students will be tested for the coronavirus upon arrival and regularly examined thereafter. They won’t even be allowed out to buy groceries, but they’ll have access to all the resort’s amenities.

“We see online learning as the future of higher education. It has the potential to make college cheap and accessible to all,” said its CEO and Co-Founder, Lane Rusell. “The impediment is it’s not very attractive to think of being stuck at your parents’ house taking lessons on a computer and never going outside.”

The application process will be nontraditional. Students can view each others’ online profiles and “like” those of their friends or students they want to meet. The student feedback won’t determine admission but will play a role. The founders have almost 150,000 followers on Instagram.

College kids at a resort or just a lavish online learning experience?

Inside of Higher Ed wrote a critical piece about it, titled “Bursting Their Buble”.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The U Experience (@theexperienceu)


Harvard’s Professor and EdTech Visionary Robert Lue Dies at 56 From Cancer

IBL News | New York

The Havard, Open edX, and edX community lost this week a key leader, Robert Lue, 56, Researcher and Professor of Biology at Harvard, Founder of and HarvardX, edtech visionary and a firm advocate of open source and scientific education.

Harvard University reported that Robert Lue died from cancer. His death caused a deep impact on the Harvard and edX community.

“Rob was one of the most creative teachers; he was always thinking about how we could do a better job of engaging our students, and he was particularly gifted in imagining how technology and data could be used to enhance the learning experience,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow. “The kindness and thoughtfulness he brought to his work over the years infuse many of the pedagogical improvements made at Harvard. He was a valued colleague, and he will be missed.”

Robert “Rob” Lue was Professor of the practice in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology,  Faculty Director of the Harvard Ed Portal, Richard L. Menschel Faculty Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, UNESCO Chair on Life Sciences and Social Innovation, and Faculty Director and Principal Investigator of LabXchange. He co-authored two biology textbooks and worked extensively in the field of scientific visualization.

In 2012, Lue became the founding faculty director of HarvardX, shaping the institution’s engagement in online learning and expanding its reach.

Lue’s vision was to improve education “by bringing equal opportunities for learning science [to] anyone and anywhere,” said Valtencir Mendes, Senior Program Lead in UNESCO’s education sector.

Anant Agarwal, CEO at edX, said, “Rob was an early and ardent believer in edX. Always willing to help across our network + quick to share his grand and inspirational visions of the shared mission we were all working toward. Rob was a friend and I will miss him dearly.”

Up until his death, Lue was leading LabXchange, a breakthrough, Open edX-based virtual platform launched in October 2019, with over 2.5 million visitors.

“Rob was always so happy when students thanked him [for changing] their view of biology by creating these animations,” said Alain Viel, Director at the Northwest Undergraduate Laboratories and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard. Viel was his partner of 30 years.

An online forum was filled with tribute messages to Lue.

News stories about Robert Lue at IBL News


View: A New Learning Platform During Pandemic Times? The Must-Have List of Features

IBL News | New York

Traditionally, the U.S. educational system has been slow to evolve, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed that weakness.

At pre-pandemic educational shows and conferences, keynote speakers often joked that if Benjamin Franklin were to visit our country today, the only place he would recognize would be the school classroom.

But the classroom has changed overnight, and LMS platforms haven’t been incapable to evolve for the new teaching environment.

Instructors must radically rethink how to efficiently engage students. The shift from face-to-face to remote teaching requires a non-legacy, new generation, pedagogically–robust Learning Management Systems (LMS). It is not about managing the classroom but coping with the new demands of education.

Your new learning platform or ecosystem should be the foundational rock that supports the new learning environment.

These are seven key chapters to consider when choosing the right learning platform to deliver an effective, rock-solid experience in this new challenging time.

  1. Simplified, user-friendly, and scalable access for students, enhanced with Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication. Interactive and easily accessible, downloadable, offline-viewable content.
  2. Easy to use CMS for instructors, not needing to be tech-savvy, and avoiding any dependence on the IT department. Admin dashboard.
  3. Mobile friendly, elegant, and visually distinctive UI-UX enhanced platform.
  4. Course catalog website, learner portal, landing pages, along with integration with other LMS and applications within the university or business organization.
  5. Social-learning powered platform, enriched with digital, blockchain-based, and career-advancement ready credentials.
  6. Data-driven and AI analytics dashboard, plug-and-play interoperability with other systems, and Student Information Systems (SIS).
  7. Backed by a reliable, experienced–check its portfolio of customers–and forward-thinking LMS supplier and partner, who provides robust post-implementation technical support and is able to optimize the platform with the latest pedagogical innovations. Consulting service review and recommendations.


Google Introduces New Analytics with Machine Learning and Predictive Models

IBL News | New York

Google announced the introduction of its new Google Analytics with machine learning at its core, which is privacy-centric by design. They are built on the foundation of the App + Web property presented last year.

The goal of the giant searching company is “to help users to get better ROI and improve their marketing decisions.” It follows what a survey from Forrester Consulting points out that improving the use of analytics is a top priority for marketers.

The machine learning models include will allow to alert on trends in data, like products seeing rising demand, and help to anticipate future actions from customers. “For example, it calculates churn probability so you can more efficiently invest in retaining customers at a time when marketing budgets are under pressure,says in a blog-post Vidhya Srinivasan, Vice President, Measurement, Analytics, and Buying Platforms at Google.

It also adds new predictive metrics indicating the potential revenue that can be earned from a particular group of customers. “This allows you to create audiences to reach higher-value customers and run analyses to better understand why some customers are likely to spend more than others, so you can take action to improve your results,” wrote Vidhya Srinivasan.

The new Google Analytics provides customer-centric measurement, including conversion from YouTube video views, Google and non-Google paid channels, search, social, and email. The setup works with or without cookies or identifiers.

They come by default for new web properties. In order to replace the existing setup, Google encourages to create a new Google Analytics 4 property (previously called an App + Web property). Enterprise marketers are currently using a beta version with Analytics 360 version with SLAs and advanced integrations with tools like BigQuery.




• Introduction to Google Analytics 4 for Higher Education Institutions

Another Zoom Challenger: Engageli Capitalizes on Video Conferencing Limitations

IBL News | New York

Coursera’s Co-Founder and CEO of Insitro Daphne Koller and her husband, computer scientist Dan Avida launched this month Engageli, an online learning platform that tries to give an answer to Zoom video conferencing limitation for higher ed.

This Silicon Valley startup company started a few months ago, raised $14.5 million in seed funding. In addition to Koller and Avida, investors include RM, Emerge Education, Alex Balkanski–general partner at Benchmark Capital–Lip-Bu Tan–CEO of Cadence Design Systems–and Rob Cohen–former president of 2U.

The story is similar to ClassEDU, recently started by the co-founders of Blackboard with $16 million in funding. The two companies want to replicate the social feeling of being in a classroom while adding live data about student engagement on a browser-based tool. However, Engageli is designed from the ground up to work on any browser, and ClassEDU is built on top of Zoom. Engageli’s users won’t have to download an app to access class.

Engageli features students seated at different virtual tables, in groups of up to 10, assigned by instructors. Students can see, hear, and chat with one another, along with the teacher. But they cannot do so with students at other tables. Students raise their hands and are given permission to speak. A color-coded circle overlaid on each student indicates how engaged he or she is.

Instructors can add questions to any presentation slide and stream videos directly on the platform.

“For anyone who’s used Zoom or Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, Engageli doesn’t take long to learn,” said Dan Avida, CEO of Engageli.

Engageli–which currently has 20 full-time staff–is now introducing the platform through a pilot program with a small set of universities considered to be early adopters. Pricing has not been disclosed yet.

Press Release of the launch 

IBM Will Focus More on Cloud and AI, while Placing Its Low-Margin, Legacy Tech into a New Public Company

IBL News | New York

IBM (International Business Machines) announced yesterday it will split into two public companies, in a bid to focus more on higher-margin businesses like cloud computing and AI. Currently, AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Microsoft dominate the market for cloud services.

The 109-year old company shifted into the cloud with the acquisition of Red Hat for $34 billion in July 2019.

IBM –which currently has more than 352,000 workers – said it expects the separation to cost $5 billion.

The tech giant will list its legacy IT infrastructure services unit as a separate entity named NewCo by the end of 2021. Software sales and demand for mainframe servers have been in decline in recent years.

NewCo will have 90,000 employees and $19 billion in annual revenue. It will serve 75% of Fortune 100 companies when it makes its share market debut, according to IBM.

The market received well IBM’s announcement, and investors praised the move by CEO Arvind Krishna, with shares closing nearly 6% higher.

“We divested networking back in the 1990s, we divested PCs back in the 2000s, we divested semiconductors about five years ago because all of them didn’t necessarily play into the integrated value proposition,” Arvind Krishna – who took over as CEO in April –wrote in a blog post. “To drive growth, our strategy must be rooted in the reality of the world we live in and the future our clients strive to build. Today, hybrid cloud and AI are swiftly becoming the locus of commerce, transactions, and over time, of computing itself.”

Wedbush Securities analyst Moshe Katri said, “IBM is essentially getting rid of a shrinking, low-margin operation given the cannibalizing impact of automation and cloud, masking stronger growth for the rest of the operation.”


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