How Zhihu’s become one of China’s biggest hubs for experts – gpgmail


Zhihu may not be as well known outside of China as WeChat or ByteDance’s Douyin, but over the past eight years, it has cultivated a reputation for being one of the country’s most trustworthy social media platforms. Originally launched as a question-and-answer site similar to Quora, Zhihu has grown to be a central hub for professional knowledge, allowing users to interact with experts and companies in a wide range of industries.

Headquartered in Beijing, Zhihu recently raised a $434 million Series F, its biggest round since 2011. The funding also brought Zhihu two important new partners: video and live-streaming app Beijing Kuaishou, which led the round, and Baidu, owner of China’s largest search engine (other participants in the round included Tencent and CapitalToday).

Launched in 2011, Zhihu (the name means “do you know”) is most frequently compared to Quora and Yahoo Answers. While it resembled those Q&A platforms at first, it has grown in scope. Now it would be more accurate to say that the platform is like a combination of Quora, LinkedIn and Medium’s subscription program.

For example, Zhihu has an invitation-only blogging platform for verified experts and since launching official accounts, it has become a channel for companies and organizations to communicate with users. A representative for Zhihu told gpgmail that the platform had 220 million users and 30,000 official accounts as of January 2019 (for context, there are currently about 800 million Internet users in China), who have posted a total of 130 million answers so far.

The company’s growth will be closely watched since Zhihu is reportedly preparing for an initial public offering. Last November, the company hired its first chief financial officer, Sun Wei, heightening speculation. A representative for the company told gpgmail the position was created because of Zhihu’s business development needs and that there is currently no timeline for a public listing.

At the same time, the company has also dealt with reports that its growth has slowed.


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Plex is launching its own ad-supported video service, starting with content from Warner Bros. TV – gpgmail


Streaming media company Plex this morning announced it will begin to offer ad-supported video, including movies and TV, by way of a new content agreement with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. Though Plex has more recently expanded into new areas beyond organizing home media — including streaming TV and cloud DVRs, streaming music by way of a TIDAL partnership, podcasts, news and more — this new deal represents the first time that Plex has ever offered ad-supported content on its service that will benefit its bottom line.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, gpgmail broke the news that Plex was preparing to move into the ad-supported movies market.

The company at the time said it was in discussions with various rights holders and content providers, including premium networks, to bring more streaming video to its platform. Its model would be similar to Roku’s The Roku Channel, in that it would start with free, ad-supported movies and TV, then add more content, which may at some point include subscriptions.

Plex was unable to say how many movies and TV shows would be coming to Plex users by way of its licensing agreement, nor could it offer a sampling of titles due to the nature of its contract with Warner Bros. But it will have more to share on this front as the offering gets closer to launch, later this year.

The company also said it will use SpotX for programmatic ads, with more ad sales capabilities to roll out in the future. The revenue from the ad sales will be on top of what Plex already makes from its premium feature set, by way of its Plex Pass subscriptions.

Also still in the works is how, exactly, the free movies and TV will be surfaced in the Plex user interface.

Today, Plex has a left-hand side menu navigation where “online content” can be found, like TIDAL, news, podcasts, and web shows. This would be a likely destination to add the new AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) collection, but Plex may decide to redesign parts of its interface instead.

The movies and TV shows will be available to the millions of Plex users in the U.S., not just subscribers. But its larger AVOD service, which will eventually be expanded, will be global in nature.

Today, Plex has grown to around 20 million users, but it doesn’t say how many are paying customers. (As Plex told us earlier, its investors don’t want anyone to be able to “back into its revenue numbers,” but it is profitable.)

The company’s longer-term vision is to become even more of a one-stop shop for all your media – whether that’s content you own, buy or stream.

“Plex has always been about solving new media challenges, and our mission is to tame the growing chaos in the media landscape,” said Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, in a statement about the launch. “Licensing these movies from Warner Bros. enables us to offer more types of third-party content than any other platform and bring it all together in one beautiful solution. Premium ad-supported movies and shows deserve first-class treatment alongside other content that consumers enjoy daily, as opposed to being orphaned in yet another stand-alone app.”


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Netflix tests human-driven curation with launch of ‘Collections’ – gpgmail


Netflix is testing a new way to help users find TV shows and movies they’ll want to watch with the launch of a “Collections” feature, currently in testing on iOS devices. While Netflix today already offers thematic suggestions of things to watch, based on your Netflix viewing history, Collections aren’t only based on themes. According to Netflix, the titles are curated by experts on the company’s creative teams, and are organized into these collections based on similar factors — like genre, tone, storyline, and character traits.

This human-led curation is different from how Netflix typically makes its recommendations. The streaming service is famous for its advanced categorization system, where there are hundreds of niche categories that go beyond broad groupings like “Action,” “Drama,” “Sci-Fi,” “Romance,” and the like. These narrower subcategories allow the streamer to make more specific and targeted recommendations.

Netflix also tracks titles that are popular and trending across its service, so you can check in on what everyone else is watching, as well.

The new Collections feature was first spotted by Jeff Higgins, who tweeted some screenshots of the addition.

If you’ve been opted in to the test, the Collections option is available at the top right of the app’s homepage — where My List would have been otherwise.

The suggestions are organized into editorial groups, with titles like “Let’s Keep It Light,” “Dark & Devious TV Shows,” “Prizewinning Movie Picks,” “Watch, Gasp, Repeat,” “Women Who Rule the Screen,” and many more.

You can follow the Collection from the main screen, or you can tap into it to further explore its titles.

If you tap a collection that interests you, it smoothly expands to the show the thumbnails of the suggested titles below a header that explains what the collection is about. You can choose to follow the suggestion from here too, which presumably ties into Netflix’s notification system.

Collections are also found on the app’s Home page, for those who have access to the new feature.

“We’re always looking for new ways to connect our fans with titles we think they’ll love, so we’re testing out a new way to curate Netflix titles into collections on the Netflix iOS app,” a Netflix spokesperson confirmed to gpgmail. “Our tests generally vary in how long they run for and in which countries they run in, and they may or may not become permanent features on our service.”

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This isn’t the first time Netflix has toyed with organizing content suggestions into Collections. The company’s DVD service (yes, it still exists), had rolled out a similar Collections feature in its own mobile app.

This test comes at a time when Netflix is working on features to better retain existing subscribers amid increased competition, including that from upcoming rivals like Disney+ and Apple TV+, among others. On this front, it also recently launched a feature allowing users to track new and soon-to-launch releases, as a means of keeping subscribers anticipating what comes next.

Netflix said Collections is only available on iOS. As a test, it won’t show to all users.


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Inside the Porsche Taycan’s minimalist, 911-inspired interior – gpgmail


Porsche has taken the wraps off the interior of the all-new, all-electric Porsche Taycan ahead of its world debut September 4. Gone are the buttons and the clutter. This is a minimalist and sleek interior for the modern digital age.

Porsche released several images of the interior on Thursday. Earlier this week, gpgmail was among numerous media outlets that got an up-close view of the interior (along with some other things we can’t talk about) and a chance to play around with the infotainment system.

Porsche didn’t just slap a bunch of screens in and call it a day. Here are the details and what stood out.

911 design lines

At first glance, the dashboard might give viewers a twinge of déjà vu. And they wouldn’t be wrong.

Designers used the dashboard from the 1963 Porsche 911 as inspiration. And that’s evident in the images below, which show a clean and sleek dashboard.

The 911 DNA is evident. But this isn’t some throwback. This is a modern vehicle with its own design story, which includes horizontal digital screens that are sandwiched between the upper and lower dash lines and stretch all the way over to the passenger seat.

The elevated center console stretches down from the horizontal central screen to two air vents that are not the mechanically operated louvres found in most vehicles today. Instead, the direction of the airflow is controlled digitally via an 8.4-inch touch panel located just below the central screen. This touch panel houses the climate control system and includes a track pad with haptic feedback. The trackpad can also be used for quick address inputs.

Tucked under the touch panel is a small flat space to place a wallet or phone. Two cups holders and a storage unit, which is equipped with wireless charging and two USB ports, completes the center console.

Porsche’s design team repeatedly talked to gpgmail about the emphasis on the driver. And that shows. (The design team worked on the interface alone for 3.5 years.) Although, there are plenty of passenger features here, as well. From the driver’s seat, everything is in reach and without constantly looking over to the center display. Natural voice integration courtesy of Nuance is activated by a “Hey Porsche” trigger or simply pressing the voice button on the central display or dedicated button on the steering wheel.

The minimalist design continues to the all-digital instrument cluster. This free-standing panel, which houses the instrument cluster, has a slight curve to it. Interestingly, it doesn’t have the standard cowl or lip that is often used to prevent reflection. Instead, Porsche used glass coated with a vapor-deposited polarizing filter.

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The digital instrument cluster is the highest point of the dashboard in the Porsche Taycan

The instrument cluster

Inside the 16.8-inch cluster display, the driver will see three round instruments that display information. Drivers can customize what each of these instruments displays. Drivers also can remove the information for a more streamlined look in “pure mode.”

This pure mode displays only essential information, such as speed, navigation or traffic sign recognition (so you know what the speed limit is). Pure mode, which manages to give the interior an even more minimalist look, could be a handy and fun feature for a Taycan owner on track day.

Perhaps one of the most functional features is the map mode. The map replaces the central power meter in this mode. But it really becomes useful when “full map mode” is turned on, which extends the map across the full display. gpgmail wasn’t allowed to take photos of the interior during its visit to Porsche North America headquarters, so readers will have to imagine a digital map taking up most of the instrument cluster.

Finally, just to the left and right of the main instrument cluster, drivers will see small, touch-control fields at the edges of the screen for operating the light and chassis functions. One of these buttons is a trigger key, which lets drivers customize what it operates.

A piece of a Porsche 918

Scanning the interior, it becomes quickly obvious that the classic transmission shift selector lever is not in the center console. Looking to the right of the steering wheel and in the instrument cluster is a compact transmission shift switch — the same used in the Porsche 918.

All the screens

The Porsche Taycan has several screens. Oh, so many screens. Beyond the digital instrument cluster is a horizontal 10.9-inch central display. Directly below this is a tilted screen that houses climate control as well as a digital track pad that gives haptic feedback.

From the central screen and moving to the right is a display for the passenger. The passenger display cannot be turned on if the driver is the only one in the vehicle, according to Oliver Fritz, director of driver experience at Porsche.

Porsche is experimenting with streaming video on the passenger display. This likely won’t be available when Porsche begins delivery before the end of the year, but could be rolled out in future over-the-air software updates. For now, the company is testing technology that would prevent the driver from being able to view the screen. Fritz emphasized that this idea was still in testing and Porsche won’t roll out streaming video unless it’s sure the driver cannot see the screen.

Dark mode

Porsche designers have made “dark mode” the default in the instrument cluster and the rest of the infotainment system. That can be changed to a white background, Porsche said. gpgmail doesn’t recommend that though. The dark mode, and the ability to turn off the central 10.9-inch infotainment display and optional passenger one, should let drivers enjoy the road and escape the annoying “blue light” that emanates from so many vehicles these days.

Interior colors and leather-free options

Porsche will offer a number of color combinations in the interior, including an all-black matte look, which gpgmail viewed. The company’s design team didn’t reveal the total number of interior color combinations, but they did list a few. There will be four exclusive interior colors for the Taycan: a black-lime beige, blackberry, Atacama beige and Meranti brown. An optional interior accent package will include black matte, dark silver or neodyme, which is like a champagne gold color.

The doors and center consoles can have wood trim, matte carbon, embossed aluminum or fabric.

The company is also offering a leather-free trim interior, which includes the steering wheel. One such material is called “Race-Tex,” a microfiber material partially consisting of recycled polyester fibers. The floor covering uses the recycled fiber “Econyl,” which is made from recycled fishing nets, among other things, Porsche said.

Porsche designer Thorsten Klein was careful not to call it vegan. He told gpgmail that even synthetic materials can be treated using animal products. Porsche is pushing to source materials that don’t use these processes, but until then, the company won’t use the vegan term.

Today, Porsche uses a process called “OLEA” for tanning the leather used in the Taycan. This process uses olive leaves.

Apple Music and more

Earlier this week, Porsche announced it will integrate Apple Music into the Taycan, the first time the music streaming service has been offered as a standalone app within a vehicle.

But Apple Music is just one of the many features in the infotainment system. The user interface is laid out to always show three main buttons: home, vehicle and messages. The messages feature lists notifications coming into the vehicle. The voice feature can also be used to read these messages out loud.

Other buttons on the central screen include navigation, phone, settings, climate, news, calendar, charging information, weather and Homelink, which can be used to open the owner’s garage door.


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Hulu and Amazon Prime Video chip away at Netflix’s dominance – gpgmail


Netflix is still the No. 1 subscription streaming service in the U.S., according to a new report from eMarketer, but rivals including Amazon Prime Video and Hulu are starting to cut into its market share. The analyst firm forecasts 182.5 million U.S. consumers will subscribe to over-the-top streaming services this year, or 53.3% of the population. Netflix is still the too choice here, with 158.8 million viewers in 2019 and it is continuing to grow. However, its share of the U.S. over-the-top subscription market will decline even as its total subscriber numbers climb, the report said.

Though Netflix announced in Q2 the first drop in U.S. users in nearly a decade, eMarketer says Netflix will see strong growth throughout the rest of the year — up 7.6% over 2018. This will be driven by the new seasons of popular series like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things, as well as Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese’s new movie, The Irishman.

But Netflix is no longer the only option for streaming video these days. Back in 2014, it had 90% of the market. In 2019, its share will have shrunk to 87%.

This decline in market share is attributed to the rise of rival services, like Hulu and Prime Video.

Hulu, for example, is estimated to reach 75.8 million U.S. viewers this year, or 41.5% of subscription service users. The number of viewers will also increase by 17.5% in 2019, but this is a drop from 2018’s big growth spurt of 49.6%

Prime Video, meanwhile will remain the second-largest subscription over-the-top video provider in the U.S. in 2019, the report says, with 96.5 million viewers. That’s up 8.8% over last year.

The firm estimates Prime Video will reach a third of the U.S. population by 2021.

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Netflix market share dominance is about to face new threats as well, most notably from the Disney-Hulu-ESPN bundle, which is priced the same as a standard U.S. Netflix subscription.

“Netflix has faced years of strong competition for viewers, coming from streaming video platforms, pay-TV services, and even video games,” said eMarketer forecasting analyst Eric Haggstrom. “While there is no true ‘Netflix killer’ on the market, Disney’s upcoming bundle with Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ probably comes closest. Netflix’s answer has been to stick to what has made it the market leader—outspending the competition on both licensed and original content, offering customers a competitive price,” he added.

Disney isn’t the only one with a new streaming service in the works, though.

Apple TV+ is poised to launch later this year, and is said to be spending $6 billion on content — far more than the $1 billion that had been reported. It’s also said to be considering a competitive $9.99 per month price point.

NBCUniversal and AT&T WarnerMedia are also poised to enter the market, the latter with HBO Max. And following the CBS-Viacom merger, the combined company is looking to beef up its own platforms, CBS All Access and the ad-supported Pluto TV, with the newly acquired content.

“The market for streaming video has been driven by an explosion in high-end original content and low subscription costs relative to traditional pay TV,” Haggstrom noted. “A strong consumer appetite for new shows and movies has driven viewer growth for services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, as well as the broader market.”


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MIT built a better way to deliver high-quality video streams to multiple devices at once – gpgmail


Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Depending on your connection and the size of your household, video streaming can get downright post-apocalyptic – bandwidth is the key resource, and everyone is fighting to get the most and avoid a nasty, pixelated picture. But a new way to control how bandwidth is distributed across multiple, simultaneous streams could mean peace across the land – even when a ton of devices are sharing the same connection and all streaming video at the same time.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab created a system they call ‘Minerva’ that minimizes stutters due to buffering, and pixelation due to downgraded stream, which it believes could have huge potential benefits for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that increasingly serve multiple members of a household at once. The underlying technology could be applied to larger areas, too, extending beyond the houseful and into neighbourhoods or even whole regions to mitigate the effects of less than idea streaming conditions.

Minerva works by taking into account the varying needs of different delivery devices streaming on a network – so it doesn’t treat a 4K Apple TV the same as an older smartphone with a display that can’t even show full HD output, for instance. It also considers the nature of the content, , which is important because live action sports require a heck of a lot more bandwidth to display in high quality when compared to say, an animated children’s TV show.

Video is then served to viewers based on its actual needs, instead of just being allocated more or less evenly across devices, and the Minerva system continually optimizes delivery speeds in accordance with their changing needs as the stream continues.

In real-world testing, Minerva as able to provide a quality cup equivalent to going from 720p to 1080p as much as a third of the time, and eliminated the need for rebuffing by almost 50 percent, which is a massive improvement when it comes to actually being able to seamlessly stream video content continuously. Plus, it can do all this without requiring any fundamental changes to network infrastructure, meaning a streaming provider could roll it out without having to require any changes on the part of users.


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