Tool Kit: Virtual Currency Gains Ground in Actual World

Virtual Currency Gains Ground in Actual World

Minh Uong/The New York Times

A type of digital cash, bitcoins were invented in 2009 and can be sent directly to anyone, anywhere in the world.

Depending on whom you ask, bitcoins are a goofy geek invention with as much long-term value as Monopoly money — or a technology development that could transform currency the way e-mail and texting have transformed correspondence.

A type of digital cash, bitcoins were invented in 2009 and can be sent directly to anyone, anywhere in the world. You don’t have to go through a financial institution, which means no fees and no one tracking your spending habits. With a current market capitalization of $1 billion, bitcoins are beginning to be more widely accepted. You can use them to pay for a pizza or make speculative bets that could end up financing your child’s college education.

But bitcoins, and other digital currencies, have also come under scrutiny. Liberty Reserve, an online payment system, was shuttered in the spring by New York authorities, who said the company used its digital currency, known as LRs, to launder up to $6 billion. And law enforcement officials have voiced concerns that bitcoins could also abet illegal transactions. Bart Chilton, a commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, suggested that bitcoins might be ripe for regulation.

Moreover, some critics say the bitcoin infrastructure is insecure, as hackable as any other computer-based system.

“The way the basic bitcoin system works is both incredibly solid and incredibly clever from a technical standpoint,” said Nicholas Weaver, senior staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, which studies and advances a range of emerging technologies. “The system’s security is fragile, however, and the economic model behind bitcoin is, well, crazy stupid.”

Nonetheless, paying with bitcoins can be a weirdly fun way to make transactions. Here is a primer on how to do it.

Like gold, bitcoins, which are both a currency and a commodity, are in limited supply (there is a cap of 21 million total) and have to be “mined” before they are put in circulation. Anyone can mine for bitcoins by downloading software, known as the bitcoin client, which algorithmically crunches a bunch of numbers to legitimize or authenticate a sequence or “block” of past bitcoin transactions. So bitcoins are basically minted as a reward for contributing to the smooth operation of the system. Validating a block yields 25 bitcoins, which are currently worth $2,675.

The fluctuating price of bitcoins, also like gold, is a function of supply and demand, as well as psychology. “Bitcoins have value because people say they have value,” said Andrew White, a former I.T. manager for the Wikipedia Foundation and now a digital currency entrepreneur in San Francisco.

Unlike fiat currencies like the United States dollar and virtual currencies like Facebook credits and the one invented by Liberty Reserve, bitcoins are not created or controlled by a central authority. But with the blistering rate of bitcoin transactions these days, you need a pricey and complex computer rig to effectively run the bitcoin client and procure some bitcoin bounty. An easier way to get bitcoins is to just find someone willing to sell them to you.

Julian Tosh, an I.T. systems administrator in Las Vegas, for example, lets friends and family buy items on his Amazon wish list and pays them back in bitcoins. “This works well as long as I need stuff,” said Mr. Tosh, who also presides over a Wednesday “Bitcoin Lunch Mob” in Las Vegas, which gathers to discuss and trade bitcoins.

But maybe you don’t personally know any bitcoin enthusiasts like Mr. Tosh or the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, who own around $11 million worth and have filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission to form a bitcoin investment trust. If so, you might try localbitcoins.com, which lists people in your area who are willing to exchange bitcoins for cold hard cash. The market price Tuesday afternoon was $107 for a bitcoin. Be sure to check out sellers’ profiles and reviews to make sure they are reputable. And, of course, it’s always a good idea to meet in a public place to make the transaction.

Bitcoins can be easily transferred and stored using a digital wallet app on your Android mobile device. Popular wallet apps include BitcoinSpinner and Bitcoin Wallet. There are no iOS bitcoin wallet apps and Apple did not respond to e-mails seeking an explanation. But Blockchain has an online wallet service that you can access using any Internet-connected desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

You can also get bitcoins through Mt.Gox, the largest bitcoin exchange and where the currency is traded as a commodity. But it’s a cumbersome and lengthy process, requiring wire transfers and scanning identity documents. The company, which is based in Japan, also charges a 0.6 percent fee for all transactions.

Keep in mind that the United States Department of Homeland Security in May seized Mt.Gox’s United States accounts, saying it misrepresented the full extent of its financial operations. The company did not respond to requests for comment but continues to function as before the seizure.

Another option is Coinbase, a bitcoin transaction platform, which recently announced a $5 million infusion of venture capital. While it’s still a nascent venture (not even a year old), the service hasn’t had any major hiccups yet and is relatively simple to use. You just enter your bank account and routing number, how many bitcoins you want and click “buy.” You can also send bitcoins to others through your Coinbase account. Just know you’ll be charged a 1 percent transaction fee.

Once you have your bitcoins, the fun part is spending them. Bitcoin. travel, BitcoinsInVegas.com, Spendbitcoins.com and Reddit have directories of businesses that accept bitcoins as payment. And Bitpremier.com lists high-priced luxury items (cars, jets, yachts, etc.) you can buy with bitcoins.

To make a purchase, all you have to do is type the receiver’s key code or scan their QR code into your bitcoin wallet and you’re done. Like cash transactions, you can’t cancel payment later, so be sure it’s what you want before you click “send.”

Brewster Kahle, a founder of the Internet Archive in San Francisco, said he routinely used bitcoins to pay for lunch at a local sushi restaurant. He’s interested in the technology and appreciates the libertarian aspect of it. “Bitcoin used to be just in the land of computer geeks, but not anymore,” he said.

More businesses are accepting bitcoins lately thanks to Bitpay, which supplies software for processing bitcoin payments. The merchant pays a 0.99 percent fee per transaction versus the 2 to 4 percent fees charged by credit card companies. Bitpay will also immediately convert bitcoins to dollars if the merchant desires.

“Bitcoin users are pretty enthusiastic, so you get instant loyal customers,” said Adam Penn, owner of Veggie Galaxy, a restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., which began accepting bitcoins through Bitpay in May. “So far, it’s been a no-risk revenue generator.”

Also last month, Bitpay announced a partnership with the mobile gift card app Gyft, which will allow people to use bitcoins to purchase gift cards from hundreds of retailers including Brookstone, Lowe’s, GAP, Sephora, GameStop, American Eagle, Nike, Marriott, Burger King and Fandango.

“It’s a huge development,” said Mr. Tosh in Las Vegas, who predicts Gyft’s embrace of bitcoins will lead to widespread use of the alternative currency. “Pandora’s box has been smashed.”

Or maybe not. The legal trouble at Mt.Gox sent a shiver through the market as did S.E.C. charges last week that the founder and operator of the lesser-known Bitcoin Savings and Trust in McKinney, Tex., was running a bitcoin Ponzi scheme.

Still, bitcoin advocates point out that, despite some bad actors, the actual system has not had a major security breach. Nevertheless, even the most ardent bitcoin boosters urge caution. Bitcoins have appreciated more than 700 percent since this time last year — an increase some have compared to a bubble bound to burst.

“It’s supervolatile, so I’d tell people to go slow,” said Peter Vessenes, chairman and executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the currency. “Never hold more bitcoins than you’re prepared to lose.”

State of the Art: Chromecast, Simply and Cheaply, Flings Web Video to TVs

Chromecast, Simply and Cheaply, Flings Web Video to TVs

Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Google’s new Chromecast is the smallest, cheapest, simplest way yet to add Internet to your TV.

Ever hear the old saying, “Information wants to be free?” Well, here’s a corollary for you: “TV wants to be à la carte.”

Take the story of the iTunes music store. The instant somebody offered the chance to buy songs individually, the world changed forever. Hello, music à la carte. Goodbye, Tower Records.

Now it’s cable TV’s turn.

We are engaged in a great civil movement, testing whether that business, or any business so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. The number of people who cut the cord, or cancel the satellite, in favor of getting all their TV from the Internet is still small — maybe 1 percent of us a year. But the online alternatives to cable TV are growing. And once it becomes simple and easy to get Internet video from our laptops and phones to the actual television, well, the term “TV drama” will have a whole new meaning.

Actually, that has just happened. Google’s new Chromecast gizmo is the smallest, cheapest, simplest way yet to add Internet to your TV. It looks like a portly flash drive or maybe a fat keychain — and it costs $35. That’s not a typo.

So what does it do? If you have a Wi-Fi wireless network in your home, the Chromecast can perform two useful stunts.

Stunt 1: It lets you watch videos from YouTube, Netflix and Google Play (Google’s movie and TV store for Android gadgets) on your big screen. You use your phone or tablet (Apple or Android) as a remote control.

Stunt 2: The Chromecast displays Web sites on your TV — by broadcasting from Google’s Chrome browser on your Mac or PC. More on this in a moment.

Google’s promotional videos depict a fantasy of effortlessness: a hand slides the Chromecast into an HDMI jack on the back of a big-screen TV, clicking like a key into a lock. And then suddenly everything good on the Internet seems to be watchable on that TV, to the ecstasy of many young, attractive, multiethnic couch potatoes.

The videos leave out the fact that the Chromecast requires power. You can plug it into a power outlet or a USB jack on the TV itself, but either way, the result isn’t as clutter-free as the ads make it seem. Still — $35, remember?

Then you download a setup program, introduce it to your Wi-Fi network, name your Chromecast and so on. The whole setup process takes about five minutes; a child could do it. (Adults may need slightly longer.)

To perform Stunt 1, you open the YouTube, Netflix or Google Play app on your phone or tablet. Find a video to play. A special icon appears at the edge of the touch screen, resembling a rectangle with Wi-Fi signal waves in the corner. To begin watching that video on the TV, tap that icon and choose your Chromecast’s name.

Your phone is not actually transmitting anything. The Chromecast gets the video from the Internet directly; you use your phone or tablet only to find the movie and control its playback. You can even adjust the volume using the physical volume keys on the side.

The good news: this arrangement means you can do other things on your phone or tablet during playback, like working in another app or even turning the thing off.

The bad news is that the phone/tablet is the only remote control you’ve got. So if you want to pause, rewind or mute the video, you first have to find your phone/tablet, wake it up, enter the password if required, and finally reopen the app that’s doing the playing. It’s not especially graceful.

On Android gadgets, at least the Pause button appears right on the lock screen. You don’t have to unlock the device and reopen the app.

Otherwise, all of this is effortless and excellent. Even if you can already get Netflix and YouTube on your TV because they’re built into the TV, Xbox, TiVo or Blu-ray player, you may prefer the Chromecast; it’s just much easier to search for videos, thanks to the on-screen keyboard and voice dictation. You can also cue up several videos to play in sequence. That’s especially handy for YouTube videos, which are not exactly, you know, epic in length.

Bits Blog: A Shifting Workplace Experience

Compared with offices of the past, the modern workplace is paradoxically both more informal and more relentless. Doors have been replaced by cubicles, formal desks with tables, and long-planned meetings with ad hoc collaboration. Work and home have blended, to the general benefit of work: more and more of us are available at all times, on smartphones and tablets, for e-mail and instant messaging.

The look and function of office productivity software, including icons like scissors and clipboards, have been slower to change. As mobility and collaboration become standards of work, however, the design and function of things like document creation and sharing are changing too.

For decades, adjusting fonts and type sizes was used persuade clients and co-workers in office documents. And people e-mailed one another attachments of work they had created alone. But now, an emphasis is placed on fast turnaround, effective presentation on small screens, and the use of pictures and graphics as much as words.

A big part of mobility is cloud computing, which allows all kinds of documents to be stored in remote data centers and used anywhere. Google recently made Google Docs, its word processing software, part of Drive, its online storage service. Microsoft’s storage service, called Skydrive, is still separate from its mobile version of Word, but it is possible to use the service on most new smartphones.

But several start-ups have also emerged, trying to radically rethink the way we work, in some cases from a mobile-first point of view.

Crocdoc

Box, a newer online storage service, recently bought a company called Crocdoc, which uses an advanced Web programming language to make all sorts of documents and photo displays look good no matter the device.

Crocdoc can also be used as a collaboration and editing tool. In this image, several users are editing a document in the social media service Yammer, which is owned by Microsoft. Crocdoc allows the users to see Microsoft Office documents, and once opened, users can make edits, as well as add comments and highlights.

Evernote

Evernote, another online storage company, allows users to write, edit and share notes together, instead of e-mailing multiple versions of a Word document to one another.

Some of Evernote’s features still borrow from images of old-fashioned work in their design, like making text bold or italic in a document. But it also offers more modern features, like letting users strike-through text, add images or audio and even search through a document’s metadata to find its version history.

Quip

In Quip, a new word-processing start-up, pictures and tables are referenced by touching the “@” key on a pop-up screen keyboard, a nod to Twitter’s way of linking people together.

Quip also gives a lot of screen real estate to the person who owns the device and other people. Instant messaging, photos of other people where they edited, and annotations can occupy a big chunk of the screen, or be removed to just work on a document. It is a more collaborative world, and the look is meant to encourage others to jump in when they see someone else is online.

Not everything changes, however. You may be looking at a mobile phone in a coffee shop, or looking at a tablet in a conference room, but for some reason Quip still calls the main screen “Desktop.” One thing about the future: It’s still full of the past.

As Work Habits Change, Software Makers Rush to Innovate

As Work Habits Change, Software Makers Rush to Innovate

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Bret Taylor, right, who helped create Google Maps before serving as Facebook’s chief technical officer, founded Quip with Kevin Gibbs, who helped create Google’s data centers.

Every day, millions of office workers prepare memos and reports using scissors and paste, and store data on floppy disks, though they have plenty of digital memory in their computers and the cloud. Smartphone-toting executives have their mail dumped into in-boxes, one corporate message atop another.

They are not using these objects, of course, but clicking on the pictures of them in popular word-processing programs like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. The icons linger like vestigial organs of an old-style office, 31 years after I.B.M.’s personal computer brought work into the software age. They symbolize an old style of office software, built for the time when the desktop computer was new and unfamiliar.

But no longer are workers tethered to a desk, or even to an office; we are all toting around laptops, tablets and smartphones to make every place a workplace. And so office software is changing. These days, what is important is collaboration, small screens, fast turnarounds, social media and, most of all, mobility.

“The way people use things is fundamentally changing,” said Bret Taylor, chief executive of Quip, a start-up offering document-writing software that focuses more on mobile than desktop work.

Mr. Taylor, 33, is one of the best-regarded young software engineers in Silicon Valley. He helped create Google Maps before serving as Facebook’s chief technical officer. His co-founder, Kevin Gibbs, also 33, helped create Google’s data centers and as a side project developed the software that suggests completions when people start to type questions into Google search.

Their company is one of several that are developing office software for the mobile world. Some of the new programs still borrow from images of old-fashioned work in their design. But the capabilities they offer are decidedly up-to-date.

Last month Box, an online service for storing documents, pictures and other data, bought Crocdoc, a company that makes it possible to view Microsoft Word documents and other popular file formats across a variety of devices at the right size for whatever screen is being used at the time. Evernote, another online storage outfit, allows people to write, edit and share notes together, instead of e-mailing multiple versions of a Word document to one another.

Sam Schillace, Box’s vice president for engineering, wrote the original program that became Google Docs, which was introduced only six years ago.

He explained that in a mobile world, where everyone is in nearly constant contact, speed and ease of use are more important than lots of font choices. “We were guilty of taking the existing nature of documents,” he said, “but six years ago connectivity was a question. Now everything is connected all the time.”

Both Microsoft and Google are scrambling to make their products reflect a work environment where PCs exist alongside other devices. There is a mobile version of Microsoft Office, which includes Microsoft Word, but it can only be used to edit certain kinds of documents and collaboration is limited. One reason for this, the company says, is that it does not want to force its user base to relearn too much, too quickly.

“We have one billion users of Office,” said Julia White, general manager of Office marketing. “You can’t expect them to change every day.”

Still, social media touches, such as “liking” an e-mail to show you’ve read it instead of writing a response, are likely to be seen in the future, she said.

Quip’s product is for now fully available only for Apple’s mobile devices and laptops. It combines instant messaging with document creation, storage and sharing in a primarily touch-screen environment.

Tap an icon of a manila folder and the material inside appears, which any user can organize as they see fit. Tapping one of those documents brings it up to be written, edited or commented on.

Like on Facebook, people’s pictures appear alongside their comments. The pictures also appear on any folder or document a person has open, making it easy to start working with someone else.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 31, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of a Stanford University researcher. He is Mathias Crawford, not Matthias.

App Smart: Using the Masses to Improve Apps

Using the Masses to Improve Apps

Crowds are a hit. Millions of people, connected by the Internet, are now contributing ideas and information to projects big and small. Crowdsourcing, as it is called, is helping to solve tricky problems and providing localized information. And with the right mobile apps, contributing to the crowd — and using its wisdom — is easier than ever.

The Weathermob app, free on iOS.

Weathersignal, a free Android app.

The Duolingo app is available for iOS and Android.

Weather apps, for example, sometimes have data only for cities or towns far from a specific location. The Weathermob app, free on iOS, tackles that by sourcing weather reports from people who are exactly at the spot you are interested in visiting or knowing more about. Users submit weather information from their location, as well as other data, like their mood or what they’re doing.

As I write this, for example, some users in the app’s “nearby” page have shared photos from a beach not far away where it is 70 degrees and sunny, and they’ve added a smiley tag to the photos. There is also an option for adding comments, which means those beach partyers could add information, like “Come and visit here — a band is playing in an hour.”

This aspect of the app is entertaining but not particularly useful — I can take a step outside and get most of that information. But the app is searchable for information on other locations. When I looked up a town that I would be visiting, for example, Weathermob users reported that it was 66 degrees, and the app’s detailed forecast page reported an 11 percent chance of rain the next day.

Entering your own weather report is easy. You dial through a rotating list of weather icons to one that matches what you see. Then you select a mood and an icon from the “it’s weather for…” list, which includes oddities like a sea gull or a cricket bat. You can also add a comment, photo or video. It’s fun to use, but the app depends on users’ actively taking part to deliver meaningful information — and that’s not necessarily going to cover every location.

Weathersignal, a free Android app, takes crowdsourced weather reporting one step further by using sensors in your phone or tablet to assess the local weather conditions. Your device effectively becomes a miniature weather station. The makers stress that the app is experimental and that not every Android device has the right sensors. With the right device the app can collect data like air pressure, ambient temperature and even brightness. But even then, Weathersignal is quite basic and has a few quirks — like telling me my Nexus 7 is sitting in 37-degree Fahrenheit weather, when it’s plainly a warm day.

But as more people use the app, the team should be able to refine the algorithms to make better calculations and predictions about current and future weather. For now, this app as something amusing to contribute to, not a reliable weather app based on crowdsourced data.

If you are trying to learn a new language, it is worth trying Duolingo, a great example of a crowdsource app. The app is like many that teach languages, with guided lessons on vocabulary, verb use and pronunciation. It’s graphically very attractive, with straightforward menus. There is also a rewards scheme that makes learning a new language a gamelike experience.

But where other apps simply test your new language skills on preset examples, Duolingo takes another approach. As you move through the lessons, either in the app or on the complementary Web site, you may find yourself being asked to translate other Web sites or documents. This means that you’re part of a crowdsourced translation engine — a point of pride when you get something right, and probably no harm done if you get it wrong, since the app will rely on the wisdom of the crowd. The apps, on iOS and Android, are free, but at the moment available only for students of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Find it difficult to make a decision? Then you might want to download Seesaw, a crowdsource app that is all about decision making. If you’re undecided on something, Seesaw can poll your social network friends with a simple click-to-vote mechanism.

If you’re considering a new haircut, for example, you could put photos of four different haircuts into a status update on Seesaw and submit a question like “Which one is best?” Your Seesaw friends, added from your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account, can click on the picture they like best. They can also add a comment, if so inclined. It’s simple and easy to use, and you may be surprised by the answers. The app is photo-centric, though, so it may not suit all types of questions. It’s free on iOS.

Finally, check out the crowdsource video app Pixorial Krowds on iOS and Android, an app for sharing video of an event or location. The idea is that if you’re attending something like a music festival you can see what’s going on from other attendees’ perspectives. The interface is a little confusing, but the app is free.

Crowdsourcing apps are most useful when you actively take part and share data. But do check the apps’ privacy policies to be certain that you’re comfortable sharing the information that you are submitting.

Quick Call

Yahoo’s Fantasy Football apps have just been updated with a valuable new feature: They can now connect users to a live draft and even set up mock drafts. If you’ve never played fantasy sports, now is a great time to try out Yahoo’s free app on iOS and Android.

App Smart: Using the Masses to Improve Apps

Using the Masses to Improve Apps

Crowds are a hit. Millions of people, connected by the Internet, are now contributing ideas and information to projects big and small. Crowdsourcing, as it is called, is helping to solve tricky problems and providing localized information. And with the right mobile apps, contributing to the crowd — and using its wisdom — is easier than ever.

The Weathermob app, free on iOS.

Weathersignal, a free Android app.

The Duolingo app is available for iOS and Android.

Weather apps, for example, sometimes have data only for cities or towns far from a specific location. The Weathermob app, free on iOS, tackles that by sourcing weather reports from people who are exactly at the spot you are interested in visiting or knowing more about. Users submit weather information from their location, as well as other data, like their mood or what they’re doing.

As I write this, for example, some users in the app’s “nearby” page have shared photos from a beach not far away where it is 70 degrees and sunny, and they’ve added a smiley tag to the photos. There is also an option for adding comments, which means those beach partyers could add information, like “Come and visit here — a band is playing in an hour.”

This aspect of the app is entertaining but not particularly useful — I can take a step outside and get most of that information. But the app is searchable for information on other locations. When I looked up a town that I would be visiting, for example, Weathermob users reported that it was 66 degrees, and the app’s detailed forecast page reported an 11 percent chance of rain the next day.

Entering your own weather report is easy. You dial through a rotating list of weather icons to one that matches what you see. Then you select a mood and an icon from the “it’s weather for…” list, which includes oddities like a sea gull or a cricket bat. You can also add a comment, photo or video. It’s fun to use, but the app depends on users’ actively taking part to deliver meaningful information — and that’s not necessarily going to cover every location.

Weathersignal, a free Android app, takes crowdsourced weather reporting one step further by using sensors in your phone or tablet to assess the local weather conditions. Your device effectively becomes a miniature weather station. The makers stress that the app is experimental and that not every Android device has the right sensors. With the right device the app can collect data like air pressure, ambient temperature and even brightness. But even then, Weathersignal is quite basic and has a few quirks — like telling me my Nexus 7 is sitting in 37-degree Fahrenheit weather, when it’s plainly a warm day.

But as more people use the app, the team should be able to refine the algorithms to make better calculations and predictions about current and future weather. For now, this app as something amusing to contribute to, not a reliable weather app based on crowdsourced data.

If you are trying to learn a new language, it is worth trying Duolingo, a great example of a crowdsource app. The app is like many that teach languages, with guided lessons on vocabulary, verb use and pronunciation. It’s graphically very attractive, with straightforward menus. There is also a rewards scheme that makes learning a new language a gamelike experience.

But where other apps simply test your new language skills on preset examples, Duolingo takes another approach. As you move through the lessons, either in the app or on the complementary Web site, you may find yourself being asked to translate other Web sites or documents. This means that you’re part of a crowdsourced translation engine — a point of pride when you get something right, and probably no harm done if you get it wrong, since the app will rely on the wisdom of the crowd. The apps, on iOS and Android, are free, but at the moment available only for students of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Find it difficult to make a decision? Then you might want to download Seesaw, a crowdsource app that is all about decision making. If you’re undecided on something, Seesaw can poll your social network friends with a simple click-to-vote mechanism.

If you’re considering a new haircut, for example, you could put photos of four different haircuts into a status update on Seesaw and submit a question like “Which one is best?” Your Seesaw friends, added from your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account, can click on the picture they like best. They can also add a comment, if so inclined. It’s simple and easy to use, and you may be surprised by the answers. The app is photo-centric, though, so it may not suit all types of questions. It’s free on iOS.

Finally, check out the crowdsource video app Pixorial Krowds on iOS and Android, an app for sharing video of an event or location. The idea is that if you’re attending something like a music festival you can see what’s going on from other attendees’ perspectives. The interface is a little confusing, but the app is free.

Crowdsourcing apps are most useful when you actively take part and share data. But do check the apps’ privacy policies to be certain that you’re comfortable sharing the information that you are submitting.

Quick Call

Yahoo’s Fantasy Football apps have just been updated with a valuable new feature: They can now connect users to a live draft and even set up mock drafts. If you’ve never played fantasy sports, now is a great time to try out Yahoo’s free app on iOS and Android.

Bits Blog: A Shifting Workplace Experience

Compared with offices of the past, the modern workplace is paradoxically both more informal and more relentless. Doors have been replaced by cubicles, formal desks with tables, and long-planned meetings with ad hoc collaboration. Work and home have blended, to the general benefit of work: more and more of us are available at all times, on smartphones and tablets, for e-mail and instant messaging.

The look and function of office productivity software, including icons like scissors and clipboards, have been slower to change. As mobility and collaboration become standards of work, however, the design and function of things like document creation and sharing are changing too.

For decades, adjusting fonts and type sizes was used persuade clients and co-workers in office documents. And people e-mailed one another attachments of work they had created alone. But now, an emphasis is placed on fast turnaround, effective presentation on small screens, and the use of pictures and graphics as much as words.

A big part of mobility is cloud computing, which allows all kinds of documents to be stored in remote data centers and used anywhere. Google recently made Google Docs, its word processing software, part of Drive, its online storage service. Microsoft’s storage service, called Skydrive, is still separate from its mobile version of Word, but it is possible to use the service on most new smartphones.

But several start-ups have also emerged, trying to radically rethink the way we work, in some cases from a mobile-first point of view.

Crocdoc

Box, a newer online storage service, recently bought a company called Crocdoc, which uses an advanced Web programming language to make all sorts of documents and photo displays look good no matter the device.

Crocdoc can also be used as a collaboration and editing tool. In this image, several users are editing a document in the social media service Yammer, which is owned by Microsoft. Crocdoc allows the users to see Microsoft Office documents, and once opened, users can make edits, as well as add comments and highlights.

Evernote

Evernote, another online storage company, allows users to write, edit and share notes together, instead of e-mailing multiple versions of a Word document to one another.

Some of Evernote’s features still borrow from images of old-fashioned work in their design, like making text bold or italic in a document. But it also offers more modern features, like letting users strike-through text, add images or audio and even search through a document’s metadata to find its version history.

Quip

In Quip, a new word-processing start-up, pictures and tables are referenced by touching the “@” key on a pop-up screen keyboard, a nod to Twitter’s way of linking people together.

Quip also gives a lot of screen real estate to the person who owns the device and other people. Instant messaging, photos of other people where they edited, and annotations can occupy a big chunk of the screen, or be removed to just work on a document. It is a more collaborative world, and the look is meant to encourage others to jump in when they see someone else is online.

Not everything changes, however. You may be looking at a mobile phone in a coffee shop, or looking at a tablet in a conference room, but for some reason Quip still calls the main screen “Desktop.” One thing about the future: It’s still full of the past.

As Work Habits Change, Software Makers Rush to Innovate

As Work Habits Change, Software Makers Rush to Innovate

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Bret Taylor, right, who helped create Google Maps before serving as Facebook’s chief technical officer, founded Quip with Kevin Gibbs, who helped create Google’s data centers.

Every day, millions of office workers prepare memos and reports using scissors and paste, and store data on floppy disks, though they have plenty of digital memory in their computers and the cloud. Smartphone-toting executives have their mail dumped into in-boxes, one corporate message atop another.

They are not using these objects, of course, but clicking on the pictures of them in popular word-processing programs like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. The icons linger like vestigial organs of an old-style office, 31 years after I.B.M.’s personal computer brought work into the software age. They symbolize an old style of office software, built for the time when the desktop computer was new and unfamiliar.

But no longer are workers tethered to a desk, or even to an office; we are all toting around laptops, tablets and smartphones to make every place a workplace. And so office software is changing. These days, what is important is collaboration, small screens, fast turnarounds, social media and, most of all, mobility.

“The way people use things is fundamentally changing,” said Bret Taylor, chief executive of Quip, a start-up offering document-writing software that focuses more on mobile than desktop work.

Mr. Taylor, 33, is one of the best-regarded young software engineers in Silicon Valley. He helped create Google Maps before serving as Facebook’s chief technical officer. His co-founder, Kevin Gibbs, also 33, helped create Google’s data centers and as a side project developed the software that suggests completions when people start to type questions into Google search.

Their company is one of several that are developing office software for the mobile world. Some of the new programs still borrow from images of old-fashioned work in their design. But the capabilities they offer are decidedly up-to-date.

Last month Box, an online service for storing documents, pictures and other data, bought Crocdoc, a company that makes it possible to view Microsoft Word documents and other popular file formats across a variety of devices at the right size for whatever screen is being used at the time. Evernote, another online storage outfit, allows people to write, edit and share notes together, instead of e-mailing multiple versions of a Word document to one another.

Sam Schillace, Box’s vice president for engineering, wrote the original program that became Google Docs, which was introduced only six years ago.

He explained that in a mobile world, where everyone is in nearly constant contact, speed and ease of use are more important than lots of font choices. “We were guilty of taking the existing nature of documents,” he said, “but six years ago connectivity was a question. Now everything is connected all the time.”

Both Microsoft and Google are scrambling to make their products reflect a work environment where PCs exist alongside other devices. There is a mobile version of Microsoft Office, which includes Microsoft Word, but it can only be used to edit certain kinds of documents and collaboration is limited. One reason for this, the company says, is that it does not want to force its user base to relearn too much, too quickly.

“We have one billion users of Office,” said Julia White, general manager of Office marketing. “You can’t expect them to change every day.”

Still, social media touches, such as “liking” an e-mail to show you’ve read it instead of writing a response, are likely to be seen in the future, she said.

Quip’s product is for now fully available only for Apple’s mobile devices and laptops. It combines instant messaging with document creation, storage and sharing in a primarily touch-screen environment.

Tap an icon of a manila folder and the material inside appears, which any user can organize as they see fit. Tapping one of those documents brings it up to be written, edited or commented on.

Like on Facebook, people’s pictures appear alongside their comments. The pictures also appear on any folder or document a person has open, making it easy to start working with someone else.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 31, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of a Stanford University researcher. He is Mathias Crawford, not Matthias.

Poll Shows Republican Voters at Odds on Party Leadership and Direction

As a number of prominent Republicans trade barbs and jostle to become the party’s standard-bearer after a disappointing showing in the 2012 election, a new poll finds a majority of Republican voters support significant changes in the party’s direction, but there is no consensus on what direction the party should take.

Two-thirds of Republican voters said their party needed to address major problems to do better in future presidential elections, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday, and nearly 6 in 10 said the party needed to reconsider some of its policy positions.

No single Republican stood out as the face or voice of the party: 22 percent of respondents volunteered the answer “nobody” when asked who led their party. The most mentioned name, House Speaker John A. Boehner, garnered only 9 percent.

Asked about several party leaders, all elicited stronger favorable than unfavorable responses. Representative Paul D. Ryan, the 2012 Republican candidate for vice president, had the highest favorability rating at 65 percent, followed by Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky at 55 percent and Marco Rubio of Florida at 50 percent. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was not far behind, with 47 percent favorability, but had higher unfavorable opinions (30 percent) than Mr. Ryan, Mr. Paul, or Mr. Rubio.

And while slightly more than half said that nominating more women and racial and ethnic minorities to run for office would help the Republican Party perform better in national elections, about 4 in 10 Republicans said they did not think that would help.

Among those who said changes in policy standpoints were necessary, the most commonly cited issues were immigration and abortion, followed by gay marriage.

Regarding specific policies, the general sentiment for Republicans was to move further right, particularly on government spending. On immigration, about 4 in 10 Republicans said the party’s position was “about right,” while the same number said Republicans were not conservative enough. On gun policy, most Republicans agreed with their party’s stance.

However, on gay marriage, Republicans were almost evenly scattered, with 33 percent saying the position was about right, 31 percent saying the party’s stand was too conservative, 27 percent saying it was not conservative enough. On abortion, 4 in 10 Republicans said their party’s position was about right, but half of Republicans were divided on whether it should be more moderate or more conservative. (Asking voters whether about their party’s approach to an issue is conservative enough or too conservative has two drawbacks: First, there’s a level of subjectivity — each person’s definition of conservative can vary —  and second, the question requires the respondent to have knowledge about the party’s stance on the issue.)

What may be most worrisome for Republican leaders is the declining number of Americans who see themselves as Republicans, and the growing ranks of independents. In this most recent Pew poll, just 19 percent identified as Republican, a steady decline from the 30 percent who identified as Republican a decade ago. When those who said they were independent but leaned Republican are included, the total Republicans grow to 37 percent, just slightly down from 42 percent in 2003. Pew’s recent poll found 29 percent of Americans identified as Democrats, roughly the same as the 32 percent who said so in 2003. However, when including leaners, Democrats are holding steadier numbers, with a total 47 percent today, compared to 44 percent in 2003.

The Pew Research Center poll was conducted by landline and cellphone from July 17 to 21 among a national sample of 1,408 adults, including 497 Republican or Republican-leaning voters, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points for Republican voters.

Rising G.O.P. Star Expected to Challenge Arkansas Democrat

Representative Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, is expected to announce his challenge to Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas in 2014, according to two Republicans familiar with his thinking. For Mr. Pryor, a two-term Democrat, the bid would further complicate his efforts to hold onto his already vulnerable seat.

The Associated Press, which first reported Mr. Cotton’s plans, said he would announce his decision next Tuesday at an event in Dardanelle, Ark., his hometown.

Mr. Cotton, a 36-year-old freshman lawmaker, was elected in 2012 and quickly became a rising star in his party, with his name buzzed about as a potential Senate candidate almost immediately. Supporters noted his résumé — a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School; an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and a former McKinsey & Company management consultant — and his folksy drawl and ability to chat easily about his family’s cattle farm.

Though the Pryor name is dynastic in Arkansas — Mr. Pryor holds the Senate seat that was his father’s for nearly two decades — Mr. Pryor was already facing an uphill fight in his increasingly Republican home state. Mitt Romney won Arkansas with 60.5 percent of the vote in 2012, and voters there elected an entirely Republican slate of House members last year, as well.

The Rothenberg Political Report rated the Arkansas Senate race a “pure toss-up,” along with the open Senate seat in Montana and Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat in Louisiana.

Mr. Cotton’s office would not confirm reports that he is planning to run for Senate, but did say he plans to discuss his future plans generally next week in Arkansas.

“On Tuesday, Tom is inviting his hometown and all who have supported him along the way to hear about his fight to represent Arkansas’ values in D.C.,” said Caroline Rabbitt, Mr. Cotton’s communications director. “He looks forward to sharing his plans to continue that fight in the coming year.”

Mr. Pryor’s campaign did not wait for Mr. Cotton’s challenge to become official before going on the attack.

“In seven short months, Tom Cotton’s reckless and irresponsible voting record has alienated Arkansas farmers, seniors, students, women, parents and the business community by voting against such measures as the farm bill, student loans, the Violence Against Women Act, and trying to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Jeff Weaver, Mr. Pryor’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “Instead of putting Arkansas first, he has put his own political career ahead of the people of Arkansas and sided with Washington insiders and special interests. When the people of our state review Tom Cotton’s record, they won’t like what they see.”

However, American Crossroads, a conservative “super PAC,” was eager to see Mr. Cotton’s bid go forward.

“One of the weakest Democrats in the Senate this cycle is now facing potentially the strongest Republican challenger of the cycle,” Steven J. Law, the group’s president, said in an e-mail statement. “Representative Cotton is a conservative leader and rock star candidate. Arkansas is now one of the very top pickup opportunities for Republicans this cycle, and we are excited to get engaged in the race on behalf of Rep. Tom Cotton.”