The UpStream

The 'Podcast Patent' is Officially Dead for Good

posted Saturday Nov 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

The 'Podcast Patent' is Officially Dead for Good

In the early days of personal computers, and especially the early days of the internet, the process for receiving a software patent was unbelievably easy. If you could string together 8 words that sounded tech-related, you could probably get a patent on the idea. Many of the ideas were so vague they could cover nearly any technology, and the owners of some of those patents have tried to take advantage of a bad system.

One such patent, currently owned by Personal Audio LLC (after several acquisitions over the years), has been known to the internet as "the podcast patent" because of the targets of intended litigation. The company threatened several high profile podcasters, including Adam Carolla, for using their technology without permission.

Luckily, the Electronic Freedom Foundation came to the industry's rescue, taking the case to court to invalidate the patent. After running a successful crowdfunding campaign to fund the suit, the EFF won against Personal Audio in several courts, including the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in August. Theoretically this was the case's last stop, but Personal Audio would not be deterred, asking to take the case "en banc," meaning that all of the judges would consider the case.

This week, the last stand of Personal Audio was unsuccessful, being officially invalidated by the full court. In addition to arguing in favor of the patent, the company argued against the validity of the legality of the inter partes review process. They argued that the EFF arguing against a patent tilts the power away from the patent holder. The court disagreed, invalidated the patent, and returned RSS feeds to the people of the internet.

Blizzard to Roll Back World of Warcraft to Original Gameplay

posted Saturday Nov 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Blizzard to Roll Back <cite>World of Warcraft</cite> to Original Gameplay

Few games enjoy the success of World of Warcraft, and even fewer enjoy the longevity. The game was released in 2004 and, in the past 13 years, has changed quite a lot. Between upgrades and expansions, the game has gotten much bigger, expanding its footprint, level caps and more. But, for those who have played the game from the beginning, there is a longing for the simpler days of the game.

One way that players have dealt with this longing is to create their own servers, running original server software. This allowed people with clean installs of the game to play the game as it was originally launched. The problem, of course, is that this is copyright infringement. Blizzard has sent cease-and-desist letters to those running the servers for years in an attempt to maintain control over their brand.

This week, at Blizzcon, Blizzard announced that the company has finally accepted that there is a subset of players who enjoy the original game, and will be releasing World of Warcraft Classic, along with classic servers. This will allow players the choice of playing the game pre-expansion - circa 2004. J. Allen Brack, Executive Producer of the game, told the crowd,

Before I get to the big news today, I want to talk about ice cream. I understand that for some of you, your favorite flavor is vanilla.

Fans of World of Warcraft around the world, we hear you. I am pleased and also a little bit nervous to announce the development of a classic server option for World of Warcraft. This is a larger endeavor than you might imagine, but we are committed to making an authentic, Blizzard-quality classic experience.

What we don't know is... any of the details. We haven't got a release date, in-game footage, or even exactly what we will see when the product hits the market. Will the game play with original assets, or will it play with more modern assets? Will it be available in 2018, 2019? Hopefully we will find out some of this information in the more near future.

Microsoft to Energize Mixed Reality Vision, Looking to License HoloLens Chip

posted Saturday Nov 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft to Energize Mixed Reality Vision, Looking to License HoloLens Chip

Ever since Microsoft's surprise announcement of HoloLens, analysts have struggled to understand Microsoft's plans for the device. Microsoft diehards, however, have recognized the device as a technology demo platform. This is an approach that Intel has taken for years, and Microsoft adopted the concept far more recently.

The original Surface was designed to challenge the industry's and public's views of what a computer could be. The Band was designed for Microsoft to test out integrating new sensors, charging technology, etc., into a smaller package. The HoloLens was Microsoft's Mixed Reality playground. A device which allows them to try out Windows Mixed Reality without the need for a PC, but that can try out new technology.

The next generation of HoloLens will feature a newly designed AI chip. The company has been working to incorporate some of the capabilities that the HoloLens uses currently through Azure, but in a disconnected nature. This chip, however, is not designed just to enhance the HoloLens, but to enhance computing as a whole. Panos Panay, the head of devices for Microsoft, said,

We have to continue to find those pieces of silicon, those chipsets that have to be developed, to bring those sensors to life, to connect people to each other, and with their products.

But he expanded the idea beyond Microsoft. In fact, he suggested that Microsoft, after designing this chip, would want to license it out to partners, such as they did with the chipset within the Surface pen.

I think of the most important things we do in Surface and in our chip development is not only creating technology - we have a pen, there's an ASIC in the pen-as an example, that we do license out to other companies. And without a doubt, the opportunity to make sure that we get the technology, create it within Surface, and then proliferate it to our partners and give everybody the opportunity to use is really important.

This falls inline with Microsoft's business model. Unlike Apple, who designs stuff and hides it behind patents and their design studio, Microsoft develops technology for themselves, and then allows others in the industry to use that technology to enhance their own products. We've seen this with ASIC in the Surface Pen, Casio licensing the Band, and even Cortana in the Harmon Kardon Invoke.

It will be interesting to see how partners put Microsoft's new AI chip to use. Perhaps Harmon Kardon will enhance Cortana's capabilities within the Invoke, Casio could improve their implementation of the Band, Samsung could make their Mixed Reality headsets even better, or a company we've never heard of could design a whole new device category.

Viacom Finally Accepting Streaming as an Inevitability

posted Sunday Oct 29, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Viacom Finally Accepting Streaming as an Inevitability

While Comcast (NBC Universal), Disney (ABC), FOX and Turner jointly own Hulu, and CBS has CBS All Access, exclusive home to the new Star Trek: Discovery, Viacom has had a different relationship with streaming media. They were launch partners for several of the cord-cutting services, such as Sling and PlayStation Vue, they quickly removed their content. In addition, finding their content online can be murky.

For example, let's look at Comedy Central's online presence. The network owns a lot of content, and yet only 8 of their series are available on Hulu, and nothing is available on Netflix or Amazon, though you can add Comedy Central to Prime Video as an add-on channel. The company offers an app for multiple platforms, but you can only get the content if you have a cable subscription.

This could finally coming to an end, however, as Viacom has entered into talks with wireless network to bring their content to mobile. This shows a level of acceptance of streaming that the company has seemingly not had previously. It does indicate, however, that their primary focus will be on mobile. Companies that expend effort on a mobile-only effort tend to be looking to attract a younger audience. Considering Viacom owns Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, this makes sense. However, they also own CMT and Logo, which are not exactly youth-oriented channels.

These conversations could also indicate more than just a partnership. There has been discussion in the past about the possibility of Verizon purchasing Viacom. Speaking with the networks could be an introduction to the possibility of a buyout. Verizon would be a likely company to purchase the company, as they have been buying content recently, and they are now going to have to deal with AT&T owning Time Warner, creating a direct competition. It is also possible that T-Mobile could be interested, as they have been working on content partnerships, but ownership might be their next goal.

Twitter to Share Political Ad Data, Ban Certain Russian Advertisers

posted Sunday Oct 29, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Twitter to Share Political Ad Data, Ban Certain Russian Advertisers

The public perception has changed greatly over the past 8 years over social media's involvement in elections. In 2008, the public praised social media for being responsible for Obama's presidency. This year, people have expressed outrage at social media for being responsible for Trump's presidency. So, what has changed in such a small period of time?

While there are a number of issues, including the party associated with the winner, the real issues comes to the type of involvement social media had. In 2008, it gave citizens a way to express their opinions, whether it be via text or video. This year, paid advertising played a greater part in the process, and those ads did not come from citizens. In fact, many of the ads did not even come from organizations within North America, but instead from Russia.

The networks have looked for ways to address the issue of disinformation coming from Russia's propaganda machine, and each has addressed it differently. This week, Twitter announced 2 new ways in which they plan to address the issue going forward. The first is to remove two organizations, Russia Today and Sputnik, both Russian state media, from running any ads on the network. The company said of the decision,

Twitter has made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned by Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, effective immediately. This decision was based on the retrospective work we've been doing around the 2016 U.S. election and the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government. We did not come to this decision lightly, and are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter.

The second announcement involves advertising disclosure. For those who are interested in knowing information, which does not seem to be the majority anymore, the company is creating an Advertising Transparency Center, where people can see who has purchased a particular ad on the network, as well as length of the ad buy and targeting parameters.

In addition, the company will mark all political ads as such, which will allow people to see the transparency data in the Advertising Transparency Center. This will allow people to see if the information is being shared by a reputable source. The company said,

To make it clear when you are seeing or engaging with an electioneering ad, we will now require that electioneering advertisers identify their campaigns as such. We will also change the look and feel of these ads and include a visual political ad indicator.

These moves are certainly positive, but it all relies on the idea that people are curious. That was once the case, but seems to no longer be the truth. Most people seem to simply believe everything they read with no regard for source or reliability. That means that, at best this is wasted time and, at worst, a marketing ploy from the company.

Microsoft Kills Off Production of Kinect Motion Controller

posted Sunday Oct 29, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Kills Off Production of Kinect Motion Controller

At E3 2009, Microsoft introduced the world to Project Natal, a motion tracking controller headed to the Xbox 360. Soon after its launch, the Kinect (Project Natal's production name) became a massive success. Within 4 months, the company had sold 10 million units. Over the next 7 years, Microsoft would go on to sell 35 million units across Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.

It wasn't long after the release that developers wanted access to the 360 exclusive device for PC, and an open source project, Open Kinect, was born. It was popular enough that Microsoft made a PC version of the peripheral, complete with official SDK. This SDK opened the door for a wide variety of Kinect-powered products. At CES over the years we have seen products ranging from beauty to fitness. I was personally involved in a prototype for a health product.

This week, Microsoft confirmed that the Kinect's run has come to an end. No new inventory is being produced, so any inventory that is in the wild is all that is left, meaning that if you are in the market for a Kinect, get it now. This is not to say the technology itself is dead, however. The technology that powers the Kinect has been incorporated into Windows Mixed Reality headsets, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that a version 3 is incorporated.

The question that this leaves is, what about the independent projects that rely on Kinect? Losing the device is going to mean that the products or services either have to be retired, rely on used hardware for as long as it can be found, or rewritten entirely to support divergent hardware. The problem with the last option is that it assumes that it is possible to find another piece of hardware with comparable features, which is getting harder to do. The main competitor, Intel's RealSense, seems to have been discontinued for standalone cameras as well.

With a vacuum emerging, it could mean that another company could license an existing technology, like Kinect or RealSense, or produce their own technology that is compatible for product companies. As for now, it seems Windows Hello and Windows Mixed Reality is what is left of 3D tracking.

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