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Yahoo! Adds Tumblr to Its Portfolio

posted Tuesday May 21, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo! Adds Tumblr to Its Portfolio

Yahoo began their previously announced press event by talking about the confirmation made earlier in the day, that Yahoo has purchased Tumblr. The announcement came as no shock to anyone; the rumors had been circulating all week about the talks, even including pricing. As it turns out, all of the rumors were correct, with the deal being finalized and pricing falling within the expected range.

One of the biggest concerns about a company like Yahoo purchasing a brand like Tumblr is always whether or not the purchaser will ruin the brand. We have seen many purchases of this type go badly. Take, for example, Yahoo's purchase of Flickr. Before the purchase, Flickr was the place for photographers to show off their work; after the purchase, Yahoo had changed the service so much that it was unrecognizable. The product had gotten so difficult to use that books were written to explain the functionality; certainly not what you would expect from a casual use photo site.

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's CEO, recognized this trend in the industry and made a bold statement. She said, in regards to the purchase, that she promised "not to screw it up." That says a lot about the company - they are aware that they have done wrong in the past but want to work to correct it. Only time will tell as to how well this will work, but their commitment seems strong. After analyzing how previous successes and failures have gone, the decision was made to keep Tumblr as a separate group, managed independently.

Tumblr will remain so independent that the team will not be moving into Yahoo's new Times Square offices with the rest of the Yahoo, but instead will remain in its current location. The best example of an acquisition that was at least usability-wise successful was Google's purchase of YouTube. The same decision was made in that case, and YouTube, for the most part, has been a successful pairing for Google. While no major input was made from Google in to YouTube, Google was able to use YouTube's user base to enhance its own search result relevancy. YouTube's emphasis within Google's search results, however, has been a point of contention for the government, resulting in an anti-trust suit.

My guess is that Yahoo intends to use the data generated by Tumblr to help enhance the relevancy of their top stories for the homepage and mobile news services. As Yahoo enhances their other services, making their homepage more relevant is a major task; it could be the difference between Marissa's turnaround plan being a success or failure.

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CEA Helps US Utility Companies and Green Button Set New Standard for Smart Energy

posted Sunday May 19, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

CEA Helps US Utility Companies and Green Button Set New Standard for Smart Energy

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the organization that bring you the International CES each and every year, has remained on the forefront of setting standards, practices and policies to each sector of the consumer electronics industry. From convincing politicians to enact laws to protect the space, or to educate consumers on the latest tech trends and things that affect the masses, the CEA is a very important organization for anyone who owns or operates a piece of technology. This week, the CEA has stepped in to announce that are working on a new standard for smart energy and connected homes. This would include all Internet-connected devices in your house and any energy-saving tech gadgets, along with the entire home automation space.

Named the R7.8 Working Group 2, the standard will help the gadgets in your home send energy usage data to and from energy managements apps and systems. In the announcement, the CEA said what the name of the standard will be and how it will all work moving forward.

The new standard will be called CE-Energy Usage Information (CE-EUI) and will conform to the North American Energy Standards Board Energy Usage Information (NAESB -EUI) model, which forms the basis for the national Green Button initiative.

If you're not familiar with Green Button, here's what it's all about,

Green Button is the common-sense idea that electricity customers should be able to securely download their own easy-to-understand energy usage information from their utility or electricity supplier. Armed with this information, consumers can use a growing array of new web and smartphone tools to make more informed energy decisions, optimize the size and cost-effectiveness of solar panels for their home, or verify that energy-efficiency retrofit investments are performing as promised. Consumers can even use fun innovative apps that allow individuals to compete against Facebook friends to save energy and lower their carbon emissions.

Brian Markwalter, Senior VP on research and standards at CEA, said,

Product manufacturers already understand how much energy a device will use during operation, based on its design. By programming that information into the device and enabling the device to calculate how much energy it uses over time, manufacturers can help homeowners accurately capture the data for their energy management systems and applications.

In the end, this is all happening to finally bring a level of compatibility to the Green Button "Download My Data" and "Connect My Data" programs. The best part is that the system and standard will allow devices to work over Wi-Fi, Ethernet, ZigBee and Z-Wave, which all exist in one device or another in a house, but at this time, cannot talk to each other. It seems that now that the CEA is behind this, utility companies will be quick to adopt the program, with a standard in place, and bring the companies into the new era of technology.

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Adobe Releases Free Photoshop Express for Windows

posted Saturday May 18, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Adobe Releases Free Photoshop Express for Windows

There has been a lot of conversation among the team here at PLuGHiTz and our sister company, Sumo Software, about how complex applications would translate to Windows 8 apps. When we see apps like Pulse News or Skype transition well to the minimalistic approach to design, how would an app like Photoshop work?

My guess is that Adobe has been listening to our conversations, as this week they launched a Windows 8 version of Photoshop Express and it does not disappoint. The free app, available now, brings all of the basic features of Photoshop to the Windows 8 anti-desktop and makes it feel totally natural. While the app is not what I would consider "fast and fluid" as Windows 8 apps are supposed to be, it does mostly abide by the Windows 8 design guidelines and is easy to use.

You get the expected features from the Express version of PS, like cropping, contrast, clarity, vibrance, exposure, white balance, red eye reduction, etc. There is also an option for "auto fix" which, in my experience, makes the photo almost unviewable as opposed to fixing it. The feature that I like the best is called "Looks" and it is similar to the alterations you see people make using services like Instagram, except designed more for a designer's needs and less for a hipster's irony. Looks come in two flavors: free and premium. The premium, of course, are paid features, but it is a free app after all.

While there are a lot of great things about the app, they certainly missed on a number of things as well. The app appears to have some issues initially loading images, especially from SkyDrive, sometimes even locking up the computer for a few seconds. It also has improperly implemented sharing, which is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. The Windows 8 share capability is possibly the greatest enhancement from a programming and usability standpoint. Instead of each application having its own collection of things that can be shared, Windows maintains a list of applications that can share any file type.

For example, if you are using Fresh Paint, another favorite Windows 8 app, if you choose share, any application that can share images is shown. All Fresh Paint had to do was say it is an image that it is sharing and Windows does the rest. Unfortunately, Photoshop Express does not take full advantage of this feature. What they have done, instead, is implemented their own sharing options, allowing you to share to Facebook or Adobe Revel. While standard sharing options are available as well, depending on where in the app you are, if you would like to share from another app to Revel, you are out of luck.

Another interesting oddity is that, if you are in the process of editing an image and you load the application settings, which they luckily DID implement correctly, the undo and redo buttons appear OVER the settings flyout. While not a breaking error, it is a surprising oddity that you would have expected Adobe's QA team to have noticed. Oh well - we can't all be perfect, right?

Overall, the application is well designed and well implemented. For anyone who is messing with photos on their Windows 8 desktop, laptop or tablet, it is definitely an app worth trying out. Check out after the break for some photos of the app in action.

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Most Adorable Middle School Musical Ever

posted Saturday May 18, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Star Trek: Into Darkness isn't the only Star Trek video to make it to the Internet this week, and this one you can watch legally. Rhett & Link, the guys behind The Mythical Show, produced a 4 minute video about the original Enterprise crew. Clearly coming from people who know the show, the video includes things like red shirt humor, the Gorn and, of course, Spock's infamous poisonous flower. Oh, it also involves music and middle schoolers.

Yes, that's right - it is a middle school musical set on the Enterprise. It is clearly one of the funniest and cutest videos possibly ever, and definitely in the Star Trek universe. If you haven't seen anything Trek, don't worry - you will still love this video, if for no other reason than middle school kids singing and slow-motion stage fighting. If you are a huge fan of the Trek you will love Spock's tap dancing. See? Something for everyone!

Check out the video after the break.

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Yahoo! Press Conference to 'Share Something Special'

posted Saturday May 18, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo! Press Conference to 'Share Something Special'

This week, rumors began to surge about Yahoo's interest in purchasing Tumblr for as high as $1.1 billion. The acquisition would not be a surprise, as Yahoo has been on a buying spree that makes Facebook look conservative. The company has also been on a product kick, releasing apps for Yahoo Weather and Yahoo Mail, which has been very well reviewed.

So, accordingly, Yahoo has scheduled a press event for Monday, accomplishing two goals: attacking the news before rumors get too out of hand and holding the event before Microsoft reveals the Next Xbox on Tuesday. Beating Microsoft to the punch is important because Marissa Meyer knows she needs the press to talk about the announcement and all eyes will be on Microsoft Tuesday and beyond.

If Yahoo is announcing a purchase of Tumblr, what could it mean for the photo sharing and micro blogging service? The thing that Yahoo has always been good at is information aggregation and adding Tumblr into its folds can help them follow and predict trends. Combined with their recent purchase of Summly, a service that summarizes news stories, the Yahoo homepage may once again be the place for keeping up-to-date.

Yahoo is going to need more than just relevant data to regain lost market share, though. For example, their homepage is going to need a MAJOR refresh. The page is cluttered and difficult to find content versus advertising, something sites like MSN and USA Today have managed to fix.

All of the speculation in the world won't get us anywhere - only Monday will give us answers. Check out The UpStream Monday night for staff reactions to the announcement.

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Xbox 360 Sales Decline, Still Leader

posted Saturday May 18, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Xbox 360 Sales Decline, Still Leader

Even though Nintendo's WiiU console is just starting its life and Microsoft's Xbox 360 is ending its own, Microsoft held its top spot last month. The company has held the spot for 28 consecutive months and even incredibly slumping sales can't stop the success train.

As of this moment we are only 3 days away from the Next Xbox reveal event and this, of course, has led to a major slowdown in Xbox 360 sales. In fact, the console sold only 130,000 units, which is a major downturn from 302,000 (February) and 261,000 (March) over the previous 2 months. Even with more than a 50% drop in sales, the console couldn't be touched in numbers.

The decline, of course, comes as no surprise. Since Sony's PlayStation 4 "reveal" event, all eyes have been on Microsoft. The event, which didn't show off any hardware, caused Larry Hyrb, Xbox Live's Major Nelson and, more importantly, Microsoft's Director of Programming for Xbox, to say "Announce a console without actually showing a console? That's one approach." Now, this has led everyone to believe we will see actual hardware from the software giant on Tuesday.

With hardware complete, we can almost certainly expect to see the Next Xbox console relatively soon. The reveal of the Xbox 360 S at E3 a few years ago ended in press leaving with the new device and product hitting store shelves almost immediately. I don't expect to see the same with the Next Xbox, but I do expect a quick turnaround. With all of that said, it is massively impressive that the 360 is still the top dog.

Make sure to check out The UpStream on Tuesday for a live blog of the reveal event as well as staff reactions.

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