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Twitch Ditches Premium Tier, Introduces Twitch Prime

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Ditches Premium Tier, Introduces Twitch Prime

Since before Twitch was its own platform, the service has been advertising-based. Either you could be a free member and watch ads occasionally, or you could be a premium member for $9 per month and have the ads removed. This has been a winning feature, adopted by services like Hulu and YouTube. That concept is coming to an end for Twitch, however, at least as it is known today.

Announced at Twitch Con, the now Amazon-owned service will be doing away with the premium subscription service to Twitch and replacing it with what they are calling Twitch Prime. Exactly as the name suggests, the new ad-free option is simply part of an Amazon Prime subscription. So, in addition to free shipping, Instant Video and Music, Amazon Prime subscribers can now also watch Twitch ad-free to their heart's content.

For a company that is focused on increasing its Prime membership numbers, this is a smart move. However, from a customer standpoint, this could eventually become a problem. There's a reason that Netflix charges what they do for a single month of service. There is a particular cost to produce and license the content, as well as distribute it. Hulu and YouTube know the same thing, along with Groove and Spotify. So, why does Amazon offer so much for their $99 annual subscription?

It is likely that the intention is to build so much "value" into the subscription that they can increase the price of the service once again. They might also create tiers of Prime membership in the future. Of course, the other option is that they are using Prime to encourage people to continue using their services, keeping the brand Amazon in consumers' minds, thereby not caring if they lose a little money on the subscription.

For now, Prime is definitely a steal for the price and getting better with every feature they add to the service.

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Microsoft Introduces New Feature to Protect Edge Users

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Introduces New Feature to Protect Edge Users

The Internet is a scary and dangerous place. Ads served by networks like Google appear to be legitimate, but take you to downloads to steal your information or destroy your computer. Links shared on Facebook and Twitter appear to be news articles, but are actually serving malicious content. If you aren't paying attention, it can be easy to screw up your machine, and web browsers are the source of all of that turmoil.

Microsoft has a new idea for how to protect users of their Edge browser. The feature is called Windows Defender Application Guard, and it consists of running the browser within a very lightweight virtual machine. Essentially, this means that the browser will run within your computer, but will not have direct access to it. Instead, it will run within another, virtual computer residing on yours.

The advantages of this technique are incredibly positive. The browser cannot access your computer without your express permission. This means that anything that happens within the browser will be contained within the virtual environment. Code designed to change your homepage, search engine, system registry, etc. all will, if allowed, change the virtual environment. As soon as the browser is closed, the virtual environment is destroyed, taking with it any malicious code and cookies.

Unfortunately, with all major security protections come tradeoffs. For example, since cookies are destroyed, it means that features like saving passwords will be destroyed, too. You would not be able to click "save password" on a website and have it save between sessions, because that information is saved in one of those cookies being destroyed. There are also performance tradeoffs that will have to be made, as the browser is not running directly on your hardware.

Clearly, this feature will not be for everyone, but it is a good option for places that require additional security, such as secure facilities like banks and doctors' offices. It will also be good for common area computers in libraries and schools where people tend to not worry about security and also forget to logout of services like email, social networks, etc.

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No Man's Sky Trouble Thickens, Being Investigated by UK Organization

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

<i>No Man's Sky</i> Trouble Thickens, Being Investigated by UK Organization

In my time in the industry, I've seen a lot of videogames launch, and I have seen a number of games stumble at launch. Either the game isn't what it was advertised to be, the graphics aren't as soon as the trailers or the play isn't fun. Niantic struggled with server issues with the release of Pokémon GO. Maxis nearly destroyed the SimCity franchise with their launch.

No Man's Sky, however, has had all of these issues and more. The graphics in the game are nothing like they were promised to be. In fact, many of the creatures within the game look deformed versus their photorealistic initial claims. The game has been plagued by bugs, making the game either completely unplayable or slowly self-destructing. In one case, player's discoveries were slowly wiped out of existence.

Many players have asked for refunds under Steam's new refund policy, and others have simply given up. Even Sony President Shuhei Yoshida said in an interview,

I understand some of the criticisms especially Sean Murray is getting, because he sounded like he was promising more features in the game from day one.

It wasn't a great PR strategy, because he didn't have a PR person helping him, and in the end he is an indie developer. But he says their plan is to continue to develop No Man's Sky features and such, and I'm looking forward to continuing to play the game.

Unfortunately, he seems to be one of the only ones holding that view. Active players on Steam has dropped below 1,000, making it an incredibly empty universe. Because of all of the problems, including player count, people in the UK have contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the organization that investigates claims of false advertising. Their claims are not minor, claiming that essentially every claim about the game has been false. Here are the most common complaints:

Videos

  • User interface design
  • Ship flying behaviour (information; with a 'wingman'; flying close to the ground)
  • Behaviour of animals (in herds; destroying scenery; in water; reacting to surroundings)
  • Large-scale space combat
  • Structures and buildings as pictured
  • Flowing water
  • Speed of galaxy warp/loading time
  • Aiming systems

Screenshots

  • Size of creatures (9)
  • Behaviour of ships and sentinels (4, 5 and 8)
  • Structures and buildings as pictured (3)

Store Page in general

  • Quality of graphics
  • References to: lack of loading screens, trade convoys between stars, factions vying over territory

Until now, the developer, Hello Games, has not responded to any criticism. In fact, the only real feedback we have gotten from the company has been second-hand through Yoshida's comments. The company will now have to respond to the ASA, however. If the ASA finds false advertising, the listings will have to be altered and, more importantly, fines could be assessed. This is not a great position for a company who was already in over their heads.

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BlackBerry Ends Internal Development of Hardware, Will Focus on Software

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

BlackBerry Ends Internal Development of Hardware, Will Focus on Software

The era of BlackBerry's hardware dominance ended quite a while ago, but the company has continued to struggle to recapture what it believes to be its glory days. CEOs have changed, executive management has changed, even their platform strategy has changed. The one thing that has stayed consistent, however, is their slumping hardware sales.

That number is about to go from dismal to zero, as the company has finally decided to do away with its internal hardware development efforts. Starting now, and really in the recent past, BlackBerry will license their name to existing hardware firms to design and build BlackBerry-branded devices. The handsets will runs BlackBerry's more secure version of Android, as well as the company's suite of applications.

This strategy is not new within the industry. Google has been doing the exact same thing with its Nexus line of phones and tablets. Nexus devices are designed by 3rd parties like HTC and Huawei, but run the "pure Google experience" rather than the manufacturer's altered version of Android. BlackBerry began this strategy with their new DTEK50, a BlackBerry-branded device designed and manufactured by Alcatel, originally available as the Alcatel Idol 4.

While this might seem like a big change for the company, it is not as monumental as you might think. BlackBerry has always been a software company who has focused on security. Their customers were the first to have end-to-end encryption on their mobile communications, through BlackBerry Messenger, Email and more. Their need to make hardware came more from a lack of potential partners than it did from wanting to have their own hardware. Palm was making their own hardware for both Palm OS and Windows Mobile and Motorola and UTStarcom/HTC were making Windows Mobile smartphones. There were really no other players in the market to get involved.

With this new ability to focus their attention back on software and security, BlackBerry can be what it always without the distraction of what they never really needed to be. If ever a strategy change was going to work for the company, this is the one. Android needs someone championing security for the platform since Google seems uninterested in doing it.

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Netflix Plans to Have 50 Percent Original Content in a Few Years

posted Saturday Sep 24, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Netflix Plans to Have 50 Percent Original Content in a Few Years

Original content is the future for streaming video services. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon may have started their lives streaming licensed content, but today, their most popular content is content they create themselves. Amazon crowdsources what they make, while Netflix and Hulu create large amounts of content. No one can argue that Netflix in particular loves original content, and viewers love Netflix's original content.

Between series like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things to partnership programs like Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Luke Cage and a large variety of stand-up specials, original content is all over Netflix. In 2016, the company is releasing 600 hours of original content, up from 450 in 2015. The spending of $5 billion is expected to jump to $6 billion next year. This, however, is just the beginning.

In the next few years, Netflix is planning to expand their original content to cover 50 percent of all content available on the network. This could mean one of two things: either Netflix is going to dramatically decrease the amount of content they license, or they will dramatically increase the amount of content they will produce. Based on what we have seen so far from Netflix, it is likely that they will scale back slightly on licensed content and scale up greatly on original content.

An increase in Marvel content and comedy specials, plus a focus on successful projects, like Stranger Things, could direct the company's development, for better or worse. If the company continues to produce content at the high quality that their previous and current content is produced, then this move will certainly succeed. In fact, with this kind of move, it could put Netflix far above its competitors and could possibly even do damage to the broadcast networks.

A timetable for this development increase has not been discussed, but if Netflix wants to flex its muscle in the market, a faster deployment would accomplish that goal. Hopefully this will not lead to another price increase, however, but it is always a possibility.

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Twitter Might be Up For Sale and Everyone Is Interested

posted Saturday Sep 24, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Twitter Might be Up For Sale and Everyone Is Interested

Since Twitter first got started, it was never clear how the service planned on making enough money to keep its lights on. Even Twitter didn't know what they were doing. After rounds of investment and an IPO, they are still working that concept out. While Twitter might not know how to generate profit, some other companies have some ideas how it might be valuable.

Twitter's board of directors could be considering a sale of the company to one of several other corporations. It is likely that these suitors have plans for the company and most likely the data that Twitter generates. If ever a company wanted to collect information, for any number of reasons, Twitter could be a great source. Let's take a look at who these suitors are, and why they might be interested.

Google

Google's participation in social networking has been questionable at best. Google+ has been almost entirely dismantled at this point, Google Wave imploded for day 1, and even YouTube has seen continued controversy. Google desperately wants live access to trending content data to enhance its own search data. With trending topic access at a level above public APIs, they could help tailor search results on a moment-to-moment basis. They could also integrate trending topics into YouTube and Google Search results pages to enhance cross-data.

Microsoft

While Microsoft could be interested in similar features as Google, including Bing search listings and trending search results, they likely have other intentions as well. Trending data could easily be used to pave the way for trending topic enhancement in MSN News, Weather and Sports. Twitter data and topics could also find their way into Azure in several new and interesting ways. First, an Azure-specific API through Azure Search could enhance developers usage of the technology, but that isn't even the best place for this data.

I would hope and expect that Microsoft would push Twitter data through Cortana's Natural Language Processing neural network, bringing enhanced language processing to Cortana herself. This would enhance recognition on Windows 10, Mobile, Xbox, HoloLens, and wherever else Microsoft is hoping to bring Cortana support. That could see extended uses for the technology that current users already love.

Twitter could also be an interesting acquisition for Microsoft because of their recent acquisition of LinkedIn. This would put 2 of the 4 main social networks within the Microsoft camp, leaving Facebook/Instagram and Snapchat as the other collectives.

Verizon

A telecom company purchasing a social media company makes sense. Verizon purchasing a social media company makes even more sense. Marissa Mayer purchased Tumblr in an attempt to mine data to enhance their news portal. Similar to Microsoft's potential usage of Twitter for MSN, Verizon could use trending Twitter data to help shape the content available on their newly acquired media platforms: AOL and Yahoo.

This could be the exact push that Yahoo has needed and that Mayer always wanted. It could also be the thing that brings the AOL brand back to the forefront, and an enhancement for brands like Engadget.

Salesforce

While initially this one had me a little stumped, I can see some places where Salesforce could use Twitter. Trending data could be used to enhance corporate communication, especially for sales people to help create communications that are completely modern. A communication could also be made as information begins to appear in the public. Imagine a company like General Electric who has a secret project in the works and Salesforce is able to detect for their press department that the codename is beginning to circulate on social media. The PR team could then react ahead of time, letting them get out ahead of the story instead of reacting only after it has become a real story.

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