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Google+ Removed from Another Google Product: Play Store

posted Monday Aug 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Google+ Removed from Another Google Product: Play Store

The battle for Google+'s soul is quickly drawing to a close and Google has lost. After force-implementing the beleaguered social network into YouTube, Google Play and other company-owned platforms in an attempt to get people to care, the company has been going back the other direction.

You no longer need a Google+ account to comment on YouTube, but can keep your profiles connected. Google Photos has been pulled from Google+ entirely. Even Hangouts on Air is being moved out of the network and into YouTube Live. This week, one of the last remaining holdouts, Google Play, has seen the end of its Google+ integration as well.

No longer will there be a +1 button on a product listing, nor will you be required to have a Google+ account to post a review, but instead would be tied to your existing Google account, which is required to interact with the store in any meaningful way anyway.

This may not be the end of Google+ entirely, but it certainly is the end of forcing users of other Google-owned products to sign-up for the unwanted network in an attempt to either trick them into using the service, or to make the numbers look more impressive for either advertisers or investors. Personally, I will be glad to have one less network to try and manage.

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Microsoft Buys Beam to Make Play Anywhere Gaming Broadcast-Ready

posted Monday Aug 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Buys Beam to Make Play Anywhere Gaming Broadcast-Ready

Videogame streaming has become a big business. 2 years ago, Amazon purchased streaming site Twitch for just under $1 billion. This year, TBS launched online and cable broadcasts of ELEAGUE, whose first season just wrapped up. But gamers were never going to be content just watching a game from someone else's decided perspective - they want to be able to control the action themselves.

Beam is a company that developed just such a platform. It allows individual control of the viewing angle within a game, allowing you to see what you want to see. For example, if you are watching a multiplayer FPS you would be able to follow the vantage point of any of the players instead of just one. You can also switch views, seeing the gameplay from a new angle entirely.

This capability exists in some games now, and is used for professional broadcasts, like TBS, to be able to switch from a map view to individual player view to be broadcast as part of the coverage. It is also used by individual viewers watching normal games. What has been missing has been a common way for game developers to integrate this feature into their games.

Microsoft's purchase of Beam this week will give game developers exactly that. Chad Gibson, Partner Group Manager for Xbox Live, said,

We at Xbox are excited about this convergence between playing and watching, and want to provide gamers with the freedom and choice to have great multiplayer experiences across all of Beam's platforms. This acquisition will help gamers enjoy the games they want, with the people they want, and on the devices they want.

That certainly suggests that the main intention of this acquisition is to give Play Anywhere developers the ability to easily add spectator mode to their games through common Xbox Live APIs. This would give a much-needed draw for 3rd party developers to fully embrace the Play Anywhere platform, as well as giving gamers a great way to interact with their favorite streamers.

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HP Follows Dell's Lead Away from Android, Focusing on Windows 10

posted Monday Aug 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

HP Follows Dell's Lead Away from Android, Focusing on Windows 10

Only a month after Dell moved away from Android, another big name in the computer industry seems to be going the same direction: Hewlett Packard. Currently listed on their website are 27 Windows tablets and only a single Android tablet (presumably because they have a lot of remaining stock). But the company is done trying to differentiate itself in the low-cost android marketplace.

Instead, HP is building its mobile strategy around Windows, the platform that made the company initially. In addition to the 27 Windows tablets currently available, their existing line of notebooks and desktops, HP also has a Windows Phone coming: the Elite x3. This phone will be fully Continuum capable, meaning it can be used as a phone or a desktop/laptop, with the docking station or VGA adapter. This is a capability the HP previously tried with a Slatebook running Android which was not well-received.

Just because they are getting out of low-cost Android doesn't mean that HP is going entirely high-cost. Just this week they also announced a new collection of Stream notebooks starting at $199, and they will continue to offer a small line of Chromebooks which, the company promises, will get the Android app update.

As with almost all platform decisions, except webOS which it hastily ditched, HP leaves a door open for Android's eventual return. Mike Nash, VP of Customer Experience and Portfolio Strategy said that if a consumer needs Android, they'll make it happen.

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Hulu Has A New Investor as Live Broadcast Nears

posted Monday Aug 8, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Hulu Has A New Investor as Live Broadcast Nears

In the early days of streaming video services, it was easy to differentiate yourself. There were basically 2 services: Netflix offered movies, Hulu offered television. Today that's not exactly how it works. Hulu has exclusive access to the Criterion Collection, while Netflix gets episodes of CW shows a week after the season ends.

The next step for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the like was to create original programming. Programs like Orange Is The New Black for Netflix and 11.22.63 for Hulu have done them well. But a new breed of streaming services have arrived. HBO Now and Sling give live access to television stations without a cable subscription. How are services like Netflix and Hulu supposed to keep up?

Hulu recently announced that they were working on a live streaming service of their own. Fortunately for them, their three owners are three of the largest content producers in the world: Comcast, which owns NBC Universal; Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN; and News Corp., which owns Fox. That certainly gives them a leg up in network negotiations. The company also has an existing relationship with Showtime, which could give the new service access to that network as well. What it leaves is a hole in basic cable content.

This week, a fourth owner has joined with a minority stake in Hulu: Time Warner. This is a big deal for Hulu's live streaming ambitions. Time Warner owns Turner Broadcasting, which owns stations like TBS. With TBS come names like Conan O'Brien and Samantha Bee, both big draws to the network.

Unfortunately for Hulu there is still one looming content hole: CBS. CBS has its own live streaming platform on which the new Star Trek series will be an exclusive. If Hulu could somehow pull off a relationship like they have with Showtime, essentially bringing the new Star Trek series to their platform, their streaming ambitions will be a slam dunk.

We have yet to hear a launch date or a price for this new service, but it's clear that most of the big players are interested in being involved.

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When Facebook Changes the News Feed Again, You Won't Believe What Disappears

posted Monday Aug 8, 2016 by Scott Ertz

When Facebook Changes the News Feed Again, You Won't Believe What Disappears

Facebook likes to tweak the algorithm that decides what to show you in your news feed. Often, their intentions are to increase the value proposition of their product - the longer you stay, the more you interact with, the more advertising dollars they can generate. Therefore, it is in their best interest to continue placing posts in your feed that will hold your interest and keep you within the system. Sometimes, though, they attack things they consider to be a problem.

In the most recent algorithm change, the company announced that they will be minimizing the frequency of what they consider to be "clickbait." In the industry, clickbait is content that is published that provides little to no value with a headline that suggests otherwise. In Facebook's definition, however, they are content that are published with titles that don't tell you what the content will be and are often misleading.

You know the headlines what you see them, and you might still click on them. They usually look something like, "She met a stranger at the park, but when she opened her backpack I WAS AMAZED!" There is absolutely no telling what will be on the other side of that link. Sometimes they are sites that have malicious advertising, often they are short content that requires you to click through three pages to read 9 paragraphs. Almost all of them are a disappointment.

For me, when I read a headline that goes that direction, I simply move on. I learned a long time ago that there is often no content on the other end of that link, and what is there is not of any interest to anyone, let alone to me. But, for Facebook, it is about trying to ensure the content is interesting. Adam Mosseri, VP of Product Management, said,

We want publishers to post content that people care about, and we think people care about headlines that are much more straightforward.

Will this change increase interaction on the site? Will it encourage publishers to use more descriptive headlines? Or will publishers find ways to game the algorithm, as they almost always do? My money's on the latter.

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Niantic Sued Over Virtual Placement of Artificial Items

posted Monday Aug 8, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Niantic Sued Over Virtual Placement of Artificial Items

As the concept of augmented reality begins to take ahold of the world in one shape or another, the inevitable has happened: the battle for ownership of virtual land has begun. A lawsuit, filed in California, claims that Niantic has no legal right to place virtual items on virtual land in a virtual world that they created over top of reality. The suit comes on behalf of New Jersey resident Jeffrey Marder, who is annoyed that people playing Niantic's popular Pokémon GO game have been hanging around his house and, in a few instances, have asked his permission to access his yard to chase a Pokémon.

Now, we are all annoyed when someone knocks on our door unsolicited. However, I have personally never discussed with a lawyer the possibility of filing a class action suit against Jehovah's Witnesses. That's because, as annoying as it may be, they aren't doing anything inherently wrong, simply annoying. Now, if they showed up in my back yard and started walking around preaching to the birds, then we might have a problem, because I have a reasonable expectation of privacy there. However, I do not have any expectation of privacy on a public street, for example.

In this particular case, what is driving people to his area are virtual creatures who happen to have wandered into the area based on a computer algorithm in a virtual plane of existence, in which his land does not exist. However, since his land and the virtual land exist at the same position in reality, there is definitely an interesting intersection to consider.

It seems that the ownership of the virtual land is entirely in Niantic's hands, as the built the computer system that created and maintains it. Because of that, the company can do with it as they please. However, players of the game cannot violate physical property in their hunt for virtual property. That means that people cannot enter this man's yard without his permission to hunt Pokémon on his land.

In stark contrast to that reasoning, the complains claims,

It became apparent that Niantic had designated properties as Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms without seeking permission from property owners and with flagrant disregard for the foreseeable consequences of doing so.

The intentional, unauthorized placement of Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms on or near the property of Plaintiff and other members of the proposed class constitutes a continuing invasion of the class members' use and enjoyment of their land, committed by Niantic on an ongoing basis for Defendants' profit.

This case could set the scene for current and future AR projects, including Niantic's other game, Ingress, as well as other products like Google Maps Street View and Zillow, which also offer information about, and views of, private property without owners' permission.

The takeaway here, for now, is that you should heed Niantic's suggestion and "adhere to the rules of the human world."

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