The UpStream

Plastc: Another Warning About the Dangers of Crowd Funding

posted Saturday Apr 22, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Plastc: Another Warning About the Dangers of Crowd Funding

One of the more successful preorder products that brought widespread attention to the concept of crowdfunding was Plastc. The company promised a smart credit card, but one that was a lot different. In addition to being able to attach a variety of cards into a single device, Plastic was to have a traditional mag strip, the newer smart chip, NFC, and RFID. But where they really wanted to differentiate themselves was with a touch-capable E-Ink display.

The overarching idea was that all of your cards, from credit and debit, to gift and security, would all be entered into the Plastc card, and with the swipe of your finger on the display, you could select which card Plastc would emulate. Need to use your business card? Swipe to it and go. Entering your office with NFC security? Same deal.

On the surface, this product sounds great, but it never stood a chance in the market. The product was based on the idea that you would still want to carry around a card that links to your phone, rather than simply use your phone. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and more have all talked about the idea of retiring the physical wallet and digitizing it, while Plastc would have required the continued usage of a specialized device for all of these features.

Despite this massive failure in concept, the company received $5 million in pre-orders in the first week, and more from private investment. After all of this money and not a single product shipped, Plastic has let all employees go and shut down operations. This leaves all paid pre-orders out in the cold, receiving nothing for their $155. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is right around the corner, and the assets and liabilities of the company could end up in someone else's possession, meaning that there is a very small chance that a product could come to market, but not from this team.

It's been a long road with a lot of obstacles. The support of our amazing backers has been incredible, which makes this announcement even harder. We were so incredibly ready for production in order to hit our deadlines but without capital it is impossible for us to move forward and we will not be able to fulfill any pre-orders.

We are disappointed and emotionally distraught, and while we know this is extremely disappointing for you, we want our backers to know that we did everything we could to make Plastc Card a reality.

With more of these pre-order products failing to deliver lately, such as Lily Robotics and Skully, it should highlight the dangers of giving money to a company that does not yet have a product, but simply an idea. If the company has never successfully brought a product to market, it is very likely that they will underestimate the extreme cost and difficulty of that task. Before you back a project, either on a crowdfunding platform, or a company's website, look into their history to try and minimize your losses.

Jay Z Abandons Spotify and Apple Music, Goes All-In on TIDAL

posted Sunday Apr 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Jay Z Abandons Spotify and Apple Music, Goes All-In on TIDAL

If you are a fan of Jay Z's music and a subscriber of either Spotify or Apple Music, you might have noticed a lack of his music this weekend. That is because the artist's music was removed from those services at the request of the artist. The move was done without prior communication with either service, but has been confirmed as an active decision. At this point, the only music you will find from Jay Z are singles, mostly collaborations with other artists.

It is interesting to note that, as of this writing, his catalog is still fully available on both Groove Music and Google Play Music. It could be that no request was ever made to these services to remove his content, or that the services have simply not yet responded to the request.

The move comes at an interesting time for Jay Z, as his own music streaming service, TIDAL, has struggled since before he purchased it. The service has consistently struggled to find an audience, but has continued to stress its two major benefits: FLAC audio and exclusive content. With talk of Spotify implementing FLAC streaming, exclusives will remain as its benefit.

With a new investor in wireless carrier Sprint, the streaming service needs to demonstrate a confidence in themselves. Part of that outward show of confidence could be emphasizing that Jay Z himself is confident enough in the service to make his catalog exclusive, or even semi-exclusive, to TIDAL.

Two Internet Giants Respond to Complaints of 'Fake News'

posted Sunday Apr 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Two Internet Giants Respond to Complaints of 'Fake News'

One of the things that the internet has created is a way for nearly anyone to say anything for very little money and make it look good. A complaint on social media in recent months has been about the "rampant spread of fake news" online. That term means different things to different people, and can range from absurdly inaccurate information to information that disagrees with the reader's preexisting beliefs on the subject.

Somehow, the blame for this "epidemic" has been placed on Facebook and Google's shoulders, despite their complete disinvolvement in the phenomenon. In fact, Google only indexes websites, indiscriminant of their content, and Facebook allows OTHER people to share the content they find. Neither company or service produces and content at all.

For better or worse, both companies have been forced to respond to a situation that could be solved by critical thinking and reading comprehension - something that this has proven most people are incapable of anymore. The two companies have responded to the scenario very differently, with both beginning their strategies this week.

Facebook

Facebook seems to agree that the solution to the problem is through public education. The company has introduced its new program, the News Integrity Initiative, whose purpose is to help people spot nonsense when they read it online. This $14 million initiative is being backed not only by the social network, but The Ford Foundation, Mozilla Foundation and more.

This joint fund will not be used to create technology to remove the thought process from reading content published online. Instead, it will be used to help people learn how to think for themselves. Facebook and its partners do not want to eliminate the process of critical analysis from people's lives, as that will ultimately make the problem worse. This initiative is designed to enhance that aspect of people's lives. When you read content, you should be capable of drawing educated decisions based on what you have read - it should not be up to someone else to tell you the way it is.

Google

Going the other way, Google has taken a different approach to the legitimacy of online content. The company has begun to label content that another organization has "fact checked" the content. This label is in addition to the existing system of labeling content as "In-Depth," "Opinion." "Blog" and "Local Source."

With this move, Google is placing a lot of trust in third parties. Google is placing the trust of its own brand in the hands of organizations like Snopes and PolitiFact. Both of these organizations have had their own difficult relationships with reality in the past. No one is infallible and everyone looks at the world through tinted glasses. Their view of reality might be tinted by their past experiences, political affiliation or religions beliefs. What is for sure is that no two people live in the same reality.

Conclusion

Following Facebook's path has a lot of potential for failure. People today generally dismiss bettering themselves as beneath them. We all know people who think that they are too good to learn anything new, because they already know what is going on. Having a social network try to teach them something new could come across as lecturing, and the overall goal could be a total loss.

Following Google's path is a dangerous one. Their news content could easily become politicized, rather than indiscriminant, as it is today. An opinion that differs from that of the editors of a fact checking organization could be marked as invalid, or a fact that disproves a held belief could be discounted. All of this could potentially damage the national dialog, as well as the value of Google's search results.

Call of Duty Mobile Game to be Developed by Mobile Leader

posted Sunday Apr 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

<i>Call of Duty</i> Mobile Game to be Developed by Mobile Leader

There is no denying that the Call of Duty franchise is a powerhouse in the console gaming world. When a new game launches, it sells more in its first week than most titles will in their entire lifespan. With that kind of gaming power, combined with the success that Nintendo has seen bringing their franchises to mobile platforms, and it was only a matter of time before CoD landed on your phone.

Taking advantage of their King acquisition in 2015, Activision has handed the reigns of their flagship console franchise to the Candy Crush developer for mobile. This information comes to us care of a studio listing series of job postings on a subdomain of King's website. The subdomain, Reload, is a new team within the King family, based in Sweden, which is responsible for the new game.

The studio listing describes the project saying,

The team is adapting one of the most iconic game franchises of all-time: Call of Duty®, to become a mobile experience. This is a rare and exciting opportunity. Our challenge as a team is to create a Call of Duty experience on mobile that will strive to transform the best console experience fans know and love, while also breaking new ground for mobile and redefining the genre. Our approach and ambition is to be fresh, social, and highly accessible, while providing a very authentic game experience. The team will prototype extensively, have the freedom to think outside the box, and be encouraged to stretch their expertise in ways to create surprising results.

That is all we know about the game itself, as the site, obviously, is vague on the details. When King, and parent Activision, are ready, we'll get more information about the new game. As they are just now hiring systems designers and art directors now, it is likely to be a while before we know what is coming.

Microsoft to License Band Technology to Casio

posted Sunday Apr 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft to License Band Technology to Casio

When Microsoft released their initial Band hardware, stores sold out on launch day. In fact, through almost the entire first model, Microsoft couldn't produce them fast enough for the demand. Customers were so happy with their first generation that when the Band 2 was released, many upgraded to the new features. Around the time that a Band 3 was expected to be announced, there was silence from Microsoft.

In October of last year, news broke of a prototype Band 3 device with new features and a similar design to the Band 2 that had been abandoned. Microsoft confirmed the device and its cancelation, suggesting that the Band 3 that many owners were excited to own would never see the light of day. Happy customers were suddenly disappointed in a lack of a successor to their Bands.

This week, Microsoft announced their plans for continuing the legacy of the Microsoft Band technology, and it involves IP licensing. Rather than continuing to produce Band hardware themselves, Microsoft will license their technology to Casio, who plans to integrate the Microsoft technology into their future products. Hiroshi Okumura, GM of IP for Casio, said of this partnership,

Casio is committed to creating innovative products for all our customers, and this partnership builds on our longstanding relationship with Microsoft that's covered products and solutions ranging from industrial handheld terminals to business information systems.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that we will see a direct successor to the Microsoft Band produced by Casio, but it doesn't mean that we won't. The Band hardware was popular and cross-platform compatible, and the Band 3 has already completed the prototype phase. If the designs come along with the licensing deal, perhaps a direct successor would be a quick and powerful way to market, and one that would come with an existing customer base, so it could still be a possibility.

Do you own a previous Microsoft Band? If so, would you be excited about a Casio Band 3? Let us know in the comments.

Google Advertising Fails for Advertisers and Publishers

posted Saturday Apr 1, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Advertising Fails for Advertisers and Publishers

The world of online advertising is a complex and tricky one. Whether you are an advertiser, publisher or content creator, making sure that the right ads are placed alongside the right content and, more importantly, the wrong ads are not placed alongside the wrong content, is a point of frustration. So much of the business is automated today, but recently that automation has come a bit unglued, especially at Google.

As the world knows, Google's business model is entirely wrapped up in the idea of advertising. Starting with an odd Google Home ad for Disney, that business model has become a huge issue for the company. While the Disney issue concerned end users, the rest of the problems came about when concerns were raised by Google's customers, the advertisers. As it turns out, the company's content filters began to fail those advertisers.

It started with YouTube, where major advertisers' ads began running alongside beyond questionable content. That content included neo-Nazi and radical Muslim propaganda videos, featuring brands such as AT&T and Verizon right alongside. As word reached these brands that their ads were being associated with this type of content, companies began reconsidering their Google advertising.

Within a matter of days, AT&T, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon, and more began pulling their ads from Google entirely. Verizon described the decision, saying,

Verizon is one of the largest advertisers in the world, and one of the most respected brands. We take careful measures to ensure our brand is not impacted negatively.

AT&T expressed a similar sentiment, saying,

We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate. Until Google can ensure this won't happen again, we are removing our ads from Google's non-Search platforms.

This meant that their ads disappeared from not just YouTube, but from Google AdSense, as well. That has affected websites with legitimate content negatively, causing a drop in advertising revenue. To add to Google's problems, Amazon is offering advertisers a lot of money to switch away from Google right now. Google is going to need to fix this problem if they want to maintain any revenue.

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