The UpStream

Twitter CEO Recognizes Issues, Sees No Solution

posted Sunday Mar 4, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Twitter CEO Recognizes Issues, Sees No Solution

There is no secret that in the age of the internet, the reach of our power of speech has grown to a level unimaginable just a few decades ago. While it used to require a printing press and funds to get your opinion to more than your small circle of friends, today it only requires a phone and a social network. The lowering of the barrier to entry to speak to a wide audience has meant that more people can be heard, but it also means that more people can be heard.

It requires no training or thought to create a Twitter account and begin speaking to an anonymous audience. Because of that, people say things that they might not otherwise say, if they had to attach an identity to their words. Twitter has been aware that their platform is often used for mean-spirited, illegal and misinformational content.

This week, Twitter's CEO, Jack Dorsey, tweeted about the problem. In the thread, he said,

We love instant, public, global messaging and conversation. It's what Twitter is, and it's why we're here. But we didn't fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences. We acknowledge that now and are determined to find holistic and fair solutions. We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We aren't proud of how people have taken advantage of our service or our inability to address it fast enough.

There is a wide variety of issue with trying to deal with the problems that exist on the platform. The biggest issue, of course, is the same one that all of the social networks are experiencing: who decides what content should and should not be acceptable on the platform? What is a real person and what is a bot? How do you determine the difference? When dealing with content, who decides what is true and what is not? Just because it's a "conspiracy theory," does that make the content offensive? Conspiracy about the assassination of JFK has been around since the day it happened, but the books written about it have never been recalled because someone was offended.

This is, more than anything, the reason why Twitter, and the other social platforms, have been reluctant to make changes to their algorithms and to start policing content. They don't want to be seen as content censors, because that is a guaranteed way to lose at least part of your customer base. In the first episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, there is a fantastic quote that most of the modern world forgets,

Living with this free speech means sometimes you get offended.

Physical Videogames to Get In-Game Purchase Warnings

posted Saturday Mar 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

It all began with the free-to-play titles: a game that is theoretically free to play, but that involves in-game purchases to either enhance the experience or to get past a certain level. The model existed on PC, but was never a major player. It wasn't until mobile gaming that we saw a rather constant implementation of free-to-play. Nearly ever successful mobile game, from Candy Crush to Pokémon GO has implemented the free-to-play concept well.

At some point, however, the model of in-game purchases left the semi-exclusivity of free-to-play and migrated to paid games. There had always been DLC for games, but playing a paid game without the DLC was never painful or impossible; only adding bonus content to an already established game. Today, that isn't quite how it works. Often times, when you purchase a $60 videogame, you only get part of the game. To play the full game, you still need to purchase additional content via in-game purchases.

The most controversial version of this has been Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that would cost over $2,000 worth of in-game purchases to get the entire game. This game prompted a Congressional investigation into in-game purchases and loot boxes in games, which is still ongoing. However, the ESRB, the US videogame ratings board, has decided to take at least some action on their own.

Starting soon, the ESRB will be creating a campaign to inform buyers of physical games, either in retail or from online, that a game contains in-game purchases. In addition to the ESRB rating, retail packages will begin featuring a warning, similar to what we see in mobile app stores, that a game has additional costs.

The new In-Game Purchases label will be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency, including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads).

There is no announced launch date for the new labeling, but the ESRB does promise that it will begin appearing in the "near future."

iPhone's Most Hated Feature has Become a New Trend for 2018

posted Saturday Mar 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

iPhone's Most Hated Feature has Become a New Trend for 2018

The most distinguishable feature of Apple's iPhone X was not the one they had hoped. Rather than the "all screen" design, which is definitely a wishful thinking marketing campaign, the most noticeable feature is the notch at the top of the screen. This design element makes the screen look bizarre and makes the OS strange to use. It is also the phone's most hated feature.

Whether you are a user or a developer, no one seems to like the notch. The idea is fairly obvious: use as much of the body of the device as possible, while still maintaining the front-facing camera, speaker and Face ID sensor. The problem, of course, is that it makes the phone work in a way that no one would expect. If a wireless network's name is longer than a few characters, the name no longer displays normally, but instead scrolls constantly. The behavior of apps is also wildly changed, with all apps having to be rebuilt to support the unnecessary design idea.

Of course, Apple didn't create the notch; that distinction goes to the Essential phone, though they took it in a different direction. The notch there was as small as possible, only surrounding the camera.

Somehow, however, this idea that consumers seem to hate is catching on with other hardware vendors. At Mobile World Congress, a number of phones were spotted looking similar, if not identical, to the iPhone X, notch and all. Of course some small companies were going to make knock-offs, but it was the big companies that were surprising. For example, the announcement of the Asus Zenfone 5 showed that Android users and developers were about the face the same annoyance that Apple owners and devs have. In addition, Huawei and LG also have devices sporting the notch.

As this manufactured "trend" increases, there are some important things to know for owners. The most important is that apps are not going to work on these phones. It is a guarantee that information will be lost or, in some cases, the apps will simply fail. The likelihood is that the big Android developers, like Microsoft and Facebook, will deal with these issues quickly (they were some of the first to support the iPhone notch), but most developers will never try. That's because there are already too many different types of phone hardware to support that creating a whole new UI concept to support some smaller phones is not in their budget.

Apple has the ability to force developers to follow certain hardware-specific rules, but Google does not have that same power, because they do not control the ecosystem. It is one of the long-running issues for Android: version inconsistencies, hardware diversity and API variations. These things are also what make Android so powerful in the market, but Google has gotten itself into the same situation that Microsoft has been in for decades, but this time Apple has affected them in a negative way. The notch could certainly cause issues across the Android landscape.

Disney's Lawsuit Against Redbox Could Have Unexpected Side-Effect

posted Saturday Feb 24, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Disney's Lawsuit Against Redbox Could Have Unexpected Side-Effect

Often times, when a company files suit over copyright claims, the end result is predictable. For example, when Disney sued Redbox for reselling the digital distribution codes that are bundled with DVDs, most of the industry saw what was going to happen: Redbox was going to stop selling the codes. Obviously, the codes come as a package deal with the DVDs, so it should be a slam dunk, right?

Wrong. Federal Judge Dean Pregerson decided to throw a surprising wrench into the works during an initial hearing where Disney was looking to stop Redbox's practice during the trial. The judge used a mostly unknown and almost never used aspect of copyright law, which states that enforcement can be prevented if the copyright is being misused. In this case, the judge believes that tying the ownership of the digital distribution to the ownership of the physical discs was a misuse of copyright law.

Obviously Disney intends to appeal this ruling, for a number of reasons. If this ruling were to be allowed to stand, it would have sweeping implications across a number of industries. Let's start with the most obvious: Hollywood. If the ownership rules were to allow the discs and digital to be split, the immediate response would be for the bundles to stop. The only reason you get the digital version for free is because it is a single owner.

Possibly more importantly, there are a tremendous number of products that bundle software that is not allowed to be split. For example, you buy a digital camera, it might come with a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements. We all know that you cannot resell that copy of Photoshop, but with this ruling, that may no longer be the case. That free videogame that came with your videocard? Same thing might apply there.

With a change in copyright enforcement, stemming entirely from this case, might come a change in how we purchase products. DVDs may no longer come with digital download codes. Videogames may no longer come with DLC download codes. Videocards may no longer come with a free videogame. Commercial network hardware may not come with the management software. This could be a game changer that none of us expected to see.

Bitcoin Exchange Almost Gave Away $20 Trillion Worth of Coin for Free

posted Saturday Feb 24, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Bitcoin Exchange Almost Gave Away $20 Trillion Worth of Coin for Free

There's no question that the technology topic of this year has been cryptocurrency and blockchain. For the tech enthusiasts in the industry, the idea of decentralizing the data and processing is very appealing. Moving the transaction processing away from "traditional banks" is a draw for the market, but it is also turning out to be a problem.

One of the things that the banks have going for them is compounded knowledge, something that only comes with time and experience. Most of the banks have been around a long time and learned the hard lessons about how banking works years or decades ago. In the crypto world, the currency exchanges, which often act in the absence of a bank, are trying to forge their own paths. Being as they are all running in the technology startup environment, they eschew the existing wisdom and look for new ways to do things. While that has helped in a lot of industries, it seems to cause a lot of trouble in this one.

For example, we have seen several very large heists, such as NiceHash, Coincheck and, of course, Mt. Gox. Sometimes these issues are unavoidable, but sometimes the lack of experience in the industry is the problem.

An example of that comes to us care of Zaif, an exchange run by Tech Bureau Corp. out of Japan. For almost 20 minutes, all requested transactions had zero charge. Now, that is not to say that there were no transaction fees; the entire transaction was zero charge. A few users discovered how it worked and "purchased" about $20 trillion worth of Bitcoin. Yes, that is trillion with a T.

The company waited 4 days after the incident before announcing the issue. They attribute the issue to a glitch, but revealed no information about the glitch itself. They did promise that they would work to prevent future issues. Obviously, the transactions were invalidated and no one received or lost anything during this period. The only exception is Zaif, which lost a lot of trust, both from the crypto community and from the Japanese government. The Financial Services Agency is currently investigating what happened and whether or not the organization is secure enough to operate.

As we have mentioned in the past, it is important to remember when getting into cryptocurrency, there is always going to be the loom of technological collapse, so keep that in mind.

Ghostbusters World AR Game Coming to Make You Catch All of the Ghosts

posted Saturday Feb 24, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Ghostbusters World AR Game Coming to Make You Catch All of the Ghosts

The last 2 years have been good for augmented reality and mixed reality content. From holographic medical tools to the infamous Pokémon GO, there are many ways to interact with augmented reality content. With Microsoft, Apple and Google all having AR development kits, making the process of adding information to the real world far easier than just 2 years ago, more of this type of content is expected to come to market.

Some of the biggest supporters have been major franchises looking to enter the AR gaming field. While Pokémon GO is the obvious market leader, Harry Potter has an entry into AR gaming in the works, as well. Both of these high profile games are developed by the same development house: Niantic. This week, a new franchise wants to compete for your AR attention, with a new developer involved.

Sony Pictures Entertainment Consumer Products is looking to bring a Ghostbusters AR game to mobile, titled Ghostbusters World. In the trailer, available after the break, you can see that the game will stay true to the themes of the films and TV shows, with ghost hunting, and even the familiar trap imagery.

What do we know? There will be a myriad of ghosts available, and the game will include battles with said ghosts and the ability to capture them, presumably using the trap imagery we see in the trailer. We also know that the game is planned for release in 2018 for both iOS and Android. Unfortunately, that's about all we know. How will battles work? What new ghosts will be available? What does the game's UI look like? All of these are questions we will have to wait until later in the year to find out the answer to.

With the all-female reboot of the franchise and the heavy reliance on the costumes in the past season of Stranger Things, it is no surprise Ghostbusters is getting the AR treatment. Are you looking forward to the game? Let us know in the comments.

Check out the teaser trailer for Ghostbusters World after the break.

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