The UpStream

Facebook to Demote a Bizarre Trend: Still Image Videos

posted Saturday Aug 19, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Facebook to Demote a Bizarre Trend: Still Image Videos

Over the past few months, a bizarre new trend has started on Facebook - videos that are just still images. The trend is so prevalent that just a week or so ago, my own father asked me why it was happening, and if it made any sense. I have put a lot of thought into the trend, but have been unable to figure it out myself. It's possible that it has to do with analytics for page managers, it's possible that it has to do with auto-play on mobile, or maybe even guaranteeing that different platforms don't resize the image. The most likely cause, however, is Facebook's own algorithm, which often promotes videos over images in news feeds.

Whatever the reasoning, Facebook has recognized the trend as being without benefit, and is working to end the practice. The company will be adjusting their algorithm to end the video promotion. The content will not be removed entirely from Facebook, but it will no longer get the artificial inflation that it had previously received. To accomplish this, Facebook will use a technology they care calling "motion scoring," in which they look for actual motion in the video to detect still images. That should, hopefully, put an end to the trend entirely.

Another similar, but very different trend that has come about is placing a fake play button on top of the image that is shared on Facebook when a link is shared. We've all seen it at least once - it looks like a video initially, but when you click on it, it takes you to a website of questionable value. Those links will also be demoted in the news feed in an attempt to prevent deceptive practices. A spokesperson said,

While the prevalence is statistically low, the frustration expressed by people who use Facebook who encounter these deceptive practices is high.

It's good to see that Facebook is starting to take these issues seriously. As anyone knows, when you add rules to something, you turn it into a game. Sometimes, the best players of a game are nefarious. As far as Facebook is concerned, the algorithm is the rule set, and the fake videos are the result of playing the game. As the referees, it is Facebook's responsibility to make sure that the rules promote the proper behavior, not deceptive practices.

Battle.net is Not as Dead as Blizzard Intended

posted Saturday Aug 19, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Battle.net is Not as Dead as Blizzard Intended

11 months ago, Blizzard made an unexpected announcement: the retirement of Battle.net, in favor of a focus on the Blizzard brand itself. The company's Battle.net Launcher was renamed to Blizzard Launcher, the location where the branding was definitely most visible. The company's reasoning for the transition was explained,

When we created Battle.net, the idea of including a tailored online-gaming service together with your game was more of a novel concept, so we put a lot of focus on explaining what the service was and how it worked, including giving it a distinct name. Over time, though, we've seen that there's been occasional confusion and inefficiencies related to having two separate identities under which everything falls - Blizzard and Battle.net. Given that built-in multiplayer support is a well-understood concept and more of a normal expectation these days, there isn't as much of a need to maintain a separate identity for what is essentially our networking technology.

But, while the company committed to retiring the brand, they had some visible issues. For example, when the Destiny 2 PC launch was announced to fall under the Blizzard brand, parent company Activision, as well as developer Bungie, repeatedly referred to the brand as Battle.net. This consistent slip illustrated the issue that Blizzard was up against: the brand had been around for 2 decades and was the face of the company for all that time. Getting people, even their own employees, to change their habits would be nearly impossible.

The company has finally come around to reality, this week announcing that Battle.net would be sticking around, with only a slight name change. They will be adding the Blizzard brand at the head, now calling the service Blizzard Battle.net. The company said in a statement,

Battle.net is the central nervous system for Blizzard games and the connective tissue that has brought Blizzard players together since 1996. The technology was never going away, but after giving the branding change further consideration and also hearing your feedback, we're in agreement that the name should stay as well. Take it from the developer formerly known as Silicon & Synapse, and Chaos Studios, names are important too.

It is unlikely that anyone, including Blizzard themselves, will ever verbally refer to the service by its new, full name, but it is reasonable that they would want to emphasize their own branding. If names are important, as they say, then putting your own brand in front of as many eyes as possible is the right choice, at least in logo and writing. There is no telling what branding that has already been changed, will be reverted. The Blizzard Launcher might keep its name, or see its branding reverted.

Apple Accidentally Improved a Genuine Legal Issue for iPhone Owners

posted Saturday Aug 19, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Apple Accidentally Improved a Genuine Legal Issue for iPhone Owners

Since the introduction of Touch ID, there have been some potential legal issues for owners. When the feature was first introduced, Marcia Hofmann of Wired Magazine pointed out Touch ID could override the 5th Amendment. Police are allowed to make someone perform a simple task, such as walking a straight line during a traffic incident, but they cannot compel you to share information without a warrant. Her prediction was that, eventually a court would rule that placing your finger on the device would not be protected the way that sharing your password is protected.

A year later, a Virginia court ruled in the police favor, allowing them to force a Touch ID unlock without a warrant. Since then, iPhone owners all over the country have been forced to make a choice - do you use the Touch ID for convenience and risk a personal invasion, or do you use the phone PIN and protect your information?

With the most recent beta of iOS 11, Apple has introduced a feature that has an interesting side-effect. The feature allows a user to rapidly press the power button of the phone to trigger a panic mode. The panic mode allows you to call emergency services easily, but its side effect is even more intriguing. After triggering panic mode, the phone locks itself to prevent information from being stolen. To unlock the device, you must enter your PIN, as if the phone had been power cycled. This feature makes perfect sense, assuming you're being mugged, it can keep the phone safer from the mugger.

The interesting side-effect here is that, if you're being pulled over by the police, you can also trigger panic mode to prevent the cops from forcing you to unlock the device. This added feature, likely an accidental side-effect rather than a conscious idea, is a welcomed change. Personally, I have opted to skip the Touch ID feature all this time because of the potential for corporate confidential information to be retrieved by law enforcement without a warrant. This new feature, however, will finally be the turning point that will allow myself, and others, to use a feature that Apple introduced 4 years and 5 phone models ago.

Snap is in Even More Trouble than Twitter

posted Sunday Aug 13, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Snap is in Even More Trouble than Twitter

Snap Inc., the company that produces Snapchat, has not been public very long, but it has had a difficult journey thus far. Their second quarterly report was released this week, and the results did not make anyone happy. The company has fallen victim to some of the same issues as other struggling social platforms, and has overcome others.

One issue that Twitter has faced is user growth, or lack thereof. While Twitter gained a total of zero active users in the last quarter, Snap experienced a 4% growth over last quarter. Snap now has 173 million active users, while Twitter is stalled at 328 million. The user growth is particularly impressive, considering that Snapchat has no unique features at this point. The product's primary feature has been duplicated wholesale by Instagram, leaving little reason for new users to join Snapchat.

Active users isn't the only thing that Snap has managed to grow in the last quarter. The company has seen a 153% increase in revenue, landing at $181 million for the quarter. Unfortunately for the company, revenue is not profit, and profit is not something the company has figured out. In fact, expenses have grown exorbitantly, taking corporate losses almost four times over last quarter, to $443 million. Losses of that amount are a great way to burn free cash flow, but not a great way to keep the lights on in the long-term. If you need a litmus test, ask SoundCloud how it's worked.

Investors showed a lack of confidence in the company, with stock prices dropping 11 percent following the report. That drop was on top of consistently falling stock prices, which have the stock well below IPO range, which is quickly approaching 1/3 of the initial offering.

Lawsuit Against Nintendo Over Joy-Con Controller Design Basics

posted Sunday Aug 13, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Lawsuit Against Nintendo Over Joy-Con Controller Design Basics

Patent law in the US is a mess, and it hasn't gotten better over the years. In fact, a few years ago, a patent reform bill made it worse, rather than better. A few months ago, the Supreme Court adjusted how suits are filed, but that was just a minor alteration. The real problem comes from the idea that, if an idea is truly unique, a company should be able to compete in the marketplace without the government's interference. As it works today, patent law is a system for government sanctioned monopoly.

This week's example of patent law being in trouble comes to us care of a company called Gamevice. The company registered a patent for a tablet with a removable controller ring, which was launched as the Wikipad. This Android-powered tablet was unsurprisingly not a commercial success, but the company retained the patent and has used it to file a suit against Nintendo, whose implementation of the concept has been wildly successful.

The suit alleges that, because the Nintendo Switch has removable controllers, that it violates Gamevice's patent. Of course, there are several problems with this theory. First, the Wikipad and Switch are not the only tablets to have removable controllers. In fact, we have an old mechanic's tablet, running Windows 95, with removable controls. Second, there are dozens of products that add removable controllers to existing devices. An April Fool's prank turned real turns a phone into a GameBoy - essentially making for removable controllers on a phone.

Not having a case does not preclude success in patent disputes, however. We all remember the case between Apple and Samsung, where Apple alleged that rounded corners on a smartphone was patented by Apple, even though they were not the first to do it and it is not a patentable feature. Other companies have sued for things that only marginally touch upon the wording of a patent in hopes of settling. On the other hand, the so-called "podcast patent" was recently defeated, despite very precise wording that described podcasting, all because the wording could also describe YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and almost every other video-delivery system.

There is no way to accurately predict how this case will go, but you can assume, even if they win the case, Gamevice will not get everything they want. It is incredibly unlikely that a court would prevent Nintendo from selling the Switch in the US, but instead would likely force a licensing deal - assuming the patent is not nullified altogether.

Consumer Reports Downgrades Official Surface Models Based on Other Devices

posted Sunday Aug 13, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Consumer Reports Downgrades Official Surface Models Based on Other Devices

It is no secret that Consumer Reports' integrity has been in question for years. In my personal experience working in electronics retail, the publication gave high marks to some of our most returned or defective merchandise, and often gave low marks to many consumer favorites. It often appeared as if the reviews were based more on a relationship with the manufacturer than actual product successes. In fact, Consumer Affairs has the publication listed with a 1/5 star rating, for various issues, including value of reviews.

This week, Consumer Reports added fuel to that fire when they downgraded their recommendations for Microsoft's Surface line of devices. This includes all devices in the family, including the Surface Book with Performance Dock and Surface Laptop, both being fairly new. The problem is that the downgrade in recommendation comes from surveys of subscribers about their feelings about the brand as a whole. It does not require particular issues, nor does it specify any specific models. So, because some people "feel bad" about the Surface line, based on their own internal metrics, CR has decided to stop recommending Surface entirely.

Consumer Reports' own reviews of the hardware has shown that the hardware was good enough to recommend previously. Based on a survey, though, the Surface Laptop, which did not even exist when the survey was conducted, and the newer Surface Book, which was barely on the market, are essentially being considered to be of poor value, with absolutely no evidence.

Panos Panay, VP of Microsoft Devices, was not happy with the move. He said in a statement,

We stand behind Surface. Surface has had quite a journey over the last few years, and we've learned a lot.

Reviewing future devices based on previous models, rather than on their own merit is not only inaccurate, it's unethical. To say that the Surface Laptop is a poor choice because a tablet from 7 years ago had a manufacturing flaw is patently ridiculous. Will Consumer Reports apply this same metric style to other devices? Will they not recommend the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 because some Note 7 devices exploded? Is the Xbox One a no-go because the thermal paste in the Xbox 360 from a decade ago was defective? It seems unlikely, making this a sticky situation for the publication.

Our recommendation is to treat each product as its own device, and not lump all like-branded products into one review. Look for reviews from LAPTOP Magazine, Tom's Guide, Windows Central, and other reputable sources, in addition to Amazon reviews, rather than relying on a single source of information before making a buying decision.

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