Facebook’s sufficiently chummy with advertisers that some people have gone and built their own social networks to escape Mark Zuckerberg’s clutches. For those who remain, however, it’s now going to be even harder to avoid people using your personal profile information to sell you things. The company has re-built and re-launched (former Microsoft ad platform) Atlas as a way of monitoring people’s online activity across every device that they own. In a blog post, Atlas chief Erik Johnson talks about “people-based marketing” that leaves behind cookies and instead knows what you’re doing on desktops, smartphones and tablets. That data, coupled with Facebook’s knowledge of your age, gender and preferences, will then be used to sell specific products — with the firm that handles Intel and Pepsi’s promotional work the first to sign on.
China has a history of tightening its censorship of internet services during times of political upheaval, and that’s unfortunately happening again with massive pro-democracy protests underway in Hong Kong. Both monitoring sites and on-the-ground observers report that the country has blocked access to Instagram on the mainland, most likely to prevent images of the demonstrations from spreading beyond Hong Kong (where Instagram is still working). It’s potentially a big blow to free speech, as the photo sharing service was one of the few foreign social networks that operated unfettered in the area. We’ve reached out to Instagram for more details, but it’s safe to presume that China won’t lift its restrictions so long as the protests continue — and it won’t be surprising if this ultimately proves to be a permanent ban.
[Image credit: Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images]
Breaking: Instagram just got blocked in China, possibly due to the circulation of protests photos in Hong Kong.
– edde (@Edourdoo) September 28, 2014
This past Saturday, I found myself in the front row of what felt like an old-time revival, only instead of religious zealots, I was surrounded by roughly 800 disciples of virtual reality. Onstage at the inaugural Oculus Connect VR developer conference, the high priests of the medium, Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, Michael Abrash and John Carmack preached the gospel of presence — the Holy Grail of virtual reality. Presence is a simple concept to grok once you’ve experienced it, though describing the feeling can be difficult. Essentially, presence is shorthand for what results when you fool the human brain into perceiving a virtual world as it does the real one.
Oculus is closer than ever to delivering that experience with its latest prototype headset, code-named Crescent Bay, but a consumer version is still a ways off. According to Oculus founder Luckey, “All the tech needed to build the headset we want exists, but not all of it is in such a form that you can buy it in mass quantities.” So, while the world waits for manufacturing to enable a final consumer product, Connect attendees got a taste of what that commercially viable headset will deliver — thanks to handcrafted prototypes built with rare engineering-sample components.
And what an experience it is. Crescent Bay is the best VR headset I’ve worn, full stop. You can read all about it here, but regardless of its current, fixable flaws, the demo with that prototype has me believing in the power of presence. And I suppose that’s at least part of the reason why Oculus waited to hold its initial developer conference until now. VR’s time draws near.
“Imagine you had a pair of magical goggles that would take you anywhere, instantly.”
“We might as well be brains in glass jars with wires coming out of them.” I’m back in the front row at Connect, listening to Abrash, Oculus’ chief scientist, talk about direct brain stimulation and explain how humans perceive reality. He’s been thinking about creating virtual worlds since the early ’90s, and is a VR evangelist of the highest order. I mean that as a compliment. Abrash, while clearly awed and inspired by the technology’s potential, possesses a pragmatic attitude about the current challenges facing both Oculus and VR in general. His day job is running Oculus’ R&D operation, learning to understand human cognition and solving the most difficult problems facing VR. But what a salesman. He closes with: “Imagine you had a pair of magical goggles that would take you anywhere, instantly. Where would you go? … What would you do? … That’s a powerful thought, and that’s what VR can do.”
I’m sold and, at this point, I haven’t even strapped on that Crescent Bay headset yet. “This is what it looks like when opportunity knocks,” Abrash says. Everyone in the audience is ready to answer.
Oculus has long vowed not to release a consumer headset until that hardware is comfortable, affordable and can deliver on the promise of presence. Luckey wants as many people as possible to reap the benefits of VR, and for that to happen it’s got to be a pleasant, desirable experience. Hardware’s only half the solution, however, and that’s where the developers come in. And by developers, Oculus means anyone making VR content. By and large, that’s game devs, but there are cinematographers and other film industry converts in the audience. It makes sense that Connect is taking place in Hollywood.
Now I’m listening to Carmack, Oculus CTO, explain how he built his working relationship with Samsung and the myriad technical challenges he grappled with when building Gear VR. I wonder how many other non-technical attendees there are, and if they’re having better luck keeping up with what he’s saying. Carmack, I imagine, is as persuasive and pragmatic as Abrash, were I able to fully comprehend his words. He’s speaking the language of coders and engineers at a pace that’s difficult for me to parse. He talks for over an hour and a half without pause. I am humbled by his intellect. He opens with: “I don’t actually have a presentation, but I can stand up here and talk about interesting things until they run me off the stage.” So it goes… I think?
Oculus wants as many people as possible to reap the benefits of VR, and for that to happen it’s got to be a pleasant, desirable experience.
The fact is, virtual reality is interesting, and has been for a long time. It’s been a part of the cultural zeitgeist since The Lawnmower Man introduced VR to millions of moviegoers in 1992. Many have tried, and failed, to take the technology mainstream. We’ve been here before, over 20 years ago. Seemingly on the cusp of revolution, many heralded the dawn of the VR age. It was a false prophecy, doomed to remain unfulfilled thanks to hardware that couldn’t deliver a truly immersive VR experience.
Abrash, Carmack and Luckey all believe that the work they’re doing is hugely important and will change the world. It remains to be seen if VR will do so, but if it does, you can bet that Oculus will play a big part in the transformation.
On my flight home, it feels like Connect is the catalyst to make it happen.
Ello seems to have come out of nowhere.
The creators are designers and artists. Its CEO, Paul Budnitz, makes toys. There’s no big marketing push and no obvious ties to Silicon Valley. These are not the typical building blocks of a hot new social network.
Yet, people are joining it in droves. In the past few days, Ello has seen an incredible influx of new users. Its network more than quadrupled in size and there’s no sign of it slowing down. As I’m writing this, I’m told that Ello has gained nearly 20,000 new users in just the past hour. A quick scan of my Twitter and Facebook feeds reveals a whole slew of my friends have joined the service, which is a remarkable achievement considering Ello is still at the invite-only stage. Only existing users can invite those looking to sign up, which means it’s mostly spreading by word-of-mouth. Ello had to stop taking invites because its servers were slammed. People are even selling Ello invitations on eBay for $100 a pop.
So what’s the big deal with Ello? And why is it so popular all of a sudden?
The short answer: It’s not Facebook.
In the past couple of weeks, Facebook has been on the receiving end of negative press for deleting profiles of drag queens for not following its “real names” policy. The company has stated that it’s not targeting them in particular and is applying this rule to everyone, but it’s enough to tarnish Facebook for some members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom have safety and personal reasons to hide their real names from public view. It’s also a genuine concern for anyone who’s a victim of stalking or online harassment.
Ello, however, does not have a “real name” policy. You can be whomever you want on it. Not only that, but it’s also vehemently anti-advertising. Its manifesto ends with: “You are not a product.”
“We want you to be exactly who you are,” said Todd Berger, one of the designers for Ello. “We don’t really care — we don’t want the data associated with the name because we’re not selling it.”
The recent dustup over real names is just another in a long line of complaints in Facebook’s history. The splintering of Messenger into its own app, the increase in autoplay video ads on mobile, its past experiments on users and a generally sketchy track record when it comes to privacy have done plenty to damage Facebook’s reputation over the years. While the exodus of many in the LGBTQ community might have been the catalyst for Ello’s popularity, it appears that the very idea of a Facebook alternative is attractive enough to entice new users.
Paul Budnitz, founder of Kidrobot, is also one of the minds behind Ello
That also happens to be the reason Budnitz and his friends created Ello. “We had just become really sick of other social networks,” said Budnitz, who’s also the founder of Kidrobot, a producer and retailer of designer toys. “We didn’t want a place that was run by advertisers, a place that would mine our data. We just want a place that’s simple and beautiful.”
So Budnitz and a group of designers and developers (from Berger & Föhr and Mode Set respectively). created a private social network about a year and a half ago just for themselves and a few friends. But there was so much demand for it that the team decided to build a version for the public.
“When we started building Ello, we started with a few principles,” said Budnitz. “The first is: no ads. A social network doesn’t have to be complicated and it especially doesn’t have to be that way if it doesn’t have ads.” He went on to say that when a network like Facebook shows ads, the advertiser is the customer, not you. “The thing that’s being sold is the user,” he said.
Additionally, because Budnitz and his team have strong design and art backgrounds, they wanted the site to look good. “I wanted something really clean and very different,” he said. “I also wanted to deal with clutter.” Berger added that Ello was also intended as a shared art space, and that’s apparent almost immediately. It has a minimalist interface, with plenty of white space and a wide layout that really lets art and photos take center stage. And for all you GIF-lovers out there, Ello supports those animated images out of the gate. In my first few hours with it, Ello feels a lot more like Tumblr than either Facebook or Twitter, but even that is not an accurate comparison. On the whole, Ello is just very different from any of the other social networks I’ve seen.
You can move people between two streams: Friends and Noise. The Friends stream features large photos and long-form text, while the Noise feed is a fluid grid layout designed for browsing information quickly. So the folks you’d add to your Friends stream would be people you’re really interested in, while Noise is just for quick news consumption. Similar to Twitter, you don’t have to follow someone who follows you and vice versa. In fact, by default, Ello is completely open and anyone can follow anyone else.
That openness has resulted in the first big criticism against Ello: It doesn’t have any privacy settings. So if I want to block someone or flag inappropriate content, I can’t. That’s an especially big pain point considering the reasons many flocked to it in the first place. However, Budnitz said privacy controls are coming soon.
“We were going to roll it out eventually,” he said. “But with so many people joining, especially since we have all these new users where that sort of thing matters, we’ve pushed up the schedule.” Plus, Budnitz said that Ello has a pretty strict set of rules already. “We have a zero-tolerance policy around hate, trolls, stalking and hurtful behavior.” Still, it seems that the rules aren’t entirely set in stone. In the initial policy, there was a statement of “No porn.” Now, however, it’s been reworded to allow for NSFW content, as long as it isn’t something illegal, like child pornography.
Indeed, Ello is still very much in beta. Notifications, for example, currently clutter up the Friends stream and the Discover/Search feature is slow and buggy. The team is hard at work to fix these issues and introduce new features, many of which are listed in the publicly viewable Feature List. Several upcoming features include private messaging, bookmarking and the ability to embed SoundCloud audio and video from Vimeo or YouTube. As for mobile apps, those are coming too, but only after the team is happy with its web product. In the meantime, you can view Ello on your phone via a mobile browser.
Of course, Ello is not the first social networking alternative. Remember App.net and Diaspora? They’re still around and certainly have their fair share of fans, but they didn’t quite take the world by storm. Ello has the buzz, but it takes resources to harness and sustain that momentum. If Ello doesn’t plan to show ads, how will it make money?
Well, as far as initial financing goes, Ello did actually take some funding in the form of $435,000 from FreshTracks Capital, a VC firm in Vermont. That might sound some alarm bells regarding the direction of Ello and if it’ll really remain true to its ad-free goals, but the VCs in question appear to be relatively hands-off, telling GigaOm that it’s perfectly fine with Ello’s current business plan.
And how does that plan go? Well, Ello will be free to use if you want the simple, no-frills experience, but if you want something extra, you’ll have to pay for it. So, for example, if you wanted to manage multiple Ello accounts with a single login, that feature would cost you something like $2.
“Ello isn’t designed to be perfect for everyone, and it’ll never be perfect for everyone” said Berger. “But we’re going to let you customize the environment that’s suited for you and we’ll sell that to you.”
“We’ve already had thousands of different suggestions for premium features and a lot of them overlap each other,” said Budnitz. “We already have people who are interested in paying us for them. Just based on that, we know that we can be profitable.”
Even so, Budnitz has no plans to compete with Facebook.
“We’re not trying to rule the world,” he said. “We’re not competing. We’re just building this thing that we really want to use … We don’t need or want to be a $30 billion company. We just want to build a great business.”
[Image credit: Getty Images]
Filed under: Internet
Remember when Twitter rolled out its way of buying stuff from within the mobile app? Well, it turns out the startup behind the micro-blogging firm’s commerce function is powering Facebook’s payment service, too. As Recode tells it, Stripe is the sole provider for the purchase-service and also helped with the auto-fill system for Zuckerberg’s mobile payments last year. Apparently that deal ended up working out pretty well. When you impulse-buy a new watch via The Social Network, at least now you know who to blame.
We’ve known about Facebook’s ambitious plans to bring internet to developing areas via drone for a while now. At the Social Good Summit this week, Facebook Connectivity Lab’s Yael Maguire revealed more details about what the social network is hoping to accomplish. Speaking with Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore, Maguire said that the UAVs would need to be able to fly for months, or even years, at an altitude “above the weather, above all airspace.” For those counting, that’s around 60,000 to 90,000 feet. Luckily for Facebook and the Internet.org initiative, it has already looked into solar-powered options that can make trips lasting up to five years. Maguire went on to say that a regular-sized drone won’t suffice, so the “planes” will have to be “roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, like a 747.” As you might expect, the effort is certain to face regulatory hurdles, including how many of the vehicles a single pilot can oversee. Eventually, the goal is to have one person steering “up to 100″ of the internet-carrying planes at a time. “We can’t have one person per plane if we want to figure out how to connect the world,” Maguire explained. For now, there’s a three to five year window for employing the UAVs, and the lab hopes to see the first one take flight for testing next year.
If you’ve ever wanted to modify a virtual reality headset (or even create one from scratch), Oculus VR just gave you a big head start on your project. The Facebook-owned firm has opened up the code, mechanical elements and design for its first VR wearable, the Oculus Rift DK1. Provided you have the know-how and tools, you can now build upon everything Oculus learned in its early days about screens, head tracking and ergonomics. The source material won’t help you recreate the more advanced technology of newer Rift kits or the Gear VR, but it should be worth a look if you’re curious about the inner workings of immersive displays.
I’m a late Wednesday afternoon tweeter. It’s not a characteristic I’d necessarily include on any of my dating app profiles, but it accurately sums up my online behavior nonetheless. I’m also a tremendous neurotic (which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well) who embraces self-expression, challenges and change. I’m that personality pie chart you see up above. I’m an open book, or at least my Twitter profile is to IBM.
Michelle Zhou greeted me with that handy personality breakdown when we met at IBM Research’s Almaden lab in San Jose, California; she’d taken the liberty of finding out my Twitter handle beforehand and compiling the results. Zhou’s the lead researcher for a platform called System U that analyzes the big data generated from an individual’s socially networked life — be that Facebook, Twitter, emails or even chats — to determine their values, beliefs and personality traits. If you’re not a fan of labels, then you won’t like Zhou’s work; after all, it did expose me for the impulsive, OCD ice queen that I am. But then again, it’s not Zhou that’s placing you into neatly labeled boxes; it’s your own words that are responsible.
If you’re not a fan of labels, then you won’t like Zhou’s work; after all, it did expose me for the impulsive, OCD ice queen that I am.
System U is based off of the study of psycholinguistics, a branch of cognitive science that examines how we acquire, use and effectively interpret language. With this as a foundation, Zhou’s platform focuses on defining individuals according to three main areas of psychological profiling: the Big Five personality traits (i.e., openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism); basic human needs; and values. It even deconstructs our online social habits, hence the revelation that I tweet heavily during lunch on hump day. It’s not unlike the internal testing major social networks do with their own masses of user data, except IBM’s platform aims to mine all of that data to build a cohesive psychological profile.
Zhou’s big data cruncher isn’t infallible — I certainly take umbrage with the notion that I’m an angry fellow — but it is statistically significant. In fact, Zhou’s team conducted studies to prove the efficacy of System U and found that its results are over 80 percent accurate. That mark of scientific worthiness means the platform’s also good enough for IBM to license it as a business tool. Zhou said IBM’s already been working with several unnamed enterprise clients to apply System U and derive insights into those companies’ respective customer bases. Participation, Zhou stressed is, of course, opt-in, so individuals won’t have to worry about being unwitting pawns in a big business/big data profiling scheme.
As Zhou explained, “This is a very new technology.” And it’s one we better get used to.
Watch as Zhou details how the words we use online can be used to paint an accurate portrait of who we really are on the inside.
[Image credit: IBM Research]
Filed under: Science
It’s made you distrustful and toyed with your emotions and now a Staten Island Support Magistrate has deemed Facebook an acceptable vehicle for your legal woes. According to the New York Post,
Gregory Gliedman ruled that Noel Biscocho could use the social network to serve his ex, Anna Maria Antigua, with a legal notice that he no longer wishes to pay child support for their 21-year-old son. The ruling reportedly came after Biscocho attempted to reach Antigua multiple times in the real world. And here we thought breaking up via text message was bad.
[Image credit: Peter Dazeley / Getty]
Source: New York Post
True or False: You don’t go on Facebook anymore, because it’s such a drag not being able to talk about your private jet’s new upholstery. After all, a few of your old friends post regularly about student debt and (gasp) mortgage payments, and it’ll make you look like an insensitive prick.
If you answered True, this new social network called Netropolitan hopes you’ll be willing to pony up a whopping $9,000 up front to rub virtual elbows with the equally rich. Netropolitan’s website describes it as “an online country club for people with more money than time” and is open to anyone over 21 with cash to throw around. There’s no need to add friends, since you can see everyone else’s post once you get it, but you can form groups around common interests (which, by the way, you can also do on Facebook for free).
This new social network for the elite was created by James Touchi-Peters, a former conductor of the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra, because he “saw a need for an environment where you could talk about the finer things in life without backlash,” according to CNN. He promises the website will show no ads and will offer a round-the-clock tech support to help you navigate the website. Netropolitan’s still in its very early stages, but if it lasts, you’ll have to pay a hefty $3,000 more per year to be able to stay.
If the website’s WordPress backend or .info TLD don’t suit your taste, though, you can always choose from the other exclusive social networks. There’s ASmallWorld, which was once described as the “MySpace for millionaires” and Affluence.org, which you can join for free if you can prove a $3 million net worth. Finally, there’s Topcom, which is like Facebook, Twitter and Skype combined, but only for the top 200 world leaders.
Filed under: Internet