How Pokémon Go Took Over the World with Augmented Reality

July 12th, 2016 by ddeal

3045687-3026698-pokémon+go+logo+copyThey’re in my house. They’re in my car. They’re following me to the store. Of course, I’m speaking of the Pokémon who inhabit the world of Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game that has invaded the lives of smartphone owners all over the world since its general release July 6. Seemingly overnight — actually, faster than overnight — Pokémon Go has schooled the world on the power of augmented reality, a technology that is expected to support a $120 billion market by 2020. Thanks to Pokémon Go, it might be time to raise that dollar figure and speed up the adoption timeline.

With Pokémon Go, you use your smart phone to play a game of discovery and battle with Pokémon from the video and card game that Nintendo made popular in the late 1990s. Thanks to augmented reality, Pokémon can seemingly pop up anywhere as you view the real world through your phone screen, including your own bathroom or your backyard. Your job is to catch them, train them, and prepare them for battle with other teams (in designated spots called gyms, which correspond with public places in the real world that you can find by getting out of the house and exploring with your phone as your guide). At locations called Pokestops, you can collect supplies and goodies to assist in your quest to find and train the Pokémon on your own team. As you capture harder-to-find Pokémon and win battles, you level up.

Since the game’s release, I have spent some time playing the game with my daughter, Marion, and friends. I’ve wandered around the town I live, Downers Grove, Illinois, jumping up and down in excitement on public streets while I’ve experienced the thrill of capturing Pokémon. Here’s why I think Pokémon Go resonates:

The Game Rocks for Pokémon Fans and Nonfans

First off, Pokémon Go is flat-out fun for both fans of the legacy Pokémon game and people who know little about Pokémon. The experience has all the elements of an enjoyable game, such as questing, play, skill testing, winning points, challenging others, leveling up, and joining teams. Both single players and multiplayers can enjoy it, and you can keep a session going for as long as you have the app open, which is crucial to creating player engagement.

Marion and I are not really conversant in the ways of Pokémon, but we play games on occasion, and it was easy for us to get the appeal of Pokémon Go straight off. Learning the rules is pretty easy — which is essential for me, as I have zero patience for games with complicated instructions — and yet achieving points is challenging enough to keep your head in the game.

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Google Creates a Virtual Reality Future

July 5th, 2016 by ddeal

Expeditions

Google wants virtual reality to be everyone’s reality.

During the week of June 27, Google demonstrated its commitment to making VR a mainstream experience. To wit:

  • On June 28, Google shared an online demo showing how creatives, using Google’s forthcoming Daydream VR platform, can create animation in VR without possessing any specialty skills. Daydream, announced at Google’s I/O event in May, will encompass VR-enabled smartphones, a new VR viewer and controller (making Cardboard unnecessary if you can afford the viewer, whose price is unknown), and apps that will unlock VR content ranging from news to games. Daydream will be available on the Android operating system.

In addition, on July 29, roadtovr.com reported that Google is developing a feature for its Chrome browser that will allow you to browse the entire Web in VR when Google rolls out Daydream. Since Google is also rebuilding YouTube, Street View, Play, and Photos with VR modes, a VR-mode for Chrome, when ready, will have a world of VR-content to browse, such as a more immersive Street View experience or VR concert viewing on YouTube. When Daydream is rolled out, we should be able to use the Daydream headset or Cardboard viewer to visit any website in VR, according to Upload VR.

These developments demonstrate just some of the moving parts that will comprise Daydream, and they make Daydream seem like less of an abstraction and more of a tangible reality. Whereas Facebook communicates its vision for VR with good theater and well delivered messages, Google opens the hood to give you a glimpse at the engine.

Designing Animation in VR

The animation demo might seem like inside baseball to anyone who does not design for a living, but making VR accessible to creatives is important. Breakthroughs in any endeavor occur when the tools of production are accessible and democratic. Rock and roll took off because anyone who could get their hands on even a cheap guitar could teach themselves how to play. Basketball exploded in popularity across the United States in the 20th Century because all you needed was a basketball and a court to learn the game. And Google intends to make VR a breakthrough, too.

As Rob Jagnow, software engineer, Google VR, wrote in a June 28 blog post, Google Daydream Labs is reducing the complexity for making VR animation by making it possible for creatives to design scenes by moving objects around in VR, instead of needing complex and costly software to design scenes in 2D. Jagnow indicated that Daydream Labs experimented with VR by allowing users to bring characters to life by moving toys around a screen.

“Instead of animating with graph editors or icons representing location, people could simply reach out, grab a virtual toy, and carry it through the scene,” he wrote. “These simple animations had a handmade charm that conveyed a surprising degree of emotion . . . People were already familiar with how to interact with real toys, so they jumped right in and got started telling their stories. They didn’t need a lengthy tutorial, and they were able to modify their animations and even add new characters without any additional help.”

In a nod to making VR democratic, he added “VR allows us to rethink software and make certain use cases more natural and intuitive. While this kind of animation system won’t replace professional tools, it can allow anyone to tell their own stories.”

Expeditions

The Expeditions experience is more of a crowd pleaser. Google rolled out Expeditions in the fall of 2015 to participating classrooms. As reported in TechCrunch, more than a million students in 11 countries have gone on virtual field trips, and the collection of destinations has grown to more than 200.

The following video testimonial demonstrates how Expeditions can work:

Launching Expeditions in the classroom is a smart long-term strategy. Google is betting that tools such as Expeditions will help make younger generations become more familiar and comfortable with VR. And as they do so, they’ll associate Google with VR. of Google as their preferred platform throughout their lives, which is similar to Apple’s approach of embedding its products in the classroom decades ago.

But Google is thinking short-term by making Expeditions more widely available. Anyone with the tools can now join in the fun. And when the tools improve with Daydream, Google hopes to introduce a whole new meaning of fun. Making Expeditions available for iOS would be a way for Google to entice IOS users to switch to Android — as if to say, “Do you like what you’re experiencing with Expeditions? There’s a lot more fun to be had if you switch to Android.”

As I discussed in a June 11 blog post, Google’s vision is to make VR accessible to all, with Google products being at the center of our everyday VR experience. The way Google sees it, VR will underpin how we search and discover, how we experience content, especially if we use Google’s own Chrome browser on mobile devices. Chrome is now the most popular Web browser, according to Gizmodo. Android has the largest global marketshare of any operating system on a smartphone, according to stastista.com. Google intends to strengthen those leads in an era of VR that Google sees coming.

As the saying goes, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. Google sees a VR future on the horizon and intends for its own products to lead the way. But it’s not like we’re are all going to stop what we’re doing and start using Daydream when the platform becomes available. Even loyal Android users will take some time to adopt VR experiences. iOS users will watch that uptake (and, Google hopes, become envious) while pundits speculate about Apple’s possible move into VR. What’s clear, though, is that Google is priming the pump for a gradual adoption of VR through Daydream. Expanding Expeditions and sharing a demo for creating VR animation are all about getting us comfortable for a long-term change that is coming. And coming soon.




Awakening the Ghost of Jim Morrison

July 3rd, 2016 by ddeal

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My life changed 35 years ago today.

During the summer of 1981, I was living in Neumarkt, Germany, a little town nestled in the Bavarian hills. I was the guest of a couple of families kind enough to host a high school graduate whose idea of preparing for college was growing his hair long, sprouting a gnarly beard, buying a lot of vinyl records, and making up each day as he went along. Which was the whole point of disappearing to Germany for a summer. I had spent four years as a high honor roll student at Wheaton Central High School, and was ready to do anything but worry about grades.

The German young men and women I got to know in Neumarkt were living their own version of the Age of Aquarius, donning psychedelic pants, talking a lot of politics — especially their concern over the escalating nuclear arms race between America and Russia — and doing a lot of partying like their world was going to end tomorrow. It was the kind of summer where one day you found yourself on a scooter (which I crashed more than once) bombing around the winding streets of Neumarkt, that night you were talking politics and art at a party with students you just met, and the next thing you knew you were on a bus headed to Paris with a bunch of German kids, where you shared a squalid room in dumpy hostel for a few weeks.

My friends Bruce (a Wheaton Central classmate), Robert (from Neumarkt), and I stayed up all night in the hostel playing practical jokes on each other and roaming around. We got little sleep, partly because no one else in the place was sleeping, and partly because we didn’t want to. If you went to sleep, you might miss a spontaneous party breaking out in the hallway or a poker game in the next room. Everyone in the building lived a sort of impoverished communal existence. Males and female shared one shower area although we had separate stalls. I used my bed sheet for a towel and lived off a baguette a day unless I won enough money playing poker to buy something more substantial.

It was easy for us to get around Paris. The Metro went everywhere. We usually jumped the turnstiles and rode for free or walked. On July 3, we somehow made our way to the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery, one of many Parisian cities of the dead that have a history all their own. Père Lachaise was like no other cemetery I’d ever visited, a sprawling little city consisting of tombs, mini-chapels, gardens, and cobbled paths on a hill.

At first, we explored winding, tree-lined paths in search of the tombs of famous people such as Oscar Wilde. We also hoped to find the grave of Jim Morrison but had not bothered to ask anyone for a map. I knew about the band’s hits and some deep cuts, having become turned on to the Doors a few years earlier when Apocalypse Now featured “The End” in its soundtrack. But I had not been turned on to the mystical power of Jim Morrison.

As it turned out, we didn’t need a map. Within a few minutes of exploring the cemetery, we noticed the word “Jim” with an arrow written in chalk on a number of tombs. And so we started to follow the arrows.

As we walked up a lane and approached a row of tightly clustered graves, we noticed a crowd had gathered. We heard strange, ethereal music, which I recognized as “End of the Night” from the Doors’ first album. The air was filled with the smell of sweet incense. Not only had we found Morrison’s grave, we had stumbled on to the 10th anniversary of his death.

I broke off from my friends and let the thick cluster of revelers swallow me up. There were American expatriates like myself, ranging from the backpack-and-beard crowd to couples holding hands. There were European kids with long hair and curious smiles on their faces — smiles that would turn to anger during massive nuclear protests in major European cities later that year, but not on this day. There were many older hippie holdovers from the 1960s, looking like they had walk right out of the fields of Woodstock, dressed in gowns, beads, and flowing white shirts. They had weathered faces, dirty hair, and bare feet. They passed around bottles of booze and stole glances at Morrison’s grave.

These were the true believers I had read about in magazines about the hippie counterculture. They came from another era when rock musicians were gods, not just entertainers, and listening to music meant discovering layers of yourself. And Jim Morrison was one of the greatest of their gods.

The hippies looked just a little said amid the revelry, like they were trying to awaken spirits of the past at the grave of a man who symbolized a lost era. The music of the Doors continued to waft into the air like the incense, coming from somewhere in the throng. I thought of Indians doing a ghost dance on the North American plains, only here they were here, in Paris, with me.

The surviving members of the Doors, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek, were there, mingling among the crowd, signing autographs, sharing their booze, and sharing their memories. It’s remarkable to think of that moment, free of security guards and a horde of news media. Today such a scene would be carefully choreographed and documented in real time on social media. Back then, the surviving Doors were just members of our little party, quietly working their way through the crowd. If I had not noticed them signing autographs, I would have assumed they were like everyone else.

A white bust of Morrison watched all of us, along with a bottle of booze someone had planted to keep him company. His grave was covered with graffiti, and his face had begun to crumble, like he himself had under the weight of fame before his death at age 27. He was long dead but he was alive at Père Lachaise, the shaman in command of a tribe of followers and strangers from different countries and generations. And on July 3, 1981, on a day when I was free of commitment, free of material want and need, and with a life of possibility ahead of me, I was one of them.

From that point onward, I wrote — not for good grades but for me. The streets of Paris and the places I visited in Germany formed the settings for short stories and poems, some of them about an alter ego named Eddie Black whom I created in Paris. Robert and I deepened our friendship as we discussed Eddie’s personality and exploits while exploring record albums be owned and ones I was buying. My time in Germany and indeed my life assumed a new context. Every new place was like a muse.

Eventually the summer abroad came to an end. No more poker games in run-down youth hostels. No more friends with long hair. No more German teens in their psychedelic pants and political talk. Suddenly I was far from home, in Dallas, Texas, at Southern Methodist University.

My first years in college would be lonely and traumatic, marked by family turmoil and a sense of not fitting in on the campus. I was alone, alienated, and homesick for that summer of my own making, especially moments like communing with strangers at Père Lachaise. To endure the alienation, I became immersed in the music of the Doors, the best selling Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, and the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, one of Morrison’s many literary influences. His influences became mine: I took a poetry-writing class and kept writing poems and a journal throughout college (eventually getting a few poems published). Morrison’s words and the band’s atmospheric sound inspired me. The song “People Are Strange” captured my own sense of feeling off balance in a college setting that, it turned out, was just wrong for me in many respects (“People are strange/when you’re a stranger/faces look ugly/when you’re alone”).

During those two years at SMU, I experienced the internalization of music: when you cross the line from being a fan of someone’s music to identifying personally with an artist. I became one of the true believers. Have you ever cared so much about anyone’s music that you feel the words and chords seep into your soul? Have you gotten through a hard time in your life by putting an album on repeat play? If you have, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I transferred to the University of Illinois in Urbana, where I graduated, far happier and adjusted, with a journalism degree and a deeper love of all things rock music, including all the classic rockers. Since that time, I’ve read several books on the Doors and helped a friend, Patricia Butler, write one (Angels Dance and Angels Die). I’ve edited and designed a book on rock and roll (Say You Want a Revolution, by Robert Pielke, an experience through which I got to know Danny Sugerman, co-author of No One Here Gets Out Alive), formed relationships with musicians during my marketing career, and passed on a passion for the Doors to my daughter.

Throughout his life, Jim Morrison was fond of telling a story about his family driving through the desert and coming across dead Indians scattered on a highway as a result of a car accident. Morrison believed the ghosts of one of the dead Indians leaped into his soul. On July 3, 1981, Jim Morrison’s ghost leaped into mine.




The “Stairway to Heaven” Lawsuit: How Permanent a Victory?

June 23rd, 2016 by ddeal

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Led Zeppelin’s successful defense of “Stairway to Heaven” against an accusation of copyright infringement over the song “Taurus” is a victory for creativity — but how permanent a victory?

The opening notes of “Stairway to Heaven” share, at best, a passing similarity to a brief chord progression in “Taurus,” written by singer Randy Wolfe, who performed with the band Spirit. (Compare “Taurus” at the 45 second mark to the opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven.”)

Had a jury found that Zeppelin plagiarized “Taurus,” songwriters would have another good reason reason to second-guess themselves as they create new music (and I’m not referring to lyric writing). The next David Bowie might not write the next “Starman” for fear of sounding too much like someone else’s work (in fact, Bowie based the chorus for “Starman” on “Somewhere over the Rainbow”). But the victory was by no means a slam dunk. Over the years, a number of other high-profile plagiarism cases similar to this one have gone against defendants. For instance:

  • In 2015, the family of Marvin Gaye successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for infringing upon Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” when Thicke and Williams wrote “Blurred Lines.” Gaye’s family was awarded $7.4 million (a judge reduced the award to $5.3 million; Thicke and Williams are appealing).
  • Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood of the Hollies successfully sued Radiohead over similarities between Radiohead’s “Creep” and the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe.” As a result, Hammond and Hazlewood now share royalties and songwriting credits for “Creep.”
  • In the 1980s, Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for plagiarism because Lewis felt that the melody for Parker’s 1984 hit “Ghostbusters” was too similar to Lewis’s “I Want a New Drug.” The two parties settled out of court.
  • In 1976, a judge determined that George Harrison had committed “subconscious plagiarism” in writing his 1970 hit “My Sweet Lord,” whose melody is similar to that of the 1962 song “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. Harrison was liable for nearly $600,000.
  • In the 1960s, the Kinks successfully sued the Doors over similarities between the sound of the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” and the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You.” Consequently, the Kinks and Doors share songwriting credit for “Hello, I Love You” in the United Kingdom.

Why did Led Zeppelin prevail with “Stairway” when other musicians in similar situations did not? I don’t think anyone knows for sure, which speaks to the subjective nature of these cases. From what I can tell, the following two factors seem to influence the outcome of these cases:

  • How distinctive is the music in question? This issue doomed “My Sweet Lord.” The melody for “He’s So Fine,” while forming only a small part of the song, is so distinctive that even casual listeners could recognize its similarity to “My Sweet Lord.” And the judge decided that being distinctive means being original.
  • How integral is the music to the entire song? In the case of the Hollies suing Radiohead, at issue was the overall similarity between the two songs’ compositions as opposed to a single melody that acted as a smoking gun, if you will. The same holds true for “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up.” The recurring backbeat and chorus that underpin both songs were deemed to be too similar.

On the other hand, copyright infringement cases due not need to prove that the defendant knowingly stole the music to find the defendant liable, as the George Harrison “unconscious plagiarism” ruling shows.

Of course, all kinds of intangibles can come into play. For instance, did the appearance of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin the courtroom wow the defendants with a bit of celebrity firepower? Robert Plant in particular was said to be especially charming and engaging as a witness.

In the case of “Stairway,” the jury ruled that “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” are not similar enough to justify the plaintiff’s argument that Led Zeppelin was guilty of plagiarism. I don’t know what was going through the minds of the juries — but I suspect the two issues of how distinctive and integral the music informed their decision. To wit:

  • The disputed portion of “Stairway to Heaven,” while sounding similar to “Taurus,” consists of only a few fleeting seconds — so the passage was not integral to the overall feel of the seven-minute plus “Stairway.”
  • Both the plaintiff and the defendant produced musicologists who argued about the distinctive nature of the disputed music. Team Led Zeppelin argued that the musical progressions date back to the 1600s, thus attacking how distinctive the riff in “Taurus” and “Stairway” really are. Team Spirit produced technical evidence arguing that “Taurus” uses a distinctive structure.

Ultimately, the arguments of Team Spirit around those two issues did not convince the jury.

In the context of the “Stairway” lawsuit, it will be interesting to see how the copyright infringement lawsuit against Ed Sheeran’s song “Photograph” plays out, as well as one against Justin Bieber for his song “Sorry.” Sheeran has been sued for $20 million by songwriters Martin Harrington and Tom Leonard. Harrington and Leonard claim “Photograph” has a “striking similarity” to the song “Amazing” which they wrote for a onetime winner of The X Factor, Matt Cardle.

Harrington and Leonard assert that the chorus of Sheeran’s “Photograph” and Cardle’s “Amazing” share 39 identical notes, and that the two songs utilize similar overall structures, melodic rhythms, and harmonies.

Given the murky history of song plagiarism lawsuits and subjective nature of their outcomes, the long-term impact of Led Zeppelin’s successful defense remains to be seen. Meanwhile, songwriters would do well to heed the advice of producer and blogger Bobby Owsinski:

“[S]ongwriters beware, there’s nothing new under the sun given the 12 note scale that western musicians use, so you’re probably copying a previous song without even knowing it. And today, that’s enough to get you sued.”

Related:

Consequences of Sound, “10 Famous Cases of Musical Plagiarism,” by Matt Melis and Michael Roffman, May 29, 2016.

The Daily Beast, “If Led Zeppelin Goes Down, We All Burn,” by Aram Sinnreich, June 17, 2016.

The New Yorker, “The Unoriginal Originality of Led Zeppelin,” by Alex Ross, April 14, 2016.

Time, “11 Suspiciously Sound-Alike Songs,” by Melissa Locker, August 21, 2013.

WatchMojo.com, “The Top 10 Rip-off Songs,” May 17, 2014.




Augmented Reality at Cedar Point: First Impressions

June 22nd, 2016 by ddeal

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Virtual reality is grabbing the headlines right now, but augmented reality has a bigger near-term future. My recent experience with a new AR-based game at Cedar Point Amusement Park illustrates how AR can make an already excellent customer experience better.

The Augmented Reality Boom

By 2020, augmented reality is expected to be a $120 billion market, versus $30 billion for virtual reality, according to Manatt Digital Media. And it’s easy to see why businesses ranging from retail stores to theme parks are creating AR experiences. VR usually requires headsets to transport users into make-believe worlds and demands more of a person’s time and attention. On the other hand, AR, while being less immersive than VR, integrates virtual content into real-world settings (e.g., projecting an interactive map on your table top at home).

In June, Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, launched an experience that shows how AR can use immersive gaming to take a fun day at a theme park to another level. As my buddy John Hensler and I discovered when we tried out the new Battle for Cedar Point game June 16, AR in a theme park works best when it enhances a natural part of your visit, such as turning a queue line into an opportunity to score an achievement.

About Cedar Point

Cedar Point bills itself as the roller coaster capital of the world and for good reason. The 365-acre park (nearly four times the size of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom) boasts 18 roller coasters, including the recently opened Valravn, billed as the “tallest, fastest, and longest dive coaster in the world.” John and I have been to the park several times with family and friends, and we keep going back because the rides are flat-out terrifyingly fun. But when you’re not losing your stomach on a thrill ride, you spend a lot of time doing things that happen in all theme parks, such as walking around and waiting in lines (unless you have the budget for a Fast Lane pass). With Battle for Cedar Point, the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company has turned downtime and park navigating into game time.

The Battle for Cedar Point Read more »




Why Voice Search Is the Future of the On-Demand Economy

June 14th, 2016 by ddeal

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Mobile gave rise to the on-demand economy. But voice search will fuel its future.

Google demonstrated how voice will form the foundation of an on-demand search ecosystem when Google announced the Google Assistant intelligent search tool at the company’s I/O event in May. Then Apple, at its Worldwide Developers Conference June 13, showcased a smarter and more ubiquitous Siri voice-activated intelligent agent for using our voices to do everything from order an Uber ride to make restaurant reservations. Both developments underscore how voice is rapidly shaping the way we research and buy in the moment.

On-Demand Everywhere

In a June 7 blog post, I discussed how mobile triggered an uptake in on-demand living by making it easier for consumers to use their phones to quickly find things to buy and places to visit. Google calls these moments of rapid decision making “micro-moments.” Uber sensed the popularity of micro-moments by launching its now wildly popular service through which we use mobile devices to get rides when we want them. Amid Uber’s ascendance, businesses ranging from Amazon to Walmart have embraced various models of on-demand commerce.

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How Facebook and Google Are Bringing Virtual Reality to the Masses

June 11th, 2016 by ddeal

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When a hot startup launches a virtual reality product, influencers and investors notice. When Facebook and Google bet on virtual reality, the whole world notices. Recently these two market makers unveiled their VR visions and plans at their own bellwether events, Facebook F8 and Google I/O. Both their plans are important because Facebook and Google possess the resources and reach to make VR more mainstream to everyday consumers faster than any startup ever could. Both their visions are intriguing. I believe Google’s is more compelling and far-reaching.

Facebook’s Vision

At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg articulated a simple, clear vision for VR: social VR, or connecting two or more people in the virtual world. Social VR is intuitively easy to grasp even if you don’t know how we’ll get there. Facebook users (wearing Facebook’s Oculus Rift headsets, naturally) can explore virtual worlds together, ranging from virtual Ping-Pong matches to virtual excursions to Bali, which makes posting information on each other’s wall seem quaint by comparison.

Zuck

During his F8 keynote, Zuckerberg said, “VR has the potential to be the most social platform because you have the ability to be right there with another person.” But Facebook doesn’t just talk vision — the world’s largest social network shows it. Accordingly, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, wearing an Oculus Rift headset and using controllers, demonstrated a shared VR experience with Michael Booth of Facebook’s Social VR team, who was 30 miles away and also using Oculus Rift. Together, they visited London through VR — or at least their avatars did, projected on a giant screen. The F8 attendees oohed and aahed as their floating avatars checked out Piccadilly Circus and took a selfie together in front of Big Ben.

Oculus

The moment was a brilliant bit of theater that instantly injected excitement into the Facebook brand and gave us a glimpse at what social VR can look like. Afterward, Lance Ulanof of Mashable spoke for many pundits watching when he wrote, “Bravo, Facebook. Social VR is now officially something I want in Facebook. You made me want it, damn you.”

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This Is the World Uber Has Made

June 7th, 2016 by ddeal

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Uber has become so pervasive that the company is changing our vocabulary.

In everyday settings, we use Uber as a verb (as in “I’ll Uber to the ball game tonight”). In business settings, we use the term “uberization” or “uberfication” to refer to companies creating on-demand services such as home delivery of groceries or healthcare on demand. The Uberization of our vocabulary is a perfect example of how technology enables a change in consumer behavior. Thanks especially to the uptake of smartphones and apps, consumers are making purchasing decisions faster, and we’re expecting businesses to respond on our terms. The Uberization of our own consumer behaviors explains why Amazon has been embracing the use of automated drones to deliver goods faster and why brick-and-mortar businesses ranging from Nordstrom to Walmart are partnering with ride-sharing services to offer home delivery as well.

But is an on-demand world a happier one?

Walmart on Demand

On June 2, Walmart’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Bender announced that the $482 billion brand is piloting a grocery delivery program in select markets. Customers using the service will place grocery orders online and designate a delivery window. Walmart personnel will prepare their orders and may have a ride service such as Deliv, Lyft, or Uber deliver the items to the customer’s door. Customers will pay a delivery fee directly to Walmart as part of their online order rather than fuss with paying a driver along with the grocery order. If the process works as Walmart intends, customers will be able to order what they want online once, and all the prep and delivery will occur behind the scenes. As noted on Walmart’s blog, Sam’s Club has been piloting a similar program in Miami since March.

On-Demand Businesses Read more »




Paul Wrote “Hey Jude” for Me

May 21st, 2016 by ddeal

You don’t listen to great songs. You experience them personally. They feel like they were written just for you. They take on different meaning each time you experience them because as your life changes and the context of the song changes.

Sometimes even a song you’ve heard a million times can sock you in the gut. This morning I had a few spare moments and watched the famous video of “Hey Jude” from The David Frost Show, in which the Beatles share a moment of joyous communion with fans on a stage. Even though I had seen the video many times, I thought, why not? About three minutes into the song, I felt myself getting choked up.

Who can say why? Maybe the power of the words and music renewed my spirit. Maybe seeing the faces of John and George reminded me of mortality and loss — and brother, I’ve lost some important people over the past few years. Maybe I wished I could have been in the room with the lucky fans singing along with the Beatles.

Perhaps all those explanations are true or none of them is. But I’m grateful a song can move me even if I can’t put my finger on the reason why. In fact, I’m glad I cannot explain my reaction. When a song becomes personal, it burrows its way into your soul to the point where you cannot properly elucidate the power of its connection, just as you cannot rationalize the power of religious faith. An emotional bond does not require explanation.

Try experiencing a beloved song you’ve not heard for a while. Does the moment still move you?




Facebook’s Media/Entertainment Roadmap

May 16th, 2016 by ddeal

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(Image source: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Facebook has hit a few speed bumps lately as the world’s largest social network heads down the path of becoming a media/entertainment business. About a week ago, company was accused of suppressing content from conservative news outlets in its Trending Topics news feed. Then, on May 16, Facebook, in a supremely ironic moment given the news of the previous week, botched a live video interview with President Barack Obama.

But make no mistake: Facebook’s transformation into a media/entertainment platform is inevitable.

Video

If you look at the big picture, aka 10-year road map, you see a company immersed in virtual reality, augmented reality, and video (among many other things). As Facebook shared at its most recent F8 developers conference, video is an important part of Facebook’s growth over the next five years. At F8, Facebook noted that 70-percent of all mobile traffic will be video by 2021, and Facebook wants to succeed as the shift occurs. In April, Facebook made a big step in that direction with the launch of Facebook Live.

What fascinates me about Facebook Live is how commonplace it seems to be already, just weeks into its existence. Say what you will about the technical glitches that marred the Barack Obama livestream, but Facebook is making live streaming an everyday part of the Facebook content sharing experience. Through Facebook Live, I’ve already taken a tour of new virtual reality products courtesy of Robert Scoble and discovered the Here Active Listening sound app with Guy Kawasaki. I’ve also watched Slash take a boring limousine ride down the backstreets of Las Vegas, but, hey, there’s a lot of drivel along with Game of Thrones on TV, too.

The point is, Facebook is not just talking: it’s delivering. Already brands ranging from World Wrestling Entertainment to iHeart Radio are using Facebook Live. On May 12, video gaming company Activision Blizzard announced it will publish daily live programming on Facebook, thus making Facebook at threat to Twitch. Boom, just like that: Facebook is a platform for the growing e-sports industry. Oh, and everyday folks are streaming childbirths. Why? For the same reason brands are streaming: to engage a big audience, which Facebook certainly delivers (1.6 billion and counting).

VR/AR

Longer term, Facebook plans to realize the potential of its 2014 purchase of Oculus Rift by making virtual reality (and augmented reality) a major content delivery platform. The company has supported this vision by making Oculus Rift available for purchase and unveiling a Surround 360 camera that captures 360-degree video easier for Oculus Rift headsets. Facebook is also training high schoolers to make VR.

Appropriately, VR and AR are longer-term plays whose uptake depends on a number of variables, including the well-founded skepticism that the public won’t be willing to shell out big dollars for a headset that makes you look like a total dork. But Mark Zuckerberg has a vision and patience to integrate VR and AR into a social experience that is more immersive, playful, and entertaining, like gaming. What’s more, the market is moving in his direction: AR and VR are expected to become a $150 billion market by 2020, and major players such as Google and Microsoft are developing VR capabilities right along with Facebook.

Music

While video and VR get the attention, Facebook is embedding music into its roadmap. As noted by Billboard, Facebook and Warner Music Group are testing a new feature known as Slideshow, which makes it possible for users to create soundtracks for video and photo albums by using music from major labels. A version is expected to be rolled out in Australia soon. Slideshow sounds like an answer to Flipagram or Musical.ly, which have become destinations for musicians such as Fetty Wap and Cam to have their music used by fans in their own visual stories.

Facebook is clearly making a move to become more legitimate as a music platform. In November 2015, the company unveiled a feature through which users can share clips of songs. Meanwhile, the real excitement for Facebook as a music platform comes from the artists (such as Metallica, which live streamed on Record Store Day). But it’s only a matter of time before Facebook ups the stakes for music live streaming — remember, Facebook Live is only weeks old, and it’s a natural way for Facebook to extend its reach into entertainment.

As a news delivery site — the “media” part of media/entertainment — Facebook has some major issues to iron out, and the alleged content bias is just one of them. Frankly I think Facebook’s equally difficult challenge is that its news feed is so stale and boring that it’s an irritant, not a value add. But Mark Zuckerberg will lick his wounds and figure out a way forward, just as he did when Facebook was criticized for not getting mobile a few years ago. Facebook makes plenty of mistakes, but Zuck always figures out a fix. With Facebook Live, he’s figuring out video (in a hurry). Whether VR and AR play out exactly he intends remains to be seen. But remember, it’s a 10-year roadmap.