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Twitch opens the door for more streamers to make money

You don’t need to be a member of Twitch’s exclusive group of Partnered streamers to start making money broadcasting on the service anymore. “Twitch will invite creators to join the program who fit the criteria, based on time spent streaming, viewership and followers,” the company said in a statement. That starts with opening its “Cheering with Bits” functionality up to more people.

As you’ll remember, Cheering is how you can tip a Partnered (revenue shared, basically) streamer $0.014 at a time with currency calledBits.”And if you’d rather not fork over cash for those, as a viewer you can sit through ads to earn them. Twitch says that so far, “over a billion” bits have been used since launch, and that opening this up for its Affiliate-desginated streamers will benefit “tens of thousands” of folks.

In case you were wondering, that means more people will have access to the some $1.4 million people have spent on Bits thus far. Twitch says that this is just the first tool for Affiliate streamers to monetize their channels, and that more will begin rolling out over the net few months.

“Affiliates will eventually have access to revenue programs such as subscriptions, game commerce and advertising,” Amazon’s billion dollar baby said. As for the elite Partnered streamers, when the Affiliate program rolls out, the career-broadcasters will get a verified chat badge for their profiles.

Clearly Twitch is trying to avoid a situation similar to YouTube’s struggling “middle-class” of users that vlog or create their assess off but aren’t making anything near Pewdiepie money. Plus, this is Twitch investing in itself while simultaneously helping its community. The benefits of more people having access to earning Bits are twofold: it’ll draw more streamers to the platform if they can start making money, and Twitch will get a cut of the profits for each additional Bit sold/earned.


Google automatically translates local reviews when you travel

We all use user-generated reviews to figure out what points of interest are worth checking out. If you’re traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language, however, the reviews you rely on are usually in the local tongue. Google has a new feature to help you out. The company will now automatically translate reviews into your native language without any effort on your part.

When you use Google Maps or Search to find a place you’re interested in, the reviews will be translated on the fly into the language you have set on your phone. You’ll see a parenthetical note that the review has been translated, but that’s it. No more pasting unfamiliar language into a translation app or — heaven forbid — using a pocket phrasebook to find that sweet photo spot in Italy or the best shawarma place in Istanbul.

This is just another in a line of features Google’s added lately, including a location-sharing feature that you might actually use and tappable shortcuts for its various apps.

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How Gorillaz brought a global listening party to your phone

Gorillaz are having a house party at 500 locations around the globe. The animated band — brainchild of musician Damon Albarn (Blur) and artist Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl) — is hosting the unusual audio soirée for its upcoming album launch for Humanz. Just streaming the new music to its recently launched app isn’t Gorillaz’s style, so instead it’s created a sort of musical scavenger hunt that’s part Pokemon Go, part concert.

The technical team that helped bring Hewlett and Albarn’s vision to life is known more for working with the likes of Nike and Google than cartoon rockers. While located around the globe, it was B-Reel’s London office and executive creative director Davor Krvavac’s team that took on the slightly insane but definitely impressive app and its worldwide dance-party ambitions. “It was a sort of a sense of awe really, because all of us here, we really respect what Jamie, Sheila and Damon Albarn have been doing over all these years in so many different manifestations,” Krvavac said.

Gorillaz are more than just a band. Each album mixes music, art and technology into interactive sites, games, movies, DVDs, live chats with cartoon characters, an upcoming show at an amusement park and concerts that fuse the live band with their animated avatars. The lead up to Humanz is no different and if anything has raised the bar. The band has released a 3D music video, Twitter-moment “books” for each member of the band and of course the mixed-reality Gorillaz app.

“It was a very different sort of creative process than we might follow as an agency with one of our branded clients,” Krvavac told Engadget. “It’s all about building trust, because the Gorillaz and the creative products of the Gorillaz, that’s the crown jewels.”

The two teams worked closely together on the app, which, like the upcoming album, places the Spirit House at the center of the story. The band handled the story and art, and B-Reel handled the tech. “Of course they’re super switched on and well aware of all the kind of developments that have happened in the six years since the last album. You know AR, VR all of that stuff,” Krvavac said.

The result is an app that launches right into mixed reality with a vision of the real world overlaid with objects from each band member appearing as you spin around. It’s a reminder that you’re leaving your world and entering the band’s domain. The dilapidated Spirit House has been overtaken by Murdoc Niccals, 2-D, Russel Hobbs, and Noodle, and users can explore the band members’ rooms either with or without a VR headset.

“It’s all about discovery. It’s all about immersing yourself into the story,” Krvavac said. “Really early on we were talking about when you buy the bonus pack that comes with your vinyl or CD and you go over sleeve notes and all the little things to discover. Well it’s kind of like that. It’s a mixed-reality kind of extension of their world that sort of spills over into our world, and I think the listening part is the ultimate sort of reward. Everything in the house essentially builds up to the actual location of the house and discovering it for yourself.”

The global listening party is live for the next three days. During that time, the app will guide fans with directions and distances toward the nearest geolocation of the Spirit House. It’s bit like Pokemon Go, but instead of finding a tiny monster, you’re rewarded with a stream of the entire album. With 500 locations all over the globe, most major metropolitan areas will be covered.

Of course, the developers and band added a challenge to finding the final digital jukebox. The directions lead you in the general location of the nearest Spirit House, but you’ll still have to do a bit of sleuthing to discover the exact spot. Fortunately, Gorillaz’s Facebook page has been dropping the longitudes and latitudes of various Spirit Houses to help you along.

It’s an ambitious endeavor for something that’ll shut down on Sunday night. But the tech is there, and in the future it could be used for something else. “What I can tell you for sure is that the stream will cease with the actual launch of the album, but there are some ideas and thoughts about what happens with the house after that. So, you know, watch this space, essentially,” Krvavac said.

With all that’s been invested into the prelaunch of the album, it’ll be interesting to see what Gorillaz finally comes up with summer when it launches for real. “They’ve always had to push the technology so hard and kind of invent new things in order to manifest themselves as a band,” Krvavac said.


Canada strengthens net neutrality with zero-rating crackdown

In a victory for net neutrality, Canada’s telecom regulator has ruled against a carrier offering ‘free’ music streaming as part of a zero-rating scheme. Quebecor’s ‘Unlimited Music’ allows premium Videotron subscribers to use select streaming apps, such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, without the data counting towards their monthly allowance. Many believe this type of scheme violates the principles of net neutrality, which argue all data should be treated equally. If certain apps are ‘free’ to use, others — which could offer a superior experience, but simply don’t have the cash to be involved in a carrier’s program — are put at an unfair disadvantage.

Clearly, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) supports this view. In its ruling, the watchdog said the scheme created an “undue and unreasonable disadvantage” for services that weren’t included, such as internet radio stations. It argued the plan was also unfair to Videotron subscribers who were ineligible for the scheme, as well as customers who are eligible but prefer other services. “Rather than offering its subscribers selected content at different data-usage prices, Internet-service providers should be offering more data at lower prices,” Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC said in a statement.

Videotron said it was “disappointed” in the regulator’s decision, and felt the scheme was necessary to set itself apart in the market. It will now study the decision, which “directs” the carrier to fall in line with the Telecommunications Act by July 19th, 2017. Videotron says customers who use Unlimited Music can continue doing so “until further notice.”

CRTC’s ruling isn’t a blanket ban on zero-rating. It could have ramifications for larger telecom companies such as Telus and Rogers Communications, however. Alongside the Videotron decision, the regulator has published a “framework”for assessing “differential pricing practices,” or zero-rating. Precise rules, it says, would quickly become outdated due to the fast-paced nature of the industry. Instead, it hopes a rigorous set of criteria, including “the impact on internet openness and innovation,” will be enough to judge companies on a case-by-case basis.

The stance is in direct opposition to the US. Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the FCC, called net neutrality a “mistake” at Mobile World Congress in February, preferring a “light touch” to internet regulation instead. Subsequent reports by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal have hinted at a soon-to-be-announced rollback of net neutrality rules created under the Obama administration. The reversal will likely strip the FCC of its powers over internet service providers and transfer them across to the FTC. Canada, it seems, is keen to strike a different regulatory path.


Facebook’s plans for Oculus are finally taking shape

When Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion in early 2014, it wasn’t entirely clear what Mark Zuckerberg planned to do with all of the virtual reality hardware suddenly at his fingertips. Hell, it wasn’t even clear that VR was going to be a legitimate industry: Sony hadn’t revealed the PlayStation VR yet, Google Cardboard didn’t exist, and Valve was a year away from announcing the HTC Vive headset. VR was truly in its infancy when the world’s largest social networking site strode in, promising to deliver video games and “many other experiences” on the Oculus Rift.

While we’re still waiting on the “video games” part of that promise, today Facebook launched the beta for Spaces, its first attempt at translating social networking to VR. Spaces is a digital world exclusive to the Oculus Rift that you can share with up to three other people at a time. Create a 3D avatar of yourself and hang out with digital renditions of your VR-capable friends, talking, drawing objects, exploring 360-degree films and taking photos with a selfie stick. And that’s about it.

Even though Spaces is fairly barebones and still in the early stages of development — Facebook says the beta represents 1 percent of its goal product — it’s our first glimpse at Zuckerberg’s grand VR vision. This is what Facebook wanted when it bought Oculus: selfie sticks in VR.


“This is really a new communication platform,” Zuckerberg wrote about VR in 2014. “By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

Facebook Spaces is precisely what Zuckerberg laid out from the beginning. It’s a way to share an experience with a friend, even if that person lives across the world, and even if your adventure is as simple as taking a photo together. Spaces lays the foundation for grander features like playing games together in VR, and its goal is clear: Blur the line between hanging out in reality and “hanging out” on Facebook (where algorithms and advertisers can more easily find you).

However, Facebook’s dream of trans-continental selfies (and ads) won’t come true if you or your friends don’t own an Oculus Rift — and chances are, you don’t. Oculus hasn’t shared actual Rift sales figures, but third-party industry trackers suggest it sold between 250,000 and 400,000 headsets in 2016. Regardless of the actual number, Facebook’s headset is firmly in last place, hundreds of thousands of units behind the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

Not to mention, Facebook Spaces requires users to own the Oculus Touch controllers as well — a $99 accessory that doesn’t come bundled with every Rift.

This hardware shortfall makes one aspect of today’s announcement particularly intriguing: Anyone using Spaces is able to call friends via Facebook Messenger video and talk with them inside the VR world, regardless of whether that friend has a Rift. Facebook is aware that VR can’t survive on its own right now; it has to be incorporated into our existing systems until the hardware itself is more accessible and normalized. Or, until the bulky VR headsets disappear entirely, replaced by mass-market augmented reality systems instead, like HoloLens or a functional Google Glass.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook has pounced on the AR industry as well, today announcing the Camera Effects Platform to help developers create apps that overlay objects, information and filters on the real world. This parallel focus on AR and VR isn’t an accident — in fact, both industries are a large part of Facebook’s 10-year roadmap.

Facebook is poised to combine Oculus’ hardware chops with a steady stream of camera-based AR innovation rolling in from developers across the world — and within its own walls. Facebook is preparing to take over our reality, in whatever form it eventually takes.


Articles Featured/Opinions

Facebook’s latest drone delivers internet during a disaster

Internet connectivity is kind of like air: something we take for granted until we can’t get it. To help make communications easier during disaster scenarios, Facebook has come up with the “Tether-antenna.” At its simplest, it’s a small, unmanned helicopter that can hook onto undamaged fiber-and-power lines (when cellular connectivity has been damaged or is otherwise unavailable) and then hover “a few hundred feet from the ground,” according to a Facebook Developers blog post. “When completed, this technology will be able to be deployed immediately and operate for months at a time to bring back connectivity in case of an emergency — ensuring the local community can stay connected while the in ground connectivity is under repair.”

Facebook admits that the tech is still early in terms of development and that lots more work is needed before it will see use. But, like the company’s plans for blanketing the developing world with a limited form of internet connectivity, it’s a signal that Zuckerberg and Co. have serious plans for more than just shoving augmented reality into your News Feed.


Sling TV streams live broadcasts to your LG Smart TV

If you’re a cord cutter, you no longer have to worry about buying a dedicated media player just to watch live broadcasts on your LG TV. Sling TV’s internet-only service is now available on “most” of LG’s 2016-era webOS sets as an app, with 2017 models due to get it in the months ahead. In theory, that puts internet -only viewing just a launch bar shortcut away.

This isn’t Sling’s first TV integration, but it’s an important one. It’s helping to create a future where you can assume that your TV set can handle any kind of live broadcast, whether it’s online or from a cable box. And of course, it’s important for Sling as well — this opens the doors to people who might not even realize that Sling TV exists, or aren’t willing to pay for a separate device just to get live channels.

Articles Featured/Opinions

Facebook details its plans for a brain-computer interface

Facebook wants you to use your brain to interact with your computer. Specifically, instead of using something primitive like a screen or a controller, the company is looking into ways that you and I can interact with our PCs or phones just by using our mind. Regina Dugan, the head of Building 8, the company’s secretive hardware R&D division, delved into this on stage at F8. “What if you could type directly from your brain?” she asks.

In a video demo, Dugan showed the example of a woman in a Stanford lab who is able to type eight words per minute directly with her brain. This means, Dugan says, that you can text your friends without using your phone. She goes on to say that in a few years time, the team expects to demonstrate a real-time silent speech system capable of delivering a hundred words per minute. “That’s five times faster than you can type on your smartphone, and it’s straight from your brain,” she said. “Your brain activity contains more information than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also contains semantic information of what those words means.”

And that’s not all. Dugan adds that it’s also possible to “listen” to human speech by using your skin. It’s like using Braille, but through a system of actuators and sensors. Dugan showed a video example of how a woman could figure out exactly what objects were selected on a touchscreen based on inputs delivered through a connected armband. The armband’s system of actuators was tuned to 16 frequency bands, and has a tactile vocabulary of nine words, learned in about an hour.

This, Dugan says, also has the potential of removing language barriers. “You could think in Mandarin, but feel in Spanish,” she said. “We are wired to communicate and connect.”

Of course, a lot of this tech is still a few years out. And this is just a small sample of what Dugan has been working on since she joined Facebook in April 2016. She served as the 19th Director of the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and she’s the former head of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (no big deal).

The stuff that Facebook is creating at Building 8 is modeled after DARPA, and would integrate both mind and body. “Our world is both digital and physical,” she said, saying there’s no need to put down your phone in order to communicate with the people in front of you. That is a false choice, she said, because you need both. “Our goal is to create and ship new, category-defining consumer products that are social first, at scale,” she said. “We can honor the intimacy of what’s timeless, and also create products that refuse to accept that false choice.”

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Do You want to live inside Facebook’s vision for social VR

Over the last few decades, there have been several attempts to merge the mundane aspects of the real world with the digital. All of these, while catering to a niche, have failed to conquer the world in the way that Mark Zuckerberg hopes that Facebook’s social VR efforts will.

Facebook Spaces was announced at the social network’s F8 conference as a way of blending social media and virtual reality. If you own an Oculus Rift (and Touch controllers), you and four friends can enter a virtual world and hang out together.

Unfortunately, hanging out mostly constitutes of chatting, taking “selfies*” and enjoying the virtual world around you. Oh, and it’s not you, per se, but a cartoon caricature that you control; a dead-eyed digital mannequin that smiles blankly at everyone in the desperate hope that you won’t find it creepy.

Unfortunately, Spaces falls into the same trap that so many other platforms have over the years, assuming that people want the digital world to be a surrogate for the real. And that people have the time and energy to sit around talking to a cartoon with their friend’s voice through thousands of dollars worth of equipment.


Whenever a high-minded tech company makes proclamations about the future of social interaction, I’m reminded of Second Life. Founded more than a decade ago, the title was an open world platform that enabled strangers across the world to come together. It was touted as a digital utopia, a place where you were free to create whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, however you wanted. Your digital avatar could even fly around the Second Life universe, interacting with people from across the globe.

But in reality, this utopianism was misplaced, and the environment, even during its boom years, was stale and empty. People weren’t all that into into communicating with each other, and the platform gradually became a space for people to develop weird forms of architecture. It became little more than a proto-Minecraft, a gallery space or weird and wonderful designs that few would ever notice. Second Life itself still exists, of course, with around 600,000 monthly active users.

A big part of the internet’s job is to bring people together in ways that we wouldn’t — couldn’t — have conceived a few generations ago. We can now learn so much from people all across the globe and share their experiences, dreams and knowledge. Real-time chat platforms, from IRC to FaceTime, have enabled us to gradually bridge the physical distances that separate us. Still, none are a substitute for real human interaction, face to face, in the real world.

Facebook Spaces, on the other hand, places two more barriers between us and our friends: the bulky VR headset and the digital avatar. Then there are the constraints that Facebook places upon its users. At the moment, Spaces users can’t express sadness or anger. The likelihood of this becoming the new normal for social interactions is about as likely as Disney’s recently shuttered Club Penguin becoming the new Facebook.

Facebook is asking us to take a chunk of our most precious commodity — our attention — and give it entirely to its virtual world. But that world is one step removed from that of the internet, full of (literally) fake people in a fake place. In the demo video, friends gather together a surprise birthday party to take a selfie of themselves on an imaginary boardwalk.

But where is the reality and authenticity in you, and three other people, taking an image of some cartoon avatars in a virtual world? Will you expect that future historians will unearth these images and marvel at the experiences that you pretended to have?

I wonder if I’m wrong, and that people will embrace this in the same way that they have taking pictures from inside video games. But then that, at least, shows a journey that you’re going on — and an appreciation of a particularly engaging sight that’s been created within the game. Imagine the reaction of your friends and family when you show them your vacation shots from the Grand Canyon that you didn’t visit.

Even Mark Zuckerberg knows that Facebook’s Social VR demo, as it is, not the future of how we’re going to interact with one another. Both this year and last, the CEO showed off a rough idea for an augmented reality platform that could work in a pair of glasses. There, you’d never need to buy a TV, just use the AR overlay in the lenses on conjure one up on the wall of your otherwise sparse living room.

Unfortunately, that idea is nowhere near ready for the real world, and Facebook VP Deb Liu told the AP that the journey to that hardware was “just one percent finished.” Imagine, rather than exchanging time-sucking pleasantries with a cartoon avatar while standing on a fake mountaintop, having someone sitting on your couch next to you.

You’d be able to speak to them as if they were in the room, despite being on the other side of the world. But with this (almost) real interaction, you would have real eye contact, real body language and all of the other things that we, as humans, need in order to feel comfortable interacting with one another.

The software and hardware just isn’t there for this sort of platform, and probably won’t be for a very long time. But that, not Facebook Spaces, is the vision of social VR that I can get behind.



Cleveland police seek suspect in murder streamed on Facebook

The Cleveland Police Department has confirmed it’s looking for a suspect, Steve Stephens who committed a homicide and streamed the crime on Facebook Live. Sadly, this isn’t the first homicide broadcast on the platform, however, in this case, it was intentional. The video showed Stephens speaking to an elderly man before shooting him through the window of a car. On the stream, Stephens claimed to have killed others and threatened to continue. Police report that he is armed and dangerous and are warning people not to approach if they see him.

View image on Twitter


Early computing pioneer Robert Taylor dies

The technology world just lost one of its most prominent innovators. Robert Taylor, best known as the mastermind of ARPAnet (the internet’s precursor), has died at 85. As the director of the US military’s Advanced Research Projects Agency from 1965 until 1970, he helped pioneer the concept behind shared networks — he was frustrated with constantly switching terminals and wanted to access multiple networks from one system. While a lot of the credit goes to his team for implementing ARPAnet, he both pushed hard for the project and wrote a legendary 1968 essay that foretold the internet’s future: a vast, decentralized grid of connected devices that would reshape communication at just about every level.

This wasn’t Taylor’s only influential role. He went on to Xerox’s fabled Palo Alto Research Center, which he oversaw (first as associate manager and then as full manager) during one of its most influential periods. PARC broke ground on Ethernet technology, early internet development (by linking computers to ARPANET through Ethernet) and, of course, the windowed visual computing interfaces that people take for granted today. Even his later work at DEC was influential, as his research team helped usher in multi-processor workstations and sophisticated multitasking in Unix-based computers.

Moreover, Taylor was influential in laying the moral groundwork for the internet. Even in 1968, he was arguing that his connected future had to be open to everyone and not just the elite. He was also aware that the internet could be both harmful and helpful, and predicted the rise of botnets years in advance. Much like Tim Berners-Lee and other later pioneers, Taylor wasn’t just concerned about chips or software. He was thinking about the long-term social ramifications of his work, and you can arguably credit the mostly democratized nature of the internet to him.

News Tech

Facebook Busts Up International Spam Operation

While Facebook has spent significant time fighting fake news on its network, it continues to battle another plague to its social platform: Fake accounts. These are often used to spread low-quality content, so the internet titan has been ramping up its crackdowns. Hot on the heels of banning 30,000 profiles earlier this week, Facebook announced it has disrupted a massive international spam operation the network had been combating for the last six months.

In this case, the profiles weren’t generated through “traditional mass account creation methods,” Facebook’s blog post stated, using sophisticated methods to hide their coordinated efforts. The ring was apparently trying to build a network of friend connections by using the accounts to like and interact with Pages, with the eventual intent to unleash a torrent of spam. But the accounts hadn’t started friending real users before Facebook disrupted the network by wiping away every “inauthentic like” they were responsible for. Presumably, they also eliminated the fake profiles.

The social network caught wind of the false profiles thanks to its improved detection protocols that look for suspicious behavior, like rapid posts of the same content. Detecting and curbing “inauthentic” behavior is important to the social network: “Improvements in this area make our community stronger for everyone, including advertisers, publishers, and partners,” the company noted.dims(2)