New York subway is offering free ebooks (and Wi-Fi) for your commute

August 31, 2016   |   filed under Community, Conversation, Culture, Interaction, Participation, Technology

In an effort to highlight its upcoming launch of more in-train Wi-Fi (not to be confused with in-train cricket attacks), the New York MTA, Transit Wireless, and publishing powerhouse Penguin Random House are getting together to release ebooks and articles timed to your commute. This project mirrors a product launched in London last year. As The Digital Reader notes, even Governor Cuomo is in on the fun. “New York’s transportation network must continue adapting to the changing needs of its ridership and a key part of that is delivering the amenities that have become essential components of everyday life,” he said. “Bringing Wi-Fi into underground stations helps riders stay connected throughout their commute, allowing them to check in with friends or family and access news or entertainment. We’ve made tremendous progress in modernizing the system and Subway Reads is a fun way to introduce riders to the new Wi-Fi experience.”‎ Transit Wireless is giving away a few Kindle Fires and they are offering 175 short stories and chapters for riders. You can even take the stories off the train and above ground. It’s odd that the MTA feels it needs to advertise its exciting free Wi-Fi offer in any way. Given the previous inaccessibility of the system’s eldritch tunnels I figure all you have to do is post a sign that says “Free Wi-Fi” and people would jump. However, the ebook offering is a clever way to kick things off and it’s better than the previous system of trapping and tagging subway weirdos (above) for public exhibition.

HBO’s new Westworld trailer shows AI ethical questions made flesh

August 29, 2016   |   filed under Community, Conversation, Culture, Participation, Social Media, Technology, Video

HBO has what looks like an expansive new epic TV series on the way, only this time it’s swapping fantasy, swords and castles for androids, AI and western duds. Westworld is a new sci-fi series coming to the cable network beginning in October, based on the Michael Crichton film from 1973. In the original, a high-tech theme park with western, medieval and ancient Roman-themed sections staffed by super realistic robots goes haywire when the androids start rebelling. The HBO series looks to follow the essential plot of the original with a fair amount of fidelity, although I’d wager we’re going to dig more into bigger ethical questions surrounding artificial intelligence, which has come a long way since 1973. Consider that a movement championed and backed by none other than Elon Musk exists to prevent AI from turning against its human creators. Other modern TV shows have taken on the morality of building thinking, lifelike machines – British TV network Channel 4’s Humans is a good recent example. HBO’s take looks like it will focus a bit more on the action, with sweeping set pieces set in a photorealistic wild west which is part of the virtual amusement park depicted in the trailer. If you’re not feeling the concept (you should be), then the cast might prove reason enough to stick around. It includes Hollywood legends like Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris, as well as Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and many more recognizable names. SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH

Google now lets you explore U.S. National Parks via 360-degree virtual tours

August 25, 2016   |   filed under Apps, Community, Culture, Interaction, Participation, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized, Video

Exploring the world is something that’s always been a bit of a luxury for those who can afford to travel, but technology is changing that. With VR and 360-degree videos, you can now immerse yourself in virtual environments that give you a real sense of what a place is like, without actually being there. Google has been taking advantage of things like VR field trips and virtual reality to transport students to distant lands, but today it’s releasing a way to explore scenic wonders closer to home: the U.S. National Parks. The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks is a new Google Arts & Culture exhibit and interactive documentary, timed to launch in celebration of this month’s NPS Centennial. The exhibit allows you to take 360-degree tours of some of the most remote and beautiful U.S. National Parks. Instead of featuring much-documented vistas like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, for example, the exhibit instead focuses on a selection of parks you may not have traveled to yet (or may never see), including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska, Hawaiian volcanoes, New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns, Utah’s Bryce Canyon, and Florida’s Dry Tortugas – the latter which was reviewed this month in a New York Times travel piece which called it an “under the radar” national park. In the video experience, a local ranger will guide you through each park, allowing you to do things like fly over the active volcanoes in Hawaii, snorkel the coral reefs in the Dry Tortugas, or kayak through Alaska’s fjords, among other things. The virtual tours are available both online, in the Google Arts & Culture App on iOS and Android, as well as in the Google Expeditions app for use in the classroom. SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH

YouTube gets a new TV app

August 24, 2016   |   filed under Apps, Culture, Interaction, Social Media, Technology, Video

With more people than ever cutting the cord, watching via smart TVs, and turning to streaming media players like Roku and others, YouTube decided it was time to update is TV application to be easier to use on the big screen. A new version of the application rolling out now will feature a different look and improved organization of categories, in order to better fit in with how people watch YouTube in the living room. On the desktop and mobile, people often end up on YouTube because of a search or someone sharing a link, but in the living room, you tend to browse for content – often not having a specific idea of what you want to watch. That being said, the company finds that viewers tend to turn toward specific types of videos when watching YouTube on television, including travel, news, sports, fitness videos, TV shows, gaming, comedy, and more. Meanwhile, kids will often turn to YouTube to watch cartoons, and other family-friendly shows. With the new interface, YouTube aims to make it simpler to access these sorts of videos. It has moved its categories out of a side menu and to the top of the screen. Now, you’ll see high-level categories like “Recommended,” “Trending,” “Entertainment, “News,” and more. In each category, there will be subcategories pointing you to more specific video content in that genre. There are also new sections for 4K content and live streams, the company says. The company says that over half of 18 to 49-year olds in the U.S. have watched YouTube on their TV – which speaks to the app’s ability to grab viewer interest even when so many today are watching movies and series via on-demand streaming services like those from Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Hulu. It also noted that the time spent watching YouTube in the living room is increasing – having more than doubled in 2015. That being said, YouTube’s new app still seems to focus more on the shorter-form content that YouTube is best known for, rather than using this makeover to promote its original content to viewers. This includes its own shows and movies – videos that could compel viewers to convert to becoming YouTube Red subscribers. The update is rolling out now in the U.S. to all TV platforms, including connected and smart TVs, streaming boxes, as well as game consoles, save for Apple TV. Other countries will see the update in time. SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH

Facebook is building its own Steam-style desktop gaming platform with Unity

August 19, 2016   |   filed under Apps, Community, Interaction, Participation, Social Media, Technology, Video

Facebook may try to compete with Steam, or at least win back revenue lost when casual gaming shifted to mobile. Today Facebook formally announced it’s working with game engine Unity to build a dedicated, downloadable desktop gaming platform, plus it’s broadening the experience for gamers. Both will allow publishers to offer their iOS and Android games on desktop in addition to the casual games Facebook is known for, while the desktop PC app could support more hardcore games. Starting today, game developers can apply until August 31st for instant access to a limited alpha of a version of Unity 5.4 that will allow them to build and export games to Facebook’s website and desktop app. “Integrating tools that provide effortless access to Facebook’s network is a key part of helping developers find the success they deserve” says Unity’s VP of biz dev Elliot Solomon, Previously, Unity developers had to work with a more code-intensive Facebook SDK to bring games to its web platform. Facebook already partnered with Unity to support Oculus VR game development. Facebook was once the home for social gaming, earning a peak of $257 million in payment taxes in Q4 2014. That’s slipped to $197 million last quarter as gamers moved to mobile app stores. But Facebook still has 650 million users who play games each month. It’s paid out over $8 billion to game developers since 2010, and $2.5 billion in 2015 alone. Facebook was apprehensive to reveal details about the specs and plans for the PC platform, but here’s what we know from talking with Facebook and Unity:
  • It will run on different types of PCs, not just Windows like the Games Arcade test
  • The desktop platform provides a distraction-free gaming environment uncluttered by other Facebook features like the News Feed
  • It will support the traditional casual Facebook games, mobile games ported from iOS and Android, and Unity says it will likely support more “immersive” hardcore games like you typically see on Steam or consoles, as there’s no plans for a limit on genres or specs right now
  • It will offer discoverability so gamers can find titles to play
  • Facebook will provide a revenue split for game publishers, though it’s unclear if it will deviate from the industry standard 30% it’s used in the past
The company proved it’s not afraid to be the underdog, challenging YouTube for video. Now it’s time to hit “Continue” on Facebook Gaming.

Uber’s first self-driving cars will start picking up passengers this month

August 18, 2016   |   filed under Community, Conversation, Culture, Interaction, Social Media, Technology

It’s been a while since news broke in early 2015 that Uber was working on self-driving cars. Earlier this year, the company openly admitted it was testing cars in Pittsburgh, but we haven’t heard much more over the last 18 months. With Google, the self-driving car leader, slowly making progress with its autonomous cars, you’d be forgiven for thinking Uber’s efforts are far behind and barely visible in its frenemy‘s rearview mirror. Well think again! It turns out Uber has been making very rapid progress on its plan to replace its one million-plus drivers with computers. Bad news if you’re an Uber driver… In an interview with Bloomberg, CEO Travis Kalanick revealed that the company is preparing to add self-driving cars to its fleet of active drivers in Pittsburgh as soon as this month. The company will deploy around 100 modified Volvo XC90s outfitted with self-driving equipment. Each vehicle will be staffed by one engineer, who can take the wheel as/when needed, and a co-pilot to observe and take notes. There will also be a “liquid-cooled” computer sitting in the trunk recording trip and map data. That will mean that regular Uber punters in the city have a chance of getting an autonomous vehicle for their ride — their trip will be free if so. Precious little was known of Uber’s plans for self-driving cars, but the company told Bloomberg that it will outfit cars with autonomous driving kits rather than develop its own vehicles as Google is doing.
To do that, Uber has quietly snapped up Otto, a promising startup that launched this year to bring self-driving technology to trucks. Otto’s technology can be fitted to existing trucks, and, according to Bloomberg, the technology will be adapted to create a lidar — laser detection — system to power autonomous Uber vehicles. The Otto acquisition is hugely notable, not only for the technology but the personnel involved. The company was founded by former Googlers Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron, Don Burnette, and Claire Delaunay. Levandowski led Google’s self-driving car efforts, Ron was an executive on Google Maps and Motorola, while other staff have spent time with Apple, Tesla and other notable automotive firms. The deal is set to close as soon as this month, after which Levandowski will lead Uber’s driverless car efforts. In addition, two new R&D centers will open up to speed the technology’s development. “We were really excited about building something that could be launched early,” Levandowski told Bloomberg of why he left Google. His additional comments — which include calling Kalanick a “brother from another mother” — hint at frustrations with the slow speed of development from Google’s self-driving project. Uber, it seems, is more willing to move forward with self-driving at a faster pace. Time will tell how that plays out, but we’ll get our first glimpse soon enough. SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH

Instagram adds an Events channel to show you the best videos from concerts and sporting events

August 17, 2016   |   filed under Apps, Community, Culture, Interaction, Participation, Social Media

Over the past year Instagram has been working to reinvigorate the Explore tab, which is the app’s place for showing content personalized for you. What started as a simple algorithm to determine photos you may enjoy seeing has evolved into a full-fledged discovery platform to show you photos and videos that will want to make you spend more time in the app. A major part off this initiative was Instagram’s “Picked For You” feature, which put 20 custom channels inside Explore based on topics Instagram thought you’re interested in. So today Instagram is launching a new video channel within Explore called Events. The channel will be personalized for each users and feature videos from concerts, sports games, and other live events depending on what’s happening around the world, what types of live events users are interested in, and what type of accounts the users follows. Any real-life event can become an event inside Discover as long as it’s popular enough amongst users and there is enough content to create a channel. Like other explore channels, content will be sourced from users (who take video and tag it with the event location), meaning the video you take of your favorite band could be featured to users around the world. Customized event channels seem like a great way for Instagram to compete with Snapchat’s discover channels, which also features curated users-generated videos from major events around the world. But because Snapchat’s discover channels are still curated by hand, there’s a limit to how personalized the channels can be. For example, a Snapchat channel on Coachella definitely isn’t interesting to every users on the platform. But if Instagram can show a Coachella channel just shown to people who follow music festival accounts they will have a much better shot at actually getting those people to spend time watching the content. By using their algorithms to show different users different events, Instagram should have a better shot at actually getting users to watch these channels and stay in their app longer. Events will launch today in the U.S for now, and should roll out to users in other countries at some point soon. SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH

Twitter reportedly in talks with Apple to bring its app and NFL games to Apple TV

August 16, 2016   |   filed under Apps, Community, Interaction, Participation, Social Media, Technology, Video

The New York Times reported yesterday that the Twitter app may be coming to Apple TV — and with it, Twitter’s live streaming content. If the two companies reach a deal by fall, Apple TV users could potentially watch Twitter’s live coverage of NFL games on their screens, since a deal between Twitter and the NFL to live stream the games has already been signed.

So far, users can access their Twitter timelines on Apple TV thanks to AirFeed, but they cannot post or retweet, according to AppAdvice.

Football fans in the US can gain online access to live and on-demand preseason games by purchasing a Game Pass. iPhone users can also download the NFL app and watch live game streams on their phones, but only if they are Verizon Wireless customers. With the Twitter app, fans could potentially get access to at least some games for free.

Announced at the beginning of April, the deal with the NFL allows Twitter to live stream 10 of the 16 Thursday Night Football games. The games will still air on CBS, NBC and the NFL Network, as well as their respective web sites.

Twitter’s live streaming efforts have been countless during the summer, and not limited to sports coverage. After its live coverage of Wimbledon, Twitter announced another deal to live stream three Bloomberg shows on tech, finance and politics, as well as the network’s markets coverage. At the end of July, the company significantly expanded its live sports plans by reaching an accord to live stream games from Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Last but not least, a couple of weeks ago Twitter signed a partnership with Eleague to live stream its first e-sports competition.


Minecraft comes to VR today with Windows 10 Edition beta

August 15, 2016   |   filed under Apps, Social Media, Technology, Video

Minecraft is now ready for its virtual reality debut: The update for the Minecraft Windows 10 Beta that adds VR support is available today. It’s a free update for people who already own the Windows 10 Edition Beta version of the game, but you can also get on board if you purchase the beta edition now. There’s support for windows and mice, if you’re good enough at operating those without being able to see them, but there’s also support for the Xbox One controller, which you can use either plugged in via micro USB on Windows 10, or in tandem with the wireless Xbox One Controller for Windows adapter. Microsoft says they’ve done a lot to ensure a range of players with a range of systems can get the most out of their VR experience, thanks to VR-specific customization options designed to maximize performance or help increase player comfort. Early impressions from people with preview access seem to enjoy what Mojang and Microsoft have put together for this, however, so go check it out if you have the necessary kit. SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH

Snapchat lets the people have Geostickers

August 2, 2016   |   filed under Apps, Community, Conversation, Culture, Interaction, Participation, Social Media, Technology


Everyone loves stickers. Snapchat must be on to us because the company just launched Geostickers, a new feature that lets users send city specific stickers in snaps and messages. There are 15 stickers available in San Francisco as of now and we expect more to come. The adorable caricatures delightfully mock tech culture, jab at rising rents, and highlight local landmarks. In addition to San Francisco, the feature is also launching in Los Angeles, New York City, Washington DC, Honolulu, London, Sydney, São Paulo, Paris, and Riyadh. The launch almost seems like an effort to recapture the news cycle from Instagram which launched “Stories,” a Snapchat alternative, earlier this morning. Notably, Stories lacks location filters, stickers, and speed effects. Geo-specific features have been quite a draw for people and businesses. Geofilters, which let users overlay location specific art on to their snaps, have developed a large community dedicated to producing custom filters. Businesses can even produce Geofilters to advertise for events that are geofenced and enabled for a pre-set time. Geostickers builds on this community and provides another platform for customizable expression. The addition comes on the heels of Bitmoji integration with Snapchat last month. The app lets people create personalized self-reflective emoji that can be used as stickers in snaps. SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH