Facebook and Virtual Reality

oculus-facebook

Facebook purchased VR headset maker Oculus VR this afternoon for $400 million in cash and $1.6 billion in Facebook stock. One can only speculate what Facebook will do with a virtual reality gaming accessory company that is still under development but some are saying it’s because they moved too slowly to acquire other social communication platforms. Both Instagram (photos) and SnapChat (IP messaging) grew quickly which drove up their prices and forced Facebook on the defense.

After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.

This is really a new communication platform. 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.

Mark Zuckerberg

Perhaps the Oculus purchase was a pre-emptive purchase. A land grab at what he sees as the next great communications platform. Another theory is that by grabbing the gaming community’s latest shiny object, he can play pied piper and bring the games over to Facebook. That may be an uphill battle. Game developers want integrate social into their games, not the other way around.

Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.

Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?

But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.

notch, founder of Mojang, maker of Minecraft

Generic Brand Video

If you’re a stock video company, what’s the best way to get your footage in front of future customers? Create a viral video that will be passed around by marketers and advertisers that license stock videos for their advertising.

This Is a Generic Brand Video from Dissolve on Vimeo.

Dissolve has done just that with their Generic Brand Video which brilliantly skewers the current state of brand placement videos today. Taking it’s inspiration from a McSweeney’s post, Dissolve had a voice-over actor with a Marlboro-man drawl narrate over a series of beautifully non-descript clips, poking fun at every tech, pharma, energy, financial, or auto commercial you’ve seen in the past three years.

Fast Company pulls in a few in for comparison.

Minimally Minimal

iSight

A couple of years ago, while living in Finland, I became very interested in physical design. During these years I read Minimally Minimal on a regular basis. Back then Andrew Kim was a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The way he wrote about product design was contagious. His observations celebrated good design’s attention to detail. When he got a new camera, his photos improved and he took great care to arrange the subject of his reviews in a way that showed an appreciation of form and function.

Andrew’s review of the 2011 Ford Fiesta (comparing its design motif to a Imperial Stormtrooper!) almost put me in one (until I found a used BMW 325i that was begging for a new owner).

Andrew Kim’s gorgeous photographs and one/two line captions are crisp & evocative. If you are interested in design, I highly recommend Minimally Minimal.

The probabilistic guarantees of a web browser

We’ve all been there. Something goes all sideways in our browser and we’re stuck with a spinning throbber as the fan kicks into overdrive. Tempted to see what might be going on, we roll up our sleeves and pop the virtual hood and our world goes from rainbows and unicorns into a stinky mess of barbwire orc-speak of the Inpect Element window.

James Mickens, writing for ;login: magazine, has a style of writing all his own. His last column for the magazine is a tour de force of the current state of HTML and how the whole thing is a teetering mess that can easily come tumbling down.

Each browser is reckless and fanciful in its own way, but all browsers share a love of epic paging to disk. Not an infrequent showering of petite I/Os that are aligned on the allocation boundaries of the file system—I mean adversarial thunder-snows of reads and writes, a primordial deluge that makes you gather your kinfolk and think about which things you need two of, and what the consequences would be if you didn’t bring fire ants, because fire ants ruin summers. Browsers don’t require a specific reason to thrash the disk; instead, paging is a way of life for browsers, a leisure activity that is fulfilling in and of itself. If you’re not a computer scientist or a tinkerer, you just accept the fact that going to CNN.com will cause the green blinky light with the cylinder icon to stay green and not blinky. However, if you know how computers work, the incessant paging drives you mad. It turns you into Torquemada, a wretched figure consumed by the fear that your ideological system is an elaborate lie designed to hide the excessive disk seeks of shadowy overlords. You launch your task manager, and you discover that your browser has launched 67 different processes, all of which are named “browser.exe,” and all of which are launching desperate volleys of I/Os to cryptic parts of the file system like “\roaming\pots\pans\cache\4$$Dtub.partial”, where “\4$$” is an exotic escape sequence that resolves to the Latvian double umlaut. You do an Internet search for potential solutions, and you’re confronted with a series of contradictory, ill-founded opinions: your browser has a virus; your virus has a virus; you should be using Emacs; you should be using vi, and this is why your marriage is loveless.

This choice bit is from, To Wash it All Away. There’s more where this came from. Someone pulled together a collection of a few choice essays over on MSDN which includes such gems as, Mobile Computing Research Is a Hornet’s Nest of Deception and Chicanery. Prose that only a frustrated Microsoft researcher could spawn. Peals of laughter, tears of joy – go read him now.

Getty Images Opens Up

Getty Images added embed icons to 35 million photos in their collection. Not all images are available for embed (look for the icon). Images are for non-commercial use only and you need to use their embed code which adds the frames you see below.


Unable to close the barn door, Getty material was finding its way online into Google Image search which crawled sites that had properly licensed the images. The explosion of social media has accelerated secondary use via “right-click/save” so this was largely Getty reading the writing on the wall.

Getty Images is smart to do this. By providing a superior image search to Google and a simple way for people to use their images, they gain control of their assets again and wrap some marketing around its use, taking advantage of free distribution that was already happening. All the embeds point back to gettyimages.com so it’s great for SEO and exposure for the vast selection they have available. Getty Images has also said they will collect data on where the photos are used to improve their service which adds an important crowd sourcing to their ranking algorithms. Finally, buried in the Terms of Service is, “the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetize its use without any compensation to you.” The Nieman Journalism Lab ponders where Getty is going with this,

Aha! The data collected could have internal use (measuring what kinds of images are popular enough to invest in more stock photos, for instance). But they could also help with those ads. Imagine a day, five years from now, with Getty photo embeds all over the web, when they flip the switch — ads everywhere. Maybe there’s a photo equivalent of a preroll video ad and you now have to click to view the underlying image. Or a small banner on the bottom 90px of the photo.

And imagine your website has used a lot of Getty embeds over the years — enough that Getty can actually sell ads specifically targeting your website, using all that data it’s gathered. Or imagine there are enough Getty embeds that it could sell ads only on photos of Barack Obama, or only photos about Cajun music, or only photos about restaurants in Kansas City. You can start to see the potential there. Think of how many YouTube videos were embedded on other websites before Google ever started putting ads on them.

Embedded widgets used to be all the rage but they fell out of fashion as social networks became the place to share social objects. Getty is late to the game unless everybody gets sick of Facebook and fires up their own WordPress site. Notice how the sharing icons for the Getty Images are only for Twitter and Tumblr, the most open of all social networks.

Finally, what about all the folks that check the box on Flickr allowing their photos to be licensed by Getty Images like Phoenix Wang who took the photo above? Their works will now be used freely to help market the Getty service. On the plus side, clicks thru on the image will bring up options to license hi-res images for a fee so it’s not a total loss for the Flickr crowd. I wonder if the inclusion of the Tumblr share icon was a condition of including the Flickr photos in this deal?

The threat of ads running in the footer of the embed makes the service a non-starter for me but if you do want to use these images (which really are stunning), note that you can muck around with the width/height values in the embed code to change the dimensions of the image as I did below. It’s also possible to cover up the footer entirely but that would probably be frowned upon by the folks at Getty.

So it begins – iOS CarPlay

Announced at last year’s WWDC, Apple revealed today that CarPlay, the integrated iOS platform for in-dash entertainment and navigation will be shipping in 2014 models by Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. Notable in its absence was Tesla.

The ecosystem will limit apps to approved partners so it’s Siri for voice and Apple Maps for navigation. Music is open to 3rd party alternatives to iTunes with icons for Spotify, iHeartRadio and the newcomer Beats Music. Missing at today’s launch is Pandora.

While a touchscreen launches each app, Siri is now front and center as the main way to interface with each application. I’ve been using Siri to text short messages to my wife while driving and have been pleased with the results.

Automakers have largely failed to open up their APIs and create any sort of developer ecosystem around applications that interface with their cars. The Prius had a healthy hacking community but it was mostly fringe forum chats about hidden menus and easter eggs. People seem reluctant to brick their Teslas.

Will the app ecosystem play into which car you’ll buy next? We all wait for Apple’s entry into the battle for the living room but the opening shots in the battle for the dashboard have just been fired.