The Not-So-Overnight Success of eSports

on Wednesday, Apr. 16th

This story airs on American Public Media’s Marketplace.

This story airs on American Public Media’s Marketplace.

Over the past two years there has been an explosion of interest in competitive online gaming, known as eSports. Professional video game players face off in matches broadcast around the globe, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars in arenas filled with tens of thousands of fans.

At the recent Call of Duty World Championship in Los Angeles, two four-man teams of gamers, their shirts covered in corporate logos, faced off for the top title.

The gamers were observed by a studio audience, which peered into a control room constructed on a gunmetal stage. On the side of that stage sat the play-by-play men, who called the action in suit and ties.

A million dollars in prizes was on the line at the tournament, which was broadcast free online by Major League Gaming, an eSports promoter that’s been around since 2002, when most of America was on dial-up.

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Copyright Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

Copyright Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

Twitter Puts Its Money On Data

on Wednesday, Apr. 16th

I often worry about Twitter.

I often worry about Twitter.

As a certified (but not verified) Twitter addict the service is usually the first thing I interact with every day. The relationship can be tumultuous at times–there’s nothing like having to “go dark” because you are time shifting the latest Game of Thrones episode.

These are not the reasons that I worry about Twitter. I worry about Twitter because I can’t see the game plan. Every recent stab at “innovation” has seemed like a lame “me too” move that apes a Facebook product.

Twitter, after all, has to find a way to make the green just like everyone else. They’ve followed the advertising model that made Google and Facebook multi-billion dollar properties, but that has meant chasing quantity of users over quality. Meanwhile the company let other firms roost in their henhouse, providing marketers with data and powerful tools to connect with Twitter’s often highly engaged user base.

This week Twitter appears to have become aware it was leaving money on the table and bought the data company Gnip:

We want to make our data even more accessible, and the best way to do that is to work directly with our customers to get a better understanding of their needs. To that end, we have agreed to acquire Gnip, a leading provider of social data and a long-standing Twitter data partner. As Twitter has grown into a platform that delivers more than 500 million Tweets per day, Gnip has played a crucial role in collecting and digesting our public data and delivering the most essential Tweets to partners.

This is a move that is long, long overdue. In the early days of the company Twitter allowed a robust third-party infrastructure to grow around it–recall, if you will, the explosion of third party apps–and has since hobbled that business in an effort to control user’s attention.

Instead of mucking around with the user experience the company could have been providing insight and analysis to power users and brands. The Gnip purchase shows that the company has its head on straight again.

Tribeca’s Storyscapes Returns For An Epic Second Year

on Tuesday, Apr. 15th

The Tribeca Film Festival leapt into the vanguard of transmedia art last year with the inaugural edition of Storyscapes, an event led by TriBeCa’s Director of Digital Initiatives Ingrid Kopp.

The Tribeca Film Festival leapt into the vanguard of transmedia art last year with the inaugural edition of Storyscapes, an event led by TriBeCa’s Director of Digital Initiatives Ingrid Kopp.

Net week will see the second crop of projects curated by Kopp and her team make their bow at the The Bombay Sapphire® House of Imagination (At Dune Studio) when Storyscapes opens for its April 23-26 run.

After the jump: the works that we wish we could be in New York City to see.

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Apple’s iBeacon is a Double Edged Sword

on Tuesday, Apr. 15th

A post at All Tech Considered by Martin Kaste has me thinking today about iBeacon, the Apple iOS feature that uses low power Bluetooth signals to give an iPhone a more acute awareness of location.

A post at All Tech Considered by Martin Kaste has me thinking today about iBeacon, the Apple iOS feature that uses low power Bluetooth signals to give an iPhone a more acute awareness of location.

Say, for instance, that you are at one of the Major League Baseball ballparks that have iBeacon servers installed. When you are near a beer kiosk your phone could become aware of what the prices are, or if there are two-for-one specials. (Like that’s every going to happen with ballpark beer.) Of course, the ballpark will also be aware of where you are, and that has privacy watchdogs edgy.

“As a privacy researcher, I always get nervous when marketers are celebratory about something,” says Garrett Cobarr, a technologist and writer based in Seattle. He says Apple seems to ignore certain assumptions that people make about what’s happening on a device.

Until recently a user would have to have the appropriate app running in order for the location awareness to work. Apple adjusted that recently, so that information can still be beamed to phones when an app is closed.

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Coffee Disruption: Is Cups App The Secret Weapon Indie Coffee Needs?

on Monday, Apr. 14th

The Coffee Wars are no joke, people.

The Coffee Wars are no joke, people.

While Starbucks is ubiquitous and Dunkin Donuts rules the East Coast, the long battle of the “Third Wave” coffee roasters has been coming to a head.

San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee has snapped up two Los Angeles based outfits–Handsome Coffee Roasters and the internet-coffee distributor Tonx–in their big to become the biggest name in indie coffee.

LA itself feels like the battleground in the Coffee War: Chicago’s Intelligencia, SF’s Blue Bottle, Santa Cruz’s Verve, Portland’s Stumptown, and SF’s Philz all have or are planning beachheads here. There’s also local stalwart Groundwork, and there’s likely to be something in the works from the former Handsome Coffee partners who went their separate ways before the buyout. (That’s just the brands I can recall off the top of my head.)

So now is the perfect time for an out of the box disruption. Now is the time for an app. Cue CUPS, a cafe subscription service.

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Indie Van Game Jam Hits The Road with First Episode

on Monday, Apr. 14th

Here’s the pitch: three game developers hop in a van in Austin, Texas and travel to another city to interview some of their heroes.

Here’s the pitch: three game developers hop in a van in Austin, Texas and travel to another city to interview some of their heroes. On the way they make a video game inspired by their interviewee’s work.

While in the van.

That’s the premise behind Indie Van Game Jam a documentary web series about indie games that puts the spotlight on a different studio with each episode. The team behind it, Binary Solo, took a stab at raising funds for the project on Kickstarter last year, but when that didn’t work they persevered.

Now the first episode is out in the wild. The first episode, and the first game. Each episode of the series will not only feature the video documentary, but alongside it will release a game from the roving game jam.

Episode one focuses on Chicago’s Rob Lach (Sphere, Pop: Methodology Experiment One) and features the Binary Solo jam It’s Not Me, It’s You. The game is a perspective twisting play on the first-person shooter genre, and is a delightful way to spend a few minutes on a foggy headed Monday.

Here’s to more game jams and vans from the Binary Solo crew.

Don’t Forget To Change Those Passwords!

on Friday, Apr. 11th

By now you have (hopefully) heard of the Heartbleed bug which was revealed earlier this week to be a serious flaw in the security of a lot of websites.

By now you have (hopefully) heard of the Heartbleed bug which was revealed earlier this week to be a serious flaw in the security of a lot of websites.

If you haven’t gone ahead and changed all your passwords anyway, it might be a good time to invest in  password manager software and do a little Spring Cleaning on your cybersecurity.

Set aside some time this weekend and just get it done. Lifehacker has some good advice on what to (and not to) do. Some of the best password manager software is even on sale: 1Password 4 for the Mac is half off right now. I have the previous version, but I’m still going to pick that sucker up.

In fact, take this opportunity to set a little password maintenance schedule. I like to change mine quarterly (and then get lazy about it).

Amazon To Acquire Top Digital Comics Retailer comiXology

on Friday, Apr. 11th

Truly this is the age of consolidation.

Truly this is the age of consolidation.

Every other day it feels like a small or mid-sized player in new media is snapped up by one of the bigger fish. The latest is digital comics pioneer comiXology, maker of the popular comic reading app/marketplace by publishing giant Amazon. From the press release at comiXology’s blog:

“ComiXology’s mission is to spread the love of comics and graphic novels in all forms,” said David Steinberger, co-founder and CEO of comiXology. “There is no better home for comiXology than Amazon to see this vision through. Working together, we look to accelerate a new age for comic books and graphic novels.”

“Amazon and comiXology share a passion for reinventing reading in a digital world,” said David Naggar, Amazon Vice President, Content Acquisition and Independent Publishing. “We’ve long admired the passion comiXology brings to changing the way we buy and read comics and graphic novels. We look forward to investing in the business, growing the team, and together, bringing comics and graphic novels to even more readers.”

While comiXology has led the way in digital comics retailing, they have not ignored traditional comics retailers. In fact many comic shops use comiXology’s pull list system in order to track their customer’s orders. Whether or not Amazon will continue to tend to that practice has sent a chill up the spine of comics retailers.

ComicsPRO, the comics professional retail organization, issued this statement via their Facebook page in response to the purchase:

“There’s always a concern when a huge corporation that shows little need to turn a profit tries to convert a niche market into a commodity. Fortunately there is a tactile element to comics that no deep-discounting web entity will ever be able to replicate. So as long as there continues to be fans for the real thing, there will be comics and comic book stores.”

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Source: Facebook Newsroom

Source: Facebook Newsroom

California Minors Can Say Bye-Bye To Drunk Selfies

on Thursday, Apr. 10th

Remember back in school when teachers and principals would threaten you with “the permanent record?”

“You better watch yourself!

Remember back in school when teachers and principals would threaten you with “the permanent record?”

“You better watch yourself! Step out of line and it goes on your permanent record!”

Somehow that’s what we’ve turned the World Wide Web into: the permanent record. Every off-color joke, drunk selfie, and bad dating profile is a ticking time bomb ready to destroy the fragile civilized façade you’ve so carefully constructed.

Unless you’re a California minor on January 1st of next year, in which case you are OFF. THE. HOOK.

That’s right. Minors in California will benefit from a revision to the California Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that gives them the right to remove potentially damaging content from internet services.  Richard Byrne Rielly of VentureBeat reports:

The update means 18 year-olds and younger can remove incriminating party pictures or most other content they’ve posted in the past that could someday come back to haunt them. Or compromise job opportunities, since social media is often the first stop for job recruiters and companies looking at potential candidates.

The revision also imposes fines and restrictions for online operators and apps specifically advertising to minors. The fines, if levied, will amount to $2,500 per violation. That means no adverts shilling guns, tobacco, or fireworks, for example.

This is a rather sane step forward: adolescence is the time for making stunningly bad decisions that teach you what not to do in later life. Having said choices haunt you forever should be reserved only for truly sociopathic acts: not being an idiot on Instagram.

Game Controllers Will Soon ‘Read Your Mind’

on Tuesday, Apr. 8th

At the bleeding edge of the video game industry researchers are finding news ways to make games more immersive.

At the bleeding edge of the video game industry researchers are finding news ways to make games more immersive. We’ve heard plenty about the efforts to bring virtual reality displays to fruition, but not as much about the ways that designers and developers are working to give games a greater understanding of the state of mind of players as they interact with the games.

Right now the dominant form of feedback that games get from players is in the form of active control input. That could be through a gamepad, like you’d find on an Xbox or Playstation console, or a phone’s touchpad. Reaction time with these devices is part of the skill set that separates “good” players from “bad” ones.

Yet no matter the skill level of a player the feedback that is returned to the console is largely driven by the gamer’s conscious mind.

Long time readers of Turnstyle will recall NeverMind, the horror game project that requires a player to stay calm in order to advance. That game used a Garmin chest strap to measure the variability of heart rate. It is an entirely unique experience to be playing a game using a different category of “controller.”

Now Stanford grad student Corey McCall has modded a gamepad so that it can “read” a player’s emotional state through the autonomic clues–heart rate, respiration–that the body gives off. Max Cherney at Vice’s Motherboard has the details:

The Stanford doctoral candidate managed to transform a regular Xbox 360 controller into an emotion-reading device by ripping the back panel off and attaching a box full of sensors. He also added some metal pads that measure heart rate, blood flow, breathing rate, and how deep each breath is. On top of that, he stuck several accelerometers inside to measure how frenzied people get while button mashing.

The idea here is to ultimately create software that will shape games  based on the player’s mood: raising or lowering the intensity of an experience as the biometric feedback dictates. Think of it as the difference between a recorded and a live performance. In a live setting musicians and actors get a “feel” for the audience, this line of research could do the same for electronic entertainment.

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Simple Machine Announces Micro-Festival Grants

We’ve been keeping up with Simple Machine, the independent film curation tool for festival and art house programmers, since running across their booth at South By Southwest last year.

Sponsors

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Transmedia Beat: Bernie Su’s “Emma Approved” Monetization Secrets

Disclosure: I’m one of the organizers of Transmedia LA, so take any excessive positivity with a grain of salt.

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First Ever Crappy Awards Target SF’s Tech Industry

Inspired by the sly tradition of the Razzie Awards, which commemorate the worst of Hollywood, San Francisco fair housing advocates are kicking off “The Crappy Awards” tonight in the city’s art’s district.

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Image Disruptor: Flag Looks To Upend Photo Printing Through The Magic of Free

Flag, a photo printing start-up that is holding a barnstorming 14-day Kickstarter campaign right now, turned up on my radar this week thanks to John Gruber’s Daring Fireball.

Image: Shepard Fairey for "A Total Disruption"

Taking “A Total Disruption” Open Source

Sundance winning documentarian Ondi Timoner isn’t in the habit of doing things in half-measures.

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