The UpStream

Uber Driver Accused of Kidnapping, Company Disagrees

posted Wednesday Oct 15, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Uber Driver Accused of Kidnapping, Company Disagrees

Ride sharing apps, like Uber and Lyft, have been in the news a lot lately. A lot of the talk has surrounded the precarious legal position these types of apps have in various regions around the world. Cities, states and countries the world over have banned the app citing safety concerns and regulations skirting.

Unfortunately for these companies, the fears have been realized a few times over. Earlier this summer, a Washington DC ride became part of a "high speed chase" with a DC taxi inspector that ended up crossing state lines. Another rider, drunk and bar hopping in LA, was allegedly kidnapped, taken to a motel and asked to stay with the driver.

This week, another unfortunate incident has brought the topic of rider safety to the forefront, this time also in Los Angeles, and also with a drunk rider. The story, as reported, goes like this: female rider uses UberX to schedule a "taxi" ride to her home; a 20 minute trip. The driver then takes her 2 hours out of her way and into an empty parking lot, where he locked her in the car when she tried to get out. He then only took her to her destination after she began to scream in the locked car.

The driver, however, tells a different story of the event. According to the driver: drunk rider gets into car and requests an extended route home. At some point, the driver got concerned and called 911. Eva Behrend, from Uber, says,

Early reports on this ride are inaccurate. Based on the information we have at this time, this driver called 911 to ask for assistance with an intoxicated rider who requested an extended trip. However, we have refunded the rider's trip and reached out to the rider for additional information.

The most interesting thing about the refund was the comment attached to transaction: "inefficient route."

Obviously this all highlights the issues with an army of almost entirely unvetted drivers, the biggest of which being safety of the passengers. Taxi companies are responsible for the behavior of their drivers, but Uber and Lyft are completely unregulated, meaning they are not necessarily responsible for their drivers. The unregulated aspect seems to be part of the allure for some, though, so it is an interesting issue to solve.

Do you think more areas should focus on safety concerns or should Lyft and Uber be left alone? Let us know in the comments section.

Ballmer Forcing His Own Clippers to Get Rid of Apple Products

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Ballmer Forcing His Own Clippers to Get Rid of Apple Products

For those of you who might not have known by now, Steve Ballmer has stepped down as an executive board member for Microsoft after relinquishing the title of CEO to Satya Nadella earlier this year. One of the reasons he publicly mentioned for his stepping down as a board member was to devote more time to his other endeavors like teaching and his humanitarian efforts. Another one of those projects is his ownership of the NBA team, the LA Clippers. Now, he's setting aside a lot of time to permanently remove all remnants of Apple products from the team.

One thing Ballmer has promised as new owner is that he is going to ensure that his loyal Clippers fan will have "the best experience and that is not just the best in L.A." If you're on a smartphone or tablet, Ballmer said the fan's stay in the Staples Center will be unlike any other. To that end, he doesn't want an iPad, iPhone or any other iDevice or "Apple Device" in sight.

Most of the Clippers on are Windows, some of the players and coaches are not. And Doc (Rivers, the coach of the team) kind of knows that's a project. It's one of the first things he said to me: 'We are probably going to get rid of these iPads, aren't we?' And I said, 'Yeah, we probably are.' But I promised we would do it during the off season.

Especially after the NFL butchering the $400 million deal with Microsoft only to have the announcers call Surfaces iPads, one could assume that Ballmer doesn't want to repeat that debacle in his own arena and team. How will he ease out the Apple usage? We're not sure yet, but it's rumored it'll be through lots of pressure and yelling something about developers. Who knows, maybe he'll even fine players unwilling to change. It could be a new form of, "if you don't like it, don't play here and leave!" After all, Steve Ballmer is a man of character and is never known to do anything with half-effort. And if he's ever involved in a project, you know he's going to do it big.

In fact, Ballmer set a new record by purchasing the team for four times more than any other team has been sold for - a cool $2 billion. After purchasing the team, he held a pep rally, where I assume nobody on the team knew who he was other than "former Microsoft CEO." This is all due to the video of the pep rally that I watched, where the row of NBA stars were in shock by Ballmer's insanity passion and excitement. Somebody should have passed them a memo on who this guy was; see the reference about developers above for a good idea. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing how he will transition the team out of Apple products and into his devices he helped create. Additionally, I'd like to see him pry an iPhone out of DeAndre Jordan's hands. The guy is 6'11 and 265 pounds. I'd go to my first ever NBA game to see that in the pre-game events.

Photo courtesy of Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports.

In a Social Networking World Where Ads are King, Ello is Unique and Rebellious

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

In a Social Networking World Where Ads are King, Ello is Unique and Rebellious

Heello, Yo, and now Ello. The rise of social networks and apps to get away from the norm of Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter has been so rampant (and sometimes stupid) lately that it feels like everyone has been taking a shot at cashing in on the new dot-com bust. Regardless of your opinions on social networking and what you think of previous apps, Ello is actually interesting in that is accomplishes two things. First, it's actually different. And second, it's set up in sort of a pay-to-win deal.

So, what is Ello? Well, it's a new social network, but one whose focus is not on getting you to sign up just to be an ad puppet. In fact, Ello's designer Paul Budnitz said that there is a definitive no-ads policy for the site. People must like it, as Ello is getting over 27,000 requests an hour. Of course, brands have picked up on this and have signed up, too, but as Budnitz put it, he's not concerned.

If you don't like what a brand posts, even if it's all ads, you don't have to follow them.

It may sound like taking the easy way out, but unlike Facebook and now Twitter, Ello will never show you something from somebody you don't follow. Ever. Ello also says it allow sponsored tweets or other enhanced promotion methods the other sites are doing as well.

So, if it's has no ads, how will Ello make money? There's a small caveat in the service and one that almost feels like it takes a page directly from EA's book. It's also something services like Diaspora and have tried but did not go over so well. The main-stay of Ello is free, however if you want to try something more than the basics, you're going to pay for it. Want multiple accounts tied to one login? You pay for it. Ello says it will have a bunch of features like that, and each will have a different cost. It's a great option for those who don't want or need every feature of a social network but still want to enjoy a service. And, for those who do want them, they have to pay. It keeps the ads off the site and the users happy, but I can't help but think of a free-to-play game with an ingrained notion that you have to pay to really get the full experience.

Beyond that, Ello is unique. I've come across dozens of truly interesting profile pages, each with their own design, flare and feel. People have put a lot of work into their pages and Ello lets you pretty much make it look how you want. For your name, Ello doesn't care. Name yourself the Refreshing Penguin and Ello will let you. Searching Ello is easy, as you only have two options: Friends and Noise. Friends has pictures, long text and everything those you follow post. Noise is simply a grid of quick-hitting news sorted by most recent. One minor downfall is the lack of privacy settings, though. You can't block people nor can you report content that is inappropriate. It's unfortunate but controls for those things are coming soon, Budnitz says.

Overall, I'm still getting used to Ello and have only spent a short time with it so far. I plan on giving it an honest effort and seeing if I'll stick with using it. I think my friend good friend, Traveling Mamas creator Shannon DalPozzal put it best when she described Ello from her perspective.

Testing out, playing with it, sharing little nuggets of thoughts. Brings back the creativity for me. Longer than twitter, less noise than FB, bigger images than Instagram, it reminds me of that Eagle's song "Peaceful Easy Feeling" - Overall, it's different. And I like that.

I hope that in the long run Ello will remain different and not fall into the same trap everyone else does. After a while, most companies fade into the mix by copying the competition. If Ello doesn't want to say goodbye (you knew that was coming in this article, right?) then it needs to remain a stand-out. Have you tried Ello? Do you like it? Let me know in the comments.

Netflix Hours Streamed Exceeds World Population

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Netflix Hours Streamed Exceeds World Population

Two years ago, we mentioned that Netflix eclipsed one billion hours of streaming in a single month. Since that time, that number has steadily increased. Now, a new study has shown that Netflix users take binge watching to the extreme.

The Diffusion Group, a research and analysis firm, said that Netflix customers are streaming at an increased rate of 350 percent over the last ten quarterly measurements. To put that into perspective, users are now watching an average of 93 minutes per day, equating to 45GB of data gobbled up each month.

TDG added to the report, using Netflix's streaming volume data, that across the board the total number of hours watched per month exceeds the number of people on the planet. Over 7 billion hours of Netflix is streamed each month and that number has seen roughly a 2.5 percent increase each quarter since January of 2013.

What can attribute to the growing success of the company, even though businesses like FiOS and Comcast are throttling service? Since 2013, Netflix has been expanding across the globe. That month of January in 2013 is pretty significant for the company, as that was a time where 94 percent of all Netflix traffic came from the US. However as Netflix has grown internationally, as of the summer of this year, that number has dropped to only 72 percent. Countries like Germany and France have openly adopted the video-streaming service and are heavily on board.

It's also interesting to note that US customers stream their content at a rate of only 2.57Mbps - about 1GB of data consumed per hour - and if the FCC has its way, that number may sadly decrease unless you pay more per month to your ISP. Also, considering that in order to watch Netflix in Super HD you need between 6 and 8Mbps, it pains me to know most users aren't enjoying their movie-watching experience to its fullest potential.

Apparently Blizzard Can't Make an MMO Fun Anymore

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Apparently Blizzard Can't Make an MMO Fun Anymore

For almost as long as we can remember, Blizzard has been the king of MMOs. Try as they might, no one has been able to touch the successes of World of Warcraft. In recent years, however, that lead has begun to wane. With changes aimed at making the game more accessible to non-hardcore gamers, long-time loyalists have given it up for more challenging titles.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Blizzard began work on a new MMO title. Referred to internally as "Project Titan," Blizzard has never officially announced the game, but has made comments about it publicly. For example, last year Blizzard said the game was going to see an overhaul, which would delay its release until at least 2016.

As it turns out, the problems behind the overhaul seem to have been bigger than first thought, as Blizzard has cut the game. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime described the project,

We had created World of Warcraft, and we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs. So we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn't come together.

We didn't find the fun. didn't find the passion. We talked about how we put it through a reevaluation period, and actually, what we reevaluated is whether that's the game we really wanted to be making. The answer is no.

So, after 7 years of development, and at least the beginning of a reconsidering, the king of MMOs couldn't make a new title fun? Did they fire everyone who helped them create the World of Warcraft phenomenon? Was that game's success a fluke? Or, more realistically, did they truly come to believe that the changes made to World of Warcraft were fun?

Either way, it would appear that the company's plans going forward will be less AAA titles, more small format games. They have discovered through the successes of Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm that they can have success with smaller games. Senior vice president of story and franchise development Chris Metzen said,

Maybe we can be what we want to be and inspire groups around the company to experiment, get creative, think outside the box and take chances on things that just might thrill people. Maybe they don't have to be these colossal, summer blockbuster-type products.

So, expect Blizzard to focus on smaller, story-focused titles and less focus on traditional Blizzard-style titles. Unfortunately, this also means we can say goodbye to the non-existent "Project Titan.".

Comcast Says Its Streaming Service is Unpopular, Not a Threat

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Comcast Says Its Streaming Service is Unpopular, Not a Threat

The Comcast-Time Warner merger has had a lot of issues in getting off the ground. That is to be expected, considering the size of the prospective company, both in physical size and consumer reach. While Comcast has continued to argue that the new company would not impede competition, many companies have protested. Possibly the loudest has been Netflix.

Obviously Netflix has a lot to lose in this merger. Netflix already pays Comcast for decent speed, the price of which could only go up if Comcast represents a larger market. In addition to paying for speed, Comcast also has a service which is a Netflix competitor, marketed directly to Comcast subscribers and included in their cable boxes.

The service, Streampix, which was launched in 2012, has not exactly been successful. While most companies would be distressed by this fact, Comcast is using it to their advantage. In their 300+ page FCC filing, Comcast said,

Commenters try to make this a transaction-specific issue with claims that Comcast has a greater incentive than TWC to foreclose OVDs due to Comcast's Streampix offering and its more rapid migration to an all-IP network. But Streampix is not designed as an out-of-footprint, over-the-top video service, much as commenters would like to pretend otherwise. It is a branded VOD offering, available on Comcast's set-top boxes; its unique claim is simply that in assembling the service, Comcast set out to acquire full online rights as well, and highlighted the over-the-top access of the network. And though Comcast sought to create excitement around Streampix by offering the online version through a unique online site and app, and offered Streampix to a small number of Xfinity broadband-only customers in one region, these attracted minimal interest: both the site and the app are being decommissioned, and the standalone offer was discontinued. Going forward, Streampix will simply be part of the Xfinity TV app and website like other VOD offerings.

So, according to Comcast, because Streampix has not had a lot of success, it should not be considered a legitimate competitor to Netflix. Therefore, they will argue that some, if not all, of Netflix's whining about unfair business practices are overblown.

Unfortunately for Comcast, that isn't exactly how things work. The fact that they actively work to sign exclusive streaming deals does make them a competitor. In addition, they plan to roll the service into their Xfinity offering, meaning that it will be easier to access and included in their existing mobile apps. In addition, it is already available on Comcast devices, making it easier and more direct that Netflix for Comcast customers.

With that, it makes all of Netflix's comments not only valid, but important. The FCC will need to take their issues into account before approving or disapproving of the merger. As we know, a merger this large can fail and cost a fortune. This is because of the intense effect on the market. No wonder both sides are fighting so hard.

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