The UpStream

When Facebook Changes the News Feed Again, You Won't Believe What Disappears

posted Monday Aug 8, 2016 by Scott Ertz

When Facebook Changes the News Feed Again, You Won't Believe What Disappears

Facebook likes to tweak the algorithm that decides what to show you in your news feed. Often, their intentions are to increase the value proposition of their product - the longer you stay, the more you interact with, the more advertising dollars they can generate. Therefore, it is in their best interest to continue placing posts in your feed that will hold your interest and keep you within the system. Sometimes, though, they attack things they consider to be a problem.

In the most recent algorithm change, the company announced that they will be minimizing the frequency of what they consider to be "clickbait." In the industry, clickbait is content that is published that provides little to no value with a headline that suggests otherwise. In Facebook's definition, however, they are content that are published with titles that don't tell you what the content will be and are often misleading.

You know the headlines what you see them, and you might still click on them. They usually look something like, "She met a stranger at the park, but when she opened her backpack I WAS AMAZED!" There is absolutely no telling what will be on the other side of that link. Sometimes they are sites that have malicious advertising, often they are short content that requires you to click through three pages to read 9 paragraphs. Almost all of them are a disappointment.

For me, when I read a headline that goes that direction, I simply move on. I learned a long time ago that there is often no content on the other end of that link, and what is there is not of any interest to anyone, let alone to me. But, for Facebook, it is about trying to ensure the content is interesting. Adam Mosseri, VP of Product Management, said,

We want publishers to post content that people care about, and we think people care about headlines that are much more straightforward.

Will this change increase interaction on the site? Will it encourage publishers to use more descriptive headlines? Or will publishers find ways to game the algorithm, as they almost always do? My money's on the latter.

Niantic Sued Over Virtual Placement of Artificial Items

posted Monday Aug 8, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Niantic Sued Over Virtual Placement of Artificial Items

As the concept of augmented reality begins to take ahold of the world in one shape or another, the inevitable has happened: the battle for ownership of virtual land has begun. A lawsuit, filed in California, claims that Niantic has no legal right to place virtual items on virtual land in a virtual world that they created over top of reality. The suit comes on behalf of New Jersey resident Jeffrey Marder, who is annoyed that people playing Niantic's popular Pokémon GO game have been hanging around his house and, in a few instances, have asked his permission to access his yard to chase a Pokémon.

Now, we are all annoyed when someone knocks on our door unsolicited. However, I have personally never discussed with a lawyer the possibility of filing a class action suit against Jehovah's Witnesses. That's because, as annoying as it may be, they aren't doing anything inherently wrong, simply annoying. Now, if they showed up in my back yard and started walking around preaching to the birds, then we might have a problem, because I have a reasonable expectation of privacy there. However, I do not have any expectation of privacy on a public street, for example.

In this particular case, what is driving people to his area are virtual creatures who happen to have wandered into the area based on a computer algorithm in a virtual plane of existence, in which his land does not exist. However, since his land and the virtual land exist at the same position in reality, there is definitely an interesting intersection to consider.

It seems that the ownership of the virtual land is entirely in Niantic's hands, as the built the computer system that created and maintains it. Because of that, the company can do with it as they please. However, players of the game cannot violate physical property in their hunt for virtual property. That means that people cannot enter this man's yard without his permission to hunt Pokémon on his land.

In stark contrast to that reasoning, the complains claims,

It became apparent that Niantic had designated properties as Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms without seeking permission from property owners and with flagrant disregard for the foreseeable consequences of doing so.

The intentional, unauthorized placement of Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms on or near the property of Plaintiff and other members of the proposed class constitutes a continuing invasion of the class members' use and enjoyment of their land, committed by Niantic on an ongoing basis for Defendants' profit.

This case could set the scene for current and future AR projects, including Niantic's other game, Ingress, as well as other products like Google Maps Street View and Zillow, which also offer information about, and views of, private property without owners' permission.

The takeaway here, for now, is that you should heed Niantic's suggestion and "adhere to the rules of the human world."

T-Mobile Promises Major Network Expansion

posted Monday Aug 8, 2016 by Scott Ertz

T-Mobile Promises Major Network Expansion

T-Mobile has had a difficult relationship with reality in their past. In 2010, the company rebranded their 3G+ network as 4G, which was not exactly true. While it had speeds that were close to or within the speeds of 4G, the network itself was not that. Either way, the reality and the marketing were not the same. Since then, John Legere, the company CEO, has changed the company almost entirely.

T-Mobile has introduced new features and closed out old business practices. Binge On allows customers to use certain services, including Pokémon GO, without it affecting your data usage. They did away with traditional contracts and went with a direct hardware lease program. This has caused the rest of the industry to panic more than once, having to create their own versions of programs at the last moment.

Let's face it, all of that is great, but if the network is bad, none of it matters. Recently, though, the company has been focusing on building their network power, as well. In fact, on several tests, including our friends at Tom's Guide, T-Mobile's speeds are the fastest in the industry. Now, if only the physical coverage was better, right?

That is the subject of this week's announcement from T-Mobile. Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said of their network compared to Verizon,

We plan to materially close the gap by the end of the year.

That is quite a financial commitment. Within 12 months, they intend to be within coverage range of Verizon Wireless. Currently, T-Mobile claims that 311 million Americans can currently use their network successfully. While the numbers are close to those of VZW, the additional coverage that Verizon Wireless offers also cover large areas of under-populated land. That means that, to cover the additional, missing customers, it will require larger network expansion than hitting the suburbs of Seattle.

Can T-Mobile manage to catch the two biggest players in the industry? Let us know in the comments.

Stranger Things Already Renewed for Second Season

posted Sunday Jul 31, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Stranger Things Already Renewed for Second Season

If you have not yet watched, or at least started watching Netflix's original series Stranger Things, you are definitely in the minority. The program has been one of the most talked about series on social media, and there doesn't seem to be anyone saying anything other than "Wow."

This sentiment, and people's tendency to watch the whole thing in a single sitting, myself included, has led to Netflix already renewing the series for a second season. This will come as no surprise to anyone watching, as the end of the last episode certainly setup for more story. In fact, several places throughout the other episodes have teased what could be the next season's storyline and potentially the enemy.

While we don't know a lot about that, what we do know about is how the next season will play out. Matt and Ross Duffer, the series creators, said to look for the next season to feel more like a sequel than a direct continuation. Most series go from season to season without much time passing and without a lot of story happening away from the cameras, but that isn't how a sequel works.

Ross Duffer explained to Variety,

There's a lot there we don't know or understand. Even with 'The Upside Down,' we have a 30-page document that is pretty intricate in terms of what it all means, and where this monster actually came from, and why aren't there more monsters - we have all this stuff that we just didn't have time for, or we didn't feel like we needed to get into in season one, because of the main tension of Will. We have that whole other world that we haven't fully explored in this season, and that was very purposeful.

Will we get all of the answers we seek in the next season? Hopefully not. If we did, that would mean that there would be no season 3. This universe that has been created is rich with a lot of potential, and has the ability to run for a long time, especially if they continue to draw inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, as they have so far. I, for one, look forward to many future seasons of one of the best written and researched series in a long time.

Yahoo's Fate is Final: Joining Verizon's Nostalgia Unit

posted Sunday Jul 31, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo's Fate is Final: Joining Verizon's Nostalgia Unit

As soon as Yahoo appointed Marissa Mayer CEO, we all knew it would end one of two ways: she would repair the deficits of the company and turn it around, or she would be the last CEO of the company. There was no chance that the company would survive losses long enough to replace her, as the troubles were greater than could overcome the search for another leader. Unfortunately the latter turned out to be correct, as the core business auction has finally come to a close, with a new owner at the wheel.

Joining their purchase of AOL, Yahoo's core internet businesses are now part of Verizon. This means that Verizon, who many analysts believed purchased AOL not for their content businesses, now owns some of the biggest names in content production. Including Engadget, The Huffington Post, Flickr, tumblr and Katie Couric, Verizon's portfolio of high profile platforms, publishers and content producers has grown to epic proportions.

The idea of the data provider also being a content provider is one that makes sense from a business perspective. While on the Verizon network, they could give preferential treatment to AOL and Yahoo properties, and make Comcast, Charter, AT&T, etc. second class citizens to the websites and apps. Traditional players have been involved in this business for years. Comcast owns NBC Universal, Time Warner owns Turner. The movement into web properties, though, is an interesting transition.

The next question to ask is, how will companies like AT&T respond? Will they try and find other publishers and content producers to invest in? If the goal is a web-based standoff between network operators, the next most obvious acquisition target is Ziff Davis, the company that owns a large collection of web properties, including IGN, PCMag and Gawker Media. Ziff would be an easy way to get a large collection of properties in a single acquisition. Another target could be CBS Interactive, which owns CNET, GameSpot and, among others. It would also give them a foothold into television, something that Verizon is currently lacking.

Will Verizon's continued focus on market innovation be what both AOL And Yahoo need? Will AT&T and others try and respond in kind? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Court Rules Facebook Must Refund Purchases by Minors

posted Sunday Jul 31, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Court Rules Facebook Must Refund Purchases by Minors

The concept of Facebook Credits was doomed from the beginning. In 2011, the company forced developers to use their currency within Facebook-enabled games. Later that year, they saw potential in mobile payments. But, just a month later, the wheels started to come off of the bus. Zynga was pulling away from Facebook, and focusing their attention on mobile.

2012, however, ended the concept when a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the parents of children who had purchased the currency illegally. Facebook allows children as young as 13 to sign up for the service, and any user could purchase Credits with an attached credit card. As it turns out, Facebook never validated that the purchases being made were actually authorized.

So, what was happening was, kids were taking their parents credit cards, attaching them to Facebook and buying Credits, not quite understanding what they were doing. Some parents offered evidence showing thousands of dollars worth of charges that were unauthorized. The lead attorney, John R. Parker, said,

These kids don't really know what they are doing. They've got a credit card they put into their account and they don't realize that every time they click on some button in the game to get some extra magic coin, the company is charging the parent's account.

The suit sat in court for years, but it has finally come to completion, and Facebook has lost hard. In fact, the end result is, anyone who has lost money to Facebook thanks to a child using their credit card can now get all of that money back. Period. To reclaim lost money, simply head to Facebook Payments Support for all conditions and processes.

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