Category: Network Lifestyle And Activities

What will cloud gaming mean for you?

Article

XBox Series X product image courtesy of Microsoft

Cloud gaming will still be relevant for powerful games consoles like the XBox Series S and X units as a way to provide immediate discovery or conserve space for one’s favourite games

Xbox Cloud Gaming on TVs is going to change the rules for game discoverability | Windows Central

My Comments

A trend that has appeared over the last few years regarding video games is the concept of cloud gaming.

This is where the bulk of the computer processing that takes place for video games based on this system takes place on online or cloud servers. The device that the player ends up using simply interprets and passes on the control input from the player and “paints” the gameplay images on its embedded or attached display.

This is different from game servers that simply co-ordinate a multiplayer online or LAN game and keep score for that game. In that situation, the players are using powerful devices which have primarily have the games software on them.

Play on not-so-powerful hardware

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

.. not just as a way to bring sophisticated games to set-top devices like the Apple TV

Cloud gaming allows a video game to be written for powerful computing environments yet be playable on older hardware. This includes being playable on set-top boxes or mobile devices that aren’t necessarily engineered for full-on gaming.

For example, an older-generation games console could be used to play a current-generation game. Or a set-top box like the Apple TV could be used to play a sophisticated video game.

It is infact the common reasoning behind cloud gaming thanks to mobile and set-top platforms not being considered powerful enough for full-on gaming.

Immediate game discovery

Another concept that is being put forward even with powerful games consoles or gaming-rig PCs is the idea of “immediate discovery”.

Normally a video-game player would have to wait for all of the software associated with a game they want to try out to be downloaded and installed on their computer or games console before they start playing. The time associated with this downloading may cause the game player’s curiosity to wane when they are checking out that game they have shown interest in.

In this kind of situation. if the player has shown strong interest in that game, they could simply instigate the download process to have it on their console or gaming-rig computer. Then it means that the game takes advantage of the powerful hardware in the gaming device.

There can be the ability to immediately provide the updated experiences while the necessary software code to run them is downloaded to the games console or computer. Then that downloaded software code could be used to provide improved game performance for the updated experiences.

Conserving of storage resources on your equipment

Another advantage for cloud gaming would be to allow gamers to conserve the available storage space on their equipment for the games they want to really play.

If you are always bringing in new games, you can end up running out of storage space on your computer or games console especially if the game is very sophisticated. It can be of concern especially for lower-end equipment that doesn’t have much in the way of storage or where the latest and greatest storage technology is being used which costs more per kilobyte than prior technology.

As well, you avoid the need to shift game data off to USB hard drives or other secondary storage just to make way for the latest games you want to play. As well, if you are investing more time and money in particular games, you can conserve the storage space on the console or computer for all the downloadable content or extra levels that are available for the games you are playing.

Where could cloud gaming go further?

I see cloud gaming go further in allowing for increased sophistication in video-game design and development.

Firstly I would see games dependent on “territories” or “worlds” being able to have larger active-play fields which the player currently plays in or a massively-large useable plat field. It can also include adding extra detail within a play field.

Then it could allow the ability for a game developer to try different concepts on a significant player base before implementing the concept as something that can be executed locally on the gaming hardware. To the same extent, it could allow games to be offered on a trial or freemium basis with cloud-only operation for free accounts then allow users to buy the game before they download it locally to the console or computer.

Then there is the ability to consider the idea of edge computing within the cloud-gaming concept. That is where more powerful computing equipment local to the game player can be used to increase game performance while working with an online gaming cloud.

Here, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same box that is connected to the control, display and audio subsystems that the player interacts with. This could be a high-end NAS or one of those Qarnot “computing heaters” that can heat a room or create hot water from the data it processes, or some other small computer device on the same network and local to the players. This idea was put forward in 2016 on the back of the Pokemon GO craze as a decentralised approach to handle data collected from many locations.

Conclusion

Cloud gaming can be seem more than just a way to bring high-capability games to lower-capability devices. It can be about providing an immediate experience for titles that players show interest in, amongst other things.

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The new XBox Series S and X game consoles will soon be controllable via your TV’s remote control

XBox Series X product image courtesy of Microsoft

The XBox Series X and S consoles will soon work hand in glove with your TV

Article

Microsoft will let you control an Xbox with a TV remote soon – The Verge

My Comments

It will soon be feasible to control your XBox Series S and X games consoles using your TV’s remote control or have “one-touch” access to your games session.

This feature is currently in pre-release testing and is to be part of an upcoming major feature update for the XBox games consoles’ operating systems, It is to be dependent on your TV supporting HDMI-CEC functionality under its various names like Simplink, Anynet+, Viera Link or Bravia Sync. This is something that respected TVs should be equipped with in order to simplify the user experience when you have multiple video peripherals.

TV remote control

You could even use the TV remote control to watch Netflix on your XBox Series X or S console.

There is already some HDMI-CEC functionality going on with these consoles where the TV will switch on and switch to the input you have connected the XBox to when you switch on your console. But this is about extra functionality with both the TV’s remote control and the XBox game controllers.

Firstly, it will be about using the TV remote controller’s D-pad to navigate the XBox’s menus or any menu to do with content-streaming apps on that console. It may also be about using the transport buttons (play, pause, etc) to start and stop video content you are watching on the XBox. This will come in to its own for those of us who use these consoles for watching Netflix or similar video-streaming services using the XBox S or X.

But it will also mean that the “XBox” (stylised green X) button on the game controllers will also be a way to switch the TV and audio equipment on and over to the XBox console ready for some gaming. Here, it may be advantageous where you just leave the XBox on so it can download game updates or newly-purchased games as necessary but either turn the TV off or “switch away” to another source like broadcast TV or another media player between games. That leads to purely a “one-touch” experience when it comes to wanting to get going with your favourite XBox games.

What I see of this is you being able to use the appropriate control device for the activity you want to use the XBox S or X console for. That means to lounge back in the armchair with your TV remote if you want to watch Netflix or to use the game controller if you want to play that game.

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Dealing with trolls in the online communities you visit

Facebook login page

You can effectively deal with trolls on the online communities you visit like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Most of us will end up using online communities like social media or Web forums to interact with others who share our interests, passions and desires. But a problem that makes this less enjoyable are the people who make a habit of posting stupid or caustic remarks about what is said on these online communities.

It is facilitated by the perceived distance that online services provide between their users even if they are local to each other. As well, there is a negligible cost in money and time associated with posting content to the various online communities thanks to the rise of affordable Internet services.

This problem has been made worse with the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter because these platforms simplify the process of engaging with the various online communities that they facilitate. It also happens very frequently with online communities supporting common interests like news / public-affairs, popular TV shows, celebrities and the like, whether the communities are totally facilitated by the publisher / celebrity, or depend on other resources like social-media platforms. But it can also happen in other areas like computer gaming which also includes the various “party lines” set up in the many online multiplayer games for players to chat with each other.

The behaviour manifests as unreasonable criticism of a personality or business including what they do and how they interact with other stakeholders. It manifests either in text or image form, with the latter being in the form of memes or emoji sequences.

In some situations, it becomes worse where sexual innuendo is implied in the disgusting comments. This is typically targeted at a woman or an LGBTQ+ person and others who interact with them, something that was highlighted with the GamerGate saga. But it can also be anyone who stands their ground on particular issues, especially if they are a leader in government or business.

I have seen this behaviour for myself while following the Facebook-based online activity during a previous MasterChef Australia season when George Calombaris was asked by a female contestant to taste an item of food she was to prepare for a Service Challenge. Here, the contestant wanted him to check that the “trial sample” was OK to serve before preparing it in quantity as part of the challenge but the online chatter went towards sexual innuendo about him and the contestant, something that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-school playground or American college frat-house.

Similarly I have seen it with a small cafe I was visiting frequently and participating with their online presence where an online storm took place. At the time, a controversial fast-food joint was being built in a town near where the cafe was located was and this upset and divided the whole neighbourhood. What happened was that I stood up for the cafe maintaining its space by not allowing “every man and his dog” to place campaign flyers beside their cash register. It was in response to a protest group offering to place a stack of flyers near the till but the cafe had turned that offer down as a way of avoiding being overrun with all sorts of campaign material.

What can you do?

But when we participate in an online community, we need to have various approaches to deal with disruptive behaviour on that community. One of these approaches is to “hit it out with the facts” about the situation. In the MasterChef scenario, I was putting out the facts regarding the concept of the feedback loop that took place during the taste-test, something very similar to practices like showing rough-drafts of documents to teachers and employers as part of creating them or the computer software we use being subjected to beta testing before it is released. But I was stating the facts in a simple matter-of-fact manner without appearing to take sides and defend anyone.

As well you will have to simply call out the cyber-bullying in the forum for what it is. This may be as simple as writing a post to tell the trolls to “cut it out”. This will be the job of either the moderator and/or one or more forum participants.

This is in conjunction with defending the person or entity who is being vilified. For example, if the online activity is to do with a talent-quest show that uses audience-driven voting, use this voting mechanism to up-vote the personality who is being subjected to the online vilification especially if they demonstrate their prowess as a talent. This worked with a Dancing With The Stars talent-quest contestant who was deemed not to “fit the mould” for a TV talent-show contest and was subjected to a lot of online bullying.

Or simply many people on the forum can simply post commentary that supports that person or entity. It is more of effect when you simply mention their positive attributes or what they have done for you or your community.

For businesses, an army of regular patrons can continue to give them their business and encourage their online and offline social circle to visit them. As well, these regular patrons can also defend the business through its own social-media presence, whatever the platform.

You may find that the online community will offer to its users a mechanism to vote up or down comments or threads or even to “like” or “react to” a post or comment. Then the online community will have a view of its activity with all threads ranked by how they are voted or have the most positive reactions. Here, exploit these comment-voting or similar mechanisms to give more value to the sensible comments. But you may find that the trolls are gaming these systems in order to raise their foul comments or bury the good-quality material.

You may also need to know how to report trolls to the online community’s moderators or the online platform that the community is using. This can lead to the trolls being subject to disciplinary action by the online community or social-media platform, including being banned.

That same reporting can also be used as a path to allow the online community or the affected persons to instigate legal action against the trolls. It is due to the ability or requirement for the online community or social-media platform to keep these reports and related correspondence on record.

For that matter, an increasing number of jurisdictions like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Germany have various forms of “online-harms” legislation or regulations in place that allow you to report trolling and similar harmful behaviour to their authorities. This allows these jurisdictions to, for example, prosecute the perpetrators or facilitators of trolling or other harmful behaviours in the online space through the criminal courts or seek injunctive relief against such behaviour. In such cases, you may be able to contact your jurisdiction’s online-safety government department or police force to report such activity under these laws.

Think carefully and thoughtfully about that post before you put it online

You also can lead by example through thinking hard about what you intend to contribute to those online communities you participate in before you post to them. You can also encourage your children who participate in online communities to think carefully about what they post or say in these communities. This approach can help with raising the tone of all online communities you are part of.

Leading by example and thinking carefully about what you publish can mean that you gain more social respect from your peers within and beyond the online communities that you participate in. To the same extent, those people who look up to you as an example like your kids or the people you mentor see you as a valid example of proper online behaviour.

Conclusion

Being familiar with the online platforms you use and what they are associated with is valuable in dealing with trolls and other online nuisances. This includes post and comment management tools like voting mechanisms or reporting mechanisms.

Be aware of those people or other entities who are being subjected to a poor experience on the online platforms you use and do whatever is in your power to protect and defend them. It also includes calling out any cyber-bullying activity that is going on in the online platform.

As well, think before you post or leave comments on an online platform – you are effectively publishing something for all to see on that platform. This can affect how others inside and outside the online community perceive you and doing the right thing can cause you to be respected by others in that community.

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Chapter marking within podcasts

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts

As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.

This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.

Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content

In-band cue marking on cassette

Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.

This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.

With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.

Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.

Index Marking on CDs

The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.

Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.

Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.

As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.

There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.

But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.

The podcast revolution

File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.

Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.

The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.

The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.

It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.

Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.

Why chapter marking within podcasts?

A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.

This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.

This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.

Is this feasible?

The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.

There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.

What is holding it back?

The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.

Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.

As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.

Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.

Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.

Conclusion

The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.

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The XBox One offers dual controls for the benefit of novice game players

Article

CO-PILOT, XBOX ONE’S NEW ACCESSIBILITY FEATURE | Cerebral Palsy Foundation

How to use Xbox One copilot to link two controllers | Windows Central

Copilot video update: sharing or splitting a controller | Special Effect

Video Walkthrough from Special Effect – Click or Tap to play in YouTube

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

First Wave of New Xbox Update Features Ship to Select Xbox Insiders Today (Blog Post)

Copilot on XBox One (XBox Support Article)

My Comments

An issue I raised in a previous posting regarding computer and video games, especially console games, is that it can be difficult for some people to learn how to play a video game.

One of the situations I was thinking of was where a younger game player was showing an older person who is interested in cricket how to play a cricket video game on his console. He then offered the older person a try at the game but the older person found it difficult to work out what effect the different buttons on the control had on the gameplay.

Here it may be about dealing with which buttons to use on a particular controller to achieve a particular result, especially has today’s game-console controllers have many different controls on them and it may be difficult to work out which button, joystick or trigger does what if you are now to these devices.

As part of Microsoft releasing the XBox Adaptive Controller, they also added to the XBox One and to Windows a “co-pilot” mode. This isn’t just part of running two controllers with two different operation methods together. But it could be to allow an advanced game player to give a helping hand to a novice game player. It is similar to the practice followed by most driving schools where the driving school’s fleet of cars are equipped with dual-controls. This allows the driving instructor to control the clutch and brake in order to override what the learner driver is doing in case of an emergency, thus being a safety net for novice drivers.

Here, you have to have at least two controllers connected to the XBox or Windows computer to have Copilot Mode active. The rule with the Copilot Mode is that the first controller you turn on ends up as the primary controller for setting up this mode. As well, it is a good idea to do the initial setup routine with your typical XBox controller, now seen as the primary controller if you are using something like the XBox Adaptive Controller as your complementary controller.

XBox One games console

Method One
  1. Connect the secondary controller to your XBox for copilot use. The copilot doesn’t need to sign in with their XBox account for this to happen. As well, the primary player is able to record their achievements on the XBox leaderboard.
  2. Using the primary controller, press the large X button to open the Guide, then select the Profile & System menu. Select Settings, then Ease Of Access, then Controller in that menu.
  3. Choose Copilot Settings and select the “Turn on Copilot” option to enable this mode.
  4. You will see the secondary controller listed. Here, select that controller to work in Copilot mode.
  5. At this point, your XBox controllers are linked as if they are dual controls.

When you are done with Copilot mode, go back to the Copilot settings menu and select “Turn off Copilot”. Both controllers then work as if they are for separate players.

Method Two

You need to follow this method if you want to maintain access to and control of any advanced features that your secondary controller may have. This may be to support custom button mappings or enable vibration to provide haptic feedback during gameplay.

  1. Connect the secondary controller to your XBox for copilot use
  2. Go to the My Games And Apps menu then select XBox Accessories. You may have pinned the XBox Accessories app to your home screen perhaps to have more control over game-controller customisations.
  3. Using the XBox Accessories app, assign the secondary controller to your current login
  4. Go to the top menu on your XBox Accessories app, then select the three-dot option on your primary controller.
  5. In this menu, you select the Turn on Copilot option to enable this function on your controller.
  6. At this point, your XBox controllers are linked as if they are dual controls. You also maintain customisations for each of the controllers like vibration feedback or custom button mappings.
  7. When you are done with Copilot mode, go back to the Copilot settings menu in the three-dot option for your primary controller. Then click “Turn off Copilot” to return the controllers to normal dual-player operation.

Windows 10 computers

  1. Here, you need to download and install the XBox Accessories App from the Microsoft Store. This will provide increased control over any XBox controllers you have connected to your computer.
  2. Connect both controllers to your Windows 10 computer as mentioned in the prior article. This can be done via USB or wirelessly and you may find that the latest controllers will support Bluetooth connectivity.
  3. Run the XBox Accessories App whereupon you will see both controllers represented on the screen.
  4. Click the three-dot option under your primary controller. Then click the Turn on Copilot option in that menu to enable this function. This will only apply to the two controllers.
  5. When you are done with Copilot mode, run the XBox Accessories App and select the three-dot option under your primary controller. Then select the Turn off Copilot option in that menu to return to normal two-player operation.

Further notes

If you are helping someone handle that game, it may be better to take a similar approach to how driving instructors help and teach novice drivers even when using dual-control vehicles. That is to allow the novice to do the controlling themselves but take the reins when things become difficult.

As well, it may be about allowing the novice to familiarise themselves with the button layout on the controller and allow them to work the game at their own speed.

If the game does have any online play abilities, you may find that playing the game in a manner where the computer is the only effective opponent may be what you need to do when you are helping a novice game player. This means that you aren’t playing against real people at remote locations who may not be understanding about novice or occasional game players.

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Study confirms content-recommendation engines can further personal biases

YouTube recommendation list

Content recommendation engines on the likes of YouTube can easily lead viewers down a content rabbit hole if they are not careful

Article

This website lets you see how conspiracy theorists fall down the YouTube rabbit hole | Mashable

My Comments

Increasingly a lot of online services, be they social media services, news-aggregation portals, video streaming services and the like, are using algorithms to facilitate the exposure of undiscovered content to their users. It is part of their vision to effectively create a customised user experience for each person who uses these services and is part of an Internet-driven concept of “mass customisation”.

Those of you who use Netflix may find that your newsletter that they send you has movie recommendations that are based on what you are watching. You will also see on the Netflix screen a “recommendations” playlist with movies that are similar to what you have been watching through that service.

A very common example of this is YouTube with its recommended-content lists such as what to view next or what channels to subscribe to. Here a lot of the content that is viewed on YouTube is the result of viewers using the service’s personalised content recommendations.

The issue being raised regarding these algorithms is how they can perpetuate a personal “thought bubble”. It is even though there is other material available on the online service that may not mesh with that “bubble”. Typically this is through surfacing content that amplifies what the viewer has seen previously and can pander to their own biases.

An online experiment created by a Web developer and funded by the Mozilla Foundation explores this concept further in context with YouTube. This experiment, called “TheirTube”, emulates the YouTube content-discovery and viewing habits of six different personalities like conspiracists, conservative thinkers and climate deniers when they view content related to their chosen subjects.

Here, it shows up what is recommended in relationship to content to view next or channels to subscribe to for these different personalities and shows how the content recommendation engine can be used to underscore or amplify particular viewpoints.

It is a common problem associated with the artificial-intelligence / machine-learning approach associated with content recommendation that these services use. This is due to the end-user “seeding” the algorithms with the content that they actually interact with or the logical content sources they actually follow. Here, the attributes associated with the content effectively determine the “rules” the algorithm works on.

If you are trying to maintain some sort of critical thinking and use content services like YouTube for informational content, you may have to rely less on the content-recommendation engine that they use for finding new content. You may find it useful to manually seek out content with a contrasting viewpoint to avoid the creation of a “thought bubble”.

As well, if you follow the online-service’s recommendations in addition to running contrasting content through the online service, you may be in a position to make the content recommendation engine bring up varied content.

The idea of content recommendation engines that are based on what you choose can allow us to be easily cocooned in a content bubble that perpetuates personal biases.

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WhatsApp to allow users to search the Web regarding content in their messages

WhatsApp Search The Web infographic courtesy of WhatsApp

WhatsApp to allow you to search the Web for text related to viral messages posted on that instant messaging app

Article

WhatsApp Pilots ‘Search the Web’ Tool for Fact-Checking Forwarded Messages | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

WhatsApp

Search The Web (blog post)

My Comments

WhatsApp is taking action to highlight the fact that fake news and disinformation don’t just get passed through the Social Web. Here, they are highlighting the use of instant messaging and, to some extent, email as a vector for this kind of traffic which has been as old as the World Wide Web.

They have improved on their previous efforts regarding this kind of traffic initially by using a “double-arrow” icon on the left of messages that have been forwarded five or more times.

But now they are trialling an option to allow users to Google the contents of a forwarded message to check their veracity. One of the ways to check a news item’s veracity is whether one or more news publishers or broadcasters that you trust are covering this story and what kind of light they are shining on it.

Here, the function manifests as a magnifying-glass icon that conditionally appears near forwarded messages. If you click or tap on this icon, you start a browser session that shows the results of a pre-constructed Google-search Weblink created by WhatsApp. It avoids the need to copy then paste the contents of a forwarded message from WhatsApp to your favourite browser running your favourite search engine or to the Google app’s search box. This is something that can be very difficult with mobile devices.

But does this function break end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp implements for the conversations? No, because it works on the cleartext that you see on your screen and is simply creating the specially-crafted Google-search Weblink that is passed to whatever software handles Weblinks by default.

An initial pilot run is being made available in Italy, Brazil, Ireland (Eire), UK, Mexico, Spain and the USA. It will be part of the iOS and Android native clients and the messaging service’s Web client.

WhatsApp could evolve this function further by allowing the user to use different search engines like Bing or DuckDuckGo. But they would have to know of any platform-specific syntax requirements for each of these platforms and it may be a feature that would have to be rolled out in a piecemeal fashion.

They could offer the “search the Web” function as something that can be done for any message, rather than only for forwarded messages. I see it as being relevant for people who use the group-chatting functionality that WhatsApp offers because people can use a group chat as a place to post that rant that has a link to a Web resource of question. Or you may have a relative or friend who simply posts questionable information as part of their conversation with you.

At least WhatsApp are adding features to their chat platform’s client software to make it easer to put the brakes on disinformation spreading through it. This could he something that could be investigated by other instant-messaging platforms including SMS/MMS text clients.

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Google fact-checking now applies to image searches

Articles

Google search about Dan Andrews - Chrome browser in Windows 10

Google to add fact checking to images in its search user interfaces

Google adds a fact check feature for images | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Bringing fact check information to Google Images (Blog Post)

My Comments

Increasingly, images and video are being seen as integral to news coverage with most of us seeing them, especially photographs, of importance when corroborating a fact or news story.

But these are becoming weaponised to tell a different truth compared to what is actually captured by the camera. One way is to use the same or a similar image to corroborate a different fact, with this including the use of image-editing tools to doctor the image so it tells a different story.

I have covered this previously when talking about the use of reverse-image-search tools like Tineye or Google Image Search to verify the authenticity of an image and . It will be the same kind of feature that Google has enabled in its search interface when you “google” for something, or in its news-aggregation platforms.

Google is taking this further for people who search for images using their search tools. Here, they are adding images to their fact-check processes so it is easy to see whether an image has been used to corroborate questionable information. You will see a “fact-check” indicator near the image thumbnail and when you click or tap on the image for a larger view or more details, you will see some details about whether the image is true or not.

A similar feature appears on the YouTube platform for exhibiting details about the veracity of video content posted there. But this feature currently is available to users based in Brazil, India and the USA and I am not sure whether it will be available across all YouTube user interfaces, especially native clients for mobile and set-top platforms.

It is in addition to Alphabet, their parent company, offering a free tool to check whether an image has been doctored. This is because meddling with an image to constitute something else using something like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP is being seen as a way to convey a message that isn’t true. The tool, called Assembler, uses artificial intelligence and algorithms that detect particular forms of image manipulation to indicate the veracity of an image.

But I would also see the rise of tools that analyse audio and video material to identify deepfake activity, or video sites, podcast directories and the like using a range of tools to identify the authenticity of content made available through them. This may include “fact-check” labels with facts being verified by multiple newsrooms and universities; or the content checked for out-of-the-ordinary editing techniques. It can also include these sites and directories implementing a feedback loop so that users can have questionable content verified.

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What can be done about taming political rhetoric on online services?

Article

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Online services may have to observe similar rules to traditional media and postal services when it comes to handling election and referendum campaigns

There’s a simple way to reduce extreme political rhetoric on Facebook and Twitter | FastCompany

My Comments

In this day and age, a key issue that is being raised regarding the management of elections and referenda is the existence of extreme political rhetoric on social media and other online services.

But the main cause of this problem is the algorithmic nature associated with most online services. This can affect what appears in a user’s default news feed when they start a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram session; whether a bulk-distributed email ends up in the user’s email inbox or spam folder; whether the advertising associated with a campaign appears in search-driven or display online advertising; or if the link appears on the first page of a search-engine user experience.

This is compared to what happens with traditional media or postal services while there is an election or referendum. In most of the democracies around the world, there are regulations overseen by the electoral-oversight, broadcasting and postal authorities regarding equal access to airtime, media space and the postal system by candidates or political parties in an election or organisations defending each option available in a referendum. If the medium or platform isn’t regulated by the government such as what happens with out-of-home advertising or print media, the peak bodies associated with that space establish equal lowest-cost access to these platforms through various policies.

Examples of this include an equal number of TV or radio commercial spots made available at the cheapest advertising rate for candidates or political parties contesting a poll, including the same level of access to prime-time advertising spaces; scheduled broadcast debates or policy statements on free-to-air TV with equal access for candidates; or the postal service guaranteeing priority throughput of election matter for each contestant at the same low cost.

These regulations or policies are to make it hard for a candidate, political party or similar organisation to “game” the system but allow voters to make an informed choice about whom or what they vote for. But the algorithmic approach associated with the online services doesn’t guarantee the candidates equal access to the voters’ eyeballs thus requiring the creation of incendiary content that can go viral and be shared amongst many people.

What needs to happen is that online services have to establish a set of policies regarding advertising and editorial content tendered by candidates, political parties and allied organisations in order to guarantee equal delivery of the content.  This means marking such content so as to gain equal rotation in an online-advertising platform; using “override markers” that provide guaranteed recorded delivery of election matter to one’s email inbox or masking interaction details associated with election matter posted on a Facebook news feed.

But the most important requirement is that the online platforms cannot censor or interfere with the editorial content of the message that is being delivered to the voters by them. It is being seen as important especially in a hyper-partisan USA where it is perceived by conservative thinkers that Silicon Valley is imposing Northern-Californian / Bay-Area values upon people who use or publish through their online services.

A question that can easily crop up is the delivery of election matter beyond the jurisdiction that is affected by the poll. Internet-based platforms can make this very feasible and it may be considered of importance for, say, a country’s expats who want to cast their vote in their homeland’s elections. But people who don’t live within or have ties to the affected jurisdiction may see it as material of little value if there is a requirement to provide electoral material beyond a jurisdiction’s borders. This could be answered through social-media and email users, or online publishers having configurable options to receive and show material from multiple jurisdictions rather than the end-user’s current jurisdiction.

What is being realised here is that online services will need to take a leaf out of traditional regulated media and communication’s playbook to guarantee election candidates’ fair equal access to the voters through these platforms.

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Keeping those videoconferencing platforms relevant beyond the pandemic shutdown

As various jurisdictions around the world are “peeling back” the various stay-at-home restrictions once they are sure they have the coronavirus plague under control in their territory, we could easily see our love for many-to-many videoconferencing wane. It can be more so when the barriers are fully down and we are confident about going out and about, or travelling long-distance.

But these many-to-many video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms do not need to be ignored once we can go out. It is more about keeping these platforms in continual relevance beyond the workplace and as part of personal and community life.

How can you keep these platforms relevant

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Are these multi-party video conferences going to die out when the all-clear to meet face-to-face and to travel is given?

Family and friends

Do you have members of your family or community who are separated by distance? Here, each family cluster who can meet up at a particular venue in their local area can implement Zoom, Skype or a similar platform to create a wide-area meetup amongst the clusters. It can also extend to remote members of that family or community using these platforms to “call in” and join the occasion.

This situation will be very real with us taking baby steps to getting back to what we used to do, including long-distance travel. Initially long-distance travel will be put off due to fears of newer coronavirus infections on crowded transport modes like economy-class airline cabins along with countries putting off opening their borders and enabling long-distance domestic travel until they are sure that the Covid-19 beast is under control.

If one of us moves to a place that is a long distance away like overseas or interstate, these videoconferencing platforms become even more relevant as a tool to “keep in touch with home”. For example, once that person has settled in to their home, they could use a smartphone, tablet or highly-portable laptop computer to take those of us who are “at home” on a tour of their new premises.

Similarly, an event like an engagement or “wetting the new baby’s head” that is typically celebrated by small groups of relatives or friends who get together to celebrate with a toast to the lucky couple or parents can be taken further. Here, these small clusters could effectively “join up” as part of a larger virtual cluster involving the people whom the occasion is about in order to celebrate together.

Education

For education, distance learning can continue to be made relevant especially for people who can’t attend the class in person. This includes underserved rural and remote communities, people who are in hospital and similar places or itinerant students. There can also be a blended-learning approach that can be taken where a class can both be face-to-face and remote.

Teachers can use videoconferencing to teach classes at the school even if they are home due to illness, caring for relatives or similar situations. It is important for those teachers who place value in curriculum continuity for their students no matter what. Foreign-language teachers who are engaging in personal travel to the country associated with the language they are teaching can use aspects of the trip for curriculum enrichment. With this they could “call in” to their classes at home from that country and engage with the country’s locals or demonstrate its local culture and idiosyncrasies.

A school’s student-exchange program can also benefit from videoconferencing by having remote exchange students able to “call in” to their home school. With this the students could share their experiences and knowledge about the remote location with their “home” class.

To the same extent, a school could link up with one or more guest speakers so that speaker can enrich the class with extra knowledge and experiences. It can even help those schools who can’t afford frequent field trips especially long-distance trips to be able to benefit from knowledge beyond the classroom.

Community Worship

In the worship context, videoconferencing technology can be about allowing mission workers to call their home church and present their report to their home congregation by video link. It can even appeal towards multiple-campus churches who want to be part of these video links.

This technology is still relevant to those small Bible-study / prayer / fellowship groups that are effectively smaller communities within a church’s community. Here, these groups could maintain videoconferencing as a way to allow members separated from the group on a temporary basis to effectively “call in” and participate during the meetups. In some cases where one of these groups becomes too large that they “break up” to smaller groups, they could implement the many-to-many videoconferencing technologies to host larger group meetups on an occasional basis.

Of course there are the key occasions that are part of a religious community’s life like the weddings or funerals. Here, it could be feasible to provide a video link-up so that people who can’t attend the services associated with these events in person due to ill-health or long-distance can view them on line.

As well, the supporting parties associated with these events can become global shared celebrations comprising of multiple local celebration clusters using video-link technology. This is more so with families and communities who are split up by distance but want to celebrate together.

Other community organisations who thrive on being close-knit could easily see the multi-party video-conference as being relevant especially for members who are far-flung from where they usually meet. As well, those who have presence in multiple geographic areas can exploit the likes of Zoom or Skype to make ad-hoc virtual meetings that don’t cost much to organise.

What can be done

Increased support for group videocalling on the big screens

If a mobile-platform vendor has an investment in their mobile platform along with a set-top-box platform (that’s you, Apple with your iOS and Apple TV, and Google with your Android and Chromecast), they could work towards enabling their set-top platform towards group videophone functionality.

Here, this idea would require the smartphone or tablet, which has the contact list and the user-interface for the videocalling platforms like Facetime, Zoom, Skype or Facebook Messenger; to be able to manage the calls while a camera attached to the top of the TV is linked to the set-top box which works with the videocalling platform as a screen, camera, speakers and microphone.

I wrote in a previous article about this idea and the two ways it can be done. One of these is to have a lean software interface in both devices that link the smartphone to the set-top box and have the caller’s face and voice on the TV with the camera linked to the set-top box bringing your face and voice to the caller. The smartphone would then run the videocalling platform, allowing the user to control the call from that device.

The other is to have the videocalling platform software on the set-top box with the ability to use the smartphone to manage accounts, callers and the like from its surface. This is similar to how DIAL is being used by Netflix and YouTube to permit users to “throw” content from smartphones or computers to smart TVs and set-top devices equipped with client software for these platforms.

Conclusion

The videoconferencing platforms of the Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms ilk can be of use beyond the pandemic shutdown, serving as a way to bridge distance and bring communities together.

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