Category: Network Lifestyle And Activities

USA to pry open mobile-app-store market

Article

Google Play Android app store

Legislation or regulation to come about to open up the app-store market on mobile devices to competing providers

How the Open App Markets Act wants to remake app stores – The Verge

What the Open App Markets Act means for future of Big Tech (fastcompany.com)

From the horse’s mouth

US Congress

Open App Markets Act (Follow this law through Congress)

My Comments

At the moment, if you want to add functionality to your smartphone or tablet, you have to use the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to download the necessary apps. Some Android phone manufacturers like Samsung and Amazon run their own app stores with the former operating theirs alongside Google’s app store and the latter in lieu of that app store.

This process also affects post-download transactions like purchasing the software after a trial, subscribing to the services associated with the software or buying microcurrency for a game using real money. With services like Netflix or Spotify or mobile ports of some desktop software, you use the service’s desktop user interface to sign up and pay for subscriptions then you log in to the user account you created for that service using the mobile app to benefit from what you paid for.

The same approach is being used for the ChromeOS platform and Microsoft and Apple want to push this on to their Windows and MacOS desktop computing platforms. This is more so with Microsoft and the ARM-powered Windows laptops or offering lightweight “S” variants of Windows for cheaper computers. It is also implemented with games consoles, connected-TV/set-top-box platforms, printers, network-attached storage devices, routers, connected vehicles and the smart home as a way to add functionality to these platforms.

This may even apply to app stores on regular computers like the Windows Store

Here, some of the companies in Big Tech want to provide that same kind of walled garden that is expected with games consoles for other computing devices as a way of providing some perceived “simplicity” and security for these devices.

Concern has been raised about this approach due to frustrating competition for apps on these platforms. It includes a monopsony approach where software developers are disadvantaged due to the app store charging commissions on software-related transactions or exacting onerous terms and conditions on software developers who want to have their apps available on the popular mobile platforms.

This is an issue that has been brought about by the Fortnite saga where Apple frustrated Epic’s wishes to sell microtransactions, subscriptions or similar services for Fortnite independently of Apple even for iOS ports of that game. There is similar activity going on in the European Union with the Digital Markets Act to push for competition in the mobile-computing-device realm while the authorities in charge of market competition in the UK and Australia are examining this issue.

What is the Open App Markets Act about?

What the Open App Markets Act means is that competing app markets can exist on mobile and similar-use platforms like iOS and Android. It also requires that these platforms have a requirement to allow users to sideload apps to their devices and the platform can’t default to its own app stores.

Sideloading is primarily transferring software from a regular computer or external / network file storage to the mobile or other device in order for it to run on that device. This is similar to the way we have installed software on our Windows, Macintosh or Linux computers for a long time. Here, we have inserted a floppy disk or CD-ROM in to a computer and ran an installation from that storage medium to have the software on the computer. Or we downloaded the software from the developer’s Website or a download site to our computer’s hard disk and ran the installation program associated with that software to install it.

It could also extend to software developers making the software available to download or purchase from their own Web presences, including processing any post-download payment transactions there. This means that the software developer gains effective control over their software through its lifecycle.

If software developers wish to implement post-download transactions for their software such as converting a trial version to a full-service program, offering subscriptions or selling microcurrency for a game, they can use a competing storefront or facilitate their transactions on their own Websites.

Who would it primarily benefit?

A user group that would benefit from the competitive app market would be gaming enthusiasts. Here, they would benefit from games-focused app stores like Steam, Epic and GOG who run their own leaderboards, online game saving, and online forums. Similarly, games developers would be running their own app stores for their games titles, continuing to offer the same kind of integrated functionality.

I also see Microsoft behind this idea because of software development being their founding stone with an example being the XBox One designed from scratch to support home-developed games. This is because they want to run app stores as a way to make it easier for up-and-coming software developers to put their wares on their market.

What are the issues here?

One key issue that would come up in my mind is a replication of the “bulletin board” or “download site” era that existed before and during the early days of the Internet. This is akin to the “shovelware” magazine-cover CD-ROM era that existed in the early days of optical data storage. That is where you had online or offline collections of poor-quality software available for download or installation on your regular computer. It is something that has affected some app stores in their early days where they were replete with poor-quality apps.

Here, there was very little effort regarding quality control when it came to making software available on a bulletin board or download site or adding software to an optical disc that was attached to a computer magazine. This is compared to most app stores where the people who run the stores vet the software before it is published as well as running “editor’s choice” or “spotlight” programs to feature good-quality software,

Apple and Google challenge the competitive app store approach because they see exclusive app stores as a way to maintain standards regarding software for their platforms.

Here, they see this primarily with data security and user privacy. But they also see this with maintaining legal and social expectations regarding the kind of software available on personal devices. This ranges from issues like suitability for children and suitability to use in the workplace or around your family; along with being able to facilitate access to undesireable content like hate speech or disinformation.

How could these issues be answered?

Computing-platform, operating-system and device vendors, amongst other strong voices in the personal/business IT and cybersecurity world could implement one or more “seal-of-approval” systems on apps or app stores. There would even be various legal protections and requirements placed on the software and app stores like intellectual-property or media-classification requirements, Here, the software or app stores have to maintain certain quality and similar standards before acquiring that “seal of approval”.

Endpoint-security logic that is part of the operating system or a third-party endpoint-security program offered by a brand of respect would add extra friction to installing or running software that doesn’t have one or more of these “seals of approval”. As well, such software would be required to identify and easily remove such software.

Similarly, these companies could vet software developers’ access to software-development kits and application-programming interfaces so that the developer has to be in “good standing” to use the features that matter in an operating system. As well, software-authentication regimes will be implemented in a strong manner for any software that is distributed or installed on these devices.

Is there a risk of a limited rollout of open app-market features

There can be a risk of Big Tech creating versions of their app-store-driven computing platforms for particular geopolitical areas when each area enacts open-app-market legislation.

In this situation, when a user registers a new device or the device’s operating system is updated, there would be logic to test whether the device is within a country or region under an open-app-market mandate then deliver a compliant version of the software to those areas. That is while a noncompliant version of the software is delivered to new or updated devices in areas that don’t have the open-app-market mandate.

This is similar to an issue faced in Australia with the motor industry where vehicle builders are “dumping” vehicles that are less fuel-efficient in to that market. That is because there aren’t the fleet-wide vehicle-efficiency mandates there that are similar to those mandates affecting USA, Europe or South East Asia.

Here, the issue that would be raised is having markets that aren’t regulated with open-app-market mandates being areas to continue the status quo regarding anticompetitive behaviour. Add to this intense lobbying of government or political parties by Big Tech to continue the same kind of behaviour with impunity.

Conclusion

What may be coming about for smartphones, mobile-platform tablets and similar devices is that governments will be forcing open the app-store markets for these devices so that users can seek software from competing suppliers.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Keeping the same character within your online community

Article

Facebook login page

Online communities do represent a lot of hard work and continuous effort including having many moderators

General Election 2019: Has your local Facebook group been hijacked by politics? | BBC News

My Comments

The past UK General Election highlighted an issue with the management of online communities, especially those that are targeted at neighbourhoods.

In the BBC News article, a local Facebook group that was used by a neighbourhood specifically for sharing advice, recommending businesses, advertising local events, “lost-and-found” and similar purposes was steered from this purpose to a political discussion board.

You may or may not think that politics should have something to do with your neighbourhood but ordinarily, it stays very well clear. That is unless you are dealing with a locally-focused issue like the availability of publicly-funded services like healthcare, education or transport infrastructure in your neighbourhood. Or it could be about a property development that is before the local council that could affect your neighbourhood.

How that came about was that it was managed by a single older person who had passed away. Due to the loss of an administrator, the group effectively became a headless “zombie” group where there was no oversight over what was being posted.

That happened as the UK general election was around the corner with the politics “heating up” especially as the affected neighbourhood was in a marginal electorate. Here, the neighbourhood newsgroup “lost it” when it came to political content with the acrimony heating up after the close of polls. The site administrator’s widow even stated that the online group was being hijacked by others pushing their own agendas.

Subsequently, several members of that neighbourhood online forum stepped in to effectively wrest control and restore sanity to it. This included laying down rules against online bullying and hate speech along with encouraging proper decent courtesy on the bulletin board. It became hard to effectively steer back the forum to that sense of normalcy due to pushback by some members of the group and the established activity that occurred during the power vacuum.

This kind of behaviour, like all other misbehaviour facilitated through the Social Web and other Internet platforms, exploits the perceived distance that the Internet offers. It is something you wouldn’t do to someone face-to-face.

What was being identified was that there was a loss of effective management power for that online group due to the absence of a leader which maintained the group’s character and no-one effectively steps up to fill the void. This can easily happen with any form of online forum or bulletin board including an impromptu “group chat” set up on a platform like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Viber.

It is like a real-life situation with an organisation like a family business where people have put in the hard yards to maintain a particular character. Then they lose the effective control of that organisation and no-one steps up to the plate to maintain that same character. This kind of situation can occur if there isn’t continual thought about succession planning in that organisation’s management especially if there aren’t any young people in the organisation who are loyal to its character and vision.

An online forum should have the ability and be encouraged to have multiple moderators with the same vision so others can “take over” if one isn’t able to adequately continue the job anymore. Here, you can discover and encourage potential moderators through their active participation online and in any offline events. But you would need to have some people who have some sort of computer and Internet literacy as moderators so they know their way around the system or require very minimal training.

The multiplicity of moderators can cater towards unforseen situations like death or sudden resignation. It also can assure that one of the moderators can travel without needing to have their “finger on the pulse” with that online community. In the same vein, if they or one of their loved ones falls ill or there is a personal calamity, they can concentrate on their own or their loved one’s recovery and rehabilitation or managing their situation.

There will be a reality that if a person moves out of a neighbourhood in good faith, they will have maintained regular contact with their former neighbours. Here they would be trying to keep their “finger on the pulse” regarding the neighbourhood’s character.  This fact can be exploited with managing a neighbourhood-focused online community by them being maintained as a “standby moderator” where they can be “roped in” to moderate the online community if there are too few moderators.

To keep the same kind of “vibe” within that online community that you manage will require many hands at the pump. It is not just a one-person affair.

Logitech improves on the XBox Adaptive Controller with a cost-effective control package

Articles

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit press picture courtesy of Logitech International

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit has what you need for the XBox Adaptive Controller

Logitech’s $100 kit for the Xbox Adaptive Controller makes accessible gaming cheaper | CNet

Microsoft went all in on accessible design. This is what happened afterwards | FastCompany

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on the XBox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

From the horse’s mouth

Logitech

Adaptive Gaming Kit (Product Page, Press Release, Blog Post)

My Comments

Recently, Microsoft launched the XBox Adaptive Controller as an accessible games-console controller for people who face motion and dexterity-related disabilities. They even promoted it in a TV commercial ran during this year’s Super Bowl football match, which would have been considered to go against the grain for the usual sporting and video-game audiences.

This has been part of Microsoft’s step towards inclusionary gaming and I had written in the article about that controller not just to focus towards providing video gaming for disabled people. But I also called out the therapeautic value that some games can have for elderly people as well as disabled people with Microsoft offering a lower barrier to entry for independent game developers to create games that underscore that concept.

It has actually been underscored in a recent CNET video article about the XBox Adaptive Controller being used to help a US war veteran who lost some of his motion and dexterity in a motorcycle accident.

Click or tap here to play the video

But Logitech have taken this a step further by offering an accessory kit with all the necessary controls for US$99. This kit, known as the Adaptive Gaming Kit, makes it more affordable for these people so you can have an accessible gaming setup to suit your particular needs without having to choose and buy the necessary accessories. Here, it is important especially if a person’s needs will change over time and you don’t want to have to buy newer accessories to suit that need.

The package comes with rigid and flexible mats with Velcro anchor points for the various buttons and other controls. The flexible mats can even allow the controls to be anchored around a chair’s arms or other surfaces while the whole kit can allow for the equipment to be set up and packed up with minimal effort. The controls all have their own Velcro anchor points and screw holes for anchoring to other surfaces.

Logitech used their own intellectual capital in designing the kit while working with Microsoft to evolve the product. Here, they implemented their own mechanical-switch technology that is part of their high-end keyboards including their low-profile switches used in their low-profile keyboard range. The large buttons have stabilisers built in to them so you can press them from anywhere on the button’s surface. This leads to them not reinventing the wheel when it comes to the product’s design or manufacture because of the use of common technology.

What I have liked about Logitech’s Adaptive Gaming Kit is that the idea of accessible gaming comes at a price point that represents value for money. This is compared to various assistive-technology solutions which tend to require the user to pay a king’s ransom to acquire the necessary equipment. It has often led towards the government or charitable sector not getting their money’s worth out of their disabled-person support programs due to the high cost of the necessary technology.

Welcome to the new age of making assistive technology become more mainstream, not just for disabled users but for the realities associated with the ageing population such as ageing Baby Boomers and people living longer.