Media

Roli’s newest instrument, the Lumi, helps you learn to play piano with lights

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Keyboards, Media, Music, piano, ROLI | No Comments

There has been a longstanding gulf between the consumption of music and the creation of it: not everyone has the time or money to spend on lessons and instruments, and for those in school, many music education programs have been cut back over the years, making the option of learning to play instruments for free less common. Still others have had moments of interest but haven’t found the process of learning that easy.

Now we’re seeing a new wave of startups emerge that are attempting to tackle these issues with technology, creating tools and even new instruments that leverage smartphones and tablets, new hardware computing innovations and new software to make learning music more than just a pastime for a select few.

In the latest development, London startup Roli is launching a new interactive keyboard called the Lumi. Part colourful, sound-sensitive lightboard and part piano, the Lumi’s keys light up in a colorful array to help guide and teach you to play music. The 11-inch keyboard — which can be linked with one or two more of the same to add more octaves — comes with an iPad app that contains hundreds of pieces, and the two are now selling for $249 alongside a new Kickstarter to help drum up interest and offer early-bird discounts. The Kickstarter campaign blew through its modest £100,000 goal within a short while, and some of the smaller tiers of pledges are now sold out. The product will start shipping in October 2019, the company says.

As you might already know, or have guessed by the reaction to the kickstarter, this is not Roli’s first rodeo: the company has made two other major products (and variations on those two) before this, also aimed at music making. First came the Seaboard, which Roli described as a new instrument when it first launched. Taking the form factor of a keyboard, it contained squishy keys that let the player bend notes and create other effects alongside electronic-based percussive tapping, as you would do with a normal keyboard.

Its next product was Blocks: small, modular light boards that also used colored light to guide your playing and help you create new and interesting sounds and beats with taps (and using a similarly squidgy surface to the Seaboard) and then mix them together.

Both of these were interesting, but somewhat aimed at those who were already familiar with playing pianos or other instruments, or with creating and playing electronic music with synthesizers, FX processors and mixers. (Case in point: the people I know who were most interested in these were my DJ friends and my kids, who both play the piano and are a little nerdy about these things.)

The Lumi is in a way a step back for Roli from trying to break new ground by conceiving of completely new instruments, with new form factors built with the benefits of technology and electronics in mind. But it’s also a step ahead: using a keyboard as the basis of the instrument, the Lumi is more familiar and therefore more accessible — with an accessible price of $249 to go along with that.

Lumi’s emergence comes after an interesting few years of growth for Roli. The company is one of the select few (and I think the only one making musical instruments) to be retailed in Apple stores, and it’s had endorsements from some very high-profile people, but that’s about as mainstream as it has been up to now.

The startup’s founder and CEO, American-born Roland Lamb, is probably best described as a polymath, someone who comes across less as a geeky and nervous or (at the other end) ultra-smooth-talking startup founder, and more like a calm-voiced thinker who has come out to talk to you in a break between reading and writing about the nature of music and teaching a small philosophy seminar.

His background also speaks to this unconventional manner. Before coming to found Roli, he lived in a Zen monastery, made his way around the world playing jazz piano, and studied Chinese and Sanskrit at Harvard and design at the Royal College of Art.

Roli has always been a little cagey about how much it has raised and from whom, but the list includes consumer electronics giants like Sony, specialist audio makers like Onkyo, the music giant Universal Music Group and VCs that include Founders Fund, Index and LocalGlobe, Kreos Capital, Horizons Ventures and more. It’s also partnered with a number of big names like Pharrell Williams (who is also an investor) in the effort to get its name out.

And while it has most definitely made a mark with a certain echelon of the music world — producers and those creating electronic music — it has not parlayed that into a wider global reputation or wider accessibility. After bringing out instruments more for a high-end audience, the Lumi seems like an attempt to do just that.

That seems to be coming at the right time. Services like Spotify and YouTube — and the rise of phones and internet usage in general — have transformed how we listen to music. We now have a much wider array of things to listen to whenever we want. On top of that, services like YouTube and SoundCloud furthermore are giving us a taste of creating our own music: using electronic devices, we can go beyond what might have been limitations up to now (for example, having never learned to play an instrument in the traditional sense) to get stuck into the craft itself.

The Lumi is also tapping into another important theme, and that is of music being “good for you.” There is a line of thought that says learning an instrument is good for your mind, both if you’re a younger person who is still in school or indeed out of school and looking to stay sharp. Others believe it has health benefits.

But realistically, these beliefs don’t get applied very often. Roli cites stats that say that only 10% of adults aged 18-29 have played an instrument in the past year, and of those that played as children, some 80% say they quit by age 14.

Putting this together with the Lumi, it seems that the aim is to hit a wider swathe of the market and bring in people who might want to learn something like playing an instrument but previously thought it would be too much of a challenge.

Roli isn’t the first — nor likely the last — company to reconsider how to learn playing the piano through technology. The Chinese company ONE Music Group makes both smart pianos with keyboards that light up, as well as a strip that you overlay on any keyboard, that also corresponds to an iPad app to learn to play piano.

An American startup called McCarthy Music also makes illuminated-key pianos, also subscribing to the principle that providing this kind of guidance to teach muscle memory is an important step in getting a student acquainted with playing on a keyboard.

The Lumi is notable not just because of its cost, but its size — the single, lightweight keyboards have a battery life of six hours and can fit in a backback.

That said, Roli is hoping there will be a double audience to these in the longer term, bridging the divide between music maker and listener, but also amateur and pro.

“Many people would love to play an instrument but worry that they don’t have the talent. Through our research, design, and innovation at ROLI, we’ve come to believe that the problem is not a lack of talent. Rather, instruments themselves are not smart enough,” said Lamb in a statement. “What excites me most is that the intelligence of LUMI means that there’s something in it for everyone. On one hand my own kids now prefer LUMI time to movie time. On the other hand, several of the world’s leading keyboard players can’t wait to use LUMI in the studio and on the stage.”

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Comcast adds gaze control to its accessible remote software

Posted by | accessibility, Comcast, Gadgets, gaze tracking, Media, x+1, xfinity | No Comments

The latest feature for Comcast’s X1 remote software makes the clicker more accessible to people who can’t click it the same as everyone else. People with physical disabilities will now be able to change the channel and do all the usual TV stuff using only their eyes.

TVs and cable boxes routinely have horrendous interfaces, making the most tech-savvy among us recoil in horror. And if it’s hard for an able-bodied person to do, it may well be impossible for someone who suffers from a condition like ALS, or has missing limbs or other motor impairments.

Voice control helps, as do other changes to the traditional 500-button remote we all struggled with for decades, but gaze control is now beginning to be widely accessible as well, and may prove an even better option.

Comcast’s latest accessibility move — this is one area where the company seems to be genuinely motivated to help its customers — is to bring gaze control to its Xfinity X1 web remote. You load it up on a compatible computer or tablet, sync it with your cable box once, and then the web interface acts as your primary controller.

Users will be able to do pretty much all the everyday TV stuff using gaze: change channels, search and browse the guide, set and retrieve recordings, launch a live sport-tracking app and call up and change accessibility options like closed captioning.

A short video showing how one man finds the tech useful is worth a watch:

It’s amazing to think that among all the things Jimmy Curran has worked to make himself capable of in spite of his condition, changing the channel was not one of them. Perhaps there was some convoluted way of going about it, but it’s still an oversight on the part of TV interfaces that has limited accessibility for years.

Voice controls may also be more easily usable by people with conditions that affect their speech; Google is applying machine learning to the task with its Project Euphonia.

Users will need a gaze control setup of their own (this isn’t uncommon for folks with physical disabilities), after which they can direct the browser on it to xfin.tv/access, which will start the pairing process.

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Tesla’s in-car touchscreens are getting YouTube support

Posted by | Android, automotive, cars, e3 2019, electric vehicles, Elon Musk, in-car navigation, Louisiana, Media, streaming video, TC, Tesla, tesla model 3, Tesla Model S, YouTube | No Comments

Tesla has consistently been adding software to its in-car touchscreen infotainment displays — including sometimes things that probably leave a lot of people scratching their heads. During a special Q&A today at annual gaming event E3 in LA, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Tesla’s in-car display will support YouTube someday soon.

This isn’t the first time the Tesla CEO has suggested YouTube might one day have a home in the company’s cars: In response to a fan’s question on Twitter last August he noted that version 10 of the company’s in-car software would provide support for third-party video streaming. The company debuted its Software Version 9.0 last year.

Musk specifically said YouTube would be coming to cars during the E3 event today, at which he revealed that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 would be coming to the infotainment displays, and unveiled a demo video of Android game Beach Buggy Racer running on a display in a Tesla Model 3.

On a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO also said the company would consider opening the platform more broadly to third-party developers for both apps and games. The company has done a lot on its own to add software “Easter Eggs” to the dash display, but turning it into a true platform is a much more ambitious vision.

On its face, adding to a car attention-heavy apps like streaming video services definitely seems counterintuitive, but to be fair to Tesla, a large number of drivers today use their phones for in-car navigation and those can also all technically display YouTube at any time. It does seem like a case of Musk’s mind racing ahead to a day when his cars are fully autonomous, something he recently reiterated he expects to happen within the next couple of years.

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What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

Posted by | Apple, e3 2019, events, Gadgets, Gaming, Google, Hulu, Media, Microsoft, Netflix, Nintendo, Sony, Spotify, stadia, Streaming Media, ubisoft, Uplay, xbox | No Comments

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

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Square Enix shows off Final Fantasy VII Remake, Avengers and more – watch the trailers here

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, Media, square enix, TC | No Comments

The long series of press conferences that marks the beginning of E3 is nearly at an end, with Square Enix the last to present, if you don’t count Nintendo tomorrow. The company leaned hard on nostalgia, piling remake upon remaster, but had a few surprises as well. Okay, maybe not “surprises,” but there was some good stuff.

The curtain rose, literally, on the title many gamers have been waiting on for years: the remake of RPG classic Final Fantasy VII. We saw a bit of this game in action last month, but this was much more comprehensive.

Yoshinori Kitase, producer of the title, speaking through a translator, thanked the crowd for their “support and patience over these years,” decades rather, during which fans never stopped clamoring for a remake. In fact, they clamored all the way through the whole on-stage demo.

The crowd went wild at the news that the game would cover two Blu-ray discs, each of which is of course many, may times the size of the original discs the game came from. The first chapter, set in the city of Midgar, has evolved to become a new game in its own right, he explained.

It has a combination of action and more traditional RPG mechanics — instead of turns you build up the ability to freeze time and take more tactical actions like using an item, casting spells, and so on. You’ll be able to switch between characters, of course, but this is definitely more in the line of XV than the original.

The game is playable at the Square Enix booth, which got everyone nice and riled up, especially seeing Tifa in action. You can watch the new, extended trailer below:

(Incidentally, the pre-order bonuses are ridiculous.)

Plugs for Life is Strange 2, Octopath Traveler, and remasters of FF Crystal Chronicles and the Last Remant followed. Then came Dragon Quest Builders 2 and DQ 11, which look as charming and fun as they have in months past. The Kingdom Hearts DLC Remind was shown off, and the expansion for Final Fantasy XIV as well. Two “celebrated classics” from the SaGa series got remastered. And the Final Fantasy VIII is also getting a much-deserved remaster, which is highly relevant to my interests.

As you can see, the presentation wasn’t exactly packed with surprises — but hey, Square Enix knows what its fans like, and honestly remakes and remasters are hot right now. But where’s my Final Fantasy Tactics?

One of the few new games we saw, top-down indie racing game called Circuit Superstars, looks like it could be a fun time when it comes out next year:

Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, one of the franchise’s mobile branches, is getting a sequel called War of the Visions — with a Game of Thrones-style introducing a variety of houses and their specialties. “Now in development.”

People Can Fly showed a cinematic trailer for a new IP called “Outriders” that could be cool, but it’s awfully hard to tell. It’s meant to be a strong narrative game with drop-in-drop-out multiplayer, but as they aren’t showing any gameplay yet. They’re a good studio (‘ll never forget Painkiller) so I’m sure they’ll make something interesting by the time the mid-2020 release date rolls around.

We got our best look yet at Oninaki, the action RPG from the creators of Lost Sphear and I Am Setsuna. Sure, it looks like something off the PlayStation 3, but so did the last two, and they were good.

A trailer for the new Avengers game from Crystal Dynamics received a warm welcome, though it was hard not to notice that the main characters were considerably different from the MCU versions. You won’t be controlling a virtual Chris Evans or Scarlett Johansson, sorry to say. This is the studio’s “unique take” on the team, which is fair, but coming as it does shortly after Endgame, a little disappointment is allowed.

The actors playing the characters in the game got a chance to introduce themselves and the complexities of their roles, which is certainly nice. Here’s hoping they have the chemistry the MCU team do — a short, dour clip of Banner arguing with Stark didn’t do much to convince, but the truth is Crystal Dynamics is good at characters and we should just let them do their thing.

The game itself looks good, a partly-online, story-driven thing with “no loot boxes” and every new area and character available for free. We’ll know more once we’ve played it at Square Enix’s booth. It’s coming out on everything but Switch in May of 2020, and PS4 users will get “early beta access” and some “unique benefits.”

Then the press conference ended abruptly. Just like this post!

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Maker Faire halts operations and lays off all staff

Posted by | Education, Entertainment, Exit, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Hack, hardware, layoffs, MAKE, maker faire, Maker Media, Media, Personnel, robotics, Startups, Talent, TC | No Comments

Financial troubles have forced Maker Media, the company behind crafting publication MAKE: magazine as well as the science and art festival Maker Faire, to lay off its entire staff of 22 and pause all operations. TechCrunch was tipped off to Maker Media’s unfortunate situation which was then confirmed by the company’s founder and CEO Dale Dougherty.

For 15 years, MAKE: guided adults and children through step-by-step do-it-yourself crafting and science projects, and it was central to the maker movement. Since 2006, Maker Faire’s 200 owned and licensed events per year in over 40 countries let attendees wander amidst giant, inspiring art and engineering installations.

Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees” Dougherty tells TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.” Microsoft and Autodesk failed to sponsor this year’s flagship Bay Area Maker Faire.

But Dougherty is still desperately trying to resuscitate the company in some capacity, if only to keep MAKE:’s online archive running and continue allowing third-party organizers to license the Maker Faire name to throw affiliated events. Rather than bankruptcy, Maker Media is working through an alternative Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process.

“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.

The CEO says staffers understood the challenges facing the company following layoffs in 2016, and then at least 8 more employees being let go in March according to the SF Chronicle. They’ve been paid their owed wages and PTO, but did not receive any severance or two-week notice.

“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity” Dougherty admits, as his company had raised $10 million from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. “The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”

The situation is especially sad because the public was still enthusiastic about Maker Media’s products  Dougherty said that despite rain, Maker Faire’s big Bay Area event last week met its ticket sales target. 1.45 million people attended its events in 2016. MAKE: magazine had 125,000 paid subscribers and the company had racked up over one million YouTube subscribers. But high production costs in expensive cities and a proliferation of free DIY project content online had strained Maker Media.

“It works for people but it doesn’t necessarily work as a business today, at least under my oversight” Dougherty concluded. For now the company is stuck in limbo.

Regardless of the outcome of revival efforts, Maker Media has helped inspire a generation of engineers and artists, brought families together around crafting, and given shape to a culture of tinkerers. The memory of its events and weekends spent building will live on as inspiration for tomorrow’s inventors.

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Every Final Fantasy soundtrack is now on Spotify and Apple Music

Posted by | apple music, e3 2019, final fantasy, Gaming, Media, Music, Spotify, square enix | No Comments

Just in time for your road trip to LA for E3, Square Enix has suddenly made the soundtracks to every main Final Fantasy game available for free to listen to online. Just log into Spotify or Apple Music and search for “Final Fantasy original soundtrack.”

I just checked and Final Fantasies I-XV and some sub-sequels are all there, some in original and remastered versions, plus plenty of popular (or not) side titles like FF Tactics (come out on Switch already!) and Type-0. There’s even the soundtrack for the ill-considered 2001 movie, The Spirits Within.

No X-2, unfortunately for the few who liked that one (usually very intensely), and a few of the other non-main entries (like Tactics Advance and A2) are missing right now but perhaps only late to arrive. So it’s not every every Final Fantasy, but close enough that I don’t feel bad about putting it in the headline.

There’s been no mention of it on Square Enix’s social media channels, even the Final Fantasy-specific one. But it likely has to do with a special concert being given this week for FF VII, the remake of which is almost certain to appear at E3.

We have a very special guest announcement to make!

Yoshinori Kitase, director of the original #FinalFantasy VII, is hosting the upcoming FINAL FANTASY VII – A Symphonic Reunion concert!

Tickets are running out, so head to Ticketmaster now to get yours: https://t.co/8PSc1cgfrD https://t.co/gZUnXMPKLK

— FINAL FANTASY (@FinalFantasy) June 5, 2019

I’ve listened to a few tracks and it all seems legit. The only thing is that many of the titles are in Japanese — so it might be difficult to pick out your favorite character’s theme or what have you if you don’t, you know, speak that language.

Now you can at last create a greatest hits of Nobuo Uematsu’s FF work and access it from anywhere. It’s been a long time coming.

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YouTube will let bigot monetize if he removes link to homophobic merch

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Media, Mobile, Opinion, Policy, Social, TC, WTF, YouTube | No Comments

YouTube has made the weakest, least courageous response to mass backlash regarding its ruling yesterday that right-wing personality Steven Crowder’s racist and homophobic attacks on Vox video producer Carlos Maza didn’t violate its policies. Now YouTube says it’s demonetized Crowder’s channel because his “pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community” …but it will restore Crowder’s ability to earn a cut of YouTube ad revenue as long as he removes the link in his videos/channel to his offensive merchandise shop and fixes “all of the issues” with his channel. Specifically, Crowder’s shop sells [Warning: disturbing language not condoned by TechCrunch] “Socialism is for f*gs” t-shirts, baby onesies and beer-pong cups.

[Update: In the wake of this article and YouTube’s focus on his homophobic slur shirts, Crowder has removed the hateful merchandise from his store.]

The unwillingness to remove Crowder from YouTube counters the frequent calls by conservative politicians and pundits that they’re discriminated against on social media. Instead, it seems YouTube is too scared of being called bias to do what’s right and enforce its policies that dictate Crowder’s content or whole channel be removed. And even if Crowder does make YouTube’s required fixes, which it’s yet to publicly detail, he can still toe the line of its hate speech policies while promoting his merchandise shop within his videos.

To clarify, in order to reinstate monetization on this channel, he will need to remove the link to his T-shirts.

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019

Sorry for the confusion, we were responding to your tweets about the T-shirts. Again, this channel is demonetized due to continued egregious actions that have harmed the broader community. To be reinstated, he will need to address all of the issues with his channel.

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019

YouTube needs to completely rethink its approach to policy and enforcement here. Otherwise it’s likely to embolden harassers and bigots across the internet.

For those just stumbling into this social media policy dumpster fire, Canadia-American conservative commentator Crowder publishes politically inflammatory videos to his 3.8 million YouTube subscribers. They often include hosting bad faith “debates” with those who disagree with him, where he uses twisted rhetoric, aggression and obstinance to goad guests into getting angry so he can paint them as crazy and wrong. He’s also known for targeting specific media figures with verbal abuse, which leads his followers to harass them in en masse.

In this case, Crowder called Vox’s Maza a “gay Mexican” and “lispy queer,” amongst other hate speech-laden taunts across multiple videos. Last week Maza compiled a viral Twitter thread detailing the abuse and imploring YouTube to enforce its policy that bans hate speech and harassment.

Yesterday, YouTube tweeted its confusing and contradictory ruling from a review of Crowder’s videos. “While we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies . . . As an open platform, it’s crucial for us to allow everyone–from creators to journalists to late-night TV hosts–to express their opinions w/in the scope of our policies. Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site . . . Even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.”

That makes zero sense considering YouTube’s policy expressly forbids this kind of content, and says it will be taken down. YouTube specifically bans content that’s deliberately meant to “humiliate someone,” that includes “hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person” or features hate speech regarding “ethnicity” and “sexual orientation.” Crowder’s content violates all of these rules, and so consistent enforcement would require its removal.

That’s why the public momentarily applauded today when YouTube announced that it suspended Crowder’s monetization. This still fell far short of what YouTube’s policies dictate, but it at least meant that Crowder couldn’t monetize his YouTube views directly, even if he could still promote his merchandise, live events and Patreo-paid subscription page. Then the internet got rightfully mad again when YouTube said he just had to remove the link to his homophobic t-shirt shop to regain monetization, given he could just promote the shop in his videos while still benefiting from his YouTube reach.

And then just as this article was published, YouTube made yet another flip-flop and apologized for all the confusion (that it caused by waffling). It now claims that “this channel is demonetized due to continued egregious actions that have harmed the broader community. To be reinstated, he will need to address all of the issues with his channel.” Yet YouTube did not respond to a request for details about exactly what must be changed.

At least in the wake of this article and YouTube’s insistence he delink offensive merch from his channel, Crowder has removed the “Socialism is for f*gs” merchandise from his shop. But he’s sure to find new ways to stoke his hateful base while avoiding a full YouTube suspension.

Crowder repeatedly links his YouTube channel and videos to his merchandise shop selling shirts featuring homophobic slurs

It’s tough to even know where to begin criticism of YouTube’s behavior here:

  • YouTube ignored Crowder’s abuse of Maza and others for years while earning money from a hateful audience
  • It only took a closer look after Maza’s thorough exposé on abuse from Crowder received 20,000 retweets and got media attention
  • YouTube claimed that “while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies,” despite clearly violating its policies
  • The company had the gall to put out a blog post about its “ongoing work to tackle hate” without any reference to the Maza situation
  • A day after saying he didn’t violate policy, YouTube reversed itself and claimed Crowder did violate policies; however, he’s only getting demonetized, some believe because he’s popular, brings his fans to YouTube and Google might face allegations of anti-conservative bias if it suspended him
  • YouTube repeatedly refused to be transparent about why Crowder’s content was or wasn’t in violation of its policies, or what he’d need to change to be remonetized; it has refused to put anyone on the record, and even emailed responses to our press inquiries were answered by an anonymous Google Press email account
  • YouTube has not made any statement about ceasing to recommend Crowder’s videos in its algorithm, which has been repeatedly shown to radicalize people by showing them more and more extreme fringe content

Hopefully this will be a turning point in news coverage and public perception of Google and YouTube. Facebook’s spread of misinformation and Twitter’s failure to police harassment have dominated the conversation of social media’s dangers to society. But it’s YouTube that willfully suggests the most salacious and eye-catching content to users to keep them watching ads, even if it’s promoting bigotry. And since it pays stars directly, unlike Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, it’s uniquely responsible for creating a profession out of hatred.

Perhaps this situation will lead to more calls from viewers and advertisers to #BoycottYouTube. But if members of the tech community really want to drive change, they should message their friends who work at YouTube or Google and ask why they work at a company that operates this way. That monetizes harassment and radicalization while refusing to take a strong stand against it. When backlash hits not just pecks at Google’s profits but harms its recruiting efforts in a brutally competitive talent market, that’s when we might finally see it do the right thing.

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Netflix tests an Instagram Stories-like feed called ‘Extras’ in its app

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Social | No Comments

Netflix is testing a new way to help users find something to watch and stay connected with favorite shows with the introduction of an “Extras” tab in its mobile app. The tab, spotted first by Variety, is only a test at this time and is not showing to all users.

If you are in the test group, you’ll see a new button dubbed “Extras” at the bottom of the screen, between Search and Downloads.

On Android, this is currently the “Coming Soon” section; iOS doesn’t offer this section.

However, instead of only teaser trailers as before in “Coming Soon,” you’ll now find both photos and videos from Netflix shows — including, in some cases, shows you already watch, the report notes.

The videos automatically play silently unless you tap the sound button, it appears. You also move through the feed horizontally. That’s a noticeable change from the “Coming Soon” section’s News Feed-like vertical scroll, and one that feels more like Instagram Stories.

And while you could previously tap “Remind Me” to add shows to your list in the “Coming Soon” section, the “Extras” section has tweaked this to display “Remind Me” on shows you currently watch and “My List” on those you want to add.

A sizable sharing button is also included, allowing you to pass along recommendations to friends through other apps.

Netflix has taken ideas from popular social platforms before, as it did when it launched its own Stories-like feature for previews. It has also leveraged social platforms for sharing recommendations — like when it added Instagram Story integrations. This feature combines both elements, in a way, so could prove popular.

The test is running on both iOS and Android, we understand.

The company confirmed the test with us in a statement:

We are testing a feed of video extras in our mobile app to help fans connect more deeply with the titles they love and discover new ones to watch. These tests typically vary in length of time and by region, and may not become permanent.

Image credit: Janko Roettgers / Variety

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Alibaba pumps $100 million into Vmate to grow its video app in India

Posted by | alibaba, Apps, Asia, bytedance, Disney, funding, Google, india, Media, Mobile, Social, Startups, tiktok, Vmate, YouTube | No Comments

Chinese tech giant Alibaba is doubling down on India’s burgeoning video market, looking to fight back local rival ByteDance, Google and Disney to gain its foothold in the nation. The company said today that it is pumping $100 million into Vmate, a three-year-old social video app owned by subsidiary UC Web.

Vmate was launched as a video streaming and short-video-sharing app in 2016. But in the years since, it has added features such as video downloads and 3-dimensional face emojis to expand its use cases. It has amassed 30 million users globally, and will use the capital to scale its business in India, the company told TechCrunch. Alibaba Group did not respond to TechCrunch’s questions about its ownership of the app.

The move comes as Alibaba revives its attempts to take on the growing social video apps market, something on which it has missed out completely in China. Vmate could potentially help it fill the gap in India. Many of the features Vmate offers are similar to those offered by ByteDance’s TikTok, which currently has more than 120 million active users in India. ByteDance, with a valuation of about $75 billion, has grown its business without taking money from either Alibaba or Tencent, the latter of which has launched its own TikTok-like apps with limited success.

Alibaba remains one of the biggest global investors in India’s e-commerce and food-tech markets. It has heavily invested in Paytm, BigBasket, Zomato and Snapdeal. It was also supposedly planning to launch a video streaming service in India last year — a rumor that was fueled after it acquired a majority stake in TicketNew, a Chennai-based online ticketing service.

UC Web, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, also counts India as one of its biggest markets. The browser maker has attempted to become a super app in India in recent years by including news and videos. In the last two years, it has been in talks with several bloggers and small publishers to host their articles directly on its platform, many people involved in the project told TechCrunch.

UC Web’s eponymous browser rose to stardom in the days of feature phones, but has since lost the lion’s share to Google Chrome as smartphones become more ubiquitous. Chrome ships as the default browser on most Android smartphones.

The major investment by Alibaba Group also serves as a testament to the growing popularity of video apps in India. Once cautious about each megabyte they spent on the internet, thrifty Indians have become heavy video consumers online as mobile data gets significantly cheaper in the country. Video apps are increasingly climbing up the charts on Google Play Store.

In an event for marketers late last year, YouTube said that India was the only nation where it had more unique users than its parent company Google. The video juggernaut had about 250 million active users in India at the end of 2017. The service, used by more than 2 billion users worldwide, has not revealed its India-specific user base since.

T-Series, the largest record label in India, became the first YouTube channel this week to claim more than 100 million subscribers. What’s even more noteworthy is that T-Series took 10 years to get to its first 10 million subscribers. The additional 90 million subscribers signed up to its channel in the last two years. Also fighting for users’ attention is Hotstar, which is owned by Disney. Earlier this month, it set a new global record for most simultaneous views on a live-streaming event.

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