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It's OK to Play One Game Forever

By Cecilia D'Anastasio
If you ignore new releases or your massive backlog to return to that one comfort game after a long day, don't feel bad about it. You're not alone.

Amnesia: Rebirth Has Evolved Beyond Jump Scares

By Matthew Gault
The sequel to the 10-year-old horror classic is a psychological journey to hell and back.

Star Wars: Squadrons Is the Soaring Antidote to Force Fatigue

By Brendan Nystedt
"Permission to jump in an X-wing and blow something up?" "Permission granted."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Storms Twitch

By Cecilia D'Anastasio
More than 400,000 people tuned into AOC's stream of a marathon Among Us session with representative Ilhan Omar and Twitch luminaries.

mmhmm, Phil Libin’s new startup, acquires Memix to add enhanced filters to its video presentation toolkit

By Ingrid Lunden

Virtual meetings are a fundamental part of how we interact with each other these days, but even when (if!?) we find better ways to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, many think that they will be here to stay. That means there is an opportunity out there to improve how they work — because let’s face it, Zoom Fatigue is real and I for one am not super excited anymore to be a part of your Team.

mmhmm, the video presentation startup from former Evernote CEO Phil Libin with ambitions to change the conversation (literally and figuratively) about what we can do with the medium — its first efforts have included things like the ability to manipulate presentation material around your video in real time to mimic newscasts — is today announcing an acquisition as it continues to hone in on a wider launch of its product, currently in a closed beta.

It has acquired Memix, an outfit out of San Francisco that has built a series of filters you can apply to videos — either pre-recorded or streaming — to change the lighting, details in the background, or across the whole of the screen, and an app that works across various video platforms to apply those filters.

Like mmhmm, Memix is today focused on building tools that you use on existing video platforms — not building a video player itself. Memix today comes in the form of a virtual camera, accessible via Windows apps for Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams; or web apps like Facebook Messenger, Houseparty and others that run on Chrome, Edge and Firefox.

Libin said in an interview that the plan will be to keep that virtual camera operating as is while it works on integrating the filters and Memix’s technology into mmhmm, while also laying the groundwork for building more on top of the platform.

Libin’s view is that while there are already a lot of video products and users in the market today, we are just at the start of it all, with technology and our expectations changing rapidly. We are shifting, he said, from wanting to reproduce existing experiences (like meetings) to creating completely new ones that might actually be better.

“There is a profound change in the world that we are just at the beginning of,” he said in an interview. “The main thing is that everything is hybrid. If you imagine all the experiences we can have, from in person to online, or recorded to live, up to now almost everything in life fit neatly into one of those quadrants. The boundaries were fixed. Now all these boundaries have melted away we can rebuild every experience to be natively hybrid. This is a monumental change.”

That is a concept that the Memix founders have not just been thinking about, but also building the software to make it a reality.

“There is a lot to do,” said Pol Jeremias-Vila, one of the co-founders. “One of our ideas was to try to provide people who do streaming professionally an alternative to the really complicated set-ups you currently use,” which can involve expensive cameras, lights, microphones, stands and more. “Can we bring that to a user just with a couple of clicks? What can be done to put the same kind of tech you get with all that hardware into the hands of a massive audience?”

Memix’s team of two — co-founders Inigo Quilez and Jeremias-Vila, Spaniards who met not in Spain but the Bay Area — are not coming on board full-time, but they will be helping with the transition and integration of the tech.

Libin said that he first became aware of Quilez from a YouTube video he’d posted on “The principles of painting with maths”, but that doesn’t give a lot away about the two co-founders. They are in reality graphic engineering whizzes, with Jeremias-Vila currently the lead graphics software engineer at Pixar, and Quilez until last year a product manager and lead engineer at Facebook, where he created, among other things, the Quill VR animation and production tool for Oculus.

Because working the kind of hours that people put in at tech companies wasn’t quite enough time to work on graphics applications, the pair started another effort called Beauty Pi (not to be confused with Beauty Pie), which has become a home for various collaborations between the two that had nothing to do with their day jobs. Memix had been bootstrapped by the pair as a project built out of that. And other efforts have included Shadertoy, a community and platform for creating Shaders (a computer program created to shade in 3D scenes).

That background of Memix points to an interesting opportunity in the world of video right now. In part because of all the focus (sorry not sorry!) on video right now as a medium because of our current pandemic circumstances, but also because of the advances in broadband, devices, apps and video technology, we’re seeing a huge proliferation of startups building interesting variations and improvements on the basic concept of video streaming.

Just in the area of videoconferencing alone, some of the hopefuls have included Headroom, which launched the other week with a really interesting AI-based approach to helping its users get more meaningful notes from meetings, and using computer vision to help presenters “read the room” better by detecting if people are getting bored, annoyed and more.

Vowel is also bringing a new set of tools not just to annotate meetings and their corresponding transcriptions in a better way, but to then be able to search across all your sessions to follow up items and dig into what people said over multiple events.

And Descript, which originally built a tool to edit audio tracks, earlier this week launched a video component, letting users edit visuals and what you say in those moving pictures, by cutting, pasting and rewriting a word-based document transcribing the sound from that video. All of these have obvious B2B angles, like mmhmm, and they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, the huge amount of IP out there is interesting in itself. Yet the jury is still out on where all of it would best live and thrive as the space continues to evolve, with more defined business models (and leading companies) only now emerging.

That presents an interesting opportunity not just for the biggies like Zoom, Google and Microsoft, but also players who are building entirely new platfroms from the ground up.

mmhmm is a notable company in that context. Not only does it have the reputation and inspiration of Libin behind it — a force powerful enough that even his foray into the ill-fated world of chatbots got headlines — but it’s also backed by the likes of Sequoia, which led a $21 million round earlier this month.

Libin said he doesn’t like to think of his startup as a consolidator, or the industry in a consolidation play, as that implies a degree of maturity in an area that he still feels is just getting started.

“We’re looking at this not so much consolidation, which to me means marketshare,” he said. “Our main criteria is that we wanted to work with teams that we are in love with.”

Gillmor Gang: Something Goes Right

By Steve Gillmor

Here we sit in the valley of predespair, 2 weeks ahead of the election and God knows where we are in the pandemic. As my partner Tina says to me on this once glorious sunny day (the view formerly known as the Pacific Ocean has been replaced by the fog like a Zoom background) we seem to be better prepared for something to go wrong than right.

We’ve learned how to stay socially distant, half-learned to wear a mask, unlearned how it might be a good idea to stay home and let things just happen. The last four years seems like a bizarre experiment in what not to do, the triumph of the worst of our instincts and fear of the other. For my generation, the thought that we would be tested so apocalyptically had never entered our mind. Free love, social media, mind-altering drugs — all ideas that seemed good at the time.

Too good to be true, it turned out. In the stampede to enjoy the fruits of our labors, we turned success into the failure of others. The space race may have spawned the computer industry, but it also reinforced the notion that we beat them to save us. And the tech boom saw us undermine the very soul, the soundtrack of how we marked our lives. Thanks, Napster.

Today, East v. West is Apple v. Android, a detente that Washington distorts into trust v. loyalty. Which is worse, the silence of the social giants or making mistakes in the open? I’m sick of beating up on Twitter for our failures, even more so our toothless tut-tutting of Facebook for spreading the lies we support by staying put.

So, let’s try something going right for a change. Take Spotify and their new plan to embed full versions of our musical heritage in podcasts. This is a complicated offer, to be sure. You can’t use partial versions of songs, talk over any portion of the song, or place ads within 60 seconds of music. Ads must have at least 10 minutes of non-music content between them. More importantly, these shows are only available on Spotify’s Anchor podcasting service.

But what really stands out is the attempt by one of the two major music streaming services to create a composite product reconstituting a post digital radio business. If Apple Music were nudged to support the idea, it would resuscitate a major platform of the tech crowd with a mashup of DJ and playlist content. This in turn would create new leaderboards or charts in old record biz terms that would jumpstart new and catalog music in media. Already we see some of that energy in Saturday Night Live clips where audience numbers are shifting to mobile and online viewing. Composite ratings of broadcast and digital are growing fast.

This evolution from broadcast to online ratings success may presage how live entertainment venues and audiences obliterated by the pandemic adapt with hybrid live/digital events. We’re seeing this act out in real time with the election, where early voting and election day registration have produced record turnout for both the safety of mail and absentee voting (mostly Democrats) and more traditional party switching (mostly Republicans or former Democrats more engaged by Trump.) This “new normal” in politics may not bear immediate fruit, but it’s at a minimum a harbinger of things to come.

Fast forward to a future dinner party in an AR/VR augmented version of our favorite restaurants, with autotesting and contact tracing making it safe enough to reconstitute weekly gettogethers not just of local friends but virtual guests from around our town and beyond. Courses are served by delivery and robot waiters as we watch party our favorite artists and comedians both professional and amateur. Election night becomes a vote-from-home proposition, with the electoral college results calculated in realtime.

As the concession speeches wind down, a vanquished candidate references the Paul Simon song:

When something goes wrong
I’m the first to admit it
I’m the first to admit it
But the last one to know
When something goes right
Well it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
I can’t get used to something so right
Something so right

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, October 16, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

How Video Games Are Saving Those Who Served

By Alex Miller
Veterans with PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health challenges often find solace in gaming. Research shows it's helpful—and could be used more broadly.

PC Gaming Doesn't Have to Be More Expensive Than Consoles

By Whitson Gordon
Don't buy into the myth: If you consider your options carefully, upgrading your desktop doesn't have to empty your wallet.

Netflix to test free weekend-long access in India

By Manish Singh

Netflix plans to give users in India access to its service at no charge for a weekend as part of a test to expand its reach in the country, a top company executive said Tuesday.

The American streaming giant, which today reported a slow users growth for the quarter that ended in September, recently stopped offering a first-month complimentary access to new users in the U.S. But the company plans to keep experimenting with new ways to lure potential in many parts of the world, said Greg Peters, COO and Chief Product Officer at Netflix on the company’s earnings call.

One of those new ways is giving away access to Netflix at no charge to customers for a weekend in different markets, he said. The company has picked India, where it competes with Disney, Amazon, and technically three-dozen additional services, as the first market where it will test this idea and “will see how that goes,” from there, he said.

“We think that giving away everyone in a country access to Netflix for free for a weekend could be a great way to expose a bunch of new people to the amazing stories that we have, the service and how it works … and hopefully get a bunch of those folks to sign up,” he said, without sharing exactly when the company will roll out this new test in India. (It had not at the time of publishing.)

This won’t be the first time Netflix uses India as a test bed to explore new ideas. The company first flirted with the idea of a $2.7 mobile-only monthly plan in New Delhi before introducing it as a permanent tier in the country last year and then nearly a dozen markets. It has since tested even more pricing plans in the country.

India emerged as the largest open battleground for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms searching for their next billion users in the past decade. Disney, Amazon, Google, Apple, Spotify and several other firms offer a range of their services at a much affordable price range in India, the world’s second largest internet market.

The company, which earmarked $420 million to develop and license content in India by end of 2020 last year, is also deepening its collaboration with other industry players in the country.

It recently partnered with Reliance Jio Platforms, India’s largest telecom operator, to bundle its app on the Indian firm’s fiber broadband and mobile data plans. The company has also partnered with several financial institutions in India to make payment processing easier for users in the country, it said. “We expect [more payment options] will have retention benefits. All of these initiatives are important and work in concert with our big investment in local originals to improve the Netflix experience for our members,” the company said in a letter to shareholders (PDF).

As Blizzard sunsets StarCraft II, some of its key creators raise cash for a new gaming studio

By Jonathan Shieber

Even as Blizzard pulls the plug on new updates for its StarCraft II game, nearly a decade after its launch, gaming investors are financing the next new thing coming from key members of the game’s early development team.

Blizzard vets Tim Morten, the former production director for StarCraft II; and Tim Campbell, the lead campaign designer for WarCraft III; have launched a new studio with a number of colleagues from Blizzard to bring real time strategy games to a bigger audience.

The new company, Frost Giant Studios, has picked up $4.7 million in seed funding from the gaming and synthetic media focused investment firm, Bitkraft Ventures, along with participation from 1 Up Ventures, GC Tracker, Riot Games, and Griffin Gaming Partners, the company said.

“Frost Giant Studios is on a mission to bring one of the most beloved genres to a broader audience,” said Scott Rupp, Founding General Partner at Bitkraft Ventures. “We are excited to see some of the most experienced leaders in real-time strategy game development come together to build a game that will secure the future growth of the RTS genre while staying true to the core player fantasy of RTS.”

Building on their experience developing StarCraft II over the past ten years, the Frost Giant Studios strategy is focused on making gameplay better, easier, and more collaborative.

Think of it as taking some of the best elements of the battle royal genre and bringing them into real-time strategy games with an eye toward playability and competitive opportunities in esports.

“Real-time strategy players are an incredibly passionate community, and they deserve not just a great new game, but one they can share broadly with friends. Building a worthy successor will take time, but we’re incredibly excited and grateful to carry real-time strategy forward at Frost Giant Studios,” said Tim Morten, Frost Giant Studios CEO.

Instagram rolls out fan badges for live videos, expands IGTV ads test

By Sarah Perez

Instagram is today introducing a new way for creators to make money. The company is now rolling out badges in Instagram Live to an initial group of over 50,000 creators, who will be able to offer their fans the ability to purchase badges during their live videos to stand out in the comments and show their support.

The idea to monetize using fan badges is not unique to Instagram. Other live streaming platforms, including Twitch and YouTube, have similar systems. Facebook Live also allows fans to purchase stars on live videos, as a virtual tipping mechanism.

Instagram users will see three options to purchase a badge during live videos: badges that cost $0.99, $1.99, or $4.99.

On Instagram Live, badges will not only call attention to the fans’ comments, they also unlock special features, Instagram says. This includes a placement on a creator’s list of badge holders and access to a special heart badge.

The badges and list make it easier for creators to quickly see which fans are supporting their efforts, and give them a shout-out, if desired.

Image Credits: Instagram

To kick off the roll out of badges, Instagram says it will also temporarily match creator earnings from badge purchases during live videos, starting in November. Creators @ronnebrown and @youngezee are among those who are testing badges.

The company says it’s not taking a revenue share at launch, but as it expands its test of badges it will explore revenue share in the future.

“Creators push culture forward. Many of them dedicate their life to this, and it’s so important to us that they have easy ways to make money from their content,” said Instagram COO Justin Osofsky, in a statement. “These are additional steps in our work to make Instagram the single best place for creators to tell their story, grow their audience, and make a living,” she added.

Additionally, Instagram today is expanding access to its IGTV ads test to more creators. This program, introduced this spring, allows creators to earn money by including ads alongside their videos. Today, creators keep at least 55% of that revenue, Instagram says.

The introduction of badges and IGTV ads were previously announced, with Instagram saying it would test the former with a small group of creators earlier this year.

The changes follow what’s been a period of rapid growth on Instagram’s live video platform, as creators and fans sheltered at home during the coronavirus pandemic, which had cancelled live events, large meetups, concerts, and more.

During the pandemic’s start, for example, Instagram said Live creators saw a 70% increase in video views from Feb. to March, 2020. In Q2, Facebook also reported monthly active user growth (from 2.99B to 3.14B in Q1) that it said reflected increased engagement from consumers who were spending more time at home.

Adobe Lightroom gets a new color grading tool, auto versions, graphical watermarking and more

By Frederic Lardinois

At its MAX conference, Adobe today announced the launch of the latest version of Lightroom, its popular photo management and editing tool. The highlights of today’s release are the introduction of a new color grading tool that’s more akin to what you’d find in a video editor like Adobe Premiere or DaVinci Resolve, auto versioning that’s saved in the cloud (and hence not available in Lightroom Classic) and graphical watermarks, in addition to a number of other small feature updates across the application.

Adobe had already teased the launch of the new color grading feature last month, which was probably a good idea given how much of a change this is for photographers who have used Lightroom before. Adjusting color is, after all, one of the main features of Lightroom and this is a major change.

Image Credits: Adobe

At its core, the new color wheels replace the existing ‘split toning’ controls in Lightroom.

“Color Grading is an extension of Split Toning — it can do everything Split Toning did, plus much more,” Adobe’s Max Wendt explains in today’s announcement. “Your existing images with Split Toning settings will look exactly the same as they did before, your old Split Toning presets will also still look the same when you apply them, and you can still get the same results if you had a familiar starting point when doing Split Toning manually.”

My guess is that it’ll take a while for many Lightroom users to get a hang of these new color wheels. Overall, though, I think this new system is more intuitive than the current split toning feature that a lot of users regularly ignored.

The new color grading feature will be available across platforms and in Lightroom Classic, as well as Camera Raw.

The other new feature Adobe is highlighting with this release is graphical watermarks (available on Windows, Mac, iOS, iPadOS, Android and Chrome OS), that augments the existing text-based watermarking in Lightroom. This does exactly what the name implies and the watermarks are automatically applied when you share or export and image.

Image Credits: Adobe

The most important overall quality of life feature the team is adding is auto versions (also available on Windows, Mac, iOS, iPadOS, Android and Chrome OS). This makes it far easier to save different versions of an image — and these versions are synced across platforms. That way, you can easily go back and forth between different edits and revert those as necessary, too.

Image Credits: Adobe

With its new ‘best photos’ feature, Adobe is now also using its Ai smarts to find the best photos you’ve taken, but only on iOS, iPadOS, and Android, Chrome OS and the web. It’ll look at the technical aspects of your photo, as well as whether your subjects have their eyes open and face forward, for example, and the overall framing of the image. Users can decide how many of their images make the cut by toggling a threshold slider.

Another nifty new feature for Canon shooters who use Lightroom Classic is the addition of a tethered live view for Canon – with support for other cameras coming soon. With this, you get a real-time feed from your camera, making it easier to collaborate with others in real time.

 

Daily Crunch: Pakistan un-bans TikTok

By Anthony Ha

TikTok returns to Pakistan, Apple launches a music-focused streaming station and SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites. This is your Daily Crunch for October 19, 2020.

The big story: Pakistan un-bans TikTok

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked the video app 11 days ago, over what it described as “immoral,” “obscene” and “vulgar” videos. The authority said today that it’s lifting the ban after negotiating with TikTok management.

“The restoration of TikTok is strictly subject to the condition that the platform will not be used for the spread of vulgarity/indecent content & societal values will not be abused,” it continued.

This isn’t the first time this year the country tried to crack down on digital content. Pakistan announced new internet censorship rules this year, but rescinded them after Facebook, Google and Twitter threatened to leave the country.

The tech giants

Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV —  The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content.

Google Cloud launches Lending DocAI, its first dedicated mortgage industry tool — The tool is meant to help mortgage companies speed up the process of evaluating a borrower’s income and asset documents.

Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram — The update means businesses will be able to integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites, bringing total delivered to orbit to more than 800 — That makes 835 Starlink satellites launched thus far, though not all of those are operational.

Singapore tech-based real estate agency Propseller raises $1.2M seed round — Propseller combines a tech platform with in-house agents to close transactions more quickly.

Ready Set Raise, an accelerator for women built by women, announces third class — Ready Set Raise has changed its programming to be more focused on a “realistic fundraising process” vetted by hundreds of women.

Advice and analysis for Extra Crunch

Are VCs cutting checks in the closing days of the 2020 election? — Several investors told TechCrunch they were split about how they’re making these decisions.

Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes — With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed.

Late-stage deals made Q3 2020 a standout VC quarter for US-based startups — Investors backed a record 88 megarounds of $100 million or more.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack — Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”

Stitcher’s podcasts arrive on Pandora with acquisition’s completion — SiriusXM today completed its previously announced $325 million acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher from E.W. Scripps, and has now launched Stitcher’s podcasts on Pandora.

Original Content podcast: It’s hard to resist the silliness of ‘Emily in Paris’ — The show’s Paris is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that we’re happy to visit.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV

By Sarah Perez

Apple is expanding its investment in music with today’s launch of “Apple Music TV.” The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content, including exclusive video premieres, curated music video blocks, live shows, fan events, chart countdowns and guest appearances.

The service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but is instead offered as a new feature within two of Apple’s existing entertainment apps. At launch, you can watch Apple Music TV from within the Browse tab of either the Apple Music app or the Apple TV app. (Accessible via apple.co/AppleMusicTV).

While Apple Music is a paid subscription service, Apple Music TV will be free to users in the U.S., the company says.

To kick off its launch, Apple Music TV today began with a countdown of the top 100 most-streamed songs ever across all of Apple Music, based on U.S. data.

During brief tests of the new service, we found it to be a fairly basic — though uncensored and ad-free — experience. The video stream only offered artist and song details at the beginning, instead of as the music played. It also didn’t take advantage of the integration with Apple Music to offer additional features to paying subscribers — like being able to favorite the song or add it to a playlist, for instance.

The stream would stop when the Apple Music app was closed, as it didn’t support background play.

Image Credits: Apple

There also weren’t any on-screen tools to share what you were watching via a social media post. You had to dig to find the “share” button under the three-dot, “more” menu. This would give you a link to tweet, but wouldn’t pre-fill it with text or hashtags, like the artist name or song.

While listening, you could stop the live stream and then return after a short pause. But after a bit, the stream disconnects and the thumbnail of the paused music video reverts to the placeholder Apple Music TV image. When live, the text and icons will be shown in red. They revert to white when you’ve disconnected, as a visual cue.

Despite its simplicity, Apple Music TV gives Apple an immediate new home for its music-related original content, which over the years has included exclusive interviews, concert films and more. It also provides Apple with another advantage when it goes to negotiate with artists for their premieres, as it introduces an additional platform for reaching an artist’s fans — not only with the premiere itself, but by offering artists blocks of airtime leading up to their next debut that they can use to promote their releases.

The new station can also leverage content produced for the Apple Music 1 (formerly Beats 1) radio station, as it goes about running these promotions.

For example, on Thursday, October 22, Apple Music TV will promote the upcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You” with music video blocks featuring his greatest videos, plus an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, and a special live stream fan event.

Apple says that Apple Music 1 won’t be producing exclusive content for the live-streamed station, but instead will run the video content it already produces across its radio stations — Apple Music 1, Apple Music Country, and Apple Music Hits — as interstitial content on Apple Music TV.

Fridays, meanwhile, will focus on new music. This Friday, October 23, at 9 AM PT, Apple Music TV will showcase two new exclusive video premieres — Joji’s “777” and SAINt JHN’s “Gorgeous.”

Apple Music TV’s biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that it’s freely accessible to millions of Apple device owners.

But it may struggle for traction as it lacks the features that make other live stream fan events or premieres engaging — like group chats or direct interactions with creators.

Instead, it’s more like a traditional TV broadcast — even MTV-like — compared with other online destinations where artists today connect with fans and promote their albums, like YouTube, VEVO or, more recently, Facebook, which just this year launched music videos.

Apple didn’t say if it planned to expand the new station outside the U.S.

‘Wait, Sylvie’s Dad Plays?!’ The Joy of Fortnite Parenting

By Tom Vanderbilt
I picked up the controller to keep tabs on my fifth-grader. What I got was a window into her world—and a lesson in 21st-century fatherhood.

Judge Says No to Putting 'Fortnite' Back on Apple's App Store

By Julie Muncy
The ruling means that Epic Games' massively popular title will remain off iOS devices while Epic's suit against Apple moves to trial.

More Video Games Featured Women This Year. Will It Last?

By Anita Sarkeesian, Carolyn Petit
The data on female representation in games looked optimistic—but time will tell if these changes endure beyond a wildcard year.

Zoom to start first phase of E2E encryption rollout next week

By Natasha Lomas

Zoom will begin rolling out end-to-end encryption to users of its videoconferencing platform from next week, it said today.

The platform, whose fortunes have been supercharged by the pandemic-driven boom in remote working and socializing this year, has been working on rebooting its battered reputation in the areas of security and privacy since April — after it was called out on misleading marketing claims of having E2E encryption (when it did not). E2E is now finally on its way though.

“We’re excited to announce that starting next week, Zoom’s end-to-end encryption (E2EE) offering will be available as a technical preview, which means we’re proactively soliciting feedback from users for the first 30 days,” it writes in a blog post. “Zoom users — free and paid — around the world can host up to 200 participants in an E2EE meeting on Zoom, providing increased privacy and security for your Zoom sessions.”

Zoom acquired Keybase in May, saying then that it was aiming to develop “the most broadly used enterprise end-to-end encryption offering”.

However, initially, CEO Eric Yuan said this level of encryption would be reserved for fee-paying users only. But after facing a storm of criticism the company enacted a swift U-turn — saying in June that all users would be provided with the highest level of security, regardless of whether they are paying to use its service or not.

Zoom confirmed today that Free/Basics users who want to get access to E2EE will need to participate in a one-time verification process — in which it will ask them to provide additional pieces of information, such as verifying a phone number via text message — saying it’s implementing this to try to reduce “mass creation of abusive accounts”.

“We are confident that by implementing risk-based authentication, in combination with our current mix of tools — including our work with human rights and children’s safety organizations and our users’ ability to lock down a meeting, report abuse, and a myriad of other features made available as part of our security icon — we can continue to enhance the safety of our users,” it writes.

Next week’s roll out of a technical preview is phase 1 of a four-stage process to bring E2E encryption to the platform.

This means there are some limitations — including on the features that are available in E2EE Zoom meetings (you won’t have access to join before host, cloud recording, streaming, live transcription, Breakout Rooms, polling, 1:1 private chat, and meeting reactions); and on the clients that can be used to join meetings (for phase 1 all E2EE meeting participants must join from the Zoom desktop client, mobile app, or Zoom Rooms). 

The next phase of the E2EE rollout — which will include “better identity management and E2EE SSO integration”, per Zoom’s blog — is “tentatively” slated for 2021.

From next week, customers wanting to check out the technical preview must enable E2EE meetings at the account level and opt-in to E2EE on a per-meeting basis.

All meeting participants must have the E2EE setting enabled in order to join an E2EE meeting. Hosts can enable the setting for E2EE at the account, group, and user level and can be locked at the account or group level, Zoom notes in an FAQ.

The AES 256-bit GCM encryption that’s being used is the same as Zoom currently uses but here combined with public key cryptography — which means the keys are generated locally, by the meeting host, before being distributed to participants, rather than Zoom’s cloud performing the key generating role.

“Zoom’s servers become oblivious relays and never see the encryption keys required to decrypt the meeting contents,” it explains of the E2EE implementation.

If you’re wondering how you can be sure you’ve joined an E2EE Zoom meeting a dark padlock will be displayed atop the green shield icon in the upper left corner of the meeting screen. (Zoom’s standard GCM encryption shows a checkmark here.)

Meeting participants will also see the meeting leader’s security code — which they can use to verify the connection is secure. “The host can read this code out loud, and all participants can check that their clients display the same code,” Zoom notes.

Gillmor Gang: Home Stretch

By Steve Gillmor

On this edition of the Gillmor Gang, the live recording session was briefly interrupted by a rolling upgrade from Zoom. We’ve been using Zoom to virtualize what we’ve been doing for years with a combination of video switching hardware (Newtek’s TriCaster), a bunch of Mac Minis hosting Skype, an audio mixing board, and a backchannel pushing the switched Program Out to the members of the group. At first, we partnered with Leo Laporte on his fledgling video network. Subsequently, I copied Leo’s early studio setup to make the transition to streaming.

At that point, streaming was an emergent model. No Netflix, no Facebook Live, certainly no transition from RSS and podcasting to what we see now as Streaming From Home is adopted. Not just by the technocrati but mainstream cable networks, the remnants of broadcast television, and commercial streaming networks like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and even Apple TV +. Cable news uses a version of our studio model to bring together roundtables where even the hosts are using Zoom’s background replacement feature or the like to simulate their usual broadcast locations. The 4 or 5 second delay over TCP/IP gives away the tech, but just as with the smaller delay we’ve gotten used to with the translation from landline to satellite and now to cell service, we accommodate this seeming lack of attention being paid.

There are limitations with this new virtualized studio, but with a great deal of tweaking, the relative ease of onboarding Zoom offers, and the ubiquity of use that the pandemic has mandated, a new experience has emerged with recording the show. It’s more relaxed, a subtle hybrid of a “show” and a conversation among friends. As I’ve mentioned before, we use a multi-streaming service called Restream to do just that with the edited Zoom feed to broadcast the live session on Facebook Live, Twitter/Periscope, and via an embedded YouTube window, to our newsletter feed on Telegram. After postproduction, we release an edited, sweetened, titled version on TechCrunch.

From the beginning of the Gang, back in 2004 when it was an audio production only, we leveraged an early social network called FriendFeed, to engage listeners in a realtime chat. FriendFeed was essentially a blend of Facebook and Twitter, so much so that Facebook ultimately acquired the startup and made co-founder Bret Taylor CTO. Those playing along at home might recognize Bret now as President and COO of Salesforce, where he went after his next startup, Quip, was acquired. The FriendFeed backchannel lasted for a few years, opensourced at the time but eventually shut down by Facebook.

To explain the magic of the backchannel, I refer you to a book by an old friend, Harvey Brooks, bass player and right-place-right time musician who recorded with a dazzling set of greats from Miles Davis to the seminal first stop on his journey, Bob Dylan. In an age without liner notes, he’s a living example of the magic of producing the right notes at the moment of creation in the studio. With Dylan, that moment came in the recording of Dylan’s first fully electric record, Highway 61 Revisited. He’d just recorded the single Like A Rolling Stone when Harvey was recommended by his friend Al Kooper, who had famously sat down in front of an organ he’d never played before and survived Dylan’s recording process.

Dylan would run down a song with the musicians a couple of times and then begin recording. The players would glean the structure of the song by watching the artist’s hands; Harvey quickly made notes of the chords in the first couple of run throughs. Then it was off to the races with tape rolling. Often that first take would be the keeper. To break it down further, my analogy would be that this was Dylan’s version of the backchannel, where each player’s intuitive feel would be communicated not just to Dylan but to the other musicians, who often were strangers to each other as well.

In recording the Gang, the trick if you will is to capture that moment between the first time you hear something to the time where other takes don’t improve on that spark of creation. A later take may be more studied and practiced, but it may lose that magic of the spark. In the case of the conversation, it’s not quite an improvisation, but what takes it somewhere else is the backchannel, where we all live and communicate between sessions. It’s not quite a newsletter, where the goal (or at least my goal) is to provide stepping stones between rocks in the stream and not the pebbles that form the rush of news and attitude that overwhelms us.

These days Trumpstock is everywhere, not to be avoided but necessary to be survived. Then there are the glimmers of tech, like the media story about Disney’s reorganization around streaming. The ripple effects of surviving the pandemic’s direct hit on Disney’s park revenue and the need to shift investment to Disney + content production are a major signal of where winners are going to emerge in the entertainment industry’s move to a direct relationship with consumers. The backchannel is a powerful tool for giving us direct access to the underlying information required to make strategic decisions about where and how we live as we recover.

Sometimes the winging-it approach bears fruit; sometimes it crashes and burns as elements of this loosely-coupled cloud mashup unexpectedly shift. In this case, our carefully constructed production flow broke down just as we went live. It took some time and a restart to regroup, and a post show debugging to figure out what had changed in a Zoom autoupdate. This is the process. It’s not perfect, but it works when it works. When it doesn’t, it gets better. Join us on the backchannel.

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The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, October 9, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

The Hollow Nihilism of 'Call of Duty'

By Yussef Cole
The first-person shooter franchise has the potential to meaningfully grapple with American history, politics, and ethics. It misses the mark.
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