Weekend news round-up: seeing clearly on Google Glass, new war on copyright theft erupts

4 Mar 2013

Google's Project Glass glasses

In our round-up of the weekend’s top tech stories, we look at the row that has brewed up in recent days over what really are the factors behind Apple’s success, a proponent of wearable computers and augmented reality tells Google some home truths, and the record industry and Hollywood have a new trick up their sleeves to catch copyright thieves.

The reality about augmented vision

Steve Mann, one of the earliest proponents of augmented reality who had used wearable computers to boost his vision, looked back on more than 30 years of wearable computing in an interesting article in IEEE spectrum.

Mann’s insights and experiences may come in useful for Google, which is attempting to mainstream wearable computing.

“I have mixed feelings about the latest developments. On one hand, it’s immensely satisfying to see that the wider world now values wearable computer technology. On the other hand, I worry that Google and certain other companies are neglecting some important lessons. Their design decisions could make it hard for many folks to use these systems. Worse, poorly configured products might even damage some people’s eyesight and set the movement back years.

“My concern comes from direct experience. The very first wearable computer system I put together showed me real-time video on a helmet-mounted display. The camera was situated close to one eye, but it didn’t have quite the same viewpoint. The slight misalignment seemed unimportant at the time, but it produced some strange and unpleasant results. And those troubling effects persisted long after I took the gear off. That’s because my brain had adjusted to an unnatural view, so it took a while to readjust to normal vision,” Mann wrote.

The internet, not just Steve Jobs, made Apple

Writing in TechCrunch at the weekend, Michael Arrington pointed to a series of debates about why Apple pretty much beat everyone else in the tech industry, but reasoned that Apple’s success up until now would not have been possible without the internet.

“Talking about Apple versus Microsoft without mentioning the internet and the browser is like talking about WWII without talking about the nuke,” Arrington wrote. “Framing the conversation just in terms of open versus closed operating systems, the quality of the hardware or software or who the CEO was, is silly.

“Because without the internet happening there’s no way Apple would have succeeded.

“Before the internet all most people cared about was Office. And Office was really the only reason anyone wanted Windows machines instead of Macs,” he wrote.

Questions about Facebook’s sharing system emerge

New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton took umbrage at an apparent anomaly in how shared links actually spread through Facebook and noticed a discernable difference in how one of his articles spread when he decided to sponsor the post.

Bilton, who counts the population of a small country among his fans on Facebook – 400,000 and growing – says that in recent months, reaction to his stories plummeted.

“Facebook proudly informed me in a message that 5.2 times as many people had seen my post because I had paid the company to show it to them. Gee whiz. Thanks, Facebook.

“This may be great news for advertisers, but I felt slightly duped. I’ve stayed on Facebook after its repeated privacy violations partly because I foolishly believed there was some sort of democratic approach to sharing freely with others. The company persuaded us to share under that premise and is now turning it inside out by requiring us to pay for people to see what we post.”

The forces behind Groupon

The Verge had a very good story analysing the working relationship between fired CEO Andrew Mason and his investor, mentor and now the new interim CEO of Groupon Eric Lefkovsky.

“When Lefkofsky met Mason, the latter was a young, ambitious entrepreneur working on his first company, a crowdfunding platform called The Point that was similar to Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Lefkofsky saw something in Mason, and gave him several hundred thousand dollars to grow The Point. But after a few months, Lefkofsky became impatient. As Mason told Chicago Magazine, Lefkofsky ‘started prodding me to figure out how The Point was going to make money.’ Eventually The Point pivoted to become Groupon, with Mason as the brash young CEO, and Lefkofsky behind the scenes, controlling a huge percentage of the shares and voting rights.

“Groupon went on to become the fastest-growing company of all time, hitting a billion dollars in revenue in just 17 months.”

New offensive in war against copyright theft

BuzzFeed reported that a new offensive in the war against copyright theft has been launched by the RIAA and Hollywood that will see private online security companies troll the internet for file sharers and then inform their internet service providers.

“In 1999, the recording industry was valued at US$14bn. Today what it’s worth is estimated at less than US$7bn – a difference the Recording Industry Association of America says is primarily due to pirating of copyrighted music.

“The new system is an attempt to combat that loss by identifying individuals who are pirating music, movies, and TV shows using peer-to-peer networks. It rats them out to their internet service provider, who in turn sends them an alert telling them they have been caught downloading illegally,” BuzzFeed reported.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years