Beacon is Back. Sort of.

Instant personalization, your new online overlords call it. Sounds much more friendly now, doesn’t it? The “Like” function now appear on other websites, such as IMDB and Yelp! So, when you “Like” a movie on IMDB or a restaurant on Yelp! it automatically shows up in your favorites. Whatever the exact workings are, it’s a powerful marketing tool, and there’s no debate that it “could” be used for such, but it’s what it was made to do.

Some writers have posited that Facebook is trying to establish itself as the center of the internet such that all other websites become tributaries to the river that is Facebook This new “open graph” basically allows Facebook to own information on you and what you like. But the cool thing that comes out of it is that this new tech can actually differentiate between objects and persons, apparently. And, granted, you can “opt-out” of it (Americans…).

What are your thoughts on this? Is this just another power play Facebook is making at owning you and your internet experience, or is it a legitimate and ingenious business model that in no way infringes upon your rights?


Twitter. Forever.

Your tweets are about to be indexed. Every single one of them. And you don’t have much of a choice about it (other than making your feed private). You may now offer your sacrifices to Google, your almighty interweb overlord.

That’s right folks, soon you’ll be able to look into the tweetstory (get it?) of every user with ease. You see, Google decided that people would want this function because we wouldn’t want our important tweets to disappear into the hard to search obscurity of a twitter feed.

“With Google’s new Twitter search feature, you can view all Tweets within a specific day, month or year, using a graph that appears on top of the results.”

Basically, you can find out what I tweeted on the night of April 9, 2010 if my page wasn’t private. With this new breakthrough in twitter tech, your employers no longer need to repeatedly click that bar on the bottom of the page. All they have to do is head over to Google, type in a search term, set a few parameters, and voila. All your embarrassing moments will be cataloged for easy browsing.

To be fair, the tool can be useful when you want to see what people say over a specific period of time, say, during the launch of Avatar (bloody awful movie BTW). I think that’s a rather cool thing you can do with it. Instead of having to call thousands of people to ask their opinion about something, you can now just Google it. Though this would probably result in a biased sample.

On the other hand, it consolidates information you willingly disperse to the internet for easy access. Before this, it was all there, but you’d have to dig a little. But now, easy peasy.

Also, that tweet you had about how you had the craziest dream about riding off into the sunset with Jude Law on purple ponies? It will be forever preserved in the granite halls of the Library of Congress. That’s right. Your ambiguous fantasies were deemed important enough to be archived in the most respected institution of its kind. Not bad for 140 characters from the fingertips of a guy who had 10 too many.

Link to Google’s indexing program after the jump.



I’m not sure, but I think that’s a play on Che’s last name.


Basically, they use advertising to pay for the mp3 songs you would otherwise just download.

I’m interested in your opinions. Do you think this could be a way to balance free music without “stealing” money from the bands? Do you think this will work?

4/9 Edit: A couple of things

I forgot to put this in. How do YOU think music lovers can keep listening to music for free without “breaking the law?” The argument that sharing music is illegal or immoral is moot, because it’s simply not going away. In light of this, how do we compensate for it?

Professor Vanacker presented a study that said the music industry was losing a generous portion of money to illegal file sharing. There are numerous other studies that come to the same conclusion, as well as the opposite. What should be taken away from this is that these studies on the effects of illegal file sharing on the record industry revenue range from not statistically differentiable from zero to substantial. Obviously, those against it will cite the substantial studies, and those for it will cite the low impact studies.

I come bearing gifts…

…of Easter delight.

OK, I was going to publish this before the break, but I got drowned by mountains of work. So, here it is.

I was originally going to expand on the choice thing, but all I’ve got in my head now is Reconstruction, Sicko, and uses and gratification of Second Life.

So, I’m just gonna put up a few links to how we suck at choosing, in case anyone’s interested.

Jonah Lehrer – this is a podcast from RPI with Jonah Lehrer.

Barry Schwartz – at a TED conference about the paradox of choice.

Last Thoughts on Gaming and the Ames Room

As we leave our extended section on virtual reality, gaming, and vindicating Diego Maradona, I thought I’d get some last words in on addiction to gaming. There are three types of gaming addictions. The games you’re addicted to because they’re fun, the games you’re addicted to because you want to waste time, and finally the games you’re addicted to because the game devs have designed them specifically for that task.

We’ve discussed with the Sicart article about how the designers of a game try to predict gamer behaviour:

When game designers talk about their practice, they
often say that their role is to predict player behavior,
and plot their interaction with the system in ways
that encourage the playability of the game. This
means that the rules of the game are designed with
a series of affordances and constraints, relative to
the choices given to the players, which condition the
experience of the game by its users.

I would like to violently disagree with that statement. I used to think the greatest evil in gaming was QTE (quicktime events), but ever since the introduction of the Achievements system on the XBOX (Trophies on the PS3), I’ve noticed that games have gotten a bit less enjoyable. There are two culprits at work: my OCD and the Trophies. Basically players are rewarded with trophies for completing certain acts in the game. For example, in GTA IV there are 200 pigeons hidden in obscure place around the city. You get a trophy for killing all two hundred of them. Now, on the home screen on the PS3 there is a section where you can view the percentage of trophies you’ve collected for each game, and when that percentage meter next to whatever game I’m playing is not 100%, by God I will not rest until it is.

Maybe it’s my fault for needing to complete it since the trophies are not central to gameplay. However when you look at the other games that are being pumped out today, you know the ones where you level up, there seems to be a sinister pattern. I first noticed this playing America’s Army, a multi-million dollar game developed with your parents’ tax dollars. Back in the good old days of Counter Strike, shooting people in virtual reality was about mastering a skill, and to a certain extent it still is in games like Call of Duty.

BUT, notice that orange bar on the bottom of your screen, the experience meter. You now get to level up to show the world how skilled you are at shooting pixels in the face. To be fair, you actually get something for leveling up in Call of Duty, unlike Achievements. And by something I mean a marginally useful gadget that will marginally help the process of shooting silhouettes in the face a little easier.

The even more sinister part about leveling up is that while the first levels pass relatively quickly, the latter stages require exponentially more experience points. I first noticed this when a buddy of mine told me that it takes the same amount of experience to level from 0 to 90 as it does from 90 to 100. Why would they do such a thing? So you become more frantic about leveling up, thus increasing your addiction.

This is similar to something we behavioral economists (you better believe I am) like to call “irrational escalation of commitment. Instead of leaving the game at the point of mastery, you continue performing repetitive and pointless tasks for a couple of digits. “I’m so close to level 60!” you might say, but realize that whatever effort you’ve put into mastering the game becomes sunk cost once you decide to pursue numbers instead of skill.

I may not mind this clearly unethical practice to get gamers to hook on the game as long as possible if these levels or achievements offered increasingly awesome rewards, but the fact is that they reduce gamers to lab rats. The example I like to use is the one about the rats that press the button to trigger pleasure in their brains. Once the rats opened the flood games by pressing the button the first time, they continued to press it… till they died. Like gamers in Korea.

Edit 3/26:
Sorry to add on to the already long post, but I think think this article may be of interest to some:
South Korean couple starved child while raising ‘virtual baby’

Anyway, to atone for the long post, I present to you the Ames room, where as hard as you may try, you will not be able to see past the optical illusion.

Alien Sideboob

Since we’re going to talk about internet justice, I thought I’d bring up an interesting occurrence.

Consider the case of the “alien sideboob.” Mass Effect was marketed to gamers as having a nude scene. Now, anyone who knows gamers should know the effect of such a claim; this is likely the only time hardcore games would every be able to see any boob. Thus, it was no more than a ingenious marketing ploy for what amounted to about 5 seconds of a side profile of a breast. There are Picasso’s that are more nude.

When the wankers at Fox “News” got a hold of this, they decided to run a story on how Mass Effect “leaves nothing to the imagination” and “pandora’s box is open” and how the game allows players to customize sex scenes. They had a joke of a psychologist Cooper Lawrence on the show to discuss how this will ruin children’s minds. (It was ironic hearing anyone on Fox saying “I gotta go with the research.” Really weird.) The host also at one point made a comment about how it’s unfortunate that parents have to censor what their kids are exposed to. So, I guess it’s unfortunate to her that parents have to parent their kids. Basically, they disregarded that video games are appropriately rated by the ESRB (one of the panel says that they should have their heads examined for not giving the game an adult only rating) and completely misrepresented the game.

After the show, Cooper Lawrence, who plugged her book The Cult of Perfection on the show, received unanimous negative ratings on the books Amazon page, apparently from indignant gamers. The reviews often consisted of a short explanation of why the book was awful, followed by a declaration that the commenter hadn’t actually read the book. (There were actually thousands of comments on the book, but Amazon removed them.)

Internet Justice

We’ve all read briefly about the group Anonymous from the troll article. While some of what they do is trolling, the one dimensional name is somewhat unfitting. Anonymous isn’t exactly an identified group; they could be anyone who decides to apply the name to themselves.  Consequently, Anonymous has been proactive as internet vigilantes. Well known cases include the “dog shit girl,” youtube cat torture, and the case of the stolen Sidekick. My personal favorite, however, is when the self-righteous creator of internet spam, who believes his creation is one of the best inventions of mankind, was signed up by netizens for almost every imaginable paper advertisement publication possible. Every day, his mail arrives in multiple sacks that weighs upwards of a ton. He now complains more than your five year old niece.

Now that just seems like good karma, and I don’t feel like theres a particular problem with that incident. I’m actually quite happy with what transpired.

However, in general the ethics of internet justice, or internet vigilanteism as it’s sometimes called, is much more ambiguous. What it normally involves is ridicule rather than a legal process. Vigilanteism is oft-times more efficient than justice, but the consensus seem to be that it isn’t true justice.

I’m the guy that believes justice should involve a gun and a bullet. But until we humans develop that type of intellect, we’ll need to make due with our current system. The question this poses is “should justice on the internet be held to a different standard than the offline world?” If so, how would we go about implementing this justice?