The web economy will chopshop the car industry

A few news stories make it clear that the venerable automobile industry is going to wind up sliced, diced, and consumed by the new economics and technologies of the web, and in short order. Ford has announced that it’s working with Amazon to integrate the Alexa virtual assistant service that runs on the Echo smart speaker and Fire TV devices, so that we can turn the on the lights in our homes with a voice command from the car, or start the car as we walk out the back door in the kitchen. Ford is also integrating with Wink, the smart home hub company formerly an arm of Quirky purchased by Flextronics when Quirky filed for bankruptcy in 2015. I get an odd pleasure thinking of an automobile as an extension of the smart home, like a thermostat or washing machine. But that’s one of the trends we are witnessing. And the
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The headset cometh: A virtual reality content primer

When we talk about VR, we tend to talk in broad strokes. “Experiences,” we call them, as if that term is somehow covers and conveys the depth and disparity that exists between gaming, watching, and interacting with VR content. The reality of virtual reality, however, is not so easily categorized or described. VR content is the big blanket term that clumsily and imprecisely covers large and vastly divergent portions of the content market as it stands. VR games, immersive video, and virtual cinema all fall under “VR content”, but they’re fundamentally different experiences, possibly appealing to very different portions of a potential mainstream VR market. Let me get this out of the way: the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony Playstation VR systems that are coming en masse in Q1 2016 are wildly dissimilar creatures. From hardware to headware, these headsets have commonalities (gyroscopes, accelerometers, lenses) but
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Twitter flip-flops on Politwoops (again)

Twitter has reversed its decision to bar Politwoops, a service which collects and preserves deleted tweets from public officials, from using the public Twitter API. “Today we’re pleased to announce that we have come to an agreement with The Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation around Politwoops,” the company said. “We look forward to continuing our work with these important organizations, and using Twitter to bring more transparency to public dialogue.” Both organizations previously criticized Twitter for attempting to hide what public figures said in public but later recanted by deleting their tweets. Here’s what a spokesperson for the Sunlight Foundation, which backs the US version of Politwoops, told me when Twitter moved to block the international version:

‘To prevent public oversight when our representatives try to discreetly change their messaging represents a significant corporate change of heart on the part of Twitter and a major move on their

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Facebook’s free Internet service stumbles in Egypt

Facebook just can’t give the Internet away. A week after Indian regulators halted the company’s Free Basics program, which provides free access to select online services by partnering with local telecoms, the Associated Press reported that the program has also been halted in Egypt. Free Basics is part of the Internet.org initiative Facebook created to provide free Internet access to people around the world through programs like this, satellites, drones, and other delivery mechanisms that haven’t yet been publicly revealed. “We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt,” Facebook told the Associated Press. “More than 1 million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts.” It’s not clear why the Egyptian government halted the program. Indian regulators did so due to concerns about how Free Basics might affect net neutrality — concerns which have hounded the program since its
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What to expect from social companies in 2016

Social networks are in a time of upheaval. Established players are experimenting with new services to maintain their relevance, upstart messaging companies are doing their damnedest to knock incumbents off their thrones, and people have more options than ever before when it comes to connecting with other humans. Below I’ve tried to think up some of the changes we’re most likely to see in 2016 as companies try to diversify their products, renew competition with their rivals, and make good on some of the things forecasted by changes made this last year. And, this being the holidays and all, I decided to do so in a handy-dandy listicle. Facebook Messenger learns from Asian services “For social in 2016 I think we will see a further entrenching of messaging and it will have a more important role in personal communications, especially in mature markets such as the US,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau
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Twitter continues anti-abuse campaign with updated rules

Twitter has made changes to the “Twitter Rules” that dictate how people are allowed to use its service as part of its efforts to curb abuse on the platform. Former chief executive Dick Costolo recognized Twitter’s abuse problem in February. Since then, the company has devoted more staff to moderating its service, introduced new harassment reporting tools, and taken steps to limit abusers’ ability to spew filth at their target from numerous Twitter accounts. Now the company has updated the Twitter Rules to make its stance on abuse even clearer. The updated rules bar Twitter users from making violent threats; sharing another user’s personal information; harassing someone; misusing multiple accounts; impersonating others; and encouraging others to self-harm. “We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power,” the company says in the new rules, “But that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people
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Indoor farming: Good for cannabis, not so good for food

Marijuana is a natural candidate for experimentation — and not just the kind that leaves New York Times columnists in hallucinatory states for eight hours. Because it’s often grown indoors, and growing it legally is just becoming legal in a few states around the country, the plant is almost begging to be messed with. And, if those experiments go well, they could affect more than just Mary-Jane. That’s according to Fluence, a startup that builds LED-based lighting systems for legal cannabis growers and partners with researchers to study their impact. Want to know if a particular strain of marijuana grows best under one spectrum instead of another? Or how much money could be saved by switching from incandescent lighting systems to LEDs? Fluence wants to be the company to ask. The company, which was formerly called BML Horticulture, currently has to run all these experiments from a research lab in California —
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