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“Football’s here! Now about that Super Bowl on Facebook …” plus 6 more VentureBeat


“Football’s here! Now about that Super Bowl on Facebook …” plus 6 more VentureBeat

Football’s here! Now about that Super Bowl on Facebook …

Posted: 25 Sep 2016 12:10 PM PDT

tv phones

As football season gears up again, it's a good time to consider the relative benefits of broad-based live TV advertising vs. more targeted and distributed digital options. It’s not the black and white comparison that it used to be.

Last year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg famously commented in an Advertising Week presentation that there is a Super Bowl every day on Facebook (Facebook mobile, to be exact.) Reports of her presentation note that she emphasized how Facebook gives advertisers huge reach as well as targeting capabilities.

In a few years, some ads on the Super Bowl could be targeted as well as they are on Facebook.

At the same time, P&G recently announced that it is pulling back from granular targeting on Facebook. Marc Pritchard, P&G's CMO noted that they targeted too much and went too narrow. As sophisticated as a business may be in creating broad appeal, there are learning curves to targeting at scale, understanding what Facebook users want to experience, and working with Facebook as a key media partner.

As TV starts to become more addressable, advertisers will be forced to compare the pros and cons of TV and digital advertising more directly. Targeting might be good for some messaging, but when is it too much? The Super Bowl may provide a national stage, but is the soaring cost really worth it? When creating a multichannel advertising strategy, it's important to focus on a few important elements before placing your bets: overhead cost, data accuracy, scale, and fit.

P&G actually did many advertisers a huge favor by announcing that it's possible to be too targeted on Facebook. The advertising giant famously puts a lot of stock in media measurement and likely quantified the pros and cons of targeting so many individual segments on Facebook. The overhead cost of creating individual campaigns for each segment was likely higher than a more general campaign. The accuracy of data targeting for a consumer packaged goods company on a social media platform was likely imperfect, where third-party data or "proxy" data is used extensively. The scale of targeting is naturally less than a broad-based campaign, and the fit might or might not be appropriate. People may not want to think about buying dog food or toothpaste while looking at their friend's vacation pictures.

Compare this to P&G's enormously successful "Like a Girl" campaign during Super Bowl 2015. The ad was for Always feminine products during the middle of the Super Bowl. However, it focused on universal themes, creating an instant conversation among viewers. It also took advantage of digital media, garnering millions of YouTube views as people dug deeper into the campaign's message. Would the company have caused such a meaningful sensation or won so many awards if it had simply pushed that campaign on Facebook mobile? Likely not, but its approach does show that the role of Super Bowl advertising is more of a tent pole to a richer strategy than a "one and done" opportunity.

This year saw the highest recorded price for a Super Bowl commercial at an average of $4.8 million for a 30-second spot. The Super Bowl provides advertisers with the ideal traditional scenario — a captive live audience watching a large screen with each other. People want to see the ads, talk to each other about the ads, and even replay them on YouTube. In this regard, there really isn't a comparative advertising opportunity on Facebook, mobile, or anything else.

On the flip side, Facebook does offer a lot of what advertisers like about the Super Bowl. They can achieve scale, they can buy a huge amount of advertising with a relatively simple set of transactions, and they can be confident they are reaching real people in a brand-safe environment.

So while Facebook might have elements of Super Bowl advertising on its platform, advertisers will still have to weigh the costs, scale, data targeting, and fit before determining the best way to spend their money. And while the Super Bowl can cause a sensation across the nation, it takes fantastic storytelling and a rich multichannel strategy to keep the message going. As digital and TV begin to resemble each other, a planning strategy that fairly compares the two (or determines how they can be used together) will create a neutral framework that can unite planners across traditional and digital lines.

Matt Nitzberg is Chief Growth Officer at ThinkVine.

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The brains behind autonomous vehicles may need a license to drive

Posted: 25 Sep 2016 11:17 AM PDT

A Google self-driving car.

Self-driving vehicles are already on the nation's roads and many more are coming. Uber, Google, Tesla, and the major automobile manufacturers have plans to develop and deploy tens of thousands of such vehicles on America's roads over the next decade.

A key point on the government's just-released 15-point checklist to guide the development of autonomous vehicles is cybersecurity, guarding against the risk of vehicles being hacked. But underlying the functionality of autonomous vehicles are the people who write the code that makes their design work. Autonomous vehicles require exquisite software. To make it secure, industry and government should consider educational standards and licensure requirements for the people who design the smarts that go into these vehicles.

As we’ve seen over and over, less-smart, human-driven cars can and will be hacked. In 2010, for example, a 20-year-old disgruntled employee in Austin, Texas, tampered with data on a Web-based system used to remotely disable repossessed vehicles, leaving more than 100 drivers unable to start their cars or stop the horns from blaring. That same year, researchers at the University of Washington exposed numerous flaws in onboard networks when they succeeded in embedding malicious code that disabled a vehicle’s braking system. And two former DARPA-funded researchers – now legends at the famous Blackhat hackers conference – have publically demonstrated how they could remotely control a modern vehicle's acceleration, steering, brakes, windshield wipers, horn and even the tightness of the seat belts.

If today's manned cars are vulnerable to cyber threats, the coming fleet of autonomous vehicles could be more so. One reason is because the code that controls them is so complex. The software can contain 100 million lines of software code, which controls the dozens of onboard computers and networks. You need all this to brake, steer, accelerate, heat, cool, and connect the vehicle and protect its occupants. These computers and their software are the brains that enable these cars to go down the road.

And that critical software code is a man-made development, created by imperfect human beings. The government's guidelines recognize this by including consideration of remote software updates. To be proactive and achieve the cybersecurity needed, the focus should be on the people who write the software code that make the vehicles work.

If there can only be one maxim on how to design secure software code, it is this one: Security must be "baked in." This means that they have to anticipate and understand the potential vulnerabilities and threats. Writing software that is both functional and secure is a skill that requires education, training, and experience. And therein lies the rub. Today, you don't need a license to be able write software code for cars. You don't need a college degree.

A century ago, anyone could be an engineer without proving they were competent. There were many notable catastrophes, including dams and bridges that collapsed. As a result, the concept of a professional engineering license, for developers who designed bridges and roadways, was conceived and implemented. States started to require that certain engineers be licensed, and a measure of competency was born. Today, the person with the authority to take legal responsibility for an engineering project, like designing a bridge or a roadway, has to be licensed.

Similarly, certain medical professionals like nurses and physicians must have a license to treat people. Of course, operators of motor vehicles must be licensed before they get behind the wheel. But right now, you don't need a license to write software code that operates vehicles.

professional engineers exam was created in 2013 for software engineering, but so far the idea hasn’t gained traction with federal or state policymakers. The Department of Defense and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have processes that require lengthy certification and accreditation of software that is to reside on government networks. These aren't mere guidelines but detailed rules.

Creating similar processes to promote minimum standards on secure code and cybersecurity could help secure the development of autonomous vehicle software. We may have some of the most brilliant experts in artificial intelligence and control systems creating the software code for autonomous vehicles. A certification process could prove it.

Isaac Porche is a senior engineer at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and associate director of the RAND Arroyo Center’s Forces and Logistics Program.

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What Google Allo’s launch means for chatbots

Posted: 25 Sep 2016 10:25 AM PDT


I have high hopes for this one.

While Google Allo is still fresh off the starting block, it could become the most significant chatbot messaging platform ever. For now, it does not even allow third-party participation. It's fairly limited and has an uphill climb if it is going to replace WhatsApp or Messenger on your phone.

Yet, there are hopeful signs. The app already uses a Smart Reply feature that can parse out requests. It can read the context of your conversation and provide automated responses. If you receive a message about your cousin graduating from high school, for example, it will offer to say “congrats” on your behalf. This even works for photos, so Allo can identify a birthday cake (presumably, have not tried this) and offer to say Happy Birthday for you, which saves a lot of typing.

The Assistant is also a differentiator. In some ways, it serves as a good introduction for people to see how a chatbot works. It has some interesting abilities. If you ask the Assistant how to tie a tie, you’ll get a picture with the instructions. If you ask about a flight, you’ll see a few options. (Too bad you can’t book the flight yet.) Like Google Now, which is sliding away into obscurity, the Assistant understands context. If you ask about the Minnesota Twins and then ask “when is their next game?” the Assistant will know you mean the Twins.

It’s cool that you can ask the Assistant to send you a daily traffic report, do some math, compute the distance to the moon, look for online recipes, and tell you a joke.

Other than those features, Allo is not exactly an A.I. powerhouse. If you ask for directions, it won’t tell you much — you get a Google Map. When I tried asking about a bike trail in my area, it spit out another map. Understanding context is one thing; understanding the context of my life is another. I’d like the Assistant to be much more helpful — if I ask about a bike trail, it should offer to track the weather for me, knowing I’m probably heading there in a few days. Google is obviously in a “preview” stage with the app.

Yet, it has potential for chatbot integration. The first bot I want is something related to Gmail. I’d love to chat with a Gmail assistant. “Can you delete all of my messages from 2012?” I’d ask. Done and done. “How many times has my editor contacted me this year?” Boom. I could see Google adding chatbots for their router line, for Google Drive, and many others. Next up — I want peopel to talk to my Gmail chatbot instead of sending me an email.

Chatbots from third parties that integrate with Google services is a logical next step. For example, I tend to use an NVIDIA Shield TV as my primary streaming device these days. A chatbot would be so amazingly helpful. In Allo, I could ask the Shieldbot about which movies will be on the Google Play store next week and remind me to rent them. It could tell me about brand new Shield games that match the ones I usually purchase. I’d also use it to troubleshoot problems. (I use the Shield to test Bluetooth speakers once in a while; some of them even work.)

Of course, the next level after this is to add a chatbot for Uber, one for AirBnB, and countless others. Yet, what I like about Allo is that it could tie into my primary email and document management platform. It could become part of my daily routine. For me, Facebook is a logical extension of my personal life and the best way to be social in business. Yet, I work within the Google ecosystem. I want chatbots on Allo to make me super productivie, save time, and integrate with all of my apps, my home security system and even my car.

I’m expecting this to go even further, though. This is Google, after all. Maybe Allo will become my personal assistant for an autonomous car someday, who knows?

The great challenge here is that hardly anyone I know has even started using the app. Allo could become one of those great Google missteps. I want it to succeed, mostly because I really want that Gmail chatbot and because I’m expecting Google to make a much bigger impact in the smart home of tomorrow. I’ll be curious how it all works out.



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9 things you didn’t know about the UK’s tech scene

Posted: 25 Sep 2016 09:05 AM PDT


"Where are the UK tech companies that can become the next Google or Facebook?" goes the cry.  Well, I think the UK has plenty of what it takes to grow a tech titan or two, or three.

Britain consistently punches above its weight when it comes to digital innovation and technology. In a recent OECD/McKinsey 2016 report, the UK was ranked top in its digital share of overall GDP (10 percent), beating the USA (8 percent) and Sweden (7 percent).

Meanwhile, PwC has just placed London number one, for the second time, on its bi-annual list of Cities of Opportunity. London's status as a world financial center, conveniently positioned halfway between Asia and the US, has helped it foster a strong tech innovation community over several years.

Six years ago the UK government decided to get behind its burgeoning tech talent, and the result is one of the most generous tax-relief systems anywhere in the world for starting a business. With supportive regulation, lots of available finance, and politicians keen to bring jobs into their neighborhoods, you can see why tech companies like Deliveroo and Shazam are thriving across the country. Indeed, over 40 percent of all European tech unicorns are based in the UK.

Then there's culture. The UK's economic liberalism and cultural variety – engendered over centuries not decades – have played a crucial part in its digital success.

For those considering investing in or starting up a UK-based tech business, here are a few things you should know:

1. The UK is the second biggest destination in the world for VC money, on a per capita basis

Venture capitalists invested a record $3.6 billion in the UK's tech scene last year, up 70 percent from the year before. The country has consistently attracted more than 30 percent of all European VC funds for several years. On a per capita basis, the UK is the second biggest destination for VC money in the world, after the US, counting all investments made between 2009 and 2015, according to EY.

According to Pitchbook, the VC database, 2015 was the fifth consecutive year of growth for the UK's tech sector. In fact, tech investment in London in 2015 was almost 20 times what it was in 2010. And in June 2016, the UK was already on track to exceed last year's funding level yet again.

So far, Brexit does not appear to be having any impact. It's fair to say that leaving the European Union may not have been on the road map for many in the sector, but we'll rise to the challenge, while pushing hard for this community to become even more open to global tech talent and investment.

2. It's not just London

There are 1.56 million jobs in the digital tech economy, with almost three times more jobs being created in the sector than in the wider economy. Tech hubs are emerging organically across the country, specializing in different capabilities; from cyber security to digital media. Edinburgh is home to billion-dollar companies Skyscanner and Fanduel as well as rapidly growing startups like Administrate and TV Squared.

Manchester, where over 50,000 people work in the digital economy, is another fast-growing tech hub, home to MoneySuperMarket and The Hut. Newcastle has companies such as Performance Horizons and scaling mobile payment firm ImpulsePay.

3. Our internationally renowned universities are a crucial part of the ecosystem

There are over 170 universities in the UK, with six in the world's top 30. Oxford University, Cambridge University, and Imperial College are in the global top 10. The turnout of graduates is the highest in Western Europe. British universities are world class and produce over 5,000 new STEM PhDs per year.

Collaboration between our universities and businesses is rated as the fourth best in the world, according to the World Economic Forum's latest Global Competitiveness report. Entrepreneurialism is thriving on campuses, and connections to universities are becoming crucial in funding deals.

4. The UK is second in the world for tech startup exits, after the US

Access to London's capital markets is important as businesses scale up.

The London Stock Exchange is the second largest financial market in the world, based on the number of companies listed. London's recent Tech IPO successes include payments firm Worldpay, which raised over $2.6 billion, and cyber security firm Sophos, now worth more than $1.6 billion. Other listings include Zoopla and Just Eat, both valued over $1 billion in 2014.

Even before last year's bumper crop of IPOs, the London market was a great place for tech firms to raise money. Between 2011 and 2015 there were 22 tech IPOs on the LSE, with the average IPO proceeds coming in at $492 million.

Right now, UK firms can choose if they want to IPO and open themselves up to public scrutiny. Fortunately, there is so much VC funding around that fast-growing firms can raise capital without having to list.

IPOs aside, there were 135 mergers and acquisitions in the second quarter of 2016 in the UK, accounting for 65 percent of all activity across Europe, according to CB Insights. In fact, the UK ranked second in the CB Insights Global Tech Exits listing for the first half of 2016.

5. Some of the UK’s biggest tech success stories have stayed under the radar

ARM Holdings is a case in point. ARM designs the chips that power 95 percent of the world's smartphones, and its technology effectively put a computer in everyone's pocket. This summer, the Cambridge-based company, which few consumers had heard of, accepted a $32 billion takeover offer from Japanese conglomerate Softbank.

Other big tech successes from the UK that you may have never heard of include Imagination Technologies Group, which designs and licenses chips for use in smartphones and other household appliances. Aveva, also based in Cambridge, is an engineering software business.

Meanwhile, Newbury-based Micro Focus, a software company that deals with software systems, has boldly just put in a $8 billion bid for a part of HP’s business.

We're proud of our home-grown success stories, but it's also important that many of the world's biggest tech companies have opened headquarters in the UK. Facebook's largest engineering team outside Silicon Valley is based here, while Google and Apple also have a substantial presence. By the end of this year, Facebook will employ 14,500 people in the UK.

Proximity to these big companies helps local entrepreneurs aspire to create global companies themselves. When an innovative company like Magic Pony can be snapped up by Twitter for $150 million, as happened in July 2016, it inspires everyone in the ecosystem.

6. The UK government helps tech companies from cradle to exit

There is help for tech entrepreneurs at every stage of their business evolution, ranging from R&D tax credits and entrepreneurs' capital gains relief to grants to an online Digital Academy for anyone wanting to acquire the skills to digitize their business. The UK also has a dedicated visa scheme for digital innovation experts. Government-backed enterprise schemes help private investor capital find its way into the ecosystem, and coding is now taught to all primary school children, from the age of five. The UK government has put many of its biggest interactions with its people online – from voter registration to car taxes. The UN recently ranked Britain number one in the digital delivery of services to its citizens.

7. You say fintech — I say ed tech, ad tech, prop tech, health tech, media and entertainment

Because of its supremacy in financial services, there is a tendency to assume London is dominated by fintech. There are plenty of businesses starting up in this space, like Monzo, Pockit, and Atom Bank, and some amazing unicorn companies like Transferwise and WorldPay. But the UK's digital economy is more diverse than you might imagine.

We are seeing a rapid digitization in healthcare and education, with startups like Network Locum, a company that matches locum doctors with medical practices in need, and eSchools and RefMe in the education space. The gaming sector has already created world beaters like Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto, while gambling companies like Betfair, Playtech, and 888 Holdings are also international players. Property tech companies like Zoopla Property Group and Rightmove are potentially world leaders, thriving on the back of one of the most active real estate markets in the world. The flurry of proptech startups include Trussle, an online mortgage broker, and Purplebricks, which is undercutting traditional estate agents.

8. Brits are geeks at heart

Britain is a nation of early adopters who have embraced smartphones and the mobile Internet more rapidly than other nations. We also spend more time online than any other European country, according to the media regulator Ofcom. Phones are widely used for music streaming, with digital formats now accounting for 54 percent of all UK music consumption. Brits also spend more time using phones for social networking than any other Europeans and spend more than double the next European country (France) online per capita. This wouldn't be possible without the UK's broadband and telecoms market, which is one of the most competitive in the world and expects to the begin commercial rollout of 5G services in 2020.

9. First-generation entrepreneurs are now creating their own funds and building a sustainable ecosystem

After a wave of successful IPOs, Britain's first generation of VC funds and angel investors are looking for places to invest their money. The recycling of capital into startups is something that has helped Silicon Valley maintain its supremacy across a couple of generations. Now in the UK we are starting to see the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.

While the most established VC funds were largely set up by former investment bankers, today's funds are increasingly built by successful tech entrepreneurs, such as MMC Ventures, LocalGlobe, Spring Ventures, BGF Ventures, Entrepreneur First, and others. The recent M&A activity in the sector – particularly the takeover of ARM Holdings – will release fresh talent into the market along with a wave of investment. This is not just money; this is capital with knowledge behind it.

And it's not all about the money. Which is why the UK tech community set up Founders Pledge, where tech founders donate at least 2 percent of their personal proceeds to support social causes following an exit. We're building a tech community that will last here, and we believe in paying it forward.

Gerard Grech is CEO of Tech City UK, a UK-based non-profit focused on accelerating the growth of the UK's digital economy through programmes such as Upscale and Future Fifty, policy convening and advocacy. Previously, he worked in New York and Paris in mobile, venture capital, and digital media. Follow him on Twitter: @gerardgrech.

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Why ‘talk to our chatbot’ will replace ‘send us an email’

Posted: 25 Sep 2016 08:10 AM PDT

Chatbots can make sure this doesn't happen.

I'm known to be a bit negative about email. When you receive a few hundred of them a day, it tends to make you a little skittish, even a little depressed. Yet, it's still my primary form of communication, especially when I'm trying to find answers to problems. In our highly digitized world, it's amazing we still use asynchronous communication so often.

Here's my big problem with how this all works. When you send in a message, there's no way of knowing if the recipient is doing anything about it. Sure, there are apps for this. IN marketing, it’s an art-form. Even Outlook can generate a "read receipt" — but I'm talking about getting an immediate response about what the message recipient is going to do to take action. We send an email and hope someone eventually reads it and responds in a way that is actually useful and valuable.

Let's say you are interested in a car on Craigslist. This is not a fake scenario. A few days ago, I started a new project with my nephew to restore a Range Rover. I've been looking into tires, fenders, and car parts. Most if not all of the retailers who sell the parts I need have a sales and support email listed on their site. When I asked about whether a fender will fit on a 1990 model, my email flittered off into the ether. I received an automated reply, but I'm basically stalled out waiting to see if the part will work.

I can see how this might change someday with chatbots. If the momentum continues, maybe many of these sites will switch from using a human-powered chat (which is only marginally helpful — in most cases, I catch them when they are not around) to using a chatbot.

"Does this fender part work on my 1990 Range Rover," I'd ask. The bot would respond by asking about the part in question and offering some basic product guidance. It would query a database and determine if the part would work and let me know. It would offer a different part and even process the order. I've saved a ton of time, I can keep searching for parts, the retailer has also made a sale, and a human has been tasked with more complex and important activities.

Chatbot interactions like this go beyond replacing retail inquiries and tech support questions, which already exist to some extent (even if the A.I. is fairly rudimentary at this point in bot evolution). I want a chatbot for more than sales and support; I want one for almost every situation where email is the preferred mode of communication. I'd ask about my college tuition payment for one of my kids, check with a state park bot about reserving a camping site, and even use one for my job — asking a PR bot to schedule an interview for me. I'd talk to a personal chatbot for people instead of sending an email, finding out that the person is in Lisbon on vacation. I'd interact with the "person" anyway and get the information I need. No email chain equals success.

Honestly, I hate waiting. Email is a mountain of digital mayhem in my life, a flawed system we use because it's really the only one that is prevalent enough to work today. (Even the 4×4 retailer in my town has an email address; they have absolutely no idea what the word "chatbot" means.) It's become a glue that holds everything together, but the glue is starting to crack and peel.

Here's another good example of why I want chatbots to gain more of a foothold. I had a few questions on my AT&T bill the other day. My son has been surfing for YouTube videos way too often, and there were some overage charges. The live chat was available, but I usually avoid it. It takes 20 minutes because the live agent keeps asking me questions, trying to get me to do my own troubleshooting, and is generally just annoying. So I use email. I send in my question, then I sit and wait for a day or two. Someone eventually writes back asking me more questions.

I don't have time for any of this. If chatbots replaced email in a more obvious way, I'd have my answer. Or at least I'd have part of my answer and the human agent would be able to see my interactions and my plea for leniency. (Cat videos should not cost an extra $15.)

What will it take? In many ways, we're on the right course — the platforms and dev tools exist. Messaging and other support methods like forum discussions are already starting to replace email. (Try getting tech support through the Uber app — there is no email involved.) Once the A.I. improves, my great hope is that chatbots become a primary form of communication. It won't happen before I restore this Range Rover. Then again, at this pace, maybe it will.

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Inside the madcap workshop of visual effects artist Phil Tippett

Posted: 25 Sep 2016 07:02 AM PDT

Phil Tippett, founder of Tippett Studio, shows off creatures he hand-crafted for HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

It’s rare to get a chance to meet someone truly different. Phil Tippett is one of those people. He has been creating monsters for the movies — including the memorable Holochess game in the original Star Wars film — for more than three decades. He reprised that work for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. And that inspired him to make monsters for a new augmented reality mobile game, HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

I traveled to Tippett Studio in Berkeley, Calif., last week to view a demo, which is unlike anything I've seen before. It is a hybrid of a board game, a collectible card game, a mobile game, and an augmented reality game — all in one. The game from HappyGiant features monsters designed by Tippett himself, a two-time Academy Award winner for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park.

Tippett created sculptures of the creatures, which his team then captured through a technique dubbed "photogrammetry" and converted into digital form. Then computer animators took over and made it so they could move. The results are some highly original, realistic creatures that don't look like they were designed for a video game. HoloGrid is on display this weekend at the Google Play Indie Games Festival. I caught up with Tippett at his zany workshop.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Tippett Studio and HappyGiant are using handcrafted monsters in HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

Above: Tippett Studio and HappyGiant are using handcrafted monsters in HoloGrid: Monster Battle.

Image Credit: Tippett Studio/HappyGiant

GamesBeat: Quite a playground you have here.

Phil Tippett: Yeah! Our demented Santa's toy shop.

GamesBeat: The creatures you created for this, can you talk a little more about them? Did you have anything in mind for a long time?

Tippett: Some of them I made more than 30 years ago, starting with the Mad God project. Some of them were also ideas I had for feature films. I'd come up with some designs and work with writers and go to Hollywood pitching ideas for things. They'd say, "Nah, we don't want to make that movie," so I have a bunch of these things on the shelf that I've collected over the years.

That's what gave the impetus for Mike. What he needed to do to get his Kickstarter going was have a proof of concept. He said, "Have you got anything?" I said, "I've got a lot of things. Come on in. It'll be like shopping at Safeway." It goes back so far. Some things I made for movies that never got made. Some things I made for Mad God. Some things I'd just do on a rainy afternoon with my kids. We'd do little sculpting projects. I'd make something and they'd see how I did it. It runs the gamut. A lot of this stuff was just in boxes in my attic.

GamesBeat: What convinced you to get more involved?

Tippett: We'd been talking a year earlier. I'm very interested in the whole VR thing. Other forms of technology, like the photogrammetry that we use to create these characters—we use real physical objects, but we use photogrammetry to turn that into the digital objects. We were both playing with that stuff. He had another idea that we were working around for about a year, and then he came up with this idea, so he said, "Hey, you got any monsters?" The proof of concept led to—it wasn't a protracted design thing. We had all the characters.

Sculptures galore adorn the workshop at Tippett Studios.

Above: Sculptures galore adorn the workshop at Tippett Studios.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: How long does it take you to come up with one new creature, one new idea?

Tippett: It really depends. I tend to work pretty fast. Usually it'll start with a very vague concept. The stuff I do for myself is very different than what I do in my day job, where I'm working with producers, directors, writers, developing something very specific that has to fulfill the functions of a script and the director's objectives and all that stuff. It's a different way of making things.

The stuff I do for myself comes from an unconscious sphere. It's not production-driven. If I'm working on a movie, you start here and the release date's there. You have to do it all in between there. The kinds of things I'm interested in making, I'm interested in making them over a long period of time, where I have a great deal of time to make mistakes and let mistakes guide me as far as how I approach the subject matter.

In fact, I'll consciously set up scenarios where I have an image for something, but I don't know how to do it. I've always been interested in things, in materials. Not that interested in the digital side. It's almost an animistic point of view. Without getting too spiritual or anything, it's like the objects and materials talk to you. They tell you what they want. You're operating a bit more like an interpreter, not imposing your intention totally on stuff.

You go back and look at a lot of writings on creativity, back to Bach or Mozart or even Picasso, they'll be talking about their creative process and a lot of times—Mozart would say it came to him from God. "All I did was interpret it. I didn't do anything. I just wrote it down." In some ways it's like that, like channeling this other thing. What I'm interested in are things I haven't seen before, experiences I haven't had, as opposed to a franchise kind of thing.

Phil Tippett's creatures.

Above: Phil Tippett’s creatures.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: When did it start occurring to you that the things you build with your hands could be used for some of these other things, besides the movies?

Tippett: I was always interested in movies as a kid. That's why I taught myself to draw and sculpt and learn about filmmaking. As technology changed, we moved from the photographic era into the digital era, with different tools and different things we could do. Now we're on the cusp of a whole new world. It's the wild west. Nobody knows where this stuff is going to go, how to monetize it, even how to get the money to make it. On a creative level, there's so much room to play.

When we were making Star Wars with George, he didn't know how that was going to go. Maybe nobody was going to like this thing. Now it's at this point where it's created all these franchises. On a creative level the audience has expectations you have to fulfill. That wasn't something he had to think about with Star Wars.

GamesBeat: You've stayed with physical objects a lot longer than some others. Do you feel like something that's created digitally first kind of looks computerized, versus something physical?

Tippett: Not really? For me personally I just don't work on a computer. I don't. I can manage Microsoft Word or Photoshop. Sometimes I do stuff there. But I just don't like the experience. I don't like sitting down. I don't like focusing on one thing. I like to be able to move in the world. That's a lot of what drives me.

Initially, when we were doing Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers, we built a lot of 3D hand-sculped maquettes. Back then the technology required it. That was the best way to build stuff, because the talent pool wasn't to a level where you could do it from the start in the computer. But now it is. There are a bunch of really talented, skilled people doing that.

GamesBeat: It seems like if you create it physically, you wind up with something that looks more …organic, maybe?

Tippett: It really depends on the skill level of the artists working with the tools that they're familiar with. I've seen some people do amazing things with computer graphics.

Tippett Studio has hand-crafted creatures from lots of movies.

Above: Tippett Studio has handcrafted creatures from lots of movies.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: If the game is successful and they say, "Hey, we need 15 more monsters," where are they going to come from?

Tippett: Oh, I'll figure that out. [Laughs] It has to be successful first. I don't worry about things until I have to worry about them. But I've got a lot of stuff. We're kind of thinking ahead with some of that stuff, thinking about, "What'll we do if…?" We've got some ideas.

GamesBeat: Did the chess set stay with you the entire time, that game from the original Star Wars? Did you ever think that would be a real game?

Tippett: Oh, no. Absolutely no idea. Even when we were making it. It was an afterthought. I got hired to work on the cantina scene with a bunch of other people. We were doing masks and characters for that. George would come over once a week to check our progress. While he was there one time, he saw a stop-motion puppet I'd made when I was a teenager. He said, "Oh, you do stop-motion?" Previously he was going to do the chess scene with actors in makeup and masks. That gave him the idea to do it as a stop-motion thing. It was right at the end of the schedule. My partner Jon Berg and I just banged these things out, really quickly. We went over to the studio and shot it over a few days.

We got on the set and there were no rules for the game at all. It was just for a movie. We said, "George, what do we do?" He says, "Well, this guy jumps in and this guy picks him up and throws him on the ground." And that was it.

GamesBeat: So you had to build the game and its rules with a whole new set of creatures.

Tippett: That's Mike's problem. I have no experience with games. I play checkers with my kids and that's about as far as I go. I've never worked on a game project until now. But it can be a lot of fun.

The workshop at Tippett Studios

Above: The workshop at Tippett Studios

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
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With more than 800,000 apps using Facebook Analytics, focus turns towards education

Posted: 25 Sep 2016 07:02 AM PDT


Developers are given a plethora of tools which can be used to build and grow their mobile apps. Platforms release APIs and SDKs with the hope apps will be built upon them, and there are even resources dedicated to increasing exposure amongst the masses. But in this data-driven world in which we live, having all the bells and whistles, marketing magic, and so-called growth hacking isn’t enough — it’s necessary to be able to track the people actually using the app.

Last year at its F8 developer conference, Facebook introduced Facebook Analytics for Apps, a tool that might draw comparisons to Google Analytics, but for apps and provides data around the audience, which device has the most usage, and other pertinent information for marketing campaigns. At the time, company chief executive Mark Zuckerberg shared that 95 percent of apps in the App Store and on Google Play were integrated with Facebook. Today, more than 800,000 apps are powered by the social networking company’s solution.

Facebook Analytics for Apps Funnel Chart

Above: Facebook Analytics for Apps Funnel Chart

Image Credit: Facebook

"It’s more than getting an app installed," said Facebook product manager Josh Twist. "We can help drive installs on mobile apps, but that’s not the end of the journey. Facebook knows the way to drive retention, engagement, and conversion hangs on understanding people."

Facebook isn’t unique in the analytics space, as there are several competitors, including Google, Localytics, App Annie, Adobe, and Mixpanel. However, what it prides itself on is not only have an extensive user database and the expertise around producing scalable mobile apps that have a lot of usage. "We have a deep understanding of audience demographics and can share that with developers in an anonymous and aggregated way," Twist remarked.

One of the selling points Facebook is selling to developers is that it’s less about ambient signals and more about being deliberate. In other words, Twist said that competitive solutions are collecting information to try and understand what’s going on versus Facebook’s approach of prioritizing information based on the user. When apps connect to the company’s social graph, they’ll be able to gain insights into who you are, what your interests, friends, and other pertinent information is. Through this, developers can make more targeted campaigns.

Facebook Analytics for Apps In-app notifications

Above: Facebook Analytics for Apps In-app notifications

Image Credit: Facebook

"A number of players in the space have demographics, but can’t go into the depth and accuracy of Facebook," Twist shared. "We can understand age, country, language, job title, education, relationship status, and can tell you what [Facebook] pages customers like." With more than 1.7 billion monthly active users, Facebook has shown that it’s one of the few companies that can demonstrate such growth — just look at WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as examples. The company thinks leveraging this shows developers that it has the wherewithal needed to help developers achieve similar success.

Twist also boasted about Facebook’s ability to be fast, saying the company "thinks you should be able to see the data in the various funnels in a couple of minutes, not overnight, especially when making changes on the fly and want to see if it’s having an impact. [Developers] want to see information very quickly."

It might seem obvious to some, but app tracking is not only different between the web and on mobile devices, but by geography. In fact, not every environment is the same, so developers will need to be very targeted depending on whether they’re examining usage in the U.S., Europe, China, India, Australia, or some place in Africa. Differences between markets can vary, but Twist posits that it might be because of varying levels of excitement users have, experiences, or the fidelity of the devices.

This has been something Facebook has been working on for a while. While those in the U.S. are often dealing with advanced technology and connectivity, those in other countries like India are dealing with more complex issues, with many not even thinking about unlimited data usage. "We see all sorts of behaviors where people with high-end devices in those communities behave more like people in the U.S., but a significant portion will use low-end devices and this changes everything, including how they interact with the apps," Twist explained citing that those with little storage on their device, may tend to just uninstall apps they don’t want rather than keep them around.

Facebook Analytics for Apps sharing insights

Above: Facebook Analytics for Apps sharing insights

Image Credit: Facebook

"It’s a very mixed space and is challenging," he added. "It makes it harder to build a tool like analytics." And this is especially important to Facebook since it’s a global company. Twist revealed that 85 percent of developers using the company’s analytics solution are from outside the U.S.

Now, after more than a year in service and powering analytics for 800,000 apps, Facebook feels it’s time to provide additional support. And while it continues to offer app building resources, largely through its FbStart program, and can continue to add additional insight features, its impact won’t truly be felt unless developers actually understand what it all means and how to take advantage of Facebook’s Analytics for Apps. This is why the company will be launching education courses in the next few weeks.

"People spend a lot of time in their analytic tools and want to make it more effective so they can spend more time on higher-level activities," Twist said. "We’re passionate about making life better — we’re going deep into core business intelligence capabilities to make it better so when people use [Facebook Analytics for Apps], productivity goes through the roof."

He acknowledged that analytics is a complicated space and most developers and marketers may not be able to pick up on it right away: "It’s very easy to misunderstand the situation just by looking at the numbers."

When launched, Facebook intends to offer developers, marketers, and anyone else tutorials on its product, while providing additional guidance on how to make the most out of the tool. It’s one thing to see how many people used an app on Android devices from Germany, but it’s another to be able to combine that with additional metrics and events tracked to make informed decisions about future development or corrections that are needed.

In fact, it’s likely an area that’ll be covered is around misconceptions in using Facebook Analytics, dispelling notions that you need to login with your Facebook account, and other restrictions. "We still provide demographic information with the fidelity and quality if you don't have any other association," Twist remarked.

He also shared that there’s been discussions around expanding analytics to other app classifications, such as those in the virtual reality, Internet of Things (connected objects), and perhaps even bots in the future. No firm plans have been made, but it’s certainly not something Facebook is discounting.

"We've seen an evolution where ten years ago, it was largely web, then it was web + mobile web. Then web + mobile web + apps. Now we are seeing it's all of those plus bots. What we are seeing is that today, that platforms are additive and people are having to develop more additional platforms as consumer behavior has evolved to using different platforms based on the context," he stated. "We think the journey is 1 percent finished."

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