Random Thoughts – Randocity!

What is the Fallout 76 1st subscription?

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 15, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032.jpgBethesda has released Fallout 76’s first paid product named 1st. This uninspired and unfortunate naming doesn’t mean much, but it does come with some welcomed and important improvements to Fallout 76. Let’s explore.

 


Fallout 1st

Obviously the 1st branding is intended to be pronounced “first”. Let’s get that one out of the way right off. The naming itself doesn’t mean much and in the context of the game itself means very little. But, this add-on subscription does add some welcomed, important and substantial improvements. Whether those improvements are worth the price, I’ll have to leave that up to you. The costs for this service are USD $12.99 a month or USD $99 per year (USD $8.25 per month — a fairly substantial savings over paying monthly). The additional fee does offer some worthwhile improvements. Let’s investigate these next.

“Infinite” Storage Scrapbox

fallout-76_20191114152424.jpgFor those of us tapped out on Stash space, the new Scrapbox is an invaluable asset. You can take all of that weighty scrap out of your 800 weight limited Stash, release up to 300 weight or more from your Stashbox and put all of that weight all into the “infinite” space Scrapbox. This means substantially more Stash to use for storing weapons, armor and other collectibles. This is an important and welcomed change. Not to mention, being able to store “infinite” amounts of lead, steel, copper, cloth, crystal, leather, etc. This feature offers way more crafting, workshop and camp building options. Though, I highly doubt the Scrapbox offers actual infinite storage, the storage cap is probably so high as to be almost infinite.

On the other hand, you can’t store anything in there but scrap. It won’t store weapons, armor, aid or any other category of items. It also won’t store ALL types of scrap. For example, bulked items cannot be stored in the Scrapbox. If you wish to store already bulked items, you’ll need to unbulk them to store them in the Scrapbox. However, the Scrapbox does offer a scrapping feature. No longer do you need to have a workbench handy. If you have a bunch of junk that you simply want to break down into scrap, the box will automatically do this before depositing it into the box. This makes the Survival Tent much more functional without any workbenches.

Survival Tent

Fallout 76_20191112002656

This freely deployable tent offers a second free fast travel point that can be easily moved and costs no caps to move about. It is definitely welcomed to have a second free moveable fast travel point… and which offers access the new Scrapbox easily and quickly, offers a cooking pot, a Stashbox, a sleeping bag for the “Rested” perk, and a banjo for the “Well Tuned” perk. Unfortunately, the sleeping bag only offers the “Rested” perk (lasts 1 hour) instead of “Well Rested” perk (which lasts 2 hours). Having a second fast travel point will drastically save on spending caps to travel around the map. This means you can leave the tent in a convenient location and avoid paying caps to get to that location and pay much reduced caps to get to locations near it.

Private Servers

Fallout 76_20191114150545Private Servers that had been promised for a year are finally here! These are great for many reasons. For example, locating items that you can’t otherwise find because other players are actively farming them. Additionally, trying to locate legendary enemies to finish up the Enclave commendations can be tricky. With a private server, it’s easier to find such events which spawn legendary enemies (i.e. Wolf Pack) and finish the event (and receive commendations), without interference from other players. It also makes questing alone easier and it makes group questing more fun when you invite only your friends while no one else can join that world’s server.

Alone questing is much easier because the game server spawns enemies at the level of the most recent person who happens by. If a level 150 player hits up a location minutes before your level 30 character arrives, the enemies will likely be level 68. This can make situations impossible to win. It may also mean hopping servers until you find a world where your level 30 character is the one who has spawned lower level enemies. A private server avoids this problem entirely. Since the server is brand new the moment you launch it, only your character influences the world around you when playing alone. However, if you invite high level players into your private world, then the same problem of high level spawns will occur even in the private server. You’ll want to be cautious when you invite friends into your server.

One additional benefit of the private server is it durability. What I mean is that once you start a private server, this same server is available to you for up to 20 minutes while no one is online. What that means is you can swap characters and load into the same private world over and over. While 1st doesn’t offer any means to directly share stuff between characters, this world durability means you can drop a bag of items in the world in an easy location (like Vault 76) and then pick up the bag using a different character. This allows you to swap items between characters without using an intermediate third person to hold your stuff or watch your bag. Simply drop a bag from one character, log out, change characters, log back into the private world, go to the spot where you dropped it and pick up the items. Simple. It works well and it is predictable. Because it’s a private server, there’s no danger of another player grabbing your stuff while you’re working on this activity.

It would be preferable if Bethesda could give us an official way to share stuff between characters, but in the interim, the private server is a great option to share weapons, armor and items between characters. I’ve always intensely disliked using random third parties for this transfer process. Using a private server to share items is an excellent alternative. And yes, it does work. I’ve done this several times between characters.

Of course, there’s no easy way to share caps between characters using a private server. If you want to do this, you’ll still need to use a third party.

Another benefit of the private servers is, while playing alone, you can hold any workshop in the game without fear of PVP reprisal. You will have to occasionally manage defend events, but that’s as far as it goes. If you choose not to do the defend events, you can come back later and just fix everything that got broken. Also, if your game accidentally crashes, the private server remains tied to your ID for at least 30 minutes. This means that in private servers you continue to own your workshops even after disconnects or crashes, unlike the public servers. However, you do have to rejoin the server with the same character to remain the owner of the workshop. If you wait too long, the private server will be unassigned to you and you will lose your workshops, but that takes about 20-30 minutes. If you change your character, you will likely have to take ownership again with your other character.

Atom Shop Exclusives and Inclusions

Fallout 76_20191114153148This isn’t really so much a benefit as it is a nicety. After all, the Atomic shop is mostly just for cosmetics. However, it’s great to see Bethesda include Atom shop exclusives for 1st subscribers. Additionally, the 1st subscription offers 1650 atoms each month included with the ~$13 monthly fee (or the yearly fee if you go that way). That’s $16.50 worth of Atom in addition to all of the above add-ons. The included $16.50 worth of Atom makes all of the rest almost seem free. To previously buy that much Atom, you’d have to spend at least $13 and you wouldn’t even get all of the above access. Receiving the Atom alone almost makes the entire subscription worth it, assuming you regularly buy Atom instead of earning it in the game.

Pay to Win?

There’s something to be said for each of these 1st add-ons. A lot of people may dislike paying the money per month or somehow think this part is “pay to win”, but in reality none of it helps you “win”, but it does substantially improve the game by adding the above features. I guess many could argue that the Scrapbox and the Survival Tent should have been added to the base game for free… but then, that would reduce the reasons to subscribe to 1st. Eventually, it may come down to pay-to-win, but for now there’s no way to actually pay to win.

In fact, I’d argue that most of what 1st offers to gamers now is end-game content. After you’ve done the quests and completed the entire main story, what’s left over is farming items, looking for cosmetics and, in general, locating rare weapons, armor and potentially selling them. It’s less about winning and more about extending the play value of this game. That’s exactly what 1st is intended for… extending the play value of the game.

Improvements to Fallout 76 and 1st

Even with all of the above, there still needs to be improvements in the base game to better support 1st subscribers. Scrapboxes need to become widely available at all train stations and in Whitesprings. Without scrapboxes there, you are forced to travel to your tent or to your camp to drop scrap into the scrapbox. Inconvenient. Else, you have to temporarily drop it into your stashbox and move it around later (even more inconvenient).

Fallout 76_20191114152342.jpg1st is an important step for Fallout 76 as a game, but the subscription support needs to be improved throughout the game. As mentioned above, the Scrapbox doesn’t support bulked scrap. It only supports loose scrap. This is another design flaw in this storage system. This means you still need to continue to store all of your bulk scrap in your Stashbox or you must unbulk it to shove it into the Scrapbox.

1st isn’t in any way perfect, but the game is much better with these improvements than it is without them. 1st is one of the actual first tangible improvements to the base game which hasn’t really been offered by Bethesda in past updates. Most past updates have involved bug fixes or simplistic add-ons (backpack or distiller or limited time events). 1st is one of the first set of improvements that implies Bethesda might actually be trying to improve the game. Unfortunately, too many of us are at the endgame and 1st may be too late to really bring in enough new players. Perhaps the upcoming NPC additions may help the game revitalize, but we’ll have to wait on that.

The current 1st addition won’t revitalize Fallout 76 by itself, but it is a vast improvement in solving basic problems that still plague this mostly beta game (e.g., small sized stash boxes, small inventory sizes, small camp budgets). Seeing Bethesda release actual improvements to the game shows that Bethesda is finally willing to offer better features to those willing to pay. Now if only we can get Bethesda to buff our weapons for subscribing to 1st… that would be a much welcomed improvement. Bethesda should also consider giving us some 1st perk cards to improve our SPECIAL stats… such as additional and exclusive 1st damage multipliers. I know this may sound like pay-to-win additions, but these are the kinds of things that help improve the game, give incentives to subscribe and offer much welcomed improvements.

Sure, Bethesda could have released all of this for free to the current game players… but, the Private Servers alone would have been overwhelmed almost instantly and essentially become public servers. By putting it behind a paywall, it ensures fewer people utilize it and fewer people will abuse it.

I was initially skeptical when I paid for the 1st feature, but I quickly realized the benefit of the Scrapbox. Forget the Private Servers, the Scrapbox is the single thing that almost completely sells me on 1st. The Private Servers are great, don’t get me wrong, but the Scrapbox is the single thing that I have absolutely needed in this game. If only Bethesda would also increase our C.A.M.P. build limit by subscribing to 1st.

Downsides?

There are a few downsides to 1st. Let’s talk about these. I believe non-1st subscribers can be invited to a private server, but I’m uncertain about this entirely. This may also change over time and it may not work correctly. If the owner of the private server leaves the private server, you’ll have about 20 minutes before the server shuts down and kicks you off… regardless whether you are a 1st subscriber or not.

You can’t join a friend who is visiting or has started their own private server from the social menu. There’s no option for this. You must be explicitly invited by the friend into the server. Additionally, only 8 people can join a private server. The 24 people on a server won’t work on a private server. You have to use a public server for that. This could make some events more difficult to complete in a private server environment.

A downside for PS4 users is that the 1 month subscription expires in one month. It is left up to you to renew the subscription manually at the end of each month of service. It does not auto-renew. Bethesda may fix this issue by updating its digital store item to support renewing subscriptions, but for now the subscription does not auto-renew. Be sure not to forget to pay for your monthly membership or all of the scrap in your Scrapbox may disappear. Be cautious with this. Also, if you’re thinking of not renewing, then you should plan to move whatever valuable scrap you have in your Scrapbox back to your Stash to avoid losing your most important scrap in your Scrapbox.

I’d also recommend keeping flux and other valuable scrap items that you simply can’t afford to lose in your Stash. The Scrapbox is a new storage vehicle in the game and may have significant bugs. Be sure that whatever you put into the Scrapbox is something you are willing to lose and collect again.

It is also unknown what happens to the 1st exclusive items you own from the Atom shop if you cancel. They might hang around or they might disappear from your inventory unless you renew. Don’t get too invested in these exclusives if you don’t plan to retain the subscription.

One last downside is the private servers themselves. Sometimes you are lucky and you will get a private server that has been freshly spun up. What this means is that all of the spawn places are already spawned. However, it seems Bethesda’s spin-down processes don’t adequately wait long enough before reassigning a private server world to a 1st user. What this means, unluckily for you, is that if a previous 1st user has already farmed the world for its “treasure”, you could find that what you’re looking for is not in its respective spawn locations. In fact, you could find the spawn locations empty all over the place. Bethesda needs to get better at either resetting the worlds after a private server use or ensure that when a private server is spun up, all spawn points have properly reset. Getting a “previously used” private server world just sucks all around. Worse, you are stuck with that same world for at least 30 minutes even if you aren’t using it. It takes that long for the server to be released and unassigned from your 1st subscription.

If you have any questions about Fallout 1st, please leave a comment below.

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Apple Cancels AirPower charge mat

Posted in Apple, california, iphone by commorancy on April 26, 2019

airpower-charge-baseWhile I realize that this “news” is a little old at this point (announced March 29th), the intention of this article is not to report on this announcement, but to write an analysis of this announcement’s ramifications to Apple. Let’s explore.

Think Different

Apple used this slogan for a time when it was touting its innovative approach to the creation of its devices and systems. However, Apple has pretty much abandoned this slogan after Steve Jobs’s passing.

Since the loss of Jobs, Apple’s innovation has waned, which has left industry pundits with a conundrum. Do these Apple expert journalists continue to be fanboys for this brand and “love everything Apple” or do they finally drop that pretext and begin reporting the realities of the brand.

I’ve never been an Apple “fanboy” in the sense that I “automatically love everything Apple”. There are too many legitimate journalists and social media influencers who already follow that trend. However, I won’t name any names, iJustine. Whoops. If you’re another of these people, you know who you are.

Think The Same

In recent years, Apple has been trailing its competition with its phone and other tech ideas. Ideas that have already been done, sometimes better than Apple. For example, the iPhone X is an iPhone version of the Galaxy Note 8. The Note 8 released months earlier than the iPhone X. The wired EarPods were simply Apple’s version of a similar Bose earbud. And… the AirPower would simply have been an Apple version of a Qi Wireless charging mat.

As you can see, Apple’s most recent innovations aren’t innovations at all. Even the AirPods, while wireless, are not new. While they do sound pretty good, they leave some to be desired for long wear-ability and comfort. They also take way too long to connect, when they decide to connect at all (at least the gen 1 AirPods). These are iterations of products that have already existed on the market.

The iPhone 1 demonstrates actual innovation. No one had created a smart phone like the iPhone when it came to exist. Sure, some handsets had limited apps and a few had a touch screen, but Apple took the handheld phone to a whole new level. The first iPad was also quite innovative. No other tablet was on the market at the time and offered something never before seen. Just look at the tablet market today!

Unfortunately, the innovation that was once so prevalent at Apple has evaporated after Jobs’s untimely death.

Qi

Inductive wireless charging is nothing new. It’s been a staple technology in Braun’s wireless toothbrushes since the early 90s. It was simply the next logical step to bring inductive charging to mobile devices. Samsung did that with its own Qi wireless charging mats (and by backing the Qi standard). These mats and phones were introduced in 2008.

With the introduction of the iPhone X model in November of 2017 (and other Apple phone models released that same year), Apple finally added induction charging to its handsets. That’s 9 years after Qi became a thing. That’s 9 years after Samsung had it on their handsets. There’s nothing at all innovative about wireless charging on an Apple device. Yes, it may have been a “most requested” feature, but it certainly was not innovative or even new. If anything, Apple decided it was time to fill a technology gap on their mobile devices… while with earlier phones they had refused to fill that gap. We won’t get into the whys of it all (ahem… Samsung).

With its iPhone X announcement, Apple also announced a new product called AirPower. This product would be a rival inductive charging mat to already existing Qi charging mats. The primary iterative difference between AirPower and the existing Qi charger bases is that the AirPower would output more power to wireless charge the iPhone much faster… perhaps even faster than a Lightning cable. We’ll never know now. The AirPower announcement also showed 3 devices charging simultaneous, including an AirPods case.

Unfortunately, Apple wasn’t able to release this product at the same time as the iPhone X. Apple announced they would release this charging mat sometime in mid-late 2018. This release date came and went without an announcement or release. By the end of March 2019 (nearly a year and a half after Phil Schiller announced it to the public), Apple officially pulled the plug on the AirPower product.

Everyone reading this announcement should take it as a sign of problems within Apple. And… here we are at the crux and analysis portions of this article.

The Apple Bites

With the cancellation of the AirPower, this signifies a substantial problem brewing within Apple’s infinite circle. If the engineers of what seems to be a relatively simple device cannot even manage to design and build a functional wireless charging base, a technology that’s been in use since the 1990s and in use in the mobile phone market for over 10 years now, how can we trust Apple to provide innovative, functional products going into the future?

This cancellation is a big, big deal to Apple’s reputation. If Apple cannot build a reasonably simplistic device after nearly a year and a half, what does this say about Apple’s current engineers on the whole?

Assuming Apple’s internal engineers were actually incapable of producing this product in-house, Apple could have farmed the product design out to a third party company (i.e., Samsung or Belkin) and had that third party design and build the product to Apple’s specs. It doesn’t seem that this product should have died on the vine, let alone be abandoned.

Instead of outright abandoning the product, Apple should have brought it to market in a different way. As I said, outright cancelling the product signifies much deeper problems within Apple. This is actually one of the first times I’ve actually seen Apple publicly announce a vapor product and then cancel said vapor product (albeit, over a year later). It’s a completely surprising, disappointing, unusual and highly unprecedented move by Apple… especially considering Apple’s new devices that desperately rely on this unreleased device. I guess this is why Apple has always been so secretive about product announcements in the past. If you cancel an unannounced product, no one knows. When you cancel a publicly announced product, it tarnishes your reputation… particularly when a functional product already exists on the market from other manufacturers (and competitors) and when the product is rather simplistic in nature. That’s a huge blow to Apple’s “innovative” reputation.

AirPods 2

The AirPower cancellation is also particularly disappointing and disheartening on the heels of the announcement of the AirPods 2 wireless charging case. The lack of the AirPower mat is a significant blow to one of the biggest features of the newest generation of AirPods. Effectively, without AirPower, the AirPods 2 are basically the same as the AirPods gen 1 except that the AirPods 2 offer a better “Hey Siri” support (and a better placed LED charge light).

The one feature that many people really looked forward to on the AirPods is basically unavailable. Sure, you can charge the AirPods 2 on a standard Qi wireless charger, but at a much slower rate than via the Lightning port. You don’t want to be sitting around waiting on a slow Qi charger to get the AirPods case fully charged. No, you’re going to plug it in to make sure you can walk out the door with a fully charged AirPods case. The case already charges slowly enough on a Lightning cable. There’s no reason to make it charge even slower by using a Qi charger. That’s the sole reason for the AirPower to exist.. to charge at much faster rates. Without AirPower, the reason to charge wirelessly has more-or-less evaporated.

Of course, you can also buy a wireless case for the AirPods gen 1, but what’s the point in that? With the AirPower cancelled, you have to invest in a Qi charger and live with its very slow charge speed for Apple’s brutal $80 price tag. No thanks. Even then, you don’t get any other benefit out of placing your AirPods gen 1 earbuds into a gen 2 wireless charging case for that $80. You might as well invest that $80 into a new set of AirPods gen 2, even though the Airpods 2 cost $199 (with wireless charging case) versus $159 for the gen 1 AirPods (without charging case).

Of course, in Apple’s typical form, they also offers the AirPods 2 without a wireless charging case for $159, the same price as the AirPods gen 1. But this is all diversionary minutiae.

Analysis

Apple’s level of innovations have been both flagging and lagging for several years. With the AirPower cancellation, it should now be crystal clear to not only journalists and analysts alike, but also to Apple’s fanboys that Apple’s luster has officially worn off. Apple’s once strong “reality distortion field” is now a distant memory.

Even the iPhone X isn’t fairing well in terms of durability of design just slightly over a year after its introduction. I’ve seen several people report FaceID failing over time, as well as other hardware problems on this phone model. A premium model phone at a premium price tag should hold up longer than this. Arguably, the iPhone X is one of Apple’s ugliest phones ever made, with that stupid unsightly “notch” covering up a portion of that expensive OLED screen.

It seems the iPhone 8 design (based on the iPhone 7 case design) is fairing much better than the iPhone X. Even the iPhone 7, which Apple still sells, holds up better. That should also be an indication of Apple’s current practical level of design. Of course, the problems showing in the iPhone X could be because there are more iPhone Xs in circulation than iPhone 8s. Still, the iPhone X is appearing more often in repair shops than the iPhone 8. That says something about the build quality and durability (or lack thereof) of the iPhone X’s design for that premium price tag.

Apple now needs to pull a rabbit out of a hat very soon to prove they still have the chops to not only innovate AND provide high quality goods, but be the first to the table with a new product idea or forever hold their peace and become an underdog in the tech industry. That doesn’t mean Apple won’t continue to sell product. It doesn’t mean Apple won’t design product. However, it does mean that the “fanboy” mentality that so many had previously adopted towards Apple’s products should finally evaporate, just as has Apple’s innovation. Before the AirPower cancellation announcement, we only had a hunch that Apple’s design wasn’t up to par. With the cancellation of the AirPower, we finally have confirmation.

Eventually, everyone must take off their rose colored glasses and see things as they really are at Apple. And with this article, I hope we’re finally to that point.

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Rant Time: The problem with Twitter

Posted in botch, business, social media by commorancy on August 27, 2018

Twitter-smTwitter began as a lofty idea for small text social conversation. For many of its early years, it managed to keep some semblance of order and decency. As of 2018, the platform has devolved into something far less useful and more problematic. Let’s explore.

Primary Twitter Topics

Today, Twitter is primarily dominated by breaking news, gun control and political rhetoric, sometimes all three at the same time. While these topics do have a place, reading these dominant conversations every moment of every day is tiring. It also goes against the diversity of what the platform is intended to offer. While these topics have a place, they don’t really have a place as the dominant force on Twitter. They exist simply to clog up each Twitter user’s feed.

Twitter’s Failings and Slow Development

When Twitter began back in 2006, it offered a fairly limited social conversation platform with its 140 character limit. In fact, that limit wasn’t raised until early 2018, 12 years later… when the limit went up to 280 characters. Talk about slow development! This 140 character limit was a holdover from SMS days which still to this day hold this limit. I do not know why Twitter chose this arbitrarily small amount of text for a social conversation platform. It had no relation to SMS and couldn’t send SMS messages, so it never made sense.

Twitter has also firmly embraced the “no edit” mantra to the chagrin of many. To modify a tweet, you must delete it, then recreate it. This is a cumbersome hassle. It also means that any feedback you had on that tweet must be forfeit. There’s a real incentive to get the tweet right the first time. For a conversation platform in 2018, this limitation on a text discussion platform is completely ludicrous. Clarification of thought is extremely important in all text mediums. The only way to ensure clarify of thought is via editing. We all make mistakes when typing, such as their for there or they’re. These are extremely common typing mistakes. Sometimes it’s the accidental misuse of homonyms. There are plenty of other types of common mistakes. There is also rewording. Yet, here we are… 12 years after Twitter’s inception and we STILL can’t edit a tweet. What the hell is going on over there at Twitter, Jack Dorsey?

While Twitter has grown little since 2006, only offering better privacy, limited feed customization, an ad platform and some UI improvements, it really has done next to nothing to improve the user functionality since 2006. I’ve worked at companies where the product has almost completely performed a 180º turn in product features in only 1-2 years. Twitter has remained nearly stagnant, feature wise and has implemented clamored features at an absolute snail’s pace (read, it hasn’t implemented them) in its 12 years of existence.

Censorship

As we all should understand, the first amendment free speech protections do not apply to private corporations. This ultimately means that there can be no speech submitted on the Twitter platform that is protected. As much as people want to complain that some left or right winger has been suspended, banned or otherwise dismissed from Twitter, that is Twitter’s right. Twitter is not a government owned or operated corporation. Therefore, they can censor, delete, suspend or otherwise prevent a user or entity from putting any content onto their platform for any reason.

What this means is that Twitter can do whatever they wish and claim violations of ‘terms of service’. After all, Twitter writes the terms of service and can modify them at any time without notification to anyone. In fact, Twitter isn’t even required to have explicit terms listed and they can still delete or suspend anyone they wish, for any reason. As I said, free speech protections on Twitter do not apply.

Leadership Team

Jack Dorsey heads up the leadership team at Twitter as CEO. In the last 1-2 years, he’s spouted rhetoric about reduction of hate speech on Twitter. What that ultimately translates to, within Twitter’s current moderation tool limits, is deletion of selected speech or accounts, regardless whether it contains hate speech or not. If Twitter doesn’t like what you have to say, out you go.

Twitter SuspendedNo more evident is that in those users who have amassed 15k followers or more. One foible on one of these accounts and Twitter closes it. No no, can’t have a 15k or more followers seeing something that Twitter management doesn’t like. Even celebs aren’t immune to this. If you are reading the article and you have amassed more than 6000 followers, your account is a risk with each tweet you post, particularly if your speech primarily consists of political messages, controversial topics or divisive ideas (NRA vs Gun Control, Abortion vs Pro Life, Trump bashing, etc).

The current technical means at Twitter’s disposal to reduce this kind of speech consists of tweet deletion, account suspensions or bans. Twitter has no other means at its disposal. In reality, Twitter has dug the hole it is now in. Twitter has failed to foresee problems of user scale. Whenever the total user base grows, so are the problems amplified that go with that. Twitter should have initially implemented some level of moderation and anointed users to help moderate its platform in a similar fashion to both Wikipedia and Reddit. It didn’t.

Twitter is to Blame

Twitter has only itself to blame for not taking proactive action sooner and in failing to build more complete moderation tools sooner. Additionally, social platforms that have implemented self-moderation automated systems have done exceptionally well. When the community downvotes certain content at a certain level, then Twitter should not promote it into user’s feeds. In fact, Twitter’s continual promotion of tweets into people’s primary feeds has actually propagated hate and problematic speech. Instead, Twitter should have been building a self-policing platform from day one or at least within the first couple of years. They chose not to.

Even today, Twitter still hasn’t built a self-policing platform. I regularly find hate speech in my feed. Worse, while I can mark the stuff I like with a heart, I have no such action to force items out of my feed that I choose not to see. The best I can do is mute the user or mute the account. Why is that Twitter? Why can’t I mark individual types of tweets that I no longer want to see and have that content removed from my feed? Why do I have to trudge all the way into preferences and put in mute words or, even more sledgehammery, mute or block the user? Even then, that only affects my account. It doesn’t have any impact on the global Twitter.

Employing Social Moderation and Tweet Grading

Using social moderation is both effective and necessary when you’re working with millions of users sending millions of messages per day. Twitter is a social platform. Let’s use that social interaction of those millions of people to bubble worthy messages to the top and sink crap messages so they never get seen. This is the ONLY way to effectively moderate at scale on a social platform. The value of each tweet is in its worth to viewers. Many viewers all marking tweets downward means less people see it. Many viewers marking tweets up means more people will see it. I can’t imagine that any sane person would choose to vote up hate speech, death threats or similar unacceptable or violent content.

I’m not saying that any one user should have undue influence over a tweet’s popularity. In fact, users will need to build their trust and reputation levels on the platform. For example, newly created accounts might not even be able to influence up or downward momentum of tweets right out of the gate. It might take 2-4 months of interactions on the platform before the user’s interactions begin to count. This way, users can’t go out and create 100 or more accounts in an attempt to get their tweet to the top of popularity. In fact, any tweet that ends up getting upvotes from too many newly created accounts without other upvotes should be marked as suspect and have their own trust levels locked or reduced.

Additionally, it should take interactions from many trusted accounts simultaneously to raise a tweet’s popularity substantially, particularly if those accounts have no relationship to one another (not following each other). This says that independent users have found a tweet’s content to be worthy of interaction by others.

This isn’t to say this is the only algorithm that could be built to handle social moderation, but it would definitely be a good start and a way to take this platform to the next level. Conversely, I will state that building an algorithm to scan and rate a tweet based solely on its textual content is next to impossible. Using the power of social interaction to grade a tweet and raise or lower its value is the best way to force those who want to game the system out of the platform.

Also, there should be no exemptions from the system. Not for CNN, not for Proctor and Gamble, not for any account. Social moderation needs to apply to all accounts or it’s worthless.

I’m not saying that social moderation is in any way a perfect solution. It isn’t. But, at least it can be fair when implemented properly. Can this kind of system be gamed? Probably. But, the engineers would need to watch for this eventuality and be ready to make change to prevent further gaming of the system. Eventually, the holes will be patched.

Multiple feeds and Topics

Here’s another area where Twitter has failed. As with any social platform, users have likes and dislikes and topic preferences they want to see. For example, I really don’t want to see political bashing. That’s not my thing. I’d prefer a feed that is politic free. My only interest in politics and political candidates is when there’s an imminent election. Otherwise, I want it out of my feed. Same for NRA / Gun control arguments. Same for Trump tweet bashing. Same for Pro Life vs Abortion. I don’t want to waste time with these types of divisive controversial topics in my feed. I have better uses for my time. If I want to see that content, I will explicitly go searching for it. I don’t want it to automatically appear in my feed.

Yet, Twitter has not implemented any customized feeds based on likes, hobbies or preferences of information (i.e., new technology). Instead, Twitter has based this part on following Twitter accounts that offer such information. The problem is, chasing down these accounts to follow. Even then, because those accounts might only post new on-topic information 20% of the time, the other 80% of the time I would see stuff I don’t want to see in my feed. Herein lies the problem with Twitter. It shouldn’t be based on following a user, it should be based on following conversation topics.

I’d prefer to customize my feeds (and have several feeds hooked to different topics) and subscribe to those feeds. I don’t need to follow any given account that’s talks about stuff I’m not interested in. Instead, by following topics, my feed gets interesting tweets. I can then discover new accounts to follow and also discover topics I’m interested in. This is the single important piece that Jack and team have sorely failed to address within the Twitter platform. To reiterate, I want to see stuff in my feeds that I am interested in, even if I don’t follow that account. I don’t want to see stuff I’m not interested in at all even if following an account that tweets about it. Following by topic is more important than following by user.

This is the power of social media. This is the power of Twitter. This is what is missing to make Twitter a complete platform… this, in addition to social moderation.

Twitter’s Hand Moderation

Instead of implementing a social moderation system or an interests based feed system, Twitter has spent its time hand moderating by suspending and banning accounts all in its stated goal of “reducing hate speech”. While deleting accounts may reduce that account’s ability to post hate speech, it doesn’t stop the user from creating a brand new account and starting it all over again. This is Twitter’s flaw in the user follow model.

Only the above two designs: 1) topic based multiple feeds and 2) social moderation will lead to lasting change within the Twitter platform. Nothing else will. Twitter’s hand moderation technique is merely a small bandaid with limited scope. It will never make a dent in reducing hate speech on Twitter. Lasting change only comes from innovating the platform in new and better ways to improve the end user experience and, at the same time, reducing the signal to noise ratio.

It’s time for Twitter to step up and actually begin innovating its platform in substantial new and meaningful ways… or it will perish.

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Personalized Search: Where is it?

Posted in business, search by commorancy on March 2, 2014

For all of the innovation hubbub involving search technologies back in the early 2000s, one thing that has still not materialized is personalized search. What is personalized search? Let’s explore.

Generalized Searching

Today, when you go to Google or Bing and you type in search keywords, you’re likely to get the same search results that everyone else sees when typing in those same keywords. But, this is approach today is asinine, antiquated and stupid. While it may have been okay back in the early 2000s when search was new and the database was smaller, with the larger amount of listings, personalized search is long overdue.

When Google introduced Gmail, I thought they might be onto something when they were discussing personalized ads in Gmail. Unfortunately, Gmail is pretty much where all of that innovation ended. Nothing different materialized in Google’s main search product. And worse, it’s now 2014 and we still don’t have anything different.

Personalized Search

Since nearly every search engine requires a login and password, it’s no big leap to offer ways of storing search preferences right into each user’s profile. As you search for things, the system will learn of your likes, preferences and click habits. Even better, add thumbs up and thumbs down on listings to move them up and down in your own personal search rankings. If I don’t ever plan to use Reddit, then I can lower its search rankings in my preferences. If I heavily use Twitter, I raise search rankings involving Twitter when they are ranked lower.

But, my preferences are my own. With the sites I like and the sites I dislike, I should be able to tailor my search results to fit my needs. If I decide to start using Reddit later, I can re-rank these listings higher again. These are all my choices and affect my own personalized search results.

As a side effect of personalized results, it also forces everyone to sign into Google or Bing to gain the benefits of personalized search. That’s definitely a benefit to these search engines.

Why personalized search?

Generalized searching, unfortunately, yields results based on someone else’s likes, dislikes, payola or other criteria. I want to tailor my own results to fit my search needs. So, if I’m searching for a specific product and I use Amazon frequently, Amazon’s listings will always be the first to show at the top. Why show me Newegg or J&R Music listings if I have no intention of going there to buy? It’s a waste of the search engine time and mine.

It’s quite clear that personalized search’s time has come and it’s something Google needs to embrace. That is, rather than the next ‘WheatToast’ version of Android (or whatever clever food name they happen to use). Google has clearly been ignoring search improvements and the lack of innovation in this area clearly shows how out of touch both Google and Bing are.

As the size of search databases grow, individuals need better innovative tools to tame and distill the millions of listings into smaller more personal and useful listings. Personalized search must become the next innovation in search.

What will this break?

Search Engine Optimization. I know I know, I can hear a lot of SEO advocates groaning about how bad this will be for SEO. Note that SEO would only be impacted by each user who tweaks personal search rankings. For users who don’t do this, normal SEO rules apply. Though, I don’t personally care about how high some company is ranked in my personal search list. What I care about is the quality of the listings. In fact, in a lot of cases, SEO won’t even be affected in my own results. If I have made no preferences involving some keywords, the generalized rules still apply. So, if none of my sites that I ranked higher are in the listing, the generalized results will be shown to me and standard SEO won’t be impacted. It’s only after the first generalized results list that I can tweak the listings to my own preference.

After that, SEO may be impacted by my own personal preferences. But hey, that’s my choice. That’s the point to personalized search results. If I value one company over another, that’s my preference. I have the right to make that preference. That some third party wants their listing at the top of my search results is not my problem. You can use a paid listing for that. That’s the point in paying for a listing. The organic results are my own and I should be able to rearrange, tailor and shuffle them to my own personal likes. There is no other way to tame the mounds of links that get thrown at users during generalized search… results that are only to grow larger and larger.

So, to those people relying on SEO, I say, “too bad”. Learn to pay for listings if you want to be at the top of my personalized search results or, alternatively, give me a reason to rank you higher. That is, whenever we finally get personalized search.

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