Sensing the excitement from online education tools like edX, Google has just unveiled a (very beta) version of its own course building software. If you???ve ever wanted to run your own online courses, this might be worth your time.
Why They Did It
Norvig shared a bit more information about the impetus for creating the online course and the power searching course, saying it ???was a strong success and also generated some technology that we thought would be useful to share with the world,??? says Norvig. ???We feel that by sharing the code that we???ve generated, we can impact more people in the education space. There is a lot of experimentation going on in the industry at this point, and we felt that contributing an open source project would be a beneficial starting point that could help everyone.???
It???s interesting that Google is trying to do something completely new rather than help build edX or an already established tool. That being said, the more the merrier as we all benefit when the mega-tech-giants like Google get involved.
Google+ Hangouts Coming Soon
Join Peter Norvig and special guests for two Hangouts on Air. Peter will answer your questions about MOOC design and the technical aspects of using Course Builder. Click here for details.
- 19 Sept 10:00am ??? 10:45am PDT (5:00pm UTC)
- 26 Sept 10:00am ??? 10:45am PDT (5:00pm UTC)
The Details From Google
From Peter Norvig, Director of Research
In July, Research at Google ran a large open online course, Power Searching with Google, taught by search expert, Dan Russell. The course was successful, with 155,000 registered students. Through this experiment, we learned that Google technologies can help bring education to a global audience. So we packaged up the technology we used to build Power Searching and are providing it as an open source project called Course Builder. We want to make this technology available so that others can experiment with online learning.
The Course Builder open source project is an experimental early step for us in the world of online education. It is a snapshot of an approach we found useful and an indication of our future direction. We hope to continue development along these lines, but we wanted to make this limited code base available now, to see what early adopters will do with it, and to explore the future of learning technology. We will be hosting a community building event in the upcoming months to help more people get started using this software. edX shares in the open source vision for online learning platforms, and Google and the edX team are in discussions about open standards and technology sharing for course platforms.
We are excited that Stanford University, Indiana University, UC San Diego, Saylor.org, LearningByGivingFoundation.org, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), and a group of universities in Spain led by Universia, CRUE, and Banco Santander-Universidades are considering how this experimental technology might work for some of their online courses. Sebastian Thrun at Udacity welcomes this new option for instructors who would like to create an online class, while Daphne Koller at Coursera notes that the educational landscape is changing and it is exciting to see new avenues for teaching and learning emerge. We believe Google???s preliminary efforts here may be useful to those looking to scale online education through the cloud.
Along with releasing the experimental open source code, we???ve provided documentation and forums for anyone to learn how to develop and deploy an online course like Power Searching. In addition, over the next two weeks we will provide educators the opportunity to connect with the Google team working on the code via Google Hangouts. For access to the code, documentation, user forum, and information about the Hangouts, visit the Course Builder Open Source Project Page. To see what is possible with the Course Builder technology register for Google???s next version of Power Searching. We invite you to explore this brave new world of online learning with us.
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Facebook has started working with a data mining service to pair together your email address and other information stored on Facebook with advertising products to see what (and if) you’re clicking on ads. Privacy advocates aren’t too fond of this, but thankfully you can keep it from happening.
We’ve known that Facebook is already tracking your every move online, but the data Facebook is using now isn’t just about browser cookies. Facebook is pairing what you buy offline with what you see online.
The Data Facebook is Collecting (and What They’re Using it For)
According to the Financial Times, Facebook is now working with the data collection company Datalogix. Facebook’s reasoning is that they need a system to provide marketers with more concrete data, and Datalogix has data from about 70 million households drawn from loyalty cards and similar programs.
On its end, Facebook matches the email addresses in Datalogix’s systems, and compares that to an email address on Facebook. This effectively makes it so they can track if you see an ad on Facebook and then purchase it in a store.
Your data is automatically included in the advertising studies without your consent, and because of that, privacy groups are concerned. Talking with CNET, Jeff Chester, executive director of The Center for Digital Democracy expresses his concern:
I believe the FTC should be investigating all this as part of its review under the consent decree… Ad exchanges allow them to take this data and apply it in real-time and sell it to the highest bidder including Facebook. They are using reams of additional data, including from online, to target Facebook users
For its part, Facebook released this statement to The Verge:
We are working with Datalogix to help advertisers understand how well their Facebook ads are working. We also do this through our partnerships with companies like Nielsen and comScore and through our own advertising tool. We know that people share a lot of information on Facebook, and we have taken great care to make sure that we measure the effectiveness of Facebook ads without compromising the commitments we have made on privacy. We don’t sell people’s personal information, and individual user data is not shared between Facebook, Datalogix or advertisers.
Regardless of whether your personal data is making it across the tubes, you might want to keep your offline activity separate from your online activity. Thankfully, it’s easy to opt out of Datalogix’s collection.
How to Opt-Out from the Datalogix Collection
To opt-out of everything (including the Facebook comparison data) Datalogix is collecting, head to their Privacy page, scroll down to the “Choice” heading, click the last “click here” link in the paragraph, and fill in your information. This will opt you out of any and all data collection done by Datalogix.
You can also easily to opt out of Datalogix’s cookie-based tracking by clicking this link. Like any cookie based advertising, you will have to opt-out on every computer and browser you use.
Keep Your Online and Offline Data Separate
As we mentioned, the way this data collection works is that it compares your online data with offline shopping habits. So, the easiest solution to keep it from happening? Don’t use the same phone number or email address on your Facebook account as you do when you sign up for loyalty or discount cards.
Stores rarely (if ever) follow up on making sure your loyalty card data is correct, so not using your real information isn’t an issue. Otherwise, you can almost always use Jenny’s number (867-5309) to get club discounts instead of handing over any personal information.
Title image remixed from Joe Loong.
It should be clear to anyone that is interested in computer games that the mobile gaming market is growing very fast and, with smartphone penetration still accounting for only 40% in even major markets, that there is room for a lot more growth and for several years still.
It is also clear, to anyone who is actually making mobile games, that creating a game that people want to play en masse, let alone pay for (or in) en masse, is extremely hard. There are already over 130,000 games already submitted to the Apple App Store. Games like CSR Racing may be pulling in US$12million in their first month, but there is a very long tail in action here and the average revenue for a mobile game is reportedly less than US$4,000. Whilst it is still theoretically feasible to develop a mobile game for a few thousand dollars (working unpaid still has an opportunity cost even if there is not an actual monetary expenditure) most games from professional studios will have development budgets ranging from US50,000 to as much as US$1million.
The costs do not stop at simply making a game; far from it, next comes the marketing cost. Developers that base their plans/hopes/dreams around some form of free, natural virality are most likely going to fail. This is especially true of iOS games where (a) getting discovered requires being at the top of the charts, and (b) getting to and staying at the top of the charts costs lots of money. Putting that even more succinctly; getting visibility for your app WILL cost money???.and no small amount of it.
Developers frequently drop a pot of money into user acquisition services such as Tapjoy (players are incentivised to download your game) or FreeAppADay (where players go to find normally paid-for apps being offered for free temporarily). These, and other methods, invariably cost from $10,000 and upwards on ???day 1???. For a game to be profitable it needs to:
(1) generate revenue per user (ARPU) at a rate that exceeds the average cost per user (ACPU)
(2) reach a critical mass of users to ensure that the ???net??? profit covers the initial development cost.
We must also consider that ???net??? revenue is the gross sales revenue minus a whole host of direct costs starting with Apple (30%) but possibly also including any sales taxes, licensing costs, publisher???s cut, partner revenue share and ongoing infrastructure (e.g. server) costs.
It is also very rare for a game to be created then launched then left unattended. We are in a ???games as a service??? era and games are usually hooked up to some form of user behaviour data collection and analytics tool nowadays, meaning that developers can see what is working and what is not. That means not just technical bug fixes but user interface improvements, tutorial re-working, revisiting game variable to achieve better balancing, editing narrative, creating new content and new features. A game that does at all well will invariably be ported to other platforms (Android, Windows mobile/8, Amazon Kindle) and/or be localised for different territories. That???s more cost folks.
So, making games, marketing them and maintaining them costs a lot of money. It is a crowded market and one where customer loyalty is low and where new/different games are foisted at players from all angles. If, therefore you want to make games for the mobile phone and tablet market, you had better be clear about what kind of games you are going to make if you want to have a chance of achieving breakeven let alone amassing huge profits. What are the options? I boil these down into four (broad but distinctly different) game types. These are:
 Casual games (that work on mobile devices) ??? ???play by yourself on the move???
Conceivably this can includes games that involve more than one player ??? e.g. two players, one finger each on same screen ??? but is invariably about single player games. If done right then the games are designed for the specific hardware capabilities (some might say ???limitations???) of mobile devices but many are copies of web, PC or console games which are simply ported to mobile because it is feasible to do so not because it is sensible to do so. Cut The Rope, Plants vz Zombies and Fruit Ninja are exemplars of this category of game but for each of these there are a hundred (make that ten thousand) Tic Tac Toe clones and shoddy platformers. If you make this class of game then you need to be highly aware that the only benefit you have over console, PC and browser games is that your game can be played on the move. Design for that modality of use not for what is technically achievable.
 Casual social games ??? games that have a (vaguely) social layer where you ???play by yourself???.then see if your friends can beat your score???. Put another way; ???games that are given another dimension because your friends are involved to some degree???.
These games are usually characterised by being a fundamentally single player experience on top of which is bolted a ???challenge friends??? and/or leaderboard functionality. This is rapidly becoming the de facto design pattern for mobile games. I regard this as a somewhat lazy and possibly an commercially finite approach. It is often achieved with basic functionality provided by third party services such as OpenFeint or GameCentre that very much looks and feels ???bolted on??? rather than having been crafted to enhance the player experience. This also leads to several frequent interruptions to the playing experience in the form of registration, login and pop-up leaderboard or achievement screens that look completely different to the game art and UI. If this is done well, e.g. where the playing experience is genuinely enhanced by the ability to try to perform better than people you know, then there is quantifiable end user value. This doesn???t disguise the fact, however, that the product is essentially still a single player game. These services also all exit to ultimately build a userbase for the service itself (e.g. to engage the user with advertising or cross-promotion interstitial ads) and that commercial goal conflicts with the game developer???s goal of engaging and retaining their player as long as is possible.
There is a secondary type of game in this class that closely resembles the Facebook/browser-based ???social game??? type. Numerous social games have made their way to mobile devices (e.g. Farmville, CityVille and Ravenwood Fair) however the gameplay remains fundamentally of a single player nature which is augmented with the social mechanics of, for example, gifting, sharing and visiting and where such behaviour is rewarded with free virtual goods, in-game currency or other utility value. Despite seemingly interacting with friend???s in-game on a frequent basis, the nature of those interactions exist solely to bring about free user acquisition for the developer rather than to deliver intrinsic fun from playing. You interact with your friends because you have to not because it makes the game more fun in of itself.
 Synchronous multiplayer games ??? ???play with or against other (probably quite hardcore) players in real time???.on a mobile device???.
These kinds of games are rare and for two good reasons: firstly, they require a level of technical infrastructure and service provision that is typically very expensive to put in place and to maintain, and, secondly, because it is statistically unlikely that any one player has many friends that likes (an downs) the same game they do and whom are able to play that game at exactly the same time on a regular basis as they do. There is also the factor that in order to do so they may also require the same device/platform as you. ???Android on a Samsung? Sorry you need an iPhone 4 or higher to play this game???.
Synchronous collaborative or competitive play is major aspect of the PC and console gaming experience where play sessions are much longe
r, happen at more regular (often coordinated) times and in environments conducive to that activity e.g. where you can strap on a headset and swear a lot. The very nature of synchronous gameplay tends to lend itself to more traditional, or ???hardcore???, games genres which is not mass market (when expressed as a subset of the mobile phone gaming market overall). Mobile game play typically happens at unplanned opportunistic times, for very much shorter sessions spread throughout the day at a wide variety of locations many of which do not offer a reliable cellular or wifi network connectivity. I see synchronous (???real time???) multiplayer gaming as a small niche that offers creatively interesting but commercial limited opportunities.
 Asynchronous multiplayer games ??? games where ???the entirety of the fun is derived because you are playing with (or against) friends but which do not require an immediate data exchange???.
This is the class of mobile game that I think truly fit the ???social mobile game??? definition. Whilst a real time (type 3) game is clearly about a genuine interaction with other (real) people and fundamental to gameplay, the very fact that this will be practical to only a very minor subset of mobile gamers make it, IMHO, by definition ???antisocial???. Asynchronous mobile games, when done well, deliver playing experiences that are very much enhanced by the involvement of others but which do not fail to cater for the very real modality of mobile device usage (???anytime, anywhere???). Indeed, these games deliver an experience that is intrinsically fun because they are using a device that exists to enable communication and interaction between people who are not physically together in the same location and which does not require cumbersome peripherals or ??? at least not all of the time ??? power supply or data connectivity. Asynchronous games can be somewhat ???lossy??? in that the exchange of data isn???t overly time-sensitive.
My archetypal example of this kind of game is Draw Something (OMGPOP). It???s success may have been over a fairly short time frame (approx. 6 months) but it reached 90million downloads and delivered outstanding revenues (reportedly $50-75million).
The title of this ???blog is about where I believe the (greatest) opportunities lie for mobile gaming. Given that commercial success is highly dependent upon successfully acquiring users and at a cost that is less than the revenue that they generate, how then do the different types of game (as defined above) contribute, or not, towards this goal?
Casual mobile games ??? no direct user acquisition benefit. These games lack both the instruments for users to spread the word to other users and the intrinsic motivation for them to do so. You are playing a single player game on your mobile device. Your progress in game and enjoyment of it are totally unrelated to whether or not your friends may be playing it. Score 0/10
Social casual mobile games ??? some benefit if the developer owns the user data, however that is rarely the case when using third party APIs such as OpenFeint. Zynga have a whole raft of ???X with friends??? games in this category and have built an eco-system aimed at capturing that user data and then cross-promoting their games (thus avoiding the $2/user cost of acquiring users through other channels). Most developers are unlikely to be able to afford to replicate that ecosystem too any degree. Equally, as these game can be played as a single player experience, the user???s motivation to connect social network accounts and to enable ???sharing??? etc is not necessarily high. Visibility of the game name and link on Facebook is a positive factor but one that is limited by the fact that the game isn???t immediately playable on that platform if you are not using Facebook on the same mobile device. Score 5/10
Synchronous multiplayer mobile games ??? whilst there is the logical argument that players must have other players with whom to interact with in this case, (a) the potential user reach is fairly insignificant, and (b) the likelihood is that you will be paired with/against strangers by the system (in order to ensure there are enough people to take part) rather than being required/motivated to bring new players that you actually know into the game. Score 2/10.
Asynchronous multiplayer mobile games ??? these are the very definition of what makes the foundation for a genuine virally-promoted game as you have to have friends to play with or against or you can???t play yourself. There is not alternative state. These games ??? such as OMGPOPs Draw Something ??? invariable involve a very early screen asking you to connect Facebook or Twitter accounts or to send out email invitations. There is certainly a trust barrier here and having a genuinely stellar game offering is unquestionably of fundamental importance, but get that right and your entire userbase is acting to expand itself. Make a great game that is unquestionably fun and which delivers that fun over a sustained time period (e.g. has longevity to the play experience) and you have a hit on your hands that should only need seeding with an initial paid-for userbase. Score 10/10.
So, asynchronous multiplayer games it is then???..but what makes for a good asynchronous game?
Mobile gameplay needs to be designed not simply just to work on mobile devices but also to be designed for the mobile device user. These are quite different things that are often overlooked. Just because the iPhone 4/iPad2 could deliver highly impressive raw computational and graphical power capable of delivering ???near console??? game experiences doesn???t make it appropriate to do so. Who has 20+ hours to play a game on their iPhone where each level takes 20minutes or more?
An inelegant but essentially accurate term to describe the prevalent modality of use is ???dip in and dip out??? gameplay. Contextual scenarios involving stops at traffic lights or being in the queue in Starbucks typically get used to illustrate this and these resonate with casual geeks and professional analysts alike. They also ignore the fact that something like 50% of mobile game play time actually happens in bed or on the sofa where the user sessions are not measured in seconds but dozens of minutes. ???Dip in and dip out??? gaming is certainly very important but it is not the only factor.
We are only just beginning to understand the specialist craft of effective mobile game design but a crude rule of thumb of revaluating any game concept???s appropriateness for mobile deployment (versus PC, Facebook etc) could simply be:
 Is this game fundamentally fun because I can play it anytime and anywhere?
 Can I start playing, stop playing and re-start playing with minimal ease?
To those questions we can then assess the level of genuine organic user acquisition by asking:
 Is this game made fun because people being able to play with or against their friends is central to it???s design?
If you can answer ???yes, yes and yes??? then go build that game!
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Watson, the Jeopardy-winning supercomputer developed by IBM, could become a cloud-based service that people can consult on a wide range of issues, the company announced last week. “Watson is going to be an advisor and an assistant to all kinds of professional decision-makers, starting in healthcare and then moving beyond. We’re already looking at a role for Watson in financial services and in other applications,” says John Gordon, Watson Solutions Marketing Manager at IBM in New York.
TL;DR: I had a research project that has been sitting for more than a decade without finding a home in a scientific journal, so I decided to post it on my blog instead as an experiment.
Yesterday, I posted an original scientific paper here on my blog. The obvious question is, ???Why is it on the blog instead of in a peer-reviewed journal????
Universities are in a great position to deliver a mobile platform to their students, but too many are doing it all wrong (if they???re doing anything at all). Mehdi Maghsoodnia, CEO of education technology company Rafter, looks at the roadblocks and the advantages to embracing mobile technology on campus.
Yesterday Apple announced their new operating system iOS 6, and I immediately began to cheer. Not for the normal fanboy reasons, although I am an Apple fanboy, and an Apple developer, but because what I saw was a company that not only is pushing the limits of mobile technology, but one that is thinking about persons who can use technology to aid them in their everyday lives.
Apple yesterday introduced “Guided Access” a feature aimed at children to keep them from exiting out of the program assigned to them. It is sort of a fail safe built into the iPhone and iPad to keep the child focused on the task at hand, whether it be a book or a test administered by a teacher.
That’s extremely cool, but what was even more impressive was that Apple is proud that feature can help children with Autism. They even went out of their way to mention in the keynote that they know that children with Autism are using the iPad, and that this feature can keep them focused on apps that can help them. How awesome is that? What company do you know that mentions they are proud of options that can help children with Autism?
I stood up out of my chair at my day job and yelled “YES! A company finally gets it!” I immediately went and downloaded the developer version of iOS 6 and the first feature I explored was the Guided Access. Those of you who are parents of normally developing children and children with special needs hear me, it is rad. If you want your child to learn and you are spending money on apps that can teach them, this feature is a giant leap forward. Even I, as an ADHD adult, loved it. It keeps me focused and keeps me from wandering to and fro on my little iPhone.
I say all of this because I am proud and happy that a tech company that takes pride in its accessibility options for disabled individuals. That it cares enough to make extra features to help people who wouldn’t normally be able to use this fun technology. They don’t have to do that, yet they choose to and it helps people.
Does Apple make a profit because they sell more devices? Absolutely. I don’t care about that. They aren’t exploiting our loved ones with these devices. Rather, they are enabling everyone, no matter their developmental circumstance, to be able to enjoy and learn from new technology, and that’s a company in the tech world that I will happily endorse. The future is bright, and yes, even a mobile operating system is a sign of that.
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The tech industry has been plagued over the last decade with an explosion of patent trolls who collect very broad patents and use them to sue corporations and startups alike. The recent American Invents Act sought to remedy this by opening up the process, giving everyone access to recently-filed patents and a six-month period to respond with prior art that would invalidate the new patents under consideration by proving them to be full of obvious and existing ideas.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) realized that if this new process was going to work, it needed help from some savvy tech firms. So it reached out to Stack Exchange, a “There are probably hundreds of patent applications every week that aren’t true inventions.”New York startup which has built some of the most robust question & answer sites on the web, especially around subjects like programming and computer science. Stack Exchange is building a new community, Ask Patents, where patent officers and interested parties can exchange information.
“The escalation of the patent wars has lead companies to try to patent everything in sight, so they can build up a portfolio of patents to “defend themselves.” And the imperative to get a lot of patents means that sometimes they submit things which aren’t exactly inventions per se,” said StackExchange co-founder Joel Spolsky. “When I started looking at this project, I thought finding prior art would be tricky, but the truth is, there are probably hundreds of patent applications every week that aren’t true inventions.”
The community site will be tied in with Google’s Patent Search, which last month added a prior art function. When searching for prior art around a specific patent, users will now see a “discuss” button which links to Stack Exchange’s Ask Patent’s site, where they can go to debate whether a certain patent is worth contending. There will be direct links from Ask Patents to the USPTO’s submittal engine, along with instructions on how to proceed, and links from each discussion will pull in relevant information from Google’s archive of patent data.
The USPTO had tried a limited form of crowdsourcing before, but it was only open to a few hundred users. The results were encouraging, explained Alex Miller, the general manager at Stack Exchange. “While small, it proved that crowdsourcing prior art could work and now we’re opening it up to everyone.”
I last wrote about IT apprenticeships, and their growing importance in widening the pool of IT talent and addressing skills shortages, in this column in April 2011.
In the 17 months since then, we have seen more action, more initiatives and more interest in the concept than over the whole of the previous decade.
And those developments are likely to be of interest to any CIO planning the future staffing of their own department.
A significant move towards a sound national structure for IT apprenticeships was achieved this February when nine major players including Accenture, Atos, Capgemini, CSC, Fujitsu, HP, Logica, Siemens and Steria) signed a new charter for the employment of apprentices.
Supported by e-skills UK (the Sector Skills Council for Business and IT), the British Computer Society (BCS) and Business in the Community (BiTC), the nine succeeded in defining six specific apprenticeship roles and agreeing on matters such as entry qualifications, pay scales, training requirements, timescales, standards and routes to professionally qualified status.
All nine companies came to the table convinced of their own uniqueness, but once they started delving into the detail of how apprentices would be working, and in what roles, it became clear that the similarities from company to company greatly outweighed the differences, which were often largely down to individual company jargon.
The charter agreement has had a dramatic impact in just six months, with the number of apprentices taken on by the nine vendors rising from 200 last year to 500 confirmed places for this September’s recruitment round, and further major expansion planned over the next few years.
All the companies involved are clear that this expansion is not at the expense of graduate recruitment programmes which will continue to be a major source of new talent.
It is a point taken up by Mark Heholt of e-skills: ???Apprenticeships are available to incomers of all ages, but are particularly appealing to school leavers. Their expansion will help fill skills gaps in the industry, and provide employment opportunities in this key sector to people with a broad range of backgrounds and prior achievements.???
All dreams are now welcome.
Microsoft???s Imagine Cup is the world???s most prestigious student technology competition, bringing together student innovators from all over the world. If you have a great idea for a new app, bring it to life through Imagine Cup. With Microsoft resources and support, you can make a great app and win travel and cash prizes!