Westworld Rickroll’d Us: In anticipation of Season 2 (debuting this Sunday!) Westworld creators teased they would reveal the entire plot of the new season if a post on Reddit got 1,000 upvotes. Of course, the post reached that goal within hours – and fans were rewarding with a 25-minute video titled “Westworld Season 2 — A Primer,” which was the most elaborate Rickroll ever. Amazing. Can’t wait for Sunday! (LINK)

Use Google to ‘Talk’ to Books’: Google’s new Talk to Books tool gives conversational answers for questions but with citations from real books. For example, if you search “What was Prince’s band’s name?” and it delivers not just the answer but links to full digital version of books with the answer highlighted. Pretty amazing use of technology and a glimpse into the future of libraries. (LINK)

Amazon and Reddit Exploding: This week we learned Amazon has exceeded 100 million paid Prime subscribers! CEO Jeff Bezos said in 2017 Amazon shipped more than 5 billion items with Prime worldwide. It also came out the active number of Reddit users is as large as Twitter! It’s a more than 30 percent increase in less than six months, marking Reddit as the sixth most-visited website in the world. Oh, and visitors spend longer on Reddit.com than any other site in the Top 50, regardless of category – even compared to top ‘adult’ sites. According to TheNextWeb, Reddit can credibly claim that it’s even more engaging than porn. Luckily it’s mostly SFW. Well mostly. (LINK)

 

Dejarik IRL: You know the famous “holochess” hologram strategy game in all the Star Wars movies – where players direct a collection of holographic alien characters to battle each other for dominance? Thanks to the new update to Star Wars: Jedi Challenges now anyone can play it! It uses augmented reality to project the holographic pieces to your own table (or really, anywhere you want). And it only took 41 years from the first movie to create. (LINK)

Alexa Blueprints: Amazon has released a new feature that lets anyone make custom skills without knowing any code. These “blueprints” act as templates for making questions, responses, trivia games, narrative stories, and other skills with customizable answers unique to each user. We know what we’ll be doing this weekend! (LINK)

 

Advertisements

Facebook and Privacy: We’ve been closely following the Zuckerberg testimony this week and highly recommend The Daily’s two podcasts (#1, #2) for some of the most succinct and thorough reporting on what was asked, what was said, and what it all means. We’re also encouraged that Instagram has announced they will soon allow users to download all uploaded content soon. While Facebook has allowed us to download posted content since 2010, Instagram has lacked that feature. And we’ve got some sweet top-down photos of avocado toast we want to keep forever. (LINK)


Why Are Teens Doing Elaborate Photo Shoots in Craft Stores:
 People are crashing popular craft stores to do the #HobbyLobbyChallenge and #MichaelsChallenge, snapping photos in the faux floral aisles to make it look like they’re anywhere else. And the results are gorgeous. Dare accepted. (LINK)

JT is Coming to Wherever You Are: This week we had Justin Timberlake in our office to introduce a track from his new album, “Man of the Woods.” Except it was a new augmented reality app from American Express that was projecting JT here and turning our office into the woods. And it sounded GREAT. Download the app here and bring JT into your life.  (LINK)

LinkedIn is adding GIFs? You know what the only professional social network needed this whole time that nobody was asking for? GIFs. But it appears the next generation expects to interact with recruiters and new connections with the Excuse Me What Blinking Guy GIF. “Think about your company’s culture, your professional relationship with the person and the industry you work in to decide if it makes sense to send a GIF,” LinkedIn wrote in a blog post. Umm…there’s no going back now. (LINK)

Excuse Me What GIF by Mashable - Find & Share on GIPHY

Emoji Scavenger Hunt: You don’t have to fully understand “Machine learning” and “neural networks” to enjoy this new mobile browser game that uses your phone’s camera to send you on a scavenger hunt to find emoji in the real world around you before the timer hits zero. It’s Google’s latest consumer-facing application of their technology, and it’s surprisingly addictive. Stop what you’re doing and try it here! (LINK)

“I’m going to Live From Here,” I told my coworkers and friends last week.

Puzzled faces. Every time. And this is a mix of pretty plugged in millennials and music fans.

“It’s the new Prairie Home Companion,” I find myself clarifying. “Or I think it’s like the old format but with new artists, or something.”

Or something.

 

Nobody I spoke with had seen either format, which has been recorded in Minnesota for four decades and is syndicated by American Public Media. And although I recall my grandfather listening to Garrison Keillor cassette tapes on a road trip when I was eight years-old, I’m pretty much a live radio production virgin, too.

I wasn’t ever the target audience of Prairie Home Companion (PHC), am not from Minnesota, don’t seek out folk music, don’t really think Cracker Barrel humor is funny, and don’t really listen to variety show content much, if at all.

So when the show reached out with tickets I was certainly curious but also pretty self-conscious. There’s a lot of legacy here that a lot of people have loved for years, and it’s part of Minnesota culture. But by intermission of this week’s episode, it was clear my presupposition on the format’s paradox was spot-on.

Chris Thile, Keillor’s hand-picked replacement, is a charismatic and masterful musician. He instantly captured the attention of the sold-out State Theater crowd in the State Theater with his charm, wit and musicianship. He’s a gem, and learning Thile exists and seeing him live was the best part of the entire experience.

So after warmup — a self-described “sad song” on acoustic guitar from Chris Eldridge that set a terribly slow and somber tone — the “On Air” sign was lit, and the show was on.

What followed was a sometimes-painful vacillation between old timey folk and modern millennial podcast-bait. It’s no secret Thile and the shows’ producers are striving to strike a balance between what the program used to be and what it will become. That effort was clear but sometimes jarring in the transitions.

Their task isn’t a unique challenge. You take something beloved and try to keep it going, but make it have enough appeal it won’t become dated. We do this in advertising all the time. Look at Old Spice. You don’t want to alienate grandpa, but you also want the high school jocks buying it.

Buick needs help on this right now. Desperately

To me, a “Live from Here” newbie, the bipolar experience was dizzying. The show had something for everyone – folk, blues, rap, Cracker Barrel comedy and Netflix Special comedy. And in that format, the show also wasn’t for everyone.

Instead, it was for people who like all of those things. Which I’m not sure is a lot of people.

And while Thile mentioned the “millions” of listeners tuning in, it’s understandable the challenge the “Live from Here” team will have as that PHC audience base literally dies off — whether cover Prince and Bob Dylan, or not (which they did).

For example: Thile, Tim Russell and sound effects man Fred Newman had the gray hairs in the front rows chortling at their light-hearted, G-rated, rocking-chairs-on-a-front-porch jokes about an old man’s non-sensical similes (actual joke: “If that’s not enough to bear chicken, I’ll be an eagle’s auntie”).

Then there was an Alexa joke, which was maybe to balance out the old man stuff.

But in a later segment they then welcomed comedian Rachel Feinstein (famous for bits titled “Screw Me Harder,” “Only Whores Wear Purple” and “Joking After Sex”) to tell a too-brief monologue about the perils of dating and thrown objects bouncing off her body parts. Now that was funny.

And yet in a post-Keillor era on Keillor’s old show, this kind of humor was also kind of an uncomfortable subject given the allegations that undergird the bulk of media buzz about this new and improved program.

As for the musical guests, the show pitted southern blues rockers Shakey Graves against rapper/singer Dessa, and they were both great. But it was all a strange contrast to the folksy house band, who was also great itself, but very different. It was a genre mash-up and just strange overall.

I mention the gray hairs in the front row mainly because of the contrast with the younger people in t-shirts in the back rows. They whooped and cheered for Dessa while the elder class seemed to tolerate it — much like I tolerated the senior citizen humor of porch jokes, sad acoustic songs, and weird fake sponsorships that weren’t funny.

Throughout the broadcast the house sound in the State Theater was mixed terribly for such a great venue. Thile’s mandolin was barely perceptible for most of the show, and the lead vocals of nearly every performer were turned too far down. Tom Papa’s (pre-recorded?) “Out in America” segment had such a bad echo loop I got a headache. While I appreciate the show’s priority is the NPR listeners, it was a letdown that the mix was so off.

These really are masterful musicians, and it would have been great to hear them as well in the live setting as they sounded on the radio and live stream.

I get the sense some of my opinion on the experience will come off as “Man yells at cloud” to PHC and “Live from Here” fans. There’s a legacy here worth supporting, and I respect that. The “Live from Here” crew is doing an admirable job trying to mix #InstantSongRequests on Twitter with a live audience of elders who frowned at me for taking pictures during the show with my phone — to the point I put it away.

The multi-generational variety show is clearly not my thing, and the ghost of the former PHC host’s baggage haunted the theater for this first-timer. I guess I don’t get why you would get the chance to reboot a show’s format and choose to keep all the AARP stuff.

However, I heard Sufjan Stevens is coming on the 4/21 episode, and that’s an awesome booking. I’m looking forward to hearing him, but I don’t want to sit through old person jokes and the ghost of Garrison Keillor threatening to reboot his show himself.

Good thing there’s a podcast.

Finstagram: Life is never as good as it looks on social media. So now teens who are tired of the “success theater” of Instagram are creating a secondary account, known as a “Finstagram,” to express themselves privately – no makeup or dirty dishes in the sink (GASP). We really enjoyed this Art19 podcast featuring insights from young people and model Paris Sanders talking about this cultural reaction to traditional social media. (LINK)

Millennials May Have Improved English: There are LOTS of memes about all the things Millennials have ruined… but it turns out that their disregard for traditional grammar may have improved written English. A researcher from the University of Manchester says the use of deliberately misspelled words or misused grammar can convey tone, nuance, humor, EVEN ANNOYANCE with atypical capitalization, ellipsis, or a complete lack of punctuation. For example, using a period (a.k.a. a full stop) at the end of a sentence “indicates that you are cross.” kthxbai (LINK)

Snap adds Group Video Calls: This week Snapchat introduced a new group video chat feature, letting users chat with up to 16 of their closest friends via video. Or up to 32 via audio! Just tap the video icon in a group chat to get started, or start up a call with a few people and invite new friends to join. And yes, the lenses work with all 16 people. (LINK)

Amazon’s ‘Voice Sniffer Algorithm’: Don’t panic yet, but new patent filings show Amazon is looking to use their Echo smart speaker to not only listen once you say “Alexa,” but to be always listening and analyzing what’s being said. Called the voice sniffer algorithm, the idea is to better understand users and their personalities. For example, it could hear words like “prefer” and “bought” or “hate” or “disliked,” and then use that to judge interest levels in various products. We’ll be watching this closely to see if the public has any appetite for this kind of always-on listening in their homes.  (LINK)

Memes of the Week: The Monterey Bay Aquarium took the American Chopper Argument Meme to the next level today. And Mason Ramsey, the 10-year-old who’s been dubbed “Walmart boy” and “Walmart kid,” broke the internet this week with his cowboy getup and yodeling skills. And the internet did what it does – remixes!! Please enjoy these with your coworkers at full volume: Remix 1, Remix 2, Remix 3, Remix 4, Remix 5, and Bonus 1 Hour Remix Version

Facebook’s Data Scandal: This week you couldn’t avoid hearing about Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mark Zuckerberg now says he’s ‘open’ to testifying to Congress, which isn’t exactly optional when you’re subpoenaed. What’s the impact on brands? Continued scrutiny on how they collect and use consumer information and less trusted use of Facebook. We’re anticipating further fallout, quick and long-term damage control and privacy fixes from Facebook, and more people opting out of Facebook (with more people saying they will leave, but not following through) but still keeping Instagram and WhatsApp (both owned by Facebook). This podcast from NYT’s The Daily summarizes the state of Facebook and data very well. (LINK)

Netflix Sans: Netflix has developed a new bespoke font called Netflix Sans that is clean, functional, and subtly inspired by the brand’s famous logo. Why make their own font? In the era of impression-based licensing for their typefaces in digital advertising spaces, font licensing can get quite expensive. RIP Gotham. This isn’t a new trend, but we’re seeing more adoption of this strategy in the future. And how about that “t”? (LINK)

netflix-sans-8.jpg

Instagram Testing Regram: This week it was revealed Instagram is testing a new feature that lets you share other people’s posts as part of your own Story, alongside your own captions and commentary. Users will see a new button appear below public, permanent posts. Tapping it lets them embed that post in their own Story. Before posting the update, they can move and resize the quoted update, and add stickers, emoji and comments. It’s essentially a more creative version of quote-retweeting. This is just a test, but we expect it will role out to the public in the coming months. (LINK)

instagram-stories_reshare-techcrunch.jpg

eBay AR a Great Use for AR: eBay is launcing a new feature for sellers to easily find the right box to fit their products using their mobile app — just aim your smartphone camera at the surface around the product to map the area; then try various USPS package sizes to find the right box. Available on Android devices this week, we’re excited seeing Google’s ARCore software leverage this emerging tech to solve real-world problems for their customers.  (LINK)

ar ebay.jpg

Bento the synth-playing Keyboard Cat Died: This week we paused our newsfeeds for a moment of silence in memory of Keyboard Cat, who passed away. The internet exploded in mourning, while others pointed out this was actually the second keyboard cat — the original kitty, and the one most famous in the viral YouTube video from 2007, Fatso, died way back in 1987. But there will always be a place in our social hearts for Bento. Watch this tribute video and pour out some kibble.

 

Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told, and it depends chiefly on the story-teller or historian whether that is interesting or not. You are simply a witness on the stand to tell what you know about your neighbors and neighborhood.

–Henry David Thoreau (journal, March 18, 1861)

 

SXSW 2018: At South by Southwest this week we skipped the buzzworthy Westworld experience to hear Facebook Global Creative Director Andrew Keller’s presentation on Facebook for brands in 2018, featuring tips on “astounding audiences” and nods to old school community management and groups. Quantcast’s Steven Pereira’s shared advice on how brands can use A.I. to analyze ad campaigns to get the right creative for right campaign. Obama’s former speechwriter, Sarada Peri, shared thoughts on persuasive communication (instead of adverbs use a better verb; instead of adjectives use a better noun). Elon Musk spoke on colonizing Mars to the benefits of a carbon tax, autonomous cars to the future of artificial intelligence (“AI is more dangerous than nukes”). And Esther Perel shared her insights on the state of modern love. It was an uplifting, educational and inspiring week. What a time to be alive, right?

China’s Xinhua Bookstore Retires Humans: Twenty new staff-less bookstores opened in Beijing this year, operating 24 hours a day and featuring an automated system with no regular human staff. These all-day bookstores are part of the book-selling Xinhua franchise, and are planned to be built at Beijing universities, government offices and malls. Customers enter their WeChat account details and get their faces scanned before entering, and the store offers “precise and humanized” book suggestions based on their purchase histories. The automated store even features a robot checkout helper, who is touted as a key feature of the store. RIP humans who sell books (as if they weren’t endangered enough already)! (LINK)

 

Drake Played Fortnite on Twitch and Broke the Internet: Forget March Madness, this week more than 600,000 people tuned in to watch Drake and others play a popular game on Twitch, a streaming service that allows people to watch others play video games. It was a record-breaking event and significant milestone for E-Sports, which continues to see exponential growth while more traditional sports (e.g., NFL, Olympics) face audience downturns. This particular Fortnite smackdown also involved pro-gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster and rapper Travis Scott. This week Amazon announced it will offer free Twitch games for Prime Customers , so look for even more mainstreaming of this E-Sports phenomenon into 2018. (LINK)

Google Lens and Maps and Mario Updates: Using a new button in Google Photos, users can now ask Google AI to analyze the subject and turn the data into action automatically. For example, with Google Lens you can take a picture of a business card and Google Lens will save the phone number to your contact list. Also this week it was announced Google is opening up Maps so game developers can create the next Pokémon Go. And In honor of Mario’s birthday, Nintendo partnered with Google and added a feature to navigate your streets as Mario in Mario Kart. Watch out for banana peels!

Here’s how to get Mario on your Google Maps:

  1. Update to the latest version of Google Maps (App Store on iPhones or Google Play on Androids).
  2. Enter a location you want to go.
  3. Click on Directions.
  4. Instead of pressing “Start,” press the “?” next to it.
  5. Oh yeah! Mario Time!