BEST OF THE WEB: The first look through Google’s Glass

The tech industry has been intrigued with Google’s vision of wearable computing for a while now, ever since chief executive Larry Page showed off Google Glass – a pair of glasses with a Google interface that connects you to the internet.

Marketing featuring videos and pictures showing the Google Glass user interface have raised some attention, and some questions – who’d want to wear a computer on their face?

But now, a select few are able to get their hands on the first pairs of Google Glass – including Josh Topolsky at The Verge. And it seems the wearable computing market is starting to become a little more believable.

Topolsky’s early playtest comes as Google Glass is beginning to seem like an actual product. The company has already said the device could be ready for sale by the end of the year, if all goes well. What used to be an idea suitable for science-fiction is now becoming real.

And while Topolsky says the device itself is cool, and even useful, there remains one key question – “who would want to wear this thing in public?”

But he actually points out a genuine problem – no one is paying attention to anything they’re doing anymore.

Those perfect moments watching your favourite band play or your kid’s recital are either being captured via the lens of a device that sits between you and the actual experience, or being interrupted by constant notifications. Pings from the outside world, breaking into what used to be whole, personal moments.

Google wants to fix this with Google Glass, by allowing users to capture whatever is happening around them as it is happening.

And as Topolsky describes, the way it works is actually quite intuitive.

Here’s what you see: the time is displayed, with a small amount of text underneath that reads “ok glass”. That’s how you get Glass to wake up to your voice commands. Actually, it’s a two-step process. First you have to touch the side of the device (which is actually a touchpad), or tilt your head upward slowly, a gesture which tells Glass to wake up.

Once you’ve done that, you start issuing commands by speaking “ok glass” first, or scroll through the options using your finger along the side of the device. You can scroll items by moving your finger backwards or forward along the strip, you select by tapping, and move “back” by swiping down. Most of the big interaction is done by voice, however.

Topolsky predicts the biggest feature to take off will be the ability to take photos and videos and send them to other people in real time. And despite feeling self-conscious, Topolsky says using the product just while walking around was quite useful.

You still have to grapple with asking for directions with Glass, but removing the barrier of being completely distracted by the device in your hand is significant, and actually receiving directions as you walk and even more significant. In the city, Glass makes you feel more powerful, better equipped, and definitely less diverted.

Wearable computing may just be in its infancy. But judging by this early look, which is definitely worth a read, it seems Google has a head start:

I walked away convinced this wasn’t just one of Google’s weird flights of fancy.

How Facebook and computer scientists are trying to stop bullying

Cyber bullying has been an issue for more than a decade now, with school-aged children now having constant access to the internet. Wherever kids can talk with each other, bullying can follow, and the problem has only gotten worse with social media.

Several incidents have become national tragedies, as teenagers feel they have no other option but to commit suicide.

But in this piece at The Atlantic, Facebook shows it isn’t taking the problem lightly. In fact, the company is working with computer scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to reduce the amount of bullying online.

The piece focuses on one particular page, called Let’s Start Drama. Run by an anonymous user, the page regularly starts conflicts between school-aged kids, with the fights even turning into arguments within school walls.

A director at the Middletown Youth Services Bureau, Melissa Robinson, started an attempt to take down the page. In the piece, the bureau director Justin Carbonella expresses the frustration at trying to get a response from Facebook:

“It felt like putting a note in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean,” Carbonella said. “There was no way to know if anyone was out there on the other end. For me, this wasn’t a situation where I knew which student was involved and could easily give it to a school guidance counselor. It was completely anonymous, so we really needed Facebook to intervene.”

But as it turns out, Facebook is working hard to clamp down on the problem. Dave Willner, the manager of content policy at the company, has his own problems of trying to get through thousands of bullying reports. But as he describes, the easiest way to tackle the problem is zero tolerance:

“If the content is about you, and you’re not famous, we don’t try to decide whether it’s actually mean,” Willner said. “We just take it down.”

So how is MIT involved in this?

Computer scientists at the school are actually trying to figure out an algorithm that would identify whether content is designed to harass. The head of the project, Henry Lieberman, along with his graduate students, analyses thousands of YouTube comments and other types of social networking posts.

What they found was intriguing:

Lieberman and his students found that almost all of them fell under one (or more) of six categories: they were about appearance, intelligence, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or social acceptance and rejection. “People say there are an infinite number of ways to bully, but really, 95 percent of the posts were about those six topics,” Lieberman told me.

The rest of the attempt is a curious read. Bullying may never be stamped out online, but at least the biggest names in networking are taking a crack at erasing it for good. If you have children on social networks, this is definitely worth a look.

How animated images took over the internet

If you spend any amount of time on the internet or Twitter, you’ve probably come across animated GIFs. In the past few years they’ve made a huge comeback, as people use images from popular culture or television to describe what they’re feeling or what they’re trying to say.

But why have they made a comeback all of a sudden, almost a decade after they were last popular?

In this piece at the New Republic, the publication looks into the phenomenon. And it is a phenomenon – publications are using GIFs to explain complicated topics like finance and unemployment. The attraction is simple, as the pictures convey a visual representation of what the writer is trying to express.

What started as an Internet trifle had become a marketable skill. Hypnotizing amidst a Web of distraction, the GIF has evolved from an obscure file format to an art movement to a pageview crutch. What was once a retro rebuke to the busy commercialization of the Web has in some ways become a part of it.

There trend has become so huge there are even GIF competitions. But as Tumblr editorial director Christopher Price points out in the piece, the technology is 25 years old. It’s not a fad – it’s here to stay. As the piece suggests:

The GIF is far too infinite to just up and die.

You’d best get used to the animated GIF – it’ll be around for a while.

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