The inside story of how Oculus Rift was created: Best of the Web

Facebook’s recent purchase of Oculus Rift for $2 billion has brought the concept of virtual reality back into the mainstream.

Since the early 1990s, the promise of virtual reality has been just over the horizon. Unfortunately, as Wired’s Peter Rubin explains, the technology had some early problems:

The same problem that had bedeviled would-be pioneers like eMagin, Vuzix, even Nintendo: [Using virtual reality] made people want to throw up.

This was the problem with virtual reality. It couldn’t just be really good. It had to be perfect. In a traditional videogame, too much latency is annoying—you push a button and by the time your action registers onscreen you’re already dead. But with virtual reality, it’s nauseating. If you turn your head and the image on the screen that’s inches from your eyes doesn’t adjust instantaneously, your visual system conflicts with your vestibular system, and you get sick.

Rubin explores how 18-year-old Oculus founder Palmer Luckey managed to solve many of the problems that had eluded so many better-funded rivals:

Luckey figured that he had as good a chance as anyone to solve those problems. So he tinkered, and tinkered some more, and one night in November 2010 he announced to the world—or at least to the message-board denizens of a 3-D-gaming news site called Meant to Be Seen—the existence of PR1 (for Proto­type 1), his first stab at a virtual-reality device. It was a cumbersome beast, built on the shell of a headset from his collection. It displayed only in 2-D and was so heavy that it needed a 2-pound counterweight in the back. But thanks to a massive chassis that could fit a nearly 6-inch display, it boasted a 90-degree field of vision, an angle nearly twice as large as anything else on the market.

Shutting down a Windows tech support scam

In recent years, at one time or another, there’s a good chance you’ve received a phone call from a telemarketer  offering “tech support” services to clear viruses they’ve “detected” on your computer. In some cases, these so-called tech support agents will claim to be from a legitimate company such as Telstra or Microsoft.

If so, over at Ars Technica, Nate Anderson has the tale of an all-too-familiar scam:

Sitting in front of her PC, the phone in her hand connected to a tech support company half a world away, Sheryl Novick was about to get scammed.

The company she had reached, PCCare247, was based in India but had built a lucrative business advertising over the Internet to Americans, encouraging them to call for tech support. After glimpsing something odd on her computer, Novick did so.

Anderson goes through some of the tactics this tech support scam used to lure in unsuspecting consumers:

In just one year, from October 2010 to September 2011, $4 million had been deposited in the two main PCCare247 bank accounts—and that was just from US residents.

The company used this cash to build more business, spending more than $1 million through at least seven separate advertising accounts with Google. The money bought “sponsored search results” that appeared when users searched for terms, including “virus removal.”

But PCCare247 went further, taking out ads on search terms like “mcafee phone number usa,” “norton customer service,” and “dell number for help.” The ads themselves said things like “McAfee Support – Call +1-855-[redacted US phone number]” and pointed to domains like mcafee-support.pccare247.com. As numerous complaints attest, less savvy computer users searching the Internet for specific tech support phone numbers would see PCCare247’s number near the top of their screens and assume that this was an official line.

Anderson also runs through the tactics the US Federal Trade Commission used to shut “PCCare247” down:

What Yakeen didn’t know was that Novick was actually a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigator who had been assigned to global “tech support scams.” She had recorded the entire encounter, which had been conducted using a clean PC located within an FTC lab.

After the call, the FTC sent Civil Investigative Demands—requests for information—to just about every US company that had done any sort of business with PCCare247: banks, credit card processors, domain registrars, telephone companies, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. In October 2012, after months of work, agency lawyers had finally assembled their case into a 15-page complaint against PCCare247 and its owner, Vikas Agrawal (sometimes spelled Agarwal).

If you’ve ever wondered the details of how these schemes work, here’s the inside story.

A leaked online strategy document from The New York Times

Recently, there has been a furore about allegations former New York Times editor Jill Abramson was sacked after asking why she was getting paid less than her male predecessor. It’s an accusation the newspaper denies.

Amidst the furore, a report commissioned by the newspaper evaluating the media giant’s online strategy leaked to a number of websites, including Mashable and Buzzfeed.

While dealing with a particular challenge, adapting one of the world’s best known newspapers to the changing digital landscape, it does touch on many of the challenges all organisations face when communicating online.

Six months ago, you asked A.G. Sulzberger to pull together some of the most forward-thinking minds from around the newsroom to develop smart, sound ways to lift our fortunes through our journalism. The eight-person team – with the help of two colleagues from the strategy group – included digital, design and business skills anchored to a rock-solid journalistic foundation.

In effect, we did a deep-dive reporting project on our own paper and industry. By the end, we had a strong sense of both the opportunities and internal roadblocks that need to be addressed to thrive in a rapidly changing digital media landscape.

The most interesting sections of the report define disruption, and list ways The New York Times can perform better online.

Launch efforts quickly, then iterate. We often hold back stories for publication, as we should, because they’re “not quite there yet.” Outside our journalism, though, we can adopt the “minimal viable product” model, which calls for launching something in a more basic form so that we can start getting feedback from users and improve it over time.

Reward experimentation. Currently, the risk of failing greatly outweighs the reward of succeeding at The Times. We must reward people who show initiative, even when their experiments fail. Share lessons from both successes and failures.

While it’s a little long – 94 pages in total – it’s certainly a worthwhile read for any business looking at boosting their content marketing efforts.

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