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5 secret Chrome app launcher tips and tricks that speed up everyday tasks

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 29 Maret 2015 | 16.00

The Chrome app launcher is more than a glorified version of the Windows start menu. It packs a surprising amount of Google-y power that can speed up a wide variety of tasks on a Chromebook—and Windows, if you install the Chrome launcher. 

Use the power of the built-in search button

Remember, Google killed the caps lock key when it designed the Chromebook keyboard. In its place is a dedicated Search button, which actually does a ton of things besides merely searching Google. Though it does that well, you can also use the Search button whenever you want to go to a new site. Instead of manually opening a new tab or typing Control-T, just hit the Search button and start typing.

app launcher search

The Chrome app launcher is also the main hub for using Google search.

Your Chromebook will pull up suggestions from your search history, bookmarks, frequently-visited sites, and—of course—Google's auto-suggestions from the Internet and Chrome Web Store. Hit Enter and you'll go to the first result.

After using this method to navigate the web, Windows or OS X will suddenly start to feel slower by comparison... though the Chrome app launcher offers the same functionality on those operating systems. There's no fancy native keyboard shortcut on non-Chromebooks, though.

Get a calculator and unit converter all-in-one

app launcher calculation

The app launcher doubles as a calculator.

Forget grabbing your smartphone or picking up a calculator for those pesky math calculations. Instead, just hit that Search button on Chromebooks and start typing to get an instant answer. Calculations will show up right in the app launcher box, without the need to wait for a new tab to open.

The keyboard commands are pretty straightforward: Use the forward slash for fractions and division, the x for multiplication, and the period for decimals.

Hit Enter to open a new browser tab with a full-blown calculator, which you can use for performing additional calculations with your answer. You can get the same magic with unit conversions, handy for cooking or measuring something. Unfortunately, the Chrome app launcher doesn't yet handle currency conversions. 

app launcher unit conversion

Your Chromebook can automatically perform unit conversions as well.

Open apps with your voice

Siri and Google Now have made speaking commands to smartphones a routine occurrence. Hit the Search button and say "Ok Google," then speak your command.

app launcher search voice

Use the "Ok Google" voice command to speak your search queries or other commands.

 There are also several recognizable voice commands that will perform a function, such as setting a timer, or creating a reminder that will sync to Chrome on any device. Sure, you might feel weird yelling at your computer, but it's sometimes faster to get information using your voice.

Tricks for opening apps

Fancy tricks aside, the Search button always takes you to the seemingly benign app launcher. But there are a few other hidden gems hidden within the app launcher itself.

For example, when you right-click (accomplished by tapping two fingers on the Chromebook trackpad) on an app's icon, you'll find some additional options. You can open a Chrome app in its own window, for instance, which is useful if you want a desktop-type experience by having different apps and web services running discretely.

standalone app chromebook

Launch an app as a window, so that it looks like a standalone, desktop application.

Right-clicking on an app in the launcher can also help you perform some regular maintenance, such as fully removing the app from Chrome. If you click App Info, you'll get geeky developer stats and can also designate whether you want the app always to open as a regular tab, a pinned tab, in its own window, or maximized.

Sync your app folders

app launcher folders

If you like to organize your apps into folders, enable a Chrome flag to make them appear on other Chromebooks synced to your account.

Just like on a smartphone, Chrome's app launcher lets you drag and drop your apps into folders for a tidier approach. Your folders don't carry over to other computers, however—unless you manually enable a Chrome flag that lets you sync your setup across multiple Chromebooks, as well as Windows PCs and Macs that have the Chrome app launcher installed.

To enable this, type chrome://flags in the omnibox. Then, look for the flag labeled enable-sync-app-list. Next time you sign in to a friend's Chromebook or pick up a new one, you won't have to reorganize where your apps live in the launcher.


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GNOME 3.16 is here with reimagined notifications and visual upgrades galore

The final version of GNOME 3.16 is here, and this is no mere bug fix release.

The latest version of the GNOME desktop offers a revamped notification system along with visual improvements, updated applications, and a trio of new application previews. In total, GNOME 3.16 includes a whopping 33,525 changes made by over one thousand people.

If you haven't given GNOME a try in a while, you should. GNOME and the GNOME Shell desktop interface have improved dramatically from the initial GNOME 3.0 releases.

Notifications redesigned

The latest version of GNOME offers a revamped notification system. Notification banners now appear more to the center of the screen under the top bar, making them more noticeable and less likely to interfere with applications while you're using them. Those notification pop-ups are still actionable, so you can click them to take the default action or click the buttons on them to perform other actions.

gnome1

GNOME 3.16's redesigned notifications.

The old dedicated message tray has been removed. Instead, notifications that have already popped up appear in the calendar drop-down window. Click it to see notifications as well as event reminders, times for other locations in the world, and a calendar for the current month. The GNOME Project plans on adding weather information and birthday reminders to this drop-down interface in the future, making this drop-down a one-stop place to see exactly what's happening.

It's a bit like the centralized notification interfaces you'll find on most platforms these days, from Windows 10's Action Center to Chrome's notifications interface to similar features on Android and iOS.

Foursquare, cats, and scroll bars

GNOME 3.16 offers other improvements too. The desktop interface has a more modern look, with more use of dark gray colors. Scroll bars now automatically hide for a minimal look, a bit like Google Chrome's scroll bars.

gnome2

GNOME 3.16's Files app.

The Files application saw some work, with larger previews in the grid and list views and a pop-up interface for quickly tweaking view settings. There's a new, easier-to-discover undo function, so you can delete files just by pressing the Delete key—you can always undo that later, after all. The Image Viewer also received tweaks, with less interface chrome and more room for looking at your pictures.

gnome3

The Maps application saw a variety of improvements, and it's now possible to check in with Foursquare. There's a new sliding-blocks game called Taquin that comes with built-in cat image puzzles.

gnome10

The Boxes application is also improved, making it easier to work with and use virtual machines on GNOME. Automatic codec installation has been integrated into the GNOME Software application, and various applications saw other performance and bug improvements. Soon, you should be able to install fully sandboxed applications that will work on any Linux distribution from the Software application.

preview apps

GNOME 3.16's new Calendar, Characters, and Books apps.

You'll also find preview versions of Calendar, a calendar application that can show information from your online calendar accounts; Books, an e-book viewer; and Characters, a character map application for quickly inserting characters that don't appear on your keyboard.

Want to stay up to date on Linux, BSD, Chrome OS, and the rest of the World Beyond Windows? Bookmark the World Beyond Windows column page or follow our RSS feed.

Take it for a test drive

GNOME 3.16 will soon be coming to a Linux distribution near you. If you'd like to try it yourself, you can grab an official GNOME 3.16 live demo image and burn it from a CD, put it on a USB drive, or boot it on a virtual machine. For more details, examine the official GNOME 3.16 release notes.


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Windows 10 Preview coming to more phones: Is yours on the list?

If you have a Nokia Lumia smartphone, your chances of running the Windows 10 Preview are looking up: According to Microsoft's Gabe Aul, the company is set to open up Windows 10 Preview builds to a broader range of phones.

The Windows 10 Preview program opened up to smartphones back in February, but the initial preview builds worked only on a small number of Lumia devices. The reasons for this limited rollout were technical—Microsoft had to select phones with an OS partition large enough to handle Windows 10 until it had finished a partition-resizing feature known as Partition Stitching.

Partition Stitching is now ready to rock, according to Microsoft, so the Windows development team was able to expand the preview to include support for additional Lumia devices. 

The expanded compatibility list includes 36 Lumia models, including the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520. The full list from Microsoft follows below:

Lumia 1020
Lumia 1320
Lumia 1520
Lumia 520
Lumia 525
Lumia 526
Lumia 530
Lumia 530 Dual Sim
Lumia 535
Lumia 620
Lumia 625
Lumia 630
Lumia 630 Dual Sim
Lumia 635
Lumia 636
Lumia 638
Lumia 720
Lumia 730
Lumia 730 Dual SIM
Lumia 735
Lumia 810
Lumia 820
Lumia 822
Lumia 830
Lumia 920
Lumia 925
Lumia 928
Lumia ICON
Microsoft Lumia 430
Microsoft Lumia 435
Microsoft Lumia 435 Dual SIM
Microsoft Lumia 435 Dual SIM DTV
Microsoft Lumia 532
Microsoft Lumia 532 Dual SIM
Microsoft Lumia 640 Dual SIM
Microsoft Lumia 535 Dual SIM

Microsoft stresses that this is a "preliminary" list and is subject to change: The company may add or remove models from the compatibility list as it fixes bugs—or finds new ones.

Microsoft hasn't said when it plans to release the next build of Windows 10, but when it does, check back with Microsoft to see if it's added support for your device.


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Intel could strengthen its server product stack with Altera

Written By kom nampuldu on Sabtu, 28 Maret 2015 | 16.00

Intel's chips dominate servers in data centers, but the possible acquisition of Altera could help the company provide a wider variety of custom chips designed to speed up specific applications, analysts said on Friday.

Intel is in talks to acquire Altera, which has a market capitalization of $10.4 billion [B], according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Intel and Altera declined to comment on negotiations or any deal.

Altera makes FPGAs, which are specialized chips that can reprogrammed to run specific tasks at much higher speeds than CPUs. Intel makes Altera's FPGAs in its factories and has also mentioned plans to use FPGAs with its server chips.

Intel's Data Center Group is the company's most profitable group, and its growing data-center product stack includes CPU, memory, networking and storage gear. But server designs are changing, and many tasks are being off-loaded to co-processors like graphics processors and FPGAs. Intel wants to keep growing in the server market, and Altera could partly fill a product gap, analysts said.

Intel wants to grow its co-processor and custom chip portfolio, and buying Altera saves them from developing FPGAs internally, said Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights and Strategy.

"It would be hard for Intel to build their own FPGA and make it competitive. They could do it, but how much time? It took them about a decade to become competitive in GPUs," Moorhead said.

Intel could license FPGA technology from Altera like it does now, but bringing the technology in-house could accelerate the release of custom server chips, Moorhead said.

Moreover, taking Altera FPGAs off the market could hurt competing server chip platforms from ARM and IBM, which are viewed as alternatives to Intel's x86 chips, Moorhead said.

Intel has been adding more capabilities to servers with its own components, and tying Altera's FPGAs to the CPU and other parts could bring more functionality to servers, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Altera's acquisition might also have a secondary benefit to Intel's factories, which could be kept busy manufacturing FPGAs, McCarron said.


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Kleiner Perkins cleared of sex discrimination against Ellen Pao

A jury has found mostly in favor of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in a historic lawsuit accusing one of Silicon Valley's best-known venture capital firms of sex discrimination.

The jury found against Ellen Pao on three out of four claims, including whether her gender was a factor in Kleiner Perkins's decision not to promote her, according to reporters tweeting from the courtroom Friday.

There was some confusion after the verdict was read, however, because the jury of six men and six women did not reach a sufficient majority on one question: whether Kleiner Perkins retaliated against Pao by terminating her employment after she complained that she was discriminated against.

Pao could still be eligible for damages based on that claim, a Wall Street Journal reporter tweeted.

At least nine of the 12 jurors need to agree on the claim, and only eight of them did so. So the judge sent them back to continue their deliberations, according to reporters in the courtroom.

Still, most of the verdict has gone against Pao, including her central claim that she was discriminated against based on her gender. The verdict will not be final until the jury decides on the claim of retaliation.

The jury has taken two days so far and had to answer more than a dozen separate questions on the verdict form. There was an audible gasp in the courtroom as the first "no" was read by the court clerk, reporters in the courtroom said.

The trial has gripped technology industry watchers for the past month, fueling the debate about gender discrimination in Silicon Valley and shining an often unflattering light on one of tech's oldest and most successful venture capital companies. Kleiner Perkins had a hand in the formation of Google, Twitter, Amazon.com, Uber and dozens of other high-flying technology companies.

Pao filed her lawsuit two years ago, alleging that she was a victim of sexual discrimination at the firm and that Kleiner Perkins retaliated against her when she complained about her treatment.

A former junior partner at the company, Pao said a pervasive culture of sexism prevented her from being promoted to senior partner, a role in which she would have made far more money.

Kleiner Perkins was run "like a boys club," Pao's lawyer reportedly told the jury in closing arguments this week, and "no woman was going to challenge them."'

But lawyers for Kleiner Perkins painted a very different picture, and one the jury believed. They portrayed Pao as a resentful, prickly employee who found it hard to get along with her coworkers. The real reason she wasn't promoted, the firm contended, is that she lacked the experience and the drive to be a top investor.

Pao was seeking up to $16 million in lost wages. Judge Harold Kahn of San Francisco Superior Court, where the case was heard, ruled this week that Pao would also be eligible for punitive damages if the jury concluded she was treated maliciously. That could have increased her damages by a further $144 million, USA Today reported.


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FCC will vote next month on plan to share valuable 3.5GHz spectrum

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will vote April 17 on a spectrum-sharing plan for a band that could serve the military, mobile service providers and individuals.

The CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) would open up frequencies from 3550-3700MHz to three classes of users, including owners of new mobile devices who could use the service like they do Wi-Fi. The FCC vote comes after several rounds of study and public comment on the proposal for more than two years.

In that time, growing demand for wireless spectrum has boosted pressure on the government to share or auction off some of the many frequencies it exclusively controls. Bandwidth-hungry services like streaming video and audio, plus wireless links for a growing array of connected devices, are expected to eventually place strains on the spectrum currently allocated to wireless data.

The CBRS plan could lead to better wireless data performance for users in crowded places like stadiums, as well as better rural broadband services and new spectrum for industrial uses not suited to Wi-Fi or LTE, according to the FCC. It could also be a proving ground for a spectrum-sharing approach that might be applied to other government bands.

The 3.5GHz band is used mostly by Army and Navy radar systems and satellite equipment. The CBRS plan calls for them to share the band with effectively unlicensed access that anyone could get just by buying an authorized mobile device. But the FCC would also auction off licenses to service providers, who would enjoy some protection from interference by the unlicensed users.

A cloud-based Spectrum Access System would keep track of the existing radios and the licensed services in order to manage interference. But large swaths of the country that previously would have been reserved for the incumbent users are much smaller in the latest version of the plan, thanks in part to improved technology. Those so-called exclusion zones previously would have covered much of the country's east and west coasts, home to a majority of the population, but now are 77 percent smaller, the FCC says.

The exclusion zones could disappear completely if there were a service that could sense protected users nearby and automatically prevent interference, the agency says. It envisions that as a second phase of the technology but would seek proposals for both a Spectrum Access System and sensing services at the same time. It's not likely either of those technologies would be approved before next year.


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UN to appoint watchdog to focus on privacy in digital age

Written By kom nampuldu on Jumat, 27 Maret 2015 | 16.00

The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has voted in favor of a resolution backed by Germany and Brazil to appoint an independent watchdog or 'special rapporteur' to monitor privacy rights in the digital age.

The council said Thursday that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy.

The proposed appointment of the rapporteur is likely to be mainly symbolic as the official's functions will be mainly advisory. But it reflects continuing concerns around the world about privacy in the wake of disclosures of U.S. surveillance by former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.

The resolution refers to the deep concern of the Human Rights Council at the negative impact on the exercise of human rights of surveillance or interception of communications both within countries and abroad, and of the collection of personal data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale.

German officials said in October 2013 that U.S. intelligence agencies may have spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone. There were also reports that the U.S. also spied on Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff among other political leaders.

The vote on Thursday was clearly prompted by concern over U.S. surveillance practices and the security of digital information, said the American Civil Liberties Union. The civil rights group said this was evident from ACLU's meetings with the sponsors of the resolution and from the text of the document.

"Our hope is that the Human Rights Council resolution marks the beginning of a serious global reckoning with mass surveillance and its effects," said Eileen Donahoe, director of global affairs at Human Rights Watch in a statement.

The new watchdog will, among other things, report on alleged violations of the right to privacy, and raise awareness concerning the importance of promoting and protecting the right to privacy, with a special reference to challenges arising in the digital age. The council has called upon all states to cooperate with the rapporteur, including by providing the information requested.

In November last year, a U.N. panel approved a resolution that would have the General Assembly call on states to respect and protect the right to privacy in the digital age.

The draft resolution, titled "Right to privacy in the digital age," also had Brazil and Germany as the main sponsors.


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In Japan, smartphone apps time spring's cherry blossoms

For centuries in Japan, poets have both lamented and extolled the fleeting beauty of cherry tree blossoms, the quintessential symbol of spring.

Today, people are turning to apps instead of verses to enjoy the blooming, which can be as brief as a week. One way to celebrate the blossoms is through "hanami," which means "flower viewing." It refers to picnicking under the blossoms, often with copious amounts of alcohol. It's a national pastime.

Such is the country's passion for cherry blossoms, known as "sakura," that the state-run Japan Meteorological Agency once deployed a supercomputer that crunched temperature, elevation and other data to predict when and where they begin and peak. Articles still discuss the agency's mathematical equations to predict the pink explosions.

The agency provided cherry blossom forecasts for over half a century, based on sample trees and historical records, but stopped in 2009 to focus on other services. Since then, companies have stepped in with forecasts of their own and now compete to produce the best smartphone apps for timing hanami.

One of the latest is a crowdsourced feature called Sakura Channel, part of the popular Weathernews Touch app for iOS and Android, which has been downloaded 13 million times. It provides forecasts, based on user reports, for when cherry blossoms will bloom at 700 famous viewing locations across Japan. Users can see hanami calendars and get alerts about when their favorite groves of cherry trees will burst into pink-white flowers.

They can also choose from preferences such as public parks, cherry-lined roads and spots known for nighttime revelry under the boughs. A "sakura simulator" shows a low-res view of pink petals gradually taking over cities such as Tokyo as users click through the calendar from late March through early April, the usual season for sakura.

The app was developed by Weathernews, a climate information company that has also distributed about 1,000 spherical "pollen robot" sensors that can detect airborne pollen, useful for forecasting the hay fever season.

"Our app is special in that it uses information from ordinary people. About 8 million users are sending us photos and weather reports of every sort," a Weathernews spokeswoman said.

"Some other developers simply tell you whether trees are blooming or not in each prefecture, but about 11,200 users across the country are sending us information about local cherry trees and we take advantage of that input."

Weathernews has also introduced a "virtual hanami" feature showcasing time-lapse photos taken with smartphones and panoramic videos of cherry blossoms captured with Ricoh's 360-degree Theta m15 camera.

Not to be outdone, Navitime Japan is offering twice-daily cherry blossom updates for more than 1,000 sites across the country. It has added the information to its popular smartphone and feature phone apps, which help Japanese navigate subway and train connections as well as roads and highways. They also provide location-specific info such as the availability of parking spots, and of course travel directions.

Japanese websites, meanwhile, abound with information on where to see blossoms, from timetables of current predictions compared to average flowering dates to lists of live cams trained on petals.

For instance, Weather Map, which began issuing predictions in 2010, has PC and mobile sites with detailed information including temperature charts, blooming graphs and a map of Japan showing the front of cherry blossoms moving up the archipelago from south to north. It uses observations of about 50 sample trees to make predictions, according to a Weather Map spokeswoman.

It also has a cherry blossom outlook and maps for most cities. The site predicts the flowers will be at full bloom in Tokyo on March 31 after opening three days earlier than the average date. The traditional cherry "weathervane" for the capital is a grove of old cherry trees at Yasukuni Shrine, a politically controversial Shinto sanctuary that honors soldiers killed in past wars.


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At Facebook, a sharpening focus on virtual reality

In 10 years, there may be no need to check Facebook's site to see what that friend overseas is up to. You might just pick up a pair of goggles, reach out and hold her hand at her birthday party.

You won't have to actually be there. The experience could be made possible through virtual reality.

Facebook sees it as a radical and important technology that in the not-too-distant future could provide new ways to help people connect and transport them to places that are out of reach or don't even exist. Providing those experiences is among Facebook's ambitious long-term goals, along with providing Internet access through aerial drones and deepening its artificial intelligence technology to better understand what people want.

Take the birthday scenario: Using a future headset from Facebook's Oculus VR division, it might be possible for a person to watch a three-dimensional video of the event, move around the room, and with specialized sensors, touch his friend. It would be a dramatic play on the concept of teleportation, letting someone feel like they're somewhere when they're not. But Facebook just might be able to pull it off.

The company bought Oculus VR last year for roughly US$2 billion, baffling observers. Now, Facebook's VR ambitions are coming more into focus. On Thursday, Facebook and Oculus executives laid out their vision for the future of virtual reality and gave some clues about possible applications of the technology at Facebook's F8 developer conference in San Francisco.

"Moments of bringing people together is what we're trying to do at Facebook. It's the core of our mission," whether those are real or virtual, said Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer at the company, during a keynote talk at the conference.

The company is already tinkering with virtual presence. At the event, attendees could strap on the Samsung Gear VR, made in partnership with Oculus, and see a real-time, 360-degree view of Facebook's campus in nearby Menlo Park. Facebook had six GoPro cameras set up on the campus and stitched together the views from them to create the experience.

The concept of virtual presence is not new, and virtual reality has had its share of stumbles over the years. Virtual Boy, the gaming console released by Nintendo in the mid-nineties, sought to provide a more immersive experience than other consoles of the time, transporting users into the game with a screen that covered the gamer's entire field of vision. But many users just got headaches or became nauseated. Virtual Boy was only out for a year before it was discontinued.

Will it take a social networking company to do it right? The details of Facebook's VR plans aren't clear. But it's clear that Facebook sees virtual reality as an extension of social networking, and perhaps more. Until now, many of the ideas about consumer uses of virtual reality have revolved around gaming and entertainment, like the ability to watch a concert in a full 360-degree view. Facebook has broader goals.

In time, virtual reality could expand the experience of the Facebook timeline, with new ways for people to interact with each other, said Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Oculus, during a talk on Thursday at F8.

Schroepfer, Facebook's chief technology officer, shared a video of him blowing out the candles on his 40th birthday. Virtual reality could let others share and partake in that experience, he said.

We're at the point now where the technology is on its way to making that possible, and it's becoming cheaper, Abrash and Schroepfer said. The Oculus Crescent Bay headset, for example, provides a 360-degree field of view by connecting with a camera that knows when you turn around. You can explore a chamber in an imaginary castle like you would explore an unfamiliar place in real life.

Trying out Crescent Bay at F8, I found myself reaching out with my hands, wanting to grab things like a dragon's tail or some other unreal creature. But the system could not register my hand movements; instead I ended up grasping the wall in front of where I was actually standing.

That lack of tactile feedback is an aspect of the technology that needs to be improved. Also, the ability to see your virtual self, possibly as an avatar, is an area ripe for development, Abrash said.

Crescent Bay is one prototype of the device Oculus has been working on for years, called the Rift. Some early versions of the Rift have shipped to developers and to early Kickstarter backers, but it hasn't gone on sale yet.

Facebook focused on virtual reality at F8 to get developers interested in the concept and inspire them to create applications.

Attendees seemed excited about Facebook's plans to provide social, immersive VR experiences. At least a few were cautiously optimistic that the company could pull it off.

"They seem determined," said Patrick Bottne, CEO at AppSpotr, which provides tools to help developers build apps.

Meanwhile, other companies are also becoming active in virtual reality, sensing a market. Competitors include Sony, with Project Morpheus, Microsoft, with HoloLens; and perhaps even Google, which is said to be developing a virtual reality version of Android.

But Facebook is well-positioned to produce something that gains mainstream acceptance, partly because of its acquisition of Oculus and its ties to the larger developer community, said Brian Blau, an industry analyst at Gartner who has been tracking virtual reality for more than 20 years.

It might just take a while for something big to happen, he said. "What will the killer app for VR be 10 years from now? The truth is we don't know yet," he said.


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Facebook's Like button can still easily be gamed

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 26 Maret 2015 | 16.00

Facebook's Like button is a pervasive feature of the Web, a way to gauge the popularity of a website or piece of content. But researchers have found it's easy to inflate the numbers, undermining its value as an accurate measure of popularity.

The problem of bogus Likes has been around for some time, and Facebook has released updates to its software over the last couple of years to cut down on fraudulent ones generated by spammers.

But researchers with McGill University's School of Computer Science in Montreal say the social networking company still hasn't fixed several major problems with the feature. This week, they released a research paper outlining the problems, which they first told Facebook about in early 2013.

"Those Like numbers may be faked," said Xue Liu, a professor of computer science at McGill, in a phone interview. "There are easy ways to generate those fake Likes, and unfortunately on the Internet, a lot of companies and economic benefits are related to the number of Likes now."

Facebook officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment. The research is important because companies may be making marketing spend decisions based on Likes. There are thriving marketplaces for people to buy fake Likes, which can cost around US$30 for 1,000.

Also, average Facebook users may not be aware of exactly what kind of actions generate a Like. It's generally assumed that a single user can only generate one Like, but that's not actually the case. Sharing a link on Facebook from a source with an embedded Like button increases the count by one.

If the same user comments on the post, the Like button continues to rise. A demo video shows how a spammer could write a script that posts a piece of content on Facebook and then adds nonsensical comments, each of which causes the Like count to tick up once.

In that example, 30 Likes were quickly generated. The researchers found it was possible to generate up to 20 likes per minute by creating a post, adding fake comments, deleting the post and repeating. Those actions didn't trigger a rate-limiting feature in Facebook that might have frozen the account for a while.

The flaw has been around for years and is apparently rooted in outdated Facebook APIs that are still used by many websites, including CNN, ABC News, The Huffington Post and The Economist, according to their research paper.

What's useful about their method is that it can generate a high number of Likes using only a single account. It means that spammers wouldn't need to take the time and expense of creating a high number of zombie accounts that would likely be detected and removed by Facebook.

Another demonstration video shows how a Like—which is essentially a soft endorsement—can appear out of context and may actually be contrary to a user's real opinion.

The researchers created a fake Web page for demonstration purposes that promoted disgraced investor Bernard Madoff. The website had an embedded Like button. If the site's URL was shared on Facebook, anyone who commented on it would increase the page's Like count, even though it's doubtful anyone would truly endorse it.

But people who visited the Web page would have seen an ever-rising Like count, giving the impression that the site is worthy. Other large online services, such as YouTube and Quora have worked around this contextual problem by adding "dislike" or "downvote" buttons.

The researchers also found if a Facebook user deletes a post, the Like count doesn't correspondingly drop.

Facebook wraps a lot of data into the little number next to the Like button. The company is straightforward about it in its documentation, saying that a Like includes not only the people who hit the button, but also the number of times the URL has been shared and the number of comments. But some people may not know that.

The paper was also co-authored by Xinye Lin and Mingyuan Xia of McGill's School of Computer Science.


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