Penny Arcade drops ads for Crowdfunding

I love comics, and I love geek humor, so it should be no surprise that I’m a big fan of Penny Arcade – the web comic about two snarky video game nerds and their exploits. But now I’m going from fan to fanboy because the guys at PA are doing something that could be the future of digital independent publishing on the web – they’re ditching the ads, and asking their fans to donate to their cause on Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding is getting increasingly popular with tech startups and indie artists, but it’s nothing really new. As Penny Arcade’s Kickstarter page plainly says, “After the ‘dot com bubble’, we ran the site entirely on donations for over a year. The word crowdfunding hadn’t been invented yet; back then, people simply called it ‘begging'”. But with crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub, Sponsume, and GoFundMe all doing big business, independent creators no longer need to feel like they’re going around with their palms up, looking for a handout. The idea behind all of this is simple: let the people who are most interested in your product fund you from the start.

For Penny Arcade, this means that instead of doing the traditional thing of sticking ads all over their site, they can go directly to their fans and say “Hey, if you’re tired of these dumb banners, just contribute whatever you want to help us take them down and still pay the bills.” If that weren’t motivation enough, the PA boys have additional incentives for your donation dollars. Contributors who drop $25 or more can get exclusive prints of some of PA’s spin-off comics sent right to their door, and the big spenders get even cooler gifts like passes to the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) or a visit to meet Penny Arcade founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik in person for lunch (and given their sense of humor, I’d imagine this would be the most epic lunch meeting of your life.). PA has already wildly exceeded their original funding goal of $250,000 and now have $460,000 from their adoring fans.

I’m excited that the “famous” indie artists are finally getting in on the Kickstarter bandwagon because it gives further validation to this model. Instead of giving more money to the corporate machines that indie artists and their fans historically loathe, you can go directly to your fanbase and say “just pay us whatever you want.” It reminds me of the time Radiohead went “pay what you want” with the release of their “In Rainbows” album. At the time it was a groundbreaking move for a major artist, but the recent trend of Kickstarter success stories (the Ouya video game console, Pebble e-ink watch, et al) is proving that this idea has legs. Perhaps in the future we’ll see more and more artists ditching the old models and offering their fans direct methods to support their favorite creatives while getting a little something extra too.

Short film: the future of Augmented Reality?

Some students have made a great short film that might portend the scary-but-awesome future of augmented reality tech.

Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo, graduate students at the Bezaleal Academy of Arts in Jeruselem, created a spectacular sci-fi short film with high production values and visionary concepts that extrapolate current tech trends and ponders how technology could become so pervasive it would virtually replace ordinary human vision. The film is appropriately called “Sight”.

Watch the short film “Sight” below:

Augmented Reality technology is one of those things that make science fiction not so much like fiction. The Google Glass project could potentially give us a huge step forward in the AR arena, but the technology in this video takes things to a whole new level. Imagine a world we all have Internet-connected contact lenses that overlay context-sensitive information on our field of vision. You’d no longer need a TV – just use your eyes to open your streaming video program, stare at a blank wall, and the video plays right there. Look at a building and instantly see information about its history and the businesses inside it. It’s crazy to think of the applications of AR in the future and this little movie showcases what we might be dealing with in 20 years or so, and the film does it with the panache and creepiness of a well-directed sci-fi movie. One aspect I really find interesting is how the directors focused on the “gamification” of everyday activities, including chopping vegetables.

For me, being a geek, engineer, and pedantic bastard – the video raises a number of technical questions about the advances we’ll have to make in order to make this kind of stuff a reality. For example:

  • Those contact lenses must have some kind of wireless Internet connection, but where would it come from? We’ve gotten really good at miniaturizing wireless chipsets, but what we see here would require some major advances. Perhaps the lenses speak (via BlueTooth or something similar) to another device, like a smartphone, which in turn does all the heavy Internet stuff.
  • All this intensive display and analysis is bound to generate some kind of heat. How would we keep our eyeballs from frying?
  • How does the system handle audio? Are there tiny headphones we’re not seeing here, or would we have to develop some freaky technology that translates tiny vibrations in our eyes into sound we can recognize?

“Sight” is an intriguing (and creepy) look into what our future might be. Like all good sci-fi, it throws down some inspiring challenges for the technologists who will build the next big thing, but it also provides some warnings of what might happen if our society isn’t quite ready for these innovations.

iPhone app: Scribblr

It seems like everyone has an iPhone these days, and everyone has a Facebook account too. What happens when you combine these two cultural forces in a drawing app? You get Scribblr!

A couple of friends of mine have released a fun drawing app that combines how well you know your Facebook friends with a blank canvas to be creative and funny. In their own words:

Scribblr is a fun and addicting game that combines drawing with how well you know your Facebook friends.

Connect with Facebook to draw things about your friends, or create images for yourself. Doodle your way through dozens of things to draw then share them with your friends.

Play and laugh by yourself or with others for an entertaining time with friends. Scribble something barely recognizable or create a masterpiece. Sketch something realistic or downright fantastic. Be silly. Be playful. Be cute. Maybe all of the above.

Download Scribblr for FREE on iTunes

Ads: The Future of ebooks?

I’m going to propose something controversial, perhaps even blasphemous. My fellow authors may spurn me and say my dangerous ideas will ruin the industry. But here it is anyway: I think eBooks should have ads in them.

Now before you write me a nastygram, hear me out.

Today Amazon announced that AT&T has joined the ranks of advertisers on the Kindle. As odd as this may sound, it isn’t really new. Amazon first debuted the Wi-Fi Kindle with Special Offers in April and the 3G version in May, which gave marketers new ways to ply their wares to consumers on one of the most popular gadgets out there. General Motors, Olay, and Chase already sponsor ads on the Kindle. If you agree to buy a “special offers” Kindle and see all these sweet ads, you shave some money off the purchase price of the Kindle. The AT&T deal is notable because it gives an even bigger discount for the 3G “special offers” model (15% drop to $139). Ads on Kindle offer nice discounts on products from Amazon and other companies, and they appear on the Kindle’s screensaver when the device is turned off and also appear on the Kindle’s home screen. Amazon’s “special offer” Kindles don’t show ads within the actual content of the books, yet.

Most of the industry pundits are looking at this news from a competition perspective, especially as Amazon continues to fight off the iPad and other e-readers. But there’s another angle here that a lot of people are overlooking.

We’re seeing ads on a book platform.

Think about that for a second. The ad-supported model that has worked on just about every form of modern media is finally encroaching upon the book market. It’s a sign of the times, but we need to go a step further.

Ads in readable material are nothing new. Magazines have had them for ages. So have comic books. But booky books (the kind without many pictures and lots of pages) have never really been a good platform for advertising, besides the occasional 1 page ad at the end of the book, which sells other titles by the same publisher. But as digital books on eReaders, smartphones, tablets, and even PCs become more common, the opportunities for advertising get better and better. Although the purists are all filled with book nerd rage about this possibility, I think it might actually help the book industry in the long run.

Just about every other form of entertainment is ad-supported these days. TV? Ads. Radio? Ads. Mobile apps? Ads. Web? Ads everywhere you look. Even the movies you see at the theater are doing product placement more than ever. Hell, some movies are just 2-hour advertisements (Transformers, for instance, is really just a big toy commercial). Books, especially novels, may need to get with the program, especially since the novel is already the least-favored form of fiction now.

So what would an ad-sponsored book world look like? Well, imagine that all the books you could ever want were available to you for free, legally. You would simply go find it, download it, and start reading. Authors would make money on the same model most of the web works on: the content’s free, and the ads bring in the money. The ultimate goal of the author is to get people to read their work, after all, and when it comes to exposure, nothing beats the free price point (as the app markets on iOS and Android have shown us). Many indie eBook authors are already doing well with content that is already almost free (99 cent eBooks on Amazon are becoming increasingly common), so free is just the next logical step.

Here’s the thing: through ads, authors may make even more money than before. Instead of a one time payment, authors will get a cut of recurring ad revenue that accumulates as users read their digital books (and for series like A Song of Ice and Fire with books that have over a thousand pages, that’s a lot of opportunities to show ads). Maybe this would work on a commission basis, or pay-per-click, or pay-per-view. But whatever it is, it’s a continuous form of revenue for the writer. For example, if a writer has a chapter that takes place in Monaco, and at the end of the chapter the reader is presented with an ad for a heavily discounted trip to Monte Carlo, the commission from that sale could be orders of magnitude greater than the sale price for the book. eBooks could even be used to serve up video ads and trailers for movies in that book’s genre. Your epic fantasy book could be used to show trailers for The Hobbit movie, and its assorted merchandise. And of course, if you prefer to not deal with ads and pay your one-time fee, you’ll have that option (once again taking a page from the mobile app industry).

Google showed us that context-sensitive, relevant ads can be a big winner for blogs and online magazines. There’s no reason it can’t work for books too.

Free, ad-supported books on digital platforms with good ad-serving capabilities could be just the boost the book market needs. The Kindle with Special Offers has a prominent position on Amazon’s bestseller list, proving that readers are willing to deal with ads in exchange for a lower price. We just need the literary industry to be proactive for once, and take the lead in using technology to its advantage.

Hacking the Kinect

When it comes to tech, there are two things I certainly love: Flash, and Kinect. Some clever folks are combining the two with tricky hacks, and the results are nice.

Blitz Agency, a leading marketing/interactive agency here in LA, has a nice post compiling a lot of different hacks used to let Flash work with the motion capture capabilities of the Kinect platform. It’s all certainly far from production-ready, but if you’re a geek who loves experimenting, or if your company needs a new system for a demo or interactive presentation, you should really consider giving this a try.

Flash Kinect Demo from BLITZ on Vimeo.

Blitz details their approach to the problem with this little tech tidbit:

Their interest was piqued after Hector Martin and PrimeSense™ released their open-source drivers, resulting in an online demo showing Kinect’s uses through a PC. Having worked with multiple UI technologies over the years, Gedrich and Flomin realized that if they could get Kinect to publish information that any UI platform could support, a slew of developers could use this same code to create breakthrough motion-based experiences using familiar markup languages.

The trick? A simple socket server. Using a C++ application to send all the skeleton data to a socket server, they were able to connect other technology to the socket, enabling use of the data.

Ah, socket servers. The old standby for hacking Flash on devices 🙂

If you want to get into the code, hit up Blitz’s blog post on Flash + Kinect

The typewriter is not dead

Sometimes reporters get a little impatient when a juicy topic pops up, and they forget to check the facts. Today the big news was that Godrej and Boyce—the world’s last typewriter manufacturer—has stopped producing typewriters. Here’s the problem. They’re not the last typewriter manufacturer.

As the Minyanville Daily Feed reported, Swintec is a company with typewriter factories across the world, and they’re still going strong. So rumors of the typewriter’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Still, it seems like a good time to take a moment to give an homage to the tool that brought writing into a new era. It was the first tool that redefined “writing” — it wasn’t just about using a pen or pencil anymore. It was a quantum leap for authors, reporters, and secretaries.

This little tidbit from Wikipedia describes the typewriter’s place in the industrial revolution succinctly:

By the mid-19th century, the increasing pace of business communication had created a need for mechanization of the writing process. Stenographers and telegraphers could take down information at rates up to 130 words per minute, whereas a writer with a pen was limited to a maximum of 30 words per minute

Mark Twain was supposedly the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher, setting a trend that lead to the typewriter becoming an indispensable tool for writers around the world. The typewriters of history’s literary greats are often treated like prized artifacts, as seen in this collection of famous author typewriters

The typewriter was a revolutionary piece of technology that has been largely replaced by another paradigm-shifting tool: the personal computer. But with typewriters came typing, which is still the means by which we communicate through the digital tools that have come to replace the typewriter itself. The QWERTY keyboard, whose “slow typists down” origin is still a matter of debate, still sticks with us today, without any signs of leaving.

There will most certainly come a day when typewriters are as obsolete as an abacus, but for now you can still find them in use in developing countries and elsewhere (Swintec actually does good business selling typewriters to prisons). But hopefully today’s premature obituary will remind us to appreciate the machine’s role in our evolution. The next time you pass a typewriter, take a moment to admire its mechanics, its simplicity, and its history.

Anti-theft Hard Drive!

Toshiba has announced a new hard drive that will protect its data automatically. If someone tries to gank your drive and plug it into their computer, the drive can go all Mission: Impossible and encrypt, or delete its data.

Toshiba says the drive accomplishes all this with:

unique security features which may be used to “wipe” protected data from the disk or deny access to protected data if access credentials are invalid, for example, if the disk drive were to be removed from the host platform.

Sounds like a great way to keep those “home videos” safe and sound.

Learn more about the MKxx61GSYG Series Hard Disk Drive on Toshiba’s site