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How to Trick-or-Treat Inside Your Home

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Illustration for article titled How to Trick-or-Treat Inside Your Home

Photo: svetikd (Getty Images)

Each month of parenting during a pandemic brings with it a slew of questions parents never thought they’d have to ask themselves. Will my kid actually meet his teacher in person this year? They’ll take their masks off for school pictures, right? And now, of course, there’s, Can my kids even go trick-or-treating? Should they go? If they do go, is it safe? If they don’t go, am I making them miss out?

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One mom, Alaina Scott, who lives in Ohio told me she had the perfect way to say “yes” to trick-or-treating safely for her kids, ages 8 and 13: “We are all dressing up and taking turns knocking on each other’s bedroom door trick-or-treating.”

Of course, every family’s hallway trick-or-treating can look a little different, but we had some ideas for how parents can maximize the tricks (and treats).

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First, spend some time prepping your “front doors.” Each kid—and their grown-ups—can turn their bedroom doors into Halloween works of art. Think spooky wreaths, lights, drawings, and cotton spider webs.

Then, gather up all the costumes you can find. Last year’s Fortnite and Mal costumes? Check. That witch robe that for some reason you’ve had for like a decade? Check. The clown wig from…wait, who the heck was a clown? Check. The fluffy costume onesies that are actually pajamas? Check.

Don’t forget to scour the closets for inspiration, too. Old flower girl dresses and neckties can absolutely double as costume ideas. Pull out your bathing suits and beach towels and those gaudy necklaces you bought for that one outfit and never wore again. The more costumes you can cobble together, the more passes your trick-or-treaters can take up and down the hall—because when you’re trick-or-treating in your own home, everyone should be dressed up, the candy beggars and the “homeowners” alike.

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Next, be sure to have a variety of candy. Sure, everyone loves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but you’d never get one from three houses in a row. Those giant, mixed bags of candy are your best friends this Halloween.

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Finally, get trick-or-treating! Pull up some spooky music and have it playing while family members take turns knocking on doors. Between knocks, “homeowners” can swap into a different costume or persona. Maybe Spider-Man loves kids and gushes over trick-or-treaters’ (read: his mom and sister’s) costumes. Maybe the glitter unicorn is a big, mean grump and mutters under his breath while he passes out old toothbrushes to his little brother and dad.

We know, we know: It’s not quite the same as running up and down your street from house to house, but in 2020, and we’re all getting extra inventive.

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Who is Google’s market power hurting?

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Yesterday, the Department of Justice and 11 states sued Google for violating antitrust law. The complaint argued that Google had become “the unchallenged gateway to the internet for billions of users worldwide,” but that its success depends on unfair and monopolistic behavior. In some ways, the case is an obvious and long-awaited move. But it’s also an early test of how American antitrust law will handle the coming decade’s tech giants.

Since the late 1970s, antitrust cases have typically focused on demonstrating consumer harm, like a company cornering the market on oil and jacking up gas prices with its power. This can be less straightforward with free services like Google search, but it’s hardly impossible. The landmark Microsoft antitrust case — which this complaint is modeled on — started when it released the free but widely disliked Internet Explorer browser while stifling the innovative paid competitor Netscape Navigator and limiting the overall market.

Google has countered by saying that 2020 is a different era. “This isn’t the dial-up 1990s, when changing services was slow and difficult, and often required you to buy and install software with a CD-ROM,” it said in a blog post. “Today, you can easily download your choice of apps or change your default settings in a matter of seconds—faster than you can walk to another aisle in the grocery store.”

The Justice Department lays out a multipronged argument for why this isn’t right. It argues that Google has tipped the scales across web browsers, mobile devices, and emerging products like smart devices, ensuring that “all search access points funnel users in one direction: toward Google.” It pays for placement as Safari’s default iOS search engine — possibly providing a hefty chunk of Apple’s profits — and requires Android phone makers to preinstall search widgets on their phones. Meanwhile, its Chrome browser has around 60 percent of the US browser share, giving Google yet another venue for promoting search. “By using distribution agreements to lock up scale for itself and deny it to others, Google unlawfully maintains its monopolies,” the complaint says.

The filing touches on how this might affect consumers. It notes that some search companies, like privacy-focused startup DuckDuckGo or the subscription-based Neeva, could appeal to consumers who distrust Google’s targeted advertising or data collection policies. “Google’s control of search access points means that these new search models are denied the tools to become true rivals.”

Google disagreed by saying that people proactively choose its product, even when it’s not the first option. In 2014, for example, Mozilla started offering Yahoo as its default search engine. “Most Americans promptly switched their search engine to their first choice —Google,” says Google. Mozilla ultimately terminated the deal early, citing “what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users” as its reasons.

Some of the company’s critics have put forward counterexamples, making a case that Google’s search decisions aren’t actually good for users. In 2015, Yelp and legal scholar Tim Wu released a study arguing that Google’s reviews carousel offers inferior results from its own products rather than more relevant ones from third-party sites. When given a plug-in with alternative results, Google users would click more often on the non-Google offerings.

Yelp and TripAdvisor later launched a site called Focus On The User, which calls on Google to use an “organic, merit-based process” instead of favoring its own products. If this truly provided a better experience and Google faced more pressure to compete, the company would have a greater incentive to take that step. Accordingly, Yelp praised yesterday’s decision, with public policy head Luther Lowe calling it “a critical first step in confronting Google’s anticompetitive abuses and monopoly power in search.”

But there’s a bigger factor in play: lots of people want to overturn this consumer-centric standard, focusing on a much broader definition of harm. And that idea got a big boost earlier this month, when Congress released its sweeping report on monopolistic practices online. The Democratic majority called for establishing a legal standard “designed to protect not just consumers, but also workers, entrepreneurs, independent businesses, open markets, a fair economy, and democratic ideals.”

Critics of Google have offered reasons it fits that bill. “While Google’s anti-competitive practices hurt companies like us, the negative impact on society and democracy wrought by their surveillance business model is far worse,” said DuckDuckGo’s founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg after the announcement. “The endless data collection and behavioral targeting originated by Google and forced onto the world through its search engine monopoly has led to discrimination, polarization, and the widespread false belief that getting privacy online is difficult.”

But the Justice Department is waiting for Congress to pass new laws that would let it focus on that case. According to some reports, the Department of Justice also rushed the case to announce it before the election. So it’s working with existing laws, at least for now.

Even so, Charlotte Slaiman of Public Knowledge, which praised the Justice Department’s complaint, says the processes can roll out in tandem. “I don’t think the case requires any changes to antitrust law in order to be successful. But I do think that Congress and an antitrust case can be working in parallel at the same time,” Slaiman says. As the Justice Department brings its case against Google, Congress can take a broader view of the industry — and potentially change the course of antitrust cases to come.

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Gen Z spends 10% more time in non-game apps than older users

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A new report released today by App Annie digs into how Gen Z consumers engage with their smartphones and mobile apps. According to data collected in Q3 2020, Gen Z users spend an average of 4.1+ hours per month in non-gaming apps, or 10% longer than older demographics. They also engage with apps more often, with 20% more sessions per user in non-gaming apps at 120 sessions per month per app, compared with older groups.

This app engagement data is only a view into Gen Z trends but is an incomplete analysis as it only focuses on select markets, including the U.S., U.K., Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey. It also included only data collected from Android devices, which doesn’t provide as full a picture.

App Annie found that Gen Z is more likely to use games than older users, but they don’t access them as often or use them as long. Those ages 25 and older actually spent nearly 20% longer in their most-used games and accessed them 10% more frequently. Both demographics spent more total time gaming than using non-game apps, on a monthly basis.

Image Credits: App Annie

One breakout in the games category for Gen Z users, however, was the casual arcade game Among Us!, which just became the third-most played game worldwide, thanks to its team-based multiplayer features and the surge of Twitch streams. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played the game on Twitch last night, it became one of the biggest-ever Twitch streams, peaking at 435,000 concurrent viewers.

Other popular Gen Z games include Match-3 games like Candy Crush Saga and Toon Blast, action games like PUBG Mobile and Free Fire, and casual simulation games like Minecraft Pocket Edition and Roblox.

Image Credits: App Annie

The report also examined what apps Gen Z users prefer across a range of non-game categories across both iOS and Android.

TikTok and Snapchat, in particular, stood out as the top over-indexed social and communication apps among Gen Z in 9 out of the 10 markets analyzed for this report. This comes on the heels of Snap’s blowout earnings yesterday, where the social app topped analyst expectations and saw daily user growth climb 4% to 238M.

Discord is also seeing strong growth, particularly in France, as mobile and remote gaming has become an epicenter of social interactions during the pandemic.

Image Credits: App Annie

Among entertainment apps, Twitch was the top over-indexed app in 6 out of the 10 markets for Gen Z users, though live streaming niconico was popular in Japan.

App Annie found that finance and shopping apps haven’t yet reached a broad Gen Z audience, but are demonstrating promising growth.

Image Credits: App Annie

Few finance apps over-index with Gen Z, though the demographic tends to interact with non-bank fintech apps like Venmo, Monzo, and DANA. In South Korea, a top app was peer-to-peer payments app Toss, which also offers loans, insurance and credit.

Top Gen Z fashion apps, meanwhile, included Shein, ASOS, Shopee and Mercari.

Overall, active Gen Z users are rising faster across the markets analyzed, compared with older groups, with emerging markets like Indonesia and Brazil, seeing the most growth.

Image Credits: App Annie

App Annie noted that Gen Z is becoming one of the most powerful consumer segments on mobile, as 98% own a smartphone and have an combined estimated spending power of $143 billion annually.

“Gen Z has never known a world without their smartphone. They see the world through this mobile first lens,” said Ted Krantz, CEO, App Annie, in a statement about the report’s findings.

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Descript, Andrew Mason’s platform to edit audio by editing text, now lets you edit video, too

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Descript, the latest startup from Groupon co-founder Andrew Mason, made a splash in the world of audio last year with a platform for easy audio editing based on how you edit written documents, adding features like an AI-based tool that uses a recording of you to let you create audio of any written text in your own voice.

Today the startup is moving into the next phase of its growth. It is launching Descript Video, with a set of tools to take screen recordings or videos and then create titles, transitions, images, video overlays or edits on them with no more effort than it takes to edit a Word document. It also features live collaboration links so that multiple people can work on a file at the same time — similar to a Google Doc — by way of links that you can share with others to the file itself.

You work with video on Descript in the same way you do audio: you upload the raw material onto the Descript platform, which then turns it into text. Then you add new features, or remove sections, or add in new parts, by adding in widgets or cutting out or adding in written words.

The video tools are launching today as part of Descript’s freemium service, with basic price tiers of  free, $12 and $24 per month depending on which features you take.

Descript’s launch comes at a key moment in the world of tech. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, video was already king of the content hill, thanks to advances in streaming, broadband speeds, processors on devices, a proliferation of services, and society’s inclination to lean back and watch things in their leisure time.

Yes, some people still read. And podcasts, recorded books, and other formats have definitely led to a kind of renaissance for audio. But video cuts through all of that when it comes to time spent online and consumer engagement. Like cats, it seems we’re just attracted by moving objects.

Now we have another added twist. The pandemic has become the age of video in the worlds of work, learning and play, with platforms like Zoom, Meet, Teams and WebEx taking on the role of conference room, quick coffee, dinner party, pub, and whatever other place you might have chosen to meet people before Covid-19 came along.

“We are increasingly living in a video-first world,” Mason said the other week from his house in the Bay Area, over a Zoom call. All of that means not just a ton of video, but a ton of video creators, counting not just the 50 million or so making content for Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and the rest, but also any one of us that is snapping a moving picture and posting it somewhere either for fun or for pay.

Video was always on the cards for Descript, Mason added, but it made sense first to focus on audio tools. That was in part because Descript itself was a spin-off from Detour (a detour from Detour, as it happens), an audio-guide business that was sold to Bose, and so sound was the focus.

“There is so much to build, so we wanted to start with some version of the product, and then add features in concentric circles of addressable markets,” said Mason. 

And that essentially is how the company sees the opportunity for selling a video editing product as an extension of an audio-editing tool. People who produce content for podcasts also often produce videos, and those who got their start on a platform like YouTube are now expanding their footprints with recorded word. Sometimes there is distinct material created for one platform or the other, but oftentimes there are excerpts repurposes, or full versions of audio from video turned into podcasts.

YouTubers or podcasters, meanwhile, have something in common with the average person: everyone is using technology now to produce content, but not everyone knows how to work with it on a technical level if you need to cut, edit or manipulate it in any way.

Descript’s aimed at professionals and prosumers, but actually it also follows in the vein of tools that let people build websites without needing to know HTML or have special design experience; or use any piece of software without having to build the functionality before using it. With all of the advances in actual tech, that idea has come a long way in modern times.

“Before I got into tech I was a music major. I got a degree in music tech and worked in a recording studio. I’ve been using these tools since I was a kid and know them super well,” Mason said. “But our approach has been to think of us like Airtable. We want to be part of that modern class of SaaS products that don’t mean you need to make a tradeoff between power and ease of use.”

Tools in this first build of the video include not just the ability to import video from anywhere that you can edit, but also a screen recorder that you can use to record excerpts from other places, or indeed your whole screen, which then can either be edited as standalone items, or as part of larger works. Things like this seem particularly aimed at the new class of “video producers” that are actually knowledge workers creating material to share with colleagues or customers.

While Overdub — the feature that uses natural language processing to let you create a “deepfake” of your own voice to overlay new audio into a recording by typing something out — work very smoothly on an audio recording, where you would be hard-pressed to notice where the changes have been made, on video cuts work out as small jumps, and Overdubs simply come out as added audio in the video. While audio and video jumps are pretty commonplace these days in videos these days, I imagine that the company is likely working on a way to smooth that out to mirror the audio experience as it is today.

Descript today is used by a number of big-name content publishers, including NPR, Pushkin Industries, VICE, The Washington Post and The New York Times, although Mason declined to disclose how many users it has in total.

At some point, however, numbers will tell another kind of story: just how much traction Descript is getting among the masses of competition in the field. Platforms like Zoom and Google’s are also adding in more editing tools, and there are a plethora of others building easy to use software to better work with audio and video, from Otter.ai through to Scribe, Vimeo, Adobe, Biteable and more.

In the meantime, Descript has caught the eye of some important backers, raising some $20 million to date from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Redpoint.

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