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Google added Driving Mode, and they need your help to fill in the blanks

(TECH NEWS) Google wants you to help build out their driving mode, and all you have to do is annoy every last person around you.

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Google Maps releases a Driving Mode, held in hand.

Google is trying to map the planet and everything on it. An ever-hungry juggernaut dragon, there is some noble utility to having every mappable atom cataloged by their Sauron gaze. They’ve got goofy cars with oversized eyeball cameras gleefully running along every last street in existence, and their dance of taking photos is going to last until the end of time. It’s not even like they are shy about announcing it – HEY THIS IS A GOOGLE CAR AND WE’RE TAAAAAAKING PICTUUUUUURES.

These efforts are a bit hampered at the moment between various travel bans, which – while understandable – means that the beast can’t be sated. But Google is resourceful and full of smart people, and they know that most people are probably pretty bored and need excuses to move around. Bonus – it’s pretty safe to do so in your car (at least in terms of COVID-19 exposure), and everyone needs a change of scenery here and there.

First spotted by users at Reddit last week, Google has opened up a new “Driving Mode” option for their mobile navigation app. It lets users upload photos to their Street View service, which in turn can then be shared out to the internet at large. As a bonus, it blurs out faces and license plates to protect privacy. I guess the paranoid part of me wonders if the app secretly saves data in an  unblurred state, but that means there would have to be a nefarious reason to amass that kind of data.

For the time being, let’s ignore that potentially troubling thought and focus on the positive that Google is providing here – a way to more quickly clear out all the dead gray space their maps might still be riddled with. I’m that friend who doesn’t trust that the address painted on your curb, so I’m totally down for knowing what you meant by “the one with the red door and the big blue thing.”

It’s crowdsourcing at its most genuine and distilled – an army of free freelancers working to collect data on a gargantuan project that might bankrupt even the largest tech giants of the world. If we focused the entirety of Instagram to a specific task, and a willing audience rose up and immediately contributed, we could get enough data to solve practically anything. Google is more or less taking Uber’s model and applying it to data aggregation and collection, and I can’t really fault them for that.

You may be wondering how useful this is, or even if it carries any utility at all. I think the answer there hinges on 2 things to consider. The first is simple – Google hasn’t fully mapped everything out. This includes rural areas in developed countries, to vast expanses in several others. If the thought is that we can better visualize the world in an effort to benefit humanity at large, then this endeavor is highly worthwhile.

The second thing to think about is just how usable the uploaded photos are, and this will rely on the devices themselves. Google could mitigate this by controlling software and hardware version minimums, with requirements that a camera must be able to provide images at a high bit quality. This would cut down on bad data or unusable pictures. Surely there’s a review process for final approval on top of that. In the end, this should ensure pictures that clearly convey visual data properly. (Of course, sometimes you’ll still get weird or funny stuff.)

If there’s one downside to any of this, it is that nagging feeling of another minor intrusion on privacy. When Google drives their cars around, it’s hard to miss their mechanical extremities and brightly colored paint jobs. When some rando down the road loads up a camera in their ‘96 Sonata and starts snapping pics, I could see that making some people upset. At the worst, you could say Google is encouraging unscrupulous behavior (or at least very annoying behavior), but I see enough Facebook updates from people telling me what coffee they drank for the day, so maybe no one is too worried. I guess you could worry about someone keeping any compromising photos, but Google can’t be held responsible for that.

For now, the rollout appears to be controlled at this time, as it’s not widely available to everyone, and there’s no clear indication on when and how it will be publicly released everywhere. Hit the road everyone.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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Tech News

Microsoft to become 3rd largest gaming company after Blizzard acquisition

(TECHNOLOGY) Microsoft will not be left behind in the Metaverse. The tech giant plans to fully acquire Activision Blizzard by 2023 for $68.7 billion cash.

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The front of the Microsoft office with large Microsoft logo.

Microsoft announced plans to acquire the video game publisher, Activision Blizzard, on January 18, 2022, in an all-cash transaction reported to be valued at $68.7 billion.

The deal gives the tech giant popular game franchises, such as World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, and many more to add to its arsenal. This acquisition sets Microsoft up to be the third-largest gaming company by revenue.  Microsoft expects the deal to close in the 2023 fiscal year (which begins in July of this calendar year) once the customary closing conditions have been completed along with the regulatory review and Activision Blizzard’s shareholder approval. Both Microsoft and Activision Blizzard’s board of directors have already approved the deal.

This deal comes in hot on the heels of an avalanche of issues surrounding sexual harassment where 37 employees have reportedly left Activision Blizzard according to this article on The Verge. Microsoft states that Bobby Kotick will continue to serve as CEO of Activision Blizzard, and he and his team will maintain their focus on driving efforts to further strengthen the company’s culture and accelerate business growth. Once the deal closes, the Activision Blizzard business will report to Phil Spencer, CEO, Microsoft Gaming.

Phil Spencer, the CEO of Microsoft Gaming, posted both Activision and Microsoft Gaming will continue to operate independently until the deal is complete with Activision Blizzard then all business will be reported to Spencer.

“Gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms,” said Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO, Microsoft. “We’re investing deeply in world-class content, community, and the cloud to usher in a new era of gaming that puts players and creators first and makes gaming safe, inclusive, and accessible to all.”

Maybe you noticed the not-so-subtle hint regarding the Metaverse by Microsoft’s chairman and CEO Satya Nadella, but it seems everyone is quick to mention to the public and or other companies listening that they are gearing up to bring their A-game to the Metaverse. Whatever that ends up being.

In the meantime, we can predict some of the possible changes to come from this buyout. Microsoft currently has Game Pass, their subscription-based model for Xbox, which recently hit 25 million subscribers. Now’s the time to sign up for the Game Pass subscription before prices go up to match the revamped gaming inventory. Microsoft could potentially lock down new releases and not deliver them on other platforms, i.e., PlayStation, giving them exclusivity and driving subscription sign-ups.

Whatever ends up happening, Microsoft is making big moves to not be left behind in the gaming world or the Metaverse.

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Tech News

Want to save snippets of a Zoom meeting? Listener makes it possible!

(TECHNOLOGY) Listener lets you screenshot or bookmark important sections of live meetings, as well as curate a playlist of snippets, to share or playback.

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Listener for Zoom tool landing page on laptop.

We live in a very computer-mediated world where the bulk of communication is done virtually. Many of us spend a great deal of time – whether for work or pleasure – on video calls connecting with people that we’re unable to meet with in person.

Zoom became the unofficial mascot for the pandemic and has shown no signs of going anywhere. So naturally, people are looking for ways to put this to even more of an advantage – like by creating messaging extensions to utilize in lieu of live meetings.

Now the folks behind Listener are getting in on the action by creating Listener for Zoom.

The new tool allows users to bookmark important moments of Zoom calls in real-time and easily turn long recordings into bite-sized video clips.

As founder Nishith Shah puts it, “Zoom meetings just got more productive!”

Listener allows users to do a myriad of things, including live bookmarking to create short video clips; ability to transcribe your entire meeting; edit video clips by using transcripts instead of struggling with video editing tools; share video highlights with your team; create playlists from video highlights across different Zoom meetings to tell powerful stories; use projects to organize your meetings and playlists.

Founders say that Listener is designed for pretty much anyone who uses Zoom. In early testing, the founders found that it is especially helpful for product managers and UX researchers who do customer interviews.

They also reported that early-stage founders have been using Listener to add powerful customer videos to their investor pitch decks. It is also helpful for recruiters and hiring managers who search transcripts across hundreds of hiring interviews to remember who said what and to pass on important clips to other people in the interview process.

The tool is also beneficial for teams and hiring, as customer success and sales teams create a knowledge base with Listener to train and onboard new employees. They also use it to pass on customer feedback to the product teams.

This could also be great for clipping video elements that are appropriate for social media use.

On January 11, 2022, Listener was awarded #3 Product of the Day on Product Hunt.

Listener for Zoom is free while in Beta. The tool works only with licensed (paid) Zoom accounts.

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Opinion Editorials

Job listings are popping up left and right, so what exactly *is* UX writing?

(EDITORIAL) While UX writing is not technically new, it is seemingly becoming more and more prevalent. The job titles are everywhere, so what is it?

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UX writing

The work of a UX writer is something you come across every day. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints these writers work on are interface copy, emails, and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find these writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must-have. Excellent communication skills are a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post. But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater user experience design team. In larger companies, some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of the writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User-centric design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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