Category Archives: Web 2.0

HackPSU: behind the scenes at my first hackathon

If you would have asked me what hackathons were about before HackPSU — my first hackathon — I’d have answered with something like Geeks, Redbull and Coding.

“The way I measure success at a hackathon is if you leave having learned something new and you had fun along the way,” said Linsday Lindstrom, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft Corporation (who has more than a dozen hackathons under her belt).

HackPSU is a student-run hackathon held at Penn State University. The 24-hour hackathon was the culmination of Penn State’s IST Startup Week (March 18-23) which featured an array of speakers from startups and online media including Weebly‘s David Rusenko, Chris Fanini and Dan Veltri; Reddit‘s Steve Huffman; Matt Brezina and David Hua of Sincerely; Rajiv Eranki formerly of Dropbox; Tikhon Bernstam of Scribd; and more.

HackPSU 2013 drew a solid crowd of hackers and attendees from universities across the East Coast and Midwest, with more than 150 participants (a record crowd). One hacker even bummed rides all the way from Michigan via Craigslist. More about him later.

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Day 1: Before Midnight

After the opening bell, the teams began to form. Coders and non-coders. Small groups and large. Some even going solo. They all claimed a spot somewhere in the IST Building, which stretches across an entire expressway (U.S. Business Route 322).

I started my hackathon coverage by getting to know the teams and sneaking an early look at their ideas (the hacks).

The first project that caught my eye was from Zain Shah. I spotted Shah head-first in his computer in the IST lobby. He was testing his hack, with his jacket slung from his computer to his head, creating a sort of dark room.

He told what he was working on. When a picture was captured with the computer’s webcam, his hack could find the shape of an object by determining the distance of each point from the flash. In seconds.

He showed me the rough 3D-model it generated of his face. It looked like a digital rendering from a pin-box toy.

I moved on to other teams and soon glued myself to one group, working on an app to guard people from distraction, whether driving, working or studying. They’d later call it Distraction Infraction.

It didn’t seem to prevent me from distracting them, however, as I parked myself on the couch and hung out for a couple of hours while they worked on their hack. (This was their first hackathon, too.)

Another team was working on a To-Do list app based on user’s location or venue — a project similar to Foursquare lists.

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DAY 2: After Midnight

For my day two coverage, I revisited teams to see how things were progressing. It wasn’t long before I found a team that had executed a midnight pivot.

“The ‘pivot’ move happened sometime around midnight or 2 a.m. the first night after digging into what else there was out on the market,”  Cory Trimm told me. He and his hack-partner, Chase Miller, had been working on the To-Do list app.

The new hack — a mobile app called Actio — would encourage users to accept daily challenges and then upload a picture to a centralized website.

“We wanted people to push their boundaries every day with things that may make them uncomfortable,” Trimm said. “Then people that completed the challenges would be able to see the other users’ photos that completed them as well.”

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The Final Round

At this point, it was all about the finishing touches. Everyone — for the most part — was still going strong.

Each group would have two minutes to present to the crowd and judges (the speakers from IST Startup Week). Around 30 teams presented for a fast shark-tank-like pitch.

Hack presentations included photo restoration; a solar-powered smoothie cart; iPhone-controlled games; a life-balance app; a multiple video-chat service; a party-discovery app; an NFC tagging app for retail stores; and more. 

Some presentations were thought-provoking; some rushed; others somewhat shocking — namely, the hack from Fontenot, the hacker who found rides to HackPSU via Craigslist. His hack, originally called Sperm.ly but later renamed, was a sperm-donor directory. 

“Accelerate Evolution – You may not be the brightest, best looking guy in the world, but your child can be.”

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Later, Fontenot — a veteran hacker — told me he chooses hacks that either make people think or that cause a stir with the crowd. Check and check.

Then there was the finished product from Shah, whom I spotted the previous day testing his hack, jacket over his head capturing the rough 3D model. His teammate, Ishaan Gulrajani, had arrived later that night around 2 a.m.

Shah and Gulrajani attempted to execute a live demo within the two-minute time limit. Gulrajani took the stage and presented a dented coffee cup, holding it up to the crowd.

“[Our hack] literally lets you take real 3D images just using the camera on your smartphone by analyzing multiple photos with different lighting conditions,” Gulrajani said.

Gulrajani calmly reached for the smartphone tripod in his sweatshirt pocket and positioned it in front of the cup, all the while explaining to the crowd what he was doing. Then he got out his smartphone, seemingly not worried about the ticking clock. He snapped the picture. We waited for it to appear on the screen.  Then moments later the image synced and Shah shared it on the big screen, panning and zooming for us to see observe 3D image they’d just captured.

“We had a judging criteria sheet that highlighted different aspects like design, functionality, novelty, etc,”said Lindstrom (Microsoft) “Since I’m technical, I took into account the technical difficulty behind the solutions, especially given the time crunch.”

Not surprisingly, Shah and Gulrajani took the hacker crown with their Hologram app. This summer, Shah will start at Apple as a software engineer.

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After photographs and a little tech talk among hackers, a few of us pitched in to help clean up the remnants of what closely resembled a frat party (minus the alcohol): pizza boxes, empty food containers and Redbull cases, mixed with articles of clothing. 

Still on a little hacker high, some of us decided to head downtown. 

Wearing my “HackPSU” shirt, a few people stopped to ask me how the hackathon went. I tried to explain the experience, or what I could manage in two minutes — though I didn’t mention Geeks, Redbull or Coding.

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As we were leaving the club at 2 a.m., David Hua — head of platform at Sincerely — gave me some words of advice for my next hackathon — what they were really about. 

“It’s about participation,” Hua said. “On any level.”

By then, I’d already figured that out.

“I’m excited by the projects that people build, but I’m more excited by the friendships that they make in the process,” HackPSU organizer Kathleen Warner told me, after our hacker hangover had finally worn off. “If I can help even just a few people create meaningful relationships out of the event, then I feel like I did my part.”

I Want My Web TV

MTV was like an underground movement led by rebels & rock stars.

The same thing is happening now with Web TV and streaming video; Though don’t expect to see a TV campaign pushing for it. At least not yet.

More than two years ago I cut cable and moved into the web TV world. What was a bit rocky at first is now a more intuitive TV experience than ever.

Technology can change a lot in two years. And not too long from today, our current Television format will seem archaic. The entire system is wrong.

Think about it: The network buys a show; it’s produced. It airs. Did you catch it? Nope? Well too bad it’s already aired. (And then networks wonder why first-run viewership is down, and then cancel the entire show.)

Web TV gives the shows a chance, gives users a chance to watch the content. Without force-feeding it down their throats. Because it’s on the user’s schedule, not the network’s.

But it’s almost crazy to think Netflix will topple the entire cable landscape. There is a more likely scenario.

Netflix and its future competitors will force cable and premium cable companies to overhaul the formula and its pricing structure.

Which will result in a Hulu-Plus-like TV experience.

I’m starting to believe the future of TV will be a mesh of live content and on-demand offerings. A show may still premier at 7pm EST, but it will be available on-demand after it’s aired.

Where will the content come from? A network? Or Netflix? Yes and yes. Netflix, or something like it, will still exist in 10 years. It’ll be the new HBO.

Comcast-like cable will be delivered via the Internet, featuring both live and on-demand programming. And the rates? Much lower. Greater value in the eye of the customer.

What sets Web, or streaming, TV apart is on-demand content. All access. Including full seasons of shows, from the first episode to the last.

What that means: more viewers for the content and the advertising. An almost unlimited shelf-life. But the ads within the content could be updated at any time.

Will this really happen? Well, Comcast began testing IPTV at MIT last year.

What it means for advertisers: proof. Like Google analytics TV.

A recent article from VentureBeat echoed my statements, also suggesting that a web-tv future would not only be more user friendly but would also make the current Nielson rating system obsolete. Allowing networks to evaluate not only viewership, but comments, likes, and other activity over a period of time.

As I’ve said all along, products, more info and purchases will be only a button-click away.

It’s a monumental time for TV. If cable is scared now, this could very well be the calm before the storm. They’ll be forced to change. Or fall into obscurity. Like a stagnant MySpace, ignorant to the startup that would become Facebook. Cable better adapt its structure and pricing soon, before subscriptions drop.

The MTV movement was iconic.

The commercials urged viewers to call their cable company and say they want their MTV.

Put to a catchy tune, it hit the airwaves. And it worked. We’re in a similar scenario with Web TV and streaming video. And the cable companies will again get calls.

Though this time the callers won’t be begging for MTV.

They’ll be calling to cancel.

5 tech predictions for 2012

Introducing FIVE TECH PREDICTION FOR 2012.

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5. Content producers skipping the middle man

Zimedium called it on May 8, 2011. In a post titled My predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable.

“I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.” (See story May 8, 2011)

Louis CK did it seven months later — this December — for his special Live at the Beacon Theatre. Instead of distributing the video through Netflix or HBO, Louis CK put it exclusively on his website. All fans had to do was visit his site, pay the $5 price and download the special. So how’d it turn out? Well, in 12 days, Lois CK’s DRM-free video download made a cool $1 million. And it’s still going

Louis CK’s special is only the beginning. In 2012, more will follow his model. Entertainers, content providers, even premium cable channels.

4. Customized Ads… Tailored to your purchases, browsing habits, check-ins and interests

Ads customized to your interests. Google does it best. Hulu’s already doing it with in-show ads and its Ad Swap feature. You can select what you like instead of watching what Hulu thinks you’ll like. Facebook does it. Facebook displays ads based on what fan pages you like. Foursquare does it too, by offering suggestions based on where you check in. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley discussed the company’s Explore/Recommendation engine at LeWeb 2011 in early December 2011.

“We went through about two years of Foursquare where people thought that they were checking in for mayorships and points and badges. The check-ins weren’t just for the badges,” Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley said on stage at LeWeb 2011. Every time you tell us that you like to go to this sushi place, we get better about recommending you another place to go to. Every time you tell us that…you know a lot about this area of Paris or this are of New York, we know that you’re really familiar with that neighborhood. And we can suggest other things that you may not know about. Or we know when you’re in areas that you’re not so familiar about we can start offering things that help you out.”

Ads based on what you “like,” tweet, check-in, watch. Information you provide both voluntarily and data acquired based on your actions. Get ready to not hate the ads that interrupt your programming…at least not quite as much.

In 2012, Customized Advertising will be king. Whether you’re aware of it or not.

3. Video-game consoles becoming complete entertainment hubs

We called it an entire year ago, on Dec. 27, 2010. In a post titled When will PS3, Xbox, Wii incorporate Internet TV.

“…When will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter the [streaming content] game themselves? Doing so would offer another bit of differentiation, another perk for owners of each console.

“Who will be the first to fully embrace streaming content or Internet apps?

“Because it’s going to happen, and whichever is the first to act will only begin the next trend in video games and possibly home entertainment as we know it.” (See story Dec. 27, 2010)

Xbox 360 introduced its revamped dashboard one year later, in early December of 2011. The new dashboard featured Internet apps including Netflix, Epix, SyFy, ESPN, Daily Motion, NBC News, Zune, YouTube and Live TV integration if you have the accompanying cable subscription.

In 2012, Xbox will roll out more apps and the rest will follow. It’s only the beginning. The future video-game console will be a complete media hub with dozens, possibly hundreds of channels and apps.

2. Entertainment on the Cloud

I hate the term “cloud storage.” Makes me think the cloud is only for backing up files. In 2012, the Cloud will become more than a backup service. Cloud for movies…music…pictures… and our movie libraries.

(I’m looking at my collection of DVDs and Blu-rays right now.) In 2012, our movie collection will extend to the cloud. Blu-rays already come with digital copies. How about a specially formatted “cloud copy”?

1. A BIG Netflix competitor

Through a few missteps in 2011, Netflix has enjoyed practically zero competition (or at least serious competition). Its maintained the largest number of video subscribers anywhere and built up its library of streaming content. Plus exclusive content on the way.

Zimedia predicts in 2012, one new company (or a service from a partnership of companies) will emerge as the biggest competitor Netflix has seen to date.

But it won’t be the death of Netlfix. In fact, few industries survive without competition. It’s good for business. It fosters growth, sometimes re-invention, and an improved user experience.

Top 5 tools for Mobile Productivity

Mobile is looking like Web 3.0 with the emergence of mobile devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook; the rise in smartphone usage; and the explosion of mobile apps. It’s not just for work. Mobile is taking over our lives. Work and play.

We’ve compiled the Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity, from the workplace to strictly entertainment.

Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity

1. Cloud Drives

Storage & Music

Standalone Cloud storage services like Dropbox receive most of the press. But Amazon’s variety comes with a music store.

Amazon is also a great place to store your music. Music purchases from the Amazon mp3 store can be saved directly to your cloud. And thus can be accessed anywhere and with a growing number of devices including smartphones and tablets. Start off with 5 GB of free storage. Just sign in, sign up for your free 5 GB and start uploading files for backup, storage or  to listen to your tunes without taking up space on your mobile device.

Hundreds of companies trust Amazon Web Services for their storage and hosting needs, including Netflix — which accounts for 25% of US Internet traffic — Yelp, Foursquare, PBS, Washington Post, Razorfish, SEGA, Urbanspoon, Tweet Deck, Airbnb, Harvard Medical School, NASA, Virgin Atlantic and more.

2. Google Apps

Calendar & Google Docs

It’s time to move on from Outlook, people. Google is the place to be. When I use Outlook for email or the calendar, it feels like I’m navigating a rotary phone…plus it’s tied to a machine. Google Calendar and Docs, as well as gmail, is tied to nothing; it’s all on the cloud. Access all of it on any computer, any smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Get calendar reminders on your smartphone.

With Google Apps (formerly Google Docs) user can save Documents, open Office products like Word and Excel — with or without Microsoft Office. When you save documents in the cloud — like resumes, presentations, pictures — they’re always with you.

Google’s smartphone apps — and native integration with most mobile devices — make all of your documents, calendar appointments and messages accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Save documents, presentations or pictures as a backup or for instant access on any of your devices.

To get started, just sign up for gmail and click “Documents” at the top. [Note: if by the time of this post, Google has changed its navigation bar to a drop-down menu, just click the drop-down and find Documents.] Then start uploading files or Create a new document.

3. Smartphone Apps

There’s an app for that. It’s not just a saying. There really is an app for everything. News, Shopping, Books, Movies, TV, Social Networking, Checking in and just about anything else you can think of. Some of Tech Weekly’s favorites free apps for productivity and entertainment on the go:

  • Pulse News Reader – News from all around the web in one place
  • QwickMark QR Code Reader – Scan QR codes with this free app
  • ShopSavvy – Scan product bar codes to compare prices online and stores near you
  • Netflix* – all of Netflix instant streaming on your smartphone
  • Crackle by Sony – Free movies and TV on your smartphone
  • NFL Mobile – NFL News, Highlights and Live Streaming video
  • Amazon – Browse and buy everything Amazon on your smartphone
  • Amazon Kindle – Kindle’s library at your fingertips
  • Amazon mp3 – Listen to your library of songs from Amazon’s cloud drive
  • Slacker – Slacker Personal Radio on your smartphone
  • Foursquare – Check in to earn points, become mayor and unlock specials
  • Twitter – Follow your interests or tweet on the go with Twitter’s mobile app
  • Facebook – Update your status, check the newsfeed, check in or chat with friends
  • Shazam – Can’t name that song on the radio, just click Shazam and it’ll tell you
  • Flickr – Take photos and upload them to Yahoo’s Flickr
  • Yelp – Check reviews or find a new place to eat with Yelp’s smartphone app
*Subscription required for Netflix

4. MyFax

MyFax makes having a fax machine unnecessary. In fact, MyFax improves upon the old-school fax and then some.

No download necessary, just sign up for a MyFax account and you’ll be assigned a MyFax number. (You can pick the area code.) Once you’ve signed in, just click “Send a Fax.” Then enter the recipient’s fax number and attach the document you’d like to fax. Either scan the page to your computer and attach to the MyFax interface OR if the file is already on your computer, just attach. MyFax comes with some cool features including Cover Page Style; Status Flag for Urgent, Review, Comment, etc; and a Message Box. The recipient receives the fax in his/her fax machine, just like a normal fax.

Receive faxes right in your MyFax inbox as PDF or JPEG files. MyFax alerts you immediately via email. In fact, you can view the fax in your email inbox. If you’ve got email on your smartphone, you can view the fax right there. MyFax is a must for mobile work.

Send 100 faxes per month and receive 200 for only $10. Other options include Send 200, Receive 200 for $20. Or Send 400, Receive 400 for $40. Or an unlisted option of Send 50, Receive 50 for $5 per month. The plans can be changed at any time, though you’ll have to call MyFax to do it. Ironically, for an online fax service, you can’t change plans online. Though email is taking over, many businesses still fax documents. So ditch the fax machine and extra phone line and give MyFax a look.

5. Netflix

Netflix is the best thing to come to TV since color. It’s move to mobile only strengthens its hold on streaming movies and television content. And once you’ve got a Netflix subscription, it’s free on an unlimited number of devices. Use your one Netflix subscription on TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. At home and on the road.

Until you’ve streamed Netflix content on a mobile device, it’s difficult to understand. A library of more than 20,000 titles available instantly with the tap of your finger. It’s as close to a dream as you’ll get.

To get started, just sign up for Netflix (streaming subscription starts at $7.99 per month after 1-month free trial) and download the Netflix app for your smartphone or mobile device. You’ll only have to sign in the first time after you download the app. From there on out it’s blue skies and smooth streaming.

Netflix is available on more than 700 devices including PCs; Macs; Internet-connected TVs; video-game consoles; Blu-ray players; Internet video players like Roku and Boxee; iPhone; iPad; Apple TV as well as Android and Windows devices…and more.


Ustream, the free Internet television network

Netflix gets all the hype when it comes to cable-killing Internet video, but Internet superchannel Ustream might be a better model for the next online cable network.

Founded in 2007, Ustream offers an array of shows, both live and recorded, as well as Internet channels from some of our favorite brands and celebrities. The company has offices Los Angeles, Tokyo and Budapest. Ustream Asia launched in 2010.

From CBS and TMZ to more specific interests like Campaign 2012 — or genre-specific channels like TechCrunch or Leo Leporte Live, a technology-focused show by popular tech reporter Leo Leporte of Tech TV fame — Ustream has a channel for every interest.

Ustream offers 12 categories on the dashboard including On Air — happening Live — News, Campaign 2012, Pets & Animals, Entertainment, Sports, Music, Tech, Gaming, Education, Spirituality and More.

Each category lists available channels. The Tech Category for example — one of my favorites — displays featured channels as well as Live channels In the below screenshot you’ll see three featured channels: Leo Leporte Live, Android Central as well as Space Vid Cast. NASA also offers a Ustream channels.

Ustream’s categories and channels are like networks and shows on a typical cable network. In fact, many popular network broadcasts, like the 2011 Emmy Awards, are simulcast on Ustream. After a show broadcasts live on Ustream, content can be archived. Though not all live shows offer this feature.

Users can view the channels live, view recorded programs or click “Join Crowd” which essentially adds the channel to the user’s favorites.

Ustream’s Mission: “to bring people together around shared interests for amazing live, interactive experiences that build and maintain relationships” (Ustream.tv/about).

When streaming on a computer, users can communicate with both the show and other Ustreamers during a live stream. Some televisions are now incorporating a Twitter feed to foster interactivity through social media.

On Ustream, social media interactivity is intrinsic to its design. On pay-TV — not distributed through an Internet connection — social media can seem forced or out of place. Flip on ESPN on DirecTV for five minutes and see how many times they drop “Twitter.” It feels forced almost every time. When video content is distributed via the Internet –whether on a computer or on a television — social media chatter is second nature; it’s a part of the experience. And the possibilities for advertisers are obvious. Purchases and more information are only one click away.

It’s tie-in with social media like Facebook and Twitter also allows for instantaneous updates on what’s streaming Live and what’s upcoming.

Users can get in on the fun, too, as Ustream allows anyone to start an Internet channel and “Go Live!” by broadcasting via webcam. Even Anderson Cooper has a Ustream Channel.

Closing comments & my experience with Ustream

I’m kind of a newbie to Ustream. I first checked it out a year ago and added the channel to my Roku player, where it sat unused. But then last week, I dove right in when I spotted a post on the Facebook Newsfeed concerning F8. Ustream was offering a Live Broadcast complete with commentary from Leo Leporte. F8 is the Facebook Developers Conference, which brings together developers, entrepreneurs and innovators “who are building a more social web.”

Thanks to Ustream’s connectivity, I watched portions of F8 on three different devices. Started on my Droid smartphone, then switched to my TV via Roku, and finished up on my laptop on http:ustream.tv

In less than four years, Ustream has successfully incorporated everything pay-TV is still trying to perfect: content, connectivity — across an array of devices — and completely natural interactivity.

On-demand is the next TiVo

TiVo revolutionized the way we watch television, allowing us to record, pause and rewind live TV broadcasts and even skip commercial content. TiVo is second nature to us now; in fact, it’s even become a verb.

To the networks and advertisers, it posed a slight challenge to not only prime-time TV — by allowing users to watch content on their schedule — but also commercials. If users could record a program and watch it whenever they chose, what would happen to prime-time TV and advertising?

But in every way TiVo has changed our lives, and commercials, On-Demand TV is set to overshadow it completely. And one day, become the main source of TV entertainment.

On-Demand refers to content that’s available in a digitally recorded format like videos on Netflix, Hulu Plus or other streaming services; pay cable services like Time Warner On-Demand or Comcast On-Demand; or premium cable like HBO GO and Showtime On-Demand. Right now, the On-Demand offerings from cable companies are a bonus offered with a pay-TV subscription. Others feature On-Demand movies that cost as much as $6 per rental.

What I’m suggesting is that, in the near future, our television content will be built around On-Demand offerings. There will still be live TV, however it will be delivered through the Internet. A delivery method referred to as IPTV or Internet Protocol TV. Comcast is already testing IPTV at MIT.

On-Demand puts the entire TV experience — Movies, News, Sports, TV shows — on the user’s schedule, not the networks. For the majority of you still enjoying pay-TV, on the network’s schedule, think about how TiVo has changed our lives. Can you imagine TV without TiVO? Ten years from now On-Demand will have the same effect, only greater.

To me — now more than one year into my cable-cutting lifestyle — On-Demand TV is second-nature. When I want to watch a particular show, I watch the show, whether it’s 7pm, 7:20pm or 2am. The Colbert Report; Saturday Night Live; Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares; Lie to Me; 30 Rock; Comedy Central; Weeds; MasterChef; Mad Men; The Office; SportsCenter; even NBC News, CBS, ABC, or older shows like Arrested Development, a new obsession of mine even though the show concluded in 2006. On-Demand increases the shelf-life of television, therefore increasing the benefit to advertisers.

With On-Demand, users don’t have to wait for it to be on. It’s always on. And waiting.

I’m so accustomed to On-Demand that when I travel, I bring my Roku with me. The last two weeks I’ve been out of town. I’m staying at a Residence Inn by Marriott, equipped with everything I’d need for my three-week stay: refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave, flat-screen HDTV including HBO, ESPN and more. Everything, that is, but my On-Demand TV content.

I hooked up my Roku and rarely flipped on pay-TV, even with premium cable like HBO included. Below is a photo of my Roku XD, which I bought at Best Buy for $79.99. Roku is completely subscription free and offers Internet apps including Netflix; Hulu Plus; Amazon Instant Video; Pandora; CNet; Blip.tv; Break.com; Crackle; Facebook Photos; FlickrNASA; Revision3; NBA Game Time; MLB.tv; NHL Game Center; and Roku Newscaster, a Channel featuring news from all the major news outlets and more: Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC. For Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video a subscription to each is required. For more on Roku, read my in-depth review here.

Prime Time? What Prime Time? There’s no more Prime Time TV with On-Demand. Prime Time is up to the viewer.

What that also means for both viewers and networks — in addition to advertisers — is that a viewer can join the show at any time and catch up immediately via previous seasons On-Demand.

Viewership, and TV ratings, become more like a magazine, with a longer shelf-life. Not only for the television content but advertising as well. As I mentioned, I’m watching Arrested Development, which first aired in 2003 and ended in 2006. I was able to start with Season 1, episode 1.

With Hulu Plus — a great model for On-Demand TV — advertising is incorporated into each program — usually two ads per commercial break totaling about 60 seconds. They’re unable to be skipped; but actually, I wouldn’t anyway. The break is actually nice. On-Demand has changed the way I view TV and commercials. And will soon change TV all together.

The biggest fear of cable and TV networks today is the broadcast to on-demand delay. Cable companies and networks are attempting to increase the time it takes from broadcast until it becomes available on-demand for Netflix, Hulu or any other IPTV service. Fox announced last week that it was limiting the next-day streaming of content on Fox.com and Hulu.com in an attempt to curb the adoption of On-Demand streaming.

The networks can fight all they want. Their efforts are only delaying the inevitable.


Tech companies battling for customers

This is a great time to be a consumer. Companies are battling to release the next greatest advancement in technology — whether it’s NFC, Cloud Storage, Streaming Video or even Social Networking — and the consumers are ready and waiting. The instant a company releases a new product or service, the competition follows suit.

And that makes today’s consumer more connected than ever.

Brand extensions are to blame for much of the competition in technology today. Foursquare brings about Facebook Places. Skype leads to Google Hangouts. Square brings mobile payment to the forefront, with PayPal and Google following closely behind. Facebook (and MySpace before that) brought the rise of the social network; Google is now employing a brand extension with Google+.

A Brand Extension is when a company known for a particular good/service attempts to extend its services to another business category beyond its initial range.

Now, the current landscape:

Social Networking

Facebook vs. Google+

Facebook has been king of the social networking world since it overtook MySpace in 2008. MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake. It’s future is still uncertain.

In the limited beta release of Google+, Google goes head to head with Facebook. A similar scenario to its battle with MySpace, only Google+ seems better equipped.

Google+ invites are on the streets as the company seems to be opening up its social network to more users. It’s limited beta at first offered only short windows for invites from current users. The service already is reported to have users in the millions, after a little more than one week on the market. Facebook, meanwhile, recently confirmed it has acquired 750 million users.

Mobile Payment

Square vs. Google vs. Paypal

Mobile payments are a hot topic, and the most popular service is likely Square, which hit $1 million in processed payments after less than a year in business. Square was launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in May of 2010.

Square allows users — whether it’s for personal or businesses use — to accept credit card payments using a smartphone and Square’s free mobile payment device, through which users swipe their actual plastic cards. (Square does not use NFC technology.)

Google unveiled its Google Wallet offering, a partnership with Citi, MasterCard, First Data, and Sprint. Google Wallet is an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It accomplishes this by storing virtual versions of your plastic cards on your smartphone.

Using Near-Field Technology (NFC), users will be able to pay via their Google-Wallet equipped smartphones simply by tapping the phone on a checkout reader, available at many merchant locations.

And most recently, PayPal bolstered its mobile offering on July 7 with the $240 million acquisition of mobile-payment service Zong.

Zong partners with hundreds of mobile phone carriers around the world and allows users to enter their mobile phone number to make purchases. The charges are then applied to the user’s monthly mobile-phone bill.

Zong was eBay’s second mobile acquisition. The first was Fig Card, a Square-like device that allows users to accept payments with credit cards by swiping them through Fig’s USB-powered reader.

Check-ins

Foursquare vs. Facebook

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago.

With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore. Brand extensions are on display everywhere we look.

In June, Fast Company took a closer look at Foursquare vs. Facebook Places.

Video Inside Social Networking

Google vs. Facebook

With Google+, the company introduced Hangouts, a video-calling service. One week later, Facebook announced a partnership with Skype, allowing users to make video calls over the social network.

Facebook Video Calling will feature one-on-one video calls to your friends, a stripped-down version of Skype from what I understand. (Note: that’s not me in the screenshot; it’s a Facebook promo screen.)

The biggest advantage with Facebook Video Calling has when compared to Skype is that users don’t have to sign-up and login to Skype to chat; they simply do so through Facebook.

Google+ Hangouts allows group video chats with up to 10 participants, a sort of live chat room among your friends.

When Google+ Hangouts feature is launched, you can choose whom to invite in the video chat or simply alert all friends (or any other Circle) that you’re hanging out. And then wait for someone, among the Circle you’ve selected, to respond. (Note: that is me in the screenshot below, chatting with no one.)

As you can see at the bottom of the chat window (above), YouTube is also accessible via Hangouts.

I haven’t really discovered how YouTube can be used inside Hangouts. But I did watch Cake’s The Distance. I guess if my friends were on there we could have all watched it together…and then checked all of our reactions?

Google+ Hangouts and YouTube might be useful for work-related presentations. This service encroaches on GoToMeeting‘s territory. Now I’ve just got to find some people who want to have a meeting about Cake.

Cloud Storage

Amazon vs. Apple

On the Cloud, users can store music, videos, photos, and documents, which are then accessible from any computer or device with an internet connection and access to the cloud.

Amazon starts users off with a free 5GB of storage space. The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it. If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Other pricing/storage options for the Amazon Cloud range from 20GB to 1,000GB of space.

Apple iCloud operates in the same way as the Amazon Cloud Player, with iTunes integrated into iCloud. Everything purchased on iTunes is automatically accessible on the iCloud, in addition to other apps, photos, books and documents.

Streaming Music

Some companies like Amazon and Apple have tied their digital music services directly to Cloud Storage. Others like Slacker and Pandora are offering a more entertainment-centered approach.

Pandora makes things easy for listeners: subscription free and on nearly every device you own.

Pandora got its start on the computer. But the company is making even bigger leaps away from its traditional home on the PC; Pandora is now available on smartphones, tablets, televisions and a select number of automobiles.

According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening accomplished on devices other than the PC.

Slacker, however, is beginning to outshine Pandora in both integration and subscription options. Slacker offers three ways to listen. The first tier, like Pandora, is free of charge (but with ads) and allows users to create a custom station based on a particular band or song. The second is a paid subscription plan that provides unlimited song skips and is ad-free; Slacker Radio Plus is $3.99 per month.

Slacker also has a partnership with ABC News, with news breaks at the top of each hour for subscribers of either Slacker Plus or Slacker Premium Radio.

Slacker’s newest subscription is called Slacker Premium Radio. At $9.99 per month, this service includes everything available in Slacker Radio Plus as well as on-demand music, allowing listeners to search for and play songs on-demand, or songs from a particular artist. Slacker Premium Radio encroaches on MOG’s and Rdio’s territory — a brand-extension of sorts — by offering on-demand music.

It’s an exciting time for both consumers and businesses. Each service is experiencing tremendous competition — which only fuels innovation — as companies vie for the consumers’ time, interest and money.

The customers ultimately decide which products succeed and which ones flop. Therefore the success of these businesses relies much on us, the consumers, and in our experiences with these products and brands and how seamlessly we can integrate them into our lives.

The best technology becomes second-nature, like a brand extension of ourselves.

Source: PC Magazine, cbsradio.com, siriusxm.com, pandora.com, slacker.com, usatoday.com, cnet.com, radioink.com, Ando Media, Mashable.com, Mediapost.com, TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Pandora, Slacker, Square, Paypal, Amazon.