Monthly Archives: September 2013

Xperia Z1 gets an official minion: the Xperia Z1 mini (Xperia Z1 f)

Xperia Z1 f (SO-02F) aka ‘Honami mini’ specs leak, plus first picture of handset.

Well look what we have here. The image below is believed to be leaked from NTT DoCoMo showing the Japanese specifications of the Sony Xperia Z1 (SO-01F) as well as a new handset the Sony Xperia Z1 f (SO-02F). The latter is believed to be the ‘Honami mini’ that has been rumoured heavily since the Xperia Z1 was announced.

Yes, this brochure leak may be fake, but it fits with previous NTT DoCoMo documentation we have seen. If there are any Japanese readers out there, please have a look below and let us know if anything suggests this could be fake. The specs of the Xperia Z1 f are listed against the Xperia Z1 and there is even a small image of the phone that shows it will come in black, white, pink and yellow. 

The spec sheet reveals that the Xperia Z1 f (SO-02F) will have the same 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset found in the Xperia Z1 (SO-01F). It will come with a 4.3-inch display with 720 x 1280 resolution, 16GB internal storage, 2GB RAM, a 2300mAh battery, the same 20.7MP rear camera sensor, 2.2MP front camera and have dimensions of 127mm x 64.9mm x 9.4mm. The phone will also have IP55/IP58 dust and water resistance.

If these leaked specs turn out to be true, then there’s no doubting that the Xperia Z1 f aka ‘Honami mini’ will be a real beast of a handset. It will pretty much carry all of the same hardware as the Xperia Z1, with very little compromise, in a smaller package. We have always thought that anything close to these specs sounded too good to be true, so we’ll exhibit some caution for now. We will keep you posted on further developments.

Xperia mini

Xperia Z1 f next to Xperia Z1

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Gmail 4.6: Ads Are Coming To Gmail For Android, Unsent Messages Warning, And More

Now that the insane week of Google app updates has passed (gotta love those Rollout Wednesdays, right?), I’ve had some time to dig into the APKs and have found a number of interesting things in some of them.

We’ll start with Gmail, which received a fairly significant Card UI update with version 4.6.

wm_Screenshot_2013-09-25-10-51-27

Ads are coming to Gmail

The most significant under-the-hood and probably not active yet addition to Gmail 4.6 is ads. Yup, ads are most definitely coming to Gmail for Android which managed to stay ad-free all this time, unlike its web counterpart.

If you remember, Gmail on the web contains multiple ads along with the new format that looks like email messages in the Promotions folder. I’m not sure exactly what kind of ads we’re going to get here – whether it’ll be just the ones that look like emails or more generic ones – but here are multiple references to ads that I’ve found during the teardown. You be the judge.

 

<string name=”ad”>AD</string>
<string name=”ad_will_not_save”>Will not save ad as message</string>
<string name=”ad_will_save”>Will save ad as message</string>
<string name=”ad_dismissed”>Ad dismissed</string>

 

The above appears to suggest that you’ll be able to save ads as messages. Like an ad? Save it, and it’ll become part of your inbox. Don’t like it, and it’ll get dismissed. Very interesting, isn’t it?

To support ads, a whole brand new library was added called… ads:

 

com/google/android/gm/ads/

 

Inside, we have 8 classes, all related to ad presentation – toasts, teaser, sender header, ad header, ad border, and the ad view itself:

 
  • AdBorderItem
  • AdHeaderItem
  • AdHeaderView
  • AdSenderHeaderItem
  • AdSenderHeaderView
  • AdTeaserView
  • AdToastBarOperation
  • AdViewFragment
 

Here are some sample functions from these classes:

 

showAdvertisementStarToast()
showAdPreferenceManager()
getAdvertisementSenderName()

 

showAdPreferenceManager() sends the user to https://www.google.com/settings/ads/preferences/, by the way.

See this icon? It’s called ic_ad_info.png and we’ll probably see it displayed on top of ads:

ic_ad_info

So there you have it – ads are very likely going to be part of Gmail soon. After all, it seems almost silly to not monetize a core app with an absolutely massive install base – between 500 million and a billion. I just hope these ads won’t be overly intrusive, and from the looks of things, the Gmail team is approaching the situation with care.

Unsent messages warning in Sent

The Gmail team added a warning about unsent items that may be still hanging around your Outboxto the Sent folder. Whether a message has been unsent due to a bug, size, or lack of connectivity, you will now be warned about it when visiting Sent. This is a very welcomed addition.

wm_Screenshot_2013-09-25-12-16-40 wm_Screenshot_2013-09-25-12-16-49

Both screenshots: new Gmail

Contacts without pictures in notifications

Before 4.6, contacts without pictures showed up using the old generic empty picture, like the one you see on the right. Now, the first letter of the name is shown in a colored box, just like in the inbox.

wm_Screenshot_2013-09-25-12-37-02 wm_Screenshot_2013-09-27-16-19-48

Left: new Gmail; right: old Gmail

Cancel button is gone

Just use the Back button from now on to cancel. I suppose that makes sense, though I preferred to have the option on the screen where I already have my finger typing stuff instead of having to reach down for the Back button.

wm_Screenshot_2013-09-27-16-32-20 wm_Screenshot_2013-09-27-16-31-38

Left: new Gmail; right: old Gmail

UI icons are now darker

You may have already noticed it yourself – the icons in the user interface are now darker. Here’s a comparison between Gmail 4.5 and 4.6. I kind of like the darker, more confident look. How about you?

ic_remove_label_new ic_remove_label

Left: new Gmail; right: old Gmail

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Shrinking List of Video Games Is Dominated by Blockbusters

Big video game makers, like their cousins in books and music, have scrambled in recent years to adapt to the digital technologies buffeting their business. Tens of millions of people now play games on smartphones and tablets, usually for a sliver of the cost of playing on a game console.

But one part of the games business is thriving as never before: the blockbuster.

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The biggest console and PC games — usually those games that are part of an established franchise and have the slickest production values — are posting spectacular sales figures. This month, the latest in the gritty urban adventure series Grand Theft Auto took only three days on store shelves to reach $1 billion in sales, faster than any video game ever, its publisher said.

“The winners have gotten massive,” said Doug Creutz, an analyst Cowen & Company, a stock research firm.

The richest games are getting richer partly because the industry makes fewer games over all, concentrating players’ spending. Publishers are also squeezing out a little more money per game sold by selling add-on content and other digital goodies. And the legions of players eager to do battle with one another online create a sort of virtuous cycle, as players are attracted to the titles with the biggest pool of opponents.

Now, the most popular games, like Call of Duty, Halo and Assassin’s Creed, or top sports games, like the FIFA soccer series, have the biggest development budgets and fan bases and are getting a bigger portion of sales. The top 20 games in 2012 accounted for 41 percent of total American game sales in stores, nearly double what they did a decade earlier, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.

“At a time when people are bemoaning the fate of the interactive entertainment business, if you pursue a strategy of giving consumers the highest-quality titles in the business, they will come out for what you have to sell,” Strauss Zelnick, chief executive of Take-Two Interactive Software, the company that publishes Grand Theft Auto, said in an interview.

The lower output of publishers makes the stakes higher. In 2012, only half as many new games were released in American stores as in 2008, NPD said. Electronic Arts, the publisher of the Madden football series and other sports favorites, sold 67 different titles in stores in the fiscal year ending March 2009. In its last fiscal year, it sold 13. Because fewer games are released, game makers must get more sales out of those games that do reach store shelves.

“Every publicly traded publisher will talk about a ‘bigger, better, fewer’ strategy,” said Edward Williams, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

Image

But a blockbuster strategy comes with big risks. Games meant to be console blockbusters generally require tens of millions of dollars to build the graphics and gameplay that smartphones and tablets cannot yet match. Grand Theft Auto V, for example, features a sprawling game universe even more immersive for many players than big movies are for theatergoers.

Those costs require millions in sales — and create big losses if sales are weak.

The development costs on Grand Theft Auto V were likely to have been more than $100 million, and its marketing $50 million more, said Evan Wilson, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities. He estimated that a typical console game would break even at about four million units, while that figure would have been one million a decade or so ago.

Game makers have tried to compensate for the higher costs by getting more out of consumers with each game. Like many big publishers, Electronic Arts sells its marquee titles, including the FIFA soccer games, at the standard price of $60 each. The company also lets gamers enhance the game by spending money online to compose fantasy teams of their favorite soccer superstars. For its last fiscal year, E.A. said such digital revenue from FIFA was more than $200 million, up 94 percent from a year before.

The growth of multiplayer gaming, in which players converge online to compete against one another, makes big games bigger through the benefit of what economists call the network effect, analysts and game executives say. This is the tendency for people to jump on the bandwagon of various services — whether Facebook or Craigslist — because that is where everyone else is.

Analysts say people buy Call of Duty not only because it is a consistently high-quality game, but also because their friends and others are playing it on the Internet. Mr. Creutz of Cowen and Company says he believes that is a dynamic not present with movies, even blockbusters like “Avatar.”

“You don’t have that online networking effect” with movies, he said. “My enjoyment of ‘Avatar’ is really independent of everyone else’s enjoyment of ‘Avatar.’ ”

Still, the movie industry, which is also largely dependent on blockbusters, has managed to keep box office sales stablecompared with the video game industry, which is suffering an overall decline in retail sales. Last year, video games generated $7.09 billion in retail sales, 39 percent less than their peak in 2008, NPD estimates.

Restoring growth in the video game industry is difficult partly because players are spending more time with cheaper and free games. Revenue from the various methods of selling games online, like a $3 version of Angry Birds for the iPad or the $1 required to buy extra lives in the otherwise free game Candy Crush Saga, is by most accounts not yet big enough to reverse the slide in overall sales.

New consoles from Microsoft and Sony will be released in the coming months, and that could temporarily stem the tide of lower sales. The current generation of hardware has been around a while, with Sony’s PlayStation 3 at seven years and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 at eight. Game sales traditionally slow the longer a system is out, and revive when a new one is introduced.

The new systems will test whether console game sales have been permanently dented by the shifting ways that consumers play games, making it even more important that the blockbuster franchises showcase the consoles’ capabilities to potential buyers.

Last week, E.A. released what is likely to be one of this year’s biggest hits, FIFA 14, the latest edition of the soccer game that has become a smashing success around the world. By the end of March, E.A. said, it had sold 14.5 million copies of FIFA 13, its previous version, about 30 percent more than FIFA 12 had sold the year before.

David Rutter, the executive producer of E.A.’s FIFA game, said that in recent years the struggling economy had made gamers more discriminating about what they buy. As a result, critical plaudits — often a reflection of how much investment a publisher has put into a game — have become more important to sales.

The players’ discriminating nature also means that many of them flock to game franchises they have enjoyed before — perpetuating the cycle of blockbusters.

“Consumers get excited about a particular experience and remain loyal to it,” said Mr. Zelnick of Take-Two. “When you have a commanding market share, you maintain a commanding market share.”

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US space agency Nasa is planning to launch a 3D printer into space next year to help astronauts manufacture spare parts and tools in zero gravity.

It will be the first time a 3D printer has been used in space and could help reduce the costs of future missions. The device will have to withstand lift-off vibrations and operate safely in an enclosed space station environment. Nasa has chosen technology start-up Made in Space to make the microwave-sized printer. “Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station,” said Aaron Kemmer, the company’s chief executive. “Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?” In 1970, Apollo 13 astronauts had to cobble together a home-made carbon dioxide filter using a plastic bag, a manual cover and gaffer tape. A 3D printer might have solved the problem in minutes and helped them reach the Moon. “If you want to be adaptable, you have to be able to design and manufacture on the fly, and that’s where 3D printing in space comes in,” said Dave Korsmeyer, director of engineering at Nasa’s Ames Research Center. Nasa is also experimenting with 3D printing small satellites that could be launched from the International Space Station and then transmit data to earth. Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is also known, builds up objects layer by layer, commonly using polymer materials. But laser-melted titanium and nickel-chromium powders are now being used to build much stronger components. In August, Nasa successfully tested a metal 3D printed rocket component as part of its drive to reduce the costs of space exploration.

Cygnus cargo ship docking with International Space Station Made in Space scientists work on the 3D printer prototype

source: reuters

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Executive infighting reportedly led to BlackBerry’s downfall

Deep rifts in the struggling handset maker’s executive ranks hobbled its ability to compete in the mobile market and led to its eventual downfall, sources tell The Globe and Mail.

 BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins.

In the end, BlackBerry’s leadership may have been its own worst enemy.

The struggling handset maker suffered from infighting at its executive level that hobbled its ability to compete in the mobile market and led to its eventual downfall, according to an investigation conducted by the The Globe and Mail newspaper.

The company, which plans to cut roughly 40 percent of its staff and sell itself to an investment group, announced Friday that it lost $965 million last year. The biggest reason for the dramatic loss was the $934 million write-down the company took on inventory of the BlackBerry Z10, which apparently did not sell well.

The Z10 was a departure from the company’s famous keyboard-equipped mobile phone and BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins’ best weapon to compete with the glass touch-screen handsets sold by Apple and Samsung. While the Z10 was designed to showcase the next-generation BlackBerry 10 operating system, it had one major detractor, according to sources interviewed by the newspaper: company co-founder Michael Lazardis.

During a meeting last year with the company’s board to review plans to launch the new device, a frustrated Lazardis voiced concerns that the company’s new direction was an abandonment of his vision that made BlackBerry handsets popular with corporate customers.

“I get this,” Lazardis said, pointing to one of the company’s signature devices. “It’s clearly differentiated.” Then he pointed to a touch-screen phone. “I don’t get this.”

Once the preferred handset maker among the corporate elite, BlackBerry was hurt by its inability to move past the legacy operating system that got it into the smartphone game and quickly fell behind Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating system. After hitting a high of nearly $145 in 2008, the company’s stock lost a staggering 94 percent of its value. On Monday the company announced that it had entered into a deal to sell itself a consortium led by Fairfax Financial Holdings that valued the company at $4.7 billion.

Months before the boardroom confrontation between Heins and Lazardis, the pair was in another showdown, this time with Jim Balsillie, who was co-CEO of BlackBerry when it was still known as Research In Motion. Balsillie championed a strategy to license the company’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) instant messaging platform to competitors.

Getting BBM onto millions of non-BlackBerry handsets was expected to generate a handsome profit for the company, but the plan ran into stiff opposition from senior executives. Not long after being appointed chief executive of RIM last year, Heins decided to ditch plans to license BBM — with Lazardis’ support, according to the newspaper.

As a result, Balsillie resigned from the board and severed his ties to the company, he confirmed to the newspaper.

“My reason for leaving the RIM board in March, 2012, was due to the company’s decision to cancel the BBM cross-platform strategy,” Balsillie said in a brief statement to The Globe and Mail.

CNET has contacted BlackBerry for comment and will update this report when we learn more.

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Twitter files for Thanksgiving IPO

The social networking platform has submitted documents to the SEC and is expected to reveal its flotation plans this week

Twitter logo

Twitter is thought to be planning to reveal the details of its initial public offering this week, after it filed the necessary documents confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission on 12 September.

By making use of the American Jobs Act, the company was able to file its draft S-1 form in secret since it has revenue of under $1bn.

The act was designed to make it quicker and easier for companies to go public, removing obstacles such as as the requirement to submit a public prospectus months before shares actually go on sale. 

The early September announcement was not required by the act, and a leak to business website Quartz claimed that the filing had actually happened two months earlier, in July. 

That means it will make its IPO filing public this week, and likely begin trading before the US Thanksgiving holiday in late November.

Twitter will be hoping to avoid the problems that afflicted the last major web IPO – Facebook. The company filed its draft prospectus in public over three months before it eventually hit the markets in May 2012, but flotation day was beset by technical difficulties.

Concerns about Facebook’s readiness for the consumer shift to mobile saw its value drop dramatically from $45 per share on the first day of trading, but it took until August 2013 for its value to return to that level.

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Twitter files for Thanksgiving IPO

The social networking platform has submitted documents to the SEC and is expected to reveal its flotation plans this week

Twitter logo

Twitter is thought to be planning to reveal the details of its initial public offering this week, after it filed the necessary documents confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission on 12 September.

By making use of the American Jobs Act, the company was able to file its draft S-1 form in secret since it has revenue of under $1bn.

The act was designed to make it quicker and easier for companies to go public, removing obstacles such as as the requirement to submit a public prospectus months before shares actually go on sale. 

The early September announcement was not required by the act, and a leak to business website Quartz claimed that the filing had actually happened two months earlier, in July. 

That means it will make its IPO filing public this week, and likely begin trading before the US Thanksgiving holiday in late November.

Twitter will be hoping to avoid the problems that afflicted the last major web IPO – Facebook. The company filed its draft prospectus in public over three months before it eventually hit the markets in May 2012, but flotation day was beset by technical difficulties.

Concerns about Facebook’s readiness for the consumer shift to mobile saw its value drop dramatically from $45 per share on the first day of trading, but it took until August 2013 for its value to return to that level.

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Upcoming Nokia Asha 502 pictured

Not long after we saw the Asha 500, now another announced Nokia handset has been pictured. We’re talking about the Nokia Asha 502 which, like the 500, features dual SIM capabilities and Wi-Fi.

The Asha 502 doesn’t seem to be too different from the Asha 500, having the same design, and probably the same dimensions. It even has the same transparent protective case spotted on the 500. However, the 502’s rear camera comes with an LED flash, while the camera seen on the 500 does not.

EVleaks (the source of the Asha 502 image) doesn’t have any details on the handset. But we can see that Nokia is planning to launch six color versions of it: black, white, yellow, red, green, and blue.

Nokia Asha 502 soon

An Asha 503 is also expected to be announced by Nokia. The company might unveil its new Asha handsets next month, on October 22, when the high-end Lumia 1520 phablet and the Lumia 2520 tablet are also supposed to be announced.

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Valve reveals haptic game controller for release in 2014

Steam Controller

Games developer and publisher Valve has shown off its Steam Controller, the final part of its strategy to bring its PC-based platform to the living room.

The controller offers two trackpads which provide “haptic” feedback capable of delivering various physical sensations to the player.

Valve said it offers a better way to play games that have traditionally been controlled with a keyboard and mouse.

Gamers have been invited test the device before it goes on sale in 2014.

“Traditional gamepads force us to accept compromises,” the company said via its announcement page.

“We’ve made it a goal to improve upon the resolution and fidelity of input that’s possible with those devices.

“The Steam controller offers a new and, we believe, vastly superior control scheme, all while enabling you to play from the comfort of your sofa.”

Research and testing

The controller is the third announcement the company has made this week. On Monday, it outlined plans to create an entire Linux-based operating system for running games, and followed up on Wednesday with details of the Steam Machine, essentially a new type of games console.

The widely-anticipated controller completes what Valve will hope is a strategy that can shift gamers that use traditional PCs – which is seen as a market headed for decline – and coax them into the living room.

However, the biggest challenge the company faces in doing so is in convincing gamers who have spent years playing titles, particularly first-person shooters, by using a combination of keyboard and mouse that a handheld controller can offer a more enjoyable solution.

The company said it had spent a year researching and testing different control methods. It said the haptic feedback offered new possibilities for creating immersive gaming.

“This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player – delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware.”

The company is to send out 300 early versions of the controller to people who sign up for beta testing.Steam Controller

Giant owl eyes

Rob Crossley, associate editor of Computer and Video Games, has been following Valve’s announcements throughout this week. He has described the latest move as “fearless”.

“Controller design standards haven’t changed since the first PlayStation… the D-pad, the two sticks… that’s evolved only slightly over the last 20 years.

“Sure, it looks a little funny – those two giant owl eyes – but I think that this could lead to a change in the way we look at controllers.”

Valve is banking on the trackpads providing the same kind of precision offered by a mouse, Mr Crossley added.

“I think they believe this is their best attempt at trying to map the precision of the mouse onto a gamepad.

“If it does pay off, if they do manage to emulate the mouse on a controller, that opens up whole new genres.”

Some had speculated – somewhat hopefully – that Valve would make a surprise announcement about the next instalment in its Half-Life series.

However, there was no mention of the game in any of Valve’s announcements – but many now speculate that Half-Life 3 could be a launch title for the new Steam system and controller.

“The natural thinking is surely they will show off Half-Life 3 when SteamOS is launched,” said Mr Crossley.

“A lot of people are also saying that it would be exclusive to the Steam Machine – but that would be a very un-Valve-like thing to do. They’ve always been very open.”

 

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NSA maps some Americans’ social connections, says report

National Security Agency dips into its database of phone and e-mail info to create complex “social graphs” for foreign intelligence purposes, says a report. Some American citizens get swept up in the effort.

Facebook, Google, and other tech firms apparently aren’t the only ones who’ve been fascinated by the potential of “social graphs” — maps of people’s social connections. The NSA has reportedly been tapping its giant repositories of phone and e-mail data to create complex diagrams of some Americans’ interactions, including lists of associates and travel companions; location info; and other personal data.

The US National Security Agency has, The New York Times reports, been creating such graphs since 2010, using setups like the “Enterprise Knowledge System” — which, according to a leaked document referenced by the Times, is designed to “rapidly discover and correlate complex relationships and patterns across diverse data sources on a massive scale.”

Another document — these being the latest to surface from the cache provided to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — is titled “Better Person Centric Analysis.” It discusses 94 “entity types,” such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and IP addresses, that are trawled by the NSA using queries like “travelsWith, hasFather, sentForumMessage, employs” to create “community of interest” profiles.

Data is also culled from other sources, such as passenger manifests, voter registration rolls, tax info, GPS location data, bank codes, insurance information, and even Facebook profiles, the Times reports.

This latest revelation about the NSA’s practices comes as critics worry about the secretive agency abusing its surveillance powers and as Congress ponders curtailing the agency’s programs.

The intention of the NSA social graphs, according to a 2011 agency memo quoted by the Times, is to “discover and track” connections between foreign intelligence targets and Americans. The effort has been facilitated by a policy change at the agency — made in secret — that’s allowed analysts there to scan communications metadata and create social graphs “without,” the memo says, “having to check foreigness” of every phone number, e-mail address, or other identifier that comes up.

The agency had previously required such verification to protect the privacy of American citizens, but had, the Times says, been frustrated by how that restriction slowed or stopped its investigations of various contact chains.

Metadata includes things like location info regarding a given phone number; what calls have been placed from that number and when; and how long the calls have lasted. It doesn’t include the actual content of calls (or e-mails), though some have pointed out that it can reveal a significant amount of personal information.

An agency spokeswoman told the Times that the policy change was based on a Supreme Court ruling from 1979 — Smith v. Maryland — which the Justice Department and othersmaintain means that individuals don’t have an expectation of privacy in the phone numbers they call. Still others, however, say the case is not only outdated but not exactly relevant either.

NSA officials wouldn’t say how many Americans have been swept up in the social graph effort or which phone and e-mail databases are being used, the Times reports. They did say, however, that the effort does not involve the database of domestic call records that was revealed by Snowden’s leaked documents back in June.

An NSA spokeswoman told the Times in regard to the social graph effort: “All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period” and that “all of NSA’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose. Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and cybersecurity.”

The idea of social graphs — though of a markedly different type — has also seized the imagination of Internet developers. In 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s “Open Graph” initiative at the F8 conference. At that time, Facebook Director of Platform Product Bret Taylor said, “now for the first time, the likes and interests of my Facebook profile link to places that are not Facebook.com…My identity is not just defined by things on Facebook, it’s defined by things all over the Web.”

It seems the idea of an uberweb of connections appealed to people in other fields as well.

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