Thoughts on VR Social Media (The Oculus Rift Deal)

Pretty much the biggest piece of technology news this week is that the kickstarted VR gaming headset, the Oculus Rift, has been bought by Facebook in a phenomenal $2 billion dollar deal. It’s drawn a great deal of negative criticism from many areas and honestly, some of it is possibly justified. Game developers have withdrawn from deals, fearing the Farmville-afying of their product. Backers of the project have complained that the product they helped create has been passed off to make a quick buck. The Guardian suggested that the Oculus being bought out by an ‘uncool’ company such as Facebook (something we’ve commented on  will hurt the headset massively, citing a game developer who claimed, ‘This will set VR back 20 or 30 years.’

So, the Oculus is doomed, the gaming industry is doomed, VR is doomed. R.I.P. the Oculus?

The Oculus Rift Kit. Picture from http://www.oculusvr.com

You see, I can’t help but feel all this naysaying is a premature knee-jerk reaction. The Oculus Rift has always been a really exciting piece of technology, and yes, it was created for gaming and mainly backed by gamers. To kickstarter backers, selling the project probably does seem like a betrayal and it’s a fair reaction. But a properly working VR headset could be used for so much more than just gaming. People have already started making films for the Oculus Rift, with a 360 degree field of view. and from my perspective, social media applications for the Occulus Rift would be amazing. Imagine a kind of Skype or Google Hangout where you can talk to other people as if they were in the same room? Or even create a virtual hangout space which you can customise however you want. One of my favourite novels of all time is Idlewild by Nick Sagan, which takes places in a future where people attend a virtual reality boarding schools (online teaching could be another application, maybe?) and very cool idea in that book was the characters creating their own fantastic worlds to live in while they were online. Sony went some way towards creating this with the PlayStation Home, but VR could take it a lot further.

After all, there are plenty of people in the world who don’t game, but would still have a use for this. Personally, until recently the Rift felt like a gimmick to me. A great idea that people then used to make short indie demos and, um, porn simulators (yes, it exists, no I’m not linking it. You can google that at your own peril.) I could be wrong, but I do think the injection of investment and social media aspect could be the first step towards virtual reality headsets becoming a part of everyday technology.

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Quick Blog on blogging (metablogging?)

Just something to get me back into the swing of writing again, as I haven’t managed to blog here for a week or two (oops!)

A while ago, I read a great blog post which I wish I could find and link here, about the reason people blog. It basically said – blogging is a way of organising your own thoughts on a topic. It doesn’t have to be a polished piece of writing, nor does it needs to be lengthy or in depth. It’s not an article, even though blogs are online for others to read. Blog posts are for you.

This is a philosophy I’ve tried to keep in mind when writing blog posts, because often when I don’t write for a while, it’s not because I’m out of ideas, it’s because I don’t believe those ideas are good enough or worth doing. What’s worse is, the longer I sit on a topic trying to figure out the best way of communicating it, the less likely I am to ever finish a post on it. My draft folder and notebook are full of such posts! Blogging needs to be done in the moment, or else it doesn’t happen.

Back when I started this blog for my University work, our tutor gave us a set list of posts to write about which would cover the topics discussed in class. Sometimes I wish I still had that framework to keep me motivated! Usually when I’m out of ideas I have a number of sources of inspiration – my twitter feed, books (which I’ve written about) and websites. So there’s an inspiration right there – since I’ve done books, I should do a post on inspiring websites! Yay for inspiration thoughts!

That’s actually another good way of motivating myself to blog. If I say I’m going to write something, and I say it publicly – here, or on Twitter, then there’s a higher chance I’ll manage to do it (it doesn’t always work, however.) Overall, though, the best way to keep blogging to just to… keep blogging. Even in posts like this where I don’t have a whole lot of talk about, even when the posts are unpolished, or a little unfinished. Because blogging is for your thoughts, and those thoughts don’t need to be polished. They just need to be written down.

 

A Few of my Favourite… Books on Digital Culture

I’ve decide to start doing a series of posts on here covering some of the things that have inspired this blog, as well as other lists of digital things that inspire me!

I’m starting this with books. During my #mscret module, where this blog started, I had a list of books and articles on this blog which I recently removed. However I still wanted to highlight some of them and give a little explanation of each book. This is by no means a definitive list of great books on digital culture, or even all of the books that I like, but they are great reads and I would definitely recommend them!

1) The Psychology of the Internet by Patricia Wallace (Cambridge University Press, 1999)

This book covers the early incarnations of the internet and how it developed – in terms of how people communicate and create online content. Anyone who has read most of the other posts here will know how fascinated I am by these topics! The thing that I really love about this book is that it really describes communities in detail – you can tell that the author really knew and understood these social microcosms well. In addition, while she discusses the issues surrounding online communities the writing never feels judgemental in any way, even when talking about pornography or trolling. She simply describes it. The Psychology of the Internet is a fairly old book now, but unlike many books on the internet that quickly begin to feel dated in their analysis of online culture, Wallace’s work is surprisingly relevant.

2) The Social Media Reader by Michael Mandiberg (Eds.) (New York University Press, 2012)

This book is really a collection of essays detailing different elements of online culture and social media, from a range of different academics. It covers everything from politics to creative commons to the ‘always online lifestyle’ – actually my favourite chapter and written by the fantastic Danah Boyd. It’s actually quite a short book, but it manages to give a quick overview of almost every area of online culture research. If you were looking for a starting point for researching and reading up on how social media affects society, this books would be a great place.

3) Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins (New York University Press, 2008)

Henry Jenkins is pretty much the go-to guy when looking at fan culture, both online and offline. He’s written many books and articles, but personally I think Convergence Culture is his best. He covers both the social theory and specific examples of fan culture (for book, television, films, you name it) going beyond the original source material and  creating fascinating media of their own. Much like Wallace’s work, this is another book that never strays into ‘look at the weird people territory’ as many media articles and a distressing number of academic books do. Jenkins has nothing but respect for fan culture, and for the works and communities it produces, and I love that about this book. Like the other books I’ve listed so far, it’s also extremely clear and readable.

4) Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig (Available online through Creative Commons in all sorts of places, but let’s start here)

Lessig’s work is a great read not necessarily because I agree with all of it, but because of the ideas and debates it raises. Free Culture is best described as a manifesto – Lessig believes strongly in ideas like Creative commons and freely available media. He suggests ways in which copyright laws could be modified for an online age, so that creators still get their dues, but everyone can have access to the things they want. Free Culture is a sort of seminal work for academics writing about digital culture – it’s referenced frequently, including in part of the books listed above. I found it a bit more complicated than the other books I’ve listed, but there are plenty of versions available with notes attached, as well as a community created audio book, all of which can be found here. These versions came about through Lessig’s enthusiasm for people doing their own thing with his work, and that’s fascinating in itself.

The cover for the print version of Free Culture. Picture from http://www.free-culture.cc/freecontent/

I’m planning more blog posts like this one – next time I’ll cover some websites, then after that, who knows! I enjoy writing short reviews, so I might also do some one off reviews of books, sites or software.

Doing Google’s Digital Analytics Fundamentals Course – Part Two

For the last week, I have been working through the Google Digital Analytics Fundamentals Course at the Google Analytics Academy site. The proper certificated course finished in October 2013, but all of the course material is available online and I felt a deeply understanding of web analytics would be very useful to me. I worked through the first three modules earlier in the week.

Modules 4-6

The next three modules focus more on how Google Analytics actually works, and goes into the specifics of how to use it and tailor it to your needs. I decided to go through the videos and information before actually creating a Google Analytics account. Much of the lessons went into the details of building a personalised Google Analytics dashboard etc. It was really interesting, but perhaps too detailed to easily paraphrase here! (This does mean this blog will be much shorter than the last!)

The most interesting part of Module 4 was the idea of campaign data, which tracks how people get to your website. I picked this part of focus on because a lot of the information in the course is tailored towards online retail. While this is understandable (it is a course for businesses) campaign data can apply to any website. Google Analytics automatically categorises users coming to your site into certain in these ways:

The source is the site that brought your user to the site. Google will also list the ‘medium’ through which they came.

‘Organic’ – is Google’s name for when a user comes to your site through an unpaid search result e.g. through a search engine.

A Referral is any link to your site which isn’t from a search engine. For example, this link (which leads you to the Google Analytics Academy Page) would count as a referral because it came from my blog.

The final standard category is ‘None’ which happens when the user directly types your URL or uses a bookmark.

While these are useful to track why users are coming to your site, they can also be customised. To customise data on other ways that people can find your site, such as through emails and adverts, you have to use link tagging – a word which you can assign to a certain link. For example, if you are sending out email newsletters which contain a link to your site, or different links to different site pages, you can give each of these links a tag so that Google tracks as separate data, so you would know if your newsletter was sucessful or not.

A clear plan for tagging is really important, especially when there are multiple people involved in your site. A plan drawn up in advance means that every link can be tagged quickly and easily – if they aren’t, you’ll end up with inaccurate or useless data.

Google Analytics and Google Adwords are connected, so any Adword campaign you have will automatically use the tags you have created.

You can also create ‘channels’ which group tags into different sections. Google Analytics will automatically create channels such as ‘direct’ and ‘social’ but these can be modified and new ones created. So if, for example, you have two different advertising campaigns going on, you could group the tags for them into two channels so that data for each can be very easily compared.

Thoughts

The methods of display for Google Analytics feels a lot like (unsurprisingly!) YouTube’s Analytics pages, which I’m really familiar with, so Google Analytics feels like ti should be quite intuitive to use. However it is far more complicated in the data that you can choose to see, how it is displayed and how you can make it comparable to previous data.

There was a great deal of fascinating material in this course. Some of it, such as the Live Event videos and interviews (one of which I have posted below) and the course forums, I feel I haven’t completely taken in yet. I suspect I will be coming back to the site frequently to ensure that I know Google Analytics as well as I can.