April 25, 2014

Playapp – AR Magazine – Playboy Augmented Reality

Playapp - AR Magazine - Playboy Augmented Reality

Playapp is an augmented reality project born thanks to the partnership between Esimple, Valore italia & Partners and Play Lifestyle Media, world’s first to enhance Playboy‘s cover (published by Play Lifestyle Media on its italian version) and first in a row of other famous italian editions of magazines like Gente MotoriT3, Yacht, PC World and many others.

Inside the app, freely downloadable for iOS and Android the reader can find a virtual newsstand which shows all the magazines of the publisher that feature interactive content.

The first virtual experience is for Playboy magazine (October 2013 issue) where the playmate Valentina Vignali, the most beautiful Italian basketball player, comes to life on the tablets and smartphones of the readers thanks to the augmented reality of Playapp.

Just frame the cover or the pages that bear the logo of interactivity through the camera of your smartphone or tablet to experience the special contents like 3D, pictures and video of the backstage.

The application is freely downloadable by the following links:

iPhone and iPad version: DOWNLOAD
Android version: DOWNLOAD

Meet Our New Very Special Facebook Friend

Verdi Piante Profile Pic

It’s that time of the year again (the one when we all eat a lot more, you know) and, of course, it’s also time for our yearly social experiment!

As you probably know, it’s tradition since almost… well this year, really, to experiment a bit with social networks, and this year’s experiment has been selected among a bunch of very interesting projects.

Meet Our New Special Friend

Everyone has Facebook nowadays, right? Well apart me. But that’s not important.

What is important is that one of the main assets in our office didn’t yet have a Facebook profile.

Preposterous!

So here it is, our very special new Facebook friend: our office plants!

Verdi Piante Facebook Profile

Yes, they have a life of their own! You’d never guess that. Anyway, they lack a bit of friend love, that’s for sure. We’re doing our best, but if you like the idea of your own plants having a Facebook profile, friend our plants!

Our goal is to demonstrate that plants have the same rights as  people and they can make as many friends as well!

Friend Our Plants Now

You can visit our plants’ profile by clicking the profile image up there or here -> http://www.facebook.com/verdipiante

By becoming friends of our plants you’ll participate in the wonderful voyage of a group of little innocent plants in this big technological world full of wonders.

So, what are you waiting for?

Warning: no, we will not use the profile to spam you in any way, no worries.

Delicious Rises From Its Ashes

The Fall of Delicious and the Rise Of... Delicious

I was writing about the fall of Delicious back in December, when one thing was sure, Yahoo! was going to axe their social bookmarking service pretty soon and no one was really queueing up offering to buy it.

The thought of losing all my bookmarks saved on it was really annoying, even though I suggested the possible alternative of Diigo, another service similar to Delicious for many aspects but also offering a whole set of new things to enhance the user’s experience (like page annotations, highlights and so on).

Breaking News

What happened just wednesday is that apparently Yahoo! finally did find someone to sell Delicious to, nothing less than YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen.

After selling the gargantuan video platform to Google for an astronomical amount of money, the two ventured into founding a new internet company, AVOS, whose main activity seems to be dealing with the transition from Yahoo! technology to proprietary in-house one (something that must not be easy seen how deeply Yahoo! services were tied into Delicious).

In the press release there’s much stress about how serious the two seems to be about this acquisition, and I have no doubts about that because seeing how Diigo is moving around their own service, there’s much to be done for Delicious as well.

The possibilities around a service effectively gathering all your website choices and making them available to others are huge, and seeing how we just started to scratch the surface of “social” it’s very exciting to see that two successful entrepreneurs decided to get their hands into this.

So, What Is Going to Happen?

Your data won’t be lost as I was initially afraid of back in my previous post. As AVOS effectively acquired it, at some point you will be asked to login with your Delicious/Yahoo! account and explicitly authorize this data transfer. Any successive change will then be communicated afterwards, even though the transition will be seamless. And that’s great news.

Why Shouldn’t I Switch to Diigo?

I don’t really know. I mean, I switched in January, and I am pretty happy about it. Despite the lack of a dedicated application for it (not like I searched much, I admit), the Chrome extension and bookmarklet for Safari work great. Actually, the bookmarklet works fine on Safari for iPhone/iPad as well, allowing to save bookmarks on the go as well.

However, if you stuck to Delicious so far I advise you to keep using it. The names involved in this operation make me kinda sure your data will be safe and the change will happen without hassles.

Delicious Rises Again

Like a phoenix Delicious rises back from its own ashes. Hurley and Chen are two top notch entrepreneurs, working at Paypal before founding Youtube, they definitely know what they are doing and if they believe in Delicious enough to acquire it from Yahoo!, I am pretty positive they have a solid strategy behind it.

As I mentioned, the possibilities are limitless, and as the transition happens in July we will probably begin to see Delicious’ future unfold.

It will surely keep being a social bookmarking service, but it will obviously become something more, to counter the offensive of all the other services who cannibalized many of Delicious users (me included) just a few months ago.

Will this be enough to become once again the #1 social bookmarking service on the web? How will they be able to monetize such a service without driving off users? Do they have any surprise up their sleeves? We will see very soon, I am sure it’ll be worth waiting for.

3 Ways to Fight Your “War of the Spam” On WordPress

3 Ways to Fight Your "War of the Spam" On WordPress

You can officially consider this post nothing more than a rant, so if you are not into rants you’re more than free not to like it.

However, I will have to agree with my friend Mitch when he talks about the spam phenomenon on blogs like ours, where one-line comments are sent on a regular basis in the hope of receiving our DoFollow link-love with a human-written comment often praising our blogging skills.

When I started this blog, several months ago, it was very easy to distinguish between a legit comment and a fake one.

Fake comments usually didn’t make any kind of sense, they were a list of meaningless links, or just words carefully crafted to promote some spammy service.

However the late trend – partially because of anti-spam weapons getting more and more advanced – has been to write real comments, often bypassing any anti-spam engine, with the final aim to promote the URL linked to it (and not in the body, mind you, that would trigger all the alarms).

It’s something so subtle you’re often led to think it’s maybe not right to block it in first place, but then you realize, visiting the URL, there’s not much room left for doubt. And in most cases it’s some coupon-related directory (coupons are the trend of 2011 it seems, must be ’cause of the ever-growing popularity of Groupon, shrug).

Single-line comments praising my blogging potential, how my blog helped their life, how I should keep on blogging and how cool is my blog to look at. Something that is supposed to make you go “awww how nice” but really just screams of “let’s try to fool this dude”, really.

I’ll suggest the 3 main methods I use to fight spam on WordPress. And yes, this will be another dissertation about plugins, sorry about that!

1. Akismet

Akismet really is your first line of defense.

This awesome WordPress plugin helps you fight automatic spam bots and not-so-subtle human ones in a more than efficient way, making it pretty much essential if you want to be serious about blogging.

What it does is to run each of your comments through a centralized server which runs several tests on it and mark it as “spam” or “ham” (= good to go).

Each “spam” message is put in your spam queue and will wait for your personal move, before being deleted after (I think) 30 days if you leave it there.

Here are some quick statistics on how Akismet affected my blogging experience:

My blog's Akismet stats

Not much to add, right?

You can start using Akismet from here, you’ll need to register an account there in order to receive an API key, and you will have the chance to choose a plan (according to the commercial or non-commercial nature of your publication).

At that point, just install the WordPress plugin (just search for “Akismet” in the Pludins admin page of your blog, it’s the first result), fill in the API key you obtained and you’ll be good to go.

2. GrowMap Anti-Spambot Plugin

G.A.S.P. is a really smart  and relatively new anti-spam plugin using the simple principle (I won’t go into technical details) to put a checkbox in your comment form, asking to confirm you are not a spammer. This checkbox is invisible to bots, therefore they won’t have a chance to post anything on your comments thread.

It works in an ingenious way, and allows you to realize that, if you still get spammy comments, the entire spam-industry is probably a lot less automated than you initially thought and consists of real people writing real comments (kinda shocking, uh?).

I use these two plugins together, they can co-exist without problems and they offer a near-perfect anti-spam experience, even if in the end, you will have to use your real, final weapon of mass spam-struction…

3. Your Brain

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, your brain is the final weapon. Thanks to Akismet and G.A.S.P. you will probably get rid of 99% of your blog’s spam, but you won’t get rid of those nasty one-line comments praising your “madskillz”, especially as your blog grows in audience and becomes more popular.

Your brain will be needed to distinguish between something you want to see on your blog and something you’d rather live without, considering its purpose is just to suck link-love out of you. After all, since your blog has such an important role in your social media strategy (or should, anyway), you really want to nurture it in the best way possible, no?

So I am wondering, did you notice a spam increase as well in the latest weeks? Are you using something different to fight it? Do you have a cool method you’d like to share? Let me know, at this point I am very very curious to hear more news.

Augmented Reality Experiments With Unity3D

Another Unity3D side project among the ones we are currently developing – lining up next to our anaglyph package and the Kinect experiments – is the Augmented Reality tests we have in progress and which allow us to put another “oooh” in the mouths of people stopping by our offices.

Of course we didn’t make the 3D models you can see up there, but Link seemed like a proper character to have some fun.

The webcam recognizes special markers printed on paper and assigns a character to them. At the moment we managed to make it recognize 2 distinct ones and, according to distance and orientation (as you can see in the movie), they stand idle or start beating each other up without mercy.

I have been asked to write a bit about augmented reality and its applications since a while, especially by my friend Petya Georgieva who will interview me for her blog as soon as I have a free moment (if you read this Petya, this is the prequel to your interview, I am getting there I promise!).

I’ll be sure to add more movies as we progress in the development – especially of the iPhone version which is in the works – and keep you updated on the results.

A Guy, a Zombie And a Dog Using Unity3D And Microsoft Kinect

I promised we would release another Kinect video this week, we just needed a lil more time to work on stuff. If you remember my previous post on the matter, I mentioned this is just a side-project whose potential we are actually still exploring.
It does look promising, and yes, it does look fun (as you probably already guessed, “fun” is a big part of our work routine, but not everything’s always as fun as this mind you!).

Ok I know what you’re about to say, “dude you’re kicking a poor dog :/ ” WELL, first of all, it’s a coyote not a dog – despite what the title of the post says. Second, come on it’s just a demo, no real coyotes (or dogs) were hurt in the making of this demo, I promise.

By now, the system can recognize 2 avatars without problems, and they can interact between each other (material for another video wink wink) and interact with stuff on the background, like our poor coyote. The second guy in the demo is actually a zombie because we felt like adding some spice to the whole thing.

I’ll leave it to you to imagine practical uses for this, even though I’ll be sure to provide ample examples when all this will get a lot more tuned and finalized.

Some due credits, on the left our CEO Francesco Marcantoni, on the right our CTO Francesco Gallorini.

6 Points To Make People Totally Interested In What You Do

6 Points To Make People Totally Interested In What You Do

Wow what a week!

Since last week’s post about our Kinect experiment with Unity3D it’s been a constant buzz about that video, and how we did that, and what are our plans for the future. I confess I expected a general interest to grow around that, but not this awesome feedback, so first of all I want to thank every person who took the time to take a look at our post/video, much appreciated!

This episode gave me inspiration to write this blog post, which is surely less aimed to make you go “wow” (I am sorry guys, but stay tuned next week, the 3D fairies might have whispered me about new incoming experiments coming out, who knows…) and more to make you aware of what – I think – is needed to interest people in what you do in first place.

From my very personal experience, it comes down to one simple rule:

Keep in the loop

What does it mean? Well, a lot of things, actually.

First of all, whatever is your niche of interest (new technologies, in our case):

1. Be Curious

Without curiosity, you have no reason to push through. You’ll be happy with what you have, with no desire to advance, to go one step forward.

2. Keep Yourself Up to Date

Especially if you are in technology as we are, you really have to take all the necessary steps to be always up to date with relevant breakthroughs and news. In our Kinect example, it was thanks to our CEO that we started to experiment with this kind of technology. He follows industry blogs (and mind you, we are also late in that!) and act accordingly if something strikes him.

3. Keep Yourself Knowledgeable

Being up to date doesn’t mean you’ll always know what the news are talking about. If you don’t, read more. Guides, tutorials, HowTo’s, anything that helps you understand something you have no – or very little – knowledge about. That’s the only way not to stay behind, and it’s true in any business.

4. Be Creative

Even if you’re the best at your job and you know everything coming out in your market, you can’t simply do what everyone does and hope you’ll be more successful.

You will have to think different (obvious cite). If you put your own personal touch in what you do, even if it’s something not entirely new, you have much better chances of success than if you just copy others and hope to have more luck. That won’t break through in 99% of the times, trust me.

5. Dare

Simply put, if you don’t dare, you won’t go far. Going back to our Kinect video, we knew it wasn’t mature enough to be totally cool, but we chose to dare, and post some news anyway. It paid back.

When you’re not sure if what you’re doing is ok or not, my personal suggestion is: just do it. Of course not if you have STRONG doubts, but if it’s just a feeling, well, risk it. Without risks, there’s no reward, remember.

6. Build An Awesome Team

I already wrote about this, and it’s something I strongly believe in. In my opinion you can’t realistically hope to be great alone. Sure, it happens, but it’s not the normal way, it’s something extraordinary. A team will help you achieve success, and will cheer with you when you reach it, so it’s a win-win situation.

Some of this will sound pretty “duh” to you, but I think it’s important to have a clear mind before even thinking how to realize something cool, to be part of something truly important, and this is what came to my mind when I really thought about what’s behind what we do, what each member of our team believes in.

What are you doing to make people totally interested in what you do?

Unity3D And Microsoft Kinect? Hell Yeah!

It all started with an email that I – naturally – ignored from my CEO, saying he was fiddling with unofficial MacOS X drivers for the Kinect ’cause he saw some post around and he was all hyped up.

Of course after a few minutes there was some photo on his Facebook page about him going to buy a Kinect (before even having the drivers up and running, I add).

I didn’t give much importance to it until I came to work the next day to find our CTO dancing and jumping like he was on drugs.

Seeing a Kinect pointed directly to him made me realize he hadn’t just lost his mind.

So where’s Unity3D in all this?

Take a look at the video and tell me what do you think:

Of course the drivers-fiddling doesn’t make it a mainstream solution, but there are many uses for something like this, from motion capture to museums/installations/public exhibitions and whatnot. And drivers are getting better and better, and let’s not forget, it’s all completely legal (hey I wouldn’t be posting this otherwise).

The Importance of Ideas as the Real Fire of Innovation

The Importance of an Idea as the Real Fire of Innovation

I have heard the phrase a hundred million times: “ideas are nothing without someone to realize them”. Which is kinda true, I mean, we all have the most awesome ideas in history, and we all think we deserve to become the next billionaire thanks to them, but in the end we never find the guts and/or have the capacity to realize them, we keep dreaming and sighing.
Even from an entrepreneurial point of view, VCs do not fund simple “ideas” anymore, there’s too much at stake to risk on a simple yet awesome idea.

However, I believe there’s a lot of confusion around the topic.

There is Idea And Idea

The value of a simple abstract idea is very low.
One of my associates – who is surely going to kill me for mentioning it – has this awesome idea of a rotatory fridge: to avoid old food getting hidden by new food, a rotatory fridge can, well, rotate, and show all the food slowly, as it spins. Hey I’d love one of those, but that’s just an idea. No one would fund it (but if some of you wants to fund it however, let me know ok?).
First of all, the idea doesn’t take into consideration every possible problem. What kind of engine do I need for the rotation? Will it heat too much? Will it draw too much power? Is there enough space for the shelves to rotated without having the fridge be as big as a truck? Will the rotation make the food fall over? How about the noise?
These questions account for a good part of why no one would just pour money into it without a proper study on the actual possibility of making the idea real.

And then there are those ideas that are less ideas and more proto-projects, as I like to call them.
The fundamental difference lies in the person who has the idea, and its field of application.

My associate isn’t an industrial designer, and he doesn’t know much about fridges apart that they hold food and they are cold. He really couldn’t make up an idea to look like a proto-project, something less abstract and more along the lines of “wow, we can make this”.
Every person has a certain field of expertise they can operate in. My team can have awesome ideas about web applications or 3D products which are not just ideas, but real drafts of projects, something we can actively work on with the realistic expectation of realizing it within a certain deadline.

Idea as a Project

Let me make a real example to clarify things up a bit.

I can think of our 3D shopping mall, Virtuy.
Anyone not into technology could’ve ideated something like this:

“I don’t really trust this e-commerce thing. It doesn’t feel much safe to me, I mean, I would like for example, I dunno, to enter a shop like that Virtual Reality thing of the late 90s, and maybe see what I am about to buy, touch it, read instructions, talk to someone in this… ‘shop’, to help me out in my choice, something like this you know?”

That’s a cool idea. But no one is gonna bet on it, trust me.

A person with some expertise would come up with that very same idea in these terms:

“E-commerce can feel very impersonal and intimidating to new users. If we integrate the experience of something along the lines of Second Life into it, a virtual experience with your personal avatar walking through shops, browsing objects on shelves, either made in 3D or through photos, access a shopping cart directly from within the 3D experience, it would be possible to buy directly from it and you could use all the marketing ‘tricks’ used in real world, like products placement and so on”

Well this is more like it. Something realistic, omitting stuff that is perhaps too advanced (like “touching” a product) and focusing on more realistic things, something you can safely bet it’s doable.

Developing this kind of idea is about writing the draft of a project which will help you starting to work on it.

Not All Ideas Are Worth Nothing

As you see, there’s value in some ideas, a lot of value. Don’t get me wrong, many times, especially in the past, even a simple abstract idea was enough to make people rich. But don’t forget, it’s often the curated version of the story that gets to our ears. It’s awesome to read a poetic tale of how a simple student started to work on something with his friends in his house garage and ended up billionaire, but the tale forgets to mention how freaking hard it was to get to that, the nights spent not sleeping but working, the tons of “no” from venture capital funds, the banks wanting money back and so on.

My final encouragement is: have lots of ideas, nurture them, they move this world, but don’t think an idea is enough to be rich and successful. It’s lot of hard work to make that idea come true, and you really have to believe in it and be willing to sacrifice a lot for it. Is it worth it? To me, it is, but you have to answer that question on your own, remember.

Pushing Forward the Mobile Revolution

Pushing Forward the Mobile Revolution

It’s all around us, and so evident. Everyday, technology permeates our life more and more. We’re permanently connected, be it for our work, our interests, our very personal life.
Compared with 10 years ago, or even 5, everyone can see shocking differences, improvements in the way we relate to each other and with the technology around us. What appears like a freaking huge change didn’t really feel like it.

I can clearly remember the times when I had a simple phone. When I had a simple PC. When I connected to the Internet with a 36.6kbps dial-up modem. Now I browse the web with my iPad through a 24/7 connection, and it doesn’t feel much of a revolution. People fail to see the big change when it happens to them in first person, bit by bit.
Truth is, the technologic evolution is there, it’s happening for real and it’s shifting us towards a full-mobile life.

What does it mean for the average person?

New Flashy Gadgets

That’s surely the first big change. Every mobile phone now has to do at least 100 things better than phoning, be it Android or iOS or BlackBerry (I really don’t see many alternative to these 3 groups, at the moment).
The hardware evolved a big lot in these last years.
Energy consumption lowered to a point where using a phone more powerful than most computers of a little while ago is perfectly possible without having to constantly plug it in for charge.
The processing power is in line with a full-fledged computer, and sometimes the limited potential of a certain device is simply a design or philosophic choice (like some of Apple’s choices nowadays).
However, a shiny new toy isn’t enough to grant a true revolution.

True Power Lies In The Software

With devices substantially so similar to each other, real change has to be somewhere else.
It’s often in how these devices work that lie the true secret of success and technologic revolution.
Think about the original iPhone. It put in motion a process that’s shaping the mobile market now more than ever. Android was born taking advantage of that change. RIM itself is changing their BlackBerry line in light of these progresses, wether they admit it or not.

The mobile environment is shaping the software industry in a progressively more powerful way.
Applications tend to be more specific and light – consequentially cheaper as well – following the AppStore model. What’s the point of spending 200 bucks on a suite of programs doing everything, while you can spend 10 on an app doing just the task you require?
Developers realized they can profit from this kind of mentality because people are more inclined to spend small sums at a time, even in short periods of time, rather than a big amount of money in a single shot. It’s just human psychology, nothing new, just applied to a new field.

This is actually so successful that Apple decided to open a Mac-specific version for their AppStore after the iPhone/iPad counterpart, keeping the fundamental guidelines behind the phenomenon intact – particularly the central, curated store and the 70%/30% split income model – and showing how such an approach can be successful while marketing an application. So successful that, for example, Evernote doubled the daily accounts registration since the AppStore launched a few days ago. Global registrations, across all platforms.

A Change In Mentality

Such a revolution doesn’t run unnoticed, or without consequences.

Through the years there’s been a lot of talk about micro-transactions – when the price of the good is outweighed by far by the price of the transaction itself. To allow an app going for 99 cents to be profitable for developers and distributors (Apple in this case) it’s obvious that transaction prices must be close to zero. Payment services must adapt to this new need, and this really comes down to the specific situations in each country. I sadly don’t see Italy anywhere close to be leading in this, judging from our current bank system.

Big developing firms must realize that the classic monolithic approach isn’t as profitable as it used to be in the past. For example, Autodesk realized this with its Sketchbook Pro for iOS application, started as a sort of side-project “for fun” and now gradually earning consensus among artists – or simple doodlers – for its ease of use and sleek design.
Phenomena like Angry Birds open our eyes on the fact that a “simple” 0,99$ app can push forward the multi-million capitalization of its developing company.

Advertising as well is facing huge changes. I have talked about this already, but to sum it up, I strongly believe advertisers need a new mentality rather than simply a new playground for old ideas. New implementations to face the new market this mobile world is creating also for them.

Falling Behind

There’s a big slowdown to all this excitement. Carriers are definitely the last to be willing to change and adapt. Why?
It’s about keeping the status quo intact. For years carriers have been deciding the future of their subscribers, dictating when they had to switch to new plans, change their phone, approach new technologies. The mobile revolution reminds me of social media, putting the person at the center of “change”, for the first time. Technology is more accessible by more and more people, and these people need means to do so. Namely, data plans. Unfortunately, some carriers do not understand this need. In Italy for example there’s practically only one carrier offering competitive data plans, and even those aren’t always awesome.
In the States carriers are doing their best to haunt Android users, by delaying software updates (some carriers push new Android releases with even 6 months delay) and basically taking advantage of its “open-ness” by replacing default applications, user interfaces, splash screens and whatnot.
My 2 cents: if mobile progress is delayed, carriers have a big part of guilt in it.

Is It A Change For Everyone?

They say real progress is for everyone. Mobile definitely isn’t for everyone at the moment. But we are moving in that direction.

  • Phones prices are overall decreasing
  • Software is becoming easier and easier to use. Our company CCO gave his iPad to his 3 years old son and he was able to play games with it in a matter of minutes. So much that we are actually thinking to let small kids test our mobile software before going live (perhaps nothing new here, but it’s good when you personally think about it)
  • For how much I already smashed on carriers, they are overall going on the cheap side as well, and I hope they’ll go down even more

I talk for personal experience when I say I know many people not exactly swimming in money scraping enough to at least keep their phone up and running. It makes sense, as mobile gains a central position in our life each day that goes on.

Now it’s a new year. 2011, many agree, will push this revolution even more forward. Are you ready for it? Is your business?