Start Up: Final Fantasy’s housing crunch, Twitter tightens up, Oculus cuts its price (again), and more


Have you seen about 300,000 of these? A Shanghai startup has, um, lost them. Photo by matej.duzel on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Two Final Fantasy XIV players buy dozens of homes, spark debate over housing shortage • Kotaku

Cecilia D’Anastasio:

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Frustration over Final Fantasy XIV’s housing shortage has come to a head after two players angered a lot of others by buying up 28 homes in the land-strapped massively multiplayer online game. Now, players are questioning whether virtual housing is an equal right or a privilege meant for the rich and over-dedicated.

The two players bought their homes in a formerly vacant corner of the game, a server called Mateus, where they could pursue dual ambitions of opulence and privacy. Their critics say they’ve hoarded land from dozens of FFXIV citizens, who feel they deserve a chance at housing. That criticism has gotten ugly as players hotly debate whether their elitism—or desire for mass amounts of property—has any place in a game where everybody pays the same fee.

“Given we both came to Mateus for the quiet, it’s distinctly uncomfortable to have others come in and insult us,” one of the bulk home-owners, a player who goes by the name Martyr Igeyorhm, told me during a tour of their two-occupant neighborhood today. “We’ve had to report people for harassment a few times.” Her housing partner Seraph Altima agreed, adding, “I think it’s wrong that people ignore the work and just see themselves being deprived.”

FFXIV has had housing drama as long as it’s had houses. When producer Naoki Yoshida introduced housing to FFXIV in 2011, he emphasized fair land distribution. But in the intervening years, housing has become a contentious topic in the game as speculators and thick-pocketed players monopolized property on big servers. Other times, players didn’t even use the houses they buy; it’s just a status symbol.

About 2,500 houses are available for each of FFXIV’s servers, which on average host over twice that amount of players. Houses aren’t a necessity in FFXIV, but owning one means having your own space to invite new raiding friends, host parties and, most importantly, decorate.

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Can’t escape the reality of social policy even in fantasy.
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About the Notifications timeline • Twitter Help Center

Twitter has updated things:

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Advanced filter settings
You might receive notifications from certain types of accounts you’d like to avoid. In addition to enabling the quality filter, you can choose to disable notifications from the following types of accounts: 

• Accounts that are new (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts that don’t follow you (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts you don’t follow.
• Accounts with a default profile photo (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts without a confirmed email address (that you don’t follow).
• Accounts without a confirmed phone number (that you don’t follow).

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Quite a few of these are things that people have been asking for since almost forever. Everything comes if you’re patient. But it might be too late for Twitter.
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Car startup Faraday Future halts North Las Vegas factory plan amid cash troubles, is working on Plan B • The Nevada Independent

Michelle Rindels:

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Faraday Future’s announcement Monday to halt its existing factory-building plan and pursue a smaller option comes less than a week after a Shanghai court froze $183m in assets of Jia Yueting because of missed loan payments from LeEco — his Chinese media and online video conglomerate — to various Chinese financial institutions. Architects of the deal to bring the company to Nevada say the state braced from the start for this possibility and hasn’t lost money on the dropped venture, although it dashes hopes for major job creation and workforce training in a needy part of the state.

“We have decided to put a hold on our factory at the Apex site in North Las Vegas. We remain committed to the Apex site in Las Vegas for long-term vehicle manufacturing,” Stefan Krause, who’s been Faraday Future’s chief financial officer for the past four months, said in a statement. “We at Faraday Future are significantly shifting our business strategy to position the company as the leader in user-ship personal mobility — a vehicle usage model that reimagines the way users access mobility.

“As a result of this shift in direction, we are in the final stages of confirming a new manufacturing facility that presents a faster path to start-of-production and aligns with future strategic options.”

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A company with no money is confirming a new manufacturing facility? That’s going to be special.

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Member of UK gig-economy review panel was an early Deliveroo investor • FT

Aliya Ram:

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Greg Marsh, one of four key members of an influential government review into modern employment practices, was an early investor into one of the companies at the heart of the discussion.

Mr Marsh, an entrepreneur, participated in a 2014 funding round in which Deliveroo, the food takeaway app, raised £2.75m. He bought shares worth “less than £10,000″ in the company, he said, which he attempted to to sell in November after being appointed to the government commissioned review.

According to Mr Marsh, his stake in Deliveroo was fully disclosed to Matthew Taylor, the former Labour official leading the review. He added that he had sold his full stake by the end of January.

The link between Mr Marsh and Deliveroo will raise questions about the impartiality of the Taylor review, which is due to be published tomorrow and will make recommendations about the employment practices of “gig” employers such as Deliveroo.

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Pando goes to… “The Startup Mingle Party and ‘Summer Seduction’ Lingerie Fashion Show” • Pando

Sarah Lacy:

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Mic in hand, the host of SOMA’s most talked about “Startup Mingle and Lingerie fashion show” was keen to “get this party started.” But first, he had something to get off his chest.

 “I don’t know how many of you read the news,” he began, the slight against millennial curiosity presumably unintentional. “But there have been some people saying that this event is sexist. And, sure, all publicity is good publicity, but this is something we take very seriously. Obviously, they have no idea who we are or what this event is about.” 

“If they were really investigative journalists, they’d be here,” he added as a newspaper reporter in the crowd silently unsheathed her notebook and I stepped further into the shadows.

Until last week, there’s no earthly reason why you would have heard of J. Brad Carrick, a man whose styling might be best described as Gavin Newsom meets off-Strip illusionist. Nor should you be familiar with his legal and business services company, Creative Startup Labs, or his “functional fashion” startup, Solz, maker of foldable shoes and solar-powered backpacks, or his online fashion-meets-legal-advice magazine, Fashion Injuction. Similarly, if you’re a serious Silicon Valley entrepreneur it’s unlikely you will have found yourself at one of his now-infamous minglers.

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Here’s why you should worry less about dwell time on web pages • Medium

SessionCam monitors what people do on sites, and has some news for those who think “longer on the page is better”:

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The old assumption is that people who buy things spend longer on your site than people who don’t, so targeting longer dwell time is a great idea. But let’s examine that a little more closely: Those visitors spent more time because they were already looking to buy or your content was already relevant to them. Dwell time isn’t the catalyst for engagement, it’s a side-effect of it.

We’ve analyzed hundreds of thousands of website sessions and high dwell times tend to indicate that visitors are struggling. They don’t interact with the page because they can’t understand it or don’t easily find what they’re looking for. Those sessions often feature pages with too much information or poor layout.

Conversely, our analysis of sessions with a low dwell time indicates that in those cases visitors find what they need to on the page. That allows them to more quickly complete their intended task. What you consider an acceptable dwell time will differ from page to page. You want a login process to be fast but expect completing a payment form to take a little longer.

Dwell time alone is a black box. It’s hard to work out whether a visitor is engaged, struggling or simply away from the keyboard. The distance traveled by the cursor is just one measure that can act as a proxy for duration and the visitor has to be present. Our studies suggest distance traveled is much more important in identifying struggle than duration.

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Facebook cuts price of Oculus Rift VR headset to $400, matching PlayStation VR • Business Insider

Alex Heath:

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Facebook is once again cutting the price of its high-end Oculus Rift virtual reality headset amidst heated competition from HTC, Sony, and others.

For the next six weeks, Facebook-owned Oculus VR is lowering the combined price of its Rift headset and touch controllers from $600 to $400. The new price point matches Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, which has quickly emerged as the early leader in the race to bring VR to the masses.

Oculus VP of content Jason Rubin told Business Insider that the Rift’s reduced price is intended to attract less avid gamers who are reluctant to spend a lot of money on high-end VR.

“We know that hardware moves at that price point,” said Rubin.

Sony announced in February that it had sold 925,000 units of its PlayStation VR headset. Oculus has yet to disclose sales of its headset, but third-party estimates show that Rift sales have fallen well behind Sony and the HTC Vive.

Facebook kicked off the tech industry’s push into VR with its purchase of Oculus for $2bn in 2014. Since then, a string of production setbacks, management shakeups, and a $500m lawsuit with game maker ZeniMax have plagued Oculus. Earlier this year, Facebook closed hundreds of its Oculus VR pop-up shops in Best Buys after some stores went days without a single demo.

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Price cuts won’t turn a fourth-placed product into a first-placed one. Without the content (read: games) and the installed base ready to use it (Sony miles ahead of the pack there), this is money down the drain. If it costs the same as a Sony device, but you’ll need a pricey desktop PC (most people have laptops), you’re not going to add any new sales at the margin.
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Binary co-founder blames “corrupted” media for his resignation offer • Axios

Dan Primack:

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Binary Capital co-founder Jonathan Teo slammed the media, investor leaks and at least one of his portfolio companies in an email sent to all Binary portfolio CEOs on Saturday, more than two weeks after his former partner, Justin Caldbeck, resigned over allegations that he had sexually harassed female founders. Axios has obtained the email, which is reprinted in full after the jump.

Some highlights:

• Teo remains managing partner of Binary Capital, as its limited partners have not yet accepted his offer to resign.

• Teo says that his resignation offer was not based on any personal failings, but rather was intended to stop a news cycle “by giving the blunt-tooled media activists what they wanted.” He also writes: “The news we read and have access to is a problem. Media has been corrupted.”

• Teo claims only one entrepreneur has asked to buy back shares from Binary, and says that those who choose that route are engaged in “opportunistic grandstanding.”

• Teo lashed out at an investor who he believes has been leaking information to the media (psst Jon, it’s more than one), and repeatedly complains about “whiners” who want to be “coddled.”

• He says he is “angry” that women have been hurt, although he also says it is “moronic” that some believe only a woman should be chosen as Binary’s next general partner.

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TL;DR: man angry about way that sexism is finally being acted on in Silicon Valley is still angry.
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Umbrella-sharing startup loses nearly all of its 300,000 umbrellas in a matter of weeks • Shanghaiist

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With bike-sharing companies like Mobike becoming incredibly successful in Chinese cities, a few startups have decided to mimic the concept with shareable umbrellas. The only problem: most of the umbrellas have gone missing.

Only a few weeks after starting up operations in 11 cities across China, Sharing E Umbrella announced that it had lost almost all of its 300,000 umbrellas.

The Shenzhen-based company was launched with a 10 million yuan ($1.4m) investment. The concept was similar to those that bike-sharing startups have used to (mostly) great success. Customers use an app on their smartphone to pay a 19 yuan ($2.80) deposit fee for an umbrella, which costs just 50 jiao for every half hour of use.

According to the South China Morning Post, company CEO Zhao Shuping said that the idea came to him after watching bike-sharing schemes take off across China, making him realize that “everything on the street can now be shared.”

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If they introduced continuous billing for the umbrellas, then these guys are rich beyond avarice.

If not.. they’ve just lost a ton of money, and about 100kg of umbrellas.
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Self-driving cars prove to be labour-intensive for humans • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

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Self-driving cars seem like a magical idea. The concept of vehicles that can operate themselves, without steering wheels or pedals, leaps straight from the pages of science fiction. 

Yet like so many fantastical stories, there are “wizards” hidden behind the curtain — lots of them. Constructing the road to fully automated driving, it turns out, requires a lot of manual labour. 

Most companies working on this technology employ hundreds or even thousands of people, often in offshore outsourcing centres in India or China, whose job it is to teach the robo-cars to recognise pedestrians, cyclists and other obstacles. The workers do this by manually marking up or “labelling” thousands of hours of video footage, often frame by frame, taken from prototype vehicles driving around testbeds such as Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh and Phoenix. 

“Machine learning is a myth, it’s all Wizard of Oz type work,” says Jeremy Conrad, an investor at Lemnos Labs in San Francisco. “The labelling teams are incredibly important in every company, and will need to be there for some time because the outdoor environment is so dynamic.”

…“AI practitioners, in my mind, have collectively had an arrogant blind spot, which is that computers will solve everything,” says Matt Bencke, founder and chief executive of Mighty.Ai, which taps a community of part-time workers to filter and tag training data for tech companies.

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Google Home breaks up domestic dispute by calling the police • Gizmodo

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We’re gradually learning that smart home devices can be quite valuable for police. Following a recent case in which Amazon handed over data from its Echo device to police investigating a murder, a Google Home called the police when a couple was allegedly involved in a violent domestic dispute.

According to ABC News, officers were called to a home outside Albuquerque, New Mexico this week when a Google Home called 911 and the operator heard a confrontation in the background. Police say that Eduardo Barros was house-sitting at the residence with his girlfriend and their daughter. Barros allegedly pulled a gun on his girlfriend when they got into an argument and asked her: “Did you call the sheriffs?” Google Home apparently heard “call the sheriffs,” and proceeded to call the sheriffs.

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Except that some intrepid reporting by Alex Hern has found that perhaps it wasn’t a smart speaker, since the Alexa can’t make a call and there wasn’t a Google Home. Most likely: the girlfriend silently dialled 911 on her phone, which would explain the man saying “Did you call the sheriffs?” So, non-story.

(Also, if you knew people whose last name was Sheriff – I do – then innocent conversations at home could go awfully awry.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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