AM Roundup: Twitch, Facebook’s Clickbait Crackdown & Siracusa’s Reviews

Good morning. Some headlines in tech over the last 12 or so hours that aren’t mobile-specific but are making an impact on the larger tech ecosystem:

Amazon bought Twitch for a little over a billion dollars, $970 million of that in cash, according to Eric Johnson at Re:Code. The video game livestreaming service, which came out of Y-Combinator 2007 class’s Justin.tv, has 55 monthly active users, the brunt of which are free and being monetized off of advertising. However, there’s a growing subscription business that makes up 600,000 users, giving the service a more diversified revenue stream which I’m sure appealed to the folks at Amazon. What was especially interesting about this story is that Twitch was already marked as an acquisition target just days earlier by Google; however, sources at the WSJ say the search giant got cold feet over the last few weeks and pulled the plug on the deal. (edit: Business Insider, citing Forbes, claims it broke down due to antitrust issues)  That gave Amazon the opportunity to sneak in and complete the transaction. So was this a strategic move for Amazon or merely a defensive acquisition to make Google weaker by proxy?

Facebook’s news feed algorithm, EdgeRank, will attempt to crack down on linkbait-y headlines. So the media organizations that make a living off of hyperbolic headlining (BuzzFeed, Upworthy & a host of others) will now be subject to what amounts to informal penalties: their stories will be given less weight by the algorithm and will not show up nearly as frequently in most users’ news feeds. The algorithm will also be giving credence to publishers who post links using Facebook’s now-standard paste-a-link format (which automatically produces the URL/caption) rather than pasting that link within the context of the article itself. You can see examples of both scenarios on Facebook’s press page announcing the changes, which explains it in better detail.

Finally, this was an interesting interview with John Siracusa, he of the exponentially long Mac OSX review. (You can see examples of this at his Ars Technica author page) Some would say he’s swimming against the tide by writing such long-form content but his argument is that people are actually starving for this kind of in-depth analysis, which is hard to argue against considering his reviews actually sell as E-Books on Amazon….and more importantly, sell well.

Nobody Seems To Like Amazon’s Fire Phone

Since the reviews for Amazon’s new Fire phone all (shockingly!) came out tonight simultaneously, I’ve had a chance to go through just about all of them. None of them are particularly positive, although sentiment ranges from “meh” to “poor” to “off-the-charts-awful.”

First, Re/Code’s Walt Mossberg:

I think Amazon deserves credit for creatively trying to change up the familiar tap-and-swipe user experience on phones based on both Apple’s iOS and those, like Samsung’s, that use Google’s Android platform. And the phone is a competent device, with a vivid, crisp display, a very good camera, and dual speakers.

But I consider the Amazon Fire phone no more than an interesting first step. In my tests, I found its big new features less useful than I expected, and sometimes outright frustrating. And, arriving seven years after the debut of the first modern smartphone, Amazon’s new entry lacks some key functions both Apple and Samsung include.

The Verge’s David Pierce:

Amazon’s worked for years on the Fire Phone, thought deeply about what smartphone users need and want, and put all the resulting ideas into one device. Time and time again, however, the Fire Phone has reminded me that there’s a difference between good ideas about phones and good phones. A big difference.

Amazon’s consumption-first approach works on tablets, for watching and reading and shopping. But tablets are for fun. Smartphones are for work, for life. They’re not toys, they’re tools. Amazon doesn’t understand that, and the Fire Phone doesn’t reflect it. Amazon’s first smartphone is a series of interesting ideas in a package that is somehow much less than the sum of its parts.

GigaOM’s Kevin Tofel is probably the most charitable:

I’ve used Android phones since 2008 and the iPhone for a year longer. I’ve also flashed dozens of custom ROMs on my phones and tinkered away for weeks trying to get my handsets to do all sorts of things. As a result — and this won’t likely surprise you — I’m not in the market for a Fire Phone. I’m generally impressed by Amazon’s first effort here but I need more than the phone offers.

My wife is the perfect candidate, however. She’s always owned an iPhone but generally uses it for the basics: Email, phone calls, messaging, Facebook, photos, ebooks, videos and some light gaming. Amazon’s Fire Phone can easily do all that and do it well. We’re Amazon Prime members already — Amazon will credit us a free year at our next renewal if my wife buys a Fire Phone — and we watch a fair share of Amazon Instant Video. And yes, we “showroom” when we’re out shopping: Checking the retail prices of what’s on the shelf and comparing to Amazon.

Most of the reviews seem to hammer away at a couple of essential things, aside from lack of Google services that comes with forked Android; which of course, we’ve known (and Kindle Fire owners have known) for a while. Those are:

  • Dynamic Perspective is more or less a gimmick, to use MG Siegler’s words. And it feels that way because there isn’t a whole lot of other points of real differentiation between the Amazon phone and its major competitors.
  • -Firefly, the feature that lets you scan books as well as text and other items, is inconsistent at best and isn’t really that useful for the more obvious items in our lives on an everyday basis.
  • -It’s a smartphone, not a store. The omnipresence of the Amazon store, complete with free Prime membership, makes it feel like a store first and a phone second.

I imagine from a startup’s standpoint that it’s probably worth ignoring at this point, unless you already have a presence in Amazon’s app store.

Google Glass lead Babak Parviz leaves Google, joins Amazon (@venturebeat)

Babak Parviz, one of the leaders behind the Google X project and Google Glass, confirmed his move to Amazon on his Google Plus profile over the weekend.

The only time I ever hear of anyone using Google Plus, btw: its own employees. 😛

There is little detail on what Parviz may be doing over at Amazon, but people who have been paying attention to Amazon’s new product announcements may be able to guess. On June 18, Amazon announced that it will be releasing the Amazon Fire, its first smartphone. Optics designers like Parviz can could help propel these type of devices.

I can see Amazon having interest in tapping into the wearables market, whichever direction that ends up going. Amazon has shown a propensity for exploring the same kind of potential moonshots as Google has (albeit to a much smaller degree) with delivery drones, on-demand delivery etc.