Normally we write about social media and applications in this column and I try to keep it not to gadgety and geeky. However something quite big happened in the tech gear world in the last week or so, and it has implications for how we use software and technology in our lives generally as well.
The launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One is of course of interest to console gaming fans, who have eagerly awaited the next Xbox for some time. But traditionally, stereotypically, gamers are a solitary bunch – hunched alone over their joysticks in front of a flickering screen, isolated from normal human communications in their own little worlds.
The Xbox One though is intending to change that, on both the hardware and software fronts.
Of course, all software is becoming more social. So it comes as no surprise when a new console has full social media integration, so you can share your gaming activities with friends. But a new twist is to use your social graph information to help you choose media and games products – Xbox One Trending is going to be very important to producers and publishers, who want viral things to happen in their distribution.
We are used to recommender algorithms from sites like Amazon, who use our searches, local trends and order history to suggest things they think we might like (sometimes with chilling accuracy, other times with hilarious randomness, it would seem). Occasionally these recommendations can be useful and helpful, even though we know they are being used to sell us more stuff. In the same way Facebook uses our social sharing, as we have discussed many times in this column, to present to us advertising which is most likely to satisfy a need in us at that moment, and Google ads follow us around the web presenting links to things we have recently searched for or viewed on Amazon or other sites (sometimes in a way that must be pretty pointless for advertisers, such as continually showing you pictures of a big ticket item you just bought – what’s that all about?)
But with realtime media consumption, this potential jumps to a whole new level, combining your own interests and preferences with social media trends: this is what your friends are watching now, this is what the world is watching now. Shouldn’t you be watching it too? I know it’s something I harp on about a lot, but I really hope the privacy watchdogs as keeping as close an eye as they should on how this data is collected, anonymised, bought and sold and generally applied… in the name, s ever, of selling us more stuff.
Because the Xbox One, and other current generation games machines, are aiming to be so much more than a platform for shooting things and racing things. They want to earn a place in the living room, rather than the teenager’s bedroom, as the single device through which we watch TV, download music, rent movies and surf the internet, as well as blast aliens out of the sky (apologies if this last metaphor rather sums up my limited engagement with gaming, honestly it really doesn’t do it for me).
You can also chat about it whilst you are doing it – full Skype integration comes as standard, with audio or video chat overlaid in a slide-out window on the edge of your TV. This adds a potentially disturbing level of sociability for the introverted gamers – playing literally face to face, with friends around the block or around the world.
The Skype element I like though, because for so many of us here in expat-land Skype is a lifeline, and I love the idea of a family chat through the TV screen, at that kind of distance and resolution. In our household Skype chats or Facetimes with grandparents in the UK tend to be multi-person affairs, and when you have several kids hunched over a laptop, or fighting over a mobile device, it can often wind up feeling a bit hassled and unsatisfactory. Settling down on the sofa sounds much more like it.
And perhaps it is this local social element that is the most important for the Xbox One and the new generation of games consoles, bringing the toys out of the bedrooms and into the living room for all the family. After all, gaming is big business, games have a wider audience than movies potentially, and millions are spent on games downloads and applications on every device from PCs to phones, and integrated into social platforms like Facebook.
For me anything that gets the geeky kids (of all ages) out of their bedrooms dens and into the shared family space can only be a good thing, for sociability, safety, and household life. So if you are looking for a new device to replace some of your family media gadgets, the Xbox One could be well worth considering.
Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, June 14th 2013
Casslar Consulting SL