Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jal Mahal, India

At Jal Mahal in Jaipur, India, a flock of pigeons burst into the sky just as Mahesh Balasubramanian was contemplating the landscape's misty backdrop. "It was an early morning, and I was roaming around Jal Mahal," says the Your Shot contributor. "I was in the right position to [capture] those floating structures' reflections, with one nearby and another a bit far, balancing the frame. The water was very still." The pigeons coming out of Jal Mahal surprised Balasubramanian, but "that is what made this shot for me." Check out the bold new look and feel of Your Shot, where you can share photos, take part in assignments, lend your voice to stories, and connect with fellow photographers from around the globe.

Copper Plant, Congo

"The sun, like a magic wand, turned everything into copper," writes Your Shot contributor Loes Schalekamp, who worked as a safety manager at this copper plant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's mineral-rich Katanga Province, known as the Copper Belt. "In this plant, copper is plated using blanks suspended in an acid-copper solution in electrowinning cells," Schalekamp writes. "In daylight the plant looks bland and gray … But I noticed, while doing my rounds, that as the sun sets it shines for just a few moments under the roof, seemingly turning everything to copper. It took a few goes to get all the elements together—the light, the people, and the blanks above the cells." Check out the bold new look and feel of Your Shot, where you can share photos, take part in assignments, lend your voice to stories, and connect with fellow photographers from around the globe.

Winter Drive, Canada

Sebastien Lefebvre, a member of our Your Shot community, encountered difficult winter driving conditions while in search of snowy owls near Ottawa, Canada. "Heavy winds, blowing snow, and freezing temperatures proved very challenging for wildlife photography," he writes. "By constantly swapping batteries from inside my winter jacket in order to keep them warm, I was able to prevent the camera from locking up." Lefebvre didn't find any snowy owls that day but "still managed to come home with one decent shot." Check out the bold new look and feel of Your Shot, where you can share photos, take part in assignments, lend your voice to stories, and connect with fellow photographers from around the globe.

Kangaroos, Australia

This Month in Photo of the Day: The Stories Behind Your Shots Kangaroos retreat to the leeward side of a tree line to escape a late-afternoon shower on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. National Geographic Your Shot contributor Graeme Ricketts captured the photo "from the comfort of our front veranda, which has a fantastic view of the Eleanor River Valley." When the sky opened up, Ricketts "was in awe of the wonderful light and contrasts that were created by the rain that descended upon the valley. The local wild kangaroos were forced to take shelter, and I just had to capture it." The challenge, Ricketts writes, was capturing all of the scene's elements. "Too fast a shutter speed would have frozen the rain and too slow would have washed the scene out." Check out the bold new look and feel of Your Shot, where you can share photos, take part in assignments, lend your voice to stories, and connect with fellow photographers from around the globe.

Facebook Aims To Cut Down On Your Newsfeed Clutter

I rarely see updates from pages I actually like, only sponsored posts from recommended pages. It will be interesting to see if this changes, thanks to a Facebook update to its News Feed algorithm designed to make sure users are seeing the stories that are important to them. The update launched today is intended to filter “high quality content” directly to your newsfeed. Theoretically, businesses that post what Facebook considers “high quality content” will have their posts show up on their fans’ timelines more frequently. But for the update to actually work, Facebook had to determine what exactly users deemed to be high quality. The social network surveyed thousands of people (on the network of over one billion users) to determine what factors make posts high quality. The survey included questions about relevancy, trust, potential sharing recommendations, and how they feel about the post. Based on the results of the survey, Facebook built a system to detect page quality, fan base, and if pages’ fan bases were similar to each other. By testing the changes on a small group, the result was a significant increase in page interactions and fewer actions that hid page posts. Facebook's Advice: Don't Post Things That Suck Included in their announcement was a friendly reminder to pages: post great stuff and optimize it for engagement and reach. But aren’t pages already doing that? Many pages are fighting against others who are using sponsored posts. By giving Facebook advertising dollars, posts from pages users don’t even like will show up in their feeds. Facebook admitted that for most pages, the impact will be relatively small, but for those that already have frequent engagement will see increases in reach. So, the local restaurant I like on Facebook with only 100 other people won’t necessarily benefit from this update. Ideally this change will help clean out my already cluttered news feed and give those smaller businesses that already post great content a little push. Otherwise, businesses might start seeing the value of a smaller but more dedicated audience elsewhere.

Microsoft Comes Out Of Its Shell: Steve Ballmer's Social Legacy

Social is one of the big tech trends Microsoft has largely missed out on under CEO Steve Ballmer, who just announced his retirement. That's not for lack of trying; things just haven't always worked out. Most glaringly, its home-grown social network SoCl, which it opened to the public last December, hasn't yet shown much sign of attracting a critical mass, even among the younger demographic to which it's geared. See also: Ballmer's Microsoft: All MBA, No Developer Soul Ballmer has been at the helm since 2000, during which time Microsoft has made numerous, if somewhat disjointed, efforts to bootstrap itself into the age of the social network. Ballmer oversaw Microsoft's 2007 investment in Facebook, a social-acquisition spree that's included big players like Skype and Yammer, and the integrated social features into the company's staple game console Xbox. But it's hard to say how all those efforts add up to anything you might call a real strategy. So let's take a look at the pieces Microsoft has been trying to put together—the very ones that Ballmer's successor will have to try to forge into a coherent whole. Skype When Microsoft bought Skype in May 2011 for $8.56 billion, it was the biggest purchase ever for the company. Although Microsoft already had its own messaging service in Windows Messenger Live, Skype allowed users to call and message others who weren't on Skype themselves. And the video and chat messaging service was so reliable and useful that users were willing to pay for it. See also: After Ballmer, One Microsoft Or Many? So, obviously, was Microsoft. The company has since integrated Skype into many of its products, including Windows Phone 8, Windows 8.1, and the Xbox One. It finally closed down Windows Messenger Live earlier this year in favor of Skype. Skype might still be a small player as a standalone service, but it's grown substantially under Microsoft's tutelage, and is now essentially the company's answer to Apple’s popular iMessage. That said, it's hard to say how much effect it's had outside of helping Microsoft maintain parity with its mobile rivals; Windows Phone phones continue to struggle in the market against iOS and Android. Yammer See also: Microsoft's Best Bet For Its Next CEO Already Runs Nokia Since Microsoft purchased Yammer just over a year ago, the enterprise social network has been on a tear. Its user base has grown by 55 percent, activity has doubled, and paid networks have grown over 200 percent. Microsoft has also tightly integrated Yammer into products such as the collaboration software Sharepoint Online and the online version of its productivity suite, Office 365. It would be nice to think that by bringing in startups like Yammer, Microsoft could assimilate their fast-paced, innovative ways into its own culture. There's relatively little evidence of that so far, but Yammer founder David Sacks is still at Microsoft as VP of the Office division. He might even be a dark-horse candidate for the CEO job. Facebook Alliance In 2007, Microsoft invested $240 million in the then-fledgling Facebook, after a previously effort to buy Facebook outright for $15 billion flopped. Still, the two companies have been fast partners ever since. A year later, Facebook had integrated Microsoft search—then called Microsoft Live Search, now better known as its Bing search engine—into its platform. That deal has evolved several times, most recently with a January deal that locked in Bing as the backup engine in Facebook's social Graph Search. Similarly, in 2011, Facebook and Skype teamed up to bring free video chatting between users on Facebook. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement giving Facebook access to a killer video service and Microsoft a piece of the world’s largest social network. What Comes Next While many of Microsoft's social partnerships and acquisitions seem to have worked out reasonably well, it's not at all clear how they add up to a larger social strategy for the software giant. That's going to be a major challenge for the man or woman who steps into Steve Ballmer's shoes sometime over the next year.

Google Wants To Drive Development Of Its Own Self-Driving Car

Google is designing its own self-driving car and has plans to build a fleet of cars it dubs “robo taxis,” blogger Jessica Lessin reports. The news comes on the heels of Google Ventures investing $258 million into the personal mobile car service Uber, a company now valued at $3.5 billion, according to TechCrunch. Google has been working on self-driving cars for a few years. But the reported plan to partner with contract manufacturers to build robotic cars—essentially a fleet of self-driving Ubers—without the involvement of major automakers would be unprecedented.