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Scott Ertz Netflix ads are official, and Comcast and Google are top choices
(2022-06-26)
Netflix ads are official, and Comcast and Google are top choices 2022 has not been the best year for Netflix. The company saw subscriber loss for the first time in a decade. They are facing increased pressure as more companies get into the streaming business. They have created content-related controversies with some of the shows and movies they have aired. Many people find the offerings less interesting and compelling today than a few years ago. And, to add insult to injury, they are the most expensive streaming service in the industry. But the company has plans on how to attract potential subscribers who find the service too expensive.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Adding ads[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Netflix has long been rumored to be adding an ad-supported tier to the service, and this week we got confirmation that this is exactly what is happening. The company's co-CEO Ted Sarandos said,

We are adding an ad tier - we're not adding ads to Netflix as you know it today. We're adding an ad tier for folks who say, 'Hey, I want a lower price, and I'll watch ads.'

So, what does this mean for users? As of right now, it means absolutely nothing for subscribers who don't want to have ads because this will be a new subscription tier. Instead, this is going to be for subscribers who left because the service was too expensive for what they got, or people who have never subscribed, or even people who have considered unsubscribing after the final episodes of Stranger Things release in a few weeks.

The details of the company's plans are still mostly unknown. Reports suggest that the current plan is to run pre-roll ads before series and films, though that is partially speculatory, and always subject to change. It is likely that, if the company sees success with pre-roll, they will begin implementing mid-roll and post-roll ads, as well, to bolster revenue. The one piece of information that we are most interested to learn is what the discount will be to get Netflix with ads.

With Hulu, the price difference is $6 per month. But that is also a discount of 46 percent when compared to the $12.99 ad-free price. It we apply that same rate to the Netflix $9.99 base plan you would get an ad-supported tier of only $4.59. However, the base plan only offers standard definition video, and is not popular among subscribers. The reality is that Netflix is more likely to offer the ad-supported tier to the HD version of the service, which currently costs $15.49. That would make the ad-supported version somewhere in the $7.12 range, which is a more likely place for the company to land.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">How will this work?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Again, everything is still speculative, but it seems like you'll be forced to watch ads before your program starts. But Netflix isn't an ad company and getting into advertising sales would be a big and expensive lift - something unlikely for a company looking to save money. So, the most likely situation is for Netflix to partner with an existing advertising agency.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the company is currently in discussion with three companies to serve ads for this new tier: Comcast's FreeWheel, Alphabet's Google, and Roku - with Comcast and Google being the top contenders.

FreeWheel is a fairly large media advertising agency. They offer solutions for all of the major platforms, making it a solid partner for Netflix. Google obviously has a lot of experience serving ads, on Search and even YouTube. Both would be good solutions partners for Netflix, and with their size and scale, could even be global partners to launch the service, though not necessarily. However, Google always carries a dark cloud with it, especially with advertising, as consumers don't trust them universally.
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Scott Ertz Brave Search is out of beta, adds results rank customization
(2022-06-26)
Brave Search is out of beta, adds results rank customization One of the aspects of the internet that raises the most concerns over privacy is search. Google seems to always be in the spotlight when it comes to what kind of data they collect, the methods with which they collect it, and how they use it for and against its users. Brave Search, a platform designed to add a layer of privacy on top of the search experience, is officially out of Beta and adding a great customization feature.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What is Brave Search?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Brave Search is a private search engine that does not collect your search data. Brave Search is built on top of the open source DuckDuckGo search engine, which means you get all of the same results without any of the privacy concerns.

Brave Search is integrated into the Brave browser, but can also be used as a standalone website.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Finally out of Beta[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Brave Search has exited Beta for a couple of reasons. First, the company officially believes that the software is solid enough to be called "complete." We know that software is never really complete, but it's good to see that Brave is confident in their product.

Second, the platform has hit some impressive milestones. The platform has seen 2.5 billion queries, with a peak of 14.1 million in a single day. While this is nothing compared to Google or Bing, for a smaller search engine, this is incredibly impressive. They reached this milestone faster than DuckDuckGo, another privacy-focused search provider. These milestones are an indication that enough users are happy with the quality of the software to go "live" with the service.

This also gives the company the confidence to change the default search engine for Brave Browser users from Google, something that the company has wanted to do since it first announced the search engine.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Custom Search Rankings[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Brave Search is also introducing the ability to customize your search results. You can now choose to sort your results by most relevant, or by the time they were published. This is a great feature for those who want more control over their search experience.

This is a great addition for those who want more control over their search experience. For example, if you're looking for something specific, you can now customize your results so that the most relevant results are at the top, rather than being buried under a bunch of less relevant ones.

Some of us look for some very specific and odd things. Software developers look for what looks like normal words, like construct, but are not interested in results about gender debates. With the new search result customizations, Brave might just become the best search engine for ultra-specific topics.

You can customize your Brave Search results by going into the settings and selecting "Customize Results Rank." From there, you'll be able to drag and drop different factors to adjust how they influence the ranking of your search results. This is a great way to personalize your Brave Search experience and get the most relevant results for your needs.

Have you tried out the Brave Search tool? Let us know about your experience in the comments.
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Scott Ertz Microsoft has enhanced the gaming experience in its Edge browser
(2022-06-25)
Microsoft has enhanced the gaming experience in its Edge browser Microsoft has made it clear that Xbox Cloud Gaming is a big part of its corporate future. In fact, the company has been putting a lot of resources behind creating enhancements to other products and services in order to support that goal. This week, the company made good on a promise made 2 weeks ago, bringing a gaming focused home screen and visual enhancements to its Edge browser.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Gaming Homepage[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The most front and center aspect of this week's upgrades is a new tab on the homepage of Edge. The new Gaming tab adds a number of interesting capabilities. First, it includes what you would expect - gaming related news. It also includes info about upcoming tournaments, highlights from recent tournaments, and even live streams of current events.

On my personal homepage, I see a registration link for EVO, a fighting game competition, along with highlights from a League of Legends event, and a link to Cellbit on Twitch. Earlier in the day, I was presented with a link to a YouTube livestream, showing that they are sourcing from more than one platform. Interestingly, none of the links I've seen thus far have been to Facebook Gaming, the platform that Microsoft folded its Mixer streaming platform into.

If you're signed into a Microsoft Account connected to a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, then you'll get a lot more. In fact, directly from the new Gaming tab, you'll be able to explore and launch Xbox Cloud Gaming titles. This is a huge benefit for those who use the Cloud Gaming feature on a regular basis. Without having to have launch the Xbox app or log into the Xbox website, you can get directly to your games without any hesitation or delay.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Clarity Boost[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Clarity Boost is a feature that Microsoft has been working on in the Canary build of Edge for about a year. The goal of this feature is to bring a clearer, more beautiful picture to games in the browser. Microsoft's goal here is to make Edge the go-to place for game streaming. It's a similar move to how they enabled 4K streaming for Netflix while other browsers still run at FHD.

So, what is Clarity Boost? It is a client-side scaling technology that helps to ensure that streamed games are able to resize properly for the screen they are on creating a crisper and cleaner image. While the goal, of course, is to enhance the visual quality of Xbox Cloud Gaming days, it won't just apply to Microsoft's own platform. In fact, for the few people who use Google Stadia in the browser, you'll also see an improvement in graphics, so long as you're using the most recent version of Edge.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Efficiency Mode[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Efficiency Mode is an interesting new feature, as well. Essentially, it puts the entire browser to sleep while you're playing a game in order to redirect more resources to the game itself. When dealing with a native game, this is going to be more important, but can also be an enhancement to streamed games - especially on older and slower PCs.
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Scott Ertz Parallelz hopes to bypass the App Store by bringing apps to the web
(2022-06-25)
Parallelz hopes to bypass the App Store by bringing apps to the web Over the past year or so, the App Store and Google Play have become a hot topic. While they once represented the next generation of application delivery, they have become the target of derision as Apple and Google have been viewed as greedy and taking advantage of their market positions. Now, Parallelz is trying to do the same for mobile platforms by taking apps to the web.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The history of mobile apps[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
When the iPod Touch and iPhone first launched, neither supported any application development. There was some software pre-installed, but everything else you wanted to do on the devices required that you use the browser. This limitation was one of the original reasons why the iPhone was not classified as a smartphone but as a media phone. That, and the features that were missing that even Nextel phones had.

The reason for this was not laziness or a feeling that it wasn't required. Instead, Steve Jobs believed that on-device applications were not required and that the entire 3rd party experience should be through the browser. However, much to Jobs' dismay, the web was still designed for what it was created for - content delivery. That meant that advanced capabilities, such as we experience today, simply wasn't possible - hence the App Store.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">App stores in 2022[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Because Apple controls the entirety of the application experience (kind of), there has been a lot of backlash. Epic Games has carried the torch, but other major publishers have joined the fight. But, the trust and respect for Apple and Google, to a lesser degree, has dropped significantly. Yes, you can pin a website on an iPhone as an app, and have in behave as one, but the experience of a web app is often significantly lesser than its native counterparts.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Parallelz web-based app experience[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The past year has also brought us a new way to distribute software: streaming. Sure, we've seen the focus placed on gaming with services like Xbox Cloud Gaming and Google Stadia, but it doesn't have to be that way. Desktop software and even mobile software could be delivered via a web browser by streaming that application directly to the client without the need to download or install anything. That is the goal of Parallelz.

However, streaming is just one way that the company could accomplish this goal. Because modern web browsers support a newer technology called WebAssembly, which allows for a browser to run compiled code directly in the browser without any plugins or additional software. It's possible that the company plans to develop a WebAssembly layer that is able to act as an application container which can run an app without any change.

That is the promise of the Parallelz platform - the ability for a developer or publisher to take their existing mobile application and redeploy it as a web application that requires no installation or downloading. The technology behind it is less important than the end result - a competitor for the App Store and Google Play that neither platform can have any control over, but one that can shake up the monopoly of the platforms and hopefully undo some of the policies that have driven a wedge between developers and the platforms.
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Scott Ertz Easy ways to save money on everyday gas purchases
(2022-06-22)
When it comes to gas prices, the last 18 months have been incredibly difficult. It seems like every time we go outside, the price of gas has risen once again. There was a joke going around that by the end of this sentence the price of gas will have risen another 20 cents. And while we may not have any control over the price of gas or the factors that are causing it to rise, there are some platforms that we can use to counteract those prices.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">GasBuddy[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The most popular way to find the cheapest gas prices in your area is with GasBuddy. The app has been around for years and has a decent track record of accurate prices, though it is important to note that much of the data is crowd-sourced, so be prepared for some surprises. You simply open the app and it uses your current location to find the prices of gas around you.

However, GasBuddy has a crazy privacy policy. It tracks a ton of behavior about you, including GPS location and more - all identifiable. The company shares data with Cuebiq and Foursquare, two large data brokers, and makes about $10 per one thousand users whenever it sells that data. There is also a feature called Drive which shares a ton of data about your driving habits with Arity, owned by Allstate.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Upside[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Another popular way for users to find the cheapest gas is with Upside (formerly GetUpside). Similar to how GasBuddy works, the app will use your current GPS location to show you the best prices of gas around. However, unlike GasBuddy, Upside shows you a price that reflects the current price minus a discount that will be returned to you within a few days. You can also apply this to restaurants and grocery stores, not just gas stations. Your balance can be cashed out to a bank account or a variety of gift card options, including Amazon, Starbucks, or Walmart.

As with GasBuddy, the app collects location data to provide local information. However, according to the company's privacy policy, it does not track your location outside of the app. You can connect partial card numbers for convenience but can also opt to upload receipts instead. Upside gives a lot of options on its usage parameters to protect privacy.

It is important to note that not all gas stations, restaurants, or grocery stores are applicable in the platform. The setup appears to be a direct relationship between the retailers and Upside. In our area, Shell, Circle K, and Speedway appear to be the big relationships, though it may vary by region, as we can also see Citgo, Exxon, and RaceTrac in smaller quantities.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Gas Station Rewards[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Many gas station brands have their own rewards services. Some provide some cash back, some give direct discount up front, and some require certain actions to get the discount. For example, Fuel Rewards from Shell has different tiers of rewards. Gold Members get at least 5 cents per gallon while Silver gets 3 cents. However, partnerships can enhance it (check out T-Mobile Tuesdays for an extra 20 cents per gallon). RaceTrac Rewards gives you points for every dollar you spend, but VIP members save per gallon.

The biggest issue with this option is that each company has its own program and they do not reward evenly or together. However, if you choose a particular brand and go with it, you should be able to earn your rewards or discounts quickly. But you can also stack these rewards with some of the other options, such as Fetch, to compound your earnings.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Fetch Rewards[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
This one is not purely gas-centric, but Fetch Rewards is a good way to get some money back on your purchases. You simply take photos of your receipts (called a snap) and receive points for doing so. You can also attach some digital storefronts, such as Amazon, and get points for each order. Under normal circumstances, the points are not high - 25 points per receipt. So, for every forty receipts you receive $1 dollar worth of value.

However, there are some ways to earn large point bonuses for certain products. On the Discover tab of the app, you can see products that are currently being promoted and the bonus points you will receive for a snap with that product or for signing up for a service from the app.

The company's privacy policy is fairly open, though not nearly as much as GasBuddy. In fact, the data that is collected is fairly standard - including GPS location while using the app. But, the basis of the program is the sharing of information - companies do not provide you points for not sharing information. So, when you interact with one of the company's brand partners, you are agreeing to share information with those brands.
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