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Google Stadia: A Prophecy Fulfilled

Elizabeth Uncategorized October 25, 2021

Google Stadia was Google’s attempt at a console-style Game Pass. Was it successful? Kinda.

Pre-Launch Haters

Google has had failed attempts at games before. Why should the Stadia be any different? Factoring in the terrible odds against it (like competing with two other top-of-the-line consoles, one of which was only a year old), the Stadia was nearly guaranteed to DOA. However, Google kept at it, certain that this time, things would be different. They really did try. They promised things like 4K, 60 FPS streaming. They promised compatibility with other platforms. They promised that their content library was going to expand at launch, so the line-up they had wasn’t supposed to get in the way.

This was a very genuine attempt at breaking into the market, it just didn’t have enough of the right stuff.  

It even prophesized it’s own death, by featuring other failed attempts at industry break-ins next to the newly announced Stadia in a promotional pic. Picture the Sega Saturn lined up next to the Genesis, and then the Saturn also comparing itself to the PS2, with the added bonus of needing your own high-speed internet and game-capable computer/phone/etc. to use it. That’s the kind of uphill battle Google would have had to prepare for.

Still, many people were hopeful.


Stadia was supposed to function much like a Game Pass. Play as many games as you want for a low monthly fee of 10$ and do it on your own device, no upfront cost for a console necessary. There were web-based apps to run it on laptops, regular apps for phones and compatible TVs, and it had a lot of games, for the same price as the Playstation’s PS Now and the Xbox’s Game pass. The BYOD nature of the Stadia app was a double-edged sword, but it meant that it was possible to bring your Stadia account to a better device at a friend’s house.  

Stadia’s initial release library featured such classics as Orcs Must Die! And Hitman – by all accounts, the Stadia should have been an excellent example of what game streaming services had to offer. Services like Gamefly might have fallen off, but surely the idea was still a good one, right?

Where did it all go wrong?


Well, firstly, the BYOD set-up. Some people have fantastic computers, others rely on consoles to provide the high-quality gaming they desire, and keep a computer for simple things that don’t take too much computing power. After all, it doesn’t take a quad-core 256 GB rig to book an appointment for a haircut. For many people who already had a console, the Stadia was just the PS Now pass or the Game Pass with more steps, and less power behind it.

Secondly, it lagged behind for game releases. The Stadia system didn’t have many proprietary games to its name, and it didn’t get to release many before its game development studios shuttered, sixteen months after launch. Google Stadia is still around today, but it’s one or two Resident Evil games behind on its releases – understandably, consoles and online retailers like Steam get the first of the first.

This brings up the other major issue: Stadia was monthly. Steam is not. Consoles can use a mix of bought games and game-pass style content – they have access to the newest and best games on the market. Steam, which doesn’t use a game pass system (as of this article) has very regular sale events and caters to small indie games, as well as the largest of the large triple A studios. Stadia fell somewhere between the two, not having access to the latest and greatest, but not having enough small-studio content to pad out its library. And you wouldn’t own the game. Ten dollars a month for games that are behind what they already have access to via Steam or their consoles just wasn’t worth it to most consumers. It wasn’t a niche that needed filling, even though the idea itself could have been compelling if executed right.

Another major issue that reviewers note is Stadia’s strange behavior when the connection’s not quite strong enough. Audio de-syncs, but the video doesn’t de-sync with it – a Tom’s Guide reviewer compared it to a skipping record. The ultra-high quality at launch usually meant bad things for the actual gameplay, especially for weaker internet. That alone put out people with poor connections, the same way ‘Always On’ did.

Stadia is still up and running today, but it’s lack of widespread use means it gets those same high-value games even later than it was getting them before. But hey, it’s been a wild couple of years – maybe it could make a comeback now that 5G internet and better devices are on the horizon.


Captchas – How and Why

Elizabeth Uncategorized September 29, 2021

Captcha, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (what a mouthful) was first conceptualized in the early 2000s. Websites were already struggling with bots, and a website known as iDrive recognized their inability to ‘see’ the way people did. Paypal, also struggling with bot attacks, began using the same method to keep brute-force attacks from getting in. This is the true essence of Captcha – in 1997, the tech was first described as anything that could differentiate robots and humans, but it wasn’t known as ‘Captcha’ until Paypal got in on it.  It’s more advanced form, the reCAPTCHA, was first coined in 2007 and then absorbed into Google in 2009.

Type These Letters, Hear These Sounds

The original style is becoming easier to get past as AI improves, but it’s still better than nothing. An AI would still leave clues that it was ‘reading’ the letters (or trying to) as it tried to decipher the captcha text from the other random lines and fuzz on screen – Cloudflare, a security website, notes that AI couldn’t do much better than keysmashing and hoping to get in that way when this was first implemented. Now that AI can ‘see’ much better than it used to thanks to endless training to recognize text out in the real world, it gets more and more accurate for every captcha box it sees. Captchas may be algorithmically generated – AIs designed to account for algorithmically generated content in front of them are now capable of deciphering the text, and Captchas are actually sometimes used as tests!

That doesn’t mean they’re obsolete or useless for protection. Just because some people can create AIs that can get past it doesn’t mean that everyone can. Many basic bot creators would much rather go to an easier, less-well-defended site than sit there and try to program an advanced, specific AI for such a simple task. It’s not perfect protection – no protection is.

However, there were problems: unimpaired users often complained that solving them was hard. For visually impaired or deaf users, the captcha might genuinely be unsolvable. Screen readers, a common tool for blind folks who use the internet, allow them to browse the web by reading the page out loud. Because a captcha is a picture, not a text box, the screen reader doesn’t know it’s there. Accessibility software is often simpler than cutting-edge bots (and incapable of reading images), and so they were left behind.

Audio versions are a better solution, but their nature still makes it difficult for screen readers to ‘see’ the play buttons. Besides, audio-to-text AI was already more advanced than picture-to-text because there’s a market for automated captions and auto-transcripted phone calls. Transcription software has been around for ages, and it only gets better at separating noise from information as time goes on – there is almost nothing a captcha could add to the sound to make it hard to interpret for a machine and not a person. As such, these captchas are less common than the fuzzy text and image ones still seen everywhere today.

“I am Not a Robot”

One of the simplest types of Captcha is the “I am Not a Robot” check box. It seems like it could be easy to trick it – and it sort of is, but it’s not a walk in the park. The box works by tracking cursor movement before the user hits the little check box. On a desktop, an AI might jump directly to the box it needs to click, with no hesitation, or it might scan the entire page to locate the box visually if it’s unable to detect the clickable element. That’s not human behavior – people don’t ordinarily need to select the entire page and then contemplate it before clicking the right area. People are also generally unable to jump directly to the clickable elements as soon as the page loads, even if they’re using the tab keys or a touchscreen device.

This was easily one of the most user-friendly kinds of Captcha out there. No reading. No listening. No selecting blurry images or trying to guess at misshapen letters. As such, it was quicker to use than a number of other types of captcha tests were, even though someone with a lot of time and determination could rig something up to bypass it.

Click These Pics

This is the previously impossible barrier that stopped AI dead in its tracks. Training an AI to see and recognize like humans do used to be impossible, but now… now it’s on the horizon. Self-driving cars will need it. Google uses it for reverse-image search. Facebook uses it to find you in friend’s photos. If humanity was going to truly master AI that behaved like people did, AI was going to have to learn how to see; that meant other, outsider AI would also be learning how to see.

The pictures are easy – you get an image separated into 9 or 16 tiles, and you select imagery that matches its request within those tiles. An AI might be able to measure ‘red’ in an image, but the sort of uncomplicated AI that most amateur hackers could crank out wouldn’t know a fire truck from a stop sign. Even if it got lucky that one time, other human users are picking all of the right squares every time – so if it misses even a sliver of the red in another tile, or over-selects, it doesn’t pass and has to go again.

Is that… being used for something?

Google is using Captchas to crowd-source training for their AI. However, doing this meant that Google had access to a metric ton of training time – Wikipedia claims that people around the globe spend 500 hours completing CAPTCHAs every week. Unlike those text and audio ones, pictures with the features they need can’t just be generated indefinitely. If you’ve noticed a decline in picture quality for these captchas, you’re not alone. The quality really is getting worse. The sharper pictures are already trained into the database, so now all that’s left is the blurry, fuzzy, poor-quality ones everywhere else, the ones that weren’t ideal for the initial training.

Now, millions of people every day are telling the computer what a red car or a street sign looks like, instead of just a large handful of researchers. Some of this research is for smart-car training, some of it’s for reverse-image searching, some is purely to advance the state of AI – once AI can recognize things in its environment visually, it can usually behave with less human intervention. And the more training it has, the less likely it is to become confused at a really inconvenient time. Tesla has famously struggled with AI mis-recognizing things, such as the moon, blinking streetlights, and partially graffiti-d signs, but the more training it gets, on worse and worse quality images, the better it will eventually perform.


What’s the deal with Google.amp links?

Google And Fast Loading

If a mobile site takes even a second too long to load, users navigate away. This is a well-studied phenomenon, and all companies can do is try and optimize loading so the user gets some feedback before they bounce.

Facebook created Instant Articles, an easier-to-read and easier-to-load format than the original old method of simply copying and pasting a link to your wall, which worked fine on desktop and not so well on mobile. Ads, videos, and assorted other tidbits really slow loading down on mobile devices, even on WiFi. Consumers agree via engagement: Instant Articles is great. After all, who likes autoplay videos? Google sees a fantastic channel for improving loading times, pictures how it could monetize it, and begins to assemble the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, or .amp for short, and introduces Google.Amp links. You search something on mobile, you find it, and instead of being taken directly to the site, you’re taken to a Google.Amp page that optimized the site for you.


How does it work?


How does .amp make things load faster? Well, firstly, dynamic content doesn’t show up. Everything on that .amp version of the page is as simple and easy-to-load as possible.

That means if you’ve mistagged a menu, the consumer might not be able to see it. The same goes for embedded videos and music clips. If your site is really reliant on those things being present to function, allowing .amp links is a bad move!

Secondly, the website is stripped down to its bare bones: website creators are given a small selection of tags to build out their website, which usually results in something plain, but quick-loading. If the website is really, really insistent on keeping all of its content, .amp links are unfortunately unable to help. .Amps are a trade-off!


And Results


It makes some websites downright ugly. People using .amp links have very limited tags in their toolbox, so the end websites almost always look really similar. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s bad. After all, if you, as a business owner, spent however many hours going back and forth with a designer (or designing a site yourself) only to have to cut most of it when signing up for those .amp links, you might be a little mad, right? Menus, color options, images – if all of it goes missing, it may as well be written in plaintext. One critic complains that this makes it easier for fake news and disinformation to squeak into the regular news stream, because when all pages look the same, all pages receive the same quality assessment from readers who don’t know better, whether they deserve it or not.

.Amp links can negatively impact search ratings and valuable data for the client website, as well. People see the page via Google, not the host’s website. As a result, the brand gets out there and impressions improve, but the website itself can’t track that data as effectively. If you’re trying to navigate the complicated world of SEO optimization, then that’s a major issue.

It also has the potential to limit ad revenue. If the ad takes too long to load, it takes to long to load, and the end user never actually sees the ad. Most Google ads function by clicks – that means that customers clicking or tapping the ad is the only way the website gets money from them. As a result, unloaded ads = lost potential revenue.


Good Results?


However, the ability to load the website so quickly is often worth it to small business owners. Customers are impatient and often expect instant feedback – with Google.amp links, they can provide that instant feedback, usually for cheaper than other speed-up options, like redesigning the site or removing certain content features.

Besides, many users actually like the lack of ads. The mobile web is riddled with annoying popups and other assorted garbage that makes sketchy websites even more annoying to navigate. Of course customers are going to pick a .amp if it means not having to struggle with jerky, autoloading videos and annoying, jumpy ads. Not to mention that .amp links take away windows for viruses!


Google and… Data


It’s not a secret anymore. Google is always gathering data. It knows what device you’re using, it has some understanding of who you are as a person, and it’s using it to build ads that people like you are more likely to click on.

Google primarily started the .amp project as a way to compete with other data hogs like Facebook and Messenger. Why? Data, valuable data. You clicked on X? We’ll show you more articles about X! You clicked on a fashion article? Why, we just so happen to have ads from Calvin Klein’s newest collection.

Now, sometimes this is good – many people find new and interesting things via algorithms. Sometimes this is bad for the consumer, where they get ad after ad about dog food despite not having a dog because they clicked an article about dogs, and sometimes it’s bad for society at large, where conspiracy theorists get more and more misinformation funneled to them via the algorithm. Nothing tells Google to stop. Once you start on a path, it takes some serious effort to get algorithmically plugged content away from your feeds.

.amp links are obviously not the only things tracking you. Anything with Google anywhere is tracking you. Adsense is tracking you. But .amp links are part of the problem, and Google is getting your info before it’s getting filtered down to the actual website’s owner.


Turn It Off!


While turning off customized ads won’t stop the data collection, it will mean you’re less likely to see oddly specific, creepily accurate ads when you’re just trying to browse. As for the .amp links, turn that off too. .AMP links are giving a lot of power to Google, and some of the information you accumulate during normal browsing may very well be sucked up by Google.

Look here: and here to control how you’re seeing ads.