TIME technology

This iPhone App Turns Your Selfies into Textable Stickers

imoji

You-moji

New emoji are rolling out rapidly enough that someday we’ll have entire libraries full of incomprehensible emoji-only books to be read only by experts. But if even the existence of a hot dog or pizza emoji isn’t enough, there’s imoji—a new app that will turn a selfie, a snapshot, or pretty much anything else into a textable sticker.

Just open the app, choose a picture, and erase around the edges to turn it into an emoji perfectly suited to your conversation. imoji’s Instagram account has some suggestions: a 2007 meltdown-era Britney Spears head, goofy animal pictures, and, of course, Peter Dinklage.

TIME Amazon

Amazon’s Latest Is a Total Game-Changer

Amazon Readies Kindle Fire Update to Keep Up With Apple, Google
Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., introduces the Kindle Fire HD tablet at a news conference in Santa Monica, California, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. Patrick Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Here's what the company's big move means for a hot new technology

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Amazon.com isn’t just a place to get books, music and other products that roll off assembly lines or stream online.

Amazon said Monday that online shoppers will now be able to buy 3D printed products on-demand from a list of 200 different items like bobblehead dolls, miniature plastic swordsand pet ID tags. The technology lets people customize their orders beyond what has been previously been possible on the online retailing site including bobbleheads made to look like family and friends.

“The introduction of our 3D Printed Products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail – that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience,” Petra Schindler-Carter, director for Amazon’s marketplace sales, said in a statement.

Amazon doesn’t actually handle the printing. Rather, it’s done by Mixee Labs, a company specialized in selling plastic 3D printed nicknacks. Products available through the partnership aren’t cheap. A 3D printed bobblehead costs $30 compared with versions made on an assembly line that cost around $12.

Moreover, anyone who wants speedy shipping is out of luck. Orders through Amazon for 3D products can take up to ten business days to fill.

For the rest of the story, please visit Fortune.com.

TIME Sports

Losing Korean Baseball Team Replaces Fans With Cheering Robots

And so it begins...

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Korea’s Hanwha Eagles do not have a good record. The baseball team has wracked up 400 losses over the last five years, according to the BBC. But just because a team has a losing record, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve big cheers — just ask any New York Knicks fan!

To make sure that the Eagles stadium is filled with the roar of the crowd and that team morale stays high, the Eagles are taking a page from The Future and adding cheering, chanting robots to their stadium seats.

Hanwha’s robot fans will work as stand-ins for human fans who can’t attend a game. Remote fans will be able to control some of the robots’ movements — presumably certain hand gestures in the direction of umpires — and can even upload an image of their face to be shown on the machine’s screen. The robots will also let fans watch the game from afar, giving more fans the opportunity to join in the action and cheer on their team.

“It’s a pretty neat idea,” Hanwha Eagles pitcher and former Minnesota Twin Andrew Albers says in the video the team released to explain the presence of robots in their stands. “It gets the crowd into it and really helps them get involved.”

If robots cheer at the robot World Cup or the Femme Bot battles, can act as mules and write the Torah, how long until they decide they don’t need humans at all? Oh wait, they still need someone to battle in Connect Four.

MORE: Congress Gets Banned from Editing Wikipedia

MORE: Attaching a GoPro Camera to a Car Wheel Creates a Weird, Futuristic Kaleidoscope

TIME Social Media

These Are Twitter’s Biggest Secrets

Twitter Releases Diversity Report
The exterior of the Twitter headquarters on February 5, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

What makes us follow, fave, share and—most importantly—keep coming back

When I choose someone new to follow, when I compose a new tweet, when I share and favorite an update, I seldom think about the why. My following sessions would probably seem haphazard to an outsider, and my favoriting technique comes and goes from one strategy to another.

Even so, the way I use Twitter is far less random than I thought. There is science and psychology behind the way we all tweet.

Researchers have discovered trends in the way that we perform every major action on Twitter—favoriting, updating, sharing, and following. And there’s even an interesting bit of psychology behind what makes Twitter so attractive in the first place. Here’s a look at the psychology of Twitter: what makes us follow, favorite, share and keep coming back for more.

Why we love Twitter so much: Rats, levers and psychology

I’ve hit more than my fair share of Twitter wormholes—minutes that turn to hours as I find more and more tweets to read and share. Does that sound familiar to you, too?

I figured there was a psychological reason behind the draw of Twitter. After digging around, sure enough, I came across a perfect explanation of this phenomenon, courtesy of Dr. Marion Underwood, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas.

The type of reinforcement schedule that is the most reinforcing is what’s called an intermittent schedule.

So, you have a rat pushing a lever and he gets rewarded, but not in a predictable way. Many times, that animal pushes that lever and nothing comes, but every once in a while, it gets a great treat. So the rat keeps pressing and pressing and pressing even though there’s not much reinforcement coming because every once in a while, it’s just great.

This hit home for me. Twitter offers these intermittent rewards that keep us coming back. Maybe you’ll check Twitter once and have a notification that someone retweeted you. That’s enough to keep you coming back a handful more times, even if nothing new and rewarding has occurred. We keep pushing the lever, hoping for something great.

The concept makes complete sense for those who wind up checking Twitter multiple times each day (same goes for email, too).

And just as there is psychology behind why we love Twitter so much, there’s science and data behind the many different ways we interact with one another. Here are three of the most interesting studies I’ve come across.

Why we follow: The 15 factors that affect follower growth

What spurs us to follow someone on Twitter? Researchers at Georgia Tech and Michigan combined to study the factors involved in following.

Their study looked at more than 500 Twitter users and a half-million of their tweets and analyzed follower count over a 15-month period—one of the longest timeframes you’ll see in a Twitter study.

The research team worked from a basis of follower growth factors that were made up of variables from social science, linguistics, computer-mediated communication, and network theory. In other words, if there is any reason why someone would follow someone else on Twitter, this study accounted for it.

The factors they came up with boiled down to three categories: social behaviors, message content, and social network structure. Here are the individual factors for each, starting with social behaviors:

  • Tweet volume
  • Burstiness – tweets per hour
  • Interactions – replies, mentions, and favorites
  • Broadcast communication – the ratio of tweets with no @-mention
  • Trustworthiness of the profile – How well is the bio filled out? Is there a URL in the profile? Is there a location listed?

The individual factors for message content:

  • Positive/negative sentiment
  • Informational content – ratio of tweets containing either a URL, RT, MT, HT, or “via”
  • Meformer content – ratio of tweets containing self-referencing pronouns like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “us”
  • Topic focus
  • Retweets – how often your content gets retweeted
  • Hashtag usage
  • TReDIX – Tweet Reading Difficulty Index (based on the frequency of real English words longer than 6 letters)

The individual factors in social network structure:

  • Reciprocity – The number of people you follow who also follow you
  • Attention-status ratio – Total followers compared to total following
  • Network overlap – How similar are the people you follow to those a follower follows

Knowing what’s behind each of these factors, how would you rate them in terms of importance? Which factor helps gain the most followers?

The winner is network overlap.

 

Follower growth stats
Buffer

In the chart above, you’ll see that the effect on follower growth spills to both sides of the x-axis. So not only can you see that network overlap, retweetable content, and a good bio have positive effects on gaining followers, you might also notice that broadcast communication (e.g. tweets with no @-mention), negativity, and hashtags drive follower growth down.

Takeaway: The PsyBlog has a nice recap of the findings from this study, summarizing points of emphasis from the research data. If you want to grow your followers, try these tips:

  1. Avoid negative sentiments
  2. Inform, don’t meform
  3. Boost social proof
  4. Stay on topic
  5. Write well and avoid hashtag abuse
  6. Switch from broadcast to direct tweets

Why we share: A guide to penning the most shareable tweet

I’m sure we’d all love to know what makes for a perfect tweet. Cornell researchers were interested, too.

They conducted a study that examined more than 1.7 million tweet pairs, comparing the differences in language between the two tweets and assigning value based on which style of tweet gains more retweets. Their conclusion:

Helpful wording heuristics include adding more information, making one’slanguage aligned with both community norms and with one’s prior messages, and mimicking news headlines.

If you were looking for an exact formula of a perfect tweet, the researchers didn’t find one. They did, however, offer a large number of best practices to go along with their conclusion above.

  • It helps to ask people to share
  • Informativeness helps
  • Sound like your community
  • Imitate headlines
  • Refer to other people but not to your audience (“he” and “she” rather than “you”)
  • Generality helps (“a” and “an” rather than “the”)
  • The easier to read, the better

Perhaps best of all, the research team put together a tool based on their findings that can help you perfect your posts. Enter two similar tweets into the Retweeted More tool, and you’ll get an algorithmic answer about which is better.

(Ready for some practice? See how you fare against the algorithm by taking this25-question test–see if you can pick the tweets that got shared more.)

Takeaway: Take inspiration from headlines and from your past successful tweets (your Buffer analytics can help with this) to write a tweet that is optimized for sharing. Try out the Retweeted More tool to test different versions.

(If you’re curious what we’ve found works best for retweets, check out the recap from our Twitter webinar.)

Why we favorite: Reaction & function

A study published by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence sought to put our myriad favoriting methods into categories. They quizzed a group of more than 600 Twitter users by asking two questions:

  1. Explain why you tend to favorite tweets.
  2. Explain the reasons for your most recent favorited tweet.

They received more than 331 answers to these questions and placed each answer into one or more categories. Here’s the full taxonomy of categories they used to classify favorites.

AAAI
AAAI

 

 

What’s interesting about the way these 331 answers fell is that there came about two distinct use cases for favorites. The research found that people favorite a tweet for one of two reasons:

  • Reaction/response
  • Function/purpose

The psychology here is quite interesting. Reactions and responses occur directly due to the content of the tweet or the author of the tweet. We favorite what we like. We favorite our friends and family (and, if I’m being honest, celebrities). When we favorite for utility, we’re seeking to fulfill a goal or a purpose. We favorite to bookmark. We favorite to communicate.

(If you’ve ever favorited something you agree with, your favorite would fall into the function/purpose category. According to the study’s authors, favoriting as agreeing is intended for the author; liking for the person doing the favoriting.)

Takeaway: Classifying favorites is nothing new; we all seem to have a method of favoriting tweets. The research shows, at least, that our method isn’t necessarily unique to us. For every user who favorites their friends, there’s a user who’s favoriting for bookmarks.

Do these insights ring true to you?

Psychology shows us how Twitter can be so addicting: We crave a great experience each time we pull the Twitter lever, and it keeps us coming back for more.

Research and data reveal a bit into the way that we use Twitter. We follow based on our network, we retweet based on tried-and-true formulas, and we favorite for reaction or function.

Kevan is a content crafter at Buffer, the super simple social media management tool. His social media and productivity tips have appeared in Fast Company and Lifehacker, and he’s always on the lookout for a good headline pun. Connect with him on Twitter .

TIME Gadgets

Watch Out Google Glass, Smart Shoes Are On The Way

A company in India is getting on board with the newest type of on-the-go technology with smart shoes

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In India, you’ll be able to wear technology somewhere completely different: On your feet. Lechal is the world’s first interactive haptic feedback footwear company, whose Bluetooth-enabled insoles and shoes will be available for purchase starting in September.

These insoles and shoes can link up with Google Maps, count and record footsteps and calories, and give users feedback through vibrations. Now that’s really putting the pedal to the metal.

TIME Internet

Facebook Isn’t the Only Website Running Experiments on Human Beings

OKCupid proudly cops to the trend

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It was the Facebook study heard ’round the world. In June, the social network revealed that it had briefly tweaked its algorithm for a lucky (or unlucky) 698,003 users to make them feel happier (or sadder) based on what they see on their Newsfeed. The reaction to human experimentation—creepy emotional manipulation! mind control!—came out so strong, that Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked the FTC to investigate.

Christian Rudder, the co-founder of dating site OKCupid, was shocked by the internet’s shock. “It’s just a fact of life online,” he says. “There’s no website that doesn’t run experiments online.”

And so, Rudder posted OKTrends’ first blog post in three years Monday to announce to the world, “We experiment on human beings!”

Rudder relaunched the site with the revelation that “OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing,” which is why it uses human guinea pigs. And to be honest, “If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site.”

For example, OkCupid decided to run an experiment in which it told people who were bad matches (30%) that they actually had a compatibility score of 90%. And the result was that they were far more likely to exchange four messages — aka an actual “conversation” — with a bad match they thought was good than with a bad match they knew was subpar.

OkTrends

Luckily, OKC investigated further and found that all online daters aren’t just sheep. Matches were far more likely to have conversations with people they were actually matches with as opposed to people they were told they were good matches with.

OkTrends

Other experiments can be found in the OkTrends blog post.

Rudder argues that some online experiments can lead to offline life changes, like when Facebook tests out a new layout on a small percent of users to see if it’s more effective. “My wife’s Facebook was ordered differently than mine,” he says. “You know, I’m not saying that we are now totally different people, but she saw some news that I didn’t see and she reacted to it and whatever.”

Or the changes can be bigger, Rudder says. “On OkCupid, when we make a change, even a mundane one, that changes who people talk to, who they flirt with, who they go on dates with, and I’m sure in some cases who they get married to.”

At the end of the day, Rudder thinks, “If you like Facebook or think that Reddit is a good thing or OKCupid is a good thing, then almost by definition experiments can be good. That’s the only way you get from Facemash, which Mark Zuckerberg made in his dorm room, to Facebook.”

TIME technology

Attaching a GoPro Camera to a Car Wheel Creates a Weird, Futuristic Kaleidoscope

Warning: you may feel a bit dizzy

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The small, waterproof camera known as a GoPro can capture everything from a face-to-face encounter with a shark to the experience of getting robbed at gunpoint. But it can also capture some seemingly mundane situations in unexpectedly beautiful ways, too.

Take, for example, this University of Wisconsin student who decided to mount a GoPro to the wheel of his car using duct tape. The result? One oddly hypnotic little trip of a video.

TIME laptops

This Is the Best Budget Laptop You Can Buy

Lenovo

Can you buy a great laptop for under $600? Yes, yes you can

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This post is in partnership with The Wire Cutter. Read the article below originally published at TheWireCutter.com.

If I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I’d get the ~$580 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14 or something very similar. But first I’d think long and hard about whether I needed a full-sized Windows laptop at all.

Last Updated: July 8, 2014

The original version of this piece referred to the Lenovo Flex 14. Lenovo has replaced that model with the Flex 2 14. A Lenovo rep confirmed to us that the only difference between our original recommendation and this new Flex 2 14 is that the Flex 2 14 has a newer, better Intel Core i5-4210U processor and a hybrid hard drive and can be upgraded to a 1920×1080 touchscreen. The i5 processor and hybrid drive make the Flex 2 14 a better deal than the original; the high-res touchscreen is not an essential upgrade for the price. We also updated details regarding our step-up pick, the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch, which Lenovo is now making with a slightly different processor (the same as our main pick) and twice the RAM (8 GB) as before.

Who should(n’t) buy this?

If you have regular access to a full Windows or Mac computer and want a secondary machine for web browsing, email, and basic document editing (i.e. something more than a tablet but less than a full-sized Windows computer), don’t buy a $600 Windows laptop as your secondary machine. Consider a $300 Chromebook or a $400 Windows convertible tablet instead. Neither can do quite as much as a full Windows laptop, but they often give a better experience in the things they do than a more expensive general-use machine.

But if you do need a real computer—if this is your primary, do-everything computer—and you need the best all-around thing you can get for under $600, you should get something like the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14.

Our pick

We like the $580 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14 (listed on Lenovo’s site as the “Flex 2 14-59422146“). It’s not perfect, but for its price it hits “pretty good” levels in a lot of important areas while managing to avoid deal-breaking flaws. It is powerful enough for day-to-day tasks, portable enough to bring with you without breaking your back, and has enough battery power to last all day. It also has a hinge that bends back around 300 degrees, just in case you wanted to use it like that.

For your $580 you get a dual-core Haswell Intel Core i5-4210U processor, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 500 GB hybrid hard drive with 8 GB of cache, which is enough for most tasks that don’t involve heavy photo or video editing or gaming. The cache will make it feel a little speedier than a regular hard drive, but not as fast as an SSD. The Flex 2 14 also has a 14-inch multitouch panel with a resolution of 1366×768, 7.5 hours of battery life, a decent keyboard and trackpad, and a full array of ports: HDMI, Ethernet, USB 3.0, two USB 2.0 ports, a card reader, and an audio jack. At 0.8 inches thick and 4.4 pounds, it’s lighter and slimmer than most laptops in its price range. Its matte-black plastic exterior and fake-brushed-aluminum palmrest aren’t gonna win many beauty contests (especially compared to most ultrabooks) but it’s not something you’ll be ashamed to break out at a coffee shop. (Unless you don’t buy anything. Then you’re a freeloader and you should feel bad.)

Unlike many expensive ultrabooks, the Flex 2 14 has a removable battery and upgradable RAM and drives. This means you can buy the configuration you can afford now and later squeeze more life out by swapping in a higher-capacity RAM stick and trading the hard drive for a solid-state drive.The Flex 14 in "stand" mode.

The original version of this piece referred to the Lenovo Flex 14. Lenovo has replaced that model with the Flex 2 14. A Lenovo rep confirmed to us that the only difference between our original recommendation and this new Flex 2 14 is that the Flex 2 14 has a newer, better Intel Core i5-4210U processor and a hybrid hard drive and can be upgraded to a 1920×1080 touchscreen. The i5 processor and hybrid drive make the Flex 2 14 a better deal than the original; the high-res touchscreen is not an essential upgrade for the price. The following reviews are for the original version of the laptop.

Reviews for the Flex 14 stay mostly in the range of 3 to 3.5 stars, but this is because the original review units Lenovo sent out came with a Core i5-4200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, an 128 GB SSD, and a suggested price of $1,000, which is madness. At that price, you can get an ultrabook that’s half the thickness and weight with triple the screen resolution and double the SSD space, so it’s no wonder the Flex 14 didn’t review well at $1,000. The $580 version, though, is much more sanely priced, which is why we’ve chosen it for our pick.

CNET’s Dan Ackerman gave it 3.5 stars out of five under the premise that, if you keep the configuration under $800, it’s a good laptop. Once you get above $800 there are lots of better options, particularly when it comes to the display and build quality, echoing what we wrote above.

Laptop Mag’s Sherri Smith said, “If you’re looking for a solid midrange touch-screen notebook that can handle most computing and multimedia tasks, the Flex 14′s $569 Core i3 or $669 Core i5 configurations with standard hard drives are pretty good choices.”

We called in the original Flex 14 alongside a $580 Acer Aspire E1 and $650 Dell Inspiron 14R, using each as a daily machine for a few days. Of the three, I like the Flex 14 best, but it’s not stealing my heart in the way that, say, our favorite Ultrabook does. Then again, it’s cheaper than half the price and has more than half the power of that machine.

For the rest of the review, please go to The Wire Cutter.com.

TIME Apple

These 5 Facts About Apple Will Blow Your Mind

Berlin Apple Store Opens For Business
Apple Inc. iMac computers are seen on display at the new Apple Inc. store located on Kurfurstendamm Street in Berlin, Germany, on Friday, May 3, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even in a slow quarter the iPhone by itself generates more revenue than all of Amazon

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

After Apple reported its quarterly earnings Tuesday, Slate’s Jordan Weissmann offered several eye-opening comparisons. Among them:

  • If the iPhone were a company in its own right, it would be bigger than McDonald’s and Coca Cola combined.
  • The iPad generated more revenue last quarter than Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Groupon, and Tesla combined.
  • Apple’s sales from hardware accessories is larger than Chipotle’s revenue.
  • Apple’s iTunes, software, and services businesses are bigger than eBay.
  • While sales of the old iPod line may be shrinking, it’s still 77% larger than Twitter.

LINK: If Apple Products Were Their Own Companies, They’d Be as Big as …

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at@philiped. Read his Apple AAPL coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.

TIME apps

For a Few Hours, Uber Riders Could Learn Their Client Rating

An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013.
An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

The app's software team quickly repaired the glitch, and passenger rankings were once again controversially private

Uber, as Valleywag’s Sam Biddle writes, “doesn’t care about being hated.” After all, the taxi service application earned a cool $18.2 billion valuation last month, in spite of a gallery of controversial corporate practices that has prompted critics of Silicon Valley to make a litany of accusations. Uber incommensurately raises prices during peak hours, holidays and weather emergencies. Uber sabotages its competition. Uber ranks its customers.

It ranks its customers, yes. At the end of a ride, the application asks the passenger to give his or her driver a ranking on a five star system; the drivers, as the internet has only recently learned, are asked the same of their clients. The underlying logic is obvious and not really anything new — if your credit score is bad, a bank is going to hesitate before doing business with you — but users were nonetheless kind of perturbed, given the secrecy surrounding the passenger rankings. (“Uber Anxiety,” New York Magazine calls it.)

On Sunday, however, a software engineer named Aaron Landy posted to Medium step-by-step instructions on how a client can find his or her aggregate score, via some very simple skullduggery on the app’s mobile website. Uber’s programming team naturally caught wind of this and quickly swooped in to patch things up, but not before a number of Uber riders sought revelation.

By early Monday morning, one user’s attempts to learn his worth in the eyes of the benevolent transit god proved futile.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.39.06 PM

Uber is, however, exploring ways of sharing passenger ratings in future versions of the app, or so they say. Meanwhile, the company expands — they celebrated the launch of service in Hong Kong and mainland China in the last few weeks — with the habit of incurring the wrath of local taxi drivers in each new territory.

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