TIME facebook

8 Ways to Get Your Posts Seen More on Facebook

Facebook Inc. signage is displayed outside the company's new campus in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Businesses are in a tizzy these days because the posts on their Facebook Pages are reaching fewer people. A recent study estimated that brand posts on Facebook are typically seen by about 6 percent of a page’s fans, and that figure is expected to fall further this year. The decline has created a growing tension between brands, which have used social media for free marketing for a decade, and Facebook, which is trying to boost its thriving advertising business and manage a deluge of content from individual users and Pages. One company went so far as to “break up” with Facebook because of its page’s declining reach, which yielded a “sorry I’m not sorry” response from the social network.

Despite the angry reaction, Facebook will continue to nudge brands toward paying to reach more of their fans. But there are some strategies page owners can implement to make their free posts more effective. Here’s a guide to making your Facebook Page work for you in the pay-to-play era.

Target Your Posts

Hidden in Facebook’s myriad settings options is the ability to target Page posts to specific users based on their age, gender, location, relationship status and other criteria. Brandon McCormick, Facebook’s director of communications, wouldn’t say whether a targeted post gets a greater organic reach within its subset of users than a post broadcast to all a Page’s fans. But anecdotal evidence from TIME’s Facebook account indicates that targeted posts reach a large percentage of the fans they’re aimed toward in some cases. Even without a boost in reach, a smartly targeted post is more likely to engage those users that do see it. Brands can enable post targeting by selecting “Edit Settings” from the “Edit Page” drop down menu in a Page’s admin panel.

Use Photos, But Make Them Original

Plain-text status updates have secretly been one of most effective types of posts for boosting organic reach for years, but the company announced in January that it would be reducing the distribution of text posts and increasing distribution of others. Photos, when used correctly, can be a win for both audience engagement and reach, and they align with the increasingly visual nature of the social network and its spinoff apps. But be wary of “meme photos,” stock images with humorous or dramatic text layered over them. Facebook has reduced their reach in a quest to promote what it deems “high quality” content.

Post at Odd Hours

Figuring out the best time to post on Facebook has been an elusive goal for social media practitioners for years. Consider this, though: with 757 million people now visiting Facebook every day, maybe you don’t want to post something at the same time as everyone else. If the type of content you’re posting might appeal to people who are awake late at night or early in the morning, try posting during off-peak hours. Remember that it’s easy to schedule a Facebook post in advance.

Start a Conversation

An increasing number of items that appear in the News Feed show a user’s friends engaging with other content—liking, commenting or sharing a post from another friend or Page. If you can get a conversation started with a post by asking a question, it’s more likely that your Page will be pulled into other users’ feeds. Make sure the questions are pertinent to your organization, though. “If you’re a small restaurant, [fans] would rather see what your specials are that night than for you to ask how their day is going,” McCormick says.

Be Engaging

This may seem obvious, but remember that Facebook’s ultimate goal is to keep as many people as possible glued to the social network for as long as possible. If your posts keep people engaged, as measured by likes, comments, shares and time on screen, the social network will reward you with further reach. Spam up your page with excessive posts that no one likes or comments on, and your reach is likely to decline even faster than everyone else’s. The company now regularly resurfaces content that is more than 24 hours old if it’s receiving heavy engagement from users. “Brands are competing for a very, very small pool of space when they’re looking for organic reach,” says Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “The best way to do that is to offer relevant content that attracts user engagement.”

Cross-Promote With Other Pages

Get mentioned in a post by another brand, and your Page could show up in the News Feeds of users who don’t already like your organization. Facebook added this feature in February, but stressed that such cross-promotions have to make logical sense in order to earn extra reach. Ensuring that the two Pages have a large pool of overlapping fans can help. Pepsi, for instance, could mention its subsidiaries like Frito-Lay and Gatorade in a post, or a city tourism page could work to cross-promote that town’s popular restaurants.

Hop on a Trending Topic

Facebook took a cue from Twitter earlier this year and introduced trending topics that attempt to summarize the biggest news of the day. When users click on a trending topic, they see a mix of content from other users and Pages about the story. Posts from friends or Pages a user is connected to get higher placement in the trending feed, so if the topics are relevant to your brand, consider joining the conversation or providing a useful link.

Buy an Ad

Facebook, of course, says this is the most straightforward solution. The company has simplified its ad unit offerings in the last year in effort to attract more customers. “If you’re a business, advertising is probably the best bet for you because what you really care about is guaranteed reach,” McCormick says. “It’s not a great marketing strategy throw something out there and hope somebody sees it.” He points out that Page fans still matter for paid posts because Facebook offers discounts on ads that can be delivered with a social context (basically showing a user that one of their friends also likes the brand featured in an ad). More Page fans means more opportunities to provide this context and buy cheaper ads.

TIME Opinion

Microsoft’s Cortana Raises Important Questions About Sexism and Gender Stereotyping

cortana-halo-4
Cortana, the artificially-intelligent character from the popular Halo video game series Microsoft

Cortana (the Halo-series video game character) has a broader, occasionally controversial history.

Cortana, the name Microsoft’s given its response to Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, may turn out to be a bolder move for the company than I suspect many realize. For starters, she’s a character in a militaristic sci-fi video game that, for all its popularity in gaming-dom, locates her impetus well outside the entertainment mainstream — and as the historical purview of a very specific, mostly not-female demographic.

More importantly, from game one (released back in 2001 for the original Xbox) through Halo 4 (released in November 2012 for the Xbox 360), she’s been a sometimes controversial symbol. On the one hand, she’s a strong-willed and multidimensional female persona in a series that’s been fictively nuanced enough to draw the attention (and participation) of a Hugo and Nebula award-winning writer like Greg Bear. But she’s also a character who’s essentially imprisoned — literally in the series’ case — within the psyche of an adolescent male’s fantasy notion of a Campbellian hero figure: a simultaneously fleshed-out yet hyper-fleshy persona — she’s all but nude in these games, her female parts exponentially more detailed as console graphics and design techniques have improved — who appears in hologram form, Obi-Wan-like, only if Obi-Wan were a nubile pole dancer.

But perhaps that’s just my own biases as a clueless, culturally-compromised male showing through. What’s wrong with nudity (or near-nudity) anyway? Must attractive nearly-nude women be pole dancers? Am I selling pole-dancing short? Are people without clothes (or nearly so) mere sex objects? Is that just latent American prudishness on my part? Fear of female sexuality? Gender stereotyping? A kind of unconscious, compartmentalizing sexism? Is immobility itself necessarily reductive? Doesn’t that then sell the mobility-challenged short?

Or is there also something exploitive and sexist occurring in these games when you start thinking about their demographics and marketing? Does intentionality trump reception? What of Microsoft’s intentions? Do we presume too much? Surely the game’s writers are going to argue there’s nothing sexist about the character.

The question seems to be whether players should celebrate a character like Cortana for her depth and poise (though it’s worth noting that she loses her mind in the most recent game), or view her cynically, as an imprisoned, hyper-sexualized plot actuator — a ploy to titillate the game’s target adolescent male demographic.

And now she’s the name Microsoft’s given its Siri competitor, a Windows 8.1 assistant voiced by the same person responsible for Cortana’s Halo incarnation (Jen Taylor).

Forget Halo for a moment. What about this idea that the personality — and both Apple and Microsoft clearly want us to view Siri and Cortana as personalities — is female and not male, responsible for what amount to secretarial duties like creating alarms, reminders and appointments? To be fair, Apple has a male voice option in iOS, but does anyone use it?

In Microsoft’s case, it sounds like Cortana is female-only, in keeping with her video game persona. So does all the internal testing I presume Apple and Microsoft have been doing suggest people want their servile computer algorithms, just like the computer in Star Trek, to be female? If so, what does that say about us?

This isn’t an indictment of what Microsoft demonstrated at its Build conference yesterday, which from an algorithmic standpoint sounds pretty cool — another step on the very long road toward fully semantic computing, where your computer understands not only what you want to know, but the context in which you want to know it.

I’m just asking the question, because there’s a history here, and in Cortana’s case, one that reaches back over a decade and across one of the fastest-growing (and at this point, greatest revenue-generating) entertainment mediums in history. I don’t have a satisfactory answer yet, but I think it’s important to be mindful that there is a history here, and that we should at least be thinking about its potential implications as we engage with these applications rolling forward.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME FindTheBest

The Top 10 Tech Movies of the Millennium

It’s time. Fourteen years into the millennium, the top 10 tech films need to be crowned.

“Tech” Movies

I’ll admit: this list is more “mainstream tech” than “geeky tech.” Think super hero, special agent and space exploration (though we’ll still get a little computer hacking and time travel for good measure).

This Millennium

Sorry 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Tron (1982). This is for post-2000 flicks only. Keep in mind that late-90s favorites like The Truman Show (1998) and The Matrix (1999) also miss out.

Methodology for the Overall Score

Picking candidates for this list was always going to be subjective (who’s to say what’s “tech” and what’s not?). But with that little task out of the way, we turned to the numbers to assign an overall score for each film.

64% Ratings and Awards

We awarded points based on Oscar nominations for best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress, plus awarded bonus points if the film went on to win the category. We threw in the Golden Globe’s best picture nominees and winners as well. Finally, we awarded points for appearances at America’s top film festivals.

34% Popularity

We incorporated over two dozen top lists, including AFI’s top films and the late Roger Ebert’s picks. We also factored in Facebook fans and Facebook shares for each film.

2% Financial Performance

We gave a small bump for films that did well at the box office.

See the scores for over 150,000 films, plus a more detailed guide on the methodology.

Dishonorable Mentions

Antitrust (2001) – Released shortly after the dotcom bust, Antitrust premiered with promise, sporting a relevant subject, trendy political vibe, and cast of hot-and-young-twenty-somethings. The only problem? The film itself is bland, predictable, formulaic garbage.

Source Code (2011) – With a snappy premise, a half-shaven Jake Gyllenhaal, and a vaguely-tech-friendly title only Hollywood could have devised, Source Code seemed destined to become the next cult-favorite tech flick. Unfortunately, the film’s ending is so bizarre, not even Mr. Gyllenhaal’s deep, dreamy eyes can save it.

Looper (2012) – Another good premise gone dull, Looper builds a fascinating world of time travel, wonky tech, and moral choices before running off the rails of logic in its final hour.

10. Iron Man (2008) – 87/100

The Premise

Sometimes-scientist and full-time womanizer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) demos a fancy “Jericho missile” in Iraq, then gets ambushed. The attack leaves our hero imprisoned, full of shrapnel, and more handsome than ever before. With the help of a fellow soldier, Stark builds an electromagnetic suit, designed to keep all those lethal metal shards from piercing his heart. In a lucky turn of events, the suit is also ideal for fighting crime. A feature-length film ensues.

The Verdict

Between all the tech jargon and Robert Downey, Jr.’s snark, the film is probably twice as verbose as it needs to be. Still, Iron Man represents something special among the saturated superhero genre: a popcorn blockbuster that actually cares about the science behind its technology. High-fives for 13-year-old boys and computer science professors across America.

Tech Smart

Experts praise the suit’s science—from its lightweight design to strength-increasing powers—as reasonably accurate.

Technically Incorrect

While the suit’s flying capabilities aren’t wholly absurd, the g-forces from the fast speeds and quick turns would kill the man, turning Stark to slop. Yes, even his gorgeous face.

9. Skyfall (2012) – 88/100

The Premise

James Bond (Daniel Craig) gets sniped off of a moving train, then whines about it for months while sleeping with gorgeous, semi-anonymous dirty-blondes. Meanwhile, M (Judi Dench) gets hacked by a cyber-terrorist, then grumbles about it while memorizing the complete poetic works of Lord Tennyson. Bond might be getting a little too old for this, but he nonetheless returns to save the very people that abandoned him.

The Verdict

Formulaic but fun, Skyfall is a return to classic Bond, neither as ambitious as Casino Royale nor as disjointed as Quantum of Solace. The basic plot might be used 19 times every summer (jaded white male hero must save girl and/or city who misunderstands him), but the jokes tend to land and Dench brings a heap of gravitas typically missing from modern Bond films.

Tech Smart

When the new Q (Ben Whishaw, geeky and goofy) chastises Bond for expecting more than a basic gun and tracking device, Skyfall says more about modern technology than most of Iron Man. Sometimes, simple is best.

Technically Incorrect

Q’s “hacking interface” near the end of the film is pure Hollywood, a colorful extravaganza caught halfway between a 3D brain model and Windows Media Player music visualizer. A simple command line would have been much more accurate.

8. Minority Report (2002) – 92/100

The Premise

It’s the year 2054, and the law has finally found a way to stop murders before they happen. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) specializes in putting together clues to predict murders, then crashing the future murderer’s pad and yelling loud Tom Cruise things while performing an arrest. It’s only when Anderton discovers that he himself will commit the next murder that the true trouble begins.

The Verdict

With an absorbing premise and smart attention to detail, Minority Report’s opening act is flawless. Then, as though out of ideas, the film cruises its way to an underwhelming finish, with predictable surprises and a Tom Cruise desperate to keep things interesting. Oh well. No one can say he doesn’t try.

Tech Smart

The clue-gathering interface—complete with pinch-to-zoom and swipe to close—seems positively prescient in today’s world of smartphone apps and Xbox’s Kinect. Plus, those iris-enabled, personalized ads (“Hello Mr. Yakamoto and welcome back to the GAP.”) feel exactly like where Google will be in a decade or three.

Technically Incorrect

Unlike the swiping gestures and ocular ads, the video holograms are a ways off—at least the sort that will render a 3D model perfectly from any angle.

7. Primer (2004) – 94/100

The Premise

A festival darling, Primer attempts to play out the logical ramifications of time travel, to a dizzying degree.

The Verdict

The film deserves credit for taking time travel’s many, many (many) logical complications so seriously. Primer is a PhD thesis next to the high school papers of Hollywood’s standard back-to-the-future fare. Unfortunately, Primer is so committed to its philosophical exploration that the film itself suffers. It’s just too damn dense for its 77-minute runtime.

Tech Smart

It’s the one movie on this list that takes its science 100% seriously.

Technically Incorrect

I really can’t comment because it’s too confusing.

6. WALL-E (2008) – 94/100

The Premise

Years in the future, Earth has been reduced to rubble, and Pixar has long, long since stopped making Oscar-winning films. The animation studio shows off what it can do without words for the first half, then flies us to a space station, where we find the human race has turned lazy, self-centered, and addicted to small-screen devices.

The Verdict

A triumph of animation and serviceable environmental brochure, WALL-E is among Pixar’s best feature films. The non-verbal elegance of the first half has rarely been replicated, and even if the PowerPoint-style second half is too blunt, the animation itself is still superb.

Tech Smart

The benignly self-centered, small-screen-obsessed humans are all too real. To Pixar’s credit, the movie is pleasant, creepy and clairvoyant, all at once.

Technically Incorrect

Pixar probably intended to emphasize its message by making all the lazy humans overweight, but the film oversteps a bit here, underscoring a link between lazy and fat that science says is more tenuous than we think.

5. Inception (2010) – 94/100

The Premise

Inception raises a tantalizing question: What if we could convince a person of something by infiltrating their dreams? Energy tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Dominick “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) to convince Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to sell his father’s company. Dom and his crew develop a scheme to invade Fischer’s dreams in order to plant the key information deep in his brain.

The Verdict

DiCarprio mesmerizes as Cobb, mixing lost love, boyish intrigue, and overconfidence in a performance a notch or two better than the genre requires. Ellen Page plays the precocious youth as well as always. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Well, we all love Joseph.

Tech Smart

Inception plays with the concept of lucid dreaming, where the sleeper can take control of her dreams because she knows she is asleep. Science says a limited version of this is actually possible—some people can do so naturally, while others can learn and improve.

Technically Incorrect

While scientists have learned to inject very basic signals into dreams, they’ve never come close to actually creating thoughts from scratch. Inception does technology reasonably well—just suspend disbelief for the central premise.

4. Her (2013) – 95/100

The Premise

Greeting card writer and hipster-clad fashionista Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). He goes on to learn a little bit about life, a little bit about love, and a few other things that earn the film a best picture Oscar nomination.

The Verdict

Smarter and more believable than it looks, Her is a surprisingly touching love story. Phoenix pouts more convincingly than an 8-year-old ballerina, while Johansson delivers her best performance to date—using only her voice.

Tech Smart

Refreshingly, Her’s operating systems speak with human inflection and aren’t bent on world domination, more realistic than the thousand Terminators and I, Robots of evil-AI past.

Technically Incorrect

If Her takes place several decades in the future, then why does everyone in the film dress like they live in modern-day Portland or Seattle? The film nails the technology, but the fashion is too hipster for its own good.

3. Avatar (2009) – 95/100

The Premise

See Disney’s Pocahontas. Then add blue skin and tails in post-production.

The Verdict

While the overriding plot may not be all that original, Avatar is one of the few modern films that fully justifies 3D technology. The movie is gorgeous, imaginative, and as it turns out, unbelievably profitable.

Tech Smart

Scientists say all the space travel, floating land, and magnetic fields are reasonably believable, given the rules the film establishes. Plus, the interplanetary imperialism will ring true for anyone who’s read a history textbook.

Technically Incorrect

Biologically, Avatar leaves its firm (but floating) ground. In reality, the blue Na’vi people are far too similar to humans. The odds of finding such similar beings would be astronomical. Here, James Cameron (director) went for audience-appeal over accuracy.

2. The Social Network (2010) – 96/100

The Premise

Dancing from deposition room to a (fake) Harvard campus to an Appletini dinner, The Social Network tells the story of Facebook’s inception, from the original idea to the friendships and Shakespeare-worthy betrayals.

The Verdict

David Fincher nearly directs The Social Network to death, but his tight control ends up being one of the film’s greatest strengths. Each scene sparkles with Fincher’s precision, and the opening bar scene is worthy of London’s best stage productions. If you never liked The West Wing, you’ll have to get past Aaron Sorkin’s too-smart-by-half dialogue, but regardless, The Social Network is one of the finest films of the last 14 years. (And yes, it’s better than The King’s Speech.)

Tech Smart

The depiction of Facemash.com’s creation—from Mark’s on-a-whim decision, to the code used, to the traffic it received—is all spot on. You can even hear Jesse Eisenberg describe a “Perl script” in his best attempt at engineering geek-speak.

Technically Incorrect

Facemash may or may not have crashed Mark’s own computer, but it certainly wouldn’t have crashed Harvard’s network. This was pure invention, a little like half the statuses we see on Facebook these days.

1. Gravity (2013) – 96/100

The Premise

Surprisingly attractive astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) make gradual, seemingly arbitrary repairs on a space station while laughing about stories that are only sort of funny. Soon, however, space debris flies in, destroying their shuttle and sending our heroes hurtling into space. Will they survive?

The Verdict

Poetic, poignant, and gripping, Gravity succeeds with a simple plot and stunning visual effects. While some have criticized the film for being too shallow, Gravity presents a compelling metaphor about depression, loss, and sheer force of will.

Tech Smart

Gravity constructs each space vessel—from the buttons to dials to design—with admirable accuracy.

Technically Incorrect

Gravity takes several liberties in order to tell a more exciting story. From the speed of the space debris (it’s still too slow in the film), to the mysterious momentum (why is Kowalski being pulled away from Stone while they cling to a rope?), to Bullock’s beautiful, airbrushed body (she wouldn’t look like that after removing her suit), Gravity takes a few shortcuts.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME Software

WWDC 2014: Apple to Announce New Goodies at June Developer Conference

WWDC Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces iOS 7 at a keynote address during the 2013 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 10, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Kimberly White--Getty Images

There’s an old saying that tech bloggers like to use: “It wouldn’t be June without an Apple developer conference in the earlier part of June. Let’s wait to see what Apple announces and then either type about it or make videos about it, or perhaps both.” Ask any tech blogger about that saying, and if he or she denies it, the appropriate response is, “You’re either with us, or you’re against us.” Maintain eye contact the entire time you say that phrase, too.

Anyhoo, this year will be no different. Apple has just announced the dates of WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) – it’ll run between June 2 and June 6, almost certainly with an opening keynote where Tim Cook and friends will unveil what’s next for Apple.

The announcements skew heavily to the software side – this is a developer conference, after all – but previous WWDCs haven’t been without hardware announcements. Last year, we saw the totally redesigned and very-cylindrical Mac Pro and revamped MacBook Air models; the Retina MacBook Pro was unveiled in 2012; the iPhone 4 debuted back in 2010; there was the unibody MacBook Pro and the iPhone 3GS back in 2009; the iPhone 3G was revealed in 2008. But the point of the conference is software, software, software. Last year it was a heaping helping of iOS 7.

That’s not a bad thing, by any means. Without software, all you’ve got are paperweights. You could argue that software’s far more exciting than hardware nowadays: Phones are rectangles, tablets are rectangles, laptops are rectangles that fold down on top of other rectangles. Software is the soul of our gadgets.

We’ll have plenty of WWDC coverage right here – make sure to check back in early June.

Apple Worldwide Developers Conference [Apple.com]

TIME Video Games

Blizzard Pushing Hearthstone Out for iPad, Where It Probably Belongs

Blizzard

But you'll have to live in Canada, Australia or New Zealand to play the tablet version for now.

Hearthstone is a free-to-play card game staged in Blizzard’s Warcraft-verse that arrived for Windows and OS X earlier this month, March 11. It’s also been in the offing for iOS and Android devices, which is where you’d think any sort of card game would work best, but all Blizzard said last fall was that we’d see the latter versions sometime during the second half of 2014, i.e. sometime between July and December.

But as of last night, Blizzard says the game is officially available for Apple’s iPad (though not the iPhone, nor Android devices). The only catch: you have to live in Canada, Australia or New Zealand, since that’s all Blizzard’s supporting for now. The company says the “rest of the world” will see the iPad version “soon.” (Since Hearthstone is Battle.net-based and thus online-angled, I assume the staggered rollout is just Blizzard doing server capacity due diligence.)

Why push the iPad version’s release up by at least three months? Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime says that while 10 million people have registered accounts with the service, “we saw that a few people online were holding out for the iPad version.”

“Instead of calling those folks up individually, we figured we might as well let everyone know that the global iPad rollout for Hearthstone has begun, and pretty soon it’ll be available everywhere.”

Where it won’t be available everywhere soon: Android devices, iPhones and Windows tablets. Blizzard says those versions are “in development and will be available in the future.”

TIME Technlogizer

Hands On with Amazon’s Fire TV: 10 Things I’ve Learned So Far

Fire TV
Amazon

It's not a Roku- or Apple TV-killer. But it's got some clever touches

What you are about to read is not a full-blown review of Amazon’s Fire TV, the $99 video set-top box the company announced at a New York press event on Wednesday. In the short time I’ve had with it so far, I’ve only dipped briefly into the games, which are one of this Android-based gadget’s major features. And I haven’t yet tried the integration that lets you throw video from a Kindle Fire tablet to the Fire TV.

With that disclaimer out of the way, some initial impressions and notes:

1. It doesn’t blow away the competition. The Fire may be a latecomer, but it’s not a me-too knockoff: It has the beefiest specs of any product in its category and by far the most ambitious approach to gaming. But if you’ve already got a Roku or Apple TV, you don’t need a Fire TV. And if you haven’t bought one yet, all three contenders are worth considering.

2. It’s a bit thin on content. Not that there isn’t a lot to watch. And if you’re mainly interested in Amazon’s own stuff–including rentals, videos to purchase, and the items available at no extra cost to Amazon Prime members–you’ll probably be very happy. But Roku and Apple TV, which have been around for years, both have more in the way of sports (Fire TV just has Watch ESPN, MLB.tv and NBA Game Time) as well as HBO Go and other significant offerings not yet available on the Fire. Actually, Roku has over a thousand channels of content–a figure I can’t see either Amazon or Apple approaching any time soon.

3. The voice part of voice search works just about perfectly. At least for me. When I pressed and held the voice button on the little remote control, its built-in microphone understood almost everything I said–“Albert Brooks,” “Lady Gaga,” “The Freshman,” “Sonic,” “Pandora,” “comedies,” “new releases” and much more. Slick indeed.

4. The search part has some quirks. In the majority of cases, it does more or less what you’d expect: Search for “John Wayne,” and you’ll get John Wayne movies as far as the eye can see. But in multiple cases, I found the results to be anywhere from slightly weird to very weird. For instance:

  • Slightly weird: Some searches returned results that don’t make obvious sense. For instance, searching for “Peter Sellers” got me movies with Peter Sellers in them–but also the TV series Frasier, produced long after Sellers left us.
  • Very weird: Searching for “Beatrice Arthur” (or “Bea Arthur”) returned a number of films she isn’t in, including Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis (!), but not the two things she’s most famous for: Maude and The Golden Girls. Even though both are available from Amazon.
  • Not weird, but not helpful: Precise search results such as “Jason Alexander” often return one or more TV series in their entirety, dumping you at season one, episode one. As far as I can tell, there may or may not be something in there truly relevant to your search, and you may or may not be able to find it.

5. It is really, really easy to rent or buy content from Amazon with this thing. The voice search, generally snappy interface and 1-Click-style integration with your Amazon account add up to the fastest way I’ve seen to find something you want to see, pay for it and begin watching. It’s the best implementation of Amazon’s streaming service yet, which helps explain why Amazon decided it was worth building its own box even though it’s already on so many other companies’ devices.

6. Video sources other than Amazon are mostly second-class citizens. I noticed that voice search sometimes pulled up music videos from Vevo. But even though the Fire TV offers two major competitors to Amazon’s own video service, Netflix and Hulu Plus, they’re self-contained apps rather than part of the primary, Amazon-centric interface, and they don’t work with voice search. Use voice (or the main text-based search) to look for “House of Cards,” for instance, and you’ll only get the show’s first season, which is available for purchase from Amazon–even if you subscribe to Netflix, where you can watch the first two seasons at no additional cost.

7. The ASAP video feature really works. Amazon says that the box attempts to guess what you might want to watch before you’ve asked for it, so it can pre-fetch it and play it back instantly. And indeed, some videos started the moment I selected them, in a way that feels borderline impossible. Others took a few seconds, but were still speedy compared to the norm for Netflix and Hulu.

8. The box seems to err on the side of smooth video quality over a crisp picture. When I connected to my home network over Wi-Fi, I noticed that the image was often a bit blocky, but that the stream almost never stalled. (I ended up plugging the Fire into a wired network connection, which got rid of the blockiness.)

9. I don’t care much about the relative industrial designs of these little TV boxes. Amazon brags about Fire TV being .7″ thick, the same height as a dime balanced on its edge. But really, the nice thing about this device, Apple TV and Roku is that they’re all about the size of a sandwich, and easy to tuck out of the way. The aesthetics and exact sizes don’t matter all that much, because all of these boxes blend so unobtrusively into the background.

10. Amazon’s own music service is missing. I’ve bought a fair number of albums from the company, but I can’t listen to them on Fire TV. Which is a tad odd, since it does have Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

When Amazon introduces something new, it often does so at a price that changes the game. That hasn’t happened here. Instead, it tried to put together a really nice product at a price point ($99) with plenty of precedent. A couple of days ago, there were only two viable competitors in the market for small, simple, affordable TV boxes: Roku and Apple. Now there are three–and it’ll be fun to see where Amazon, which takes categories seriously when it gets into them, goes from here.

TIME fitness

6 Great Sites and Apps for Taking Fitness Classes at Home

Not everybody is motivated to work out consistently by themselves, which is why fitness classes are so popular. Somehow having an instructor bossing you around makes it easier to put in the necessary time and effort to get in a good workout. But what if you don’t have the time or desire to go to the gym?

Sure, you can use a fitness DVD at home, but I tend to get bored after watching the same video more than a few times. Fortunately, I’ve found six great sites and apps that provide high-quality video instruction at home.

Grokker

Grokker

The founder of this expert video network dreamed it up when she found herself unable to find a good yoga video on YouTube, Vimeo or other video sites while she was on vacation. Live since November, Grokker offers free video instruction in yoga, fitness and cooking.

With its wide range of styles, expert personalities and backdrops, Grokker lets you “love” videos and record them in your profile, create playlists or collections of the videos you like the most and follow experts to receive a notification every time a new video gets posted. The more you use Grokker, the better it gets at suggesting appropriate videos for you. Nearly a third of Grokker’s 3,500 videos are so-called premium spots produced by experts and exclusive to the site; the rest are curated from the web.

Grokker is a great free resource with ample content and variety.

Price: Free from Grokker

DailyBurn

DailyBurn

Enter your age and fitness level, and popular website and mobile app DailyBurn lets you choose from fitness programs of various lengths, purposes and intensities. Cardio Sculpt, for example, runs for three months and gives you six different video workouts a week, while Inferno is a three-week program that aims to deliver intense results quickly.

Not the hardcore type? DailyBurn offers plenty of lower intensity video programs such as yoga, dance classes geared for weight loss and toning and a True Beginner program for folks who are new to fitness or reintroducing it into their lives after a long time.

At $10 a month, DailyBurn offers a few standout features. You can stream DailyBurn video on a wide range of devices including Xbox 360, Apple TV, Google TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TV and your computer as well as iOS and Android phones and tablets. With features for tracking your weight and using a heart rate monitor to sync heart rate data and calories burned, the service feels like more of a full-fledged fitness and weight loss platform than some of the others listed here.

DailyBurn is especially valuable if you ante up an extra $5 a month for Ignite, DailyBurn’s nutrition program that includes meal planning to help you avoid things like soy, dairy, gluten, artificial sweeteners, sugar and alcohol.

Price: $10/month or $15/month premium version (added nutrition program) at DailyBurn

FitnessGlo

FitnessGlo

All of the workout videos featured on this site — more than 500 videos in HD and three new videos added each week — are filmed in house at the FitnessGlo studios in Santa Monica, Calif. For $12 a month, FitnessGlo lets you choose classes according to teacher, level, duration or style including balance, barre, cardio, Pilates, step, strength, yoga and more. It lets you track how much time you spend working out and save classes you like to a favorites area.

One feature we especially like is the ability to schedule classes — you choose the day and time for class, useful for classes you especially like and would like to repeat on certain days. Other nice features include email reminders that click straight through to a video you’ve scheduled and an offline mode that lets you view classes on your iPad or iPhone even when you don’t have an Internet connection.

Price: $12/month at FitnessGlo

FitStar

FitStar: Tony Gonzalez

My favorite of the pack, FitStar is a beautiful video-based fitness app for the iPhone and iPad designed by NFL pro Tony Gonzalez. Built on an adaptive platform, the app learns your fitness level as you rate the difficulty of various exercises within each session, as well as how well you’re able to perform each move. A fitness test when you first launch the app helps FitStar recommend videos appropriate for your fitness level.

The app is compatible with devices such as FitBit and UP by Jawbone as well as the FitBit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale. You can sync FitStar with MyFitnessPal as a central repository for all your health and fitness data, including calories burned and fitness progress.

What I like most about FitStar is how it shows a countdown for every move within a session, so if you’re really having a hard time, you know how long the torture will endure. The app lets you connect with friends and share achievements on Facebook and Twitter.

FitStar’s free version gives you two “get moving” sessions per week and access to eight freestyle sessions. Premium access for $5 a month or $30 a year adds unlimited access to all content and the ability to switch between programs at any time.

Price: Free at iTunes or $5/month premium version (unlimited content)

Ballet Beautiful

Ballet Beautiful

Want a different kind of workout? Ballet Beautiful offers live online video classes taught by a professional ballerina as well as a streaming library you can access by the class or by unlimited monthly subscription.

Classes include targeting toning exercises, prenatal workouts, cardio sessions and feature titles such as “Sugar Plum Workout” and “Swan Arms.” While Ballet Beautiful is a bit more expensive than some of the other options listed here, the company’s ethos is lofty: to help customers “build and maintain the beauty, strength and grace of a ballerina.”

Ballet Beautiful costs $39.99 a month for unlimited access to its video library as well as customized workouts tailored to your goals. You can purchase individual videos starting at $8. Live online classes are $35 each or $280 a month and include unlimited access to the library.

Price: From $8 at Ballet Beautiful

Pilatesology

Pilatesology

If Pilates is your preferred exercise, Pilatesology is for you. Featuring more than 30 Pilates professionals (some of whom have trained celebrities), the site offers a generous selection of mat and apparatus classes. Filter according to pace, skill level, duration, popularity, body area or health issues such as back, knee or sciatica problems.

Pilatesology offers unique classes in Italian, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish. It lets you mark favorite classes and track the ones you’ve taken.

Price: $19/month or $150/year at Pilatesology

Want still more advice on how to get fitness instruction at home? Here’s a great alternative: Use your laptop or tablet to connect with a trainer via video chat. Services start at $19 for a half hour on sites such as Wello.

This article was written by Christina DesMarais and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Cuba

Report: U.S. Officials Created a ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Overthrow Castro

Washington covertly made ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet, to woo mobile users with news stories. Once the platform's audience would balloon, the supposed—and failed—goal was to flood it with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs'

Fifty-three years after the C.I.A. failed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government with a group of armed Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. government is still trying to dislodge the Caribbean island’s communist regime, according to a new report.

The Associated Press, citing documents and people involved in the project, reports the U.S. government has been working covert backchannels with aid agencies funneling money through front companies for years to create a social media platform designed to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

The social media platform called ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet, was designed to entice the country’s mobile users with non-controversial news stories. Later, once the platform had engaged hundreds of thousands of followers, ZunZuneo was then supposed to be flooded with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs.’”

During its peak, the service attracted 40,000 followers, but fizzled out due to funding issues among the front companies in 2012. In the end, the U.S. government’s Cuban social media platform failed to incite a revolution and Fidel’s brother Raul Castro remains firmly in power.

[AP]

TIME Tech

The Class War Is Back On in San Francisco

San Francisco Google bus
Residents protests rising evictions and rents in San Francisco by blocking two private shuttles transporting tech workers from their homes in San Francisco to their jobs in Silicon Valley on Jan. 21 2014. Katy Steinmetz—TIME

A City Hall hearing on a transportation pilot program quickly devolved into heated arguments about buses that shuttle Google employees to work, and whether they symbolize efficiency or inequality

On Tuesday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, an 11-member outfit that runs the city, sat through a marathon, eight-hour hearing in a high-ceilinged room at City Hall. The central issue of that hearing—an appeal for an environmental review of a transportation pilot program—was soporific on the surface. But the pilot program at issue was the city’s regulation of private shuttles, known colloquially as “Google buses,” and discussions of air quality quickly gave way to heated arguments about class warfare.

Citizens have long been complaining about private shuttles that use public bus stops without paying or being ticketed, particularly the imposing, double-decker coaches that pick up tech workers in San Francisco and ferry them to jobs at big tech firms in Silicon Valley. For angry citizens whose public buses might be blocked or delayed by these vehicles, the private shuttles have become symbols of a two-tiered system in San Francisco—one in which the wealthy are given breaks and the poor are displaced. “I have a problem with the arrogance of tech companies who have captured our bus stops,” said a union worker who spoke during the hours of public comments on Tuesday. “You’re going to make cuts to programs for the poorest families in this city, and these Google people stroll in and out like they’re royalty. And I’m sick of it.”

Among the dozens who took turns in front of the microphone—some leveling disrespectful epithets at the supervisors, others giving sarcastic speeches, and many trying to find a middle ground—were some “Google people” and other tech workers who are often lumped into a stereotyped “them” by residents angry about changes Silicon Valley wealth is spurring in the city. “I don’t know how this has become an engineering or tech issue,” said an engineer, noting that many of his colleagues have lived in the city for decades. “Let’s talk about affordability, transportation. I would love to talk about all those things, but how about [people critical of tech workers] first admit that we are part of the local community as well. Until then, they can take their Tea Party tactics and go bully another minority … We pay atrocious rents just like you do.”

In an attempt to appease the public, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority recently presented a plan to start regulating the private shuttles, charging them $1 per stop to recoup their costs. (A state law limits them from charging more than their outlays for this type of program.) The pilot program, set to start this summer, was exempted from being given an environmental review but labor unions and community groups appealed that decision, arguing that the environmental impact of the shuttles—from noise pollution to the displacement effect of increasing the value of apartments near the stops—must be calculated. The city’s transit authority and planning department countered that the project isn’t introducing a fleet of shuttles; it’s gathering data on how the city might regulate shuttles that are already operating, and that regulation has negligible environmental impact.

While some supervisors quizzed city attorneys and transportation officials even-handedly, trying to work out all the legal nuances of the state law and case law, others came to the meeting with a clear line of questioning in mind. Supervisor Scott Wiener engaged in a heated back and forth with the lawyer arguing in favor of the environmental review, Richard Drury, pointing out that of the private shuttles currently operating, an estimated 80% transport riders within the city, to schools and hospitals as well as tech firms, while only 20% take riders out of town—yet their case focuses only on those 20%.

“It’s your position that it’s only the fact that tech workers are living here that is causing gentrification and it’s only the tech shuttles that are causing the noise, bike, pedestrian and cancer problems. I don’t understand that,” Wiener said, suggesting that the appeal wasn’t really about environmental issues. Drury argued that physical differences in the shuttles, like their size, and the way they use streets partly account for their focus on that 20%. Wiener also emphasized how many cars the shuttles keep off the road, before more tech workers testified to their dependence on the shuttles during public comments.

Other supervisors threw Drury softballs so he could expand on the potential damages of the “pirate private shuttles.” But as the matter came to a vote, many supervisors emphasized that the decision before them was about the environmental impact study alone, not about whether they liked the pilot program and even less about how they felt about private shuttles in general. With one supervisor absent by the time the vote finally took place around 10:30 p.m., the appeal failed 8-2, meaning the pilot program can go forward as planned.

Right before the vote, Supervisor Jane Kim—who voted against the appeal—explained that she had many doubts about the pilot program and suggested another path of recourse might have a greater impact. “It may be,” she said, “that this is an issue that is more appropriate for the ballot.” And with the appeal lost, critics of the private shuttle program are likely giving that avenue a closer look.

TIME Streaming Music

The Biggest Problem with Spotify Is Being Fixed Now

Spotify

"Your Music" collection finally makes streaming a viable replacement for iTunes.

For the longest time, I’ve stayed away from Spotify for one major reason: The inability to organize a collection of favorite music made it a nonstarter for me.

Starting today, that’s changing. As part of a significant redesign, Spotify is adding a “Your Music” section to its apps and website. At last, you can sort your favorite tracks by artist, album or song. It works just like iTunes–and like every other on-demand streaming music service that has offered this feature for ages. Spotify had been testing a similar “Collections” feature for months, but never rolled it out under the old design.

The fact that Spotify has grown to 24 million active users without a proper music collection feature is not lost on me. Much of that may be due to Spotify’s business model, which offers a free, ad-supported version to lure in users. If you’re only using the free version of Spotify–and therefore not trying to replace your MP3 collection with it–the inability to cultivate a streaming record collection may not be a big deal.

But I suspect that many people don’t care about sorting through an album or artist view anyway. We live in the age of the playlist, which is indeed the main way that Spotify users have organized and cataloged their music up until now. I like a good playlist as much as anyone, but growing up on tapes and CDs has conditioned me to think in terms of the entire album, not just a few favorite songs. While Spotify has always allowed you to “star” favorite albums, doing so only added them to a massive, unorganized list of tracks.

Spotify has good reason to add a “Your Music” collection now. In December, the company expanded its free service, so you can listen to playlists or individual artists on shuffle mode from a smartphone, or listen to any track on-demand from a tablet. Having full access to your collection on a smartphone might nudge more users toward paying for a $10 per month subscription, which also removes advertisements, provides greater sound quality and supports offline listening.

Spotify is rolling out the redesign and “Your Music” feature to iOS, its website and its desktop apps starting today, and support on other platforms is coming “soon.”

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