The 75-Page iBook



Atlantic Records has taken an uncommon approach to using Apple’s iBooks Author — touted as a creation platform that will “reinvent the textbook” — by building an interactive ebook for rock band Shinedown‘s next album.

The 75-page ebook comes out March 27 to coincide with the Amaryllis album release and visually tells the story of the band’s new songs, creative process and cover art.

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records

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Atlantic Records has taken an uncommon approach to using Apple’s iBooks Author — touted as a creation platform that will “reinvent the textbook” — by building an interactive ebook for the band Shinedown‘s next album.

The 75-page iPad ebook will be available March 27, coinciding with the Amaryllis album release. The ebook visually tells the story of the multi-platinum rock band’s new songs, creative process and cover art.

Frontman Brent Smith says the ebook, titled “FOR YOUR SAKE: Inside the Making of Shinedown’s Amaryllis,” revives the complete album experience, which changed when CD booklets and liner notes became less prevalent.

“With so many people getting their music digitally these days, they don’t always get to enjoy the full experience that you get by exploring physical CDs or vinyl albums,” Smith told Mashable. “I remember picking up Soundgarden’s Superunknown. For me, it’s a perfect example of an album that does an amazing job at connecting the artwork and packaging to the actual music.”

“No other major recording artist has done this yet, no other artist has told the story of an album like this before.”

The ebook is broken down into four parts and features never-before-seen photos presented in interactive galleries, as well as videos featuring detailed commentary from Smith.

Users also can discover the meaning of the lyrics through audio and visuals, and play with the album artwork designed by Atlantic Records creative director David Harrigan.

Atlantic Records roped in rock journalist Jonah Bayer to interview band members and pen the stories found in parts one and two of the ebook. Graphic artist Edith Levin designed each page.

“No other major recording artist has done this yet; no other artist has told the story of an album like this before,” says Mike Mignano, director of digital product development at Atlantic Records.

Mignano, who gave Mashable a hands-on demo of the ebook (see video below), says tools such as iBooks Author have allowed the label to create products in a way that wasn’t possible until recently. He adds that the label is also focused on experimenting with new products, such as apps and casual games, to give music fans experiences that don’t already exist in other mediums.

The Shinedown ebook will cost $5.99 and be sold on iBooks 2.

A Demo of Shinedown’s iBook

More About: apple, Atlantic Records, celebrities, Entertainment, iBooks 2, Music, Shinedown

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If you’ve skimmed the TODAY Show’s website recently, you may have noticed something familiar. It looks a heck of a lot like Pinterest.

In fact, Pinterest is influencing website design all over the place. Companies are favoring intensely visual, accessible design elements similar to the pins on Pinterest.

TODAY has found that a similar site concept resonates with its Pinterest users. “There’s something about the mindset of Pinterest that is similar to what [people] love about — and that’s discovery,” says TODAY’s digital director, Jen Brown. “Sometimes I go to Pinterest and I’m not sure what exactly I want, but I know I’m going to find something fun. That’s really how we try to program our site.”

SEE ALSO: How Pinterest Is Changing Website Design Forever
Brown explains that, similar to Pinterest, provides people with five minutes-worth of entertaining, interesting content that they can discuss at their happy hours or mommy groups. She says that both Pinterest and give users “a little moment that they can take away with them when they have a chance.”

Those “moments” also originate from the TODAY Show broadcast itself, Brown says. The show lends itself well to visual snapshots, which incidentally, work well on Pinterest. For instance, when a Rockefeller Plaza fan brought a picture of Matt Lauer as Rosie the Riveter, TODAY’s digital team recognized that the occasion would pin well to Pinterest. “You have to grab that one moment and put it out there,” says Brown.

Other content that does well on the TODAY Show Pinterest? Food, animals, travel and aspirational messages, says Brown. And we’re not talking complicated, gourmet dishes, but rather, accessible meals that anyone can tackle. That mindset has a lot to do with TODAY’s family-centric, female demographic. And while many would argue that Pinterest’s 82% female user base and the TODAY Show’s audience couldn’t be a better fit, “TODAY means different things on different platforms, so I don’t think it’s a one-to-one correlation,” says Brown. “But we try to be mindful that [the show has] a very specific audience with specific behaviors and specific interests.”

Brown suggests that users embrace a similar brand of specificity in their own Pinterest activities. She advises that pinners use the platform with targeted goals in mind — her first boards organized ideas and inspiration for redecorating her living room. “That really gave me a reason to look for various rugs that go with my weird green couch,” she says. “When you have a purpose, it becomes really fun to search and explore, and you find the people who are talking about the same things.”

How do you see Pinterest affecting the social media presences of media and entertainment organizations in the future? Let us know your thoughts about TODAY’s strategy in the comments below.

More About: design, Entertainment, features, Media, pinterest, trending, TV

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No one is sure what Google has up its sleeve, but it could be something you’ll have at home in years to come.

Google applied for a Federal Communications Commission experimental license to test an unnamed prototype entertainment device in its employees’ homes. The company says the device will connect to home electronics through wireless Internet and Bluetooth.

The main reason for the testing is to see if the device works properly and to “reveal real world engineering issues and reliability of networks,” the company said in its application. Google says the device is still in early stages of development and will be modified after reviewing test results from the 252 devices Google would like to place into employee homes in New York; Cambridge, Mass.; Los Angeles and Mountain View, Calif.

Google asked to test the devices from Jan. 17 to July 17.

SEE ALSO: FCC Grants Google Access To “Super Wi-Fi” Broadband Spectrum

“From this testing we hope to modify the design in order to maximize product robustness and user experience,” the application — submitted by Richard Whitt, Google’s director and managing counsel for Telecom and Media — says. “Utilizing the requested number of units will allow testing of real world network performance and its impact on applications running on the device, so that any problems can be discovered and addressed promptly.”

Little has been disclosed about the what the device actually is, but GigaOM and tech bloggers are wondering if it could be related to Android@Home — Google’s technology to control light switches, alarm clocks and other home appliances through Android devices — or wearable Google Goggles.

Watch the video to learn more. What do you think Google is testing?

More About: android, Entertainment, Google, technology, Video

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James Phillips is co-founder and senior vice president of products for Couchbase, a leading NoSQL database company.

Online gaming has steadily grown over the past decade, now generating billions of dollars in annual revenue and representing one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. In the last couple of years, social games have taken center stage, producing the vast majority of growth in the online gaming market.

If you are planning to build and launch a social game, growth is what you should be concerned with and prepared for. In large part due to their tie to Facebook, these games can accelerate from zero to millions of users literally overnight — Zynga’s CityVille game reached 100 million monthly active users within 40 days of its launch. Cost-effectively supporting that kind of growth, while sustaining a snappy and compelling gaming experience, presents an enormous challenge at every layer of the game’s technology stack.

On the flipside, many games tend to peak and then wane over time. As important as it is to be able to absorb new users during the growth phase of a game, it is equally important to be able to dial back resources (and therefore cost) as the game’s popularity declines.

Managing Social Game Data

The database layer presents a particular challenge for these games, as traditional approaches to data management tend to fall short in these environments. This is a new and vibrant area of technology innovation. Three key attributes characterize the data layer of a social game that is prepared for success:

  • Elasticity: Matching infrastructure costs to demand optimizes a game’s profitability. The ability to easily dial up (and dial down) database resources is a critical part of that equation. One should be able to make these capacity changes to a live game so there is never a need to take a game offline, maintaining continuous revenue generation.
  • Low latency: Interactive games must be responsive. Making a player wait for feedback leads to abandonment. If the experience is not quick and predictable, users leave … and take their entertainment budget with them. Database technologies must be able to consistently deliver sub-millisecond random reads and writes of data, across the entire scaling spectrum.
  • Data format flexibility: The best social games adapt, delaying or preventing boredom and the resulting decline in active user count. The data tier must be flexible enough (even at very large scale, and without downtime) to support the changing data management requirements of a game in transition.

These are hard problems to solve at social gaming scale. To meet these needs, a new class of database — the NoSQL database — has garnered a lot of attention in the last couple of years. New open source, NoSQL databases provide the kind of performance and flexibility required of a social game database. If you are preparing for social gaming success, they are worthy of consideration.

Choosing the Right NoSQL Database

Selecting the right NoSQL database can be difficult. It seems like a new NoSQL database project appears every week. Sorting through the options can be daunting. There are various classes of NoSQL database: key-value, document, graph, columnar. Each data model has pros and cons.

Which is right for a social game? There is a lot of talk about “Big Data” in addition to NoSQL. Are these the same thing?

Let’s sort through these questions, in reverse order:

Big Data vs. Big Audience

There are two fundamental problems being addressed at the data layer today.

  • Big Data. Data is being generated at an unprecedented rate. How can you efficiently analyze these extremely large datasets and identify patterns, trends and opportunities? This is the “Big Data” problem. Technologies like Hadoop, Map-Reduce and Cassandra are solutions built for analyzing very large datasets. They are generally batch-oriented and focused on analysis.
  • Big Audience. Social games have user counts measured in the millions. Millions of users put tremendous pressure on a database — regardless of the size of the dataset. Even with only a few bytes per user (and thus a fairly small aggregate dataset size), keeping up with a non-stop stream of random reads and writes from a large number of concurrent users is incredibly hard. This is the Big Audience problem and what NoSQL databases are designed to address.

Of course, if you have a Big Audience, you are probably going to generate Big Data. And most social games deploy both a transactional NoSQL database for real-time data serving to the application and a Big Data solution for data analysis.

Classes of NoSQL Database

The term “NoSQL” database is an unfortunate choice. More accurate would be “non-relational,” transactional database. This is the consistent characteristic across these “NoSQL” databases (some of which, confusingly, do support at least a subset of SQL). So if these solutions are not relational, what are they?

There are a number of data models: key-value, document, column-oriented and graph to name the most common. Each model has pros and cons making them more or less appropriate for a given application. Document-oriented databases power the majority of NoSQL deployments behind social games, largely due to their balance of four key criteria:

  • Performance. The document data model keeps related data in a single physical location in memory and on disk (a document). This allows consistently low-latency access to the data — reads and writes happen with very little delay. Database latency can result in perceived “lag” by the player of a game and avoiding it is a key success criterion.
  • Dynamic elasticity. Because the document approach keeps records “in one place” (a single document in a contiguous physical location), it is much easier to move the data from one server to another while maintaining consistency — and without requiring any game downtime. Moving data between servers is required to add and remove cluster capacity to cost-effectively match the aggregate performance needs of the application to the performance capability of the database. Doing this at any time without stopping the revenue flow of the game can make a material difference in game profitability.
  • Schema flexibility. While all NoSQL databases provide schema flexibility, key-value and document-oriented databases enjoy the most flexibility. Column-oriented databases still require maintenance to add new columns and to group them. A key-value or document-oriented database requires no database maintenance to change the database schema (to add and remove “fields” or data elements from a given record).
  • Query flexibility. Balancing schema flexibility with query expressiveness (the ability to ask the database questions, for example, “return me a list of all the farms in which a player purchased a black sheep last month”) is important. While a key-value database is completely flexible, allowing a user to put any desired value in the “value” part of the key-value pair, it doesn’t provide the ability to ask questions. It only permits accessing the data record associated with a given key. I can ask for the farm data for user A, B and C to see if they have a black sheep, but I can’t ask the database to do that work on my behalf. Document-databases provide the best balance of schema flexibility without giving up the ability to do sophisticated queries.


Which Option Is Right for Your Game?

If you agree that a document-oriented approach is correct, then you’ve already substantially reduced the number of contenders. If you were previously considering Big Data and NoSQL as synonymous, you’ve further reduced the set. From there, you should consider the important attributes we previously identified: elasticity, concurrent random read latency and throughput, and data format flexibility.

Additionally, one must consider the ease with which developers can build applications that interact with the database. Are there well-maintained and documented SDKs/client libraries? Is there a community of users to provide support and guidance? Is the technology being actively developed, enhanced and improved? Can you get commercial support if desired?

If you are considering building a social game, you must consider the infrastructure requirements to support growth. Your choice of database technology is arguably the most important infrastructure component decision you will make.

More About: contributor, Entertainment, features, Gaming, Tech, Web Development

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Samsung hopes it can entice developers to create apps that can connect televisions, phones, tablets and laptops. For the second year in a row, Samsung is hosting what it calls the Free the TV Challenge.

The challenge tasks app developers to create applications and solutions using the Samsung TV App SDK. Last year, the focus was on getting third-party app content for the company’s line of Smart TV and Blu-ray players. This year, the company wants developers to focus on creating “converged apps”: Ones that will offer interaction between a Samsung Smart TV and at least one other screen, like a phone or tablet.

Samsung is asking developers to look into three categories:

  • Controller Apps – Ones that let a phone, tablet or PC control an app running on a TV.
  • Companion Apps – Think second screen apps, with a focus on synchronized, supplemented content.
  • Interactive Apps — Apps that let the user use a device as a secondary display. That means you could start using an app on one device and pick up where you left off on another gadget.

The winning developer will get $100,000, plus a 65″ LED TV and a Galaxy Tab 10.1. The winning app will also be featured in the “Recommended” section of the Samsung Apps store for two months. Second and third place winners will receive $75,000 and $50,000 respectively, plus a 55″ TV and a Galaxy Tab 10.1. The contest is open until November 29, 2011 at 5:00pm EST. Judging will take place between December 2 and December 16, 2011. The winners will be announced on January 13, 2012, and Samsung’s website has a complete list of rules and eligibility requirements.

MOVL, the startup that won first place in the 2010 Free the TV Challenge, is making its MOVL Connect Platform available to developers free of charge during the contest period.

It makes sense that Samsung is asking developers to innovate and build cross-device applications. Connected devices are more common than not, and we access content in increasingly fluid ways. That said, we do wonder how much utility developers will be able to provide within the context of the Samsung TV SDK. And we hope devs will be able to incorporate technologies such as DLNA, which are supported by devices other than just Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players, when building their apps.

The only real problem we see in the burgeoning connected app space is the high level of fragmentation. Almost every TV vendor has its own platform, and those platforms are often incompatible with one another. So developers have to build apps for multiple TV makers, not to mention set-top boxes like the Boxee Box, Roku and Google TV. We would really like to see TV makers align on some sort of base platform for connected applications.

What do you think of companies sponsoring developer contests to enhance their product ecosystems? Let us know in the comments.

More About: connected devices, connected tv, samsung, second screen, second screen apps

Monday’s Google Doodle celebrates the birthday of Queen’s legendary singer Freddie Mercury, and it’s definitely one of the most interesting doodles to come out of Google‘s workshop yet.

Arguably one of the best vocalists in rock music history, Mercury was born on Sept. 5, 1946, and died on Nov. 24, 1991. He was known for his flamboyant presence on stage, amazing four-octave vocal range and an unforgettable series of hits which ranged from hard rock to power ballads to neoclassical pieces.

Monday’s Doodle is also accompanied by a blog post from Google, which was written by none other than Queen’s guitarist Brian May, who recently performed at the MTV Video Music Awards with Lady Gaga.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Animated Google Doodles [VIDEOS] | Where Do Google Doodles Come From?

“Some people imagine Freddie as the fiery, difficult diva who required everyone around him to compromise. No. In our world, as four artists attempting to paint on the same canvas, Freddie was always the one who could find the compromise — the way to pull it through. If he found himself at odds with any one of us, he would quickly dispel the cloud with a generous gesture, a wisecrack or an impromptu present,” May wrote.

BONUS: More Google Doodles

The Christmas Google Doodle

Each package gets larger with a mouse-over, and a click on it returns search results pertinent to a specific country or the particular items featured in a scene. This one is from December 24, 2010.

Charlie Chaplin Google Doodle

The Google Doodle team stars in an homage to the silent film era’s greatest star’s 122nd birthday, April 15, 2011.

Google Logo Repelled by Cursor

This one’s done in HTML5 and was published Sept. 7, 2010. To get the full effect, here’s one you can interact with.

John Lennon Google Doodle

This Doodle commemorated John Lennon’s 70th birthday in October 2010.

Martha Graham

Debuting May 10, 2011, this Google Doodle marks dance choreographer Martha Graham’s birthday.

Robert Bunsen

Commemorated the birthday of the inventor of the Bunsen burner, German chemist Robert Bunsen on March 31, 2011.

Thomas Edison

The great inventor’s birthday was honored on February 11, 2011.

Independence Day

Marking Independence Day 2010.

Pac-Man’s 30th Anniversary

A real crowd pleaser was this playable Pac-Man game, which appeared on May 21. 2010. Here’s a playable version.

More About: animation, Freddie Mercury, Google, google doodle, queen

The beta for iTunes Match, Apple’s service for bringing all of your music to iCloud, has been released to developers.

The service is part of the release of iTunes 10.5 beta 6.1. iTunes Match scans a user’s music and finds copies of those songs in iCloud, regardless of whether those songs were purchased through iTunes. That music can then be played or streamed via iTunes.

The iTunes Match beta is available now to U.S. developers for $24.99 for a 12 month paid subscription. Developers that jump on iTunes Match during the beta period get an additional three months for free. Developers should back up their iTunes library because “Apple will periodically reset your iCloud library during the beta.”

Apple will face stiff competition for its cloud-based offering from startups like Spotify and Rdio. Apple’s strong relationship with the labels gives it a distinct advantage though as it prepares to push iCloud to the masses.

More About: apple, itunes, itunes-match, music

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