Archive for the ‘business’ category


Autocade turns 11 as the web turns 30

12.03.2019


The latest model to appear on Autocade today: the Mazda CX-30.

It’s March, which means Autocade has had another birthday. Eleven years ago, I started a car encyclopædia using Mediawiki software, and it’s since grown to 3,600 model entries. The story has been told elsewhere on this blog. What I hadn’t realized till today was that Autocade’s birthday and the World Wide Web’s take place within days of each other.
   The inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, still believes that it can be used as a force for good, which is what many of us hoped for when we began surfing in the 1990s. I still remember using Netscape 1·2 (actually, I even remember using 1·1 on computers that hadn’t updated to the newer browser) and thinking that here was a global communications’ network that could bring us all together.
   Autocade, and, of course, Lucire, were both set up to do good, and be a useful information resource to the public. Neither sought to divide in the way Facebook has; Google, which had so much promise in the late 1990s, has become a bias-confirmation machine that also pits ideologies against each other.
   The web, which turns 30 this week, still has the capacity to do great things, and I can only hope that those of us still prepared to serve the many rather than the few in a positive way begin getting recognized for our efforts again.
   For so many years I have championed transparency and integrity. People tell us that these are qualities they want. Yet people also tell surveys that Google is their second-favourite brand in the world, despite its endless betrayals of our trust, only apologizing after each privacy gaffe is exposed by the fourth estate.
   Like Sir Tim, I hope we make it our business to seek out those who unite rather than divide, and give them some of our attention. At the very least I hope we do this out of our own self-preservation, understanding that we have more to gain by allowing information to flow and people to connect. When we shut ourselves off to opposing viewpoints, we are poorer for it. As I wrote before, American conservatives and liberals have common enemies in Big Tech censorship and big corporations practising tax avoidance, yet social networks highlight the squabbles between one right-wing philosophy and another right-wing philosophy. We New Zealanders cannot be smug with our largest two parties both eager to plunge forward into TPPA, and our present government having us bicker over capital gains’ tax while leaving the big multinationals, who profit off New Zealanders greatly, paying little or no tax.
   A more understanding dialogue, which the web actually affords us, is the first step in identifying what we have in common, and once you strip away the arguments that mainstream media and others drive, our differences are far fewer than we think.
   Social media should be social rather than antisocial, and it’s almost Orwellian that they have this Newspeak name, doing the opposite to what their appellation suggests. The cat is out of the bag as far as Big Tech is concerned, but there are opportunities for smaller players to be places where people can chat. Shame it’s not Gab, which has taken a US-conservative bent at the expense of everything else, though they at least should be applauded for taking a stance against censorship. And my fear is that we will take what we have already learned on social media—to divide and to pile on those who disagree—into any new service. As I mentioned, Mastodon is presently fine, for the most part, because educated people are chatting among themselves. The less educated we are, the more likely we will take firm sides and shut our minds off to alternatives.
   The answer is education: to make sure that we use this wonderful invention that Sir Tim has given us for free for some collective good. Perhaps this should form part of our children’s education in the 2010s and 2020s. That global dialogue can only be a good thing because we learn and grow together. And that there are pitfalls behind the biggest brands kids are already exposed to—we know Google has school suites but they really need to know how the big G operates, as it actively finds ways to undermine their privacy.
   The better armed our kids are, the more quickly they’ll see through the fog. The young people I know aren’t even on Facebook other than its Messenger service. It brings me hope; but ideally I’d like to see them make a conscious effort to choose their own services. Practise what we preach about favouring brands with authenticity, even if so many of us fail to seek them out ourselves.

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Autocade passes 15 million page views, as SUVs and EVs take hold

11.02.2019

Over the weekend, I noticed Autocade’s page-view stat had ticked over the 15,000,000 mark. In fact, it was at 15,045,000, and I estimate that it hit the milestone around February 6—fitting for it to have taken place as the (lunar) year began.
   With how busy things have been, Autocade has been updated less, but the traffic stats are promising, especially as Stuart Cowley and I film more segments for the Autocade video channel. As the year has started in earnest, there will be more updates, and the Salon de Genève next month usually pushes me to write more. Hopefully that will give our page-view rate a bit of a boost, considering it has slowed since September 2018, when I last posted about this topic.
   The trouble these days is that a lot of entries are about same-again SUVs: at the time of writing, of the last 20 newest entries, there are the Volkswagen Tayron, the Yusheng S330 and S350, the Chinese Ford Territory (based on the Yusheng S330, so it seemed logical to do these at the same time), Lexus UX, Acura RDX (TC1), Volkswagen Tharu, and the Brazilian and European incarnations of the Volkswagen T-Roc (they are different cars; and the Chinese one hasn’t been added, either). Once upon a time, such vehicles would have been relegated to an appendix in publications such as Auto Katalog, but now it’s regular motor cars that are becoming the niche products.
   The electric revolution has also been interesting, but also frustrating, to cover. Autocade is fun when you’re examining lineages; at this point in history, none of these electric models actually replace a petrol or diesel one completely. It’s also been tough getting technical data on some electric cars, the kWh rating, for instance, which we’ve been using as the equivalent for cubic centimetres in the entries. Hence the updates have slowed, because it’s harder to paint a complete picture about some of these cars.
   With China responsible for so many new releases, translation can be slow, especially for someone whose grasp of written Chinese is roughly that of a child’s, though at least I bridge two cultures well enough to weed out some of the obvious errors (e.g. people reporting that the Senova D80 was based on a Mercedes-Benz, which could not possibly be true).
   Following my tradition on this blog, here is how Autocade’s viewing’s going.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for thirteenth million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for fourteenth million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for fifteenth million)

   In September, Autocade had 3,755 model entries; it’s now up to 3,781—not a huge jump, possibly accounting for the traffic rate decrease as well.
   Here’s hoping for a bit more as the year progresses. I’d like to add in an entry for the new Mazda Axela, for instance, but sometimes you have to wait till the company itself publishes public data on its website, just for that extra accuracy. We’ll wait and see.

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Capturing a buyer: some advice to Renault New Zealand

01.01.2019

2017 Renault Captur

On this Pope Gregory Arbitrary Calendar Start Day, I wrote to a contact of mine at Renault New Zealand.
   In mid-2018, I joked that, since Renault had no dealers in Wellington (never mind what’s listed on their website—the only people who can see a dealer there are psychic mediums), I could sell them out of my house.
   Today, I may well have gone some way toward doing that, as someone I know would like a test drive of a first-gen Captur after I put it into her consideration set. After all, I put my money where my mouth is with Renault, so when I recommend one, I do so with some authority.
   In the same note, I detailed some observations about Renault New Zealand’s marketing. I have since forwarded it to their top man in the country.

   • Renault NZ’s marketing has been really stop–start over the years. Every time it feels like there’s a revival, there’s a ra-ra moment that lasts a few months, then nada. Just in the last decade and a half I can think of Clio IIIs being pushed, including a giveaway in the Herald, and the price was right, then nothing. There was some talk about pushing the Mégane III at the turn of the decade, and again it fizzled out. (You may know that in 2010, IIRC, Renault sold 14 cars that year.) The Instagram account itself is an example of a flurry of activity, then it goes quiet for ages.
   • I know within the group there are other brands that management see as more profitable, but I see massive untapped potential. You know you’ve got it right with Captur and Koleos: relative to the promo budget you are moving them, and that says the product is what Kiwis want. It’s worth investing in, and I reckon you should get fans like me, and the South Island club that’s quite active, to help you push it. Land Rover does well with its loyalists in Britain, and I think this is something Renault really needs to do—reach out to us and get some word of mouth going. If I have got you one sale already, there are many others who’d do the same.
   • Kiwis want to see continuity in model lines, which is why the Auris never became the Auris here—Toyota NZ was smart enough to keep the Corolla name going. Fiat’s fatal mistake is letting so many model lines die: not that long ago, it killed every passenger car range in New Zealand in favour of just the 500. Loyalists who bought Bravos and Puntos had nothing to trade to. When the Punto came back—actually a totally different car and a far less advanced Indian import—the goodwill had gone. There’s the same danger here with all those old Mégane, Scénic and Clio buyers of the 2000s. There aren’t many as loyal as me who take matters into their own hands and do a private import. So do think about continuing some lines. Captur will get your Clio buyers, but us Mégane ones have nowhere to go. Fluence was a flop (eight in NZ all up?) but as heated as the C-segment is, not everyone wants a Corolla, 3 or Golf. It might still be worth bringing in lesser Méganes, and the wagon will get those lifestyle buyers. A well-specced wagon would actually have very few rivals in NZ, if pricing and marketing are right (again, get the fans involved). Alaskan will work—but only if we truly see that Renault is here to stay.

   I concluded all that with, ‘And I reckon Hiroto Saikawa is dodgy and he was trying to cover up his own incompetence by framing his old boss and mentor. But that’s another story.’
   Even if I sold one car, I might become the city’s top Renault seller. ‘If you find a better car, buy it.’

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Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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Life inside Google—an ex-Googler airs the dirty laundry

19.10.2018

In amongst all the political fallout of the National Party this week—what I’m dubbing (and hashtagging) ‘caught in the Rossfire’—was a series (well, over 100) Tweets from Morgan Knutson, a designer who once worked for Google. Unlike most Googlers, especially the cult-like ones who refuse to help when you point out a fault with Google, Knutson decided he would be candid and talk about his experience. And it isn’t pretty. Start here:

Or, if you prefer, head to the Twitter page itself, or this Threader thread.
   As anyone who follows this blog knows, I’ve long suspected things to be pretty unhealthy within Google, and it turns out that it’s even worse than I expected.
   A few take-outs: (a) some of the people who work there have no technical or design experience (explains a lot); (b) there’s a load of internal politics; (c) the culture is horrible but money buys a lot of silence.
   Knutson claims to have received a lot of positive feedback, some in private messaging. His Tweets on the aftermath:

   This, I thought, summed it up better than I could, even though I’ve had a lot more space to do it:

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Autocade hits 14,000,000 page views, and we start a YouTube channel

13.10.2018


Above: Behind the scenes of the Škoda Karoq road test for Autocade.

I hadn’t kept track of Autocade’s statistics for a while, and was pleasantly surprised to see it had crossed 14,000,000 page views (in fact, it’s on 14,140,072 at the time of writing). Using some basic mathematics, and assuming it hit 13,000,000 on May 20, it’s likely that the site reached the new million in late September.
   The site hadn’t been updated much over the last few months, with the last update of any note happening in early September. A few more models were added today.
   Since I’ve kept track of the traffic, here’s how that’s progressed:

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for thirteenth million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for fourteenth million)

   In May, the site was on 3,665 models; now it’s on 3,755.
   As the increase in models has been pretty small, there’s been a real growth in traffic, and it’s the third four-month million-view growth period since the site’s inception.
   We’re definitely putting in more crossovers and SUVs lately, and that’s almost a shame given how similar each one is.
   With my good friend Stuart Cowley, we’re extending Autocade into video segments, and here’s our first attempt. It’s not perfect, and we have spotted a few faults, but we hope to improve on things with the second one.

   If you’re interested, you can subscribe to the Autocade YouTube channel here. Of course, given my concerns about Google, the video also appears at Lucire’s Dailymotion channel. Once we get a few more under our belt and refine the formula, we’ll do a proper release.
   And, as I close this post, just over 10 minutes since the start, we’re on 14,140,271.

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Google censors at every level—it’s just what they do

11.10.2018

As my final post on Google Plus, I posted the Murdoch Press article on how the company exposed user data between 2015 and 2018, choosing not to disclose it publicly for fear of regulatory scrutiny and damage to its reputation.
   How interesting to note that it has now been removed twice by the powers that be at Google. I have just posted it a third time.
   I wasn’t willing to put even the first time down to a bug. Google censors, and we know it censors.
   It’s particularly bad timing for a company, so fearful of its reputation being harmed, that reports of its willingness to appease Beijing through censorship are emerging in the same week. (Here’s another.)
   Breitbart has got in on the action, too, citing another leaked briefing, contradicting Google’s public statements that it is neutral. You can read the full briefing, entitled The Good Censor, at this Dropbox link provided by Breitbart.
   This isn’t a case of left versus right here—anyone who follows this blog knows that. Breitbart may be warning us about the latest censorship policy, but on the other side, Alternet has been hit, too. It strikes me that the US’s so-called “opponents” actually have many aligned interests, and their common enemy seems to be forces that attempt to suppress independent voices and individual thinking. We know of Google’s love of corporate media and big business, biasing results in favour of them and against independent media, regardless of merit.
   Part of me laments the demise of Google Plus since I’ve recorded many of Google’s misdeeds there over the years—the removal of ‘Don’t be evil’, refusing to come clean on its gender discrimination, the lack of monitoring of YouTube videos, shutting down critics in the US, and the abuse of monopoly powers, among others. That’s just a tiny handful of links between 2015 and 2018—covering the same period user data were compromised.
   One would have to have blinkers on not to see the pattern that has been forming for over a decade, much of which has been documented here.

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The descent of Twitter

22.09.2018


Dawn Huczek/Creative Commons 2·0

This Tweet was probably half in jest:

   Then, within days, it played out pretty much exactly like this when Frank Oz Tweeted that he did not conceive of Bert and Ernie as gay. Or how Wil Wheaton can never seem to escape false accusations that he is anti-trans or anti-LGBQ, to the point where he left Mastodon. In his words (the link is mine):

I see this in the online space all the time now: mobs of people, acting in bad faith, can make people they don’t know and will likely never meet miserable, or even try to ruin their lives and careers (look at what they did to James Gunn). And those mobs’ bad behaviors are continually rewarded, because it’s honestly easier to just give them what they want. We are ceding the social space to bad people, because they have the most time, the least morals and ethics, and are skilled at relentlessly attacking and harassing their targets. It only takes few seconds for one person to type “fuck off” and hit send. That person probably doesn’t care and doesn’t think about how their one grain of sand quickly becomes a dune, with another person buried beneath it.

   It highlights just how far ahead of the game Stephen Fry was when he abandoned Twitter for a time in 2016:

Oh goodness, what fun twitter was in the early days, a secret bathing-pool in a magical glade in an enchanted forest … But now the pool is stagnant …
   To leave that metaphor, let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know … It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view.

   Not that long ago I was blocked by a claimed anti-Zionist Tweeter who exhibited these very traits, and I had to wonder whether he was a troll who was on Twitter precisely to stir hatred of Palestinians. With bots and fake accounts all over social media (I now report dozens of bots daily on Instagram, which usually responds with about five messages a day saying they had done something, leaving thousands going back years untouched), you have to wonder.
   Years ago, too, a Facebook post I made about someone in Auckland adopting an American retail phrase (I forget what it was, as I don’t use it, but it was ‘Black’ with a weekday appended to it) had the daughter of two friends who own a well known fashion label immediately jump to ‘Why are you so against New Zealand retailers?’ I was “unfriended” (shock, horror) over this, but because I’m not Wil Wheaton, this didn’t get to the Retailers’ Association mobilizing all its members to have me kicked off Facebook. It’s a leap to say that a concern about the creeping use of US English means I hate retailers, and all but the most up-tight would have understood the context.
   This indignant and often false offence that people take either shows that they have no desire to engage and learn something, and that they are in reality pretty nasty, or that they have one personality in real life and another on social media, the latter being the one where the dark side gets released. Reminds me of a churchgoer I know: nice for a period on Sundays to his fellow parishioners but hating humanity the rest of the decade.
   Some decent people I know on Twitter say they are staying, because to depart would let the bastards win, and I admire that in them. For now, Mastodon is a friendly place for me to be, even if I’m now somewhat wary after the way Wheaton was treated, but the way social media, in general, are is hardly pleasing. Those of us who were on the web early had an ideal in mind, of a more united, knowledgeable planet. We saw email become crappier because of spammers, YouTube become crappier because of commenters (and Google ownership), and Wikipedia become crappier because it has been gamed at its highest levels, so it seems it’s inevitable, given the record of the human race, that social media would also descend with the same pattern. Like in General Election voting, too many are self-interested, and will act against their own interests, limiting any chance they might have for growth in a fairer society. To borrow Stephen’s analogy, we can only enjoy the swimming pool if we don’t all pee in it.

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More lies: Instagram’s separate (and now possibly secret) set of ad preferences

02.09.2018

This post was originally going to be about Facebook lying. It still is, just not in the way originally conceived.
   Those who follow this blog know that, on Instagram, I get alcohol advertising. Alcohol is one of the categories you can restrict on Facebook. Instagram claims that it relies on your Facebook ad preferences to control what advertising you see. That is a lie, and it’s still a lie even as of today (with an ad for Johnnie Walker in my feed). I turned off alcohol advertising in Facebook ages ago, and it’s made no difference to what I see on Instagram.
   What it doesn’t tell you is that Instagram keeps its own set of advertising interests, which can be found at www.instagram.com/accounts/access_tool/ads_interests, but it’s only accessible on the web version, which no one ever really checks out. When I last checked on August 18, you could still see a snippet of these interests, and they are completely different to those that I have on Facebook (where I go in to delete my interests regularly, something which, I might add, I should actually not have to do since I opted out of interest-based advertising on Facebook, which means that Facebook should have no need to collect preferences, but I digress). You cannot edit your Instagram ad preferences. They are, like the Facebook ones, completely laughable and bear no resemblance to my real interests. Advertisers: caveat venditor.

   As of now, Instagram no longer lists ad interests for me, though those alcohol ads still show up.

   So, Instagram lies about Facebook ad preferences affecting your Instagram advertising, because they don’t.
   And as late as August 18, because Instagram kept its own set of preferences, it was lying about its reliance on Facebook ad preferences.
   And today, Instagram might still be lying because while it doesn’t show your preferences on Instagram any more, Facebook ad preferences still have no effect on Instagram advertising. As far as I can tell, even though the Instagram ad preference page is blank, it still relies on a separate set of preferences that is now secret and, as before, not editable.
   But we are talking Big Tech in Silicon Valley. Google lies, Facebook lies. You just have to remember that this is par for the course and there is no need to believe anything they say. Even in a year when Facebook is under fire, they continue to give ammo to its critics. This makes me very happy now that there is a body—the EU—that has the cohones to issue fines, something that its own country’s authorities are either too weak or too corrupt to do.

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