Archive for the ‘business’ category


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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The EU lands Google with another fine—but will Google change?

19.07.2018


Zain Ali

The EU gets it when it comes to fines. Rather than the paltry US$17 million certain US states’ attorneys-general stung Google with some years ago for hacking Iphones, they’ve now fined the search engine giant €4,340 million, on top of its earlier fine of €2,420 million over anticompetitive behaviour.
   That US$17 million, I mentioned at the time, amounted to a few hours’ income at Google.
   As the EU’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager noted on Twitter, ‘Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits. It’s illegal under EU antitrust rules. @Google now has to stop it’.
   Google forces manufacturers to preinstall Chrome if they want to install Google Play. The EU also notes that virtually all Android devices have Google Search preinstalled, and most users never download competing apps, furthering Google’s dominance of search. Google pays manufacturers and cellphone networks to preinstall the Google search app on their phones, and prevented manufacturers from installing Google apps if their versions of Android were not approved by Google.
   DuckDuckGo, my search engine of choice, welcomed the decision. It noted:

   This last Tweet is particularly damning about Google’s deceptive practices (or, as I call them, ‘business as usual’ for Google):

   That’s consumer confusion on top of restrictive contracts that promote market dominance and anti-competitive behaviour.
   This is a very petty company, one that shut down Vivaldi’s Adwords account after its CEO gave some interviews about privacy.
   Of course I’m biased, and I make no apology for it—and anyone who has followed my journey on this blog from being a Google fan to a Google-sceptic over the last decade and a half will know just how Google’s own misleading and deceptive conduct helped changed my mind.
   Google’s argument, that many Android manufacturers installed rival apps, clearly fell on deaf ears, and understandably so. While I’m sure Android experts can think up examples, as a regular person who occasionally looks at phones, even those ones with rival apps still ship with the Google ones. In other words, there’s simply more bloat. I’ve yet to see one in this country ship without a Chrome default and Google Play installed, often in such a way that you can’t delete it, and Google Services, without getting your phone rooted.
   I did read this in the Murdoch Press and thought it was a bit of a laugh, but then maybe my own experience isn’t typical:

The impact of any changes mandated by the EU decision on Google’s ability to target ads to users—and to its profitability—is an open question. The two apps targeted in the EU decision, Google’s search and its Chrome browser, are extremely popular in their own right. Consumers are likely to seek them out from an app store even if they weren’t preinstalled on the phone, said Tarun Pathak, an analyst at research firm Counterpoint.

   I just don’t believe they would, and I made it a point to get a phone that would, happily, have neither. By buying a Chinese Android phone, I escape Google’s tracking; by seeking out the Firefox browser, I get to surf the way I want. That choice is going to create competition, something that Google is worried about.
   The Wall Street Journal also states that despite the earlier fine, Google’s shopping rivals said little or nothing has actually happened.
   With all of Google’s misdeeds uncovered on this blog over the years, I’m really not surprised.
   The EU is, at the very least, forcing some to examine just how intrusive Google is. It might soon discover how uncooperative Google can be.

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The decline continues: Facebook pages no longer accept YouTube links

18.07.2018

Many of you know that I no longer use Facebook for my personal stuff. However, there are still work things to do, although I’ve noticed Facebook pages get more and more useless by the day. Here are the stats for my Facebook page:

   Strangely, I can see the stats on a page that’s not even mine, and for which I have no role:

   And now, you can no longer post links to YouTube videos on to pages. Facebook just gets stuck, trying to ‘import’ the link. I’ve tried this from different accounts and had to give up, opting to upload directly into Facebook, which is probably their (unannounced) plan anyway.

   YouTube’s uploading took ages, too. Or, rather, it took ages to find an uploading link. Dailymotion and Vimeo have, by far, superior interfaces.
   Yet, ladies and gentlemen, these are among the top three websites in the world. You truly have to wonder why, in the face of overwhelming evidence of tracking in one case, and privacy breaches in another.
   Facebook had been pretty hopeless as a traffic referrer anyway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others woke up to the fact it is worsening as a business platform.

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Musk apologies to Unsworth, only because teacher told him to

18.07.2018

Via Adeline Chua: I see Elon Musk has apologized to Vernon Unsworth. But it smacks of the apology a child would give after being compelled by his teacher to do so.

   Translation: ‘I wouldn’t have said anything if the Vern didn’t push me. It’s all Vern’s fault.’ Or, ‘Vern made me do it.’
   I stand by my earlier blog post.
   I also take issue that there were mistruths, having watched the interview. As far as I could tell, Unsworth gave his opinion: I never took his statements for anything but that. And he drew a conclusion—that it was all a publicity stunt—that he wasn’t alone in drawing. Musk seems very easily offended by an opinion.
   Even if Musk was sincere, and there is no denying that he devoted resources to his rescue submarine idea, how the whole thing played out did feel like a publicity stunt. It wouldn’t hurt to review just how that perception went out, and how communications could have been better.
   If he hadn’t burned the bridge with Unsworth, maybe he could have had one extra person to ask.
   I find it hard to believe that a South African, someone who described himself as an alpha male once, would actually consider ‘can stick his submarine where it hurts’ to be an actual suggestion he commit a sexual act rather than an insult.
   If we really want to pick hairs on mistruths, Musk inferred that Unsworth wasn’t even there because he didn’t see him. That was exactly what he wanted people to think.
   I admire Musk for a lot of what he has accomplished, and Lucire was an early supporter of Tesla, but this week’s news has prompted me, and others, to look back at how he has conducted himself.
   It’s the record of a privileged man who hasn’t endeared himself to others, as this blogger notes. One might add this link, about a Twitter-based cult that will attack those who go after him (especially if you’re a woman, it seems).
   Just another day on the playground we call Twitter, then.

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