Archive for the ‘culture’ category


Is the death of expertise tied to the Anglosphere?

20.03.2018


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Boris Johnson: usually a talented delivery, but with conflicting substance.

I spotted The Death of Expertise at Unity Books, but I wonder if the subject is as simple as the review of the book suggests.
   There’s a lot out there about anti-intellectualism, and we know it’s not an exclusively American phenomenon. Tom Nichols, the book’s author, writes, as quoted in The New York Times, ‘Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.’
   I venture to say that the “death of expertise” is an Anglophone phenomenon. Head into Wikipedia, for instance, and you’ll find proof that the masses are not a good way to ensure accuracy, at least not in the English version. Head into the German or Japanese editions and you find fewer errors, and begin to trust the pages more.
   Given that many of “the people” cannot discern what is “fake news” and what is not, or who is a bot and who is not, then it’s absolutely foolhardy to propose that they also be the ones who determine the trustworthiness of a news source, as Facebook is wont to do.
   I can’t comment as much on countries I have spent less time in, but certainly in the Anglosphere, I’ve seen people advance, with confidence and self-authority, completely wrong positions, ones not backed up by real knowledge. You only need to visit some software support forums to see online examples of this phenomenon.
   When I visit Sweden, for instance, there’s a real care from individuals not to advance wrongful positions, although I admit I am limited by my own circles and the brief time I have spent there.
   It’s not so much that we don’t value expertise, it’s that the bar for what constitutes an expert is set exceptionally low. We’re often too trusting of sources or authorities who don’t deserve our reverence. And I wonder if it comes with our language.
   I’ll go so far as to say that the standing of certain individuals I had in my own mind was shattered when we were all going for the mayoralty in my two campaigns in 2010 and 2013. There certainly was, among some of my opponents, no correlation between knowledge and the position they already held in society. It didn’t mean I disliked them. It just meant I wondered how they got as far as they did without getting found out.
   Fortunately, the victor, whether you agreed with her policies or not, possessed real intelligence. The fact she may have political views at odds with yours is nothing to do with intelligence, but her own observations and beliefs. I can respect that (which is why I follow people on social media whose political views I disagree with).
   In turn I’m sure many of them disliked what I stood for, even if they liked me personally. Certainly it is tempting to conclude that some quarters in the media, appealing to the same anti-intellectualism that some of my rivals represented, didn’t like a candidate asserting that we should increase our intellectual capital and pursue a knowledge economy. No hard feelings, mind. As an exercise, it served to confirm that, in my opinion, certain powers don’t have people’s best interests at heart, and there is a distinct lack of professionalism (and, for that matter, diversity) in some industries. In other words, a mismatch between what one says one does, and what one actually does. Language as doublespeak.
   So is it speaking English that makes us more careless? Maybe it is: as a lingua franca in some areas, merely speaking it might put a person up a few notches in others’ estimation. Sandeep Deva Misra, in his blog post in 2013, believes that’s the case, and that we shouldn’t prejudge Anglophones so favourably if the quality of their thought isn’t up to snuff.
   Maybe that’s what we need to do more of: look at the quality of thought, not the expression or make a judgement based on which language it’s come in. As English speakers, we enjoy a privilege. We can demand that others meet us on our terms and think poorly when someone speaks with an accent or confuses your and you’re. It gives us an immediate advantage because we have a command of the lingua franca of business and science. It gives us the impunity to write fictions in Wikipedia or make an argument sound appealing through sound bites, hoping to have made a quick getaway before we’re found out. Political debate has descended into style over substance for many, although this is nothing new. I was saying, although not blogging, things like this 20 years ago, and my students from 1999–2000 might remember my thoughts on Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign as being high on rhetoric and light on substance. Our willingness to accept things on face value without deeper analysis, lands us into trouble. We’re fooled by delivery and the authority that is attached with the English language.
   You’ll next see this in action in a high-profile way when Facebook comes forth with more comment about Cambridge Analytica. I can almost promise you now that it won’t hold water.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: the signs were there for years, if one only looked

20.03.2018

Facebook’s woes over Cambridge Analytica have only prompted one reaction from me: I told you so. While I never seized upon this example, bravely revealed to us by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and reported by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian, Facebook has shown itself to be callous about private data, mining preferences even after users have opted out, as I have proved on more than one occasion on this blog. They don’t care what your preferences are, and for a long time changed them quietly when you weren’t looking.
   And it’s nothing new: in October 2010, Emily Steel wrote, in The Wall Street Journal, about a data firm called Rapleaf that harvested Facebook information to target political advertisements (hat tip here to Jack Martin Leith).
   Facebook knew of a data breach years ago and failed to report it as required under law. The firm never acts, as we have seen, when everyday people complain. It only acts when it faces potential bad press, such as finally ceasing, after nearly five years, its forced malware downloads after I tipped off Wired’s Louise Matsakis about them earlier this year. Soon after Louise’s article went live, the malware downloads ceased.
   Like all these problems, if the stick isn’t big enough, Facebook will just hope things go away, or complain, as it did today, that it’s the victim. Sorry, you’re not. You’ve been complicit more than once, and violating user privacy, as I have charged on this blog many times, is part of your business practice.
   In this environment, I am also not surprised that US$37,000 million has been wiped off Facebook’s value and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth decline by US$5,000 million.
   Those who kept buying Facebook shares, I would argue, were unreasonably optimistic. The writing surely was on the wall in January at the very latest (though I would have said it was much earlier myself), when I wrote, ‘All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.’
   This sounds like my going back to my very first Medinge meeting in 2002, when we concluded, at the end of the conference, three simple words: ‘Finance is broken.’ It’s not a useful measure of a company, certainly not the human relationships that exist within. But brand has been giving us this heads-up for a long time: if you can’t trust a company, then it follows that its brand equity is reduced. That means its overall value is reduced. And time after time, finance follows what brand already knew. Even those who tolerate dishonesty—and millions do—will find it easy to depart from a product or service along with the rest of the mob. There’s less and less for them to justify staying with it. The reasons get worn down one by one: I’m here because of my kids—till the kids depart; I’m here because of my friends—till the friends depart. If you don’t create transparency, you risk someone knocking back the wall.
   We always knew Facebook’s user numbers were bogus, considering how many bots there are on the system. It would be more when people wanted to buy advertising, and it would be less when US government panels charged with investigating Facebook were asking awkward questions. I would love to know how many people are really on there, and the truth probably lies between the two extremes. Facebook probably should revise its claimed numbers down by 50 per cent.
   It’s a very simplified analysis—of course brand equity is made up of far more than trust—and doubters will point to the fact Facebook’s stock had been rising through 2017.
   But, as I said, finance follows brand, and Facebook is fairly under assault from many quarters. It has ignored many problems for over a decade, its culture borne of arrogance, and you can only do this for so long before people wise up. In the Trump era, with the US ever more divided, there were political forces that even Facebook could not ignore. Zuckerberg won’t be poor, and Facebook, Inc. has plenty of assets, so they’re not going away. But Facebook, as we know it, isn’t the darling that it was a decade ago, and what we are seeing, and what I have been talking about for years, are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, UK, USA | 4 Comments »


It can’t be that hard to rank media meritoriously, if only the big players had the will

14.03.2018


US Department of Defense

Keen to be seen as the establishment, and that means working with the military–industrial complex, Google is making software to help the Pentagon analyse drone footage, and not everyone’s happy with this development.

The World Economic Forum’s ‘This is the future of the internet’ makes for interesting reading. It’s not so much about the future, but what has happened till now, with concerns about digital content (“fake news”), privacy and antitrust.
   Others have written a lot about search engines and social media keeping people in bubbles (or watch the video below, but especially from 5′14″), but the solution isn’t actually that complex. It’s probably time for search engines to return to delivering what people request, rather than anticipate their political views and feed them a hit of dopamine. They seem to have forgotten that they exist as tools, not websites that reinforce prejudices.
   Duck Duck Go has worked well for me because it has remained true to this; but others can do it, too.
   However, there needs to be one more thing. Instead of Facebook’s botched suggestion of having everyday people rate news sources, which I believe will actually result in more “bubbling”, why not rank websites based on their longevity and consistency of delivering decent journalism? Yes, I realize both Fox News and MSNBC will pass this test. As will the BBC. But this weeds out splogs, content mills, and websites that steal content through RSS. It actually takes out the “fake news” (and I mean this in the proper sense, not the way President Trump uses it). The websites set up by fly-by-nighters to make a quick buck, or Macedonian teenagers to fool American voters, just disappear down the search-engine indices. Facebook can analyse the same data to check whether a source is credible and rank them the same way.
   It could be done through an analysis of the age of the content, and whether the domain name had changed hands over the years. A website with a healthy archive going back many years would be ranked more highly; as would one where the domain had been owned by the same party for a long period.
   Google’s Pagerank used to look at incoming links, and maybe this can still be a factor, even if link-exchanging is no longer one of the basic tenets of the web.
   There’s so much good work being done by independent media all over the world, and they deserve to be promoted in a truly meritorious system, which the likes of Google used to deliver. Shame they do not today.
   We do know that its claim that analysing the content on the page to determine rank hasn’t worked, if some of the results that pop up are any indication. Instead, we see Google News permit the most ridiculous content-mill sites and treat them as legitimate sources; in 2005 such behaviour would be unthinkable by the big G. As to Facebook, they’ll boost whomever gives them money, so ethics don’t really score big there.
   Both these companies must realize they have a duty to do right by the public, but they should also know that it’s in their own interests to be honest to their users. If trust increases, so can usage. They might even ward off some of the antitrust forces looming on the horizon; fairness certainly will help Google’s future in Europe. But they seem to have forgotten they are providers of tools, perhaps reflecting their principals’ desires to be seen as tech celebrities or power-players.
   Google already has the technology to deliver a fairer web, but I sense it doesn’t have the desire to. I miss the days when Google, in particular, was an enfant terrible, there to shake things up. Now it exists to boost its own properties or rub shoulders with the military–industrial complex. Everyone’s keeping an eye on Alphabet’s share price. Forget the people or ‘Don’t be evil.’
   As I have said often on this blog, there lies a grand opportunity for others to fill the spaces that Google and Facebook have left. A new site can play a far more ethical game, maybe even combine what these two giants offer. If Altavista, once the world’s biggest website, and Myspace, once the king of social networks, can be toppled, then so can these two. Yet at their peak, neither appeared to be vulnerable. Who would have thought back in 1998 that Altavista would be toast? (The few that did, and you are out there, are visionaries.)
   So who is best poised out there to deliver such tools? It would seem now is the time to start, and as people realize that this way is better, be prepared to scale, scale, scale. Remember, Google once did the same thing to oust Altavista, by figuratively building a better mousetrap. Someone just needs to take that first step.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | No Comments »


Has Facebook stopped forcing its “malware scanner” on to users after being busted by Wired?

10.03.2018

Since Louise Matsakis’s story on Facebook’s malware scanner came out in Wired, the number of hits to my pieces about my experience has dwindled.
   This can mean one of two things: (a) Wired’s getting the hits, which I don’t mind, considering they are the only tech media who had the cohones to talk about it; (b) Facebook, after being busted by the mainstream media, has stopped falsely accusing its users of having malware on their systems.
   Certainly on Twitter, although Twitter has broken its search function recently, far fewer Tweets with Facebook malware appear in a search.
   Of the two, (b) is more likely, because in previous circumstances, Facebook has only backed down after being embarrassed by the media, or after they receive a threat that could land them in an embarrassing situation.
   That includes the times it kicked off drag queens and kings, only to have them fight back with the media’s help; or leave porn and kiddie porn up, till they’re threatened with reports to the authorities.
   Otherwise, they ignore you—as they have done with users who have complained about the malware scanner for four years.
   It’s not unlike Google, who only stopped hacking Iphones in 2012 after The Wall Street Journal busted them for doing so, or only changed their cookie policies to be in line with their own claims after I busted them in 2011 to the Network Advertising Initiative for lying.
   These firms do have too much power because the law means nothing to them, but embarrassment in the court of public opinion does.
   After Louise’s article came out, Bloomberg did a story on it, as did one independent media outlet.
   So while a very small part of me isn’t thrilled that my hits on this blog have dropped, I’m actually far more pleased to know far fewer people are being lied to by Facebook about having malware on their systems. I’m also happy that tens of thousands, maybe even millions, aren’t wasting their time downloading and running a fake scanner which sends their private data to Facebook.
   It’s also interesting how quickly Facebook switched off their fake-warning system, within days of Louise’s article.
   It wasn’t as quick as Google switching off their Iphone privacy circumventing after the WSJ (same day) but the speed at which Facebook ceased telling people they have malware does suggest that those warnings were, as I said all along, fake. Louise asked the right questions and none of Facebook’s answers made sense.
   Facebook has plenty more misdeeds, and, in time, I am sure the tech media will get to them.
   It may find that despite its wealth, on a lot of things it actually needs to play by the very rules it claims to follow. And that means no more forced downloads of software that send your private data to them.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Happy birthday: Autocade turns 10

07.03.2018


Above: Autocade can be hard work—and sometimes you have to put up less exciting vehicles, like the 2001–7 Chrysler Town & Country, for it to be a useful resource.

March 8, 2018 marks 10 years of Autocade.
   I’ve told the story before on this blog and elsewhere, about how the site came to be—annoyed by the inaccuracies and fictions of Wikipedia (who said the masses would be smart enough to get rid of the mistakes?), I took a leaf out of the late Michael Sedgwick’s book and created a wiki that had brief summaries of each model, the same way Sedgwick had structured his guides. I received an emailed threat from a well known British publisher (I’m looking at you, Haymarket, and as predicted in my reply, your thoughts proved to be totally baseless) when we started, and 12½ million page views later, we’re on 3,628 models (I think we finished the first day on 12), with our page on the Ford Fiesta Mk VII leading the count (other than the home page).
   Autocade began as a wiki but with so many bots trying to sign up, I closed off those registrations. There have really been about six contributors to the site, all told: myself and Keith Adams for the entries, Peter Jobes and Nigel Dunn for the tech, and two members of the public who offered copy; one fed it in directly back in the day when we were still allowing wiki modifications. I thank everyone for their contributions.
   A few years ago, I began running into people online who used Autocade but didn’t know I was behind it; it was very pleasing to see that it had become helpful to others. It also pleased me tremendously to see it referenced in Wikipedia, not always 100 per cent correctly, but as Autocade is the more accurate site on cars, this is the right way round.
   When a New Zealand magazine reviewed us, the editor noted that there were omissions, including his own car, a Mitsubishi Galant. Back then we were probably on 1,000 models, maybe fewer. All the Galants are now up, but Autocade remains a work in progress. The pace of adding pages has declined as life gets busier—each one takes, on average, 20 minutes to research and write. You wouldn’t think so from the brevity, but I want it to be accurate. I’m not perfect, which is why the pages get changed and updated: the stats say we’re running on 3·1 edits per page.
   But it looks like we’re covering enough for Autocade to be a reasonably useful resource for the internet public, especially some of the more obscure side notes in motoring history. China has proved a challenge because of the need to translate a lot of texts, and don’t think that my ethnicity is a great help. The US, believe it or not, has been difficult, because of the need to calculate cubic capacities accurately in metric (I opted to get it right to the cubic centimetre, not litres). However, it is an exciting time to be charting the course of automotive history, and because there are still so many gaps from the past that need to be filled, I have the chance to compare old and new and see how things have moved on even in my four-and-a-half decades on Earth.
   Since Sedgwick had done guides up to 1970, and paper references have been excellent taking us through the modern motor car’s history, I arbitrarily decided that Autocade would focus on 1970 and on. There are some exceptions, especially when model lines go back before 1970 and it would be a disservice to omit the earlier marks. But I wanted it to coincide roughly with my lifetime, so I could at least provide some commentary about how the vehicle was perceived at the time of launch. And the ’70s were a fascinating time to be watching the motor industry: those nations that were confident through most of the 20th century with the largest players (the US and UK) found themselves struggling, wondering how the Japanese, making scooters and motorcycles just decades before, were beating them with better quality and reliability. That decade’s Japanese cars are fascinating to study, and in Japan itself there is plenty of nostalgia for them now; you can see their evolution into more internationally styled product, rather than pastiches of others’, come the 1980s and on. The rise of Korea, Spain, China, India, Turkey, México and other countries as car-exporting nations has also been fascinating to watch. When Autocade started, Australia still had a domestic mass-produced car industry, Chrysler was still owned by Americans, and GM still had a portfolio of brands that included Pontiac and Saturn.
   I even used to go to one of the image galleries and, as many cars are listed by year, let the mouse scroll down the page. You can see periods grouped by certain colours, a sign of how cars both follow and establish fashion. There are stylistic trends: the garishness of smog-era US cars and the more logical efficiency of European ones at the same time; smoother designs of the 1980s and 1990s; a creeping fussiness and a concentration on showing the brand’s identity in the 2000s and 2010s. As some of the most noticeable consumer goods on the planet, cars make up a big part of the marketing profession.
   The site is large enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing an academic look at industry using the data gathered there; and I always thought it could be a useful book as well, bearing in mind that the images would need to be replaced with much higher-resolution fare.
   For now, I’m going to keep on plodding as we commence Autocade’s second decade. The Salon de Genève has brought forth some exciting débutantes, but then I should get more of the Chrysler Town & Country vans up …

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Posted in cars, China, culture, design, globalization, India, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Kylie Jenner Tweets, Snapchat’s value down US$1,300 million

23.02.2018

All it takes is a single Tweet from Kylie Jenner—and Snapchat’s value drops 6 per cent, or US$1,300 million. (Hat tip to Sarah Lacy of Pando.)

   Speaking for myself (which won’t affect Snap’s valuation at all), I could never get it to run. It said it needed Google Services, something which I don’t have and don’t want. Who wants Google tracking them all day long—while using up your own phone’s battery power?
   As Sarah points out in a Tweet, this is why ‘you don’t build a $30b co off one generation’s fads’. Twitter should heed this make their experience better rather than have double standards, keeping one particular user on because they know they’re getting attention. (On that note, why is Twitter search so broken today?)

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Orange may be the new black but the difference is less than you think

09.02.2018


Instruct Studio

It’s easy to dismiss comedians as, well, comedians, there to tell a joke and to get a laugh out of us. But what if the comedian—such as Frankie Boyle—is one of those who sees the state of the world we’re in, and “tells it as it is”? His opinion for The Guardian makes for sobering reading.
   Initially, you think this was going to be a laugh-a-minute piece, when he writes, of US president Donald Trump:

You kind of wish he’d get therapy, but at this stage it’s like hiring a window cleaner for a burning building.

   But there are some uncomfortable truths, and it is certainly not slanted against the right, despite the medium:

I don’t really understand commentators who say it’s vital not to normalise any of Trump’s actions. They have been normalised for eight years by Barack Obama while many of the same people looked the other way. Banks and corporations writing their own legislation; war by executive order; mass deportations; kill lists: it’s all now as normal and American as earthquakes caused by fracked gases being ignited by burning abortion clinics. Of course, there is a moral difference in whether such actions are performed by a Harvard-educated constitutional law professor or a gibbering moron, and the distinction goes in Trump’s favour. That’s not to say Trump won’t plumb profound new depths of awfulness, like the disbanding of the environmental protection agency set up by hippy, libtard snowflake Richard Nixon.

   When confronted with that, it becomes much clearer why many people—and I include American friends of mine who are neither racists nor hicks (sorry to go against the mainstream narrative)—voted for Trump. If the country’s making some very un-American moves, then why not have someone who claims he can make a clean sweep? Never mind that he had no intention of doing so—it’s a case of swapping one bunch for another while satiating his own ego—but people cling to hope in their own ways. I am no supporter of the main alternative they had—Hillary Clinton—and only wish that Americans had the confidence to support a third party as we do, rather than be told ‘A vote for [Jill or Gary] is a vote for [Donald or Hillary].’ I heard this from both supporters of the right (Clinton) and further right (Trump) there, and it didn’t matter which third-party candidate’s name they inserted.
   It’s a reminder that we need to continue forging our own path, and do what is right by us—and it appears our new coalition government has received this message on so many policy fronts in its first 100 days, though with the revised TPPA I wonder sometimes. As Britain is finding out, it’s not that good for your own people to be a vassal of the United States in times like this.
   The solution? Focus on your own doorstep and do what you can with your own government. I won’t quote Boyle’s words here since I’d rather you click through and The Guardian can earn some money from ad revenue (at least from those of us who aren’t using ad blockers), but it’s a good a solution as any.

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The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes

04.02.2018

I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Social media: not the evolution you might have expected

01.02.2018

I’m getting a buzz seeing how little I update social media now. Around February 2016 I began updating Tumblr far less; I’ve gone from dozens of posts per month to four in December 2017 and seven in January 2018. (Here’s my Tumblr archive.) Facebook, as many of you know, is a thing of the past for me (as far as my personal wall is concerned), though that was helped along by Facebook itself. However, I’m still a pretty heavy Instagram user, and I continue to Tweet—though with Twitter’s analytics telling you how much you’re up or down over the previous month, it might be a challenge to see if I can get that down by 100 per cent next. (It won’t happen any time soon, but if Twitter continues on its current path over its policies, it might come sooner rather than later.)
   I’m wondering if the next badge of honour is how much you can de-socialize yourself, and for those of us with web presences (such as this blog), bringing traffic to your own spaces. Why? It’s all about credibility and authenticity. And I’m not sure if the fleeting nature of social media provides them, at least not for me.
   Now in an age where so many are trying to be an “influencer”, then wouldn’t we expect the tide to turn against the shallow, fleeting posters in favour of something deeper and more considered? After all, marketing seeks authenticity—it has for a long time. What is authentic about a social media influencer who changes clothes multiple times a day out of obligation to sponsors? Even if they reach millions, did it really connect with audiences on a deeper level or did it simply seem forced?
   I can understand how, initially, social media were real connectors, allowing people to connect one on one and have a conversation. It seemed logical that marketing would head that way, going from one-to-many, to something more personalized, then (as Stefan Engeseth has posited for a long time) to one where brand and audience were on the same side, trying to find shared values (let’s call it ‘oneness’). At a time social media looked like it would help things along. But has it really? Influencers are less interested in being on the same side than being on the other side, in an adaptation of the one-to-many model. It’s just that that model itself has become democratized, so a single person has the means of reaching millions without a traditional intermediary (e.g. the media). There’s nothing really wrong with that, as long as we see it for what it is: a communications’ channel. Nothing new there.
   Some are doing it right in pursuing oneness with their audiences by posting just on a single topic, updating honestly about their everyday lives—my good friend Summer Rayne Oakes comes to mind with her Homestead Brooklyn account, and has stayed on-message with what she stands for and her message for over a decade. Within the world of Instagram, this is a “deeper” level, sharing values in an effort to connect and be on the same side as her audience. However, she isn’t solely using Instagram; other media back her up. Hers is a fantastic example of how to market and influence in the context I’m describing, so there is still a point to these social media services. But for every Summer Rayne there are many, many who are gathering attention for no values that I can fathom—it has all been about the numbers of followers and looking attractive.
   I haven’t a problem with their choice—it is their space, after all—but we shouldn’t pretend that these are media that have allowed more authentic conversations to take place. Marketers should know this. These messages aren’t customized or personalized. Algorithms will rank them so audiences get a positive hit that their own preferences are being validated, just like any internet medium that places us in bubbles. The authenticity is relative: because no party has come between the communicator and the audience, then it’s unfiltered, and in that respect it’s first-hand versus second-hand. But how many times was that message rehearsed? How many photos were taken before that one was selected? It’s “unreality”.
   There are so many such social media presences now, and crowded media are not places where people can have a decent connection with audiences. Some with millions of users—I’m thinking of young models—might not even be reaching the target audience that companies expected of them. Is what they wear really going to be relevant to someone of the opposite sex browsing for eye candy? That isn’t a genuine conversation.
   Don’t look to my Instagram for any clues, either—I use it for leisure and not for marketing. I don’t have the ambition of being a social media influencer: I’m happy with what I do have to get my viewpoints across.
   And I don’t know what’s next. I see social media decentralizing and people taking charge of their privacy more, even if most people are happy to have the authorities snoop on their conversations. Mastodon has been pretty good so far, because it hasn’t attracted everyone. The few who are there are having respectful conversations, even if posts aren’t reaching the numbers they might on Twitter, and mutual respect can lead to authenticity. If, as a marketer, that’s not what you seek, that’s fine: there are plenty of accounts operating on audience numbers but not genuine conversations—as long as you know what you’re getting into. But I believe marketing, and in particular branding, should form real relationships and dialogue. Not every life is the fantasy shown in social media—we know that that’s not possible. One politician has coined the term ‘fake news’; and social media have “fake lives”, in amongst all the bots.
   If these media become known for shallow connections “by the numbers”, then even those doing it right, forming those genuine conversations, may be compelled to move on, or at least value the social media services less because of what their brands stand for. Email is a great medium still, and you can still have great conversations on it, but email marketing isn’t as “sexy” as it was in the mid-1990s, because there’s more spam than legit messages. It takes skill to use it well and to build up a proper, consented email list. Social media are getting to a point where some big-number accounts are associated with shallowness, and the companies themselves (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) have policies and conduct that have the potential to taint our own brands.
   In 2018, as at any other time, doing something well takes hard work. There is no magic medium.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, technology, USA | No Comments »


An accomplishment: debunking every single point in a Guardian article on Julian Assange

25.01.2018


Elekhh/Creative Commons

Suzi Dawson’s 2016 post debunking a biased Guardian article on Julian Assange is quite an accomplishment. To quote her on Twitter, ‘The article I wrote debunking his crap was such toilet paper that I was able to disprove literally every single line of it, a never-before-achieved feat for me when debunking MSM smears. Check it out.’
   Here is a link to her post.
   I will quote one paragraph to whet your appetite, and you can read the rest of what I consider a reasoned piece at Contraspin. To date there have been no comments taking issue with what she wrote.

To the contrary, other than solidarity from close friends and family, these people usually end up universally loathed. In the cases of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Bill Cosby, these men were protected for decades by the very establishment that they served. It took decades for their victims to raise awareness of what happened to them yet once they finally managed to achieve mainstream awareness, their attackers became reviled, etched in history as the monsters they are. The very speed and ferocity with which the Swedish (and other) governments targeted and persecuted Assange speaks volumes. Were he an actual everyday common rapist it is more likely than not that the police would have taken little to no action. Were he a high society predator, it would have taken decades for the public to become aware of it. But because he is neither, and is in fact a target of Empire, he was smeared internationally by the entire world’s media within 24 hours of the allegations and six years later is still fighting for the most basic acknowledgements of the facts – such as that he has still never been charged with any crime, which Ms Orr fails to mention even once in her entire piece.

   It’s important to keep an open mind on what we are being told—there are many false narratives out there, and neither left- nor right-wing media come to the table with clean hands.

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Posted in culture, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA | No Comments »