Archive for the ‘internet’ category


Reduced Facebook? Australia is the lucky country

18.02.2021

Whichever side you are on with Facebook imposing a ban on Australians sharing news content, this says it all about the level of intelligence over at Menlo Park.

   In Australia, Facebook has not only de-platformed legitimate governmental bodies and non-profits, it has de-platformed itself.
   Maybe taxing these companies would have been easier, and the proposed legislation isn’t perfect, but I think most people see through Facebook’s rather pathetic tactics.
   It’s crying foul, saying it would have invested in local media in Australia, but won’t any more. But since Facebook lies about everything, I’ve no reason to believe they ever would have helped media organizations anywhere.
   And notice how quickly it was able to shut off pages, and remove an entire country’s ability to share news—yet it still struggles with removing fake content about COVID-19, extremist content and groups, bots, videos of massacres, and incitement of genocide and insurrection. It has struggled for years.
   We all know that Facebook can do as it wishes with a singular eye on its bottom line. It doesn’t want to pay Australian publishers, so it quickly acts to shut off what Australians can do. But fake content and all the rest—that makes them money, so it doesn’t act at all, other than issuing some empty PR statements.
   We all see through it, and this is probably the best thing it could have done. If people spend less time on its stress-inducing platforms, they will be healthier. And returning Facebook to what it was around 2008 when we shared what we were doing, not what the newsmedia were reporting, is really a plus.
   It’s a splendid own goal that benefits Australians, who will ingeniously find solutions pretty quickly, whether it’s telling their friends about articles via email (which is what I used to do pre-social media), finding alternative services, or, not that I advocate this, resorting to outright piracy by pasting the entire article as a Facebook status update. No news in your feed? There are services for that, like going straight to the sources, or using a news aggregator (if you don’t like Google News, the Murdoch Press actually has one in beta, called Knewz. Who would have guessed that the only organization that stepped up to my half-decade-old demand for a Google News rival would be Murdochs?).
   I doubt New Zealand will have the courage to follow suit, even though last year I wrote to the Minister of Communications to ask him to consider it.

PS.: Removing all Australian media is easy, but removing anti-vaccine pages is hard.

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Brand, sub-brand or model? China’s getting into a confusing phase

16.02.2021


The Dongfeng Aeolus AX7. But just where does Aeolus sit when it comes to indexing in Autocade?

This is something that might have to come out in the wash, and it might take years.
   I think we can all agree that Ssangyong is a marque or a make, and Korando is a model. Never mind that there’s currently a basic Korando, the Korando Sports (a pick-up truck) and a Korando Turismo (a people mover), none of which really have much connection with the other, name aside. We are as comfortable with this as we once were with the Chevrolet Lumina and Lumina APV, the Ford Taurus and Taurus X, and the Toyota Mark X and Mark X Zio. So far so good.
   But when do these drift into being sub-brands? BMW calls i a sub-brand, but as far as cataloguing in Autocade goes, it doesn’t matter, as the model names are i3 or i8 (or a number of ix models now coming out). Audi’s E-Tron is its parallel at Ingolstadt, and here we do have a problem, with a number of E-Tron models unrelated technically. It’s not like Quattro, where there was the (ur-) Quattro, then Quattro as a designation, and everyone accepted that.
   Similarly, the Chinese situation can be far from clear.
   Many years ago, GAC launched a single model based on the Alfa Romeo 166 called the Trumpchi. So far so good: we have a marque and model. But it then decided to launch a whole bunch of other cars also called Trumpchi (the original became the Trumpchi GA5, to distinguish it from at least eight others). Some sources say Trumpchi is a sub-brand, others a brand in its own right, but we continue to reference it as a model, since the cars have a GAC logo on the grille, just as the GAC Aion EVs have a GAC logo on the grille. (The latter is also not helped with Chinese indices tending to separate out EVs into ‘New Energy Vehicle’ listings, even when their manufacturers don’t.)
   I feel that we only need to make the shift into calling a previous model or sub-brand a brand when it’s obvious on the cars themselves. That’s the case with Haval, when it was very clear when it departed from Changcheng (Great Wall). Senia is another marque that spun off from FAW: it began life with the FAW symbol on the grille, before Senia’s own script appeared on the cars.
   The one that confounds me is Dongfeng Aeolus, which was make-and-model for a long time, but recently Aeolus has displaced the Dongfeng whirlwind on the grille of several models. We have them currently listed in Autocade with Dongfeng Aeolus as a new marque, since there’s still a small badge resembling the whirlwind on the bonnet. The Dongfeng Aeolus AX7 retains the whirlwind, but has the Aeolus letters prominently across the back, but to muddle it up, the AX7 Pro has the new Aeolus script up front. These can’t be two different marques but the visual cues say they are.
   Maybe we’ll just have to relegate Aeolus back to model status, and do what Ssangyong does with the Korando (or Changcheng with the Tengyi). These are the things that make life interesting, but also a little confusing when it comes to indexing an encyclopædia.

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How is your ad network different from this?

11.02.2021

No point beating around the bush when it comes to yet another advertising network knocking on our door. This was a quick reply I just fired off, and I might as well put it on this blog so there’s another place I can copy it from, since I’m likely to call on it again and again. I’m sure we can’t be alone in online publishing to feel this way.
   The original reply named the firms parenthetically in the last two scenarios but I’ve opted not to do that here. I have blogged about it, so a little hunt here will reveal who I’m talking about.

Thank you for reaching out and while I’ve no doubt you’re at a great company, we have a real problem adding any new ad network. The following pattern has played out over and over again in the last 25-plus years we have been online.

  • We add a network, so far so good.
  • The more networks we use, with their payment thresholds, the longer it takes for any one of them to reach the total, and the longer we wait for any money to come.
  • Add this to the fact we could get away with charging $75 CPM 25 years ago and only fractions of cents today, the thresholds take longer still to reach.

   Other things usually happen as well:

  • We’re promised a high fill rate, even 100 per cent, and the reality is actually closer to 0 per cent and all we see are “filler” ads—if anything at all. Some just run blank units.
  • We wait so long for those thresholds to be reached that some of the networks actually close down in the interim and we never see our money!
  • In some cases, the networks change their own policies during the relationship and we get kicked off!

   I think the problems behind all of this can be traced to Google, which has monopolized the space. It probably doesn’t help that we refuse to sign anything from Google as we have no desire to add to the coffers of a company that doesn’t pay its fair share of tax. Every email from Google Ad Manager is now rejected at server level.
   If somehow [your firm] is different, I’d love to hear about you. The last two networks we added in 2019 and 2020, who assured us the pattern above would not play out, have again followed exactly the above scenario. We gave up on the one we added in 2019 and took them out of our rotation.
   Hoping for good news in response.

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Facebook fooled us into thinking we were being creative

11.02.2021

My friend Keith has been away from Facebook for six weeks, for work reasons, and hasn’t missed it. And he asked, ‘Was it all really a waste of time?’
   I know you think you know what I’m going to say, but the answer might surprise you a little.
   Fundamentally, it’s yes (this is how you know this blog has not been hijacked), but Keith’s question brought home to me, as well as other work I’ve done this week, the biggest con of Facebook for the creative person.
   It’s not the fact the advertising results are not independently checked, or that there’s evidence that Facebook itself uses bots to boost likes to a page. The con was, certainly when I was a heavy user around the time Timeline was introduced, making us feel like we were doing something creative, satiating that part of our brain, when in fact we were making Zuckerberg rich.
   How we would curate our lives! Show the best side of ourselves! Choose those big pictures to be two-column-wide Timeline posts! We looked at these screens like canvases to be manipulated and we enjoyed what they showed us.
   Before Facebook became ‘the new Digg’ (as I have called it), and a site for misinformation, we were still keeping in touch with friends and having fun, and it seemed to be the cool thing to do as business went quiet in the wake of the GFC.
   And I was conned. I was conned into thinking I was enjoying the photography and writing and editing—at least till I realized that importing my RSS feeds into Facebook gave people zero incentive to come to my sites.
   This week, with redoing a few more pages on our websites, especially ones that dated back many years, I was reminded how that sort of creative endeavour gave me a buzz, and why many parts of our company websites used to look pretty flash.
   The new look to some pages—the photo gallery was the most recent one to go under the knife—is slightly more generic (which is the blunt way to say contemporary), but the old one had dated tremendously and just wasn’t a pleasure to scroll down.
   And while it still uses old-fashioned HTML tables (carried over from the old) it was enjoyable to do the design work.
   There’s still more to do as the current look is rolled out to more pages.
   Maybe it took me a while to realize this, and others had already got there, but most of my time had been spent doing our print magazines lately. But designing web stuff was always fun, and I’m glad I got to find that buzz again, thanks to Amanda’s nudge and concepts for jya.co, the JY&A Consulting site. Forget the attention economy, because charity begins at the home page.



Photo galleries, old and new. The top layout is more creative design-wise than the lower one, but sadly the browsing experience felt dated.

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When fashion magazine websites begin looking the same

08.02.2021


Above: Vogue Korea’s website follows the æsthetic of a big lead image and smaller subsidiary ones.

This started as a blog entry but took a tangent about 500 words in, and it was better as an op–ed in Lucire. Some of the themes will be familiar to regular readers, especially about Big Tech, but here I discuss its influence on web design trends and standardization. The headline says it all: ‘Where have the fun fashion magazine websites gone?’. Browsing in the 1990s was fun, discovering how people coded to overcome the limitations of the medium, and, in my case, bringing in lessons from print that worked. Maybe it’s an age thing, or the fact I don’t surf as much for leisure, but in 2021 the sites I come across tend to look the same, especially the ones that were in Lucire’s ‘Newsstand’ section.
   I do know of great sites—my friend and colleague Charlie Ward has his one, which does everything you would expect from a great designer’s web presence. So many others look like they’ve bought a template. As to those of us in magazines—I’d love to see something that really inspired me again.

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Branding ourselves in the 2020s: a revamp for JY&A Consulting’s website, jya.co

05.02.2021

Last night, I uploaded a revised website for JY&A Consulting (jya.co), which I wrote and coded. Amanda came up with a lot of the good ideas for it—it was important to get her feedback precisely because she isn’t in the industry, and I could then include people who might be looking to start a new venture while working from home among potential clients.
   Publishing and fonts aside, it was branding that I’m formally trained in, other than law, and since we started, I’ve worked with a number of wonderful colleagues from around the world as my “A team” in this sector. When I started redoing the site, and getting a few logos for the home page, I remembered a few of the old clients whose brands I had worked on. There are a select few, too, that I’m never allowed to mention, or even hint at. C’est la vie.
   There are still areas to play with (such as mobile optimization)—no new website is a fait accompli on day one—and things I need to check with colleagues, but by and large what appears there is the look I want for 2021. And here’s the most compelling reason for doing the update: the old site dated from 2012.
   It was just one of those things: if work’s ticking along, then do you need to redo the site? But as we started a new decade, the old site looked like a relic. Twenty twelve was a long time ago: it was the year we were worried that the Mayans were right and their calendar ran out (the biggest doomsday prediction since Y2K?); that some Americans thought that Mitt Romney would be too right-wing for their country as he went up against Barack Obama—who said same-sex marriage should be legal that year—in their presidential election; and Prince Harry, the party animal version, was stripping in Las Vegas.
   It was designed when we still didn’t want to scroll down a web page, when cellphones weren’t the main tool to browse web pages with, and we filled it up with smart information, because we figured the people who’d hire us wanted as much depth as we could reasonably show off on a site. We even had a Javascript slider animation on the home page, images fading into others, showing the work we had done.
   Times have changed. A lot of what we can offer, we could express more succinctly. People seem to want greater simplicity on websites. We can have taller pages because scrolling is normal. As a trend, websites seem to have bigger type to accommodate browsing on smaller devices (having said that, every time we look at doing mobile versions of sites, as we did in the early 2000s, new technology came along to render them obsolete)—all while print magazines seem to have shrunk their body type! And we may as well show off, like so many others, that we’ve appeared in The New York Times and CNN—places where I’ve been quoted as a brand guy and not the publisher of Lucire.
   But, most importantly, we took a market orientation to the website: it wasn’t developed to show off what we thought was important, but what a customer might think is important.
   The old headings—‘Humanistic branding and CSR’, ‘Branding and the law’ (the pages are still there, but unlinked from the main site)—might show why we’re different, but they’re not necessarily the reasons people might come to hire us. They still can—but we do heaps of other stuff, too.
   I might love that photo of me with the Medinge Group at la Sorbonne–CELSA, but I’m betting the majority of customers will ask, ‘Who cares?’ or ‘How does this impact on my work?’
   As consumer requirements change, I’m sure we’ll have pages from today that seem irrelevant, in which case we’ll have to get on to changing them as soon as possible, rather than wait nine years.
   Looking back over the years, the brand consulting site has had quite a few iterations on the web. While I still have all these files offline, it was quicker to look at the Internet Archive, discovering an early incarnation in 1997 that was, looking back now, lacking. But some of our lessons in print were adopted—people once thought our ability to bring in a print æsthetic was one of our skills—and that helped it look reasonably smart in a late 1990s context, especially with some of the limited software we had.

   The next version of the site is from the early 2000s, and at this point, the website’s design was based around our offline collateral, including our customer report documents, which used big blocks of colour. The Archive.org example I took was from 2003, but the look may have débuted in 2001. Note that the screen wouldn’t have been as wide as a modern computer’s, so the text wouldn’t have been in columns as wide as the ones in the illustration. Browsers also had margins built in.

   We really did keep this till 2012, with updates to the news items, as far as I can make out—it looks like 2021 wasn’t the first time I left things untouched for so long. But it got us work. In 2012, I thought I was so smart doing the table in the top menu, and you didn’t need to scroll. And this incarnation probably got us less work.

   There’s still a lot of satisfaction knowing that you’ve coded your own site, and not relied on Wordpress or Wix. Being your own client has its advantages in terms of evolving the site and figuring out where everything goes. It’s not perfect but there’s little errant code here; everything’s used to get that page appearing on the site, and hopefully you all enjoy the browsing experience. At least it’s no longer stuck in the early 2010s and hopefully makes it clearer about what we do. Your feedback, especially around the suitability of our offerings, is very welcome.

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Posted in business, design, internet, marketing, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Another innocent post at NewTumbl that’s too much for the moderators

02.02.2021

Even though I like NewTumbl, it’s never a pleasure to be proved right again about its user-based moderating process, where there is no appeal. Alex at NewTumbl, who empathized with my situation, says this is the latest one to fall foul of the Republic of Gilead user base—and which would have had a pass at Tumblr, the site many left because it was supposedly too restrictive:

   Alex marked it F for family-friendly—it’s a magazine cover from 1948 that anyone around then could have seen, for Chrissakes—but a moderator took this to O, which roughly equates to a PG-13, and which covers ‘sexy and sultry’ imagery.
   As Alex recounted to me in the past, even the cartoon Samantha Stevens from Bewitched was too much for the sensitive eyes of NewTumbl users.
   To the good people at NewTumbl, as you scale, you may need a panel of “super-users” who can hear appeals. I can foresee this sort of stuff driving people back to Tumblr, especially those of us who just want to post G and PG stuff. Adult content is precisely what NewTumbl didn’t want to be known exclusively for, but carry on this way and that’s the likely outcome.

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In the ‘I told you so’ department: Facebook purges left-wing, anti-war accounts

23.01.2021

Further to my Lucire op–ed on January 8, and my blog post on January 11, I hinted that this could happen.
   From the World Socialist Web Site:

On Friday, Facebook carried out a purge of left-wing, antiwar and progressive pages and accounts, including leading members of the Socialist Equality Party. Facebook gave no explanation why the accounts were disabled or even a public acknowledgement that the deletions had occurred.
   At least a half dozen leading members of the Socialist Equality Party had their Facebook accounts permanently disabled. This included the public account of Genevieve Leigh, the national secretary of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality, and the personal account of Niles Niemuth, the US managing editor of the World Socialist Web Site. In 2016, Niemuth was the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for US Vice President.

   Seen it happen before, and we’ll see it again. Given Facebook’s management’s right-wing leanings, this really should come as no surprise. Doing it on a Friday also ensures less coverage by the media.
   I just wonder if the leftists who celebrated the ban of former US president Donald Trump will now be claiming, ‘It’s a private company, they can host whom they like,’ and ‘The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee that these websites should provide you with a platform.’
   I have never trusted Facebook with my personal information and made sure I kept copies of everything. It’s precisely because it is a private company that acts unilaterally and above the law that one never should trust them. We have had so many examples for over a decade.
   My exact words on the 8th were: ‘Leftists (and a good many on the right) might be delighted at the actions taken by US Big Tech, but would one be as cheerful if a Democratic president or a leftist movement were silenced?’
   As I have said for a long time, the left and right have common enemies, and here is a shining example.

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Posted in internet, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


Like communist dictatorships, Google and Facebook threaten Australia

23.01.2021

You know the US tech giants have way too much power, unencumbered by their own government and their own country’s laws, when they think they can strong-arm another nation.
   From Reuter:

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Friday it would block its search engine in Australia if the government proceeds with a new code that would force it and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for the right to use their content.

   Fine, then piss off. If Australia wants to enact laws that you can’t operate with, because you’re used to getting your own way and don’t like sharing the US$40,000 million you’ve made each year off the backs of others’ hard work, then just go. I’ve always said people would find alternatives to Google services in less than 24 hours, and while I appreciate its index is larger and it handles search terms well, the spying and the monopolistic tactics are not a worthwhile trade-off.
   I know Google supporters are saying that the Australian policy favours the Murdoch Press, and I agree that the bar that the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has set for what qualifies as a media business (revenues of over A$150,000 per annum) is too high. So it isn’t perfect.
   The fact Google has made a deal in France suggests it is possible, when the giant doesn’t whine so damned much.
   Plus, Google and Facebook have been dangerous to democracy, and should have done more for years to address these issues. They’ve allowed a power imbalance for the sake of their own profits, so paying for news—effectively a licensing payment that the rest of us would have to fork out—at least puts a value on it, given how it benefits the two sites. No search? Fine, let’s have more ethical actors reap the rewards of fairer, “unbubbled” searches, because at least there would be a societal benefit from it, and since they aren’t cashing in on the media’s work, I’m happy for them to get a free licence to republish. Right now I don’t believe the likes of Duck Duck Go are dominant enough (far from it) to raise the attention of Australian regulators.
   Facebook’s reaction has been similar: they would block Australians from sharing links to news. Again, not a bad idea; maybe people will stop using a platform used to incite hate and violence to get their bubbled news items. Facebook, please go ahead and carry out your threat. If it cuts down on people using your site—or, indeed, returns them to using it for the original purpose most of us signed up for, which was to keep in touch with friends—then we all win. (Not that I’d be back for anything but the limited set of activities I do today. Zuck’s rich enough.)
   A statement provided to me and other members of the media from the Open Markets Institute’s executive director Barry Lynn reads:

Today Google and Facebook proved in dramatic fashion that they pose existential threats to the world’s democracies. The two corporations are exploiting their monopoly control over essential communications to extort, bully, and cow a free people. In doing so, Google and Facebook are acting similarly to China, which in recent months has used trade embargoes to punish Australians for standing up for democratic values and open fact-based debate. These autocratic actions show why Americans across the political spectrum must work together to break the power that Google, Facebook, and Amazon wield over our news and communications, and over our political debate. They show why citizens of all democracies must work together to build a communications infrastructure safe for all democracies in the 21st Century.

   Considering Google had worked on a search engine that would comply with Communist Chinese censorship, and Facebook has been a tool to incite genocide, then the comparison to a non-democratic country is valid.
   So, I say to these Big Tech players, pull out. This is the best tech “disruption” we can hope for. You’re both heading into irrelevance, and Australia has had the balls to do what your home country—from which you offshore a great deal of your money—cannot, for all the lobbyists you employ. You favour big firms over independents, and the once level playing field that existed on the internet has been worsened by you. The Silicon Valley spirit, of entrepreneurship, born of the counterculture, needs to return, and right now you’re both standing in the way: you are “the man”, suppressing entrepreneurial activity, reducing employment, and splitting people apart—just what dictatorial régimes do.
   As an aside, the EU is also cracking down on Big Tech as it invites the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to a February 1 hearing. They’ve bled people for long enough and it’s time for some pushback.

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Posted in business, China, culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Who’d like to ask the hard questions of Wikipedia as it turns 20?

14.01.2021

Well, that was a rather sycophantic interview with Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, on Radio New Zealand, as the online encyclopædia turns 20.
   So I was rather excited when a Tweeter said he was going to interview Wales and asked for questions from the public. I responded:

   Let’s say they’re not going to get asked. He wrote:

   And I responded, quite prepared to engage:

   No reply. And of course there are senior editors: Wikipedians themselves use this term. I can only assume that it’s going to be another sycophantic interview. Why aren’t some people willing to ask some hard ones here? I’m guessing that the only way tough questions are asked about tech is if a woman gets on to it (someone like Louise Matsakis or Sarah Lacy).
   There’s plenty of evidence of all three of my positions, as documented here and elsewhere, and I didn’t even include a great question on bullying.

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