Archive for the ‘internet’ 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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A more honest computing glossary

26.10.2018

Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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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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The Facebook and Twitter purge: you can violate policies by doing nothing

16.10.2018

I’m not familiar with The Anti-Media, but New Zealand-based lawyer Darius Shahtahmasebi, who contributed to the site, notes that it was caught up in the Facebook and Twitter purge last week.
   The Anti-Media, he notes, had 2·17 million Facebook followers. ‘Supposedly, Facebook wants you to believe that 2.17 million people voluntarily signed up to our page just to receive all the spam content that we put out there (sounds realistic),’ he wrote in RT.
   After Facebook removed the page, Twitter followed suit and suspended their account.
   Not only that, Shahtahmasebi notes that Anti-Media team members had their Twitter accounts purged as well. Its editor in chief received this message: ‘CareyWedler has been suspended for violating the Twitter Rules. Specifically, for:’. That was it. She’s none the wiser on what violation had been committed.
   But here are the real kickers: their social manager had access to 30 accounts, and Twitter was able to coordinate the suspension of 29 of them, while their chief creative officer had his removed, including accounts he had never used. The Anti-Media Radio account suffered a similar fate, Twitter claiming it was due to ‘multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter rules’—and it had no Tweets.
   Shahtahmasebi has his theories on what was behind all of this. It does give my theories over the years a lot of weight: namely that Facebook targets individuals and its “rules” are applied with no reference to actual stated policies. Essentially, the company lies. Twitter has been digging itself more deeply into a hole of late, and it’s very evident now, even if you didn’t want to admit it earlier, that it operates on the same lines. Google I have covered before, some might think ad nauseam.
   One of his conclusions: ‘There is nothing much that can be done unless enough people take a principled stand against such a severe level of censorship.’ In some cases, including one Tweeter I followed, it has been to vote with one’s feet, and leave these spaces to continue their descent without us.

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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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Facebook’s censorship purge is a joke

13.10.2018

Facebook has continued its purge of pages and individual accounts, and proudly proclaimed, ‘Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior’.
   Long-time readers of this blog will know why I think this is a massive joke.
   If I can find 277 bots and fake accounts in one evening in 2014 (and that wasn’t an outlier) and Facebook says they had to take action in a public statement on a grand total of 251, then Facebook doesn’t have any clue of how bad its problem is.
   Even though I barely use Facebook, I found around 50 fakes yesterday, and I’m just one person. How many of those fakes are still up, I have no idea, but I can bet you they weren’t part of the 251 purge.
   Let’s face it, Facebook loves the fakes. They count them as they help exaggerate their claims of user numbers, and those have been proven to be BS last year. They even use them when people pay for likes via Facebook itself, again a long proven fact.
   Those 277 bots in 2014 were coordinated, and the most recent ones I found (largely based in Asia, especially Myanmar) were also coordinated.
   We know Facebook targets accounts, including to plant software on users’ computers, and the reasons given have no foundation in fact.
   Those 251 were political, given the theme of the purges this week, as Facebook, along with Google, play censor. They’ve no time for independent voices, while big corporations survive. So much for the web being the leveller, which we once hoped in the 1990s, as the big players work among themselves to do whatever they can to cement their view of the world.

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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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Google exposed private user data between 2015 and 2018

09.10.2018

Big Tech isn’t afraid of the law, but it is afraid of bad press that could affect its stock price. The Murdoch Press has, refreshingly, stayed on Google’s case, revealing that there had been another exposure of user data, allowing developers access to private information between 2015 and March 2018.
   The company sent a memo warning executives not to disclose this, fearing ‘regulatory interest’.
   The access was available via Google Plus, which the company says it will permanently close.
   In 2011 I predicted Plus would be a flop, while tech journalists salivated at the prospect, calling it, among other things, a Facebook killer. A few years later, you couldn’t find much support among the tech press, but no one admitting they were wrong.
   I had warned regularly on this blog of privacy holes that I had found on Google, with inexplicable mystery parties among my Circles or on Google Buzz, as well as strange entries in my Google account. I’ve talked often about what I discovered with Google’s ad preferences (something it got away with for up to two years), but I’ve also found YouTube and search history settings turned on without my consent. Murdochs had revealed Google hacked Iphones, which led to a lawsuit. To learn that Google has had a privacy problem, one that it let slip for three years, does not surprise me one bit.

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Twitter stutters and other Big Tech misadventures

07.10.2018

I think the signs of a departure from Twitter are all there. Certainly on a cellphone there’s little point to it any more. As of last week, this began happening.

   That last sentence refers only to the fact that Twitter is the only website on the planet where the keyboard is incompatible. (Thanks to Andrew McPherson for troubleshooting this with me.) Other sites are buggy, too: earlier today I couldn’t delete something from Instagram (being owned by Facebook means all the usual Facebook databasing problems are creeping in), and one video required four upload attempts before it would be visible to others:

I couldn’t reply on the Facebook website to a direct message (clicking in the usual typing field does nothing, and typing does nothing) except in image form, so I sent my friend this:

   Earlier this year, many friends began experiencing trouble with their Facebook comments: the cursor would jump back to the beginning of text fields, pushing the first few characters they typed to the end. Others are complaining of bugs more and more often—reminds me of where I was four or five years ago. And we all now know about Facebook bots, four years after I warned of an ‘epidemic’.
   It’s as I always expected: those of us who use these sites more heavily encounter the bugs sooner. Vox was the same: I left a year before Six Apart closed it down, and the bugs I encountered could never be fixed. I’m actually going through a similar battle with Amazon presently, blog post to come.
   Now, since Mastodon and others work perfectly fine, and there’s no end of trouble to Big Tech, it’s inevitable that we jump ship, isn’t it?

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The easy-to-spot signs of the social media racist

02.10.2018

As Twitter (and other social media) descend, what’s been interesting is seeing how many of us Kiwis aren’t being terribly original. No, I don’t exactly mean Dr Don Brash thinking that he can import US-style division into New Zealand wholesale without understanding the underlying forces that helped Donald Trump secure their presidency (in which case such attempts here will fail), but I do mean how later Tweeters hunt for keywords and arguments to defend institutionalized racism, sexism, and other unsavoury -isms, then use imported techniques because they saw on television that they worked overseas.
   I recall one not long ago who was evidently looking out for white male privilege, with some pretty standard Tweets prepared and an odd refusal to address fundamental questions—that sort of thing. There’s little point getting into a debate with nobodies who troll, and it’s all too obvious how they emerge on your radar.
   Once upon a time social media didn’t have these types, but then once upon a time, email didn’t have spammers. It’s the natural development of technology that humans tend to mess up pretty decent inventions. But, like spam, we find ways of dealing with it.
   Race was one that came up over the weekend. Now, if you’re against racism, it would stand to reason that busting false stereotypes would be something that you’d savour. Ditto if you’re battling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
   I’ve mentioned some of these before, e.g. ‘Asian drivers’ somehow being terrors on our roads, something that statistics don’t bear out. (Or, for that matter, the total lack of truth about ‘women drivers’, who are statistically safer than men.) Among tourists, we’ve established Australians and Germans are the two most dangerous groups. Food has been one that’s been on our minds lately, since my other half managed to find herself ill from eating at two occidental restaurants, and given the amount of research she’s done into the area, I’ll defer to her on the subject. Again it’s an area where I hear myths about Chinese food repeated ad nauseam.
   The thing is that busting stereotypes gives racists less to go on, less of a feeling of superiority, so they’ll begin countering. Women know full well when sexists attack, and racists follow the same pattern.
   A very funny chap sent two swear word-filled Tweets which—and this is the only interesting thing about them—were extracted fully right out of the racists’ playbook. I was only surprised that this was still going on in 2018, hence this blog post, since I thought these signs were so clear by now that no one would be daft enough to try them on.
   Their overriding message: dissing a western stereotype makes you a racist.
   Akin to the ‘I’m not the Nazi, you’re the Nazi’ Tweets and comments seen overseas, there was a suggestion that my lot was just as racist. Now, I don’t deny that any majority race in any country can be racist. It’s how I met one gentleman in Hong Kong who pointed out racism in a schoolbook that had a Filipina caricature—I reached out offering to help. Or calling out the treatment of Malays and Indians by certain business people among my own lot in Malaysia. When you’ve been the minority for most of your life, you can spot it, and you find it particularly tasteless when it’s perpetrated by your own race. (Thanks to #MeToo, it appears some men are getting better at calling out “locker-room talk”, too.)
   But this is a diversion meant to cloud the issues. The intent is to criticize the person (by their race) in order to devalue the argument they make, and not deal with the argument itself. They miss the irony of this and it actually validates your original point. If you can’t answer something civilly, then you haven’t answered it at all.
   In Tweet no. 2 (I wish I had taken a screen shot, as it has been deleted—I didn’t expect the cowardice) was a variation on ‘My best friend is Asian.’ This one was about his partner and stepchildren being Asian, and his own son, who is half-Asian, and how he considers himself Asian. Um, no, you’re not, not from the exhibited conduct, but it’s a feeble attempt to scramble to give his own position a status above yours. Again it’s not about addressing the argument (a classic move in social media), but about debasing the opposition. Another one to look out for.
   Now, if you really were to address this, wouldn’t your best friend being Asian, or having a child with Asian heritage, mean you have a stake in busting myths that could harm that person? That’s not something they really care about, even if it harms those supposedly closest to them. (And those of us in New Zealand have a negative history with the term ‘Asian’, so I doubt you’d actually use it in referencing your ‘best friend’. You’d actually know their heritage, whether it was Iraqi, Asiatic Russian, Japanese, Kazakh, or whatever.)
   Then there are the emotive overreactions, the falsely placed righteous moral indignation that this group is particularly good at. It’s to make you think (unconvincingly) that your statements have potentially offended not just the racist, but, shock, horror, all right-thinking people.
   Think about how a normal person would have reacted, and you have to conclude that no one jumps to uncontrollable shaking anger, the keyboarding equivalent of firing a gun as a result of road rage.
   There’ll be aspects of one or more of these in social media, and those who are combatting prejudice would do well to spot the signs.
   To me, these are signs of unstable characters, akin to an adult having a tantrum. Or they specifically fish for things to make them angry. Now, I don’t know how they dealt with their powerlessness ten years ago, but now they surf among us, hoping in vain to drag you to their level.
   So given they are still around, the local body elections next year are going to be interesting, because you don’t need the Dirty Politics crowd to coordinate it now: it’s a lot easier to provoke this dying group with fake news and let them run riot. On the other hand, it’s also a lot easier to spot them and see the conceit behind them.
   We’re a small enough country for most of us to know this by now anyway. Or so I hope.

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