Archive for the ‘publishing’ category


Google’s knowledge panels: they don’t know how to give access to a verified user

08.09.2020

After my last post, it seemed fair to give Google a chance to respond. I filed some feedback with them, and, surprisingly, I got a reply. But then I was taken around in circles, again, just like in 2009, though the respondents aren’t arseholes like ‘Chuck’ all those years ago.

I clicked to claim this knowledge panel. You send me a verification. In that verification you have ‘Review info’. It’s just a blue box. I can’t click on it or do anything with it. Then when I go to the page to publish on Google Search, you tell me my address doesn’t have permission. I can’t remember how I got there, but you also show me another window saying someone is already managing my company on Google. That can’t be so as I’m the only person logged in via the Search Console and you verified that I was the right person.

   Google’s first response (links removed):

Hello Jack,

Thank you for contacting us.
   You are currently the verified owner of the knowledge panel entity “Lucire”. If you don’t see “Suggest an edit” option at the top of your knowledge panel, please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification. Also, check that your Web and App activity is turned on. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin.
   If this issue still persists, please send us the following so that we can investigate further, examples of these images are attached:

  • A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner); and
  • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page.
  •    Also, we’re hoping to bring more features to you in the future. Unfortunately, Posts on Google is not open to every entity at this time.

    Regards,
    Jay
    Google Search support team

       It would be rude not to comply.

    Hi Jay:

    I really appreciate your reply. In the past, whenever I’ve contacted Google, I get radio silence, so I’m really happy you’re there.
       I signed in as me but there’s no ‘Suggest an edit’. I fail on the first hurdle, actually, as I believe I had turned my web activity off a while ago. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to turn it back on or to access the first link you gave me.
       I have a Gmail with a school I work with. Even though I’m logged in with [redacted], the verified address, I get prompted to log in with my school address when I hit your first link. I switch accounts, which is the logical thing to do, and log in again. Except the site prompts me to log in with my school address. It’s a never-ending loop.
       Hopefully the attached screenshots will help with troubleshooting or to find out what I’m doing wrong.
       The browser is Opera, which is Chromium-based, and it has no privacy settings or blocked cookies that might prevent me from accessing Google.

    Thank you,

    Kind regards,

    Jack


    Above: This is the knowledge panel screenshot Google keeps asking me for. I’m logged in, with the verified address, and there’s no ‘Suggest an edit’ as they claim. That’s actually why I contacted them—because I’m literate and I’ve already read their instructions, which are either wrong, or I’m encountering something unexpected on their systems.





    Above: What happens when I click on Google’s web and app activity link that their reps send me. It asks me to verify my email but it’s the wrong address (this is the school one). I click ‘Next’ and get to the second screen, where I can choose the address that Google confirmed was the verified address, and the one used for its own search console. Notice the verified address has a green circle with a J inside it, just like in the top image. I then get taken to the third screen, but note that I have not been logged in. I sign in again. And guess what? We’re back to square one.

       This is where it starts to go awry, because despite a really good start from Jay, who confirmed that my regular address was the one that was verified to edit Lucire’s knowledge panel, I next receive this.

    Hello Jack,

    If you got your Google Account through work or school, you might need to contact your administrator to turn on the Web & App Activity additional service for your organization.
       If this issue still persists, please send us the following so that we can investigate further, examples of these images are attached:

  • A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner); and
  • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page.
  •    Also, please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification and check that your Web and App activity is turned on. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin.

    Regards,
    Jay
    Google Search support team

       I fired this off in reply to Jay.

    Hi Jay:

    Thank you. A couple of things here.
       The school account has nothing to do with this. I’m just saying that your server keeps defaulting to the school account and every time I log in with the correct verified account, it logs me straight out again. Every time I switch to the correct account, your system doesn’t like it.
       You already have the screenshots. I already sent the screenshot with the knowledge panel. I have re-attached it. This is logged in with the correct, verified account, the one that’s used for the search console, and the one that was used to claim the knowledge panel.
       As explained, your server will not let me in to get a screenshot of the web and activity page.
       I am logged into the correct account.
       As explained, you will not let me get to the web and activity page in order to get a screenshot.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       Jay wasn’t the only one on my case. Tanvi sent me something even more left-field.

    Hello Jack,

    As informed please, you might need to contact your administrator to turn on the Web & App Activity additional service for your organization.
       Also, please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification and check that your Web and App activity is turned on. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin.
       If this issue still persists, please send us the following so that we can investigate further, as per attached image format:

    • A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner); and
    • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page.

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

       Notice how they keep asking for the knowledge panel screenshot, and I keep sending it, but no one cares.
       And they keep wanting this web and app activity page, which they won’t let me access. My response to Tanvi:

    Hi Tanvi:

    I am the administrator for my organization. There is no one else.
       I am logged in to the account used for verification.
       As explained, I cannot access the web and app activity page. Every time I do, you log me off.
       I do not know what a G Suite is.
       I re-attach for the third time the knowledge panel.
       I cannot make a screenshot of my web and app activity page because you will not allow me access to it.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       They just need to check their own records to find I am the only person registered to look after Lucire, and if I’m not, then their security holes are pretty damned massive. But doing something logical like that might cut to the chase too quickly, and we know from 2009 that Google likes giving you the run-around. I don’t know who teaches them customer service but I bet it’s the English.
       They keep asking for a web activity page that their own systems won’t let me access.
       I think we can realistically chalk this one up to another failed Google service. I hope they can get it cleared up, as the knowledge panel is Wikipedia-based and, therefore, not accurate. While I don’t use Google, I know the majority of people do. I’ll continue being as nice as I can, as I want to see this fixed, but somehow I don’t think it will be remedied any time soon. The folks on the frontline won’t understand why their systems cannot accept that one person has two separate email addresses and two separate Google accounts, one linked to each. You’d think I was the first person ever to have two email addresses, just like Marty McFly telling his uncle that he has two television sets in 1955.

    PS.: It just gets nuttier. Just because you keep asking the same things doesn’t mean the answers will change.

    Hello Jack,

    Thanks for proving screenshot but please provide screenshots as per attachment only.
       Please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification and check that your Web and App activity is turned on.
       To get access to your suggest and edit, please contact your G-Suite Admin. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin. To know more about G Suite please look into G suite Help Center.

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

       Here you go, Tanvi. We can keep going around in circles and your firm will look more and more useless.

    Hi Tanvi:

    I have provided screenshots as attachments. I don’t know any other way to send you screenshots.
       Again: I am logged in to the correct Google account and it was the one used for verification.
       Again: I do not know if web and app activity is turned on because you will not let me access it.
       There is no G Suite. I am not using a G Suite. I am the only person authorized to deal with this. I am the admin.
       Please check your records. You will find that there is no one else authorized to deal with this matter. Mine is the only account that deals with the search console and it is the only account verified to edit the knowledge panel.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

    P.PS.: September 10. Where did we get up to? I forget, because the same thing keeps happening. It’s Groundhog Day at Google.
       Right, it’s back to Jay.

    Hello Jack,

    The screenshot that you have provided is not in the correct format, please resend the following screenshot in correct format so that we can investigate further, example of the image is attached:
    A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner). Please refer to the attached screenshot.

    Regards,
    Jay
    Google Search support team

       Fair enough. Jay included a screenshot of exactly what he wanted. I send this to Jay. (It makes no difference. See below.)

    Hi Jay:

    I wasn’t sure what you meant by correct format but the screenshot helps. Please find that attached.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       SaiKumar is now on the case. He’s got what I sent to Jay.

    Hi Jack,

    Thank you for providing the screenshots.

    Could you now please try the following and let us know if anything has changed? If not, please send screenshots.

  • Incognito mode
  • Mobile device
  • Different web browser
  • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner).

    Regards,
    SaiKumar
    Google Search support team

       This seems pretty reasonable.

    Hi SaiKumar:

    I’ve attached what I see in incognito mode. I’ve also attached the same screenshots using a fresh copy of Edge instead of Opera.
       I can’t help you on a mobile device, sorry. It’s not something I’m prepared to use.
       As discussed, Google will not let me access the web and activity page so I cannot supply a screenshot for you. What happens when I click on the link in your email is explained in my email sent on September 7 at 22.51 GMT.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       How many times to I have to tell them that they won’t let me access the web and app activity page? They keep asking, I keep telling them I can’t access it, and they ask again.

    Hello Jack,

    Thank you for sharing screenshot.
       We need your a screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page for our investigation. You are only providing screenshot of knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner).

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

       At this point, I have my doubts if Google’s staff is even literate.

    Hi Tanvi:

    I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, Jay and Saikumar this, but I cannot give you a screenshot of the web and app activity page because your system will not let me access it. Please see my email from September 7, 22.51 GMT.
       I have already provided you with the correct screenshot from the knowledge panel page but here it is again, from two different browsers.

    Regards,

    Jack

       OK, I shouldn’t have sent Tanvi those SERP screenshots again, but what’s the bet she’ll come back and demand I send her the web and app activity page screen that they won’t let me access?

    P.P.PS.: This feels like the final email for now.

    Hello,

    Thank you for contacting us. We are looking into this. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

    I thanked her and I think we can leave it there for the next few years.

    P.P.P.PS.: I actually got a reply (September 12, 21.56 GMT). Links removed because I can’t be bothered making them active.

    Hi Jack,

    Thank you for patiently waiting while we looked into the query for you.

    We would request you to try to claim the knowledge panel using a different Google account. If you don’t have one, then create a Google account. Once you create a Google Account, use the email address to add it in the account. Please follow these steps in order to add users to your account:

  • Visit https://www.google.com/search/contributions/manage
  • Under “Add people to this account”, click Start now.
  • If you need to switch accounts, use the dropdown menu next to your profile image to select the account you want to manage.
  • Click Add new user.
  • Enter the Google email address of your new user.
  • Choose whether the user gets manager permissions. To grant manager permissions, move the toggle to the right.
  • Click Invite.
  • You can set different permission levels for users:

  • Manager: Can suggest changes to the knowledge panel, and add or remove users.
  • Owner: The primary user on the account, and has the same permissions as managers.
  • Contributor: Can suggest changes to the knowledge panel.
  • You can read more about updating users here.
    Regards,
    Aghrajit
    Google Search support team

    I followed his instructions as they seemed pretty reasonable but, as it’s Google, they’re not really supposed to work.

    Hi Aghrajit:

    Thank you for your detailed instructions. I have followed them, added my other Google account [redacted], and invited myself as a manager.
       I received the Google confirmation and clicked on ‘Get started’.
       However, there is no link to allow me to claim the knowledge panel, just a link to give general feedback, as though I were a regular user. I don’t have any additional privileges.
       Please find the resulting screenshots attached.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       I think they need to face the fact that their knowledge panels don’t work as advertised, a bit like how their blog review process didn’t work as advertised, or how their anti-malware warnings didn’t clear as advertised, or how their Ads Preferences Manager didn’t work as advertised, etc. Remember, this is the company that didn’t even know where the White House was in Google Earth—and it was version five when I discovered this!

    P.P.P.P.PS.: September 13, another Googler, who’s trying to be helpful.

    Hello Jack,

    Thank you for contacting us.

    Please confirm if you are using a G-Suite account. If yes you need to follow the correct steps to turn your Web & App Activity on at an administrator level. Please contact your G suite administrator or system administrator and let him know about it. Please follow the below steps so that Web & App Activity is correctly turned on. Try this with the new email you have added and let us know if you are facing the same issue.

    Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin.

    Regards,
    Abdul
    Google Search support team

       At this point, it was getting ridiculous, even though Abdul was being pretty nice about it all. I replied on the 17th:

    Hi Abdul:

    Thank you. I know my main address [redacted] is not part of any G Suite. I don’t know if [my school email address] is. Is there a way you can tell me if it is?
       I doubt that I would be given more privileges than the address currently has because it’s not meant to be used for non-school purposes, and as a board member of that school, it would be inappropriate for me to ask the admin.
       I only used this address as it’s the one that Google kept insisting I log in to (see screenshots of September 7), as it refused to let me log in on any other account.
       I know your next piece of advice will be to create a new account to see if it could be added to manage my contributions, as Aghrajit suggested, but I’m unwilling to start yet another presence on Google, which has more than enough information on me. Three identities seem like overkill.
       Is there no way to simply allow me to log in with the very address [redacted] you verified? I feel we are getting further and further away from the original purpose of this thread, which was to allow me to edit a knowledge panel using an email address that Google confirmed.

    Kindest regards,

    Jack

       Sivaram replied:

    Hello,

    Thank you for contacting us.

    We are looking into this. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

    Regards,
    Sivaram
    Google Search support team

    I’m not certain if I’ll update this post. I think I’ve made my point: that things at Google can be half-baked. At least this isn’t deceptive in the way the Ads’ Preferences’ Manager was so many years ago.

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in internet, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


    More things that don’t work: Google knowledge panels, and typing in te reo Māori in Facebook

    06.09.2020

    A guide to emojis for 2020.

    At least Twitter works. Google, as usual, doesn’t.
       I had a check to see how Lucire was performing in a Google search yesterday and noticed there was a Wikipedia box to the right, and a message saying that if it was about us, I could ‘claim’ the box. I clicked on the link, and as Google knows my email address is associated with Lucire through its search console, it verified me. ‘Congratulations, you’ve been verified’, according to the Google website, and I could ‘Add or change info’, with a ‘Review info’ box that I could click on.

       Actually, it’s just a coloured rectangle. Clicking on it does nothing.
       Maybe it’s my privacy settings, so I used my fresh, unblocked, Google-can-plant-what-it-likes Chromium browser. I log in as me on Google. And here’s what I get.

       Another variant is the below:

       ‘This account doesn’t have permission to publish on Google Search.’ Um, it does. You just told me I did.
       The box remains claimed but there’s not a damned thing I can do.

    Long-time readers will remember my pointing out many years ago how the Google Dashboard isn’t accurate, especially when it comes to arithmetic. Nothing has changed.
       Google says I have one task. Well, I can’t, since I’ve never used it. Click through: I have none, and Google returns a ‘Get started’ page. Google says I have two albums. Again, impossible. Click through: I have none. It says I belong to one group. Click through: zero. I’m honestly astonished at how bad they are. If you can’t do maths, you probably shouldn’t be working with computers.




    Finally, I see Facebook has forced a lot of people to change to its new template. I actually don’t care what the UI looks like, as I’m not there sufficiently to care. And I bet that if you were Māori, you’d want to have the old template back, since you can’t type macronized vowels. The macron just winds up on the baseline on any Chromium browser.

       One friend tried to replicate this on Windows and couldn’t, so this might not be a universal issue.
       The font being called by the stylesheet is Segoe UI Historic. I have it installed, and it’s not something I’ve ever edited. I will point that that, according to Character Map, no macronized vowels are visible in the relevant Unicode range, though I haven’t opened it in Fontlab to confirm. If the browser has to substitute, that’s fine. But what font (indeed, which of the Segoe fonts) has macrons on the baseline? It appears to be Microsoft’s Segoe, so if it’s not a Facebook linked font (the code inspector suggests it isn’t), then we can point the finger at Microsoft for a buggy font on a standard Windows 10 computer. Either way, someone in a Big Tech outfit goofed.

    I had bookmarked this on my cellphone but because it’s my cellphone, it takes a long time to get it on this blog. I have to remember to grab the phone, then look up the post. But it’s your regular reminder that Facebook usually does nothing, despite saying it actively takes down hateful content. As I noted on The Panel in late August, eight copies (I believe in part) of the Christchurch massacre still exited on the platform as of March 15, 2020. The lies are laid bare once more.

       As a company, they also take their sweet time in removing bots. Here’s Instagram in a message to me on August 27 (it’s not the only 2018 report they responded to that week):

    Same old, same old.

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in culture, internet, New Zealand, publishing, Sweden, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


    Autocade reaches 20 million page views

    26.07.2020


    Above: The 4,243th model entered into Autocade, now on 20,008,500 page views: the Maxus G50.

    Autocade’s passed the 20,000,000 page-view mark, sitting on just over 20,008,000 at the time of writing, on 4,243 models entered (the Maxus G50 is the newest), an increase of 101 models over the last million views.
       As it’s the end of July, then it’s taken just under four months for the site to gain another million page views. It’s not as fast as the million it took to get to 18,000,000 or the previous million milestone.
       To be frank, the last few months have been a little on the dull side for updating Autocade. No Salon de Genève meant that while there were new models, they weren’t all appearing during the same week at one of the world’s biggest car shows. And it’s not all that interesting talking about another SUV or crossover: they’re all rather boxy, tall, and unnecessary. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we have certain behaviours that aren’t really helping our planet, and surely selfish SUVs are a sign of those?
       I don’t begrudge those who really use theirs off-road, but as a statement of wank, I’m not so sure.
       So many of them seem like the same vehicle but cut to different lengths, like making cake slices and seeing what remains.
       During the lockdown, I put on a bunch of older models, too, which made the encyclopædia more complete, but I imagine those who come to the site wanting data on the latest stuff might have been slightly disappointed.
       It does mean that we didn’t see much of an increase in traffic during lockdown here, but the opposite.
       As is the tradition on this blog, here was how the growth looked.

    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 10th million)
    June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
    January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
    May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
    September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
    February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
    June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
    October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
    December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million, from first week of October to December 27)
    April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million, from December 27 to April 9)
    July 2020: 20,000,000 (just over three-and-a-half months, from April 9 to July 26)

       Unlike the last entry on this subject, the Alexa ranking stats have been improving, despite the slow-down in traffic.

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in cars, China, internet, media, publishing | No Comments »


    Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

    22.07.2020

    For a while, we’ve been thinking about how best to facelift the Lucire website templates, to bring them into the 2020s. The current look is many years old (I’ve a feeling it was 2016 when we last looked at it), which in internet terms puts this once-cutting edge site into old-school territory.
       But what’s the next step? When I surf the web these days, so many websites seem to be run off one of several templates, and there aren’t many others out there. After you scroll down past the header, everything more or less looks the same: a big single-column layout with large type.
       I know we have to make things responsive, and we haven’t done this properly, by any means. The CSS will have to be reprogrammed to suit 2020s requirements. But I am reminded of when we adopted many of the practices online publishers do today, except we did them nearly two decades ago.
       Those of you who have been with us a long time, and those who might want to venture into the Wayback Machine, might know that we provided “apps” for hand-held devices even then. We offered those using Palm Pilots and the like a small, downloadable version of the Lucire news pages. We had barely any takers.
       Then Bitstream (if I recall correctly) came out with tech that could reduce pages to a lower resolution and narrower pixel width so those browsing on smaller devices could do so, and those of us publishing for larger monitors no longer needed to do a special version.
       So that was the scene 20 years ago. Did apps, no one cared; and eventually tech came out that rendered it all unnecessary. It’s why I resisted making apps today, because I keep expecting history to repeat itself. I can’t be the only one with a memory of the first half of the 2000s. As a non-technical person, I expect there’d be something like that Bitstream technology today. Maybe there is. I guess some browsers have a reader mode, and that’s a great idea. And if we want to offer that to our readers, it can’t be too hard to find a service that we can point modern smartphone users to, and they can browse all sites to their hearts’ content.
       Except I know, as with so many tech things, that it isn’t that easy, that in fact it’s all so much harder. Server management hasn’t become easier in 2020 compared with 2005, all as the computing industry loses touch with everyday people like me who once really believed in the democratization of technology and bridging the digital divide.
       Back to the templates. I wrote on NewTumbl yesterday, ‘Remember when we could surf the web pretty easily and find amazing new sites, and creative web designs, as people figured out how best to exploit this medium? These days a lot of websites all look the same and there’s far less innovation. Have we settled into what this medium’s about and there’s no need for the same creativity? I’m no programmer, so I can’t answer that, but it wasn’t that long ago we could marvel at a lot of fresh web designs, rather than see yet another site driven by the same CMS with the same single-column responsive template. Or people just treat a Facebook page or an Instagram feed as their “website”, and to heck with making sure it’s hosted on something they have control over.’
       And that’s the thing: I haven’t visited any sites that really jumped out at me, that inspires me to go, ‘What a great layout idea. I must see if I can do something similar here.’ My very limited programming and CSS design skills aren’t being challenged. This is a medium that was supposed to be so creative, and when I surf, after finding a page via a search engine, those fun moments of accidental discovery don’t come any more. The web seems like a giant utilitarian information system, which I suppose is how its inventor conceived it, but I feel it could be so much more. Maybe the whole world could even get on board a fair, unbiased search engine, and a news spidering service that was current and didn’t prioritize corporate media, recognizing that stories can be broken by independents. Because such a thing doesn’t really exist in 2020, even though we had it in the early 2000s. It was called Google, and it actually worked fairly. No search engine with that brand name strikes me as fair today.
       I am, therefore, unsure if we can claim to have advanced this medium.

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    Posted in design, internet, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


    Online advertising dollars: Google’s cut from your work is 40 per cent

    02.06.2020

    From Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian newsletter of May 24: ‘two weeks ago a study by the ISBA and PcW that reported that half of every “programmatic” ad dollar is scraped by adtech middlemen’ and ‘According to a paper written by Fiona Scott Morton, an economist at Yale University, Google pockets about 40¢ of every online ad dollar before it ever gets to a publisher. Not just search dollars, not just programmatic dollars, but all online ad dollars.’ Just one more reason I refuse to sign these:

       I’m not part of the 90 per cent. And the bastards at Google are rich enough. Let them share it with illegal content mills as they are peas in a pod. Another solution for legitimate publishers is dearly needed.
       At least there’s been some sort of work with the commissions agencies take in other media, and that’s typically at 15 per cent here. Google is taking the piss with its automated systems.
       We know the US doesn’t have the balls (or funding?) to take them on at this point, but how about other sovereign territories in which Google operates? Surely they have to comply with our laws, too?

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in business, globalization, internet, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


    Cautiously optimistic about Boucher

    26.05.2020

    When I ran for office, there was often a noticeable difference between how I was treated by locally owned media and foreign- owned media. There are exceptions to that rule—The New Zealand Herald and Sky TV gave me a good run while Radio New Zealand opted to do a candidates’ round-up in two separate campaigns interviewing the (white) people who were first-, second- and fourth-polling—but overall, TVNZ, Radio New Zealand with those two exceptions, and the local community papers were decent. Many others seemed to have either ventured into fake news territory (one Australian-owned tabloid had a “poll”, source unknown, that said I would get 2 per cent in 2010) or simply had a belief that New Zealanders were incapable and that the globalist agenda knew best. As someone who ran on the belief that New Zealand had superior intellectual capital and innovative capability, and talked about how we should grow champions that do the acquiring, not become acquisition targets, then those media who were once acquisition targets of foreign corporations didn’t like what they heard.
       And that, in a nutshell, is why my attitude toward Stuff has changed overnight thanks to Sinéad Boucher taking ownership of what I once called, as part of a collective with its Australian owner, the Fairfax Press.
       The irony was always that the Fairfax Press in Australia—The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald—were positive about my work in the 2000s but their New Zealand outpost was quite happy to suggest I was hard to understand because of my accent. (Given that I sound more like an urban Kiwi than, say, the former leader of the opposition, and arguably have a better command of the English language than a number of their journalists, then that’s a lie you sell to dinosaurs of the Yellow Peril era.) A Twitter apology from The Dominion Post’s editor-in-chief isn’t really enough without an erratum in print, but there you go. In two campaigns, the Fairfax Press’s coverage was notably poor when compared with the others’.
       But I am upbeat about Boucher, about what she intends to do with the business back in local ownership, and about the potential of Kiwis finally getting media that aren’t subject to overseas whims or corporate agenda; certainly Stuff and its print counterparts won’t be regarded as some line on a balance sheet in Sydney any more, but a real business in Aotearoa serving Kiwis. Welcome back to the real world, we look forward to supporting you.

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    Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Wellington | No Comments »


    May is always quieter for blogging—and we get to 4,200 models on Autocade

    12.05.2020

    Again, proof that each 100th vehicle on Autocade isn’t planned: the 4,200th is the second-generation Mazda Premacy, or Mazda 5 in some markets, a compact MPV that débuted 15 years ago. If it were planned, something more significant would have appeared.
       I know MPVs aren’t sexy but they remain one of the most practical ways to ferry people around when it comes to the motor car. In terms of space efficiency and the percentage of the car’s length dedicated to passenger accommodation, they remain one of the best. And with the old Premacy, they handled really well, too.
       It must be the times we live in that people demand inefficient crossovers and SUVs instead, and that is a shame. Maybe with the pandemic people will re-evaluate what’s important, and signalling that you have some inadequacy with a large vehicle might fall down the pecking order. MPVs were usually cleverly designed, and the Premacy was no exception—what a shame Mazda, and so many others, are no longer in this market as buyer tastes shifted.

    Out of curiosity, why do people visit Autocade? We haven’t had a big jump in visits with COVID-19 (contrary to some other motoring sites), as I imagine encyclopædias aren’t as fun as, say, AROnline, where at least you can reminisce about the British motor industry that was, back in the day when Britain had a functioning government that seemed terrible at the time when no one could imagine how much worse it could get. Obviously we haven’t had as many new models to record, but are they the reason people pop by? Or are the old models the reason? Or the coverage of the Chinese market, which few Anglophone sites seem to do? If you are an Autocade fan reading this, please feel free to let us know why in the comments.

    One moan about Facebook. Go on.
       Sometimes when I pop in—and that remains rarely—and look at the Lucire fan page, I’ll spot an automated Tweet that has appeared courtesy of IFTTT. It’s had, say, no views, or one view. I think, ‘Since there have been no real interactions with this bot entry, maybe I should delete it and feed it in manually, because surely Facebook would give something that has been entered directly on to its platform better organic reach than something that a bot has done?’
       With that thought process, I delete it and enter the same thing in manually.
       Except now, as has happened so many times before, the page preview is corrupted—Facebook adds letters to the end of the URL, corrupting it, so that the preview results in a 404. This is an old bug that goes back years—I spotted it when I used Facebook regularly, and that was before 2017. It’s not every link but over the last few weeks there have been two. You then have to go and edit the text to ask people, ‘Please don’t click on the site preview because Facebook is incapable of providing the correct link.’ Now you’re down some views because people think you’ve linked a 404. Not everyone’s going to read your explanation about Facebook’s incompetence. (Once again, this reminds me why some people say I encounter more bugs there than others—I don’t, but not everyone is observant.)

       This series of events is entirely counterintuitive because it means that bot activity is prioritized over actual activity on Facebook. Bot activity is more accurate and links correctly. And so we come back to the old, old story I have told many times about Facebook and bots and how the platform is bot city. In 2014, I rang the alarm bells; and I was astonished that in 2019 Facebook claims it had to delete over 5,400 million bot accounts. You should have listened to me then, folks—unless, of course, bots are part of the growth strategy, and of course they are.
       So, when feeding in links, remember this. Facebook: friendly to bots, not to humans. It’s probably not a bad way to approach their site anyway.

    I’ve looked at my May blogging stats going back a decade (left sidebar, for those on the desktop skin) and it’s always quieter. I blog less. I wonder why this is. The beginning of hibernation? The fact that less interesting stuff’s happening in late autumn as the seasons change?

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    Posted in cars, design, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »


    Live from Level 3

    03.05.2020

    Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

       Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

    Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:

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    Posted in China, culture, France, globalization, Hong Kong, humour, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


    Even the web is forgetting our history

    26.04.2020


    Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

    My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
       The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
       There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
       His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
       That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
       Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
       Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
       Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
       I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
       Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
       Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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    Posted in culture, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


    Autocade to hit 19,000,000 page views this week

    06.04.2020


    A 1950s German microcar (the Champion 400) is a nice change from the massive modern SUV

    It’s a cinch that Autocade will hit 19 million page views this week. At the time of writing, there are fewer than 15,000 views to go.
       The last millionth milestone was expected on December 26, but I believe I was ultimately a day out (i.e. December 27). Conservatively, Autocade will get to 19 million on April 9, which means we got this latest million in a shade over three months. I’ll update these details if things change. I wanted to mark it early since I have a busy week ahead (plus for a lot of the other milestones, I was late!).
       Despite this fairly constant page view count, Autocade’s Alexa ranking has plummeted like mad after a healthy rise over the last half of 2019. In all these years I’m still not certain how it’s all calculated, and they do say the lower your ranking, the less accurate it gets. Therefore, as it falls, you know it’s also getting less accurate!
       The site is on 4,142 entries.

    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 10th million)
    June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
    January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
    May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
    September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
    February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
    June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
    October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
    December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million, from first week of October to December 27)
    April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million, from December 27 to April 9)

       It’s not a record increase—that was the 18th million—but it’s still reasonably healthy and shows that traffic is continuing on an upward curve overall, even if Alexa doesn’t think so.

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    Posted in cars, internet, publishing | 1 Comment »