My friend Richard MacManus commemorated the 14th anniversary of ReadWrite, an online publication he founded as a blog (then called ReadWriteWeb) in 2003, by examining blogging and how the open web has suffered with the rise of Facebook and others.
It’s worth a read, and earlier tonight I fed in the following comment.
I remember those days well, although my progress was probably the opposite of yours, and, in my circles, blogging began very selfishly. Lucire began as a publication, laid out the old-school way with HTML, and one of the first sites in the fashion sector to add a blog was a very crappy one where it was about an ill-informed and somewhat amoral editorâs point of view. For years I refused to blog, preferring to continue publishing an online magazine.
Come 2002, and we at the Medinge Group [as it then was; we’ve since dropped the definite article] were planning a book called Beyond Branding. One of the thoughts was that we needed one of these newfangled blogs to promote the book, and to add to it for our readers. I was one (the only?) dissenter at the June 2003 meeting, saying that, as far as my contacts were concerned, blogging was for tossers. (Obviously, I didnât know you back in those days, and didnât frequent ReadWriteWeb.) [Hugh MacLeod might agree with me though.] By August 2003 it had been set up, and I designed the template for it to match the rest of the bookâs artwork. How wrong I was in June. The blog began (and finished, in 2006) with posts in the altruistic, passionate spirit of RWW, and before long (I think it was September 2003), I joined my friends and colleagues.
An excerpt from the Beyond Branding Blog index page.
In 2006, I went off and did my own blog, and even though there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of blogs by now, decent bloggers were still few. I say this because within the first few weeks, a major German newspaper was already quoting my blog, and I got my first al-Jazeera English gig as a result of my blogging a few years later. It was the province of the passionate writer, and the good ones still got noticed.
I still have faith in the blogosphere simply because social media, as you say, have different motives and shared links are fleeting. Want to find a decent post you made on Facebook five years ago? Good luck. Social media might be good for instant gratificationâyour friends will like stuff you writeâbut so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media arenât the same, and thereâs still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. Itâs a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here weâre spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
Eleven years on, and Iâm still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and itâs still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because thereâs one more danger that I should point out.
Google, Facebook et al are the establishment now, and, as such, they prop up others in the establishment. Google News was once meritorious, now it favours big media names ahead of independents. This dangerously drowns out those independent voices, and credible writers and viewpoints can get lost. The only exception I can think of is The Intercept, which gets noticed on a wide scale.
Take this argument further and is there still the same encouragement for innovators to give it a go, as we did in the early 2000s, when we realize that our work might never be seen, or if it is to be seen, we need deep pockets to get it seen?
Maybe we need to encourage people to go away from these walled gardens, to find ways to promote the passionate voices again. Maybe a future search engineâor a current one that sees the lightâcould have a search specifically for these so weâre not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And Iâm sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack âcharismaâ, as you put it. They just donât excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebookâs personal sharing down 25 and 29 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is a shift away from uninspiring, privacy-destroying places. Hopefully we can catch them at more compelling and interesting blogs and make them feel at home.
I wasn’t able to find anything about this online, and I wonder if anyone was already doing it. If not, maybe someone should.
Could the big players, e.g. Amazon and Apple, not provide the public with a fake email address and password (or a series of them) that we can feed in to phishing sites? When the crooks then use the same to enter Amazon, they could be reported with their IP address and caught. Is anyone doing this?
In other words: make fake accounts to fight fake emails.
It seems regular people like us can spot phishing long before the big sites and web hosts do, and this could act as a deterrent against this sort of criminal activity. Like a lot of things, we’d democratize scam-busting, instead of reporting them to the authorities.
Of course we can still report the phishing site to APWG, Spamcop et al, but it’ll take hosts some time before they shut down the site, by which time the crooks will have made off with a lot of usernames and passwords.
I imagine some of these people will have built in safeguards, e.g. they keep a record of the emails they send phishing messages out to, and if the one you provide doesn’t marry up, they’d know. But then, do all of us use the same email on these sites? If their aim is to cast their nets widely, then they would want those extra email addresses. I don’t necessarily use the same email address on all websites. Greed might trump the fear of getting caught, since the average scam nets the criminal US$4,500.
I know they’d also get suspicious if a whole bunch of us entered the same address and password, so these might need to be automatically generated regularly to bait the scammers. The oldest ones would be deleted.
Comments are welcome. It seems such a simple idea that it must already be out there after so many years, but maybe the pitfalls of generating so many would present difficulties, or maybe such an idea has already been tried and discarded.
Above: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
Earlier this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote an open letter expressing his concerns about the evolution of his invention, the World Wide Web. (Interestingly, he writes the term all in lowercase.)
It wasnât just about âfake newsâ, which is how the media have reported it. His first concern was, in fact, about our losing control over our personal data, and determining when and with whom we share them. Itâs something Iâve touched on regularly since 2011, when Google breached its own stated policies over user-preference collection for advertising purposes, something that Facebook appears to be following suit with mid-decade. This was long before Edward Snowden blew the lid on his governmentâs monitoring, something thatâs happening to citizens of other occidental nations, too.
Sir Tim writes, âThrough collaboration withâor coercion ofâcompanies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, itâs easy to see the harm that can be causedâbloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizensâ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.â
But the one that struck me as very pertinent to publishing is Sir Timâs second point. Itâs the one that most news outlets seized on, linking it back to âfake newsâ, a term now corrupted by the executive branch of the US Government when attacking coverage that it doesnât like. However, Sir Timâs points were far broader than that. And itâs evident how his first point links to his second.
Itâs not hard to see that there is biased coverage on both the right and right wings of US politics (interestingly, they call it left and right), although Sir Tim points to how âa handful of social media sites or search enginesâ show us the things that appeal to our own biases through their algorithms. âFake newsâ then spreads through these algorithms because they play to our prejudices. He writes, âthose with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.â These sites are able to determine what we see based on the data weâve given them, willingly or unwillingly.
Itâs so far from the ideals of the World Wide Web that itâs sad that the medium, which was once so expansive and inspirational as we surfed from one site to the next to read and absorb information, has come to this: a tool for becoming more insular, the first path to the idiocracy.
Google, as I wrote last year, biases itself toward larger sites, no longer rewarding the media outlet that breaks a news item. The incentive to be that maverick medium is, therefore, lessened greatly online, because the web isnât being ranked on merit by the largest player in the search-engine business. Itâs why Duck Duck Go, which doesnât collect user data, gives search results that are generally fairer. We think itâs important to learn alternative viewpoints, especially in politics, otherwise the division that we already see in some countries will only deepenâand at worst this can lead to war. In peacetime countries, a compatriot with opposing political thoughts is not our enemy.
Facebookâs continued data collection of user preferences is also dangerous. Even after users opt out, Facebookâs ad preferencesâ page demonstrates that it will keep collecting. Whether or not Facebook then uses these preferences is unknownâcertainly Facebook itself clams upâbut since the site reports journalists who alert them to kiddie porn, kicks off drag queens after saying they wouldnât, and forces people to download software in the guise of malware detection, who knows if any of Facebookâs positions are real or merely âfake newsâ? Knowing the misdeeds of sites like Facebookâand Google which itself has been found guilty of hackingâdo they actually deserve our ongoing support?
Of course I have an interest in getting people to look beyond the same-again players, because I run one media outlet that isnât among them. But we have an interest to seek information from the independents, and to support a fair and neutral internet. We may learn an angle we hadnât explored before, or we may find news and features others arenât covering. Better yet, we may learn alternative viewpoints that break us out of our prejudices. Surely we canât be that scared of learning about alternatives (maybe one that is better than what we believe), or having a reasoned debate based on fact rather than emotion or hatred? And if you are sharing on social media, do you want to be one of the sheep who uses the same click-bait as everyone else, or show that youâre someone whoâs capable of independent thought?
It shouldnât be that difficult to distinguish fake-news sites from legitimate media (even though the line gets blurred) by looking at how well something is subedited and how many spelling mistakes there are. Perhaps the headlines are less emotive. There is a tier of independent media that deserves your support, whether it is this site or many competing ones that weâve linked ourselves. Going beyond the same-again sources can only benefit us all.
Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.
Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocadeâs case, it was rising quickly.
We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that weâve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And weâre taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. Weâve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone whoâs followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to usâand we want to make sure our readers donât fall victim to Googleâs snooping, either. Iâm not saying that Google ads donât appear at allâitâs the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhereâbut if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then Iâll do so.
Itâs a shame because weâve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
We have, sadly, entered an era whereâas found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherdâonline advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): âAdvertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.â I donât think this is fair, as theyâre not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: theyâve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) Itâs not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, itâs time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, âWe recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being saidâwe can absolutely get you live again.â That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connectedâthe helpful staff member wasnât around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
At least this wasnât a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, âIt is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.â This wasnât the first change Rightster sprung on usâits code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layoutsâand soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldnât get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightsterâs advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of ÂŁ11Â·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10Â·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a âsocial video broadcasterâ, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of ÂŁ1Â·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
Gorilla Nation and Burstâs slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didnât help. In fact, when they didnât answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so weâre still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what itâs worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasnât that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.
There are a lot of idealistic ventures out there, but to grow, often founders have to compromise them. It comes back to our thoughts at Medinge over a decade ago about âFinance is broken.â Because of these compromises, we donât really advance as much as we should, and some brilliant ideas from young people arenât given the chance they deserve. This needs to change. We already have branding as a tool to help us, and we know that more authentic, socially responsible brands can cut through the clutter. When these ventures start up, brands are an important part of the equation.
How are governments going to fund this universal basic income if they themselves arenât getting a decent tax take? Itâs the same question thatâs plagued us for decades.
Douglas sees ventures like Ăber to be the same-old: its customer really is its investor, and thatâs not a new concept at all. Itâs why we canât even consider Ăber to be a good brandâand the tense relationships it often has with governments and the public are indications of that. Itâs not, as Douglas suggests, even a driver co-op. Itâs still all about making money the old-fashioned way, albeit with newer tools.
Worrying but true: some of the biggest companies in the world are required to grow because of their shareholders. As a result, theyâre not creating sustainable revenue. âIf youâre one of the top fifty biggest companies in the world and youâre still required to grow, thatâs a real problem.â
Kids these days arenât as into all this technology and social networks as we are. Thank goodness. When Facebook reports another billion have joined, youâll know theyâre BSing you and counting all the bots.
Many people see things as though they were created by God and accept them. Douglas gives the examples of Facebook and religion. I can add the capitalist and socialist models we have. If people believe them to be God-given, or natural, then they feel helpless about changing them. We need to wake people up and remind them these are human-made constructsâand they can be unmade by humans, and replaced with better ideas that actually work for us all.
This is BS. You can remove all you like (mine has tended to be completely blank for most of 2016) but in the last few days, Facebook has been repopulating this page. This is despite my having Facebook interest-based ads switched off. Thereâs actually no need, then, for Facebook to keep these, and many of them are inaccurate anyway. Yet various advertising bodies, of which Facebook is a member, are too scared to investigate.
Here’s my ads’ preferences’ page on June 14. I had been keeping an eye on this, and keeping it clear since March 2016.
Even as late as October 25, 2016, there were very few things in there. While Facebook shouldn’t be collecting this data, at least it allowed me to delete itâas it claims you can. And no, I’ve never heard of Mandy Capristo.
Regularly since November 27, 2016, Facebook has repopulated this page, putting all deleted preferences back. This was how it looked on November 28. Within hours Facebook would repopulate it, so any deleting is useless.
Not only has Facebook repopulated the page, by today it’s added even more preferences. I’ve been through five rounds of repopulation now.
More BS (links and a lot of comments here and here). Thereâs plenty of evidence to show that Facebookâs so-called detection systems target certain accounts. A computer identified as having malware, necessitating a user to download their so-called anti-malware products, still works for other users, who arenât confronted with the same prompts. Companies like Kaspersky clam up and even delete comments when you begin asking them about the programs Facebook gets you to download. Once downloaded, they canât even be found in your installed programsâ list: they are hidden. No one in the tech press wants to cover this. Scared? Weâve our theory about why they want to slow down some users, and thereâs some suggestion that you can ignore the warnings and log into Facebook several days laterâthe same thing that has happened to users in the past whose Facebook accounts have become faulty due to their database issues. Coincidence?
âWeâre also testing a new tool that will let people provide more information about their circumstances if they are asked to verify their name. People can let us know they have a special circumstance, and then give us more information about their unique situation.â
There have been instances of the drag community, for instance, whose accounts have simply vanished with no means of defending themselves and giving Facebook those circumstances. Facebook claimed that the above applied to the US only in December 2015. However, in 2014, Chris Cox of Facebook wrote, âOur policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name.â Try telling that to the people who have lost their accounts and never given a chance to give their side of the story.
Facebook has 1Â·79 billion monthly active users.
While I canât counter this myself, thereâs plenty of evidence to show that the site has problems with spammers and bots. If you run a large enough group, thereâs a good chance that the majority of new members in your queue are not human. Therefore, you might not actually be reaching the number of people you want in Facebookâs calculations. Since the ad preferences have some very strange information on users, Iâm not that convinced about the accuracy of targeting anyway. Facebook is complicit in spam by supporting click farms, according to Veritasium.
A photo posted by CARS IN NEW ZEALAND (NZ) (@kiwi_cars) on
It’s an old point, but the prevalence of cellphone cameras means it’s going to be increasingly hard to deny where you were on any given day. In this case, Kiwi_cars asked for permission to feature my number plate, as they usually blank it out. I gave my blessing, since my own rule is: if you can spot something publicly, you don’t need to censor. If you photograph something where the subject expects a level of privacy (e.g. through their home windows, even if you can see them from a public vantage-point; or when something is on private land), then you do.
And don’t we often buy a car for it to be admired? Since prewar days we’ve been conditioned into thinking how a car is not a durable good, but a fashion item that expresses who we are. It would seem hypocritical if someone does admire yours and you don’t permit it. If we weren’t interested in that, we’d all be driving Nissan Tiidas in a monochrome shade. And even some of those Tiida owners are very, very proud of their motors.
An edited version of this post originally appeared at Blogcozy.
Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.
Thereâs a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the ânapalm girlâ photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so âunder penalty of perjuryâ on the form.
Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. Iâve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. Itâs damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and itâs rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that theyâre only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then thatâs what theyâll show in their results. Thereâs little freshness online as a result, which is why people arenât as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if youâre the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then youâll pop up regularly in the search resultsâ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isnât just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
It makes the ânet a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We donât really want to surf casually as we once did because we donât learn anything new: itâs harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I donât get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Googleâs index size remains unbeatable. What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but Iâm not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have foundâso if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you donât catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. Itâs not geared to search.
Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree withâand thatâs a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Googleâs approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanctâand all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now itâs equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isnât nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they donât need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
Itâs high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.
Iâm really impressed with Meizuâs latest Flyme OS upgrades. I didnât know that they were there, but then I have a lot of my notifications turned off. After discovering there was one, I went from my existing 4.5 (I had already upgraded once since I bought the phone) to 5.1, and everything worked fine. There was another sub-version upgrade the same night. US software vendors could learn a lot from this Chinese company.
It wasnât perfect (I made some notes on my Tumblr) but it was a darn sight better than some of the upgrades Iâve had on Mac and Windows. I accept there is less to go wrong with cellphones, but Iâve heard many a complaint from IOS users about their upgrades. The phone feels faster, and after a bit of exploring through the menus, Iâve turned off resource-hogging notifications and data-sucking settings. I stand by my earlier review of my Meizu M2 Noteâif they keep up this level of reliability, and can remain Google-free, Iâd happily buy from them again.
Iâve just switched from Inside, the much vaunted news app from entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to Wildcard as my principal news app on my phone. I never got to use Circa (which I understand Jason was also behind), which sounded excellent: by the time I downloaded it, they had given up.
But we all need news, and I donât like the idea of apps that are from a single media organization.
Inside seemed like a good idea, and I even got round to submitting news items myself. The idea is that the items there are curated by users, shared via the app. There was a bit of spam, but the legit stuff outnumbered it.
However, I canât understand the choices these days. A few items I put in from Radio New Zealand, Māori Television and The New Zealand Herald were fineâstories about the flag and the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker, for instanceâbut none of the ones about the passing of Martin Crowe, possibly of more international interest, remained.
There were other curious things: anything from Autocar is summarily rejected (they donât even appear) while I notice Jalopnik is fine. When it comes to cars, this is the only place where the publication with the longest history in the sector is outranked by a web-only start-up, whose pieces are enjoyable but not always accurate. The only car piece it accepted from me was about Tesla selling in Indiana, but Renault, Volkswagen, Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin and other manufacturersâ news didnât make it. This I donât get. And I like to think I know a little bit about cars, in the week when Autocade hit 8,000,000 page views.
Now, if this is meant to be an international app, downloadable by everyone, then it should permit those of us in our own countries to have greater say in what is relevant to our compatriots.
Visit the New Zealand category, and you see a few items from yours truly, but then after that, they are few and far between: the Steven Joyce dildo incident, for example, and you donât have to scroll much to see the Otago car chase being stopped by sheep last January. A bit more has happened than these events, thank you. No wonder Americans think nothing happens here.
According to Inside, these news itemsâseparated only by one about Apple issuing a recall in our part of the worldâare far more important to users following the New Zealand category than Martin Crowe’s death.
The UK is only slightly better off, but not by much. I notice my submission about Facebook not getting away with avoiding taxes in the UK vanished overnight, too.
News of the royal baby in Sweden wasnât welcome just now. Nor was the news about the return of one of the Hong Kong booksellers, but news from Bloomberg of a luxury home on the Peak, which I submitted last month, was OK. Lulaâs questioning by police has also disappeared (admittedly my one was breaking news, and very short), though Inside does have a later one about his brief arrest.
Yet to locals, the rejected ones are important, more important than Gladys Knight singing to a cop or a knife on O. J. Simpsonâs estate (which have made it).
This is a very American app, and thatâs fine: itâs made by a US company, and Iâm willing to bet most of its users are American. However, the âallâ feed, in my view, should be global; those who want news tailored to them already have the choice of selecting their own topics. (Itâs the first thing the app gets you to do after signing in.) And if some fellow in New Zealand wants to submit, then he should have the same capacity as someone in the US. After all, there are more of them than there are of us, and I hardly think my contributions (which now keep vanishing!) will upset the status quo.
Or does it?
I mean, I have posted the odd thing from The Intercept about their countryâs elections.
Whatever the case, I think itâs very odd for an app in the second decade of the century to be so wedded to being geocentric. I can understand getting stuff weeded out for quality concernsâI admit Iâve posted the odd item that is an op-ed rather than hard newsâbut this obsession to be local, not global, reinforces some false and outdated stereotypes about the US.
Itâs like Facebook not knowing that time zones outside US Pacific Time exist and believing its 750 million (as it then was) users all lived there.
My advice to app developers is: if you donât intend your work to be global, then donât offer it to the global market. Donât let me find your app on a Chinese app centre. Say that itâs for your country only and let it be.
Or, at least be transparent about how your apps work, because I canât find anything from Inside about its curation processes other than the utopian, idealistic PR that says weâre all welcome, and we all have a chance to share. (We do. Just our articles donât stay on the feed for very long.)
Wildcard has an attractive user interface, and its mixture of news is more appealing, especially if you want more depth.
Admittedly, Iâve only been on Wildcard for less than a day but Iâve already found it more international in scope. It also has more interesting editorial items. It is still US-developedâeast coast this time, instead of west coastâbut it supplements its own news with whatâs in your Twitter feed. Itâs not as Twitter-heavy as Nuzzel, which I found too limited, but seems to give me a mixture of its own curation with those of my contacts. The user interface is nice, too.
Iâm not writing off Inside altogetherâif youâre after a US-based, US-centric news app, then itâs probably excellent, although I will leave that decision to its target market. I can hardly judge when dildos matter more to its users than the greatest cricket batsman in our country.
For me, Wildcard seems to be better balanced, it doesnât make promises about public curation that it canât keep, and Iâve already found myself spending far more time browsing its pieces than the relatively small amount that seem to remain on Inside. It is still a bit US-biased in these first 24 hours, probably because it hasnât taken that much from my Twitter contacts yet. There seems to be more news on it and Iâm getting a far better read, even of the US-relevant items. Iâm looking forward to using it more: it just seems that much more 21st-century.