Posts tagged ‘California’


Why a Google self-driving car worries me

23.12.2015


Ford

With Google and Ford announcing they will team up to make self-driving cars, I have some concerns.
   I’m not in Luddite position on the idea of self-driving cars. Potentially, they can be far safer than what we have today. I see so many godawful drivers out there—New Zealand has a very high road toll based on our small population, and it’s not hard to see why—and the self-driving car can’t be a bad thing. Active safety, active cruise control, and other features all point to be a better future on our roads.
   However, is Google the right firm? You don’t need to look too far (especially on this blog) to find some Google misdeed, a company that happily does dodgy things till it gets busted.
   Imagine the future.
   • The car has no brakes until you sign up to Google Plus, then log in.
   • You cannot enter the car till you load a Google Play app on to your phone. You have to agree to a bunch of settings which you don’t even read, but essentially you’ve let them monitor you.
   • If you have a car accident in a Google car, there’s no phone number for anyone to call. You have to sign up to the support forums where you’re told by Google volunteers that it’s your fault for misusing the software. Or they just ignore you. You spend several years trying to get your case heard.
   • Google listens to all your in-car conversations so it can deliver targeted advertising to you, until you opt out of this feature in your Google Account settings.
   • Google hacks your devices while you are near the car, even if you have Do Not Track or other privacy settings turned on. They continue doing this till the Murdoch Press writes an article about it or they get reported to an industry association.
   • Doubleclick targeted advertising appears in the car’s central LCD screen.
   • All routes that the Google cars choose go past advertisers’ brick-and-mortar stores.
   • Google Street View is updated a lot more, which sounds great, till you realize it’s been updated with images from your latest journey.
   • Unless you opt out, Google actually drives you to the store which has the goods you mentioned in a private Gmail message, even though you don’t need the product and it just came up casually in conversation.
   • When US state attorneys-general sue Google over wasted time with the cars driving you to these stores, the penalty is roughly four hours of the company’s earnings.
   Autonomous cars are part of our future. But I’ll opt for the tech of a firm I trust more, thank you. And right now, I even trust Volkswagen more than Google.

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Posted in cars, humour, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »


Even on Instagram, they prefer bots to legitimate users

05.05.2015

Instagram bans are like Facebook blackouts or Google blacklists: no matter what the company says your time-out is, it’s considerably longer.
   Day 1 was Sunday, when I noticed that the likes I made via Ink 361 didn’t stick. I went back to Iconosquare (Statigram) and this message flashed up:

   The wisdom online is that this is a 24-hour ban and I should be back to normal. It’s Tuesday, and I’m still barred from liking unless I go to Instagram itself.
   I’ve been reading that the like limit is around 120 photos and videos per hour, and I haven’t come close to that. I don’t even see 120 photos per hour through following 500-odd people. Other posts at the above-linked page suggest you need 50 seconds between each like. Rot.
   Instagram really needs to come clean about this, as none of this computes. Some thoughts I’ve had over the last few days follow.
   1. Instagram recommends accounts you might like. If you follow them, inevitably you will like the things on them. Of course I’ll like more media as a result. Yet if you do this, you’ll get banned. Where is the logic behind this?
   2. Instagram penalizes you for being quick with apps or being quick on your cellphone. Makes no sense: the fact I’m skilful doesn’t mean I’m a bot. I’ve also behaved in exactly the same way since November 2012, but I may follow more accounts that pique my interest because of (1).
   3. If you don’t want us liking stuff, then recommend to us some accounts we might hate.

   4. I’m not sure how to change the way I like things. I either like things or I don’t. Be more specific.
   5. I don’t use a bot. You guys do. You host thousands of them, and they spam us all the time. The ones I see and report have media going back three weeks to six months, so clearly you ignore the reports netizens make.
   6. Further to (5), Instagram can’t tell the difference between legitimate users and bots.
   7. I report a lot of bots, including bot-likers. Maybe you guys are sick of those who report bots, because those bots are keeping your share price where it is, as I suspect you claim them as legitimate users.
   8. Just admit that you guys don’t like these external websites using your API and we’ll be fine. Admit it. You’ve already forced the sites that use ‘Insta’ and ‘gram’ in their names to change, yet you don’t have a monopoly on either prefix or suffix. Just another typical US site with too many lawyers.
   I have sent feedback to Instagram but I doubt I’ll hear back. Of course, if I don’t, I shan’t know which of the above is at play here.
   As with most websites, I’m just an average user. Yet it shows that following the rules is bound to get you on the bad side of these guys. I hardly think that’s the message their friends in Wall Street want to hear, that Facebook and Instagram are overrun with bots while legitimate users get blocked.

PS.: I found this page dealing with Instagram limits. I know for a fact I was nowhere near these.—JY
   P.PS.: The ban was lifted on Saturday, May 9, i.e. six days later.—JY

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Posted in business, internet, USA | No Comments »


Has Facebook admitted its servers ran out of resources?

02.08.2014

Those of you who follow this blog know that I believe Facebook’s servers are reaching their limits. In June 2014, when there was a 69-hour outage for me—and at least 30 minutes for most other Facebook users—I noted I was recording a marked increase in Facebook bugs before the crash. And the even longer outage yesterday—some reports say it was 35 minutes but some media have reported it was up to 90—was also prefaced by some curious bugs that were identical to the earlier ones.
   I thought it was very odd that in all the articles I have read today about the issue, no media have been able to get a comment from Facebook. It made me wonder if people had clammed up because of what it could mean for the share price.
   And I do realize how preposterous my theory sounds, as the logical thing to ask is: how could a company the size of Facebook not be equipped to handle its growth?
   Well, how could a company the size of Facebook not be equipped to deal with time zones outside the US Pacific? And we know a company the size of Google is not equipped to deal with the false malware warnings it sends out.
   However, the geeks have reported. There are two at the Facebook developers’ status page that relate to the outage.
   If you can understand the technobabble, they are: ‘Traffic and error-rates are almost back to normal after a coordinated intervention by our engineering teams. We are now monitoring the situation and we have our best engineers determining the root-cause of this issue that affected much of our web fleet. We apologize for any inconvenience and we aim to ensure that this issue does not repeat,’ and ‘Platform has been stable for >5 hours and our engineers have reproduced the complex issue that was causing many of our www/api servers to run out of resources. The team is now working on the final fix, but we are confident that there will be no further regression. Thank you for your patience and we apologize for any issues that we caused for your apps. Have a great weekend.’
   If I understand them correctly, the second actually says that the servers ran out of resources.
   Hopefully, the above means Facebook has fixed the error, which I believe to be the same as the one in June. Facebook itself had then discounted that it was an attack.
   No wonder no one has offered the media a comment, if the site is falling over so regularly because of its bugs.

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Posted in internet, media, USA | 1 Comment »


The flyover: every option now heard

23.07.2014

Embarcadero_Waterfront_s

Embarcadero Waterfront, photographed by Ricardo Martins/CC BY 2.0.

 

I was consistent about the Basin Reserve flyover in my campaign. Yes, I agreed we needed improvements to the area. But no, spending millions on it—it did not matter whether it was from taxes or rates at the end of the day, because that still meant you and me, as citizens—seemed foolish if there were better-value options out there. What I said in 2013 was: it’s not one flyover, it’s actually two, if you studied the wording in the plans. And by the time you add up the totals, it was looking like $500 million—and for what benefit? The more roads you create, the more congestion there would be.
   What if we could get the traffic improved there without the blight of a flyover—the sort of thing some cities were removing anyway, making them as liveable as Wellington—and save the country hundreds of millions?
   In San Francisco, when the highway around Embarcadero Drive (now just ‘The Embarcadero’) was removed (you can see it outside the dodgy hotel room in Bullitt), that area became far more lively and pleasant, where there are now parks, where property values rose, and where there are new transit routes. The 1989 Loma Preita ’quake hurried the demolition along, but there’s no denying that it’s been a massive improvement for the City. Younger readers won’t believe how unpleasant that area used to be.
   Admittedly, I get ideas from San Francisco, Stockholm, and other centres, but why not? If they are good ones, then we need to believe we deserve the best. And we can generate still more from Wellington and show them off. Making one city great helps not just our own citizens, but potentially introduces new best practices for many other cities.
   The Richard Reid proposal for the Basin was my favoured one given the traffic benefits could be delivered at considerably less cost and would not be a blight on our city, yet it was getting frustrated at every turn—the media (other than Scoop) had precious little coverage of it.
   A Board of Inquiry was set up and I am glad to receive this word from Richard yesterday.
   ‘Our practice is very pleased with the Board of Inquiry’s decision to decline NZTA’s Basin Bridge Project. We are equally pleased that the Board has accepted the evidence we submitted against NZTA’s project on behalf of the Mt Victoria Residents Association and ourselves. Of particular note is the Board’s recognition of our alternative at-grade enhancement of the roundabout (BRREO) which we prepared as part of an integrated and holistic solution for the city.
   ‘The Board notes: “We are satisfied the BRREO Option, particularly having regard to the adverse effects we have identified with regard to the Project, is not so suppositional that it is not worthy of consideration as an option to be evaluated” [para 1483]. The Board also stated that “We found that it [BRREO] may nonetheless deliver measurable transport benefits at considerably less cost and considerably less adverse effects on the environment. We bear in mind that BRREO is still at a provisional or indicative stage and could be subject to further adjustment by further analysis.”
   ‘Given the Board’s comprehensive dismissal of NZTA’s application, it makes sense that we are given the opportunity to continue to develop BRREO. We look forward to working with NZTA, the Regional and City Councils.’
   Regardless of which option you favoured, I think you will agree with me that all proposals deserved a fair hearing. The Reid one did not prior to 2014, and that was mightily disappointing. I said to Mr Reid that if elected, every proposal would be judged fairly. Let every one be heard and be judged on its merits—and I am glad the Board of Inquiry has done just that.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


Could Facebook follow Vox into the void?

04.07.2014

Originally posted to the Vox Neighbourhood on Facebook, without links

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Key to the 2009 calendar. Yellow: days when Vox worked normally. Pink: days when the compose screen took minutes or hours to load. Red: days when Vox would not allow me to compose at all. I gave up on December 13, 2009, and consolidated all my long-form blogging here.

A few weeks ago, what happened to me on Vox in 2009 happened here on Facebook. The difference was it was eventually remedied after 69 hours (Vox could not fix this over 6·9 weeks).
   I could no longer post, comment or like anything. Back at the end of 2009, my profile on Vox became so corrupted (through no fault of my own) that it would take up to two days before the compose window would come up (I would press ‘Compose’ regularly to see if the window would show and it would take two days of pressing before it would come up). Six Apart kept blaming this on me, my ISP, living in New Zealand, traceroutes, cookies, and the rest, until, at the end, I said: here are my username and password. If you can log in and get the window from your HQ, I’ll shut up.
   And they couldn’t. But there was never a solution. I had to leave because I could not compose a post any more.
   A year later, Vox was dead.
   I’m used to having corrupted profiles, whether it’s with Google, my telephone company, or with Facebook. No big company seems to be able to keep my data, and that’s probably a good thing. But what was bothersome is that spammers could still sign up for new accounts. You’ll remember that the biggest keywords on Vox for 2009–10 were Indian escort agencies, and those guys spammed the place like crazy. I was spending more and more time reporting spam accounts to Vox.
   When I was Facebook-less last month, I noticed the same. As with Vox, I could read other accounts. I could see group activity. And, for the past year, I would see bot accounts regularly, some allowed to be on Facebook for well over half a year. As on Vox, I would report them regularly. I’d find a minimum of two a day, and I’ve reported up to seventeen a day, trying to join my groups. I’ve just reported 11.
   People keep forecasting when Facebook would die, citing all kinds of reasons, such as new social networks, people getting bored of it, etc. But I wonder if the spammers will kill it eventually, to the point where there are hundreds of millions of spam accounts, hogging resources meant for legitimate users.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


The Wikipedia game

02.07.2014

The contributors or editors of Wikipedia are often quick to make changes after errors are pointed out. A recent funny one was for the suburb of Cannons Creek, in Porirua, when Wikipedia told a friend’s son:

Cannons Creek is a suburb of Porirua City approximately 22km north of Wellington in New Zealand. The citizens attempted to expel a demon but the exorcism backfired, rendering the town uninhabitable for the last fifteen years.

This was changed within hours of my Tweeting about it, so a contributor must have spotted the vandalism to the page.
   My earlier one about second-generation Hyundai Sonatas being classified as first-generation ones in the Wikimedia Commons was also remedied, which is good. I imagine someone will eventually see that the new Hyundai i10 cannot be both longer and shorter than its predecessor.
   However, I still hold a poor impression of Wikipedia because of an incident some years ago that suggested that certain people in the hierarchy gamed the system.
   The accusations of a senior editor—who accused me of defamation and tried to force me to remove a blog post with links about Wikipedia’s faults—did not stand up to any scrutiny. The lesson is: if you want to abuse me with legal arguments on email for five days, you’d better get your facts straight when you’re talking to a guy with a law degree. (She got her wish though, because of Six Apart closing down Vox, which is where I had blogged this.)
   It highlighted a certain arrogance among some of the people high up there. I hope she is not representative of senior Wikipedia editors but the amount of errors that I find—very serious, factual ones on things I know about—is ridiculous. Her behaviour suggested that facts won’t get in the way of power trips.
   One major error that has steadfastly remained for years is Wikipedia’s insistence that the Ford CE14 platform was used for a variety of US Ford cars in the 1980s. This work of fiction has made its way all over the internet, including to the IMCDB,* a Ford Tempo fan site, and elsewhere.
   The correct fact is that CE14 was the 1990 European Ford Escort. Wikipedia states that it was used for the 1980 US Ford Escort and its derivatives (Mercury Lynx, Ford EXP, Mercury LN7) and the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz.
   This is incredibly easy to debunk for anyone who has followed the Ford Motor Company over the years, or read a book or a magazine article about it. First: Ford’s alphanumeric codes were not in existence when these US cars were being developed. Secondly, the Tempo and Topaz are not in the C segment at Ford, but the CD segment; but, in any case, they did not have an alphanumeric code. Thirdly, the E in CE14 stands for Europe, which, the last time I checked, is not in the US. Fourthly, the numbers are more or less sequential as the projects are lined up at Ford. If 7 is Probe, 11 (if I recall correctly) was the 1990 Ford Laser, then how on earth could 14 be for a car that came out in 1980? (You can point out that CD162 was released before CD132, but there is another story behind that.)
   The user who created the original, error-filled, unreferenced page has been awarded stars by their peers at Wikipedia. Well done.
   Wikipedia proponents will argue that I should go and correct this myself, but I wonder why I should. I’ve read how Wikipedia works, and a friend who tried to get false information corrected about his wife corrected confirms this. Senior editors check their facts online, and to heck with print references. What they will see is a lot of references to CE14 that back up the error (even though the error began with them), probably accuse and then block the new contributor of vandalism, and the status quo will be preserved. After all, Jimmy Wales—the man most regularly credited as founding Wikipedia—has his own birthday incorrectly stated on the website. It’s what Stephen Colbert called ‘Wikiality’: if enough people believe something to be true, then to heck with the truth.
   The Guardian cites some research at PARC:

   Chi’s team discovered that the way the site operated had changed significantly from the early days, when it ran an open-door policy that allowed in anyone with the time and energy to dedicate to the project. Today, they discovered, a stable group of high-level editors has become increasingly responsible for controlling the encyclopedia, while casual contributors and editors are falling away. Wikipedia – often touted as the bastion of open knowledge online – has become, in Chi’s words, “a more exclusive place”.
   One of the measures the Parc team looked at was how often a user’s edit succeeds in sticking. “We found that if you were an elite editor, the chance of your edit being reverted was something in the order of 1% – and that’s been very consistent over time from around 2003 or 2004,” he says.
   Meanwhile, for those who did not invest vast amounts of time in editing, the experience was very different. “For editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5% in 2004 all the way up to about 15% by October 2008. And the ‘onesies’ – people who only make one edit a month – their edits are now being reverted at a 25% rate,” Chi explains.
   In other words, a change by a casual editor is more likely than ever to be overturned, while changes by the elite are rarely questioned. “To power users it feels like Wikipedia operates in the way it always has – but for the newcomers or the occasional users, they feel like the resistance in the community has definitely changed.”

   The late Aaron Swartz, whom I have admired, was quoted in the article:

“I used to be one of the top editors … now I contribute things here and there where I see something wrong.” The reason, he explains, is that the site feels more insular and exclusive than in the past. “In general, the biggest problem I have with the editors is their attitude,” he says. “They say: ‘We’re not going to explain how we make decisions, we basically talk amongst ourselves.’

   It appears to be why Larry Sanger, the other guy who founded Wikipedia, left. This very behaviour was something he forecast a decade ago that appears to hold true today (original emphases):

   But there are myriad abuses and problems that never make it to mediation, let alone arbitration. A few of the project’s participants can be, not to put a nice word on it, pretty nasty. And this is tolerated. So, for any person who can and wants to work politely with well-meaning, rational, reasonably well-informed people—which is to say, to be sure, most people working on Wikipedia—the constant fighting can be so off-putting as to drive them away from the project. This explains why I am gone; it also explains why many others, including some extremely knowledgeable and helpful people, have left the project.
   The root problem: anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise. There is a deeper problem—or I, at least, regard it as a problem—which explains both of the above-elaborated problems. Namely, as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated). This is one of my failures: a policy that I attempted to institute in Wikipedia’s first year, but for which I did not muster adequate support, was the policy of respecting and deferring politely to experts. (Those who were there will, I hope, remember that I tried very hard.)
   I need not recount the history of how this nascent policy eventually withered and died. Ultimately, it became very clear that the most active and influential members of the project–beginning with Jimmy Wales, who hired me to start a free encyclopedia project and who now manages Wikipedia and Wikimedia—were decidedly anti-elitist in the above-described sense.
   Consequently, nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will—at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy—be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts. This is not perhaps so bad in itself. But if the expert should have the gall to complain to the community about the problem, he or she will be shouted down (at worst) or politely asked to “work with” persons who have proven themselves to be unreasonable (at best).

   I do not doubt for a second that Wikipedia was started with the best of intentions. It was a really good resource a decade ago, when it attracted the best minds to the project. It does, I am sure, attract some incredibly talented people who are generous and knowledgeable. I am told the science pages are some of the best written out there because those ones have been held up to the original Wikipedia standards. But many pages seem to reflect the great social experiment of the internet: email was great before spammers, and YouTube is great without comments. Democratization does not always mean that the masses will improve things, especially in the realm of specialist knowledge.
   And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very long-winded way of explaining why I took the word wiki off the home page of Autocade 12 hours ago. I started it allowing public edits, using the same software as Wikipedia, and these days, only specialists can edit the site. The word wiki, ignoring its etymology, is now too closely associated with Wikipedia, and that brand is just too tainted these days for my liking.

* Since I approached the IMCDB, which actually has people dedicated to accuracy, many of its CE14 references were removed.—JY

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Posted in branding, cars, culture, interests, internet, leadership, media, publishing, technology | 5 Comments »


Google Plus is about to turn three: will media remember the hype?

23.06.2014

As Google Plus nears yet another anniversary—I believe it’s its third next week—it’s interesting to reflect back on the much-hyped launch. Or, more accurately, on the number of people who drank the Google Kool-Aid and believed this would be the biggest thing since Facebook. Have a glance at the cheerleading: a handful of links I could find quickly today included Testically, Techcrunch, Ghacks (though I don’t blame them, since they are run for the Google community) and Readwrite. It had allies like this in the blogging community. Forbes was still championing it as late as December 2013. As I wrote this, Mashable was one that raised the issue of privacy back then, though I’m sure there were others.
   I want to clear up that I am not criticizing a single person here for a lapse of ethics. I’m simply pointing out the buzz: many tech experts pumped up Plus. I know one (there could have been more) who backtracked less than half a year later when it failed to make much of an impact and stated what he really meant.
   I realize that there are some opinion leaders on there who are doing remarkably well. However, generally, fewer people are on it actively compared with Facebook, and fewer threads and conversations take place. Despite Google’s methods of forcing people on it, by linking it to YouTube, where a lot of people comment, it still hasn’t taken off in the public’s imaginations.
   You’re always going to get a biased view from me about Google, but not one borne out of a philosophical reason or some dislike of Californians or Americans (and I have cousins and an aunt who are both). It was borne out of the disconnect between what the firm said and what the firm did: everything from the outright lies over years of the Ads Preferences Manager (a system that has since been replaced) to the blacklisting system (where, it was discovered, only two part-time people were devoted to it, leaving queries unanswered on its forums and sites unfairly and wrongly blacklisted with no resolutions). Yet I was once a Google cheerleader, if you go back far enough on this blog, let down by its actions. This blog itself was once on Blogger.
   I took the stance (which I read from Stowe Boyd) that if the original Google organized the web, and Facebook organized your friends, then that didn’t leave Google Plus an awful lot to do. What I cannot get is, with Google’s endless dismeanours, why people would continue to take its PR department’s hype at its word.
   You might argue that others haven’t been as upset by these faults as I have. That, for the overwhelming majority, they just go to Google for search and it rarely suffers downtime. In fact, it’s very good in delivering what people wanted there. This was Google’s “killer app”, the thing that toppled Altavista, the biggest website in the world.
   But, Google tells us, it owns all these other things, and we now know that it sends all those data to the NSA and is complicit in snooping. We know it got round browser settings in Safari through hacking so it could spy more on the public—until it was busted by the Murdoch Press. Courageous American attorneys-general punished Google by docking it a massive four hours’ pay.
   Surely that would be enough to turn people off? Apparently not.
   No one really seems to mind having this happen, and I am a hypocrite because I use Facebook and know it’s up to the same tricks. I had to go to the Network Advertising Initiative to block Facebook’s new ad cookie from targeting me, fetching my data when I’m off-site. But you don’t see me pump up Facebook very often. I’ll give it kudos when it’s deserved (I thought Timeline was a great interface when new) and flak when it’s not. It’s not a blind admiration, and that’s what I sense of the big G.
   And it’s not the brand. A good brand is one that is transparent and has integrity. It walks its talk. Sure, Google does well in those surveys—so what does that really say? Enron did well in surveys, too. It even won an award for climate change action.
   So why the love from some quarters of the media? Did it take Snowden and PRISM for there to be more than just casual reporting on Google’s faults? And shouldn’t there be more depth than this?
   Maybe, at the end of the day, it’s community. What the big G has done well—and Facebook, for that matter—is bring people together. Here’s a story on a man who is a tech lead on Google Glass, innovating at a university. Folks like this come together because of innovations pushed by these big tech firms. One of my good friends, who is supportive of Google, says the positives outweigh the negatives. So when Google or YouTube goes down—my queries took minutes to resolve over the weekend—most people see that. Ditto with Facebook: even when it was down for some users last week (which, incidentally, didn’t make the news, though the 20-minute global outage on Thursday did—I still maintain there is some limit people are hitting on one or some servers, and Facebook acknowledges it was a software bug, not an attack from China), I was still checking in to see if things were back. I liked my communities and the people I engaged with.
   So when it comes to pointing out a bug with Google—as I had to last year when its robot would not whitelist clean, previously blacklisted sites—that same community bands together, ignoring the pleas of innocent users, and maintaining the high-and-mighty stance that there could not possibly be anything wrong with its systems. Blogger was the same, when “tech support” and the main Blogger contact were complicit, to the point of deleting evidence that proved a fault, and it took the then-product manager’s intervention to be ethical, honest, transparent and proactive. One good guy (who has since moved on to other parts of Google—yet he still helped me out on a remaining bug last year), but one messed-up support system. And I have to wonder if that is symptomatic of the bigger picture at the big G. It’s not all fun with Owen Wilson trying to be an intern—but it sure does well getting itself into films to portray the positive, upbeat, and inspiring side of the business.
   However, it’s the task of media not to be sucked in to any of this, and to provide us an objective view. To report fairly and dispassionately, and to put aside a press junket or a Silicon Valley gathering. There are polite ways of providing criticism, if it’s about maintaining some level of mana within that community and to ensure a steady flow of inside news. I always find—and again I admit I am biased—that I can’t really read anything about Google without my mind going first to some of these deeper problems, so why not offer such a balance when they are directly relevant?
   Google Plus’s anniversary might go largely unnoticed. But it would be interesting if someone in the media noted just how many colleagues hyped it up at the time. Will we see such a report next week?

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, USA | 3 Comments »


Facebook reaches its limits again: ‘Sorry, something went wrong’

19.06.2014

Mea culpa: OK, I was wrong. Facebook got things back up in about 20 minutes for some users, who are Tweeting about it. However, as of 8.37 a.m. GMT, I am still seeing Tweeters whose Facebooks remain down.
   Looks like some people do work there after hours. What a surprise!
   However, I reckon things aren’t all well there, with two big outages in such a short space of time—and I stand behind my suspicions that Facebook has reached some sort of limit, given the increase in bug reports and the widespread nature of the outage tonight.

That didn’t last long, did it?
   Facebook returned late morning on Tuesday—as predicted, it would only be back once the folks at Facebook, Inc. got back to work at 9 a.m. on Monday and realized something had run amok.
   Now it’s Thursday night NZST, and if Twitter’s to be believed, a lot of people globally can no longer access Facebook. This is a major outage: it seems one of every few Tweets is about Facebook being down.
   Just over two days, and it’s dead again.
   Looks like I wasn’t wrong when I wondered whether that I had hit a limit on Facebook. To be out for nearly three days suggests that there was something very wrong with the databasing, and the number of people affected were increasing daily.
   And when you look at the bugs I had been filing at Get Satisfaction, there has been a marked increase of errors over the past few weeks, suggesting that there was some instability there.
   For it to have such a major failing now, after being out for some users this weekend, doesn’t surprise me. This time, groups and Messenger have been taken out, too.
   Facebook really should have taken note of the errors being reported by users.
   My experience with Vox was very similar, although there the techs couldn’t get me back online. They gave up at the end of 2009. The similarities are striking: both sites had databasing issues but only with certain users; and both sites were overrun with spammers creating fake accounts. That’s one thing that did piss me off: spammers having more privileges than a legitimate user.
   Well, we can probably wait till 9 a.m. PDT when they get back to work. It may say, ‘We’re working on getting this fixed as soon as we can,’ in the error message, but as far as I can make out from what happened to me, Facebook is a Monday–Friday, 9–5 operation, not a 24-hour, seven-day one.
   At least it died on a weekday: we can count ourselves lucky.

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Creating real value, and that’s not what Facebook and Twitter do

17.06.2014

My forced Facebook sabbatical came to an end in the late morning. So what did I think of it all?
   One of my Tweets last night was: ‘I hope [it is temporary], though I have found people out for 7–12 days now. Now it’s Monday I hope they have got over their hangovers!’ At the time I thought: this Facebook is probably not a 24-hour operation. These guys are probably off for the weekend, and they work part-time. We might see them on Monday morning, US time, or whenever they come back from Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Bill Cosby Day, or whatever it is they celebrate over there. Oh, it’s California, so they are probably stoned.
   Sixty-nine hours weren’t quite enough to break my habits, though they were beginning to change. No more was I looking up Facebook in bed before I go to the office, or having a quick gander at night. But on the desktop, I left one tab open, which would always draw me there to have a glance at what friends were up to.
   The timing was a bit exceptional: we had the top 23 pages for the Miss Universe New Zealand 2014 finalists to launch. Had it not been for that, I wonder if I would have bothered with Facebook at all. I had queries to field, direct messages to respond to.
   The direct messaging is obviously separate from the rest of Facebook, as it was the one thing that hadn’t failed. But everything else was worsening: initially losing liking, commenting and posting, then losing the fan pages I administered. Friends could not see my wall, while a few who could see it tried to like things and were given errors. Aside from a few exceptions, no one seemed to think this was out of the ordinary and worth chatting to me about. Not that I mind this: they could all get in touch with me via other media. But this signals that it is OK to get an error when liking something, and shrug it off as temporary, because we believed Facebook when it told us to try again in a few minutes. Never mind that in Facebookland, ‘a few’ means 4,000. We have low expectations of these dot coms.
   So when people joke about how these things always tend to happen to me, I wonder. I’ve always maintained they happen to us all. Maybe the difference is I don’t believe these buggers when they tell me that things will be back in a few minutes, because invariably they don’t. So I put an entry in to Get Satisfaction, or on this blog, so others don’t feel they are alone.
   And if I had found the limits of the site—because I believe on Vox I did in 2009, when exactly the same thing happened, and the techs had no way out—then Facebook should know about this.
   Facebook was, through all of this, useless. It had closed down its Known Issues on Facebook page, which seemed foolhardy, because this certainly was a known issue with the increasing number of Tweets about it. There were no acknowledgements, and most of the time, feeding anything into its report forms resulted in errors. Sometimes I got a blank screen. Its own help pages told you to do things that were impossible. If it were any other firm, people would be crying bloody murder or wanting their money back. (And I am technically a customer, through my mayoral campaign last year.)
   A few other accounts came back, for the people I interacted with on Twitter and Get Satisfaction in the same predicament.
   So what now? I might Facebook less. The 69 hours were a good reminder. One of the things I had watched during the sabbatical was the following video via Johnnie Moore, where Douglas Rushkoff speaks about how these big innovators aren’t really adding value, only capital. He gives the example of Twitter:

The company that was going to be the maker of things now has to be the site where he aggregates the other makers of things … so that you can show multi-billion-dollar returns instead of the hundred millions that you were doing … You know, for Twitter, I just saw yesterday, they’re failing! Only $43 million last quarter! Isn’t that awful? Oh my God! Only $43 million, which is, I mean, how many employees do they have? I think that would be enough but their market cap is so outlandishly huge, so much money has gotten stuck in there, that they’re gonna be stuck looking for a new way to somehow milk more money out of an otherwise great tool and they’re gonna kill it. They have to—they have to, ’cause they need that home run.

   Can we expect there to be greater innovation in such an environment, for any of these platforms? If we aren’t feeling the same buzz we once did with these sites, there’s a good reason, and the above is part of the problem. They aren’t creating value any more, only market cap and stock, or, as Rushkoff says, ‘static capital.’

This is what [Thomas] Piketty was really writing about … Capital has the ability to actually create profit, so all these companies, all this development, are really just different versions gaming the system rather than rewiring the system, rebooting it, which is the opportunity here.

   I spent part of the last few days looking at the PDF proofs for Lucire Arabia, where at least I know I am part of making something that is creating value and, through its content, helping people. While my original motive for being on Facebook et al was promotional, for my businesses, I have to question if that was the best use of my time, and for creating value. Facebook organized my friends, as Google organized the web—now that those are done, there is the next step.
   I left Vox—or rather, Vox left me when the site died and I was no longer able to post—and put more time elsewhere, namely into my first mayoral election campaign. I knew I was creating an opportunity to help people, and the upshot of that is the free wifi system we have in Wellington today (ironically probably very heavily used to update Facebook). It meant more than a means to Facebook and Instagram: the bigger picture was to signal to the tech sector that Wellington is open for business, and that we aren’t being left behind in an industry that can create frictionless exports and intellectual capital.
   We aren’t quite there again in 2014, as Facebook is back, but it may be worth contemplating just where I’m creating value for business and society when it’s not election year. This year, I don’t have a book planned—but it may have to be something where a good bunch of people are going to get some benefit.

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


My forced Facebook sabbatical

14.06.2014

It’s been an interesting day with a forced Facebook sabbatical: I can no longer post, comment or like on the site, and it’s been that way since 3 a.m. GMT.
   I’d say I’m a fairly heavy Facebook user. There haven’t been that many days when I haven’t posted since I was sent an invitation by Paul Heck back in 2007, and when I last downloaded all my data, some years back, it was 3 Gbyte worth. It’d easily be double that today.
   So not having access to Facebook any more makes you realize how habitual it has become.
   I find that between bouts of work, I’d look in. I still do that even though I know I can’t interact on the site. I still can read others’ statuses (and send direct messages) but it seems normal to like the odd thing, a function I no longer have. In fact, one friend who I was in touch with expressed that he thought it was odd I had not liked some of his work, because that had become normal as well. It became a way of telling someone you cared.
   What I probably miss most is this: I’d share jokes on the place. Facebook seems to be the medium in which I do that today, instead of email. As I said in a blog post a while back in the wake of Timeline’s launch, it gives instant gratification: you know when you’ve got a favourable reaction. It’s a source of entertainment, too, and much of that came from socializing with silly puns and the like. Good brain exercise as well as providing a bit of levity.
   Being unable to access my own groups is a problem. I’m not sure if I can delete dodgy threads on them presently, but this shows how much I’ve come to use those groups for hobbies—to the point where I quite often learn about things from them. At least one is for work.
   Day one sans Facebook hasn’t been quite enough to alter my habits massively, since I’ve been occupied on other things. But it has made me aware of when I do go on the site and what I actually value on it. And it is to share a good laugh, in lieu of having a pint at a pub.
   It makes you wonder: where is the substitute? It hasn’t been on Tumblr, Twitter or Instagram, which I frequent. They have each evolved into narrow categories: Tumblr for visual stimulation, Twitter for quick comments, Instagram for sharing images and following some hobbies. Weibo has been more cathartic for me, rather than a place I interact. Google Plus is just where I post articles about Google.
   A friend and I Skyped this morning, in the small hours, and concluded again, as people have many times, that the next grand site will offer something so different, and so important to us, that Facebook will be seen as old hat and quaint. It was inevitable, as I repeated my story on how no one could have seen the fall of Altavista as 1998 ticked over. But, right now, if you find yourself Facebookless—and not by choice—it does leave a void in your routine in 2014. Believe me, I didn’t want to admit that.

One unlikely thought crossed my mind: what if it doesn’t come back? What if I found the limits of Facebook? After all, the error messages have all said that the bug is momentary, and to try back in a few minutes. It’s been 12½ hours so far, but Facebook time and real time are usually different things. I’ve been tracking bugs for years on Get Satisfaction, and things take at least half a year to get right at Facebook. For a start, a bug where one could not tag someone by their first name took six months to fix. The bug where New Zealanders could not see their Facebook walls on the 1st of each month took over six months to remedy since the first report (October 1, 2011; the last was April 1, 2012). It took 19 months for Lucire to secure its name on Instagram (well, it took a couple of days once it got to someone who cared—just like Blogger). It took three years for a Facebook page map for That Car Place to be correctly positioned in Upper Hutt and not Hamilton (since Facebook seemed to confuse owner Stephen Hamilton’s surname with his location, even though they were put in to the correct fields).
   This latest bug is particularly difficult because, despite finding pages where I could report it, I can’t post. The bug is that I can’t feed in anything, so what is the point of offering a comment box, when the message won’t “stick” or be sent? It is the equivalent of a giant poster asking, ‘Are you illiterate? If so, please write to …’
   Asking a friend to post on my wall on my behalf is useless, too, since one friend attempted to in the evening and also got an error; while another friend, also wanting to help me out, couldn’t see the wall at all. It plainly wouldn’t load, which is what I find on a cellphone browser like Dolphin.
   Trying to use Facebook to log in to an app does give a slightly different message: there is a link to an explanation on what is happening. This is absent everywhere else. Facebook claims that they are updating a database where my account is. It must be a very special database because I’ve seen fewer than half a dozen Tweets complaining of the same problem today.

No Facebook access

   However, I’ve become wary of explanations from big Bay Area websites, since few of them hold true.
   It brings back memories of Vox (no relation to the current site at the same URL) in 2009. Those of you who knew me from blogging there will recall the story: the posting window would take two days to come up for me. (It should take a second.) Six Apart, the then-owners of Vox, kept getting me to look at various things, or blamed my ISP, before I got fed up with the excuses. This went on for months.
   I eventually said, out of frustration: ‘Here is my email and here is my password. Use them at Six Apart headquarters in San Francisco. If you can get that posting window to appear instantly, I will admit it is my problem and shut up.’
   The end result was they couldn’t, either, but it took such a drastic action before I was believed, and I wasn’t some guy who didn’t know “how to internet properly”.
   I’ve seen Google outright lie—as some of you have seen on this blog—and I just wonder about Facebook right now. I’ve probably filed the greatest number of Facebook bugs of anyone at Get Satisfactionsince you can get blocked from Facebook and accused of abuse if you file them at the site itself—to keep a record of just how the site is disintegrating. What it says on the tin and what it does are becoming two very separate things.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 13 Comments »