Posts tagged ‘computing’


It took a little longer, but Autocade reaches 12 million views

03.01.2018

It’s a little disappointing to note that Autocade has taken slightly longer to reach 12 million page views: it ticked over to its new milestone earlier today. I really had hoped that we’d get there before 2017 was out, but it was not to be.
   Part of it might have been the slower rate of models being put up—life’s been busy, and a site that earns a fairly small amount of money compared to our other businesses doesn’t warrant as much time. But 100 models have gone up since June 2017, when Autocade reached its 11 million milestone, with the 3,600th model the Nissan Rasheen (and no, I didn’t plan this one—it’s quite an oddball vehicle).
   So here’s the running tally as I’ve been keeping on this blog, for really no reason other than pedantry.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)

   It’s a shame that the four-month time-frame needed to reach 11 million could be an anomaly rather than part of a trend.
   I also wonder whether the odd PHP error—we have had quite a few since we began hosting at AWS—has impacted on search-engine rankings. However, server management has become far, far more complex over the last couple of decades, and the controls I see at AWS mean nothing to me as someone outside the computing industry. The help pages may as well be in Serbian. The notion that software gets easier to use and the expectation that this level of computing would become democratized have not come to pass, certainly not over the last 10 years. It seems the industry wants to sew things up for itself, and the last thing needed are amateurs like me getting into the nuts and bolts. I’m not Facebook or Google: I can’t afford heaps of employees to look after this stuff. (Or, in Google’s case, maybe a couple here and there.)
   Incidentally, I may begin removing the sharing links under each headline soon. I’m concerned about the standard Facebook ‘like’ button tracking readers, and there are Po.st links under ‘Share this page’ to the top left of this page (if browsing via desktop) if you want to show Facebook friends something from here. Po.st does have its own cookies (linked to a company called Radium One), but it’s far easier to opt out of those through their site. I’m unconvinced that anyone can opt out of Facebook’s data collection.

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Posted in cars, culture, design, internet, publishing, USA | No Comments »


After 10 years, it’s time to reduce Facebook sharing even more

11.12.2017


Wallula, shared via Creative Commons

The following status update was posted on my Facebook wall to some of my friends earlier tonight, though of course the links have been added here.

I realize there’s some irony in posting this on Facebook.
   Some of you will have noticed that I haven’t been updating as frequently. That’s in line with global trends: personal sharing was down 25 per cent year on year between 2015 and 2016, and 29 per cent between 2016 and 2017. After 10 years on Facebook, sometimes I feel I’ve shared enough.
   Even on my own blog, I haven’t done as much in-depth on branding, because my theories and beliefs haven’t markedly changed.
   None of ours do too much. I may have changed a handful of minds through discussions I’ve had here, and on occasion you’ve changed my mind. I’ve seen how some of you have terrible arguments, and how brilliant others are. But overall, has the past decade of exchanges really been worth that much? Some of you here are on the left of politics, and some of you on the right. I hope through dialogue you all wound up with a mutual understanding of one another. I have seen some of you come to a very healthy respect on this wall, and that was worth it. But I wonder if it is my job to be “hosting debates”. Those debates simply serve to underline that all my friends are decent people, and I’ve made good choices over the last decade on who gets to read this wall in full. None of it has changed what I thought of you, unless in those very rare examples you’ve shown yourself to be totally incapable of rational thought (and you’ve probably left in a huff anyway). It shows I’m open-minded enough to have friends from all over the world of all political persuasions, faiths, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, educational levels, and socioeconomic grouping, because none of that ultimately says whether you are a decent human being or not. At the end of the day, that is the only real measure.
   If you’re reading this, then we know each other personally, and you know where this is heading. You’ll find me increasingly more at Mastodon, Hubzilla, Blogcozy, Instagram (I know, it’s owned by Facebook) and my own blog. We don’t exactly need this forum to be messaging and debating. I will continue to frequent some groups and look after some pages, including my public page here on Facebook.
   And of course I’ll continue writing, but not on a site that feeds malware to people (Facebook has bragged about this officially), tracks your preferences after opting out, tolerates sexual harassment, keeps kiddie porn and pornography online even after reports are filed, and has an absolutely appalling record of removing bots and spammers. These are all a matter of record.
   If I mess up, I trust you, as my friends, to contact me through other means and to tell me I’ve been a dick. If you agree or disagree with viewpoints, there are blog comments or other means of voicing that, or, as some of you have done on Facebook (because you, too, have probably realized the futility of engaging in comments), you can send me a message. Heck, you could even pick up the phone. And if you want to congratulate me, well, that should be easy.
   Of course it’s not a complete farewell. As long as this account stays open—and Facebook won’t let you manage pages without one—then the odd update will still wind up on this wall. I may feel strongly enough about something that it demands sharing. But, 10 years later, there are better places to be having conversations, especially as social media democratizes and users demand that they have control over their identities and how to use them.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Saving the internet from itself—Sir Tim Berners-Lee sees the same dangers

18.11.2017


Above: The Intercept is well respected, yet Google cozying up to corporate media meant its traffic has suffered, according to Alternet.

There’s a select group of countries where media outlets are losing traffic, all because Facebook is experimenting with moving all news items out of the news feed and on to a separate page.
   Facebook knows that personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year-on-year for the last two years, and wants to encourage people to stay by highlighting the personal updates. (It probably helped back in the day when everything you entered into Facebook had to begin with your name, followed by ‘is’.) In Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka and three other countries, media have reported a 60 to 80 per cent fall in user engagement via Facebook, leading to a drop in traffic.
   We’ve never been big on Facebook as a commercial tool for our publications, and if this is the way of the future, then it’s just as well that our traffic hasn’t been reliant on them.
   A 60–80 per cent drop in engagement is nothing: earlier this decade, we saw a 90 per cent drop in reach with Lucire’s Facebook page. One day we were doing thousands, the next day we were doing hundreds. It never got back up to that level unless we had something go viral (which, thankfully, happens often enough for us to keep posting).
   Facebook purposely broke the algorithm for pages because page owners would then be forced to pay for shares, and as Facebook is full of fake accounts, many of whom go liking pages, then the more you pay, the less real engagement your page is going to get.
   We felt that if a company could be this dishonest, it really wasn’t worth putting money into it.
   It’s a dangerous platform for any publisher to depend on, and I’m feeling like we made the right decision.
   Also, we had a Facebook group for Lucire long before Facebook pages were invented, and as any of you know, when the latter emerged there was hardly any difference between the two. We felt it highly disloyal to ask our group members to decamp to a page, so we didn’t. Eventually we ceased updating the group.
   We all know that sites like Facebook have propagated “fake news”, including fictional news items designed as click-bait conceived by people who have no interest in, say, the outcome of the US presidential election. Macedonian teenagers created headlines to dupe Trump supporters, with one claiming that his friend can earn thousands per month from them when they click through to his website, full of Google Doubleclick ads.
   The Guardian reports that paid items haven’t suffered the drop, which tells me that if you’re in the fake-news business, you could do quite well from Facebook in certain places. In fact, we know in 2016 they were paying Facebook for ads.
   Conversely, if you are credible media, then maybe you really shouldn’t be seen on that platform if you want to protect your brand.
   Facebook says it has no plans to roll out the “split feed” globally, but then Facebook says a lot of things, while it does the exact opposite.
   Both Facebook and Google claim they are shutting down these accounts, but I know from first-hand experience that Facebook is lousy at identifying fakes, even when they have been reported by people like me and Holly Jahangiri. Each of us can probably find you a dozen fakes in about two minutes, fakes that we’ve reported to Facebook and which they have done nothing about. I’ve already said that in one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts—and that wasn’t an outlier. I suspect Facebook has similar problems identifying fake-news fan pages.
   Everyday people are losing out: independent media are suffering—except for the golden opportunity Facebook has presented the fake-news business.

This leads me on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s latest, where he is no longer as optimistic about his invention, the World Wide Web.
   ‘I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,’ he told The Guardian.
   The newspaper notes, ‘The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people’s attention.’
   Sir Tim continued, ‘The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned.’
   He’s also concerned with the US government’s moves to roll back ’net neutrality, which means big companies will have a greater say online and independent, diverse voices won’t. The ISPs will throttle websites that they don’t like, and we know this is going to favour the big players: AT&T already blocked Skype on the Iphone so it could make more money from phone calls.
   We’ve seen Google’s ad code manipulated first-hand where malware was served, leading to Google making false accusations against us and hurting our publications’ traffic for over a year afterwards.
   The ad industry is finding ways to combat this problem, but with Google the biggest player in this space, can we trust them?
   We also know that Google has been siding with corporate media for years—and to heck with the independent media who may have either broken the news or created something far more in-depth. I’ve seen this first-hand, where something like Stuff is favoured over us. That wasn’t the case at Google, say, six or seven years ago: if you have merit, they’ll send the traffic your way.
   Again, this doesn’t benefit everyday people if low-quality sites—even one-person blogs—have been permitted into Google News.
   Google claims it is fighting “fake news”, but it seems like it’s an excuse to shut down more independent media in favour of the corporates.

We spotted this a long time ago, but it’s finally hit Alternet, which some of my friends read. If your politics aren’t in line with theirs, then you might think this was a good thing. ‘Good on Google to shut down the fake news,’ you might say. However, it’s just as likely to shut down a site that does support your politics, for exactly the same reasons.
   I’m not going to make a judgement about Alternet’s validity here, but I will quote Don Hazen, Alternet’s executive editor: ‘We were getting slammed by Google’s new algorithm intended to fight “fake news.” We were losing millions of monthly visitors, and so was much of the progressive news media. Lost readership goes directly to the bottom line.’
   Millions. Now, we aren’t in the million-per-month club ourselves, but you’d think that if you were netting yourselves that many readers, you must have some credibility.
   Hazen notes that The Nation, Media Matters, The Intercept, and Salon—all respected media names—have been caught.
   Finally, someone at a much bigger website than the ones we run has written, ‘The more we dig, the more we learn about Google’s cozy relationship with corporate media and traditional forms of journalism. It appears that Google has pushed popular, high-traffic progressive websites to the margins and embraced corporate media, a move that seriously questions its fairness. Some speculate Google is trying to protect itself from critics of fake news at the expense of the valid independent outlets.’
   It’s not news, since we’ve had this happen to us for years, but it shows that Google is expanding its programme more and more, and some big names are being dragged down. I may feel vindicated on not relying on Facebook, but the fact is Google is a gatekeeper for our publication, and it’s in our interests to see it serve news fairly. Right now, it doesn’t.
   The danger is we are going to have an internet where corporate and fake-news agenda, both driven by profit, prevail.
   And that’s a big, big reason for us, as netizens, to be finding solutions to step away from large, Silicon Valley websites that yield far too much power. We might also support those government agencies who are investigating them and their use of our private information. And we should support those websites that are mapping news or offer an alternative search engine.
   As to social networking, we’ve long passed peak Facebook, and one friend suggests that since everything democratizes, maybe social networking sites will, too? In line with Doc Searls’s thoughts, we might be the ones who have a say on how our private information is to be used.
   There are opportunities out there for ethical players whose brands need a real nudge from us when they’re ready for prime-time. Medinge Group has been saying this since the turn of the century: that consumers will want to frequent businesses that have ethical principles, in part to reflect their own values. Millennials, we think, will particularly demand this. An advertising system that’s better than Google’s, a search engine that deals with news in a meritorious fashion, and social networking that’s better than Facebook’s, all driven by merit and quality, would be a massive draw for me right now—and they could even save the internet from itself.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Welcome to Vivaldi

07.09.2017

Earlier this week, I installed Vivaldi browser, and decided to make it my default after reading CEO Jon von Tetzchner’s blog post about the potentially corrupt practice of suspending his company’s Adwords campaign after he was critical of Google.
   I have resisted browsers made from Chromium because I was never sure how much went back to Google, but seeing von Tetzchner’s honest blog post about Google’s alleged misdeed made me think that Vivaldi would likely look after my interests as a netizen.
   It wasn’t the only reason, mind. Firefox, and before that, Cyberfox (a 64-bit Firefox that had been my default for quite some time) had begun eating memory on my computer. The memory leak would still happen after I got rid of many extensions, and even on safe mode, Firefox took up a lot more space than I expected. Firefox had been having issues with certain ads from some networks for months, too, resulting in script errors.
   It didn’t take much time for Firefox to chew through 6 Gbyte, freezing other programs that I relied on, and crashing Windows altogether. It happened right after I installed a Crucial SSD that I bought from Atech Computers on Cuba Street, but fortunately I didn’t blame it on the new gadget. Logic prevailed and I discovered the culprit, though an upgrade to Universal Media Server didn’t help either: 6.7 is poorer than 6.5, confusing video files for JPEGs and forgetting what had been recently played. (Like Windows 10, which regularly forgets settings, modern software seems to have a memory poorer than its users.)
   A screen shot of the Windows 10 Task Manager shows just how much memory Firefox ate in around 10 minutes, whereas at this point Vivaldi had been on for quite some time.

   It mirrors the experience I once had with Chrome, which handled memory and web pages so poorly that I began calling it the ‘“Aw, snap!” browser’ because of its regular crashes. The same problem that cemented my use of Firefox (and Waterfox and Cyberfox) has now happened to Firefox, forcing me to look for an alternative.
   First indications are that Vivaldi is a well made product, with a built-in screen-shooting feature and notes. There are some things that are harder to get to, such as a menu where I can customize which cookies should be blocked (I like living in a YouTube-comment-less world; I feel my IQ is preserved as a result), but overall I’ve managed to get myself the right extensions to mimic what I used to do on Firefox. I’ve also switched off the Google phishing and malware protection setting, for obvious reasons, blocked a bunch of cookies from dodgy big US tech firms (Google among them), and done the ad opt-outs.
   It might be marginally quicker, though if I was just interested in speed, Blaze beats Vivaldi and Firefox hands-down, and has a smaller memory footprint. However, a browser is not just for pleasure for me; if it were, then maybe this blog post would have been about another browser altogether. I’ve downloaded Blaze for my phone, and I’ll try it out soon.
   I wonder if this is a longer-term change. I remember beginning surfing on Netscape 1, and if I recall correctly, 1·2 had just come out so I actually began browsing in colour. Netscape stayed good till 4·7, and 6 was bloatware and truly awful. I switched to Internet Explorer 5 at this point, before moving to Maxthon (when it had an IE core, but its own interface). Firefox had issues back then with typography, preventing me from switching, but as it matured to v. 3, I went over and wasn’t disappointed. Chrome also had typographic issues for a long time.
   I invested a lot of time troubleshooting Firefox with the devs over the years, so I don’t make this move lightly. But there comes a point when a piece of software becomes impractical to keep. Firefox hadn’t changed much on the surface yet when it forces two hard resets a day, you have to make a hard call.
   If it weren’t for von Tetzchner’s blog post, I mightn’t have made the decision to use his company’s browser quite so readily. But it is a good product, even at v. 1·11. Vivaldi has obviously invested into making a decent browser from day one, and it’s not just for technologists and power users, which some seem to think. The fact it works better than Firefox should automatically make it appealing to the bulk of users, and if its CEO isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade when it comes to Google, the general public should be impressed.
   But, as we’ve seen, an honourable stand doesn’t always mean success: Duck Duck Go hasn’t overtaken an increasingly suspect Google, and people still flock to Facebook for social networking despite that platform’s privacy gaffes and unanswered questions about its forced downloads. I only hope that Vivaldi stays the course because the public deserves a product that hasn’t come from a morally questionable source.

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Posted in internet, technology | No Comments »


Could the fight against phishing be shifted?

08.04.2017

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.

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Posted in internet, technology | No Comments »


We need to change how we consume and share media as Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns us about privacy and ‘fake news’

18.03.2017


Paul Clarke/CC BY-SA 4.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37435469

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 wasn’t just about ‘fake news’, 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. It’s something I’ve 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 government’s monitoring, something that’s happening to citizens of other occidental nations, too.
   Sir Tim writes, ‘Through collaboration with—or coercion of—companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused—bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ 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.’
   But the one that struck me as very pertinent to publishing is Sir Tim’s second point. It’s the one that most news outlets seized on, linking it back to ‘fake news’, a term now corrupted by the executive branch of the US Government when attacking coverage that it doesn’t like. However, Sir Tim’s points were far broader than that. And it’s evident how his first point links to his second.
   It’s 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 ‘a handful of social media sites or search engines’ show us the things that appeal to our own biases through their algorithms. ‘Fake news’ then spreads through these algorithms because they play to our prejudices. He writes, ‘those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.’ These sites are able to determine what we see based on the data we’ve given them, willingly or unwillingly.
   It’s so far from the ideals of the World Wide Web that it’s 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 isn’t being ranked on merit by the largest player in the search-engine business. It’s why Duck Duck Go, which doesn’t collect user data, gives search results that are generally fairer. We think it’s important to learn alternative viewpoints, especially in politics, otherwise the division that we already see in some countries will only deepen—and at worst this can lead to war. In peacetime countries, a compatriot with opposing political thoughts is not our enemy.
   Facebook’s continued data collection of user preferences is also dangerous. Even after users opt out, Facebook’s ad preferences’ page demonstrates that it will keep collecting. Whether or not Facebook then uses these preferences is unknown—certainly Facebook itself clams up—but since the site reports journalists who alert them to kiddie porn, kicks off drag queens after saying they wouldn’t, and forces people to download software in the guise of malware detection, who knows if any of Facebook’s positions are real or merely ‘fake news’? Knowing the misdeeds of sites like Facebook—and Google which itself has been found guilty of hacking—do 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 isn’t 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 hadn’t explored before, or we may find news and features others aren’t covering. Better yet, we may learn alternative viewpoints that break us out of our prejudices. Surely we can’t 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 you’re someone who’s capable of independent thought?
   It shouldn’t 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 we’ve linked ourselves. Going beyond the same-again sources can only benefit us all.

Originally published in Lucire’s online edition.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


The big difference with the internet of the ’90s: it served the many, not the few

11.09.2016


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.

There’s a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the “napalm girl” 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 ‘under penalty of perjury’ on the form.
   Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. I’ve 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. It’s damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and it’s 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 they’re only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then that’s what they’ll show in their results. There’s little freshness online as a result, which is why people aren’t 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 you’re 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 you’ll pop up regularly in the search results’ 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 isn’t 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 ’net 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 don’t really want to surf casually as we once did because we don’t learn anything new: it’s 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 don’t get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Google’s 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 I’m not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have found—so if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you don’t catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. It’s 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 with—and that’s a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Google’s approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanct—and 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 it’s 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 isn’t 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 don’t 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.
   It’s high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, interests, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 5 Comments »


Bye to the US news app that ranks the Steven Joyce dildo incident above Martin Crowe’s passing

04.03.2016

I’ve 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 don’t 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 can’t understand the choices these days. A few items I put in from Radio New Zealand, Māori Television and The New Zealand Herald were fine—stories about the flag and the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker, for instance—but 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 don’t 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 manufacturers’ news didn’t make it. This I don’t 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 don’t 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 items—separated only by one about Apple issuing a recall in our part of the world—are 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 wasn’t 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. Lula’s 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. Simpson’s estate (which have made it).
   This is a very American app, and that’s fine: it’s made by a US company, and I’m willing to bet most of its users are American. However, the “all” feed, in my view, should be global; those who want news tailored to them already have the choice of selecting their own topics. (It’s 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 country’s elections.
   Whatever the case, I think it’s 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 concerns—I admit I’ve posted the odd item that is an op-ed rather than hard news—but this obsession to be local, not global, reinforces some false and outdated stereotypes about the US.
   It’s 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 don’t intend your work to be global, then don’t offer it to the global market. Don’t let me find your app on a Chinese app centre. Say that it’s for your country only and let it be.
   Or, at least be transparent about how your apps work, because I can’t find anything from Inside about its curation processes other than the utopian, idealistic PR that says we’re all welcome, and we all have a chance to share. (We do. Just our articles don’t 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, I’ve only been on Wildcard for less than a day but I’ve already found it more international in scope. It also has more interesting editorial items. It is still US-developed—east coast this time, instead of west coast—but it supplements its own news with what’s in your Twitter feed. It’s 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.
   I’m not writing off Inside altogether—if you’re after a US-based, US-centric news app, then it’s 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 doesn’t make promises about public curation that it can’t keep, and I’ve 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 hasn’t taken that much from my Twitter contacts yet. There seems to be more news on it and I’m getting a far better read, even of the US-relevant items. I’m looking forward to using it more: it just seems that much more 21st-century.

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Posted in business, China, culture, globalization, Hong Kong, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, technology, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


Capricious Cortana

23.11.2015

I have never seen a program as inconsistent as Microsoft’s Cortana.
   We were always taught that computers were very logical, that they all followed a certain set of code each time.
   Not so Cortana, which has had more different behaviours than anything I have ever seen.
   When I run into technical issues, it’s the fault of certain parties for failing to anticipate the behaviour of ordinary people or for adopting a head-in-the-sand position to bugs that are very real or crooked company policies. These have been covered many times on this blog, such as Six Apart’s old Vox site refusing to accept a log-in, or Facebook ceasing to allow likes and comments; and then there’s the human dishonesty that drove Google’s failures on Blogger and Ads Preferences Manager.
   This still fits into those categories, as Microsoft’s engineers on its forums are peddling standard responses, none of which actually work. One even damaged my start menu and forced a system restore.
   The bugs are so varied, and that to me is strange. Normally bugs will take one form and one form only. Address that, and your problem is solved.
   However, Cortana has done the following.

Day 1. Refused to work, with Windows saying US English was not supported (curious, given it’s an American program). I downloaded the UK English language pack. Worked perfectly for the rest of the day. How novel.

Day 2. Refused to work, but prompted me to set up again, and then it worked.

Day 3. Cortana becomes deaf. No prompts to set up again, but I do it anyway. It works again.

Day 4. I play with the microphone settings (by ‘play’ I mean clicking on a setting but not actually changing it) and Cortana would work intermittently.

Day 5. Cortana would not work except at night, and I play the movie quiz.

Day 6. Cortana claims my Notebook is inaccessible because I am offline. Clearly I wasn’t offline because I was doing stuff online.

Day 7, daytime. Cortana refuses to answer and sends all queries to Bing. The Notebook screen just displays animated ellipses.

Day 7, evening. Cortana works after I plug in my headphones (which has a microphone). After I unplug it, my regular webcam microphone starts picking up my voice again. Cortana works again.

Day 8. Cortana hears me say ‘Hey, Cortana,’ but then just goes to ‘Thinking’ for minutes on end. It might display, ‘Something’s not right. Try again in a little bit,’ after all that. Apparently Cortana still cannot retrieve my interests because I am ‘offline,’ which is amazing that I’m posting to this blog right now.

   The microphones work with other programs. And browsing the Windows forums, this has been going on since July. The November service pack was supposed to have fixed a lot of issues, but clearly not.
   I’ll be fascinated to see what it does tomorrow. But I am tired of the BS that their techs are dishing out as “solutions”. I’m being reminded why I don’t use Word or Outlook: because I have a short fuse when it comes to crap.

PS.: Day 9, same as day 8. Day 10, asked a few set-up questions (again) and it works, though ‘Thinking’ still came up for a few seconds on the first go. Day 11, worked without intervention (amazing!). Day 12, see day 7 (evening).—JY

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Posted in India, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


My first day with Windows 10

17.11.2015

I never expected that the Windows 10 download would ever begin. I had registered for it, but the Windows 10 notification window kept coming up with various excuses, talking about my drivers being out of date, then claiming that because of the automatic log-in, the download would not start. Clicking ‘Tell me more’ never did a thing: that took you to Microsoft’s home page. This went on for months.
   But on a day when I upgraded a new office Mac to El Capitán (and migrated the old data on to it), and reinstalled Lubuntu on another PC which threw a wobbly after being asked to adopt the Cinnamon desktop (which took many hours), Windows 10 decided it was ready after all on my main Windows 7 machine, via Windows Update.
   First signs were promising, with the 2½ Gbyte download coming in five minutes, although the computer stayed on ‘Preparing for the upgrade’ overnight. I had heard that the upgrade process would take an hour or so, not overnight, so something was wrong. Typically I had this trouble with one of the Macs on OS upgrades—one took 18 hours while another took 30 minutes once—but this was new territory for Windows.
   One thing I will say for Windows is that when things go wrong, there is help. One piece of advice, which proved right, was to crash out of the process (using the process manager), and to start it all over again.
   Windows just need a second stab at it, and recommenced the download. This time the ‘Preparing’ window flashed up and was gone, and the hard yards then began. It did wind up taking just over an hour. Getting it on a second attempt isn’t bad, considering I’ve had Mac OS upgrades fail far more times than that.
   First impressions are pretty good though most Windows 7 initiés will tell you that things are a bit harder to find. Don’t believe a soul when they tell you it’s faster to boot up: it isn’t. I’m sure it takes an extra minute compared to 7. Doing some basic things in the File Manager takes more movements of the mouse, to open menus and to click, and the menus aren’t as streamlined once you open the panel to find the functions you used to see at a glance. Little annoying things included Windows 10 forgetting that I had set Cyberfox as my default browser—it really loves Edge, and admittedly, it is a nice, fast program—and the time zone changing without you noticing (I prefer GMT, but Windows kept altering it to NZDT). You have to dig a bit deeper into the menus to make these things stick, such as going through the default programs’ dialogue box, and turning off Windows’ ability to check the time. Having opted for UK English, Cortana refused to work—curiously, it claimed that the installed US English pack was an unsupported language, until I downloaded the same for UK English.


Cortana gives completely the wrong address for me. I wonder if the resident of 39A Aparima Avenue is getting identified as the home of a lot of Windows 10 users.

   There’s not an awful lot that Cortana can tell you. Most enquiries wind up on Bing, and she’s only really good for the weather and exchange rates (as I have discovered so far). There are a few fun questions you can throw at her, asking if she’s better than Siri, or whether if she’s met Bill Gates, but generally, but we’re far from Knight Rider or replicant technology here. A New Zealand accent presents no problems. One thing she gets very wrong is my location, which is allegedly 39A Aparima Avenue in Miramar. I’m not sure how she arrived at that address, as I don’t live there and I don’t believe I know the person who does.
   It’s not too unpleasant to look at although the mobile-specific features can get a bit annoying. The menus feel too large overall, because it’s all designed from a mobile-first standpoint, while the biggest gripe from me comes with the typography.
   Microsoft has ruined ClearType here in its attempt to make something for mobile first, and most type looks very poor on screen. Fortunately, a Japanese website still hosts the MacType plug-in, which brings the font display closer to what we experience on Mac OS X. It even goes beyond what we were used to in Windows 7, which had been Microsoft’s best use of its ClearType technology to date.


After installing MacType, ITC Legacy Serif looks far more like it does in print.

   You can alter the fonts through the Registry Editor, and I set about getting rid of Arial as always. Windows 10 doesn’t like you removing a system font, so the trick is to replace it with something else called Arial, then remove the original from HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts.
   Windows 10 removes your ability to change the icon and menu fonts, and they now have to be changed in the registry, too, at HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics, and very carefully.
   After tinkering with those, the display began looking like what I was familiar with, otherwise there was a bit too much Segoe on screen.
   There have so far been no program incompatibilities. As upgrades go, it hasn’t been too bad, and I haven’t been stuck here forever downloading updates. Apple still gets higher marks for its OS upgrade processes (when they work) but given how much data I have on my main Windows machine, and how different each PC is, Microsoft has done a good job. I’m glad the system waited till now, and delivered me a relatively bug-free transition. Software upgrading is one area where I don’t mind not being first.

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Posted in design, technology, typography, USA, Wellington | No Comments »