Posts tagged ‘Lucire’


Endorsing Laurie Foon for Southern Ward

16.12.2017

While I no longer live in the Southern Ward in Wellington, I know whom I would vote for if I still did. It’s after a lot of thought, given how strong the candidates are—I count several of them as my friends. One stands out.
   I have known Laurie Foon for 20 years this year and have watched her genuinely take an interest in our city. This isn’t just political hype: two decades ago, she warned us about the Inner City Bypass and how it wouldn’t actually solve our traffic problems; her former business, Starfish, was internationally known for its real commitment to the environment and sustainability (its Willis Street store walked the talk with its materials and lighting); and as the Sustainable Business Network’s Wellington regional manager, she’s advised other companies on how to be environmentally friendly (she’s recently received a Kiwibank Local Hero Award for her efforts).
   In 1997, when I interviewed Laurie for Lucire’s first feature, she had enough foresight to say yes to a web publication, at a time when few others saw that value. (This is in a pre-Google world.) It’s important for our local politicians to be ahead of the curve—yet so many voters have opted to look firmly in a rear-view mirror when it comes to politics, fixated on re-creating the “good old days”. If I vote, I vote for our future, and Laurie really can make a difference in council—as she has been doing in our community for the past two decades and more, issue after issue. She’s forward-looking, and she can help make our city carbon neutral, waste-free, and socially responsible. It’s a wholehearted endorsement for Laurie to make good things happen.

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Posted in culture, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Wellington | No Comments »


Why the love? Google tracks you when location services are off; Facebook allegedly listens in on conversations

23.11.2017


Above: We boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday—then my other half got a cruise-themed video on YouTube.

Hat tip to Punkscience for this one.
   My other half and I noted that her YouTube gave her a cruise-themed video from 2013 after we boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday for a visit. Punkscience found this article in The Guardian (originally reported by Quartz), where Google admitted that it had been tracking Android users even when their location services were turned off. The company said it would cease to do so this month.
   It’s just like Google getting busted (by me) on ignoring users’ opt-outs from customized ads, something it allegedly ceased to do when the NAI confronted them with my findings.
   It’s just like Google getting busted by the Murdoch Press on hacking Iphones that had the ‘Do not track’ preference switched on, something it coincidentally ceased to do when The Wall Street Journal published its story.
   There is no difference between these three incidents in 2011, 2012 and 2017. Google will breach your privacy settings: a leopard does not change its spots.
   Now you know why I bought my cellphone from a Chinese vendor.
   Speaking of big tech firms breaching your privacy, Ian56 found this link.
   It’s why I refuse to download the Facebook app—and here’s one experiment that suggests Facebook listens in on your conversations through it.
   A couple, with no cats, decided they would talk about cat food within earshot of their phone. They claim they had not searched for the term or posted about it on social media. Soon after, Facebook began serving them cat food ads.

   We already know that Facebook collects advertising preferences on users even when they have switched off their ad customization, just like at Google between 2009 and 2011.
   Now it appears they will gather that information by any means necessary.
   This may be only one experiment, so we can’t claim it’s absolute proof, and we can’t rule out coincidence, but everything else about Facebook’s desperation to get user preferences and inflate its user numbers makes me believe that the company is doing this.
   Facebook claims it can do that when you approve their app to be loaded on your phone, so the company has protected itself far better than Google on this.
   Personally, I access Facebook through Firefox and cannot understand why one would need the app. If there is a speed advantage, is it worth it?
   This sort of stuff has been going on for years—much of it documented on this blog—so it beggars belief that these firms are still so well regarded by the public in brand surveys. I’m not sure that in the real world we would approve of firms that plant a human spy inside your home to monitor your every word to report back to their superiors, so why do we love firms that do this to us digitally? I mean, I never heard that the KGB or Stasi were among the most-loved brands in their countries of origin.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | No Comments »


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 »


Trading identities in the 2010s: when corporate branding and personal branding adopt each other’s methods

14.10.2017


Above: Brand Kate Moss was probably seen by more people when the model collaborated with Topshop.

In 1999, the late Wally Olins sent me his book, Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies are Taking on Each Other’s Roles, a fine read published by the Foreign Policy Centre that argued that countries were trying to look more corporate, adopting the practices of corporate branding. Conversely, as corporations gained more power and their need to practise social responsibility increased, they were adopting the ideas from nation branding. There was an increasing amount of this swapping taking place, and the 21st century has seen the trend continue: more countries have finely tuned nation brands and guidelines on how to use them, while many corporations are trying to look like good corporate citizens—Dilmah and Patagonia come to mind with their work in building communities and advocacy.
   We’ve been discussing at our firm another area where a similar switch has been taking place: that of corporate brands and personal brands. Personal branding is a relatively new development, with (in my opinion) Managing Brand Me the best work on the subject, authored by the late Thomas Gad with his wife Annette Rosencreutz, dating from 2002. (Thomas, of course, founded Medinge Group.) Managing Brand Me features an excellent break-down of the four dimensions involved (functional, social, mental, spiritual) in any good personal brand that still hold true today. They were well ahead of their time given that they had written their book long before selfies became the norm, and before people were being hired by companies as ambassadors based on their Instagram or Twitter followings.
   Those spokespeople are practising their brands almost haphazardly, where some are getting to the point that they cannot be sustained. Others are balancing authenticity with commercial demands: we know that Kendall Jenner probably doesn’t drink Pepsi, and no one wants to be seen to sell out their values. Nevertheless, there is a group of people mindful about their personal brand, and it’s only a matter of time before more begin taking on the trappings of corporate brands: inter alia, guidelines on how theirs is to be used; what products can be endorsed by that brand; how it can be differentiated against others’. Kate Moss may well be one example with a recognizable logotype that appears on products that have her seal of approval. (If I can be slightly macabre, the estates of Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn all think carefully on how each celebrity can be used to endorse products today; while lacking symbols or logotypes, their faces themselves are more than a substitute. With technology democratizing, it is no surprise that living and less iconic people might adopt similar ideas.)
   What of companies? Many now find themselves on an equal footing, or even a disadvantage, to personal accounts. The biggest companies have to fight for attention on social networks just like some of the top personal accounts in the world, and they cannot succeed without speaking to the audience in a personal fashion. A corporate account that reposts publicity photographs would gain little traction except from fans who are already sold on the brand through non-social media; and there is some wisdom in assuming that millennials do not possess the same level of brand loyalty as earlier generations. They’re on the hunt for the best product or service for the price and adopt a more meritorious approach, and among the things that will draw them in will be the values and societal roles of the company. Therefore, there has to be a “personality” behind the account, aware of each of Thomas and Annette’s Brand Me dimensions.
   It has not escaped me that both Lucire’s fashion editor Sopheak Seng and I do better than the magazine when it comes to social media interaction—getting likes and comments—because we’re prepared to put our personalities on the line. The automated way Lucire shares articles on Twitter, for instance, hasn’t helped build its brand there, something which we’re remedying by having team members around the world post to Instagram for starters, giving people a glimpse of our individual experiences. The images might not all look polished as a result, but it is a step toward fulfilling the four dimensions. It is a quest to find a personal voice.
   In the wider media game, this is now more vital as news has become commodified, a trend that was first expressed in the 1990s, too. Perhaps those authors saw that most media outlets would be getting their news from a more concentrated base of sources, and demand on journalists to be first and fastest—something not helped by a society where speed is valued over accuracy—meant that whomever controlled the sources could determine what the world talked about. Global companies want everyone to see when they’re involved in an event that a good chunk of the planet is likely to see; in L’Oréal Paris’s case it’s the Festival de Cannes. If every fashion publication has its eyes on Cannes, then what differentiates that coverage? What stamp does the media outlet’s brand place on that coverage? Is there a voice, a commentary, something that relates to the outlet’s role in society? Should it communicate with its best supporters on social networks?
   Lucire does reasonably well each year at Cannes with its coverage, probably because it does communicate with fans on social networks and alerts them to exclusive content. The rest of the time, it doesn’t do as well because as a smaller publication, it’s relying on those same sources. In 1998 we would have been the only English-language online publication specializing in fashion that talked about each H&M launch; in 2017 many fashion publications are doing it and our share of the pie is that much smaller. Individuals themselves are sharing on their social networks, too. This is not a bad thing: others should have the means to express themselves and indulge their passion of writing and communicating. Exclusivity means traffic, which is why we do better when we cover something few others do.
   However, I recently blogged that Google News has shifted to favouring larger media players, disincentivizing the independents from breaking news. It comes back to needing a distinctive voice, a personal brand, and while we still need to rely on Google News to a degree, that voice could help build up new surfing habits. The most successful bloggers of the last decade, such as Elin Kling, have done this.
   These are the thoughts milling around as Lucire heads into its 20th anniversary this month, and we reevaluate just what made us special when the publication launched in 1997. Those values need to be adapted and brought into 2017 and beyond. But there are wider lessons, too, on just where corporate branding and personal branding are heading; this post did not set out to discuss fashion media. It’s not a bad place to start our inquiry, since fashion (and automobiles) are where a lot of brand competition takes place.
   Indeed, it signals to me that in the late 2010s, companies need to do well as corporate citizens and have a personal voice on social media, ideas that build on my 2013 paper for the début issue of Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing (where I discussed brands in the age of social media and put forward a model of how to manage them) as well as Thomas and Annette’s earlier research. It’s the next stage of where branding practice could go—JY&A Consulting is primed, and we’re prepared to let those thoughts loose on Lucire and our other projects. The book of the blog, meanwhile, is the next target. What a pity I’m not in Frankfurt right now.

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Posted in branding, culture, France, globalization, internet, marketing, media, publishing, Sweden | No Comments »


When someone you know got ‘Harveyed’

12.10.2017

‘Repugnant’ is a very good word, used by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences to describe producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assaults. It’s a small world when someone you know was ‘Harveyed’, and it all follows a very familiar script. My op–ed’s in Lucire today.

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Posted in media, publishing, USA | No Comments »


Secret “Asian” man (with apologies to Tak Toyoshima)

11.10.2017


Matt Clark

Above: Driving a silver Aston Martin. I’m citing the Official Secrets Act when I say I may or may not be on the tail of Auric Goldfinger.

Oh dear, I’ve been outed. I’m a spy. Actually, Walter Matthau and I prefer ‘agent’.
   You can read between the lines in this New York Times piece about Dr Jian Yang, MP.
   I’ve already gone into what I think of the Yang situation on Twitter but if you scroll down, you’ll see Raymond Huo, MP is tarred with the same brush.
   It’s the sort of reporting that makes me wonder, especially since people like me contribute to Duncan Garner’s ‘nightmarish glimpse’ of Aotearoa.

[Prof Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury] said the Chinese-language media in New Zealand was subject to extreme censorship, and accused both Mr. Yang and Raymond Huo, an ethnic Chinese lawmaker from the center-left Labour Party, of being subject to influence by the Chinese Embassy and community organizations it used as front groups to push the country’s agenda.
   Mr. Huo strongly denied any “insinuations against his character,” saying his connections with Chinese groups and appearances at their events were just part of being an effective lawmaker.

And:

Despite the criticism, Mr. Yang has continued to appear alongside Wang Lutong, China’s ambassador to New Zealand, at public events, including for China’s National Day celebrations this week, when he posed for photos with the ambassador and a Chinese military attaché.

   I wound up at three events where the Chinese ambassador, HE Wang Lutong, was also invited. This makes me a spy, I mean, agent.
   I even shook hands with him. This means my loyalty to New Zealand should be questioned.
   I ran for mayor twice, which must be a sure sign that Beijing is making a power-play at the local level.
   You all should have seen it coming.
   My Omega watch, the ease with which I can test-drive Aston Martins, and the fact I know how to tie a bow tie to match my dinner suit.
   The faux Edinburgh accent that I can bring out at any time with the words, ‘There can be only one,’ and ‘We shail into hishtory!’
   Helming a fashion magazine and printing on Matt paper, that’s another clue. We had a stylist whose name was Illya K. I don’t always work Solo. Sometimes I call on Ms Gale or Ms Purdy.
   Jian Yang and I have the same initials, which should really ring alarm bells.
   Clearly this all makes me a spy. I mean, agent.
   Never mind I grew up in a household where my paternal grandfather served under General Chiang Kai-shek and he and my Dad were Kuomintang members. Dad was ready to 反工 and fight back the communists if called up.
   Never mind that I was extremely critical when New Zealanders were roughed up by our cops when a Chinese bigwig came out from Beijing in the 1990s.
   Never mind that I have been schooled here, contributed to New Zealand society, and flown our flag high in the industries I’ve worked in.
   All Chinese New Zealanders, it seems, are still subject to suspicion and fears of the yellow peril in 2017, no matter how much you put in to the country you love.
   We might think, ‘That’s not as bad as the White Australia policy,’ and it isn’t. We don’t risk deportation. But we do read these stories where there’s plenty of nudge-nudge wink-wink going on and you wonder if there’s the same underlying motive.
   All you need to do is have a particular skin colour and support your community, risking that the host has invited Communist Party bigwigs.
   Those of us who are here now don’t really bear grudges against what happened in the 1940s. We have our views, but that doesn’t stop us from getting on with life. And that means we will be seen with people whose political opinions differ from ours.
   Sound familiar? That’s no different to anyone else here. It’s not exactly difficult to be in the same room as a German New Zealander or a Japanese New Zealander in 2017. A leftie won’t find it hard to be in the same room as a rightie.
   So I’ll keep turning up to community events, thank you, without that casting any shadow over my character or my loyalty.
   A person in this country is innocent till proved guilty. We should hold all New Zealanders to the same standard, regardless of ethnicity. This is part of what being a Kiwi is about, and this is ideal is one of the many reasons I love this country. If the outcry in the wake of Garner’s Fairfax Press opinion is any indication, most of us adhere to this, and exhibit it.
   Therefore, I don’t have a problem with Prof Brady or anyone interviewed for the piece—it’s the way their quotes were used to make me question where race relations in our neck of the woods is heading.
   But until he’s proved guilty, I’m going to reserve making any judgement of Dr Yang. The New York Times and any foreign media reporting on or operating here should know better, too.

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Posted in China, culture, humour, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing | 2 Comments »


There’s still a place for blogging—in fact, it might be needed more than ever

23.04.2017

My friend Richard MacManus commemorated the 14th anniversary of ReadWrite, an online publication he founded as a blog (then called ReadWriteWeb) in 2003, by examining blogging and how the open web has suffered with the rise of Facebook and others.
   It’s worth a read, and earlier tonight I fed in the following comment.

I remember those days well, although my progress was probably the opposite of yours, and, in my circles, blogging began very selfishly. Lucire began as a publication, laid out the old-school way with HTML, and one of the first sites in the fashion sector to add a blog was a very crappy one where it was about an ill-informed and somewhat amoral editor’s point of view. For years I refused to blog, preferring to continue publishing an online magazine.
   Come 2002, and we at the Medinge Group [as it then was; we’ve since dropped the definite article] were planning a book called Beyond Branding. One of the thoughts was that we needed one of these newfangled blogs to promote the book, and to add to it for our readers. I was one (the only?) dissenter at the June 2003 meeting, saying that, as far as my contacts were concerned, blogging was for tossers. (Obviously, I didn’t know you back in those days, and didn’t frequent ReadWriteWeb.) [Hugh MacLeod might agree with me though.] By August 2003 it had been set up, and I designed the template for it to match the rest of the book’s artwork. How wrong I was in June. The blog began (and finished, in 2006) with posts in the altruistic, passionate spirit of RWW, and before long (I think it was September 2003), I joined my friends and colleagues.


An excerpt from the Beyond Branding Blog index page.

   In 2006, I went off and did my own blog, and even though there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of blogs by now, decent bloggers were still few. I say this because within the first few weeks, a major German newspaper was already quoting my blog, and I got my first al-Jazeera English gig as a result of my blogging a few years later. It was the province of the passionate writer, and the good ones still got noticed.
   I still have faith in the blogosphere simply because social media, as you say, have different motives and shared links are fleeting. Want to find a decent post you made on Facebook five years ago? Good luck. Social media might be good for instant gratification—your friends will like stuff you write—but so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media aren’t the same, and there’s still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. It’s a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here we’re spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
   Eleven years on, and I’m still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and it’s still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because there’s one more danger that I should point out.
   Google, Facebook et al are the establishment now, and, as such, they prop up others in the establishment. Google News was once meritorious, now it favours big media names ahead of independents. This dangerously drowns out those independent voices, and credible writers and viewpoints can get lost. The only exception I can think of is The Intercept, which gets noticed on a wide scale.
   Take this argument further and is there still the same encouragement for innovators to give it a go, as we did in the early 2000s, when we realize that our work might never be seen, or if it is to be seen, we need deep pockets to get it seen?
   Maybe we need to encourage people to go away from these walled gardens, to find ways to promote the passionate voices again. Maybe a future search engine—or a current one that sees the light—could have a search specifically for these so we’re not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And I’m sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack ‘charisma’, as you put it. They just don’t excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebook’s personal sharing down 25 and 29 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is a shift away from uninspiring, privacy-destroying places. Hopefully we can catch them at more compelling and interesting blogs and make them feel at home.

   I have also, belatedly, added Richard’s personal blog to the blogroll on this page.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | 3 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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Online publishing: how the players we dealt with changed in 2016

12.01.2017


Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.

Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
   First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocade’s case, it was rising quickly.
   We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that we’ve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And we’re taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
   Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. We’ve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
   Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone who’s followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to us—and we want to make sure our readers don’t fall victim to Google’s snooping, either. I’m not saying that Google ads don’t appear at all—it’s the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhere—but if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then I’ll do so.
   It’s a shame because we’ve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
   We have, sadly, entered an era where—as found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherd—online advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): ‘Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.’ I don’t think this is fair, as they’re not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: they’ve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) It’s not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, it’s time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
   Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, ‘We recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being said—we can absolutely get you live again.’ That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connected—the helpful staff member wasn’t around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
   At least this wasn’t a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, ‘It is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.’ This wasn’t the first change Rightster sprung on us—its code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layouts—and soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldn’t get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
   We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightster’s advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of £11·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a ‘social video broadcaster’, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of £1·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
   Gorilla Nation and Burst’s slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didn’t help. In fact, when they didn’t answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
   We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so we’re still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
   How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what it’s worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasn’t that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.

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Alarm für Cobra 11 changes direction again, with Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner

18.08.2015
First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

Poor Vinzenz Kiefer. The co-star of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, which commemorates its 20th anniversary next year, will be written out of the show, and not by his choice.
   Since the departure of Tom Beck as Ben Jäger a few years ago, the producers of the long-running German action series decided to take a darker turn. Cobra 11 has always been able to reinvent itself with the times, hence the long run, and the light comedy that crept in to such awful episodes as ‘Babyalarm’ or the predictable “bad guys with automatic weapons” plots of ‘Codename Tiger’ (which even had a homage to Michael Bay) was deemed to be at odds with what viewers wanted. Out with Beck. In with Kiefer, a grittier looking young actor who had had a single guest outing in Cobra 11 some years earlier in another role, as a troubled young offender called Dennis Kortmann out to avenge the death of his younger brother.
   The new character of Alex Brandt (incredibly close in name to Kommissar Rex’s Alex Brandtner, played by another short-lived Cobra 11 co-star, Gedeon Burkhard) seemed tailor-made for Kiefer, now 37, a deep, highly talented actor. Brandt had a back-story, caught amongst corrupt police officers which saw him go to prison, something that Cobra 11 producers tried to inject in the mid-2000s when Gedeon Burkhard replaced the ever-popular Réné Steinke. The writers and story editors introduced story threads that spanned the whole season. It was all in keeping with the Zeitgeist, but, ratings dropped, despite a spectacular season finalé inspired by Vantage Point but much more cleverly executed within the 45-minute running time. We finally saw some acting chops from the entire cast: star Erdoğan Atalay got to exercise his not inconsiderable talent as family man and cop Semir Gerkhan, and there was even a hint of “will they or won’t they?” between Brandt and Katrin Heß’s Jenny Dorn—who had previously been in a relationship with Niels Kurvin’s Hartmut Freund character. Yet on occasion, Alarm für Cobra 11 was even beaten by Germany’s Next Top Model, a show which it usually trumped. And Kiefer is the fall guy.
   Burkhard, too, presided over what was considered a darker, moodier season of Cobra 11 in 2007–8, yet ratings fell, and he was given the axe.
   It’s a given that the reinventions help the series, but the obsession with ratings has meant Cobra 11 returning to a level of humour and escapism each time the network, RTL, panics. In a Facebook poll this author set up with 786 respondents, fans regard Tom Beck as the best co-star (565 votes), with Kiefer a distant second (116). Old stars such as Steinke still hold up (67) despite their departure nearly a decade ago.
   Why ‘poor Vinzenz Kiefer’? Today, his successor, Daniel Roesner (top) was announced, which means Kiefer has to complete and, later, promote his work knowing that Alex Brandt may well be killed off (the fate of less popular co-stars) and that he’s on his way out. Alex Brandt may be the gloomy, moody DCI, but behind-the-scenes photos shared by Atalay and Heß show that there are plenty of hijinks, with everyone getting on well. Heß posted her sadness at the announcement her colleague would be given the boot on Instagram and Facebook, and Atalay ceased posting to his social media altogether (although whether that was the reason is unknown).
   Roesner has the ingredients for the escapist audience: he excels in light comedy, he has a friendlier face, and he is already known to Cobra 11 audiences for playing Tacho, whom we first met in 2010 while at the police academy. His character, along with Axel Stein’s Turbo, was so popular that he was brought back for a second guest spot in 2011, and Action Concept, the makers of the series, attempted a TV pilot called Turbo und Tacho, where it is revealed that his full name is Andreas Tachinski.
   Roesner won’t be playing Tachinski this time; instead, after a haircut and a new wardrobe, he’ll be playing a cop called Paul Renner, and whether he designed Futura or not while working at the Bauhaus has not yet been explained. His presence will likely see a return to the escapist, self-contained scripts, with the characters turning more two-dimensional again.
   Beck’s years proved that the show can rebound, but the past two with Kiefer gained him a loyal following, too. The core may well want escapism but Kiefer probably brought viewers who could leave; assuming they knew Cobra 11 had transformed to begin with. Do we want our TV heroes to be light while things are tough; or do we want them to reflect the hard times we have today? Whether RTL has calculated correctly or not will be seen when Roesner’s episodes start with the 20th anniversary of the series; but it will be looking to reclaim the Thursday night prime-time slot more regularly than Cobra 11 has been doing in the last year. Expect huge promotions for the 20th—and to establish Roesner in the new role as RTL attempts to get its audience back.

This piece first appeared in Lucire Men.

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