21 September 2014

Facebook Data Science: “Books that have stayed with us”

To answer this question we gathered a de-identified sample of over 130,000 status updates matching “10 books” or “ten books” appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014 (although the meme has been active over at least a year). The demographics of those posting were as follows: 63.7% were in the US, followed by 9.3% in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37. We therefore expect the books chosen to be reflective of this subset of the population.

Lada Adamic & Pinkesh Patel

I had no idea this ‘10 books’ meme was so widespread! The resulting top 20 list is unsurprising, reflecting the majority of American readers in the study. I’m sure the list would be quite different if would analyze posts in other languages than English, but it would be increasingly difficult to match book titles with their local translations, especially as some books are published in several editions with different titles. Here is my personal list, a bit longer than 10 though:

20 September 2014

The Telegraph: “Welcome to Paradise: inside the world of legalised prostitution”

Paradise is a brothel in Stuttgart. It’s one of Germany’s “mega-brothels” and, like a lot of those establishments, it has a Moroccan theme. Picture a Sultan’s palace crossed with a Premier Inn, then wedge it between anonymous office blocks on an endless industrial park and you’re there: Paradise.

Nisha Lilia Diu

From the department of ideas who look good in theory, but fail to live up to expectations: the legalization of prostitution in Germany has achieved little of the proposed goals. Stricter laws in the Nordic countries have had better success in fighting sex trafficking and abuse, while in Germany the former illegal system has thrived and diversified under the protection of lax laws.

The New Yorker: “Watching the Eclipse”

At first, Putin had little interest in ideology. Then a vision emerged of a Eurasian Russian imperium, fending off Western decay.
At first, Putin had little interest in ideology. Then a vision emerged of a Eurasian Russian imperium, fending off Western decay.

Illustration by Barry Blitt.

An avid reader about tsarist Russia, Putin was forming a more coherent view of history and his place within it. More and more, he identified personally with the destiny of Russia. Even if he was not a genuine ideologue, he became an opportunistic one, quoting Ivan Ilyin, Konstantin Leontiev, Nikolai Berdyayev, and other conservative philosophers to give his own pronouncements a sense of continuity. One of his favorite politicians in imperial Russia was Pyotr Stolypin, the Prime Minister under Nicholas II. We do not need great upheavals, Putin said, paraphrasing Stolypin. We need a great Russia. Stolypin had also said, Give the state twenty years and you will not recognize Russia. That was in 1909. Stolypin was assassinated by a revolutionary in Kiev, in 1911. But Putin was determined that his opportunity not be truncated: Give me twenty years, he said, and you will not recognize Russia.

David Remnick

A great account of the major changes in Russia’s attitude towards the West since the end of the Cold War, written from the perspective of the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Reading it, what struck me most was the similarity with the situation in Germany before the Nazi regime: a country defeated, deprived of its former glory, struggling to find a new sense of purpose and clinging desperately to the first leader promising to bring back the ‘good old days’. I’m pretty sure we should not give Putin twenty years with Russia.

19 September 2014

Charlie’s Diary: “The referendum question”

I have a postal vote. I already voted yes.


In making my mind up, I looked at the long term prospects.

In the long term I favour a Europe—indeed, a world—of much smaller states. I don't just favour breaking up the UK; I favour breaking up the United States, India, and China. Break up the Westphalian system. We live today in a world dominated by two types of group entity; the nation-states with defined borders and treaty obligations that emerged after the end of the 30 Years War, and the transnational corporate entities which thrive atop the free trade framework provided by the treaty organizations binding those Westphalian states together.

Charlie Stross

I agree with Charles Stross on one point: he’s an utopian. I saw this link as someone shared it yesterday evening on and jokingly replied something like: “that would just make it easier for Russia to invade them”. The problem with this king of ‘long term’ thinking is that it completely ignores the process to reach that final, ‘better’ world, all the problems needing solutions, the obstacles that need to be overcome. An inspiring vision will fail utterly without a strong strategy and clever tactics to get to the goal.

15 September 2014

Baekdal: “Apple Watch is Nice, But Hardly a Trend”

Apple Watch

This is nothing like what we saw with the iPhone. When Apple launched the iPhone, that market and the trends for smartphones were booming. And what Apple did was brilliant. They took this growing trend to the next level, redefined the category, and they did this at exactly the right moment where people wanted it most.

That is a very different dynamics than what we see in the watch industry today. Watches, to most people are boring. And to young people, it’s a device their parents use because they don’t know how to use a smartphone.

Apple did not change any of that. The Apple Watch is just like all other smartphone watches. And people, in general, have not seen a need for them.

Thomas Baekdal

I’ve been travelling to London for a couple of days last week, so I didn't keep up with ’s announcements – except for a short peek at the pictures of Watches that made me laugh (I mean, a Mickey Mouse face, really?!). Of course, there’s no shortage of people praising the design and the product, even though it will not ship for another 6 months and Apple keeps quiet about one key aspect, battery life. Until then, there are still some articles written with a cool head and a sound perspective. Just check out the first picture in the one above and try to guess what’s wrong with it.

The New Yorker: “U2’s Forgettable Fire”

What Cook and U2 probably wanted to duplicate yesterday was the organic delight when Beyoncé released an entire album out of the blue last December on iTunes. Instead, U2 stuffed a locksmith card in your doorframe, which you’ve probably already tossed. […]

Don’t shove your music into people’s homes. A U2 album that some would have taken seriously was instead turned into an album that seems as pointless as it probably is. Lack of consent is not the future.

Sasha Frere-Jones

This would have worked so much better if people were asked if they wanted a free album before downloading it… Instead now there’s a whole Internet making fun of U2.

Advertising Age: “Facebook’s Strategy to Take on YouTube Comes Into View”

But for an ad-supported business like Facebook, views are only as valuable as the revenue they generate. While YouTube videos viewed on Facebook contributed some percentage of the estimated $5.6 billion YouTube reaped last year, Facebook didn’t make a cent.

That may be why Facebook is shining a light on its own video player privately in meetings with online video execs and now publicly with its view count. Coupled with its acquisition of video ad-tech firm LiveRail and introduction of autoplay video ads, Facebook appears poised to make a run at YouTube’s business. In one big way it already has.

Tim Peterson

I’m sure would love to get a piece of the online video ads pie, but I think there are several factors working against it.

The recent changes to the newsfeed ranking algorithm have emphasized content from ‘friends’, reducing the reach of pages, to their discontent. If publishers have to pay Facebook first to insure their videos rank highly in peoples’ newsfeeds, this will reduce their revenues from advertising on Facebook, making it less lucrative to contribute. Of course, Facebook could always change the ranking algorithm again to push its native videos (there are some suggestions it already does), but that could annoy people, especially on mobile. You have to take into account that, unlike YouTube, Facebook is not a dedicated video portal, so video content has to compete with a number of other updates, especially friends’ photos.