28 February 2012

Rough Type: “Why publishers should give away ebooks”

Buy the atoms, get the bits free. That just feels right - in tune with the universe, somehow.

There's a lesson here, I think, for book publishers. Readers today are forced to choose between buying a physical book or an ebook, but a lot of them would really like to have both on hand - so they'd be able, for instance, to curl up with the print edition while at home (and keep it on their shelves) but also be able to load the ebook onto their e-reader when they go on a trip. In fact, bundling a free electronic copy with a physical product would have a much bigger impact in the book business than in the music business. After all, in order to play vinyl you have to buy a turntable, and most people aren't going to do that. So vinyl may be a bright spot for record companies, but it's not likely to become an enormous bright spot. The only technology you need to read a print book is the eyes you were born with, and print continues, for the moment, to be the leading format for books. If you start giving away downloads with print copies, you shake things up in a pretty big way. Nicholas Carr

It’s a bold idea – not very likely to see the light of day anyway – except…

I don’t really need both formats and I would certainly prefer the electronic version over the printed, for practical reasons if not in support of the environment. Given the choice between a printed-ebook bundle and ebook-only I would probably always go for the ebook. I rather like a suggestion from the comments to implement new strategies where pricing is based on usage, not asset sales – something similar to streaming for music. Think about it: how often do you read a book twice or more? You could regard the price you pay for the book as buying the right to read it once. Since reading a book takes much, much longer than listening to a song, it makes more sense to pay for single use than for unlimited access. It’s like trying out the book before buying. Loved it so much you just need to go through it again? Want to lend it to someone? Sure, pay for it a second time! This way the really good books get rewarded and the publishers and authors get a clearer picture of what people enjoy. Monthly subscriptions also come to mind…

Update: it looks like some services are already doing that, even though it’s German content and iOS only for now.

Amazon is also getting into the game, along with other start-ups.

26 February 2012

Robert Harris - Marioneta

in Bucharest, Romania

Robert Harris MarionetaÎntr‑o Anglie aproape identică cu cea contemporană, trăind sub spectrul terorismului, un „scriitor din umbră” este angajat să finalizeze memoriile fostului prim-ministru britanic Adam Lang după moartea bruscă a predecesorului său în această poziție, Mike McAra. Cariera lui Lang a fost controversată din cauza sprijinului necondiționat oferit de acesta politicii externe americane și războiului împotriva terorismului, ajungându‑se până la acuzații de crime de război din cauza răpirii și torturării unor suspecți de terorism în timpul mandatului său. Presați de timp și dornici să profite de atenția publică generată de posibilul proces, editorii memoriilor grăbesc orarul publicării și trimit noua umbră la reședința actuală a lui Lang pe insula Martha’s Vineyard. Aici umbra se trezește în mijlocul atmosferei tensionate înăuntru de un triunghi amoros între Lang, soția Ruth și Amelia Bly, detașată de la Oficiul Guvernului, și de presă și un cerc de protestatari în afara zidurilor. Iar discreția extremă care se păstrează în privința manuscrisului memoriilor nu pare deloc de bun augur.

În caz că nu ați urmărit evenimentele politice ale ultimului deceniu poate nu e evident cine a fost modelul pentru Adam Lang. Paralelele cu Tony Blair sunt numeroase, nu numai la nivelul general al intrigii, dar și în detalii, ca de exemplu existența memoriilor, a fundației Adam Lang sau chiar numărul de copii. Evident, e și multă ficțiune la mijloc, în special aducerea în fața Tribunalului de Crime de Război, precum și soarta finală a lui Lang din roman.

Eu nu numai că extrag de la oameni povestea vieții lor, eu înfățișez o formă a acelor vieți care era adeseori invizibilă; uneori le dau vieți pe care ei nici măcar nu au știut că le‑au avut. Dacă asta nu este artă, atunci ce e?

24 February 2012

Ars Technica: “First look: Mozilla's Boot2Gecko mobile platform and Gaia UI”

The current implementation of the Gaia environment is still simplistic and incomplete, but it offers a compelling demonstration of how conventional Web content can be used to create a smartphone user experience. It's possible to do anything in the B2G user interface that can be done with HTML and CSS, so the possibilities for styling and theming are prodigiously extensive. Such intrinsic flexibility could help make B2G appealing to hardware vendors because it would make it easier for them to create custom user interfaces that differentiate their products. Ryan Paul

Somehow I can’t see this initiative taking off. Ever. There are just too many obstacles to overcome:

23 February 2012

Bing Search Blog: “Make a Good Search Impression with Bing’s Linked Pages”

With people search being such a high volume pastime, we're taking it a step further letting you have more control in how you show up on Bing. Beginning today, with Linked Pages, we’re letting you link websites related to you in search results. Now your friends looking for you online can find what you want them to find. You can also link pages to your friends to help them shine on Bing as well. Ian Lin

A.k.a. Microsoft’s response to ’s Search plus Your World, and possibly to other initiatives, such as authorship markup. The parallel is very clear: instead of the Google Profile – later Google+ profile – you link to your profile; results are personalized for you and your friends while logged in; and there’s a touch more social, since you can also add links to friends. It’s US-only for now, so I can’t try it out myself, but Danny Sullivan does a pretty comprehensive review of the new features – and caveats – on Search Engine Land. Not a surprising move in the end; while building a search engine, Microsoft has long given up doing it’s own social network, relying instead on Facebook. And if Apple had a search engine, it would surely start linking to profiles as well. In this new war over the Internet it’s all about picking sides; and it looks like nobody wants to be on Google’s side.

22 February 2012

Invite people to Google+ from Gmail Contacts

Continuing the trend of adding Google+ to every possible app, we saw an integration between Circles and Gmail contacts back in December – not very well done in my opinion. Probably at the same time, but I haven’t noticed it until earlier today, another option was added to contacts, specifically to add them to circles and invite them to Google+ at the same time. The control is located in the individual contact view on the right side, where you would find the ‘Connected profiles’ section for Google+ members. This new invite feature is probably most useful when adding new contacts, to quickly get them filed in Google Circles as well. For managing your existing contacts this route, visiting them one-by-one, would be too time-consuming; I would much prefer if I could select multiple contacts and add them to Circles in a single move, that way migrating from groups to circles would be more manageable.

Google Plus invite from Contacts

21 February 2012

Foreign Policy: “The Myth of Europe”

In her 2002 essay, "What is a European," British novelist A.S. Byatt asked German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger whether he felt European or German. He replied there were no such people as Europeans but, after a short pause, added, "On the other hand … if you took me up blindfolded in a balloon and put me down in any European city, I would know it was Europe, and I would know how to find a bar, and the railway station, and a food shop." There is something to this. Standing on the Charles Bridge in Prague, lazing on La Concha beach in San Sebastián, or tucking into fresh goat's cheese at a farmers' market in rural France, you just know you are on the same continent.

Gareth Harding

My sentiment exactly. Other than this, the article makes a lot of questionable statements that often contradict themselves:

20 February 2012

PeteSearch: “Why Facebook's data will change our world”

This is the first time in history that most people are creating a detailed record of their lives in a shared space. We've always relied on one-time, narrow surveys of a small number of people to understand ourselves. With Facebook's data we have an incredible source that's so different from existing data we can gather, it makes it possible to answer questions we've never been able to before. Pete Warden

That sounds good on the surface, except… Like the author admits, not everyone is on . In fact, according to the statistics published by Socialbakers, penetration in the United States is hovering around 50% for the last couple of months. Penetration in Asia and Africa is still extremely low, around 5% of the total population. But user numbers aside, relying solely on Facebook data for any kind of study or scientific analysis introduces a dangerous bias: by ignoring non-users you are actually discarding the people who don’t have access to the Internet, who probably make up the majority of people not on Facebook. That may be well and nice for advertisers, but not if we really want to better understand ourselves on any level, from city to country to the whole world.

19 February 2012

PCWorld: “Google Working on Password Generator for Chrome”

When a user visits a page that Chrome thinks is asking to set up an account, it will place a key icon in the password field of the registration form. If the person clicks on that key, Chrome will ask the user whether he or she wants it to create a password. If the user says yes, Chrome will generate a password that includes letters, numbers and characters that make it difficult for a hacker to crack and impossible for the user to remember -- and ask the user to approve it. John P. Mello Jr.

Hmm, funny, that’s exactly what the LastPass extension does right now and has been offering for years. Sounds like trying to drive competitors it can’t buy or control off the market, again. Has there been some secret – and failed – acquisition attempt, like Google Operating System predicted for last year?! Of course, already provides password sync as long as you log in with your Google account, but that’s limited to a single browser and probably Android, whereas LastPass works in all major browsers, both desktop (free) and mobile (for a price). If that hypothetical acquisition were to take place, I’m afraid that functionality would soon be removed.

17 February 2012

The Guardian: “It’s culture, not war, that cements European identity”

The university exchange programme Erasmus is barely mentioned in the business sections of newspapers, yet Erasmus has created the first generation of young Europeans. I call it a sexual revolution: a young Catalan man meets a Flemish girl – they fall in love, they get married and they become European, as do their children. The Erasmus idea should be compulsory – not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and other workers. By this, I mean they need to spend time in other countries within the European Union; they should integrate.

Umberto Eco

An intriguing – and ultimately idealistic – idea from the author of The Name of the Rose; a reminder that a strong European identity cannot be built by ignoring the cultural roots that defined the continent for two millennia. While spending time in other parts of Europe may not be practical on a large scale, the Internet allows us to bump into one another in ways not seen before. In my travels through Europe I have never felt like a stranger, there was an underlying sense of similarity, like discovering some small part of home abroad. So there may be some grain of truth to Eco’s vision, but will there be enough time and public will to make it happen?

14 February 2012

New Scientist: “Dark matter mysteries: a true game of shadows”

Because dark atoms would emit or absorb dark photons, the universe might be full of invisible, dark light that constantly interacts with clouds of dark atoms, raising their temperature and puffing them up.

This sounds like something right out of an alchemy manual from the Middle Ages. Just as before, there is not enough experimental data available to draw solid, verifiable conclusions. Hopefully in a couple of decades we will be able to look back to these speculations as condescendingly as we do now towards alchemy. Otherwise cosmology and particle physics will be in a very tough spot.

"This is like the story of the elephant," says Feng, referring to the Indian parable in which a group of blind men all touch a different part of an elephant and then compare notes to try to work out what the beast looks like. "We are all touching a different bit of the dark matter. Hopefully, at some stage, we'll be able to put them all together in the right way and discover what it looks like." Stuart Clark

12 February 2012

Alastair Reynolds - Redemption Ark

in Bucharest, Romania

Alastair Reynolds Redemption ArkLa sfârșitul primului roman al seriei, Nostalgia Infinitului rămâne eșuată în sistemul Delta Pavonis, obligându‑le pe Ana Khouri și Ilya Volyova să se integreze sub nume false în societatea din ce în ce mai totalitară a coloniei Resurgam. Decenii mai târziu, amenințarea Inhibitorilor ia forme concrete la scară uriașă, astfel încât cele două aliate de circumstanță încep să facă planuri pe de o parte pentru evacuarea planetei, pe de alta de atac împotriva Inhibitorilor cu misterioasele arme de la bordul navei. Înapoi în sistemul planetei Yellowstone, balanța puterii dintr‑un război lung de decenii înclină în final spre o victorie a Conjoinerilor asupra Demarchiștilor; însă Conjoinerii își îndreaptă deja atenția spre alte probleme mai grave, după ce una din expedițiile lor interstelare s‑a întors infestată de Inhibitori. Iar una din priorități este recuperarea armelor de mare calibru care se află de secole la bordul Nostalgiei Infinitului...

Redemption Ark, partea a doua din trilogie, introduce un mare număr de noi personaje și completează multe detalii în universul Revelation Space. Întâlnim pentru prima oară amenințarea Inhibitorilor, doar sugerată în primul roman, care se dovedesc destul de similari cu replicatorii din seria StarGate, și începem să întrezărim motivele lor originale. Deși Khouri și Volyova rămân personaje semnificative, prezența lor e ștearsă și oarecum mecanică, nu mai avem parte de dezvăluiri noi despre ele. Romanul se concentrează pe societatea Conjoiner și câțiva indivizi semnificativi care duc greul acțiunii și deciziilor. Conjoinerii sunt oameni care și‑au augmentat capacitatea intelectuală prin nanotehnologie, în același timp folosindu‑se de tehnologie pentru a obține o comuniune a gândurilor, un fel de minte-stup. Chiar și așa, unii Conjoineri sunt mai „egali” decât ceilalți, pentru că necesitățile războiului au dus la formarea de foruri de conducere din ce în ce mai secrete: Consiliul Închis, în spatele căruia se ascunde Sanctuarul Interior, și în final Consiliul Nocturn, atât de secret că singurul său agent dovedit, Skade, nu cunoaște nici un alt membru al său.

11 February 2012

UX Movement: “Why External Links Should Open in New Tabs”

Links that take users to different websites should open in new tabs. Links that take users to a different page on the same website should open in the same tab. If you’re opening external links in the same tab as your site, this affects both you and your users. You not only experience inaccurate analytics and make your website work harder, but you also make your users work harder and slower. In a world today where links dominate the web, making your links open the right way is almost as important linking to the right page.


I see a lot of people disagreeing with this article in the comments section. I for one completely agree with it and am currently using this practice on my blog (manually, but Windows Live Writer makes this very easy).

I really don’t understand the argument about ‘user choice’. As long as visitors are on my site, they should behave by my rules. That’s the whole point of rules and policies for comments, btw.

Besides, all the people arguing against this seem to assume that users will look at the tiny tooltip with the target address and start thinking: “Oh, wait, this link is going to another site, I should press Ctrl to open it in a new tab!” – really, who does that?! I’m sure more than half of Internet surfers don’t even know about this feature, let alone use it regularly. It’s much better if this is taken care of by the site owner in the background, who already knows if the link is internal or external and can automate the process.

I can’t remember how many times I clicked on a link while I was halfway through an article only to have the target load in the same tab, taking me away from that article, costing me time to hit ‘Back’ and to wait for the original page to load. Is this really a better experience just because it respects ‘user choice’?!

10 February 2012

Google Research Blog: “Quantifying comedy on YouTube”

Raw viewcount on its own is insufficient as a ranking metric since it is biased by video age and exposure. We noticed that viewers emphasize their reaction to funny videos in several ways: e.g. capitalization (LOL), elongation (loooooool), repetition (lolololol), exclamation (lolllll!!!!!), and combinations thereof. If a user uses an “loooooool” vs an “loool”, does it mean they were more amused? We designed features to quantify the degree of emphasis on words associated with amusement in viewer comments. Sanketh Shetty

Hmm, sounds like something right out of the list of candidates for the Ig Nobel prize

The Wall Street Journal: “New Sony Chief Executive Reveals Fast-Forward Plans”

Even at a company known for its unconventional choices of leaders, Mr. Hirai’s background is unorthodox. He said he joined the company after graduating from college in 1984 because he believed the company offered a "rock ‘n’ roll" lifestyle that, for example, allowed wearing jeans at work. At ease in both English and Japanese, Mr. Hirai peppers his conversations with equal doses of dude and corporate jargon: It is important to right-size the business.

Daisuke Wakabayashi

Now that’s a proper reason for joining a company and dedicating your entire professional life to it!

After posting this on a couple of days back, one of my old colleagues reminded me we used to work together in a company that allowed jeans in the office, with one small exception: you were not allowed to wear blue-jeans, only jeans of other colors… The corporate world is a strange place!

09 February 2012

Search Engine Land: “Google Screenwise: New Program Pays You To Give Up Privacy”

Google is quietly taking requests from web users who want to get paid to surf the web using the Chrome browser while sharing data with Google. The program is called Screenwise and, though we’re not aware of any official announcement, Google has a signup page at www.google.com/landing/screenwisepanel. Matt McGee

Sounds like something Microsoft would do. Oh, wait, they did! Actually more than once, to try to get people to search more with Bing. The funny thing is, is way more successful than Bing ever was, it’s market share is on the rise since day one. So, why would feel the need to boost it even further?!

Ars Technica: “Over 3 years later, "deleted" Facebook photos are still online”

Wolens explained that photos remaining online are stuck in a legacy system that was apparently never operating properly, but said the company is working on a new system that will delete the photos in a mere month and a half. For really real this time. Jacqui Cheng

should market itself as “the safest online storage for your personal photos. After all, you can’t delete pics after uploading even if you try!

as long as they don’t involve breast-feeding.

08 February 2012

What’s new in Chrome 18

Unlike the previous version, I haven’t seen many changes in 18 until later in the development cycle. Frankly I used the Canary variety a lot less these past weeks because of some incompatibilities with apps like Docs and Maps, which would stop responding right after the initial loading phase.

Google Chrome 18 unified settings pageMost of the changes this time around were related to standards support – like CSS Filter Effects – and new features for developers. The single most important visual update users are bound to notice is a redesigned ‘Settings’ page: the three sections present until now have been merged into a single interface, although the more advanced options are still one extra click away, at the bottom of the page ‘Under the Hood’. Apparently grey is the color of choice for this part of Chrome, there is no trace left of the light blue from before. Extensions are listed on a separate tab and have received only a minor update: the ‘Remove’ button has been replaced by a small trash-can icon only visible while hovering and with a nice animation. If you prefer the old design, you can restore it by activating the flag ‘Disable new settings and extensions web-ui’.

Another smaller update, probably borrowed from Chrome OS, is that the ‘New Tab Page’ now displays your Google profile picture in the top right corner as long as you are signed in with that account. On the other hand, an older experiment started in version 15, displaying the bookmarks in a screen on the new-tab page, has been discontinued and the corresponding flag removed from the internal experiments page.

05 February 2012

Links to the original post in Google+

For all the publicity and attention Plus got from day one, even becoming an integral part of your search results, some of the features one would think of as essential were missing. One perfect example was the lack of a link to the original post in the reshared ones. It not only breaks attribution, something that should be at the basis of the Internet, it’s bad user experience as well. You can’t easily access the posting being shared if you want to comment or +1 directly at the source; it gets especially bad when the one who reshared it disables comments and asks you to comment on the original – good luck finding it, if it’s an older post. And so there goes the user engagement that Google wants so badly!

But enough ranting, because there is not reason to anymore: since about a day ago, shared updates will have the important link to the original, as it was supposed to from day one. There was no official announcement as far as I can tell, so it’s probably still rolling out. And it’s possible that these links will appear only when resharing public posts, otherwise some privacy breaches may happen. Bottom line: Google still listens to users, at least when it’s in their best interest to do so. Google Plus sharing backlinks

02 February 2012

Open Graph apps on Facebook: more than music and videos

After the announcement some half a year ago, January saw the introduction on even more Open Graph apps on and impressive figures about the engagement with the original launch partners, especially Spotify. I’m still very weary of the idea of sharing everything you do on Facebook, from music to food to every article you happen to click on; it’s not just that I don’t want to deal with the noise from others, but I feel most of this isn’t at all relevant, neither for my friends, nor for me on the longer run. Let’s not forget all this activity from frictionless sharing is stored in your Facebook Timeline and theoretically accessible years from now. The only Open Graph app I don’t find creepy so far is Goodreads; and that’s mainly because it’s avoiding both of these caveats: since I don’t usually read more than one book per week there will be a very low noise level for others. Also, picking up a book is not something you do casually, it requires a longer time commitment and conscientious effort, much more so than playing 3-minutes long songs that can simply pop up automatically from a playlist. And, as such, the reading habits will tell you much more about that person than the stream of music she or he plays and will stay relevant for far longer.

Facebook update from Open Graph app in the TimelineAs with any app, it’s probably a good idea to check the privacy settings to insure random people don’t get access to your intimate tastes – or to make them all public, if you prefer. You can find them under ‘Account settings’ ► ‘Apps’; there you can specify the default visibility for individual apps. While Open Graph updates are normally clustered together as a ‘recent activity’ box on the Timeline, you get additional finer-grained control over the display in the ‘Activity log’: filter the updates by app from the top-right drop-down menu, then click on the empty grey circle on the right side to either hide stories from the timeline or ‘show’ them, effectively making them stand out on their own as a regular status update.