29 June 2015

lowercase capital: “What Twitter Can Be”

But Twitter needs to be bolder still. It needs to place more bets with potentially oversized payoffs. It needs to question aspects of Twitter it has taken for granted. It needs to operate with smaller teams that require less permission to make change happen. Twitter can afford to build the wrong things. However, Twitter cannot afford to build the right things too slowly.

Ultimately, while there is no one Twitter that fits all, there is nothing stopping Twitter from fitting most. There is a Twitter that hundreds of millions more people will embrace and use daily. This is what it might look like…

Chris Sacca
Twitter Music icon

A bold vision of ’s future, filled with many good ideas to improve the product and attract new users – and a couple more questionable suggestions as well. Soon after this article was published, a secret Twitter project called Lightning was revealed, focusing on Live Events, and similar to the primary suggestion here. It’s good to know that Twitter is actively working on new products and I’m excited to see them launched. Hopefully some of them will be able to convince reluctant people to give Twitter another try.

I particularly like the concept of channels, allowing people to follow events and topics without manually finding and adding the right people. It could prove useful next month, for example, as New Horizons swings past Pluto. Power users can always load the hashtag into a separate TweetDeck column, but for most people it would be more convenient to be able to follow the hashtag/channel and see relevant tweets directly in the timeline.

The New York Times: “Hooray for Obamacare”

Put all these things together, and what you have is a portrait of policy triumph — a law that, despite everything its opponents have done to undermine it, is achieving its goals, costing less than expected, and making the lives of millions of Americans better and more secure.

Now, you might wonder why a law that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against interpretive jiggery-pokery. But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.

Paul Krugman

Glad to see the U.S. is taking steps to catch up with the rest of the developed world.

25 June 2015

The Verge: “Why Circa failed”

  • Circa was cold and rational at a time when journalism was becoming more entertaining and emotional. A just-the-facts-ma’am approach to the news can be valuable in describing major breaking-news events. But those events are rare in nature, and the news organizations that are growing the fastest — BuzzFeed, Vice — excel at making their audience feel something every day. Circa took pride in being flavorless, and it showed in the product.
  • Circa was a generalist in a news market that favors expertise. One reason general-interest newspapers have suffered is because for most major subjects, there are a variety of online publications covering it more thoroughly and with greater authority. (When the Supreme Court next hands down a big decision, will you visit your local newspaper's website to read the AP story, or will you visit SCOTUSBlog?) Like newspapers, Circa shunned analysis — forcing its users to seek it elsewhere when they found a story intriguing. And so an app designed to save people time actually created more work for them.
Casey Newton
Circa News re-imagined

23 June 2015

Above Avalon: “Apple’s Cash Dilemma”

Apple currently has $194 billion of cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities. Not only is this a record in terms of cash held by a single company, but it represents approximately 10% of all cash held on corporate balance sheets. Given Apple's business model, it does not need all of this cash to run its business. With an enterprise value of $583 billion, Apple would theoretically be able to repurchase 30% of itself using the cash on its balance sheet. In reality, things are much more complicated as most of this cash is not able to be used for share buyback because it is held offshore and would be liable for additional tax if returned to the U.S.

Neil Cybart

If doesn’t want to deal with the broken US tax system, they could always relocate to China, their fastest growing source of cash…

22 June 2015

9to5Mac: “Popular podcast app Instacast now discontinued”

Popular podcasting app Instacast for iOS and Mac is shutting down as the founders can no longer fund it or any of Vemedio’s other projects.

In an email sent to paid members, Martin Hering says that all of Vemedio’s products will be ‘discontinued’, with Instacast being the most well known app affected by this. The company says they will keep the servers up for as long as possible so current users will not be left with non-functional apps immediately.

Benjamin Mayo

I was surprised and annoyed by this news, since Instacast was my podcasts app of choice after the switch to iOS 8 crippled Podcasts. More so since only three weeks before they were happily launching their Apple Watch app. Why were they working on an Watch app if the company had no sustainable revenue and no long-term future?! That’s just bad management on their part.

21 June 2015

The Washington Post: “John Scalzi on his monster book deal, sci-fi fandom and diversity in fiction”

Were there any particular insights that came out of the experiment with “The Human Division”? Did people who bought it in installments also buy hardcovers? I’d be curious what behavior you observed there.

One of the things that we saw is that it didn’t really have an effect on the sales of the hardcover that we could see. There’s a market of people who are really into digital, and there’s a market of people who are really into print, and there’s some overlap. But by and large it was an opportunity to address two markets in a significant way. There’s a third market as well, which is audio book, which has expanded tremendously, and that’s the same kind of dynamic that’s going on there. Audio people really like the audio book, digital people really like to read in digital, and print people really like to read in print. So what we actually found, we sold hundreds of thousands of individual copies of the episodes of “The Human Division”. And then when the book came out, the book sold exactly in line with previous “Old Man’s War” books. So we didn’t lose any readers. We didn’t cannibalize our readership in any significant way as far as we could see. So that was a really useful insight: There are distinct markets if you take the time to address them.

Alyssa Rosenberg

Interesting interview with science-fiction author John Scalzi, who recently signed a multi-million, 10-year deal with Tor Books. I haven’t read any of his work because military sci-fi generally leaves me cold, but his insight about publishing and the role of editors is worth reading.

20 June 2015

The New York Review of Books: “1776: The Revolt Against Austerity”

What alternative strategy did the authors of the Declaration propose? Today, we tend to regard the practice of using government spending to stimulate economic growth as an invention of John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s. But already in the eighteenth century, self-styled Patriots, followers of Pitt on both sides of the Atlantic, argued that what the British Empire needed if it was to recover from the fiscal crisis was not austerity but an economic stimulus. In the midst of the crisis one journalist wrote that Pitt and the Patriots believed that the burgeoning debt could be reduced by increasing “the national stock,” or Gross National Product, whereas Prime Minister Grenville believed that an hundred and forty millions of debt is to be paid by saving of pence and farthings.

Like other Patriots in the 1760s and 1770s, Smith also denounced chattel slavery as an economic system most fit for absolute government. Because wage laborers added so much to the commonweal by their consumption as well as their production, Smith insisted the work done by freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves. Had the British government pursued measures to support the colonies, rather than austerity policies that retarded their growth, Smith believed, the American economy would have been so dynamic that in little more than a century the seat of the empire would then naturally remove itself to its most economically dynamic region: North America.

Steve Pincus

A fresh new way to examine the American Revolution: not a revolt against higher taxes, but against austerity! And certainly relevant in our recent debt crisis. Ironically, Great Britain was confronted with a referendum for independence this time around as well, with different results so far. There have been plenty of supporters for stimulus instead of austerity, but the situation is rather different now compared to back then. There are no more empty continents to colonize, no slaves to free and convert into eager consumers. There is growth in automation and robot labor, but that comes with its own pitfalls. The only comparable solution is relaxing immigration policies, something that the UK government seems reluctant to pursue.

19 June 2015

mikeash: “I Do Not Agree To Your Terms”

Apple News icon

First, I want everybody to know about the ridiculous stunt Apple is trying to pull here. I’d have been perfectly happy if they had just sent me an e-mail saying they were going to include my feed, and if I didn’t like it I could e-mail to opt out. I’d even be happy if they didn’t even give the option to opt out! After all, having an RSS feed in the first place is an implicit opt-in to that sort of thing. But trying to dictate terms on top of that while telling me that I automatically agree to them unless I opt out is unacceptable, even if the terms themselves are relatively benign. They should stop doing this, and telling people about what they’re doing is the only way I know that might help to make that happen.

Second, I want to declare directly to Apple: I do not agree to your terms. You are, of course, welcome to use my content in any way already permitted by law. I believe that should suffice for your purposes, but if it doesn’t, well, too bad. I have no idea if you’ll ever see this declaration, but that’s just like yours, so I think it’s fair.

Mike Ash

There have been several reports of emails from about the terms and conditions to join their upcoming News app, making Apple’s intentions look rather suspicious. I see bigger problems than requiring to opt-out and sending supposedly binding terms by email:

You agree to let us use, display, store, and reproduce the content in your RSS feeds including placing advertising next to or near your content without compensation to you.

Bruegel: “Is Greece Destined to Grow?”

In some aspects Greece has improved a lot. In the ease of doing business indicator, Greece’s ranking has risen from 108th in the world in 2008, to 62nd in 2015 (Figure 2). Greece has made significant progress, but there is still a long way to go.

Yet my positive assessment is conditional on a comprehensive and credible agreement, which would eliminate the risk of Grexit not just for now, and also on continued structural reforms, which seem politically difficult. If the agreement is not sufficiently comprehensive and credible, then uncertainty will continue and growth may not resume.

Zsolt Darvas

Interesting assessment of the economical situation in Greece, based on concrete historical data. Clearly there has been some progress in the years following the crisis, under the strict supervision of the ‘Troika’. Unfortunately, with the new populist government in place, these small steps towards recovery are threatened by contra-productive rhetoric and stalling. Despite the voters’ hopes and Syriza’s promises, I fear that renouncing the IMF agreement will hurt Greece much more that accepting the debt and the need for quick and drastic economic reform.

17 June 2015

Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism: “Digital News Report 2015”

Facebook and Twitter remain the most important networks for news in terms of referrals and engagement. But our survey throws up important differences between the two. In Facebook – which has a very general audience and wide remit – the pursuit of news is secondary, with the main aim being communicating with friends. Twitter, on the other hand, is seen much more as an active destination for news by an audience that is deeply interested in latest developments.

The growth of search and social media as gateways to news has also raised concerns over the potential for online ‘filter bubbles’, but our research suggests that they may help audiences find more diverse forms of news. Three-quarters of social media users (76%) and search users (73%) said they sometimes or frequently accessed different sources – leading them to brands they would not otherwise use.

The other key point about social news discovery is that it reaches different demographics – including women and younger groups in general. Those who visit news sites regularly, sign up for email, or receive mobile notifications are heavily male skewed. Search is more even but social is the only discovery mechanism that appeals more to female users.

Nic Newman

Many interesting insights in this report about the state of digital news. The decline in TV and other ‘traditional’ news sources and the corresponding growth in online and social media – especially among younger people – explains why publishers are so eager to distribute content through Facebook’s Instant Articles and News. The first paragraph quoted above, comparing and , confirms some of my ideas about why Twitter is a better platform for news than other social media; it should also hint at growth opportunities in real-time news for the new leadership.

15 June 2015

The Washington Post: “SpaceX founder files with government to provide Internet service from space”

Elon Musk’s space company has asked the federal government for permission to begin testing on an ambitious project to beam Internet service from space, a significant step forward for an initiative that could create another major competitor to Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies.

The plan calls for launching a constellation of 4,000 small and cheap satellites that would beam high-speed Internet signals to all parts of the globe, including its most remote regions. Musk has said the effort would be like rebuilding the Internet in space.

Cecilia Kang and Christian Davenport

Another ambitious project from Elon Musk, this time to introduce satellite Internet across the world. I do admire his vision, but I think he should keep a close advisor with the strength to say No! from time to time. While launching thousands of satellites into low-orbit could be technologically feasible for SpaceX (at some point), I doubt it will make sense economically. The costs are bound to be astronomically high, no matter how cheap SpaceX can produce and launch the satellites, while revenues are uncertain. There are other much larger competitors in the race to expand Internet coverage to the entire globe ( and with their drones and balloons programs should be able to keep costs manageable). And secondly, who will be the customers for this new Internet provider? The developed countries already have fast Internet, so will people from Africa and South America be able to afford the high price tag of Internet access by satellite?

13 June 2015

The New York Times: “The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion”

No one was more influential — or more terrifying, some would say — than Paul R. Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist. His 1968 book, “The Population Bomb”, sold in the millions with a jeremiad that humankind stood on the brink of apocalypse because there were simply too many of us. Dr. Ehrlich’s opening statement was the verbal equivalent of a punch to the gut: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” He later went on to forecast that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were fair “England will not exist in the year 2000.” Dr. Ehrlich was so sure of himself that he warned in 1970 that “sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come.” By “the end”, he meant “an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.”

Clyde Haberman

As with all Doomsday predictions, the reality proved less severe. The problems when doing long-term forecasts usually arise because some trends continue their past evolution, while others change radically. In this case, population did indeed grow rapidly in the last decades, but so did agricultural productivity. In fact, the world uses 68% less land to produce the same amount of food compared to 50 years ago – according to this study. It’s a wonderful example of how technology can alleviate many of humanity’s problems, giving us the time to come up with new ones – such as global warming.

11 June 2015

Beyond Devices: “Expanding Apple services on non-Apple devices”

However, there are still several hundred million iPhone users who don’t own or use Macs on a daily basis, many of whom do use Windows PCs, either by choice or because work, cost constraints, or other reasons require them to. This Windows + iPhone group is actually substantially bigger than the Mac + iPhone group Apple has spent so much time serving, probably around three hundred million or more:

Windows plus iPhone diagram

In an ideal world, Apple would have these Windows + iPhone users become Mac + iPhone users over time, but that isn’t a realistic scenario for a variety of reasons, especially in the short term. So, how does Apple serve these users?

Jan Dawson

Being in this user group myself, I do appreciate the sentiment – in fact I expressed a similar dissatisfaction with Apple’s approach last year. But realistically I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon. And I don’t think I mind very much. The fact is, software is not that exciting, usable yes, even beautiful, competent in most cases, but no better than average. For each default app on iOS there are dozens of alternatives, pushing Apple’s solutions into the ‘Junk Drawer’. Should I expect Apple to build good Windows software when apps built for their own platform are lagging behind competitors or simplified versions of better, former products?

The Wall Street Journal: “Google misses out on Apple’s Slice of Mobile Transactions”

Google isn’t getting transaction fees from bank issuers, said people familiar with the situation. That is because Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc., which operate the dominant payment networks, recently standardized their “tokenization” card-security service and made it free, preventing payments services from charging fees to issuers.

The rules may prompt changes in Apple’s agreements with banks. Some bank executives said they are unhappy with sharing fees and may use Google’s no-fee arrangement to try to persuade Apple to alter its deals. One possible leverage point: As Apple Pay expands outside the U.S., Apple may need to negotiate terms again. The bank executives didn’t want to be identified.

Alistair Barr and Robin Sidel

Hardly surprising, since the leading card companies are rolling our their own contactless payment solutions; they don’t want more competitors on the market, let alone companies charging transaction fees like . Because of this, I suspect Apple Pay will look different when (if!) it rolls out across Europe. Contactless technology is probably the main reason why Apple Pay payments in the UK is said to be capped at £20.

Everyday Britons pay with Visa Contactless

10 June 2015

Backchannel: “How Google is taking Search Outside the Box”

For instance, Google now says that it has expanded its app indexing program to Apple’s iOS platform. “App indexing” is the practice of Hoovering up the data that lives inside apps, the first step to making that information available by Google searching — it’s analogous to crawling the web. Google has been doing this since 2013 for Android apps, essentially creating an index that lives on a simulation of a giant Android phone. And I do mean giant: there are 50 billion deep links indexed so far. (Deep links are those which take you directly to relevant information inside an app, as opposed to leading you to the front door.)

Another potential hurdle is getting total buy-in from developers, who must not only allow Google to scrape their content, but actually do some work to make their apps integrate fully into Google’s scheme. This seems like a no brainer. After all, if the data in your app surfaces in a Google search result, users are more likely to use that app. What’s more, Google has started to give results from apps that are not installed on a user’s device. For instance, if you are searching for a recipe, Google might give you a deep link to a cooking app you don’t have. In those cases, there’s an opportunity to download the app. So we actually are kind of promoting your app in line, says Huffman.

Steven Levy

There’s nothing ‘potential’ about that hurdle if you ask me; it’s very real and one of the biggest threats to search dominance. On the open web developers can opt-out of being included in search results (by blocking individual crawlers in robots.txt); few have reason to do so though, giving Google access to most of this information. In the app world on the other hand, external search is opt-in, meaning by default no information is available for indexing by search bots. This makes it much easier for other platforms to keep ‘their’ data hidden from : Amazon, , , Microsoft – less so, since it recently entered a new agreement with for access to Twitter data. The problem is more evident on iOS, where Google search is itself confined to an app like all others – either Chrome or Google Search. It’s another example of the strategic importance of Android: without its control of a major smartphone operating system, Google could find itself completely locked out of large amounts of data needed to feed the advertising machine.

Motherboard: “Why Android camera phones still suck”

Given all these supposed improvements you might have expected Android cameras to have caught up to Apple’s. Surely this year’s non-iPhone won’t embarrass me in low-light social settings, you think. Well, it’s complicated.

Android phones do have good cameras, but what we need is better software. RAW support allows us to see what these cameras are technically capable of, but until we can trust phone makers to invest in quality processing algorithms, Android cameras will continue to lag behind Apple and Microsoft’s.

Evan Rodgers

As most experienced photographers know, a great photo takes more than a good sensor. Image processing is a big part of that, and if the in-camera result is bad, it’s very hard to fix it afterwards. While for photographers it’s nice to have original RAW files to work with, most smartphone users just want good results immediately, not hours or days later after downloading and tweaking the files on a desktop PC.

09 June 2015

Content Blocking in the next version of Safari

I think this update wasn’t mentioned during this years’ Apple WWDC keynote, but it’s publicly available in the Safari 9.0 prerelease notes:

The new Safari release brings Content Blocking Safari Extensions to iOS. Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.

Your app extension is responsible for supplying a JSON file to Safari. The JSON consists of an array of rules (triggers and actions) for blocking specified content. Safari converts the JSON to bytecode, which it applies efficiently to all resource loads without leaking information about the user’s browsing back to the app extension.

I take it this means developers will be able to make ad-blocking extensions for mobile Safari! Looks like is prepared to back up their firm stance on user privacy with some very concrete actions.

08 June 2015

Elliot Jay Stocks: “1 month with the Apple Watch”

Yesterday afternoon, I realised that I wasn’t wearing my Apple Watch. In fact, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been wearing it for the entire day. It was back in my bedroom, still attached to its charger and very much not on my wrist.

This is not an isolated event. This sudden realisation late in the day has happened now a good six or seven times in the month that I’ve owned the Watch. And the prompt for this realisation? I had lifted my wrist to see what time it was.

That’s right: I didn’t miss checking my email on the Watch; I didn’t miss one of the many notifications on the Watch; I didn’t miss any form of interaction with any of the various apps on the Watch; I missed telling the time.

Elliot Jay Stocks

You don’t hear many people saying that about their smartphones, do you?

MIT Technology Review: “Firefox Maker Battles to Save the Internet—and Itself”

Firefox OS with Fox

Mozilla’s Gal contends that everything is moving along, right on course. I think we’ve successfully transformed a desktop company into a mobile company with this project, he declares. I don’t think we saw the full extent of how much Firefox OS could influence the whole mobile industry.

Market data, however, tells another story. The Firefox browser’s overall market share has sunk to about 11.6 percent lately, about half of what it was at the start of 2012. Most of that traffic comes from desktop computers, where Firefox still enjoys about a 17 percent share. Its mobile browser share is in very low single digits. Once consumers settle into the far-reaching embrace of the Android or iOS mobile experience, there’s hardly any chance of their voluntarily adding the Firefox browser to the mix. Doing so would be as pointless as bringing one’s own fork to a restaurant.

George Anders

Hate to say ‘I told you so’, but… Mozilla is trying to reinvent the wheel in a world where everyone is driving around in modern automobiles.

On top of that, the man in charge of Firefox OS, Andreas Gal, just left Mozilla a couple of days ago!

07 June 2015

Ursula K. Le Guin – Four Ways to Forgiveness

in Bucharest, Romania

Ursula K. Le Guin - Four Ways to ForgivenessTimp de secole, Werel a exploatat colonia sa de sclavi, Yeowe, dar de curând aceștia s‑au eliberat într‑un război lung și sângeros care a durat trei decenii. Acum amândouă lumile trebuie să găsească un nou echilibru după ruperea lanțurilor care legau sclavul de stăpân și ‘proprietarul’ de ‘bunuri’, un nou drum pentru a fi acceptate în comunitatea Ecumenului.

Încă un capitol din lungul ciclu Hain al Ursulei K. Le Guin, Four Ways to Forgiveness conține patru povești scurte pe acest fundal al războiului de eliberare din Yeowe și al reacțiilor declanșate pe Werel. Subiectele alternează între cele două planete, personajele alternează între masculin și feminin, între localnici și străini, trimiși ai Ecumenului. Cu toate acestea textele păstrează o unitate în mesaj și se intersectează de numeroase ori prin personajele secundare și în câteva cazuri prin cele principale.

În Betrayals, Yoss, care se retrage la bătrânețe într‑un sat izolat pe Yeowe așa cum cere tradiția religioasă, descoperă că are un vecin faimos, unul din Șefii revoluționari. În Forgiveness Day, ambasadoarea Ecumenului Solly se confruntă cu limitările și prejudecățile împotriva femeilor într‑o societate aproape exclusiv masculină. În A Man of the People, Havzhiva, un tânăr de pe Hain cu proprie lui istorie de răzvrătire și dezamăgiri, sosește pe Yeowe și ajunge să se implice în mișcarea de emancipare. Iar în ultima, A Woman’s Liberation, Rakam, o sclavă de pe plantația Shomeke cu o poveste demnă de o telenovelă, evadează pe Yeowe și se implică în educația orășenilor și în mișcarea feministă.

06 June 2015

The Guardian: “Eve Online: how a virtual world went to the edge of apocalypse and back”

Eve’s narrative appeal has little to do with formal authorship. It is constantly evolving, but not in the same way as other so-called massively multiplayer online games, such as World of Warcraft, where new stories are added by a collective of scriptwriters. Eve’s story is written and steered by the actions of its players, whose individual and collective dramas play out and intersect week by week. People do not play Eve to “win”. There is no way of “completing” the game and no set, overarching goal. Once you’re a virtual millionaire and own the most powerful ship in the game, Eve becomes a game about social interaction and self-made goals. This gives the game its distinctive power.

One story, above all, illustrates this power. At 5am on 18 April 2005, a character known as Mirial, the CEO of Ubiqua Seraph, one of the largest corporations in the game, warped into the Haras solar system, flanked by her most trusted lieutenant. It was a moment for which the members of the Guiding Hand Social Club, a corporation of spies founded by Istvaan Shogaatsu, had long been waiting. A code word went out across the Shogaatsu’s chat channels: “Nicole”. Within an hour Mirial was dead.

Simon Parkin

Fascinating story! While I haven’t played myself, Eve seems to come close to an ideal virtual reality, creating a parallel world where people can be themselves in a whole new way. I can’t help but think that, as the Internet expands to more and more people, this type of interaction will become commonplace and – as it’s happened in Eve’s story already – will reflect back to the ‘real’ world. But here also lies the danger of these new artificial worlds: that we will find them sufficient to satisfy our need for exploration, thus neglecting the vast (and dangerous!) space around us.

05 June 2015

Google Chrome Blog: “Better battery life for your laptop”

Google Chrome detect and run important plugins

When you’re on a webpage that runs Flash, we’ll intelligently pause content (like Flash animations) that aren’t central to the webpage, while keeping central content (like a video) playing without interruption. If we accidentally pause something you were interested in, you can just click it to resume playback. This update significantly reduces power consumption, allowing you to surf the web longer before having to hunt for a power outlet.

Tommy Li

It’s nice to see developers taking power management seriously, after last year an article revealed how a Chrome ‘feature’ caused the browser to consume significantly more power on Windows, affecting laptop battery life. Fortunately, after being ignored for about two years, that particular bug looks fixed in recent versions, or at least its negative effects have been reduced considerably.