30 April 2018

Marginal Revolution: “The Facebook Trials: It’s Not “Our” Data”

What could be more ours than our friends? Yet I have hundreds of friends on Facebook, most of whom I don’t know well and have never met. But my Facebook friends are friends. We share common interests and, most of the time, I’m happy to see what they are thinking and doing and I’m pleased when they show interest in what I’m up to. If, before Facebook existed, I had been asked to list “my friends”, I would have had a hard time naming ten friends, let alone hundreds. My Facebook friends didn’t exist before Facebook. My Facebook friendships are not simply my data—they are a unique co-creation of myself, my friends, and, yes, Facebook.

Some of my Facebook friends are family, but even here the relationships are not simply mine but a product of myself and Facebook. My cousin who lives in Dubai, for example, is my cousin whether Facebook exists or not, but I haven’t seen him in over twenty years, have never written him a letter, have never in that time shared a phone call. Nevertheless, I can tell you about the bike accident, the broken arm, the X-ray with more than a dozen screws—I know about all of this only because of Facebook. The relationship with my cousin, therefore, isn’t simply mine, it’s a joint creation of myself, my cousin and Facebook.

Facebook hasn’t taken our data—they have created it.

Alex Tabarrok

I may have discovered the one thing worse than an Apple apologist: a Facebook apologist! This is the most backwards and illogical argument I’ve ever seen! The author has seemingly forgotten how he built the social graph on Facebook in the first place: by uploading his address book. In fact, every communication service, from Gmail to WhatsApp, has started this way, so to say that Facebook contributed to creating this data is preposterous – at best, it made a(nother) digital copy. Also, to say that Facebook promotes healthy friendships is a stretch, when there are many examples to the contrary. There are dozens of other ways to keep in touch, if you sincerely want to, so this doesn’t make Facebook in any way special.

Hide Stories on Instagram, and other tidbits

In the year-and-a-half since launch, Stories have become a success story for Instagram – and caused quite a bit of backlash as well. I’m still not sold on the concept, I rarely view stories from people I follow, and I don’t think I posted more than a story or two on my account. The whole idea of putting effort into something that will disappear the next day seems nonsensical to me.

If you’re also annoyed by the constant carousel of profile pictures at the top of the feed, prompting you to click and view, I recently found out (on Twitter, naturally) that you can hide stories from individual people. Simply tap and hold their avatar in the story bar (this works both at the top of the feed and further down, in the ‘Recent stories’ box), then select ‘Mute [username]’ in the menu. Obviously, this doesn’t help if you want to get rid of stories altogether, but at least you can cut down on the noise by muting people that post too often.

27 April 2018

USA Today: “Exclusive: Flickr bought by SmugMug, which vows to revitalize the photo service”

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill told USA TODAY he’s committed to breathing new life into the faded social networking pioneer, which hosted photos and lively interactions long before it became trendy.

SmugMug, an independent, family-run company, will maintain Flickr as a standalone community of amateur and professional photographers and give the long neglected service the focus and resources it deserves, MacAskill said in an exclusive interview.

MacAskill says he does not yet know what his plans are for Flickr’s business.

I don’t know what the future holds. This is a new model for me, he said. We certainly think we need to operate it with an eye to our cash flow and our profitability. We are going to have to take a detailed look at the business and make sure it’s growing and healthy.

Jessica Guynn

I’m relieved that Flickr has finally escaped from the languishing management of Yahoo, but I’m rather skeptical that this new owner will be able to turn things around. I know little about SmugMug, but it doesn’t feel like they have the resources to run and update two separate photo services, considering that they are competing with Facebook-owned Instagram and Google Photos. And from the comments quoted above, it sounds like the CEO doesn’t have any long-term strategy yet; it was probably an impulse acquisition, at a discounted price.

26 April 2018

Polygon: “Wikipedia won’t fix YouTube’s problems”

“We have four freedoms under which YouTube operates: freedom of expression, freedom of opportunity, freedom to belong and freedom of information,” Kyncl said, reiterating comments he made to YouTuber Casey Neistat in February. “They truly become our North Star during difficult times. [...] Our message is that we absolutely are leaning in to freedom of information and freedom of expression, subject to our community guidelines.

“We don’t intend to be on one side or another.”

There’s a difference, however, between someone talking about their conservative beliefs and someone spreading malignant lies under the pretense of news. This is where the company now finds itself: not wanting to take a stance and relying on user-edited Wikipedia articles to try and outweigh its riskiest content.

Julia Alexander

Main problem with this approach, as noted in the article as well, is that most people watching the videos will simply ignore the Wikipedia snippet. YouTube’s interface itself makes it easy to ignore, as people frequently watch in full screen; when you finish a video and click on a recommended video, it plays in full screen as well, hiding its description and any associated fact check.

14 April 2018

‘The Expanse’ (SyFy, season 2)

The Expanse - season 2

The Eros settlement has been engulfed by the runaway protomolecule, claiming the lives of the hundred thousand colonists, with Holden and Miller barely escaping with a handful of locals. As the rest of the Solar System becomes aware of the situation, the crew of the Rocinante, together with Fred Johnson, track down the people behind the horrific experiment, but clash among themselves about how to best handle the situation. As they put in motion their wild plan to destroy the infected asteroid, the protomolecule starts displaying its more exotic powers and moves Eros out of orbit and into a collision course with Earth…

Unlike most of the online universe, I haven’t been exactly enthused with the show’s first season. So, I had no trouble waiting for the full season to be released on Netflix before starting to watch it, even if that was months later than the official launch. The second season was a notable improvement, but it does come with its share of issues, both old and new. The next season is set to start very soon, so I wanted to share some of my impressions, even if they are a bit fuzzy a couple of months later.

I found it odd how the season is composed of two rather distinct parts: the first five episodes wrap up the story of the first season and are in fact continuing the adaptation of Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in the Expanse cycle. The action is fast-paced and gripping, with many factions scrambling to contain the Eros crisis, in stark contrast to the slow-burning first season. I think it makes little sense to split this novel into one-and-a-half seasons; I would have enjoyed the first season a lot more if it included its proper ending. After the first part, we get an interlude showing Solomon Epstein inventing the improved drive that allows fast travel to the outer solar system, as told in the short story Drive – again an odd choice, as this kind of backstory should belong in the first season.

12 April 2018

The Verge: “What happens when Facebook doesn’t tell you a friend has died?”

Yesterday, interface designer Caryn Vainio wrote about the unexpected death of a friend she kept in touch with through Facebook. Before his death, the friend posted a status update about being in the hospital. But Vainio hadn’t seen the message, despite habitually reading every post on her feed in chronological order. Mutual friends didn’t remember seeing the post, either. Not only have I lost a friend, a bunch of us are horrified that we never knew, and we don't know if he KNEW we didn't know, she wrote. In the age of online relationships that social media companies claim to facilitate in a positive way, this feels … unacceptable.

Vainio’s story inverts a common complaint about Facebook accidentally inserting painful memories into people’s feeds. In this case, she’s saying, Facebook didn’t surface a negative post at a time when it was vitally important. The platform guessed what a user wanted to do with some highly personal information, and it chose wrong. But do we really want a Facebook that consistently guesses right?

Adi Robertson

I sympathize with her sad story, but I highly doubt seeing your entire feed of friends’ posts, like she suggests, would solve this kind of problem. This is a common fallacy thrown around every time someone is dissatisfied with some aspect of modern social networks. The truth is, we are sharing so many small bits and pieces throughout the day, and we collect increasing numbers of friends, that it would be impossible to keep up with everything all the time. Suppose you have a couple of friends in another time zone, so they post while you are asleep; by the time you log in later, their posts would be pushed further down the feed by things shared more recently.

10 April 2018

TechCrunch: “Facebook retracted Zuckerberg’s messages from recipients’ inboxes”

You can’t remove Facebook messages from the inboxes of people you sent them to, but Facebook did that for Mark Zuckerberg and other executives. Three sources confirm to TechCrunch that old Facebook messages they received from Zuckerberg have disappeared from their Facebook inboxes, while their own replies to him conspicuously remain. An email receipt of a Facebook message from 2010 reviewed by TechCrunch proves Zuckerberg sent people messages that no longer appear in their Facebook chat logs or in the files available from Facebook’s Download Your Information tool.

When asked by TechCrunch about the situation, Facebook claimed in this statement it was done for corporate security:

“After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications. These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.”

Josh Constine

Among all the past and recent scandals involving Facebook, this one feels to me the most damning for their corporate culture. In the context of a criminal investigation, this may well be regarded as tampering with evidence, no matter their clever justifications. I don’t see how anyone could trust any statement coming from Facebook officials if they can decide at any moment to just delete the messages from their system!

04 April 2018

The Lightroom Queen: “Lightroom Raw & Creative Profiles”

Since version 3, Lightroom has offered a number of profiles to emulate different in-camera picture styles, but they’ve been hidden away in the Camera Calibration panel so most people didn’t know they existed. In the April 2018 Lightroom releases, these profiles have become first-class citizens, moving to the top of the Develop panels, and many more profiles have been added.

Profiles are designed to be selected first, before you start editing, just like choosing a specific film stock for it’s unique “look”. You can select a different profile at any time, and your slider values will remain untouched, but the look of the photo may change considerably, so it’s more efficient to select your profile before you start editing.

Victoria Bampton

I heard I don’t know how many photographers complaining about the ‘flat’ colors in Lightroom, using this as pretext to switch to other editing software and promote their supposedly better color rendition. It always baffled me that none of them bothered to do a little research into color profiles, a feature in Lightroom that does exactly this. I meant to write a blog post on this subject for months, but other things always got in the way – I guess this is the best time for it.

01 April 2018

The New York Times: “How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality”

Five months ago, before being confirmed as Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin announced that the new administration hoped to “cap the mortgage interest”. But when Trump released his tax plan last month, the MID was untouched. Trump did propose to double the standard deduction (to $24,000 from $12,600 for married couples, for example) which would make the MID irrelevant for a vast majority of homeowners, whose mortgage interest would be less than the increased exemption, giving them almost no reason to itemize. But wealthy families living in expensive homes would still cash in. If anything, doubling the standard deduction simply exposes the MID for what it really is: a generous public-housing program for the rich. Diane Yentel, the president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, believes that in the long run this will make the MID “untenable to retain”.

Yentel’s coalition supports the idea of lowering the size of deductible mortgage debt to $500,000 and reallocating the savings to housing assistance for low-income families. “The solution is so obvious”, Yentel says. “There are a number of programs that have proven success in ending homelessness and ending housing insecurity.” The problem is not in the policies’ prescriptions but in their dosage: We severely underfund programs that work. By one estimate, capping the MID at $500,000 would save $87 billion over 10 years, even though less than 6 percent of mortgages nationwide exceed half a million dollars. That savings would allow 1.2 million additional families to benefit from housing vouchers.

Matthew Desmond

Another weird provision in the US tax code that fuels income inequality – and another way for the rich to solidify their wealth and power. Reminds me of the research of Thomas Piketty and my own thoughts on the matter; sadly little has changed since, and, under the Trump administration, it’s unlikely to change in the short term.