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Facebook vs. Democracy

Monday, 15 February, 2016 0 Comments

“In our post-internet age, labor and commodities have been replaced by attention and connectivity. By controlling these, Facebook in many ways has its algorithm decide what is important in the future. I am positive that its role as a gatekeeper of information will cause much deeper problems in the long term,” so writes Om Malik in a hard-hitting post titled “Nothing Is Free, Not Even Facebook Free Basics.”

The background here is the fiasco of Facebook’s Free Basics initiative to bring internet access to the poor in India. Had it succeeded, the users would have found themselves in the a world where Facebook was the centre of their online universe, allowed to see only what Mark Zuckerberg defined as the internet. On top of that, many Indians felt Zuckerberg and his team didn’t understand the politics, the culture and the history of country that is deeply suspicious of global corporations. What the Silicon Valley coders couldn’t comprehend is that the East India Company had been there and done that. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me, as they say in New Delhi.

This just in: “Facebook says India MD Kirthiga Reddy’s US move not linked with Free Basics.”

But back to Om Malik. His worries about Facebook are not confined to India. A much greater threat looms in his adopted homeland, he contends:

“In a more draconian scenario, it isn’t hard to imagine Facebook helping sway the outcome of elections. In the U.S., election-spending and Facebook are a potent mix, as we are made aware every day. In emerging economies, where money has an outsize influence on election results, can Facebook stand up and say no to dollars? Can it say no to money — anyone’s money, for that matter — if its overall growth starts to stall?”

Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Andreessen are on the back foot now, which is an unusual and unpleasant place for them to be. They’ll rebound, no doubt, but a little more humility and lot more honesty is now needed from Facebook. With great power comes great responsibility.


Love at first sight: Fiware and the grantrepreneur

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Some recipients of the EU grants have told this website that they were more interested in the grant money than in Fiware.” That perturbing sentence appears near the end of Peter Teffer’s EUobserver article, EU spends millions to make next Facebook European. The headline has a hint of clickbait about it as the story does not live up to the billing. There is no mention of how EU millions could create a global network with 1.39 billion members and a market capitalization of $212 billion. Still, the piece makes for interesting reading as it reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of start-up funding.

At the heart of the matter is a project is called Fiware, which is a combination of “future internet” and “software”. Critics, writes Teffer, “say the project, which is costing EU taxpayers €300 million, is superfluous because alternatives already exist.” Teffer quotes Jesus Villasante, from the department of Net innovation in the European Commission, who appears to have a very sanguine attitude to the spending of public monies. “We don’t believe that all the 1,000 start-ups will develop applications that will be successful in the market. There may also be some SMEs that play with Fiware, develop the product, but decide: this is not for me, I prefer to use this other thing. That’s fine.”

Really? Back to Teffer: “‘There are plenty of alternatives to Fiware that are also open source,’ said one entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.” Wonder why?

Anyway, five years ago Pingdom looked under the hood at Facebook and found, “Not only is Facebook using (and contributing to) open source software such as Linux, Memcached, MySQL, Hadoop, and many others, it has also made much of its internally developed software available as open source. Examples of open source projects that originated from inside Facebook include HipHop, Cassandra, Thrift and Scribe. Facebook has also open-sourced Tornado, a high-performance web server framework developed by the team behind FriendFeed.”

The list has expanded significantly since then. They prefer to use the other thing.

Urban Dictionary: grantrepreneur: “People who exist on and for public subsidies, also known as corporate welfare. They’re not business people, they’re just good at getting money from government.”


Facebook: Earnings and Yearnings

Tuesday, 28 October, 2014 0 Comments

Can Facebook keep telling its growth story? The social network reports third quarter earnings this evening and expectations are high. Last quarter it generate revenue of $1.81 billion, a 53 percent increase from the same quarter a year ago and, as The Motley Fool encapsulates it, “shares up 45% in 2014 and nearly 200% since the start of 2013.” While all this is good news for investors, not everyone is thrilled by the rise and rise of the behemoth. Take publishers, for instance.

Their increasing dependency on referral social media traffic and Facebook’s increasing focus on mobile is creating a relationship that’s potentially ruinous. The inability of traditional publishers to create pages that load rapidly on mobile devices has led Facebook to dangle a lure. “One possibility it mentioned was for publishers to simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network’s mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells. The revenue would be shared.” That’s what David Carr wrote in the New York Times on Sunday in a piece titled Facebook Offers Life Raft, but Publishers Are Wary. And so they should be, because attractive and all as this might appear, Carr quickly adds, “Media companies would essentially be serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.”

Can this grim fate be avoided? Over at Gigaom, Mathew Ingram follows up on Carr’s article and suggests that salvation might be found in offering readers the things Facebook cannot. Snippet:

“For me, the only possible route to survival (notice I didn’t use the word prosperity or success, just survival) is to play in Facebook’s sandbox, but to give up as little as possible — and at the same time, to spend as much or more effort on figuring out how to make your content as engaging and social as it can be on your own terms. Give readers the ability to do things that Facebook can’t or won’t: the ability to interact with you, to be part of the process… If you hand all of your content and relationships over to Facebook and assume that your work is done, then you have already lost.”

But what if the war has been lost? This chart from Shareaholic shows just how dominant Facebook is in the social media traffic business. We know enough now about its yearnings. They are being powered by its earnings and that’s why this evening’s results are so important.

Facebook traffic


The romance of social storytelling

Wednesday, 7 May, 2014 0 Comments

“When the Sheikh comes to town Determined to confront the father who abandoned her, Liyah accepts the position of chambermaid at his exclusive Chatsfield…” So begins the poorly-written and badly-edited blurb for Sheikh’s Scandal, one of eight “passionate, glamorous novels” in a fiction series set in The Chatsfield, “London’s most stylish — and scandalous — hotel!”

With its Chatsfield project, Mills & Boon, purveyor of escapist fiction for women since the 1930s, is moving from its traditional storytelling style using books to a social storytelling mode involving more than 800 pieces of digital content in different formats. As the series develops, the storylines will be advanced via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and readers will be able to follow the characters’ real-time social media postings, watch their video blogs, and check their emails.

Clearly, Rupert Murdoch has been watching Game of Thrones and now that his News Corp has acquired Harlequin, the parent of Mills & Boon, a new era of story and character development, in which reader interaction is critical for success, is at hand. For that is the essence of social storytelling — interaction.


The rights and wrongs of Big Data visualization

Tuesday, 1 October, 2013 0 Comments

Let’s start with the wrong way to do it as we have been gifted a perfect example by that fine Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. In an exemplary piece of reporting on the RIM nightmare titled Inside the fall of BlackBerry: How the smartphone inventor failed to adapt, readers are offered a pop-up “INFOGRAPHIC” labeled “The roller-coaster ride of BlackBerry’s shares”. Those who click on the thumbnail image get a smudgy JPG image of a graph so totally lacking in interactivity and imagination that one assumes it was created by the very same RIM engineers who have driven BlackBerry to the edge of its cellular grave.

An example of the right way to do data visualization is provided by Natalia Rojas, a “Creative Technologist”, who was born in Buenos Aires and now lives in Miami. Her “Faces of Facebook” maps the profile photos of the social network’s 1,276,388,529 (and counting) users on one web page and is organized from top left to bottom right by the date each user joined. The result is a fascinating interactive image that rewards pixel clicking with a user’s name and position in the Facebook chronology. For example, face #6,145,640 is that of Stuart Knott.

Faces of Facebook

For those challenged by the visualization of Big Data, there’s hope on the horizon. The Danish Design Center will hold “The Big Data Visualization Seminar” on 24 October in Copenhagen. It’s not just Canadian journalists who would benefit from attending. Meanwhile, Al Boardman shows how to take some data about mountains and turn it into something beautiful.


Facebook is for Facebook

Monday, 24 June, 2013 0 Comments

Facebook is like that terrifying extraterrestrial bio-mechanical thing in Alien, the brilliant film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt and Ian Holm. Well, that’s one way of reading this superb essay by Paul Ford on the crux of the social network titled “The Strangeness of Facebook Home“. Snippet:

“The social network, however, is not a tool but a way of being. If you want to leave a note for yourself on Facebook, using the service as a notebook, you must share it with yourself — selecting the ‘only me’ option from a list that also includes ‘public’ and ‘friends.’ It’s funny how rarely people ask what Facebook is for. We’ve just come to accept it, this mountain that rose up one day and is never quite out of view. It’s not really for anything, certainly not for tasks and documents. It’s for perpetuating and improving the social graph. It’s for Facebook.”

Back in 1979, Alien was marketed with the tagline, “In space, no-one can hear you scream.” That was before we became aware of deep cyberspace.


YouTube paid channels are part of a possible future

Friday, 10 May, 2013 0 Comments

YouTube has launched a paid channels experiment that can be accessed by paying a variable subscription fee, which starts at $0.99 a month. National Geographic is there, and so is TNA Wrestling Plus. Among the other offerings: Fix My Hog and Gay Direct. And there’s more to come. Notorious B-movie producer and director Roger Corman has announced that he will launch a paid YouTube channel this summer. “Corman’s Drive-In” will showcase his library of around 400, er, classics.

For all those who equate YouTube with free, this will come as a shock, but Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist who popularized the term “virtual reality”, will be pleased. Who Owns the Future? is the title of his new book and in it he pleads for a radical rethink of how all those busily engaged in creating the digital commons should be compensated. The Lanier solution? If information is worth money (and the share price of Google would suggest it is), then people must be paid for what they contribute to the web. He proposes an intricate system in which Facebook, for example, is no longer free, but also stops getting user data for free. Information creators of would be rewarded with nanopayments generated by users of information in Lanier’s scheme.

The internet, claims Lanier, is currently biased in favour of “siren servers” (big companies) that convince users to exchange data for “free” services — search, e-mail, social networks. But instead of heralding a new age of prosperity, he writes, the net is making us poorer. Careers in professions such as music and writing are disappearing, thanks to the ease of copying, and more traditional middle-class jobs will certainly follow. “To grasp the Huffington Post’s business model, picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates,” wrote Tim Rutten. While some grow fat, creatives are not paid and many are driven to destitution by those who pretend that they have our interests at heart. Jaron Lanier’s heart is in the right place, but his nanopayment proposal is unworkable. Paid channels offer a better solution.


Leaning in

Friday, 15 March, 2013 0 Comments

For media producers and consumers around the world, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week were marked by long stretches of inactivity (no smoke) followed by brief moments of minimalist action (smoke). What sounds deadly boring was, in fact, ideal material for the Twitter/Facebook masses. The lengthy waiting for the cardinals in Rome to reach a decision allowed amateur and professional Vaticanologists to speculate on things they know little or nothing about, and the hour between the white smoke and the drawing of the curtains could not have been bettered for dramatic impact. This was more thrilling than most action films. Indeed, one of the many surprises of the past week has been the astonishing ability of those ancient rites to reveal themselves as ideal material for sharing, as this Instagram page from NBC News shows.

NBC Instagram


Time firing, Facebook hiring

Thursday, 31 January, 2013 0 Comments

Yesterday, Laura Lang, the CEO of Time Inc. announced that the company is cutting 500 jobs. In the nine months ended in September, Time revenues fell by six percent, and operating profit dropped a stunning 38 percent.

Facebook was in the news yesterday as well as it announced $1.58 billion in revenue for its fourth quarter, beating analyst estimates. The company also saw a serious rise in mobile advertising revenue, which made up 23 percent of its total ad income in the fourth quarter, compared to 14 percent in the third quarter. “Facebook is a mobile company,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday. He also pointed out that the social network added 1,419 employees last year to reach a total staff of 4,619 worldwide. That’s a 44 percent jump, and he said that hiring will continue to grow in 2013.

Mobile and social. That’s the future of the media industry.


Black humour and deep insight from the Black Swan

Wednesday, 21 November, 2012 0 Comments

“No, I don’t use Facebook. I absolutely don’t want to stay in touch with everybody in my past. I really believe in falling out of touch with people.” So says Tina Brown in a wide-ranging talk with New York Magazine. While Facebook can be a huge waste of time and a narcissistic indulgence, it can also be a platform for intellectual debate as Nassim Nicholas Taleb proved with his 16 October post, “The Stickiness of Languages“.

The comments add depth to the post and all of them are excellent:

Matthew Vallarino “In Genoese there are many nouns (goods, navigation etc.) that have Arabic origins which would have simplified trade, knowledge and communication.”

Jean-Benoit Nadeau “This reminds a point I learned but am looking for comfirmation: apparently, the Latin term Hispania was a deformation of the Phoenician I-shepan-ha (meaning Land of Hyraxes).”

Patrick Vlaskovits “Why did Magyar language displace local Slavs and Avars (Turkic language group I think) when the Hungarians occupied the Carpathian basin?”

Taleb makes no bones about his refined intelligence but once you get used to his style his humour is addictive. Here, he talks about the “Iatrogenics of wealth”. Snippet:

The master of the Black Swan“As a child I was certain that poor people were happier because they had less complicated but more social lives, huddled together in small quarters, and having no soccer mom (or the then-equivalent), they could just play in the streets etc. In addition, rich people use harmful technologies, go to the gym instead of playing in the streets, meet economists and other frauds, etc… So there were things money could not buy, in effect, money caused you to lose… Later on when I got a windfall check, in my twenties (before it became more common for people in finance to get big bucks), I discovered another harmful side of wealth: unless one hid the cash, it was hard to know who one’s friends were…”

It was The Black Swan that brought Nassim Nicholas Taleb global recognition, and now he’s back with a new book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, which is being described as “a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world.” Here’s the core message:

“We all know that the stressors of exercise are necessary for good health, but people don’t translate this insight into other domains of physical and mental well-being. We also benefit, it turns out, from occasional and intermittent hunger, short-term protein deprivation, physical discomfort and exposure to extreme cold or heat. Newspapers discuss post-traumatic stress disorder, but nobody seems to account for post-traumatic growth. Walking on smooth surfaces with ‘comfortable’ shoes injures our feet and back musculature: We need variations in terrain.”

Modernity, says Taleb, is obsessed with comfort and cosmetic stability, but by making ourselves too comfortable and by eliminating all volatility from our lives, we make our bodies and souls fragile. The antidote is understanding disorder.


Facebook Friday

Friday, 18 May, 2012

The first $100 billion is easy. Now comes the hard part for Facebook. To vindicate that $100 billion valuation, investors will want to see revenue growth on a scale never before witnessed in the history of Silicon Valley. We’re talking about 25 to 30 percent a year, according to analysts. Today, Facebook is said to […]

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