The Algorithm Dilemma

Last weekend, we watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and over the week, I’ve been discussing the content with my wife. We came to several conclusions, including that there are some algorithms and some services we are too dependent on for our entertainment needs. But there are others we can very much get rid of and should, as soon as possible.

The ones we are dependent on are Instagram and YouTube. We’re constantly on Instagram from the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep. It’s unhealthy, and we’re trying to reduce our time on these networks, but it’s a way to cope with all that’s happening out there. We’ve pivoted from just using Insta for getting jealous about travel bloggers to using it for memes, current affairs, and TikTok overflow bloggers. YouTube is our coffee companion. Whenever we sit down after a long day of work, we use it to get the news, weather, movie and show trailers, and catch up on our interests.

In line with that, we’ve noticed that these networks have both gotten better and worse at latching on to our needs. Instagram has gotten frighteningly good with their ad-focus. I’m generally immune to ads – I rarely see them on my computers thanks to uBlock. But the ones I see on Insta are almost always tech focused and I’ve started really salivating on those. On the flip side, Instagram is a well known negative-thought-bringer and I’ve started noticing the general tone of negativity it brings in our lives. YouTube is great at generally recommending time pass videos, but it’s gotten horrible at surfacing new, good content. The same few videos are shoved down our throats every day, all day, until we watch them. Part of the problem is that our main place to watch YouTube is their Apple TV app. This app has terrible UI. There’s no refresh button and the app doesn’t make an API refresh call even if you kill it and start it again. It’s like the algorithm is stuck on these recommendations no matter what you do.

Lately, for my wife, the YouTube app has been recommending a YouTube produced documentary about Paris Hilton’s life. This is despite that she’s never seen any content related to Paris Hilton or her corollaries, has never seen anything related to obscenely rich and spoilt people, and actively avoided this video every day for the past five days. But, like the demon from the movie It Follows, that video recommendation follows her everywhere. Sometimes it’s at position two in the recommended list, sometimes four. It’s present in the Entertainment section of the app, and in the News section, and in Originals. It’s obvious why this is happening – YouTube produced this content and wants to earn it’s money back. It’s like they hired a Netflix PM and he (definitely a HE for ruining a good product) brought the same stupid ideas he implemented there, here. We’ve discussed starting the video and downvoting it. But my wife pointed out that the lesson from The Social Dilemma is that the algorithm doesn’t care about the vote. It just sees engagement as a good sign for their vested interests and will simply count that, discounting everything else. She has actively started skipping over the video, hoping YouTube will finally get the hint one day. Can’t wait.

One of the things our eyes were opened to was how inherently evil this dependence on shady algorithms is. One of the interviewees says, “but it’s easy to forget how much good these technologies have done, how they’ve connected long lost people and found organ donors.” Another says, “when we were building these, we just wanted to build a tool to connect […] but we forgot to look at the flip side of the coin” (quotes fuzzy and from memory, please watch the docu). But every new layer they peeled in the story felt like a revelation that every decision in these companies is made to cater to the bottom line instead of ever bothering to wonder if it’s good for the masses that use the social platforms mentioned. The design ethicist from Google at least mentioned thinking about how their actions affect millions. The folks from Facebook can’t be bothered.

The thing is, none of this is necessary. But it was inevitable. The Internet was always poised to take over the rest of media. A free travel blogger, vlogger, Instagrammer will always throw out the need to subscribe to a travel magazine. A labor of love tech blog will always dismiss the need to pay for PC Magazine. Someone posting news snippets and their commentary in their free time will completely upend the newspaper business. That’s just bound to happen. Video will always kill the radio star.

But this is not just because of the inherent freedom that comes with the Internet. It’s because our society, our norms, and our laws have always operated in whiplash mode, always catching on with something after it has just become passé.

As the documentary moved from the first half to the second, it started focusing on the political ramifications of the freehand these Internet behemoths got and a message came across. It’s not just social. Yes, YouTube is social and Facebook is a place for video. But Google is just as much to blame for inherently bad search algorithms, and Amazon for terrible facial recognition technology as Facebook and twitter are for letting foreign powers turn American politics into a sham, as WhatsApp is for enabling mass state-sponsored violence in parts of the world, and as tech companies are for promulgating the problem of racial and gender inequality while talking about the Internet as an egalitarian utopia.

After the docu, I sat for a long time in conversation with my wife and we discussed ways that we can improve our interactions with the Internet as it is today. We decided to move from Google Search to DuckDuckGo. We decided to uninstall the official twitter client and exclusively use tweetbot and others. We decided, over these past few days as YouTube inundated us with a Million Heiress’ documentary, that we will actively stop using the YouTube recommendations section and start using it’s Search and Channels to find content we want to watch. It’s not like their search is any better, since it shows only a fraction of the content on the service before giving up on you. But at least it’s better than their silly recommendations algorithm, which really needs an overhaul. Lastly, we decided that we’ll police our time on Instagram and tell each other to get off the network as much as possible.

In other news, I was recently reading an article about what Google is doing to keep bad results out of their Search, and here are my notes on the topic –

Google has a new plan to keep junk out of search

Google Search is every bit as important

Yup, we often overlook it, but search is actually way more important in people’s perceptions of the world than we think.

Social media has proved that “people read it and shared it” has no correlation to expertise, relevance or truth.

I would say that there always has been a more discerning, a more learned clientele of knowledge than the common folk. Though it’s not true that common people are in any measure lesser educated, they certainly are less discerning and more prone to peer pressure. If they see something being shared, they are more likely to jump on it as their new belief than some folks who would rather investigate, even though that investigation doesn’t take more than a few minutes in today’s information soaked era. Speed of information veracity has already reached a pretty good point and algorithms and machine learning continue to make it faster. But people’s willingness to ignore all that is also increasing.

So the technological solution is to create better tools to nudge people towards the truth. But the societal solution is what will matter in the end, and one societal solution is to make people less busy in their work lives, giving them more time to look outwards to what’s happening in the world. The current working generation doesn’t have the brain space to deal with everything going on in the world on top all the work they’re expected to do. We’ve all seen the chart where productivity has risen disproportionately to income levels in the last few decades. This has led to a form of inequality where the only people who have the time to ponder over important things are those who are either content with their current means, or have enough means to not worry about money. Now, this has been the case since the time of Socrates, but should not be the case today, should it?

Update: I was thinking about a simpler time when we used to own the knowledge that we bought – whether as newspapers, or books or magazines. Similarly we used to own music and video. But moving online liberated and democratized all these – people who could not afford music players or expensive books could enjoy streaming music, or ad-supported music videos, or read Wikipedia or blogs to gain knowledge. People have built entire careers through learning programming or handiwork on YouTube. We used to own apps on our phones five years ago, and today we’re moving to subscription models and rundles. But this means that if we want to share something, we have to do it on the platform it’s on. If you’re sharing an Instagram post, or a medium blogpost, the receiver is forced to login to see it. If you own Kindle ebooks, you can “lend” it, but only on Kindle. There needs to be a whiplash where we start paying for our knowledge again, for our media again, our ability to share and spread our sources. But that needs a perspective and longer term thinking that’s a longer conversation.

Thoughts on Chris Hughes’ call to break up Facebook

I took my own sweet time to read this story, collecting some of my ideas and publishing them here. I’ve already had a lot of online and offline conversations around the topic, but posting these thoughts here for posterity and discussion makes sense to me.

Opinion | It’s Time to Break Up Facebook

Jefferson and Madison were voracious readers of Adam Smith, who believed that monopolies prevent the competition that spurs innovation and leads to economic growth.

The F.T.C.’s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. In 2012, the newer platforms were nipping at Facebook’s heels because they had been built for the smartphone, where Facebook was still struggling to gain traction. Mark responded by buying them, and the F.T.C. approved.

Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s stories and disappearing messages proved wildly successful, at Snapchat’s expense. At an all-hands meeting in 2016, Mark told Facebook employees not to let their pride get in the way of giving users what they want. According to Wired magazine, “Zuckerberg’s message became an informal slogan at Facebook: ‘Don’t be too proud to copy.’”

They create immense amounts of data — not just likes and dislikes, but how many seconds they watch a particular video — that Facebook uses to refine its targeted advertising

One big question is, of course, who owns this data? The data would not exist on a platform which doesn’t have the technology to track your time in seconds. The data is also not really relevant to you in a meaningful way. So unless there’s a way to make it meaningful, there is no point in us users claiming ownership of it. Even if we did, in most aspects, the data is owned by Facebook and that is the basis for them not deleting it even after you’ve asked for ‘all’ of your data to be deleted. In that context, ‘all’ is all of the data you’ve given to Facebook, not the data they’ve generated on you.

he went even further than before, calling for more government regulation — not just on speech, but also on privacy and interoperability, the ability of consumers to seamlessly leave one network and transfer their profiles, friend connections, photos and other data to another.

Chris Hughes says in the next line that these proposals were not made in bad faith, but from where I am seeing, these are nothing but bad faith. One can only say these things from a position of privilege, of power. Where were these ideas when twitter launched periscope with Facebook friend-finder integration?

The fact is that what Zuck is proposing here is nothing different from what Microsoft did for Apple all those years ago to head off anti-trust investigations. Why not head off an investigation by propping up a few lame-duck competitors who Facebook can kill off in the name of API changes whenever it feels threatened?

Zuckerberg’s words may seem like music to your ears, but they are nothing more than an empty promise. Already, you can export your Facebook data, and there are services built around importing it and doing stuff with it. So how is his proposal any different?

Will Facebook provide an API to easily move all your data and conversations, and photos off? Will Facebook provide precious server time required to sync out every last bit of data through a legit API? I don’t think so.

Even if they do, the point remains that he’s doing this just to save his own hide. Paying lip service to the open web and interoperability is the easiest thing he can do as CEO.

Besides, Facebook’s value isn’t in the data you provide it with. It’s in the data they generate about you. Today, your uploaded data might be in the couple hundred MBs. But I can assure you, the data they’ve generated about you, and the data you don’t know you’ve uploaded (including stealthy location tracking, cookies, and third party browsing data they’ve bought about you), probably stands in the GBs.

That vast difference is something Facebook will never give you access to, since they can legally claim that it is data they have created and they own. You taking charge of that data is the real threat to Facebook.

Zuck knows this only too well and is trying to ward it off.

Imagine a competitive market in which they could choose among one network that offered higher privacy standards, another that cost a fee to join but had little advertising and another that would allow users to customize and tweak their feeds as they saw fit. No one knows exactly what Facebook’s competitors would offer to differentiate themselves. That’s exactly the point.

Another example of hypocrisy from Chris. We know there are social networks out there today that do all of these things. There are exceptional services built by dedicated people who believe in the ideal of an open web. Just recently an instagram replacement was kickstarted. It took a long while to get it to the bare minimum it needed to fund successfully.

Why? Why did Chris Hughes not put his money where his mouth is? Why not fund all these competitions as an outsider? He’s arguably for the money for it.

App.net was kickstarted by the people, but along the way they took funding from a VC firm. Some people saw that as a betrayal of the idea with which it began, and ADN ended up shuttering under a year later.

Hughes doesn’t need to singularly fund social networks and exert control as a VC or angel investor. He can fund them as an individual and just use his voice to amplify the message – that open web ideas do exist and have the potential to be disruptive.

The thing is, that Silicon Valley is about control. Right now, the definition of control is Facebook. It’s a behemoth that can eat up most of the things in its path, whether it’s WhatsApp and Instagram, which it acquires and turned into its pawns, or Snapchat, which it is trying to destroy by replicating it and using its networking effects against.

Look towards the (inter)networking world – everyone needs networking and so it’s not that sexy a field. But even though there’s a behemoth, Cisco, it can’t eat everything up. Every few years a company springs up that can cause serious competition to it based on new technology, or better production cycles, or just a fresh pair of eyes on the same ideas networking has been revolving around since the last decade.

So Facebook doesn’t need to be broken up in order to be made irrelevant, be it the right approach or not.

The F.T.C. should have blocked these mergers

Its first mandate should be to protect privacy.

It’s interesting to talk about privacy only in terms of Facebook, but it is infinitely more important to talk about privacy in a broader sense.

The US needs an agency that actively works with companies and individuals to thwart attacks on our data, to help secure information, and to educate the people about these topics. Right now, there’s a haphazard group of organizations doing this, led perhaps by the FBI, which steps into the case when hospitals and other organizations are attacked.

There needs to be an organization that ‘polices’ the use of data. Of course, there’s no reason to stifle new growth, but this org would work with, and actively target companies that are becoming big, and perhaps even white hat attack them to show weaknesses.

This latter role has been left to private entities till now, and that has worked out fine for most people. But formalizing it means making sure that the US has a pulse on cyber warfare in the civilian realm, which is where it is more active and deadly currently.

Imagine a CDC for cyber warfare and privacy issues.

But there is no constitutional right to harass others or live-stream violence

Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can.

Can they, though? Can either Zuck or any government in the world ‘fix’ Facebook? As an industry, social media can be regulated. As a company, Facebook can be fined and controlled. But as an idea, as a part of the Internet, and as a trend, Facebook is more difficult to control. What needs to happen is that along with the threat of government sanctions, Facebook also needs internal pressure to restructure. That pressure will never come until golden boy is removed from the helm. It was only till Biz Stone and Jack were shown to be totally inept at handling twitter, that people understood that twitter needs some serious work. It’s a great feeling to follow an enigmatic or often just an esoteric leader and believe that they’re doing the right thing. But Facebook’s investors, specially those who care about the effects of the company on the world, should break through that spell and focus on forcing the company to rebuild.

Zuckerberg himself should realize that it is under his own helm that bad things have happened, and we’ve long given him a huge platform to grow and become a leader. But just like Rahul Gandhi, growing on the job is not possible for someone who controls the fate of a billion people. That just doesn’t work. He would be better off stepping away from the plate and letting someone else play while he rebuilds himself and finds out what he believes in beyond just the dominance of Facebook.

Words Matter in Interfaces

Visual design is powerful, but the words are what people quote to one another.

And they are the only part of the design that survives across time and media types. They can be held intact in a human mind.

Erika Hall

Source

As soon as I read this quote on Joshua’s blog, I thought about my reluctance to use Snapchat. I once had a conversation with someone who is an ardent user of the social network and after explaining a few basics of the app to me, he grew weary of my inane questions and simply said, “if you’d been with the app since the beginning, this would not feel weird to you.”

Indeed, I see it as this – visual design needs a lot of historical context to understand. If you’ve seen it evolve over time, you can understand it well. But if you are dropped into it anew, it’s all strange and confusing to you. A new user might even be scared of clicking things, if they have no idea what they’re doing.

I love playing a game called Egg, Inc. For the first few months of playing the game, I would notice these cute little drones flying around. I thought they’re just an easter egg by the developer. Unrelated, I would notice that at random times, my resources would shoot up, by random values which made no sense to me.

While reading a post on reddit one time, I discovered that you’re supposed to smack those drones out of the air. See, in the game, you’re running a chicken farm, and you believe those drones are a violation of your space, so you can shoot them down, for a reward. Sometimes, fast moving drones appear and shooting them down is difficult but awards you with an exponential value. All of this would be in the onboarding, but I can never recall there being a specific time when I was told to hit the drones. In a way, that is an easter egg – you’re supposed to discovered on your own that those cute flying objects are actually an annoyance to your character and shooting them is the right thing to do. But I felt betrayed. How many months had I wasted not knowing about this growth hack?

I can’t expect a game of all things to label everything. The elegant interface of Egg, Inc, would only be made more clunky by the addition of ugly labels. But I can expect this from Snapchat. Their job is to make it easy for me to use their interface, specially if I’m a new user.

An interface made up entirely of swipes is revolutionary, but a hindrance to people who have not understood it from the beginning. The same is true for all visual design, and it’s worth remembering for everyone who is involved in the task of designing interfaces.

n.b. Notice how quickly Erika’s ideas were attacked by someone who puts more value in visual design than textual context. I would have expected people to have differing opinions about the topic, but one opinion doesn’t invalidate another. It’s an opinion, not a fact.

My wife asked me the other day – why do you use twitter? Isn’t it full of bile and anger? This is why. Great ideas are often posted to it, and inquisitive minds go where the water of knowledge is.

Falling into Faith — Acko.net

The following is a critique of a post I recently came across in my RSS feeds-

 

This is augmented by the ease of concerted flagging and other public shaming campaigns, which create a guilty-until-proven innocent environment.

Source: Falling into Faith — Acko.net

This is a weird post, and it set off all kinds of alarms in my head. But I read through the author’s convoluted logic till the end. Some of it doesn’t make any sense, the rest of it makes sense, but is faulty logic. It’s clear that it’s a rambling, onerous post about somehow not protecting white privilege, but also not condemning it. It seems to want to put logic above everything else but the relationship between the example and the conclusion is tenuous.

This line above was the one that sprung out to me the most. The author seems to want to say that the constant vigilante justice meted out on social networks stifles free speech. But forgets a couple of things –

  1. Every example the author gives – James Damore, SubscribeStar – is one of extremism from the right. These are harmful rhetoric, and conspiracy theorists whose right to free speech is somehow being taken away by the people. Somehow, the ‘people’ having the right to decide who gets to live in the public sphere is not acceptable to the author. Instead, pure logic and pure freedom are the only things important to the author. This is, of course, the wrong approach, because there is no such thing as pure freedom. All of life is about the exceptions to the rule. The exception to the rule of free speech is one where someone means someone else harm.
  2. The author seems to want to criticize public movements on social media. But here’s the thing – it’s not like there’s a recourse. Elsewhere in the post, the author criticizes the left for controlling the institutions that mediate over ideas on social networks, namely the Trust and Safety Boards –

bootstrapping their own inquisition in the name of Trust and Safety

This means that the author doesn’t trust the devices created to remove negative influencers from social media, and doesn’t accept that people should be able to run their own campaigns to remove such people from there either. So what’s the recourse? What can people do to root out truly evil ideas from the public sphere? The author falls silent on that aspect. As it is, the tools that Facebook and Twitter (and WhatsApp) have created to combat misuse are woefully shortsighted and pathetic attempts at appeasement. That leaves the users to fend for themselves, so why would they not band together and attack the trolls and bad actors? Yes, they would get a few folks wrong and that’s where the author jumps in again to criticize, but not to give solutions –

Nuanceless policing bots and scripts make it trivial for innocent bystanders to get hurt.

All in all, a frustrating read to go through. Why did I? Well, for some reason, I’m subscribed to this person’s RSS feed and this was a recent article on there. Everything else by the author is purely about technology.

Also, it’s a good exercise in spotting every logical misconception that the author has made. Which ones did I miss?

 

Changing my relationship with Facebook

I’ve come across two posts today that are of high interest to me (and probably to you, dear reader).

First is this official Facebook blogpost here. It talks about how Facebook has discovered that those who use social media passively, just for browsing, end up sadder than those who use it actively, commenting and chatting with friends. I’ve seen people use Facebook for posting material which I sometimes thought was too long or too short or too general to be posted on what is supposed to be a rather private network. But if it brings joy to them, and helps me connect with them, then why not, right?

The second post is here. It’s a heartbreaking tale about how the algorithm destroys relationships and makes us devoid of important information. The algorithm is prioritizing information for us and in the process is making us less human. Please do read it.

I’ve been thinking about Facebook’s blogpost and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way forward is to game the system. What does that mean? It means to post frequently and interact with people. It means to force the algorithm to think that I’m some sort of high value poster. Till date, I’ve refrained from cross-posting my tweets to Facebook. I believed that Facebook is reserved for longer posts, meatier ones that mean something to the people to whom I’m posting. But the algorithm doesn’t think like that. The algorithm rewards those who post often instead of those who post things of value. So I guess that ends now. Thoughts are thoughts, no matter how small they are. I’ll post them on Facebook simply so that one day, when I want to post something of value to my friends on Facebook, the algorithm deems me of enough value to make sure they see my posts.

Some of you may object to this on the basis that you see my posts on twitter (and other places). Well if you do and do not interact with my posts on Facebook, the algorithm will downgrade me for your experience. In that way, what Facebook does to control our lives is highly personal and deeply disappointing. Hopefully, you’ll see that.

To all others, I hope you like my short gripes which I send out every once in a while. I’ll try this for the year of 2018 and share the results with you at the end of the year. I posit that inputting more to Facebook will mean I’ll also get more output from it. Let’s see if that turns out to be true.

Twitter backlash, again

Every time twitter changes something, it faces backlash. That’s not new, that’s common to all consumer tech companies. There’s a set of users around the world used to things the way they are and some who are looking forward to the change. Whenever Facebook makes a change, they get floods of comments attacking them. Perhaps that’s why Facebook has gone shadowy about all the changes they make to their algorithm. They’ll talk to the public about it, but not really explain anything.

When twitter changed the look of their app and service a few weeks ago, many liked the change and I got upset about it. It’s not that I use the official app or site a lot – I don’t care for it. But it seemed like such a useless change when there are so many other things to deal with.

The same happened yesterday, when twitter announced that they’re increasing the tweet chars limit to 280 for some users, as a test. I’m not part of the small group, but I’m one who’s been saying for a long time that this should happen.

Others, as John Saddington, over here on his blog, believe this betrays the fact that twitter is ending up like the next Yahoo!, having lost its soul a long time ago in the many quagmires it failed to defuse in its long march to infamy.

While I agree that the service is, in general, in shambles and begging for someone to whip some sense into it, this change is not anything which will destroy twitter. If anything, it’ll give users such as me some breathing space.

Yes, I can be pithy and reword my tweets to be exactly 140 chars or less. But who wants to? “Brevity is the soul of wit”, said the man who wrote 884,647 words in his career. Well, I don’t want to be witty all the time. I want to get my point across, and if it takes 145 characters to do so, so be it.

Yesterday, while discussing this change, twitter made a feeble attempt at giving a technical reason for this change. They explained on their blog that the reasoning is that some languages, unlike Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, are more visual in nature and can explain a lot more in one character than others, such as English, Spanish, and French. Therefore, they are making this change available for the latter languages. They also explained that only about 9% of all tweets reach the 140 characters limit.

That last bit surprised me. I thought about it a bit and realized that this number, 9%, is probably flawed for various reasons –

  1. Twitter has a lot of spam. Like, a lot. So, when someone talks about 9% of all English language tweets, they’re probably counting a lot of bots, crap, spammers, and the general noise you see on twitter. Remove all of those and the number might actually jump into double digits.
  2. Most people who want to express themselves better have gotten used to the idea of tweetstorming. They know that twitter’s not going to fix this issue, so they use tools, or just hit reply manually to post things in a better way. If twitter counts tweetstorms as one tweet, I’m sure, again, that they’ll tip over to north of 10% easily.
  3. Everyone else who ever faced the predicament of having a red negative number blocking their tweet just went ahead and reworded the tweet to fix things. Had they any method to tweetstorm from the official app, they would have done so, and, again, twitter’s numbers would be more truthful.

Given these factors, there’s not less reason to implement 280 chars, but more.

But, here’s a prediction, if I could make one –

When twitter revisits these numbers in a year or two, they’ll see that the number hasn’t really shifted a lot. If they see 9% now, they’ll, maybe see 10-11% a year from now. The reason is simple – when we’re given an arbitrary limit, our thoughts go towards meeting that limit instead of finding ways around it to fully express ourselves. Now that twitter has gotten everyone used to 140 chars, when the noise settles, those who need a few extra chars to express themselves will take those and use the space. Others will not. Simple.

This new limit is nothing to fret about. It’s not going to destroy twitter. That’s already to job of twitter’s bad advertising, political hand-wringing, and spam. All this is going to do is give some breathing space to people like me, who need a few extra chars once in a while.

Side note – I noticed that tweetbot took the 280 char limit and presented it beautifully since yesterday. I haven’t had to update my app for it. No good twitter app has a hard limit of 140 chars built into the stream display. That just shows that there’s no real reason for twitter to go back to 140 chars. The endless stream of tweets that people are used to will work exactly the same way as before. Don’t worry about it. Worry about everything else that’s still wrong with twitter.

p.s. – My thoughts are partly explained by Colin Walker here, funnily enough, in fewer words.

Photo by mkhmarketing

The Secret History of Blah

Let us begin.

The world is full of interesting things. Wonderful creations that change your lives, make it easier to reach for the stars or talk to your loved ones. There are countless people toiling away in garages, labs, offices, and corners of public spaces, working on their masterpiece. They will soon release their creation into the world and you will wonder, “how was that even made? What was the process of the creation of this marvelous thing?” Continue reading

Word of the Day: Fungible

Fungibility, according to Wikipedia, is an economic term used to describe the property of a commodity whereby it is directly interchangeable with something else. For example, if you don’t care whether the rental car you get is a Mercedes or a BMW, then they are fungible. It was used by journalist Stijn Debrouwere in an awesome article about the future of newspapers and media companies in the age of the Internet, by calling his article –

A treatise on fungibility, or, a framework for understanding the mess the news industry is in and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Source: Fungible

Continue reading

Notes for Week 2 of 2014

So, it’s been an interesting week. Some observations –

Social

Found this gem of a Difference between Facebook and Twitter –

Facebook – 

“Best Practices

Making API calls directly to Facebook can improve the performance of your app, rather than proxying them through your own server.”

Twitter – 

“Caching

Store API responses in your application or on your site if you expect a lot of use. For example, don’t try to call the Twitter API on every page load of your website landing page. Instead, call the API infrequently and load the response into a local cache. When users hit your website load the cached version of the results.”

< p>Turns out, when not losing market share to a third-party app, Facebook is actually quite nice to developers as compared to Twitter. To be fair, tweets constitute a lot more volume and processing, so it would make sense for Twitter to want the devs to cache their data. Also, even ADN  has rate limits but at least their limits are more generous than Twitter.

Seriously though, twitter has millions of dollars for servers and all I have is a 128MB VPS. What the heck, Twitter?

Google(+)

Google is no longer Google. It’s Google(+). Everything we love about Google and it’s services is being slowly replaced by Google+ and the latest victim is GMail. Now anyone on Google+ can email you without knowing your email ID. As a communication tool, this makes GMail more open. But that’s exactly what people don’t use GMail for. They use it for Email. Big difference there Google. You can opt-out, but what’s the bet that option will be going away soon?

What Google should actually do –

Google understands one thing and one thing alone – Search. Pushing Google+ isn’t going to help them overcome the social networks of the world. But there is one thing I covet – the Search API. Seriously, why don’t we see third-party Search apps that innovate the way we see our Search results. That’s one data stream we’ve not targeted yet. Google needs to let people in, do their thing and pretty soon we’ll see people integrating Search with  social platforms. Oh, you wanna see which of your Facebook friends searched for the latest Tom Hanks movie and then clicked on IMDB? Here’s the data to that. Seriously Google, stop letting one segment of the business take over the other, specially since we know you’ll kill Google+ a couple of years from now.

Advertising

Ah, advertising! The Bane of TV show lovers binge-watchers. Advertising has slowly crept in everywhere on the Internet, from YouTube to Hulu. Towards YouTube, go find YouTube5. It’s an extension that replaces the usual YouTube player with a cool HTML5 one and kills all ads in the process. Enjoy.

To Hulu, I say, well, get rid of the “Brandon Switched to Ford” ad. Seriously. It’s a stupid ad, I’ve seen all too much of it and Brandon looks like a total douche for being the black sheep who abandoned the family tradition and switched from a Honda to a Ford. If ever Hulu fails, it’ll be because they keep repeating the same ads over and over again. I do not want to be bored by ads, I want them to be innovative and interesting. (Coincidentally, Samuel L Jackson staring in my face is not innovative. I’m looking at you, Capital One.)

I finally also saw the KFC ads that look like some woman with a video camera uploaded to YouTube. That’s supposed to be innovative? Nope. She looks drunk/high/both and you’re not fooling anyone with these ads KFC, those are scripted (or worse, they’re not!).

Finally, saw a teeth whitening strips ad on Hulu that said, very specifically, “If your teeth are not getting white, they’re getting yellow”. Ok, first of all, yellow teeth are perfectly normal and more an indication of stomach trouble than a medical emergency. Second, the ad targets people women who drink coffee. First it was guys who smoke who were targeted and now this. Finally, that text up there. That’s a scare tactic. Pretty soon, they’ll come up with a white paper saying that yes, your teeth getting yellow is a medical problem and you need to use teeth whitening strips in conjunction with toothpaste. All of this will be driven by only one thing – Sales telling the Marketing team to get innovative with the ads. There’s no real medical issue that they’ve tried to resolve.

That concludes the rant session on advertising.

Clients from Heaven

I’ve been building a web app for my brother and he mentioned that the text on the screen doesn’t ‘look black’. For a second, I tried hard not to wonder if my brother is a typical MBA Client from Hell but as it turns out, he was right, the text was actually #2C3E50 which is actually a weird dark blue. Thanks Bootstrap for making me look bad in front of my brother!

WordPress

It was an exciting week to be a WordPress user. Snaplive, a front-end text editing solution was showcased to a few who had signed up for updates. It seems to work really well with WordPress, so expecting some really good things in the future.

Ghost had promised to revolutionize WordPress, but instead it went and setup shop elsewhere. That’s ok, since we have Gust, which is a plugin that ports the awesome Ghost Admin panel functionality to WordPress. Mind you, this just released, so if you’re not ready for bugs (which software doesn’t have bugs?), don’t install this yet.

Finally, a shout out to whatweekisit.com, which I used to, umm, calculate which week of 2014 we’re in. Yeah, I should have just looked at a calendar.

How the Common Man will pay for the Internet soon

If there’s one buzz word that’s promised to solve all the monetary problems of every Internet-based startup in the past two years, its “Big Data”. Everyone’s collecting it, everyone’s recording it and everyone’s saving it for tomorrow. From Twitter’s Billions(of tweets) to your Netflix queue and even your Google Search history, everyone’s looking to figure out how to sell you more stuff based on your habits.

But no one’s actually selling the data. The data in itself is useless, no matter how much of it you have. It’s the connections that are formed from it that are important and that’s what everyone is hankering to sell – information. However, all that these companies are trying to do is sell information to advertising sources and point of sales organizations like Amazon because that’s where they can easily get a large paycheck in exchange for a much larger database of customer information. Continue reading