Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Maybe Facebook Should Abandon the News Feed Altogether (NewCo Shift)

Final paragraphs from a John Battelle Facebook reality check

"So imagine with me what might happen if Facebook were to become a truly neutral platform — an AWS for attention and identity, if you will. What if the company dedicated itself to a set of stable policies that encouraged other companies to tap into its social graph, its vast identity database, its remarkable engagement machinery?* Instead of squeezing everyone through the monolithic orifice of News Feed, what if Facebook changed the narrative completely, and reshaped itself as a service anyone could tap to create new kinds of value? Facebook could set the rules, take its cut, and watch tens of thousands (millions?!) of applications bloom. More than a few of them, I’d wager, would be extraordinary new interpretations of the News Feed —and because they’d compete in the marketplace of ideas, with individual citizens deciding which of them they’ve decided to consume, Facebook would be off the hook as the sole provider of society’s informational nutrition.

Of course this idea is crazy, complex, fraught, and seemingly impossible. But it sure beats the alternative — where one company, and one company alone, is responsible for determining what information the majority of society consumes. No one — Facebook included — seems to want that anymore."
Maybe Facebook Should Abandon the News Feed Altogether.

The Senate’s push to overrule the FCC on net neutrality now has 50 votes, Democrats say - The Washington Post

Check the Facebook Town Hall page to contact your representatives and share your net neutrality perspective

"To pass the Senate, backers of the resolution must recruit one more Republican member to their ranks. The measure must survive the Republican-majority House and be signed by President Trump to take effect.

After an independent agency makes a decision — such as the FCC's net neutrality deregulation — federal lawmakers have a window of 60 legislative days to reverse the move under the Congressional Review Act. As of last Tuesday, 40 senators had signed on to the resolution to challenge the FCC under the act. Since then, 10 more have joined the effort.

Democrats have said they plan to make net neutrality a midterm campaign issue, forcing vulnerable GOP candidates to stand with their party and adopt a position that, according to some surveys, is at odds with that of the broader public."
The Senate’s push to overrule the FCC on net neutrality now has 50 votes, Democrats say - The Washington Post

BofA Tops IBM and Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents - Bloomberg

In other *coin news, see Bitcoin Tumbles 20% as Fears of Cryptocurrency Crackdown Linger (Bloomberg)
"Bank of America Corp. may not be willing to help customers invest in bitcoin, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t plowing into the technology underlying the cryptocurrency.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender has applied for or received at least 43 patents for blockchain, the ledger technology used for verifying and recording transactions that’s at the heart of virtual currencies. It is the largest number among major banks and technology companies, according to a study by EnvisionIP, a New York-based law firm that specializes in analyses of intellectual property."
BofA Tops IBM and Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents - Bloomberg

Big Brother on wheels: Why your car company may know more about you than your spouse. - The Washington Post

Data driven

"Dunn may consider his everyday driving habits mundane, but auto and privacy experts suspect that big automakers like Honda see them as anything but. By monitoring his everyday movements, an automaker can vacuum up a massive amount of personal information about someone like Dunn, everything from how fast he drives and how hard he brakes to how much fuel his car uses and the entertainment he prefers. The company can determine where he shops, the weather on his street, how often he wears his seat belt, what he was doing moments before a wreck — even where he likes to eat and how much he weighs.

Though drivers may not realize it, tens of millions of American cars are being monitored like Dunn’s, experts say, and the number increases with nearly every new vehicle that is leased or sold."
Big Brother on wheels: Why your car company may know more about you than your spouse. - The Washington Post

Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do With You - The New York Times

From a virtual assistant reality check; also see the Voice section of Steven Sinofsky's CES 2018: Real Advances, Real Progress, Real Questions
"The challenge isn’t finding these digitized helpers, it is finding people who use them to do much more than they could with the old clock/radio in the bedroom.

A management consulting firm recently looked at heavy users of virtual assistants, defined as people who use one more than three times a day. The firm, called Activate, found that the majority of these users turned to virtual assistants to play music, get the weather, set a timer or ask questions.

Activate also found that the majority of Alexa users had never used more than the basic apps that come with the device, although Amazon said its data suggested that four out of five registered Alexa customers have used at least one of the more than 30,000 “skills” — third-party apps that tap into Alexa’s voice controls to accomplish tasks — it makes available."
Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do With You - The New York Times

Monday, January 15, 2018

39 million Americans reportedly own a voice-activated smart speaker - The Verge

On a related note, see Where’s Cortana? Microsoft is playing the long game as Amazon and Google dominate CES (GeekWire)

"One in six US adults (or around 39 million people) now own a voice-activated smart speaker, according to research from NPR and Edison Research. The Smart Audio Report claims that uptake of these devices over the last three years is “outpacing the adoption rates of smartphones and tablets.” Users spent time using speakers to find restaurants and businesses, playing games, setting timers and alarms, controlling smart home devices, sending messages, ordering food, and listening to music and books. Over half of respondents keep their smart speaker in the living room, followed by the kitchen (21 percent), and master bedroom (19 percent).

The survey of just under 2,000 individuals found that the time people spend using their smart speaker replaces time spent with other devices including the radio, smart phone, TV, tablet, computer, and publications like magazines. Over half of respondents also said they use smart speakers even more after the first month of owning one. Around 66 percent of users said they use their speaker to entertain friends and family, mostly to play music but also to ask general questions and check the weather."
39 million Americans reportedly own a voice-activated smart speaker - The Verge

Alibaba's AI Outguns Humans in Reading Test - Bloomberg

Also see Alibaba and Microsoft systems beat humans in Stanford reading test (Financial Times)

"Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. put its deep neural network model through its paces last week, asking the AI to provide exact answers to more than 100,000 questions comprising a quiz that’s considered one of the world’s most authoritative machine-reading gauges. The model developed by Alibaba’s Institute of Data Science of Technologies scored 82.44, edging past the 82.304 that rival humans achieved.

Alibaba said it’s the first time a machine has out-done a real person in such a contest. Microsoft achieved a similar feat, scoring 82.650 on the same test, but those results were finalized a day after Alibaba’s, the company said."
Alibaba's AI Outguns Humans in Reading Test - Bloomberg

The bitcoin bubble is a joke, and you’re the punchline - The Washington Post

For another *coin reality check, see Everyone Is Getting Hilariously Rich and You’re Not (NYT)

"The first group are the true believers. They're the techno-libertarians who think it's only a matter of time until bitcoin replaces the dollar because of the way its extremely limited supply means that it tends to gain, rather than lose, value over time. (Never mind that this also means that nobody ever wants to spend it.)

The second are the more realistic believers. They're the bankers and lawyers and various other middlemen who worry that bitcoin might eventually cut them out because of how it automatically creates a public record of who owns what — which is why they need to figure out how to use it first.

And the third are the cynics who want to capitalize on the current craze by pretending their businesses are really bitcoin ones, and bidding up the stocks of ones that do engage in such fancy. That, after all, is how such non-cutting edge companies as Kodak and the Long Island Iced Tea Company both managed to triple in value in a matter of days. It's just musical chairs for grown-ups: everyone knows this is nonsense, but everyone thinks they can be the second-to-last person to sell."
The bitcoin bubble is a joke, and you’re the punchline - The Washington Post

Facebook is done with quality journalism. Deal with it. (Monday Note)

From a timely Facebook + journalism reality check; also see Facebook’s startling new ambition is to shrink (The Verge)
"Facebook came up with glowing new products like Newsfeed, Instant Articles, and Facebook Live, providing silly advice for thriving on the platform (“Play on emotion, folks, users love it! — Hem, this might be difficult, we are business news providers…”). Facebook promised a deluge of eyeballs. Caught in the headlights, deer-like publishers silenced their mental warning that said to look deeper, and gave up loads of content in exchange for nearly nothing.

After investing significantly in dedicated teams to produce, promote, and strategize their presence on Facebook, publishers of editorial quality were left with hemorrhaging viewerships and a trickle of revenue. (A group of profusely funded media innovators like BuzzFeed, Vice and others —who cleverly designed their products to blend neatly into Facebook—started out doing well, but now face disappointment).

Those who imagined Las Vegas, now find themselves stuck in Detroit."
Facebook is done with quality journalism. Deal with it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Facebook Finally Blinks - The Atlantic

Final paragraphs from a Franklin Foer Facebook reality check

"Media will feel the sting, but it’s for the best. And on some level, media knows it. The hostile coverage of Silicon Valley these past few months reflects a certain psychodrama. For years, media has resented its dependence on Facebook and Google, yet it suppressed any vitriolic sentiments. These companies carried such cultural prestige, and media felt so enslaved to them, that it broadly restrained their venting of their complaints. With the election of Trump, all of media’s pent up rage came pouring into the opinion. It was suddenly acceptable to bash these companies. Every day, the big newspaper seemed to publish a new critical expose of them.  

But instead of clobbering Facebook one more time, media should now thank it. Facebook has just done media the biggest favor of them all. It has forced media to face the fact that digital advertising and ever-growing web traffic will never sustain the industry, especially if that traffic comes from monopolies like Facebook hoping to claim the entirety of digital advertising dollars for themselves. Media can’t deny this, but it doesn’t want to sustain the pain and heartbreak that comes with transition; and it’s reluctant to relent the notion that it might exploit Facebook to achieve global scale. Now, Zuckerberg has broken that too—and freed media from a delusion that it should have discarded long ago."
Facebook Finally Blinks - The Atlantic

Congress Renews FISA Warrantless Surveillance Bill For Six More Years | WIRED

Also see House Extends Surveillance Law, Rejecting New Privacy Safeguards (NYT)

"The spying initiatives Snowden brought to light are authorized under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which was set to expire later this month. On Thursday, Congress voted down an effort to reform Section 702, and instead passed a bill that expanded warrantless surveillance of US citizens and foreigners. The newly passed bill reauthorizes Section 702 for six years, long after President Trump’s first term in office will have expired.

The amendment that the House of Representatives shot down would have added significant privacy safeguards to the law, including the requirement that intelligence agents get a warrant in many cases before searching through emails and other digital communications belonging to US citizens. The bill Congress did pass, meanwhile, codifies some of the most troubling aspects of Section 702, according to privacy advocates. The legislation still needs to pass in the Senate, where fewer representatives are interested in significantly reforming the law."
Congress Renews FISA Warrantless Surveillance Bill For Six More Years | WIRED

GM Drops the Steering Wheel and Gives the Robot Driver Control - Bloomberg

Waymo might argue GM won't be first, but it's still a major mobility milestone; see GM Will Launch Robocars Without Steering Wheels Next Year (Wired) for more details; tangentially, see This car tech makes you a better driver by reading your mind. We gave it a test drive (Washington Post)
"When GM starts testing its autonomous electric sedan in San Francisco ride-sharing fleets, it’ll likely be the first production-ready car on the roads without the tools to let a human assume control. The announcement Friday is the first sign from a major carmaker that engineers have enough confidence in self-driving cars to let them truly go it alone.

“What’s really special about this is if you look back 20 years from now, it’s the first car without a steering wheel and pedals,” said Kyle Vogt, chief executive officer of Cruise Automation, the San Francisco-based unit developing the software for GM’s self-driving cars."
GM Drops the Steering Wheel and Gives the Robot Driver Control - Bloomberg

Facebook Overhauls News Feed to Focus on What Friends and Family Share - The New York Times

Also see this Mark Zuckerberg post and Media Organizations Grapple With the New Facebook (NYT)

"The shift is the most significant overhaul in years to Facebook’s News Feed, the cascading screen of content that people see when they log into the social network. Over the next few weeks, users will begin seeing fewer viral videos and news articles shared by media companies. Instead, Facebook will highlight posts that friends have interacted with — for example, a photo of your dog or a status update that many of them have commented on or liked.

The changes are intended to maximize the amount of content with “meaningful interaction” that people consume on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview. Facebook, he said, had closely studied what kinds of posts had stressed or harmed users. The social network wants to reduce what Mr. Zuckerberg called “passive content” — videos and articles that ask little more of the viewer than to sit back and watch or read — so that users’ time on the site was well spent.

“We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We need to refocus the system.”"
Facebook Overhauls News Feed to Focus on What Friends and Family Share - The New York Times

MSNBC and Recode Launch New Conversation Series to Air on MSNBC - Vox Media

See this Recode page for more details

"Today we’re thrilled to announce a new conversation series from MSNBC and Recode that will bring together leading thinkers across technology, business and politics through townhall-style conversations and one-on-one interviews and panel discussions. The series will air on MSNBC.

The inaugural event from the series, set to air January 19th, will focus on Google, YouTube, and will examine the potential challenges and successes of tech’s disruption of the workplace, and what it means for the future of the country. Co-hosts Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Ari Melber, will conduct in-depth interviews with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, each discussing their company’s activities and roles in job creation and preparing for the future of work, as well as the impact of the broader policy landscape."
MSNBC and Recode Launch New Conversation Series to Air on MSNBC - Vox Media

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Everything Your Google Home Can Do Is Now Listed on One Incredibly Useful Website (Lifehacker)

See the Google Assistant What it can do page for a skillful list
"If you picked up a Google Home over the holidays you may be wondering what it’s good for besides checking the weather and playing music. Google’s smart speakers may not boast as many third-party skills as Amazon’s Alexa, but there’s still a ton you can do.  
With that in mind, Google set up a new page where you can find everything its AI Assistant is capable. There are over “1 million things to try” according to Google, but to make things easy the list is broken down into categories like “Home control,” “Games & fun,” and “Productivity.” The main page also points to new and trending skills, along with a search bar in case you still can’t find what you’re looking for."
Everything Your Google Home Can Do Is Now Listed on One Incredibly Useful Website

Jeff Bezos: where the $106bn man belongs on the all-time rich list | Business | The Guardian

And then there's Putin...

"Officially, he is the richest man on the planet – the latest in a list of plutocrats stretching all the way back to Croesus, the king of Lydia in the 6th century BC who was so rich he had an expression name after him. Only once before has one man been worth twelve figures, when Bill Gates’s fortune hit its peak of $100bn at the height of the dotcom bubble in 1999. Bezos overtook Gates last year and the gap has widened almost daily.

Even so, the impact of inflation means Bezos is not the richest man who ever lived. He is not even the richest American who ever lived: that title would go to one of the titans of US industry from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller and Henry Ford all amassed fortunes that would make the Amazon founder a relative pauper once rising prices were taken into account."
Jeff Bezos: where the $106bn man belongs on the all-time rich list | Business | The Guardian

Google’s Assistant, Chasing Alexa, Is Said to Plan Revamped Consumer Push - Bloomberg

Also see CES 2018: Amazon Alexa v Google Assistant fight gets fierce (BBC)

"Google’s new Assistant strategy is said to emulate one of Apple’s key advantages: A recognizable suite of consumer products. While Amazon is eager to market its Echo devices, people who spoke to the company said at CES that its primary objective for Alexa is to drive more sales and traffic back into its Prime subscription service and e-commerce mothership.

That tactic was evident in Amazon’s logic for offering Alexa on products that compete with the Echo speakers, like speakers from Sonos. “A lot of our partners sell on Amazon," said Rabuchin, the Alexa vice president. "We’re happy if someone picks a Sonos one over one of our devices. They still sign in as an Amazon customer.”"
Google’s Assistant, Chasing Alexa, Is Said to Plan Revamped Consumer Push - Bloomberg

New York City sues Shell, ExxonMobil and other oil companies over climate change - The Washington Post

Also see To Fight Climate Change, New York City Takes On Oil Companies (NYT)

"The suit, filed Tuesday against BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, claims the companies together produced 11 percent of all of global-warming gases through the oil and gas products they have sold over the years. It also charges that the companies and the industry they are part of have known for some time about the consequences but sought to obscure them.

“In this litigation, the City seeks to shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat,” reads the lawsuit, brought by New York corporation counsel Zachary Carter and filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York."
New York City sues Shell, ExxonMobil and other oil companies over climate change - The Washington Post

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What a $4,000 Treadmill Means for the Future of Gadgets - The New York Times

One of many comments on the article: "I wish someone made bikes that could be ridden outside. Wait. What?"
"In an industry dominated by smartphone apps, cloud services and cheap knockoffs, hardware companies have had a hard time getting traction. But Peloton said it did nearly $400 million in sales last year, up from about $170 million in 2016, and said it planned to reach profitability this year. It’s done all this on the strength of a singular insight: The gadget itself isn’t as important as the service. 
Peloton does not sell just a simple piece of hardware. Instead, the company spent tens of millions of dollars creating an inviting experience, complete with brand-ambassador celebrities and high-end retail locations. At the core of its business is a beguiling online service: Get on the bike, turn on the screen, and you are instantly connected with live fitness classes tailored to your preferences and athletic abilities. It’s like having a personal trainer who comes to your house whenever you like."
What a $4,000 Treadmill Means for the Future of Gadgets - The New York Times

Amazon's Alexa Voice Assistant Coming to Toyota's Cars This Year - Bloomberg

Tangentially, see Alexa is eating Siri's lunch at CES 2018, and HomePod isn't going to make a difference (Macworld)
"The world’s largest online retailer is seeking to remain in constant contact with customers by making its Alexa platform and Echo digital assistants as ubiquitous as possible. Amazon has similar arrangements with other carmakers, and in November it announced a suite of voice-activated work tools to bring Alexa to the office.

Toyota Motor Corp. joins Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Nissan Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Daimler AG, BMW AG and Ford Motor Co. in either letting Alexa into their vehicles or integrating the voice service into the connectivity systems that link customers’ cars and mobile phones. It’s a noteworthy development for the Japanese company because it’s been resistant to other big tech giants. The carmaker hasn’t offered Apple Inc.’s CarPlay or Alphabet Inc.’s Android Auto on its touchscreens."
Amazon's Alexa Voice Assistant Coming to Toyota's Cars This Year - Bloomberg

Microsoft Says Chip Fix May Significantly Slow Some Servers - Bloomberg

Actual results may vary

"Microsoft cautioned in a blog post that servers, the computers that underpin corporate networks, used for certain tasks may show "more significant impact." Not all servers will be affected, it said. Microsoft, which didn’t provide specific numbers, said it is testing a variety of systems and will update users on what it finds.

PCs running Windows 10 and sold since 2016 will face slowdowns of less than 10 percent, which Microsoft said will probably not be noticeable to users. Customers with older Windows 10 PCs will notice some slowness because those machines contain older chips. Machines running Windows 7 and Windows 8 from 2015 or earlier will be the most affected with users noticing a decrease in system performance, Microsoft said."
Microsoft Says Chip Fix May Significantly Slow Some Servers - Bloomberg

Timeline 2018: tracking bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies – Wikitribune

Check the full article for an ongoing *coin reality check

"Bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies in general can be expected to be even more significant this year after surging in prominence, value and importance over the past year.

Proponents see blockchain as the future of security. They see bitcoin and its like as a revolution in stores of value. Others see a bubble in the making. Either way, we’re determined to track the subject – several of our most popular stories last year were about cryptocurrencies. Help us build this timeline of the major or just intriguing developments in bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies."
Timeline 2018: tracking bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies – Wikitribune

CES 2018: Kodak soars on KodakCoin and Bitcoin mining plans - BBC News

See this Kodak page for more details; also see Kodak Last-Gasp Hope: KodakCoin (NYT)
"Shares in photo firm Eastman Kodak soared nearly 120% after it revealed plans to mint its own crypto-currency, the KodakCoin.

The US firm said it was teaming up with London-based Wenn Media Group to carry out the initial coin offering (ICO).

It is part of a blockchain-based initiative to help photographers control their image rights."
CES 2018: Kodak soars on KodakCoin and Bitcoin mining plans - BBC News