Jan 09, 2017

all the news that's fit to print

What happened to “all the news that’s fit to print?” Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes calling out Trump for bullying a Times reporter was clearly news. Did the Times need to call Trump to get his response? Sure. Did they need to print it? No. Because his response was not news.

Jason Kottke nails it in his post this morning:

Is it newsworthy, what he thought of Streep’s remarks? Unless he agrees with her and plans to honestly reevaluate how he treats others when he speaks, I would argue it’s not at all worth printing what’s essentially a Trump press release full of bullshit. And news outlets that actually care about the truth and not just printing spin should stop doing it.

I can’t watch television news anymore, but I have to wonder if anyone is pairing Trump’s tweets this morning with the clip of him from his rally in November.

Aug 27, 2014

dead to me

Vox: Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?. To crib @savedyouaclick, No. But if you can’t get enough of David Chase, then Martha Nochisom’s whole piece is worth reading.

Chase wasn’t just playing with our heads when he designed the conclusion of The Sopranos; he was part of the ongoing evolution of the American imagination. When he embeds his gangster story with both his love of detail and his fascination with Poe, he is infusing a popular genre with the mysteries of the two persistent though contradictory tributaries of American letters: one beginning with the pragmatism of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, filled with his many lists of things to do and things done; the other the dream-haunted stories and poetry of the American Romantics. This double face of America the doer and America the dreamer shimmers behind the basic premise of The Sopranos.

This is all great, but I don’t care what Chase says now, because Tony’s dead to me. That final scene is now and forever will be a dream-haunted story of a blood-spattered diner.

Jun 03, 2014

battery feedback loops

iOS 8 to Include Battery Usage Per App:

Along with the features that were demoed on stage, an iOS 8 graphic displayed some additional functions that went largely under the radar, many of which look quite interesting. For example, iOS 8 will apparently display battery usage by app, a handy feature that will let users monitor the battery drain of specific apps, shutting down those that are drawing too much power.

The product purist in me says “this is something that the user should never have to worry about. Why would any normal human ever want to monitor how much juice an individual app is using?” And herein lies the difference between want and need. Battery life isn’t scaling with Moore, and knowing when you’re going to need to tether your phone to a wall or a larger battery is something that has a real (world) impact on the life of the user. You don’t want to know the details of how your apps are sucking power, but you need to know.

And I think this will also drive some market feedback around power consumption. Making this visible to the end user – even if it’s only the power user who pays attention (pun not intended but not corrected) – will potentially drive power consumption feedback into app ratings. (“1 star, had to kill because this thing was KILLING MY BATTERY!!!”) Developers will hate these reviews, but it could force them to pay more attention to power consumption. feedback loops in development tools are one thing, feedback loops in the market are another.

May 27, 2014

four links, may 27

Maciej’s talk for Beyond Tellerand. “These big collections of personal data are like radioactive waste. It’s easy to generate, easy to store in the short term, incredibly toxic, and almost impossible to dispose of. Just when you think you’ve buried it forever, it comes leaching out somewhere unexpected.”

A head-shaking correction in the Times’ Upshot, in a post about Piketty’s use of spreadsheets. “An earlier draft version of this article, which drew a different conclusion about Thomas Piketty’s use of spreadsheets, was initially posted in error.” I’d love to see the email thread about this one.

danah boyd: Selling Out is Meaningless. “These teens are not going to critique their friends for being sell-outs because they’ve already been sold out by the adults in their world. These teens want freedom and it’s our fault that they don’t have it except in commercial spaces.” Note: I started to tell my 13 y/o at dinner about this post, and her first question was “what do you mean, ‘sell out?’” And then this happened…

…which in my mind is completely related to this point that danah was making:

Rather than relying on the radio for music recommendations, they turn to YouTube and share media content through existing networks, undermining industrial curatorial control. As a result, I constantly meet teens whose sense of the music industry is radically different than that of peers who live next in the next town over.

Zach Baron’s profile of 50 Cent, via kottke. every little bit is quotable, but I’ll pull this:

He represented a vision of street-oriented realness that not enough people cared about anymore, even if his fan base wouldn’t let him be anything but that. “I even saw when keeping it real—like, that concept or that phrase ‘keeping it real’—went out of style. Now it’s like, it doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that it sounds good.”

Even if it’s fake…oh, never mind.

May 22, 2014

not quite muzak

Nate Patrin at Pitchfork has a great link-ridden piece on The Strange World of Library Music:

If there’s such a thing as ephemeral music, this is it—recordings that were meant for a certain moment and usually filed away when that moment has passed, when Hammond B3s make way for synths, or disco rhythms turn passe after the rise of new wave. They give us a picture of the way day-to-day music sounded decades ago, outside either the bounds of pop-chart aspirations or the critically-acclaimed underground.

I love the idea of listening to the evolution of music genres through the background music of workday produced television, radio, commercials. It’s the “not quite muzak,” the soundtrack that invades your head while you’re paying attention to other things.

May 21, 2014

metafilter & google

Matt Haughey lays it all out re. the current state and future of Metafilter. There is a lot of heartbreak in his post; I haven’t been active on Metafilter for years, but I appreciate and admire the community that Matt and his team have worked so hard to cultivate and grow. Like, really hard:

We have a total of over ten million comments across on all our sites combined and we spend so much time and energy tracking the few problem comments down that I would be hard-pressed to find even a single public comment that could be considered comment spam.

Which makes Google sending emails to domain owners (who in turn email Matt) complaining about “inorganic links” on Mefi so frustrating.

Every time I investigate these “unnatural link” claims, I find a comment by a longtime member of MetaFilter in good standing trying to help someone out, usually trying to identify something on Ask MetaFilter. In the course of explaining things, they’ll often do a search for examples of what they’re describing and include those for people asking a question. Whatever was #1 in Google for “crawlspace vent covers” in a question of “How to reduce heating costs in the Winter?” might show up, and now years later, the owners of sites that actively gamed Google to get that #1 spot at the time are trying to clean up their act but unfortunately I have a feeling MetaFilter is suffering as collateral damage in the process.

May 21, 2014

a cell network for things

MIT Technology Review: Silicon Valley to get a Cellular Network Just for Things:

[SigFox] will use the unlicensed 915-megahertz spectrum band commonly used by cordless phones. Objects connected to SigFox’s network can operate at very low power but will be able to transmit at only 100 bits per second—slower by a factor of 1,000 than the networks that serve smartphones.

Reminds me that my favorite connected thing was the Ambient Orb from Ambient Devices. It launched in 2002 (I think I bought one in 2004), well before the mass adoption of wifi. It used the pager network for data. Slow but reliable, and always available.

Mar 13, 2014

indexing apps

Interesting Wall Street Journal piece: Google Searches for Role in App Age. Key graf:

Google in the fall launched an initiative to better see—and direct—what smartphone and tablet users do on their devices. The effort seeks to mimic what Google built on the Web, with an index of the content inside mobile apps and links pointing to that content featured in Google’s search results on smartphones.

This is smart and useful of course, because there very well may be content / functionality that’s locked up inside an app on your phone that would be the perfect result for your search query. But the comparison to what Google built on the web is missing the point: the wondrous thing about the GoogleBot was that it didn’t index what was on your desktop PC, it indexed what was out there on the web and brought it directly to you.

Imagine the equivalent for apps: queries (intent-based or context-based) that return results full of rich content and services from apps, even if they aren’t installed on your phone. To do this, Google / Apple would at least need…

  1. A mechanism for developers to expose those types of app experiences. Think widgets; they’d be the investment equivalent of SEO on the web.
  2. The equivalent of the GoogleBot and PageRank for apps. The index space is finite and known (Google and Apple own the app stores, remember); but they would probably need to be running those apps (interesting virtualization problem at scale) to know what results would be most appropriate to deliver.
  3. Knowledge of the searching user to personalize results. The best result for a query about the SF Giants may be different for me (more serious baseball fan) than someone in the UK; thus, deliver the MLB app snippet over the ESPN app snippet. There’s plenty of context about the user available from the phone…
  4. A UX framework for delivering these to users at the right time (i.e. intent- or context-based queries). Google Now or Siri, anyone?

As Benedict Evans pointed out last year, The Google Play and iOS App Stores are today’s equivalent of the Yahoo directory circa 1997. We’re blessed with 21st century device capabilities (audio, video, sound, location, motion, identity, etc.), but stuck with 20th century application distribution. In other words, how long until Google Now and Siri get opened up to every developer in the app stores?

Feb 18, 2014

who do you want your customers to become?

In addition to being good at other things, Stewart Butterfield writes good memo. His email to the @slackhq team is an instant add to the product management canon. Here’s the bit that stuck out for me:

A central thesis is that all products are asking things of their customers: to do things in a certain way, to think of themselves in a certain way — and usually that means changing what one does or how one does it; it often means changing how one thinks of oneself.

When you’re in the thick of validating your market and writing briefs and and working with engineers and designers and hitting your sprints, it’s hard to remember to be asking this question: Who do you want your customers to become? Can you imagine your customers as better people, thanks to your product? Is the work you’re doing right now helping those customers become better versions of themselves?

Aug 14, 2013

on bustle

Bryan Goldberg:

Maybe we need a destination that is powered by the young women who currently occupy the bottom floors at major publishing houses.

Amidst all the chatter about the inanity / insanity of Goldberg’s PandoDaily post, this is the bit that stuck out for me. My first thought after skimming Goldberg’s piece was “well, he’ll have a hell of a time recruiting a good editor-in-chief now…who in their right mind would join Bustle after this?” But remember, his DNA is Bleacher Report, which was built on a community of distributed contributors covering individual teams. Bleacher worked because they rode the blog wave, surfing on the backs of geographically distributed fans who were writing about their local pro / college / high school football / baseball / basketball / soccer teams. The natural hierarchy of the sports media market meant that an individual contributor with a strong voice in a local market could get “famous” through B/R by covering games, spouting off about their local team, and slagging their rivals.

I don’t think Goldberg can run the same play here (to abuse a metaphor). The content structure isn’t the same (sports > leagues > cities > teams), and, frankly, the world’s moved on from the B/R model. The “young women who currently occupy the bottom floors at major publishing houses” don’t need a Bustle for exposure — they’re already doing it through Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. And without a strong editorial voice & vision at the top of the masthead (which would now be nearly impossible to recruit) what’s left to attract those young women to power the site? $6.5mm won’t buy you high quality content for long…just ask The Daily.

May 25, 2012

on black box

If you missed it, Jennifer Egan and The New Yorker started serializing her new short story "Black Box" on Twitter tonight, coming from the @NYerFiction account. Earlier today, Egan posted a bit on the backstory:

Several of my long-standing fictional interests converged in the writing of “Black Box.” One involves fiction that takes the form of lists; stories that appear to be told inadvertently, using a narrator’s notes to him or herself. ... I’d also been wondering about how to write fiction whose structure would lend itself to serialization on Twitter. This is not a new idea, of course, but it’s a rich one—because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters.

She wrote the story in a notebook that is probably intended for sketching storyboards...but whose black boxes now just look like textareas.

The 140 character limit necessarily impacts her prose and the story she's telling. But what I love is how Twitter turns each of the "narrator's notes" into individual, addressable objects, each with a social life of its own. I haven't pulled stats on every Tweet, but just eyeballing it, several hours after the initial delivery of Tweets the line with the most social heat (RTs and favorites) appears to be this one...

Followed closely by this one:

(I don't disagree.)

At first blush, having this reaction data isn't much different than viewing the most highlighted passages on a Kindle. But the difference is that this is happening in real time, in public, connected to identity, and has the potential to be conversational. And there were a few intrepid readers who were willing to break the fourth wall and talk back to the story. Here are two of my favorites...

On discovering that our story's protagonist was on the beach, @bklynreader shared her weekend plans:

And when the story took a particularly adult twist, @Chocolatemama38 seemed a bit caught off guard:

Egan says that it took a year to "control and calibrate" the story she's now tweeting; her tight prose doesn't exactly invite replies. But the shift into Twitter is a truly modern serialization technique; there's more going on here than simply contemporary fiction meted out 140 characters at a time.

May 02, 2012

helping the kids think about infinity

The "all the grains of sand on all the beaches" metaphor is played out. What we need are some new ways to help kids think about infinity. Here are a few that I might use with mine.

  • Every pixel in every billboard, television, computer monitor, checkout terminal, tablet and smartphone.
  • Every JPG, PNG or GIF (static or animated) image shared on Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. Including the automatically cropped versions, resized versions and cached copies (whether at a CDN, ISP or in your browser). And all the pixels in those images.
  • Every beep after which you are supposed to leave a message. Every time you’ve pressed pound to continue. Every breath taken while waiting on hold.
  • Every email, instant message, text message, private message or direct message sent from one loved one to another. Or from one colleague to another. Or from a loved one to a colleague.
  • Every spam that’s been caught by filters. Or not.
  • Every bit of every stream or download delivered by iTunes, Netflix and Spotify.
  • Every event written to a log. Every click, keypress or browser event captured by Google Analytics. Every purchase signal captured by Amazon. Every like, friend request, comment or poke on Facebook. Every display ad impression.
  • Every keyboard press, screen tap and mouse click made by people. Or pets, accidentally. And every processor cycle spent waiting for that input.


Mar 09, 2012

the silence of mike daisey

Reading the transcript of the Retraction episode of This American Life is one thing; listening to it is another. The most interesting bits were the silences, not only because Daisey is so clearly uncomfortable answering the questions, but also because we’ve been trained as radio listeners to abhor silence — it makes us incredibly uncomfortable.

So here is my edit of the most relevant moments of Retraction.

Feb 29, 2012

competing v. fulfilling expectations

I was listening to an episode of The Talk Show (I know, I know…) with Chairman Gruber and John Siracusa on the way to work this morning, the one where they talk about Mountain Lion. A good part of the discussion was about just who Apple is competing with on the PC operating system front. The general consensus that it wasn’t Microsoft any longer, but instead Google. That Mountain Lion + iCloud competes with Google (w/apps) + Android.

I have a slightly different take. I’m sure Apple thinks about the customer experience of Mountain Lion + iCloud v. Google + Android or Windows 8 + Skydrive. But I don’t think that competition is what’s driving them. Instead, I have a feeling they’re working with Mountain Lion to fulfill user expectations that they’re setting with their mobile platform. More and more people are coming to the Mac because of iPhone and iPad, so what Apple’s doing on the Mac + iCloud is developing features that fulfill on the user expectations that are being set by their other products. Even though you’re using a laptop (which is a very different device from a phone), of course it should be as easy to use. And of course your calendar syncs. And your contacts and mail and reminders. And your photos, videos and media. And of course you’ll be able to trust the applications they help you discover and install on your Mac, just like you’re able to trust the applications they help you discover and install on your iPhone and iPad.

This does build a competitive product, of course. But what they’re doing is using each part of their platform — mobile device, Mac, iCloud — to ratchet up the quality of the customer experience, piece by piece. And then bringing the other pieces in line, fulfilling user expectations. “Of course it should work like this.”

Jan 20, 2012

status updates

Jan 19, 2012

notes on pandodaily

I've been enjoying PandoDaily this week; kudos to Sarah Lacy. (Disclosure: I've enjoyed her chicken[1].) I am seriously impressed with how much great content they've produced in these first few days, and it only goes to prove just how wrong Jeremiah Owyang was three weeks ago when he declared the golden age of tech blogging over.

Here's what I think is working for Pando:

  • Simple site, simple launch. Yep, it's a blog. Reverse chron, nice author pics, comments, simple sections with simple nav. There was no need to go all Verge-y with v1: get the voice out there, start producing content, see what works, adjust.

  • Smart, fast commentary. In tech blogging, fast used to be a differentiator; it isn't anymore. And smart usually takes enough time to render the opinion moot[2]. But Sarah's delivering smart stuff, fast. If she can keep it up, she'll start to set the context for the broader conversation..

  • The ticker. Not only is it smart to mix short form and long form, but the old school blogger in me loves the sidebar linkblog format. And it's refreshing to see links! To other sites! With credit!

  • The editorial philosophy. The name may be awkward ("But wait, where's the cute panda logo?? Oh, PandOOOO..."), but it means something. "What really matters is what happens below," Sarah writes in her intro blog post. Couldn't agree more, and even in the saturated land of tech media that kind of coverage will fill a hole and find an audience.

PandoMedia angel investor[3] and board member Andrew Anker (disclosure: I've enjoyed his Giants tickets and other forms of largesse, professional and otherwise[1]) writes in his blog post about the Pando launch:

Media sites make for inherently cyclical, constantly transforming businesses where you’re only as good as the last story you pushed out. The people who contribute are the ultimate product — the media are just the messages.

Emphasis mine. We watch The Daily Show for Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report for Colbert, the Late Show for Letterman, etc. We're watching Pando because it's Sarah. And to take it all the way around, we're really watching Pando because it's Sarah watching us.

[1] Yes, you can consider these awkward jokes on the constant PandDisclosure-ing.

[2] Ahem.

[3] Speaking of investment, for those keeping score at home the $2.5 million Pando raised is equal to 50 Classicals.

Jan 19, 2012

everything and nothing

When I visit the beach I come back with pictures of the kids and sand in my shoes. When Kevin Kelly visits the beach he comes back with blog posts like this one, A Whole Lot of Nothing:

Water is made of oxygen and hydrogen. What is a oxygen atom made of? Not oxygen, but of smaller particles, like protons and electrons. And what are they made of? Mostly space. ... I know the monks on the tops of mountains have been saying the real world is immaterial for eons, but the difference is that now we say can it precisely, and in such a scientific way that we can predict what else we should see if this view is correct. So far we can't use ordinary words to describe what this fundamental intangible is.

I'm enjoying Kevin's blog immensely lately; see also his previous post We Are Stardust.

Jan 17, 2012

here's to cognitive dissonance

I like what Jason has to say in reaction to Matt's post about his bad Kickstarter experience. Worth quoting at length...

Shipping a product or app is hard. It requires experience, hard work, and a little luck. But providing effective and genuine customer service might be even harder because you just have sit there, take it, and react well under pressure over and over and over. The entrepreneur side of your brain is saying "this is a great product and I am proud of it and anyone who says otherwise is wrong and I will show them and succeed" and sometimes customer service is acknowledging publicly and repeatedly the exact opposite thing...that the product isn't meeting needs, you are right, we will fix it, and thank you sir may I have another? That's a lot of potential cognitive dissonance!

If one were to dramatically over simplify the two extreme approaches to managing products, one would be "have a vision and stick to it," the other would be "listen to the market and react quickly." As always, the real world is made somewhere in the middle, but not always at the same point in the middle. Not only are different approaches required for different types of products, but also at different points in a product's life cycle. But more often than not, product people* live in that land of cognitive dissonance. As Jason points out, if you can find the place where pride and humility not only balance each other but work together to move the product forward...that's magic.

* Defined expansively here to include product managers, designers, engineers, marketers, support people, bus dev, sales people...the entire team that it takes to deliver on a product's potential.

Dec 07, 2011

still not journalists

I can't believe we're still having this argument...and losing. Headline on Time.com: Oregon Court Rules Blogging Isn't Journalism (tastefully illustrated with a Getty Images stock photo of the words "blog blog" coming out of an antique typewriter).

See also this afternoon's stream of tweets from Gothamist's Jake Dobkin. Presented in chronological order...

Today's update: I filed the official appeal on my (2nd!) denied application. And Norm is also going to talk w/the city's attorneys. #

At this rate, I'm almost certain to have a press pass before @gothamist's 15th anniversay in 2018! #

I don't understand how @MikeBloomberg can claim NYC is friendly to startups, when @gothamist still can't get a press pass after 7 years. #

We're a NYC born and bred media startup that employs more than twenty-five people. We work hard to deliver original content every day. #

Last month we had 2.5MM unique readers in New York City. But the @nypdnews tells me we're not a real news organization. That's just wrong. #

But how can we be expected to deliver more original content if we're denied the same access mainstream news organizations take for granted? #

I just can't believe that it's going to take a lawsuit to get us the same basic treatment newspapers, radio, and TV stations get every day. #

So next time someone accuses a blog of aggregating- ask yourself, how can they avoid aggr without all the tools to produce original posts? #

We've democratized the tools of content production, distribution and monetization to the point where Jake can build a sustainable media business that employs 25 people and reaches millions of readers. But as Jake rightly points out, the set of "tools" he needs to run his business go beyond a CMS, a CDN and some SEO. It also includes tools that give his contributors access.

Nov 16, 2011

a life's work in toothpicks and ping pong balls

Via things, Scott Weaver's 35 year project to build this kinetic sculpture of San Francisco out of toothpicks and pingpong balls.

Weaver writes on his site:

I have used different brands of toothpicks depending on what I am building. I also have many friends and family members that collect toothpicks in their travels for me. For example, some of the trees in Golden Gate Park are made from toothpicks from Kenya, Morocco, Spain, West Germany and Italy. The heart inside the Palace of Fine Arts is made out of toothpicks people threw at our wedding.

If you just skimmed his quote, go read it again. Especially that last bit.