Archive for the ‘Web 2.0 (Observations)’ Category

Microsoft Bob, the spiritual great-grandfather of Siri?

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

The Guardian’s Ben Beaumont-Thomas talks to the team inside Microsoft who developed Comic Sans, and while the big takeaway is that the font was inspired by ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ is this little gem to rewrite history:

My job was to match products to fonts, sort of like a marriage broker. Comic Sans was designed for Microsoft Bob, which in many ways was a precursor to Cortana or Siri – for people who had problems with computers.

Presumably the Office Paperclip heralded Alexa?

Why Do I Write What I Think About Technology?

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Tomorrow the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will be released to the public. For some reason Apple has never offered me the hardware to review ahead of a public launch, so I’ll be very close to the front of the line. After the purchase I’ll start reviewing the handset online, with my first impressions at the end of the day and a more refined review a week or two later.

Thinking about how to review the device has sent me down an interesting mental path, partly because of the reaction to the existing coverage of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. How should a technology journalist report and review a new hardware release?

There is a school of thought that a reporter should be covering just the facts, reporting these fixed details to the reader, and leaving them to make their own mind up. The arguments presented by the company should be taken as ‘the one true answer’ and that the only arbiter of a success will be sales, rather than the analysis of a thousand web monkeys at their Macbeth inspired keyboards.

The other side of the argument is that the facts are nothing more than a starting point. The thinking from the manufacturer and the idyllic view presented should be challenged and questioned. Decisions made in the design process should be questioned, and through this questioning the strength of the device will become clearer to the reader.

Naturally the latter will always input some bias from the writer (or the video producer, podcaster, whoever) because their understanding around the decisions made will colour the article. I have my biases, as do others. Those who are familiar with my writing will know where I see technology going and how that impacts on a device.

For me, covering the technology scene has never been about repeating the corporate line, declaring everything new to be magical, and cheerleading the courageous decisions being made. The comfortable corporate facts are the starting point. I see my role as informing people of those facts, providing context, questioning decisions, conveying how I see this all fitting together in an entertaining way, and allowing my readers to see multiple angles to make educated decisions on a subject if they wish.

Facts are good, but facts are the starting point of a longer journey. That’s what I write about, and that’s how I cover my beat. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. But tens of thousands of people every day are happy to read my words, and for that I am thankful.

And with that said, on to the iPhone 7 review.

Sony Wins The iPhone 7 Content War

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

I’m not sure if Sony’s decision to reveal the new PlayStation hardware today and force a head-to-head with Apple’s reveal of the iPhone 7 family is a suicidal marketing move or a tactical masterstroke, but I’m leaning towards the latter.

Although the iPhone is going to dominate the digital pages (and is likely to make the main evening news bulletins on television and radio around the world) there’s always going to be a hunger for the story that isn’t about Tim Cook showing off a new iPhone that looks and acts remarkably like last year’s iPhone. With the reveal of the PlayStation Slim, the PlayStation Neo, and details on a new DualShock controller and the PlayStation VR headset Sony has put together everything a technology reporter needs for a solid piece of counter-programming.

To take one practical example, I’ve written extensively about the iPhone 7 in the run up to today’s launch. I’ve got a number of angles that I want to explore after the launch, about the ebb and flow of Apple and its iPhones taking on Google and the Samsung Galaxy family, the slowing speed of progress, and the practicality of the iPhone design and the missing headphone jack.

But not today.

Every tech site has lined up iPhone coverage, every second stringer has an opinion hoping to strike it lucky today, every mainstream media publication will become an expert on all things Cupertino, and the fabric of online news will get gummed up. Today is the day to forget about the page views, to have some fun, and let others chase for a single gold medal. I picked up my medals last week and I know there’s a better chance of picking up more next week.

If I really must file some copy, I’m not going near the news from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Thanks, Sony.

Apple, the iPhone 7, and assuming Taniyama-Shimura

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

There’s an Apple event next week, but anyone who follows tech news online knows that already. They have also read what Apple is announcing, even though Apple has confirmed absolutely nothing about the event. And the great thing about the tech reporting industry is that everyone is cool with that.

I find it curious that this attitude follows one of the great ‘I hope this is right’ moments of 20th century mathematics. In 1955, a presentation by Yutaka Taniyama and Goro Shimura proposed that every elliptic curve had a modular form. Every mathematician was confident that the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture was correct, even though nobody could prove it. Acres of mathematical theory were built on a foundation that started with the words ‘Assuming Taniyama-Shimura…’, and every accepted that they were trusting a hunch.

For the record, it was eventually proved and is now known as the Modularity theorem.

If everyone believes something, then (a) of course it is true and (b) if it turns out to be wrong then everyone is wrong and nobody suffers any disadvantage. Taniyama-Shimura was a get out of jail card to speculate on something that you don’t have confirmation of is probably true and you want to go ahead and do it anyway.

The same issue crops up when I write about the smartphone industry in general, and Apple in particular. We all know what’s coming, it’s not confirmed, and if we’re wrong, we’re all wrong together and it doesn’t matter.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why my iPhone 7 coverage over the last few months is littered with  phrase ‘assuming Taniyama-Shimura’.

Apple Can Respond When It Wants To

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Early last week a design flaw with the iPhone 6 was published by iFixit and picked up by the media. To my eyes the removal of underfill in the IC board construction along with placing chips along a stressful point in the iPhone cause was causing chips to come loose from the main logic board.

Apple did not explain what was happening.

Then three zero-day exploits of iOS came to light that would allow an iPhone to be jailbroken and have malware installed came to the world’s attention. A n update to iOS was rolled out with the notes that it was about security.

Apple did not explain what was happening.

Now the European Commission has suggested to the Irish tax authorities that it might have worked out Apple’s tax bill incorrectly because it believed it was short 13 billion Euros.

Apple came out all guns blazing.

Good to see that there are some circumstances when Apple will provide comment.

When Silicon Meets Valley

Friday, June 10th, 2016

New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz goes behind the scenes at the TV show ‘Silicon Valley’ and finds out that yet another TV sitcom is based heavily on the real work. It’s just that Silicon Valley is surprised when it gets an accurate portrayal in the media world.

Dotan called his compression expert, Tsachy Weissman, an engineering professor at Stanford. “He spent hours walking me through the very dense history of lossless compression,” Dotan said. “The way I understood it, basically, was that Claude Shannon, in 1948, worked on compressing files from the top down, using coding trees, whereas David Huffman, a few years later, approached it from the bottom up.” He made a PowerPoint presentation about this and delivered it to Judge and Berg. “They thought about it for a while, and then they said, ‘You mentioned top-down and bottom-up. What about starting in the middle of the data set and working from the middle out?’ So I asked Tsachy, ‘What about middle-out? Is that a thing?’ He didn’t say, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ He said, ‘That’s intriguing, actually. It might work.’”

New Yorker.

The VR voice you need to listen to

Monday, March 28th, 2016

You’re going to read a lot about Virtual Reality over the next few months and years. Today saw the Occulus Rift VR headset reach the public (although only those who pre-purchased, don’t go looking on a store shelf for it just yet). Lots of people are going to be exploring this space, many have changed careers to do so, but most people just want a voice that can cut through it all with enthusiasm and joie de vivre.

Like this:

One of the most common criticisms I see leveled against VR is that it’s only capable of delivering vertical slices of games, or gimmicky set pieces. That VR simply can’t provide the complete, polished, and immersive game experiences we’re accustomed to on PC, consoles, and handhelds. Even though modern VR is still in its infancy, there are already a number of games to counter that argument. One of them — Lucky’s Tale — will come bundled for free when the Oculus Rift launches on March 28 [today].

With the caveat that he’s a Forbes contributor like myself, you need to bookmark Jason Evangelho for the new world.

The reality of living from YouTube earnings

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

It’s hard. Really hard. Unless you can get right to the top of the pile, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to live from social media video views. At least that’s the viewpoint of Gaby Dunn in a sobering article on the business of vlogging:

I’m 27 years old and have been building an online following for 10 years, beginning with a popular Livejournal I wrote in high school. A couple of years ago, after moving to Los Angeles, I made the transition from freelance writing to creating online video. The channel I have with my best friend Allison Raskin, Just Between Us, has more than half a million subscribers and a hungry fan base. We’re a two-person video creation machine. When we’re not producing and starring in a comedy sketch and advice show, we’re writing the episodes, dealing with business contracts and deals, and running our company Gallison, LLC, which we registered officially about a month ago.\

And yet, despite this success, we’re just barely scraping by. Allison and I make money from ads that play before our videos, freelance writing and acting gigs, and brand deals on YouTube and Instagram. But it’s not enough to live, and its influx is unpredictable. Our channel exists in that YouTube no-man’s-land: Brands think we’re too small to sponsor, but fans think we’re too big for donations.

Ninety-nine-one is everywhere in technology

Monday, December 14th, 2015

I’ve always been aware of the 90/9/1 split in terms of creating online content (ninety percent of people consume content, nine percent will interact with content, and one percent will create content) but I’ve never looked to see how it carries over into other areas of the geekerati’s world.

Thankfully Charles Arthur has.

What do operating systems, browsers and search engines all have in common? It seems to be a ratio of 90:9:1 between the key players. One player dominates; then others get a minimal share.

Take mobile OSs: This week the Mozilla Foundation pulled the plug on Firefox OS – the mobile OS which could have replaced native apps with HTML-based apps – a final death throe in the mobile OS wars. There are now three main platforms – Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone – for which worldwide shipments are currently running in a ratio of about 85:14:1 respectively.

Now look at desktop OS sales: the ratio stands in the most recent quarter at about 91:8:1 between Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s Mac OSX, and “self-build” machines which probably get Linux.

Fortune asks “Is Gary Vaynerchuk For Real?”

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

One of the few instances when Betteridge’s Law fails. Still, Vaynerchuk now has a title for his next book.

Writing about feeling a great disturbance in the Internet

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Why does every online publication pile on and (re)write the same popular story, asks Pando’s David Holmes:

If you’ve spent any time consuming “content” today, you know that a new trailer is out for J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars” reboot. You know it because virtually every news site on the planet, including Huffington PostCNNthe VergeWiredForbes, and ABC News, has “written” about it in a mad dash for those delicious Internet clicks.

Those “delicious internet clicks” are clicks you know you are going to get. As a content producer when you have stories you know are going to generate income that take a relatively short amount of time to write, you are leaving yourself more time to write up more in-depth stories that might not be as attractive to advertisers, but are more attractive to readers.

Posting a story on a popular movie trailer in effect finances the journalism you want to see on your favourite sites.

Twitter’s archival search lets you find history… such as the very first hashtag

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

We all knew that it was Chris Messina, and Chris had a good idea of what the tweet was, but here it is.

?@chrismessina 23 Aug 2007
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?

Graphs that explain the internet…. Buzzfeed

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Todd Schneider tracks the Reddit front-page, the stories that reach it, and the stories in pages two, three, four, and beyond. Unsurprisinly (to me) the Reddit front page is far from ‘automatic’ but has a decent level of editorial control, as can be seen from the step-change in the graph showing the position of the Top 100 posts hour by hour.

That got me wondering: if a post is on reddit’s second (or third, or fourth) page, what are the chances that it’ll make it to the first page? reddit shows 25 posts per page by default, and at some point I saw my post was at the #26 rank – the very top of the second page, only one spot away from making it to the front page! At that point it seemed inevitable that it would make it to page one… or was it? Of course it did make it to page one, peaking at #14, but I decided I’d investigate to see what I could learn about a reddit post’s chances of making it from the top 100 to the top 25.

Much to my surprise, I found out that reddit’s front pages are not a pure “meritocracy” based on votes, but that rankings depend heavily on subreddits. The subreddits themselves seem to follow a quota system that allocates certain subreddits to specific slots on pages one and two, and also prevents the front page from devolving entirely into animal gifs.

How to use Twitter as Google like a pro, for free!

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

From Re/Code’s Code/Mobile Conference:

“Twitter really became my form of Google — I would just get on Twitter and say, ‘Does anyone know where to go eat in this city?’ … It’s just an amazing focus group.”

That would be Kim Kardashian, using exploiting untold followers for knowledge, power, and a nice slice of cheesecake.

Rovio reaches out to social media for Angry Brids levels as staff count is reduced

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Let’s play join the dots. Firstly, Rovio costs 16% of the workforce, announced on October 2nd:

Unfortunately, we also need to consider possible employee reductions of a maximum of 130 people in Finland (approximately 16% of workforce).

Secondly, on October 4th Rovio launch a social media campaign asking the world to create new levels for their hit (only?) franchise Angry Birds

Want to help design a level in the Number 1 app of all time? Want millions of people across the world play it? Well this is YOUR chance to #MakeTheNextLevel! …Send us your ideas as sketches, paintings or photos by October 15th – then we’ll pick our favorites and turn them into levels for the next Angry Birds episode!

Given the majority of Rovio’s visibility comes from app packages of new Angry Birds levels, this seems a rather… curious coincidence. While I’m all for social media campaigns and boosting creativity, there’s a point where ‘make content for us’ starts to cross a line.