Start up: uncommenting The Verge, Siri v lights, the washing machine trials, web ad delights, and more


Life without the Apple Watch: which word fits? Photo by alexknowshtml on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you: laugh and point at the screen as though you found something funny. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We’re turning comments off for a bit » The Verge

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief:

What we’ve found lately is that the tone of our comments (and some of our commenters) is getting a little too aggressive and negative — a change that feels like it started with GamerGate and has steadily gotten worse ever since. It’s hard for us to do our best work in that environment, and it’s even harder for our staff to hang out with our audience and build the relationships that led to us having a great community in the first place.

That’s a bad feedback loop, and we want to stop it. So we’re going to call timeout for a while and turn comments off by default on all posts for the next few weeks. It’s going to be a super chill summer.

We’re still dedicated to community, so our forums will remain open — in fact, we’ll be doing more to promote great posts from the forums on our front page and on our social channels than ever before. And we’ll be turning comments on on a post-by-post basis when we want to open things up, so look for that.

But in the meantime, let’s all take that minute and relax. Let someone else curate your playlists, you know? Comments will be back. There will always be another party. Freedom lasts forever.

I refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen to my analysis from last November of how Gresham’s Law explains precisely this phenomenon. We’ll see how the “comments will come back, honest” works out.

And here’s the Verge forum discussing it. Guess which tech company the discussion quickly degenerates into accusing The Verge of favouring? It’s the tech version of Godwin’s Law, and just as corrosive.


Aparna Chennapragada, head of Google Now, discusses apps, search, AI » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Chennapragada spelled out the three-pronged direction of the product — what she called the “bets” her team is taking. The first bet was embedding Now with Google’s full “Knowledge Graph” — the billions-thick Web of people, places and things and their many interconnections.

The second is context. Now groks both the user’s location and the myriad of signals from others in the same spot. If you enter a mall, Now will tailor cards to what people in that mall typically ask for. “Both your feet are at the mall. You shouldn’t have to spell it out,” Chennapragada said. “Why should I futz with the phone and wade through 15 screens?”

And this is where the third benchmark for Now comes in: Tying that context to the apps on your phone, or ones you have yet to download. In two years, Google has indexed some 50 billion links within apps. In April, it began listing install links to apps deemed relevant in search. Indexed apps will be included in Now on Tap when it arrives in the latest Android version this fall.

Your phone knows you’re at the mall. Is this a place where I need my phone to know I am? I find these scenarios puzzling, because “things I might be at the mall to do” are truly difficult to narrow down, and enunciate, and likely aren’t the same between visits. The times I’d need Google Now to leap into action would be when I found myself somewhere unscheduled and without transport. That’s when I want help.


Hacking Team responds to data breach, issues public threats and denials » CSO Online

Steve Ragan:

Newly published documents from the cache include invoices for services with Italian law enforcement, Oman, South Korea, UAE, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Lebanon, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, Egypt, and Vietnam. The total value of the invoices is €4,324,350 Euro.

The hack went without comment for several hours, until members of Hacking Team woke on Monday morning. One of the company’s staffers, Christian Pozzi, offered several comments on the breach, despite his statement that he couldn’t comment.

“We are awake. The people responsible for this will be arrested. We are working with the police at the moment,” Pozzi wrote.

“Don’t believe everything you see. Most of what the attackers are claiming is simply not true…The attackers are spreading a lot of lies about our company that is simply not true. The torrent contains a virus…”

Pozzi took to Twitter to repeat the same message for the most part, the key points being that Hacking Team is working with law enforcement on this matter, that the massive torrent file has malware in it (it doesn’t), customers are being notified, and that his company has done nothing illegal: “… We simply provide custom software solutions tailored to our customers needs…”


My week without Apple Watch » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

When I had the Apple Watch on, I averaged 28 fewer times I looked at my iPhone each day. This is a good proxy of how notifications on the watch help minimize the number of times I need to look at my phone to see the nature of each notification.

After reflecting on what looking at my phone fewer times meant in my daily life, I concluded the experience was less disruptive. Don’t get me wrong — I love my iPhone. It is my primary computer. However, having to respond to your phone or pull it out of your pocket or bag for each phone call or text message turns out to be fairly disruptive. As I’ve observed my wife’s behavior as well with her Apple Watch, she articulates similar feelings. As she is out and about, not having to fumble through her purse each time her phone dings is a less disruptive experience in many daily situations. Particularly since not all notifications are important or in need of an immediate response. However, without the use of the Apple Watch, you would not know this without getting your phone out and looking at it. This is an area of immense value that can only be understood once experienced.

I’d agree with this: I’m using an Apple Watch, and the value in not having to have your phone right there is substantial – but also difficult to quantify, because of course you can do without it. Filtering notifications matters; but being able to see or respond to the ones you deem urgent matters a lot.

(If you have an Apple Watch, Bajarin is working with a company called Wristly to do research; you could join.)


Hats off to web advertising. No, really. » WSJ

Chris Mims:

Vast advertising markets that had to decide what ad to show in milliseconds meant that from the very beginning of internet advertising, unprecedented amounts of data were flowing into growing quantities of computing power.

Like a kind of Manhattan project for data, solving the problem of ad matching and delivery meant taking formerly obscure areas of research and transforming it into something everyone could use. “Powerful machine learning techniques were just starting to be developed in academia,” says [Gokul] Rajaram [formerly lead engineer at early ad network Juno, then Google and Facebook, and now at Square], but ad networks would have been impossible without them.

As I researched, I discovered the alumni of ad tech platforms are everywhere, launching startups and leading projects within established companies. What they all have in common is an unusual and broadly powerful toolkit that is being applied to everything from agricultural drones and cybersecurity to food safety and the improvement of hiring practices.

It’s a fair point: we love to hate ads, but the necessity of making them work has driven a lot of improvement.


Here’s what it’s like to control your lights with Siri » The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

If you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately begin using this ability to mess with the people you live with: turning off lights so that they’re sitting in a dark room, turning on a light while they’re set up to watch Netflix. I didn’t see the Siri control as much more than a novelty at first, but the utility became more apparent once I set up two lamps in the same room. At that point, it became easier to turn them on and off simultaneously with Siri than to walk over to each one individually. It’s a basic start, but there’s so much more you could do once additional pieces of the home become connected.

Must be a hell of a big room for it to be easier to talk to the phone than to stand up. Also, what is the “so much more” you can do? Lights are the classic “wrong application”: we usually turn lights on when we enter a room, turn them off when we leave. In between, there’s hardly ever anything we want to do to them – and if we do, then it’s either a short reach, or a couple of steps. Pretending otherwise is automation for its own sake.

Home automation still needs really simple sensors and actuators that we can fit ad-hoc to things we choose, not devices where it’s built-in but not actually useful.


Chaebol slapfight: Samsung, LG in first trial over washing machine vandalism » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-young:

In the first trial between the two Korean home appliance giants, the legal representatives for LG gave an item-by-item rebuttal of the allegations that CEO Cho Seong-jin and two other officials at the company broke the doors of three Samsung washing machines intentionally. 

“The doors of the front-door washing machines are big and heavy, so they can naturally tilt downward to some extent and swing a little bit, which can be easily found in other washing machines,” a legal representative for LG appealed.

The attorney also raised suspicions about the authenticity of the damaged washing machines presented to the court as evidence, arguing that the products seemed to have had more scratches than before, and that they could not be the results of Cho touching the washers.

What’s “de minimis non curat lex” in Korean? (Also: “first” trial?)


YouTube is the No.1 music streaming platform – and getting bigger » Music Business Worldwide

Scary news for those who don’t feel YouTube is paying music rights-holders enough: it’s the biggest music streaming service on earth, and it’s growing faster than Spotify or any of its rivals.

That’s according to MBW analysis of the latest market stats out of the UK and US, which show that YouTube increased its market share of total on-demand streams in the first six months of this year on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the first half of 2015 in the US, overall on-demand streams grew 92.4% year-on-year to 135.2bn.

The majority of this growth was down to YouTube (plus Vevo and other video services), which saw a stream volume increase of 109.2% to 76.6bn.

Though it seems like Vevo is a big player in this. But yes, YouTube swamps everything else.


5 thoughts on “Start up: uncommenting The Verge, Siri v lights, the washing machine trials, web ad delights, and more

  1. Sorry Charles – can’t resist pointing out an apparent contradiction re your stance on the Apple Watch vs Siri voice control of lighting, whereby you suggest not having to take your phone out multiple times a day is a big deal but not having to get up and walk a few steps to dim lights isn’t such a big deal.

    I’d suggest that neither is a big deal – and certainly not worth the cost of the ‘solution’.

    I do recognise that, unlike me, and due to your work you use Twitter a lot and therefore have an annoying phone 😉

  2. Its increasingly apparent (to me, anyway) that from indirect reading (media reviews, blogs, news outlets) and direct experience (actual customers) Apple Watch users are somewhat struggling to justify the device – and this is differentiated from Android Wear users. I know 3 Smartwatch users – 2 are Apple and 1 is Android Wear. The Android Wear user has since purchase pretty much been “meh” about the device – but the level of the “meh” has been relatively consistent. The Apple users started off with “its amazing” and are now firmly in the “meh” camp. Why?

    It doesn’t change anything. They might get their iPhone out less…but still have their iPhone out and in use a huge amount of time. It might allow them to see notifications more quickly…but

    I know Charles you insist that there is no Apple bias in so many Apple commenting journalists – but the warm glow the devices give their users seems to be disappearign very quickly when it comes to the Apple Watch.

    I recognise the contradiction Niall highlights in the Smartwatch users. In my view, £300+ to swipe through a few notifications is steep – and not something I could ever see myself handing over to Apple.

    There are better ways to make myself more productive than giving £300 to the World’s richest company.

    • If your stance from the start is that you don’t want to give money to a company, it’s going to colour your view of their products fairly comprehensively. Transactions are about value exchange. So the question is, what’s the value that Apple Watch or Android Wear buyers believe they get in exchange for their hard-earned?

      You might slice the £300+ over the expected lifetime (a couple of years?) and see if you can evaluate the “saved time” in notifications etc. But I suspect a lot of this comes down to the difficulty of really evaluating how people enjoy a product. Superficially, an iPhone 6 Plus has specifications that are identical to lots of cheaper Android phones. Why do people buy the iPhone? They must perceive a value that others don’t. I think it will work out that way on the Apple Watch. Some early buyers have been disappointed, certainly. Then again, I saw some who weren’t delighted by the first iPad; yet iPads still outsell any individual PC maker quarter after quarter.

      A lot of people are eager to call the Apple Watch a flop, because it would fit a narrative they want to happen. I think it’s risky to try to make such calls too early. Apple always plays a long game. Media outlets, and often we, don’t.

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