Start up: Facebook’s AI ambitions, it’s the Galaxy S7!, the value of comments, Apple goes Android, and more


Peace began the new war. Photo by ‘Lil on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook’s problem: Its algorithms aren’t smart enough » Fortune

Mathew Ingram:

Zuckerberg said: “Under the current system, our community reports content that they don’t like, and then we look at it to see if it violates our polices, and if it does we take it down. But part of the problem with that is by the time we take it down, someone has already seen it and they’ve had a bad experience.”

The promise of artificial intelligence, said the Facebook founder, is that some day computers might be able to filter such content more accurately, and allow people to personalize their news-feed. “But right now, we don’t have computers that can look at a photo and understand it in the way that a person can, and tell kind of basic things about it… is this nudity, is this graphic, what is it,” he said.

Zuckerberg said that in the case of the Syrian child lying dead on the beach, he thought that image was very powerful, because it symbolized a huge problem and crystallized a complex social issue. “I happen to think that was a very important photo in the world, because it raised awareness for this issue,” he said. “It’s easy to describe the stats about refugees, but there’s a way that capturing such a poignant photo has of getting people’s attention.”

Any AI that could make the right call about that photograph, though, would be as wise as the super-experienced editors around the world. It would have passed the Turing test and then some.
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New ad blocker “Peace” tops iTunes paid apps chart within hours » Marketing Land

Danny Sullivan:

For months, marketers have been worrying over the possibility that consumers might embrace ad blocking that’s made easier in iOS 9. Now iOS 9 is out, and within hours of its launch yesterday, a new ad blocker called “Peace” became the most popular paid app.

The Peace app was created by Marco Arment, former CTO of Tumblr and founder of Instapaper. It sells for $2.99 in Apple’s app store. Within hours of the app going live, it topped the iTunes chart for paid apps for iPhone.

In addition to Peace, Purify Blocker also made the charts ranked fifth for iPhone. The Blockr app is ranked 28th. Crystal, which had some attention earlier this month, is listed at 110 in the free charts. It’s supposed to change to a paid model shortly.

As for iPad, Peace was the number two paid app (Purify is further down at 22; Blockr at 36):

The app is technically a “content blocker,” because it blocks not only ads but other types of tracking codes and anything that is deemed worth blocking based on a list that Ghostery maintains.

Ads are only blocked in Safari, not in other browsers like Chrome. It also doesn’t block ads within apps.

So the outbreak of war began with Peace. But not in other browsers like Chrome, because they don’t use the new WKWebKit viewer, available since iOS 8, which is really fast and powerful and, in iOS 9, enables content blockers. Wonder if Google has considered it? Read on…
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Issue 423444 – chromium – Use WKWebView on iOS 8+ » Chromium Project

Stuart Morgan of Google’s Chromium project discussing, in October 2014, whether to use WKWebView instead of UIWebView in Chrome on iOS:

Unfortunately, despite the advantages of WKWebView, it has some significant technical limitations that UIWebView does not, which means we can’t simply drop it in as a replacement. A partial list of regressions relative to UIWebView that we’re currently aware of:
– There is no cookie management API, which means there is no obvious way to clear/manage cookies
– Protocol handlers no longer work, which breaks several very important features
– POST bodies are missing from delegate callbacks, which breaks certain aspects of form handling

We’re still actively investigating WKWebView, looking for possible alternate approaches, and providing feedback to Apple about issues. We certainly hope to use WKWebView in the future, but there’s currently no way of knowing if or when that will be possible.

The thread continues through the introduction of iOS 9, right up to 10 days ago. Still no movement. It seems remarkable that the newest, most powerful webview on iOS should be so behind in things that Google sees as essential. So Chrome on iOS uses the old – creaking, now – UIWebView instead of WKWebView. No modern compatibility (and lots of crashes, according to some) but equally, no adblocking on Chrome on iOS. (Thanks @reneritchie for pointing it out.)
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Trash talk » Popbitch

The article (byline unprovided) does useful work in estimating the cost of moderating comments at the Mail Online and Guardian (it’s remarkably high) and then looks at sites that have shut down comments, and notes:

A number of journalists from across the political spectrum have spent this last week voicing their displeasure at Twitter, talking about how unpleasant it’s all become. It used to be fun and productive and helpful, they say, but the conversation nowadays is just vicious fighting.

Those reporting on the Scottish referendum last year complained of the same thing too; many threatening to quit social media in the face of brutal Cybernat campaigns. The sheer volume of vitriol leveled at them became unbearable, unmanageable.

Sadly, this will be the inevitable result of shutting down comments sections. People aren’t going to suddenly want to stop voicing their opinions. That’s one genie that won’t ever go back in the bottle. Instead those displaced commenters will simply take up an alternative platform, and the most obvious one of those is social media.

They can do that anyway, of course – the option has been open to them for as long as Facebook and Twitter have been around – but it’s no coincidence that the current trend for editors wanting to direct the conversation away from comments sections and onto social media correlates exactly with journalists’ growing dissatisfaction at the level of discourse on social media.

Comments sections are easy to avoid when you know where they are.

This I don’t agree with. People will find you on social media regardless of whether there are comments sections. The big advantage? There, you can block them. I prefer Mic Wright’s characterisation: comments are the radioactive waste of the web, there effectively forever, and never really useful. (And I speak as someone who has left a fair number of comments all over the place.) Gresham’s Law applies.
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Welcome to hell: Apple vs Google vs Facebook and the slow death of the web » The Verge

Nilay Patel:

with iOS 9 and content blockers, what you’re seeing is Apple’s attempt to fully drive the knife into Google’s revenue platform. iOS 9 includes a refined search that auto-suggests content and that can search inside apps, pulling content away from Google and users away from the web, it allows users to block ads, and it offers publishers salvation in the form of Apple News, inside of which Apple will happily display (unblockable!) ads, and even sell them on publishers’ behalf for just a 30% cut.

Oh, and if you’re not happy with Apple News, you can always turn to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which will also track the shit out of you and serve unblockable ads inside of the Facebook app, but from Apple’s perspective it’s a win as long as the money’s not going to Google.

This is the dynamic to keep in mind — especially when you see Apple bloggers like [John] Gruber forcefully discount the notion that Apple’s decisions will affect small publishers. The Apple vs. Google fight has never been more heated or more tense, and Facebook’s opportunity to present itself as the savior of media has never been bigger — through hey-it’s-just-about-speed Instant Articles, which will almost certainly be featured higher in the News Feed, and huge things like its massive video initiative, which is a direct assault on YouTube. And oh — Apple’s new tvOS, that huge bet on bringing apps to TV? Doesn’t support WebKit at all.

Malicious view of Apple adding content blocking to Safari: it’s trying to kill Google.
Non-malicious view of Apple adding content blocking to Safari: it’s trying to kill ads which take over the mobile browsing experience, bouncing you to an app or putting up a non-removable screen (because the close button is off the screen), and/or trying to keep enterprise buyers happy that they can restrict what their users view.

Patel portrays this as a knife fight, but overlooks the fact that ads will work perfectly well inside iOS apps (annoying as they might be). Apple’s trying to do two things here: stop annoying, intrusive ads on Safari and in Safari web views, and trying to keep apps at the forefront of what people do on iPhones.

Both of those have collateral damage for Google, but it’s a stretch to think of this as a desperate fight to the death. He’s worried for his site, sure. And so he should be. But as I’ve said previously, web ads have to evolve. Nobody said they were somehow protected.
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Sony shuts down its UK online retail store » AndroidAuthority

Andrew Grush:

Sony has never had a major presence in the US, offering most of its products either through its website or a partnering retailer. Sony has also had a carrier presence, but it has generally been limited to just T-Mobile or Verizon. This summer, Sony shut off one of these channels: its retail store. This meant that Sony fans had to either go through a site like Amazon, or turn to carriers. And now they are essentially doing the same in the UK.

Effective immediately, Sony shoppers will now be reliant on carriers or Sony’s partnering retails for Sony devices in the UK. The Japanese giant’s UK website will continue to offer advice on their phones but will no longer sell them, similar to what we have seen with the US website.

Sony gets so much right with the design of their phones, but unfortunately fails at the areas that matter most to average consumers: pricing, availability, and marketing.

That last sentence reminds me of a famous cricket writeup: “there are only three things wrong with the English team: can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field.”
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Move to iOS » Android Apps on Google Play

Would it surprise you to hear there are lots of 1-star reviews? (But also, weirdly, lots of 5-star ones, though rather outnumbered by the 1-stars.)

Sample 1-star: Poor functionality:

I attempted to switch to iOS (apparently zombies ate my brain) and my iPhone 3G would not accept my data. Also, my micro USB would not fit.

Sample 5-star:

Reading all these reviews about people who say “1 star because I don’t want to move to Apple” ticks me off! THIS APP WAS NOT MEANT FOR YOU! Unlike everyone else who thinks Android is all that, there are people who make the jump to Apple. There are also people who switch to Samsung from Apple. (Using Samsung smart switch). Working for a MAJOR US cell phone carrier; this app is perfect!!!! Before we had to use stupid Celbrite machines or our made transfer app. Thank you Apple for making this!

So, you know, horses for courses.
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Exclusive: first Galaxy S7 details emerge, codenamed Project Lucky » SamMobile

Abhijeet M:

Our insiders tell us that the Galaxy S7 is being tested with Samsung’s screaming fast UFS 2.0 storage, but the company might have found a way to make it work with SD cards. As we explained earlier this year, the memory controller on SD cards and the UFS 2.0 storage aren’t compatible with each other, making it impossible for them to co-exist on the same device. Samsung probably is trying out interfacing techniques to get around the limitation, though it would be best to not get too hopeful that the final product will bring back expandable storage to Samsung’s flagship line.

Finally, Samsung is supposedly testing a new 20-megapixel ISOCELL camera on the Galaxy S7, and also a project called the “all lens cover.” We have no idea what this project is; it’s perhaps a cover that will add additional lenses for the camera on to the phone, but we admit we’re in the dark about what the actual purpose will be.

The SD card explanation didn’t get much traction, did it? It makes complete sense, but Samsung sacrificed the broader principle of forward feature compatibility for a hard-to-see benefit in read/write speed. How many people say “wow, the read/write speed on this phone is great!” compared to the number who say “I can still use my SD card in this one!”
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4 thoughts on “Start up: Facebook’s AI ambitions, it’s the Galaxy S7!, the value of comments, Apple goes Android, and more

  1. Regarding comment sections vs. social media, I’d say there’s an argument to made that the comment section acts as a sort of flypaper for SOME – NOT ALL BUT SOME – of the “radioactive waste”. Opposing, one problem is that flypaper doesn’t act as a breeding-ground for flies. But in any case, a few strips of flypaper doesn’t do much if there is a large waste dump.

      • Exactly. Which is different from there’s huge and seemingly increasing piles of crap everywhere (i.e. location vs. total).

  2. Regarding S6/Note 5, there is something that Samsung and the spec chasers don’t get: No matter how good the raw specs are improved over the previous one, if that doesn’t translate into a real world utility gain felt by the end user, it’s entirely useless.

    UFS 2.0 increased speeds are meaningless to 99.9% of users out there who isn’t running benchmarks all day long. However, no SDcard is great loss of utility for a lot of people. I laugh out loud wherever SDcard haters complains how “slow” the transfer speeds are, when that is an totally irrelevant metric because that isn’t a bottleneck to begin with.

    Just like 3-4GB on the S6/Note 5, just look at how awful the memory management is on the S6/Note 5 on Youtube, the memory management is too aggressive killing apps that it entirely defeats the purpose of having tons of RAM, And Samsung wants people to snap them at iPhone prices along with the luxury of dealing with their usual incompetence in software? Dream on.

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