Start up: Apple Music on Android, Zuckerberg profiled, the dark tower and more

Soon to stream internationally? Photo by djuggler on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple Music review: I was ready to hate it, but Apple got me singing a different tune » Android Police

Rita El Khoury:

for a few billion people from China to India to Nigeria to lil’ Lebanon where I live, Apple Music is one of just a couple of services that we can use, and for many of us, it’s the best option when all pros and cons are diligently weighed against its competitors.

And if, like me, you happen to live on the bleeding edge between Apple and Google’s ecosystems, owning Macs and/or iOS devices along with your Android phones and tablets, and you have used iTunes over many years to carefully organize your music collection, Apple Music might make more sense to you, regardless of where you live and whether or not you have access to Google Play Music and other streaming options.

That’s what you have to keep in mind while reading this review. I’m aware other options exist. I’m aware iTunes and Apple are far from universally liked. I’m aware that you couldn’t care less about Apple Music. But that doesn’t stop the app and service from being good, and even great.

The “cloud upload” element still seems to be a mess. I don’t understand why: doesn’t it just match the track data, like identifying tracks on a CD? In which case what’s hard about adding it to a cloud library, which is just a set of indexes?
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Rdio is shutting down and Pandora is buying up the scraps » The Verge

Ben Popper:

Pandora is the grandaddy of streaming music, with more than 15 years in business and more monthly listeners using it to hear tunes than anyone save for YouTube. But Pandora, a public company, has struggled to turn a profit, and has seen its user growth slow in recent years. Today it announced that it is acquiring “several key assets” from Rdio, which is filing for bankruptcy. The purchase price is $75 million, and the acquisition includes technology and intellectual property. The announcement says “many employees” from Rdio will be offered the chance to work at Pandora, implying that at least some will be out of work. Rdio’s CEO, however, will not be making a move to join Pandora’s ranks.

The pairing would make a lot of sense. Pandora struggles in part because its royalty rates are set by the government, something that allowed it to avoid the high costs that have battered Spotify, but soured relationships with the music labels. That in turn kept it from expanding internationally or adding more complex on-demand features.

Pandora adding international streaming could make things interesting.
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The most popular curl download – by malware »

Daniel Steinberg noticed that a particular curl library was in demand:

In October it alone was downloaded more than 300,000 times, accounting for over 70% of the site’s bandwidth. Why?

The downloads came from what appears to be different locations. They don’t use any HTTP referer headers and they used different User-agent headers. I couldn’t really see a search bot gone haywire or a malicious robot stuck in a crazy mode.

After I shared some of this data over in our IRC channel (#curl on freenode), Björn Stenberg stumbled over this AVG slide set, describing how a particular malware works when it infects a computer. Downloading that particular file is thus a step in its procedures to create a trojan that will run on the host system – see slide 11 for the curl details.

So he renamed the file. Now we await developments.
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Why states of emergency and extreme security measures won’t stop ISIS » Counterpunch

Patrick Cockburn (formerly at The Independent):

the apocalyptic tone of press coverage is exaggerated: the violence experienced hitherto in Paris is not comparable with Belfast and Beirut in the 1970s or Damascus and Baghdad today. Contrary to the hyperbole of wall-to-wall television coverage, the shock of living in a city being bombed soon wears off.

A further disadvantage flows from excessive rhetoric about the massacre: instead of the atrocities acting as an incentive for effective action, the angry words become a substitute for a real policy. After the Charlie Hebdo murders in January, 40 world leaders marched with linked arms through the streets of Paris proclaiming, among other things, that they would give priority to the defeat of ISIS and its al-Qaeda equivalents.

But, in practice, they did nothing of the sort. When ISIS forces attacked Palmyra in eastern Syria in May, the US did not launch air strikes against it because the city was defended by the Syrian army and Washington was frightened of being accused of keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power.

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Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s bold plan for the Future of Facebook » Fast Company

Harry McCracken with a super-long profile of Zuckerberg and what he’s up to, including this:

If you’ve ever felt like your Facebook News Feed is filled with people you don’t care about sharing thoughts you didn’t particularly want to hear, you’ll appreciate why Facebook is pushing to further the art of artificial intelligence. In its current form, the social network is still far better at collecting vast amounts of data than understanding what that data means. Advanced AI could help emphasize the stuff that’s truly relevant to you, keeping you on the service longer and boosting your attractiveness as a subject for targeted advertising. “Facebook is working to be at the center of the world of AI because it will affect Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger,” says Systrom. “It’s broadly applicable to all social products.”

Facebook has dabbled in AI for years. In 2010, for example, it introduced facial-recognition technology to identify people in photos. In late 2013, though, Zuckerberg came to believe that AI—which he calls “one of the hardest engineering challenges of our time”—was central to the company’s future and decided to establish a lab devoted to it. He began courting Yann LeCun, a New York University faculty member and world-class expert in deep learning, to run it. Unlike the archetypal young turk Facebook employee, the 55-year-old, Paris-born LeCun is an éminence grise of his craft, with decades of experience studying machine vision, pattern recognition, and other technologies with the potential to make the social network smarter.

LeCun, however, was disinclined to leave academia or New York. When Zuckerberg thinks Facebook needs something, though, he refuses to treat obstacles as obstacles. He offered to let LeCun set up Facebook AI Research’s headquarters in Manhattan and retain his professorship on the side. LeCun came aboard. Problem solved.

Lots about Zuckerberg’s effective CEO methods too.
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Microsoft fails to deliver tool to bring Android apps to Windows » Re/code

Ina Fried:

The Android tool [called Project Astoria] was seen as the riskiest of the four bridges as it amounted to essentially porting over apps written for Android without really taking advantage of Windows itself. BlackBerry employed a similar strategy, allowing Android apps to run on BlackBerry 10 devices via Amazon’s app store. In the end, that proved largely unsatisfying and the company opted to build the Priv, a true Android-based smartphone.

Microsoft’s options for iOS and Web developers require more work on the part of app creators, but they also end up with something that was more of a true Windows app versus just an Android hand-me-down.

With the demise or delay of Astoria, the stakes are even higher for Microsoft to convince mobile developers to put some effort into making a Windows version of their apps. While Microsoft has struggled to lure mobile developers because of Windows’ low share of the phone market, it has a bit more compelling story with Windows 10, where developers can write a universal application that can run on Windows-based phones, tablets, PCs and even on the Xbox game console.

Still don’t see why you’d make a Windows desktop version of any mobile-intended app.
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TEDx Hilversum: “How to spot the next big thing” – slides and commentary from my talk » The Overspill

Shameless self-promotion corner:

I was invited to talk at the inaugural TEDx Hilversum – the Dutch city which is the country’s medialand, and whence the TV format ideas both for “Big Brother” and “The Voice” came.

The topic: “How to spot the next big thing”, building on a column I wrote for The Guardian’s Tech Monthly supplement back in October, about how the selfie was pretty much accidental.

What I wanted to explore and expand on in the talk was how these “next big things” in social interaction happen, and where you’d look to find the next one. (This isn’t a transcript – it’s the ideas I spoke on. The talk is about 15 minutes. I’ll put up the link when it’s available.)

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One man’s hard lesson after the Eiffel Tower’s darkness was mistaken for a moving tribute » The Washington Post

Rurik Bradbury, who runs the satirical-parodical Twitter account @ProfJeffJarvis, saw one of those tweets go viral after the Paris attacks, and reflected on how social media reacts to such horrifying events:

the part that feels the most useless to me is people’s vicarious participation in the event, which on the ground is a horrible tragedy, but in cyberspace is flattened to a meme like any other. Millions of people with no connection to Paris or the victims mindlessly throw in their two cents: performative signaling purely for their own selfish benefit, spreading information that is often false and which they have not vetted at all, simply for the sake of making noise. If people wanted to be helpful, they would either be silent, or they would put in some — even minimal — effort to be thoughtful. First, they could spread useful and vetted information. And second, they could throw support behind a viewpoint they believe in, such as speaking out against politicians using the attacks to demonize Muslims or migrants, which is exactly what the murderers responsible for the Paris attacks want to provoke.

“Flattened to a meme like any other” is the internet’s epitaph. And the “hard lesson” is actually for everyone else, not Bradbury.
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The advertising bubble » (Idle Words)

Maciej Ceglowski points out that more money is being made from advertising than consumers are putting in. (How? Venture capital.) But at some point, those investors will want their money out, with interest:

The only way to make the [money flows in and out] balance at this point will be to divert more of each consumer dollar into advertising (raise the ad tax), or persuade people to buy more stuff.

I doubt whether either option is viable. Compare the number of ads you see in a given day to the number of purchases you make. And consider the indirect maziness of modern advertising, with its brand awareness campaigns and social media influencers. There’s not a lot of milk left in this cow.

Investors are herd animals. When they bolt, the adtech swamp will drain, and who knows what hideous monstrosities will be left flopping on its muddy bottom.

The problem is not that these companies will fail (may they all die in agony), but that the survivors will take desperate measures to stay alive as the failure spiral tightens.

These companies have been collecting and trafficking in our most personal data for many years. It’s going to get ugly.

The only way I see to avert disaster is to reduce the number of entities in the swamp and find a way back to the status quo ante, preferably through onerous regulation. But nobody will consider this.

The prognosis for publishers is grim. Repent! Find a way out of the adtech racket before it collapses around you. Ditch your tracking, show dumb ads that you sell directly (not through a thicket of intermediaries), and beg your readers for mercy. Respect their privacy, bandwidth, and intelligence, flatter their vanity, and maybe they’ll subscribe to something.

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iOS App Store revenue now 80% higher than Google Play, thanks to China » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez on the new App Annie data:

In the third quarter, worldwide downloads were 90% higher on Google Play versus the iOS App Store, up from its earlier 85% lead in the prior quarter. This growth is being contributed to emerging markets like India, Indonesia, and Vietnam, where sub-$50 smartphones are bringing more of the population online.

However, these newly mobile users will not necessarily help the Google Play store’s revenue grow, given their economic status. App Annie instead advises developers to target new users at the lower-end of the market, catering to their differing needs, in order to stand out from the competition here.

Currently, India, in particular, is having a huge impact on download growth for Google Play. For example, in Q3, it was one of the three largest markets by downloads for both Facebook and WhatsApp. The country is also Google Play’s third-largest by downloads, as well as the world’s third-largest smartphone market. And there’s room for substantial growth yet – smartphone penetration in India is only in the 10-15% range, notes App Annie.

The iOS App Store, on the other hand, may not have the downloads but its revenue was 80% higher than Google Play in Q3, up from 70% in Q2. This is largely due to China, of course. China already surpassed the U.S. by iOS downloads earlier this year, and now those download numbers have translated into revenues.

By my calculations, that means each iOS user generates 3.4 (1.9 x 1.8) times as much revenue as a Google Play user.
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Lessons from the PC video game industry » Medium

Chris Dixon:

The PC gaming world has taken the freemium model to the extreme. In contrast to smartphone games like Candy Crush that are “free-to-play,” PC games like Dota 2 are “free-to-win.” You can’t spend money to get better at the game  —  that would be seen as corrupting the spirit of fair competition. (PC gamers, like South Park, generally view the smartphone gaming business model as cynical and manipulative). The things you can buy are mostly cosmetic, like new outfits for your characters or new background soundtracks. League of Legends (the most popular PC game not on Steam) is estimated to have made over $1bn last year selling these kinds of cosmetic items.

PC games are so popular they can also make money from live events. Live gaming competitions have become huge: over 32m people watched the League of Legends championship this year, almost double the number of people who watched the NBA finals.

Watching these events online is free, but offline tickets cost $50–$100 each. This is similar to the trend in the music business where concerts have become an increasingly important source of income for musicians. Concert ticket prices have increased dramatically while digital music prices have dropped.

What the PC game industry figured out is that in a world of abundant media, users have endless choices; instead of fighting for scarcity, fight for attention. Maximize user engagement and money will  —  with enough experiments  —  inevitably follow.

This is what other organisations, such as publishing, are struggling for, but the monetisation part is proving harder.
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Facebook Instant Articles and the fight over how many ads per words you should see » Finer Things in Tech

David Chartier:

The first 20 publishers taking part in Facebook’s Instant Articles program are struggling to make as much revenue from each article. Facebook imposes a number of App-Store-like rules on these articles, but among them:

“That’s because of the strict guidelines Facebook has laid down on the type and volume of ads publishers are allowed to sell. For example, the guidelines state that just one “large banner” ad sized 320 x 250 pixels may be included for every 500 words of content. On their own mobile properties, publishers such as the washington post would typically include three or perhaps four of those ads alongside a 500-word article.”

Think about that: large publishers want to show up to three to four ads per 500 words. And they wonder why ad blockers are a thing. 

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App bubble update: hit mobile game publishers are running out of steam » MIDiA Research

Karol Severin:

King serves a mainstream user base of casual gamers, whose primary objective is often to ‘kill time’ instead of ‘proceed to the next level’, let alone ‘be psyched for the next years release’. This is one of the major differences between freemium mobile game franchises like Angry Birds or Candy Crush and those of traditional game publishers like EA or Activision who are growing in the mobile space. Both, EA and Activision built their most successful franchises catering to well defined niches first, through desktop and consoles. Only then did they expand into the wider, more mainstream, mobile space. With a solid payer base and a clearly proven business model, they are not as dependent on mobile revenue, compared to their ‘mobile only’ competitors. Having a secure and profitable business model in place now gives them more freedom to be creative and experiment with wider audiences on mobile. In contrast, purely mobile freemium franchises were built up catering to mainstream masses first.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

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