Start up: toxic times at Facebook and Wikipedia, Google gets appy, Trump v Twitter, profit and lies, and more

Google’s Instant Apps concept could make parking in unfamiliar cities much, much simpler. Photo by arbyreed on Flickr.

Reading this on the web? You could sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. No, really.

A selection of 11 links for you. Free as in “the first month costs $90 payable in daily instalments, followed by 400 payments of $100”. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I worked on Facebook’s Trending team – the most toxic work experience of my life • The Guardian

“Anonymous” (you’ll realise why):

»Working at Facebook, even as a contractor, was supposed to be the opportunity of a lifetime. It was, instead, the most toxic work experience of my life.

As a curator, my job was to choose what links would appear on the Facebook “trending” box on the right side of a user’s newsfeed. Every day, I sifted through hundreds of topics (or “keywords”) that Facebook told me were trending on the platform. Then I’d choose a story about the keyword, and come up with a headline and a short summary that would appear on the trending box.

Most, if not all, of what you’ve read about Facebook’s Trending team in Gizmodo over the past few weeks has been mischaracterized or taken out of context. There is no political bias that I know of and we were never told to suppress conservative news. There is an extraordinary amount of talent on the team, but poor management, coupled with intimidation, favoritism and sexism, has resulted in a deeply uncomfortable work environment. Employees I worked with were angry, depressed and left voiceless – especially women.


Hell of an article. But it’s not just formal work environments that can be toxic in the new era…
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Wikipedia editor says site’s toxic community has him contemplating suicide • Motherboard

Jason Koebler:

»Some people on the Wikipedia-L listed echoed the editor’s woes. “This editor and their editing may be an extreme case, but they are not alone,” one person response. “Yup. It’s very, very toxic at times. And nobody really cares,” another person wrote.

I am not a Wikipedia editor, but I monitor the community closely, and it’s increasingly obvious that there is a lack of civility even at higher levels. For months, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and former Wikimedia Foundation board member James Heilman have been engaged in a public argument about Heilman’s ousting that has often devolved into name-calling and hearsay. Earlier this year, the community was in open revolt against former Wikimedia Foundation director Lila Tretikov. Many threads in the mailing list are about people not doing their jobs properly or internal factions that have formed; “transparency” and openness give people license to be jerks to each other.


Wikipedia is a remarkable body of work, but perhaps has hit the age where it needs a more formal structure. (The editor was contacted by police, and says he’s “feeling better”.)
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Tech startups come up with some creative definitions for ‘profitable’ • Bloomberg

Ellen Huet:

»After just a few months, SpoonRocket retreated from its new markets and focused on improving the economics of its business. “For a long time, we were like, ‘Let’s get profitable; let’s get profitable; let’s show the margin can get profitable,'” said Anson Tsui, co-founder and chief technical officer.

Their efforts failed to achieve profitability by conventional definitions. However, the startup calculated that the business had become “contribution margin positive,” meaning that it sells an item—in this case, pre-made meals delivered to customers—for more than the cost to manufacture, distribute, and sell it. There is, apparently, some wiggle room in what expenses can be left out. Tsui said SpoonRocket’s definition included the costs of food, delivery worker pay, utensils, food waste, distribution center rental, and certain marketing programs. It excluded costs of customer service, central employees, office rent, and marketing to drivers.

After all that careful math, SpoonRocket’s contribution margin was 50 cents to $1 per order, Tsui said. The founders prepared a new pitch for investors highlighting this milestone. “We showed them, and they were just like, ‘Oh my goodness, you guys spent $13m to squeeze a $1 margin out of every order?'” Tsui recalled. SpoonRocket shut down in March and sold some assets to a food delivery company in Brazil.


Operating margin.. gross margin.. contribution margin?

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Google takes a new approach to native apps with Instant Apps for Android • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois got a prebrief:

»Typically, downloading and installing an app would take a while, but with Instant Apps, developers will have to partition their apps into small, runnable parts that can start within a few seconds.

“Instant Apps is really about re-thinking where apps are going,” Google VP of Engineering for Android Dave Burke told me. The idea behind Instant Apps is to make the native app experience as convenient as surfing to a web site. “Web pages are ephemeral,” he said. “They appear, you use them, and never think about them again.” Apps, he argued, have lots of friction and often you only want an app to perform one action or to get a specific piece of information.

As Google’s Michael Siliski and Ficus Kirkpatrick told me, the idea here is to allow a mobile experience to start in about the same time it would take to render a standard mobile web page. While the team is still working out the limits, Siliski and Kirkpatrick expects downloads for Instant Apps to clock in at under 4 megabytes.

Here is what that would look like in practice: say you are in a new city and want to pay for parking with whatever parking app the local municipality is using. You hold your phone to the parking meter, the built-in NFC chip reads the info, and the native app appears almost instantaneously. There is no need to download the app or even log in (or to uninstall it later).


This does recall industry analyst Benedict Evans wondering a year or so ago “what will it mean in 2020 to say ‘I installed an app’?”
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Saying 👋 to Allo and Duo: new apps for smart messaging and video calling • Official Google Blog

Amit Fulay, group product manager at Google:

»Whether it’s welcoming a new baby, celebrating the winning shot in overtime, or discovering the best taco stand ever—we all want to share these moments with friends and family the instant they happen. Most of the time, this means picking up our phones and sending a message or starting a call. Today we’re sharing a preview of two new apps that take a fresh look at how people connect.

Allo is a smart messaging app that makes your conversations easier and more expressive. It’s based on your phone number, so you can get in touch with anyone in your phonebook. And with deeply integrated machine learning, Allo has smart features to keep your conversations flowing and help you get things done.

Allo has Smart Reply built in (similar to Inbox), so you can respond to messages without typing a single word. Smart Reply learns over time and will show suggestions that are in your style. For example, it will learn whether you’re more of a “haha” vs. “lol” kind of person. The more you use Allo the more “you” the suggestions will become. Smart Reply also works with photos, providing intelligent suggestions related to the content of the photo. If your friend sends you a photo of tacos, for example, you may see Smart Reply suggestions like “yummy” or “I love tacos.”


So.. you have Google Hangouts, GChat (is that Hangouts too?), and now you have these too? Is Google just trying to create a primordial bath of messaging apps where curious scientists experiment to see which ones survive?
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Android Pay comes to the UK with Transport for London support • Ars Technica

Megan Geuss:

»Google announced today that its mobile payments app, Android Pay, will be rolling out in the UK.

Android Pay is the company’s re-vamped version of Google Wallet, which launched in 2011 and used near-field communications (NFC) to send payment information from an Android phone to a contactless terminal. Alphabet decided to update and re-brand the service last September after Apple launched Apple Pay in 2014 with a stronger business model due to some key alliances with banks.

Android Pay’s launch in the UK will arrive with support for Visa or MasterCard debit or credit cards from a variety of supported banks including Bank of Scotland, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, M&S Bank, MBNA, and Nationwide Building Society.

Barclays said earlier this week that it is “not planning on participating in Android Pay in the UK.” The bank just launched its own contactless payment app (which is available on Android) that allows a user to make payments of up to £30 with just a tap of their phone and payments of between £30 and £100 with a tap and a PIN entry.

Google is promising that businesses that already have contactless terminals need do nothing to accept payments from Android Pay.


Two oddities about this: 1) Barclays continues its quixotic attempts to plough its own furrow, despite having give up on iOS to Apple Pay; 2) this article was written by someone in the US, because the official blogpost came from Google US. Google UK couldn’t brief people in the UK with an embargoed story?
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Apple sent two men to my house. No, they weren’t assassins. • vellumatlanta

James Pinkstone lost a catastrophic amount of music in an iTunes/iTunes Match/Apple Music FUBAR:

»“I hope something goes wrong tonight,” said Tom, as he met my eye. He’d just finished petting my dog, and he was on his way out the door.

“Well, not really, but you know what I mean,” he continued. I did, indeed, know what he meant.

Tom, along with his boss Ezra, had just spent most of Saturday at my dining room table with me, trying to recreate a disaster like we were Netflix green-lighting Fuller House. So far, no luck.

In the days leading up to our face-to-face encounter, they’d earned more of my trust when they acknowledged that A), they’d read the phone transcripts, and although they maintained that she was mistaken, they did not dispute my account of what Amber had told me, and B), they, too, were convinced this was not user error. Before allowing them into my home, though, I’d laid out some conditions. Their research would be strictly limited to Apple Music, iTunes, and my iTunes library, and I would always be in the room to watch them work. Any information gleaned would be used solely for iTunes and Apple Music troubleshooting. If I had a document on my desktop called “Zapruder Film Unedited,” for example, they would still leave it alone. They agreed, both on the phone and in person, so we began…

…One of the things on which Tom, Ezra, and I seemed to agree was that Apple is not off of the hook yet. Their software failed me in a spectacular, destructive way; and since I rang that bell, many people have come forward with similar stories. Some may be a result of user error, but I have a hard time believing all are. I think Apple does, too; which is why, as of this writing, they have stated they are currently working on an iTunes update with additional safeguards added.


Oh, iTunes. You really are starting to show your age: a bit slow, confusing, and you can’t remember quite where you put things. First incarnation 2000, which makes it 112 years old in internet years.
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Twitter, Trump’s trusty weapon, could backfire • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

»But don’t bet that Mr. Trump’s mastery over social media will help him in November. He has used Twitter as a tool to foment culturewide rage — it’s his big, inescapable bullhorn. Yet winning a presidential campaign involves more than simply whipping up unfocused outrage. It also requires more discrete, personalized messaging targeted to specific sets of voters and potential volunteers, a goal for which Twitter is spectacularly ill suited.

The point of a modern American presidential campaign is to inspire and turn out as many of your voters as possible while avoiding inspiring similar passion for your opponent. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama’s campaign pioneered some of the most effective ways to use social media and Internet-based organizing to win political campaigns. The Obama operation turned unfocused online passion into a data-driven, on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote operation whose effectiveness surprised longtime political observers.

Mr. Trump has eschewed many of the Obama team’s get-out-the-vote efforts. In contrast, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has doubled down on the data-heavy approach.

Veterans of the Obama campaign say this could be Mr. Trump’s costliest mistake in the election. If the Internet has been Mr. Trump’s secret weapon so far, it may soon turn into his Achilles’ heel.


“…we really, really hope.”
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Fitbit buys Coin to help with mobile payments • Engadget

Daniel Cooper:

»Fitbit is purchasing (almost all of) Coin, the payments startup that developed a universal credit card replacement. The world’s biggest maker of wearable technology can now leverage Coin’s know-how and integrate NFC-based commerce to its hardware. Fitbit has already said that there are “no plans” to integrate Coin’s setup into the products it’ll launch in 2016, so you can be damn sure it’ll be there for 2017. It’s not going to be a big leap for either party, as Coin was working on some form of payments watch earlier this year. At the time, it had signed up Atlas Wearables, Omate and Moov, as well as MasterCard to handle the processing.

The deal specifically excludes the Coin 2.0 hardware, the “universal card” that integrated every credit card you owned into one, wallet-friendly gizmo. If you own one of the units, your hardware will last for the duration of the built-in battery, which is expected to be two years. After that, however, you’re SOL. In addition, Coin Rewards and the Coin Developer Program are being retired following the announcement.


Inching upwards to more functionality. Where it will meet Android Wear and Apple Watch.
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Why don’t magnets work on some stainless steels? • Scientific American

Let Thomas Devine, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, provide you with some deathless conversation for the next time things go a bit quiet in the pub:

»Stainless steels are iron-based alloys primarily known for their generally excellent corrosion resistance, which is largely due to the steel’s chromium concentration. There are several different types of stainless steels. The two main types are austenitic and ferritic, each of which exhibits a different atomic arrangement. Due to this difference, ferritic stainless steels are generally magnetic while austenitic stainless steels usually are not. A ferritic stainless steel owes its magnetism to two factors: its high concentration of iron and its fundamental structure.

The metallic atoms in an austenitic stainless steel are arranged on a face-centered cubic (fcc) lattice. The unit cell of an fcc crystal consists of a cube with an atom at each of the cube’s eight corners and an atom at the center of each of the six faces. In a ferritic stainless steel, however, the metallic atoms are located on a body-centered (bcc) lattice. The unit cell of a bcc crystal is a cube with one atom at each of the eight corners and a single atom at the geometric center of the cube. Alloying the stainless steel with elements such as nickel, manganese, carbon and nitrogen increases the likelihood that the alloy will possess the fcc crystal structure at room temperature. Chromium, molybdenum and silicon make it more likely that the alloy will exhibit the bcc crystal structure at room temperature.


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Microsoft selling feature phone business to FIH Mobile Ltd. and HMD Global, Oy • Microsoft

»REDMOND, Wash. — May 18, 2016 — Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced it reached an agreement to sell the company’s entry-level feature phone assets to FIH Mobile Ltd., a subsidiary of Hon Hai/Foxconn Technology Group, and HMD Global, Oy for $350 million. As part of the deal, FIH Mobile Ltd. will also acquire Microsoft Mobile Vietnam — the company’s Hanoi, Vietnam, manufacturing facility. Upon close of this deal, approximately 4,500 employees will transfer to, or have the opportunity to join, FIH Mobile Ltd. or HMD Global, Oy, subject to compliance with local law.

Microsoft will continue to develop Windows 10 Mobile and support Lumia phones such as the Lumia 650, Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, and phones from OEM partners like Acer, Alcatel, HP, Trinity and VAIO.


The wording of that second paragraph is subtle. I read it to mean that there won’t be any new Lumia phones.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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