Start up: Airbnb v racism, the iPad paradox, Kickass’s insider secret, sayonara VCRs, and more


The online ratings for Ghostbusters are all over the place – which demonstrates how screwed up online ratings are. Photo by The Shifted Librarian on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Helllooooo Monday, if it’s Monday where you are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Airbnb’s racism “the greatest challenge we face as a company” • The Memo

Oliver Smith:

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in 2015 a Harvard Business School study reported that there is “widespread discrimination against African-American guests” taking place on Airbnb.

Last month Chesky kick started a company-wide review of discrimination on Airbnb, and this morning he announced that [it will be led by] former US attorney general Eric Holder, the country’s first black person to hold this most senior legal position.

Chesky also reflected on why Airbnb had been so painfully slow to respond to these serious problems.

“Joe, Nate, and I started Airbnb with the best of intentions, but we weren’t fully conscious of this issue when we designed the platform,” he wrote.

“After speaking to many of you, I have learned that there have at times been a lack of urgency to work on this, and we need to rectify that immediately.”

The big question now for Airbnb, and many sharing economy businesses like it, is can they fix both the technical issues allowing discrimination to take place and then win back the trust of users.

In many ways Airbnb’s plight highlights just how significantly better Uber’s system is. Auto-matching passangers and drivers, giving drivers little option but to accept rides, and with a dispassionate rating system which uses average ratings to simply exclude ‘bad’ passangers and drivers.

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When tech becomes woven into society, you start to see its social effects.
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The iPad paradox • iMore

Michael Gartenberg:

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“TiVo paradox” is a term I coined to explain how hard it is to market contextual value.

With some products, including TiVo, there’s a distinct conflict between consumer understanding of the features and the value assigned to those features. While the internet was filled with a rabid fan base of customers who loved and praised TiVo at every opportunity, most consumers didn’t understand the value of a $500 “digital VCR.”

TiVo’s features were relevant to the TV viewing experience based on a customer’s immediate contextual need: The pause and rewind live TV feature was killer for any sports fan; remote access to the electronic programming guide was key to any busy traveler’s DVR experience.

Without trying these features, though, customers are unaware of their overall value or how they come together as a whole. Want to pause TV when the phone rings? That’s the killer app at that moment. Recording a show using an EPG to simply search for it? That’s the killer app at that moment. Skipping commercials when you watch recorded content? That’s the killer app at that moment. Contextual functionality ONLY comes together when you get to see the whole, not a piece or part. When you see only pieces, you just get a very expensive VCR not a TiVo.

In short, if you met a TiVo owner at a party, they were rabid. It was like being cornered by an insurance agent. They wouldn’t leave you alone until you tried it. When most people tried it, the lightbulb turned on. TiVo was not an expensive VCR — it redefined watching TV.

I suspect iPad is suffering from the same paradox. Customers who buy an iPad Pro understand the power it unlocks relative to a Mac. The more they use it, the more it displaces their Mac.

They “get it,” but most folks just don’t.

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How KickassTorrents was able to get movies months before they came out on DVD • Business Insider

James Cook:

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a regular source of leaks comes from the production of DVDs, as then lots of factory workers are exposed to movies before they’re officially available to buy.

But the criminal complaint notes that many movies available on KickassTorrents have “telecine” or “TC” in their description. 

Here’s a look at a cached version of a “Warcraft” torrent on KickassTorrents, before the site was taken down:

“Warcraft” isn’t out on DVD yet, but it was posted on Kickasstorrents shortly after appearing in the cinema. That’s because it was converted using telecine, a type of machine that takes the original cinema reels of a movie and converts them to a digital file.

The cinema reels are run through the machine, which then records the film and turns them into a digital recording. That’s then shared on torrent sites, giving a faster turnaround than waiting for a screener copy of a DVD to be ripped.

KickassTorrents certainly wasn’t the only site to use telecine copies of movies, but it does show how it got them so quickly. After all, that’s a major reason why the site was more popular than The Pirate Bay — content came to Kickasstorrents before it reached its rivals.

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It’s a model very like that used by the people who pirated music by getting early access to the masters at CD pressing plants. The next step will be to look for the insiders at the telecine shops.
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Brexit Blues • London Review of Books

John Lanchester:

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To be born in many places in Britain is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat – a truncation of opportunity, of education, of access to power, of life expectancy. The people who grow up in these places come from a cultural background which equipped them for reasonably well-paid manual labour, un- and semi- and skilled. Children left school as soon as they could and went to work in the same industries that had employed their parents. The academically able kids used to go to grammar school and be educated into the middle class. All that has now gone, the jobs and the grammar schools, and the vista instead is a landscape where there is often work – there are pockets of unemployment, but in general there’s no shortage of jobs and the labour force participation rate is the highest it has ever been, a full 15 points higher than in the US – but it’s unsatisfying, insecure and low-paid. This new work doesn’t do what the old work did: it doesn’t offer a sense of identity or community or self-worth.

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This is a remarkable, detailed, insightful piece.
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Hillary Clinton is launching a game-style mobile app for campaign volunteers • Recode

Ina Fried:

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A team of technology veterans has built an app for the Hillary Clinton campaign that lets volunteers get most of the benefits of being in a campaign field office straight from their smartphone.

Hillary 2016, built by veterans of DreamWorks Animation, Charity: Water and Lifestream, is set to go live Sunday in the App Store. The app lets users brush up on the issues, post to social media and begin organizing.

Though designed to help Hillary supporters take real-world actions, it is based around gaming concepts like those used in FarmVille and other social games. Volunteers can compete against one another and earn both virtual and real-world rewards.

The Obama campaign also had a mobile app for volunteers, but it was geared more to offline actions, such as directing volunteers to phone banks or on going door-to-door.

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Sure to be a target for abuse of all sorts. Wonder when the Android one version will come out. (Also: a piece of news about Clinton. Amazing.)
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Three proposes protection in UK spectrum auction • CCS Insight

Kester Mann:

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Only weeks after the deal to buy O2 was rebuffed, Three CEO Dave Dyson called on Ofcom to impose restrictions on rivals at an upcoming spectrum auction of 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz frequencies.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr Dyson started lobbying so soon. Having failed to buy O2, Three is in a precarious position without the assets or scale needed to challenge its larger rivals. The operator claims to carry over 40% of UK data traffic, but holds only about a 15% share of the airwaves — an unsustainable position that has already forced Three to raise prices on some tariffs.

Without adding extra capacity, it will be extremely difficult for Three to deploy the kind of challenger strategy with which it has become synonymous. This is particularly relevant given its preference for pure-play mobile in a market rapidly evolving to multiplay services. In many ways, the network’s very future depends on acquiring more spectrum. Until this happens, Three will be treading water, unable to formulate a long-term strategy as rivals bolster services and Sky prepares to enter the market.

Mr Dyson has called for a 30% spectrum cap on any operator following the auction.

This seems wishful thinking given that the combined BT and EE — which owns over 40% of the spectrum — would have to give up significant airwaves to take part. When the two companies came together, the merger was surprisingly smoothly dealt with by competition authorities, without any requirement to divest spectrum.

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The BT/EE spectrum ownership does seem out of kilter, though, given that there are four operators; you’d hope for a balancing towards 25% each, surely.
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You can disable Find My Mac by resetting NVRAM • Tidbits

Adam Engst:

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There is one other problem that my friend Will Mayall alerted me to recently, which is that resetting NVRAM disables Find My Mac. Will discovered this on his own, but it turns out that others have run across the same fact over the past few years, as evidenced by a quick Google search. In essence, Apple stores the Find My Mac data in NVRAM, which is good for keeping it around even if the hard drive is removed, but bad in the sense that it’s easy to reset NVRAM — just restart while holding down Command-Option-P-R. A quick test confirmed the problem in OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and nothing has changed in the public beta of macOS 10.12 Sierra.

The only way to prevent Find My Mac from being disabled is to set a firmware password, which you must enter whenever you start up from a disk other than the usual startup disk. Plus, if you try to reset NVRAM, you’re prompted for the firmware password, and when you enter it, the Mac instead boots into Recovery mode. In fact, when you lock your Mac via Find My Mac, what it’s doing is setting a firmware password.

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How Crowdmix collapsed into administration after raising over £14m • Business Insider

James Cook:

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when Crowdmix — whose management also dreamed of billion-dollar “unicorn” valuation status — moved into the old Mind Candy office in August 2015, the [playground] slide [connecting to the floor above] stood like a symbol of failure. Or a warning.

So Roberts had the slide blocked up, and the company eventually paid to have it removed entirely.

Now, less than a year after moving in, Crowdmix is in an even worse situation than Mind Candy. It blew through £14m (about $20m) in investor funding without ever properly launching. It only managed to ship an invite-only version of its hybrid social network and music streaming app, before costs spiralled out of control. The company spent lavishly on parties, international travel for its staff, and ostentatious decorations for its offices, even though it didn’t have a product for consumers to use. The company never booked any revenue. Roberts, the founding CEO, was forced out, and the company collapsed into bankruptcy administration on July 11.

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Founded in 2013, aiming to let people join “crowds” to talk about music and share tracks. How this ever got funded I cannot imagine. Cook tells the long story of a bloated startup with lavish parties and a Venice Beach office with a chandelier.
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Sources: Cyanogen Inc. is undergoing major layoffs, may “pivot” to apps • Android Police

David Ruddock:

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We’re hearing from multiple sources that Cyanogen Inc. is in the midst of laying off a significant portion of its workforce around the world today. The layoffs most heavily impact the open source arm of the Android ROM-gone-startup, which may be eliminated entirely (not CyanogenMod itself, just the people at Cyanogen Inc. who work on the open source side).

Accounts indicate that employees were called into meetings, sometimes in groups, and told they were being let go. In Seattle, Steve Kondik himself is allegedly conducting the layoffs. At this time, we’ve been told roughly 30 out of the 136 people Cyanogen Inc. employs – around 20% of the workforce – have been let go. It’s unclear if that number may change more in the coming hours and days. According to one source, the systems and QA teams in Palo Alto and Seattle have been heavily cut, with Cyanogen’s smaller offices in Lisbon and India reportedly being essentially gutted. Community support members were allegedly removed, too.

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So it looks like there isn’t a viable third-party business in Android ROMs. (This news leaked out on Friday night.) Discussion on Hacker News shows that nobody can quite figure out what its commercial model should be.
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The last VCR to be made this month • Variety

Lamarco McClendon:

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Funai Electric, a Japanese consumer electronics company, will end production of VHS videocassette recorders (VCRs) at the end of July, according to Japanese newspaper Nikkei. This will also mark the end of the format as a whole 40 years after it began production.

Funai sold VCRs under the more familiar Sanyo brand in China and North America for nearly 30 years. The company’s move to stop manufacturing comes after years of declining sales and difficulty finding the materials for the electronics.

Funai Electric began production of VCRs in 1983 following the unsuccessful launch of its own CVC format in 1980. The electronics company sold as many as 15 million VCRs per year at its peak. Last year, Funai sold 750,000 units.

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Sic transit gloria mundi. The phrase “Please rewind” will mean nothing to anyone under 20.
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‘Ghostbusters’ is a perfect example of how internet movie ratings are broken • FiveThirtyEight

Walt Hickey:

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Most fundamentally, single-number aggregations — like those used by sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb — are a pitiful way of explaining the diverse views of critics. More specifically, a vocal portion of men on the internet — shall we say — go out of their way to make their voices heard when it comes to judging entertainment aimed at women, and that appears to be happening with the new “Ghostbusters.”

But let’s back up. Last year, as part of an investigation into the inflated ratings on Fandango’s website, I looked at the world of online movie ratings in general. The moral of this story: Each site that aggregates ratings and reviews has its own skew one way or another, and it’s up to the user to determine which heuristic most accurately matches what they’d consider an ideal rating. (Also, don’t trust always-positive movie reviews from sites trying to use that review to sell you movie tickets. That, too.)

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The Moto Z is a good phone headed down the wrong path • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

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I hate to be a hater, but some things just need to be said. I think Lenovo, the new patron of the Moto brand after it took over Motorola, is going down a very wrong path with its Moto Z modular smartphone series. As a company that’s losing ground to cheaper rivals at home in China and better-marketed iPhone and Galaxy alternatives in the USA, Lenovo is grasping for a unique selling point — modularity. But, to my eyes at least, that bet is never going to pay off. Modular phones are the passing fad of 2016, and Lenovo’s commitment to them beyond this year could be an albatross for an already ailing mobile division.

Modular devices have appeal, both tactile and cultural, that transcends a mere explanation of their function or purpose — but what I’ve found this year is that their economics just don’t work out. No one is disputing that it would be cool to extract one cartridge from your phone, load up another, and suddenly go from high-end photography to high-end audio. What I’m arguing, however, is that LG’s £149 ($195) Hi-Fi Plus module isn’t going to be part of that fantasy. And neither will Lenovo’s Insta-Share Projector Moto Mod, which at $299 costs roughly as much as buying a Moto G and a Moto E.

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Yeah, I believe I called this already, multiple times. Modules are super-profitable, but the number of people who buy them is tiny, meaning you don’t get economies of scale. Project Ara and modular products will never, ever transform the fortunes of the smartphone business. Other businesses? They might. But it’s still a long shot. (See also Savov’s response to a complaint about ‘negativity’ in the comments.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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