Start up: the attention economy, Alphabet booms, Apple’s two-year Touch Bar, sayonara Vine, and more

Getting access to Twitter’s “firehose” can be useful for law enforcement. Photo by Stephen Mitchell on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Contrarily. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It’s the attention economy, stupid: why Trump represents the future whether we like it or not • Wired

Rowland Manthorpe:


Attracting attention has been an industry – advertising – since the second half of the nineteenth century. But in the last 25 years, it has turned into the basis for the entire digital economy. The crucial change was the ability to produce and consume media at increasingly low marginal cost.

At first, people called this new era the “information age,” thinking that once knowledge could be produced cheaply, everyone would be given access to it. In fact, now that information could be manufactured for next to nothing, it became relatively unimportant. What mattered was the truly scarce resource: the attention to consume it.

Today, tech and media companies compete for attention, in the form of time spent on their apps and websites. The business model is simple: capture attention, then monetise it through advertising. Most people won’t click on the adverts, but enough will (or so we hope). In that sense, not much has changed since the first email spammers swamped Yahoo and Hotmail inboxes with ads for vitamins and penis-lengthening. The only difference: today the spam is called “content.”

Once, content meant meaningful material. Now, it means something akin to “stuff”. Instead of art, literature, film and journalism, we have “stuff”. The message – what, in some old fashioned sense, it actually “says” – is beside the point. All that matters is whether it grabs attention.


Attention is the one characteristic that is evenly afforded: everyone has 24 hours in each day. It’s what you do with it, and how much others can get from it, that matters in a world of content. But the implication that attention (and so time) correlates directly with monetisation isn’t correct; but many people make it and that leads them down dead ends.
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Twitter’s ‘firehose’ of tweets is incredibly valuable—and just as dangerous • Bloomberg

Benjamin Elgin and Peter Robison:


For years, Twitter has offered access to its “Firehose”—the global deluge of tweets, half a billion a day—to a number of companies that monitor social media. Some of those companies resell the information—mostly to marketers, but also to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world. Some of these authorities use the data to track dissidents, as Bloomberg Businessweek has learned through dozens of interviews with industry insiders and more than 100 requests for public records from law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

There’s nothing illegal about selling Twitter data, but it’s uncomfortable for a company that promotes itself as a medium for free speech and protest. Twitter issues regular transparency reports and has gone to court to fight censorship. Dorsey himself marched with Black Lives Matter activists in 2014, regularly tweeting messages of support and appearing at a conference this June wearing a #staywoke T-shirt. But amid Dorsey’s activism, one data user, Chicago monitoring company Geofeedia, was hired by California police departments after pitching its ability to identify civil rights protesters, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released in September. Twitter, which touts a policy that prohibits third parties from making content available “to investigate, track or surveil Twitter’s users or their content,” cut ties with Geofeedia in October.

Twitter offers a free, stripped-down version of the full Firehose to the public, and in recent years, at least 17 companies besides Geofeedia have marketed surveillance products that make use of Twitter data to law enforcement organizations.


A warning before you click through: autoplay video ahead.
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Apple’s new TV app won’t have Netflix or Amazon Video • WIRED

Brian Barrett:


Amazon’s absence is no surprise, given that Amazon Video has never been on Apple TV, and seems unlikely to show up any time soon. (If you need any further indication of Amazon’s feelings about Apple’s streaming box, keep in mind that it not long ago removed it, as well as Chromecast, from its digital shelves.)

Netflix comes as a bit of a surprise, though, as it’s long been a stalwart of streaming boxes, and was previously a participant in Apple TV’s universal search feature. The service didn’t appear in Apple’s presentation today, though, and the company has confirmed that it won’t be involved, at least at launch. “I can confirm we are not participating and evaluating the opportunity,” says Netflix spokesperson Smita Saran.

Netflix is still on Apple TV, of course, and this doesnt hat preclude future involvement in Apple’s new TV app, but a new service that’s meant to call up all of your streaming options that leaves out everything from Orange Is the New Black and Narcos to the slate of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars movies that will join the Netflix catalog over the next three years seems like it will fall short of its aspirations.


Give it time. What’s Netflix’s leverage here?
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Alphabet says revenue up 20.2%, sets $7bn share buyback • Yahoo

Narottam Medhora:


Google parent Alphabet reported a 20.2% rise in quarterly revenue on Thursday, helped by robust sales of advertising on mobile devices and YouTube, and the search giant said it would repurchase about $7bn of its Class C stock.

Alphabet, along with Facebook, dominates the fast-growing mobile advertising market.

Shares of Alphabet, the world’s No. 2 company by market value, were up 1.6% in after-hours trading.

Google’s ad revenue rose 18.1% to $19.82bn in the third quarter, accounting for 89.1% of Google’s total revenue, compared with 89.8% of revenue in the second quarter.

Paid clicks rose 33 percent, compared with a rise of 29% in the second quarter. Paid clicks are those ads on which an advertiser pays only if a user clicks on them.

Cost-per-click, or the average amount advertisers pay Google, fell 11% in the latest period after dropping 7% in the second quarter.


That’s quite an achievement. Going to be fun to see if this came from mobile-without-YouTube, or YouTube, or what, because Google stuffed mobile search pages with three ads a year ago, meaning there was nowhere else to go, ad-wise, on mobile search.
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New MacBook Pro touches at why computers still matter for Apple • CNet

Shara Tibken and Connie Guglielmo:


Designed to work with Apple’s MacOS Sierra software, the black OLED display lights up to serve a changing menu of buttons, control sliders, dials and even emojis geared to the app you’re using. Ive, who says his team worked on it for at least two years, calls the Touch Bar “the beginning of a very interesting direction” that combines “touch and display-based inputs with a mechanical keyboard.”

“What’s amazing is, it is just throughout the system,” Federighi says, showing how the context-sensitive bar displays everything from the tabs you have open in Safari, to your calculator and strips of images from the video you’re watching. It also works with software from third parties like Adobe and Microsoft.

A Touch Bar instead of a full-on touchscreen means disappointment for anyone hoping for iPads and MacBooks to merge into some new mobile gadget. That’s just not happening, the executives insist. It’s not because Apple can’t make a touchscreen Mac. It’s because Apple decided a touchscreen on a Mac wasn’t “particularly useful,” says Ive. And on the MacBook Pro, which keeps getting thinner and lighter, it could be “a burden.”

“Doing something that’s different is actually relatively easy and relatively fast, and that’s tempting,” Ive says, telling us Apple decided against touchscreens for the Mac “many, many” years ago. “You can become fairly comfortable that you have a design direction that’s compelling. But if you can’t work out how you can refine that” without compromising the final product, “you can still undermine a big idea.”

Even so, Apple realizes it’s hard to know whether to opt for a laptop or tablet, particularly when you compare, say, the 12-inch MacBook and comparably equipped 12.9-inch iPad Pro (with a detachable keyboard and stylus). They cost about the same at nearly $1,300.


Two years. Quite a while.
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Important news about Vine • Medium

“Team Vine”:


Since 2013, millions of people have turned to Vine to laugh at loops and see creativity unfold. Today, we are sharing the news that in the coming months we’ll be discontinuing the mobile app.

Nothing is happening to the apps, website or your Vines today. We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way. You’ll be able to access and download your Vines. We’ll be keeping the website online because we think it’s important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website.

Thank you. Thank you. To all the creators out there — thank you for taking a chance on this app back in the day.


We value you, but not so much that we’ll keep you going forever. Apart from anything, feeding video is expensive when you aren’t monetising it effectively. Twitter was always going to lose out to YouTube in this game; sensible to cut its losses while it can. Where’s the axe going to fall next?
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Worldwide smartphone shipments up 1.0% year over year in third quarter despite Galaxy Note 7 recall • IDC


“Samsung’s market dominance in the third quarter was unchallenged in the short term even with this high-profile Galaxy Note 7 recall, but the longer term impact on the Samsung brand remains to be seen. If the first recall was a stumble for Samsung, the second recall of replacement devices face-planted the Note series,” said Melissa Chau, associate research director, Mobile Devices. “In a market that is otherwise maturing, Christmas has come early for vendors looking to capitalize with large-screened flagship alternatives like the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and Google Pixel.”

“With Samsung’s Note 7 finally laid to rest, both Samsung and other vendors will need to invest both time and money into properly testing devices to avoid a future incident of this proportion,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager, Mobile Phones. “The recall of the Note 7 represents an industry-wide wake-up call that will undoubtedly lead to a more vigorous testing and certification process moving forward.”

The top five vendors remain unchanged from last quarter despite double- and triple-digit growth from the leading Chinese vendors Huawei, OPPO, and Vivo. While Samsung and Apple continue to challenge each other at the top, these upcoming players have delivered value-packed devices that offer consumers top-shelf features at a fraction of the cost compared to the market leaders.


Numbers don’t include the shipped and recalled/unrecalled Note 7s. Huawei is coming up in Apple’s rear-view mirror – but OPPO and vivo are coming up behind it too. (Together, those latter two are bigger than Apple in this quarter.)
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Twitter needs a full-time CEO • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:


It’s now conventional wisdom that Twitter Inc. is badly in need of repair. Yet the company on Thursday turned in a not-bad earnings report card for the third quarter, with revenue that topped its own forecast and an announcement of layoffs with a goal of turning a profit next year. A turbulent stock price rose about 4% in premarket trading. 

But the conventional wisdom remains correct. Few new people are using Twitter. Once-healthy advertising sales have nearly come to a halt, with a 6% increase in the third quarter compared with a 60% jump at the same point in 2015. And the company said a planned restructuring of its ad sales organization makes it impossible to predict fourth-quarter revenue. Oh, and potential buyers all ran off.


The job cuts are only the beginning. But yes, it needs a full-time chief executive who has a clear vision about how to slim it down to profit. Twitter can’t expand to profit, because it isn’t expanding any more.
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No, George Soros does NOT own voting machines • Electionland

Jessica Huseman:


Here’s a fun new election conspiracy theory. A series of fringe right-wing blogs and some more prominent places like The Daily Caller have reported that George Soros has “deep ties” to, or even owns, a voting machine company that’s going to be used during the election — and that he might use the machines to rig votes.

The rumor has gotten enough air that one citizen created a White House petition asking “George Soros owned voting machines” to be removed. Almost 60,000 people have signed it.

The truth: Soros does not own voting machines, does not own any portion of the voting machine company, oh, and these machines are not even being used during the presidential election.


So many conspiracy theories, so little time.
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Salvaging Google Fiber’s Achievements • diffraction analysis

Benoit Felten:


On the deployment side, the equation has changed from Google Fiber’s early days. Because Google made very targeted deployment and phased them over time, it’s now easy for AT&T and cable operators to respond in kind locally with a combination of price lowering and infrastructure deployment (or at least announcements) in the markets that Google publicly targets. The only way around that would be for Google to announce and undertake deployment in say 30 markets at the same time. It’s now quite clear that they don’t have the stomach for that.

Assuming they still want to play some kind of long game, they could however destabilize the incumbents by announcing a broad Webpass type deployment scenario. Target and quickly deploy in 30 markets with a Webpass like solution with the promise that if the demand is there, Fiber may be installed down the line. This positions the wireless broadband solution as a quick to market acquisition tool. It also forces AT&T to respond everywhere at the same time, something which (I suspect) they are incapable of and unwilling to do. This could be part of the catalyst, forcing AT&T and/or cable to really up their infrastructure game or (failing that) look at structural solutions to respond (assuming the TW/AT&T merger goes forward, the scenario of AT&T spinning off telecom infrastructure altogether is maybe not so unlikely anymore…)

Beyond that though, I think the best bet to stick to the original goal (wanting to change the market by pushing existing players to deliver significantly better service) is to open up the Google Fiber experiment. Instead of keeping everything close to the vest, go public with it and tell everyone out there: “this is how we’ve done it, these are the challenges we have faced, this is how we’ve overcome them”.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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