Start Up: Facebook’s monopoly tendency, Solv-ing healthcare, the mobile web’s drift, and more

But what if you saw the colours and wanted to figure out their match? Photo by Telstar Logistics 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.

Facebook and the cost of monopoly • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:


Facebook’s theft of not just Snapchat features but its entire vision bums me out, even if it makes good business sense. I do think leveraging the company’s network monopoly in this way hurts innovation, and the same monopoly graphs explain why. In a competitive market the return from innovation meets the demand for customers to determine how much innovation happens — and who reaps its benefits:

A monopoly, though, doesn’t need that drive to innovate — or, more accurately, doesn’t need to derive a profit from innovation, which leads to lazy spending and prioritizing tech demos over shipping products. After all, the monopoly can simply take others’ innovation and earn even more profit than they would otherwise:

This, ultimately, is why yesterday’s keynote was so disappointing. Last year, before Facebook realized it could just leverage its network to squash Snap, Mark Zuckerberg spent most of his presentation laying out a long-term vision for all the areas in which Facebook wanted to innovate. This year couldn’t have been more different: there was no vision, just the wholesale adoption of Snap’s, plus a whole bunch of tech demos that never bothered to tell a story of why they actually mattered for Facebook’s users.


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Zuck says copying Snapchat was just step 1 of Facebook’s AR platform • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:


when asked for a response to critics who say Facebook had stopped innovating, Zuckerberg brushed them off, insisting this was actually just Facebook preparing all its products for the new unified cross-app Camera Effects Platform. While Facebook Stories just launched this month, he says the strategy has been in the works for a while:

“We started it about a year ago. The point was that we kind of felt like we’re going to need cameras because video and photos are becoming more central but the unique thing that we’re going to do is we’re not just going to build basic cameras, we’re going to build the first mainstream augmented reality platform.

“​But the thing is, you try to chunk up your releases into specific things along the way. And even though we’re going to talk about it at F8, we’re not going to release it all at once even though this is kind of the next chapter. And the first chapter that made sense was to release products that people were familiar with and to kind of stabilize the product before you try to build a platform on top of that, right? It’s really tough to build the product and the platform at the same time.

“So I think internally, we just understood where we were going. We’ll roll out the different pieces at different times, but that was partially why we’re rolling all the stuff out quickly as we build a bunch of infrastructure to be able to do all that.”

Essentially, adding to Facebook’s various apps an in-app camera with basic augmented reality effects was just the start of a larger platform play.


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Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse • Medium

Kurt Gessler is deputy editor for digital news at the Chicago Tribune, and has spotted a worrying fall in the number of stories posted to Facebook which get any traction:


What I inevitably come back to is that something changed on Facebook’s side of the equation.

The last algo update mentioned in Facebook’s newsroom blog was “New Signals to Show You More Authentic and Timely Stories” on Jan. 31. This is around a month we’ve after identified our shift, but still curiously close. Of course Facebook didn’t foresee any hiccups: “We anticipate that most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed.”

Given that I hope the Tribune passes muster for “authentic,” let’s focus on the second half. What exact signals are being used to determine what “timely” means? It purports to favor topics that are being discussed in real time:


For example, if your favorite soccer team just won a game, we might show you posts about the game higher up in News Feed because people are talking about it more broadly on Facebook.


So exactly how much reach lift is conferred by dovetailing with Facebook-defined trending topics? Conversely, does this punish topics not being discussed? Or did the Facebook real-time algorithm become more like Instagram’s, prioritizing content based on the volume of immediate comments, shares, likes and reactions—and squelching posts that are initially ignored? That could be “timely.”

Beyond that, the usual sites that track Facebook changes haven’t noted anything else that would account for our massive shifts in audience.


He’s concerned, and doesn’t have any answers. There seems to be an implication in the Facebook post that you should be aiming to hit those trending topics – but that seems a risky game.
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Swatchmaker • Peter Chamberlin


Swatchmaker uses K-means clustering to analyze an image and derive a representative palette of colours.


This is wonderful. I’ve suggested to Chamberlin that he develop it as an app: there are tons of potential uses. Give it a try.
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Introducing Solv: making it easy to get well soon • Medium

Heather Fernandez is CEO of the startup:


We started Solv because we wanted to make it easy to see a doctor for everyday health issues — concerns like colds and sore throats, cuts and sprains, stomach aches, and rashes — the things that impact, well, pretty much everyone. We’re doing that by starting with two things that hundreds of millions of people are already using: a smartphone and urgent care.

Solv is a mobile-friendly service that lets you find and book a same day doctor’s appointment at an urgent care clinic near you and skip the wait. Our technology can also check to see if your insurance is accepted, or if you’re paying out-of-pocket, see cash prices and eliminate any surprises once you get there.


Continually amazing how broken American healthcare is. Solv has big ambitions, but it’s up against very rich companies which have a big interest in the status quo. Wish them luck.
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Google’s health moonshot comes back to earth • Bloomberg

Caroline Chen and Mark Bergen:


Verily wants to collect data from our bodies, using it to guide better health decisions.

While that sounds ambitious, it’s much more modest than the missions Verily promoted when it was officially part of Google. Years ago, the biotech division promised projects such as glucose-monitoring contact lenses and all-in-one medical scanners; those remain in the lab. Former employees say the internal code name for the life sciences division was Panacea—cure-all. That’s over.

“We grew up,” says Verily chief executive officer Andy Conrad. The middle-aged geneticist has adopted the Silicon Valley T-shirt-and-flip-flops wardrobe of eternal youth, but he’s given up on a lot of the jargon, including Google’s onetime favorite word. Like some other Alphabet holdings, Verily has stopped talking about everything in terms of industry-changing “moonshots.” What next-generation technology requires in practical terms is “setting the goal and then getting down to the day-to-day practical drudgery,” Conrad says. “If you examine the real moonshot closely, you’ll see a dude whose job is to rivet and a lady whose job is to do some wiring.”

…The tricorder, which Conrad called “a few years away” in 2014, is waiting on nanoparticles that can prove consistently effective outside a petri dish. The nanoparticles Verily’s researchers bought from third-party manufacturers aren’t reliable in live animals, so now they’re making their own.

“Mother Nature defeated us wildly,” Conrad says of the tricorder project, though he’s quick to add that the research continues. Alcon says it’s pleased with the progress on its contact lenses but declined to provide a timetable for clinical trials. In the meantime, Verily and Alcon are working together on lenses that automatically adjust focus depending on where a person is looking and what she’s looking at. (Again, no timetable.)


Wonder if this will see people dialling back on the breathless takes on futuristic tech in future?
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Losing my patience with Google+ • Gideon Rosenblatt


Over the last six months or so I have watched as the quality of engagement here on Google+ has steadily declined. I have watched my follower count fluctuate and flatline. I have watched as people I used to engage with quite a bit here have left or dramatically scaled back their investments of time here. And yes, I have seen my own enthusiasm for investing time here wane significantly.

I ask myself why and the answers are never as simple as I would like. In the end though, I have come to the sad conclusion that the real thing that is killing Google+ is just plain bad management.

One gets the real sense that many of the people now charged with running Google+ don’t really understand what it was that once made this service so good in its early days. Indeed, one gets the sense that few of the people managing the service today even really use Google+. There are a few noteworthy exceptions like +Yonatan Zunger and +Leo Deegan, of course. I once made a circle with some 50+ Googlers who were once active here, and when I click on that stream, well, it feels a lot like a ghost town.

+Bradley Horowitz, the VP in charge of Streams, Photos and Sharing, (which is where Google+ sits within the Google org structure) hasn’t posted here on Google+ in half a year.


There goes the attention economy. Google loses interest in stuff, and that’s it.
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Alex Jones and the dark new media are on trial in Texas • Buzzfeed

Charlie Warzel:


For the millions on either side who both adore and revile Jones, the case [in which he is seeking custody of his three children] offers the hope of answering a near-impossible question: Where does Alex Jones the character end and Alex Jones the person begin?

But the herculean task of untangling Jones from his political views has put the 43 year-old broadcaster at the center of something bigger than himself. Unexpectedly, Jones is now the star of a courtroom drama that feels less like a quotidian family law case and more like a referendum on politics, the internet, and the media in the post-Trump ecosystem.

And that’s because at present Jones and his Infowars media empire sit at the intersection of the thorniest issues across the media landscape. Jones, depending on who you ask, is either a participant in, defender of, or the driving force behind everything from fake news, online harassment, and conspiracy theories to the toxic, hyper-partisan politicization of seemingly innocuous events.

Which is what makes Jones’ trial — and his impending trip to the witness stand — so alluring. Perhaps less interesting than knowing exactly what Jones truly believes is the prospect of watching legal experts compel earnest testimony from one of the nation’s top exporters of loose facts, untruths, and partisanship.


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Time spent using apps is only going up, but mobile web usage has hit a wall • Business Of Apps

Andy Boxall:


Time spent with apps on a smartphone has jumped by more than 10% in 2017, and will continue to rise between now and 2019; but time spent with the mobile internet remains steady this year, and is unlikely to rise significantly.

This is according to eMarketer data, which shows in 2017, mobile users will spend two hours 25 minutes each day using an app on their phone, while 26 minutes will be spent on the mobile web. App usage is up 10.3% over 2016, and now represents 19.9% of the average person’s daily media time.

In 2018, it’s estimated app usage time will rise to two hours and 35 minutes, and in 2019, reach two hours 43 minutes. Mobile web time is expected to stay at 26 minutes next year, before reaching 27 minutes in 2019.

The data covers U.S. app users, and eMarketer analyst Cathy Boyle had this to say:


“American consumers spend the bulk of their app time conducting five activities: listening to digital audio, social networking, gaming, video viewing and messaging. Each of these are time-intensive activities that consumers conduct with a high level of frequency. An app provides a direct access point from the home screen of a mobile device, and a native app experience is typically slicker and faster than a comparable web experience.”



One begins to wonder in an age of smartphones quite what “the web” means any more.
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Fixing your oven can cook your computer • The Register

Simon Sharwood:

»If your Hotpoint cooker or washer’s on the blink, don’t arrange a repair by visiting the manufacturer’s website: the appliance vendor has been inadvertently foisting nastyware onto visitors.

As spotted by Netcraft, fake Java update dialogs started appearing on Hotpoint’s UK and Republic of Ireland sites this week. If you click “Install” you won’t be updating Java, you’ll be firing up obfuscated JavaScript that Hotpoint did not place on its site. That script tries to hide the fact it refers to a third-party site that can send a custom payload of malware your way.

That payload won’t do nice things to your endpoint and may expose you to attacks like drive-by malware or phishing.

Netcraft says the source of the problem is almost certainly Hotpoint’s WordPress installation, and notes that the content management system “is notorious for being compromised if both it and its plugins are not kept up to date.”«

Things you didn’t have to worry about ten years ago.
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‘It’s all over now but the screaming’: inside the unraveling of LeEco in America • Gizmodo

Christina Warren:


Former employees say that one of the central reasons for the immediate drain of top-tier talent from LeEco happened because the senior executives hired to run the North American business weren’t actually given the opportunity to run the company. Instead, the company was “shadow run” by Chinese executives who former employees say do not understand the US market or business strategies that work here.

For instance, the Chinese leadership was keen on selling smartphones and TVs online via “flash sales”—whereby products are sold at discounts for specific periods of time. Jan Dawson, the founder and chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, says that the problems with an online sales strategy were two-fold. First of all, no one had heard of LeEco and had no reason to be checking out the company’s website. But more importantly, “no one buys smartphones that way here in the US,” he said “so this seemed to be borrowing a strategy that’s worked well for smartphone vendors in China instead of doing something more suited to the US market.”

“The strategy seemed to be, if it worked in China, it will work here,” a former employee said. This sentiment was shared by multiple former employees, and is something many see as being partially responsible for LeEco’s current problems.

“It was ego,” a former employee said, that led the company to think it could accomplish so much in the US so quickly. “They wanted to say, ‘hey we’re not just a Chinese brand’ but didn’t realize it takes time to build a brand presence.”

Of the Chinese leadership imported to oversee LeEco’s entrance to the United States, one employee put it bluntly: “They were not the smartest people in the room.”

Ultimately, the company’s strategy failed and LeEco reportedly missed its 2016 sales projections by a huge margin. One former employee described the online sales for the first few months of availability as “dismal.”


Watching this zoom and plummet (Warren’s piece has plenty more detail) has been a fascinating lesson in how different countries’ business cultures can’t necessarily be transplanted. The same has surely happened many times, but with the head office being in the US.
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eSports to be a medal event at 2022 Asian Games | Sport | The Guardian

Bryan Armen Graham:


eSports will be an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China, in the boldest step yet toward mainstream recognition of competitive gaming.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced a partnership on Monday with Alisports, the sports arm of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba, to introduce eSports as a demonstration sport at next year’s games in Indonesia, with full-fledged inclusion in the official sporting programme at the Hangzhou Games in 2022.

The OCA said the decision reflects “the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports participation among the youth.”

“The OCA has always been committed to the inheritance, development, and improvement of Asian sports,” OCA president Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah said in a statement. “And we look forward to the forward-thinking concepts of sports by Alisports, who will be helping us with their strength and experience in eSports.”

The Asian Games, which are recognized by the IOC, are billed as the world’s second largest multi-sport event after the Olympics. Forty-five national delegations and about 10,000 athletes took part in the most recent Asiad three years ago in Incheon, South Korea.


Associated story: “is it time for eSports gamers to be recognised as athletes?” Unfortunately, it doesn’t examine the question of what is required in any recreation to count as an “athlete”. Merriam-Webster says “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” Where’s eSports in that?
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Exclusive: Deezer is exploring user centric licensing • MIDiA Research

Mark Mulligan:


Artists effectively get paid on a share of ‘airplay’ basis. This is service-centric licensing. It all sounds eminently logical, and indeed the logic has been sound enough to enable the streaming market to get to where it is today. But is far from flawless.

Imagine a metal fan who only streams metal bands. With the “airplay” model if Katy Perry accounted for 10% of all streams in a month, the 10% of that metal fan’s subscription fee effectively goes towards Katy Perry and her label and publisher. Other than aggrieved metal fans, this matters because those metal bands are effectively seeing a portion of their listening time contributing to a super star pop artist. To make it clearer still, what if that metal fan only listened to Metallica, yet still 10% of that subscriber’s revenue went to Katy Perry?

The alternative is user centric licensing, where royalties are paid out as a percentage of the subscription fee of the listener. So if a subscriber listens 100% to Metallica, Metallica gets 100% of the royalty revenue generated by that subscriber. It is an intrinsically fairer model that creates a more direct relationship between what a subscriber listens to and who gets paid.

This is the model that we can exclusively reveal that Deezer is now exploring with the record labels. It is a bold move from Deezer, which though still the 3rd ranking subscription service globally has seen Spotify and Apple get ever more of the limelight. While Deezer will undoubtedly be hoping to see the PR benefit of driving some thought leadership in the market, the fact that it must find new ways to challenge the top 2 means that it can start thinking with more freedom than the leading incumbents. And a good idea done for mixed reasons is still a good idea.


This is indeed a good idea – and many people probably thought this was how it worked all along.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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