Start Up: how Upworthy fell, AirPod satisfaction, read the WSJ free, time to shut Uber?, and more


Veep is discovering that life imitates art all too closely sometimes. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Upworthy was one of the hottest sites ever. You won’t believe what happened next • All Tech Considered NPR

Sam Sanders will tell you, though: Facebook downrated its stories.

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Facebook declined an interview request from NPR, but engineers there have spoken before about why Facebook’s algorithm started to hurt headlines and stories like Upworthy’s. In a recent New York Times Magazine piece, several engineers said they could see that people clicked on clickbaity headlines like Upworthy’s a lot, but didn’t stay on such sites for a long time after they clicked. And lots of stories that got lots of clicks didn’t get lots of shares, another sign to engineers that the content wasn’t valuable to Facebook users. Facebook determined that such stories were clicky, but not sticky.

In a statement to NPR, a Facebook spokesperson said, “It’s no secret there have been several improvements to News Feed in recent years. There has been clear communication about those updates, and why the community of people on Facebook wanted them — particularly in the instance of reducing clickbait and sensationalism.” That spokesperson also said Facebook stands by the reporting in The New York Times about why Upworthy clicks suffered.

([Upworthy founder Eli] Pariser disagreed. He said a big part of why content like Upworthy’s started to decline in News Feed is because Facebook wanted to push its own content instead of someone else’s.)

Whatever the case, how do you bounce back after such a hit? Slowly — and with a little help.

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Facebook’s “how much time, how quickly are they back?” calculation is just like Google’s when you click on a search result.
link to this extract


Jeff Bezos’ lessons from Washington Post for news industry • CNBC

Matt Rosoff:

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Bezos delivered some of this advice at the Future of Newspapers conference in Turin, Italy, on Wednesday. Here are the highlights:

Focus on readers first, not advertisers. In response to a question about similarities between running Amazon and the Post, Bezos said: “We run Amazon and The Washington Post in a very similar way in terms of the basic approach. We attempt to be customer-centric, which in the case of the Post means reader-centric. I think you can get confused, you can be advertiser-centric — and what advertisers want, of course, is readers — and so you should be simple-minded about that and you should be focused on readers. If you can focus on readers advertisers will come.”

You can’t shrink your way to relevance. When he took over, Bezos said, the Post already had an “outstanding” tech team and newsroom, and a top-notch editorial leader in Marty Baron. But the newsroom kept eliminating people, which wasn’t working.

“What they needed was a little bit of runway and the encouragement to experiment, and to stop shrinking. You can’t shrink your way into relevance.” Since then, the paper has added about 140 reporters and significantly grown the tech team — and it’s worked.

“We’ve grown our way into profitability instead of shrinking our way into profitability.”

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Advertisers won’t like that suggestion, but it’s the right one.
link to this extract


Russian hackers targeted 21 states during 2016 election • Axios

Shane Savitsky:

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During a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning, officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security discussed the scope of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and how the federal government is preparing for potential future cyberattacks.

The big thing: Jeanette Manfra, the Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity and Communications at DHS, confirmed that election-related systems in 21 states were targeted in the lead-up to the 2016 election, but reiterated that no vote tallies were altered.

Related: Manfra refused to name those 21 states, but said that the “system owners” had been made aware of the targeting. She also said that some states had data exfiltrated by Russian hackers but refused to provide details regarding the nature or scope of the exfiltrated election data.

Other things to note:

• It’ll happen again: Bill Priestap, the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said that he believes the Russians will continue their hacking efforts.

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And more.
link to this extract


Apple’s AirPods are winning with the critics that matter • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

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In classic Apple fashion, the AirPod wireless earphones were launched with a generous heaping of hyperbole last year. The universal headphone jack was, according to Apple, out of date, and it was time we all got on the wireless bandwagon — with those pearly-white cigarette stub lookalikes serving as our ticket to the future. I very much doubted the $159 AirPods, and I was certainly put off by Apple’s haughty presentation, but user feedback appears to be proving me wrong. One survey published this week reports 98% of AirPod buyers have been satisfied with their purchase, many even saying they liked the earphones more than they thought they would.

That leads me to the topic of this article, which is about heeding the important feedback and discarding the noise. Just as inevitable as the Apple hype is the corresponding wave of counter-hype. Apple: it’s magical. Vlad: it would take real magic to see me with these in my ears. Both of those things are examples of noise: you’ll never hear a company launch a new product with anything but the most positive articulations of its revolutionary nature, and whatever I or any other critic have to say before they’ve tried the product is based mostly on conjecture and should be treated as such.

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Surprised it’s only 98%, to be honest. Only wrinkle I notice: sometimes it’s hard to persuade the iPhone to give up its link to them in favour of the Watch. (Solution: turn off Bluetooth on the phone, return pods to charger, take them out.)
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The new season of “Veep” was not supposed to be about Donald Trump • The New Yorker

Ian Crouch:

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Throughout the season, [ex-president] Selina [Meyer] refuses to sit still long enough to begin work on her memoir, while her former speechwriter attempts to claw anecdotes out of her, recalling the experience of the “Art of the Deal” ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, who told Jane Mayer that, during their collaboration, Trump “seemed to remember almost nothing of his youth, and made it clear that he was bored.” When Selina finally does reflect on her past, it’s revealed that everything she thought she knew about her supposedly idyllic youth was a lie. It’s hard to think of Selina, playing backgammon at night with Gary, without recalling the reports of Trump spending his evenings alone in the White House, watching cable news into the wee hours, complaining about fake news to his longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller.

Perhaps nowhere have the similarities between Meyer and Trump been clearer than on the global stage. Trump, during his recent trip abroad—touching a glowing orb during a supremely odd photo op with the President of Egypt and the King of Saudi Arabia, appearing to shove the Prime Minister of Montenegro out of his way to get a better position among a gaggle of world leaders at the nato meeting in Brussels, and engaging in a comically extended macho-handshake battle with the newly elected French President, Emmanuel Macron—looked queasily similar to Selina on her various foreign trips.

So far in Season 6, as an ex-President, Selina has travelled to the Republic of Georgia as an election monitor, where she disparages democracy and cozies up to a pair of oligarchs, playing them off each other in exchange for thinly veiled bribes. In Qatar, she again plays world leaders against each other for favors. In “Veep,” diplomacy is simply business with more money on the line. In Saudi Arabia, Trump appeared at ease and slightly in awe of the luxurious pageantry in the Kingdom, muting his former belligerent tone as he struck deals with the Saudis, while failing to muster any mention of human rights. Meanwhile, Selina, speaking at a forum for human rights in the Middle East, proclaimed, in one of the best lines yet in the series, “Human rights are part of a diverse pageant of different priorities.”

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Veep has been on rare form this time round. And real life has brought it close, such as the time Trump walked out of the Oval Office talking about how great his new executive order was – except he hadn’t signed it. Perfect Veep fare.
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You can now read the WSJ for free — but only if you burst your filter bubble • Hackernoon

Beeline Reader:

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A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal’s “google loophole” disappeared. But despair not: there’s a new way to get free access to the WSJ website — and all you have to do is climb out of your filter bubble to get it.

(TLDR: Get this iOS app or this Chrome extension (both free) and get reading.)

We launched the Read Across The Aisle project as a way to help people assess and escape their filter bubbles. Our tools, which have been called “a fitbit for your filter bubble,” are free to use — thanks in large part to the generosity of our Kickstarter backers. We’ve built an iOS app and a Chrome extension, which have graced the pages of the New York Times, Fast Company, and the BBC.

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What I find notable here is that it’s an iOS app, or it’s a Chrome extension. Tells you all you need to know about the dominant money-generating platforms on mobile and desktop.
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Uber can’t be fixed — it’s time for regulators to shut it down • Harvard Business Review

Ben Edelman (who you’ll recall from his “Uber scandals” page earlier this week), following the resignation of Travis Kalanick as CEO:

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Uber’s most distinctive capabilities focused on defending its illegality. Uber built up staff, procedures, and software systems whose purpose was to enable and mobilize passengers and drivers to lobby regulators and legislators — creating political disaster for anyone who questioned Uber’s approach. The company’s phalanx of attorneys brought arguments perfected from prior disputes, whereas each jurisdiction approached Uber independently and from a blank slate, usually with a modest litigation team. Uber publicists presented the company as the epitome of innovation, styling critics as incumbent puppets stuck in the past.

Through these tactics, Uber muddied the waters. Despite flouting straightforward, widely applicable law in most jurisdictions, Uber usually managed to slow or stop enforcement, in due course changing the law to allow its approach. As the company’s vision became the new normal, it was easy to forget that the strategy was, at the outset, plainly illegal.

Uber faced an important challenge in implementing this strategy: It isn’t easy to get people to commit crimes. Indeed, employees at every turn faced personal and professional risks in defying the law; two European executives were indicted and arrested for operating without required permits. But Uber succeeded in making lawbreaking normal and routine by celebrating its subversion of the laws relating to taxi services. Look at the company’s stated values — “super-pumped,” “always be hustlin’,” and “bold.” Respect for the law barely merits a footnote.

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link to this extract


State Supreme Court judge loses $1M in real estate email scam • NY Daily News

Laura Dimon and Grahan Rayman:

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A state Supreme Court judge was scammed out of more than $1 million after being fooled by an email she thought had been sent by her real estate lawyer, the Daily News has learned.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Lori Sattler, 51, was duped while trying to sell her apartment and buy another, sources said.

On Friday, Sattler told police she’d gotten an email June 7 from someone she believed was her lawyer, sources said.

The person claiming to be the lawyer told her to send money to an account. She followed the instructions and wired $1,057,500 to that account, sources said. The money was then sent to Commerce Bank of China, sources said.

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Probably using methods as detailed here a few days ago.
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Leaked recording: inside Apple’s global war on leakers • The Outline

William Turton:

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[ex-NSA staffer David] Rice says that Apple’s focus on secrecy has not translated to a culture of fear. “I think what is unique at Apple is that we don’t have a Big Brother culture,” Rice says. “There’s nobody on my team reading emails, sitting behind you on the bus, we don’t do that.”

But the presentation makes working for Apple sound like working for the CIA. (At one point, Rice even refers to “blowing cover.”) There are repeated references to employees drawing boundaries in their personal lives, for example. “I go through a lot of trouble not to talk about what I work on with my wife, with my teenage kids… with my friends, my family,” an employee in one of the videos says. “I’m not telling you that you give up all relationships,” Rice says, “but that you have a built-in relationship monitor that you’re constantly using.”…

…Other tech companies have begun to follow Apple’s lead on instilling a culture of secrecy. According to a 2016 report from Business Insider, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has a portrait of Steve Jobs hanging in his office, and the company has cultivated an obsession with leaks similar to Apple’s. Facebook is currently hiring a “Global Threat Investigations Manager,” and Google is facing a lawsuit in San Francisco alleging that the company operates an internal “spying program.”

Some of the hypothetical and real leaks discussed in the briefing seem inconsequential: the release of watch bands, or the fact that a new iPad will be “bigger,” for example. But Cook believes leaks directly hurt Apple’s bottom line. During the company’s most recent earnings call, Cook blamed flagging iPhone sales on “earlier and much more frequent reports about future iPhones.” Indeed, there have been a slew of leaks about the iPhone 8, scheduled to be announced in the fall. “Apple has a major iPhone redesign planned for 2017, with a glass body and edge-to-edge OLED display that includes an integrated Touch ID fingerprint sensor and front-facing camera,” according to MacRumors.

Such leaks may be why Apple is now hosting these internal secrecy briefings.

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As has been observed, it’s a hell of a thing to get a recording of an internal briefing about not revealing internal briefings to outside people. Someone’s so going to get fired.

And just on the Big Brother thing, when took over Apple again in 1997, Steve Jobs certainly introduced a monitoring system on emails. Perhaps it was abandoned at some point?
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The 10.5in iPad Pro’s 120Hz refresh rate matters • The Mac Observer

Jeff Butts, explaining that there’s a difference between “frames per second” and “refresh rate”:

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the ProMotion technology doesn’t lock the refresh rate at 120Hz. Rather, it allows the 10.5-inch iPad Pro to scale the refresh rate from a low of 24Hz to a high of 120Hz. If you’re reading a static page, it drops down to the floor. On the other hand, when you’re looking at fast-moving content, you get the full 120Hz refresh rate. In other words, the frames refresh 120 times per second, even when your content only moves at 60 FPS.

Here’s why that makes a difference. First of all, your graphics processing unit (GPU) projects an image to your display that isn’t always in sync. If the display only refreshed 60 times per second, you might have a delay between the GPU sending the refreshed frames and the display showing them, resulting in stuttering and an overall less smooth experience.

Since the image is actually flashed 120 times per second, the display is able to project the frames to your eyeballs up to twice per cycle. That means a smoother image, overall, especially when viewing fast action or scrolling. There’s less stutter, and the content feels like it’s flying by when you fling it.

The 120Hz refresh rate also makes a huge difference with the Apple Pencil. It’s sampling at 120 times per second, so the Pencil will appear even smoother than it did before. The delay, or latency, of the Pencil is down to 20ms, according to Apple, which is quite good. With a 120Hz refresh rate, combined with behind-the-scenes predictive technology, the perceived latency can actually drop as low as 8ms. You won’t find an experience any closer to that of paper and pencil than that.

Whether you’re a gamer, engineer, digital artist, or just a “normal” user, the 120Hz refresh rate alone makes the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro nothing short of amazing. Movies and other media, even with lower FPS rates, look absolutely stunning in their detail and smoothness.

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link to this extract


Tesla’s autopilot software head quits in less than six months • Reuters

Subbrat Patnaik:

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Tesla Inc said the head of its autopilot software, Chris Lattner, left the company in less than six months since joining the electric carmaker.

“Chris just wasn’t the right fit for Tesla, and we’ve decided to make a change,” a Tesla spokeswoman told Reuters in an email on Tuesday.

“Turns out that Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all,” Lattner, who worked at Apple Inc (AAPL.O) for more than a decade before joining Tesla in January, tweeted. “I’m interested to hear about interesting roles for a seasoned engineering leader!”

Tesla said it hired Andrej Karpathy as director of artificial intelligence and Tesla Vision team, the spokeswoman said.

Karpathy, who most recently worked as a research scientist at OpenAI, will directly report to Chief Executive Elon Musk.

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Lattner led the creation of the Swift computer language at Apple. (Afterwards he tweeted: “Yes, I do have seven years’ experience of Swift.”) He did feel like an odd choice to lead its autonomous driving unit. And so it proved.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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