Start Up: does anyone search with voice?, purple LEDs!, the violence of Facebook Live, and more


The price tag won’t be a useful guide to their frequency response, analysis suggests. Photo by Drakh on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook hits two billion users • BBC News

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More than a quarter of the world’s population now uses Facebook every month, the social network says.

“As of this morning, the Facebook community is now officially two billion people,” founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg posted. The milestone comes just 13 years after the network was founded by Mr Zuckerberg when he was at Harvard. He famously dropped out of the university after launching the global social-networking website.

The internet giant announced it had one billion monthly users in October 2012, meaning it has doubled the number of its users in just under five years.

The firm’s continuing growth will confound critics who have long predicted that the social network’s growth would slow down as rivals such as Snapchat stole its users.

Earlier this year, Facebook warned that growth in advertising revenues would slow down. Nonetheless, Mr Zuckerberg’s ambitions remain huge. He told USA Today the firm had not made “much fanfare” about hitting the two billion figure because “we still haven’t connected everyone”.

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“Citizen 2,000,000,001, please report for your Connection Appointment.”
link to this extract


OK, Google: should i focus on voice search in 2017? • Seer Interactive

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Here’s our research:

PPC query mining

Very little usage: 0.012% of 1,016,000 PPC keywords contained “OK, Google” (128 Seer Clients).

No major keyword behavior change: 66% of “OK, Google” queries are being spoken the same way they would be typed.

Survey results:

Very little marketing applicable search usage: 61% of voice users report using voice to control applications and appliances around them vs. tap info from the Internet (phone calls, texts, playing music, etc.). Only 8% of daily voice tech users reported actively searching the Internet via voice.

The technology is limiting: 90% of users reported frustration with the current voice activated tech or they don’t use it at all:
OK 57%
Bad 27%
Great 10%
Don’t Use 6%

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That graphic tells you quite a lot. Get it to play music.
link to this extract


Petya ransomware attack – what’s known • MalwareTech

On the big ransomware attack which hit a lot of companies on Tuesday, and which uses the same “EternalBlue” exploit that Wannacry did a few weeks back:

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current data suggests that Petya was deployed onto possibly millions or even 10s of millions of computers by hacking popular Ukrainian Accounting software “MeDoc”then using the automatic update feature to download the malware onto all computers using the software. All though MeDoc being the initial infection vector is unconfirmed (and even denied by the company itself), current evidence points to them.

The important difference between WannaCry and Petya is WannaCry was likely deployed onto a small number of computers and then spread rapidly, whereas Petya seem to have been deployed onto a large number of computers and spread via local network; therefore, in this instance there is low risk of new infections more than 1h after the attack (the malware shuts down the computer to encrypt it 1h after execution, by which time it will already have completed its local network scan).

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link to this extract


Google, Facebook are super monopolies: Roger McNamee • CNBC

Chantel McGee:

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Google shareholders won’t be fazed by the EU’s $2.7bn fine against the company for competition abuses related to its shopping business, Elevation Partners co-founder Roger McNamee told CNBC on Tuesday.

“As a shareholder of Google you’re looking at this and saying: ‘We won again,'” McNamee said.

The venture capitalist spoke hours after EU regulators fined Google a record 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion), ruling that the search-engine giant violated antitrust rules for its online shopping practices.

Google said it will consider appealing the decision to the highest court in Europe.

“Google, Facebook, Amazon are increasingly just super-monopolies, especially Google and Facebook. The share of the markets they operate in is literally on the same scale that Standard Oil had … more than 100 years ago — with the big differences that their reach is now global, not just within a single country,” he said on “Squawk Alley.”

The fine is not large enough to change Google’s behavior, he added. “The only thing that will change it is regulations that actually say you can or can’t do something.”

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link to this extract


The Washington Post leverages artificial intelligence in comment moderation – The Washington Post

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The Washington Post has launched ModBot, a software application that utilizes artificial intelligence to moderate comments. The proprietary technology uses machine learning to automatically filter comments that require human moderating, flag stories that require real-time monitoring, and approve or delete comments based on The Post’s discussion policy. The technology evaluates comments using an algorithm that has been trained by The Post’s years-long history of human-moderated comments.

ModBot has been assisting Post comment moderators since its launch on May 5 and the technology is currently evaluating all Washington Post comments.

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That’s all well and good for stopping the openly abusive stuff getting through, but doesn’t – and can’t – deal with the main problem: comments on average don’t contribute to the story. The drift away from allowing or by default showing comments on general news sites will, on the whole, continue.
link to this extract


Violence on Facebook Live is worse than you thought • Buzzfeed

Alex Kantrowitz:

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Some criminologists worry that broadcasts of violent crimes to Facebook Live might lead perpetrators of violent crime to view the platform as a means of gaining infamy, bypassing the traditional filter of the media. “The most likely impact is that it’s going to be a model of how to distribute and immortalize your act,” Ray Surette, a criminal justice professor at the University of Central Florida, told BuzzFeed News.

Jacqueline Helfgott, chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Seattle University, agreed. “It’s making it easier for people to gain notoriety instantly without gatekeepers,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I definitely think there’s a mimetic effect.”

In addition, the longer these videos stay online, the more of a problem they become, said Surette, as criminals may see them as an effective way to publicize their misdeeds. “It does make a difference how long it’s up there,” he explained. “The fewer people that are exposed to it, the fewer people are going to see it as a model.”

Facebook — prior to announcing plans to hire an additional 3,000 people to identify problems — has at times been shockingly slow to remove violent videos. In late April, for example, a Facebook Live video of a father in Thailand murdering his 11-month-old daughter was available on Facebook for nearly 24 hours.

For every murder aired on Facebook that receives national or international attention — such as the one in Thailand or a murder in Chicago in which the perpetrator uploaded a video of himself killing a man at random — there are several others that don’t make headlines outside local coverage areas. The shooting of Donesha Gantt, for instance, did not make national news. Yet these videos don’t need to be picked up by CNN to have an impact. Millions watch inside Facebook itself.

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I bet if Charlie Brooker were writing The National Anthem now, rather than in 2010, he’d incorporate Facebook Live somehow.
link to this extract


No correlation between headphone frequency response and retail price • The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

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This study quantifies variability of measured headphone response patterns and aims to uncover any correlations between headphone type, retail price, and frequency response. For this purpose, the mean, variance, and covariance of the frequency magnitude responses were analyzed and correlated with headphone type and retail value. The results indicate that neither the measured response nor an attempt to objectively quantify perceived quality is related to price.

On average, in-ear headphones have a slightly higher measured bass response than circumaural and supra-aural headphones. Furthermore, in-ear and circumaural headphones have a slightly lower deviation from an assumed target curve than supra-ear models. 90% of the variance across all headphone measurements can be described by a set of six basis functions…

…Across all groups, the averaged responses demonstrate a resonant peak at around 3.5 kHz, a secondary resonance at 10 kHz, and a general decrease in response toward 19 kHz.

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They seem to have tested a lot of headphones – as many as 100? – but annoyingly I can’t find anywhere that they specify which. But the prices go up well past the $100 mark.
link to this extract


The EU’s got it all wrong on Google • Adam Smith Institute

Sam Bowman:

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bundling or integrating price comparison tools might be good for users who are less tech-savvy and would normally go for a ‘trusted’ but more expensive retailer. If you don’t realise that SkyScanner exists and would normally just go with BA every time, it could be very useful to get Google Flights right up top, showing that Ryanair does what you’re looking for much more cheaply.

So it’s not even clear that prioritising Google Shopping results is bad for consumers – it may lead them to be more price-conscious and to shop around between merchants more. Even if it is – because it’s worse than some alternative price comparison site, for example – there is still no case for punishing Google for giving it special prominence. If Google Shopping is worse for consumers then it must be acting as a revenue raiser for Google, and a de facto way of charging for use of Google search (and other free Google products). 

If people can switch between platforms it doesn’t matter that much if, within a platform, there isn’t that much competition. Prioritising a particular shopping search engine is not akin to gouging water users with higher prices because there are alternatives to Google that users can switch to easily. If the overall user experience is made worse by Google Shopping being prioritised, then users will have the option of moving to a search engine like Bing which is perhaps less good as at search but better overall because it does not prioritise a bad shopping tool. Indeed Bing has specifically targeted Google Shopping, which they say is worse than their own tool, to get users to switch. And there is an incentive created for entrepreneurs and large existing rivals of Google like Facebook to create their own, rival platform…

…But the core issue here is whether we need to force competition within software platforms if competition exists between them. Just as Windows users moved to other operating systems (both on mobile with Android and iOS and desktop with Linux and Apple’s OS X), Google users have plenty of alternatives they can switch to if they think that Google’s bundling worsens the platform’s quality enough.

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I disagree with this analysis. Comparing the desktop with mobile misrepresents the role search plays; what Google did in Shopping is like Microsoft not only pre-installing Internet Explorer but making it increasingly hard to run alternative browsers even after you’d downloaded and installed them.

The ASI view is much closer to the US view on antitrust: if you can’t point right now to a user who has been inconvenienced, then nothing bad has been done. This seems to me a short-term view of competition (which you’d think an organisation using that name would favour).

link to this extract


EU fines Google €2.4bn ($2.7bn) over favoring Google Shopping in search results • Tech Narratives

Jan Dawson (who points out that he started out as an analyst covering EU regulation):

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In its decision, the EU explicitly says that this case sets a precedent, which certainly suggests it’s likely to find and act similarly in the other two cases [against Google, alleging abuse of dominance over mandated apps in Android, and insistence on Google Play for “approved” apps]. Secondly, the fine is substantial, but ultimately not the biggest punishment for Google here. Rather, the most significant outcome is restrictions on promoting other Google services in search, which applies for today onto to Shopping but by implication would also affect other linked products that get prominent promotion in search results, whether Maps, News, or potentially other categories too. Put that together with the precedent point, and we’re very likely to see similar restrictions on bundling and promoting other services in Android and possibly other areas too.

Thirdly, the decision is notable for a very European approach to defining markets, which I mentioned in one of those earlier pieces on Android: the EU tends to define markets in ways normal people probably wouldn’t, because that allows it to make findings that otherwise couldn’t be made. In this case, it’s defining Google Shopping as a comparison shopping service rather than just a more useful way to present shopping-related search results and/or ads, which is how Google sees them. Once you define Google Shopping in that way, then of course Google is unfairly promoting Google Shopping over other comparison shopping services – can you even name any others?

Google’s own algorithm, which benefits only from being as good as possible, rarely ranks any others above the fourth page of organic search results, suggesting their limited relevance. But as long as the EU is determined to take that approach, I see very little Google can do to fight against this decision, because it’s based on a market definition the EU gets to decide on, and which Google is essentially powerless to change. Overall, this feels like something of a watershed moment in Google’s relationship with the EU – I think any appeal is very unlikely to succeed, and at most will push back the implementation of the decision and the forced unbending of Shopping from search.

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Also: EC announcement; Google response.
link to this extract


Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? • The Guardian

Stephen Buranyi:

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[Bernstein Research investment analyst Claudio] Aspesi was not the first person to incorrectly predict the end of the scientific publishing boom, and he is unlikely to be the last. It is hard to believe that what is essentially a for-profit oligopoly functioning within an otherwise heavily regulated, government-funded enterprise can avoid extinction in the long run. But publishing has been deeply enmeshed in the science profession for decades. Today, every scientist knows that their career depends on being published, and professional success is especially determined by getting work into the most prestigious journals. The long, slow, nearly directionless work pursued by some of the most influential scientists of the 20th century is no longer a viable career option. Under today’s system, the father of genetic sequencing, Fred Sanger, who published very little in the two decades between his 1958 and 1980 Nobel prizes, may well have found himself out of a job.

Even scientists who are fighting for reform are often not aware of the roots of the system: how, in the boom years after the second world war, entrepreneurs built fortunes by taking publishing out of the hands of scientists and expanding the business on a previously unimaginable scale. And no one was more transformative and ingenious than Robert Maxwell, who turned scientific journals into a spectacular money-making machine that bankrolled his rise in British society. Maxwell would go on to become an MP, a press baron who challenged Rupert Murdoch, and one of the most notorious figures in British life. But his true importance was far larger than most of us realise. Improbable as it might sound, few people in the last century have done more to shape the way science is conducted today than Maxwell.

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A great read about this giant, weirdly profitable business.
link to this extract


Purple-emitting LEDs get closer to the sun • EE Times

Sally Ward-Foxton:

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Seoul Semiconductor Co. Ltd., in partnership with Toshiba Materials Co. Ltd., has created an LED that it says more closely mimics the spectrum of natural daylight.

Called SunLike, the LEDs combine Seoul Semiconductor’s high-brightness purple LEDs with advanced red, green, and blue (RGB) phosphors developed at Toshiba Materials. Up to now, most approaches have mimicked daylight by combining blue-emitting LEDs with yellow and red phosphors to fill out the rest of the spectrum, but that method results in peaks in the blue spectrum.

Blue peaks are undesirable because the amount of blue light the human eye can accept is limited. Over-illumination with blue light results in scatter, which distorts the texture and color of illuminated objects. Research also suggests that exposure to excess blue light can have negative health effects related to interruption of the circadian rhythms.

The secret to SunLike’s performance is the phosphors, said Seoul Semiconductor CEO Chung Hoon Lee.

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“One word, Benjamin: phosphors.”
link to this extract


The Magical Apple Spin-Off That Almost Invented the iPhone … in 1993 • OZY

Sean Braswell:

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Almost 17 years before the iPhone, General Magic’s aim was nothing less than a pocket-size communications device that could send messages, perform computing and make calls. The company called a dramatic press conference in February 1993 to announce two key components of that device: Magic Cap (a user-friendly operating system) and Telescript (a telecommunications language to allow devices to communicate across different networks). Industry observers raved that the company was creating “the digital version of English” to go with its hand-held personal assistant of the future. General Magic raised almost $90 million, and another $82 million at its 1995 initial public offering. Silicon Valley’s brightest angled to work at its Mountain View headquarters, equipped with free-roaming rabbits and conference rooms named after famous illusionists like Houdini.

But it soon became clear that General Magic’s vision was more an illusion than a reality. As the company burned through its cash, its products were plagued by delays and glitches.

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I visited General Magic in 1994, when I was working for New Scientist. Here’s how the article I wrote began:

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Imagine being lost on a mountain. You know there’s a path to the road,
but all you can see are hills, lakes and woods, and the map you brought along is little more than a sketch. This is the moment that you need the device so beloved of 1950s science fiction – a communicator. A small device that can display detailed maps of the area, send messages to the emergency services and, if you’ve got the advanced model, beam you back home.

Well, there’s a small group of scientists working in a Californian development laboratory who’d like to help you out. The communicator may not beam you home yet, but General Magic, founded four years ago by Mark Porat, Bill Atkinson and Andy Herzfeld, is already making the future of personal communications happen.

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Yeah, near enough the iPhone, I think.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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