IBM says its Watson system is “making a difference”. Reality begs to differ. Photo by ibmphoto24 on Flickr.
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A selection of 12 links for you. It’s as if we were never away! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.
The Power User Curve: The best way to understand your most engaged users • Andrew Chen
Power users drive some of the most successful companies — people who love their product, are highly engaged, and contribute a ton of value to the network. In ecommerce marketplaces it’s power sellers, in ridesharing platforms it’s power riders, and in social networks it’s influencers.
All companies want more power users, but you need to measure them before you can find (and retain) them. While DAU/MAU — dividing daily active users (DAUs) by monthly active users (MAUs or monthly actives) — is a common metric for measuring engagement, it has its shortcomings.
Since companies need a richer and more nuanced way to understand user engagement, we’re going to introduce what we’ll call the “Power User Curve” — also commonly called the activity histogram or the “L30” (coined by the Facebook growth team). It’s a histogram of users’ engagement by the total number of days they were active in a month, from 1 day out of the month to all 30 (or 28, or 31) days. While typically reflecting top-level activity like app opens or logins, it can be customized for whatever action you decide is important to measure for your product.
Chen’s articles are always fascinating; this one gets into whether a product/service would be best monetised through a subscription or advertising – revealed just through the DAU/MAU power user curve.
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Newton Mail to shut down service September 25th • MacStories
Newton, which began life as CloudMagic in 2013, will shut down its email subscription service on September 25, 2018. According to the company’s CEO, Rohit Nadhani:
We explored various business models but couldn’t successfully figure out profitability & growth over the long term. It was hard; the market for premium consumer mail apps is not big enough, and it faces stiff competition from high quality free apps from Google, Microsoft, and Apple. We put up a hard and honest fight, but it was not enough to overcome the bundling & platform default advantages enjoyed by the large tech companies.
CloudMagic was relaunched as a subscription email service and renamed Newton in 2016. According to Nadhani’s post, the company, which offered iOS, Mac, Android, and Windows versions of its email client, served over four million customers, 40,000 of whom signed up as paying subscribers.
That’s less than a 1% signup for software that’s probably quite good. Trying to get people to pay for email is one of the modern world’s most difficult tech sales jobs.
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Microsoft Surface Go review: a little goes a long way • The Verge
The Surface Go is a 10-inch hybrid tablet-laptop Windows computer. It’s just really small, honestly. That seems like an obvious point to make, but it’s the essence of what the Surface Go is: A very tiny Surface. I said in my last video that I have a soft spot for tiny computers. They’re just a little more convenient to carry around and the tradeoffs in performance are usually worth it for me. The sign of a good tiny computer is that you have to check to make sure it’s actually in your bag when you leave the house. And I have had to check several times — it weighs 1.15 pounds on its own.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is typing on the slightly-less-than-full-size keyboard. I found it only took me a few hours to get used to it, and I’ve been able to jam along without more typos that usual. It uses traditional scissor switches, which means that there’s good key travel. The keys themselves are slightly domed, which might help just a little with accuracy. The glass Precision trackpad is similarly good — just big enough so that you don’t feel cramped using it.
Bohn really, really likes the Surface Go. Notable that Apple’s offering 9.7in and 10.5in tablets: it’s as if consensus is gravitating around 10in as the idea for the toaster-fridge form factor.
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More than 1,000 U.S. news sites are still unavailable in Europe, two months after GDPR took effect • Nieman Journalism Lab
Joseph O’Connor, a self-described “rogue archivist” in the United Kingdom, has been tracking the issue. He started after a gunman killed five staff members of the Capital Gazette on June 28. O’Connor wanted to read about the shooting, but the paper in Annapolis, Maryland, and the nearby Baltimore Sun, both Tronc properties, are blocked in Europe.
As of Monday, O’Connor found that more than 1,000 news sites were unavailable in the EU. They included more than 40 broadcast websites and about 100 sites operated under GateHouse’s Wicked Local brand.
GateHouse and Tronc did not respond to requests for comment about the GDPR. Lee Enterprises has no plans to comply. Company spokesperson Charles Arms said Lee’s websites wouldn’t draw enough visitors from the more than 30 countries in the EU and the European Economic Area to justify compliance.
“Internet traffic on our local news sites originating from the EU and EEA is de minimis, and we believe blocking that traffic is in the best interest of our local media clients,” Arms said.
From a financial standpoint, that position is justified, according to Alan Mutter, who teaches media economics at the University of California at Berkeley. He said international web traffic might benefit The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post but “ads served in Paris, Palermo, or Potsdam don’t help advertisers in Peoria.”
But being available in Europe can help customer relations. And about 16 million Americans visited Europe last year.
Tronc’s lack of response is fairly typical. It’s a big company but it doesn’t care about anything beyond its tiny view. At least Instapaper, under new management, is available in Europe again.
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Inside Magic Leap’s quest to remake itself as an ordinary company (with a real product) • Wired
Jessi Hempel has been to visit Magic Leap (which has been given $2.3bn in venture funding) multiple times. Now it’s selling $2,295 AR headsets to developers:
The Icelandic band Sigur Rós worked with Magic Leap to build an electrifyingly beautiful visual sound experience. But Magic Leap has also provided a way for developers to input a tiny snippet of code into their existing projects and refer to 3-D models to render web pages in 3-D in Magic Leap’s Helio browser. So, you can open a demo of The New York Times in Magic Leap’s Helio browser, just as you might on your desktop. But by adding a small snippet of code that renders a 3-D model, The New York Times can also show you a news photo rendered in 3-D so you can more closely explore it.
In seeding developers, Magic Leap is attempting to steer the design direction of its technology. Sure, 40% of the developers who received the goggles early are focused on gaming and entertainment, use cases that have been the company’s mainstay. But Magic Leap has also developed tools for corporate communication (Imagine Zoom, but if your entire conference party were avatars sitting around a digital conference table.) Roughly 10% of the company’s existing developers come from healthcare and medical imaging, which isn’t surprising given Abovitz’s background.
I suspect the gaming thing will go nowhere: who’s going to spend $2,295 on AR glasses for gaming? Even if the price halves, that’s still $1,000. The market would be tiny.
I predict that in 18 months’ time or so Magic Leap will pivot to industrial and commercial applications: there, you aren’t asking consumers to spend huge sums of money. You get the company to pay.
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Why everyone is following less on Twitter (and regaining their sanity) • Inc.com
We can only pay attention to so many things. Political climate aside, there are only so many people you can hear at once – and, at a certain time, you won’t be able to truly engage.
I discovered this in 2012 and, as I shared in this column, I dropped from following thousands of people to only 300:
I loved sharing varied opinions and conversations. I eventually started to feel suffocated, though–as if a continual sea of commentary was constantly thrashing me against the rocks. I realized that I was following too many people. I love initiating and enabling passionate, one-on-one conversations, and it was becoming debilitating to do that while following thousands of people. Instead, I took a drastic approach: Around 2012, I began culling the people I followed down to the most essential and insightful. It’s been tough, but I regularly keep my following group to around 300–the number of people I can consistently engage during the day. Instead, I use Twitter lists to keep up with other people without having the heavy news feed. Figure out how many people you can comfortably be connected with on your favorite social-media platform and stick with that number.
Today, I’m at around 250. These are the people, organizations and movements I care about, those that have the biggest impact on my ideas and the arguments I most want to share.
I’ve seen a few people do this, and it’s obvious that you’ll get a much calmer version of Twitter. (Turning off retweets has a similar effect.) It also reinforces the filter bubble, though.
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IBM has a Watson dilemma • WSJ
Daniela Hernandez and Ted Greenwald:
“Watson represents a technology breakthrough that can help physicians improve patient outcomes,” said Herbert Chase, a professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University, in a 2012 IBM press release.
Six years and billions of dollars later, the diagnosis for Watson is gloomy.
More than a dozen IBM partners and clients have halted or shrunk Watson’s oncology-related projects. Watson cancer applications have had limited impact on patients, according to dozens of interviews with medical centers, companies and doctors who have used it, as well as documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
In many cases, the tools didn’t add much value. In some cases, Watson wasn’t accurate. Watson can be tripped up by a lack of data in rare or recurring cancers, and treatments are evolving faster than Watson’s human trainers can update the system. Dr. Chase of Columbia said he withdrew as an adviser after he grew disappointed in IBM’s direction for marketing the technology.
No published research shows Watson improving patient outcomes.
Artificial intelligence has the potential to reinvent the world, from how businesses operate to the types of jobs people hold to the way wars are fought. In health care, AI promises to help doctors diagnose and treat diseases as well as help people track their own wellness and monitor chronic conditions. Watson’s struggles suggest that revolution remains some way off.
IBM said Watson has important cancer-care benefits, like helping doctors keep up with medical knowledge. “This is making a difference,” said John Kelly, IBM senior vice president. “The data says and is validating that we’re on the right track.”
All the numbers are going in the wrong direction for Watson. As this says, the problem is more that the dataset is really unclear: we don’t understand cancer well enough. Chris Mims, a WSJ writer, put it succinctly: “Outright fraud aside, hard to think of anything in tech where there’s been a bigger delta [gap] between what was advertised and the reality than IBM’s Watson.”
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Windows malware WannaCry delays manufacturing of the next iPhone processor • Motherboard
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) admitted that the attack was possible because of an unpatched Windows 7 system, which was vulnerable to the infamous ransomware WannaCry while the company was installing a new tool. The infection happened when a supplier connected tainted software to TSMC’s network without a virus scan, according to Bloomberg.
TSMC is Apple’s exclusive supplier of the iPhone’s A-series chips. The attack, which cost the manufacturer $250m, could have been prevented, because it left its Windows 7 systems unpatched. The patch has been available for approximately a year.
The WannaCry virus started spreading in 2017, and has infected 200,000 computers across 150 countries. As a relatively old virus, you can easily protect against it by keeping your PC software updated, which TSMC apparently failed to do. Because there are so many systems still out there that are still not being properly patched, we can still see infrastructure like TSMC that’s vulnerable to the same attacks a year later.
In an official statement, TSMC said that the company expects the incident to “cause shipment delays and additional costs,” with third quarter revenue taking as 3% hit. But analysts say that the company was prepared for this kind of attack, and its customers might not see much of a difference in shipping delays or costs.
Lasted five days; how many A12 processors had TSMC made already? How much has this affected it? If it’s five days, then probably not that much, truth be told. And once the systems are restored, it’s all as it was before.
Though of course it would be a wonderful hacking story to put a bug in the A12. Except that this was just an accident.
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‘Like selling crack to children’: a peek inside the Silicon Valley grift machine • NY Mag
I got a deeper look at these methods when I dropped by the annual Startup Conference at the historic downtown Fox Theater in Redwood City. Inside the auditorium, Stanford grad and start-up founder Nir Eyal captivated a crowd of several hundred with a distillation of his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which promised to give marketers the key to the unconscious mind…
…Eyal presented several categories of virtual tchotchkes companies might offer in exchange for people’s money or attention. One category he called “rewards of the tribe,” which he described as “things that feel good, have an element of variability, and come from other people” — like Likes. Another category: “rewards of the hunt,” which involved “the search for resources” such as food. “In our modern society, we buy these things with money,” Eyal said. The addictive power of slot machines offered one example of how marketers could manipulate people’s animal instincts. Video-game companies like Zynga had taken those Pavlovian processes to a new level, bringing players to the peak of excitement and then hitting them up for cash, which is sort of like a mystery movie that pauses itself mid-plot-twist and demands that you insert a coin.
I wasn’t qualified to judge the neuroscientific basis of Eyal’s pitch, but pop-sci of this sort sent my bullshit detector whooping like a Klaxon. Whether or not his theories worked, it was disturbing to hear such an eagerness to exploit human behavioral tics for the sake of profit. Was this how Silicon Valley intended to make the world a better place? Was there anyone they wouldn’t empower with these manipulative tools, for the right price?
“There’s one more thing I’d like to discuss: the morality of manipulation,” Eyal went on. “I know what that nervous laughter is about … I know some of you were thinking, ‘Is this kosher?’ If you had that response, bravo.” Eyal conceded that digital gadgets may be “the cigarettes of this century,” but said he was optimistic that these addictive products could be used for “good” and to “help people live healthier, happier, more productive” lives.
Eyal wrapped up with a slide of Mahatma Gandhi, although El Chapo might’ve been a better choice. “I encourage you to build the change you wish to see in the world,” he concluded, then basked in applause.
Inside Twitter’s struggle over what gets banned • NY Times
On Friday, to provide more transparency about its decision making, Twitter invited two New York Times reporters to attend the policy meeting. During the one-hour gathering, a picture emerged of a 12-year-old company still struggling to keep up with the complicated demands of being an open and neutral communications platform that brings together world leaders, celebrities, journalists, political activists and conspiracy theorists.
Even settling on a definition of dehumanizing speech was not easy. By the meeting’s end, Mr. Dorsey and his executives had agreed to draft a policy about dehumanizing speech and open it to the public for their comments.
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Dorsey, 41, said he was “O.K. with people not agreeing” with his decision to keep Mr. Jones’s account live.
“I don’t see this as an end point, I see this as maintaining integrity with what we put out there and not doing random one-off interpretations,” he said.
But Mr. Dorsey also said that while Twitter’s longtime guiding principle has been free expression, the company is now discussing “that safety should come first.” He added, “That’s a conversation we need to have.” He said he was thinking deeply about human rights law and listening to audiobooks on speech and expression.
Karen Kornbluh, a senior fellow of digital policy at the Council of Foreign Relations, said Mr. Dorsey had mishandled the Infowars situation but added that dealing with matters of free speech on social media is highly complex.
“There is no due process, no transparency, no case law, and no expertise on these very complicated legal and social questions behind these decisions,” she said.
Twitter didn’t want the meeting participants named (because they’d get trolled and alt-right idiots would dox them). It’s clear, though, that this struggle over what is permissible is the crucial struggle for social media this year.
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It’s time to end the yearly smartphone launch event • Motherboard
As smartphone sales begin to stall and phone makers clamber to figure out what’s next, we’re in a period of uncertainty: is the decade of continued, unprecedented growth going to come back? Analysts have been firing warning flares for almost a year now, saying that smartphone shipments are beginning to slow, but the effects have felt on time delay as minor innovations continued to flow in the meantime. In Q4 of 2017, analysts saw the first global decline in smartphone shipments, which hasn’t gotten any better, with reports of slowing European sales continuing and even the chipmakers themselves reporting a shift.
We’ve already seen an example of the consequences of a industry shift first hand: HTC’s gradual decline. Just a few years ago the company sold millions of phones a quarter, and was consistently a top handset manufacturer, but today, it’s essentially non-existent, with much of the handset division sold to Google in 2017.
The PC industry has already faced this problem. As it peaked and began declining, we saw dozens of device manufacturers from Compaq to Sony throw in the towel year after year, as the pie began to shrink. I believe that we’re seeing the beginning of phones lasting longer than ever, and ultimately becoming boring to the consumer. Phones are getting ever-closer to commoditization.
Samsung’s event today made it clear that the smartphone has gone over that peak, and we’re in new territory now: smartphone makers are out of fresh ideas. It’s just another beautiful, complicated, technologically advanced rectangle.
Of course Samsung takes two bites at this, by having big launches for the Galaxy S and the Note, where almost everything is known ahead of time. But just as most smartphone reviews have been pointless for a year or two now – really new features apart, there’s nothing new to say – so it is with these launches. But the companies rely on the media, and the media rely on the companies. Symbiosis in action.
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‘Elitist’: angry book pirates hit back after author campaign sinks website • The Guardian
Authors have been called elitist by book pirates, after they successfully campaigned to shut down a website that offered free PDFs of thousands of in-copyright books.
OceanofPDF was closed last week after publishers including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins issued hundreds of takedown notices, with several high-profile authors including Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman raising the issue online. Featuring free downloads of thousands of books, OceanofPDF had stated on its site that it sought to make information “free and accessible to everyone around the globe”, and that it wanted to make books available to people in “many developing countries where … they are literally out of reach to many people”.
Before the site was taken down, one of its founders told the Bookseller that it was run by a team of four who worked based on user requests: “Once we get an email from a user requesting a book that he/she cannot afford/find in the library or if he has lost it, we try to find it on their behalf and upload on our site so that someone in future might also get it.”
As someone who writes books (and is married to someone who writes books), the obvious answer to this “new libraries” argument is that there are lots of billionaires (and even plain old millionaires) in the developing world and beyond who ought to be happy to set up real libraries with proper funding, which would mean that you could lend books – thus fulfilling the original aim – and make sure that creators were properly rewarded, thus meaning there would be more in the future.
This is a different argument, by the way, from those around scientific papers and publications, where you often end up paying twice: once for the research done with public funds, and then to read it in the private publication.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified
Welcome back !
I’m bothered by the idea that government shortfalls (libraries in this case) should be made up by billionaires. That’s why we got governments in the first place: to protect, cure and educate us. Relying on deus ex machinas isn’t viable in the long term nor for the numerous issues that always pop up. We should focus on fixing government (esp. their ability to get and spend money wisely), not on flattering some billionaire’s ego for a short-lived one-shot fix.
Flagship launches have been boring because their progress has really slowed (pictures have been excellent for 2-3 years now, and apps must target the mainstream not the bleeding edge) and because it seems the PR strategy du jour is to leak for months before the launch to get more press for each tidbit, so there’s nothing left to unveil on launch day. In midrangers on the contrary, things are still exciting because it’s not so much about what the tech can provide as about what compromises are chosen. There’s more variability, and the thrill of wondering whether an extra $150 (that’s almost double) for a Honor Note 10 over a Xiaomi Mi Max 3 makes sense.
I’m not sure AI is about advancing the state of the art as much as about raising the floor. Autonomous cars aren’t looked at for F1/Nascar races, but to allow grandma to still go shopping. Plus in health is the diagnostic is a small part of the cost and difficulty (and that, mostly in poor countries that can’t pay anyway), buying, distributing and implementing treatment is the expensive hence difficult part. I’m not sure where Dr Watson is going.