Start Up No.912: the gamified date, Twitter goes chronological, AMP opens up, YouTube’s alternative paths, iPhone XS reviewed, and more


Is iOS 12 really faster than iOS 11 on old devices? Photo by Toshiyuki IMAI on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Because you’re worth it. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alternative Influence • Data & Society

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YouTube is a principal online news source for young people. Which is why it is concerning that YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, has become the single most important hub by which an extensive network of far-right influencers profit from broadcasting propaganda to young viewers.

“Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions,” writes Lewis, who outlines how YouTube incentivizes their behavior. Lewis illustrates common techniques that these far-right influencers use to make money as they cultivate alternative social identities and use production value to increase their appeal as countercultural social underdogs. The report offers a data visualization of this network to show how connected influencers act as a conduit for viewership.

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Read it and worry. For all the right-wingers’ wailing about Google, the reality is that YouTube is their most effective recruiting sergeant – and they don’t pay a penny for it.
link to this extract


An open governance model for the AMP Project • Accelerated Mobile Pages Project

Malte Ubl is tech lead for the AMP project at Google:

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One of our first tasks in working towards the new system is to complete the initial membership of AMP’s governance groups. If you are interested in being involved in any of these governance groups please let us know. This is real work, and we want to pay for it if it isn’t covered by your day job! If you need financial support, please let us know in the form. One area that we are particularly interested in is representation from folks with experience in consumer rights and protection. Meanwhile we’re excited to announce that we’ve talked to a few folks up front and they agreed to join the Advisory Committee including representatives from publishers (El País, Washington Post and Terra), e-commerce sites (AliExpress and eBay) and platforms (Cloudflare and Automattic) as well as advocates for an open web (Léonie Watson of The Paciello Group, Nicole Sullivan of Google/Chrome, and Terence Eden).

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Seems like Google is loosening its grip on this. But I suspect the criticisms will go on, no matter what the general advisory committee looks like. The simple way to think about it is this: if AMP is so great, when is Facebook – which has an interest in serving lots of pages really fast all over the web – going to adopt it?
link to this extract


Behind your rising health-care bills: secret hospital deals that squelch competition • WSJ

Anna Wilde Mathews:

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The Wall Street Journal has identified dozens of contracts with terms that limit how insurers design plans, involving operators such as Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, the 10-hospital OhioHealth system and Aurora Health Care, a major system in the Milwaukee market. National hospital operator HCA Healthcare Inc. also has restrictions in insurer contracts in certain markets.

The U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other developed nation and will soon spend close to 20% of its GDP on health. Americans aren’t buying more health care overall than other countries. What they are buying is increasingly expensive. Among the factors driving spending is the opaque way the price of health care is set, a problem exacerbated by the hidden details in agreements between insurers and health-care providers.

“No hospital system should be able to exercise market power to demand contract agreements that prevent more competitively priced networks,” said Cigna’s chief medical officer, Alan Muney, in a written statement provided by the company.

A health plan that excludes a costly system can be more than 10% less expensive for consumers and employers, according to insurance-industry officials. A plan that includes all providers but steers patients away from the costlier ones can save 3% to 7% or more, these people said.

Restrictive hospital-insurer contracts have helped prevent even big employers, including Walmart Inc. and Home Depot Inc., from moving forward with plans they were exploring to try to lower costs and improve quality for their workers.

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The WSJ is quietly chipping away at the gigantic vested interests which are pushing US health costs into the skies, though it is ideologically unable to suggest that the best solution is to move to a monopsony – that is, a single buyer (the government) for all healthcare. The irony is that that solution would roughly halve health costs: the EU average is 10.1% of GDP (in 2013).

But the catch: healthcare costs are part of US GDP. Putting it into government (and reducing the cost) would make GDP seem to fall quite substantially. And of course you’d put a lot of people in insurance companies out of work. (This doesn’t seem like a justification for keeping them in work, though.)
link to this extract


Twitter will soon let you switch between chronological and ranked feeds • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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Twitter has made a surprise change to how it shows tweets to its users, following a viral thread earlier today that discussed ways to reverse the platform’s algorithmic timeline. Now, when you uncheck the settings box reading “Show the best tweets first,” Twitter will completely revert your timeline to a non-algorithmic, reverse-chronological order, which is how Twitter was originally designed and operated for years until the company introduced a default algorithmic model in early 2016.

Prior to the change, unchecking the box would still result in the “in case you missed it” tweets, recommended tweets from people you didn’t follow, and tweets informing you when someone you do follow liked or interacted with someone else’s tweet. Twitter is now acknowledging that its users want more control over their timeline, and that the initial settings tool and how it functioned was not an adequate way to address this.

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I was one of a number of people who, when a Twitter product manager asked a week or two ago about some proposed changes that would show if someone was actually “present” on Twitter – “you might say ‘who’s around’ at an airport” – suggested that it would be simpler just to let people have non-algorithmic (ie reverse chronological) feeds. So it was nice to see this tweet to that effect in my responses.
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✨🎧 tenori-off • Glitch.me

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A ✨Tenori-on✨ is a dope electronic music instrument sequencer thingie that Yamaha made for a hot minute. I love pixels and patterns and generating things out of pixels and patterns, which means I LOVE the Tenori-on. Since they’re rare and mad expensive, I’ve never seen one, so I made a JavaScript version of what I think it looks like.

You can change between drums or a synth sound (also using the D or S keys). The URL also holds the state, so you can send it to a pal to have them listen to your masterpiece. If you hit a bug, refreshing usually makes it go away.

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This is good, if 8-bit, fun. Move the squares around to create different noises. Annoy everyone within earshot. Then say “it’s the machine learning. These things, oof.”
link to this extract


HBO documentary ‘Swiped’ argues that Silicon Valley must fix the dating mess it created • Marie Claire

Cady Drell:

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when it comes to asking big questions about modern dating, this is not [Nancy Jo] Sales’s first rodeo. Her 2015 Vanity Fair article—“Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’”—went viral, and not always because people agreed with her. (Tinder famously sent out a 30-tweet response in which the app seemed to protest a bit too much about signaling the end of dating.)

But Sales, with whom I spoke a few days before the documentary premiered, says now that her thesis got lost in the furor. “Throughout this controversy, what struck me the most is that what people really seemed to want to talk about was the effect [dating apps have] on women,” she says. “And that was really the central issue for me, how this was leading to a lot of sexual harassment.”

Sales’s first outing as a director explores primarily heterosexual dating (though there is a part about Grindr and the pros and cons of dating apps when you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community), exploring a laundry list of its characteristics and ills. It moves from interviews with young people at parties about their swiping habits to how specific relationships formed via app dating to how dating app culture negatively impacts monogamy. But while I initially feared Swiped would be a referendum on sex in general disguised as a “just asking questions” documentary on dating apps, its most lasting message was sort of about corporate responsibility. As in: Do the corporations who get us onto dating apps have a responsibility to make them safe and conducive to healthy relationships? Sales argues that they do.

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link to this extract


iOS 12 on the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad Mini 2: It’s actually faster! • Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham:

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I’ve been testing iOS on old devices for six years, and I’ve never seen a release that has actually improved performance on old devices. At best, updates like iOS 6, iOS 9, and iOS 10 didn’t make things much worse; at worst, updates like iOS 7 and iOS 8 made old devices feel like old devices. Anyone using an older device can safely upgrade to iOS 12 without worrying about speed, and that’s a big deal. You’ll notice an improvement most of the time, even on newer devices (my iPad Air 2, which had started to feel its age running iOS 11, feels great with iOS 12).

Again, it’s not all rosy. We didn’t notice any improvements in keyboard display times. You may still run into trouble running newer games, since there’s no software update that can transform an old GPU into a new one. And the iPad Air and Mini 2, in particular, are going to continue feeling kind of slow in general—an iPhone-class processor and 1GB of RAM are just not enough power to keep a high-resolution tablet feeling snappy for five years. With devices as old as these, the condition of the battery can significantly affect performance, too. If you’ve never replaced your battery (or if it has been more than two or three years since you did it last), make an appointment with the Genius Bar before those $29 battery replacements go away at the end of 2018.

But if nothing else, iOS 12 is a convincing counterargument to the theory that Apple intentionally hobbles its old devices to force people to buy new ones. In addition to running more like iOS 10 did, it supports devices going all the way back to 2013, which sets a new record for iOS’ software support window.

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I noticed that iOS 12 was faster literally from the first minute of using the first developer beta, installed on a 12in iPad Pro. Of course, having used it all summer, I’m now inured to the difference. But Cunningham found improvements of up to 26% in app launch times and restarts, and none where it was slower.
link to this extract


iPhone Xs and Xs Max benchmarked: world’s fastest phones (again) • Tom’s Guide

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The world’s first 7-nanometer processor in a phone isn’t the breakthrough that the A11 Bionic was regarding raw performance, but it still runs circles around Android phones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chip in several world real-world tests and synthetic benchmarks.

The new hexa-core chip inside the iPhone XS and XS Max packs two performance cores that are designed to be 15% faster than its predecessor, along with four high-efficiency cores that use up to 50% less power, according to the company. On top of that is a four-core GPU that Apple says is up to 50% faster.

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They come out faster in pretty much all the benchmarks, and show up as 11% faster than the iPhone X (which is probably the more relevant statistic).
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Child abuse algorithms: from science fiction to cost-cutting reality • The Guardian

David Pegg and Niamh McIntyre:

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Machine learning systems built to mine massive amounts of personal data have long been used to predict customer behaviour in the private sector.

Computer programs assess how likely we are to default on a loan, or how much risk we pose to an insurance provider.

Designers of a predictive model have to identify an “outcome variable”, which indicates the presence of the factor they are trying to predict.

For child safeguarding, that might be a child entering the care system.

They then attempt to identify characteristics commonly found in children who enter the care system. Once these have been identified, the model can be run against large datasets to find other individuals who share the same characteristics.

The Guardian obtained details of all predictive indicators considered for inclusion in Thurrock council’s child safeguarding system. They include history of domestic abuse, youth offending and truancy.

More surprising indicators such as rent arrears and health data were initially considered but excluded from the final model. In the case of both Thurrock, a council in Essex, and the London borough of Hackney, families can be flagged to social workers as potential candidates for the Troubled Families programme. Through this scheme councils receive grants from central government for helping households with long-term difficulties such as unemployment.

Such systems inevitably raise privacy concerns. Wajid Shafiq, the chief executive of Xantura, the company providing predictive analytics work to both Thurrock and Hackney, insists that there is a balance to be struck between privacy rights and the use of technology to deliver a public good.

“The thing for me is: can we get to a point where we’ve got a system that gets that balance right between protecting the vulnerable and protecting the rights of the many?” said Shafiq. “It must be possible to do that, because if we can’t we’re letting down people who are vulnerable.”

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link to this extract


The iPhone Xs is the best iPhone since the last one • Buzzfeed News

John Paczkowski is a little nonplussed at what to say about the new devices:

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I know the Xs Max is faster, but the X was so fast I struggle to appreciate its speed improvements. The display is beautiful, but is its true black a truer black than the one I see on the X? I am embarrassed that I am even asking the question. Also, I don’t care. The true black of my other dog has been great since his puppy pics.

The one feature that I truly appreciate in the Xs line is the size of the Max — largely because I am old and now prefer my phones graphing calculator size. If I decide to upgrade my phone this year, the Max and its size will be my only rationale. The display is vast — stunning, really. I can configure it to have as much memory as my laptop (512GB). For a plus-size smartphone it feels better in the hand, more ergonomic, though I have no idea why. Its battery lasts long enough that I’m not screwed if I forget to charge it overnight. Beyond that, I already know it’s a badass phone; its predecessor was badass too.

But when I tell my wife I might want to upgrade, she asks the price. Then she says, “Which do you like better, new phones or vacations?”

My daughter has an iPhone 7. The other day I handed her the Xs Max. She was puzzled in a “Why was this handed to me?” sort of way. I raised an eyebrow. “Oh,” she said. “This is the new iPhone. … It’s bigger.” Then, without a second thought, she handed it back to me, returning to whatever she was doing on her 7. Disappointedly, I said, “You’re not interested in the new iPhones? Not at all?”

“Not really,” she replied. “My phone works fine.”

Then my daughter suggested that, perhaps, the reason I care about new iPhones and she doesn’t is because once upon a time, way back a long time ago when the smartphone universe consisted of nothing more elaborate than…flip phones, I had to use one. Meanwhile, she has known only the iPhone — and other phones that look and behave like it.

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Smartphone reviews stopped being useful a couple of years ago. Sure, the XS does a garbillion calculations per second rather than a groomtillion, but we are not in iPhone 4S v 4 territory here, nor iPhone 5S v Galaxy Note 3. The ecosystem war is over, and the trenches aren’t going to move substantially; nor is either side going to make a dramatic leap in performance. Although it is worth noting that those who can really perceive differences in camera quality from year to year (such as John Gruber and Matthew Panzarino at Techcrunch, who used to be a professional photographer) are mightily impressed with the XS’s camera capability, and especially its light-capturing abilities. Most folk wouldn’t notice the year-to-year difference, though they would over a two-year or three-year gap.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

5 thoughts on “Start Up No.912: the gamified date, Twitter goes chronological, AMP opens up, YouTube’s alternative paths, iPhone XS reviewed, and more

  1. re AMP: I’ve always thought of it as a political/sales, not technical tool: AMP doesn’t do anything new, it just forces websites to not be clunky on mobile. That’s a very useful goal ^^ I’m guessing big sites don’t need the guidance and would rather choose bespoke tech and compromises, but for small and medium sites AMP simplifies things, especially the political side, by simply “targeting AMP”‘, which solves the convoluted debate about how to go about “mobilizing” a site.

  2. re. iPhone reviews: I find them a bit suspect right now. 3 main issues:

    1- They’re mainly from Apple cheerleaders who do what it takes to be invited to events and get review units.
    2- they’re very incestuous, comparing Xs to X and, to no-one’s surprise, concluding it’s better
    3- they full-on step into the absurd, such as Lance Ulanoff gushing about the AI-assisted bokeh compared to the Note9’s… but the Xs picture also has the very face of the guy blurry, the Note9’s is significantly better (beard detail, eyes, etc) . https://medium.com/s/story/apple-iphone-xs-and-xs-max-are-simply-excellent-d2580999b8c4 , towards the end. I’ll take the Note’s picture anytime, I’m fairly sure my $150 Redmi Note 5 can do better then the iPhone on this one, too.

    With the X, it took a while to register that pictures were not that excellent: wait for comparisons to something else than previous iPhones, wait for reviewers independent of Apple or just capable of critical thinking, wait for a variety of lab and real-life tests. I think we should do the same about the Xs.

  3. Also, not Apple-specific, but why is everyone going ga-ga over bokeh ? It’s still more distracting than natural, nobody ever said “nice picture, too bad the background is soooo visible”, there are still occasional glitches at the edges, and apparently it still lowers the overall picture quality including main subject

    Has anyone, ever, chosen a phone “because bokeh” ? No one around me knows nor cares. It feels like an overhyped non-feature, I guess AR/VR flopped and writers needed something else to “be the story” ?

  4. The biggest attraction to me over the Xs (compared to the Xr) is that it has Gigabit-class LTE with 4×4 MIMO while the Xr has 2xMIMO. So maybe when I go to West Virginia for a change I’ll be able to get a signal.

  5. If what you want is data or outgoing calls/SMS, maybe a dual-SIM version w/ a local network as 2nd SIM would help. Won’t help for incoming calls/texts to your 1st SIM though.

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