Start Up No.1,144: electric scooters are coming!, France v Libra, could Apple kill WearOS?, Facebook and Google on news, and more


Is knowing how many Likes we have bad for us? CC-licensed photo by TonG FotoArt on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. For the weekend. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The rise of the electric scooter • Coding Horror

Jeff Atwood:

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There are some challenges with electric scooters, starting with the biggest one: your local government has no idea how to regulate the darn things.

Is this regulated like a bicycle? If not, why not?
Are they allowed on the sidewalk?
Do you have to ride them in the road, with cars … uh, depending on the speed limit?
Do you need a driver’s license?
Do you need a helmet?
Are you even allowed to legally ride them in public at all outside of private property?
The answers also vary wildly depending on where you live, and with no consistency or apparent logic. Here are the current electric scooter laws in California, for what it’s worth, which require the rider to have a valid driver’s license (unlike electric bicycles) and also disallow them from sidewalks, both of which I feel are onerous and unnecessary restrictions.

One aspect of those laws I definitely agree with, however, is the 15 mile per hour speed restriction. That’s a plenty brisk top speed for a standing adult with no special safety equipment. Anything faster starts to get decidedly … uncomfortable.

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France will block development of Facebook Libra cryptocurrency • Yahoo News

AFP:

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France warned Thursday it will block development of Facebook’s planned Libra cryptocurrency in Europe because it threatens the “monetary sovereignty” of governments.

“I want to be absolutely clear: in these conditions, we cannot authorise the development of Libra on European soil,” Bruno Le Maire said at the opening of an OECD conference on virtual, cryptocurrencies.

Facebook unveiled in June its plans for Libra in an announcement greeted with concern by governments and critics of the social network behemoth whose reputation has been tarnished by its role in spreading fake information and extremist videos.

Expected to launch in the first half of 2020, Libra is designed to be backed by a basket of currency assets to avoid the wild swings seen with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Another major difference is that control over it would not be decentralised but entrusted to a Swiss-based non-profit association.

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Had forgotten about Libra from day to day until this.
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Would the internet be healthier without ‘like’ counts? • WIRED

Paris Martineau:

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A YouTube video with 100,000 views seems more valuable than one with 10, even though views—like nearly every form of online engagement—can be easily bought. It’s a paradoxical love affair. And it’s far from an accident.

Increased engagement is good for business, and the impulse to check the score is an easy way to keep users coming back. As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey put it at last year’s WIRED25 conference: “Right now we have a big Like button with a heart on it and we’re incentivizing people to want it to go up,” and to get more followers.

But these tactics are attracting increased scrutiny, about their impact on the health of the internet and on society at large. Publicly measurable indicators—including views, retweets, or likes—are “one of the driving forces in radicalization,” says Whitney Phillips, a media manipulation researcher and associate professor at Syracuse University. It works both ways, she says. A user can be radicalized by consuming content and a creator can be radicalized by users’ reactions to their content, as they tailor their behavior around what garners the most interest from their audience.

The concerns are leading some companies to explore ways to promote “conversational health.” Over the past year, Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Twitter, and YouTube have moved to deemphasize or eliminate key metrics in the name of promoting healthy user engagement. The trend gave birth to a word you won’t find in dictionaries: demetrication.

Yet the changes have been decried by some of the very users they were meant to aid, who view the metrics as an essential part of their experience. That’s left platforms in the awkward position of detoxing users from an addiction they initially introduced to users.

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Comment: Apple could kill Wear OS with a pull of the Apple Watch lever • 9to5Google

Stephen Hall:

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It’s a sad reality, but if Apple made the Watch compatible with Android, it would be bar-none the best smartwatch for Android phones. It already is the fastest, most useful, and most technically impressive wearable you can buy. The problem for Android users is that — outside of hacky methods of using the LTE model — it’s only compatible with the iPhone.

As it is, Android users are limited to Samsung’s Tizen-running watches (arguably the best Apple Watch alternatives) and the countless Wear OS options from Fossil Group, Mobvoi, and others.

Of all these watches, the Apple Watch is already in a distant first place in market share as a recent report highlights. Apple Watch has a massive 47% of the market, Samsung is in second place with around 16%, Fitbit sits around 10%, and all others — every single smartwatch from every other maker, Wear OS or not — share the remaining 28%. Wear OS is only a slice of that slice.

Wear OS makers are not only struggling to grow, they’re dropping. Counterpoint says that Fossil’s 3.2% worldwide market share in 2018 dropped to a measly 2.5% in 2019. And, again, that’s for one of the biggest and best makers of Wear OS devices. Even they are in the low single-digits. Fossil makes the most Wear OS watches, and they also make the best. Fossil Sport is one of many examples.

All of this is happening while the Apple Watch continues to grow in dominance. Counterpoint earlier this year put Apple at more than 1 in 3 smartwatch purchases worldwide, while Strategy Analytics says that number is closer to being a full half. There’s no way around it: Apple Watch is killing the game.

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Maybe Android compatibility will be the next-year thing. Or, more possibly, Apple feels that it’s gaining enough distance through the integration of Watch and Airpods that it’s becoming a reason for some to switch. With the smartphone market essentially static, holding on to a reason to make people buy an iPhone rather than an Android phone has far greater value than just a single phone sale.
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Kickstarter fires two union organizers • Slate

April Glaser:

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On Thursday morning, Kickstarter fired Taylor Moore, an employee who was one of the organizers of a unionization effort within the company. This was the second firing of a union organizer since last week, when Clarissa Redwine was also fired. Moore had been at the company for six years and Redwine since 2016, and both worked on the outreach team. Both had been heavily involved in the union effort since it began earlier this year. Moore and Redwine, according to four sources who work at the company, were both fired for what management alleged were performance-related issues…

…Multiple current and former employees told Slate that since March the company has expressed to the staff that it does not believe a union is right for Kickstarter.

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Which is exactly why Kickstarter’s staff need a union. Only the sort of company that treats people unfairly and unevenly would think a union is wrong for it.

(Can’t wait for the first products on Kickstarter which offer “The Smartest Way To Organise Your Workplace” which are.. a union.)
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Good stuff first: Google moves to prioritize original reporting in search • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

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In an effort to put original reporting in front of users, Google’s VP of news Richard Gingras announced Thursday that the company has changed its global search algorithm to “highlight articles that we identify as significant original reporting,” and to keep such articles in top positions for longer.

The change is available in Google search now and will roll out to Google News and Google Discover shortly, Search Engine Land reported.

Google doesn’t venture to define exactly what original reporting is, saying vaguely, “There is no absolute definition of original reporting, nor is there an absolute standard for establishing how original a given article is. It can mean different things to different newsrooms and publishers at different times, so our efforts will constantly evolve as we work to understand the life cycle of a story.”

These “efforts” do include actual humans making judgments: The company noted that it has “more than 10,000 raters around the world” evaluating the Google algorithm.

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The fact that Google News (and then Google Search) tends to give priority to the most recent, rather than the original, version of a story has annoyed journalists pretty much since Google News’s inception. Google Search is as bad, but less obvious. The problem is, when someone adds extra to a story – more context? New facts? Turns it from anonymous, unconfirmed to named, confirmed – how do you treat that?
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Musicians demand Ticketmaster ban facial recognition at concerts • VICE

Janus Rose:

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Digital rights advocacy group Fight For the Future is spearheading the campaign, which calls out Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation. Last year, the company announced it will begin deploying facial recognition at its live events, having customers walk past face-scanning cameras instead of presenting a ticket.

Citing dangers to fans in the form of police harassment, misidentification, and discrimination at concerts, artists including Speedy Ortiz, The Glitch Mob, and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello have joined activists to call for a ban on face surveillance at live events.

“Facial recognition surveillance is uniquely dangerous. It doesn’t keep fans or artists safe, it just subjects them to invasive, racially biased monitoring that will inevitably lead to fans getting harassed, falsely arrested, deported, or worse,” said Evan Greer, Fight For the Future’s deputy director, in an emailed statement. “We’re calling on all artists to stick up for their fans’ basic rights and safety by speaking out against the use of Big Brother style biometric surveillance at live music events.”

Although the practice is not yet commonplace, facial recognition has already been used at high-profile music and sporting events around the world. Taylor Swift infamously deployed face-scanning tech at her 2018 Rose Bowl performance, in order to search the crowd for “known stalkers” of the pop star. A month earlier, Chinese police used facial recognition to arrest a man at a concert for the pop star Jackie Cheung, identifying him within a crowd of around 60,000 fans.

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Give those in favour (Taylor Swift) and those against (RATM etc), I don’t think the noes are going to win this.
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Internal Facebook memo reveals guidelines for showcasing news • The Information

Alex Heath and Jessica Toonkel on the upcoming guidelines for its forthcoming news tab:

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According to the memo, the other guidelines Facebook is giving to its editors include:

• Editors will wait for two whitelisted media outlets—publishers who have qualified to be listed as official news sources on Facebook—to confirm a breaking news story if the story is based on an “unsubstantiated report.” How a report would be defined as “unsubstantiated” couldn’t be learned.
• Editors won’t feature stories “constructed to provoke, divide, and polarize,” but Facebook notes that “fact-based stories that rely upon journalistic standards” will be promoted even if they are “divisive.”
• Headlines that include profanity or obscenities won’t be featured.
• Editors will “prioritize stories with on-the-record sources rather than anonymous sources.”
• Editors will seek to promote the media outlet that first reported a particular news story, and additionally prioritize stories broken by local news outlets. “If a local story then becomes the subject of national or international coverage, we will make subsequent, independent decisions about those developments,” the social network’s internal guidelines note.
• Facebook said that editors will “show a range of topics and publishers” with the goal of showing “a diversity of voices.”
• Facebook said it will also tell its editors that they shouldn’t censor bad news about the company itself. Editors will be instructed to “impartially share stories about Facebook, Facebook executives, and tech at large,” according to the internal memo.

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Sounds like your average boring US news outlet, too afraid to have anything interesting or present it in an interesting way.
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Los Angeles OKs a deal for record-cheap solar power and battery storage • Los Angeles Times

Sammy Roth:

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For a long time, there were two big knocks against solar power: It’s expensive, and it can’t keep the lights on after sundown.

A contract approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power shows how much that reality has changed.

Under the 25-year deal with developer 8minute Solar Energy, the city would buy electricity from a sprawling complex of solar panels and lithium-ion batteries in the Mojave Desert of eastern Kern County, about two hours north of Los Angeles. The Eland project would meet 6% to 7% of L.A.’s annual electricity needs and would be capable of pumping clean energy into the grid for four hours each night.

The combined solar power and energy storage is priced at 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — a record low for this type of contract, city officials and independent experts say, and cheaper than electricity from natural gas.

The Eland deal’s approval was delayed last month after DWP staff said concerns had been raised by the union representing employees of the city-run utility.

It wasn’t clear whether the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 had specific objections to the Eland project. But the union has been on the attack against LA Mayor Eric Garcetti since his decision in February to shut down three natural-gas-fired power plants along the coast, which could force hundreds of union workers to transition to new jobs.

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Hadn’t considered that staff in gas plants might find solar power + batteries threatening; but, of course.
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Apple’s new iPhone finally sacrifices thinness for battery life • The Verge

I’m not going to specify the author, or extract from the story. Just this bit at the end:

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Correction: The iPhone 11 Pro is 0.02 inches thicker than the iPhone XS, not a quarter-inch as this post originally wrote.

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(Thanks Nic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1,144: electric scooters are coming!, France v Libra, could Apple kill WearOS?, Facebook and Google on news, and more

  1. re. Android iWatch: that’s the crux of Apple’s current contradiction: if the core iDevices are either saturating or fading and growth is to come from peripherals and services, how do you reconcile lock-in + exclusivity and growth in those side categories ?

    You can keep hitching more wagons to the asthmatic iDevice locomotive, but then you’re ultimately constrained by that engine. (BTW, any news on total iHouseholds or even just iUsers (not iDevices, since those have a tendency to multiply in the same hands w/o increasing services potential)). Or you can start hitching your shiny new wagons to others’ locomotives, justifying your new “I’m a wagon company!” claim, but removing one of your trains’ main claim to fame (we have the best wagons and they latch onto each other beautifully). Apple’s isn’t doing that, which means the Services pivot is rather small scale, actually more a milking strategy than a true growth strategy. Extracting more revenue from your existing user base rather than expanding your user base.

    Apple has the best user base: high-spending, brand-conscious, easily locked in. I’m still not utterly sure this strategy is any more right this time around in this context than it has ever been before for Novell, Wang, DEC, IBM… It seems Apple has validated the price points it wants to be at for new and old iPhones. I still think there’s a basic disconnect w/ Apple seeing itself as “Premium” (features- or UX- driven) when it’s mostly “Luxury” (brand- and looks-driven). Around me, most iUsers just want an iPhone SE respin.

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