Start Up No.1849: Instagram reverting its changes, how TikTok changes the game, the trouble with private jets, and more

Climbing in the Alps is becoming significantly more difficult as temperatures rise and ice becomes less trustworthy. CC-licensed photo by Cristian Bortes\/bortescristian on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. We regroup. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Not reading the Social Warming Substack? Signup is free. There’s another post today, with another tale from the inevitable madness of social media. Goes live about 45 minutes after this lands in your inbox.

🚨 Instagram walks back its changes • Platformer

Casey Newton got an interview with Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, who has noticed unrest in the ranks:


Redesigns often incur the wrath of users who are hostile to change, but in this case the high-profile dissatisfaction was backed up by Instagram’s own internal data, Mosseri said. The trend toward users watching more video is real, and pre-dated the rise of TikTok, he said. But it’s clear that people actually do dislike Instagram’s design changes.

“For the new feed designs, people are frustrated and the usage data isn’t great,” he said. “So there I think that we need to take a big step back, regroup, and figure out how we want to move forward.”

The company also plans to show users fewer recommendations. On Wednesday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that recommended posts and accounts in feeds currently account for about 15% of what you see when you browse Facebook, and an even higher percentage on Instagram. By the end of 2023, that figure will be around 30 percent, Zuckerberg said.

But Instagram will temporarily reduce the amount of recommended posts and accounts as it works to improve its personalization tools. (Mosseri wouldn’t say by how much, exactly.)

“When you discover something in your feed that you didn’t follow before, there should be a high bar — it should just be great,” Mosseri said. “You should be delighted to see it. And I don’t think that’s happening enough right now. So I think we need to take a step back, in terms of the percentage of feed that are recommendations, get better at ranking and recommendations, and then — if and when we do — we can start to grow again.” (“I’m confident we will,” he added.)

Mosseri made clear that the retreat Instagram announced today is not permanent. Threats to the company’s dominance continue to mount: TikTok is the most downloaded app in the world, the most popular website, and the most watched video company.


That didn’t take long, though the threat that it’s not a permanent rollback of the (horrible) change is dispiriting.
unique link to this extract

TikTok and the fall of the social media giants • The New Yorker

Cal Newport, on how Facebook, Instagram and Twitter simply can’t do what TikTok does:


If [Facebook etc] instead move away from their social-graph foundations to concentrate on optimizing in-the-moment engagement, they’ll enter a competitive landscape that pits them directly against the many other existing sources of mobile distraction—not just TikTok but also more bespoke and specialized social networks, such as the Gen-Z sensation BeReal, to say nothing of popular video streamers, podcasts, video games, self-improvement apps, and, for the somewhat older demographic to which I belong, Wordle.

This all points to a possible future in which social-media giants like Facebook may soon be past their long stretch of dominance. They’ll continue to chase new engagement models, leaving behind the protection of their social graphs, and in doing so eventually succumb to the new competitive pressures this introduces. TikTok, of course, is subject to these same pressures, so in this future it, too, will eventually fade. The app’s energetic embrace of shallowness makes it more likely, in the long term, to become the answer to a trivia question than a sustained cultural force. In the wake churned by these sinkings will arise new entertainments and new models for distraction, but also innovative new apps and methods for expression and interaction.

It’s here that I find optimism. The era of social-media monopolies has been unhealthy for our collective digital existence. The Internet at its best should be weird, energetic, and exciting—featuring both homegrown idiosyncrasy and sudden trends that flash supernova-bright before exploding into the novel elements that spur future ideas and generate novel connections. This exuberance was suppressed by the dominance of a small number of social-media networks that consolidated and controlled so much of online culture for so many years. Things will be better once this dominance wanes. In the end, TikTok’s biggest legacy might be less about its current moment of world-conquering success, which will pass, and more about how, by forcing social-media giants like Facebook to chase its model, it will end up liberating the social Internet.


unique link to this extract

I was wrong about Facebook • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:


Early in 2009, I offered the world some tech advice that I have regretted pretty much ever since: I told everyone to join Facebook.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I didn’t just tell people. I harangued. I mocked. Writing in Slate, I all but reached through the screen, grabbed Facebook skeptics by the lapels and scolded them for being pompous, mirthless Luddites. “There is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook,” I wrote shortly after the then-five-year-old company announced growing to 150 million users worldwide. “The site has crossed a threshold — it is now so widely trafficked that it’s fast becoming a routine aid to social interaction, like email and antiperspirant.”

I wasn’t just wrong about Facebook; I had the matter exactly backward. Had we all decided to leave Facebook then or at any time since, the internet and perhaps the world might now be a better place. The question of how much better and in what way is a matter of considerable debate. It might be decades before we have any sense of an answer to whether, on balance, Facebook in particular and social networks more generally have improved or ruined society.

Yet whatever the outcome of that larger debate, my 2009 exhortation for people to go all in on Facebook still makes me cringe. My argument suffers from the same flaws I regularly climb up on my mainstream-media soapbox to denounce in tech bros: a failure to seriously consider the implications of an invention as it becomes entrenched in society; a deep trust in networks, in the idea that allowing people to more freely associate would redound mainly to the good of society; and too much affection for the culture of Silicon Valley and the idea that the people who created a certain thing must have some clue about what to do with it.


This is one of a series in the NYT in which people admit being wrong on something. This one, of course, feels pretty easy to admit in retrospect.
unique link to this extract

Stick-on ultrasound patch hailed as revolution in medical imaging • The Guardian

Ian Sample:


A stick-on patch that can take an ultrasound scan of a person’s insides as they go about their daily life has been hailed as a revolution in medical imaging.

The wearable patch, which is the size of a postage stamp, can image blood vessels, the digestive system and internal organs for up to 48 hours, giving doctors a more detailed picture of a patient’s health than the snapshots provided by routine scans.

In laboratory tests, researchers used the patches to watch people’s hearts change shape during exercise, their stomachs expand and shrink as they drank and passed drinks, and their muscles pick up microdamage when weightlifting.

Prof Xuanhe Zhao at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research team, said the patches could “revolutionise” medical imaging because existing scans are very brief, sometimes lasting only seconds, and usually have to be performed in hospitals.

Ultimately, Zhao envisions people buying boxes of the patches over the counter and using them, with help from smart algorithms on their mobile phones, to monitor their heart, lungs and digestive systems for early signs of disease or infection, or their muscles during rehabilitation or physical training.


Very promising, and very near to market. Just needs a little extra wireless patch so that it can be linked to a smartphone, and that’s a new frontier in diagnosis. And, once again, the smartphone being the Universal Device which can be turned to any task.
unique link to this extract

Climbers and guides adapt to changing climate and landscape in the Alps • UKClimbing

Natalie Berry:


Over the course of the last century, temperatures in the European Alps have increased by around 2°C, or twice the global average. This summer, heatwaves have led to record-breaking June temperatures across the continent, and – catalysed by a lack of snow and precipitation over winter and spring – are causing glaciers to vanish at a record rate.

On 25 July, MeteoSwiss reported a record-high freezing point (0°C) of 5,184m – far above the highest peaks in Western Europe – beating the previous record set in 1995 by almost 70 metres. 

British Mountain Guide Jon Bracey first visited the Alps in 1998, and moved to the Chamonix valley in 2006 when he qualified as a UIAGM mountain guide. “Over the years I’ve observed very marked changes in the climate, vast glacial retreat and a huge increase in the incidence of rockfall,” he said.

Jon believes that the work of a mountain guide has become far more challenging – and more dangerous – due to climate change. “It’s a delicate balancing act of trying to meet clients’ expectations and goals without taking too much risk,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time this summer that the zero degree isotherm was below 4,000m, and we’ve had temperatures of +10 degrees Celsius at Col Major (4,750m) near the summit of Mont Blanc. Even basic stuff like glacier travel is inherently way more dangerous.”

The traditional July and August summer Alpine season is occurring earlier and extending in length, but also becoming somewhat obsolete as conditions worsen, Jon explained. “In today’s world, the alpinist has to be much more of an opportunist,” he said. “You’ve got to jump on the good conditions, because it might be a long wait until the next chance.” To avoid climbing in the most unstable period in the heat of the afternoon, alpine starts are shifting to ever earlier hours in the morning as temperatures rise.


Many Alpine routes are essentially held together by ice; if it melts, bad things happen – only rockfall, if you’re lucky. Something much bigger if you’re not.
unique link to this extract

Apple expects growth to accelerate despite ‘pockets of softness’ • CNBC

Kif Leswing:


Apple’s revenue rose 2% during the quarter, compared to 36% growth during the same period last year and over 8% growth in the March quarter. Cook said the results were better than expected and CFO Luca Maestri said it was a “challenging operating environment.” 

Chipmakers and other computer vendors have signaled that there is slowing demand for smartphones and PCs around the world as consumers grapple with recession fears and decades-high inflation. Apple’s soft growth may suggest that the consumer electronics industry — including leaders like Apple — is headed for a period of slow or no growth. 

Cook told CNBC that the company is seeing inflation but will continue to make investments.  

“We do see inflation in our cost structure,” Cook said. “We see it in things like logistics and wages and certain silicon components and we’re still hiring, but we’re doing it on a deliberate basis.” 

Apple’s iPhone sales exceeded Wall Street expectations, suggesting that demand for iPhone 13 models remains strong even in the second half of the product’s annual release cycle. Apple typically releases new iPhones in September and sales fall as customers anticipate new models. 

Cook said Apple had success attracting Android customers to become iPhone owners during the quarter. 

“We had a record level of switchers and saw double digit growth for customers new to iPhone,” Cook said. 


Now up to 860 million paid subscriptions. Wonder how many of them include Fitness+? Apparently Mac and iPad supply was so choked that Apple never came close to meeting demand; Mac sales fell 10% in revenue year-on-year.
unique link to this extract

Kylie Jenner’s 17-minute private jet trip is a climate disaster • The Boston Globe

Dharna Noor:


It started with an Instagram photo that multimillionaire Kylie Jenner posted from an airport runway. In it, she’s locked in an embrace with her boyfriend, rapper Travis Scott, flanked by two shiny private jets. The caption read: “you wanna take mine or yours?”

Immediately, the comments lit up like a wildfire. “girl what am i recycling for,” one person wrote. “That carbon footprint be wild,” reads another comment.

The picture catalyzed a spate of criticism of celebrities for taking private plane trips despite their well-documented climate implications. One 2021 study found that per passenger, private jets create up to 14 times more greenhouse gas pollution than commercial planes, and a stunning 50 times more than trains. And by one estimate, just two hours of flying private produces 2 metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution — as much as the average person on Earth generates in a year.

The anger ramped up when many saw that CelebJets, an automated account that tracks celebrities’ private plane flights, posted that Jenner’s July 12 private flight from Camarillo to Van Nuys, Calif., lasted only 17 minutes.

Many wondered how Jenner could justify the environmental toll of such a short trip — a journey that could have taken less than an hour by car and resulted in a fraction of the emissions.

…The toll adds up. Private jet trips were responsible for nearly 34 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2016, according to one 2020 study, which is more than some countries emit in an entire year.


As the story explains, there’s now a Twitter account (@celebjets) which tracks these flights. (I bet to the celebs, it’s a badge of honour to be listed on the account, because global heating is someone else’s problem.)

Also: “One man’s lonely, lonely fight to ban private jets“.
unique link to this extract

How much ice is melted by each carbon dioxide emission? • Ken Caldeira


According to the USGS, there 24,064,000 km3 of ice and snow in the world.

According to Winkelmann et al. (2015), it would take about 10,000 GtC to melt (nearly) all of this ice.

If we divide 24,064,000 km3  by 10,000 GtC, assume the density of the ice is 1 kg per liter, and do the appropriate unit conversions, we can conclude that each kg of carbon emitted as CO2 will ultimately melt about 2,400 kg of ice. This is a huge number.

Another way of expressing this is that each pound of carbon released to the atmosphere as CO2 is likely to end up melting more than a ton of glacial ice.

…Each American emits on average about 16 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, primarily from the burning of coal, oil and gas, and atmospheric release of the resulting waste CO2.

This works out to about 1.8kg of CO2 per hour per American. This is more than twice the per capita emission rate of Europe and about 20 times the per capita emission rate for sub-Saharan Africa. If I am an average American, the CO2 emissions that I produce each year (by participating in the broader economy) will be responsible for melting about 10,000 tons of Antarctic ice, adding about 10,000 cubic meters of fresh water to the volume of the oceans.

…if the ancient Romans had undergone an industrial revolution similar to ours and fueled a century or two of economic development using fossil-fuels with disposal of the waste CO2 in the atmosphere, sea level today would be rising about 3 cm each year (more than an inch a year) due to the long-term effects of their emissions on the great ice sheets.


In which case, he points out, we’d have a much more jaundiced view of the sodding Romans.
unique link to this extract

A law firm is seeking disgruntled Bored Ape Yacht Club investors for a class action suit alleging Yuga Labs overpromised on returns • Artnet News

Amy Castor:


The New York law firm Scott and Scott is looking to drum up plaintiffs to file a class action suit against Yuga Labs, alleging that the NFT juggernaut tapped celebrities to talk up the value of their tokens and lure in “unsuspecting investors” with the promise of high returns.  

A slew of stars, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Eminem, and Madonna, acquired Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) NFTs and promoted them on social media in the past year. In January, when Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton flouted their cartoon apes on national TV, it felt to many like a bad infomercial. Many of the new celebrity Ape collectors are with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which owns a chunk of OpenSea, a popular marketplace for NFTs. (Madonna’s manager, Guy Oseary, represents Yuga Labs and is also a Yuga Labs investor.)

If it is to be successful, Scott and Scott will need to prove that BAYC NFTs are securities like stocks, bonds, or options. Legally, anyone issuing a security has to register it with the Securities and Exchange Commission to prevent fraud.

NFTs, because they aren’t fungible, typically aren’t thought of as securities, which are. Each NFT is supposed to represent a unique object. But they can be deemed securities if they pass the “Howey Test,” a regulatory standard used to determine if a transaction qualifies as an investment contract.

According to the Howey test, an investment contract exists if there is “an investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the efforts of others.” Yuga Labs, in this instance, would be the actor behind the promotion of the NFTs.


Seems like a slam-dunk under the Howey test. Now all they need is some people annoyed that the resale value of their token which confirms they once looked at a picture on a computer hasn’t gone up.
unique link to this extract

Meta’s AR/VR revenue now growing faster than costs • UploadVR

David Heaney:


Meta’s Reality Labs revenue grew 48% year-over-year in Q2 2022, while costs grew 19%.

…This is the first quarter since the company began breaking out Reality Labs revenue where quarterly revenue grew more than costs year-over-year. For comparison, in Q1 2022 revenue grew 35% year-over-year but costs grew 55%.

The division brought in $452m revenue in Q2 2022, up from $305m in Q2 2021. But the cost of this division was a whopping $3.3bn, up from $2.7bn in Q2 2021. The result is a loss of $2.8bn, up from a loss of $2.4bn in Q2 2021.

In other words, cost still far outstrips revenue for Meta’s VR and AR division – but critically, revenue has turned a corner and started to grow faster than costs.


Looking at the graphic, you’d have to say that’s an excellent piece of spin. At this rate revenues would take decades to match costs. In theorry there should be a point where abruptly costs come down, and revenues take off. Zuckerberg needs to stay confident.
unique link to this extract

Flood the zone with cheap drones • Lawfare

Nicholas Weaver:


The continuing footage provided by small drones in the Ukraine area suggests an exploitable problem with Russian electronic warfare capabilities. These small drones are remote controlled, and the Russians seem to be neither effectively jamming nor attacking the drones’ controllers with artillery fire. This suggests a stunning deficiency in Russian military operations, one that the Ukrainian military—with quickly deployed foreign systems—should be able to further exploit.

The US has already begun to supply “low cost” Switchblade drones—small suicide drones with an explosive payload. The payload in these drones is not much, roughly equivalent to a 40 millimeter (mm) grenade. The US military has agreed to deliver 700 Switchblade 300s, which at an estimated $6,000 each, represents an investment of over $4m. The Switchblade itself is fairly sophisticated: It is launched from a portable tube launcher, and, after a target is selected, it flies into the target and explodes just before impact. 

But the key aspect is that a small explosive warhead, a mere 200 grams for a 40 mm grenade (just 33% heavier than a baseball), is remarkably effective when combined with the precision of a drone. Consider a long-ranged howitzer weapon and its crew. An artillery shell with 10 kilograms of explosive that lands 100 meters from the target will do less damage to personnel and equipment compared to a simple grenade delivered by a drone to explode on top of the gun’s breech.

But “low cost” by US military standards is still too expensive for supporting Ukraine in a war where Russia is firing 60,000 artillery shells per day. The Ukrainian military needs systems that are actually low cost, not “low cost” by our standards. It needs suicide drones that cost $500, not $6,000.


Get it right and Ukraine could have 10 times as many drones as at present, for the same budget. Smart way to wage war.
unique link to this extract

• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.