Start Up No.1937: Ivory (a great iOS Mastodon app) arrives, Microsoft putting billions in ChatGPT, virality dissected, and more

An antitrust suit filed by the DoJ in the US aims to break Google’s hold on advertising there – a case that echoes the case against Microsoft in the 1990s. CC-licensed photo by felipe rivera on Flickr.

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There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.

A selection of 10 links for you. Tusk! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

DOJ sues Google over ad technology • The New York Times

David McCabe and Nico Grant:


The Justice Department and a group of eight states sued Google on Tuesday, accusing it of illegally abusing a monopoly over the technology that powers online advertising, in the agency’s first antitrust lawsuit against a tech giant under President Biden and an escalation in legal pressure on one of the world’s biggest internet companies.

The lawsuit said Google had “corrupted legitimate competition in the ad tech industry by engaging in a systematic campaign to seize control of the wide swath of high-tech tools used by publishers, advertisers and brokers to facilitate digital advertising.”

The lawsuit asked U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to force Google to sell much of its suite of ad technology products, which include software for buying and selling ads, a marketplace to complete the transactions and a service for showcasing the ads across the internet. The lawsuit also asked the court to stop the company from engaging in allegedly anticompetitive practices.

…The lawsuit on Tuesday describes a campaign by Google to monopolize advertising technology and then abuse that dominance, to the detriment of publishers, advertisers and ultimately consumers.

The Justice Department and the states, which include New York and California, said Google had built its monopoly by buying up crucial tools that delivered ads to publishers. As a result, advertisers paid more for space on the internet and publishers made less money, as Google took its cut, they said.

“Each time a threat has emerged, Google has used its market power in one or more of these ad tech tools to quash the threat,” the lawsuit said. “The result: Google’s plan for durable, industrywide dominance has succeeded.”


Potentially very big (as in Microsoft-DoJ 1998-big), though the precise mechanics of what Google is accused of doing are very, very complicated. Google says the DoJ’s argument is flawed and “would slow innovation, raise advertising fees and make it harder for thousands of small businesses and publishers to grow.”

One point of interest: the French antitrust agency, the CNIL, in June 2021 fined Google for what sounds like exactly the same thing – controlling both the buying and selling side of the market – and Google simply accepted the €200m fine. Why didn’t Google fight it?
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Ivory for Mastodon review: Tapbots reborn • MacStories

Federico Viticci:


Ever since we at MacStories decided to abandon Twitter, we’ve gone all-in on Mastodon and, broadly speaking, we want to embrace the idea of decentralized and federated social media. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen hundreds of other people I used to follow on Twitter do the same. I believe we’re witnessing the beginning of a new social networking era, and even though Mastodon has been around for a few years, many of us (myself included) are only realizing now that we should have paid attention to this kind of technology years ago.

For the second time since I started MacStories in 2009, I can observe developers imagining what interfaces for reading and posting status updates on the web should look like. New conventions are being created as we speak, and we are, once again, witnessing the rise of a vibrant ecosystem of third-party apps designed for different needs, platforms, and people. Only, this time, there is no single company that controls the fate of all this.

So that’s the something that makes the release of Ivory a special one in the Apple community. More than a reactionary “what if Tweetbot, but for Mastodon” move, Ivory marks a new beginning for Tapbots in a way that Netbot never was. (If you know, you know.) We’re living in new and exciting times for indie apps, and I think that you can feel it when the creator of an app feels the same way. Ivory exudes enthusiasm. Even though it’s not the most feature-rich client I’m testing right now, it’s the one I’m constantly drawn towards. Ivory is going to establish a baseline for quality and polish on iOS and iPadOS; it’s the app future Mastodon clients for iPhone and iPad (and, hopefully soon, Mac) will have to measure up against.


I just paid an annual subscription for Ivory within seconds of downloading it. The interface, the feel – it’s as though Twitter never went away. It’s also a brutal counterpoint to how bad Twitter’s own app is.
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Microsoft confirms it’s investing billions in ChatGPT creator OpenAI • CNN Business

Samantha Murphy Kelly:


Microsoft on Monday confirmed it is making a “multibillion dollar” investment in OpenAI, the company behind the viral new AI chatbot tool called ChatGPT.

Microsoft, an early investor in OpenAI, said it plans to expand its existing partnership with the company as part of a greater effort to add more artificial intelligence to its suite of products. In a separate blog post, OpenAI said the multi-year investment will be used to “develop AI that is increasingly safe, useful, and powerful.”

“We formed our partnership with OpenAI around a shared ambition to responsibly advance cutting-edge AI research and democratize AI as a new technology platform,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, said in a statement.

The deepening partnership between the two companies has the potential to supercharge OpenAI’s ambitious projects, including ChatGPT, which has captured the attention of – and sometimes sparked concerns from – academics, business leaders and tech enthusiasts with its ability to create provide lengthy and thorough responses to user prompts and questions.

The investment could also catapult Microsoft as an AI leader and ultimately pave the way for the company to incorporate ChatGPT into some of its hallmark applications, such as Word, PowerPoint and Outlook.


Quite how many billions Microsoft is putting in varies depending on who you read. Bloomberg says it’s $10bn, but others are wary of committing to that size of number. Even so, billions of dollars, just after laying off 10,000 staff.

But having seen how Google beat Microsoft in search the first time round, you have to wonder: is Microsoft thinking that (search engine) revenge is a dish best served cold, from a prompt?
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Microsoft’s bigg ass table: a Microsoft Surface parody • YouTube

With those coming ChatGPT billions on the way, a reminder that companies keep pushing technology just because they can make it but with no idea of how people will use it is one for the ages. (Via John Gruber.) The commentary is parody, but absolutely accurate about the “why would you even do that?” behaviour common to so many tech demos. The video itself, by Microsoft, for its real product, dates from May 2007 – after the iPhone was shown off, but a month before it was in the public’s hands and changed what people would do in their hands forever.

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ChatGPT users report $42 a month pricing for ‘pro’ access but no official announcement yet • The Verge

James Vincent:


OpenAI hasn’t confirmed this is an official test or made any announcements. We’ve contacted the company for more info, but in the meantime remember that features and pricing could change before ChatGPT Professional launches for real. As OpenAI said earlier this month: “Please keep in mind that this is an early experimental program that is subject to change, and we are not making paid pro access generally available at this time.”

With that in mind, what does $42 a month get you? According to screenshots shared by users given early access, you get faster response speed, more reliable access (because ChatGPT is down a lot), and “priority access to new features” (whatever they turn out to be).

Zahid Khawaja, a developer who works on a number of AI projects, shared video of the pro tier working on both desktop and mobile (as well as a screenshot of his payment to OpenAI as proof). As Khawaja notes, the system definitely responds faster than the free version.

The thornier question, though, is cost. On the official ChatGPT Discord, many users expressed anger and disappointment over the $42 pricetag.

“If it made me money i could justify the 42/mo but in my country this is a good percentage of the minimum wage,” said one user.


Pricing always discriminates in this way. (Advertising-based methods essentially discriminate in reverse, by monetising users in richer countries well, and those in poorer countries badly.)
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I’m a copywriter. I’m pretty sure artificial intelligence is going to take my job • The Guardian

Henry Williams:


“Write an article on ‘What is payment gateway?’” I recently typed into a ChatGPT window. ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence-powered writing generator, quickly obliged.

The result was impressive. Sure, the tone was inhuman and the structure as sophisticated as a college essay, but the key points, the grammar and the syntax were all spot on. After a bit of a punch-up, it was perfectly passable as a sponsored content article designed to drum up business leads for a software provider – an article like the one that I, a professional copywriter, had just spent hours writing.

My amusement quickly turned to horror: it had taken ChatGPT roughly 30 seconds to create, for free, an article that I charged £500 for. The artificial intelligence software is by no means perfect – yet. For businesses that rely on churning out reams of fresh copy, however, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

…In the near term, writers and editors will still be needed, but fewer of them. A human will prompt AI to generate mountains of copy, only intervening again to fact-check, amend and approve. But how long before the model learns to spot commercial opportunities, generate ideas and put perfect content live without any human involvement?

What does this mean for you? PriceWaterhouseCooper predicts that AI will produce a $15tn boost to GDP by 2030. Fantastic, but it also predicts that 3% of jobs are already at risk from AI. By the mid-2030s, this proportion will jump to 30% – 44% among workers with low education. That’s a lot of people who will need to “upskill”, retrain or drop out of the workforce.


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The anatomy of a viral tweet: the “rehashing old news” variant • Weaponized Spaces

Caroline Orr Bueno:


I recently asked my Twitter followers if they’d be interested in reading a breakdown of why certain tweets go viral, and the answer was a resounding “YES!” So today, I’m introducing the first piece in a series that will answer the question, “Why did that tweet go viral?”

Before we look at today’s tweet, I should note that I’m not using a strict definition of “viral.” In general, the term takes into account both engagement and time — so, a tweet that is said to “go viral” is generally one that has garnered a certain number of interactions within a specified time frame. In this series, I’m mainly interested in looking at tweets with high engagement, particularly retweets, so I am considering any tweet with more than 1,000 retweets in 24 hours to be a “viral” tweet. I also want to make sure that the focus of this series stays on the content and tactics, not the person behind the account. These articles aren’t an attack on the person who wrote the tweet, nor are they a reason for anyone to go harass the account owner.

With that said, let’s look at today’s tweet, which at the time of writing had more than half a million views, 1,125 retweets, 398 quote-tweets, and 2,449 likes. (Update: More than 2,000 retweets now).

“BREAKING: The Chicago Police Department officer who is involved with the Proud Boys and lied about it will not be fired by city officials,” the tweet read.


And so she does. It’s worthwhile, because understanding this process (and what gets amplified) is so useful in the modern media landscape.
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Japan was the future but it’s stuck in the past • BBC News

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes is leaving Japan after a decade as the BBC’s correspondent there:


Last year, I discovered the story behind the stunning manhole covers in a little town in the Japanese Alps. In 1924, the fossilised bones of an ancient elephant species were found in the nearby lake. It became a symbol of the town – and a few years ago, someone decided to have all the manhole covers replaced with new ones that would have an image of the famous elephant cast in the top.

This has been happening all over Japan. There is now a Japan Society for Manhole Covers that claims there are 6,000 different designs. I understand why people love the covers. They are works of art. But each one costs up to $900.

It’s a clue to how Japan has ended up with the world’s largest mountain of public debt. And the ballooning bill isn’t helped by an ageing population that cannot retire because of the pressure on healthcare and pensions.

When I renewed my Japanese driving licence, the exquisitely polite staff shuttled me from eye test to photo booth to fee payment and then asked me to report to “lecture room 28”. These “safety” lectures are compulsory for anyone who’s had a traffic infraction in the previous five years.

Inside I found a group of disconsolate-looking souls waiting for our punishment to begin. A smartly-dressed man walked in and told us our “lecture” would begin in 10 minutes and last two hours!

You are not required to even understand the lecture. Much of it was lost on me. As it droned in to its second hour several of my classmates fell asleep. The man next to me completed a rather fine sketch of Tokyo tower. I sat bored and resentful, the clock on the wall mocking me.

“What’s the point of it?” I asked my Japanese colleague when I got back to the office. “It’s punishment, right?”

“No,” she said laughing. “It’s a job creation scheme for retired traffic cops.”


It’s a fantastic essay.
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LG, Whirlpool target customers disconnected from ‘smart’ appliances • WSJ

Isabelle Bousquette:


LG Electronics said that less than half of the smart appliances it has sold stay connected to the internet—a number it is actively working to increase, according to Henry Kim, the U.S. director of ThinQ, an LG platform primarily aimed at helping products leverage advanced technology.

Whirlpool said that more than half of its smart appliances remain connected, but the company declined to be more specific.

Amid pressure from weaker demand and rising materials costs, internet-connected appliances, including dishwashers and ovens that link to a customer’s home Wi-Fi network, could help manufacturers such as LG and Whirlpool recast what has traditionally been a one-time purchase business model into ongoing relationships with customers. 

Internet-connected appliances provide manufacturers with data and insights about how customers are using their products, allowing them to sell relevant replacement parts or subscription services. They also enable manufacturers to send over-the-air updates that enhance the functionality of appliances. 

…Whirlpool said that last year it rolled out a leak-detection feature on its Maytag smart washing machines and an air-frying feature to its Whirlpool-branded smart ovens.

Mr. Kim said LG was able to gather data about how much water was passing through filters in customers’ refrigerators and then notify them via app that it was time for a filter replacement. The company saw an incremental increase in water-filter sales from those who had refrigerators connected compared with those who didn’t, Mr. Kim said.

While LG customers don’t have the opportunity to opt in or out on whether data from their WiFi connected devices is shared, Mr. Kim said all data is anonymized.


I suspect some of those licences wouldn’t survive contact with the GDPR, it’s hard not to feel that this is just companies looking for upselling opportunities.
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I tried lab-grown meat made from animals without killing them – is this the future of ethical eating? • The Guardian

Oliver Milman:


“A harmless sample from one pig can produce many millions of tons of product without requiring us to raise and slaughter an animal each time,” said Eitan Fischer, founder of Mission Barns, a maker of cultivated meat that invited the Guardian to a taste test in an upscale Manhattan hotel. The meatball was succulent, the bacon was crisp and, even to a vegetarian, both had the undeniable quality of meat.

“We got that sample from Dawn [a pig] and she’s living freely and happily,” said Fischer, whose company has identified a “donor” cow, chicken and duck for future cultivated meat ranges. “This industry will absolutely be transformative to our food system as people move toward consuming these types of products.”

Mission Barns is one of about 80 startup companies based around San Francisco’s Bay Area now jostling for position after one of their number, Upside Foods, became the first in the country to be granted approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November, a key step in allowing the sale of cultivated meat in the US. On Monday, Upside said it aims to start selling its cultivated chicken in restaurants this year, and in grocery stores by 2028.

More than $2bn has been invested in the sector since 2020 and many of the new ventures aren’t waiting for regulatory approval before building facilities. In December, a company called Believer Meats broke ground on a $123m facility in North Carolina it claims will be the largest “cultivated meat” plant in the world, set to churn out 10,000 tons of product once operational.


Really interesting if, as pointed out, it’s more efficient in converting calories to meat, doesn’t need antibiotics, and doesn’t take huge amounts of farmland.
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• 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

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