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Just Watch: A streaming search engine

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Now that I live in Canada, I find that Netflix and Prime movies available in the US may not be available in Canada—at least not on Netflix and Prime. What I wanted was a search engine that would search across different streaming services to locate a movie I wanted to see. Roku offers that sort of search, which I used to find Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky” (on Google Play, as it turned out), but surely there must be now be a specialized search engine for that.

So I searched for one (using Google) and I found, which is exactly what I wanted: you specify your country, and it finds for you the streaming version of the movie for that country.

Very useful. Free, but you have to open an account with Facebook or Google: no option to use your email and a password. 😦

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2019 at 7:36 am

Why Ford Hired a Furniture Maker as CEO

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Jerry Useem writes in the Atlantic:

If, as ralph waldo emerson said, “an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,” the story of the American economy can be told by the types of people who run its corporations. The early days of mass production belonged to mechanically minded men such as Henry Ford. The creation of mass markets called forth salesmen such as Thomas Watson Sr., whose faithful troops sang “Ever onward IBM!” After the conglomerate craze of the 1960s and ’70s, almost a third of CEOs hailed from finance and accounting backgrounds. Then a crop of technologists, such as Andy Grove and Bill Gates, arrived.

So it came as a surprise last spring when Ford Motor Company selected a chief executive who hadn’t been reared in Detroit and didn’t easily fit established CEO molds. He was a furniture maker. Jim Hackett, 63, is a product of Michigan’s other corporate cluster—the three office-furniture companies around Grand Rapids, including Steelcase, which Hackett ran for two decades.

At Steelcase, Hackett became a devotee of an approach to product development known as design thinking, which rigorously focuses on how the user experiences a product. He forced Steelcase to think less about cubicles—its bread-and-butter product when he arrived—and more about the people inside them. Hiring anthropologists and sociologists and working closely with tech experts, he made Steelcase a pioneer in the team-oriented, open workspaces so common today. In effect, he transformed an office-supply company into a leader of the revolution in the way we work.

Furniture, of course, tends to stay put. But the leap to automobiles seemed less far-fetched once Hackett and I were sitting side by side in the foam-and-aluminum cockpit of a self-driving-car prototype in one of Ford’s Dearborn design studios. “We may have to leave that there,” he said, pointing to a notional steering wheel emitting a blue glow, “just so that you’re comfortable.” But the driver’s seat can swivel around—like an office chair, he noted. Hackett and I rotated so that we were facing two more Ford employees in the back seat.

The choice of Hackett to lead Ford confounded both those analysts who expected a dyed-in-the-wool carmaker and those who expected a high-tech hand to manage the company as cars morph into rolling computers. But his selection suggests a third way—which may, in fact, capture the times. We don’t live in the age of the automobile, or even the age of the computer. We live in the age of user experience.

Our lives are made up of human-machine interactions—with smartphones, televisions, internet-enabled parking meters that don’t accept quarters— that have the power to delight and, often, infuriate. (“Maddening” is Hackett’s one-word description for 90-button TV remotes.) Into this arena has stepped a new class of professional: the user-experience, or UX, designer, whose job is to see a product not from an engineer’s, marketer’s, or legal department’s perspective but from the viewpoint of the user alone. And to insist that the customer should not have to learn to speak the company’s internal language. The company should learn to speak the customer’s.

LinkedIn lists tens of thousands of UX job openings; the role has become a fixture on those year-end “hottest job” lists. If you want to study UX, you now have the option at some three dozen institutions in the United States, including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Washington. But Ford is one of the few major industrial companies in the U.S. to put a UX guru in charge.

At present, the question hovering over the car industry is basically whether high-tech entrants such as Tesla and Google can learn crankshafts and drivetrains faster than Ford, GM, and other carmakers can learn software and algorithms. But Hackett reflects Ford’s bet that the winner won’t be the best chassis maker or software maker, but the company that nails the interaction between man and machine. “One of the things that drew me to Jim was his commitment to design thinking, which puts the human being at the center of the equation,” Bill Ford, the company’s executive chairman (and great-grandson of Henry), explained to me.

The term UX originated in Silicon Valley. Don Norman, a UC San Diego professor and the author of the seminal book The Design of Everyday Things, worked at Apple during Steve Jobs’s exile in the 1990s. “I thought the quality of the Apple computer was going downhill a little bit,” he told me recently. “We’d reach the tail end of a project, and the engineers would have their say, the marketing people would have their say.” But no one at the table was advocating for the user. In 1993, Norman suggested to then-CEO John Sculley the need for “someone who took the overview of what it was like to use these machines.” He formed a UX office and styled himself as Apple’s user-experience architect.

The migration of UX thinking to other industries was accelerated by the Palo Alto design outfit Ideo, whose founder, David Kelley, helped design the first Apple mouse. It counted Medtronic and Procter & Gamble among its first clients. In the early 1990s, a 30-something Hackett visited Ideo as Steelcase was thinking of entering a new market. He described his experience there as “so profound” that three years later, Steelcase bought a majority stake in the company—in part to get full-time access to Kelley through an always-on video link.

Hackett retired from Steelcase in 2014 and spent 18 months as the University of Michigan’s interim athletic director (he is responsible for poaching the head football coach, Jim Harbaugh, from the San Francisco 49ers). In 2016, Bill Ford hired him to run the automaker’s nascent Smart Mobility subsidiary, which was tasked with rethinking from the ground up how cars would be driven, powered, and owned. Once again, Hackett turned to Ideo. The company had already been working with Ford as a client, but Hackett embedded its employees in Dearborn to jump-start a transformation of Ford’s culture.

“This is what we call the design gap,” Hackett told me, pointing to the space between two lines on a graph he’d sketched for me on a whiteboard. One line ascends—this is a company’s skill at making things, which goes up over time. Below it is a descending line, representing a company’s understanding of the customer’s experience. This, he said, can decline over time, as a company loses sight of the problems it’s in the business of solving. The design gap may be noticeable when the job is, say, building a marginally better tailgate for the Ford F‑150. But it becomes positively yawning when your industry is so thoroughly turned on its head that you’re forced to ask some basic questions: Do people want to own their cars or share them? Drive them or have them driven? The flood of new technologies makes everything possible.

Without a clear compass, the tendency is to add features willy-nilly. Seats that monitor your heart rate! A light-up reminder of the infant in the back! They sound nifty in theory. But the result, Jim Baumbick, one of Ford’s product-management chiefs, told me, is that you are “in effect passing decisions on to the customer.” Overloading the dashboard with too many doodads requires the driver to do the hard thinking about what she needs while on the road. At the same time, it burdens the company with producing all these options. “We need to give customers a narrower set of choices,” Baumbick said. Figuring out the right choices is the trick. And it’s not simple.

The language of design thinking can sound hopelessly abstract to the uninitiated. “I think it’s fair to say that in the first part of Jim’s tenure, there were a lot of quizzical looks,” Bill Ford told me. “We’ve tended to be an insular company in an insular town.” One of Hackett’s early projects as CEO—designing a new HMI (industry-speak for “human-machine interface,” or the controls in the cockpit)—almost failed before it really started. “The first four days, we were going nowhere,” Darren Palmer, Ford’s head of global product development for electric vehicles, told me. A team of about 20 had been sent off-site. “People were talking and just not understanding each other,” Palmer said. A phrase like feature set meant one thing to an engineer, something different to a programmer, and something different still to a marketing executive. “Cats and dogs fighting against each other,” was how Phil Mason, the on-site team leader, described it to me. “After about four days, they said, ‘Hold it. This just isn’t working.’ ”

As a last-ditch effort, the team members were told to give up trying to devise a new set of features for drivers. Instead, they were to go home, reflect on complaints they had about their own cars, and return with stories. These ran the gamut from “I’m on a camping trip and there’s no charger! What’s my backup?” to “On a date night, I can’t be bothered with the navigation system.”

“It helped everyone realize they were speaking a common language,” Palmer said. The exercise also produced a common finding. As drivers, “people want their stuff,” Mason said. “If they use Spotify, they want to use Spotify”—not a carmaker’s alternative system. “More than anything, they want to use their own digital ecosphere. Or else they’re just going to stick the phone on the windscreen.”

This was a profound realization. “The phone was considered an accessory you brought into your vehicle,” says Ideo’s global managing director, Iain Roberts. “Now I think the relationship may have flipped—the vehicle is an accessory to the device.” That’s the kind of insight that previously would have surfaced late in the design process, when the company would ask for customer feedback on a close-to-finished product. Discovered early, it put the team on a path to build a prototype that was ready in an unheard-of 12 weeks.

That kind of speed, Hackett argues, is achieved only by taking things slowly at first. The idea is that you’ll end up spending less time redoing things—or designing features that people don’t want at all. “Often the ideas we have are completely wrong,” Palmer told me. “So we can kill ideas very fast, too.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2019 at 8:55 am

Is the FTC powerful enough to be an effective privacy cop? New report suggests not.

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Cat Zakrzewski reports in the Washington Post:

The Federal Trade Commission is supposed to be the U.S. government’s top Internet privacy cop. But a new report raises questions about whether the agency has the resources and authority it needs to protect consumers. 

Data privacy controversies seem to make headlines at least weekly. But in the past decade, the FTC has filed just 101 enforcement actions regarding Internet privacy, according to a Government Accountability Office report published yesterday. While nearly all of the actions resulted in settlements that required companies to take action, in most cases the FTC didn’t have the authority to issue fines, the watchdog said.

The more than 100-year-old FTC is under pressure to modernize to take greater action against Silicon Valley — and there’s broad consensus that the agency should be the one to enforce whatever privacy law potentially emerges in Washington.  The GAO report may encourage lawmakers to further empower the FTC so its ready to take on this challenge as it considers how to move forward with a privacy law this year. 

The government watchdog directed Congress to consider what agency should oversee Internet privacy, what authorities that agency should have and how to balance privacy with industry’s need to innovate. This sets the stage for two hearings at the end of the month, when lawmakers in the House and Senate will examine policy principles for a federal data privacy framework.

From Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the House Energy and Commerce chairman who requested the report:

Yet there’s a complex debate to be had specifically about FTC authorities. The report found some stakeholders wanted to see the size of fines increase. Some critics have said they are not large enough to actually impact technology titans. Another question raised in the report: Whether the agency should have the power to issue fines against first-time privacy offenders.

The FTC generally can’t do that now. The exception is when the offense involves children because as the report mentions, the only comprehensive federal privacy law is the 25-year-old Children Online Privacy Protection Act.

The few privacy fines it has levied against companies — such as the $22.5 million penalty against Google — came after the search giant violated a previous settlement with the FTC. That’s also the case in the agency’s high-profile probe against Facebook, in an investigation opened following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when a data analytics firm with ties to President Trump’s campaign obtained Facebook users’ data without their consent. The FTC is considering hitting Facebook with a record-setting fine for violating a 2011 agreement.

The government watchdog interviewed a wide range of stakeholders in the privacy debate, including tech companies, industry groups, academics, consumer advocacy groups and former FTC and Federal Communications Commission officials. The interviewees were somewhat divided over how the FTC’s authorities should be expanded.

“Some stakeholders suggested that FTC’s current ability to levy civil penalties could also be enhanced,” the report said, Most of the former FTC commissioners said the agency should be able to levy fines for initial violations. Some of the stakeholders, particularly consumer advocacy groups, advocated for the agency to have broader rulemaking authority on data privacy and security issues.

Industry representatives, however, warned regulations can stifle innovation and rulemakings can be lengthy. As CNET reporter Alfred Ng noted, the industry players that the watchdog interviewed want to maintain the status quo:

The GAO’s report follows legislative proposals for federal privacy law from several senators, including a bipartisan bill from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.)Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced a bill last year that gained broad support among other Democrats. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) floated a proposal last year, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation earlier this year. Yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published it’s own draft legislation. But this year’s privacy hearings are just getting started, and it’s unclear which elements of these proposals will move forward.

The privacy debate comes amid a broader discussion about the future of the FTC — which is also tasked with addressing the competition concerns the technology behemoths present. The FTC is holding its own set of hearings about the future of competition and consumer protection, essentially trying to gather input on how the government should address these challenges in the digital age. The FTC was scheduled to have a hearing this week on privacy and data, but it was rescheduled for April.

“There is a growing debate about the federal government’s role in overseeing Internet privacy,” the report said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2019 at 8:40 am

How Four Ex-Amazoners Made a Crazy Good Wireless Cam for $20

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Jake Swearingen writes in New York:

In the world of gadgets, there are plenty of good deals to be found, but it’s usually either a high-priced item with exceptional value, or a slightly cheaper item that feels more expensive than it is. Then there’s the Wyze Cam: a wireless camera that works extremely well, has an app and storage features that match or exceed those of much of the competition, and sells for just $20 (other “cheap” wireless cams start at $100, and usually run at around $150). It makes the camera not only a great deal, but something of a puzzle: how do they do that?

It’s been a major hit with both customers and investors — Wyze just announced its first round of funding at $20 million, giving the company a $100 million valuation. We talked to Elana Fishman, chief operating officer at Wyze, about how they manage to keep things so cheap, how they plan to use their new funding, and the most creative things people have done with their highly affordable webcam.

So, all four of the founders of Wyze Labs are ex-Amazon employees. What did you guys learn at Amazon that you were able to use when you were first starting up Wyze?
The biggest thing is the customer-centric focus — putting customers at the center of everything that we do and having their voice in the room when making big decisions. And then there’s operational efficiency. A bunch of us worked on the operational side of Amazon, so there’s an understanding of the supply chain and forecasting and driving efficiencies on the inventory side.

Is that how you’re able to sell a webcam for $20? Like, what’s the secret there?
Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is drive down costs in everything we do, and then pass those savings on to consumers. It’s very much a volume play for us. We found manufacturing partners who were already producing at scale so that we could leverage their expertise and their efficiencies.

Then there’s forecasting, so we can turn our inventory over very quickly. We don’t have inventory sitting around. There’s also making sure that our products not only meet but exceed customer expectations. We don’t spend money on marketing. We don’t have celebrity endorsements. We don’t do fancy advertising. We believe in making great products and letting them speak for themselves; word of mouth is how people find out about us. Historically, customers have paid for things that are not ultimately in the product they’re using. So we try and cut out as much of that as possible.

We make money on every individual camera and it’s important that we do that. We’re not selling at a loss. We have to succeed at scale to be a sustainable business. So, to do that, we have to make good product. We have to really delight customers.

So there was no point at which you were selling Wyze Cams at a loss?

That sort of high-volume, razor-thin-margins play is a lot like Amazon.
Yep, exactly.

When you look around at the space, it seems like even cheapo cameras are $100. Is that people paying for things that you’ve figured out how to cut out?
I think so, yeah. I mean, we don’t have a ton of visibility into other people’s business. It’s possible that their supply chains are not as efficient or optimized. So, it may be that their costs really are higher. And especially when you’re dealing with traditional sales channels, there’s often a pretty big margin that gets taken out. We don’t have a markup built in for sales-channel partners.

In the tiny corner of the gadget world, the Wyze Cam was sort of a viral hit. I, and lot of other people, wrote things that boiled down to: “This camera shouldn’t be this cheap and this good, but somehow it is.”
We were very intentional in how we launched. It was a new product, new app, new software, and a very different value proposition. We wanted to specifically speak to — and find — customers who would be excited about both the technology and understand how hard it was to do what we were doing at the price that we were doing it. Our cameras are exciting to people who are super into the technical side, because they understand how hard it is to deliver what we are at the price we’re offering it [for], but it’s also very accessible to a mass user, because of the price.

On the flip side, do you have to deal with suspicious customers because of the price? Like, my immediate reaction was, “Okay, what’s the catch? Are they selling my info on the back end?”
That was absolutely something we were trying to figure out as we were deciding how to price the camera. Our goal was to put it out there at the absolute best possible price, but we understood that coming out at $20, there’d be a lot of skepticism, and that was definitely something we battled early on.

One example: In the very beginning, our cameras used a peer-to-peer connection service to connect the camera when you’re viewing a livestream remotely. The way it used to work was, whenever you pulled up a live feed, it would ping servers across the world and pick whichever one was fastest. Because we had a very tech-savvy audience, they saw that and they had those questions like, “Why is my data going to all these different countries?” It was about whatever was the fastest, but we took that feedback from users that they didn’t want their data going outside the U.S., so now we restrict the traffic so it’s all done on U.S. servers. For us it was just about speed, but we took that feedback from customers. Cameras, you know, they’re an incredibly sensitive … you’re putting them in your home.

But we don’t sell data, we don’t use customer data to train algorithms — that’s not our business model, to monetize that. Like I said, we have a little bit of margin on the hardware and that’s what drives the business.

Amazon has been huge for you as a direct sales channel. Is there any concern about Amazon having its own line of smart home cameras it wants to push? It owns the platform and it also has its own products on the platform. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 February 2019 at 10:57 am

‘Mark Is an Authoritarian’: A Facebook Investor Sounds the Alarm About the Company He Helped Build

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Benjamin Hart writes in New York:

Like many people, Roger McNamee has recently come to believe that Facebook is, in his words, “terrible for America.” Unlike many people, he played an integral role in helping the 15-year-old juggernaut wield so much power in the first place. A longtime venture capitalist, McNamee made a key early investment in the company, and served as a mentor to a young Mark Zuckerberg, who was then agonizing about whether to sell his creation or keep running it himself. McNamee also fatefully helped persuade Sheryl Sandberg to meet with Zuckerberg; she became Facebook’s COO in 2008.

But since 2016, McNamee — who had by then ceased involvement with Facebook — has grown into a full-time skeptic of the company he once championed, joining a chorus of onetime tech evangelists who have reevaluated tech’s role in society. His new book Zucked is a cri de coeur against a corporation and a chief executive who he thinks have badly lost their way. Intelligencer spoke with him about the dangers of Facebook’s unchecked power, whether he thinks the company is salvageable, and why Mark Zuckerberg just needs some sleep.

You said that you first started to really have misgivings about Facebook in the run-up to the 2016 election, when you noticed a series of suspicious-looking memes that were denigrating Hillary Clinton — at which point you realized that outside groups were manipulating the platform.
It was “Bay Area for Bernie” and “whatever for Bernie” type groups. Things that seemed legit, that seemed associated with the Sanders campaign. But the viral spread of them, where one day one of my friends was in that group, the next day four of my friends, the day after that, eight of my friends … there was something about it that said to me: in all probability, somebody was spending money to draw people into these groups. And then they were sharing stuff. These memes were so nasty, and so obviously not real in terms of information content, that I just couldn’t imagine even the Sanders campaign doing something like that. You know, they had a reputation, the Bernie bros.

But it just seemed too intense. I had no idea what it meant, but it got stuck in my head, and so, when a month later we had the report about that group that used Facebook advertising tools to gather data on people expressing an interest in Black Lives Matter, and then they were selling those names to police departments? That was obviously evil. The first thing was just a suspicion, the second thing was like, “Oh my God.” Facebook did the right thing, mind you. They expelled the group. But obviously the damage had been done, the data was sold to police departments, and harassment could take place. And that just struck me as completely not fitting my perception of what Facebook was all about, which was puppies and babies.

So you warned Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. 
Yes, but keep in mind that wasn’t ’til October. Brexit happens in June, and then I think, Oh my god, what if it’s possible that in a campaign setting, the candidate that has the more inflammatory message gets a structural advantage from Facebook? And then in August, we hear about Manafort, so we need to introduce the Russians into the equation. And then in October, we hear about Facebook using its ad tools to enable people in the housing market to discriminate in violation of the Fair Housing Act. At that point I write an op-ed for Recodeand instead of publishing it, I share it with Mark and Sheryl because I’m trying to warn them. I’m going, “Guys, there is something really wrong here” — the only logical explanation is there is something about the algorithm and the business model that enable bad actors to harm innocent people using Facebook.

I didn’t expect them to throw up their arms and promise to change everything, but I hoped that they would investigate and take it seriously. Of course, nine days later, you have the election, at which point I’m going, “Okay, guys, we cannot screw around, this is a disaster. Your brand is at stake, you’re a trust business. You must engage. You must treat this the way Johnson & Johnson treated the poisoning of Tylenol. You gotta protect the people who use your product.” And I tried that for three months, but with no luck. And so after that, I became an activist.

We’re now more than two years out from that experience, and obviously the controversies have not gone away — they’ve actually multiplied. Do you think Zuckerberg and Sandberg have made any progress on the stuff you warned about? 
I want to avoid absolutes, but I think it’s safe to say that the business model is the source of the problem, and that it’s the same business model as before. And to the extent that they made progress, it’s in going after different moles in the Whack-a-Mole game. From the point of view of the audience, Facebook is as threatening as ever.

You’ve said it’s the ad-based business model that creates, in your opinion, damaging incentives that sort of reward the basest human emotions: fear, anger …
Can I take a moment to describe how it works?

Because if you think about the ad model — in a traditional ad model, you collect data in order to improve your product or service, with respect to the customers that you have. At Facebook and Google, they collect data in order to essentially create new products that take advantage of the weakness of the audience. It’s a fundamentally different thing. So if, in a traditional ad product, the consumer is the product, not the customer — in Facebook and Google they’re the fuel. They aren’t even the product. And here’s why it’s a problem: They need your attention. To get your attention, they appeal to low-level emotions like outrage and fear, and they tickle you with rewards, things like notifications. And those things are really habit-forming. And for many people, when you’re checking Facebook or Google two or three times a day for periods of years, habits become addictions. And when you’re addicted, you are vulnerable to manipulation.

Is this ad-based business model, which is the foundation of so many of these important internet companies, fundamentally flawed, in your view? Is there a more benevolent way of doing it?
To be clear, I think there was always a much more benevolent way of doing this, and I wish they had gone there. When I first met Mark in 2006, the company had $9 million in revenues, and he had solved what I thought was the fundamental issue for the social network, which was that anonymity basically allowed bullies to take over chat rooms, comment boards, and any kind of social thing. And Mark realized that he could provide authenticated identity, and in the early days, that, I felt, was the most exciting thing. He also gave people genuine privacy control. And I bet he could’ve gone to 100 million, maybe 200 million users, mostly in the English-speaking world, without any problems and a really reasonable ad business. But as they started to grow, they found a business model that really did require this surveillance, and they realized that there were no limits at all. The more friction they could get rid of, the faster they would grow. And so what they did was they basically said, “You know what, we’re not gonna enforce this identity thing. And we’re not going to enforce the privacy protections.”

The next thing you know, they’re growing like a bat out of hell, and the bad actors start coming in. To me, the miracle is that they got all the way to 2 billion active users before any problems showed up. And it’s a real tribute to how smart they were that it took that long. If they had a more traditional advertising business, I think everything would be fine. But now they’re at a scale where I don’t see how they can get back to that. You know what I would do? I think the best way to solve this problem from a policy point of view is to do what we did with the chemical industry, which is to say — there are all these externalities that come from your success, all this damage that right now society is paying? From now on, it’s on you. You have to pay all of that. And that would change the incentives pretty quickly.

But it’s pretty hard to measure what, exactly, the cost of the harm is. It gets very nebulous. 
Well, yes and no. Because remember, some of the harm shows up at the individual level, so if everybody has the ability to sue for what they think the cost to them was …

Well that would be …
No, I’m not joking about this, right? I mean, a lot of this is letting litigation take its course. And, you’re right: I suspect that estimating the value of a Rohingya life in Myanmar would wind up producing the same kind of horrible outcome you got in Bhopal. But right now there’s no consequence at all, right? And so it would be better to make them do something. But I agree with you, I don’t think this is easy. And that’s the reason why we’re having this conversation, right? I mean, I didn’t write this book because I had all the answers, I wrote this book because I think I know what the questions are, and I’m trying to get the whole world to get engaged.

And I don’t really think people understand the issue that well, either …Dude, I’ve spent an entire life doing this and don’t understand it! I’m serious! Thirty-four years as a professional tech investor, studying this stuff day and night, being at these companies as they created these models in the early days. Not so much in recent years, so I really missed the model that they’re running now until I became an activist. But I’ve spent 30 years doing nothing but! So when somebody comes up to me and says, “Roger, this is really complicated,” I go, “I’m with you. You’re absolutely correct.” But it turns out that the parts that matter aren’t that complicated. These people were never elected, they are not accountable, and yet they have the most important voice in our politics. Every candidate is running his or her campaign on Instagram. You don’t think that gives these guys an enormous amount of power? Of course it does. We think that that’s inevitable, right? Collectively, we learned how to trust tech in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. And we don’t realize that we should be not only very skeptical right now, we should actively be suspicious of the biggest companies on the internet.

You were in close contact with Zuckerberg years ago, but you haven’t been in close contact with him for a while. Do you think that Facebook can develop into the kind of company you want it to be with him in charge? 
I think that Mark is one good night’s sleep from understanding this. The problem is …

Do you really?
No, hang on. I’m saying from understanding it, right?  Now doing it is another whole animal. And the doing requires a dramatic change to the business model.

There’s been such a now-familiar cycle of these breaches of trust every two weeks …
No, no, no, no, no. I get it. We’re talking about two different things. You asked me, “Is he capable of making this change?” And I’m saying to you I think it’s not crazy for him to wake up one day the way I did and say, “You know what? This thing that I believed in so much is deeply flawed, and I owe everybody. I do need to fix it.” I believe Mark Zuckerberg is totally capable of that moment of illumination. Now, there is zero evidence that he has had it, or that he is going to have it, but I think he’s capable of it.

And the trick is, let’s assume he has it. Then you have to actually effect the change. And that would be difficult, but like I said, I think he has the gravitas inside the company to persuade people: “You know what guys, what we’ve been doing here’s wrong, we’ve gotta do it differently.” But I don’t want you to come out of this call thinking I’m optimistic that that’s how things are going to go down.

That’s not what I took from it. 
I’m saying to you I’m really, really, really afraid of what these companies could do. And I’m afraid in no small measure because there are hundreds of millions of people — really, billions of people — affected by their actions. And you can fit every single person in the world who understands the problem I’m talking about at the level I’m talking about it, you know, in a basketball arena or something much smaller. And, you know, we still have a huge awareness-building campaign to complete, and we have to get the people in power up to speed. And they’re getting there very rapidly. Like the rest of us, they had every reason to trust these guys for 50, 60 years and, you know, it didn’t look like they needed any regulation, so why would anybody become a pro?

But we just elected 40 freshmen members of Congress where the average age is like, 40, right? And we retired a whole bunch of the people who understood it the least well, and the intersection of those two things is very positive. And here’s the good news: I think there are members on both sides who get how important it is to do something here. And they may not agree on what the path is, but at least if you understand that we need to find common ground, that’s good. And the other piece that’s really important is that we, the people formerly known as “users” — we have more power than we realize. We have the power to withdraw some or all of our attention from these guys, and they need that attention to make this model work. Facebook has seen a really significant decline in hours of use per month per user in North America in the last year. And there’s a reason they don’t report it anymore, because it’s not a good number — fortunately Nielsen keeps track of it. And it’s not exact, but it shows like a 20 percent decline, and that’s a big number. And that gives you some hope.

Again and again, Zuckerberg has said over the last 15 years that his whole mission with Facebook — and he always uses this kind of platitude-heavy language — is that it’s about “connecting the world” and “bringing people together,” etc., etc. And I think people have a difficulty reconciling that with the strange figure he cuts in public. Did you ever feel like you got a handle on what’s driving him, or what he believes in? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2019 at 3:44 pm

Bob Costas, unplugged: From NBC and broadcast icon to dropped from the Super Bowl

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Well worth reading.- And I was just thinking that if you describe the situation in general terms, it reads exactly like some dystopian science-fiction novel: giant corporations controlling the populace to milk money from it, and having to get ever more gladiators and take the bouts to new levels of speed and violence. And hide the damage it does, until the hero (generally, it unfortunately seems, wearing spandex) exposes the villainous companies for what they are, and the contempt they have for their players and for the public, and how they will do absolutely anything to keep the money rolling in, who cares how many players die?

Mark Fainaru-Wada writes for ESPN.

IN DECEMBER 2015, the movie “Concussion” was set for a Christmas Day release in nearly 3,000 theaters across America. The film told the story of the NFL’s attempts to discredit research tying brain damage to football, and Bob Costas wanted to address it on national television.

Over the previous decade, Costas had become the face of football on NBC, hosting one of TV’s most-watched programs, “Sunday Night Football.” As part of every broadcast, Costas would take two minutes at halftime to speak directly to the program’s 18 million viewers about the NFL issues of the day. Mostly, his commentaries were celebrations of the sport — Brady vs. Manning, a tribute to Lambeau Field — but, occasionally, he addressed subjects like gun control or the controversial name of the Washington, D.C., football team.

With his 28 Emmys and eight National Sportscaster of the Year awards, Costas had become the most-respected broadcaster of his generation — a kind of Walter Cronkite for sports. He believed it was his responsibility to address uncomfortable truths, or “elephants in the room,” as he often called them.

The release of “Concussion” seemed a natural topic given the nationwide awakening about head trauma in contact sports, especially the NFL. Costas believed it was important to have viewers confront football’s existential crisis and consider their own moral dilemma as fans complicit to the sport’s carnage.

Yet he recognized such a speech posed a challenge for his bosses and NBC. The network was paying the NFL billions to air games on Sunday nights. Even more, Costas knew NBC executives were hoping to expand the network’s NFL package to Thursdays.

Costas sent the essay to his bosses for approval, something he typically did not do — and waited.

What would ensue that week — and in the years that followed — reveals for the first time how a broadcasting icon went from fronting America’s most popular sport to being excised from last year’s Super Bowl and, ultimately, ending his nearly 40-year career with NBC.

Outside the Lines spoke with the 66-year-old Costas dozens of times over the course of the past year. Those conversations provide not only the never-before-told backstory of how he became an NFL outsider, but also deep insight into his personality: the intelligence and self-assurance that have driven his career; the years-long struggle as he reconciled the celebration of a sport that enriched him financially and helped make him a broadcasting icon, but also weighed so heavily on his conscience; and the insecurity and intense worry — near agony — about the possibility of betraying his colleagues and friends by sharing his story. All of it points to the all-encompassing influence of the NFL — even over the most distinguished broadcaster of his era.

In the end, Costas wished he had never spoken to Outside the Lines about any of it: “The upside is not equal to the fear I have.”

BY DECEMBER 2015, nobody at NBC should have been surprised that Bob Costas would want to speak his mind about football. After joining the network at age 27 in 1979, he had become one of NBC’s signature go-to voices.

With NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol as his champion, Costas established himself as somebody who could do just about anything: play-by-play, commentary, hosting, interviewing.

He was everywhere — . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2019 at 2:05 pm

Black Twitter and the Future of Digital Disobedience

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David Thigpen has an interesting article at the Institute for the Future blog:

In an interview not long ago, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone was asked if he had ever heard of “Black Twitter.” Stone admitted he had not, but wondered if it was connected to Black Lives Matter.

Stone is not alone. But even if you’ve never heard of Black Twitter, chances are you’ve heard of one or more of the issues it has pushed into mainstream attention.

From serious political issues like #Blacklivesmatter (fighting unjust police violence against blacks) to #Oscarssowhite (exposing Hollywood’s discriminatory hiring practices) to the funny and trivial #Epicbraidslevel (ridiculing Marie Claire magazine’s suggestion that TV celebrity Kendall Jenner popularized braided hair), Black Twitter has emerged as a voice for African-American concerns, challenging and sometimes upending dominant narratives in politics, media, and culture. Black Twitter’s success also signals something important about the ways cultural and activist driven movements will use ambient communications technologies in the next decade.

As even Biz Stone now knows, Black Twitter is not a separate entity from Twitter at all but rather an informal platform within the platform—a space hacked out by young African-American tweeters weighing in on everything from celebrity culture to politics. Crackling with wit and often outrage, it is a place for participants to engage, have fun, collaborate, bond over slang and in-jokes, and express empathy in ways that push back on racism, privilege, or insensitivity. For example, in the new popular meme #IDontworkhere, tweeters recount incidents in restaurants or hotels when they are mistaken by white people for waiters or salespersons. Black Twitter hashtags trend so regularly now that in the summer of 2016 the Los Angeles Times newspaper hired its first ever Black Twitter reporter.

The CNN of the Ghetto

To understand how activist and cultural movements will work in the future, it’s helpful to know how they developed and how they work now. Forty years ago in New York City, low-income black and Latino teenagers who felt they were without a voice in popular culture took an existing piece of equipment—the record turntable—and repurposed it, turning it into a new kind of instrument. This led to the birth of hip hop music. Hip hop started off as fun and engaging, but quickly became a vessel for much more, carrying messages of empathy, persuasion, politics, and all sorts of activism, including raising awareness about police brutality.

The artist Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy described this connection best when he referred to hip hop music as “the CNN of the ghetto,” transmitting bulletins about the struggles of daily life on urban America’s mean streets. While hip hop once paralleled CNN, in a future connected by ambient communications, activists will use Black Twitter, and platforms like it, to send bulletins through a wider variety of channels—including phones, wristwatches, eyeglasses, virtual reality, and multisensory devices—to witness what’s happening on the ground. Through the use of this new palette of ambient communications technologies, Black Lives Matter and movements like it will be able to encourage greater collaboration and exercise more control and persuasion over their messages, engaging followers more deeply.

The Underground Railroad of Activism

Another important facet of how activists will work was touched on by a blogger writing under the digital pen name Feminista Jones, who asked, “Is Twitter the underground railroad of activism?” Jones saw a connection between the use of Black Twitter today as a kind of modern guidepost with the underground railroad of the 19th century. In the American South before the Civil War, underground railroad “stations” were safe houses providing shelter to runaway slaves risking their lives to escape to freedom. The “railroads” they followed were actually not railroads at all but footpaths between safe houses.

Whether woven into a woolen quilt or carried digitally, coded symbols and slang allow a community to hide in plain sight, using existing channels and platforms to share challenging or subversive messages, often right under the noses of the powers-that-be. Black Twitter users and activists on other platforms will use a constantly changing vocabulary as reference points to help their followers interpret events, reject false information, and guide them not just through physical space but also through virtual landscapes of ideas.

The increasingly rich flow of information we will see in the next decade will likely help activists and community builders expand their followings by capturing and sharing their most compelling experiences.

Streams of Trust and Empathy

Whether it’s taking to the streets for civil disobedience, singing along to a protest song at a concert, or simply sharing inspiring narratives, ambient communications will allow these experiences to carry greater immediacy and persuasive power than ever before. Even routines of daily life may take on new significance. Activist Shaun Tai, executive director of Oakland Digital—a digital training center in Oakland, California—shares his daily life through Snapchat. He captures photos, conversations, text, video and audio clips, and uploads it all to Google Drive each day. “These streams of regular information—when shared—can build up trust and empathy, even among people who never meet face to face,” says An Xiao Mina, a technologist and writer at the San Francisco-based Meedan organization. “We are already seeing immense benefits of communities of color being able to challenge a dominant narrative quickly.”

Unlike today, these new connections will no longer be built on a YouTube or Facebook style format where personal celebrities engage and motivate audiences. Although there will always be a place for charismatic individuals in activist movements, command of a richer and more ubiquitous range of media experiences will spread influence among wider numbers of activists.

Hacking and Repurposing Existing Digital Spaces

With media extending more deeply than ever into the real world, and Internet connectedness moving beyond the screen, activists will also have opportunities to occupy or digitally mark physical space for each other. As MIT researcher and Internet activist Ethan Zuckerman observed, games like “Pokémon Go” “are already showing some amounts of activism around the edges.” Zuckerman describes  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2019 at 6:48 am

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