What happened to the web in 2014?

André Staltz traces the "web is dead" inflection point to 2014 and the answer is the obvious one: Facebook. The details are more complex, though, and involve Google giving up on its social media efforts, Facebook taking direct control of which websites are exposed to its users, various Facebook publishing schemes (some backed by fraudulent metrics, a la pivot to video), the switch of everything to mobile-first, and (later, in 2018) Amazon achieving a 50% market share for online retail.

There is a tendency at GOOG-FB-AMZN to bypass the Web which is motivated by user experience and efficient communication, not by an agenda to avoid browsers. In the knowledge internet and the commerce internet, being efficient to provide what users want is the goal. In the social internet, the goal is to provide an efficient channel for communication between people. This explains FB’s 10-year strategy with Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) as the next medium for social interactions through the internet. This strategy would also bypass the Web, proving how more natural social AR would be than social real-time texting in browsers. Already today, most people on the internet communicate with other people via a mobile app, not via a browser.

The Web and the internet have represented freedom: efficient and unsupervised exchange of information between people of all nations. In the Trinet, we will have even more vivid exchange of information between people, but we will sacrifice freedom. Many of us will wake up to the tragedy of this tradeoff only once it is reality.

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Private equity company acquires .org domain registry

A double whammy for those who use .org domains: ICANN removed price restrictions on .org domain names, and then the registry in control was promptly sold to a private equity group, Ethos Capital.

While Internet Society might not have wanted to raise prices, a private equity company surely will try to maximize the value of the registry.

In a release about the deal, Internet Society noted:

"Today’s news has tremendous benefits for both the Internet Society and PIR. The transaction will help the Internet Society to secure its future through more stable, diversified and sustainable financial resources than it has at present, allowing the organization to plan for the long term and advance its vision of an Internet for everyone on an even broader scale. It will also enable PIR to continue expanding its mission and important work under new ownership — including its goal of keeping .ORG accessible and reasonably priced — while further strengthening and deepening its commitment to the .ORG Community."

We’ll have to see what “reasonably priced” means. Certainly, the goals of Ethos Capital are very different from Internet Society.

Say what you want about the tenets of private equity, at least it's an ethos.

Here's Google's guide on moving domains without losing search profile. Read the rest

Blogging is hard, learns Gawker's new bosses

After being bankrupted by Peter Thiel and sold off to Univision, merged with The Onion, then finally handed off to a private equity group, the G/O Media (formerly Gawker) stable of blogs might yet have thrived due to their undiminished traffic and capable reporters. This was not to be, as the new management were soon proved ignorant of the company's culture in particular and of contemporary journalism in general. Things came to a head after Deadspin, famed as much for its trenchant culture writing as its game coverage, was told to "stick to sports", an edict that led to the firing of its editor and the mass resignation of its entire staff. In the empty office, the new management tried its hand at blogging only to find that this is harder than it looks.

Anna Merlan describes a cringe-inducing, quickly-abandoned effort to write the Gawker way:

The sentence structure was uniformly strained. The ledes were clunky. Many of the paragraphs were simply lists of scores, football plays, or marathon finishing times. (The Kenyan runners who won the New York City marathon were unnamed in a headline and described as "cantering," which is something horses do, not people, a phrasing I argued on Twitter was, uh, problematic.) Attempts at cusses were embarrassing: a few things "sucked" or were "dumbass." The headlines were dizzying verb-thickets that had to be read multiple times to be vaguely comprehensible. After a few days of these horrific word-manglers appearing on the site, whether they were his malformed children or not, Editorial Director [Paul] Maidment resigned, citing an "entrepreneurial opportunity" he simply had to pursue.

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Facebook rebrands as FACEBOOK

Facebook would like to be addressed henceforth as FACEBOOK. NBC News:

Facebook introduced a new brand Monday: FACEBOOK. The company announced in a blog post that the new brand, which retains the name of the social network, would have a new logo to better indicate all the various products and services it now offers, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

If you'll recall, this is what Milo Yiannopoulos did as an immediate prelude to everything going horribly wrong for him. Read the rest

Twitter admits two-factor login phone numbers were used for advertising

Twitter reports that email address and phone numbers added for security reasons such as two-factor authorization "may have inadvertently been used for advertising purposes."

When an advertiser uploaded their marketing list, we may have matched people on Twitter to their list based on the email or phone number the Twitter account holder provided for safety and security purposes. This was an error and we apologize.

We cannot say with certainty how many people were impacted by this, but in an effort to be transparent, we wanted to make everyone aware. No personal data was ever shared externally with our partners or any other third parties.

User data that Twitter cannot sell ended up in an advertising product that lets Twitter monetize such data without revealing it directly to third parties. Inadvertantly. Read the rest

Feds sue Match.com after users complain of swindles and spam

Millions of fraudulent accounts, bogus emails from nonexistent suitors, fake notifications... it's not Ashley Madison, it's Match.com, sued yesterday by the Federal Trade Commission over accusations of swindling its users.

The FTC also accused Match of failing to properly disclose the hoops dateless users need to jump through to qualify for a free six-month subscription. Match also didn't provide a simple way to cancel, officials said, and those that disputed charges through their banks found themselves banned.

The New York Times got a statement from Match, which claims the allegations are all lies.

Match Group said in a statement, “The FTC has misrepresented internal emails and relied on cherry-picked data to make outrageous claims and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these claims in court.”

The company said that the F.T.C. was overstating the impact of fraudulent accounts and that Match did not have data that supported the agency’s claims. It also said that the majority of scams the trade commission had cited were spam, bots or other users on the site.

The whole model of "free accounts that do nothing but get you put on a list for endless scammy upselling with fake messages from fake people" was always going to end up in this barrel. Do LinkedIn next!

The deeper problem with most of these sites is they're covertly optimized for engagement rather than whatever they're supposed to be optimized for (finding partners, finding jobs, etc). Read the rest

Comscore and its former CEO charged with fraud

Comscore is a lynchpin of online "metrics", the practice of measuring web traffic and assigning human interest and engagement to it. The SEC announced today it charged the company and its former CEO with fraud.

from February 2014 through February 2016, Comscore, at the direction of its former CEO Serge Matta, entered into non-monetary transactions for the purpose of improperly increasing its reported revenue. Through these transactions, Comscore and a counterparty would negotiate and agree to exchange sets of data without any cash consideration. Comscore recognized revenue on these transactions based on the fair value of the data it delivered, which had been improperly increased in order to inflate revenue. The SEC's orders also find that Comscore and Matta made false and misleading public disclosures regarding the company’s customer base and flagship product and that Matta lied to Comscore's internal accountants and external audit firm. This scheme enabled Comscore to artificially exceed its analysts' consensus revenue target in seven consecutive quarters and create the illusion of smooth and steady growth in Comscore's business

None of the charges were about the eyeballs it reports to advertisers and publishers. It is left to our imagination whether Comscore's lies concern only such numbers as the SEC is interested in. Read the rest

Internet fraudster stole 750,000 IP addresses, say prosecutors

A Charleston man was charged with fraud this week [justice.gov] after investigators unraveled an elaborate scheme to take control of IP addresses. More than 750,000 were snagged, reports the BBC, then sold on.

The US Department of Justice claims that Mr Golestan "fraudulently" won control of the net addresses by using many different shell companies. It alleges that he created websites for fake companies and invented the names of the people who purportedly ran them as part of his scheme. Mr [Amir] Golestan was charged with 20 counts of wire fraud in a US court this week. He has yet to respond to a BBC request for comment. The net addresses were handed over to Mr Golestan by the American Registry of Internet Numbers (Arin) - one of several regional administrators that dole out the few remaining addresses. It is claimed they were then resold allowing him to cash in.

Golestan appears to have attracted attention because he sued ARIN (!) after it failed to transfer control of one block of addresses. Thereafter someone with a three digit IQ finally looks at the paperwork and the FBI gets called in. Read the rest

Uber stock falters on first day

Uber's future prospects depend on doubling fares and halving drivers' pay, or replacing them all with self-driving cars that won't exist for years. What could go wrong?

Experts are hitting the brakes on Uber's trading debut. The ride-hailing company's highly anticipated initial public offering failed to impress investors on Friday, with the stock pricing at the low end of its previously stated range and shedding more than 7% near the end of the session. Market watchers were largely bearish on the IPO, citing Uber's past issues with its culture and corporate governance.

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The attention economy "bifurcating" is just the long tail in dystopia

In this interesting post from 2015—getting a viral second wind—Alex Danco offers a model to understand how the "middle ground" of interest in things is fading. That's the normal distribution, the traditional bell curve that suggests the best place to make your business is at a middle optimum of scale and interest, like so:

Instead, these days, you're either interested or not. To make a go of something, you have to nail either scale or interest (i.e. cheap vs quality):

It strikes me that what Danco's defined here is a flip (on the horizontal axis) of the classic early-2000s theory about how the web would allow creators to make money like never before, the long tail.

The idea was that the internet dissolved gatekeepers, democratized the marketplace, and allowed consumer internet to roam over (and buy) a "long tail" of options that was revealed to them by new technology.

And it did, for some. Mostly, though, the long tail ended up as aggregated social media content. The bonds of content, creator and consumer, far from being remade by the internet, were also dissolved by them. Instead of a long tail, we have a green goo of nanocontent which wants to become as vast as possible, with a couple of big corporations making all the money.

I don't have a clever point to make, I just think it's interesting that social media not only submerged the long tail but made us forget it ever existed—and now it's going to be rediscovered from other viewpoints over and over again, each time in increasingly imprecise and alarmed terms. Read the rest

Verizon "trying to sell Tumblr"

Yahoo bought Tumblr in 2013 for $1.1bn, then Verizon acquired Yahoo. Now Verizon, after purging Tumblr of adult material and watching its traffic plunge as a result, is trying to sell whatever's left.

The process is still on-going, and it's unclear whether it will result in a sale or what price Verizon is hoping to get for the web site, according to the report which cites anonymous sources.

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Visualization of global "brand rankings" changing over the last 15 years

Where once was Coca-Cola, now there is Apple. Where once was Nokia, now... no idea. Read the rest

Top Google Play game accused of ad fraud

A popular mobile game available on the Play store is an "ad fraud platform", say researchers at a media intelligence company. Word Link was approved by Google and had since been downloaded 50m times, becoming a “major source of fraudulent traffic”.

Tess Bennett and Andrew Birmingham:

“The Google Play Store, although dealing with far greater volumes of app submissions and users than the Apple App Store, is clearly not doing enough to combat this with adequately strict approval and diligent review processes,” the report states.

“Our hope is that this detailed review of Word Link and Worzzle will result in the removal and re-assessment of these apps by Google, and spur a wider review of Google’s policies that dictate what apps are allowed onto their store for their users’ consumption.”

Google appears to be getting fed here at both ends. A strong incentive not to deal with the problem. Read the rest

Photo of egg becomes Instagram's most-liked

Following a publicity campaign to make it the most popular photo on Instagram, a photo of an egg became the most popular photo on Instagram.

The campaign started off slowly, with under 10,000 likes by Tuesday. Then, the egg gained momentum. The anonymous person behind it said they were still trying to work out how, exactly, the egg achieved its dream. The egg’s Instagram story also contains a brief statement.

“This is madness, What a time to be alive.” The Egg Gang also promises this isn’t the last you will hear of Egg.

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YouTube let a contentID scammer steal a popular video

At considerable expense, Christian Friedrich Johannes Büttner, the man behind successful YouTube channel TheFatRat, recorded and posted an original music video. It ran up 47m views, helping to place him among the higher echeleons of YouTube's hitmakers.

But then a scammer—someone with no posted videos, no working contact info and no significant internet presence—claimed ownership of it through YouTube's ContentID system.

Büttner appealed and was denied.

Worse, it was clear that YouTube had simply allowed the scam account to wait until the last possible moment to respond, then to decide for itself whether it was a legitimate appeal.

Büttner, being a serious channel operator with millions of subs, tried to get relief from his liaison at YouTube. He was told he had to work it out with the scammer (who was still being paid the revenue the video was generating) through the scammer's fake email address. YouTube gave him no other recourse and refused to provide more information.

It got sorted out only after he went public and got lawyers involved.

In this enraging video, Büttner explains what happened with remarkable calmness and professionalism, exposing in detail just how awful and broken ContentID is -- and how grossly vulnerable it is to bad-faith exploitation by frauds, scammers and wannabe censors.

One trick that Büttner misses, however, is that ContentID isn't copyright law. The scammer probably didn't issue a fraudulent DMCA takedown, so won't end in trouble for that.

ContentID is exactly the thing YouTube claims it doesn't do: it privately mediating ownership of content without involving the law. Read the rest

Why Violet Beauregarde should have succeeded Wonka

It's irrational that successful confectionary mogul Willy Wonka would pass on his wealth and his business to a naive, well-meaning boy. Violet Beauregarde, last seen suffering from bloat, was the obvious and superior choice.

Violet is already basically Wonka. She’s passionate, sarcastic, candy-obsessed, free thinking, and a total firecracker. She’s even better than Wonka, because she doesn’t endanger others.

Violet should’ve been picked to inherit the chocolate factory.

Previously. Read the rest

Tumblr bans all adult content, such as "female-presenting nipples"

Tumblr, the mainstream web's last redoubt for niche smut in general and queer smut in particular, is going to clean house. The social blogging platform is banning all adult material on December 17.

Banned content includes photos, videos, and GIFs of human genitalia, female-presenting nipples, and any media involving sex acts, including illustrations. The exceptions include nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity. The new guidelines exclude text, so erotica remains permitted. Illustrations and art that feature nudity are still okay — so long as sex acts aren’t depicted — and so are breast-feeding and after birth photos. "Users have a chance to appeal flagged content"

The policy change takes effect on December 17th. From then on, any explicit posts will be flagged and deleted by algorithms. For now, Tumblr is emailing users who have posted adult content flagged by algorithms and notifying that their content will soon be hidden from view. Posts with porn content will be set to private, which will prevent them from being reblogged or shared elsewhere in the Tumblr community.

Even the cold dead embrace of a Yahoo! acquision could not end Tumblr, such was the power of fandom gathered there. But Yahoo never knew what it owned in Tumblr and was indifferent to its continued existence. The management of new Yahoo owner Verizon, however, has a pulse. It knows what Tumblr is and it hates it. It will hack it down until a perfectly clean advertising- and appstore-friendly traffic center remains.

That phrase Tumblr uses, "female-presenting nipples", is rather on the nose. Read the rest

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