Government costs rise when the local newspaper dies

A study (inspired by a John Oliver segment about the decline of local newspapers) looked at data from 1,266 counties and found that the loss of watchdogs leads to less efficient government. The Guardian:

The researchers concluded that Rocky Mountain News stories had served as a watchdog agent. Without it, the spread or yield of newly issued local municipal bonds increased by 37 basis points... The researchers also looked at the Cincinnati Post, which closed in 2007. In that instance too, the median yield spread for newly issued local municipal bonds increased by about 66.1 basis points – another indication, according to the authors, that public finances suffer when a newspaper closes.

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Turning on the internet after GDPR day

Dolan Darker (YouTube) welcomes the world to the web of 2018.

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More media paywalls rise--in price, too

Bloomberg's new paywall isn't terribly remarkable, but the price--$35 a month--suggests a new type of walled garden. Danny Chrichton favors the paywall model, but...

Incentive alignment is one thing, and my wallet is another. All of these subscriptions are starting to add up. These days, my media subscriptions are hovering around $80 a month, and I don’t even have TV. Storage costs for Google, Apple, and Dropbox are another $13 a month. Cable and cell service are another $200 a month combined. Software subscriptions are probably about $20 a month (although so many are annualized its hard to keep track of them). Amazon Prime and a few others total in around $25 a month.

Worse, subscriptions aren’t getting any cheaper. Amazon Prime just increased its price to $120 a year, Netflix increased its popular middle-tier plan to $11 a month late last year, and YouTube increased its TV pricing to $40 a month last month. Add in new paywalls, and the burden of subscriptions is rising far faster than consumer incomes.

I’m frustrated with this hell. I’m frustrated that the web’s promise of instant and free access to the world’s information appears to be dying.

The return of media to "channels" is inevitable because the internet is infested with normalcy and the forces involved are too great to stop, but so is the return to bundling. It'll ride in on the horse of "all your paywalls, one low monthly fee." Read the rest

Eminent Domain: registrar gives France.com to the French government, destroying its owner's business

France.com was a popular travel site owned and operated by a U.S.-based French expat. Jean-Noel Frydman registered a trademark, had hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors, and loved his birth country. For years, the French government was happy with it, even giving Frydman an award. In 2016, though, it decided it wanted his domain for itself. Though the .com top-level domain is administered in the U.S., they didn't have to go to court in America to get it. That's because the domain registrar, web.com, gave it to them.

It’s unclear if a US court ever validated the order with an international enforcement of judgment, a common measure for foreign rulings involving US businesses. But if Web.com had enough business in France, that may not have been necessary. Faced with a valid court order and the pressure of an entire government, the company’s lawyers may have simply decided it wasn’t worth fighting the issue in court. (Web.com did not respond to multiple requests for comment on their policy regarding court-ordered transfers.)

Trademarks, the domain-name resolution system, WIPO: all useless if your registrar is shady or easily rolled. This appears to be the first appropriation of a .com domain in this manner and confers upon web.com a uniquely dismal distinction.

Also consider the next level up: operators of fashionable new top-level-domains. They set prices per domain, with lists of "premium" ones with higher prices. So if you establish a successful business at .???, you may succeed in making your domain name "premium." Which means an extra zero or two tacked onto domain renewal fees. Read the rest

Social media use in 2018 charted

Here's a chart of social media usage from Pew Research. YouTube and Facebook are by far and away ahead of the pack, but Facebook's been stagnant for a few years, at least in the U.S.

Facebook and YouTube dominate this landscape, as notable majorities of U.S. adults use each of these sites. At the same time, younger Americans (especially those ages 18 to 24) stand out for embracing a variety of platforms and using them frequently. Some 78% of 18- to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, and a sizeable majority of these users (71%) visit the platform multiple times per day. Similarly, 71% of Americans in this age group now use Instagram and close to half (45%) are Twitter users.

Note that there's no tracking data on YouTube: they only just sampled its popularity in their surveys. Like everyone else, they only just noticed that it was Google's real social network all along. Read the rest

Nordstrom confirms that it did not "like" tweet claiming "dick suck" is the true meaning of Nintendo DS

The Twitter account of upscale retailer Nordstrom confirmed this weekend that it did not "like" a tweet that claimed the "DS" in "Nintendo DS" stood for "dick suck."

Another twitter user had reported that the offensive remark appeared in their feed because Nordstrom liked it, but it appears now that this report was itself mistaken.

"The DS in Nintendo DS stands for Dick Suck," wrote Nick Wiger, a Twitter japester with 32k followers on the popular social network. "The idea was, playing it was as fun as gettin your dick sucked. 3DS, as fun as 3 dick sucks."

"Um, this appeared in my feed because @Nordstrom liked it?," replied Katie Metz of St. Louis, or at least an account using that identity, concluding her tweet with a skeptical frowny face emoji and the hashtags #nordstrom and #fail.

"Sorry for the confusion, Katie," Nordstrom responded three minutes later. "We can confirm we have not liked this tweet."

At press time, Twitter had not yet responded to an inquiry concerning why the site was still free.

Photo: Mike Mozart (CC-BY-3.0) Read the rest

Google images removes "view image" button from search results

Google removed the "view image" button from image search results last night.

The change is essentially meant to frustrate users. Google has long been under fire from photographers and publishers who felt that image search allowed people to steal their pictures, and the removal of the view image button is one of many changes being made in response.

There's something old-school stupid about it, like javascript snippets that "block" people from right-clicking on images. It doesn't accomplish what it hopes for, because the image is already downloaded, and there are a half-dozen other ways to get at it conveniently--not least simply dragging and dropping it.

The measure is about satisfying people who have no idea at all how web browsers work and who are mad at an offensive button. Google suggests in a tweet that this was done to make Getty Images' lawyers happy. Their clients will presumably be pleased by its disappearance, then alarmed to find that nothing has changed, because the people who rip off photo agencies aren't sat there clicking the "view image" button.

Meanwhile, Google Images still allows sites to change the images that the cached thumbnails link to. Odd!

Illustration by SpaceFoxy; via Google Images. Read the rest

Ebay to ditch PayPal

Ebay, which separated from PayPal in 2015, plans to ditch it entirely. By 2020, Ebay says, most of its transactions will be handled by Adyen, a Netherlands-based payment processor. PayPal will remain a checkout option until at least 2023.

The announcement surprised some investors, who expected the companies to announce an extension to their operating agreement. PayPal has played an integral role in processing payments on EBay for 15 years and offers credit products that help EBay shoppers buy more goods.

PayPal has always been hostile to sellers, who feel forced into accepting it because it's where the customers are, because it lets them avoid the headache of merchant credit card services, and because it doesn't send W2s. Ebay, on the other hand, is the internet capital of technical debt, with the digital equivalent of lead paint peeling through every layer of latex applied atop it. But times are changing! Read the rest

Iced tea company stock soars after renaming itself "Long Blockchain"

The Long Island Iced Tea Corporation, aptly-named, is now the "Long Blockchain Corporation". The stock market was so pleased by the change of name that its stock price tripled. The company will continue to make iced tea beverages, but it's sure it'll figure out something with blockchains, the technical process used by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a public ledger to ensure the trustworthiness of private transactions.

The new blockchain efforts are only in their "preliminary stages," the press release says, and will likely involve investing or forming partnerships with other companies. One potential partner is providing "blockchain infrastructure for the financial services industry." Another is building a "new smart contract platform for building decentralized applications."

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Enamel pin for artists tired of being asked to work for free

CWilock, tired of people who make use of others' artwork without permission, made this enamel pin to celebrate the best response to entitlement of the relentless quality that artists must deal with online. (Saying "no", as the addictive Twitter account @forexposure chronicles, often invites a stream of bigoted abuse.)

It's not for sale just yet, but keep an eye on their Etsy store for updates. Read the rest

Google "respectfully disagrees" with €2.42 billion fine

Google expected to be punished by the European Union for anticompetitive shenanigans, but it didn't expect a slap this hard: €2.42 billion, the largest fine on record. The company says it "respectfully disagrees" with both the ruling and the amount and may appeal.

The commission believes it has struck a blow for consumers and for little firms at a time when online advertising - particularly on mobile phones - is dominated by Google and Facebook.

Google believes the regulator has a weak case and has failed to provide evidence that either consumers or rivals have been harmed.

In essence, it sees this as a political move rather than one based on competition law. You can be pretty confident that the Trump administration will share that view.

There's mounting anxiety in European capitals about something called Gafa - Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - the four American giants that play such a huge role in all of our lives. That means we can expect further action to try to limit their powers, with the potential for growing political tension between Brussels and Washington.

Google abused its dominance of search to promote its own shopping services, the European Commission wrote, systematically shutting out competitors, distorting the market and hurting local shoppers.

Since the beginning of each abuse, Google's comparison shopping service has increased its traffic 45-fold in the United Kingdom, 35-fold in Germany, 19-fold in France, 29-fold in the Netherlands, 17-fold in Spain and 14-fold in Italy.

Following the demotions applied by Google, traffic to rival comparison shopping services on the other hand dropped significantly.

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Amazon buys Whole Foods for $13.7bn

Amazon announced Friday that it was acquiring Whole Foods Market for $13.7bn in cash. Bezos: "they make it fun to eat healthy."

Does your tech startup have anything going on with Whole Foods? It doesn't any more. Read the rest

Google asked a website for its data, then just took it anyway

CelebrityNetWorth.com was a popular, data-driven website whose 12 staffers led serious efforts to research public figures and give a credible estimate of their fortunes. Google liked the look of this, so it made site founder Brian Warner a proposition: let Google include the Big Number as a featured "snippet" atop relevant search results, in return for the snippet linking to the website.

Warner, though, knew that the link offer was worthless and said no. Mysteriously, Google started "answering" questions about celebrities' net worth anyway, only occasionally disclosing the source; he seeded his database with a few fake celebrities to prove Google was using CelebrityNetWorth.com's data. The result was just as he predicted when he said no: his site's lost most of its traffic, even as Google depends on it to provide accurate answers.

Google’s push into direct answers has wide-reaching consequences for more than just small business owners who depend on search traffic. The email Google sent Warner in 2014 gives some insight into how Google selects reputable sources. Google wouldn’t answer questions about this, but based on the emails, the vetting was pretty thin; Google seemed more interested in whether the data was machine-readable than whether it was accurate. And the bar for featured snippets — the answers culled algorithmically from the web — is even lower, since it appears that any site good enough to rank in search results is good enough to serve as the source for Google’s canonical answers. That’s how you get erroneous answers that claim Barack Obama is organizing a coup, or that the Earth is flat, or that women are evil...

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A trip to the domain name conference

Ingrid Burrington thought of domain names as "a very niche genre of experimental poetry, one in which radical constraints (availability, brevity, the cadence of an interrupting “dot”) produce small, densely packed pockets of internet magic." At a conference for domainers--the dot.whatever squatters and salesfolk and speculators--she learned that it's more a matter of alchemy.

...brevity is typically a good move, though memorable phrases are also effective. Some TLDs are hot right now (.io), and some single words are always a good investment (lotions.com, furs.com), but good TLDs and good words together don’t always work (as was explained to the owner of furs.io and lotions.io in one session). Long-time domainers also had oddly specific advice—”Hyphens make your domain less valuable—unless you’re in Germany” and “.info is a dead zone.”

Domainers are generally a short-sighted crowd. Lotions.io might be worthless by itself, but one person dedicating themselves day and night to the thorough and remorseless blogging of all the lotions that go in and out? By Christmas lotions.io could be worth thousands. Read the rest

"Who put this dick on my back?"

Reporting from the bustling Chicago Board of Trade, Scott Cohn relays news about the strengh of Japanese Yen futures. Then a wild dick appears. [via] Read the rest

Print is not dead

The New York Times' Daniel Victor posted this to the site yesterday, an item soon jokingly hailed as being among the newspaper of record's greatest hits. A clever blog post given the swanky headline font, perhaps Victor's trusted with publish-button privileges and it's just one of those little jokes editors tolerate now and again.

Today, amazingly, wonderfully, the Times printed it.

The hashtag search Pulitzer is good this morning if you like reading serious journalists lamenting, on Twitter, what this turn of events says about the increasing triviality of their business. Read the rest