The curse of the Twitter reply guy

Today on Mashable, the thing you knew was a thing but never knew was a thing:

These men are colloquially known as “reply guys.” While no reply guy is the same — each reply guy is annoying in his own way — there are a few common qualities to watch out for. In general, reply guys tend to have few followers. Their responses are overly familiar, as if they know the person they’re targeting, though they usually don’t. They also tend to reply to only women; the most prolific reply guys fill the role for dozens of women trying to tweet in peace.

I once asked one of our female anchors about the grief they get from horrible idiots on the internet – she said the ones that at least think they are being nice are far worse.

Amazon argues quality over quantity in battle against Netflix

As someone who has endured several Netflix comedy “specials” recently, I can only say I’m fully on board with limiting the amount of new in favour of the amount of good when it comes to piling content onto on-demand platforms.

The Hollywood Reporter has an interview with Jennifer Salke, who, as head of Amazon Studios, is responsible of commissioning/buying up films that appear on Amazon Prime. From the piece:

In her interview with THR, Salke never mentioned Netflix. But she talked often about “the competition,” and she is positioning Amazon as different in some key ways, including the smaller size of her film slate, which she expects to amount to about 10 theatrically released movies a year, and 20 direct-to-service titles, as opposed to 90 movies due from Netflix in 2019.

Salke’s three key film executives, Matt Newman, Julie Rapaport and Ted Hope, who all share the title “co-head movies,” brought a large team to their Sundance meetings, including their marketing and publicity departments. Agents describe stark differences between sit-downs with Hollywood’s two leading streaming companies. “Netflix likes to come in and talk about their service,” says one agency source. “Amazon comes in and talks about your movie.”

Now, quality over quantity only really works if you do indeed come up with quality. Arguably, Netflix is currently achieving both, though I do think there is a ceiling at which point customers feel overwhelmed by new content appearing each time they load up the app.

Facebook ‘negotiating’ with FTC on mega fine

Tony Romm at the Washington Post with the latest on the the FTC’s investigation into Facebook:

The fine would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a technology company, but the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount. Facebook has expressed initial concern with the FTC’s demands, one of the people said. If talks break down, the FTC could take the matter to court in what would likely be a bruising legal fight.

The two people familiar with the probe spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private talks. Facebook confirmed it is in discussions with the agency but declined to comment further. The FTC declined to comment.

“Largest ever imposed on a technology company” leaves quite a lot of room for speculation, but means it’s likely Facebook isn’t quite staring down a $14bn-or-so fine like Volkswagen did in 2016.

Facebook should take the hit, argues Recode’s Kara Swisher:

Resigning Google engineer and activist: ‘I can no longer bail out a raft with a teaspoon’

Liz Fong-Jones, a Google engineer who was one of the leaders of internal activism over workers’ rights, left the compay last month.

In a wide-ranging Medium post just published, she talks about how the struggle for change at Google has burned her out, and that workers had not been listened to:

It is time for real change. I can no longer bail out a raft with a teaspoon while those steering punch holes in it. Investors are now demanding changes to Google’s governance, such as evaluation of executives on inclusion metricsand rigorous analysis of human rights impacts of Google’s work in China. I, and other workers, very much support these proposals, which would address human capital risks, create meaningful governance, and improve long-term shareholder value. We hope to see further proposals that support worker voices and human rights.

In the post she cites her own experience of trying, unsuccessfully, to warn senior execs about the problems of a real-name policy on ill-fated social network, Google+. She and other employees said the rule would put vulnerable users at risk, and yet:

Google+ eventually launched in mid-2011 with a real-name policy. Once the “#nymwars” exploded and our predictions came true, the executives who had initially denied our suggestions sought our feedback on an experiment to allow “stable” pseudonyms on the service in early 2012. Two years later, full removal of all naming restrictions followed.

This pattern repeated itself several times during my time at Google: Management would overstep, rank and file workers would point out how to avoid harm to users, and we’d have a constructive internal dialogue about how to proceed. 

Fong-Jones, who is transgender, also describes what she sees as “troubling trends” at the company, including:

[A]n escalation of harassment, doxxing, and hate speech targeted at marginalized employees within Google’s internal communications. It began as concern trolling and rapidly escalated to leaks of the names, photos, and posts of LGBT+ employees to white supremacist sites. Management silently tolerated it for fear of being labeled as partisan. Employees attempted to internally raise concerns about this harassment through official channels, only to be ignored, stonewalled, or even punished for doing so.

My analysis of this? Nothing that Fong-Jones shares here is surprising, given what we’ve learned about the internal workings at Google over the past 12 months. Seeing it articulated so well just hammers home an often-repeated point about the firm’s culture.

What is troubling, for the public, is the manner at which the rank-and-file seemingly have little ability to push back against decisions made above their heads. That may be true of many companies, but at a secretive firm whose stated goal is to organise the world’s information, you do wonder where the dissenting voices come from if not those working on the products. The changes to Google+ only came after considerable public backlash. You wonder what else employees have raised concerns about only to be ignored.

Apple’s plans for news examined

Recode’s Peter Kafka takes a closer look at the stories surrounding Apple’s plan to create a Netlfix-for-news, whereby publishers will get just 50% of revenue. Apple, naturally, would get the rest.

It’s a plan that was met with some derision in media circles. Fifty percent for content Apple had no part in creating seems a bad deal on the face of it. But, Kafka writes:

Apple has already signed many publishers to deals where they’ll get 50 percent of the revenue Apple generates through subscriptions to its news service, which is currently called Texture and will be relaunched as a premium version of Apple News this spring.

And some publishers are happy to do it, because they think Apple will sign up many millions of people to the new service. And they’d rather have a smaller percentage of a bigger number than a bigger chunk of a smaller number.

In the words of a publishing executive who is optimistic about Apple’s plans: “It’s the absolute dollars paid out that matters, not the percentage.”

Basically: if you’re a big publication that already attracts paying subscribers on the strength of your brand, teaming up with Apple would be giving money away.

But if you’re a smaller publication, this is an opportunity to make good non-advertising money by being thrust in front of millions of iPhone/iPad users you’d ordinarily not reach.

This could be great news for niche publications doing terrific work.

How far behind is Apple on self-driving?

Approximately 11,016 miles behind, if this Bloomberg article is any indication:

Test drivers disengaged the autonomous mode on Apple’s cars once almost every mile, based on data the company disclosed in an annual report to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Waymo’s cars went about 11,017miles between disengagements, and Cruise’s went 5,205 miles.

I know, I know, there’s a lot that these figures don’t tell us which prevent understanding the bigger picture. We don’t, for one thing, know how Apple’s cars are performing in other parts of the country where these disclosures aren’t required – such as Arizona.

Wired has a good piece on why these reports don’t tell the whole story:

‘I wish GoFundMe didn’t need to be around’

My profile of crowd-funding site GoFundMe is up today, in which I examine how the site has grown, and some the complications that have come with it. I spoke to the site’s CEO, Rob Solomon:

“I wish GoFundMe didn’t need to be around to solve problems that shouldn’t exist. Everyone should have access to health care. I would love for there never to be another medical campaign on GoFundMe. But that’s not the reality we live in.”

UK report says news via tech giants should be regulated 

A government-backed review of the UK news industry has come to several interesting conclusions. From BBC News:

A regulator should oversee tech giants like Google and Facebook to ensure their news content is trustworthy, a government-backed report has suggested.

The Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry said such sites should help users identify fake news and “nudge people towards reading news of high quality”.

It also backed tax reliefs to encourage the provision of local journalism. In addition, the report called for a new Institute for Public Interest News. Such a body, it said, could work in a similar way to the Arts Council, channelling public and private funding to “those parts of the industry it deemed most worthy of support”.

The review’s goal was to look at the threats to sustainability for high-quality news. No conversation on that can happen without investigating the behaviour of the tech giants, of course:

Services like Facebook, Google and Apple should continue their attempts to help readers understand how reliable a story is, and the process that decides which stories are shown should be more transparent, it said.

“Their efforts should be placed under regulatory scrutiny – this task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities,” according to the report.

A regulator would initially only assess how well these sites are performing, but if they are not effective, the report warned “it may be necessary to impose stricter provisions”.

Yet the report fell short of requiring Facebook, Google and other tech giants to pay for the news they distribute via their platforms.

In his analysis, my colleague Amol Rajan points out that the report drops short of recommending any drastic measures, such as charging social networks to have news content on their platform. Which, as is obvious, would never happen anyway.

Rajan’s conclusion is that if people want high-quality news, they’ll need to pay for it. It can be done – the New York Times reported record-breaking revenues last week. But, there are questions in the UK about whether the BBC’s ubiquity makes commercialising “serious” news more difficult.

Here are the recommendations in one handy, bullet-pointed guide:

Sky’s Rowland Manthorpe:

LinkedIn launches live video

LinkedIn Live is a new live video streaming feature for the business network, writes TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden:

Initial live content that LinkedIn hopes to broadcast lines up with the kind of subject matter you might already see in LinkedIn’s news feed: the plan is to cover conferences, product announcements, Q&As and other events led by influencers and mentors, office hours from a big tech company, earnings calls, graduation and awards ceremonies, and more.

This might seem ludicrously late to the party, but while Twitter, Facebook, Google et al have been doing this for years, there’s still a lot of scope for a business-focused platform to have a go at live video.

There’s also a lot of monetisation potential here. A seminar function with a tip jar, perhaps?

Netflix is raiding the BBC’s most brilliant asset

The BBC has announced three new major nature programmes, fronted by the voice of Earth himself, David Attenborough.

But, according to the Guardian, the corporation (for which I work) should be worried. Its unmatchable history in this genre has made it prey to a younger, wealthier beast:

The announcement comes after senior staff left the BBC’s Natural History Unit, lured to the commercial sector by the prospect of working for rapidly-growing streaming services, which can offer bigger budgets.

Soon, Netflix will be airing One Planet, a nature documentary voiced by David Attenborough and produced by “former staff” from the BBC’s Natural History Unit:

The Blue Planet II creator, James Honeyborne, left the Natural History Unit last month after almost 30 years to found an independent production company, which instantly signed a deal with Netflix to produce nature and science series.

The shift of this expertise from a public broadcaster to the commercial sector is sad. This programming shouldn’t be accessible only to those with a Netflix account, particularly if it’s to have its goal of influencing how we appreciate and treat our world.

I believe David Attenborough is passionate about the true power of public broadcasting, and for that reason I hope he continues to work with the BBC. That said, he clearly cares deeply about quickly getting out his message about a global crisis. And so, if he were to leave, none of us should blame him for it.