Hey now, hey now – Daydream is over 

News reaches me, via Business Insider, that Daydream, Google’s VR effort, has been killed off:

In an emailed statement to Business Insider, a Google spokesperson acknowledged that consumer adoption of the product was weak, and that it faced other issues. “There … hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset,” they wrote.

I was worried the writing was on the wall recently when Hulu abandoned the development of its app on the platform. It was the first time I’d heard anyone mention Daydream in months.

It means that of the major tech firms, only Facebook is investing in VR in any meaningful way. I have to wonder how much runway Zuckerberg is prepared to give it.

Time and TikTok

Despite being utterly obsessed with TikTok, I hadn’t noticed this, per Wired’s Louise Matsakis:

Unlike other social media platforms, TikTok is totally stripped of information like when a video was uploaded or the date a user opened their account. The app presents an endless stream of algorithmically chosen videos, which you swipe through vertically. But there’s no way to discern when any of them were posted. Tap on a user’s profile, and their videos will appear in reverse chronological order, but only display view counts. Sites like Facebook and Twitter prioritize recently uploaded content. But TikTok, named after the sound a clock makes, has no time for time itself—a decision that ripples across the entire platform.

Even your device’s clock is hidden when you use the app – a nod, I reckon, to the famous Las Vegas strategy of hiding all the clocks so people don’t realise how long they’ve been playing.

The mechanisms behind the world’s hottest new social network are fascinating, but difficult to understand – even for Mark Zuckerberg. In TechCrunch, Josh Constine reflects on Zuckerberg’s take (obtained via audio leaked to The Verge) that TikTok is “almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram”:

TikTok isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s about entertaining your audience. It’s not spontaneous chronicling of your real life. It’s about inventing characters, dressing up as someone else and acting out jokes. It’s not about privacy and friends, but strutting on the world stage. And it’s not about originality — the heart of Instagram. TikTok is about remixing culture — taking the audio from someone else’s clip and reimagining the gag in a new context by layering it atop a video you record.

I chatted with Paul Blanchard about this recently, on the Media Masters podcast. My view is that TikTok is the first social network (since, er, Deviant Art?) to reward creativity over everything else. It makes for some incredibly imaginative content. One big takeaway: kids are masterful video editors.

‘The Pleasures of Eating Alone’

What is it the cool people on Twitter say? “I feel seen”? The WSJ’s Ellen Byron writes:

Household challenges, like different schedules, account for the biggest reason people eat alone. But nearly one-third of people say they eat alone for personal pleasure, particularly millennial consumers, she says. Further eroding group dining: smaller, more frequent meals; the increasing acceptance of eating in the car or at a desk; the companionship of a smartphone and even the thrill of a moment’s solitude.


‘This article is spying on you’

I’m glad to see this piece in the New York Times, addressing the slight hypocrisy of news orgs “exposing” the proliferation of tracking cookies and surveillance-powered advertising around the web. Carnegie Mellon’s Timothy Libert writes:

News sites often expose users to the same surveillance programs and data-collection companies they criticize. Even articles that explained how the N.S.A. was using Google cookies to “pinpoint targets for hacking” often included the exact same cookies revealed by Edward Snowden. Likewise, articles about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica often include Facebook tracking code, allowing Facebook to keep tabs on what people read.

He goes on to show some positive effects the recent implementation of GDPR has had on European consumers. (An ordeal so painful some US news websites have opted to simply block all European traffic).

It’s also well worth checking out the other pieces in the NYT’s Privacy Project.

Amazon optimised for itself – WSJ

Governor Phil Murphy attends the grand opening of Amazon’s fulfillment center on September 24, 2018, in Edison. Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office.

Make no mistake, this story, in the WSJ, is a blockbuster:

Late last year, these people said, Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company.

Amazon’s position so far has been that it doesn’t alter search results products for anything other than relevance, price and popularity. Now, according to the WSJ at least, there’s another factor: profitability for Amazon.

This report casts doubt on that – and is extremely bad news as the firm looks to fend off reports it abuses its dominant position to push its own interests, whether by promoting its own brand products or bumping up products from others that make it the most money.

Non-denial denial from Amazon today:

“Amazon designs its shopping and discovery experience to feature the products customers will want, regardless of whether they are our own brands or products offered by our selling partners.”

Ah, and now a, er, denial denial:

Twitter’s rather ill-advised ad campaign in San Francisco

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Twitter’s advertising campaign, whereby it stenciled tweets onto the city’s sidewalks, may well have broken the law. Reporter Ryan Kost quotes Rachel Gordon, spokeswoman for San Francisco Public Works:

“That’s not the use of the sidewalks,” she said. “We can go and document them. If they don’t remove them immediately, we’ll send a crew to remove them and charge them.” Gordon added, “Our sidewalks are not to be used for commercial billboards. Twitter has the resources to use appropriate venues to advertise their company.”

Here’s how they look:

To be clear – it’s chalk, not spray paint. But still, some of the placements – in the highly-troubled Tendorloin district, where the city’s high levels of homelessness are most apparent – are being seen as lacking in taste.

It reminds me of the time AirBnB was so annoyed about – god forbid – paying its taxes, it posted these passive-aggressive (or maybe just aggressive) ads around town:

Hulu pulls support for Google’s VR platform

Daydream View VR Headseet Made By Google

Variety’s Janko Roettgers:

Hulu has dropped support for Google’s Daydream VR platform: The video streaming service quietly removed Daydream support from its Android app in recent weeks, making it impossible for most Daydream users to watch Hulu videos on Google’s Daydream View VR headset.

It can’t be a good sign when the first bit of news I’ve heard about Daydream in months is that a major US streaming platform is pulling support.

Google will prioritise “original” reporting

Google’s head of news, Richard Gingras:

Recently, we’ve made ranking updates and published changes to our search rater guidelines to help us better recognize original reporting, surface it more prominently in Search and ensure it stays there longer. This means readers interested in the latest news can find the story that started it all, and publishers can benefit from having their original reporting more widely seen.

That’s terrific news for the outlets offering original reporting from their journalists.

And terrific news for journalists wishing their outlets prioritised original reporting.

Huawei may sell its 5G tech

Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei held a “two hour” interview with the Economist on Tuesday. In it, he shared the firm’s strategy to get its 5G tech out there: selling it to a western buyer. Per the piece:

For a one-time fee, a transaction would give the buyer perpetual access to Huawei’s existing 5G patents, licences, code, technical blueprints and production know-how. The acquirer could modify the source code, meaning that neither Huawei nor the Chinese government would have even hypothetical control of any telecoms infrastructure built using equipment produced by the new company. Huawei would likewise be free to develop its technology in whatever direction it pleases.

Smart? It’s certainly something I can imagine would appeal to those countries worried that pulling away from using Huawei is going to set their 5G ambitions back years.

Mr Ren seemed to have had a similar chat with the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman. In his piece, Friedman expresses the growing sense of frustration among some technologists over the lack of (public) evidence to back up the claims that Huawei is not to be trusted. Friedman writes:

Microsoft President Brad Smith told Bloomberg Businessweek on Monday that when his company presses regulators to explain their Huawei ban, “oftentimes, what we get in response is, ‘Well, if you knew what we knew, you would agree with us.’ And our answer is, ‘Great, show us what you know, so we can decide for ourselves. That’s the way this country works.’”

I have no idea who is telling the truth in this story. If Huawei really is a bad actor, let’s get the proof out there and blacklist the hell out of it. If it’s not so clear, the Trump team should at least explore Ren’s offer to see if there is a pathway for Huawei to assure American intelligence experts and demonstrate good behavior. Because Huawei is the tip of a huge iceberg.