Some defendants charged with storming the U.S. Capitol are representing themselves in court. One said the law didn’t apply to her and another presented the court with a schedule of fees for his services.
Details of Jonathan and Diana Toebbe’s spycraft spilled into the news including details of how they passed secrets on an SD card hidden in a peanut butter sandwich. The criminal complaint is worth a read.
A man travelled to Germany to pick up his brand new Lamborghini Huracan and excitedly drove it back to his home in Norway. He was clocked by Danish police doing almost 150 MPH. His car was confiscated.
The shine is off as scientists who measure the glow of the Earth by looking at the light reflected off of the moon. Our planet has dimmed as climate change has “essentially scuffed up our planet.”
That 70s Show is getting a re-boot. The new show will be called That 90s Show.
Researchers at Bangor University in Wales have discovered high levels of cocaine and MDMA in a stream that runs near the site of the Glastonbury Festival. They concluded the seasonal spike is from festival goers urinating in and around the stream and that it is affecting the local fish population.
Netflix has been forced to edit out a few frames from the hugely popular Squid Game series. The scene includes a shot of business card with a Korean phone number. The hapless owner on the other end of that number has been getting upwards of 4,000 calls a day with his cellphone’s battery draining before he can use it.
TWTW is a weekly collection of bits and pieces I run across each week while looking after things at SmartNews. Also available via email.
Last night 60 Minutes scored an interview with Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower behind the document leak that led to last month’s “bombshell” Facebook Files investigation. She shared internal research that confirms what we’ve known all along. Feeding users polarizing content works great at engaging people and converting them into repeat visitors and that the revenue from those engaged users is intoxicating.
For a humorous TL;DR, check out this 2018 clip from The Daily Show.
Engagement is a metric used by social networks to measure how often someone uses your app or visits your website. Each service counts an engaged user in different ways, new user or old, daily visitor or monthly, but it all boils down to repeat visits. An engaged user is someone who comes back, repeatedly.
If your service is ad-supported, repeat visits generate cumulative ad impressions and revenue. If you track your users and personalize your ads, the more engaged a user is, the higher their value to advertisers. It’s the old “eyeballs” metric of Web 1.0 but with higher definition. In the mobile app world, it’s called ARPU, Average Revenue Per User.
If your company’s “true north” metric is engagement, what happens if you optimize for that and run a business that, above all else, keeps your users coming back and staying longer? If you discover that inflammatory content is the nectar that keeps users coming back aren’t you then measuring the level of a post’s ability to provoke a reaction? This is what I call Enragement Metrics.
Add the quarterly pressure for a trillion dollar public company to meet and exceed revenue targets and corporate incentives can get distorted. Responsibility is foggy in a large company of distributed teams with a shared ethos of “move fast and break things.”
The pursuit of engagement and the momentum of a market that rewards it created a Faustian Bargain that distracted the leadership at Facebook from the impact it was having on not only its users but, as a source of traffic and revenue for its publishing partners, the entire media ecosystem.
Haugen will testify before Congress where she is hoping they will regulate Facebook because, in her view, Facebook is unable to regulate themselves.
The tech and media world will be watching. As with newspapers, radio, and television, before it, a touch of regulation can build trust and improve a technology and balance the pursuit of profit with the benefit for the public good. But if there is stumbling and uninformed regulation, it will either hobble innovation or, in the worst case, favor those with deep pockets for lobbyists that will lock in their client’s dominance.
When the Haugen testimony picks up on Tuesday and they haul in someone from Facebook to explain themselves, I hope there is substantive discussion on a way forward and not the brow-beating grandstanding we so often see on Capitol Hill. I optimistically believe that no one at Facebook set out to poison the public well on purpose but that runaway algorithms and market forces drove them there.
Just as the publication of Silent Spring helped lead to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, I hope these hearings on the adverse effects of social networks will lead to intelligent discussion of the role these products and the algorithms that power them in our society.
Environmental and safety regulations give businesses a framework against which to justify expenditures that take away from profits. We need an EPA-like independent organization for social networks and machine learning algorithms to regulate an industry and create best practices and guidelines for what they can and cannot do.
Social Networks and machine learning algorithms are powerful tools that can stimulate, motivate and transform society. As with all new technology, they can be put to good use or bad. It’s up to all of us, working together to understand their power and harness it for good.
Japan announced that they have successfully tested a new kind of rocket engine that uses shock waves instead of thrust sending a 30 meter rocket over 230 kms into space during a 4 minute flight.
A UK firm announced that it is working on a blimp. The Airlander 10 is the world’s largest aircraft and can fly 100 passengers, 4,000 kms over 5 days with nearly zero emissions. It also has a nickname, The Flying Bum.
Who says you can’t reinvent the wheel. Michelin announced its airless tires are ready for mass production.
The El Salvadorian government officially recognized Bitcoin as legal tender to make it less expensive for its citizens abroad to transfer money home. The price of the cryptocurrency promptly plummeted.
Twenty years ago I was in Redmond, Washington at Microsoft on a business trip. Izumi called me at my hotel early in the morning to tell me something terrible had happened and that I should turn on the television to see.
For the next three days I was stuck in Redmond with no way to get back to New Jersey where I was living at the time. Izumi was alone with Tyler and pregnant with Julia and felt very alone. There were a few other visitors from the East Coast stuck with me at Microsoft and we were very close to renting a car to drive back home across the country when my travel agent called to say she secured a reservation to get me home (god bless her, she booked multiple reservations just in case one fell through). I got one of the first flights out of Seattle and, after connecting through Denver, made it home.
I’ll never forget coming back up the driveway, you could see the plume of smoke on the horizon from our house in Pennington, a good 60 miles away. I went to NYC several times over the next few weeks leaving from Hamilton Station, a stop on the NJ Transit commuter line. Each time I went in, you’d see several cars that hadn’t been claimed since 9/11, tickets piled up on the windshield, their owners were not coming back.
Tonight I noticed the twin beams shining up in the sky and took my bike out to ride down to the 9/11 memorial, like a moth to a flame. It was quite touching – many people were there, mostly in silence, to reflect and show their respect.
I spent a few hours riding around the city, viewing the lights from several vantage points. September 11 hits harder here in New York City, where it happened. Fireman dressed in their honor guard uniforms were out in force – many had been out drinking. It was like Fleet Week in San Francisco but instead of everyone giving high fives to the sailors, people were slapping the backs and thanking the firemen for their service. This was their day to honor the 300+ they had lost that day. So strange that 9/11 was the day and that 911 is the number you call in an emergency.
Remember this day. It is too soon to ask what lessons can be learned, time has not yet healed the wounds of those it has touched. Just remember this day and be reminded that life is fleeting and that those that passed away only live on in our memories.
Now that both Olympic and Paralympic Games have closed, all eyes look to the next Olympic Games, Paris 2024. During the closing ceremonies they played a hype video to get you excited for France and it did not disappoint.
An equally impressive performance was shown at the closing ceremonies of the paraolympics.