Social Media

Facebook’s vaguely worded face recognition “announcement” coincided with a legal setback

28 February 2018

From Fast Company:

Perhaps you saw a post this morning on your Facebook feed touting face recognition for “more features.” According to the social network, this ability to analyze users’ faces–which before only helped users tag photos–is becoming even more widespread.

. . . .

For background: Facebook has long analyzed biometric data in photographs to make it easier to tag people. In fact, this technology has been the subject of many lawsuits–most of which took place in states like Illinois, which restrict companies’ ability to collect and store biometric data without consent. (Facebook did announce last year that it would update its privacy settings to better advertise its face recognition features.)

It seems the purpose of this new Facebook post isn’t so much to herald new face-recognition features, but to disclose vital information–namely, that you can opt out of face recognition. After seeing the post, I was surprised to learn my face-recognition setting was on, so I turned it off. Others I talked to say their setting was already off. Either way, this looks an awful lot like Facebook gaining consent from its users to read their face data.

The timing is very interesting. Yesterday, for example, a federal judge ruled that Facebook will be subject to a class action lawsuit about its biometric gathering and storage program. The company had filed to dismiss the case, but the U.S. District judge ruled against it.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Stop Caring About How Many ‘Views’ You Get

13 February 2018

From Medium:

I have a confession to make..

I care about my page views too much. In fact, I tweeted about it two days ago and was quite proud of my accomplishments.

But then I woke up the next day, and I realized something..

Views are great, but us bloggers glorify them too much.

Let me explain.

. . . .

Look, I’m not here to bash page views. I think they’re fantastic, but I also think they’re a bit overrated.

Like a good-but-not-great NFL quarterback, views sometimes get more of the spotlight than they deserve.

. . . .

Here’s how it goes in our minds..

Page views = Traffic = Email Subscribers = Income

This is cool, right?

Page views basically just equal income, and it’s true!

Bloggers write online for a variety of reasons — to unleash their creativity, connect with others, and make a living sharing their expertise.

And trust me, we aren’t writhing our hands together writing our posts, figuring out ways to trick everybody into buying something from us.

If that’s what every blogger was doing, none of us would be making money.

But, somewhere along the lines, some blogger made the connection that page views actually equal email subscribers, money, etc…

And they — along with everybody else — have been shouting from the rooftops about it ever since.

And this has no doubt changed everything.

The most tragic change is in the WAY bloggers write out headlines, posts, and call-to-actions. We’re now (myself included) trying our hardest to get clicks, reads, and yes, views, because we know it means more engagement, notifications, and yes, inadvertently, money.

But now our priority is on writing posts to maximize popularity instead of writing them to maximize learning.

Link to the rest at Medium

Some long-time visitors (Thank you!) to TPV know the background of the blog. For those who don’t, here’s the short history.

  • PG has been happily married to an author for a long time. (She was a child bride.)
  • Mrs. PG was traditionally published with 10+ novels to her credit when PG discovered the then-nascent world of ebooks and self-publishing.
  • After a lot of discussion and further research, Mrs. PG decided to try writing and self-publishing a book or two. She enjoyed the experience, including the contrast with her traditionally-published career. She liked to run the whole show. PG acted as a technical assistant.
  • At the time, while some people were very helpfully blogging about indie publishing, PG couldn’t find anyone who addressed some of his interests, including legal issues that might be involved for an author with a good number of traditionally published books.
  • PG can’t go into any detail, but magically, some of Mrs. PG’s traditionally-published books became available for her to self-publish.
  • Somewhere during this period, PG started The Passive Voice to talk about changes he was discovering in the options an author might consider for publishing her work and earning more money from her writing.
  • PG also started receiving inquiries from authors to whom he was not married, about how they could rescue their books from unhappy bondage with traditional publishers and lead their titles into the promised land of indie publishing.

Regarding the OP, prior to the self-publishing era, PG had responsibility for managing some large commercial internet sites. In the process, he became familiar with various (and sometimes changing) metrics for a successful commercial site and how to goose those metrics to improve a site’s traffic and ranking on various lists of top sites.

Suffice to say, PG learned there can be a substantial difference between the total number of visitors to a site and the total number of commercially-useful visitors to a site. But if the majority shareholders were interested in the total number of visitors and pageviews, PG could deliver lots of those.

This is a very long introduction to PG’s response to the OP.

Like virtually all serious website proprietors, PG keeps track of various site statistics for TPV. He doesn’t attempt to artificially boost those statistics, but uses them to monitor the general health of TPV – a blog’s equivalent to heartbeat, respiration and blood pressure.

PG almost never checks page views because, as the OP suggests, they’re easily manipulated without really adding much value for the intended audience of the website. (That said, pageviews can be entertainingly volatile. PG just realized that he started seriously boosting pageviews on a major commercial site almost twenty years ago.)

The stats PG pays attention to are focused on people and their responses to the content on TPV. He generally tracks these stats on a daily average basis over the past 30 days. Here’s what he looks at:

  1. Number of unique visitors
  2. Number of sessions (this will track visitors who check TPV more than once a day.)
  3. The average length of a session (once someone comes to TPV, how long do they stay?). This has been an interesting stat to PG for some time. Visitors to TPV stay on the site for much longer than is the case with a typical commercial site.
  4. Number of subscribers to daily emails that include all the TPV posts on a particular day. Not everyone engages with site content by actually visiting the site.

As the OP recommends, PG’s most important metric is the number of people who show up at the site on a regular basis and how long they spend with the information on TPV, including the posts and useful comments they find here. (Thank you, intelligent commenters!)

Social media puts precious little in publishers’ pockets

9 February 2018

From CBS MoneyWatch:

Publishing on social media platforms may not actually be all that lucrative for media companies.

Only 5 percent of publishers’ total average digital revenue was generated by Facebook and Google, according to a report from industry trade organization Digital Content Next (DCN). That’s a paltry number, considering the two giants’ dominance in search and social media sharing.

“The revenue earned from distributed platforms does not yet match the investment and tremendous value of DCN members’ news and entertainment,” said Jason Kint, CEO of DCN, whose members include NBC Universal, the Associated Press, tronc, The Washington Post, The Guardian and CBS Interactive. “The report once again supports our members’ drive for better economics, which is now happening in parallel to a much larger global debate about the societal and economic harm from certain platforms.”

. . . .

Providers are also adapting to a changing social media landscape, such as Facebook’s recent announcement that it would change the way content is sharedin its News Feed following the backlash over fake news shared on the platform during the U.S. presidential election.

According to eMarketer, Google and Facebook are expected to account for about 65 percent of all U.S. digital ad spending this year, up from the 58 percent they took in 2016.

Link to the rest at CBS MoneyWatch and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Amazon launches a WordPress plugin that turns blog posts into audio, including podcasts

8 February 2018

From Tech Crunch:

Amazon today is launching a new Amazon Polly WordPress plugin that gives your blog a voice by creating audio versions of your posts. The resulting audio can be played from within the blog post itself, or accessed in podcast form using a feature called Amazon Pollycast, the company says.

The plugin itself was jointly designed by Amazon’s AWS team and managed WordPress platform provider WP Engine, and takes advantage of Amazon’s text-to-speech service, Polly.

First introduced at Amazon’s re:Invent developer event back in November 2016, Polly uses machine learning technologies under the hood to deliver more life-like speech. For example, Polly understands that the word “live” would be pronounced differently based on its usage. In the phrases “I live in Seattle” and “Live from New York,” the word is spelled the same but is not spoken in the same way. That means the voices sound more natural than some other, more basic voice-to-text engines.

. . . .

The technology’s capabilities have also evolved, with added support for things like whispering, speech marks, a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression. These sorts of voice technology advancements are also things that make Alexa sound more natural, too.

. . . .

In addition to simply reading posts aloud, Polly’s flexibility means you could configure different voices for different bylines, or use different voices for quoted text – if you’re technically-minded – these options aren’t available in the plugin itself. Polly could also offer translation capabilities so your blog could be read by those who speak other languages.

Link to the rest at Tech Crunch

British officials to confront Facebook, Google and Twitter over misinformation

8 February 2018

From The Washington Post:

In a rare move, some members of the British Parliament are traveling to Washington this week to question Facebook, Google and Twitter about fake news and the spread of misinformation on their platforms. Experts say that by coming to the United States, U.K. officials are signaling how seriously they’re treating the issue.

The House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee will hold a hearing Thursday as part of an evidence-gathering mission to understand how disinformation campaigns and false news reports affect British elections and society. This is the first time a House of Commons committee will broadcast a public hearing live from outside the United Kingdom. Representatives from the tech companies, media researchers and news industry executives will gather before the 11-person, cross-party committee at George Washington University.

“The committee understands that the businesses that created this moral panic originated here. And they recognize that we are ahead of them in confronting it from a policy perspective and a national conversation perspective,” said David Carroll, a professor of media design at Parsons School for Design, who will speak as an expert witness at the hearing.

“The committee understands that the businesses that created this moral panic originated here. And they recognize that we are ahead of them in confronting it from a policy perspective and a national conversation perspective,” said David Carroll, a professor of media design at Parsons School for Design, who will speak as an expert witness at the hearing.

. . . .

In November, British Prime Minister Theresa May openly accused Russia of meddling in British elections and attempting to undermine Western democracies.

“It is seeking to weaponize information. Deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories and Photoshopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions,” she said. May’s office has since announced the creation of a national security communications unit to bolster Britain’s efforts to counter misinformation campaigns by state actors.

. . . .

Back in Washington, Congress has taken a more assertive stance against Silicon Valley in recent months. Some lawmakers are seeking new regulations for digital platforms and the business of online political advertising. Facebook, Google and Twitter executives were grilled by U.S. lawmakers during a series of high-profile congressional hearings last year for not doing enough to minimize Russian meddling. Several members of Congress have proposed new rules that would strike at the heart of their businesses: online ads.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG suggests election-meddling by foreign entities is a new favorite excuse for losing elections.

However, this accusation implies that a great many of a nation’s citizens are easily fooled and that the fools will go vote on the basis of their mistaken understanding of facts.

One reasonable conclusion is that the politicians of a given nation want to maintain a monopoly on fooling the citizens in their countries. Or at least limit dissemination of disinformation to local media sources.


What can publishers do about Facebook’s news feed changes?

6 February 2018

From Reuters:

In the latest Reuters Institute report almost half of publishers (44%) expressed more concern about the power and influence of platforms than this time last year.

This year marks major changes in the relationship between publishers and platforms. In January, Facebook announced changes to its news feed. The news feed is set to favor user content over posts from businesses, brands and the media.

. . . .

Many publishers are investing in influencers to grow. Influencers tend to be bloggers, vloggers or celebrities. Last year, Cosmopolitan launched an influencer network, allowing clients to partner with and integrate influencer-generated content for campaigns.

Blasting News, a social news platform has built 102 million monthly visitors by creating a network of micro-influencers. Influencers are paid to contribute and there are communities built around specific topics, such as Game of Thrones. Currently. The site currently has 1500 influencers contributing.

. . . .

Last year The Boston Globe launched a private, subscriber-only Facebook group. Now it has around 3000 members. According to Matt Karolian, director of audience engagement at the Globe, an average post in the group attracts nearly double the number of comments as a post on the site’s main Facebook page.

Link to the rest at Reuters

Facebook is still raking it in, even as people spend less time on the service

1 February 2018

From C/Net:

There are lots of uncertainties about Facebook’s future, but one thing is for sure: CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been busy making big changes.

Earlier this month, he announced a drastic overhaul of the social network’s vaunted news feed. Facebook will soon put more focus on posts from family and friends and less emphasis on content from brands and media outlets. He’s also asking the site’s users to decide what Facebook should consider trusted news sources. Those tweaks, he said, might lead people to spend less time on the site.

Zuckerberg said Wednesday that changes made in the last quarter have already caused many of the service’s 2.13 billion users to spend less time on the platform. All told, users are spending roughly 50 million fewer hours daily on Facebook, he said.

“Let me be clear: Helping people connect is more important than maximizing the time they spend on Facebook,” Zuckerberg told analysts on a conference call.

We won’t know the full effect of the changes on Facebook’s business for a while, but in the meantime, revenue is booming.

. . . .

The earnings results cap off what Zuckerberg called a “hard” year for Facebook. The social network is being blamed for creating “filter bubbles” that warp people’s sense of reality because the site’s influential and mysterious algorithms tend to show Facebook members content they already agree with.

. . . .

Earlier this week, Zuckerberg said Facebook would now push stories from local news outlets because national news tends to be more polarizing.

“Now, I want to be clear: By making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” he wrote Jan. 12 in a Facebook post outlining the shift toward content from family and friends. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

Link to the rest at C/Net and thanks to Felix for the tip.

PG has substantially cut down the amount of time he spends on Facebook because of the reduced number of items he’s seen from family and friends. He doesn’t see his time spent with FB increasing anytime soon. Right now, he’s off the first time he sees any third-party info.

The Antitrust Case Against Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple

16 January 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Standard Oil and Co. and American Telephone and Telegraph Co. were the technological titans of their day, commanding more than 80% of their markets.

Today’s tech giants are just as dominant: In the U.S., Alphabet Inc.’s Google drives 89% of internet search; 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook Inc. product; and Inc. now accounts for 75% of electronic book sales. Those firms that aren’t monopolists are duopolists: Google and Facebook absorbed 63% of online ad spending last year; Google and Apple Inc. provide 99% of mobile phone operating systems; while Apple and Microsoft Corp. supply 95% of desktop operating systems.

A growing number of critics think these tech giants need to be broken up or regulated as Standard Oil and AT&T once were. Their alleged sins run the gamut from disseminating fake news and fostering addiction to laying waste to small towns’ shopping districts. But antitrust regulators have a narrow test: Does their size leave consumers worse off?

By that standard, there isn’t a clear case for going after big tech—at least for now. They are driving down prices and rolling out new and often improved products and services every week.

That may not be true in the future: if market dominance means fewer competitors and less innovation, consumers will be worse off than if those companies had been restrained. “The impact on innovation can be the most important competitive effect” in an antitrust case, says Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University economist who served in the Justice Department’s antitrust division under Barack Obama.

. . . .

“Forty percent of Google search is local,” says Luther Lowe, the company’s head of public policy. “There should be hundreds of Yelps. There’s not. No one is pitching investors to build a service that relies on discovery through Facebook or Google to grow, because venture capitalists think it’s a poor bet.”

There are key differences between today’s tech giants and monopolists of previous eras. Standard Oil and AT&T used trusts, regulations and patents to keep out or co-opt competitors. They were respected but unloved. By contrast, Google and Facebook give away their main product, while Amazon undercuts traditional retailers so aggressively it may be holding down inflation. None enjoys a government-sanctioned monopoly; all invest prodigiously in new products. Alphabet plows 16% of revenue back into research and development; for Facebook it’s 21%—ratios far higher than other companies. All are among the public’s most loved brands, according to polls by Morning Consult.

Yet there are also important parallels. The monopolies of old and of today were built on proprietary technology and physical networks that drove down costs while locking in customers, erecting formidable barriers to entry. Just as Standard Oil and AT&T were once critical to the nation’s economic infrastructure, today’s tech giants are gatekeepers to the internet economy. If they’re imposing a cost, it may not be what customers pay but the products they never see.

. . . .

The story of AT&T is similar. It owed its early growth and dominant market position to Alexander Graham Bell’s 1876 patent for the telephone. After the related patents expired in the 1890s, new exchanges sprung up in countless cities to compete.

Competition was a powerful prod to innovation: Independent companies, by installing twisted copper lines and automatic switching, forced AT&T to do the same. But AT&T, like today’s tech giants, had “network effects” on its side.

“Just like people joined Facebook because everyone else was on Facebook, the biggest competitive advantage AT&T had was that it was interconnected,” says Milton Mueller, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has studied the history of technology policy.

Early in the 20th century, AT&T began buying up local competitors and refusing to connect independent exchanges to its long-distance lines, arousing antitrust complaints. By the 1920s, it was allowed to become a monopoly in exchange for universal service in the communities it served. By 1939, the company carried more than 90% of calls.

Though AT&T’s research unit, Bell Labs, became synonymous with groundbreaking discoveries, in telephone innovation AT&T was a laggard. To protect its own lucrative equipment business it prohibited innovative devices such as the Hush-a-Phone, which kept others from overhearing calls, and the Carterphone, which patched calls over radio airwaves, from connecting to its network.

After AT&T was broken up into separate local and long-distance companies in 1982, telecommunication innovation blossomed, spreading to digital switching, fiber optics, cellphones—and the internet.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Media is collateral damage

14 January 2018

From Business Insider:

Publishers and media companies got a rude awakening on Thursday after Facebook announced sweeping changes to its News Feed.

In a dramatic shake-up Facebook said it would start playing up status updates from friends and family in the News Feed, effectively deprioritizing content from media publishers and brands.

Publishers in particular — many of whom have relied on Facebook to build up huge audiences and achieve viral gold — are likely to take a hit from the change.

. . . .

“Facebook is dramatically reshaping its business in response to the first real existential risk since gaining dominance,” Derek Mead, Vice Media’s global executive editor, who was previously the editor-in-chief of Motherboard, said in a tweet. “And media is collateral damage.”

. . . .

“I cannot overstate how much Facebook is just screwing our news operations and our democracy over and over and over,” said Audrey Cooper, San Francisco Chronicle’s editor-in-chief, slamming Facebook’s move to solve its fake news problem by getting rid of news altogether.

. . . .

Facebook told some publishers that content from reputable publishers would surface on the News Feed based on the new algorithm, Digiday reported. But it didn’t define such a publisher or say how others may expect their traffic to change.

. . . .

Brown suggested publishers could weather the change by prioritizing content that “encourages community connection.”

“Some pages may see their reach, video watch time, and referral traffic decrease as the updates roll out over the next couple of months,” she wrote.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG wonders if we have reached Peak Facebook.

PG has had a Facebook page for TPV for a long time. Basically, he uses an app that automatically takes a post on TPV and reposts it on FB. No offense intended to those who love FB, but PG’s personal FB use as far as reading content on FB has always related solely to what a handful of family members and close friends post.

He checked FB when he saw the OP and FB stopped adding posts to the Facebook-TPV page about three weeks ago. Perhaps the plugin stopped working or maybe TPV has been kicked off the island. PG will check to see if he can get an automatic forwarding app back for those who like to see TPV via FB.

Mark Zuckerberg pledges ‘to do the job he already has,’ basically

5 January 2018

PG thought the following might be of interest in light of the complaints some indie authors have made about being poorly treated by KDP when they have done nothing wrong.

From The Washington Post:

Four days into the new year, Mark Zuckerberg is resolving to spend 2018 fixing issues with Facebook.

The Facebook chief executive explained in a post Thursday that every year he makes it his mission to “learn something new” — traveling across the country, perhaps, or learning a new language, or building a robot for his home.

This year, he is turning his attention to . . . Facebook.

“The world feels anxious and divided,” he said, “and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.

“My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues.”

Or, as much of the Internet said in response: Zuckerberg is challenging himself to spend 2018 doing his job.

Zuckerberg admitted Facebook makes “too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.”

“If we’re successful this year,” he said, “we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.

“This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face, but I think I’ll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

While PG has not worked in an organization as big as Facebook, he has worked in or with enough large organizations to have witnessed the type of problems Zuckerberg appears to be addressing.

The larger the organization and, especially, the number of management layers between the CEO and the front-line workers, the more difficult it is for the CEO to manage those front-line workers or to change the way they do their jobs.

This may not be as difficult for the CEO managing a series of chicken processing factories or timber harvesting operations, but for the top manager of an organization that, first and foremost, provides personal (or personalized) services to people, the task is daunting.

A front-line worker facing a chicken (or hundreds of chickens) is less likely to make mistakes capable of damaging the enterprise as is a front-line worker interacting with a human customer (or hundreds of customers) about appropriate personal behavior expected of that customer and how that customer interacts with other customers on the company’s premises (physical or virtual).

Ideally, every employee at Facebook, in particular, every customer service representative or community practices coordinator would handle a problem in the same way Mark would. While this is probably impossible, developing a system to teach everybody to do their jobs and interact with customers a little more like Mark would handle those tasks is a worthy goal.



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