Inside the Failure of Google+

Very few good products come from fear, and nobody wants that to be forced upon them. It’s almost as if Google hasn’t learned the lessons of Microsoft’s “Windows everywhere” policy, or the lukewarm reception to Windows Phone. Doing the same thing everyone else is doing after they have the inertia simply isn’t a good product philosophy.

LinkedIn Starts Building a Syndicated Content Network

Peter Kafka, Recode:

LinkedIn is emailing the 500 people it calls its “Influencers” and asking them for permission to automatically hand their stuff to other sites that want to republish it in full. Sites like Quartz routinely publish LinkedIn posts, but right now each article has to be manually approved by the author, which makes it a multistep process.

There’s no money trading hands here — Influencers write for LinkedIn for free, and LinkedIn lets other sites use those posts for free — but there’s still an obvious value exchange: Influencers get more distribution for their names and ideas, along with the notion that LinkedIn says they are “influencers.” And LinkedIn gets to advertise LinkedIn.

From the email LinkedIn sent to “Influencers”:

Your posts may appear in top-tier English publications such as the The Economist, New York Times, Quartz, TechCrunch, etc., always with attribution and links back to your original post.

In what universe is TechCrunch considered a “top-tier” publication, especially when listed alongside the Economist?

Then again, in what universe does the Economist need to farm content — not writing and not stories, but content — from freaking LinkedIn?

Apple Music Matches Based on Metadata, Not Audio “Fingerprint”

At least, according to Kirk McElhearn’s testing (via Michael Tsai):

I started with a random piece of music from a disc of Bach chorales.

I changed its tags to Can’t Feel My Face, by The Weekend. (I picked this track because it’s one of the best selling tracks on the iTunes Store; I could have picked any track in the Apple Music catalog.)

I waited for Apple Music to match the file, deleted my local copy, and then downloaded it from the cloud. […]

When I played it, it was not Bach.

There are some teething problems that are acceptable with any new service, but this is so half-assed, especially from Apple.

First off, it’s not even matching the tags correctly. The Weeknd’s artist name is spelled as such, and the replacement file given to McElhearn retains this incorrect metadata. If you have songs in your library with slightly incorrect metadata, it may match them or it may not, and if it does, it won’t correct your tags for you.

Secondly, it doesn’t even bother checking against the timecode. The Bach chorale McElhearn tested this song against is under two minutes long; “Can’t Feel My Face” is three and a half minutes long. This was already broadly proven by Simon Schellaert’s Spotify to Apple Music script.

But this is far more frustrating than it need be because Apple already has an audio fingerprinting system. They built it with iTunes Match. And for some infuckingexplicable reason, they’re not using it, even for iTunes Match subscribers:

I have an iTunes Match subscription, which is active on the computer I used for these tests, so, theoretically, my tracks should be matched using digital fingerprinting. So I’m all the more confused about what’s happened here.

This is a really big problem, and it affects music lovers’ more comprehensive libraries more than it does an average library. I have dozens of bootleg recordings from my favourite artists. I probably have ten copies of “Reptile” by Nine Inch Nails from studio albums, live rehearsals, live performances, and so forth. If all of those were determined by Apple Music to be the same track and consolidated, I would be furious.

A music library is sacrosanct and should be treated as such. Someone with a lot of music has probably worked really hard to maintain their library, and has carefully chosen everything about it. This matching system screws with that, yet it could have been broadly avoided by using iTunes Match.

While Apple has demonstrated great respect for priceless photo libraries by making iCloud Photo Library a fantastic service, they have not demonstrated a similar level of respect for music libraries. Until they do, you should keep iCloud Music Library off. It’s going to take a lot of trust rebuilding for me to ever allow Apple this kind of access to my music library.

Update: McElhearn has updated his post to state that he can no longer reproduce the issue where Apple Music overrides iTunes Match. That is, if you have an iTunes Match subscription, it now matches based on the acoustic fingerprint. That still doesn’t excuse the rest of this issue, though.

New Apple TV Reportedly Coming in September With Subscription Service to Follow

John Paczkowski for Buzzfeed:

Sources familiar with Apple’s plans tell BuzzFeed News that the company intends to announce its next-generation Apple TV in September, at the same event at which it typically unveils its new iPhones. […]

It’s a significant overhaul of the diminutive set-top box, which hasn’t seen a material refresh since 2012, and one that Apple hopes will inspire a big upgrade cycle through the annual winter holiday consumer binge, setting the stage for the subscription internet-TV service Apple’s been trying to get off the ground for years. While that service is most certainly in the offing, sources tell BuzzFeed News that Apple does not currently plan to announce it alongside the new Apple TV.

I have this irrational fear that I’ll be able to scan and match my DVDs with some sort of iCloud Movie Library thing, but halfway through the process my DVD collection will spontaneously combust.

The Apple Watch’s Effect on the Health of Its Users

Bernard Desarnauts of Wristly:

Making healthy lifestyle changes isn’t always easy. There is a famous quote that says “The first step to change is awareness”, and your responses indicate that the Watch is helping many of you on your health journeys. Over 78% of you agreed or strongly agreed that since getting the Watch, you are more aware of your overall health. In addition, many of you have already made changes with 78% of you agreeing or strongly agreeing that you stand more, 67% that you walk more, 57% that you exercise more and 59% that you make better overall health choices.

I’ve heard this a lot from less technically-inclined users, who are also more satisfied with it. Meanwhile, more technical users want more advanced functionality in a way that’s antithetical to the purpose of the Watch.

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai Says Goodbye to Android

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice:

As security expert Cem Paya put it, that was a conscious decision Google made when it created Android. Paya called it a Faustian deal: “cede control over Android, get market-share against iPhone.” Basically, Google was happy to let carriers put their bloatware on their Android phones in exchange to having a chance to fight Apple for in the mobile market. The tradeoff was giving carriers and manufacturers control over their Android releases, leaving Google unable to centrally push out operating system updates.

Some carriers and manufacturers are better than others, it’s true, but they all pretty much suck when it comes to pushing updates. There really isn’t a better way to put it.

As security researcher Nicholas Weaver put it in a (now deleted) tweet, ”Imagine if Windows patches had to pass through Dell and your ISP before they came to you? And neither cared? That is called Android.”

Ouch.

Windows 10 Is Out Today

A hesitantly positive review from Ars Technica’s Peter Bright:

Windows 8 felt unfinished, but it was an unfinished thought. The actual released operating system was stable and reliable and didn’t have any glaring errors in it, but the thoughts behind it, the thoughts about how its various facets should work together, were incomplete.

Windows 10 feels unfinished, but in a different way. The concept of the operating system is a great deal better than its predecessor. It’s better in fact than all of its predecessors. It can ably span a range of form factors and designs, and it can be comfortable and effective on all of them. For all my gripes, it’s the right idea, and it’s implemented in more or less the right way. But I think it’s also buggier than Windows 8.1, 8, 7, or Vista were on their respective launch days.

Microsoft’s going through the same transition period Apple started a few years ago, and it is manifesting itself in similar ways: some icons that look a little rough, a healthy dose of bugs, yet generally positive reviews. Good stuff.

Update: Icon link swapped.

How Will the Next Generation Tinker?

Louie Mantia shares the story of how he got to be the designer he is today, and wonders how the next generation of designers will hone their skills:

Just the other day I was wondering… what happens now? Not with me, but with the next fourteen-year-olds who are ready to be inspired. Do they look at Dribbble and decide to make things? Do they jump in and make an app?

I started by tinkering, customizing. Just as an engineer might. You start with something that exists and you change it to understand it. You do things on your own. But now… companies like Apple have locked down things like theming. It’s so hard today that no one even bothers. Changing icons is hard too. With some apps you can’t even do it without an app breaking because of code signing.

People haven’t stopped modifying cars just because it has become more difficult. They’ve found ways to either work around the limitations or to embrace them. My hope is that this generation of designers can do the same, and one hopes they don’t simply browse the heterogenous work on Dribbble.

“3D XPoint” Is a New Memory Technology That’s Way Faster Than Flash Memory

Pretty crazy announcement from Intel:

The explosion of connected devices and digital services is generating massive amounts of new data. To make this data useful, it must be stored and analyzed very quickly, creating challenges for service providers and system builders who must balance cost, power and performance trade-offs when they design memory and storage solutions. 3D XPoint technology combines the performance, density, power, non-volatility and cost advantages of all available memory technologies on the market today. The technology is up to 1,000 times faster and has up to 1,000 times greater endurance than NAND, and is 10 times denser than conventional memory.

Even wilder? It’s not just a concept; Intel and Micron are beginning production. Moore’s Law may not be wholly accurate any longer, but its effects are still being realized.

Cecil

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the story of the killing of Cecil the lion is depressing all around. Why an American dentist — or anyone — feels compelled to pay tens of thousands of dollars to fly halfway around the world to shoot and kill wildlife for entertainment is bewildering. As Fusion’s Jason O. Gilbert points out, this is going to play out in a far too predictable pattern:

The backlash to the backlash begins. Benghazi will be invoked. A right-wing radio host with an active following will start a GoFundMe page; it will raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few hours. Everyone will act surprised. Barack Obama’s birth certificate will be invoked. The Minnesota dentist will issue a formal apology through a lawyer. The Nuremberg trials will be invoked. Furious tweets will be fired off. The second amendment will be invoked, even though Zimbabwe doesn’t have a second amendment. Someone will ask Donald Trump for comment. Someone will ask Mitt Romney for comment. Someone will ask Dog the Bounty Hunter for comment. CNN will screw up a segment about the story, perhaps by mislabeling Zimbabwe on a map of Africa, or by mislabeling Minnesota on a map of America, or by mislabeling a lion as a baby hippopotamus.

There are plenty of outrageous things going on in the world at the moment, but this must rank pretty highly in your heart and mind; it certainly does in mine. Maybe it’s possible for something good to come out of this. Cecil was being tracked for many years by a team of researchers at Oxford, and if you want to help them out, you can donate; I did. Americans: you’ll want to donate here and specify that you want your donation allocated to WildCRU. Canadians: here’s your link. If you live somewhere else in the world and want to help out, check out WildCRU’s site.

MPAA Emails Reveal Plan to Run Anti-Google Smear Campaign

Mike Masnick, TechDirt:

[In] a filing on Thursday, Google revealed one of the few emails that they have been able to get access to so far, and it’s stunning. It’s an email between the MPAA and two of Jim Hood’s top lawyers in the Mississippi AG’s office, discussing the big plan to “hurt” Google. Beyond influencing other Attorneys General (using misleading fake “setups” of searches for “bad” material) and paying for fake anti-Google research, the lawyers from Hood’s office flat out admit that they’re expecting the MPAA and the major studios to have its media arms run a coordinated propaganda campaign of bogus anti-Google stories

[…]

As Google notes in its legal filing about this email, the “plan” states that if this effort fails, then the next step will be to file the subpoena (technically a CID or “civil investigatory demand”) on Google, written by the MPAA but signed by Hood. As Google points out, this makes it pretty clear (1) that the MPAA, studios and Hood were working hand in hand in all of this and (2) that the subpoena had no legitimate purpose behind it, but rather was the final step in a coordinated media campaign to pressure Google to change the way its search engine works.

An “Anonymous Coward” in the comments points out that this could amount to securities fraud:

… conspiracy, fraud, bribery, and corruption.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Common violations that may lead to SEC investigations include:

• …
• Manipulating the market prices of securities
• …

That’s probably a stretch, but interesting to consider. The MPAA has way too much influence in Washington; they will be unlikely to feel any repercussions from this plan.

Apple Music’s Edge May Be Unfair, but Potentially Isn’t Illegal

I’m no lawyer, so I’m just going the way the wind blows on this one. I would have thought that no single part of Apple Music’s competitive advantage constitutes a legal issue, but the compounded effect of all of the advantages offered to Music may be grounds for anticompetitive behaviour. Some legal experts that Wired contacted happen to disagree, but the FTC seems to think they have enough to go on to initiate inquiries.

NSA to Purge Mass-Surveillance Phone Records Database

Dustin Volz, National Journal:

The National Security Agency will purge all phone data collected during the operation of its expiring bulk surveillance program by the start of next year pending ongoing litigation, the government announced Monday.

“As soon as possible, NSA will destroy the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata upon expiration of its litigation preservation obligations,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, referring to a provision of the Patriot Act, said in a statement. “Analytic access” to those records, which go back five years, will end Nov. 29, and they will be destroyed three months later.

Slow progress is progress nevertheless. No word on when they’re stopping their far more invasive mass collection of internet traffic.

Google Minus

Must be a rough day to be working at Google. Bradley Horowitz, VP of “Streams, Photos, and Sharing”:

People have told us that accessing all of their Google stuff with one account makes life a whole lot easier. But we’ve also heard that it doesn’t make sense for your Google+ profile to be your identity in all the other Google products you use.

So in the coming months, a Google Account will be all you’ll need to share content, communicate with contacts, create a YouTube channel and more, all across Google. YouTube will be one of the first products to make this change, and you can learn more on their blog. As always, your underlying Google Account won’t be searchable or followable, unlike public Google+ profiles. And for people who already created Google+ profiles but don’t plan to use Google+ itself, we’ll offer better options for managing and removing those public profiles.

Much as Horowitz spins this as “focusing” Google+, the reality is that Google is slowly peeling away any dependence on it. Take a look at how it’s being “focused”:

Google+ is quickly becoming a place where people engage around their shared interests, with the content and people who inspire them. In line with that focus, we’re continuing to add new features like Google+ Collections, where you can share and enjoy posts organized by the topics you care about.

So they added a Pinterest clone. Is that useful? Were people asking for that?

At the same time, we’ll also move some features that aren’t essential to an interest-based social experience out of Google+. For example, many elements of Google+ Photos have been moved into the new Google Photos app, and we’re well underway putting location sharing into Hangouts and other apps, where it really belongs. We think changes like these will lead to a more focused, more useful, more engaging Google+.

All of the stuff that actually boosted Google+’s active user numbers — YouTube comments, photo sharing, and so on — is being removed from Google+. What’s it left with? A discussion board nobody really uses? Does that sound good for the future health of Google+?

Update: To clarify: I love Pinterest a lot; I think it’s one of the best things to come out of Silicon Valley in a long time. I question the application of its concept in the context of Google+.

“The Mobile World’s Equivalent to Heartbleed”

This isn’t good. Michael Mimoso, for Kapersky’s ThreatPost:

Researcher Joshua Drake, vice president of platform research and exploitation at Zimperium zLabs, said exploits could be particularly insidious given the fact that an attacker need only use a malicious MMS message that could trigger the vulnerability without user interaction, and delete the message before the victim is aware. All an attacker would need, Drake said, is the device’s phone number.

[…]

An attacker in possession of their target’s phone number could send an MMS or even a Google Hangouts message to an affected device that triggers the vulnerability before the victim has a chance to open the message. In some cases, the attack would delete the MMS in question, leaving behind only a notification that a message was sent. Drake said the processing carried out by Stagefright is a bad design and implementation choice, and that once he dug in and did additional fuzzing and learned more context from prior work, he said he uncovered close to a dozen issues, with half of those being critical remote code execution vulnerabilities; the others were less serious and did not have RCE implications.

That’s pretty scary: merely receiving a malicious MMS will likely trigger the attack which, if executed correctly, can run remote code, all with zero user interaction. But, while Google has patched this, it faces the same problem as any other software update for Android: the companies that make the phones have practically no financial incentive to update their devices. As far as they’re concerned, their job is done. NPR, for example, spoke with HTC:

Google informed HTC of the issue and provided the necessary patches, which HTC began rolling into projects in early July. All projects going forward contain the required fix.

“All projects going forward”? I know HTC doesn’t sell a lot of phones so, by the numbers, their user base does not even a reasonable minority of those affected, but come on. That’s a weak response. I’m hoping that other major manufacturers will do the right thing instead of worrying purely about their bottom line.

Now Testing Piwik on Pixel Envy

I think it’s very important that you are aware of the goings-on of this site, and any changes to it. I want you to know that I’m taking Piwik for a trial run. Piwik is analytics software that is self-hosted, so none of your information is going to a giant advertising company. I’ve long been an ardent supporter and user of Mint, but it hasn’t been updated for a while so it’s not super great at reporting recent versions of iOS and OS X, for example.

There’s good news for you, too: if you’d rather not be recorded by Piwik, it will attempt to respect the Do Not Track preference you’ve set in your browser; Mint does not.

For now, I’ll be running both Mint and Piwik, as it doesn’t seem to impact load times to a noticeable degree. In a few months, I’ll decide whether I want to keep both, or switch to one permanently. If you have any questions about this experiment, please don’t hesitate to email me or send me a note on Twitter.

Thank you, as always, for reading. It means a lot to me.

Jim Dalrymple Got Most of His Assumed-Gone Music Back

Jim Dalrymple:

Apple said my music was never deleted and that it was in the cloud the entire time. Before Apple Music, iTunes Match would show me all of my songs—matched, uploaded, and purchased. However, if you turn off iCloud Music Library and Apple Music, iTunes Match will only show your purchased content now. There is no way to separate iTunes Match from the iCloud Music Library. Before, you would turn off iTunes Match—now you would turn off iCloud Music Library.

So now I have the iTunes Match service that I pay for separately, and Apple Music, both of which use iCloud Music Library. There is really no way to get away from them if you want to use the latest and greatest from Apple.

I’ll admit, I’m still trying to get my head around how this works.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think Apple is doing a very good job of explaining the differences between their music services. I’m a pretty low bar, but if this is confusing for Dalrymple as well, it’s really hard to understand.

Smug

A couple of weeks ago, Apple launched a new ad campaign sporting the tagline “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone”, and I kind of ignored it. Though one focuses on customer satisfaction and the other focuses on the interplay between hardware and software, both come across as bland, and a little smug. Apple used a similar tagline on a campaign a few years ago, and it felt only slightly more charming at the time. Now, with an industry-dominating profit share, it feels kinda gross.

But now, today, Apple’s launched a companion site that really ups the smugness. As Gruber points out, the section on apps is cringeworthy:

Also amazing? The fact that there are over a million and a half capable, beautiful, inspiring apps on the App Store. And each and every one was reviewed and approved by a team of real live humans. With great taste. And great suggestions. And great ideas.

Yep — the App Store is truly a bastion of greatness. It’s not like they’d carry dozens of the same tutorial-originating app, or apps with truly appalling user interfaces. Great taste, indeed.

Apple has gotten really, really good at making ads that show the products, rather than talking about them — remember the “Every Dayseries? They’re still doing ads like that series, but for the Watch.1 And, while I know they have to change things up every so often, these feel like a miss to me. They’re too smug, and too pompous for my tastes. I prefer the softer sell.


  1. By the way, ten bucks says those ads are scored by Trent Reznor. ↩︎

AnandTech Reviews the Apple Watch

I’m typically a big fan of AnandTech’s in-depth reviews, but this one let me down a bit. In particular, Joshua Ho and Brandon Chester didn’t even bother to try the Workout app (via Michael Rockwell):

There is a workout component, but I suspect that this is something more targeted towards someone who is actually setting aside time every day to do nothing but exercise. I tried the interface and found it to be a useful addition, but I really haven’t had a reason to use it as the automatic tracking is pretty much good enough for my needs.

I understand that the Watch is — to put it as Apple does — their “most personal device yet” and that not all people are going to find the fitness component important, but the Workout app is worth testing. This is AnandTech, the land of the ridiculously in-depth review — I expected more. How does it compare to actual fitness and workout trackers? Is it accurate? Is it easy to use while riding a bike? (I can answer the last question: it’s kind of easy to use while riding, but you need to find a bit of road where you can take both hands off the handlebars if you need to diddle with it. Not that I’d ever do that. Ride safe.)

There are other nitpicks I have with it: the authors question a lack of a multitasking UI, for example. This, then, is a review of what the Apple Watch is, not what it does. It’s almost certainly the best glimpse you’ll get of the technology behind the Watch, but it’s decidedly not the best review of how it fits into your life.

The US Government Must Lose Cryptowars 2.0

Elissa Shevinsky in a brilliant, must-read piece for the Christian Science Monitor:

My older friends in the security world have started telling me countless battle stories about fighting “the cryptowars.” Now we chat openly at hacker conferences or their fancy corporate offices. But back then, they were building Pretty Good Privacy, known as PGP, which became one of the most widely used tools for encrypting communications. They would take their servers home at night. They thought the FBI would break into the offices and seize their code. Export controls made it illegal for them to ship this crypto code overseas, so they typed the PGP code into book form. Senior executives mailed it to a bookstore in Europe. As online e-commerce and other activities became more mainstream, the restrictions – and security pros’ paranoia! – relaxed.

[…]

But now, with FBI and National Security Agency leaders pushing Silicon Valley technologists to weaken their encryption so the US government can more easily access the protected data, it’s clear that while I may have missed the drama of the ’90s, I won’t be able to escape the cryptowars redux of the 2010s.

Stupid and Misleading Company Gains $9 Million Investment

Remember the bullshit of Bulletproof coffee, and the café founder Dave Asprey is doing in Santa Monica? He’s just raised nine million dollars to build it, and it includes other pseudo medical bullshit, per Buzzfeed’s William Alden:

It will also include a Bulletproof Vibe vibration platform, which is said to be able to support the immune system and build muscle strength by moving up and down 30 times per second. “You can use it while you’re waiting for us to make a cup of Bulletproof coffee,” Asprey said.

There is no evidence that body vibration systems improve muscle strength, and the only reference to any support or boosting of the immune system comes from Bulletproof. But these claims are implicitly validated through this venture capital injection, and that’s appalling.

FTC Reportedly Subpoenas Streaming Music Services Regarding Apple Music

Micah Singleton of the Verge demonstrates the case against Apple:

As you would expect, Apple Music doesn’t need to raise its price to make up for lost revenue, nor is it subject to other restrictions that the App Store rules place on competition streaming services, essentially giving the service a built-in advantage.

If Spotify wanted to point iOS users who try to sign up through its app to its website, where the subscription price is cheaper, it wouldn’t be allowed according to the App Store rules. “Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the App, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected,” Apple wrote in section 11.13 of its App Store review guidelines.

This makes sense to me. If we assume that all streaming services have broadly comparable licensing terms with record labels, Apple can book $10 in monthly revenue from the sale of a $10 per month plan, while competing services can only book $7 per month of a $10 plan, if sold through an in-app purchase. And, it’s worth mentioning, Apple gets to book their full $3 per month cut from those competing in-app sales; they don’t have to pay a dime of that to labels.

Here’s where Singleton loses me a bit:

Competing music streaming services also aren’t allowed to offer free promos, according to the App Store guidelines, even as a three-month free trial is currently being offered for Apple Music. Music streaming services are also forbidden from offering family plans through the service, which again, Apple Music does.

When it was independent, Beats Music offered a free trial at launch, though through what mechanism I’m not sure.

The gist remains, however. I think the most likely outcome of this, should it be found against Apple, will be for the ban on advertising alternative points of purchase within an app to be overturned. But this is one of those cases where there is little precedent. It all smells like anticompetitive behaviour, but it’s up to the FTC to decide.