Rupert Murdoch wants Facebook to pay for the news


Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corporation, today issued a statement calling for Facebook and Google to subsidize the news traveling through their platforms.

In the statement, Murdoch calls on Facebook to pay a carriage fee, as cable companies do with pay TV, to trusted publishers that are posting their content on the social media platform:

I have yet to see a proposal that truly recognizes the investment in and the social value of professional journalism.

The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies. The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services.

This comes fresh on the heels of a change to Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithm, which prioritizes posts from friends and family over those from publishers and content providers. Facebook said that the change was meant to increase wellbeing among users, offering a more proactive way to build a community and positive sentiment across the network.

But Wall Street didn’t react well to the change, which Facebook predicted would decrease time spent on the network, which ultimately will decrease the time users spend looking at advertisements.

As part of the announcement, Facebook’s Newsfeed Chief Adam Mosseri didn’t have many concrete suggestions for publishers worried about decreased visibility on the world’s biggest social media platform, simply saying publishers should try “experimenting … and seeing … what content gets more comments, more likes, more reshares.”

This also follows an ongoing situation around news credibility on social networks like Facebook. The spread of fake news across the internet, most noticeably on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, may very well have changed the course of the 2016 election. Whether it was sparked and spread by foreign actors like Russia or domestic political groups, it has forced Facebook to try and remedy the situation over the past year.

Facebook’s original entry into the world of media, the launch of Instant Articles in 2015, has spurred voracious consumption of news on the platform. Pew says that around two-thirds of U.S. adults get their news from social media sites, with 20 percent saying they do so often.

This has disenfranchised many publishers who require a direct connection with readers to maintain credibility. If all articles look the same, and many ‘readers’ are looking at an entirely different ‘front page’ on Facebook, establishing the one and only truth of any matter becomes more difficult.

And let’s not forget that the media industry is in its own, continued transformation as century-old print publications try to move digital.

Murdoch, one of the most successful people in news media, doesn’t see much progress with new business models such as subscriptions and pay walls, but does see an opportunity in making the pipes pay.

An unrealistic proposal

However, on closer inspection his suggestion is disingenuous. To publicly issue a carefully scripted statement with a questionable insinuations (Facebook is equated to a cable provider) and very few details is more mud-slinging than muckraking. We’re not saying Facebook shouldn’t be paying somebody something, but this isn’t a realistic solution and I don’t think Murdoch really believes it is either.

Carriage fees are pretty simple. Your cable provider pays a fee per subscriber to networks like ESPN and AMC in order to carry their programming; these fees vary from under a dollar for specialty or less popular networks (AMC, FX) to more than $6 (ESPN, by far the most expensive). The idea is that you as a subscriber are paying for access to these channels, and then paying for the convenience of having them delivered to your TV by the cable company. The $40-50 is really only routed through the cable companies for convenience (yours and theirs).

But while that makes sense for a cable provider with millions of subscribers in a single region of the US, all paying $50 or more for the privilege of watching live TV, it’s a poor match for the likes of Facebook.

Facebook’s “viewers,” just off the top of my head:

  • are all over the world in different regions and jurisdictions
  • don’t choose what they see (nor does Facebook, arguably)
  • pay nothing
  • are already monetized indirectly by both Facebook and publishers

If Facebook pays a carriage fee for the privilege of carrying content from the Hindustan Times, and it shows up as a Facebook Instant Article in an American’s news feed because a British PR firm paid for it to be promoted, because it wants to drive subscribers, and it does… who exactly owes whom what? Who is paying what, for what? Who determines what is “trusted,” and what would happen to sources that aren’t “trusted”? Should Facebook literally pay every site a fee for every one of its billion (or however many) users, for the possibility that someday, some item may show up in any of those users’ feeds?

You can see that this quickly descends into chaos. Murdoch’s suggestion is a horse and buggy solution for a company working on self-driving cars.

Clearly something else is needed. Facebook, raking in cash and confident that companies like Murdoch’s can’t survive without the reach that social media provides. Why would it as an ostensibly objective platform for users to post content attempt what is “trusted” and then pay them for the title?

Supposedly, trusted publishers pay for promotion on the platform and receive value in the form of readers, who view their ads and may eventually buy a subscription. Of course, Facebook undermines this value proposition all the time and publishers are upset at their emasculation and inability to dictate terms as many have for decades.

No one has a solution for the very real problem of modern media monetization, but Murdoch’s suggestion is worse than most. Publishers lost the last few rounds by clinging to the past, they’re not going to win the next one or even force a draw by doubling down and making empty threats with non-existent leverage.

You can read Murdoch’s full statement below:

Facebook and Google have popularized scurrilous news sources through algorithms that are profitable for these platforms but inherently unreliable. Recognition of a problem is one step on the pathway to cure, but the remedial measures that both companies have so far proposed are inadequate, commercially, socially and journalistically.

There has been much discussion about subscription models but I have yet to see a proposal that truly recognizes the investment in and the social value of professional journalism. We will closely follow the latest shift in Facebook’s strategy, and I have no doubt that Mark Zuckerberg is a sincere person, but there is still a serious lack of transparency that should concern publishers and those wary of political bias at these powerful platforms.

The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies. The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services. Carriage payments would have a minor impact on Facebook’s profits but a major impact on the prospects for publishers and journalists.

Featured Image: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Linus Torvalds declares Intel fix for Meltdown/Spectre ‘complete and utter garbage’


The always outspoken Linus Torvalds, best known for his continuing work on the innermost code of Linux systems, has harsh words to say and accusations to level against Intel. His evaluation of Intel’s latest proposed fix for the Meltdown/Spectre issue: “the patches are COMPLETE AND UTTER GARBAGE.” As a potential line of inquiry, he suggests: “Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f*cking insane?” (Asterisk his.)

These and other kind epithets are awarded by Torvalds in a public email chain between him and David Woodhouse, an engineer at Amazon in the UK, regarding Intel’s solution as relating to the Linux kernel. The issue is (as far as I can tell as someone far out of their depth) a clumsy and, Torvalds argues, “insane” implementation of a fix that essentially does nothing while also doing a bunch of unnecessary things.

The fix needs to address Meltdown (which primarily affects Intel chips), but instead of just doing so across the board, it makes the whole fix something the user or administrator has to opt into at boot. Why even ask, if this is such a huge vulnerability? And why do it at such a low level when future CPUs will supposedly not require it, at which point the choice would be at best unnecessary and at worst misleading or lead to performance issues?

Meanwhile, a bunch of other things are added in the same patch that Torvalds points out are redundant with existing solutions, for instance adding protections against an exploit already mitigated by Google Project Zero’s “retpoline” technique.

Why do this? Torvalds speculates that a major part of Intel’s technique, in this case “Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation” or IBRS, is so inefficient that to roll it out universally would result in widespread performance hits. So instead, it made the main Meltdown fix optional and added the redundant stuff to make the patch look more comprehensive.

Is Intel really planning on making this shit architectural? Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f*cking insane?

They do literally insane things. They do things that do not make sense. That makes all your [i.e. Woodhouse’s] arguments questionable and suspicious. The patches do things that are not sane.

…So somebody isn’t telling the truth here. Somebody is pushing complete garbage for unclear reasons. Sorry for having to point that out.

Woodhouse (who in a long-suffering manner asks they “be done with the shouty part), later in the thread acknowledges Torvalds’ criticism, calling IBRS is “a vile hack” and agreeing that “There’s no good reason for it to be opt-in.” But he but notes some points that are, if not exactly in favor of Intel’s approach, at least explain it a bit.

At any rate, this is all very deep discussion and really only a small slice of it. I’m not highlighting this because I think it’s technically interesting (I’m not really qualified to say so) or consequential in terms of what users will see (it’s hard to say at this point) but rather to simply point out that the Meltdown/Spectre debacle is far from over — in fact, it’s barely begun.

What we saw a few weeks back was the initial wave of craziness and the first line of defense being established. But the work of protecting the billions of devices affected by these problems is going to go on for years as conflicts like this work themselves out. And Linus Torvalds, as profane as his criticisms are wont to be, is one of the many people working hard on behalf of the open source community and the people who ultimately benefit from it down the line.

If there weren’t detail-oriented, no-BS, old-school coders out there watching out for the likes of you and me, the great complacent unwashed out here in userland, we would have to take whatever Intel and the others hand us and thank them in our ignorance. I for one am glad to have people smarter and more uncompromising than myself fighting on our behalf, however “shouty” they may be.

Featured Image: ronstik/Shutterstock

Ziro’s robotics kit for kids now works with Alexa

Ziro is a nifty programmable robotics kit for kids that had a successful Indiegogo campaign last year. And the company behind it, ZeroUI, is still adding new features.

By default, Ziro kits come with a smart glove to control your robots. You can use the mobile app to configure gestures based on hand movements. For instance, if you tilt your hand forward, it can make a car go forward.

Ziro now also works with Alexa. You can configure voice actions to control your robot. For instance, you can ask your robot to wave at you and the robot will wave its arm.

If ZeroUI manages to sell enough Ziro kits, a community of builders could pop up and share robot designs. It would be nice if you could follow a guide on an online forum to build a dinosaur or a dancing robot using cardboard layouts.

Ziro’s robotics kit for kids now works with Alexa

Ziro is a nifty programmable robotics kit for kids that had a successful Indiegogo campaign last year. And the company behind it, ZeroUI, is still adding new features.

By default, Ziro kits come with a smart glove to control your robots. You can use the mobile app to configure gestures based on hand movements. For instance, if you tilt your hand forward, it can make a car go forward.

Ziro now also works with Alexa. You can configure voice actions to control your robot. For instance, you can ask your robot to wave at you and the robot will wave its arm.

If ZeroUI manages to sell enough Ziro kits, a community of builders could pop up and share robot designs. It would be nice if you could follow a guide on an online forum to build a dinosaur or a dancing robot using cardboard layouts.

Unbound’s Polly Rodriguez talks about the future of sexuality


Unbound is a self-described sextech webshop for rebellious women and its founder, Polly Rodriguez, is a unique and fascinating representative for the site. In this Technotopia podcast I talk to Rodriguez about the future of sex toys and why sex robots probably won’t win us over.

It’s refreshing to hear someone like Rodriguez talk about the future of human-to-human content and what it takes to go beyond the cliches. Please have a listen.
Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.

Unbound’s Polly Rodriguez talks about the future of sexuality


Unbound is a self-described sextech webshop for rebellious women and its founder, Polly Rodriguez, is a unique and fascinating representative for the site. In this Technotopia podcast I talk to Rodriguez about the future of sex toys and why sex robots probably won’t win us over.

It’s refreshing to hear someone like Rodriguez talk about the future of human-to-human content and what it takes to go beyond the cliches. Please have a listen.
Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.

MyHeritage says it sold over 1M DNA kits last year, annual revenue grew to $133M

A

t first glance, genealogy may seem like a quiet hobby you take up in your retirement, but it’s also a big industry, with the likes of Ancestry, MyHeritage, Helix and others all vying for new users. You’d think that there isn’t much these companies can do to really differentiate themselves from each other, but they all offer a slightly different spin on the core theme of building family trees.

In the last few years, both Ancestry and MyHeritage also expanded their business with DNA testing services — not to help you find potential health issues but to help you find your relatives and tell you where your family comes from. Unsurprisingly, that’s creating a number of new business opportunities for these companies.

Earlier this month, MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet (pictured above) gave us an unusually detailed look at his company’s finances and the success of its DNA service, which launched just before the holiday shopping season of 2016.

The kit, once it has been processed, gives users a detailed view of their ethnicity, which currently breaks down to about 42 regions, with more in the plans as the company gathers more data from its users. MyHeritage can also use this data to discover other relatives on the service who also took the test and who you may not even know.

Over the course of the last year, MyHeritage sold more than 1 million DNA kits, and revenue from DNA sales was $58 million. Combined with $75 million in subscription revenue from MyHeritage’s more traditional genealogy business — which now has more than half a million paying subscribers (who pay an average of $150 per year) — the company had total revenue of $133 million in 2017. That’s up from just over $60 million in 2016. The company’s profit in 2017 was $18.1 million.

During the holiday season alone, MyHeritage sold 400,000 DNA kits, up from the just 36,000 it sold in November and December 2016.

“You can’t put a subscription under the Christmas tree,” Japhet joked and added that the average user currently buys just under two kits — and he hopes that number will hit three to four in the future.

While the DNA sales account for much of the company’s recent growth spurt, it’s worth noting that the company’s subscription business is also growing between 30 and 40 percent year over year, with a retention rate of more than 75 percent.

The two products also reinforce each other, given that those who buy DNA kits often convert to paying MyHeritage users and because its existing user base comprises people who would be most interested in using one of the company’s kits. Current conversion rates for DNA kit users are in the double digits, Japhet tells me — and that makes sense, given that you need a family tree to make the most out of the data.

When the company launched its DNA service in 2016, it was faced with a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Unless you have a lot of data already, after all, you can’t really tell people where their ancestors came from — but unless you can do that, your users aren’t likely to be satisfied with the product. So to kickstart the process, MyHeritage allowed users to both upload existing tests and the company sent free DNA kits to some of its existing users.

“We created a founder population project where we used our family trees to identify families that looked like they had stayed in the same area for a long time,” Japhet explained. It’s the combination of the DNA data and the data in the family trees that then allows the company’s data scientists to build the kind of model that tells you whether your family moved to the U.S. from England or another part of Western Europe.

Japhet openly admits that the first results weren’t all that great, because, while the company could match you with direct relatives, it had issues once you hit fourth cousins and similar distant relations. In addition, the service still didn’t have all that much data and it hadn’t yet invested in building out its DNA and data science teams.

Since then, the company went from 310 to 420 employees over the last year and many of them are part of the company’s science team. “DNA is hard and it’s attracting good talent,” Japhet told me. “We built a very strong science team with the purpose of innovating and building the algorithms.”

Now that this team is in place, it’s also working on building new products. Recently, MyHeritage has started to run surveys, for example, that will allow the company to link its DNA data with other traits like a person’s eye color or whether they are right- or left-handed. Its users have already answered more than 4 million questions.

How to price cryptocurrencies | TechCrunch

Predicting cryptocurrency prices is a fool’s game yet this fool is about to try. The drivers of a single cryptocurrency’s value are currently too varied and vague to make assessments based on any one point. News is trending up on Bitcoin? Maybe there’s a hack or an API failure that is driving it down at the same time. Ethereum looking sluggish? Who knows: maybe someone will build a new smarter DAO tomorrow that will draw in the big spenders.

So how do you invest or, more correctly, on which currency should you bet?

The key to understanding what to buy or sell and when to hold is to use the tools associated with assessing the value of open source projects. This has been said again and again but to understand the current crypto boom you have to go back to the quiet rise of Linux.

Linux appeared on most radars during the Dot Com bubble. At that time, if you wanted to set up a web server, you had to physically ship a Windows server or Sun Sparc Station to a server farm where it would do the hard work of delivering Pets.com HTML. At the same time Linux, like a freight train running on a parallel path to Microsoft and Sun, would consistently allow developers to build one-off projects very quickly and easily using an OS and toolset that were improving daily. In comparison, then, the massive hardware and software expenditures associated with the status quo solution providers were deeply inefficient and very quickly all of the tech giants who made their money on software now made their money on services or, like Sun, folded.

From the acorn of Linux an open source forest bloomed. But there was one clear problem: you couldn’t make money from open source. You could consult and you could sell products that used open source components but early builders built primarily for the betterment of humanity and not the betterment of their bank accounts.

Cryptocurrencies have followed the Linux model almost exactly but cryptocurrencies have cash value. Therefore when you’re working on a crypto project you’re not doing it for the common good or for the joy of writing free software. You’re writing it with the expectation of a big payout. This, therefore, clouds the value judgements of many programmers. The same folks that brought you Python, PHP, Django, and Node.js are back… and now they’re programming money.

This year will be the year of great reckoning in the token sale and cryptocurrency space. While many companies have been able to get away with poor or unusable codebases I doubt developers will let future companies get away with so much smoke and mirrors. It’s safe to say we can expect posts like this one detailing Storj’s anemic code base to become the norm and, more important, that these commentaries will sink many so-called ICOs. Though massive, the money trough that is flowing from ICO to ICO is finite and at some point there will be greater scrutiny paid to incomplete work.

What does this mean? It means to understand cryptocurrency you have to treat it like a startup. Does it have a good team? Does it have a good product? Does the product work? Would someone want to use it? It’s far too early to assess the value of cryptocurrency as a whole but if we assume that tokens or coins will become the way computers pay each other in the future. This lets us hand wave away a lot of doubt. After all, not many people knew in 2000 that Apache was going to beat nearly every other web server in a crowded market or that Ubuntu instances would be so common that you’d spin them up and destroy them in an instant.

The key to understanding cryptocurrency pricing is to ignore the froth, hype, and FUD and instead focus on true utility. Do you think that some day your phone will pay another phone for, say, an in game perk? Do you expect the credit card system to fold in the face of an Internet of Value? Do you expect that one day you’ll move through life splashing out small bits of value in order to make yourself more comfortable? Then by all means buy and hold or speculate on things that you think will make your life better. If you don’t expect the Internet of Value to improve your life the way the TCP/IP Internet did (or you do not understand enough to hold an opinion) then you’re probably not cut out for this. NASDAQ is always open, at least during banker’s hours.

Still will us? Good, here are my predictions:

Here is my assessment of what you should look at when considering an “investment” in cryptocurrencies. There are a number of caveats we must address before we begin.

  • Crypto is not a monetary investment in a real currency but an investment in a pie-in-the-sky technofuture. That’s right: when you buy crypto you’re basically assuming that we’ll all be on the deck of the Starship Enterprise exchanging them like Galactic Credits one day. This is the only inevitable future for crypto bulls. While you can force crypto into various economic models and hope for the best, the entire platform is techno-utopianist and assumes all sorts of exciting and unlikely things will come to pass in the next few years. If you have spare cash lying around and you like Star Wars then you’re golden. If you bought bitcoin on a credit card because your cousin told you to then you’re probably going to have a bad time.
  • Don’t trust anyone. There is no guarantee and, in addition to offering the disclaimer that this is not investment advice and that this is in no way an endorsement of any particular cryptocurrency or even the concept in general, we must understand that everything I write here could be wrong. In fact, everything ever written about crypto could be wrong and anyone who is trying to sell you a token with exciting upside is almost certainly wrong. In short, everyone is wrong and everyone is out to get you so be very, very careful.
  • You might as well hold. If you bought when BTC was $18,000 you’d best just hold on. Right now you’re in Pascal’s Wager territory. Yes, maybe you’re angry at crypto for screwing you but maybe you were just stupid and you got in too high and now you might as well keep believing because nothing is certain or you can admit that you were a bit overeager and now you’re being punished for it but that there is some sort of bitcoin god out there watching over you. Ultimately you need to take a deep breath, agree that all of this is pretty freaking weird, and hold on.

Now on with the assessments.

Bitcoin – Expect a rise over the next year that will surpass the current low. Also expect bumps as the SEC and other federal agencies around the world begin regulating the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies in very real ways. Now that banks are in on the joke they’re going to want to reduce risk. Therefore the bitcoin will become digital gold, a staid, boring, and volatility proof safe haven for speculators. Although all but unusable as a real currency, it’s good enough for what we need it to do and we can also expect quantum computing hardware to change the face of the oldest and most familiar cryptocurrency.

Ethereum – Ethereum could sustain another few thousand dollars on its price as long as Vitalik Buterin, the creator, doesn’t throw too much cold water on it. Like a remorseful Victor Frankenstein, Buterin tends to make amazing things and then denigrate them online, a sort of self-flagellation that is actually quite useful in a space full of froth and outright lies. Ethereum is the closest we’ve come to a useful cryptocurrency but it is still the Raspberry Pi of distributed computing – it’s a useful and clever hack that makes it easy to experiment but no one has quite replaced the old systems with new distributed data stores or applications. In short, it’s a really exciting technology but nobody knows what to do with it.

ADP acquires workforce management software startup WorkMarket


Payroll provider ADP said it is acquiring WorkMarket, a startup that specializes in workforce management software that operates across a wide range of employees and contractors, for an undisclosed sum.

The software aims to create a kind of unified interface for managing an extended workforce that can include a variety of workers with different employment status, from contractors and freelancers to full-time employees. As many companies work with contractors — and a lot of companies are already tapping a much wider swath of workers that aren’t full-time employees — software for managing extended workforce could be increasingly valuable.

WorkMarket includes payment systems, management for extended employee networks, as well as a marketplace for piecing together a workforce that can fill the gaps for a company that’s looking to operate outside of the traditional range that full-time employees might operate. All these tools, which the startup looks to wrap into a more straightforward and less complex product, are hallmarks of a company looking to woo small businesses before they hit a point that necessitates larger and more robust workforce management products.

For ADP, it would seem to give the company that traditionally specializes in payroll another tool to convince enterprises to use it as part of a larger system of workforce products. While ADP has been a larger incumbent, these kinds of acquisitions are important to show that it can be agile and compete with smaller companies that are gobbling up small businesses by pitching easier-to-use tools that help remove the headache of implementing complicated systems.

WorkMarket, founded in 2010, has raised more than $50 million from firms like Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. The startup raised $25 million from Accenture and Foundry Group in April last year.

Featured Image: Randall Schwanke/Shutterstock

ADP acquires workforce management software startup WorkMarket


Payroll provider ADP said it is acquiring WorkMarket, a startup that specializes in workforce management software that operates across a wide range of employees and contractors, for an undisclosed sum.

The software aims to create a kind of unified interface for managing an extended workforce that can include a variety of workers with different employment status, from contractors and freelancers to full-time employees. As many companies work with contractors — and a lot of companies are already tapping a much wider swath of workers that aren’t full-time employees — software for managing extended workforce could be increasingly valuable.

WorkMarket includes payment systems, management for extended employee networks, as well as a marketplace for piecing together a workforce that can fill the gaps for a company that’s looking to operate outside of the traditional range that full-time employees might operate. All these tools, which the startup looks to wrap into a more straightforward and less complex product, are hallmarks of a company looking to woo small businesses before they hit a point that necessitates larger and more robust workforce management products.

For ADP, it would seem to give the company that traditionally specializes in payroll another tool to convince enterprises to use it as part of a larger system of workforce products. While ADP has been a larger incumbent, these kinds of acquisitions are important to show that it can be agile and compete with smaller companies that are gobbling up small businesses by pitching easier-to-use tools that help remove the headache of implementing complicated systems.

WorkMarket, founded in 2010, has raised more than $50 million from firms like Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. The startup raised $25 million from Accenture and Foundry Group in April last year. The most recent funding round valued the company at $72 million, according to PitchBook.

Featured Image: Randall Schwanke/Shutterstock