A Conversation With Mark Zuckerberg

On strategy. Interesting throughout. “On mobile, people want different things. Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for. And the real estate is so small. In mobile there’s a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences. So what we’re doing with Creative Labs is basically unbundling the big blue app” (Metered paywall) (1,670 words)

Virtual Reality Renaissance

Facebook’s $2bn purchase of Oculus Rift confirms the new surge of interest in virtual reality. But when VR technologies were first popularised in the early 1990s, they tanked, at least for consumer products. Why? Mainly because the 486MHz personal computers of the day just weren’t powerful enough to do the rendering; and everything was expensive. This time it’s different: the power is there and the product is cheap (2,800 words)

Vinyl Is Great — But Not Better Than CDs

CDs and vinyl do sound different. That’s not because vinyl records are in some way more authentic; on the contrary; CDs transcribe more accurately, especially since compression algorithms have improved. The “warmth” that some listeners find in vinyl records is probably introduced by recording engineers who, in mastering for vinyl, routinely cut back on extreme high and low ends and filter out sibilance (1,820 words)

Alain De Botton: What News?

De Botton is “a romantic” with the sensibility of an “an oversensitive child” and a taste for the “grandiose statement”. He has written books already on philosophy, romantic love, architecture, travel, social status, and work. His latest, The News: A User’s Manual, is the laziest and shallowest of all his works. It “delivers a lofty vision of journalists serving as gentle self-help gurus rather than purveyors of fact”. (1,620 words)

The Front Page 2.0

If you had told newspapers publishers in 1994 that they could soon cut printing costs to near-zero, they’d have jumped at the offer. Which duly happened; but the resulting competition has ruined most incumbents. “Instead of being the only newspaper in town, every English-language newspaper in the world is competing with every other one”. So be it. If two or three great world newspapers survive, that’s enough (2,000 words)

Algorithmic Journalism Magazine Generates Free Newspaper

Project for a roving machine which will attend events at Milan Design Week, listen to speakers, transcribe what they say with voice-recognition software, pull in social media references via hashtags, roll everything into a PDF, and use a laser printer to produce an instant conference newspaper. The content management system is called FOMO, for “fear of missing out”. (520 words)

Is There A Wonk Bubble?

Eggheads win the media. Nate Silver’s 538 and Ezra Klein’s Vox lead the way. Coming soon: David Leonhardt’s Upshot, and Jonathan Cohn’s policy site at New Republic. Is it a bubble? No, it’s the internet: “People who are interested in the minutiae of policy can talk to each other without having to worry about why the average reader should care. On the Internet, there’s no such thing as the average reader” (2,330 words)

Letterman’s Last Great Moment

David Letterman’s announcement of his retirement was one of the great moments in television: “There was stunned silence. Two solid seconds of quiet felt like two hundred. The spiritual king of late night was stepping down.” Jay Leno had the bigger audience, but he never matched Letterman’s mystique. “The old man told a story, then a second story, then a third story, and suddenly, he was gone” (2,550 words)

A Case For Micropayments

Readers want a frictionless online payment system for buying individual items of paid content, as an alternative to time-based subscriptions. Publishers should want that too: “When users are given a pay-as-you-go option to pay for a single piece of content (rather than a long-term subscription), nearly 9% of the casual visitors do so, compared to 1% to 2% of the same pool of users who buy subscriptions” (3,900 words)

Biblio Bizarre: Who Publishes In Google Books

Large-scale book digitisation makes Ngrams possible; but it also makes Ngrams obsolete for analysing literature later than 2000. Digitisation “changes what a book is in ways that makes the selection criteria for Ngrams — if it made it into print, it must have some significance — completely meaningless. Minor decisions about whether an e-book actually exists or not can cause shifts in 40% of the corpus” (680 words)

Ian Hamilton’s Brilliance, Busted

Reflections on the short and troubled life of The New Review, a glossy 1970s London arts magazine whose editor, Ian Hamilton, combined brilliant commissioning with disastrous management. A single issue included articles by Isaiah Berlin, Philip Larkin and A.J.P. Taylor. It was, “depending on your point of view, either the best literary periodical of the past fifty years or an elitist folly lavishly bankrolled by the taxpayer.” (4,730 words)

Upvoting The News

How Reddit handles breaking news. Case study of an earthquake in California. “There is a threshold for how quickly a breaking news post can make it to the default front page, as it needs to gain traction through many votes to reach the proper level of visibility via Reddit’s algorithms. So Reddit ends up being much slower to present the breaking news topic than, say, Twitter, where breaking news can appear directly in tweets” (2,580 words)

Crafting Link Underlines

Underlining a word ought to be pretty simple; and on the page, it is. But on the screen, when you are aiming for perfection, and when your purpose is not to emphasise, but rather to signal unobtrusively that something is clickable, and you want the effect to look identical across a range of web browsers — then you have a job on your hands. Here’s how Medium‘s designer and coders spent a month getting tiny lines right (2,120 words)

Automating Layouts At Flipboard

Flipboard developer explains the platform’s new layout engine, which chooses from more than 2,000 pre-designed page layouts to find the optimal fit for each page, and the optimal mix of pages, for the given content. “We achieve far better results by fitting content to a large set of designer-created layouts rather than approximating layouts with a more pure algorithmic approach such as linear constraints” (1,540 words)

Everything About Me Is Movies

IMDb, the world’s biggest film database, has become “Hollywood’s memory”. It is also increasingly part of Hollywood’s future: Producers, directors, algorithms use IMDb data to plan, approve, cast, sell new films. Col Needham, a “shy computer programmer”, started IMDb in 1990 by uploading his personal movie log to an internet bulletin board. Amazon now owns it. Needham still runs it, and is still “Hitchcock-obsessed” (2,430 words)

I Was Modern Once

On the transition from old to new media. Rude, shrewd and very funny. “Reading the internet feels increasingly like sitting on the bog in the 1980s reading a novelty book of showbiz facts that never ends. In five years’ time all news articles will consist of a single coloured icon you click repeatedly to make info-nuggets fly out, accompanied by musical notes, like a cross between Flappy Bird and Newsnight(900 words)

Nate Silver On Being A Fox

America’s favourite statistician describes the mission of his news site, FiveThirtyEight: “This is data journalism, capital-D. Within that, we take a foxlike approach to what data means. It’s not just numbers, but numbers are a big part of this. We think that’s a weakness of conventional journalism, that you have beautiful English language skills and fewer math skills, and we hope to rectify that balance a little bit” (2,320 words)

24/192 Music Downloads — And Why They Make No Sense

Debunking of super high-definition digital audio downloads — as planned for Neil Young’s crowdfunded Pono Player. They are too much for any human ear. “192kHz digital music files offer no benefits. They’re not quite neutral either; practical fidelity is slightly worse.” The “ludicrous” video equivalent would be a platform offering “not only the visible spectrum, but also infrared and ultraviolet” (8,100 words)

Satoshi: Why Newsweek Isn’t Convincing

Post-mortem on Newsweek‘s cover story claiming to have identified the inventor of Bitcoin. The writer, Leah McGrath Goodman, did a “huge amount of work” amassing circumstantial evidence. Her fatal error was to frame her story as a revelation of fact. She would have done much better to frame it as a quest, sharing the evidence and ending with a tentative identification of the most-plausible candidate (2,390 words)

Is The LRB The Best Magazine In The World?

Over-reaching title, and perhaps an over-fawning article, but of interest certainly to readers of the London Review Of Books. Mostly an interview with Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor and proprietor, who “regularly siphons in cash from a family trust fund” to keep the loss-making fortnightly going, and has, at 75, no plans to retire: “The editor of the New York Review Of Books is 10 years older than me. That’s what I cling to” (3,590 words)

Obituary: Mike Parker

As of director of type development at the Linotype typesetting company from 1959 to 1981, Parker turned Helvetica into “the public typeface of the modern world”, the font of choice for McDonald’s, Microsoft, Apple, Lufthansa, the IRS and the New York subway. “Type gave flavour to words: and this was a typeface that gave people confidence to navigate through swiftly changing times” (Metered paywall) (900 words)

The $19bn Poker Game

Backgrounder on Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. Jan Koum arrived at his price by measuring WhatsApp against Twitter’s market cap; then negotiated the final terms with Mark Zuckerberg in Zuckerberg’s kitchen. “Finally, on Saturday night Koum and Zuckerberg went from talking in the kitchen to the living room couch”. Which is where Zuckerberg offered $19bn, and pulled out a bottle of scotch to seal the deal (2,850 words)

The Future Of The News Business

Venture capitalist foresees a boom: “I am more bullish about the future of the news industry over the next 20 years than almost anyone I know.” The price of content may fall tenfold, but the size of the market will increase one-hundred-fold or more, thanks mainly to the growth of mobile internet. “Maybe we are entering into a new golden age of journalism, and we just haven’t recognized it yet” (3,100 words)

How Do you Get Published?

“Once upon a time, this was a very straightforward answer: 1 Write a novel; 2 Write a query letter; 3 Send the query letter to agents or to editors; 4 Rinse and repeat until said agents and editors ask to see the rest; 5 Rinse and repeat until they see the rest and ask to buy it; 6 In the case of multiple offers, speak to all parties on the phone and see which one makes you feel like the prettiest pony” (995 words)

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