The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

BuzzFeed’s Business Model

BuzzFeed is worth at least its latest $850 million valuation, and probably much more. It’s a media company, but it’s not (primarily) a content company; its core competence is the technology of marketing. BuzzFeed proves with its content that it knows how to reach huge, young, mobile audiences. Then “it can then sell that secret sauce to advertisers, and help them reach the same audience, using the same tools” (1,320 words)

Amazon, Price And Value

Publisher defends the virtues of traditional books. “Books are the only medium for thick descriptions of the world that human beings possess. By ‘thick’ description, I mean an extended, detailed, evidence-based, written interpretation of a subject. If you want to write a feature, or blog, or wikipedia entry, in the end you will have to refer to a book. Authors and publisher-curators are in the civilisation business” (1,230 words)

You Are Not Too Late

Imagine being an online entrepreneur in 1985, when nothing had been invented and every dotcom name was available for free. Paradise. But come 2044, we’re likely to feel the same about 2014: All the great stuff of the future is still to be invented. Barriers to innovation are lower than ever. “The last 30 years has created a marvellous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. You are not too late” (760 words)

Let’s Fly

How to survive air travel. In brief: Get there early, bring a face-mask and ear-plugs. “Authorities recommend arriving two hours before international flights. I say four. Get there four hours before your flight. Your friends laugh at you. Have patience. You are hacking the airport by arriving early, knowing that all the work you could have done at home — the emails or writing or photo editing — can be done at the airport” (1,280 words)

The Secret Of Minecraft

To know how to play Minecraft, you have to know how to play Minecraft. It isn’t intuitive; there is no in-game tutorial. The knowledge passes between players, and gets codified in third-party books and websites. The purpose of acquiring this arcane knowledge is not to beat the game, but to continue the game, to build new things. Minecraft is telling us something encouraging about our cultural needs (1,300 words)

How To Flawlessly Predict Anything

It’s easy. So long as you are predicting an event with a limited number of outcomes, you predict all possible outcomes and then take credit only for the prediction that comes true. On the internet you can delete the wrong predictions, leave the correct prediction in place with timestamps, and make your claim even more plausible. Which leads to a rule of thumb: “Never trust a prediction revealed after its outcome” (900 words)

The Real 10 Algorithms That Dominate Our World

An algorithm is a “well-defined computational procedure that takes some value, or set of values, as input and produces some value, or set of values, as output”. The first stage in data processing is usually to get the input values sorted — which is why Merge Sort, invented by John von Neumann in 1945, is probably the hardest-working algorithm in the world today, along with its close cousins Quick Sort and Heap Sort (1,900 words)

How Are Apps Made?

“Enumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns — you can’t scrape our content! you can’t monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation” (1,030 words)

I Know Times Are Changing

Revisiting Purple Rain, title track of the album that made Prince a superstar, 30 years on. Prince merges moods and motifs from other artists to create a song pretty much guaranteed to send a shiver down every spine. There’s a flavour of Bob Seger in there; a big dose of Journey, an echo of J. Geils. Other stars have returned the compliment, with Alicia Keys and Maria Carey among those borrowing phrases from Purple Rain (3,630 words)

Friending The App Store

Each week 300 million visit the iOS App Store, but discovery remains primitive — a selection hand-picked by Apple staff, a stagnant list of bestsellers. That worked for 500 apps in 2008. But with 1.2 million apps in 2014 it’s bad for users and bad for developers. Please, Apple, bootstrap the social graph, introduce more social discovery. Yes, Ping. But Ping failed because of bad execution, not because it was a bad idea (960 words)

Fire Phone At The Farmers’ Market

Amazon’s new Fire phone is inspiring, in a way: You point it at an object, it recognises the object. But it’s also spiritually depressing: The things it recognises best are manufactured goods, preferably with a bar code. It recognises a frozen bag of chips in the supermarket; it doesn’t recognise fresh kale. All the more reason to load up Pete Warden’s app, Deep Learning, which will teach your Fire phone about real life (880 words)

Post-Money Evaluations

How to be a venture capitalist. Lessons learned from two years as an analyst with Union Square Ventures. “VC is about story recognition. Remember the anecdotes (and how they’re resolved), because history often repeats itself”. “If your investment thesis can’t be summarized in 140 characters, you’re being too prescriptive”. “Avoid companies where there are diminishing marginal returns to data” (2,220 words)

Syntactic Sugar: Apple And Ottolenghi

Why do geeks love new programming languages — such as Apple’s Swift? “New languages are exciting because they’re challenging but eminently conquerable; because they promise a fresh start, a better way of working, thinking, maybe even of living; and if none of that comes to pass, well, at least you had fun ogling the documentation. In other words, they’re just like new cookbooks” (718 words)

Rem Koolhaas: “I Hate Being An Architect”

Unusual profile of architect Rem Koolhaas, addressing primarily the question of whether he is “a very unpleasant man”. The answer: not intentionally, but he may be too cool for this world. “His body language wreaks immediate confusion. Will he turn left? No he goes right, then stays put. Alpha males acknowledge the super alpha male: the man next to whom Rem finally comes to a halt beams as if he has just won the lottery” (5,690 words)

How Citibike Is Like Ecuador

Deep dive into why New York’s bike-rental scheme is wobbling badly. Much useful wisdom about public-private partnerships. Basic problem: the private operator is incompetent, but can’t be dislodged, because there isn’t an alternative. The renting formalities are so complex that they repel casual users who are meant to provide the profits. The “Citibike” branding has been so successful that no secondary sponsors can be found (2,240 words)

On The Future Of Metafilter

Founder explains the crisis. Most Metafilter traffic came from Google searches; almost all revenues from Google Adsense. Eighteen months ago Google tweaked its algorithms; Metafilter traffic fell 40% overnight. No explanation, no appeal. “I have to assume whatever hidden law we broke we’re still breaking, or that Google sees us as a home for comment spam even though we boot every single one we can find” (2,650 words)

Obsessed With Myers-Briggs

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a test designed to describe personality in bare abstract terms: introvert, extrovert, judging, perceiving etc. Recruiters love it; so do most who take it. It is rigged in the same way that horoscopes are. The assessment is always vague, ambiguous, generally flattering. “There’s no type called JERK“. It offers “a simple and ostensibly objective shortcut to the messy work of self-understanding” (2,180 words)

Great Works Of Software

“Is it possible to propose a software canon? To enumerate great works of software that are deeply influential — that changed the nature of the code that followed? I set myself the task of picking five great works of software. The criteria were simple: How long had it been around? Did people directly interact with it every day? Did people use it to do something meaningful?” The list: Office, Photoshop, Pac-Man, Unix, Emacs (3,480 words)

How To Outguess Passwords

How do you create a password that is arbitrary enough to defeat hackers, but simple enough to remember easily? Here’s a brisk guide to current practice, including a piece of immediately actionable advice: “Instead of thinking of a phrase and converting it to a password (which won’t be all that random), get a truly random password and convert it to an easy‑to-remember phrase” (3,145 words)

Trust Without Passwords

“Passwords are the new paywalls. They keep users out. Your service simply is not important enough for anyone to remember your password rules, username convention, or which email address they used to sign up for it. If you think it’s not affecting your monthly active user count, I suggest you spend more time with your users … I propose we never ask users to create another password again. Ever. For anything” (700 words)

Ten Reasons You Will Read This Medium Post

Why we love — or, at least, read — listicles. They pander to our heuristic biases. “Maybe you hated this list. Maybe you disagreed with every proposition and found it painful to continue. You could have walked away at any point between 1 and 10. But you didn’t. As you progressed you became increasingly committed to seeing this through to completion — you succumbed to the sunk cost fallacy(1,980 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)

To Russia With Love

Beguiling, rose-tinted reminiscence of the twenty-plus years spanning late Gorbachev to early Putin during which Russia was a relatively open and Western-friendly country — a period now seemingly at an end. This was a wonderful interlude especially for returning emigrés who could find in Russia, briefly, the best of their East and their West. My highest praise: I could have wished this piece were twice as long (3,670 words)

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