Categories
Pop Culture Technology

Facebook’s GIPHY Acquisition is Evil Genius

I’ve seen a decent amount of bewilderment as to why Facebook would spend $400, 000 on an acquisition of GIPHY.

Honestly, I find it surprising that so many people would be confused by this because truthfully, it’s a brilliant strategic move.

To understand why, one only needs to look at all the ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons that litter the web currently.

Even when you’re not using Facebook, every ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ button on the web uses browser cookies, IP addresses, and a host of other methods to track your behavior. These embedded pixels monitor almost your entire browsing experience and report it back to Facebook, who then uses it to profile you to better target ads at you.

But as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself has pointed out:

“I believe the future is private,”

https://www.wired.com/story/f8-zuckerberg-future-is-private/

This is remarkably prescient and brilliant positioning. Because from a PR perspective, it makes it seem like Facebook is moving towards caring about privacy, when that is not really what he means at all.

In the last few years, we have seen the rise of tools like Slack and Discord to communicate and organize. These are perceived as “private” communities to users. And they represent a challenge for Facebook because our behavior in them is cut off from their data mining.

For Zuckerberg, “the future is private” is a challenge the company faces, not a business opportunity. Facebook’s continued growth requires a way to peer into our private communities.

So how do you find a way to track things that go on inside those walled gardens?

Same way you would the web: Tracking pixels.

And who has a large market share of image files embedded in closed chat conversations and “private” communities?

GIPHY.

Categories
General Pop Culture Technology

Thoughts on Steve

On April 1st, 2011, I walked out of the doors of The North Michigan Avenue Apple store as an employee for the last time.

My fellow employees were lined up from the glass staircase to the doorway, leaving me no choice but to walk down the middle between them. As I approached, they began to clap and cheer at full intensity. I had been a part of this ritual countless times in my six and a half years with the company, so I knew it was coming. Still, it took every fiber of my being to stay composed. I bolted for the door, and when I finally got there, I turned around, looked back at my friends, and threw my arms in the air to wave goodbye one last time.

Seconds later, I turned the corner. Once I knew I was out of the view of my colleagues, I let loose and full-on wept.

I couldn’t hold it back. Working for Apple was more than a job; Apple was a family. Apple still is my family. I have met some of the most important people in my life through Apple. Mentors, friends, lovers… you name it.

Apple allowed me to put my creative energies to use. It enabled me to move halfway across the country to start over, and it inspired me to strike out on my own.

I learned more working for Apple than I did through all of college and high school combined. I grew more as a person than I could have possibly imagined. Apple filled me with memories and experiences that I will cherish until I die. All of that, those people and memories are a part of me; many of them mean more than anything else ever will. I wouldn’t trade any of it, the good or the bad, for anything.

This morning I woke up in a hostel in Bruges and heard the news. I looked at Twitter, and it was filled with loving, thoughtful comments and not a single one in poor taste. I then looked through Instagram, and it was flooded with photo tributes. Every news site was filled with articles and comments regarding his passing.

And I wept.

I never met the man, I never even saw him in person (though I apparently stood right next to him and didn’t know it), and yet there I was standing on a picturesque bridge in the middle of Bruges on a dreary, cold day openly weeping.

My friend Nick today, posted on his Facebook regarding Steve’s death. He mused on how people feel like they know someone in the public eye when they don’t know their internal person. He said that he hopes Jobs was as good in person as we all like to think he was. I would like to counter that point.

That one man who Nick claims I didn’t know, whom I never met and who probably didn’t even know I existed, profoundly changed my life for the better. For that, I am eternally grateful.

When I heard of his retirement, I did something that I swore as an employee I would never do.

I emailed him.

It was just a simple thank you, basically saying a lot of the things I’m saying here. I have no idea if he read it, and I never will. And that’s okay. I didn’t need anything from him. I didn’t need to know him personally. The Steve I knew, the Apple I knew… it gave me more than enough.

Thank you Steve.

Categories
Technology

iRobot understands that sales and support are one.

In recent weeks I’ve been working hard at cleaning my apartment, throwing things out and simplifying constantly. My hope is that if I really manage to throw out stuff, organize and streamline I’ll be able to keep the place in better shape consistently.

So far, so good.

That said a big part is just general cleanliness. To which I owe much of my help on my Roomba 530 cleaning robot.

I’ve had the little guy for around 3 years and have gotten used to doing routine maintenance to clean it and keep it running smoothly. However, recently one of my brushes broke. It’s completely removable so I decided I could just order a new one and install it myself.

However when I went to the site they didn’t have the brush I needed (6 bristles for a 500 series). I figured it had to be there, I was just missing something. Confused, I called their sales line to attempt to order the proper part.

When I got the rep on the phone he immediately introduced himself and asked for my name. I explained to him that I was having this issue with my 530 and I couldn’t find the proper part. He apologized and informed me that it was a common issue and that the part had actually been redesigned to a stronger three brush design and knew exactly which part I needed.

A few moments later I had ordered the parts I needed (and some extra filters) and I was off the phone with the receipt in my inbox.

Sounds pretty simple right? Here is what stood out for me:

  • The employee lead with a friendly greeting that did not at all seem forced. He didn’t at all seem annoyed that I didn’t know what part I really needed.
  • I was calling sales with what was essentially a support issue and he was able acknowledge my concerns, tell me why I was having trouble and offer me a solution in a matter of moments.
  • The transaction was fast! I spent no time on hold, I was on the line, speaking to someone and had everything resolved in less than 5 minutes.

Too often these days companies separate their sales and support to a degree that one department cannot assist you with both without transferring you. In my experience today it was no trouble at all. The employee was clearly spoken and genuine. You could tell he was not reading from a script, he had his own friendly personality showing through. The experience did a lot to impress me with their company, obviously so much so that I felt to write a blog entry. I will happily recommend them to friends and family now too. Other companies could learn a thing or two from iRobot.

Thanks iRobot!

Categories
Photography Technology

‘nofollow’, I Don’t Follow

Example of nofollow on flickr

When Google announced it would support the “nofollow” HTML attribute back in 2005, I was pleased. Blog spam was (and still is) a major problem. The invention of “nofollow” took a lot of bite out of the usefulness of comments for spammers. It seemed like the right move at the time, and looking at it now; it still makes a lot of sense. I can’t imagine how bad things would be without it.

For the unfamiliar, “nofollow” is an attribute that can be assigned to links on websites. This attribute, when recognized by Google, causes the link to be ignored in Google’s index, thus preventing it from contributing to the sites “PageRank” score on Google. Therefore, in theory, leading to more relevant search results.

Here is my gripe, when Google announced this feature, it did so under the stated guise of “Preventing Comment Spam,” but it’s turned out to be abused. There are those who would argue that “nofollow” has become a tool that creates an unfair balance where higher trafficked sites don’t share traffic with lower-ranked ones. Now I’m not saying that “nofollow” should go away but that it should be used less. Why am I complaining? Because three of the sites I use most often implement “nofollow” in places that, while well-intentioned, work out as unfair. These sites?

TwitterFlickr and Facebook.

For starters, Facebook’s usage makes no sense. Facebook has several checks to prevent spammers from joining the service and multiple ways to report it when it happens. I am not saying they are perfect, but it has very much maintained a strong and effective walled garden. Considering that Facebook has pushed users to make more of their content public (while also having major issues with privacy), it is downright unfair that they will not allow a PageRank incentive for this.

At first glance, however, the inclusion of “nofollow” does seem logical for Flickr and Twitter. The ease of access to these sites makes them obvious targets for spammers. In the case of Twitter, a platform with a substantial spam problem, “nofollow” seems like a practical solution to de-incentivise spamming. At least in the short term.

Despite this reasoning, I still believe it to be the wrong solution.

Flickr is a publishing system, and some users use it as a blog with very long written posts to accompany their photography. Yet Flickr automatically attaches “nofollow” to any link posted anywhere on its site, even in the user’s written content.

With every photograph I post on my Flickr account, I include a link to a related blog entry whenever possible. These things directly relate and semantically should be linked. My analytics also clearly show this has been effective for increasing my readership. A significant portion of my traffic comes from these Flickr links. Yet, Google ignores them because of the “nofollow” attribute. The same with Twitter.

Doesn’t this go against the whole spirit of “nofollow”? In my opinion, it is lazy and unfair, especially as a Flickr Pro user. I’m paying for a service that is going out of its way to prevent me from getting PageRank from it. That’s a bunch of crap.

There is another way to look at this, though. One could argue that PageRank is doing the opposite of its intention and hurting Google’s relevance. The three biggest traffic sources to this site are Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr; these account for almost 50% of my traffic, however, Google’s mysterious PageRank algorithm ignores these sources, thus making it harder for my site to gain relevance in search results. Isn’t this leading to an inaccuracy in what’s “relevant?”

“nofollow” is used almost ubiquitously by any service that has an easy sign-up system. Therefore it is creating a tiered system on the web that takes away power from user-generated content and gives more strength to those who have a greater technical knowhow. There are many out there who will never understand how to set up a blogging platform such as WordPress or MovableType but can easily get a Twitter, Flickr, or Facebook account. Why should their voice matter less to PageRank? And on the flip-side, why should a major media outlet matter more? Isn’t this working against the democracy of the web?

How do we decide what is signal and what is noise? Surely just because something is easier to do doesn’t make it less relevant, does it? Can’t we come up with a better technological solution that empowers users not punishes them for their lack of tech-savvy?

Categories
Design General Technology

“F#¢k Thomas Edison. Seriously.” OR Death, Humor and Subism

This got me thinking last night, especially when contrasted with this. Tesla’s letterhead is striking, artistic, and thought-provoking. Edison, however goes for a more distinguished look that I think is boring, unoriginal, and lacking creativity.

Those who know me will tell you, in addition to being a design nerd, that I’ve got a quirky sense of humor. This is often misinterpreted and rubs people the wrong way because I tend to appear like an opinionated jerk. In reality, I like to challenge people’s ways of thinking, I enjoy arguing strange or absurd points and do so with a passion. I don’t always agree with the point I’m making, but I enjoy provoking someone sure of their beliefs out of their comfort zone.

I have been known to joke about the concept of death, and I am fascinated by people’s seriousness around the topic. Whether you are religious or not (I’m not), death to me has always seemed like just another phase of life. I’ve lost people I love and in some pretty tragic ways, and I don’t make light of that. However, when I talk of my death, I want people to chuckle, I don’t want to be mourned. I’d much rather there be a big party in my honor than a grieving. I want my sense of humor to be reflected; normal is boring.

I’m very fortunate to have made some amazing friends who, thankfully, appreciate my antagonistic behavior and sense of humor. In the event of my death, I’ve made two of them, Dan and Christine, responsible for certain things.  Dan, I’ve asked to eulogize me but only if he leads off with the following:

“John was not a great man, he wasn’t even a good man, but he did have a really sweet setup for his Sega Dreamcast”

The thing is, I’m not kidding. Dan thinks I am, but I’m not. I’ve made him promise to say that under penalty of haunting. IE: If he doesn’t say it, and there is a way for me to do it, I will haunt him from the afterlife. And believe me, I will, he knows it too, and assuming he outlives me, Dan has reluctantly agreed.

The other ritual in the event if my death is my headstone inscription, for which Christine is responsible. To explain that, you need to understand something else.

I hate Thomas Edison.

Yeah, I know, pretty random. That statement tends to piss off or confuse people. Especially coming from someone who works in technology, claims to be a Buddhist (it’s called “practicing” for a reason), and tries not to use the word “hate” anymore.

But seriously, fuck Thomas Edison.

I’m not discounting his impact on the world at large; I just think the man was an asshole. We grow up being taught a lot of things in elementary school that we accept as truths that later in life, we often learn the horrible reality about. Need an example? Christopher Columbus was a brutal murder who discovered nothing, Gandhi beat his wife, and Sylvester Stallone is not that tall in person.

People tend not to know the truth about Edison. The more I learn about him, the more respect I have for him as a businessman and the less respect I have for him as an actual human being. It doesn’t take much research to learn that Edison is a thief who ripped off the bulk of the work he is credited for and employed thugs to do his dirty work.

However, when I tell this to people (especially those from New Jersey) they often don’t believe me, “How could you seriously speak ill of ‘The father of invention?!'”

Then I show them this:

They usually get it then.

Yes, Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant to show the “superiority” of his direct current vs. Nikola Tesla’s alternating current. Edison’s rivalry with Tesla is extremely well documented, and the man went to outlandish lengths to prove himself right, to discredit Tesla and to destroy his life.

In the end, Edison was wrong, but he managed to nearly erase Tesla from the popular vernacular. To this day, most in our society have no clue who Tesla was and think of Edison when they think of electricity.

Learning of this made me rethink much of what I thought I knew. I love occurrences like that, stuff that subvert and disrupt the status quo and evoke thought. That, to me, is what subism is about.

It’s because of my beliefs as a subist and these enlightening truths that I want my death not to be taken seriously. I’d rather make someone laugh at society or think than cry for me. This is why I’ve also made Christine responsible inscription on my headstone, which will read exactly as follows:

“Fuck Thomas Edison. Seriously.”

If that offends you, good. If it makes you smile, even better.