The Mess at Medium

The mess at Medium
Behind the dysfunctional company famous for its routine mistreatment of writers
www.theverge.com

Last week, a partnerships manager at Medium working with the White House found that there was a strange problem with the platform: President Joe Biden was being served porn.

The manager was in a video conference with a White House staffer to discuss how Biden, who had used Medium as a campaign blog in 2020, could begin posting to the official Medium @POTUS account. While sharing his screen with the White House, the staffer logged in to @POTUS and saw the first article recommended to him by Medium: “A is for After,” which a sub-headline described as “a cuckold love story.”

[…]

The episode captured Medium in all its complexity: a publishing platform used by the most powerful people in the world; an experiment in mixing highbrow and lowbrow in hopes a sustainable business would emerge; and a devotion to algorithmic recommendations over editorial curation that routinely caused the company confusion and embarrassment.

On Tuesday, it also cost dozens of journalists their jobs. In a blog post, billionaire Medium founder Ev Williams announced the latest pivot for the nearly nine-year old company. Just over two years into an effort to create a subscription-based bundle of publications committed to high-quality original journalism — and in the immediate aftermath of a bruising labor battle that had seen its workers fall one vote short of forming a union — Williams offered buyouts to all of its roughly 75 editorial employees.

[…]

In his blog post, Williams said he “can see more focused, high-affinity publications working well as part of the Medium bundle.” But staffers I spoke with at Medium’s existing publications largely do not expect them to survive, at least in their current form. A skeleton crew of editors will likely be kept on to promote user-generated posts to the relevant sites; what once had been publications are now likely better thought of as topic pages.

Meanwhile, the company will continue to rely on Google and Facebook traffic to generate hits it can convert into paid subscribers. The acquisition of the e-book publisher, Glose, is intended to create a bigger library of “evergreen” content on Medium that will drive more traffic to the site via search engines. Like Blogger and Twitter before it, Medium will bet on unpaid labor and algorithms.

All of which might be fine to the dozens of journalists about to lose their jobs, if Williams would publicly claim some responsibility for his part in the chaos — ”this crazy ride,” as he called it yesterday. Instead, he points to changes in the industry and shrugs. The media business — what can you do?

But of the employees who remain, few are buying it.

“He keeps talking like this company founded in 2012 is a brand new startup finding its way,” one told me. “At a certain point you’re not nimble and iterating. You’re just floundering and failing to follow through and execute.”

Medium has been a mess for years, this latest pivot is just one more piece.

NFTs are a dangerous trap

NFTs are a dangerous trap
Like most traps, they’re mysterious and then appealing and then it’s too late. An NFT is digital treasure chest, a status symbol and an apparent item of value. Like a Pokemon card, or a…
seths.blog

Seth Godin:

Like most traps, they’re mysterious and then appealing and then it’s too late.

An NFT is digital treasure chest, a status symbol and an apparent item of value.

Like a Pokemon card, or an original Picasso drawing or the actual frame of a Disney animated film from 1955, NFTs are designed to be the one and only, a shred of non-fungible reality in a world gone digital.

You either own this thing or you don’t.

To make it really clear, consider Honus Wagner. A Honus Wagner baseball card is quite rare (Wagner didn’t permit the card to be made because he wanted nothing to do with cigarettes, foreshadowing some of the stuff below) and so there were fewer than 200 all in before production shut down. One of the cards last sold for more than $3,000,000.

Owning a Honus Wagner card doesn’t mean you own Honus Wagner. Or a royalty stream or anything else but the card itself.

For years, this was part of the business model of the collectible card industry. Make billions of cards, most get thrown out, some rookies get famous, some cards go up in value.

[…]

The trap, then, is that creators can get hooked on creating these. Buyers with a sunk cost get hooked on making the prices go up, unable to walk away. And so creators and buyers are then hooked in a cycle, with all of us up paying the lifetime of costs associated with an unregulated system that consumes vast amounts of precious energy for no other purpose than to create some scarce digital tokens.

New iPad Pros in April

Apple Nears Launch of New iPads After Stay-At-Home Sales Boost
Apple Inc. plans to announce new iPads as early as April, adding to a product line that has performed particularly well as people work and study from home, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
www.bloomberg.com

Mark Gurman:

Apple Inc. plans to announce new iPads as early as April, adding to a product line that has performed particularly well as people work and study from home, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The company is planning a refresh to its iPad Pro line, adding a better processor and improved cameras, the people said. The new models will look similar to the current iPad Pros and come in the same 11-inch and 12.9-inch screen sizes.

The devices will have an updated processor that is on par with the faster M1 chip in the latest MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini.

[…]

In testing, the new iPad Pros have used a Thunderbolt connector, the same port on the latest Macs with custom Apple processors. The port doesn’t require new chargers, but it would enable connectivity with additional external monitors, hard drives and other peripherals. It’s also faster at syncing data than the USB-C technology used in the current models.

[…]
Apple plans to refresh its cheapest iPad aimed at students with a thinner and lighter design later this year, Bloomberg News has reported. It’s also preparing to launch a new iPad mini with a larger screen as early as this year, an increase from the 7.9-inch display used since the first model. The iPad mini was last upgraded in 2019 with support for the Apple Pencil stylus and a faster processor.

Could be an interesting year for iPads.

Clubhouse Is Recording Your Conversations. That’s Not Even Its Worst Privacy Problem

Clubhouse Is Recording Your Conversations. That’s Not Even Its Worst Privacy Problem
The popular new social media platform is scooping up more data than you might think.
www.inc.com

Clubhouse was sort of perfectly made for the pandemic. People aren’t going out, and they’re desperately searching for social connections and entertainment. The app provides both in a way, while capitalizing on the draw of celebrity influencers on the platform.

It’s also built on one of the most effective strategies for generating buzz and excitement–scarcity. To join Clubhouse, you have to have an invite from someone who is already a member. Not only that, whoever invites you has to have your phone number and has to give Clubhouse access to their iPhone contacts. No access, no invites.

From a business standpoint, it certainly makes sense that Clubhouse is taking this approach. Building a social graph from scratch is very hard, and requiring users to upload their contacts list is the most effective way to determine connections.

There’s a problem, however. As always, the problem comes down to figuring out the right balance between protecting user privacy and the use of data to provide the best experience for both the user and the business behind the app.

In that sense, it’s worth considering that Clubhouse has a few policies that aren’t exactly privacy-friendly. Even worse is the fact that you have to do a bit of digging to even understand what those policies actually are. I reached out to Clubhouse multiple times but did not immediately receive a response to my questions about how it uses data.

[…]

It seems pretty clear that Clubhouse is getting ready to monetize the platform it’s building. That’s fair–every business should have a plan for making money. If that plan includes monetizing its users’ activity and data, I think we can all agree it should be upfront and transparent about that fact.

I’m all for Clubhouse making money, but I agree with Jason, they need to be upfront and tell people what they are using data for.

Cyberpunk and Witcher hackers claim they’ll auction off stolen source code for millions of dollars

Cyberpunk and Witcher hackers auction off stolen source code for millions of dollars
Cyberpunk 2077 source code is for sale.
www.theverge.com

Nick Statt:

The hackers who targeted video game developer CD Projekt Red (CDPR) with a ransomware attack are now auctioning off the stolen source code they acquired for a payday of potentially millions of dollars.

The breach, which CDPR first disclosed yesterday after learning of it on Monday of this week, involved critical game code related to high-profile releases like The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. CDPR said at the time that it had no intention of meeting the hackers’ demands, even if that meant stolen material from the hack began circulating online.

[…]

But a cybersecurity firm called KELA, which specializes in providing threat intelligence to companies based on analyses of dark web websites and communities, says it has reason to believe the auctions are, in fact, legitimate.

“We do believe that this is a real auction by a real seller who accessed the data. The seller offers to use a guarantor and he allows only those who have a deposit to participate — a tactic that is used by many sellers to show that they are serious and to ensure that no scam will occur,” a spokesperson for KELA tells The Verge.

[…]

KELA says the auction is offering source code files for both the Red Engine and CDPR game releases, including The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales spinoff, and the recently released Cyberpunk 2077. The stolen material is also believed to include internal documents, though it’s not clear what types of documents or additional material the full cache includes.

KELA says the starting price of the auction is $1 million, with higher bids in increments of $500,000 and a buy-it-now price of $7 million. Only users who deposit 0.1 bitcoin can participate, which is why Kivilevich believes the hackers are serious about hosting the auction and that the material for sale is likely legitimate because it ensures nobody participating in the auction is trying to scam the sellers

Projekt Red just can’t catch a break.

Jeff Bezos Walks Through a One-Way Door, Opening a New Age for Amazon

Bloomberg:

The walls of his highly compartmentalized empire have been crumbling for some time. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be Jeff Bezos (at least by Bezos’s standards). He presides over a collection of properties that spans not only Amazon but The Washington Post, several philanthropies and a space company, Blue Origin LLC, that lags far behind its chief rival, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

A Cyberpunk 2077 security exploit makes installing mods risky business

A Cyberpunk 2077 security exploit makes installing mods risky business
“Please refrain from using files from unknown sources”
www.theverge.com

CD Projekt Red has warned players that installing Cyberpunk 2077 mods or custom save files on the PC could pose a security risk (via Kotaku). According to the company’s tweet, there’s apparently a “vulnerability in external DLL files the game uses which can be used to execute code on PCs.” The game’s official mod tools were just released last week.

The company warns users not to install files from unknown sources, though as Kotaku points out, that pretty much rules out all mods unless you can read and understand their code. When you’re dealing with a vulnerability that could potentially lead to arbitrary code running on your computer, it’s probably best not to risk it until a fix is available.

This game just can not get a break it seems.

Google killing Tilt Brush VR painting app but…

The Future of Tilt Brush
Tilt Brush, Google’s virtual reality painting application, has collaborated with amazing creators over the years.
opensource.googleblog.com

Tilt Brush, Google’s virtual reality painting application, has collaborated with amazing creators over the years, many of whom were part of our Artist in Residence Program. We have tremendous pride for all those collaborations, and the best part has been watching our community learn from each other and develop their abilities over the years.

As we continue to build helpful and immersive AR experiences, we want to continue supporting the artists using Tilt Brush by putting it in your hands. This means open sourcing Tilt Brush, allowing everyone to learn how we built the project, and encouraging them to take it in directions that are near and dear to them.

I’ve enjoyed using Tilt Brush on the Oculus Quest so will be interesting to see how this continues as an open source project.

Why Is Apple Dropping the Ball on Cloud Gaming?

Cloud Gaming… It’s kind of where things are going. Consoles are great but being able to seamlessly pick up your game and keep playing on other devices makes them even greater.

Google has Stadia, which has been a fantastic cloud gaming experience so far, especially when it can be used on Chromecast, Android devices and from the browser.

Microsoft has xCloud which was bundled into their Gamepass Ultimate which lets you take selected included games you use via Gamepass on your xbox to your Android devices.

Nvidia has GeForce Now, which is one of the first cloud gaming platforms.

Amazon even has their cloud gaming platform Luna that is starting to come out.

And Apple?

Apple has Apple Arcade, which when it was announced, some Apple fans said would blow Stadia out of the water, but since Apple Arcade is really just a pass to play exclusive games via the app store. Google even has this as their Play Pass.

Notice I mentioned Android devices and not iOS devices?Apple gets weird with their cloud gaming rules. Really weird.

According to Apple, the primary reason why it wouldn’t allow Stadia, Gamepass, and GeForce Now into the App Store is this: its App Store rules require developers to submit each and every game individually so they can be reviewed and listed as apps in Apple’s App Store. If they didn’t want to do that, then they were out.

Back in September, Apple added these rules:

4.9.1: Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app so that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, has user ratings and review, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental control apps, appears on the user’s device, etc.

4.9.2 Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app adheres to all guidelines, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase and use Sign in with Apple. All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.

“What’s so wrong with listing cloud games on the App Store,” you might wonder? Well, it’s a whole lot of work with little benefit for Microsoft and Google, to start.

They have to individually submit every single game, create App Store pages for each one, and hand the customer relationship to Apple — instead of just beaming their ready-made platform into an iOS device the same way they beam it into an Android device right now.

Oh, and then there’s rule 3.1.2(a):

3.1.2(a): Games offered in a streaming game service subscription must be downloaded directly from the App Store, must be designed to avoid duplicate payment by a subscriber, and should not disadvantage non-subscriber customers.

Ok, let’s start with “downloaded directly from the App Store”,  Apple doesn’t mean that games have to run locally on the iPhone — they can still be thin-client cloud games harnessing the power of remote servers to produce AAA graphics.

We have seen this already with Square Enix using a service called G-cluster to wrap a thin-client cloud game like Final Fantasy XIII on the App Store

But the point of cloud gaming is that you want to jump directly into a game within one app, like they do with movies or songs and not have to download over 100 apps to play different games from the cloud.

Why all the hate on cloud gaming from Apple?

Why doesn’t Apple require other subscription services to do this? Netflix? Prime? Youtube? Spotify? Twitch?  Why aren’t they under the same restrictions as gaming?

I guess this is getting into rant territory but really, what is with the hate?