business model

The Business Model (Social Distortion)

[#SinCity]

Ninamori eats a popsicle. (Detail of FLCL episode 5, 'Brittle Bullet')

This is the rule: You are not allowed to feel surprised at the state of things.

We’ve arrived at the sad, dumb point in history at which the only thing less surprising than acts of mass violence are the ways in which our planet’s mega information distributors muck everything up with ensuing frauds, hoaxes, and confusion. The problem is thoroughly identified: Facebook, Google, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter have the quality control of a yard sale and the scale of a 100,000 Walmarts. But despite all our railing and shaming, these companies have a major disincentive to reform: money.

In the wake of yet another American massacre, this time in Las Vegas, media scrutiny is aimed once more at Facebook, Google, and Twitter, for the same old reasons. The sites, time after time, and this time once more, served up algorithmic links to websites peddling deliberate lies and bottom-feeder misinformation. These companies provided an untold mass of online users with falsehoods posing as news resources, as is completely normal now and only noteworthy because it was pegged to a heinous national tragedy. The discussion will now swing from “This is bad” to “What can be done?”, and we can expect all the typically empty pro forma reassurance from Silicon Valley public relations offices. Don’t expect much more.

(Biddle)

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A Note About Software

Detail of frame from 'Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor' episode 8, "Twinkling Sun on a Summer Day …"

It is true I really, really don’t understand the bit about how software gets to decide, arbitrarily, when to function or not.

Obviously, that’s not really the case, but I don’t get why simple functions like writing proper data to files randomly escape various applications’ faculties. It would seem that the basic functions of the software ought to include working properly, but as people I know in the industry remind, that’s just not fair. Making software is really hard, and nothing is written to standard because there are no standards despite the fact that the industry has formal standards.

This is not necessarily, then, a software issue. Rather, it seems a matter of the business model.

Nor am I being fair; not all software is written to the nickel and dime prime directive informing the decisions of the tech sector in general.

Look, if I’m doing something really complicated? Yeah, occasionally the software is going to glitch up. But I’m sorry, while software is really, really hard to do, that line becomes something of a head scratcher when the issue is why saving files properly is somehow too much to ask of software.

Because I don’t understand this. The best work-around at present is stop production and wait for the update. Spending for alternative software is not always feasible.

Honestly, if expecting your application to properly save data is asking too much, look, I’m not going to drive a stake through your heart, or anything, but come on. What’s the problem? You and I both know the answer isn’t to say that software is hard to do. We both know this is a problem has to do with the business model.

The joke used to be, Good enough for government work. These days it is, Good enough for the tech sector.

This is what it comes down to: Creating software is essentially a matter of setting billions of switches properly according to intricate designs. It is not worth the investment to actually do this properly.

Update: It would seem a bug believed fixed seven years ago is once again in play. Workaround: Figure out which non-alphanumeric characters―especially Unicode resolutions like u2026 (ellipsis)―do or don’t write properly to image file comment data. You know, where you might put copyright information. Good luck. [8 Aug. 2016]

Pedantry in High Dudgeon

D City Rock: Detail of frame from "Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt", 'Help! We Are Angels', by TeddyLoin featuring Debra Zeer.

“In a press release Thursday, the committee accused the Pentagon of not being upfront about what it knew:”

Amanda Terkel

This is a pet peeve.

Look: “Upfront” is not a word.

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Baked Lettuce, and the Decline of Western Civilization

This is a human weakness.Who cares if the internet is really mad at Nigella Watson?  Detail of Huffington Post sidebar, 17 November 2015.

In the first place, I loathe badly-written headlines, and Huffington Post specializes in that.

There is also the pedantic fact that “the Internet” doesn’t get angry at anyone. Naturally, we get what they mean, but still, it’s a really, really dumb headline, and HuffPo ought to be embarrassed; its editors would probably do the site―and the rest of humanity―some good by filing their resignations.

Additionally, we might offer the following consideration:

People really feel strongly about putting lettuce in the oven.

The Internet wept as they watched Nigella Lawson bake some lettuce leaves and subsequently add insult to injury by placing a fried egg on top.

The chef made her version of a Caesar salad on her BBC show “Simply Nigella” and it did not go over easy with fans. Her recipe consisted of lettuce baked in the oven with anchovies and garlic, all topped with the aforementioned egg. This strays from the traditional formula, which involves fresh lettuce, croutons and a white dressing.

Outraged viewers took to Twitter, decrying Nigella for her offensive, senseless actions.

Speaking of being embarrassed, we can only wonder if writing about people wringing their hands and losing their minds because Nigella put lettuce in the oven is what Samantha Guff had in mind when she undertook her editorial fellowship at Huffington Post. Much like being relegated to penning articles about plot holes in Star Wars, we might wonder if Ms. Guff finds herself enduring those excruciating moments in which she wonders if her parents were right, and she should have skipped journalism for something more useful.

To the other, I was dumb enough to click the lettuce link, and it doesn’t help to suggest I did so fully expecting to write a blog post about it. (No, really, one need not be a scholar to recognize wasted journalism from afar; promoted content is a particular sensitivity of mine, and the Hufffington Post sidebar is particularly odious. Something about dead fish in a barrel goes here.)

Look, bad journalism is one thing. And, yes, HuffPo’s need to suggest godawful content is the sort of thing Arianna owes her readers fiercely for. The age of the internet has brought us tremendous informational resources; unfortunately, our market priorities demand we squander them. Seriously, as much as I might pick on Sophie Bartholomew, Anisa Subedar, Marion Edney, and Danny Beckwith for being hilariously useless human beings, I also acknowledge it’s a thin pretense for wasting my own time. So, you know, let’s blame Samantha. And she, in turn, can point to her editors. And they, in turn, can tell Arianna what a wonderful person she is, and how her shit doesn’t stink. Honestly, who looks at a potentially infinite idea and sets up a business model to waste as much of it as humanly possible?

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Guff, Samantha. “Internet Is Mad At Nigella Lawson For Putting Lettuce In The Oven”. The Huffington Post. 17 November 2015.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey.  (Detail of undated photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images)

Define “brilliant”.

Or, as Traci Mann explains for Science of Us, in considering Oprah Winfrey’s investment in Weight Watchers:

Winfrey’s venture is, in fact, a brilliant investment, although not necessarily for the reason she thinks. It’s brilliant not because Weight Watchers works but because it doesn’t. It’s the perfect business model. People give Weight Watchers the credit when they lose weight. Then they regain the weight and blame themselves. This sets them up to join Weight Watchers all over again, and they do.

The company brags about this to its shareholders. According to Weight Watchers’ business plan from 2001 (which I viewed in hard-copy form at a library), its members have “demonstrated a consistent pattern of repeat enrollment over a number of years,” signing up for an average of four separate program cycles. And in an interview for the documentary The Men Who Made Us Thin, former CFO Richard Samber explained that the reason the business was successful was because the majority of customers regained the weight they lost, or as he put it: “That’s where your business comes from.”

Financially, this might seem like a good investment, though “brilliant” is a subjective term. However, part of Oprah Winfrey’s success and fame comes from a pretense of being constructive within the context of society, and signing on to profit from this sort of crass exploitation inflicting powerful human tolls reminds us what she is really made of.

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Image note: Oprah Winfrey. (Detail of undated photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images)

Mann, Tracy. “Oprah’s Investment in Weight Watchers Was Smart Because the Program Doesn’t Work”. Science of Us. 29 October 2015.