Apple News: A Lesson to Be Repeated?

November 15, 2019

Many years ago, there was an online service called Predicasts. The company had offices in Cleveland, Ohio, a city notable for its burning river and an interesting American football team.

But in the world of online, Predicasts was famous. File 16 on Dialog would provide a summary of numerical data located in magazine and trade journal articles.

The company discussed creating its own service in order to disintermediate itself from the commercial online vendors. I assume that most of the gentle readers of this blog do not recall Dialog Information Services, SDC, ESA Quest, and other online intermediaries. Don’t worry. I can’t remember these gatekeeper companies. Think of these outfits as the equivalent of today’s cable companies. Instead of providing access to the vast wasteland of television, users paid to look at commercial databases like Predicasts.

The anecdotal evidence which filtered to me was that Predicasts wanted to set up its own online service. But the hurdles were technology, marketing, and the lack of information about the power of the brand. Predicasts online service went no place or, at least, no place that moved the needle in the online world.

Lesson: Online was hard in the 1980s. Online is hard today. Especially when one wants to make oodles of money.

There’s a lesson here, and it is one that Apple is now trying to understand. “Apple News+ Has Struggled to Add Subscribers Since First Week of Launch in March, Sources Say” makes clear that after the “must have” subscribers signed up, others (the “we don’t care” crowd) have stayed away.

The write up states:

Apple signed on 200,000 subscribers to Apple News+ in its first 48 hours in March, but has been stuck in neutral since that time, according to people familiar with the matter.

What does this tell us?

A bunch of customers are not interested in certain types of information when it costs more and requires extra steps. These steps can be tiny, but the anti step barrier is formidable. The costs more problem is different. Price cuts will not significantly increase sign ups.

The Predicasts’ thought process may be a precursor to what Apple assumed; that is, “We are so big, lots of people will sign up.”

Nope. They won’t.

That’s the problem online presents. A monopoly has to extract revenue in a number of ways, preferably selling something like a mobile phone and a big, juicy bundle of extras as part of the deal. Another approach to wait until there are no other choices, and then introduce a text centric online service that forces those who don’t want to pay to cross over into the “okay, we will pay” zone. There are other angles as well.

But the point is: Text requires mental effort to consume. Who wants to pay for extra work. Must have information is different. No one has a choice. A lawyer has to pay to see some data. A doctor has to pay to keep up with some medical information.

News? Maybe a broker, but there is Bloomberg, Factset, and other specialists.

General news?

Apple’s lesson is that more work is needed. The MBA assumptions, the nifty Keynote decks, and the confidence of a big sleek company—obviously wrong. Back to school and repeating a grade to catch up on what was missed the first time through the course.

Stephen E Arnold, November 15, 2019

Information about Facebook Ads

November 15, 2019

Advertisements are one way companies keep tabs on their competition. Unless they resort to corporate espionage, the only way companies learn about ad campaigns is when they are shared with the public. Companies spend millions of dollars to advertise on the Facebook, which is how the social media platform generates most of its income. In fact, mobile ads bring in the most advertising profit for Facebook, accounting for 84% of their entire revenue.

Unlike other social media platforms, television, radio, and print mediums, there is tool companies can use to spy on their competition’s Facebook ad campaigns. Admin PowerAdSpy posted a YouTube video entitled, “How To Spy On Your Competitor’s Facebook Ads With The Best Ad Spy Tools In The World Power AdSpy.”

According to the video, Facebook has 2.38 billion monthly users, which is almost 1/3 of the world’s population. Since Facebook has such a large user base, it is a gold mine for companies wanting to advertise their goods and services. The video also reports there are 3 million companies with advertising campaigns on Facebook. Facebook ads have seen a 66% return on ad spend (ROAS, money spent on an ad campaign) in 2019’s first quarter.

It is becoming cheaper to advertise on Facebook and Power AdSpy claims its set of advertising spy tools will help companies improve their Facebook advertising strategy. The biggest problem is the video does not say how.

The video is obviously made by someone with a less than fluent grasp on the English language and they relied on free graphics to make a professional, albeit cheap looking video. It would be impressive for a school project, but not to sell a set of marketing tools to a company. What is even worse is that Power AdSpy claims to return heaps of cash, at least the clipart graphics promise that ROI.

Software companies at least explain how their products work in theory on advertising campaigns with the promise of more tailored solutions. Power AdPlay’s own ad campaign is less than grammatically correct. If they cannot get that part right, the product itself might be sketchy.

Whitney Grace, November 15, 2019

Remounting the Pegasus Named NSO

November 15, 2019

Those who care about security will want to check out the article, “Pegasus Spyware: All You Need to Know” from the Deccan Herald. Approximately 1,400 smartphones belonging to activists, lawyers, and journalists across four continents suffered cyber attacks that exploited a WhatsApp vulnerability, according to a statement from that company. They say the attacks used the Pegasus software made by (in)famous spyware maker NSO Group. Though the Israeli spyware firm insists only licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies use their products, WhatsApp remains unconvinced; the messaging platform is now suing NSO over this.

The article gives a little history on Pegasus and the investigation Citizen Lab and Lookout Security undertook in 2016. We learn the spyware takes two approaches to hacking into a device. The first relies on a familiar technique: phishing. The second, and much scarier, was not a practical threat until now. Writer David Binod Shrestha reports:

“The zero-click vector is far more insidious as it does not require the target user to click or open a link. Until the WhatsApp case, no example of this was seen in real-world usage. Zero-click vectors generally function via push messages that automatically load links within the SMS. Since a lot of recent phones can disable or block push messages, a workaround has evidently been developed. WhatsApp, in its official statement, revealed that a vulnerability in their voice call function was exploited, which allowed for ‘remote code execution via specially crafted series of packets sent to a target phone number.’ Basically, the phones were infected via an incoming call, which even when ignored, would install Pegasus on the device. The data packets containing the spyware code were carried via the internet connection and a small backdoor for its installation was immediately opened when the phone rang. The call would then be deleted from the log, removing any visible trace of infection. The only way you will know if your phone has been infected in the recent attacks is once WhatsApp notifies you via a message on the platform.”

Pegasus itself targets iPhones, but Android users are not immune; a version Google has called Chrysaor focuses on Android. Both versions immediately compromise nearly all the phone’s data (like personal data and passwords) and give hackers access to the mike and camera, live GPS location, keystroke logging, and phone calls. According to the Financial Times, the latest version of Pegasus can also access cloud-based accounts and bypass two-factor authentication. Perhaps most unnerving is the fact that all this activity is undetectable by the user. See the article for details on the spyware’s self-destruct mechanism.

Shrestha shares a list of suggestions for avoiding a Pegasus attack. They are oft-prescribed precautions, but they bear repeating:

“*Never open links or download or open files sent from an unknown source

*Switch off push SMS messages in your device settings

*If you own an iPhone, do not jailbreak it yourself to get around restrictions

*Always install software updates and patches on time

*Turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and locations services when not in use

*Encrypt any sensitive data located on your phone

*Periodically back up your files to a physical storage

*Do not blindly approve app permission requests”

For those who do fall victim to Pegasus, Citizen Lab suggests these remedies—they should delink their cloud accounts, replace their device altogether, change all their passwords, and take security more seriously on the new device. Ouch! Best avoid the attacks altogether.

Cynthia Murrell, November 15, 2019

Boat Anchor Productivity: The Mac Edition

November 14, 2019

Most of the young sprouts I see at Starbuck’s are using mobile phones. Nevertheless, the information in “IBM: Mac Users Are Happier and More Productive” explains that joy for IBM employees is available at the Apple store. The write up states:

IBM CIO Fletcher Previn talked up fresh IBM findings that show those of its employees who use Macs are more likely to stay with IBM and exceed performance expectations compared to PC users.

How happy? The write up reports:

MacOS users are happier with the third-party software availability within IBM — just 5% of MacOS users ask for additional software, compared to 11% of Windows users.

Sounds Garageband good. Now about:

  • The weird controls in Garageband for audio recording
  • The thrill of learning that Apple updates alter MIDI settings
  • The ecosystem weirdness of some apps in the Apple store and other apps available from vendors
  • The incredible performance degradation of apps like iTunes over time.

Yep, nothing but thrills DarkCyber like happy IBM professionals. Why aren’t these folks using IBM computers with OS/2?

Stephen E Arnold, November 14, 2019

Parsing Document: A Shift to Small Data

November 14, 2019

DarkCyber spotted “Eigen Nabs $37M to Help Banks and Others Parse Huge Documents Using Natural Language and Small Data.” The folks chasing the enterprise search pot of gold may need to pay attention to figuring out specific problems. Eigen uses search technology to identify the important items in long documents. The idea is “small data.”

The write up reports:

The basic idea behind Eigen is that it focuses what co-founder and CEO Lewis Liu describes as “small data”. The company has devised a way to “teach” an AI to read a specific kind of document — say, a loan contract — by looking at a couple of examples and training on these. The whole process is relatively easy to do for a non-technical person: you figure out what you want to look for and analyze, find the examples using basic search in two or three documents, and create the template which can then be used across hundreds or thousands of the same kind of documents (in this case, a loan contract).

Interesting, but the approach seems similar to identify several passages in a text and submitting these to a search engine. This used to be called “more like this.” But today? Small data.

With the cloud coming back on premises and big data becoming user identified small data, what’s next? Boolean queries?

DarkCyber hopes so.

Stephen E Arnold, November 14, 2019

Cloudy Question? There Is Gravity?

November 14, 2019

Reverse course now, bosun! After all that hype, organizations are rethinking the wisdom of remote storage. InsideBigData reports, “Companies Are Bringing Data Back from the Cloud. Now They Need a Place to Put It.” They call it “cloud data repatriation.” According to tech research firm IDC, last year 80 percent of organizations they surveyed repatriated workloads, and many expect to pull half their cloud apps to private or on-premises storage in the next two years. After racing to the cloud for several years, why the sudden U-turn? Because public clouds are not all they were puffed up to be. Guest writer and storage expert Shridar Subramanian explains:

“As well as being costly to store in the cloud, it often proves both slow and costly to download data sets from the cloud when they’re needed on-prem. The cloud also has a history of being too slow and costly for the transmission of edge data, such as unstructured data produced by the Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This unstructured data is growing at hyper speed. Indeed, IDC predicts that the total of the world’s data will increase from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025 and that 80 percent of that data will be unstructured. Those are head-spinning numbers and companies, understandably, are struggling to keep up. … All this unstructured data presents large storage and security challenges. At first, when cloud storage rose to prominence, organizations thought the answer was to move the vast majority of their data—both structured and unstructured—to the cloud. However, these same organizations soon figured out that the cloud is not only more expensive than they thought, it is also hard to access in a timely fashion when they need specific data, due to the cloud’s inherent latency.”

Rather than abandon the cloud altogether, though, organizations are going with a hybrid approach—keeping some data and apps in the cloud and some locally. And, yes, that means figuring out where to put it all. Subramanian lists some points to consider before making the move. Storage solutions should be secure, of course, and highly scalable to keep up as data grows. This means they should have the capacity to add as many drives as needed at any moment, without downtime. Ideally, they would also include analytics to help decide which information should remain close at hand and which would be better kept in the cloud.

Cynthia Murrell, November 14, 2019

Wikipedia: Good for Students, Good for the Google

November 14, 2019

There may be some help for over stressed PhD student.

The Internet Archive is making it even easier to check out online citations, beginning in the most logical place. The organization’s blog describes how it is “Weaving Books into the Web—Starting with Wikipedia.” Writer Brewster Kahle tells us:

“The Internet Archive has transformed 130,000 references to books in Wikipedia into live links to 50,000 digitized Internet Archive books in several Wikipedia language editions including English, Greek, and Arabic. And we are just getting started. By working with Wikipedia communities and scanning more books, both users and robots will link many more book references directly into Internet Archive books. In these cases, diving deeper into a subject will be a single click. … For example, the Wikipedia article on Martin Luther King, Jr. cites the book To Redeem the Soul of America, by Adam Fairclough. That citation now links directly to page 299 inside the digital version of the book provided by the Internet Archive. There are 66 cited and linked books on that article alone. Readers can see a couple of pages to preview the book and, if they want to read further, they can borrow the digital copy using Controlled Digital Lending in a way that’s analogous to how they borrow physical books from their local library.”

The Internet Archive hopes to bring four million more books online over the next few years. It costs about $20 per book, and anyone can help by sponsoring the digitization of specific books or simply donating to the organization. As the director of their Wayback Machine declares, “Together we can achieve universal access to all knowledge, one linked book, paper, web page, news article, music file, video and image at a time.”

Who benefits? Students and, of course, Google. There’s a reason many queries’ results pages point to the Wikipedia service.

Cynthia Murrell, November 14, 2019

Hand-Drawn Diagrams from Software

November 13, 2019

Envy those wizards who can rough out hand-drawn graphs and charts at lunch? Now you too can do the Leonardo thing. Navigate to Sketchviz.com. DarkCyber believes that this approach is going to have legs. Smart software and humans alike may find the approach warm and cuddly.

Stephen E Arnold, November 13, 2019

ElasticSearch: A Push for Log File Revenue?

November 13, 2019

Elasticsearch had a moment in the sun. For several years it was the go to way to deploy a low cost, reasonably usable search and retrieval system. Then came the venture funding to a clump of outfits talking about search in terms of jargon that would have made a 1950s’ Madison Avenue executive reach for the bottle in his desk drawer.

To get a sense of the pressure exerted on ElasticSearch, navigate to “How to Get Started with Kibana.” Why battle with the tens of millions in fresh cash stuffing the pockets of Algolia, Coveo, and LucidWorks, among other 21st century enterprise search vendors with a penchant for buzzwords?

Do the pivot and keep one’s hand on the Elasticsearch throttle.

The write up explains:

Kibana is a powerful tool for visualizing data in Elasticsearch.

The article provides a sunny overview of how

you can explore practically any type of data, from text documents to machine logs, application metrics, ecommerce traffic, sensor telemetry, or your company’s business KPIs.

A KPI is, if you did not know, is a key performance indicator. What’s performance? What’s key? Heck, what’s an indicator? There you go. Modern methods for Kibana.

Net net: Elasticsearch is making it clear that it too is moving beyond search.

Search, however, has been moving beyond itself for decades. But my tagline for anything to do with the interesting and slightly sordid past of enterprise search is, “Who cares?”

Elasticsearch stakeholders.

Stephen E Arnold, November 13, 2019

Tech Giants: Victims!

November 13, 2019

Were you caught off guard by Google’s announcement that it was jumping into personal finance? You can get the details in “Google to Offer Checking Accounts in Partnership with Banks Starting Next Year.”

What about those wizards at Facebook? That outstanding commercial enterprise Facebook at its post-Libra Facebook Play service. You can get the public report in “Facebook Pay Is a New Payment System for WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook.”

Apple’s credit card has inspired some laggards to get serious about getting into the cash transaction business and getting quite fine grained details about their “customers.”

But these firms are just doing what is part of their DNA. Mere surfers of the Internet’s big waves of opportunity. The Sydney Morning Herald reports one executive’s defense in, “Tech Giants Alone Can’t Be Blamed for Online Misinformation: Google.” That company’s VP of news Richard Gingras says policy makers and traditional media companies share the blame for the spread of fake news and other toxic content. Writer Laura Chung reports on an interview with the executive:

“Mr Gingras said digital platforms have a responsibility to ensure they are not ‘enabling amplification of bad information’. But the challenge is not specific to one tech player and is a ‘societal problem’.

For example during the Christchurch massacre, in which 51 people died, Google scrambled to remove millions of copies of the video from YouTube. But traditional media coverage of the incident drove people’s interest in it, causing them to search and repost it, he said. Following the massacre the Australian, New Zealand and British governments called on digital platforms including Facebook and Google to do more to stop terrorist content from being shared online. ‘It’s one of those tricky things that all of us in our own way – in the political sphere, media sphere and tech sphere – need to recognize our degrees of responsibility in setting the right role models for behavior,’ he said. ‘What role models are we presenting to them [society] to guide people’s behaviors? And that extends to all of us.’”

That is one way to look at it—deflection is always an option, I suppose. The write-up also touches on the financial relationship between Google and Australian news publishers. Media companies would like Google to share more revenue with them, and regulators seem poised to agree. Gingras, however, expresses concern for the preservation of open markets and open channels of information. His apprehension is entirely based on the good of society,

And what about government regulators? Oh, right.

Cynthia Murrell, November 13, 2019

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