The Guardian Reveals That Big Tech Yields Useless Products

May 21, 2018

I don’t want to be a Luddite, but it seems to me that autonomous drones carrying interesting payloads are often darned helpful. The value of the big tech which gets these puppies aloft and in theater can be questioned when the person asking the questions is sitting at a laptop in an urban center thinking big thoughts. I would suggest that if that urban beastie were under fire in a slightly less refined environment and needed a bit of air cover to make an escape from a free fire zone, the big tech in the form of a MQ-1L Predator attack drone with AGM 114 K2 Hellfire Missiles would be somewhat useful. Mostly.

My hunch is that the British newspaper disseminating real news in “Ignore the Hype Over Big Tech. Its Products Are Mostly Useless” has a keen desire to poke sticks in the eye of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and probably other outfits. Why not toss in Palantir Technologies too? Oh, don’t forget Darktrace.

The main point of the write up struck me as:

In fact, might Duplex be a grim portal into a future in which high-flyers get digital “assistants” to do their chores, while poorly paid people have to meekly talk to computers, in constant fear that they are about to be automated into joblessness?

I like this notion of reworking a two tier society so those in the lower tier could perform jobs like booking a haircut.

The target here is Google and its demo of its artificial intelligence wizardry. Some of this magic is performed in the UK by DeepMind.

Google is now a couple of decades into its search based businesses.

Several questions occur to me:

  • Where was the Guardian and other “real” news outfits in the pre IPO phase of Google when Yahoo took Google to task for finding inspiration in,, and Yahoo’s “pay to play” models?
  • Where have newspapers been for the last two decades as companies finding revenue streams different from print and classified display advertising on paper?
  • With the insight of a skilled editorial staff and the ability to generate information, why haven’t those professionals been able to communicate the risk of taking “free lunches” every day for two decades?

Net net: The train has left the station. The “woke” folks are already at the airport with their digital assistants in their pocket and the beach on their mind.

Stephen E Arnold, May 21, 2018


Professional Publishing Under Pressure: WWED?

May 18, 2018

Professional publishers have been chugging along as other types of publishing companies have struggled. Sure, pumping up the revenue line has been hard work. Just ask a former senior manager at Reed Elsevier, Thomson Reuters, or Wolters Kluwer, among others.

But the job is now getting increasingly difficult.

Let’s assume that the information in “Sweden Ends Contract with Science Publisher Elsevier, Moving for Open Access for Scientific Articles” is accurate. I learned:

Sweden, like many other European countries, is aiming for full scientific “open access” (free article reading) by 2026. In 2017, Swedish universities paid Elsevier €1.3M ($1.5M) for article publications and €12M ($14.1M) for access to articles. Now Sweden is demanding that Elsevier make Swedish research content fully available to the public and make its 1,900 journals fully available to Swedish researchers, all at a reasonable price to Swedish universities.

What will Elsevier do? What will other professional publishing companies do? Reduce prices? Cut Ebsco type deals?

I suppose one fund raising option could be a Lance Armstrong type plastic bracelet that says, “WWED”, shorthand for “What Would Elsevier Do?” Maybe a Patreon play is warranted?

The reality is that if one is expecting law firms, accountants, and universities to pay like it was 1999, that seems unlikely to me. What can be dropped for lower cost or “good enough” free online services? Here’s a short list:

  • Peer reviewed journals
  • Publications which charge authors to include their “scientific studies”
  • Exploiters of the tenure chasing PhDs
  • Recycled public documents related to law and tax regulations
  • Collections of essays submitted to an organization no one knows much about which offers expensive journals and odd duck conferences featuring the published experts
  • Compilations of US and Canadian government information.

Of course, this Swedish resistance could be a mere blip, a negotiating ploy.

On the other hand, maybe the world of professional publishing has already changed?

Stephen E Arnold, May 18, 2018

Short Honk: Publishers Are Financially Aware, Well, Sort Of

March 11, 2018

I assume that “Hedge Fund Alden Siphoned 100s of Millions from Newspapers in Scheme to Gamble on Other Investments, Suit Says” is accurate.  If not, the write up underscores the state of “real” journalism. If the article is accurate, it underscores the state of “real” news business expertise. Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, March 11, 2018

News Corp. and Google: Glass Houses and Stone Throwing

February 12, 2018

I read “News Corp Executives Say Google and Facebook Created Dysfunctional, Debased Online Environment.” Let’s assume that the information is “real” news and actual factual.

The write up states:

News Corp. chief executive officer Robert Thomson slammed Google and Facebook for what he calls a “dysfunctional” and “debased” online environment that harms traditional media, according to a variety of published reports. The criticism came Thursday, as News Corp. announced its quarterly earnings, France 24 reported. Efforts by the two online giants to reduce misinformation and improve online news were only “modest steps toward changing a digital environment that is dysfunctional at its core,” Thomson said.

I like the phrase “dysfunctional at its core.”

I would point out these pieces of information which did not make it into the “real” news story:

  • Phone and email hacking in the UK
  • Fox news personnel in interesting situations
  • News Corp. management succession activity

“Dysfunctional” means, according to the Wiktionary, not performing its proper or intended function or functioning incorrectly or abnormally; especially, designating of a business, family or social group with harmful, aberrant, strange or abnormal behavior.

As I noted in the headline, “glass houses” and “stones.” I don’t have the energy for “debased.”

Stephen E Arnold, February 12, 2018

And the Greatest Tech Headline of 2018 Is…

February 8, 2018

Short honk: In my morning news flow, I spotted what may be the greatest headline of 2018 (at least in the first five weeks of the year). Here it is:

Google Gave the World Powerful AI Tools, and the World Made Porn with Them

You can read the naked truth in a revealing story in Quartz. Try this link.

Strip away the veneer about AI. Breathless prose ignites one’s passion for tech thrills. With Reddit doing the censorship thing, this is “real” news, maybe just organic (I almost typed another word with and s and m.)

Stephen E Arnold, February 8, 2018

German Scientists Find Freedom Of Search

February 6, 2018

A storm had been brewing in Germany over the ability for scientists to gain access to expensive academic journals. The deal had more to do with search and rights than it did science, so the publisher stood up and did something shocking. They did…the right thing. We learned more in a recent Nature story, “Germany vs Elsevier: universities win temporary journal access after refusing to pay fees.”

According to the story:

The Dutch publishing giant Elsevier has granted uninterrupted access to its paywalled journals for researchers at around 200 German universities and research institutes that had refused to renew their individual subscriptions at the end of 2017.


The institutions had formed a consortium to negotiate a nationwide licence with the publisher. They sought a collective deal that would give most scientists in Germany full online access to about 2,500 journals at about half the price that individual libraries have paid in the past. But talks broke down and, by the end of 2017, no deal had been agreed. Elsevier now says that it will allow the country’s scientists to access its paywalled journals without a contract until a national agreement is hammered out.

This is a victory for, not just the scientists, but for freedom of information. We applaud Elsevier for putting aside profit (temporarily) in favor of human. We wish more companies and governments would take their example to heart.

Patrick Roland, February 6, 2018

Thomson Reuters: The Unwinding Begins

January 31, 2018

Years, no, decades ago, I did some work for Thomson. Today the company is Thomson Reuters, a large company with diverse businesses. When I last counted the units, I think the number was somewhere around 150. The exact number matters less than the statement, “Thomson Reuters has a lot of brands, products, business units, and companies under one corporate roof.”

Some of the businesses are related; for example, the legal information services. Others seem different from professional publishing. One example would be news and the entities set up to compete with Bloomberg for financial services or the companies jousts in financial data analysis.

Every year or so I take a look at the company’s annual financial report. My impression of the company is that it has struggled to grow. That’s not news because far bigger companies find that what worked in the past does not apply in today’s business climate; for example, IBM’s struggles are both interesting and to some amusing.

I read “Exclusive: Blackstone in Talks to Buy Majority Stake in Key Thomson Reuters Unit.” The exclusive makes sense. Thomson Reuters is, after all, reporting about Thomson Reuters. The main point is that Thomson Reuters is selling “a key business unit.” Another telling fact in the report is that Thomson Reuters is selling a “majority stake.”

For a company that exercised management control, the abrogation of control of some of its Financial and Risk business is interesting. With financial data and risk a business sector which is attracting interest from start ups and established companies, Thomson Reuters seems to be saying, “Hey, this has real value. Let’s sell. Maybe a buyer can juice up the revenues.”

Lord Thomson of Fleet is a distant memory to some at the company I assume. What’s clear is that change of a significant nature is now taking place within the company.

Have stakeholders grown weary of the reorganizations and efforts to generate Facebook and Google like growth? Have the senior managers realized that generating money from what are information businesses may be increasingly difficult going forward and now is the time to act?

I don’t know. This development is worth watching.

Stephen E Arnold, January 31, 2018

Google: Even More Humans Needed

January 12, 2018

I read “Google Plans to Vet YouTube Premium Video Content.” The main point of the write up strikes me as:

Google told partners that it plans to use both human moderators — the company recently announced it will have 10,000 employees focused on the task — as well as artificial intelligence software to flag videos deemed inappropriate for ads.

Yep, humans. Just like the old fashioned, endangered newspaper, magazine, and commercial database companies did.

I find this amusing because the shift at Google is similar to the approach that Facebook seems to be implementing. Humans who require vacations, medical insurance, retirement plans, vacations, and management. Well, maybe not management in the go go gig approach to business.

My take on this allegedly accurate real news story is:

  1. The baloney about smart software is starting to become inedible even for the most ardent lovers of processed hype
  2. The cost controls now in place are going to be reworked which means more for fee services for formerly “free” stuff. I can envision a subscription service with regular rate increases easily.
  3. The predictions that 2018 will transform businesses may become true in an unexpected manner: More flawed operations plus higher costs.

Interesting stuff. Going to the museum of information production and walking off with old fashioned tools. What’s next? typewriters and some Linotype machines?

Stephen E Arnold, January 12, 2018

Editorial Excitement: Will Facebook and Google Struggle with Social Responsibility

December 6, 2017

I noted three interesting news items. Both cast high profile companies as arbiters of social responsibility. The first item is “Facebook Is Banning Women for Calling Men Scum.” The main idea is that those who use the phrase “men are scum” can be banned from Facebook. Seems simple. Phrase identification, phrase look up, phrase on list triggers banning. Some people who have been banned for 30 days object. Interesting.

The second item is “Here’s What YouTube Is Doing to Stop Its Child Exploitation Problem.” The headline makes clear that there is a problem. The Alphabet Google YouTube fix is— wait for it — to use humans to identify socially irresponsible videos. The main point for me is that Alphabet Google’s algorithms cannot do the job. I thought that Google’s artificial intelligence system can develop artificial intelligent systems better than the one that Google created itself. Guess humans still have a role and maybe AI is not exactly able to handle what seems like socially responsible functions.

The third item is “How Trolls Locked My Twitter Account for 10 Days.” Main idea? Twitter’s socially responsible mechanism for making Twitter a better digital place can be exploited.

Net net: These three firms seem to be struggling with the notion of editorial controls, implementing them in an effective manner, and making algorithms work in a socially responsible manner.

Interesting. Traditional publishers have been performing this function for hundreds of years. There are plenty of journalists and publishers looking for work. My hunch is that the Silicon Valley set may prefer to go their own way. Who can learn from traditional publishing procedures? Maybe a smart self learning algorithm?

Well, maybe not yet at least. Jeff Bezos owns a newspaper and presumably has a leg up when it comes to addressing “fake” information.

Stephen E Arnold, December 6, 2017

Filtered Content: Tactical Differences between Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters

December 5, 2017

You may know that Dow Jones has an online search company. The firm is called Factiva, and it is an old-school approach to finding information. The company recently announced a deal with an outfit called Curation. Founded by a former newspaper professional, Curation uses mostly humans to assemble reports on hot topics. Factiva is reselling these services, and advertising for customers in the Wall Street Journal. Key point: This is mostly a manual method. The approach was more in line with the types of “reports” available from blue chip consulting firms.

You may also know that Thomson Reuters has been rolling out machine curated reports. These have many different product names. Thomson Reuters has a large number of companies and brands. Not surprisingly, Thomson’s approach has to apply to many companies managed by executives who compete with regular competitors like Dow Jones but also among themselves. Darwin would have loved Thomson Reuters. The point is that Thomson Reuters’ approach relies on “smart” software.

You can read about Dow Jones’ play here.

You can read about Thomson Reuters’ play here.

My take is that these two different approaches reflect the painful fact that there is not clear path forward for professional publishing companies. In order to make money from electronic information, two of the major players are still experimenting. The digital revolution began, what?, about 40 years ago.

One would have thought that leading companies like Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters would have moved beyond the experimental stage and into cash cow land.

Not yet it seems. The reason for my pointing out these two different approaches is that there are more innovative methods available. For snapshots of companies which move beyond the Factiva and Thomson methods, watch Dark Cyber, a new program is available every Tuesday via YouTube at this link.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2017

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