Google: A Me Too from Mountain View

August 7, 2017

It is a tough world out there for a seller of online ads. From my point of view, the concentration of online advertising in the hands of Facebook and Google is a natural consequence of digital disintermediation. He who is most like the old Bell Telephone wins.

What does one do when an upstart comes up with a better idea? If one is a giant company’s chief innovator, the answer is obvious: Imitate, then use the power of scale to take lots of money.

I thought about this characteristic of online when I read “Google Reportedly Building Its Own Snapchat Competitor.” I would have used the word “killer,” not competitor, but that’s why I am a 74 year old retired person in rural Kentucky.

The write up (which may be a recycled variant of another real journalism effort) said:

Google is working on its answer to Snapchat. It’s called Stamp — a portmanteau of “stories” and “AMP,” the acronym for Accelerated Mobile Pages …The new platform would be similar to Snapchat’s Discover feature, where publishers create and share made-for-Snapchat (or repurposed-for-Snapchat) content.

Didn’t Google try to buy Snap when it was just Snapchat?

Moral of the story:

The model and wife of Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has historically not been too thrilled about other tech companies ripping off her husband’s product. “Do they have to steal all of my partner’s ideas? I’m so appalled by that … When you directly copy someone, that’s not innovation.”

Steal?

Nah, that’s innovation the online way.

Stephen E Arnold, August 7, 2017

Big Data as Savior of Newspapers? Tell That to NYT Editors

August 7, 2017

This would be ironic. The SmartDataCollective posits, “Is Big Data the Salvation of the Newspaper Industry?” The write-up tells us that several prominent publications are turning to data analysis to boost their bottom lines and, they hope, save themselves from extinction. Writer Rehan Ijaz cites this post from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation as he describes ways the New York Times and the Financial Times are leveraging data. He quotes publishing pro, David Soloff:

The Financial Times, one of our global publisher customers, uses big data analytics to optimize pricing on ads by section, audience, targeting parameters, geography, and time of day. Our friends at the FT sell more inventory because the team knows what they have, where it is and how it should be priced to capture the opportunity at hand. To boot, analytics reveal previously undersold areas of the publication, enabling premium pricing and resulting in found margin falling straight to the bottom line.

What about the venerable New York Times? That paper hired a data scientist in 2014, yet now is slashing staff, we learn from Reuters’ piece, “New York Times Offers Buyouts, Scraps Public Editor Position.” It is, in fact, most editors facing unemployment (because clear prose and verified facts are so last century, I suppose.) Reporters Jessica Toonkel and Narottam Medhora reveal:

The newspaper said it would eliminate the in-house watchdog position of public editor as it shifts focus to reader comments. ‘Today, our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be,’ publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr said in a memo, which was reviewed by Reuters.

“Vigilant and forceful?” Is “correct” not a consideration? Professional editors exist for a reason; crowdsourcing will not always suffice. Also, call me old-fashioned, but I think facts should be confirmed before publication. This is an interesting choice for the Times to be making particularly now, amid the “fake news” commotion.

Cynthia Murrell, August 7, 2017

Can an Algorithm Tame Misinformation Online?

June 23, 2017

UCLA researchers are working on an algorithmic solution to the “fake news” problem, we learn from the article, “Algorithm Reads Millions of Posts on Parenting Sites in Bid to Understand Online Misinformation” at TechRadar. Okay, it’s actually indexing and text analysis, not “reading,” but we get the idea. Reporter Duncan Geere tells us:

There’s a special logic to the flow of posts on a forum or message board, one that’s easy to parse by someone who’s spent a lot of time on them but kinda hard to understand for those who haven’t. Researchers at UCLA are working on teaching computers to understand these structured narratives within chronological posts on the web, in an attempt to get a better grasp of how humans think and communicate online.

Researchers used the hot topic of vaccinations, as discussed on two parenting forums, as their test case. Through an examination of nearly 2 million posts, the algorithm was able to come to accurate conclusions, or “narrative framework.” Geere writes:

While this study was targeted at conversations around vaccination, the researchers say the same principles could be applied to any topic. Down the line, they hope it could allow for false narratives to be identified as they develop and countered by targeted messaging.

The phrase “down the line” is incredibly vague, but the sooner the better, we say (though we wonder exactly what form this “targeted messaging” will take). The original study can be found here at eHealth publisher JMIR Publications.

Cynthia Murrell, June 23, 2017

 

Academic Publisher Retracts Record Number of Papers

June 20, 2017

To the scourge of fake news we add the problem of fake research. Retraction Watch announces “A New Record: Major Publisher Retracting More Than 100 Studies from Cancer Journal over Fake Peer Reviews.”  We learn that Springer Publishing Company has just retracted 107 papers from a single journal after discovering their peer reviews had been falsified. Faking the integrity of cancer research? That’s pretty low. The article specifies:

To submit a fake review, someone (often the author of a paper) either makes up an outside expert to review the paper, or suggests a real researcher — and in both cases, provides a fake email address that comes back to someone who will invariably give the paper a glowing review. In this case, Springer, the publisher of Tumor Biology through 2016, told us that an investigation produced “clear evidence” the reviews were submitted under the names of real researchers with faked emails. Some of the authors may have used a third-party editing service, which may have supplied the reviews. The journal is now published by SAGE. The retractions follow another sweep by the publisher last year, when Tumor Biology retracted 25 papers for compromised review and other issues, mostly authored by researchers based in Iran.

The article shares Springer’s response to the matter, some from their official statement and some from a spokesperson. For example, we learn the company cut ties with the “Tumor Biology” owners, and that the latest fake reviews were caught during a process put in place after that debacle.  See the story for more details.

Cynthia Murrell, June 20, 2017

Bookeyes for Free Classic Literature

June 15, 2017

We want to let you in on a nifty new resource—Bookeyes lets users download classic literature, in eBook form, for free. As of this writing, the site has 65 works to choose from, with the option to request something specific not yet on the page. (I requested Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.)

Despite the lack of Brontë sisters, the selection is pretty representative of the traditional Western-centric cannon, from Machiavelli to Thoreau. There’s your Homer, your Shakespeare, Jack London, Tolstoy, and Twain. Beowulf too, naturally. We also see books by Jane Austin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Frederick Douglas.

The search box works as expected—the first few letters of a title or author’s name narrows the list without reloading the page. To say the “About” page is succinct is an understatement; it simply declares:

Bookeyes is your home for book classics. Pick a title on our homepage and enjoy!

On the Contact page is a photo of site creator Kermitt Davis, who is either quite young or incredibly well-preserved. We applaud his effort to bring classic literature to the masses; perhaps he could use more suggestions for works that are out of copyright. Know of any good ones that might fall outside the syllabus for a Survey of Prominent Western Literature?

Cynthia Murrell, June 15, 2017

 

Google and Hate Speech: None of This I Know It When I See It

June 7, 2017

I read “YouTube Clarifies “Hate Speech” Definition and Which Videos Won’t Be Monetized.” I don’t know much about defining abstractions because I live in rural Kentucky. Our governor just recommended prayer patrols to curb violence in Louisville, home of the Derby and lots of murders on weekends.

Google has nailed down the abstraction “hate speech.” According to the write up, Google’s definition is:

[content which] “promotes discrimination or disparages or humiliates an individual or group of people on the basis of the individual’s or group’s race, ethnicity, or ethnic origin, nationality, religion, disability, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristic associated with systematic discrimination or marginalization.”

And

“inappropriate use of family entertainment characters,” which means content showing kid-friendly characters in “violent, sexual, vile, or otherwise inappropriate behavior,” no matter if the content is satirical or a parody. The final category is somewhat broad: “incendiary and demeaning content” means that anything “gratuitously” demeaning or shameful toward an individual or group is prohibited.”

And

“controversial issues or sensitive events,” which YouTube defines as “video content that features or focuses on sensitive topics or events including, but not limited to, war, political conflicts, terrorism or extremism, death and tragedies, sexual abuse, even if graphic imagery is not shown… For example, videos about recent tragedies, even if presented for news or documentary purposes, may not be eligible for advertising given the subject matter.”

This is good to know for three reasons:

  1. Google can define abstractions. No disambiguation subroutines are required.
  2. Google could run ads against this type of content and make money, but Google will not do that. (Did Google run ads against these types of content in the past? Nah, “do not evil” shuts the door on that question.)
  3. Facebook can process Google’s definitions and craft even more functional guidelines. (Me too is the basic process for innovation or becoming a publisher with editorial guidelines.)

Next up for Google to define are “love,” “truth,” justice,” and “salary data.”

Stephen E Arnold, June 7, 2017

The WSJ Click Crater

June 7, 2017

Big name, old school publishers share a trait. These folks perceive themselves as a traffic magnets. I have been in meetings in which the shared understanding was that a publisher’s “brand” would sustain a flow of a digital revenue.

Again and again the “brand” fallacy proves itself. Examples range from the original New York Times’ online service (hello, Jeff Pemberton) to the Wall Street Journal’s early attempt to make its content available in a sort of wonky online interface decades ago (hello, Richard Levine?).

I just read “WSJ Ends Google Users’ Free Ride, Then Fades in Search Results.” The main point: The brand magnet is weak. Without the Google attracting eye balls and routing traffic to the Murdoch “blue chip”, the WSJ has found itself in a click crater.

What’s the fix?

Well, dear WSJ, the answer is to buy Adwords. Yep, the WSJ has to fork over big money per month to get the traffic up. Then the WSJ has to figure out how to monetize that traffic.

That’s not easy.

I subscribe to the dead tree edition of the newspaper. The digital version is allegedly available to me as part of my subscription. I don’t bother. The WSJ is not able to provide me with an email and a temporary password so i can enter data from the newspaper’s mailing label into the WSJ online system. Nah, I have to phone the WSJ. Go through a crazy process and I don’t want to do this. I am okay with a magic marker and a pair of scissors.

I learned from the Bloomberg write up:

Executives at the Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., argue that Google’s policy is unfairly punishing them for trying to attract more digital subscribers. They want Google to treat their articles equally in search rankings, despite being behind a paywall.

Right, click crater.

Bad Google. Baloney.

Publishers fumbled their digits. Don’t believe me? Chase down someone involved in the early versions of the Times Online or the Dow Jones News Service.

These did not work.

Why?

A newspaper is one thing. Online information is another.

Bad Google. Wrong. Publishers with horse blinders can find their way to the stable. Anything else is tough.

Stephen E Arnold, June 7, 2017

Semantic Platform Aggregates Scientific Information

May 1, 2017

A new scientific repository is now available from a prominent publisher, we learn from “GraphDB, Leading Semantic Database from Ontotext, Powers Springer Nature’s New Linked Open Data Platform” at PRWeb. (We note the word “leading” in the title; who verifies this assertion? Just curious.) The platform, dubbed SciGraph, aggregates data from Springer Nature and its academic partners. The press release specifies:

Thanks to semantic technologies, Linked Open Data and the GraphDB semantic database, all these data are connected in a way which semantically describes and visualizes how the information is interlinked. GraphDB’s capability to seamlessly integrate disparate data silos allows Springer Nature SciGraph to comprise metadata from journals and articles, books and chapters, organizations, institutions, funders, research grants, patents, clinical trials, substances, conference series, events, citations and reference networks, Altmetrics, and links to research datasets.

The dataset is released under a certain international creative commons license, and can be downloaded (by someone with the appropriate technical knowledge) here.

An early explorer of semantic technology, Ontotext was founded in 2000. Based in Bulgaria, the company keeps their North American office in New Jersey. Ontotext’s client roster includes big names in publishing, government agencies, and cultural institutions.

Cynthia Murrell, May 1, 2017

Thomson Reuters: Now the Answer Company

April 25, 2017

Earlier this year I saw a reference to “the answer company.” I ignored it. Yesterday I saw a link to a podcast with Casey Hall, who is the “head of social media for business communications” at Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters is a publicly traded company with revenues in the $14 billion range. Here’s a Google chart showing how the company has performed over the last few years:

image

To my untrained eye, it looks as if revenues are down and profits are up. Yikes. How were those cost savings achieved? Perhaps the podcast explains how “the answer company” will boost revenues and continue to generate sustainable returns for stakeholders and, of course, senior management.

The podcast addresses a number of Thomson Reuters’ themes. One, for instance, is the fact that the company has 45,000 employees and a “giant footprint.” As the podcast ground forward, I realized that “the answer company” wants its employees to embrace employee advocacy.

It seems that “the answer company” is trying to communicate with its employees. According to the write up “How Thomson Reuters Earned the Brand as The Answer Company” accompanying the podcast told me:

Thomson Reuters encourages their employees to engage with their network of data scientists, finance, and accounting professionals by sharing the brand’s message. Leveraging their employees’ networks allows them to increase their reach and enhance the authenticity of the message since it’s coming from a real person, the employee. The employee advocacy program also helps with internal communications. Employees engage with each other and share what’s going on in their part of the organization.

Yeah, but, what about explaining “how” Thomson Reuters became “the answer company”? As it turns out, the podcast focused exclusively on “on boarding employees,” which I don’t really understand. Another topic was measuring the impact of the employee advocacy program. I think this means closing sales.

I suppose that Thomson Reuters just decided it needed a new tag line even thought its online services usually require a person to run a search, read a results list, and hunt for the needed information. That’s not answers. That’s work.

I believe that Thomson Reuters licensed the Palantir Technologies’ system in order to have tools which make sense of information. But if the podcast is any indication of how Thomson Reuters became “the answer company,” my thought is that the company is trying social media as a sales tool.

As for answers, one still has to hunt to find out what companies Thomson Reuters owns. One has to run queries on its online legal information systems and then hunt for answers.

Ah, PR. Love it. An article title which does not related to the content of the podcast OR the article.

Stephen E Arnold, April 24, 2017

The Algorithm to Failure

April 12, 2017

Algorithms have practically changed the way the world works. However, this nifty code also has its limitations that lead to failures.

In a whitepaper published by Cornell University, authored by Shai Shalev-ShwartzOhad ShamirShaked Shammah and titled Failures of Deep Learning, the authors say:

It is important, for both theoreticians and practitioners, to gain a deeper understanding of the difficulties and limitations associated with common approaches and algorithms.

The whitepaper touches four pain points of Deep Learning, which is based on algorithms. The authors propose remedial measures that possibly could overcome these impediments and lead to better AI.

Eminent personalities like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk have however warned against advancing AIs. Google in the past had abandoned robotics as the machines were becoming too intelligent. What now needs to be seen is who will win in the end? Commercial interests or unfounded fear?

Vishal Ingole, April 12, 2017

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