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Pearson: Revenue Challenges and Digital Initiatives

January 26, 2016

I used to follow Pearson when it owned a wax museum and a number of other fascinating big revenue opportunities. Today the company is still big:  $8 billion in revenue, 40,000 employees, and offices in 70 countries. (Lots of reasons for senior executives to do field trips I assume.)

I noted that that Pearson plans to RIF (reduce in force) 4,000 employees. Let’s see. Yep, that works out to 10 percent of the “team.” Without the wax museum as a job option, will these folks become entrepreneurs?

I read “Turning Digital Learning Into Intellectual Property.” The title snagged me, and I assume that some of the 4,000 folks now preparing to find their future elsewhere were intrigued.

The write up reported:

Pearson is also positioning itself as a major center for the analysis of educational big data.

Ah, ha. A publishing outfit involved in education is getting with the Big Data thing.

How is a traditional publishing company going to respond to the digital opportunities it now perceives?

big data analysis methods will enable researchers to “capture stream or trace data from learners’ interactions” with learning materials, detect “new patterns that may provide evidence about learning,” and “more clearly understand the micro-patterns of teaching and learning by individuals and groups.” Big data methods of pattern recognition are at the heart of its activities, and Pearson ambitiously aims to use pattern recognition to identify generalizable insights into learning processes not just at the level of the individual learner but at vast scale.

Yes, vast. Micro patterns. Big Data.

My mouth is watering and my ageing brain cells hunger for the new learning.

Big questions have to be answered. For example, who owns learning theory?

I recall my brush with the education department. Ugly. I thought that most of the information to which I was exposed was baloney. For evidence, I think back to my years in Brazil with my hit and miss involvement with the Calvert Course, the “English not spoken here” approach of the schools in Campinas, and the seamless transition I made back to my “regular” US school after having done zero in the learning aquaria for several years.

I also recall the look of befuddlement on the face of the check out clerks, when I point out that a cash register tally is incorrect or the consternation that furrows the brow when I provide bills and two pennies.

My hunch is that the education thing is a juicy business, but I am not confident in Pearson’s ability to catch up with the folks who are not saddled with the rich legacy of printing books and charging lots of money for them.

This is a trend worth watching. Will it become the success of Ebsco’s “discovery” system? Will it generate the payoff Thomson Reuters is getting by reselling Palantir? Will it allow Pearson to make the bold moves that so many traditional publishing companies have made after they embraced XML as the silver bullet and incantation to ward off collapsing revenues?

I for one will be watching. Who knows? Maybe I will return to school to brighten the day of an adjunct professor at the local university. (This institution I might add is struggling with FBI investigations, allegations of sexual misconduct, and a miasma of desperation.)

Education. Great stuff.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2016

Hackers Opt for Netflix and Uber over Credit Card Theft on Dark Web

January 25, 2016

It is no surprise that credit cards and other account information is sold on the Dark Web but which accounts are most valuable might surprise. Baiting us to click, the article It turns out THIS is more valuable to hackers than your stolen credit card details on the United Kingdom’s Express offers the scoop on the going rate of various logins cybercriminals are currently chasing. Hacked Uber, Paypal and Netflix logins are the most valuable. The article explains,

“Uber rolled-out multi-factor authentication in some markets last year which decreased the value of stolen account details on the Dark Web, the International Business Times reported. According to the Trend Micro study, the price for credit cards is so comparatively low because banks have advanced techniques to detect fraudulent activity.”

The sales of these accounts are under $10 each, and according to the article, they seem to actually be used by the thief. Products and experiences, as consumable commodities, are easier to steal than cash when organizations fail to properly protect against fraudulent activity. The takeaway seems to be obvious.


Megan Feil, January 25, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


Quote to Note: Newspaper Style

January 16, 2016

Wikipedia produces clicks for the search engines. Wikipedia allows students to output “essays” on almost any topic which catches the fancy of the common core crowd. Wikipedia also triggers some interesting comments about its approach.

Navigate to “Wikipedia: An Old-Fashioned Corner of Truth on the Internet.” The write up, which appears in an old fashioned newspaper, contains a quote to note. Here it is, gentle reader:

Because it was factual, updated quickly, and didn’t use that annoying newspaper style of trying to make stuff sensational. Wikipedia, the news source?

Annoying newspaper style? Great stuff. The write up about Wikipedia somewhat reluctantly points out that the service is useful.

I wonder if real journalists recycle Wikipedia information. What do you think? The tip off is the list of the strangest things found in Wikipedia.

Stephen E Arnold, January 16, 2016

Newspaper Reveals Tricks for Google Search

January 15, 2016

I love it when newspapers get into the online research game. I think fondly about the newspaper in Nevada. Its reporters were not able to figure out who owned the newspaper. Hint: Casino owner.

I read “How to Use Search Like a Pro: 10 Tips and Tricks for Google and Beyond.” The word “beyond” is darned popular when it comes to search. I wonder who has been using the phrase “beyond search” for a decade or more? Hmm. No idea.

The write up includes some jaw droppers for the folks who are not familiar with SDC Orbit or the conventions of Lockheed Dialog; for example:

Use quotes to search for a bound phrase. Okay. What happens when Google does not locate an exact phrase match? What then, gentle Guardian? No comment? Okay.

Here’s another tip and trick:

Use the OR operator. Now that is helpful when one is looking for a really big result set. How does one narrow a Google result set when the GOOG says, “About 1,400,000 results. Thoughts? Nope. Okay.

And one more. For the other seven you will have to read the source write up:

Use the “Related” operator to find more sites like — wait for it — the Nothing like using a dead tree publication to flog some clicks from the punters.

I wish to point out that the GOOG is deeply concerned about the decline in boat anchor type searches. The effort is being directed at providing information before the user knows s/he needs it. This is called predictive search.

I am delighted that the newspaper is describing how to use a search system which is losing traction. But, hey, that’s what makes real journalists and dead tree publishers the type of outfit that Jeff Bezos and Sheldon Adelson hungry to buy these companies.

Stephen E Arnold, January 15, 2016

Quote to Note: The Future and Niche Magazines about Issues

January 13, 2016

I find “real” publishers a source of entertainment. In this particular incident, I want to highlight two themes:

  1. A Silicon Valley success believes that a dead tree publication can be given the digital rework and succeed
  2. Pumping $20 million into a dead tree outfit says something about money management and common sense in the digital world

Navigate to “Owner of New Republic Puts IT Back on Market.” If you have to pay to view the story, hunt down the January 12, New York Times (dead tree edition) and look for page B 5.

The main idea is that a Facebook whiz bought a magazine, reorganized, pumped in dough, and apparently failed.

The notion of “saving” an outfit is one that gives new life to stakeholders, employees, and others involved in the operation. Think Yahoo and the Xoogler. How is that working  out?

The reality is that success in a digital endeavor may be a matter of luck, timing, and the missteps of some other competitors. Google emerged from a pretty disappointing Web search idea when it was inspired by the Overture/GoTo pay to play model.

Tucked into this mini business case about a financial black hole was this quote to note:

“The New Republic has been a money-losing proposition for 100 years,” said Jacob Weisberg, who once worked for the magazine, and is now the chairman of the Slate Group. “The idea that anyone is going to turn it into a business now, when it has never been harder, is implausible.” In his letter, Mr. Hughes said that his aim “is to place The New Republic in the hands of the most promising and dedicated potential steward.” That might take many forms, he said. “Perhaps it should be run as part of a larger digital media company, as a center-left institute of ideas, or by another passionate individual willing to invest in its future,” he wrote. “There are many possibilities.”

Perhaps Jeff Bezos or Sheldon Adelson quality as potential buyers?

Are there management lessons to be learned from this experiment in Digital Age management? Yep.

One might be having cash to invest in a money losing magazine may not generate a fungible return. One upside is that business schools can create an interesting case for future MBAs to consider.

Stephen E Arnold, January 13, 2016

Authors Guild Loses Fair Use Argument, Petitions Supreme Court for Copyright Fee Payment from Google

January 12, 2016

The article on Fortune titled Authors Guild Asks Supreme Court to Hear Google Books Copyright Case continues the 10 year battle over Google’s massive book scanning project. Only recently in October of 2015 the Google project received  a ruling in their favor due to the “transformative” nature of the scanning from a unanimous appeals court. Now the Authors Guild, with increasing desperation to claim ownership over their work, takes the fight to the Supreme Court for consideration. The article explains,

“The Authors Guild may be hoping the high profile nature of the case, which at one time transfixed the tech and publishing communities, will tempt the Supreme Court to weigh in on the scope of fair use… “This case represents an unprecedented judicial expansion of the fair-use doctrine that threatens copyright protection in the digital age. The decision below authorizing mass copying, distribution, and display of unaltered content conflicts with this Court’s decisions and the Copyright Act itself.”

In the petition to the Supreme Court, the Authors Guild is now requesting payment of copyright fees rather than a stoppage of the scanning of 20 million books. Perhaps they should have asked for that first, since Google has all but already won this one.


Chelsea Kerwin, January 12, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


Ad Blocking: A Real Publisher in Action

January 11, 2016

I read “You Say Advertising, I Say Block That Malware.” The write up reveals quite a bit about how one major publisher wields technology mastery. According to the write up, “Forbes asked readers to turn off ad blocker.”

Okay, we need money. I get that.

The write up then reveals:

On arrival, like a growing number of websites, Forbes asked readers to turn off ad blockers in order to view the article. After doing so, visitors were immediately served with pop-under malware, primed to infect their computers, and likely silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information. Or, as is popular worldwide with these malware “exploit kits,” lock up their hard drives in exchange for Bitcoin ransom. One researcher commented on Twitter that the situation was “ironic”…

I interpreted the situation differently. The publisher lacks the technical expertise to deal with its own online system. Let’s see. In Manhattan, one could stand on the corner and ask those passing on the sidewalk, “Can you help me deal with malware?”

Of course, one has to know what to ask. That is often difficult when one is so very confident that one knows what one needs to know about online systems.

My hunch is that after 15 minutes and some quick conversations, the requisite expertise would be located and en route to deal with a real publisher’s problem: Doing one thing, creating a problem, and becoming news reported in a Web log.

Ah, real publishers. A joy. Where is the motorcycle riding wizard when one needs him?

Stephen E Arnold, January 9, 2016

Overhyped Science Stuff

December 30, 2015

After Christmas, comes New Year’s Eve and news outlets take the time to reflect on the changes in the past year.  Usually they focus on celebrities who died, headlining news stories, technology advancements, and new scientific discoveries.  One of the geeky news outlets on the Internet is Gizmodo  and they took their shot at highlighting things that happened in 2015, but rather than focusing on new advances they check off “The Most Overhyped Scientific Discoveries In 2015.”

There was extreme hype about an alien megastructure in outer space that Neil deGrasse Tyson had to address and tell folks they were overreacting.  Bacon and other processed meats were labeled as carcinogens and caused cancer!  The media, of course, took the bacon link and ran with it causing extreme panic, but in the long run everything causes cancer from cellphones to sugar.

Global warming is a hot topic that always draws arguments and it appears to be getting worse the more humans release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Humans are always ready for a quick solution and a little ice age would rescue Earth.  It would be brought on by diminishing solar activity, but it turns out carbon dioxide pollution does more damage than solar viability can fix.  Another story involved the nearly indestructible tardigrades and the possibility of horizontal gene transfer, but a dispute between two rival labs about research on tardigrades ruined further research to understanding the unique creature.

The biggest overblown scientific discovery, in our opinion, is NASA’s warp drive.  Humans are desperate for breakthroughs in space travel, so we can blast off to Titan’s beaches for a day and then come home within our normal Earth time.  NASA experimented with an EM Drive:

“Apparently, the engineers working on the EM Drive decided to address some of the skeptic’s concerns head-on this year, by re-running their experiments in a closed vacuum to ensure the thrust they were measuring wasn’t caused by environmental noise. And it so happens, new EM Drive tests in noise-free conditions failed to falsify the original results. That is, the researchers had apparently produced a minuscule amount of thrust without any propellant.

Once again, media reports made it sound like NASA was on the brink of unveiling an intergalactic transport system.”

NASA might be working on warp drive prototype, but the science is based on short-term experiments, none of it has been peer reviewed, and NASA has not claimed that the engine even works.

The media takes the idea snippets and transforms them into overblown news pieces that are based more on junk science than real scientific investigation.


Whitney Grace, December 30, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Quote to Note: Axil Springer

December 25, 2015

I read “A Giant in Print Reboots.” (If the link does not resolve, snag a copy of the dead tree edition of the New York Times for December 21, 2015. Navigate to page B 1.) Like other “print publishers embrace the digital revolution” articles, the “giant” Axil Springer is really going to go a new direction. I noted this morning that about 25 years ago, the consumerist Internet began.

Axil Springer owns a chunk of the Web search engine which keeps a senior Alphabet Google executive awake at night. You know this search system, don’t you, gentle reader? You use everyday, don’t you?

Tucked in the article is a quote to note. I circled:

I would not exclude that in 10 years’ time our company could be 100 percent digital in terms of revenue and 80 or even 90 percent international.–Mathias Döpfner, Axel Springer CEO

Pushing out the transformation to 2026 lines up with the time horizons on which some print publishers operate. My view is that a decade is a long time in today’s somewhat volatile business environment.

Stephen E Arnold, December 25, 2015

Real Journalists Do Not Know Who Owns Their Newspaper

December 17, 2015

I find “real” journalists and traditional publishers an endless source of amusement. I read “Reporters in Las Vegas Try to Crack Case of Whom Really Owns Their Newspaper.” You may be able to read this article online but you may have to pay or perform some act of obeisance to the the Gray Lady. This write up, which appeared on December 15, 2015, in my dead tree copy on page B-3, without much self awareness of the irony  of the situation, appeared in the New York Times. Yep, that’s the newspaper that Jeff Bezos wants to leapfrog with his almost new Washington Post.

I read the facts, just the facts:

It was not clear precisely who is behind the company [a newspaper called The Review Journal], which was very recently incorporated.

And there are the senior managers of this esteemed outfit:

The paper will continue to be managed by Gatehouse Media, a subsidiary of New Media Investment Group. All but the company’s most senior executives and those most directly involved with the paper are unaware of the new owner’s identity.

If I understand this, someone paid $140 million for a newspaper with real journalists, and the journalists cannot find out who owns the newspaper.

Let’s look on the bright side. Public relations professionals can submit information to this type of real newspaper and expect to get their story nudged forward. It seems like taking the easy path is what some real journalists do.

And the New York Times? I don’t think their “real” journalists could find the answer either. What does this suggest about the ability of “real” journalists to obtain information?

Boy, I don’t know. Perhaps we could ask Rupert Murdoch or some of his professionals who found creative ways to gather information.

I wonder if any writers for comedians are monitoring this story. Where are Jack Benny’s writers when one needs them.

Stephen E Arnold, December 17, 2015

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