Requiem for a Banner Ad: Content Blockers as a Force for Good

If we want writers to make great work, vloggers to challenge our wit and then inventors to create new places for us to praise and critique them, somehow we need to pay. They need incentive because working for free is exploitative. We pay our politicians to change our countries and the immensely charitable Gates Foundation was born out of the richest businessman in the world. But in an internet-centric world, where the newspaper watches over its grave we forget this because information is free, entertainment is free and charity is easy.

Adverts paying for the web has become so normal that we believe it is the right way to pay creatives and journalists. Pre-roll YouTube ads and expanses of shiny banners over, under and on top of the news are part of our lives. And most people hate them, especially on the mobile web, where such ads can obscure most—if not all—of the content.

Unsurprisingly the publishers are the first to complain when people begin blocking such eyesores. There has been an uproar as iOS 9 brings content blockers to iPhone and iPad users, speeding up load times and making great content shine, but Nilay Patel of The Verge, in an article titled “Welcome to Hell”, claims that blocking ads means the “pace of web innovation will slow to a crawl” and at the bottom line, lead to the “death of the web”. PC Mag—within a shocking mobile web experience smothered in popovers and banners—have a similar sentiment, arguing that “users will eventually wonder why their favorite website died before finding another set of content to plunder.”

I may be no expert in web advertising and owning a monetised website—I have done neither—but I have worked on and read the business plan of a media startup, I have been paid to write on the web, and I spend so much time reading the words of the heavyweights in tech media that I feel I have a solid grasp on these recent debates. I can say with confidence that The Verge and PC Mag are wrong.

Ad blockers will force innovation. The web is here to stay; it isn’t going to die anytime soon. People need it, people live for it, and the job opportunities it has created are so invaluable our governments will not allow it to fade.

When such adverts stop making money we will be forced to imagine new ways of bringing in revenue; we will be respecting content more than ever. Ad networks like The Deck encourage minimal, informative ads and blogs from Daring Fireball to MacStories encourage sponsorship and membership with perks. I respect this, and I doubt I am alone.

The business of Content Marketing implemented by Buzzfeed and Vice to name just two, makes content become the advert. Articles and videos produced with companies pay well and are entertaining and informative. They sit alongside real content, aren’t garish, are effective, and easily avoided by the suspicious.

Crowd funding is threatening YouTube advertising, as viewers are frustrated by 30 minute pre-roll ads they always skip. Patreon encourages small time creatives to make more content by opening themselves to donations. The more someone donates, the more videos they make and the more perks particular fans can receive.

Within Snapchat, sponsored filters fund the company and are fun and engaging. They are not annoying or obstructive of the app’s core functions. Reddit Gold allows users to remove already inconspicuous adverts for a small subscription fee, and gives them perks on the site and discounts from other companies.

The best thing about the above warriors against traditional advertising: they are responsible. They treat writers and artists and users well.

Every criticism or think piece written recently have shared a trait. They ignore the fact that advertising only works if they have engaged readers. Irresponsible, ugly, intrusive adverts that slow their website down will turn away the people they need to pay their wages.

Years ago, pop-ups were the bane of working on the internet. Browsers began clamping down on such invasive ways of grabbing our attention, so much so that they are almost eradicated today. The same can and has to happen to the banner ads of 2015. Be responsible: innovate.

The state of Android tablets: Google need to either fix their injured tablet platform, or let it die

The Middle Ground on Android Tablets:

Only one [tablet optimised feature] remains in Android Lollipop: the ‘UI Framework for creating great tablet apps’ that was released in 3.0.  Now, the default Android home-screen has literally no tablet optimised elements, everything acts the exact same as if it would on a smartphone, just larger.

I’m not sure if it is the lack of interest in Android tablets that keeps developers from producing tablet apps in line with their iPad counterparts, but if the platform is to improve Google need to lead with example; right now they’re doing the opposite.

iPad sales are falling, however, so maybe letting Android tablets die is not as sad as it may first appear.

Jeremy Corbyn is the Politician the World Needs

Our country has a problem. People don’t care about politics because politics is a mess. It’s a club of elites breaking promises and hurting the people who really keep our country and its cultures alive. People are disengaged, they don’t care, they’re apathetic.

Jeremy Corbyn, someone who was obscure just a couple of months ago, will change that. If he were elected Prime Minister, the country would begin to—for the first time in a long time—represent us. It would represent the people of our country fairly. The United Kingdom would be a democracy again.

In this Labour leadership election we have the chance to put a man who will do things no politician has ever dared to do before into the running for the highest office of our country.

Jeremy Corbyn is favoured by 2015’s Ukip voters, Green voters, SNP voters, distrusting Tories and young people. And old people, and the middle class, and businesses who need well educated people from all walks of life.

Every child born should be born with equal opportunities. It shouldn’t matter if they have good parents or bad parents. Whether they are unhealthy or healthy, black babies or gay babies. Those born in the North should be the same as those born in the South.

They deserve choice, and fair, free education.

They don’t deserve to worry about being in poverty even if they work hard.

They can’t live their lives in fear of nuclear weapons.

They shouldn’t suffer because Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump are selfish and bigoted.

But they are. That’s how our country works. Finally we can change that. The Labour leadership election is a once in a lifetime opportunity to empower someone who truly stands against austerity and against the plague of inequality.

The right wing are panicking. The press are panicking. Much of the Labour party are panicking. Because everything they know—the corruption and undemocratic nature of our supposedly ‘developed’ country—is being put at risk by a 66 year old man with the biggest heart and the strongest drive of anyone in Westminster.

It might be a risk. Because Corbyn as a Prime Minister is idealistic. But is there anything wrong with idealism?

Corbyn can engage those distanced from politics. Nobody else can. Without him, the House of Commons remains to hurt those in need: the working people who drive our country.

He’s our only chance. Our one chance.

Take it.

Labour Supporters and Members, vote Jeremy Corbyn from the 14th August and spread the word. 

The Shadow Cabinet Are Killing Labour

Harriet Harman in the Guardian, recounting the shadow cabinet meetings preceding the controversial welfare bill that the opposition party didn’t oppose:

“What I did was listen very carefully to the shadow cabinet about what we should do about it.” There was a show of hands. “Eight people wanted to just abstain, 11 wanted to have a reasoned amendment and abstain, and four wanted to vote against.” She decided to abstain with the amendment, but says she could not have won anyway. “There was never going to be a right answer, because the only right answer was not to have the Tories in government and not have the flipping bill in the House of Commons.”

This is a shocking revelation. Less than 20% of Labour’s heart wanted to vote against the welfare bill. It wasn’t Harman on her own; it was a collective decision to betray Labour’s core principles.

Labour’s cabinet would likely look very similar under any of the leadership candidates with the exception of Corbyn’s democratic one. By voting for anyone except Corbyn, I worry I’ll be endorsing a cabinet that will make Miliband’s mistake: not being a real alternative.

You can’t win without trying.

Backing up Your Computer is Illegal in the UK

Law is a confusing thing, especially when it’s written by a government who seem to lack common sense.

Last year UK Copyright Law was clarified and rewritten, allowing for burning CDs into programs like iTunes, something that most already thought was legal. Recent legislation, however, has reversed that ruling.

TorrentFreak sought a comment on the changes:

“It is now unlawful to make private copies of copyright works you own, without permission from the copyright holder – this includes format shifting from one medium to another,” a spokesperson informed us.

iTunes is illegal. But it goes further.

“…it includes creating back-ups without permission from the copyright holder as this necessarily involves an act of copying,” we were informed by the Government spokesperson.

In reality, it is unlikely that people with backups of their computers, and thus their music libraries, will be prosecuted, and neither will those burning CDs on their home computers. Nevertheless these laws are a worry as there remains potential for unreasonable lawsuits to arise and people who don’t know any better avoiding doing what is imperative to using a computer safely and efficiently: backing up.

Indeed, streaming services from Spotify to Apple Music to YouTube are all replacing our need for locally stored music, so as long as the UK’s confused legislators don’t try to stifle competition in that space, perhaps we shouldn’t be making too much of a fuss of their poor wording.

I Don’t Know Who To Vote For

I’m voting in the Labour leadership election this summer. I’ve been watching the debates, reading the Guardian and listening to Owen Jones. But I’m lost. How does Labour win in 2020 and still keep to its core values? It seems impossible.

I’m happy to admit I was an Ed Miliband fan. The manifesto was unconvincing, but he campaigned superbly and many of his core principles mirror mine. Nevertheless I completely understand the need for change in the Labour party, a new direction and a fresh start to win back voters who now identify with the ‘nasty party’.

I thought this was Yvette Cooper. She’s Labour at heart, but is also willing to move more to the centre ground to win votes and keep the party representative of the people. Arguably most importantly, to me, she sounds how a Prime Minister should sound: earnest and honest, impassioned and caring. I wonder though, is she too much like Miliband? She’s not radical but her actions and policies are well considered. She may make a fantastic leader of our country, but if she can get there is a bigger question.

And then there’s Jeremy Corbyn, who is now a serious contender in the race. He’s a socialist, which is scary (although it shouldn’t be) for Labour, but this means he is a new face and a fresh start; he stands for a radical restructuring of the party. He wants an elected cabinet, he doesn’t want to lead from 10 Downing Street, and he would ideally take Buckingham Palace away from the monarchy. He is a change—not the change that some see Liz Kendall as bringing—but a sweeping, fair change. If Corbyn had a few terms in government, I can imagine a different, equitable, honourable, amazing Britain that we can be proud of. I know this is an ideal—an unlikely fantasy—but with five years of a harsh, evil Tory government, people could, maybe, be tempted by the true left.

It’s a risk to vote Corbyn. Maybe it’s a risk to vote Cooper when weakling Burnham has better odds and patronising Kendall is maintaining worryingly solid support. Whether I put Cooper or Corbyn as my first choice, both votes rely on the Tories continuing to ruin our country, and the rich noticing the injustice felt by the poor. Do I want a Labour party that’s stable and smart, or beautifully progressive?

Shame on the Reddit Community

A revelation from Reddit’s ex-CEO Yishan Wong today shook up what was already a complex, controversial revolt on the ‘front page of the internet’:

I’ve always remembered that email when I read the occasional posting here where people say “the founders of reddit intended this to be a place for free speech.” Human minds love originalism, e.g. “we’re in trouble, so surely if we go back to the original intentions, we can make things good again.” Sorry to tell you guys but NO, that wasn’t their intention at all ever. Sucks to be you, /r/coontown – I hope you enjoy voat!

It turns out Reddit was never designed as a place for free speech, as the community claims it was. It was always meant to be censored, and not at all a place for harassment, racism or trolling. It was meant to be fun, and silly.

When Reddit began (rightly) clamping down on sub-reddits encouraging harassment, users revolted, threatened and abused CEO Ellen Pao. Except…

…the most delicious part of this is that on at least two separate occasions, the board pressed /u/ekjp to outright ban ALL the hate subreddits in a sweeping purge. She resisted, knowing the community, claiming it would be a shitshow.

She was the one campaigning for free speech all along. Disillusioned, nasty users ripped her apart and forced her to resign for no reason.

And how about the firing of AMA organiser Victoria Taylor, which led to a blackout of the biggest pages on the site? Wong clarified this too:

Alexis [Ohanian] wasn’t some employee reporting to Pao, he was the Executive Chairman of the Board, i.e. Pao’s boss. He had different ideas for AMAs, he didn’t like Victoria’s role, and decided to fire her.

Who got the blame? Of course, Pao: The defender of free speech.

Ellen Pao was scapegoated for banning harassing sub-reddits when she defended them and was blamed for firing an employee her boss didn’t like. She may not have been right on any occasion, but the community was wrong. Despicable and disgusting and obnoxious. I’m ashamed to be part of them.

Rejoice, UK Government Backtracks on Encryption Ban

Business Insider with some relieving news:

The UK government will not try to ban encryption, a Number 10 representative has told Business Insider.

The denial comes after Prime Minister David Cameron suggested in Parliament at the end of June that he intended to crack down on encryption technology, saying he wanted to “ensure that terrorists do not have a safe space in which to communicate.”

The banning of encryption, and thus services like iMessage, WhatsApp and Snapchat, was a disgusting Tory policy that risked both our freedoms to converse in private, and our security.

If they had gone through with this, we would have been at risk of fraud, criminals snooping on our messages and bulk collection of our information from the government.

GCHQ have a job to do, but there are alternative ways to do it than clamping down on our civil liberties, and putting us at risk of cyber crime. This news is very welcome.

Apple to Announce TV Streaming Service, Looks Underwhelming

The New York Post have an interesting scoop on the next industry Apple is set to enter:

The Cupertino, Calif., tech firm is making broadcast networks the centerpiece of its cable-killer TV app — and talks with all four networks are rapidly gaining momentum, The Post has learned.

“The platform is ready and it rocks,” said one source.

Apple’s discussions with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox initially foundered over the tech giant’s desire to offer on the soon-to-launch service local live TV feeds streamed on any Apple device, sources said.

Could this be the cable-killer that will shake up the TV industry? I doubt it. True, the Apple TV is well priced and has the potential to be part of millions more homes if deals with major networks pass, but it doesn’t seem as big an opportunity as Apple Music was.

What I want to see, is an international subscription service which allows me to watch new TV from all the major networks and premium channels like HBO. Cable will die when we can stream any show we want, whenever we want, just like we can with music. “Local live TV feeds” doesn’t cut it, and is somewhat underwhelming.

Understandably that may take time as network politics and licensing is inherently complex, but I’d rather see that as an end goal, than have Apple celebrate a mediocre step that will benefit just a few in the US.

Maybe we’ll have to leave it to Netflix to reach that fantasy. They have previously had deals with networks to broadcast shows internationally, such as AMC’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul in the UK; I’m sure they can take this even further in the future.

In Memory of Nintendo’s President, a Genius Programmer and ‘fun guy’

Yesterday was a solemn day as Nintendo’s President, Satoru Iwata died at just 55. The brief statement from the company appeared rather blunt:

Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth.

But as the news filtered down, some charming stories began surfacing. There are light hearted and genuine ones, such as an ex-employee’s memories posted on Reddit:

I saw him up close once, when he came to NOA for an event promoting Wii Sports internally. He jogged in the room to some energy-infused music (might’ve been the Rocky theme?), pumping his fists high in the air along with the Wii Remote and nunchuk that he held. He got up in front of everyone and boxed against Reggie (the NOA president–I think he had just recently been appointed to the position) in Wii Boxing while a jam-packed room of employees cheered him on. I don’t remember the exact outcome, but I think Iwata-san won best 2 out of 3. He was a genuine, fun, and nice guy, and Nintendo will be hard-pressed to find another leader like him.

Most interestingly is the revelation that he was a genius programmer, perhaps one of the best in the company, before he was promoted to the executive team, and even during his role as president. This exchange between him and GameFreak programmer Shigeki Morimoto tells of how he repeatedly amazed his colleagues.

Right. (laughs) You decided to release Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 and the first task was to analyze the Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green battle logic and send it over to Miyamoto-san and his team. You’d normally expect there to be a specification document, but there was nothing of the sort…
I’m so sorry! (laughs)
No, no, it’s fine! (laughs) Studying the program for the Pokémon battle system was part of my job.
I created that battle program and it really took a long time to put together. But when I heard that Iwata-san had been able to port it over in about a week and that it was already working… Well, I thought: “What kind of company president is this!?”(laughs)
I was saying things like: “Is that guy a programmer? Or is he the President?” (laughs)

In Iwata’s own words:

On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.