Journalists leaving media to work for start-ups

The Journalist’s New Escape Plan: Start-Ups:

Others, like former Wired editor Evan Hansen, who recently joined Ev Williams’ blogging start-up Medium as an editor, dismiss the idea that the switch has anything to do with job security. “This is not about finding a safe place to keep doing the same old same old, but about inventing something new and having a place at the table with tech innovators who have the capacity to actually build it,” he said.

And then there’s the money. While leaving a traditional newsroom for a younger tech company is still risky, there’s at least the promise of stock options and the lure of a grand exit, which are both exciting as well as rare opportunities in media, a field not known for its exorbitant salaries. In the not-so-distant past, a successful tenure as a reporter or editor could mean a corner office or a cushy columnist job at an elite publication — or perhaps an offer to “sell out” to a more lucrative job at a codependent PR firm. Today, it could very well mean a modest buyout as the company clears room for younger reporters with lower salaries.

I think that in the next five-to-ten years the news media is going to reach some kind of equilibrium, either through the use of paywalls or through better forms of advertising. What I’m hoping – for my own career’s sake – is that once that point is reached, sites will be able to slowly expand and we can go back to the days of stable careers at institutions that aren’t on the verge of failing.

Mostly because freelancing sounds incredibly stressful. 

Snapchat releases major update

Matt Alexander:

Snapchat doesn’t seem to have gained much traction in the core technology community, but, outside of it, I rarely come across a friend who hasn’t used it on a regular basis. From fleeting shots of lunch to videos sharing concert experiences, Snapchat has quickly found its way into my daily life in a truly good  way.

While I disagree with the point about the core technology community not adopting Snapchat – every software engineer my age that I know uses it as does everyone at the Business Insider office – I agree with Matt’s main point: Snapchat is taking the world by storm because it’s just so damn easy to work into your life.

You don’t have to worry about wording your status just right or framing the picture or choosing the right filter because in ten seconds it’ll be gone. Some people don’t like that because they want to be able to look at their chats later. I find it freeing because it lets me stay in the moment.

George Clooney almost played Mexican Mitt Romney on Arrested Development

Asawin Suebsaeng, for Mother Jones:

During a conference call on Wednesday, Arrested Development creator and executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz revealed exactly why he and his creative team focused so much on lampooning Cain in the show’s fourth season. Hurwitz had already planned on mining the Republican presidential field for satire and topicality. One idea was to cast some famous and extremely good-looking actors—including George Clooney—to play a family of “Mexican Romneys” in the new season. That idea was ultimately left unfulfilled, which gave Hurwitz time to turn his attention to Cain.

I could see it. Maybe next season? *crosses fingers*

Blackberry customer service is the worst

What If Blackberry Customer Service Ran Other Things?:

BLACKBERRY CUSTOMER SERVICE: We send the update to your phone automatically. You just have to be prepared for it. It’s that time of year, so you should know that and make sure your phone doesn’t die.

ME: It didn’t really die. It stalled. It couldn’t process backing up the ‘Social Feeds’ app and then it shut down.

BLACKBERRY CUSTOMER SERVICE: Oh, you should’ve uninstalled that app.

ME: It came with the phone.

BLACKBERRY CUSTOMER SERVICE: I know, it’s bundled with Blackberry Bold but it’s buggy and I’d uninstall it if I were you. Didn’t you have your information backed up?

It’s your fault for not uninstalling that buggy app that we shipped with our phone. Duh.

How to make your blog better for readers

Designing blogs for readers:

I don’t think there’s any reasonable way, or any need, to separate vanity and ego from a personal blog. Writing is inherently about its author, and is a product of their personality and opinions – that’s not something to be shy about, and we shouldn’t try to change it either. So, write for yourself – and hold yourself to an appropriate standard, because you’d better believe that others are judging the person as well as the piece – but as soon as you publish your views, you’re inviting readers to take a look. I think that the needs of the reader and the author are more aligned than many blogging systems seem to believe.

Having had a decade to think about it, I want to share my views on what I think you do and don’t need on a blog today. Your needs may be different, but perhaps you’ll find something to think about. I bet you could simplify your blog in some way without detracting from the reading experience.

Matt Gemmell has some wonderful suggestions for offering a better reading experience for your audience. I think he’d approve of most of the design decisions that have been made for this site.

Why the ITC’s ban on Apple importing the iPhone and iPad doesn’t matter

U.S. agency: Apple infringes Samsung patent on older iPhones, iPads:

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled on Tuesday that the Silicon Valley giant had infringed on a patent owned by Samsung that involves the ability of devices to transmit multiple services simultaneously and correctly through 3G wireless technology.

The independent federal agency slapped a ban on the import or sale of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G distributed by AT&T, the biggest seller of Apple devices in the United States when Samsung filed its complaint in 2011. The products are assembled in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has 60 days to review the ruling. If he does not veto the order, it will go into effect.

60 days from now, we’ll probably be about two months away from the release of the next iPhone. Assuming that there isn’t a lower-cost iPhone introduced as well, we can assume that in September or October:

  • The iPhone 5S will become the new $199 flagship model.
  • The iPhone 5 will move down to the mid-range $99 position.
  • The iPhone 4S will become the new “free on contract” model.

So the iPhone 4 is either not going to be a factor or will be $300 or so off-contract. Meanwhile, the iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G, and iPad 2 3G models are already irrelevant. Even without Apple appealing the decision (which it will on principle alone), this ruling will cause *literally* zero damage to Apple’s bottom line. But hey, at least it makes a good headline for news sites:

Screen Shot 2013 06 05 at 4 31 44 PM

Electric cars becoming cheaper than gas-powered competition

Electric cars are getting as cheap as gasoline rivals :

Forced by state regulators to sell more zero-emission vehicles, automakers are tripping over each other to offer consumers rock-bottom lease deals. For the first time, electric vehicles are penciling out cheaper than their gas-powered counterparts.

Honda joined the price war this week by dropping the lease on its Fit EV from $389 to $259 a month. It threw in collision and vehicle theft coverage, maintenance, roadside assistance — even a charging station at your house. Factoring in a state rebate, a customer can drive off the lot with an all-in, three-year commitment of less than $7,000. That may make the Fit EV the cheapest $37,000 car in history.

Still, the Honda will have to compete with recently announced $199-a-month leases on the Nissan Leaf, the Fiat 500e and the Chevrolet Spark. Ford is offering its Focus EV for $284 a month.

$200-300 per month and charging costs almost nothing compared to filling up a traditional car at the pump?

Sign me up.

Facebook is becoming a social media hydra

The great defriending of Facebook:

When friends’ posts do show up in your feed, a lot of times they’re just sharing another image or link or video. External content, i.e., stuff that isn’t native to Facebook (memes, articles, pretty science photographs), is the network’s new social currency. Facebook is mutating into a social media hydra, a bit like Twitter, which dominates live events (Facebook even experimenting with hashtags) and a bit like Tumblr, which rules entertainment and fandom. The only problem? Those companies are already the very best at what they do, and to compete against them Facebook has to dilute the highly personal network of real relationships that makes it unique.

Soon you’re going to start judging Facebook friends on how good they are at sharing stuff—not on their actual relationship with you.

Among my friends, Facebook is considered something a necessary evil in the social scene. No one really likes using it, but it’s still where everyone uploads all their photos with friends and family and where we go to set up plans with groups of people. But no company wants to own the site that people feel they have to use despite hating it – that’s like being MySpace in 2007.

(He said as he posted this to The Russell Bulletin’s Facebook page and shared to all his friends.)

Boeing using robots to make more planes with the same amount of people

Speaking of machines doing increasingly more complex tasks, it turns out that Boeing is now using robots to paint the wings of its massive 777s. Unsurprisingly, they’re way better at it than humans are:

Manually, it takes a team of painters 4.5 hours to do the first coat. The robots do it in 24 minutes with perfect quality. Boeing began using the machine in February. By midsummer, all 777 wings will be painted this way.

Both the head of the of the 777 program and the director in charge of their manufacturing were quick to point out that no one was laid off because of the robots, but the reality is that more work being done with fewer people means fewer jobs to go around.

Cloud gaming startup thinks the next generation of AAA gaming will be pay-by-the-hour

Today I had the chance to interview Peter Relan, Chairman of cloud gaming startup Agawi – short for Any game, anywhere, instantly. We had an interesting discussion about the state of gaming, why past entrants into the cloud gaming space have failed, and what he sees as the future of the industry.

We started by looking at gaming today and the recent console announcements made by Microsoft and Sony. The first thing Relan pointed out is that both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 have moved to what amounts to PC hardware. Fairly fast PC hardware mind you, but not very different from what you’d get in a low- to mid-range gaming desktop using parts from AMD: both have an x86 processor, 8 GBs of RAM, and a decent graphics chip.

In Relan’s view, this means that we’re going to see almost every title that comes out for the major consoles – minus platform-exclusive titles like Microsoft’s Halo series – on the PC as well. Unlike in the previous generation, where developers had to put extra work to port games from the PowerPC-based processors of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 over to Windows (and maybe Mac), developing games for all three platforms should be relatively painless.

The only problem with this situation, according to Relan, is that in an age where people find themselves splitting their time between their PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, and e-readers, there’s an increasingly minuscule amount of time left to dedicate to playing through massive 10-100 hour AAA games on dedicated consoles. At a time when games for the iPhone and iPad – arguably the most-used gaming platforms today – generally cost somewhere between between $0.99 and $15 (and there aren’t many games at that price for long), people don’t want to drop $60 on games that they may or may not want to play through entirely.

Relan’s grand plan to save the AAA industry thus takes a page from the games market that has emerged on smartphones and tablets. Rather than pay upfront for big-budget games and installing massive 15 GB+ files, gamers will instead download a 15 MB app from the Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android app stores onto their desktop, laptop, or tablet – for free – that serves as little more than a link to Agawi’s servers. These servers will run hundreds to thousands of Windows virtual machines at a time, each serving up a dedicated version of the game that the user purchased.

After a quick Agawi splash-screen, the player will proceed to the game’s normal main menu. From here, they will be able to play any aspect of the game – still for free – for a given amount of time set by the game’s publisher. After that time (usually 30 minutes to an hour), the player receives a notification that they have run out of trial time and that they can continue playing for a small fee, usually $5 for two hours. Depending on the platform, this can be done from within the game (on PC or Mac) or online (on iPad or Android tablets – like Netflix or Spotify, publishers don’t want to have to pay the 30 percent cut that Apple takes for in-app purchases).

While gamers might gawk at the idea of paying $5 for only two hours of gameplay, Relan thinks that this business model works in everyone’s favor. The small downloads and trial periods will let gamers have a chance to try games before putting any money down, while the small increments let them only pay for the amount of enjoyment they think they’ll get out of it as opposed to paying $60 for a 30-hour-long game and being disappointed when they only have time to play through the first 10 hours.

As for publishers, they get to adapt to the realities of the post-App Store world by offering free-to-play AAA content using the free-to-play plus IAP business model that’s proven to be lucrative for mobile developers. While they do have to pay Agawi a fee for hosting (about a penny per minute of game time), the upside is access to an entirely new market: casual gamers who don’t want to buy dedicated consoles, don’t have expensive gaming computers, and those whose only experience with gaming is on their tablet devices – think the 30-40 crowd of “non-traditional” gamers.

Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind when a gamer hears “cloud gaming” is OnLive and its failure. Relan addressed this in our conversation as well. OnLive attempted to be a Netflix for games: it bought rights to the backlogs of several publishers and offered them via a monthly subscription, while newer games had to be purchased individually at full price. Relan pointed out that his put them in competition with the publishers, so why would they let OnLive have any of their good games? In addition, OnLive was ahead of its time: “the cloud” as a concept was still fairly new when it started, they had to make their hardware infrastructure themselves, and average Internet connections were slower.

In comparison, Agawi’s platform is based on nVidia’s GRID architecture – which is designed from the ground up to handle cloud gaming – and Internet speeds today are fast enough that Relan says that the latency when playing a game on its servers is about that of playing an online game on the Xbox 360. Plus, the company is already bringing in money – at a profit. Last year, the company generated over $4 million in revenue, and expects to more than double that this year.

For those of you who are interested, Agawi will be announcing its publishing partnerships next week at E3, so we’ll get to see what major titles they’ll be offering then. For those interested in the technical details of the service, here’s a presentation that Relan made at the 2013 Cloud Gaming Summit back in March: