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21 Oct 23:02

We, the Despots

by Eric Karjaluoto

This morning, Monica Lewinsky’s name appeared in my Twitter feed. My first thought was to tweet a cheeky one-liner—referencing obvious (and tired) subject matter.

I then went on to read about Lewinsky. She recounted the experience of having her reputation destroyed on the internet. She also described the pain she felt as a result of the public harassment she endured. Since then, she’s made ending cyberbullying her mission.

I felt embarrassed.

Who was I to judge this person? What right do I have to mock another’s personal matters? Why would I trade my decency, just for a quick gag? More importantly: Am I the kind of person who’ll reduce another human being to a crass punch line?

If I’d acted on that dumb impulse, I wouldn’t have been alone. Tweets directed at her ran the gamut from, “Are you available for bachelor parties?” to, “I have a cigar with your name on it……” and “Let me tell u Moni, not all 21 year old suck the presidents dick.” (The sort of retorts one hopes will surface when these folks apply for jobs.)

A few hours passed, and Renee Zellweger’s name was trending. Turns out, the actress looks quite different than before—as a result of plastic surgery.

The public barbs that followed ranged from the cruel to the outright vicious. One compared the actress to Lord of the Rings’ Gollum. Another made an eCard that reads, “May your Halloween costume be as shocking as Renee Zellweger’s new face.” And everyone from individuals, to the “news” media were quick to take a kick at the actress.

A handful spoke to the insidious nature of Hollywood. They noted how it glorifies young actresses only to discard them upon reaching middle-age (and how this effectively forces these artists to undergo cosmetic surgery). Fewer yet acknowledged the systemic nature of sexism in media. I wonder if instead of our jokes, we should ask ourselves some questions. For example, why do we think it’s acceptable to judge, critique, and mock certain women, just because they have public personas?

Perhaps these spiteful leanings were always with us—and it’s just our tools that have changed. The internet, for example, isn’t just a set of technologies; it’s an amplifier. It takes our culture’s bravest moments, and highlights them for everyone to see. It can galvanize the voices of a silenced few, and raise them up for all to hear.

The internet also amplifies our weaknesses, as a people. My examples from this morning are just a couple of the most recent ones. Daily, we’re fed niblets of gossip that we collectively ravage. We extract every last bit of amusement from these, no matter the pain we inflict. Our appetites debase our morals and sensibilities.

But—we can be change.

You, me, every one of us: We can do better. We can think critically. We can challenge ideas. We can discuss issues. We can have heated debates, in which we say what we believe. We can speak with conviction, bias, or even ignorance. It’s in this discussion that we come to understand.

However, what we mustn’t do, is allow our weakest instincts to take hold. While any notion should be open to debate, we must preserve the rights of the individual. Because when we take momentary pleasure in others’ misfortunes, we are all made lesser.

22 Oct 00:00

Why Big Data Won't Cure Us

Gina Neff, Big Data, Oct 25, 2014

One of the flaws of contemporary economics is that it postulates the economically rational consumer who will always choose in his or her best interest. We know, however, that this is rarely the case, and that the economy is beset by forces that are essentially irrational. The same problem applies to big data. As Gina Neff writes, "At last year's Stanford Medicine X Conference, a speaker confidently gave a simple, linear equation: 'Data leads to knowledge which leads to change.' This seemed sensible enough to most in the room because it reflects the values of quantified self and data-driven health innovation. An audience member, however, changed the tone of the discussion by responding, 'If knowledge translated into behavior we wouldn't need psychologists.' At the heart of many current attempts at data-driven health is a powerfully seductive but inherently flawed model of the relationship of data to knowledge, interpretation, and action."

[Link] [Comment]
22 Oct 13:12

What Are You Trying To Achieve With A Community Newsletter?

by Richard Millington

Are you trying to bring non-active members back into the community?

Are you trying to encourage your existing, active, members to be more active? 

Are you trying to build a stronger sense of community among members?

Are you trying to get members to take a specific action? 

Few pointers here. 

First, the newsletter is strategic. You send it out to achieve a specific goal that helps the community. If it doesn't help, stop sending it. 

The answer to the above will decide who the target audience. Only send the newsletter to that audience. The answer will also determine the content of the newsletter. If you have the time, create multiple newsletters to different audience segments.

Second, pick one big action/story/element to highlight in a post, not a dozen.

Third, you don't have to stick with the same goal for every newsletter. You can rotate them. The rotation might make newsletters refreshing. However, every newsletter needs it's own specific goal. 


22 Oct 19:00

Catching Faces

Point-and-shoot cameras advertise “Face Recognition”, a cheap trick that a Serious Photographer using a Real Camera with a Fast Prime Lens would never go near. Oh, wait.

What happened was

At goto; Aarhus the big first-night party was “007-themed”, which gave everyone with flashy duds an excuse to wear them. People were looking good and I wanted to take portraits; it was dim in that room, so I was using a prime lens jammed wide-open. Here’s what Fujifilm calls “Face detection” at work.

Kresten Krab Thorup

Kresten Krab Thorup, conference organizer, Erjang guy, smart.

Nicky Plant

Nicky Plant, a beauty therapist with secret desire
to be a Bond villainess.

Randy Shoup

Randy Shoup, consulting CTO in Silicon Valley,
formerly of eBay, Google, and KIXEYE.

Eva Andreasson

Eva Andreasson, Swedish JVM engineer
gone American Big Data product manager

Don’t they all look great?

I was surprised to find “Intelligent Face Detection” buried down in the X-T1 menus. The name is a lie; what it actually does is find eyes and lock in on them. With a steely grip. The fact that it works at close quarters in low light at F1.4, especially given that the 35mm probably has the klunkiest autofocus of all the Fujinon X-lenses, feels like a miracle to me.

22 Oct 16:00

How I Do Code Reviews at Mozilla

by Benjamin Smedberg

Since I received some good feedback about my prior post, How I Hire at Mozilla, I thought I’d try to continue this is a mini-series about how I do other things at Mozilla. Next up is code review.

Even though I have found new module owners for some of the code I own, I still end up doing 8-12 review/feedback cycles per week. Reviews are only as good as the time you spend on them: I approach reviews in a fairly systematic way.

When I load a patch for review, I don’t read it top-to-bottom. I also try to avoid reading the bug report: a code change should be able to explain itself either directly in the code or in the code commit message which is part of the patch. If bugzilla comments are required to understand a patch, those comments should probably be part of the commit message itself. Instead, I try to understand the patch by unwrapping it from the big picture into the small details:

The Commit Message

  • Does the commit message describe accurately what the patch does?
  • Am I the right person to make a decision about this change?
  • Is this the right change to be making?
  • Are there any external specifications for this change? This could include a UX design, or a DOM/HTML specification, or something else.
  • Should there be an external specification for this change?
  • Are there other experts who should be involved in this change? Does this change require a UX design/review, or a security, privacy, legal, localization, accessibility, or addon-compatibility review or notification?

Read the Specification

If there is an external specification that this change should conform to, I will read it or the appropriate sections of it. In the following steps of the review, I try to relate the changes to the specification.


If there is in-tree documentation for a feature, it should be kept up to date by patches. Some changes, such as Firefox data collection, must be documented. I encourage anyone writing Mozilla-specific features and APIs to document them primarily with in-tree docs, and not on In-tree docs are much more likely to remain correct and be updated over time.

API Review

APIs define the interaction between units of Mozilla code. A well-designed API that strikes the right balance between simplicity and power is a key component of software engineering.

In Mozilla code, APIs can come in many forms: IDL, IPDL, .webidl, C++ headers, XBL bindings, and JS can all contain APIs. Sometimes even C++ files can contain an API; for example Mozilla has an mostly-unfortunate pattern of using the global observer service as an API surface between disconnected code.

In the first pass I try to avoid reviewing the implementation of an API. I’m focused on the API itself and its associated doccomments. The design of the system and the interaction between systems should be clear from the API docs. Error handling should be clear. If it’s not perfectly obvious, the threading, asynchronous behavior, or other state-machine aspects of an API should be carefully documented.

During this phase, it is often necessary to read the surrounding code to understand the system. None of our existing tools are very good at this, so I often have several MXR tabs open while reading a patch. Hopefully future review-board integration will make this better!

Brainstorm Design Issues

In my experience, the design review is the hardest phase of a review, the part which requires the most experience and creativity, and provides the most value.

  • How will this change interact with other code in the tree?
  • Are there edge cases or failure cases that need to be addressed in the design?
  • Is it likely that this change will affect performance or security in unexpected ways?

Testing Review

I try to review the tests before I review the implementation.

  • Are there automated unit tests?
  • Are there automated performance tests?
  • Is there appropriate telemetry/field measurement, especially for error conditions?
  • Do the tests cover the specification, if there is one?
  • Do the tests cover error conditions?
  • Do the tests strike the right balance between “unit” testing of small pieces of code versus “integration” tests that ensure a feature works properly end-to-end?

Code Review

The code review is the least interesting part of the review. At this point I’m going through the patch line by line.

  • Make sure that the code uses standard Mozilla coding style. I really desperately want somebody to automated lots of this as part of the patch-submission process. It’s tedious both for me and for the patch author if there are style issues that delay a patch and require another review cycle.
  • Make sure that the number of comments is appropriate for the code in question. New coders/contributors sometimes have a tendency to over-comment things that are obvious just by reading the code. Experienced contributors sometimes make assumptions that are correct based on experience but should be called out more explicitly in the code.
  • Look for appropriate assertions. Assertions are a great form of documentation and runtime checking.
  • Look for appropriate logging. In Mozilla we tend to under-log, and I’d like to push especially new code toward more aggressive logging.
  • Mostly this is scanning the implementation. If there is complexity (such as threading!), I’ll have to slow down a lot and make sure that each access and state change is properly synchronized.

Re-read the Specification

If there is a specification, I’ll briefly re-read it to make sure that it was covered by the code I just finished reading.


Currently, I primarily do reviews in the bugzilla “edit” interface, with the “edit attachment as comment” option. Splinter is confusing and useless to me, and review-board doesn’t seem to be ready for prime-time.

For long or complex reviews, I will sometimes copy and quote the patch in emacs and paste or attach it to bugzilla when I’m finished.

In some cases I will cut off a review after one of the earlier phases: if I have questions about the general approach, the design, or the API surface, I will often try to clarify those questions before proceeding with the rest of the review.

There’s an interesting thread in about whether it is discouraging to new contributors to mark “review-” on a patch, and whether there are less-painful ways of indicating that a patch needs work without making them feel discouraged. My current practice is to mark r- in all cases where a patch needs to be revised, but to thank contributors for their effort so that they are still appreciated and to be as specific as possible about required changes while avoiding any words that could be perceived as an insult.

If I haven’t worked with a coder (paid or volunteer) in the past, I will typically always ask them to submit an updated patch with any changes for re-review. This allows me to make sure that the changes were completed properly and didn’t introduce any new problems. After I gain some experience, I will often trust people to make necessary changes and simply mark “r+ with review comments fixed”.

23 Oct 04:00

The 4Chan/StackExchange Continuum

by Richard Millington

Imagine moderation on a continuum.

At one extreme is 4Chan.

4Chan allows pretty much everything that won't get Chris arrested. They wipe their database of conversations every night. 

As a result they get a lot of activity. Most of it is gibberish. A large quantity is pornographic. Yet the sheer quantity of that gibberish creates a powerful sense of community and widespread cultural influence (in memes).

At the other extreme is StackExchange.

StackExchange has a strict moderation policy that aims to generate the single best response to any discussion. They want facts not opinions. You can't ask 'What is the best widget?.' That's too subjective. Who defines best? You can ask if Widget {x} has more ZZ Bits than Widget {y}. That's informative and facilitates information - not opinions. 

As a result, StackExchange greatly restricts the sense of community but gets high quality discussions. 

Both of these moderation approaches are powerful positioning statements. They attract a specific type of audience. They facilitate a certain type of discussions. 

Most communities fall somewhere in the middle. They allow some off-topic and casual chatter, but not too much. They allow some bad language, but not much. They allow some debate, but restrict intense arguments. 

And if you want an average community without any unique positioning, this is exactly what you should do.

The alternative is to push the community (or create the community) more towards one of the two ends of the continuum. Be clearer about your moderation policy. Use it to set you apart from the crowd. Use it to attract the people you want and facilitate either high quality information exchange or a strong connection between members. 

23 Oct 10:20

Embracing Open: Public Policy Leader Ryan Merkley

by John A. Oswald
Image Credit: Ryan Merkley

Embracing Open is a series that celebrates the voices that make the world more open. Join them by using #EmbraceOpen on Twitter and Facebook.

Ryan Merkley, an internationally-recognized leader in public policy, open government, and digital communications, was in May named Chief Executive Officer of Creative Commons, the global nonprofit that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Ryan was Chief Operating Officer of the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit parent of the Mozilla Corporation, creator of the world’s most recognizable open-source software project and internet browser, Firefox. Ryan previously worked as Director of Corporate Communications for the City of Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games, and was a top mayoral adviser, credited with initiating Toronto’s Open Data project. Most recently, Ryan was Managing Director and Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at Vision Critical, a Vancouver-based SaaS company and market research firm. He is passionate about social causes, digital media, and open government and data. He is an avid cyclist, an amateur barista, and proud father. But it was openness that was on his mind in a recent chat.

What does “open” mean to you?

Open is about access, usability, and permissive use (and re-use). It is a basic element of innovation, collaboration, and accountability. It’s also one of the core values of the Web that has helped advance the last 25 years of online growth.

Why is the pursuit of openness important?

When content is open and usable with a clear and permissive license, creators are empowered to follow their inspiration and make new things, or improve upon others’ work. When processes are open, anyone can join in and contribute. When data, research, and information are open, we can test scientific results, hold governments responsible, and do our own analysis to find better ways of working. A more open world means we all benefit, not just some of us.

How does the enhancement of Openness manifest itself at Creative Common, where you are the new CEO?

CC’s licenses are the global standard for legal sharing and publishing. From Wikipedia, to the White House, to scientific open access journals, we help creators share their work with simple, permissive terms that maximize the reach of their creativity and knowledge. We also do our work in the open. We have active and engaged communities in over 75 countries, and we build our licenses and tools in an open source model.

Where do you see the philosophy of open systems in five year? 10?

Certainly the trend in the public sector and in non-profits is toward openness. After seeing the power of the open source movement to create world-changing technology, it’s clear that the same can happen in those areas for social good. The next challenge is building it into our business processes, and making it part of our infrastructure. Open can’t be an afterthought — have to bake it in.

How did you first become a champion of openness?

The CC 1.0 licenses were released when I was working as the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper at the University of Waterloo. That was my first introduction to open ethos, and it changed the way I saw the Web and collaborative creation online. I’ve spent my career working in the public interest — in government, non-profits, and technology — and working open has always been an common theme.

Where, specifically, would you like to see more open systems applied — Government? Technology? Education?

All of the above! In open source, there is a principle of the canonical solution. Because everyone collaborates on the code base, the best innovations win out, and you get a single best-in-class solution (obviously there are also forks and disagreements, but even within those, the best ideas win). In government and education, we see so much duplication across jurisdictions. Working open in textbooks could save billions. Government open data could help us define norms and improve services for everyone at lower costs.

What are you most excited about at MozFest?

We’ll be sharing some of our early designs and code for CC Search and our new mobile app, The List, which asks users to capture images from a list of wanted pics and share them in a global archive. We’re also leading and participating in sessions about collaboration, open science, and open education.

What else would you like to share with our readers?

There is a powerful ecosystem of organizations that support the open Web — from Mozilla, to Wikipedia, to CC and others. The opportunities to collaborate and support each other are many, and I’m very excited about what we can all accomplish together. I hope that will become the new “open standard.”


23 Oct 11:00

24 Hours with Pixelmator for iPad

by Federico Viticci

Announced and demoed last week on stage at Apple’s media event, Pixelmator for iPad is a powerful portable rendition of the popular (and award-winning) image editor for Mac. I’m no photographer, and I’m definitely no artist, but I wanted to get my hands (quite literally) on Pixelmator for iPad since I watched the demo video. As someone who works primarily from his iPad mini and is about to upgrade to a full-sized iPad Air 2 with faster hardware, I was eager to try this new portable version of Pixelmator for basic image editing and photo retouching needs. I’ve always wanted a lightweight but powerful image editor on my iPad: I could never get used to the interface oddities of Adobe’s Photoshop, and drawing-oriented apps such as Procreate didn’t fit my needs.

I’ve only spent 24 hours with Pixelmator for iPad, so don’t consider this a review. And even if I had more time with the app, my limited perspective and use case wouldn’t allow me to offer a comprehensive look at the app. For that, take a look at Pixelmator’s new website and tech specs webpage.

Below, you’ll find a brief collection of notes and thoughts on Pixelmator for iPad after 24 hours of testing.

Import Images

The main screen of Pixelmator for iPad is an iWork-like visualization of all your documents, which sync with iCloud (you will find plenty of similarities with Apple’s iWork suite in the app). You can tap on the big “+” button to create a new image, but you can also import files from other sources.

Dropbox in Pixelmator.

Dropbox in Pixelmator.

You can import photos from your library, take a new photo, or open files from iCloud Drive. If you have photos stored in the Preview or Readdle Documents folders on other devices, you can import them in Pixelmator. But that’s not all: tap Locations, and Pixelmator will have access to any other document storage provider, such as Transmit or Dropbox.

Adjust Colors

A great way to make your photos pop more with only a few taps is the Adjust Colors screen, which offers presets, control over levels, curves, sliders for colors, brightness, contrast, and more. In my tests, I imported a couple of photos I shot in daylight with my iPhone 6, cropped them to focus on the subject (our dogs), played with the Vibrant and Rich presets, and tweaked a few sliders for brightness and color balance. The animations and color pairings in this screen are elegant and tasteful.

Portable Retouch Tools

My favorite aspect of the app is the set of retouch tools it brings to the iPad. You can choose from 9 retouch tools which you can apply with a finger on a photo to, say, fix something in the background, remove red eyes, or blur and soften specific areas. I was most impressed by Pixelmator’s repair tool: I tried it out of curiosity to remove yellow spots of grass and other unwanted elements from a photo of my dog, and it worked perfectly in just a couple of seconds. I know that these features have been available for years in professional desktop applications, but the ability to repair a photo in two seconds on an iPad with an app that costs $4.99 is fairly amazing to me.

Layers and Image Composition

I’ve also been trying Pixelmator for images and banners I could use on MacStories, and I like how the team translated layers and styles to the iPad’s form factor (again, note that I never used Photoshop; I like and use Acorn on my Mac). You can swipe from the left edge of the screen to show layers, which you can rearrange and group with tap & hold or tap to show options for duplication and styling. Arranging layers on screen is intuitive thanks to guides and handlers for resizing, and it takes seconds to line up a background with a photo and perhaps a couple of text layers.

Styling is also done nicely on the iPad. Select a layer, hit the paintbrush icon, then go to Format and you’ll see two sections for Style and Arrange. Style features the usual suspects – shadow (with support for blur), fill, stroke, etc. – while Arrange shows the current layer’s size in pixels (which you can tap to adjust) and buttons to rotate, flip, and move to back/front. This popover gains a new tab when a text layer is selected, where you’ll find fonts (over 70), size controls, colors, alignment, and other settings. I appreciate the simplicity involved with creating a new text layer, giving it a shadow, tweaking the font, and adding a blurred shadow to it.

Clipboard Integration

You can quickly import an image from the iOS clipboard and turn it into a layer without having to do any further copy & paste in the app. While in editing mode, tap the “+” button in the toolbar, select the layers tab, and the top-right thumbnail will show you an image you’ve previously copied, allowing you to insert it as a layer. I tried this feature in several ways: I copied a photo from the Photos app, I copied from Safari, and I also copied from a Messages conversation; Pixelmator offered to turn the clipboard image into a layer every time, which saved me time. This is a great little shortcut to create images using assets from different sources.


If you’re working on multiple projects, you can organize images in folders in the main screen of the app. Using drag & drop like you’d do on the iOS Home screen, create a folder from two images and then drop other files in it. Pixelmator doesn’t have a custom template feature yet (or, at least, I couldn’t find it), but you can use folders and the Duplicate feature to store template files in a dedicated location.


Speaking of templates, the Create Image screen provides a good selection of downloadable templates that you can use to get started. There are several templates for frames, cards, posters, collages, and more. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to design a poster for a party, but you’ll never know with these things, and maybe Pixelmator will come in handy for that. The templates are nice.


Pixelmator is a good iOS 8 citizen and, besides importing files, it supports extensions for exporting images as well as applying effects.

Let’s start with the latter. Pixelmator has an Effects feature that lets you apply filters to images with one tap. These include the obvious B&W, Sharpen, Vignette, as well as more peculiar ones such as Light Leak, Bokeh, and Vintage. Some of the effects contain sub-effects: B&W has seven types of black & white filters, for instance, which look much better than Apple’s. You can apply these filters in the app and then continue editing, or you can bring up Pixelmator’s Effects UI in the Photos app with a photo editing extension. I prefer to apply filters in Pixelmator because then I get to keep editing with other tools that aren’t available with the extension.

(Try moving your iPad while applying an effect like Light Leak and look at the controls.)

When exporting, Pixelmator is packed with options. Images can be saved in the following formats:

  • Pixelmator
  • PNG
  • JPEG
  • Photoshop

You can save files to iCloud Drive or other storage providers enabled on your iPad, or you can bring up the share sheet, which will show you all your installed share and action extensions.

The Pinterest extension in Pixelmator for iPad.

The Pinterest extension in Pixelmator for iPad.

I can pin images to Pinterest or post them to Slack without leaving Pixelmator, and it’s amazing.

iPad Compatibility

Pixelmator for iPad is compatible with:

  • iPad 2
  • iPad 3
  • iPad mini
  • iPad 4
  • iPad Air
  • iPad mini 2
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad mini 3

For best performance, the Pixelmator team recommends an iPad 4 or later. It’s clear that Pixelmator was primarily intended for modern Apple hardware: I’ve been testing the app on my iPad mini 2, and it’s fast and smooth. Some large images take a while to load (buttons are not responsive during this process) and the Repair tool may need a few seconds depending on how much you want to magically fix, but the A7 holds up well. I guess that the iPad Air 2’s A8X can give Pixelmator a serious hand when it comes to heavy images with plenty of effects and assets.

Native Experience

A final note on Pixelmator’s debut on the iPad: it truly looks and feels like the image editor Apple would make, and I mean that in the most positive way. The UI is simple, cohesive with the rest of iOS, and it is remarkably familiar with other Apple apps in many areas of the interface. The Pixelmator team did a great job in adapting the floating controls of the desktop version to the iPad, crafting a UI that puts the spotlight on images without causing confusion. The use of popovers and gestures feels just right on the iPad, and manipulating content directly on the Retina display makes for a fantastic portable image editing experience.

Most of all, Pixelmator for iPad isn’t a dumbed-down Pixelmator, which is great news for people who, like me, are using an iPad as their primary computer.

Pixelmator for iPad will be available at $4.99 on the App Store today.

23 Oct 15:19

Dot-Density of Visible Minority Population of Toronto

by Anthony Smith

This map shows one dot for every person in Toronto. The data are from the 2011 National Household Survey, and shown by Dissemination Areas, the smallest unit socio-economic data are available from Statistics Canada. Also see my similar maps of Vancouver showing visible minorities and clusters based on immigrant origin.
23 Oct 14:03

The Art of the Personal Project: Grace Chon

by Suzanne Sease

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at

Today’s featured photographer is: Grace Chon








Zoey and Jasper



Zoey and Jasper

Full disclosure Grace is one of my clients.

How long have you been shooting?
I’ve been photographing animals since early 2008.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I am self taught but have a background as an advertising agency art director. I think that training definitely developed my visual and design sensibilities, and once I picked up photography it was a matter of learning the technical aspects of it.

With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
My baby! It’s funny because I really don’t have any interest in photographing kids or babies at all, but my own child was definitely my sole inspiration. As a new mom, the days can get long and repetitive sometimes. I started the series to have a fun activity for Jasper and I to enjoy during the day, and would edit the images during his nap time.

How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
I began the series in January 2014 and started sharing them immediately on my personal Facebook page and on Instagram. I started getting interest from bloggers that wanted to write about the series but I didn’t know if I wanted to release it to a larger audience. By April I decided to promote the series a little bit and gave the go ahead to bloggers and the series took off online.

How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
This is probably the first personal project I really devoted some time to, mostly because it all took place in my home and was really easy for me to execute. I kept shooting them for myself before the series got exposure because I enjoyed the challenge of it – styling the images, editing the images, choosing the concept, and of course the challenge of shooting a baby and a dog! I imagine I would still be shooting the images even if they hadn’t received any exposure because it was working for me – I enjoy the process and the results.

Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
My usual work is portraiture or very lifestyle and shot in environment, so shooting this series has been really refreshing for me. I love that the Zoey and Jasper series looks vastly different than what I usually do and I love the simplicity and minimalism of it. But it still retains elements of what I always do – there’s a lot o color, and they are emotive portraits. I love capturing all the different smiles Jasper can make, and while Zoey looks the same in almost every shot there are small subtleties there that I love getting from her.

Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
I started out sharing the images on Facebook and Instagram, and eventually made a Tumblr page dedicated to the series. Once the images started going viral they made their way over to Reddit.

If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
The images went viral in mid-April and were written about online and in print in the US as well as internationally.

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
I made print promos specifically for the Zoey and Jasper series and sent them out to potential clients. Hopefully someone somewhere saved one!

Grace Chon is a commercial photographer specializing in animals, lifestyle images, and celebrities with their pets. Utilizing her background as a former advertising agency art director, she creates modern and emotive portraits of people and animals.

When she’s not writing about herself in the third person, Grace likes to go hiking with her dogs, meditate, and grow organic heirloom tomatoes. She makes a mean guacamole (want to challenge her to a guac-off?) and really hates Comic Sans.

In her spare time, Grace photographs homeless dogs looking for their forever homes and donates her photography services every year to multiple dog rescue groups in Los Angeles. She lives in LA with her husband, baby boy, and their beloved rescue dogs, Maeby Fünke and Zoey.

Artist Statement:
Everyone knows dogs and babies make adorable photo subjects. As a first time mom and photographer, I had 2 of the most adorable models at my disposal and the Zoey and Jasper series was born. It has been my goal to create photographs that stayed away from the cloyingly sweet and cliché imagery you might expect when you think of dogs and kids. I love good design, color, and the unexpected. And most important of all, I love humor! I wanted to capture all of that and document the silly relationship between a rescue girl and her little boy.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information.  Follow her@SuzanneSease.

Catch Suzanne presenting with Kat Dalager for Market Right 2014 in NYC on Wednesday, October 29th

23 Oct 16:00

Nuzzel for iPad

by Federico Viticci

I fell in love with Nuzzel earlier this year: I wanted an app to quickly understand what people I followed were talking about on Twitter, and I came across this simple utility to see popular links in my timeline. As I wrote in my original review:

Nuzzel aggregates links shared by people you follow on Twitter over a specific period of time. Tweets containing the same link shared by multiple people are coalesced into a single article recommendation in the app, which displays the title, a brief excerpt, the source, and a count with the number of “friends” who shared the story alongside their profile pictures. The useful aspect of this is the way Nuzzel lets you adjust time filters: you can find the most shared links for the past 1–8 hours, the past day, a specific day in past week, or links from last week. By hitting the date button in the upper right corner, you can change the date filter at any time and “travel back” into, say, Twitter from two days ago and see what your timeline was talking about without scrolling long lists of tweets.

For the past two months, I’ve been using Nuzzel almost religiously, promoting it to my Home screen and turning on notifications for articles shared by my friends on Twitter. The idea behind the app resonates with me: I like to read every single tweet in my timeline, and I’m fairly proud of the list of people I’m following that I have “curated” over the years. I don’t like to miss any tweet because, for the past five years, I’ve discovered news, apps, and interesting links thanks to Twitter. And lately, with MacStories Weekly, the ability to find links and cool stuff with Twitter is essential to my workflow.

I’ve been checking Nuzzel in the morning, before bed, and occasionally in the afternoon after coming back home from shopping for our new house at IKEA. The main view of the app – News From Your Friends – facilitates this reading behavior thanks to a handy button in the top right that lets you load links shared in the past 1 to 24 hours, up until any day of the past week. You can use Nuzzel to catch up on Twitter links after a few days of absence, or you can read like I’ve been reading – as a daily summary and regular afternoon check-in. And because your friends’ profile pictures are displayed alongside links, you can even see how people have actually been sharing links and what comments they added.

Today, the social news reader built by Jonathan Abrams and his team comes to the iPad with an interface that’s been adapted to the larger display to show more links, visual previews, and shortcuts to friend feeds right alongside articles. “We wanted to offer a few things that we had room for on our web site but not in the iPhone app, since we have more room to play with on the iPad”, Abrams told me, and the end result is my favorite version of Nuzzel yet.

When you launch Nuzzel on the iPad, you’ll see a home page with popular links from your friends from the past x hours with a carousel of most shared articles at the top. Below, you’ll find more links in a regular list with a sidebar that you can use to open friend feeds directly. The larger screen of the iPad has allowed the Nuzzel team to pack in more information without having to tap on the hamburger menu in the top left: tabs enable you to switch from news from your friends to news from friends of friends (my favorite way to discover new articles), news you may have missed, and stories you’ve read.

Nuzzel for iPad is still the same Nuzzel, only on a bigger screen – and that’s exactly why I like it. Being able to see more links at once and the friend feed sidebar in landscape make me tap more items and follow different stories – I particularly appreciate the addition of a gallery of articles at the top, and I miss this feature on the iPhone now.

With iOS 8, Nuzzel has officially gained support for action and share extensions, but its implementation is still hindered by the decision to obfuscate source URLs with a Nuzzel short link. You can launch extensions for articles – I was able to quickly capture articles in Drafts and Fantastical from Nuzzel, which was seamless and fast – but you’ll end up saving short links instead of the original URLs, which may be an issue for apps like Pinner or Instapaper. It’s great that I can run extensions from Nuzzel, but everything would be so much better without short links.

Nuzzel has also brought other iOS 8 features with this update: you can interact with notifications to instantly tweet an article, and you can add a widget to your Notification Center to see popular articles. I liked the idea of having a Nuzzel widget initially, but I think that, between thumbnails and profile pictures, it takes up too much space in the Today view.

When I first heard about Nuzzel, I thought it was nothing more than a feature Twitter would eventually add to their apps and website. And maybe someday they will, but that day hasn’t come yet and Nuzzel is a great product as it stands now.

I’ve been using Nuzzel for iPhone every day, and since getting the iPad app I’ve noticed that I prefer to catch up on news and discover links on the larger screen where all my other work-related apps are. Nuzzel still has some inconsistencies and oddities to fully figure out (namely, source URLs), but the iOS app is one of my must-haves for news on both the iPhone and iPad.

Nuzzel 1.2 is available on the App Store.

23 Oct 15:58

22 Oct 01:07

MB: Mobility, Urbanism and Human Rights

by pricetags

MB provided this moving comment to “Seniors …”        It deserves foreground treatment: 


My mother lost her independence in 2003 and has required top-of-the-line care ever since. One day her church bought her an electric wheelchair (I suppose there should be a payback after 30+ years of paying tithes) and it was quite liberating over the next decade.

The most serious limitations to her mobility remain the deeply suburban location of her care facility in Calgary, a city that must still undergo light years of evolution despite relatively successful ridership rates on its C-Train network. Its HandiBus service is inconvenient at best, excruciating at worst, and she has stopped using it due to its inadequacies dealing with long milk runs through excessively sprawling subdivisions. Snow on the sidewalks and streets is a transportation killer to octogenarians – with or without electric wheelchairs — and perhaps the majority of them stay cooped up all winter, even on nice days.

It all gets down to measuring urban accessibility. There she is, 530 meters from a light rail station, yet it might as well be on Mars due to its inaccessibility from the surrounding neighbourhood even on the finest summer day. One of the profound lessons Calgary is just beginning to learn is to bring the light rail system to where people live, work and shop. Decades of experience should have taught transportation planners and urbanists there to stop placing LRT on the most convenient and cheapest freight rail corridors or in the centre median of major roaring arterial corridors isolated blocks distant from jobs and homes.




In an ideal world my mother’s care facility could have been built in a mid-rise at Chinook Centre (above), a suburban mall encompassed by hundreds of acres of open tarmac screaming for high-density development and a direct rapid transit link if there ever was one. (The current Chinook Station is located on the CPR corridor in an industrial park 440m from the Centre with its thousands of jobs. The potential reminds me of Vancouver’s Oakridge.) How satisfying it would be if a disabled octogenarian grandmother could access a couple of kilometres of “indoor streets” in the Centre and then the entire city via a universally accessible rapid transit system simply by pressing an elevator button.

It is very painful for an urbanist to see a disabled loved one being denied access to her family, social network and community outside of the care facility simply because the community was suckered into building a city for cars instead of humans. The widely-accepted suffering imposed on the mobility-challenged in our cities should become a matter of human rights sooner or later.

23 Oct 11:25

"He has more words to say in this movie than most people have in three movies combined. There isn’t a..."

“He has more words to say in this movie than most people have in three movies combined. There isn’t a scene or a frame that he’s not in. So it’s an extremely difficult part and he is gonna crush it.”

- Aaron Sorkin, talking to Bloomberg about Christian Bale playing the role of Steve Jobs in the upcoming film based on Walter Isaacson’s book.
22 Oct 14:53

#openbadgesMOOC Session 12 - Design Principles Documentation Project / Open edX and Beyond Project

Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials
Session 12: Design Principles Documentation Project / Open edX and Beyond Project
Session Recording: coming soon!

James E. Willis, III, Ph.D. is a research associate in the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at Indiana University’s School of Education working with Dan Hickey and his research team on their digital badges projects, the Design Principles Documentation Project and the recently launched Open edX and Beyond project.

Open Badges Design Principles Documentation

In the 2012 Badges for Lifelong Learning DML Competition, 30 organizations were funded to develop ecosystems for open digital badges. Indiana University’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology has studied the development, implementation, and practice of badging within the scope of recognizing, assessing, motivating, and studying learning.

The research team analyzed project proposals and then conducted interviews as projects got underway and after the development period was over. This resulted in a forthcoming report and open database detailing intended practices (ideas outlined in general proposals), enacted practices (intentions unfolding in the world), and formal practices (what continues after funding ends) for using digital badges, with particular attention on the factors that supported the formalization of some practices while hindering others.

5 Buckets for Badge System Design

Sheryl Grant, Director of Social Networking at DML/HASTAC, defined five classes or ‘buckets’ for badge system design based on the same 30 badge projects from the 2012 Badges for Lifelong Learning DML Competition - read more on the HASTAC blog.

Here are Sheryl’s five badge system classes:

  • New build. The badge system, learning content, and technological platforms are designed simultaneously.
  • Integrated build. The badge system and learning content are co-created and integrated into a pre-existing technological platform.
  • Layered build. The badge system is layered on top of pre-existing learning content and pre-existing technological platform.
  • Responsive build. The badge system responds to pre-existing learning content, and the technological platform does not yet exist, is optional, or is distributed.
  • Badge-first build. The badges are designed first and the learning content and technological platform are designed around the badges.

Sheryl identified a badge system as being comprised of three components: technology, learning content, and the badges themselves. Each of the five badge system classes starts with and requires a combination of these components, as shown in the table above.

The DPD Project team looked at the 30 badging projects, first identifying which bucket each system fell into, then looking at various levels of progress or status (including implementation, ecosystem and badges) and found the layered and responsive badge systems were more successful than the other three:

The team also looked more deeply at the various badge system proposals within each of the 30 projects, looking at the various practices that were formalized, proposed but not enacted, and unproposed but introduced. James Willis provided an overview of these for a handful of projects, including YALSA, UC Davis, Who Built America, and Badges for Vets:

The team’s general findings included:

  • Digital badges are different to what many are used to - and open digital badges are even more different - so there were lots of new things to learn and adjust to;
  • Claims and evidence are hard to define, and many of the projects struggled to define either or both of these;
  • Information circulates within social networks - validity gets crowd-sourced;
  • COPPA, FERPA and other legal constraints worried many initiatives;
  • It’s not just about the badges: those that tried to build an ecosystem from scratch around badges weren’t as successful as those that integrated badges into existing learning systems;

Some orgs found badge system design too difficult to define / scale in the early stages: lessons from @Willis3James on the #openbadgesMOOC

— Open Badges (@OpenBadges) October 20, 2014

Over the years we’ve heard a number of presentations on this work from Dan Hickey and Nate Otto on the Open Badges Community Calls, so it was great to see their findings presented by James on Monday. For anyone looking into building a badge system, this research will prove invaluable!

For more details on the other projects the team looked at, check out James’ slide deck.

For more information on the DPD Project, visit


Open edX and Beyond

To support widespread innovation around open digital badges in higher education, the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at Indiana University is working with IBL Studios, Inc. and Achievery to offer open badges in Open edX. The project is currently building badges into Lorena Barba’s Open edX MOOC, Practical Numerical Methods with Python.

When Professor Barba realized that Open edX requires authentication, she proposed the badges link directly to Github, where students will be working. This may be the first time badges have used direct links to Github as evidence, so we’re excited to see how this works as the course progresses. A series of badges should be available by mid-November, with seamless badge integration by spring 2015.

Building badges into Open edX has presented a number of technical and pedagogical challenges and opportunities for the team:

  • Finding the ‘seams’ in Open edX coding to build a badges API connection;
  • Assuring individual identity verification and management;
  • Keeping open materials within the evidence of outcomes;
  • Assessing student progress in specific, cumulative skills learned;
  • Aligning outcomes for replication in future edX and Open edX MOOCs

Ongoing goals for the team at Indiana University’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology include facilitating further widespread use of digital badges in higher education - to more hybrid and standalone courses, across multiple platforms, and for faculty and staff learning. They also plan to publish their findings from this and ongoing projects, sharing their notes, challenges and results for future opportunities.

Learn more about the Open edX and Beyond project on Dan Hickey’s blog.


We look forward to continuing this course with you! See below for details of the next session.

Go to to access more resources, information, and challenge assignments to earn badges.


Future sessions:

Monday, Nov. 10, 2-3pm ET:
Open Badges Policy - Anne Derryberry
Monday, Dec. 8, 2-3pm ET:
Open Badges Review - Sunny Lee and Jade Forester

22 Oct 05:26

"The future sets its own schedule."

“The future sets its own schedule.”


David Carr, The Stream Finally Cracks the Dam of Cable TV

22 Oct 15:24

"After ingesting about two cups of coffee, extraverts carry out tasks more efficiently, whereas..."

“After ingesting about two cups of coffee, extraverts carry out tasks more efficiently, whereas introverts perform less well. This deficit is magnified if the task they are engaging in is quantitative and if it is done under time pressure.

For an introvert, an innocent couple cups of coffee before a meeting may prove challenging, particularly if the purpose of the meeting is a rapid-fire discussion of budget projections, data analysis, or similar quantitative concerns. In the same meeting, an extraverted colleague is likely to benefit from a caffeine kick.”


Brian Little, Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being

20 Oct 20:17

Twitter Favorites: [globeandmail] Is nostalgia for Friends all about white privilege? by @misterjohndoyle

The Globe and Mail @globeandmail
Is nostalgia for Friends all about white privilege? by @MisterJohnDoyle
21 Oct 17:07

Twitter Favorites: [waxpancake] The funniest, and most meta, talk in XOXO history: how @tinysubversions won the lottery.

Andy Baio @waxpancake
The funniest, and most meta, talk in XOXO history: how @tinysubversions won the lottery.
21 Oct 17:16

Twitter Favorites: [al3x] If your institution doesn't support Apple Pay at launch, try this fix: 1. Turn off your phone. 2. Go outside. 3. Buy less shit.

Searing Payne @al3x
If your institution doesn't support Apple Pay at launch, try this fix: 1. Turn off your phone. 2. Go outside. 3. Buy less shit.
21 Oct 17:24

Twitter Favorites: [tinysubversions] My @xoxo talk, "How I Won the Lottery", is now online! I hope my fellow content creators enjoy my takeaways.

Darius Kazemi @tinysubversions
My @xoxo talk, "How I Won the Lottery", is now online! I hope my fellow content creators enjoy my takeaways.…
21 Oct 22:53

Twitter Favorites: [tylorsherman] Dog's breakfast:

Tylor Sherman @tylorsherman
Dog's breakfast:
22 Oct 16:35

Google confirms November 3 launch date for Android 5.0 Lollipop [Update]

by Evan Selleck
The launch/shipping dates for the Nexus 9 and Nexus Player have been confirmed by now, but the software-only side of things has been up in the air. Until now. Continue reading →
22 Oct 17:36

‘Inbox’ is Google’s new take on email with Bundles, Highlights and Reminders

by Rajesh Pandey
Google has just announced “Inbox”, its new take on email that better meets the need of today’s users. Inbox has been in the making for years by the same team who created Gmail and has been “designed to focus on what really matters.” Continue reading →
22 Oct 07:00

Learning Ruby

by Eric Strathmeyer

When I was an undergrad studying computer science, I thought I’d eventually settle on a single programming language, gain mastery, and use that language for the rest of my career. I couldn't have been more wrong. It seems like I learn a new language every couple of years. When I joined Square two years ago, I learned Ruby – and I'm still learning more about it everyday.

Recently, a new employee reached out to our Rubyists mailing list and asked for advice on how to start learning Ruby. After writing my reply, I realized it was general enough advice that it would be useful for any beginning Rubyist. So, we're sharing it here on The Corner.

As I see it, there are different aspects to Ruby mastery:

  1. Learning the basic syntax

  2. Learning the colloquialisms, like

  3. Learning how to use Ruby's OO facilities for good rather than evil

For #1, I used David Black's Well Grounded Rubyist. I often find intro books are too vague, but I enjoyed the level of education the book provided. It went into enough detail to satisfy my curiosity, while sometimes telling me, "For your own good, ignore this until later."

For #2, I just had to read/write a bunch of code. I read Well Grounded Rubyist prior to joining Square, so I had a handle on the basic syntax — but that didn't get me very far. My first few months were spent learning Ruby conventions, the standard library, and the Rails API. I learned an incredible amount from my colleagues through our frequent code reviews and by reading Ruby’s docs when I had a specific question. The Enumerable Module doc is worth reading in its entirety. I use those methods daily.

For #3, I highly recommend Sandi Metz's Practical Object Oriented Ruby. I'm a huge fan of Sandi. In the book and in her talks, she uses examples that are complicated enough to demonstrate the principle in a non-trivial way, yet general enough that I can apply the lesson to my own code. Don't think that you have to have mastered #1 and #2 before trying this book. In fact, you might try starting with this book, and then use other books to understand why the code is behaving as it does.

If you're looking for a quick intro into Sandi's genius, check out this 40-minute video where she refactors a huge, ugly if statement into small testable objects: All the Little Things. She specifically highlights that initial refactoring efforts can actually increase complexity in the short term and junior developers have trouble seeing the light at the end of the refactoring tunnel.

Rails and Rspec use Ruby's meta-programming features to construct domain-specific languages. I recommend that you do not try to learn those DSLs from top to bottom. You'll pick them up quickly enough while you're doing your job. I would however recommend trying to figure out whether a given bit of magic is provided by Ruby, Rails, or Rspec (or some other gem). Then, if you want to use the #present? method in a Sinatra app some day, you'll know how to import it.

Of course one of the best ways to learn is to ask a friendly coworker!

22 Oct 18:32

Google’s new ‘Inbox’ app promises to make email manageable again

by Jane McEntegart

With roughly half a billion Gmail users, Google knows a thing or two about email, and how best to serve it to its users. Today, the company announced a new app that it hopes will bring the email that matters most to the forefront, cutting down on noise in the process.

Called Inbox and available for iOS and Android, the idea is to make email less overwhelming by adding certain organizational features. Promotions, social communications, and purchases are all bundled together. You can also move individual emails around, just in case Gmail categorizes an email incorrectly. There are readymade labels to start with but you can easily create your own that are more relevant to the types of mail you receive on a regular basis.


Emails that you want to get back to can be pinned and emails swiped to the right are marked as ‘done’ and cleared from your main feed.

Flick to the done section of your inbox to find them (and all the other messages you’ve archived). Tap the pin icon in the top right to see pinned messages. You can also set reminders for later, and snooze messages or reminders, postponing the need for any action until later.


Inbox is available for iOS and Android right now, but is currently in closed beta. Invites are required and it doesn’t look like users with access are being issued any invites for friends (unlike Google+, Wave, or Gmail when they launched in beta). Those who do have invites will also be able to access on Chrome, which will bring the same Inbox aesthetic you see on your phone to your webmail experience.

inbox google web chrome

Check the video below while you wait for Google to open up access:

A spokesperson for Google told us that the iOS app was built entirely by people at its Kitchener Waterloo development office and a few members of that group were on the initial team that came up with the whole Inbox idea.

Though Google doesn’t mention anything about it in its official Inbox blog post, the Inbox app is reminiscent of Sparrow, an app that offered a streamlined view of your inbox and the ability to quickly ‘act’ on mail with easy access to sorting, replying, and archiving. The company was acquired by Google in 2012. Its employees joined the Gmail team and the Sparrow apps were eventually discontinued.

22 Oct 18:22

Introducing the 2015 Knight-Mozilla Fellows

by Mozilla
The Knight-Mozilla Fellowships bring together developers, technologists, civic hackers, and data crunchers to spend 10 months working on open source code with partner newsrooms around the world. The Fellowships are part of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, supported by the John … Continue reading
22 Oct 20:08

iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 now available in Canadian Apple retail stores

by Douglas Soltys

A thorough perusal of the Apple’s Canadian website shows that the recently announced iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 are now available for purchase at Apple retail outlets in addition to online. Select third-party retailers, such as Carbonation in Toronto, also appear to have the devices in stock for sale.

iPad mini 3 Apple retail store

For those interested in purchasing either tablet from their local carrier of choice, the latest word was “later in October.”

22 Oct 00:00

Gone Figuring


Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, Oct 25, 2014

There's a storm once again over misogyny in the gaming development community. It's called #gamergate and I confess I am not close enough to it to know who is on which side (I've been  reading articles like this and I still do not know who the players are). I think everybody knows I have no tolerance for abuse and threats against women. I agree with  Audrey Watters that it's an ed tech issue. But I echo Alan Levine: "The outfall of this is beyond ugly, and when things go from rudeness to physical threats and abuse, things have crossed a line into evil territory. Trying to get to an understanding is hard, I gave Deadspin’ s comprehensive The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It’ s Gamergate one read, and that leaves me still wondering if I 'get it'." I get that I can't simply admonish people to "play nice". But what motivates people to act so badly?

[Link] [Comment]
22 Oct 18:43

Peak Google

by Ben Thompson

Despite the hype about disruption, the truth is most tech giants, particularly platform providers, are not so much displaced as they are eclipsed. IBM, for example, has been successfully selling and servicing mainframes for going on 50 years (although they are now in serious trouble (members-only)). During the PC era, though, they were eclipsed by Microsoft.

Mainframes didn't stop being a viable business; it was just a much smaller business than PCs

Mainframes didn’t stop being a viable business; it was just a much smaller business than PCs

The same happened to Microsoft: Windows still dominates PCs,1 and in all likelihood will for the foreseeable future (although there are certainly cracks in the foundation, a la IBM). The company isn’t going anywhere. PCs, however, have been eclipsed by smartphones, to the benefit of Apple (in terms of revenue and profit) and Google (in terms of market share).

PCs have in the past few years been eclipsed by smartphones. To see a similar graph with exact data, see this post by Benedict Evans

PCs have in the past few years been eclipsed by smartphones. To see a similar graph with exact data, see this post by Benedict Evans

These eclipses are obvious in retrospect, but the truth is few if any could have predicted them before they occurred. PCs were thought to be a tremendous boon for IBM, and they did profit greatly until Compaq copied their BIOS leaving Microsoft all the leverage; similarly, Microsoft looked set to conquer mobile (which was why Google bought Android in the first place) before a resurgent Apple introduced the iPhone. In both cases it turned out that the incumbents’ prior success resulted in misdirected incentives: IBM focused on selling and servicing PCs, instead of building a platform, while Microsoft focused on extending Windows to mobile instead of the user experience. If you’ll forgive a war analogy, both companies won the battle but lost the war.

And so, if one wishes to predict who might follow in this illustrious but ultimately tarnished path, it might be useful to look for similar characteristics: the company should be dominant in its field, and the company should seem to have an advantage in a far larger adjacent field, but that advantage, on closer inspection, should prove to be just as much a hindrance as a help.

The clear candidate is Google.

Google posted its quarterly results last Friday, and they were ok, not great. Earnings and revenue may have missed analysts’ expectations ($6.53 per share and $16.52 billion), but the company was still hugely profitable. More importantly, they still dominate the most effective and lucrative type of Internet advertising: search. In July Dan Frommer at Quartz wrote an article titled Google has run away with the web search market and almost no one is chasing:

Search represents the largest digital advertising market — almost $50 billion last year globally, according to PwC, compared to just $34 billion for display ads — and is growing roughly 10% a year. But Google so thoroughly dominates the search industry that few are even bothering to challenge it anymore.

Frommer goes on to list potential challengers to Google’s dominance, but the outcome is clear: Google will continue to dominate, just as IBM has continued to dominate mainframes and Microsoft has continued to dominate the PC. They will be a very profitable company for many years to come. That is why this is not an article about disruption. Rather, the question is if Google might be eclipsed.

$50 billion for worldwide search advertising (of which Google captures a huge majority) sounds like a lot, but it’s only a small percentage of total ad spend, projected to be $545 billion in 2014. The vast majority of that spend is not about direct response – i.e. ads that spur you to make a purchase on the spot; rather most of the money is spent on brand advertising.

The idea behind brand advertising is to build “affinity” among potential customers. For example, a company like Unilever will spend a lot of money to promote Axe or Dove, but the intent is not to make you order deodorant via e-commerce. Rather, when you’re rushing through the supermarket and just need to grab something, the idea is that you’ll gravitate to the brand you have developed an affinity for. And once a customer has picked a brand, they’re loyal for years. That adds up to a lot of lifetime value, which is why consumer-packaged goods companies, telecom companies, car companies, etc. are among the biggest brand advertisers (I’ve written about CPG companies and brand advertising previously here).

To date this type of brand advertising has strongly favored television; targeting is certainly nice, but channels like Lifetime (Dove) or ESPN (Axe) are specific enough, and the actual process of implementing a campaign at scale is far more efficient and cost effective on TV. This is especially true given that the primary digital offering for brand advertisers has been the banner ad, an idea that was bad to begin with and that now is all but invisible, particularly to younger customers that have by far the most value to brand advertisers (more years in the actuary table equals more lifetime value!).

However, over the last few years a new type of advertising has emerged: native advertising. I’ve already made my defense of native advertising here, but just to be clear, I classify any sort of “in-stream” advertising as native advertising. Thus, for a news site, native advertising is advertising in article format; for Twitter, native advertising is a promoted tweet; for Facebook, native advertising is ads in your news feed; for Pinterest (a future giant) a promoted pin. These sorts of ads are proving to be massively more effective and engaging than banner advertisements – as they should be! In every medium (except, arguably, newspapers, which had geographic monopolies) native advertising is the norm simply because it’s more effective for advertisers and a better experience for users: TV commercials are 30 or 60 second fully produced dramas, magazine ads are highly refined visual experiences, radio ads are jingles, etc. And so it will inevitably go with digital advertising, at least when it comes to brand advertising.

The problem for Google is that there is no obvious reason why they should win this category. Yes, they’re an ad company, but the key to native advertising on the Internet is the capability of producing immersive content within which to place the ad, such as Facebook’s newsfeed, Twitter’s stream, a Pinterest board, or even your typical news site’s home page. Sites like Buzzfeed have taken this idea to its logical conclusion: their content is basically a marketing tool meant to show advertisers how skilled they are at going viral. Google has nothing in this regard (with the notable exception of YouTube). Moreover, all of the things that make Google great at search and search advertising – the algorithm, the auction system, and machine learning – are skills that don’t really translate to the more touchy-feely qualities that make a social service or content site compelling.

And so we have our parallel to IBM and Microsoft. IBM didn’t capitalize on PCs because their skills lay on the hardware side, not software. Microsoft didn’t capitalize on mobile because they emphasized compatibility, not the user experience. And now Google is dominant when it comes to the algorithm, but lacks the human touch needed for social or viral content. And so, when all of that brand advertising finally begins to move from TV to the Internet – and that migration is a lot closer than it was even a year ago – I suspect that Google is not going to capture nearly as much of it as many observers might expect.

The result, then, is a chart that looks a lot like the ones I drew for IBM and Microsoft:

Brand advertising is worth a lot more than search advertising; if it moves to the Internet, .Google's share of digital advertising would be dwarfed

Brand advertising is worth a lot more than search advertising; if it moves to the Internet, .Google’s share of digital advertising would be dwarfed

This is the primary basis of my thesis that Google may very well be in a similar situation to early-eighties IBM or early-oughts Microsoft: a hugely profitable company bestride the tech industry that at the moment seems infallible, but that history will show to have peaked in dominance and relevancy.

It’s worth noting that there are other potential parallels as well:

  • Both IBM and Microsoft competed fiercely – and ultimately, illegally – to win the platform that they thought represented both a huge threat and an opportunity. In the case of IBM it was software for the System/360; Microsoft fought for the browser. It wasn’t an application maker that eclipsed IBM though, but rather an OS maker; for Microsoft, their undoing was not a competing browser, but rather mobile. For Google, the parallel is the massive amount of effort they have put behind Android. True, they own massive market share and have ensured that mobile is safe for Google services,2 but might that prove to be a pyrrhic victory not unlike Internet Explorer if most of the digital advertising value increase is in native advertising? (Relevant: Mobile Makes Facebook Just an App; That’s Great News)

  • Relatedly, and as hinted above, both IBM and Microsoft were found to have abused their monopolies in an attempt to dominate application software and browsers respectively; it’s increasingly plausible to argue, as The Information has reported, that Google is doing the same with Android and its increasingly onerous requirements around the inclusion of Google’s services

  • It’s hard to read about Google X – the Google division responsible for Google Glass, self-driving cars, life sciences research, etc. – and not draw a parallel to Microsoft Research. That division has produced some amazing technology that makes for amazing demos and promo videos, but it has ultimately made very little difference to the bottom line (Kinect is arguably an exception, but the damage its forced inclusion did to the Xbox One negates the value it created as a standalone product). Both divisions reek of a company that has too much money and not a clear idea about what will actually drive the market moving forward

I do write this article with some trepidation; it’s a lot easier to be a cheerleader, and from a business perspective I’m a big fan of Google’s. They have earned every point of share they have in search, and Android was a brilliant strategic gambit to protect the money makers. Moreover, these sorts of predictions are almost always losers: you’re always wrong until the moment when you’re right, with all the attendant loss of credibility that entails.

Still, I hope the subtle point I’m trying to make is clear: I think Google is quite safe when it comes to search, and that they will be a very profitable company for the foreseeable future. I just suspect we will all think differently about that dominance when it’s a small percentage of total digital advertising, just as we thought differently about IBM’s dominance of mainframes in the age of the PC, or Microsoft’s dominance of PCs in the age of the smartphone.

Update – I wanted to make three clarifications based on feedback:

  • Technically speaking, yes, search ads are native. Native is great! However, they’re not vehicles for brand advertising (in fact, what makes them so powerful is that they are much further down the funnel)
  • To reiterate, by native advertising I mean all forms of advertising that appear in stream. This is much broader than just advertorials
  • I should have made a bigger deal about YouTube. It’s a massive opportunity for Google and will go down (if it has not already) as one of the all-time great acquisitions

Finally, as I noted at the beginning, this is not about the decline of Google. It’s about there being a much broader opportunity than just search advertising.

Update 2: James Allworth and I discuss this post extensively on the next episode of Exponent, so please subscribe. The episode will be posted Friday morning

  1. For all the (deserved) hype about the Mac’s growth, Microsoft still controls well over 90% of the market
  2. Outside of China, anyways

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