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30 Apr 17:05

Complex & Beautifully Symmetrical Landscapes Of Earth

by Alex Wain

It’s not first time that Google Maps has been reconfigured and subverted for the arts, but it’s certainly one of the more creative.

David Thomas Smith is a visual artist currently living in Dublin who has just released his frankly stunning photographic series ‘Anthropocene’ – it’s received critical acclaim from all corners of the web and right so. The word ‘Anthropocene’ is actually geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.

Smith purposely didn’t randomly cobbled together a series of images, instead he meticulously selected each part of the world based on not only its visual appeal, but whether that particular area was economically, socially and even politically important. Just how much of a role had our culture, desires and values played in the development of these areas? Smith deliberated on each of those facets before transforming each area into re-imagined frontiers and beautiful symmetrical landscapes.

Below are a few examples from this fascinating & complex series, you can see the full extent of his project as well as where it will be appearing next via his personal site

Copyright David Thomas Smith

Biosphere 2, Oracle, Arizona, United States

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes

Three Mile Island Generating Station, Middletown, Pennsylvania, United States

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes 3

Mall of America, East Broadway, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes 5

Three Gorges Dam, Sandouping, Yiling, Hubei, China

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes 4

Las Vegas, Nevada, United States

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes 7

Fimiston Open Pit, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WA, Australia

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes 8

100 Chrysler Drive, Auburn Hills, MI, United States

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes 10

Burj Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

David Thomas Smith Anthropocene Symmetrical Landscapes 11

Via Yatzer


30 Apr 16:58

Coming soon to a 3D printer near you: human tissue and organs

by Commentary
3-D Printer

While the media focus on the possibility of 3D printing assault rifles, something far more meaningful has been going on in a number of university and commercial labs across the US: research to print human tissue and organs. Though printing every other widget under the sun is happening by leaps and bounds, getting viable organ tissue is moving in baby steps. One week ago, San Diego-based Organovo announced a new milestone in this field, using 3D printing technology to assemble functioning sections of human liver tissue, which are viable for testing drugs, for example.

In a presentation at the annual Experimental Biology conference of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics held in Boston, Organovo demonstrated its success at creating a three-dimensional structure, albeit thin, of actual liver cells. What set this process apart was the ability to build the liver section out of both hepatocytes (key cells that perform many of the liver’s jobs) and stellate cells (which provide both structure and repair capabilities), as well as blood vessel tissue, to create stable liver tissue that “remained viable for 135 hours and retained key liver functions,” according to the company.

Other organizations have been able to use printers to layer stem cells or other types of cells—cultured in bioreactors and laid down in layers like a biological printer ink. Much harder has been creating vascular structures that allows the tissue to be viable longer and allows for the transport of materials into and out of the tissue, enabling more complex functions, such as the production of proteins. Compared to flat, single layer cell cultures in a petri dish, for example, these 3D structures act more like a live section of organ. Over time, Organovo hopes to be able to create larger viable sections, stepping toward 3D printing of implantable liver tissue and ultimately replicated organs.

Numerous other labs have been working with various materials and printing techniques to get beyond these simple layers toward structures that, like Organovo’s mini-liver, have functionality that more closely resembles the real thing. For example, Cornell scientists recently announced the successful printing of a collagen gel into a section of human ear, though this only created a structure and not functioning tissue. Other teams, like Scotland’s Herriot-Watt University, are perfecting the techniques for laying down the stem cells layers from a printer, while groups at Oxford are working on engineering tissue mechanics.

Liver or beef?

Meanwhile, using bioreactors full of stem cells to print tissue for the creation of a different kind of tissue—artificial meat for consumption—has been underway for several years, as shown by Organovo’s Gabor Foragcs at TEDMED 2011 in his demonstration of edible printed meat. He and his brother and Organovo co-founder, Andras, set up a commercial company, Modern Meadow, in that year to commercialize the production of 3D printed meat and leather. However, they and others have faced the similar difficulty of producing textured meat that resembles natural meat, for which plumpness and color is in part derived from vascular tissue—blood vessels—that is difficult to construct with printer technology. Organovo now seems to be on the way to solving this.

Organ printing doesn’t necessarily face the same hurdles standing in the way of, say, mass-printed burgers, like the problem of scaling up: getting enough bovine stem cells to print quantities of meat that can both bring the price of production down and be a meaningful meat replacement at estimated demand levels. As synthetic biology researcher Christina Agapakis points out, culturing of cells at volume for this sort of mass market use is difficult and extremely costly. Culturing smaller batches of tissue for targeted transplant, however, would face economics more familiar in life sciences R&D, where early runs of a drug or treatment can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Nor does it face the same perception issues; a printed burger may seem creepy, but a printed liver could save your life.

Measure twice, cut once

In the meantime, 3D printing can still be used to give surgeons practice at facing difficult procedures, not by printing live organs, but through rapid fabrication of models of actual organs, as well as bone structures and other body parts. Engineers at several companies have worked out techniques to print artificial replicas of organs such as livers out of materials like PVA or resins that can be used to test delicate procedures before executing them on a live patient. Using 3D scans, an organ can be generated in a few hours to half a day that allows a surgical team to see and handle issues with a replica of a damaged organ, for example.

So, while Organovo and others are taking the first small steps in printing living tissue, technological capability is advancing fast enough to make it thinkable that functioning printed duplicates of organs able to be transplanted will be possible within a few decades, if not sooner. Wealthy young adults alive today could be able to order up a stock of spare parts should disease, accidents or bad lifestyle choices take down an important organ. Let’s hope they don’t choose to color match them to their favorite Instagram pics, though.

You can follow Scott on Twitter at @changeist. We welcome your comments at

30 Apr 16:56

A Futuristic Forest Made From Awesome Laser Beams

by Alex Wain

Ever watched a sci-fi movie and wished you could step into those high tech scenes filled with neon lights and fluorescent colours? Well, thanks to a creative studio called Marshmallow Laser Feast, now you can.

They’ve created the Laser Forest, a room filled with 150 rods that both produce light and sound when touched. Their glowing colours create a dream-like quality, whilst the interactive elements allow you to immerse yourself in a world where light, form and sound collide in a stylish yet minimal way.

You can find out more about the project right here but in the meantime enjoy a few images and GIFs from the installation itself – really does look like a lot of fun doesn’t it?

Laser Forest By Marshmallow Laser Feast Memo Akten Robin McNicholas and Barney Steel 2

Laser Forest By Marshmallow Laser Feast Memo Akten Robin McNicholas and Barney Steel

Laser Forest By Marshmallow Laser Feast Memo Akten Robin McNicholas and Barney Steel 3

Laser Forest By Marshmallow Laser Feast Memo Akten Robin McNicholas and Barney Steel

Laser Forest By Marshmallow Laser Feast Memo Akten Robin McNicholas and Barney Steel

Laser Forest By Marshmallow Laser Feast Memo Akten Robin McNicholas and Barney Steel 4

Via Colossal


17 Apr 12:54

Stockholm’s Osom launches marketplace modeled on Instagram

by Hamish McKenzie


The Swedes, as we have noted before, have a great sense for design, so it should come as little surprise that a mobile marketplace for “beautiful things” should come from Stockholm. Today, a new startup from that city has launched an app that it describes as “Instagram meets Craigslist.” The marketplace, called Osom (which is meant to sound like “awesome”) is initially focused on clothes, shoes, and vintage items.

Co-founder and CEO Anton Johansson says the app, which looks and behaves a lot like Instagram, is designed to capitalize on a trend towards “emotional shopping,” marked by the rise of Pinterest, Fab, and Fancy, all of which provide experiences around what is attractive to buy, not what best matches your needs. Osom, then, is like window shopping from your iPhone.

Osom users can use the marketplace as buyers, sellers, or browsers. To sell an item, they merely tap the app’s camera icon and upload a photo and caption describing the product. The app is so similar to Instagram, in fact, that they can even add a filter to the pic to make it look better. If people like the product they can “Osom” it, which is the same as a like or a fave. If they’re interested in buying the product at the listed price, they can enter into a private chat with the seller and sort out a payment transaction method outside of the app.

The items for sale are displayed in feeds that are divided into three main categories: local, global, and people you are following. In the future, Osom will add more feeds, such as ads from nearby. It is also building a recommendation engine that will make suggestions based on what you have interacted with in the past.

“We’re trying to nail how a marketplace should be made,” says Johansson. “Emotional shopping can be taken care of in a marketplace environment.”

Johansson says the designers consciously tried to replicate the Instagram feel for the product because “the Instagram user experience is phenomenal.” However, as the product evolves, he thinks it will begin to look less and less like the photo-sharing service. Whether or not Instagram will look kindly on the obvious “homage” – which, frankly, veers close to straight rip-off – is another question.

Osom’s three founders are self-funding the company, but Johansson says the company will likely raise funds in the near future. The founders come to Osom from other prominent Stockholm startups, including blog search engine Twingly, ad server Videoplaza, ecommerce site Headler, and TV-on-demand service Viaplay.

Initially, the company is using Sweden, Germany, and the UK as its test markets, but it has a long-term plan to take on the US, too. Once it gets here, it will have to fight for recognition amid established marketplaces such as Etsy and Fancy, with perhaps a left-flank assault from Flipboard, which has shown with its Etsy integration that it sees a future for itself as an image-oriented mobile marketplace, too.

At that point, too, Osom might also be forced to answer a question that ought to put it in a difficult spot: Just how much “inspiration” can one product take from another, in this case Instagram, before it crosses the line into outright copying?

Still, it’s pretty to look at.

osom-iphone3 osom-iphone5 osom-iphone2  osom-iphone4

Hamish McKenzie

hamishmckenzie Hamish McKenzie is a Baltimore-based reporter for PandoDaily who covers media, politics, and international startups. His first name is pronounced "hey-mish" and you can follow him on Twitter.

15 Apr 17:31

Simon Veksner: Presenting

by Ricki
baboon-butt.jpgBy Simon Veksner

I've always thought it strange that creatives do the presenting.

An agency hires creatives to come up with new and lateral ideas. Hence, creatives think differently to most people. They might be a bit weird. Maybe introverted.

Meanwhile, the agency hires account handlers to manage the client relationship. They normally have great people-skills, and will typically be confident and charming.

So who does the agency ask to stand up and present to clients? That's right. Not the confident and charming ones, but the weird shy ones.


Comments (0)
14 Apr 04:17

Meet NYC’s Most Imaginative Barista Turned Coffee Artist

by Alex Wain

As New York barista Mike Breach demonstrates,  there’s more to making a good coffee than the perfect blend of its ingredients. Unlike the majority of his peers, Breach is unique in that he gives his customers not only a sharp caffeine hit, but also a self-destructive piece of art as well. After spending hours practicing when the shop was shut behind closed doors, he’s finally perfected the art of crafting miniature drawings into the coffee foam itself.

Hundreds of New Yorker’s now constantly flock to his coffee shop each week to get that much-needed caffeine fix and also see their creations brought to life. But what a short life it is, each portrait last only for a few seconds before dissolving into the coffee, making each piece of art as transitory as it is fun.

Mike Breach A Barista Turned Coffee Artist





Mike Breach A Barista Turned Coffee Artist


14 Apr 04:15

Netflix to release 15 new episodes of Arrested Development with campaign via Ignition Creative

by CB
Netflix_1.jpgLater this month Netflix is releasing 15 new episodes of Arrested Development.

These posters were created by Ignition Creative, Los Angeles.

Comments (0)
14 Apr 04:12

A totally unsexy, vitally important blog that should be talked about as much as BuzzFeed

by Hamish McKenzie

Supreme CourtWhile much industry attention of today’s era of new-media companies is focused on the likes of BuzzFeed, Vox Media, NowThisNews, The Atlantic’s Quartz, The Magazine, and PandoDaily, one publication with a decidedly old-school approach to news is finding success with what is increasingly looking like an old-school medium.

While the likes of BuzzFeed and Vox Media cut a broad swathe across a wide range of verticals presented in jazzy storytelling forms – from listicles to high-production video – the SCOTUSblog drills down deep into one issue, the Supreme Court of the United States, and in an old-fashioned reverse-chronological weblog format.

What’s significant about SCOTUSblog is that it has been able to produce coverage of the court that rivals the best newspapers and television networks with a low-profile approach to analysis and zero fanfare. The blog reached its pinnacle when it outshone Fox and CNN, and matched the New York Times, with its reporting on last year’s Obamacare ruling, making a point of getting the news right rather than rushing to judgement. Both Fox and CNN were famously wrong in first reporting that Obamacare had been struck down by the Supreme Court, a debacle explained in brilliant narrative detail over the course of 7,000 words by SCOTUSblog itself.

Since that point, the blog, which has just five editorial staffers and a dozen contributors, is now considered serious competition by big media, even though it has been around since 2002 and is written not by journalists but by lawyers, law professors, and law students. In a recent interview with New York magazine, publisher Tom Goldstein said the Obamacare decision marked a radical shift “to the point where the mainstream press regards us as an extreme threat.”

“Our external press citations are down,” Goldstein told the magazine. “You can see it on Twitter as well. While we’ll regularly retweet pieces by other people, and we have the roundup every day of the rest of the press corps, the reverse isn’t true at all.”

It used to cost Goldstein about $250,000 a year to run the blog, but Bloomberg Law signed on as an exclusive sponsor in 2011, giving SCOTUSblog financial momentum just as the mainstream press was going in the opposite direction. Goldstein told New York that the blog is now able to spend half a million dollars a year. “We’re putting more work into covering the Supreme Court than anyone in history.”

I raise the case of SCOTUSblog because we who cover media-tech tend to get excited by things like big venture rounds, responsive design, and insane social sharing metrics. What is often overlooked, however, is the ability of one dedicated group of knowledgeable citizens to provide serious news coverage that can elevate the public discourse. SCOTUSblog is an indication that deep expertise and commitment to issues is just as important to a “media company” in this day and age as distribution mechanisms and content management systems.

Still, it’s not all great news. One of the reasons SCOTUSblog has been able to rise in prominence is that news organizations have been retrenching their journalistic resources. While it’s good that SCOTUSblog can help fill the void, society will be worse off if all news coverage of such important areas is consolidated in individual organizations, no matter how expert.

However, even Goldstein argues there is a still an important place for newspapers in covering the Supreme Court. When asked what newspapers do better than SCOTUSblog, he raised a point that might be considered unusual for blogs, which are so often forums for opinionated commentary.

Newspapers, Goldstein says, have the opportunity to have a strong editorial voice. “I show up and argue two or three cases a year, and I am loath to have the justices think about the blog as a thing that is intended to try and change their views,” he says. “So I think an editorial voice is an advantage I’m just going to have to leave to the newspapers.”

That’s a comment on the commoditization of news as much as anything. As news becomes easier to produce and distributed, from the likes of civilian blogs to Narrative Science’s algorithms, a clearly articulated human voice is more important than ever.

Hamish McKenzie

hamishmckenzie Hamish McKenzie is a Baltimore-based reporter for PandoDaily who covers media, politics, and international startups. His first name is pronounced "hey-mish" and you can follow him on Twitter.

14 Apr 04:10

All of the US energy capacity added in March was solar—all 44 megawatts

by Todd Woody
The not so orderly transition to renewables went into overdrive—for a month at least.

For all the talk of a natural gas boom, it takes time to build multibillion-dollar power plants to take advantage of the current glut of cheap fuel. Case in point: In March, the US added a whopping—wait for it—44 megawatts (MW) of new electricity generating capacity, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

That’s enough to keep espresso makers humming in about 30,000 American homes. Not exactly China-scale. But here’s what’s really interesting about that number: March marked the first time that 100% of new generating capacity in the US came from photovoltaic, or solar, power plants. (FERC doesn’t count the electricity generated by solar panels installed on residential rooftops.)

The solar projects FERC does count ranged from a 1.3 MW solar installation at a North Carolina science center to a 26 MW power station built by NRG Solar in the desert east of San Diego, California.

March may just have been an off month for power plant construction. Between January and March, the US added a total of 1,880 MW of new electricity generating capacity. Even so, renewable energy projects—wind, solar and biomass—accounted for 82% of new capacity in the first quarter of the year, and solar alone chipped in nearly 30% of the additional power. Natural gas power plants, on the other hand, added just 340MW, or 18%, of new capacity. And coal? Zip. Zero. Nada.

Overall, 2013 is shaping up to be a slow year. In 2012, the US added 3,833 MW of new generating capacity between January and March, including 1,145 MW of new natural gas power plants.

So what to make of these numbers?

First, expect renewables to be a leading source of new electricity capacity in the US, even if overall they still represent a small percentage of total capacity. (Despite the explosive growth of photovoltaic’s installations in recent years, solar still accounts for just half a percent of the US’ electricity production.)

Why? It’s simply much quicker and cheaper to install thousands of solar panels or erect wind turbines than build a complicated and capital-intensive natural gas power plant.

The trend should continue in 2013: Several giant solar power plants are due to come online later this year, and wind developers face a deadline to break ground on new projects by Dec. 31 to qualify for a crucial federal tax credit.

14 Apr 03:56

When the Rebel Alliance Sells Out

by David Dobbs


When scholarly publishing behemoth Elsevier gobbled up London software start-up Mendeley earlier this week, many Mendeley users felt as if the Galactic Empire had coöpted the Rebel Alliance.

Mendeley, founded in late 2008 by three tech-savvy scholars, had become a sort of rebel-scientist icon for producing a software-and-paper-sharing service that threatened to disrupt scholarly publishing in the way that Napster and had disrupted the music industry a few years earlier. more
14 Apr 03:53

The Trouble With Stanford

by Nicholas Thompson


On Monday evening, I asked, in a blog post, whether we are approaching The End of Stanford. The Wall Street Journal had just published a story about a new start-up called Clinkle, which has, as the paper mildly put it, “deep roots” in the university. More than a dozen students have left school to work at it. Professors have invested. An emeritus dean has advised it. The president of the university, John Hennessy, who had a career as a technology entrepreneur and who now sits on the boards of Google and Cisco—companies which could reasonably be expected to one day compete with or acquire the start-up—was the academic advisor of the C.E.O. The story made me wonder where Stanford ends and Silicon Valley begins. Or, put cheekily, is Stanford now just a tech incubator with a football team? more
14 Apr 03:46

The biggest banks say the biggest banks aren’t worth investing in, and regulation’s to blame

by Tim Fernholz
Former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, and current White House economic adviser, Paul Volcker testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, before the House Financial Services Committee hearing.

A spate of new analysis of global bank stocks by global banks suggests that their business models are in trouble—and that shareholders might want to break them up for that reason. Not because the banks are too risky, they say, but because regulators aren’t letting them take enough risk. While the average investor seeking to avoid a systemic crisis might consider less risk a good thing, it’s a problem for bank heads who want pre-2008 profits in a post-2008 world.

First, a JP Morgan analysis of bank stocks was reported in the New York Times:

“We see Tier I investment banks as un-investable. The viability of running a global Tier I investment bank business as part of a universal banking business is starting to be put in question.”

Then, this Bloomberg story on a Wells Fargo analysis of the largest US banks, the stocks of which are trading below book value in many cases, suggesting investors would make out better if they were broken up:

“Given the challenges posed by increasing regulation, higher capital requirements, and well-publicized trading/market challenges, it’s not surprising that investors remain reluctant to assign a ‘full’ valuation to the universal banks. If regulators and/or legislators don’t demand it, shareholders could also intensify demands to ‘break up the banks.’ ”

Finally, the Financial Times shares this more positive Morgan Stanley/Oliver Wyman analysis (pdf) of global big banks:

“We think the industry and the market have yet to get to grips with the forces fracturing global wholesale banking. In particular we now anticipate a 2-3% point drag on RoE from regulatory Balkanisation. … With diverging national regulatory agendas, it poses a major risk to the global banking model.”

All the reports blame post-financial crisis regulation for these problems. Is that a fair claim? Here’s what we can take away.

Yes, regulation is working. Aside from giving regulators better views of the financial system and more tools to shut down failing banks, the best the architects of the US Dodd-Frank reforms could hope to achieve against the Too Big To Fail problem was to make it too expensive to be a huge global bank. And what these reports are saying is that, indeed, it is becoming more expensive to be a huge global bank that carries lots of risk. Whether or not society needs huge global banks is a question for another day, but if breaking up large banks might now be in the interest of shareholders, the bank reform crowd should see that as a win.

But it’s not because of equity and capital requirements. This is an interesting chart from the Oliver Wyman report, which estimates how regulatory costs (yellow) and business decisions (green) affect their forecasts for banks’ return on equity, or RoE. (It also shows the predicted RoE for 2015 as against that for 2012.)

Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 11.21.29 AM

If you look at the costs, the biggest comes from structural reform, like the Volcker Rule that prohibits proprietary trading. The second biggest cost is from “OTC reform,” which refers to requirements that banks clear derivatives through central exchanges. The third, “solvency and liquidity,” refers to the new rules for equity and liquidity reserves in Basel III—a regulatory change about which  banks have complained loudly. This has had the lowest impact of all, although admittedly banks are still only about 60% of the way to meeting the new standards.

Which might mean that regulation isn’t working. If equity requirements are costing banks so little, it suggests that either critics are right that they are too weak, or that banks are too good at getting around them. Banks are coming up with new trades that allow them to maintain the assets on their books while shifting the risk off the books, reducing the impact of new equity and reserve requirements.

Some argue that this is a good thing. It pushes risk away from insured institutions and towards independent money managers. But this “collateral transformation” may be just disguising risk. The Morgan Stanley report notes that this kind of work is one of the bright spots in banking in the next few years, potentially generating $5-$8 billion in revenue. But like many responses to regulation at financial institutions, it raises the question of what business exactly banks are in—efficiently directing capital, or regulatory arbitrage?

But don’t feel too bad. The projections for 12%-14% return on equity in 2015 would put the biggest global banks around the average for US businesses, which is 12.89%. And that’s a good deal higher, according to NYU finance professor Aswath Damodaran, than the average RoE for American banks, of 7.46%.

09 Apr 18:55

Largest-ever leveraged buyout will also be a “spectacular” failure

by Gina Chon
TXU buyout and debt

Private equity firms binged on buyouts during the boom of 2005 to 2007. The most eye-popping deal was the purchase of Texas power company TXU Corp. KKR, TPG and other buyout firms acquired the company for about $45 billion, including debt. It is still the biggest leveraged buyout (LBO) in history and showed the clout private equity firms can wield. Now TXU, which is known as Energy Future Holdings, is drowning in $52 billion in debt. That means the biggest-ever LBO will also go down as the biggest ever buyout failure.

In 2007, KKR and the other private equity firms were betting on rising natural gas prices. But instead, those prices fell dramatically at the same time that US gas supply rose. Energy Future’s debt load began to rise and its losses mounted. Next month, cash payments for the interest on certain bonds are due. An even bigger bill will hit in October 2014, when almost $4 billion in loans mature.

That means it’s just a matter of time before Energy Future will have to go through some sort of restructuring, whether it’s through a bankruptcy or other means. A host of restructuring advisers have already been hired to help the various parties work through what could be one of the biggest bankruptcies in US history, if it goes down that route. “It’s going to be huge, spectacular,” said one source, whose firm is working on Energy Future, when asked how big a failure it could be.

The owners of Energy Future, which also includes Goldman Sachs, can take some solace in that they were not alone in betting on the biggest utility company in Texas. Warren Buffett also invested $2 billion in the bonds of a unit of Energy Future. His firm, Berkshire Hathaway, had to write down almost the entire amount of that investment. Buffett called the bond buy a “big mistake” in a letter to shareholders.

There could be some winners in the collapse of Energy Future, but it will likely require patience and hope that gas prices will recover. Early last year, some hedge funds and private equity firms not involved in Energy Future’s ownership began assessing ways they could make money when the restructuring hits, according to sources. Activist investor Bill Ackman famously made a killing on his investment in mall operator General Growth Properties as it sped toward bankruptcy a few years ago.

Since the financial crisis, LBOs worth more than $10 billion have been fairly rare. Those that breached the threshold in recent months had unique characteristics. Although Blackstone and Silver Lake are vying for PC maker Dell, it also involves a founder CEO who is the largest shareholder. The Heinz buyout earlier this year had Buffett as an investor.

That doesn’t mean private equity buyers aren’t looking for big deals. Some have made money, like the acquisition of hospital chain HCA. But other big LBOs like Freescale Semiconductor and Clear Channel have been busts. Energy Future is just another one to add to the list of cautionary tales.

09 Apr 18:50

How the iPhone can stop Facebook from dominating mobile

by Nathaniel Mott

facebook phone

Mark Zuckerberg nearly avoided mentioning the iPhone in last week’s announcement of Facebook Home, the application launcher and homescreen replacement tool that puts Facebook (and messaging) at the forefront of supported Android devices. If it weren’t for pesky, pestering reporters asking about Home coming to iOS, Zuckerberg likely would have skipped over the iPhone entirely, allowing Facebook to pretend that the world’s best-selling, least-social smartphone doesn’t exist.

The iPhone is, in many ways, the opposite of Facebook Home and Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for mobile computing. Home is a free application launcher that exists largely because of Google’s commitment to an open Android; Apple builds the iPhone and iOS for itself. Zuckerberg wants to refocus computing around people instead of software and, in the process, replace nearly everything about a smartphone with Facebook-built tools; Apple remains focused on software over social and seems content with its six-year-old vision for what a smartphone interface should look like.

And then there’s the fact that Apple has been slow to adopt social features within iOS, lagging years behind Android and its hyper-connectedness. The company didn’t introduce social features into iOS until it baked Twitter into iOS 5 — Facebook didn’t make its way in until a year later, with iOS 6. Even that integration is divorced from the iPhone’s main interface, restricted to parts of the operating system that average users may not even notice. (Share Sheets, anyone?)

Facebook wants to be the most important thing on its users’ smartphones. Home facilitates that goal by allowing the company to inject itself into every interaction a user has with his smartphone. The iPhone doesn’t allow for that, and Apple would probably prefer that its own applications, iTunes, and the App Store stay in front of users’ eyeballs.

“Companies grow,” writes the New Yorker’s Matt Buchanan. “Ideas, and Facebook, spread.” The social network attracted 1 billion users by first going for Ivy League students, then students from other colleges, and then, eventually, everybody; it probably thought it could jump from device to device in much the same way, first grabbing the Web, then smartphones, but that hasn’t been the case.

Apple has prevented Facebook from spreading in the same way it has on other platforms (and would almost certainly never allow Facebook to completely replace the iPhone’s user interface), stopping the social network from consuming the world’s most popular smartphone.

So, while some could view Home as a threat to Apple, both because it is more social (and, the thinking goes, more likely to catch on amongst Facebook-addicted consumers) and because it unifies Android devices in a previously-unseen manner, it seems that Home could just as easily have been borne from Facebook’s failure to dominate the iPhone.

Now there are (potentially) three categories of devices that truly matter in the mobile market: Android smartphones, Android smartphones dominated by Facebook Home, and the iPhone. Facebook could spread to every Android smartphone in the world and it still wouldn’t have the iPhone. While most companies would call that a success — when was the last time you heard of a piece of software being installed on every device on the planet? — Facebook could well see that as a failure.

Again, Facebook wants to become the most important aspect of any smartphone to its 1 billion users. That can’t happen as long as Apple continues restrict what Facebook is able to do with the iPhone. Ideas spread. Facebook spreads. And so long as the iPhone remains Home-free, the idea that Facebook can replace traditionally software-driven interfaces will be limited in its reach.

Nathaniel Mott

nathaniel Nathaniel Mott is a staff writer for PandoDaily, covering startups and technology from New York.

09 Apr 18:34

The End of Stanford?

by Nicholas Thompson


Is Stanford still a university? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more than a dozen students—both undergraduate and graduate—have left school to work on a new technology start-up called Clinkle. Faculty members have invested, the former dean of Stanford’s business school is on the board, and one computer-science professor who taught several of the employees now owns shares. The founder of Clinkle was an undergraduate advisee of the president of the university, John Hennessy, who has also been advising the company. Clinkle deals with mobile payments, and, if all goes well, there will be many payments to many people on campus. Maybe, as it did with Google, Stanford will get stock grants. There are conflicts of interest here; and questions of power dynamics. The leadership of a university has encouraged an endeavor in which students drop out in order to do something that will enrich the faculty. more
09 Apr 18:30

“The British are watering our whiskey,” warned American diplomat in 1973

by David Yanofsky
Henry Kissinger shares a possibly watered down drink with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt  in 1974.

This is where Paul Revere’s midnight ride and the recent Maker’s Mark dilution row meet: In June 1973, without Twitter or Facebook to fuel grassroots outrage, a US mission to the European Communities in Brussels sent a cable to Washington titled simply, “THE BRITISH ARE WATERING OUR WHISKEY.”

According to the correspondence, London’s Red Lion Blending Co. was buying US bourbon, distilled to 55% alcohol by volume, watering it down to 43%, and then exporting it to Germany. A source with European Communities, the precursor to the European Union, was apparently concerned this was fraudulent activity, even though customs documents certified by British authorities made no secret of the dilution. (And, frankly, 55% alcohol is a bit strong for most tastes.)

The cable surfaced as part of an American diplomatic archive published this weekend by Wikileaks. (However, the document has been declassified since June 30, 2005, and is also available on the US National Archives website.) The cable was attributed to Joseph Greenwald, then the US ambassador to the European Common Market.

See the cable on Wikileaks, at the National Archives, or read the full text below.

 PAGE 01 EC BRU 02505 081005 Z
 INFO OCT-01 IO-12 ADP-00 AID-20 CEA-02 CIAE-00 COME-00
 EB-11 FRB-02 INR-10 NSAE-00 RSC-01 CIEP-02 STR-08
 TRSE-00 LAB-06 SIL-01 OMB-01 AGR-20 RSR-01 /123 W
 --------------------- 002611
 R 080935 Z MAY 73
 E. O. 11652 NA




 PAGE 02 EC BRU 02505 081005 Z



09 Apr 18:26

Big Media Loves Promoted Trends, Twitter's Big-Dollar Digital Billboards

by Peter Kafka

twitter billboard cannesTwitter has been building up its ad business for three years, but early on it figured out that it had a hit with “Promoted Trends.” That’s the ad unit that lets a brand occupy the top spot on Twitter’s “Trends” list for a day; Twitter recently started asking $200,000 a day for the privilege.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why this works — while “Promoted Tweets,” the format the company describes as its “atomic unit” of its ad business, requires a lot of testing and experimentation, buying a trend for the day is a familiar concept for ad buyers.

Anyone who logs on to Twitter for the day will see the promotion, which makes it roughly similar to a homepage takeover on Yahoo or YouTube – it’s a digital billboard.

So who’s buying?

A one-month survey, conducted by CNBC social media strategist Eli Langer, offers some clues. By Langer’s count, Twitter sold 26 promoted trends in the U.S. in the last 32 days — at rate-card prices, that $5.2 million, plus whatever the advertisers paid for in promoted tweets to support the campaign (bear in mind that Twitter sells trends in many other territories worldwide).

Nearly half of those came from Big Media companies pushing movies and TV shows; another chunk came from food-and-beverage marketers.

Thursday (3/7): No Promoted Trend
Friday (3/8): #TheNextBigThing (Samsung)
Saturday (3/9): No Promoted Trend
Sunday (3/10): #TheBible (History Channel)
Monday (3/11): #FeedTheBeat (Taco Bell)
Tuesday (3/12): No Promoted Trend
Wednesday (3/13): #BurtWonderstone (Warner Brothers)
Thursday (3/14) #501s (Levi’s)
Friday (3/15) #TheCallMovie (Sony Pictures)
Saturday (3/16) #3dollarsub (Subway)
Sunday (3/17) No Promoted Trend
Monday (3/18) #BatesMotel (A&E)
Tuesday (3/19) #TheHobbit (The Hobbit Movie)
Wednesday (3/20) #HotNSpicy (McDonald’s)
Thursday (3/21) #BracketBusters (University of Phoenix)
Friday (3/20) #NickyFlash (AT&T)
Saturday (3/23) #RallyCry (Capital One)
Sunday (3/24) No Promoted Trend
Monday (3/25) #Blackberry10 (Blackberry)
Tuesday (3/26) #ItsNotComplicated (AT&T)
Wednesday (3/27) #NYIAS (Toyota)
Thursday (3/28) #TheHost (Twilight Movie)
Friday (3/29) #GiJoeRetaliation (Possibly a few production companies via The Rock’s Twitter account)
Saturday (3/30) #OrphanBlack (BBC America)
Sunday (3/31) #TheWalkingDead (AMC)
Monday (4/1) #AprilFools (Jockey )
Tuesday (4/2) #twEATfor1K (Wendys)
Wednesday (4/3) #BoBSantigoldLive (Vitamin Water)
Thursday (4/4) No Promoted Trend
Friday (4/5) #EvilDead (Sony)
Saturday (4/6) #FinalFour (Capital One)
Sunday (4/7) #MadMen (AMC)

08 Apr 10:47

The most frequently highlighted passages in famous business and management books

by Kevin J. Delaney
Ben Franklin's marginalia

A welcome consequence of the digitalization of our lives and media is the creation of streams of data that weren’t previously accessible. One of those is the book passages most highlighted by users of’s Kindle e-reader software.

It’s magical to see the short selections of writing that most moved readers across Amazon’s vast digital catalog of fiction and non-fiction works to wield their digital highlighters. Millions of passages are highlighted each month, the company says.

Amazon’s lists are predictably filled with mass market favorites. The most highlighted passage of all time is from Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games series: ”Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” Religious and self-help titles are also frequently highlighted. And scattered throughout the most popular highlights are selections from business titles and books of interest to managers. Below is a compilation of some from Amazon’s Heavily Highlighted Recently list. (Of course, as we’ve pointed out, any business book advice should be taken with a large quantity of salt.)

A number of the top highlights come from The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg. The most popular among them:

To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

First published in 1990, Stephen R. Covey’s bestselling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also has several passages in the most popular. Among them:

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

The most heavily highlighted passage recently in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is the text of a voiceover for a TV commercial co-written by Jobs in 1997:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Another popular selection from Steve Jobs:

People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.

A section critical of brainstorming from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain makes the list:

Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four. The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

Two sections of The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha, are popular:

How are you first, only, faster, better, or cheaper than other people who want to do what you’re doing in the world? What are you offering that’s hard to come by? What are you offering that’s both rare and valuable?

And this:

Take intelligent and bold risks to accomplish something great. Build a network of alliances to help you with intelligence, resources, and collective action. Pivot to a breakout opportunity.

There’s this section on the importance of deadlines from Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, by Brian Tracy:

Step three: Set a deadline on your goal; set subdeadlines if necessary. A goal or decision without a deadline has no urgency. It has no real beginning or end. Without a definite deadline accompanied by the assignment or acceptance of specific responsibilities for completion, you will naturally procrastinate and get very little done. Step four: Make a list of everything that you can think of that you are going to have to do to achieve your goal.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer, offers life advice thus:

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

Meditation is the focus of this selection from The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can DoTo Get More of It, by Kelly McGonigal:

Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness. People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness.

And, oh yes, there is one of the several quotes from the Fifty Shades of Grey adult trilogy, by EL James, that could pass as valuable business counsel:

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.

07 Apr 12:51

Steamrolled by Big Data

by Gary Marcus


Five years ago, few people had heard the phrase “Big Data.” Now, it’s hard to go an hour without seeing it. In the past several months, the industry has been mentioned in dozens of New York Times stories, in every section from metro to business. (Wired has even already declared it passé: “STOP HYPING BIG DATA AND START PAYING ATTENTION TO ‘LONG DATA’.”) At least one corporation, the business-analytics firm SAS, has a Vice-President of Big Data. Meanwhile, nobody seems quite sure exactly what the phrase means, beyond a general impression of the storage and analysis of unfathomable amounts of information, but we are assured, over and over, that it’s going to be big. Last summer, Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell, said in the Times that “The term itself is vague, but it is getting at something that is real… Big Data is a tagline for a process that has the potential to transform everything.”

Most of what’s written about Big Data is enthusiastic, like Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s gushing ode “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think,” which is currently selling briskly on Amazon, or the recent Times article on Mayor Bloomberg’s geek squad, and how “Big Data’s moment, especially in the management of cities, has powerfully and irreversibly arrived.” But despite the sense of excitement and promise surrounding the industry, Big Data isn’t nearly the boundless miracle that many people seem to think it is. more
07 Apr 12:47

Facebook's Real Audience

by (Peter Himler)
Photo: Eliza Kern, GigaOM
You mean you missed it? Yesterday the world's biggest social network held a news conference -- its third in four months. The reaction from a sampling of tech prognosticators was mixed.

 Dave Winer:
I can't believe the idiots at the FB press conf applauded the fact that the cheezy HTC phone comes in four colors.
— Dave Winer ☮ (@davewiner) April 4, 2013
Wired's Mat Honan:
And because there was so much Facebook stuff, I’m re-linking my story: Facebook’s ‘Phone’ Is A Triumph of Mediocrity…
— ⬅________________➡ (@mat) April 5, 2013
Om Malik:
Why Facebook Home bothers me: It destroys any notion of privacy -- my take on the news today.… via @gigaom
— Om Malik (@om) April 4, 2013
One telling tweet from Buzzfeed's Samir Mezrahi caught my eye:
It's cool that Facebook will be updating Facebook Home monthly considering they haven't fully released graph search or newsfeed yet.
— Samir Mezrahi (@samir) April 4, 2013
The proliferation of pressers is likely the result of some epiphany an inspired PR executive at Facebook had over his or her Winter break: "Let's milk the captive media audience we enjoy (because we're THE social network) to promulgate our new products and features."

I wrote about the first presser from January in which Zuck & Co. bowed Search Graph. This was followed by a March 7 presser to unveil News Feed, which in turn was followed by yesterday's presser to bow Facebook Home and Chat features. Oh, and let's not forget Facebook's January 30 earnings announcement and impending one this month. I even added my two Twitter cents:
$FB's going presser crazy. RT @markgurman: Next week, Facebook will have held three more events this year than Apple. $AAPL
— Peter Himler (@PeterHimler) March 30, 2013
That's five come-to-Jesus media events in Q1 alone, if case you lost count. So what's the motivation here: consumer adoption or investor placation? After all, Facebook's Search Graph and News Feed products haven't even "shipped" to the majority of the network's users. And Facebook Home and Chat Heads are relegated for now to reside on Google's Android O/S on HTC. No word on iOS implementation.

Not unlike my previous post in which I observed that Yahoo! was making all kinds of noise in the media spheres to demonstrate relevancy and momentum, so has Facebook. With the latter (and perhaps the former), it's clear that the investment community is top of mind.

Sure, it's cool to have a Facebook news feed overlay on my mobile OS and an in-app chat function, that is if I didn't have an iPhone. But as a public company that once aspired to be seen by investors in the same light as $GOOG, the audience for this spate of public pronouncements is clear. I won't even address concerns over consumer privacy in all of this orchestrated news.

Finally, it's important to note that some of the more successful "launches" of consumer-facing technology or platforms weren't launched at all. Consider the rapid ascent of Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, Etsy, and even Twitter itself.  None of these used press conferences to build awareness and users. All grew organically, with some offering "invitation-only" membership to feign cache, demand.

On the horizon, I'm keeping an eye on Vine, RebelMouse, and Snapchat, and others. As for a strategy of mounting relentless pressers, at some point, Zuck may be crying wolf.

Journalists today (and yesterday) don't want to be force fed news. They like serendipity and surprise. Steve Jobs, for one, understood this via the regularly scheduled Worldwide Developers Conference, MacWorld events and new product announcements spread out over the year, not a single fiscal quarter.
07 Apr 12:40

End of the Adventure for an Enigmatic Heiress

What is known about Barbara Piasecka Johnson, the Polish immigrant who married into the Johnson & Johnson fortune, after her massive "P.R. stunt" failed.
06 Apr 14:36

The truth about email: What’s a normal inbox?

by Dave Troy


Email is like sex: everybody does it, but few talk about what we actually do or how we do it. And those that do tend to do so with missionary zeal, with lots of suggestions about what you should do.

We all spend way too much time on email, and have our own strategies and techniques for dealing with the deluge. Usually those techniques are a melding of Web, desktop, and mobile tools that we find least objectionable. But the tools, tips and tricks that work for one person tend to work poorly for another. Products designed to “help” often are more of a hindrance and force the adoption of new workflows that run counter to years of training.

Email behavior is like a Rorschach. Some like to maintain “Inbox Zero” while others just let email stream by them, pulling out only items of immediate importance. Then there are the compulsive filers: sorting and labeling things for later retrieval or to keep projects separate. Some react to emails immediately, while others allocate a fixed period of time each day.

Curious about this, we gathered data across 38,000 inboxes and dozens of mail providers. Our data is both limited and biased (especially towards Gmail), but it’s at least a healthy-sized sample, and any significant sampling of the email market will result in a wide range of inbox and folder sizes. The specific numbers we arrived at should be taken as representative of a fairly random sample of user data collected in late 2012 and early 2013. Read on to learn more about email then you probably ever wanted to know.

What we found was that for a given inbox, there is a 1 in 10 chance it will have 15 unopened items or fewer. There’s also a 1 of out of 10 chance that it will be about 21,000 items or more:


What’s more there’s an 80 percent chance that any given inbox will be between 72 and 21,000 items. So odds are if you go look in your inbox now, you’ll fall within that range. About 20 percent of users have more than 21,000 emails (and as many as 700,000 — though that’s rare. Most very large inboxes top out under 100,000 emails.)

When we talk to people about these variations we hear a lot of theories: “Gmail encourages people to have big inboxes because of its archive/search features,” or “My Yahoo account is my junk drawer,” or “I don’t check that account often.”

Even when you compare different providers, though, size distributions are more or less the same. Aol and Yahoo accounts run a little bigger than Gmail accounts, while iCloud and (excluding legacy Hotmail) accounts tend to run a little smaller. The variation seems to be more about people than about providers. And we see that people are very, very different.

Among the inboxes we sampled, the average size is 8,024 messages. Here’s how the numbers break down among the major provider classes we surveyed:

Other IMAP 4,686 (excludes Hotmail) 5,286
iCloud 5,311
Aol 6,947
Average (All Providers) 8,024
Gmail 8,258
Yahoo! 9,085

While Gmail and Yahoo! inboxes are a little larger than the other providers, the average inbox still runs a few thousand emails. Startups targeting the tidy, tiny inbox crowd take note: this is not where most of the market is.

Meanwhile, there’s debate over whether folders (or labels, as they’re known in Gmail parlance) are useful. They are widely used, but productivity experts suggest that complex filing systems aimed at easing later retrieval actually cost more time than they are worth. Studies suggest that searching a comprehensive archive of email is faster and better.

Still, people have come to rely on folders as a way of keeping projects separated and making mental notes about which items require followup. So we thought it would be interesting to get an idea of how people use folders.


Here’s how folder use breaks down across the major providers we surveyed:

Aol 23
iCloud 23
Yahoo! 26
Other IMAP 37
Average (All Providers) 37
Gmail 38 (excludes Hotmail) 75

On average, the users we surveyed had 37 folders. So regardless of whether folders are useful, people do use them. Some people had as many as a few thousand. Undoubtedly, there are accounts out in the wild with tens of thousands of folders that we have not yet discovered.

Email communication is the bedrock of the information economy, and it’s a huge pain point. Entrepreneurs the world over are working hard on the problems that email presents. But are they building tools that will work for the average user — one with 8,024 emails and 37 folders — or are they building for some other target customer?

It is a truism that the people who are building these tools are software engineers. But engineers are — famously — not normal. They interact with the world differently from John and Suzy Q. Public. So it’s little wonder that many tools conceived by techies and built by engineers don’t break out to mainstream success. How often are people let down by some highly-anticipated email tool that seems, somehow, to fall short of useful for “normals?”

We say this not to disparage anyone’s efforts, but merely to offer the suggestion that solving the problems of email requires awareness of how users actually use email and empathy with all users — not only the one with 100 emails, but those with 700,000 emails and 10 emails as well.

Dave Troy

Dave is CEO and co-founder of 410 Labs, maker of Mailstrom, which helps people process large volumes of email. You can follow him on Twitter.

06 Apr 13:34

Innovation is fueled more by boredom than curiosity

by Nathaniel Mott

time travel_pdPhones are boringFacebook is mediocre, and Home is no different. Technology is dominated by mundane, un-sexy services and devices that serve hundreds of millions of users without exciting even a fraction of that population. Consumers squabble over slight differentiations between products like they’ve heard the one true gospel and anyone who buys or uses another product is an infidel. Welcome to technology.

There seems to be a direct relationship between how novel and, frankly, broken, a product is and how excited we are about its existence. A product’s potential matters more than its actuality because we’re bored with the present, damn it, and it’s time for something new. Interest in technology goes hand-in-hand with an obsession with novelty.

The modern smartphone didn’t spring forth, fully-developed, from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. Today we have displays named after the limits of human vision, ultra-fast data connections, and increasingly powerful processors to power it all; in 2007 we had a thick, aluminum-clad device with sluggish data connections, a much weaker processor, and a dimly-lit, low-resolution display.


The world’s largest social network didn’t grow to 1 billion users accessing its service on mobile devices as well as traditional computers overnight. Today we have Facebook, a place to share photos, chat with friends, and record our lives as they happen; in 2005 a few Ivy League universities had The Facebook, where (supposedly) one of the breakthrough features was letting your classmates know if you were single or in a relationship.


We could draw the same parallels with any once-nascent technology that has fallen into ubiquity. The original iPod was a technological marvel that, in many ways, pulled a flailing company away from the brink; now it’s a throw-away category meant for people who want something they can use while running or who can’t afford an iPhone.

Hell, take the telephone itself: When was the last time anyone was excited about using a clunky, wall-attached landline phone? Yet when the phone was introduced it was a breakthrough technology, and is directly responsible for many of today’s devices.

Any technology that makes it past early adopters, struggles into the mainstream, and becomes part of daily life is “boring.” Many are “mediocre,” at least partly because they try to be so many things to so many people. No one gets excited about an updated iPod nano, or a new answering machine, or standalone GPS navigation system. These technologies changed the way we interact with the people and world around us, and their reward these days is a resounding “meh.”

This phenomenon would be tragic if it weren’t directly responsible for newer, better products and services.

Technological revolutions are built out of boredom. If someone had been content with the first version of the telephone we wouldn’t have smartphones. Whoever it was who decided that humans could do better than a few pointy sticks, a fire, and a few animal pelts allowed us to advance to the point where you and I can complain about our wireless carriers and slow Internet connections. “Meh” is the motivative force behind modernity.

Being bored by smartphones and Facebook is perhaps the greatest sign that those technologies have made a lasting impact. It’s leading to new products like Glass, which is still at the breakthrough stage. It’s leading to Home, which, despite allegations of mediocrity, advances the smartphone interface beyond a grid of applications and widgets and introduces something new to a staid market.

Louis CK’s “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” bit is often meant as an indictment against an entitled generation, but that attitude is a prerequisite to continued development. Everything is amazing, nobody is happy, and that’s why tomorrow’s technology might be just a little bit better.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]

Nathaniel Mott

nathaniel Nathaniel Mott is a staff writer for PandoDaily, covering startups and technology from New York.

04 Apr 14:28

Destroying the App Store hegemony: Twitter’s new Cards could destroy app silos

by Nathaniel Mott


Twitter is where people go to be taken somewhere else. It’s an information network masquerading as a microblogging service that allows users to find and share the best, most-relevant content from around the Web, whether that’s an article from the Economist or a check-in on Foursquare. Now, with newly expanded Twitter Cards, the site is trying to do something similar– and more powerful– on mobile.

“With mobile app deep-linking, users will be able to tap a link to either view content directly in your app, or download your app, depending on whether or not they have your app installed,” writes Twitter’s Jason Costa in the feature’s announcement. Photos could be viewed in Path or Flickr’s apps, for example, instead of within a Web view in Twitter’s application — or, if they don’t have those apps installed, they can be taken directly to the app within the App Store or Google’s Play Store.

What this might look like for Flickr users.

What this might look like for Flickr users.

The new Cards could not only allow app developers to better reach potential users — a Promoted Tweet providing easy access to the App Store, anyone? — but would also allow those users to view and interact with content outside of Twitter. Users could comment on a photo, listen to a song, or directly view a product within an online marketplace’s application, embracing Twitter’s role as emissary between services by offering users increased mobility.

This is a notable change for Twitter and different from many other applications, which often display content via an in-app browser instead of taking users to a different application because of Apple’s restrictions on how much information iOS apps are able to share with one another.

“Every app is an island,” I wrote last December. “The iOS home screen’s grid layout makes this clear – this app goes over here, that app goes over there, and goddamn if they’re ever going to overlap.” Apple has turned iOS into a collection of many data silos, preventing apps from communicating and sharing information without clunky work-arounds. Twitter– one of the most powerful mobile apps of all time — is taking a sledgehammer to those silos and allowing apps to better communicate with one another.

It’s not just about Twitter. One by one, other developers are starting to utilize these so-called “deep-links” to shuffle users and information from one application to another. This can lead to some intricate workflows, and has allowed enterprising hackers to create a tweak that replaces Apple’s mostly-useless sharing menu on iOS with things people might actually want to use.

Twitter’s new Cards, along with Facebook’s App Center, are likely to be many iOS users’ first exposure to fluid inter-app communication. This isn’t a small developer releasing a capable app to a niche audience; this is two of the world’s largest information-slash-connections-slash-social networks demonstrating how much easier things are when users can choose which app they want to view something in.

Seamless transitions between sites is a hallmark of the Web. Could you imagine what it would be like to have to visit your homepage every time you wanted to visit a new website? That’s how people interact with their smartphones now, jumping in and out of the Home Screen every time they want to use a different app. These new Cards are Twitter’s attempt to change that.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily. Flickr image source: Twitter]

Nathaniel Mott

nathaniel Nathaniel Mott is a staff writer for PandoDaily, covering startups and technology from New York.

04 Apr 14:26

Best-selling business books—the only place Atari and Circuit City are held up as model companies

by Commentary
Tom Peters

There’s a formula to the typical business book: look at some successful companies, analyze them, make some true generalizations of those companies, and then advise others to do the same.

The trouble is, this is basically useless.

Here’s why: In a pool of thousands of companies, inevitably some are going to end up highly successful purely through luck—and by looking just at performance, you’ve got no way of distinguishing luck and solid business strategy. Take a distinctive and successful company—you’ve got no idea if the factors that make them distinctive helped them, hindered them, or were completely irrelevant to their success.

Consider three of the best-selling and most renowned business books in the marketplace:

In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. Model companies included Atari, which ran into financial disaster and was taken over, and Wang Labs, which ultimately went bankrupt. Overall, subsequent performance was dramatically worse than previous performance.

Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Out of 17 model companies, only eight subsequently outperformed the market average.

Good to Great, by Collins. Model companies included Circuit City, which went bankrupt, and Fannie Mae, which went bankrupt and nationalised. Subsequent performance was below the market average.

If these companies were so great, why did they do so poorly post-publication? Given how these companies were selected for inclusion in the books, it’s hardly surprising. It’s akin to the authors examining the past performance of 1,000 people playing roulette, selecting those people who’d made a lot of money (and there would be some who’d done extremely well), then asked what made them special. Despite their “great performance,” we should expect those players to do no better than average in subsequent games. And even though business success does involve skill, making it more like poker than roulette, there’s just so much random noise that, for any single successful company, it’s hard to tell whether skill or chance made the difference.

What’s funny in the case of Good to Great, published in 2005, was that the true explanation of why his “great” companies had done so well was staring Jim Collins in the face. The winners told him success was due to luck, as did the losers:

The good-to-great executives talked a lot about luck in our interviews… we began to notice a contrasting pattern in the comparison executives: they credited substantial blame to bad luck…

Rather than concluding that the CEOs were spot-on in their diagnoses, Collins concludes that modesty is the key to success:

The Level 5 leaders… apportion credit to things outside themselves when things go well… The comparison leaders did just the opposite.

It’s easy to laugh at this and dismiss those books years after the fact—but we make mistakes like this all the time. We read Steve Jobs’ biography and wonder if his caustic nature was what made him successful—but ignore his early lucky breaks, and forget about all the successful yet affable CEOs there are. Or we look at our higher-performing competitors and try to figure out what made them different — forgetting that two people can roll exactly the same dice but end up with very different outcomes.

In general, humans have a remarkable tendency to see patterns everywhere, even when they don’t exist. But this doesn’t mean that all business strategy is useless. Unlike in other games of chance, in life and business, you can control how many opportunities you get—how many rolls of the die. And if you can manage more die-rolls than your competitors, on average you’ll do better.

We welcome your comments at

04 Apr 03:24

Penetrating A World Built On Secrecy

by kporteous
Gerard Ryle April 1, 2013, 4:45 pm offshore tax haven secrecyInvestigative reporting is expensive, time-consuming, and risky. We should know -- we're revealing a world that’s dominated by the rich and powerful.
03 Apr 14:35

“Disownership is the new normal,” Sunrun claims in light of new survey

by Hamish McKenzie


A new online survey commissioned by home solar company Sunrun indicates that “disownership” is on the rise in America, with a majority of respondents saying they have rented, leased, or borrowed the sorts of items people traditionally own in the last two years.

The Harris Interactive survey of 2,252 adults, which wasn’t based on a probability sample, found that 52 percent of Americans have leased or borrowed items instead of buying them in the last two years, and 83 percent said they would rent, lease, or borrow items instead of buying them if they could do so easily.

The survey also found that 24 percent of respondents are more likely to engage in “disownership” now than five years ago. Furthermore, 49 percent said they plan to “disown” traditionally-owned items in the next two years. The leading reasons given for doing so were to save money (53 percent) and to cut down on storage and/or maintenance (39 percent).

Sunrun, which pays for and maintains solar panels for homes so that families can switch to clean energy, commissioned the survey because it believes that the movement towards “disownership” and the “access economy” represents a cultural shift – but there has so far been scant statistical verification of the trend.

“This is a new way of doing things that really reflects today’s economy and how people have been through one of the biggest downturns since the Great Depression, and they have a different way of viewing items and consumer goods,” says Sunrun spokesperson Susan Wise. The trend, she says, is “only going to grow from here.”

The results of the survey appear to back up that claim. Sunrun contends that the survey shows that “disownership” is not confined only to the young and hip Airbnb users of America’s coasts. In fact, 24 percent of respondents aged 55 years or over reported being much or somewhat more likely to rent, lease, or borrow items traditionally owned today than five years ago. Meanwhile, 52 percent of respondents aged between 45 and 54 said they had rented, leased, or borrowed these types of items in the last two years.

The “access economy” is also active in non-coastal parts of the US. Half of the respondents from the South said they plan to rent, lease or borrow traditionally-owned items in the next two years, along with 46 percent of those in the Midwest.

“Disownership is the new normal,” concludes Wise. “It’s not a passing trend.”

The items most commonly reported to be rented, leased, or borrowed instead of buying or owning them included vacation houses or rooms (52 percent), heavy equipment tools such as tractors and bulldozers (50 percent), books and textbooks (41 percent), household tools such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers (26 percent), and cars or trucks (25 percent).

Sunrun’s survey builds on similar claims about the rise of the “sharing economy” from other parts of the tech industry. Sunrun says the sharing economy is a subset of the broader “access economy,” which encompasses not just peer-to-peer marketplaces such as Airbnb and TaskRabbit, but also short-term rental services such as Zipcar and

Forbes recently estimated that the sharing economy will put $3.5 billion into people’s wallets this year, with growth exceeding 25 percent. The magazine also pointed out that the share of new cars bought by Americans aged 18 to 34 dropped from 16 percent in 2007 to 12 percent in 2002, according to chief economist Lacey Plache.

At January’s PandoMonthly in San Francisco, Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky told Sarah Lacy that we are only at Day Two in the sharing economy, which he said is a natural follow on to the mass production era that was ushered in by the Industrial Revolution. “The sharing economy is a form of trade,” Chesky said. “It’s an economy that just brings people together.”

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]

Hamish McKenzie

hamishmckenzie Hamish McKenzie is a Baltimore-based reporter for PandoDaily who covers media, politics, and international startups. His first name is pronounced "hey-mish" and you can follow him on Twitter.

03 Apr 14:29

A MuckReads Guide to North Korea

As tensions simmer over North Korea’s latest nuclear threats, we take a look at some of the best reading on Kim Jong Un, the prospects for a nuclear conflict and life in the DPRK. What did we miss? Tweet your recommended reading with #MuckReads or leave us a note in the comments below.

Meet Kim Jong Un, Time, February 2012
When Kim Jong Il died in December 2011, there was little known about his successor Kim Jong Un. “The only sure thing for now is that Kim Jong Un is the least-known and understood leader ever of a nuclear-armed nation,” wrote Bill Powell. Powell explores the life of Kim’s third son, from his childhood spent playing pickup basketball to his schooling in Switzerland, and his eventual ascension of power.

‘More Dangerous Than You Think’, Foreign Policy, March 2013
Academics Victor Cha and David Kang review North Korea’s latest provocations, including its recent launch of a satellite into orbit, to challenge the assumption that Pyongyang can continually be deterred. As for Kim Jong Un, the authors argue “more important than asking whether [he] is insane is determining whether he is cautious or a risk-taker.”

Alone in the Dark, The New Yorker, September 2003
When the first American ship arrived in Korea in 1866, the Koreans and the Americans fought a four-day battle in which the victorious Koreans ultimately hacked the ship’s crew to death. The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch traces the strange history of North and South Korea since then, from the Kim family’s rise to the South Korean president’s visit to North Korea in 2000.

What are North Korea’s Intentions? (graphic), The National Post, February 2013
Canadian newspaper the National Post lays out the missiles and other weapons in North Korea’s arsenal, and maps their potential reach.

A running list of North Korea's near-daily threats (updated), Foreign Policy, March 2013
In the past several weeks, every day seems to bring a new threat from North Korean leaders. Foreign Policy is keeping their list updated, to stay on top of escalating verbal attacks from Kim Jong Un’s regime.  

North Korea, South Korea and the U.S. (PDF), CRS, February 2013
This Congressional Research Service report details Washington and South Korea’s “strategic patience” approach to dealing with North Korea and the ongoing transition of U.S. forces in South Korea, where about 28,500 troops are currently deployed.

North Koreans See Few Gains Below Top Tier, The New York Times, October 2012
More Mercedes-Benzes can be seen on the streets of Pyongyang since the rise of Kim Jong Un. But four ordinary North Koreans interviewed by the Times said that their lives have not improved. The price of rice has doubled, beggars haunt the country’s train stations and religious freedom is non-existent. “If the government finds out I am reading the Bible, I’m dead,” one North Korean woman said.

North Korea’s Public Relations Man is a Spaniard With a Tough Job, Christian Science Monitor, March 2013
Meet North Korea’s PR man: a Spaniard who says it has long been his dream to join the “North Korean revolution.” He claims they are in a “propaganda battle with the West” and that 95 percent of the news about North Korea is false. The only true news about the Asian nation, he says, comes from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea’s Digital Underground, The Atlantic, April 2011
A look at a handful of independent media organizations that smuggle news into a country completely isolated from Internet and broadcast media — save for government-controlled radios programmed to broadcast state news.

Nothing Left, The New Yorker, July 2010
The stories of refugees who fled to China, and a summary of recent economic woes, including a disastrous currency devaluation (“Prices for rice and corn tripled in a single day...A cup of coffee at the hotel could cost anywhere from eleven to thirty-two dollars.”) Barbara Demick has been interviewing refugees from North Korea for more than a decade.You can read an excerpt of her 2009 book, Nothing to Envy, here.

Escape from Camp 14, Blaine Harden, March 2012
Foreign correspondent Blaine Harden chronicles the prison camps of North Korea in this story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person born into the North Korean gulag known to escape. Raised within the camp system, Shin discovered and revealed his family’s escape plans to his captors at age 13. His mother and brother were tortured and killed. Harden details Shin’s subsequent escape into South Korea and eventually the United States. The Guardian reviews the book here.  

Inside North Korea
For a glimpse inside “the hermit kingdom,” see this photo essayin the Boston Globe, and Vice Media’s, three-part video guide to North Korea. Whether or not it captures what life is really like is unclear; guides accompany all visitors and organize their tours.

03 Apr 03:28

If Apple were smart, it would buy Dropbox, no matter the cost

by Michael Carney


I’ll just come out and say it: Apple should acquire Dropbox.

This doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen – such a deal faces a number of obstacles that we’ll get into in a moment – but for a number of reasons it would make a lot of sense.

I expect that this will be an unpopular opinion both among Apple supporters who believe the company hasn’t lost a step, and among Dropbox fans who fear seeing the cross-platform service being walled-gardened. But the deal would be highly strategic for Apple, and would likely yield an obscene payday for Dropbox shareholders. If handled well, it could be a big win for consumers as well.

Apple has proven itself inept at developing cloud services, and the company’s default iOS mail app has been routinely bested by third parties large and small. Dropbox can help in both instances. At the same time, Apple’s already massive and still growing pile of cash is drawing the ire of investors. Lastly, justified or not, Apple is in the midst of its most negative consumer and Wall Street PR cycle since its meteoric run began with the launch of the iPod in late 2001. In this environment, a bold and exciting announcement like a new product category or a major acquisition would be worth its weight in gold.

As Jim Cramer said on CNBC earlier today, “Apple is becoming the JCPenney of tech. I think that there is a sense that the company is in a tailspin, and it doesn’t seem to matter what they do right now.”

Front and center in the case for this acquisition is Apple’s inability to create cloud services that live up to expectations. It’s been widely documented that iCloud (and iTunes Match) is a complete and total trainwreck for both consumers and developers. The promise of invisible, “it just works,” synchronization has been anything but a reality. The fact that its predecessor, MobileMe, was also a disaster makes this more of a pattern than a one-off occurrence.

As AgileTortoise developer Greg Pierce told The Verge, “iCloud with Core Data is a developer’s worst nightmare. It’s frustrating, maddening, and costs hundreds of support hours.”

Dropbox, on the other hand, has managed to integrate with dozens of apps and has successfully on-boarded more than 100 million users, a significant portion of which are everyday consumers with varying technical proficiencies. Apple would be wise to acquire as much of this market share, consumer good will, and engineering proficiency as possible, cost be damned. And while Dropbox obviously has the product that Apple needs today, just as important is the fact that it has the engineering talent and vision to keep them innovating in this space for years to come.

The Y Combinator alumni company isn’t the only player in the cloud storage space, as Box, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, and SugarSync all are hoping to solve the cloud storage and file syncing challenges of consumers and business. But as far as ubiquity and brand sentiment go, Dropbox owns the market.

Dropbox and Apple currently have very different visions for data synchronization. Dropbox still relies on folder-based organization with selective syncing and sharing among users. Apple, on the other hand, prefers that its users forget the concept of folders and a hard drive to have everything synced seamlessly across every device. It’s hard to conceive of either company abandoning its strategy, but given Dropbox’s proven ability to execute in the cloud services space, it would seem that they’re better positioned from a talent perspective to execute Apple’s vision than Apple itself. Whether the combined company could effectively pursue both strategies in parallel remains open for debate. Given the stakes for Apple, it’s something that would be worth solving.

Bringing Dropbox, its team, and its domain experience into the mix would be the fastest way to deploy the necessary additional resources to the disappointing iCloud product – which some have suggested has only four full time employees supporting it. Many of the developer complaints have centered around the lack of documentation and support offered around both implementation and troubleshooting Core Data instances. This is a problem that Dropbox addressed when it introduced its first API nearly three years ago.

The Cupertino titan is famous for wanting to control its ecosystem from top to bottom, meaning that a simple integration would be insufficient. And while on the surface, it’s easy to suggest that Apple prefers to build rather than buy, its multi-hundred million dollar acquisitions of NeXT (OS X), P.A. Semi (A-series chips), Quattro Wireless (Siri), Intrinsity (A-series chips), C3 Technologies (Maps), and AuthenTec (biometrics) tell a different story.

Moving past cloud syncronization, Apple has also seen its iOS Mail app solidly bested by third party challengers. If download numbers and online sentiment are any guide, the default app has been replaced by millions of consumers with a combination of Google’s native Gmail app, the now-abandoned Sparrow (acquired by Google), and Mailbox (acquired by Dropbox), among others.

It’s the latter company that makes this tie up intriguing. Apple pioneered the modern touch-based mobile device, and also ushered in the post-PC productivity era. Unfortunately, many of its core apps, like Mail and Calendar, have remained largely frozen in time since the early days of iOS. Mailbox is nothing if not a touch-centric, post PC, productivity boosting experience. Email may be dying, if you believe the talking heads, but it’s not dead yet. If Apple’s iPhones and iPads are going to remain the go-to device for consumers and enterprises, improvement in this area is a must.

As I alluded to earlier, Apple has the means to make this a reality. The company had amassed a war chest of $137 billion of cash on hand, as of its January quarterly report, up 12.9 percent from its $129 billion figure a quarter earlier (although much of this cash is outside the US, presenting tax consequences if trying to deploy it domestically). As this number has grown, so have demands from activist investors to see the cash used to create shareholder value, either in the form of an acquisition, or preferably a stock buyback or dividend.

Nominal dividends, capital expenditures, and R&D costs aside, Apple has been content to say that it’s saving this cash for a “rainy day.” Tim Cook has hinted during recent talks that the company is exploring and remains open to “major acquisitions.” A deal on the scale of Dropbox would show investors that management is serious about putting its cash to good use.

The next question is, what would it take to acquire dropbox? The company reportedly commanded a $4 billion valuation during its October 2011 Series B round, and reportedly had offers as high as $8 billion at the time. The company has been rumored to eye an IPO in 2013 or 2104, and given its growth in the year and a half since its last fundraising, it could command an IPO valuation as high as $10 billion to $12 billion.

For Apple to preempt this seemingly imminent payday, it would need to pay a serious premium. Possibly as much as double the presumed IPO valuation, given Dropbox’s hesitation to sell and the fact that Steve Jobs famously insulted the founders by calling the company a “feature,” and low-balling them with an early acquisition offer. For Dropbox, an obscene valuation would likely be the only reason to sell. But given the amount of dry powder Apple has amassed, and the extent that it has fallen behind in the increasingly important software and services categories, this is a check that can and should be written.

There are risks involved in transaction that Apple would need to navigate. If it hopes to preserve Dropbox’s existing revenue and usage, it would need to preserve its cross-platform nature and continue dedicating resources to developing outside the iOS and OS X ecosystems. The worst thing Apple could do from a PR perspective would be alienate consumers by acquiring and destroying a widely loved service. That said, Apple makes its money on hardware sales, and would not target Dropbox as a revenue stream first and foremost. Instead, it would be a way to bolster its ecosystem and give consumers another reason to stick around. Where a standalone “iCloud-Dropbox” service fits in this equation is unclear. But if the alternative is iCloud as we know it today, it seems to be a conflict worth navigating.

Also working against the deal is the terrible track record of billion dollar plus acquisitions in the tech sector. Look no further than Autonomy (HP), Palm (HP), Motorola Mobility (Google), AOL (Time Warner), and Netscape (AOL). Lenovo’s purchase of the ThinkPad brand, and Google’s purchase of YouTube’s stand as counterexamples, but the ratio of winners to losers hasn’t been pretty. Apple is better positioned financially than any of the above acquirers to take a ten figure risk, but its ability to execute a merger at this scale has not been tested.

There’s no arguing that this would be a complicated deal, both to negotiate and to integrate effectively. But looking ahead, it seems that mobile hardware is becoming commoditized at an ever-increasing rate. The future of the mobile platform wars is likely to come down to services, which is an area where Apple falls woefully short. If Tim Cook and company want to win this race, it’s time that they start making bold moves, beginning with the purchase of Dropbox.

Michael Carney

MCarney Headshot 11.12 Maui III Michael Carney has spent his career exploring the world of early stage technology as an investor and entrepreneur and has participated in building companies in multiple countries within North and South America and Asia. Ultimately, he is an enthusiast of all things shiny and electronic and is inspired by those who build businesses and regularly tackle difficult problems. You can follow Michael on Twitter @mcarney.

02 Apr 20:44

An Angry White House Press Corps

by (Peter Himler)
Over the weekend, I heard a segment on NPR's "On the Media" in which co-host Bob Garfield explored the Obama Administration's direct-to-constituent, earned and "owned" media strategies.

The piece was filled with several mainstream journalists from the White House press pool complaining about their lack of access. The piece was aptly titled "Frustration in the White House Press Corps." Take a listen below:

The segment no doubt was catalyzed by a caustically headlined piece by the increasingly partisan political blog Politico titled "Obama: The Puppet Master." (Print, and now digital, still begets broadcast.) Co-authors Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen describe
"...a White House that has taken old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting). And it’s an equal opportunity strategy: Media across the ideological spectrum are left scrambling for access."
They grouse further that:
"the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly."
Aside from the fact that today's most engaging blogs have darn good (i.e., histrionics-prone) headline writers, I don't think what Politico reports is much of a revelation. Every politician, let alone corporate executive, strives to ensure that his or her POV resonates clearly. PR professionals are paid to help their charges both crystallize their messages and more effectively navigate the earned media landscape -- with media training, staged events, and the parsing of which journalists will be granted individual access.  Politico notes:
"The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with The New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on “The View”?
With the advent of owned media, and direct-to-consumer social channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+, who can blame newsmakers (or this President) for taking their message directly to constituents?

This is especially true in an age when many new-age (and some old-age) journalists simply fail to "get it right." Some reporters are partisan, others serve more as "referees," thus creating false reporting equivalencies as James Fallows observes in this NPR segment (starting at :35) on broken government and the media's broken coverage of it:


Today we learn that Buzzfeed's partisan (and journalistically challenged) hack Zeke Miller, some two years out of college, is joining Time Magazine as a political "reporter." (Is this journalistically failing up or failing down?)

Still why shouldn't President Obama's digitally and socially savvy communications team take its boss's  message directly to the people, as they did recently via a Google Hangout?

I'm torn on this question, since I've written frequently about how a free and diligent press is vital to any modern democracy. Without an effective fourth estate to scrutinize newsmakers' (sometimes dubious) pronouncements, we will sink into a political, social and economic morass driven by a low information public. (Just consider all those Tea Partiers who were swept into Congress in 2010.)

On the other hand, the number of high quality news organizations seems to be dwindling, or maybe just drowned out by the noise of today's fragmented, ephemeral and cacophonous media environment. Then there's the rise of partisan and headline-driven digital media who've gained greater authority in influencing the court of public opinion.

I do however fault the President's communications consiglieres for increasingly sidestepping bona fide news organizations in an effort to advance the White House's political agenda.  Granted, new social tools and channels make it easy to speak directly to the people, unfettered by reporters' natural biases or a fabricated need for "equivalency."

Still as a rule I still believe that if you have a solid (i.e., factually substantiated) message, PLUS a gifted (i.e., compelling) messenger, you will derive considerable benefit by also availing yourself to a journalistically credible/reliable news organization, i.e., NPR, The New York Times, the AP, Bloomberg News, PBS NewsHour, and CBS News for starters.

Message control is good, but there's nothing like a positive story by a good reporter having done a good job.  They don't call it "earned media" for nothing.