Independent podcasting

Podcasting is the new radio, where the convenience of “listen to it on your own time” and “find exactly what you want to hear” beat out “listen to it live”. From my experience, the demand for podcasts far outweighs the supply, and it’s an ample time to get into podcast publishing. The beautiful thing about podcasting today is that if you do want to do it, it’s easy. Create a WordPress or Squarespace, get the template you want, and record with whatever microphone you probably have, like on your phone or laptop. The reason it’s this easy is that while the largest aggregator of podcasts, Apple, does approve being listed in their Podcast app, Podcasts are just RSS feeds, an open standard. But as the big producers of podcasters want to make more money, they have demands of the platform. Here’s the New York Times:

Interviews with over two dozen podcasters and people inside Apple reveal a variety of complaints. The podcasters say that they are relegated to wooing a single Apple employee for the best promotion. That sharing on social media is cumbersome. And that for podcasters to make money, they need more information about their listeners, and Apple is in a unique position to provide it. The problems, they say, could even open up an opportunity for a competitor.

I’m not convinced these were the reasons given to Apple in that meeting, because frankly I think they’re weak, but let’s take this point-by-point:

  1. That podcasts “are relegated to wooing a single Apple employee for the best promotion” is wrong because that’s what you need to do to get publicity in Apple’s podcast store, but I’d argue that you’d be better off publicizing your podcast using other channels, namely the web. Rather, I think improving the positioning options available to publishers will probably benefit big players to the detriment of indie publishers, and so I think it’s a net loss for the platform.
  2. “That sharing on social media is cumbersome.” Yes, it is, arguably because sharing on social media is just another platform to lock yourself into. But even if you deem sharing on social media is a good thing to do, which I very much doubt, podcasts are still an open enough standard that you can create a link which has timestamp information on it and takes a user straight to the content you want them to see, no middle man, and go get your podcast if they like what they hear.
  3. That “they need more information about their listeners”. Users are smart. They know they’re being spied on. They see that they search for a spork on Amazon 3 years ago, have been flagged as being a user that’s interested in alternative-dining options, and that you’ve continued to programmatically serve them ads across websites. They don’t like it. To bring programatic, unskippable ads to podcasts would be more damaging than lucrative, and so I would implore publishers to find alternative business models, namely sponsorship.

Marco Arment made a similar case:

Big podcasters also apparently want Apple to insert itself as a financial intermediary to allow payment for podcasts within Apple’s app. We’ve seen how that goes. Trust me, podcasters, you don’t want that.

It would not only add rules, restrictions, delays, and big commissions, but it would increase Apple’s dominant role in podcasts, push out diversity, give Apple far more control than before, and potentially destroy one of the web’s last open media ecosystems.

Remember I was talking about how you can just fire up an WordPress instance and get to podcast publishing? If it was more of a “platform”, we’d see the same problem’s that the App Store is struggling with: that the top 1% of the podcasts earn 99% of the profit. The reason for this is that big publishers would be better equipped to negotiate with Apple or whoever the platform owner is. It may be harder to earn a buck in today’s podcast ecosystem, but I am convinced that it’s better than centralizing control.

Federico Viticci gives his two cents for MacStories:

The great thing about the free and decentralized web is that the aforementioned web platforms are optional and they’re alternatives to an existing open field where independent makers can do whatever they want. I can own my content, offer my RSS feed to anyone, and resist the temptation of slowing down my website with 10 different JavaScript plugins to monitor what my users do. No one is forcing me to agree to the terms of a platform.

I understand why the web tends towards centralization today: owning and running a server is a naturally centralized relationship, especially considering that the knowledge has yet to disseminate to everyone. That won’t last forever, I am convinced that one day the barrier for entry for running your own server will be so low and the dissemination of technical knowledge will be so great that these arguments will become obsolete.

In the mean time I plan on complaining as loud as I can in order to defend indie producers.

Apple Music in iOS 9.3

Apple are publicizing their new APIs for Apple Music in iOS 9.3:

Provide controls for Apple Music within your app. iOS 9.3 now supports playback of any song for Apple Music members.

This is a good move, because controlling and managing music is so personal to people. For instance, listeners of classical music (I’m told) don’t necessarily prefer “artist” to be the top level entity, instead preferring the performer. This is an opportunity for 3rd party app developers to get in on the success of Apple’s music streaming service by filling niches that Apple are struggling to cater to with the one-size-fits-all Music app.

“Could children one day sue parents for posting baby pics on Facebook?”

I find myself both envious of the technology that children grow up with these days and contradictorily thankful that my childhood wasn’t as public as it might’ve been today. Furthermore, I find it oddly uncomfortable and saddening to see how infants react to being filmed with a smartphone, because their eyes immediately fix on the camera, like they know it’s important but they’re not sure why. On that note, France has created a precedent which would allow babies to sue their parents for violations of privacy:

That photo of your toddler running around in a nappy or having a temper tantrum? Think before you post it on Facebook. That’s the advice from French authorities, which have warned parents in France they could face fines of up to €45,000 (£35,000) and a year in prison for publishing intimate photos of their children on social media without permission, as part of the country’s strict privacy laws.

Can children or infants consent to being recorded? Are parents responsible for managing their child’s privacy? What’s the harm in posting your baby pictures for your baby? I’d argue that most infants don’t understand privacy, that in fact the consent does fall upon the parents to manage (for better or worse), and that the harm is that before your child comes to the age of consent, they have already irrevocably lost a part of their privacy. In a way, it’s akin to smoking around your child, became through no fault of the child, little parts of their well-being are gone forever. Of course, people will disagree, especially considering that those pictures likely bring great pleasure to social-media-savvy grandparents.

“Paul Ryan” and the Trump fail

Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan:

Actually existing Ryan has always been a con man — someone playing the part of Serious, Honest Conservative, but never doing a very good job of it. His budgets were always fraudulent in obvious ways, full of trillion-dollar magic asterisks and spectacular evasions. But he has consistently been portrayed in news reports and analysis as an earnest policy wonk. Why?

Krugman thinks that the reason he’s portrayed as honest comes from within the Republican strategy, but I’d argue that more blame lies with the news agencies themselves. Corporate news are corporations too, and they want to policies that are equitable to them and their affiliates and subsidiaries. So they portray politicians that are sympathetic to them in similarly sympathetic light.

As much as I loathe Trump’s public lies, racism, sexism, and casual fascism, his sentiment towards the Republican establishment is well placed, and because of their years of deceiving the people with wedge issues, they deserve every bit of the mess he made of their primary and legitimacy.

John Doe’s Manifesto

The whistleblower behind the Panama Papers has released a manifesto under “John Doe.” It’s powerful. Read the whole thing, here’s the conclusion:

The collective impact of these failures has been a complete erosion of ethical standards, ultimately leading to a novel system we still call Capitalism, but which is tantamount to economic slavery. In this system—our system—the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese. The horrific magnitude of detriment to the world should shock us all awake. But when it takes a whistleblower to sound the alarm, it is cause for even greater concern. It signals that democracy’s checks and balances have all failed, that the breakdown is systemic, and that severe instability could be just around the corner. So now is the time for real action, and that starts with asking questions.

Historians can easily recount how issues involving taxation and imbalances of power have led to revolutions in ages past. Then, military might was necessary to subjugate peoples, whereas now, curtailing information access is just as effective or more so, since the act is often invisible. Yet we live in a time of inexpensive, limitless digital storage and fast internet connections that transcend national boundaries. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots: from start to finish, inception to global media distribution, the next revolution will be digitized.

Or perhaps it has already begun.

Atlanta Mayor’s column ripping Sanders drafted by lobbyist

From stretching campaign finance rules, to stretching campaigning near voting booth rules, to clinching super delegates in states lost by well over double digits, the Clinton campaign has really been disappointing me. And now there’s this:

A few days before the Georgia primary, influential Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed published a column on CNN.com praising Hillary Clinton and ripping her opponent, Bernie Sanders. Reed attacked Sanders as being out of step with Democrats on gun policy, and accused him of elevating a “one-issue platform” that ignores the plight of the “single mother riding two buses to her second job.”

But emails released from Reed’s office indicate that the column, which pilloried Sanders as out of touch with the poor, was primarily written by a corporate lobbyist, and was edited by Correct the Record, one of several pro-Clinton Super PACs.

Clinton’s politics is more of the same, and right now is not bad for some people, especially the wealthy, moreso the politically wealthy. But her moral barometer is clearly broken, and her campaign is one the most unimaginative in modern Democratic history (which I don’t understand because she’s been planing this for decades!). The reason, in my opinion, for this level of desperation is that the Democratic establishment know that Sanders’ message is resonating with people, and that scares them, because $27 a person is a lot less than $2,700 (for people) or unlimited amounts (to SuperPACs).

“Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously.”

As I’ve said, I use Apple Music because it’s convenient, it’s baked into my iPhone, and it’s a good value considering how much I use it (the conjunction of these points amounts to, essentially, laziness). The reason I bring it up is this via Marco Arment:

This Apple Music horror story is making the rounds today. It sounds like either a severe user error or a severe bug, and there’s no way to know which it is, but regardless, this aside is good advice:

For about ten years, I’ve been warning people, “Hang onto your media. One day, you won’t buy a movie. You’ll buy the right to watch a movie, and that movie will be served to you. If the companies serving the movie don’t want you to see it, or they want to change something, they will have the power to do so. They can alter history, and they can make you keep paying for things that you formerly could have bought. Information will be a utility rather than a possession. Even information that you yourself have created will require unending, recurring payments just to access.”

Own your data.

I keep my personal media, like rare MP3s I found of my favorite bands, demos my friends have given me, and songs I’ve made, completely separate from iTunes, and you should too. This is closely related the point that Apple is your biggest dependency (and that’s usually fine). It didn’t used to be this way, when I could trust iTunes and it’s simple filesystem storage, but when I signed up for iTunes Match, that got really complicated and so I moved those files.

For related reading, here’s Richard Stallman’s “The Right to Read”, which will make you either paranoid or scoff.

App Store search is currently broken

The App Store search results are behaving strangely, specifically, a search for “Spotify” yields “SoundCloud” (and others that aren’t Spotify) and a search for many smaller apps yields nothing. I take this as an accidental early roll-out of pay-to-play search, perhaps. Here’s Craig Grannel‘s take:

All this makes me think is that, once again, the App Store needs a serious kicking. But also Apple needs to do a bit more stealing. I might grumble about Android and that Google Play is mostly full of garbage, but at least when I find something I want to install on my Android devices, I can do so from the web.

I agree that the the App Store needs a serious kicking, but I’m not sure that being able to install remotely would be enough. This search bug is unfortunately timed, because discovery is by far the most lacking component of the App Store. I don’t have a proposal for how to improve discoverability when there are so many apps, but given Phil Schiller is now heading things up at the App Store, I’m hopeful they’ll be an announcement at WWDC.

This reminds me of a fact I learned at an iOS meet up that deserve repeating: as app developers, Apple is our biggest dependency. Mostly this deal works out great: Apple take 30% and the hardware profit to promote and sustain the marketplace for 3rd party apps. But Apple is still a dependency, and this isn’t the App Store’s first year, it’s not Apple’s job to promote 3rd party apps, it’s your job as a publisher. If you don’t like that, there are other platforms.

Update: iMore have a hilarious addendum to this story:

It also seems as though the problem is impacting the Mac App Store as well, with Apple’s Xcode missing from search results.

Windows 10 updates are now ruining pro-gaming streams

One day a few weeks ago, my roommate and I were hanging out, watching a video on his computer or something or another. All of a sudden, he starts complaining that his OS had chosen to automatically update his computer. Having read on the blogosphere that Windows was getting more aggressive about its update flows, I told him other people were experience it as well. It’s been getting worse, apparently:

After deciding to try and ruin advertise during the weather by attempting to automatically install midway through a forecast, Windows 10 is starting to wreak havoc with gamers. Ex-professional Counter Strike player turned full-time streamer Erik Flom was rudely interrupted mid-game and live on Twitch by Windows 10 automatically installing on his PC.

This is a huge PR problem that Microsoft absolutely deserve for this behavior. Pro-gamers make their living by streaming, making these upgrade policies costly embarrassments. The core problem that not even Mac users are immune to is that we use software that we don’t, and very often can’t, fully understand, even as a community. I mean this in the sense that these operating systems are closed source, and sometimes they have malicious behaviors like this one. If the code was at least available for auditing or was fully open-source, experts in the community could decry malicious behavior.

I’m not an open-source stalwart, in part because of what I interpret as necessity, but I’m definitely an open-source evangelist. When you can, use GNU/Linux.

What happens next will test the character for all of us

Elizabeth Warren via Facebook:

Donald Trump is now the leader of the Republican Party. It’s real – he is one step away from the White House. Here’s what else is real:

Trump has built his campaign on racism, sexism, and xenophobia. There’s more enthusiasm for him among leaders of the KKK than leaders of the political party he now controls.

He incites supporters to violence, praises Putin, and, according to a columnist who recently interviewed him, is “cool with being called an authoritarian” and doesn’t mind associations with history’s worst dictators.

He attacks veterans like John McCain who were captured and puts our servicemembers at risk by cheerleading illegal torture. In a world with ISIS militants and leaders like North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un conducting nuclear tests, he surrounds himself with a foreign policy team that has been called a “collection of charlatans,” and puts out contradictory and nonsensical national security ideas one expert recently called “incoherent” and “truly bizarre.”

What happens next will test the character for all of us – Republican, Democrat, and Independent. It will determine whether we move forward as one nation or splinter at the hands of one man’s narcissism and divisiveness. I know which side I’m on, and I’m going to fight my heart out to make sure Donald Trump’s toxic stew of hatred and insecurity never reaches the White House.

Well said.

Obama’s offshore drilling proposal rests on research funded by fossil fuel industry

In order to justify expanding fossil fuel production, the Obama administration is citing the economic benefits of this activity. Unfortunately, according the International Business Times, these studies were funded by the same groups which stand to benefit from this expansion:

Buried in the BOEM report’s fine print, though, were footnotes shedding light on how the bureau came to its conclusions: it used studies from the same fossil fuel industry that could benefit from the expansion. Eight of the nine economic analyses cited by government regulators in their report were produced by authors or organizations with links to the fossil fuel industry — whichhasbeen lobbying the federal government on drilling issues in the lead-up to a decision.

This reminds me a great deal of the initial study that set off the anti-vaccination movement: the study was funded by a group to smear a competitor’s MMR vaccine in favor of the group’s M/M/R approach (giving each vaccine separately). The moral of both stories is: biased, namely corporate-funded, research is dangerous. If the studies are found to have any fault in favor of the oil lobby, the publishers and authors should be shamed and expelled with the same intensity as the author of the anti-vaccination “corrupt science”.

Take a stand against fossil fuels

Fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure are devastating our communities from coast to coast. Fracking wells are contaminating our air and water, oil spills are mucking up our waterways, and gas leaks are sickening our families.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Republican National Committee (RNC) often battle each other, but they agree on one terrible point: both refuse to acknowledge the role fracking plays in climate change.

Send a message to the DNC and RNC leadership that enough is enough. They must include a ban on fracking in their party platforms, support keeping fossil fuels in the ground, vow to stop dirty energy projects, and support a quick and just transition to 100% renewable energy.

Sign the petition.

Apple Music rumored for a big reboot

I’ve had two experiences recently with Apple Music that are worth sharing:

  1. I’ve been cutting costs and minding the pennies, just out of good practice, and of my discretionary spending, a small portion goes to Apple. Specifically, iCloud Backup and Apple Music. It’s not quite enough money that I’m considering cutting the services, but it’s just enough money to make me consider if I can do without;
  2. I recently borrowed a friends’ phone to find a song, instinctively opened Apple Music, only to find they didn’t pay for the service, and so I couldn’t play any music. I felt silly and deflated, I’ve just grown so accustomed to having all of the worlds’ music all of the time that it was a minor shock to suddenly not have that available.

Considering this, I was interested to learn from the Verge that:

Apple is planning to overhaul its Apple Music service to make it “more intuitive to use,” according to Bloomberg News. Citing sources, Bloomberg News claims Apple will also better integrate its streaming and download options, and expand its radio service. Apple is rumored to unveil its updated Apple Music service at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June.

I don’t have a lot to complain about with Apple Music other than “the small things.” It’s confusing to not know which song is local and which song is “in the cloud”, sometimes songs won’t play, sometimes things are duplicated. What I do have a lot to say about is the broader UX of music on Apple’s platforms, specifically the monolith that iTunes has become.

If your smartwatch is slow, they blew it

Nilay Patel:

[The Apple Watch] was slow when it was first announced, it was slow when it came out, and it stayed slow when Watch OS 2.0 arrived. When I reviewed it last year, the slowness was so immediately annoying that I got on the phone with Apple to double check their performance expectations before making “it’s kind of slow” the opening of the review.

Apps are slow, and have been slow since Watch OS first launched. I’m very critical of Apple’s strategy of “the future of everything is apps” approach to the Watch and the TV: the best parts of the Apple Watch and the Apple TV are, in my opinion, not yet the “apps”:

  1. The Apple Watch’s complications and glances are terrific, they’re fast, up-to-date, and are quicker than my iPhone, and so they’re used. Namely, Fantastical’s calendar complication and Dark Sky’s weather complication are tremendous. The apps are slow, difficult to find, and require me to keep my wrist 90 degrees from my face for too long.
  2. The Apple TV’s greatest features are that I can ask Siri for anything and I’m taken directly to the content, I don’t care what bin it’s in or what service it’s sourced from, just do what a TV is supposed to and play the thing. Having said that, I’ve had a lot of fun with Flappy Bird but it’s no Grand Theft Auto 5, to be a little unfair.

John Gruber makes a similar point:

The things on Apple Watch that people actually like and use are the things that aren’t slow (notifications, activity tracking and goals, Apple Pay, complications, maybe Glances) and the things that are slow are the things people don’t use (apps, especially). Apple should have either cut the slow features from the original product, or waited to launch the product until all the features were fast.

I’m curious to see how apps play out with the release of the next Watch, whenever that is. Specifically, will we see the ability for third party developers to do more with what has been proven to be good, or will apps somehow be made better? It’s going to be a great WWDC!

Apple’s pitch and under-promising and over-delivering

Here’s John Gruber commenting on Shira Ovide’s piece in Bloomberg:

Shira Ovide, writing for Bloomberg:

Here’s what Cook didn’t say: 1) Apple has been misjudging its own business, and that makes it tough to believe what executives say; and 2) The company failed to prepare investors for an inevitable slowdown in growth — even if that slowdown proves temporary. If one duty of public company executives is to under-promise and over-deliver, Apple has flopped in that job.

This is fair and astute criticism of Cook and Apple’s executive team. The problem isn’t the drop in iPhone sales so much as forecasting them accurately.

  1. Apple’s guidance has been right, almost hitting directly in the middle, quarter after quarter;
  2. Since the iPhone, Apple’s brand is predicated on record numbers and staggering innovation: neither Wall Street nor the blogosphere would have been satisfied with “don’t get excited about this quarter” messaging, and that’s quite the catch-22.

Giphy launches ‘Giphy Keys’

There are animated GIFs that makes me laugh every damn time, for instance search for “banana monkey cat” and prepare to have tears stream down your face. However, something that makes me laugh is that Giphy, a search engine for GIFs, has raised $78.95M in 3 Rounds from 8 Investors. Today, Giphy have launched an iOS keyboard:

Giphy today launched its own iOS keyboard, called Giphy Keys, that will let users search for and send GIFs without having to navigate to a separate keyboard application. Once users install Giphy Keys as a new keyboard in settings — and allow it full access — the app can be selected as a keyboard by tapping the globe icon whenever the keyboard is open on iOS.

I have nothing against GIFs or Giphy, but I do find this kind of incredible. There’s just so much money going to something that I can’t tell how to monetize other than “animated GIF ads”, which sound horrible. Never mind the technical problems with GIFs themselves, like only supporting 256 colors, quickly ballooning in size when converting from more reasonable video formats, and transparency problems. Finally,  the problem that would keep me up at night if I ran Giphy would be the licensing issues if they end up being profitable and the threat of just using Google or Bing or whatever other image search engine instead of a devoted one for silly GIFs.

Perhaps I’m missing something?

Stop the right-wing’s assault on America’s coastal national parks

A new Senate bill is threatening “Bundy-style” seizures of coastal national parks that would turn coastal marine management over to states, initiating a feeding frenzy of overfishing and development that could permanently destroy these pristine and environmentally delicate areas.

Sign the petition.