While it may be cold comfort for affected users, the revelation of Snapchat’s A.P.I. does provide a fascinating look into the heart of the company. The app’s primary selling point is ephemerality; sending a snap is a bit like mailing a self-destructing postcard. But that ephemerality, intriguingly, is not built into the A.P.I.; the app itself is what deletes pictures and videos. This means, on the one hand, that a coder who created her own Snapchat app with the A.P.I. could secretly keep another user’s snaps forever, and send anything she likes as pictures or video. On the other hand, it opens the door for new, creative uses of the Snapchat social network.
My first piece for The New Yorker is up—it’s a technical analysis of the security holes behind the SnapchatDB leak. Co-authored with Rusty Foster and Matt Buchanan (uncredited).
hey Ben, i was wondering if you're aware of a workaround for the shame eraser's "sorry that page does not exist" error. it's been working fine, but i started getting time out errors from twitter and now i get that presumably whenever it tries to delete one of the tweets i've already deleted. i was able to erase a few thousand tweets by guessing around with the dates but I've hit a dead end. thanks!
I just pushed out a fix for this problem to the Shame Eraser here. You should be able to download it again and run it successfully (make sure to delete the old copy so the names don’t conflict).
Dave’s employer is not, strictly speaking, a pimp. Instead of dealing directly with the trade, the company runs what is, on the surface, an online social network for gay men, shielding itself behind a legal loophole that allows it to profit from the sex trade while maintaining plausible deniability.
His parents don’t know the exact details of his work, either. When people ask, “I’m a consultant for some companies in New York” is his standard cover. He and his coworkers use fake names at work, and he treads lightly when discussing the details of his job. “I try to have a first conversation to see what kind of people I’m dealing with so I can tell them what I do.”
Most people “don’t believe that it exists,” Dave said. Some immediately assume that he works as an escort himself; others find it fascinating, and pepper him with questions. No one seems to know the first thing about how these online escort services operate within the law.
Welcome to the world of rent boys.
In which I take a deep dive into the world of online male escort services. The post is SFW, but some of the links within most definitely are not. Proceed with caution.
Now that Twitter has made it easy to download our entire tweet archives, the Internet is now faced with the scary reality that the dumbest things we’ve ever said are only a few clicks away. Our early tweets were sent from a time of innocence, joy, and freedom from the realization that one day other people (and we ourselves) might pass judgement on them.
But the time of reckoning has come. And if you’re unable to bear the weight of your shame, this is your way out. Perhaps you had a particularly dark period after a break-up. Maybe your first six months on Twitter were just bad haikus. If you’re the type of person who rips up your old shitty poems, this script is for you.
If you’re a lawyer today, you just learned that bad things happen when a hint of clear language invites non-lawyers to read your work. And you’ll react in one of two ways: you’ll either make your contracts so confusing and impenetrable that no one will read them, or you’ll make them so “friendly” and “fun” that no one will read them correctly. Come give me a hug, your contracts with the public will say. Do not mind that I am ruthlessly picking your pockets to sell targeting data to advertisers.
The second part I agree with. The Daily’s failure had nothing to do with it being iPad-only and everything to do with the fact that it just plain stunk.
But what’s foolish about publishing on a single platform? I publish only on the web, and Daring Fireball seems to be doing OK. Marco Arment’s The Magazine publishes only for iOS and is doing well enough that he’s already expanded to hire an editor. In fact, I’d go so far as to say The Daily’s success proves the opposite of Salmon’s conclusion: that an iPad-only daily news app could be a success.
First things first: The Daily proves nothing, because it is a single data point, not a representative sample. That said, Gruber and I are likely splitting hairs. But since we just watched News Corp. flush $30M in development costs plus $500,000 a week in operating expenses down the drain, I believe these are hairs worth splitting.
I think that The Daily has taught us all an important lesson — which is that tablets in general, and the iPad in particular, are actually much less powerful and revolutionary than many of us had hoped. Specifically, far from being able to offer richer content than can be found on the web, they actually find themselves crippled in unexpected ways.
Felix asked me for counter-examples to prove that iPad news apps aren’t all “glorified PDF readers”, but I couldn’t fit my thoughts in a tweet, so here they are:
My personal favorites are the 360-degree panoramic photo, Photo Sphere, and the fact that you can do inductive charging so you don’t need to fiddle with a plug — you can just put it on a surface to charge. On a Nexus 10 it’s the fact that it’s so thin and light, and the resolution is 2.5 K, so it has very crisp text and pictures.
And the price. I negotiated the prices and I’m very pleased with being able to deliver these things at these prices; $299 for an unlocked Nexus 4 — I think that’s pretty revolutionary.
Basically we felt that we wanted to prove you don’t have to charge $600 to deliver a phone that has the latest-generation technologies. Simply that level of margin is sometimes even unreasonable, and we believed that we could do this.
For Nexus 7, we were able to ramp those new memory SKUs at the same price. These move so fast that we knew after a few months, from an economical perspective, it was doable. Between us and our partners we have a very good understanding of supply chains. We’ve all done the best we can to really reach these prices — $399, $299 is pretty amazing, if I may say so.
Even though we chose not to make an affordable 64GB unlocked phone in order to keep prices under $400, we discontinued the 16GB model, because the price consumers will pay for it leaves us with practically no margin.
It’s not so much fairness as it is to sort of work with partners who happen to be in good “phase match” with us in what we’re trying to do. So Samsung just happens to be in a good phase match on a high-end display, which is exactly what we wanted to do at a low cost. LG had a good phase match with the hardware they were working on. Asus as well. It’s just more about the timing being right.
None of our hardware partners has the ability to produce three size variations on a touchscreen device which meet our hardware standards at this time.
[Motorola stands] where Sharp would stand, or Sony would stand or Huawei would stand. From my perspective as a partnership director, they are another partner. We are really walled between the Motorola team and the Android team. They would bid on doing a Nexus device just like any other company.
The way I understand it is, it’s mostly about the patents, the way you can sort of disarm this huge attack against Android. We talked about prices. There are players in the industry who were unhappy about more competitive pricing for the consumers. They want to keep the prices high, they want to force the price to be so high that operators have to subsidize the devices very highly. That’s not only the Cupertino guys but also for the guys up in Seattle. They want higher margins, they want to charge more for software.
Patents were used as a weapon to try to stop that evolution and scare people away from lower-cost alternatives. And I think with the Motorola acquisition we’ve shown we’re able to put skin in the game and push back.
We haven’t announced numbers. We typically don’t allow our partners to announce numbers. All I can say is it has sold way above expectations. That could mean one of two things: Either we have very low expectations or we’ve done amazing [sic] well. But we’re very pleased with how we’ve done with the Nexus 7.
I don’t have a number for how many apps are properly adding those APIs that you need to put fully to use the extra screen real estate. What I can say is that the Nexus 7 has been a superstrong catalyst to kick off developers’ attention to making those expansions, so we’ve seen tremendous growth in apps for the larger screen size. The trending is very positive because of the Nexus 7.
We really, really hope we can convince developers to build a lot more tablet-optimized apps.
But before, I’ll be honest and say, yes, there was a lack of tablet apps that supported bigger screen real estate. But I’ll add that, I know we talked about the Cupertino guys, but obviously people who have smartphones are a huge target for us.
If you look globally that’s something we worry more about, not so much about competing with other smartphones, but more about, how can we get more people onto the Internet on mobile phones? And that’s a big deal. That’s why low cost is so important.
But the structure we’ve had for an operating system from day one including widgets, actual multitasking, notifications, it’s finally coming to its true form right as the software has come into final polish. Project Butter for Jelly Bean, to get every pixel to move really beautifully, it’s finally showing off those capabilities we’ve always planned to have.
The iPad Mini does a different job than the iPad 2, the iPod Touch, and the iPhone. What that job is has yet to be seen. I’d put my chips on casual reading as a major selling point, but then most reviewers thought the original iPad would be mainly used for content consumption, like watching video.
One thing is for sure: if they’re releasing it this month, you can be damn sure that Apple has at least some idea of what that job will be. And rather than watch Amazon and Samsung disrupt the iPad, Apple is willing to disrupt itself. The similarity with the iPad 2’s pricing is no mistake: the Mini will lure in customers who might buy an iPad 2 or 3 when they get a chance to play with it.
And if it takes sales away from the more expensive tablets, great! Apple is better off if anyone who would rather spend less for a smaller tablet ends up buying an iPad Mini instead of being wooed by a Galaxy Tab or a Microsoft Surface. Welcome to Disruption Theory 101.
If they choose to test the waters, artists with little to no knowledge of copyright law are faced with countless legal questions: How much of a song can I sample? What if I record my own version of it and sample that? If I give it away for free, does that make it OK? (Answers: it doesn’t matter; still illegal; and it might help your case.)
Even without overt sampling, a work can still come under attack. The growing popularity of “soundalikes” — songs written in the style of popular artists used in commercials to avoid licensing the originals — is a recent example among dozens of dilemmas faced by modern composers, songwriters, and performers. What about the Koren Ensemble, who perform orchestral, intricately-arranged medleys of popular TV theme songs?
My latest piece for BuzzFeed is a how-to on how to remix without getting sued, and what is necessary in order to encourage remix culture from a legislative standpoint.
I’ll be speaking at Ignite NYC, a fun event with smart people each speaking for 5 minutes at a time about whatever sparks their interest.
The theme for this event is “Truth is a Moving Target: Oddities, Anomalies and Wonders with Data”. Here’s the abstract for my talk:
What do self-proclaimed psychics have in common with cocaine-addled rodents and men who are unable to maintain sexual arousal? The answer: all of them have been studied by researchers eager to understand the intricacies of the human brain and behavior.
In this talk, Ben will discuss 8 studies that changed the way we understand our motivations, thoughts, and desires.
Hopefully that speaks for itself.
If you don’t have tickets yet, you can still get them here while they’re available — even though there are 1200 seats, I’ve never seen this event not sell out.
Say a co-worker shows up for a pivotal meeting wearing a plaid blouse and a polka-dot skirt. In the old days you might have said: “Well, that is certainly an interesting fashion choice. Myself, I prefer something more subdued when sitting down with a client.” Now, though, if you’ve succumbed to the loathsome trend, you will simply aim as withering a look as you can at your colleague, say “Really?” and walk away.
Recently I’ve taken a liking to Ableton Live 8. Once you figure out how to use a Digital Audio Workstation it’s pretty easy to move between them, and the inordinate amount of time I spent in Protools in college (and with Garage Band on the iPad) paid off quite a bit.
The first post is a remix of one of my favorite tracks off Grimes’ album Visions from earlier this year. Hope you enjoy it.
I’ll spare you the exact details of the disagreement, but in summary:
Marco links to a post questioning Engadget’s coverage of the remarkably iMac-esque HP Spectre One, which did not mention the design similarities. He lightly suggests that The Verge, Engadget, and other “gadget” blogs may be soft-balling reviews of competing products with Apple-inspired designs in order to maintain relationships with key sources.
John weighs in with his own theory: that these same blogs are worried about invoking the wrath of the vocal subset of their readerships that is strongly anti-Apple.
Blogwars might make for good bloodsport on Twitter, but what I find really interesting about this disagreement is how it highlights the difference between blogging (as a sole enterprise) and writing within the structure of an editorial operation.
I’m posting this to my blog. I could have pitched it to one of my editors, but I chose to put it here instead. This post, by virtue of not being edited by anyone other than me, is a different post than it would be had I chosen the latter. There is no one catching my typos, or usage errors, or checking my facts. There is also no one listening to my argument and pointing out possible flaws I may have missed.
This means I am responsible for what I post here, and only me. If I get something wrong, I am to blame. It’s my name on the door. And I take that seriously, as I believe Marco, John, and Josh all do with their own personal blogs, and the writing they contribute elsewhere. It’s possible, even probable, that I might get some of the facts wrong in this post, or have holes in my argument, and I will likely hear about them through pithy comments in my Twitter mentions.
There’s more to editing, however, than just fact-checking and copy editing. Editors help writers consider the whole story. They make sure we do our best to write essays, not rants. They ask for more research when context is lacking, they question whether stories focused on one subject are actually part of a broader trend, they shoot down spurious arguments and poorly-chosen examples, and (at least in principle) they help to ensure that the writer tells the whole truth, as thoroughly as possible. After all, just because a writer got all of the facts write right doesn’t mean their facts make up the entire story. Truly accurate reporting lets the reader make up her own mind, and doesn’t ignore parts of the story to bolster a hypothesis or avoid calling attention to opposing viewpoints.
Is an editorial structure a prerequisite for “good” journalism (by which I mean “truthful”, “accurate”, etc.)? I can’t say for sure that it is, but I’d argue that some kind of feedback — preferably a professional editor — is needed. Friends, significant others, and family members can only give us their opinions as readers; an editor is trained to look deeper into the structure of our arguments and prose. There’s a reason why we place our trust in established media outlets, even if only those whose slant we agree with: they have solid, time-tested editorial teams working to tell the truth as accurately as they can. (How well they accomplish this at the moment is another debate, and beyond the scope of this essay.)
So how does this relate to the blogwars? Put simply, I think that Marco and John both went out on a bit of a limb, editorially speaking. I’m not saying they are wrong in their conclusions (without more research, I don’t think anyone can say either way), but I am saying that both of them hopped over the boundary between reporting and conjecture. To suggest, or even imply, specific and wide-ranging ethical misconduct among gadget blogs without presenting ample evidence to back up the argument is reckless at best, and malicious at worst. I’m not going to ascribe motive to either of them, and I greatly respect and enjoy Gruber’s reporting, and Marco’s technical writing, but I think they both dropped the ball on this one.
As an admirer and near-daily reader of Marco and Gruber’s blogs, I am always disappointed when I see them set up a rhetorical trap for professional journalists like Topolsky and the Verge team: civil criticism can be tempered with generosity and inquiry. It is extraordinarily easy to presume the motivation and machinations of an entire industry–tech journalism, in this case–from the hazy distance being a lone pundit provides…
I hope for better from those I admire. And I find the cake-and-eating-it-too criticism from Marco and Gruber, who have the luxury of being respected tech journalists or plebeian pundits at their leisure, to be wearisome.
This is a major reason why bloggers get so much flack from the mainstream press. When there’s no one editing you, you’re free to say or imply whatever you want. There’s no one forcing you to consider all angles, or to reach out to the subjects of your reporting for comment and clarification, or to avoid jumping to conclusions based on incomplete evidence. Neither Gruber nor Marco reached out to The Verge for comment, or if they did neither mentioned it. While one might argue that their comments were fleeting, off-the-cuff, and not intended to be a serious accusation of corruption, their audiences don’t necessarily know that. And to be honest, I think most editors-in-chief would rather you call their mother a very nasty string of four-letter words than so much as joke that their team of reporters is being influenced by outside interests — a fact most reporters learn fairly early on in their careers.
If bloggers want to be considered equals with journalists, we have to start acting like them — even when no one is watching. That means holding ourselves to the exact same standards the press holds itself to with respect to disclosure, reporting facts and not conjecture, and giving a voice to opposing viewpoints in our storytelling. Many times our writing is the only thing many of our readers will read about a particular issue, and it’s our responsibility to give them as complete a version of the truth as we possibly can.
Get ready for my first appearance in podcast form on Episode 02 of the Distance Podcast:
Nick talks to Ben Jackson, an iOS developer and writer from New York City who contributed an essay, Hard Fun, to Distance 01. Topics include classy swearing (00:00), research directions in thoughtful online writing (01:25), innovations in the journalism industry (05:10), the importance and difficulty of data-heavy interactive pieces (11:30), journalistic impartiality and decision-making (13:01), sourcing it wrong in tech writing (19:28), reporters learning to code (23:18), the split between design work and writing (28:51), design identity at cocktail parties (30:15), writing before and after publication in Distance (34:21), how to pick a topic to write about (42:17), Ben’s dream job (43:59), and Pavlovian following (47:45).
We recorded this over Skype, so sometimes the quality drops out on occasion. We fixed nothing in post, including all the foul language, crosstalk, and feedback.
It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed as much as I did during this session with Nick Disabato. Grab the audio here.
It’s certainly possible to produce a street-legal vehicle that’s capable of flight — both the PAL-V and Terrafugia are both working prototypes. But they’re a far cry from the Zemeckisian dream of shuttling your children through the skies to soccer practice. And what happens when your uncle has a few too many at Christmas dinner and takes off in his flying car? And what about rush hour? No one wants to end up stuck in traffic at a few thousand feet on limited fuel. Without the navigation systems that Boeing described in their initial feasibility study, these vehicles will never be cleared for anyone to use with just a few hours of driver’s ed and a road test — if you want to fly one of them today, you’ll need a pilot’s license.
In which I address the popular notion that consumer technology is as good as science can make it right now.
Privileging face-to-face conversation makes a virtue of proximity and reduces the wide world to a set of hyper-literal possibilities. It’s so obsessed with the real that it’s unrealistic, atavistic, and just silly. There is nothing like talking to somebody IRL, it’s true. There is also nothing like body language or like the feeling of being looked at when you want to be. But when it’s good there’s really nothing like sexting.
I was never trying to evade the subpoena (as I’ve mentioned, the possible consequences are minor). I’ve been much more interested in feeling out the contours of the avatar I use to walk through this space. Users can vanish without a visible trace in a second. I imagine if they switched their account name right before deleting it and registered the old name as a dummy user with the same information, even the state would have a hard time knowing what to ask for. Twitter is unlike flesh space in that a) you can change your name whenever you want and b) there’s an external system that secures each name to a user and respects your nominal choices as soon as you make them. So there is a @destructuremal ostensibly operated by aMalcolm Harris, but from minute to minute it could be anyone. By the time the subpoena goes through, they could be in Indonesia or be a child or a robot or an empty shell of useless data. In Twitter you never need be more than a name, and you can change it whenever you want.
Amazing story of how the legal system struggles to understand Twitter.
But for all their power, little is known about the demographics of these users (often called "alpha geeks") other than their tendency to adopt new technology before the rest of humanity. Where do they live? What do they look like? How closely do they resemble the users who will follow in their footsteps?
“I would give up my entire professional existence on Twitter for one six-hour period around a bonfire where nobody checked their cell phone and we all just talked about our lives.”—Nick D, on this branch about Jenna Wortham’s piece on the end of the offline world.
Today, eight years since the first signs of Parkinson’s and after months of fiddling, my body is almost free of symptoms. With the stimulator turned off, a Parkinson’s test shows 20 significant impairments. With the stimulator on, it drops to two. Add just a touch of L-dopa and it drops to zero.
Amazing story in Wired about a new surgery for Parkinson’s where doctors implant electrodes in the brain.
For those who aspire to some kind of fame, even Internet fame, Twitter looks like a great in. It is, in many senses, a meritocracy, with the smartest, funniest, or most interesting accounts eventually gaining a large following. But, unsurprisingly, many people were unsatisfied with their tiny feifdoms of followers on the social network. Armed with the early revelation that most users tended to follow back a percentage of those who followed them, these people set out to follow as many people as they could as a way of gaming the system. The process of following, however, was both laborious and excruciatingly boring.
I’m keeping track of spammers and reporting them religiously, and you should, too.
Shortly after Twitter began burrowing its way into the early adopter crowd, a pattern began to emerge among its users: people started taking notice of how many other users followed them. In retrospect, it’s only natural that a service which allows us to amass a “following” should inspire such religious devotion to the ego; after all, we’ve seen this with Facebook before.
But while Facebook has a hard limit to the number of people in any one user’s network, Twitter has no such thing. And when Ashton Kutcher engaged in a public race with CNN to see who could reach a million followers first, suddenly the game began to take on more epic proportions, and the concept of “Twitter Fame” began to emerge in the public consciousness.
Follow-back spam is a natural outgrowth of this phenomenon, and the subject of my latest article for BuzzFeed.
In his twenty-year exploration of the limits of the R. & B. sex ballad, R. Kelly has often toed the line between satiric and satyric. In his song “Sex Planet,” he made the obvious joke about Uranus; in his song “Sex in the Kitchen,” he made the obvious joke about salad-tossing; in his song “Pregnant,” male backup singers (ominously? chivalrously?) offered to “knock you up.” He has referred to himself as a “sexosaurus” and a “lesbian R. & B. thug.” He has attempted onomatopoetic renderings of cunnilingus and of flesh skidding down a stripper pole. He has yodeled, twice, in the songs “Echo” and “Feelin’ on Yo Booty.” (To perform the latter song in concert, he donned a top hat and cape for an extended operatic remix.) And then there is his unfinished magnum opus “Trapped in the Closet,” a series of twenty-two songs (and counting) featuring a gay pastor, a stuttering pimp, and a woman named Bridget whose lover is a midget.
All of which inspires the inevitable question: he’s kidding, right?
Epic review of Kelly’s new auto-hagiography, and one of the wittier pieces I’ve read lately.
What makes a dish stand out so much that a (presumably) sane person would spend twice as much — or ten times as much — as she would on the meal’s déclassé cousin? Is there something innately superior to foodstuffs like foie gras and truffle oil that justifies their astronomical cost?
My first piece for The Atlantic Health is about why we pay so much for gourmet food. If you’ve ever wondered about why lobsters or truffles are so damn expensive, it’s worth reading.
I watched the Splinter Cell franchise’s long-established hero, Sam Fisher — operating somewhere in Middle Eastistan — enter a tent, kill two gentlemen, and grab a third. Sam asks this third gentleman where a certain colleague of his might be. The gentleman declines to answer, so Sam sticks his knife into the gentleman’s clavicle. The gamer is then given an onscreen prompt to twirl around his controller’s joystick, which in turn twirls around Sam’s knife in the gentleman’s wound. The screaming gentleman gives Sam the info he needs — and, suddenly, it’s “moral choice” time, for Sam has to choose whether to kill or knock out his freshly tortured victim. Let’s review: a moral choice — after an interactive torture sequence.
An unflinchingly personal moral analysis of shooter games. Tom Bissell rocks my world.
It is not part of my job to push an agenda, but rather to be relentlessly honest in everything I see, say and do. I’ve never wanted to be any kind of reporter other than a good one, and I do not desire to promote any cause other than the truth.
Inspiring email from Anderson Cooper reposted on The Daily Beast. (via TMN)