The case against Facebook

Quoted

But Googlers can also make a strong case that Google makes valuable contributions to the information climate. I learn useful, real information via Google every day. And while web search is far from a perfect technology, Google really does usually surface accurate, reliable information on the topics you search for. Facebook’s imperative to maximize engagement, by contrast, lands it in an endless cycle of sensationalism and nonsense.

I’m not sure I’d give Google as much of a moral edge over Facebook. Both are focused on optimising engagement. That’s pretty much a necessity given their business models. At the same time, Facebook does seem to turn engagement into an art form.

Courtesy of Vox in “The case against Facebook“.

The James Damore memo can’t negate talented women or their work

What I find disturbing about the James Damore memo about men’s and women’s comparative capabilities (aside from the memo itself) is that its publication seems to negate women’s daily achievements in the eyes of so many men who read it.

Even the mighty pen can’t change a reality that talented women create each day. It can’t undo the extra work that women have to do just to appear comparable to men in men’s estimations[1].

Anyone who agrees with Damore’s conclusions about women’s abilities based on biology, even just a little, clearly needs to look up once in a while, and pay attention to what women are actually accomplishing.

A memo doesn’t negate talented women or the work they do. Although, we can’t say the same for its proponents’ link to reality.

Postscript: Also read Jeremy Keith’s post titled “Intolerable“.


  1. It can’t even offer a compelling explanation for why men’s estimations have any real value.

Ok Google, show me how to get things done

I recently switched to an Android device. I have a post in the works that I may eventually finish and publish. Until then, I still need to get things done and, like I pointed out in my post “The tools I use to be productive with ADHD”, my big challenge has been to migrate from iOS/macOS-centric workflows to something more cross-platform.

When it comes to picking a solution to manage my tasks, I went with OmniFocus. It was practically designed for GTD and I can use it on all my devices. It isn’t cheap and it only works on macOS/iOS (the platform limitation bothers me but I can live with it). At the same time, it is excellent software and nothing really comes close to it.

My first challenge was which task manager to use for my tasks. I started exploring alternatives such as Remember the Milk and Todoist but the thought of reinventing my whole system wasn’t a happy one. Still, I experimented with them a bit and even started migrating tasks to RTM.

Fortunately, I discovered the Focus GTD app for Android that syncs with my OmniFocus data in the cloud. The design isn’t as polished as OmniFocus but the main thing is that the app syncs reliably with my OmniFocus data and I don’t need to recreate anything to keep going.

Lately I’ve been playing around a bit with some Google options for getting things done. In particular, Google’s Reminders that integrate with Google Inbox (which I don’t really use, I prefer Gmail), Google Calendar and Google Keep.

It’s not that Focus GTD doesn’t work. It does. The notifications could be better but the app does what it says on the box and it saved me hours of recreating a GTD workflow with another app or service.

Mostly, I’m curious about the Google option because they are cross-platform, cross-device and are pretty native to my Android phone.

Google’s integrations

Google’s approach to productivity is to combine everything, where possible. Makes sense; Google wants us to use its services more. The Google approach is pretty different in many ways.

I’m accustomed to a task manager being distinct from my calendar and email. Google’s approach is to bring it all together and even go so far as to use your email interface as your task manager (specifically, Google Inbox).

By contrast, my OmniFocus workflow is more about using a standalone task manager as the focal point of my productivity system with email being just one input. Calendars are where you record tasks or events that are date sensitive and everything else goes into a general task service that you review regularly and maintain on an ongoing basis.

Still, the Google productivity suite that comprises Calendar, Gmail/Inbox and Keep is intriguing because it is better integrated with my phone (probably my primary device overall) and is largely OS independent.

So I started using Reminders in Google Calendar this week just to see how they would work for me.

I also started playing around a bit with Calendar’s Goals feature. I’m curious to see if this approach will help me achieve those goals more effectively. I also really want to see just how smart the machine learning behind goal-related task scheduling is when it is tied into my calendar.

Keep is another part of the overall mix. I’ve read a few articles about how to implement GTD with Keep (such as this article in Wired and this one by Clayton Glasser) and it certainly seems feasible. The only thing about Keep is that it seems like a weak replacement for Evernote for me.

At the same time, Evernote isn’t really a task app for me. As I mentioned in my productivity post, Evernote is my reference system with almost 27 000 notes about just about everything in my life. Reconfiguring Evernote to handle my tasks as well as function as my reference service would be messy so I haven’t really explored that.

Method behind the madness

That brings me back to my experiment with Google services for get things done. The linchpin when it comes to OmniFocus is currently my MacBook Air.

If I reach a stage where I can’t use a MacBook every day for work, it will become that much harder to maintain an OmniFocus-centric productivity system. Focus GTD is good but relying on that completely while a work machine doesn’t support it adds a lot more friction to being productive.

This is a real concern for me. I am currently looking for a new job and it is rare to be offered a MacBook by a new employer. My MacBook Air has been my primary work machine for most of my time in Israel but the battery has failed and I think it’s time to give my trusty device a vacation.

My next work machine will likely be a Windows-based or, preferably, Linux machine. Neither will support OmniFocus so this seemingly academic debate about which productivity system to switch to isn’t going to be academic for very long (I hope).

A big plus in the Google column is that the apps it uses are free and available on whichever device I am likely to use. Of course, there is a reason for that. Not only does Google want to keep us actively using as many of its services as is possible, it uses the data from and about our interactions to build and improve its services (including ad targeting) overall.

One day we may see the true cost of that and it may bother us. For now, though, it seems like a fair exchange: we get stuff to help us get things done fairly effectively and Google receives a lot of data it can use to create more things and deliver really accurate ads.

Ok Google, help me be more productive

A lot of this experimentation is about experiencing all the things Google services can do. I’m still getting used to using Google’s voice stuff and it’s pretty impressive. I don’t have Google Assistant yet but I’m sure that will be even better.

I’m not sure if Google Reminders/Keep/Calendar will be a viable replacement for OmniFocus but it seems to be worth exploring. What do you think? Do you use Google services to get things done?

Image credit: Lauren Mancke

When Google gave up, the Internet Archive kept going

I believe really strongly in the need to preserve our digital heritage as part of our collective cultural archive. Andy Baio published a wonderful article in The Message about how the Internet Archive has been quietly doing just that since before Google published it’s intention to “organize the world’s information”:

The Internet Archive is mostly known for archiving the web, a task the San Francisco-based nonprofit has tirelessly done since 1996, two years before Google was founded.

Not only does the Internet Archive maintain a vast library of web pages, texts, music, videos and images. It also maintains a growing library of old software. It not only has the biggest archive of old software in the world but this software is actually usable thanks to a variety of emulators.

Old MS-DOS games on Archive.org
Doesn’t this just send you down memory lane to the graphics that inspired Minecraft.

One of the coolest aspects of this is the huge collection of old MS-DOS games. This may not mean much to you if you were born after, say, 1995 (give or take) but I recognise many of the games I used to play when my family’s PC couldn’t hold a flame to my aging iPhone 5.

Baio’s article recounts the history of the Internet Archive’s growing collection of old software. When you consider how quickly apps and file formats become obsolete in the rush to innovate, it isn’t difficult to see why this archive is so important.

View story at Medium.com

It isn’t just about preserving old games for the sake of nostalgia, it is about preserving our thoughts, ideas and culture in a form that we can still access meaningfully years or decades after they were relegated to the global technological landfill.

This is also one of the reasons I remain a big believer in software such as LibreOffice. Even now, it maintains compatibility with old file formats such as WordPerfect and Quattro Pro. You’ll be lucky if Microsoft Office or Apple’s iWork can read office file formats more than a few years old.

There are times when I think a career as an archivist or librarian would have been interesting when faced with the prospect of finding ways to preserve our digital heritage for future generations.

I was excited when Google took it on itself to start archiving the world’s information. It is a monumental endeavour and not without risks. Google was embroiled in litigation for years because it started scanning books. It has done amazing work and continues to do so.

Google is preserving our heritage in gigapixels

Google Arts & Culture contains an invaluable collection of the world’s art. I don’t think you can overstate the value of having this resource available from virtually any web browser.

With all that Google has done for us, the Internet Archive has arguably done as much, probably even more. Take some time to visit archive.org and explore this tremendous resource.

Image credit: Pixabay

Journalism as a service

I just read Jeff Jarvis’ Medium post titled “Returning Scarcity to News” and especially appreciated his argument for journalism as a service, rather than as a commodity content business:

Only when we reconceive of journalism as a service rather than as a factory that churns out a commodity we call content, only when we measure our value not by attention to what we make but instead by the positive impact we have in lives and communities, and only when we create business models that reward quality and value will we build that quality and value.

News and entertainment publishers are increasingly looking to major platforms like Google and Facebook for wider distribution of their content and alternative revenue options. It’s easy to understand why: these platforms have far greater reach than any single publisher and with ad blocking increasingly hurting publishers, they need to do something. And soon.

I’m cautiously optimistic that ad blocking will prove to be a positive trend that forces publishers to focus on better content and improve the overall ecosystem. I think we will have to wait a couple years for business models to settle and the dust to settle before we can draw any conclusions.

Still, I am hopeful that good quality content will win.

I recommend reading the rest of Prof Jarvis’ post on Medium:

View story at Medium.com

Image credit: kaboompics

Google is preserving our heritage in gigapixels

Google Art Camera preserving our heritage

Preserving our heritage digitally is really important to me so the news that the Google Cultural Institute is using its Art Camera to make it easier to preserve the world’s art in extremely high definition really appeals to me.

The Art Camera is no ordinary DSLR. The images are gigapixel images (gigapixel = 1 billion pixels, DSLRs tend to be in the tens of millions of pixels) and the camera is robotic:

The Art Camera is a robotic camera, custom-built to create gigapixel images faster and more easily. A robotic system steers the camera automatically from detail to detail, taking hundreds of high resolution close-ups of the painting. To make sure the focus is right on each brush stroke, it’s equipped with a laser and a sonar that—much like a bat—uses high frequency sound to measure the distance of the artwork. Once each detail is captured, our software takes the thousands of close-up shots and, like a jigsaw, stitches the pieces together into one single image.

You can view images from the Art Camera on the Google Cultural Institute’s website in a specific album. I’m sure all this feeds into Google’s goal of organizing the world’s information but that doesn’t matter. Remember what ISIS did to Palmyra? Even if you take radicals out of the picture, material things wear over time and we have a rich cultural heritage that we should preserve for future generations and this is a great way to do it.

I have stacks of old slide photos of my family when I was a child that I’d love to have digitised. These are photos I haven’t seen for decades and will give my children more insight into my childhood and into my parents (especially my late father who they never met). I also make multiple backups of my RAW and processed photos, locally and in the cloud.

2008_07_20_11_39_47

We had maybe a dozen or two images and documents from grandparents and great-grandparents when we were young. Our children will have huge volumes of data and media available to them. Well, if they want it and assuming some cataclysmic event doesn’t send humanity back to the Middle Ages.

Other great examples of local organisations working to preserve our heritage include –

The more we can digitise and preserve, the more our descendants will be able to learn about us and our history. This applies to our shared heritage as well as our personal and family heritages. You simply can’t fully understand who you are and where you are going without understanding where you came from.

Image credit: Google Cultural Institute (screenshot)

Time to update your social media buttons?

Time_to_update_social_iconsI noticed that Fin24 is still using very old social media buttons on its site in its sidebar. It isn’t the only site doing this. If you also happen to be using old social media buttons on your site, you should update them in line with the services’ brand guidelines/requirements.

On the one hand, using old icons probably violates the services’ brand use rules but, more importantly, using old icons undermines any attempt to seem web-savvy. I mean, those icons are so 2010-ish!

Here are the brand use guidelines for –

Most of these services have great sets of guidelines for publishers to help them understand how best to use brand assets like logos and buttons. Using old icons is really more a sign of laziness than a lack of adequate resources (which there isn’t). In addition, you’ll often find statements like this which introduce a contractual compliance angle:

By using the Twitter marks, you agree to follow this policy as well as our Terms of Service and all Twitter rules and policies.

So, if you are still using those ancient logos, it’s time to update and be one of the cool kids again.

Google and Apple quietly fighting over El Capitan

I noticed that both Apple and Google are fixated on a well-known mountain in the United States called El Capitan and both companies have featured it prominently in their marketing campaigns. Apple has named its next Mac OS operating system after El Capitan:

Selection_003

Oddly, Google has published a video featuring El Capitan to promote Google Maps:

I doubt El Capitan has any inherent value as a marketing focus and I wouldn’t be surprised if Google’s choice of this iconic rock-face is just its way of messing with Apple.


Image credit: Yosemite Valley Panorama by John Colby, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0