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March 20 2013

Neue Strategie: Flattr ist tot – es lebe Flattr

Der Social-Payment-Dienst Flattr steckt in der Krise. Seit dem Start ist es in den letzten drei Jahren nicht gelungen das System so stark zu etablieren, dass die kritische Masse an Nutzern erreicht wurde. Es ist ein Nischen-Payment-Dienst geblieben, auch wenn teilweise größere Angebote wie die tageszeitung (taz) den Dienst eingesetzt haben. Aufgeben ist aber nicht die Sache der schwedischen Betreiber. Mit einer neuen Ausrichtung gehen sie in die Offensive.

Das Konzept von Flattr sieht vor, dass man ein Guthabenkonto anlegt und so selbst bestimmen kann, wieviel Geld man freiwillig in Kulturgüter bzw. online verfügbare Inhalte investiert. Je nach dem wie oft man dann die Flattr-Buttons beispielsweise unter Artikeln anklickt, wird das monatlich zur Verfügung stehende Guthaben unter den Begünstigten aufgeteilt. Die Macher um CEO Linus Olsson aus Malmö haben jetzt in dem Blog-Beitrag “Launching new Flattr – Add money to your likes” angekündigt, dass Flattr nun auch bei bereits bestehenden und genutzten beliebten Online-Diensten stärker eingesetzt werden kann. Man könnte es als Extended Flattr bezeichnen, da nun Werkzeuge bereitgestellt werden, die es erlauben die Flattr-Zahlungen direkt mit Angeboten wie Twitter, Instagram, Github, Vimeo, Flickr, Soundcloud etc. zu verknüpfen.

Im Blog-Beitrag schreiben die Flattr-Macher zu ihrer Motivation:

Everyday creators post 400 million tweets to Twitter and upload 5 million photos to Instagram. For most of us the internet is our most important source for information and creative work. We are on a mission to help creators get money for the value they create for all of us. We believe that the way people pay must be in line with the way people behave online. If you think about it, we click a lot of links only to realize it wasn’t for us. That’s because we are explorers.

Ab sofort können im Flattr-Mitgliedsbereich die entsprechenden Verknüpfungen mit bereits genutzten anderen Diensten hergestellt werden. Teilweise war das bislang auch schon möglich, nicht aber so einfach und mit so vielen Auswahlmöglichkeiten für unterschiedliche Angebote. Das Blog über Fragen der Internet-Ökonomie Netzwertig.com beschreibt weitere Auswirkungen der aktuellen Änderung im strategischen Konzept von Flattr insbesondere hinsichtlich der möglichen Verlagerung von Zahlungsströmen:

Wichtig ist an dieser Stelle zu erwähnen, dass sämtliche Flattr-Buttons für externe Websites uneingeschränkt weiterfunktionieren. Zumindest nach dem heutigen Kenntnisstand wendet sich der Dienst nicht von den unter eigenem digitalen Dach kreative Inhalte schaffenden Produzenten ab, sondern verlagert lediglich den Fokus der Kommunikation. Da durch die zusätzlichen angeschlossenen Plattformen mit einer breiteren Streuung der Flattr-Klicks zu rechnen ist, könnte der Vorstoß für Blogger und die wenigen, Flattr einsetzenden größeren Medienangebote wie taz.de zwar kurzfristig mit einem Rückgang der Einnahmen verbunden sein. Gelingt es den Skandinaviern jedoch, endlich auch den Internetmainstream zu erreichen und die breite Masse zum Befüllen ihres Flattr-Kontos mit einer monatlichen Summe zu bewegen, dann würde davon mittelfristig das gesamte Flattr-Ökosystem profitieren.

 

In einem Interview mit PandoDaily kündigt CEO Olsson zudem an, dass auch die entsprechenden Tools für eine Anknüpfung an Facebook bald bereitgestellt würden, es hier aber aktuell noch technische Probleme gebe. Im Interview heisst es:

The only difference is that Facebook is so far conspicuously absent. (Flattr says that’s because of a technical issue related to Facebook’s API, and it is a “high priority.”)

 

In einer einfachen Grafik hat Flaatr hier noch einmal die Funktionsweise des Systems dargestellt:

Es wird spannend sein zu beobachten, ob Flattr mit dieser Offensive vom Mikro- zum Massenphänomen wird und es gelingt, weit über die üblichen Kreise hinaus, ein neues System der freiwilligen Zahlung für kreative Leistungen zu etablieren. Die Hausaufgaben sind nun erst einmal gemacht, jetzt müssen die Nutzer zeigen, ob sie mit den neuen Möglichkeiten zufrieden sind.

December 18 2012

Instagram: On being the product

Let me start by saying that I’m not an Instagram user, and never have been. So I thought I could be somewhat dispassionate. But I’m finding that hard. The latest change to their terms of service is outrageous: their statement that, by signing up, you are allowing them to use your photographs without permission or compensation in any way they choose. This goes beyond some kind of privacy issue. What are they doing, turning the service into some kind of photographic agency with unpaid labor?

I’m also angered by the response that users should be willing to pay. Folks, Instagram doesn’t have a paid option. You can be as willing as you want to be, and you don’t have the opportunity. Saying that users should be willing to pay is both clueless and irrelevant. And even if users did pay, I don’t see any reason to assume that a hypothetical “Instagram Pro” would have terms of service significantly different.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve used Flickr for a number of years. I’m one of the few who thinks that Flickr is still pretty awesome, even if it isn’t as awesome as it was back in the day. And I’ve had a couple of offers from people who wanted to use my photographs in commercial publications. One I agreed to, one I refused. That’s how things should work.

As far as the general question of paid versus unpaid services: I have no idea how many online services I use. Forty, 50, more? Most of them are free, with pro versions that cost anywhere from $10-$250/year. It’s easy for a journalist writing an article in a business publication or a blogger hoping to make it rich in his startup to suggest that people ought to be willing to pay, but add that all up, and it’s a couple of thousand dollars a year. That’s a pretty big bill. And while I could afford it, there are many people who can’t. In addition, that bill adds up insidiously, $25 or $50 at a time, so once you realize the amount of money leaking out through “pro” Internet services, it’s a lot of work to scale back.

The ball is in Instagram’s court (I see that they’ve announced that they’re going to say something). Yes, they have to monetize, even within the Facebook ecosystem. Yes, they have to contribute to Facebook’s bottom line. But getting customers to use their service and suddenly changing the rules isn’t a decent way to treat people (though it’s a gambit that Facebook has played several times in the past few years). Instagram is certainly not generating more value than they capture; and it might threaten their ability to capture any value at all. I can’t see any good reason to stick with a service that’s planning to sell your photos behind your back. If nothing else, you have to ask “what’s next?”

Update 5:13 pm ET — Instagram has just released a response in which they say, among other things, “Legal documents are easy to misinterpret,” and claim it’s all a misunderstanding.
I call BS. It’s easy to misinterpret a legal document, but the language of Instagram’s TOS was exemplary in its clarity.

If Instagram is backing down, that’s great. They should just say so, rather then blaming their customers for misunderstanding. And they should (quickly) release some equally clear legal language rectifying the situation. They’ve promised to “remove the language that raised the question.” Great, but what they’re doing now is just damage control until they release the new document. Let’s see it.

April 19 2012

Strata Week: The rise of the robot essay graders

Here are a few of the data stories that caught my attention this week.

Automated essay-scoring software scores as well as humans

Taking a test at the Real Estate Investing College by Casey Serin, on FlickrRobot essay graders: They grade the same as humans. That's the conclusion of a study conducted by University of Akron's Dean of the College of Education Mark Shermis and Kaggle data scientist Ben Hamner. The researchers examined some 22,000 essays that were administered to junior and high school students as part of their states' standardized testing process, comparing the grades given by human graders and those given by automated grading software. They found that "overall, automated essay scoring was capable of producing scores similar to human scores for extended-response writing items with equal performance for both source-based and traditional writing genre" (PDF of the report).

"The demonstration showed conclusively that automated essay scoring systems are fast, accurate, and cost effective," says Tom Vander Ark, managing partner at the investment firm Learn Capital, in a press release touting the study's results.

The study coincides with an active competition hosted on Kaggle and sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation, in which data scientists are challenged with developing the best algorithm to automatically grade student essays. "Better tests support better learning," noted the foundation's Education Program Director Barbara Chow in the press release. "This demonstration of rapid and accurate automated essay scoring will encourage states to include more writing in their state assessments. And, the more we can use essays to assess what students have learned, the greater the likelihood they'll master important academic content, critical thinking, and effective communication."

Personally, I like writing for a human audience. Bots leave really stupid blog comments — but I bet there's an algorithm for that too.

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Scaling Instagram

The billion-dollar acquisition of the mobile photo-sharing app Instagram was big news last week. The news coincided with a presentation by co-founder Mike Krieger at an AirBnB Tech Talk about how the startup managed to scale to 30 million users worldwide with a small team of back-end developers (a very small team, in fact). Krieger's presentation is interesting in its own right, of course, but news of the acquisition by Facebook certainly fueled interest — in the deal and in the tech under the Instagram hood.

Krieger's slides can be found here. The presentation details some of the early and ongoing challenges of handling the app's increasing number of users and their photos (including the recent roll-out of an Android app, which added another million new users in just 12 hours). Although Instagram hasn't suffered any major outages of the likes seen by Twitter and Tumblr, Krieger does note a number of early problems, including a missing favicon.ico that was causing a lot of 404 errors in Django.

Auditing data.gov.uk

The UK's National Audit Office has just released its look at the government's open data efforts, reports The Guardian. Although the open data initiative gets good marks for the "tsunami of data" it's released — 8,300 datasets — there remain questions about cost and usage.

Governmental departments estimate they spend between £53,000 and £500,000 each year on publishing the data, with the police crime maps, for example, costing £300,000 to set up and £150,000 per year to maintain. And it's not clear that the data is in demand, according to the National Audit Office report: "None of the departments reported significant spontaneous public demand for the standard dataset releases." This doesn't account for the ways in which third-party vendors may be using the data, however.

Big Data Week

April 23-29 is "Big Data Week," an event created by DataSift that will feature meetups and hackathons in several cities around the world. Big Data Week aims to bring together the "core communities" — data scientists, data technologies, data visualization, and data business. A list of events is available on the Big Data Week website.

Got data news?

Feel free to email me.

Photo: Taking a test at the Real Estate Investing College

April 10 2012

Four short links: 10 April 2012

  1. The Instagram Architecture (High Scalability) -- great summary of the Instagram team's post about the technology that runs Instagram. Lots of Python goodness in here.
  2. Mosh -- ssh that lets you roam and stay connected. UTF-8 native.
  3. Android Economics -- working back from Google's declared valuation of Android royalties to figure out how much they have and how it's growing. Error bars for Africa here, but can't argue with the conclusion: Whereas Android generates $1.70/device/year and thus an Android device with a two year life generates about $3.5 to Google over its life, Apple obtained $576.3 for each iOS device it sold in 2011.
  4. UK Govt Digital Service's Design Principles -- if only everything in government followed Principle 1: Start with Needs (User Needs not Government Needs).

Instagram: what is Facebook getting for $1bn?

Is the social network just after another chunk of the world's visual memory, asks Guardian head of photography Roger Tooth

In my job I guess it's unsurprising that I keep hearing things about photography. "Facts" like half of all pictures ever taken were taken in the past 12 months. Could that be true? It might be if some people are taking pictures of every meal they eat. A colleague talking to a fellow guest at a wedding, who was sporting the brand new Canon 5Dmk3 costing £3,000 — was he a pro photographer? Oh no, he just wanted the best for his photographs. $1bn for Instagram.

Yes – $1bn for a smartphone app that makes your snaps look like retro Polaroids and sends them to your friends. It probably does a lot more than that, but to misquote Mark Knopfler that sounds a whole lot of money, if not exactly for nothing, really not that much.

Now I know I shouldn't admit this, but I do like some of these toning apps. Some of the effects are quite beautiful and the results can encourage the budding photographer. They're harmless and probably have quite a short shelf life.

In the end it really is the actual image under the electronic processing that counts. Most of the time the filters are covering the shortcomings of the original photograph and the person behind it. They will soon become a visual cliche and need continual updating to stay fresh.

The $1bn is buying Facebook another chunk of the world's visual memory. Facebook is making sure all those images don't end up on Flickr or in some other storage cloud.

But why the boom in making still images? Why are people still taking pictures and not shooting video?

Well have you tried video? It looks easy enough until you try editing it. If it's bad it's not just a bit of a joke it's a boring joke. With a still photograph processed through a toning app one can produce a finished and pleasing piece of work. And don't underestimate the growth of photography as a note-taking medium, not just for documenting family life, but as a useful tool for all sorts of professionals from doctors to plumbers to record and communicate. All those 1,000 words taken care of by the click of a shutter.

Roger Tooth is head of photography for the Guardian


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