MediaFile

Instagram unleashes a thousand words

Instagram surely didn’t expect to stir up a hornet’s nest with changes to its terms of service announced two days ago. But it was met with an Internet flash mob: high-profile tech writers who had adored the service abandoning it and thousands of angry words from the rest of us about what Instagram’s pictures are really worth.

The issue was joined with these 115 words:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

The next day, Instagram had a bit more to say:

Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.

It’s a fast-moving story — something may have already changed by the time you read this. The changes don’t take effect until Jan. 16, and they are not retroactive: Everything you share on Instagram until that date is exempt from the new policy. But the terms as originally described — and not yet retracted — were pretty expansive. They spoke of revenue and ads that may not look like ads. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what that might allow the company to do. Saying you don’t “intend” to do anything means nothing. It is what politicians say when they intend to do the opposite but can’t yet go public.

Instagram deserves to make money. It should be lauded for thinking outside the box. And nobody has figured out the perfect way to subsidize mobile sharing services. But like Netflix did with its disastrous Qwikster idea, Instagram needs to reverse course quickly and think about what it has done.

In a crisis, Twitter morphs into cable news

Twitter calls itself a “real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.” That network is defined by its personalization: The person who assembles her feed is the person who reads it. This is usually a benefit. Last Friday it became a distraction.

My unfiltered Twitter feed was basically unusable as an information source — a repetition of facts shared space with anger, and grief, and commentary, and still more of the same facts. Instead, I relied on filters, and the individual streams of people who are extremely talented at culling what’s important and cutting out the repetition.

Those who load Twitter feeds with news organizations, journalists, and news junkies encounter a – how else to put it but in Twitterspeak? – #firstworldproblem. Jay Rosen, from New York University’s school of journalism has described it well: “7 out of 10 posts in my incoming Twitter feed are about the same story.” And when that kind of critical mass is reached, no matter if they’re trivial (Felix Baumgartner’s space jump), national (presidential election night) or tragic (last week), these moments have a particular rhythm.

Facebook may yet learn that power does not ensure immortality

Facebook wasted no time acting with impunity by (once again) diluting member privacy protections this week. But it needn’t have hurried. Any semblance of democracy was washed away at noon Pacific Time Tuesday, when a vote to have votes on policy changes went down in flames. It solidified the world’s largest social network’s rule by fiat. This may be good for business now, but in the long-run it could backfire.

On Tuesday not enough Facebook members weighed in on whether they should keep their right to vote down policy changes. The vote didn’t count unless 30 percent of the service’s 1 billion members bothered to vote.

The vote to keep the vote failed to meet the arbitrary threshold — by 299 million votes.

The New York Times and print pressures

In a moment of dubious etiquette, venture capitalist and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen said at a New York Times conference this week that the company should dismantle its print operations not in ten years, or five, but “as soon as possible.” Cue print lovers’ outrage.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, speaks at the Iab Mixx Conference and Expo in New York, October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Of course, those paying attention to the newspaper business shouldn’t be surprised to hear anyone, let alone Marc Andreessen, speculating on the eventual or imminent demise of print. At least 14 metropolitan dailies have closed since Newspaper Death Watch (a sobering site if ever there was one) started keeping track in 2007, and another 10 are working on a digital-only or digital-print hybrid. In May, New Orleans’ Times-Picayune said it would be reducing its frequency to three times a week. Gannett and McClatchy are both struggling with falling ad revenue and rising pension costs, and earlier this week, the Tribune Co. – in its fifth year of bankruptcy – announced plans to sell off some or all of its papers.

How the United Nations could ruin the Internet

The Internet has sustained some pretty intense assaults in the past couple of years. There was the heavy-handed attempt to stamp out content piracy with SOPA/PIPA, the Federal Communications Commission’s Net neutrality ruling, which many saw as splitting the baby, and that whack job who claimed to own a patent on the World Wide Web.

It is again open season on the Internet in Dubai, where the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency ‑ whose mandate includes global communications ‑ is weighing proposals from many of its 193 member nations. Some of these proposals ‑ such as decentralizing the assignment of website names and eliminating Internet anonymity ‑ would make enormous changes to the organization and management of the Internet.

The ITU meeting, which began on Monday, runs through Dec. 14. Its agenda, and even the fact the proceedings are taking place at all, set off alarms among the Internet’s guardian angels.

With Maps, Apple’s lost

The Apple Maps fiasco has become terribly overblown, if not hysterical.

It started with the fanfare release of the iPhone 5 and its software upgrade in September, which included a big switch from Google Maps to a homegrown alternative from Apple. The upgrade did not go well. Almost immediately, users began noticing that the maps were … unreliable. Not bad enough to slow iPhones sales but bad enough to dominate the news cycle for days.

But the damage was already done. Everyone seemed to be having a field day with Apple’s self-inflicted wound. More than two months later, the drama continues.

This week, Apple fired a senior executive, Map Division head Richard Williamson. Previously, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook showed Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS Software, the door when he wouldn’t go on his own. Cook himself wrote a quick and sincere apology, which seemed to quiet the clamor.

A new business model for a new generation of consumers

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on PandoDaily.com. It is being republished with permission.

There’s a reason that healthcare and public education are the least functional parts of our economy. In neither is the person receiving the treatment the one actually paying the bill.

First off — calm down, crazy Libertarians — I’m not suggesting we abolish either. But it’s certainly a problem that in both healthcare and public education there’s inherent confusion over who the customer actually is.

The Facebook Doctrine

Instagram, the mobile photo sharing app that Facebook bought for about $700 million, has been doing something new over the past few weeks. Up until now, one couldn’t see all of a user’s Instagrams online, the way you could, say, see all of a Twitter users’ tweets. But in recent weeks, users’ collections have been uploaded to the Internet automatically (see my profile page as an example). Instagram never bothered to ask for permission. Don’t want people to be able to easily access all your pictures from your Web browser? Too bad.

Between the Instagram change and other more substantive and complex alterations to Facebook’s user-feedback policy this week, the world’s largest social network has a clear modus operandi: What’s good for Facebook is good for you. This is the Facebook Doctrine.

Along with relatively innocuous Instagram changes came word that Facebook intends to eliminate its very modest experiment with democracy. It was a scheme by which members could undo changes (but still not stop them from happening before they took place). The rules Facebook put in place established a transparent process: A policy could be reversed if it received more than 7,000 comments, more than 30 percent of people on Facebook participated in a vote, and if that plurality voted against it.

With a new Wii, new problems for Nintendo

Just in time for the utter madness of Black Friday, Nintendo has released an extraordinarily complex successor to its Wii, grandma’s favorite videogame console. The Wii, which made gaming accessible to every demographic through ease of play, is no joke. As of the end of September, it had sold 97 million units worldwide.

So what of this new machine? Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s swaggering president, has been hitting the road to promote the Wii U, a machine without the simplicity of the intuitive Wii. The Wii U is a kind of videogame console meets iPad. Its not easy to learn, and it’s a big gamble for the Japanese company. Replicating the Wii’s success is a nearly impossible task that even Mario with all his Power-Ups would find daunting.

A full year prior to the Wii’s release, Nintendo’s stock began to rise amid an elated, buzzy excitement in the press. The gauzy coverage said the Wii’s motion controls will yield a fascinating experience the whole family will love. By the time the Wii hit the shelves in November 2006, Nintendo’s stock price had more than doubled to over $28. A year later, at its high, it rocketed to nearly $77 a share. Not only did Nintendo make money on games, it made money on the Wii, which was cheap to produce. The Wii became a trend that doubled as a lifestyle choice. You could play Wii Sports with your family, and you could exercise with apps like Wii Fit.

Have AOL and Yahoo picked up the pieces?

“There are no second acts in American lives.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Good thing Fitzgerald didn’t live long enough to tell that to AOL and Yahoo, which are confounding wet blankets with sparks of renewed life and relevance. The bit of renaissance for these Internet pioneers comes when Google and Apple are in a bit of a rut and Facebook seems to have found its bottom. (The one constant: Groupon and Zynga are still floundering.)

None of these things are related, of course. There is no astrology of technology, aligning the stars in such a way as to favor some and deny others. Tech success isn’t a zero-sum game, especially when valuations aren’t everything. Just look at Apple’s rise and fall and rebirth.