When Amazon went to war against punctuation

Graeme Reynolds wrote about how Amazon went to war against punctuation.

Apparently Amazon had received a complaint from a reader about the fact that some of the words in the book were hyphenated. And when they ran an automated spell check against the manuscript they found that over 100 words in the 90,000 word novel contained that dreaded little line. This, apparently “significantly impacts the readability of your book” and, as a result “We have suppressed the book because of the combined impact to customers.”

Graeme responded to Amazon explaining how hyphenated words were perfectly acceptable in English.

This was Amazon’s reply:

Hello Graeme,

Thanks for contacting us and giving me the opportunity to help you. I will be more than glad to assist you with your inquiry.

As quality issues with your book negatively affect the reading experience, we have removed your title from sale until these issues are corrected. Books with serious errors that are not corrected after 60 days will have their product detail pages removed from the website. Your book will still appear in your Bookshelf, and you can update it and resubmit it at any time.

Once you correct hyphenated words, please republish your book and make it available for sale.

This incident is another reminder of the power Amazon has over authors and book publishers. They seem to have no qualms about pulling the plug at their whim over such a minor issue, and end up screwing up the livelihood of authors.

Duet: iPad as a secondary Mac display

I previously used Air Display to create a secondary display for my Mac, which is useful when I’m on the road. The only issue I had with it was the fact that they needed to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network and the lag associated with streaming the display over Wi-Fi. This new app called Duet uses the 30-pin/Lightning connector to link your iPad to your Mac, giving you a much smoother experience.

I still feel that the mouse cursor lags slightly, but it’s way more responsive than Air Display and well worth the $10. Seriously, it’s the cost of a fancy Starbucks beverage.

After getting past the price, setting up Duet was painless. I was up and running in five minutes after first downloading the app from the iOS App Store and then installing the free companion app on my MacBook Air (and rebooting). Duet found the iPad just as soon as I connected the USB cable. The company claims it can deliver a retina display at 60 frames per second with no lag.

via The Verge

Bezos defends Amazon’s lack of profits, stance on publishers

Jennifer Saba wrote on Reuters about Jeff Bezos defending Amazon’s lack of profits and the company’s stance on publishers.

His comments come a day after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its outlook on Amazon to “negative,” citing the company’s upcoming debt offering and the “lack of visibility” about how the funds would be deployed.

Investors have grown increasingly unhappy about Amazon’s spending and lack of disclosure about future plans. Its shares have fallen more than 18 percent this year, despite a 14 percent rise in the Nasdaq.

You would expect a big company like Amazon to be accountable to investors.

Bezos, relaxed in jeans and a gray jacket, defended Amazon’s culture as one willing to spend on new projects, even if they flop like its poor-selling Fire phone.

“We are a large company, but we are also still a start-up. There is a lot of volatility in start-ups,” Bezos said at a conference organized by the Business Insider blog in New York.

I think I have talked enough about the Fire Phone. The investors are probably glad to know that they are investing in a start-up.

Publishers are in better shape because of e-books, which became popular after Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader in 2007, he said, adding that books are still too expensive.

“It’s difficult for incumbents who have a sweet thing to embrace change,” Bezos said. “Making reading more affordable is not going to make authors less money. … It’s going to make authors more money.”

How is commoditisation of creative work a good thing for writers? Bezos shows a lack of appreciation for writing with his statement.

Ursula Le Guin puts it aptly:

I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Customer data collection: why choose Apple Pay over CurrentC

John Gruber wrote about Target’s customer data collection.

This is what retailers like Target want to preserve, or even improve upon, with CurrentC. And this is exactly the sort of thing that Apple Pay, with its per-purchase unique tokens — is designed to prevent.

So you think it is reasonable for retailers to collect data about you to serve you better or tailor your shopping experience?

Take a look at what kind of information they might be gathering:

Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”

Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own.

Are you comfortable with such profiling? Even if you are, your loved ones might not be.

Apple Pay is market leader in contactless payments after one week

John Gruber wrote about Apple Pay being the market leader in contactless payments.

One week, and Apple is already the market leader — using the same systems that Google Wallet and whatever else is out there have been using for years. And in retail locations (as opposed to within apps) it only works with one-month-old iPhone 6 devices.

Yes. Read that again and let it sink in.

It’s just marketing, and Apple’s ability to let their users know about new features like Apple Pay, and their ability to partner with a bunch of nationwide chains right off the bat. There’s no “just” about any of that. Getting users to know about new features is not easy. Getting partners on board is not easy. Selling tens of millions of brand-new phones in the first month is not easy.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. These NFC terminals have been in stores for years, and never became popular. Then Apple Pay went live one week ago, and the iPhone is already the market leader.

Credit should be given where it’s due. It is a remarkable feat for Apple to pull this off.

To quote Apple CEO Tim Cook:

Apple engineers platforms, devices, and services together. We do this so that we can create a seamless experience for our users that is unparalleled in the industry. This is something only Apple can do.

The myth of device lock-in

John Gruber wrote a very good piece on switching and lock-in to phone systems in response to an article by Joshua Brustein in Businessweek.

Brustein:

Phone manufacturers make it hard to switch on purpose: They want you locked in forever. That’s the idea behind the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, which don’t work for Android. (Ditto for Samsung’s Gear S watch and Gear VR headset, which are made to work with the company’s other devices.)

Sounds like a sweeping statement by someone who doesn’t understand how those devices work.

Gruber:

This is just completely and utterly wrong. It’s shallow thinking. Lock-in is certainly something Apple (and Google, and Samsung, and everyone else) thinks about. But lock-in has nothing to do with why Apple Watch will only work with iPhone, or why Android Wear devices only work with Android phones.

Apple Watch can only work with iPhone because it does things that require the two be developed together. The hardware and software on both the Watch and iPhone all work together. Apple could make a watch that supports both iPhone and Android, but that watch wouldn’t work anything like Apple Watch, because it would be severely limited by the common features shared by iPhone and Android. And the same is true of Android Wear — it doesn’t work with iPhone because there’s no way Google can provide software that runs on an iPhone to do what Android Wear devices need their paired phone to do.

Likewise, you are not locked into your Apple or Android device. You can make the switch. You just need to know the steps needed. We are increasingly storing our content in the cloud and if you are on a third-party cloud service, you can switch without even moving your content.

Gruber on switching:

I wouldn’t say it’s easy to switch from Android to iOS or vice versa, but looking at the history of personal computing, I think it’s easier to switch platforms today than ever before — in either direction. The move to cloud-based storage and syncing makes a lot of things less sticky. Gmail is Gmail. Dropbox is Dropbox. You can even access your iCloud email from Android, because it’s just IMAP. Add to that the fact that the overwhelming majority of mobile apps are free or extremely cheap.

Even if you are on iCloud, you can export your contacts to vCard and import them to Gmail. There are ways to do it. You just need to know how to. Or if you don’t, you can search the internet for a solution before you write an article about how you think you are locked in.

CurrentC versus credit cards

Ron Shevlin wrote for Snarketing 2.0 on CurrentC.

Furthermore, let’s review again the impetus behind the MCX consortium. If merchants simply needed a place to push out more coupons and drive more business, they could have partnered with Google or Apple. But they didn’t. They set up their own payment processing capabilities, because the real impetus here is avoiding interchange fees.

Raise your hand if you want to give up on the rewards you’ve been earning on your Amex, Visa, or MasterCard credit or debit cards. I don’t see any hands in the air.

CurrentC helps retailers cut out the commission paid to credit card companies. As I have said before, consumers are more likely to prefer sticking to using credit cards. On top of the rewards you earn through your cards, there’s consumer safety through programs such as travel insurance, extended product warranties. Don’t like the product you bought with your card? Return it through the credit card’s return policy. Some credit cards run instalment policies that allows you to manage cash flow.

For CurrentC to actually be able to compete, it would have to offer consumers such attractive benefits. Otherwise, it is hard to see it succeeding.

At last year’s BAI Retail Delivery conference, I hosted a meeting of CMOs from large FIs, which featured Lee Scott, the former CEO of Walmart (who is a member of MCX). I asked Mr. Scott why, in the face of so many failed consortia before it, would MCX succeed?

He said: “I don’t know that it will, and I don’t care. As long as Visa suffers.”

Uber executive suggests digging up dirt on journalists

BuzzFeed wrote about Uber executive Emil Michael suggesting that the company should dig up dirt on journalists who criticise Uber.

By now, you probably have read about the comments by the Michael, the backlash and Uber’s response to the incident. If you haven’t, the following sums up what he said:

Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

There was a particular journalist he singled out:

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

After receiving the strong backlash after his comments were made public, this is what Michael had to say:

The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.

How can he make a statement and then go on to say that they do not reflect his views? I don’t buy that.

Especially not from someone who would say this:

At the Waverly Inn dinner, it was suggested that a plan like the one Michael floated could become a problem for Uber.

Michael responded: “Nobody would know it was us.”

Does that sound frightening to you? If you are unaware, any Uber employee is able to track your location using an internal tool called God View. Do they do it on the assumption that nobody would know they are doing it?

So how did the Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick respond to all this?

https://twitter.com/travisk/status/534789412094496768

https://twitter.com/travisk/status/534789934490857472

He then goes on to tweet about values and Uber’s commitment to the community. But nothing close to an apology. Don’t even expect Michael to be fired. Someone who “showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from [Uber’s] values and ideals” will remain a senior executive because “his duties here at Uber do not involve communications strategy or plans and are not representative in any way of the company approach.”

https://twitter.com/jwherrman/status/534791992958787584

I’m not sure about you but I would be very cautious when it comes to using the services of a company that has shown no respect for the privacy of its customers.

Michael suggested vengeance and investor Ashton Kutcher defends it by calling the journalist ‘shady’ with no facts to back his claim.

https://twitter.com/aplusk/status/535091002151690242

Uber needs to understand that it is not simply about how good a service you provide. Your ethics and integrity is as important as the quality of services rendered.

Yahoo Finance: Apple Pay sides with credit card industry over consumer interests

Aaron Pressman wrote on Yahoo Finance about Apple Pay siding with the credit card industry over consumer interests.

Apple has regularly delighted its customers with cool products on its way to becoming the most valuable company in the United States. But it hasn’t always stood up for its customers’ best economic interests.

Let’s be clear here. Apple Pay’s decision to side with the credit card industry is against the interests of retailers, not consumers. Consumers get to enjoy the incentives of using a credit card and that draws people to use them. You get to air miles or points that you can redeem for rewards, and some credit card companies give cash rebates.

Part of the reason retailers want to avoid Apple Pay is to gain access to the customer information so they are able to tailor their marketing profile to the customer. By using Apple Pay, customer details remain private during a transaction. How is this considered against consumer interests?

W3C – the group that rules the web

Paul Ford wrote on The New Yorker about the group that rules the web.

You might have read that, on October 28th, W3C officially recommended HTML5. And you might know that this has something to do with apps and the Web. The question is: Does this concern you?

The answer, at least for citizens of the Internet, is yes: it is worth understanding both what HTML5 is and who controls the W3C. And it is worth knowing a little bit about the mysterious, conflict-driven cultural process whereby HTML5 became a “recommendation.” Billions of humans will use the Web over the next decade, yet not many of those people are in a position to define what is “the Web” and what isn’t. The W3C is in that position. So who is in this cabal? What is it up to? Who writes the checks?

What do you know about the people who decide on the standards of the internet?