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Letter sent on Sep 23, 2016

Friday Reading S04E04

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from journalist and designer Martin Belam covering journalism, media and technology.

Soooooooo it appears that some of those “too good to be true” video numbers being touted by Facebook were perhaps too good to be true.

“Due to the miscalculated data, marketers may have misjudged the performance of video advertising they have purchased from Facebook over the past two years. It also may have impacted their decisions about how much to spend on Facebook video versus other video ad sellers such as Google’s YouTube, Twitter, and even TV networks.”
“‘The reason they’ve seen success is they don’t treat the comments section like comments,’ said Jordan Kretchmer, the CEO of the Adobe-owned comments platform LiveFyre. ‘Their original articles always have really strong reporting. I think what that ends up doing is become a catalyst for really good thought leadership dialogue rather than amateur commentary.’
Being able to read a deeply reported story then a tech A-lister’s reply is great. But being able to add one’s own two cents has proven just as seductive. ‘It feels like you’re participating in something special and exclusive,’ Kretchmer said. ‘You want to show people you’re in there.’”

The Information isn’t ditching comments — it’s using them to attract subscribers” — Max Willens

My views on this as ever — well managed comment threads are a delight, and I always try to join in the threads under my Guardian articles. If, on the other hand, you just switch comments on underneath your articles and then walk away from them, it’s no wonder they are godawful.

SHAMELESS MARKETING KLAXON: I wrote a long piece about why I think #NoMansSky taps into a certain nostalgia about videogames from the 80s, which has exposed a generation gap in the audience’s approach to gaming in 2016. It also features my kids, Douglas Adams, the word “conquistadors”, some pictures of vintage games machines, and has proved very popular.

How No Man’s Sky exposes the gaming generation gap for 80’s kids

My piece didn’t go down so well on the No Man’s Sky subreddit, where reviews included “its very poor journalism”, “Oh man, that website gave me cancer” and “this asshole…shouldn’t have a platform to spread his bullshit.”

This man, meanwhile, has modded an old version of Doom into a No Man’s Sky clone because, well, it isn’t entirely clear, but the gifs in this piece are very funny.

Mara Wilson played Matilda among other things, and this extract from her autobiography about growing up in public and then not ending up becoming an actress as a grown-up is brutal at times:

“One day, age 12, I made the mistake of looking myself up on the internet. A website called Mr Cranky wrote that I was popping up in every movie these days because I would soon be entering ‘the awkward years, when she’ll be old enough to have breasts, but not old enough to show them legally’. I folded my arms over my chest just reading that, and even as an adult it makes me shudder. Who did they think they were, talking about a preteen girl’s breasts?
It got worse. The next page of search results linked to a website with a description that said, ‘If you want Mara Wilson nude and sex pictures, click here.’ My stomach dropped and my heart pounded as I desperately tried to make sense of it. Maybe there was some kind of porn actress who had the same name. Or what if I had been drugged and kidnapped and then somehow made to forget the whole thing? Some rational part of my brain remembered that there was such a thing as photo manipulation, that they could put my head on someone else’s body. But that didn’t make me feel any better: who was this poor anonymous girl whose body stood in for mine? I burst into tears.”

Richard Osley, Deputy Editor of the Camden New Journal, with a heartfelt essay about being on the receiving end of stories being plundered by the nationals for clicks, without due credit. Includes this great paragraph:

“The Telegraph, and again I only use it as one example, has, among many examples, run our stories about a man banned from a pub for wearing decorators’ clothes, a driver thought to be deliberately soaking people by splashing through puddles and the complaints about the noise fitness groups make in Primrose Hill. Sometimes they mention us, often they don’t, but what’s interesting is that in the past some of these stories would be seen as too parochial for a national newspaper. Now every bit of copy, especially if there is a celebrity or quirky edge to it, has the chance to fly online. If it doesn’t, so what, try another, no print costs lost.”

He also suggests reporters on the nationals should have refresher job swaps back on a local or regional every few years, to remind them what it was like.

Recommended content widgets still have major disclosure and clickbait problems, says a new report, apparently, in an astonishing and unpredictable turn of events.

“When communicating with M, it insists it’s an AI, and that it lives right inside Messenger. However, its non-instantaneous nature and the sheer unlimited complexity of tasks it can handle suggest otherwise. The opinion is split as to whether or not it’s a real AI, and there seems to be no way of proving its nature one way or the other.”

Regular readers may have observed that I am interested in chatbots. And I enjoyed this: “Facebook M — The Anti-Turing Test

If you are still a bit unsure about what chatbots are and can do, then this is a very good write-through of the whole thing by Stuart Dredge for the Observer: “Why Facebook and Microsoft say chatbots are the talk of the town

Bobbie Johnson on the dark art of the journalistic apology:

“As any journalist who’s had to write an apology or clarification will admit — although maybe only over a drink, or when they’ve quit their job to go and try their hand at PR or pretend to be a farmer or just gone and hidden in the corner babbling wildly — the reality is that most of the time you are writing an apology you are absolutely trying your hardest not to apologize at all. You’re trying to write a get-out that allows you to back out gracefully, or avoid a lawsuit, or get people off your back — while also still feeling kind-of OK with yourself. Usually this is because you still believe that you’re right, just that you’ve been caught being kind-of wrong. Sometimes you are right; but it’s nearly always a game of trying to say enough without saying too much.”

See a recent classic of the genre from me: “Yes, I totally fucked this up but also I was working late, OK?”

Tweetdeck just made searching for tweets by date and location a lot easier, which is slightly annoying tbh because total mastery of Tweetdeck searches is one of my ninja skill secret weapons so I don’t know why I’m sharing this really.

New initiative from the Knight Foundation:

“The platform aims to advance the efforts of journalists working in the area of engaged journalism, an emerging field that examines the changing relationship between news providers and consumers and explores new ways to attract audience attention. It will also support people who work at the intersection of news, information and civic engagement, providing a digital gathering space and resource repository where they can tap into a growing body of knowledge on these issues. Newsrooms will be able to use the tool to collaborate on special projects and industry-wide problems.”

Here’s Instagram’s approach to letting users filter abusive content left on their photos:

“The feature allows users to prevent comments containing specific ​words or phrases from appearing on their profile. Those posting pictures can chose to hide abuse comments based on a list of terms often reported as inappropriate to Instagram moderators, or they can ad custom keywords if they feel they will be specifically targeted on the site.”

Oh bless, Computer Weekly has managed to survive 50 years, and look how awesome the first issue was.

Also, what a gamble to decide that fifty years ago there was going to be enough of a market for news about computers.

“Well, well, well. Look at that. A net five-point difference between the five measures, including our own, even though all are based on identical data. Remember: There are no sampling differences in this exercise. Everyone is coming up with a number based on the same interviews.”

We Gave Four Good Pollsters the Same Raw Data. They Had Four Different Results” — Nate Cohn

The TL;DR, polling is hard and unreliable and still a bit subjective, but then also, what else have you got to offer apart from anecdotes?

This is excellent and rightfully angry from Abi Wilkinson over the financial plight of 20somethings under austerity:

“We’re teetering on the brink of a full-blown crisis and urgently need solutions. Instead, our government seems to be going out of its way to make life even harder for young people. Plans to cut housing benefit for 18- to 21-year-olds are particularly cruel and, as the Economist notes, won’t even save much money. The Young Women’s Trust, which carried about the research, has called for the ‘national living wage’ to be extended to under-25s, which seems only fair given that rent, bills and food don’t actually cost less just because you happen to be younger.”

Also, from Abi Wilkinson, this eye-opening piece about being a financial dominatrix.

“Against every instinct, I have to ask the judge to remand her into custody, pending the report. Otherwise she will end up on the streets. Equally reluctantly, the judge agrees.”

Sobering account of being a young Legal Aid lawyer

“The Human League’s look was totally unique and innovative and it also provided one of those jaw dropping moments on Top of the Pops that made your Dad angry but inspired you.”

Unfortunately it also turns out that every single time they appeared on TOTP it was presented by either Jimmy Savile or Dave Lee Travis, so they’ve been entirely absent from the BBC Four repeats. Solution? Their own DVD TOTP special.

There’s a cat show in Birmingham in October with a sci-fi theme and the special guests are the 6th Doctor and Avon from Blake’s 7. Surely Danny Jules should have been there?

This made me smile. Not the burning with the lighter bit, the other stuff: “Teenage Kate Was Such A Creep

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from journalist and designer Martin Belam, covering journalism, media and technology. Martin is Social & New Formats Editor for the Guardian in London.

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