Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 3 November 2014

Posted: 02 Nov 2014 07:21 PM PST

Must read stories this morning include, well, everything. But I especially liked the post on authors who hate their readers, the need for an ebook DMCA exception, John Scalzi’s take on NaNoWriMo, and what happened when Dear Author’s tech blogger tried to review tablets.

The post The Morning Coffee – 3 November 2014 appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Is Facebook a Life Raft for Web Publishers or the New Gatekeeper?

Posted: 02 Nov 2014 06:45 PM PST

8258042408_edfcfc3ab5[1]Facebook has been getting a lot of attention this past week. The NYTimes posted a couple articles on Sunday, leading to a flurry of articles from Digiday, Business Insider, Forbes, and others.

I had been following the coverage as the week wore on, but then lost all of the tabs I had open when my copy of Chrome spontaneously delaminated on Thursday. So this afternoon I went looking for the better articles and put together a roundup post.

The crux of the meta-story, as the NY Times put it in the article zero, is that Facebook is trying to get web publishers to work more closely with Facebook, especially with the mobile FB app:

The company has been on something of a listening tour with publishers, discussing better ways to collaborate. The social network has been eager to help publishers do a better job of servicing readers in the News Feed, including improving their approach to mobile in a variety of ways. One possibility it mentioned was for publishers to simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network's mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells. The revenue would be shared.

Yep, Facebook wants publishers to hand their content over to Facebook.

I think that’s a crazy idea, but I can see why some publishers are considering it; Facebook earned $3.2 billion last quarter based on a userbase of 1.3 billion people (not all of which are actually visiting the website, though).

4738903958_9b405d4f8c[1]That’s a lot of audience members all piled up in one place, and it explains why Facebook was the source for 22% of the website traffic tracked by Shareaholic in September (the rest of the social web accounted for around 7%, and the other 71% ish came from organic search and direct traffic).

All those eyeballs in one place has also inspired a number of publishers to create content aimed at the social audience, Digiday reports:

It's not just new media outlets. CNN Politics has created a series of original videos for Facebook and Twitter around the upcoming elections. The clips were made with the young social media user in mind: They're short (15 and 30 seconds), animated, visually appealing and relatable (this one explained campaign spending in terms of Pumpkin Spice Lattes).

I don’t know what’s crazier, that so much is being invested in popcorn content (it’s fluffy and goes stale quickly) or that it’s being given to Facebook as a freebie. Not all of the content is that fluffy, but any at all is too much IMO.

But as Digiday explained, Facebook seems to be paying back the investment:

And now, they're enjoying strong promotion for their videos in Facebook's News Feed, which gives them an incentive to distribute more video this way. "Any time someone opens up a native experience, we're only serving them via their player, we're getting more views, more plays," Mills said of Facebook.

8541370656_c1117630fc[1]The rise of Facebook as both a source of and destination for news content would appear to be caught in a feedback loop with the idea that social is the future (or at least, the near-future) and that direct traffic (i.e. readers who visit a website everyday) is irrelevant.

That might be true for some sites, but when it does not apply to all. This blog, for example, gets about a fifth of its traffic from readers who have made visiting The Digital Reader part of their routine. That’s a larger traffic source for me than social, and if I factor in the readers who visit after Googling for “The Digital Reader” the number rises even further.

Then again, I am a niche blogger who doesn’t have the resources to devote time to self-promotion on the social web (even though I fully grasp why I should be marketing myself on TW, FB, etc). Perhaps those who do have the resources to invest also gain from that investment, but I would think that before they crawl into bed with Facebook they should recall what happened the last time Facebook convinced them to cozy up.

According to Forbes, it didn’t end well:

It's not the first time Facebook has entered into content partnerships with publishers. In 2012, several, including the Guardian and the Washington Post, worked with the company to produce Social Reader apps that, similarly, allowed content to be read and shared on Facebook.

And it didn't work well for the publishers. As you might expect, most of the content was consumed on Facebook itself, with little click-through to the publishers' own sites. As a result, some publishers even saw traffic to these sites fall dramatically – in some cases by almost half.

3568409530_389bce008b[1]I think publishers would do well to remember that fiasco. They might also want to heed the aphorism about not putting all of one’s eggs in a single basket.

Facebook’s News Feed algorithms would best be described as mercurial, and what is hot one week but be cold the next. From the NYTimes:

Roughly once a week, [Greg Marra] and his team of about 16 adjust the complex computer code that decides what to show a user when he or she first logs on to Facebook. The code is based on "thousands and thousands" of metrics, Mr. Marra said, including what device a user is on, how many comments or likes a story has received and how long readers spend on an article.

Marra went on to say that “We try to explicitly view ourselves as not editors” but I don’t see how that could be the case.  If the algorithms pick one piece of content over another then the decisions to change the algorithms are arguably editorial decisions.

I wouldn’t phrase it in terms quite so strong as Jay Rosen did on his blog PressThink, but I do agree with his sentiment:

It's not us exercising judgment, it's you. We're not the editors, you are. If this is what Facebook is saying — and I think it's a fair summary of Marra's comments to the New York Times — the statement is a lie.

I say a lie, not just an untruth, because anyone who works day-to-day on the code for News Feed knows how much judgment goes into it. It simply isn't true that an algorithmic filter can be designed to remove the designers from the equation. It's an assertion that melts on contact. No one smart enough to work at Facebook could believe it. And I'm not sure why it's sitting there unchallenged in a New York Times story. For that doesn't even rise to the level of "he said, she said." It's just: he said, poof!

In short, getting into bed with Facebook means that publishers won’t just lose direct page views; they’ll also have to sacrifice editorial control to some degree.

As Chris Duncan, the chief marketing officer of News UK , told Business Insider:

"The insidious part [of the Facebook algorithm] is that you are creating performance-based editorial. If you get the Facebook algorithm to dictate the quality of content based on what it can see on the Facebook network — time on site, likes, shares — it promotes and rewards a certain type of article so you're not incentivized to write news that's important but that is not necessarily likely to go viral," Duncan adds.

The value and costs of Facebook is an open ended question which won’t be answered any time soon, but as I sit here writing this post I was struck by the question which I don’t see anyone else asking.

Is all this talk about closer partnerships with social networks really the future, or is this just another fad like iPad apps were in 2010?

I don’t know, but that’s definitely a point I will be thinking about as time goes by.

images by GioSacconemkhmarketingFranco Bouly

The post Is Facebook a Life Raft for Web Publishers or the New Gatekeeper? appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Onyx T68 6.8″ Android eReader Update Borks Google Play

Posted: 02 Nov 2014 01:29 PM PST

onyx boox t68 lynx repligoOnyx has rolled out a new update for their larger ereader, the T68 Lynx, the week before last. There’s been no formal announcement of the update, but a fellow Android ereader devotee tipped me to the news.

The T68 Lynx sports a 6.8″ Pearl E-ink screen and runs Android 4.0 on a 1GHz CPU. It was originally released in June and has been updated a couple times since then. The new update can be installed from the T68; it can be found in the about menu under the settings menu.

I’ve installed the update and after testing it I would strongly urge you not to touch it. The update adds a number of features (as well as a fix for the touchscreen) but not all of the changes are improvements.

Also, I have encountered a serious problem.

Google Play is no longer accessible. Every time I try to open it, it either closes right away or freezes and then closes. According to the changelog, the update is supposed to add a way to manage your Google account (there was no option for this before), and I suspect that something was inadvertently broken instead.

This issue is particularly troubling because I just put my T68 Lynx through a factory reset. I don’t have any apps at all, and now I can’t install them. I am currently waiting on ArtaTech, one of Onyx’s partners, to tell me how to fix this.


When it comes to the rest of the update, it’s a mixed bag of useful improvements and changes that hurt more than they help. The official changelog is at the end of the post, and while I can’t say that I tested all of it both my source and I noted several changes.

My source reports that his touchscreen now performs better; I never experienced the issues reported by some so I can’t comment. The update adds several apps, including a sketchpad app called Onyx Scribbler and Drive and News apps from Mediapolist (sp?).

The update is also supposed to have added improved TTS, but since a recent factory update has deleted the Ivona folder I have no way to test it. There’s also supposed to be a better option for Google accounts, but I (still) can’t find anything which looks remotely like what I would expect on Android.

I can say that I’ve noticed that the icons in the menu bar have been rearranged; the option for the frontlight has been moved to the last position, and as a result I now have to press the more button before I can select it and adjust the frontlight. That was dumb; I need the frontlight more than I need the settings menu. (Also, the minimum setting is still too bright.)

But never mind the annoyances; after playing around with the T68 I have discovered that Onyx has also updated OReader, the stock reading app. I can’t tell you whether the changes were made in this update or an earlier update which I missed, but I have noticed that the design of the app has changed – and not for the better.

The stock reading app used to default to a full screen mode with nothing at the top and only a minimalist progress bar at the bottom, but now screen real estate is wasted on a status bar at the top and bottom of the screen. And I can’t find a way to make them go away, dammit. (To be clear, I used to have the option.)

t68 lynx update

But on the plus side, OReader is now considerably faster than it was when I reviewed the T68 Lynx in June. it now turns the page nearly as fast as the Paperwhite or the Aura HD. In June it was much slower.

I’m also seeing different options for fonts and other settings. For example, there is a slider bar for bold which I’m pretty sure wasn’t there before. There’s a similar slider bar for adjusting the contrast, but I can’t see that it is having any effect.


All in all, I am really disappointed in this update.

It adds almost nothing which benefits me, while at the same time it ruined the reading app. That last isn’t such a big deal, given that I can install 3rd-party reading apps, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.


  • Improved touchscreen
  • Improved TTS
  • Improved google account management
  • Improved search field suggestions
  • Mediapolist drive and News Apps adds

Thanks, jafmaw!

The post Onyx T68 6.8″ Android eReader Update Borks Google Play appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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