Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 1 December 2014

Posted: 30 Nov 2014 08:02 PM PST

This morning’s reading list includes James Patterson’s latest brainstorm, music publishers suing Cox (an ISP) over piracy,  the sale of Thalia, a debate on the changes to the VAT rules in Europe, and more.

  • Digital Audiobook Lending Is Finding Its Groove (PW)
  • Germany’s Douglas mandates bank to sell book store chain Thalia – sources (Reuters)
  • Murakami’s The Strange Library shows the e-reading revolution is making books more beautiful (The Independent)
  • Music publishers finally pull the trigger, sue an ISP over piracy (Ars Technica)
  • 'Right To Be Forgotten' Guidelines Published By European Regulators (TechCrunch
  •  VAT rules to catch Amazon will incidentally crush small businesses (The Passive Voice)

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Narrative Science raises $10 million, Fires its robot reporters

Posted: 30 Nov 2014 08:03 PM PST

6917253693_285ae3b40a_m[1]I’m breaking out the champagne tonight; that dystopian future where I get replaced by an algorithm has drawn one step further away.

Narrative Science announced on Friday that they had raised another $10 million in a capital funding round as it shifted its focus from algorithmically generated news stories to private reports written for corporate customers. GigaOm reported on Friday that:

Narrative Science now courts organizations like financial-service providers who may have already invested in data-gathering services but have no idea what to do with all that information. Frankel claimed that Narrative Science can basically cut out a lot of busy work; a business can use the Quill platform instead of having someone on staff whose job is to sift through data, read from a dashboard, annotate the data and send off a report to the appropriate person.

"Rather than sticking a human in front the of the data, you actually have a machine [in place]," said Frankel.

A subsidiary of the The United Services Automobile Association drove the funding round with previous investors investors Sapphire Ventures, Jump Capital and Battery Ventures. Sapphire Ventures's managing director Jai Das will join the startup's board of directors.

This was Narrative Science’s third funding round, bringing their total capital investment to $32 million. Other investors this time around includded existing investors Sapphire Ventures (formerly SAP Ventures), Jump Capital, and Battery Ventures. The startup had last raised capital in September 2013 ($11.5 million).


It’s not clear how much of the hype was deserved, but Narrative Science had been getting a lot of attention over the past few years for its AI-driven Quill platform, which can be used to create simple news stories based on collections of statistics like financial earnings projections (this is how Forbes used it).

But that was yesterday; now Narrative Sciences is turning its tech to serve corporate customers like financial service providers. I won’t speculate at length as to why but I will note that Narrative Science has numerous competitors in the robot reporter market.

As I reported in June:

The AP is partnering with a North Carolina company called Automated Insights. This firm, which just raised $5.5 million in a Series B funding round, has developed a patented natural language generation platform called Wordsmith. Like the many other bots working in journalism, Wordsmith spots patterns, correlations, and insights in large data sets and then describes them in plain English.

It's by no means the first bot to get a press card; perhaps the best known are the ones developed by the 4 year old startup Narrative Science, which says it counts many news organizations among its customers. There's also BookStats, which has been offering a similar sports-focused bot since at least 2010.

And in addition to the startups, a number of newspapers have been experimenting internally. The AP, for example, also reports that they "have been automating a good chunk of AP's sports agate report for several years". And the LA Times has been using a couple bots to generate seeds for stories, including one focused on police reports and another called Quakebot.

When I first read this story I thought that NS might be shifting industries because there was more money outside of the news industry, but now I wonder if perhaps NS is expanding into an industry where there is less competition for its services.

Either is a good possibility, I think.

images by CJ IsherwoodArthur40A

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Where Yahoo went wrong when they decided to sell prints of CC-Licensed Flickr images

Posted: 30 Nov 2014 08:09 PM PST

378148264_9c53d85213_m[1]WSJ reported last week that Yahoo’s latest move to increase its revenues was pissing off Flickr users:

More than 300 million publicly shared Flickr images use Creative Commons licenses, making it the largest content partner. Yahoo last week said it would begin selling prints of 50 million Creative Commons-licensed images as well as an unspecified number of other photos handpicked from Flickr.

For the handpicked photos, the company will give 51% of sales to their creators. For the Creative Commons images, Yahoo will keep all of the revenue.

Just to be clear, Yahoo is only selling prints of works licensed under the CC clause which allows for commercial use, so they what they are doing is completely legal. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t ruffling feathers.

For some time now I’ve believed that the Creative Commons license needed more variations of the commercial use clause, and now it would appear that some creators feel the same way.  The WSJ found several creators (six out of 14 contacted) who apparently wouldn’t mind my using their images in a blog post, but are not happy that Yahoo is going to sell prints.

That includes Nelson Lourenço, a photographer based in Lisbon, who told the ESJ that “When I accepted the Creative Commons license, I understood that my images could be used for things like showing up in articles or other works where they could be showed to public”. He’s not so happy about Yahoo selling prints, adding that “selling my work and getting the full money out of it came as a surprise”.

And he’s not the only one who is viewing this move askance. Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield said that the move was “a little shortsighted”. He added, “It's hard to imagine the revenue from selling the prints will cover the cost of lost goodwill.”

He’s not wrong in calling this move shortsighted; by annoying users Yahoo is poisoning the well. At least some of those users will stop uploading photos which Yahoo can use, and even if they continue to use Flickr those users might simply switch to a non-commercial CC license. That would stick Flickr with all of the cost of hosting the images with no chance to generate revenue, something I would describe as the worst possible outcome (for Yahoo, at least).

I think this move was particularly boneheaded not just because of the loss of goodwill but also because I can see how it would not have been hard for Yahoo to turn this to their advantage. How?

By paying a royalty on each print sold. While Yahoo is going to pay a select group of photographers, most are going to be left out in the cold.

That royalty is not required under US law but it would still be a good idea.  It would mollify most of Yahoo’s critics, and what’s more it could potentially have been used to turn all those creators into salespersons. They could direct requests for prints to Yahoo, generating more revenues all around.

It’s a shame Yahoo didn’t think of that before stepping in this mess.

This isn’t the first time that Yahoo has tried to generate revenue from Flickr since acquiring it in 2005. The photo hosting service offers a Pro service level, and in researching this post I found hints that Flickr was somehow using the uploaded photos commercially as far back as 2007 (I can’t find any specifics on that, though).

image by Dave Ward Photography

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