The Problem with Follower Counts

Recode recently published this interesting article: ‘Twitter co-founder Ev Williams says in retrospect that showing how many followers you have wasn’t ‘healthy’’. It covers some intriguing comments that Twitter co-founder Ev Williams made about the effects of showing how many followers each user has. Here’s the key point:

“I think showing follower counts was probably ultimately detrimental,” Williams said at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. “It really put in your face that the game was popularity.”

To me, Twitter has always obviously been about news and instantaneous communication. Instead, it has become yet another hub for trolls, fake news and harassment. The article goes on to discuss how follower counts, whilst viewed negatively now, were a major driver for Twitter’s early success and publicity.

Overall, the argument reminds me of a fantastic point that was made by creator of Micro.blog, Manton Reece. The site offers a friendly, engaging microblogging platform for people who are completely over the lunacy and bullying that is present on the major social networks. Besides costing a mere $5 per month to have your own hosted blog site, the real attraction is that there are no likes or follower counts. You can see who you follow but not who follows you. Not to mention, the lack of likes means that if you want to engage with someone, you actually have to reply to them. Manton set out his mission with further details here.

I joined because of a recommendation on Accident Tech Podcast by co-host Casey Liss, who was uncertain about his usage of Twitter, which he acknowledged has been instrumental in fuelling online narcissism and an upheaval in global politics. I still use Twitter happily but decided to reassess how I use it and other similar social media sites. I now post almost nothing to Instagram and I have focused my own following list on Twitter to those in whom I really have interest. It also helps in being able actually to read all of the content that you follow, rather than having an endlessly scrolling feed. I now use Micro.blog instead as a hub for quick thoughts, personal experiences and photos (the last of which I once posted to Instagram).

Sure, Micro.blog isn’t perfect and harassment can still exist there, however, the focus on genuine interaction combined with human content curation (no algorithms) and a payment plan means that users are generally much more engaged and also noticeably friendlier.

If you’re sick of the turmoil that’s often caused by follower counts, likes and excessive hashtags, check out Micro.blog. You own your content, so if you dislike it, you can export your posts and simply take them elsewhere.

Elon Musk on ‘Recode Decode’ with Kara Swisher

I really need to listen to this podcast more often.

As far as interviews with big corporate bosses go, this is a genuinely interesting and frank one. Musk addresses a range of questions from Swisher regarding the Model 3, conflict online with journalists, the toll on his employees, engineering feats at The Boring Company and more.

Musk on journalists…

Count how many negative articles there are and how many I respond to. One percent, maybe. But the common rebuttal of journalists is, “Oh. My article’s fine. He’s just thin-skinned.” No, your article is false and you don’t want to admit it.

The stress of running Tesla this past year…

It’s been terrible. This year felt like five years of aging, frankly. The worst year of my entire career. Insanely painful.

Confidence in Tesla’s lead over other car companies in software and self-driving…

The other car companies… I don’t wanna sound over-confident, but I would be very surprised if any of the car companies exceeded Tesla in self-driving, in getting to full self-driving. 

You know, I think we’ll get to full self-driving next year. As a generalized solution, I think. But that’s a… Like we’re on track to do that next year. So I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else is on track to do it next year.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts or Overcast and read the transcript on Recode.

Photo Metadata on iOS

With the recent announcement of new 11- and 12.9 inch iPad Pro models, there have been many thoughts flying around online about what does and does not make the iPad a pro machine. There has been a particular focus on elements such as file management and the inability to connect external volumes to the new USB-C port. To me, this will certainly arrive in a future iOS release… Apple would not have replaced Lightning with USB-C on the iPad Pro if it weren’t serious about the iPad as a productivity device. We’re getting there.

For some time, I have been wishing for a particular feature set to be added to iOS, which unfortunately I think is much less likely: the ability to edit image metadata in the Photos app, such as keywords, titles and descriptions. Photos on iOS already has an impressive range of features based on machine learning, such as facial and object recognition, memories and even synchronisation with contact and calendar information to organise photos automatically. With this in mind, I would assume that Apple deems such manual image management as redundant on iOS.

As an example of when this would be useful, this week my wife and I received our wedding photos from our hired professional photographer. She (the photographer) did a fantastic job of culling and editing the selection before giving it to us, however, I wished to add precise locations to our over 800 photos. Also, rather than just dumping them into an album, which I could easily do on iOS, I wanted to include keywords and descriptions, so that they are all easily searchable in the main ‘Years > Collections > Moments’ interface. All of this still has to be done on a Mac, as no native interface exists for this on iOS. Whilst this process certainly isn’t a chore on the Mac and I have no real issue with it, it’s an example of functional inconsistency that could easily be resolved by Apple. Since my images are synchronised across all of my devices with iCloud Photo Library, it’s only logical that I should be able to interact with and adjust these photos in the same way on each device. There are third-party apps that can achieve this but I don’t wish to risk my data privacy.

In its promotional videos, Apple has shown how its new iPad Pro models attach to other devices via USB-C… imagine connecting a DSLR, importing photos and having full, manual control over their metadata. That sounds like a pro activity.

Some people wish that iPads had mouse pointers and trackpads; others wish for laptop-style hinges to prop up the display, such as the Brydge keyboard. These are major design points that can change the entire interaction model of the device (for better or worse). They’re interesting to consider but much of what makes the iPad so enjoyable is that it is a versatile slab of glass. Its minimalism and difference from traditional computers are the things that make it so fun to use.

To me, it comes down to the finer points of software consistency. I don’t want to have to choose which device I pick up based on what it can or can’t do; I want to choose which device I pick up based on how I want to use it: touch or pointer. If Apple can address such niggling points and offer consistent app experiences across its devices, this will see the iPad’s pro status confirmed. With the addition of pro apps such as Adobe’s upcoming Photoshop on iPad, I’m hopeful that we will start to see a new era of feature parity across iOS and macOS.

Podcast: ‘When work stops working’

One of the major topics in the world of work today is the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or in other words, the current wave of digital automation. As computers and artificial intelligence become more complex and capable, many humans are (and will continue to be) replaced by robots and other digital systems.

Whenever I’ve heard businesspeople discuss this current revolution, it’s often expressed with an unmistakable sense of optimism…

“Think of the benefits! People won’t have to work as much anymore.”

“There will be huge efficiency gains.”

“So many new jobs will be created because someone will have to maintain the robots!”

Those are some of the typical lines that are trotted out by companies today.

I’ve never really been satisfied with any of these assertions, as they always seem to be delivered by people in high-up, managerial positions. Current CEOs and top-level managers get to enjoy their profit today and are unlikely to be affected by future automation. As the global population grows, there is a chance that not everyone will be addressed. Also, not everyone has the intelligence or inclination to become an advanced software developer or robot maintenance specialist. No amount of carry-on about the coding revolution in schools will convince me of that.

I was very pleased to listen to a recent episode of ABC RN’s The Philosopher’s Zone, titled ‘When work stops working’, which deals with some of the issues of modern work. Whilst it doesn’t (and can’t possibly) offer all the answers, it deals with the questions of what work means today in a more considered, philosophical and ethical fashion. Where are we heading? What are the ethics to consider? In a world where no one has to work, how is wealth distributed fairly? How can we change the culture of work? I’m definitely not entirely pessimistic about the future—change is good and inevitable—but the conversation needs to go deeper.

Source: ABC Australia

If you’ve ever wondered what work is actually for, have a listen to the episode. Work is such a major part of our society and it goes on to influence individuals’ personal identities. We should all take much more notice of how our jobs shape our lives.

iPhone Photography Awards 2018

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards were announced this week and the included images are nothing short of breathtaking. From the artistic to the tragic, they all leave a very strong impression.

Source: Mateusz Piesiak/IPPA

What is perhaps most impressive as you scroll down the list and tap on each one, however, is the handsets that were used to shoot these images. Not all photos were taken with a recent iPhone X or 8 Plus; many were taken on older SE, 6s and even 5S models.

This made me reflect on just how different the art of photography is today and it’s now easy to pinpoint when this change began. We’ve just passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the iPhone 3G, which was the first truly international iPhone after the US-only first-gen model in 2007. The 3G brought the launch of the now mammoth iOS App Store along with it and at the time, it sported only a two-megapixel camera. It wasn’t even capable of taking video—a typical Apple feature omission, as when certain features aren’t up to scratch, they’re just chopped and included when ready.

The iPhone 3G was the first iPhone that I ever owned and I have bought multiple new models since. Whilst apps, messaging and full Web browsing were amazing, it was the camera that really resonated with me at the time. The idea that you had a decent camera with you everywhere that you went and that the camera came with its own pinch-to-zoom photo studio was flabbergasting.

Seeing what such tiny cameras are capable of today is a sign of just how far we’ve come since 2008. Improved aperture, secondary lenses, native software enhancements and third-party camera apps on iPhone have led many to leave their DSLR cameras at home. This is undoubtedly why Apple has so strongly pushed its yearly Shot on iPhone campaign and new support and tutorial pages. Not everyone needs a DSLR to capture the world with such precision and realistic colour; an iPhone does the job nicely indeed.

Considering all of this, check out the beautiful winning photos and maybe even take the time to look back at your own photo library from the last 10 years. Has your smartphone changed the way that you take photos? Do you take more or fewer? How do you organise them? Do you share them online? Most importantly, do you back them up? I doubt highly that there is a single person on the planet who has been untouched by the influence of the modern smartphone camera.

Never take the empowering technology in your pocket for granted.

The Conversation: ‘Apple acknowledges the iKid generation…’

Writers Michael Cowling and James Birt put together this great article on The Conversation, which is all about how Apple is tackling excessive use of its devices with the upcoming iOS 12 release later this year.

The authors discuss the powerful features that are coming in the form of ‘Do Not Disturb at Bedtime’, Screen Time app usage measurements and customisable notifications.

What stands out particularly to me, however, is this section:

And this week at WWDC, they [Apple] appeared to acknowledge some responsibility for creating balance in their lives… Parental controls can be activated through Family Sharing. They allow parents to put limits on their kids [sic] usage of individual apps, while allowing unlimited use of education apps.

Parental controls have existed in iOS for some time; it is great that Cowling and Birt are explaining the improvements that are being made in this space.

Parental Controls Icon
Parental Controls icon (Apple)

It is the idea of responsibility though that I find most interesting. Responsibility does fall on Apple to ensure healthy use of its devices, however, I believe that some parents just aren’t aware of these functions or even lack the interest in using them. More often than not, I visit restaurants where parents can be seen placating their children at the dinner table with iPads, iPhones and other competing devices.

For many, these devices have become digital babysitters. I applaud the (albeit late) effort to really enhance this functionality for families, but I believe that Apple should put even greater effort into promoting these tools, even if it takes incredibly annoying splash screens post-update or even TV and online advertisements.

Consumers (and particularly parents) are often the first to voice their annoyance with things like in-app purchases, games and children’s data privacy. Not all responsibility falls on tech companies; it is shared. I hope that adults themselves use these tools and make changes to their app usage behaviour, so that they can make better decisions and boundaries when it comes to their kids’ use of devices and apps.

Keynote Diversity

After much anticipation, the opening keynote for WWDC 2018 has been and gone, with numerous announcements surrounding performance, privacy, security and new features across all four of Apple’s software platforms.

Whilst many in the media have covered the numerous features and improvements that Apple announced (and whether it’s an exciting or ‘quiet’ year), there is one particular element of this keynote that I think deserves more attention.

Yesterday’s keynote included more women than just about any Apple keynote that I can remember. These women were not just brought on stage in a tokenistic or symbolic manner; they were brought onto the stage to discuss enhancements that they have worked on or directed themselves. The effort actually to include women began in 2015 (later than it should have been), with Jennifer Bailey (Apple Pay) and Susan Prescott (Apple News). This year, a female presenter named Jules even demonstrated new watchOS features whilst on an exercise bike in front of the crowd, finishing her segment with an ‘I love you’ message to her daughter.

Jules demonstrates watchOS 5 Workout app features. (Apple, 2018)

This is an outstanding display of company diversity and sets a fantastic example for all companies. Beyond the question of gender diversity, it also continues Apple’s trend of introducing developers and users to different people in the organisation. Back when Steve was in charge, he was often responsible for directing the entire show. Since Tim took the helm, he has adopted the role of ‘keynote bookender’, simply beginning and ending the presentation and allowing others to step forwards. This has enabled the company to highlight the hard work of many of its employees and avoid the reliance on one personality for the company’s overall success and image.

Furthermore, the videos prior to and at the end of the keynote showed a diverse range of developer stories, both in terms of gender and ethnic background.

I hope that Apple maintains its efforts in displaying a healthy mix in its public presentations. The ultimate goal is an even more diverse workforce and company leadership, the latter of which is already on the way to significant improvement with the addition of women over time such as Angela Ahrendts, Katherine Adams, Lisa Jackson, Isabel Ge Mahe and Deirdre O’Brien.