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Stephen Hackett's blog about things that light up and make noise. 512 Pixels is about Apple, technology, journalism and design.

More on SugarString

T.C. Sottek at The Verge:

For now, it's easy to shrug off Sugarstring as just another hilariously dumb attempt to make a corporate brand look cool. Its format is somewhere between Digg, BuzzFeed, and Verizon's corporate blog. It appears to gather much of its content from Reddit. It's powered by Wordpress. It inexplicably has 74,000 Twitter followers. It publishes headlines like "Can you survive without chatting at work?" and "Three reasons Neil DeGrasse Tyson is wrong about innovation."

But in the broader context, Sugarstring is frightening. It resembles a future where enormous corporations that own the pipes through which speech travels also own that speech. Hell, that's not even a vision of the future; Comcast already owns NBC, and its promises for good behavior as a vertically integrated superpower have an expiration date.

So far we've been worried about the subtle effects of corporate control of the internet — stuff like data caps, and throttling, and "fast lanes." Sugarstring is something entirely different. It's brazen, disrespectful, and deeply cynical. There can only be two possibilities for its existence: Verizon thinks people aren't paying attention, or they're just too stupid to get it.

SugarString

Patrick Howell O’Neill:

Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?

The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.

I have no problem whatsoever with publications having advertisers. If you’re reading this on my site, you’ll see both a graphic ad and a text ad. Once a week, I post sponsored content in my RSS feed.

The difference between what I — and countless others — do and what Verizon is doing with SugarString is a clear divide between content and advertising. SugarString screams Verizon, from the red colors to the bold text. Oh, and the Verizon logo. And the “PRESENTED BY VERIZON” graphic at the bottom of the page.

Then there’s this:

There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today.

Verizon is one of the worst offenders at trying to limit net neutrality and has taken a major hit in the press over this year’s shocking news about programs like the NSA’s Prism. To help counter this, SugarString editors are allowed to cover these issues outside the US, but not inside. Just check out this article on Hungary’s plan to tax Internet traffic:

It’s every government’s responsibility to keep internet charges as low as possible, so access to high-quality information isn’t limited to the rich. By artificially increasing the price of internet access, Hungary’s government would punish users who were trying to contribute to the world’s knowledge and economy. If they managed to force providers to bear the costs, they’d be punishing those companies any time they grew, discouraging them from increasing bandwidth or improving their services. An internet traffic tax is an innovation tax, and any such tax, no matter how small, would be philosophically devastating.

All that about advertising and content being intermixed is small in my eyes compared to this. SugarString is condemning Hungary for doing what its parent company Verizon has been lobbying for — sometimes in terrible ways — for years.

SugarString isn’t bad journalism; it’s not journalism at all. It’s just plain, old-fashioned PR bullshit that is brazen even for a company as tone deaf as Verizon.

More on The Magazine

Jim Dalrymple:

It’s very sad. Glenn is a great guy and friend, but I understand the issues of being an independent publisher on Apple’s Newsstand—it’s not fun. Apple should just admit that they don’t give a shit about digital magazines and be done with it.

I couldn't agree more; Newsstand should go away, and digital publications should be normal apps that can live right on the SpringBoard, not hidden behind a terrible icon and UI that only adds confusion.

The Magazine is closing

Glenn Fleishman:

My labor of love the last two years has been The Magazine, first as its hired hand and then, in May 2013, as its owner. The sad truth has been that, while profitable from week one, the publication has had a declining subscription base since February 2013. It started at such a high level that we could handle a decline for a long time, but despite every effort — including our first-year anthology crowdfunded a bit under a year ago — we couldn't replace departing subscribers with new ones fast enough. We're a general-interest magazine that appeals to people who like technology, and that makes it very hard to market. "Pivoting" to a different editorial focus would have lost subscribers even faster.

While I was sad when I first about this news, like Marco, I'm not surprised:

Many non-ideal factors and decisions I made up front probably contributed to The Magazine not being sustainable forever. But the biggest challenge was simply that running a magazine today is a really tough business. I thought making a high-quality app was the hard part that was keeping iPad magazines from being more successful, but the app turned out to be the easiest and least important part of the business.

Today's news is a blow to independent journalism. I was thrilled to be in the third issue; it's something that is still on my "hey let me do a freelance article for you" resume.

That said, I can't help but agree with Marco — publishing is a hard business. Growing an audience is difficult; keeping them may be even harder. We're reading less and less long-form material, and that is bad for everyone, publishers most of all.

There's a new Kickstarter project to fund a hardcover book of The Magazine's second year of essays. The first book was great, and I'm sure this one will be as well.

Jason Snell looks back at Macworld's print history

The Power Slider, over on The Verge:

Before there were tech web sites there were magazines. Once a month you'd get a new one and read it cover to cover, including all the ads, trying to glean as much information as you could. I remember scouring issues of MacUser before buying my first PowerBook, trying to decide which model was exactly right for me. I must've read that article fifty times.

Imagine that. Back then, Apple would announce a raft of new products and almost nobody would know for weeks or even months. Now we all know in seconds.

Don't miss the awesome collection of Macworld covers. Good stuff.

E.W. Scripps spinning off newspaper business

Dan Monk:

The deal calls for Milwaukee, Wisc. –based Journal Communications Inc. to merge its 13 television stations and 35 radio stations into Cincinnati-based Scripps. Both companies will spin off their newspaper assets into a new publicly-traded company, Journal Media Group.

The deal is subject to the approval of shareholders and regulators. It is expected to close in 2015.

Big news in the journalism world, but no one else will notice the re-arranged deck chairs.

On the Oxford Comma

Walt Hickey at FiveThirtyEight:

FiveThirtyEight and SurveyMonkey Audience ran a poll from June 3 to 5 asking 1,129 Americans which camp they fell into, and wouldn’t you believe it? We’re split on that comma.

We asked respondents which sentence was, in their opinion, more grammatically correct: “It’s important for a person to be honest, kind and loyal.” Or: “It’s important for a person to be honest, kind, and loyal.” The latter has an Oxford comma, the former none.

The result was pretty much down the middle, with pro-Oxford partisans commanding 57 percent of the vote and opponents to the tyranny of the extra comma grabbing 43 percent. Although those numbers might be enough to defeat Eric Cantor, it’s hardly a clear victory for the Oxfordians.

As a general rule, AP drops punctuation and spaces to preserve space. While newspapers are dying (and the guys who used to set type by hand are gone), I prefer the style. I learned AP style in high school and college and my brain barely registers that the punctuation exists, much to the chagrin of my wife and her fancy English degree.

via The Loop

Computerworld going digital-only

Scot Finnie:

On June 23, we will publish the last print issue of Computerworld.

It was 47 years ago, almost to the day, that Computerworld's very first issue rolled off the presses: June 21, 1967. The newspaper's first publisher was the late Patrick J. McGovern, who was the founder and chairman of International Data Group (IDG), Computerworld's parent company.

It's sad to lose anything that has endured so long. But we are merely taking part in the natural evolution of the media industry, like so many great publications before us. Trains, after all, were once powered by coal and steam; Computerworld is moving from paper to electrons.

NYT Innovation Report 2014

It's not hard to look at The New York Times' and wonder what the newspaper's leadership is doing on the digital front. This 96-page internal report is a hard look at the company's missteps in the online arena. It's a fascinating read.

via Vox

The iPhone rumor that just won't die

Richard Padilla at MacRumors:

Apple is gearing up to incorporate Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in the iPhone 6, according to a report from BrightWire citing sources familiar with the matter. The report also notes that Apple has struck a deal with China UnionPay to integrate the banking company's services into Passbook and elsewhere.

Here's Eric Slivka in March 2013:

China Times reports [Google translation, via Mac Otakara] that Taiwanese chip firm Chipbond has been selected to provide a number of components for the iPhone 5S, including the touch display driver as well as chips to support fingerprint sensor and near field communications (NFC) capabilities. The report suggests that Apple will use the fingerprint sensor functionality to enhance the security of NFC features such as mobile payments.

...and in June 2012:

9to5Mac reports that it has reanalyzed the previously-obtained hardware code dump for Apple's next-generation iPhone prototypes and discovered that the code makes reference to hardware components supporting near field communication (NFC) capabilities.

...and in November 2011:

Following conflicting rumors about whether the iPhone 4S would include near field communication (NFC) technology (rumors that were eventually decided in the negative), Digitimes reports that Apple is indeed one of the vendors still expected to introduce NFC-enabled operating system software (and thus hardware) in 2012. Apple's inclusion of NFC in next year's iPhone would appear to come as part of a tipping point for the technology, with the technology's prevalence in the smartphone industry set to increase from about 10% to over 50% in the span of two to three years.

Here's Arnold Kim in January 2011:

According to this source, Apple has already made prototype payment terminals intended for small businesses to scan NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads. These terminals could be subsidized or even given away to encourage adoption.

Apple has been hiring NFC experts as well as applied for several patents on the technology. A couple of previous reports have also pegged the next generation iPhone as having NFC technology built in.

...and in November 2010:

Apple's interest in Near Field Communication (NFC), the short-range wireless technology that supports such services as "tap and go" credit card payments, has been well-established, but a new report claims that Apple maybe be planning to include the technology in the fifth-generation iPhone to allow Mac users to essentially keep a portable version of their Mac on their iPhone and wirelessly allow any compatible Mac to run as if it was their own Mac.