In Which We Consider Digg's Mobile App

Matt Langer wrote an interesting post yesterday questioning Digg for the way our iOS apps present stories.  On Apple mobile devices, the Digg app by default frames and pre-caches the stories our editors highlight so that users can read them offline -- on the subway or an airplane, for example.

Matt’s making a really important point that we take seriously.

Curatorial sites and mobile apps like Digg need to drive traffic back to publishers, along with the ad impressions and clicks that many depend on for monetization.  Digg has two goals: (a) provide a terrific experience for our users, and (b) drive loads of traffic to the best publishers, big and small, so that they can keep producing more great creative work. We want The Digg Effect to be welcome, as users discover not only individual pieces of great writing, graphics, and video, but great sites, sources, publishers, and authors.

And indeed, the Digg website -- where the vast majority of our traffic happens -- does not frame or pre-cache stories, but sends readers directly to the source webpages, replete with the ad units and monetization tools the publishers have deployed.  In the mobile environment, however, we got a raft of input from users to the effect that they wanted Digg to provide a good offline experience.  In response to that, we implemented pre-caching and an embedded frame that presents only the target story.  As Matt rightly points out, that fails to immediately drive impressions and clicks back to the publisher. 

Here’s the conundrum for mobile reading apps:  (1) we want to support and improve publisher monetization as effectively as possible;  and (2) we also want to give Digg app users a great offline experience;  but (3) the vast majority of publishers do not provide portable ad formats that we can grab, attach, and render in ways that enable the publisher to capture all the impressions and clicks their ads can earn. Here's one promising approach that we’ve been talking with some publisher friends about: Publishers provide standardized portable ad units that we can automatically ingest and position alongside their stories;  Digg and other mobile reading apps embrace those portable ad units and deliver impression data, including offline impressions.

We would love publishers to provide standardized, portable ad formats that will effectively monetize their content in mobile readers.  That’d be awesome.  To see if that's viable, we’re going to do a round of conversations with publishers to figure out whether they’ve actually already got something workable (for example, the ad units that accompany mobile web versions of their content, or that some ad platforms have inserted directly into RSS outputs), or whether we should join together to build and implement something new that’d work not only for Digg, but all the other mobile reading apps out there.

It should be possible -- easy, even -- for publishers to know that their ad units are accompanying their content, and being rendered as they want, regardless of whether the reader is reading via a web browser, smartphone browser, web-based reader, online mobile app, offline mobile app, tablet reading app, Kindle, etc.  That may require some rudimentary standardization of portable ad unit formats that can painlessly be created by publishers and automatically interpreted and implemented by all the various types of reading experiences.

The other piece of feedback that we hear from publishers is that they want to know who their readers are. This is a tricky technical challenge that very few publishers have the resources for, but it’s a solvable problem that we’ve been thinking about for a while. Ted Roden and Mike Young — the guys behind the first version of News.me — proposed this to the New York Times and it looks like they’re starting to roll it out now, in the form of NYT Everywhere.

In the meantime, we’re going to take a close look at our iOS experience to see what adjustments might do a better job of sending as many impressions and clicks back to publishers’ own sites as possible, as well as doing right by individual authors.  That may require a change in defaults or more granular user options, or maybe even something more extreme.  We'll keep you posted. 

On NPR: What Anti-Islam Film Says About Free Speech And The 'Hecklers Veto'

So I made an appearance on NPR's Morning Edition today, talking about YouTube, Egypt, free speech, divergent national and religious sensitivities, and the danger of the heckler's veto. (BTW, I can now report that NRP's Steve Henn either is or works with a Miracle Editor capable of snipping longwinded sentences into a semblance of pithiness).

The Fight for the Future: The Internet, Censorship, Surveillance, and You

Here's the keynote talk I did at the Portland Digital eXperience (PDX) event, in which I talk about the North African revolutions, the onslaught of Syria's pro-Assad hacker army, the new dynamics created by China's Weibo platforms, and the success of the anti-SOPA/PIPA movement in the United States, what ties those things together, how they reveal much about the world we are now actively building, and what all that counsels for policymakers and entrepreneurs alike.  Thanks to Mark Zusman and Rick Turoczy for the invite and the warm Portland hospitality, and to the Rich Report for recording & posting the video!

Best fringe benefit of the excursion, besides hanging out with my awesome sister Meg, was seeing Beirut play "Santa Fe" as the sun set over Portland.

betaworks!

A very exciting bit of personal news:  I've joined betaworks as entrepreneur-in-residence. Led by the incredibly gifted John Borthwick, betaworks is forging a new, ambitious, wildly interesting model for creating and scaling innovative tech companies. It's become a real center of gravity for the start-up scene in New York, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. 

To get a sense of betaworks, check out the amazing list of companies it has invested in -- for example, Twitter, TumblrAirbnb, BranchEverlane, ideeliGroupMe, Groupon, Kickstarter, Path, Tweetdeck. Its studio companies include Digg, Bit.ly, Chartbeat, SocialFlow, and Findings, with others under construction. (I'll have more to say about what I'm actually working on in the not-too-distant future.)

Huge thanks and a fond farewell to Tumblr, David Karp, and all my former colleagues there.  I'm really proud of what my teams -- international, outreach, communications, community, editorial, user support, marketing -- pulled off since I joined last year. Personal highlights: the amazing Storyboard blog, the Brazil launch, the human-friendly terms of service and policy docs, new policies on self-harm, SxSW, the fight against SOPA, and the vast global cohort of new Tumblr blogs and partners we brought onboard. I'm especially grateful to everyone who joined those teams on my watch. Tumblr's a terrific company, and an important platform for creativity, free speech, and community.

A Conversation with Slate's Jacob Weisberg, Part 4

In which Jacob and I discuss Tumblr vs. Pinterest, Facebook vs. privacy, the case for baseline rules to protect consumer Internet privacy in the US, the horrible implications of the French push to create a "right to be forgotten", and why it would nevertheless be a catastrophe if the Internet comes to serve as an inescapable Permanent Record.

A conversation with Slate's Jacob Weisberg, Part 1

Here's the first part of a recent conversation with Slate’s Jacob Weisberg. This bit is on Tumblr’s founder, the ethos and juju of the platform he created, and how Tumblr’s approach to identity translates into positivity, creativity, and anti-trollery.

Fight for the Future: Libraries, Tech Policy, and the Fate of Human Knowledge

Librarians + technology = a personal nirvana.  There is no more awesome set of people doing more important work than the librarians and their nerd allies at the bleeding edge of library tech -- they are engaged in an underappreciated struggle to work out how mankind is going to preserve, extend, share, and democratize the sum of human knowledge in our increasingly digital age.  So I was really psyched to go a do a talk at the 2012 Library Technology Conference about the technological forces driving the great policy issues of our age, along with an argument about why and where the library community should be engaged.  Bonus for me: The event was at Macalester College, where I spent my high school summers taking Russian while trying to look like something other than the huge dork I was.

Here's my keynote, "Fight for the Future: Libraries, Tech Policy, and the Fate of Human Knowledge."

Andrew McLaughlin @ Library Technology Conference 2012 from Library Technology Conference on Vimeo.

 The Prezi is here.

Stanford Law: From Public Squares to Platforms: Free Speech in the Networked World

The set-up: “From local issues like the BART protests to national and international movements like Occupy and the Arab Spring, individuals and organizations are increasingly utilizing the Internet, social networking, and mobile devices to communicate and connect. This diverse panel from academia, public interest, and private practice, will discuss the opportunities and challenges for free speech as it increasingly moves from the town square to the networked world. Co-sponsored by the California State Bar Cyberspace Committee and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.”

Co-panelists:

  • Dorothy Chou Senior Policy Analyst, Google Dorothy Chou is a Senior Policy Analyst and leads Google's policy efforts to increase Transparency. She manages the day-to-day operations of the Central Public Policy team at Google's headquarters, and handles government relations for Google's Crisis Response/Disaster Relief projects as well as the Data Liberation Front. Dorothy began working for Google in the Washington, D.C. office four years ago, managing issues around China, free expression and child safety before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area last summer. Dorothy holds a B.S. in International Politics from Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service.

  • Linda Lye Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California Linda Lye joined the ACLU-NC as a staff attorney in 2010 after serving 5 years on its Board of Directors and 7 years on its Legal Committee. She was formerly a partner at Altshuler Berzon, a San Francisco law firm specializing in labor and employment law, as well as constitutional, civil rights, and environmental law. Early in her legal career, she clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court. Prior to law school, she was a policy analyst for the fiscal committees of the Assembly in the California Legislature, and also worked as a death penalty investigator at the California Appellate Project. She has an undergraduate degree from Yale University and a JD from Boalt Hall, at the University of California at Berkeley.

  • Philip Hammer Of Counsel, Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel Philip Hammer is Of Counsel to the law firm of Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel in San Jose, California. Mr. Hammer successfully litigated the right to circulate petitions in privately owned shopping centers in the California Supreme Court (1979) and the United States Supreme Court: Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980).

  • Laurence Pulgram Partner and Chair of Commercial and Copyright Litigation Group, Fenwick and West LLP Lawrence Pulgram is a Partner in the Litigation and Intellectual Property Groups of Fenwick & West LLP, counsel in intellectual property and complex commercial disputes. His practice emphasizes technology related litigation and frequently involves novel legal issues generated by cutting-edge information technologies.

  • Moderator: Nicole Ozer Co-Chair- California State Bar Cyberspace Committee, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California Nicole A. Ozer is the Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California. She works on the intersection of new technology, privacy, and free speech and spearheads the organization’s online privacy campaign, Demand Your dotRights (www.dotrights.org). Nicole is the co- chair of the California State Bar Cyberspace Committee and a founding board member of the Bay Area Legal Chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS).

Betaworks Brown Bag: My Days in the White House: The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

Here's a lunchtime talk I did at betaworks on my experience working in the White House, why it was awesome, why it was, um, frustrating, why it's hard to achieve large-scale change in the U.S. federal bureaucracy, and more.

Beyond Conventions: A Ford Foundation Forum on Human Rights

The Ford Foundation has posted the video of a panel I recently joined on "[t]he possibilities and pitfalls of technology in the pursuit of human freedom."  The other panelists were (the legendary and eloquent) Sir Tim Berners-Lee, (the brilliant and soon-to-be-book-launchingRebecca MacKinnon, (the worldly and effective) Elisa Massimino, and (the multi-disciplinary and polymathical) Danny O’Brien.  The moderator was (the charming and prolific) Sewell Chan, deputy editor for The New York Times. For me, the most interesting part of the panel was an exchange primarily with Elisa about the pressing need for mainstream/mainline human rights advocates and organizations to view seemingly-specialized tech issues like net neutrality, competition policy, intermediary liability, encryption policy, and user data control as core human rights issues.

Let's go to the tape.

Why We’re Building a Civic Commons — And How You Can Be Part of It

Walk down any major street in any city in the world and you’ll pass by hundreds of pedestrians — and, let’s be honest, more than a few drivers — typing into smart phones. Each of these individuals holds in one hand more computing power than the entire NASA space operation that delivered men to the moon and back in 1969.

It can be hard to recognize how fast and how deeply information technology is changing our day-to-day lives, and how profound the implications can be. Every year, thanks to Moore’s Law, the speeds of our laptops and devices go up even as the cost of computing goes down.  Internet bandwidth gets ever faster and cheaper, and wireless connectivity ever more ubiquitous. As a result, the cost of creating, organizing, analyzing, and distributing information has plunged dramatically over the past two decades. Today, an ordinary individual can communicate instantly with any connected person anywhere in the world; she can broadcast her ideas globally, readable by anyone with an interest.

Thanks to the ever-improving economics of computing, a company like Facebook can offer hundreds of millions of individuals the ability to tap a vast computing infrastructure optimized to publish their writings, deliver their messages, and store vast and growing oceans of multi-megapixel images — and all for free, funded by tiny incremental payments from advertisers. That’s how efficient and cheap computing power has become.

To put that in context, consider this: It currently costs about $150 to buy a hard disk with a terabyte of data storage, and it sits on the corner of your desk; as recently as the early 1990s, you would have had to spend over $1.5 million to buy the same thing, and it would have taken up a full corner of your room.

Or this:  The iPad 2 is roughly 1,500 times faster than the CDC 6600, NASA’s fastest supercomputer in 1969. The cost of an iPad 2 is currently $499; the cost of a CDC 6600 in 1969 was roughly $58,000,000, in inflation-adjusted 2010 dollars.

Amazing, right? But here’s the problem:  As William Gibson puts it, “the future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” In particular, our governments — the agencies and departments and legislatures and courts that our democratic processes have ordained to serve the public — are finding it extraordinarily difficult to understand, much less embrace, the possibilities created and imperatives imposed by the technological advances we take for granted in our private lives.

Civic Commons, the new initiative I’m pleased to be joining today, is an effort to answer that problem. We believe that governments — especially the cities, towns, and counties that are on the hook to deliver public services every day — can now take advantage of the same technologies and techniques that have generated such enormous efficiencies and enabled such impressive new services by private enterprise. In a digitally interconnected world, cities don’t have to operate in isolation.  They don’t have to reinvent (or re-procure) the wheel every time they face a problem that technology could help address. Cities can pool their resources — their talents and ever-shrinking budgets — to build shared technologies. Just as open standards (e.g., the Internet protocols), shared infrastructures (e.g., cloud computing), and collaborative software (e.g., open source projects like LinuxMozilla Firefox, and Apache Hadoop) have powered astonishing advances in personal and enterprise computing, it is now time for governments to put them to work for the public good.

We believe that governments can now build and deploy shared technologies — open standards, common infrastructures, collaborative projects, and open source software, together with proprietary systems — to improve public service delivery, transparency, accountability, public participation, and management effectiveness, all while spending less.

In sum, Civic Commons is built around two central convictions: first, that wave after wave of innovation is delivering amazing new capabilities to the people and organizations that can take advantage of them, and second, that, with a little help, governments can absolutely understand and seize the opportunities created by the rapid evolution of information technology.

So how are we going to do it? Civic Commons will operate as a neutral and expert non-profit that (a) helps cities and other governments understand the possibilities and pitfalls around shared technologies, (b) provides technical assistance, (c) facilitates the creation and management of collaborative technology projects, (d) connects interested cities with peers, collaborators, experts, vendors, and other supporters, and (e) creates high-quality information — such as guides, checklists, how-to’s, and a comprehensive catalog of civic technology — that is as comprehensible and useful to mayors, city managers, and citizens as it is to software engineers.

We’ve already got a great set of projects underway (for example, Open311), an active and engaged set of city and other government collaborators (NYC, San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, just to name some big ones), a growing community of motivated, civic-minded technologists, and a set of plans to broaden participation, especially by smaller cities and towns and those outside the U.S.

We also have a fantastic set of launch partners, including our major launch funder, the Omidyar Network;  our incubator organizations, Code for America and OpenPlans;  and our stalwart supporter, O’Reilly Media. (Huge thanks for their extraordinary contributions.)

Whether you are a mayor, a city CIO, a budding technologist, an open source veteran, a civic activist, an entrepreneur, or just an interested citizen, we hope that you will get inspired and get involved in Civic Commons. Check out our projects, contribute to our wiki, join our mailing lists, orcontact us directly.

Together, we can tap everyday technological innovation to make government work better and cost less.

Andrew McLaughlin

Executive Director

Civic Commons

(For more information about Civic Commons, read the full release for the announcement.)

[This ran originally as my first blog post at civiccommons.org.]