It’s on the internet, it must be true

Fascinating articles from the NYT about Snopes – ‘the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.’

Snopes is now helping with general fact checking for Facebook, and as a result finds itself under attack, which may or may not be a good thing…

It’s easy to laugh at people who get fooled by fake news and outrageous rumours, but I’m the first to admit just how gullible I am. As such a visit to Snopes is a standard reflex to just about any possibly suspicion story I see on social these days.

And starting your morning by visiting their Home page isn’t such a bad habit. It at least prepares you for the day ahead.

Bonus points to Snopes for providing helpful summaries under each headline – meaning for many articles you don’t even need to click through. For a site that makes money from advertising (and thus pageviews) it is refreshing to see they put user experience ahead of clicks.

BTW check the bios for each author – they’re hilarious (and yes, they’re fake, in case you needed to check…)

Finally, did you hear that Obama has signed an executive order banning all fake news sites?

UPDATE: I’m seriously not sure if this article about Facebook’s Safety Check being triggered by fake news is actually true or not…

Amazon versus Book Depository

This is why I always use Book Depository these days.

Book Depository is more expensive for the books themselves, but Amazon totally fucks you over with the shipping. And their shipping timeframes are ridiculous too (4 weeks to ship a book, seriously?)

Book Depository total for 3 books: $72.20

Amazon total for 3 books: $127.18

Book Depository:
Book Depository Total

Amazon total

btw worth mentioning that buying through these sellers was the only option available for two of the books.

Also worth noting that those crazy shipping prices were only revealed on the final page of the checkout. Here’s what the pricing looks like when selecting the book (and I was logged in when doing this, so Amazon knows where I live):
Amazon selection BS

Summary: I love Book Depository

UPDATE: Have just been informed that Amazon owns Book Depository – which just makes this even worse. ie they have the infrastructure in place to make this better, but haven’t bothered to. Crazy.

Giving blood

I give blood every 12 weeks at my local Red Cross blood donation centre. According to Red Cross a blood donation could save up to 3 lives. Which makes me feel good about myself. Which is why I do it. And why you should consider doing it too. To feel good about your self.

If that sounds selfish it’s because it is.

Last year I was looking for ways to feel good about myself, that actually did do some good. Turns out most things that we do to feel good about ourselves, actually have very little benefit. Recycling is a good example. We feel good about it, because we think we’re doing something good, but (with the exception of some metals) recycling is mostly useless. The main benefit of recycling is that people feel good about themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Other examples of mostly useless things we do to feel good about ourselves include food drives, fun runs to raise money, awareness campaigns (think pink) and clothing drop-offs.

But if you want to do something that actually helps, consider giving blood.

Peter Singer first put me onto this in his book on Effective Altruism, and although he refers to it as being altruistic I have no such illusions. I’m as selfish and self-absorbed as the next person, but I want to be efficient as well. Finding something where I can selfishly feel good about myself whilst actually doing something useful at the same time is a hard ask. Blood donation is a rare find. Embrace it.

Sitting in Judgement

Imagine you are a passenger in a plane that is starting its takeoff approach. You are accelerating down the runway when the left engine catches on fire. The pilot heroically brings the plane to a rapid halt and commences the emergency evacuation procedures. There is heat, and fire, and smoke. People are panicking.

You are in the plane, perhaps in a middle row, with an exit 10 rows ahead, and 10 rows behind. For the moment you are trapped in the rush to the exits.

What do you do?

The answer: unless you’ve been in that situation before, you have absolutely no idea what you would do.

  • Perhaps you are incredibly calm, clearly recalling the safety demonstration from a few minutes earlier.
  • Or perhaps you are stressing out.
  • Perhaps you are choking.
  • Perhaps you are convinced you are going to die.
  • Perhaps you see that the people ahead are starting to move out of the plane and perhaps you think you may make it out after all.
  • Perhaps you take your shoes off.
  • Perhaps you even grab your luggage.
  • Perhaps you get out and have no idea what you even did, or how you made it out.

Thankfully the emergency that happened in Las Vegas a day ago was contained, and apart from some minor injuries to 14 passengers, no one was hurt. It was a good outcome.

But that hasn’t prevented some quick judgements from the Twitter doucherati, watching from the safety of their arm chairs.

Whilst most observers were praising the pilot’s responsive actions, and celebrating the safe evacuation of all passengers, here’s some comments from others:

Click through to those tweets and read the reply threads too – they get worse. And some even have follow up tweets where they ‘helpfully’ give ‘advice’ about the proper way to conduct oneself when in a plane that has an exploding engine. Thanks! I’ll bet those passengers are so thankful for the free advice they’re receiving.

I can imagine their conversations with loved ones later when asked how they are feeling:

‘well, the day started pretty badly, I was in a plane that caught on fire and had an emergency landing. I made it out safely in the end, but it was harrowing, and I thought for a minute there I was going to die…’

‘…but it’s OK, just after that some people on Twitter who had no idea whatsoever of what happened in the plane very helpfully provided me with an analysis of my evacuation process, and went the extra mile to generously prepare some advice for me to take on board for the next time it happens. So all in all it wasn’t such a bad day…’

The kindness of strangers.

Taking a compliment

An interesting social experiment where a women decided she’d agree with compliments men gave her. The results are pretty interesting – summary:  she mostly got criticised, called vain, and even abused.

The issue is probably not a gender one (eg if the roles had been reversed and men had agreed when getting complimented, they’d likely have gotten similar pushback) but it does raise the question: what’s the appropriate response to give when someone compliments you.

It’s something most of us have probably struggled with: since it can be uncomfortable, and likely depends on the company you are with at the time, and perhaps even the culture you are in (eg Australian culture can be quite different to American culture).

Many people are uncomfortable and try to shrug it off (I’m probably in this category), whilst others will accept it gracefully  (I wish I could be comfortable in this category).

It’s worth having a read of some suggestions from etiquette experts including Dianne Gottsman, Margaret Page and  The Art of Manliness. Summary: just say ‘Thank you’



Too much to ask

Reply from Malcolm Gladwell when asked about a child’s birth month being an advantage (emphasis mine):

Question: In Outliers, you discuss why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I can’t begin to imagine how many to-be parents you influenced to try and have their offspring be born in those months!

MG: Well, I have heard that some parents took that to heart. I should add, however, that when it comes to academic achievement, the problem of being the youngest in class is most pronounced for kids with other challenges. If you are from a lower-income, broken home, and you have a learning disability, AND you are the youngest, that’s too much to ask. For the typical middle-class kid from a good, well-educated family, I’m not sure it matters so much. In other words, the kinds of people who took that message to heart are probably the people who least needed to take it to heart.


Why is that stories like the following really get to me:

but the savagery, cruelty and tragedy contained in the paper every day have no effect?

The Right Thing To Do

I’ve been a fan of John Gruber’s blog for a while, but never really listened to his podcast (The Talk Show) until now. Part of the reason for not listening (to a lot of podcasts, not just his) is when I see that the episodes are usually more than an hour long I just give up – when am I ever going to listen all of that? Turns out though, that if the content is interesting enough you’ll find the time.

And so it is with The Talk Show, that I finally gave it a listen, and found it quite thought provoking. I’m picky so I won’t listen to all the episodes, but this recent one with Jason Fried was interesting to me. I don’t care much about the 37signals rebranding, but I do care about Jason’s approach to business. And I really like his attitude. In the podcast John and Jason talk about doing what’s right for the customer, giving examples of where they’ve made mistakes in the past, and how their focus now is on doing what’s right. This isn’t without costs (often big costs, and there’s examples they give to highlight that) but it’s a philosophy worth embracing early in your business if it is important to you. It is to me, and I found their chit chat inspiring.

In some ways it reminds me of Steve Wozniak (if you don’t know him, he’s the guy known for his decision to have dinner with Michael Kordahi recently) who when asked why he sold a lot of his shares very cheap to staff after they were left out of the Apple float simply said because it was the right thing to do:

I did give a LOT of stock to early employees that had none because it was the right thing to do morally. Steve Wozniak

They also discuss some big examples of how companies don’t get it right eg cable companies screwing over consumers for the short term buck – whilst long term it’s likely the consumer backlash will make way for disruptor to enter the market.

Worth a listen.

(btw a big hurdle with posting blog posts is trying to find an appropriate image to use… you know to make the site look pretty. I’m gonna skip doing that for a while and see if I can at least get back to blogging a little more. Although I was tempted to add a womenlaughingalonewithsalad image just for the point of it.)

Content is King by Bill Gates

Content is King
I’ve had a frustrating time trying to find the original ‘Content is King’ article written by Bill Gates back in 1996. There’s a few sites that have a copy of the essay, but nothing on the Microsoft site (it has been removed from the Bill Gates Published Writing page). Wayback Machine seems to be the only other option (thanks to Andrew Heenan for the link).

If you can find a Microsoft link could you please let me know. For now, I am adding the essay in it’s entirety here (as I will be referring to it in a future post).

Content Is King – Bill Gates (1/3/1996)

Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.

The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.

When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide. For example, computer software is a form of content-an extremely important one, and the one that for Microsoft will remain by far the most important.

But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.

One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.

The Internet also allows information to be distributed worldwide at basically zero marginal cost to the publisher. Opportunities are remarkable, and many companies are laying plans to create content for the Internet.

For example, the television network NBC and Microsoft recently agreed to enter the interactive news business together. Our companies will jointly own a cable news network, MSNBC, and an interactive news service on the Internet. NBC will maintain editorial control over the joint venture.

I expect societies will see intense competition-and ample failure as well as success-in all categories of popular content-not just software and news, but also games, entertainment, sports programming, directories, classified advertising, and on-line communities devoted to major interests.

Printed magazines have readerships that share common interests. It’s easy to imagine these communities being served by electronic online editions.

But to be successful online, a magazine can’t just take what it has in print and move it to the electronic realm. There isn’t enough depth or interactivity in print content to overcome the drawbacks of the online medium.

If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.

A question on many minds is how often the same company that serves an interest group in print will succeed in serving it online. Even the very future of certain printed magazines is called into question by the Internet.

For example, the Internet is already revolutionizing the exchange of specialized scientific information. Printed scientific journals tend to have small circulations, making them high-priced. University libraries are a big part of the market. It’s been an awkward, slow, expensive way to distribute information to a specialized audience, but there hasn’t been an alternative.

Now some researchers are beginning to use the Internet to publish scientific findings. The practice challenges the future of some venerable printed journals.

Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling. Although the gold rush atmosphere today is primarily confined to the United States, I expect it to sweep the world as communications costs come down and a critical mass of localized content becomes available in different countries.

For the Internet to thrive, content providers must be paid for their work. The long-term prospects are good, but I expect a lot of disappointment in the short-term as content companies struggle to make money through advertising or subscriptions. It isn’t working yet, and it may not for some time.

So far, at least, most of the money and effort put into interactive publishing is little more than a labor of love, or an effort to help promote products sold in the non-electronic world. Often these efforts are based on the belief that over time someone will figure out how to get revenue.

In the long run, advertising is promising. An advantage of interactive advertising is that an initial message needs only to attract attention rather than convey much information. A user can click on the ad to get additional information-and an advertiser can measure whether people are doing so.

But today the amount of subscription revenue or advertising revenue realized on the Internet is near zero-maybe $20 million or $30 million in total. Advertisers are always a little reluctant about a new medium, and the Internet is certainly new and different.

Some reluctance on the part of advertisers may be justified, because many Internet users are less-than-thrilled about seeing advertising. One reason is that many advertisers use big images that take a long time to download across a telephone dial-up connection. A magazine ad takes up space too, but a reader can flip a printed page rapidly.

As connections to the Internet get faster, the annoyance of waiting for an advertisement to load will diminish and then disappear. But that’s a few years off.

Some content companies are experimenting with subscriptions, often with the lure of some free content. It’s tricky, though, because as soon as an electronic community charges a subscription, the number of people who visit the site drops dramatically, reducing the value proposition to advertisers.

A major reason paying for content doesn’t work very well yet is that it’s not practical to charge small amounts. The cost and hassle of electronic transactions makes it impractical to charge less than a fairly high subscription rate.

But within a year the mechanisms will be in place that allow content providers to charge just a cent or a few cents for information. If you decide to visit a page that costs a nickel, you won’t be writing a check or getting a bill in the mail for a nickel. You’ll just click on what you want, knowing you’ll be charged a nickel on an aggregated basis.

This technology will liberate publishers to charge small amounts of money, in the hope of attracting wide audiences.

Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products-a marketplace of content.

This essay is copyright © 2001 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.