5ish Links

Gone in a Flash

(First published on 7/26/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter)

It’s fascinating to me just how much people hate Flash. I’m in that camp as well, for reasons I’ll get to in a second. But with news of its death — finally… well, in 2020 — yesterday, everyone was all up in arms again about the technology.

I suppose a big part of the hatred is just how unusable Flash made a large swath of the web for a time in the mid-to-late 2000s. This is because while the format may have been created for good, many folks, notably advertisers, started using it for very bad things, like resource-hungry ads. As such, browsers at the time often seemed to slow to a crawl, or often crashed, from simply browsing around the web.

This is undoubtedly a big part of what led to Steve Jobs’ famous “Thoughts on Flash” in 2010, in which he swiftly ripped apart the technology (and Adobe), while explaining why Apple wasn’t going to allow it in the iPhone. Performance. Security. Battery life. Touch. Tools. His (and Apple’s) strong stance further entrenched the camps. Either Apple was going to be doomed by their arrogance, or Flash would be doomed without Apple.

(Aside: remember when it was Kevin Lynch, CTO of Adobe at the time, who was the chief defender of Flash? Lynch, of course, now works at… Apple — thanks in part to the debates at the time!)

It would be the latter, of course.

And rightfully so. Look, Flash had its moments, and certainly its reasons for existing (see: Jeffrey Veen’s tweetstorm on the matter). But thinking back to my days as a front-end web developer in the 2000s, it was already the bane of my existence back then. It was a crutch people used at the time instead of web standards. And again, it was just an awful, awful resource hog.

The world moved on, and so did Adobe, clearly. And we’re all better — as is the web — for it.

5ish Links

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21chinaai3 facebookjumbo

Paul Mozur:

The two professors who consulted with the government on A.I. both said that the 2016 defeat of Lee Se-dol, a South Korean master of the board game Go, by Google’s AlphaGo had a profound impact on politicians in China. Then in May, Google brought AlphaGo to China, where it defeated the world’s top-ranked player, Ke Jie of China. Live video coverage of the event was blocked at the last minute in China.

As a sort of Sputnik moment for China, the professors said, the event paved the way for a new flow of funds into the discipline.

The Sputnik comparison seems apt, as this could really be Space Race 2.0.


Kurt Wagner on the Marketplace tab (which I hate) in the Facebook app:

There must be enough traffic to the tab, though, that Facebook sees value in running ads there.

Facebook makes almost all of its revenue from advertising — just under $27 billion in 2016. But the company has recently started to tell investors that it is running out of room to put ads in its core moneymaker, News Feed. As a result, Facebook has started to test ads in a handful of new places, including its standalone messaging app Messenger.

Anyone else feel like this is a bigger story than it may seem on the surface? With Facebook running out of places to put ads in the Newsfeed (since it can’t — or at least shouldn’t — be 100% ads), they’re increasingly putting ads everywhere else they can. This includes Messenger — which is probably only the second-worst idea for Messenger, after cramming Stories in there — and now the backwater that is Marketplace.

I continue to believe Facebook is very fortunate to have Instagram. Not only are they executing at an insanely high clip, it’s a natural and obvious fit for ads. And it’s already a big business for Facebook as well — one which will continue to get bigger.

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104587901 weil.1910x1000

Speaking of Instagram, enjoyed John Shinal’s sit down with product chief Kevin Weil:

“If people are going to post multiple times throughout the day, the product needs to be more ‘person-oriented’ than ‘feed-oriented,” Weil explained.

That meant allowing users to post not only square photos but videos of varying shapes, sizes and lengths.

Instagram also has a culture designed for doing “the simple things first.”

In the video, he says, “If you start simple, systems will get more complex (eventually)…If you start complex, you’re in trouble.”

I was skeptical of Instagram ever having success moving away from the square format — since they owned it, and it made the feed so browsable — but the framing of Stories as “person-oriented” versus “feed-oriented” strikes me as exactly right, and exactly what allowed them to make such a stark change to the format.

Also love the mentality of doing “the simple things first” — this works for startups and big companies like Instagram.

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36041cea 6bd3 11e7 a5b9 f15560e547ee

Continuing on the Facebook-trying-to-make-money beat:

“One of the things we heard in our initial meetings from many newspapers and digital publishers is that ‘we want a subscription product — we want to be able to see a paywall in Facebook,’” Brown said at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, an industry conference, in New York City on July 18. “And that is something we’re doing now. We are launching a subscription product.”

Of course the publishers want this. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea — see also: cramming in as many ads as humanly possible into “Instant Articles” — because it doesn’t mean it will do much of anything for any of them. Apple also has subscriptions baked into Apple News; I’m going to go not-so-far out on a limb to suggest it’s not a massive success with users or publishers. At least Apple News is predicated on people coming to find and read news — this isn’t what Facebook was built around (yes, even if that’s what people use it for). So good luck with that, Facebook.

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20170715 std001

The Economist:

Other people, though, have used the technique to find more striking results. For example, mammalian bone density usually drops with age. Three years after Kamrin’s work, however, a gerontologist called Clive McCay showed that linking an old rat to a young one boosted the density of the oldster’s bones. In 1972 another paper reported, even more spectacularly, that elderly rats which shared blood with young ones lived four to five months longer than similarly old rats which did not.

The rats themselves, unsurprisingly, were not always keen on the procedure. Early papers describe the dangers of “parabiotic disease”, in which one animal’s immune system rebels against the foreign blood, and also explain how rats must be socialised carefully before being joined, to stop them biting each other to death.

Fascinating. If you can solve the whole “biting each other to death” thing.

Giphy Break

Image for post
Image for post
The Flash.

Quickish Hits

Speaking of vampires, I thought the Castlevania show would be silly, I was wrong. It’s good!

Fascinating study surfaced by The Economist. Obvious, yet weird: “That’s because people on social networks write much as they speak.”

It me. Also, key quote: “It’s sort of like the Roger Bannister, four-minute-mile effect. Until you’re told it’s possible for a human to listen at this speed, you just decide you can’t.”

Just what I want, a company with a history of exploding batteries putting their product in my head. For an apparently lame assistant, no less.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have set their next project post-Game of Thrones, and it’s going to be controversial. Also, buried in here is potentially bad news: GoT finale may be pushed till 2019?!

500ish Words


The increasingly rare must-see-in-theaters…

Written by

General Partner @ GV (née Google Ventures). In past lives I wrote at TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and ParisLemon. A man of few words. Except when writing. 🍻

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