25-54 demographic (Live +SD)
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It’s no secret that kids younger and younger are being targeted with products designed to introduce them to the world of technology. But some say the latest product has gone way too far.
The $80 Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity Seat for iPad is similar to many bouncy seats for babies, although this one replaces the standard mobile of toys with a holder for an Apple tablet.
“We think this toy is the worst of the worst,” says Josh Golin, associate director for the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood. The group has collected more than 1,400 signatures for a petition asking Mattel’s Fisher Price unit to recall the infant seat.
A Mattel representative was not immediately available for comment.
While there are other products aimed at toddlers and young children, Golin said he is shocked to see the iPad aimed at newborns, especially in a setting where they are strapped down and essentially forced to stare at the screen.
“They are not going to be complaining or crying or asking for the attention that they need,” Golin said.
Golin says his group backs the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation discouraging all screen time for kids under two.
The 13-year-old group gives a satirical award to what it deems the worst products aimed at kids, with this year’s dubious honor going to a toilet-training potty that also includes an iPad holder. But, Golin said, the bouncy chair is even worse.
“This product was so potentially harmful it wasn’t appropriate for our award and demanded a much stronger response, which is why we are calling for a recall,” Golin said.
Two leading education technology startups — Codecademy and Coursera — this week launched their first mobile apps. Codecademy’s Hour of Code teaches the basic tenets of programming, and Coursera’s mobile version supports signing up for courses, watching videos and taking quizzes. Both are iOS only.
The two had taped a segment about Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton traveling together on Air Force One to South Africa for Nelson Mandela‘s memorial. Not long after the Q&A started, Baldwin stopped Tapper mid-sentence, gave some instruction about how it should play out, then started over.
That happens all the time in TV newsrooms with pre-taped interviews. But usually the “bad” take is left on edit room floor. Not this time. WATCH:
For Baldwin’s part, she was quick to address the flub on Twitter.
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To discuss Mandela alongside Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Jesus is barking mad. I bet he's laughing his head off right now
Enough is enough. The publicity for the death and funeral of Nelson Mandela has become absurd. Mandela was an African political leader with qualities that were apt at a crucial juncture in his nation's affairs. That was all and that was enough. Yet his reputation has fallen among thieves and cynics. Hijacked by politicians and celebrities from Barack Obama to Naomi Campbell and Sepp Blatter, he has had to be deified so as to dust others with his glory. In the process he has become dehumanised. We hear much of the banality of evil. Sometimes we should note the banality of goodness.
Part of this is due to the media's crude mechanics. Millions of dollars have been lavished on preparing for Mandela's death. Staff have been deployed, hotels booked, huts rented in Transkei villages. Hospitals could have been built for what must have been spent. All media have gone mad. Last week I caught a BBC presenter, groaning with tedium, asking a guest to compare Mandela with Jesus. The corporation has reportedly received more than a thousand complaints about excessive coverage. Is it now preparing for a resurrection?
More serious is the obligation that the cult of the media-event should owe to history. There is no argument that in the 1980s Mandela was "a necessary icon" not just for South Africans but for the world in general. In what was wrongly presented as the last great act of imperial retreat, white men were caricatured as bad and black men good. The arrival of a gentlemanly black leader, even a former terrorist, well cast for beatification was a godsend.
Visiting and writing about South Africa in the last years of white rule in the 1980s, I was acutely aware that the great struggle was not so much between the white South Africans and Mandela's ANC, whose leaders were in prison or exile, but within Afrikanerdom. This was no rebellion against a foreign power. It was a potential conflict between an impotent majority and a potent minority, in which the likelihood of the latter giving way to the former seemed minimal – and unnecessary in the short term.
The first hero of that struggle was the then prime minister, FW de Klerk. The realisation that his group should cede power to a black government was a moral conversion as much as realpolitik. The Afrikaners capitulated not because some mighty power (such as sanctions) had crushed them or because of the more significant fall of Rhodesia and the Portuguese empire. Their priests and intellectuals told them apartheid had lost the argument. They had lost the will. It had been, said De Klerk, "a terrible wrong".
Even so the task of switching to black majority rule was Herculean, and success by no means inevitable. A lesser man than De Klerk could well have battled on for another decade of mounting bloodshed. But his tribal revolution, well chronicled by the historian of Afrikanerdom Hermann Giliomee, succeeded. It was a rare case of an entrenched minority peacefully handing power to a majority.
Mandela was crucial to De Klerk's task. He was an African aristocrat, articulate of his people's aspirations, a reconciler and forgiver of past evils. Mandela seemed to embody the crossing of the racial divide, thus enabling De Klerk's near impossible task. White South Africans would swear he was the only black leader who made them feel safe – with nervous glances at Desmond Tutu and others.
South Africa in the early 90s was no postcolonial retreat. It was a bargain between one set of tribes and another. For all the cruelties of the armed struggle, it was astonishingly sparing of blood. This was no Pakistan, no Sri Lanka, no Congo. The rise of majority rule in South Africa was one of the noblest moments in African history. The resulting Nobel peace prize was rightly shared between Mandela and De Klerk, a sharing that has been ignored by almost all the past week's obituaries. There were two good men in Cape Town in 1990.
The concept of goodness in a political leader has fascinated scholars from Plato to Nietzsche and beyond. We need to believe in it, lest we slide into cynicism, yet must beware of it lest we slide into idolatry. Machiavelli would have argued that it was easy for Mandela to be good. He was in prison and his courage was essentially personal. His moment of true goodness was brief. He understood from his study of British law the concept of legitimacy in government and the role of compromise. To them he added an instinct for reconciliation, but in part because he knew that without it he was unlikely to win.
Once that instinct had unlocked the door of a settlement, Mandela acted swiftly to reassure white businessmen who could well have vanished overseas. He welded the ANC into an electoral force, and worked to keep dissident Zulus on board when Natal secession briefly threatened. But as David Beresford's admirable Guardian obituary relates, he was a worse than ordinary president. He did little to resist the drift to cronyism and corruption, was a poor executive, and never deployed his talents to tame Mugabe or ease the horrors afflicting the rest of Africa. He preferred to see out his office meeting celebrities and raising dubious money.
Human history may crave myths, but needs to know them as such. I once argued with the writer Jan Morris against the nonsense attributed by some Welsh to Owen Glendower. She protested that "truth" in history was what people came to believe it to be. All tribes need legends, the better to cement their identity. Legends are not made to be true.
Yet history is a discipline not a faith. The world may crave a "Mandela-like icon", but to what end? For serious media outlets to discuss him alongside Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Jesus of Nazareth is barking mad. He was Nelson Mandela. After seeing their former president doused in virtue and squeezed dry of glory by an assembly of world celebrities, South Africans should repatriate his reputation. Mandela gave them signal service for a brief few years in the 1990s, and if it suits them to revere him as a symbol of unity, goodness and peace, so be it. That is their business.
But the South African quality I recall Mandela possessing to the full was not saintliness, it was a hardened sense of irony. I doubt if he is wearing the BBC's tin halo right now. I would bet he is laughing his head off.Simon Jenkins
Micron Technology Inc. and Rambus Inc. said they have ended a series of court battles that stretched for 13 years, with Micron agreeing to pay up to $280 million to Rambus over seven years.
The deal announced late Monday gives Micron, one of the biggest makers of memory chips, rights to use Rambus patents in certain products. The companies said they agreed to drop all pending litigation.
Yahoo has acquired QuikIO, a cross-platform streaming video startup, according to a report from technology site Pando. Three of QuikIO’s employees have joined Yahoo as part of the deal, and the startup’s flagship product will be shut down to current customers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Yahoo did not immediately respond to AllThingsD’s request for comment.
• England's opening match against Italy will be shown on BBC
• ITV will broadcast games against Uruguay and Costa Rica
England's first World Cup game, against Italy, will be shown on the BBC after the corporation agreed a deal with ITV, which will show the other two group games.
The broadcasters confirmed the split of matches on Tuesday, with ITV also showing the tournament's first game, between the hosts, Brazil, and Croatia on 12 June.
England's opener against Italy on 14 June was originally scheduled to kick off at 9pm local time but that was moved as UK and Italian broadcasters were concerned about viewing figures as kick-off would have been at 2am in the UK and 3am in Italy. It has been brought forward to 6pm local time.
BBC coverage begins with Spain against Holland, a repeat of the 2010 final, and it will have first pick of the round-of-16 and semi-finals, while ITV has first pick of the quarter-finals. Both ITV and BBC will show the final.
The BBC head of TV sport, Philip Bernie, said: "We're very pleased with our selection of matches which includes England's highly anticipated opening match with Italy along with their crucial first knockout match, if they proceed, and the first pick of the semi-finals."
ITV's director of sport, Niall Sloane, said: "The World Cup begins on ITV for UK viewers next year and we're looking forward to showing live two of England's three group matches as well as two of Brazil's, including the tournament's opening game between the hosts and Croatia in São Paulo."
LG on Tuesday announced the Google Play version of its G Pad 8.3 tablet, which it said will sell for $349 via Google’s online store.
Google also said it will start selling an unlocked Google Play version of the 6.4-inch Sony Z Ultra phablet for $649.
The devices aren’t quite Nexus products like the LG-made Nexus 5 phone or Asus-made Nexus 7 tablet, but they do represent an option to get the pure Google experience and likely a quick upgrade to future updates of the operating system.
“LG’s working relationship with Google has always been strong and our collaboration on the first-ever Google Play Edition tablet is proof of that commitment,” LG mobile unit head Jong-seok Park said in a statement.
Google already sells Google Play versions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.
The Wi-Fi tablet packs the latest KitKat version of Android along with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip, 16GB of storage and front and rear cameras along with an 8.3-inch display.
The women's movement may have been in hiding through the 'ladette' years, but in 2013 it has come back with a vengeance. Introducing the new feminists taking the struggle to the web – and the streets
The campaign for women's liberation never went away, but this year a new swell built up and broke through. Since the early summer, I've been talking to feminist activists and writers for a short book, All The Rebel Women, and as I tried to keep up with the protests, marches and talks, my diary became a mess of clashing dates. The rush was such that in a single weekend in October, you could have attended a feminist freshers' fair in London, the North East Feminist Gathering in Newcastle, a Reclaim the Night march in Edinburgh, or a discussion between different generations of feminist activists at the British Library (this sold out in 48 hours, was moved to a room four times bigger, and sold out again).
You could have joined one of the country's 149 local grassroots groups, or shared your experience of misogyny on the site Laura Bates, 27, started in April 2012. Her Everyday Sexism Project has proved so successful that it was rolled out to 17 countries on its first anniversary this year, tens of thousands of women worldwide writing about the street harassment, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and body-shaming they encounter. The project embodies that feminist phrase "the personal is political", a consciousness-raising exercise that encourages women to see how inequality affects them, proves these problems aren't individual but collective, and might therefore have political solutions. This year, 6,000 stories that have been sent to the project about harassment or assault on public transport – the majority never reported to authorities – were used to train 2,000 police officers in London, and create a public awareness campaign. In its first few weeks, says Bates, the reporting of harassment on public transport soared. Everyday Sexism currently has more than 108,000 followers on Twitter. Of course, following a social media account isn't the same as joining a political party, but to put this engagement in perspective, Tory membership is now at 134,000.
Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism. This movement follows the first-wave campaign for votes for women, which reached its height 100 years ago, the second wave women's liberation movement that blazed through the 1970s and 80s, and the third wave declared by Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker's daughter, and others, in the early 1990s. That shift from second to third wave took many important forms, but often felt broadly generational, with women defining their work as distinct from their mothers'. What's happening now feels like something new again. It's defined by technology: tools that are allowing women to build a strong, popular, reactive movement online. Just how popular is sometimes slightly startling. Girlguiding UK introduced a campaigning and activism badge this year and a summer survey of Mumsnet users found 59% consider themselves feminists, double those who don't. Bates says that, for her, modern feminism is defined by pragmatism, inclusion and humour. "I feel like it is really down-to-earth, really open," she says, "and it's very much about people saying: 'Here is something that doesn't make sense to me, I thought women were equal, I'm going to do something about it.'"
As 2013 unfolded, it became impossible to ignore the rumble of feminist campaigners, up and down the country. They gathered outside the Bank of England in early July, the first burst of a heatwave, dressed as aviators, suffragettes and warrior queens, organised by Caroline Criado-Perez, 29, shouting for women's representation on bank notes and beyond.
They demonstrated outside the Sun headquarters, organised by Yas Necati, 17, in a protest against Page 3, the biggest image of a woman that appears each day in the country's biggest-selling newspaper – a teenager or twentysomething smiling sunnily in her pants. Necati, a student at sixth-form college, laughed shyly as she told me about the mocked-up pages she has sent Sun editor David Dinsmore, suggesting feminist comedians, artists and writers to appear on the page instead. One of her favourites showed a woman flashing bright blue armpit hair. The the No More Page 3 petition started by Lucy-Anne Holmes, 37, in August 2012,, has been signed by 128,000 people.
Ikamara Larasi, 24, started heading a campaign to address racist and sexist stereotypes in music videos, just as students began banning summer hit Blurred Lines on many UK campuses, in response to its sexist lyrics. Jinan Younis, 18, co-founded a feminist society at school, experienced online abuse from some boys in her peer group – "feminism and rape are both ridiculously tiring," they wrote – and wasn't deterred. Instead, she wrote an article about it that went viral. When I spoke to her in September, she was juggling shifts in a call centre, babysitting for neighbours, preparing for university, while helping out with a campaign to encourage feminist societies in schools countrywide. UK Feminista, an organisation set up in 2010 to support feminist activists, has had 100 people contact them this year, wanting to start their own school group. In late August, their national day of action against lads' mags included 19 protests across the UK.
Thousands more feminists raised their voices online. Bates and Soraya Chemaly, 47, were among those who set up a campaign against misogynist pages on Facebook, including groups with names such as "raping a pregnant bitch and telling your friends you had a threesome". Supporters sent more than 60,000 tweets in the course of a swift, week-long push, convincing the social media behemoth to change its moderation policies.
Southall Black Sisters protested outside the offices of the UK Border Agency against racist immigration laws and propaganda – including the notorious "Go Home" vans. They also marched in solidarity with protesters in Delhi, who began a wave of demonstrations following the death of a woman who was gang raped in the city last December, protests against rape culture that soon spread to Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The African LGBTI Out & Proud Diamond Group demonstrated opposite Downing Street after allegations emerged of the sexual abuse of women held at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre.
The Fawcett Society continued to show how cuts to benefits, services and public-sector jobs pose "triple jeopardy" to women (in 2013 women's unemployment reached a 26-year high). Rape Crisis South London spearheaded a successful campaign to criminalise the possession of pornography that depicts rape. And 40 Days of Choice challenged the anti-abortion campaigners who have become worryingly prominent in the UK recently.
The Edinburgh fringe hosted a surprising run of feminist comedians, including Mary Bourke, with her show Muffragette. Bourke memorably noted in a BBC interview this summer that the open-mic circuit has become a "rape circle" in recent years. Feminist standups were ready to respond. Nadia Kamil, 29, performed a set including a feminist burlesque, peeling off eight layers of clothing to reveal messages such as "pubes are normal" and "equal pay" picked out in sequins. She also explained the theory of intersectionality through a vocoder, and gave out badges with the slogan "Smash the Kyriarchy". (She hoped audience members would look up any words they were unfamiliar with later, such as "kyriarchy" and "cis".)
Bridget Christie, 42, won the Foster's Edinburgh comedy award with A Bic for Her, in which she railed against sexist comments by racing driver Stirling Moss, and talked about "ethical filing" – taking sexist magazines off shop shelves and dumping them straight in the bin. She wasn't encouraging other people to do this, she emphasised. She just wanted to point out that she had been doing it for months – months – with no problem at all.
Women marched through London for Million Women Rise and Reclaim the Night, and organised events in 207 countries for One Billion Rising, a day of demonstrations to highlight the UN statistic that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. As part of this event, the UK parliament debated whether sex and relationship education should be on the national curriculum, and six months later, in her summer holidays, Lili Evans, 16, started the Campaign4Consent with Necati, calling for consent education in schools.
A chorus rose against online misogyny. Criado-Perez highlighted the string of rape threats sent to her on Twitter, writer Lindy West published the comments she received, ("There is a group of rapists with over 9,000 penises coming for this fat bitch," read one), and the academic and broadcaster Mary Beard, Lauren Mayberry from the band Chvrches, and Ruby Tandoh from The Great British Bake Off, all spoke out on this issue. If you want to know how deeply some people resent the idea of women's advancement, the stream of online misogyny has been perhaps the most obvious, ugly backlash yet.
But bald attempts to silence women only made the movement larger and louder. They convinced those who had never thought about misogyny before that it was clearly still alive, and convinced those who were well aware of it to keep going.
When Nimko Ali, 29, spoke out against female genital mutilation, with her group, Daughters of Eve, she received death threats. She kept speaking strongly, wittily, discussing both her own experience of FGM and her "fanny forward" list of supporters, putting an issue long marginalised firmly on the political agenda. In November, Alison Saunders, the new Director of Public Prosecutions, suggested she expected the first prosecution for FGM to happen in the UK fairly soon.
Some of those leading the biggest campaigns, including Bates, only started calling themselves feminists in the last few years, which shows how nascent this wave is. Larasi bursts out laughing when I ask if she has always considered herself a feminist. "Definitely not," she says. She has been working at the black women's organisation Imkaan for three or four years, and was raised by a feminist mother, but it was only last year that she started using the term to describe herself. She began identifying specifically as a black feminist in February 2013. This means she doesn't feel she has to "pick a side", she says, between the movements for women's rights and for racial equality, and she is now a member of the thriving Black Feminists group in London – there is also one in Manchester.
The majority of activists I speak to define themselves as intersectional feminists – or say they try to live up to this decription – and when I mention this to Kimberlé Crenshaw, the US law professor who coined the term intersectionality in 1989, she's genuinely surprised. The theory concerns the way multiple oppressions intersect, and although, as Crenshaw says, it can be interpreted in a wild variety of ways, today's feminists generally seem to see it as an attempt to elevate and make space for the voices and issues of those who are marginalised, and a framework for recognising how class, race, age, ability, sexuality, gender and other issues combine to affect women's experience of discrimination. Younis considers intersectionality the overriding principle for today's feminists, and Ali says she constantly tries to check her privilege, to recognise how hierarchies of power are constructed.
There are women and men of all ages involved in this movement – at a Lose the Lads' mags protest in York, for instance, I met an activist who had been at the women's liberation conference in 1978. But many of those at the forefront are in their teens and 20s, and had their outlook formed during decades in which attitudes to women were particularly confusing.
They grew up being told the world was post-feminist, that sexism and misogyny were over, and feminists should pack up their placards. At the same time, women in the public eye were often either sidelined or sexualised, represented in exactly the same way as they had been in the 70s, albeit beneath a thin veil of irony. Finn Mackay says when she started the London Feminist Network in 2004, the two main issues motivating those who joined were the massive growth of the beauty industry, and "pornification" – the infiltration of pornographic imagery into the mainstream via Playboy-branded pencil cases, for instance, and the trend for pubic waxes. Those concerns have continued, and help explain the focus of many current feminist campaigns, which address the wallpaper of women's lives, the everyday sexism – lads' mags, Page 3, rape pages on Facebook, cosmetic surgery advertising – and calls for positive representation on bank notes and in broadcasting.
But the feminist consciousness of the fourth wave has also been forged through the years of the financial crash and the coalition government, and many activists have been politicised and influenced by other movements, particularly the student campaign against fees, but also the wider campaign against cuts and the Occupy movement. The quick, reactive nature of many of the feminist campaigns cropping up today reflects the work of activists more generally in a biting world of unemployment and under-employment, workfare, zero-hours contracts, bedroom taxes, damaging rhetoric against immigrants, the disabled and those who need support from the state.
With so many pressing issues, feminists are fighting on several fronts, and the campaigns of the past few years have often been started by individuals or small groups, who have responded to issues they feel strongly about, and can usefully address. Holmes and Necati both grew up with the Sun at home, which has shaped their opposition to Page 3. Criado-Perez was outraged by all-male discussions of teenage pregnancy and breast cancer treatment on the Today programme, so set up a database of female experts, The Women's Room, with Catherine Smith in 2012. In the first three days of that year, seven women were killed by men, and Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of the charity Nia, started counting the toll of misogynist murders. Her Counting Dead Women project puts names and stories to the statistics we often hear, and is asking the government to take an integrated approach to understanding violence against women.
There are, of course, differences of opinion when it comes to which subjects feminism should be addressing. How could there not be, in a movement that represents half the population, and aims for liberation for all? But what's exciting about these individual campaigns is the way they're building a movement capable of taking on structural, systemic problems. As the philosopher Nina Power notes, there are teenage girls today, growing up with Twitter and Tumblr, who have a perfect grasp of feminist language and concepts, who are active on a huge range of issues – some of those I talk to are starting to work on economic analyses of women's predicament, the ways in which neo-liberal policies such as the rolling back of the state and low taxes for the rich, have shaped modern inequalities.
The movement's concerns are forever shifting, and will likely do so powerfully when some of today's young activists encounter the pay gap, childcare costs and pregnancy discrimination in their own lives. "What is it going to be like," says Power, "to have this generation of people who are totally attuned to all these terms and categories and thinking through all these issues from a very young age?" Brought up to know they are equal to men, fourth-wave feminists are pissed off when they're not treated as such, but have more than enough confidence to shout back. Misogynists, watch out.
All the Rebel Women: The rise of the fourth wave of feminism by Kira Cochrane is out now as a Guardian Shorts Originals ebook (£1.99). Visit guardianshorts.com to find out more.Kira Cochrane
“CBS News has a lot to answer for this. There’s a lot of questions, and they’ve answered some of them. I don’t want to add to their burden,” Rather told Piers Morgan on CNN last night. “I know what it feels like to be the correspondent who’s the center of the controversy … but I will make this point: with our story, the one that led to our difficulty, no question the story was true. What the complaint was, and eventually most of us lost our jobs, was ‘okay your story was true, but the way you got to the truth was flawed.’ That’s not the case with this Benghazi story.” Watch:
[h/t The Wire]
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The Archers has upset some people by insinuating that farmers tend to be rather fond of guns. But things have been a bit downbeat lately, so perhaps a bit of a brouhaha is no bad thing
Much the jolliest arrival of the month – short of Santa Claus – was that of Lieutenant General (rtd) Sir Barney White-Spunner KCB CBE, full of beans and firing both barrels. Sir Barney, who happens to be chairman of the Countryside Alliance, took exception to an incident in The Archers that seemed to show "farmers wandering around their land with guns cocked ready to shoot anything that moves". Frankly, that is how most of us think of farmers. The alarming prevalence of cocked shotguns in the country is precisely why I prefer to live on the Isle of Dogs.
Dogs, as it happens, are at the very heart of this brouhaha.
The ever-smouldering feud between Ed and Will Grundy (starting in a small way, as these things do, with the disputed paternity of Little George Grundy) blazed into life again when Ed shot Will's dog. Ed said it was an accident. Will said it was murder. At this sore point, Sir Barney butted in and said it was unfair to farmers. He reminds me very much of George Bush senior, who, when Bill Clinton and Ross Perot were at each other's throats, broke in with: "I don't have a dog in this fight but I'd like to get in." The new editor of The Archers, who thought he was in for a rest cure after EastEnders, was hauled into the fray by his long, silky ears. And now everyone is sticking their oar in like a quinquereme of Nineveh.
You have to hand it to Sir Barney. (Sorry, I have to raise my voice here, as Ed and Will are having a fight in the turkey shed.) He certainly gingers things up – like the misprint in Appetising Ambridge that replaced a teaspoon of ginger with a tablespoon. Things have been a bit downbeat lately, what with Helen's broken heart, Darrell's suicide attempt, Jill's cataracts and Little George asking if his dog is in heaven. Bring back Barney!, say I.
By the way … whatever happened to Ross Perot?
A Month in Ambridge returns on 8 January.Nancy Banks-Smith
Shares of Twitter climbed to $52.58 on Tuesday afternoon, an all-time high for the newly public microblogging network, which debuted on the New York Stock Exchange last month. The rally comes shortly after the company introduced a new retargeted advertising product, which may have boosted investor confidence in Twitter’s monetization prospects.
Most people think of Facebook in a similar way: It’s a place to share photos of your kids. It’s a way to keep up with friends and family members. It’s a place to share a funny, viral story or LOLcat picture you’ve stumbled upon on the Web.
This is not how Facebook thinks of Facebook. In Mark Zuckerberg’s mind, Facebook should be “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” He wants a design-and-content mix that plays up a wide array of “high-quality” stories and photos.
The gap between these two Facebooks — the one its managers want to see, and the one its users like using today — is starting to become visible. Earlier this year, Facebook users rejected a redesign that Zuckerberg announced with much fanfare. Now Facebook is adjusting its algorithms to emphasize content that it thinks readers should see, which will push down some of the stuff that’s currently popular.
Which version of Facebook will win out?
What Facebook Wants
Let’s begin with Facebook’s vision of the News Feed, which can be traced primarily back to two men: Vice President of Product Chris Cox and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Over the past two years, according to sources, Cox has been campaigning internally for a sort of “ideal” News Feed: It would be part of your daily morning ritual, something that you’d open and scan much the same way you’d read a newspaper.
Teams explored a number of user interface and product mock-ups with this idealized form of user behavior in mind. It was all housed under an umbrella project broadly blanketed under the term “Reader” (an initiative that was widely misreported as a Google Reader clone earlier this year), and many of its early prototypes looked slick — a “refined, highbrow” experience, as it was put to me. One initial conception was a sort of Flipboard-like product. (Facebook declined to comment on any of this Reader talk specifically.)
The overall goal here: Cox and Zuckerberg, the two most vocal proponents of this philosophy, want visiting the site to be a “useful” experience, delivering a well-rounded assortment of content for people across the world, in a tight, well-crafted package.
It’s quite an idyllic portrait of Facebook. But its early renditions haven’t been smooth sailing.
Take the News Feed redesign introduced in early March — the first major fruit borne from Facebook’s “Reader” initiative. While the result was drastically scaled back from the overhaul that many inside the company envisioned, it still looked very different than the old Facebook. Media, stories and photos were huge, taking up much more onscreen real estate. So, while there were fewer articles, they looked bigger and better than before.
However, sources said that in the small rollout to a single-digit percentage of users, engagement with the new design has stalled. So much so, in fact, that the majority of users won’t receive this Facebook redesign we saw unveiled this year.
Instead, sources said, it’s back to the drawing board on a better News Feed, while using the failed first launch as a data point for creating a better Version 2. When users finally do see something new, it will likely be far less drastic of a change, incorporating only some of the modifications that worked better than others.
To be fair, the company is in a bit of a bind here: Roll out sweeping changes all at once, and face potential user backlash. Test slowly to see what does and doesn’t work, and be chastised for not moving fast enough.
The difference here is that Facebook made a huge deal of its launch announcement earlier this year, and set expectations that the rest of the world would soon see the product. We haven’t heard a peep since, and we likely won’t for awhile.
A Facebook spokesman said the company was still testing the redesign changes, and wouldn’t comment further.
What the People Want
Facebook has another problem with its vision of News Feed: The type of stuff that people actually have an appetite for.
What Facebook wants to surface in the News Feed more often is “high-quality” content. While News Feed manager Lars Backstrom didn’t spell out precisely what that means in Peter Kafka’s recent interview, he alluded to “1,000-word stories” on sites like AllThingsD. (This Facebook post from August may give a little more background, but it’s still tough to parse exactly what it all means.)
But what users are clicking on and sharing seems to be quite the opposite of Backstrom’s example: Viral stories and photos produced by publishers like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, or appearing on hosting sites like Imgur or 9Gag, perform exceedingly well on Facebook, garnering tons of clicks and engagement.
The result of the News Feed after all that sharing and virality? A sort of tabloidized version of Facebook, where “junk-food stories with LOLcat art” do insanely well and show up more often, as one insider put it to me, while perhaps something like a more labor-intensive magazine feature — or even a decent news story — may surface less often in the feed.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Viral content inside Facebook means more engaged and potentially satisfied users. And happy users often means a happy Facebook.
Except, perhaps, for Cox, Zuckerberg and crew, who would like to see a more diverse — and, dare I say, more refined — News Feed. Cox especially has a problem with BuzzFeed and sites similar to it, according to multiple sources. While the two companies have formed a strong partnership, Cox doesn’t want Facebook to become BuzzFeed, overrun with its typically viral content.
Instead, the team wants to emphasize the content for which Backstrom maintains there is, indeed, an appetite; Some Facebook-conducted surveys indicate different “value” placed on some types of content more than others (though again, Backstrom wouldn’t specify which).
The team has even held back some products that would likely prove quite popular on Facebook, yet would go against the design ideals that the team is wrestling with. Take looping GIF photos inside of Facebook, for instance — long a staple of BuzzFeed. While Facebook doesn’t currently support GIFs, sources said that Facebook has had that support product built and ready to ship for quite a long time. It hasn’t yet, however, due to internal debate over the aesthetic impact on the News Feed.
The key word here, often used by top Facebook executives , is “useful.” What algorithms could deliver a broad mix of content that all of Facebook’s billion-plus user base not only finds compelling but informative? One that delivers the same feeling as, say, opening up a newspaper?
Keeping the Balance
There’s no quick fix for the News Feed problems. It will all likely proceed as more small tweaks and changes to the feed, with Facebook hoping that it doesn’t swing too far in one direction.
As far as curbing the prevalence of some so-called “inferior” content, some technology brought in from outside the company may help. Facebook acquired Face.com last year, a company that works with facial-recognition technology. But sources said that in a broader sense Face.com is really about image recognition more than strictly faces, and Facebook has used that technology to recognize low-quality photos posted to the site. So if, say, a simple mass of black text wrapped in white-bordered edges is uploaded to Facebook, it may be automatically “downranked” and therefore less likely to surface often in others’ feeds. (The tech has a number of other helpful uses as well.)
I imagine, however, that most of the work now will be walking the tightrope of appeasing nervous publishers, dealing with the ever-fluctuating whims of users and “aligning Facebook’s own definition of value with that of their users,” as News Feed manager Backstrom put it.
As for imagining the News Feed of tomorrow, try to think of it in terms of what the company doesn’t want it to look like: “Chris and Mark absolutely do not want Facebook to be Tumblr,” as one source said.