Archive for December 28, 2018

Friday, December 28, 2018

How Much of the Internet Is Fake?

Max Read:

Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”


Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures.

Via Nick Heer:

Aram Zucker-Scharff started a Twitter thread with some more indicators in the web on which you cannot rely: advertising, social media trends, readers, viewers, and more. If it’s a number that is important, you can bet that it is manipulated for a price.


The most alarming aspect of statistical fakery is not necessarily that it exists, but what will likely be done to combat it. Instead of admitting that these stats are likely to be manipulated and are, at best, wildly inaccurate estimates — and, therefore, that decisions should not be made based on what is reported — it is far more likely that this will lead to calls for more data collection. There will be attempts to make user identification more precise and more pervasive, particularly across devices.

Alan Zucconi:

If you are curious to understand how face-swap technology works, have a look at this new tutorial about #DeepFakes. 👨🔄👩

Jason Kottke:

The previous line contains two lies: this is not a photograph and that’s not a real person. It’s an image generated by an AI program developed by researchers at NVIDIA capable of borrowing styles from two actual photographs of real people to produce an infinite number of fake but human-like & photograph-like images.

Kevin Kelly:

None of these faces are real. All made up by AIs. The end of photography as evidence.

Previously: Influencers Are Faking Brand Deals.

Update (2019-01-08): Rob Pegoraro:

The Washington Post’s ad-tech director has had it with all the lies in this industry. Money quote from this lengthy thread: “The ad tech ecosystem doesn’t need to be pruned. It needs to be burned to the ground.”

Update (2020-04-20): Andrew Myers:

A new algorithm allows video editors to modify talking head videos as if they were editing text – copying, pasting, or adding and deleting words.

Netflix No Longer Offering In-App Subscriptions

Juli Clover:

When opening up the Netflix app on an iOS device, there are no longer fields for signing up for a Netflix account within the app nor are there instructions on how to obtain a subscription, likely to avoid violating Apple’s App Store rules. The app simply offers a sign-in window and says that members who subscribe to Netflix can watch within the app.

Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines prohibit developers from asking iOS users to use a purchase method other than in-app purchase, which Netflix is skirting by offering no sign up options at all.

iPad and iPhone users who want to sign up for Netflix will now need to do so through the Netflix website rather than through the Netflix app.

Maybe Apple shouldn’t incentivize developers to provide a worse user experience. Now, customers lose, and Apple gets 15-30% of nothing instead of a smaller percentage of something.

Michael Love:

This is pretty damning; suggests that even an in-app option ended up costing them more in commissions than it made them from extra sales. (and a strong argument for why 30% is in fact rent-seeking and not Apple getting what they deserve for reducing purchase friction) Michael Love added,

Previously: Apple and Google Face Growing Revolt Over App Store “Tax”.

Update (2019-01-01): Ben Bajarin:

No doubt more companies will follow this once they get big enough that customers won’t mind jumping through hoops to get what they want.


It was possible to pay for Spotify Premium using Apple’s in-app payment system (iAP). However, this has been discontinued for new subscribers.

Update (2019-01-04): Shona Ghosh:

Netflix has canned the ability for iPad and iPhone users to pay for the streaming service through iTunes, depriving Apple of an estimated $256 million in annual revenue.

John Gruber (tweet):

This is a big deal. Netflix is the top-grossing app in the App Store in the U.S. […] And keep in mind that Netflix has long had a special relationship with Apple, with an 85/15 cut from the start, not just after a year.


What gets me, though, are the rules that prevent apps that eschew in-app purchases from telling users in plain language how to actually pay. Not only is Netflix not allowed to link to their website, they can’t even tell the user they need to go to to sign up.


Apple should be earning its share of in-app subscription revenue by competing on convenience, not confusion and obfuscation.

Update (2019-01-16): The Talk Show:

Special guest Ben Thompson returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s horrible no good very bad earnings warning, the Chinese market, Apple’s push toward services for revenue growth, antitrust issues regarding the App Store, and more.

Swift 5: Raw String Literals


Escape characters provide useful and necessary capabilities but strings containing many escape sequences are difficult to read. Other languages have solved this problem by providing an alternate “raw” string literal syntax which does not process escape sequences. As the name suggests, raw string literals allow you to use “raw” text, incorporating backslashes and double quotes without escaping.

We propose to alter Swift’s string literal design to do the same, using a new design which we believe fits Swift’s simple and clean syntax. This design supports both single-line and multi-line string literals, and can contain any content whatsoever.

Erica Sadun:

Those extra pounds allow you to change the way Swift interprets escape sequences. They transform escapes from simple backslashes to \#. To insert a newline into a pound-delimited string, you type \#n and not \n. Similarly, string interpolation becomes \#(...interpolation...).

This system was inspired by the Rust programming language. Rust stacks one or more pounds at each end of a string (and prefixes the letter “r”) to create what it calls “raw strings”, that is strings without further escape sequence interpretation. You cannot incorporate interpolation or coded tabs, new lines, or returns.

Swift adopts the extensible delimiters (skipping the ugly “r”) but retains its useful escapes, including string interpolation. Swift adapts each escape sequence to match the number of pound signs used at the start and end of the string. Instead of “raw strings”, Swift has, well, let’s call them “medium rare strings”. It allows you to paste and preserve raw formatting while retaining the ability to insert escape sequences.

Update (2019-02-21): Erica Sadun:

The development, refinement, and deployment of SE-0200 Enhancing String Literals Delimiters to Support Raw Text was a long and surprising journey. It ended with a uniquely Swift take on “raw strings” that focused on adding custom delimiters to string literals and escape sequences.

This post discusses what raw strings are, how Swift designed its take on this technology, and how you can use this new Swift 5 feature in your code.

Deciphering the Postcard Sized Raytracer

Fabien Sanglard:

This time Andrew produced something a little bit more verbose but with a much more interesting visual result. Since I was done with my Game Engine Black Books about Wolf3D and DOOM, I had the time to take a deep look at the internals of his mysterious code. I rapidly found myself mesmerized by the techniques I discovered. They diverged drastically from Andrew’s previous work based on a “standard” raytracer. It was an interesting experience to learn about ray marching, constructive solid geometry functions, montecarlo/path tracing rendering, and the many tricks he used to pack everything within such a small area.

Previously: Business Card Raytracer.

Fortnite Was 2018’s Most Important Social Network

Bijan Stephen (via Hacker News):

It’s easy to forget that Fortnite — a cultural phenomenon that now has over 200 million registered players — began as a failure. It was conceived as a player vs. environment game that Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney described as a cross between Minecraft and Left 4 Dead in 2015, before co-opting the last-man-standing mechanics of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and becoming the biggest game on the planet.


The game’s real achievement is subtler, though. Epic Games managed to produce a hit, sure, but the genius of it is how it’s rewritten the idea of what hanging out online can be. Fortnite is a game, but it’s also a global living room for millions of people, and a kind of codex for where culture has gone this year — it’s a cultural omnibus that’s absorbed everything from Blocboy JB’s shoot dance to John Wick. It got Ted Danson to learn how to floss. This thing is here to stay, as a new kind of social network.

Richard Leadbetter (via John Gruber):

The truth is that aside from minor modifications to unlock the frame-rate and add the option to the game’s menu system, no substantial code revamp was required at all. Fortnite on the latest iPhones runs at 60 frames per second simply by virtue of the new Apple A12 Bionic silicon - or rather its increased power and crucially, its superior thermal performance.

Update (2019-01-01): Owen Williams:

Fortnite is different, because it’s not even about the game at all: it’s a place we’re all going together.

Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it’s become the coveted ‘third place’ for millions of people around the world.

Update (2019-01-23): Chris Kerr (via Hacker News):

Streaming mogul Netflix claims Fortnite is now a bigger competitor than other media companies like Game of Thrones and True Detective producer HBO.