Nicolas Magand on the internet

Comments about tech, media, nature, &c.

My name is Nicolas Magand and I live in Paris, France. I work as a social media and engagement editor at the Global Editors Network, a non-profit aimed at promoting innovation and sustainability in the news industry. Here I blog mostly about tech and media, but many other topics can face my enthusiasm.

An attempt at defining content

On the Financial Times, Lou Stoppard searches for a meaning of the word content and talks with a number of content professionals, including one of them, Raven Smith:

Content is the stuff that fills the feeds we’ve created. It’s meant to make us feel content. The idea of contentedness is now in question. The key is arresting people, keeping them watching, and ensuring they take something away from the watch (the takeaway could be anything from ‘the world is going to be OK’ to ‘I want that dress’). Tone and aesthetics vary greatly, but the ‘arrest, engage, activate’ process is the same.

A fascinating read. I have never quite liked that word myself, especially in French — contenu — which sounds off. The word content is so vague — from a single tweet to a whole TV show — and yet so useful for those numerous times when you cannot really say anything else without over-simplifying it, or for those times when you really cannot list all the different formats featured in one project.

The vagueness of the word is what makes it so appealing, and so empty at the same time. Sounds a lot like the nature of the content itself we generally consume in our feeds.

What happens to web traffic patterns when Facebook goes down

Chartbeat's Josh Schwartz, on the Nieman Journalism Lab, sharing what the web analytics company found when Facebook went down for 45 minutes in August 2018:

What did people do? According to our data, they went directly to publishers’ mobile apps and sites (as well as to search engines) to get their information fix.

Publishers must be happy about this : it means most users did not — after all — forget about them. It simply means they prefer to wait for their Facebook feeds to show them some news rather than visiting websites individually.

The users' blind trust or naïveté in the news feed is what has been problematic in the last couple of years: How accountable must algorithms be when it comes to news and informing the public, especially when we know that is how most people get their news?

This is a whole other debate, but then :

Google Chrome Suggestions, a personalized news feed built into Chrome’s mobile browser, is up 20×.

Facebook is the biggest fish in this pond and it — understandably — gets most of the attention but Google is right there, and this Chrome "personalized news feed" should also be questioned, along with YouTube, Google search results, and Google News.

Another interesting part:

Mobile traffic has seen double-digit growth and surpassed desktop, which saw double-digit declines.

Smartphones have definitely replaced PCs as the main — and sometimes only — computing device.

A few climate change realities

In a perplexing, worthwhile, but quite long, article on The New Yorker, Bill McKibben describes the reality of the world's situation towards climate change. If the second half tends to go nowhere as interesting as the title promises, they are some good bits to be shared here. A quick selection:

Late in 2017, a United Nations agency announced that the number of chronically malnourished people in the world, after a decade of decline, had started to grow again—by thirty-eight million, to a total of eight hundred and fifteen million," largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks."

Then this one:

Two centuries ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was two hundred and seventy-five parts per million; it has now topped four hundred parts per million and is rising more than two parts per million each year. The extra heat that we trap near the planet every day is equivalent to the heat from four hundred thousand bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.

An old classic:

Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000.

This:

By 2070, tropical regions that now get one day of truly oppressive humid heat a year can expect between a hundred and two hundred and fifty days, if the current levels of greenhouse-gas emissions continue.

And this:

By 2050, if temperatures rise by two degrees a quarter of the earth will experience serious drought and desertification. The early signs are clear: São Paulo came within days of running out of water last year, as did Cape Town this spring. In the fall, a record drought in Germany lowered the level of the Elbe to below twenty inches and reduced the corn harvest by forty per cent.

My favourite:

Alex Steffen, an environmental writer, coined the term “predatory delay” to describe “the blocking or slowing of needed change, in order to make money off unsustainable, unjust systems in the meantime.” The behavior of the oil companies, which have pulled off perhaps the most consequential deception in mankind’s history, is a prime example.

And the kicker:

This past May, a team of scientists from the University of Illinois reported that there was a thirty-five-per-cent chance that, because of unexpectedly high economic growth rates, the U.N.’s “worst-case scenario” for global warming was too optimistic. “We are now truly in uncharted territory.

Worrisome to say the least.

Reporters covering environmental issues are becoming more and more vulnerable

Eric Freedman, on the Nieman Journalism Lab, on the growing pressure surrounding environmental journalists:

Covering the environment is one of the most hazardous beats in journalism. According to one estimate, 40 reporters around the world died between 2005 and September 2016 because of their environmental reporting — more than were killed covering the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Environmental controversies often involve influential business and economic interests, political battles, criminal activities, anti-government insurgents or corruption. […] In both wealthy and developing countries, journalists covering these issues find themselves in the cross-hairs. Most survive, but many undergo severe trauma, with profound effects on their careers.

Sadly, not a surprise.

"I’m a nomad who goes nowhere" – Portrait of a young shepherd in France

AFP's Jeff Pachoud, on The Guardian, portraying the daily solitary life of a 24 years-old shepherd in the Alps through a beautiful photo album. The captions tell more than there is on the pictures:

From the start of his first season, Meme [the shepherd's name] found himself face to face with a wolf and had to fight it off. 'He was there on the end of my staff every evening for a week,’ the shepherd recalls. ‘When my first sheep was killed I immediately felt that I had failed, that I had not carried out my duty.’

Absolutely wonderful read, and gorgeous photographs by Pachoud. I wish there was more immersive storytelling like this.