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.

Filtering by Category: Technology

Time, thoughts, tools: pick two

The last few days, I discovered a few new tools or platforms from which you can publish blog entries (hat tip to Dense Discovery for most of them). Small Victories, Listed, Blot… All three platforms aim to make blogging easier than ever: by pluging themselves on top of the tools you already use. Whether it is through Dropbox folders or the Simple Notes app, they all seem Template-based and hassle-free. If you are on the newsletter bandwagon, your Substack archive can also be used as a blog.

All of this is probably a good sign that blogging is thriving, or needs to thrive again in the age of platforms (looking at you, Medium.)

Along with the magnificent Squarespace (or Kirby, or even Svbtle which I used before), it probably has never been easier to publish on your own blog. The days of setting up a WordPress just for a personal blog seem over, and I have not seen anyone using MarsEdit for ages.

If this is a golden age for blogs, then why has this one not been updated since February ? As Carl Barenbrug says, well, on his own blog, Twitter may be the culprit :

Although we are starting to see a new wave of blogging, many people use Twitter as a means to express themselves. I still use Twitter, so I can see some value in this platform, particularly to make personal and professional connections through common interests, or to simply share something I like. However, Twitter is also a tool that encourages negative, impulsive, and ill-considered behaviour. It doesn’t really keep our minds healthy—much like all social media—in the sense that we are constantly looking to see who has responded or engaged with what we have published.

When I see something interesting, rather than saving it, digesting it, deciding whether it should appear on the blog or Twitter, I tend to just tweet or retweet right away. Maybe it is lazyness, maybe it is the need to be among the firsts, but time management has become the hardest part of blogging.

Should you cover your PC's webcam? No, unless you still use software from ten years ago

Everybody reading this blog knows I'm a big fan of John Gruber's Daring Fireball. And while I don't always fully agree with him, I am 100% with him on the whole "cover your webcam shennanigans", and I could not have said it better :

I have never understood the mass paranoia over laptop webcams — which have in-use indicator lights, which I’ve seen no evidence can be circumvented on Macs from the last decade — and the complete lack of similar paranoia over microphones, which cannot be blocked by a piece of tape and which have no in-use indicator lights. And I don’t see anyone taping over the cameras on their phones.

Gruber commented on Joanna Stern's column for the Wall Street Journal; a very good article, which has the merits of existing and giving precise, documented answers to this question. But indeed, the whole piece is feeding the paranoia over laptop webcams.

If I had to chose a way to be hacked, between what my open laptop webcam sees, what is displayed on my screen, what the microphone can hear, what words (and passwords) I type on the keyboard, and what websites I visit, I would chose the laptop webcam.

I see more people with a piece of tape on their webcam than using a password manager. I see more people using fishy Chrome extensions with too much access than I see people using a proper 2-factor authentication or keep their devices updated.

In the end it is about feeling safer, and hardware's sense of security (locks on the door, blinds on the windows, piece of tape on the webcam) is much easier to control than software's (a complex and unique password for each app, encrypted messaging, 2-factor authentication, etc.) Why those basic things are not more often taught in schools is beyond me.

Social media is not all that bad if you listen to teenagers

Katie Notopoulos, writing on BuzzFeed News, on a new Pew Research Center report on social media and generation Z.

Much research has focused on social media being a huge waste of time at best, a facilitator of ideological bubbles, and a dangerous, hostile experience for young people at worst. But the 743 teens Pew surveyed say it’s actually, well, good. Millennials were the first to make social media mainstream, but might their Gen Z successors have figured out a better relationship with their smartphones? Growing up among devices and platforms could just make today’s teens better at incorporating technology into their lives than even the millennials before them, with greater awareness of the hazards. The internet clearly can be a dangerous place, but teens now have the self-awareness to know when it's time to unplug.

The study is a lot more nuanced than this, but Notopoulos explains it well. Anyway, this is, I think, a good reminder for us – older generations, including millenials like myself – to be more willing to learn from the youngests, and to be more careful on not ending up sounding like our own parents.

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.

European nations and their wish of not becoming "digital colonies"

Clothilde Goujard, writing for WIRED:

Although relatively novel, the concept of “digital sovereignty” can be roughly summarised as a country’s push to regain control over their own and their citizens’ data. On the military side, it includes the ability for a state to develop cybersecurity offensive and defensive capabilities without relying on foreign-made technology; on the economic side, it encompasses issues spanning from taxation of big tech to the creation of homegrown startups.

Seems a bit late for our governments to care about "digital sovereignty" when you look at the worlds of Google, Facebook, WeChat, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and how Europe has been lagging behind for years. How many of the big tech companies are European today? How many European companies will be part of that group in the next 10, 20 years?

Refusing to become a "digital colony" is one thing – and a totally reasonable thing to be concerned about – but switching the governent's default search engine from Google to Qwant is the digital equivalent of switching from semi-skimmed milk to skimmed milk for your morning coffee in your overall diet: It may make you feel better at the start of a new day, and… that's pretty much it.