Learning by Proxy | Newspaper

You would suppose that organisations that are in the business of news gathering would foresee the changing trends in the world!

In the movie Jurassic Park, the scientists try to resurrect dinosaurs and it does not end well for anybody - even the dinosaurs. Now, governments are trying to do the same with businesses. It will not end well.


Newspapers first started in Rome, more as a public announcement system by the government. They looked like pamphlets rather than the form which we know today. Throughout history, information was disseminated by kings and governments by the issue of notices to the population. It was not until the 17th century when Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press and unleashed the torrent of words that continues to grow!

At the time, it was used to publish books. The first newspaper, as we know them today, was published in Germany in 1605.

As printing spread across Europe, so did newspapers, and all the countries got their own. Eventually, all the cities and towns had one of their own. The first newspaper in America was printed in 1690, by Benjamin Harris.

Those who learnt the craft of printing often created a newspaper of their own, since there were not as many books to print in those days. One such famous printer who learnt the trade from his brother was Benjamin Franklin and he ran a newspaper called The New England Courant, founded in Boston. To fill up the newspaper, Benjamin used to write letters to himself under various pseudonyms, the most famous was a widow called Mrs Silence Dogood.

News collection as a business really took off in the 19th century, thanks to the need to disseminate information about the markets. Paul Reuter, who was a book publisher in Aachen, started distributing pamphlets in 1848 at the beginning of the revolution. After experimenting with news collection using homing pigeons and telegraph, he moved to London to establish a news wire agency. He had had the experience of working with another organisation in France before moving to London, which was called Agence-Presse-France (AFP).

At the beginning of the 20th century, newspapers were the only reliable way to reach individuals and disseminate any information. So as enterprises emerged, they started using the newspapers to advertise.

Source: Ben Evans

The consistent rise of advertising and print through the 20th century was brought to an abrupt end by the internet. What is even more interesting is that the internet shrank the amount of money being spent on advertising! Advertising spends never recovered after the dotcom bust of 2000.

How we acquire our information has also been changing. We go to search engines rather than open up a newspaper. Most millennial do not subscribe to a newspaper at home.

Source: Ben Evans

Also, online advertising has two additional benefits - targeting and compartmentalisation. I can reach out to a very specific category of people through targeting. There was a story of a man using a Facebook ad to propose to his girlfriend! He was sure there would be no other person in that pin code who had gone to the specific school his girlfriend had gone to. Also, you can buy one $1 ad online, this would not be possible on any other media.

So what happened?

Of all the stakeholders in the advertising space, print has seen its share fall the most staggeringly. They have access to the halls of power in every country because of their work.

Their argument - search engines need to show relevant links. They use news links without paying for the value that they derive from them. Social media requires engagement, news drives an enormous amount of that engagement, and still, they do not get compensated.

So, in Europe and Australia, legislators have been pushing for laws that force search engines and social media companies to share their income with the publications.

Google and a French publishers’ lobby said on Thursday they had agreed to a copyright framework for the U.S. tech giant to pay news publishers for content online, in a first for Europe.

The move paves the way for individual licensing agreements for French publications, some of which have seen revenues drop with the rise of the Internet and declines in print circulation.

Source: Reuters

For Google, their (always unsuccessful) moonshots have meant that they heavily depend on the ad revenue. They cannot afford legal hassles and they played nice.

Just a few weeks after Google threatened to leave Australia if the government forced tech platforms to pay for news, the search giant is suddenly showering money on its most demanding critics.

With groundbreaking legislation expected to pass this week or next, Google has sought to blunt the impact by striking deals of its own with media companies, including two in recent days worth tens of millions of dollars a year. Another, with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, was announced on Wednesday in a three-year arrangement that includes content from The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch and The New York Post.

Source: New York Times

The problem with this is, why not compensate for every link that you are pointing to? Who is a news organisation? Should Google pay to only those organisations that are large and have negotiating power? What about every blogger? Should they not be compensated as well?

An action taken to create the law has far-reaching repercussions! Also, these arguments can rear their heads tomorrow.

The governments, on their part, argue that news gathering organisations are important and they need to be kept alive. Well, in that case, you need to provide them with a subsidy, not force deals that certain companies need to make.

Facebook called the bluff and show them their place. They blocked all Australian news outlets from having their link posted or even being able to post their own links on Facebook. For good measure, they blocked all the Australian government sites, which they enabled later with an apology.

None of this should have been a surprise. Back in September we wrote about Facebook publicly saying that if Australia went forward with its ridiculous attack on the open internet, and instituted a “news link tax” on Facebook and Google, that it would block news links on Facebook in Australia... and basically everyone ignored it. So, yesterday, when Facebook announced that it was no longer allowing news to be shared in Australia (and relatedly, no longer allowing the sharing of Australian news services on Facebook), it should not have been a surprise.

And yet... it seemed to make tons of people freak out for all the wrong reasons. Almost everyone started blaming and attacking Facebook. And, look, I get it, Facebook is a terrible, terrible company and deserves lots of blame for lots of bad things that it does. But this ain’t it.

Source: Techdirt

Facebook is a lot of bad things, but in this case, the only ones wrong are the government and the print establishment. The internet is inherently open by its construct. Everyone may link to everyone else, just like I have referenced a bunch of articles in this piece itself. Denying this openness is breaking the internet itself.

Also, are you telling me that the scoundrels at Fox - with whom Google has cut a deal as referenced above - really need bailing out?

More broadly,

If one cares about these things, it’s worth noting that a lot of Google and FB ad revenue doesn’t actually come from things that used to be in newspapers: many of their advertisers are SMEs that rarely advertised before, while many actual newspaper advertisers moved to things that don’t look like ads at all. The real estate agent that bought inserts now pays Zillow or Zoopla, and the soap company is paying Amazon for search placement (Amazon had close to $20bn in revenue from this in 2020, and perhaps more profit than AWS). Meanwhile, very little of the traffic on Google or Facebook comes from news, and very little advertising (and less with much value) appears next to news search results. Google didn’t take their money, any more than Boeing took money from the ocean liners. The internet destroyed the model.

Source: Ben Evans

The legislators are looking for a fall guy that they can easily pin the blame on. They are not seeking to understand the problem and find a solution. Print Media will probably go extinct or adapt. New York Times is an outstanding example of this.

The attempts to save newspapers from going extinct has gone to an extreme this time.

Then both parties bit into the dust. A compromise was struck.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it would lift a ban on Australians viewing and sharing news on its platform after it struck a deal with the government on proposed legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.


Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australia’s efforts to make two major gateways to the internet, Google and Facebook, pay for the journalism that they use — a faceoff that governments and tech companies the world over have watched closely. Google also had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because of the proposed law, but that threat has faded.

Source: Seattle Times


English Troubles

Uber has had a tough time in England. They had their license suspended a couple of years ago and have had a tough time proving that they are a legitimate taxi operation. Now, their problems are going to stem from the fact that the law of land has deemed them a legitimate taxi operation. Ironic how irony works!

The employment status of Uber drivers is coming down to geography. In California, Uber convinced voters in November that its drivers are in fact contractors. In the UK this week, the highest court in the country wasn’t so easily swayed.

The UK Supreme Court ruled this week that Uber must treat its drivers there as workers, not as self-employed contractors. The decision paves the way for Uber drivers in the UK to get benefits such as minimum wage and paid leave.

Source: Quartz

Encouraged by his investors, Travis Kalanick created a company that was consistent at only one thing - its disregard for the law. The new CEO must clean out the mess that has been created.

More importantly, this has far-reaching consequences for all startups that are in the gig economy space.

Both the stories above illustrate only one thing. That the internet has to be regulated globally and with a shared principal. These piecemeal approaches will not work.


Insecure Amazon

Every time a legitimate threat has emerged to the Amazon business, the company has moved to either kill them with dirty tricks or they have worked hard to buy them out.

There is a new kid in town, growing faster than Amazon - Shopify.

Shopify is a Canadian company that provides the tools to build e-commerce sites. Last year, they also integrated delivery and fulfilment to their offering, seeing the large scale that they possess.

Source: Ben Evans

Shopify has a turnover that 40% of that of Amazon. Also, at its current pace, the company will match Amazon in a matter of 3-5 years. That has got to be sending alarm bells ringing inside Amazon.

Shopify can neither be threatened nor coerced. Shopify results from unhappy sellers looking for a direct route to their customers.

Amazon bought Selz

About a month ago, Selz, an Australian tech company, quietly announced it was being acquired by Amazon. Selz helps businesses set up and manage online stores without needing much technical expertise. In that regard its similar to Shopify, the fast-growing platform powering the e-commerce of an increasing number of small and large companies.

Source: Quartz

Selz does exactly what Shopify does. But that is also something that Amazon allows on its own site. Why get another company when you have built the stack decades ago?


Sellers don’t trust Amazon anymore, and they have seen repeatedly that Amazon does not care. So getting a company and running it at arm’s length while providing it all the financial firepower it needs to take on Shopify might be one way of doing it. It just may be too little, too late.

Sellers on Shopify includes the likes of Unilever, Heinz and others. They will not fall for these tricks!


In the summer of 1997, before I even had access to the internet, I used to cut out every article from the Times of India on space. It was in that summer that NASA landed its first rover on Mars called Sojourner as a part of a mission called Pathfinder. It was a shin-high rover that had cameras mounted on it. Enclosed in a pyramid surrounded by airbags that would deploy moments before it hit the surface of the planet.

Since then there have been several rovers slightly larger each time that have landed on Mars. But to perform the experiments that they wish to, NASA scientists needed a rover the size of a car. Now, you cannot toss a self-driving car with a lab built into it expecting airbags to cushion it!

This makes Perseverance a massive achievement. The rover landed on Mars through controlled descent using thrusters. The animation below would give you an understanding of what they had to pull off.

The thing that makes it challenging is that you get ONE chance to get it right, 150 Million Kilometres away. So you need every calculation to be precise.

How precise - When New Horizon launched on Jan 19, 2006, and reached Pluto 9.5 years later, it was off from NASA calculations by a minute. A journey of over 3 Billion Kilometres.

Images from the rover and the descent vehicle came in immediately.

Rovers are quite slow, they depend on solar energy and move at about a few metres a day. So this time the rover is also carrying a helicopter which will make it possible for us to cover more distance and get a fresh perspective of Mars as well.

There is no way to understate this achievement.


It is very sad to see this level of environmental degradation. Wild animals eating plastic.

The engine of US238 blew up right after takeoff.

How the forest catches on fire. This is a controlled burn to clear the dried grass on the floor of the forest.

Will your iceberg float? Draw one and see.

How the youngsters are editing video. Watch till the end.

Death of a glacier.

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha