Switchback: Talking Tech (Dec. 5)

Dec 05, 2014

The team from The Switch discussed everything from the latest political tech news to the gadgets you’re eyeing.

We are sooo close to the weekend, all.Polar bear

So let's get this thing moving.

Reader survey -- do people outside of DC/NYC know or care about the massive TNR shake up?

I'm going to go ahead and classify it as tech-ish because its has to do with a proposed shift to more digitally native writing and is all being masterminded by publisher/Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. 

I'm gonna go ahead and answer "no" on this one, Andrea — it seems like even media Twitter is rolling its eyes at itself this morning.

Ha -- we already got a question about it, so guess at least SOMEONE cares!

I'm seeing responses on Twitter (which, of course, is self-selecting) along the lines of, "I don't care how you organize your magazine, I just want good content to keep popping up in my various news feeds." As if, somehow, the two are unrelated. So maybe people care without knowing that they do. 

So for all you telecom nerds out there, last night was the annual #telecomprom — where the FCC's chairman gets up on stage and cracks a bunch of jokes at everybody's expense, including his own. 

Out of curiosity, any Switch readers show up to that?

Why do Silicon Valley types keep misusing the phrase "vertically integrated"?

I'm guessing that you're referring to the dustup over at the New Republic where the long-time editor Franklin Foer was let go and, it seems, many, many staffers have fled in response to that and other changes. But I'm not sure that the powers that be over there are misusing it. They, and others in their boat, are eager to be both a means for distributing content and the creators of content. They seem to be a bit more comfortable with the former than the latter, and so there's a tendency to embrace it when the going gets tough. But I'd love to hear more of your thinking on the matter. 

Answer: no. Answer to question on #telecomprom: no. I live in Canada.

The pictures of Brian, Andrea and Nancy are showing on the right side of the page but yours isn't. I would feel discriminated if I were you.

I appreciate your concern, but I have no one to blame but myself. Apparently when I made the chat this week, I somehow managed to hide myself. 

In Hayley's article about the Pew "Web IQ" study, one of the questions that a lot of people got wrong was to identify Sheryl Sandberg by her picture. Even if she did write a book that was talked about in some circles, isn't a question like that sort of insider-ish trivia? Is being able to identify top-level executives of companies really part of understanding how the internet (or any other industry) works for the average consumer? Or am I missing something?

I agree it wasn't the most troubling thing about that survey. But it does at least show that tech celebrities are still just that -- famous only in their own bubbles, for all the talk of tech "rockstars." Sandberg is probably one of the most prominent women in tech -- especially because of the Lean In movement --  but most people still thought she was Marissa Mayer.

Didn't I see this whole thing on Newsroom last week? Millennial with crazy ideas about what journalism should be buys legacy media institution, earns ire of all current staff?

So now the real question is if there will be a staff exodus in the next episode of the Newsroom, I suppose. 

People still watch the Newsroom?

Watching the Newsroom just makes me *really* want to watch The West Wing and Sports Night.

Confession: I'm still watching the Newsroom. It started out as hatewatching, but now I enjoy it even as I think it has major gender problems. Their version of the Snowden stuff is ridiculous/entertaining. 

At least you were in the chat calendar!

Huh. That's also probably also my fault somehow. Too much multitasking pre-coffee, perhaps. But thanks for letting us know!

What do you all think of the new chat format?

What do you think of the amount of money raised from the AWS-3 auction? What does it say about commercial carriers need for more spectrum and our never-ending use of data?

I have it on the brain because I'm working on a piece on transportation company valuations, but it occurs to me that the AWS-3 auction, while being hailed as hugely successful, has raised just enough money for the FCC to buy one Uber. 

There are two strains of thought. One is that it's a sign wireless carriers spent more than they thought they would and might not have anything left to spend on the broadcast incentive auction scheduled for 2016. The other is that perhaps this means wireless carriers might be inclined to spend *even more* on that auction because of the demand for sub-1Ghz airwaves. 

I'm more inclined to believe the latter. And if that's the case, it suggests more than ever that smaller, less wealthy competitors like Sprint and T-Mobile may benefit from efforts by the FCC to set aside some spectrum in the incentive auction and not allow the big guys (Verizon, AT&T) to force the bids sky-high.

I can read it from across the room. At least it's got that going for it.

I like it, even though people are complaining about the giant text. I think it's easier to read on a monitor, which is a good thing. I would add to all the requests for the other chats of the day to be put back in the sidebar. It is helpful. I also miss the bios of the chat participants! Bring them back! With the giant text, you have plenty of space in the sidebar.

So, it looks like Orion happened more or less flawlessly. Real shame it won't happen again for another four years. Not sure if there is really a question in here, but would love to hear the Switch's thoughts on NASA funding, where we should be going, and the role private companies can/should be playing.

Disclosure: I think space is super cool.

NASA funding has not been doing so hot in recent years -- and private industry has started to become a bigger part of launch activities -- but it hasn't always worked out so well

Humans have only been going into space for a tiny blink of our history, and it remains an incredibly dangerous proposition in most cases. NASA doesn't have a perfect success rate. But people looking at when NASA fails have noted that attempts to make things less expensive have often factored into those failures. Currently, there is very little regulation on commercial manned space flight when it comes to the safety of its crew. It's hard for me not to be a tiny bit concerned about how profit incentives might affect safety of those types of activities in the long haul, even as I am excited about the possibility of space flight becoming available to the masses as a result of that competition. 

Today's TNR dustup brings up a very important question for the future of media. There have been a spate of what one could call "trophy" or "vanity" purchases/startups of large media institutions by tech folks recently--TNR by Hughes, Firstlook by Omidyar, and WaPo by Bezos. Two of those three have run into very significant issues (so far the Post seems to be doing fine). The question here is should this serve as a cautionary tale to the Real Techguys of Silicon Valley that maybe the journalism world doesn't share their desire to reduce information down to bite (or byte) size pieces (which is what Hughes seems to want to do with TNR)?

I'm not sure I have any real answer to this, though I think those questions are hugely important. But I think it serves to highlight some lack of understanding of, well, how journalism gets made. Morale, collaboration, so on and so forth seem to be highly valued when folks are building code in Silicon Valley, but I think from reading about First Look especially you get the sense that some in the tech world don't get why journalists can't just pump out stellar content under any conditions. And I'll add that in the first two case you mention -- Chris Hughes at the New Republic and Pierre Omidyar at First Look -- you have non-journalists attempting to figure out the journalism part of the equation, not just the distribution and engagement parts of it. (For what it's worth, Hughes named himself editor-in-chief of TNR when he bought it.) It's one thing to be a funder and another thing to buy yourself an editor's job. 

Can we at least get the answers indented so it doesn't look like one big article?

To answer an earlier question about space exploration: I can envision a future where private spaceflight companies handle all of the sexy things — manned missions to Mars, setting up a moonbase, etc. — while publicly funded agencies do much of the basic but incredibly vital scientific research that helps humanity understand its place in the cosmos. Chances are Virgin Galactic and SpaceX won't be building the next space telescope or landing probes on asteroids. The government has a very big role to play in filling that gap.

So, I'm mildly obsessed with this whole "North Korea is so mad about a movie that it hacked Sony" business. Elaborate promotion scheme?

Per our own reporting, investigators looking into the hack say there does appear to be a North Korea link. One of the things I'm interested in is if it's a North Korean GOVERNMENT link, or if it's supporters of the regime acting independently... the latter of which I think makes for more cyberpunk kind of story, and isn't totally outside of the realm of possibility. 

Researchers are also nothing similar tactics in the Sony Pictures hack to the one that took out South Korean media and financial systems last year. 

Honestly, I'd be worried if North Korea didn't claim responsibility for every hack ever.

That's all the time we have for today! Thanks for joining — and here's the link for next week's chat. See you soon!

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Nancy Scola
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