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A new digital life, same old problems


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At the heart of a lot of conflicts about digital life is one question: Should we hold everything that happens on the Internet to a higher standard than the old ways of the analog world?

This is a link between complaints selling products on amazon, distribute apps on the smartphone app store, trying to make a living on youtube or Airbnb. house on rent. In all those cases, people and businesses are complaining about the cost, regulations and uncertainty of activities that were even more cumbersome in the old days, if they were possible at all.

Some of these complaints are false, and some reflect a basic concern about life online. The Internet promised to replace the old ways, and it destroyed the power of old gatekeepers, like the bosses of Hollywood or big box stores, to say yes or no to the people they love. But in their place are new and equally powerful digital gatekeepers like Google and Apple, who can determine who wins or loses.

I’m thinking of this topic because of an email recently from an OnTech reader in Tucson named Susan, about app makers who say that Apple imposes unreasonable costs and complications on them and on iPhone users:

For many years, craftsmen have shared profits with a shop selling their handicrafts on consignment. When I started in the 70s, it was 60 percent for me and 40 percent for the shop owner. Later, the commission was sometimes 50/50.

This is why I am somewhat confused by the issue of App Store programmers taking commission for apps. What is the difference between app store and shop owner? Both are responsible for providing space for display to assure the buyer of the quality.

Susan isn’t invalidating the app makers’ complaints, but she’s providing helpful context: It always has been, and often for good reasons.

Stores have long decided which products appear on their shelves and how aggressively they are promoted to potential buyers. Apple is doing a virtual equivalent for apps. And as Susan (and apple), traditional stores typically cut a product’s retail price by up to 30 percent, compared to Apple’s commission on certain app transactions, such as streaming video subscriptions.

It makes sense to compare the old world to the digital and think: This new way isn’t so surprising, is it? It’s a good thing that I hear a lot from readers, not just about Apple.

I have also heard people asking whether it is appropriate that some members of Congress is trying to change the law to stop Amazon By building your own brands of coffee and sundresses that compete with merchants on Amazon’s digital mall. After all, traditional retailers have always been doing the same thing with their in-store versions of Tylenol and Cheerios. Why are people complaining about making videos on YouTube or TikTok? Breakneck speed and unexpected pay When is making a living in entertainment always a grind?

Those are fair points. But I also think those complaints reflect a mismatch of expectations and reality about the Internet. Anyone can create and post anything online now, but it can be incredibly difficult to get noticed. Enter the new gatekeepers who can be just as powerful and gracious as the old ones.

Someone making cat toys no longer needs to persuade a store to sell their products. She can set up her own website or sell on Amazon. But he may still have to spend a fortune advertising on Google or amazon Just to be noticed.

Similarly, a talented artist can make YouTube videos and give up trying to navigate the Hollywood studio system. But he’s on the whim of Google’s algorithms to watch and eventually get paid. A person with a great idea for a video game might build an app instead of persuading a big company to make the game, but he’s almost entirely dependent on the dictates of app store owners like Google and Apple. (Dozens of Attorney Generals sued google on Wednesday over claims the company abused its dictatorial app power.)

It is still a miracle that people can now reach billions of potential fans in just a few clicks. The old ways were cumbersome and difficult, but with the new ways the frustration is real.


  • This is Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook in full: In an excerpt from my colleagues’ new book on the company, Shira Frenkel and Cecilia Kang detail how Facebook’s woes over the past five years Sheryl Sandberg’s influence has waned, the second command of the company.

  • I need a database to track all technical litigationsDozens of attorneys general sued Google, the fourth antitrust lawsuit filed against the company by federal or state officials in the United States since October. It accuses Google of abusing its power over Android phones and imposing unfair terms on app makers. The lawsuit also puts pressure on Apple, which similarly runs its iPhone App Store, David McCabe and Dai Wakabayashi report.

  • Giant Kitty: a three dimensional Digital image of “a cat the size of a yacht” Tokyo is attracting crowds and fans, write my colleagues Hikari Hida and Mike Ives. Digital billboard calicos pop up briefly to greet people and snooze much like real cats do.

baby manatees!!!


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