Sunday, November 18, 2012

MediaWeek (V4, N47): App Developers, Saylor Education, 'Stealing Content', Free Apps + More

Why the App Developer's life is like an author's: lonely, expensive and (generally) anonymous (NYTimes):
For many of the developers not working at traditional companies, moreover, “job” is a misnomer. Streaming Color Studios, a game developer, did a survey of game makers late last year. The 252 respondents, while not a scientifically valid sample and restricted to one segment of the app market, indicated what many people had suspected: the app world is an ecology weighted heavily toward a few winners.
A quarter of the respondents said they had made less than $200 in lifetime revenue from Apple. A quarter had made more than $30,000, and 4 percent had made over $1 million.
A few apps have made it extremely big, including Instagram, the photo-sharing app that was bought by Facebook in April for $1 billion. When app developers dream, they dream of triumphs like that.
Most developers, however, make their money when someone buys or upgrades their app from Apple’s online store, the only place consumers can buy an iPhone or iPad app.
Apple keeps 30 percent of each app sale. While its job creation report trumpets the $6.5 billion the company has paid out in royalties, it does not note that as much as half of that money goes to developers outside the United States. The pie, while growing rapidly, is smaller than it seems.
“My guess is that very few developers make a living off their own apps,” said Jeff Scott, who runs the Apple app review site and closely tracks developments in the field.
Can Michael Saylor turn education free? (Chronicle):
Academic editors hired by the foundation edit the curated content, which is then posted online. The course then undergoes another round of review by a panel. The result is a curated list of education links that Mr. Saylor and his colleagues say add up to the equivalent of a college major. Since open-source textbooks are difficult to find, the foundation has awarded $20,000 each to four textbook authors willing to relicense their textbooks under Creative Commons.
Despite Mr. Saylor's enthusiasm, the foundation has not gained much momentum yet, said Richard Garrett, vice president of Eduventures, an education consulting company. Though the site offers high-quality academic content, he said, the largely self-paced nature of the courses and the lack of peer engagement could drive students to other online programs instead. "The question is, is it a sufficiently engaging and immersive experience and sufficiently social to command mainstream rather than marginal interest?" he said. "We may be coming to the point now, with the MOOC's commanding so much attention, where we need a bit more glitz and glamour and personality around Saylor to compete."
In New York magazine Boris Kachka disects the Jonah Lehrer (the guy who stole content from himself) but doesn't come up with much of a conclusion (NYMag):
If Lehrer was misusing science, why didn’t more scientists speak up? When I reached out to them, a couple did complain to me, but many responded with shrugs. They didn’t expect anything better. Mark Beeman, who questioned that “needle in the haystack” quote, was fairly typical: Lehrer’s simplifications were “nothing that hasn’t happened to me in many other newspaper stories.”
Even scientists who’ve learned to write for a broad audience can be fatalistic about the endeavor. Kahneman had a surprise best seller in 2011, Thinking, Fast and Slow. His writing is dense and subtle, as complicated as pop science gets. But as he once told Dan Ariely, his former acolyte, “There’s no way to write a science book well. If you write it for a general audience and you are successful, your academic colleagues will hate you, and if you write it for academics, nobody would want to read it.”
For a long time, Lehrer avoided the dilemma by assuming it didn’t apply to him, writing not for the scientists (who shrugged off his oversimplifications) or for the editors (who fixed his most obvious errors) but for a large and hungry audience of readers. We only wanted one thing from Jonah Lehrer: a story. He told it so well that we forgave him almost ­everything.
In The Atlantic, are we living in a fools paradise where much of what we value is free? How long will this last?. This is mostly interesting for the comments. (Atlantic)
But what's distinct about many of these innovations is that, unlike the generation of inventions that came out of the 1930s, they're basically free. Phones cost money, data plans are expensive, and Internet connections aren't cheap. But the software products and smart phones apps that some of this generation's smartest young men and women are dedicated their lives to building cost nothing or next to it. Users might considers that observation obvious. And it is. But it's also really, really weird.
The app economy -- a basically free technology revolution that costs nothing to users except our attention -- happened to arrive as millions of people had very little to pay for new products. It was the perfect tech revolution for the perfect moment: Software being the cheapest means of reaching a wide audience; venture capital firms being hungry for hot new services and apps that used software to capture millions of users; and then dangling somewhere in the distant future, the promise of monetization.
From Twitter:

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Vacation next week - Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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