A weekly round up of news and views from the tech, creative and business world.
A Spacecraft For All with fries, please
Space exploration isn’t cheap. Only governments and super-successful entrepreneurs have budgets big enough to put anything up into space, right? That all changed this week, when a crowd-funded mission to reboot a long-deactivated NASA probe succeeded in reanimating the zombie spacecraft. A team of civilian engineers, in the remnants of an old McDonalds buidling, managed to contact the satellite and get it up and running again. You can learn more about ISEE-3’s past, present, and future at this beautiful interactive website. Part of their goal is to prove that space can be accessible, envisioning a future with more and more access for everyday people. In the current economic climate where NASA is finding itself strapped-for-cash, it has been learning from crowd-sourced groups like those in charge of the ISEE-3 revival. Using a tournament model, NASA now hosts contests aimed at getting people thinking up solutions to some of their hardest problems.
Every kid dreams of being an astronaut at some point. Although the number of us who will actually leave the atmosphere may remain low for a while, the ability for anyone with an internet connection to become a rocket scientist is a promising forward-step for the future of space exploration.
Top Ten Reasons Buzzfeed Is Worth $50m. You Won’t Believe Number 6!
Buzzfeed has just closed a new $50 million investment deal from Andreessen Horowitz. The entertainment website is famous for its ‘listicle’-heavy content (featuring journalistic gems like “13 Potatos That Look Like Channing Tatum” and “Which “Friends” Character Should You Hide In Your Basement” ) and helping to popularise the clickbait headline format. To put that number into context, Buzzfeed is valued at more than three times that of the Washington Post, the newspaper that exposed the Watergate scandal, irrevocably tarnishing President Richard Nixon’s image.
This huge investment financially validates the rise of ‘snackable’ content: entertainment media designed for users to consume in short bursts. Articles are optimised for maximum sharability – Buzzfeed is all about clicks (and ad revenue) over content – and the company has extensive resources devoted to predicting what users share the most. Chris Dixon, partner at Andreessen Horowitz explains: “BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management.”
It’s easy to be cynical about Buzzfeed’s approach to creating content, but the company is clearly successful, pulling in 150 million average monthly viewers at a time when many news outlets are losing readers. This analytics-driven success gives it a firm base for planned expansion into new content sections, a startup incubator and BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, a Los Angeles-based film production studio.
Burying the Hachette
Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos with a simple ambition, aiming for explosive growth by undercutting his competitors. Combined with Amazon’s current market dominance, the internet retailer’s loss-leading business-model is attracting mounting controversy. In an attempt to exert more control over pricing, promotion and product placing, Amazon has blocked pre-orders for Disney’s summer blockbusters, repeating their treatment of French publisher Hachette Book group and Warner Bros. Amazon wants Hachette to set e-book prices to $9.99 to drive more sales, halting sales of Hachette books until demands are met.
As the argument escalates, the rhetoric of Amazon and its opposition is becoming increasingly strained. A group of notable authors, including John Grisham and Stephen King, have published a petition protesting Amazon’s actions in a New York Times advert, to which the internet retailer responded by misquoting George Orwell.
Some have tried to frame the dispute as one between the dinosaurs of publishing and disruptive new media, while others focus on Amazon’s desire to dominate the market at the detriment of content-creators. However, author John Scalzi notes in a remarkably level-headed blog post that ultimately the dispute is one in which everyone is in it for themselves, despite any ‘good-of-the-industry’ rhetoric that may suggest otherwise. These unusually public power struggles between Amazon, Hachette, Disney and others are between suppliers and distributors, and ultimately affect content-creators and end-consumers the most.
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