The day BBC Food died

So it begins. The BBC Food website is to be axed. 11,000 recipes on a usable, inclusive website are to vanish, because Tories have been convinced by their rich friends that competition is only acceptable when the BBC is out of the running, and that the BBC Food website apparently is too dominant (i.e. not rubbish).

According to the BBC, scrapping the website is part of a plan to cut £15m from the corporation’s online budget, even though leaving the website up would cost naff-all. Furthermore, a BBC source stated:

What we do has to be high quality, distinctive, and offer genuine public value. While our audiences expect us to be online, we have never sought to be all things to all people and the changes being announced will ensure that we are not.

This is a rocky road the BBC is heading down — being forced to head down. The Conservatives would prefer at most for the BBC to become a broadcaster of last resort — a small PBS-style outfit that only creates content that others cannot or will not. Now, it’s being urged to not compete with other terrestrial broadcasters in prime-time slots, to pare back its website, and to focus on more niche fare.

We’ve seen this play out before. In a few years, Conservatives will be slamming the BBC for not having enough TV audience share/overall website users to justify the licence fee. The BBC will be told it is a broadcaster that’s supposed to cater for everyone, but now it’s only serving the few. And it’ll be ordered to pivot accordingly. Rinse and repeat.

All the while, the general public — still largely pro-BBC — will gradually get increasingly irritated by the corporation, and see less value in the licence fee. If enough people are hoodwinked, there’ll be a call for it to be scrapped entirely. And Rupert Murdock will crack an evil grin, while figuring out how he can somehow close down The Guardian and The Mirror.

Update: As Tom Pride notes, Murdoch has a couple of recipe sites waiting to launch. I can’t imagine that had anything to do with getting the BBC to scrap its recipe website, and also only have future recipes online for 30 days.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: Politics, Television

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Instagram’s new logo: about fitting in, not thinking different

The Guardian reports on Instagram’s new logo. I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the design — there are far more qualified writers for doing that kind of thing. What disappoints me, though, is any sense of individuality has been eroded from the icon, in a desire to ‘fit in’.

instagram logo

I recently wrote a piece about inspiring icon design (yet to be published), and praised Instagram:

Thumbing its nose to Jony Ive, Instagram’s icon remains resolutely old-school (as far as an app icon can be), suiting its retro nature. Even if it sticks out a bit, the icon may stand the test of time better than minimal rivals.

As of now, this is no longer the case. Instagram’s icon is yet another slice of flat design. It doesn’t look distinct, now resembling dozens of other camera app icons.

Two blog posts outline the reasoning for the changes. The new logo apparently intends to reflect the evolution of the service and “how vibrant and diverse your storytelling has become”, while “staying true to Instagram’s heritage and spirit”. Notably, the company argues that it wanted to

create a look that would represent the community’s full range of expression — past, present, and future.

It certainly succeeds on the present, in that Instagram’s logo now looks much like any other app logo in this era of flat design with occasional gradient use. But it’s largely jettisoned Instagram’s past (suggesting the gradient recalls the old logo’s rainbow is a stretch). As for the future, I suspect Instagram will find itself redesigning again once the next interface design evolution takes hold.

May 12, 2016. Read more in: Design

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NOW TV: when your competition is Netflix, you need to be better than Netflix

I have subscriptions to Netflix and NOW TV. The former is well-known. For those unfamiliar with the latter, it’s a kind of on-demand Sky, without signing up to full Sky. I mostly subscribed to it for a season of Game of Thrones, reasoning that the entire series through NOW TV would cost less than the DVDs, and there would be other things to watch. Said other things have led to the NOW TV subscription remaining active.

However, in using both services, you can see the differences between a market leader entirely reliant on everything working well, and a challenger doing so with only half an eye on the game. Netflix may have its quirks, but it’s a broadly usable, stable and reliable service. NOW TV, on the other hand, ranges from reasonable to outright user-hostile.

Despite being running for years, NOW TV lacks subtitles. And when you watch shows, there are channel stings throughout. Nothing boosts the tension or excitement in a show as much as abruptly seeing the FOX or Sky Atlantic logo twice in a row. Additionally, NOW TV frequently fails to connect, and the third-gen Apple TV app remains atrocious, ignoring even the bare basics of providing a list of recently watched shows. To get to a new episode, you therefore go to one of the vague categories, scroll until you reach the show you want, flick through to the most recent season, and then scroll to pick the latest episode. Rubbish.

Today, I received an email stating that NOW TV’s throwing another curveball. Children’s channels Nickelodeon and Nick Jr are being carved off and turned into part of a separate ‘Kids Month Pass’. The Disney Channel is also vanishing from the standard Entertainment Month Pass, for other reasons. In return for all this, a new channel is arriving in their place… Nat Geo Wild.

This all strikes me as cynical. Any parent knows how useful streaming services can be, but at least with Netflix you’re not expected to double your outlay. In combination with all the other problems, it makes me wonder what NOW TV’s end game is. It’s almost like a Netflix mole is in charge of NOW TV, and enters every meeting screaming “How can we ensure our product is worse than theirs?” while baffled but loyal underlings nod along.

May 5, 2016. Read more in: Opinions, Technology, Television

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App Store search is currently broken

Developer Travis Ryan just noted to me on Twitter that App Store search is broken. Presumably, this is a temporary glitch, but it’s frustrating for developers. In Ryan’s case, a search for Dashy Crashy doesn’t bring up his excellent game of the same name. All you get is Dashy Crashy Bird, a one-thumb sort-of Flappy Bird clone.

Once Ryan reminded me, I realised that I’ve seen this problem crop up quite a bit recently, although I’d never really thought much of it. When writing round-ups, I’d not find the odd app by searching the App Store, and would then check online to see if it still existed. I’d end up on iTunes Preview, click View in iTunes, and then go straight to the app’s page to install it.

All this makes me think is that, once again, the App Store needs a serious kicking. But also Apple needs to do a bit more stealing. I might grumble about Android and that Google Play is mostly full of garbage, but at least when I find something I want to install on my Android devices, I can do so from the web. That Apple doesn’t yet allow me to install an app or game from Safari (or, for that matter, an iPad app from an iPhone) is ludicrous. It’s not so much a walled garden at that point as walled stupid.

Developer Gary Riches says this screw-up has led to daily sales falling by 66 per cent, and adds that you “literally cannot find my app, even by keyword“.

Update: it’s fixed now. Apple presumably glared at the server hamster. WORK HARDER, SERVER HAMSTER. OUR BOTTOM LINE HAS FALLEN. NO HAMSTER FOOD FOR YOU TODAY.

May 5, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Apps, Opinions, Technology

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Fake Windows support calls ramp up their insulting behaviour, say to “kill yourself”

I get a call almost daily from ‘Microsoft’ (i.e. not Microsoft) and/or its ‘Windows technical department’, from a very Indian-sounding person with a very not-Indian sounding name. These calls annoy me, because it’s a well-known scam, and one that does sadly sometimes work with people who don’t realise they’re being scammed.

Generally speaking, I just hang up. Occasionally, I rudely brush them off. But I’ve had people say these callers are just doing their job. They’re making a living. So with today’s call, I tried a different tactic: I thought I’d reason with the person. I just wish I had a recording of it, because it was astonishing.

The call started off in the usual way, with someone trying to convince me about a problem with my ‘Windows PC’. When I asked for clarification (given that I don’t actually have a Windows PC running—not that I revealed this), I was told various vaguely technical things about my computer apparently sending messages to their server and having malicious software installed.

I figured I’d try to reason with this person, and asked which company they were calling from. I then asked if they were using a randomised auto-dialling system or actually have a specific list of numbers to call. Because the caller was getting increasingly frustrated, the mask slipped—and how. First, he called me stupid. He then added, for good measure, that I was “talking too much”. I suggested that if he was wanting someone’s business, insulting them probably wasn’t a good way to go about it. Oddly, he still tried selling, but I continued to push, very politely, about the list the company is using and why it was calling.

I was then informed that I was “mental”, and a “mental patient” and that I should go and kill myself. The method was to “go to your nearest train station and jump in front of a moving train”. Classy.

Frankly, I was never under the impression these scammers were good people, but even if you find yourself in a frustrating position and doing a horrible job, inviting someone to kill themselves when you don’t get your way is going a bit beyond the pale.

May 5, 2016. Read more in: Technology

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