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The social networks ‘designed to tear us apart’ – podcasts of the week | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

Sudhir Breaks the Internet
Sudhir Venkatesh boasts an impressive CV, having worked for the FBI, Facebook and Twitter. He is also a sociologist, meaning that he’s able to look back at his time working with government and big tech, to examine the growth of online misinformation with an expert eye. Don’t expect a fawning look at social media’s huge ethical and practical dilemmas in this new Freakanomics podcast; his first episode, titled “Designed to Tear Us Apart”, considers how division and hate have thrived on the platforms he worked for – and the inertia behind the scenes. Hannah J Davies

Secret Sauce
What’s the special ingredient that makes a company revolutionise the way people do things? Entertaining entrepreneurs John Frye and Sam Donner look for the magic in their new podcast about successful businesses that stand out from the crowd. First up is the story of Airbnb, starting with the question: “Who would let a total stranger come and stay in their house?” The answer lies in the company’s phenomenal growth and what makes a company a “unicorn”, with the show livened up by Frye and Donner’s stories about accidentally blasting out Taylor Swift during a pitch. Hannah Verdier

‘Scarecrows, fires and hardening tongues’ ... BBC Sounds’ The Sink.
‘Scarecrows, fires and hardening tongues’ … BBC Sounds’ The Sink. Photograph: BBC

Chosen by Nicholas Alexander

Do you ever pop on a podcast to fall asleep to? I do. Every night. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be familiar with that feeling of drifting off while listening. Sentences swim around you, stripped of their meaning. Words collect in little incoherent groups at the edge of consciousness, as you tip-toe a tightrope on the outskirts of sleep.

In BBC Sounds’ comedy-horror ‘sleep-aid’ The Sink, writer Natasha Hodgson, producer Andy Goddard, and composer David Cumming, have somehow managed – through alchemy of language and sound – to recreate that exact feeling.

Even while trying to remember certain scenes to write this piece, I find them slipping away like dreams. I think it’s something to do with their lack of internal logic – shapes shift, locations lurch, characters change – but I can’t be sure. What I do remember is that there are birds, scarecrows, fires, swimming pools, other things.

I also remember the dreamlike quality of Hodgson’s prose – “you’re more tired around your face, your eyes are soiled and your tongue’s gone hard”; “your colours have been pushed around, everything’s very, very close to your ears now” – and that Alice Lowe’s reads are an absolute dream.

I highly recommend it, but with one caveat. DON’T listen while trying to get to sleep. This podcast is a lot of things – intricately written, stunningly sound-designed, laugh out loud funny, unusually unsettling – but an aid for restorative sleep, it is not.

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Amazon Web Services outage hits sites and apps such as IMDb and Tinder | Amazon

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Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.

Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.

“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.

“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.

Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.

Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.

Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.

Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.

The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.

In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.

In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.

Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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