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The East African : Sep 19th 2015
34 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK SEPTEMBER 19-25,2015 Apple’s newest emoji lacks cultu≥al dive≥sity By CAITLIN DEWEY Washington Post Google is increasing its influence through reaching out to publishers Picture: File APPLE HAS NOT yet released its newest emoji to the public, but we got a preview Wednesday afternoon: That’s when Owen Williams, a reporter for the Next Web, spotted the new characters in a beta OS release, uploaded for Apple developers. None of the new emoji Google, Twitter working with partners on faster-loading links The move is one of seve≥al Google initiatives meant to inc≥ease its influence with publishe≥s A JOINT REPORT The New York Times I n a world where many people read everything on mobile phones, a few seconds of load time can mean the gain or loss of millions of readers and advertising dollars. Now Google wants to help publishers — and itself — by speeding things up. Google is working with the social media service Twitter and major news publishers like the Guardian and the New York Times to create a new kind of Web link and article storage system that loads online news articles and digital magazine pieces in a few milliseconds, according to several people involved in the project. That is a fraction of the 5 to 10 seconds it can take to load a typical website. The project is still in its early stages, and many details are still in flux, according to the people involved, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the partners had not yet made an announcement. The goal is to develop a universal standard for publishers — one that could be used to load articles more quickly wherever they appear. But accomplishing that while retaining the look and feel of those pages has proved difficult. The effort is also an at- tempt to protect the Web from the onslaught of mobile applications and steer publishers away from the closed, proprietary systems that are being built by companies like Facebook, Apple and Snapchat. “Google and Twitter are rightly fearful that publishers are going to start doing something specific for Facebook and they will become an afterthought,” said Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, an industry publication that closely tracks Google and the search industry. The move is one of several Google initiatives meant to increase its influence with publishers. The company is also exploring ways to use its search engine to increase traffic to high-quality publisher content. Google makes most of its money from ads sold on websites, including its own search page. For its part, Twitter, which depends heavily on conversations around news articles for its traffic, wants to keep visitors on its platform longer. The new technology would also more prominently display tweets embedded on Web pages. Twitter and Google de- clined to comment on the project, which is expected to be announced with initial test partners within the next four to six weeks. Eileen Murphy, a New York Times spokeswoman, confirmed that The Times was one of those initial partners and has been helping Google develop the format. The tech news site Recode first reported on the project last week. According to the people involved in the project, publishers would have to slightly alter their articles’ Web coding and make it available to be copied, or cached, so that it could be quickly loaded on Web browsers, Twitter or other services, even those that don’t participate. But articles would look and behave like anything else on the Web — complete with banner ads, photos and links to other articles. Pinterest, the picture-shar- ing platform, is also involved in the project. The new method is also expected to work on blogs created on the WordPress publishing platform. The more time people spend with mobile devices, the less they use the Web. This year, US smartphone users are projected to spend 81 per cent of their time using mobile apps, versus 19 per cent using the mobile Web, according to eMarketer, a research firm. People often favour mobile apps because they are faster, cleanly formatted and constantly updated to take advantage of the evolving features of new smartphones. Despite the migration to apps, much of the content inside popular services like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest continues to come from Web links. Compared with many apps, the Web feels clunky and slow, adding seconds of load time that can prompt ALREADY THERE Facebook, which is the largest source of referral traffic for many news publishers, began testing a format it calls Instant Articles. Apple will soon begin offering curated news content from many publishers through an Apple News app And Snapchat, a messaging service, has been working with publishers on custom article formats for its app. impatient mobile users to move on to something else. Facebook, which is the largest source of referral traffic for many news publishers, began testing a format it calls Instant Articles in May with a handful of large publishers like The Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic and NBC News. Facebook hosts the con- tent on its social network and presents it in a streamlined format that loads up to 10 times faster than a typical mobile Web article. Facebook also offers these publishers the choice of selling their own ads on their articles or sharing the proceeds of ads that Facebook sells. Apple will soon begin offering curated news content from many publishers through an Apple News app built into the latest version of its operating system for iPhones and iPads. By Conor Dougherty and Vindu Goel Apple has been accused of using emojis that do not represent cultural diversity. Picture: File were surprises. They’re all based on guidance from the Unicode Consortium, which approved a batch of new characters in June. But each individual tech company has enormous latitude in designing its emoji and choosing exactly how they display on your screen. so unappetising. While Emojipaedia describes the new taco emoji as “a Mexican food item,” the taco depicted by Apple isn’t Mexican at all. Crispy taco shell, strips of lettuce, shredded yellow cheese: This is the stuff of American fast-food chains, not Mexican cuisine. Crispy, preformed shells didn’t even exist before Glenn Bell realised they’d make a good vessel for holding greasy globs of ground beef and maltodextrin together as a cashier strained to pass it to a drive-through customer. Food writer Jonathan Kauffman in 2011 said: “The anglo taco that I grew up with owes its existence to American fast-food companies.” So too does the taco emoji, incidentally: Taco Bell sponsored a popular Change.org petition for its version of the character, which looks an awful lot like the ones that both Unicode and Apple have since released. “America wants a taco emoji,” the petition insists. “America needs a taco emoji.” Herein lies my concern, and annoyance, with the taco emoji. Despite the fact that iPhones are currently sold in more than 60 countries around the world, and that emoji are frequently held up as a sort of universal tongue, the sole priority seems to be what America eats. That observation doesn’t apply only to Apple’s new additions: It’s also true of most of Unicode’s recent food-emoji decisions. Turkey, popcorn and hot dogs joined this round; bacon is up as a candidate for the next. Where are the African stews? The Jewish bagels? The tandoori chicken? Perhaps Unicode should consider factors like diversity alongside its usual criteria. Both Apple and the Uni- code Consortium, longcriticised for their sorry representations of diversity, have taken significant steps to correct it: Apple’s last update added more skin tones, for instance, and this one will add mosques and cricket to the existing mix of American and East Asian activities. No doubt there are also design concerns at play here: Maybe Yellow #5 taco shells display better than boring old corn tortillas do. But whatever the exact motivations or justifications, it still seems lazy, and like an opportunity lost. Given the chance to decide the icon for a specific cultural product— to literally pick what version of that thing becomes iconic — wouldn’t you choose the one that’s most culturally authentic? Writing earlier this year, after Unicode revealed its draft for the taco emoji, the blog “L.A. Taco” argued that it is imminently possible to design a taco that is attractive, recognisable and authentically Mexican: In fact, they commis- sioned the artist Andy Eo to prove it. Like the designers at Apple, he makes an icon that looks good large or small, that’s clear to anyone who’s ever had a taco. But his design decisions reflect a different set of priorities, a less culturally specific value system.
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