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Whenever I write about rip-offs, there’s inevitably some amount of whataboutism in the arguments from the ripper-offer or their defenders. So it was with last week’s brouhaha over blatant Wordle rip-offs appearing in the App Store, and Zach Shakked’s shameless “Wordle - The App” in particular.

Count me firmly in the “Everything Is a Remix” camp.1 George Lucas mashed up Flash Gordon with Kurosawa’s BME280 3.3V 5V Digital Temperature Humidity Pressure Sensor I2C/, built upon VFX innovations from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and created something utterly original in Star Wars. Quentin Tarantino obviously loved and drew inspiration from Ringo Lam’s City on Fire,2 but Reservoir Dogs was anything but a rip-off. “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” — or something like that.

Some good rules of thumb, if you’re weighing whether a derivative new work crosses the threshold into ripping off the original: If the derivative steals the original’s title or name, that’s a rip-off. If the derivative is designed to confuse people into thinking it is the original — as Shakked’s Wordle clone clearly did — that’s a rip-off. If the derivative is indistinguishable from the original or brings nothing new to the table, it’s probably a rip-off.

One game that’s come up repeatedly in discussions about Wordle’s originality is Lingo, a TV game show that first ran in the U.S. in 1987,3 and versions of which remain on the air in a few countries, including the U.K. Current U.K. Lingo host Adil Ray posted this snippy tweet on January 5 — before the Wordle App Store kerfuffle:

Hey peeps, if you’re going to play a game that looks like ours, works like ours, smells like ours and basically is OURS it’s only right you give us a plug. Lingo back today @3pm @itv #lingo #Wordle 😍🤪

When last week’s controversy erupted, I watched some footage of Lingo, and rolled my eyes at the “Wordle is just a rip-off of Lingo” allegations. Yes, both games are about guessing five-letter words. But a game show where you compete against other contestants and against a clock “smells” quite different from Wordle’s solo gameplay and leisurely “take as much time as you want” pace.

Turns out Lingo isn’t just a TV game show, though. It’s an officially-licensed video game — in both the App Store and Play Store. David Barnard was the first person I saw who pointed to the official Lingo game, Ferrari 512, 348, Mondial, Testarossa - Windshield Wiper Motor -:

The OG Wordle (ahem, Lingo) app is absolutely abysmal. Same game mechanics, but with punitive free-to-play BS.

That description is generous. Lingo might not be the worst game on the App Store, but it’s the worst and most oppressively dystopic game I’ve ever played. The mechanics aren’t quite the same as Wordle either: the Lingo game is timed, like the TV show, and the keyboard, bizarrely, doesn’t tell you which letters you’ve already tried. But the official Lingo game is so much worse than that. There are 30-second unskippable video ads between levels, coins and gems to collect and of course purchase with real money,4 and, inexplicably, a mandatory bingo game between each level of the word game. Corny graphics, terrible music, and even the “how to play” onboarding is frustrating. And of course they admit to a whole slew of data tracking in their App Store metadata and ask to be permitted to track you, and if you grant Lingo permission to send you notifications they send a few per day every day reminding you to play more Lingo.

Yes, both games involve guessing five-letter words, but Josh Wardle’s Wordle is a wonderfully simple, totally free game designed only to bring people a bit of serene enjoyment for a few minutes per day. The official Lingo app is an ugly cacophonous confusing jumble of concepts intended to hook players on in-app purchases, and whose only saving grace is that it’s no fun at all to actually play and thus, although not for lack of trying, not the least bit addictive in practice.

There’s a reason you probably never heard of the official Lingo app.


A few other related games:

  • Words With Friends is a very popular Scrabble-like game, but it is not a Scrabble rip-off. There’s only one “Scrabble” in the App Store and it’s licensed from Hasbro. (“Scrubble” might be crossing the rip-off line, though.)

  • Andy Baio mentioned Jotto, a two-player paper-and-pencil secret word game from the 1950s.

  • Word Game Hero is an iOS game for iPhone and iPad by Jake Nelson. It’s a 4-to-7-letter-word guessing game, free to play with ads after a five-day trial period, and $3 for a one-time unlock for ad-free unlimited play. It’s well-made, and very iOS-y, including support for SharePlay to play with friends over FaceTime. It’s also clearly inspired by Wordle, as Nelson graciously acknowledges in the Settings screen, with links to both Wordle and Lingo. I’d say the gameplay is within shouting distance of a Wordle rip-off — the color choices and plain flat graphics are straight from Wordle, and the share-your-results text (example) is just like Wordle’s but with differently shaped emoji (which different shapes, admittedly, are more accessible) — but to my eyes it doesn’t cross the rip-off line, and more importantly, doesn’t even vaguely attempt to pass itself off as “Wordle”. It’s also doing something Wordle doesn’t want to do: let you play as many levels as you’d like. I’d say it is to Wordle as Words With Friends is to Scrabble.

  • Lastly, Saltong, a web-based game by Carl de Guia that bills itself right at the top as “A Filipino Clone of Wordle”, with 4- and 7-letter-word variants. Doesn’t pass itself off as Wordle, gives prominent and full credit to the original Wordle, and uses words from an entirely different language. Not a rip-off. 


  1. Speaking of which, you do know that Kirby Ferguson has relaunched “Everything Is a Remix” and the first Lane's Touch-Up Shine 16oz parts are already up on YouTube, right? So great. ↩︎

  2. I watched City on Fire decades ago on VHS (or maybe DVD?), and thinking about it now made me consider a re-watch. Alas, it seems unavailable to buy or stream online in the U.S. It’s bananas that it was easier to find “old” movies on physical media at my beloved local video store 20 years ago than it is today on streaming platforms and online stores. Don’t get me started on the general unavailability of James Cameron’s True Lies or The Abyss↩︎︎

  3. Fun fact: the original Lingo was hosted by Michael Reagan, whose father was at the time president of the United States. ↩︎︎

  4. Lingo’s age rating is “4+”. It strikes me as wrong that any game with in-app purchases should be rated for young children. Real-world casinos don’t have slot machines for children; the App Store shouldn’t either. ↩︎︎


Army Spouse Uses AirTag to Track Down Shady Moving Truck Driver 

David Roza, reporting for Task & Purpose:

McNulty attached the tag to a box of her son’s toys, then her family of four headed out to the east coast. She told Task & Purpose that her family had been waiting about a month for their things to arrive, which surprisingly isn’t that bad compared to what some families go through. “Some families end up waiting months upon months to receive their household goods,” she said. [...]

The mover was supposed to drop off the goods on Friday, January 7, but when that didn’t happen, the moving company told McNulty to expect the delivery on Sunday. A few hours after that call, however, the truck driver transporting their belongings called to say that he just picked up their shipment in Colorado and the earliest he could get it to them would be Monday.

McNulty knew better. Using her AirTag, she found out that the driver was not in Colorado, but only a half day’s drive south in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

“When we brought up the fact that we knew his exact location he hung up on us,” McNulty later recalled. “He then called back several minutes later and said ‘Well the earliest I can get it to you is Sunday.’”

Lost amidst the worrisome stories about AirTags being used by creeps and stalkers are tales like this one, where they’re being put to good use.

Mozilla Stops Accepting Cryptocurrency, Wikipedia May Be Next 

Brandon Vigliarolo, writing for TechRepublic:

The original tweet from Mozilla mentioned three forms of cryptocurrency: the two main players, Bitcoin and Ethereum, and Dogecoin , all three of which use a system called proof of work (PoW) in order to add an entry to their respective blockchains. It’s here we find the first big sticking point: what Zawinski describes as “planet-incinerating” levels of energy use.

The proof of work problem has been known for a while, as has the ever-increasing carbon footprint of the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchain, the cause of which is the growing energy needs of their PoW networks.

As of this writing, a single transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain eats up the same amount of energy as the average US household in a 77.8-day, or roughly two and a half month, period. Ethereum, though nowhere near as large, still eats up the same amount of energy that a US household does in 8 days.

Such numbers seem too bad to be true, but take a look.

Do your research.”

NPR: ‘Fissures at the Supreme Court Suggest Justices Are Like a Dysfunctional Family’ 

Nina Totenberg, reporting for NPR, on discord amongst the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court:

Sotomayor has diabetes, a condition that puts her at high risk for serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19. She has been the only justice to wear a mask on the bench since last fall when, amid a marked decline in COVID-19 cases, the justices resumed in-person arguments for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

Now, though, the situation had changed with the omicron surge, and according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked. Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form asked the other justices to mask up.

They all did. Except Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.

Gorsuch, from the beginning of his tenure, has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court.

More than just prickly, he appears to be a flat-out prick.

COVIDtests.gov: Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests 

More good news: the Biden administration’s website to get free at-home COVID tests — four tests per household — has soft-launched a day ahead of schedule. Worked like a charm for me and my extended family.

Omicron: ‘A Flash Flood More Than a Wave’ 

Josh Marshall, with some good news on the Omicron front:

New York City was one of the first parts of the United States hit by the Omicron variant. The trajectory of the city’s surge now appears remarkably similar to the pattern we saw earlier in South Africa and other countries.

Data out of South Africa showed a roughly four week interval between the start of the Omicron surge and its peak. “Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two,” said Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council. “It was a flash flood more than a wave.”

New York City numbers appear to match this pattern almost exactly.

How Omicron Symptoms Differ From Delta, Past COVID-19 Variants 

Aria Bendix and Shayanne Gal, reporting for Insider:

Almost as soon as Omicron started spreading, doctors noticed slight differences in their patients’ symptoms relative to prior variants. Mild, coldlike symptoms — such as sore throats, sneezing, and runny noses — were increasingly common. But former hallmarks of COVID-19 — such as fevers, coughs, and loss of taste or smell — had dwindled.

“The most reported symptoms of Omicron are really very much like a cold, especially in people who’ve been vaccinated,” Dr. Claire Steves, a scientist involved with the Zoe COVID Symptom Study, said in a recent video.

Listeners of Dithering are aware that I had pretty strong cold symptoms — sneezing, headache, and a very runny nose — last Thursday. I tested negative for COVID at the time, and again over the weekend, and started feeling much better the very next day. But when we recorded on Thursday night, I was still under the wrong impression that a running nose and sneezing were not common COVID symptoms. That was true with COVID classic, but it’s no longer true with Omicron. This article from Insider has good charts showing the most common Omicron symptoms and the symptomatic differences between variants.

Will the U.S. Government Approve Microsoft’s Acquisition of Activision Blizzard? 

Peter Kafka, writing for Recode:

“When we think about our vision for what a metaverse can be, we believe there won’t be a single, centralized metaverse,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said after announcing the deal on Tuesday.

You can also read that statement as a message to Lina Khan, the head of the Federal Trade Commission, along with the rest of the Biden administration’s antitrust enforcers: I know it seems like we are swallowing up a lot of the games business, but don’t think of this as consolidation in an important industry — think of it as competition against Facebook in a new industry. Competition is good, right?

This deal is certainly going to draw a lot of attention in Washington, which has been focusing on big and small deals made by most of the tech industry — but has largely left Microsoft alone until now. (The irony, of course, is that Microsoft spent a long time fighting federal antitrust charges over its web browser dominance two decades ago; the company averted a forced break-up but lost much of its mojo along the way).

Update: I don’t see why the government would block this acquisition. Some anti-capitalists will oppose it on the idealogical grounds of being against big companies getting bigger, but that’s not the law, and that’s not how our system works. If Microsoft were trying to buy Nintendo or Sony, that, in my opinion, should be blocked on anti-competitive grounds, because Nintendo and Sony make platforms that very successfully compete against Xbox. But a game studio, even a big one like Activision Blizzard? No.

Back of the Envelope Math on Microsoft’s Activision Acquisition 

Phil Spencer, announcing Microsoft’s intention to buy Activision for $68.7 billion:

Until this transaction closes, Activision Blizzard and Microsoft Gaming will continue to operate independently. Once the deal is complete, the Activision Blizzard business will report to me as CEO, Microsoft Gaming.

Upon close, we will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalog. We also announced today that Game Pass now has more than 25 million subscribers. As always, we look forward to continuing to add more value and more great games to Game Pass.

Game Pass subscriptions cost between $10–15 per month. Let’s just call that about $150/year per subscriber. That’s just under $4 billion per year. Assume that the Game Pass subscriber base will keep growing, and $69 billion for Activision doesn’t seem absurd as a long-term investment. And that’s just counting Game Pass subscription revenue, not traditional game sales.

Microsoft to Buy Activision Blizzard for Nearly $69 Billion 

Maddy Myers, reporting for Polygon:

Microsoft plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, publisher of some of the most popular games on the planet (from World of Warcraft to Call of Duty), as well as the studios currently embroiled in multiple lawsuits related to accusations of gender discrimination in its workplace, the company announced Tuesday. Xbox boss Phil Spencer will serve as the CEO of Microsoft Gaming and oversee Activision Blizzard once the transaction is finalized.

The deal is worth $68.7 billion, Microsoft said, the largest acquisition in the company’s history.

In a blog post about the acquisition, Spencer said that Microsoft “will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalog.”

That’s a lot of money. Microsoft spent $26 billion on LinkedIn back in 2016. I’m not saying it’s too much — just that it’s indicative of how dominant video games are in today’s entertainment world. Context: Disney bought Lucasfilm — including the entire Star Wars franchise — for just $4 billion a decade ago.

From the perspective of Activision’s board, this seems like a good face-saving solution to the company’s leadership and culture problems. Let Microsoft clean house at the executive and management level. Even putting aside that Activision’s stock has dipped, I don’t think this acquisition happens if not for the recent controversies.

‘Bob Saget’s Sublime, Filthy Comedy’ 

Penn Jillette, remembering Bob Saget, in a piece for the NYT:

He had a big smile and joy for the world in “Full House” and on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Everyone loved and trusted Bob in those roles. You wanted to hug him.

Some people are saying now that the real Bob was very different from that good-guy image, but I disagree. Offstage he was loving, kind, open, funny, a great friend and a great father. He also told filthy, disgusting, offensive jokes.

The Aristocrats — which Jillette produced — is not for everyone, that’s for sure, but I loved it.

U.K. Government Plans Publicity Campaign to Build Public Sentiment Against End-to-End Encryption 

James Ball, reporting for Rolling Stone:

The UK government is set to launch a multi-pronged publicity attack on end-to-end encryption, Rolling Stone has learned. One key objective: mobilizing public opinion against Facebook’s decision to encrypt its Messenger app.

The Home Office has hired the M&C Saatchi advertising agency — a spin-off of Saatchi and Saatchi, which made the “Labour Isn’t Working” election posters, among the most famous in UK political history — to plan the campaign, using public funds. [...]

In a lecture last November, former chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre Ciaran Martin criticized the Home Office’s rhetoric on encryption — and its broader approach. [...]

“In other words, the policy is technological ‘cakeism’ — the government is trying to eat its lawful access cake while having end-to-end encrypted protection for citizens more generally … Most experts are highly doubtful, and believe the government is searching for the digital equivalent of alchemy.”

“The digital equivalent of alchemy” — what a great turn of phrase to describe the persistent notion that it’s possible to create strong encryption with a backdoor that only “good guys” can use.

E2. Piaggio Sfera 50 80 Fog Taillight Starter 

My thanks to Hex for sponsoring this week at DF. Hex is a collaborative data workspace. It’s the modern way to build and share analytics and data science projects, and lets you leave local notebooks, spreadsheets, and copy-pasting-charts-into-docs behind.

With Hex, you can easily collaborate with SQL, Python, or R, visualize with intuitive no-code charts, and publish your work as beautiful, interactive data apps that anyone can use. It’s powerful, fun, and feels a bit like magic.

Join data teams at companies like Fivetran, dbt Labs, Workrise, and Notion who use Hex to do more, together. Check out their demo video, then try Hex for free today.

‘The Greek Who Makes the Odds’ — 1961 Sports Illustrated Profile of Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder 

Speaking of legal sports betting, this 1961 feature profile of Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder by Gilbert Rogin is a hell of a read for modern eyes. (The Sports Illustrated story spells his first name “Jimmie”, but he eventually went to “Jimmy”.) The web version has a few OCR errors, but they’ve also got the entire original print issue of the magazine scanned, and it’s a hoot to page through just to look at the ads. (Lots and lots of booze.)

If you’re old enough, you’ll recall Snyder as a mainstay on CBS’s “The NFL Today” football studio team back in the 1980s, until he was fired after making offensive remarks about black athletes in a 1988 interview.

Back in 1961, though, Snyder was running a small legal sportsbook in Las Vegas, at a time when the major casinos didn’t handle sports betting. No internet, of course, and no cable TV. So this is how they got information and scores:

Nowadays Jimmie relies chiefly on newspapers for information; he subscribes to 27. “There’s a lot of handicappers that know how to read newspapers,” he says. “They’re called good readers.” Other sources of information are magazines, wire-service-clips and college brochures. [...]

On Saturdays during the football season the gamblers — the affluent and the busted valises alike — gather in the smoky interior of the Hollywood Sports Service to watch the televised game on two sets, listen to another on radio, get the results, which come in fitfully over an often faulty Western Union ticker and bawl for free hamburgers. Snyder soothes the malcontents, pleads for last-minute “starkers,” or sure bets, and finer language, dissuades customers from betting more than they can afford — really — and tries, vainly it seems, to lead them in cheers and song.

The anti-Semitism in the piece is rather shockingly matter-of-fact:

And through meeting an Arabian prince who admired his suit (Jimmie later gave him a stunning white number — “a perfect fit,” he says) at Maxim’s, the Paris restaurant, he got involved in another oil proposition. This took him to Saudi Arabia and would have made him a millionaire if he hadn’t innocently included a Jew on his board of directors. The deal fell through.

Jimmie is often mistaken for a Jew or an Italian. Once, when he was staying at a restricted hotel in Miami, the manager told him that a lady had complained he was Jewish. Her reason: he had bet a horse $200 across the board. Jimmie protested that members of many ethnic groups bet horses $200 across the board. The manager explained that he had told the lady the very same thing. She had replied: “But Mr. Snyder won.”

Times change.

‘The United States’ Most Prestigious Business Publication Addresses “Green Bubbles”’ 

Nick Heer, in a fine column at Pixel Envy:

Messaging services come and go. Overall, I find it hard to see any specific correlation between device user base and messenger choice. Sure, iOS devices and iMessage are popular in the United States, but it is not the case that both are similarly popular around the world. In Japan, for instance, iOS devices have a higher market share than they do in the U.S., but the dominant messaging service is LINE, the “do-everything platform”. In most other countries, WhatsApp is the messaging app everyone uses regardless of smartphone operating system. In Indonesia, BBM was wildly popular until it was shuttered globally in 2019, even though sales of BlackBerry devices dried up long before. It also depends on which part of a country’s population you are measuring: in Canada, where iOS’ market share is neck-and-neck with Android’s, WhatsApp is not very popular except with new Canadians, 84% of whom use it daily.

I knew that Line was dominant in Japan, but I was not aware that the iPhone has higher market share in Japan than in the U.S.

9to5Mac: Apple Will Allow Dating Apps in the Netherlands to Use Alternative Payment Systems, But Developers Must Maintain a Separate App Binary 

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac:

In order to comply with a ruling from The Netherlands authorities, late on Friday Apple announced that it would allow developers of dating apps to offer alternative payments systems other than Apple’s In-App Purchase system, thereby circumventing Apple’s traditional 15-30% IAP cut. However, Apple will still charge a commission on these purchases regardless (details yet to be disclosed).

However, implementing this will not be straightforward. Developers will need to create and maintain a completely separate app binary which includes special entitlements, and is only made available in the Netherlands App Store. [...]

Maintaining a wholly separate app binary for one region is not convenient. This obstacle is one way Apple will discourage developers from going down this route; they can avoid all of the inconvenience by continuing to offer Apple In-App Purchase only. Depending on the commission rate Apple sets, it may not be worth it for a third-party developer to offer alternative payment systems at all.

The piecemeal regulations popping up around the world are so odd. Only dating apps and only in the Netherlands. Again, alternate payment processing in-app is not the answer, if Google and Apple are still going to take their cut of each transaction. Just send users to the web to process payments outside the app, and stipulate that apps must be allowed to link to their websites.

Netflix Raises Monthly Subscription Prices in U.S. and Canada 

Reuters:

The standard plan, which allows for two simultaneous streams, now costs $15.49 per month, up from $13.99, in the United States. Prices also rose in Canada, where the standard plan climbed to C$16.49 from C$14.99. [...]

The U.S. price of Netflix’s premium plan, which enables four streams at a time and streaming in ultra HD, was increased by $2 to $19.99 per month. For Netflix’s basic plan, with one stream, the cost rose by $1 to $9.99 per month.

The $20 plan is the only way to get 4K, even if you’re the only person using it. And the $10 basic plan streams at 480p. Perhaps 4K streaming is expensive enough, bandwidth-wise, that it’s fair to only offer it on the premium plan, but for $10/month everyone ought to get 1080p. 480p is ridiculous.

(Worth noting, too, that none of the other major streaming platforms charge extra for 4K. HBO Max limits 4K to their ad-free tier, but that’s fair.)

Donald G. McNeil Jr. on Trump Backing Vaccine Boosters: ‘Clearly, Someone Did the Math for Him’ 

Donald G. McNeil Jr.:

Genius or no, he is suddenly doing something very smart: in interview after interview, he endorses vaccines and boosters. He’s even called political rivals who refuse to admit they’ve been boosted “gutless.”

Why?

My guess is that somebody has done the math for him.

The math that says: “Uh, sir? Your voters are dying in droves.” […]

As of this week, about 1,800 Americans a day are dying of Covid; the C.D.C. expects that number to rise above 2,600. Virtually all are adults. If 95 percent were unvaccinated and we assume that 75 percent of those were Trump supporters, that’s 1,300 to 1,900 of his voters being subtracted from the rolls every single day.

If there’s a hole in McNeil’s back-of-the-envelope math it’s that he’s not accounting for the one-third of American adults who didn’t vote in 2020. It is undeniable though that COVID is now killing far more Republicans than Democrats. But whatever Trump’s motives, I’m genuinely glad to see him encourage his supporters to get vaccinated.

Google’s Alleged Schemes to Corner the Online Ad Market, Now Unredacted 

Gilad Edelman, reporting for Wired:

So when you see an ad on a website, it’s a good bet that the advertiser used Google to place it, Google’s exchange submitted it to the site, and the site used Google to make the space available. Google, in other words, runs the auction while representing both the buyers and sellers in that auction.

It’s kind of hard to believe that anyone ever went along with this, but Google’s control over all sides of the market slowly accrued over time. If they had come out of the gate with the whole system fully-formed, not just running the auction while representing both buyers and seller, but themselves competing in the same auctions, they’d have been laughed at. But here we are.

According to the complaint, under Dynamic Revenue Share Google would peek at all the bids and adjust its commission rate in order to win an auction. The newly unredacted complaint quotes a Google employee suggesting that the system was deceptive: “One known issue with the current DRS is that it makes the auction untruthful,” they wrote. By allegedly letting itself adjust its commission on a case-by-case basis, Google gave itself an advantage over other exchanges, which have to worry about losing auctions if they set their fees too high.

The final scheme alleged in the complaint undermines one of the most important aspects of second-price auctions. Because the winner’s bid is never disclosed, no one finds out how much they would have been willing to pay.

A program called Reserve Price Optimization allegedly undermined that benefit. In an ad auction, publishers get to set a minimum price, or floor, for the ad impression. If the floor is higher than the second-place bid, it essentially becomes the second-place bid. So if the top bid is $10, the second bid is $5, but the floor is $8, the winner ends up paying $8. According to the lawsuit, the RPO program used advertisers’ bid history to artificially inflate those price floors. For example, if a headphone company has repeatedly bid $20 to show you their ad, Google could use that information to raise the floor to $19.90 — even if the publisher thought it had set its floor at $10. In other words, Google allegedly used advertisers’ past bids to squeeze more money out of them.

The whole thing has been as crooked as a $3 bill. Billions and billions of $3 bills.

Here’s Google’s official response from Adam Cohen, the company’s director of economic policy. Doesn’t address any of the above allegations to my eyes, but you be the judge.

EcoGen ECOFLR-B Commercial Floor Cleaner Concentrate 5 gal Bucke 

I swear I have nothing to do with Pennsylvania’s high ranking.

Web3 Is Going Just Great 

Also from Molly White is this splendid new blog, documenting grift in the world of “Web3”. Here’s one recent gem:

A SolSea-verified NFT project on the Solana blockchain, Doodled Dragons, touted that they would distribute all profits “straight to charities protecting animals on the brink of extinction”. They announced on Twitter that they would be donating $30,000, “our first donation”, to the World Wildlife Fund. Two hours later, they tweeted, “actually. fuck that. our charity will instead now be... my bank account. cya nerds.” They deleted the Twitter account shortly after.

I couldn’t subscribe to this RSS feed fast enough. Good little glossary too.

Molly White: ‘Blockchain-Based Systems Are Not What They Say They Are’ 

Molly White:

If you go out seeking to learn from their proponents why blockchains and the systems built atop them are apparently the future of our web, you’ll begin to see some common themes. Two of the ones I see most frequently are:

  • Decentralization: data in blockchains are distributed across innumerable servers run by innumerable people and organizations, rather than stored on servers controlled by one organization

  • Immutability: what is written to a blockchain cannot be changed or deleted, unlike more traditional databases

These fall apart under further scrutiny. [...]

Blockchain technologies have somehow managed to land in the worst of both worlds — decentralized but not really, immutable but not really.

A cogent read.

Update 15 January: And another one, “It’s Not Still the Early Days”:

The more you think about it, the more “it’s early days!” begins to sound like the desperate protestations of people with too much money sunk into a pyramid scheme, hoping they can bag a few more suckers and get out with their cash before the whole thing comes crashing down.

Minimator 

Fun, deceptively simple drawing app from Maxwellito:

Minimator is a minimalist graphical editor.

All drawings are made of lines in a grid based canvas. The lines are limited to vertical and horizontal lines, and quarter circles.

The editor was built with touch tablets in mind. Providing undo/redo/zoom/move in a simple gesture. An info tooltip is available in the editor to list the shortcuts available.

It’s a web app but designed for tablets, stores all data locally, and works well on iPads via the Add to Home Screen command in Safari. Nothing but circles and horizontal/vertical lines sounds limiting, but the results can be quite rich.

(Digital TDS Water Tester--New.)

From the DF Archive: ‘On iMessage’s Stickiness’ 

Yours truly, five years ago:

As an iOS/MacOS exclusive, iMessage is a glue that “keeps people stuck to their iPhones and Macs”, not the glue. iMessage for Android would surely lead some number of iPhone users to switch to Android, but I think that number is small enough to be a rounding error for Apple. Apple wins by creating devices and experiences that people want to use, not that they have to use. Apple creates desire, not obligation. If the iPhone isn’t thriving simply by being the best, then Apple is already in deep trouble. I would argue that in some ways Apple might be better off releasing iMessage for Android, simply to remove a crutch.

Evergreen topic.

Google, Throwing Stones From Its Glass House 

Ron Amadeo, in a piece for Ars headlined “After Ruining Android Messaging, Google Says iMessage Is Too Powerful”:

Even if Google could magically roll out RCS everywhere, it’s a poor standard to build a messaging platform on because it is dependent on a carrier phone bill. It’s anti-Internet and can’t natively work on webpages, PCs, smartwatches, and tablets, because those things don’t have SIM cards. The carriers designed RCS, so RCS puts your carrier bill at the center of your online identity, even when free identification methods like email exist and work on more devices. Google is just promoting carrier lock-in as a solution to Apple lock-in.

Despite Google’s complaining about iMessage, the company seems to have learned nothing from its years of messaging failure. Today, Google messaging is the worst and most fragmented it has ever been. As of press time, the company runs eight separate messaging platforms, none of which talk to each other: there is Google Messages/RCS, which is being promoted today, but there’s also Google Chat/Hangouts, Google Voice, Google Photos Messages, Google Pay Messages, Google Maps Business Messages, Google Stadia Messages, and Google Assistant Messaging. Those last couple of apps aren’t primarily messaging apps but have all ended up rolling their own siloed messaging platform because no dominant Google system exists for them to plug into.


The Wall Street Journal ran a doozy of a story by Tim Higgins last weekend: “Why Apple’s iMessage Is Winning: Teens Dread the Green Text Bubble” (News+ link). Few Americans don’t have U.S.-centric blind spots — I’m certainly guilty of that on numerous fronts — but this take is so U.S.-centric it beggars belief. The article’s subhead says it all:

The iPhone maker cultivated iMessage as a must-have texting tool for teens. Android users trigger a just-a-little-less-cool green bubble: “Ew, that’s gross.”

The article’s foundation is a handful of personal anecdotes, starting with the lede:

Soon after 19-year-old Adele Lowitz gave up her Apple iPhone 11 for an experimental go with an Android smartphone, a friend in her long-running texting group chimed in: “Who’s green?”

The reference to the color of group text messages — Android users turn Apple Inc.’s iMessage into green bubbles instead of blue — highlighted one of the challenges of her experiment. No longer did her group chats work seamlessly with other peers, almost all of whom used iPhones. FaceTime calls became more complicated and the University of Michigan sophomore’s phone didn’t show up in an app she used to find friends.

100 words in and already so much to correct. How this ran in the WSJ’s Technology section is beyond explanation. Messages is Apple’s messaging app for iOS and Mac; iMessage is Apple’s proprietary messaging platform. Messages doesn’t render texts from Android green, per se — it renders all SMS messages as green. Messages has no idea what type of device sent an SMS, it just knows it’s an SMS message. An SMS sent from an iPhone user will be green, too.

Until three months ago, FaceTime was exclusive to Apple devices. Starting in October (and announced last June at WWDC), FaceTime users can create web links that Android and Windows users can use to join calls. But yes, Apple’s proprietary voice and audio call platform works more seamlessly on their own devices. Shocker.

Find My for finding iPhone-using friends doesn’t work on Android either. Again, filed under “Duh”. The whole point of Apple — the entire company — is to offer superior products and services to customers willing to pay for them. Higgins quotes from internal emails from Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller — emails made public during discovery in last year’s Epic v. Apple lawsuit — arguing against releasing a version of iMessage for Android as though it’s scandalous, rather than obviously strategic. It’s not like iMessage was at any time cross-platform and Apple dropped Android support (which, even if it had been the case, wouldn’t necessarily be nefarious in the least) — it was conceived as a proprietary platform for iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Back to the WSJ:

That pressure to be a part of the blue text group is the product of decisions by Apple executives starting years ago that have, with little fanfare, built iMessage into one of the world’s most widely used social networks and helped to cement the iPhone’s dominance among young smartphone users in the U.S.

As Harry McCracken quipped on Twitter, iMessage was not introduced with “little fanfare” — it was a tentpole announcement from Scott Forstall at WWDC 2011.

From the beginning, Apple got creative in its protection of iMessage’s exclusivity. It didn’t ban the exchange of traditional text messages with Android users but instead branded those messages with a different color; when an Android user is part of a group chat, the iPhone users see green bubbles rather than blue. It also withheld certain features. There is no dot-dot-dot icon to demonstrate that a non-iPhone user is typing, for example, and an iMessage heart or thumbs-up annotation has long conveyed to Android users as text instead of images.

The Messages app for iOS has always rendered SMS messages as green — going back to the first version, when the app was named “Text” and its icon had “SMS” in the bubble. The color of SMS messages on iOS was green before iMessage was introduced, and remained green after. And iMessage messages should be visually distinct from SMS — they’re different in important ways, not the least of which is that iMessage is and always has been end-to-end encrypted and SMS isn’t and never will be.

There’s no dot-dot-dot indicator for SMS because the primitive SMS protocol doesn’t support it. Android users sending SMS messages to other Android users don’t get a dot-dot-dot typing indicator either, because it’s not technically possible. Message reactions — hearts, thumbs, ha-has, !!’s, and ?’s — are sent as text via SMS because they have to be. Apple’s only other option would be not to send these reactions at all.

Apple later took other steps that enhanced the popularity of its messaging service with teens. It added popular features such as animated cartoon-like faces that create mirrors of a user’s face, to compete with messaging services from social media companies. Apple’s own survey of iPhone holders made public during the Epic Games litigation found that customers were particularly fond of replacing words with emojis and screen effects such as animated balloons and confetti. Avid teen users said in interviews with The Wall Street Journal that they also liked how they could create group chats with other Apple users that add and subtract participants without having to start a new chain.

Higgins paints these features as though they’re the digital equivalent of advertising cigarettes to children with a cartoon mascot. They’re just fun features, and there’s nothing teen-specific about them. I get confetti and balloon iMessage effects from both my mother and mother-in-law, neither of whom have been — or even lived with — teenagers for a while.

There’s nothing teen-specific about iPhone users being annoyed at Android users in group chats. In fact, such complaints might be far more common among adults, because so many teenagers have iPhones they don’t encounter it as often. Last year I linked to a story from Mirin Fader’s Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP that claims former Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd made the entire team run because one player had an Android phone and messed up the team’s group chat. (For what it’s worth, the player in question claims the story isn’t true. It’s the fact that the story resonated that matters.) Here’s a story from October about pro golfer (and well-known oddball) Kramer VM-6A Video Audio Distributor 110-120V because he was the lone Android user.

The cultivation of iMessage is consistent with Apple’s broader strategy to tie its hardware, software and services together in a self-reinforcing world — dubbed the walled garden — that encourages people to pay the premium for its relatively expensive gadgets and remain loyal to its brand. That strategy has drawn scrutiny from critics and lawmakers as part of a larger examination of how all tech giants operate. Their core question: Do Apple and other tech companies create products that consumers simply find indispensable, or are they building near-monopolies that unfairly stifle competition?

Putting aside broader antitrust arguments and focusing solely on messaging — the point of the WSJ’s story — it’s ridiculous to argue that Apple is in any way “stifling competition”. The complete opposite is the case: via the App Store and APIs in iOS, there is a rich and vibrant global market for messaging apps on iOS. Condoleezza's Room Decal Crossing Xing kids bedroom door childre, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Line, Signal, and others are all thriving and popular. For teenagers and college students, Discord is huge, and far more of a hangout than iMessage. Also, a little app called WeChat is somewhat popular in China. And they’re all cross-platform.

In fact, these third-party messaging platforms exemplify the gaping hole in the center of the WSJ’s premise: iMessage’s extraordinary popularity in the U.S. is a global outlier. This story created a stir on Twitter over the weekend, and a very common refrain from observers who live outside the U.S. was utter bafflement that iMessage was popular anywhere, because other messaging services are so dominant elsewhere — including with iPhone users. iMessage is obviously only popular where iPhones are popular, but iPhones are popular in countries around the world where iMessage (and SMS) are seldom used.

The U.S. is just different on this front. I like Ben Thompson’s simple theory why, which I’ll steal paraphrase here. Pre-iMessage, the U.S. was an outlier for SMS, because U.S. carriers made SMS text messages free, or included so many SMS monthly text messages in their plans that they were effectively free. Whereas elsewhere around the world, SMS text messages always cost at least 10 cents a pop — often more — to send, which was a big motivation to find alternative messaging services. The original point of iMessage was to make a better messaging service to replace SMS for messages between iPhone users. Apple asked, “What sucks about SMS/MMS?” and made iMessage to address those shortcomings. So it makes sense that iMessage is most popular here in the U.S., where SMS was (and remains!) widely-used, and is less popular in countries where people started moving to alternative messaging platforms before iMessage even existed.

iMessage is just one proprietary Apple nicety among hundreds for iPhone users. Is it a reason to buy and stick with an iPhone? Of course. Is it the reason, or even near the top of the list, for anyone? No.

Higgins continues:

Apple and other tech giants have long worked hard to get traction with young users, hoping to build brand habits that will extend into adulthood as they battle each other for control of everything from videogames to extended reality glasses to the metaverse.

Apple has never, and I hope will never, use the word “metaverse” in an ostensibly straight-faced manner.

Globally, Alphabet Inc.’s Android operating system is the dominant player among smartphone users, with a loyal following of people who are vocal about their support. Among U.S. consumers, 40% use iPhones, but among those aged 18 to 24, more than 70% are iPhone users, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners’s most recent survey of consumers.

That there’s a significant difference in iPhone market share between younger and older people has been widely known ever since the iPhone hit the market. Teenagers wanted (and got) iPhones then, and they want (and get) iPhones today.

The crux of Higgins’s report for the WSJ seems to be that this age discrepancy in iPhone market is largely about the color of text messages in the Messages app, and that Apple has created this culture deliberately. What a pile of clickbait horseshit.

Teenagers’ preferences and tastes are different from adults’ across the board. They watch different movies, watch different shows (teenagers watch YouTube videos; adults watch TV), listen to different music, and wear different clothes. This has been the case for everyone alive today when they themselves were teenagers.

A much simpler nutshell explanation is that teenagers have a keener sense of cool, and care more about what’s cool, than adults. And the iPhone always has been and remains today cooler than any Android phone. I don’t think that explains the entire situation very well either — it’s quite a bit dismissive of the fact that teenagers actually use the hell out of their phones and thus are perfectly positioned to want iPhones for the entirely practical and rational reason that they’re better, not just cooler — but it sure as shit is closer to the mark than talking about green vs. blue text bubbles.

If text bubble color was all that mattered, everyone could switch to Android and their SMS messages would all be blue, because most Android phone makers, including Google, have their built-in SMS messaging apps set to render SMS messages as blue, because they’re spooked by the whole green bubbles are lame thing too. It’s silly. In an alternate universe where Apple’s Messages app rendered SMS messages as blue and iMessages as green, the whole thing would be reversed and iPhone users would be looking askance at blue bubbles in their group chats. There’s nothing wrong with green. Green means go. Green is money. Green means success. Neither Mr. Pink nor Mr. Brown would’ve complained if they’d been Mr. Green. And most notably — and I’d say inexplicably — Apple’s own app icon for Messages is green:

The truth is, SMS sucks and iMessage has features SMS never will or could. That opens the door to the whole RCS controversy, of course, but “RCS” never even appears in the WSJ’s article, which is bizarre. It probably should have been the whole thrust of the piece, if they want to argue that there’s something nefarious about iMessage being a proprietary messaging platform that excludes Android users. That was Google exec Hiroshi Lockheimer’s hamfisted take. (If anyone knows how to make a new messaging platform, it’s Google.)

Higgins:

Yet grabbing users so early in life could pay dividends for generations for Apple, already the world’s most valuable publicly traded company. It briefly crossed $3 trillion in market value for the first time on Jan. 3. “These teenagers will continue to become consumers in the future and hopefully continue to buy phones into their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s,” said Harsh Kumar, an analyst for Piper Sandler. The firm recently found that 87% of teens surveyed last year own iPhones.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that an analyst who’s willing to project which devices today’s teenagers are going to be using 50 years from now is not an analyst you should be quoting.

87 percent of U.S. teens using iPhones, though, that’s interesting. But if you think that number would be significantly different if Apple released a Messages app for Android, or added support for RCS to iOS, you’re nuts.

The clear implication of Higgins’s piece is that teenagers’ decided preference for iPhones is entirely superficial. I posit that it’s anything but. We can argue about the merits of iMessage vs. other top-tier messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram, feature-wise and UI-wise (iMessage “replies” are rather deficient, for example), but there’s no denying that iMessage is leaps and bounds better, more useful, more reliable, more supported on non-phone devices, and profoundly more secure and private than dumb old SMS. But Higgins presents all these differences as things Apple withholds for competitive spite, and that teens are suckers, seduced by a brand, for caring about them.

What, pray tell, should Apple do or have already done differently?

Develop and support an iMessage client for Android? I’m unsurprised that Apple has seriously considered this — and when a rumor dropped in June 2016 that Apple was going to announce iMessage for Android at WWDC that year, I thought it plausible. I’m also completely unsurprised that they ultimately decided against it. iMessage isn’t a standalone service — it’s a part of iCloud, and has hooks into features built into iOS and MacOS. iMessage is a competitive advantage — not just for iPhones, but for iPads and Macs too.

Support RCS? Maybe Apple will! But I can see why they probably won’t, and also why they have remained silent on the question of whether they have any interest in supporting it. Why support a less secure, less featureful protocol than iMessage? Why support a new protocol from phone carriers? We don’t use messaging services from our cable and fiber internet providers — why should we use a messaging service tied to our cell phone providers?

Teenagers are not mindless Apple zealots. The popularity of Nintendo’s Switch, Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and especially gaming PCs running Windows is proof otherwise. Higgins has the whole thing backwards. People — including teenagers — don’t buy iPhones because iMessage is cool or good. People use iMessage because iPhones are cool and good


Tesla’s Dogecoin FAQ 

This support document makes cryptocurrency seem wonderful: network fees, no refunds, no cancellations, and processing times of up to six hours. How did we ever live before? (Via Kevin Jones.)

David Sparks Goes Full-Time on MacSparky 

David Sparks:

A few months ago, I wrote about a good book, Ikigai. one of my takeaways from that was that some very old, very happy people in Japan all had one thing in common, a sense of purpose, their Ikigai. The book explained how their actual purpose evolved during their lifetimes for many of these folks, yet they still did each have a strong sense of purpose. So I started with a simple question.

“What is my purpose? What am I here to do?”

Simple question, right? Simple, but also not easy to answer. Rather than get lost in the big question, I moved on to consider the law practice and MacSparky.

I’ve been reading MacSparky for a long time; glad to know there’s going to be even more of it.

Bloomberg: Apple VR Headset Might Be Pushed to Next Year 

Mark Gurman, Takashi Mochizuki, and Debby Wu, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Apple Inc. is considering pushing back the debut of its mixed-reality headset by at least a few months, potentially delaying its first major new product since the Apple Watch in 2015, according to people familiar with the situation. [...]

The delay would mark a setback for a product seen as one of Apple’s famous “next big things” — a new category that can keep sales growing and help justify the tech giant’s nearly $3 trillion market valuation. The company hasn’t discussed the headset publicly, but the product has been years in the making and already delayed before.

It’s a semantic argument, but “pushed back” feels fair for an unannounced product. Shipping is hard, COVID makes everything harder. “Delayed” and “setback” don’t feel fair, though. When it actually does get announced, do we get a “finally”?

* You know.

I Need a Five-Letter Word for ‘This Story Is Fantastic’ 

Steven Cravotta, in a brief but fantastic Twitter thread:

Here’s how a mobile game I built 5 years ago suddenly got blown up by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Jimmy Fallon.

Stay until the end, trust me. If the story this week about that shithead rip-off bro bummed you out a little, Cravotta’s tale will pick you right up.

Fortnite Is Returning to iOS as a Web App to Be Played in Safari 

Nvidia:

Starting next week, Fortnite on GeForce Now will launch in a limited-time closed beta for mobile, all streamed through the Safari web browser on iOS and the GeForce Now Android app. [...]

Alongside the amazing team at Epic Games, we’ve been working to enable a touch-friendly version of Fortnite for mobile delivered through the cloud. While PC games in the GeForce Now library are best experienced on mobile with a gamepad, the introduction of touch controls built by the GeForce Now team offers more options for players, starting with Fortnite.

If this works and Fortnite inside iOS Safari — as a web app! — works as well, or is even in the same ballpark, as the native Fortnite app did, this will be a landmark achievement and a technical marvel. If it’s not even in the same ballpark as native Fortnite, I don’t understand why Epic would put the Fortnite name on it.

Apple Presents Plan to Allow External Payment Processing in Apps to South Korea Regulator, Details Currently Scant 

The South Korea Herald:

Apple said it plans to provide an alternative payment system at a reduced service charge compared with the current 30 percent charge, as the tech giant turned in its compliance plans to the Korea Communications Commission (KCC).

The company did not provide the exact date of when the policy will take effect or the service fee to be applied but said it plans to discuss with the KCC on further details.

I’d bet money that Apple’s compliance plan will follow Google’s, which was announced two months ago. They’ll create a set of APIs for apps to use if they wish to process payments on their own, and those APIs will track the amount of money so that Apple can still collect their cut as the platform owner. Google’s plan reduced the rate by 4 percent, so an app that would get an 85/15 split through the Play Store’s built-in payments system will instead pay 11 percent of the transaction price to Google. Apps in South Korea will be able to process payments on their own, but they’ll have to use the APIs that ensure Google (and now Apple) get their cut.

These are platform fees, not payment processing fees. Google’s and Apple’s app stores are platforms, and they have every right to charge whatever fees they want. This whole thing shows how misguided South Korea’s legislation is. The right answer is simply to pass legislation making it illegal to ban apps from linking from within apps to their websites. The web is the open platform where developers are free to accept payments however they wish, with no fees paid to Apple or Google (or Sony or Nintendo or Microsoft).

I just took a shower and this small conundrum popped into my head, though: What about a native app for iOS or Android that itself is a web browser, which the user has set to be their default web browser? How would a third-party web browser “send users to the web, outside the app” to take payments for a subscription or to unlock features? That’s a corner case, to be sure, but it’s not outlandish. My spitball answer is that if an app is a web browser, and it is set by the user to be their default, then payment links can just open in tabs within the app. Done.

Local Note: Tonight Is Jim Gardner’s Final 11 PM Newscast on ‘Action News’ 

Rob Tornoe, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The big story on Action News tonight is the end of an era in Philadelphia broadcasting — Jim Gardner will anchor his final 11 p.m. broadcast on 6ABC.

It goes without saying Gardner is an institution in the Delaware Valley, and is just as iconic as the timeless Action News jingle. He’s delivered the news at 11 p.m. since taking over for Larry Kane way back in 1977, and said he has mixed feelings as he approaches his final late-night newscast on Tuesday.

“It’s been a long run, and it’s the first step towards retirement,” Gardner told The Inquirer. “I hope we’ve done a good job with the 11 o’clock news over a period of almost 45 years. I think we have.”

If you’ve never lived in Philadelphia, you have no idea what an icon Jim Gardner is. He hasn’t just been anchoring a Philly newscast for 45 years, he’s been anchoring the Philly newscast for 45 years. 6ABC isn’t just the ratings leader here, they’ve been in first place for decades, typically with 2–3× the viewers of whichever channel is in second place — sometimes even more. The only reason people in Philadelphia watch the news on other networks is if they forget to change the channel.

No hyperbole: Jim Gardner might be the most well-known and beloved person in Philadelphia since Benjamin Franklin. His is the voice of Philadelphia. 45 years on top.

The good news: he’s still anchoring the 6 PM news for another year. I don’t know what we’ll do then.

Update: Gardner’s sign-off last night, naming Rick Williams as his successor. Perfect.

Unvaccinated Quebecers Will Have to Pay a Health Tax, Legault Says | CBC News 

Verity Stevenson and Isaac Olson, reporting for CBC News:

Quebec Premier François Legault said Tuesday the province would be imposing a health tax on Quebecers who refuse to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks. […] “These people, they put a very important burden on our health-care network,” Legault said. “I think it’s reasonable a majority of the population is asking that there be consequences.”

Roughly 10 per cent of eligible Quebecers remain unvaccinated, but health officials say they take up about 50 per cent of COVID-19 beds in hospitals.

I asked for “more like this, please” just the other day, and the good people of Quebec obliged.


A few days ago I linked to a New York Times profile of Josh Wardle, creator of the delightful and explosively popular web game Wordle. Wordle, it’s worth noting, has no ads and is free of charge.

As of today, Apple’s App Store is lousy with Wordle rip-offs. I mean not just the concept — there’s a long history of “guess the word” games, including a defunct game show called “Lingo” that was clearly an inspiration for Wordle — but literally the name “Wordle” and its design. As observed by Greg Karber, as I write this, the #3, #7, #14, and #15 word games in the iOS App Store1 are shameless Wordle clones stealing the name “Wordle”. (Worth noting that #16, “Wordle!”, was last updated five years ago, is an entirely different timer-based word game, and is simply coincidentally named. There’s also “Wordle - Word Puzzle”, a three-year-old entirely different $2 game that is also coincidentally named.)

Apple, apparently, is just fine with this. [Update: As of this evening, all of the following games that used “Wordle” in their name have been removed from the App Store.]

A perusal of the rogue’s gallery of Wordle rip-offs:2

  • Wordle·”, by Candyblocks, is utterly shameless in its design (and name), but is a free download and apparently has no in-app purchases. Still. (That’s a Unicode 00B7 “middle dot” as a suffix on the app name.)
  • WRDL”, by Cole Dennis, is a free game (no IAP) that doesn’t exactly rip off Wordle’s name but does painstakingly copy Wordle’s design, right down to the colors.
  • Wordle - Daily Word Games!”, by Mediaflex Games, is a free app, no IAP, that starts its name with “Wordle” and completely rips off Wordle’s design, colors, icon, and game mechanics.
  • What Word - Wordle”, by Rebecca Skinner, is a free game with a $1 IAP to remove ads that includes “Wordle” in its name, and copies Wordle’s color scheme and game mechanics.

And then we get to the real gem of the bunch. “Wordle - The App”, by Zach Shakked, a free-to-download app with a 30-fucking-dollar-per-year “Pro” unlock. Shakked’s rip-off doesn’t just steal Wordle’s name, design, and mechanics, its “The App” suffix clearly was chosen to make it look like the official App Store version of Wardle’s original.3 He even squatted on “@theWordleApp” on Twitter — not a Wordle app — the Wordle app. Shakked then spent the last day on Twitter giddy with excitement, bragging about how much money his utterly shameless rip-off was making:

This is absurd. 450 trials at 1am last night, now at 950 and getting a new ones every minute. 12K downloads, rank #28 word game, and #4 result for “wordle” in the App Store. We’re going to the fucking moon.

The developer and web community soon caught on — Cabel Sasser, Rebecca Slatkin, Steven Troughton-Smith, Jason Kottke, and Andy Baio all exposed his shameless theft (with screenshots, wisely), and I simply asked him, just to be sure, whether he had Josh Wardle’s permission. Within moments, Shakked took his Twitter account (@zachshakked) private. (He left his rip-off app in the App Store, of course, so as not to interrupt its onward trajectory to the moon.)

It gets better, believe it or not. Literally moments before he realized the entire indie developer community was dunking on him and privatized his Twitter account, this tweet Shakked originally posted back in June surfaced:

I absolutely despise copycats. Shameless copying is so dumb. Take inspiration from others. Why are they doing that? Why is this a good feature for users? How can we build on top of that?

Shameless copy/pasting ideas/features will get you nowhere.

in response to one of his other apps having its IAP screen ripped off (and it was indeed blatantly ripped-off) by a rival.

Shakked was wrong about that: shamelessly ripping off Wordle has gotten him somewhere, all right. 


  1. While spelunking the App Store’s list of top word games, I stumbled upon Microsoft Wordament. Who knew Microsoft had a highly-ranked word game for iOS (and Android)? They’ve got a Mahjong game among their iOS apps, too. ↩︎

  2. What about Google’s Play Store? I didn’t hunt for long, but as far as I can tell, there’s just one Wordle rip-off at the moment, and it isn’t high-ranking on the word game leaderboard: “Wordle - Daily Word Challenge”, by Digital Snacks — a free-to-download game with both ads and in-app purchases. I tried it out and deleted it after it rejected “caned” and “paned” — neither obscure — as invalid words. ↩︎︎

  3. The actual official Wordle game — on the web — works splendidly as an app on iOS with Safari’s “Add to Home Screen” command in the share sheet. The only downside: web apps on the Home screen don’t share cookies with Safari itself, so if you have saved stats you’ll start over. ↩︎︎


App Store Scam of the Week: ‘AmpMe’ 

Kosta Eleftheriou has found another apparently multi-million-dollar-grossing app that’s been on the App Store for over three years: a shitty music “volume boosting” music player named AmpMe that costs $10 per week after the three-day trial. Thousands of obviously fake reviews, millions of dollars “earned”. Even worse: Apple has repeatedly featured this app in the App Store.

Again I say: Apple needs an App Store bunco squad that hunts for scam apps, sorted by gross revenue. An app like this should be trivial to find and boot from the store.

More on T-Mobile Blocking iCloud Private Relay 

The T-Mo Report (who knew there was a site dedicated to T-Mobile news?):

According to internal documents shared with us here at The T-Mo Report, the blocking of Apple’s privacy-focused service is actually due to a conflict with existing content filtering services on T-Mobile. [...]

This seems to indicate that the blocking isn’t actually intentional by the carrier, but merely a necessary step to ensure their own services work properly. The blocking affects very few customers in practice, and it seems that there are currently no plans to expand the blocking of Apple’s service to standard customers.

Impacted customers will receive one of two error messages, shown below (sourced from the same internal document), stating that their plan isn’t compatible with the iCloud Private Relay service.

As I wrote in an update to my earlier post, if it’s true, this is fair and makes sense. If you actually want your carrier to filter your network traffic, you have to let them see your network traffic. There seem to be a lot of reports from T-Mobile customers running into this problem who claim not to be using T-Mobile’s content filtering features, though.

Another thing to check: in Settings → Cellular → Cellular Data Options, make sure “Limit IP Address Tracking” is turned on.

Update 14 January: iOS 15.3, now in beta, updates the description for iCloud Private Relay in Settings to make things more clear.

Casey Newton on the Danger of Signal Adding Anonymous Payments 

Hozelock Bioforce 9000 / 18000 Foam Sponge Filter Set, Casey Newton, writing for Platformer:

There’s nothing sinister about putting payments into a messaging app, and Signal is not alone in adding crypto payments to messaging: the company formerly known as Facebook has undertaken a multiyear effort to create a new currency and integrate it with WhatsApp and Messenger. What sets Signal’s effort apart is the combination of end-to-end encryption in messaging and a cryptocurrency with privacy features designed to make any transactions anonymous.

Last year, current and former Signal employees told me they were worried about what that combination would bring to the app. Anonymous transactions would likely attract criminals, they told me, and that in turn would attract regulatory scrutiny. Given that end-to-end encryption already faces legal challenges around the globe, they said, Signal’s addition of anonymous payments was a needless provocation. And it could give more ammunition to lawmakers who want to end encryption as we know it.

Moxie Marlinspike Steps Aside as Signal C.E.O. 

Speaking of Moxie Marlinspike, from Signal’s blog:

It’s a new year, and I’ve decided it’s a good time to replace myself as the CEO of Signal.

I have now been working on Signal for almost a decade. It has always been my goal for Signal to grow and sustain beyond my involvement, but four years ago that would still not have been possible. I was writing all the Android code, was writing all of the server code, was the only person on call for the service, was facilitating all product development, and was managing everyone. I couldn’t ever leave cell service, had to take my laptop with me everywhere in case of emergencies, and occasionally found myself sitting alone on the sidewalk in the rain late at night trying to diagnose a service degradation.

I’ve spent the past four years endeavouring to change that, and today the picture is radically different. [...]

I will continue to remain on the Signal board, committed to helping manifest Signal’s mission from that role, and I will be transitioning out as CEO over the next month in order to focus on the candidate search. Brian Acton, who is also on the Signal Foundation board, has volunteered to serve as interim CEO during the search period.

I hope this Acton fellow knows something about cryptographically-secure messaging.

T-Mobile Might Be Blocking iPhone Users From Enabling iCloud Private Relay in the U.S. 

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

In the UK, carriers including T-Mobile, EE, and others have already started blocking Private Relay usage when connected to cellular data. 9to5Mac has also now confirmed that T-Mobile is extending this policy to the United States.

This means that T-Mobile and Sprint users in the United States can no longer use the privacy-preserving iCloud Private Relay feature when connected to cellular data. An error message in the Settings app explains:

Your cellular plan doesn’t support iCloud Private Relay. With Private Relay turned off, this network can monitor your internet activity, and your IP address is not hidden from known trackers or websites.

This is some serious bullshit. It has nothing to do with improving network quality and everything to do with T-Mobile selling your usage data. Curious how Apple will respond. I’d say switch carriers if you’re on T-Mobile, but if they get away with this, I fear Verizon and AT&T will follow.

[Update: T-Mobile in a statement to 9to5Mac: “Customers who chose plans and features with content filtering (e.g. parent controls) do not have access to the iCloud Private Relay to allow these services to work as designed. All other customers have no restrictions.” That makes sense, and is fair. If you actually want your carrier to filter your network traffic you have to let them see your network traffic.

But, responding to T-Mobile’s statement, Miller states: “However, many of the users we’ve heard from, and tested ourselves, do not have any such content filtering enabled. We’ve followed up with T-Mobile for additional clarification, but have not yet heard back.”]

Also at 9to5Mac today, Benjamin Mayo:

It seems carriers in Europe don’t like that idea too much. Via The Telegraph, operators including Vodafone, Telefonica and T-Mobile signed an open letter voicing their opposition to the rollout of the feature. In fact, some carriers are already blocking support as shown in screenshots from readers below.

The letter said that Private Relay cuts off networks and servers from accessing “vital network data and metadata” and will have “significant consequences in terms of undermining European digital sovereignty”. They say it will also impact “operator’s ability to efficiently manage telecommunication networks”.

It’s unclear why the companies are speaking out against Private Relay, when general VPN services have been widely available for years and do much of the same role. Perhaps it is the fact that Private Relay is so easily accessible that they expect a lot of people to use it; the feature is built into iOS 15 and available to any customer with a paid iCloud plan.

Let’s see if the EU’s vaunted regulators know which side of this dispute is actually working in favor of user privacy. There should be no debate which side is right here.

First-Dose Vaccinations Quadruple in Quebec Ahead of Restrictions at Liquor and Cannabis Stores 

CTV News in Quebec:

The number of appointments for the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine has risen sharply this week in Quebec, according to Health Minister Christian Dubé.

Thursday, Dubé announced that vaccine passports would be required to enter Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) and Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) locations starting Jan. 18. He explains the decision was made to curb an increase in cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

He says he hopes this measure will be an additional incentive for some people to get their first dose of vaccine against COVID-19, as more than 50 per cent of people currently hospitalized are non-vaccinated people, though they represent about 10 per cent of the population.

A stick works better to motivate people when it’s used to dangle a carrot, rather than as a switch. More like this, please.

(Worth noting too that Quebec had a high vaccination rate prior to these new restrictions.)

Moxie Marlinspike: ‘My First Impressions of Web3’ 

Moxie Marlinspike:

Despite considering myself a cryptographer, I have not found myself particularly drawn to “crypto.” I don’t think I’ve ever actually said the words “get off my lawn,” but I’m much more likely to click on Pepperidge Farm Remembers flavored memes about how “crypto” used to mean “cryptography” than I am the latest NFT drop.

Also — cards on the table here — I don’t share the same generational excitement for moving all aspects of life into an instrumented economy.

Even strictly on the technological level, though, I haven’t yet managed to become a believer. So given all of the recent attention into what is now being called web3, I decided to explore some of what has been happening in that space more thoroughly to see what I may be missing.

What does this guy know about cryptography, though?

Norton 360 Now Comes With a Cryptominer 

Brian Krebs:

Norton 360, one of the most popular antivirus products on the market today, has installed a cryptocurrency mining program on its customers’ computers. Norton’s parent firm says the cloud-based service that activates the program and allows customers to profit from the scheme — in which the company keeps 15 percent of any currencies mined — is “opt-in,” meaning users have to agree to enable it. But many Norton users complain the mining program is difficult to remove, and reactions from longtime customers have ranged from unease and disbelief to, “Dude, where’s my crypto?”

Krebs also reports that Avira antivirus — which apparently has 500 million users and is owned by the same parent company as Norton — is doing the same thing.

Given how much energy it takes to mine cryptocurrencies, I suspect that few users who opt into this will net any money for themselves. It’s just a scam, like most antivirus software itself and the whole world of cryptocurrencies.


Ashley Carman at The Verge, “Podcasters Are Letting Software Pick Their Ads — It’s Already Going Awry”:

The podcast industry is working up to something big; you can see it in the acquisitions. All the industry’s major players have, over the past two years, acquired companies focused on one feature: inserting ads into podcasts.

Of course, podcasting has always primarily depended on ad revenue, so this incoming era has more to do with getting podcast ads to act like the online advertising we see everywhere else. Wherever there’s a website, there can be a targeted ad, and now wherever there’s a podcast, there’s the potential of inserting a targeted ad, too. Whichever company can make that transition happen the fastest, across the most shows, and with the best data, could not only recoup all those millions of dollars in acquisition costs but make more on top of them.

Carman reports on a few cases of dynamic ads gone wrong — a podcast for kids that was served ads for “The Sex Lives of College Girls”, a science podcast that had explicitly opted out from ads for fossil fuel companies being served ads for Exxon and BP — but the whole idea is shit. Even when the “right” ads are dynamically inserted, the ads are inevitably going to be bad. We know how this story ends because we all use the web and can see with our own eyes the quality (and oppressive quantity) of “ad tech” advertising.

Marco Arment, on Twitter:

Old-fashioned podcast ads (baked-in host reads) have had better CPMs, stronger response rates, and higher audience trust than almost any other form of advertising for over a decade.

And large podcast companies threw that world away for … a worse outcome.

Big platforms and ad-tech companies ALWAYS sell us all on a dream.

You’ll make more money!

It’ll be easier!

It’ll be more accessible to small producers!

And it almost never pans out that way. The middlemen siphon off most of the money, and the platforms become monopolies.

Look no further than Carman’s own description of the trend: “getting podcast ads to act like the online advertising we see everywhere else”. I don’t know anyone who listens to podcasts — you know, the actual customers — who thinks that sounds like a good idea. There’s never been a form of advertising more despised than today’s online web advertising.

Glory of the king Sun Shangxiang Green Dress full set Outfit Cos:

If I ever get around to making a regular podcast, I would never (ever!) give up the right to choose every single ad. The ads are part of the product.

“The ads are part of the product” succinctly sums up my thinking, and saves me from writing an extended rant. That’s the whole game, the entire reason not to even consider letting some biz-dev “ad tech” company insert ads dynamically into a podcast. The ads are part of the product. I’ve built the entire business model of Daring Fireball around that sentiment.


On a related note, it’s long been fascinating to me that “RSS” is widely considered a failure — a half-forgotten technology that lost its relevance when Google pulled the plug on Google Reader — yet the entire podcast universe is built on RSS. Spotify is gaining some degree of traction with their platform-locked shows like Joe Rogan’s, but the overwhelming number of popular podcasts — including subscriber-only paid shows — are delivered via open RSS feeds readable by any client software. All podcasts clients are, at their core, RSS clients — they’re just RSS clients for audio content, not the written word.

The primary reason for this bifurcation, I’m convinced, is simple: most web publishers never figured out how to monetize full-content RSS feeds, by which I mean RSS feeds with the complete articles, not just excerpts. Putting only article excerpts in an RSS feed makes no more sense than putting only audio excerpts into a podcast feed. People who subscribe to a podcast want to listen to the entire shows; people who subscribe to a website’s RSS feed want to read the entire articles. Don’t overthink it. But without a model for advertising in RSS,1 most websites — particularly big websites from established media companies — stopped publishing RSS feeds. Podcasts avoided that fate because the sponsorship model, typically with hosts reading the ads, took root across the entire field. It’s a good model for everyone — the hosts earn money, the sponsors get strong response rates, and listeners get ads that are actually relevant to them and not annoying. (According to Apple Podcasts’s analytics, only about 20 percent of listeners to my show skip the ads.)

Trying to move podcasts to web-like “industry standard advertising” is worse than violating the spirit of If it ain’t broke don’t fix it — this is breaking something that definitely works for something we know doesn’t. It’s grift on the part of the ad industry, pure and simple. 


  1. Here’s where I’ve got to take a self-congratulatory footnote. Long ago I had a paid membership program for Daring Fireball, and one of the perks for paying members was a full-content RSS feed. The free-of-charge RSS feed only had article excerpts. The problem was that Google Reader didn’t work with personal RSS feeds, and Google Reader was — by far — the most popular RSS reader. Rather than dig in my heels, I pulled the plug on monetizing full-content RSS feeds through paid memberships, and instead made the full-content feed free for everyone, and tried monetizing it with a weekly sponsorship, where the sponsor got to post a paid entry to the feed. That worked. It’s now 14 years later, and it still works. (I told a longer version of this story in a talk at XOXO back in 2014.) ↩︎


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