Man versus Algo

(Shutterstock image)

(Shutterstock image)

Apple News will be the opposite of Darth Vader — more man now than machine:

Apple News, part of the upcoming iOS 9 operating system, aims to be the primary news source for users of the iPhone and iPad — likely at the expense of sources such as Facebook, Google and news apps such as Flipboard.

In a surprising move, Apple has unveiled it will be hiring experienced journalists to manage its news feeds — marking a departure from the algorithmic process used by rivals.

“Apple is eager to have news created by human beings and not algorithms — it fits in with the brand statement Apple has been making,” said Judd Slivka, a professor of mobile journalism at the University of Missouri.

“The expectation is they will put together a smart team that works well broadly across news and specific content areas.”


There’s no way of knowing if the News app will be any good, although most anything would be an improvement over the existing Newsstand. It’s less than an app, doesn’t quite work like a folder, and even the icon is fugly. It’s the least Apple-y app Apple has ever produced for iOS.

Whether or not News achieves Apple’s goals for it, it is part of an interesting trend at the company. Here’s a little something on the upcoming Music streaming service:

The app has a My Music section, which has a “For You” feature that provides recommendations of artists and curated radio playlists to users. Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue explained that For You wasn’t just algorithmically driven, that it also involved human curators.

Apple is spending big money on personnel — $3 billion to bring in Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine, plus oodles more on news editors and professional DJs. While everyone else is using algorithms to curate your news and your streaming playlists, Apple apparently thinks living human beings will give it a competitive advantage in its appeal to readers and listeners.

I hope they’re right, because it would be nice if someone, anyone would save us all from the banalities of Google News and Clear Channel radio. On the other hand, it’s hard not to think of John Henry.

When John Henry was a little tiny baby
Sitting on his mama’s knee,
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel
Saying, “Hammer’s going to be the death of me, Lord, Lord,
Hammer’s going to be the death of me.”

John Henry was a man just six feet high,
Nearly two feet and a half across his breast.
He’d hammer with a nine-pound hammer all day
And never get tired and want to rest, Lord, Lord,
And never get tired and want to rest.

John Henry went up on the mountain
And he looked one eye straight up its side.
The mountain was so tall and John Henry was so small,
He laid down his hammer and he cried, “Lord, Lord,”
He laid down his hammer and he cried.

John Henry said to his captain,
“Captain, you go to town,
Bring me back a TWELVE-pound hammer, please,
And I’ll beat that steam drill down, Lord, Lord,
I’ll beat that steam drill down.”

The captain said to John Henry,
“I believe this mountain’s sinking in.”
But John Henry said, “Captain, just you stand aside–
It’s nothing but my hammer catching wind, Lord, Lord,
It’s nothing but my hammer catching wind.”

John Henry said to his shaker,
“Shaker, boy, you better start to pray,
‘Cause if my TWELVE-pound hammer miss that little piece of steel,
Tomorrow’ll be your burying day, Lord, Lord,
Tomorrow’ll be your burying day.”

John Henry said to his captain,
“A man is nothing but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand.”

The man that invented the steam drill,
He figured he was mighty high and fine,
But John Henry sunk the steel down fourteen feet
While the steam drill only made nine, Lord, Lord,
The steam drill only made nine.

John Henry hammered on the right-hand side.
Steam drill kept driving on the left.
John Henry beat that steam drill down.
But he hammered his poor heart to death, Lord, Lord,
He hammered his poor heart to death.

Well, they carried John Henry down the tunnel
And they laid his body in the sand.
Now every woman riding on a C and O train
Says, “There lies my steel-driving man, Lord, Lord,
There lies my steel-driving man.”


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