Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Holding algorithms (and the people behind them) accountable is still tricky, but doable
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Feb. 11, 2015, 4:57 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   February 11, 2015

One question that’s been asked a lot since Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post is how involved he is in the newspaper’s evolution. Bezos hasn’t spoken in much detail about the subject. (One of his relatively few public comments about his ownership starts at 42:45 of this Business Insider video.) Media references to the Post’s real successes of the past year sometimes seem to give credit to his magical touch — but how engaged is he, really, given that other pretty big company he owns?

Joey Marburger, the Post’s director of digital products and design, precipitated a tweetstorm last night that opened a small window into Bezos’ involvement in the development of the Post’s Kindle Fire app:

Two quick thoughts. First, the Kindle Fire app they built is an nice piece of work, with an interesting UX and a twist on the linear-reading model a print newspaper offers. But you probably haven’t heard much about it since its release — because it’s locked on the Kindle Fire, a tablet not that many people use, but which Bezos’ other company happens to make.

In business, they call it a strategy tax when something makes a product less likely to succeed but advances larger corporate goals. (Think Microsoft refusing for so long to release Office for iOS, where it likely would have been a success, because it wanted to prop up its own Windows mobile platforms.) I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there is zero chance this would have launched exclusive to the Kindle Fire if Jeff Bezos was not the owner of the newspaper. It’ll be worth watching to see to what degree future interesting Post work gets constrained to Amazon platforms.

Second, if you haven’t already, read this Fast Company piece from last month — on what went wrong with the Amazon Fire Phone — for a different vision of Bezos’ involvement in product development.

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