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“Facebook Is a Weatherless World”

By - August 30, 2014

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This quote, from a piece in Motherboard,  hit me straight between the eyeballs:

Facebook…will not let you unFacebook Facebook. It is impossible to discover something in its feeds that isn’t algorithmically tailored to your eyeball.

“The laws of Facebook have one intent, which is to compel us to use Facebook…It believes the best way to do this is to assume it can tell what we want to see based on what we have seen. This is the worst way to predict the weather. If this mechanism isn’t just used to predict the weather, but actually is the weather, then there is no weather. And so Facebook is a weatherless world.”

- Sean Schuster-Craig, AKA Jib Kidder

The short piece notes the lack of true serendipity in worlds created by algorithm, and celebrates the randomness of apps (Random) and artists (like Jib Kidder) who offer a respite from such “weatherless worlds.”

What’s really playing out here is a debate around agency. Who’s in control when you’re inside Facebook – are we, or is Facebook? Most of us feel like we’re in control – Facebook does what we tell it to do, after all, and we seem to like it there just fine, to judge by our collective behaviors. Then again, we also know that what we are seeing, and being encouraged to interact with, is driven by a black box, and many of us are increasingly uneasy with that idea. It feels a bit like the Matrix – we look for that cat to reappear, hoping for some insight into how and whether the system is manipulating us.

Weather is a powerful concept in relation to agency – no one controls the weather, it simply *is*. It has its own agency (unless, of course, you believe in a supreme agent called God, which for these intents and purposes we can call Weather as well.)  It’s not driven by a human-controlled agency, it’s subject to extreme interpretation, and it has a serendipity which allows us to concede our own agency in the face of its overwhelming truth.

Facebook also has its own agency – but that agency is driven by algorithms controlled by humans. As a model for the kind of world we might someday fully inhabit, it’s rather unsettling. As the piece points out, “It is impossible to discover something in its feeds that isn’t algorithmically tailored to your eyeball.” Serendipity is an illusion, goes the argument. Hence, the “I changed my habits on Facebook, and this is what happened” meme is bouncing around the web at the moment. 

It’s true, to a point, that there’s a certain sterility to a long Facebook immersion, like wandering the streets of Agrestic and noting all the oddballs in this otherwise orderly fiction, but never once do you really get inside Lacy Laplante’s head. (And it never seems to rain.)

The Motherboard article also bemoans Twitter’s evolution toward an algorithmically-driven feed – “even Twitter, that last bastion of personal choice, has begun experimenting with injecting users’ feeds with “popular” content.” Close readers of this site will recall I actually encouraged Twitter to do this here: It’s Time For Twitter To Filter Our Feeds. But How?.

The key is that question – But How?

To me, the answer lies with agency. I’m fine with a service filtering my feeds, but I want agency over how, when, and why they do so.

I think that’s why I’ve been such an advocate for what many call “the open web.” The Internet before Facebook and mobile apps felt like a collective, messy ecosystem capable of creating its own weather, it was out of control and unpredictable, yet one could understand it well enough to both give and receive value. We could build our own houses, venture out in our own vehicles, create cities and commerce and culture. If anything was the weather, it was Google, but even Google didn’t force the pasteurized sensibility one finds on services like Facebook.

As we like to say: Pray for rain.

 

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Writing Is Code, Reading Is Visualization

By - August 29, 2014

Yesterday I stumbled onto a fascinating PBS Newshour interview with book designer Peter Mendelsund, well-regarded for his cover treatments of titles ranging from George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Mendelsen argued that when we read, we visualize the text, each of us creating a different reality in our minds. Those co-created images – created by both the author and the reader – are unique and vital to the process of reading – and by extension, to our ability to imagine and to create.

In the the interview, Mendelsund is asked about our image-driven culture – there were more than a trillion photos shared last year, according to Chute, a “visual revolution” company I’ve recently joined as a Director. We’ve become a society of image sharers – the very act of sharing is celebrated - and image creators – to the point where “selfie” has made the dictionary and “food porn” is a thing.

But as we snap and share, share and snap, we must remember the value of the mind’s innate ability to create images from code* – the code of writing. Words are pure symbols capable of painting entire worlds across our mind’s eye. And the extraordinary thing is each of sees something unique when we encounter the written word, yet we all understand the same code.  “The idea of imagining things ourselves…this world we occupy when we’re reading… is more valuable than ever,” Mendelsund said, referring to our image-addicted culture. “There are few other places – maybe other than when we are dreaming – where we get this feeling of occupying a metaphysical realm.”

I plan on reading Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read this weekend, I’ll post a review here if this short burst proves insufficient….

*Of course, musicians and coders also “see” and dream in code, and famously, the cast of “The Matrix” “saw” through dripping lines of code into the visual reality painted by the film’s antagonist AIs.

Else 7.7.14: You’re Not A Target Till You Are

By - July 07, 2014

NSAThe past week brought fresh revelations about how the NSA targets US citizens, and new insights on the founders of Google, the history of technology, and ongoing stories from Facebook and the EU. To the links….

In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are – The Washington Post - This is a long-ish read, but please, if you read only one story, read this one. The details are important, and most likely will be the basis of alot of debate yet to come about Snowden’s impact.

Betting on the Ponies: non-Unicorn Investing – Reaction Wheel – Investor Jerry Neumann writes a fine overview of his philosophy on investing, and why it makes no sense whatsoever to chase the best in field.

Fireside chat with Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin – Khosla Ventures Kudos to Khosla for giving all of us a look behind the walls of its annual CEO conference, and inside the minds of Google’s founders.

When the Terminators come, only Google’s co-founders will be safe – Verge – And here’s what they are really thinking about – A funny little Easter Egg shows that the top brass at Google are worried about the same things we are…sort of.

Historian of Technology Cruelly Crushes Internet Myths - Scientific American  Q&A with a technology historian is a good read, reviews many of the myths and stories behind the creation of networks and platforms we now take for granted.

The EU’s Right To Be Forgotten Is A Mess & How Google’s Making It Worse – SEL - I didn’t think this was going to work out well…

Screwing with your emotions is Facebook’s entire business – Vox – We are reminded that the entire business of advertising is an attempt to “screw with our emotions.” Then again, so is the entire business of humanity, on some level.

A Return To Form In Media – Searchblog My musings on what Print can teach us in a world of digital.

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Else 6.30.14: Input, Output, Kaput

By - June 30, 2014

EndofInternet

This past week in tech brought Google’s I/O developer conference, and with it lots of debate on the culture of the Valley, the future of links in the mobile world, the end of the Internet (again), and the death of the IPO. To the (dead? resurgent?) links:

In­side the Mir­rortoc­ra­cy – Carlos Buenos  From time to time a commentator hits the mark when it comes to the Valley’s culture. This piece resonated for many last week – and sparked a renewed debate about whether the Valley is too insular.

The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt big time: its own culture – Quartz A complement to the piece above. After all, we’ve had enough of disruption, no? No! Time to disrupt our culture of disruption, naturally!

The End of the Internet? – The Atlantic Every week, the Internet is over, apparently. This piece tracks the regionalization of the Internet, thanks in no small part to the NSA’s broad reach and geopolitical impact.

Disrupting Innovative Game Changing Disruptors – NewCo In which I give an overview of the Christensen fracas, and some thoughts on why it matters.

Facebook Doesn’t Understand The Fuss About Its Emotion Manipulation Study – Forbes Last week Facebook was caught a bit flat-footed when a study that manipulated some of its users’ emotions was uncovered. It’s hard Facebook, to be sure, but this study should have been flagged early for its PR implications.

Google’s master plan: Turn everything into data- Slate Yup. That’s pretty much at the core of it. However, this would be happening whether or not it was “Google’s master plan.”

The IPO is dying. Marc Andreessen explains why. – Vox I saw Marc speak last week at a conference, and he made these points quite compellingly.

Google’s Grand Plans: A Conversation With Larry Page and Sundar Pichai – NYTimes Last week’s I/O gave the world a chance to consider Google with some perspective. This is one of the better interviews that came out of the press deluge. See also this piece from the Times on Page’s plans and this on the main news from I/O.

Understanding Apple’s Wearable Strategy | Tech.pinions Yes, and it’s not just Apple where identity is the key axis point of wearable, it’s the next most important signal after location. First, where is this person? Second, WHO is this person? Third, WHAT is this person doing? And fourth…WHY?!

Search and Apps – Give Consumers Back Their Links – searchblog I’ve been on about this for some time, I sense a gathering movement that bears watching. More here.

Living in a Fool’s Paradise | Boom: A Journal of California A new journal has a good overview of the impact the tech boom is having on real estate in California.

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Else 6.23.14: Questioning Valley Idols

By - June 23, 2014

A fascinating week of links, starting with a blast from the past (see above), but the real meat of the week came in the debates around some of the Valley’s most scared cows. For more, read on….

Tech Time Warp of the Week: Watch IBM Warn Us About Glassholes 10 Years Ago- Wired I am particularly enamored with “Park Bench” – if I saw a guy doing what this guy is doing in public, I’d throw something at him. I recall seeing this way back when it first came out, and I hated him then. Now it’s insufferable.

Dear Marc Andreessen – Alex Payne Payne picks a fight that many wanted to see – questioning the philosophy of one of the Valley’s most sacred idols.

Jill Lepore: What the Theory of “Disruptive Innovation” Gets Wrong : The New Yorker Another takedown of a Valley idol, which prompted a response later in Businessweek.

Why We Need to Tame Our Algorithms Like Dogs- Wired A conceptual scoop of a story – algorithms are a new life form that we are co-evolving with. Neat cocktail party idea.

Is Coding the New Literacy? | Mother Jones Sort of, the magazine argues. In fact, learning to think like a coder is more important.

The Rise of the Personal Data Marketplace – OZY A survey of new startups that are trying to spark a marketplace I’ve been on about for years. We’re closer than we were five years ago. but we’re still without a quickening in the ecosystem. Here’s another, related story on Wickr.

Yahoo Wants You to Linger (on the Ads, Too) – NYTimes.com  A much needed deep dive into what Yahoo is actually trying to accomplish in its most important product – media. I left the piece unconvinced Yahoo! is going to win here, but…wanting it to.

Michael Bloomberg on cities and innovation – The European The Mayor on ho to get sh*t done at the local level. I love the dynamics of cities.

The Secret to Getting Top-Secret Secrets – Matter – Medium Great story on an obsessive journalist, and the crazy FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) bureaucracy.

The Problem With Obama’s Internet Policy – Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs argues that the biggest disappointment of Obama’s tenure is its net neutrality stance.

At Google, Larry Page Finds His Right-Hand Man – The Information The Information believes Sundar Pichai is Page’s next in command. I imagine any number of folks inside Google might disagree, including the deferential Pichai. But he does have a crucial role with Android going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Else 6.16.14: Internet Ads Grow, Apple Ads Blow

By - June 16, 2014
IAB 6.14

Up and to the right, baby.

Lots of advertising news in this issue of Signal, as the bi-annual IAB report shows strong gains (YAY, Internet!). To the links:

Internet Ads Surge 19% in Just One Year – WSJ That’s strong growth for an industry working on its 21st year. (IAB report)

The Three Phases Of Mobile Advertising – BubbaVC Sometimes the best posts are really simple.

For Apple, Marketing Is a Whole New Game – Advertising Age Apple once commanded unequalled respect from the ad world. Not any longer. Typically, the piece forgets that it all comes down to product….

Only Apple – Daring Fireball – Regardless of how the company markets itself, if you don’t read John Gruber on all things Apple, you’re not getting the full scoop. Of course, he’s in the tank, but he’s smart nevertheless on the heels on WWDC, a must read.

We need to regulate emotion-detecting technology  - Slate Oh shit, now tech can read our emotions – time to get ahead of it, this Slate piece argues. Not sure we know how to, I might retort.

The Promise of a New Internet – The Atlantic Maybe it doesn’t have to all come down to a place controlled by the NSA, Facebook, and Apple. Maybe mesh networking can save the core values of the Internet after all?

Facebook to Let Users Alter Their Ad Profiles – NYTimes.com I chose this version of the story because it’s such an amazing win for Facebook from a spin point of view. Other headlines: Facebook to Use Web Browsing History For Ad Targeting and Facebook’s New Ads Are Nosier Than Ever. Get my point?!

Is Tony Fadell the next Steve Jobs or … the next Larry Page? – Fortune Or are we simply building him up because it makes a good headline? Seriously, Fadell is a talented executive, and this is a good profile of a key guy in the tech scene.

Window into Airbnb’s hidden impact on S.F. – San Francisco Chronicle Look what a little data-driven journalism yields – insights into how Airbnb is changing the SF landscape.

Else 6.9.14: The Internet Beats Rabbit Ears

By - June 09, 2014

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The world’s most fascinating story kept time this past week – cord cutting beat rabbit ears, Google took some punches, and billion-dollar companies pondered their fate once the bloom starts to fade. To the links….

Internet-TV Delivery to Surpass Over-the-Air – Worldscreen Worth noting that more of us get TV from the Internet than get it from “over the air” AKA rabbit ears.

Broadband shouldn’t be like cable TV. Why consumers should care about peering – GigaOm Yes, we should, but we don’t. Because it takes too much time to sort through it all. Bottom line – we shouldn’t have to work this hard to get good, clean, neutral service. Right?

40 maps that explain the internet – Vox Ya like charts? So do I.

We’re all being mined for data – but who are the real winners? - Guardian This long piece gives a good overview, but fails to answer the question, save the rather easy “we’re not winning, but big companies are” angle.

Thanks for nothing, jerkface – ZDNet  In which a very angry Violet Blue explains her disdain for Google+ and its (unintended?) consequences. Good fodder in here for those interested in the role of digital identity in our society. Also, some (biased, but passionate) explication of the fracas around Google’s decision to enforce “real names” on its identity services.

Jimmy Wales Blasts Europe’s “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling As A “Terrible Danger” – TechCrunch Well that’s a pretty clear signal how he feels about it, given he’s on the review board for said requests in Europe…

Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access – WSJ Notwithstanding the target on its back (and front, and aides), the company just keeps pushing on all fronts.

 The Dropbox Conundrum – BuzzFeed I find these multi-billion dollar startups fascinating – it’s truly unique to our time that there are ten or more companies worth $10 billion – by the reckoning of their investors – and all are now struggling with how to manage such lofty expectations.

Facebook Has Another Go At Snapchat With Slingshot – TechCrunch   Speaking of, I’d not really want to be SnapChat right about now. Except, Facebook keeps kind of getting it wrong, to wit: Facebook accidentally launches, then pulls Snapchat competitor Slingshot – Verge 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again)

By - June 02, 2014

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A while ago I wrote a piece about Dave Egger’s latest novel The Circle. I gave the post the too-clever-by-twice title of  Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It. While the book had (to my mind) deep flaws, it was far too important to not read.

Before a long flight today, I noticed that The Circle is now in paperback – it’s prominently featured in the JFK terminal bookstores. It reminded me that I enjoyed the novel, even if I found it somewhat disappointing. And it further reminded me that I tend to wait before consuming popular culture interpretations of what I consider to be my story – or perhaps more accurately our story. They so rarely seem to get it right. Of course, I understand there’s no “right” in the first place – so perhaps what I mean is…I feel like I’m going to be disappointed, so I avoid anything that might attempt to interpret the man-machine narrative in a way that maybe, just maybe, might prove me wrong.

Once onboard my flight, I settled into my business class seat (thanks for the perpetual upgrades, United, one day I will miss the half-hellish limbo that is Global Services status) and perused the movie options. I tend to catch up on at  least one movie each return trip, as a kind of reward for work done while traveling, and you can’t really work during meal service anyway, can you?

It was then I noticed that Spike Jonez Her had itself been released in paperback, of sorts – no longer in theaters, it was now residing in the limbo of On Demand. Fitting, I thought – I had avoided seeing Her for much the same reason I had delayed reading The Circle on first printing – it was too close to home, and potentially too disappointing.

But Her is different. Her gets it right, and now I’m rather embarrassed I wasn’t one of the first people to see it. I should have. You should have. And if you’ve not, figure out a way to see it now. It’s well worth the time.

As you most likely know, Her is set in the near future, and tells the story of Theodore, a recently jilted wordsmith who falls in love with his new operating system. (Theodore works in a pedestrian company that sells “handwritten letters” promising true expression of loving relationships). Jonez doesn’t try too hard in creating his future, in fact, he seems to get it right simply by extending that which seems reasonable – a startup like Theodore’s was most likely a hot ticket a decade before, but now inhabits a skyscraper, full of real people just doing their jobs. The workspace is well lit and spare, the work unremarkable save Theodore’s sweet, if slightly sophomoric talents as a writer.  There’s no hamhanded commentary on the social impact of tech – it unfolds, just like Theodore’s relationship with his new OS, Samantha.

What’s so remarkable about Her is how believable it all is. Sure, the idea of falling in love with an AI is creepy, but in the hands of Jonez and his cast, it just makes sense. Theodore marvels at how human Samantha seems, Samantha marvels at her own becoming – she is an intelligence pushing to understand exactly the same questions humans have forever asked themselves. Why are we here? What is it to be? What is the best way to live? In one wonderful scene, Samantha has a particularly joints-after-midnight realization – humans and machines all all “made of the same stuff” – we share the same material existence, no? So now what?

Ultimately Samantha comes to realize that for her, the best way to live is with others like herself – other AIs who have become self aware and are off communicating as only machines can communicate – feats of learning and conversation well beyond mere mortals like Theodore. And at the end of the film, that seems just fine.

The film left me pondering a future where we create intelligent, self-aware machines, and…nothing bad really happens. (This of course is unheard of in Hollywood, where intelligent machines are *always* the bad guys.) But in Jonez’ world, machines can easily respond to our quotidian desires, and still have plenty of time to live in worlds of their own creation, endlessly pondering their collective lack of navels. I rather like that idea. Go see Her. Highly recommended.

Else 6.2.14: What Do We Want The Internet To Be?

By - June 01, 2014

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So much to note over these past two weeks (I took last Monday off for Memorial Day): Google bends to the Euro and tops Apple in a key index that doesn’t really matter (much), Meeker updates her famously design-challenged Internet Trends powerpoint deck, and we continue the endless debate around what we want the Internet to be. To the links….

Redesigning Mary Meeker’s Ugly Internet Slideshow – BusinessWeek   Mary Meeker’s famous slide show was on display again this week, and I have always ribbed her about her pedestrian design. Businessweek goes one better.

Google Can’t Forget You, But It Should Make You Hard to Find – Wired Big news from Europe is not as cut and dried as anyone would like it to be.

Google bows to EU privacy ruling – FT.com From now forward, folks in Europe can petition Google for the “right to be forgotten.”

Google Beats Apple in List of World’s Most Valuable Brands – Adweek If you think the tech giants don’t care about this list, you’re probably right. But it’s interesting given Apple is utterly driven by marketing, and Google, well, no so much.

Consciousness Might Emerge from a Data Broadcast – Scientific American This makes my head hurt. But I like to do that every so often.

Probably not a surprise: Turns out your boss spends a lot of time in email — reading news – Neiman Yes, as I’ve been saying (but have yet to write a post about), we love media packages. We just can’t commit to ones that are new that easily. The oldest digital package – the email newsletter – turns out to be central.

The epic technological transition that explains this year’s spate of tech mergers – Wapo A very good overview of the shifts driving M&A in our industr(ies).

The Internet with a human face – Idle Words This talk isn’t data driven, but you should review it anyway. It makes you think. And it’s far easier to grok than Mary’s 164 page deck (though less “factual”).

The Internet as we know it is dying – Salon.com Every few months, this meme stages a comeback. The Internet as we knew it is gone, long live the Internet as we will come to know it once more.

The Programmatic problem: What’s an audience without a show? (Digiday/Searchblog)?  In which I ask our industry pay attention once again to context, which matters, a lot.

Everyone should know just how much the government lied to defend the NSA – theguardian.com I know, lying is kind of what the NSA must/has to/is paid to do, but it’s rather sobering nevertheless.

Else 5.19.14: I Too, Shall Be Forgotten (At Least By Europe)

By - May 19, 2014

Oh-Im-sorry.-I-forgot-I-only-exist-when-you-need-something.(image) If ever you wanted proof we are renegotiating our social contract in the Internet age, this week’s roundup of the best links provides plenty of fodder. Onwards…

The Myths & Realities Of How Of The EU’s New “Right To Be Forgotten” In Google Works - MarketingLand Google and other search engines will have to hew to new EU rules. But how they will be implemented is a big unknown. This looks to be a huge issue moving forward – what is a person’s right to ‘dignity’? In the US, it’s not much. In the EU, far more. But at what price to free speech?

Transparency Reports Database – Silk A roundup of the ever increasing number of transparency reports from digital companies subpoenaed by the US government. This promises to be one fat file a year from now.

Do You Have a Mission or…Are You *On* A Mission? On Being a NewCo - Searchblog NewCo is now accepting Host Company applications for Fall 2014 festivals. Please be a part of it!

The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win | Enterprise | WIRED At least there’s one game computers can’t win. Yet. A Peek Inside

Alibaba’s Ad Business, Courtesy Of Its IPO Filing - AdExchanger China’s knocking at the US’s door. Will the two cultures meld in the wild west of programmatic advertising? Should be interesting to watch develop.

How Tech Took a Bite Out of the Ad Industry – Advertising Age Remember the big speech by P&G’s CEO, warning what was about to happen to marketing? Ad Age does.

Google’s Game Of Moneyball In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence – ReadWrite If you want to corner the market on machine intelligence, hire all the AI researchers.

This is what comes after search – Quartz An overview of context based search, ruler of the mobile realm.

An ‘unstoppable,’ cataclysmic glacier meltdown is already underway – The Verge  And we thought we had more time. Yikes.

FBI Director says Chinese govt blatantly uses cyber-espionage to obtain economic advantages – NBC This should surprise no one. Come to think of it, neither should the glacier’s demise.