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It’s Time For Twitter To Filter Our Feeds. But How?

By - July 27, 2014

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“We don’t put an algorithm between you and your feed.” – Twitter exec Adam Bain, March 2013

“Please do.” Me, today

Twitter has always appealed to tinkerers, to makers, to the people who first took up blogging, who championed RSS and HTML in the early days – you know, the people who created the open web. And because of that, Twitter has always had a strong dose of egalitarianism in its DNA. Twitter expresses that DNA in a particular way: it never decides what you might see in your feed. Whenever you come to the service, you are presented with everything. It’s up to you to figure out what’s valuable.

Compare that to Google, which decides what content you see based on your search query or, more recently, your location (and tons of other data), or Facebook, whose impassive algorithms sift through a sea of friends’ updates and determine what the service, in its ineffable wisdom, decides you will see. Both of these giant companies have, at their core, the idea of editorial judgement - they decide what you see, and for the most part, you have no idea how they made that decision, or why.

Twitter makes no such distinction. And this, of course, has always been both its declared strength and its obvious Achilles heel.

For it is in making editorial judgements that the edges of a media product emerge – and to most of us, Twitter is  a media product (it’s certainly an advertising product, which to my mind makes it a media product as well).

In the coming months, I expect Twitter will finally execute a major shift in its approach to our feeds, and roll out an algorithm, not unlike Facebook’s EdgeRank, which consumes the raw material of our feeds and process them into a series of media products that redefine our experience with the service. Doing so will solve for three of Twitter’s most critical business problems/opportunities: Its vexing “I don’t get Twitter” issue, its slowing user growth and engagement, and Wall Street’s ongoing uncertainty around how far the company’s current advertising model can scale (IE, whether it can grow to Facebook or Google level revenues, currently orders of magnitude larger).

Three years ago I wrote Twitter and the Ultimate Algorithm: Signal Over Noise (With Major Business Model Implications). My main argument was that Twitter has to figure out how to make my feed valuable to me – a point I’ve been talking about for years. It would take a lot of math, a lot of algorithms, and a lot of trial and error, but ultimately, I wanted Twitter to surprise and delight me each time I came back, and there’s no way a raw feed could do that. In short, I argued that it was time for Twitter to create algorithmically-driven editorial voice, one that presents me media product(s) that extract maximum value out of the feeds I followed.

It’s fair to say that three years later, Twitter hasn’t done what I wished for. Back then, Twitter wasn’t a public company, and its ad business was in its early stages. But today Twitter is a $24 billion public company with strong advertising revenues tracking at more than a billion dollars a year. So what do I know?

Well, I know that the problem still exists, and there’s no way Twitter can grow into (and beyond) its current valuation, much less compete with Facebook and Google, if it doesn’t tack into the waters of editorial judgement. This means Twitter has to stare down its existential DNA problem – it has to be willing to put itself between us and our  feeds.

And I think there’s all sorts of opportunity in doing so. I think nearly everyone wants Twitter to try, and while I have no inside information, I’m pretty sure that Twitter is working hard on doing just that. Ever since the company made it clear it didn’t want developers creating consumer facing applications that built new interfaces for the consumption of tweets, the responsibility for creating that value lies squarely with Twitter.

But even as the product and engineering folks at Twitter labor to create these new interfaces, there’s no need for the company to abandon its core philosophy of showing us everything - that should be a mainstay (and differentiating) feature of the service. We just want media products on top of those feeds that mine the best stuff and present it to us in a way that keeps us engaged, provides us significant value, and thereby keeps us coming back. This of course would solve for quite a few other pesky problems – user growth and engagement chief amongst them. Oh, and it’d create the kind of media product that’s rife with signals of user intent  - exactly the place where new Twitter ad products can thrive.

Earlier this year I argued that Twitter might encourage a class of “super curators,” a kind of crowd sourced approach to solving the problem, but that’s not enough. For Twitter to grow at Facebook or Google like rates, it has to build a media product that is automated, but feels uniquely “Twitter-y.” And to me, that means making something that exposes its inner workings to its users, and lets those users customize their consumption in ways that can be shared, celebrated, and even commercialized.  In Who Owns The Right to Filter Your Feed?, I wrote “No one company can boil the ocean, but together an ecosystem can certainly simmer the sea.”

It’s my hope that Twitter lets its tinkerers, makers, and users help make it better and better. The company’s roots are as a user-driven service. Users came up with hashtags, retweets, and other core Twitter features. One of its most valuable assets is its open DNA – and it needn’t abandon that to create an algorithmically edited version of its main product. In fact, given all the suspicions both Facebook and Google have fostered because of their black box algorithms, a more open approach could be a great strength for any new Twitter product. Show us why your algorithm created a particular media product, and let us play around with making it better. I’d bet that plenty of folks would love to do just that. I know I would.

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A Return To Form In Media

By - June 30, 2014

mediaappsOnce upon a time, print was a vibrant medium, a platform where entrepreneurial voices created new forms of value, over and over again. I’ll admit it was my native platform, at least for a while – Wired and The Industry Standard were print-driven companies, though they both innovated online, and the same could be said for Make, which I helped early in its life. By the time I started Federated, a decidedly online company, the time of print as a potent cultural force was over. New voices – the same voices that might have created magazines 20 years ago, now find new platforms, be they websites (a waning form in itself), or more likely, corporate-owned platforms like  iOS, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, and Vine.

Now, I’m acutely aware of how impolitic it is to defend print these days. But my goal here is not to defend print, nor to bury it. Rather, it’s to point out some key aspects of print that our industry still has yet to recapture in digital form. As we abandoned print, we also abandoned  a few critical characteristics of the medium, elements I think we need to identify and re-integrate into whatever future publications we create. So forthwith, some Thinking Out Loud…

Let’s start with form. If nothing else, print forced form onto our ideas of what a media product might be. Print took a certain form – a magazine was bound words on paper, a newspaper, folded newsprint. This form gave readers a consistent and understandable product  - it began with the cover or front page, it ended, well, at the last page. It started, it had a middle, it had an end. A well-executed print product was complete – a formed object – something that most online publications and apps, with some notable exceptions, seem never to be.

Now before you scream that the whole point of online is the stream – the ceaseless cascade of always updated stories – I want to question whether “the stream” is really a satisfying form for providing what great media should deliver – namely voice and point of view. I would argue it is not, and our obsession with producing as many stories as possible (directly correlated to two decades of pageview-driven business models) has denatured the media landscape, rewarding an approach that turns us all into hummingbirds, frantically dipping our information-seeking beaks into endless waving fields of sugary snacks.

I, for one, want a return to form in media. I want to sit down for a meal every so often, and deeply engage with a thoughtful product that stops time, and makes sense of a subject that matters to me. A product that, by its form, pre-supposes editorial choices having been made – this story is important, it matters to you so we’ve included it, and we’ve interpreted it with our own voice and point of view. Those editorial choices are crucial – they turn a publication into a truly iconic brand.*

Closely tied to the concept of form (and antithetical to the stream) is another element of print we’ve mostly discarded – the edition. Printed magazines and newspapers are published on a predictable episodic timeline – that’s why we call them periodicals. They cut time and space into chunked experiences, indeed, they stop time and declare “Over the past (day, week, month), this is what matters in the context of our brand.”

I’ve noticed a few interesting experiments in edition-driven media lately – Yahoo News Digest, Circa, and email newsletters (hello ReDEF!) most notably. But I think we could do a lot better. When the iPad came out, powerful media outlets like NewsCorp failed spectacularly with edition-driven media like The Daily. And the online world gloated – “old” media had failed, because it had simply ported old approaches to a new medium. I think that’s wrong. The Daily likely failed for many reasons, but perhaps the most important  was its reliance on being an paid app in a limited (early iOS) ecosystem. As I’ve said to many folks, I think we’re very close to breaking free of the limits imposed by a closed, app-driven world. It’s never been easier to create an excellent app-based “wrapper” for your media product. What matters now is what that product stands for, and whether you can earn the repeated engagement of a core community.

Which takes me to two critical and quite related features of “print” – engagement and brand. I like to say that reading a great magazine or watching a great show is like taking a bath, you soak it in, you commit to it, you steep yourself in it. When good media takes a bounded form, and comes once in a period of time, it begs to be consumed as a whole – it creates an engaging experience. We don’t dip in and out of an episode of Game of Thrones, after all - we take it in as a whole. Why have we abandoned this concept when it comes to publications, simply because they exist online?

The experience that a publication creates for its audience is the very essence of that publication’s brand – and without deep engagement, that publication’s brand will be weak. A good publication is a convener and an arbiter – it expresses a core narrative that becomes a badge of sorts for its readership. I’m not saying you can’t create a great branded publication online – certainly there are plenty of examples. At FM, we helped hundreds through launch and maturity – but those were websites, which as I said before, are declining as forms due to social, mobile and search. But every brand needs a promise – and that promise is lost if there’s no narrative to the media one experiences.

Our current landscape, driven as it is by sharing platforms and mobile use cases, rewards the story far more than the publication. Back and forth, back and forth we go, dipping from The Awl to Techcrunch, Mashable to Buzzfeed. Playing that game might garner pageviews, but pageviews alone do not a great media brand make. Only a consistent, ongoing, deep experience can make a lasting media brand, one that has a commitment from a core community, and the respect of a larger reading public. If the only way that public can show respect is a Facebook Like or a Twitter retweet, we’re well and truly screwed.

Reflecting on all of this, it strikes me that there’s an opportunity to create a new kind of media, one that prospers as much for what it leaves out as for what it decides to keep in. Because to even consider the concepts of “in” and “out” you need a episodic container – a form. Early in the Internet’s evolution (and I think it’s safe to say, two decades in, that we’re past the “early” stage), it made sense to explore the boundless possibilities of formless media. And while most media companies have been disappointed with “apps,” remember, it’s early, and that ecosystem is still nascent. We’re 20+ years into the Internet, but barely half a decade into apps. The next stage will be a mixture of the link economy of the original web with the format of the app. And with that mixture comes opportunity.

But as we consider the future of media, and before we abandon print to the pages of history, we should recall that it has much to teach us. As we move into an era where media can exist on any given piece of glass, we should keep in mind print’s lessons of form, editions, and brand. They’ll serve us well.

NB: Writing this made me realize there are many topics I had to leave out – longer ramblings on the link economy, on how the stream and “formed” media can and should co-exist, on the role of platforms (and whether they should be “owned” at all), on the role of data and personalization, on why I believe we’re close to a place where apps no longer rule the metaphorical roost in mobile, and more. As summer settles in, I hope to have time to do more thinking out loud on these topics…..

*I’ve noticed a few publications starting to do this, whether it’s the experiments over at Medium (with Matter, for example, or the hiring of Levy to focus tech coverage), or The Atlantic’s excellent Quartz. 

 

Search and Apps – Give Consumers Back Their Links

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I’ve railed against the “chicletized” world of apps for years. I’ve never been a fan of the way mobile has evolved, with dozens, if not hundreds, of segregated little “chiclets” of stovepiped apps, none of which speak to each other, all without any universal platform to unite them save the virtual walled garden of Apple or Google’s app store and OS platform.

Of the two, Google has been the most open to the “webification” of apps, encouraging deep links and building connective tissue between apps and actions into its Android OS. Given Google’s roots in the link-driven HTML web, this is of course not surprising.

Last week’s I/O included news that Google is now actively encouraging developer’s use of deep links in apps. This is a very important next step. Watch this space.

I’ll have more to write on this soon, but my takeaway is this: while developer-driven deep links are great, the next step in mobile won’t really take off until average folks like you and I can easily create and share our own links within apps. Once the “consumers” start creating links, mobile will finally break out of this ridiculous pre-web phase it’s been stuck in for the past seven or so years, and we’ll see a mobile web worthy of its potential.

Feels Like Apple…in 1992

By - June 03, 2014

I went on Bloomberg today, ostensibly to talk about data marketing, NewCo, and anything newsworthy. Turns out, we talked (mostly) about Apple. Bloomberg’s got the video up here, and embedded below. While I understand the headline – Battelle: “Apple Failed to Be Apple” – that’s not exactly my point. And it’s a good thing we’ve got these here blogs, to expand on what otherwise might be a skewed version of the record.

So, what I meant to convey was that Apple was in fact very much Apple, just not the Apple the press (and by extension, the general public) has been trained to expect over the past decade. Apple is the company that wows folks with market-changing hardware releases – the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. And there was none of that yesterday or today. Instead, we got a litany of incremental updates which, from my point of view, were necessary, but not particularly interesting. I mean, improvements on photos, cloud, messaging, developer tools, and a new (but not particularly world changing) OS? Yup, all needed. But nothing industry shaking here, move along.

(Oh, and by the way, Apple bought Beats. It didn’t announce a new hardware play in entertainment, did it? Nope, it bought Beats. And then ignored that fact, save a phone call to Dr. Dre, in its stage craft. Hmmm).

Of course, Apple also announced hand-waving in Health and Home – and trust me, that’s what it was. Because Apple has absolutely no track record in creating modern consumer software services, you know, the kind that iterate based on consumer data (like Dropbox, or Instagram, or Whatsapp, or HangOuts, or SnapChat, for example). But the press ate that shit up, because these days, the press wants to believe Apple is going to redefine a category. And, by the way, I am sure Apple will. Just not this year.

Now, two decades ago, developers would have done backflips for the pedestrian updates announced this week – they are all super important and help everyone in the ecosystem create more value. But that’s where it would have ended. But by the standards Apple has created for itself these past seven years, I’d say Apple did fail to be Apple. But given who Apple was over the past 30 years, this week Apple very much *was* Apple, once again.

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.

Do You Have a Mission or…Are You *On* A Mission? On Being a NewCo

By - May 15, 2014

A sampling of NewCos from our 2013 NYC festival.

 (Cross posted from the NewCo blog…)

About a year ago I wrote a piece outlining the kinds of companies we were looking for as we began the first full year of the NewCo festival circuit. Back then, NewCo was called “OpenCo,” and we were just starting to understand our mission of identifying and celebrating a major trend changing businesses everywhere. In a way, we were exploring a story that had yet to become fully expressed, and that post was my first attempt at declaring the narrative.

A lot has happened in the past year. We’ve thrown four more festivals – in LondonNew YorkDetroit and San Francisco. Thousands of people have experienced the working environment of hundreds of innovative companies in those cities. And just this week, we’re kicking off an expanded NewCo lineup – eight cities in all – repeating last year’s venues, and adding Amsterdam (happening now!), BoulderLos Angeles and Silicon Valley. So it’s a great time to revisit my post from a year ago, and once again ask the question – what makes a NewCo?

Well, we’ve given that a fair bit of thought. Last year, I noted that a new breed of company is emerging, one that takes “work” as more than punching a clock or doing a job. In fact, “work” can be much more – it can be a passion, a drive, a community, and a force for positive change. That’s why we intentionally use the metaphor of music in our language – sure, making music is a “job,” but it’s also an expression of joy, community, and kinship.

Anyone who has worked in a company we call a “NewCo” has experienced that vibe – working at a place where the music you make creates positive change for customers, partners, and your community. I certainly felt that happening at the places I’ve worked, and I see it every day in the companies I visit, and the companies who apply to be featured in NewCo festival events. Earlier this spring, we convened a small band of our own to sharpen our focus around “what makes a NewCo.” To start, we needed to lay out the big narrative of what’s happening in our economy. To wit:

Our world is at an inflection point – we are transitioning from a command and control economy to one that is networked and far more flexible. Driven by the central tenet of capitalism – profit – corporations have become one of the most powerful actors on the global stage. Besides government, no other institution in society has amassed as much wealth, power, and control as the corporation.

But at their core, corporations are just people. And over the past few decades, in parallel with the rise of the Internet, those people have begun a quiet revolution, redfining what a “corporation” can be.  A new kind of organization – one that measures its success on more than profit – has emerged. We call these companies “NewCos.” In a world driven by a deeply networked economy, NewCos are building a new, purpose-driven way of work, one that is more nimble, nuanced, and open than previous rigid and hierarchical models of business.

Out of that narrative came a number of core principles that guide our selection of NewCos in each market:

A NewCo …

-       Is on a mission. Sure, any company can have a mission, but a NewCo sees itself as on a mission to change the world for the better. NewCos embrace the profit motive, but are about more than making money.

-       Is driven by an idea. NewCos are about a big idea, one that drives their mission and purpose as an organization. NewCo people love to tell their company’s story – it’s a deeply felt part of their identity.

…and by people. The core of every NewCo are the people who comprise the organization, and the people it serves. A NewCo is never a “faceless corporation.”  It’s more like a band – a group of people coming together to create something that adds value to the world.

-       Is platform’d. The rise of the Internet Economy has meant that no company is an island.  We are all interconnected. NewCos are either platforms in their own right, and/or they understand how to participate in the platform ecosystem of open collaboration and considered data sharing. We call this being platform’d.

-       Trusts the open. The word “open” has many meanings, but for NewCos, “open” has a clear test: When faced with a choice between closed and controlling vs. a more sharing, open tack, a NewCo tilts toward the latter. This applies to much more than technology stacks – it is applied to partnerships, transparency, and community as well.

-       Is of the City. NewCos revel in the tapestry of cities – their pulse, their diverse communities, and their density of networks, information and humanity.

-       Gives to get. NewCos realize their value comes from serving their communities – their customers, sure, but also any community where the NewCo has an impact. NewCos believe you get back what you give to your community.  And when you’re truly connected to your communities, no one has the energy to be an assh*le.

-       Loves the work. NewCos are reinventing what work means and how its done. NewCos believe work can be joyous – it does not have to suck. NewCos view “work” as a positive expression of identity. To that end, NewCo workspaces are powerful expressions of a company’s identity.

I hope you can feel the music we’re trying to make here at NewCo, and if you are part of a company that vibes with what we laid out above, that you’ll consider applying to join the festival, opening your doors to partners, colleagues, and friends, and celebrating the change happening in our interconnected, global economy. Here’s to a new way of work!

Viacom v. Cable One: A Foreshadowing of Things To Come in The Battle for the Open Web?

By - May 07, 2014
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Viacom’s rather one-sided POV on why its blocked web access for Cable One providers. Image via @TheLadyH86

So it’s come to this.

We’re all familiar with disputes between cable providers and their content partners – it happens all the time. One party claims the other party is demanding too much in a carriage negotiation, and in retaliation, the offended party pulls the programming in dispute. It might be the programmer who refuses to allow its content to run, or the cable company who refuses to put it on the air. The last big one I recall was between Time Warner and CBS back in the Fall, when many major markets looked to be losing football coverage just as the season was starting.

To be honest I pay little attention to these disputes, just more big old media titans arguing over profits and old business models. Doesn’t affect the Internet, nothing to see here, move along.

Until I read this story, about another dispute between cable companies and content providers, this time Viacom (which owns CBS) and Cable One, a provider of cable television, phone, and Internet service in 19 US states. The impetus for this particular tussle was the same as all the others – Viacom wanted more money to run its shows on Cable One, Cable One balked, and Cable One (or Viacom, hard to say which) pulled Viacom programming. But this dispute is unique: Viacom retaliated by denying all Cable One Internet subscribers access to shows openly available on Viacom websites.

Let me repeat that: Viacom retaliated by blocking paying subscribers of Cable One’s Internet services from using Viacom websites. As far as I can tell, Viacom is identifying Cable One subscribers by their IP addresses, and then blocking those IPs from streaming any Viacom content on the web – despite Viacom’s willingness to stream those same shows to anyone else in the US with Internet access.

Let that sink in for a minute. A US corporation is blocking open Internet calls to the open web because the company providing that access is not paying Viacom enough money for Viacom’s television shows. The old world model of command and control in cable is seeping into the Internet. Ick.

What the fork**?

In one short and deeply insightful post this March, Fred Wilson explained the stultifying effects on innovation caused by the erosion of open access to the web by imagining a pitch between entrepreneurs and VCs in an era where net neutrality is rewritten by incumbents in the media and distribution world. Here’s one example:

Entrepreneur: I plan to launch a service that curates the funniest videos from all across the internet and packages them up in a 30 minute daily video show that people will watch on their phones as they are commuting to work on the subway. It’s called SubHumor.

VC: Well since YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix have paid all the telcos so that their services are free via a sponsored data plan, I am worried that it will hard to get users to watch any videos on their phones that aren’t being served by YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. We like you and your idea very much, but we are going to have to pass.

If what Viacom and Cable One are doing becomes standard practice, I can imagine such conversations getting even worse. We are all reaping the rewards, value creation, growth, and innovation of an open Internet. Let’s not let these practices stand.

**Maybe it’s time to teach Cable One’s subscribers about Firefox’s Modify Headers plug in….

 

Google+ Won (Or Why Google Never Needed A Social Network)

By - April 26, 2014

google+Since the news that Google+ chief Vic Gundotra has abruptly left the company, the common wisdom holds that Google’s oft-derided Facebook clone will not be long for this world. But whether or not Google+ continues as a standalone  product isn’t the question. Google likely never cared if Google+ “won” as a competitor to Facebook (though if it did, that would have been a nice bonus). All that mattered, in the end, was whether Plus became the connective tissue between all of Google’s formerly scattered services. And in a few short years, it’s fair to say it has.

As I wrote three years ago , the rise of social and mobile created a major problem for Google – all of a sudden, people were not navigating their digital lives through web-based search alone, they were also using social services like Facebook – gifting that company a honeypot of personal information along the way – as well as mobile platforms and apps, which existed mainly outside the reach of web-based search.

If Google was going to compete, it had to find a way to tie the identity of its users across all of its major platforms, building robust profiles of their usage habits and the like along the way. Google countered with Android and Google+, but of the two, only Android really had to win. Google+ was, to my mind, all about creating a first-party data connection between Google most important services – search, mail, YouTube, Android/Play, and apps.

Think about your relationship to Google five years ago – you most likely weren’t “logged in,” unless you were using a silo’d service like mail. Now think about it today – you most likely are. We have Google+ to thank for that. It’s done its job, and it’ll keep doing it, whether or not you ever use its social bells and whistles as a primary social network.

Google still has a lot of work to do on identity – anyone who has more than one login can attest to that. But Google+ has won – it’s forced the majority of Google users onto a single, signed in state across devices and applications. That protects and extends Google’s core advertising business, and opens up the ability to ladder new services – like Nest – into Google’s platform.

 

The Next Vegas Will Be A City That Lets You Truly Disappear – If Only For A While

By - April 21, 2014

sayminority(image) My daily reading took me to two places today – to Compton, California, well-known for its crime to anyone who grew up in LA (as I did), and to this NYT piece, which muses that the city, once the place we went to disappear, is likely to be the first place where anonymity is no longer guaranteed. (Not coincidentally, Pell found both pieces as well in his excellent NextDraft).

The Compton story informs us that for one month in 2012, the LA police department – not exactly a bastion of trustworthy behavior – surveilled the troubled district of Compton from the air, creating a 24-7 record of everything that was “publicly” viewable from the air. This piece chills me on a number of fronts: average citizens do not presume they are being watched from above, first of all. Secondly, do we want a society where such surveillance is presumed (read a bit of science fiction if your answer is yes)? And thirdly, this “wide net” of proactively collected data creates a record of actions that can be “rewound” and used as evidence after the fact – opening a raft of unsettling questions. It reminds me of one of Eric Schmidt’s creepier utterances (also known as the “nothing to hide” argument): “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The debate around privacy is nuanced and complex, I don’t intend to litigate it here. But as I read the Compton piece, it struck me that this particular genie is fast escaping the bottle. The Compton experiment was conducted using an airplane, but if you think police departments in major cities aren’t adopting far less expensive drone-based programs, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you…

Anyway, the NYT piece picks up where Compton left off, musing that cities offer the economies of data scale that make all public actions knowable well beyond their initial realm of physical expression. You may run that red light thinking no one is looking, but increasingly, the state is in fact looking, and will issue a ticket regardless of whether or not you were trying to rush a sick child to the hospital.  Not to mention the density of well-intentioned information-seeking marketers eager to connect your public presence to location-based offers (and that same data is, of course, available to law enforcement).

Which got me thinking. If big cities, once the refuge of anyone looking for namelessness, anonymity, or a new beginning, if those same cities become instead places where you can’t escape surveillance, it strikes me that our culture will respond by creating cities that promise exactly the opposite of that experience. Vegas has famously adopted “What happens in Vegas, Stays In Vegas” as its motto. But I find Vegas one-dimensional and depressing (save what Tony is up to). Instead I see Amsterdam as a model. I imagine vacationers of the future will want a far broader promise – they’ll be drawn to cities that have adopted a “no surveillance” policy – and in this way, the new Amsterdams of the world will be cities where visitors and residents are guaranteed there are no drones circling the skies, and no electronic, connected surveillance on the streets as well, beyond the time honored cop walking his or her beat.

Now that sounds interesting. I know I’d visit such a place on a regular basis, especially if the art (and the beer) was good…

Introducing #Climate

By - April 03, 2014


As many of you know, each year I write a set of predictions about the industry – this year, however, I had a bit of a hard time getting going. The reason? A persistent sense of “existential anxiety” around climate change. In Predictions 2014: A Difficult Year To See, I wrote:

I’ve been mulling these predictions for months, yet one overwhelming storm cloud has been obscuring my otherwise consistent forecasting abilities. The subject of this cloud has nothing – directly – to do with digital media, marketing, technology or platform ecosystems – the places where I focus much of my writing. But while the topic is orthogonal at best, it’s weighing heavily on me.

So what’s making it harder than usual to predict what might happen over the coming year? In a phrase, it’s global warming. I know, that’s not remotely the topic of this site, nor is it in any way a subject I can claim even a modicum of expertise. But as I bend to the work of a new year in our industry, I can’t help but wonder if our efforts to create a better world through technology are made rather small when compared to the environmental alarm bells going off around the globe.

I’ve been worried about the effects of our increasingly technologized culture on the earth’s carefully balanced ecosystem for some time now. But, perhaps like you, I’ve kept it to myself, and assuaged my concerns with a vague sense that we’ll figure it out through a combination of policy, individual and social action, and technological solutions. Up until recently, I felt we had enough time to reverse the impact we’ve inflicted on our environment. It seemed we were figuring it out, slowly but surely.

But if this latest report from the UN is any indication, we’re not figuring it out fast enough. In fact, the “the costs of inaction are catastrophic,” according to Sec. of State John Kerry.

So how can we take action? In my post, I noted:

As Ben Horowitz pointed out recently, one key meaning of technology is  “a better way of doing things.” So if we believe that, shouldn’t we bend our technologic infrastructure to the world’s greatest problem? If not – why not? Are the climate deniers right? I for one don’t believe they are. But I can’t prove they aren’t. So this constant existential anxiety grows within me – and if conversations with many others in our industry is any indication, I’m not alone.

Indeed, I am not alone, and today, a stellar group of people voted with their reputation and joined the #Climate movement. Sure, a hashtag isn’t going to change the world alone, but it’s a start – and it’s more than just posting on social networks. Created by my friend Josh Felser and a dedicated team, #Climate is “leveraging the social media reach of several dozen “influencers” to spread the word about concrete actions that citizens can take to confront the challenges of global warming. The tech-heavy class of inaugural influencers, who have a combined reach of 80 million people on Facebook and Twitter, include: Al Gore, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Medium founder Evan Williams, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, actor Mark Ruffalo and the NBA.” (Re/Code)

I’m honored to be included in the list and will be using the app from now on. If you follow me on Twitter, I hope you’ll find my calls to action worthy of your time. Who knows, we might just be starting something….