Category: Uncategorized

Inspired Media

Stratechery:

Consider the mechanics of reaching voters/customers/users:

  • Before the Internet, when distribution was the bottleneck, the optimal strategy was to maximize the available throughput. The best example is consumer packaged goods: companies like Proctor & Gamble built massive brands that were designed to appeal to the broadest swaths of population possible, maximizing the return on the effort and expense necessary to advertise and secure retail space. In the case of politics, this manifested as a push by the parties for broadly acceptable candidates who could appeal to the middle.
  • Internet companies, on the other hand, have effectively infinite throughput. Amazon, for example, unbound by the need for shelf space and capitalizing on its transformation into an e-commerce platform, can plausibly bill itself as “The Everything Store”; products are found not through browsing but by search. This, by extension, means that products need to be wanted, not simply recognized — and the same goes for Google’s impact on politics.
  • Facebook, as is its wont, supercharges these effects: instead of users “pulling” out content they are interested in, the algorithm “pushes” content based on its capability of driving engagement. And what drives engagement? Emotion and passion. That may mean a funny product video, or, in the case of politics, politicians who eschew the middle and run to the extremes.

Given the fundamentally different mechanics of Internet distribution, those Facebook numbers make a lot more sense: the extremes inspire passion which drives engagement; “broadly acceptable” doesn’t go anywhere.

This has profound implications for products and politics. First and foremost, it is fundamentally misguided to simply view “digital” as another channel that you layer on top of traditional marketing/campaign tactics like TV advertisements. In fact, products and politicians designed for the TV age — that is, meant to be palatable to the greatest number of people — are at a fundamental disadvantage on platforms like Facebook. The products and politicians that win inspire passion, stirring up a level of engagement that breaks through on a scale that far exceeds an ad buy. To put it another way, above I mentioned “paid” media and “earned” media; what matters on the Internet is “inspired” media.

The second implication is just as profound: campaigns — both for products and presidential candidates — used to be discrete events. This too sprang from the constraints of media: it takes a significant logistical effort to get a campaign off the ground. That, however, is not the case for “inspired” media: customers/voters are not passive recipients, they are active participants, and the speed with which a campaign can be created is breathtaking.

 

Why Does China Allow Freer Social Media? Protests versus Surveillance and Propaganda

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR):

This paper documents basic facts regarding public debates about controversial political issues on Chinese social media. Our documentation is based on a dataset of 13.2 billion blog posts published on Sina Weibo – the most prominent Chinese microblogging platform – during the 2009-2013 period. Our primary finding is that a shockingly large number of posts on highly sensitive topics were published and circulated on social media. For instance, we find millions of posts discussing protests and an even larger number of posts with explicit corruption allegations. This content may spur and organize protests. However, it also makes social media effective tools for surveillance. We find that most protests can be predicted one day before their occurrence and that corruption charges of specific individuals can be predicted one year in advance. Finally, we estimate that our data contain 600,000 government-affiliated accounts which contribute 4% of all posts about political and economic issues on Sina Weibo. The share of government accounts is larger in areas with a higher level of internet censorship and where newspapers have a stronger pro-government bias. Overall, our findings suggest that the Chinese government regulates social media to balance threats to regime stability against the benefits of utilizing bottom-up information.

My emphasis.

 

What should you think about when using Facebook?

Vicki Boykis:

Facebook collects data about you in hundreds of ways, across numerous channels. It’s very hard to opt out, but by reading about what they collect, you can understand the risks of the platform and choose to be more restrictive with your Facebook usage.

If you can’t bring yourself to stop using Facebook, at least follow her advice.

The secret taxonomy behind IKEA’s product names, from Billy to Poäng

Anne Quito in Quartz:

Bathroom articles = Names of Swedish lakes and bodies of water

Bed textiles = Flowers and plants

Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture = Norwegian place names

Bookcases = Professions, Scandinavian boy’s names

Bowls, vases, candle and candle holders = Swedish place names, adjectives, spices, herbs, fruits and berries

Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks = Swedish slang expressions, Swedish place names

Children’s products = Mammals, birds, adjectives

Desks, chairs and swivel chairs = Scandinavian boy’s names

Fabrics, curtains = Scandinavian girl’s names

Garden furniture = Scandinavian islands

Kitchen accessories = Fish, mushrooms and adjectives

Lighting = Units of measurement, seasons, months, days, shipping and nautical terms, Swedish place names

Rugs = Danish place names

Sofas, armchairs, chairs and dining tables = Swedish place names

 

 

Depressingly prescient

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1977):

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Dividing Droplets Could Explain Life’s Origin

Quanta:

A collaboration of physicists and biologists in Germany has found a simple mechanism that might have enabled liquid droplets to evolve into living cells in early Earth’s primordial soup.

Origin-of-life researchers have praised the minimalism of the idea. Ramin Golestanian, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research, called it a big achievement that suggests that “the general phenomenology of life formation is a lot easier than one might think.”

The central question about the origin of life has been how the first cells arose from primitive precursors. What were those precursors, dubbed “protocells,” and how did they come alive? Proponents of the “membrane-first” hypothesis have argued that a fatty-acid membrane was needed to corral the chemicals of life and incubate biological complexity. But how could something as complex as a membrane start to self-replicate and proliferate, allowing evolution to act on it?

 

Buy. Squeeze. Repeat.

Fortune on Kraft Heinz’s iconoclastic strategy under the hard-driving management of 3G Capital, the private equity firm overseen by Brazil’s richest man, 77-year-old Jorge Paulo Lemann.  A simple but effective formula: buy, squeeze, repeat.