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  • feedwordpress 23:27:09 on 2022/01/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , Joints After Midnight & Rants, , , , , web2,   

    Let’s Argue About Web3! 


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    Popcorn in  hand, I’ve been watching the recent religious war between tech leaders, and I find it all quite…wonderful. It’s been a while since we’ve had this level of disagreement about the future of what we used to call “our industry,” and as long as the debate remains relatively civil, I’m here for it. Then again, we’ve already seen trolling (Elon Musk), blocking (Marc Andreessen), and shitposting (Jack Dorsey) from some of the biggest names in tech. But hey, at least the arguments are getting aired out.

    So what are we arguing about? In short, the future. Nothing is more sacred in the world of tech – the industry has defined and owned the future’s brand for as long as I can remember. Arguing about how that future might play out used to be a full time gig for many of us. It was at the center of our editorial mission at Wired – to paraphrase founding editor Louis Rossetto, our job was “to make a magazine that felt like it was mailed back from the future.” But around a decade ago, arguments about the future subsided – what was the point, given that future had consolidated into a handful of technology titans like Facebook, Tesla, Apple, Google, Netflix and Amazon? Whatever gifts or perils the future might bring, one thing was certain: The tech giants owned it. Where’s the fun in that?

    This turn of events was profoundly dispiriting for some, particularly those of us who had taken the red pill at the dawn of the commercial internet. Sure, I moderated a conference on Web2, and I wrote a book on search and Google, so watching Web2 businesses grow into the most successful firms in the history of business was … cool, for a while. But by 2012 or so, I had lost the optimism and excitement I once had for the industry. It felt like our dreams for a better world had been hijacked by centralized models of capital, and the future had become predictable again. Boring.

    But over the past few years, a renewed vision for the future has been on the rise. Yes, I’m going to call that renewed vision by the name absolutely no one can agree about: Web3*. The word itself has morphed over the years – for a brief minute, we thought Web3 might mean “the semantic web,” but by 2012, when I decided to stop producing the Web2 conference, it became something of a private joke between myself and my partner Tim O’Reilly. Whatever came after Web2, we agreed, it certainly wouldn’t take the nomenclature of a software upgrade!

    When we started Web2 in 2003, it was clear the tech world was in the midst of a huge transformation – the first iteration of the Web had bubbled up, gotten traction, been hopelessly over hyped, and then went bust.  A few years later, something new was rising – a second phase of the web that we believed would take all the goodness of what came before, and add a ton more value. The transition took about a decade – the Netscape IPO was in 1994, and the first Web2 conference was in 2004. It’s been 17 years since then. Might such a transformation finally be underway again?

    Well, that’s the rub of the argument. Just a few weeks ago, Tim kicked the debate into high gear with an essay arguing “it’s too early to get excited about Web3.” His core point quotes the technology cycles theory of economist Carlota Perez, whose work notes that technological progress is always accompanied by financial bubbles which over-invest in important new infrastructure. These bubbles always burst – and the true value of the revolution is consolidated afterward. So where are we on this cycle now?  Tim posits a key question: “Is abundant financial capital building out useful infrastructure in the way that we saw for the previous cycles?”

    And therein lies the fodder for the past few weeks of Web3 backlash.  Established VCs poured $30 billion into the crypto space this past year – more than in all prior years combined. The lead dog in the space? Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most profitable VC firms of the Web2 era. This has led many Web3 detractors (and purists) to proclaim that the same forces which begat Facebook (Marc Andreessen is a board member) will lead Web3 into yet another centralized corporate power grab. Here’s how Jack Dorsey summed it up:

    This tweet set off a firestorm – I’ll leave it to you to read the fractal threads and comments (it’s great fun) – a who’s who of crypto leaders, investors, founders, and pundits weighed in. The argument turned on one key idea: Decentralization. Proponents of Web3 wrote defenses of the core thesis – my favorite is Albert Wenger’s Web3/Crypto: Why Bother, which focuses on why “inferior” approaches to technology (in this case, decentralized blockchains/databases) might actually prove far more valuable in the long run. Opponents argued that Web3 is just more of the same bullshit, just with better marketing and, as Jack pointed out, the same VCs behind it all.

    Over the years I’ve become less of a starry eyed techno-optimist, and more of a “show me the results” kind of pragmatist when it comes to what technology can do. I can nod my head along to both lines of reasoning – but I see no value in maximalism at either extreme. If Web3 is really going to be a thing, it must incorporate the lessons of the many, many things we got wrong with Web2’s business models and governance. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the billions of dollars of risk capital being injected into our industry, most of it with the express goal of building something utterly new. Oh, and by the way – most of the value in today’s crypto world was built with absolutely no venture investment (the same was true for the original internet, for what it’s worth).

    No matter what, it’s refreshing as hell to see our industry actually debate important ideas like trust, governance, and decentralization, and to fret – openly and loudly – about how the future might turn out.  Onward!


    *If you’re looking for a quick primer on why many are excited about Web3, read Chris Dixon’s “Why Web3 Matters” and “America Onchain” by Jarrod Dicker. Yes, I’m aware they’re both VCs, and I’m OK with that…

     
  • feedwordpress 20:53:20 on 2022/01/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Joints After Midnight & Rants, , , tiktok   

    Why I’m Still Worried About TikTok 


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    (image credit)

    News came last week that TikTok eclipsed both Google and Facebook as the most visited domain and most downloaded app in the United States. The mainstream media response can be summed up in this piece from CBS, which notes the news, then quotes a TikTok public policy executive. I wish I was making this up, but here’s the quote:

    “TikTok is about entertainment and bringing joy,” TikTok’s head of public policy for North America Michael Beckerman told CBS Mornings in October. “You put a premium on authentic content, uplifting content. But like all entertainment, you want to watch with moderation, and we put tools in place, take-a-break video, screen time management, and tools for parents like family pairing to make sure that they can have conversations and do what’s right for their family and their teenagers.”

    Sounds great, right? “Bringing joy”! Here comes TikTok, the “happy app” that has learned from all that bad stuff Facebook has had to deal with over the past five years. The story goes on to note that there’s been some “controversy” around the platform, like viral vandalism at schools and other “challenges.” When asked about these issues, “A TikTok representative did not respond to a request for comment.”

    But nowhere in that coverage, not at the WSJ, or Cnet, or many others, is the problematic reality of TikTok’s ownership structure noted. Nor is it mentioned that Tik Tok’s parent company, ByteDance, sold a stake – and a board seat – to the Chinese government. Even before that governance story broke (in the fall of 2020), I was expressing my discomfort with what TikTok represents given its perch at the intersection of surveillance capitalism and high-stakes geopolitics. More than two years ago, in “Tik Tok, Tick, Tock….Boom”, I wrote:

    1. China employs a breathtaking model of state-driven surveillance.
    2. The US employs a breathtaking model of capitalist surveillance.

    We on the same page so far? OK, great.

    Now let’s consider TikTok, which is a robust combination of the two. Don’t know TikTok? Come on, you read Searchblog for God’s sake. Ok, well, fortunately for you, there’s the New York Times. Or…maybe not. I almost threw up in my mouth as I watched the paper of record run through its decades long practice of “Gee, Golly, Isn’t This Shiny New Tech Thing Culturally Significant, and Aren’t We Woke for Noticing It” journalism last weekend.

    I then go on to review TikTok’s  Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which, if you read them closely, offer absolutely no assurances that the data TikTok collects won’t be shared with the Chinese government. I just re-read them, to be sure they hadn’t changed, and nope, it’s all right there in black and white. From the privacy policy:

    “We may share all of the information we collect with a parent, subsidiary, or other affiliate of our corporate group.”

    and

    “We may disclose any of the information we collect to respond to subpoenas, court orders, legal process, law enforcement requests, legal claims, or government inquiries, and to protect and defend the rights, interests, safety, and security of TikTok Inc., the Platform, our affiliates, users, or the public. We may also share any of the information we collect to enforce any terms applicable to the Platform, to exercise or defend any legal claims, and comply with any applicable law.

    Well folks, what “government inquiries” and/or “applicable law” do you think this means, given TikTok is owned by a Chinese company? And let’s just remind ourselves, China takes a very keen interest in its Internet companies. And as the Washington Post reported, just today, “China harvests masses of data on Western targets.

    It astonishes me that US-based tech reporting doesn’t at least point out this obvious conflict of interest when covering TikTok’s domination of US internet culture. Yes, the last administration completely mishandled the issue, and perhaps nobody wants to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe Trump was actually right about something (lord knows I cringe just writing that sentence). And yes, sure, TikTok representatives will look anyone who asks directly in the eyes and declare “We do not share information with the Chinese government.” But we already know that our own social media executives have bent the truth repeatedly to the press, to Congress, and to themselves over the past ten years. Are we really going to take TikTok’s word for it?

    The Department of Commerce is still working on reports detailing processes for determining whether TikTok and apps like it might be a security threat. This kind of grinding bureaucracy tends to anesthetize ongoing coverage. Meanwhile,  I started checking out TikTok a few months ago. And damn, the product is impossible to look away from. It’s a brain candy rabbit hole, and media companies, including The Recount, have flocked to the platform. But I can’t help thinking we’re making the same mistake we made when we all embraced Facebook a decade ago. Sure, we can assume there’s absolutely no data TikTok could possibly gather from any of us that matters to the CCP. I certainly hope that’s right. But the history of social media has proven that comfortable assumptions are often wrong. I guess we’ll find out…eventually.

     
  • feedwordpress 19:08:46 on 2021/12/31 Permalink
    Tags: alphabet, , , , , , , , future of work, , , Joints After Midnight & Rants, , , oculus, , , , , , , , web 3   

    Predictions 2022 – Crypto, Climate, Big Tech, Streaming, Offices, Tik Tok…and (ugh) Trump 


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    Welcome to year nineteen of these annual predictions, which means….holy cow, twenty years of writing at this site. Searchblog has been neglected of late, running a media startup during a pandemic will do that to thoughtful writing. I hope to change that in 2022, starting with this bout of chin stroking. If you’re an old timer here, you know I don’t really prepare to write this post. Instead I sit down, summon the muse of flow, and let it rip in one go. Let’s get to it.

    1. Crypto blows up. 2022 will be a chaotic year for crypto – both the decentralized finance and social token/NFT portions of the industry, which will grow massively but be beset by fraud, grift, and regulatory uncertainty, as well as an explosion of new apps based on scaleable blockchains such as Solana and Avalanche. Most of these apps will fade (much as early dot com stocks did), but the overall space will be markedly larger as a result. And while 2021 was the year most of the world learned about crypto, 2022 will be the year crypto dominates the tech narrative. I’m holding off on calling a crash – ’22 feels a bit more like ’98 or ’99 than the year 2000, which is when “web1” topped out. But that first top is coming, and when it crests, look the f*ck out. Crypto is a far more integrated into the global economy than we might suspect. In fact, I’ll toss in a corollary to this first prediction: In 2022, a major story will break that exposes a major state actor has been manipulating the crypto markets in a bid to destroy US financial markets.
    2. Oculus will be a breakout hit, but it’ll  immediately be consumed in the same controversies besetting the rest of Facebook’s platforms. The company throws money and lobbyists at the problem, including enough advertising budget to mute mainstream press outrage.  Apple will try to capitalize on all of this FUD as it introduces its own VR play. Regardless, the Oculus division becomes a meaningful portion of Meta’s top line, which starts the change the narrative around Facebook’s surveillance capitalism business model.
    3. Twitter changes the game. I have no particular insight into new CEO Parag Agrawal, but the company has had a long suffering relationship with its true value in the world, and I think the table is set for an acceleration of its product in ways that will surprise and even delight its most ardent fans (I count myself somewhat reluctantly among them). How might this happen? First, look for a major announcement around how the company works with developers. Next, deeper support and integration of all things crypto, in particular crypto wallets like MetaMask. And last (and related), a play in portable identity, where your Twitter ID brings value across other apps and environments.
    4. Climate has its worst – and best – year ever. Worst because while 2021 was simply awful (I mean, the year ends with a winter draught, then a historic fire in… Boulder?) things can always get worse, and they will. Best, because finally, the political will to do something about it will rise, thanks mainly to the voice of young people around the world, and in particular in the United States.
    5. The return of the office. Yes, I know, everything’s changed because of the pandemic. But truth is, we work best when we work together, and by year’s end, the “new normal” will be the old normal – most of us will go back to going into work. A healthy new percentage of workers will remain remote, but look for trend stories in the Post and Times about how that portion of the workforce is feeling left out and anxious about missing out on key opportunities, connections, and promotions. One caveat to this prediction is the emergence of some awful new variant that sends us all back into our caves, but I refuse to consider such horrors. I REFUSE.
    6. Divisions in the US reaching a boiling point. I hate even writing these words, but with the midterms in 2022 and a ’24 campaign spinning up, Trump will return to the national stage. He’ll offer a north star for Big Lie-driven tribalism, a terrifying rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes, all fueled by torrents of racial and economic anger. I really, really hope I’m wrong here. But this feels inevitable to me.
    7. Big Tech bulks up. Despite a doubling down in anti-trust saber rattling from the EU and the Biden administration, Big Tech companies must grow, and they’ll look toward orthogonal markets to do it. Meta and Apple will buy gaming companies, Amazon will buy enterprise software companies, and Google will buy a content library. Google’s always been a bit confused about what its entertainment strategy should be. YouTube is so damn big, and its search business so bulletproof, the company hasn’t really had to play the game the way Meta, Amazon, and Apple have. That likely changes in 22.
    8. The streaming market takes a pause. The advertising business has yet to catch up with consumer behavior in the streaming television market, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the consumer experience is fracking awful. In 2022, those chickens will come home to roost. There’s only so much attention in the world, and with more than $100 billon to invest in content in 2022, something’s gotta give. Plus, if we get through Omicron and back out into the world, consumers might just find themselves doing something besides binging forgettable, algorithmically manufactured programming. I’m not predicting that streaming crashes, but just that the market will have a year of consolidation and, I hope, improvements in its consumer experience and advertising technology stack.
    9. Tik Tok will fall out of favor in the US. Everyone is predicting that 2022 will be The Year Of Tik Tok, but I think they’re wrong in one big way: This won’t be a positive story. First off, the public will wake to the possibility that Tik Tok is, at its core, a massive Chinese PsyOp. Think I’m crazy? I certainly hope so! But you don’t have to wear a tin foil hat to be concerned about the fact that the world’s most powerful social algorithm is driven by a company with a member of the Chinese Communist Party on its board. And second, US-based competitors are already learning, fast, what makes Tik Tok tick. YouTube, Insta, Snap and others will take share all year long.
    10. Trump’s social media company delivers exactly nothing.  Hey, I needed one sandbag in the mix – and this one comes with a heaping side of schadenfreude. The company will become mired in legal fights, and Trump, having grifted a billion or so from favor-currying investors, will move on to ever more ruinous pursuits.

    Well, that’s ten, and I wanted to keep this year’s version under a thousand words. Have a wonderful New Year’s, dear readers. I hope I see you out there in the real world, and soon.


    Previous predictions:

    Predictions 2021

    Predictions 21: How I Did

    Predictions 2020

    2020: How I Did

    Predictions 2019

    2019: How I did

    Predictions 2018

    2018: How I Did

    Predictions 2017

    2017: How I Did

    Predictions 2016

    2016: How I Did

    Predictions 2015

    2015: How I Did

    Predictions 2014

    2014: How I Did

    Predictions 2013

    2013: How I Did

    Predictions 2012

    2012: How I Did

    Predictions 2011

    2011: How I Did

    Predictions 2010

    2010: How I Did

    2009 Predictions

    2009 How I Did

    2008 Predictions

    2008 How I Did

    2007 Predictions

    2007 How I Did

    2006 Predictions

    2006 How I Did

    2005 Predictions

    2005 How I Did

    2004 Predictions

    2004 How I Did

     
  • feedwordpress 19:56:45 on 2021/10/12 Permalink
    Tags: , Joints After Midnight & Rants, , OTT, , , television   

    Why Is The Streaming Experience So Terrible? 


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    I wrote this for P&G’s Signal360 publication, but I thought I’d toss it up here as well. I know I’ve been very, very absent from writing for – well, for the entire pandemic. I plan to change that, but for now, here’s a mini-rant (I could have gone on forever) about the state of the television experience for us cord cutters out there. 


    I can’t believe I’m about to write these words, but…I kind of miss cable TV.

    Now before you pile on, I know. I’ve lost no sleep over cable’s slow demise. The consumer experience was…not great. We paid for 500 channels of dreck, but watched, on average, five of them (or something like that). Decades of regional monopoly gave cable television scant reason to innovate — resulting in legendarily bad customer service, instantly out of date hardware, and utterly inscrutable remote controls (admit it, you could never find the mute button, could you?!).

    Streaming was supposed to change all that. The great unbundling meant consumers could choose which channels they wanted, and we’d all save money. Just as it did with music, technological innovation promised to reinvent a stagnant industry. We’d get all the wonderfulness of great television combined with the ease of the open internet! I for one couldn’t wait for it all to materialize.

    Until it actually did. And it was…exponentially worse.

    If you’re like the majority of American consumers, you probably cut the cord in the past five years. If you’re under 30, you likely never had a cord. When I dumped cable, I was instantly giddy. My $200 bill disappeared, replaced by $25 for YouTubeTV (so I could get sports and news, naturally), and a handful of $5-$10 additions — Netflix, Showtime, HBO. It was infinitely better, and less than half the cost. Sure, I had to juggle a few services, and not all of them played well with my Google Chromecast (my preferred way of getting TV programming from my phone to the big screen TV), but it was worth the effort. I was a trailblazer!

    Four years’ worth of “tech innovation” later, my television experience is a nightmare melange of competing tech and media platforms, none of which play nice together, and all of which are incomplete. Oh, and the bill? It’s back at $200 again.

    How’d we get here?

    First off, YouTubeTV is now $65 a month. That’s some impressive price leverage! Add $5 for Apple, $18 for Netflix, $15 for HBO Max, $8 for Hulu, $11 for Showtime, $20 for MLBTV, and another $50 or so for a bunch of other channels — and, well, now I’m paying the same price for an inferior experience. Want to watch a show? First remember which service it’s on, then remember your password, then navigate an entirely non-standard user interface to find the show, then cross your fingers and hope the platform supports streaming to your device of choice. If it doesn’t, you might just end up watching the show on your phone. ON A PHONE!

    And don’t get me started on those “smart TVs.” LG, Sony, Samsung, Google, Vizio — the whole lot of them have infected what used to be a simple piece of glass with impossibly complicated bloatware that has one goal: Locking you into their ecosystem. It’s madness.

    But guess what’s even worse? Yep…the ads. Remember how streaming was supposed to make the commercials better? Tailored to your interests, unobtrusive, data-enriched? I edited a cover story for Wired about all of this — in 1994! 30 years later, our industry still hasn’t figured out how to manage reach and frequency in a connected world. And from my own experience deep in the bowels of the connected television industry, this problem won’t be fixed for a long, long time.

    So let’s review: Compared to cable, streaming television has 1. A far worse user interface 2. Little to no cost advantage and 3. A far worse advertising experience — for both consumer AND advertiser. In fact, the only thing that has gotten materially better — and this is absolutely true — is the television programming itself.

    So how might we fix this mess? Well, if I could wave a magic wand, I’d start by creating an open, neutral protocol to which all streaming services adhered. This protocol would allow any and all streaming services to bundle their content with their business model (subscriptions, advertising, distribution policies, and the like). Anyone could then take that protocol and build what I call a “meta service” around it. Entrepreneurs would compete to build aggregate services which solved the consumer experience problem — which by default would also solve the  marketers’ problems as well. Imagine: one place to find all your television, with one interface to rule them all. Kind of like cable used to be — but better.

    We have the technology, we have the design chops, and we certainly have the content. We just need to get out of our own way. Come on, television industry: Let’s fix this mess!

     
  • feedwordpress 22:31:55 on 2021/01/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , content moderation, , , , Joints After Midnight & Rants, , , section 230   

    Stop Talking About Section 230. Start Talking About The Business Model. 


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    No. No. No.

    For the past several years, I’ve led a graduate-level class studying the early history of Internet policy in the United States. It runs just seven weeks – the truth is, there’s not that much actual legislation to review. We spend a lot of the course focused on Internet business models, which, as I hope this post will illuminate, are not well understood even amongst Ivy-league grads. But this past week, one topic leapt from my syllabus onto the front pages of every major news outlet: Section 230. Comprised of just 26 words, this once-obscure but now-trending Internet policy grants technology platforms like Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Amazon, and countless others the authority to moderate content without incurring the liability of a traditional publisher.

    Thanks to the events of January 6th, Section 230 has broken into the mainstream of political dialog. Slowly – and then all of a sudden – the world has woken up to the connection between the disinformation flooding online platforms and what appears to be the rapid decay of our society.

    Difficult and scary narratives need a villain, and the world’s found one in Section 230, pretty much the only law on the books that can reasonably be connected to this hot mess. No matter if you’re liberal or conservative, it’s pretty easy to logic your way into blaming 230 for whatever bothers you about the events of the past ten days.

    For folks on the left, the narrative goes like this: The insurrectionists were radicalized by online platforms like YouTube and Facebook. These platforms have failed to moderate disinformation-driven conspiracy theories like QAnon, or the blatant lies told by politicians like Trump. (When they finally did – two days after the coup attempt – it was far too little, far too late!). The reason they can get away with such blatant neglect is Section 230. Clearly, 230 is the problem, so we should repeal it! Unfortunately, our President-elect has endorsed this view.

    The conservative view ignores any connection between political violence and 230, focusing instead on seductive but utterly wrong-headed interpretations of First Amendment law: Big Tech platforms are all run by libtards who want to crush conservative viewpoints. They’ve been censoring the speech of all true Patriots, kicking us off their platforms and deleting our posts. They’ve been granted this impunity thanks to Section 230. This is censorship, plain and simple, a violation of our First Amendment rights. We have to repeal 230! Naturally, our outgoing President has adopted this view.

    The debate is frustratingly familiar and hopelessly wrong. The problem isn’t whether or not platforms should moderate what people say. The problem is in whether or not the platforms amplify what is said. And to understand that problem, we have to understand the platform’s animating life force: Their business models.

    It’s The F*cking Business Model!

    Three years ago I wrote a piece arguing that Facebook could not be fixed because to do so would require abandoning its core business model. So what does that model do? It’s really not that complicated: It drives revenue for nearly every modern corporation on the planet.

    Let that settle in. The platforms’ core business model isn’t engagement, enragement, confirmation bias, or trafficking in human attention. Those are outputs of their business model. Again, the model is simple: Drive sales for advertisers. And advertisers are companies – the very places where you, I, and nearly everyone else works. They might be large – Walmart, for example – or they might be small – I  got an ad for weighted blankets from”Baloo Living” on Facebook just now (HOW DID THEY KNOW?!).

    When advertising is the core business model of a platform, that platform’s job is to drive sales for advertisers. For Facebook, Google, Amazon, and even Apple, that means providing existential revenue to tens of millions of companies large and small. This means that “Big Tech” is fundamentally entangled with our system of modern capitalism.

    And killing Section 230 does nothing to address that fact.

    Let’s get back to the distinction I drew above – between moderating content (the focus of 230) and amplifying that content, a practice Section 230 never anticipated. To understand amplification, you need to understand a practice that nearly all advertising-driven platforms have adopted in the past ten years: Content feeds driven by algorithms. The Wall St. Journal seems to have just woken up to this practice, pointing out in a recent technology column that Social-Media Algorithms Rule How We See the World. Good Luck Trying to Stop Them. The piece does a fine job of pointing out what anyone paying attention for the past decade already knows: Our information diet is driven by algorithms we don’t understand, serving not the health of the public dialog, but rather the business model of social media companies and their advertising customers. The conclusion: We’ve lost all agency when it comes to what we consume.

    All About Agency

    But before feeds became our dominant consumption model, we happily outsourced our agency to journalistic media brands – and to the editors and journalists who worked for those media brands. Some of us still curate our news this way – but our ranks are thinning. Back before platforms became our dominant media platform (all of ten years ago!), anyone who wanted to read the news had to exert a critical, if often fleeting form of agency. We decided which media outlets we would regularly pay attention to. We chose to read The New York Times or the Post (or both), The Wall St. Journal or The Economist. Media brands stood as proxies for a vastly more complicated and utterly overwhelming corpus of information we might potentially consume. The job of the journalists at those media outlets was to curate that information into a coherent diet that conformed to whatever that media outlet’s brand promised: “All the News Fit to Print” if you’re the Times, aloof neoliberal analysis if you’re The Economist.

    But that’s not how the vast majority of Americans get their news these days. If anything, Facebook has given tens of millions of people who otherwise might not seek out the news an illusion of news literacy thanks to whatever happens to show up in their feed. For those who do want to chose a news diet, we might parrot the agency of the pre-feed days by following this or that new brand on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter. But in the feed-driven environment of those platforms, articles from The Economist, The Times, or The Journal must compete, post for post, with the viral videos of flaming Zambonis and titillating proofs of elaborate child pornography rings shared by your friends. Given the platforms’ job is to drive revenue for its advertisers, which group do you think gets more amplification? You already know the answer, of course. Hell, it turns out Facebook has known the answer for years, and has consciously chosen to show us low quality information over accurate journalism. How do we know? It has a “News Ecosystem Quality” index – a SOMA-like tuning fork for its algorithms that dials up quality information whenever things might turn a bit too ugly. Let THAT sink in.

    Given all of this, it’s seductive to conclude that the best way to limit bad information on platforms is to ask the platforms to moderate it away,  threatening them with repeal of 230 to get there. But that’s a terrible idea, for so many reasons I won’t burden this essay with a recitation (but please, read Mike Masnick if you want to get smart fast).

    A far better idea would be to coax that critical layer of agency – the human choice of trusted media brands – back to the fore of our information diet in one way or another. And if we don’t like our choices of media brands, we should start new ones, smarter ones, more responsive ones that understand how to moderate, curate, and edit information in a way that both serves the public good and understands the information ecosystem in which it operates. (Yes, yes, that’s a self serving reference.)

    As a society we’ve at least come to admire our seemingly intractable problem: We’re not happy with who’s controlling the information we consume. The question then becomes, how can we shift control back to the edge – to the consumer of the information, and away from algorithms designed to engage, outrage, and divide?

    I’m of the mind this can be done without sweeping Federal legislation – but legislation might actually be helpful here, if it contemplates the economic incentives driving all of the actors in this narrative, including the businesses who currently pay Facebook and its peers for providing them revenue.

    In short, I think it’s time to hack the economic incentives which drive the platforms. Section 230 is a dodge – we’re obsessing on a 26-word law that offers nearly every contestant in the dialog a convenient dodge from a far larger truth: No one wants to threaten the profits of our largest corporations. And given I’ve been on for a while, I’m going to stop now, and get into how we might think differently in the next installment. Thanks for reading, and see you soon.

    —-

    This post is one of a series of “thinking out loud” on our current media ecosystem. Here are a few others:

    Media and Marketing Leaders: It’s Time to Stand Up For Truth  

    Facebook Is Finally Admitting It’s A Publisher

    Marketers: Your Role In Social Discourse Is Critical

    Marketers Have Given Up on Context, And Our National Discourse Is Suffering

    An Open Letter To American Corporations: It’s Good Business (and Smart Marketing) To Support Quality Journalism

     

     
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