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  • feedwordpress 22:51:41 on 2020/12/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , misinformation, , , politics, predictions 2020, , ,   

    Well That Was A Year: A Review of My 2020 Predictions 


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    From the Department of Didn’t See THAT Coming…

    Yes, it’s true: Last year, I did not predict a global pandemic in 2020. COVID is a gravitational force that warps everything it touches, so I approach this annual ritual of self-grading with trepidation. As I start, I honestly don’t remember what I predicted twelve months ago…but regardless, I’m expecting a train wreck. I’ll read each one in turn, repeat the prediction below, and then free associate some thoughts on what actually transpired. Grab a glass of your favorite beverage…and let’s go:

    1. Facebook bans microtargeting on specific kinds of political advertising. OK, Facebook did NOT do this – well, not exactly. What the company DID do was ban political advertising altogether – but only in the week before, and a short period after the US election. Of course, you can certainly say that by banning all political advertising, the company ended up banned microtargeting as a result. So that’s one argument for giving myself a “Nailed it.” If that’s too weak an argument, let’s go to the fine print in my original prediction: “The pressure to do something will be too great, and as it always does, the company will enact a half-measure, then declare victory.” And that is exactly what the company did. I mean, exactly. I also wrote: “The company’s spinners will frame this as proof they listen to their critics, and that they’re serious about the integrity of the 2020 elections. As with nearly everything it does, this move will fail to change anyone’s opinion of the company. Wall St. will keep cheering the company’s stock, and folks like me will keep wondering when, if ever, the next shoe will drop.” Yup. Nailed it.
    2. Netflix opens the door to marketing partnerships. This prediction requires a bit of clarification. I was not claiming Netflix would open the door to advertising on its platform, but rather that it “may take the form of a co-produced series, or branded content, or some other “native” approach, but at the end of the day, it’ll be advertising dollars that fuel the programming.” What I didn’t realize when I made this prediction was that Netflix was already deep into product placement deals for its Netflix Originals, and that it had already made sure the money changed hands somewhere else (such as between a production company and a brand).  There is no doubt that marketing money positively benefits NetFlix’s bottom line – and the  practice absolutely accelerated in 2020, as did everything streaming-related during COVID. But there was not a significant shift in NetFlix policy related to marketing that I can find, so I’m going to say I whiffed on this one.
    3. CDA 230 will get seriously challenged, but in the end, nothing gets done, again. This is exactly what happened. In fact, it’s happening as I type this – Trump is just vetoed a veto-proof defense funding bill because it doesn’t repeal 230, and Biden has already indicated he plans on rethinking 230 next year. But even though tens of millions of American citizens became familiar with Section 230 this year, nothing came of all that noise. Nailed it.
    4. Adversarial interoperability will get a moment in the sun, but also fail to make it into law. OK I have GOT to stop writing predictions about obscure academic terminology. I mean, what the actual f*ck? What I was trying to say was this: In 2020, there would be a robust debate about the best ways to regulate Big Tech, and the ideas behind “adversarial interoperability” would get a rigorous airing. This did not happen, and just like Jeffrey Katzenberg, I blame COVID. Exactly no one wanted to debate tech policy in the middle of a global pandemic. Making things worse, toward the end of this year multiple governmental agencies decided it was time to go after Big Tech, and they went batshit with proactive lawsuits – the DOJ and a majority of states sued Google (three times, no less), the FTC sued Facebook, and I’d put money more suits are coming (looking at you, Apple and Amazon). The suits revolve around antitrust law, so the debate will now be dominated by whether or not the government can prove its case in court.  This effectively postpones intelligent debate about remedies for years. I find this state of affairs deeply annoying. But a grade must be given, and that grade is a whiff, unfortunately.
    5. 2020 will also be the year “data provenance” becomes a thing. Literally stop me from ever writing predictions after hitting the flash evaporator, OK?! This was another policy-related prediction, and if I was going to miss #4 above, I’m certainly going to whiff here as well. In the very rare case you want to know what I was on about, this is how I described the concept: “The concept of data provenance started in academia, migrated to adtech, and is about to break into the broader world of marketing, which is struggling to get its arms around a data-driven future. The ability to trace the origin, ownership, permissions, and uses of data is a fundamental requirement of an advanced digital economy, and in 2020, we’ll realize we have a ton of work left to do to get this right.” Well, in fact, if you believe Google Trends, “data provenance” did have a marked lift in 2020. Does that qualify it for “becoming a thing”? I have no f*cking idea. And again, thanks to COVID, marketers were not exactly focused on public ledgers and blockchain in 2020. Note to self: Stop predicting that something will “become a thing.” Inane. Whiff.
    6. Google zags. Oh man, oh man, I feel so close on this one. I mean, there are still a few days left in 2020, right? I honestly think this is about to happen. Here’s how I explained it one year ago: “Saddled with increasingly negative public opinion and driven in large part by concerns over retaining its workforce, Google will make a deeply surprising and game changing move in 2020.” Google’s problems with both public perception (hello, three government lawsuits!) and an unhappy workforce only deepened this year – the Timnit disaster was just the most public of its struggles. But so far the company hasn’t produced a dramatic “game changing” move. Sure, the FitBit acquisition finally closed, but if that proves material, I’ll … start using a FitBit again. I firmly believe that Google must make a game changing move, and soon, if it’s going to keep its mojo. But….it certainly hasn’t happened yet. So…sigh…Whiff.
    7. At least one major “on demand” player will capitulate. Just weeks into 2020, I was well on my way to a “Nailed It” here. The tide was turning on the entire category: Uber was in trouble and badly below its IPO price, GrubHub was a falling knife looking for a buyer, PostMates had shelved its IPO dreams. And then…COVID reordered the universe, making on demand everything an essential part of quarantine life.  The entire category was supercharged – I mean, DoorDash at 19 times sales?!?! – and yet another of my predictions bit the dust. F U, COVID. Whiff.
    8. Influencer marketing will fall out of favor. Well, if ever there was a year to be sick of influencer marketing, it’d be this one. But no, with sports and entertainment programming suspended for the majority of the year, all that marketing budget had to go somewhere, and lord knows it wasn’t going to support news (despite that being the most engaged and highest growth category of all). So…brands threw in even more with influencers.  In my explanation I predicted that influencer fraud would be a huge problem – and by most accounts it is (the last figure I could find was 1.3 billion in 2019 – which was roughly 20 percent of the overall market!). But…influencer marketing did not fall out of favor, Charlie D’Amelio is making $50K per post, and damnit, I whiffed again.
    9. Information warfare becomes a national bogeyman. Finally, a slam dunk. Man, I was starting to question myself here. “Deep fakes, sophisticated state-sponsored information operations, and good old fashioned political info ops will dominate the headlines in 2020,” I wrote. Yep, and true to form, 2020 saved the scariest example for the end of the year. Nailed it.
    10. Purpose takes center stage in business. Here’s one prediction where COVID actually accelerated my take toward a passing grade. The year began with BlackRock’s stunning declaration that it would make investment decisions based on climate impact. Once COVID and the George Floyd murder came, nearly the entire Fortune 500 recalibrating their communication strategies around racial, gender, and climate equity issues. Last year I wrote “I expect plenty of CEOs will feel emboldened to take the kind of socially minded actions that would have gotten them fired in previous eras.” Whether it was P&G on climate and race,  Nike saying “Don’t Do It,” or nearly every major sports league standing with the Black Lives Matter movement, companies have taken previously unimaginable stands this year. Nailed It.
    11. Apple and/or Amazon stumble. Sure, Apple did pay up to half a billion to bury its “batterygate” scandal but let’s be honest, you  forgot about that, right? Even the publication of a terrifying expose of worker conditions in iPhone manufacturing plants failed to dent the company in 2020. But what you likely will remember is the Epic Fortnite story – and to me, that’s the stumble that tips my prediction to a “Nailed it.” Apple’s response to Epic was ham fisted and short sighted. The company  misread regulators’ appetite for antitrust, deeply injured its reputation amongst developers, and exposed the iOS App Store – the source of its most important growth revenues – as a pristine monopoly just begging for a Federal compliant. Meanwhile, while Amazon profited handsomely from COVID, the company’s reputation has only worsened in 2020. A drumbeat of negative press about unsafe working conditions, union busting, and anticompetitive practices culminated in a broadside from one of its own – Tim Bray, a respected technologist (and early reader of Searchblog) who penned a damning Dear John letter to his former employer  in May. Despite the strength of both companies’ stock prices, I think it’s safe to say that both Apple and Amazon stumbled in 2020. Nailed It.

    So there you have it, my review of how my predictions fared in 2020. Five right, six wrong, for a batting average of .454. Far better than last year, where I hit just .300, but far below some of my best. Still, not bad if you factor in COVID’s impact on nearly everything. Next week I’ll be writing Predictions 2021 – let’s hope this is the start of a trend.


    Previous predictions:

    Predictions 2020

    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 14:04:34 on 2020/10/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , founders, , politics, , startup, , therecount,   

    The Recount Turns One 


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    The evolution of The Recount’s first product. The Daily Recount, from early prototypes to full expression this past July.

    One year ago this week, a small group of journalists launched a completely reimagined approach to covering the news. We called it The Recount. It’s mission: To be the leading outlet for video journalism in today’s age of mobile, non-linear, on-demand television.
 We started with a single product focused on politics. We called it The Daily Recount, and we envisioned it as a “remix” of the most important news sourced from scores of outlets, from national and international broadcast news to radio to podcasts to digital and social media and more. Our promise was simple: We’ll deliver the news quickly and free of the bullshit and bad faith that was drowning out our national discourse.

    Now one year old, The Daily Recount was and continues to be an extraordinary media artifact – each segment is constructed from elaborately sourced samples of sound, graphics, and video clips. It employs no narrator, no “suits on set” —  instead our journalists build an entirely new product from the 24/7 barrage of batshit crazy which leaps from our tangled media ecosystem. My friend and co-founder John Heilemann calls it “Hip-Hop journalism” – a radical re-interpretation of a standard form, built on the beats, samples, and melodies of what’s come before.

    We spent nine months perfecting what we’ve come to call the “manufacturing process” that informs The Recount’s journalism. That’s an eternity for a media start up, but we took an approach familiar to anyone who’s worked at a technology company: Hire extraordinary talent and agree on the problem you were trying to solve, then put your heads down and work the problem until you’ve got a product you’d be proud to release. By April of last year we had the core team assembled. From April through July we made a version of The Daily Recount each and every day – and then threw it away, only to make another the next day. In late July we began to show our work to a small group of advisors and colleagues. By October that group had grown to more than 10,000 beta testers, and we felt ready to release our work into the wild.

    When we launched one year ago, we knew we were onto something, but we weren’t sure how our new idea would play out. We knew asking news consumers to adopt a new habit would be difficult – and that news consumers in general had shifted their consumption habits to social platforms. And we also knew that asking marketing partners to support anything covering the country’s toxic political environment was, at best, a heavy lift. But we did have a number of firmly held principles about not only the editorial product we were making, but also the role of journalism and the media business in today’s fractured information ecosystem.

    In our work, we committed to not only eliminate the bullshit so common in political coverage, but to use the impact of video to hold the powerful accountable to the truth (that’s the job of journalism, after all). In our business, we committed to rethink the core assumptions of how a media outlet produces, distributes, and gets paid for the work it does. We also knew that we’d have to be agile, that we’d make mistakes, and that we’d have to quickly adapt to survive. Thankfully, we counted Fred Wilson – the most thoughtful, patient and contrarian-minded venture capitalist I’ve had the honor to work with – as our first financial partner.  And we secured Bank of America as our core launch sponsor – a partnership that has grown several fold over this past year. Were it not for the vision and commitment of both, The Recount would remain confined to a set of white board images stored in my bedroom closet, a dream imagined but unrealized.

    ***

    October’s launch was covered by Vanity Fair, and in the month or two following, hundreds of thousands came by our site and app to check out our work. Initial feedback was consistently strong, but we also learned that our product was demanding – it truly was a new way to consume news. We’d developed a grammar and vocabulary that attracted hardcore fans – but a more casual mass audience would likely require spending millions of dollars, and endless months, attempting to convince people to form a new habit on our owned and operated properties. As I’ve written (extensively) elsewhere, it’s now ground truth that when it comes to national news, Facebook, Google, Apple, and others are the new gatekeepers of audience – particularly in digital video. If you want to build out your own properties, you have to pay the gatekeepers a steep rent – constantly.

    This was not unexpected. I’ve spent decades studying the tectonic changes in media wrought by the rise of digital. Every five or so years, I’d jump in and start a new media or technology company that played into those changes. But when I moved to New York two years ago, my intention was to get away from company creation, and lean more into scholarship and writing. But the challenge of imagining and executing a new approach to news consumption in the two most potent media forms – video and the internet – was just too seductive. And to do it with John and Fred, two of the best in the business – who just so happened to be close friends? Irresistible.

    So by late last year, The Recount had an excellent core product (and a growing set of new short form series), but it was time to crack the most intractable problem in post-platform media: Distribution. We were determined to not play the audience-arbitrage game that has bedeviled the media business these past five or so years (for more on that, see this post from this past summer). But on the occasion of our soft launch in mid-October, it was Twitter that provided us with a hint of how we’d grow – and of the role we’d play not only in the national conversation, but in the shifting power dynamics between platforms, media creators, audiences, and marketers.

    The post above was a sophisticated, 32-second edit of a clip spotted by one of The Recount’s producers (oh hey Brennan!), all of whom were already in the habit of scouring feeds all day long, looking for just the right moments to include in the Daily Recount. I’ve come to call this process the “human algorithm” – talented, experienced journalists attuned to the news of the day, leveraging a system of machines and feeds we’ve hacked together using commercial tools like SnapStream, TVEyes, TweetDeck, and Slack.

    In any case, that Italian translator video went bananas on Twitter, with more than two million views overnight. We learned something about the role we could play in the national political dialog – identifying just the perfect moments to propel and contextualize the conversation millions were having on Twitter and beyond. Rethinking the nuanced and critical role of editing, we began to test and learn, using Twitter as our preferred medium. This made sense, given the unique role the service plays in the news ecosystem – it’s a sketchpad for the first draft of history, and has a huge audience of people interested in the news.

    As we leaned into creating video built for the platform, engagement soared – as did our followers. When we launched, @TheRecount had just 10,000 followers and our posts had little attention and engagement compared with larger news brands on the platform. But after a few months of experimentation with our editorial on the platform, we’d grown sevenfold, and found that our posts were being picked up by leading figures in business, entertainment, politics and media.

    In March, we published a game-changing piece of journalism that proved a harbinger for the future of our distribution strategy. Produced the week the pandemic shut down offices across the U.S. (and of course, our own office in New York), the short film offered a devastating, fact-based account of how President Trump had downplayed the threat from COVID-19. Just four days after our office shut down, on March 17th, “Trump’s Coronavirus Calendar” debuted. 

    This post not only “went viral,” it also introduced our unique brand of journalism to more than ten million new viewers –  Madonna posted the video to her Instagram account, countless DC journalists quote tweeted it, pirated versions even traveled to Chinese sites like Weibo.  As the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the world and threw the US election into chaos The Recount had, in a few short months, become an important voice in the national dialog. Oh, and right before the pandemic shut down the world, we welcomed new investors and believers into The Recount’s family – USV, Burda Ventures and Viacom/CBS led a new financing – which closed four days before we closed our offices. 

    ***

    The folks at Twitter had also noticed The Recount’s growing presence and engagement on their platform, and before the Calendar was posted, we’d already begun a set of conversations that led to an innovative partnership around Twitter’s Amplify product (I’ve written extensively about that here).  Working once again with Bank of America – and I must shoutout BofA’s innovative head of media Lou Paskalis, who really drove this partnership – we tested a pilot early in the year, then launched a fully realized media experience on Twitter in early June. The thesis was elegant: We’d combine our quality editorial work, which had grown to explainers, ongoing series, and topical features, with Twitter’s targeted reach, providing Bank of America the best of both worlds. If it worked, it augured an innovative approach to distribution where our advertisers became true partners in our success. 

    While I can’t publish internal results, I can state definitively that the partnership has indeed worked. Not only has The Recount grown exponentially, performance for our marketing partners has soundly beaten industry benchmarks – sometimes by as much as 400 percent. Since launching formally in June, we’ve added four new marketing partners, and are now expanding our coverage from our base in Politics to the corridors of power in Tech, Business, and Culture. We’ve also added partnerships with Flipboard, Roku, and iHeart – including the launch of three fast-growing podcasts in the past month alone, all of which have charted in their first month. 

    We’ve also developed the Recount Wire, an always on clip service available on our app and site that highlights the most important moments as they happen. The Wire feeds our work across all our products and distribution outlets, including a number of new narrated series and a burgeoning Instagram effort. (You can check out more Recount products here). 

    Since launch one year ago, our work has been viewed more than half a billion times – and one fifth of that traffic came in the past thirty days. Our posts on Twitter, now fueled by the Wire, continue to draw unparalleled engagement. This past October 8th, for example, President Trump released an unusual video, apparently shot from the South Lawn of the White House. Trump had just come back after his COVID diagnosis and trip to Walter Reed hospital, and in his unique style, he free-associated about the impact of the virus on senior citizens. The Recount’s editors found exactly the moment that mattered in that video, posting this:

    That same night, the president’s son was stepping in for his father, holding a packed indoor rally that sparked national concern. Again, our journalists found exactly the moment that mattered:

    More than ten million people watched those two clips, but more astonishing were the breadth and influence of folks who shared them. Tens of thousands commented on and/or shared the videos, including most of the White House press corps, Captain America (Chris Evans), late night host Jimmy Kimmel, the actors Don Cheadle and Kat Dennings, the wrestler Dave Bautista, and the television personality Farrah Moan, among countless others. 

    ***

    The Recount’s Twitter followers since late last year.

    What’s remarkable to me, as I think about where we started one year ago, is that October 8th no longer represents an unusual day for The Recount. We’re averaging roughly three to four million views a day on Twitter alone – and our editorial voice has moved to the center of the national discourse on the platform. 

    All of this progress in just one short year – more than seven months of which we’ve spent working remotely. That’s an incredible way to launch a brand. We’re now well on our way to delivering on our vision of reinventing how people consume their news, and I’m so proud of what this team has accomplished. In the coming months, we’ll have plenty of announcements about how we plan to take our brand and our voice to many more platforms, with exciting new partners and editorial products (I don’t want to spoil the fun, but think OTT/streaming, communications apps, and more). But we’d be nowhere without those that got us here so thanks to everyone our incredible staff, our partners, our investors, and especially the folks who engage with us every day. I hope we’ve made you proud – and here’s to what we’ll do together in the years to come.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:24:01 on 2020/03/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , politics, , ,   

    Will The Coronavirus Save Big Tech? 


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    Who’s Really Behind That “Death of the Techlash” Narrative?

     

    One of my least favorite kinds of journalism is the easy win. It’s the kind of story that just lands in your lap. It feels immediately counter intuitive and of the moment, and  it simply writes itself. It’s the kind of editorial sin most often committed by columnists facing immutable deadlines, and a perfect example can be found in the Wall St. Journal last week. “OK, Fine, Let’s All Get Back on Facebook,” the headline read. The subhead explains further: “All it took was a pandemic to make Facebook’s privacy-challenged products seem highly appealing.”

    Couched as a review of Facebook products helpful in our current era of social distancing and mandated work from home, the column may well stand as a turning point in what was once knows as the “techlash.” Has the coronavirus pandemic earned the world’s most powerful purveyors of surveillance capitalism a collective pass from the press?

    It certainly seems that way. A rash of articles over the past few days have picked up this narrative – and the comms teams at Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon would be fired for malpractice for not stoking it. A good crisis must not be wasted, after all.

    But as the Journal columnist noted later in her piece, the reasons underlying society’s broad misgivings around Big Tech remain. With that prophylactic caveat duly administered, the columnist then profiled her own usage of Facebook’s services- and declared them a trend. Before COVID, the company’s many privacy missteps had led her to back away. But now that everyone she knew was stuck inside, she found herself once again checking her feeds, monitoring her neighborhood Facebook groups, and even pointing a Portal camera at her son.

    This narrative isn’t making it into the press without a bit of help. Facebook’s been quite public about the fact that people just like our columnist are in fact flocking to its products. “Facebook Is ‘Just Trying to Keep the Lights On’ as Traffic Soars in Pandemic” crows a recent Times piece. That headline quote comes from Facebook’s famously media-trained CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who hasn’t exactly made a practice of calling the press and offering offhand observations these past few years.

    It’s always instructive to note when the company actively participates in stories, and when it declines comment. Lately, there’s been plenty of open lines of communication. The Times further wonders if “Big Tech Could Emerge From Coronavirus Crisis Stronger Than Ever.” And somehow (I can’t imagine how), an “internal report” from Facebook made its way into yet another Times reporter’s hands, leading to this chef kiss of a headline: ‘The Coronavirus Revives Facebook as a News Powerhouse.” Over at Wired, Facebook author Steven Levy asks “Has the Coronavirus Killed the Techlash?” He explains: “Facebook has gotten rare kudos for its responses to the pandemic, and perhaps even more significantly, more people are using it for the kinds of meaningful interactions that Zuckerberg has been promoting for a long time. Could this be a turning point?”

    Well, yes, but I certainly hope it’s not the kind implied by present day reporting. Again, the issues our industry struggled with Before Covid won’t disappear After Covid simply because the public is thankful for services (and business models) to which we’ve already become addicted. Perhaps instead, this pandemic could offer more of a step-change opportunity, one that might just offer us new approaches to connecting to others, buying shit we need (and don’t), and staying informed. I can see those new habits already starting to form, and I certainly hope they won’t be limited to Instagram dance parties. More on those in future posts, I hope. For now, back to work.

     
  • feedwordpress 15:28:56 on 2020/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: Andrew Yang, economics, , politics, , UBI, YangGang   

    For Now, America Just Doesn’t Want to Think That Hard 


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    Andrew Yang has dropped out, which means the presidential campaign just got a lot less fun (you must watch this appreciation from The Recount!). The race also lost a credible and important voice on issues related to the impact of technology on our society.  The fact that Yang’s campaign didn’t make it past New Hampshire didn’t surprise the political experts I know, but his rabid base both online and at campaign events clearly did.

    Perhaps Yang’s message of a “Freedom Dividend” never really caught fire because stock markets are at all time highs, and his warnings about tech-driven job losses have yet to come to fruition. It’s hard to get folks to care about something that requires thinking beyond the daily headlines, and harder still to ask them to consider long term trends like AI-driven automation or the wholesale reconstruction of our social safety net. But when Yang started his quest, these issues rarely made it to the national stage. Now they’re part of our shared vocabulary.

    I first met Yang in Pittsburgh in 2018 at a technology business event, where I interviewed him in front of 500 or so students and local business leaders. I immediately invited him to a much smaller salon that Fall in New York. At both events Yang lit the place up – but it also took time for his message to resonate. His informal campaign slogan was “Make American Think Harder,” after all. As I wrote then:

    “I for one hope Yang makes it to the debate stage, and that as a society, we will seriously discuss the ideas he proposes. We can no longer afford politics as usual – not the politics we have now, and certainly not a return to the cliché-ridden blandishments of years past. The time to traffic in new ideas – radically new ideas – is upon us.”

    Andrew Yang did make it to the debate stage – but it seems that stage wasn’t built for the kind of dialog Yang wants to have. Perhaps we’re not ready to have the kind of conversation his candidacy represented.  Or maybe as a candidate, Yang simply isn’t built for the reality of American politics. Regardless, now that he’s a national figure, I’d wager Andrew Yang isn’t finished with his turn in the public spotlight. Once unknown, Yang lasted far longer than most everyone thought he would, and he’s built a brand that will only become more relevant in the years to come.

     
  • feedwordpress 02:52:58 on 2020/01/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , politics, , ,   

    Predictions 2020: Facebook Caves, Google Zags, Netflix Sells Out, and Data Policy Gets Sexy 


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    A new year brings another run at my annual predictions: For 17 years now, I’ve taken a few hours to imagine what might happen over the course of the coming twelve months. And my goodness did I swing for the fences last year — and I pretty much whiffed. Batting .300 is great in the majors, but it kind of sucks compared to my historical average. My mistake was predicting events that I wished would happen. In other words, emotions got in the way. So yes, Trump didn’t leave office, Zuck didn’t give up voting control of Facebook, and weed’s still illegal (on a federal level, anyway). 

    Chastened, this year I’m going to focus on less volatile topics, and on areas where I have a bit more on-the-ground knowledge — the intersection of big tech, marketing, media, and data policy. As long time readers know, I don’t prepare in advance of writing this post. Instead, I just clear a few hours and start thinking out loud. So…here we go.

    1. Facebook bans microtargeting on specific kinds of political advertising. Of course I start with Facebook, because, well, it’s one of the most inscrutable companies in the world right now. While Zuck & Co. seem deeply committed to their “principled” stand around a politician’s right to paid prevarication, the pressure to do something will be too great, and as it always does, the company will enact a half-measure, then declare victory. The new policy will probably roll out after Super Tuesday (sparking all manner of conspiracies about how the company didn’t want to impact its Q1 growth numbers in the US). The company’s spinners will frame this as proof they listen to their critics, and that they’re serious about the integrity of the 2020 elections. As with nearly everything it does, this move will fail to change anyone’s opinion of the company. Wall St. will keep cheering the company’s stock, and folks like me will keep wondering when, if ever, the next shoe will drop. 
    2. Netflix opens the door to marketing partnerships. Yes, I’m aware that the smart money has moved on from this idea. But in a nod to increasing competition and the reality of Wall St. expectations, Netflix will at least pilot a program — likely not in the US — where it works with brands in some limited fashion. Mass hysteria in the trade press will follow once this news breaks, but Netflix will call the move a pilot, a test, an experiment…no big deal. It may take the form of a co-produced series, or branded content, or some other “native” approach, but at the end of the day, it’ll be advertising dollars that fuel the programming. And while I won’t predict the program augurs a huge new revenue stream for the company, I can predict that what won’t happen, at least in 2020: A free, advertising-driven version of Netflix. Just not in the company’s culture. 
    3. CDA 230 will get seriously challenged, but in the end, nothing gets done, again. Last year I predicted there’d be no federal data privacy legislation, and I’m predicting the same for this year. However, there will be a lot of movement on legislation related to the tech oligarchy. The topic that will come the closest to passage will be a revision to CDA 230 —the landmark legislation that protects online platforms from liability for user generated content. Blasphemy? Sure, but here we are, stuck between free speech on the one hand, massive platform economics on the other, and a really, really bad set of externalities in the middle. CDA 230 was built to give early platforms the room to grow unhindered by traditional constraints on media companies. That growth has now metastasized, and we don’t have a policy response that anyone agrees upon. And CDA 230 is an easy target, given conservatives in Congress already believe Facebook, Google, and others have it out for their president. They’ll be a serious run at rewriting 230, but it will ultimately fail. Related…
    4. Adversarial interoperability will get a moment in the sun, but also fail to make it into law. In the past I (and many others) have written about “machine readable data portability.” But for the debate we’re about to have (and need to have), I like “adversarial interoperability” better. Both are mouthfuls, and neither are easy to explain. Data governance and policy are complicated topics which test our society’s ability to have difficult long form conversations. 2020 will be a year where the legions of academics, policy makers, politicians, and writers who debate economic theory around data and capitalism get a real audience, and I believe much of that debate will center on whether or not large platforms have a responsibility to be open or closed. As Cory Doctorow explains, adversarial interoperability is “when you create a new product or service that plugs into the existing ones without the permission of the companies that make them.” As in, I can plug my new e-commerce engine into Amazon, my new mobile operating system into iOS, my new social network into Facebook, or my new driving instruction app into Google Maps. I grew up in a world where this kind of innovation was presumed. It’s now effectively banned by a handful of data oligarchs, and our economy – and our future – suffers for it. 
    5. As long as we’re geeking out on catchphrases only a dork can love, 2020 will also be the year “data provenance” becomes a thing. As with many nerdy topics, the concept of data provenance started in academia, migrated to adtech, and is about to break into the broader world of marketing, which is struggling to get its arms around a data-driven future. The ability to trace the origin, ownership, permissions, and uses of data is a fundamental requirement of an advanced digital economy, and in 2020, we’ll realize we have a ton of work left to do to get this right. Yes, yes, blockchain and ledgers are part of the discussion here, but the point isn’t the technology, it’s the policy enabling the technology. 
    6. Google zags. Saddled with increasingly negative public opinion and driven in large part by concerns over retaining its workforce, Google will make a deeply surprising and game changing move in 2020. It could be a massive acquisition, a move into some utterly surprising new industry (like content), but my money’s on something related to data privacy. The company may well commit to both leading the debate on the topics described above, as well as implementing them in its core infrastructure. Now that would really be a zag…
    7. At least one major “on demand” player will capitulate. Gig economy business models may make sense long term, but that doesn’t mean we’re getting the execution right in the first group of on demand “unicorns.” In fact, I’d argue we’re mostly getting them wrong, even if as consumers, we love the supposed convenience gig brands bring us. Many of the true costs of these businesses have been externalized onto public infrastructure (and the poor), and civic patience is running out. Plus, venture and public finance markets are increasingly skeptical of business models that depend on strip mining the labor of increasingly querulous private contractors. A reckoning is due, and in 2020 we’ll see the collapse of one or more larger players in the field.
    8. Influencer marketing will fall out of favor. I’m not predicting an implosion here, but rather an industry wide pause as brands start to ask the questions consumers will also be pondering: who the fuck are these influencers and why are we paying them so much attention? A major piece of this — on the marketing side anyway — will be driven by a massive increase in influencer fraud. As with other fast growing digital marketing channels, where money pours in, fraud fast follows — nearly as fast as fawning New York Times articles, but I digress. 
    9. Information warfare becomes a national bogeyman. If we’ve learned anything since the 2016 election, it’s this: We’ve taken far too long to comprehend the extent to which bad actors have come to shape and divide our discourse. These past few years have slowly revealed the power of information warfare, and the combination of a national election with the compounding distrust of algorithm-driven platforms will mean that by mid year, “fake news” will yield to “information warfare” as the catchphrase describing what’s wrong with our national dialog. Deep fakes, sophisticated state-sponsored information operations, and good old fashioned political info ops will dominate the headlines in 2020. Unfortunately, the cynic in me thinks the electorate’s response will be to become more inured and distrustful, but there’s a chance a number of trusted media brands (both new and old) prosper as we all search for a common set of facts.
    10. Purpose takes center stage in business. 2019 was the year the leaders of industry declared a new purpose for the corporation — one that looks beyond profits for a true north that includes multiple stakeholders, not just shareholders. 2020 will be the year many companies will compete to prove that they are serious about that pledge. Reaction from Wall St. will be mixed, but I expect plenty of CEOs will feel emboldened to take the kind of socially minded actions that would have gotten them fired in previous eras. This is a good thing, and likely climate change will become the issue many companies will feel comfortable rallying behind. (I certainly hope so, but this isn’t supposed to be about what I wish for…)
    11. Apple and/or Amazon stumble. I have no proof as to why I think this might happen but…both these companies just feel ripe for some kind of major misstep or scandal. America loves a financial winner — and both Amazon and Apple have been runaway winners in the stock market for the past decade. Both have gotten away with some pretty bad shit along the way, especially when it comes to labor practices in their supply chain. And while neither of them are as vulnerable as Facebook or Google when it comes to the data privacy or free speech issues circling big tech, both Apple and Amazon have become emblematic of a certain kind of capitalism that feels fraught with downside risk in the near future. I can’t say what it is, but I feel like both these companies could catch one squarely on the jaw this coming year, and the post-mortems will all say they never saw it coming. 

    So there you have it — 11 predictions for the coming year. I was going to stop at 10, but that Apple/Amazon one just forced itself out — perhaps that’s me wishing again. We’ll see. Let me know your thoughts, and keep your cool out there. 2020 is going to be one hell of a year. 

     
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