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  • feedwordpress 03:10:56 on 2020/04/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , saas, tech, ,   

    Zoom Is YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp – All in Two Months. 


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    If you’ve read Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism, you likely agree that the most important asset for a data-driven advertising platform is consumer engagement. That engagement throws off data, that data drives prediction models, those models inform algorithms, those algorithms drive advertising engines, and those engines drive revenue, which drives profit. And profit, of course, drives stock price, the highest and holiest metric of our capitalistic economy.

    So when an upstart company exhibits exponential growth in consumer engagement – say, oh, 3,000-percent growth in a matter of two months – well, that’s going to get the attention of the world’s leading purveyors of surveillance capitalism.

    And in the past week, Facebook and Google have certainly been paying attention to a formerly obscure video conferencing company called Zoom.

    As I’ve already pointed out, Zoom has become a verb faster than any company in history, including Google. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted nearly all of us into a new mode of video-based communication – and Zoom just happened to be at the right place, at the right time, with … a better product than anyone else. As of this writing, the company’s user base has grown from 10 million users a day to 300 million users a day – that’s two times bigger than Twitter, and nearly 20 percent of Facebook’s entire daily user base.

    That, my friends, is an existential threat if you’re in the business of consumer engagement. Which is exactly why we saw news on the videoconferencing front from both Facebook and Google this week.

    Item #1: This past Friday, Facebook announced Messenger Rooms, a video conferencing app that allows up to 50 people to have Zoom like experiences for free.

    Item #2: Not to be outdone, Google today announced that its Meet videoconferencing tool, which formerly came with its paid G Suite service, is now free and will support 100 simultaneous users.

    Item #3: Zoom’s high flying stock has lost 13% of its value since those two events.

    Both companies are attacking Zoom’s core business model: paid software as a service. As I’ve explained in earlier posts, Zoom offers a limited free service, and is in the business of convincing folks to pay for more premium features. This SaaS model works well in the world of enterprise (business to business) but when it comes to us consumers, well, the only place we’re willing to pony up at scale is entertainment (think Spotify, Netflix, etc.). Anything else, we’re fine with ads, even if they’re annoying.

    All of this forces Zoom’s hand. It’s now squarely in the crosshairs of the two most valuable advertising companies ever created. Will it pivot to an advertising model, as I speculated earlier? Will it succumb to an acquisition offer, as engagement traps Instagram, YouTube, and WhatsApp did before it? Or will it find a third way, and build an entirely new consumer behavior based on a paid service, free of the surveillance capitalism model that has dominated consumer apps for the past ten years?

    Pass the popcorn, folks. This is going to be a great show.

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

    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, , , tech, 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 18:08:18 on 2019/12/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , tech, , ,   

    Predictions Review: Optimism Failed in 2019 


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    This past year, I predicted the fall of both Zuck and Trump, not to mention the triumph of cannabis and rationale markets. But in 2019, the sociopaths won – bigly.

    Damn, was I wrong.

    One year ago this week, I sat down to write my annual list of ten or so predictions for the coming twelve months. And before I was even halfway through, I’d already listed and then summarily dismissed the two most significant American sociopaths of our generation.

    Despite my glancing protestations (#2 and #4, below), Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump did not go gently into the good night of 2019. And believing they might only proves both my naiveté and our collective challenge: If we truly want a better world, we need to reform not just the technology industry, but the steroid-fueled version of capitalism that has captured it. If I’ve learned anything from this annual process of critically reviewing my predictions, it’s this: the fusion of unrestrained capitalism with unaccountable technology has become the playground of sociopaths. And this past year, the best sociopaths won. Bigly.

    And while I’m tempted to pen a rant pointing out the eerie similarities between Zuck and Trump’s character, ascendance, and current chokehold on power, I’ll leave that for another day (though as a teaser, you really should watch this clip, especially the last few seconds…). Over the past 16 years, this post has evolved into a rather light-hearted scorecard, after all. Forgive me if I’m in a grimmer mood as we get started. But I did pick a doozy for my first prediction last year:

    1/ Global warming gets really, really, really real. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could argue 2019 was exactly the year things got way, way too real. Given my American bias and unforgiveable (if twisted) optimism, I predicted we’d have some kind of a Hurricane Sandy like event that slapped some sense into the United States. While that didn’t exactly happen (we got lucky with Dorian and others, though the Bahamas certainly didn’t), there were so many terrifying climate-related news events in 2019, it’s impossible to imagine 2019 as anything other than a turning point in the climate change narrative. First off, we had the single largest set of mass protests on any issue, ever – and of course, Greta Thurnberg as Time’s person of the year (which of course our president mercilessly and predictably mocked). We had news that the Arctic’s permafrost is melting, releasing a vicious cycle of carbon into the atmosphere. Bloomberg counted up our climate disasters in 2019, and found we had at least one every week. We had more devastating fires in California, we had a heat wave in Greenland (and Europe), we had massive waterfalls of melting ice, we had scientists freaking out that their most dire predictions are now looking too conservative. Nearly 10 million people were displaced by climate change in 2019. A huge swath of the Amazon was on fire this past year – spewing yet another continuous torrent of carbon. So yeah, the US was comparatively spared, but damn, things got really, really real this past year. I’m not happy about it, but I think I got this one at least partially right.

    2/ Mark Zuckerberg resigns as Chairman of Facebook, and relinquishes his supermajority voting rights. Related, Sheryl Sandberg stays right where she is. Ok, this was one of several predictions where I was really hoping to be right, but as I copped in the introduction, I simply should have known better. 2019 was certainly a year where plenty of tech lords were taken down a notch (see #8 below), but not at Facebook, which saw its stock rally to near record highs. Scandal, fraud, whistling past democracy’s graveyard – none of it mattered in 2019. And way will a founding CEO get taken down a notch in that scenario, ridiculous governance structures be dammed. Man, did I whiff!

    3/ Despite a ton of noise and smoke from DC, no significant federal legislation is signed around how data is managed in the United States. This played out exactly as I predicted. And to be honest, I don’t expect much to come in 2020, either, despite the fulminations of legislators across both parties. Why? See #2, and for that matter, this next doozy…

    4/ The Trump show gets cancelled. Nope. Just like Facebook, Trump’s stock is near an all time high – his approval ratings actually increased during the impeachment hearings. This despite the fact that 55% of the American public now wants him out of office. So yes, Trump will still be in power come New Year’s, and that means I was hopelessly wrong. I suppose I could claim some kind of win given the House did cancel his loathsome reality show, but it takes two chambers of Congress to remove a president. Just like Zuck, I’m left realizing that if I want to be more accurate in my predictions, I should stop wishing for things that make sense, but would cost kingmakers either their money or their power. Another whiff.

    5/ Cannabis for the win. Yikes. What kind of idiot predicts the federal legalization of cannabis in a world controlled by Trump? This looked promising at mid year, with a number of legislators holding “historic” hearings on the subject. The issue could have gained traction from there, and we might have had a bipartisan bill by the end of the year, had Trump not needed to play to its base as impeachment seized the narrative. So alas, it was not to be. Despite huge support from the American public, Republicans in Congress managed to actually set the movement back, killing common sense legislation that would have unshackled entrepreneurs who are attempting to create a safe and stable industry (caveat: I’m invested in many of them). The fact is, this past year the black market for cannabis kicked the legal market’s ass. Another whiff, and not the kind any of us would enjoy.

    6/ China implodes, the world wobbles. Ah, well, this almost happened. All year long, the headlines augured the collapse of China’s potemkin economy, as Trump’s trade war seemed poised to tilt the globe into recession. Here are a few: Beware of Tremors in China’s Commercial Property Market; China’s Inward Tilt Could Cripple It; China’s Yuan Falls Past Key Level of 7 to the Dollar; on and on the headlines went, warning of a China implosion. But it was not to be. I was a year early and 10 trillion dollars short here. Whiff.

    7/ 2019 will be a terrible year for financial markets. Lordy. Just. So. Wrong. Again, I bet against a president and a set of market makers utterly set on ensuring their own power. Damn Fool. Whifferoo.

    8/ At least one major tech IPO is pulled, the rest disappoint as a class. If nothing else, here’s proof I should stick to my own lanes. Thanks WeWork, for pulling your IPO and proving that at least I’ve still got tech prediction chops. And yes, the rest of the class didn’t do so great either – Slack, Uber, Lyft have all disappointed. There were some bright spots – Pinterest, Zoom and Cloudflare among them. But it wasn’t the year the tech industry had hoped for, by a long shot.

    9/ New forms of journalistic media flourish. This one was kind of a ringer – I knew we’d be launching The Recount by summer, and indeed we did. But it was also a proxy for what I hoped would be a resurgence in journalism across the board. And while I can’t prove this statistically, 2019 did feel like a year journalism got some of its mojo back. Non-profit models seemed to strengthen, subscription revenue continues to eclipse advertising at quality outlets like The New York Times, and innovative newsletters like The Hustle and The Skimm prospered. Maybe “flourish” was too optimistic (like most of my 2019 predictions), but at least this one wasn’t a total whiff.

    10/A new “social network” emerges by the end of the year. Well, umm…does Tik Tok count?! Not really, at least, not if you read the fine print in my prediction, where I reasoned that private social chat would be the most likely place for new entrants to emerge. And it seems Facebook agreed – announcing in March a “pivot to privacy” focused on group chat that all but destroyed any investment in the space. Later in the year, Automattic, the relatively unknown company whose WordPress platform powers nearly a third of the Internet, bought Tumblr, a once-important gateway drug that later ceded primacy to Twitter and Instagram. The combination set tech hearts aflame with speculation that a Facebook competitor was in the works. But as far as I can tell, no such plans exist. So yeah, we did see important gains for private social chat this past year, but by year’s end, the Valley’s still stuck in Facebook’s grip, and everyone’s still debating if we’ll ever emerge from it. Me, I’m not so optimistic anymore.

    And that, friends, caps what is likely the worst year of predictions I’ve ever reviewed. By my count I only got three of ten defensibly correct in 2019, with a couple pushes and five miserable whiffs. Not a good scorecard going into 2020, but hey, at least I learned something. In an era dominated by Trump and Zuck, it’s best to check your optimism before wading into prognostication. But hell, I’ve still got a few days before I plan on writing my predictions for 2020. Irrational optimism is a hard habit to quit. Maybe it’ll make a comeback next year….


    Previous predictions:

    Predictions 2019

    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 18:01:49 on 2019/01/02 Permalink
    Tags: , cannabis, , , , , , , , , , , tech, , ,   

    Predictions 2019: Stay Stoney, My Friends. 


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    If predictions are like baseball, I’m bound to have a bad year in 2019, given how well things went the last time around. And given how my own interests, work life, and physical location have changed of late, I’m not entirely sure what might spring from this particular session at the keyboard.

    But as I’ve noted in previous versions of this post (all 15 of them are linked at the bottom), I do these predictions in something of a fugue state – I don’t prepare in advance. I just sit down, stare at a blank page, and start to write.

    So Happy New Year, and here we go.

    1/ Global warming gets really, really, really real. I don’t know how this isn’t the first thing on everyone’s mind already, with all the historic fires, hurricanes, floods, and other related climate catastrophes of 2018. But nature won’t relent in 2019, and we’ll endure something so devastating, right here in the US, that we won’t be able to ignore it anymore. I’m not happy about making this prediction, but it’ll likely take a super Sandy or a king-sized Katrina to slap some sense into America’s body politic. 2019 will be the year it happens.

    2/ Mark Zuckerberg resigns as Chairman of Facebook, and relinquishes his supermajority voting rights. Related, Sheryl Sandberg stays right where she is. I honestly don’t see any other way Facebook pulls out of its nosedive. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, so I will just summarize: Facebook’s only salvation is through a new system of governance. And I mean that word liberally – new governance of how it manages data across its platform, new governance of how it works with communities, governments, and other key actors across its reach, and most fundamentally, new governance as to how it works as a corporate entity. It all starts with the Board asserting its proper role as the governors of the company. At present, the Board is fundamentally toothless.

    3/ Despite a ton of noise and smoke from DC, no significant federal legislation is signed around how data is managed in the United States. I  know I predicted just a few posts ago that 2019 will be the year the tech sector has to finally contend with Washington. And it will be…but in the end, nothing definitive will emerge, because we’ll all be utterly distracted by the Trump show (see below). Because of this, unhappily, we’ll end up governed by both GDPR and California’s homespun privacy law, neither of which actually force the kind of change we really need.

    4/ The Trump show gets cancelled. Last year, I said Trump would blow up, but not leave. This year, I’m with Fred, Trump’s in his final season. We all love watching a slow motion car wreck, but 2019 is the year most of us realize the car’s careening into a school bus full of our loved ones. Donald Trump, you’re fired.

    5/ Cannabis for the win. With Sessions gone and politicians of all stripes looking for an easy win, Congress will pass legislation legalizing cannabis. Huzzah!!!! Just in time, because…

    6/ China implodes, the world wobbles. Look, I’m utterly out of my depth here, but something just feels wrong with the whole China picture. Half the world’s experts are warning us that China’s fusion of capitalism and authoritarianism is already taking over the world, and the other half are clinging to the long-held notion that China’s approach to nation building is simply too fragile to withstand democratic capitalism’s demands for transparency. But I think there may be other reasons China’s reach will extend its grasp: It depends on global growth and optimistic debt markets. And both of those things will fail this year, exposing what is a marvelous but unsustainable experiment in managed markets. This is a long way of backing into a related prediction:

    7/ 2019 will be a terrible year for financial markets. This is the ultimate conventional wisdom amongst my colleagues in SF and NY, even though I’ve seen plenty of predictions that Wall St. will have a pretty good year. I have no particular insight as to why I feel this way, it’s mainly a gut call: Things have been too good, for too long. It’s time for a serious correction.

    8/ At least one major tech IPO is pulled, the rest disappoint as a class. Uber, Lyft, Slack, Pinterest et al are all expected this year. But it won’t be a good year to go public. Some will have no choice, but others may simply resize their businesses to focus on cash flow, so as to find a better window down the road.

    9/ New forms of journalistic media flourish. It’s well past time those of us in the media world take responsibility for the shit we make, and start to try significant new approaches to information delivery vehicles. We have been hostages to the toxic business models of engagement for engagement’s sake. We’ll continue to shake that off in various ways this year – with at least one new format taking off explosively. Will it have lasting power? That won’t be clear by year’s end. But the world is ready to embrace the new, and it’s our jobs to invest, invent, support, and experiment with how we inform ourselves through the media. Related, but not exactly the same…

    10/A new “social network” emerges by the end of the year. Likely based on messaging and encryption (a la Signal or Confide), the network will have many of the same features as the original Facebook, but will be based on a paid model. There’ll be some clever new angle – there always is – but in the end, it’s a way to manage your social life digitally. There are simply too many pissed off and guilt-ridden social media billionaires with the means to launch such a network – I mean, Insta’s Kevin Systrom, WhatsApp’s Jan and Brian, not to mention the legions of mere multi-millionaires who have bled out of Facebook’s battered body of late.

    So that’s it. On a personal note, I’ll be happily busy this year. Since moving to NY this past September, I’ve got several new projects in the works, some still under wraps, some already in process. NewCo and the Shift Forum will continue, but in reconstituted forms.  I’ll keep up with my writing as best I can; more likely than not most of it will focus the governance of data and how its effect our national dialog. Thanks, as always, for reading and for your emails, comments, and tweets. I read each of them and am inspired by all. May your 2019 bring fulfillment, peace, and gratitude.

    Previous predictions:

    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

     
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