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

By - July 27, 2014

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

“Please do.” Me, today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Content Marquee

Content Marketing And the New Mainstream

By - July 08, 2014

Content-Marketing(image) On the eve of our third annual P&G Signal (a private event I’ve produced for P&G these past few years) comes this piece in HBR: The Content Marketing Revolution. Just this morning I was reflecting on the speed with which the idea that “all brands are publishers” has moved from evangelical blog post to standard business practice – less than four years since we officially canonized it at FM, and about seven since I first began writing about “conversational marketing” in earnest on this site.

The HBR post notes “Nine out of ten organizations are now marketing with content – that is, going beyond the traditional sales pitches and instead enhancing brands by publishing (or passing along) relevant information, ideas, and entertainment that customers will value. The success of content marketing has radicalized the way companies communicate.”

That’s quite a shift in what is, by the standards of media and marketing, a very, very short time. Back in 2007 (!) I wrote a post that pointed to early examples of content marketing in a social and digital context, and offered a framework for why this nascent movement made sense. In it, I said:

Marketers are realizing that while it’s fine to advertise in traditional ways (Hey! This movie is about to open! Hey! Check out the cool new car/product, etc.), it’s now an option to begin a dialog with the folks who you hope are noticing your ads. In fact, it might even be a great experience for all involved. Brands might hear criticisms that are valid, and have the chance, through conversations with customers, to address those critiques. Customers have the chance to give their input on new versions of products, ask questions, learn more – in other words, have a dialog.

And in the end, isn’t having a dialog with your customers what business, and brands, are supposed to be about?

We’re still early in the shift to conversational marketing, and not all brands are excellent at it. But even the most traditional brands are now deeply engaged in figuring out how to be part of conversations that matter to them. And that’s a very good thing. Content marketing has birthed native advertising, which has given new life to independent publications like Quartz and Vox. And it’s become the lifeblood of massive platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. In short, content marketing is working.

Sure, there are as many examples of flat footed or poorly thought-out executions as there are screaming successes, but again, we’re just getting started. Brands are finding their voice, and we, their audiences, will determine the value they add by our response to what they have to say.

Else 7.7.14: You’re Not A Target Till You Are

By - July 07, 2014

NSAThe past week brought fresh revelations about how the NSA targets US citizens, and new insights on the founders of Google, the history of technology, and ongoing stories from Facebook and the EU. To the links….

In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are – The Washington Post - This is a long-ish read, but please, if you read only one story, read this one. The details are important, and most likely will be the basis of alot of debate yet to come about Snowden’s impact.

Betting on the Ponies: non-Unicorn Investing – Reaction Wheel – Investor Jerry Neumann writes a fine overview of his philosophy on investing, and why it makes no sense whatsoever to chase the best in field.

Fireside chat with Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin – Khosla Ventures Kudos to Khosla for giving all of us a look behind the walls of its annual CEO conference, and inside the minds of Google’s founders.

When the Terminators come, only Google’s co-founders will be safe – Verge – And here’s what they are really thinking about – A funny little Easter Egg shows that the top brass at Google are worried about the same things we are…sort of.

Historian of Technology Cruelly Crushes Internet Myths - Scientific American  Q&A with a technology historian is a good read, reviews many of the myths and stories behind the creation of networks and platforms we now take for granted.

The EU’s Right To Be Forgotten Is A Mess & How Google’s Making It Worse – SEL - I didn’t think this was going to work out well…

Screwing with your emotions is Facebook’s entire business – Vox – We are reminded that the entire business of advertising is an attempt to “screw with our emotions.” Then again, so is the entire business of humanity, on some level.

A Return To Form In Media – Searchblog My musings on what Print can teach us in a world of digital.

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On Media, Ro Khanna, the NSA, and the Future of the Internet: Bloomberg Video

By - July 02, 2014

I had a chance to go on Bloomberg today and co-host with Cory and Emily, which was fun. They asked me about my post on Monday, and I answered thusly:

I also got to help interview David Medine, who chairs the privacy task force for the Obama Administration:

And Ro Khanna, who is running for Congress in the heart of Silicon Valley:

And lastly, I got to opine on the future architecture of the Internet:

A Return To Form In Media

By - June 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Else 6.30.14: Input, Output, Kaput

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EndofInternet

This past week in tech brought Google’s I/O developer conference, and with it lots of debate on the culture of the Valley, the future of links in the mobile world, the end of the Internet (again), and the death of the IPO. To the (dead? resurgent?) links:

In­side the Mir­rortoc­ra­cy – Carlos Buenos  From time to time a commentator hits the mark when it comes to the Valley’s culture. This piece resonated for many last week – and sparked a renewed debate about whether the Valley is too insular.

The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt big time: its own culture – Quartz A complement to the piece above. After all, we’ve had enough of disruption, no? No! Time to disrupt our culture of disruption, naturally!

The End of the Internet? – The Atlantic Every week, the Internet is over, apparently. This piece tracks the regionalization of the Internet, thanks in no small part to the NSA’s broad reach and geopolitical impact.

Disrupting Innovative Game Changing Disruptors – NewCo In which I give an overview of the Christensen fracas, and some thoughts on why it matters.

Facebook Doesn’t Understand The Fuss About Its Emotion Manipulation Study – Forbes Last week Facebook was caught a bit flat-footed when a study that manipulated some of its users’ emotions was uncovered. It’s hard Facebook, to be sure, but this study should have been flagged early for its PR implications.

Google’s master plan: Turn everything into data- Slate Yup. That’s pretty much at the core of it. However, this would be happening whether or not it was “Google’s master plan.”

The IPO is dying. Marc Andreessen explains why. – Vox I saw Marc speak last week at a conference, and he made these points quite compellingly.

Google’s Grand Plans: A Conversation With Larry Page and Sundar Pichai – NYTimes Last week’s I/O gave the world a chance to consider Google with some perspective. This is one of the better interviews that came out of the press deluge. See also this piece from the Times on Page’s plans and this on the main news from I/O.

Understanding Apple’s Wearable Strategy | Tech.pinions Yes, and it’s not just Apple where identity is the key axis point of wearable, it’s the next most important signal after location. First, where is this person? Second, WHO is this person? Third, WHAT is this person doing? And fourth…WHY?!

Search and Apps – Give Consumers Back Their Links – searchblog I’ve been on about this for some time, I sense a gathering movement that bears watching. More here.

Living in a Fool’s Paradise | Boom: A Journal of California A new journal has a good overview of the impact the tech boom is having on real estate in California.

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Search and Apps – Give Consumers Back Their Links

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

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

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

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

Else 6.23.14: Questioning Valley Idols

By - June 23, 2014

A fascinating week of links, starting with a blast from the past (see above), but the real meat of the week came in the debates around some of the Valley’s most scared cows. For more, read on….

Tech Time Warp of the Week: Watch IBM Warn Us About Glassholes 10 Years Ago- Wired I am particularly enamored with “Park Bench” – if I saw a guy doing what this guy is doing in public, I’d throw something at him. I recall seeing this way back when it first came out, and I hated him then. Now it’s insufferable.

Dear Marc Andreessen – Alex Payne Payne picks a fight that many wanted to see – questioning the philosophy of one of the Valley’s most sacred idols.

Jill Lepore: What the Theory of “Disruptive Innovation” Gets Wrong : The New Yorker Another takedown of a Valley idol, which prompted a response later in Businessweek.

Why We Need to Tame Our Algorithms Like Dogs- Wired A conceptual scoop of a story – algorithms are a new life form that we are co-evolving with. Neat cocktail party idea.

Is Coding the New Literacy? | Mother Jones Sort of, the magazine argues. In fact, learning to think like a coder is more important.

The Rise of the Personal Data Marketplace – OZY A survey of new startups that are trying to spark a marketplace I’ve been on about for years. We’re closer than we were five years ago. but we’re still without a quickening in the ecosystem. Here’s another, related story on Wickr.

Yahoo Wants You to Linger (on the Ads, Too) – NYTimes.com  A much needed deep dive into what Yahoo is actually trying to accomplish in its most important product – media. I left the piece unconvinced Yahoo! is going to win here, but…wanting it to.

Michael Bloomberg on cities and innovation – The European The Mayor on ho to get sh*t done at the local level. I love the dynamics of cities.

The Secret to Getting Top-Secret Secrets – Matter – Medium Great story on an obsessive journalist, and the crazy FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) bureaucracy.

The Problem With Obama’s Internet Policy – Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs argues that the biggest disappointment of Obama’s tenure is its net neutrality stance.

At Google, Larry Page Finds His Right-Hand Man – The Information The Information believes Sundar Pichai is Page’s next in command. I imagine any number of folks inside Google might disagree, including the deferential Pichai. But he does have a crucial role with Android going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Else 6.16.14: Internet Ads Grow, Apple Ads Blow

By - June 16, 2014
IAB 6.14

Up and to the right, baby.

Lots of advertising news in this issue of Signal, as the bi-annual IAB report shows strong gains (YAY, Internet!). To the links:

Internet Ads Surge 19% in Just One Year – WSJ That’s strong growth for an industry working on its 21st year. (IAB report)

The Three Phases Of Mobile Advertising – BubbaVC Sometimes the best posts are really simple.

For Apple, Marketing Is a Whole New Game – Advertising Age Apple once commanded unequalled respect from the ad world. Not any longer. Typically, the piece forgets that it all comes down to product….

Only Apple – Daring Fireball – Regardless of how the company markets itself, if you don’t read John Gruber on all things Apple, you’re not getting the full scoop. Of course, he’s in the tank, but he’s smart nevertheless on the heels on WWDC, a must read.

We need to regulate emotion-detecting technology  - Slate Oh shit, now tech can read our emotions – time to get ahead of it, this Slate piece argues. Not sure we know how to, I might retort.

The Promise of a New Internet – The Atlantic Maybe it doesn’t have to all come down to a place controlled by the NSA, Facebook, and Apple. Maybe mesh networking can save the core values of the Internet after all?

Facebook to Let Users Alter Their Ad Profiles – NYTimes.com I chose this version of the story because it’s such an amazing win for Facebook from a spin point of view. Other headlines: Facebook to Use Web Browsing History For Ad Targeting and Facebook’s New Ads Are Nosier Than Ever. Get my point?!

Is Tony Fadell the next Steve Jobs or … the next Larry Page? – Fortune Or are we simply building him up because it makes a good headline? Seriously, Fadell is a talented executive, and this is a good profile of a key guy in the tech scene.

Window into Airbnb’s hidden impact on S.F. – San Francisco Chronicle Look what a little data-driven journalism yields – insights into how Airbnb is changing the SF landscape.

Else 6.9.14: The Internet Beats Rabbit Ears

By - June 09, 2014

browsershare_v3

 

The world’s most fascinating story kept time this past week – cord cutting beat rabbit ears, Google took some punches, and billion-dollar companies pondered their fate once the bloom starts to fade. To the links….

Internet-TV Delivery to Surpass Over-the-Air – Worldscreen Worth noting that more of us get TV from the Internet than get it from “over the air” AKA rabbit ears.

Broadband shouldn’t be like cable TV. Why consumers should care about peering – GigaOm Yes, we should, but we don’t. Because it takes too much time to sort through it all. Bottom line – we shouldn’t have to work this hard to get good, clean, neutral service. Right?

40 maps that explain the internet – Vox Ya like charts? So do I.

We’re all being mined for data – but who are the real winners? - Guardian This long piece gives a good overview, but fails to answer the question, save the rather easy “we’re not winning, but big companies are” angle.

Thanks for nothing, jerkface – ZDNet  In which a very angry Violet Blue explains her disdain for Google+ and its (unintended?) consequences. Good fodder in here for those interested in the role of digital identity in our society. Also, some (biased, but passionate) explication of the fracas around Google’s decision to enforce “real names” on its identity services.

Jimmy Wales Blasts Europe’s “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling As A “Terrible Danger” – TechCrunch Well that’s a pretty clear signal how he feels about it, given he’s on the review board for said requests in Europe…

Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access – WSJ Notwithstanding the target on its back (and front, and aides), the company just keeps pushing on all fronts.

 The Dropbox Conundrum – BuzzFeed I find these multi-billion dollar startups fascinating – it’s truly unique to our time that there are ten or more companies worth $10 billion – by the reckoning of their investors – and all are now struggling with how to manage such lofty expectations.

Facebook Has Another Go At Snapchat With Slingshot – TechCrunch   Speaking of, I’d not really want to be SnapChat right about now. Except, Facebook keeps kind of getting it wrong, to wit: Facebook accidentally launches, then pulls Snapchat competitor Slingshot – Verge