Social Media

The End of the Social Era Can’t Come Soon Enough

29 November 2017

From Vanity Fair:

Many people imagine 19th-century antebellum America as a frontier fantasia: men with handlebar mustaches sitting in dusty saloons, kicking back moonshine whiskey, as a piano player picks out tunes in the background. In reality, though, life was a little more sordid: Americans spent their time after work in fully legal heroin dens; in 1885, opium and cocaine were even given to children to help with teething. “Cocaine Toothache Drops,” which were marketed as presenting an “instantaneous cure” were sold for 15 cents a box. Today, in the midst of our opioid crisis, we hear about this past and wonder unequivocally, what the hell were they thinking?

I often wonder the same thing when I think about social media and its current domination of our society. Will a future generation look back in 10, 20, or maybe 100 years from now and wonder, mystifyingly, why a generation of humans believed in these platforms despite mounting evidence that they were tearing society apart—being used as terrorist recruitment tools, facilitating bullying, driving up anxiety, and undermining our elections—despite the obvious benefits and facilitations they provide? Indeed, some of the people who gave us these platforms are already beginning to wonder if this is the case. Last month, I wrote a piece detailing how some early Facebook employees now feel about the monster they have created. As one early Facebook employee told me, “I lay awake at night thinking about all the things we built in the early days and what we could have done to avoid the product being used this way.”

After the piece published, I expected to receive angry e-mails and text messages from current or former Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram employees. Instead, my inbox was flooded with former (and even current!) employees of these social networks, who confided that they felt the same way. Some even mentioned they had abandoned the platforms themselves. The people who reached out ranged in pay grade from engineers to C-suite executives. Some venture capitalists who once funded the companies, or their competitors, have told me that they no longer use them—or do so sparingly.

. . . .

[T]he social-media boom, powered by the growth of mobile computing, is over. “Whether the tech industry can move beyond mining our social anxieties to sell ads, or feeding our anger to increase engagement, may require renegotiating a new relationship between the Bay Area and the rest of the country.”

. . . .

I deleted Instagram, Facebook, and Snap from my phone. I now log onto Facebook once a month, if that (and it’s more for a drive-by look to make sure no one has messaged me on there, rather than to like a post or comment on a picture). I haven’t logged into Snap in a year or more. I went from sharing a picture on Instagram three times a day, to now doing so three times a year. While I still use Twitter sparingly for professional purposes, I delete the app from my phone on weekends because looking at it either makes me sad, angry, or anxious.

Link to the rest at Vanity Fair

The Epic 4,000-Word Guide to Differentiating Yourself as a Writer

11 November 2017

From Medium:

It started when one of my friends made a surprising change.

“I’m going to focus on my YouTube presence more,” he said. “I feel I’m going to be able to differentiate myself there.”

Then he said:

“It’s hard to differentiate yourself as a writer.”

Truthfully, I’m a little jealous. He will spend the next year romping around Pittsburgh with a camera and a cute toddler. I assume his popularity will skyrocket.

. . . .

Maybe you want to be a Writer with a capital W. You scrawl random words on post it notes and wake up in the middle of the night to jot something down in your notebook. You want to see your name on a cover.

If so, I have awful news for you:

My friend is right.

It’s difficult to separate yourself as a writer. Your Instagram friends will cross the world and shoot infinite exotic and beautiful locations. You will lock yourself in a room, pushing buttons to try and express how you feel. The latter is not a natural thing.

. . . .

In order to chunk this monster post up a little, I’ve divided the key components into three sections:

  • Why You Should Even Bother Writing
  • 10 Ways to Outstrip Your Writing Competition
  • Practical Steps to a Viral Post

Link to the rest at Medium

Here’s the Social Media Content Your Audience Does NOT Want to See You Post

6 November 2017
Comments Off on Here’s the Social Media Content Your Audience Does NOT Want to See You Post

From Medium:

Let’s be honest for a second here. When it comes to quality, a large amount of social media content posted by brands isn’t good. In fact, in terms of subject matter, copy, photo quality, and more, much of the content is downright cringeworthy.

. . . .

1. Inauthentic, forced content

You see this mistake all the time. Companies and individuals force trending topics into their posts in hopes of gaining more followers and engagement. Examples could be anything from an athletic event to the latest dance craze to a natural disaster.

Just because LeBron James is trending on Twitter doesn’t mean your company has to post about him.

. . . .

6. Way too many hashtags

. . . .

According to research by Buffer, on Instagram 11 hashtags is the ideal number, and on Twitter the amount is one or two.

Link to the rest at Medium

It’s Time to Bust the Online Trusts

1 November 2017

From The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page:

This week some of America’s most beloved internet companies will follow the footsteps of Big Tobacco and Wall Street in a dreaded rite of passage: the Capitol Hill perp walk. The top lawyers for Google, Facebook and Twitter will try their best to explain to the Senate Intelligence Committee how misinformation spread through their platforms in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

They are also likely to argue that the best response to their platforms’ negligence is not government regulation. If Google and Facebook are lucky, the result will be the passage of the bipartisan Honest Ads Act, which would merely require buyers of online political advertisements to reveal their identities. This is a necessary move to increase transparency, but it is not sufficient to protect the electorate from manipulation.

Focusing on the narrow question of online advertising will only distract lawmakers from the true problem: In the absence of rigorous antitrust enforcement, the consumer internet has become too concentrated in a few dominant companies, creating easy targets for bad actors.

There is a reason Congress did not have to investigate foreign meddling after the 2008 or 2012 elections. Back then the internet was still a diverse, decentralized network. Anyone could create a website or blog to satisfy the demand for popular or niche content. This older form of online community building has largely been supplanted by tools provided by the dominant players. Facebook Groups allows people to create communities without requiring much technical skill. It does, however, require a Facebook account, meaning participants have no choice but to share their identity and their data. Today, many internet services are inaccessible unless you have joined Facebook’s “community” of two billion users.

Google used to be the engine that drove the open web. In a 2004 interview, co-founder Larry Page denounced powerful intermediaries on the internet, saying that “we want you to come to Google and quickly find what you want. Then we’re happy to send you to the other sites. In fact, that’s the point. The portal strategy tries to own all of the information.”

Over time, Google’s philosophy shifted in the opposite direction, making the internet less open and pluralistic than even a few years ago. Now people are nudged to stay on Google.com. The company has committed to presenting a single “answer” to every inquiry, even ones that are subjective opinions based on sparse Google-owned content, like “best pediatrician NYC.” The result has been a decline of traffic to swaths of the web.

. . . .

Of every new dollar spent in online advertising last year, Google and Facebook captured 99 cents. Yet neither company has ever faced serious antitrust scrutiny in the U.S.

. . . .

The economics have also changed for internet startups hoping to reinvent the web. Early-stage capital has dried up, dropping more than 40% since 2015, as investors have become pessimistic that any new Googles and Facebooks will ever be capable of disrupting the deeply entrenched incumbents.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG will remind all that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

The author of the OP is vice president of public policy at Yelp, which undoubtedly views Facebook and Google as competitors.

PG thinks monopolies are a bad idea. He has also observed that government actions to resolve business problems have done more harm than good on many occasions.

Particularly when dealing with “misinformation” spreading, either through Facebook/Google or through the internet generally or through major television networks or major newspapers, PG is particularly wary of government action.

Misinformation has also been known to spread through statements and advertisements originating with politicians and major political parties.

While he’s not an expert on antitrust law, PG notes that five of the six largest publishers in the US have recently violated US antitrust laws. In concert with Apple, major publishers broke those laws by conspiring to fix prices in a manner which has been illegal in the US for over 100 years.

Big Publishing continues behavior that is similar to the behavior of other shared monopolies. For example, 99% of the publishing contracts authors sign with large publishers include exactly the same royalty rates for sales of books and licensing of ebooks. A tacit agreement exists that no major will offer to pay an author royalties of more than 25% of net income generated from the publisher’s ebook licenses through Amazon, Kobo, etc.

In this case, the violation of antitrust laws was far clearer than anything Facebook and Google have been accused of (to the best of PG’s knowledge).

However, the most significant financial punishment imposed on the Price-fix Six has been from the ebook market. Lower priced ebooks from indie authors and small publishers have taken over the ebook markets at the expense of those from major publishers.

In this case, Amazon has been a neutral market-maker, opening its digital doors to one and all, large and small, on an equal basis.

As a group, readers are voting in favor of ebooks not published by major publishers. To the best of PG’s knowledge, no government action is responsible for this consumer behavior. In fact, a very large corporation, Amazon, provided an ebook marketplace in competition with another very large corporation, Apple.

While Amazon has been very helpful in accelerating the adoption of ebooks, if Amazon hadn’t existed, PG believes one or more other market-makers would have done the same thing.

The technology for creating, selling and consuming ebooks is inherently superior to the established structure for doing the same thing with printed books. It’s an open platform that supports a far wider range of authors and satisfies a much larger population of readers at a much lower price than the paper alternatives. Bits are inherently more efficient than atoms for the distribution of information.

End of rant. PG will restrain himself for the rest of the day.

The attention economy

21 October 2017

From Aeon:

How many other things are you doing right now while you’re reading this piece? Are you also checking your email, glancing at your Twitter feed, and updating your Facebook page? What five years ago David Foster Wallace labelled ‘Total Noise’ — ‘the seething static of every particular thing and experience, and one’s total freedom of infinite choice about what to choose to attend to’ — is today just part of the texture of living on a planet that will, by next year, boast one mobile phone for each of its seven billion inhabitants. We are all amateur attention economists, hoarding and bartering our moments — or watching them slip away down the cracks of a thousand YouTube clips.

If you’re using a free online service, the adage goes, you are the product. It’s an arresting line, but one that deserves putting more precisely: it’s not you, but your behavioural data and the quantifiable facts of your engagement that are constantly blended for sale, with the aggregate of every single interaction (yours included) becoming a mechanism for ever-more-finely tuning the business of attracting and retaining users.

Consider the confessional slide show released in December 2012 by Upworthy, the ‘website for viral content’, which detailed the mechanics of its online attention-seeking. To be truly viral, they note, content needs to make people want to click on it and share it with others who will also click and share. This means selecting stuff with instant appeal — and then precisely calibrating the summary text, headline, excerpt, image and tweet that will spread it. This in turn means producing at least 25 different versions of your material, testing the best ones, and being prepared to constantly tweak every aspect of your site. To play the odds, you also need to publish content constantly, in quantity, to maximise the likelihood of a hit — while keeping one eye glued to Facebook. That’s how Upworthy got its most viral hit ever, under the headline ‘Bully Calls News Anchor Fat, News Anchor Destroys Him On Live TV’, with more than 800,000 Facebook likes and 11 million views on YouTube.

. . . .

Attention, thus conceived, is an inert and finite resource, like oil or gold: a tradable asset that the wise manipulator auctions off to the highest bidder, or speculates upon to lucrative effect. There has even been talk of the world reaching ‘peak attention’, by analogy to peak oil production, meaning the moment at which there is no more spare attention left to spend.

Link to the rest at Aeon

How to Save $39,000 When Choosing a Domain Name for Your Author Website

10 October 2017

From The Digital Reader

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a book must be in want of a website. They need a home on the web to call their own, one safe from the fickle whims of Facebook’s algorithms.

That home will need a name – but what to call it?

. . . .

Some authors choose to go with the perfunctory choice, but others choose a domain of a more personal nature, or a whimsical one.

. . . .

Well, you could go for the obvious and staid choice such as the author’s name, book series, character name, or book title. Those options usually work well – the author name is a great default that brings all (most) of an author’s work together on a single site (but it might exclude pen names), while naming the site after the book series or main character might add a small boost to SEO.

I named my blog The Digital Reader because it referenced the topic I wanted to cover :digital reading, in its many forms. It is a decent choice, but it is not without its problems. For a number of years people kept confusing me with a competitor who hs a similar first name and blog name. (If I had realized that would be an issue, I’d have chosen a different name.) Also, I never did get the domain I wanted – I had to go with the-digital-reader.com because domain squatters were demanding exorbitant fees for the domains DigitalReader.com and TheDigitalReader.com.

One of the domains would have cost me eight grand, and the other is listed at $39,000.

. . . .

Another way to come up with a topical title is to use the “And Method”. This is a trick for coming up with unique names where you combine two otherwise unrelated words, and in this situation an author might choose two words that hint at their work.

Swords & Sorcery, to name one obvious example, suggests a D&D-style fantasy, while Coffee and Corpses hints at police procedural, or detective stories. And then there is Death and Texas, which is both clever word play and possibly a topical reference to for author whose mystery novels are set in Texas.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG has found a site called Nameboy helpful for locating good domain names. This site has been in operation approximately forever.

On Nameboy, you type in a primary word and, optionally, a secondary word. Thereafter Nameboy generates all sorts of possible domain names based on those words. It lists them in a table that shows you which of its generated site titles are available as domain names and which are not.

For example, entering the words dragons and sorcerer reveal the following names are available:

sorcererdragon.com, .net, .org and .info

dragonsorcerer.com, .net, .org and .info

e-dragon.com is gone, as is e-dragon.net, but .org and .info are available.

teamdragon, team-dragon and magic-dragon are gone in all four basic domain extensions

dragoncouncil.com is for sale for $1595, but .net, .org and .info are available

Perhaps the best name (in PG’s non-dragonish mind), thedragonsorcerer is available in all four basic domain extensions.

And for those who seek a more dynamic feel for your website branding – dragons-o-rama.com is available.

Disabling autoplaying videos in Chrome goes viral

5 October 2017

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

As many newspapers have discovered to their chagrin, the Internet is one of the best ways to read the news these days—but there are still certain hazards inherent to the experience. In particular, there’s the matter of autoplaying video, which every TV station local news department seems to believe is the best way to enhance its stories when it posts them to the web. Who hasn’t had the experience of browsing the web while in class or at work and suddenly fumbling frantically for the mute button as some reporter’s voice blares out through the speakers?

It puzzles me that so many sites seem to think that annoying people is the best way to endear themselves to their audience, but even I hadn’t realized just how annoying people find it. When a friend mentioned that version 61 of the Chrome web browser offered a way to disable autoplaying videos, I thought it seemed like the sort of thing people might want to know about, so I posted it to my Twitter feed:

What I hadn’t expected was that simple tweet was going to go viral like nothing I’ve ever posted before in my entire life. 200 replies, over 6,000 retweets, nearly 13,000 likes, over 740,000 impressions so far—and who knows how many it will have by the time you’re reading this article?

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG just made the switch and is looking forward to a less aggravating internet experience in the future.

Text-only news sites are slowly making a comeback. Here’s why.

4 October 2017

From Poynter:

A few days before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida, I received a query on Twitter from a graphic designer named Eric Bailey.

“Has anyone researched news sites capability to provide low-bandwidth communication of critical info during crisis situations?” he asked.

The question was timely — two days later, CNN announced that they created a text-only version of their site with no ads or videos.

. . . .

The same week, NPR began promoting its text-only site, text.npr.org on social media as a way for people with limited Internet connectivity during Hurricane Irma to receive updated information.

. . . .

These text-only sites — which used to be more popular in the early days of the Internet, when networks were slower and bandwidth was at a premium – are incredibly useful, and not just during natural disasters. They load much faster, don’t contain any pop-ups or ads or autoplay videos, and help people with low bandwidth or limited Internet access. They’re also beneficial for people with visual impairments who use screen readers to navigate the Internet.

. . . .

NPR’s text.npr.org is likely the oldest example of a working text-only news site that’s still in existence. It originally launched as thin.npr.org back in June 2005, in response to the September 11th attacks — when many news sites struggled to stay online amidst record traffic numbers — and also to help people who were navigating to npr.org back in 2005 on handheld mobile devices like Blackberries.

Earlier this month, a number of improvements were made to the site (which redirects to thin.npr.org) aimed specifically at low-bandwidth users.

“More recently, our full site [npr.org] has made major accessibility gains,” write Patrick Cooper, NPR’s director of web and engagement, and Sara Goo, the managing editor of digital news. “But as accessible or as fast as you can make your full site —and speed is critical for us — low-bandwidth situations are a different challenge. [Our] improvements focused on those users in particular.”

Text.npr.org’s improvements included  “adding a caching layer to greatly improve speed and adding code to make the site display well on phones,” write Cooper and Goo. “We also increase[d] the number of stories on the [text.npr.org] homepage, made the homepage use the story ordering from our full site, updated the navigation links, removed an interim page in each story that showed only the first paragraph (something that was more valuable before we improved the page speed), and created an easier to remember “text.npr.org” redirect for the site.”

In recent months, TwitterFacebook, and Google News have also published their own versions of stripped-down sites that use less bandwidth, mainly aimed at users in emerging markets who might not have access to faster network connections. Earlier this week, Twitter announced that it was now experimenting with an Android app designed to use less data for people with limited connectivity.

. . . .

Kramer: I’m curious. What kinds of things can be stripped from sites for low-bandwidth users and people with visual impairments?

Bowden: Those are two very distinct user groups but some of the approaches bleed over and can be applied together.

For low-bandwidth users: Cut the fluff. No pictures, no video, no ads or tracking. Text files are good enough here. Anything else is just fluff.

Link to the rest at Poynter

PG is happy to have high-speed internet access, but he likes the stripped-down sites because he can scan them for interesting items more quickly.

The Instagram Poet Outselling Homer Ten to One

4 October 2017

From The Cut:

Walking the Manhattan blocks near NYU, the poet Rupi Kaur wears a loose cream-colored suit and an air of easy self-assurance. Her hands rest in her pockets, her kimono-shaped jacket hangs open over a cropped black turtleneck, and she comfortably strides her realm: the realm of college freshwomen who have recently been or may soon go through breakups. She looks like someone prepared to tell you convincingly that “you / are your own / soul mate,” to quote one of her poems in its entirety.

Most professional poets cannot expect to be approached by fans. But Milk and Honey, the 25-year-old Punjabi-Canadian’s first collection of poetry, is the best-selling adult book in the U.S. so far this year. According to BookScan totals taken near the end of September, the nearly 700,000 copies Kaur has sold put her ahead of runners-up like John Grisham, J.D. Vance, and Margaret Atwood by a margin of more than 100,000. (In 2016, Milk and Honey beat out the next-best-selling work of poetry — The Odyssey­ — by a factor of ten.) And because Kaur’s robust social-media following (1.6 million followers on Instagram, 154,000 on Twitter) has been the engine of her success, she is accustomed to direct contact with her public. So, when a young woman stops her on the way out of Think Coffee — “I love your work!” — Kaur greets her with a hug, poses for a selfie, then turns and calls back to her publicist. “She preordered the second book!”

. . . .

 Kaur’s father, as it happens, was a truck driver: The family came to Canada from India when she was 4, and moved around in pursuit of his work before settling in Toronto’s Brampton neighborhood for her adolescence. In classic immigrant-parent fashion, they encouraged her to study science. But she resisted, and although parental disapproval precluded her original goal of fashion school, when the time came for university, she applied to business programs. “Publishing a book was never really the intention,” she says. Still, she’d been putting her writing on blogs for years, and kept a Tumblr before switching over primarily to Instagram. She released Milk and Honey through Amazon’s CreateSpace platform in 2014, and it was rereleased the following year by the publisher Andrews McMeel. Best known for collections of comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbes,” Andrews McMeel has lately become home to a number of poets who first established themselves online, like Kaur and Lang Leav. Leav’s collection Love and Misadventure was a self-published hit before AMP picked it up in 2013; they’ve since released four more of her books. Khloe Kardashian once posted a Lang Leav poem on her estranged husband Lamar Odom’s birthday.

Link to the rest at The Cut and here’s a link to Rupi Kaur’s Instagram feed

Facebook Is Still In Denial About Its Biggest Problem

1 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s a good time to re-examine our relationship with Facebook Inc.

In the past month, it has been revealed that Facebook hosted a Russian influence operation which may have reached between 3 million and 20 million people on the social network, and that Facebook could be used to micro-target users with hate speech. It took the company more than two weeks to agree to share what it knows with Congress.

Increased scrutiny of Facebook is healthy. What went mainstream as a friendly place for loved ones to swap baby pictures and cat videos has morphed into an opaque and poorly understood metropolis rife with influence peddlers determined to manipulate what we know and how we think. We have barely begun to understand how the massive social network shapes our world.

Unfortunately, Facebook itself seems just as mystified, providing a response to all of this that has left many unsatisfied.

What the company’s leaders seem unable to reckon with is that its troubles are inherent in the design of its flagship social network, which prioritizes thrilling posts and ads over dull ones, and rewards cunning provocateurs over hapless users. No tweak to algorithms or processes can hope to fix a problem that seems enmeshed in the very fabric of Facebook.

. . . .

On a network where article and video posts can be sponsored and distributed like ads, and ads themselves can go as viral as a wedding-fail video, there is hardly a difference between the two. And we now know that if an ad from one of Facebook’s more than five million advertisersgoes viral—by making us feel something, not just joy but also fear or outrage—it will cost less per impression to spread across Facebook.

In one example, described in a recent Wall Street Journal article, a “controversial” ad went viral, leading to a 30% drop in the cost to reach each user. Joe Yakuel, founder and chief executive of Agency Within, which manages $100 million in digital ad purchases, told our reporter, “Even inadvertent controversy can cause a lot of engagement.”

Keeping people sharing and clicking is essential to Facebook’s all-important metric, engagement, which is closely linked to how many ads the network can show us and how many of them we will interact with. Left unchecked, algorithms like Facebook’s News Feed tend toward content that is intended to arouse our passions, regardless of source—or even veracity.

An old newspaper catchphrase was, “If it bleeds, it leads”—that is, if someone got hurt or killed, that’s the top story. In the age when Facebook supplies us with a disproportionate amount of our daily news, a more-appropriate catchphrase would be, “If it’s outrageous, it’s contagious.”

. . . .

“Facebook has become so central to how people communicate, and it has so much market power, that it’s essentially immune to market signals,” Dr. Benkler says. The only thing that will force the company to change, he adds, is the brewing threat to its reputation.

. . . .

Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged in a recent Facebook post that the majority of advertising purchased on Facebook will continue to be bought “without the advertiser ever speaking to anyone at Facebook.” His argument for this policy: “We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think our society should want us to.”

This is false equivalence. Society may not want Facebook to read over everything typed by our friends and family before they share it. But many people would feel it’s reasonable for Facebook to review all of the content it gets paid (tens of billions of dollars) to publish and promote.

“Facebook has embraced the healthy gross margins and influence of a media firm but is allergic to the responsibilities of a media firm,” Mr. Galloway says.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG understands the controversy, but disagrees with conventional wisdom about its seriousness.

Complaints about Facebook are similar to earlier complaints about the internet – anybody can say anything they want to say.

Do Facebook users really compare a paid advertisement to a posting and give more credence to an advertisement because someone paid Facebook to distribute it? PG doesn’t think so.

If anything, PG tends to be a bit more suspicious of advertisements in any medium because the ideas contained in the advertisement were presumably not able to rise to a higher level of visibility without someone paying money to cause the publication to give them more visibility.

The idea that people are so stupid that large organizations, whether governments or private companies, are obligated to protect them from bad ideas (whatever that means) is pretty much the ultimate in slippery slopes.

If people don’t like what they see on Facebook, they’ll stop visiting Facebook and go elsewhere. Alternatives are a click away.

If advertisers think their reputations are harmed by their advertisements appearing on Facebook, they will pull the ads. At present, a large number of advertisers think their reputations are just fine on Facebook and are willing to continue to pay Facebook for visibility.

If the experts are correct that Facebook’s reputation is being commercially tarnished by what is appearing on its site, advertising or something else, we’ll see it in the number of visitors and the number of advertisers on Facebook. If visitors and advertisers continue to appear, we’ll know the experts are wrong. Again.

 

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