“Like a meeting room that simply seeks to prolong the meeting”—so says writer Zeynep Tufekci of Facebook, YouTube, and other sites that seek to maximize their command of your attention. In this conversation with Sam Harris she explains, among other things…
- how machine learning draws us towards the edges of discourse (because that’s simply what we’re most likely to click)
- how political campaigns can (and now do) target specific people (e.g. black men in Philadelphia in 2016) in order to depress their votes
- how marketers could detect a manic-depressive person’s manic upswing & comp him airline tickets to Vegas, knowing that he’s most vulnerable to blowing all his money
…and more. It’s fascinating, dark stuff that should give pause to all of us—especially those of us who merrily work to extract more & more insights into individuals, in order to better shape their behavior (for good, we swear…).
Sam Harris speaks with Zeynep Tufekci about “surveillance capitalism,” the Trump campaign’s use of Facebook, AI-enabled marketing, the health of the press, Wikileaks, ransomware attacks, and other topics.
Merry f’ing Christmas.
“Take a human desire,” says Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, “preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”
It’s interesting to think about this as Instagram’s identity has evolved in a “lol nothing matters” Snapchat world. (I initially typed “Snapshat”; Freudian?). Founder Kevin Systrom used to like to describe the product as “a visual walkie talkie,” but plainly that wasn’t true. As their head of product Kevin Weil said, “It became a place where people kept raising the bar on themselves in terms of the quality of what they had to achieve to post. We didn’t want that.” If you haven’t yet, listen to the This American Life episode about teenage girls’ Instagram anxiety referenced in “The Instagram lobster trap.”
Anyway, Instagram has found that lowering the bar—creating an impermanent, low-stress complement to one’s highlight reel—is key. They need bottom-up activity to make things work:
“Your connections with your friends and your family are the thing that make Instagram work. All the data supports that if you follow more friends and engage with your friends, your activity goes through the roof. If you just follow more celebrity content or more interest-based content, that doesn’t move the needle at all.” – Kevin Systrom, Instagram co-founder
You should read Benedict Evans’s observations (starts dry, but solid) about all this. Among them:
There are millions of people who will post beautiful pictures of coffee or 1960s office blocks, or like a photo by a celebrity, but there are billions who’ll share a snapshot of their lunch, beer, dog or child. Instagram is moving to capture that in the same way Messenger and WhatsApp captured chat.
Seriously, it’s worth the read.
i.e., Don’t build me some wishy-washy bullshit
“How come the Mac group produced Mac and the people at IBM produced the PCjr? We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.” — Steve Jobs, 1985
I know, I know: “You are not the user,” and “The truth is outside the building.” But as I counseled teammates today, if [productivity product X] isn’t addressing your personal, specific, Googler needs, figure out why & fix it. Pick a personal destination that’ll make you happier & more productive at work, then laser-burn your way to it.
That is a critical user journey.
I’ve been expecting this one for years:
Tap and hold the bookmark icon underneath any post to save it directly to a collection. You can create and name a new collection when you save a post, or you can add it to one you’ve already created.
Instagram continues to redefine creativity—away from strictly posting a few best shots, and towards:
- tossed-off ephemera (stories) and
- curation (a la Pinterest—drag the shiny-shiny back to decorate your cave).
This is going to be a license to print money: Let Kylie Jenner (or mouth-breathing celebretroid of one’s choice) create collections of merchandise that hang off the main profile & enable instant purchasing. Hopefully it’ll also benefit individual photographers, by offering a crazy-simple way to buy prints. Stay tuned.