These reporters aren’t ideologues. They’re just right-thinking people who lean left. Somewhere along the line, they stopped pretending to be objective about Trump. … People don’t just disagree with each other. They can’t imagine how a decent caring human being could disagree with their own view of race or the minimum wage or immigration or Trump. Being a member of the virtuous tribe means not only carrying the correct card in your wallet to reassure yourself. You have to also believe that the people carrying any other card are irrational, or worse, evil. They’re not people to engage in conversation with. They are barriers to be ignored or pushed aside on the virtuous path to paradise. This intolerance and inability to imagine the virtue of the other side is the road to tyranny and chaos. It dehumanizes a good chunk of humanity and that in turn justifies the worst atrocities human beings are capable of.
The news is fake. Even historically left-leaning people are disgusted with outlets like CNN.
“I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch-hunting me. You have no smoking gun, you have no real proof.” – CNN supervising producer John Bonifield
“When you do shitty reporting like CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times & Rachel Maddow especially. When you do that & it is revealed to be bullshit, what you’re doing is building up Trump. There’s no greater way to build up Trump than to falsely report on him. There’s no better way to build up Trump than to make him the victim.” – Jimmy Dore
“Rachel Maddow was given the facts, she ignored them, & she kept right on going. That’s MSNBC, that’s CNN, that’s the New York Times, the Washington Post – they’re all horrible. That’s why we had the Iraq war. That’s why we have the Syria war. That’s why we are still in Afghanistan. That’s why we had Libya. That’s why we have the biggest income disparity since the gilded age. Meanwhile we are spending more on the military than the rest of the world.” – Jimmy Dore
“A half hour of cable news delivers enough psychic trauma for a whole year. The newspapers are talking of nothing but treason, espionage, investigations, protests.” … “Stocks are rallying because of how little faith we have in the government. The Mega Blue Chip Corporation is the new Sovereign.”
Current Headwinds for Online Publishing
I struggle to keep up with the accelerating rate of change. A number of common themes in the current ecosystem are:
We are moving toward a world where more things are becoming fake (only accelerated by the demonetization of neutrality & the algorithmic boost associated with reliably delivering confirmation bias in an algorithmic or manual fashion)
risk keeps being radiated outward to the individual while monopoly platforms capture the spoils (forced-place health insurance purchases where the insurance company arbitrarily drops the sick member on the policy even though that is supposed to be illegal, more temp jobs where people don’t get enough hours to get health insurance through their employer, under-funded pensions, outsourcing of core business functions to sweatshops where part-time workers don’t get paid for dozens to hundreds of hours of required training & get to watch beheading videos all day)
the barrier to entry keeps increasing (increased marketing cost due to brand bias, heavy ad loads on dominant platforms, & central platforms making partners do “bet the farm” moves in how they adjust distribution to drive adoption of proprietary formats & temporarily over-promote select content formats)
the increasing chunk size of competition is making it much harder for individuals to build sustainable businesses. (Yes the tools of the trade are improving quickly, BUT the central platforms are demonetizing the adjacent fields faster than publishing tools & business options improve.)
Some of this stuff is cyclical. About a decade ago the European Commission went after Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer. Google complained about the monopolistic practices to ensure Microsoft was fined. And we’ve went from that to a web where Google syndicates native ads that blend into page content while directly funding robot journalism. And then Google is ranking the robot-generated crap too.
Speaking of robot journalists, check out the top 3 results for this query. All 3 are auto-written by automated insights (AI software). Yikes pic.twitter.com/ltFGFXHNiF— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) July 8, 2017
While Google distributes their Chrome browser as unwanted bundleware, other web browsers must display uninstall links front & center when trying to gain awareness of their product using Google AdWords. Microsoft Edge is coming to Android, but without a BrowserChoice.eu screen it is unlikely most users will change their web browser as most are unaware of what a web browser even is, let alone the limitations of any of them or the tracking embedded in them.
If you go back several years, there was celebration of the fact that the cost of doing a startup was so low. You didn’t have to pay Oracle a million dollars for a server license any more. You didn’t even have to rack your own hardware. Now you can just dial it up on Amazon. But there are now these gatekeepers and toll-takers. Back in 2004, you had the wide-open internet. – Jeremy Stoppelman
The Mobile Revolution
If you are an anti-social work at home webmaster who has dual monitors it is easy to dismiss cell phones as inefficient and chalk most mobile usage up to the following.
Russian man visited Chinese click farm.They make fake ratings for mobile apps and things like this.He said they have 10,000 more phones pic.twitter.com/qE96vgCCsi— English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) May 11, 2017
The reality is cell phones are more powerful than they seem if you are strictly consuming rather than working.
Deflationary impact of technology: everything in this Radio Shack flyer from 1991 adds up to $3,285.12 and can be done today on a smartphone pic.twitter.com/ONh3waWVgq— Jeffrey Kleintop (@JeffreyKleintop) June 23, 2017
And that is how the unstoppable quickly becomes the extinct!
Many people the world over are addicted to their cell phones to where viral game makers are self-regulating before regulators step in: “From Tuesday, users below 12 years of age will be limited to one hour of play time each day, while those aged between 12 years and 18 years will be limited to two hours a day, Tencent said.”
In spite of all those restrictions, last year “Chinese consumers spent $5.5 trillion through mobile payment platforms, about 50 times more than their American counterparts.” In the last quarter Baidu had Â¥20.87 billion in revenues, with 72% of their revenues driven by mobile.
“We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.” … “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” … “Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”
“Social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity. … No one knows precisely why loneliness is surging, threatening the lives of many millions of people, but it does seem that the burgeoning use of technology may have something to do with it. Personally, I would contend that technology may be the chief factor fueling it.”
The primary role of the big data mining companies is leveraging surveillance for social engineering
Unsettling that according to Mark Zuckerberg purpose of Facebook is forced social engineering. From “World Without Mind” by Franklin Foer: pic.twitter.com/CHRnefg9m2— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) October 8, 2017
The reason those numbers can easily sound fake & mobile can seem overblown is how highly concentrated usage has become: “over 80 percent of consumer time on mobile devices is now spent on the apps, websites and properties” of just five companies: Facebook, Google, Apple, Yelp and Bing.
eMarketer stated Google will have more mobile ad revenue than desktop ad revenue in the US this year. They also predicted Google & Facebook will consume over 2/3 of US online ad spend within 2 years.
The central network operators not only maintain an outsized share of revenues, but also maintain an outsized share of profits. When the home team gets a 30% rake of any sale it is hard for anyone else to compete. Even after buying and gutting Motorola Google bought part of HTC for $1.1 billion. The game plan has never changed: commoditize the compliment to ensure user data & most of the profits flow to Google. Put up arbitrary roadblocks for competing services while launching free parallel offerings to drive lock-in.
it’s intended to create a bizarre sense of panic among marketers – “OMG, we have to be present at every possible instant someone might be looking at their phone!” – which doesn’t help them think strategically or make the best use of their marketing or ad spend.
The reality is that if you don’t have a relationship with a person on their desktop computer they probably don’t want your mobile app either.
If you have the relationship then mobile only increases profits.
Is iOS 11 specifically designed to make your older iPhones unusable and drain your battery so you have to upgrade to the newest phones?— Eric Jackson (@ericjackson) October 7, 2017
This year, in-app mobile ad spend will reach $45.3 billion, up $11 billion from last year, according to eMarketer. And apps are where the money is at for mobile advertising, comprising 80 percent of all U.S. media dollars spent on mobile.
But multi-tasking means doing almost everything else worse. The “always on” mode not only increases isolation, but also lowers our ability to focus:
“while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. … Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens. … when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline. … As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased. … Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. … people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.”
Desktop ad clicks convert to purchases. Mobile ad clicks convert to ad budget burned: “marketers are still seeing few shoppers purchasing on mobile. The 52% of share in traffic only has 26% share of revenue.”
For traditional publishers mobile users drastically under-monetize desktop users due to
drastically lower conversion rates (true for almost everyone in ecommerce outside of Amazon perhaps)
limited cross-device tracking (how do you track people who don’t even hit your site but hit a cached page hosted via Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles?)
lower ad load allowed on publisher sites due to limited screen size
aggressive filtering of fat thumb ad clicks on partner sites from central ad networks
For the central network operators almost all the above are precisely the exact opposite.
higher ad CTR by making entire interface ads (& perhaps even disappearing the concept of non-ads in the result set)
great cross-device user tracking
higher ad load allowed by the small screen size pushing content below the fold
more lenient filtering of fat thumb accidental ad clicks
If you look at raw stats without understanding the underlying impact, it is easy to believe the ecosystem is healthy.
Assumption: Google’s ads are more prominent, so organic must be dying.Reality: As of Oct. 2016, 20X more organic clicks than paid ones. pic.twitter.com/FaEBpBZWSw— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) July 1, 2017
However the huge number of “no click” results are demonetizing easy publisher revenues, which have traditionally helped to fund more in-depth investigative reporting. Further, much of the direct navigation which happened in the past is now being passed through brand-related search result pages. You can argue that is an increase in search traffic, or you can argue it is shifting the roll of the address bar from navigation to search.
And when a user finally reaches the publisher’s website (provided they scroll past the ads, the AMP listings, and all the other scrape-n-displace trash) then when they finally land on a publication Google will overlay other recommended articles from other sites.
That feature will eventually end up including ads in it, where publishers will get 0.00% of the revenue generated.
Remember how Google suggested publishers should make their websites faster, remove ads, remove clutter, etc. What was the point of all that? To create free real estate for Google to insert a spam unit into your website?
This wouldn’t be bad if mobile were a small, fringe slice of traffic, but it is becoming the majority of traffic. And as mobile increases desktop traffic is shrinking.
Even politically biased outlets that appear to be nearly perfectly optimized for a filter bubble that promotes identity politics struggle to make the numbers work: “As a result of continued decline in direct advertising, [Salon’s] total revenue in the fiscal year 2017 decreased by 34% to $4.6 million. Following the market trend, 84% of our advertising revenue in fiscal year 2017 was generated by programmatic selling. … [Monthly unique visitors to our website saw] a decrease of 23%. We attribute the decline primarily to the changes in the algorithms used by Facebook.”
The above sorts of numbers are the logical outcome to this:
we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content”above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.
As you scroll through it, you are then given travel ads for flight options through Google Flight search, hotels through Google Hotel search and restaurants through Google Local results. Then towards the bottom of the knowledge graph card, all the way at the end in a small grayish font, you have a link to “see web results.”
Bad news for TripAdvisor.
Google has squeezed out SEO for travel. PCLN/EXPE SEM $ spend and higher conversion is a massive competitive advantage. Bad news for TRIP. pic.twitter.com/39QkxuN780— modest proposal (@modestproposal1) April 17, 2017
As the entire ecosystem gets squeezed by middlemen and the market gets obfuscated with an incomplete selection it is ultimately consumers who lose: “Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms.”
“For six years, his company has been locked in a campaign on three continents to get antitrust regulators to punish Google, Yelp’s larger, richer and more politically connected competitor. … Yelp concluded that there was no better way to get Google’s attention than to raise the specter of regulation. … something [Mark Mahaney] calls the Death of Free Google. As the internet has migrated to mobile phones, Google has compensated for the smaller screen space by filling it with so many ads that users can have a hard time finding a result that hasn’t been paid for.”
People can literally switch their name to “Loop dee Loop”
and leave you terrible, fake reviews.
Google’s lack of effort & investment to clean up trash in their local services department highlights that they don’t feel they need to compete on quality. Pay for core search distribution, throw an inferior service front & center, and win by default placement.
As AI advancements make fake reviews look more legit Google’s lack of investment in creating a quality ecosystem will increasingly harm both consumers and businesses. Many low margin businesses will go under simply because their Google reviews are full of inaccurate trash or a competitor decided to hijack their business listing or list their business as closed.
Yelp said it investigated and found that over one hour, Google pulled images from Yelp’s servers nearly 386,000 times for business listings in Google Maps, which Google exempted from its promise to not scrape content. Yelp then searched Google for 150 of the businesses from those map listings and found that for 110 of them, Google used a Yelp photo as the lead image in the businesses’ listings in search results.
Stealing content & wrapping it in fake reviews is NOT putting the user first.
As programmatic advertising, ad blockers, unpatched Android-powered botnets & malwarespread each day gets a little uglier for everyone but the central market operators. It is so bad that some of the central market operators offer surveillance apps which claim to protect user privacy! Other app makers not connected to monopoly profit streams monetize any way they can.
As long as news websites make their own customer experience worse than what can be found as a cached copy on the monopoly platforms there is no reason to visit the end publisher website. That is why the proprietary formats promoted by the monopoly platforms are so dangerous. They force lighter monetization & offset the lack of revenue by given preferential placement:
click through rate from Google search went from 5.9% (Regular) to 10.3% (AMP), and average search position went from 5.9 (Regular) to 1.7 (AMP). Since then, we have deployed AMP across fifteen of our brands and we have been very pleased with the results. Today, AMP accounts for 79% of our mobile search traffic and 36% of our total mobile visits.
As long as almost nobody is using the new proprietary, ghetto lock-in format the math may work out there, but once many people adopt it then it becomes another recurring sunk cost with no actual benefit:
the only voices promoting AMP’s performance benefits are coming from inside Google. … given how AMP pages are privileged in Google’s search results, the net effect of the team’s hard, earnest work comes across as a corporate-backed attempt to rewrite HTML in Google’s image.
Even if you get a slight uptick in traffic from AMP, it will lead to lower quality user engagement as users are browsing across websites rather than within websites. Getting a bit more traffic but 59% fewer leads is a fail.
“The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook-pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data-they could build a more sustainable future for the news business. But antitrust laws make such coordination perilous. These laws, intended to prevent monopolies, are having the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position.”
Wait a minute.
Wasn’t it the New York Times which claimed Yelp was holding an arbitrary grudge against Google?
newspapers that once delivered their journalism with their own trucks increasingly have to rely on these big online platforms to get their articles in front of people, fighting for attention alongside fake news, websites that lift their content, and cat videos.
Well maybe that is just smaller publications & not the gray lady herself
“the temperature is rising in terms of concern, and in some cases anger, about what seems like a very asymmetric, disadvantageous relationship between the publishers and the very big digital platforms.” – NYT CEO Mark Thompson
In the fourth quarter, the reduction in marketing that occurred was almost all in the digital space. And what it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective: where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings, or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands.
The initiative, dubbed Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR), will see a team of five journalists work with Natural Language Generation software to produce over 30,000 pieces of content for local media each month.
Hopefully editors catch the subtle errors the bots make, because most of them will not be this obvious & stupid.
In a show of strength last year, Microsoft used thousands of these chips at once to translate all of English Wikipedia into Spanish-3 billion words across five million articles-in less than a tenth of a second. Next Microsoft will let its cloud customers use these chips to speed up their own AI tasks.
It is almost impossible to compete economically with an entity that rewrites your work & has zero marginal cost of production.
YouTube has perhaps the worst comments on the web. Some mainstream news sites got rid of comments because they couldn’t justify the cost of policing them. That in turn shifts the audience & attention stream to sites like Facebook & Twitter. Some news sites which are still leaving comments enabled rely on a Google filter, a technology Google can use on YouTube as they see fit.
Any plugins publishers use to lower their costs can later disappear. It looked like FindTheBest was doing well financially, but when it was acquired many news sites quickly found out the cost of free as they now have thousands of broken articles in their archives: “Last month, Graphiq announced that features for news publishers would no longer be available after Friday.”
Driving costs toward zero by piling on external dependencies is no way to build a sustainable business. Especially when the central network operators are eating the playing field:
“Between fast-loading AMP articles from major news brands hosted in its domain, full pages of information scraped from outside sites that don’t require you to visit them, basic shopping functions built into ads, YouTube, and a host of other features, the Google-verse is more of a digital walled garden than ever. … If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along?”
Unprofitable partners which were buying growth with artificially cheap pricing eventually find out investors want profits more than growth & either reprice or go away. The longer you use something & the more locked in you are to it the more aggressively it can afford to reprice. Symbiotic relationships devolve into abusive ones:
“for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher.” – Mediatel
“Google wants to cut out the middlemen, which it turns out, are URLs.” – MobileMoxie
“[AMP is] a way for Google to obfuscate your website, usurp your content & remove any personal credibility from the web” – TheRegister
“Though the stated initiative of ads.txt is to stop inventory resale, it achieves this by establishing ‘preferred’ channels, which naturally favors the industry’s most influential companies” – Ad Exchanger
we’ve found out that 98% of our business was coming from 22 words. So, wait, we’re buying 3,200 words and 98% of the business is coming from 22 words. What are the 22 words? And they said, well, it’s the word Restoration Hardware and the 21 ways to spell it wrong, okay?
Why not make hosting free, get people to publish into a proprietary format & try to shift news reading onto the Google app. With enough attention & market coverage they can further extort publishers into accepting perpetually worse deals. And free analytics & business plugins which are widely adopted can have key features get pushed into the paid version. Just look at Google Analytics – its free or $150,000+/yr.
“It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” Giannandrea added. “If someone is trying to sell you a black box system for medical decision support, and you don’t know how it works or what data was used to train it, then I wouldn’t trust it.”
And how does Google justify their AI investments? Through driving incremental ad clicks: “The DeepMind founders understand that their power within [Alphabet], and their ability to get their way with [Alphabet CEO] Larry Page, depends on how many eyeballs and clicks and ad dollars they can claim to be driving”
No bias at all there!
Truth: Google killed publishing in 2015. What you’re reading now is detritus + new junk posted by crazies walking around empty offices— 11 (@searchsleuth998) August 1, 2017
Looking at 2015 vs 2017 data for all keywords ranking organically on the first page, we’ve seen a dramatic change in CTR. Below we’ve normalized our actual CTR on a 1–10 scale, representing a total drop of 25% of click share on desktop and 55% on mobile.
SEOs who were overly reliant on the search channel were the first to notice all the above sorts of change, as it is their job to be hyper-aware of ecosystem shifts. But publishers far removed from SEO who never focused on SEO are now writing about the trends SEOs were writing about nearly a decade ago. Josh Marshall recently covered Google’s awesome monopoly powers.
few publishers really want to talk about the depths or mechanics of Google’s role in news publishing. Some of this is secrecy about proprietary information; most of it is that Google could destroy or profoundly damage most publications if it wanted to. So why rock the boat? … Google’s monopoly control is almost comically great. It’s a monopoly at every conceivable turn and consistently uses that market power to deepen its hold and increase its profits. Just the interplay between DoubleClick and Adexchange is textbook anti-competitive practices. … Is your favorite website laying off staff or ‘pivoting to video’. In most cases, the root cause is not entirely but to a significant degree driven by the platform monopolies
His article details how Google owns many points of the supply chain
So let’s go down the list: 1) The system for running ads, 2) the top purchaser of ads, 3) the most pervasive audience data service, 4) all search, 5) our email. … But wait, there’s more! Google also owns Chrome, the most used browser for visiting TPM.
He also covers the price dumping technique that is used to maintain control
In many cases, alternatives don’t exist because no business can get a footing with a product Google lets people use for free.
And he shared an example of Google algorithms gone astray crippling his business, even though it was not related to search & unintentional:
Because we were forwarding to ourselves spam that other people sent to us, Google decided that the owner of the TPM url was a major spammer and blocked emails from TPM from being sent to anyone.