Archive for the ‘failure’ Category

Magazines, marketers, middlemen and micropayments

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Fortune Tech is reporting that digital magazine subscriptions are already falling, before the new medium has even managed to reach the mainstream. Some in the publishing world would like to blame the problem on the difficulty of marketing digital magazines when Apple refuses to share customer data with publishers. Such complaints may be put to the test if Google’s prospective subscription service for Android gives publishers access to the customer data they’ve been asking for, as the

Fortune article speculates.

How might the industry evolve if Apple, Google and the like have to compete to attract content creators by offering them customers’ data? This is an issue that goes beyond the new medium of digital magazines and calls into question the role of the device vendor as information gatekeeper.

One interesting possibility is that once creators can contact their customers they’ll deal with them directly, cutting device vendors out of future transactions and reducing their power as gatekeepers – and thus their bargaining power when trying to withold further customer data. Given the potential for companies such as Apple and Google to abuse their position as Holders of the Holy Code-Signing Keys, I see this as a good thing; it might even be a step towards the kind of ‘peer-to-peer economics’ copyright reformers have long advocated, where artists and audiences benefit by cutting out rent-seeking middlemen. But for that to happen, there needs to be an easy way for creators to squeeze the occasional drop of cash from their newly-identified customers.

Perhaps Flattr, a click-based micropayment system, can fill that niche. But I wonder whether we can’t take its core insight – minimising mental transaction costs – even further. Why do I need to click when my device already knows what I’m reading, playing, watching and listening to?

What I want to suggest isn’t a new idea – it’s just a combination of two existing ideas, Flattr and scrobbling. Creators would tag their content to indicate ownership, and the mobile device would keep track of how much time was spent on each creator’s content during the month, dividing a fixed budget among the creators at the end of the month. Mental transaction cost: zero.

The problem, of course, is that if users set their monthly budgets to zero, nobody gets paid. Will creators be willing to risk giving their work away for free in return for circumventing the middlemen and earning 100% of whatever people are willing to pay? If sales of digital magazines are anything to go by, they might not have much to lose…

The fallacy of web 2.0 utopians – motivational inforporn

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Chris Aderson said that the future of business is free. We are still waiting for this revolution (email Chris for a detailed revolutionary plan, he’ll be happy to answer).

Now comes Clay Shirky with the next revolution: “innovation can happen everywhere”, he said yesterday (1:39′ of his talk). OK, let’s buy few more copies of Shirky’s books and wait for the next Microsoft or Google coming from Tanzania. Meanwhile, let me tell you why I think speeches on web 2.0 revolutions are motivational infoporn.

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Experts tend to be hedgehogs and aren’t good at predicting

Friday, March 27th, 2009

From today’s NYT “Learning How to Think“:

“The expert on experts is Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His 2005 book, “Expert Political Judgment” (New Yorker Review),  is based on two decades of tracking some 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. The experts’ forecasts were tracked both on the subjects of their specialties and on subjects that they knew little about.

The result? The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses — the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board. … The only consistent predictor was fame — and it was an inverse relationship. The more famous experts did worse than unknown ones.”

Idea 1: This result partly explains why crowdsourcing may be more accurate than aggregating expert opinions.

(Project) Idea 2: Since “we trumpet our successes and ignore failures”, we need a system that monitors and evaluates the records of various experts and pundits as a public service

Lesson: “Hedgehogs tend to have a focused worldview, an ideological leaning, strong convictions; foxes are more cautious, more centrist, more likely to adjust their views, more pragmatic, more prone to self-doubt, more inclined to see complexity and nuance. And it turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.”

Should we hang out with people we don’t like

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Homophily-based algorithms may not be good for us (previous post). Few points from the Guardian Week:

  • The faintly depressing human tendency to seek out and spend time with those most similar to us is known in social science as “homophily”, and it shapes our views, and our lives, in ways we’re barely aware of.
  • Technology, Zuckerman argues, risks making things worse: on the internet, most obviously, it’s possible to exist almost entirely within a feedback loop shaped by your own preferences
  • We long to have our opinions confirmed, not challenged, and thus, as the Harvard media researcher Ethan Zuckerman puts it, “Homophily causes ignorance.” (It also makes us more extreme, studies show: a group of conservatives, given the chance to discuss politics among themselves, will grow more conservative.)
  • The unspoken assumption here is that you know what you like – that satisfying your existing preferences, and maybe expanding them a little around the edges, is the path to fulfilment. But if happiness research has taught us anything, it’s that we’re terrible at predicting what will bring us pleasure. Might we end up happier by exposing ourselves more often to serendipity, or even, specifically, to the people and things we don’t think we’d like?

Someone is already at work: Ethan Zuckerman’s work toward a Serendipity Engine

Ideal Recommender Systems are dead, long live Surprise-Me Buttons

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

[Sometimes I paraphrese bits and pieces of this book's intro] How perfection killed recommender systems.


The market for news, entertainment, and information has been finally perfected. In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte prophesied the emergence of the Daily Me – a communication package that is personally designed, with each component fully chosen in advance. If recommender systems know a little about you, they can tell you what “people like you” tend to like – and they can create a Daily Me, just for you, in a matter of seconds.

Perfect! Not really. There are serious dangers in the Daily Me, serious problems to democracy. In his new book “Republic.com 2.0″, Cass Sunstein shows why.

The dark side of Social Computing
Sunstein says that a well-functioning system of free expression must meet two distinctive requirements:

1) People should be exposed to materials they wouldnot have chosen in advance.

2) Most citizens should have a range of common experiences.

If those two requirements aren’t satisfied, there are risks of
fragmentation and, more worryingly, of extremism. Recommender
systems allow their users to bypass general-purpose intermediaries
and restrict themselves to opinions and topics of their own choosing. If recommender systems were to be perfect, millions of people would listen to louder echoes of their own voices, they would find it hard to understand one another, and they would engage into extremism, which is produced by any situation in which like-minded people speak only with themselves.

How to satisfy those requirements? It’s important to maintain the
equivalent of “street corners” or “commons” where people are exposed to things quite involuntarily. There are many apparent “street
corners” in the Internet, but they are highly specialized, limited
to particular views. Lives should be structured so that people 1)
come across views and topics that they have not specifically
selected; and 2) share common experiences upon which to form a
social glue.

The case for Surprise-Me Buttons
Does all this call for a counter research agenda in social computing? One in which imperfect recommender systems (perhaps with surprise-me buttons) are more than welcome?

The problem with web 2.0 crowds: imitative!

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I attended a talk by David Sumpter on “How animal groups make decisions” (hosted by Max Reuter). David is a mathematician working on self-organisation and decision-making based on simple rules. His team looked at behavioral rules that explain, for example, how birds fly together.

My take-away from his talk: Group decision-making may be better than individual decision-making ONLY if each member of the group takes decision indepedently. Indeed, idependence is one of the four elements to form a wise crowd. Alas, I think that social prejudices make it impossible to reach independent decisions in our society. Does this suggest the end of the wisdom of crowds?

Few scribble notes:

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