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Laurent Haug's newsletter, issue #14

A lot of content this week, but also lots happening, so I hope investing a few extra minutes of your

Laurent Haug

June 7 · Issue #14 · View online
News and thoughts on society's ongoing transformation.

A lot of content this week, but also lots happening, so I hope investing a few extra minutes of your precious time in the following will allow you to better understand the important developments unfolding around us. Thank you to those of you who are forwarding the newsletter to their contacts, it is generating a high quality, organic audience that makes for an even more interesting conversation. If you would like to see past editions or subscribe, please click here. And don’t forget you can start a discussion by simply hitting reply in your inbox.

The other, deeper media industry crisis
It’s not every day you see a sports writer making a deep point about the media industry. But here is Mickey Spagnola, one of the best NFL columnists in America, putting his finger on something that is killing his business in a recent column on
His point: by trying to squeeze controversy from even the most naive or harmless comments, the media is turning players into champions of content-free, politically correct statements. Spagnola recounts a recent “incident”, when young player Jospeh Randle appeared critical of star running back Demarco Murray. The media promptly turned it into a national story, and Randle learned his lesson. The next time he was faced with a microphone, he recited the familiar “I just have to take it one day at a time, work hard, and try to be the best I can” stuff. You know it by heart, it’s what every athlete seems to say to the media these days.
While the media’s business model crisis has been well documented, you don’t hear much discussion about what’s happening on the editorial side of an industry desperate for people’s attention, and sometimes willing to employ doubtful tactics. The clickbaits and media-created controversies are all signs of a deep crisis triggered by a digital wave that has left lots of incumbents in the dust.
As Spagnola says in his article, journalists are biting the hand that feeds them, and the media source itself ultimately suffers the consequences of shoddy journalism. Short term win, long term loss.
After we click for the nth time on one of those “Richard Branson’s secret to being a billionaire” headlines (which usually leads to a mediocre article making a lot of fuss about something you already knew), the bs filters go up, and we develop the ability to ignore - just like we have come to ignore banners.
A struggling news industry is one that resorts to borderline editorial tactics, which is not a good thing for society. Newsrooms where journalists feel compelled to create headlines out of thin air are not a good thing. Newsrooms where journalists are driven exclusively by click statistics are not a good thing. Newsrooms where resources are so limited that interviewees write their own questions are not a good thing.
It is getting urgent we find a way to incentivise media outlets to create more real value that they can actually capture.
Here is Mickey Spagnola’s article, worth the read even if, unlike me, you’re not a die hard fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
Seen this occur time and time again during all of these years covering the Dallas Cowboys. Turn a guy with a gift for gab, someone who gives us entertainment gold, into a flowing stream of verbal clichés. One after another after another.
So boring.
Saw this happen with Danny White by the end of his career. A guy with a really good personality that we readily see these days, he became cautious during interviews in the mid-1980s, barely saying anything back then worth wasting your time to listen.
Same happened with Troy Aikman, a very forthcoming rookie, that same guy you love to hear these days analyze games on TV, turned into robot man when the camera lights came on during interview sessions in the locker room within a few years.
Same with Tony Romo. He can be engaging. Funny. Introspective. Insightful. Truthful … as long as it’s not a group interview or the cameras are rolling, knowing how easily his words can be misconstrued or taken out of context. Took him about three years as the starter to catch on, and now he dumbs it down for the most part, making sure there is no way whatever he says can create waves, one way or another.
Crazy, isn’t it? We in the media are supposed to be in the entertainment business, especially when covering sports. This is not life or death. We are your conduits to these players.
But no, not enough of us understand when we have entertainment gold, becoming all sanctimonious when someone happens to speak their mind, when they say something off the cuff, as if we are covering Watergate or something. This ain’t Watergate, OK, it’s sports, it’s entertainment. Don’t turn statements into a national crisis. Don’t bite the hand that willingly feeds you.
Privacy is a business problem
In the wake of Google’s launch of a privacy hub and Tim Cook’s strong statements about encryption and data ownership, I had a couple of interesting discussions with people who were surprised by such moves. Why would the big internet companies, those same corporations constantly accused of making money from digging into our personal data, come up with ways to better protect our online identities? Well, the answer is pretty simple: for all these companies, privacy is a business problem. As I wrote in a 2010 blog post:
In the end, Google and the advertisers – often cited as the ones asking for less privacy – are the ones who have an interest in it. Why? I earlier mentioned a study showing that 50% of users among the 13-21 age range falsify information. You want to spy on me? I will feed you with fake data to push the envelope to where I want it to be. And I will make your profiling efforts much more complicated in the process. In the contrary, if you give users a system they can trust, one where they can control what is controllable, then they will share the data advertisers need.
Privacy IS in Google and Facebook’s interest if you look carefully, and the recent moves in that space prove that fact. Now while discussing privacy this past week, I heard several points I wanted to react on.
Make your [photos/emails/personal information] public, there is so much of these online that nobody cares anyway.
It’s a comment I hear quite often: “there are 100b emails sent everyday, 2b photos uploaded, nobody cares about your stuff”. There is one problem with this reasoning: possible changes of context. While digital assets are in the public domain, they are indeed lost in a mass of data, but they remain searchable. And context can change quickly. Just ask the new Daily Show host: once the spotlight came on him following his nomination to one of America’s most scrutinised entertainment position, people started to look at his twitter feed, and came back with old jokes that might have been ok coming from a third tier comedian fighting for attention in the cyberspace, but not from an A-lister of the television business. Nobody cares about your stuff, but then someone gets publicly exposed for a reason or another, and any public data will be thoroughly searched and examined by those looking to stir controversy.
Many people already have your data, why would you care that one more person has it anyway
That’s another frequent argument. Your credit card company knows where you were, your phone operator too. Why not share your location with Facebook? The underlying thinking here is “as you’ve already shared something with so many people - willingly or not, why bother with one more institution getting your data”? Let’s take this one for a ride. I go to the doctor, and he enters my medical data into his system. Then I’m hospitalised, and there are records about me in a second database. Then my insurance gets in the know as they receive my bills. Does that make me think that, well, because three organizations know what’s happening to me, I don’t care if a fourth does? Not really. That argument does not work for me. It’s not because a lot of people already have my data that I want to stop controlling who gets it.
Why is Apple, which seems to be competing with the likes of Google and Facebook, advocates data privacy so much more than these companies?
The reason is simple: Apple primarily makes money from selling hardware and software. Data is a side business for them, while it’s the only thing Facebook and Google can monetise. So it’s easier from Apple, making hundreds of dollars on every single iphone, to reject making $9 a year from each user like Facebook does. That’s why you will see such things at Apple keynotes:
Apple does not need data to make money. And by championing user privacy (and encrypting stuff strongly on their devices), there is another interesting side effect: less requests for data from the government (the FBI is “very concerned” with the recent encryption efforts), which is another strong marketing argument in this day and age.
The commoditisation of legal work
Taxi drivers, journalists and psychologist are not the only professions facing the threat of automation. Here come lawyers. Have you ever paid hundreds of dollars to have a lawyer basically change two commas in a template? Well, that might end very soon thanks to new artificial intelligence technologies.
In 1988, solo practitioners earned an inflation-adjusted $70,747. By 2012, earnings had fallen to $49,130, a 30% decrease in real income.
And the bad news has just started for these lawyers, who now face new competition from online providers of legal services such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.
Legal services will be cheaper, more accessible and better. That is bad for lawyers in the same way digital photography was bad for Kodak. It is outstanding news for the country as a whole.
Fortunately, except for in-court representation, computerization is on the verge of bypassing the legal profession altogether and solving these problems. Start with the basics of American law – statutes, regulations, and reported court decisions.
Nonprofits and government entities have put almost all of the raw materials of American law online and Google and other search engines have made that law easier to find than ever. An American with a smart phone now has more access to legal sources than most lawyers or judges did fifteen years ago.
Virtually all of the legal work that is repetitive or simple – whether corporate document review or a basic divorce – will be automated, outsourced or handled by less expensive non-lawyers. Only the most complicated, important and interesting work will remain.
Google Photos: see it to believe it
Google just launched one of the best implementation of mass artificial intelligence in their new Photos product. You have to see it to believe it. Upload your pictures to the Google servers (you’ll decide if that is safe or not), then search for “pizza” or “beach”, and your pictures with such things in them will pop up. Absolutely mind boggling.
The year's most important report on the internet
2015 Internet Trends Report
We take mobile data for granted, but....
Hours of work to pay for 500MB in data around the world. Striking differences between countries. A pervasive internet still has a long way to go, and we often forget that.
Google announces Brillo, an operating system for the Internet of Things
Drones are the newest weapon in the fight against Chinese exam cheaters
Technology replaces schmoozing: the future of private banking
Amazon Plans to Add Its Own Line of Food
The Bank Of Facebook
All U.S. United Flights Grounded Over Mysterious Problem
Facebook Opens Third Artificial-Intelligence Research Hub in Paris
Fancy co-working in the Alps?
Alpine Co-Working
The advice I passed to my portfolio companies this week
The downside of startups getting huge attention
Startups, gadgets and tools
Clothing to photobomb paparazzis, effortlessly get money back when prices drop
ValueMyCV, get a free estimate of what's your CV worth
Self-assembling origami robot can walk, swim, dissolve Itself
This week's links for parents
"Les aventures du petit train postal"
Un libro que se planta
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Wayne Gretsky
Thank you
Thanks to Greg Bernarda for suggesting adding the thank you/disclaimers at the end of each message rather than inline. Great idea.
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