Tag: Technology

"Content farms" and the media Precambrian

By Razib Khan | February 26, 2011 1:04 am

I’ve only become aware of “content farms” in any significant way over the past few days. Yes, I’m aware of Associated Content and eHow. I use Google! But I’ve always ignored them. But with Google’s turn against these websites I’ve become curious. This Wired piece from October 2009 is a gem. Here’s the part that caught my attention:

Plenty of other companies — About.com, Mahalo, Answers.com — have tried to corner the market in arcane online advice. But none has gone about it as aggressively, scientifically, and single-mindedly as Demand. Pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers.

In some ways “mainstream” websites also do this a bit, Nick Denton relies on fine-grained metrics for his Gawker Media properties. But obviously the sort of thing that content farms do, responding so specifically to the interests of the audience, take it to the next level. I started browsing some of the “articles” produced by the contributors, and I think Farhad Manjoo has it right:

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MORE ABOUT: Technology

The technology or the company?

By Razib Khan | November 15, 2010 10:52 am

TechCrunch is reporting on Facebook’s new “modern messaging system”. The first few comments immediately telegraphed my first impression: is this Facebook’s Google Wave? Interesting then to see if Facebook can make this work. If it can’t, then score one for the proposition that people don’t want a seamless integration of various tools which emerged in the 1990s and have distinctive roles today in the information ecology (IM, email, message boards, etc.). If Facebook succeeds perhaps it goes to show the importance of timing, execution and marketing. On the other hand, Mashable makes MMS sound just like a souped-up version of SMS texting, and so far less ambitious in scope than Wave ever was. Email is more formal, which is why it can be very useful in some situations. Facebook is more convenient for getting in touch with your college roommate.

MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Technology

The folly of the crowds

By Razib Khan | October 10, 2010 2:52 pm

With the big hullabaloo around The Social Network I’ve been reflecting a bit about my incorrect intuition since ~2008 that the Facebook bubble would burst at any moment. The bubble may still burst, or a new competitor may come out of the blue, or Google might actually release a comparable offering, but Facebook is still surfing on the crest of victory (which may be a sign that it has “peaked”). But along the way I stumbled onto this article about the marginalization of Digg:

According to Quantcast, an online audience measurement firm, Digg’s domestic traffic has dropped sharply in recent months, from 27.1 million unique users in April to 13.7 million in July. By contrast, Facebook had 145.2 million domestic users in June, according to comScore. While not giving specifics, Mr. Desai of Digg attributes the decline in domestic traffic to changes in Google’s search function that resulted in fewer Digg stories showing up in Google searches.

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MORE ABOUT: Digg, Facebook, Technology

Google Wave is dead

By Razib Khan | August 7, 2010 12:04 am

Did you notice that Google Wave was put out of its misery? I didn’t. I guess that says something about Wave’s impact. By the end of last year my main association with Wave was that it was a way for people I was trying to avoid in other ways to recontact me. So what’s happening with Google Buzz? Is anyone using it? I never did.

Google has some great web apps. I especially love the public data explorer, which I keep meaning to utilize for social science related posts in the near future. And I use Google Docs as my “lite” quick & dirty option often. But nothing compares to what Google did to search, transforming the act of searching into “googling.” There are many large companies out there who have piles of cash (Microsoft?). Innovation which changes lives is obviously hard. Perhaps lighting just struck, and the next game-changer is not going to be from a known firm.

MORE ABOUT: Technology

First they came for Dave Weigel

By Razib Khan | June 25, 2010 12:53 pm

Dave Weigel of The Washington Post has resigned over his juvenile postings on an e-list. Basically the postings allowed for Weigel’s mask to slip, and showed him to be a vulgar and immature young man in some contexts. That’s no different from many of us in the proper context. The e-list is now defunct because of this information break.

Someone like Dave Weigel, a reporter who has to make a public pretense toward objectivity, and a somewhat public person, is atypical. But I think it’s the tip of the iceberg. People who know me in “real life” know that nothing they say to me will ever show up on this blog; it’s private, and my day to day interactions almost never intersect with the topicality here. If I want to introduce an idea or concept that someone else familiarized me with I will ask if I can do so, and credit them if they request. But that’s the nature of this blog, which draws more upon the scientific literature or reader feedback. Other outlets blur the line between private & public more explicitly, and if you meet someone with such an outlet, watch what you say, watch what you do. I’ve been on private e-lists where people say things that in public that could really compromise them. I’ve even gotten into disputes with people who were taking one stand in public which I knew could be easily undercut if I “exposed” what they’d said in private.

In the short term by breaking down barriers to information flow the internet is going to result in people retrenching to the narrowest and most trusted circles to “let their hair down.” In the long term I think we might have to reconceptualize what we think of as private or public. Soon enough a whole host of data on anyone you meet will be available on demand. And your data will also be available to them.

MORE ABOUT: Technology

Death of email = death of Facebook

By Razib Khan | June 17, 2010 10:09 am

Reihan Salam points me to a presentation by a Facebook executive who claims that “E-mail…is probably going away….” Well, remember Google Wave? I assume that email-as-we-know-it will evolve. But one thing I pointed out to a friend the other day: remember when you were excited to get “new mail?” (perhaps the reference will be lost on younger readers, but there was a time when it was cool and special to have an email account, and be able to receive messages from people who lived in Ecuador at digital speed) Now it’s more like, “now what!?!?!” Email is a utility through which your boss may contact you. The excitement factor has now shifted to Facebook, where old friends you’ve lost touch with may request to be your friend. But if Facebook becomes as ubiquitous as email, as taken-for-granted, you might start getting wall messages from your boss. And at that point Facebook will become a utility you’ll want to not log into, not because you want to avoid wasting time procrastinating, but because the “real world” has infected it.

Technology has been one reason we humans have by and large broken out of the Malthusian trap. But a key difference between innovation on the physical dimension (e.g., the combustion engine) and technologies which have social utility is that human psychological faculties can shift only on the margins by much smaller degrees. In theory you can have as many Facebook friends as Facebook will allow you to have; it’s a scalable phenomenon. But in reality a small circle of friends become Facebook “friends” who you barely know, because your mind isn’t geared to really keep track of so many social relations.

Of course the people who run tech companies are smart and many know this. But their jobs hinge on you becoming invested in the idea that their firm is going to Change Everything. So they’re not going to emphasize too much the fact that human utilization of technology is substrate constrained, so to speak.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Technology
MORE ABOUT: Email, Facebook, Technology

The end of ages

By Razib Khan | April 26, 2010 9:48 am

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has a post up, The Age Of Facebook. Facebook having superseded Google having superseded Microsoft. Unstated that Microsoft superseded IBM as a firm which defines an age through reach, power and influence. Two thoughts that come to mind:

1) It seems that each “age” has been shorter than the previous. IBM was computing for decades. Microsoft probably ten years or so depending on how you define it (I put the second derivate maximum at 1995). Google’s real ascent seems to date to around 2000, but its monopolistic plateau of the mindshare didn’t seem to last for very long as Facebook was already generating a lot of buzz by 2007 (the same principle operates across human history, the civilization of Pharaonic Egypt spanned 2,000 years, the same length as from Augustus to our own time!)

2) It also seems that the extent of a definite age of ascendancy for a particular firm is more muddled now, as creative destruction and innovation allow for many domains of excellence and supremacy, as well as the resurrection of bygone brands. Consider the revival of Apple’s fortunes. And if we are on the verge of the Age of Facebook does anyone believe that Google’s brand will collapse? Arrington notes that Microsoft is perceived to be passed its peak, but it has many years left of its cash cow products, perhaps at least another decade. IBM has reemerged as a software services company. And so on. On a relative scale Arrington’s argument seems to have some merit, but secure domination doesn’t seem to be what it used to be (also, one might need to distinguish between buzz and influence, and concrete metrics).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Technology
MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Technology

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