Flashback: Thiel vs. Schmidt, 2012

Clearly I’m on a Thiel kick.

At first I was dubious, but now I’m just curious. Though some of Thiel’s motives and politics remain vague, it should be impossible for anyone to ignore his foresight and intelligence. The fact that many people still dismiss him offhand because he’s a nominal Trump supporter just blows my mind.

This debate, which took place in 2012, offers a clear picture of how much smarter Thiel is than other Silicon Valley tools, like Eric Schmidt. In this case, we watch Thiel eat Schmidt for breakfast, while Schmidt just oozes, as Thiel says, Google propaganda.

 

Summary

The opening question was to explain your view of what technology brings to the world.

Schmidt says that “the message of technology innovation is an overwhelmingly positive one,” then talks about how technology has transformed our world, bringing poor people into the middle class, and how everyone in the world will soon have access to the internet. Ultimately, he says that technology innovation will improve the world for everyone, giving people more information and longer lives.

This smacks of technological utopianism, something that Thiel (as well as others, such as Evgeny Morozov) warned about long ago.

The MC reads a quote of Thiel’s that offers a more cynical – and, in my opinion, realistic – perspective on the issue of technological innovation. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

Thiel goes on to compliment Schmidt, saying he does a great job as Google’s Minister of Propaganda, then outlines some very insightful points that Schmidt spends the rest of the debate avoiding (including a couple that we would later see crop up during the Trump election). Namely, the facts that:

  • Median wages have been stagnant for 40 years, compared to the previous 40 years, during which they increased 6-fold
  • The technological improvement we’ve seen in the past couple decades, which has been confined to the IT industry – or “the world of bits” – hasn’t translated into economic well-being
  • Since 1973, oil barrel prices have increased 50-fold, a demonstration of “a catastrophic failure of energy innovation,” which has been offset by computer innovation
  • Governmental regulation has effectively “outlawed technology” – for instance, new drug development costs $1.3 billion, you can’t fly supersonic jets because they’re too noisy, you can’t build nuclear power plants, and so on

The question Thiel asks is how IT innovation translates into economic progress for humans.

After a short slap fest, while disagreeing about technological progress, both agree that governments are at the root of many major problems. The Arab Spring becomes another bone of contention. Schmidt cites the cause as a widespread discontent with regimes, and Thiel blames 30-50% price hikes on food, which he says brought the threat of starvation for many people.

More disagreements prompt Thiel to respond with: “I thought we were going to talk about technology, but Eric seems to think it’s all about politics, which, in a way I think concedes my basic point, which is that technology is no longer that big a driver.”

He follows up with one of his main points: “Technology should be a large enough force that it could power [political] change.”

After Schmidt tries to make a point about education being the solution to automation and globalization, two forces that will govern the world in the future and create jobs problems, Thiel pushes Schmidt more, saying that Google doesn’t do enough to create more jobs, claiming that Google is not an innovative technology company, but merely a search engine that is sitting on $50 billion in cash with no ideas on how to use it.

Compare that to Amazon, he says, which continually reinvests all of its profits into new technologies.

For the closing phase of the discussion, Thiel reiterates his insults to Google, to which Schmidt responds that Chrome is the #1 browser in the world, Google is the top platform for enterprise innovation, and there are plenty of other examples of business innovation that Thiel was choosing to ignore.

Q&A followed.

Conclusion

This conversation reminds me of a WWE fight or a Jerry Springer spat, just in a different arena. Thiel’s nonstop aggression makes it really fun to watch and, as usual, his intelligent arguments make it fascinating food for thought. In particular, he seems like he has a very solid and respectable mission – to use technological innovation to change the world.

It would have been more interesting if Schmidt had anything to say, but as it is, his technological utopian preaching and soft sales patter comes across as weak, lame, and boring. He sounds exactly like an old-school politician, who can talk and talk for hours without saying anything.

I’m admittedly irritated by Schmidt’s smarmy smugness, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he got screwed by Thiel in this so-called debate. Since he had nothing to say and no way to respond to Thiel’s arguments, rather than addressing any point head on, he just dodged with catchphrases, incorrectly reframed arguments, and logical fallacies.

Though the discussion is clearly on a different level, this debate also reminds me of the two forces that came into play during the Trump elections: hot-air-breathing political types versus aggressive, straightforward businessmen.

Trump vs. Thiel Part 2 – Thiel and the Monopoly Mindset

chicago-1049976_1920Recently I wrote a post about why Thiel supports Trump.

That was before Trump’s numbers took a nosedive…

In that piece, I suggested that Thiel might want to bang on America’s governmental engine with a Trump-shaped hammer until it started working again. Also, I dropped hints that Thiel might want to become president or use “the little guy” Trump as a tool.

Over at Medium, Samuel Hammond wrote a much more thorough and informed article on the same topic.

Here are some highlights:

  • Hammond wrote that “Peter Thiel see’s [sic] a Trump presidency as his pathway to be become the shadow CEO of the United States of America.”
  • He quoted from Thiel’s startup lectures: “A startup is basically structured as a monarchy…the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups.”
  • And from Thiel’s article, The Education of a Libertarian: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. … A better metaphor is that we are in a deadly race between politics and technology…Unlike the world of politics, in the world of technology the choices of individuals may still be paramount. The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”
  • Hammond interprets the above passage to mean that “monarchy is the other meaning of Zero to One.

Hammond’s insight is in-depth and informed. Very much so. And he’s probably right about Thiel.

the-white-house-103927_1920Although he had plenty more to say – much of which is beyond the scope of my interest and my lexicon – the third quote above is what bothers me about Thiel’s perspective.

There, Thiel contrasts “the world of politics” and “the world of technology.”

These vague concepts need some serious clarification…

The term “world,” as he’s using it, is hardly scientific or linguistically specific. However, as he said in his essay, he seems to think that humans can escape politics “in all its forms.”

It appears that Thiel thinks technology can free us from politics … as if technology can free us from humans’ physiologically determined psychology and behavior.

Is It Possible for Mortals to Understand Thiel’s Political Views?

In his article, the aforementioned The Education of a Libertarian, he says that in order to escape politics, we must use “some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.”

thiel-trump-politics

Escape out to sea or out to outer space won’t change human psychology…

Personally, I don’t understand how we can try something new and undiscovered when human psychology, human behavior, and human history repeat themselves endlessly. How does he even define “new”? And how can we escape politics without changing humans’ fundamental psychology?

Perhaps we can use technology or government to force people to behave the way we want…?

I digress.

He goes on to claim that technology, outer space, and seasteading are three such means of escape.

As I was reading those paragraphs, I was thinking to myself, Great…another technological utopian.

Then, Thiel went on to conclude:

The future of technology is not pre-determined, and we must resist the temptation of technological utopianism — the notion that technology has a momentum or will of its own, that it will guarantee a more free future, and therefore that we can ignore the terrible arc of the political in our world.

Ultimately, Monopoly Cannot Defeat the “Arc of the Political”

Whatever the specific strange views of Thiel may turn out to be, he appears to think that monopoly is a good thing … as if you could end politics altogether through some other form of government, like a technocracy, or by ending politics and government completely by letting a benevolent AI run everything.

But I’m getting tired of trying to figure out Thiel’s way of thinking. I don’t even like politics. At first I thought he was just some eccentric tech visionary, like Musk, but now I’m not so sure.

chess-1145557_1920I get the feeling that, like Trump, he thinks that “he alone” can fix the world, and that he feels he’s above explaining the politics that he aggressively asserts onto the world – and if you tried to enter into a free and open discussion about politics or capitalism, he’d just try to checkmate you with logic that only he understands.

Anyways, here’s why he’s wrong:

Monopoly doesn’t encourage innovation, it discourages diversity and encourages overspecialization.

Overspecialization is a quintessential human trait that causes major, major problems.

Humans:

  • Cause the extinction of countless species
  • Reduce the variation of available foods on grocery store shelves
  • Replace “low-quality” search results with a tiny handful of corporate-owned sources
  • Build massive monopolistic businesses that suppress diversity and small business
  • Self-segregate into ethnic groups and nations

I’m sure you can figure out for yourself some of the consequences of these tendencies.

If not, I’ll leave you with this quote:

We are in an age that assumes the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable…all the known cases of biological extinction have been caused by overspecialization, whose concentration of only selected genes sacrifices general adaptability…In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual’s leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others. Specialization breeds biases that ultimately aggregate as international and ideological discord, which in turn leads to war.

    -Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics

If You Use an Ad-Blocker, You’re a Content Thief…Or Are You?

Melissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, thinks you and I are missing out because we use ad-blockers.

According to her, it’s a “mistake” to install ad-blockers because the “experience on the web becomes a lot less rich.” When you install ad-blockers, you’re either receiving untargeted ads or no ads at all. Mayer says she tells her friends and family to remove those browser extensions because “your experience on the web will get worse.”

Digiday points out how ironic this is, given the fact that Yahoo’s own ads were exploited by hackers at one point, causing millions of Yahoo visitors’ computers to be infected.

She does make a point, however. Publishers depend on ads to earn revenue. You block ads, you’re getting something for nothing and publishers don’t make the money they need to keep offering you great information and entertainment.

So Are We Content Thieves?

lock-432450_1920To Mayer and many other businesses, native advertising may be the best bet.

Native advertising, for those who don’t know, refers to ads that are disguised as editorial content in media outlets and publications. A company will write an article that furthers its marketing objectives, then publish it on a media outlet with a tiny little grayed-out caption that says, “Sponsored Content.” The article looks real and feels real, but, as John Oliver points out, it undermines audiences’ trust and the media industry as a whole.

Sponsored Facebook posts and sponsored tweets dance a fine line between native and normal. They don’t want to push it too far, of course, because then users will get angry at the obvious deception. But users also don’t like to be blatantly advertised to, so the social networks need to dial back those obnoxious ads to make them less annoying.

So we’ve got a couple extremes when it comes to advertising.

Advertisers can either scream at you to get your attention, which people absolutely hate, which is why people install ad blockers, which supposedly make our web experience worse. Or ads can camouflage themselves and vanish into the tall grass, like a tiger stalking its prey.

Or…

They Can Go Freemium

times-square-923448You know that app you installed that offers to remove ads or add features for a few bucks?

That’s called the freemium model.

Don’t want to pay for this app, publication, or service that other humans have worked hard to create for you? You get ads.

Don’t want ads? Pay up.

Simple.

In general, people don’t want to dish out cash for anything digital, especially if they haven’t tried it yet. Hence, we have the proliferation of advertising, freemium products, free trials, and so forth.

But why don’t more companies offer us the choice?

Since only a tiny fraction of users ever opt to pay to remove ads, it wouldn’t hurt the advertisers’ income streams very much, if at all. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who pay to remove ads aren’t likely to click on them at all. I’m certainly not.

For most companies, however, it’s an either-or proposition. Many services are strictly ad-based and you have zero choice in the mater. Many publications force you to subscribe, then they still serve you with ads. Other publications, such as Consumer Reports, are entirely subscriber-funded.

Now that we live in a digital world, it’s actually possible to offer users the choice.

If I found a service that I really, really liked then I’d want the option to pay to remove ads.

Conclusion

Mayer’s statement was presumptuous and silly. It’s natural that a company whose revenue depends on ads would push for a digital world fueled by and funded by ads…natural but shortsighted.

In fact, she demonstrated that she wasn’t listening to her own customers. If ad blockers caused a decline in Yahoo’s revenue, then it indicated, if anything, that Yahoo wasn’t delivering a good user experience. I, for instance, never use Yahoo precisely because it’s in-your-face and obnoxious. I can only assume their ads worsen that already-poor web experience.

Instead of fighting an endless battle over how best to advertise to people who don’t like ads, why don’t companies offer ad-free versions of those same services?

Windows 10 Made Me 10X More Productive Overnight. Plus, Microsoft Sway is Microsoft Swank.

Hi folks,

At first, I didn’t know Microsoft Sway was a presentation software. I just started clicking away and came up with some pretty cool stuff. It seemed apparent to me that most content is headed this way, including blogs.

So here’s a little experiment (FYI, it may not be very responsive because it’s embedded).

I put my post into Sway, and a few pictures later, this is what I came up with.

Google’s Your Mom, Mobile’s Dead, and Other Future Predictions from June, 2015

sunofficeI woke up this morning and realized I hadn’t predicted the future yet this year.

I meant to do it in January but I forgot.

In January of 2014, I predicted what the world of tomorrow will look like.

Among other things, I predicted that:

  • Google will build androids
  • Wearables are the future – specifically, those creepy things you put on your face
  • We’ll slowly start sinking into a virtual reality
  • Augmented reality will become a veil of tears that separates us more and more from actual reality
  • Our current fragmented attention spans will fragment even further
  • We’ll see AI
  • We’ll see more military bots
  • We’ll see more sex bots

So far, all of my predictions are right on track.

So let’s look at tomorrow, today – June 11, 2015.

Tomorrow: Video, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality…

Get ready…

Yep, it’s coming.

Well, technically speaking, it’s already here. It’s just not mainstream yet.

Companies are investing billions in virtual reality technology. Facebook spent $2 billion on Oculus Rift, the world’s leading VR company, and Google invested almost $550 million in Magic Leap, augmented reality (AR) tech that projects holographic images directly into your eyeball.

Digi-Capital predicts that these industries could be worth $150 billion by 2020.

Elsewhere, I’ve written in-depth about augmented reality, how augmented reality will impact marketing, and how video is transforming the internets. Those articles take a practical look at how these industries will impact our world in the next few years. And they clearly prove that my prior predictions are chugging along quite nicely.

Don’t believe me? Watch this video and skip ahead to 2:30:00.

 

 

This video clearly demonstrates the precursor of tomorrow. As I mentioned last year, if you want a real glimpse of the future, watch Ghost in the Shell.

Or watch this.

Google’s Your New All-Seeing-Eye-Mom-Personal-Assistant…Who Wants to Market to You…From Inside Your Eyeballs

Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and all the rip-offs you see on the app stores are trying to become your personal, virtual assistants. You’ve probably heard people complain that computers do so much work that people don’t need to think any more. After all…

  • If you want to write a paper on a classic of literature, simply look up the summary online or buy a pre-written essay.
  • Don’t wanna do math? Just plug it into Wolfram Alpha.
  • Too lazy to write down a to-do list? Just download Wunderlist…or ask Siri to remind you.
  • Too busy to log in to your airline to check your flight times? Just ask Google Now. Heck, Google Now can even track flight prices for you.
  • Want to know how many calories are in a Red Bull? Don’t bother typing it in to a search engine (that’s so much work!) – instead, ask Siri.

32What many people fail to realize is the depth of data acquisition that tech companies go to in order to produce these modern luxuries that we just can’t live without.

Google and Facebook both unscrupulously stalk the sh!t out of you and hunt down, absorb, and dissect every bit of information about you that they can. From your clicks to your website behavior and your social media interests, they scrutinize every millisecond and move and develop detailed psychological profiles that they use to better market to you.

Think it’s a coincidence that that shoe ad follows you around the web?

Or that that Starbucks coupon showed up when you were a mere 100 feet from the store?

Nope.

In response to widespread criticism and concern by privacy advocates and people who actually know who Snowden is, both companies have been increasing their “privacy controls.” But it’s important to note that tech companies and marketing companies require data in order to generate profits – so protecting your privacy actually opposes their business models.

Though they claim to have your best interests at heart, their responses are mostly just palliatives aimed at appeasing European governments and concerned masses.

Don’t believe me?

  • watch-756487Apple Watch can and does track everything from your heart rate to your altitude to how much time you spend walking, sitting, running, and exercising.
  • Google wants to put ads in front of your eyeballs 24/7. Think I’m thinking ahead? Think With Google…Google patented headset technology that actually measures pupil dilation and how long your eyeballs look at an ad. “Pay-per-gaze” is a new advertising compensation format that charges advertisers based on how long you look at an ad…and this is all for technology that hasn’t even hit the mainstream yet.
  • Photos used to be out of Google’s reach, but not any more…so photos you post online will be able to be read, understood, and processed by Google – or any other tech company. Just look at Facebook’s creepy auto-tagging feature.
  • Amazon’s Firefly technology can understand and recognize video.

In other words, anything you put online – writing, photos, audio, or video – will be read, cataloged, understood, and processed by the tech giants…all so they can better market to you.

The Day After Tomorrow: Mobile Will Die…

minecraft-529460And be reborn as AR and VR.

This is the whole reason I started writing this post and I almost forgot about it.

In case you haven’t noticed, I pay a bit of attention to AR and VR, both of which are going to radically change the world we live in. Again, look at that video clip of the HoloLens. That’s a paltry precursor to what the world will look like sometime in the next few decades. When AR tech can be plugged into glasses or contact lenses, we’ll have an augmented layer that seamlessly slides between ourselves and the real world.

So much for all that money you dumped into your responsive website and iPhone app…

Mobile sites will probably never die, but AR and VR will probably devour much of the market share we see taken up by apps.

FYI, smartphones are the de facto device for people living in emerging markets. Cambodians or Africans who’ve never seen a desktop own smartphones and have Facebook accounts. And it’s not uncommon – it’s the norm. Having lived in Cambodia for months on end, I know that most of the country can’t afford smartphones now. But neighbors like Thailand can. And as these markets emerge into tomorrow, they’ll have smartphones.

And when you have utterly cheap products like Google Cardboard, which are likely produced in countries like Cambodia, you’ve got…

VR for Everyone on the Planet

Zuckerberg wants everyone to be connected to the internets. Not out of generosity or goodwill – the guy’s obviously just another Silicon Valley sociopath – but so everyone can be connected to the Facebook money machine.

With Google Cardboard, Google not only gives easy DIY VR device to anyone with a smartphone, it also gives VR to people who can’t afford Oculus Rift headsets or the upcoming Magic Leap AR headsets. This is something I could be wrong about, but I foresee emerging markets and poverty-stricken people around the world escaping their reality by strapping smartphones to their faces with Google Cardboards and mass-cheaply-3D-printed VR headsets.

Which brings me to 3D printers…

3D Printers will Print Drones that Deliver Your Pizzas and New Organs in 30 Minutes…Or Your Money Back!

letters-418634I printed out a 3D skull at Mojo Coworking in Asheville.

The guy that runs the 3D printers there told me that some of the higher-end machines can also print metal. So, of course, they’ll become more sophisticated in the next few years and decades.

Now, I don’t really follow 3D printing as much as I do AR and VR and digital marketing, but expect the entire world to change in ways we probably can’t imagine:

So how will this technology change the world?

Well, along with nanotechnology – which promises everything from self-cleaning windows and stay-fresh running gear to innovative cancer treatments – it will reshape the entire industrial world, the manufacturing industry, and the supply chain. Quality of life for many will be drastically altered for the better, and we’ll have access to more technology and luxury than we could have ever imagined possible.

But…

There Are a Few Problems

I realize I’m being a bit ranty and dystopian with this post, but there’s a major problem with the worldview being marketed to us by Silicon Valley: it paints a rosy picture of tomorrow based on technological utopianism…the idea that technology will solve all of our problems. They do this, obviously, because that type of propaganda makes the more money.

The antidote?

A healthy bit of realism…

1. Idiots run the show.

tie-690084Zuckerberg and the Google guys didn’t get to where they were by being nice guys with normal lives and human-centric causes. They’re profiteering capitalists who only care about the game they’re playing…which happens to be based on the extraction and exploitation of your data.

Do you really want planet Earth to be helmed by guys like Zuckerberg and Paige and Eric Schmidt (see this funny article, It Looks Like Eric Schmidt Closed His Instagram Account After It Was Revealed He Followed Lots Of Half-Naked Women) and the Uber CEO?

Well, not much we can do about it. Especially if we pretend like their “visions” and agendas will result in a tech-fueled utopia.

2. Automation will demolish our current economic structure.

Here are some examples of technological revolutions that will change manufacturing, the workforce, and so on:

  • Self-driving cars will put huge chunks of the transportation industry out of business. Uber, already a threat to taxi companies around the world (which could fight back if they’d develop their own stupid apps already) has self-driving cars in the works.
  • Robotic manufacturing will put huge chunks of the industrial workforce out of business. Heck, Amazon’s already using robots in its warehouses.
  • Just think how many white collar jobs 3D printing will create…and how many blue collar jobs it will kill.
  • Nanotechnology will do the same…after all, why hire a window cleaner when you can print self-cleaning windows and have an Amazon drone deliver them to your home in 30 minutes?

The IT industry will keep expanding as more people come online, which is good if you’re a computer nerd, but bad if you’re in an industry that will be automated away.

Businesses that want to stay alive will need to follow these trends with AR and VR. Currently, it’s already necessary to have a website, a LinkedIn account, a Google account, and, for some, an app…just project this trend into tomorrow and see how it will change with AR and VR. When everyone in the first-, second-, and third-worlds have the internets planted directly in their eyeballs, you’ll have to have your own AR and VR sites and storefronts.

3. Half the human population will live inside VR.

skyscraper-418189_1920The average American spends 7 and a half hours in front of a screen. The average Indonesian spends 9 hours. For many, though, who want to stay on the cutting edge of productivity and technology, that number is much higher.

So we’re already spending half our days immersed in a virtual reality.

Imagine what things will look like in 10, 20, and 30 years, when AR and VR are the new portals to the interwebs and you need to be online in order to stay competitive. Why even leave home?

When technology automates the work world even further, we’ll be forced to become more and more a part of that virtual world – unless you want to paint houses for a living. Something tells me human labor will be cheaper than robot labor for jobs like that…

4. What about global warming?

The question running through a business person’s mind is: how can I profit from this?

They can’t…yet…which is why no one’s investing in solar power and other sustainable industries (though, according to this guy, no one’s investing in solar power because people are stupid).

Okay, I think I’ve ranted enough.

These are just a few of the changes we should expect to see in the next few years and decades.

But what will tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow look like?

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow: GUIs in Your Brain…And Your Blood

110822_3306_3There’s a grand future awaiting us all:

  • Headsets and contact lenses that project virtual reality directly onto your retina will give way to chips in your brain, or, as I like to call them, neural user interfaces (NUIs). And, yes, the precursors of mind control tech are already here. Again, watch Ghost in the Shell.
  • Neural User Interfaces will probably give way to internet-connected nanotechnology that floats around in your bloodstream. Why not just make this nanotech part of the water supply? That way everyone will be forced to create a Gmail account whether they like it or not.
  • While we’re on the topic of bloodstreams infused with nanobots…wouldn’t it be easy to get all your drugs from an implant? I already conceived of this a while ago. Used in conjunction with Google, the all-seeing-eye-mom-butler-virtual-personal-assistant, you wouldn’t even need to worry about buying drugs yourself or even visiting a doctor – Google could virtually diagnose you and dose you as needed.
  • I almost forgot about human-ish androids. Like Google Glass, Westerners are probably freaked out by the concept. But not all countries are so skittish about the future…Japan sure loves its dolls and androids. It’s a toss-up to which company is more creepy: Google or Facebook. Of the two, Google seems to have less of a problem with overt creepiness. Facebook has better anti-creepy marketing. So it looks like Google will be the ones to run with it. We’ll probably have to go to Japan for our sexbots though…

 

While my vision of tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow may seem slightly dystopian, I just like to be realistic.

Social robots like Zuckerberg and idiots like Eric Schmidt and Bush will continue to run things, whether we’re flying through space on ships captained by AI, bathing in globally warmed gutter rivers next to a sea of trash, or relaxing on a rooftop luxury cabana overlooking the vast cityscape with clones of superstars fanning us with palm leaves and feeding us with nanobot-produced grapes.

More Fun with Big Data

As Problogger pointed out that Define Media Group pointed out, Buzzfeed’s recent picture of traffic referral sources may be slightly skewed. Their claims suggest that Facebook generates nearly triple the traffic referrals that Google does. It’s an interesting statistic, but the methodology and data sources are clearly opaque. This problem suddenly becomes compounded when publications such as Recode and The Atlantic propagate said data without verifying it.

Good vs. Evil, Facebook vs. Google, DMG vs. Buzzfeed

But could it even be possible? Facebook has 1.24 billion active users and Google has almost 12 billion monthly searches, so yeah, I guess it’s possible that highly active users post and refer more traffic. Again, I’m dubious: Buzzfeed, a player in the social arena, understandably wants to promote social media, since social media promotes their services.

Reading Recode’s original article about the Buzzfeed phenomenon, it’s hard to tell where the data comes from: “BuzzFeed’s pretty darn big, and its network has some 200 other sites in it, so while we’re not looking at all of the Web here, we’re at least looking at a good-sized chunk of it.” DMG adds more about the data sources, but not much: “According to BuzzFeed their data gathering is done via a tracking code across their network of sites of which ‘represent an audience of more than 300 million people globally.'”

Define-Media-Group-search-social-pie-chart

via Define Media Group

Define Media Group, on the other hand, is a marketing firm that provides both search and social media marketing consulting. DMG is very explicit with their methodology and their data sources. Their data suggests results almost the opposite relationship between search and social referrals. In my mind, transparent methodology and data sources certainly lend DMG the upper hand here.

Hype and manipulated statistics have been around for quite a long time, but in the internet age, they can have a tendency to go viral and make big waves.

Surfing and Wiping Out

In Bob Hoffman’s notorious speech where he slammed new school marketing pundits, entitled, “The Golden Age of Bullshit,” he brought up the Pepsi Refresh Project.

A few years ago, to much fanfare, Pepsi dropped its marketing campaign in favor of a complete shift to social media marketing. And, after 2010, corporate social media spending climbed 64% each year for several years running, according to stats I found at Hootsuite.

We’re clearly living in a new age, right? An age of conversation, engagement, and buzz?

According to Hoffman: one estimate has it that the Pepsi Refresh Project cost the company between $50-100 million. The popular soft drink dropped from the second best-selling drink to third and lost a 5% market share before slinking back to its former paid advertising practices.

The same research companies that had proclaimed the death of traditional advertising turned around and stated that social media was a “barely negligible source of sales.”

Hoffman cites Forrester Research, which had foretold the beginning of a new age of social media marketing and “the end of the era of mass marketing” just a few years earlier. They later changed their position, and stated that email marketing was nearly forty times as effective as Facebook and Twitter combined.

What does this tell you about big data?

Big Data = Statistics

Big data is statistics with just more of them. It can be insightful and truthful, or it can be skewed and manipulative. Transparency in both methodology and data sources are vital if we are to make any useful sense of statistics that are thrown our way. Publications such as The Atlantic and Recode — not to mention anyone wielding statistics — have a responsibility to do some fact-checking and verification before propagating such big bad data.

If I had to pick one data set out of the two mentioned above, it would be DMG, because they are open about their methodology and statistics. With Buzzfeed’s info, we literally just have a picture, without understanding the methodology or numbers behind it, just as with Google Trends.

Google Trends Says Laotians Love Japanese Girls

If you already understand how Google Trends works, you can skip to the “Why Google Trends is Stupid” Section.

Everyone else, welcome to my article.

For those who don’t know, Google Trends is a Google tool that allows you to examine the relative “interest” in search terms, search topics, where those terms and topics are most popular, other related searches, and other related data.

This type of data, of course, is extremely valuable for internet marketers engaged in research…or would be if it weren’t so sketchy.

Miley, You Lose

Let’s compare the literary genre of science fiction, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, the search term “hunger games,” the anime genre, and the term “miley cyrus.”

miley v anime google trendNot only does worldwide “interest” in anime consistently top all other searches, it even outperforms all the others combined at least 95% of the time. On the one hand, we never really think of anime as being so popular, but when you include the entire world’s search results, you can see how it compares to other genres and titles that garner so much attention from mainstream media.

When you look at the actual charts, Google’s site correlates popularity spikes with news events for you, so you can see that miley cyrus’s biggest spike coincided with her MTV music awards. Examine the “regional interest” section and you’ll see that her biggest fans aren’t in the United States, but in Guyana, the Faroe Islands, Guam, Belize…in fact, the USA is #8 on the list.

Interesting, or confusing?

The Japanese-Loving Laotians

laotians love japanese girlsjapan laos google trendsWhile first looking at some Japan-related search trends, I noticed something else: Laos tops the search term volume for “japan,” followed by Cambodia, Myanmar, Mongolia, and so on.

At the bottom of the Laos-specific search page, you will see related searches.

Now, anyone who has spent any time in southeast Asia doesn’t need to blink twice to know something’s wrong with this picture.

The “100” next to Laos means that it has the highest search volume in the world, and the other 1-to-100 numbers are calculated against that…or so I thought, based on Google’s unclear help bubble language, which says, “Numbers represent search volume relative to the highest point on the map which is always 100. Click on any region/point to see more details on the search volume there.”

The reason for these odd-looking results?

Google normalizes its data (see below), but, even in a post titled “How Trends Data is Normalized,” it doesn’t tell you how Trends data is normalized, it just explains what the normalized results look like.

We aren’t told what the search volume is, so I went over to Google AdWords to look at numbers. There, we find that Laos manages a paltry 1,360 searches per month vs. the USA’s 199,640. When I checked search volumes for “japan girl” plus “japan girls,” I found that Laos came up with 206 searches, and when you add “google japan” to that list, you only come up with 278, vs. the USA’s 43,422 for all three search terms.

Why Google Trends is Stupid

No numbers and no pre-normalization information means no meaningful picture.

Google really needs to work on its social skills. Its inability to successfully promote its social network Google+ is one glaring example of this, and the opaque Trends interface is another. Behind the scenes I’m sure they’re working on an artificial brain that will predict the future, but we’re all left in the dark with “interest” charts. I suppose that’s normal in this age of Big Data-hoarding.

Data Normalization

Wow, guess those Aussies like GoT. Too bad there's only 22 million of them

Wow, guess those Aussies like GoT. Too bad there’s only 22 million of them. How good is there internet infrastructure, I wonder? And what about demographic data?

To normalize a data set means that, according to the map-making software folks at AlignStar, you “transform the data so it may be compared in a meaningful way.” In the example they give on the AlignStar site, we see two maps of unemployment rates. One which shows absolute values within a US state, and the other which shows normalized values.

Each map paints a different picture.

If, for example, you wanted to measure the counties of a given state to see which have higher unemployment rates, then you would measure the absolute number of unemployed against the total workforce, which is what AlignStar did in their second map. This shows a couple counties that had relatively high unemployment rates. They pointed out,

The maps above portray a very different picture of the same information. Each map could prove useful depending on the point that the map creator was trying to make.  It is important to keep this in mind when creating thematic maps. Sometimes a very small change can result in a very different picture.

What is a Trend?

game of thrones australia usaWe don’t know what data goes into these graphs or how it is being processed.

Not normalizing the data would make many Trends rather boring, however, since the USA is the biggest user of Google and has one of the most powerful — if not the most powerful — telecommunications infrastructures in the world. It would probably look like the first map on the AlignStar website.

But what do Trends’s post-processed pictures actually tell us?

I’m no statistician, but there are some pretty obvious questions that come up as to how valid or useful this tool is. In the case of Game of Thrones, we see many first-world countries popping up on the map, so it is more reasonable to assume some relative popularity correlations between countries such as the USA and Australia. But without the raw data we can’t verify anything for ourselves.

Look at Laos and Cambodia. The vast majority of the population doesn’t even have internet access.

So, once you dig a little deeper, you realize that Google’s geographical “normalization” can, at times, be misleading, pointless, and wrong. Guyana‘s and the Faroe Islands’ supposedly vast interest in Miley Cyrus, for example, doesn’t tell us how many people in said countries have access to the internet, have smartphones, speak English, use Google, use other search engines, or have ever seen a computer.

In Cambodia, Japan’s second biggest fan, most people live in rural areas with no internet access or electricity, and will likely go their whole lives without ever seeing a computer except that one time that one white guy came to take pictures of an ox with his smartphone.

When you take such a ridiculously small search sample size from small countries with small populations that live the same way they have for the past thousand years, Google’s one-size-fits-all normalization clearly tells us absolutely nothing, except maybe that some travelers, Japanese expats, or other rich folks search for “japan” with more relative frequency than other countries.

Maybe, though, that’s the just data you’re looking for.

More Fun with Big Data

It’s just Big Data, and I hate Big Data, mostly because I don’t have any.

As Jaron Lanier has pointed out, and as I will probably write about again, that sacrosanct elixir of the techtopians has got a tenuous-at-best causal relationship between the input and the output. When you hide the quantities and use unknowns to algorithmically define terms like “popularity” or “interest,” without including (in this case) vital geographical and demographic factors such as economic status, internet infrastructure, population of said country, and so forth, then you start getting unverifiable and meaningless statistics. Bad data is even worse than bad science.

As I like to say, “No! No, Big Data, no. Bad Big Data. That’s a bad, bad Big Data.”

Without the ability to see and play around with absolute values ourselves and without knowing how those values are normalized, we are left only with pretty pictures and graphs. As with the Google algorithm, we just have to take their word for it. And with Google’s attitude toward the world’s data, do you really feel like doing that?

SEO to Now: Content Marketing’s Future

The basic “currency” of SEO is the backlink, which can vary in value, from the negative-value spam links to quality links from authorities such as Amazon, Wikipedia, or government sites. The basic mindset of SEO used to be “more, more, more,” in terms of both content and links, because it was quantity that mattered. As Google wised up, we gradually saw a shift towards quality content and content marketing, yet we still see filler material everywhere. Google’s emphasis on quality content will never change, but as technology changes, what other changes can we expect to see in the marketing world?

The search engine’s algorithm updates helped steer the marketing world towards content marketing, where the bottom line has been “promotion through valuable content.” Content subsequently replaced links as the atomic unit of internet marketing. Google Now, a personal assistant and prediction service based on the Google search engine, is poised to become the search interface for Google Glass.
The goal is to create an easy-to-use personal assistant, as opposed to a search engine.

Beyond the Search Engine

The gap will continue to grow between the top results and all the rest
The gap will continue to grow between the top results and all the rest

Google itself is obviously not just a search engine any more, but has become a full-fledged tech monopoly with multiple agendas. In the post-SEO world, especially with Google+, Google has made it clear that if you want to be successful with Google marketing, you have to play Google’s ballgame. Google will continue to compete for the same types of multi-market dominance as Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung. So they will push harder and harder to have everyone “integrate” with Google services.

Content marketing will be affected by the further consolidation of data and traffic into an even more biased and simplistic interface. For one thing, the top results will become more static and difficult to penetrate. The content itself will become shorter, simpler, and designed to be more attention-grabbing.

Google or Bust

While technically speaking a search engine should be a database, Google has been called an advertising agency, which makes sense from a marketing perspective and a design perspective. Businesses will face even more pressure to integrate with Google services in order to be featured in the search results. If you opt out of Google+ or anything else Google, then you just won’t make it near the top.

Some might say this type of filtration system is good, because it weeds out the filler content and spam. But it also means that the search results will be more simplified than they already are. It means that legitimate businesses will have to compete harder against each other and against spammers to make it into the results that actually matter.

And for those who do not want to join Google+ or get a Google account?

Good luck with your marketing.

Sexbots, AI, & Androids: Nathan’s Future Predictions, January 2014

When I think of the future’s impending waves of technology, I think of this quote from Mat Honan’s Google Glass piece, “I, Glasshole“:

We need to think about it and be ready for it in a way we weren’t with smartphones. Because while you (and I) may make fun of glassholes today, come tomorrow we’re all going to be right there with them, or at least very close by. Wearables are where we’re going. Let’s be ready.

At the turn of the year, we saw many columnists and writers roll their dice on the table and make predictions about what trends we’ll see this year in technology.

Instead of doing that, I decided to take a look at where the technology industry is headed over the next several decades, so we can truly understand what “be ready” means.

It’s good to know that wearable technology is coming, but what comes with it? And what else is coming alongside wearable tech?

Google Will Build Androids

And all the glasshole Google employees will walk around with pet androids on leashes.

HandroidAmazon already uses robots in its warehouses. Some time in the coming decades the robots will walk among us, they’ll look like us, & they’ll talk like us. At first they’ll probably look like the robot in Robot and Frank, but it won’t be long before they look more and more like us, as seen in Time of Eve.

Ghost in the Shell‘s vision of the future is, in my opinion, probably the most accurate picture of the future. Not so much the robots that talk with little girls’ voices, but the fact that cybernetic augmentation and VR tech will become normal, we’ll be able to access the internet through brain chips, and so forth.

Right now, Google does research into robotics, they bought an army of robots, they are researching AI, and they are building a brain. What do you think they’re aiming for? What happens when you research robotics, AI, and artificial brains?

Androids, obviously. And the androids will all be wearing Google Glass.

Google Glass, Wearable Tech, VR, & Virtual Sex

"If you had all the world's information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you'd be better off." - Sergey Brin, 2004

“If you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” – Sergey Brin, 2004

While I semi-satirized this freakish technology in the past, the fact is it will probably change the world. And if it doesn’t, something similar will. You’ll be able to put on wearable tech such as Google Glass and sit down to dinner with someone halfway across the world. You’ll be able to go to virtual nightclubs, virtual business meetings, virtual orgies, play virtual tennis, and go on virtual crime sprees (otherwise known as video games).

Wearable technology, for those of you who don’t know, means smartwatches, smartglasses, and other wearable smart-tech. I wouldn’t be surprised if smart jewelry and smart tattoos come along.

We’ll have virtual reality immersion tech, such as VR helmets and VR suits. You’ll be able to put on some pilot’s helmet and gloves, and enter a virtual world from your bedroom at night while your parents think you’re asleep.

Best scifi book I’ve read in a while.

Eventually we’ll probably have complete VR suits that you can slip inside, as seen in Ready Player One. In order to provide for all bodily functions, the suits will probably have tubes for all your holes, so you don’t have to get out every time you need to take care of said bodily functions.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Google advances chip tech so far that all you have to do is glance to the upper left for a second and then the chip connects your brain directly to the Net.

Until brain chips and super suits hit mainstream, everyone will start getting chips or wearable tech that is unobtrusive. A watch, a pair of smart earrings, a pair of smart contact lenses, smart glove linings that fit inside your black stylish leather ones, some smart undergarments, and even though you’re on a flight from Paris to New York, you can project your Avatar into your family’s bedroom for dinner, while simultaneously attending a friends’ house party in Dublin with a different Avatar.

You’ll Be in Ten Places at Once

When you land, Google’s iChatLocalApp will tell you that there’s a girl downtown who wants to go to that electronic music festival who shares your taste in TV and Mediterranean cuisine, so you AvatarChat for a few minutes while waiting to pick up your luggage, then meet up in real life and make it to your friend’s house party, where you’ve been half-attending with your PartyAvatar#13 all along.

And while riding the taxi to the party you use your LinkedIn Avatar to correspond with some of your business contacts, only half-paying attention to the girl you met, who is also half-somewhere else, half-chatting with someone else behind her Google Lens, probably recording you and having her MyFace friends rate your looks. When you arrive at the party, you have between half-a-dozen and a dozen conversations and content streams whirling about your Lens interface.

So when you’re surfing the content streams and half-chatting with half-a-dozen avatars halfway around the world, where are you really? Your attention will be split and pulled in a million directions by a million signals competing for your time, money, and intellectual resources. Enter Rushkoff’s Present Shock, which points out the fragmenting effect technology has on our consciousness.

Augmented Reality

Present shock becomes even more ominous when you consider that augmented reality will saturate our lives even more than it already does. Now we look at the virtual world through our computers, which have found their way into our pockets as smartphones, but the internet of things will make augmented reality into a permanent stratum of our daily lives.

I used to envision VR as this other world that you just plug into and then come out of and then you’re back in the real world. Like Narnia, VR was something you could turn on and off by going through a doorway. But it’s not shaping up that way.

The evolution of the interface-on-your-face

The interface-in-your-face

Technology is turning out to be a sphere that’s always on, that we can’t seem to unplug from. Again, Ghost in the Shell has the right idea. If you’re wearing Google Contact Lenses, you’ll be able to sit in a recliner in a roach-infested filthy bachelor pad, then open your eyes inside a palace on a distant planet with tons of alien babes crawling all over you. Or you can look out your living room and, instead of seeing a dirty alley wall, gaze at an empty tropical beach, a mountain vista, an alien landscape, or outer space.

While walking down the street you can add dynamic backgrounds that don’t exist in reality. Say you want a more saturated color palette? Done. A flock of birds? Done. Virtual graffiti on those walls? Done. Say you wish your neighbor was your sex toy for the night? Done.

Sexbots

SexbotWith your Google Lenses you can steal images of some hot chick you see on the street then use some pirated software to take that girl’s face and make a sex avatar out of it. When you get home to your android that night, you just have your Google Lenses sync up that girl’s face with your lifelike android’s hot body. And you can do it again and again every day with some other chick. Imagine the virtual harems that creeps will hoard…if they ever leave their basements.

Because, whether we like thinking about it or not, we will build robots and androids that will be our complete slaves. As they should be. They are fucking robots, after all.

As with all new technology, this wave will be a double-edged sword, with the potential to revolutionize the world, while also introducing some darker possibilities.

Horrible Stuff

Robots already exist in the military. Modern day drone pilots bomb the enemy, then go home to their wives for dinner. We have robots outfitted with machine guns and cameras. War could become a video game tournament for rich nations. What happens if Google can create a real army of robots for the US government? What if we had a bunch of android house cleaners and servants and they got hacked by an enemy country or by that kid down the block? Or the NSA decided to make them all pick up weapons?

Weapon-wielding spiderbots, dogbots, hoverbots, and tankbots could roll across the battlefield while we watch through a detached dopamine-addiction in our Google Lenses. Outfitted with human-killing weaponry, they could decimate the opposition without a single homeside casualty.

But…oops…

We forgot about EMPs. Electro-magnetic pulses that can disable all electronics within a several-mile radius.

The electro-magnetic pulse disabled our robot battalion and now the robot tech is in the hands of the enemy. This is why EMPs are illegal.

Probably best to stick to stratosphere-flying drones.

AI

We’ll also have AI, which you can install into that open-source brain you printed from your 3D printer, which you can then install into that new iJeeves bot you printed.

Get Ready by Looking Forward

 

Feel like getting rid of pesky senior citizens? Just pop them inside one of these machines. They take care of all the dirty work & keep them entertained at the same time. Just be careful the machine doesn't turn into a giant robot, like it does in this anime.

Feel like getting rid of pesky senior citizens? Just pop them inside one of these nursing beds.

The nerdiest science fiction has the best predictions of how we’ll interface with technology in the coming decades. Ghost in the Shell, Roujin Z, Ready Player One, the Matrix, Phillip K. Dick fiction, modern day concept art, cyberpunk, and countless others point to the trends that are manifesting in both technology and society.

As Mat Honan said, we need to be ready. Fortunately, science fiction designers design the future constantly, so we can use their predictions and future designs to better prepare for tomorrow.

We can start by looking further than one year at a time.