How Facebook Makes Us All Advertisers

In this insightful video, Derek Muller points out the fundamental problem with Facebook’s business strategy – and why that problem is a big problem for everyone who uses Facebook.

Briefly, Facebook’s attempt to generate revenue through ads in the sidebar has been a flop, because we don’t go to Facebook to shop, we go there to socialize. And so they are instead monetizing our social interactions, by throttling the amount of our friends posts that we see. They invite us to pay so that more of our friends will see our posts. In essence, Facebook turns us all into advertisers – and that doesn’t bode well either for we, the users, or for Facebook, the business.

Muller contrasts this business model with YouTube, where content providers actually get paid by YouTube. As he points out, at YouTube, the incentives of content providers, advertisers, and YouTube itself are all aligned, while at Facebook the incentives are out of whack.

Derek Muller does a great job of explaining all this more vividly.

How Twitter Hijacked My Mind

Okay, the title of this post is misleading, because Twitter has not hijacked MY mind. I use Twitter sparingly; weeks can go by in which I don’t look at it at all. But the title is very apt for Kathryn Schulz, who published an excellent account of her Twitter addiction in New York Magazine: That Goddamned Blue Bird and Me: How Twitter Hijacked My Mind.

And the fact is, while I don’t use Twitter much, I do find myself spending more time randomly browsing Facebook and other online media sites than I would like.

So, a few quotes from Schulz’s piece that get to the heart of it:

The problem is that [Twitter] is sufficiently smart and interesting that spending massive amounts of time on it is totally possible and semi-defensible.

Collectively, the people I follow on Twitter — book nerds, science nerds, journalists, the uncategorizably interesting — come pretty close to my dream community. They also function as by far the best news source I’ve ever used: more panoptic, more in-depth, more likely to teach me something, much more timely, cumulatively more self-correcting and sophisticated. Additionally, they’re immensely generous with their time and knowledge; in contradistinction to most Internet agoras, the Twitter I know is helpful, polite, and friendly. It’s also a meritocracy; say enough interesting things, and other people will begin to engage with you. Surprisingly often, that engagement crosses the digital barrier into real life — and, without exception, the people I’ve befriended on Twitter have turned out to be terrific.

Whatever else Twitter is, it’s a literary form, which goes some way toward explaining why I find it so seductive. A tweet is basically a genre in which you try to say an informative thing in an interesting way while abiding by its constraint (those famous 140 characters).

I am way too susceptible to that other Twitter IPO: its Infinite Procrastination Opportunities… I am convinced that steadily attending to an idea is the core of intellectual labor, and that steadily attending to people is the core of kindness. And I gravely worry that Twitter undermines that capacity for sustained attention. I know it has undermined my own: I’ve watched my distractibility increase over the last few years, felt my time get divided into ever skinnier and less productive chunks.

More disturbing, I have felt my mind get divided into tweet-size chunks as well. It’s one thing to spend a lot of time on Twitter; it’s another thing, when I’m not on it, to catch myself thinking of — and thinking in — tweets… Thinking in tweets is only a half-step removed from what I’ve done all my life, which is to try to match words to thoughts and experiences. The job of a writer is to do that in a sustained way — a job I find brutally hard, and, when it works, deeply gratifying. The trouble with Twitter is that produces a watered-down version of that gratification, at a very rapid rate, with minimal investment — and, if I am going to be honest with myself, minimal payoff, and minimal point.

The trouble with Twitter isn’t that it’s full of inanity and self-promoting jerks. The trouble is that it’s a solution to a problem that shouldn’t be solved.

I sometimes think that Twitter is a parasite, and that I am one of its hosts, so effectively has it hacked my brain. Ask me what I love most in my life, and how I want to spend what limited allotment of it I have, and I will tell you that I want to be around friends and family, or reading, or writing, or in the outdoors, body and mind at play in the world. Ask me what I did today, where all the hours went, and — well… (here she points to a chart of her tweeting activity).

Read the full article at New York Magazine

Well Bear, Brave Bear

Well Bear, Brave Bear Cover

In the summer of 2000, my friend Sheila Kelleher asked me for help with a project. She was working at the Hennepin County Medical Center at the time, and saw firsthand how a lot of young children were terrified of doctor visits – and especially of getting shots, of course. She came up with the idea of making a photographic picture book for preschool kids showing everything a child would experience during a typical “well child” visit at the pediatric clinic. Being a skilled photographer, Sheila felt confident about her ability to create the illustrations. But she wasn’t a writer, and that’s why she asked for my help.

It sounded to me like a fun and worthwhile project. Besides, for a long time I’d had thoughts of writing books for children but hadn’t done much about it, and here was an opportunity landing in my lap.

We made some key decisions at the outset:

  • We would use a teddy bear as a stand-in for the child and avoid any reference to the bear’s gender. That way the bear could represent a boy or a girl of any race.
  • We would use actual medical professionals in their real clinical setting, so as to make the pictures depict what a child would experience as accurately as possible.
  • We would confront the scariest part of the visit – the shots – honestly and head-on.
  • We would have the bear narrate the story, so we could depict the experience from the child’s point of view.
  • As much as possible, we would have the bear making choices and being an active participant, rather than just having things done to him/her.
  • We would use a racially diverse cast of male and female professionals in the photographs.
  • We would make the story fun to read for both kids and their parents.

Sheila did most of the heavy lifting on the project, which included selling the idea to Hennepin County Medical Center, getting their financial support and permission to use their staff and their facilities. And of course, she did all the photography. Meanwhile, I just wrote the story.

Page from Well Bear, Brave Bear

“Well Bear, Brave Bear: My Visit to the Doctor” was finally completed in 2003, with HCMC printing 12,000 copies to distribute to patients in their pediatric clinic. We had the story translated into Spanish, and had the English and Spanish printed side-by-side on every page. In 2005, we printed another 6,000 copies for Hennepin County Baby Tracks, a program to promote and track child immunizations.

Then somehow another eight years went by. We thought about doing a follow-up project, like Well Bear Goes to the Dentist, but that presented more difficulties than the doctor visit. For one thing, our bear didn’t have a mouth.

For years, I’ve intended to put the whole book online for free viewing. I finally got around to it last week. And here it is:

Well Bear, Brave Bear: My Visit to the Doctor

Future Computing: Incredibly Powerful, Incredibly Cheap, Incredibly Small, and Everywhere

Stanford engineering professor Jonathan Koomey points out that computing efficiency – the number of computations completed per kilowatt-hour of electricity used – has doubled about every 18 months ever since the 1940’s. It’s analogous to Moore’s law, which says that computing performance – the number of computations performed per second – doubles every 18 months.

Extrapolating both of these trends out a few years, Koomey foresees computing devices that will use so little power they can scavenge what they need from ambient energy in the environment and run continuously for decades. Pointing the way toward this future, physicists have built a transistor from a single phosphorous atom.

So let’s imagine a future some decades from now in which computing devices are a billion times faster, a billion times smaller, a billion times cheaper, and a billion times more energy efficient compared to the best computers today. What does that future look like?

Read more about “Koomey’s Law” at Graphic Speak.

P.S. Jonathan Koomey gave this talk on March 15, 2012. Or in other words, 17 months ago – which means that processors should now be just about twice as fast and twice as efficient as they were when he spoke.