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Big Revolution - Brave and noisy

August 2 · Issue #158 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Thursday’s Big Revolution. Get your bookmarking finger ready – today’s Big Read is a particularly long one, but worthwhile.

Big things you need to know today
  • Google is facing criticism over its plans for the Chinese market. Reports that it is working on censored versions of its Search and News products have raised concerns Google is putting business ahead of ethics, and that other authoritarian regimes may ask for their own censored versions. It may all be for naught though – Reuters reports the Chinese government hasn’t approved anything yet..
The big thought
Techmeme's new contextual ads. Here, Yelp takes on Google.
Techmeme's new contextual ads. Here, Yelp takes on Google.
Brave and noisy ads
I’m all for publishers finding new ways of making money, but something about the new ad model from tech news aggregator Techmeme makes me feel a little uneasy.
As founder Gabe Rivera explains in a blog post, Techmeme now lets companies “automatically respond to news topics… they’re a great way to associate your brand with a specific category of technology products, or even to challenge individual companies.”
Contextually placing an ad for my smart speaker brand under a news story about your smart speaker brand wouldn’t be that shocking. But the first ad to launch is from Yelp, explicitly complaining about Google’s dominant market position. And because it appears under a story reporting on a different controversial practice by Google, it feels like Yelp is trying to compete with the news to explain how bad Google is.
Many people on Twitter have welcomed the news, rightfully congratulating Techmeme on an interesting new ad product that will no doubt attract lots of interest from buyers. Others are just looking forward to grabbing the popcorn to see how companies trash-talk each other.
But the product risks Techmeme becoming something of a toilet cubicle wall, with companies leaving sneering comments about each other under news stories.
Rivera explains that this is kind of the point:
“(Techmeme is) where readers go to see ideas in conflict. Techmeme is, after all, the arena where industry-driven news meets critical reaction and analysis. So by letting companies speak out and confront issues in this manner, we provide an additive, even entertaining experience for readers.”
Sure, some companies buy ads on Google Search to do much the same thing to their rivals’ search results, but that’s on a completely automatically generated page. Techmeme is a product curated by editors; giving advertisers space to hijack the news agenda with their own gripes and quibbles risks detracting from the work of those editors.
Rivera says Techmeme will “decline to feature offensive or overly gimmicky ad copy,” but there’s still a risk that the site’s core user-focused purpose – picking out the most important tech news and opinion – will be foiled by noise from paying companies whose arguments may not really deserve much of a hearing.
These new ads are a bold experiment, and by challenging them I risk sounding like someone who complains loudly when Facebook changes the look of an icon slightly and then forgets about it two days later.
But there’s a chance here that these ads will change the feel of Techmeme for the worse, or at least make it feel cluttered with distracting noise. They’re going to require as much editorial care and attention as the news stories they accompany.
One big read
Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change
This one really is a BIG read. The New York Times goes in depth, looking at how, between 1979 and 1989, we could have stopped man-made climate change.
“That we came so close, as a civilization, to breaking our suicide pact with fossil fuels can be credited to the efforts of a handful of people, among them a hyperkinetic lobbyist and a guileless atmospheric physicist who, at great personal cost, tried to warn humanity of what was coming. ”
One big tweet
Tracey Schwartz
you know the meeting is over when 3 people say "cool" in varying tentative tones and one brave soul closes their laptop
That’s all for today...
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