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Big Revolution - Thinking small in the 2020s

After yesterday's launch of the Big Revolution consultancy, we attracted a rush of new subscribers. W
January 25 · Issue #328 · View online
Big Revolution
After yesterday’s launch of the Big Revolution consultancy, we attracted a rush of new subscribers. Welcome aboard, newcomers! If you have any feedback you can always drop me a line by replying to this email.
– Martin

Big things you need to know today
  • DeepMind A.I.’s latest trick? Beating professional StarCraft II players. If you’ve ever seen a StarCraft match, you’ll know how impressive that is. The ‘AlphaStar’ software won 10 matches, and lost just one against professional human players. And it probably learned a lot from that defeat.
  • Microsoft Office for Mac is now available on the Mac App Store. Although there’s been a Mac version of office for many years, it was always a pain to download and update. Now it’s in the obvious place at last.
  • Facebook is closing down its Moments photo-sharing app next month. I’d completely forgotten it existed. Seems I’m not alone.
The big thought
Sometimes it's not bad to be small. Credit: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash
Thinking small in the 2020s
Have we reached the point where people just expect bad things of Facebook and aren’t too bothered anymore? I just can’t see the news that it encouraged developers to let children unwittingly spend their parents’ money breaking through as a big deal in the media.
Now, this was in the first half of this decade, when Facebook was aggressively ramping up its monetisation efforts, but whenever it happened, there’s something wrong at a company that calls a process ‘friendly fraud’ and encourages it.
Mark Zuckerberg has written in the Wall Street Journal about his desire for “a world where everyone gets an opportunity to use their voice and an equal chance to be heard.” I believe Zuckerberg really does want that that, to some extent. But I also believe his company is incentivised at every juncture to exploit the data it needs to build that world, using it in ways that are increasingly clever but just obtuse enough that users aren’t put off.
The job cuts in US online news media this week – just the latest example of an ongoing trend – show how building a new media company at massive, but sustainable, scale doesn’t seem possible. The race to reach targets set by demanding investors often plays against the best interests of a publisher’s output.
The same can be said about Facebook – the need to meet investor expectations reduces its ability to deliver a 'pure’ version of the company’s more PR-friendly vision of the world.
A coming recession may lay waste to many online news media companies, forcing them to be acquired by more resilient incumbents or shut down. We may see journalists fight back by launching smaller, perhaps non-profit, publications that generate enough revenue through subscriptions of membership to pay a few salaries, but don’t want or need to grow any bigger. A network of smaller, independent publishers might ultimately be the more sustainable way of running online news publishing in the coming decade.
For all its PR problems, Facebook isn’t going away any time soon, but perhaps we’ll see a similar shift in social media? People want to be social online but it doesn’t have to involve data harvesting and subterfuge.
One big read
YouTube Is Still Struggling To Rein In Its Recommendation Algorithm YouTube Is Still Struggling To Rein In Its Recommendation Algorithm
We’ve heard a lot about the problems with YouTube’s recommendation algorithm encouraging extreme viewpoints and behaviour. Here, BuzzFeed puts it to the test.
“How many clicks through YouTube’s “Up Next” recommendations does it take to go from an anodyne PBS clip about the 116th United States Congress to an anti-immigrant video from a designated hate organization? Thanks to the site’s recommendation algorithm, just nine.”
One big tweet
‘Mark Zuckerberg killed a bison’ is a little-remembered story in the history of tech news. Now it’s come back, with a twist.
drew olanoff
we've come full circle, everyone.
9:17 PM - 24 Jan 2019
Correction corner
Yesterday, I said Xiaomi’s foldable phone prototype folds to a third of its size. It actually folds into thirds, which isn’t the same thing.
That’s all for today...
Back tomorrow with a bunch of great reads to kick off your weekend. If you enjoy this newsletter, please share it with a friend or colleague and encourage them to subscribe. You can send them this link.
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