Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Trouble with Headlines

I think the practice of editorializing, or at least over-simplifying, news headlines (combined with the widespread practice of news aggregators accepting bona fide editorials as actual news **cough** Google News **cough** ) comes as a direct result of the need for publishers to rank highly and convert on SERPs, and in social, and inevitably deliver as many ads as possible. In the case of a high-traffic publisher, there is also the need to render their sponsored above-the-fold ads through as many pageviews as humanly possible. Every publisher does it. It's the Right, the Left, everybody. It's clickbait. And it's strictly business. But I don't like it.

Because click-through rates are incredibly low across the web, I can only surmise that seeing all of these short, snappy headlines, and not the content of news articles themselves, only serves to either shape a busy, short attention-span public's opinions, or, perhaps more likely, to reinforce existing viewpoints and further divide the public in to separate "personas" because those are the personas the consultants said are more likely to click on said headlines - a chicken and egg thing. And we can only deduce that the average web surfer has a short attention span because of the low click-through rate combined with the high bidding on popular keywords in ad delivery networks like AdWords, among others. My theory: people don't actually read articles for information - they talk and message with cohorts because they don't trust news media as much as they trust their friends - so the aggregate headlines alone end up driving the "whole story" as far as the average person is concerned. It's really all drive-by media, say what you will about Rush Limbaugh, who famously (or infamously) coined the phrase. But I think there is no better way to describe it. Why? Because every organization wants to be first and scoop everyone else and get first dibs on clicks (and thus more ads served), taking little thought to what their publishing might perpetuate, unless it also means they are deliberately perpetuating bias, though who can "prove" that beyond the eye of the beholder. So, if "The President Scandalously Did Such and Such" is a headline somewhere, that editor wants to be first to publish it so that they can rank highest in SERPs and on popular news aggregators, And, "scandalous" is more colorful and more likely to get those few precious clicks from the dedicated faithful return site visitors than, say, a more dry, objective "The President Did X" headline. Then comes the competition, who wants to be the first to run with "The President Did Not Scandalously Do Such and Such". And so on and so forth. This competition for clicks complicates matters for less popular, unbiased sources of news, further burying any unbiased, objective headlines. Editorialized headlines will win because they fuel and feed pre-defined marketing personas and have built-in audiences. I would say curation is the solution when it comes to SERPs and aggregators, but that's inherently prone to human bias. Instead, we trust certain algorithms, but they can only grep what's been published, so it goes back to the publisher and their quest for higher and higher pageviews from an increasingly fragmented, long tail audience.
Now, this rant was inspired by a friend on Facebook who was seemingly reacting to a post of mine about editorialized headlines with his own politically charged comment. That he did so has actually helped bring my thoughts altogether (thanks, you know who you are). I would say the practice of exploiting the public's opinions, sentiments, interests, or passions by catering to specific market segments which publishers know will agree with, or at least not question, perhaps because they assign a certain value to the reporting because the source is historically reputable or perceived a certain way, to whatever degree, is driven by the market demand to beat a competitor to a click, which makes the matter of running editorialized headlines much worse. For every headline that says "Trump Lied" there would be another that says "Trump Tells Truth". And the other will say the other is wrong and so on. Nobody really wins. And publishers continue to push harder and harder for more pageviews from their audiences by amplifying the number of published messages and compatriot publications and related pages that are all practicing this clickbait behavior, cross-pollinating their content and pervasively inbound-linking thereto without trying to actually foster a rationale public dialog about what literally took place, or to borrow and re-purpose a line from a favorite scripture, 'speak of things as they really were, and as they really are, and as they really will be'. I don't know if it will ever get better.
But, here I am demanding all these rapid-fire publishers apply strict, rigorous, academic-like standards to their headline writing. Who is gonna click on that?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I had a Hostess Twinkie today...

And I didn't like it. Which surprised me. I guess I'm getting old.

Go ahead, fight me, Hostess (or whoever actually makes them). I can take it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's Matt, not Ben

For as long as I can remember, whenever introducing myself in-person or over the phone, after I say my name is Matt, people say "Ben?" and I then I have to politely correct them.

I don't get it.  Maybe I look like a Ben?  If so, I want to look like Ben Kenobi. He's rad.

Totally got this from StarWars.com, which is great place.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Zero-rating is bad

Zero-rating, or the practice of not counting the usage of select services against a mobile carrier or internet service provider's data cap, is fundamentally the same as being non-neutral. These MSO's can claim all day long that they're advocates of net neutrality, but as long as they promote zero-rating, they're simply not telling the truth - they are establishing de facto tiers for content and playing favorites. You might think it's awesome that you can binge Netflix on T-Mobile without incurring extra fees, but you must realize that this is anti-competitive towards every Netflix competitor that's not a part of BingeOn.

Zero-rating is simply unfair to the smaller content providers who don't cozy up to these carriers and ISPs and pay these gatekeepers for access to their customer bases. Either truly be neutral as universal access providers without respect to services and completely remove data caps, or enforce the same policy against all sites and services by dropping the practice or zero-rating and capping data equally.

What's interesting about all of this, by promoting zero-rating, these companies are tacitly acknowledging that they can handle much more bandwidth than they claim their networks can handle, which means the entire practice of capping to begin with was only a means of producing artificial scarcity to create service tiers and capture more market share by varying their product's price points. This would be totally acceptable if they continued to be neutral, but zero-rating is effectively circumventing net neutrality.

As major multi-service operators like AT&T and Comcast NBC Universal become more and more vertically integrated* and content licensing becomes more and more convoluted** (especially as the cable TV business model erodes in favor or cord-cutting and cord-slimming, wherein the potential to offer "reduced cost" internet-only over-the-top channel bundles becomes popular and these apps then become zero-rated themselves since they aren't regulated the same way cable and over-the-air currently are - imagine ESPN only being available on PlayStation Vue and not Sling), unless we reject zero-rating now, the possibility of fully enclosed digital eco-systems that block or prevent access to their competitors becomes a reality. This is already happening in the device eco-system and has become standard practice among the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon when it comes to their respective content stores. Sure, it seems silly to think about, but do we really only want, say, Disney movies, to someday only be available through one MSO they might someday own?  That's what we are marching towards, in my opinion.

On the other hand, it might be really interesting to see how the over-the-top model evolves as cable declines, and if the initial clamoring for customers results in the reduction of pricing for everyone at first, until things settle and prices go back up. Time will tell.

*- Simply put, vertical integration means a company makes the product and the means of distributing that product. Imagine having to drive to another town just to see a certain movie because the studio doesn't own any of the movie theaters in town - thankfully, that hasn't happened for nearly a century because studios are not allowed to own theaters!

**-Licensing is how content makers provide their content to services. Each service needs a separate license, contract, etc. Imagine you can only buy your favorite music from a particular service, say iTunes, because that music has been exclusively licensed to it by a record label that, for instance, was unable or unwilling to also license to Spotify or Amazon Music. If you don't use iTunes you can't legally listen to the music.

Monday, November 14, 2016