Digidave http://blog.digidave.org Journalism is a Process, Not a Product Wed, 20 Jul 2016 22:53:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.5 Your journalism career as art and albums http://blog.digidave.org/2016/07/your-journalism-career-as-art-and-albums http://blog.digidave.org/2016/07/your-journalism-career-as-art-and-albums#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2016 22:53:17 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4574 Continue reading Your journalism career as art and albums ]]> It’s journalism school 101 talk: “Journalism is a craft.” We are storytellers and we must “learn the craft of storytelling.”


It’s something to aspire to. Brian Boyer does a great talk about craft. A great craftsman creates something that is useful. Functional. It’s the chair that is both beautiful, but molds to your butt perfectly. If it doesn’t do the lat­ter, then its beauty is pointless.

In journalism we spent 100+ years working on our craft. During that time, there was no need to think about the art of journalism.

Journalists need to work on more than our craft. We should focus on art too.

I’m contrasting art here with craft —  in that it is not about making something functional. It’s about saying something. Art is about making a statement. Sometimes, it’s even about making a statement to the artistic community itself on what art can or can’t be. Is that toilet art? Yes, and here’s why. Art is an ongoing conversation about institutions and processes and our relationships to them.

For most of the 20th century, that conversation didn’t need to happen in journalism. For the last 20–25 years in the journalism community, it has been the most important muscle to flex. In its infancy we asked “are bloggers journalists.” Today, organizations like the Washington Post and NYT or startups like Hearken and the now shuttered ‘This‘ create products that ask much deeper questions about what it is that we do and the processes we should undertake to report, create and share content.

This art vs. craft concept is one of the metaphoric backdrops by which I think about my own career and how I navigate our ecosystem. Every project I work on has a bit of craft, but I also want it to have some art. I want the projects I work on to make a statement. The product shouldn’t just be enabling the creation of content. Even if it’s well-crafted content, that isn’t enough. The product should also make a statement. Perhaps even be a manifesto. Even if an endeavor I work on ultimately fails, the statements live on.

Startups that don’t succeed as businesses might succeed within the larger community. Sometimes they are acquired, but sometimes their practices and principles get adopted and absorbed.

I put the original Circa in this category. Even though it failed as a business, the ideas it pushed forth have inspired action at places like the NYT and the BBC. Little fish get eaten by bigger fish. That’s just what happens.

The Journalist as Musician

Another metaphor I use to think about my career (and I think it applies to most people – see this fun post from 2009) is that of a musician. A musician can put out a cohesive piece of work, like an album, or they can work on somebody else’s album. They can put out a work that is pure pop (a well crafted song) or more “artsy” music. I should also note: There’s no “right” amount of craft/art. It’s all about what the musician wants to accomplish and work on.

Most people in the journalism community first learned about me because of Spot.Us. That was my first solo album. “Spot.Us was about making a kind of artistic statement to the journalism community as much as it was about funding journalism for the world.” In some respects, Spot.Us was more art than craft. The journalism we funded directly was decent. Some of it award winning  even— but nothing boundary pushing. What stopped and got people’s attention was the mechanism by which the journalism was funded. It was a statement.


Before Spot.Us, I had worked with Jay Rosen on NewAssignment.net/Assignment Zero, a limited edition vinyl! Critically acclaimed in the citizen journalism underground (very punk). It too was more art than craft. We did one of the first crowdsourced journalism projects and the topic we were reporting on…. was the spread of crowdsourcing itself (how Talking Heads meta of us). In retrospect, I think we all agree, this was too artsy for its own good! Still — a seminal moment in my early career and one of the first times I got to really jam on a national stage with musical heroes.

Before that, I was a freelance writer, most notably for Wired. In other words — I was a studio musician. I would jam with whoever paid me. Hell, I’d play on the street for money. Throughout my career I’ve done a few solo or side gigs that weren’t full album releases. Playing with other musicians gets your creative juices going.

But back to the evolution of my career. After Spot.Us I needed a follow up album. I felt a sense of pressure around this too. Spot.Us was well received, but not a “pop” hit. The next thing I did was Circa. I got to work across musical genres — since this was deeper into the tech world and I got to work with other fantastic musicians like Matt Galligan, Arsenio Santos, Anthony DeRosa and I helped put together an amazing editorial team.

Circa was, in my mind, a great mix of art and craft. The artistic element of Circa: It was a loud and powerful statement about the limitations of the article as a unit of information and a full throated rock scream for structured journalism. The critique that Circa offered the journalism community was well received. But Circa as a product also had great craft. It was crafted specifically to the “breaking news” space — akin to Jazz, where you have to improvise a bit and never really get to put your guard down. It’s an acquired kind of music that doesn’t have the same mass appeal that snark or listicles have — but there is definitely craft in it.

After Circa, I joined AJ+. It too was a statement: About platform intelligence and how that can be applied to a broadcast organization. AJ+ was early into the space that is now filled with almost every publisher that asks “but how can we re-make this content for x-platform.” I think this space has elements of art, but is a bit more craft heavy.  I was with AJ+ for one year. And while I like to think I played a part in its success — I’m willing to admit I was like a featured musician and in many respects it was the great amassing of studio talent that let AJ+’s craft shine through strong.

Now with Advance Digital I’m in more of a producer role. We are working on different projects. The biggest right now is The Tylt. Each project will have a mix of art and craft. Some will be more artsy. Others, perhaps more craft. And each will strike a chord in some kind of genre, space. In the producer role, I am taking a bit more of a back seat. It means once the recording is done, I’m not necessarily the one to take the music out on tour, although I’ll still have a stake in how it’s received. So far, it’s a great ride and most importantly, allows me the space to think about what it is I’m working on and how it makes a statement.

What about you? 

I write this because I think everyone can think about their career in terms of art/craft and in terms of musical releases. To be fair, the musical metaphor can be switched. I can imagine somebody talking about their career being like that of a movie producer, working on some indie/art films and some blockbuster hits. Think over your career. How does it fit into these ideas?

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How Facebook Features Take Over. Is It Wrong When Product Evolution Is Forced? http://blog.digidave.org/2016/04/how-facebook-features-take-over-is-it-wrong-when-product-evolution-is-forced http://blog.digidave.org/2016/04/how-facebook-features-take-over-is-it-wrong-when-product-evolution-is-forced#comments Thu, 07 Apr 2016 19:26:27 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4562 Continue reading How Facebook Features Take Over. Is It Wrong When Product Evolution Is Forced? ]]>

My friend and colleague Jigar Mehta had this on his Facebook post.

And here’s the thing. I tend to agree with him. I fully expect to see a lot of Facebook Live posts. But I wonder WHY am I going to start seeing so many.

Is it because users demanded it? Is there HUGE demand of my friends who want to live stream their lunch break to me instead of just posting it as a photo?

Or is it because there are other Live streaming apps like Periscope and Twitch and Facebook wants to eat their lunch? Is it because Zuckerbug just thinks it is cool? We don’t know why. And it doesn’t matter — because the reality is: Facebook will make Live ubiquitous.

The presence of Live Posts will outstrip the demand and yet … that will create more incentive to do Live posts.

The algorithm will favor Live Posts. And Facebook will give winks, nods andmaybe even money to people who play with Live Posts. So we will see it more in our feeds. That will turn into big numbers for media brands that want to reach larger audiences (again — the algorithms will ensure this). “See, the Live Posts are working” media managers will say to their bosses. This will inspire copy-cat Live Posters. And more Live Posts in our streams. The feature will be muscled in.

Facebook needs a new fresh feel to the feed every 18 months. Only a little bit ago it was all about the auto-play video, inspired by Harry Potter no less. And now that auto-play videos dominate. There needs to be a new play.

If platforms are going to devour the open web, they have to convince us we are getting lots of flavors. Heinz sold purple ketchup for the same reason.

If Facebook is going to eat the open web, it has to re-invent the feel of its feed every few years. And yet there is something somewhat disingenuous about this. A kind of conspicuous media consumption. A feeling of planned obsolescence.

Every platform is going to be constantly shifting and pivoting in reaction to each other and an effort to keep things “exciting” for the audience they have.


In 100 years people may look back at all this the way we view silly ads from the turn of the century. They are out of touch with reality. They are obviously pandering. Their language is forced.

To which Jigar replied:

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Shift Happens and Then You Reboot http://blog.digidave.org/2016/02/shift-happens-and-then-you-reboot http://blog.digidave.org/2016/02/shift-happens-and-then-you-reboot#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 20:08:42 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4559 Continue reading Shift Happens and Then You Reboot ]]>

The Lows of 2008, the highs of 2012 and the lows of 2016.

It will be the best of times and then the worst of times. There is procession and then retrograde.

The year of reckoning is upon us.

Lots of whispers and murmurs in the media world are talking about 2016 as the year that the newest class (or cycle) of media startups are going to feel a squeeze.

In this class is Fusion, Mashable, Vox, Vocativ, Ozy and more. Even Buzzfeed and Vice, which are safely above any watermark, could get hit in the valuation department. Let’s not even go into “is this a tech bubble” in general.

In the “entrepreneurial journalism” space, if you aren’t growing, you’re immediately dying somehow. Anything that bleeds from the entrepreneur space, does so into the larger industry.

Startups that don’t succeed as businesses might succeed within the larger community. Sometimes they are acquired, but sometimes their practices and principles get adopted and absorbed.

I put the original Circa in this category. Even though it failed as a business, the ideas it pushed forth have inspired action at places like the NYT and the BBC. Little fish get eaten by bigger fish. That’s just what happens.

But the main take-away:

If value is based on rate of growth — then even if you have a HUGE audience, you’re dead in the water if that rate of growth slows.

Look no further than Twitter. It has over 320 MILLION users. And yet because growth is slow, its valuation is dropping.

Now you’re Buzzfeed. Now you’re Buzzfeed Japan. Now you’re Buzzfeed India. etc.

But I digress……

The Pendulum forever swings

In 2008 the news industry was in a panic. The upstart Huffington Post was at its metaphorical height. They were young, brash and blazing the trail.

The pendulum swung all the way left. At the height of the “fear” end was old media. On the inner edge of the metronome was “new media.” It never reached the tippy top panic state. After all, what was failing was old media. Sure, the right edge was pulled along with them, but they were the valuable side, the side that was going to lead the pull back to the right. Back to the Bull market.

By 2012 the Huffington Post had swung to become establishment. It was still cool, don’t get me wrong. But a new wave of upstarts were about to rage onto the scene.

By 2016 some of the tricks that the Huffington Post defined are being refined by the Washington Post. They bring you — Bandito!

If you aren’t growing, you’re dying. And if you’re dying — the best practices and principles you have to offer are going to be absorbed.

Related: How defensible is viral content?

Once the old media has absorbed your life-force, the pendulum begins to swing back.

I tell my students at the Berkeley J-school: “Don’t worry, you will all get a job.” I can see the stress in their eyes.

But if you take a long enough timeline — this constant swing back and forth is for the better. It’s what propels us ever forward. There is a “normalcy” zone we hit with every back-and-forth. And it’s in that zone where progress can really be measured. Where we can see the practices from the new we as a community and industry are absorbing and those practices we are protecting during the panic, to ensure their survival.

“On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.” It’s how we take a longer view of our industry that will propel us forward.

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The Pull of Speed and the Push of Eventual Sameness http://blog.digidave.org/2016/02/the-pull-of-speed-and-the-push-of-eventual-sameness http://blog.digidave.org/2016/02/the-pull-of-speed-and-the-push-of-eventual-sameness#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 18:04:05 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4555 Continue reading The Pull of Speed and the Push of Eventual Sameness ]]>

Facebook Instant Articles load fast.


So do Medium articles.

Are you on the phone? Then you probably love how fast this page loads.

I’m sure Google AMP articles will load fast as well.

All of these distribution platforms are also limited. All content on these platforms look roughly the same.

We forget that part of the reason why articles began to load so slowly is because of all the javascript in the background. These things weren’t stuffed in for shits and giggles. They did things. They made a website experience unique. They powered specific features, editorial expressions and more (some of them not for readers but for advertisers — admitted).

In Facebook Instant Articles you are playing by certain rules. I’m not talking in terms of making money or owning the audience (we already acknowledge that). I’m saying that the choices they make impact editorial.

What you gain in speed and access to audience, you lose in branding and differentiation.

It’s fun to try and push the limits of these constraints. Indeed constraints can be the inspiration for creativity. But they are constraints that are dictated to you, let’s not get that confused. I simply can’t upload some javascript here that would make this Medium article one of a kind. Hell, I can’t even put text over a title image anymore like the glory days of Medium.

Maybe you’re like me. When you read a Medium post you can never find the date it was published. For Medium that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. And while the author of a post isn’t as obscure, that bit of information is definitely de-emphasized. It’s in Medium’s interest for the reader to associate the content with Medium, not the author. This is Medium’s content, in Medium’s style, with Medium’s fonts and Medium’s features. Get in line and you’ll be allowed to publish.

There’s a bigger catch

Think about Facebook video, a platform well embraced by now. It auto-plays and starts on silent. Video makers in-turn have jumped on the trend of creating silent videos. This is “platform intelligence.” Changing your editorial product to better fit the constraints dictated to you by a platform you don’t control.

And the reason for those constraints are the priorities those organizations have. Facebook and Medium as organizations, value speed and sameness over distinctive editorial content.

What you gain in speed, you lose in unique content.

What you gain in a templated video style you lose in distinctiveness.

“How Defensible is Viral Content.”

tl’dr for the link above:

The video below by the LAT looks like it could have been made by NowThis, AJ+ or others. I expect by the end of 2016 most major news orgs will have their own version of these videos. It’s a playbook. Open the playbook, follow the instructions, turn out a video.

I’m sure it made lots of people happy when they came across it on Facebook.

But they didn’t think to themselves “Thanks LA Times!” They thought: “Facebook always gives me the BEST stuff!”

Viral content in general is becoming indistinguishable. To the point of mockery.

“People try Heroin for the first time!”

This is what happened to Upworthy-esque headlines. If it’s easy to copy, the market becomes flooded. The value will drop on any commodity that oversaturates a market.

These examples are not “technical” per-say. The L.A. times example is related to technical constraints, since it’s the result of Facebook’s video player. The “silent” videos don’t do as well on YouTube and certainly didn’t bubble up naturally on YouTube, because YouTube never made the technical requirement of speed (auto-play) and sameness (no audio). YouTube had different priorities.

There is a pendulum swinging

We’ve seen a few different pendulum’s swing over the last 10–15 years. Journalism is dying. Journalism can breed “unicorn” startups. Citizen journalism will save us. Citizen journalism is dead (or becomes the Twitter-verse) after traditional journalism adopts the best practices and principles. Google is the enemy. Google is our savior. SEO is the shit. SEO is useless compared to social sharing. Everything swings back and forth.

There is a draw to speed. But all technical features that at first “delight” eventually become expected. And once that happens, the goal post is pushed further. At that point Apple, Facebook, SnapChat, Google will need real editorial vision in order to differentiate. Will they try to do that at scale or allow editorial actors to play within their space, perhaps even at the price of speed, readability, etc. Who knows. I certainly don’t. But I do see the “eventual sameness” that is beginning to bubble up on these platforms as a feature at first, but they could eventually be a drawback (if only for the content creator).

I have a newsletter. Check it out. Or @ me on Twitter.

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The Ethics of Virtual Reality Storytelling http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/the-ethics-of-virtual-reality-storytelling http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/the-ethics-of-virtual-reality-storytelling#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 20:17:31 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4543 Continue reading The Ethics of Virtual Reality Storytelling ]]>

I’m an Adjunct Professor this year at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism (Go Bears).

In a recent class we had an awesome VR company come and give us the low-down. Thanks Emergent!

Many students told me they came in skeptics and walked away “believers.” I think this means the class is going well, since my main goal is make sure they don’t turn into Beliebers.

I’m willing to bet every serious journalist understands the potential storytelling power of virtual reality. Let’s take that as a given. It’s not up for debate. That’s not what this post is about. This is about how our ethics stay the same, but have to be applied with a different lens.

Ethics by way of analogy

Matt Waite is talking about a new lens for our ethics in regards to drones.

How close should a drone get to a disaster scene with people actively mourning? How close should a drone get flying over Syrian refugees, people who may be fleeing other kinds of drones and could stampede away at the sight of one?

These are important questions.

It doesn’t change our ethics. The standard remains: Treat people with dignity, respect and minimize harm. We just have to apply those ethics through a filter we aren’t familiar with (flying objects as our acting agent).


Virtual Reality Flips the “Willing Suspension of Disbelief”

At the beginning of the Virtual Reality class our guest speaker, Peter Wilkins, said something along the lines of:

The goal of Virtual Reality is to create a sense of “presence,” whereby even if your higher level brain knows what you are observing is virtual, your low-level brain absorbs the experience as a kind of real memory.

The way Peter worded it felt like the line at the beginning of a Sci-Fi movie, where the resident scientist explains a concept that will become important later on in the film. You know that moment. It’s always a telegraphed concept. Implanting false memories is hardly a new Sci-Fi trope. But here’s a technology that can really do it.

More on “presence” here.Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 12.11.01 PM

“We use the phrase “suspension of disbelief” about the experience of watching TV or movies. This implies that our default state watching TV and movies is disbelief. We start to believe only when we become sufficiently immersed.

With VR, the situation is reversed: we believe, by default, that what we see is real.”

Peter showed an example of a person in Virtual Reality holding a virtual chainsaw and cutting down a virtual tree. The tree falls and the person observers the tree falling, sees the branches break, hears the tree hit the ground and more.

The purpose of the experiment was to see if people would cut back on paper and recycle more in the real world after their virtual experience of destroying a tree.

They did.

We all intuitively know that Virtual Reality can have an effect on our psyche. This can be a huge positive. It can be used to treat phobias or PTSD.

After Peter showed this example my mind immediately went to two places.

  1. Lots of people say after slaughtering an animal they eat less meat. Could the same be true of a virtual slaughtering experience?

2. It reminded me of the 1993 (cult classic?) movie Demolition Man where characters played by Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes have “behavior modification” done to them while they are in a cryogenic state. Stallone KNOWS that the behavior isn’t natural to him, but he just wants to knit and he is really good at it too!

It’s easy to imagine how advocacy organizations could use Virtual Reality to increase empathy around a cause. And let’s be honest: Every journalist wants to create empathy as well. Doesn’t every journalist want to tell a story that would make somebody cry or change somebody’s mind?

At the same time, I would posit journalists don’t want to implant false memories. Journalists don’t want to give their readers PTSD. Journalistsdon’t want to unfairly manipulate somebody’s low-level brain functions.

If journalists do want to change real-world behavior, we have to think carefully about why and how.

Journalist in Conversation with Plato

Plato: Do you want to get people to vote.

Journalist: Yes!

Plato: Do you want to influence who they vote for?

Journalist: Well, kinda, yea.

Plato: Do you want to influence how they vote without them knowing how they came to that decision?! Do you want to violate their sense of being an independent actor?

With VR, that slope can get slippery real quick.

Ethics don’t REALLY change

None of these questions are new. They map to existing ethical standards. The SPJ Code of Ethics (disclaimer — I’m on the advisory board) remains an amazing resource. A kind of torch light to take with you while navigating uncharted territory.

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“Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.”

In a VR environment where memories can be created, we must take care that the “memories,” even if not originally lived by the consumer, are as close to accurate as possible. And this requires thinking about accuracy in three-dimensions. How close to that building did this occur? Is that really what the chandelier looked like? Was this emotional music really playing in the background, or are we over-emoting?

For some of these questions we might not know the answers. How do we square that circle?

“Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

This comes from the “minimize harm” section of the code. And that phrase does all the lifting we need: “minimize harm.”

Now, we don’t want to shelter people from the world or ideas. It sucks to know the crappy things happening in the world or confront ideas we disagree with. I don’t think journalists should be expected to withhold these for the sake of minimizing harm.

But as I mention above: I can imagine scenarios where a VR experience gives a user nightmares. Makes them scared of real life situations or gives them a kind of PTSD. Certainly there is some line where a journalist should admit we can do real harm to a reader that isn’t justified by the information/story we are trying to convey.

The next section of the code of ethics is titled “Act Independent” with the line:

“The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.”

If we really take to heart this notion that VR can do more than “inform” people, but can alter real world behaviors, we are swimming in really interesting waters. I expect commercial companies to fully take advantage of this. But should non-fiction truth tellers? Presumably we tell stories to make change. We want people to re-think their place in the world and how they act. We want to hold powerful people accountable and empower less powerful people to act.

But should we create a story that will increase the likelihood of somebody to protest (as a kind of example)?

That doesn’t mean “share the information” and hope somebody will protest in response. I mean: Should we craft a storytelling experience that we know with statistical significance will increase the likelihood of somebody showing up to protest. Should we treat people as objects to be influenced? Should we manipulate? Can we do that and claim it’s in the public interest? And if the answer is “no,” to what degree should we avoid having that kind of influence?

I don’t claim to know definitive answers to these things. But I do have plenty of questions (how’s that for an unsatisfying end!)

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 12.11.21 PM

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What I’m up to: The Alpha Group http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/what-im-up-to-the-alpha-group http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/what-im-up-to-the-alpha-group#comments Tue, 10 Nov 2015 12:35:42 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4480 Continue reading What I’m up to: The Alpha Group ]]> Not too long ago I left a digital venture, AJ+, that was experiencing meteoric growth with an awesome team doing interesting work.

Why would anyone leave that?

I was pretty vague at the time and I hope to give a few more details here, although it still might leave some wanting. Bottom line, I left an awesome job because the opportunity at Advance Digital was too exciting to pass up.

Say Hello to the Alpha Group


My new role is Senior Director of a new team at Advance Digital, the Alpha Group.

It has become commonly accepted that technology companies are media companies. And it’s increasingly obvious that media companies have to incorporate and adopt the best practices and principles of technology companies. We are doing just that. The company has been doing investments and taken on projects that show a commitment to innovation. This new division is going to be another example of that.

First and foremost the Alpha Group is going to be a place to test hypothesis, build out ideas into MVPs and hopefully, spin out some cool new products. We have put together a talented core team now, but we hope to build it out further so that we can begin to spin out multiple experiments at any given time.

There’s obviously a lot to do and we are just getting started. We want to develop a unique and cogent view of innovation, a philosophy towards rapid development and theories about what kinds of projects make sense for our group to undertake. We hope to develop values around smart and capable people who create products and projects that lift each other. Make no mistake – people will be our greatest resource and we will need to build a community of support, teamwork and innovation. 

Where do we fit in Advance?

We are an autonomous team. One of the things that convinced me to make the jump, I could see a commitment to creative freedom for this group. We plan to stay lean, agile and focused. We are given the space we need to put our heads down and focus.

What is the role of Journalism?

We are thinking outside of the box. News and information will still be at the center of what we do and I suspect will be at the heart of our “unique and cogent view of innovation” described above, but we will not carry that as a chip on our shoulder.

What next?

Stay tuned! If you’ve followed me at any stage in my career, you know I try to make myself as available and open as possible. For me, working on new products isn’t just about business, users and eyeballs. “At its best, innovation expressed through entrepreneurship is a form of cultural critique.” And I hope the projects we work on at the Alpha Group will have elements of critique, making a statement about the world and the way we think it should be. That’s what drew me to this opportunity. There will certainly be some failures along the way. That’s just an occupational hazard I’ve come to accept.

There will be a lot more to talk about soon. You can of course follow me on this blog (or Medium) and keep your ear out for news about the Alpha Group (Twitter: @AlphaGroupNYC) . We are just getting started.


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Millennials Got A Raw Deal With Social Media http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/millennials-got-a-raw-deal-with-social-media http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/millennials-got-a-raw-deal-with-social-media#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 21:56:14 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4517 Continue reading Millennials Got A Raw Deal With Social Media ]]> 1-dqMucLscs_WJRSGCLPAGvQ

Essena O’Neill quitting social media is making a splash. And why wouldn’t it? It speaks to something we inherently knows is true. Social Media is mediated. It is a farce.

I wrote a post to the same effect in 2013. It was actually in the aftermath of the Justine Sacco “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Twitter-storm.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.52.04 PM

In the 1976 satirical movie ‘The Network’ there is a scene when the main character goes on a rant about how television is a charade. A kind of shadow cast on the wall of Plato’s cave. Take four minutes (or skip to the 2-minute mark if you really have no time). It’s a great rant. Then look yourself in the mirror and admit you’ve had these thoughts about television.

Socializing on the internet is to real social activity as reality television is to actual reality.

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” — Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol couldn’t have been more right about this. What he failed to include was the notion that everyone will THINK they are famous for much longer than 15-minutes. When a “real person” is cast on a reality show, we are not seeing the truth. We are seeing a performance. And while there is no “casting” online — much of what we see is a farce. It is directed. It is mediated and produced. Even moreso for those whose professions (digital gurus, social media editors, etc. etc) are inherently connected to the online world.

Let’s add another element to this conversation.


(Ideas on what generations deem as success is informed by a talk by Clint! Runge)

Generation X found success in owning stuff.

This is why Fight Club resonated so strongly.

Millennials have defined success as owning social relationships.

Let that sink in for a moment…….

Success is about owning social relationships.

In a conversation with my friend Andrew Haeg we came to the conclusion that Millennials have been born into a time where they must bear the brunt of social media anxiety.

They are the first to see the world through a social lens where every moment is harnessed for sharing. There is a debt of social activity they must constantly keep up with. Have I read all the Facebook posts? Did I see all the Instagram photos? Have I let my social network down?

The emergence of mass production led to abundance. But eventually left us with psychological and environmental externalities. Millennials have lived through the age of mass production of social capital. We have experienced the abundance and commodification. And we aren’t sure exactly what it all amounts to. What does a Millennial Fight Club look like? What are the externalities?

Why do I switch between talking about Millennials as one and sometimes as an observer? Read the section “On Generations” below. I have never felt truly Millennial or Gen X.

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And I should note with the headline “Millennials Got A Raw Deal” thatdoesn’t mean social media is bad in and of itself. It has benefits for society. Just like mass production does. The abundance is something we wouldn’t want to give up. And over time, perhaps a balance can be struck.

And what about Gen Z

The next generation doesn’t need to answer the question “who am I.” Their identity has already been created online by their parents. Their photos already posted. Their jokes already delivered.

Success to the next generation will be in owning experiences.

Generational Theory

Everyone wants to know how to tap into “the kids.” It’s where the money supposedly is. One of the most important things to keep in mind. EVERY generation is rebelling. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

But if they are rebelling against their Gen X parents, their form of rebellion may look like social responsibility and maturity. What generation raises you has a BIG impact on how you turn out — on how you rebel.

And every generation goes through life phases. Gen Xers were rebelswithout a cause when they were younger. Now they are in their prime earning years. When they are supposed to be the workers and managers of society. Meanwhile the Boomers are moving into the later stages of life, where their value to society is in being wise sages.

All this is just to point out the framework by which I think about the play between generations. This is very inspired by Strauss-Howe Generational Theory.

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*Before you respond keep in mind the caveat “not all” applies whenever talking about a generation. “NOT ALL” millennias or Gen Xers, etc have certain traits.

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What is ‘Platform Intelligence’ — Embrace the constraints http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/what-is-platform-intelligence%e2%80%8a-%e2%80%8aembrace-the-constraints http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/what-is-platform-intelligence%e2%80%8a-%e2%80%8aembrace-the-constraints#comments Wed, 04 Nov 2015 17:28:11 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4513 Continue reading What is ‘Platform Intelligence’ — Embrace the constraints ]]>

There is a new breed of editorial organization. Buzzfeed, NowThisNews, AJ+ and others that create content to distribute on social networks first. Everyone should pay attention to them and understand the methodology by which these organizations operate. It can be broken down into a phrase which really just means “embrace the constraints.”

“Platform intelligence” which is really all about embracing the constraints.

Why it’s important to pay attention?

As Emily Bell of the Tow Center recently articulated: “2015 will be remembered as the year platforms became publishers.”

This post is not about analyzing to determine if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a recognition. In the past, publishers were in charge of their own space. They only had constraints that they created for themselves based on their own assumptions. Today editorial publications must publish on platforms that have constraints out of their control because they make different assumptions.

Platform intelligence

Your content should be made with “Platform Intelligence.” It’s a phrase I was struggling for in a conversation with my colleague Kim Bui from Reportedly and she put it out there. I still think it’s the best phrase to explain the concept: Create content made to publish on specific networks.

And how does one get into the right mindset for that? Just embrace the constraints.

Facebook has a constraint around video. It MUST auto-play and it starts on silent. You don’t have a choice here. It is a constraint dictated to you. And you must embrace it.

What you get as a result is an increasing number of videos in the AJ+ or NowThisNews style. Why? Because they embraced the constraints an figured out what works.

YouTube has different constraints. Sound is implied, but there is no auto-play. This should change the nature of your content. Instagram has a constraint of 15 seconds.

My friend Brian Boyer says “nobody ever invented a cocktail in a full bar.”By which he means “embrace the constraints.” They are a good thing. They give you direction and purpose. Are you writing something for Twitter. It better be 140 characters. Maybe create an image to make it go further. Make use a quick tool to ensure the image is cropped for Twitter.

It’s a skill that develops over time. One builds sensitivity to the constraints and begins to push their boundaries. Here’s an example of a quiz one can make with Twitter (not a poll!).

All this took was an awareness of the constraints of Twitter. 1) You can upload up to four images. 2) These images will be cropped based on an algorithm that detects the center of an image.

What platforms do you want to succeed on? Your own (create your own constraints). If it’s somebody else’s platform — study their constraints. Then create intelligent content around it.

What does that look like on Medium (for example). Maybe like this.

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How Defensible Is Viral Content? http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/how-defensible-is-viral-content http://blog.digidave.org/2015/11/how-defensible-is-viral-content#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2015 18:01:11 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4507 Continue reading How Defensible Is Viral Content? ]]> Here’s a not too uncommon video. “Americans Try Latino Sodas.”

This is NOT a Buzzfeed video. It’s by Flama which is part of the Fusion network (I believe).

But it is without a doubt in the Buzzfeed style of: “People with X background do something from Y background’s culture and comment on it.” I don’t even think the good folks at Flama would deny this is a ripoff of the Buzzfeed style.

And hey — I don’t blame Flama either. It’s a clever kind of editorial. But not difficult to mimic (as evidenced here). The same critique could have been made of of Upworthy’s headlines circa 2012–13. You know, the ones that ended with “what happens next might make you cry” or “7 things that” etc. The formula behind those “curiosity gap” headlines isn’t hard to duplicate. And it was indeed a formula.

This image was from a presentation the founders of Upworthy gave. I once saw in another presentation this put forth as a literal formula (with an equals sign and other math symbols). The theory behind Upworthy was that virality could be turned into a science. And if that was true, in a literal sense, then it could be repeated. And if that was true — then anyone could do it if they got the science right.

If that’s what makes you different — then it’s easy to copy. And then you end up with black hat actors like Viral Nova. And when the water gets muddied by black hat actors, then white hat actors get dirty as well. And Facebook will have to respond and punish everyone a little bit.

I am not calling Flama a black hat actor here. They are well intentioned copy-cats. When that becomes black hat (which is a term I’m using perhaps differently from its original intention) is up for debate.

But if you are Buzzfeed video you must be thinking two things.

1. Imitation, flattery, etc.
That’s all well and good. It is flattery and a sign of your success. But you must immediately then go to thought #2.

2. We gotta do something else.
And you better hope that something else won’t be easy to copy
. Because if it is — then you’ve started a never ending arms race. Perhaps that race was kicked off with listicles (which have suffered since Buzzfeed video took off).

A student at UC Berkeley’s J-school, Zainab Khan, calls this a problem of “pacing,” which is an interesting term for it. At what “pace” do you develop new editorial styles and viral tricks? She also points out that, just as Buzzfeed “borrowed” from Reddit (which stole from 4chan) for their listicles, their videos may also be “borrowing” from YouTube styles pioneered by independent producers like Smosh.

And this just leads to a giant devil’s advocate. As long as there is niche internet culture, their will always need to be a clearinghouse for it. This means Buzzfeed’s role isn’t in “owning” any style. It’s in appropriating whatever internet fad the kids come up with next. They are the hipsters of the internet in this sense — Doing stuff JUST before it becomes uncool, but not early enough to say they added anything of real valueto the culture other than blowing it up. And that still leaves an open question about how “defensible” that editorial position is.

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Links that make you go hmmmmm…. Oct 22. http://blog.digidave.org/2015/10/links-that-make-you-go-hmmmmm-oct-22 http://blog.digidave.org/2015/10/links-that-make-you-go-hmmmmm-oct-22#comments Thu, 22 Oct 2015 17:35:53 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4504 Want to get these via email? Click here – or the red “Get Blog Via Email” button which you should see in a widget on the right side of this site.

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