Category Archives: Media Comment & Crimes

What’s that $19B about? WhatsApp at a glance.

Doc Searls provides an excellent summary of the implications for trends in marketing and consumer privacy related to FaceBook’s $19B acquisition of WhatsApp. Here’s my take on the deal terms:

We have to assume there is a lot of overlap between the FB and WhatsApp user base. And, regardless of what anecdotal information we have about how people pay for or use the service, the potential revenue from the WA user population remains purely speculative. So, what do we actually know?

FB values WA users based on their activity, which represents about one message per day per user at the highest level. They are slightly more engaged than FB users, with 70% daily usage rate vs. FB’s 63% of users active every day. They are paying $1 per message sent per user/day, or roughly $0.00273 per message sent over a year. That’s a manageable low cost of traffic acquisition, but because the payment is concentrated in time, the financial impact on FB’s business could be pronounced, though we must acknowledge there is downside risk to the deal, too.

CNN Money reports that FB sees revenue of approximately $1.72 per user globally. It’s much higher in the US and Canada, where revenue is about $4.85 per user/year. This means the combined company could make up to $0.72 per user in the first year, if they implement ads in WA. However, it is important to note that FB’s ARPU for the Rest of the World and Asia are sub-$1. If most WA users are in Asia and developing countries, which I’ve understood is the case, the deal loses money more often than not under current conditions.

I doubt people will pay for the WA service (it’s unproven now) and, if they were to pay $1 a year, the deal is only a break-even for those users who pay. If 10% pay, which is a typical “Freemium” conversion rate used in projection, there is not sufficient revenue to prevent WA from being mined as a source of user data and implied intentions. As WA is integrated into FB, notably to FB’s user surveillance regime, which is the core of the FB business, it will likely need to add ad or VRM revenue to make the deal worthwhile. And that puts the whole deal in jeopardy, since there is little to no switching cost for users.

My $0.02.

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Turning reading into cross-examination

Be dismayed. Rather than using ebook technology to liberate readers to share and expand on works in the same way social media has expanded conversations (and shuttered many, too), ebook vendors are now returning detailed usage data to writers and, this NYT article misses, publishers, who will monetize the reader’s habits instead of exploring how to use the potential two-way dialog to open the door to new depths of reading experience.

It’s the misery of ever more predictable media, designed to speed your pulse and get to the end, when the mystery of a good read is the journey from start to finish, wherever it takes you. Dostoevsky would have ignored the visit to Ivan Karamozov if he’d been tuned into what the readers’ expected and reacted to. Art goes places that aren’t necessarily fast or profitable.

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The inverse celebrity law of news sites

I suggest that a comprehensive analysis of the history of the CNN homepage (or of many news sites) would show that there is an surprising inverse relationship between the complexity of challenges faced by our country, or our species, and the incidence of celebrity news.  Where one would expect that as challenges mounted, such as amid the U.S. government shutdown, there would be less celebrity news on the homepage and more coverage of issues, there is in fact more celebrity news in times of crisis.

The celebrity news is canned, something waiting for consumption at any time. It should fall off the homepage in favor of enterprise reporting about the actual facts, beyond simply reporting on the controversy over the facts. Celebrity news is the corn syrup of media. Like many food producers who bulk us up on sweeteners and fillers, much of the media is failing its customers. Note the much longer on-page life of the celebrity stories, as well.

With that, the communications professor tugged at his frayed left cuff and tucked his hand into his tweed jacket pocket, stalking from the room with a failed elegance.

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A Kindle book format complaint

Dear Amazon, I am a heavy annotator of books and have found that in many cases I cannot view all the highlights I make in books purchased in Kindle format. For example, in Sam Harris’ short Free Will, I am able to view only 78 of the 108 passages I highlighted. It happens with many other books, as well, because some publishers don’t want to allow more than an undisclosed portion of the book to be highlighted.

I did pay for the book and, except for republishing it, I should be able to do what I want with it. In a way, the Kindle book is less useful than a paper book, because I cannot view all my annotations in any one physical place, as I can within the pages of a paper book.

Please fix this. Use your influence with publishers to make the experience they deliver through your e-reader and Kindle books the best in publishing.

Thank you,

Mitch

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News doesn’t have to important

There’s a great quote by Ernie Pyle in the new Columbia Journalism Review, from his time as a managing editor at The Washington Daily News, that every writer, let alone every journalist, should read each morning:

“You can hardly walk down the street, or chat with a bunch of friends, without running into the germ of something that may turn up an interesting story if you’re on the lookout for it. News doesn’t have to be important, but it has to be interesting. You can’t find interesting things if you’re not interested.”

Words to live by.

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Stockie the Stock-Picking Sock Puppet

Oh my, I found this old opening sequence from ON24 while digging in my archives today.

stockie movie

At one point, we tried to get the Pets.com sock dog to be interviewed on-air by Stockie, who was much funnier. Pets.com declined. They later sold their sock puppet into marketing bondage, but Stockie roams free today. Or, maybe he is in Rick’s desk drawer.

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Mockeries of culture and patriotism

This week, “tax protesters” gathered across America to dump bagged tea into symbolic bodies of non-potable water and Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN to a Twitter follower showdown. I admire anyone who takes to the streets for their ideas and recognize the power of media, even when it is lowered to the level of counting masses of followers. Oprah followed me today. I have no idea why she did, other than to get followers, and that demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about social media.

First, the “teabaggers.” These folks are protesting taxes in the nation with the lowest taxes in the developed world. They are mimicking the actions of their forebears, who were protesting taxation without representation—less than six months after the most participated-in election in at least a generation. They are not idealists, nor do they have any idea what they are talking about, but talk away they should so that someone might engage them in discourse and collectively we learn something.

Ultimately, it costs more money to reinvest in a developed economy than in a growing first-generation industrial economy. That’s why we have taxes. The problem with our taxes is that, for the past 30 years they have been invested in the wealthy, which is why the United States and Great Britain, the forebears of Reagan-Thatcher top-down economic planning now suffer the largest wealth differentials between the average citizen and the richest one-percent of the population of any developed countries in the world. Instead of protesting taxes, these people should be protesting the indifference toward the middle class of the past 30 years and demanding even greater investment in schools, basic science and other seedings of future prosperity than the Obama Administration has imagined. That doesn’t mean lots more taxes—we could do the same by simply cutting wasteful stupid spending or returning half-way to the old top-income taxes of the past—it only means the priority becomes investment in the people, not a class that will save the people.

As for Mr. Kutcher, he seems like a nice enough guy. As a celebrity, he strikes me as the perfect attention zombie, stumbling through our screens to eat our brains. But the fact a television news network even bothered to compete with a B-grade actor over their popularity is a sign of how low we will stoop to conquer anything that can be defined as “high ground.” Now, with Oprah glomming on to Twitter, we are seeing spamming by celebrities desperate to retain their mass-media reputations. Oprah touts more than 100,000 followers in less than a day because so many people auto-follow, whether using a program to do so or simply because they are flattered by Oprah’s follow—that’s a spammer strategy.

In both cases, teabaggers and Twitter follower races, we’re seeing the aping of past behaviors, the Boston Tea Party and the popularity contests of high school and Entertainment Tonight!, turned into events that supposedly enact meaning, but are merely empty gestures. Tea baggers aren’t patriots, they are people convinced they are paying too much in taxes (just about the only obligation this country asks of its citizens), when the debate should be about how taxes are spent, what to cut and, if more money is needed to make the world a better place for our children, who among the current beneficiaries of that system should pay higher taxes.

As for Oprah, Ashton and Ev (Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter), I will not be following anyone who for all intents and purposes is a celebrity bot seeking to claw some of my attention away for themselves. I am sure that today marks Twitter’s high-water mark. Oprah’s endorsement is like being on the cover of Fortune, which, surely, Twitter and Mr. Williams will soon be. The utility of a social ecosystem is destroyed by false followers and other aggressive species that suck the air away from the genuine exchanges of ideas and information by individual members.

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