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Grist for the Machine

10 Oct

Grist

Much like publishers, employees at the big tech monopolies can end up little more than grist.

Products & product categories come & go, but even if you build “the one” you still may lose everything in the process.

Imagine building the most successful consumer product of all time only to realize:’The iPhone is the reason I’m divorced,’ Andy Grignon, a senior iPhone engineer, tells me. I heard that sentiment more than once throughout my dozens of interviews with the iPhone’s key architects and engineers.’Yeah, the iPhone ruined more than a few marriages,’ says another.

Microsoft is laying off thousands of salespeople.

Google colluded with competitors to sign anti-employee agreements & now they are trying to hold down labor costs with modular housing built on leased government property. They can tout innovation they bring to Africa, but at their core the tech monopolies are still largely abusive. What’s telling is that these companies keep using their monopoly profits to buy more real estate near their corporate headquarters, keeping jobs there in spite of the extreme local living costs.

“There’s been essentially no dispersion of tech jobs,’ said Mr. Kolko, who conducted the research.’Which metro is the next Silicon Valley? The answer is none, at least for the foreseeable future. Silicon Valley still stands apart.’

Making $180,000 a year can price one out of the local real estate market, requiring living in a van or a two hour commute. An $81,000 salary can require a 3 hour commute.

If you are priced out of the market by the monopoly de jour, you can always pray!

The hype surrounding transformative technology that disintermediates geography & other legacy restraints only lasts so long: “The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.”

AI is often a man standing behind a curtain.

The big tech companies are all about equality, opportunity & innovation. At some point either the jobs move to China or China-like conditions have to move to the job. No benefits, insurance cost passed onto the temp worker, etc.

Google’s outsourced freelance workers have to figure out how to pay for their own health insurance:

A manager named LFEditorCat told the raters in chat that the pay cut had come at the behest of’Big G’s lawyers,’ referring to Google. Later, a rater asked Jackson,’If Google made this change, can Google reverse this change, in theory?’ Jackson replied,’The chances of this changing are less than zero IMO.’

That’s rather unfortunate, as the people who watch the beheading videos will likely need PTSD treatment.

The tech companies are also leveraging many “off the books” employees for last mile programs, where the wage is anything but livable after the cost of fuel, insurance & vehicle maintenance. They are accelerating the worst aspects of consolidated power:

America really is undergoing a radical change in the structure of our political economy. And yet this revolutionary shift of power, control, and wealth has remained all but unrecognized and unstudied … Since the 1990s, large companies have increasingly relied on temporary help to do work that formerly was performed by permanent salaried employees. These arrangements enable firms to hire and fire workers with far greater flexibility and free them from having to provide traditional benefits like unemployment insurance, health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacations. The workers themselves go by many different names: temps, contingent workers, contractors, freelancers. But while some fit the traditional sense of what it means to be an entrepreneur or independent business owner, many, if not most, do not-precisely because they remain entirely dependent on a single power for their employment.

Dedication & devotion are important traits. Are you willing to do everything you can to go the last mile? “Lyft published a blog post praising a driver who kept picking up fares even after she went into labor and was driving to the hospital to give birth.”

Then again, the health industry is a great driver of consumption:

About 1.8 million workers were out of the labor force for “other” reasons at the beginning of this year, meaning they were not retired, in school, disabled or taking care of a loved one, according to Atlanta Federal Reserve data. Of those people, nearly half — roughly 881,000 workers — said in a survey that they had taken an opioid the day before, according to a study published last year by former White House economist Alan Krueger.”

Creating fake cancer patients is a practical way to make sales.

That is until they stop some of the scams & view those people as no longer worth the economic cost. Those people are only dying off at a rate of about 90 people a day. Long commutes are associated with depression. And enough people are taking anti-depressants that it shows up elsewhere in the food chain.

Rehabilitation is hard work:

After a few years of buildup, Obamacare kicked the scams into high gear. …. With exchange plans largely locked into paying for medically required tests, patients (and their urine) became gold mines. Some labs started offering kickbacks to treatment centers, who in turn began splitting the profits with halfway houses that would tempt clients with free rent and other services. … Street-level patient brokers and phone room lead generators stepped up to fill the beds with strategies across the ethical spectrum, including signing addicts up for Obamacare and paying their premiums.

Google made a lot of money from that scam until it got negative PR coverage.

The story says Wall Street is *unhappy* at the too low $475,000 price tag for this medicine. https://t.co/Fw4RXok2V1— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) September 4, 2017

At the company, we’re family. Once you are done washing the dishes, you can live in the garage. Just make sure you juice!

When platform monopolies dictate the roll-out of technology, there is less and less innovation, fewer places to invest, less to invent. Eventually, the rhetoric of innovation turns into DISRUPT, a quickly canceled show on MSNBC, and Juicero, a Google-backed punchline.

This moment of stagnating innovation and productivity is happening because Silicon Valley has turned its back on its most important political friend: antitrust. Instead, it’s embraced what it should understand as the enemy of innovation: monopoly.

And the snowflake narrative not only relies on the “off the books” marginalized freelance employees to maintain lush benefits for the core employees, but those core employees can easily end up thrown under the bus because accusation is guilt. Uniformity of political ideology is the zenith of a just world.

Some marketing/framing savvy pple figured out that the most effective way to build a fascist movement is to call it:antifascist.— NassimNicholasTaleb (@nntaleb) August 31, 2017

Celebrate diversity in all aspects of life – except thoughtTM.

Identity politics 2.0 wars come to Google. Oh no. But mass spying is fine since its equal opportunity predation.https://t.co/BArOsWb1ho— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) August 6, 2017

Free speech is now considered violence. Free speech has real cost. So if you disagree with someone, “people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face” – former Google diversity expert Yonatan Zunger.

Anything but the facts!

Mob rule – with a splash of violence – for the win.

Social justice is the antithesis of justice.

It is the aspie guy getting fired for not understanding the full gender “spectrum.”

Google exploits the mental abilities of its aspie workers but lets them burn at the stake when its disability, too much honesty, manifests. pic.twitter.com/Sd1A0KJvc0— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) August 15, 2017

It is the repression of truth: “Truth equals virtue equals happiness. You cannot solve serious social problems by telling lies or punishing people who tell truth.”

Most meetings at Google are recorded. Anyone at Google can watch it. We’re trying to be really open about everything…except for this. They don’t want any paper trail for any of these things. They were telling us about a lot of these potentially illegal practices that they’ve been doing to try to increase diversity. Basically treating people differently based on what their race or gender are. – James Damore

The recursive feedback loops & reactionary filtering are so bad that some sites promoting socialism are now being dragged to the Google gulag.

In a set of guidelines issued to Google evaluators in March, elaborated in April by Google VP of Engineering Ben Gomes, the company instructed its search evaluators to flag pages returning’conspiracy theories’ or’upsetting’ content unless’the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.’ The changes to the search rankings of WSWS content are consistent with such a mechanism. Users of Google will be able to find the WSWS if they specifically include’World Socialist Web Site’ in their search request. But if their inquiry simply includes term such as’Trotsky,”Trotskyism,”Marxism,”socialism’ or’inequality,’ they will not find the site.

Every website which has a following & challenges power is considered “fake news” or “conspiracy theory” until many years later, when many of the prior “nutjob conspiracies” turn out to be accurate representations of reality.

Under its new so-called anti-fake-news program, Google algorithms have in the past few months moved socialist, anti-war, and progressive websites from previously prominent positions in Google searches to positions up to 50 search result pages from the first page, essentially removing them from the search results any searcher will see. Counterpunch, World Socialsit Website, Democracy Now, American Civil liberties Union, Wikileaks are just a few of the websites which have experienced severe reductions in their returns from Google searches.

In the meantime townhall meetings celebrating diversity will be canceled & differentiated voices will be marginalized to protect the mob from themselves.

What does the above say about tech monopolies wanting to alter the structure of society when their internal ideals are based on fundamental lies? They can’t hold an internal meeting addressing sacred cows because “ultimately the loudest voices on the fringes drive the perception and reaction” but why not let them distribute swarms of animals with bacteria & see what happens? Let’s make Earth a beta.

FANG

The more I study the macro picture the more concerned I get about the long term ramifications of a financially ever more divergent society. pic.twitter.com/KoY60fAfe2— Sven Henrich (@NorthmanTrader) August 9, 2017

Monopoly platforms are only growing more dominant by the day.

Over the past three decades, the U.S. government has permitted corporate giants to take over an ever-increasing share of the economy. Monopoly-the ultimate enemy of free-market competition-now pervades every corner of American life … Economic power, in fact, is more concentrated than ever: According to a study published earlier this year, half of all publicly traded companies have disappeared over the past four decades.

And you don’t have to subscribe to deep state conspiracy theory in order to see the impacts.

Nike selling on Amazon=media cos selling to Netflix=news orgs publishing straight to Facebook. https://t.co/3hpVIsymXD— Miriam Gottfried (@miriamgottfried) June 28, 2017

The revenue, value & profit transfer is overt:

It is no coincidence that from 2012 to 2016, Amazon, Google and Facebook’s revenues increased by $137 billion and the remaining Fortune 497 revenues contracted by $97 billion.

Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook … are all aggressively investing in video content as bandwidth is getting cheaper & they need differentiated content to drive subscription revenues. If the big players are bidding competitively to have differentiated video content that puts a bid under some premium content, but for ad-supported content the relatively high CPMs on video content might fall sharply in the years to come.

From a partner perspective, if you only get a percent of revenue that transfers all the risk onto you, how is the new Facebook video feature going to be any better than being a YouTube partner? As video becomes more widespread, won’t that lower CPMs?

No need to guess:

One publisher said its Facebook-monetized videos had an average CPM of 15 cents. A second publisher, which calculated ad rates based on video views that lasted long enough to reach the ad break, said the average CPM for its mid-rolls is 75 cents. A third publisher made roughly $500 from more than 20 million total video views on that page in September.

That’s how monopolies work. Whatever is hot at the moment gets pitched as the future, but underneath the hood all compliments get commoditized:

as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation’s income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.

The future of the web is closed, proprietary silos that mirror what existed before the web:

If in five years I’m just watching NFL-endorsed ESPN clips through a syndication deal with a messaging app, and Vice is just an age-skewed Viacom with better audience data, and I’m looking up the same trivia on Genius instead of Wikipedia, and’publications’ are just content agencies that solve temporary optimization issues for much larger platforms, what will have been point of the last twenty years of creating things for the web?

They’ve all won their respective markets & are now converging:

We’ve been in the celebration phase all year as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Facebook take their place in the pantheon of classic American monopolists. These firms and a few others, it is now widely acknowledged, dominate everything. There is no day-part in which they do not dominate the battle for consumers’ attention. There is no business safe from their ambitions. There are no industries in which their influence and encroachment are not currently being felt.

The web shifts information-based value chains to universal distribution at zero marginal cost, which shifts most of the value extraction to the attention merchants.

The raw feed stock for these centralized platforms isn’t particularly profitable:

despite a user base near the size of Instagram’s, Tumblr never quite figured out how to make money at the level Facebook has led managers and shareholders to expect … running a platform for culture creation is, increasingly, a charity operation undertaken by larger companies. Servers are expensive, and advertisers would rather just throw money at Facebook than take a chance

Those resting in the shadows of the giants will keep getting crushed: “They let big tech crawl, parse, and resell their IP, catalyzing an extraordinary transfer in wealth from the creators to the platforms.”

The. Problem. Everywhere. Is. Unaccountable. Monopoly. Power. That. Is. Why. Voters. Everywhere. Are. Angry.— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) September 24, 2017

They’ll take the influence & margins, but not the responsibility normally associated with such a position:

“Facebook has embraced the healthy gross margins and influence of a media firm but is allergic to the responsibilities of a media firm,” Mr. Galloway says. … For Facebook, a company with more than $14 billion in free cash flow in the past year, to say it is adding 250 people to its safety and security efforts is’pissing in the ocean,’ Mr. Galloway says.’They could add 25,000 people, spend $1 billion on AI technologies to help those 25,000 employees sort, filter and ID questionable content and advertisers, and their cash flow would decline 10% to 20%.’

It’s why there’s a management shake up at Pandora, Soundcloud laid off 40% of their staff & Vimeo canceled their subscription service before it was even launched.

Deregulation, as commonly understood, is actually just moving regulatory authority from democratic institutions to private ones.— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) September 23, 2017

With the winners of the web determined, it’s time to start locking down the ecosystem with DRM:

Practically speaking, bypassing DRM isn’t hard (Google’s version of DRM was broken for six years before anyone noticed), but that doesn’t matter. Even low-quality DRM gets the copyright owner the extremely profitable right to stop their customers and competitors from using their products except in the ways that the rightsholder specifies. … for a browser to support EME, it must also license a “Content Decryption Module” (CDM). Without a CDM, video just doesn’t work. All the big incumbents advocating for DRM have licenses for CDMs, but new entrants to the market will struggle to get these CDMs, and in order to get them, they have to make promises to restrict otherwise legal activities … We’re dismayed to see the W3C literally overrule the concerns of its public interest members, security experts, accessibility members and innovative startup members, putting the institution’s thumb on the scales for the large incumbents that dominate the web, ensuring that dominance lasts forever.

After years of loosey goosey privacy violations by the tech monopoly players, draconian privacy laws will block new competitors:

More significantly, the GDPR extends the concept of’personal data’ to bring it into line with the online world. The regulation stipulates, for example, that an online identifier, such as a device’s IP address, can now be personal data. So next year, a wide range of identifiers that had hitherto lain outside the law will be regarded as personal data, reflecting changes in technology and the way organisations collect information about people. … Facebook and Google should be OK, because they claim to have the’consent’ of their users. But the data-broking crowd do not have that consent.

GDRP is less than 8 months away.

If you can’t get the fat thumb accidental mobile ad clicks then you need to convert formerly free services to a paid version or sell video ads. Yahoo! shut down most their verticals, was acquired by Verizon, and is now part of Oath. Oath’s strategy is so sound Katie Couric left:

Oath’s video unit, however, had begun doubling down on the type of highly shareable,’snackable’ bites that people gobble up on their smartphones and Facebook feeds. … . What frustrates her like nothing else, two people close to Couric told me, is when she encounters fans and they ask her what she’s up to these days.

When content is atomized into the smallest bits & recycling is encouraged only the central network operators without editorial content costs win.

Even Reddit is pushing crappy autoplay videos for the sake of ads. There’s no chance of it working for them, but they’ll still try, as Google & Facebook have enviable market caps.

Mic laid off journalists and is pivoting to video.

It doesn’t work, but why not try.

The TV networks which focused on the sort of junk short-form video content that is failing online are also seeing low ratings.

Probably just a coincidence.

Some of the “innovative” upstart web publishers are recycling TV ads as video content to run pre-roll ads on. An ad inside an ad.

Some suggest the repackaging and reposting of ads highlights the’pivot to video’ mentality many publishers now demonstrate. The push to churn out video content to feed platforms and to attract potentially lucrative video advertising is increasingly viewed as a potential solution to an increasingly challenging business model problem.

Publishers might also get paid a commission on any sales they help drive by including affiliate links alongside the videos. If these links drive users to purchase the products, then the publisher gets a cut.

Is there any chance recycling low quality infomercial styled ads as placeholder auto-play video content to run prerolls on is a sustainable business practice?

If that counts as strategic thinking in online publishing, count me as a short.

For years whenever the Adobe Flash plugin for Firefox had a security update users who hit the page got a negative option install of Google Chrome as their default web browser. And Google constantly markets Chrome across their properties:

Google is aggressively using its monopoly position in Internet services such as Google Mail, Google Calendar and YouTube to advertise Chrome. Browsers are a mature product and its hard to compete in a mature market if your main competitor has access to billions of dollars worth of free marketing.

It only takes a single yes on any of those billions of ad impressions (or an accidental opt in on the negative option bundling with security updates) for the default web browser to change permanently.

There’s no way Mozilla can compete with Google on economics trying to buy back an audience.

Mozilla is willing to buy influence, too – particularly in mobile, where it’s so weak. One option is paying partners to distribute Firefox on their phones.’We’re going to have to put money toward it,’ Dixon says, but she expects it’ll pay off when Mozilla can share revenue from the resulting search traffic.

They have no chance of winning when they focus on wedge issues like fake news. Much like their mobile operating system, it is a distraction. And the core economics of paying for distribution won’t work either. How can Mozilla get a slice of an advertiser’s ad budget through Yahoo through Bing & compete against Google’s bid?

Google is willing to enter uneconomic deals to keep their monopoly power. Look no further than the $1 billion investment they made in AOL which they quickly wrote down by $726 million.

Google pays Apple $3 billion PER YEAR to be the default search provider in Safari. Verizon acquired Yahoo! for $4.48 billion. There’s no chance of Yahoo! outbidding Google for default Safari search placement & if Apple liked the idea they would have bought Yahoo!. It is hard to want to take a big risk & spend billions on something that might not back out when you get paid billions to not take any risk.

Even Microsoft would be taking a big risk in making a competitive bid for the Apple search placement. Microsoft recently disclosed “Search advertising revenue increased $124 million or 8%.” If $124 million is 8% then their quarterly search ad revenue is $1.674 billion. To outbid Google they would have to bid over half their total search revenues.

Regulatory Capture

“I have a foreboding of an America in which my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of america is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.” – Carl Sagan, The Demon-haunted World, 1996

Fascinating. Obama felt he had zero authority even while President except to ask nicely. Zero will to govern. https://t.co/935OaRpV2X— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) September 25, 2017

The monopoly platforms have remained unscathed by government regulatory efforts in the U.S. Google got so good at lobbying they made Goldman Sachs look like amateurs. It never hurts to place your lawyers in the body that (should) regulate you: “Wright left the FTC in August 2015, returning to George Mason. Just five months later, he had a new position as’of counsel’ at Wilson Sonsini, Google’s primary outside law firm.”

…the 3rd former FTC commissioner in a row to join a firm that represents Google https://t.co/Zu92c5nILh— Luther Lowe (@lutherlowe) September 6, 2017

Remember how Google engineers repeatedly announced how people who bought or sold links without clear machine & human readable disclosure are scum? One way to take .edu link building to the next level is to sponsor academic research without disclosure:

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found. … Google officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers that included working titles, abstracts and budgets for each proposed paper-then they searched for willing authors, according to a former employee and a former Google lobbyist. … Mr. Sokol, though, had extensive financial ties to Google, according to his emails obtained by the Journal. He was a part-time attorney at the Silicon Valley law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which has Google as a client. The 2016 paper’s co-author was also a partner at the law firm, which didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As bad as that is, Google has non profit think tanks fire ENTIRE TEAMS if they suggest regulatory action against Google is just:

“We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points,’ Ms. Slaughter wrote in an email to Mr. Lynn, urging him to’just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others.’

“What happened has little to do with New America, and everything to do with Google and monopoly power. One reason that American governance is dysfunctional is because of the capture of much academic and NGO infrastructure by power. That this happened obviously and clumsily at one think tank is not the point. The point is that this is a *system* of power. I have deep respect for the scholars at New America and the work done there. The point here is how *Google* and monopolies operate. I’ll make one other political point about monopoly power. Democracies all over the world are seeing an upsurge in anger. Why? Scholars have tended to look at political differences, like does a different social safety net have an impact on populism. But it makes more sense to understand what countries have in common. Multi-nationals stretch over… multiple nations. So if you think, we do, that corporations are part of our political system, then populism everywhere monopolies operate isn’t a surprise. Because these are the same monopolies. Google is part of the American political system, and the European one, and so on and so forth.” – Matt Stoller

Any dissent of Google is verboten:

in recent years, Google has become greedy about owning not just search capacities, video and maps, but also the shape of public discourse. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Google has recruited and cultivated law professors who support its views. And as the New York Times recently reported, it has become invested in building curriculum for our public schools, and has created political strategy to get schools to adopt its products. This year, Google is on track to spend more money than any company in America on lobbying.

“I just got off the phone with Eric Schmidt and he is pulling all of his money.” – Anne-Marie Slaughter

They not only directly control the think tanks, but also state who & what the think tanks may fund:

Google’s director of policy communications, Bob Boorstin, emailed the Rose Foundation (a major funder of Consumer Watchdog) complaining about Consumer Watchdog and asking the charity to consider “whether there might be better groups in which to place your trust and resources.”

They can also, you know, blackball your media organization or outright penalize you. The more aggressive you are with monetization the more leverage they have to arbitrarily hit you if you don’t play ball.

Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google’s monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished. I was working for Forbes at the time, and was new to my job.

Google never challenged the accuracy of the reporting. Instead, a Google spokesperson told me that I needed to unpublish the story because the meeting had been confidential, and the information discussed there had been subject to a non-disclosure agreement between Google and Forbes. (I had signed no such agreement, hadn’t been told the meeting was confidential, and had identified myself as a journalist.)

Sometimes the threat is explicit:

“You’re already asking very difficult questions to Mr. Juncker,’ the YouTube employee said before Birbes’ interview in an exchange she captured on video.’You’re talking about corporate lobbies. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of YouTube and the European Commission… Well, except if you don’t care about having a long career on YouTube.’

Concentrated source of power manipulates the media. Not new, rather typical. Which is precisely why monopolies should be broken up once they have a track record of abusing the public trust:

As more and more of the economy become sown up by monopolistic corporations, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for entrepreneurship. … By design, the private business corporation is geared to pursue its own interests. It’s our job as citizens to structure a political economy that keeps corporations small enough to ensure that their actions never threaten the people’s sovereignty over our nation.

How much control can one entity get before it becomes excessive?

Google controls upwards of 80 percent of global search-and the capital to either acquire or crush any newcomers. They are bringing us a hardly gilded age of prosperity but depressed competition, economic stagnation, and, increasingly, a chilling desire to control the national conversation.

Google thinks their business is too complex to exist in a single organization. They restructured to minimize their legal risks:

The switch is partly related to Google’s transformation from a listed public company into a business owned by a holding company. The change helps keep potential challenges in one business from spreading to another, according to Dana Hobart, a litigator with the Buchalter law firm in Los Angeles.

Isn’t that an admission they should be broken up?

Early Xoogler Doug Edwards wrote: “[Larry Page] wondered how Google could become like a better version of the RIAA – not just a mediator of digital music licensing – but a marketplace for fair distribution of all forms of digitized content.”

A better version of the RIAA as a north star sure seems like an accurate analogy:

In an explosive new allegation, a renowned architect has accused Google of racketeering, saying in a lawsuit the company has a pattern of stealing trade secrets from people it first invites to collaborate. …’It’s cheaper to steal than to develop your own technology,’ Buether said.’You can take it from somebody else and you have a virtually unlimited budget to fight these things in court.’ …’It’s even worse than just using the proprietary information – they actually then claim ownership through patent applications,’ Buether said.

The following slide expresses Google’s views on premium content

No surprise the Content Creators Coalition called for Congressional Investigation into Google’s Distortion of Public Policy Debates:

Google’s efforts to monopolize civil society in support of the company’s balance-sheet-driven agenda is as dangerous as it is wrong. For years, we have watched as Google used its monopoly powers to hurt artists and music creators while profiting off stolen content. For years, we have warned about Google’s actions that stifle the views of anyone who disagrees with its business practices, while claiming to champion free speech.

In a world where monopolies are built with mission statements like’to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ it makes sense to seal court documents, bury regulatory findings, or else the slogan doesn’t fit as the consumer harm was obvious.

“The 160-page critique, which was supposed to remain private but was inadvertently disclosed in an open-records request, concluded that Google’s ‘conduct has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers.’ ” But Google was never penalized, because the political appointees overrode the staff recommendation, an action rarely taken by the FTC. The Journal pointed out that Google, whose executives donated more money to the Obama campaign than any company, had held scores of meetings at the White House between the time the staff filed its report and the ultimate decision to drop the enforcement action.

Some scrappy (& perhaps masochistic players) have been fighting the monopoly game for over a decade:

June 2006: Foundem’s Google search penalty begins. Foundem starts an arduous campaign to have the penalty lifted.
September 2007: Foundem is’whitelisted’ for AdWords (i.e. Google manually grants Foundem immunity from its AdWords penalty).
December 2009: Foundem is’whitelisted’ for Google natural search (i.e. Google manually grants Foundem immunity from its search penalty)

For many years Google has “manipulated search results to favor its own comparison-shopping service. … Google both demotes competitors’ offerings in search rankings and artificially inserts its own service in a box above all other search results, regardless of their relevance.”

After losing for over a decade, on the 27th of June a win was finally delivered when the European Commission issued a manual action to negate the spam, when they fined Google €2.42 billion for abusing dominance as search engine by giving illegal advantage to own comparison shopping service.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.” – Margrethe Vestager

That fine looks to be the first of multiple record-breaking fines as “Sources expect the Android fine to be substantially higher than the shopping penalty.”

That fine was well deserved:

Quoting internal Google documents and emails, the report shows that the company created a list of rival comparison shopping sites that it would artificially lower in the general search results, even though tests showed that Google users’liked the quality of the [rival] sites’ and gave negative feedback on the proposed changes. Google reworked its search algorithm at least four times, the documents show, and altered its established rating criteria before the proposed changes received’slightly positive’ user feedback. … Google’s displayed prices for everyday products, such as watches, anti-wrinkle cream and wireless routers, were roughly 50 percent higher – sometimes more – than those on rival sites. A subsequent study by a consumer protection group found similar results. A study by the Financial Times also documented the higher prices.

Nonetheless, Google is appealing it. The ease with which Google quickly crafted a response was telling.

The competitors who were slaughtered by monopolistic bundling won’t recover‘The damage has been done. The industry is on its knees, and this is not going to put it back,’ said Mr. Stables, who has decided to participate in Google’s new auctions despite misgivings.’I'm sort of shocked that they’ve come out with this,’ he added.

Google claims they’ll be running their EU shopping ads as a separate company with positive profit margins & that advertisers won’t be bidding against themselves if they are on multiple platforms. Anyone who believes that stuff hasn’t dropped a few thousand dollars on a Flash-only website after AdWords turned on Enhanced campaigns against their wishes – charging the advertisers dollars per click to send users to a blank page which would not load.

Hell may freeze over, causing the FTC to look into Google’s Android bundling similarly to how Microsoft’s OS bundling was looked at.

If hell doesn’t freeze over, it is likely because Google further ramped up their lobbying efforts, donating to political organizations they claim to be ideologically opposed to.

“Monopolists can improve their products to better serve their customers just like any other market participant” <– FTC Chair just said this— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) September 12, 2017

The Fight Against Rising (& Declining) Nationalism

As a global corporation above & beyond borders, Google has long been against nationalism. Eric Schmidt’s Hillary Clinton once wrote: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”

Apparently Google flacks did not get that memo (or they got the new memo about Eric Schmidt’s Donald Trump), because they were quick to denounce the European Commission’s move as anti-American:

We are writing to express our deep concerns about the European Union’s aggressive and heavy-handed antitrust enforcement action against American companies. It has become increasingly clear that, rather than being grounded in a transparent legal framework, these various investigations and complaints are being driven by politics and protectionist policies that harm open-competition practices, consumers, and unfairly target American companies,.

The above nonsense was in spite of Yelp carrying a heavy load.

The lion’s share of work on EU case was advanced by US companies who had to go to Europe after a politically captured FTC failed them. 6/x— Luther Lowe (@lutherlowe) June 26, 2017

Yelp celebrated the victory: “Google has been found guilty of engaging in illegal conduct with the aim of promoting its vertical search services. Although the decision addresses comparison shopping services, the European Commission has also recognized that the same illegal behavior applies to other verticals, including local search.”

It’s not a’grudge.’ Extractive platforms competing with their ecosystem is the Achilles heel of the entire economy https://t.co/uLKSLC6vQy— Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) July 2, 2017

The EU is also looking for an expert to monitor Google’s algorithm. It certainly isn’t hard to find areas where the home team wins.

Wait until the EU realizes #Google issue much bigger than paid listings; domains(.)google ranks ahead of #GoDaddy pic.twitter.com/nKLrzKNUAc— The Domains (@thedomains) June 27, 2017

Categories: 
 

Who works in America’s newsrooms?

10 Oct

Over the course of two decades, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has compiled a national view of gender and race breakdowns of U.S. journalists. The newly released 2017 data helps us understand who is working in America’s newsrooms, and provides a unique insight into how the industry reflects—or struggles to reflect—the population it serves.

The Google News Lab supports inclusive reporting, and for the first time, has partnered with ASNE on their annual Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey. Working with design studio Polygraph, we helped ASNE create a data visualization to show how hundreds of newsrooms across the U.S. have changed since 2001.

Here’s a glimpse at how it works:

  • xx
    Here’s an overview of the tool, with data from hundreds of newsrooms across the U.S.
  • pasted image 0 (2).png
    By comparing newsroom diversity counts to census data, this visual shows how each newsroom compares to its local area in terms of race and gender—or for national publications, the country as a whole.
  • pasted image 0 (3).png
    It also illustrates the relationship between diversity in a newsrooms’ leadership and diversity in its staff.
  • pasted image 0 (4).png
    And shows how newsrooms have changed in the last 16 years.

Check out our graphics, or download the data from our GitHub page to explore for yourself. We want to see what you can do with the data—by visualizing it yourself or adding further context to the numbers—so contact us at newslabtrends@google.com.

We hope this year’s reimagined data will advance the conversation on newsroom diversity and tell a story that’s broader than just the numbers.

 

Virtual Real Estate

09 Oct

Wrastlin With The News

The current presidential cabinet includes a WWE co-founder & this passes for modern political discourse:

#FraudNewsCNN #FNN pic.twitter.com/WYUnHjjUjg— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017

CNN promised vengeance.

Something To Believe In

The pretense of objectivity has been dropped:

These reporters aren’t ideologues. They’re just right-thinking people who lean left. Somewhere along the line, they stopped pretending to be objective about Trump. … People don’t just disagree with each other. They can’t imagine how a decent caring human being could disagree with their own view of race or the minimum wage or immigration or Trump. Being a member of the virtuous tribe means not only carrying the correct card in your wallet to reassure yourself. You have to also believe that the people carrying any other card are irrational, or worse, evil. They’re not people to engage in conversation with. They are barriers to be ignored or pushed aside on the virtuous path to paradise. This intolerance and inability to imagine the virtue of the other side is the road to tyranny and chaos. It dehumanizes a good chunk of humanity and that in turn justifies the worst atrocities human beings are capable of.

The WSJ, typically a right-leaning publication, is differentiating their coverage of the president from most other outlets by attempting to be somewhat neutral.

The news is fake. Even historically left-leaning people are disgusted with outlets like CNN.

  • “I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch-hunting me. You have no smoking gun, you have no real proof.” – CNN supervising producer John Bonifield
  • “When you do shitty reporting like CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times & Rachel Maddow especially. When you do that & it is revealed to be bullshit, what you’re doing is building up Trump. There’s no greater way to build up Trump than to falsely report on him. There’s no better way to build up Trump than to make him the victim.” – Jimmy Dore
  • “Rachel Maddow was given the facts, she ignored them, & she kept right on going. That’s MSNBC, that’s CNN, that’s the New York Times, the Washington Post – they’re all horrible. That’s why we had the Iraq war. That’s why we have the Syria war. That’s why we are still in Afghanistan. That’s why we had Libya. That’s why we have the biggest income disparity since the gilded age. Meanwhile we are spending more on the military than the rest of the world.” – Jimmy Dore

And, since people need something to believe in, there are new American Gods:

“A half hour of cable news delivers enough psychic trauma for a whole year. The newspapers are talking of nothing but treason, espionage, investigations, protests.” … “Stocks are rallying because of how little faith we have in the government. The Mega Blue Chip Corporation is the new Sovereign.”

Current Headwinds for Online Publishing

I struggle to keep up with the accelerating rate of change. A number of common themes in the current ecosystem are:

  • We are moving toward a world where more things are becoming fake (only accelerated by the demonetization of neutrality & the algorithmic boost associated with reliably delivering confirmation bias in an algorithmic or manual fashion)
  • risk keeps being radiated outward to the individual while monopoly platforms capture the spoils (forced-place health insurance purchases where the insurance company arbitrarily drops the sick member on the policy even though that is supposed to be illegal, more temp jobs where people don’t get enough hours to get health insurance through their employer, under-funded pensions, outsourcing of core business functions to sweatshops where part-time workers don’t get paid for dozens to hundreds of hours of required training & get to watch beheading videos all day)
  • the barrier to entry keeps increasing (increased marketing cost due to brand bias, heavy ad loads on dominant platforms, & central platforms making partners do “bet the farm” moves in how they adjust distribution to drive adoption of proprietary formats & temporarily over-promote select content formats)
  • the increasing chunk size of competition is making it much harder for individuals to build sustainable businesses. (Yes the tools of the trade are improving quickly, BUT the central platforms are demonetizing the adjacent fields faster than publishing tools & business options improve.)
  • In Europe publishers are aggressively leaning on regulators to try to rebalance power.

Some of this stuff is cyclical. About a decade ago the European Commission went after Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer. Google complained about the monopolistic practices to ensure Microsoft was fined. And we’ve went from that to a web where Google syndicates native ads that blend into page content while directly funding robot journalism. And then Google is ranking the robot-generated crap too.

Speaking of robot journalists, check out the top 3 results for this query. All 3 are auto-written by automated insights (AI software). Yikes pic.twitter.com/ltFGFXHNiF— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) July 8, 2017

But to keep the ecosystem clean & spam free, Google is also planning to leverage their web browser to further dictate the terms of online publishing. Chrome will block autoplay audio & will automatically reroute .dev domains to https. Cutting edge developers suggest using a web browser other than Google Chrome to prevent proprietary lock in across the web.

Is this a test, @Google? pic.twitter.com/V9FZ2hL2cA— TNW (@TheNextWeb) September 5, 2017

While Google distributes their Chrome browser as unwanted bundleware, other web browsers must display uninstall links front & center when trying to gain awareness of their product using Google AdWords. Microsoft Edge is coming to Android, but without a BrowserChoice.eu screen it is unlikely most users will change their web browser as most are unaware of what a web browser even is, let alone the limitations of any of them or the tracking embedded in them.

If you go back several years, there was celebration of the fact that the cost of doing a startup was so low. You didn’t have to pay Oracle a million dollars for a server license any more. You didn’t even have to rack your own hardware. Now you can just dial it up on Amazon. But there are now these gatekeepers and toll-takers. Back in 2004, you had the wide-open internet. – Jeremy Stoppelman

The Mobile Revolution

If you are an anti-social work at home webmaster who has dual monitors it is easy to dismiss cell phones as inefficient and chalk most mobile usage up to the following.

Russian man visited Chinese click farm.They make fake ratings for mobile apps and things like this.He said they have 10,000 more phones pic.twitter.com/qE96vgCCsi— English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) May 11, 2017

The reality is cell phones are more powerful than they seem if you are strictly consuming rather than working.

Deflationary impact of technology: everything in this Radio Shack flyer from 1991 adds up to $3,285.12 and can be done today on a smartphone pic.twitter.com/ONh3waWVgq— Jeffrey Kleintop (@JeffreyKleintop) June 23, 2017

And that is how the unstoppable quickly becomes the extinct!

10 years ago. pic.twitter.com/ZCWfHfpedi— Harry Tucker (@harrytuckerr) September 11, 2017

Many people the world over are addicted to their cell phones to where viral game makers are self-regulating before regulators step in: “From Tuesday, users below 12 years of age will be limited to one hour of play time each day, while those aged between 12 years and 18 years will be limited to two hours a day, Tencent said.”

While China is using their various tools to clamp down on Honour of Kings, Tencent is bringing the game to the west, which makes blocking VPN services (with Apple’s helpthey must play along or have the phones reduced to bricks) & requiring local data storage & technology transfer more important. Anything stored locally can be easily disappeared: “China’s already formidable internet censors have demonstrated a new strength-the ability to delete images in one-on-one chats as they are being transmitted, making them disappear before receivers see them.”

China has banned live streaming, threatened their largest domestic social networks, shut down chat bots, require extensive multimedia review: “an industry association circulated new regulations that at least two “auditors” will, with immediate effect, be required to check all audiovisual content posted online” AND they force users to install spyware on their devices.

In spite of all those restrictions, last year “Chinese consumers spent $5.5 trillion through mobile payment platforms, about 50 times more than their American counterparts.” In the last quarter Baidu had Â¥20.87 billion in revenues, with 72% of their revenues driven by mobile.

People can not miss that which they’ve never seen, thus platform socialism works. Those who doubt it will be tracked & scored accordingly.

History, as well, can be scrubbed. And insurance companies watch everything in real-time – careful what you post. The watchful eye of the Chinese pre-crime team is also looking over every move.

Last quarter Facebook had revenues of $9.164 billion, with 87% coming from mobile devices.

pic.twitter.com/JlPBSlmKlw— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) September 16, 2017

Simulacrum has ALMOST been perfected:

“We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.” … “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” … “Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”

pic.twitter.com/QBLBXIDDLK— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) August 24, 2017

The web is becoming easier to get addicted to due to personalization algorithms that reinforce our worldviews even as they make us feel more isolated and left out. And the barrier to entry for consumers into one of the few central gatekeeper ecosystems is dropping like a rock due to the falling cost of mobile devices, coupled with with images & video displacing text making literacy optional. As we become more “connected” we feel more isolated:

“Social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity. … No one knows precisely why loneliness is surging, threatening the lives of many millions of people, but it does seem that the burgeoning use of technology may have something to do with it. Personally, I would contend that technology may be the chief factor fueling it.”

The primary role of the big data mining companies is leveraging surveillance for social engineering

Unsettling that according to Mark Zuckerberg purpose of Facebook is forced social engineering. From “World Without Mind” by Franklin Foer: pic.twitter.com/CHRnefg9m2— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) October 8, 2017

App Annie expects the global app economy to be worth $6.3 trillion by 2021.

The reason those numbers can easily sound fake & mobile can seem overblown is how highly concentrated usage has become: “over 80 percent of consumer time on mobile devices is now spent on the apps, websites and properties” of just five companies: Facebook, Google, Apple, Yelp and Bing.

Maslow 2.0 pic.twitter.com/X1OguQG8Gq— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) October 7, 2017

eMarketer stated Google will have more mobile ad revenue than desktop ad revenue in the US this year. They also predicted Google & Facebook will consume over 2/3 of US online ad spend within 2 years.

The central network operators not only maintain an outsized share of revenues, but also maintain an outsized share of profits. When the home team gets a 30% rake of any sale it is hard for anyone else to compete. Even after buying and gutting Motorola Google bought part of HTC for $1.1 billion. The game plan has never changed: commoditize the compliment to ensure user data & most of the profits flow to Google. Put up arbitrary roadblocks for competing services while launching free parallel offerings to drive lock-in.

For the last YEAR I’ve been battling App Store rejections – we made an app called Animoji with animated emojis…now I know why. https://t.co/jKJXfLMGj2— Ryan Jones (@rjonesy) September 9, 2017

Central data aggregators can keep collecting more user data & offer more granular ad distribution features. They can tell you that this micro moment RIGHT NOW is make or break:

it’s intended to create a bizarre sense of panic among marketers – “OMG, we have to be present at every possible instant someone might be looking at their phone!” – which doesn’t help them think strategically or make the best use of their marketing or ad spend.

The reality is that if you don’t have a relationship with a person on their desktop computer they probably don’t want your mobile app either.

If you have the relationship then mobile only increases profits.

Is iOS 11 specifically designed to make your older iPhones unusable and drain your battery so you have to upgrade to the newest phones?— Eric Jackson (@ericjackson) October 7, 2017

Many people attempting to build “the next mobile” will go bust, but wherever the attention flows the ads will follow.

Those with a broad & dominant tech platform can copy features from single-category devices and keep integrating them into their core products to increase user lock-in. And they can build accessories for those core devices while prohibiting the flow of data to third party devices to keep users locked into their ecosystem.

Smaller Screens, Shallower Attention

People often multi-task while using mobile devices.

Powerful stuff …An very fucking true pic.twitter.com/enP98Z6B7r— Nev (@LFCNev) July 13, 2017

When multi-tasking it is easier to accidentally click an ad. This happens 10s of billions of times a year:

This year, in-app mobile ad spend will reach $45.3 billion, up $11 billion from last year, according to eMarketer. And apps are where the money is at for mobile advertising, comprising 80 percent of all U.S. media dollars spent on mobile.

But multi-tasking means doing almost everything else worse. The “always on” mode not only increases isolation, but also lowers our ability to focus:

“while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. … Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens. … when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline. … As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased. … Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. … people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.”

Further, the shallow attention stream makes it easy to displace content with ads:

4 Ads
3 map carrousel results
5 organic results
4 Ads

Then “see more results”

4 more Ads
5 organic results
4 more Ads

On desktop devices people don’t accidentally misclick on ads at anywhere near the rate they fat thumb ads on mobile devices.

Desktop ad clicks convert to purchases. Mobile ad clicks convert to ad budget burned: “marketers are still seeing few shoppers purchasing on mobile. The 52% of share in traffic only has 26% share of revenue.”

For traditional publishers mobile users drastically under-monetize desktop users due to

  • drastically lower conversion rates (true for almost everyone in ecommerce outside of Amazon perhaps)
  • limited cross-device tracking (how do you track people who don’t even hit your site but hit a cached page hosted via Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles?)
  • lower ad load allowed on publisher sites due to limited screen size
  • aggressive filtering of fat thumb ad clicks on partner sites from central ad networks

For the central network operators almost all the above are precisely the exact opposite.

  • higher ad CTR by making entire interface ads (& perhaps even disappearing the concept of non-ads in the result set)
  • great cross-device user tracking
  • higher ad load allowed by the small screen size pushing content below the fold
  • more lenient filtering of fat thumb accidental ad clicks

If you look at raw stats without understanding the underlying impact, it is easy to believe the ecosystem is healthy.

Assumption: Google’s ads are more prominent, so organic must be dying.Reality: As of Oct. 2016, 20X more organic clicks than paid ones. pic.twitter.com/FaEBpBZWSw— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) July 1, 2017

However the huge number of “no click” results are demonetizing easy publisher revenues, which have traditionally helped to fund more in-depth investigative reporting. Further, much of the direct navigation which happened in the past is now being passed through brand-related search result pages. You can argue that is an increase in search traffic, or you can argue it is shifting the roll of the address bar from navigation to search.

The first page is nothing but ads

Yep, and here they are in Philly. Home service ads, then AdWords traditional ads, then the local pack (way down below). :) pic.twitter.com/VOVZPWWHsg— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) July 17, 2017

On mobile so is the second, and most of the third

Hey, only 2.5 screens before you get to the 10 blue links. A full 4 screens if you cannot crack the top 2 organics. pic.twitter.com/bbm1pz8hyF— Jeremy Bochenek (@J_Bochenek) July 17, 2017

If a search query has lots of easy to structure crap around it, a user might need 6 or 7 scrolls to get to an organic result

Very interesting Google SERP for GoT. One barely visible organic result after >70% scroll depth. Oh my… #seo #GameOfThones pic.twitter.com/Z6j7VvJMI4— Bastian Grimm (@basgr) August 24, 2017

Then if third parties go “well Google does this, so I should too” they are considered a low quality user experience and get a penalty.

Emailed a client one month ago when I picked up ultra-aggressive ads (especially on mobile). They just received an ad experiences warning. pic.twitter.com/QLLZci1xKW— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 25, 2017

31% ad coverage on mobile website is excessive / spam / low quality user experience for a publisher, while 301% coverage is reasonable for the central network operators.

Google not only displaces the result set, but also leverages their search suggestion features & algorithmic influence to alter how people search & what they search for.

Ads are getting integrated into mobile keyboards.

The standard keyboard on the HTC 10 has begun showing ads [X-Post from r/mildlyinfuriating] https://t.co/FuXDJzilZ6 #blog pic.twitter.com/VriK54dBHb— Android Facts (@manatweets) July 16, 2017

And when a user finally reaches the publisher’s website (provided they scroll past the ads, the AMP listings, and all the other scrape-n-displace trash) then when they finally land on a publication Google will overlay other recommended articles from other sites.

Whoa -> While you’re reading a page on the Google app for iOS, you’ll now see suggestions for related content https://t.co/n6FjkNqx82 pic.twitter.com/DZYTt8T7fI— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 19, 2017

That feature will eventually end up including ads in it, where publishers will get 0.00% of the revenue generated.

Remember how Google suggested publishers should make their websites faster, remove ads, remove clutter, etc. What was the point of all that? To create free real estate for Google to insert a spam unit into your website?

Continuing coverage of Google’s new content recos. I’m sure Best Buy is thrilled to see Amazon show up while someone is on their page. Ouch. pic.twitter.com/qpDyGKPyYh— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 24, 2017

This wouldn’t be bad if mobile were a small, fringe slice of traffic, but it is becoming the majority of traffic. And as mobile increases desktop traffic is shrinking.

Even politically biased outlets that appear to be nearly perfectly optimized for a filter bubble that promotes identity politics struggle to make the numbers work: “As a result of continued decline in direct advertising, [Salon's] total revenue in the fiscal year 2017 decreased by 34% to $4.6 million. Following the market trend, 84% of our advertising revenue in fiscal year 2017 was generated by programmatic selling. … [Monthly unique visitors to our website saw] a decrease of 23%. We attribute the decline primarily to the changes in the algorithms used by Facebook.”

I knew the last year was bad for online publishing, but the Salon 10K shows *just how bad* pic.twitter.com/oyH7pdCDNI— josh laurito (@joshlaurito) June 26, 2017

The above sorts of numbers are the logical outcome to this:

we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content”above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.

Especially when combined with this:

As you scroll through it, you are then given travel ads for flight options through Google Flight search, hotels through Google Hotel search and restaurants through Google Local results. Then towards the bottom of the knowledge graph card, all the way at the end in a small grayish font, you have a link to “see web results.”

Bad news for TripAdvisor.

Google has squeezed out SEO for travel. PCLN/EXPE SEM $ spend and higher conversion is a massive competitive advantage. Bad news for TRIP. pic.twitter.com/39QkxuN780— modest proposal (@modestproposal1) April 17, 2017

And amongst the good news for Expedia, there’s also a bit of bad news for Expedia. The hotels are fighting Airbnb & OTAs. In travel Google is twice as big as the biggest OTA players. They keep eating more SERP real estate and adding more content behind tabs. On mobile they’ll even disappear the concept of organic results.

Room previews in the search results not only means that second tier players are worth a song, but even the new growth players propped up by aggressive ad buying eventually hit a wall and see their stock crash.

As the entire ecosystem gets squeezed by middlemen and the market gets obfuscated with an incomplete selection it is ultimately consumers who lose: “Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms.”

The New York Times pitched Yelp as a pesky player holding a grudge:

“For six years, his company has been locked in a campaign on three continents to get antitrust regulators to punish Google, Yelp’s larger, richer and more politically connected competitor. … Yelp concluded that there was no better way to get Google’s attention than to raise the specter of regulation. … something [Mark Mahaney] calls the Death of Free Google. As the internet has migrated to mobile phones, Google has compensated for the smaller screen space by filling it with so many ads that users can have a hard time finding a result that hasn’t been paid for.”

In spite of how quick The New York Times was to dismiss Yelp, the monopoly platforms are stiffing competition & creativity while bundling fake reviews & junk features into their core platforms.

People can literally switch their name to “Loop dee Loop”

and leave you terrible, fake reviews.

Google’s lack of effort & investment to clean up trash in their local services department highlights that they don’t feel they need to compete on quality. Pay for core search distribution, throw an inferior service front & center, and win by default placement.

As AI advancements make fake reviews look more legit Google’s lack of investment in creating a quality ecosystem will increasingly harm both consumers and businesses. Many low margin businesses will go under simply because their Google reviews are full of inaccurate trash or a competitor decided to hijack their business listing or list their business as closed.

To this day Google is still egregiously stealing content from Yelp:

Yelp said it investigated and found that over one hour, Google pulled images from Yelp’s servers nearly 386,000 times for business listings in Google Maps, which Google exempted from its promise to not scrape content. Yelp then searched Google for 150 of the businesses from those map listings and found that for 110 of them, Google used a Yelp photo as the lead image in the businesses’ listings in search results.

Stealing content & wrapping it in fake reviews is NOT putting the user first.

Facebook has their own matching parallel shifts.

The aggregate quality of mobile ad clicks is quite low. So as mobile becomes a much higher percent of total ad clicks, those who don’t have scale and narrative control are reduced to taking whatever they can get. And mainstream media outlets are reduced to writing puff pieces so the brands they cover will pay to promote the stories on the main channels.

As programmatic advertising, ad blockers, unpatched Android-powered botnets & malware spread each day gets a little uglier for everyone but the central market operators. It is so bad that some of the central market operators offer surveillance apps which claim to protect user privacy! Other app makers not connected to monopoly profit streams monetize any way they can.

The narrative of growth can be sold (we are launching a new food channel, we are investing in our internal video team, we have exclusive real estate listings, and, um, we acquired a food channel) but the competition is a zero sum game with Google & Facebook eating off the publisher’s plates.

That’s why Time is trying to shave $400 million off their expenses & wants to sell their magazine division. Newspaper companies are selling for $1. It is also why Business Insider is no longer chasing growth & the New York Times is setting up a charitable trust.

The rise of ad blocking only accelerates the underlying desperation.

I have some thoughts about why news orgs are finding that people won’t read long articles: pic.twitter.com/G8Zh6GTA6w— Ben Chase (@bbchase) July 4, 2017

I feel terrible for journalists who invest time and effort into doing a hard job well only to have it presented like this. pic.twitter.com/jIZxuJqVAq— Jeff Long (@banterability) October 5, 2017

As long as news websites make their own customer experience worse than what can be found as a cached copy on the monopoly platforms there is no reason to visit the end publisher website. That is why the proprietary formats promoted by the monopoly platforms are so dangerous. They force lighter monetization & offset the lack of revenue by given preferential placement:

click through rate from Google search went from 5.9% (Regular) to 10.3% (AMP), and average search position went from 5.9 (Regular) to 1.7 (AMP). Since then, we have deployed AMP across fifteen of our brands and we have been very pleased with the results. Today, AMP accounts for 79% of our mobile search traffic and 36% of our total mobile visits.

As long as almost nobody is using the new proprietary, ghetto lock-in format the math may work out there, but once many people adopt it then it becomes another recurring sunk cost with no actual benefit:

the only voices promoting AMP’s performance benefits are coming from inside Google. … given how AMP pages are privileged in Google’s search results, the net effect of the team’s hard, earnest work comes across as a corporate-backed attempt to rewrite HTML in Google’s image.

Even if you get a slight uptick in traffic from AMP, it will lead to lower quality user engagement as users are browsing across websites rather than within websites. Getting a bit more traffic but 59% fewer leads is a fail.

No amount of collaborative publisher partnerships, begging for anti-trust exemptions, or whining about Google is going to fix the problem.

“The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook-pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data-they could build a more sustainable future for the news business. But antitrust laws make such coordination perilous. These laws, intended to prevent monopolies, are having the unintended effect of preserving and protecting Google and Facebook’s dominant position.”

Wait a minute.

Wasn’t it the New York Times which claimed Yelp was holding an arbitrary grudge against Google?

The following sounds a lot more desperate:

newspapers that once delivered their journalism with their own trucks increasingly have to rely on these big online platforms to get their articles in front of people, fighting for attention alongside fake news, websites that lift their content, and cat videos.

Well maybe that is just smaller publications & not the gray lady herself

“the temperature is rising in terms of concern, and in some cases anger, about what seems like a very asymmetric, disadvantageous relationship between the publishers and the very big digital platforms.” – NYT CEO Mark Thompson

In unrelated news, there’s another round of layoffs coming at the New York Times.

And the New York Times is also setting up a nonprofit division to expand journalism while their core company focuses on something else.

Apparently Yelp does not qualify as a publisher in this instance.

Or does it?

The Times is backing the move for what is called an anticompetitive safe haven, in part, Mr. Thompson said, “because we care about the whole of journalism as well as about The New York Times.”

Ah, whole of journalism, which, apparently, no longer includes local business coverage.

You know the slogan: “news isn’t news, unless it isn’t local.”

The struggles are all across the media landscape. The new Boston Globe CEO lasted a half-year. The San Diego Union-Tribune resorted to using GoFundMe. The Chicago Sun-Times sold for $1. Moody’s issued a negative outlook for the US newspaper sector. As the industry declines the biggest players view consolidation as the only solution.

These struggles existed even before the largest brand advertisers like P&G cut back on low & no value ad venues like YouTube:

In the fourth quarter, the reduction in marketing that occurred was almost all in the digital space. And what it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective: where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings, or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands.

Google & Facebook are extending their grip on the industry with Google launching topical feeds & Facebook wanting to control subscription management.

Best of luck to journalists on the employment front:

The initiative, dubbed Reporters and Data and Robots (RADAR), will see a team of five journalists work with Natural Language Generation software to produce over 30,000 pieces of content for local media each month.

Hopefully editors catch the subtle errors the bots make, because most of them will not be this obvious & stupid.

The Guardian does not seem to know what a 40 is https://t.co/m7Gm1YrbXC pic.twitter.com/Y0sK9r0ltJ— Shuja Haider (@shujaxhaider) July 26, 2017

The cost of parasitic content recycling is coming down quickly:

In a show of strength last year, Microsoft used thousands of these chips at once to translate all of English Wikipedia into Spanish-3 billion words across five million articles-in less than a tenth of a second. Next Microsoft will let its cloud customers use these chips to speed up their own AI tasks.

Voice search makes it even easier to extract the rewards without paying publishers. Throwing pennies at journalists does nothing to change this.

If Google is subsidizing robotic journalism they are thus legitimizing robotic journalism. As big publishers employ the tactic, Google ranks it.

Checking some Heliograf articles (AI-written) reveals once again they do rank well. Google is in a tough position here. It’s inevitable… pic.twitter.com/g0Etcx3rFj— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 16, 2017

It is almost impossible to compete economically with an entity that rewrites your work & has zero marginal cost of production.

YouTube has perhaps the worst comments on the web. Some mainstream news sites got rid of comments because they couldn’t justify the cost of policing them. That in turn shifts the audience & attention stream to sites like Facebook & Twitter. Some news sites which are still leaving comments enabled rely on a Google filter, a technology Google can use on YouTube as they see fit.

Any plugins publishers use to lower their costs can later disappear. It looked like FindTheBest was doing well financially, but when it was acquired many news sites quickly found out the cost of free as they now have thousands of broken articles in their archives: “Last month, Graphiq announced that features for news publishers would no longer be available after Friday.”

Driving costs toward zero by piling on external dependencies is no way to build a sustainable business. Especially when the central network operators are eating the playing field:

“Between fast-loading AMP articles from major news brands hosted in its domain, full pages of information scraped from outside sites that don’t require you to visit them, basic shopping functions built into ads, YouTube, and a host of other features, the Google-verse is more of a digital walled garden than ever. … If Google continues to choke these sites out, what incentive will there be for new ones to come along?”

Unprofitable partners which were buying growth with artificially cheap pricing eventually find out investors want profits more than growth & either reprice or go away. The longer you use something & the more locked in you are to it the more aggressively it can afford to reprice. Symbiotic relationships devolve into abusive ones:

  • “for every pound an advertiser spends programmatically on the Guardian only 30 pence actually goes to the publisher.” – Mediatel
  • “Google wants to cut out the middlemen, which it turns out, are URLs.” – MobileMoxie
  • “[AMP is] a way for Google to obfuscate your website, usurp your content & remove any personal credibility from the web” – TheRegister
  • “Though the stated initiative of ads.txt is to stop inventory resale, it achieves this by establishing ‘preferred’ channels, which naturally favors the industry’s most influential companies” – Ad Exchanger

That Apple does extra work to undo AMP says a lot.

Those who think the central network operators are naive to the power structure being promoted by the faux solutions are either chasing short-term goals or are incredibly masochistic.

Arbitraging brand is the core business model of the attention merchant monopoly.

we’ve found out that 98% of our business was coming from 22 words. So, wait, we’re buying 3,200 words and 98% of the business is coming from 22 words. What are the 22 words? And they said, well, it’s the word Restoration Hardware and the 21 ways to spell it wrong, okay?

Publishers buying the “speed” narrative are failing themselves. The Guardian has 11 people working on AMP integration. And what is Google doing about speed? Google shut down Google Instant search results, often displays a screen or two full of ads which mobile users have to scroll past to find the organic search results AND is testing auto-playing videos in the search results.

Facebook is also promoting fast loading & mobile-friendly pages.

To keep bleeding clicks out of the “organic” ecosystem they don’t even need to have explicit malicious intent. They can run a thousand different tests every month (new vertical sitelink formats, swipable sitelinks, showing 8 sitelinks on tiny mobile devices, MOAR sitelinks, message extensions, extensions on call-only ads, price discount labels, frame 3rd party content inline, dramatically ramp up featured snippets +QnA listings, more related searches, more features in ad units, larger ad units, ad units that replace websites & charge advertisers for sending clicks from Google to Google, launch a meta-search service where they over-promote select listings, test dropping URLs from listings, put ads in the local pack, change color of source links or other elements, pop ups of search results inside search results, etc.) & keep moving toward whatever layout drives more ad clicks, keeps users on Google longer & forces businesses to buy ads for exposure, claiming they are optimizing the user experience the whole time.

They can hard-code any data type or feature, price it at free to de-fund adjacent businesses, consolidate market power, then increase rents after they have a monopoly position in the adjacent market.

And they can fund research on how to remove watermarks from images.

Why not make hosting free, get people to publish into a proprietary format & try to shift news reading onto the Google app. With enough attention & market coverage they can further extort publishers into accepting perpetually worse deals. And free analytics & business plugins which are widely adopted can have key features get pushed into the paid version. Just look at Google Analytics – its free or $150,000+/yr.

The above sorts of moves can be done in isolation, or in a combinatorial approach. Publishers aloof of the ecosystem shifts may use microformats to structure their content. They’ll then find it is integrated in Google’s new image search layout, where Google copies the content wholesale &
shows it near other third party images framed by Google.

How about some visually striking, yet irrelevant listings for competing brands on branded searches to force the brand ad buy. And, of course rounded card corners to eat a few more pixels, along with faint ad labeling on ads coupled with vibrant colored dots on the organic results to confuse end users into thinking the organic results are the ads.

While Google turns their search results into an adspam farm, they invite you to test showing fewer ads on your site to improve user experience. Google knows best – let them automate your ad load & ad placement.

What is the real risk of AI? Bias.

“It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” Giannandrea added. “If someone is trying to sell you a black box system for medical decision support, and you don’t know how it works or what data was used to train it, then I wouldn’t trust it.”

And how does Google justify their AI investments? Through driving incremental ad clicks: “The DeepMind founders understand that their power within [Alphabet], and their ability to get their way with [Alphabet CEO] Larry Page, depends on how many eyeballs and clicks and ad dollars they can claim to be driving”

No bias at all there!

Truth: Google killed publishing in 2015. What you’re reading now is detritus + new junk posted by crazies walking around empty offices— 11 (@searchsleuth998) August 1, 2017

And if publishing was killed in 2015, things have only got worse since then:

Looking at 2015 vs 2017 data for all keywords ranking organically on the first page, we’ve seen a dramatic change in CTR. Below we’ve normalized our actual CTR on a 1–10 scale, representing a total drop of 25% of click share on desktop and 55% on mobile.

SEOs who were overly reliant on the search channel were the first to notice all the above sorts of change, as it is their job to be hyper-aware of ecosystem shifts. But publishers far removed from SEO who never focused on SEO are now writing about the trends SEOs were writing about nearly a decade ago. Josh Marshall recently covered Google’s awesome monopoly powers.

few publishers really want to talk about the depths or mechanics of Google’s role in news publishing. Some of this is secrecy about proprietary information; most of it is that Google could destroy or profoundly damage most publications if it wanted to. So why rock the boat? … Google’s monopoly control is almost comically great. It’s a monopoly at every conceivable turn and consistently uses that market power to deepen its hold and increase its profits. Just the interplay between DoubleClick and Adexchange is textbook anti-competitive practices. … Is your favorite website laying off staff or ‘pivoting to video’. In most cases, the root cause is not entirely but to a significant degree driven by the platform monopolies

His article details how Google owns many points of the supply chain

So let’s go down the list: 1) The system for running ads, 2) the top purchaser of ads, 3) the most pervasive audience data service, 4) all search, 5) our email. … But wait, there’s more! Google also owns Chrome, the most used browser for visiting TPM.

He also covers the price dumping technique that is used to maintain control

In many cases, alternatives don’t exist because no business can get a footing with a product Google lets people use for free.

And he shared an example of Google algorithms gone astray crippling his business, even though it was not related to search & unintentional:

Because we were forwarding to ourselves spam that other people sent to us, Google decided that the owner of the TPM url was a major spammer and blocked emails from TPM from being sent to anyone.

If the above comes across as depressing, don’t worry. The search results now contain a depression diagnostic testing tool.

Categories: 
 

Driving the future of digital subscriptions

01 Oct

Journalism provides accurate and timely information when it matters most, shaping our understanding of important issues and pushing us to learn more in search of the truth. People come to Google looking for high-quality content, and our job is to help them find it. However, sometimes that content is behind a paywall.

While research has shown that people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, the sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off. That’s not great for users or for news publishers who see subscriptions as an increasingly important source of revenue.

To address these problems we’ve been talking to news publishers about how to support their subscription businesses with a focus on the following:

  • First, Flexible Sampling will replace First Click Free. Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them. So as of this week, we are ending the First Click Free policy, which required publishers to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before people were shown a paywall.
  • Longer term, we are building a suite of products and services to help news publishers reach new audiences, drive subscriptions and grow revenue.
  • We are also looking at how we can simplify the purchase process and make it easy for Google users to get the full value of their subscriptions across Google’s platforms.

Our goal is to make subscriptions work seamlessly everywhere, for everyone.

First Click Free

We will end our First Click Free policy in favor of a Flexible Sampling model where publishers will decide how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers based on their own business strategies. This move is informed by our own research, publisher feedback, and months-long experiments with the New York Times and the Financial Times, both of which operate successful subscription services.  

“Google’s decision to let publishers determine how much content readers can sample from search is a positive development,” said Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson. “We’re encouraged as well by Google’s willingness to consider other ways of supporting subscription business models and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them to craft smart solutions.”

Publishers generally recognize that giving people access to some free content is the way to persuade people to buy their product. The typical approach to sampling is a model called metering, which lets people see a pre-determined number of free stories before a paywall kicks in. We recommend the following approach:

  • Monthly, rather than daily, metering allows publishers more flexibility to experiment with the number of free stories to offer people and to target those more likely to subscribe.
  • For most publishers, 10 articles per month is a good starting point.
  • Please see our Webmaster blog and our guide on Flexible Sampling for more detail on these approaches.

“Try before you buy” underlines what many publishers already know—they need to provide some form of free sampling to be successful on the internet. If it’s too little, then fewer users will click on links to that content or share it, which could have an effect on brand discovery and subsequently may affect traffic over time.

Subscription support

Subscribing to great content should not be as hard as it is today. Registering on a site, creating and remembering multiple passwords, and entering credit card information—these are all hassles we hope to solve.

As a first step we’re taking advantage of our existing identity and payment technologies to help people subscribe on a publication’s website with a single click, and then seamlessly access that content anywhere— whether it’s on that publisher site or mobile app, or on Google Newsstand, Google Search or Google News.

And since news products and subscription models vary widely, we’re collaborating with publishers around the world on how to build a subscription mechanism that can meet the needs of a diverse array of approaches—to the benefit of the news industry and consumers alike.  

We’re also exploring how Google’s machine learning capabilities can help publishers recognize potential subscribers and present the right offer to the right audience at the right time.

“It’s extremely clear that advertising alone can no longer pay for the production and distribution of high quality journalism—and at the same time the societal need for sustainable independent journalism has never been greater.  Reader-based revenue, aka paid-content, or subscription services, are therefore not just a nice-to-have, but an essential component of a publisher’s revenue composition,” said Jon Slade, FT Chief Commercial Officer.

“The Financial Times is welcoming of Google’s input and actions to help this critical sector of the media industry, and we’ve worked very closely with Google to aid understanding of the needs that publishers have and how Google can help. That mutual understanding includes the ability to set controls over the amount of free content given to readers, a level playing field for content discovery, optimised promotion and payment processes. It is important that we now build and accelerate on the discussions and actions to date.”  

We are just getting started and want to get as much input from publishers—large, small, national, local, international—to make sure we build solutions together that work for everyone.  

 

How publishers can take advantage of machine learning

19 Sep

As the publishing world continues to face new challenges amidst the shift to digital, news media and publishers are tasked with unlocking new opportunities. With online news consumption continuing to grow, it’s crucial that publishers take advantage of new technologies to sustain and grow their business. Machine learning yields tremendous value for media and can help them tackle the hardest problems: engaging readers, increasing profits, and making newsrooms more efficient. Google has a suite of machine learning tools and services that are easy to use—here are a few ways they can help newsrooms and reporters do their jobs

1. Improve your newsroom’s efficiency 

Editors want to make their stories appealing and to stand out so that people will read them. So finding just the right photograph or video can be key in bringing a story to life. But with ever-pressing deadlines, there’s often not enough time to find that perfect image. This is where Google Cloud Vision and Video Intelligence can simplify the process by tagging images and videos based on the content inside the actual image. This metadata can then be used to make it easier and quicker to find the right visual.

2.  Better understand your audience

News publishers use analytics tools to grow their audiences, and understand what that audience is reading and how they’re discovering content. Google Cloud Natural Language uses machine learning to understand what your content is about, independent of a website’s section and subsection structure (i.e. Sports, Local, etc.) Today, Cloud Natural Language announced a new content classifier and entity sentiment that digs into the detail of what a story is actually about. For example, an article about a high-tech stadium for the Golden State Warriors may be classified under the “technology” section of a paper, when its content should fall under “technology” and “sports.” This section-independent tagging can increase readership by driving smarter article recommendations and provides better data around trending topics. Naveed Ahmad, Senior Director of Data at Hearst has emphasized that precision and speed are critical to engaging readers: “Google Cloud Natural Language is unmatched in its accuracy for content classification. At Hearst, we publish several thousand articles a day across 30+ properties and, with natural language processing, we’re able to quickly gain insight into what content is being published and how it resonates with our audiences.”

3. Engage with new audiences

As publications expand their reach into more countries, they have to write for multiple audiences in different languages and many cannot afford multi-language desks. Google Cloud Translation makes translating for different audiences easier by providing a simple interface to translate content into more than 100 languages. Vice launched GoogleFish earlier this year to help editors quickly translate existing Vice articles into the language of their market. Once text was auto-translated, an editor could then push the translation to a local editor to ensure tone and local slang were accurate. Early translation results are very positive and Vice is also uncovering new insights around global content sharing they could not previously identify.

DB Corp, India’s largest newspaper group, publishes 62 editions in four languages and sells about 6 million newspaper copies per day. To address its growing customers and its diverse readership, reporters use Google Cloud Translation to capture and document interviews and source material for articles, with accuracy rates of 95 percent for Hindi alone.

4. Monetize your audience

So far we’ve primarily outlined ways to improve content creation and engagement with readers, however monetization is a critical piece for all publishers. Using Cloud Datalab, publishers can identify new subscription opportunities and offerings. The metadata collected from image, video, and content tagging creates an invaluable dataset to advertisers, such as audiences interested in local events or personal finance, or those who watch videos about cars or travel. The Washington Post has seen success with their in-house solution through the ability to target native ads to likely interested readers. Lastly, improved content recommendation drives consumption, ultimately improving the bottom line.

5. Experiment with new formats

The ability to share news quickly and efficiently is a major concern for newsrooms across the world. However today more than ever, readers are reading the news in different ways across different platforms and the “one format fits all” method is not always best. TensorFlow’s “summary.text” feature can help publishers quickly experiment with creating short form content from longer stories. This helps them quickly test the best way to share their content across different platforms. Reddit recently launched a similar “tl;dr bot” that summarizes long posts into digestible snippets.

6. Keep your content safe for everyone

The comments section can be a place of both fruitful discussion as well as toxicity. Users who comment are frequently the most highly engaged on the site overall, and while publishers want to keep sharing open, it can frequently spiral out of control into offensive speech and bad language. Jigsaw’s Perspective is an API that uses machine learning to spot harmful comments which can be flagged for moderators. Publishers like the New York Times have leveraged Perspective’s technology to improve the way all readers engage with comments. By making the task of moderating conversations at scale easier, this frees up valuable time for editors and improves online discussion.

8

Example of New York Time’s moderator dashboard. Each dot represents a negative comment

From the printing press to machine learning, technology continues to spur new opportunities for publishers to reach more people, create engaging content and operate efficiently. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what machine learning can do for publishers. Keep tabs on The Keyword for the latest developments.

 

Supporting local journalism with Report for America

18 Sep

I cut my teeth in journalism as a local reporter for my hometown paper, the Northfield News, and saw firsthand how local journalism impacts a community. Local reporters go to city council meetings to hold city governments accountable. They’re the first to show up when disaster strikes, getting critical information to their readers. And they provide the first draft of history for cities and towns, providing reporting that keeps their communities safe, informed and connected.

But not all communities in the U.S. are fortunate enough to have a strong local media presence—declining sales and revenues have led to local papers closing and local newsrooms shrinking. Despite this gloomy picture, there are lots of ideas about how to strengthen the local news ecosystem, and today we’re announcing our support of one new approach: Report for America.

An initiative of The GroundTruth Project, Report for America is taking its inspiration from Teach for America and applying it to local journalism. Its goal is to attract service-minded candidates and place them in local newsrooms for a year as reporters.

The first pilot, which will start early next year, aims to fill 12 reporting positions in newsrooms across the country, in areas underserved by local media. There will also be a community element to the work—a reporter might also help a local high school start or improve their student-run news site or newspaper.

As a founding member of this exciting initiative, the Google News Lab will provide in-depth training to the Report for America Corps members focusing on digital and data journalism, and equip them with the proper technology—Chromebooks, 360-degree cameras, and mobile phones.

Joining us in supporting Report for America are the Knight Foundation, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Galloway Family Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Report for America is just one part of our efforts to strengthen local news here at Google. Here are a few others:

  • To provide the proper exposure for local news outlets covering national stories, Google News labels those stories so readers can easily find on-the-ground reporting. Additionally we’ve made it easier for people to follow local news sources with a dedicated local tab on the Google News home page. And just last week, in the U.S., Google News went hyperlocal by adding clearly labeled Community Updates that provide information about news and events happening in your area so you’ll always know what’s going on.
  • We want to help publishers succeed financially by monetizing their content online. We have a key partnership with the Local Media Consortium—which represents more than 1,600 local media outlets—to tap into the power of our ad technology to fund and support local journalism. At their annual summit the LMC announced combined savings and revenue of more than $110 million for partners, based on that collaboration with Google.
  • At the Google News Lab, journalism training is an important component of the work we do to help journalists and newsrooms develop new skills and access the latest digital tools. Through  a partnership with the Society for Professional Journalists we’ve trained more than 9,500 local reporters across America in the last year alone. And a collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal Labs has helped build the capacity of investigative teams in Mississippi and New Jersey, a model we’re looking to scale in 2018.

We hope Report for America will bring fresh thinking and a new approach to strengthening local news.