Saturday links 30-Mar-2019: status as a service, niche superstars, screentime, Model T as hatkiller

Here’s links and commentary on recent reading.

1. Status as a Service. It’s a nearly 20,000 word (70 page) post by Eugene Wei. Long but great! At least if you’re into understanding tech and social media. Wei explains how social networks can be thought of Status as a Service, acronym StaaS. Some quotes below in bullet point form, mostly taken from Wei’s (shorter) twitter summary:

  • Social networks can be analyzed along three dimensions of competitive advantage: social capital, utility, and entertainment. A whole class of companies are better understood as Status as a Service (StaaS) businesses. This is especially true of social networks.
  • Status as a Service businesses are best analyzed along dimensions of social capital.
  • People are status-seeking monkeys.
  • All StaaS businesses have their own Proof of Work to enforce scarcity of status. Clever lip synch and dance number on TikTok , short quip on Twitter, beautiful photo on Instagram, insightful answer on Quora, etc.
  • Proof of Work is critical in StaaS business because it defines the scoreboard which users compete on. It separates users by their skill at that Proof of Work and creates a relative status ladder.
  • Early Twitter was a lot of dull life updates (my first tweet was “Doing my taxes”). Then Favstar and Favrd came along and provided a global scoreboard for all to see. This launched comedy Twitter. The entire tone of content on the service changed.
  • The greatest social capital explosion in history was the launch of Facebook’s News Feed. It simultaneously increased efficiency of distribution of posts while pitting all of them against each other in a global, unified status competition.
  • Durable status games need mechanisms to reward new and skilled users so that more experienced users don’t dominate. Need mechanisms to clear out “old money” that has stagnated, to make way “new money.”

What stuck with me most was how social networks are driven by status seeking through proof of work. This proof of work flywheel keeps all the status-seeking monkeys going. A useful (if perhaps depressing) lens by which to view social media. And the internet more generally. Full post here. Shorter twitter summary here.

And yes, my chosen proof of work is this blog. 🙂

2. Kobalt music label as niche superstar. Fine post by Mark Mulligan. In particular the point below:

Superstar niches: In the old model, labels would (and often still do) carpet-bomb TV, radio, print and digital with massive campaigns designed to create global, superstar brands. Now, labels can target more precisely and be selective about what channels they use. Kobalt’s business is based around making its roster superstars within their respective niches, finding a tightly-defined audience and the artists they engage with. The traditional superstar model sees an artist like a BeyoncĂ©, Ed Sheeran or a Taylor Swift being a mass media brand with recognition across geographies and demographics. The new superstar can fly under the radar while simultaneously being hugely successful.

This idea of superstar niches harkens back to the now venerable 1000 true fans. But the larger point is “superstar niche” describes not just how music works, but how much of the internet economy works. It’s nearly all superstar niche now. The industrial/mass media age is over.

3. Why Tech Didn’t Stop the New Zealand Attack From Going Viral. This is in reference to the shooter who killed 49 people in two mosques in New Zealand earlier this month. The reason is simple enough. Scale. From Facebook “In the first 24 hours we removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload…” Facebook uses machine learning to tag videos that are similar, but if you take a new video with your phone of the video on the screen, you can fool it. Nothing too surprising. It’s just a useful reminder of the sheer scale of modern social networks. And of course, with end-to-end encryption on messaging services becoming all the rage, monitoring encrypted messaging networks won’t be possible. Which means avoiding blame for sharing. link

4. Lithium-ion battery prices are going down. Good news in a single chart.

source: BloombergNEF

5. Screen time and mental health. There’s a genre of media story best understood by just reading this title: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? This response from Vox is good: Have smartphones really destroyed a generation? We don’t know. I think a reasonable position right now is not to worry too much. There is a rise is suicide among young people, but it’s hard to know what’s causing it. One caveat is Jonathan Haidt argues “We should all be careful about moral panics over tech, but I have been conducting two semi-open-source lit reviews which, so far, support the claims made in video: rising depression, for girls mostly, and some link to social media” And “It’s not so much screen time for all teens, that is bad; it’s specifically social media for girls.” To the extent we should worry, perhaps that’s where to look.

6. Podcasts. If you’re looking for podcasts, below are good episodes from three podcasts I listen to regularly.

  • a16z – Brian Koppelman interviewed by Marc Andreessen and Sonal Chokshi. Koppelman is the showrunner for the TV show Billions. He draws useful parallels between creating new shows and creating new companies.
  • Manifold – Kaiser Kuo interviewed by Steve Hsu and Corey Washington. Kuo hosts the Sinca podcast, on China. It’s good too. But here they discuss Kuo’s background, which includes a stint playing in a rock band in China, as well as working for Baidu.
  • Conversations with Tyler – Emily Wilson interviewed by Tyler Cowen. Wilson wrote an excellent new translation of Homer’s Odyssey. What’s great about this interview is the evident joy Wilson brings to her work. It made me smile.

7. How the Model T drove hats out of fashion. Link (which has old, hat filled crowd photos). Before sunscreen and foldable umbrellas, everyone wore hats to protect themselves from the sun and rain. Quote:

Hats in fashion hit their peak around the 1920s, and set on a downhill path from there. At the same time, the FMC was able to flood the market with their Model Ts and almost completely dominate the American car market. Cars were widespread and used for everyday travel, taking people off of their feet and into cars with vinyl roofs (the steel roof was later applied in the mid-1930s). People suddenly realized that they really didn’t need hats inside their cars. They could go from house to car and from car to work. The car’s roof protected drivers and passengers from all kinds of weather. Why did they need to wear hats anymore?

8. Pee, not chlorine, causes red eyes from swimming pools. You read it here first. link

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

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