What sets Galloway apart from most tech commentators is that he does his homework, brings fresh insights and lays out his thinking in an engaging but above all provocative style. This year’s theme of his annual DLD talk was close to the bone for many of the attendees – the break up of big tech.
Galloway repeated and build on the themes in his book about “the four” – Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple – essentially that they are now so big that they are destroying more value than they are creating. Amazon and Facebook seemed to take the most flak in the talk.
Here are some themes and highlights, depending on your point of view:
Facebook is a media company and disingenuous in pretending it isn’t: “[Facebook says] We can’t be arbiters of the truth and you don’t want us to be.’ No, we’d like you to try.”
The four treat fines from breaking the law as costs of doing business. In proportion to the size of deals they are getting “$25 parking tickets”.
While Amazon dwarfs all other retailers it pays hardly any tax (see below).
What happens when the most successful companies in the world don’t pay taxes? Simple, the less successful companies pay more taxes. We have opted for a regressive corporate tax system.
The four will destroy almost 200,000 jobs in the advertising industry.
These have been fantastic vessels for the transfer of wealth from the rest of the world to the United States and from the middle of the United States to the coasts.
He also used “the shitshow” of Amazon’s HQ2 location selection process. US cities effectively bid against one other to be the one that waived its tax and other. Laws the most to attract the company to settle there.
At one point he suggested that the Chinese response to big tech had been effective from a national security point of view – ban the US company, support local versions of e-commerce, search and social and effectively lock them out. “There haven’t been any concerns about Russian hackers interfering with elections in China.” The fact it is a totalitarian regime probably helps too, though, right?
At times, then, you could think that Galloway was completely in tune with the protectionists of the hard left and right. In fact, he showed a clip of him being introduced on a Fox News show as a socialist – although one suspects that Fox’s owners would love to Google and Facebook hobbled or broken up by governments. But Galloway insists that his call for the four big tech giants to be broken up is driven by capitalist logic. Like Microsoft in the 90s, he says, the big tech companies are shutting down challenger companies – think Facebook’s assimilation of Snap’s features – and need to be constrained to allow the next generation of tech innovators to emerge. Without the anti-trust suits against Microsoft, Google and Facebook might never have emerged.
This claim was categorically denied by The Second Machine Age author, Andrew McAfee on a later panel that morning. Microsoft was beaten in some markets by the Four because it failed to execute fast enough or well enough in search or mobile, says McAfee, and the responsibility to deal with their excesses is down to citizens and consumers.
Will it happen? If it does it will be the EU leading the charge, since US regulators seem to have no interest in hampering companies that hoover up the world’s cash and data so efficiently. Also, Galloway’s says: “The break up of big tech will not be easy because Jeff Bezos is smarter than all of us.”
You can watch the whole session here:
Lastly here are Galloway’s predictions for 2018. He started the session by showing all of the things he called wrong last year – but he still has a pretty good hit rate.
Yesterday at DLD began with Facebook’s VP Communications and Public Policy, Elliot Schrage, defending the company’s critics. What is Facebook going to do about Facebook was his theme, where everyone else is asking what are we going to do about Facebook — and Amazon and Google and – maybe not so much – Apple.
There were two lines of attack from questions in the crowd – Facebook is to blame for fake news skewing elections and Facebook had the media industry help build it as a publishing channel and now is going to screw them.
The fake news question – Kara Swisher asked if underinvestment in prevention was a management issue – was responded to along the lines of hands up, sorry, but the government, the CIA and FBI missed it too. A US questioner, responder and company involved explains the US-centric response there, even if he was on stage in Munich. Similar questions hang over Facebook ads and algorithms and influence over Brexit, the Catalonian revolution. Still, when you’re being blamed for Trump getting elected in your own country, I can see why those other elections might seem peripheral.
Image: Kara Swisher in Sarah Connor mode at DLD18 – glasses doubtless to shield against the ferocious brightness of the enormous LED displays on stage.
On publishing, Schrage also acknowledged the criticism but stressed that the company was interested – in fact Zuckerberg himself was especiallly in doing right by users:
“Mark is committed… to helping promote strong communities and an informed public. Trusted publications will benefit.”
“As a trained documentary filmmaker, I can tell you a credible source is not defined by popularity.”
Andrew Keen, long time critic of Silicon Valley and the tech sector’s power, was on stage following Facebook in conversation with Paul-Bernhard Kallen, CEO of Germany’s Herbert Burda Media.
Immediately invoking the concept of surveillance capitalism, Keen asked why the big US tech companies won’t accept their responsibilities as media platforms, something Kallen attributed to legal liability loopholes during the Clinton administrations laying of the benign legislative landscape that made possible the growth of the GAFA (Google Amazon Facebook Apple) or the Stacks, as Bruce Sterling named them when he spotted their developing dominance about six years ago.
In Kallen’s analysis the next generation of online services would be far more responsible in how they understood and managed their influence on society. Whether that generation of services came from the incumbent tech giants or new players, he couldn’t predict. Disrupting models like the blockchain and decentralised web forces could make these future companies very different to the ones we see today – take a look at platform co-ops and ownerless blockchain powered corporations for hints of what might come to pass.
Image: Hito Steyerl
In the session that featured Hito Steyerl, whom I mentioned earlier in this post, there was some expansive and edge thinking from both her and Evgeny Morozov, well chaired by the Serpentine Gallery’s Hans Ulbrich Obrist. This session seemed to suffer from small migrations of executives leaving – bored, confused or just hungry (it was running into lunchtime at this point). It was one of the least crowded of the sessions int he main hall, which was a shame as the ideas were deeply relevant, if very challenging.
Here are some of the threads from Morozov and Steyerl that I want to pick up for more research and thinking later on:
The digital intermediation of everything: this is the title of an essay by Morozov looking at how the economics and power of big tech companies owning your data will play out.
Techno-religiosity: Something that Yuval Noah Harari explored in Homo Deus and a Google talk which Steyerl referred to. Steyerl says: “The more advanced the technology, the more likely people begin to discuss it in religious or spiritual terms” – think AI, especially.
Orbis theory: The theory that in the 1600s the mass colonisation of the Americas caused a lowering of CO2 levels globally, as 50 million indigenous people died and forests reclaimed their farmland and the trees processed more carbon.
Owning your own data: The importance of this is huge when looked at it in the economic and political context. I recall the vendor relationship management movement that began ten years ago and similar efforts, but now GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe is creating a legal push for it. Morozov also alluded to the idea of states nationalising data to protect its citizens from corporations.
Access to people’s data was about better advertising, now it is also about fuelling AI:The big tech companies are using the data they get from people in return for free services (search, social networks, convenient ecommerce) to develop their machine learning abilities.
Benevolence can turn to indifference – and it would hurt us: Services from Google and Facebook feel like, and for now are, a social good – so many people wouldn’t be able to afford what the tech giants give us for free. But if they no longer need the data from users, that benevolence would likely turn to indifference. Effectively Morozov is saying, what if advertising wasn’t the main revenue stream for these companies and they got their money from B2B services? What would happen to the services they provide?
The coming machine learning monopoly: Morozov said that if he were in business he would be worried about the growing power of the four giants as the sole providers of machine learning. Once they are the best, they will dictate terms of access to others.
At the end of the first day of DLD 18 there was blood in the water and no one was sure whether it’s theirs or Facebook and Google’s… or both.
Reckitt Benckheiser is taking social media seriously enough to start joint business planning with Facebook, according to AdAge:
Reckitt Benckiser, like other packaged-goods players, has long done business planning with major retailers such as Walmart and Target, where it maps out long-term promotional products and marketing programs. Now, RB is applying the concept to Facebook.
He makes a case for “frictionless sharing” (stuff you read or see or listen to being shared automatically with your social network) as promoted by Facebook, being “noisy and for robots” while “declarative frictionfull sharing” (deciding to share things and putting a little effort into doing so) as being meaningful.
Two blog posts – one notes for a Newsnight feature that never got made, the other an academic paper – made a deep impression on me when I read them last week, and have stayed with me since. I’ve recommended them on Twitter and to anyone whose will listen. For me they together mark a turning point in the development of the social web and the way it affects society and politics. They, and the events they analyse have implications for business, our personal lives and just about everything else as well.
I’m still digesting their implications, and the implications of the past few weeks in Egypt and Tunisia. This blog post comprises my notes on both pieces.
The two blog posts
First of all, if you haven’t read them yet, I cannot recommend highly enough taking some time to read these two blog posts (and many of the comments on the former):
Paul Mason’s post pulls together social, economic and technology factors that have led to what seems to be a global wave of street protests, activism and unrest…
At the heart of it all are young people, obviously; students; westernised; secularised. They use social media – as the mainstream media has now woken up to – but this obsession with reporting “they use twitter” is missing the point of what they use it for.
Some insights I took from his post were:
This isn’t all about technology, but technology’s effect have created the context for the revolutions in progress: “Technology has – in many ways, from the contraceptive pill to the iPod, the blog and the CCTV camera – expanded the space and power of the individual.”
Networks erode hard ideologies: He talks about the protest movements globally having at their heart the “graduate with no future” who is not prone to “traditional and endemic ideologies”. From Islamism to socialism, structured ideologies ultimately end up in movements becoming sclerotic as the forces of bureaucracy and internal power struggles take place. I’d say that this rule may hold true for corporations and other organisations ultimately.
The collapse of command and control communications as an instrument of authoritarianism: Because of social media “truth moves faster than lies, and propaganda becomes flammable”. This reminds me of something I learned early in PR about crisis communications – gossip and misinformation often moves faster than facts because it is illicit and has perceived value in human social networks. You pass on rumours and urban myths and spam because of this (“KFC has no chicken in it”, “New Facebook app lets you see who has viewed your profile”). In places where the media and government are spreading the lies and misinformation the hunger is for truth and the value in the social network comes from spreading. If truth is illict, it spread faster?
Transparency, and effect of the social web’s pressures on organisations, reveals not just information but how systems work: As Paul writes:
People have a better understanding of power. The activists have read their Chomsky and their Hardt-Negri, but the ideas therein have become mimetic: young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power: they are clever to the point of expertise in knowing how to mess up hierarchies and see the various “revolutions” in their own lives as part of an “exodus” from oppression, not – as previous generations did – as a “diversion into the personal”.
One point which Paul makes links his notes to Dan McQuillan’s paper/post:
oppositional youth – both in the west in repressive regimes like Tunisia/Egypt, and above all in China – live in a virtual undergrowth online and through digital comms networks. The internet is not key here – it is for example the things people swap by text message, the music they swap with each other etc: the hidden meanings in graffiti, street art etc which those in authority fail to spot.
This paper argues that this use of pre-digital technologies to form the kinds of infrastructure afforded by modern social technologies is evidence of a radical change in people’s perceptions of their world and its connectedness. Social media has constituted a real change that goes beyond specific technologies. This flies in the face of many sceptical critics who argue that new technologies only reinforce old practices and social structures.
This is an insight which is very valuable beyond the protests also. To put it pithily, using social media changes how we expect the world to work. It changes what we expect from relationships, how we find out about things, talk about things, organise things.
Dan also puts a certain bit of unhelpful misreporting/social media hype to rest when he discusses the “Thank You Facebook” image which featured in a lot of Western media. It’s a mis-translation at best…
The mis-translation of a protester’s sign from Tahrir Square encapsulates the argument about the impact of social media. The photo that shows a middle-aged protestor in Tahrir square holding a handwritten sign in Arabic. The only English word on his sign is ‘FACEBOOK’, in large red letters carfeully highlighted in black. Many western blog and media outlets published versions of this with the slogan translated as ‘Thank you Facebook’. In fact, as I have verified with correspondents in the Egyptian diaspora, the correct translation is ‘Thank you, Egypt’s Facebook youth’. The gulf between these sentiments is huge; the wrong translation elevates the technology, whereas the real one identifies the youth as agents of change. But in labelling them ‘Egypt’s Facebook youth’ it also recognises that they’re acting differently to what came before, that their post-deferential dynamism reflects the character of their favoured tool.
Acting differently doesn’t just mean using Facebook, Twitter et al:
My contention is that social media is neither the cause of major change, nor irrelevant to it; but that it’s impact is most powerful in cementing new ways of thinking and acting based on connectedness.
Dan walks us through a timeline of the cutting off of the internet in Egypt and discusses the range of “pre-Web” technologies people used to keep the networks working. “Older” tech like ham radio, modems and telephones came into play, along with tech like Tor started to be used:
The Tor project reported on January 30th that “Over the last three days, 120,000 people — most of them Egyptian — have downloaded Tor software”. The Tor project was a platform for participatory solidarity as word spread across the social web of the need for people to run Tor relays and bridges on their computers, and graphs on the Tor blog show the dramatic rise in the number of bridges around the world after 25th January.
I like as well, the clear way Dan dismisses the whole discussion about whether “it was Social Media wot won it”:
Arguments over whether a particular social change would have happened in the absence of social media are somewhat sterile; there is no experimentally controlled comparison where we can re-run a revolution without Twitter. But more importantly those arguments fail to go to the core of the impact i.e. that social media has changed the global sense of entitlement to real-time peer-to-peer communication within fluid networks of association.
He goes on to say “social media has changed the global sense of entitlement” toward being able to have these kind of communications, connections, relationships… That sense of entitlement means cutting off the internet is
The strands of thought in these two posts, and the context that they bring isn’t a case of Western democracy and freedom prevailing. Democracy as it is currently practiced is also under pressure – witness Wikileaks and the friction between the US State Department and Twitter. Those promises and ideals that Google and its ilk had about protecting our personal information from intrusive state authorities? They are being tested now and will be tested more so in the coming months and years.
Businesses too will be tested by these forces. Transparency is one they need to consider, but also changed expectations of customers, employees, of everyone about how they work. All organisations, not just corrupt and authoritarian governments may well experience challenges from networks, from new ideas about what they should do, how they should be organised.
: : As an aside, how great blogging is still as a form for getting these thoughts out. Before blogs i might never have read Dan’s analysls outside of an acdemic paper months later. Instead I get his analysis the moment it is finished. The notes Peter made for the Newsnight feature would have stayed in a notebook once the piece for the programme was dropped. Instead he was able to not waste that intellectual effort but share it and reach a huge audience (I don’t know what the traffic is, but the number of comments and re-tweets of the article suggest it was significant.
Image: A troop train in the First World War (cc) drakegoodman
@avschlieffen: Is anyone srsly suggesting trains caused the biggest war of all time? WTF!?! Get over it, you trainspotters. Rail isn’t everything.
@billthekaiser:LOLIt wasn’t me it was the 11.24 to Gdansk that made me do it. ;)
Train timetables caused the biggest conflict the world had ever seen. 16 million dead, 21 million wounded. Mechanised destruction and suffering, literally on an industrial scale.
That was the argument of AJP Taylor, one of the most influential British historians of the latter part of the 20th century (and the godfather of TV dons). What he said was that the plans for troop movements a large scale war against both France and Russia simultaneously by German military planners depended on a sequence of trains deploying troops quickly to both fronts. Once you pressed the button, as it were, there was no turning back. If you paused you would lose the advantage and then the war.
So when they thought they had to go to war, the logic of the technology, the context created by the communications technology of the time (trains and telegraphs, to put it simply) meant that Germany had to commit completely.
It was a startling insight. Tragic and disorientating when you thought it through – this apocalypse was brought about by a human’s decision, but one which was warped by the technology, the systems they had created about themselves.
The web reveals the complexity of the world about us. It speeds things up. This much we know.
One effect of this is a flight to simplicity, it seems. People see the complexity and can’t accept – they want to know cause and effect: thing x causes thing y. Yes or no. You agree or disagree. Win or WTF.
It’s hard in 140 characters to include caveats and disclaimers, maybe that’s part of it.
Take the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia over the past few weeks. Communications technology and social networks have been present, both on the streets, among the protagonists.
Did Facebook cause the revolution? Is it a Twitter revolution? These are partly silly questions, partly interesting ideas to follow through. Historians will soon enough, why shouldn’t we?
One thing is perspective, another is evidence, and then there’s time to reflect, think over hypotheses for and against. As events occur, it is hard to get a lot of any of these things.
Which is why a lot of the Twitter updates I’ve seen on this subject are likely to be filed/filtered as less useful noise, less likely to follow the links if they are saying something binary and self-evidently unconsidered “It’s a Twitter revolution!” or “social networks play no part in it – get over yourselves you technocrat Western narcissists.”
It is not unimaginable that the presence of web technologies have enabled people to communicate and coordinate street actions – there seems to be evidence that is the case. Twitter’s not the sole cause of the uprisings, just as train timetables were not the sole cause of the Great War.
Social networking technology and mobile phones are important part of the context, not of the causes of these events.
On a different, related note: corporations and Governments will behave differently about diplomacy because of the logic, the context of a hyper-connected world. Transparency will be assumed, knowledge will be assumed, the inevitability or high likelihood of disclosure will colour decision-making.
Twitter and Facebook and Google aren’t going to be the root causes of these things, but they will be the context, why things are able to happen in certain ways, why people choose to do certain things, for good and ill.
Coming back to the main point of this post, though – we shouldn’t waste energy on black and white debates about technology and current affairs. Acknowledge the fuzziness, embrace complexity – it’s the only useful way to make sense of the world.
This image has been on my computer desktop and on my mind since I saw it in December. High time I shared it here, really.
It’s a data visualisation of 10 million pairs of friends on Facebook and where they live in relationship to one another, created by an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team. Read the original blog post in full – it is fascinating stuff.
As Ian Tait points out, what’s amazing is that there is no map underneath, and yet you can pick out the shapes of the continents.
Interesting too are the gaps – China, Brazil and Russia are underrepresented, perhaps due to the fact that other social networks are more prevalent in those territories (RenRen, Orkut and Vkontakte respectivelY).
(NB: I *know* – I’m late with this. What? I’ve had a break. It was Christmas…)
That TIME magazine’s judging panel refused to listen to the same crowd it named person of the year in 2006 is amusing and irritating and predictable at the same time. Instead of Julian Assange, it went for Mark Zuckerberg.
It actually says a lot, especially since the cover-story (geddit) will be that despite what readers say, Mark Zuckerberg is the hero of 2010.
You could take it as an example of the thinking error that currently plagues media owners and policymakers everywhere (and good of deal of others besides): in trying to come to terms with the web, they are fixated with platforms rather than the broader trends of the web and the emerging outcomes of those trends.
In other words, they are obsessed with Facebook, Google and Twitter, the media platforms, the channels, the business success stories, and mistaking those for the big deal the important story of what the web is doing to the
For journalists, the story is king. The story that can be told in 200 – 2,000 words, that it is.
It is wishful-thinking, of course. If Facebook were the sum of the social web, if the upstart Zuckerberg were the only person you need to come to terms with, tame and bring into the media estabilshment fold, all would be fine, all would be simple, all would be business as usual.
The uncomfortable truth that Assange represents – one of the uncomfortable truths at least – is that the outcomes of the web, the implications of this world-changing machine are not simple, not merely commercial, not things that be easily categorised, dealt with and assimilated.
It’s not business as usual out there. The more you refuse to fixate on the platforms and open your eyes to the broader effects, the more you will be ready for the (near) future.
This is a post about three lovely things that are all about using technology to help tell stories in new ways.
In private alpha development at the moment, Storify looks like a wonderful way of tying together different bits of your and other people’s content on the web (photos, Tweets, videos) to tell a story, and package it up. Its classic curating behaviour, but in a really simple package – I really hope i get to try it out soon.
The example they use in the video is telling the story of a conference, which it would seem to be a perfect solution for, but I imagine using it also to tell the story of big projects. For instance, at last year’s The Story conference, Aleks Krotoski told the story of the making of The Virtual Revolution BBC TV series, by stitching together Tweets, photos and videos that she had made during the process.
I always fancied doing that for the story of writing Me and My Web Shadow, but I’ve not got round to it. I guess Storify is the sort of tool that would make a similar process even easier.
Keeping stories about projects and experiences would be a lot better for organisations than dull, dry reports. They would get read and remembered more than traditional documents, I reckon.
Facebook hardback book by Bouygues Télécom/DDB Paris
A French Telecom’s agency, DDB Paris, created hardback Facebook books for a small number of people, taking content (I think with their permission) from specific instances and connections and curating them.
It’s a lovely idea, and one which maybe Facebook or a partner should automate. Imagine creating a book about your online conversations during a wedding, or just a yearbook about you and your closest friends. Echoes of the lifestreaming sell that new social network Path is trying to push, perhaps…
These kinds of ideas and applications all indicate a growing sophistication in the way people are thinking about their personal social networks and the data they are creating about them online. It is about more than communication in the now, it is about creating a record of parts of our lives and thinking about how to make the best of that…
Last of the three is Cinemek, which is an iPhone app for creating storyboards. You add your pictures, and can then start turning them into a storyboard, to plan a film, animation or any interactive media experience.
There are some demoes on Cinemek’s Vimeo page, but this one brings it to life for me, as someone storyboards a movie sequence for a suspense thriller on the fly, using a model and inserting cutouts to represent other characters – really cool…
Pricier than many apps at £11.99 on the apps store it still seems incredible value for this kind of tool…
There’s a kind of web media theologians’ debate that goes on at the moment over whether brands should ditch their websites and move their web presence to Facebook wholesale.
So far, I have mostly been an advocate of the teeth-sucking “Ooh, you don’t want to do that…” side of the argument. Reasons being control, wider network presence, not wasting attention, lock-in to Facebook as a platform and the openness/future of the web…
Now, I’m not throwing those arguments away, I stand by them in fact. But…
…as well as advising brands on their digital strategy, I am also an author. A time-poor author without his own marketing team, who wants the best for his published book and future books.
I’m busy. Designing a website is a big deal. I can’t create one by myself so this means I’d have to find a company to do it or impose on my friends. A template or canned package would never make me happy, so I’d end up spending mucho time interacting with whoever is building website for me.
For my new book, I am considering going down the same route. I created a website, centred around a blog, for Me and My Web Shadow, but keeping a blog going is hard enough work without creating a second.
A better strategy for me will be to use Facebook for the web presence and continue to focus on posts and pages on my main domain antonymayfield.com.