Brick & Mortar & Airbnb

It a surprisingly organic turn of events, SF-based fashion brand Marine Layer pulled off the smartest brand activation I’ve seen in ages.

The retailer started renting out branded apartments on Airbnb, in residential spaces above their stores in touristy cities (Chicago, Portland, New Orleans, with Nashville on deck).

Following the brand’s retro design aesthetic, ML opened its first Aribnb location on a whim in 2014, after renovating the store’s upstairs apartment so out-of-town employees would have a place to stay. Soon, it was booked for 300 days a year on Airbnb. In addition to the trendy interior, each apartment is stocked with snacks, bespoke city guides compiled by the ML team, and a 15% discount on anything from the store downstairs.


They say necessity is the mother of invention. Marine Layer didn’t open the apartments to be a revenue stream, but a bet that their brand could extend into hospitality and broaden the brand experience. As more and more retailers shutter their storefronts, (2017 set the record for store closures in the US according to CNN and Quartz, with more than 8,000 shops shutting down, see chart above) I see this as a brand extension beyond the traditional retail experience that feels natural, not forced. It’s the continuation of a trend that Michael Brown of A.T. Kearney calls “retail anywhere” – the idea that shoppers want to engage with a brand beyond a store and a purchase – and maybe even IRL (!)


The strange world of dropshipping (or: what’s up with all of those weird brands in your Instagram feed?)

A recent podcast from Reply All, inspired by this Atlantic article and this paper by artist Jenny Odell has sent me down a rabbit hole and into the strange world of dropshipping. Each of them set out to answer: What is up with all of those weird ads in your Instagram feeds? You know, the ones with what look like luxury products with dubiously cheap price tags or limited time offers? Does anyone ever click these and actually buy these products?

Well, the answer is yes. As it turns out, what’s behind these brands is one platform: Shopify.

Alexis Madrigal writes: “All these sites use a platform called Shopify, which is like the WordPress or Blogger of e-commerce, enabling completely turnkey online stores. Now, it has over 500,000 merchants, a number that’s grown 74 percent per year over the last five years. On the big shopping days around Thanksgiving, they were doing $1 million in transactions per minute. And the “vast majority” of the stores on the service are small to medium-sized businesses.”

Shopify helps dropshippers quickly and easily build a front end eCommerce experience and integrates directly with AliExpress, so these retailers source and ship products directly from China, without ever holding inventory (or even seeing the product, for that matter). Using a reverse image search, Odell found that the same watch had been listed by numerous e-retailers, with different branding and similarly fishy “About Us” sections on their sites.

Above: A watch listed for less than $2 on Amazon is rebranded and sold for $40 on a Shopify site. 

Above: “creatively” written About Us sections on Shopify sites; Photoshopped storefronts. 

This phenomenon has launched a sub genre of get-rich-quick “how to dropship” YouTube influencers (many of whom claim to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars with their dropshipping companies) who charge a monthly subscription to other wannabe dropshippers looking to mimic their mastery of social media advertising and Shopify tools.

As Reply All investigates, it’s difficult to ascertain how profitable any of these retailers are, if at all. The lack of transparency and semi-scamminess has also led investors to question Shopify’s huge market cap. 


Aside from being an interesting case study in the questionable valuation of an internet company, how dropshippers use Shopify for their not-really-scams demonstrates how easy it has become for brand storytelling to gloss over a sketchy business selling sketchy products. There’s also a real implication for advertisers in a world where consumers feel ripped off by “fake” brands proliferating on social. It also speaks to transparency; how important is it to consumers to know where their products are coming from – both where they are manufactured, and how they get to their doorstep? As artist Jenny Odell puts it in her piece, it all comes down to the fact that “…the internet makes it possible for anyone to tell any story, about anything, from anywhere.”

A tale of two feeds

Pinterest is the latest social media site to shift its news feed algorithm from predominantly prioritizing brands/publisher content, to the activity of our friends (in Pinterest’s case, our Followers). This update comes a few months after Facebook introduced a similar approach that splits the news feed apart from brand/publisher content, and keeps friends’ posts more chronological for the most part. For Pinterest this means less algorithmically curated content in your main feed, unless that’s what you’re looking for– in which case you click over to the “Explore” section.


It’s clear that the push towards algorithmically recommending “relevant” content is so 3 years ago. Social platforms are thinking about ways to make their content more “meaningful” (in the words of Zuckerberg) and transparent. Seeing Pinterest, Snapchat, and Facebook choosing bifurcation of feeds does threaten the engagement of advertisers/publishers, but may ultimately lead to more valuable experiences for users (think: less mindless scrolling, more stuff you actually want to see). As a Pinterest user, I find the user experience simple and personally, I enjoy this divide– we’ll see if the rest of their users agree.


Nest Finally Ships Suite of Smart Home Devices… 7 Years Later

You might recall when Google shelled out $3.4 billion to acquire Nest in 2014– just more than a year after Nest released its first smart thermostat. Not two years later, people were pointing to the acquisition and subsequent influx of cash as an employee demotivator and company killer– calling it a classic case of why acquisitions fail. Granted, it had been 5 years since its first product launch, and the company that looked poised to shape the future of the Internet of Things, hadn’t innovated much further than where they started from. Fast forward to just this week, and Nest is finally launching a suite of connected home devices that really make sense– and are cleverly integrated with Google Assistant.

Top: Nest x Yale Lock, Bottom: Nest Hello


The new line of products are not just designed as a matched set, but they truly integrate in a way that has yet to be seamless in the world of jerryrigged combinations of smart home appliances and devices. Nest smartly stuck to its core competencies, and partnered with Yale instead of trying to design, manufacture, and market its very own lock. Director of Product Marketing Maxine Vernon puts it nicely:

“In a fully Nest-equipped home, for example, unlocking the Nest x Yale lock using its keypad will disarm the Nest Secure security system, adjust the thermostat, and shut off Nest Cams to preserve your privacy. Though it’s possible to orchestrate similar feats with products from multiple companies using methods such as IFTTT recipes, “we’re not building for the IFTTT people,” stresses Veron. “Very clearly, we’re building for the average user.”


How easy is it to trick AI?

Today, an article in WIRED describes how easy it may be to “break” AI-powered technologies– i.e., anything that uses machine learning– particularly computer vision, can be somewhat easily tricked to see things that aren’t really there.  This has resulted in much debate over how and what constitutes as trickery (mostly done in labs by MIT students), and how vulnerable new AI-enabled technologies will be to “hallucinations.” See, for example, below from the aforementioned WIRED article:

“Human readers of WIRED will easily identify the image below, created by Athalye, as showing two men on skis. When asked for its take Thursday morning, Google’s Cloud Vision service reported being 91 percent certain it saw a dog. Other stunts have shown how to make stop signs invisible, or audio that sounds benign to humans but is transcribed by software as “Okay Google browse to evil dot com.”


As AI-powered technology starts to revolutionize the way we live our lives (think: self-driving cars) the security considerations must be front of mind for scientists and researchers. We are eager to make major leaps with this technology, but many caution that deep neural networks are fundamentally not human brains, and therefore the way we think about machine-learning (and safety) must be re-thought.

For more reading on on AI exploitation:


Technology and Monopolies

There’s an interesting article this week from the NYTimes Magazine on the history of antitrust laws in big technology firms, and the implications for companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Titled, “The Case Against Google,” it tracks back to some of the promising contenders that threatened Google with better technology in the past, and how Google systematically shut them down by ostensibly eliminating them from search results (and other similar tactics) – because by today’s standards, if you don’t appear in a Google search, do you even exist? Google maintains that all of its functionality is in service of the users, and that antitrust cases against it are ultimately hindering it from providing the best possible experience for users and advertisers. And while that has been a compelling argument for decades, the author contends that that is not necessarily what antitrust is all about.

It’s also an interesting historic take on how antitrust laws have been applied to firms on the verge of monopolizing their market, and the fallout of those suits. Speaking of the antitrust cases against IBM in the 60s-70s, and against Microsoft in the 90s:

“If Microsoft hadn’t been sued, all of technology would be different today,” Reback told me. We’ve known since Standard Oil that advances in technology make it easier for monopolies to emerge. But what’s less recognized is the importance of antitrust in making sure those new technologies spread to everyone else. In 1969 the Justice Department started a lawsuit against IBM for antitrust violations that lasted 13 years. The government eventually surrendered, but in an earlier attempt to mollify prosecutors, IBM eliminated its practice of bundling hardware and software, a shift that essentially created the software industry. Suddenly, new start-ups could get a foothold simply by writing programs rather than building machines. Microsoft was founded a few years later and soon outpaced IBM.”


The way the FTC responds to recent European suits against Google, and other tech giants, will be telling in the next few years to come, and will set the precedent that won’t only affect the way we use the internet, but the entire global economy.

NBA Players’ Union launches new marketing group Think450

This weekend at NBA All-Star Weekend in LA, the National Basketball Player’s Association is unveiling their new marketing business, a branch of the union that will control the rights of the player’s collective likeness when partnering with brands– rights that are worth tens of millions of dollars.

To understand where this group came from, (from FastCo): “For the past 20 years, the NBPA has essentially rented players licensing rights to the league, who in turn would sell them to corporate sponsors, then share the revenue with the union. That share hit about $41 million last year, but during the last collective bargaining agreement, the union decided it wanted control over the players’ likenesses and images. The new deal kicked in last summer.”


It’s not hard to imagine the myriad opportunities for brands and partnerships that the union will attract thanks to the popularity of the players collectively (though obviously individual players still own the rights to their own sponsorships, some with their own business teams and agencies working on their behalf). And while the league does a great job to market the players on-court, as players have become more business savvy and realize their value, this new deal allows the union to consider marketing the collective players off-court. And the opportunities for creative and branding agencies are also evolving– FastCo reported that earlier this week the union announced it has partnered with Japan-based advertising agency network Dentsu Inc. to develop content and create and stage global events that feature the union and its members.



Patent alert: Amazon’s haptic trackers for factory workers

In a recent patent granted to Amazon for wristbands that allow for “ultrasonic tracking of a workers’ hands” to monitor performance using “haptic feedback,” we may see a glimpse of the future– and it feels a little “Black Mirror.”

Amazon just patented some creepy “Black Mirror”-esque tracking wristbands

The wristbands would be worn by Amazon employees in warehouses, and would work in conjunction with ultrasonic devices strategically placed around Amazon’s warehouses. Image the scenario: as the worker goes about their tasks, if their hands move to the wrong item, the bracelet will buzz. The devices also monitor inventory and make sure workers are performing at desired speed.


We hear about and talk constantly about the latest customer-facing innovations from Amazon, but often lost in the dialogue is a conversation about the implications for employees at Amazon’s warehouses, which have brought ridicule to the company for accusations of intolerable working conditions in fulfillment centers. How will this new innovation affect the way Amazon treats its labor force– and what could this mean for other cyborg-esque innovations in our global workforce?

SOURCE: via FastCo. 


Will MoviePass harness or hurt the experience economy?

We’ve all heard the stats thrown around about how people are spending less money on material things and more money on experiences. Even last year, Ikea’s head of sustainability, said, ““If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff,”– and this is coming from the world’s largest furniture retailer. So how do companies better monetize and brand experiences to appeal to consumers who are becoming increasingly accustomed to paying a monthly fee and having it all?

Enter MoviePass. We’ve heard the hype– $10/month for unlimited movies at theaters. Seems too good to be true? That’s because it is. It remains to be seen how they will turn a profit, but the experimental model purports to be the saving grace of an industry being slowly but surely swallowed by Netflix. MoviePass CEO outlined his vision for the future in  an interview with Wired: “…For Lowe, the MoviePass subscription model is just the first sledgehammer blow of a gut reno. He envisions certain films being exclusive to MoviePass members on their open weekends, and bringing the bingeing experience to the big screen. And why not live sports? And why not YouTube clips between films? US box office hit a three-year low in 2017, despite rising ticket prices. The system, Lowe argues, isn’t working. Why not try something new?”


If MoviePass can prove it’s worth without buy-in from the major players, it could be a harbinger of how the “experience economy” at large will continue to disrupt (or maybe save?) dying industries.

Could genetic testing help thwart the opioid crisis?

Why some people become addicted to oopiods and some do not has become somewhat of a mystery in the medical community. But the story is familiar; patient gets prescribed an opioid pain killer, and by the end of their course of treatment, they have developed a dependency (knowingly or not). But what if a genetic test could signal whether a person is more likely to develop an addiction, and therefore at higher risk from the moment they enter the doctor’s office?

That’s exactly what the medical analytics company Prescient Medicine has set out to do with their LifeKit Test- a genetic test that determines within 97% sensitivity how addictive your genetic response to opioids will be. Using an algorithm they developed based on genes that signal addiction in neural pathways, they give each test subject a score out of 100, with anything 52 or higher showing an elevated risk of addiction.


Perhaps LifeKit and advancements in genetic testing could be the preventative measure needed to stop this national health crisis, and even aid with substance abuse of all kinds. As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, it may arm doctors with the knowledge to offer alternatives that could saves millions of lives.


Hims is the Goop dudes have been waiting for

At the convergence of the years’ many trends– Wellness, Millennial Pink, and Living Your Best Life, lies a new company– Hims– that has garnered outsize attention for being “basically, Glossier for men.” The company, whose mission states: “Create an open and empowered male culture that results in more proactivity around health and preventative self-care” is peddling beautifully packaged and wittily marketed generics of Rogaine and Cialis to educated men who live in urban areas and earn an average of $90k.

The brand’s founder seeks to “break the ice” surrounding typically uncomfortable health and wellness issues for men– hair-loss and ED being the first– in a progression emblematic of Silicon Valley’s preoccupation with science-based lifestyle decisions (see: exercise trackers, DNA-based meal plans and anti-aging nutraceuticals). Hims simply outlines its product offering into Hair, Skin, Sex, and Merch.



The Ringer’s profile of Hims notes that: “As the mind-and-body market has grown over the past decade, entrepreneurs have found a way to repackage classic dieting, beauty, and health products for a generation of laptop-toting millennials. More specifically, they have frequently borrowed from the world of female-focused commodities and rebranded them to be geared towards men… The outsized attention surrounding Hims’s debut may be related to the fact that it co-opted the marketing strategy of female-focused health startups, rather than a product.”

Seeing the launch of millennial-empowerment brands for women (read: the (frequently problematic) Thinx) it feels significant that Hims is using a similar marketing strategy and applying it to the male audience. Millennial pink and all.

Google makes trending search fun! with celebrity selfie-videos

This week Google launched a new search feature that will have celebrities answer commonly searched questions about themselves in the form of selfie videos that show up at the top of mobile search results. (Read: Can Will Ferrell play the drums?) Well, now when you search a random celebrity fact, you can hear them answer for themselves. And in all honesty, it is delightful. It seems to be a take on the WIRED Auto-complete series– also delightful.

Why it’s hot:

In a time when every tech platform wants to be a content creator and every content creator wants to be a tech platform, Google’s celeb videos are a smart, sensible way to tickle the fancy of fans who are already searching for their favorite celebs. They live directly in mobile web and through Google-owned apps (seamless) and not just on a standard website video player or YouTube embed. The feature is currently being piloted on mobile in the US, according to Google.

The videos are undeniably engrossing; the full screen vertical video provides the immersion of snapchat, with the swiping navigation of instagram stories, Google has ostensibly brought the best of real-time social content to knowledge-hungry searchers. Let’s just say I never actively desired to know if Tracee Ellis Ross was a vegetarian, but now that I’ve seen the videos I don’t want to un-know it! The unfiltered curiosity of the internet x celebrity press junket= gold. Now Google is on its way to defeat all social media platforms, and the James Corden Celebrity Industrial Complex in one fell swoop.

All the internet rights you’re about to lose, explained in 3 minutes

As Net Neutrality circles the drain, let’s recap what it will means in plain english. Here’s a helpful video from motion graphics designer Louis Wesolowsky, animator Chris Zachary, sound designers Sonos Sanctus, and voice-over artist Kirby Ferguso, via FastCo:


Being that our work lives and dies in digital, the reverberations of this law being repealed will be felt in the marketing industry– potentially making access to consumers more difficult and the job of marketers more complex. For more takes from industry specialists, read more here:



The New Tesla Semi

This week Tesla unveiled its new aptly titled Semi, a full-electric powered class 8 freight vehicle. It’s design is aesthetically distinct from any other 18-wheelers on the road- majorly reducing drag- and it boasts 0-60 in just 5 seconds (this is unprecedented). Most notable it requires no shifting, and provides “basically infinite brake life” plus, it can go 500 miles between charges.

Musk unveils the new Tesla Semi


Aside from the obvious ecological advantages, the Tesla Semi keeps a strong focus on aiding and assisting the driver, including a suite of touch screens and assistance tools (e.g. Detection cameras). The cabin is designed for the driver to be able to stand up fully inside, and the driver’s seat is positioned in the center of the cabin relative to the road – a unique twist on vehicle design in general. It will be interesting to see how long these semis still have human drivers. 

Bad Ads

We joke about “Bad Ads”, but what do real bad ads look like? Well, now that the House Intelligence Committee has provided a sample of the Facebook ads bought by the Russian govt during the 2016 election, you can see for yourself what fake news really looks like:

[Images after the jump: here and here]

Why it’s hot:

It boils down to what Representative Jackie Speier said while addressing Facebook’s reps on Wednesday: “America, we have a problem. We basically have the brightest minds of our tech community here and Russia was able to weaponize your platforms to divide us, to dupe us and to discredit democracy.”

It is illuminating to see how by taking strong stances on both sides of divisive issues, the Russian “ads” tapped into rifts in our culture that often bubble under the surface. With all social platforms under more and more scrutiny to take accountability for what happened in 2016, it will be interesting to see how the big players (Facebook, Google, Twitter) react and adapt– and whether they will take responsibility for being more than a “platform” for information to proliferate.

The Lost History of Albanian Helvetica

AIGA Eye on Design featured a new typeface designed by a Fulbright scholar from The Republic of Kosovo that he refers to as “Albanian Helvetica.” “Vithkuqi Digital,” as it is more formally known, is so salient because although the Albanian language is among the oldest in Europe, dating back 5,000 years, it lacked a formal writing system until an Albanian alphabet book was first written in 1844. Ever since, modern Albanian has used Latin characters, and the Albanian alphabet was obscured by time. So the designer, Edon Muhaxheri, rescued the lost Albanian alphabet and created a modern typeface using the only unique written language in Albanian history. His original idea for a thesis project at MICA also involved making an automation that could write in Albanian, as was commonly used in the 19th century (pictured below). The designer also notes that in bilingual designs, Withkuqi EM Sans pairs well with any version of Helvetica. Cool.


As design critic Steven Heller puts it, “The amazing thing about the project is simply how many alphabetic languages exist in the world for which typography is the vessel; as Westerners, we are so insulated. Thanks to this and other such projects we are finally opening up to the world, just as Albania, once a closed society, has done in recent years.”

Job recruiting with VR: an ethical question

We have on our hands a moral dilemma. Companies are increasingly using VR to train employees (see: KFC, Walmart, US Navy) – and now companies are beginning to explore VR as a recruitment tactic.

But what if the VR experience outshines the reality of the real job? Wired writes:

“To be sure, all recruiting and training materials, including traditional video, tend to accentuate the positive. But the immersive nature of VR means that it can make a stronger, more lasting impression on recruits and employees. “The idea is immersing your future employee in the job,” says Tuong H. Nguyen, a principal research analyst at IT advisory firm Gartner. VR “provides a more dynamic view of what the job is like.” He compares the experience to the difference between reading about or seeing a film of a sunset and seeing a sunset first-hand.”

Why it’s hot:

VR is obviously one of many shiny objects recruiters can use to attract and engage prospective and current employees. Plus, national or global firms who recruit talent from far and wide can use VR experiences to give potential employees a better sense of environments and situations they may experience on the ground, building confidence and interest. But what duties to recruiters have to show the reality, however virtual it may be, without misleading candidates?

We Need To Talk About Facebook.

So, about what happened on Facebook before the election. We’ve all heard about phony news articles, and how Facebook has resolved to crack down on fake accounts.

But what about fake Ads? Paid for, targeted, and executed during the months leading up to the election?

TL;DR: Here’s what you need to know–

The ads contained: “Divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

And now that it has been revealed and investigated– “Facebook did not make public any of the ads, nor did it say how many people saw them.”

“…Mark Zuckerberg, has gradually come around to the notion that the company must do more. Facebook has implemented a series of steps to combat fake content, including recruiting outside reviewers to check out and flag dubious articles.”

Why it’s hot:

Facebook is working to reel in fake accounts and articles, but when will they extend these efforts to advertising? How rigorous the vetting process is for paid advertising, especially when it is in relatively low increments (some batches were reported to be $50k). It will be interesting to see how this continues to evolve and potentially change how online advertising is bought and sold in a time when its influence is continually under scrutiny.

Recommended: “A Piece of Work”

Here’s a shameless plug for a podcast I really dig: Abbi Jacobsen’s new “A Piece of Work” podcast, a collab with WNYC and MoMA.

Read more here:

And listen to it here:


I appreciate A Piece of Work for the way it demystifies what fine art is all about. It’s incredibly accessible– even the curators she interviews are surprisingly unpretentious– which is so refreshing. Plus, her guests are great–  there is nothing not funny about Hannibal Burress talking about Duchamp’s urinal found art sculpture. As an Art History nerd I love it, but I recommend it because living in New York City it is easy to forget the incredible art all around us and A Piece of Work is not only a great podcast but a great reminder.

What the Opioid Epidemic Looks Like on Reddit

Last week, Reddit banned the subreddit opiaterollcall, and then quickly banned the new thread that sprung up to take its place. The New York Times traced the surprisingly intimate view of the opioid crisis in the US as captured within this (relatively small by Reddit standards) community on Reddit.

The forum offered a state-by-state directory where people could post their area code to show where they wanted to make a deal. Several people in the forum said it felt safer to them than buying drugs on the street. Other users, like volunteer moderator and former heroin addict Ms. Helton Mitchell, offer warnings, advice and even send clean needles and counter-acting drugs to stave off overdoses.


As law enforcement cracks down on the dark web, public platforms like Craigslist, Google Groups, and apps like Snapchat and Instagram become increasingly prevalent drug deals. It’s telling to see how the platform responds; the company evaluates violations of its user agreement case by case, and the opiate forum had flown under the radar for four years. Meanwhile, forums dedicated to ecstasy and cocaine have not been banned; last year Reddit banned two “alt-right” subreddits for repeatedly posting personal information that could lead to harassment. Where do the platform’s ethical standards begin and end? And what is their duty to police the conversations and connections that happen within forums?

Uber’s crisis of culture and why it matters

It may have been hard to keep track of all icky news around Uber in the last 6 months (I know I for one went down the rabbit hole after the explosive Susan Fowler blog post in February and have been following the fall-out closely ever since).

In case you haven’t been keeping as close a tab, Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down on Wednesday this week after pressure from the board following Eric Holder’s report on the company– proving that all it takes for the bros of Silicon Valley to get their act together is just a little gentle scolding from the US Attorney general.

WIRED wrote a helpful timeline of the last few years’ mishaps and exposés here, in “A Brief History of Uber’s Many, Many Screw Ups”:


It’s cringeworthy to say the least. And it got me thinking about company culture overall, and how tech giants who have grown quickly and exponentially with little oversight or accountability can manage culture and the right way to do so. With all of the recent talk about Amazon’s retail (world) domination, it’s worthwhile to note that Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick based his company’s values on the leadership principles of Amazon. But while Jeff Bezos obsessively tends to the churn-and-burn culture of Amazon, Kalanick let the “always be hustlin” ethos of Uber run amuck. It remains to be seen if Uber’s 180-day plan can make a sizable shift in its company culture in any sort of meaningful way.

Companies like Uber, Amazon, and Google aren’t just services, retailers, or manufacturers. They are fundamentally upending our economies, our policies, and our daily behaviors. What is the “right” company culture for companies that will continue to influence so much more than just their employees’ 9 to 5 – and shouldn’t we care?

Insta leans into Influencers

Today, Instagram rolls out a new feature that will now tell you who’s getting paid to post. I.e. You see your favorite Instagram model is going to a music festival in the Bahamas, and the post itself will have a call out to the sponsorship.
In addition to contributing to the suite of ad products Instagram currently provides to advertisers, this feature will explicitly note partnerships, sponsorships and paid product placement– and will hopefully mark the beginning of the end of the #ad hashtag. influencer marketing tends to be covert and transparency has at times been an issue. But instead of trying to fool consumers, Insta is leaning into its place as the natural outlet for bloggers and brands alike to reach their audience.

Why Internet Giants are Fighting for Net Neutrality

Heads up for Monday June 12th, when major internet leaders (Amazon, Etsy, and Reddit among them) will join forces in the face of impending decisions by the FCC to potentially roll back Net Neutrality rules.
What is Net Neutrality and why should I care?

Net neutrality is the idea that internet traffic is treated equally and internet service providers can’t prioritize some traffic over others.

Net neutrality made it possible for Vimeo, along with countless other startups, to innovate and thrive. The FCC’s proposed rollback of the 2015 open internet rules threatens to impede that innovation and allow a handful of incumbent ISPs to determine winners and losers,” Vimeo said in a statement to CNet.

It will be interesting to see how the internet bands together to take action and how the FCC, and Congress, responds.

More Reading on Net Neutrality:

  • A very extensive Wiki page:
  • TechCrunch looks at the arguments against Net Neutrality:
  • Letter from Sam Altman of Y Combinator in WIRED making the case to other tech entrepreneurs to speak out Net Neutrality:

A new platform for organizers crowdsources texting

Since the election, newly minted activists and community groups across the country have been looking for ways to quickly and effectively rally mass as well as local groups of citizens. Enter new platforms – such as Hustle – which are taking advantage of peer-to-peer texting using volunteer texters to reach the largest possible group of people directly, without messages getting lost on myriad social media feeds.


Former White House staffer Yoni Landau, the co-founder of Rapid Resist, an organization that uses the Hustle platform, observes “Text is intimate… It lets people know something is really happening if someone has taken the effort to text them individually and have a conversation with them.”

Plus, it’s fast and highly localized, creating an immune system of local movements. These peer-to-peer text platforms prove that solutions do not necessarily have to be highly technical to be effective, and sometimes the simplest solutions are the most successful.

*Correction 8/16/17: Rapid Resist and Indivisible are organizations that use the Hustle platform.

Don’t Call Me On My Home Phone

Because the odds are I don’t have one.

A new report from the Dept of Health and Human Services found that “the second half of 2016 was the first time in the U.S. that the majority of American homes had only wireless telephones.”

Here are the numbers:

• 50.8%, a majority of U.S. households, now only have mobile phones at home. In 2007, only 15% of U.S. households only had mobile phones at home.

• 39.4% have both a landline and mobile phone.

• 6.5% only have a landline phone.

• 3.2% have no phone at all.

• 70% of adults between 25 and 34 only have a mobile phone.

Why it’s hot:

Aside from the implications for our telcom clients as their business has shifted over the last 10 years, it’s fascinating to see how behaviors have changed as technology rapidly advances. For Millennials it may have never occurred to them to get a landline phone, and even pay phones in the city have now been transformed into LinkNYC wifi hotspots. While the results of this study may feel obvious for younger folks who move often and have never relied on a landline, their parents would likely never consider getting rid of their landline phone. I’d be curious to see the reasoning behind people wanting/needing a house phone vs. those who do not. Is it about safety? The need to feel settled in a permanent home? The associated cost?

The Museum of Failure

Remember Coca Cola Blak? Colgate Lasagna? Bic “For Her” Pens? What about Google Glass? Each of these products has something in common. Hint: it’s not their commercial success.

Set to open this summer in Sweden, the Museum of Failure is a collection of exactly that – failed products from some of the worlds largest, most successful corporations on display – products that are “failures so legendary they have their own appendix in business-school textbooks.”

But the museum’s founder, organizational psychologist Dr Samuel West, isn’t laughing at these failures, but rather thinks it’s crucial to examine and learn from them. He profoundly states “Innovation requires failure. Learning is the only process that turns failure into success.”

(The Nokia N-Gage. Womp womp.)


In additional to being a fun trip down memory lane and a chance to gawk at these (at times) hair-brained ideas, it’s interesting to take a look at the design flaws and flawed strategies behind many of these products and think about their path to market.

At its most reductive core, “his is a museum about psychological flaws made visible.” For example, Bic’s “For Her” pens, (elevator pitch: “A range of pens with floral patterns on them”), took a useful idea (“market segmentation”) and over-extended it to an embarrassing degree. Mostly, these products set solve a problem without asking if one existed.

WeWork flexes to “space-as-a-service”

WeWork has unofficially announced a new initiative currently in the research phase informally called “space as a service” that will expand their office management software and services offering to corporations too large to typically work out of a WeWork location. Chief product officer David Fano says of the offering, “(we) see it as a way to give customers the cost savings that WeWork enjoys, because of its vendor relationships.”


As WeWork continues to grow it’s real estate footprint at an exponential rate, it’s telling to see them expand their design philosophies into service offerings. For clients like Staples, a lean start up offering facilities consulting (i.e. How to seat more employees in less office space) as well as office management and vendor services looks to be a new competitor in the making.

This Week In Internet Privacy

*** PSA: I learned a valuable lesson this week when I hit “Publish” and WordPress took me to the log in page, deleting my post– save your posts in a word doc!!!***

As you have probably already heard this week, Congress voted for a resolution to repeal the Obama-era regulations that would prohibit Internet Service Providers from selling consumers web browsing history to advertisers. The house Republican majority gave the rationale that “consistency” was the reason for repealing this consumer-friendly legislation, saying “What America needs is one standard across the internet ecosystem.” Read: If internet companies like Google and Facebook can monetize customer data, why can’t Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon?

Well, Facebook and Google are free to use, with the (growing) awareness by consumers that in order for these services to be free, you are opting-in to be advertised to based on your data. Internet services, however, aren’t free, and consumers already pay handsomely for broadband and wireless data plans. There is no customer expectation that ISPs will profit from personal data on top of the fee they are already charging. This legislation reversal would make it possible for ISPs to sell customer browsing, app usage, and location data without express opt-in from users.

This is a snapshot of my browsing history a minute after installing "Internet Noise."


The implications for we as consumers, as well as as advertisers remain to be seen. However, wary civilians are already taking signal-jamming measures to obfuscate their browser history from potential surveillance (to the chagrin of Google search advertising). In the meantime, ISPs like our client Verizon will be devising new means to monetize customer data and forming new streams of revenue.

You’ll NEVER Guess How Much Clickbait is on Facebook

While Facebook has made efforts to crack down on “Fake News” ‘in the wake of the election, clickbait still garners millions of shares on Facebook every month. How is it possible that the most shared article on Facebook in November (the month of the election, in fact) was “Forget Coffins! This Company Will Swirl You Into Beautiful Glass Creations When You Die” ?

While Facebook started to crack down on clickbait earlier 2016, and cracked down more so on Fake News since the election, clickbait is still as prevalent as ever– no matter the broader national conversation. Back in June 2016, Facebook made a sweeping set of changes to its newsfeed algorithms that would rank clickbait-y publisher content less favorably in the news feed, after Facebook spent months identifying classifying phrases commonly used in clickbait headlines (read: “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions and Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”) Facebook likened the process to a kind of email spam filtering process. Yet if the last few months are any indication, clickbait still prevails on newsfeeds everywhere.


Despite the general feeling that the internet is making us dumber– how Facebook battles the clickbait epidemic has implications for us as digital marketers. As we think about content marketing and paid social strategies for our clients, it’s important to remember all of the noise on various platforms, and the reality of the user experience (including the other content vying for eyeballs). Perhaps the difficulty Facebook has had in combating clickbait will point to a future evolution of social media platforms where there is more competition among digital distributors, and more diversity of platforms where publishers choose to reach their audience.

YouTube Joins the Race to Skinny Bundles

This week, YouTube (and parent company Google) announced soon to launch YouTube TV, the latest player in the arms race to win cord cutters everywhere. The “skinny bundle” program lets users stream 40 channels of TV programming for $35 a month; far cheaper than signing up for a traditional cable provider, with the curated feel of only getting the channels you actually watch.

Though far from the first player in the skinny bundle game– let alone across the OTT competitive set– YouTube has apparently been working on this release for a few years now (most likely because getting large TV network conglomerates to sign contracts takes time – CBS being the first notable one – which gets you premium content like CBS-owned Showtime).

Look out for a similar launch from Hulu in the coming year, and for traditional cable to continue to feel the heat from forthcoming OTT services and skinny bundles alike. It will also be interesting to see what devices become compatible for YouTube TV; currently, Google’s Chromecast is the only device on which YouTube TV is available to stream–  will Google let any other devices stream it’s skinny bundle, or continue to holdfast against Roku, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV?



Why It’s Hot:

As the next big player to join the streaming wars, Google/YouTube is just the latest entrant in a race to disrupt traditional TV, and the fight for eyeballs is on. Although cord-cutters still represent a small segment of our overall population, the implications for more and more Millennials to eschew traditional cable in lieu of something more personalized, customizable, and well- cheap, without sacrificing sports content and the network shows they love, seems to be where TV is headed. It will be interesting to see how major TV providers and channels alike respond to the increasingly fragmented industry– and how our clients’ new offerings (Fios+, NatGeo) will do in this highly competitive marketplace.