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March 21 2017

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Mario Castillo’s mural depicting the Maya goddess Mayahuel at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Photo: Sally Ryan for The New York Times

March 18 2017

March 11 2017

Beware of feminism lite |

“Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing and bankrupt idea. Feminism Lite uses analogies like “He is the head and you are the neck.” Or, “He is driving but you are in the front seat.” More troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to “treat women well.” No. No. No. There must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a women’s well-being.”

March 09 2017

How commerce content sits uneasily alongside newsrooms - Digiday

“After The New York Times bought gadget-recommendation site The Wirecutter for around $30 million in October, Karron Skog, a senior editor at the Times, spent several months introducing Times editors to their Wirecutter counterparts, allowing them to become aware of their respective coverage plans on their own.

Over time, Times desks have begun to integrate Wirecutter features and content into editorial packages and use them in planning them, too. One recent result involved the Times integrating reviews from Wirecutter’s sister brand, The Sweethome, into a service package about the essentials of French cooking. In another, the Times tech section debuted a column called “Ask the Wirecutter,” where editors from both publications discuss what kinds of products to buy.

“We’re thinking about it in terms of collaboration, not integration,” said Skog, who added that more verticals will be adding Wirecutter content in the coming months.”

February 24 2017

Artificial Intelligence Is Not a Threat--Yet - Scientific American

“As Harvard University experimental psychologist Steven Pinker elucidated in his answer to the 2015 Annual Question “What Do You Think about Machines That Think?”: “AI dystopias project a parochial alpha-male psychology onto the concept of intelligence. They assume that superhumanly intelligent robots would develop goals like deposing their masters or taking over the world.” It is equally possible, Pinker suggests, that “artificial intelligence will naturally develop along female lines: fully capable of solving problems, but with no desire to annihilate innocents or dominate the civilization.”

February 20 2017

I’m learning now how technology can make people’s lives more efficient and delightful and even fully transform them. “Life 2.0" startups a la Uber (“everyone’s private driver”) and Postmates (one-hour on-demand delivery service!) in San Francisco can seem frivolous, services for the 1% or even 0.1%, but they illustrate how technology, artfully applied, can completely change the character of one’s day-to-day schedule — I can see eventual applications of this service model in more efficient job marketplaces. Beautiful apps like Flipboard and Paper don’t really seem necessary for anything, but they push the envelope in user interface and interaction design — I can see eventual applications in intuitive education software designed for self instruction, distributed on cheap tablet devices to the economically disadvantaged, who may not have access to good, if any, teachers or classrooms.
— Tracy Chou, “When are you going to start your own company?
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February 16 2017

Twitter users vs. non-users

“When we surveyed the people and interviewed the people who love Twitter all over the globe, consistently, they said the same exact thing, more or less: Which is, ‘Twitter shows me what’s happening in the world’;Twitter shows me what’s up’; 'Twitter keeps me on the pulse’; 'Twitter keeps me informed.’”

Among non-users, however, Berland cited three “key barriers”:

  • “People did not know what Twitter is for.”
  • “People thought Twitter was a social network … They thought you were there to connect with friends and family members, look for ex-boyfriends from kindergarten, and share baby photos, on and on.”
  • “People believe that to use Twitter they must tweet … They have this perception of: If you’re not tweeting, if I don’t know what to say, is Twitter really for me?”

WARC - Twitter brings clarity to its brand

February 14 2017

Why we keep making TV ads that suck

So should we be rushing to change our advertising development frameworks? I think the answer to the question is yes, and we should do this with urgency.

The reason why this has to be done - other than to improve our overall TV viewing experience - is because we are sitting on a metric tonne of knowledge and evidence, which runs in the face of our legacy beliefs about what makes great, effective ads.

And in this particular case, the evidence suggests that the ads that are interesting and engaging to watch are the very ads that help sell more stuff.

Specifically, as of today, we can be certain of the following:

  • Advertising causes sales via delayed response by building and refreshing branded memories, thereby increasing probability that the advertised brand would come to mind first in a purchasing situation;
  • The most sure-fire way for advertising to build and refresh branded memories is to generate a strong, preferably positive, emotional response in the viewing audience;
  • In order to achieve strong emotional response, ads must feature an emotionally engaging story that grabs attention early and keeps viewers constantly engaged;
  • Emotionally engaging brand-centric narratives can be built around functional attributes of products they advertise, but they absolutely do not have to;
  • In any case, recall of functional benefits and any RTBs that support them is likely to be weak unless the claims are novel enough to generate a strong…wait for it…emotional response!
  • Finally, strength of brand attribution and recall of functional benefits are not independent of emotional engagingness of the narrative, but are rather amplifiedor diminished by the latter.

The evidence that supports these ideas comes from various parts of academia and reputable research business. Here are a few examples that are just the tip of the iceberg:

  • Published studies and popular works by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, behavioural economist and mathematician Amos Tversky and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio conclusively prove that human beings are irrational decision-makers whose actions are driven primarily by emotions;
  • Works by Dr Robert Heath of University of Bath (UK), Erik du Plessis (currently chairman of Millward-Brown South Africa), Prof John Philip Jones of Syracuse University, Les Binet and Peter Field unearth an enormous amount of research-based evidence proving that emotions are also a pathway to memory, and advertising that elicits stronger emotional response generates more long-term memories;
  • BrainJuicer, a research house whose ad testing products are powered by the latest evidence coming from neuroscience and behavioural economics, have amassed a staggering amount of ad tests conclusively showing that quality of storytelling will have the greatest impact on the overall effectiveness of ads;
  • Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science frequently integrates and systematises most of this evidence in academic journals (i.e. Jun'09 issue of Journal of Advertising Research is fully dedicated to advertising and edited by Byron Sharp and Yoram Wind) as well as popular works (How Brands Grow I and II; Marketing: Theory, Evidence, Practice).

February 13 2017

Chinese factory replaces 90% of human workers with robots. Production rises by 250%, defects drop by 80%

“According to Monetary Watch, the Changying Precision Technology Company focuses on the production of mobile phones and uses automated production lines. The factory used to be run by 650 employees, but now just 60 people get the entire job done, while robots take care of the rest. Luo Weiqiang, the general manager, says the number of required employees will drop to 20 at one point. Despite this reduction in staff, not only is the factory producing more equipment (a 250% increase), but it’s also ensuring better quality.”

The Four-Letter Code to Selling Just About Anything

“ In the 1960s, the psychologist Robert Zajonc conducted a series of experiments where he showed subjects nonsense words, random shapes, and Chinese-like characters and asked them which they preferred. In study after study, people reliably gravitated toward the words and shapes they’d seen the most. Their preference was for familiarity.This discovery was known as the “mere-exposure effect,” and it is one of the sturdiest findings in modern psychology. 

Across hundreds of studies and meta-studies, subjects around the world prefer familiar shapes, landscapes, consumer goods, songs, and human voices. People are even partial to the familiar version of the thing they should know best in the world: their own face. Because you and I are used to seeing our countenance in a mirror, studies show, we often prefer this reflection over the face we see in photographs. 

The preference for familiarity is so universal that some think it must be written into our genetic code. The evolutionary explanation for the mere-exposure effect would be simple: If you recognized an animal or plant, that meant it hadn’t killed you, at least not yet.But the preference for familiarity has clear limits. People get tired of even their favorite songs and movies. They develop deep skepticism about overfamiliar buzzwords. In mere-exposure studies, the preference for familiar stimuli is attenuated or negated entirely when the participants realize they’re being repeatedly exposed to the same thing. For that reason, the power of familiarity seems to be strongest when a person isn’t expecting it.

The reverse is also true: A surprise seems to work best when it contains some element of familiarity. Consider the experience of Matt Ogle, who, for more than a decade, was obsessed with designing the perfect music-recommendation engine. His philosophy of music was that most people enjoy new songs, but they don’t enjoy the effort it takes to find them. When he joined Spotify, the music-streaming company, he helped build a product called Discover Weekly, a personalized list of 30 songs delivered every Monday to tens of million of users.

The original version of Discover Weekly was supposed to include only songs that users had never listened to before. But in its first internal test at Spotify, a bug in the algorithm let through songs that users had already heard. “Everyone reported it as a bug, and we fixed it so that every single song was totally new,” Ogle told me.But after Ogle’s team fixed the bug, engagement with the playlist actually fell. “It turns out having a bit of familiarity bred trust, especially for first-time users,” he said. “If we make a new playlist for you and there’s not a single thing for you to hook onto or recognize—to go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good call!’—it’s completely intimidating and people don’t engage.” It turned out that the original bug was an essential feature: Discover Weekly was a more appealing product when it had even one familiar band or song.”

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February 12 2017

Daniel Dennett: ‘I begrudge every hour I have to spend worrying about politics’ | Science | The Guardian

What’s the danger of a world where even the scientists don’t understand how this stuff works?
One of the big themes in my book is how up until recently, the world and nature were governed by competence without comprehension. Serious comprehension of anything is very recent, only millennia old, not even a million years old. But we’re now on the verge of moving into the age of post-intelligent design and we don’t bother comprehending any more. That’s one of the most threatening thoughts to me. Because for better or for worse, I put comprehension as one of my highest ideals. I want to understand everything. I want people to understand things. I love understanding things. I love explaining things to myself and to others. We’ve always had plenty of people who, for good reason, said, “Oh, don’t bother explaining to me how the car engine works, I don’t care. I just push the ignition and off I go.” What happens when we take that attitude towards everything?

February 08 2017

Podcasts I enjoyed this week, 8.11.2017

AmOn a flight to and from Gibraltar, I caught up with a bunch of podcasts I hadn’t listened to: 

Monocle ‘The Entrepreneurs’ - Gear Change, with the CEO of Turo

Last year in August I visited San Francisco and some parts of California. We used Turo, a peer-to-peer car rental company dubbed ‘Airbnb but for cars’. It allows people to share their unutilised cars when they are not driving them around or simply away for long periods of time. The advantage from a user’s point of view is that if you really want to drive a Porsche or a Tesla for a little while - you can; and you can rent it directly from the owner, paying a price he or she thinks is fair.  Where big car rental companies like Avis, Rent-a-car, etc. optimise for always having a vehicle available whenever and wherever you might be in the world, Turo is a bit more personal and also lets people show off their cars and let others drive them. This podcast with Andre Haddad, the CEO, is a fascinating look into their business model and what kind of owners and customers it attracts, plus a bit on their plans to expand into the British market. 

99% Invisible - The Revolutionary Post 

This little podcast is a fascinating look into how the US postal service basically made America: from Benjamin Franklin, the man who had the brilliant idea to link the colonies on the East coast, through to using the post as a way to deliver newspaper and news rather than actual post (which was expensive), and all the way to how the post pumped a lot of money into the rail and air travel industry in their early days. 

Freakonomics - The Men Who Started a Thinking Revolution

I listened to this just after I’d finished watching ‘The Big Short’, a movie adapted after a book by Michael Lewis. It turns out Michael Lewis is a great storyteller on podcasts too, not just in his books. The podcast tells the story of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman: two psychologists who met, influenced and inspired each other, and created ground-breaking work that saw them win a Nobel Laureate in Economics. 

The story is interesting to me on a number of levels: their work (as you’ll hear it explained in the podcast) is groundbreaking. It systematically shatters existing models and preconceived notions about human behaviour, especially those theories that attempt to paint humans as ‘rational actors’ always acting in their own-self interest, always seeking the most desirable outcome. Their research uncovers a number of biases that cloud our judgement and make us anything but rational: they reveal that we do not think, feel and do. Instead we are largely led by feelings towards descriptions of things rather than things in themselves. We feel, we do, and then we “think” or post-rationalise our decisions. 

On the other hand, it’s groundbreaking that two psychologists could win a Nobel Laureate in Economics: this is a field that is hesitant to offer prizes to mathematicians (to say nothing of women economists), yet awarded the greatest distinction in economics to two behavioural psychologists. If that’s not enough proof that these men started a thinking revolution, I don’t know what is. 

February 02 2017

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“The North American ARPU has exploded in the five years since Facebook had its IPO. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Facebook’s average revenue per user in the US and Canada was just $4.08. Facebook generated $62.23 per US and Canadian user in 2016, compared to just $13.58 in all of 2012. In other words, Facebook has figured out how to ring up an additional $50 per year from every North American user since its IPO. Not bad. 

Facebook now has 231 million monthly users in the US and Canada, the regions that advertisers are most interested in reaching thanks to the relatively affluent nature of those people.” 

via BI

January 30 2017

It has become clear, after all, that most new consumers don’t want to know if what they are reading is real or fake;, they just want to know that it helps support their worldview. As Pew Research has noted, in today’s media-saturated society, “liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds.”
Fake news is about to get scarier than you ever dreamed

January 29 2017

Is there more diversity _within_ races or _between_ races? Does knowing that someone is of African versus European descent, say, allow us to refine our understanding of their genetic traits, or their personal, physical, or intellectual attributes in a meaningful manner? Or is there so much variation within Africans and Europeans that _intraracial_ diversity dominates the comparison, thereby making the category “African” or “European” moot?

We now know precise and quantitative answers to these questions. A number of studies have tried to quantify the level of genetic diversity of the human genome. The most recent estimates suggest that the vast proportion of genetic diversity (85 to 90 percent) occurs _within_ so-called races (i.e., within Asians or Africans) and only a minor proportion (7 percent) within racial groups (the geneticist Richard Lewontin had estimated a similar distribution as early as 1972). Some genes certainly vary sharply between racial or ethnic groups – sickle-cell anemia is an Afro-Caribbean and Indian disease, and Tay-Sachs disease has a much higher frequency in Ashkenazi Jews – but for the most part, the genetic diversity within any racial group dominates the diversity between racial groups – not marginally, but by an enormous amount. The degree of interracial variability makes “race” a poor surrogate for nearly any feature: in a genetic sense, an African man from Nigeria is so “different” from another man from Namibia that it makes little sense to lump them into the same category.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History
If the history of the last century taught us the dangers of empowering governments to determine genetic “fitness” (i.e., which person fits within the triangle, and who lives outside it), then the question that confronts our current era is what happens when this power devolves to the individual. It is a question that requires us to balance the desires of the individual— to carve out a life of happiness and achievement, without undue suffering— with the desires of a society that, in the short term, may be interested only in driving down the burden of disease and the expense of disability. And operating silently in the background is a third set of actors: our genes themselves, which reproduce and create new variants oblivious of our desires and compulsions— but, either directly or indirectly, acutely or obliquely, influence our desires and compulsions. Speaking at the Sorbonne in 1975, the cultural historian Michel Foucault once proposed that “a technology of abnormal individuals appears precisely when a regular network of knowledge and power has been established.” Foucault was thinking about a “regular network” of humans. But it could just as easily be a network of genes.
Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History
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