Last week, New York Magazine opened up a dispiriting discussion among those in digital media with an article staking the position that a lot of the Internet is fake.
The concept of “Fake News” — the original literal term, and the subsequent cynical deployment designed to obfuscate — has put the concept in everybody’s mind to a certain degree, but Max Read goes deeper. He says the metrics are fake, in part because users are fake. And if even temporary money can be made off fake metrics and fake users, the businesses can be fake as well, since they don’t have to be built to last. And with a backdrop where everything’s fake, it leads people to suspect that little is genuine.
If that wasn’t enough, the Washington Post’s director of advertising technology went off on his own Twitter rant, echoing some of the article’s refrains and introducing other angles:
While the specifics are new, digital media employees have understood the general reality for a while. Web advertising has never come close to supplanting print, and pretty much every outlet that pivoted to video in hopes of riding Facebook back to glory to ended up bailing because, as a lawsuit against the company argues, all of their figures were made-up, too.
As a grizzled veteran consumer of online content, the pivot to video never made sense. If anybody who preferred watching an article to reading one ever actually existed, he or she was outnumbered by people who said videos were far less convenient for myriad reasons — reading was faster than watching, video made for miserable load times, video couldn’t be easily watched in the office or in public without headphones, etc. But Facebook was supposedly where the money was, until its algorithm began demoting regular videos on the newsfeed, and then it turns out they were overstating the success of video all along.
That Facebook lawsuit came to mind as I finished “Bad Blood,” a book about the rise and fall of Theranos by John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal reporter who popped the firm’s balloon. It’s a riveting read; 300-plus pages of crazy, with one whistle-blower after another ignored because those holding the power and money had a deep-seated desire to believe in Theranos’ success, whether out of naivety or sociopathy.
All of it is saddening, because it was all so avoidable even without hindsight. Then again, if the first-guessers were loud, plentiful and nevertheless ignored, maybe it wasn’t avoidable after all. Perhaps the particulars would change, but as long as growth plans include pots of gold, mistakes will be made and jobs will be lost. In the case of Theranos, everybody’s lucky there wasn’t a death toll.
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With that in mind, happy new year, and happy first anniversary to the new Sox Machine. And I seriously mean that, without a whiff of cynicism.
I didn’t exactly know what to expect when I was making everything live one New Year’s Eve ago. I had my reasons to regain independence, and I knew I’d keep writing, but I couldn’t exactly account for all the other things that make a site a site (and a little bit of a business), especially after years with a corporate megaphone and backing, as meager as it was.
One year back at this, my biggest takeaway didn’t register in concrete thought form until I processed the reading materials cited above.
Basically, there’s a lot of pressure to produce content to reach numbers that might be thrown out in a month, for potential audiences that might never hang around if they even see it, around ads that go ignored on a good day. Here, it’s nice to write, as a person, for people. Granted, that’s always been my approach because I want to enjoy myself, but now I don’t have to hear about it from above.
Another takeaway: It’s more fun with a band. I can’t imagine doing this solo, and thanks to Josh, Patrick, Ted and Greg, I don’t have to.
And one more takeaway: Thanks to your support, I can actually invest in the site. I migrated Sox Machine to a superior hosting situation a couple months ago, which now makes it possible to implement some community features.
For instance, Jofp/As Cirensica requested a way to track one’s own comments and discussion, and I’m approaching a solution for that, which will also include the ability to tag other users in comments (and receive notifications when somebody mentions you). Hopefully it’ll work as well sitewide as it’s been working on a limited test, although I’m thinking the lack of ads makes load time less of a concern. (Again, this is what your contributions make possible, eliminating the necessity for programmatic advertising and all.)
Comment searching is also on the agenda. If you have any other ideas for improving the site, let me know. I can’t guarantee anything because my programming skills are limited, but I can explore options.
That’s about it for the Year One progress report. Or maybe it’s Year Six. Or maybe it’s Year 13. Whatever the official count, thanks for your part in making this a decidedly un-fake place to be.