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Week 47

November 2022

AT A GLANCE

A quick overview of this week’s content:
  • The Week that Was: Disney’s nuclear option, the COPout 27, and Ticketmaster’s amateur hour
  • The Business End: Free returns catch up with e-tailers and social media risks missing the boat on new markets
  • Rules of Engagement: Looking at the state of AI content moderation, life on and offline, and the experience of ebooks.

IGER COUNTER

Disney, battered by economic headwinds and the accompanying investor unrest, has used its nuclear option. Stock markets reacted with relief and excitement at old/new CEO Bob Iger returning to power. He originally came to power at Disney in 2005 and some argue, never truly gave it up. Bob Chapek, the new/old CEO that is being replaced was highly unpopular during his brief 11-month tenure. Critics of this CEO swap claim Chapek was forced to deal with the fallout of what they consider to be Iger’s tactical and strategic short-sightedness. One thing everyone seems to agree on however is that Disney+ is haemorrhaging (bleeding) money at an unsustainable rate. Iger now faces radically different economic and media climates than when he ‘left’, so it will be interesting to see how he fares. LINK

COPout 27

The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP 27) concluded last week. As usual many countries attended this summit about climate change to talk about how serious climate change is, and how important it is that everyone else do something about it. At least there’s hush money for the climate abuse victims this time I guess? The greatest commitment to addressing climate issues came from Brazil’s new/old president Lula after his election win over Bolsonaro, who is contesting that outcome. Assuming Lula does get to make good on his promises, some of the damage already done to the Amazon might be repairable using future technologies such as genetically engineered fungi. These experimental new fungi can purify mercury from the soil. LINK

SWIFT RETRIBUTION

In 2009, Live Nation and Ticketmaster conducted a highly controversial merger that critics claimed would/has led to a functional monopoly over the live-event part of the music industry. Though largely uncontested since then, a dramatic collapse of its infrastructure during the rush for Tailor swift concert tickets has reignited the antitrust conversation with a vengeance. This news comes in the same week that ActiVision Blizzard’s licensing agreement with NetEase broke down, meaning ActiBlizz games are likely to become unavailable in China. And last but not least, Pokémon Gamefreak now has both its biggest launch and biggest (recent) controversy on its hands. I believe that the investigation into the ‘Ticketmaster Disaster’ should thus be seen in the wider context of monopolies, not just as problems in terms of competition, but also for their risk as singular points of failure. LINK

THE RETURN OF RECKONING

The PlayStation Portable (PSP) was a popular handheld by Sony, released globally in 2005. Its ill-fated successor the PlayStation Vita was released in 2012. This was the last we’d see of an official Portable PlayStation until now. Yes, I suppose putting a PS5 into a car does technically make your PlayStation portable... Such radical new ways to try and court consumers are necessary as they sour on even the formerly untouchable Amazon. One of the main ways customers were courted by online retailers up until now was via free returns. Online retailers are increasingly struggling with the costs of returns and the old promise made to customers that those costs won’t be their problem. LINK

AMERICAN INFLUENCE

An interesting contrast stuck out to me over the course of this week. Firstly, there was an article detailing the frustrations of content creators outside of the USA with monetization options which are only being made available to US citizens. Second was an article about the booming esports scene in India. This is interesting to me because one of the reasons Chapek is being fired from Disney, an American company, is because he missed out on a lucrative media license for all coverage of Indian Cricket, a ‘traditional’ sport. Amazon’s Twitch currently dominates the esport streaming landscape outside of China, but I wonder if India might also break away with its own streaming infrastructure at some point. LINK

MODERATE SUCCESS

AI content moderation continues to be complex and hotly debated. I found a thought-provoking deep dive into the safety filters built into stable diffusion’s (SD) HuggingFace version. SD is notable and controversial because it does not have safety filters built in by default. As a result, it is widely popular not just for exploring the limits of AI image generation, but also for creating porn, sometimes of celebrities (deepfake porn). Deepfakes in turn spur on efforts to improve deepfake detection. There was also the launch and rapid removal of an ‘academic AI’ this past week. It’s called Galactica and it produced results that would definitely not get past a peer review. Both HuggingFace’s community and the social media dwelling academics that got Galactica taken down made MIT’s recently published community moderation research that much more interesting to me. LINK

SOCIAL PRESSURES

I was spurred into featuring this particular item by the rise and fall of dating apps. I initially found it fascinating how meeting people offline could possibly be considered a ‘new and novel’ approach. I briefly dismissed the notion, but then wondered if it was really such a case of ‘thanks captain obvious!’ as I initially thought. Aside from the fact that we live in 2022, a timeline widely believed to be cursed, there’s also an entire generation now that grew up with social media. Researchers are wondering to what extent old research on topics such as bullying are still relevant to online interactions, for example if excluding people from chat groups could be classified as bullying or not. Recent studies on how American teens live their lives online can at least offer some insights in that regard. LINK

THE EBOOK EXPERIENCE

Apple changed the apple books page flip animation in iOS 16. It used to simulate the turning of a page, now it more or less looks like swiping through flash cards. The reason this upsets people is because reading books is an experience that heavily makes use of all of our senses. The texture of pages, the smell of them, the vivid images we see in our mind’s eye, the character voices and sounds we hear in our mind’s ear. People’s ‘tastes’ also vary widely. For some, Ebooks can capture those joys whilst being extra convenient. Books also continue to be a massive revenue stream as scoops-turned-page-turners. The experience of reading, and even the ability to access ebooks can change dramatically over the years though in a way that doesn’t happen with physical books. It once again sheds light on the complicated issues of access and ownership to digital media. LINK

Titanic Turtle LINK
Colourful History LINK
Spaceport LINK
Cybernetics of Design LINK
Iceland Ice LINK
Nintendo Power Archive LINK
Escher on Creativity LINK
Breached LINK
iCloudy Skies LINK
Nvidia 3D LINK
Robodog Court Case LINK
Wearable Chips LINK
Snapdragon AR2 LINK


ONE MORE THING
I was asked by some readers why I featured the item ‘Kristallnacht Chicken’ first in last week’s newsletter. I did this to make a point. With so many huge, unprecedented things happening as the Big Tech Bloodfest continues, it’s that much easier to forget the old saying ‘the devil is in the details.’ There has long been a fixation with frictionless experiences in tech because the lower the friction, the easier it is to attract and lock in users. But this also makes it harder to notice the points of friction that put companies and their infrastructure at risk of failure. That’s what think pieces such as this one ultimately boil down to. KFC for example might have chosen to cut back on ‘non-critical’ personnel in charge of double checking whether their automated advertising system doesn’t mistake a solemn memorial for a monetizable holiday. People don’t tend to wonder about the cause of an avalanche once its already rumbling down the mountain, they just fixate on the spectacle. KFC sending out an embarrassing and insensitive promo isn’t the problem, the problem is that it happened, that it keeps happening that…hmmm…do you hear that rumbling in the distance?
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