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Didn’t see that coming….

(cross posted from Searchblog)

Never in my five-plus decades has a year been so eagerly anticipated, which makes this business of prediction particularly daunting. I’m generally inclined to be optimistic, but rose-colored glasses stretch time. Good things always take longer to emerge than any of us would wish. Over 18 years of doing this I’ve learned that it’s best to not predict what I wish would happen, instead, it’s wise to go with what feels most likely in the worlds I find fascinating (for me, that’s media, technology, and business, with a dash of politics given my last two years at The Recount). As I do each year, I avoid reading other folks’ year-end predictions (though I plan on getting to them as soon as I hit publish!). …


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From the Department of Didn’t See THAT Coming…

Yes, it’s true: Last year, I did not predict a global pandemic in 2020. COVID is a gravitational force that warps everything it touches, so I approach this annual ritual of self-grading with trepidation. As I start, I honestly don’t remember what I predicted twelve months ago…but regardless, I’m expecting a train wreck. I’ll read each one in turn, repeat the headline prediction, and then free associate some thoughts on what actually transpired. Grab a glass of your favorite beverage…and here we go:

  1. Facebook bans microtargeting on specific kinds of political advertising. OK, Facebook did NOT do this — well, not exactly. What the company DID do was ban political advertising altogether — but only in the week before, and a short period after the US election. Of course, you can certainly say that by banning all political advertising, the company ended up banning microtargeting as a result. So that’s one argument for giving myself a “Nailed It.” If that’s too weak an argument, let’s go to the fine print in my original prediction: “The pressure to do something will be too great, and as it always does, the company will enact a half-measure, then declare victory.” And that is exactly what the company did. I mean, exactly. I also wrote: “The company’s spinners will frame this as proof they listen to their critics, and that they’re serious about the integrity of the 2020 elections. As with nearly everything it does, this move will fail to change anyone’s opinion of the company. Wall St. will keep cheering the company’s stock, and folks like me will keep wondering when, if ever, the next shoe will drop.” Yup. …

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Hey, Medium folk. Sorry I’ve been gone for a while.

Earlier this week I published a post on my site, and I hope to start writing more regularly in the new year. Going forward, I’ll cross post here as well. Below is this week’s missive. Hope you find it worthwhile.

An idea has been tugging at me for months now, one I’ve spent countless hours discussing and debating with leaders in marketing, media, and journalism. And as I often do, I’m turning to writing to see if I can push it into more concrete form. I’m literally thinking out loud here, but I won’t bury the lede: I believe it’s time for all major corporations — not just the companies that pushed for the #StopHateForProfit boycott — to call for a broader, more universal movement related to their marketing practices and their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Sustainability, and Governance (ESG) efforts.This isn’t about punishing platforms, rather it’s about reimagining our relationship to them, and shifting our focus to the externalities our collective dependance upon them has created in society — and for our clients’ bottom lines. For now, I’m calling the movement “Information Equity” — a rather dry and academic moniker, to be sure. Toward the end of this post, I’ll ask for your help in pushing the idea forward. …


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(Second of a series. The first post reviews the media and platform ecosystem, and laments the role brand marketers have played in its demise.)

***

Hi, folks on Medium. It’s been a minute. I’m sorry for that, long story. I plan on writing more overall, and I thought given we had built something of a connection a couple years ago, I’d start cross posting here. Hope you’re all good and enjoying the Medium vibe.

In my first post of this series, I laid out a fundamental problem with how digital media works today. Large digital platforms like Facebook and Google have cornered the market on audience attention, often with devastating impact on our national dialog. Along the way these platforms have developed sophisticated prediction and targeting engines which give marketers the ability to buy audiences with precision and scale. While this has been a boon for marketers’ businesses and the platforms’ profits, it’s also drained resources from independent, high-quality editorial outlets and stripped our national dialog of much-needed context. …


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(This story is cross posted from my Searchblog site)

As the coronavirus crisis built to pandemic levels in early March, a relatively unknown tech company confronted a defining opportunity. Zoom Video Communications, a fast-growing enterprise videoconferencing platform with roots in both Silicon Valley and China, had already seen its market cap grow from under $10 billion to nearly double that. As the coronavirus began dominating news reports in the western press, Zoom announced its first full fiscal year results as a public company. The company logged $622.7 million in revenue, up 88 percent from the year before. Zoom’s high growth rate and “software as a service” business model guaranteed fantastic future profits, and investors rewarded the company by driving its stock up even further. On March 5th, the day after Zoom announced its earnings, the company’s stock jumped to $125, more than double its price on the day of its public offering eleven months before. …


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A new year brings another run at my annual predictions: For 17 years now, I’ve taken a few hours to imagine what might happen over the course of the coming twelve months. And my goodness did I swing for the fences last year — and I pretty much whiffed. Batting .300 is great in the majors, but it kind of sucks compared to my historical average. My mistake was predicting events that I wished would happen. In other words, emotions got in the way. …


This past year, I predicted the fall of both Zuck and Trump, not to mention the triumph of cannabis (and rationale markets). But in 2019, the sociopaths won — bigly.

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Damn, was I wrong.

One year ago this week, I sat down to write my annual list of ten or so predictions for the coming twelve months. And before I was even halfway through, I’d already listed and then summarily dismissed the two most significant American sociopaths of our generation.

Despite my glancing protestations (#2 and #4, below), Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump did not go gently into the good night of 2019. And believing they might have only proves both my naiveté and our collective challenge: If we truly want a better world, we need to reform not just the technology industry, but the steroid-fueled version of capitalism that has captured it. If I’ve learned anything from this annual process of critically reviewing my predictions, it’s this: the fusion of unrestrained capitalism with unaccountable technology has become the playground of sociopaths. And this past year, the best sociopaths won. …


Why politics, why now.

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Last week an email hit my inbox with a simple and powerful sentiment. “I miss your writing,” it said. The person who sent it was a longtime reader of my work.

I miss writing too. But there’s a reason I’ve been quiet here and on other platforms — I wrote a very short post about that earlier this summer. To summarize, last year I decided to take the leap, for the seventh time, and start a company with my dear friend and frequent co-conspirator John Heilemann. John and I have worked on projects for the better part of three decades, but we’d never started a company together. Now we have: Recount Media is an entirely new approach to video about politics. …


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More than a few of you have been wondering why I’ve been so quiet here these past few months, and today I can finally reveal at least part of what’s kept me so busy. Today we’re announcing a public beta product from the company I’ve been building with my longtime friend and collaborator John Heilemann and many other talented folks. We’re starting with an email newsletter featuring a new approach to video journalism covering political news. I’ll have more to say soon, but for now, sign up here for our first product, The Recount. I hope you’ll share with friends — and let me know what you think. More soon, I promise, and thanks for reading. (CNN coverage here)


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I like to keep myself honest when it comes to predictions. Now that six months of 2019 are in the books (well, nearly seven given how intermittent my postings have been this year), it’s time to see how things are tracking.

Regular readers may have noticed I’m not really written much this year. This pains me, but it’s because I’ve been deep in a new project, one focused on a new market and a new media format. There’ll be news on that soon enough, but for now, let’s review my 2019 predictions and see how I’m doing.

First up: 1/ Global warming gets really, really, really real. I predicted that 2019 would be the year that climate change would become impossible to ignore. I’m writing this as more than half the country is suffering from a massive heat wave, and in the first six months of the year, we’ve seen so many extreme weather events, it’s hard to keep track. Floods, draught, monsoons, tornados, the Green New Deal, you name it, it’s all over the news. I think we’re on track for this one, sadly. …

About

John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business

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