Left is Right & Up is Down
Probably the single best video to watch to understand the power of Google & Facebook (or even most of the major problems across society) is this following video about pleasure versus happiness.
In constantly seeking pleasure we forego happiness.
The "feed" based central aggregation networks are just like slot machines in your pocket: variable reward circuitry which self-optimizes around exploiting your flaws to eat as much attention as possible.
The above is not an accident. It is, rather, as intended:
"That means that we needed to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever ... It's a social validation feedback loop ... You're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology ... [The inventors] understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway."
- Happy? Good! Share posed photos to make your friends feel their lives are worse than your life is.
- Outraged? Good! Click an ad.
- Hopeless? Good. There is a product which can deliver you pleasure...if only you can...click an ad.
Using machine learning to drive rankings is ultimately an exercise in confirmation bias:
For “Should abortion be legal?” Google cited a South African news site saying, “It is not the place of government to legislate against woman’s choices.”
When asked, “Should abortion be illegal?” it promoted an answer from obscure clickbait site listland.com stating, “Abortion is murder.”
Excellent work Google in using your featured snippets to help make the world more absolutist, polarized & toxic.
The central network operators not only attempt to manipulate people at the emotional level, but the layout of the interface also sets default user patterns.
Most users tend to focus their attention on the left side of the page: "if we were to slice a maximized page down the middle, 80% of the fixations fell on the left half of the screen (even more than our previous finding of 69%). The remaining 20% of fixations were on the right half of the screen."
This behavior is even more prevalent on search results pages: "On SERPs, almost all fixations (94%) fell on the left side of the page, and 60% those fixations can be isolated to the leftmost 400px."
On mobile, obviously, the attention is focused on what is above the fold. That which is below the fold sort of doesn't even exist for a large subset of the population.
Outside of a few central monopoly attention merchant players, the ad-based web is dying.
Mashable has raised about $46 million in VC funding over the past 4 years. And they just sold for about $50 million.
Breaking even is about as good as it gets in a web controlled by the Google / Facebook duopoly. :D
Other hopeful unicorn media startups appear to have peaked as well. That BuzzFeed IPO is on hold: "Some BuzzFeed investors have become worried about the company’s performance and rising costs for expansions in areas like news and entertainment. Those frustrations were aired at a board meeting in recent weeks, in which directors took management to task, the people familiar with the situation said."
Google's Chrome web browser will soon have an ad blocker baked into it. Of course the central networks opt out of applying this feature to themselves. Facebook makes serious coin by blocking ad blockers. Google pays Adblock Plus to unblock ads on Google.com & boy are there a lot of ads there.
Format your pages like Google does their search results and they will tell you it is a piss poor user experience & a form of spam - whacking you with a penalty for it.
Of course Google isn't the only search engine doing this. Mix in ads with a double listing and sometimes there will only be 1 website listed above the fold.
I've even seen some Bing search results where organic results have a "Web" label on them - which is conveniently larger than the ad label that is on ads. That is in addition to other tricks like...
- lots of ad extensions that push organics below the fold on anything with the slightest commercial intent
- bolding throughout ads (title, description, URL) with much lighter bolding of organics
- only showing 6 organic results on commercial searches that are likely to generate ad clicks
As bad as either of the above looks in terms of ad load or result diversity on the desktop, it is only worse on mobile.
On mobile devices organic search results can be so hard to find that people ask questions like "Are there any search engines where you don't have to literally scroll to see a result that isn't an advertisement?"
The answer is yes.
But other than that, it is slim pickings.
In an online ecosystem where virtually every innovation is copied or deemed spam, sustainable publishing only works if your business model is different than the central network operators.
Not only is there the aggressive horizontal ad layer for anything with a hint of commercial intent, but now the scrape layer which was first applied to travel is being spread across other categories like ecommerce.
Ecommerce retailers beware. There is now a GIANT knowledge panel result on mobile that takes up the entire top half of the SERP -> Google updates mobile product knowledge panels to show even more info in one spot: https://t.co/3JMsMHuQmJ pic.twitter.com/5uD8zZiSrK— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) November 14, 2017
Here are 2 examples. And alarms are going off at Amazon now. Yes, Prime is killer, but organic search traffic is going to tank. Go ahead & scroll down to the organic listings (if you dare).And if anyone clicks the module, they are taken away from the SERPs into G-Land. Wow. :) pic.twitter.com/SswOPj4iGd— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) November 14, 2017
The more of your content Google can scrape-n-displace in the search results the less reason there is to visit your website & the more ad-heavy Google can make their interface because they shagged the content from your site.
Simply look at the market caps of the big tech monopolies vs companies in adjacent markets. The aggregate trend is expressed in the stock price. And it is further expressed in the inability for the unicorn media companies to go public.
As big as Snapchat & Twitter are, nobody who invested in either IPO is sitting on a winner today.
Google is outraged anyone might question the numbers & if the current set up is reasonable:
Mr Harris described as “factually incorrect” suggestions that Google was “stealing” ad revenue from publishers, saying that two thirds of the revenues generated by online content went to its originators.
“I’ve heard lots of people say that Google and Facebook are “ruthlessly stealing” all the advertising revenue that publishers hoped to acquire through online editions,” he told the gathering.
“There is no advertising on Google News. Zero. Indeed you will rarely see advertising around news cycles in Google Search either.
Sure it is not the ad revenues they are stealing.
Rather it is the content.
Either by scraping, or by ranking proprietary formats (AMP) above other higher quality content which is not published using the proprietary format & then later attaching crappier & crappier deals to the (faux) "open source" proprietary content format.
As Google grabs the content & cuts the content creator off from the audience while attaching conditions, Google's PR hacks will tell you they want you to click through to the source:
Google spokeswoman Susan Cadrecha said the company’s goal isn’t to do the thinking for users but “to help you find relevant information quickly and easily.” She added, “We encourage users to understand the full context by clicking through to the source.”
except they are the ones adding extra duplicative layers which make it harder to do.
Google keeps extracting content from publishers & eating the value chain. Some publishers have tried to offset this by putting more ads on their own site while also getting further distribution by adopting the proprietary AMP format. Those who realized AMP was garbage in terms of monetization viewed it as a way to offer teasers to drive users to their websites.
The partial story approach is getting killed though. Either you give Google everything, or they want nothing.
That is, after all, how monopolies negotiate - ultimatums.
Those who don't give Google their full content will soon receive manual action penalty notifications
Important: Starting 2/1/18, Google is requiring that AMP urls be comparable to the canonical page content. If not, Google will direct users to the non-AMP urls. And the urls won't be in the Top Stories carousel. Site owners will receive a manual action: https://t.co/ROhbI6TMVz pic.twitter.com/hb9FTluV0S— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) November 16, 2017
The value of news content is not zero.
Being the go-to resource for those sorts of "no money here" news topics also enables Google to be the go-to resource for searches for [auto insurance quote] and other highly commercial search terms where Google might make $50 or $100 per click.
Every month Google announces new ad features.
Economics drive everything in publishing. But you have to see how one market position enables another. Google & Facebook are not strong in China, so Toutiao - the top news app in China - is valued at about $20 billion.
Now that Yahoo! has been acquired by Verizon, they've decided to shut down their news app. Unprofitable segments are worth more as a write off than as an ongoing concern. Look for Verizon to further take AIM at shutting down additional parts of AOL & Yahoo.
Firefox recently updated to make its underlying rendering engine faster & more stable. As part of the upgrade they killed off many third party extensions, including ours. We plan to update them soon (a few days perhaps), but those who need the extensions working today may want to install something like (Comodo Ice Dragon (or another browser based on the prior Firefox core) & install our extensions in that web browser.
Yahoo! certainly deserved to lose that deal.
First, they signed a contract with Mozilla containing a change-of-ownership poison pill where Mozilla would still make $375 million a year from them even if they dump Yahoo!. Given what Yahoo! sold for this amounts to about 10% of the company price for the next couple years.
Second, Yahoo! overpaid for the Firefox distribution deal to where they had to make their user experience even more awful to try to get the numbers to back out.
Here is a navigational search result on Yahoo! where the requested site only appears in the right rail knowledge graph.
The "organic" result set has been removed. There's a Yahoo! News insert, a Yahoo Local insert, an ad inviting you to download Firefox (bet that has since been removed!), other search suggestions, and then graphical ads to try to get you to find office furniture or other irrelevant stuff.
Here is how awful those sorts of search results are: Yahoo! was so embarrassed at the lack of quality of their result set that they put their logo at the upper right edge of the page.
So now they'll be losing a million a day for a few years based on Marissa Mayer's fantastic Firefox deal.
And search is just another vertical they made irrelevant.
When they outsourced many verticals & then finally shut down most of the remaining ones, they only left a few key ones:
On our recent earnings call, Yahoo outlined out a plan to simplify our business and focus our effort on our four most successful content areas – News, Sports, Finance and Lifestyle. To that end, today we will begin phasing out the following Digital Magazines: Yahoo Food, Yahoo Health, Yahoo Parenting, Yahoo Makers, Yahoo Travel, Yahoo Autos and Yahoo Real Estate.
And for the key verticals they kept, they have pages like the following, which look like a diet version of eHow
Meanwhile many people get their broader general news from Facebook, Google shifted their search app to include news, Apple offers a great news app, the default new tab on Microsoft Edge browser lists a localize news feed. Any of those is a superior user experience to Yahoo!.
It is hard to see what Yahoo!'s role is going forward.
Other than the user email accounts (& whatever legal liabilities are associated with the chronic user account hacking incidents), it is hard to see what Verizon bought in Yahoo!.