No sooner did we start developing a newsletter, the newsletter industry exploded. Twitter jumped in with a purchase of Revue, Facebook was rumored to be investigating the platform, and each new day brought further experiments. You could blame it on the post-Trump lifting of the fog of despair. The pandemic continued apace, with new variants spurring distribution of vaccines and a transparency in communications with the new President and his team.
After years of social mining of our behavior, interests, and transactions, inference has been replaced by direct evidence. The politics of data pressure mandate that we expect free software bundled with increasingly powerful hardware. The core utility of a phone culture shifted as people kept to their homes and mostly used the televisions for entertainment and news, and the phones as notifications consumers. The desktop remained the creation engine for business documents, analytics, and information triage.
One year after the pandemic took hold, the outlines of the recovery are becoming visible. Because so much of our transaction history is funneled through the phone, we have left less need or incentive for teasing out indirect data and making inferences on it. Netflix is a honeypot for direct recording of choices, tagged along each customer’s timeline with the minute-by-minute social characteristics of the groups they participate in.
The resulting data type is beyond the bifurcation of product in the Apple hardware sense and the user as product in the Google or Facebook sense, Netflix creates a kind of social signal out of the analytics that is recycled back into the service where it impacts on the user’s behavior organically. We tap into the recommendation flow not just at the Netflix level but also the notification and conversational flows.
Newsletters offer a similar organic resonance, as they combine the author’s analysis of the information flow (in the form of citations) with the actual orbiting references. As with Netflix, the user leaves a breadcrumb trail along with time data as they record their choices and unread items. The maturing newsletter model is one where the authorship more correctly anticipates what has been seen by the target audience, and saves time and insight for rapid return on the investment. Group metrics synthesize this benefit into value on Netflix, where the “ratings” are based on retention and time compression. This is the newsletter opportunity.
If you buy the idea of media consolidation under the newsletter umbrella, how will that manifest itself? Already we’re experiencing a battle similar to the age of blogs, where individual voices built a social engagement cloud that emulated the dynamics of a magazine. Just as Apple inserted itself into the music business with playlists and MTV with top forty radio, blogs leveraged Twitter and social to create bundles of news, features, and commentary. As with playlists, the users were in charge.
Mobile brought notifications to the party, blending blogs with media. Initially podcasts leveraged RSS’s attachment extension to download sound and video files to iPods. But when streaming arrived, the preferred way of consuming the content was by clicking on the notification. This in turn disrupted the cable networks just as the kids went mobile and abandoned TV. During the 2020 campaign, notifications were a great way of routing around insufferable analysis in favor of the actual events.
Meanwhile, Facebook Live, Periscope, and YouTube gave virtually everybody a seat at the table. Podcasts democratized media, and streaming democratized distribution. I know many think podcasting is experiencing a renaissance, but personally I think streaming is inventing a new paradigm of the economics of the industry.
Take Clubhouse, for example. It’s distinguished by what it doesn’t do rather than what it does: no recording, therefore no replays. No video, only audio. No lurking, at least surreptitious checking out the scene. If you click on a Clubhouse notification, your name pops up for all to see. And there’s no button to Leave Loudly, just Quietly. Significantly, however, you can operate in a private room, and then go public if you want to. It’s podcasting with an invisibility mode.
Private rooms are just the place to hash things out. Today I had several conversations skirting these issues. One was muted, tentative, doubt mixed with an arrogant optimism. The other was supple, teeming with validation and the presence of humor to leaven the serious nature of the fleeting time we may have. Not recorded, in one case just a regular cell call. But the mulch created informs this post, with its scaffolding of intersecting items lurking in calm support. Podcasting, no.
It reminds me of the Hayden Planetarium, where the planets orbit and the asteroids bisect the swirling cosmos. We’re suspended in the teeming reaches of the near universe, with its fractal efficiency in the representation of the whole. The enterprise moves glacially forward, a breast stroke pace with a small wake. Somehow big things are afoot. At a minimum, they could be.
from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter
The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, January 22, 2021.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang