No time for a proper blog post. Here is a photo from my birthday night.
I will make up for it later.
(Seems I say that too often)
My friends Paul and Lisa are big into futurology, and have been for years.
Futurology (noun): systematic forecasting of the future, especially from present trends in society.
(but you knew that)
A lot of people have hopped on the "futurology" bandwagon. It is becoming as much a buzzword as "blockchain", "artificial intelligence" or "mindfulness".
I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future of Facebook, Google and the other tech giants. The latest trends seem to suggest that more people are turning off social media, and this is foreshadowing the eventual downfall of these giants. I am not so certain that will happen, but I also don't fancy myself a magical creature with the gift of foresight. The whole exercise seems like slinging mud on a wall - throw enough of it and eventually something will stick.
Yes, it’s true that we’ve heard this all before—that people are abandoning social media, that the platforms are doomed. The New York Times has written variations on that story so many times over, it could have been a standing column in the business section of the paper. But I do believe that this time is different, the beginning of a massive shift, and I believe it’s the fault of these social networks.
I think about how VIVA can be different to the existing players - how do we build trust with our users, how do we give them what they want?
Adam sent me a link to a podcast earlier today about the creators behind Twitch.
I have some creative ideas for us to play with - I really think we can do a lot better, but we've got a really really solid base.
We are always trying to remain relevant and useful, and so are Facebook, Google, and everyone else. I don't believe for a second that the big tech players will let someone creep up unnoticed and snatch away their precious relevance.
Nick did not look amused that Jess and I would take a selfie halfway through breakfast, before the caffeine had a chance to work through his system.
I wasn't even meant to be party to their breakfast. I just barged in, "do you losers ever do any work?"
I have been out of our Pyrmont office for two weeks, perched like a canary at cafes and bars, occasionally working out of my home office in my pyjamas (the Qantas battle gear, for the long time readers). My productivity has not declined as a result - but let's face it, we were looking at a pretty low threshold.
Do I have my mojo back?
I have been thinking a lot about the famous startup mantra - "move fast and break things". I understand the desire to move fast, but I have been questioning the necessity to break things.
Break what things? Whose things? Why?
It causes me enormous discomfort to be intentionally destructive. It causes me moderate discomfort to cause even collateral damage in the process of progress... so to adopt such a callous mantra runs against who I want to be.
The mantra came from one of Mark Zuckerberg's interviews on Facebook's development, and was used as the title of a 2017 book by Jonathan Taplin. It has been used both to support and ridicule the tech startup ideology for growth, but even Zuckerberg has stepped back from the extremist view of what breakage he is willing to tolerate for speed:
"We used to have this famous mantra ... and the idea here is that as developers, moving quickly is so important that we were even willing to tolerate a few bugs in order to do it," Zuckerberg said. "What we realized over time is that it wasn't helping us to move faster because we had to slow down to fix these bugs and it wasn't improving our speed." - Mashable, 30 April 2014
Like all quotes, it seems like it has been taken out of context too many times, and started to have a life of its own.
We should not want to break anything, I think... but I still haven't solved the question - what is the best way to grow a company?
Starting on a tangent: I think we have a tendency to overestimate the capabilities of technology. I used the Samsung auto blur background tool to treat the photo of Tina and Reece, and produced a substandard result that seems badly Photoshopped. The photo team at Samsung have quite a way to go to catch up to Apple.
Tangent to a tangent: that word "Photoshopped" reminds me of a great app Allan and Nicole discovered last week called "Screenshop", which helps people identify and buy clothing based on photos. It is a really cool piece of tech!
What happened this week?
It's Sam's birthday today - happy 29th, you old man. Instead of celebrating with him, I am days behind in terms of work, and trying desperately make heads and tails of everything.
It has been an extremely busy week, and so the blog has once again fallen victim to my neglect. I think this is why I cannot have a pet. Poor Rover would have died of starvation and loneliness long ago. It seems that my forgetfulness also led to a lot of missed photo opportunities, like coffee with Syed, chats with Matt and Paul, meeting Francois, meeting Janelle, and all the other meetings before and between.
I think perhaps it was a week of too many meetings and too little doing.
This post will end here. I have to collect my thoughts, and write something more meaningful and insightful later.
This is a snip I took of my FB feed this morning...
Over 80% of the page are filled with ads.
I did not intentionally set up the page to look like this. I stopped scrolling for a few seconds to look at my notifications, and only noticed all the content on my feed was ads when I left the little notification bubble. I don't know when it became this way - we are all scrolling through Facebook, consuming ads other people pump out to us, driving our decision making.
Aside from the ad targeting problem in the news recently (e.g. this WIRED article), there is a more fundamental UX problem.
Why are we allowing FB to give us so many ads?
I couldn't find any statistics on the ratio of ad content versus non-ad content on Facebook. Primarily because all the marketing agencies have optimised Google's SEO for any searches relating to ad content on Facebook - which is a different problem for another day. I did find other interesting statistics, like this one, and this one, but none that addressed the underlying question - why have consumers not revolted against Facebook's overwhelming proportion of ads?
I think I know the answers to this - it has a lot to do with tolerance and addiction - we will tolerate ad content on Facebook because the overall experience gives us just enough dopamine to continue scrolling. Sadly, even if that were not true, there is no viable alternative to Facebook out there at the moment.
Maybe Adam has a view on this one.
It was Saturday. Sam is still in town, four weeks into his annual return to Sydney. This reminds me... I still have to buy a wedding present for AJ's wedding that I missed in October... oh crap. Sorry AJ!
Mum and Dad rarely go out for food... or anything. To me, they are the quintessential examples of homebodies. Dad enjoys working on handyman projects in the backyard, on the work bench he built himself from scrap metals. Mum enjoys lolling around the house, cooking this and gardening that. Occasionally, they would go out to the markets for a bulk buy, and retreat once more to the comfort of their home.
I met someone at a seminar at Squire Patton Boggs on Friday last week who pointed out a problem in modern urban societies - there is a problem of increasing social isolation - she was trying to fix this for a specific segment of society, and I will find out more about this from her when we meet for a coffee later. In the context of folks like my parents, this "problem" of isolation is not really that problematic.
So, we will need to change one limb of the VIVA algorithms to allow for contextual adaptation based on someone's underlying desire to be social.
(that was a rather inelegant segue - I think I need to relax my mind a bit more - shake it up - and this isn't the forum for that - I will be back to post more stuff later - maybe after I work on the algorithms for a while)
About a month ago, Adam and I were on the phone discussing the lifetime value of each user. Adam had made an argument on the day before that the value of the users are measured by how much time they spend in the app, because that is how the industry measures value - which is loosely summarised as more time equals more attention equals more marketing dollars.
"We don't want users to spend hours in VIVA. That isn't the point at all. We want them to get in, find what they want, get out, do the thing they want to do."
Adam suggested measuring stickiness some other way, maybe through looking at the daily active user metric. Again, that is a time measurement - which is loosely summarised as higher frequency equals greater attention equals more marketing dollars.
"I want to give Uber as an example. You might use Uber twice a week in a good week, but the app is highly valuable because they deliver something valuable - they meet your demand. That's what I want VIVA to be."
Eventually, everyone asks me about monetarisation
I think people are missing the point when they laser focus on revenue. Yes - this is a business; but we should not wear the "this is a business" mantra as an excuse to act like less than decent human beings.
I stumbled across an article online about pushing back against the ugly practices in the tech and design industries:
If you’re designing sticky features that are meant to maximize the time people spend using your product instead of doing something else in their life, is that helpful?
VIVA isn't about keeping users in the app all the time. We are trying to achieve the opposite - find the thing that makes you happy, get out of the app, and get out into the real world.
Our core mission is in our name - LIVE!
We are not very good at trivia, but we do it anyway. To compensate (or to hide) for our gross inability to give the right answers, we give funny answers and make up funny team names like "ironically underachieving".
An aside: I think the term irony is used so much now that it is no longer ironic. Instead, it is a label for a sort of self-aware acknowledgement. A statement of, "We know, but sure, you can tell us anyway."
It isn't that we are slow, but that our minds are filled with non-trivial information, important information... but we are trying to get better, and that's why we go back to trivia. We came in 9th this week, an improvement from second last place a few weeks ago.
Sorry Android users...
... it is a similar story for our beloved Android users.
Android users might be experiencing very slow loading times when trying to collect events from our server. Sorry! We are making some database improvements to our server side, and this is affecting how the app is pulling information.
Don't worry, the speed isn't burning through your download. All the slow down is because our servers are trying to understand how to sort out information that Android users are asking. There is a gap between what the Android apps are asking and what our database now looks like, and so there is a bit of translating involved. Imagine speaking German to a Frenchie - even if he understands you, he's umming and ahhing out of spite.
(our iPhone users are unaffected by this bug - so your events should be loading in less than five seconds)
Matt and I managed to play a quick game of chess over coffee at lunch.
I loved feeling like an old man in a park, playing chess at midday with someone. I wanted to share a biscuit and a cup of tea I brewed at home.
"How does that taste, ay?" I would say to Matt in this fictional scenario.
"Not bad, old chap," if Matt would use words like that. "Your move."
I look forward to the days when my meetings would consist of chatting about business affairs and opportunities over games.
Am I too young to be fantasising about old man things like playing chess in the park? What happened to me?
This was Sam's best Zoolander magnum...
"I am trying look pensive. I should open my eyes a bit more."
Too late! There are no secondsies in life!
The theme of having no secondsies has been a core theme at VIVA headquarters this weekend. There have been some revelations in the tech news this weekend which makes life really interesting for us. So now, we will gun this Ferrari and try to grow faster than we ever did before!
Full steam ahead, like la tigra!