Facebook Video Gets a Statistical Haircut


Brownpau | Flickr

When Facebook sneezes, the media catch pneumonia. For some time now the ad-supported online media business has been driven by some simple principles: Advertisers love video; video is hot on Facebook; if you make lots of videos and put them on Facebook, you will make money. But what if this whole equation was based on bad numbers? That seems to be the case, based on the news that Facebook “vastly overestimated” average viewing time for video ads over the past two years (The Wall Street Journal). Naturally, ad buyers are upset, but the rest of us should be, too. Each distortion of the media economy under the influence of Facebook’s dominance means that much less diversity and risk in our informational ecosystem. It’s bad enough that Facebook twiddles the dials on the news feed at will; now we can’t trust its reporting of data. Facebook says the error was innocent, only discovered a month ago, and didn’t affect billing of advertisers. But those now-known-to-be-inflated viewing times certainly cemented Facebook video’s “this is the place to be” appeal. That it took the company two years to come clean only adds to Facebook’s credibility problem.

Yahoo finally tells the world about its gigantic data breach. Speaking of taking two years to come clean: Yahoo’s data breach turns out to be more recent than originally reported — it happened two years ago, in 2014. It’s also way larger than expected: 500 million accounts had their information compromised — that’s as in half a billion (The New York Times). The disclosure has left Yahoo buyer Verizon, which only learned of the data breach two days ago, examining its options. And it has left Yahoo’s customers staring glumly at all their other accounts and wondering what to do about changing their passwords. Yahoo is blaming a “state-sponsored actor” for the hack. (And no, that doesn’t mean an NEA-funded thespian.) Whoever is responsible, the gap between the event and its disclosure does not inspire confidence in the company, its leadership, or its industry.

What founders want in a town. Teleport is a service for “digital nomads” looking to find their best match in a city. Now it’s offering urban rankings for startup founders (Teleport/Medium). Based on its own user data, the company looked at the qualities entrepreneurs most commonly seek — like “lively startup scene,” low cost of living, low pollution, safety, venture capital availability, and so on — and then ranked cities based on ten factors. The bottom line: San Francisco and New York made the top 10, but just barely, behind Atlanta, Chicago, Berlin, Bengaluru and Los Angeles. The rankings might be a little arbitrary — Teleport is drawing some big conclusions based on fine differences in somewhat arbitrary categories. But the larger point’s a good one: The world is full of great places to start companies.

Act now — this climate offer will end soon. The latest analysis from scholar-activist Bill McKibben (The New Republic) is sobering but not paralyzing. The bad news is, if we hope to stop the planet from heating up to intolerable levels, the energy industry has to stop drilling for new supplies of oil and gas — right now. Our current supply of fossil fuel is already more than we can burn without dumping so much carbon into the atmosphere that we will fry. The good news is, that still gives us a couple of decades for the transition to renewable energy, and such a shift is still feasible if we go all-out — right now. “Keep it in the ground” doesn’t mean “stop using the oil and gas we already have”; it means accepting that further exploration to tap new resources is a suicidal waste of effort.

Did they ditch their ethics along with the eggs? Hampton Creek set out to change the world by producing eggless mayo: good for you, good for the planet. How did it become beset with moral questions and targeted by the SEC? Bloomberg Businessweek pulls the saga together, and points blame directly at founder/CEO Josh Tetrick, who raised tons of money from Silicon Valley investors and then goosed results by commission teams of contractors to buy back its products from supermarket shelves. In this portrait, Tetrick let his over-aggressive marketing tactics overpower Hampton Creek’s missionary ideals — an “end doesn’t justify the means” story updated for the age of the purpose-driven company.

Featured in NewCo Shift: How to Sell the Smart City, by Stacey Higginbotham. Companies that want municipal governments to buy sensors and networks and other “connected city” hardware need to remember that cities value delivering services to citizens more than tech for its own sake.

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