Project Owl: Google hopes to improve by better surfacing authoritative content and enlisting feedback about suggested searches and Featured Snippets answers.

Danny Sullivan:

The takeaway from this? As I said, it’s going to be very much wait and see. One reason things might improve over time is that new data from those search quality raters is still coming in. When that gets processed, Google’s algorithms might get better.
 Those human raters don’t directly impact Google’s search results, a common misconception that came up recently when Google was accused of using them to censor the Infowars site (it didn’t; they couldn’t). One metaphor I’m using to help explain their role — and limitations — is as if they are diners at a restaurant, asked to fill out review cards.
 Those diners can say if they liked a particular dish or not. With enough feedback, the restaurant might decide to change its recipes to make food less salty or to serve some items at different temperatures. The diners themselves can’t go back into the kitchen and make changes.
 This is how it works with quality raters. They review Google’s search results to say how well those results seem to be fulfilling expectations. That feedback is used so that Google itself can tailor its “recipes” — its search algorithms — to improve results overall. The raters themselves have no ability to directly impact what’s on the menu, so to speak, or how the results are prepared.

The First Amendment.

The Next to be Left Behind

Noah Rothman:

These days, somewhat paradoxically, Forgotten America is on everyone’s mind. Even before Donald Trump won the presidency by appealing to demographics and themes that effete, urban Americans found gauche, books like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and John Judis’s The Populist Explosion focused elite minds on those left behind in the Great Recession’s “recovery.” Trump’s “Forgotten Man” was, however, forgotten long before 2008. By casting himself as a defender of the status quo ante—leaving it up to voters to determine for themselves precisely when their preferred “ante” was—Trump tapped into the political potency of nostalgia. The globalized information age is not done transforming the American economic landscape. Others will soon join the ranks of those left behind.
 The rise of Trump has focused the nation’s attention on the implosion of the Middle American plant town. Across the industrial Northeast and Midwest, working-class voters were left stranded in hollowed-out communities. That was only one stage of the modern economic metamorphosis. Another feature of the visible American marketplace may be about to collapse.

Consumers Show Signs of Frailty

Lisa Abramowicz:

If you were wondering when you should start worrying about weakening U.S. consumer credit, now is a good time.Consumers have been defaulting on their car loans in greater numbers over the past year, and some analysts have chalked this up to overly loose lending standards in the auto industry. But now some Americans are increasingly struggling to repay their credit-card bills. This was on full display on Tuesday in Capital One’s first-quarter earnings results, which showed a much higher rate of loan losses among its credit-card unit than both its management and investors expected.
 Rising Write-Offs
 Capital One’s card charge-off rates have risen to the highest level since 2011

QUIC in the wild, only for Google ad advantage

Luke Mulks:

QUIC is enabled by default in Google’s Chrome browser and underlying Chromium open source browser code. As of March 2017, Chrome accounts for 58.9% of users browsing the web.
 Brave blocks QUIC requests. QUIC is an opt-in feature in Opera, and is currently not available in other Firefox, Edge, and Safari. HTTPS requests containing the alt-svc: quic=”:443″ response header fall back to traditional TCP connections in other browsers, or when QUIC fails in Chrome.

I Joined Airbnb at 52, and Here’s What I Learned About Age, Wisdom, and the Tech Industry

Chip Conley:

I also learned that my best tactic was to reconceive my bewilderment as curiosity, and give free rein to it. I asked a lot of “why” and “what if” questions, forsaking the “what” and “how” questions on which most senior leaders focus. I didn’t know any better. Being in a tech company was new for this old fart. My beginner’s mind helped us see our blind spots a little better, as it was free of expert habits. We think of “why” and “what if” as little kid questions, but they don’t have to be. In fact, in my experience it can be easier for older people to admit how much we still don’t know. Paradoxically, this curiosity keeps us feeling young. Management theorist Peter Drucker was famously curious. He lived to age 95, and one of the ways he thrived later in life was by diving deeply into a new subject that intrigued him, from Japanese flower arranging to medieval war strategy.
 Although some older folks in the tech world feel they have to hide their age, I think doing that is a missed opportunity. Being open helped me succeed in tech; I’ve spent a lifetime being curious about people and things, which, I guess, means I’m well-read and well connected. I’m not sure there’s anyone in Airbnb who’s been asked to chat by a more diverse collection of employees. I always did my best to respond with an enthusiastic yes to these invitations. And I’m grateful. Because if I were to plot all of those conversations across the various islands (or departments) of the company, you’d see a rich web of relationships and knowledge. This served me even more as a strategic advisor to the founders, since I had a real sense of the pulse of the company and its various teams.

The army of fake accounts was more than double the number of “likes” on The Washington Post’s main page.

Nausicaa Renner and David Uberti:

The tech giant has come under fire in recent months for providing publishers and advertisers faulty metrics to evaluate audience reach. In September, Facebook apologized for long overestimating the time users spent watching videos. After additional measurement discrepancies were uncovered over the following months, it pledged to undergo an audit by the Media Rating Council, an industry watchdog.

“The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure”

Matt Taibi:

Many of the government officials who were involved in the decisions surrounding the GSE conservatorship are now in the private sector, working on proposals for much-anticipated GSE reform.
 Without getting too deeply into the weeds of this even more complicated tale, government officials have been working with Wall Street lobbyists for years on a plan to have a consortium of private banking interests step into the shoes of Fannie and Freddie.
 If this concept actually goes through, it would be the unlikeliest of coups for Wall Street. Having nearly triggered a global depression eight years ago, the usual-suspect, too-big-to-fail banks would essentially be put in control of the same housing markets they all but wrecked last time around.
 This would be a nonstarter politically, the ultimate public-relations disaster, were it not for the fact that Fannie and Freddie are about the only companies on earth less popular than the Wall Street banks. Still, replacing the one with the other would be madness by any objective standard.
 Are the gory details of that plan what the government is working so hard to keep under seal?
 We may never know. Judge Sweeney has yet to rule on the vast majority of the documents, and there’s no guarantee that she will ultimately unseal the remainder of the material. We may never find out what the government was so keen on keeping secret.
 The only thing that is clear is that there’s something odd going on, with the Obama administration asserting privilege over a volume of papers so large, it would make Nixon blush.
 “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says David Thompson of Cooper and Kirk, one of the attorneys fighting to unseal the material.

 Related: sharing only part of Madison’s $460,000,000 k-12 budget.

Airline disruption: it will happen in the next decade – but no one is preparing for it


Why so unprepared? It seems inconceivable that the structure of an industry with so many artificial constraints can remain intact much past 70 years, while all around it has changed.
 This decade alone has been witness to major disruptions in the travel and transportation industries. Most prominent have been in ride sharing – Uber – and in hospitality – Airbnb. Telecommunications, media and music industries have also been turned on their heads; banks and payments are in the firing line; retail generally is being rapidly transformed. There is scarcely an industry whose fundamental structure remains intact. Except the airline industry.

Tracing Spam: Diet Pills from Beltway Bandits

Brian Krebs:

According to Guilmette, whoever Dan is or was at, he got his account compromised by some fairly inept spammers who evidently did not know or didn’t care that they were inside of a U.S. defense contractor which specializes in custom military-grade communications. Instead, the intruders chose to use those systems in a way almost guaranteed to call attention to the compromised account and hacked servers used to forward the junk email.
 “Some…contractor who works for a Vienna, Va. based government/military ‘cybersecurity’ contractor company has apparently lost his outbound email credentials (which are probably useful also for remote login) to a spammer who, I believe, based on the available evidence, is most likely located in Romania,” Guilmette wrote in an email to this author.
 Guilmette told KrebsOnSecurity that he’s been tracking this particular pill spammer since Sept. 2015. Asked why he’s so certain the same guy is responsible for this and other specific spams, Guilmette shared that the spammer composes his spam messages with the same telltale HTML “signature” in the hyperlink that forms the bulk of the message: An extremely old version of Microsoft Office.

Revenge of the independent hardware store

Joe Hasler:

Every year, Deloitte releases what it calls the Retail Volatility Index, which measures how much market share businesses gain and lose in key retail segments, including hardware. In its 2016 report, Deloitte noted the emergence of a conventional-wisdom-busting trend. After a century of consolidation and concentration in retail, “smaller, more nimble players are stealing share from larger, more traditional, at-scale retailers.”
 As a strategy principal at Deloitte, Jacob Bruun-Jensen was one of the authors of the company’s 2016 index. He says the hardware retail market is emblematic of the new retail volatility. “These smaller players have found a niche and have been very successful in competing against the big national chains. It’s tied to this phenomenon of consumers seeking out local products or services and being willing to pay for that advice and that experience.”

Google Plans Ad-Blocking Feature in Popular Chrome Browser

Jack Marshall:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is planning to introduce an ad-blocking feature in the mobile and desktop versions of its popular Chrome web browser, according to people familiar with the company’s plans.

The ad-blocking feature, which could be switched on by default within Chrome, would filter out certain online ad types deemed to provide bad experiences for users as they move around the web.

Google could announce the feature within weeks, but it is still ironing out specific details and still could decide not to move ahead with the plan, the people said.

Unacceptable ad types would be those recently defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that released a list of ad standards in March. According to those standards, ad formats such as pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and “prestitial” ads with countdown timers are deemed to be “beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability.”

Some ads are more equal than others.

Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse

Kurt Gessler:

Starting in January of this year, we at the Chicago Tribune started to anecdotally see a fairly significant change in our post reach.
 We weren’t seeing a huge difference in post consumption or daily average reach, but we were just seeing more misses than hits. At the Tribune, we have a fairly stable and predictable audience. We had around a half million fans at the end of March and have seen slow but steady growth in the last year. Most Facebook posts fell into the 25,000 to 50,000 reach range — with a few big successes and few spectacular failures each day, usually based on the quality of the content or the quality and creativity of the share.
 But starting earlier this year, we started to see far more misses. And not reaches in the low 20,000’s but 4,000 reach or 6,000 reach. Digital Editor Randi Shaffer was one of the first to notice.

Time spent using apps is only going up, but mobile web usage has hit a wall

 Andy Boxall:

Time spent with apps on a smartphone has jumped by more than 10% in 2017, and will continue to rise between now and 2019; but time spent with the mobile internet remains steady this year, and is unlikely to rise significantly.
 This is according to eMarketer data, which shows in 2017, mobile users will spend two hours 25 minutes each day using an app on their phone, while 26 minutes will be spent on the mobile web. App usage is up 10.3% over 2016, and now represents 19.9% of the average person’s daily media time.
 In 2018, it’s estimated app usage time will rise to two hours and 35 minutes, and in 2019, reach two hours 43 minutes. Mobile web time is expected to stay at 26 minutes next year, before reaching 27 minutes in 2019.

The E-Scraper and E-Monopsony

Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice Stucke:

An e-monopsonist and his cousin the e-scraper are robbing an upstream bank. The alarm is triggered. The nearby antitrust enforcer, seeing them holding bags of cash, asks: ‘Have you seen any suspects running away from the scene?’
 Let us unpack this tale’s moral.
 With the rise of Google, Amazon, Facebook and other ‘super-platforms,’ we tend to look down rather than up. It seems like Google, Amazon, and Facebook are using their power in the marketplace to deliver great value to us — wrestling lower prices from producers in the case of Amazon, bringing news onto a single platform in the case of Facebook, and organizing the world’s information, in the case of Google.
 While these companies appear to be furthering our interests, a closer look reveals how these super-platforms may wield their power downstream to harm us, the consumer. As our book Virtual Competition explores, the super-platforms can use our personal data to better price discriminate and their disincentive to protect our privacy (and promote technologies that do).
 Less discussed, but of significant concern, are the upstream effects of these super-platforms. They are in fact harming many of the companies from whom they buy or acquire content — and that harm ultimately harms us. Our competition laws deal with this kind of buyer power. These concerns, however, are often low on the enforcement agenda due to the indirect effects on consumer welfare. In the digital age, that urgently needs to change.

We all thought having more data was better. We were wrong.

David Fletcher:

For years, the mantra in the world of business software and enterprise IT has been “data is the new gold.” The idea was that companies of nearly every shape and size, across every industry imaginable, were essentially sitting on top of buried treasure that was just waiting to be tapped into. All they needed to do was to dig into the correct vein of their business data trove and they would be able to unleash valuable insights that could unlock hidden business opportunities, new sources of revenue, better efficiencies and much more.
 Big software companies like IBM, Oracle, SAP and many more all touted these visions of data grandeur, and turned the concept of big data analytics, or just Big Data, into everyday business nomenclature.
 Analytics is hard, and there’s no guarantee that analyzing huge chunks of data is going to translate into meaningful insights.
 Even now, analytics is also playing an important role in the Internet of Things, on both the commercial and industrial side, as well as on the consumer side. On the industrial side, companies are working to mine various datastreams for insights into how to improve their processes, while consumer-focused analytics show up in things like health and fitness data linked to wearables, and will soon be a part of assisted and autonomous driving systems in our cars.
 The truth is, analytics is hard, and there’s no guarantee that analyzing huge chunks of data is going to translate into meaningful insights. Challenges may arise from applying the wrong tools to a given job, not analyzing the right data, or not even really knowing exactly what to look for in the first place. Regardless, it’s becoming clear to many organizations that a decade or more into the “big data” revolution, not everyone is hitting it rich.

How Brands and Agencies Are Fighting Back Against Facebook and Google’s Measurement Snafus

Lauren Johnson:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a $1 billion U.S. advertiser, is fed up with playing by Facebook’s rules. As a result, the carmaker concocted its own set of measurement standards that combine video views with a layer of additional stats, prodded by what it sees as a lack of comparability for Facebook to other media it buys.
 “We’ve come to the conclusion that we need to standardize our own view of the metrics,” explains Amy McNeil, head of digital media at FCA U.S. “We are collaborating with [our media agency] Universal McCann on the addition of time spent as an engagement qualifier, along with delivering on demo and in-view.” Such work piecing together custom metrics puts “a value on that platform, their reach, how successful we were in video completion,” she adds. “When we can prove out that it looks like any other buy that we’re doing, that’s when we increase our [budget]. Until we can get that third-party validation, our spend levels are what they are.”

McDonald’s is poised to be the first major fast-food chain in America to allow customers to place orders via smartphone at all locations.

Kate Taylor:

The fast-food giant plans to roll out mobile ordering and payment at all 14,000 US locations in the fourth quarter of 2017. According to analysts, beating out the competition and becoming the first to debut mobile ordering nationally would be a major win for McDonald’s.
 “Among the hamburger players, we believe that MCD is establishing a first-mover advantage with digital that can drive sustainable share gains in late 2017 and beyond,” analyst Jeff Farmer wrote in a note to clients Monday, CNBC reported.
 Wendy’s seems likely to follow McDonald’s in achieving national mobile ordering, with plans to roll out mobile order and pay across half of its locations by the end of 2017, according to Farmer. Burger King and Jack in the Box are lagging behind, as their programs are still being tested.

United Air Lines – an OODA loop perspective

Chet Richards:

I’m not too good at reading minds, much less corporate minds, but one thing stands out: For all practical purposes, domestic airlines in the US today are monopolies. They have left just enough market share at their primary hubs to avoid the threat of federal action, and this limited capacity means that open skies treaties won’t significantly increase competition.
 When your orientation says “monopoly,” you act like a monopoly. In particular, without the threat of the marketplace, you have a lot of flexibility in the levels of service you provide — your quality — and in what you can charge. Play this game well and you can maximize the amount of money to be paid out to the the people who control the organization and to those who can fire them.
 However, as Tom Peters once pointed out, in Thriving on Chaos as I recall, after some point, it’s impossible to order cost cuts without also damaging the customer experience.
 Back in the pre-Toyota US auto industry, they had a similar orientation: Customers didn’t appreciate quality and wouldn’t pay for improvements in quality over what Detroit was already producing. As I said, that was pre-Toyota. But weren’t Toyotas cheaper than their American competitors? They were indeed less expensive, but their quality in terms of manufacturing defects and ride experience, was much higher. Detroit claimed “Dumping!” but extensive studies showed that Toyota had evolved a manufacturing system that reduced waste thereby lowering costs organically, rather than just arbitrarily cutting costs by leaving out things.

Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind

Tamsin Shaw:

We are living in an age in which the behavioral sciences have become inescapable. The findings of social psychology and behavioral economics are being employed to determine the news we read, the products we buy, the cultural and intellectual spheres we inhabit, and the human networks, online and in real life, of which we are a part. Aspects of human societies that were formerly guided by habit and tradition, or spontaneity and whim, are now increasingly the intended or unintended consequences of decisions made on the basis of scientific theories of the human mind and human well-being.

Amazon continues to grow lead over Google as starting point for online shoppers

Taylor Soper:

That’s one finding from a recent research report from Raymond James that surveyed 587 people about their online habits.
 The study found 52 percent of respondents who said they start their online purchasing process at Amazon, which is up from 47 percent last year, and 38 percent from the year prior.
 That compares to 26 percent who say they start at a search engine. This graph shows the changing habits clearly:

Facebook faces increased publisher resistance to Instant Articles

Lucia Moses:

Facebook’s Instant Article push is in danger of fizzling.
 Many publishers are deeply unhappy with the monetization on these pages, with major partners like The New York Times throwing in the towel and many others cutting back the amount of content pushed to the IA platform. In response, Facebook is making concessions to publishers, including new subscription options, in a rare show of weakness for the platform juggernaut.

America’s Retailers Are Closing Stores Faster Than Ever

Lindsey Rupp , Lauren Coleman-Lochner , and Nick Turner:

The battered American retail industry took a few more lumps this week, with stores at both ends of the price spectrum preparing to close their doors.
 At the bottom, the seemingly ubiquitous Payless Inc. shoe chain filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to shutter hundreds of locations. Ralph Lauren Corp., meanwhile, said it will close its flagship Fifth Avenue Polo store — a symbol of old-fashioned luxury that no longer resonates with today’s shoppers.
 And the teen-apparel retailer Rue21 Inc. could be the next casualty. The chain, which has about 1,000 stores, is preparing to file for bankruptcy as soon as this month, according to people familiar with the situation. Just a few years ago, it was sold to private equity firm Apax Partners for about a billion dollars.

A More Humble Facebook Is Deploying Charm And Its Checkbook To Win Over Critics

Craig Silverman:

“This actually makes me a little bit uncomfortable,” said Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s VP of News Feed, to a packed room of journalists and members of the public on Friday.
 Mosseri was there to explain how Facebook News Feed works, and to share new projects related to news discovery and “integrity” the company is working on for its close to 2 billion global users. What made Mosseri uncomfortable, he said, was giving a sneak peek at new products they were testing — products that might never be fully rolled out.
 “We don’t generally share much about what we’re doing before we do it,” he said.
 Those in the audience could be forgiven for thinking Mosseri was talking less about his product road map and more about being in that room at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. Almost exactly two years before, Andy Mitchell, the company’s director of global media partnerships, gave a keynote that is now viewed by attendees of the IJF as something of a PR disaster.
 Mitchell’s prepared remarks back in 2015 weren’t the issue. It was his handling of questions about difficult topics such as censorship and Facebook’s responsibilities as a platform that stuck with people.
 “Do you think that you are accountable for the quality and integrity of your decisions to your community of users?” asked George Brock of City, University of London, to applause from the audience.

Banks scramble to fix old systems as IT ‘cowboys’ ride into sunset

Anne Irrera:

Experienced COBOL programmers can earn more than $100 an hour when they get called in to patch up glitches, rewrite coding manuals or make new systems work with old.
 For their customers such expenses pale in comparison with what it would cost to replace the old systems altogether, not to mention the risks involved.
 Antony Jenkins, the former chief executive of Barclays PLC, said for big financial institutions – many of them created through multiple mergers over decades – the problems banks face when looking to replace their old technology goes beyond a shrinking pool of experts.
 “It is immensely complex,” said Jenkins, who now heads startup 10x Future Technologies, which sells new IT infrastructure to banks. “Legacy systems from different generations are layered and often heavily intertwined.”
 Some bank executives describe a nightmare scenario in which a switch-over fails and account data for millions of customers vanishes.

Why Distribution Still Matters in the Internet Age

Abhishek Madhavan:

What made these specific companies rise above their competition boils down to one thing: user experience. As Thompson wrote in July 2015:
 [T]he most important factor determining success is the user experience: The best aggregators win by providing the best experience, which earns them the most consumers/users, which attracts the most suppliers, which enhances the user experience in a virtuous cycle.
 But what, exactly, makes for the best user experience? There’s nuance to it — the kind of nuance that can kill a company that fails to notice it. User experience is not just about having a beautiful app, or a high-functioning platform, or the biggest array of suppliers. In fact, the clash of two Indian startups — the now-multinational Zomato and a local rival — shows that the simple version of Thompson’s aggregation theory omits some very important details. The story of these two competitors isn’t just a regional tale. It speaks to any company interacting with the physical world, including startups like DoorDash or Postmates; it’s also pertinent to any of the e-commerce companies shaking up retail, like

A deep look at Google’s biggest-ever search quality crisis

Danny Sullivan:

The past few months have been bad for Google’s search reputation. Long considered the “gold standard” in search, Google has seen its search results questioned as never before. It’s a body blow to a core service that should be safe as Google tries to grow in new directions.
 Recovering from that blow isn’t easy. What’s happened to Google search is on par with the Apple Maps fiasco or Samsung’s exploding Galaxy Note7 phones.
 To this day, people still joke about Apple Maps being bad, even though it’s greatly improved. As for Samsung, the phones might no longer explode, but the jokes continue. Google now faces the same problem. Some of its search results are seen as laughable, embarrassing, or even dangerous.

Brands need to fire adtech

Doc Searls:

If brands still want to do “interest-based” or “interactive” advertising (adtech’s euphemisms for what it actually does) they should realize five things:
 Adtech sucks at branding. Hundreds of $billions have been spent on adtech so far, and not one brand known to the world has come out of it.
 Yes, it works, about .0x% of the time, on average. The other 99.9x% of the time it produces nothing but negative externalities, including lots of tendentious math by agencies and platforms to justify the expense. Among those externalities are subtracted value from brands themselves.
 Yes, direct response marketing does work, and it works best when target customers have already opted in, consciously and deliberately. (Note that there is a great deal of ambiguity about how much being a Google or Facebook member amounts to deliberate and conscious agreement to being followed and targeted, privacy controls withstanding. The choices in those controls should be much more binary and clear than they are.) So if L’Oreal wants to get a conversation going with customers of Lancôme, Giorgio Armani or The Body Shop, they should do it by those customers’ grace, not because the robots they’ve hired guess those customers might be interested, based on surveillance-gathered personal data.

America Needs Small Apartment Buildings. Nobody Builds Them

Patricia Clark:

Urbanists often lament that developers no longer erect the small apartment buildings that were once a staple of city neighborhoods. Instead, they construct single family homes or large apartment buildings.
 There are good reasons to revive this “missing middle,” however: Small buildings are a good way to add density without compromising the character of quiet, single-family districts. They also provide a convenient way for older homeowners to downsize without leaving their neighborhoods.
 But the best reason is that smaller apartment buildings are often cheaper for renters.

Chase Had Ads on 400,000 Sites. Then on Just 5,000. Same Results.

Sapna Maheshwari

As of a few weeks ago, advertisements for JPMorgan Chase were appearing on about 400,000 websites a month. It is the sort of eye-popping number that has become the norm these days for big companies that use automated tools to reach consumers online.
 Now, as more and more brands find their ads popping up next to toxic content like fake news sites or offensive YouTube videos, JPMorgan has limited its display ads to about 5,000 websites it has preapproved, said Kristin Lemkau, the bank’s chief marketing officer. Surprisingly, the company is seeing little change in the cost of impressions or the visibility of its ads on the internet, she said. An impression is generally counted each time an ad is shown.

21 Industries Other Than Auto That Driverless Cars Could Turn Upside Down

CB Insights:

It’s all but a certainty that autonomous or driverless vehicles will be widely used in the United States at some point over the next two decades. Already, over two dozen major corporates including Google, Apple and Mercedes Benz are hard at work building their own self-driving vehicles. Tesla’s Model S already includes an autopilot mode where the car drives itself on highways.
 Clearly tech and auto companies stand to gain, but many other industries could face serious upheavals unless they are able to adapt to the many changes self-driving cars will bring to the market.

How REI’s Co-op Retail Model Helps Its Bottom Line

Bourree Lam:

For a few years retailers have been facing some big challenges: falling in-store sales and the shuttering of big box stores. That’s led many to wonder how outdoor specialty retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) could be doing so well, as seemingly similar companies, such as Sports Authority, go bankrupt. REI’s annual revenue grew by 5.5 percent in 2016, and the company reports healthy sales growth for both its brick-and-mortar and online stores.
 The answer to all these questions may have something to do with the company’s business structure: REI is a retail cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its members. The company has created somewhat of a community by offering memberships, offering its over 6 million active members a dividend for future purchases at REI and one vote in an annual board of directors election for $20. That might seem innovative, but perhaps what’s more surprising is that, in many ways, REI is just practicing old-school retail wisdom.

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The retail apocalypse has officially descended on America

Hayley Peterson:

The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar report from October.
 Visits to shopping malls have been declining for years with the rise of e-commerce and titanic shifts in how shoppers spend their money. Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Why Augmented Reality Will Be the Next Revolution in Retail The Pokémon Go craze may have faded, but it provides clues to how retailers can use technology to engage consumers

Kamil Klamann and Sekoul Krastev

In the summer of 2016, pedestrians on New York’s Fifth Avenue encountered crowds of (mostly young) people, hastily running into Central Park, smartphones in hand, shouting out Pokémon names and cross-street locations. Within days of its release on July 6, 2016, Pokémon Go, an app that brought the 1990s gaming craze to virtual life, became a phenomenon. Its 40 million daily active users (at its peak) surpassed those of Tinder, Snapchat, and Twitter and created a level of in-app engagement that Facebook could only envy. It took complete control of the commutes, lunch breaks, and social gatherings of legions of people around the world. Intent on “catching” Pokémon in the wild, gamers thronged into museums, streets, even Arlington National Cemetery.
 Although the Pokémon Go fad now has predictably faded, it holds important lessons for companies intent on reaching and engaging consumers where they are, especially retailers: The game, the first truly social augmented reality (AR) experience, enthralled the new breed of omniconnected consumers as nothing else had done previously. Players not only shared an insider world where they could fight each other, but they also walked together and gathered at PokeStops in the middle of the night. The people who embraced the augmented reality of Pokémon Go live in a world where the line between real and digital is so blurred that they essentially became one and the same — constantly augmented and improved by invisible technologies. And they are hungry for better, more personalized experiences.

The retail apocalypse has officially descended on America

Hayley Peterson:

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months.
 Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the many companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess.
 Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model.
 For example, Bebe is closing all of its stores — about 170 — to focus on increasing its online sales, according to a Bloomberg report. The Limited also recently shut down all 250 of its stores, but it still sells merchandise online.

Inside Hearst’s turbulent quest to build a Snapchat brand

Jessica Schiffer:

Sweet, Hearst’s social-only publication created in partnership with Snapchat Discover, launched to lots of hype in November 2015 — but since, it has barely made waves.
 The once-secret project has experienced a series of layoffs, including the quiet firing of editor-in-chief Luke Crisell in July, and a rapid turnover. What began as an ambitious attempt to create a daily culture magazine for digital — filled with one-off artist features, author interviews and more — has instead slid into the territory of generic viral content like “There’s More to These 6 Candles Than Meets the Eye.”
 Four former Sweet employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity, paint the publication as an ambitious experiment hamstrung by Hearst’s numbers game.

Adidas steps away from TV advertising as it targets $4 billion growth

Karen Gilchrest:

Adidas is leaving behind TV advertising as it seeks to quadruple its e-commerce revenues by 2020, Chief Executive Kasper Rorsted told CNBC.
 Rorsted said the firm would focus primarily on digital channels to capture younger consumers, a crucial demographic for the sports clothing line.
 “It’s clear that the younger consumer engages with us predominately over the mobile device,” Rorsted told CNBC Wednesday.

Apple store creator Ron Johnson on Recode Decode


That people can’t grab stuff. Although, now they can.
 They grab stuff … In the walls, but it was very spartan. It was just computers and that was it, because we didn’t have other products and they were just hooked to the internet, and people came, and what do you do? It’s an inviting, beautiful environment, I might as well put my hands on a product.
 Then you used glass and wood.

Who shared it counts for more than who published it

American Press Institute:

When Americans encounter news on social media, how much they trust the content is determined less by who creates the news than by who shares it, according to a new experimental study from the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
 Whether readers trust the sharer, indeed, matters more than who produces the article —or even whether the article is produced by a real news organization or a fictional one, the study finds.

Where Zillow (sort of) disses SEO

Rich Barton:

Branding is back, folks. Geeky grandson of Draper is here. If you’ve been living unhealthily off SEO and are feeling the pinch, go hit the gym. Start building new muscles. Your arms are skinny from disuse. Performance marketing. Social media marketing. PR. Branding. Look at your unaided awareness numbers. If you don’t know what that means, go figure it out. Start bulking up. Oh, and you’ll probably need money, too. Good luck.

z-estimate was brilliant PR, despite its lack of substance in many cases. However, Zillow has also embraced seo tactics.

The blockchain could help advertisers lock up our attention

Eric T.K. Lim and Chee-Wee Tan

While technology has been making more devices “smart”, and we carry phones with all sorts of sensors, these haven’t yet been systematically applied to advertising’s central problem – engagement. The blockchain, however, will make advertising much smarter.
 Traditional advertising – think of posters on bus stops and TV commercials – is easy to ignore and its effectiveness is hard to measure. Even online advertising has problems measuring engagement. But with the blockchain, advertisers will be able to tap into the data in our devices, automatically pull together multiple sources of information, and even offer rewards to consumers.
 What is the blockchain again?
 Think of the blockchain as a kind of a public spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is stored simultaneously on a bunch of different computers and is encrypted.

McDonald’s begins testing Mobile Order & Pay ahead of nationwide launch

Sarah Perez:

Initially, mobile ordering is available in 29 restaurants in Monterey and Salinas, California, through the company’s mobile application. The test will then expand to 51 more restaurants in Spokane, Washington on March 20, McDonald’s says.
 By Q4 2017, McDonald’s plans to have mobile ordering live in its 14,000 U.S. restaurants. In addition, 6,000 others in Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Australia and China will receive the technology by year’s end, Reuters noted.

Another Decade, Another Miracle

Bob Hoffman:

In the 70’s, the miracle was marketing. Suddenly every agency was flush with freshly minted MBAs right out of the best schools in the country. Mostly they were nicely scrubbed frat boys who made us street rats feel somehow inadequate. They had actually read books about advertising and spoke a language that was impressive if you didn’t listen too closely. Sadly, they were mostly dumber than stumps but luckily they weren’t allowed to do too much damage.
 By the 80’s the frenzy over the MBA’s had grown stale as it turned out that their only reliable competence was for choosing the right wine. The 80’s gave us the miracle of research. Out of some dank and pungent caves in the basement of your client’s headquarters emerged a new species of researcher. They were proto-nerds. They had all the characteristics of nerds but none of the charm. They had no idea what any meeting was going to be about but somehow came armed with studies to refute whatever it was you were planning to advocate. It was a kind of bizarre and evil ESP.
 Bless Jay Chiat’s heart, he saw to it that by the time the 90’s rolled around the client research people were sent to bed without dinner as the research function was cleverly ripped away from them through the genius of account planning. See, you research geeks view everything from the company’s standpoint. We ad geniuses see it from the consumer’s standpoint. This became one of the greatest misdirection operations in advertising history and the power of its brilliance can be seen in many agencies yet today as account planners are still allowed to walk the halls and, in some compassionate agencies, even speak.
 But planning’s Decade Mirabilis ended abruptly as the year 2000 approached and online advertising became the new miracle. The web was the answer that everyone needed. The agency industry was tired and lifeless. Clients were restless and cranky. Advertising was stale and expensive. We needed something new, modern, exciting, and cheap. We also needed something that no one had a fucking clue about so we could make shit up. Something that we could build all kinds of dreamy expectations around. Online advertising was a godsend for everyone. Until it turned out to be a devilishly clever bento box of lies, fantasies, crime and mark-ups.

We’re watching more video, just not on TV

Sara Fischer:

A new Consumer Technology Association study finds that video viewership has increased more than 30% over the past five years to 16.8 hours per week, but almost half of all video viewing is being done on devices other than television (smartphone, laptop, desktop, tablet, etc.) — the highest rate its ever been. According to the study, that near 50/50 split represents a dramatic change from just four years ago, when consumers viewed TV video 62% of the time. Desktop video viewership has also declined by over 50% since 2012.
 Why it matters:

Complexity and Strategy

Terry Crowley:

 I struggled with how to think about complexity through much of my career, especially during the ten years I spent leading Office development. Modeling complexity impacted how we planned major releases, our technical strategy as we moved to new platforms, how we thought about the impact of new technologies, how we competed with Google Apps, how we thought about open source and throughout “frank and open” discussions with Bill Gates on our long term technical strategy for building the Office applications.
 I want to explore the issues I faced then and how our approach was influenced by how I thought about complexity.
 I’m currently rereading Melanie Mitchell’s “Complexity: A Guided Tour” and am heartened that even professional academics who study complexity full time have a hard time defining or measuring it. No breakthroughs here, I’m afraid, but let us try to construct a mental model that we can use to explore the topic.
 When we think about enhancing a software system, we can consider the curve that measures aggregate functionality against the aggregate cost required to achieve it. My impression from reading journalists and analysts writing about software is that they believe you have a linear curve that generally looks like this:

The Blockchain Will Do to Banks and Law Firms What the Internet Did to Media

Joichi ItoNeha NarulaRobleh Ali:

Even years into the deployment of the internet, many believed that it was still a fad. Of course, the internet has since become a major influence on our lives, from how we buy goods and services, to the ways we socialize with friends, to the Arab Spring, to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Yet, in the 1990s, the mainstream press scoffed when Nicholas Negroponte predicted that most of us would soon be reading our news online rather than from a newspaper.
 Fast forward two decades: Will we soon be seeing a similar impact from cryptocurrencies and blockchains? There are certainly many parallels. Like the internet, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are driven by advances in core technologies along with a new, open architecture — the Bitcoin blockchain. Like the internet, this technology is designed to be decentralized, with “layers,” where each layer is defined by an interoperable open protocol on top of which companies, as well as individuals, can build products and services. Like the internet, in the early stages of development there are many competing technologies, so it’s important to specify which blockchain you’re talking about. And, like the internet, blockchain technology is strongest when everyone is using the same network, so in the future we might all be talking about “the” blockchain.

You don’t get AMP

AMP the Google Search carrot
 The Search team will try to weasel out of this claim, but AMP results do get prefrential treatment. It’s almost impossible for something to rank above the Top Stories carousel, unless you’re searching for something like “facebook”, which, yeah, the top result is going to be
 This is the aspect of AMP I’m by far least comfortable with, but Google gonna Google. They’ve been dangling carrots in front of publishers for twenty-one years. And the now-ubiquitous ⚡️ has pretty good user recognition. It’s a pledge: “This site is fast; in fact, it’s instant. This site won’t jump around under your thumb. This site doesn’t have obtrusive ads. This site won’t try any shenanigans like redirecting you to the App Store page for Clash of Clans”.
 You can’t make those promises with 100% bulletproof statically verifiable certainty without AMP.

ARMing the Cloud; Qualcomm’s Centriq 2400 Platform will power Microsoft Azure instances

PC Perspective:

Qualcomm have already announced Windows 10 support on their Snapdragon, but the fact that Microsoft are internally running Windows Server on an ARM v8 based processor is much more impressive. Intel and AMD have long held reign in the server room and have rightfully shrugged of the many times in which companies have announced ARM based servers which will offer more power efficient alternatives. Intel have made huge advances at creating low power chips for the server room; AMD’s recently announced Naples shows their intentions to hold their market share as well.

Google isn’t actually tackling ‘fake news’ content on its ad network

Ginny Marvin:

Google continues to profit from ads served on hundreds if not thousands of sites promoting propaganda, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and flat-out lies. Some are fairly well-known publishers; others popped up during the election cycle and appear to exist solely to earn money from ads.
 Here’s what advertisers should understand about what Google’s “Misrepresentative content” policy means and doesn’t mean.