Cyber Monday totalled $9.4B in US online sales, smartphones accounted for a record $3B

Sarah Perez & Ingrid Lunden:

Cyber Monday — the final day of the extended Thanksgiving weekend that traditionally kicks off holiday season spend — broke another e-commerce record: US shoppers racked up a total of $9.4 billion in online sales, according to figures from Adobe.

To put that number into some perspective, at its peak, consumers were spending $12 million per minute; this was the first day to see sales via smartphones break the $3 billion mark; and this was $1.5 billion more than shoppers spent on Cyber Monday a year ago (remember the days when breaking $1 billion was a big deal?). There has been $81.5 billion spent online since the beginning of November.

On the other hand, there is an undercurrent of more sluggish buying than had been anticipated. Following the pattern set during Thanksgiving and Black Friday which fell short of its predictions, the total was just on target, rather than surpassing, what Adobe had expected for the day. Adobe expected an increase of nearly 19%.

The Pursuit of Clout – and dependency

Taylor Lorenz:

“I want to have enough clout to be recognized for who I am, but I don’t ever want to see myself like a famous person,” Rowan said one day in his bedroom. “I just want to be able to have connections everywhere and be financially secure and monetize what I like doing.”

Rowan’s economy was a primarily teenage one. Mostly he sold ads on his Instagram to other teenagers looking to promote their own pages, apps or online storefronts. He negotiated deals through direct messages on Instagram and posted about 10 ads per day — some in the form of comments, links and images — on his various accounts. The profits supported his lifestyle; he bought Saint Laurent sneakers, an iPhone XR, a Gucci wallet. He planned to purchase a Tesla next year, when he’s eligible to get his driver’s license.

Rowan’s meme account was not his first business. Like many teenagers, Rowan had begun leveraging the internet early for financial and social gain. In middle school he’d order stickers in bulk on Amazon, then sell them at a markup to his classmates by promoting them on Snapchat.

By the time he reached high school, Rowan had entered the apparel resale market. He would purchase designer clothes and accessories from brands like Supreme on websites like Letgo, OfferUp and Craigslist, then resell them on Grailed, an app for consigning luxury items.

Rowan also experimented with dropshipping. This entails setting up an online storefront that ships products from third-party retailers to customers, profiting on the difference. Before he monetized his meme account, Rowan also sold shout-out videos on Fiverr. His followers could pay a small fee to receive a video of Rowan delivering a personalized message.

All of these are popular ways for teenagers to make money on the internet. Rowan, however, was unusually successful.

On July 26, 2019, Rowan’s world turned upside down. He was lying in bed around 11 p.m., refreshing Instagram, when he got a notification: @Zuccccccccccc had been disabled.

He figured it had happened by mistake. His page had been wrongly penalized before; he’d regained access through appeals to the company. That wasn’t the case this time, and he wasn’t alone: Instagram had shut down dozens of popular meme pages without warning or reasoning. (According to an Instagram spokesperson, Rowan’s account was removed for violating policies.)

Oakland shows how to expand housing supply: tell developers they can put up new homes.

Phillip Sprincin:

California’s housing crisis, particularly in the Bay Area, is notorious and well covered, with news stories chronicling homeless encampments, “pod” housing, and people forced to live in cars. But a surprising and encouraging piece of news emerged from Oakland recently. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland will produce almost 50 percent more housing units this year than San Francisco—6,800 versus 4,700—though Oakland has half the population and only 40 percent as many jobs as San Francisco. Just as surprising is the jump in Oakland’s housing production: the number of units brought to market in 2019 will be almost 15 times the number completed in 2018 and more than three times the number of units produced between 2013 and 2018 combined.

What caused this burst of production? Simple: Oakland told developers that they could build homes. In 2014 and 2015, the city passed a series of neighborhood plans in and around downtown that relaxed zoning and removed parking requirements, making it easier and cheaper to build. Now, after the four to five years required for design, permitting, and construction, Oakland is reaping the benefits of private development. By contrast, San Francisco continues to make it hard to build housing, with byzantine planning regulations, expensive development fees, restrictive zoning, and long delays.

Globalization dissolves local cultures, even as technology turns us inward.

Joshua Mitchell:

During the run-up to the 2016 election, leaders in the Democratic and Republican Parties who had agreed about nothing for a generation concluded that “populism” was the emergent threat. But partisans seldom have clear vision. To understand our troubled world, we must do better. “I have tried to see not differently but further than any party,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his introduction to Democracy in America. “While they are busy with tomorrow, I have wished to consider the whole future.” We should follow his lead, in the hope of seeing further than today’s parties.

Democracy in America, written shortly after Tocqueville’s visit to Jacksonian America—that brief historical period of which the supposed “populism” of today is an echo—makes no mention of populism. What did Tocqueville see? During the 1950s, scholars thought that he saw American exceptionalism and invoked his insights to argue that Marx’s ideas could never take hold in the United States. In the 1990s, they thought that Tocqueville saw the need for civic association, and relied on his views to argue that formerly Communist countries required such connections for the spirit of democracy to take hold. These are valid but partial glimpses of the larger meaning of Tocqueville’s work. In a haunting letter, written in 1856, a few years before he died, Tocqueville lamented, “This profound saying could be applied especially to me: it is not good for man to be alone.” This observation brings us closer to the truth. Tocqueville’s writing about Jacksonian America was informed by the central problem that he saw everywhere he looked: existential homelessness. Democracy in America is an extended rumination on the homeless man of the democratic age.

The world needs Cliqz. The world needs more search engines

The illusory truth effect

This has been even worsened and amplified since Google extracts answers (“facts”) from websites – it’s their attempt to keep traffic and money in Google. It clearly works. Now less than half of searches lead to a click to another website. More than a half of searches end on Google. We have reached the tipping point where people start and end their information request in Google. Users might believe everything they see there is true. But Google extracts these answers from any website, good and bad ones. Google is not Wikipedia, there is no community governance. There are not multiple arguments. There are no checks and balances. This wouldn’t be a problem if Google wouldn’t be so big. Here, the one answer Google choses, becomes the fact for 93% of searches. And when you repeat something often enough, however false – it becomes the truth.

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school districts use Google services, including Madison.

Privacy and 1st and 3rd party cookies

This Is How Google Will Collapse

Daniel Colin James:

At its peak, Google had a massive and loyal user-base across a staggering number of products, but advertising revenue was the glue that held everything together. As the numbers waned and the competitors circled, Google’s core began to buckle under the weight of its vast empire.

Google had been a driving force in the technology industry ever since its disruptive entry in 1998. But in a world where people grew to resent being tracked and profiled, Google’s business model was not innovation-friendly, and it missed several opportunities to pivot, ultimately rendering its numerous grand and ambitious projects unsustainable. Innovation costs money, and Google’s main stream of revenue had started to dry up.

In a few short years, Google had gone from a fun, commonplace verb to a reminder of how quickly a giant can fall.

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school districts us Google services, including Madison.

“Spinning the Compass Flywheel for the Future”

Michael Quinn:

When I was interviewing at Compass, I was struck by how simple yet powerful the mission statement was: help everyone find their place in the world. Despite the important role the Real Estate industry plays in helping people find their home, the Real Estate brokerage model has not benefited from the advances in technology and innovation like other industries have.

Compass’ goal is to change that. We are combining the best people with the best technology to build the first modern real estate platform to ensure that both our customers (real estate agents) and their clients have an efficient and delightful experience finding their place in the world. The result is a unified real estate platform that everyone — Buyers, Sellers and Real Estate Agents — benefit from.

As Compass looks into the future, the natural question is what’s next? During our quarterly All Employee Team Meeting a few months ago, our CEO Robert Reffkin unveiled the Compass Flywheel, the core strategy for Compass’ future. While celebrating our growth and achievements, we also looked into the future to see where Compass is headed.

First thing’s first — what, exactly, is a Flywheel? And why is this Flywheel key for Compass as we build an end-to-end real estate platform?

An interesting assertion: “we’ve built the first modern real estate platform…”.

Introducing the value of knowledge flows for individuals and the enterprise

Nicolas Granatino:

Knowledge management (KM) is defined in Wikipedia as ‘the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organisation’.  It originated in the early 90’s as a scientific discipline and its practice was adopted in enterprise to manage and leverage an intangible asset which was increasingly seen as being strategic.

In its early days, the practice of KM and its enabling software solutions focused on digitisation, storage and retrieval of documents.  KM was then mainly preoccupied with stocks of knowledge.  However, with the emergence of Wikis (1995), RSS (early 1999) and Weblogs (also in the late 1990s and now more commonly known as Blogs), individuals and enterprises saw the emergence of new possibilities around knowledge and information management.  Although I first became aware of the increasing importance of knowledge flows in KM for the enterprise in John Hagel et al.’s series of articles in the Harvard Business Review in 2009 where the authors advocated quite provocatively to ‘Abandon Stocks, Embrace flows’,  Lee Lefever had written an earlier series of 3 articles more nuanced headlined ‘Introduction to Stocks and Flows in online communications’ back in 2004 (thanks to Harold Jarche for the info).  He defined the two as follows:

Americans and Privacy: Concerned, Confused and Feeling Lack of Control Over Their Personal Information


Data-driven products and services are often marketed with the potential to save users time and money or even lead to better health and well-being. Still, large shares of U.S. adults are not convinced they benefit from this system of widespread data gathering. Some 81% of the public say that the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits, and 66% say the same about government data collection. At the same time, a majority of Americans report being concerned about the way their data is being used by companies (79%) or the government (64%). Most also feel they have little or no control over how these entities use their personal information, according to a new survey of U.S. adults by Pew Research Center that explores how Americans feel about the state of privacy in the nation.

Americans’ concerns about digital privacy extend to those who collect, store and use their personal information. Additionally, majorities of the public are not confident that corporations are good stewards of the data they collect. For example, 79% of Americans say they are not too or not at all confident that companies will admit mistakes and take responsibility if they misuse or compromise personal information, and 69% report having this same lack of confidence that firms will use their personal information in ways they will be comfortable with.

State of Digital Marketing 2019


CDP = “Customer Data Platform“.

If you care about user privacy, do NOT use Facebook JS SDK


Social Login buttons like the ubiquitous Login with Facebook/Google/Twitter/… button is convenient for users as they don’t have to go through a lengthy registration process and create yet another username/password. And without a proper password manager (which probably 99% users don’t use), they tend to reuse the same password which is bad in terms of security!

However behind the scene, some SDKs (I’m looking at you Facebook!) inject an iframe in your website to display the Continue as {MyName} or Login with Facebook button. Loading this iframe allows Facebook to know that this specific user is currently on your website. Facebook therefore knows about user browsing behaviour without user’s explicit consent. If more and more websites adopt Facebook SDK then Facebook would potentially have user’s full browsing history! And as with “With great power comes great responsibility”, it’s part of our job as developers to protect users privacy even when they don’t ask for.

“For the most part, the top of Google’s page of results directs you towards more Google products and services”

James Temperton:

As a result, 50 per cent of all Google searches now end without a click. Great for Google, bad for the list of websites below that also contain this information and that you will never visit. Do the same search on DuckDuckGo and the top result is IMDb. It might sound small but issues like this are fundamental to how the internet works – and who makes the most money from it. Google’s prioritisation of its results, and a perceived bias towards its own products and services, has landed the company in hot water with the European Commission slapping it with multi-billion pound fines and launching investigation after investigation into alleged anti-competitive behaviour. What’s good for Google, the commission argues, isn’t necessarily good for consumers or competitors.

Then there’s privacy. Search for something on DuckDuckGo and, for the most part, you just get a list of links or a simple snippet with exactly the information you were looking for. And it does all this without storing or tracking my search history. Nor is what I search for collected and shared with advertisers, allowing them to micro-target me with a myriad of things I’m never likely to buy. The ads I do see in DuckDuckGo, which the company explains makes it more than enough money to operate, are more general. My search for bank holidays in the UK returned an advert for a package holiday company.

A quick office survey revealed similar search banality: recent Googles included ‘capitalist’, ‘toxoplasmosis’ and ‘hyde park police’. For the most part, what we’re looking for online is simple: it’s definitions, companies, names and places. Where DuckDuckGo has struggled is when I look for something incredibly specific. So, for example, search for ‘film Leonardo Dicaprio goats scene’ in DuckDuckGo and it doesn’t work out you’re looking for Blood Diamond. Google does. While Google, with its vastly greater tranche of search data, is able to second-guess what I’m after, DuckDuckGo requires a bit more hand-holding. That doesn’t mean I can’t find what I’m looking for, but it does mean I have to modify my search term a couple of times to narrow things down.


Andre Staltz:

What has changed over the last 4 years is market share of traffic on the Web. It looks like nothing has changed, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic. Mobile internet traffic is now the majority of traffic worldwide and in Latin America alone, GOOG and FB services have had 60% of mobile traffic in 2015, growing to 70% by the end of 2016. The remaining 30% of traffic is shared among all other mobile apps and websites. Mobile devices are primarily used for accessing GOOG and FB networks.

Similarly, while AMZN’s business still relies on traffic to their desktop web portal (accounting for 33% of sales), a large portion (25%) of their sales happen through mobile apps, not to mention Amazon Echo. Like Google Home, Amazon Echo bypasses the Web and uses the internet just for communication between cloud and end user. In these new non-web contexts, tech giants have more authority over data traffic. They can even directly block each other, like GOOG recently cut support for YouTube traffic in Amazon Echo devices.

The real inflation inequality of our time

Tyler Cowen:

Consider people who love to consume information, or, as I have labeled them, infovores. They can stay at home every night and read Wikipedia, scan Twitter, click on links, browse through Amazon reviews and search YouTube — all for free. Thirty years ago there was nothing comparable.

Of course, most people don’t have those tastes. But for the minority who do, it is a new paradise of plenty. These infovores — a group that includes some academics, a lot of internet nerds and many journalists — have experienced radical deflation.

Here is another bit:

So who might be worse off in this new American world?

People who like to spend time with their friends across town are one set of losers. Traffic congestion is much worse, and so driving in Los Angeles or Washington has never been such a big burden. In-person socializing is therefore more costly. On the other hand, the chance that you have remained in touch with your very distant friends is higher, due to email and social media. Those who enjoy less frequent (but perhaps more intense?) visits are on the whole better off for that reason. It is easier than ever to go virtually anywhere in the world and have someone interesting to talk to.

Another group of losers — facing super-high inflation rates — are the “cool” people who insist on living in America’s best and most advanced cities. Which might those be? New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco? You can debate that, but they have all grown much more expensive. Many smaller cities, such as Austin, Washington and Boston, are going the same route.


On the go: research any agent:

  1. Sales
  2. Listings
  3. Contact Information: tap to add to your smartphone

Analytics: Dive deep:

  1. Agents
  2. Offices
  3. Brokers
  4. Multiple MLS Sources

Export to csv/excel

Market Penetration:

Seek growth opportunities.

View Charts

One system, from leads to closing, with analytics.


Why millennials never want to leave their apartment anymore

Sarah Todd:

Nobody wants to leave their apartment anymore. That’s the prevailing sentiment on the internet, anyway. Mean Girls memes and Viola Davis gifs celebrate the joy of canceling plans. Essays offer neuroscience-backed explanations of the relief that comes with bailing on drinks, while listicles and trend pieces promote the homebody lifestyle. Advice columns enumerate tips for backing out of social plans without losing your friends. The weekly newsletter Girls Night In features “recommendations for a cozy night in” alone or with girlfriends, including books, recipes, gratitude exercises, and candles. And at last count, Etsy offered 11,490 introvert-branded items celebrating a life of blissful solitude, from enamel pins emblazoned with the motto “Anti-Social Butterfly” to t-shirts declaring, “It’s way too people-y outside.”

The rise of millennial hermits is a bit puzzling at first blush. Sure, staying inside has its advantages. You’re sheltered from the elements. You can watch TV, which has gotten really good. Your pet is there, if you have a pet. And everyone needs downtime, some of us more than others.

In-Person Requests Are More Effective Than Electronic Ones

Vanessa Bohns:

Imagine you need people to donate to a cause you care about. How do you get as many people as possible to donate? You could send an email to 200 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances. Or you could ask a few of the people you encounter in a typical day—face-to-face—to donate. Which method would mobilize more people for your cause?

Despite the reach of email, asking in person is the significantly more effective approach; you need to ask six people in person to equal the power of a 200-recipient email blast. Still, most people tend to think the email ask will be more effective.

In research Mahdi Roghanizad of Western University and I conducted, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we have found that people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.

In one study, we had 45 participants ask 450 strangers (10 strangers each) to complete a brief survey. All participants made the exact same request following the exact same script; however, half of the participants made their requests over email, while the other half asked face-to-face.

We found that people were much more likely to agree to complete a survey when they were asked in-person as opposed to over email. These findings are consistent with previous research showing that people are more likely to comply with requests in person than over email.

Internet freedom is declining around the world—and social media is to blame

Technology Review:

The news: Governments worldwide are increasingly using social media to manipulate elections and spy on citizens, think tank Freedom House has warned in its latest report. It’s the ninth year in a row that global internet freedom has dropped, according to its assessment of 65 countries.

A new menace: Disinformation—false information spread deliberately to deceive people—helped distort elections in 26 of the 30 countries studied that had national votes in the last year. Outright censorship and internet shutdowns persist, but many governments find it more effective to employ individuals to spread online propaganda, facilitated by social-media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, the report said.

Some figures: Of the 65 countries studied, half had an overall decline in their internet freedom score, while just 16 registered improvements. A majority were affected by advanced social-media surveillance programs, with law enforcement in 47 countries arresting people for political, social, or religious speech online.

Image Recognition Trends in 2020

Ina Toncheva:

What is image recognition used for?

One of the most widely used applications of image recognition is the automatic detection and tagging of people, objects and places in large visual databases. Other technologies with increasing popularity are facial recognition used in security, biometrics and personal photos platforms, and content moderation for filtering offensive and illegal visual content. 

Which Image Recognition Technologies Will be on the Rise in 2020? 

Content Moderation

Billions of users share content online and tons of it falls within a range from inappropriate to outright illegal. Platforms operating with user-generated content (UGC) face a significant challenge  how to efficiently and effectively monitor UGC and block inappropriate and offensive images, videos and text. Content moderation done poorly can disturb vulnerable groups, hurt the brands reputation and cause compliance and legal issues. 

Who takes care of the “toxic digital garbage”?

Content moderation can be performed by humans, AI or both. More than 100,000 people worldwide monitor the most violent, pornographic, exploitative and illegal content to protect internet users from online bullies and criminals. The job is tough and can take its emotional and mental toll. 

The great American tax haven: why the super-rich love South Dakota

Oliver Bullough:

A decade ago, South Dakotan trust companies held $57.3bn in assets. By the end of 2020, that total will have risen to $355.2bn. Those hundreds of billions of dollars are being regulated by a state with a population smaller than Norfolk, a part-time legislature heavily lobbied by trust lawyers, and an administration committed to welcoming as much of the world’s money as it can. US politicians like to boast that their country is the best place in the world to get rich, but South Dakota has become something else: the best place in the world to stayrich.

At the heart of South Dakota’s business success is a crucial but overlooked fact: globalisation is incomplete. In our modern financial system, money travels where its owners like, but laws are still made at a local level. So money inevitably flows to the places where governments offer the lowest taxes and the highest security. Anyone who can afford the legal fees to profit from this mismatch is able to keep wealth that the rest of us would lose, which helps to explain why – all over the world – the rich have become so much richer and the rest of us have not.

How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results

Kirsten Grind, Sam Schechner, Robert McMillan and John West:

More than 100 interviews and the Journal’s own testing of Google’s search results reveal:
  • Google made algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones, and in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay Inc., contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Inc. and Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

  • Google engineers regularly make behind-the-scenes adjustments to other information the company is increasingly layering on top of its basic search results. These features include auto-complete suggestions, boxes called “knowledge panels” and “featured snippets,” and news results, which aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change.
  • Despite publicly denying doing so, Google keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results. These moves are separate from those that block sites as required by U.S. or foreign law, such as those featuring child abuse or with copyright infringement, and from changes designed to demote spam sites, which attempt to game the system to appear higher in results.
  • In auto-complete, the feature that predicts search terms as the user types a query, Google’s engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration, in effect filtering out inflammatory results on high-profile topics.
  • Google employees and executives, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have disagreed on how much to intervene on search results and to what extent. Employees can push for revisions in specific search results, including on topics such as vaccinations and autism.
  • To evaluate its search results, Google employs thousands of low-paid contractors whose purpose the company says is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. Even so, contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.

Zillow, Opendoor Pay Close to Market Value for Homes, Study Says

Laura Kusisto:

Companies using technology to make rapid cash offers to home sellers are typically paying their customers close to market value, a new study found.

The study’s conclusion is likely to be reassuring for sellers who are considering using so-called iBuyers instead of traditional real-estate agents. But it raises questions about the long-term sustainability of the iBuying business.

Companies like Opendoor and Zillow Group Inc. give consumers cash for their homes, saving them the hassle of tidying up before open houses and the risk of being unable to find a seller. In turn, consumers pay a fee of about 6% or more—higher than they typically would pay a traditional real-estate agent.

Many sellers have wondered if the iBuyers are making a lowball offer for their homes in exchange for faster execution.

The new study from Mike DelPrete, a scholar in residence on real-estate technology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, found Opendoor and Zillow typically purchase homes for just over 1%, or around $3,800, less than the value of the home as determined by First American Financial Corp. , a real estate title insurance company.

“This has always been a fundamental question. Are they ripping people off or not?” Mr. DelPrete said. “You can say pretty conclusively iBuyers are making fair offers on the homes they buy.”

History as a giant data set: how analysing the past could help save the future

Laura Spinney:

Turchin set out to determine whether history, like physics, follows certain laws. In 2003, he published a book called Historical Dynamics, in which he discerned secular cycles in France and Russia from their origins to the end of the 18th century. That same year, he founded a new field of academic study, called cliodynamics, which seeks to discover the underlying reasons for these historical patterns, and to model them using mathematics, the way one might model changes to the planet’s climate. Seven years later, he started the field’s first official journaland co-founded a database of historical and archaeological information, which now contains data on more than 450 historical societies. The database can be used to compare societies across large stretches of time and space, as well as to make predictions about coming political instability. In 2017, Turchin founded a working group of historians, semioticians, physicists and others to help anticipate the future of human societies based on historical evidence.

Urbanization Commentary


One faction of urbanists that I’ve sometimes found myself clashing with is people who assume that a greener, less auto-centric future will look something like the traditional small towns of the past. Strong Towns is the best example I know of of this tendency, arguing against high-rise urban redevelopment and in favor of urbanism that looks like pre-freeway Midwestern main streets. But this retro attitude to the future happens everywhere, and recently I’ve had to argue about this with the generally pro-modern Cap’n Transit and his take about the future of vacations. Even the push for light rail in a number of cities has connections with nostalgia for old streetcars, to the point that some American cities build mixed-traffic streetcars, such as Portland.

The future was not retro in the 1950s

The best analogy for a zero-emissions future is ironically what it seeks to undo: the history of suburbanization. In retrospect, we can view midcentury suburbanization as a physical expansion of built-up areas at lower density, at automobile scale. But at the time, it was not always viewed this way. Socially, the suburbs were supposed to be a return to rural virtues. The American patrician reformers who advocated for them consciously wanted to get rid of ethnic urban neighborhoods and their alien cultures. The German Christian democratic push for regional road and rail connections has the same social origin, just without the ethnic dimension – cities were dens of iniquity and sin.

At the same time, the suburbs, that future of the middle of the 20th century, were completely different from the mythologized 19th century past, before cities like New York and Berlin had grown so big. Most obviously, they were linked to urban jobs; the social forces that pushed for them were aware of that in real time, and sought transportation links precisely in order to permit access to urban jobs in what they hoped would be rural living.

But a number of other key differences are visible – for one, those suburbs were near the big cities of the early 20th century, and not in areas with demographic decline. In the United States, the Great Plains and Appalachia kept depopulating and the Deep South except Atlanta kept demographically stagnating. The growth in that era of interregional convergence happened in suburbs around New York, Chicago, and other big then-industrial cities, and in parts of what would soon be called the Sunbelt, namely Southern California, Texas, and Florida. In Germany, this history is more complicated, as the stagnating region that traditionalists had hoped to repopulate was Prussia and Posen, which were given to Poland at the end of the war and ethnically cleansed of their German populations. However, we can still see postwar shifts within West Germany toward suburbs of big cities like Munich and Frankfurt, while the Ruhr stagnated.

The Google Squeeze

Ben Thompson:

First, note just how many screens you now have to scroll to reach organic results — at least 3 on an iPhone 11 Pro which is 812 points tall.

Again, this isn’t necessarily new — Google has been adding ads for a while — but what makes the hotel module compelling is that, while it is easy to ignore the ads, the module is genuinely useful! You have a map of the city with prices of various hotels, an opportunity to specify your dates, and several options to click through on.

Here is the rub, though, at least from an OTA perspective:

Gmail Hooked Us on Free Storage. Now Google Is Making Us Pay

Gerrit de Vynck

Google has also ended or limited other promotions recently that gave people free cloud storage and helped them avoid Gmail crises. New buyers of Chromebook laptops used to get 100 GB at no charge for two years. In May 2019 that was cut to one year. Google’s Pixel smartphone, originally launched in 2016, came with free, unlimited photo storage via the company’s Photos service.

Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive


Study after study after study into remote work has made one thing clear: Remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts.

What’s not entirely clear is why.

Yes, people gain back time (and sanity) by avoiding rush hour commutes. They avoid the distractions of the office. They regain a sense of control over their workdays. They have more time to dedicate to family, friends, and hobbies.

But apart from the commute, all of those benefits aren’t necessarily the result of location independence, but rather the byproduct of asynchronous communication — giving employees control over when they communicate with their teammates.

How Amazon Rigs Its Shopping Algorithm

Stacy Mitchell and Shaoul Sussman:

More than half of all internet shopping searches start on Amazon. That staggering fact has made the tech giant an all-powerful gatekeeper for every maker and retailer of consumer products looking to reach customers online. For these companies, success or failure in the pivotal online market hinges on how Amazon positions their offerings on its platform. These sellers live and die by the tech giant’s algorithms, which function as a key mechanism of Amazon’s market power.


The most consequential and fear-inducing of these algorithms is the one that controls which seller gets to occupy the “Buy Box” for a given product, the area on the right-hand side of the page that contains the eye-catching orange buttons that say “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now.” When customers click one of these buttons, they’re choosing the default seller, the seller Amazon awarded the Buy Box to. 


The Buy Box is every bit as crucial as it sounds. For any product you might shop for on Amazon – a 55-inch Samsung television, say, or the paperback edition of Brandeis on Democracy — there are often multiple sellers offering that item, including, in many cases, Amazon itself. Amazon has an algorithm that selects one of these sellers as the default seller for that product. Sellers refer to being selected as “winning the Buy Box.”


Customers can opt for a different seller, but they rarely do. That’s partly owing to the one-click convenience of those orange buttons, and also because Amazon doesn’t make it very obvious that there are other options. To select a different seller, a shopper has to locate the inconspicuous text that says “Other Sellers on Amazon” or “See All Buying Options,” and then pick from the list that appears. More than 80 percent of the time, shoppers go with Amazon’s chosen seller. If they’re using a mobile device, that rises to more than 90 percent. 


In other words, for the hundreds of thousands of companies that sell on Amazon’s platform, “winning the Buy Box” is everything.

A Chinese digital currency is the real threat, not Facebook’s Libra

Kenneth Rogoff:

The fact that Libra will be pegged to the US dollar will give US authorities additional insight, because (at present) all dollar clearing must go through US-regulated entities. Still, given that Libra’s functionality can largely be duplicated with existing financial instruments, it is hard to see much fundamental demand for Libra except among those aiming to evade detection. Unless tech-sponsored currencies offer genuinely superior technology – and this is not at all obvious – they should be regulated in the same way as everyone else.

If nothing else, Libra has inspired many advanced-economy central banks to accelerate their programmes to provide broader-based retail digital currencies, and, one hopes, to strengthen their efforts to boost financial inclusion. But this battle is not simply over the profits from printing currency; ultimately, it is over the state’s ability to regulate and tax the economy in general, and over the US government’s ability to use the dollar’s global role to advance its international policy aims.

How California Became America’s Housing Market Nightmare

Noah Buhayar and Christopher Cannon:

How did we get here? Simply put, bad government—from outdated zoning laws to a 40-year-old tax provision that benefits long-time homeowners at the expense of everyone else—has created a severe shortage of houses. While decades in the making, California’s slow-moving disaster has reached a critical point for state officials, businesses and the millions who are straining to live there.

This fall, as President Donald Trump blamed Democrats for the situation on his swing through the state to raise money for his reelection, lawmakers in Sacramento passed some of the most sweeping legislation in years to address housing affordability. Google, Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. are throwing billions of dollars at the issue. But nobody’s kidding themselves that it’s enough.

“Broadly speaking, there is no solution to the California housing crisis without the construction of millions of new houses,” said David Garcia, policy director for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley.

A Farewell to Dairy Queens

Loren Steffy:

To this day, virtually every Dairy Queen is a franchise; only two, both in Minnesota, are company owned. (International Dairy Queen Incorporated is based in Minneapolis and is now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.) That’s markedly different from the growth strategies of chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, which have always maintained a healthy number of company-owned outlets. That, plus the chain’s lower franchise fees and shorter wait times for prospective owners, made Dairy Queen appealing to small-town entrepreneurs. Soon stores were popping up across rural Texas, and they became ingrained in the social fabric.

“Before the Dairy Queens appeared the people of the small towns had no place to meet and talk; and so they didn’t meet or talk, which meant that much local lore or incident remained private and ceased to be exchanged, debated and stored,” Larry McMurtry wrote in his 1999 memoir Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond. (Benjamin, a German philosopher, pronounced his name “Ben-ya-meen,” so the title rhymes.)

Last summer, when Republican representative Will Hurd conducted a series of meetings with constituents, he hosted them at Dairy Queens across his district, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. That wouldn’t surprise the 1,200 residents of Gruver, near the border of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, where many used to begin their workday in the fields at the now-shuttered Dairy Queen. “That’s where the farmers would meet in the mornings and drink coffee,” said city manager Johnnie Williams.

The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising

Jesse Frederick:

For more than a century, advertising was an art, not a science. Hard data didn’t exist. An advertising guru of the Don Draper
type proclaimed: “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons”

– and advertisers could only hope it was true. You put your commercials on the air, you put your brand in the paper, and you started praying. Would anyone see the ad? Would anyone act on it? Nobody knew.

In the early 1990s, the internet sounded the death knell for that era of advertising. Today, we no longer live in the age of Mad Men, but of Math Men.

Looking for customers, clicks, conversions? Google and Facebook know where to find them. With unprecedented precision, these data giants will get the right message delivered to the right people at the right time. Unassuming internet users are lured into online shops, undecided voters are informed about the evils of US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, and cars zip by on the screens of potential buyers – a test drive is only a click away.

But is any of it real? What do we really know about the effectiveness of digital advertising? Are advertising platforms any good at manipulating us?

You’d be forgiven for thinking the answer to that last question is: yes, extremely good. After all, the market is huge. The amount of money spent on internet ads goes up each year. In 2018, more than $273bn dollars was spent on digital ads globally, according to research firm eMarketer. Most of those ads were purchased from two companies: Google ($116bn in 2018) and Facebook ($54.5bn in 2018).

Goodbye Honey-Do List, Hello Shared-Labor App

Julie Jargon:

Take their Halloween-planning, for example. Ms. Harper gave her husband the task of ordering costumes, but because she didn’t accept his theme for the family—he wanted them all to dress up as characters from “The Powerpuff Girls,” but she worried no one would get it—he bounced it back to her. They ended up agreeing to be “Mario Bros.” characters and splitting the costume-ordering responsibilities.

Sara Blanchard and her husband, John Frederick, had been sharing a to-do list on the Wunderlist app but it went largely ignored by Mr. Frederick until his wife created a new category called “stuff that needs to get done because I see it every day and it is driving me crazy.” It included cleaning the backyard cushions, scrubbing the fountain and buying new bike locks for their two daughters.

Mr. Frederick, an airline pilot, admits he didn’t make his wife’s previous lists a priority but that her new designation got his attention. “It was not only the humorous nature of it but the emotional element that resonated with me,” said Mr. Frederick, who completed most of the items the second day after he returned home to Denver following a flight from Hong Kong.

“I felt so loved,” said Ms. Blanchard, who hosts a social-justice podcast. “But the best part was not nagging him.”

These Hugely Popular Local News Sites In The US And Canada Are Fake

Craig Silverman:

The Albany site has a Canadian counterpart, City of Edmonton News, that’s generated more pageviews than authentic local news operations such as the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun, according to SimilarWeb. Those two were recently joined by another fake local site, the Laredo Tribune, which began receiving significant traffic in September. There’s also a now-dormant site called the Stanton Daily whose domain now redirects to the Albany site.

“It’s remarkable — who said local news is dead, right?” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, after examining two of the sites and their analytics for BuzzFeed News.

The Albany and Edmonton sites have not been updated in months, have no employees associated with them, and list no larger corporate entity. Their homepages are filled with bland, out-of-date rewrites of local stories first reported by real news outlets. Beyond the homepage, the sites are chock-full of old celebrity content that has nothing to do with the cities they supposedly cover. They do not have active social media accounts, nor do they list an office address or any contact details.

“You’d think they would do a better job of hiding their non-reality,” Benton said.

Rethinking business processes for the tap tap, swipe swipe era

Juergen Stackmann:

For our Volkswagen sales teams, this means a complete redesign of our interaction and processes between OEM, importers and dealers. Building on our existing strengths, such as our service quality, we need to elevate our currently disconnected distribution levels to a new, complete and well-connected system.

Bye-bye sequential system, hello integrated magic triangle

We have to act as one when facing our customers. OEM, importer and the dealer form a magic triangle in which the customer should always be at the centre of our efforts and considerations.

Computing Platforms: 2019+

Daniel Eran:

My email inbox is absolutely overwhelmed by unsolicited offers to provide free statements from a company CEO or market research group sharing insight and carefully crafted data supposedly proving an important trend. I don’t even write up their ideas, so imagine how much free “content” is streamed to the “journalists” who do rely on outside whispers to guide what they write.

When everyone writes up the same headline about a particular bit of data, you can be assured it was the result of some marketing group forwarding it out. You can be reasonably assured that if somebody is spending their time to disseminate facts for free, it’s most likely a contradiction of reality.

None of these research groups were spending their time announcing to the public that Apple was going to march past Windows and Android to become the most valuable, powerful and important company in electronics. That means they either didn’t know that was happening or didn’t want anyone else to know it.

The power of social media influencers is shrinking

Sara Fischer:

Online social media influencers, who are seen as a valuable asset to digital marketers, are seeing their power wane, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The obscurity around measurement and authenticity in the influencer space has led to a decline in trust between marketers and influencers.

Yes, but: “Despite questions about declining influence, the money paid influencers keeps climbing — roughly 50% a year since 2017,” per WSJ.

Data is a poor judge of opportunity

Lincoln Wilcox:

In 2018 Apple became the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Had the executives at Hewlett-Packard not made a critical mistake a few decades earlier, that title might have belonged to them.

It’s well known that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in a tiny garage in Los Altos, California. However, what many people don’t know is that when Wozniak designed the first prototype of the Apple I personal computer, he wasn’t working for Apple, but for HP. In fact, Wozniak proposed the idea for the Apple I to executives at HP and was rejected not once, not twice, but five separate times.

As painful as it must be for the executives at HP to look back on the episode with Wozniak, their experience isn’t an anomaly. In fact, history is full of examples of companies that overlooked or even rejected what turned out to be lucrative business ventures. Just look at how Blockbuster passed on an opportunity to buy Netflix in 2000, how AT&T decided it wasn’t worth investing in personal cellphones in the early 1980s, or how telecommunications executives laughed at Mo Ibrahim in the late 1990s when he proposed building a cellular network in Africa. The list goes on.

“You win some and you lose some,” HP cofounder Bill Hewlett later remarked about the company’s missed opportunity with the personal computer. But were HP’s executives simply unlucky? Or did something actually prevent them from seeing the opportunity in front of them, causing them to repeatedly pass on the idea?

Unicorn Feces: Compass Commentary

Scott Galloway:

Summary/prediction: Strategy makes sense, and they are buying real assets. The SoftBank effect (drunk capital) likely means they have overpaid. Value will decline, but not implode, making it one of SoftBank’s better real estate investments.

Facebook to Pay $40M Under Proposed Settlement in Video Metrics Suit

Eriq Gardner:

According to a brief in support of the settlement, Facebook would pay $40 million to resolve claims. Much of that would go to those who purchased ad time in videos, though $12 million — or 30 percent of the settlement fund — is earmarked for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.

Faced with claims of violating unfair competition law, breaching contract and committing fraud, Facebook contested advertisers’ injuries, questioning whether they really relied on these metrics in deciding to purchase ad time. In early rounds in the litigation, Facebook was successful in getting the judge to pare the claims, though until a settlement was announced, several of the claims including fraud were still live. Even after agreeing to pay $40 million for settlement, Facebook maintains the suit is “without merit.”

Average commute time reached a new record last year

Christopher Ingraham:

The average American commute grew to just over 27 minutes one way in 2018, a record high, according to data released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The average American has added about two minutes to their one-way commute since 2009, the data shows. That may not sound like a lot, but those numbers add up: The typical commuter now spends 20 more minutes a week commuting than they did a decade ago. Over the course of a year, it works out to about 17 additional hours commuting.

Relative to 1980, the picture is even more grim: Since then, American workers have lost nearly an hour a week to their commutes, the equivalent of one full-time workweek over the course of a year. All told, the average American worker spent 225 hours, or well over nine full calendar days, commuting in 2018.

The shift is being driven in large part by an increase in the share of workers with long commutes. In 2010, about 8 percent of workers had a one-way commute of 60 minutes or more. By 2018, that share had edged up to nearly 10 percent. As of 2018, there were 4.3 million workers with commutes of 90 minutes or more, up from 3.3 million in 2010.

“They’ve done a cannonball into the pool,” DelPrete said of Zillow. “They’re all in.” – ibuying 7.5% fee

Nick Wingfield:

It is hard to overestimate how significant the shift to instant-buying is for Zillow’s business. For most of its existence, Zillow made money by selling advertising to real estate professionals who wanted to reach the home buyers and sellers flocking to its site to look up property listings and gawk at their “Zestimates,” the home value estimates it pioneered. That was a tidily profitable business, with around 93% gross margins.

In contrast, trading homes has razor-thin profit margins. Zillow charges sellers fees that currently average about 7.5% of the price the company pays for their homes. The upside for Zillow, though, is that the total addressable market, or TAM, for home purchases is much bigger than the advertising market. As its grows, Zillow could make better profits from related services, such as selling title insurance and mortgage lending.

Home purchases are “a mindbogglingly larger TAM—$1.8 trillion of secondary market transactions happen a year in the U.S. of homes.” he said. “That’s not rentals. That’s not title, that’s not mortgage. That’s just the homes.”

Barton said the goal behind Zillow’s transition to a bigger, lower-margin market is to turn it into something more like Amazon, which operates in a retail market far larger than advertising. “We have to move from a Google mindset to an Amazon mindset,” he said.

Live and Die by internet “traffic” data: Comscore settles Fraud Charges for $5M

Adi Robertson:

Comscore, the influential analytics firm that measures web traffic, has been formally accused of falsely reporting its own revenue and customer numbers. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Comscore and its former CEO Serge Matta with fraud today. Matta and Comscore agreed to settle the case for a total of $5.7 million without admitting wrongdoing.

The SEC writes that between 2014 and 2016, Comscore padded its public revenue filings with an extra $50 million by misreporting the value of data-swapping contracts with other companies. It also allegedly misreported its customer numbers and growth percentages, giving the impression that new signups and revenue growth were increasing when the opposite was actually true.

As part of the settlement, Comscore and Matta will respectively pay penalties of $5 million and $700,000. Matta will also repay $2.1 million to Comscore and be banned from serving as an officer or director of a public company for 10 years.

This is a major step in a long-running controversy. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Comscore’s sketchy accounting in late 2015, noting that its bartering system “warrants scrutiny.” Comscore began an audit in 2016 — leading to years of instability as it corrected the false numbers, including a temporary delisting from Nasdaq. A March 2018 filing revealed that it was cooperating with the SEC on an investigation. Earlier this year, the company’s CEO Bryan Wiener and president Sarah Hofstetter both resigned due to “irreconcilable differences.” Matta left the company in 2016.

Alphabet is partnering with FedEx and Walgreens to bring drone delivery to the US

Mike Murphy:

Google sister company Wing announced today that it would be partnering with FedEx and the drugstore chain Walgreens to bring autonomous drone deliveries to the US in October.

The pilot program will be launched in Christiansburg, Virginia, one of the two areas in the state that Wing has been testing its drone technology for years. In April, Wing was certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to become what it says was the first company in the country to be able to offer autonomous drone deliveries. Wing has completed over 80,000 test flights and thousands of deliveries at its facilities in Australia and the US.

People expecting packages from FedEx will be able to choose to get their deliveries made via drone, assuming that they live in certain areas that Wing has designated it can safely deliver parcels in. Similarly, Walgreens customers will be able to order products, such as non-prescription medicine, and have them delivered by drone. Walgreens said in a release that 78% of the US population lives within 5 miles of one of its stores. Wing said that its drones can currently make a round-trip flight of about 6 miles (9.7 km), traveling about 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour), and can carry around 3 lbs (1.4 kg) of payload. The company also said that it would be offering deliveries from a local Virginia retailer, Sugar Magnolia. Wing won’t be charging for the delivery service itself during the trial.

How Dollar General Took Over Rural America

Chris McGreal:

When Dollar General came to Haven, Kansas, it arrived making demands. The fastest-growing retailer in America wanted the taxpayers of the small, struggling Kansas town to pick up part of the tab for building one of its squat, barebones stores that more often resemble a warehouse than a neighbourhood shop.

Dollar General thought Haven’s council should give the company a $72,000 break on its utility bills, equivalent to the cost of running the town’s library and swimming pool for a year, on the promise of jobs and tax revenues. The council blanched but ended up offering half of that amount to bring the low-price outlet to a town that already had a grocery store.

“Dollar General are a force. It’s hard to stop a train,” said Mike Alfers, Haven’s then mayor who backed the move. “Obviously there’s been collateral damage. We didn’t expect it. I’m torn but, net-net, I still think it was a good move to bring them in.”

The Dollar General opened in Haven at the end of February 2015. Three years later, the company applied to build a similar store in the neighbouring town of Buhler, a 20-minute drive along a ramrod straight road north through sprawling Kansas farmland.

Buhler’s mayor, Daniel Friesen, watched events unfold in Haven and came to see Dollar General not so much as an opportunity as a diagnosis.

Amazon Changed Search Algorithm in Ways That Boost Its Own Products

Dana Mattioli: Inc. AMZN -1.93% has adjusted its product-search system to more prominently feature listings that are more profitable for the company, said people who worked on the project—a move, contested internally, that could favor Amazon’s own brands.

Late last year, these people said, Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company.

The adjustment, which the world’s biggest online retailer hasn’t publicized, followed a yearslong battle between executives who run Amazon’s retail businesses in Seattle and the company’s search team, dubbed A9, in Palo Alto, Calif., which opposed the move, the people said.

Any tweak to Amazon’s search system has broad implications because the giant’s rankings can make or break a product. The site’s search bar is the most common way for U.S. shoppers to find items online, and most purchases stem from the first page of search results, according to marketing analytics firm Jumpshot.

‘Sign In With Apple’ Is Way Better Than Passwords—If You Can Find It

Joanna Stern:

What are the downsides of Apple’s option?

In cases like Tinder’s, the anonymity benefit to one user can be a problem for other users. “Verifying a user’s identity using their login credentials helps us prevent those who have been removed for their conduct from accessing our service,” a Tinder spokesman said, adding that the company looks forward to hearing more from Apple on this.

There’s also the fact that the iPhone isn’t immune to security vulnerabilities. Plus, who could forget the iCloud celebrity hacks of 2014? Apple does require two-factor for Sign in with Apple.

And finally, even when your favorite app does adopt it, you might have to create a new account to use it.

So what should I do?

I wish more app makers would run—not walk—to implement Apple’s option as an alternative to Facebook and Google. For now, just be on the lookout for it. If you don’t see it, I recommend Google as the quickest, safest alternative. Just do yourself a favor, and choose your doors wisely.

Ratings systems have returned to haunt the gig economy

Andrew Hill:

This shift is mere common sense. Any review system is prone to what experts call the “idiosyncratic rater effect”, which is a polite way of saying that bias and discrimination can pollute the outcomes. That applies in particular to “rank-and-yank” assessments, but also to poorly presented feedback. As Marcus Buckingham, a consultant, and Cisco’s Ashley Goodall wrote in Harvard Business Review earlier this year: “Because your feedback to others is always more you than them, it leads to systematic error, which is magnified when ratings are considered in aggregate.”

Having tested such methods to soul-destroying destruction in some of the biggest organisations in the world, it is not merely perverse but positively dangerous to disinter their flaws so they can haunt the gig economy.

Discrimination has been one of the first ghosts to re-emerge. Researchers who looked at Uber, concluded that while its rating system was outwardly neutral, it could be a vehicle for, say, racial bias. Academics feel the ratings effect personally. The authors of another paper about Uber pointed out that their own students’ evaluations were “relevant for the renewal of teaching contracts, promotions or future applications”, and are also suspected of bias. Their study suggested solutions could include giving Uber drivers the opportunity to challenge a bad rating, or appointing a third party who could audit reviews for potential bias.

Uber does let drivers rate users, who can themselves be kicked off the app if their bad behaviour pushes their rating below par. This leads to the mutually assured insincerity of high ratings on both sides (the flaw in Airbnb’s review system identified in the Boston study) and leaves neither customer nor provider much the wiser.

The grim alternative is not much better, though, and I will bear it in mind before I next submit a low mark. It is that everyone slips back into a swamp of personal performance ratings, where customers are cast in the role of rankers-and-yankers, remotely and unwittingly ruling on the fate of individuals just like them.