Chinese TV series about the gritty realities of buying a home clocks up 4 billion online views

Elaine Yau:

Home ownership is the quintessential Chinese dream. According to a 2018 housing supply research report released by Evergrande Real Estate, over 60 per cent of city people in China own a house. Spending one’s life savings to buy a home is the requisite entrée into marriage and starting a family.

Housing market woes and the anguish ridden quest to join the ranks of homeowners provide creative fodder for gritty Chinese TV dramas and films.The 2009 TV series Dwelling Narrowness was hugely popular and critically acclaimed for giving a visceral portrayal of the difficulties in buying an affordable home in China. Based on a novel of the same name by Liu Liu, the 35-part series pulled no punches in reflecting the white-hot real estate bubble, political corruption and yawning rich-poor gap in China.

Another TV series, the 53-part I Will Find You a Better Home, which had its finale in China last week, recorded viewer numbers similar to those for Dwelling Narrowness. The series was adapted by Liu Liu after a Chinese producer bought the rights to 2016 Japanese TV series Your Home is My Business!

The coming age of dispersion

Joel Kotkin:


Living in dispersion may not save you from contagion, but being away from people, driving around in your own car, and having neighbors you know, does have its advantages in times like these. Even the urban cognoscenti have figured this out—much as their Renaissance predecessors did during typhus and bubonic plague outbreaks, wealthy New Yorkers today are retreating to their country homes where they struggle with the locals over depleted supplies of essentials.


Back to the Dark Ages?


In classical times, plagues devastated Athens, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Along with barbarian invasions, they reduced the population of the Eternal City from 1.2 million at its height to barely 30,000 by the sixth century. Outside Europe, pandemics devastated cities such as Cairo, Canton, and Harbin. Following the conquest of the New World, the indigenous population suffered massive casualties from exposure to European diseases like smallpox.

‘Invoice Barr’ and the ‘Second Modification’: How Article Spinning Works

Sarah Thompson:

There is a large network of websites using political content to draw an audience to the sites where some dubious advertising techniques are being employed. All of the content published on these websites is lifted from other sources. Some is current news, some is old – but true – news, published without a byline or date. And many stories are fake-news classics.

But most of what is published is satire stolen from “America’s Last Line of Defense,” a group of websites run by a self-described liberal troll named Christopher Blair. Many people do not recognize the ALLOD-branded watermark left behind on the swiped satire stories. Published without context, these stories mislead many people into believing they are actually new news. Adding to the confusion is the legibility problem – many of the stories have been spun.

“data usage has surged double digits over four categories”

Tyler Clifford:

“In less than a week, we have transformed this company dramatically,” he said in the “Mad Money” interview.

In a week-over-week comparison, streaming demand increased 12%, Vestberg said. Web traffic climbed 20%, virtual private network, or VPN, jumped 30% and gaming skyrocketed 75%. Social media usage remained constant.

Verizon announced March 12 that it would step up its capital guidance range to $17.5 billion to $18.5 billion from $17 billion to $18 billion this year as the wireless provider prepares for the 5G transition and to support the economy through the coronavirus crisis. The company said at the time it had not seen a notable increase in data usage as the health epidemic reached pandemic levels.

Network connection is critical, especially for telecommuting and online learning.

The time has arrived for remote deal making: present (CMA, buyers), interactive pricing (Netsheets), share, close (documents + e-signatures) with the Agent App.

Market Conditions and Compass Investor Softbank

Amir Efrati, Cory Weinberg, Juro Osawa and Martin Peers:

And even Vision Fund’s privately-held startups will be affected by the economic downturn underway: it has $2 billion invested in hotel and travel startups such as Oyo, Klook and GetYourGuide, for instance, which are sure to lose some of their value from travel drying up.



Adding to Softbank’s risk is its high debt load of about $160 billion, including debt of subsidiaries like Sprint. In particular, SoftBank or the Vision Fund has borrowed as much as $16 billion against some of its equity stakes, most notably in Alibaba, its Japanese telecom unit and Uber. If the market continues spiraling down, SoftBank may need to come up with extra cash or stock to make up the losses in collateral value.



A steep decline in Vision Fund’s performance would make it harder for SoftBank to raise more money for new investment funds in the future, said Tokai Tokyo Securities analyst Masahiko Ishino.

These 400-square-foot tiny houses in a village for the homeless were made by a 3D printer — see inside the structures and how they were built

Mary Meisenzahl:

Small Austin, Texas-based startup Icon is betting that 3D printing is the key to solving the US’ homelessness crisis and lack of affordable housing.



Last year, nonprofit Community First put $18 million into a tiny home village in Austin to help the chronically homeless get off the street. The village had space for 180 residents, who live in 200-square-foot homes, pay about $300 in rent, and have job opportunities on site. Now, Icon is bringing its 3D printing technology into the village to hopefully speed up the process, while also making it cheaper. The first residents are set to move in this spring.



Now might be an opportune time for these homes to be built. Experts suggest that COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, could pose a significant threat to homeless populations, who have higher risks of contracting infectious diseases than the general population.

“Instead of disrupting Target, the company suddenly wanted to be sold in places like Target”

Maya Kosoff:

There’s a generation of consumers now who don’t want their parents’ establishments, they don’t want their parents’ governments, they don’t want their parents’ industries, and they don’t want their parents’ brands,” could argue any of the DTC founders, but in this case, it was Tina Sharkey, the co-founder and CEO of Brandless, a home goods DTC that arrived on the scene in 2017. The San Francisco startup that aimed to upend Target set up shop on the mega-retailer’s home turf in Minneapolis — along with poaching a couple of its merchandising execs — with the audacious goal of selling private-label groceries and other home goods for a flat price of $3 each. Brandless’ rationale—if was going to spend big marketing bucks to get a customer through the door, that customer would have many reasons to keep coming back, with its hundreds of other affordable products to purchase. Along with raising $52 million from investors like Google Ventures and Cowboy Ventures, in 2018 the startup raised an additional $240 million from SoftBank.



Instead of disrupting Target, the company suddenly wanted to be sold in places like Target.



It is perhaps not surprising to learn that things did not end well for the company. Brandless found itself contending with the problems so many DTCs seem to grapple with at this stage of growth, but namely the dawning realization that building a customer base from scratch is actually quite hard — and incredibly expensive. There’s a reason DTC companies market on Facebook: Facebook ads are cheap to set up, and they let you target a specific audience. The problem, however, is that channels like Facebook have grown more saturated and more expensive. Now, everyone is armed with the same millions of dollars in funding; they’re all targeting the same users, and they’re all driving each other’s marketing costs up. (Marketing software company AdStage analyzed its Facebook impressions data and found that the median cost-per-click for Facebook news feed ads has risen from $0.43 during the second quarter of 2018, to $0.64 during the second quarter of 2019.)



By early 2019, Brandless found itself unable to honor its initial promise, and increased the price of some items to $9 and laid off 13% of its staff. Sharkey, a seasoned executive and Silicon Valley fixture, stepped down, and a couple months later John Rittenhouse, the former COO of Walmart.com, was brought in. In a move almost verging on parody, he pivoted Brandless to selling CBD products, along with pricier, branded products. Last fall, Rittenhouse said Brandless would try to get into major retail stores, shifting away from its online-only business model. Instead of disrupting Target, the company suddenly wanted to be sold in places like Target—a common trend among many once digital-only DTCs. But even this never ended up happening; in January, Brandless announced inveseit would shut down.

Lavishly funded Compass has also received substantial SoftBank investments.

Exploring the architecture of gentrification.

Allyn West:

So what’s ugly? Though the size of the average American house has doubled since the 1960s, surging toward 2,600 square feet, the size of these neighborhoods—just minutes from everywhere, as real estate agents and commercial builders like to say, close to jobs and downtowns—has not.

That space comes at a premium, and people for whom “affordable housing” is something other people worry about are willing and able to pay it. They want to be able to walk to the coffee shop even if the baristas who pull their shots of espresso can’t.

“What is upsetting,” Koush says, “is that people made lives for themselves, and then the middle-class white people want to move back in and claim the territory for themselves and push those people out.”

Ignored for years, redlined by the federal government, and systematically denied the loans that would have allowed the families who lived there to build generational wealth, these “hot,” “new” neighborhoods are being “discovered.” For someone to move in, someone else has to move out. So, in East Austin, in Houston’s Freedmen’s Town and Third Ward and Montrose, in Dallas’ Bishop Arts and Oak Cliff, among other gentrifying and -fied neighborhoods, the architectural language (what architects call “vernacular”) has become inseparable from the vocabulary of policy, where other complicated words, like “displacement,” “segregation,” “inequity,” and “NIMBYism,” are warring furiously.

Brokerage Retained Company Dollar Down Again

Scott Wright:

It’s important to caveat that this 13.8% average is an actual mean average of all the brokerage firms for which we have data. Our database includes traditional, uncapped graduated-commission-plan firms, capped-plan firms, flat-fee firms, and other hybrid models. Retained CO$ varies wildly between each of these types. This mean average also includes widespread geographical diversity, incorporating higher-Retained-CO$-firms on the East Coast alongside firms on the West Coast that tend to sport lower Retained CO$.

However, these intricacies don’t take away from the greater trend. Even if we segmented our benchmark using the qualifiers mentioned above (which we do for our valuation clients), we’d see the same downward trend. It’s a frustrating trend that begs the question, is there an end in sight?

Keep it simple – and reliable

Greg Kogan:

Ships contain simple systems that are easy to operate and easy to understand, which makes them easy to fix, which means they have less downtime. An important quality, considering that “downtime” for a ship could mean being stranded thousands of miles from help.

Take the ship’s steering system, for instance. The rudder is pushed left or right by metal rods. Those rods are moved by hydraulic pressure. That pressure is controlled by a hydraulic pump. That pump is controlled by an electronic signal from the wheelhouse. That signal is controlled by the autopilot. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist or a naval architect to find the cause of and solution to any problem:

Compare our Main Street and Agent App platform to those who promise “plug-in” simplicity.

How many users block google analytics?

Wesley Aptekar-Cassels:

I’ve been running Google Analytics on my blog for around a year now, and every time I look at the data it provides, I trust it less and less. Frequently, the statistics it provides are misleading, if not flat-out wrong1. And in addition to that, many people block google analytics, so I don’t actually know how many views I’m getting.

A few days ago, I decided to compare my google analytics dashboard with my server logs2 to see how many people actually block google analytics. Here’s what I found:

Out of 1,253 users in my sample, 565 blocked google analytics (≈45%). The breakdown by browser was as follows:

How We Examined Gmail’s Treatment of Political Emails

By Leon Yin, Adrianne Jeffries, and Surya Mattu:

In early 2018, several advocacy groups noticed a drop in open rates for subscribers with Gmail domains. They said this had a negative impact on calls to action and donations. 

Using data sent to us by three of these advocacy groups as well as Change.org, a for-profit company that hosts petitions for political causes, we confirmed there was a lasting decrease in open rates unique to subscribers using Gmail. 

“The real estate racket”

The Economist:

The scale of the commissions extracted by the real-estate industry in America is jaw-dropping. Fees run at 5-6% of the value of a property, three times the average level in other developed countries (see article). In total they amounted to $75bn last year, or 0.4% of gdp. Other marketplaces—for shares, groceries, advertising and romance—have been transformed by technology. But in property the old ways persist. America still has 2m realtors.

Free agents

Other innovations are nibbling away at the many other tasks that estate agents do. Redfin and Opendoor use remote electronic locks, which can let buyers into a home by themselves. Your correspondent let herself into a lovely two-bedroom flat in Santa Monica using Redfin’s app. Had she wanted to buy it, she could have done so without consulting an agent, by filling out an offer form on the app.

Both Sides The tech press v. the tech insiders

MG Siegler:

I cannot believe I missed this past weekend’s Bitchmeme,¹ especially since it’s right in my wheelhouse: the ever-chilling war between the press and insiders. It seems to me this is likely a normal state of being in every industry. But it becomes far more pronounced as said industry grows in power and import. And so here we are in the tech industry in 2020.

This is my wheelhouse because I have been both a part of the press and, more recently, an insider. Well, as “insider” as a VC can be. This varies pretty wildly, in my experience. But I digress. Point is: I may have an interesting vantage point here having been on both sides. You decide.

So when I read Hunter’s post seemingly walking straight down the middle of those two sides, my instinct was to find this approach too vanilla. Surely some side is worse here, right?²

Pay Up, Or We’ll Make Google Ban Your Ads

Brian Krebs:

A new email-based extortion scheme apparently is making the rounds, targeting Web site owners serving banner ads through Google’s AdSenseprogram. In this scam, the fraudsters demand bitcoin in exchange for a promise not to flood the publisher’s ads with so much bot and junk traffic that Google’s automated anti-fraud systems suspend the user’s AdSense account for suspicious traffic.

Big Data Won’t Save You From Coronavirus

David Fickling:

That’s not a comforting thought. We live in an era where everything seems quantifiable, from our daily movements to our internet search habits and even our heartbeats. At a time when people are scared and seeking certainty, it’s alarming that the knowledge we have on this most important issue is at best an approximate guide to what’s happening.

“It’s so easy these days to capture data on anything, but to make meaning of it is not easy at all,” said John Carlin, a professor at the University of Melbourne specializing in medical statistics and epidemiology. “There’s genuinely a lot of uncertainty, but that’s not what people want to know. They want to know it’s under control.”

That’s most visible in the contradictory information we’re seeing around how many people have been infected, and what share of them have died. While those figures are essential for getting a handle on the situation, as we’ve argued, they’re subject to errors in sampling and measurement that are compounded in high-pressure, strained circumstances. The physical capacity to do timely testing and diagnosis can’t be taken for granted either, as my colleague Max Nisen has written.

Early case fatality rates for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome were often 40% or higher before settling down to figures in the region of 15% or less. The age of patients, whether they get sick in the community or in a hospital, and doctors’ capacity and experience in offering treatment can all affect those numbers dramatically.

Even the way that coronavirus cases are defined and counted has changed several times, said Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the University of New South Wales’s Biosecurity Research Program: From “pneumonia of unknown cause” in the early days, through laboratory-confirmed cases once a virus was identified, to the current standard that includes lung scans. That’s a common phenomenon during outbreaks, she said. 

Related: the hype cycle.

Malcontents

Boz:

There is an important, under appreciated group at every company who are never content no matter how much success they or the company has had. There is a set of people who care so deeply about the company and its products that they take any shortcomings personally. They are offended by bad products and angered by cultural deficiencies. They write passionate notes that nobody asked for and rally people on comment threads in groups they aren’t required to be a part of. They speak truth to power because they are righteous and speak for those who might otherwise have no voice. They aren’t afraid to rock the boat no matter how much the people around them value stability and they can’t be bothered to do it politely. Adam Grant calls these people “Disagreeable Givers.” I call these people malcontents. And I am one of them.

We malcontents are often confused with entitled whiners but that’s a mistake. Whiners and Malcontents may share the same disagreeable tactics when it comes to complaining, but whiners have poor motivation whereas we malcontents have the best intentions. Whiners want to change the establishment for their own benefit. We malcontents want the establishment to change for its own benefit. Unlike whiners, we malcontents often make personal sacrifices to effect positive change (even if we would rather not be forced to). We often do valuable, unsexy, and sometimes underappreciated work like fixing bugs, improving tools or processes, and helping others. When you see large shifts in culture, organizations, or technology not driven by extrinsic or top down forces there is usually a malcontent behind the scenes or leading the charge.

Accenture’s 2020 Vision warns of a ‘tech-clash’ in a post-digital society

Tom Formski:

Accenture’s CEO Julie Sweet and Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer, begin the report — called We, the post-digital people: Can your enterprise survive the tech-clash? — with a warning:

“Enterprises that ignore this message will face an existential tech-clash, in which today’s models are incongruous with people’s needs and expectations. To avoid this impending crisis, companies must reexamine their fundamental business and technology models in a responsible way — to create a new basis for competition and growth. Trust and accountability are the new litmus tests for businesses in a world where digital is everywhere.”

This is the 20th report in the Vision series. Each year, Accenture identifies five tech trends that will impact its client companies over the next three to five years.

Here are the five Visions for 2020 as described by Accenture:

Large Screen Phones and User Experience

Mario Grilo:

I’m pretty sure my hands are not too small compared to the average human. I went as far as researching that, in a quest to answer the question “Is it me?”. The average length of an adult male’s hand is 7.6 inches (19,3 cm). For females, the average drops to 6.8 inches (17,2 cm). Let’s say I’m well within those averages. This has brought me some comfort: it’s not my fault that I’ve dropped my phone 26 times until the screen looked like Schwarzenegger when he removed his skin in Terminator. It was both scary and disturbing.

If then the 7 most promising small smartphones for 2020 have an average diagonal distance of more or less 6.3’’ (16 cm), and the average human thumb is more or less 3.11’’ (7,8 cm), there’s clearly an issue here. The smallest smartphone of 2020 is the iPhone 11 Pro with 5.8’’(14,7 cm) and the biggest phone is somewhere around 6.8’’ (17,2 cm).

The Virtues and Downsides of Online Dating

Monica Anderson, Emily Vogels and Erica Turner:

Today, three-in-ten U.S. adults say they have ever used an online dating site or app – including 11% who have done so in the past year, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Oct. 16 to 28, 2019. For some Americans, these platforms have been instrumental in forging meaningful connections: 12% say they have married or been in a committed relationship with someone they first met through a dating site or app. All in all, about a quarter of Americans (23%) say they have ever gone on a date with someone they first met through a dating site or app.

Previous Pew Research Center studies about online dating indicate that the share of Americans who have used these platforms – as well as the share who have found a spouse or partner through them – has risen over time. In 2013, 11% of U.S. adults said they had ever used a dating site or app, while just 3% reported that they had entered into a long-term relationship or marriage with someone they first met through online dating. It is important to note that there are some changes in question wording between the Center’s 2013 and 2019 surveys, as well as differences in how these surveys were fielded.1 Even so, it is clear that websites and mobile apps are playing a larger role in the dating environment than in previous years.2

These shifting realities have sparked a broader debate about the impact of online dating on romantic relationships in America. On one side, some highlight the ease and efficiency of using these platforms to search for dates, as well as the sites’ ability to expand users’ dating options beyond their traditional social circles. Others offer a less flattering narrative about online dating – ranging from concerns about scams or harassment to the belief that these platforms facilitate superficial relationships rather than meaningful ones. This survey finds that the public is somewhat ambivalent about the overall impact of online dating. Half of Americans believe dating sites and apps have had neither a positive nor negative effect on dating and relationships, while smaller shares think its effect has either been mostly positive (22%) or mostly negative (26%).

The mysterious disappearance of Google’s click metric

Tom Foremski:

Clicks are at the heart of Google’s business, so why are these metrics no longer viable? And why hasn’t this change been noticed widely? Why didn’t the Wall Street analysts ask about these missing numbers in the financial call the same day as the report was released? 

What is Google hiding?

The seemingly unstoppable revenue per click decline is the most concerning. Look at these past 19 quarters, but it’s been going on for far longer.

2020 Super Bowl smartphone use

AT&T:

Total of 10.2TB traffic in the stadium during the game. Assume about 65000 fans in the stadium and 1/3 are AT&T subs, then that’s about 450MB per fan throughout the game duration!

IBM’s Lost Decade

Charles Fitzgerald:

I wasn’t going to do this post until I learned IBM PR is out browbeating reporters (one of the rare activities where the company is still world class) for being “too harsh” by including actual performance metrics in stories about IBM’s CEO transition. So I shall rally to the defense of the fourth estate (who tippytoed around the performance issue if anything) and help frame the outgoing CEO’s legacy (TL:DR missed the cloud transition).

Ginny Rometty was CEO of IBM for less than a decade, but kudos to the company for an uncharacteristic bout of out-performance by packing more than a decade’s worth of decline into just eight years. The “lost decade” of this post’s title is perhaps charitable as it implies they merely went sideways, when in fact the questions surrounding the company are now existential. I suggested IBM was not going to make the cloud computing transition in early 2013, and they have gone on to make that warning look very prescient.

Hallmark Cards to Revamp Operations as Greeting Cards Fade

Sharon Terlep:

The broader shift to online shopping and younger consumers’ disinterest in greeting cards has made the business unsustainable, said Alan Horvitz, owner of a Hallmark store in Orleans, Mass., that is closing after 30 years. 

“They’ll send a text, ‘Sorry for your loss,’ and that’s how things get done,” Mr. Horvitz said. “You can’t sell a horse and buggy when cars are moving off the line.”

Instead, people are celebrating friends and family for free, over social media and through text messages. Facebook Inc. reminds its users when their friends are celebrating a birthday and many younger Americans celebrate anniversaries or other special events with Instagram posts.

“People younger than 30, we find, are not even engaging with digital greeting cards,” said James Hirschfeld, co-founder of e-card startup Paperless Post.

Mr. Hirschfield said his company, which now offers printed as well as digital cards, opted against investing heavily in the business of one-to-one greeting cards, instead focusing on online invitations and bulk holiday cards. “We didn’t think it was a growing category where we’d have an opportunity to innovate and grow more users,” he said.

Hallmark is combining its card operations with its retail business, which includes roughly 2,000 mostly independently owned U.S. stores. It aims to free up resources to bulk up its own online offerings and create new bricks-and-mortar business to offset the decline in traditional Hallmark stores, said Hallmark spokeswoman Molly Biwer.

Home price to income ratios

JCHS:

Home prices are the median sale price of existing homes and incomes are the median household income within markets.

Source: JCHS tabulations of National Association of Realtors, Metropolitan Median Area Prices, and Moody’s Analytics Forecasts.

I wrote 1 blog post every day for 2 years. Here’s 5 things I learned about SEO

Flavio:

It’s been 2 years since I started posting one blog post every day on this blog.

On January 25 2018, just one day before turning 35, I started my blogging journey.

A journey that would take more than 11M people on my blog in 2 years, 90% of which just in the last 12 months.

1 million visitors every month is a lot of people, and I never thought I could get those many people to my little part of the internet. Without spending 1€ on ads.

In this blog post I am going to tell you 5 things I learned about SEO that you might not be familiar with.

SEO trick number 1: do not worry about SEO

If you read the internet for ways to get more readers to your blog, you will find that SEO is one of the things often mentioned.

Most of the time you will see people talking about keywords, and keywords tools.

We like tools, so we start using them, spending days to get the maximum value out of the free ones, spending a lot of time.

Right? Wrong.

I have a confession to make: I never used a keyword tool. I do not currently use one, and I find that just thinking about it bores me.

The last thing I want to do is to be bored, and having to treat my blog as a job.

2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

Edelman:

Online Survey in 27 markets.

33,000+ respondents.

19 October to 16 November 2018

Google Advertising GM Sissie Hsiao Is Planning For The Next ‘Jump Forward’

Sarah Sluis:

Is the idea of campaign automation that you pioneered with Universal App Campaigns expanding beyond apps?

It’s starting to be done in pockets elsewhere. We have Smart Display campaigns that seek conversions on display inventory, and we’re eager to see more adoption there. Some campaigns are hybrid machine learning, where the bidding is smart but the targeting is still natural. And Google Ads uses the same approach in our location campaigns and our shopping campaigns.

Why do you think Prabhakar Raghavan picked you to lead display, video and apps?

Some distinguishing characteristics of me – which Universal App Campaigns exemplifies – is that I built my career building things people didn’t tell me to build. They didn’t tell me what to build or how to build it. I’ve always been an optimistic person for technology being used to solve business problems.

Leaked Documents Expose the Secretive Market for Your Web Browsing Data

Joseph Cox:

An antivirus program used by hundreds of millions of people around the world is selling highly sensitive web browsing data to many of the world’s biggest companies, a joint investigation by Motherboard and PCMag has found. Our report relies on leaked user data, contracts, and other company documents that show the sale of this data is both highly sensitive and is in many cases supposed to remain confidential between the company selling the data and the clients purchasing it.

Millennials Love Zillow Because They’ll Never Own a Home

Angela Lashbrook:

The apartment I found on Zillow has cornflower blue walls and original details, with crown molding still intact — a rarity among today’s bleached and flavorless condo renovations. It has picture windows and a functional fireplace, and it’s only a couple blocks from Prospect Park. It isn’t perfect; the kitchen is mismatched and hideous, and the second of the two bedrooms is minuscule, little more than a walk-in closet with a window. But it’s big enough for a small child, and the place is charming, well-cared-for, and modestly sized without being a grim shoebox.

It would be perfect for my husband and me and our dog and even a kid if we decided to have one. I can envision our bed frame and the little armchair in the bedroom next to the window and my favorite of the framed art we own in the dining area. I imagine how I would renovate the kitchen, replacing the metallic backsplash with sunny yellow tile, installing old-fashioned cabinets and a checkered floor.

The case for … making low-tech ‘dumb’ cities instead of ‘smart’ ones

Amy Fleming:

Ever since smartphones hooked us with their limitless possibilities and dopamine hits, mayors and city bureaucrats can’t get enough of the notion of smart-washing their cities. It makes them sound dynamic and attractive to business. What’s not to love about whizzkids streamlining your responsibilities for running services, optimising efficiency and keeping citizens safe into a bunch of fun apps?

There’s no concrete definition of a smart city, but high-tech versions promise to use cameras and sensors to monitor everyone and everything, from bins to bridges, and use the resulting data to help the city run smoothly. One high-profile proposal by Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, to give 12 acres of Toronto a smart makeover is facing a massive backlash. In September, an independent report called the plans “frustratingly abstract”; in turn US tech investor Roger McNamee warned Google can’t be trusted with such data, calling the project “surveillance capitalism”

America Is Overrun With Bathrooms

Derek Thompson:

merican exceptionalism takes on many forms, both flattering (our immigrant-founded start-ups) and unfortunate (our health-care prices). But perhaps no part of life in the United States is more unambiguously exceptional than this: We have so many damn bathrooms.

And the world wants to know why. The internet is filled with long threads, on sites such as Quora and Reddit, in which users swap theories on “What’s the American obsession with bathrooms all about?” and “Why do houses in the US have so many bathrooms?” “There are so many incredible America decadences that are mind boggling to foreigners when we first arrive here, and the sheer number of bathrooms in suburban houses is very high on the list,” Tom Gara, an Australian who edits opinion pieces for BuzzFeed News, wrote on Twitter.

America’s love affair with private washrooms emerges from the country’s most obvious gift—an abundance of land and an eagerness to develop it. The typical new single-family house in the U.S. is twice the size of the average urban or suburban dwelling in the European Union—more than 2,000 square feet versus approximately 1,000 square feet. Compared with their overseas peers, Americans simply have more space to wash up.

Bullish on Redfin

Henry Ellenbogen:

Redfin has a strong website that attracts consumers interested in transacting homes. And it produces tools that make its agents more productive. The average Redfin agent closes three times as many transactions as the average real estate agent in the country. Redfin can reinvest that efficiency in lower prices.

If you want to sell your house on Redfin, instead of paying a 2.5% or 3% commission, you pay them 1%. And that has allowed them to gain share. At the end of the third quarter, they had less than a 1% share of real estate transactions in the country, but they were growing around 20% in a market that’s up modestly. We think their share gain is going to continue because of this efficiency.

How much longer will we trust Google’s search results?

Dieter Bohn:

Recode’s Peter Kafka recently interviewed Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti, and Peretti said something really insightful: what if Google’s ads really aren’t that good? What if Google is just taking credit for clicks on ads just because people would have been searching for that stuff anyway? I’ve been thinking about it all day: what if Google ads actually aren’t that effective and the only reason they make so much is billions of people use Google?

The pressure to make them more effective would be fairly strong, then, wouldn’t it? And it would get increasingly hard to resist that pressure over time.

I am old enough to remember using the search engines before Google. I didn’t know how bad their search technology was compared to what was to come, but I did have to bounce between several of them to find what I wanted. Knowing what was a good search for WebCrawler and what was good for Yahoo was one of my Power User Of The Internet skills.

We Wasted $50K on Google Ads So You Don’t Have To

Anton Elfimov:

Have you ever lost a pile of cash? At Uploadcare we did, to the tune of $50K on Google Ads. But rather than wallow in buyers’ remorse (that’s almost the price of a Tesla, right?), we decided to share our pain and insights so that you won’t make the same mistakes.

The irresistible allure of paid traffic for mature products

Uploadcare is an established SaaS product, so we’ve been harvesting the low-hanging fruit from organic and direct traffic for a while now. If you’re in a similar situation, you’ve probably reached the same conclusion: running paid ads is the next logical growth step for customer acquisition. But there can be serious hiccups if you don’t get some key things right, especially if your product is a more complex B2B solution like ours.

What we knew before we launched our Google Ads

Since we’re out $50K, you might be thinking, “Oh, these guys just dove into this without doing enough planning.” That’s the cautionary part of this tale. We had done a fair bit of planning, but we made some key assumptions that came back to haunt us. Here’s where things stood before we launched the Google Ads campaign.

Solid inbound traffic and net negative churn, check

Thanks to developers’ trust in our core infrastructure and their recommendations, we’re fortunate to have a constant and growing inbound flow of leads and net negative churn, meaning the value of usage-driven upgrades outweighs the loss in revenue from subscription cancellations. Seems like a perfect use case for investing in Google Ads to bring more folks to our funnel, right?

Is a supermarket discount coupon worth giving away your privacy?

David Lazarus:

Most large companies doing business in California are required by the state’s new privacy law to disclose what they know about customers and how that information is used.

This resulted in fairly straightforward announcements by many businesses.

Then there’s Ralphs, the supermarket chain owned by Kroger.

Customers recently encountered a form at stores spelling out information that may be collected when joining the company’s Ralphs Rewards loyalty program.

The form is eye-opening, to say the least, in laying out the extensive efforts Ralphs says it could take to learn about customers’ lives beyond the supermarket, including your job, your education, your health and your insurance coverage.

While most if not all such corporate disclosures define possible data collection as broadly as possible to err on the side of caution, Ralphs’ form is unusually all-encompassing for a supermarket loyalty program.

“It’s scandalous,” said Joseph Turow, a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania who focuses on privacy issues. “Why does a grocer need to know so much about its customers?”

Stop donating your customers’ data to Google Analytics

Kemal Ahmed:

In 2020, with better alternatives available, using Google Analytics (GA) to track your web usage is nothing short of donating data to a multinational corporation. Aside from only letting you sample 25% of your traffic, GA is a free ticket for them to sell your customers’ data to their advertising partners.

Compared to AWS Pinpoint, which is even HIPAA compliant, GA works by asking you to add a tracker to your website that cross examines your customers’ habits across all the websites they use to find out everything about them.

And if you think that’s okay, you should take your head out of the sand because consumers are demanding it. Please tell me how many of your users like the large cookie agreement popups that they have to dismiss…I-I mean read and accept just to consume your content. Agreements that you’re forced to have them agree to because you’re using cookie-based trackers like GA.

Tracker blockers are increasing in popularity so consumers can protect themselves against this tracking, reducing the effectiveness of your analytics.

Home ownership is the West’s biggest economic-policy mistake

The Economist:

In 1990 a generation of baby-boomers, with a median age of 35, owned a third of America’s real estate by value. In 2019 a similarly sized cohort of millennials, aged 31, owned just 4%. Young people’s view that housing is out of reach—unless you have rich parents—helps explain their drift towards “millennial socialism”. And homeowners of all ages who are trapped in declining places resent the windfall housing gains enjoyed in and around successful cities. In Britain areas with stagnant housing markets were more likely to vote for Brexit in 2016, even after accounting for differences in income and demography.

The State of Mobile in 2020: How to Win on Mobile

Lexi Sydow:

Mobile has completely transformed the way we order food, buy groceries, book trips, stream content, game, and shop — making our lives easier every day and transforming nearly every industry in the process. It is a vital channel for interacting with consumers, and companies that succeed in mobile are reaping financial rewards.

As the leading mobile data and analytics company helping brands and publishers win on mobile, we are excited to share The State of Mobile 2020 report. This annual appraisal provides insight into mobile’s expansive impact across industries and the global economy, highlighting publishers and brands that are outperforming their peers. Download the industry’s leading mobile report covering everything you need to know about how to win on mobile in 2020, including:

Staffer in Middleton High School testing flap remains on leave

Chris Rickert:

Three months after a Middleton High School staffer allegedly used race to segregate students for a district-required test, the employee remains on paid leave and the district has yet to complete its investigation into the incident.

The district was quick to respond last fall after about 60 ninth- and 10th-grade students of color were segregated from the rest of the student body on Oct. 16 to take the STAR math and literacy test.

The staff member involved was placed on leave the next day and in a videotaped statement the day after that, Superintendent Dana Monogue called the incident a “mistake” and “wrong,” twice said it caused “harm,” and added “we sincerely apologize.”

The story of Casper shows there is no DTC ‘revolution’

Mark Ritson:

Barely a month went by without one bright-eyed team of white-shirted millennials or another springing forth with a hot new startup that had a strange, slightly misspelled name, newsworthy origin and hot new design. Crucially, all of them  had a “different model for marketing” too.

Leesa, Lola, Winc, Ayr, Nanit, BarkBox… the names and the categories they aimed to disrupt changed but the DTC model each ascribed to was strikingly similar. Gradually, as the army of casually dressed founders multiplied and their stories piled on top of each other, a model for DTC marketing became apparent.

The model for DTC marketing

First, you had to circumvent the traditional indirect channels and forge a direct distribution model that allowed you to keep all the profits, and enabled optimum proximity and data access with the target consumers. Wholesale distributors and physical retail were dead.

Second, you had to avoid traditional media channels and utilise only digital media because it enables precise targeting and new modes of interaction with the target market. Use influencer marketing, TikTok and whatever newfangled approach comes next.

The medium was not the message, it was the signal. Irrespective of its reach or effectiveness, it had to communicate the newness of the company behind the campaign. Vague allusions of digital ennui were needed to ensure the DTC business seemed radical and contemporary, and not simply another late entrant in a traditional category.

Third, you had to use these new digital channels to communicate a different kind of message. Use storytelling – yeah, storytelling – to move beyond product benefits and onto emotional tales about the company, its founders and core purpose.

Digital sharecropping

Nicholas Carr:

A while back I wrote that Web 2.0, by putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very few.

Richard MacManus’s new analysis of web traffic patterns helps illustrate the point. Despite the explosion of web content, spurred in large part by the reduction in the cost of producing and consuming that content, web traffic appears to be growing more concentrated in a few sites, not less. Using data from Compete, MacManus shows that the top ten sites accounted for 40% of total internet page views in November 2006, up from 31% in November 2001, a 29% increase. The greater concentration comes during a period when the number of domains on the web nearly doubled, from 2.9 million to 5.1 million.

Even if we grant that traffic numbers are unreliable and that page views are not the only way to measure traffic, the trend seems clear: A few big sites increasingly dominate the web.

On the surface of it, this might seem to contradict the long-tail, or power-law, theory. But it’s not so simple. As MacManus shows, the greater concentration of traffic can largely be explained by the popularity of two “social networking” sites, MySpace and Facebook, which together accounted for 17% of all page views in November 2006. Both MySpace and Facebook are made up of millions of “user profiles” created by their members. If we counted each profile as a separate site, which in a content sense it is, we would find no increase in the concentration of traffic, consistent with the long-tail theory.

Cities With the Best Work-Life Balance – 2020 Edition

Nadia Ahmad:

It’s difficult to pursue your passions and manage your various commitments given the time that they require, especially if they are not directly linked to your job. In an ideal world, though, you earn enough to sock away sufficient savings to enjoy your leisure activities without logging excessive hours at the office or on a punishing commute. Not all cities allow professionals to strike a happy medium, so SmartAsset decided to take a look at the cities with the best work-life balance.

To find the cities with the best work-life balance, we compared data for the 100 largest cities across the following 10 metrics: entertainment establishment density, dining establishment density, bar density, housing costs as a percentage of income, average number of weeks worked per year, average number of hours worked per week, average commute time, percentage of workers with commutes over an hour, unemployment rate and labor force participation rate. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

App stores saw record 204 billion app downloads in 2019, consumer spend of $120 billion

Sarah Perez:

Consumers downloaded a record 204 billion apps in 2019, up 6% from 2018 and up 45% since 2016, and spent $120 billion on apps, subscriptions and other in-app spending in the past year. The average mobile user, meanwhile, is spending 3.7 hours per day using apps. This data and more comes from App Annie’s annual report, “State of Mobile,” which highlights the biggest app trends for the past year, and sets forecasts for the years ahead.

According to App Annie, the record growth in mobile downloads in 2019 can be attributed to the growth taking place in emerging markets like India, Brazil and Indonesia, which have seen downloads soar 190%, 40% and 70%, respectively, since 2016. Meanwhile, download growth in the U.S. has slowed to just 5% during that same time, while China saw 80% growth.

Best Recruiting Platform: Part 2 – Social CRM Recruiting

Keeping connected is an essential part of recruiting.

Our enterprise CRM connects your managers, agents and co-brokers automagically.

Here’s how:

  • Our cloud system scans your deals, as they occur.
  • A congratulatory, on brand message is sent to your agent upon closing.
  • The message asks if the co-broker would be valuable addition to your firm.
  • If so, your agent is given a few encouraging steps and an introduction to a recruiter.
  • Your agent is reminded that an incentive awaits if that agent joins your firm.
  • The recruiter’s contact information is included in the message.
  • Your manager/recruiter receives a list of co-broker prospects. They can begin working your current and prospect agents.

Grow your business with our enterprise platform.

Email jim@vp.io or call 608 468 6013 for a deeper dive.

Urban Growth and its Aggregate Implications

Gilles Duranton, Diego Puga

We develop an urban growth model where human capital spillovers foster entrepreneurship and learning in heterogenous cities. Incumbent residents limit city expansion through planning regulations so that commuting and housing costs do not outweigh productivity gains. The model builds on strong microfoundations, matches key regularities at the city and economy-wide levels, and generates novel predictions for which we provide evidence. It can be quantified relying on few parameters, provides a basis to estimate the main ones, and remains transparent regarding its mechanisms. We examine various counterfactuals to assess quantitatively the effect of cities on economic growth and aggregate income.

New study: The ad­ver­ti­sing in­dustry is sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly breaking the law

Finn Myerstad:

The online advertising industry is behind comprehensive illegal collection and indiscriminate use of personal data, research from the Norwegian Consumer Council shows.

Based on the findings, more than 20 consumer and civil society organisations in Europe and from different parts of the world are urging their authorities to investigate the practices of the online advertising industry.

The report uncovers how every time we use apps, hundreds of shadowy entities are receiving personal data about our interests, habits, and behaviour. This information is used to profile consumers, which can be used for targeted advertising, but may also lead to discrimination, manipulation and exploitation.

– These practices are out of control and in breach of European data protection legislation. The extent of tracking makes it impossible for us to make informed choices about how our personal data is collected, shared and used, says Finn Myrstad, director of digital policy in the Norwegian Consumer Council.

What kind of data is my new car collecting about me? Nearly everything it can, apparently

Matt Bubbers:

Your car knows all about you – your habits, where you like to go and when, and maybe even what sort of temperament you have. Cameras inside cars even track your eyes to see whether you’re watching the road.

If you spent as much time one-on-one with a friend as you do with your car, your friend would know an awful lot about you, too. The difference is that car companies, unlike friends, have a financial incentive for knowing things about you.

“Cars already collect a significant and growing amount of data,” says Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in information law and policy at the University of Ottawa. The car itself is collecting driving data such as speed and braking patterns, but the built-in navigation and entertainment services are also collecting information of a more personal nature, she says. That could include location information, taste in music, voice commands, search history and so forth. Apps such as Waze, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connected to the vehicle will also be collecting similar data.

New cars have more radar sensors and cameras than a typical smartphone, and the number and quality of those sensors will only increase as cars eventually become capable of driving themselves.

Best Recruiting Platform. Competing with Compass: Part 1

Visiting with a number of brokers over the past few months, one topic rises above all: work hard to improve recruiting amidst a very competitive market.

There are, of course, many ways to address recruiting, from buying agents to brand, lifestyle, social activity, support, deal making, deal flow and tech platforms.

On the tech platform front, a long time client introduced our leads to closing platform as follows:

“Imagine you are home and need to send an updated document to move a deal along. Up until now, you must keep track of many different systems. Starting today, you can use one app on your phone/iPad or an integrated desktop system to auto-fill, complete, share and sign the document, anywhere.

I’ve long followed Softbank funded Compass ($1.5B raised to date) which is engaged in a 7 year effort to create the “first end-to-end software platform for real-estate agents“.

It may be useful to compare the Compass platform, based on publicly available data to our Main Street leads to closing, single entry system.

Compass Desktop Marketing Center (via Business Insider)

Main Street Desktop Cloud: leads to closing (agent and public apps will be covered in future posts)

Recruiting/Retention Benefits:

  1. Easier to learn due to fewer steps.
  2. Search all listings (1.7M in this client example) on the home page. Compass requires additional steps.
  3. Recent activity immediately available from leads to closings, and everything in between, including CMA’s, buyer presentations, documents, analytics, contacts and listings. Compass requires many more steps.
  4. Agent, Office, Company and MLS directory available from one screen.
  5. Agent production is one tap away.

A recent instagram post indicates renewed executive attention to Compass technical development staff and spending:

Can brokers, agents and teams compete using many, incompatible systems (despite vendor rhetoric asserting “compatibility”)?

Compass is correct to focus on a winning platform.

Contact jim@vp.io or 608 468 6013 for a deeper dive.

Volkswagen Bids Farewell to the Beetle, With Help From the Beatles

David Gianatasio:

Johannes Leonardo gives Volkswagen’s Beetle an emotional Times Square sendoff, as the iconic compact car—a staple of popular culture for decades and one of the most beloved automobiles ever made—drives off into the sunset.

With sales slipping, and the German automaker preferring to focus on electric vehicles, crossovers and SUVs, the “Final Edition” Beetle rolled out over the summer. To bid auf wiedersehen to the celebrated coupe (and occasional convertible), VW launched an evocative animated film, created with Nexus Studios, at midnight on three prominent outdoor screens in New York City’s Times Square, where it will enjoy a weeklong engagement. 

By turns uplifting and bittersweet, the 90-second video, titled “The Last Mile” and set to a choral version of the anthemic 1970 Beatles track “Let It Be,” features Easter eggs and celebrity cameos. Look for funnyman/VW influencer Andy Cohen, pop-art legend Andy Warhol (who put the Bug in a screen print) and Kevin Bacon (he drove one in Footlose) as the Beetle glides into history: