Month: April 2022

The Reason CNN+ Failed

The average housefly can live for around 28 days, which means that there are literal bugs that will have outlived CNN+ as they close their streaming service on April 30th.

An Explanation of What Happened

Better journalists than me have explained what happened with CNN+, and I would much rather you learn the details from them.

Two come to mind after reading dozens of articles on the matter:

Alex Sherman, writing for CNBC, explained the timeline of CNN+ leading to its demise; it is worth your time to read in its entirety.

Chris Licht wasn’t supposed to start his new job as CNN’s chief until May.

But on Thursday he found himself addressing about 400 full-time CNN+ staffers, some in person and some through a remote video feed… Licht told employees the project they’d been working on for the past six to nine months, the subscription streaming service CNN+, was ending April 30…He acknowledged that many would lose their jobs.

– Alex Sherman, CNBC

John Koblin wrote in his New York Times piece explaining the difficulty of launching CNN+ during a merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery. This merger could be part of the reason we learned about the measly 10,000 daily users I shared in my last issue of Clicked. That reason, allegedly, wasn’t because a disgruntled CNN employee leaked the numbers, but rather from Discovery executives trying to shut the service down through negative PR.

CNN executives were dismayed. And they grew suspicious of their new superiors from Discovery, believing they had leaked the data to create a pretext to shut down the service.

– John Koblin, The New York Times

This isn’t the whole story, there are still some underreported things missing here, the first being the other group that deserves the blame.

The McKinsey Problem

Sherman mentioned this firm in his explainer article, but McKinsey & Company deserves a fair share of the blame for CNN+ shutting down. Their track record should have been a dead giveaway.

For those unfamiliar with McKinsey, here’s a quick blurb about them from Wikipedia (sources are linked):

McKinsey has been either directly involved in, or closely associated with, a number of notable scandals, involving Enron in 2001, Galleon in 2009, Valeant in 2015, Saudi Arabia in 2018, China in 2018, ICE in 2019, an internal conflict of interest in 2019, and Purdue Pharma in 2019, among others.

One more thing you can now add to the list of “others” is CNN+. It turns out that CNN hired McKinsey to consult on the service’s launch.

McKinsey essentially told CNN what they wanted to hear, claiming they would accrue 2 million US subscribers in the first year and 15-18 million after four years. CNN reportedly garnered just 150,000 subscribers in the first few weeks.

That said, it was only getting about 10,000 daily users. Something doesn’t add up here, and it is evident that McKinsey was not just off by a bit but utterly incorrect. The problem here is that McKinsey has already moved on to its next project without any consequences or repercussions coming to them.

One could argue that getting 150,000 subscribers in the first month is excellent. To that, I say if you compare it to HBO Max, which has over 75 million subscribers (including cable subscribers), CNN+ isn’t even worth Warner’s breath, and the Discovery execs knew it.

Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that CNN+ is officially shutting down this Saturday.

That’s where many people stopped reporting, but I think that the people directly affected by this decision deserve some light shed on them as well. Hundreds of people are now without a job because of a shitty consultant firm and bad decisions made by the executives upstairs.

The Fallout

CNN pulled the rug right out from under hundreds of workers, many of which joined after recruitment from CNN. They decided to overturn their lives and, for some, move across the country. All employees look like they will be getting 90 days’ pay as severance. From there, they have three months to figure out what is next within the company, or they must hit the road.

Some will be lucky and find employment within CNN and Warner Bros. Discovery, but not all. Journalists take risks every day, but I don’t think anyone who accepted a position at CNN+ would have foreseen just how fast things turned on its head.

The crew members that were hired to work in the new studios and the marketing team are all but surely out of a job, and there was no warning. In fact, Chris Licht, CNN’s chief, was shaking hands with staffers just days before announcing they are no longer employed.

The Times is reporting that those who do not find a job within the company will be getting an additional six months of severance, which is a good start in my opinion.

If you think that 9 months of severance is worth a few weeks of work you clearly aren’t caught up on the difficulty of finding a place to live. Whether it is an apartment or a house you are going to have a hard time finding something within 6 months and you will most likely be paying more than you want. My heart goes out to those affected and if anyone finds a GoFundMe or something similar to help those affected I will happily donate to help them.

Elon Bought Twitter, What’s Next?

In case you missed it, Elon Musk just bought Twitter for $44 billion.

The deal isn’t done, and Elon can walk away from this for a cool $1 billion, but everyone and their mother is speculating what is next for Twitter. The question remains to be: what changes will come once Musk takes the helm?

Depending on which side of the aisle you are on — assuming you care about Twitter — you’re either excited about the return of “free speech” to Twitter or you’re worried that Twitter will become a cesspit; that it will be full of trolls, right-wing conspiracists, and fascists.

If there’s one thing that you will see scarce online it’s someone between these two extremes. With that in mind, I present to you my hopes and fears regarding Elon buying Twitter.

My Hopes

  • Twitter continues its work on its decentralized sector of the company, which recently said is unaffected by Elon’s acquisition.
  • Twitter removes all spam bots from the site
  • Moderation is still within the platform where those who continually break Twitter guidelines get banned.
  • Twitter turns away from ad revenue and instead moves to subscription revenue. I will happily pay for Twitter if it’s a subscription service.

My Fears

  • Twitter axes all moderation, which would allow for any and all hate speech on the platform.
  • Twitter’s API is closed off and forces users to migrate to the official Twitter app (I use the official app, but I find many 3rd party Twitter clients both beautiful and necessary).
  • Ads are ramped up within the app and become required in 3rd party apps

I feel that in 8-9 months we will see what happens and whether I was worried for nothing or my fears have come to fruition.

“Hey Siri, set a reminder…”

The Man Behind iBeer

Steve Sheraton went from making a silly video online where he was drinking a beer with his iPhone into a full-fledged app, which then became a breakout star when the App Store launched.

Quinn Myers writing for MEL Magazine:

Before the App Store was even a concept, Sheraton started selling the beer-drinking video file for $2.99. “It was just a little video file that people had to hardwire in and download via iTunes,” he says. “But I probably made around $2,000 a day for the longest time from that.”

By the time Apple came knocking, Sheraton knew he was onto something — he just needed to figure out how to code the video to Apple’s new device. “I have a lot of experience in film and photography, and I wanted to make the beer look as realistic as possible,” he explains. “So rather than doing animation, I chose to make assets from looped videos and image sequences — that’s why the foam looks so real.”

Sheraton then programmed the looped videos and image sequence to interact with the iPhone’s accelerometer. “The accelerometer is constantly measuring the phone’s angle versus the horizon, so by tethering the line between the liquid and the foam to the horizon, you can move your phone in any direction and it looks like it’s filled with liquid,” he tells me. “From there, the rest is just a series of ‘if statements,’ so ‘if the tilt of the phone goes beyond X,’ then the program should switch to different loops of foam and liquid that make it look like the phone is emptying.”

Sheraton called it iBeer, developed under the name of his company Hottrix, and priced it again at $2.99. “We shot to first place [in the App Store] on the very first day and stayed there for about a year,” he says. “Apart from its visual humor and sort of appealing to the lowest common denominator, iBeer was a large success because it allowed people to show their friends what the phone was capable of.

Without spoiling it, Myers goes more in-depth about what happens to Sheraton after iBeer’s success.

If you read the MEL article and find that interesting, Sheraton recently did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit where he talks more about iBeer’s success, what he is doing now, and his feelings on developing apps out today.

Substack, The New York Times, and Nuance

While everyone has been up in arms about Elon Musk and the Twitter takeover, I wanted to talk about something else from this past week.

I have been reading up on a new tiff between Substack and The New York Times that I feel essentially is a tit for tat shouting match. However, this quarrel has made me think about nuance, publications, and whether I am part of the problem or not.

The Article

Tiffany Hsu, a writer for The New York Times, wrote an article that many called a “hit piece,” claiming Substack is dealing with “growing pains” in gaining new streams of revenue and an “exodus” of writers leaving amid controversies. By recruiting writers from major publications, expressing a primarily hands-off approach to content moderation, and expanding to the podcasting space, Substack has made waves. Yet, I don’t think this is inherently a Substack problem.

Hsu, who has written for the LA Times, wrote a piece about Substack portrayed as objective reporting while peppering in many subjective things. For one thing, Hsu alluded to Substack allowing for transphobic and COVID misinformation to be a part of the success of Substack.

Critics say the platform recruits (and therefore endorses) culture war provocateurs and is a hotbed for hate speech and misinformation. Last year, many writers abandoned Substack over its inaction on transphobic content. This year, The Center for Countering Digital Hate said anti-vaccine newsletters on Substack generate at least $2.5 million in annual revenue. The technology writer Charlie Warzel, who left a job at The New York Times to write a Substack newsletter, described the platform as a place for “internecine internet beefs.”

While I agree that controversy gets clicks on Substack, I think Hsu misses the mark here. This story is less about Substack and more about nuance in media. Substack isn’t the only publishing platform that allows for hateful and hurtful rhetoric on their platform. Just visit any Facebook group that unironically uses a Gadsden flag as their profile pic.

In fact, Lulu Cheng Meservey, Vice-President of Communications (VP Comms) at Substack, shared a Twitter thread that I felt gave a fair and honest retort to Hsu’s piece. I also feel like the examples given are worth looking at here.

I don’t think that Hsu wrote a fair assessment of Substack, nor did she fairly represent the direct competition The New York Times has with it. I think she erred on the side of The Times rather than offer a fair balance between the two.

Moderating content is complex; that isn’t something anyone can argue. I don’t envy anyone who creates a publishing platform on the internet today. The responsibilities, politics, and more would make me permanently disassociate from reality.

I am not here to say that all content should be allowed online. There are obvious things you should not allow on your platform, but it is a lot less than what some may want to see. Of course, not everyone will agree with me on that belief, and you know what: that’s okay.

It is okay to be offended.

I don’t enjoy seeing pieces written on Substack that bring COVID misinformation, transphobic rhetoric, or hate of any kind (except hatred towards nazis, because duh). I am not that kind of person, and I try to show that publicly and privately. I am not perfect, though. I occasionally need to be explained things when I don’t understand them fully. I have also found myself asking people who are more attune to the LGBT+ community if I am being insensitive. Again, I try my best, but that isn’t always good enough without guidance from friends and family.

As a cis white male, I feel it is my responsibility to educate other cis people and share my experiences in hopes that I can dissuade anyone from choosing malice over acceptance. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that someone who disagrees with my political, social, and economic beliefs has the same right as me to express their beliefs. My only caveat is that they do so in a civil, respectful way.

Civil discourse is something I believe is healthy and helpful for both sides. There are many things happening in the world that I disagree with, and I know there is an entire side of the aisle that hates how I feel about things. Someone with differing views from mine could say the same. The problem is that it is effortless for us to isolate ourselves from the challenging articles and rhetoric and only consume the things that align with our points of view. It is also hard to have anything civil nowadays as things have become significantly more partisan and divided.

Now, I am not saying that every liberal person needs to watch Fox News every day or that conservatives should be watching MSNBC. However, finding and reading content that doesn’t align with your views isn’t a bad thing, and I believe it’s now being viewed as such.

I am not saying that “cancel culture” is wrong; there is a time and a place for the pitchforks and torches to come out. There are many people from the Me Too movement that I felt deserved to have their lives turned upside down. They were monsters who did monstrous things. But that shouldn’t be the status quo.

Am I Part of the Problem?

As someone that does not individually condone hate speech of any kind, it does affect me to see posts on other Substacks with that kind of speech. I don’t stand for it, I don’t condone it, and I certainly don’t want to read it.

When I am on a platform that anyone can join, I have to acknowledge that there will be people that present their side of the argument here.

Let me be clear; Substack profits from sensationalized, fake news, and hateful speech. I am sure you have seen a headline or two on a Substack that made you cringe. It’s almost a given that you will find the latest sensational and over-the-top conservative opinion piece from a Substack. It is one of the few places they have left after the mass banning on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. But, Substack also makes money from good journalism, reporting like no other, voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard, and creators making money from their hard work independently.

Does having a Substack automatically endorse the sleaze bags on Substack? This has been a struggle I have dealt with as I continue researching more and more about this issue. There have been things I’ve read on Substack that made me wince with discouragement and disbelief. I won’t be sharing the articles here, but you can probably find them if you look for yourself; there are plenty to choose from.

So am I endorsing this profiting by being on Substack? My answer is no.

I can still be a creator here without endorsing that kind of content. I will continue to assess Substack and where they stand, and I will still support writers on the platform. I can’t entirely agree with every user on this platform, but that is the same on all social media. Once enough people start sharing their beliefs and values on a platform, it is an inherent problem.

I have since moved to Ghost, but now because of Substack’s politics or views on free speech. I move to Ghost because I felt that blogging was something more my speed and I wanted a god-honest blog rather than something hybrid like what Substack gives you.

I love the newsletter format, and I want to continue with it, which is why you can subscribe to the newsletter version of Clicked and get all of the articles I write in the week, plus extra goodies like links to stories and websites I didn’t feature, and good Tweets.

For now, I acknowledge that those who have left have valid reasons for leaving, but it is also not the only option you have to show Substack that you aren’t pleased with their actions/inactions. Being critical of a platform whilst still on it isn’t hypocritical, it is necessary to keep checks and balances.

The Attention Economy and this Newsletter

I have a Bachelor’s degree in communication. Specifically, I majored in broadcasting. I have been doing production in television in some capacity since I was a junior in high school. I love my job, but I don’t always enjoy how the news is entangled with the Attention Economy.

I feel the same way about this newsletter. I have this need to share cool things I find online and semi-regularly write original essays about things I am passionate about. I always worry whether what I have to say is worth your time. I often battle with my negative thoughts to justify hitting publish with each newsletter, blog post, or podcast I create. I don’t want to be yet another lousy website writing about something in the news in hopes I can get a fraction of the traffic on my site. As a creator online, I am part of the Attention Economy, but I think this newsletter and the format I write will help thwart any bad things I fear when hitting publish.

To explain the Attention Economy, I defer to Michael Ashley, who wrote a piece about it in Forbes back in 2019.

“Facebook is free and always will be,” was Facebook’s slogan. Yet in recent years, books like Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and movies such as The Great Hack have shown this slogan’s hollowness. The internet is pay-for-play and always has been. Or as media theorist Douglas Rushkoff says: “On Facebook, we’re not the customers. We are the product.”

But it’s not just Facebook commoditizing the web; it’s most every site you visit, whether it be Instagram, Amazon, or Google. Also, the public isn’t just the product, we’re customers, too. We’re all participating in a cleverly orchestrated, capitalistic symphony, shrink-wrapped in the feel-good rhetoric of something called “The Attention Economy.”

Substack recently showcased a piece by Kate Lindsay, writer of Embedded, that struck a chord with me as I thought about the Attention Economy and my place in it.

At my first writing job, I wrote seven stories a day, sometimes waking up as early as 6 a.m. to fit it all in. By the time I’d worked at a few different publications, I could tell when an article was actually an SEO grab masquerading as a legitimate piece of writing, or a piece of clickbait meant to make people mad, and I wasn’t interested in feeding the machine with my own reading habits.

While I’d like to think this particular era of digital media is on its way out, you still see shades of it when the latest viral moment prompts every outlet to scramble for its own unique take. So many websites are writing the same thing. This can be helpful: When Yellowjackets was airing, I was so deep in the show and its fan theories that I read every perspective I could find in hopes of getting all the crumbs. But this strategy doesn’t work universally. For instance, I similarly consumed Covid-19 content in the first year of the pandemic, but I realized that this wasn’t actually reading—it was anxiety-spiraling.

All this is to say, I’m somewhat precious with what I consume, and definitely read a lot less than perhaps you’d think for someone who calls themselves “chronically online.” I like pieces that work to clarify a moment with reason rather than drum up anxiety for clicks, and I have a natural aversion to reading whatever piece has my Twitter timeline in an uproar—because it was probably designed to do just that.

To further add to this, I present Nilay Patel, Editor-in-chief of The Verge.

I hate being made into a product just as much as the next person, and I often think about this as a creator myself. The last thing I want is to churn out content for the sake of content. You are not a commodity or asset I want to exploit for internet fame or money.

Aside from creating something worth your time, I promise that I won’t be using gimmicks like SEO marketing, clickbait titles, or writing about something just because I want it to gain attention and grow my audience.

I will be writing about things that follow the following criteria:

  • It is something that I feel confident in talking about
  • The content I make adds value to you, the reader
  • It either provides depth, or a new perspective, to an established topic or story

I hope to use this list as my North Star guiding me to write about things that provide value to you and provide a meaningful dialogue to the topics themselves.

My hope in every issue of Clicked I send is that you walk away having learned something or gained a new perspective that you didn’t otherwise consider. Those two things can come from an original piece I write or something I link to in the newsletter itself.

Bottom line, I don’t want to waste your time, and I hope that becomes apparent in every issue and post of Clicked going forward.

Success and Failure at Pebble

Eric Migicovsky, the former CEO of Pebble, wrote a post recently detailing why the smartwatch company failed.

In the days after our Kickstarter campaign, it was easy for me as the CEO to explain what our goal was. Ship the best damn smartwatch that we ourselves wanted to use. Over the years, I tried several times to reposition the product and company onto a variety of new tracks, but none were based on a strong long term vision.

Startup founder lesson learned — never forget to define and talk about your long term vision for the future. When things are going well, it’s easy to get caught up in growth. But you need this to carry your company through hard times.

Looking back with hindsight, I should not have aggressively grown the company without a stronger plan. We should have just stuck to what we knew best and continued to build quirky, fun smartwatches for hackers. Pebble, the product, was and still is awesome.

The whole article is worth the read if you want to dive deep into the details behind Pebble’s start, rise, losses, and eventual acquisition.

My thanks to Matt Birchler for initially linking this article to his blog.

If you want some supplemental reading, there is an article from Wired back in 2016 after the announcement of the Fitbit acquisition.

Mike Tyson Can’t Sell His Weed Gummies in Colorado

Mike Tyson, who famously bit Evander Holyfield’s ear, is now selling THC edibles in the shape of the mangled ear. The name of those gummies: Mike Bites.

ItsTyson20/Instagram

The kicker is he can’t sell them in the US weed capital of Colorado due to a 2016 state law that “prohibits marijuana edibles from being shaped like humans, animals, fruit or other objects that could attract children.”

It turns out the ear-shaped gummy indeed falls under that description. I don’t know about you, but a disfigured ear isn’t exactly the most attractive-looking gummy to eat. Nonetheless the law is the law, and Tyson can’t sell his gummies in the Centennial state. However, if you do want to give them a go, the edibles are currently sold in California with future plans to be sold in more states across the US.

The Good from Comic Sans

David Hoang shared an article from The Cut about the font Comic Sans and it raised my eyebrows to learn how accessible this abhorrent font is.

Recently, Instagram added to its Stories an option that looks a lot like Comic Sans, a font design people have long derided. A campaign to ban the font has been afoot online since 1999.

[…]

But, as Lauren Hudgins argues for the Establishment, the agreed-upon hatred of Comic Sans reflects a certain navel-gazing, since it’s one of the best fonts for people with dyslexia, including an estimated 15 percent of Americans.

[…]

Interestingly, it’s the idiosyncrasy of Comic Sans that makes it accessible. “The irregular shapes of the letters in Comic Sans allow her to focus on the individual parts of words,” Hudgins writes. “While many fonts use repeated shapes to create different letters, such as a ‘p’ rotated to made a ‘q,’ Comic Sans uses few repeated shapes, creating distinct letters (although it does have a mirrored ‘b’ and ‘d’).” The ubiquitous Times New Roman, with all its serifs, is often illegible.

I love the internet because even something as mundane as hating a silly font can have a “turns-out” moment where that same childish font can be helpful for those with different needs.

In fact, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole with this because I remembered there was something one of my favorite apps, Reeder, does that had some connection to dyslexia, but I couldn’t remember what it was.

After some digging, I figured out it was something called Bionic Reading. According to their website, Bionic Reading’s goal is “a reading system that supports the reading flow. The eye is guided through the text by means of typographic highlights.”

To explain what it does, they say that it “revises texts so that the most concise parts of words are highlighted. This guides the eye over the text, and the brain remembers previously learned words more quickly.”

Where Dyslexia comes involved is further down on their site. It shows that those afflicted with the disability sharing that their experiences with Bionic Reading helped them read more effectively.

10% of the population has great difficulty reading and understanding texts (dyslexia). We have received feedback from those affected that thanks to Bionic Reading they immediately understood the content of various texts the first time they read them, which was impossible without Bionic Reading. This is pure motivation and also a responsibility towards society, which we are happy to fulfill.

If you think this may help you improve your reading, regardless if you have dyslexia or not, give Bionic Reading or Reeder a try today.

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