Some interesting tech articles and ideas from the past week:
Here’s What’s Wrong With Algorithmic Filtering on Twitter – by Matthew Ingram, for Fortune
While ostensibly about Twitter, this article is really about the role that algorithms play in the world that we live in, sorry, I mean the news that we see.
“In a nutshell, the problem with filtering is that the algorithm — which of course is programmed and tweaked by human beings, with all their unconscious biases and hidden agendas — is the one that decides what content you see and when. So ultimately it will decide whether you see photos of refugees on the beach in Turkey and shootings in Ferguson or ice-bucket videos and photos of puppies.
Does that have real-world consequences? Of course it does, as sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has pointed out in a number of blog posts. It can serve to reinforce the “filter bubble” that human beings naturally form around themselves, and that can affect the way they see the world and thus the way they behave in that world.”
Are you ok with only seeing what someone else wants you to see? The problem is, with so much out there, we need filters, it’s just not manageable otherwise. Even if we choose to design our own filters, is that not self-limiting? What impact will this have on ideas and discourse?
“By definition, algorithmic filtering means that you are not the one who is choosing what to see and not see. A program written by someone else is doing that. And while this may be helpful — because of the sheer volume of content out there — it comes with biases and risks, and we shouldn’t downplay them. As social platforms become a larger part of how we communicate, we need to confront them head on.”
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One of the craziest music videos I’ve ever seen – by OKGo
Whatever you think of OKGo’s music (this song’s not bad but will never make my all-time favourite list), the art here is the video. It’s crazy fun, very clever and quite unforgettable.
If you’ve ever wondered what opening a piñata in zero gravity would be like, watch this.
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What Would Actually Happen If We Broke Up The Banks? – by Michael Maiello, for Rolling Stone
I include this article because the structure of banks going forward will have so much influence on the role of money in society, and on the rollout of alternative forms of financing. We’ve all grown up in an era of Big Banks, and we lived through a Big-Bank-initiated recession. And while regulation has tightened and the IPO market has lost its allure, the overall structure of our main financial institutions has not changed much.
As this article points out, fintech companies are encroaching onto the bank’s territory. But most, especially P2P lenders, are struggling to be true to the initial calling, which is peers lending to peers.
“After the financial crisis, the banks shied away from making consumer and small-business loans. Some online start-ups like Lending Club and OnDeck entered the scene, as a way for people to lend money to each other directly, without going through a bank. But that model didn’t quite work. Matching up a guy who needs $10,000 to buy a pizza oven with a willing lender is rough work. Enter hedge funds, which are now increasingly buying the loans that Lending Club and OnDeck make.”
Yet once (ok, if) we achieve bank fragmentation, then smaller challengers will have more of a chance to innovate, to create new services and to capture market share. Size used to be the ultimate goal, the only way to achieve uniform customer service quality and scaled efficiencies. Yet today metrics and agility make client retention a matter of analysis and design. And as what we ask of our banks changes, so should their focus and priorities. The fragmentation of banks would both increase their value as a whole, and generate a new field of finance for the new business world we live in.
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A Look at the Marketplace Lending Originator Ecosystem – by Michael Gilroy, for TechCrunch
Speaking of the difficulties that marketplace lenders are having, here is a look at the “commoditization” of their product. P2P loans have gone from being a finance disruptor and an innovation that will revolutionize the banking sector, to a replicable product. The swashbuckling romance is gone. Now, selling alternative finance is a question of packaging and pricing.
“On the surface, e-commerce and marketplace lending are two incredibly different types of businesses. One has disrupted stores like Macy’s and Sears by selling anything from underwear to couches in a regulation-lite environment. The other disrupted massive banking institutions such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America by selling highly regulated loans.
However, when you peel back the layers, MPLs and e-commerce platforms provide a relatively fungible product, where differentiation comes down to customer experience and price, in markets that breed increasingly low barriers to entry.”
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Information Overload and the Tricky Art of Single-Tasking – by Alina Selyukh
A radical idea – stop multitasking???? really???? – that has turned out to be surprisingly refreshing. I’ve tried it, and life is better when you 1) accept that you’re not going to be able to read everything and connect to everyone that you want to in the course of the day, and 2) that doesn’t make you less of a person.
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How ‘Aggregation Theory’ is Fueling a Multi-Trillion Dollar Technology Revolution – by Tikue Anazodo, via Medium
Product distribution used to be a relatively monopolistic endeavour, with profitability and reach going to the largest players. Not anymore. Now, anyone can distribute.
“Over the last two decades, the distribution chain for most goods and services have been redefined end-to-end. The distributor’s role in the chain has been commoditized. ‘Makers’ can now bring their goods and services direct to consumers.
This turned out to be both good and bad.
Good in the sense that makers can essentially become their own distributors by creating their own websites and distributing to consumers directly through their own channels. They get to choose what, when, where and how to distribute.
Bad in the sense that because all makers were given the ability to create independent outlets for distribution, discovery became exponentially more complex for the demand side of the equation i.e. consumers would effectively have to navigate millions of independent outlets to find goods, services and content.
Enter the ‘aggregators’.”
Tikue then goes on to list the largest 10 (by market capitalization) public consumer internet companies. Guess what? They’re all aggregators. Interesting.
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My Little Sister Taught Me How To “Snapchat Like The Teens” – by Ben Rosen, for BuzzFeed
Much more riveting than it has any right to be, this “how-to” on Snapchat turns out to be more about teen culture and the role media plays in the social scene. Surprising, disconcerting and slightly awe-inspiring.
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Things I’ve been enjoying this week:
Really, it’s a service that’s actually called “This”, and it sends you a daily email with 5 recommended reads from around the web. What I love about it is that it gets me reading things outside my circle of interest. There’s no way I can keep up with all the great media sites out there, I barely manage to keep up with my sector. This broadens my scope and introduces me to great journalists that I might otherwise never come across. And it keeps me from becoming boring. I hope.
· The History of the Internet
As an example of how boring I could become if left to my own devices, the other thing I’m geeking out over this week is a MOOC on Coursera called “Internet History, Technology and Security”, from the University of Michigan. Seriously interesting and very well done, it includes relaxed and enthralling lectures by Charles Severance, and interviews with the people who developed the Internet! It’s half way through, but the videos are worth watching even if you don’t take the course, especially the ones in weeks 5 and 6 that explain how the whole thing works.
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I hope that you’re enjoying your weekend!