Many moons ago I was checking out GoPros for the upcoming Tough Mudder event because I wanted to record some first person perspective footage, much like many of the other participants did. Of course this entailed me actually going to the GoPro website and checking out their wares which, after careful consideration, lead me to lust after the most recent model. Since it was still a fair way out from the event I hadn’t planned to grab one then and there so I bookmarked the model I wanted and then proceeded to go about my usual browsing activities. Only something had changed in the time between my first visiting the GoPro site and leaving it and it wasn’t the first time I’d noticed such behaviour.
Indeed I wrote about this at the start of the year when my thinking was along the lines of these being the highest CPC ads that the network could deliver at the time but I’ve started to notice similar behaviour on other sites. Amazon for instance routinely sends me a list of items that I might be interested in which is actually a service that I’ve opted in for (my traditional means of product discovery are quite laborious). However I couldn’t help but notice that every single product that Amazon recommends to me are things that I’ve either searched for on the site previously or even products I attempted to buy from them only to be told that they wouldn’t ship them outside the USA. It seems really strange as they seem to be able to recommend other products on their site without too much trouble but with anything else it seems they’re left dumbfounded.
So this got me thinking, all these analytical engines out there, which are apparently the magic sauce behind all of these targeted advertising systems, must be spectacularly crap. I’m not the most private person I’m constantly spamming this blog, Twitter and Facebook with all manner of inane stuff I’m interested in so its not like there isn’t a whole lot of data these guys could be pillaging in order to figure out what they should be peddling to me. Indeed Google has the poorest excuse of the lot of them as I browse through a logged in Google Chrome and search whilst logged into my Google account. Still their algorithms seem to be heavily weighted to advertise things to you that you’ve already seen which, at least in my case, seems counter to what you’d want to do.
The flip side of this is that I’m somehow not giving out information for these things to be able to make accurate recommendations which I just don’t believe is the case. Amazon and Google have a treasure trove of information related to my searching, viewing and buying habits and yet I rarely see advertisements or recommendation for things like cameras, supplements and tech gadgets all of which can be high value/high margin sales. I could just have the blinkers on for the text ads (I rarely read them any more, but the graphical ones do catch my eye) but I highly doubt that’s the case.
Facebook is probably the one who gets it the closest as whilst there was a long period where they were simply allowing targeting based on someone’s likes it does seem to do a rather good job of inferring what I would be interested in without referring to it often. You could argue that’s because it has a deeper insight into me thanks to the tendency for people to share details they wouldn’t otherwise on that particular network but there’s not really much more on there than anywhere else, certainly not for Google.
This could all be an artefact of my better-than-average memory which remembers things like this. It’s quite possible that the vast majority of people do in fact do the majority of their product discovery themselves and simply forget about it which means that kind of targeting would be effective. Indeed when I’ve talked about this phenomena with other people I’m usually met with blank stares as they don’t seem to notice any trends like this. Whatever it is every time I notice it I get pushed just a little closer to installing AdBlock, even though I want to keep supporting sites who pony up their content free. That irritates me as I shouldn’t have to make that kind of decision if these algorithms were doing their job properly.
It was a long time ago now, getting near to 3 years, when I made the decision to start publishing something on a week-daily basis to this blog. I can’t really say what drove me to do that, it certainly wasn’t because I was rolling in page views and I had an audience hungry for more content¹. For the first couple months the writing came easy since I was just mostly posting my opinion on one thing or another but you can only keep posting opinions about things for so long before you feel you’ve said all you need to say on those soft issues, at least when you’re trying to write to a deadline.
I’m not the only one suffering from this either, it seems:
Whilst I didn’t make the connection between my off days when I post inane crap because I can’t find anything better to write about (although I have been told that those off days are some of my best writing, go figure) and the mainstream media I can definitely understand it now. I had just always assumed that people getting paid to do this had a much better process of finding something to write about rather than my haphazard daily troll of other blogs, YouTube clips and news aggregation sites hoping that an article triggers that writing spark in the back of my head.
The restriction of daily posting, or it seems any deadline, is definitely what leads me to post what I feel is lesser quality work. In the beginning the wanting to write was what drove me but after a couple months of near daily posts it morphed from a routine into a habit, one that I’ve had a terrible time at breaking. It also doesn’t help that Google seems to punish me if I stray from my posting schedule, further reinforcing the behavior. I could probably circumvent the Google punishment if I tried hard enough (by writing with SEO in mind more) but I feel that’d erode the intentions of my blog further than me posting some crud every so often.
Funnily enough it seems that the solution to my problem may be found in adding more restrictions rather than lifting my current one. My goal of doing 1 game review per week for the entire year (I’ve only missed 1 week so far and have every intention to catch that up) has been an amazing experience, seeing me play all sorts of games that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to otherwise. It also means that I spend one less day a week wondering what the hell I’m going to write about in the morning, even if the time investment to getting that post there is orders of magnitude above anything else I’ve written.
It’s always nice to know that you’re not alone in your suffering, even if it doesn’t help you overcome that immediate problem. I all too often think that the problems I experience are because I was never really good at this writing thing in the first place only to find out later that no, all writers struggle with the same problems. At least then I can share in their misery and maybe even help out a little if I get the chance to, although it seems we’re much more likely to suffer in silence than to say anything about it.
Well, unless it makes for good blog fodder that is 😉
¹Indeed for the first couple months of its life I was happy that this blog would have a day that didn’t have 0 views. I’ve also been told in no uncertain terms that my initial attempt at being a blogger was crap, but usually in the same breath as saying that I’ve vastly improved since then (which I always appreciate hearing).
I’m a kinda-sorta photography buff, one who’s passion is only restrained by his rigid fiscal sensibility and lack of time to dedicate to taking pictures. Still I find the time to keep up with the technology and I usually find myself getting lost in a sea of lenses, bodies and various lighting rigs at least once a month simply because the tech behind getting good photographs is deeply intriguing. Indeed whenever I see a good photograph on the Internet I’m always fascinated by the process the photographer went through to create it, almost as much as I am when it comes to the tech.
Such a passion is at odds with the recently Facebook acquired app Instagram (or any of those filter picture apps).
To clear the air first yes I have an account on there and yes there are photos on it. To get all meta-hipster on your asses for a second I was totally into Instagram (then known as Burbn) before it was even known as that, back when it was still a potential competitor to my fledgling app. Owing then to my “better get on this bandwagon early” mentality back then I created an account on Instagram and used the service as it was intended: to create faux-artistic photos by taking bad cell phone pictures and then applying a filter to them. My usage of it stopped when I made the switch to Android last year and for a time I was wondering when it would come to my new platform of choice.
It did recently but in that time between then and now I came to realise that there really is nothing in the service that I can identify with. For the vast majority of users it serves as yet another social media platform, one where they can show case their “talent” to a bunch of like minded people (or simply followers from another social media platform following them to the platform du’jour). In reality all that Instagram does is auto-tune bad cell phone pictures, meaning that whilst they might be visually appealing (as auto-tuned songs generally are) they lack any substance thanks to their stock method of creation. The one thing they have going for them is convenience since you always have your phone with you but at the same time that’s why most of the photos on there are of mundane shit that no one really cares about (mine included).
To be fair I guess the issue I have isn’t so much with the Instagram service per say, probably more with the people who use it. When I see things like this guide as to which filter to use (which I’m having a hard time figuring out whether its an elaborate troll or not) I can’t help but feel that the users somehow think that they’ve suddenly become wonderful photographers by virtue of their phone and some filters. Should the prevailing attitude not be the kind of snobbish, hipster-esque douchery that currently rules the Insatgram crowd I might have just ignored the service rather than ranting about it.
From a business point of view the Instagram acquisition by Facebook doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. It’s the epitome of the business style that fuelled the dot com bust back in the early 2000’s: a company with a hell of a lot of social proof but no actual revenue model (apart from getting more investors) gets snapped up by a bigger company looking to either show that it’s still trying to expand (Facebook in this case) or a dying company hoping that it can revive itself through acquisitions. Sure for a potential $100 billion company lavishing 1% of your worth on a hot new startup will seem like peanuts but all they’ve done is buy a cost centre, one that Facebook has said they have no intention of mucking with (good for the users, potentially bad for Facebook’s investors).
Instagram produces nothing of merit and using it does not turn one from a regular person into some kind of artist that can produce things with any merit. Seriously if you want to produce those kinds of pictures and not be a total dick about it go and grab the actual cameras and try to recreate the pictures. If that sounds like too much effort then don’t consider yourself a photographer or an artist, you’re just a kid playing with a photography set and I shall treat the pictures you create as such.