Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Overchoice Problem

Most of my personal theories on how humans operate are connected fundamentally around our capacity to make decisions.

I suppose that there are deterministic world-views that propose that we don’t have any “real” choices, but I find those views pretty un-interesting and un-helpful. What I *do* find helpful — or at least what makes me happy — are people who think about how we make decisions, and how those decision impact progress toward intentional futures.

Ms. Iyengar has been near the top of my list of people who I think are really contributing to the conversation about “choices”.  She has a book and a few video talks, but I keep coming back to this classic TED talk posted above — Making Choices Easier.

If you’re on the fence about whether to spend 16 min on her little talk, here are the takeaways, especially, from a product development viewpoint —

When you are presenting options that will require a person to make a decision:

1) Cut — less is more

2) Concretization — make the consequences of the choice clear and understsandable

3) Categorization — give the decider help on navigating the options

4) Condition for Complexity — complexity is OK but gradually increase it to reduce fatigue

OK, I’ll leave it at that. <g>

The Fix For Twitter

Alfred-Hitchcock-poemI went to sleep last night with a bunch of “how to fix Twitter” posts swirling in my head and I dreamed of fat men and angry skies, naturally.

The most provocative post I read yesterday was from a fine entrepreneur I follow — David Jackson, a Seeking Alpha founder — that did a numbers analysis of Twitter’s “engagement problem.” What was helpful was that he used actual data and logic to demonstrate the obvious but easy-to-forget fundamental genius of Twitter: the product and its core incentives give it the shape of a giant, fast-moving river.

I think the question of whether Twitter can take this noisy, rushing social mechanic and turn it into a large revenue-generating media company is the kind of question that asked too sharply turns a Digg or Napster into a pile of nothing. I think history would argue for patience here.

But what gave me weird flappy dreams last night was Mr. Jackson’s cure for Twitter — that to improve Twitter’s terrible one-way-flow engagement numbers, and to make it loopy and addictive, Twitter’s fundamental incentives need to simply be re-made to emphasize “value” propositions that look more like “engagement”. As in, turn it from the raw force-of-nature resource that it is into a tailored, engaging social experience.

Arrgghhhh.

Putting aside the fact that Dorsey + Williams + Stone + Costello etc. have been attempting some version of that with all the feature tweaks and developer community stomping — the part that drives me crazy about this suggestion is equating “value” straight up to “addictiveness”. And that Twitter’s noisy-ness is not providing value.

Really? I have no problem finding lots and lots of great content on Twitter — if I want to test hashtag zeitgeist, or trend surf, or better, just get some good old fashioned crowd-sourced news, it’s working pretty good for me.

Could Twitter start to target me better? Or provide me with an incentive to produce “quality” content? Or give me with ways to interact more authentically with people I care about around ideas that matter to me?

Maybe. But how does that change the core user story, those raw, cheap bursts of self-disclosure? This is the engine of Twitter! Moving to far from this center is nutty, IMVHO and I have to think that a couple features into a serious rebuilding adventure the Twitter team would pretty quickly find that they’ve re-discovered the continent of Quora.. or Instagram..

More Ectoplasm

medium-logoOne of the core ideas of B3TZ that we still haven’t shaken is that our predictions need to live inside a context. When you predict that “Jurrasic World will gross over $150M on its second weekend” or “Russell Wilson will throw for 300 or more Yards vs. Arizona this weekend” whoever puts that prediction out in the world benefits from a framing story.

A single POV prose graf combined with a prediction is an information unit we think is interesting — like a Newser bite or a Buzzfeed listicle.

In previous versions of B3TZ we’ve looked at having our game publishers — in-house, affiliated, or even un-affiliated — using publishing platforms like SBN or Reddit or Tumblr or Technorati, and we’ve done most of our test posting on Blogger or WordPress. Last week I had a conversation where Medium got floated as a possible fit, so I did a little dive to see what the pros and cons looked like for B3TZ purposes:

Pros —

1) the editing experience is super simple — sort of like Tumblr, the time to get a paragraph and some links put up is short and sweet.

2) the promise of traffic — the theory is that if your opinions and writing is interesting enough it catches the attention of an editor? or algorithm? and floats to a more prominent status.

3) looks multi-channel lovely — the site comes with mobile apps so delivery is everywhere.

Cons —

1) narrow audience — the design and content choices lead me to think this is aimed at aging hipsters, which is fine, but will sports or movie box office scores matter to this audience?

2) the promise of traffic — unlike Stack Overflow or Quora, two sites I still have confidence in their “democracy” — Medium seems to have a very opaque selection process. It involves editors and hidden algorithms, which is fine I guess. That seems to work for Reddit and Facebook etc. It just means to get the traffic we want we’d need to find the back door.

Takeaway —

I’m not seeing much original with Medium — just an updated version of the user-gen’d content promises that have been floating around for a couple decades now. Overall I have a very dim view of user-generated content as a strategy for reducing publishing costs. If non-pro content is good, it eventually demands payment, and if it isn’t good you don’t want it. I see UGC as a relatively in-efficient technique for recruiting writers and community developers. After watching the thrash with Technorati and HuffPo over the years, I don’t see how Medium will fare much differently.

And I’m not seeing signs of a revenue model for these guys either. Maybe they’re trying for the Tumblr-style deus-ex-Yahoo exit, but I doubt it. Looks more like a vanity project. All content roads lead to subscriptions or ad-networks, and after watching media genius John Battelle take 10 years to turn $60M of investor money into a $22M ad-network media asset I have to conclude that the advertising fork in the road is pretty rough.

That said, I think B3TZ is still shopping for a good home for the “prediction content unit” and until B3TZ makes the decision to become a publisher it its own right (not likely!!) I’m willing to try Medium along with every other place that will have us.

Playing Politics For Money

predict_itSomewhere in the corners of the B3TZ competitive landscape live “prediction markets”. I’ve been tracking these for years, most infamously Intrade and Crowdpark, since they border more on the B3TZ demographic (i.e. social game players, NOT gamblers or financial traders).

PredictIt popped up on NYT yesterday and I thought I’d give it a look and revisit that part of the B3TZ compete landscape for a few minutes.

The game itself is a pretty standard for-money prediction maketplace, currently focused exclusively on politics. Various political scenarios are presented as “markets” — Will Clinton will poll about 60% by July 1? Will Biden run? — and then you buy and sell shares in those markets as the mechanism to make your bets, er.. predictions. Exactly like a financial exchange, or HSX for that matter. It looks like a lot of fun if you’re a finance geek, for sure. Probably not going to pull in the Facebook slots crowd.

More interestingly, though, PredictIt was founded and funded as a supposedly academic exercise out of Victoria University in Wellington, NZ, the same institution that brought us iPredict — itself an entity that has generated some curious ethical discussions, shall we say. Sumfin’s goin’ on in Hobbitland, not sure what.

I’m also not sure what to do with the fact that PredictIt is attached to a political information + tools company. Their intentions to get into the US Market ahead of the 2016 elections, however, look pretty clear — and they did it right by going down the path of The Iowa Electronic Markets to get the US Ministry of Silly Financial Products (ok, the CFTC) to OK their money-betting project in advance. Exactly like InTrade catastrophically did NOT.

Sadly when I tried to sign up for PredictIt this morning I was told that they “are not available in my location.” Hmmm.. I’m sure there’s an innocent reason for me not having access, but it did cross my mind that if you want to control market direction you need to control access. Tinfoil hat alert!

Social Login Is Still A Thing?

Q1-2015-entertainment-social-trends

At B3TZ world headquarters we periodically debate the value of having social logins for our game. We were originally platformed on Facebook until all their rule changes caught up with us and we were forced off, along with a lot of other game makers.

But we’ve kept Facebook login as a way to connect to our site and we’ve been recently revisiting that decision.

After a little research I found a bit of social login data at Janrain, a company focused on connecting ID and marketing teams — see their games+ent relative data above. I couldn’t find any sample size or volume trend info, but assuming their numbers are reasonably kosher I guess the answer is YES, social logins are still a thing and Facebook is probably the one we should have.

Why do I sound surprised? Because I thought there was a trend was AWAY from social logins and TOWARD a couple other modes of managing identity:

1) Privacy is becoming a bigger deal for most people I know on social, and social login has a complicated “contract” with what gets shared and what doesn’t — who wants to keep track of Facebook’s drifting privacy features? Logging in with a social media account is convenient but do you want Facebook involved in all your junk? People aren’t figuring this out? I’ve fallen back to good old email with a strong password for most account, but clearly I’m not the norm.

2) Password management seems to be becoming a thing — I’m going to give LastPass a try for a while and I’ll report back. And if you’re worried about identity theft, then it’s probably a good idea to have some way to manage your core accounts. Keeping the same password forever is a recipe for disaster.

3) Throwaway password seem to be a thing too — that is, for sites that you don’t log into frequently, just hit the “Forgot Password” button and get a new one in 10 seconds and on you go. Don’t even try to pretend to remember it. Isn’t this what all the kids are doing these days?

At any rate, we’ll keep Facebook login for now on B3TZ and when we get a large enough sample size I’ll do the math to compare the “mail logins” vs. “facebook logins” vs. “throwaway passwords” and see how that data stacks up for us.