A — Ad — Great — Ad — Reading — Ad — Experience — Ad
(First published on 3/10/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter — more)
As a general concept, I’m in favor of Facebook’s Instant Articles, Google’s AMP, and the like. For far too long, reading on the web has been bogged down by overzealous publishers cramming ads in every crevice on every page they control. It’s an awful user experience. And it’s getting worse.
Facebook’s approach is problematic for a few reasons, and naturally has publishers’ complaining. But at least one of the steps Facebook is taking to alleviate the pain is ridiculous. In late 2015, Facebook noted that they would allow for ads to be inserted in articles every 350 words, instead of the previous 500 word rule. At the time, I joked that soon it might be every 100 words. Or. Every. Other. Word. Might. Be. An. Ad.
Well, guess what? As Josh Constine reported yesterday:
Now Facebook is cutting publishers a slightly better arrangement, allowing them to put a few more ads in each Instant Article. Ads can now appear every 250 words, instead of every 350.
Ugh. As I quipped on Twitter yesterday, if you give a publisher an ad-supported cookie, they’re going to want a sponsored glass of milk. But really, where does this end? Even if Facebook has miraculously solved the advertising pageload problem (which I’m sure they haven’t), an ad every 250 words is just a shitty reading experience. There has to be another way…
Drew Fitzgerald and Ryan Knutson:
At its height in the 1990s, RadioShack’s outlets were nearly as common as convenience stores with a location within 5 miles of nearly every American. The chain had more than 5,000 locations as late as 2013, but closed more than half when it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015.
I’m shocked, shocked, that the effort didn’t work. I still like my idea from 2014 — the last bankruptcy — to turn RadioShack into the “Apple Store for everything.” Easier said than done, of course. But it’s sort of what B8ta is trying to do as a startup! As noted above, RadioShack’s reach was insane, but they allowed those stores to become albatrosses rather than assets.
Speaking of decaying businesses, The Economist goes deep in search of the current state of the diamond industry:
Natural diamonds — as opposed to the synthetic ones mostly used in industry — were formed more than 1bn years ago deep below cratons, the oldest part of continents. There, between Earth’s core and its crust, the pressure was high enough and the temperature low enough for carbon to crystallise into its hardest form. There diamonds would have remained were it not for molten rock rushing through the mantle and drawing diamonds, garnets and other minerals with it, like a furious river pulling dirt from its banks, before erupting through Earth’s surface faster than the speed of sound.
What a wonderfully descriptive paragraph. Meanwhile, I’m sure most people are aware that the whole concept of a diamond engagement ring started as a marketing ploy dreamed up by De Beers. Still, crazy:
The marketing worked. In 1939, 10% of American brides received a diamond engagement ring. By the end of the century 80% did. The result was a unique industry, controlled by a single company that was both marketer and miner, a capital-intensive business built on an ephemeral link to love, its success due to strangled supply and inflated demand.
But the times they are a-changin’:
But a long-term risk looms over the industry: one day young couples may no longer want diamonds at all. They are a “Veblen good”, as items that gain their value solely from their ability to signal status are named, after Thorstein Veblen, an economist who wrote about the spending of the rich. For Veblen goods, the normal law of supply and demand does not hold: higher prices support demand, rather than suppressing it. If a big gap opens up between the number of diamonds offered for sale and the number of people willing to buy them at high prices, diamonds could suffer a big, sustained fall in value and the entire business could cease to make sense.
This seems almost certain to happen, it’s just a matter of when. 💎💍
Continuing the theme of businesses potentially in peril, here’s The Economist on Intel in a world of chips needed for things like artificial intelligence:
Much will depend on how AI develops, says Matthew Eastwood of IDC, a market researcher. If it turns out not to be the revolution that many people expect, and ushers in change for just a few years, Intel’s chances are good, he says. But if AI continues to ripple through business for a decade or more, other kinds of processor will have more of a chance to establish themselves. Given how widely AI techniques can be applied, the latter seems likely. Certainly, the age of the big, hulking CPU which handles every workload, no matter how big or complex, is over. It suffered, a bit like Humpty Dumpty, a big fall. And all of Intel’s horses and all of Intel’s men cannot put it together again.
Ouch. Literally. Intel famously missed mobile. If they miss the boat on AI too, they could be in very real trouble. Meanwhile, look at NVIDIA.
Since today is an Economist love-fest, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how they operate editorially:
At most papers, the writers responsible for the leader pages are separate from the rest of the reporting staff. This is not the case at The Economist. The whole paper meets, and anyone — from the newest intern to the most senior editor — can put forward and write a leader. What matters is not a contributor’s seniority, but the strength and quality of his or her arguments.
While RadioShack can’t shutter physical stores fast enough to stay alive, Amazon — yes, Amazon — can’t open them fast enough… Amazon’s model — basically every good available at all times shipped anywhere cheap and fast — undoubtedly hastened the demise of RadioShack. Opening these stores just seems like salt in the open wound. That’s cold, Amazon.
(First published on 3/10/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter)