Media Archives

Dissecting This Week’s Media Fissure

(Disclaimer: Before a writer rips me apart or tweets this post without reading it fully, I used to be a long-time columnist for TechCrunch (the most frequent contributor they’ve ever had, over 100 posts and nearly 100 videos over a three period. I’m also a small, early-stage investor in Silicon Valley.)

A few days later, and the lava flowing from this week’s media eruption at Mount Gawker is still red hot. As I’m sure we all know by now, it was revealed that a multibillionaire founder, operator, investor, and board member of Facebook — the largest publisher in the world — secretly financed a citizen’s legal bills against an online tabloid magazine which outed the financier a decade ago and, more recently, took a very intimate video of the plaintiff in this case and published it to the web. Since then, a jury in Florida awarded the plaintiff over a $100M settlement and essentially rendered the online tabloid bankrupt, out of business.

Twitter has been aflame, where journalists spend lots of time tweeting before this eruption, with writers’ expressing concerns and fears over (1) the ability of one person to finance litigation against anyone, including media companies; (2) the potential threat to the future of free speech; and (3) a defensive backlash against claims from others that the online media model shouldn’t reckless chase page views. Targeting journalists as a victim can inflame an issue. This is a tactic disruptors used right after September 11, when different media outlets received packages laced with anthrax. The news this week was interpreted by many as if it were like digital anthrax.

As someone who is both pro-technology and invests in its future, but also as someone who has spent considerable time publishing online, here are my quick reactions to the furor, which I hope add a perspective and move the conversation forward:

1/ People Hate The Financier And Company He Represents: Imagine the plaintiff bankrolled his case by leveraging crowdfunding. He still would’ve won the summary judgment of over $100M. Some are saying the financier should’ve disclosed his backing, but that may have also affected the jury’s ability to assess the case on the merits. The plaintiff had a legal right to sue for damages. What’s clear now is the hatred for the financier and the growing fears of Facebook felt by the publishing world. We would be having a very different conversation if a big political backer financed this litigation.

2/ Protecting Privacy Trumps Freedom Of Reckless Speech: It’s almost like everyone forgot why this case went to the courts. Someone had private videos of them in compromised positions published to the Internet. Think about that. Someone could hack into your Dropcam feed at home and publish that to the web. There has to be a line of what people can publish without recourse and what is punishable by jail or fines. People also forget the courts will always uphold freedom of speech so long as the speech in question is of material public benefit. This case doesn’t threaten free speech, but it sure does make people think twice of posting immaterial, private personal information and trying to ruin someone’s personal life.

3/ Publishing Power Is Real: For over three years, I could post anything I wanted to TechCrunch, just hit publish and go. TechCrunch has huge distribution and many of those articles are syndicated around the world. I was never under oversight. I could hit publish without recourse. As a result, I was always hyper-careful to never make public information which was shared with me confidentially or in private. I’m not saying I was a “real journalist” as I was working in the industry at the time, but even then I would still get nastigrams for three out of every four posts I’d write because someone didn’t like it, but it always felt utterly reckless to cross the line of going after someone. There are some tech blogs that have done that (in addition to the defendant) and in the cases where it is material information (say, someone did something illegal), I’ve never seen anyone get mad at the respected tech and finance journalists. In fact, many of them are respected for bringing this information to the public record.

Finally, a personal thought:

4/ Writing As A Career Is Scary: I am not someone with marketable skills. I always enjoyed writing for fun, and for years, people would always say, “Why don’t you just write?” But I knew what that would entail. This case exposes deeper fears and anxieties many who have been stuck inside the journalism establishment feel deep down inside but rarely confront head-on. Many journalists work for media brands whose influence wanes in a digital world and/or are themselves bankrolled by a successful tycoon or family. Many of them (not all!) cling to a belief they’re independent or that freedom of press and speech need to be protected to the point where they can write about someone else without sticking the facts, without going to the videotape.

Writing online for a living is sort of like the taxi industry — an industry already under attack and waiting to be further disrupted by a Swiss Army knife of changes in the digital landscape: Facebook’s newsfeed, hosting, and algorithms; ad-blockers in iOS; social network products delivering information to users rather than media brands; and so on. Yes, some people will make it work, but aside from those who have the brand and digital-formula to carry through, it will be hard to carve out a career here, and as the courts have declared — it’s probably not a good idea to publish someone’s very private information unless it’s truly material to the public record. A tech investor who embezzles or a tech CEO who falsifies medical tests should be pilloried by the press, but publishing videos of them engaging in infidelity isn’t germane to the higher task at hand.

Despite what many people say online, there’s definitely a place for a Valleywag-style or new publication to act as a smart check against the tech and startup ecosystem at large, to take the other side on the merits and bring the hype down to the earth — it just so happened that this particular case was the fault line that was tested, but it was bound to happen at some point. The proper way to extrapolate from this event is to assume the lawsuit was self-financed or financed from the crowd — what then? I’d bet the conversation would be very different.

Medium Rare

I love Medium, the product. I wish I had the opportunity to invest. When Greylock became their first institutional investor, I knew Medium would be a billion dollar exit and wrote about it here. Since then, other great investors and firms have backed up their trucks to ride the Ev train, and that’s a smart move.

Online, it is easy to see blogs migrate, flock, gravitate to Medium. It is a phenomenal product. I can say that because I live inside WordPress, which I’ve come to learn (and like) over time. It can be frustrating, too – oh yes, very frustrating. That’s why Medium is doing so well. There’s little need now for WordPress for people who just want to write and post media and discover new content, and they needed some competition.

In terms of people migrating to Medium, I certainly see flocks of investors and tech people taking flight to Medium — or redesigning their blog/site to look like Medium’s. The advantages of going there far outweigh creating an independent blog, especially today. Some holdouts have cited the inability to get their domain, or customize their look, their investment in a commenting system, or an email list they’ve carefully built up, etc. — but Medium is chipping away at those, too. They understand what the holdouts want and are probably building it.

But, I won’t do it. While I have experimented with cross-posting and do some personal writing on Medium, I will not move this blog to Medium.

Maybe I’m holding on to an old habit. Maybe I spent too much time, over the years, designing my site to look and feel a certain way. Maybe I don’t want to feel I’m joining the ranks and just following along. Maybe it’s all of the above.

But, if I sit down and drill into why I won’t do it, it comes down to identity.

I don’t have an office for work. I don’t have staff. This site has evolved since summer 2012, like I have, and I’ve been able to slowly mold it to the things that I increasingly care about. Maybe, as droves flock to Medium, my site becomes more unique. I am sure I’m placing more weight on this than needs to be, yet I still feel as if going to Medium will feel like “changing offices,” or “acquiring a staff to manage” or, most frighteningly, will start to chip away at the little bit of individuality I hold in what is otherwise a competitive, overcrowded, monochrome investment world.

Black Swan Politics

This post is not about taking a side on a political issue or for a particular candidate, or drawing a line between what’s right or wrong. Before this could be twisted by others, let me say I do not condone the messages being used in the campaigns in question below. Yet, as a longtime observer of presidential elections (and as someone who worked both for and in/around government, as well as for a startup that tried to play into the 2012 election), I find this season’s chapter of national politics truly remarkable in that I believe we are seeing unprecedented change.

“The Rise of Trump” seems to be such a black swan event, many people are trying to make sense of it. Scott Adams, the outspoken creator of the Dilbert comics, has been writing about the Trump phenomenon on his blog for many months now; earlier this year, well-respected media critic Clay Shirky wrote this tweetstorm about how social media has helped reshape what a political party looks like in America; Stratechery’s Ben Thompson wrote a detailed analysis sharply titled “The Voters Decide“; and one of the sharpest minds in the world of startups, Naval Ravikant, took to his blog in a piece title “American Spring” to link the rise of bipartisan populism and the rise of both Trump (on the right) and Bernie Sanders (on the left) to social media’s disintermediation and re-intermediation of our political reality.

For me, this only came together recently as I was listening to Keith Rabois talk about the rise of Trump using language of how we talk about startups that become black swans. I talked to Keith today and asked if it was OK for me to quickly transcribe his talk with @Jason. As usual, Keith has a truly unique way to explain things and tie them back to how startups form, operate, and scale. To be clear below, I quickly transcribed this tonight, and Keith explicitly says he doesn’t want Trump to win (original source video, skip to 32-minute mark to hear this part of their conversation).

@Jason Calcanis: What are the chances Trump could get the nomination?

Rabois: Higher than I would like…it’s not the case Republicans fielded a bad set of candidates, it’s just that voters aren’t voting for them. If you look at the resumes of the 13 people who ran for the Republican nomination, they’re incredibly impressive people…you’re talking about the governors or former governors of Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, etc….but none of the voters [want to vote for them]. It’s like shipping a good product on paper with a really good executive team that has a great LinkedIn profile, but none of the consumers (the users) are downloading the app, that’s basically the problem… It’s not necessarily obvious what to do when the people are just rejecting the traditional candidates, it’s a little bit like building a startup. Basically, someone is coming out of left field with a completely different model and, in some ways, is defying all the rules that people took for granted and is having success. That’s what most of us do for a living… I don’t want [Trump] to [win]. I don’t think it’s impossible — for him to win either the nomination or the Presidency. I think the percentage chance [of a Trump Presidency] is higher than people think because he’s shown this disruptive ability — translating this back to entrepreneurial pursuits — he’s clearly defying all of the rules in a way that’s resonating with real people, and when you see that, and you see that starting to scale, ignore that with a lot of peril, just like incumbents ignore these startups all the time.

The media narrative and intra-party opposition to Trump has placed focus on his dangerous use of language, but we haven’t yet heard of his rise in the language of startups — in an era where traditional lines of morality continually erode, we are now seeing a disruptive force in national politics (like we did eight years ago), defying and rewriting many of the rules political insiders, parties, and voters have taken for granted for decades. And with each passing milestone, each passing attempt to curb its rise, it seems to get stronger as it scales. In the language we all understand, we are trying form and/or fund the best teams with the right backgrounds and abilities to unlock markets, but even with all the planning and know-how in the world, the next thing usually is explicable only in hindsight.

Blocking On Twitter

Lately on Twitter, there have been some interesting threads (and posts written about those threads) on the topic of blocking people on Twitter. It’s a timeless debate with no morally correct answer. Some believe any user has the right to block others, while others believe Twitter is about open, public debate for all.

This wouldn’t be a topic I’d write about, but this morning I saw an article on CNN (!!!) about Marc Andreessen’s blocking techniques on Twitter. You can read that here. As I was reading it, lines like this felt like the author of the post on CNN was drawing some far-out conclusions:

The famed Silicon Valley investor appears likely to block people who think differently than he does — and maybe pose a threat to the bubble of ideas that he wants to grow.

I am not sure that’s a fair line, especially an opening line of a post on CNN. Personally, I have received public replies from Marc that have disagreed with my original tweet, and I have — like many, many others — have publicly disagreed with him and not been blocked. Second, a VC’s investment in technologies like Bitcoin and VR (for which Marc’s firm is somewhat famous for) are surely met with skepticism and differences of opinion, likely even within the firm’s own general partnership. Fred Wilson has written a few posts about how he believes VR is currently over-hyped, and some people shared those posts publicly on Twitter and publicly agree with that, and they tell Marc that, and I don’t think he blocks them for it.

Stepping back, let’s look at the root of why an active user may block folks on Twitter. I partially know this because, as a very active (but small) user of Twitter, I probably blocked more accounts in 2015 than new accounts that I followed:

1/ Foggy Identity: Facebook forced users to use real names and clear pictures of their faces. Most do. On Twitter, often you can’t tell who a tweet is coming from. Those same users may not have a clear picture of their face, may not use their real name, may not publicly signal in their bio where they work and are affiliated, and may not use the bio feature to include a URL back to their profile or LinkedIn. I know that when I get too many tweets from the same account and I can’t tell who it is, I just block it. “Who” says something matters more than “what” they say.

2/ A Changing Twitter Feed: Many active users of Twitter are deeply committed to the product and root for the company to succeed. They also sometimes fear it will be gobbled up by a larger company or may not make the steps necessary to advance the product in the same way Facebook has managed to. Being vocal about blocking people is also a power user’s way of sending a signal back to Twitter that hopefully improves its data sets that will be leveraged to produce an algorithmic newsfeed (like Facebook) as the company moves away from time-based feeds. Oftentimes I’ll mark spam users as spam (which is bad for them), but most of the time, I’ll just block because I don’t want to mark those folks as spammers, even if it feels like they’re spamming me.

3/ Beware: Outrage Twitter: It’s pretty hard to have a civil conversation on Twitter. Part of this is due to the product and its constraints, and part of it is because of human nature. It’s easy to pick up a phone, create a Twitter account, and just get pissed off about various issues and fire off a bunch of tweets. It’s great, in the sense it amplifies the notion of free speech, but there’s no clause in the first amendment which also guarantees that one’s free speech must, by law, be heard by every recipient. Overall, this is a cultural shift I’ve observed on Twitter over the past few years, and on one hand, it’s awesome because people are really leveraging the medium to change opinions and drive change, but there’s a darker side to it, at times, where it becomes too easy to take a breath and think about a civil response or disagreement. A step further, a journalist with a big public platform can take those tweets as public record and use them in a post — oftentimes, the context gets lost in that transfer. That can tire a power user on the platform who wants to make sure they see the tweets from the people they want to hear from.

4/ Faving Craze: For someone who may “fave” or star lots of tweets, that can add noise to the original user’s activity stream and potentially incite a “block” to clear up the stream, though here I’d recommend a “mute.”

5/ Observational Policing: A reader of this post pointed out that when she observes someone behaving badly on Twitter, she reports it as harassment and also blocks them.

Jamie Foxx Interview by Tim Ferriss

This is a very long podcast, but I loved it, so more than just link to it on Twitter, I wanted to post it here and give a bit more color on it and why I’d recommend it. It’s over two hours long, as a disclaimer. I listened to it over three days. It was that good. Tim Ferriss sits down with Jamie Foxx and discusses a whole range of issues with incredible candor: Race relations; the media bias; parenting and coaching; finding, nurturing, and developing talent; people in industry who work so hard but never get attention (he calls them “warriors, with no shine”); how he grew up in a small town in rural Texas; how he encountered racism and how he was taught to deal with it; how he found music, and acting, and the thrust behind his standup comedy; how “In Living Color” formed; and, most powerfully, how he was orphaned, adopted by his grandmother (who ran a nursery), and how he learned to grow up under her wing.

You’ve just got to listen to it. There are 4-5 parts where I just burst out laughing. There are parts which are dead serious, heavy stuff, and very moving. You can listen to the podcast above, or click here on Tim’s site to see other places where you can hear the podcast on iTunes, etc. When you’re done (and don’t jump the gun), watch Foxx’s acceptance speech (see below) when he won an Oscar for his performance in “Ray.” And, don’t cheat — listen to the podcast first. Thanks, Tim, for doing this one — amazing contribution.

As The NFL Kicks Off 2015, A Convergence Of Mega-Trends

Tonight, in a few hours, the NFL will open for the 2015 season. It has become the nation’s religion and opiate. In terms of media, and especially TV, it remains the ratings buster, becoming the backbone for ISPs to sell bundled media packages. All of this is well known and documented.

What’s slightly different about about this forthcoming season, this year, is a convergence of trends that involves the world of startups, mobile apps, fantasy sports, and real-money gaming:

(1) Fantasy Sports On Mainstream Precipice: If you listen to sports radio (like me) and/or visit the typical sports media sites, no doubt you’ve been inundated with all varieties of promotions for fantasy sports. This is peak season for these networks and the league to scoop up new users around the draft and start of the season. It is very social behavior and how many groups elect to stay in touch beyond group messenger chat apps.

(2) Real-Money Gaming Baked Into Fantasy: Many of these leagues would pay season dues to CBS or other providers to host their leagues and keep stats, and on the side, many would chip in a pool to award the season’s winner a cash bounty, to keep things interesting. Over the past few years, huge, fast-growing startups like FanDuel and Draft Kings would bring these two forces together, allowing people to play via mobile, enter leagues quicker, enter multiple leagues, and to create depositor accounts and issue huge payouts. (It’s very similar to the Texas Hold ‘Em craze which swept through ESPN and 20-something houses almost a decade ago before it hit a regulatory snag.)

(3) Real-Time Audience Aggregation Power Of Television: For live events, TV is still excellent at aggregating live audiences, and nothing is better than live sports — in particular, live NFL football. People around the world, right now, even if they hate the Patriots and couldn’t care about the Steelers, they are going to watch and follow this game. When audiences form around the game, the pre-game, the post-game, they’ll be hearing ads for fantasy sports apps and those which have the ability to play with real money and take these social leagues to the next level. It is happening fast, the economics work, and most importantly, the sports leagues and the owners and network providers want and need this to happen.

The NFL owns Sunday culture, and with Monday Night Football and the newest addition of Thursday Night Football, is creeping into more of the nation’s free time and prime time. Daily fantasy sports with the allure of prize money attached to it turns what is a once-a-week product into a daily active use case product. When you combine the addiction toward the NFL product, the power of network TV, the social draw of fantasy leagues, the permeance of mobile apps, and the specter of winning real money, the result is a perfect storm of fans to “get into the game” in a whole new way.

 

“A Constant Struggle For Recognition”

A lot of people aren’t going to like this post given the timing, but the story has been forgotten, so I watched the NFL biography video on Tom Brady again yesterday. It chronicles his life from little league baseball, to picking up football when he was a high school freshmen, his hyper-competitive years in college football, his near-miss in the 2000 NFL draft, and his professional career highlights. In watching this video again, a number of themes emerge that reminded me of how entrepreneurial talent is built and evaluated, with all the smart people in the room. Those themes from the video are:

(1) The Cost Of Split-Focus: When Brady was an upperclassman at Michigan, then head coach Lloyd Carr also landed one of the highest-profile recruits from nearby Ann Arbor, two-sport star Drew Henson, who was also drafted by the New York Yankees. Henson wanted to play football and baseball for the Wolverines, and in order to develop Henson, who had more upside than Brady, Carr told both he would split their time in games to see who was performing better and then lock in the choice for the 2nd half of each game. Brady could’ve transferred to been a shoe-in starter at another school, but he opted to stay and stick it out. As it turned out, Brady would then come in to clean up the messes left by the other quarterback, building up a proficiency in bringing his team back from being down in score. While Brady fought for his role and constantly felt his job was on the line every week, Henson rested on his natural abilities and kept his options open to pursue baseball concurrently. The parallels exist today in the startup world, with startup CEOs creating investment firms and investors incubating companies, or companies who have co-CEOs, or CEOs who have multiple CEO jobs.

(2) Pro-Rata Recommendations: Despite the very nice things said about Brady by Carr in this video, one of the NFL coaches in the video who had a chance to draft Brady remarked that during the combines and when teams were evaluating him, none of the Michigan coaches pounded the table for him. A similar behavior happens in startup investing. The entrepreneur has existing investors, and a new potential investor will often press existing investors to stand up and pound the table for why the deal should happen. In pressing this way, the new potential investor can read between the lines to uncover new information and to better understand why this may be a great, non-obvious investment to make. At the same time, existing investors who want to have long-term relationships with downstream investors (or, here, NFL coaches) have an incentive to be brutally honest so their word doesn’t lose value over time. Even though Carr praised Brady’s work ethic and ability to handle pressure, in the moment, he experienced FOMO with Henson’s potential looming and opted to have both quarterbacks compete against each other to see who the best was. This, in turn, made Brady paranoid to think, “maybe nobody wants you.”

(3) The Cost Of Focusing On “The Measurables”: The process of evaluating and drafting football talent has been made into a science. One of those scientists, Mel Kiper Jr., remarked that after 32 years of evaluating almost 600 college quarterbacks, Tom Brady ranked #576 in two tests of general athleticism: vertical leap, and the 40-yard dash. The video makes sure to track all of the careers of the other five quarterbacks who were selected in the 2000 draft, and it demonstrates, after 15 years, that careers are long, that oftentimes hot draft picks with the measurables are even more likely to flame out. This happens in startups and investing, people get buried in and blinded by all the data, because they can be measured. This is why we here of stories of people struggling to get funding for so long, and why building a case for investment in the early-stages around numbers often isn’t as strong as doing so with a carefully-crafted narrative about the future.

(4) Everyone Needs A Break: Brady’s window of opportunity opened in 2001, after the starting quarterback he would replace signed a $100m contract. Brady slipped in, became the starter, and took the job from his predecessor, and because it took so long for his break to come, his paranoia has driven him since. Despite his success, he likely truly believes he is expendable, that someone who is younger, fitter, faster, and stronger coming through the ranks can go and take his job tomorrow. Paranoia built over years doesn’t just fade away with success — it may in fact get stronger. Brady went through many years of what is described in the film as a “constant struggle for recognition,” and only received it as the 2001 season developed and only because the star quarterback ahead of him was knocked out of a game. I have seen many folks in the ecosystem get their “break” only after 5+ years of doing exactly the same thing before the crowd noticed “hey, this person is actually awesome!”

(5) Flawed Evaluation Processes: This is the most powerful part of the video. It’s legend now to think 198 players were drafted ahead of Brady. In the video, they keep coming back to the notes in his player file, that he didn’t have a strong arm, that he couldn’t improvise on the field, that he couldn’t jump. Those were all measurable “metrics” other talent evaluators could focus on and benchmark against others. One needs data to stack rank. This happens to startups, too…with all the seed-funded companies and copycats out there, the data separates them, and it’s hard to blame investors for doing this. Yet, investors also have to be mindful that it is the people who make the data, and not the other way around. A huge component of investing is careful evaluation and tracking of an individual protagonist’s story, how they got here, and from where, to learn more about what drives them to do what they do. That is why stories emerge of the Airbnb founders who ate shit for two years, or how Travis founded three somewhat similar companies before emerging from his parents’ basement to jump into Uber, or why it took Pinterest so many rounds of early-stage dilutive funding to get their flywheel going. All of these deals were under most investors’ noses, but they likely were looking for more proof. Now investors lament seeing these things and passing, just like NFL coaches in this video realize how they evaluated talent back in 2000 led them to their decisions at the time.

The most interesting quote about this particular evaluation process comes from former San Francisco 49er coach Steve Mariucci:

We all knew Tom very well. He was right in our backyard. He probably always wanted to be a 49er…but we didn’t open up his chest and look at his heart, I don’t think anybody did. And what kind of spine he has, and the resiliency…all the things that are making him great right now.

The prevailing sentiment around Brady today is either he is a cheater or he was unfairly framed. Without getting into that debate here, I was reminded that in today’s media scrutiny of Brady, many folks forget just how paranoid Brady had to become to survive and keep his job, starting from high school. Earlier this week, the author of one of my favorite daily newsletters, Dave Pell, who pens Nextdraft, wrote a funny headline: “BREAKING: Shockingly Attractive Rich White Superstar Quarterback Finally Gets a Break.” Brady is successful now (and a target), everyone wants to cut down the market leader — but he wasn’t always the winner, and what’s likely to drive him is more rooted in years of failure, rejection, and a constant struggle for recognition.

The Confluence Of Trends Making esports Go Mainstream

Like many others nowadays, I’m fascinated by the phenomena around “esports,” which can mean watching other people play video games or code or do both, either in person, or online, or on one’s phone. I had to laugh when Startup L Jackson tweeted “If one more VC discovers eSports this week & starts tweeting about it, I am going to come up with an ultimatum. And it will not be pleasant,” because it’s true…but there is good reason. I was catching up on some reading today and realized there are actually a confluence of non-connected trends which form to make the present day fascination quite logical:

One, the youngest millennials are now right in the middle of their teenage years, right around when they can almost drive a car. This generation entered the world when mainstream gaming consoles hit the market and started to invade the home, with the Nintendo Entertainment Systems coming to the U.S. in 1986, the Sega Genesis in 1989, Sony’s Playstation in 1994, and the XBox in 2001. Like I did, many folks owned or tried every system, and they popularized casual video game play.

Two, the culture around these home gaming systems is that only 2-4 people could play at a time. If you grew up around these consoles, you would clearly remember waiting your turn, and while you waited, you would watch other people play the same game you wanted to play. You’d just sit there. You didn’t have a phone to distract you or the Internet at home to jump on. Turns out “watching other people play video games” is randomly engrained in millennial muscle memory because everyone exhibited the behavior. This turned out to be inherently social behavior, waiting in tournaments to play the next round of EA Sports Madden or NHL, or trying to win Zelda or Metroid.

Three, over half of millennials grew up in an age where network TV was on the decline. Today, for many of them, network TV is wholly irrelevant. Instead, they stream content online, pay for subscriptions, buy individual shows, and watch shows on-demand. While mobile phones and networks take the place (in terms of attention) of TV, there are hours in the day folks can devote to this and they certainly do.

Four, the infrastructure required to support a range of esports activities has become robust enough to handle the traffic. People can now broadcast and/or consume esports media from home, networks like Twitch.tv and others have cropped up and amassed large audiences. Mobile phones, data networks, and video channels are also more robust, of course. MLB recently announced it was spinning out its quietly robust digital streaming and hosting business, a unit which could be worth many billions of dollars more than it is today. As livestreaming technologies have demonstrated this year alone, social networks like Twitter are ready to provide users with live content (a la Periscope) and to support those streams as a piece of audience development and engagement.

Five, the cultural interconnectedness from a tech point of view between Asia and the U.S. is also responsible for the trend hitting the west. The culture of watching others play video games in larger audiences began in parts of Asia, which made sense because that’s where the home consoles were originally developed and released, before shipping to the west. Like messaging platforms today, the esports behavior is older and just took a bit longer to incubate here in the west, but now these micro-cultures have converged.

Sixth, the global rise in the importance of and celebrity around computer literacy is timed in such a way that it doesn’t make the act of participating in esports seem like a waste of time. Rather, it can be seen as both educational and social, as both entertainment and interactive.

And, there you have it, all of these forces put into a blender, and it all explains why esports is so popular, why sports and media networks are not only allocating mindshare and budgets to it, but also doing this for derivate products, such as gaming networks which let fans bet on esports participants, among other parlays. It’s been almost a year since Microsoft acquired Minecraft and when Amazon acquired Twitch, and with most technology investors being a bit older than the millennial generation, most of them have enough nostalgia to understand the behavior and recognize the power in the mass audience aggregation when they see events like this one. Like Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat aggregate audience attention on the web and on phones, esports is starting to do the same thing in the same channels, but also in real life, where kids of all ages collide, compete, and make new friends. It’s almost like an entirely new social network, and that’s what gets people excited — and rightfully so.

Quick Takeaways From NYT Story On Amazon Culture

On the morning of August 15, The New York Times published a long, investigative report on the culture at Amazon, one of the country’s (and world’s) largest technology companies. It’s late into Sunday morning the following day, and I’ve just finished the article. It took me so long to read it because I was intrigued by all the chatter and commentary on Twitter in reaction to the piece. Now, having read the original piece, here is what I take away from it:

Women – By far, the most damning part of the piece. The rest of the piece wasn’t that interesting. I can imagine many big, fast-moving companies having lots of drama and dysfunction. It doesn’t excuse unethical behavior, but there are choices parents can make, and oftentimes women (and moms) don’t have much say in the matter. An organization that doesn’t care for those it employs who are so vulnerable at a time around childbirth likely sets itself up for a rude awakening down the road. I can’t imagine a Bay Area company getting away with such ploys in today’s age.

Global Competition – What struck me most about the piece overall is how intense global pressure is on all western countries, America included. American citizens want their iPhones, but they don’t want to read about Foxconn; I want my toothpaste delivered tomorrow, but I don’t want to read about how Amazon makes it happen, right? Think of all the startups rushing to nip at the heels of Amazon. It’s a brutal game and they have big international competition (like Alibaba) and pressure from upstarts (like Wish, and potentially more).

Software vs. Software-enabled – Facebook and Google, for example, have a ton of leverage in their business model. Their software scales in a way that is so elegant, it empowers them to go over-the-top to recruit, hire, and retain employees. These are software-driven companies. By contrast, while Amazon certainly has amazing software, it is more defined by operations, logistics, and a characteristically low-margin threshold to ensures I can get my tube of toothpaste tomorrow. It doesn’t enjoy the elegance of a Facebook web and mobile ad model, and therefore is under all sorts of insane volume pressures the outside world cannot comprehend.

Ad-Homimem Attacks – I’ve noticed an uptick in this behavior, that when information comes out that is controversial and places a tech company or someone in tech in the klieg lights of the press, many (not all) will rush to discredit the source. It happens in politics, too. People don’t like to see stones being thrown at glass houses because in tech, there’s a row of glass houses that make for great fodder for the press who is hungry for more expose-type journalism and want to experiment with new types of media. The reality is that tech is driving the global economy, it is touching peoples’ lives in more and more ways, and the press will increasingly be on the lookout for targets to sink its teeth into. For instance, I can’t imagine Amazon not addressing the women/expectant-moms portion of the article, though I don’t think they’ll care about the rest of it. As I like to say, everyone in tech now plays for the Yankees and should expect scrutiny moving forward.

Power Of The New York Times – I am not sure if this piece, were it published in any other outlet (except The New Yorker) would’ve generated this much of a reaction. There’s something still about the power of the NYT brand, the fear that it will be read across not just the country, but the world; that it will itself drive other outlets and blogs (like this one) to chime in and drive derivative coverage. This piece likely did so well for them, we should expect both the NYT and other outlets to commission and look for stories like this — to examine the bigger targets like Facebook, Google, Apple, Uber, and beyond, and unearth information that wants to come out and will enrapt a mainstream audience.

We live in a new world where some elite corporations have more power than many governments, a world with much less job security, much less influence of those who aren’t fluent in some bit of technology, much more technology that is impacting operations in the real world, much more competition from global conglomerates as well as young upstarts, and many more press outlets who need to figure out a way for a global audience to refer to their work and click on their headlines. I am in favor of the NYT and others writing stories like these. The press is free, and we are all entitled to our opinions on the matters exposed. This weekend’s Amazon piece was likely a test-run for a broader strategy. The world is interested to learn more, and on many things, they have the right to have this and other similar stories aired for everyone to read.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2016 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus