Tech is the new tobacco

My father as a teenager told me stories about the horrors of picking tobacco to encourage me to do well in school because manual labor sucks. The Truth Campaign started when I was young. But, technology companies appear to have learned only part of the lessons of Big Tobacco. This is AT&T mimicking Phillip Morris in a town hall with HBO employees who are part of the merger with Warner Brothers.

I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”

Technology companies call their clients users, which is what drug dealers call their clients. So one would hope tech would avoid more parallels, but it still seems that exploiting addiction is still the driver of tech. The business model is attention. There can never be enough attention, so they only have incentives to get more users and make those users spend more time.

RIP Home Box Office

Mr. Stankey described a future in which HBO would substantially increase its subscriber base and the number of hours that viewers spend watching its shows. To pull it off, the network will have to come up with more content, transforming itself from a boutique operation, with a focus on its signature Sunday night lineup, into something bigger and broader.

HBO focuses on quality, spending millions on making a project right. When I saw HBO picked up the rights to make Game of Thrones, I was excited because I expected it would be high quality and got better than I expected. When I saw Auckland File Studios was making The Shannara Chronicles, I was disappointed because I did not expect high quality. It was so bad MTV dumped it to a lower profile network. The same as with Legend of the Seeker (based on The Sword of Truth), which was pretty bad. Both were other networks trying to capture the magic of GoT. Sony and Amazon Studios are co-developing a Wheel of Time series, and I have been pretty happy with what Amazon Studios has put out there.

Netflix is much more hit-and-miss as some things I like and other are meh. I rather liked the way South Park mocked N by having the kids trying to sell them on a hundred superhero movies because N will buy anything. Having HBO trying to be Netflix bothers me because I will always make sure to watch the HBO shows I am interested in watching. I often have conversations with people excited about their shows. Fewer people talk about Netflix shows and when they do, it is usually about how they were disappointed in it being not as good as they expected.

AT&T having HBO be more like Netflix means sacrificing quality to achieve quantity. Sure, this executive wants to have both, but to make that happen, AT&T better be prepared to heavily invest so much money into HBO that it is a huge money sink for them. My guess is that is not acceptable. So, RIP HBO.

Eviction filings to collect late rent

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of eviction filings from Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties found that more than a third of the 1 million cases filed since 2010 were serial filings — filings made within a year of one another at the same property, against a tenant with the same name. The AJC found more than 70,000 cases where renters got three or more eviction notices at the same property…

Falling behind one month often leads to a grueling cycle of repeat filings and eviction fees, leaving a tenant thousands of dollars in the hole with a ruined financial record in the process. Tenants carry those filings with them, making it harder to rent somewhere else, even if they were never actually evicted.

This probably is not solely an Atlanta thing. My guess is cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and DC where affordable housing is becoming a crisis problem as rents are skyrocketing. Amazon HQ2 coming to Atlanta would probably make the problem much worse. Though, 20% of rental households experiencing this makes worse seem unfathomable.

My guess is tenants sign a lease near the 30% household income which is the legal threshold. I wonder if landlords are required to recheck household income as they annually raise rents? If not, people could be fine the first couple years, but end up in a situation where they are no longer able to afford their home because rents are going up 19% a year where hourly wages are 4% a year.

The company noted in the story has about half their tenants with serial filings. For them to be serial filings, they are allowing these people to stay. Probably not because they have hearts of gold, but because turning out half your tenants means you will have vacant units which earn you no income.

MLM mashup with political tribalism

A very conservative friend shared a rant I’ve seen in the past. No big deal. Curiously, though, at the end (under the See More break) was a piece of text not consistent with the rest.

If You Want True Financial Freedom and Not Have to Worry about This Contact Me and I’ll Show You a Way To Be financially FREE in Five Years Private Message Me or Send Me an Email At xxxxxxxx@gmail.com

I did a search on the email and found some interesting things. There are several Facebook pages associated with it. A web site that looks like a cheap Multi-Level Marketing scam. Basically, they claim to have you invest your money in their products (as crowdfunding), you provide the labor of the marketing of the products, and you establish an eCommerce presence to sell the products. Then you make “reverse royalty payments.”

If royalty payments are you the seller paying the intellectual property owner, then reverse royalty payments are supposed to be the IP owner paying you, the crowdfunding investor?

It smelled foul.

Leveraging political tribalism has gotten this particular post 289,770 shares. That aspect is just amazingly brilliant. Hopefully, it just creates enough outrage that people do not actually read it enough to fall for the scam.

Closing

Businesses close. Maybe it is after a few months. Maybe it is after a century. Probably it is somewhere in between.

I get amused when people who have not been to one that is closing in years get shocked when it closes. If you personally have not bothered to patronize the business, then that is a good sign that it will close. You have to support the places with your money that you want to remain available for you to visit in the future.

Stores Tracking Me Could Be More Helpful

I know the stores track my purchases. They have tons of data on each of us. Their apps and rewards cards are precisely for knowing who I am and tracking me.

The other day, my girlfriend asked me to buy something using her rewards card to push it over the $1 she was short to get the reward for that month . (It is one of those you have to cross the threshold within the month or you lose the points.) There was a small temptation to mess with that data by buying something she’d never normally get. Instead, I bought something she would normally buy. I also paid in cash to keep my card number from being associated with her.

I just feel these companies with apps could be doing things to enable me to spend more in their stores.

  1. Their profile knows my purchasing frequency. They should be able to predict fairly well when my next purchase ought to happen. For items that happen monthly or less frequent, they could send me an email or app notification reminder. This value-add to the service would earn my loyalty in buying from them for helping me remember.
    • Of course, if they get it routinely wrong and alert me after I’ve already bought it from them, then I will be so offended that I would look for alternatives.
  2. Their profile knows how much I am willing to pay for specific items. They should be able to predict for which items I am willing pay full versus only sale prices. Then notify me when the items I buy for sale prices are available at close to the cost I am willing to pay.
    • Naturally, if they want to keep quiet when the item is significantly lower than what I am willing to pay, then I abstractly understand. That means in the moment of figuring it out, I would be hurt but as long as it is just a concept the decision makes sense.
    • They could also offer to let me set a price threshold for alerts when the item is offered for less than that amount. That would be useful pricing data for them.

 

The Anti-Boycott

Starbucks Cup by Hiro – Kokoro☆Photo

Do boycotts work anymore?

It seems like of late boycotts have returned to the en vogue way of attacking a company or movie with owners or creators one dislikes. But, then people on the other side of the issue see the talk about a boycott and step up their business. If anything, then it seems like the boycott target ends up doing better not worse.

In most cases the target of the boycott was doing okay, but not especially well. People had mostly forgotten it existed. The boycott essentially gives it free publicity. My guess is people who like the business but dislike the stance of the issue will be torn. Some will stop giving it business, some will pull back some, and most will stay about the same. The supporters of the issue will swarm it.

Probably good that I am not a marketer, because I would be willing to dabble with a guerrilla marketing campaign where I poll how people feel and instigate boycotts against my client.

Last Chance!

The overuse of “This is your last chance” annoys me.

Last means there are no other chances beyond it. If I do not act now, then I have to accept the penalty for the rest of eternity that I could have taken the offer but failed to do so.

However, when someone is trying to sell me something, last no longer means final. It just means we will give you a 72 hour reprieve before we start the next promotion cycle hounding you to buy this thing you have no interest in buying which is why you have not for the past 3-8 years.

The cheapness of email compared to print or television makes these messages prolific. So much so, I wonder about the lack of care put into them.

Review: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is really the story of why and how IEX was created. Humans made bad decisions. So, to protect people from other people, we moved the operation of the stock market to being run by computers. The natural consequence was for people to game the system with computer code. Rather than stay vigilant against new exploitations, we just redefined fair. The team behind IEX created it to eliminate these problems and establish a fair place for trading to occur.

About halfway through the book, I watched a commercial where an investment company touted their guaranteed one second trades. To the average person, this probably sounds amazing. The thing is that companies like this operate in milliseconds (1/1,000) and nanoseconds (1/1,000,000). Plus, they operate Dark Pools where the trade is obfuscated from independent review. Your trade could get executed where it benefits them and not you.

The overarching theme is that complexity and obfuscation created an environment where bad things can happen. As a technologist in education, I fight against this every day. We desire simplicity. Yet every change and especially those we execute without a good understanding of the business case creates complexity which will result in a failure. When no one fully understands how all the components work together, it exists to fail. Funnily enough, my team, the database administrators (really application administrators) sit at the intersection of the analysts, vendors, operating system admins, storage admins, network admins, and others. So this is familiar territory.

Zoran Perkov and Sergey Aleynikov are unsung heroes I am sure about whom I will spend more time reading.

View all my reviews

Ad Fails

An advertisement for a Porsche plug-in hybrid really fails. First, Porsche was old and lame by high school. Lotus, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and so many other car companies come ahead. Second, I do not have a job where an ostentatious car helps me. Third, I cannot keep my mobile phone properly charged. A plug-in hybrid is not the car for me.

Given how much activity I have online and all the tracking data collected about that activity, I feel that advertisements delivered to me ought to be fantastic. There should only be advertisements delivered on the pages I visit that confirm my desires or make me suddenly desire it.

Certainly looking up this car put plenty of data out there supporting the advertiser’s algorithms pushing this ad at me. Probably I will see more of it. Perhaps it is better, though, than the ads of the last item I checked out on Amazon. Reminding me that I did not buy it probably will not trick me into actually buying it.

UPDATE: Perhaps the ad had more to do with the page I visited than data about me? It was a piece critical of the Chegg IPO by comparing it Twitter as a success. I visited it because I heard a stock doubling after the IPO like Twitter’s did should be considered a failure. (The gains go to investors not Twitter, so Twitter should have set a higher price since other valued it more.)