My friend Richard MacManus commemorated the 14th anniversary of ReadWrite, an online publication he founded as a blog (then called ReadWriteWeb) in 2003, by examining blogging and how the open web has suffered with the rise of Facebook and others.
It’s worth a read, and earlier tonight I fed in the following comment.
I remember those days well, although my progress was probably the opposite of yours, and, in my circles, blogging began very selfishly. Lucire began as a publication, laid out the old-school way with HTML, and one of the first sites in the fashion sector to add a blog was a very crappy one where it was about an ill-informed and somewhat amoral editorâs point of view. For years I refused to blog, preferring to continue publishing an online magazine.
Come 2002, and we at the Medinge Group [as it then was; we’ve since dropped the definite article] were planning a book called Beyond Branding. One of the thoughts was that we needed one of these newfangled blogs to promote the book, and to add to it for our readers. I was one (the only?) dissenter at the June 2003 meeting, saying that, as far as my contacts were concerned, blogging was for tossers. (Obviously, I didnât know you back in those days, and didnât frequent ReadWriteWeb.) [Hugh MacLeod might agree with me though.] By August 2003 it had been set up, and I designed the template for it to match the rest of the bookâs artwork. How wrong I was in June. The blog began (and finished, in 2006) with posts in the altruistic, passionate spirit of RWW, and before long (I think it was September 2003), I joined my friends and colleagues.
An excerpt from the Beyond Branding Blog index page.
In 2006, I went off and did my own blog, and even though there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of blogs by now, decent bloggers were still few. I say this because within the first few weeks, a major German newspaper was already quoting my blog, and I got my first al-Jazeera English gig as a result of my blogging a few years later. It was the province of the passionate writer, and the good ones still got noticed.
I still have faith in the blogosphere simply because social media, as you say, have different motives and shared links are fleeting. Want to find a decent post you made on Facebook five years ago? Good luck. Social media might be good for instant gratificationâyour friends will like stuff you writeâbut so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media arenât the same, and thereâs still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. Itâs a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here weâre spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
Eleven years on, and Iâm still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and itâs still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because thereâs one more danger that I should point out.
Google, Facebook et al are the establishment now, and, as such, they prop up others in the establishment. Google News was once meritorious, now it favours big media names ahead of independents. This dangerously drowns out those independent voices, and credible writers and viewpoints can get lost. The only exception I can think of is The Intercept, which gets noticed on a wide scale.
Take this argument further and is there still the same encouragement for innovators to give it a go, as we did in the early 2000s, when we realize that our work might never be seen, or if it is to be seen, we need deep pockets to get it seen?
Maybe we need to encourage people to go away from these walled gardens, to find ways to promote the passionate voices again. Maybe a future search engineâor a current one that sees the lightâcould have a search specifically for these so weâre not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And Iâm sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack âcharismaâ, as you put it. They just donât excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebookâs personal sharing down 25 and 29 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is a shift away from uninspiring, privacy-destroying places. Hopefully we can catch them at more compelling and interesting blogs and make them feel at home.
Above: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
Earlier this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote an open letter expressing his concerns about the evolution of his invention, the World Wide Web. (Interestingly, he writes the term all in lowercase.)
It wasnât just about âfake newsâ, which is how the media have reported it. His first concern was, in fact, about our losing control over our personal data, and determining when and with whom we share them. Itâs something Iâve touched on regularly since 2011, when Google breached its own stated policies over user-preference collection for advertising purposes, something that Facebook appears to be following suit with mid-decade. This was long before Edward Snowden blew the lid on his governmentâs monitoring, something thatâs happening to citizens of other occidental nations, too.
Sir Tim writes, âThrough collaboration withâor coercion ofâcompanies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, itâs easy to see the harm that can be causedâbloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizensâ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.â
But the one that struck me as very pertinent to publishing is Sir Timâs second point. Itâs the one that most news outlets seized on, linking it back to âfake newsâ, a term now corrupted by the executive branch of the US Government when attacking coverage that it doesnât like. However, Sir Timâs points were far broader than that. And itâs evident how his first point links to his second.
Itâs not hard to see that there is biased coverage on both the right and right wings of US politics (interestingly, they call it left and right), although Sir Tim points to how âa handful of social media sites or search enginesâ show us the things that appeal to our own biases through their algorithms. âFake newsâ then spreads through these algorithms because they play to our prejudices. He writes, âthose with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.â These sites are able to determine what we see based on the data weâve given them, willingly or unwillingly.
Itâs so far from the ideals of the World Wide Web that itâs sad that the medium, which was once so expansive and inspirational as we surfed from one site to the next to read and absorb information, has come to this: a tool for becoming more insular, the first path to the idiocracy.
Google, as I wrote last year, biases itself toward larger sites, no longer rewarding the media outlet that breaks a news item. The incentive to be that maverick medium is, therefore, lessened greatly online, because the web isnât being ranked on merit by the largest player in the search-engine business. Itâs why Duck Duck Go, which doesnât collect user data, gives search results that are generally fairer. We think itâs important to learn alternative viewpoints, especially in politics, otherwise the division that we already see in some countries will only deepenâand at worst this can lead to war. In peacetime countries, a compatriot with opposing political thoughts is not our enemy.
Facebookâs continued data collection of user preferences is also dangerous. Even after users opt out, Facebookâs ad preferencesâ page demonstrates that it will keep collecting. Whether or not Facebook then uses these preferences is unknownâcertainly Facebook itself clams upâbut since the site reports journalists who alert them to kiddie porn, kicks off drag queens after saying they wouldnât, and forces people to download software in the guise of malware detection, who knows if any of Facebookâs positions are real or merely âfake newsâ? Knowing the misdeeds of sites like Facebookâand Google which itself has been found guilty of hackingâdo they actually deserve our ongoing support?
Of course I have an interest in getting people to look beyond the same-again players, because I run one media outlet that isnât among them. But we have an interest to seek information from the independents, and to support a fair and neutral internet. We may learn an angle we hadnât explored before, or we may find news and features others arenât covering. Better yet, we may learn alternative viewpoints that break us out of our prejudices. Surely we canât be that scared of learning about alternatives (maybe one that is better than what we believe), or having a reasoned debate based on fact rather than emotion or hatred? And if you are sharing on social media, do you want to be one of the sheep who uses the same click-bait as everyone else, or show that youâre someone whoâs capable of independent thought?
It shouldnât be that difficult to distinguish fake-news sites from legitimate media (even though the line gets blurred) by looking at how well something is subedited and how many spelling mistakes there are. Perhaps the headlines are less emotive. There is a tier of independent media that deserves your support, whether it is this site or many competing ones that weâve linked ourselves. Going beyond the same-again sources can only benefit us all.
I’m not so sure that GM going into talks to sell Opel and Vauxhall to PSA (PeugeotâCitroĂ«n) is that big a surprise.
We obviously hold a lot of nostalgia for these brands, and itâs only right that we perceive GM as selling its family jewels. Opel has made some great cars over the years, and Buick in China and the US, Vauxhall in the UK, and Holden in Australia rely on this division to provide it with product.
But it wasnât long ago that I said I foresaw the next Holden Commodore being a four-door booted model based on a Chinese Buick Regal thatâs on the same platform. While Iâve been proved wrong with scoop photos and inside information from journalists in the immediate term, longer-term this doesnât look so far-fetched, in a future where Peugeot owns OpelâVauxhall and GM has no choice but to consider Chinese sourcing seriously.
Therefore, GM isnât thinking that itâs selling off the family jewels, at least the GM where Chinese partner SAIC is overwhelmingly calling the shots.
What they are thinking is this: âWe should be able to develop the whole lot in China.â They werenât nostalgic over Holden, and they wonât be thrilled with the losses at Opel. Itâs willing to sacrifice it to make its own position stronger. Weâve already seen that SAIC has called it quits when it comes to British assembly at Longbridgeâthatâs now all done back in China.
Thereâs been such a massive technology transfer from the US to China over the last few years that Europe is seen as surplus by the folks in Shanghai. They have all the platforms on which they can make products globally. They may even, rightly or wrongly, think that the remaining brands can get them into Europe, even if GM had pulled its Korean-made Chevrolets out of there.
Holden can be used to westernize the product and the Australians have shown they can do it well.
Iâm not saying I agree with this, as a long-time Opel fan. I was looking forward to the new Commodores coming out of RĂŒsselsheim. The car looks the business, itâs roughly the size of the recently deleted Ford Falcon (therefore, Iâm not sure why people are so upset about its size), and the majority of buyers donât even know which set of wheels the powerâs going to. Iâve got an Astra K coming in a few months at Lucire.
What youâre going to see is GM basically being a Shanghai-run firm with China supplying global markets and the US operations kept going for their brand cachet.
In the meantime, a hypothetical PSA-run Opel will continue with the existing plans till the end of these modelsâ life cycles, then China will become the manufacturing hub for numerous markets.
SAIC already makes a load of Cadillacs, Buicks and Chevrolets for the domestic market, and theyâll want to pump them out more widely.
Theyâve also shown that they can take new GM platforms and turn them into Roewesâor old GM platforms and turn them into Baojuns.
PSA, meanwhile, with 14 per cent controlled by Chinese firm Dongfeng, will pursue a strategy of streamlining platforms and be focused more on Europe. It could pay off as cross-town rival Renault has done well with Nissan, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Dacia and AvtoVAZ, but it wonât nearly be as secure. The two French groups have been obsessed with one another for as long as I can remember, for years spending more time rivalling each other than actually coming up with what customers wanted.
Dongfeng may have to cough up more lolly and it could become a larger shareholder than the Peugeot family or the French government. But will it have the sort of geographical coverage that Renault has?
Thatâll be what PSA will be asking itself, knowing that itâs reasonably strong in Chinaâbut also realizing that it hasnât been clever at creating models that can be sold globally (the current CitroĂ«n C6, DS 5LS and the DS 6 among them, sold exclusively in China). Nevertheless, there are savings to be had, though the most obvious fear is that Opel and Vauxhall will go the way of Panhard and Talbot, brands that fell into either Peugeot or CitroĂ«nâs hands over the years and become defunct at the expense of the parent companiesâ. Is there a desire to extend the groupâs brand portfolio beyond Peugeot, CitroĂ«n, DS, the various Dongfeng lines, and the ex-Hindustan Ambassador?
The official statement is non-committal enough and gives nothing away: âPSA Group and General Motors confirm they are exploring numerous strategic initiatives aiming at improving profitability and operational efficiency, including a potential acquisition of Opel Vauxhall by PSA.
âThere can be no assurance that an agreement will be reached.â
In any case, we always said that SAIC was playing a long game. MG was a toe in the water. GM is the real deal.
Controlling GM means they can do as they please, and whatâs good for China is good for General Motors.
How right Kalev Leetaru is on Wikipediaâs decision to ban The Daily Mail as a source.
This decision, he concludes, was made by a cabal of 50 editors based on anecdotes. Iâve stated before on this blog how Wikipedia is broken, the abusive attitude of one of its editors, and how even luminaries like the late Aaron Swartz and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger chose to depart. Itâs just taken three years or more for some of these thoughts to get picked up in a more mainstream fashion.
I made sure I referred to a single editor as my experience with someone high up in Wikipedia, not all of its editors, but you canât ignore accusations of certain people gaming the system in light of the ban.
Leetaru wrote on the Forbes site, âOut of the billions of Internet users who come into contact with Wikipedia content in some way shape or form, just 50 people voted to ban an entire news outlet from the platform. No public poll was taken, no public notice was granted, no communications of any kind were made to the outside world until everything was said and done and action was taken âŠ
âWhat then was the incontrovertible evidence that those 50 Wikipedia editors found so convincing as to apply a “general prohibition” on links to the Daily Mail? Strangely, a review of the comments advocating for a prohibition of the Mail yields not a single data-driven analysis performed in the course of this discussion.â
Iâm not defending the Mail because I see a good deal of the news site as clickbait, but itâs probably no worse than some other news sources out there.
And itâs great that Wikipedia kept its discussion public, unlike some other top sites on the web.
However, you canât escape the irony behind an unreliable website deeming a media outlet unreliable. Hereâs a site that even frowns upon print journalism because its cabal cannot find online references to facts made in its articles. Now, I would like to see it trust print stuff more and the Mail less, but that, too, is based on my impressions rather than any data-driven analysis that Leetaru expects from such a big site with so many volunteers. Iâve made my arguments elsewhere on why Wikipedia will remain unreliable, and why those of us in the know just wonât bother with it for our specialist subjects.
By all means, use it, and it is good for a quick, cursory “pub chat” reference (though science ones tend to be better, according to friends in that world). But remember that there is an élite group of editors there and Wikipedia will reflect their biases, just as my sites reflect mine. To believe it is truly objective or, for that matter, accurate, would be foolhardy.
Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.
Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocadeâs case, it was rising quickly.
We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that weâve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And weâre taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. Weâve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone whoâs followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to usâand we want to make sure our readers donât fall victim to Googleâs snooping, either. Iâm not saying that Google ads donât appear at allâitâs the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhereâbut if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then Iâll do so.
Itâs a shame because weâve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
We have, sadly, entered an era whereâas found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherdâonline advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): âAdvertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.â I donât think this is fair, as theyâre not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: theyâve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) Itâs not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, itâs time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, âWe recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being saidâwe can absolutely get you live again.â That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connectedâthe helpful staff member wasnât around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
At least this wasnât a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, âIt is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.â This wasnât the first change Rightster sprung on usâits code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layoutsâand soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldnât get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightsterâs advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of ÂŁ11Â·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10Â·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a âsocial video broadcasterâ, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of ÂŁ1Â·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
Gorilla Nation and Burstâs slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didnât help. In fact, when they didnât answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so weâre still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what itâs worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasnât that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.
Above: The first-generation Mitsubishi Minica, though this isn’t the 1962 model. Now on Autocadeâthough hardly an iconic model.
Itâs the end of the Gregorian year, which means I get a bit of time to update Autocade. Since 2008, itâs mostly been a labour of love, and typically, the period after Christmas is when I get a bit of down time to put on models that should have been done during the year.
But because itâs a hobby siteâalbeit one that has turned into a oft-referenced online guideâitâs not done with any real discipline. That I leave to othersâand youâre all more captured by the flashy photography of magazine sites anyway. Autocade was started as a quick reference, and unless we really decide to branch out into a magazine format, itâll remain that.
To give you an idea of the anorak nature of the website, over the break, all of Mitsubishiâs kei cars were added to the site. Some had already been there, such as the eK and certain Minicas, but I decided the rest should go up.
Why these? You may ask, yet I donât really have an answer. Often itâs over to oneâs mood. Sometimes itâs to offer something online that others donât, or at least not comprehensively. And when you realize you have 80 or 90 per cent of the models added, you think: I only need a few more, why not succumb to OCD and do the lot?
Therefore, now, Autocade has all the Minicas, Pajero Minis, Ios and Jrs, Toppos and eKs that the once-mighty manufacturer made before it fell out of favour with its repeated scandals. Iâm not a fan of any of them, but thatâs not relevant: itâs about objectively providing the public with information, and my own like or dislike of a model has nothing to do with it.
Itâs not even a commercial decision. If it was, Autocade would have filled up the gaps in the US automotive industry a lot sooner. And there are still plenty of them. Americans make up a huge chunk of the browsing public, although for me it takes a while to make sure the engine capacities [for post-1980 US models] are recorded in metricânot something you can readily come by in US books (yes, Autocade is still dependent in some part to the printed word, not the transmitted electron).
The other area where weâre missing cars is in the flash stuff: Mercedes-Benzes, Maseratis, Ferraris. Now these I actually like. But they can also prove difficult: the convention of the site is that the names of the cars are entered first, and Mercs can be time-consuming by the time you figure out what numbers go after A, C, E and S all around the world. The exotica are fun but thereâs often no logic to the product cycles or market nichesâwhich does, of course, make them more interesting, but from an encyclopĂŠdic point-of-view, more difficult to compartmentalize and recall. For those who have visited the site, there are links to each modelâs predecessor and successor (where applicable), and that makes for particularly entertaining surfing.
One model takes, on average, 15 to 20 minutes to do, and thatâs when I already know about it. Thereâs some time involved in getting a press photo, writing it up, checking the specs (again using printed matter). When you research in certain languages, it takes even longer (South African online resources are scarce, for instance, and anything Chinese before 2008 or so is also hard to track down). The Mitsubishi kei cars, beginning with the 1962 Minica, represent hours of work, and when you multiply 15â20 minutes by 3,440, thatâs a lot of hours since the site started. Occasionally Iâm helped along by readers who suggest models, and two UK friends, Keith Adams and Pete Jobes, have made changes and additions along the way that have really benefited the site.
Iâm glad that Autocade is heading toward 10 million views, a milestone which it will reach in the next couple of months, and the increase in viewership is thanks to all of you finding it a useful enough resource. If you want something less exotic and more mundane (after all, some of us can only have so much of supercars and luxury cars), itâs the place to pop over to at autocade.net, hit âRandom pageâ at the top, and see what comes up.
This is BS. You can remove all you like (mine has tended to be completely blank for most of 2016) but in the last few days, Facebook has been repopulating this page. This is despite my having Facebook interest-based ads switched off. Thereâs actually no need, then, for Facebook to keep these, and many of them are inaccurate anyway. Yet various advertising bodies, of which Facebook is a member, are too scared to investigate.
Here’s my ads’ preferences’ page on June 14. I had been keeping an eye on this, and keeping it clear since March 2016.
Even as late as October 25, 2016, there were very few things in there. While Facebook shouldn’t be collecting this data, at least it allowed me to delete itâas it claims you can. And no, I’ve never heard of Mandy Capristo.
Regularly since November 27, 2016, Facebook has repopulated this page, putting all deleted preferences back. This was how it looked on November 28. Within hours Facebook would repopulate it, so any deleting is useless.
Not only has Facebook repopulated the page, by today it’s added even more preferences. I’ve been through five rounds of repopulation now.
More BS (links and a lot of comments here and here). Thereâs plenty of evidence to show that Facebookâs so-called detection systems target certain accounts. A computer identified as having malware, necessitating a user to download their so-called anti-malware products, still works for other users, who arenât confronted with the same prompts. Companies like Kaspersky clam up and even delete comments when you begin asking them about the programs Facebook gets you to download. Once downloaded, they canât even be found in your installed programsâ list: they are hidden. No one in the tech press wants to cover this. Scared? Weâve our theory about why they want to slow down some users, and thereâs some suggestion that you can ignore the warnings and log into Facebook several days laterâthe same thing that has happened to users in the past whose Facebook accounts have become faulty due to their database issues. Coincidence?
âWeâre also testing a new tool that will let people provide more information about their circumstances if they are asked to verify their name. People can let us know they have a special circumstance, and then give us more information about their unique situation.â
There have been instances of the drag community, for instance, whose accounts have simply vanished with no means of defending themselves and giving Facebook those circumstances. Facebook claimed that the above applied to the US only in December 2015. However, in 2014, Chris Cox of Facebook wrote, âOur policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name.â Try telling that to the people who have lost their accounts and never given a chance to give their side of the story.
Facebook has 1Â·79 billion monthly active users.
While I canât counter this myself, thereâs plenty of evidence to show that the site has problems with spammers and bots. If you run a large enough group, thereâs a good chance that the majority of new members in your queue are not human. Therefore, you might not actually be reaching the number of people you want in Facebookâs calculations. Since the ad preferences have some very strange information on users, Iâm not that convinced about the accuracy of targeting anyway. Facebook is complicit in spam by supporting click farms, according to Veritasium.
Now that the first episode of The Grand Tour has aired, and we’re nearing the official launch of Drivetribe (November 28), we’re beginning to see just how good an investment ÂŁ160 million was for Amazon when it picked up the cast of The Goodies, I mean, Top Gear (sorry, I get those BBC shows mixed up, and they do have the same initials), along with producer Andy Wilman (who himself presented Top Gear segments many years ago, but we are now spared his nude scenes).
Essentially, you can’t do a show these days without an internet community, so what did the four men do? Create their own. They’ve put their money into Drivetribe, which has attracted an eight-figure investment from additional parties, chief among which is 21st Century Foxâthat’s right, Rupert Murdoch. Amazon’s reportedly quite happy with the arrangementâand it certainly helps boost their show.
There are already signs that Drivetribe is going to succeed as a motoring portalâsocial network, for those of us who have been playing with it. Maybe the Murdoch Press has learned from Myspace? Or, it’s put their money in, but it’s letting experts do their jobâamong whom is none other than Cate Sevilla, formerly of Buzzfeed UK, and whose blog I followed even before she arrived in the UK the good part of a decade ago. It isn’t a surprise that Cate would do well in social mediaâshe had a knack for it, even back then.
Car enthusiasts were invited to pitch their ideas for tribes some months back, recognizing that we’re not all the same. Additionally, there’s a bunch of us who work in some aspect of the industry, and looking through the tribes, we’re the ones whose ideas have been adopted. For those of you who use Autocade, there’s one linked to that very venture.
As many of you who follow this blog know, I founded Autocade in 2008, a car encyclopĂŠdia that wouldn’t have the fictions of Wikipedia (or ‘Wikiality’, as Stephen Colbert calls it). Eventually, I succumbed to modern marketing trends and very lately started a Facebook page on it, at least to post some behind-the-scenes thinking and publicity photos. While it proved all right, my blog posts were here and things were all over the place.
When I first proposed doing a Drivetribe tribe many months ago, I centred it around the marketing of cars, and the result, the Global Motorshow, can be found here. And now that it’s started, it’s become clear that I can put all the content in one place and have it appreciated by other motorheads. In a week and a half itâs grown to about a third of the following of the Facebook page, and Drivetribe hasn’t even officially launched yet. Those members are either other tribe leaders or those who signed up early on. The question must be asked: why on earth would I bother continuing with Facebook?
In addition to Cate, Drivetribe is not faceless. The support crew respond, and there are humans working here. I’m impressed with how quickly they get back to us, and how the site is reasonably robust. On all these points, Drivetribe is the opposite of Facebook.
Granted, I don’t know the other members there, and some I only know through reputation. But then I didn’t know a lot of the people I now find familiar on Facebook car groups. Nor did I know the people on Vox back in 2006, or some of the folks at Blogcozy in 2016. Communities build up, often thanks to common interests, and here’s one that already has a massive online community ready to flock to it. Having three celebrities helps, too, and all three Grand Tour presenters post to the site.
If you’re interested, the scope of the Global Motorshow (originally without the definite article, but when I saw the GM initials in the icon, I rethought it) is a bit wider than Autocade. I thought it might be fun to post some of the marketing materials we come across, the odd industry analyses that have appeared at this blog (updated in some cases), and even commercial vehicles, which arenât part of Autocade. I’ve chosen to keep the tribe public, so anyone can post if they find something interesting. Let’s hope Drivetribe can keep the spammers at bay: something that the old Vox.com failed to do, and Facebook is desperately failing to do now as well.
Come November 28, we’ll know just how good things are looking, but I’m erring on the side of the positiveâsomething I was not prepared to do for sites such as Ello or Google Plus.
Iâve had a phone call and a lot of comments on this in the last couple of days: my Dad, who is 81 with early-stage Alzheimerâs, called the US presidential election for Donald Trump months ago. I posted it on my social networks the day he made his definitive call, and friends remembered it. Thank you for all your compliments.
Go back to 2015, he had called the Republican primary for Trump.
I wasnât as confident but I had Tweeted the week before the election that polls were understating Trumpâs actual support by at least 6 per cent.
In 2008, when everyone had dismissed Gov. Sarah Palin, he said that she wasnât going to go away, and that sheâd command an even greater influence in the first Obama term. While he predicted an Obama win, again quite early on, he wasnât optimistic and didnât think there would be great change in the US. You may or may not agree with that.
Going right back to the 1980s, when I was at college, and before China showed any signs of opening up, he made the call about its economic rise, and that I would be assured, by the time I was in my 30s and 40s, that many would want to deal with the country. It would be, I remember him telling me, a career advantage to being Chineseâin contrast to the racism we encountered far more frequently back then.
During the height of the Muldoon era, Dad, who counted himself as part of Robâs Mob, made the call that Sir Robert Muldoon would not be able to hold on to his power or reputation in his old age. When a documentary aired condemning Sir Robert after his death, so that he wouldnât be around to file a defamation suit, he said, âI told you so.â
Even in the elections I contested (and he encouraged me to run), while he refused to be drawn on what he thought my chances were, he was unequivocally clear that my rival, John Morrison, wouldnât win, in 2013. Dad certainly did better than some so-called political experts I can name.
And if you want to get really spooky, during the Martin Bashir interview of Princess Diana, he said that by the time she was 37, sheâd have a âreally bad yearâ. He didnât say sheâd die.
No, heâs not a Mystic Meg of any sort. Heâs a guy whoâs been around for a while and kept his eyes open.
If you want to know his secret, I can tell you that his political projections are based in part around reading. Not mainstream media, but websites that heâs discovered over the years himself. Heâs a keen web surfer and loves his news. He doesnât put that much stock in political âexpertsâ, and after having run myself, I can fully understand why.
Heâd even take in the viewpoints on Russia Today, which gives you an idea of how varied his reading was. Just today I caught him watching an address from Edward Snowden.
With Palin, it was probably the sudden rise of her fan sites set up by US conservatives. He hadnât seen such a rapid rise of sites that soon galvanized their support around the former Alaskan governor before. While mainstream media dismissed her and gave the impression that post-2008, she wouldnât matter, Dad had entirely the opposite reading. Politically centrist, and, like me, a swing voter, he kept following the sites out of interest, and saw how they morphed into the Tea Party movement. He also knew they wouldnât go away any time soon, and observed that there was a Palin effect, as the likes of Ted Cruz soon found out when contesting their Senate seats.
And, despite my own criticisms of this practice, Dad would read the comments. Sometimes he would wade through hundreds of them, to get a sense of what people were thinking.
It was his reading of media from left and right during the latest US presidential election that saw him made his calls very assertively.
Rather than dismiss certain conservatives as ill-educated, as some media might, Dad treated them as human beings. He knew they would galvanize and get behind Trump.
When youâve lived through a world war (including an occupation) and then a civil war, and saw your family start from the bottom again after 1949, you get to be good at knowing what people go through.
Heâs always been politically switched on, and had a keen interest in history and economics, the latter of which he studied at a tertiary level. But heâd always explain to me that it came down to people and their behaviour, and never rational decision-making. I might have only lived just over half his lifetime so far, but I find little fault in that statement. All new movements have plenty of power, till they become the establishment.
His thoughts on China in the 1980s could well have stemmed from that: I never asked him, and aphasia means heâd now find difficulty telling me anyway.
Sadly for the US, he finds appeal in the theory that the nation will break up, though he hasnât quite yet made the call in the same way he made the one for the Trump presidency. But as with his Trump prediction, Iâm publishing this one online.
Heâs never stated it as succinctly but he has, in passing in the 1980s and 1990s, said that the British Empire wouldnât last much longer beyond our current monarchâs reign.
You never know, we might be coming back to this post in a few yearsâ time. These are gloomy scenarios but Iâd rather put Dadâs ideas out there now, as I did with the Trump presidency, rather than tell you ex post facto how clever he was. The lesson: treat people as people, and itâs amazing how much that will reveal.
Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.
Thereâs a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the ânapalm girlâ photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so âunder penalty of perjuryâ on the form.
Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. Iâve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. Itâs damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and itâs rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that theyâre only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then thatâs what theyâll show in their results. Thereâs little freshness online as a result, which is why people arenât as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if youâre the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then youâll pop up regularly in the search resultsâ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isnât just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
It makes the ânet a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We donât really want to surf casually as we once did because we donât learn anything new: itâs harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I donât get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Googleâs index size remains unbeatable. What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but Iâm not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have foundâso if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you donât catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. Itâs not geared to search.
Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree withâand thatâs a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Googleâs approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanctâand all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now itâs equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isnât nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they donât need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
Itâs high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.