Facebook Instant Articles, Big Tech Backlash, an interesting poll: Friday Note

Facebook Instant Articles

While I meant what I tweeted about the implications of the change by Facebook not being understood by publishers in Sri Lanka (whose knowledge of digital is rudimentary at best), clearly the implications are serious.

As I wrote here, Facebook’s favours come at a price. It turns out the price was a price —  pay to be seen. Those of us who work with brands on a regular basis know this all too well, with organic reach on a constant and steady decline.

 

This nicely illustrates the issues:

We are an in-depth investigative news source that does not build its audience on virality, and the bulk of our readership is quite loyal. In spite of that, we have come from weeks of high virality, given the political turmoil we live in. So users and traffic behavior has been very atypical in the last weeks. However, if we compare our current figures (after the change) with a typical week figures, we find we our referral traffic from Facebook fell by 48%, new users fell by 27%, but new sessions rose by 40%. While in a typical week new sessions represent around 32.5% of the total referral traffic by Facebook, this week it amounts to 45.9%. That might mean this week Facebook has undermined our reach to our most loyal Facebook subscribers.


Fearsome! Dreadful! Five!

Clearly, the zeitgeist is changing and we’re in a (belated but welcome) period of extreme scepticism about the major tech companies. Both Techcrunch‘s and The NYT‘s angle in these articles were a departure from the more common politicised angles and focused on the impact on innovation.

Start-ups are still getting funding and still making breakthroughs. But their victory has never been likely (fewer than 1 percent of start-ups end up as $1 billion companies), and recently their chances of breakout success — and especially of knocking the giants off their perches — have diminished considerably.
The best start-ups keep being scooped up by the big guys (see Instagram and WhatsApp, owned by Facebook). Those that escape face merciless, sometimes unfair competition (their innovations copied, their projects litigated against). And even when the start-ups succeed, the Five still win.


And finally, Political Typology Reveals Deep Fissures on the Right and Left was one of the most interesting US politics polls I’ve seen of late.

  • The classification of the political continuum. This seemed an insightful and logical in the US context and one that could be adapted elsewhere.
  • The power of partisanship is striking in the poll and how this is driven by a distaste for “the other side”.

Once the candidate is decided, from a campaigning perspective, this provides an incredible and possibly insurmountable challenge. The real battle during a campaign then moves to wooing the undecided or floating voter.

However, the really interesting decision comes before this, when deciding on the party candidate. How should these types of numbers impact on that choice? With an American system of primaries, this will inevitably be hugely contentious.

Unscaling political parties and disintermediation.

Unscaling was not a  phrase I was familiar with in a political context, though the basic principle is certainly well known: conventional business paradigms are being disrupted by technology.  To unscale refers to the specific act of “dismantling all large-scale, vertically integrated, mass-market institutions”.

I have been writing about the disintermediation effect that we are witnessing during the US primary elections. While the current US election cycle is an especially vivid example, there has been a global trend in political establishment disruption, with the rise, for example, of the Podemos party in Spain, Syriza in Greece and the AAP in India.

In particular, Podemos made use of owned media to build its brand awareness.

I think that what Podemos shows, and what other social movement groups like Juventud Sin Futuro or Oficina Precaria show, is that you can combine the autonomous, digital media campaigns with an active reaching-out to mass media”, says Cristina Flesher Fominaya, author of Social Movements and Globalization

These disruptions have been in the form of new parties. What is different about the US is that we are seeing long-established mainstream parties being disrupted. Applying the idea of unscaling in this context, media disintermediation does not just apply to the relationship between politicians and the mainstream media. It also applies to the relationship between politicians and their parties. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have not only had to fight issues with media coverage, they have also had to battle against their party’s establishment. Their success is an example of successful unscaling.

Republican or Democratic validation used to matter — it would get candidates in front of newspaper editorial boards and on TV, access to phone banks and help draw the live crowds. Today, YouTube stars have bigger audiences than most TV shows, blogs cut out the media middleman and Meetup groups and Twitter get the crowds organized.

In parties with a primary or voting system to nominate candidates, new media has now provided an opportunity for candidates to bypass their party’s establishment and still effectively campaign for nominations. This means that the disruption to the political mainstream may not follow the antecedent of new parties but as insurgent candidates taking over established ones. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party may prove to be a more typical model in the medium-term than Podemos.  At the very least, we are in a transitory phase before this vision of startup political parties can become a reality:

 The economics of unscale predict that many startup parties will challenge the big parties and steal their members. Some will catch on, re-bundle voters around issues they care about and reach enough scale in a new way to have influence.