Unbundling YouTube

YouTube has been the undisputed home of video on the internet for a long time, but that title is eroding. YouTube is a successful bundle of internet video services and categories that are being unbundled by new entrants. Understanding YouTube’s bundle, where it has been unbundled, and further opportunities for unbundling provide insights into the current state of internet media and future trends.

The YouTube Bundle

YouTube is the default place to upload an edited video on the internet. New and interesting videos are being created 15+ years after launch. YouTube continues to grow revenue year after year.

YouTube’s competitive advantage is the audience, long tail of content, and search. Content that benefits the most from these advantages is safe on YouTube.

Medium length content for general audiences

Talk show clips, music videos, how-to, “lifestyle,” trailers, cooking, and sports highlights all belong to a category of “general” content that is safe on YouTube. Videos are generally medium length (between two and twenty minutes). Longer than videos on social platforms, shorter than shows on subscription streaming sites. They have a general audience and benefit from recommendations. These are the type of videos you see on YouTube’s homepage without personalization.

 

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An average YouTube homepage selection.

Youtube, like Craigslist, is the catch-all. Whenever it is not obvious where to post a video, it goes on Youtube. YouTube allows creators and companies to host and share any video they want. This value proposition is safe.

Search

Any video that benefits from search will remain on YouTube. YouTube has a monopoly on video search. How-to videos benefit the most from search followed by travel and sports. I do not foresee anyone beating YouTube at the quality of video search, because no one will beat Google at search.

YouTube has a long tail of content. Whatever you search will lead to results. If there is a video about something on the internet, it exists on YouTube. This long tail is costly, many videos don’t make back their hosting costs, but the long tail is also a key competitive advantage. No other platform can create a long tail of content as YouTube has; therefore, no other platform can have as good of search as YouTube has.

Low value-per-viewer content

YouTube is safe in places where the creator cannot make a large amount of money off an individual. Most content on YouTube is not content audiences would pay for. An audience’s attention is still valuable. People making YouTube videos for attention will always exist. Attention will always be valuable, and YouTube has a lot of attention.

YouTube will remain the best platform for monetizing videos with ads. They developed the technology and relationships with companies to create a large enough ad library. Creators who fall within strict ad guidelines will make money on their videos. Few other platforms allow creators to monetize with ads.


The value proposition in danger is “YouTube is the best place for posting all videos.”  Different types of videos perform better on different platforms.

Already Unbundled

The big change that allowed other companies to compete with YouTube is that video hosting is not as difficult a problem anymore. It is more difficult to build an audience that wants to watch video than it is to host video.

YouTube, like all platforms, faces constraints. It handles short, mobile videos poorly because of its lack of a “feed.” Livestreaming is an add-on, not a core feature. Ways of monetizing other than ads are not supported, causing creators to look elsewhere to drive revenue.

Short-form viral videos

Viral videos go viral on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok and later get transferred in compilations to YouTube. You rarely see a non-professional go “viral” on YouTube anymore. If Charlie Bit My Finger was in 2020, it would go viral on Twitter first.

If you are trying to gain attention (go viral), lowering the friction of sharing is critical. Many viral videos are posted on every platform. YouTube has high friction to share, making it worse at creating viral videos than its competitors.

A long time ago, hosting videos was hard and platforms didn’t do it. Facebook, Twitter, websites all had to rely on YouTube to host their video. Now, it is easier to upload to social platforms (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok) than it is to upload on YouTube. This caused a major unbundling.

Livestreaming

Another area of unbundling is in video games. Gameplay videos were massive. The YouTube channel Machinma seemed to have a monopoly on gaming videos (back in 2008-2013). Creators were uploading Lets Plays, walkthroughs, and other gameplay videos. Streaming didn’t exist.

It turns out, this is not the natural format for these types of videos. The natural and popular format is streaming. Much of the talent in gaming is now dedicated to streaming. It provides a larger and more consistent revenue stream. Creating gameplay videos for YouTube is now an afterthought, many streamers edit stream highlights for upload.

YouTube was slow to react to streaming. It does offer the ability to stream but is rarely used. The only time I watch a YouTube livestream is when an important announcement is being made.

In early 2020, YouTube signed exclusive streaming deals with three popular Twitch streamers as well as the Overwatch League. These deals have been popular over the last year, with Mixer (Microsoft) signing exclusive deals with Ninja and Shroud, two of the largest Twitch streamers.

YouTube is competing in livestreaming, but they are not winning. They face competition not only from Twitch but Mixer, Caffeine, and Facebook.gg.

Long-form, high value-per-viewer content

High-production value shows don’t get the return on investment on YouTube as they do on subscription streaming sites. YouTube does have a subscription service called YouTube Premium, but based on the amount of content they release, it is not successful. They pivoted YouTube Premium to focus on the ad-free experience, rather than the original content.

No TV production company has made a dent on YouTube as their primary source of revenue. Internet media companies like Buzzfeed and Bon Appetit do well on YouTube but their content wouldn’t work with the structure of subscription streaming sites (high-production value, seasons).

Premium educational content has found a better fit elsewhere. High-quality educational content is worth more to a small number of people than ads are. It is specific and requires more work than a traditional YouTube video. The required return on investment for courses is higher, but so is the viewer’s willingness to pay.

I always see MasterClass ads on Youtube, and it makes sense why. Big celebrities are not going to go out of their way for some unknown and indirect payment through ads. People pay for information from the best. Giving it away for free and monetizing with ads doesn’t work well.

Potential To Be Unbundled

YouTube is vulnerable in medium length, high value-per-viewer content. These are areas where creators could make money focusing on top fans (spenders) rather than ads. Two places where this exists are subscriptions and valuable products.

Subscriptions

YouTube does not do a good job of monetizing individual audience members. As proven by Patreon, Twitch, Substack, and others, people are willing to pay more for content they find valuable.

YouTube does have a feature that allows channels to offer paid subscriptions but it is rarely used by creators (they have to enable it). For channels that do, it is unclear to viewers what the benefits of subscribing are.

Subscriptions and paid content have never been a focus for YouTube. As I mentioned earlier, YouTube Premium focuses on removing ads rather than high-quality content. There is no way (that I know of) to create paid exclusive or by-donation content on YouTube.

Opportunities remain for high-quality, medium length (two to twenty minutes long) content. This content requires more investment from creators and would be supported by viewers paying directly.

A group of YouTubers created Nebula, a creator-driven video streaming service. For $3 per month, viewers can support these creators directly and gain access to exclusive content. Nebula features some of YouTube’s highest quality creators, but is yet to truly compete with YouTube. It is added evidence of interest and opportunity for high-quality, medium length content.

A big competitor here will be Quibi, the medium length subscription video platform with shows from top talent and billions of dollars in venture backing. Quibi will compete for time currently spent watching YouTube and is a direct competitor taking advantage of this opportunity. I plan to write more about Quibi soon.

Valuable Products

Any videos related to big dollar products such as travel, cooking, beauty, fashion, and toys all could be disrupted. YouTube does a bad job of selling products in videos. I have never bought something from a YouTube video. Everyone knows the links are in the description and everyone ignores them. I assume top viewers would buy more than $20 per year’s worth of products in these categories.

Video commerce is an area that could be unbundled from YouTube. There are videos where a referral/affiliate commission could make more than the ads if the products were promoted better. YouTube added the ability to add a featured products bar; it is rarely used. Selling products through videos is an afterthought for YouTube.

Many people make money selling products on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blogs. It is a serious feature of the platforms. For YouTube, this isn’t true. Ads are still the most important feature.

There is opportunities for other platforms or an entirely new platform to figure out online video selling. There is commission revenue waiting to be capitalized on by the right idea. Many platforms have minor features (TikTok, Instagram, Facebook Ads) but no platform exists for the primary purpose of selling items through video.

YouTube’s Downfall?

YouTube faces an innovator’s dilemma. They have not innovated their product in key ways, and are not able to. YouTube’s competitive advantages remain free hosting, search, and a long tail of recommendations. They will continue to focus on monetizing videos with ads. This leaves opportunities for YouTube’s unbundling by new entrants.

Social video on sites like Instagram and TikTok as well as streaming sites like Twitch and education subscriptions like MasterClass are already taking advantage of opportunities. These sites continue to grow their watch time and revenue.

There is an opportunity for more unbundling. A subscription platform for medium length videos like Quibi could be a major competitor. The continued growth of ecommerce could also create opportunities for a video platform more connected with selling stuff.

I will continue to use YouTube. It will remain a core internet site and a key piece of Google’s business. It will not have as dominate a position in internet video as it once had.

How to Be a Better Listener: Always Be Collecting Dots

Listening is always mentioned as a critical skill to succeed in business and life. I’ve been taught many ways to improve my listening, and my listening has improved, but I can’t remember much of the advice specifically. Out of all the advice on listening I’ve received, I can only point to one piece that has stuck.

Advice on listening is difficult because you need to remember it while focusing on a conversation. If you are focusing on having a good conversation, you aren’t thinking about “The Top 7 Tips to Becoming A Superstar Listener.”

The simple piece of advice about listening I find myself coming back to is from successful restaurateur Danny Meyer: always be collecting dots.

Danny Meyer’s book “Setting the Table” was one of my favorite reads of 2019. It is part-biography and part-business advice from a top-tier operator in the ultra-competitive New York City restaurant industry. It contains the founding stories of several critically acclaimed and famous restaurants: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, and most importantly, Shake Shack. Meyer’s advice on listening is key to these restaurant’s renowned customer experiences.

What does “Always Be Collecting Dots” mean?

The more information you collect, the more frequently you can make meaningful connections that can make other people feel good and give you an edge in business.

Always be collecting dots translates to always be collecting and thinking about information from other people. It is a short way of getting in the right mindset to listen well. There are an infinite amount of dots in the world, but you must notice them to take advantage of them.

Every interaction with somebody is a chance to learn about them and make a connection with them. You cannot do either of these without collecting dots. You have to listen. You can’t learn anything about someone else while focusing on yourself.

Listening well requires an ego shift. It requires you to think about another person more than you think about yourself. The always be collecting dots mindset encourages you to be selfish by listening to others. You can collect more dots for yourself by listening to others than you can by focusing on yourself in conversation.

To collect dots you must ask. People share information about themselves if you ask. Many of the questions we ask are self-serving. Worse, we often ask questions we don’t care about the answers for. We immediately start thinking about our response rather than listening to their response. You can’t collect dots if you don’t care about the questions you ask or the responses you receive.

There is no stronger way to build relationships than taking a genuine interest in other human beings and allowing them to share their stories.

When you are always collecting dots, you have more dots to connect. If you know more people and know more about those people, you can build better relationships with new and existing people. You have more dots in your collection and be better at collecting dots the more you practice.

Collecting dots is a way to create personal network effects. When you are always listening to others, you find ways of connecting. Information from one person becomes valuable when talking to another. As your network and collection of dots grow, the value you can bring to a new member of the network also grows. Your collection of past dots makes new dots more valuable.

In Business

Businesses need to interact with customers. Customers always have dots to collect. I know I have forgotten this. When you are on the phone back-to-back with clients or receive an email from someone you don’t know well, you often are looking for ways to quickly resolve the interaction. You aren’t looking to provide them with a valuable experience or build a deeper connection.

Creating valuable experiences builds deeper connections. Deeper connections lead to more and better business. If you take the time and effort to learn and care about other people’s businesses or projects, eventually you are rewarded.

If I don’t know that someone works, say, for a magazine whose managing editor I happen to know, I’ve lost a chance to make a meaningful connection that could enhance our relationship with the guest and the guest’s relationship with us. The information is there. You just have to choose to look.

In the restaurant business, this is clear. Repeat patronage is critical. Meyer says “my goal is to earn regular, repeat patronage from a large number of people—40 percent of our lunch business and 25 percent of our dinner business—who will dine at our restaurants six to twelve times a year.”

The value in collecting dots pays off in long run interactions. When you know where someone likes to sit, their favorite menu item, their favorite team, or field of work you create the possibility of a valuable connection. These are the type of interactions that lead to return customers.

The more dots you collect with a customer or a co-worker, the more likely you are to find success. You build better connections and tailored experiences.

How to Always Be Collecting Dots

The first step to always be collecting dots is realizing dots exist. By reading this, you are part of the way there. When you realize dots exist, you begin to hear them. You begin to see which questions uncover dots and which uncover non-information. This should lead to asking questions that uncover dots.

Ask questions that uncover information rather than allow for your response. Ask questions that you care about the answers to. “How are you?” is not a good question if you don’t care about the answer. Many conversations are meaningless, collecting dots is about making conversations meaningful. If you are looking to make connections with people, questions have to move beyond “how are you.”

Everyone goes through life with an invisible sign hanging around his or her neck reading, “make me feel important.”

Think about the information people are providing you. Think about their interests and their answer’s context. This allows you to collect new and more insightful dots as well as connect the dots better. Ideally, you can reference an earlier conversation or earlier in the same conversation. This proves you are listening and collecting dots.

You must be more aware of the information other people are providing you to collect dots. The reminder to always be collecting dots matches with a shift in mindset. You cannot be successful at collecting dots if you are focused on providing information. There is a balance between focusing on yourself and focusing on your partner that allows for ideal conversation and dot collection.

Have an end goal in mind. If you know what you want out of a conversation, you can guide it in the right direction. For most conversations, this might be “make a deeper connection with someone.” Have the end goal as a guide for what dots you want to collect, but be open if the conversation goes in another direction. You are a human, not a robot.

In Business

Meyer and his team look over the detailed reservation sheets from each of their restaurants every day. They look for dots that allow them to offer their guests more hospitality. They also look for opportunities to create chance encounters by strategically seating people with similar business interests near one another (or create privacy for those who want it as well). This is an example of creative ways to collect and use dots to create valuable experiences.

I encourage each manager to take ten minutes a day to make three gestures that exceed expectations and take a special interest in our guests.

Businesses collect all the data they can. Data is impersonal. It is numbers or characters on a screen. All that data is information about a real person. Many companies don’t use data to make personal connections with their clients. If you learned a client is succeeding in business, your company may send out an automated message, could you provide a personal touch? In an age of automation, a non-automated reply goes a long way.

Businesses can learn from this. How can they think about collecting dots for their customers? What did you talk about last time? What are past contexts you have sold them? Where are they from? What is important to them?

From a sales perspective, this allows a salesperson to customize their selling experience. This allows you to create an interaction that is better tailored to them. This leads to better outcomes. Even if the situation isn’t right, making a connection may lead to future business.

Conclusion

This whole post is a reminder to myself as much as it is for you. It is hard to remember and even harder to use the always be collecting dots mindset in conversations. Knowing the idea exists is half the battle. It has helped me improve my ability to listen, and I hope it helps you too.

Always be collecting dots is about focusing on other people, not yourself. It is learning about other people so you can connect past information you’ve gained with the information they told you. This isn’t a “hack.” You must be genuine.

Meyer has taught his team this idea, and it is key to creating the highest quality restaurant experience. By listening to guests, you provide them with an experience they value rather than an experience they expect. Collecting dots allows Meyer’s team to go above and beyond.

The advice to always be collecting dots applies to many areas of business and life. Conversations and connections are better when you focus on other people rather than yourself. It requires a shift in mindset, and this advice has best helped me with that shift.


Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think on Twitter: @IanVanagas.

TikTok’s Viral Video Growth Machine

 

TikTok is a viral video machine. It has blown up over the past year and now I see videos from the platform everywhere. I notice them because they are distinct. Videos on other platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, even IGTV) all look the same. TikTok videos on other platforms stand out, and that is a key driver of their success.

TikTok is big. It has over 500 million users worldwide. As of right now, it is one of Facebook’s largest threats. It is the first Chinese social media platform to breakthrough in North America. It is taking over as the platform of choice for Gen Z.

How did it grow so big, so fast? A lot of money, going all-in on a recommendation algorithm, and mobile video limitations. The combination of these factors creates a viral growth loop:

  1. Acquire users from other platforms (requires massive marketing spend to start).
  2. TikTok users create content.
  3. Users view content and tune the algorithm.
  4. Best videos brought to everyone’s attention (viral).
  5. Someone shares (viral) video on other platforms.

Acquire Users from Other Platforms

TikTok spent a lot of money getting started. Now that it is moving, other platforms are going to struggle to keep up (cough Facebook). According to the Wall Street Journal, TikTok spent ~$1B on advertising in 2018. When you are competing with Facebook, money is necessary to get growth going.

Luckily for TikTok, every user they want are on other social media sites. All they need to do is attract them towards their site. Individual TikTok videos work as well on other sites as they do on TikTok. TikTok users created a massive amount of advertising content TikTok can (and has) put money towards to grow its user base.

TikTok had a solid base of users before the official worldwide launch in September 2017. It started as Douyin by ByteDance in September 2016. Within the first year, Douyin had 100 million users (almost all in China). In November 2017, ByteDance acquired Muscial.ly and its 100 million active users (the majority of users were American). These starting stats are quite impressive but don’t fully explain how it grew to the behemoth it is today.

TikTok Users Create Content

Early adopters to TikTok created content. The format isn’t new. Many of TikTok’s early users were from Musical.ly or familiar with Vine (or at least references to Vine). New users quickly understood the format and create content to fit. The bar for creating content and having content seen by other users is low. You don’t need any followers for your video to go viral. For example, a popular meme on the platform is people going viral from doing nothing. TikTok’s algorithm shows your content to a small number of people even if you have no followers.

TikTok provides all the tools a creator needs for creating a TikTok. Users do not need anything other than their phone and the app. Fancy cameras and editing software are not needed. TikTok offers a large amount of options for editing videos in-app. Sounds (key feature), speed, filters, and effects are all accessible from the camera in-app.

Users Tune the Algorithm

TikTok requires a large user base not only to create content but to tune the algorithm. Every user who watches and engages with TikTok videos is making TikTok’s algorithm better at creating viral videos.

The viewers tune the algorithm by viewing, sharing, commenting, liking, and hundreds (?) of other variables. TikTok is good at showing the right content to the right audience. Compared to other platforms, TikTok gives users little choice on what videos they watch. The “For You page” is the default spot when users open the app.

For example, I liked many football-related TikTok and am now seeing similar and related content. It starts with popular content (hundreds of thousands of likes) and begins to show niche content (thousand to tens of thousands of likes). I follow 10 accounts, and still get videos tailored to my tastes.

Similar types of people like the same types of videos. This is an area Vine missed out on. When platforms limit the feed to content created by the accounts they follow viewers explore get less and your recommendation algorithm is less refined. No platform recommends content better than TikTok does.

Best Videos Go Viral

The best videos are shown to a wide audience. TikTok aggressively surfaces the top videos. Viewers don’t have any choice on what videos they see on the “For You” page. The top videos passed through a Darwinian-like selection. Videos that win are entertaining and succeed in whatever variables TikTok chooses to judge that (likes, watch time, views, etc.). These are viral videos. The top videos and creators get millions of views, likes, comments, and followers. They are incentivized to create as many of these algorithm-winning videos as possible.

Videos not only go “true viral” (millions of likes and views), they go “niche viral.” Niche viral videos are specific to a community and get high engagement from that community. These types of videos may have difficulty finding their target audience on other platforms, but once they do, they see above-average engagement from those communities. Niche viral videos are likely shared externally at higher rates. TikTok does a better job at creating and promoting niche viral videos than any other platform.

Viral Videos Shared on Other Platforms

As videos reach broader audiences, they are more likely to be shared on other platforms. TikTok making this sharing easy, but it includes an obvious watermark. If a video goes viral on TikTok, there is a good chance it can go viral elsewhere. There are many Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing viral TikTok videos.

It is clear where TikTok videos come from, even on other platforms. No other platform has a distinct advantage like this. All other platforms format their roughly the same. You can post the same video on Twitter, IGTV, Facebook, and Youtube with slight adjustments. TikTok has leaned into the limitations of mobile such as vertical videos, feeds, creation tools in-app, short videos, and short attention spans. Videos created on TikTok are meant for TikTok but work elsewhere. No other platform can say the same.

The TikTok viral videos that get shared on other platforms draw potential new users’ interest and start the process all over again. As I mentioned, sharing is easy for all platforms. Other platforms are happy to take TikTok’s content because it drives engagement for them.


To summarize:

  1. Acquire users from other platforms (requires massive marketing spend to start).
  2. TikTok users create content.
  3. Users view content and tune the algorithm.
  4. Best videos brought to everyone’s attention (viral).
  5. Someone shares (viral) video on other platforms.

TikTok has built a legitimate competitor to platforms thought to be unbeatable. It has created the first platform to cross into the North American mainstream from China. Now that TikTok has succeeded in growing, the question is: can it survive?

Can TikTok survive the influx of adults who will flock to a primarily youth-driven platform? Can TikTok survive marketers and growth hackers rushing to the platform because it is where the “attention” is? Can TikTok survive the criticism of being a Chinese company in North America?

My bet is yes because TikTok embraces limitations. It isn’t trying to be everything. It isn’t trying to be where you spend time with friends, read the news, and network for your job. TikTok is a platform for creating entertaining content. The content created is unique to the platform. If TikTok loses this uniqueness then it will likely lead to the platform’s downfall. I’m optimistic for the moment.


Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think @IanVanagas.

Interested in reading more about TikTok? I’d highly recommend this practical guide to getting started.

Posthuman Brands

It is impossible to judge or think about Tesla without thinking about Elon Musk. Tesla is the embodiment of Elon Musk. Tesla succeeds in an extremely competitive market with massive public pressure and little marketing spend. How does Tesla continue to do so well? Among other things, it is a posthuman brand. Every time someone purchases a Tesla, they are buying into Elon Musk. They believe in what he stands for and want to support it.

In the social media era, the distinction between people and brands is unclear. Brands are becoming more human. They act like the people their audience wants to be. They speak like their target market. They behave like their target market. Instead of relying on other people to make them human (endorsements), they act like humans themselves.

Most brands today promote the message of “to be like the person you admire, buy our stuff.” The brands of the future will say “if you want to be like us, buy our stuff.”

Posthuman brands are brands that behave and communicate like their target audience. They do not talk to their audience, they talk with them. So what makes a posthuman brand?

1. Posthuman brands speak in the first person

Posthuman brands post on social media like they are people. They post low production-value videos, text-only tweets, photos from their phones, and memes. They talk about real life, news in the community, and complaints. Not content that is finely crafted to drive you towards a landing page or blog post. Posthuman brands aim to be as close to their target market as possible by copying them. They aim to maximize whatever characteristic the group values. Humor is a primary way of doing this. Posthuman brands should take part in in-jokes as much as possible.

Brands should act like the people audience want to be, not who the people are. They must be more clever, more “on-brand,” then the people who follow them are. People buy things to be better. Buying something from a member of “your group” should make you feel like you are deeper in the group.

Traditional brands behave and look like robots in the era of posthuman brands. A big opportunity for posthuman brands is interacting with non-posthuman brands. They can distinguish how they act and show “we are like you.” The next generation does not want to interact with robots. They will not support robots unless they must. People want to interact with and support brands they like. If they go out of their way to support or communicate in any way with a brand, the brand should care.

2. Posthuman brands are opportunistic

Posthuman brands capitalize on the internet’s viral nature through trends and memes. They respond to praise or issues in a genuine way. They build deeper trust and awareness with their audience. In-members believe the brand is “one of us.” All this leads to awareness, trust, and most importantly, sales.

Even if traditional brands wanted to capitalize on a trend, they may not be able to. Their audience is not ready to interact with them. An audience must be primed to share or interact with a brand. They have to see other people sharing or interacting with the content. Becoming a posthuman brand requires a radical shift in mindset most traditional brands will never make. They are fine with the status quo and face an innovator’s dilemma. Many traditional brands will fall to posthuman brands (if the brand’s underlying business is of similar quality).

3. Posthuman brands hangout where you hangout

Posthuman brands spend most of their time where you spend most of your time. In most cases, that is social media. Depending on the group they are trying to reach, they may spend most of their time and energy on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or Youtube. Their photos, tweets, and videos target specific groups on those sites and are easily shareable. They create content like an individual would create content on these sites, not as a brand would. They do not share blog posts about best practices, product updates, or sales announcements. They are a member of the group, not an outsider.

The future is focusing on “niche” platforms (these platforms are big, but brands don’t understand how big) such as TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, Twitch, and various chat apps. Creating content specifically for those channels gives brands early mover advantages. Sponsorships and endorsements aren’t enough. Brands who create content that is native and accepted by sub-communities will succeed in the era of posthuman brands.


It is important to think about the ethical concerns of posthuman brands. Is it ok for a brand to pretend they are human, especially when they are mimicking things people are struggling with? It is not ok to take advantage of  “relatable” depressed teen tweets to sell more SunnyD. In the end, it is a marketing tactic. They are trying to sell more goods. They are trying to make a profit. Posthuman brands are ok as long as they do not promote negative behavior or take advantage of misfortune.

With the improvements to mobile video and AR, we will see an increase in brands becoming posthuman and an increase in quality of “posthuman content.” Brands will create mobile avatars. Digital mascots will become cool. Brands will create ultra-realistic mascots who act and talk like who their target market dreams of being. They hope to fulfill the dreams of the masses by creating something that doesn’t exist. Talk about unrealistic expectations.

Think about a travel brand creating an alien “ambassador” to travel the world and post photos and videos where ever they go. Think about an instant ramen company tweeting about “unreal” college parties and has an Instagram Live dorm room cooking show. Think about a sports brand creating an armchair quarterback character who complains about the NFL every Sunday. Think about video game characters running for president. Think about a car brand that posts memes, wants to save the world, and has plans to colonize Mars, wait…


As always, I would appreciate your thoughts and feedback over on Twitter: @IanVanagas

3 Ways to Read More Books

Everyone should read more books. Books are good for you. People do not read enough books; the world would be a better place if they did. Selfishly, I would like the people around me to read more, and I hope this helps. When I talk with my friends about reading, they often say “I’d like to read more books.” This is my response.

Underlying these tactics is a desire to read. You must want to read more. Many wise people have shared their thoughts on the value of reading: Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Ryan Holiday, Naval Ravikant, Paul Graham, Jason Zweig.

When I decided I wanted to read more, this is the most effective way I found of doing it:

1. Set Habit-Based Goals and Track Them

I set a goal in 2018 to read two hours per day. I realized two hours is longer than I thought, but also realized how much spare time I had. Two hours of video games or Netflix feels like nothing. We overestimate the time spent on “hard” tasks and underestimate the time spent on easy tasks. Replacing unproductive time with productive reading time was easy for me after I made it a habit.

Before setting the goal and creating the habit of reading two hours per day, I had the vague goal of “reading more.” This isn’t helpful. A vague goal does not commit you to achieve it. You cannot track a vague goal; they are worthless.

Farnam Street recommends people read 25 pages per day. I prefer time tracking to page goals because I am unsure how long a page goal takes. Books differ in length and difficulty. Sometimes reading 25 pages takes three hours. Sometimes reading 25 pages takes 30 minutes. I would rather have a consistent time amount than a consistent completion amount. This is a personal preference.

Setting a daily time goal worked best for me. I use Toggl to track my time (inspired by the podcast, Cortex). Every time I sit down to read, I start the entry in the app. This encourages me to read for longer periods and holds me responsible.

The bus is a great place to get some reading done. Every day on my commute, I get an hour of reading in. The extra minutes add up over the year.

Carry a book with you at all times. Every time you get a second, crack it open. Don’t install games on your phone–that’s time you could be reading. When you’re eating, read. When you’re on the train, in the waiting room, at the office–read. It’s work, really important work. Don’t let anyone ever let you feel like it’s not.

— Ryan Holiday

Setting a habit-based reading goal is the most pragmatic way of reading more.

2. Read Multiple Books and Have A Backlog

When I started reading, I believed reading one book at a time was the best strategy. This is a common strategy. The idea I could (and it was beneficial to) read more than one book at a time was a game-changer for me. I felt less stuck on individual books. Voracious readers do not read one book at a time. If you want to be someone who reads more, you should not read one book at a time.

At one time, I am usually reading an informational non-fiction book, a biography, and a narrative (fiction or non-fiction). Reading multiple books allows you to sample a variety of books. It allows for the comparison of books and the creation of unique connections. By sampling a range of views and opinions, you can gain depth in an individual area or gain insights from a breadth of fields.

Reading multiple books creates a backlog. By reading multiple books, you always have something else to read. You aren’t forced to slog through a book you don’t like. It is good to expand your backlog beyond the books you are currently reading and have them physically or digitally available.

I take a bunch of books out from the library at a time, too many to read before they are due. I read the most interesting or relevant one first. If I don’t like it, I have plenty of other material to read and can always return to it. Having an artificial due date focuses me on the books I am interested in and incentivizes me to complete them.

eBooks allow for a similar strategy. They are cheap, easy to switch between, and you can carry many of them at the same time.

When you know good books are waiting to be read, you realize the value of your time. I always enjoy going to bookstores, even if I don’t buy a book, because it allows me to visualize all the books I haven’t read. Having a backlog makes you prioritize your reading time and allows you to read the books you’ll enjoy.

3. Abandon More Books

Abandoning books is difficult but necessary.

Another way to read quickly is to cut bait on the losers. I start ten or so books for every one I finish. I don’t mind disliking a book, and I never regret having picked it up and started it. I am ruthless in my discards.

— Tyler Cowen

The idea you must finish something is ingrained the human mind. It is solidified in school, you always have to finish a book to write a report on it. This isn’t school, this is real life. You do not have to finish books. You should want to continue reading. Books should be interesting and enjoyable.

We’re taught from a young age that books are something you finish. Books are sacred. When you go to school and you’re assigned to read a book, you have to finish the book. So…we get this contradiction where everyone I know is stuck on some book. So what do you do? You give up on reading books for a while.

— Naval Ravikant

I noticed I would begin reading a book, not like it, but feel forced to finish it. I would slow my reading because I didn’t want to read that book. I would read less. I also didn’t start a new book because I felt I had to finish the old one. I felt trapped into not reading.

I now have a good sense of when to abandon a book. Here are my rules for when it is time to move on:

How To Know When To Abandon A Book

1. When You Aren’t Reading It Anymore

When I lose interest in a book, I stop reading. I find myself “reading” two pages and instantly forgetting what was on them. I can’t summarize the chapter I just finished. My thoughts drift away from the book and I find it hard to concentrate. This is a good time to skip ahead and see if there are other interesting parts of the book. If there is, you should skip ahead. If there isn’t, it is time to move on to the next book.

2. Dreading Reading

Reading should not be a chore. There are enough books in the universe that there is always a book for you. You shouldn’t see a book and think “I am not looking forward to this.” No one forces you to read or tells you what you must read. Just because someone else says a book is good or bad doesn’t mean it is. Take control of your reading, it should not cause dread.

3. When You Get the Point

Many business books follow this structure: Introduction, what the book is about, key concepts, and then anecdotes, stories, application of the concepts. All the insights are often at the beginning and the author only adds new examples. Other times, the latter chapters are unimportant variations of the key concept. When I say “I get the point,” that is a good time to abandon.


The way to read more is a change in mindset: set goals, track them, read multiple books, have a backlog, and abandon more books. These actions increase the number of books you read. It is up to you to make the effort to take these actions. The payoffs from reading compound and are realized over the long term. It is not an overnight process, but it should be an enjoyable one.

I hope this post encourages one person to read one more book. Start small.

Additional Readings:

How to read fast – Marginal REVOLUTION

How To Read More – A Lot More

I highly recommend Ryan Holiday’s month reading newsletter.

How I Choose What To Read – David Perell

 

Why Choose Spotify? Podcasts Are the Answer of the Future

Spotify announced they are spending $200 million+ to purchase both Gimlet Media and Anchor. This is the most real investment in podcasting by an established company I can think of. Why spend so much money on podcast production? Spotify spends next to nothing on music production, the main focus of their company. Podcasting is not known for its ability to monetize. Most podcasts are passion projects. For professionals, they are used to supplement content, monetization in another way and build a relationship with their fans. Gimlet is one of the few podcast producers who can support more than their hosts. Spotify could increase potential revenues from both Gimlet and Anchor by integrating them into the platform, but that isn’t the main reason Spotify purchased them. Spotify is creating necessary differentiation for survival.

Differentiation in music is difficult. Apple required physical devices, such as the iPod, in order to differentiate and still didn’t win. Once smartphones took over, it was anyone’s game again. Both Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Google Play Music try a variety of tactics in order to differentiate from one another. Both Apple and Google can bundle music streaming with their other products and services. Spotify is stuck with only music subscriptions. No matter what platform you choose, the music you want is likely there. You will probably pay the same wherever you get it. No platforms (other than maybe Soundcloud or Bandcamp) are able to differentiate via content. Music labels always own the content. They are large and powerful. Labels are willing to put music wherever it pays. They are not loyal to any specific platform. Often, labels are actively hostile towards platforms.

Podcasts similar and different than music. Both are audio mediums which don’t require your full attention. Both are also created by individuals or small groups of individuals. The difference is podcasts are control by the creators rather than music labels. Individual podcast creators control their content publishing. Platforms cannot encroach on music labels by signing artists because labels will take their music off the platform. People can always find music somewhere else. Platforms can encroach on podcasting. Podcasts are published into an RSS feed and are accessible by anyone. They are given away for free. The landscape is scattered, with no “network” owning enough content to have power over publishers. Spotify is able to buy a podcast network with no repercussions.

By buying assets in the podcasting space, Spotify can create real content differentiation. They create a reason for someone to choose one platform over another: content. Content is king, as the streaming video wars show. Spotify now controls Gimlet Media which is responsible for some of the most popular ongoing podcasts. They also control new content created by the talented team at Gimlet Media. On Anchor’s side, Spotify can help Anchor better monetize. It links Spotify with many small and medium sized podcast creators reliant on Anchor for podcast creation and management. The ability for Spotify to build a relationship with up and coming podcasters using Anchor will help them develop the content of the future. It is likely Spotify will begin to close the podcasting industry off, begin to produce exclusive podcasts for their platform. These exclusive podcasts, if done correctly, will draw subscribers.

Podcasting benefits from Spotify as well. Production and listening have never been linked to the same platform. It is difficult for creators and advertisers to truly understand who is listening, what they are listening to, and other analytics. The better analytics come from a first party platform help Spotify native podcasts. Spotify can also use it’s proven ability for recommendation to increase the listenership of small and medium podcasts. They better match podcasts with listeners. Both these unique benefits of Spotify help the podcasting industry grow and improve as a whole.

Spotify making aggressive moves into the podcasting space is important for them to survive as a company. Google and Apple are able to use music and podcasting to make money indirectly by bundling subscriptions to their other platforms or attracting customers to their overall ecosystem. Spotify is entirely reliant on music subscriptions. Podcasts are the key area Spotify can differentiate from its competitors. They need to succeed in podcasting to keep subscribers from the ever-growing competition from music streaming competition from Apple and Google.

Let me know what you think on Twitter: @IanVanagas

Mars Or Bust: Why Humans Must Become A Multi-Planetary Species

Throughout human history, the stages of settlement have been: discover, explore, settle. Humans have followed these three stages to settle on every continent. Can we translate these rules into space? We have completed the first two stages. Many believe we can complete the final one. Believers include the richest man in the world and the most famous entrepreneur in the world: Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Both stated in order for the human race to survive in the long run, we need to become a multi-planetary species. They believe it can be done. Musk even detailed how SpaceX will make humans a multi-planetary species in a paper aptly titled “Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species.” In this paper, he provided only a brief paragraph as to why: we can either stay on Earth forever and risk an extinction event or go to space and become a multi-planetary species. His choice was obvious. There has always been a driving force behind humans urge to explore. We are curious and always looking for something new, but there are reasons for becoming a multi-planetary species beyond curiosity. I agree with Elon that becoming a multi-planetary species is necessary for the survival of the human race.

I think there are really two fundamental paths. History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event. The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go. – Elon Musk

Earth is fragile and one of a kind. Actions which harm Earth now will cause ongoing harm for the human race into the future. Climate change is the main long-term problem and many don’t fully grasp the future consequences. Climate change is a collective action problem. Humans believe that the actions of many are causing climate change while simultaneously believing their actions have no effect. We need collective action to slow climate change but lack the structures to do so. National governments must cooperate on this problem. Intergovernmental organizations exist which have put in place policy to curb climate change, but they have lacked the ability to enforce the policy. Democracies have reelection periods of 2-10 years, so it is reasonable that politicians lack the foresight to make changes affecting far into the future. Their constituents are the people of today, not the people of the future. Any radical climate change policies would be unpopular with a majority of the population. We don’t know how our current consumption will affect the future. The worst case scenario is Earth becoming uninhabitable and we must leave in order to survive. Being a multi-planetary species will allow us to leave and survive.

Nuclear weapons are the greatest risk to humankind today. The impact of nuclear weapons on Earth cannot fully be understood, but we know it would be bad. Again, intergovernmental cooperation is the only way to prevent usage or an increase in nuclear weapons. This problem is more difficult than climate change. Governments are even less likely to destroy nuclear weapons than implement climate change policy. Nuclear weapons are a prisoner’s dilemma. Everyone would be better off if we didn’t have them, but since the threat of only one country having them and using them is so high, countries instead opt for mutual deterrence. With the potential for smaller, less stable nations getting their hands on nuclear weapons and larger nations with nuclear weapons potentially becoming unstable, the risk of nuclear strikes is rising. Any weapon, controlled by a small number of people with the ability to impact the whole world is dangerous. It would provide a small number of people, with a relatively small amount of resources, the ability to destroy the planet. For the good of the human race, we must be able to survive a global nuclear war. The best way to do this is to become a multi-planetary species.

Governments have a monopoly on nuclear weapons and climate change policy, two areas with the greatest risk of decimating the human race. They do not have a monopoly on space. Investment into aerospace and the eventual colonization of other planets is a hedge against nuclear weapons and climate change. It is the only possible hedge against the ability to destroy the whole world. Governments can support becoming a multi-planetary species, but they cannot be the only ones. If the government are the only party invested in becoming a multi-planetary species then we run into the same short-term thinking and collective action problems we face on Earth.

Problems arise from the fact a Martian colony is unlikely to be self-sustaining anytime soon. Ships can only realistically be launched from Earth to Mars every 26 months. This means colonies will have to stock up and wait. Production of their own vital resources such as food, water, and construction materials is the only way a colony can realistically survive on its own. Specialized equipment, medical supplies and other non-producible yet important resources will have to imported in massive quantities and varieties. A colony on Mars must become self-sustaining before Earth evitability causes its own downfall.

Critics argue against the creation of a colony on Mars because of expenses. The expenses of having a colony on Mars are high because it needs support from Earth until it becomes self-sustaining. From what we know now, Mars is unlikely to have resources valued enough to be sent back to Earth. Unless colonists discover valuable resources or create an industry Earth deems valuable (tourism), the colony must be subsidized. Travel costs are the largest costs to subsidizing a Martian colony. Elon Musk detailed his proposals to make a flight to Mars cheaper. The plan relies on the reusability of rockets and creating refueling stations on Mars. He predicts this will allow the price of a ticket to Mars to be the same as the median house price in the US. This would open the pool of potential colonizers. A Martian colony can be self-sustaining because of the ability to grow food, create shelter and find or create water. Having this potential means, in the long run, the colony is likely to become self-sustaining.

The arguments to create safeguards on Earth are not viable either because no matter how much time, money or resources you spend on Earth, no one will be able to stop climate change or remove nuclear weapons from existence. The argument of testing our ability to live anywhere on Earth, such as at the bottom of the sea, does not solve the survival problem either. The only way we can learn to survive on another planet is by doing it. We are seeing the impacts of climate change and it is non-reversible. The idea that nuclear weapons exists means we will never be safe from them. As North Korea is showing right now, a small nation with little contact to the outside world can focus on creating nuclear weapons and make progress. Over a long enough time period, someone will be successful.

Other than nuclear weapons and climate change, we face other threats such as biochemical weapons, disease, AI and more. It is easy to list the potential problems on Earth, but making humans a multi-planetary is both prevention and beneficial. It protects against extinction risks and fulfills our species destiny. We have explored and tamed the entire Earth. We have visited space and know we can survive there. The last exploration challenge we have is becoming a multi-planetary species. The added factor is that it is critical for our survival.

Additional Readings and References:

Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species by Elon Musk

Jeff Bezos on space and becoming a multi-planetary species

How close are we to states giving up their nuclear weapons? Not very

Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like

 

Why Write

Writing takes time and forces me to clarify my thoughts. When I am speaking, I can’t review or edit what I said. I don’t think carefully about every word I say, and when I do, I can never be as accurate as writing. Writing takes unconscious thoughts and processes and makes them conscious. It is a representation of thinking, which is valuable because I do a lot of thinking. If an idea is worth thinking about, it is worth the effort to think about it in a constructive and clear way.

When you sit down to write, half the ideas are ideas you thought of while writing. Ideas lead to more ideas. – Paul Graham

Writing is a key skill used in all aspects of life and business. Writing better makes me more persuasive and more influential. It helps me form better arguments and better communicate ideas. This leads to success. I have written throughout my life but rarely take time to analyze my own writing. The only time I critically think about my writing is when I receive feedback from teachers on my papers. This will cease after I graduate, but I have much more writing yet to do. I have written and will continue to write, email, reports, posts, tweets and more. Everyone who is successful writes. If I want success, I also have to write and write well.

At one point in human history, we didn’t have writing. People were forced to memorize knowledge or else it would be lost. Smart people had good memories and trained their memories. With the invention of writing, memory became increasingly unimportant. The downhill trend of memory importance continued to today. The phone can keep all information we ever need, take it out of your pocket, ask it a question and it knows the answer. We don’t have to have knowledge. The problem is if you do want to know something, the odds are against you. It takes work to learn and understand ideas, concepts, and facts. Complex ideas are temporary, both mine or others. Writing helps me to solidify these ideas, better understand them, and reference them in the future.

Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. – Stephen King

I enjoy reading and learning. Writing gives me an excuse to do this more. It provides the ability to put more meaning behind my reading and my notes. Writing creates connections between my life and the books I read. Even if a book doesn’t help my life at all or isn’t relevant to my career, it might help me become a better writer. Reading and writing benefit each other in a loop.

How am I supposed to stand out from the millions of other college graduates across the world? I have roughly the same credentials as other University graduates. Writing may give me a slight edge over others. It proves I think and care about the work I do. It provides content which I can point to and say “I thought about this carefully.” It is a showcase of both thinking and writing skills. Writing creates opportunities that are unavailable without writing. Sometimes you have to create your own luck, writing provides me with an opportunity to do that.

“Writing is the most scalable professional networking activity. Stay home, don’t go to events/conferences, and just put ideas down.” – Andrew Chen

Finally, recognition. Recognition is something that I hope to keep in check. Craving recognition will lead to disappointment. There are millions of people writing and hoping that others will see their work. When nobody does, they give up. They fail to realize that they are competing against everyone else who wants your time. Facebook, Netflix, the news, other writers. There are many people who are paid large amounts of money to try to get and keep your attention, making it difficult to compete with them. Anyone who does anything publicly is looking for recognition, or at the very least, acknowledgment. I won’t pretend writing is purely an internally beneficial process. Having people read your work is rewarding, but it will not guide me.

This post is a work in progress.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter: @IanVanagas