Internet communities, spaces where people with similar identities and interests interact, are a massive opportunity. General internet spaces are becoming hostile. Societal shifts are forcing more people to rethink the communities they are apart of. Big companies in the space have stagnated. Trends are moving in the right direction. Here are some important ones:
Lack of Innovation
To start, communities exist on platforms. The platforms shape how communities interact with each other and develop. Many of the platforms were not build for the internet we have today.
Forums and Reddit are the most obvious ones, and both could be victims to disruption. They have been around forever, and have not changed. Neither is mobile-first. They work, I guess, but they aren’t super attractive. Discord, Slack, and others are creating alternative places for communities to exist online.
Voice and video have a massive role to play in internet communities but have taken a back seat to text until recently. Many people now spend all day on video conferencing for work and have a camera on them at all times. Voice apps are yet to take off but the popularity of podcasts and Airpods show promise.
TikTok showed a different way to create a community. When you focus on video and mobile-first, community looks different. Instead of you choosing your community, TikTok puts you into a community based on what you interact with. I expect to see more of this moving forward.
People looking for a way out of political tribalism. The fewer communities someone is a part of, the more likely they see a core community as a political group. Politics on the internet is a mind killer but is incentivized by public platforms. There are always other people who feel strongly with you. You don’t have to know much about the subject to gain status. You can “fight” people online. You can pretend you are doing something valuable. Politics is an easy community to be apart of, but people will grow tired of political tribalism. They will look for other options.
In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.
Debate and disagreement cannot be public. It is not acceptable to change your mind. It is not acceptable to have an opposing opinion. Controversial opinions and topics moved out of view.
Ideas don’t cease to exist when they are uncomfortable, they move to places where they are spoken about. They move into the dark forest, hidden communities. Many of these communities already exist on the internet and will only continue to grow. As the size of these dark forest communities grows, so will their impact.
Community leads to education. To become a better member (or even a member at all) people must learn things. Ideas, jargon, people, and companies are all examples of information someone might need to learn. Communities often recommend ways of developing the knowledge needed to join. I expect these to expand.
Internet education is cool, but only when high-status members of a community create and deliver it. Many creators added private communities to their offerings. Students learn and interact with the content better within communities than on their own.
Internet communities will be part of the future of education. In-person communities are the only thing Universities do well. If University is over Zoom, are those communities still valuable? The increasing amount of people deferring think not. A large number of people will be looking at other options, and internet communities may provide a path forward.
Work from Anywhere
Office small talk that might have fulfilled the social and community aspects of people’s days disappeared. People are social animals, they need interaction and will look for it elsewhere. Internet communities are an obvious place to start. Many companies are realizing they need to create their own internet community to work virtually. It is not clear what good company internet communities look like.
Less commuting also means more time to spend pursuing things other than work. Does this mean more time playing video games and watching Netflix or more time as a member of a community?
Internet communities enable sharing of content and products. If you create something good within a community it will be seen by many of its members. Li Jin of a16z says:
New digital platforms enable people to earn a livelihood in a way that highlights their individuality. These platforms give providers greater ability to build customer relationships, increased support in growing their businesses, and better tools for differentiating themselves from the competition. In the process, they’re fueling a new model of internet-powered entrepreneurship.
Lots of people are making a living creating for internet communities. Many more will continue to do this. Being able to understand and appeal to your community is critical to success in this area. As internet communities become more coordinated and understandable, their economic power grows. Lots of people will be competing for a piece in lots of communities.
The future of internet communities is bright, and there is still plenty of opportunities to pursue. It is something I will be looking into more. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, message me on Twitter or send me an email.
We forget that we forget. People and organizations forget all the time. We trick ourselves into believing we remember more than we do.
Do you remember what you had for dinner three days ago? Or who you had a meeting with last Thursday afternoon? What is an important fact of an article you read early this week? Can’t remember? Neither can I. Neither can anyone.
People forget even the most important aspects of our life. We get distracted often. We get lost and move in the wrong direction.
We get lost in the flood of information that overwhelms us every day. It is a full-time job to keep up with even niche subjects nowadays. Endless articles, newsletters, tweets, videos, and photos are posted daily. Society expects you to be an expert in all areas of the world. It isn’t possible.
You don’t have to remember everything. Focus on remembering what matters.
Remember What Matter
I read a book recently called “The Goal.” It is a fictional story about a manufacturing manager who turns a failing plant into a successful one.
Companies are in business to make money, as much as they tell you otherwise. If a business did not make money, they would not exist. Companies often hide this fact from everyone, even their employees. They hide their goals in projects, initiatives, efficiency, measures, and more.
Over a long enough time, this can lead people to forget that the goal of the company is to make money. In the case of “The Goal,” employees believed that increasing efficiency was the way to be successful. If all the employees and equipment were working as efficiently as possible, they would have a good plant. The problem was that even though the plant was efficient, it was losing money and at risk of being shut down. It turns out working for the sake of working doesn’t pursue the goal.
Productivity is the act of bringing a company closer to its goal. Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive.
Eli Goldratt (Author of “The Goal”)
The company got back on track by refocusing on effectiveness rather than efficiency. They refocused on the goal. The goal of a company is to make money.
Many things we think of as goals such as cost-efficiency, employing good people, technology, production, and quality are means of achieving goals, not goals themselves.
This is counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t increased efficiency lead to profits? Not always. People often do things to be busy. They do things to be efficient. Processes naturally have slack (“wasted time”). By filling up wasted time with other tasks, it distracts people from the goal. They proceed to forget the goal and focus on non-goals.
If companies struggle to focus on the goal of making money, how do you think people do? Our goals are often more abstract. There is no bottom-line figure to tell us we’re doing well. On top of that is a constant flood of information trying to distract you at every moment. If we don’t make an effort to keep goals in mind, we often forget them and move in the wrong direction.
Like companies, we often focus on the means of achieving a goal, rather than the goal itself. As a personal example, I am working on being a better writer. Writing is the input, but publishing is the output. I am writing a lot, but only publishing a small amount of what I have written. I am forcing myself to publish more. It is not about being efficient with inputs, it is about producing outputs.
The two largest traps I’ve found that cause me to forget the goal is having an unclear goal and getting distracted. Luckily, “The Goal” helps us find solutions to both problems.
How To Not Forget The Goal
First, understand what the goal is. Create a goal that you cannot forget. It should be clear to both yourself and the people around you. You cannot get somewhere if you don’t know where it is.
In “The Goal,” the company did not understand why they were losing money. Once they were forced to challenge their assumption of what their goal was (efficiency vs making money), they started to get back on track.
The challenging of basic assumptions is essential to breakthrough.
Second, remind yourself about what the goal is. Set reminders and reflect on progress. A good way to understand the path forward is to look backwards. Reflection helps make sure you are aiming in the right direction.
Keep your goal top of mind. We often get distracted by other information. Think about your goal, not the goals of the people around you. The goal of social media is to get you to spend more time on it, does that help you with your goal? Probably not. Cut information and effort towards things that don’t matter.
Third, create outputs that pursue the goal. In “The Goal,” they first moved away from productivity as the goal and refocused making money. They then found selling more products wasn’t the only way to make more money. Wasting fewer inputs and increasing the value of the outputs were also effective ways of pursuing the goal.
Everyone has the same amount of time in the day. Time is an input, spend it in a way that pursues the goal. Be aware of your awareness. The goal does not have to be work, it just has to be something that you want.
Finally, repeat. Great achievements come from repeating things for long periods. Most successful people have taken a long time to get to where they are. Nothing happens overnight. Processes grow and improve over time. Habits are processes that move you towards the goal. Habits will prevent you from forgetting.
Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.
Writing this post is a reminder to myself. As I’m writing, I think about what is important to me, what my inputs and outputs are, and ask myself “am I pursuing the goal?” I hope as you read it, you did the same.
What you notice on social media is that people copy each other a lot. We do this in all aspects of life, but within the constraints of social media, it is especially noticeable. Most social media gives you a format to do what you want with. We naturally copy each other.
Social networks want you to create content and stay on the platform. You want social networks to entertain you and raise your status. These incentives are connected. The more content you create, the more likely you create entertaining content. The more entertaining content you create (or watch), the more likely you will stick around. TikTok has succeeded here. They designed a platform that creates massive amounts of entertaining content. How have they done it?
Unlike other platforms, the entire content creation process happens within TikTok. More importantly, they have built copying into the platform itself. By combining these two features, TikTok created a dominant position in mobile video.
Making it Easy to Create Content
If you want to build a new user-generated content platform or social network then the content has to be extremely light. The content creation AND consumption need to happen within seconds, not minutes.
Alex Zhu (Former Head of TikTok)
It must be easy to create content for it to be easy to copy content.
Video has long been a medium with two sides of production. On one side, you have unedited video for social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. On the other, you have edited and produced as you see on YouTube and Twitch.
TikTok found a middle ground. It allows users to create lightly edited videos within the app. Much of the “editing” happens in reshooting. Videos are short enough that they can be reshot until it is right. Other features like timers, trimming, and effects (like green screen) are all built-in as well.
You don’t need anything except your phone to make content. No computer, no editing software, no fancy camera gear. Most content is shot with the front-facing camera.
Anyone can create content on TikTok without much effort. What you do or say is much more valuable than what your video looks like. The level of entertainment in your video isn’t driven by the quality of your editing or gear, it is driven by the quality of your content.
The built-in features make content creation easy, leading to large amounts of content being created, but content also has to be entertaining. Here is where TikTok innovates: they build copying into the platform itself.
Building Copying into the Creation Process
Creating entertaining content is hard. When you can film anything, what is entertaining? TikTok solves this by giving users templates to create entertaining content through the memes, trends, and sound on their platform.
Video is a powerful medium because it is information-dense. You can copy a dance or meme just by watching it. It is obvious that shorter videos are easier to copy, there are fewer variables. When on TikTok, you see memes repeated and understand the format. Future memes in that format will gain from your familiarity.
The creation process is tied to the viewing process. When you watch something entertaining and think “I have an idea,” it is two clicks to start filming your idea. No platform makes it easier.
One of the largest drivers of building familiarity is music and audio tracks. The audio provides a repeatable format for content. Similar to how memes on Reddit or Instagram use visual formats, TikTok uses audio. The difference is that Instagram and Reddit do not make making memes easy. You have to know the format, find a site to create the meme (or Photoshop it) then come back to the site and upload. When you click a sound on TikTok it shows all the videos created with that sound and provides a big button promoting creation.
Musical.ly (the predecessor to TikTok) uses music as a raw material. Music is not the end product. It’s a raw material. In contrast, the end product on Spotify, Pandora, etc. is music.
The most popular sounds have tens of thousands of videos. TikTok has made music the template. It turns out it is a very good one. We get music stuck in our head all the time, how often does a meme or image get stuck in your head? Not very often. TikTok songs have dominated the top music charts for the last 2 years (and you may have not even realized that).
TikTok adjusts its algorithm for you based on what you enjoy. Videos in familiar formats will show up over and over. This is possible because popular formats have lots of content in each. The combination of easy creation and copied formats leads to large amounts of personally entertaining content for you.
Culture of Copying
Copying people on other platforms is often looked down upon. You lose status if you copy too much. On TikTok, it is promoted, everyone does it. It is a natural assumption that you copy everyone and everyone copies you.
Other platforms focus on following people or accounts. TikTok focuses much more on trends and memes. If you like a video with a certain trend, you will likely see more videos from that trend in the future. Everyone’s TikTok experience consists of different videos grouped into trends and memes. That is only possible because copying creates lots of content in each trend.
Other platforms have accepted the idea of sharing. When you want to share someone else’s tweet, you retweet it. When you want to share someone else’s Facebook post, you share it. TikTok doesn’t allow this, which is intentional. Content on TikTok can be shared, but new content must be added on top to do it.
For example, TikTok has a feature called a duet which allows users to show their video next to a video already posted. Another feature allows creators to reply to comments as a standalone TikTok. You even see TikToks on top of other TikToks using the green screen feature.
Every feature on TikTok drives towards making more content, this turns users from passive consumers to active creators. Everyone copies, so you should too. Users that create content are always more valuable than users that only consume. TikTok does a better job at this than any other platform.
The Future of TikTok and Copying Content
TikTok focuses on creation rather than engagement. Other platforms assume experts and professionals create the best content. TikTok assumes that entertaining content can come from anywhere.
If content can come from anywhere, then everyone must have the ability to create. Expect to see platforms controlling more of the creation process and making it easier for everyone to create content. Stories is an example of this. Posts are polished, stories less so; therefore, people will post more stories.
TikTok makes it okay to hop on the bandwagon. They built a platform that acknowledges that new content is built from old content. Users want to copy each other, so let them. Anyone can be successful on TikTok by copying the people around them.
The structure of other platforms makes it difficult for them to compete. They depend on the idea that content deserves to be reshared rather than copied. Resharing isn’t copying, it isn’t creating something new. It is boosting someone else’s work. TikTok forces users to create new content whenever they want to interact with other content (trends, duets, comment replies).
TikTok has aligned incentives. It creates a massive amount of entertaining content in a way that no existing platform can copy. I expect it to have a dominant position in social media for many years to come.
Do you ever think about what would happen if a team replaced their star player with an average one? The team would obviously be worse off, but how much worse? In baseball, they created a stat for this. It is called WAR, wins above replacement. It measures a player’s contribution to their team in wins.
WAR offers an estimate to answer the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a freely available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?”
Baseball has obvious good and bad measures. Scoring is good, getting out is bad. It is also individual; one person pitches, and one person bats at a time. This makes it simpler to understand one player’s contribution to their team’s performance. Score more runs and you will help your team win more games.
An MVP caliber player contributes 6+ wins to their team per season. Mike Trout, last year’s AL MVP, had a WAR of 8.2. This means if he was replaced with a bench player, his team would have lost 8.2 more games over the year.
WAR is a measure of replaceability. The higher the WAR, the harder it is to replace a player. The players with the highest WAR are irreplaceable, teams will pay anything to acquire and keep them (sometimes that isn’t enough).
Not every task has as well defined measures as baseball. What about your life and career? WAR can still be a useful concept because it forces us to think about replaceability. We don’t just want to be above replacement, we want to be irreplaceable.
For nearly every job in the world, you could be replaced. Your company could hire someone else. You could spend your time doing something else. You can tell yourself the person they hire cannot be as good as you, but do you believe that? What makes you think it is true?
I’m sure you know people who couldn’t be replaced. They are core to an organization. Without them, nothing would work. The gap between them and the next best person is massive. They have made themselves irreplaceable.
To protect yourself from being replaced, you have to make yourself irreplaceable. Compare yourself to the replacement version of you. Aim to beat them as bad as possible.
Think about what makes someone irreplaceable. It comes from specific knowledge. Work only you could do. Business relationships only you have. Being irreplaceable means being unique.
If you can’t find something that makes you unique, find something you can do much better than other people. Know things other people don’t know. Create a valuable mix of skills. Know more about an organization. Be able to navigate the bureaucracy. Have a better network. There is always something you can do to make yourself more irreplaceable.
Being irreplaceable creates job security. No one gets rid of an MVP. If suddenly you are out of a job, you are competing against replacement-level performers. Show how you are better than the rest, and you’ll quickly find work. If you are irreplaceable in one organization, there is a good chance a competing organization would also want you.
Think about the measures that are important for you and compare them against replacement. Work towards what makes you more irreplaceable. Think about what an irreplaceable version of someone in your role and strive to be that person.
Remember: everyone can be replaced. You want the gap between you and a replacement to be as large as possible. Only you can make it happen.
This Could Be Our Future is a book about what we value. The author, Yancey Strickler, argues that society values the idea that every action should aim to maximize financial wealth. What he calls financial maximization. Financial considerations dominate the world, and we don’t know what the other options are.
Strickler gives many examples of financial maximization and how it impacts society. Arguments that you have heard before: healthcare, stock buybacks, CEO pay, movie sequels, and more. The critical area he doesn’t spend enough time on is why financial maximization exists. Financial maximization is exists because it is a legible measure of success.
Legibility is the idea that we can control and understand what is orderly. People in power want to bring order a naturally complex society. A legible system is able to be managed “efficiently” (used loosely) but, it is also more fragile.
“The state is not actually interested in the rich functional structure and complex behavior of the very organic entities that it governs (and indeed, is part of, rather than “above”). It merely views them as resources that must be organized in order to yield optimal returns according to a centralized, narrow, and strictly utilitarian logic.”
Money is the most legible way to tell if you are succeeding. People want your stuff, they give you money. You don’t have to understand why someone bought your product, only that they did. We know who is successful based on the amount of money they make. Other ways of understanding success are illegible. People who care about success are going to pursue money over everything else.
Strickler’s insights come from his success. Before writing the book, he was the CEO of Kickstarter. Kickstarter relies on creating things people didn’t know they wanted. Art from artists they liked but never had the chance to financially support. Innovative gadgets that traditional investors don’t see the potential in. Kickstarter helps makes illegible projects legible. It provides a structure for understanding illegible projects, and this is what Strickler believes our values need.
Strickler’s solution is called bentoism. The idea that we should not only focus on our “now me” values (like financial maximization), but our “now us,” “future me,” and “future us.” By thinking more about these categories we will create a better society.
Bentoism helps us understand less legible values. It makes our illegible values more legible. Doing this is as simple as writing down values in each of the categories and making decisions based off those values.
“We ‘measure what matters.’ Therefore, if we don’t measure it or can’t measure it, it must not matter. And values are not something we know how to consistently measure right now.”
It is difficult to understand values, but we know they exist. Almost no one can explain their full values if you asked, but they are revealed in actions, priorities, and interests. By creating structure, people are better able to understand their values and act on them.
With bentoism, more people focus on values other than financial maximization. They make different decisions when they take into account values such as community, tradition, mastery, sustainability, and knowledge. Organizations will follow. Many, like Patagonia and Tesla, already do.
There is a lot of value waiting to be understood and created apart from financial maximization. It starts with the realization of the hidden default of financial maximization many currently stuck on. We can then help people make their other values more legible.
It takes a long time to change the values of the world. Strickler cites that one generation (30 years) is about the fastest we can go. We don’t know where we are along the process of change.
Now seems like a time where values are especially in flux. Many people are realizing they value things other than commuting, spending all day in offices, and buying the latest gadget. Coronavirus is having a massive impact on small businesses who often have values other than financial maximization. It is unclear if financial maximization grows or shrinks as we make our way back to “normal.”
It is also difficult to get people to think about the future. Bentoism makes the future more legible. Right now, we care deeply about the “now me.” Strickler hopes that we will move up and to the right in the graph.
We are in a societal shift away from financial maximization. What values will replace it is something we have thirty(ish) years to figure out. It is an ongoing process without a right answer, but I recommend that you think about your values and the values you wish to see in the world moving forward.
You can learn more about bentoism and “build a bento” here. Let me know what you think on Twitter.
Life is better when you think of yourself as a curator. You are always curating. You curate your life, experiences, and knowledge. Being conscious of this opens the possibilities of creation and refinement.
Curation starts with taste. You know what you like and dislike. You know what you find interesting and what you pay attention to. Seeking things that suit your taste is natural. Taste is hard to explain, but guides your life without you realizing it.
By seeking things out, you curate. Curation, in its simplest form, is organizing and collecting based on taste. Your taste creates curated collections of memories, experiences, and knowledge. Some people are conscious of this, others are not. Exceptional people all share an exceptional ability to curate in their specialty.
Out of curation comes creation. You create information and experiences that suit your taste. You pattern match to your curation. In the beginning, everyone’s creations aren’t very good. People with taste know they aren’t very good, they’ve seen what good looks like. Creating something is the first step to creating something good.
Once you have created something, you refine it. You continue to improve all parts of the process. Refinement closes the gap between your creation and your taste. With enough attempts, you create something that matches your taste. Something that you can be proud of.
What you curate impacts your whole life. You are what you curate. The internet has unlimited content and can flood you with it if you aren’t careful. Take some time to think about the things you curate in your life. Do they match your taste? Could they improve?
It is important to know whether you are curating for yourself or someone else. If you are curating for someone else, your taste is lost. You can never know what other people’s tastes are. As soon as you guess, you lose your taste. The only way to be genuine to yourself is to curate for yourself, and only share when you are ready. When you are ready, share as much as possible to refine and narrow the gap between your creations and your taste.
You are always curating. This article is a curation of ideas I have found. By reading it, you have curated it in your mind. I hope you realized what you are consciously curating and how it is impacting what you create. Hopefully, it helps makes your curation and next creation a little better.
I want to know what you are curating and what you have created out of it. A career? A habit? A hobby? Let me know on Twitter or LinkedIn.
This video about Ira Glass on Taste is a big part of this piece.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
Acquire users from other platforms (requires massive marketing spend to start).
TikTok users create content.
Users view content and tune the algorithm.
Best videos brought to everyone’s attention (viral).
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.
Acquire users from other platforms (requires massive marketing spend to start).
TikTok users create content.
Users view content and tune the algorithm.
Best videos brought to everyone’s attention (viral).
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.
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