About the Microsoft and Walmart Acquiring TikTok Deal

The idea would be to help turn TikTok U.S. into more of an e-commerce app for creators and users, much like what TikTok parent company ByteDance does with a similar app in China.

Source: Microsoft working with Walmart on TikTok deal – Axios

One of the main reasons TikTok has taken off with influencers, soccer moms, niche businesses, and aspiring dance stars here in the US is that it “feels” like an indie app that isn’t owned by Facebook or Google.

TikTok very much has that Instagram feel from about 2013 (I remember when an 8th grader first showed Instagram to me and explained why it was so much better than Facebook or Twitter and wasn’t owned by a big company).

With the ongoing speculation that Oracle is somehow involved in the attempts to acquire TikTok from the Chinese company ByteDance at our current administration’s behest, the CEO resigning last night, and now the two COOLEST brands in the United States… Microsoft AND Walmart!… I just don’t see how TikTok retains that feeling. Especially if this odd consortium of mega-companies turns it into an “e-commerce app for creators and users.”

I think we’ll look back on this period a few years from now and use it as a cautionary tale for huge companies looking to make a play in a hot space.

Yes, there are some previous examples of successful transitions for creative-focused apps and services that kept the mojo after being gobbled up, such as when Google acquired YouTube for $1billion in the mid-2000’s. But then, Google wasn’t quite the behemoth it is now, and YouTube sorely needed the backing of a Google to stay on the web given the legal and logistical load it was rapidly taking on. But then consider services like Flickr or Tumblr that had a diehard communities before being subsumed into the Yahoo! debacle and mismanaged into oblivion.

All that to say, I don’t see how Oracle / Microsoft / Walmart pulls this off and pivots TikTok into a successful “Made in America!” platform while keeping the hotness of the app.

Rise of OnlyFans, Decline of Influencer Marketing

Interesting dynamics for the marketing world (something I’ve been arguing for since “influencer marketing” became a thing years ago) as we continue to see re-evaluations of things like Google Ads and social media marketing as well. The landscape is changing rapidly and I’ve been on a ton of strategy calls with clients lately trying to help them make sense of it all.

Contributing to the rise of OnlyFans is one harsh new reality: the “influencing era” is ending. Travel influencers can’t travel, lifestyle influencers can’t live lavishly, and fashion influencers aren’t being sent clothes without any place to wear them. The economic downturn has caused companies to dial back marketing budgets usually spent on sponsored content and, during a global disaster, followers are craving authenticity over “picture-perfect” life.

Source: OnlyFans, Influencers, and the Politics of Selling Nudes During a Pandemic

Facebook Launches Messenger Rooms to Go After ZOOM’s Market Boom

Interesting play that was pretty predictable. But I do wonder if Facebook’s presence with nonprofits, churches, and small businesses will mean that Messenger Rooms takes off on a steep path of adoption? I think it just might because so many people in those areas are “already on Facebook” and comfortable with the platform as opposed to say, ZOOM or Google Meet.

It should be interesting to watch the adoption curve…

Of everything announced today, Messenger Rooms promises to be the most significant. The feature, which Facebook says will be available in the company’s products globally sometime in the next few weeks, will allow up to 50 people to join a call. The room’s creator can decide whether it’s open to all or lock it to prevent uninvited guests from joining. You’ll be able to start a room from Messenger and Facebook to start. Later, rooms will come to Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Portal. Guests can join a room regardless of whether they have a Facebook account.

Source: Messenger Rooms are Facebook’s answer to Zoom and Houseparty for the pandemic – The Verge

Google Slashing Marketing Budget

Read the tea leaves, folks. Things aren’t “re-opening” anytime soon. This is a long term situation and those at the top of the food chain are very much aware of the coming choppy waters…

Google is slashing its marketing budgets by as much as half for the second half of the year, according to internal materials viewed by CNBC.

Source: Google to cut marketing budgets, hiring freeze expected

When companies like Google start slashing marketing budgets, it’s a direct pointer to the tightening of belts and awareness of bad things ahead.

Buckle up.

Google’s Ads Updates in Search Results

We manage a number of Google Ads campaigns for clients. We’ve definitely noticed an uptick in desktop CTR’s since the updates (same as what happened with mobile last year). But a Google Ads campaign is only as good as the conversions it drives. If the quality tanks b/c of more junk clicks, ad spends will go elsewhere. All that to say, I don’t view this as cynically as the article here states:

Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.

Source: Google’s ads just look like search results now – The Verge

YouTube and “Reinforcing” Psychologies

“The new A.I., known as Reinforce, was a kind of long-term addiction machine. It was designed to maximize users’ engagement over time by predicting which recommendations would expand their tastes and get them to watch not just one more video but many more.

Reinforce was a huge success. In a talk at an A.I. conference in February, Minmin Chen, a Google Brain researcher, said it was YouTube’s most successful launch in two years. Sitewide views increased by nearly 1 percent, she said — a gain that, at YouTube’s scale, could amount to millions more hours of daily watch time and millions more dollars in advertising revenue per year. She added that the new algorithm was already starting to alter users’ behavior.

“We can really lead the users toward a different state, versus recommending content that is familiar,” Ms. Chen said.”

via “The Making of a YouTube Radical” by Kevin Roose in the New York Times

The Sublime and Silicon Valley

The sublime—whether a feature of the natural world, or of UFOs, or of religious experience—is a sense of our own vanishing smallness before something impossibly vast: a mountain range, a churning ocean, the universe, God. What we get in return for being so existentially demeaned is freedom from the tyranny of our own personalities, a sort of liberating oblivion. But data-extracting platforms don’t sublimate our personalities; they multiply and magnify them. And the Data Sublime, far from making the internet feel thrillingly big, has conspired to make it feel smaller, claustrophobic, and profoundly boring. As Facebook and Google metastasize, the more interesting destinations on the internet are dying off; recent sweeping media layoffs were also largely the result of Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s stranglehold on advertising revenue. The sublime promises a sort of redemptive immensity, but Silicon Valley strives to compress all of digital experience into a single, monotonous feed, mainlining capital into the pockets of billionaires.

— Read on thebaffler.com/latest/close-encounters-of-the-tech-kind-harnett

The Apps You Should Really Be Concerned About with Your Privacy

After examining maps showing the locations extracted by their apps, Ms. Lee, the nurse, and Ms. Magrin, the teacher, immediately limited what data those apps could get. Ms. Lee said she told the other operating-room nurses to do the same.“I went through all their phones and just told them: ‘You have to turn this off. You have to delete this,’” Ms. Lee said. “Nobody knew.”

Source: Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret – The New York Times

Everyone is afraid of what Google and Facebook “know” about them and how much information they’re sharing with these services because of poor media coverage.

While those two services need to be investigated and questioned, it’s the “bottom half” of the advertising industry connected to seemingly innocent apps that you install on your mobile device to give you the weather or locations of gas or local sports scores that are really the most alarming in how they treat your personal location data.

Good report here by the NY Times (we need more of this type of journalism in the tech-sphere).

Will the internet split in two?

Not to mention the impact that artificial intelligence will have on the web and our daily lives within the next decade (which China is investing in much more heavily than the US Government)…

Speaking at a private event hosted by Village Global VC yesterday night, tech luminary and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that the internet will bifurcate into Chinese-led and US-led versions within the next decade.

— Read on www.cnbc.com/2018/09/20/eric-schmidt-ex-google-ceo-predicts-internet-split-china.html

Do Facebook Ads Really Work?

Within the advertising industry, the debate about whether advertising works on Facebook is not new. A survey last year showed over 60 percent of small business owners felt advertising on Facebook was ineffective. The lawsuit takes it a step further, saying Facebook is misleading advertisers.

Source: Does Facebook Really Work? People Question Effectiveness Of Ads : NPR

Like anything else, you do need some expertise to make Facebook or Instagram or Snap or Google or Pinterest ads work. We are finishing a period where these advertising companies have held that “ANYONE CAN DO IT! IT’S SO EASY! JUST SIGN UP AND TELL US WHO YOU WANT TO TARGET!” with regards to their ads and effectiveness.

But that’s simply not true. I could probably re-roof our home. But I’m not going to spend the time, effort, and money trying to do that job myself. I’m going to hire someone who knows what they are doing.

Same with social media advertising and marketing. That’s how I pay our mortgage (and for our new roof) every month!

Links Are (Still) Dead

I first wrote that “Links Are Dead” in 2006, and pretty much got shouted out of the blogosphere. I kept up the mantra over the years. Looks like Google agrees with me now…

But over time, URLs have gotten more and more difficult to read and understand. As web functionality has expanded, URLs have increasingly become unintelligible strings of gibberish combining components from third-parties or being masked by link shorteners and redirect schemes. And on mobile devices there isn’t room to display much of a URL at all.

Via “Google Wants to Kill the URL” – Wired

Harrelson Agency and Google’s New Responsive Search Ads

At Harrelson Agency, we manage a number of Google Ads campaigns (formerly AdWords as of July 24, 2018) for clients. Simply put, there’s really no better way to drive web traffic to a site or a landing page regardless of your budget, size, or goal. Whether you’re selling stuff, raising awareness, or trying to get more people into the door of your business or church, there’s a clear return on investment for a well-run Google Ads campaign.

We’ve been writing, tweaking, and managing these ads for years. I often tell clients its part science and part art to make everything work correctly. That may change a little after today…

Consumers today are more curious, more demanding, and they expect to get things done faster because of mobile. As a result, they expect your ads to be helpful and personalized. Doing this isn’t easy, especially at scale. That’s why we’re introducing responsive search ads. Responsive search ads combine your creativity with the power of Google’s machine learning to help you deliver relevant, valuable ads.

Simply provide up to 15 headlines and 4 description lines, and Google will do the rest. By testing different combinations, Google learns which ad creative performs best for any search query. So people searching for the same thing might see different ads based on context.

Via Google Ads Blog

Google is rolling out its new “responsive search ads” from beta today, and it does have the potential to reshape a number of processes that marketers like us use for ad campaigns. I doubt that we’ll give up on the fun whiteboard sessions where we throw ideas into the open that produce the basis for most of our managed campaigns, and I’m sure I’ll still have those “shower moment” epiphanies where the perfect headline text pops into my mind as I’m applying shampoo, but I am excited about what this could mean for our clients.

There’s no doubt in my mind that a great deal of the processes we use to build websites or manage Ads campaigns on Google and Facebook or to create memorable billboard taglines or to even write strategic plan documents will be automated and “responsive” as Google says in the coming decade. That’s why I’m betting Harrelson Agency’s future on the future and making sure that I’m staying on top of everything AI and blockchain and machine learning and augmented reality that I can.

We’ve already seen the decimation of the website development industry at the hands of democratizing creative tools like Squarespace and Weebly and Wix (as much as I dislike their pedestrian designs…). We’ll continue to see the same in other areas of marketing and advertising.

It’s worth my time to think ahead both for my clients’ bottom lines as well as Harrelson Agency’s future.

Overwriting Monuments with AR

I do think augmented reality and voice-first computing (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant etc) will get us out behind computer screens and keyboards and into the “real” world. What “real” means is subjective, and that will only intensify in the coming decades as computing comes full circle to being something that we naturally do with our voices and thoughts and without the need for a keyboard and mouse.

Now we just need a good pair of AR glasses from Apple or Google or some startup we haven’t heard of yet that’s working hard in a garage to change the world…

Last year, Movers and Shakers assembled a team of coders, artists and designers who use augmented reality technology to do their work. Their goal was circumvent the city’s decision by replacing the statue and similar monuments with digital ones of other historical figures — namely, people of color and women. “I think we have an opportunity to harness the storytelling capabilities of this technology,” said Glenn Cantave, founder and lead organizer, when explaining the group’s motivations. “Who’s going to own our narrative?”

— Read on theoutline.com/post/5123/movers-and-shakers-digital-sculptures-new-york-city

Google To Start Marking Sites Without HTTPS as Not Secure in July

If your nonprofit, church, or business website isn’t https:// with a reputable SSL certificate, Google’s Chrome browser update will start showing a warning message when visitors arrive. This will affect your site’s trustworthiness.

Get in touch if you need help or what to know more. You can also read a great take (and much needed insight) on this from blogging and podcasting visionary Dave Winer here.

For the past several years, we’ve moved toward a more secure web by strongly advocating that sites adopt HTTPS encryption. And within the last year, we’ve also helped users understand that HTTP sites are not secure by gradually marking a larger subset of HTTP pages as “not secure”. Beginning in July 2018 with the release of Chrome 68, Chrome will mark all HTTP sites as “not secure”.

— Read on security.googleblog.com/2018/02/a-secure-web-is-here-to-stay.html

Your Domain and Your Home Address

I often shock potential small business or nonprofit clients by knowing their home address or cell phone number during our first or second call. It’s easy if they have already purchased a domain. I don’t do it as a scare tactic, but as an educational moment about the need to plan ahead and think through security issues.

By the time someone or a business or group has come to me with an idea for a new website or marketing strategy needs, they’ve purchased or at least thought about a domain name. There are copious services out there that will sell you a domain for a range of prices. GoDaddy is perhaps the most popular due to its marketing over the years. Unfortunately, GoDaddy has a reputation in the tech world of being the Monarch of UpSells. You can go there to buy a domain but you have to wade through the other options of website hosting, email addresses, security services, and a fee to protect your domain name privacy.

That last one is something that has irked me for a while about GoDaddy and similar domain name sellers (including Google) that don’t offer free domain privacy and private registration. Again, many of my clients are shocked when they find out their home addresses are now public records tied to their great idea for a domain or their business’ domain.

Before private individuals started buying domains and GoDaddy / Squarespace / Wix / Weebly (all who will sell you a domain) started marketing how “easy” it is to build a website, it made sense that domain information would and should be public. Most domains were bought by agencies or companies tied to specific interests. However, that has all changed and domains should include domain privacy when purchased in 2018.

People are more and more becoming interested in privacy and security matters, and this only makes sense for everyone. Stop upselling it.

Good move from Namecheap.

When you register a domain, ICANN requires registrars to provide them with your contact information (such as name, email, address, and phone number). This is then added to the Whois database. This database lists the owners of every domain name online, and it can be searched by anyone on the Internet.

— Read on www.namecheap.com/security/whoisguard.aspx

Faster horses

I don’t know… this feels a little like Henry Ford’s “if I had asked what people wanted, they would have said a faster horse” approach to utilizing tech to save humans time…

Like Google, we envision a future that’s based on collaboration between humans and machines. Where we seem to differ is that we believe a human handoff is essential when initiating a conversation between an AI assistant and a human. This human acknowledgement of AI preserves the human to human relationships and makes resuming the non transactional parts of the conversation much more natural. With their policy reversal, it sounds like Google has realized that you need to at least let people know they’re interacting with AI.

SEO for beginners free course

Here’s a free and good course on SEO basics. Whether you’re a business, church or nonprofit, you should have some basic understandings of what SEO means to your website and how just a few tweaks can really make a big difference.

I went through most of the course and there’s some good info here, especially for beginners:

– Get quick wins to make your site rank higher in Google, Bing or Yahoo
– Have a solid basic understanding of search engine optimization and how search engines work

— Read on yoast.com/academy/course/free-seo-course-seo-for-beginners/

Most People Don’t Want Privacy

The broader question is the tradeoff between privacy and advertising. While a tempting noun, most people don’t really *want* privacy, let alone understand what that means. It’s definitely not an unattainable goal, but it does require work… which is something many of our fellow citizens are reluctant to pursue when it comes to such technological conditions.

Third, Google and Facebook’s advertising advantage, already massive, is going to become overwhelming. Both companies generate the majority of their user data on their own platforms, which is to say their data collection and advertising business are integrated. Most of their competitors for digital advertising, on the other hand, are modular: some companies collect data, and other collect ads; such a model, in a society demanding ever more privacy, will be increasingly untenable.

Source: Open, Closed, and Privacy – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

10 most downloaded iPhone apps in the world

It might be surprising to Americans, but neither Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube is the most downloaded app on the iPhone anymore. As we continue to move into the 21st Century, we’re seeing the rise of Chinese apps and companies. This will only escalate in the coming years, especially as the US seems more preoccupied with tribalistic policies.

“Known as Douyin in China, Tik Tok is a music video and social media app. The app lets you shoot and edit short clips, then add music and special effects to them. Tik Tok is owned by the same parent company that bought social video app Musical.ly for $1 billion last year”

Facebook-owned apps dominated the App Store charts during the first three months of the year, but a Chinese-made music video app called Tik Tok took first place – Business Insider