MarTech and AdTech News Headlines Update on June 30, 2021

How do you write an effective blog?

When it comes to content marketing, most strategy suggestions are: start with a blog. This is all well and good but how do you write a good, or great, blog? Generally, the rule is to write about what you know to stay authentic and interesting to your audience.

Why blogs matter

In a pandemic period of nearly virtual everything, online content is of vital importance. Audiences are actively looking online for content and while video is the primary form of marketing media, it’s closely followed by blogging.

Proven blogging results

Not everyone has the resources to create a video, meaning blogging can be a simple alternative. It can also be lucrative. The average blog has been found to drive 6% of e-commerce revenue, a figure that jumps to 12% for brands that blog regularly for 6 months or longer.

Pinterest growth

Investors are becoming increasingly interested in the social image sharing platform, Pinterest. Shares have been up 13% on the back of year-over-year revenue growth of 78%. Pinterest management predicts this figure to grow to 105%.

It’s not just investors

Brands are also taking notice of Pinterest, especially its content creators. L’Oréal USA’s latest digital campaign will leverage their creativity. 20 Pinterest creators will produce beauty tutorials for the platform’s short-form video tool, Idea Pins.

Pinterest trends

Pinterest’s latest research report has targeted some changing consumer trends during vaccine-roll out. The new personas they’ve found focus on wellbeing, family bonds, the environment, and budding entrepreneurs, and open new marketing options.

Another metric bites the dust

Apple alarmed many email marketers last week when it announced its Mail Privacy Protection at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference. Essentially, the feature blocks tracking pixels so the sender won’t know if the email has been opened by Apple Mail users.

Just a vanity metric?

Many have argued the open rate was always a vanity metric with too much emphasis placed on it. What the metric really tells you could also encompass the fact that a user opened and took a quick glance. Click-through and unsubscribe rates tell you a lot more about how your content rate actually resonates with your audience.

The death of email marketing?

Not at all. The change only affects Apple Mail. The Gmail app on an Apple device will still allow open rate tracking. But don’t bet on that lasting. Apple knows consumers have privacy concerns and is offering a point of difference from the other tech giants. As we move forward, marketers will need to focus on not just the right metrics but the right message.

Can content overshadow product?

The Peleton is a home exercise bike that connects the user to live and on-demand workouts. It’s also a brand that is probably better known for the content it produces than the actual product it sells.

The importance of interaction

While you still need to be selling a decent product or service, just pushing the brand message is becoming increasingly irrelevant to consumers. Interacting with the audience via different types of content and channels is likely to yield better results.

Marketing is media

Many brands are embracing content in a big way. Venture firm Andreessen Horowitz recently launched its own media property called Future. The aim is to publish content that doesn’t yet exist in the market, creating a brand with a product and content focus.

Make ’em laugh

Something funny is generally something memorable. So to get customers to engage with and remember your brand, tell them a joke. How do you do this without coming off corny or offensive?

I’m on a horse

Humour can revitalise a brand. 12 years on, the Old Spice commercial is still funny but more importantly it doubled the sales of a product largely associated with old men. Today, the commercial’s YouTube views are pushing 60 million and growing.

Sometimes life isn’t funny

Things like a global pandemic and lockdown aren’t necessarily funny. But, it’s during these situations some consumers need a laugh. A report by GlobalWebIndex found consumers were searching for funny content. For brands, you just need to get the tone right.

Journalists and content marketing

When journalists enter the marketing sector, the standard joke is they’ve joined the “dark side”. The truth is the skills journalists bring to content marketing are a blessing to the industry (trust us, we know). Research, storytelling, questioning and understanding the audience.

Why are journalists leaving?

As the advertising dollars moved away from media organisations, working conditions changed. Journalists experienced a decrease in work-life balance, pay and appreciation of the profession, as well as an increase in the commercialisation of news. So they quit.

Shared goals

Ultimately, the professional goal of the journalist and content marketer is the same. Publish content that informs, inspires and engages the audience. Maybe a little newsroom urgency could help the marketing side though?

Live or pre-record?

For better or worse, virtual events and webinars, are here to stay. While the technology behind digital events has improved production values and engagement levels, hosts still have to decide on one thing — will it be live or pre-recorded?

Why it matters

Even after lockdowns are lifted (and that is still a long way off) virtual events will remain. From a business perspective, they’re a more cost-effective way to reach a larger audience. And from an audience perspective, the events they can attend aren’t dictated by geography.

A hybrid approach

The future for events will probably be a mixture of real-life and digital attendance. The big event platforms are betting on it. Zoom Events is designed for single events that cater to both in-person and virtual attendees.

B2B vs B2C marketing

B2B and B2C marketing generally have the same goal — they want to make the brand top of mind when it comes to purchasing decisions. The difference lies in the strategies each of these sectors uses to reach this goal. For B2B, a creative content marketing approach is bound to more effective than a slogan that sticks in your head.

Is B2B boring?

Many consider B2B marketing as something boring that can become engaging if you make it funny or emotive. The truth is B2B is about stories highlighting “conflict, challenge, failure, opportunity, victory” that make the messaging more engaging.

Leveraging employee engagement

What B2B marketers overlook is authentic stories often come from within. Engaged employees on social media can act as brand advocates, pushing stories of conflict, challenge and victory in a way B2C strategies can’t.

TRENDS

Something strange is happening in U.S. media. Newsroom jobs are coming back. The economy didn’t collapse, the sky didn’t fall, and events are returning.

Annual U.S. media job losses. 2008 to 2021; 2021 losses are through May. Data: Challenger, Gray & Christmas; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Netflix is already great at getting you to blow your weeknights bingeing on its content. But the real catch could come with its direct-to-consumer retail play to get you to buy some TV show merch. Bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s 2021 and IP = product.

VC firm Andreessen Horowitz launched Future, a content site to push back on what it believes is an excessively negative view of the industry. Call it PR. Many tech journos are seething. Here’s what it looks like.

Sony Music Entertainment acquired Somethin’ Else, the UK’s biggest independent podcast producer. Terms weren’t disclosed. It wasn’t for the content — SME wanted the company’s top execs to drive its global podcast business.

DESIGN FOR COMMUNITY

Herne Katha, the mighty web video series about people in Nepal that publishes every two weeks, just reached 500,000 subscribers. Kamal, one of the co-founders, sent me this message: “Namaskar Rishad. Herne Katha is reaching 500k subscribers in a few days. We would like to create 500k dots in a single image to say thank you to them. How could that be possible? 🤔”, I was late in responding. When I followed up a few days later, he sent me this delightful message: “Hey Rishad, we ended up with this design. i typed the dots in Pages counted the characters and exported the file into Photoshop. it says “There are 500K dots in this image, you are one of them… thank you for this uncountable love” Such a beautiful idea, and such great execution. Kamal — sometimes the last thing you need for great design is a designer. See what he did here.

Google is going woke and I love it. If you type “chairman” into a Google Doc, it’ll recommend “chairperson”. “Mailman” will suggest “mail carrier”. I know — you’re rolling your eyes a bit, but I think that if our tools help us be more sensitive and inclusive in the ways we communicate, what’s not to love? The feature is rolling out in bits, and it hasn’t hit my Workspace yet.

How do design books get made? There’s the old way, where a publisher or an agent reads through thousands of pitches, commissions one with an advance, and handles the marketing and events, and hopes for the best sales. Then there’s Volume, a Thames & Hudson imprint, who crowd-funds with hyper-specific audiences to create books that people actually want. People have raised funding for art and design books on Kickstarter for ages, so it’s an old indie model. But this may be the first time a major imprint like Thames & Hudson is working the niche crowdfunding funnel exclusively for design book projects. And Volume can function as a lean startup with quick decision-making and processes, but with the weight of a giant publisher behind them with all the relationships, network, research, and distribution muscle that comes with it. So many lessons here for legacy news companies.

PRINT DESIGN

Kindling, a new magazine for “people with children”, looks amazing. The segmenting is clever: to distinguish “people with children” from “parents” speaks to a very different mindset and sensibility. The publication is designed to speak to kids, but is targeted mostly at the people who take care of them. The visual design takes a “a kind of naive and slightly DIY approach.” Acknowledging that caring for your kids can be a lens through which you view your life rather than something that defines you is a nuanced, but important, point to make. This makes even more sense in the pandemic, where families have been thrown together in unfamiliar formats and for unfamiliar lengths of time. But I’m not a parent. I wanted to show you Kindling’s illustrations, story layouts, photography, and typography — it’s easy, messy-but-not-patronising, and happy in a sort of real, un-precious way. This is really good work.

EMAIL CAN BE A WORLD OF GLITCH SOMETIMES

When HBO sent out a mystifying test email with the subject line “Integration Test Email # 1”, to some HBO Max subscribers, the internet had fun with it. A lot of fun. “HBO Max keeps hitting with these exciting shows! I can’t wait to watch Integration Test Email !!!!” It turns out it was an intern; HBO said “No, really. And we’re helping them through it. ❤️” But hey, email glitchery happens to all of us. I once scheduled one of our newsletters to go out at 7 pm instead of 7 am. What’s your embarrassing email moment? Tell me by replying to this email.

NEWSLETTER

The email open rate — the primary metric for newsletter folks like us — is in trouble. Apple is rolling out something it calls the Mail Privacy Protection, a little something that “helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location”.

The problem is the majority of newsletters, including this one, carries a little pixel that fires the moment the email is opened. This allows us to figure out if you actually opened the newsletter, which is useful in helping us understand if this is indeed something that’s useful for you. (We typically get a 45-50% open rate, so thank you!)

Still, this upcoming change may actually not affect us all that much since it’s really for folks that 1) are on iPhones and 2) read their emails on the Apple Mail app on the iPhone. Thankfully, 81% of you read this on your desktop, and overwhelmingly on Gmail.

But for the rest of the newslettering industry, this could be a massive hit for those who are overweighted on Apple Mail readers. My worry is that other mail apps will follow suit.

Ben Thompson launched Passport. When he unleashed Stratechery’s Daily Update, the granddaddy of paid newsletters, seven years ago on a ready-to-pay audience, there were no Substack-like tools for people in the independent subscription business. So he built a daisy chain of digital services for sign-up, paywall, payment, and CRM. Now he’s built Passport, a tool to integrate all of that — enterprise software for creators. Here are the broad headlines:

  • Creators using Passport have “the ability to fully customize a website to a powerful templating system to single sign-on capabilities.”
  • It enables a smoother experience for users, including a more personalised experience: all of their content — podcasts, RSS, email — is customised, accessible, and seamlessly integrated. This is the dream: one-to-one creator-to-user communication at scale.
  • There’s also exciting stuff like Passport-to-Passport add-ons and cross-promotion, which means that two completely different Passport-powered businesses can sell subscriptions to each other’s products, which is EXACTLY the network effect that the creator economy and audience needs.
    Passport isn’t a subscription management service. It’s flexible in that it can work with any subscription management service — Stratechery uses Stripe Billing, but you wouldn’t have to give up your newsroom’s existing service to use it.
  • Passport also has a fully featured experience for free members, so your publication doesn’t have to be subscription-based to use it, but allows for your free members to have a seamless transition to paid membership.

Ghost seems to be getting a bit of attention for luring writers off Substack. The latter has pissed off a number of independent journalists who disagree with the company’s moderation policies. So Ghost has been trying to get them to switch, but the comparison isn’t that straightforward.

Facebook is set to launch its Substack rival Bulletin later this month. It’s started recruiting writers — but it’s also avoiding political types that have caused Substack so much trouble.

Newsletters were supposed to do away with the gatekeepers of media. Thanks, Gmail. The newsletter economy means we could cut out the printing presses, the editors, the distribution networks, the channels and licensing, and the social media algorithms. But there’s one last thorn in our collective sides: Gmail’s Promotions folder, “a sort of liminal purgatory into which the mailbox platform casts emails too bad for the inbox and too good for the spam folder.” Most of our readers are Gmailers. I mean, you can disable the sorting algorithm but it’s turned on by default. So Alex, does this newsletter come to your inbox or does it go straight to your Promotions folder?

TRANSFORMATION

In a big step forward, the AP will no longer name suspects involved in minor crime stories. “Usually, we don’t follow up with coverage about the outcome of the cases. We may not know if the charges were later dropped or reduced, as they often are, or if the suspect was later acquitted.” These stories — which often equate arrests as crimes themselves — have long lives on the internet.

News Corp wrote down the value of its London Sun newspaper to zero. In other words, the Sun is worthless. This perhaps the most important indication yet of the collapse of the UK newspaper industry. The Sun was the country’s biggest newspaper for decades, delivering both gossip and right-wing political coverage.

Media development work is undergoing a massive transformation this year. The pandemic has changed strategies at donors and has imposed new drivers of change. “[We need to] join up and collaborate, as much as we ask journalists to collaborate for efficiency. The donor community needs to be more collaborative as well.” (H/t Ross)

PLATFORMS

Spotify launched its Clubhouse competitor. Greenroom, a standalone app on iOS and Android, is the company’s first real stab at creating a social media network. As you’d expect, Greenroom will allow you to host live conversations — but here’s the magic: you can quickly turn those convos into podcasts when you’re done. It’s 2021 and everything is a live audio app.

Spotify also announced a fund to get U.S. creators publishing on Greenroom.We want creators to be rewarded for the communities they build, the audiences they reach, and the experiences they create from the very start.” It’s 2021 and everyone has a fund to get you to publish on their platform.

Facebook is finally getting podcasts. From next week, hosts will be able to link their RSS feeds up to FB, which will automatically create News Feed posts for all episodes. Unfortunately, these will apparently be buried in a “podcasts” tab.

But hey, read that comma-filled Terms of Service:

You grant Facebook the non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide right to use, market, promote, advertise, display, reproduce, create derivative works of, cache, transmit, distribute, make available (including via stream and download), store, sublicense and publicly perform/communicate to the public the Podcast(s) (or portion(s) thereof) and related materials, including, without limitation: sound recordings, musical compositions and any other content embodied in the Podcast(s); cover art, artwork, graphics, and written work containing text and/or images associated with a particular Podcast; the names, likenesses, images, trademarks, logos, biographical materials and other identifying materials associated with the applicable podcaster; other information relating to authorship, production and performances of the Podcast(s); and all metadata associated with the Podcast(s), such as Podcast name, host name, episode name, and/or names of participants in applicable Podcast episodes (collectively, the “Podcast Content”).

This is really interesting and it’s something that newsrooms should be thinking about as well. Facebook wants to know: When is it ok to divulge someone’s residential information? That’s such a complex question that it’s asked its Oversight Board to weigh in.

“Select a Plan to buy Facebook Post Likes”. Shady AF. Sophie Zhang, a former FB employee and now whistleblower, explains how fake engagement is created and how that’s shaped disinformation.

Twitter is trying out a way for you to “un-mention” yourself. Sometimes you just need to extract yourself from a thread that just went toxic.

Everyone with a Google account now has access to Workspace. That means a whole bunch of upgraded chat features, including chat rooms, direct messaging, and some kind of “smart canvas”. It all very confusing. But that means Google now has an even bigger addressable market of 3 billion people.

Facebook will no longer take down posts claiming that Covid-19 was man-made. Washington is seeking a proper investigation into the origins of the virus, so discussions around the theme of Covid-came-from-a-Wuhan-lab are no longer just another fringe conspiracy theory.

Twitter launched a local weather news service called Tomorrow. It’s working with local meteorologists and climate writers to produce newsletters (on the recently acquired Revue platform) and articles.

Twitter is adding full-screen ads to Fleets. The ephemeral tweet feature (a clone of Stories) is apparently so engaging that the company now believes it can make some money off it.

Substack is building out its international footprint. It’s going to start hiring more people as part of this push, according to Axios. “Where there’s an audience of people hungry enough for quality coverage and information that’s willing to pay then this model can work.”

Media journo Simon Owens pulled the plug on Medium. Despite having 12,900 followers, Owens realised what many have long suspected about Medium — the platform does practically nothing for network effects; most of his traffic was from outside Medium. Monetisation is poor as well. “If I add just 10 paying subscribers to my Substack newsletter, I generate more money in a single month than I did on Medium over the last year.”

Here’s an idea that a publisher should steal. Spotify now has data-driven personalised playlists that you can share with your friends. Two friends can also automatically merge their musical tastes into a single playlist. Could be an interesting idea for news articles.

Discord started out as a place for gamers to hang out and chat. Much has changed — 80% of users are now using it for non-gaming stuff. Now Discord has a new campaign to — get this — set itself up as an anti-Facebook space.

It’s almost funny that Facebook blurted this out. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri says they’re pushing offline transactions between creators and companies to help them skirt Apple’s 30% tax on in-app purchases. The Apple-30 is now everyone’s opportunity.

Apple Podcasts will finally launch in-app subscriptions next week. The upgrade has had all sorts of problems — delayed podcasts, messed up analytics, and lost artwork.

Who would have thought that a config change at a CDN that you may never have heard of could bring down the global internet? News outlets CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times, BBC and Financial Times (and pretty much everything else out there), went down for almost an hour — and all because one user decided to update their settings.

OPPORTUNITIES

This is what paying-it-forward looks like in this community. Kirsten Han, who writes the We, The Citizens newsletter, is offering journalists or “people who have interest in writing” support and advice around story ideas, pitches, and editing. Kirsten will be talking about this mini-mentorship program on our weekly Splice Lo-Fi audio room today (four hours from when this email lands in your inbox).

Facebook is looking for someone who can guide the development of content policies in Asia. That means thinking up guidelines on what people can post, what they can advertise, and what they can monetise. This is an incredibly important job when it comes to speech in this region. The role is based in Singapore.

Global Investigative Journalism Network has an advisory program for watchdog media outlets in Asia. They’re offering a free assessment of your organisation, as well as advice for priority areas for support.

ADVERTISING

You don’t like ads. I don’t like ads. I mean, look at that Splice Lo-Fi ad right above sitting bang in the middle of this newsletter — ads get in the way. Also, 96% of consumers don’t trust ads, and 45% say they don’t notice them online. “Consumers aren’t the only ones suffering; brands are victims too.” But what’s the alternative to Big Ad and the advertising industrial complex? Open-source ads aligned with creators— a system that’s based on intention rather than interruption — and these guys at Unsplash have an idea. It’s all a bit sales-y, because it’s promoting their business model of being the free, permissionless image machine that the entire web uses, but for good reason. “Less invasion, more opt-in. Less friction, more freedom. Less buying attention, more earning it.” Good for creators, good for brands, and good for consumers. See how that works here.

THE TIPPING ECONOMY

We should pay for good work. This includes services, products, and the spectrum of content in between. This makes tipping on media platforms an amazing feature. But tipping that seeks to compensate for a broken system of underpaying creators by outsourcing the burden to the whim of the consumer is evil. We’re looking at you, Spotify. Like most platforms, you launched a tip jar, but you’re paying artists a per-stream rate of around $0.50. (Reminds you of another broken system of compensation? That’s right — the U.S. restaurant business, famous for underpaying its workers enough to pervert the concept of tipping, which is usually discretionary in most cultures, into a codified expectation around worker remuneration that they outsource to their customers.) Meanwhile, Snapchat recently paid a woman half a million dollars for a video of someone deep-frying a turkey.

PRODUCT

Is Clubhouse the next Foursquare? Jessica Lessin at The Information says the service, though cool and exclusive (you still need to be invited!), is increasingly irrelevant to her. “With everything else going on, I have struggled to find the time and reason to pop in there regularly, and when I do it feels like there’s little I want to listen to.” There’s still one card left to play, I think. If Clubhouse can get its creator monetisation right — ie. create stronger revenue opportunities — it’ll have a better chance of standing out.

Facebook wants to get ads into the Oculus Quest VR headset. They’re calling it a test. But hey buddy, lemme tell ya — ads suck, regardless of whether it’s a banner or an immersive virtual experience.

Twitter rolled out Super Follows. Approved creators get to offer subscriber-only content for $3, $5, or $10 per month. But you’ll need 10,000 followers to start. Twitter takes a 3% cut after in-app purchase fees. The question is: Would you pay to look at someone’s tweets?

Some people have been taking screenshots of their tweets and then posting them onto Instagram Stories. So Twitter now allows you to share Tweets directly to IG.

Kuaishou, which competes with TikTok in China, says it’s crossed the 1 billion MAU mark. It picked up more users after pushing forward on its Southeast Asia and South America expansion plans. This is a big milestone for the short-video company which is closing in on TikTok’s 1.2 million MAU.

Douyin launched a web version of its short video service. It feels a lot like YouTube and focuses on horizontal-format videos.

Netflix India won’t release Record of Ragnarok, an anime series that features the Hindu deity Shiva. This isn’t the first time that the company has pulled back on a release in India.

Koo is the government-friendly Twitter alternative in India. It’s also a favourite platform for the country’s populist right wing. Think Parler for India and you can imagine where all of this is headed.

The Reuters Institute is dropping its Digital News Report 2021 today. This beautiful beast is the most valuable annual media report out there. Most decisions you take about your media biz will be best served after you study it. This year’s report will cover 46 countries, with six new ones: India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Colombia, and Peru.

Speaking of reports, how are creators doing? Here’s a state-of-independent-work report by Li Jin (who also claims to have invented the term ‘passion economy’). They “surveyed over 10,000 independent workers in design, engineering, product, writing, content marketing & social media on the what, how, and why of their work.” Here’s the thing: The report has mostly zero surprises (“What time of day do you typically work? 78% of respondents typically work during the first half of the day.”), the website is a bit of a confetti-ridden mess, and the entire exercise is some sort of content marketing blitz for some entity built around independent creators, but I really like that this report exists. It’s an important step towards measuring the size, value, and growth of this creator economy.

Archives as product. CNN is getting into the NFT space with a new product called Vault. You can now buy “moments” from CNN’s four-decade history in covering major world events.

I just discovered this essay-on-demand-as-a-service bit of sparkle on the internet and I think it’s cool. Let’s say I wanted an article from you, Alex, because I think you write well but not enough. I suggest a piece I want you to write, and an amount to crowdfund your payment if you were to accept. Or I could just support other people’s requests. If you agree and the minimum of $500 is reached, the project goes ahead. This is really inspiring, because it is a pre-funded, pre-commissioned, intentional solution to a specific issue that needs addressing for a specific audience. Product meets market, and they live happily ever after.

I have been a privileged consumer — and fan — of great translation. What makes it great? A mix of solid AI, but an even better human brain that allows for whimsy, humour, and swearing. “Should translators work towards total accuracy, which is often impossible, or capture the essence of a phrase? Literary translation has two approaches: foreignisation, preserving exoticism in a text; and domestication, glossing certain phrases to make them intelligible.” Such a good piece. (If you were wondering why a piece on translation is in the Product section, it’s because an article is a product with a specific audience that it solves a problem for, and when you add another language, you have a whole new product with a whole new audience. Winning all around.)

If you were just looking for a “fortnightly dispatch of key headlines in Cambodia with a dash of opinion”, this newsletter is for you. It’s written by our friend Darathtey Din, raiser of hell and compassionate befriender of the media community. Subscribe here.

This NYT vaccine mind-changer chatbot isn’t going to pass the Turing test in a hurry, but it’s still an incredibly powerful way to use tech for good. What do you do if your friend is tending towards the anti-vaxxer end of the vaccine hesitancy spectrum? You yell at having a gentle chat with them to understand where their fears come from, and then step up, be a good friend, and help them make a better decision. For example, “Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook. I’ll send you some reliable articles.” is “Not a good choice. At this early stage in the vaccine conversation, the others aren’t ready to accept new information from you. You must first earn their trust by showing you understand and care about their concerns. Try this instead: “OK, so you’re conflicted. You want to be safe from Covid, but you’re worried about the shot and want reassurance?”

Hacking has been productized. Welcome to ransomware-as-a-service. This story from The New Yorker blew my mind. The idea of the lone wolf hacker or the radical, disorganized pack of disaffected masked youth in hoodies worming their way into mainframes around the world might be a tad dated now. DarkSide, the enterprise behind the recent Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in the U.S., didn’t actually conduct cyberattacks; it was a one-stop hub with a range of services for hackers who did. It had a blog, a marketplace-like system that allowed for different types of hackers to collaborate, a user-friendly interface, and products and services available for a sliding fee scale that included handling negotiations, processing payments, their own malware for freezing and extracting data, ransom value determination, victim communications, and arranging payment. It seemed to work pretty well before it was shut down: Analysts found that “a Bitcoin wallet opened by DarkSide had received seventeen and a half million dollars since March, including the [nearly five million dollars] payout from Colonial Pipeline.”

Play a painting. I’ve always loved Google Arts & Culture. They blew up a few years ago when you could use their AI to take a selfie and then see what painting character you looked like. Now they’re back with an experiment in synesthesia — you can hear the colours in the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky’s talismanic work Yellow-Red-Blue “with the help of machine learning”. Kandinsky was a synesthete himself, which makes it a little more special. The idea is to listen to the painting “as Kandinsky might have heard it and interpreted by composers Antoine Bertin and NSDOS.” The painter associated the colour yellow with the sound of a trumpet (and with cheekiness, “warmth, excitement, disturbance, rage and madness”), and I sort of kind of agree. Exciting stuff.

Singlish Logo Parodies is a Telegram sticker pack of 120 logos remixed Singlish style. If you, like me, want to see the worlds of design, logos, and Singlish collide, this sticker pack is for you. So good. The maker is a person who Instagrams as @samuellieu (currently set to Private). Get the pack here.

In response to that map of the internet in last week’s newsletter, Josh sent me this map of all the subreddits in the world. This thing is endlessly fascinating. If this is indeed a representation of the front page of the internet (as Reddit quite credibly claims it is), it’s heartening to see that most of it is fairly wholesome (porn gets its own continent). Or maybe I’m just being naive. (Here’s last week’s map.)

PRODUCT LAUNCHES EVERYWHERE!

The Kirsten has a new mentorship program. Kirsten Han, of the amazing We, The Citizens newsletter, is offering journalists or “people who have interest in writing” support and advice around story ideas, pitches, and editing. “I’m doing this because, over the years, I’ve come across, or been contacted by, people who want to become journalists, want to work on their writing skills, or have important stories to tell. Some email me to ask for advice about freelancing, or about writing.” The mentorship program is open to Singaporeans and people in Singapore, writing about Singapore.

Ben Thompson launched Passport. When he unleashed Stratechery’s Daily Update, the granddaddy of paid newsletters, seven years ago on a ready-to-pay audience, there were no Substack-like tools for people in the independent subscription business. So he built a daisy chain of digital services for sign-up, paywall, payment, and CRM. Now he’s built Passport, a tool to integrate all of that — enterprise software for creators. Here are the broad headlines:

  • Creators using Passport have “the ability to fully customize a website to a powerful templating system to single sign-on capabilities.”
  • It enables a smoother experience for users, including a more personalised experience: all of their content — podcasts, RSS, email — is customised, accessible, and seamlessly integrated. This is the dream: one-to-one creator-to-user communication at scale.
  • There’s also exciting stuff like Passport-to-Passport add-ons and cross-promotion, which means that two completely different Passport-powered businesses can sell subscriptions to each other’s products, which is EXACTLY the network effect that the creator economy and audience needs.
  • Passport isn’t a subscription management service — it is flexible in that it can work with any subscription management service — Stratechery uses Stripe Billing, but you wouldn’t have to give up your newsroom’s existing service to use it.
  • Passport also has a fully featured experience for free members, so your publication doesn’t have to be subscription-based to use it, but allows for your free members to have a seamless transition to paid membership.

Wapatoa now has a podcast and audio series. The Cambodia media startup that guides their young adult community on how to adult already have their podcast Tok Toch ranked at number three on Apple Podcasts in Cambodia. The first episodes are on mental health, habits, and how to be resilient in the time of the pandemic. Alix, one of the co-founders, told me “‘Tok Toch’ means tiny table — because we stay cheap 😂”

Paid Twitter has that edit function you’ve waiting been for. It’s called Twitter Blue, and for 4.49 Australian dollars, you get a few seconds to edit your tweets, much like the Unsend function for email, manage your bookmarks into folders, change your app icon colour (who knew this could be a paid feature??), and my favourite: reader-mode for threads.

Facebook’s Substack clone is called Bulletin. But they don’t want you to write for it just yet (in case you’re too controversial like them Substack writers); at launch, it’s only for the writers that Facebook recruits and pays. Here are some things to know:

  • Bulletin will live outside Facebook. So if you click on a Bulletin link inside the FB app, it will open in a new browser window
  • There will be a free version — and ultimately, a paid version
  • It’s offering its writers two-year deals with an option to opt out after one year
  • There’s talk of FB not wanting a cut of the subscription revenue that writers will make (“Substack takes 10 percent of its writers’ subscription fees, and Twitter’s Revue takes 5 percent.”)
  • Like the other two, Bulletin will allow writers to take their audience lists with them if they choose to leave

What I really want to know about, though, is the person who made a reported six million dollars by selling the bulletin.com url to Facebook.

Weather-as-a-product has been a thing for a while. But when Twitter pulled in Eric Holthaus (the “rebel nerd of meteorology”, according to Rolling Stone), it’s now taken on a whole new relevance, sadly thanks to the climate emergency. The new worldwide weather service was previously called Tomorrow but is now called Currently, which sounds like a meta weather nerd inside joke unto itself. “We’re combining some of the best meteorologists with weather journalists that will contextualize everything from hurricanes to fires to a good beach day to climate justice.” It all makes perfect sense: most conversations begin with the weather + Twitter is about conversations = Twitter acquires weather. I’m excited about this.

LEARNING

Thanks to Covid, NYT, WSJ, and even Rolling Stone have started online education programs. Coursera, they’re coming for you.

THE CREATOR ECONOMY

Did an independent journo just fund his newsletter via NFTs? Of course he did. Kyle Chayka writes Dirt, a daily entertainment and culture newsletter, and he just made a killing in a week. NYT, Quartz, and Time magazine have been selling NFTs for individual covers and articles, “but there haven’t been any examples of NFTs being used as a more sustainable funding mechanism for journalists as creators.”

Separately, Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the www, is selling off its original code as an NFT. When you buy it, you get over 9,500 lines of code that contain the basics of the internet like HTTP and HTML, as well as an animated visualisation of the code, a digital poster signed by him, and a letter he wrote reflecting on his incredible creation.

NON-LAUNCH PRODUCT

Meanwhile, this is a quick reminder that the four highest-earning iPhone games each make a million dollars. A day. Roblox tops that list because it makes $3 million a day. Of course, the “highest-grossing iPhone game in last year’s report was one no longer available on the App Store: Fortnite.”

Did you tell me you wanted the world’s most amazing map of the internet? This thing is really something. Is it pretty? Sure, but the problem it seeks to solve is important: the internet is huge and difficult to comprehend. So the map wants to solve that by helping to gauge the relative size of different websites and web properties by visualising them as countries on a map. (Google and YouTube are the two largest countries.) The countries are grouped into clusters based on content type: news, search, e-commerce, file-sharing…) The border colours of each country are the colours of the website’s logo or user interface or file sharing. Website founders are capital cities. And the bodies of water are works of whimsy: I’m currently being sunburned on the shores of the Modem Sea, and will possibly soon drown in the Bandwidth Ocean if my internet doesn’t come back. This thing is profound in that

  1. It visualises a (mostly) borderless thing like the Web in a way we understand, and
  2. It illustrates how things like economics and affiliations and belonging and citizenry transcend geographical boundaries more profoundly than ever before. Look at it. Cancel all your meetings for the day and just… look at it.

This artist just sold an invisible sculpture. It’s made of nothing. The “immaterial sculpture” sold for $18,300. Salvatore Garau, the artist, stipulated that the work had to be “exhibited in a private house in a roughly five-by-five-foot space free of obstruction”. Bonus: if you click the link, you can see a picture of the artist standing next to his creation. (So if somebody said they’d stolen it in the world’s simplest art heist, how would they know? Asking for a friend.)

GREAT PRODUCT COMES FROM GREAT MANAGEMENT

A good manager can change your life. Here are some real — and very powerful — stories about how to be that change in your media organization.

TYPOGRAPHY

If you’re a type-head, you should play Foont. What’s your high score?

GAMING

Women are buying more PlayStations. Sony blew some minds — and some stereotypes – when they announced recently that 41% of PS4 and PS5 owners are female. The increase is mainly thanks to “the growing diversity in our industry’s workforce and by a growing catalog of iconic female characters.”

41% of PS4 and PS5 owners are female
41% of PS4 and PS5 owners are female

GRAPHIC DESIGN

I love this cover for the NYT Magazine’s Money issue. The story is literally right there on the cover. So simple. Much wow.

PRODUCT FORMATS AND REFORMATS

In a sneaky-but-cool trick, Gmail is going up against Slack. It makes sense: when you’ve reached market dominance with email, where do you go next? Into email-killer territory, which is why Slack exists in the first place. (I like Slack but I’ll never forgive them for buying Astro, my favourite email app, and then swallowing it whole so we never heard from them again — what was the point of that whole exercise? Maybe we’ll never know.) Gmail now wants to grow up and be a productivity app, which means it wants you to be able to chat, send and receive files, and also edit a Google Doc — all inside Gmail, and without switching tabs. They’re also bringing a new thing called Rooms into the mix with Docs, Drive, Calendar, and Meet — but they’re also going to rebrand Rooms as Spaces (it’s for “organizing people and projects”). It’s all very exciting and also confusing, but then this is Google, famous for ship-first-iterate-when-users-say-it’s-broken, so it’s going to be absolutely brilliant one day soon. Ish.

So Netflix made a reality dating show called Sexy Beasts that focuses on personality rather than looks. So far, so good. But then things get funky: to keep things personality- and chemistry-focused, the show’s single participants have some serious prosthetics going on that make them look like animals and maybe even aliens. Think Men in Black but for dating. What could possibly go wrong? I’m going to say I like where this is going.

Clubhouse is also reinventing itself into more than just live audio. Say hello — maybe — to Backchannel, their inadvertently-leaked messaging feature that doesn’t officially exist yet.

How does the Washington Post use podcasts to feed its subscription engine? The strategy, built around the idea that you should come for the podcasts and stay for the journalism, appears to be working well. Here’s what they’re doing:

  • Subscription call-outs on episodes
  • Personal appeals by hosts
  • Special subscription deals for podcast listeners
  • A Facebook Group for their listener community
  • A dedicated daily newsletter for its flagship podcast Post Reports

Facebook is diversifying into…hats. Snapchat has Spectacles. Google Glass users were called Glassholes. And as though our reality wasn’t augmented enough, Facebook just filed a patent to make an AR hat. They even left things open on the hat style front (except they call it a “hat-based form factor” lmao) “such as baseball caps, visors, cowboy hats, fedoras, etc.” Hey, hats are media too.

AND A PRICING GUIDE

This is a really useful guide on how to charge for your consultancy services. If you’re a woman consultant, read this. If you’re not a woman consultant, read this. It’s so good. Some of my favourite bits are

  • “women consistently charge less than men. Laydeez: research what male providers equivalent to you in experience & personal brand value are charging.”
  • “Remember, your quote will be based on a) what the client wants to pay to solve this problem, and b) a target you need to be paid to deliver a solution. Look for the comfortable middle and agree [on] a price. Create an itemised written quote so it’s clear why it costs what it does.”
  • “A rare and valuable skill you can support others to acquire is worth more. A common skill, or a skill people can acquire online, is worth less. Also, some gigs pay well but come up more rarely. Hence, change managers have to charge more than social media managers.”

THE DESIGN TOOL BIZ

Figma, your favourite interface design collab tool, is now worth ten unicorns. They just raised $200 million in a new round of funding from Morgan Stanley and Sequoia Capital, among other backers. This thing has ballooned from its beginnings in 2012 as a prettttty ordinary challenger to the mighty Sketch (which was the Adobe-killer of its time) into this friendly — and incredibly powerful and intuitive — $10 billion dollar giant, and I’m really excited for them. Like it has for so many other organisations built around remote work, the pandemic has helped enormously in jump-starting the demand for Figma’s collaborative building superpowers. So much to design for so many people. Much wow.

AUDIENCE

How to write about tv. You know how sometimes you read a review about a tv show and it resonates at some deep level — even if you don’t really care about the show very much at ALL and you stopped watching it halfway through season 2? That’s what happened when I read this post by someone who calls herself ‘david lynch girl’ on Twitter. She tells us why she loves a particular character (Jason Mendoza on The Good Place, played by Manuel Luis Jacinto, a Filipino-Canadian actor) — but this isn’t random character-stanning. She takes a blip of dialogue by Jason, extrapolates his ability to express his lived experiences on the show into how people in life make bad choices from the paucity of opportunity, time, and money, and spins that into Heidegger’s definition of phenomenology as it relates to TV Jason’s good faith (which, to be honest, “comes across as pure stupidity”) and how he “canonically reaches a level of Buddhist enlightenment”. If ‘david lynch girl’ had a newsletter, I’d subscribe — but then, perhaps all she needs is Twitter Blue, because this — this is how you connect with an audience.

Interesting Marketing Video to Watch

Procter & Gamble tug at the heartstrings with an inspirational short about the importance of a mother’s guidance for an Olympic boxer.

Twitch combines comedy with manga-inspired animation to showcase the mythical gamer, Ninja.

Zendesk turns a customer success story with Drizly into a fast-paced skit featuring out-of-control cats.

IBM uses striking and distinct animation to highlight the design thinking behind its business ethos.

The next big step for drone technology? According to Huawei, it’s delivering coffee. #HuaweiNow

Ever wondered where the world’s corsets were made? We did, so we partnered with UPS to find out.

Mental health is a challenging subject so Mezamé used metaphor heavy animation to explain its new psychological therapy practice.

Kebabs are the delicacy of choice across the globe once last drinks are called. Square makes these late-night purchases easy.

Puma embraces street culture with professional BMXer Ryan Taylor riding around the grim streets of Birmingham.

Liquid Ai uses motion graphics to explain how complex targeted digital marketing relates to the first piece of market research carried out over 600 years ago.

A high-energy, conversational video explainer is the only way to break down a new handheld gaming device.

The feeling of high caffeinated drinks is realised with bright, vertigo-inspired animation.

3M gets into the documentary business to showcase the need for diversity and inclusion in the STEM sector.

Samsung gives an underwater cinematographer its latest phone to show how animals and people coexist in the ocean. #WorldOceansDay #UnderwaterPhotography #withGalaxy #GalaxyS21Ultra

Heineken finally finds a use for alcohol-free beer. #Heineken #SocialiseResponsibly

PayPal looks at the art of storytelling with a photographer who uses a 1860s tintype process to document people and places.

Grover captures the personality of the tech renting generation.

The Canadians is a mix of live-action sport, 3D animation, and retro gaming graphics combined to relive the 2020 NBA playoffs.

The thrill of acceleration. Tesla uses footage of EV enthusiasts test driving the Plaid model at its launch. Apparently, it’s the fastest model yet.

Emotional music, animation and messaging protest against the Ontario government’s bill to conceal animal cruelty on farms.