DataSwarm system chart of the US Election meme swarm I guess like quite a few Data Analytics/Insights companies, we've been tracking the US election using our systems (more details on our DataSwarm system here) just to see what it is telling us ...

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broadstuff"broadstuff" - 5 new articles

  1. Tracking Trump Memetically - A Debateable approach
  2. The problem with global media companies run by people who know very little about history....
  3. Gartner's Digital Future - Overhyped and (not) Over Here
  4. AI Algorithms and (dis)content Curation
  5. Tesla, Solar Panel Roofs and Castles on the Rhine
  6. More Recent Articles

Tracking Trump Memetically - A Debateable approach

DataSwarm system chart of the US Election meme swarm

I guess like quite a few Data Analytics/Insights companies, we've been tracking the US election using our systems (more details on our DataSwarm system here) just to see what it is telling us vs what we can see in the press etc, and vs. what others are saying.

Anyway, one of the predictors we follow closely is Nate Silver, as his 5-38 operation has called quite a few elections accurately before. Like many others, he is tracking the rise of Trump from what was considered a low (c 13.6% chance of election) just after the Democrat National Convention, and a steady rise since then till now they are about neck and neck (see their time chart here, just below the breakline.)

This (and similar) is interesting to us, as our system has only ever seen Trump out in front from the get go, the only thing that has varied is how far. To be sure this is because we are looking at different factors, we are looking at the memetic impact of Trump vs Clinton, not poll data, and Trump has never flagged in the meme race.

Memetic Analytics

A quick refresher on Memetics - the term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins as a "mental gene", and its role is to replicate itself by colonising other minds. Like genes, memes travel in groups called "memeplexes", and the ones that are prevalent in a culture or subsector are what we term the "zeitgeist". There is a branch of mathematics called Memetic Analysis which is quite useful for analysing this, its a sort of cross breed between the maths of Viruses spreading and feedback-loop System Dynamics. Anyway, the chart above shows the output of what we call "zeitgeist tracking", that presents as a "data swarm" (especially as it moves over time) of the relative position of relevant memes to a topic (in this case the US Election), here shown on on two quite useful axes:

- Relevance (Y Axis) - the relevance of a meme to the topic being examined (not all memes in a memeplex are relavant, some are fellow travellers - just as not all genes impact the area being examined, and others are just passengers)

- Influence (X Axis) - the uptake of the meme, a function of reach and transfer rate.

Also shown are 2 other blobs of memes - on the Y axis are relevant ones that haven't yet gained much traction (the Darwinian Stew of memes in the culture waiting to find believers - Terry Pratchett's Small Gods describes this issue perfectly) and on the X axis, memes that are second order - they are part of the memeplex but not highly relevant to the topic under examination (nonetheless, they can be useful for splitting out sub-tribes)

We also tracked the primaries at the time, and Trump moved off ahead of all the Republican hopefuls wit gathering pace, and never looked back. That allowed us useful data to to calibrate the memetic algorithms and now we want to see what they predict for the US Election outcome. We have been tracking the US Elections since the Republican Caucus, and Trump has always been in front, even during the Democrat National Convention. If the lessons of the Primaries hold true, he will win - not by much, but he will win, right now our system says he holds the dominant Zeitgeist and the rate of change is not slowing vs a vis Clinton.

Of course things can still go totally wrong, and tonight's Candidate's Debate may be just that, as in memetic terms the debate will be throwing around a number of highly relevant memes via a medium that has a potentially huge Influence. We are quite looking forward to seeing how it pans out memetically!

The essential Caveats

To be sure, this approach is far from foolproof but we are curious to see what it can do. The major pitfalls are:

Firstly, the General Election is somewhat more complex terrain than the standard fare of our system (customer service optimisation, consumer insight, brand messaging, influencer identification etc etc) as the nature of political constituencies give the ecosystem a series "break points" - ie a 55% / 45% advantage for the winning candidate can still result in then losing, due to uneven spraed of support - ie a minority of "over-won" states and a majority of "just-lost" states. And to make it more interesting, the states are not the same size. But this didn't impact the primaries that much (however, that may have been because by the time of voting nearly all the other Republican candidates' share of the meme-space had become relatively insignificant).

Secondly, the Zeitgeist is a measure of the recordable transmission of an idea and we know from following UK elections that people tend to publically talk politically acceptable and privately vote in their own interest, but Trump (in general) is the non-acceptable face so those showing positive interest in him are probably under, not over represented in the public discourse. We do track Zeitgeist sentiment, and pro Trump sentiment is on average lower than pro Clinton, but not hugely so (see above note re acceptable), as neither are particularly popular (or more accurately, both are highly polarised) but strictly speaking meme transmission is Wildean in our experience - what is more important is the scale of the conversation.

The problem with global media companies run by people who know very little about history.... that they do things like this - Grauniad:

Facebook has deleted a post by the Norwegian prime minister in an escalating row over the website’s decision to remove content featuring the Pulitzer-prize winning “napalm girl” photograph from the Vietnam war.

Erna Solberg, the Conservative prime minister, called on Facebook to “review its editing policy” after it deleted her post voicing support for a Norwegian newspaper that had fallen foul of the social media giant’s guidelines.

Solberg was one of a string of Norwegian politicians who shared the iconic image after Facebook deleted a post from Tom Egeland, a writer who had included the Nick Ut picture as one of seven photographs he said had “changed the history of warfare”.

They also banned the poster of the photo when he complained. The photograph was the one above. You may remember it as iconic of the Vietnam era, and it turned opinion against the war globally. Problem is the Facbook algorithms don't like it, nor did the algorithm's handlers as:

"it is difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others".

Anyway, after fairly worldwide complaint, criticism and derision, they have reinstated that single photograph because even though its usually considered nakedness and child porn etc, in this case "the value of the photograph outweighs the value of protecting the community".

There is a certain irony in that, probably completeley missed by the Facebook PR team. But it points to the underlying problem, I suspect, that due to a combination of age, education (all tech) and arrogance (who needs to know anything except tech) a large number of Facebook employees* didn't (still don't?) have a clue about why it is important.

The limitation of curation-by-algorithms has been cruelly exposed in all its over-simplicity.

The scary thing is that Facebook is now the world's largest de facto publisher, and the most profitable. If this (and their propensity for political censorship) is the future, it will truly Change the World - but probably not in a good way.

I feel it is almost the responsibilty of the Rest of Humanity to start bombarding Facebook with images and stories that upset their algorithms but are important. Starting with Renoir.....

* Evens money on "the intern is to blame" tomorrow, anyone?

Gartner's Digital Future - Overhyped and (not) Over Here

Gartner diagram of the future Digital Workplace

From the Deflating Bubbletime Dept:

A few days ago I read the takedown of Gartner's view on Robotics in Horses for Sources, essentially it was a fisk of Gartner's current trendency to make fairly lurid predictions about our Digital Future - they have predicted that by 2018, more than three million workers globally will be supervised by "robo-bosses" and that one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025, for example.

It's not just Robotics - reading their thoughts on the Top 10 Technologies Driving the Digital Workplace my initial thought was it was a well needed piss-take on the current Digital Everything trope (see the diagram above) but reading the article I realised they were deadly serious. I'm not going to summarise it here, the link above goes to the article if you are interested. Our view is that the actual technologies of the Digital Workplace will look like the diagram above, rather than their dreams of Office Automation 1.0, for quite some time.

No, the real question I'm asking is similar to the one the article on the robotic analysis asked:

So why, pray tell, is Gartner, a respected voice in IT research, continually pounding us with continual scaremongering that we're all doomed to the will of the robot

Similarly, why are there such clearly overblown claims for "Office Automation". What's going on here? These guys are supposed to be analysts, not boosters - Gartner invented the darn Hype Curve, but now they are seemingly invested in filling it up!

To an extent there is a geneal trend in "rspected" media these days to become more clickbaity - I've noted even such august organs such as the Graniad and Economist are much more prone to this these days, and the "Top 10" Listicle style here is another signal. Does this mean the assumption is no one reads real research unless it's lurid - as one of the comments in the Horses article suggested - imply that:

"...a good spew-filled headline gets more attention than would most good market research with a set of pragmatic findings"

Or is it something else...

"Perhaps they are spewing off someone else's agenda? #followthemoney"

This second point also links up with something else - from about thetime of the O'Reilly "NextEconomy" conference onwards, I do get the impression the "analyst" and other boosting media of the Tech World has been ordered to get out and push the product as the bubbletime starts to deflate.

The valuation of many Unicorns, current and desired, and all that ride on them may depend on it....


AI Algorithms and (dis)content Curation

Yet another attempt at algorythmic curation of news has failed...Facebook's plans are going back to the drawing board after just a weekend:

Facebook announced late Friday that it had eliminated jobs in its trending module, the part of its news division where staff curated popular news for Facebook users. Over the weekend, the fully automated Facebook trending module pushed out a false story about Fox News host Megyn Kelly, a controversial piece about a comedian’s four-letter word attack on rightwing pundit Ann Coulter, and links to an article about a video of a man masturbating with a McDonald’s chicken sandwich.

That escalated quickly, as they say...not surprised, by the way - judging newsworthiness by what the hoi polloi read is a very risky path to go down. What Humanity is interested in vs what is "News" is a wide chasm.

The automation of curation has been an online dream for at least a decade (we were first asked to work on it in 2007), and has so far failed every time "industrial grade" output is required. But this makes it clear that AIs are still some way from having the smarts to deal with patterm sorting of memes, especially delibeately false and mischievous ones.

The holy grail is getting rid of all the human cost of curation and editing of content, and in other efforts, the human costs of writing it too (for when people stop creating content for no money, maybe?) so that these companies can "Scale" (ie everything is automatable). It's interesting that Facebook initially tried to pretend that it had an algorithm trend finder and was somewhat embarassed when it was revealed that they did in fact need human curation.

If they do get AI curation to "work", then the one prediction I would make is that if the majority of content is machine made from conception to curation, these creators may well find it is also only read by machines Or programmed people.


Tesla, Solar Panel Roofs and Castles on the Rhine

Apparently Tesla is going to do Solar Roofs as well as Cars:

"Tesla has finalized a $2.6bn deal to buy solar power company SolarCity to produce solar “shingles” – photovoltaic material that would be fashioned into the shape of a house roof."

Elon Musk was quoted as saying:

“I think this is really a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy, where you have a beautiful roof,” Musk said. “It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof.”

When I started my consulting career there was a very smart Partner I worked with, and he told me when we first went into a company he looked for 3 signs of about-to-fail businesses, and these were:

- Head Office interiors that had started to look like palaces, he thought it was a sign they were no longer "lean and hungry" and were starting to ossify*
- CEO is only partly invlved in the business (and more -ve points if CEO is a Media "personality")
- "Extreme" jumps in product mix, far away from "the knitting", as losing focus usually does not end well but it was also a sign that any or all of the following applied (i) they are desperate (ii) the CEO has lost control (pacifying powerful barons) or (iii) the CEO is not under control and is building follies - and none of these are not good news

By these measures, Tesla is hitting 2 out of 3 already (I have no idea of their head office palacification) so I know he would be going "Hmmmm...." on this news.

But, while I've always kept his rules in mind, I have found there are some stunning exceptions to these rules that have succeeded - (Apple, Virgin, Nokia for example) - and studying them in depth as to how they do it is fascinating. There seems to be an underlying logic stream to what these companies do and how they do it. Apple enters high potential market segments still saddled with badly integrated and poor UX products and uses its brand to find new customers. Virgin transfers a "cool" brand promise to a previously dowdy and boring consumer segments and makes services more customer friendly. Both have/had extraordinary leaders. Nokia went from tyres to mobile masts to mobiles, so anything is possible, but they have failed at the at the "incredible leader" game for the "next hop" (ditto Apple..?).

So, one possibility is this is F*cked Company time as the Leader jumps from one gambit to another. But arguably, Tesla has an "incredible leader", so what may be a possible underlying logic train here?

As best we can see, it could run something like this - electric cars need a ubiquitous charging infrastructure covering their routes, and that needs to be as cheap to roll out as possible. For people to buy lots of Tesla electric cars a fair portion of this infrastructure needs to exist before they buy them. So how to do that? How about ubiquitous solar roofs that can easily be integrated into a roof-to-charger system (think Fon for car-charging). It's the closest to physical-world game to the internet "increasing returns" one. Even better if its unique to that car company so others can't even use the river without your say so, so how about it being owned by the Car company. And borrowing large wads of money for infrastructure plays has never been cheaper. In essence its a logistics toll play, aka "Castles on the Rhine" - you build your castles first, you get to extract tolls on everyone else or prevent their passage, you win.

Supporting this argument, Tesla is also big time into batteries and has built/bought a factory for them - electric cars need better ones to replace IC cars in all but relativley slow, short duration and low weight tasks right now - but car charging infrastructures using renewable energy also need lots of better batteries so at a stroke there is another huge new market for your batteriees, and they will buy your batteries because you own the roof-to-charger Castle.

The ony problem with building Castles an the Rhine, and building the boats to go on them is that its a very costly thing to do one of these, never mind both, and lots of others will try and do it too. And despite a CEO-as-business-savant, the "F*cked Co" probability ticklist is mounting, so it's going to be an "interesting" one to watch.

In fact, given how hard this two-industry strategy would be to execute, and how costly cars are to make (and that all the major car makers will be in on this game soon), and that Rhine castle owners never really needed to build ships, you do wonder if Tesla should drop cars and do charging there is an added benefit - charging stations don't crash and kill people, avoids all that awful bad publicity....

(*Incidentally, one of the things that has interested me over the last 2 decades or so is how much more palatial so many companies' Head Offices have become so if my old Partner was right, there are a lot of ossified businesses out there)

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