Diversity, accessibility, provenance and a bunch of other fifty-cent words in this month’s Springbox Trend Report. Find out how Netflix reads your mind, Pinterest caters to the blind and a good fox isn’t hard to find.
The tech industry isn’t diverse.
The pronouncement that the demographics of the tech industry workforce (at least in the U.S.) tend to be a little homogenous doesn’t shatter a whole lot of earth. Rarely, though, has anyone given the problem as in-depth of an examination as California Sunday Magazine in their multi-perspective roundup on diversity in tech. While they’re unable to produce a smoking gun for the lack of variety in the industry’s makeup, they compile and investigate a list of several likely candidates. Is it a problem of the pipeline? Is it racial exclusion? Is it selective networking? The answer seems to be that all of these things and more work to stack the deck solidly against minority prospects. And the bad news is, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Why do we care?
Beyond the utopian of ideal of just having a well-balanced, egalitarian society, diversity is good business. A multitude of perspectives and viewpoints brings better problem solving and fresher ideas. Richard Kerbey, an African American VC in Silicon Valley, maintains that what the tech industry is really missing is cognitive diversity, an issue that affects not just the workplace but the actual technology we’re building. And the problem goes beyond the tech firms themselves. He put together a dataset that shows that 40% of VCs went to either Harvard or Stanford. Kerbey asserts that the problem isn’t so much that teams look the same but that they think the same. Sure, it’s great when teams align on process and share a knowledge base, but problem solving comes from outside-of-the-box thinking. And when everybody in your box only went to two schools, maybe it’s time to open up the box. Or get a new box.
Netflix knows what you like. I mean, really knows.
Good news: Remember looking for the next great thing? Going to record stores, reading magazines? Wearing out all that shoe leather? Well, it’s over! It’s like we’re all Cleopatra now. Just sit back and let the algorithms fan you with palm fronds and feed you some peeled grapes. And show you movies. And TV shows. Because you can rest assured that Netflix knows what you want to watch. Sure, your relationship may come down to a series of intricate mathematical computations, but Netflix wants you to know that it gets you. It really gets you, B.
How? Data, data, data. Unlike broadcast networks who still use Nielsen reports and surveys to determine what people are watching, Netflix knows exactly what each one of its users has selected and exactly how much of it they watched. They then segment all this data into something they call “taste clusters,” based on actual viewing habits rather than demographic generalizations. And if they don’t have exactly what you want? They’ll make it.
That’s right. Netflix now produces the greatest amount of original programming in television history. And their understanding of viewing habits gives them insight into a show’s potential audience, allowing them to take chances on niche programs that traditional networks wouldn’t touch. All of this original content comes in part as preparation for the inevitable moment when big studios pull their IP from the platform (as Disney is about to do). But a pivot that started as a reaction to a business problem has ended up revolutionizing the television industry. And they did it all without — gulp — ads.
Why do we care?
Is content really king? Netflix thinks so. According to Vulture, “It plans to spend $8 billion on content this year.” But how do they keep all of that content from getting lost? Netflix has taken micro-targeting to a whole new level. Those taste clusters I mentioned? There are 2,000 of them. And they use them to target their original shows to viewers the same way that digital marketers would target ads. But since every single user behavior is recorded, they can get incredibly granular with the data.
Not only does Netflix recommend a personalized selection of shows based on which taste clusters you engage with, any given show may have as many as eight different row cards (think posters or thumbnails), and Netflix will decide which one to serve you based on your viewing habits. This kind of personalization is designed for maximum engagement. The question remains: is it working? Netflix keeps its numbers so close to the vest, it’s hard to know for sure. But with 125 million paying subscribers, it’s safe to assume that something’s going right.
Do you know where your social media came from?
It came from outer space! No, probably not. But with AI-made media rapidly becoming nearly indistinguishable from real video, addressing questions of social media provenance is becoming critical. Kalev Leetaru points out in Forbes that visual evidence has always been a measure of authenticity — “seeing is believing.” And now, not only can AI create convincing fake replications of famous people — from Barack Obama to Jessica Alba — the tech has become so accessible, we’ll soon all be able to do it on our smartphones.
It’s not much of a reach to imagine a world where manufactured clips of Trump bots and whichever-other-leader-you-care-to-imagine bots proliferate and are immediately disseminated across social media platforms, erasing any sense of context or origin. What’s worse is that certain biases ingrained in how we use social media function to make us more susceptible to this kind of disinformation. You know what this means, right? Pretty soon the whole world is going to look like one of those damn Fred Astaire Dirt Devil ads.
Why do we care?
We care because this is scary as hell. The good news (maybe?) is that Americans already think that two-thirds of the news they see on social media is misinformation. And while a bit of skepticism is always healthy, do we really want to live in a world where the de facto assumption is that we’re being lied to? Leetaru’s suggestion is for social platforms to publish contextual source information alongside each video. Kind of give it an origin story. Or we could turn determining sources for content into a game. Whatever we do, we need to do it fast. I mean, did we learn nothing from The Matrix, people?!
TIME FOR A LITTLE SNOOZE — A KEYWORD SNOOZE
For a while there have been Chrome plugins that block certain things or even certain moods from your browser. But what happens if you’re using Firefox or Edge or Netscape and you want to avoid all those PBA spoilers in your Facebook feed? Enter: Facebook’s new Keyword Snooze. As of June 27, Facebook began testing a new feature for certain users. If you find a post with information you’re trying to avoid, just tap the upper right corner of the post and select “Snooze keywords in this post.” Facebook will extract a list of keywords for you to pick from. Then it will scrub them from your feed for 30 days. So far the feature is only available to select users, but they’d better hurry up and expand it because if I see another post about these guys, I’m going to slap somebody.
INSTAGRAM IS HAVING A TV PARTY AND WE’RE ALL INVITED!
Instagram has TV now. IGTV, to be exact. Now you don’t have to log out of Instagram and go all the way over to YouTube to make videos of yourself playing video games. You can do it the IG way! Which is to say, with no explanation whatsoever. Luckily, the folks over at milkwhale put together this handy infographic. But you’re wondering, “Didn’t they already have this? Like with stories?” And, sure, yes, you could make your own stories, but now people can create videos that last up to an hour! The hope is to get name-brand creators to consistently upload content that Instagram users want to see. Just like on regular t.v.! Now all you need is a sofa and some popcorn.
VISUAL SEARCH FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
Pinterest prides itself on being the internet’s go-to visual search platform. So what does that mean when your users can’t see? Accessibility often gets put on the back burner in web design, especially for design-centric sites like Pinterest. While federal sites are required to meet WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility guidelines, the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to the purely digital realm can be a little nebulous. That’s why a platform like Pinterest could have so many gaping holes in its accessibility and not draw a lot of attention.
But lead designer Long Cheng set out to change that. He was mortified that a group of visually impaired user testers could not even get past the sign up screen. So, he took it upon himself (and a team of Pinterest engineers and designers) to completely overhaul the design of the site, introducing higher-contrast colors, increasing the size of the type, removing color-based actions and making sure that all of the code and alt text was revamped to conform to screen reader requirements. Beautiful design that complies with accessibility guidelines may be hard-won, but if Pinterest can do it, so can you!
HEY, THAT’S NOT COOL.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Tesla. Both the inventor and the company. And my kids are crazy about those cars. They got to sit in one once, and then this guy drove them down the street with his phone. That’s amazing. But the thing is...this guy Elon. Oh, Elon. We know, it’s been a tough year. Everybody’s had a tough year. But for someone who has his own space force, you can be a little sensitive. Look. We understand that you want to solve the world’s problems, even if it entails disrupting the rescue industry, but you run a company. When you say stuff, people listen. You have to develop some impulse control. When somebody insults your tiny submarine, you can’t just call them a pedophile. That’s no way to make friends. And when your zany antics affect your stock prices, you can’t just snatch the company back out of the market. Apparently, the SEC has issues with that. So, maybe take it easy with the Tweets and the interviews and the public breakdowns for a little while. Your investors would be super grateful.
BUT THIS IS
FRUIT OF THE LOOM
We all know that the devil is in the details. You should always read the fine print. But in this increasingly information-obsessed era, who has the time? Well, these people do. They actually took the time to read the entire ads posted by produce-obsessed underwear giant Fruit of the Loom, and they were rewarded handsomely. And I don’t mean some handsome person gave them a pat on the back. I mean they uncovered literal piles of cash that they got to keep. No strings. That’s what I call truth in advertising. Or huge piles of cash in advertising. Which is my favorite kind!
The big entertainment news over the weekend was the box office domination of Warner Brothers’ newest release, Crazy Rich Asians. A romantic comedy about an Asian-American woman who falls for a member of the Singaporean aristocracy, the film features an almost entirely Asian cast, the first Hollywood film to do so since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. It’s been a signal year for diversity in mainstream movies, and it’s good to see Warner Brothers putting their faith in a film that focuses on a group that makes up only 10% of the population. The prevailing wisdom in Hollywood is still that the only people who go to the movies are straight, white dudes between 18 and 35. But with the runaway success of Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, Girls Trip and Coco, it may be time to rethink our assumptions about demographics. As CNN’s Jeff Yang says, “If films made by and starring people of color are consistently ‘exceeding expectations,’ maybe the problem is in the ‘expectations.’”
You need a break. We all need a break. From the news. The heat. The hurricanes. The wildfires. The creeping suspicion that George Orwell and Ray Bradbury co-wrote this season of America. But don’t worry. Hourly Fox has got you. A Twitter feed devoted entirely to pictures of foxes posted (you guessed it!) hourly, Hourly Fox is the perfect antidote to the swirling trash vortex that is our current reality. I mean look at them. Majestic. Beautiful. Peaceful. With just a hint of latent menace. In other words, not this. So the next time you’re being bombarded by every horrible thing in the world, scroll down a little bit, look at that little fox — and breathe. (h/t to @jesswynne)
THIS WEEKEND IN AUSTIN
SUPPORT THE GIRLS PREMIERE
Local filmmaker Andrew Bujalski (Results, Computer Chess, Beeswax) is back with another exploration of regular people just trying to make it work. Support the Girls tells the story of Lisa, the manager of Double Whammies (think Hooters or Twin Peaks), who scrambles to put out the many fires that arise throughout the course of a single day. While the subject seems primed for the kind of lowbrow humor found in your standard sex comedy, Bujalski does something surprising and amazing. He makes the characters feel like real people, and what emerges is a story about empowerment that never shies away from the complexities of exploitation — but still manages to be a lot of fun. One of the most refreshing movies I’ve seen this year. Treat yourself and see it in the theater. Opens Friday, 8/24, at AFS Cinema and Alamo Drafthouse S. Lamar. Director in attendance at both locations Sunday, 8/26.
THE DAMN TIMES LP RELEASE
Springbox is particularly excited about this particular product launch: the release of the vinyl lp Gotta Get There by our house copy editor’s band, The Damn Times. Seventeen years in the making, the record is finally seeing the light of day thanks to 1407 Records, a brand new local label. The band is celebrating with three release shows this weekend — Friday, 8/24, at the Buzz Mill in San Marcos, Saturday, 8/25, at Beerland and Sunday, 8/26, at Antone’s Records. Join us in toasting this exciting achievement.
LONG WAY BACK HOME
Okay, so technically you don’t have to be in Austin to watch the premiere of the new Lucero video, “Long Way Back Home,” but it’s directed by an Austin filmmaker, and a premiere is a premiere! You may be thinking, “Wait, Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Loving) isn’t a music video director.” And you’d be right. But if you think about it, since his first film Shotgun Stories was scored by Jeff’s brother, Lucero’s Ben Nichols, you could already kind of consider that film a feature-length, narrative Lucero video. And, honestly, the video Nichols made for the new Lucero single “Long Way Back Home” feels a lot more like one of his movies than a music video. It features Michael Shannon, Garrett Hedlund and Scoot McNairy as three brothers with a questionable past. Watch it to find out what happens, but suffice to say, thanks to Lucero, we somehow got an archetypal new Jeff Nichols short film out of nowhere, and I think we’re all glad about that.
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