Thursday, December 22, 2022

This Cat Has Something To Say

This rare footage of a Canada lynx climbing onto a logging vehicle generated millions of views, but more importantly, a spirited and (mostly) civil comment thread on the future of our planet's forests. 

What we thought was just a cool clip to share of an elusive and mesmerizing animal ... turned into a kind of community forum, triggering a flood of additional content, as well as ideas for new videos, podcast episodes and articles.

Thousands commented, weighing in with their thoughts on the importance of sustainable forest management policies, while others lamented the catastrophic impact of deforestation. Some saw the operator of the vehicle as a savior of the lynx's habitat, making the forest healthier while also reducing the risk of forest fires and enabling a sustainable supply of timber.  Others saw the Lynx coming face-to-face with an existential threat that is permanently wiping out forests and its wildlife in warmer regions of the planet.

Online commenting has been with us since the earliest days of the Web, representing the best and worst of what the Internet can be.  On one hand, they are a place for thoughtful and enlightened, open-to-all online discourse. On the other hand, they can be a toxic swamp of offensive stupidity and awfulness.  (And many times both within the same thread.) Social media companies have only mainstreamed and hypercharged this dynamic. 

Many prominent publishers like have pulled the plug completely, disabling comments on all their content. Others, like the NY Times, have gone back and forth, more recently expanding their commitment to user comments, leveraging artificial intelligence tools and other moderation tactics to help manage the chaos. The WSJ is also giving more support to their commenting sections.

The benefits seems to outweigh the downsides.  When managed properly, a robust commenting platform fosters community, brand loyalty, greater time on site and a better understanding of the audience. It gives the content an afterlife, and if moderated properly, the audience much needed exposure to differing viewpoints.

Moderation is key.  We keep a close eye on all our comment threads, removing bad players and spam immediately, and sometimes guiding the conversation when it starts to steer off the rails.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Fitbit For Your Media Diet

Recently I have been awakening to the sound of trumpets and chimes from my wife’s Duolingo app.  Learning Spanish amidst toyful prompts seems like a much better way to start the day than scrolling Twitter, which had been her wake-up habit of late. If you had to compare it to breakfast, think orange juice and oatmeal versus Coca-Cola and Cocoa Puffs. 

For years now it’s been hammered into us how terrible junk food is for our mind and body, and finally, we are putting our media consumption into more tangible health and wellness terms. 

University of Arkansas Public Health Professor Brian Primack leverages the food analogy in his book “You are What you Click.”  “There was quite a while when people were just eating whatever came out—if TV dinners became a big deal, they would just eat the TV dinners. And if fast food became more available, they would just eat more fast food,” he said in a recent WSJ interview. "It's very easy to over indulge, and a lot of foods are designed to be addictive  - just like a lot of social media sites are designed to bring you back for more, and keep you there as long as possible.

It took years and relentless focus from all corners of society to put in place the government regulations, public information and education that has led to a better understanding of food nutrition, and, although we still have a long way to go, better eating habits.

It’s early innings, but social media is finally under the same degree of focus.  Bipartisan regulation seems likely, important research is finding a mainstream audience, and habits are beginning to change.  

Enriching apps like Duolingo are surging, delighting their fast growing user base and rapidly turning them into paid subscribers, while Twitter failed to add any new users in the US during its last reporting period and is predicted to start losing US users in 2022 and beyond.

And other companies big and small are addressing the idea of "digital nutrition " head on. Apple has been emphasizing and enhancing its “Screen Time” feature -  it’s now one of the first buttons users see in their iPhone Settings and has a component that enables setting time limits on apps.  

Readocracy, an inspired startup, refers to itself as "Fitbit for your information diet" and has gained the support of A-list investors who are focused on building a healthier internet.  Whereas Apple's Screen Time shows you quantity of time, Readocracy allows you to see more of the quality: deep insights about the actual information you were filling your mind with during that screen time. One of their data sets even measures the impact media consumption is having on our mood.

There’s no doubt when we eat healthier we feel better and are in a better state of mind,  and the same goes when we consume healthier media content.  

As the founder of Readocracy puts it: “Information can be precious, or it can be poison. It’s not how much we consume, it’s what we consume and how mindful we are about it.