By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Category: Technology Page 1 of 19

Bluesky makes its long-awaited public debut just as Threads skepticism sets in

Photo (cc) 2021 by joey zanotti

Is Bluesky about to have its moment?

Since the fall of 2022, when Elon Musk acquired Twitter and proceeded to take a wrecking ball to it, those of us who are heavy users of short-form, text-based social media have been looking for a new platform. I bet heavily on Mastodon, but though I find it to be a pleasant environment most of the time, with a lot of activity and high engagement, it has not been adopted by more than a handful of news organizations, journalism think tanks, the Massachusetts political community and ordinary people. Those folks have, for the most part, remain firmly planted on Twitter/X.

Threads is a different matter. Since it debuted last summer, the platform has largely fulfilled its promise of becoming a better version of Twitter, a place to have conversations about news, journalism and other topics with less sociopathy than you encounter in Musk’s hellhole. Threads reportedly has about 130 million active monthly users, compared to 500 million on Twitter, which is pretty impressive for a service that’s less than a year old and is still rolling out features.

Unfortunately, it appears that Threads will not fulfill the hopes of its most news-obsessed users. On Friday, Mark Zuckberg’s Meta, which owns Threads, repeated previous statements that it has no intention of becoming a platform that is heavily focused on politics. Posts that the almighty algorithm deems political will not show up in the “For You” listing, which is what you see when you first log on and which is determined by software that thinks it knows what you’re interested in. Any accounts you’re already following will continue to show up, but discovering new accounts will become more difficult. The change also applies to Instagram.

According to Adam Mosseri, who runs Threads and Instagram, “we’re not talking about all of news, but rather more focused on political news or social commentary.” But as Taylor Lorenz and Naomi Nix report for The Washington Post (free link), who’s to say what’s political? They quote Ashton Pittman, news editor of the Mississippi Free Press, who tells them:

If I post about LGBTQ rights, or about being a gay man, is that political? If I post about Taylor Swift, is that political because bad actors are making everything political? Everything is political if we’re honest with ourselves — it’s just about who’s defining what’s political and who gets to define that and what does it mean?

Which brings me back to Bluesky. Unlike Threads, the platform is not fully for-profit; unlike Mastodon, it’s not a nonprofit. Rather, it’s a public benefit corporation, which means that it’s a for-profit company that must serve the public interest in some way and that reinvests any profits it makes back in the operation. Of the three major Twitter alternatives, Bluesky has garnered the most skepticism. For one thing, among Bluesky’s founders is former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who thought selling out to Musk was just fine. For another, Bluesky’s rollout has been painfully slow. Until last week, you couldn’t join without an invitation, which is why it has just 3.2 million users, far behind Threads and Twitter.

After Bluesky finally opened itself up to the public, though, the influential tech writer Mike Masnick wrote an enthusiastic post at Techdirt saying he was “pretty excited” about where the platform is heading. What has Masnick most excited is Bluesky’s roll-your-own approach to content moderation. He writes:

For example, the company has added some (still early) features that give users much more control over their experience: composable moderation and algorithmic choice. Composable moderation lets users set some of their own preferences for what they want to encounter on social media, rather than leaving it entirely up to a central provider. Some people are more willing to see sexual content, for example.

But, the algorithmic choice is perhaps even more powerful. Currently, people talk a lot about “the algorithm” and now most social networks give you one single algorithm of what they think you’ll want to see. There is often a debate among people about “what’s better: a chronological feed or the algorithmically generated feed” from the company. But that’s always been thinking too small.

With Bluesky’s algorithmic choice, anyone can make or share their own algorithms and users can choose what algorithms they want to use. In my Bluesky, for example, I have a few different algorithms that I can choose to recommend interesting stuff to me. One of them, developed by an outside developer (i.e., not Bluesky), Skygaze, is a “For You” feed that … is actually good? Unlike centralized social media, Skygaze’s goal with its feed is not to improve engagement numbers for Bluesky.

For some time now, I’ve been using Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky more or less equally on the theory that we’re a long way from knowing which platform, if any, will emerge as the main alternative to Twitter. (I’m also still on Twitter, mainly for professional purposes, though I’ve locked my account and post less frequently there than on the other platforms.) Even though I have far fewer followers on Bluesky than elsewhere, I’ve found the engagement to be quite good and the content consistently interesting — more so than on Mastodon, and with less crap than on Threads.

We will never go back to the days when there was one platform where everyone gathered, for better or worse. But Bluesky seems like a worthy entry into the social media wars now that it’s (finally) open to the public.

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Substack faces a crisis after Casey Newton’s decision to leave over Nazi content

Substack, the newsletter and blogging platform that got so much attention a few years ago, is in a world of trouble. Casey Newton is taking his Platformer newsletter about social media and tech to a nonprofit, open-source self-publishing service called Ghost after he says his efforts to persuade Substack to pull pro-Nazi content failed to result in a meaningful change of policy. The controversy has been building since November, when Jonathan M. Katz wrote a piece for The Atlantic headlined “Substack Has a Nazi Problem.”

Of course, this is a crisis of Substack’s own making, and it could resolve it quickly if its executives choose to do so. But an obstinate refusal to deviate from what they see as their commitment to free speech has so far led them to do nothing — or at least not enough to keep a highly regarded publication like Platformer from leaving. In a December post that has been widely criticized and ridiculed on Substack Notes, co-founder Hamish McKenzie wrote in part:

I just want to make it clear that we don’t like Nazis either — we wish no-one held those views. But some people do hold those and other extreme views. Given that, we don’t think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away — in fact, it makes it worse.

We believe that supporting individual rights and civil liberties while subjecting ideas to open discourse is the best way to strip bad ideas of their power.

The problem, as I wrote for GBH News three years ago, is that Substack has two separate businesses. One is a solid contribution to the tech community: great software that makes it easy to self-publish and solicit payments from your audience. The other is to establish itself as a major force in the publishing world, paying celebrities like Newton (he says Substack provided him with health-insurance subsidies and legal assistance) and promoting their content. Now problems with the second business are threatening to overwhelm the first.

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The internet itself can be a pretty terrible place, filled with terrorists, pedophiles and, yes, Nazis. But the net is also neutral. Substack, like Facebook, Twitter/X, Threads and most other platforms, is anything but, promoting certain types of content for eyeballs, clicks and profit. Substack is not just hosting Nazis, it is arguably pushing their content in front of readers and making money from it. Newton wrote:

Substack’s aspirations now go far beyond web hosting. It touts the value of its network of publications as a primary reason to use its product, and has built several tools to promote that network. It encourages writers to recommend other Substack publications. It sends out a weekly digest of publications for readers to consider subscribing to.

Substack has made itself a congenial home for writers once associated with the left who’ve since moved right, such as Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi. It will be interesting to see if they say something. Perhaps we’ll hear from Bari Weiss, a heterodox conservative who occasionally shows some backbone and who publishes a site called The Free Press on Substack.

The writer I’ll be watching most closely, though, is Heather Cox Richardson, a Boston College historian who is perhaps Substack’s biggest star. She has to be thinking about moving her “Letters from an American” to another platform, but I haven’t seen anything from her so far. If she would like to ghost Substack and move to Ghost, though, I’m sure Casey Newton would lend a hand.

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The Bard of AI

I haven’t played enough with the newest version of Google Bard to know whether it’s better than ChatGPT, but Bard has some advantages. You don’t have to log in — if you’re like most people, you’re already logged in through Google. The database is more up to date: It knows that Maura Healey is governor, whereas ChatGPT still thinks Charlie Baker is in the corner office. And it provides links. My misgivings about artificial intelligence aside, I’m impressed.

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Despite Elon Musk’s vile behavior, a shrinking Twitter continues to dominate

Photo (cc) by François Cante

Twitter’s resilience despite Elon Musk’s toxic leadership has been something of a surprise to me. A little more than a year after he took the helm, the platform that he (and virtually no one else) calls X continues to dominate short-form text-based social media. Mastodon and Bluesky never really caught on, though they have their supporters; users of Mastodon, a decentralized nonprofit, are probably just as happy about that, since they never seemed all that eager to welcome millions of Twitter refugees. The newest alternative, Meta’s Threads, is the only one that has achieved anything close to critical mass.

These realities are driven home in a new piece by Sara Guaglione of Digiday, who reports that some major news publishers have actually cut back on the efforts they’re putting into Threads and are sticking with Twitter. But there is some good news for Threads: it continues to grow, and it’s now expanding into Europe; and publishers would probably do more with the platform if Meta would provide them with the metrics they need to understand their audience.

“There’s a pull to Threads — it’s a good platform, it’s a good [and] improving product,” Matt Karolian, the general manager of Boston.com, told Guaglione. “And there’s an element of being pushed away from X, where there’s only so much time you can spend on it a day now before you just want to pull your hair out. It does feel like a confluence of factors that have really helped it grow.”

But even though The Boston Globe (of which Boston.com is a part), CNN and The New York Times report increased engagement on Threads, others, including the BBC and The Guardian U.S., have cut back. “For now,” Guaglione wrote, “Threads remains a place for experimentation.”

In addition to failing to provide publishers with the data they want, Threads also continues to lack key features for news consumers that they’ve taken for granted on Twitter. There are no hashtags and no lists, making it difficult to follow an ongoing story or a group of journalists or news organizations. Those may be coming at some point, although Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram (Threads is actually part of Instagram as well as the larger Zuckerborg), has made it clear that he doesn’t see news as a priority.

That could change as Twitter continues to shrink and as advertisers flee in response to Musk’s recent boost of a horrendous antisemitic post. At a public event, Musk apologized for the post but then told advertisers to “go fuck yourself.” CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy recently wrote that Threads now ranks No. 2 in the Apple App Store’s list of free apps and that Twitter had fallen to No. 56.

For years, Twitter was the chief watering hole for media people and politicians, and those days are not coming back — the emerging social media landscape is likely to be much more diffuse, and it would be a good thing if we all spent less time with it anyway. But even if Twitter keeps losing audience, advertisers and relevance, those early predictions that it would quickly go the way of MySpace proved premature.

Instant update: I see that “topic tags,” which appear to be hashtags of a sort, have just popped up on Threads. It doesn’t appear that you can roll your own, but this bears further investigation.

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Joan Donovan claims she was pushed out of Harvard to make Meta happy

Disinformation expert Joan Donovan, who was pushed out of the Harvard Kennedy School earlier this year, is now claiming that the dean, Douglas Elmendorf, wanted her out so as not to offend Meta, whose charitable arm had pledged to give $500 million to Harvard. The university denies the charges leveled by Donovan, who is now at Boston University. Joseph Menn of The Washington Post has the story, and here is a free link.

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Following up on how AI summarized a panel discussion

I got some great feedback on my post about using artificial intelligence to summarize a panel discussion. This is an issue I’ll continue to keep a close eye on and to experiment with. I want to surface a few comments I received and gather them together here.

  • From Ed Miller, editor of The Provincetown Independent: “I was there at the Radically Rural panel discussion, and I’m not sure I would call this summary ‘shockingly good,’ Dan. It is pretty good, but it completely misses the most important point in Victoria Bouloubasis’s presentation, which is that the Iowa poultry plant workers’ organizing efforts mostly failed to persuade local officials to help them.” OK, I guess I could have said “shockingly coherent” rather than “shockingly good.”
  • From Tom Johnson: “Any idea what it means to ’empower stereotypes’? Some species sure would help.” Johnson is referring to a section of the summary that says, “The story aimed to empower and defy stereotypes surrounding immigrant communities, contrasting with typical narratives of victimization.” I would agree that ChatGPT is no A.J. Liebling, but overall I thought we got the drift.
  • From Rebecca Rainey, writing on Threads: “Worth noting: The summaries are incredibly boring. I would much rather read your reporting and light analysis, which would tell me what matters most in the grand scheme of things.” My response is that such summaries would be more for internal newsroom use than for public consumption. The next step is to take such a summary and see if ChatGPT can transform it into a news story. I’ll be looking for a suitable event sometime in the near future.

Meanwhile, OpenAI, the company that rolled out ChatGPT a year ago, is in utter turmoil. Co-founder Sam Altman was fired over the weekend and is now moving to Microsoft. The speculation is that the OpenAI board wanted to proceed more slowly and was concerned that Altman was too dismissive of AI’s potential dangers. Presumably Microsoft will let him pick up the pace, so overall this is not good news.

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Could ChatGPT summarize an hour-long panel discussion? Here’s what I learned.

Be sure to see this follow-up.

Strictly as an experiment, I produced an AI-generated summary of a panel discussion that took place in September at the Radically Rural conference in Keene, New Hampshire. Titled “How’d They Do That? Groundbreaking Journalism,” the panel was moderated by Jack Rooney, managing editor for audience development at The Keene Sentinel, which co-sponsored the event along with the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship.

The hour-long panel featured Victoria Bouloubasis, a filmmaker who showed part of her Emmy-nominated documentary, “Rising Up in the Heartland: Latino Workers Fight for Pandemic Relief,” and discussed it; Samantha Hogan, an investigative reporter with The Maine Monitor, who talked about her reporting on the state’s public defense system for the indigent; and Adam Ganucheau, editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today, who described his news organization’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting into the Backchannel scandal, which encompassed figures ranging from former Gov. Phil Bryant to former NFL quarterback Brett Favre.

A note on methodology: I took some real chances with this. I captured the audio using Otter.ai, a transcription service that uses artificial intelligence. Then I fed each of the three parts of the panel discussion into ChatGPT and asked it to produce 400-word summaries. I left out the audience Q&A that followed the panel. Let me stipulate for the record that I did not watch the video except for a few brief clips, and I skimmed quickly through the Otter transcript, which was 7,000 words long. I don’t recommend this as sound journalistic practice, but, as I said, I was experimenting. What I did not try to do was ask ChatGPT to generate a news story; I’ll try that another time.

What appears below, produced entirely by ChatGPT, looks shockingly good. I just hope that it’s an accurate and useful summary.

***

Victoria Bouloubasis, an Emmy-nominated journalist and filmmaker, based in Durham, North Carolina, shared insights into her work and a specific project during a panel discussion. Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • Journalist’s Background: Victoria Bouloubasis is an experienced journalist with a focus on dispelling myths about the global South. Her career, primarily in community journalism, spans 15 years, emphasizing labor rights, healthcare, and language access in North Carolina’s agricultural and food industries. Growing up in the South, she covers labor issues, especially concerning first-generation Americans and their families in Latin America.
  • Coverage of Rural Communities: Bouloubasis delves into the complexities of covering rural communities, particularly in North Carolina, known for its prominence in pork and tobacco production. She highlights the evolving demographics, with a shift from primarily Mexican to more Central American and Indigenous communities. Language diversity adds complexity to her reporting, as many interviewed speak languages other than Spanish.
  • Project Overview: The discussed project, an Emmy-nominated piece for Univision, originally focused on long COVID’s impact on poultry plant workers. However, Bouloubasis shifted the narrative after discovering a grassroots organizing story among immigrant workers in Iowa. The story aimed to empower and defy stereotypes surrounding immigrant communities, contrasting with typical narratives of victimization.
  • Challenges Faced: The challenges in the project included last-minute changes to the story focus and navigating language barriers during interviews. Bouloubasis emphasizes the importance of terminology, noting the shifting dynamics of minority-majority populations in small towns. The story showcased the struggles of immigrant workers, demanding pandemic relief funds for essential workers who didn’t receive stimulus checks due to eligibility criteria.
  • Community Perspectives: Bouloubasis highlights the discomfort and confusion of local officials who couldn’t understand Spanish, providing a unique perspective on the challenges faced by non-English speakers. The mayor’s lack of understanding of the struggles faced by undocumented immigrants, particularly in receiving stimulus checks, became a focal point in the story.
  • Positive Outcomes: Despite the challenges, Bouloubasis expresses pride in the project’s recognition at the Emmys, emphasizing its hopeful and empowering narrative. The immigrant community in Iowa successfully distributed federal pandemic relief aid to meatpacking and farm workers, showcasing the impact of grassroots organizing.
  • Inspiration from the Community: Bouloubasis commends the courage of immigrant workers who put themselves at risk by publicly acknowledging their undocumented status. The project seeks to elevate their voices and bring attention to social determinants of health, emphasizing the importance of dialogue and understanding in journalism.

This summary captures Victoria Bouloubasis’s insights into her journalism career, the challenges of covering immigrant communities, and the impact of her Emmy-nominated project, which sheds light on the struggles and resilience of rural immigrant workers.

***

Samantha Hogan, investigative reporter with The Maine Monitor, shared insights into her work, focusing on Maine’s indigent public defense system. Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • Reporter’s Background: Samantha Hogan, an investigative reporter, joined The Maine Monitor in 2019, specializing in court system reporting. Her work, supported by Report for America, delves into Maine’s troubled indigent public defense system.
  • Maine’s Demographics: Maine, with a predominantly white population, faces economic disparities rather than racial issues. The community includes both lifelong residents and seasonal “snowbirds.” Hogan decided to investigate how individuals unable to afford lawyers were represented in the state.
  • Indigent Public Defense System Issues: Hogan discovered issues within Maine’s indigent public defense system, where private defense lawyers were contracted without proper oversight. Unlike most states, Maine lacked a statewide public defender system, relying on contracts with private lawyers. Some lawyers had criminal convictions and professional misconduct violations.
  • Investigative Approach: A whistleblower alerted Hogan to problems in the indigent defense system. She initiated a data-driven investigation, utilizing public records requests and analyzing billing data. Hogan revealed instances of lawyers billing implausible hours and identified disciplinary issues among contracted lawyers.
  • Scandalous Cases and Red Flags: Hogan uncovered cases where lawyers with serious criminal convictions or professional misconduct allegations were contracted for public defense. The investigation raised red flags, such as lawyers billing excessive hours and serious ethical violations within the system.
  • Impact and Legal Consequences: The investigative report led to significant consequences, including a government watchdog verifying Hogan’s findings. The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services faced a civil lawsuit, acknowledging negligent misrepresentation of billing by an attorney. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state, citing an ineffective public defense system.
  • Persistence and Impactful Journalism: Hogan’s relentless pursuit of public records, court filings, and data analysis turned anecdotal evidence into hard numbers. The investigative reporting became a pivotal factor in legal actions against the flawed public defense system. The ACLU lawsuit, citing Hogan’s work, puts the spotlight on the need for a functional public defense system in Maine. (1)
  • Ongoing Legal Battles: Hogan highlighted ongoing legal battles, including the ACLU lawsuit, indicating that the impact of investigative journalism extends beyond immediate results. The story, a four-year project, continues to evolve, emphasizing the importance of persistent reporting and its contribution to systemic change.

Samantha Hogan’s work exemplifies the power of investigative journalism in exposing systemic flaws, holding institutions accountable, and driving legal actions to address critical issues within the indigent public defense system in Maine.

***

Adam Ganucheau, editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today, shared insights into the impactful investigative journalism that led to winning a Pulitzer Prize for the Backchannel investigation. Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • Introduction: Adam expressed his gratitude to be on stage with fellow journalists and introduced Adam Ganucheau, editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today. Ganucheau oversees Mississippi’s largest newsroom, focusing on stories relevant to everyday Mississippians.
  • Mississippi’s Communities: Ganucheau highlighted the diversity of Mississippi’s communities, dispelling monolithic views. He emphasized the shared dreams and goals of Mississippians across different backgrounds, beliefs, and economic statuses. The challenge lies in providing equal access and opportunities for these dreams, especially in a state facing numerous problems.
  • Mississippi Today’s Role: Mississippi Today, a nonprofit newsroom launched in 2016, positions itself between everyday Mississippians and decision-makers. With a team of about 15, mostly Mississippi natives deeply connected to their community, the newsroom aims to bridge the gap by listening to people’s struggles, reporting on their concerns, and holding decision-makers accountable.
  • The Backchannel Investigation: The focus shifted to the Backchannel investigation, which earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2022. The investigation began with reporter Anna Wolfe’s exploration of poverty in Mississippi. She discovered that federal funds, intended for the state’s poorest residents, were being diverted to nonprofit programs with little accountability. (2)
  • Welfare Spending Anomalies: Wolfe delved into the anomalies in welfare spending, revealing that Mississippi approved less than 1% of applications for cash assistance. The investigation exposed a shift in funds from direct cash assistance to nonprofit initiatives with questionable accounting. Wolfe’s collaboration with the state auditor ultimately led to six arrests, including the welfare agency director.
  • Role of Former Governor: The investigation extended to the role of the former governor in redirecting federal funds and changing the philosophy behind poverty assistance programs. Wolfe spent years probing the governor’s involvement, culminating in a seven-part series titled “The Backchannel.”
  • Impactful Visuals and Reporting: Mississippi Today used charts and visuals to illustrate the impact of welfare spending changes over time. They scrutinized the former governor’s philosophy shift and its effects on assistance programs. The investigation revealed instances like wealthy individuals, including NFL quarterback Brett Favre, receiving welfare funds. (3)
  • Series Conclusion and Everyday Stories: The series aimed to provide accountability to state leaders while keeping the stories of everyday Mississippians at the forefront. Ganucheau highlighted the series’ conclusion in December 2022, where they circled back to the people who inspired the investigation. Everyday Mississippians, like Daniel Thomas, shared their experiences, expressing gratitude for the reporting but emphasizing the lack of tangible help.
  • Journalistic Mission: Ganucheau underscored that Mississippi Today’s mission is not driven by awards or notoriety but by a commitment to helping everyday people better understand their situations and hold decision-makers accountable.

The Backchannel investigation exemplifies the impactful role of investigative journalism in bringing systemic issues to light, holding those in power accountable, and giving a voice to those affected by government decisions.

Notes

  1. Did someone say “lawsuit”? When I saw that word in the ChatGPT summary, I decided I’d better check it out. The verdict? It’s true.

  2. Although I had already provided Otter, and thus ChatGPT, with the correct names of the panelists, ChatGPT was on its own with Anna Wolfe — and it spelled her name correctly.

  3. ChatGPT got Brett Favre’s name right, too. I did not, and I had to scroll back to the introduction to fix it.

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Threads may be a better place (for now) than X/Twitter, but let’s not get too excited

These days I do most of my microblogging (now there’s a blast from the past) at Threads, the Meta-owned Twitter alternative that is moving ahead of Bluesky and Mastodon, if not ahead of Twitter itself. Threads is filled with self-congratulatory posts about how nice everyone is along with occasional criticism of people for not walking away completely from Elon Musk, who has transformed X/Twitter from the hellsite it already was into something even worse.

Well, lest we forget, here’s the top to Brian Fung’s CNN story on the latest in a lawsuit brought against Meta by Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell:

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has personally and repeatedly thwarted initiatives meant to improve the well-being of teens on Facebook and Instagram, at times directly overruling some of his most senior lieutenants, according to internal communications made public as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the company.

The newly unsealed communications in the lawsuit — filed originally by Massachusetts last month in a state court — allegedly show how Zuckerberg ignored or shut down top executives, including Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri and President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, who had asked Zuckerberg to do more to protect the more than 30 million teens who use Instagram in the United States.

Mosseri, in case you don’t know, is the guy who’s in charge of Threads. As for the great Threads versus Twitter debate, well, pick your favorite evil billionaire. At least Zuckerberg and Mosseri seem to want Threads to be a well-run platform that makes money rather than a plaything for a right-wing sociopath — which is what Twitter has devolved into.

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After the fall: Thinking about blogging in the post-social media era

Old-school blogger. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been blogging since 2002, which makes me something of an expert on how the medium has changed over time. I’ve been thinking lately about some subtle changes I want to make to Media Nation now that social media has become an annoying afterthought rather than a primary means by which we distribute our work.

My approach before the rise of social media was to write some longish posts and some really short posts, the latter so that I could link to items I wanted to call people’s attention to. If you take a look at another early blogger who’s still at it, Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, you’ll see that he still does it that way. My own practice, though, was to stop writing very short posts at Media Nation — after all, that’s what Twitter was for. And if I had something a little bit longer that hadn’t quite congealed, I’d publish that at Facebook.

These days, when I write a more fully developed post, I’m promoting it at Threads, Bluesky, Mastodon, X/Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, which seems kind of ridiculous. If anything, it’s an incentive not to write. But I’m also rediscovering the utility of posting short items here. After all, there are nearly 2,300 readers who’ve signed up to receive new posts by email, and many of them may not even be on social media. (Email delivery of Media Nation is free, and it’s not the same as becoming a supporter for $5 a month, which of course you are encouraged to do.)

I find that I haven’t quite returned to the old days of writing one-liners à la Reynolds. Still, I’ve written a few brief updates recently aimed at calling your attention to one thing, such as this, this and this. And though I’m talking specifically about blogging, which seems kind of old-fashioned, it could pertain to newsletters, too. Newsletters tend to be long, but many include Twitter-like quickies at the bottom, which strikes me increasingly as a good idea.

When I was reporting on the early years of The Washington Post’s revival under Jeff Bezos for my book “The Return of the Moguls,” the Post was publishing every one of its stories on Facebook. They talked about a “barbell” and trying to entice readers on the Facebook side of the barbell into migrating across and becoming a paying customer on the Post side. Those days are long gone.

Charlie Warzel wrote a piece for The Atlantic the other day warning that social media is no longer working for news distribution, mainly because Facebook has de-emphasized news and Twitter has fallen into a toxic cesspool. Well, social is no longer working for self-published news and commentary either. Those of us who have kept up our independent presence through a blog or a newsletter should think of how we’re going to leverage that advantage.

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Google in the dock

The New York Times today reports on the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust case against Google. The federal trial is scheduled to get under way next Tuesday.

The lawsuit, according to the Times’ David McCabe and Cecilia Kang, revolves around accusations that Google monopolizes search by paying off the likes of Apple and Mozilla to make Google their default search engine. But I think a group of newspaper publishers are pursuing a more interesting antitrust case against Google (and Facebook), charging that Google’s control of every aspect of online advertising technology has allowed the giant platform to drive down ad prices and leave media organizations on the sidelines.

Facebook is part of the suit because the publishers claim that Google and Facebook have colluded in order to keep Facebook from setting up its own competing ad system. Separately, Gannett has sued Google, but not Facebook, over the same issues.

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