Reading Notes, November 2021

Article: “Marketers are Addicted to Bad Data”

This feels relevant to software, not just marketing. We are addicted to (bad) data:

We've got click rates, impressions, conversion rates, open rates, ROAS, pageviews, bounces rates, ROI, CPM, CPC, impression share, average position, sessions, channels, landing pages, KPI after never ending KPI.

That'd be fine if all this shit meant something and we knew how to interpret it. But it doesn't and we don't.

How did we get here?

I get it. Having tangible data allows us to demonstrate that we're doing our job and we're trying to measure and improve what we're doing...

The numbers are often all we have to prove our case, to get more budget and in extreme cases, to continue to stay employed. We'll remain in this mess until we can separate [the work] from short sighted and poorly informed decision making. Until leaders can lead on the strength of their conviction and experience instead of second guessing themselves and their staff based on the inadequacy of data.

Preach! I feel this so much.

Reminds me of my thread of similar thoughts on twitter:

If a tree falls in the woods, and its fall was not measured, did it really happen?

If someone visits your website, but you don’t have analytics in place, did they really visit?

If your spouse loves you, but you don’t measure it, is that love real?

Then this comment on the article:

Tech’s contempt for human expertise is bizarre, given that it’s what we do all day.

Video: “YouTube is the Economy of Nothing”

Never in the history of human kind have so many done so much nothing and tried to make a living at it. And I’m not even talking about Wall Street.

What a great start! An interesting commentary I found linked in a critique of web3.0.

Most of you watching this have real jobs, not make believe “influencer” jobs.

The economy of nothing wouldn't exist if not for hyper consumption…People seem to be desperate to be entertained constantly.

As a UI designer, I found his finger pointing at YouTube’s UI interesting as well.

YouTube is a harsh task master. Sure the analytics page might congratulate you on a successful video. But if you don’t keep it up, it will depress you with comments like [shows screenshot from the YouTube UI]: “Your numbers are down because you didn’t publish enough this week.”

Do you creators take a few days off or, heaven help you, go on vacation? Hell no! You could drop subscribers! Are you nuts? So I would blame YouTube as the reason for YouTubers producing so much “nothing” content. YouTube insists a break is good for you, but their analytics page tells you they are liars.

Article: “On Yak Shaving”

A very relatable rundown of what it’s like working on a side project:

Article: “Faulty logic”

As is so often the case with CSS, I think new features like [logical properties] are easier to pick up if you’re new to the language. I had to unlearn using floats for layout and instead learn flexbox and grid. Someone learning layout from scatch can go straight to flexbox and grid without having to ditch the cognitive baggage of floats. Similarly, it’s going to take time for me to shed the baggage of directional properties and truly grok logical properties, but someone new to CSS can go straight to logical properties without passing through the directional stage.

I found this a perceptive articulation of a feeling I know I’ve had many times: unlearning to make room for the new is hard. For example, you get really good working with a claw hammer. Then somebody says “hey, we have a sledge hammer now!” All your tips and tricks for doing a sledge hammer’s job with a claw hammer are now obsolete. You’re now on a level playing field with folks who just started and have both the claw and the sledge hammer in their tool belt. Meanwhile, you’re over here trying to learn when to use the new sledge but also when to keep using your claw.

Now just think about how often web technologies change in contrast to hammer technology and you can see how overwhelming that can feel at times.

Article: “Why I write and why I won't”

by regularly writing and regularly reading what I've written and repeating over and over, I've found that my written skills, spelling and grammar have improved, albeit by rote.

A relatable post on the process of writing and blogging.

Also: I love the term ”draft purgatory”.

Article: “Leave a stone unturned”

Don’t dot every I and cross every T, don’t tie up every loose end. Leave some questions unanswered. A piece of art, a movie, a song, a performance, they all tend to be more compelling when they leave you wondering.

Video: The Social Dilemma

Yeah, I know. This documentary is old news. But I finally got around to watching it and it was better than expected.

First, I was introduced to Jaron Lanier and now I’m already reading one of his books:

One of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same thing as other people. So it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common.

Now just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said, “We’re gonna give each person a different customized definition, and we’re gonna be paid by people for that.” So, Wikipedia would be spying on you. Wikipedia would calculate, “What’s the thing I can do to get this person to change a little bit on behalf of some commercial interest?” Right? And then it would change the entry.

Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to, because that’s exactly what’s happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.

Later, Justin:

And then you look over at the other side [of an argument], and you start to think, “How can those people be so stupid? Look at all of this information that I’m constantly seeing. How are they not seeing that same information?” And the answer is, “They’re not seeing that same information.”

People think the algorithm is trained to give you want you want. It’s not. It’s trained to keep your attention and serve you content—content that is from the highest bidder, content that the highest bidder hopes will modify your behavior towards conformity with what they want to see happen in the world.

As noted in the show, AI doesn’t have to overcome the strength of humans to conquer us. It just has to overcome our weaknesses.

[Google] doesn't have a proxy for truth that’s better than a click. – Cathy O'Neil

Article: “Meanings of the metaverse: Productizing reality”

Facebook, it’s now widely accepted, has been a calamity for the world. The obvious solution, most people would agree, is to get rid of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has a different idea: Get rid of the world.

What a way to start an article.

It’s to turn reality itself into a product. In the metaverse, nothing happens that is not computable.

Always love Nicholas’ insight. He hasn’t been posting much to his blog as of late, but Facebook’s announcement of the metaverse seems to have brought him back into the light of the blogging day. I’m happy for it.

Video: “Maciej Ceglowski – The Internet With a Human Face – btconfDUS2014”

Maciej talks about his youth and how, whenever he did something bad, he was threatened with: “this will end up on your permanent record.” Then he learned there was no such thing as a “permanent record”. But, switching gears to the internet we’re building, he now says:

How depressing to grow up and be part of the generation that implements the god damn permanent record for all of us?

In programmer folklore, we obsess over data loss. We got PTSD from losing data once that now we’re dead set on capturing and retaining everything forever. We haven’t arrived at a point in time where we fear but data gathering and retention over data loss. Rather than having a little foresight, it seems we're going to capture and retain everything and then learn from experience why that’s a bad idea.

It's almost as if we [we got burned] by the fact that computers only understood binary and couldn’t really understand floating point, that [instead of fixing it] we just decided “we’re going to use integers from now on as a society because the computers don’t let us do otherwise.”

Article: “Willingness to look stupid”

This is funny, but also wise—I think? To be honest, it’s sort of my approach to blogging.

If I try to solve some a problem by doing what everyone else is doing and go looking for problems where everyone else is looking, if I want to do something valuable, I'll have to do better than a lot of people, maybe even better than everybody else if the problem is really hard. If the problem is considered trendy, a lot of very smart and hardworking people will be treading the same ground and doing better than that is very difficult. But I have a dumb thought, one that's too stupid sounding for anyone else to try, I don't necessarily have to be particularly smart or talented or hardworking to come up with valuable solutions. Often, the dumb solution is something any idiot could've come up with and the reason the problem hasn't been solved is because no one was willing to think the dumb thought until an idiot like me looked at the problem.

Article: “End Procrastination”

  • No one came back from YouTube feeling fresh and energized.
  • No one peeled out motivated and happy after two hours of scrolling through Instagram.
  • No one ever got inspired to finish things up after a Netflix Bonanza.

And then this, which is what I’ve tried to voice to people who tell me they loved the book “Atomic Habits” (which I didn’t because it felt like an argument for body/mind hacking, i.e. “you can’t change, you gotta trick yourself into doing good things”):

Yes, your body is constantly playing tricks on you. Yes, it fools you into believing what isn’t the case. It blinds you from seeing what is. And it directs you to get fast rewards.

Your reward system is getting hacked, and you are being made a slave of yourself…Attributing your delays to some unalterable biochemical processes and giving them scientific names will make your delaying seem scientifically inevitable.

Yeah, but really, a science is one perspective on the world. Biology, physics, chemistry…each is just one way to look at and describe reality. Don’t let your inner neuroscientist discourage the unmeasurable, unweighable, uncountable free philosophical self inside you.

You are more than the sum of your cells.