Keeping up with the FITs, 4/26
Ben Thompson on making Twitter profitable; Jordan Peterson and Glenn Loury; Ed West on Brexit; Matt Shapiro on political COVID narratives; Alana Newhouse on schooling
If you can know how to reach someone, and have the means to do so, you are set, whether you be a critical service, an advertiser, or anything in-between. Twitter has the potential to fill that role: the ability to route short messages to a knowable endpoint accessible via a centralized directory has far more utility than political signaling and infighting. And yet, thanks to Twitter’s early decisions and lack of leadership, the latter is all the service is good for; no wonder user growth and financial results have stagnated!
His suggestion is to let other companies build apps on top of Twitter’s “core service,” which is its social graph. Those companies would in turn pay the core service. The issue of content moderation would be handled at the level of the app, not the core service.
It seems to me that Facebook could do the same thing. Perhaps Thompson would say that Facebook has been better at building a financially successful app, so that competing apps could undermine its profits.
Jordan Peterson interviews Glenn Loury. It’s from last October, but I just listened—it seems that it was only recently released. Both are really in their element, and the conversation flows well. Around minute 29, Loury explains why he is troubled by the racial disparity in incarceration, even though it may be explainable by differences in criminal behavior. Around minute 45, they talk about inequality, and they point out as a network gets larger, talented people benefit. Adam Smith said that specialization rises with the extent of the market. Economists point out that one side effect is that inequality rises with the extent of the market. Anyway, it is a fascinating discussion all the way through. Strongly recommended.
‘I can’t think of one Brexit promise that has been kept, novelist Tony Parsons tweeted recently. ‘Not one. Slashing taxes? No. Reducing energy bills? No. Taking back control of borders? No. Making a bonfire of EU regulations? No. This Government has broken every big bold Brexit promise. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?’
and — this is the really funny bit — immigration is now running at near-record levels. This despite the whole thing really being about immigration to start with
vaccine administration for the highest risk group (+65 age group) is up to 80-90% for even the reddest states. The narrative of red counties as anti-science backwaters who are dying because of their stupidity is only possible with the most tortured manipulation of the data. To my deep sadness, this dishonest presentation has become a mainstream position.
We are never really comfortable with uncertainty. We seek causal answers to structure the world we see around us. The patterns of COVID over the last 2 years have not been particularly kind to that part of our psyches. The more work I’ve done with COVID data, the more aware I become that (as a friend put it to me) we go looking for the answer that satisfies our mental search for narrative closure.
The need for narrative closure is one of the factors driving people to fall back on the simplistic axes I identified in The Three Languages of Politics.
Synthesis—for which I’m proud to be an advisor—now has more than 5,500 active students, with thousands and thousands more on a waitlist to join. These kids learn complex problem-solving by competing in teams to win simulations of real-world challenges, like colonizing space, managing wildfires, sustainably fishing the oceans, curating art, running movie studios, and more. In essence, Synthesis lets kids practice the same skills that adults use every day. It throws them into chaotic and competitive situations, challenging them to test their assumptions, make sense of ambiguity, find their voice, and draw out the best in their teammates. It’s much less about coming up with the right answer, that staple of our current educational system, and much more about struggling to understand context and complications and working out some pattern to govern chaos.
Matt could be quoted a bit more (Marginally Compelling is a good name):
"When the winter surge hit every region of the United States, the gap between red and blue counties shrank. David Leonhardt explained this away:
>>The most likely explanation seems to be that the number of Trump voters vulnerable to severe illness — which was still very large earlier last year — has declined, because more of them have built up some immunity to Covid from a previous infection.
I find this explanation opportunistic. He’s looking for a reason to explain why he was wrong and this one seems to fit the bill. He has no data to support it other than the fact that he made a prediction based on his assumptions in September and got it terribly wrong. Rather than admit his prediction failed because his theory was probably wrong, he fishes around for a mentally satisfying explanation that allows him to keep his theory intact."
The NYT is deliberately trying to increase antagonism between Red & Blue, by looking for a data presentation that can support his bias, his narrative.
Ben's discussion of Twitter, plus Ben's link to Jin for a thorough summary of Twitter system architecture, was a pleasure to read for enough but not quite too much details. The details you didn't mention were interesting to this retired geek:
"Step back a moment and think about the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet: we have a media protocol in HTTP/web, and a communications protocol in SMTP/email; what is missing is a notifications protocol. And yet, at the same time, if there is one lesson from mobile, it is just how important notifications are; a secondary consideration is how important identity is. If you can know how to reach someone, ... "
The added explanation of details leads me to give greater credence to his analysis and speculative implications. He's thus more probably right.
Matt also ended his fine note with a 1938 short Disney animation of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod - which I didn't see when my kids were toddlers, but is again relevant for my grandkids.
Ed West/Tony Parsons is somewhat wrong. The argument is unsophisticated and lazy. I would be the first person to say that the current UK govt has done a dismal job of grabbing Brexit opportunities, but immigration numbers having gone up is not evidence of failing to take control of borders. Very few people voted for Brexit driven by the expectation it would mean less immigration overall, they voted for it because they wanted CONTROL over immigration. Our higher numbers now compared to pre-Brexit are largely because we have liberalised immigration mechanisms for people from the likes of India and Nigeria and torn up all rules to welcome people from Hong Kong.
The covid vaccine is another example of a huge benefit which we would not as achieved anything like as quickly within the EU. We were vaccinating half a million people a day before the French and Germans had vaxxed anybody, them having conducted their development and procurement under the usual EU bureaucratic nightmare. As a direct consequence, we opened up way ahead of any EU nation. We have also been way ahead on Ukraine.
There are sound arguments for Brexit having been an error and opportunities not being seized, but West/Parsons don't make them.