First off, if you haven’t watched the short documentary REM released on the making of Automatic For The People, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, you need to do so immediately. A great portrait of a band unafraid to defy expectations in the name of creating something they could be truly proud of.


Yep, Disney is buying 21st Century Fox, giving it control of not just numerous entertainment franchises but also oversight of a frightening number of news operations, which could lead to even more homogeneity in the information provided to the public. While yes, the deal with allow the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters to join The Avengers on screen, it could mean sports get more expensive to watch and that Hulu could wind up forming the core of Disney’s planned subscription streaming service, though Disney’s Bob Iger denies that’s the plan. The two companies combined to own 40% of this year’s top movies. Imagine that power in the hands of just one company? The implications of the purchase aren’t going to be fully felt until, I think, a couple years down the road when we look back and wonder where all the consumer options went. Of course those who are about to lose their jobs because that’s what always happens in deals like this are going to feel that much sooner.

Verizon has signed a deal with the NFL to be the league’s exclusive provider of streamed games to any connected device, either home or mobile. As usual, the deal is bad for fans since it limits their options for watching games by locking out any non-Verizon customer. But that’s the point, since Verizon wants to use it as a competitive advantage against rivals, drawing in all the football fans to its service. Meanwhile, the NBA is streaming minor league games on Twitch to reach an audience already accustomed to watching sports (though of a different kind) on the service.

A recent study says people are really just looking for balance, meaning and a sense of accomplishment from their lives, products and jobs and are willing to reward brands that provide (or at least promise) that sort of actualization.

After losing ground to Facebook over the last few years, Google is once again the primary source of traffic to publisher websites. Trust me when I say that Facebook, by constantly changing the rules of engagement for publisher either through opaque, unexplained News Feed tweaks or its prioritization of native content, will continue to lose the trust of publishers who will increasingly struggle to answer when asked why they’re using the network for promotion. That’s going to be reinforced when Facebook finally enacts a system to only count organic reach as being when a post appears on someone’s screen, a change that will lead to a sharp drop in reach for many publishers. Search optimization and other discovery mechanisms are, I think, about to get a huge comeback in the industry.

Oh, and the payments some publishers were getting from Facebook as an incentive to make and publish videos natively? Seems the checkbook is closing, encouraging those publishers to include mid-roll ads – or the pre-roll ads it’s now testing – if they want to keep monetizing those videos. Completely predictable and another example of why counting on Facebook is never a good idea long-term.

Social Media

More reports coming out that YouTube is planing an new paid music subscription service to launch next year. This would be the company’s 824th (more or less) attempt at such a service.

I’ve long taken issue with the inclusion of branded or specific hashtags being used in mass media advertising because 1) There’s no clear indicator of what the audience is supposed to do and 2) It’s a format/stream the brand doesn’t control. Instagram is now letting people follow hashtags, introducing a topic-based option in addition to the profile-based one that is common with social apps. That could help solve at least some of my issues while also, conveniently, being a great new potential source of revenue for Instagram. It’s also testing a new feature inserting posts liked by your friends, as well as those the algorithm thinks you’ll like, into your feed.

The rumored thread-creating feature on Twitter seems to be finally in the testing phase. While it doesn’t have an official name, it basically gives you multiple text boxes at once so you can write all your thread-related updates at once and then publish. It’s not immediately clear if all the updates are posted at once or if they’re spaced out in some manner, but this is as good a time as any to remind people that WordPress is a thing.

I’m old enough to remember when Google search results were held up as independent, unbiased resources of information. A new feature that allows celebrities and other notable figures to upload videos answering questions about themselves seems to run counter to that ideal. It’s positioned as a way to cut through disinformation but it’s also not any closer to getting us toward an objective truth.

The first batch of data shows Tweets taking advantage of Twitter’s new 280 character freedom are being liked and engaged with at a higher rate than “traditional” 140 character updates. I’d be interested in this same research being done in six or eight months to see if the initial findings were driven more by curiosity and a sense of them being unique or if it has long-term validity.

Advertisers can now add a “contact on WhatsApp” message to the organic posts they promote on Facebook, giving businesses a solid reason to use that service. It’s interesting timing given it was just announced here will be three levels of business accounts available in WhatsApp, one that says “sure,” one that says “probably” and one that says “definitely” as to whether that’s the actual business behind the profile.

A library of free, royalty sound effects are part of the new 360-degree video creation tools introduced by Facebook to make it easy for people to add sound to their visions. It’s also added augmented reality effects for Messenger for brands to add animation and other objects people can use in their photos.

Snapchat is also continuing to ride the augmented reality wave, opening up tools to create their own AR filters to all users.

Three newly-launched photo apps from Google do three different things but all are based in the idea of manipulating photos in various ways to create something unique and, by extension, sharable.

A new deal with marketing platform company Sprinklr will allow brands to publish directly from there to subreddits on reddit as well as manage private messages. Reddit has long been the wild west when it comes to marketing, with everyone agreeing it took very specific tactics beginning with spending long periods of non-promotional time to become part of the community. “Don’t” was usually the easiest guidance. Now Reddit wants to be more attractive to brands, regardless of how it impacts its loyal user base, and allowing no-touch third party publishing seems to be part of that shift. Also, reddit content will now be included in Bing search results, which honestly only raises questions about the quality of Bing search results.

“Snacks” is the name for Imgur’s version of the “stories” format that’s so pervasive, allowing users to lean back and enjoy an ongoing cycle of GIFs pulled from the site’s library.

You’ll not be able to see how many times a video shared natively on Twitter has been viewed, something designed specifically to reward the popular because it reinforces how essential the content is to being part of the current conversation.

Storify was one of the coolest services to come out of the early social web, allowing people to curate updates based on search terms, hashtags or other criteria from Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and other sources into a single story. Now it’s shutting down its free service, pushing people to the latest iteration that’s available only after purchasing a Livefyre, which bought the service a few years ago, license. It’s worth noting that the curation model pioneered by Storify was inclusive of most all social networks. Those social networks have subsequently ripped that idea off as one after the other introduces a “Stories” feature that’s exclusive to content posted on that network.

After the pushback to announced changes to how it would handle payments, Patreon has reversed course and said it will keep the existing system in place.


As expected, the FCC voted to rescind rules put in place to protect net neutrality, allowing all web companies and services to compete and all citizens to access the internet free of the whims of their ISP. Chairman Ajit Pai’s statement on that is shocking in its lack of intellectual honesty. Christine Schmidt at NiemanLab has an excellent overview of how those changes (which are more toothless than a sponge), as well as those being weighed regarding corporate media ownership as a whole, cut out the local journalism that is so vital. Combine that with the war on alt-pubs by corporate owners and you have a much-depleted media ecosystem designed to reward the rich and silence everyone else. Various state attorneys general have already sued to block the move, many citing widespread reports of fraudulent comments being left supporting the rollback.

Apple has bought music-recognition app Shazam as part of its new music-centric initiatives. Considering the inroads Shazam has made in recent years in being a marketing service as well, there could be potential for even more integration into iOS devices as a whole.

I get that Netflix was just trying to have a bit of fun with a Tweet calling out the 50+ people who had watched a cheesy Christmas movie. I even get that this sort of data-based material is essentially harmless, even if it does expose just how much we’re all tracked in our various digital media habits. What I can’t figure out is what Netflix thought the end result of view-shaming its user base would be. Making people feel bad about their private choices, no matter how questionable, is rarely good business. Imagine if, when you bought the last Twix bar from a vending machine, a card showed up saying, “Geez, you all need a banana or something.” It doesn’t encourage anyone to buy more.

It’s good that Apple is finally beginning testing its podcast analytics reporting. Any numbers are better than no numbers. But it’s still not great that the numbers are only for activity within Apple’s own Podcasts app. True cross-platform analytics from a trusted third-party provider would be much better. Otherwise it has the potential to create a self-perpetuating cycle, where creators focus exclusively on Apple because that’s where the metrics are, cutting out other podcast distributors that don’t offer any analytics.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.