Wars, inflation, a tech billionaire deciding to blow his fortune to do… something? So much has happened this year, and some of it had directly to do with the topics these posts try to cover. I have a catch-up post for this week - a roundup of two of the big themes I noticed from 2022.

Streaming: is it the future or isn’t it?

I left Disney in January after realizing that I wasn’t interested in adding a new tile type to a grid of tiles. Through some canonical industry rule, all streaming apps - whether for live sports or for VOD content - needed to look the same.

The industry overall has this flocking behavior. Everyone, including Disney, wanted to be more like Netflix. More content, more scale, more “personalization.” Same interface. Then, suddenly, the shine came off of Netflix, and people started worrying about math again. Ironically, the consummate “math” CEO at Disney, Bob Chapek, was pushed out because people realized media success is not all just about the math. Turns out the creatives matter.

If nothing else, 2022 was the reminder that you can’t just turn knobs on a big spreadsheet and win without creating products people truly, truly love. And yet, almost all the features being discussed are about solving initial customer acquisition and retention. In other words, streaming company problems, not user ones. The ideas out in the public conversation are the spreadsheet knobs: new content, personalization (aka better data / “one customer”), and exclusivity - including a renewed focus on live events.

From a user’s perspective, a fundamental question remains: what problems are solved by streaming? Cost is increasingly not the answer. It’s an inferior live experience today: Can’t flip during sports and the latency means push notifications spoil the stream. Meanwhile cable has service aggregation, an efficient live delivery platform, and VOD catalogs (often including the streaming services bundled in). Something has to give.

  • 5 Unpredictable Predictions for Streaming in ‘23: If you are interested in the business of streaming, you should read Julia Alexander, who has a great grasp on the analytics of all this streaming content. Her companion to this piece, The 4 Streaming Commandments of 2022 is also worth a read. I’ve also found my subscription to Puck well worth the investment.
  • Was This $100 Billion Deal the Worst Merger Ever?: What happens to HBO over the next few years? It’s something I’m watching closely as a fan, but also because HBO grew through it’s reputation as a home for creators. Take something like “I May Destroy You” - brilliant show, if you haven’t seen it. The creator and star of that show, Michaela Coel, turned down a $1m offer from Netflix in order to have creative control, which the BBC and HBO both guaranteed. Worth noting - the person who led HBO to powerhouse status, Richard Plepler, is producing shows for Apple TV+. This article covers the history of how HBO got into it’s current state.

What happens to Twitter?

My last updated covered my thoughts on Twitter, so I won’t dive through all of that again. The key thing is to see how social media changes over the coming months. Meta seems to be confused about their business. TikTok could get banned in the US. And the former richest man in the world may just blow up his business empire by running his $44b purchase as he did his bulletproof glass demo.

Also, join a Mastodon server. Stop using Twitter. Not sure where to start? Read the third link below.

  • Welcome to Hell, Elon: I linked to this a month ago, and it still holds up. Read it. Internalize it. I wrote the other day that I’m coming around to Patel’s idea that content moderation is the true product of a social network. It’s reductive, but there’s a fundamental truth there. Think about how nuanced and central content moderation is to great social experiences. I keep thinking about what a Gmail for ActivityPub (the open protocol powering Mastodon) might look like, which makes me think about why we all ran to Gmail in the first place: storage and impressively good spam filtering. Content moderation doesn’t seem to be as automatable as spam filtering, yet, so perhaps there’s a business there plugging in services and guidelines to a scaled moderation provider. Many companies are doing this already for Meta and others - most of them don’t run the moderators in house anyway.
  • How to buy a social network, with Tumblr CEO Matt Mullenweg: Nilay Patel also interviewed Matt Mullenweg recently, where they covered a lot of these ideas, some of the unique challenges Mullenweg faced after they acquired Tumblr, and how he thinks about moderation and the App Stores. Great interview, well worth the listen. (also, Tumblr is planning to support ActivityPub, so if you hate Mastodon/Tweet style networks, go reactivate your Tumblr. I just did.)
  • A guide to getting started with Twitter alternative Mastodon: The Washington Post published a solid guide to getting started on Mastodon. Go create an account if you haven’t already. Stop using Twitter until things settle down over there.

What does Web3 really mean?

First, a little work plug: If you’re interested in learning Solidity or Solana programming, please checkout Metacrafters to start your learning journey. We’re cranking away at helping folks find meaningful employment in Web3, so if you know anyone that’s interested, send them my way. Even with the meltdown on the speculative side of crypto, we’re still seeing robust hiring in companies truly working on real user-facing problems leveraging these types of technologies.

For me, Web3 remains interesting because everything that goes on chain has to be considered in terms of a protocol. By its nature, data on chain is open, readable, and reusable by anyone. Zooming out a bit, then, the idea of decentralization and federation are really what interest me. We’ll see whether blockchains are always necessary or not - but as the Mastodon world shows us, there’s definitely a growing interest in getting back to protocol driven systems vs the centralized control of the big platforms today.

People don’t want to run servers, though, and so it’s going to come down to composable layers. ActivityPub + a new gmail-like client that work in a way similar to SMTP and email clients, for example? 2023 will start shaking out these use cases. I’m actually pretty excited to see where this all goes.