Predicting an AA A+

There’s this idea in sports that certain people are “ruining the game”. It’s those baseball people who favor home runs and defensive shifts. It’s the golfers who drive for show and dough.

And we can blame computers.

And us. We’re to blame too.

Computers compress time. I could have mailed this to you as a letter but that would take me buying paper (after a trip to the store of course) writing it…yada yada yada…and you walking to the mailbox. Computers compress all that.

Analytics is a type of compression. Rather than a lot of people and a lot of time to learn about the advantages of home runs or infield shifts in baseball or long drives in golf, a few people with computers thought it might work and ran the data.

This is an issue we will see more of: novel data making interesting predictions.

“We looked on Twitter for anyone who announced they were going to their first AA meeting and we followed what they tweeted after that. Did they stay sober for ninety days or did they go back to drinking? Did they complain about being hungover at work? Did they celebrate their sobriety? Then we took all the data we could model from their Twitter feeds to try to predict if they would be sober. Things like: who do you follow, do they talk about booze, are you over 21, how do you cope with stress? We can predict with 80% accuracy if someone will stay sober or not on the day they decide to go into treatment.” – Jen Golbeck, November 2020

This algorithm, Golbeck notes, is also pessimistic, it tends to say you won’t recover when you will. And it’s confounded by the sample: only certain people announce things on Twitter.

These algorithm approaches will grow in the decision making blend. Part-of-that means understanding the tools. We are time traveling, leaping to the future rather than walking there.

The day the *hobbies* died. Bye, bye thanks-to-America-Online…. (To the tune of American Pie)

One way to notice change is to notice the words people use to talk about changes. The online shopping of the 90s became just shopping. The online banking of the 00s became just banking. The online dating of the 10s became just dating. The online communities of the 20s, well you see where it’s going.

“The Internet has just killed hobbies. They’re dead. They’re gone. The concept doesn’t exist. The concept of ‘having a hobby’ died at the exact same time as the concept of ‘going online’. This was a phrase you heard constantly from 1994 to 2005. You get home and you ‘go online’. The big company was AOL, America ‘online’. Around the mid-2000s people stopped ‘going online’. Why? Because we were online all the time. The idea of not being online is now the weird thing.” – Marc Andreessen, CSPI podcast, August 2021

I remember this! You got home from school and you signed into instant messenger and entered the Yahoo euchre room. Good times good times.

Having a modifier doesn’t mean something will become the new thing, but it does mean it’s different and may be worth our attention. A few others: autonomous driving, crypto currency, digital wallet, online learning, distance education, internet friend, gig economy.

This time is different happens with technology changes and the descriptions offer a cutting edge hint.

The Last Lecture sign

On September 18, 2007 Randy Pausch entered a Carnegie Mellon University lecture hall and gave his ‘last lecture’. Pausch’s lecture was one of a series hosted by the university where varying academics spoke about “what mattered.”

What made Pausch’s lecture so moving was that weeks before he learned his pancreatic cancer had gotten worse. Pausch passed away ten months later.

Pausch’s story is beautiful and someone can join the twenty-million views on YouTube. But we want to think about something different, Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture.

“It’s not the bestseller that interests me,” said John Thompson, “it’s the world that makes bestsellers possible.”

There’s a lot of good stories every year, why was TLL a New York Times bestseller for 112 weeks and not some other book? Part of the reason is the business model.

“How do you value this book? You have fifteen pages of an outline by an author who has never written a book before, how much are you going to pay for it? It went for 6.7 million dollars. I thought that was crazy, who would pay 6.7 million for a book by an author who had never written a book and may not even live long enough to write it.” – John Thompson, Oxford Bookes University, November 2010

Thinking like an anthropologist, Thompson’s first order of businesses was to figure out the business landscape. Every industry has competitors and collaborators. There are explicit and implicit incentives.

A few landscape changes took place through the 1980s. Small independent bookstores yielded to chains. Scale meant changes in bargaining power. In that decade literary agents grew in stature, slightly empowering writers. Publishers meanwhile consolidated in number and power.

By the late 90s and early 00s the book selling economics was like venture capital or film: around 30% of books, estimated Thompson, generated the bulk of the revenue. Along with the need to grow, the incentive was to find Big Books like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003).

Finding a “Dan Brown” was a dream, quite literally. Instead, publishers looked for new authors with good ideas. Lacking that they tried something we are more familiar with in 2021: platform.

Walk into a 2010 bookstore said John Thompson, and each of those books at the front table were paying $1 in rent to be there. Books had to sell quickly or they were returned to the publisher. Without a “Dan Brown” the next best route was someone with a platform and so in 2004 Paris Hilton became a NYT bestseller.

Randy Pausch had never written a book, but Randy Pausch had been written about. Two days after the lecture, Jeffrey Zaslow featured Pausch’s pronunciations in the WSJ. Following that Oprah and ABC got in touch. After that Hyperion publishing.

This era feels like a shift in celebrity, as least through the lens of book sales. While Pausch’s talk wasn’t the most popular it was on the growing site YouTube. In 2005 Ronaldinho’s Touch of Gold was the video people shared. In 2006 it was Evolution of Dance. EOD became the most viewed YouTube video with ten million views. It had the most viewed crown, lost it, got it back, loses it (this time to Avril Lavigne), gets it back and loses it for the last time to ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’.

Evolution of Dance was number one for about as many days as Baby (Bieber) and Despacito (Fonsi) and half as long as Gangnam Style (Psy). It was the first viral video.

I remembered TLL as a dual feel good story. Both the message and that the message shined through. It does, but TLL succeeded because of the business model. Publishers wanted hits and lacking a “Dan Brown” looked for people with a platform.

Pausch’s story is beautiful and as a teacher I hope he would appreciate this post. In Internet time 2007 feels like a long time, but the things we did then we do now and we did before. There’s lots of change in actions but much less in reasons. Looking back at this moment is a nice (dual) reminder about how we live.


A couple other tent pole moments: 2010 – Old Spice, the man your man could smell like. 2012 “Hi I’m Mike founder of Dollar Shave Club dot com…” and 2012s Gangnam Style is first video with one-billion views.

Creativity, Conflict, and Choice

One skill rising in importance is choosing when to use technology. Circa June 2021, it’s pretty clear that technology does two things really well: repeated calculations and reductions in space. Rory Sutherland credits the Covid pandemic with normalizing video calls, a service wrongly pitched as the poor man’s travel rather than the rich man’s call.

Covid has also highlighted scientific accomplishments. What used to take a graduate student (or twos) career, now takes minutes. Via the BBC:

“When I was a young scientist we did this manually and it was very laborious. To get the sequence of a Coronavirus it would have taken at least a full graduate student’s career and maybe more. Now we can do it in a few minutes.” – Marilyn J Roossinck

But just because we can use tehcnolgoy to reduce distance or make calculations doesn’t mean we should.

In the room or zoom we noted Jason Blum’s opinion that to support creative things it helps to be in the room. That’s true for movies-creative but also for technology-creative. Ben Horowitz said:

“One of the things that has become clear is that remote work is more efficient than in-person work. But, there’s kinda a couple of things it’s probably not as good at. One is creativity and the other is tough conflict resolution.”

Work from home is different.

When explaining the idea of jobs-to-be-done, JTBD, Bob Moesta asks his interviewer if they like steak or pizza. ‘Well I like both’ they respond. ‘Right!’ Moesta says. Sometimes the situation calls for pizza and sometimes it calls for steak. That’s the kind of mindset good technology use calls for. What about a situation makes it better for the room or using Zoom?

“Online” Banking, “Traditional” Celebrity

In one of the business classes I took in college (2000-2005) a professor used online bill pay as a way to demonstrate up-selling. A bank charged clients for the privilege to pay bills online, up to so many a month of course. That feature looks to become commonplace around 2011.

Related is brands and “traditional” celebrity endorsement, a topic between Connie Chan and Tiffany Zhong (more on Zhong here).

First, something is a thing; a celebrity. Or it’s a verb; dating or bill paying. Then, with a new way to do it, its explanation is modified

  • traditional celebrity rather than influencer
  • online bill pay rather than mail the check bill pay
  • online dating rather than dating
  • e-learning rather than school
  • social media rather than media
  • iPhonography

This post will be a marker along the way then, when we noticed the world shift slightly, from one of many paths to another. That celebrity must be modified.

“If you use Tinder, you do not do online dating, you just do dating. If you get in an Uber, you’re not doing digital car sharing, you’re just getting somewhere.” “People now behave in a way where the internet is background to everything they do.”

Tom Goodwin, 2018 YouTube

Feel free to add others in the comments.