Googlegängers, galaxies & GameStop.
Greetings from us and our “googlegängers” — an outstanding group of chefs, amateur rappers, dirigible pilots, and comic book characters who are ahead of us in the search rankings. Special shouts to Lighthouse Creative Inc, Lighthouse Creative Works, and the Lighthouse Christian Center in Joshua Tree.
When we’re not trying to out-SEO everyone with our names, some of us are shoveling rocks into piles, some of us are trying not to start a new wave of wildfires, and all of us are trying to convince Sam not to buy another abandoned yard-truck.
We also increased our puppy count! Bella (previous alias: Thelma) and her known associate, Louise made their debuts on our Zoom calls this week, promptly pushing Hobbes out of the lead for cutest and tiniest — life comes at you fast, Hobbes.
Onto the #content:
If you die in the algorithm, do you die in real life?
If you’ve been on social media recently, you might have asked yourself: Why is everybody dancing? We have TikTok to thank for the new wave of short-form user-generated content, and algorithms to thank for the proliferation of Doggface208 across all your feeds.
It's not the dance moves that make TikTok valuable enough to start a trade war over though -- what makes the company worth a zillion dollars is its recommendation algorithm; the secret sauce that tells the app what to show us next.
"Older platforms rely solely on our active online behaviors (e.g., following, friending, subscribing, liking or clicking) to gauge our preferences,” according to this very helpful article. “But TikTok captures even our passive and subtle behavioral patterns to teach its algorithms about us in real time." AKA somehow the app knows more about us than we know about ourselves — which luckily it uses for the relatively harmless purpose of showing us more videos of the Corvette Corvette dance or whatever.
In an era where almost every piece of media ever created is a click away, products that keep us hooked to a specific app are worth their weight in GameStop stock. That’s why Netflix autoplays the next show, why Spotify makes a new playlist based on the one that just ended, why YouTube wants you to watch more QAnon videos. Attention is the only currency that matters, and algorithms are the way tech companies drive attention at scale.
Giving up control to algorithms has all sorts of weird unintended consequences though. Because while the algo may be incredibly sophisticated, it’s still just a piece of code acting on a specific set of inputs — and sometimes those inputs tell it to make decisions a human never would.
For instance: why is an obscure B-side Pavement’s most streamed track on Spotify? “Strange” by Galaxie 500 similarly blew up, which so confused Damon Krukowski that he launched a full scale investigation into how and when the song got so much traction. “Might an unintended result of Autoplay, then,” Krukowski later wrote, “be the separating out and rewarding of the most ‘normal’ songs in each band’s catalogue?”
So, what's it all mean if you're a brand? As with most things, it comes down to focusing on relationships rather than chasing virality. Getting the seal of approval from the algo is a great short-term dopamine hit, but unless you're Charli D'amelio, it's a tough act to repeat — and brands are better served by making things for an audience that seeks out their content and actually remembers it.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: brands should focus on specific action marketing, nudging their audiences to make the purchase, sign up to the newsletter, or click the follow button. Branded content shouldn’t exist just to compete in the algorithm hunger games, it should exist to solve a specific problem and answer a specific question. Not everyone has to love you, but your consumer base has to be able to pick you out from the crowd. Narrowing your total addressable audience might limit your chances of blowing up on TikTok, but it will hone in on the people who matter most.
Besides, when they're not constantly vying to produce an iteration of the latest trend, brands have the opportunity to make original, innovative creative on their own terms because really, you never know what’s going to hit. The smart move is to approach content with a strategy that focuses on your audience... and if the algorithm takes a shine to it, so much the better. Sometimes your best song really is the obscure B-side, but your real fans will already know.
Things are happening
Good design should also be design for ethical good.
Rolling Stone wants you to pay $2,000 to write for them. Non #thoughtfluencers need not apply.
Long read of the week: everyone’s on Signal now, whose CEO, a white dread anarchist named Moxie Marlinspike gets the Anna Wiener treatment from The New Yorker.
Who wants to go to Oregon?
Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’ take after their father — we all turn into our parents, I guess.
The new Bond film will not be the influencer it wanted to be thanks to major delays … but who was going to buy a Nokia anyway?
And with that:
What We're Listening To
The late MF DOOM is a mf OG in the underground rap game. While Madvillainy gets all the hype (the iconic album cover alone might earn it), his debut album, Operation: Doomsday, is a cult classic. DOOM was the king of New York, the king of sample and interpolation, and the blueprint for alt-rap as we know it now. Who would Tyler, the Creator or Playboi Carti be without DOOM? They wouldn’t. And you can keep them — over here, every day is Doomsday.