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Predicting Facebook Presence (social location sharing)
I had lunch with a buddy last week and he asked me what I thought Facebook would do about mobile location. I told him that I had no idea, but that I know what I’d do in their place. So on my flight home, I wrote this, intending to email it around – but, since the talented MG wrote about Facebook’s location plans on TechCrunch today – I thought this might be interesting to more people. It sounds like Facebook isn’t taking the route I lay-out below; I’m excited to see what they do instead! If you want to read about Facebook’s actual strategy, check out MG’s article linked above and Ian Schafer’s article in AdAge today: How Facebook’s Geo-Networking Plans Will Change Everything.
Facebook has ~500 Million users and an interest in getting data they can target advertisements against. This gives them a very good reason to get into the location game. However, competing directly with the likes of GoWalla or FourSquare seems an inefficient way to complete this goal. Their goals are two-fold: creating an experience users love and collecting good data that advertisers can use to more effectively target their ads.\n
There are four things Facebook could do together in order to accomplish this:\n
- Incentivize mobile location companies to tie location data to a user’s Facebook profile and to share that data back to the network. \n
- Create a compelling experience for users around location data that’s complementary to other mobile location players. \n
- Turn user check-in locations into targeting data available for advertisers. \n
- Sell ads targeted to passive users (Brand Advertising) while letting mobile location companies sell ads that target users involved in a direct experience (Direct Response). \n
I think each one of these steps requires a decent amount of space to properly detail (which I hope to sit down and do at some point), so for now I’ll paint in broad strokes. Companies like GoWalla and Foursquare are quickly acquiring new users, but their biggest need is generating more users. Location is a network effects business, effectively making this a heads-up, winner take-all battle.\n
Incentivize Data Sharing\n
Companies are already using Broadcast networks like Twitter and Facebook – MyTown (another player in the space) rapidly grew to 1.5M users using viral channels on Facebook. Solid utilization of Facebook could give a location player an advantage in the war for users. If Facebook built a complementary business around location that helped those companies increase adoption, it’s likely many of them would take it (and give Facebook access to its location data).\n
Create a Compelling Experience\n
Facebook isn’t going to mess-up the user experience in order to unlock an additive amount of advertiser value – but getting location sharing right represents a serious improvement to user’s lives. Here’s how they could do that:\n
- Create a data point about a user that represented their most-recent location (call this: "Location Status"). \n
- Allow users to update using standards status update with special syntax: (i.e. "I’m at" @[Location] [contextual information])\n
- Also allow users to connect with a service to update this (i.e. let GoWalla update my fb location) \n
- Surface Location Status in proper ways on the site (box on profile, stream updates, mobile subscriptions) \n
Facebook should protect the UX and Privacy settings in order to stop malicious platform applications use this data, and each user should get full control over how they share location (on profile, in newsfeed, and/or allowing friends to subscribe to — or request subscription to — mobile updates) as well as who to share it with (allowed applications and friend lists).\n
The location status update should include prominent reference to the update source, which would create a viral distribution channel to act as an incentive for location services to encourage users to allow them to write to the location status. Facebook could clearly communicate their strategy re: competition and hopefully win the trust of location players — Location Services are invested in several things:\n
- Building great user experiences around checking-in \n
- Creating databases to turn machine co-ordinates into user recognizable locations. \n
- Addictive mechanics to keep users coming back \n
These companies could easily compete against the "Location Status Update" user experience provided by Facebook, and own the check-in. As long as Facebook clearly indicated that they’d prefer third parties owning the check-in (and having a direct relationship with the user), Location Service companies can decide for themselves whether the additional viral channels is worth sharing data with Facebook (a competitor in ad dollars)\n
My guess is most will do so because user adoption benefits them in such a competitive market, but some won’t because they don’t like sharing valuable/proprietary data with Facebook. Facebook gets data for enabling the growth of partners, and users have an easier way to share location and connect with friends.\n
Turn check-ins into targeting data\n
This would let Facebook know a place’s name and location on a map from the check-in – but they have to invest in creating advertiser context. If they know I check into "Epicenter Cafe" on foursquare, Facebook has to figure out what that says about me that advertisers might want to target against. Here are some examples of valuable targeting criteria you could extract from check-ins:\n
- City/Neighboorhood \n
- Category of establishment \n
- Social Graph Representation (does that location have a facebook page, for example). \n
- Etc. \n
Two different advertisements\n
Facebook’s ads are setup well to be persistent and targeted rather then presented in direct context – so they’ll enable those demand-gen type of advertising programs. Location services can focus on highly engaging and contextual monetization programs (like sponsored badges, loyalty programs with establishments, geo-targeted offers, etc.).\n
Taking this into account, it’s likely that Facebook could exist peacefully with several different location services. It’s likely that those players would be either focused on loyalty programs (huge market) or be smaller companies. It’s also worth noting that\n
- The Zynga/Facebook fight going on right now is the biggest danger to announcing a program like this. \n
- Foursquare, in particular, would likely be very unhappy about this, With their fundraising and valuation they would have a hard time justifying giving data away to a potential competitor for location based ad programs, yet they can’t afford to fall behind in user adoption for their product. \n
- Presence was the coolest thing at F8 – the folks that put that together have already shown you some of the amazing things that could be the early version of the location status update formats. If Facebook wanted to go this alone, they could be VERY competitive, but I think they don’t need to use the resources for this. \n
- Facebook looks like it wants to go head-to-head with check-in services. Facebook wants to encourage every user on their service to be a mobile user (mobile users are more active and less likely to leave), this alone may be enough of a driver to launch their own check-in service. As well, they may want to extract more advertiser value and try to launch a contextual advertising offering at the point of check-in. \n
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pandemic has many people questioning whether they ever want to go back to the office.
If one thing is clear about remote work, it's this: Many people prefer it and don't want their bosses to take it away.
When the pandemic forced office employees into lockdown and cut them off from spending in-person time with their colleagues, they almost immediately realized that they favor remote work over their traditional office routines and norms.
As remote workers of all ages contemplate their futures – and as some offices and schools start to reopen – many Americans are asking hard questions about whether they wish to return to their old lives, and what they're willing to sacrifice or endure in the years to come.
Even before the pandemic, there were people asking whether office life jibed with their aspirations.
We spent years studying “digital nomads" – workers who had left behind their homes, cities and most of their possessions to embark on what they call “location independent" lives. Our research taught us several important lessons about the conditions that push workers away from offices and major metropolitan areas, pulling them toward new lifestyles.
Legions of people now have the chance to reinvent their relationship to their work in much the same way.
Big-city bait and switch
Most digital nomads started out excited to work in career-track jobs for prestigious employers. Moving to cities like New York and London, they wanted to spend their free time meeting new people, going to museums and trying out new restaurants.
But then came the burnout.
Although these cities certainly host institutions that can inspire creativity and cultivate new relationships, digital nomads rarely had time to take advantage of them. Instead, high cost of living, time constraints and work demands contributed to an oppressive culture of materialism and workaholism.
Pauline, 28, who worked in advertising helping large corporate clients to develop brand identities through music, likened city life for professionals in her peer group to a “hamster wheel." (The names used in this article are pseudonyms, as required by research protocol.)
“The thing about New York is it's kind of like the battle of the busiest," she said. “It's like, 'Oh, you're so busy? No, I'm so busy.'"
Most of the digital nomads we studied had been lured into what urbanist Richard Florida termed “creative class" jobs – positions in design, tech, marketing and entertainment. They assumed this work would prove fulfilling enough to offset what they sacrificed in terms of time spent on social and creative pursuits.
Yet these digital nomads told us that their jobs were far less interesting and creative than they had been led to expect. Worse, their employers continued to demand that they be “all in" for work – and accept the controlling aspects of office life without providing the development, mentorship or meaningful work they felt they had been promised. As they looked to the future, they saw only more of the same.
Ellie, 33, a former business journalist who is now a freelance writer and entrepreneur, told us: “A lot of people don't have positive role models at work, so then it's sort of like 'Why am I climbing the ladder to try and get this job? This doesn't seem like a good way to spend the next twenty years.'"
By their late 20s to early 30s, digital nomads were actively researching ways to leave their career-track jobs in top-tier global cities.
Looking for a fresh start
Although they left some of the world's most glamorous cities, the digital nomads we studied were not homesteaders working from the wilderness; they needed access to the conveniences of contemporary life in order to be productive. Looking abroad, they quickly learned that places like Bali in Indonesia, and Chiang Mai in Thailand had the necessary infrastructure to support them at a fraction of the cost of their former lives.
With more and more companies now offering employees the choice to work remotely, there's no reason to think digital nomads have to travel to southeast Asia – or even leave the United States – to transform their work lives.
During the pandemic, some people have already migrated away from the nation's most expensive real estate markets to smaller cities and towns to be closer to nature or family. Many of these places still possess vibrant local cultures. As commutes to work disappear from daily life, such moves could leave remote workers with more available income and more free time.
The digital nomads we studied often used savings in time and money to try new things, like exploring side hustles. One recent study even found, somewhat paradoxically, that the sense of empowerment that came from embarking on a side hustle actually improved performance in workers' primary jobs.
The future of work, while not entirely remote, will undoubtedly offer more remote options to many more workers. Although some business leaders are still reluctant to accept their employees' desire to leave the office behind, local governments are embracing the trend, with several U.S. cities and states – along with countries around the world – developing plans to attract remote workers.
This migration, whether domestic or international, has the potential to enrich communities and cultivate more satisfying work lives.
The potential of CRISPR technology is incredible, but the threats are too serious to ignore.
- CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary technology that gives scientists the ability to alter DNA. On the one hand, this tool could mean the elimination of certain diseases. On the other, there are concerns (both ethical and practical) about its misuse and the yet-unknown consequences of such experimentation.
- "The technique could be misused in horrible ways," says counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. Clarke lists biological weapons as one of the potential threats, "Threats for which we don't have any known antidote." CRISPR co-inventor, biochemist Jennifer Doudna, echos the concern, recounting a nightmare involving the technology, eugenics, and a meeting with Adolf Hitler.
- Should this kind of tool even exist? Do the positives outweigh the potential dangers? How could something like this ever be regulated, and should it be? These questions and more are considered by Doudna, Clarke, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, psychologist Steven Pinker, and physician Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Measuring a person's movements and poses, smart clothes could be used for athletic training, rehabilitation, or health-monitoring.