Voices

Amazon’s Algorithm, and 4 Other Stories You Should Read

Here’s what you missed while you were busy re-watching every episode of Between Two Ferns

NewCo Shift: The Third Transportation Revolution

Selected by Jordan Teicher, senior editor

Lyft co-founder John Zimmer wrote a pretty unusual article this week. Caught somewhere between a corporate manifesto and a historical overview, his 17-minute read is much longer than just about every other thought leadership article I’ve ever seen.

“The Road Ahead” is an ambitious piece of content marketing that, at its root, wants to explain why owning cars won’t be necessary in cities of the future. Zimmer likens buying one to purchasing DVDs: something technology will render obsolete. Instead, there will be autonomous vehicle fleets available to the public, which will free up space and make life better if we can turn parking lots into parks, apartment buildings, and bigger sidewalks.

While I don’t necessarily disagree with his vision, I do think this article is an example of what happens when too much self-promotion clouds a compelling premise. Lyft is mentioned by name almost 20 times throughout the story, tilting the narrative closer to a company memo than an op-ed. Good thought leadership should always let the story steer the marketing, not the other way around.

The Ringer: How Much Is Your Sleep Worth?

Selected by Joe Lazauskas, editor-in-chief

“Mattresses are the new iPhones” sounds like the title of a potentially cringe-worthy panel at a marketing conference. But as The Ringer’s Molly McHugh writes, that just might be true. Great sleep is fully on trend, and accordingly, it’s gotten an infusion from technology.

Casper is valued at over $500 million on the back of technology that delivers the perfect mattress to your doorstep without you ever talking to a human being. Apps like Beddit are quantifying our sleep and giving us hope that we can become the perfect, rested super human. Sleep has never been so sexy—hell, just consider that I read an essay about it with a 16-minute time commitment and was captivated the whole time.

Wired: The Mini Film Studio Operating Inside Clinton’s Campaign

Selected by Erin Nelson, marketing editor

It’s election season, and politicians have officially caught wind of the multimedia studio trend. No longer beholden to TV ad slots, candidates are looking to hire creative teams that speak to their audience directly on social platforms. While a 2012 campaign video was lucky to get 1 million views, in 2016 the expansion of social distribution mechanisms (like Facebook Live) has exponentially increased the potential for digital video success.

Inside Clinton’s multimedia studio, one video producer alone spends 10 hours per day watching Trump to catch his inconsistencies and extreme rhetoric, using them to craft an anti-Trump message on film before the news cycle can end.

These studios exist to capture the essence of the candidate’s character. In November, we’ll be able to see which studio won.

The Ringer: The Talk Show That Time Forgot

Selected by Brian Maehl, talent development specialist

Remember Conan O’Brien? He hosted The Tonight Show back when late-night programming was built to air on TV, not to (mostly) strike viral gold on YouTube the following day.

This phenomenon of creating TV really meant for digital video platforms is still fairly new. But Conan honors this traditional days of Johnny Carson at a time when it’s simply not appreciated.

Conan’s response to a bombed joke always gets me, and his remote bit visiting the American Girl Doll Factory is effortlessly humorous—a quality missing from several other late night hosts. “He’s still got it,” writes Rob Harvilla. The downside is that his version of “it” seems to have lost its market.

ProPublica: Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t.

Selected by Dillon Baker, associate editor

Next time you go to buy something on Amazon, keep an eye on what pops up first. Oftentimes, as this ProPublica investigation found, it’s not the cheapest item (as Amazon has repeatedly said is the case), but the one either sold by or “fulfilled by” Amazon itself.

Despite reportedly ordering items by total price (price plus shipping), the algorithm discounts the shipping costs on Amazon or Amazon fulfilled products. In fact, those costs are hidden until an item is added to your cart, in order to hit you with a CTA to purchase Amazon Prime (which provides free shipping). As ProPublica notes, it’s a brazen example of anti-consumer behavior by a company that presents itself as one of the most consumer-friendly companies in the world.

It’s also the latest of example of a tech giant using the opaqueness of an algorithm to ensure its own competitive advantage. When you control the platform—which is in turn controlled by an algorithm that competitors, partners, and consumers can’t understand—you have an incredible advantage. It’s like if the Patriots and the Giants were playing for the Super Bowl, but the Patriots controlled the playing field, the referees, and the football. It just wouldn’t be fair.

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