Rolling up the headlines from Rabbbits Weeekly into a few metatrends of interest (to me). Like the East v. West approach to attention platforms.
As I put together Rabbbits Weeekly each, er, weeek, I notice what feels like overarching themes or trends connecting various pieces and headlines. Here are the connective threads I’m paying attention to at the moment.
East vs. West: Attention Platforms Edition
The past week or so has felt like the dam breaking in terms of TikTok showing its ambition and illustrating the differing approach of eastern and western attention platforms.
First, why “attention platforms” and not “social media”? One reason is because TikTok refuses to call itself social media. More importantly is because this isn’t just about traditional social platforms. Social media as a discreet concept or experience type feels more archaic by the day. The guiding idea here comes from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who said (something along the lines of) the company doesn’t (just) compete against other TV and movie platforms but all other ways people spend their time. Name-checking options like TikTok, YouTube, and even sleep.
Back to TikTok. While most social platforms have been rushing to TikTok-ify (or BeReal-ify), The Trend Machine has been ignoring all of them and setting its sights on other sectors.
I would categorize the Silicon Valley approach as a vertical one. Adding iterative features that are similar to what they already have with everything geared towards maximizing ad inventory and, therefore, revenue. For Facebook, everything since the creation of the News Feed has been just another feed. This might also explain why Horizon Worlds and the dream of the metaverse is going so poorly.
My take on the Chinese approach is solely informed by what I know of WeChat and TikTok, so consider it highly imperfect. As you might guess, I see it as horizontal. Instead of asking “what format don’t we have,” they ask “what activity don’t we have?” Announcements or leaks have come out about TikTok potentially getting into product distribution, music streaming and podcasts, and it continues to build out its commerce capabilities.
Silicon Valley typically tackles efforts like this through minimum viable products or partnerships / integrations. TikTok is doing it themselves, including buying warehouses. But it’s not just TikTok, Shein is getting into the reselling game by building their own, in-app functionality. American retailers just partner with someone like ThredUp.
Elon wants to build (or turn Twitter into) an Everything App like WeChat. If he manages it, it will likely be in some crypto-ish decentralized way. TikTok is actively working towards building the American version of WeChat, in a very centralized way (much like the Chinese government). (I am highly skeptical that a true WeChat clone will happen in the US. The Everything App is more-or-less a digital representation of the state, so users didn’t have to adapt to the idea. It is also dangerous to map across countries on different points of their development and adoption curves.)
Only time will tell if their bets pay off, but we’re watching the fallout of one approach to building an attention platform while witnessing an attempt at another approach.
The Age of Unbundling
Just as markets boom and bust, they also bundle and unbundle. We are currently in a phase of unbundling.
Everyone that owns a tv show or movie now has a streaming service.
Search is unbundling from Google as specialized and niche alternatives pop up to fill the gaps Google leaves behind in its quest to realize The Future of Search™.
The shopping experience is splintering across platforms and surfaces as every company tries to shave off their sliver of the commerce pie.
Social is shifting from “one platform for everything” to “one thing per platform” (such as Facebook for groups, Snapchat for close friends, Instagram for broadcasting to connections, TikTok for discovery, YouTube learning and entertainment (and yes, it’s a bit of an overstatement)).
Plus podcasts, newsletters, slacks, discords, telegrams, messaging apps, etc.
It appears the internet is niching back down. But the problem is all the providers and platforms still want to be monoliths.
The End of the Techno-Giants?
This unbundling could hit the current techno-giants (techno-tyrants?) the hardest.
Google is flailing to find a post-cookie solution the market will latch onto. The current cookie ecosystem powers their money printing machine and they’ve parlayed it into a dominant market position. Content creators love to talk about not building your empire on rented land; the way things are currently shaping up, Google is poised to become a tenant of someone else’s tracking and targeting high rise.
Meta is floundering. The meta-pivot was too little, too soon (the timeline was probably accelerated to distract from all the bad headlines they were generating) and another example of techies chronically believing The Next Big Thing™ is much closer than it actually is. In this case, that’s VR. The metaverse is here, it’s just called Roblox or Minecraft or something else the kids are doing that I haven’t heard of. Meta is also getting hammered by the privacy-posturing of Apple (and others) and the years of trying to be everything for everyone is finally catching up with them.
Microsoft is no longer The Windows Company but is having one hell of a second (third?) act so far. Apple is probably just fine, unless they bet too big on The Next Big Thing™ or bet on the wrong one (that mysterious AppleCar project is getting mighty expensive), but it has more than enough money in the bank to weather plenty of storms. Amazon is in the awkward adolescent period, we may soon find out if it’s a goose or a swan.
Generative AI Models are the next creative director
Any company that wants to be (even tangentially) an AI company is rolling out generative tools to create images or videos, or turn images into videos, or etc etc. Microsoft is adding the feature to every tool they can think of. Soon (if it’s not possible somewhere already) there will be a prompt field or button in the ad creation flow of most major digital platforms that allow you to generate visual assets instead of or alongside “manually” created assets you upload.
The biggest draws of this route for marketers will be speed and no longer needing to worry about image licenses or permissions. You can’t get sued over an image an algorithm created based on your own words (probably, only precedent will truly tell). A potential drawback will be the terms and conditions the platforms apply and if it includes language that you don’t really own the image. Ultimately not a big deal if it’s just an ad campaign image, but the concern arises from where else it might surface or what it might be used in tandem with if the platform owns it.
The Cookie-pocalypse Deconstructed
The fallout from The End of Cookies has already (for the most part) happened and now various crumbs are being swept up into assorted piles as marketers and platforms figure out what shape fits their needs.
On the marketers’ end, influencers and creators look to be the post-privacy strategy of choice on social platforms that were hit hard by The iOS-ening.
On the platforms’ end, APIs are the name of the game. Conversion APIs are the most common but there are others for various purposes. These APIs allow platforms to receive data directly from servers instead of using the browser as a proxy. In many cases this means data can be transferred without having to worry about ad blockers or privacy controls. Generally this is less plug-and-play than the pixels for end users.