Chinks in Google’s armor. After News Feed. Negative visualization. StockTwits. What have you realized about the world?

Value. Improvement. Curiosity. - Issue 51

Business & Money

Google is quite obviously the dominant player in search. The design of the product is beautifully simplistic, the algorithms are impeccable, you get exactly want you want nearly every time… It just works. I do, however, see a couple wrinkles:

First, there is shifting consumer sentiment that seems to place increasing value on data security and privacy. Privacy is kryptonite to Google. Their entire business is built on being able to track everything you do amassing boat loads of data about their users which they in turn can leverage to print money via advertising. If ad blocking technologies continue to proliferate and sentiment continues in the direction it has been moving, this could smell trouble. Interestingly there’s a small quiet company that’s betting big on these trends. You’ve probably never heard of a company called DuckDuckGo. It’s tag line is “the search engine that doesn’t track you.” Here’s a chart of the number of searches per day on DuckDuckGo:

They’ve now passed 10,000,000 searches per day! Keep an eye out for these guys.

Secondly, while Google’s algorithms give you want you want nearly every time, this starts to fall off a bit if you shift to natural language queries (instead of searching for “leather jacket” searching for “what store has the best cheap leather jackets). I point this out for a couple reasons. One, there may be other companies that have built technology more purpose built for natural language. Take Quora for example. On Quora, people only ask questions in natural language so they might have a technological advantage here considering the sheer volume of natural language queries they receive. Secondly, if text loses its place as the dominant input method, then Google loses some leverage. In a world where people are saying “Alexa, where should I go to buy a leather jacket” or “Siri, how many eggs should I put in my omelette,” there’s no longer a graphical user interface for a person to navigate a page and select the link they want to look at. Of course Google is entering the home automation and voice assistant race as well, but I’m not confident they’ll be the winner in either.

Human Progress

With regards to the internet’s proliferation among the general population, the first innovation to make this possible is likely the web browser. We all use these every day, but I’d argue that the average person might have trouble describing what a web browser actually is. I’ll give it my best shot: a web browser is a software program that provides an interface for you to explore the internet (no surprise where Microsoft came up with the name “Internet Explorer” for their web browser). No need to get any more complex or technical than that, not that I even have the ability to go too much deeper. In any case, the invention of the browser, and specifically the Mosaic browser around 1993, brought the web to the masses.

From there I’d say the next big progression came in the form of the web directory. Most would think of Yahoo here as their first offering was the Yahoo! Directory. To be overly simplistic, this was a directory or list of websites. Basically a digital version of the yellow pages. If you were looking for information about the Chicago Bulls you might click on sports > then basketball > then NBA > and finally the Chicago Bulls.

After the directory came the true search engine. Enter Google. Instead of indexing web SITES, Google decided to index web PAGES. Don’t be fooled into thinking this to be a small nuance. It made all the difference. In the directory era you had embark on a tedious process of navigating various categories on a directory, subsequently getting more specific with each click before finally being dropped on the homepage of a website wherein you had to comb through a ton of content and various pages to find what you were originally looking for. In the Google era, simply type in exactly what you want and you’re magically delivered to the exact page. Absolute game changer.

But then, just as Google was fattening up and bullying everyone on the playground, a new kid moved to the neighborhood. Her name was Facebook. Instead of having to do the work of searching for what you want, Facebook just delivers it to you without you doing anything. They automatically feed you everything that you want to see. I mean literally, It’s called “News Feed.”

In this progression of the internet and how we consume information, I’m now trying to think about what comes after News Feed. AI powered voice interfaces perhaps?

Philosophy

We hear about the power of visualization in many different forums. The concept is simple. Take whatever goal or outcome you desire and use your imagination to realize it. The more vividly you can activate the picture in your mind, the better. In athletics, players will visualize hitting the game winning shot or sinking a 30 foot put. In business, perhaps it’s visualizing a successful product launch or closing a massive deal. Regardless of the arena, the affects are real and documented. Countless psychological studies have found that the same brain patterns are activated during visualization or mental practice as those that are activated while some one does the physical activity in question.

What’s often left out of this discourse is the corollary. Above we spoke about positive visualization, but I believe negative visualization carries equal significance, albeit for a different reason. Of course we don’t want to picture bad things happening and then will them into reality. Instead, imagine the loss of a loved one or losing your job, and use this mental exercise to develop a deep appreciation for what you have. The great stoic philosophers (e.g. Seneca the Younger, Marcus Aurelius) were keen on this topic. They called it “premeditatio malorum,” a premeditation of evils. Before any endeavor, they would rehearse in their minds what could go wrong or prevent them from accomplishing a certain end.

Let’s try it together for a moment. Think about your best friend in the world. They have just been tragically killed in a freak accident. How would you feel? How long would it take you to get over it? What would you do to cope? Now, let’s say you’re thinking about that same friend. Ever day going forward, spend a few moments being painfully aware of that person’s mortality. They could be taken from you in a moment’s notice. In the unfortunate event that that person is ever taken from you, you will be in a much better position to deal with the news and continue forward.

Some might say that this is a pessimistic or cynical outlook on life, but I would disagree. It is merely a realistic one. We are all mere mortals. We are all gone in a cosmic snap of the fingers. All of the positive and negative happenings in life are fleeting and temporary. Realizing this and spending some time thinking about the worst case scenario allows for a more grateful, appreciative and equanimous existence.

My Latest Discovery

I recently signed up for StockTwits. It’s basically twitter, but all about investing ideas. Instead of using hashtags and following people using their @username, you follow individual securities using “$” before the ticker symbol (e.g. $TSLA for Tesla). It’s pretty awesome!

Question Of The Week

What’s the darkest or most sobering thing you’ve realized about the world?

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