The rationale for subscribing to the a p e r t u r e | Newsletter
Humankind has always had a thirst for knowledge. As technologies improved, people’s ability to consume that knowledge grew. But, with the advent of the Internet, technology overshot. While the internet broke the hold of publishers, empowered a much wider group of writers and lowered the costs of consumption, the social platforms that now serve up content are failing to deliver any meaningful returns on our time. We are fed too much content, too often, without context and so often sensationalized to try to hold our overexercised attention. News digests — like the one I curate on strategy — offer a way back to get the best out of the myriad of rich, informed content available to us. Contextualized, non-partisan, shaped around your reading habits, they work to capture your attention but to also improve the return on your attention.
We’ve always had a thirst for news
Societies were consuming news about current affairs long before the invention of newspapers in the early 17th century. All around the world, local communities used to tap merchants, sailors and travelers for news and then pass that knowledge via word-of-mouth, through a network of specially designated hubs (forums, public baths, inns) and people (monks, bellmen). Later on, with the advent of scribes and the written word, the spread of knowledge intensified and took different forms, while animals such as pigeons were also added to the distribution network.
Between the 1400s–1650s, written news saw various forms of formalization, as businessmen in Europe started to publish hand written letters covering a round-up of notable events to inform their partners, and governments started to publish notes on specific topics, usually not intended for the general public. The introduction of newspapers catering to a larger readership (but not mass audience), saw, up until late in the 19th century, a journalism industry which was, however, promoting mainly partisan and polarizing messages.
It was the 20th century which brought us mass media which, due to strategic positioning made possible by a concentrated landscape, introduced the objective journalism (in which editors were a critical part). This gave us the consensual thought that recent modern society is built upon. The appearance of radio and TV created again fragmentation which brought back the polarisation, while the advent of the Internet un-bundled and changed everything as we knew it. It was ultimately naive to believe that things are either true or false, and that emotions play no role in how we understand the world (even stock markets).
The un-bundling and re-bundling of everything
The Internet and the paradigm shift brought about by software eating the world, led to a radical un-bundling of every possible product and service available. Distribution was upended, tearing apart barriers for entry in most industries, freeing the users, consumers and readers (in the case of journalism) from the shackles of complex, expensive and ever growing bundles that the Industrial Age carefully put together, for the sake of satisfying the masses.
Public transport became on-demand rides, professional photography sessions became instant snaps, universal banks became circa 20,000 individual fintech startups, Procter & Gamble became a plethora of direct-to-consumer startups, music albums became single tracks, cable TV became YouTube streamed-videos.
News, and to a broader extent the act of writing, were of course not spared and were unbundled from well-thought-out publications into individual links (Facebook), from long readings to real-time 140-characters posts (tweets) or card-snippets (Google search results). It had no strategic choice but to return to its previous polarizing practice (as the incentive of reaching mainstream audiences disappeared).
But owing to a combination of unit economics of the business model, increasing competitive pressure and a scarcity of attention, the Internet is re-bundling. Just as on-demand individual rides become pool ride-sharing or driverless fleets, so fintech startups become vertically integrated ecosystems and individual music and videos become an ‘all you can hear/see’ recurring payment relationship.
The same thing is now happening in the knowledge industry. The consumption of knowledge, insight, and news is also re-bundling, either in format (from bigger tweets, to tweet storms threads, to Medium, to algorithm-driven newsletters, or beautifully handcrafted ones), but also in its economics (from ad-supported individual article monetization to subscription based publishing).
Ultimately, this is happening because consumption of news became devoid of any context, inefficient due to an abundance of scattered information, and unaligned with the interests of readers. Subscription-based models create a relationship where writers (or curators) must provide enough value in their service so that customers (readers) continue to subscribe. Hence why new models aim to create bundles of original content, offering readers value from curation, organization or personalization.
Social media platforms, acting as (ad-driven) aggregators, have become the main distributor of news for the majority of the population. This was great for a reader lost in the sea of unbundled news articles, as she/he could now consume content bundled in a chronological order, from trusted sources. But these platforms are in constant pursuit of growth, and hence their pursuit of constantly enlarging the Social Graph led to our personal networks of friends, acquaintances or people we follow to increase until they reached overload. It was the aim of tackling this overload that led to the transition from chronological newsfeeds (Facebook, Twitter) to algorithmic ones. This was a fundamental, well-intended necessity, due to the intentional pursuit of scale.
The problem is that, because social media newsfeeds are asymmetric in their nature (meaning sharing something onto your own feed is not having the same responsibility weight as sending it to any particular person or group), people tend to do more and more oversharing, because the content is designed to be shared for impact, more as ‘meme’, rather than deeper understanding. And with ever growing networks of friends, the algorithmic feeds are condemned to show a smaller and smaller sample of all the content our networks share. This creates a fear of missing out, which in turn makes us dependent on alert-based news.
The habit of being dependent on alert-based content is a race to the bottom, because the knowledge you get is always about scattered events, random snapshots in time. This consumption of series of separate, unrelated events, through a 24 hour lens, makes the reader completely miss developments that happen at a deeper level. It leads to a paradox where people, despite reading the vortex of news to stay informed, completely miss the sensational results of profound events and changes that unfold slowly and unsensationally.
It is why, the newsfeed as we know it is dying, and new formats are being explored (more focused towards context and storytelling). Because, as Tim O’Reilly puts it, the question is not if curation in the flow of knowledge should happen, but how.
The search for new reputational devices and the rebirth of handcraft
We now live in the world predicted by Herbert Simon, where an abundance of information leads to a poverty of attention (as well as trust). Despite the unprecedented free, instant and real-time access to information, news and knowledge given by technological progress, we are not empowered to become more cognitively autonomous. The Digital Age, with its shift away from content for the masses, has broken down the model of objective writing and general consensus, and transitioned it again towards polarizing content, but also towards something which can be considered as a new form of trustful, objective curation of more subjective writings, which brings back context and slow-reading. The Digital Age is, paradoxically, rendering us, readers, even more dependent on other people’s judgements and evaluations of the information with which we are faced. In this new paradigm, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence.
But as Azeem Azhar beautifully writes, we are not only facing a poverty of attention, but a poverty of imperfection, as well. And it is exactly the value of human imperfection, augmented (not replaced) by the power of new technologies, that is bringing an artisan economy back to life, which can unlock the next wave of value creation, even in the space of writing or curating news.
Carefully handcrafted news digests can be the reputational devices communities need.
Of course, traditional publishers will continue to be an important source of information, especially the ones that remain strategically positioned as custodians of truth and objective writing. The social fabric will continue to need these sources of news and knowledge, and as long as the market will support them, we can safely expect to count on their core service (although they will most probably become fewer and fewer). But increasingly, people will search for different sources for informing themselves, more imperfect, more subjective, more contextual and comprehensive. The rise of the maker movement, brought about by the Digital Age, is also creating new artisan writers, who increasingly write for niched, smaller scale audiences. And publishing these writings on to new mediums or bundling them into curated digests is a way to ensure that their work is receiving the right attention, social importance and market recognition.
We are re-analysing the true value of what a word is worth…
a p e r t u r e Newsletter, by Dan Colceriu
As part of my previous role in the Corporate Strategy team of an established FinTech company, and through my interactions with the team in charge of building the community around it, I was constantly challenged to understand (first if, then) how business strategic positioning applies in today’s dynamic techno-socio-economic landscape. In my continuous personal quest to discover that, I had to also find other sources of information, as I felt the more established sources were still stuck in the old paradigm with their writings. It is how I discovered, for example, Nicolas Colin and his essays on business strategy in the 21st century.
Through my readings, I discovered not only that business strategy is even more important in the Digital Age, but also that you cannot look at FinTech strategy without applying a larger lens (understanding business models in the era of platformification, politics and the role of policy-making and how to scale entrepreneurial ecosystems).
What started as an internal quest to curate knowledge in order to help my colleagues understand today’s context better (for which we had to move away from reading news through a 24-hour lens), became a more complex effort to upgrade the strategic mindset of a broader network. Inspired by Amazon practices (build first for internal use, but ensure it can be used externally), the practice turned into a broader mission to inspire the new thinking, by helping entrepreneurs, bankers, developers and rest of the FinTech community and beyond to access this knowledge and unlock further value creation.
So I was inspired to launch a regular digest with carefully curated articles and content capturing Strategy and business development; Evolution of the firm in the digital age; The broader context.
So why not subscribe to the a p e r t u r e newsletter?
Here is what is on offer:
1/ Reduces dependency on alert-based news reading — being constantly bombarded by alerts and pop-up notifications for every single title is not only damaging to your well-being and the quality of your social interactions, but also defeats the purpose of becoming truly informed from reading news. A curated digest fixes that.
2/ Bring back context via slow-reading — because meaningful developments happen below the radar of 24-hour cycles, and the habit of reading scattered news breaks down any chain of thought, you as a reader risk missing out on the actual important shifts that are happening, as they can only be spotted via the patterns enabled by slow-reading. It is why the digest is delivered every two weeks (more or less)—the minimal interval into which quality content can be packaged in a meaningful narrative — into a long-read, as the right format to do the most justice to the writers featured. As well as allowing for events to take shape, it also gives more time to the reader to enjoy other activities in between (quality family time, reading fiction or other quality weekly digests).
3/ Eliminating the fear of missing out — the current structure of reading news from overly abundant feeds, which gamify your engagement in order to ensure you return to it many times through-out the day, is working against the main objective of news: feeling satisfied and informed. In fact, the opposite is happening now, as we’re constantly feeling we’re only reading a small sample, and because of gamification tricks, we are constantly left wanting more. By switching to digests (such as those from Azeem Azhar, Benedict Evans, Ben Thompson, Nicolas Colin, Tim O’Reilly), because of their intrinsic context value, you as a reader will be left satisfied, informed and with a clear sense of action.
Combined with subscribing to the digest I curate, because it is, as its readers describe it, an essential companion for understanding the shifts in tech and society, you will definitely lose any fear of missing out anything important (among the topics covered).
4/ Cater to your reading habits—I will always encourage you to read most, if not all, of the articles and links shared in any digest edition. Ultimately, the digest will not try to break the existing connection you had with the writers that are featured. In fact, it will try to create that connection where it doesn’t exist, by adopting the gold standard of quoting the name of the author in the hyperlink or including a breakdown list of titles, author names and date also at the end. But sometimes, you as a reader might not have the time to open each and every link that gets featured. It is why, through the format I’m proposing, you will be able to read the digest, obtain the satisfaction of becoming informed (with or without clicking on the links), while always remaining aware of the writers behind the ideas that were aggregated. The dual objective is to ensure you as a reader stay informed, while also promoting the artisan writers of the Digital Age.
5/ Popping algorithmic bubbles—”You are what you read” was probably the idea that stood at the base of the algorithmic newsfeeds. This implies both that we like to read and understand the world (be it history, markets, politics) based on content tailored to our interests and beliefs, but also, if faced with contradictory, well-argued opinions, we are able to change our minds and evolve “who we are”. As the number of links with content increased exponentially, the shift from chronological to algo-driven newsfeed became an imperative. But as the objective of the algorithms are to grow impressions and engagement, over meaningful readings, it became impossible for readers to “become more tomorrow than what they are today”. The so called algorithmic filter bubbles, feeding us only the side of the story that we want to see and to what we respond more positively, turned things upside down — “You’ll read what you are, and your views will become more deeply entrenched”.
But a digest curated as a service focused on creating better reading habits, such as the one I’m proposing, because its incentive is to promote good quality writings from less mainstream sources that were written in the 2-week window covered by the digest, it will inevitably capture both sides of stories (e.g. the good and bad of winner-take-all strategies; the importance of perfect customer experience and the negative externalities it can create; technology’s relationship with ethics etc.)
6/ Aims to inspire healthier Entrepreneurial ecosystems — the Digital Age does not like the status-quo, hence why it spurred an entrepreneurial culture aimed at re-creating a better world. But there are three dangers that I observed: a) thinking that entrepreneurship is all about products and growth hacking (while business strategy is some vestigial theory of the Industrial Economy); b) a disconnect between entrepreneurs and politics and the broader role that governments, policy-making and ethics have in establishing a proper infrastructure for value creation; c) entrepreneurs disrupting industries with hate, instead of love. Through the content included in the digest, I aim to inspire a mindset-upgrade that will truly create the better world that today’s entrepreneurs claim to want to build. And, as a humble ending, the digest can include also what my colleagues and I are doing to achieve or inspire that change (FinTech as part of something bigger).
In conclusion, the rapid technological progress of the past years has created a context where becoming and staying informed has become harder. In search for new models of absorbing knowledge, new mediums and formats are being introduced. Some are harmful and defeat the purpose, some are useful and provide the needed satisfaction. The strategy digest I curate aims to be in the latter category, as it will be based on the value of human craftmanship, but augmented by technology. And to be clear, its dual objective is to ensure its readers are left satisfied and informed, but also to build a community that values and promotes the artisan writers that put in the great effort of sharing their everyday discoveries with the rest of us.
My name is Dan Colceriu and I am heading market research and strategy at Pangea. If you’ like the sound of what you’ve read in this post and would like to read and digest quality content on business strategy, evolution of the firm and the broader context, do subscribe to the a p e r t u r e newsletter.
Thank you to Ben Robinson for the remarks and wordsmithing, but also to the authors below for their relentless writing.
List of articles featured in this post:
- Nicolas Colin — The internet killed the media star—May 2018
- Marc Andreessen — Software is eating the world — August 2011
- Albert Wenger — From Advertising to Subscriptions and the Evolution of the USV Investment Thesis — April 2018
- Ev Williams — The Medium Model — April 2018
- Brendan Greeley — Facebook prefers to work “at scale.” Wouldn’t we all? — March 2018
- Benedict Evans — The death of the newsfeed — April 2018
- Tim O’Reilly — Media in the age of algorithms — November 2016
- Rob Wijnberg — This is how we can fight the attack on democracy — February 2017
- Gloria Origgi — Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now
- Azeem Azhar — The Path to the Artisan Economy — May 2018
- Malcolm Harris — How much is a word worth? — April 2018
- Nicolas Colin — A Stout Porter: Business Strategy In the 21st Century — October 2016
- Alexander Coppock, Emily Ekins and David Kirby — The Long-lasting Effects of Newspaper Op-Eds on Public Opinion— March 2018