Facebook, Twitter, and Google – Media Outlets or Just the Newsstand?

Pulling out of my driveway to head to the train station last week, I was surprised to hear a somewhat familiar voice came on the radio – hey wait a minute – that’s Randall Rothenberg’s voice.  I know that guy!

Randall was calling into NPR to talk about the testimony of Google, Facebook and Twitter before congress as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.  I personally find this topic to be incredibly interesting and the facts are just remarkable.

Russian backed social media accounts spread false negative information about Hillary Clinton, false positive information about Donald Trump – and even went so far as to encourage Clinton voters to say home on election day (to avoid the line) and “cast their vote” on social media- which of course wouldn’t be counted in the actual election.  You can see some examples of the fake content here.

(via – https://www.recode.net/)

One of the reasons why this is so interesting is because the digital ad industry has been working for the last 10 years to prevent fraudsters from taking people’s money online.  To the credit of the industry these money-based fraud schemes are much less prevalent than they were in the late 00’s– but even as some progress has been made protecting people’s wallets, the industry is still poorly prepared to protect people’s minds. (more…)

The Power of Google: My Story of Being Blacklisted

On or around April 22nd 2017, this blog (andreweifler.com) was removed from the Google search index.

The impact was devastating.

(Daily sessions driven by Google Search to andreweifler.com between October ’16 and October ’17)

As you can see, some days I was getting upwards of 50 sessions per day from Google (organic search).  When my site was delisted, that dropped to practically zero.

This is what a search for the term “andrew eifler” should look like:

(Screenshot of Bing search for “andrew eifler” taken 10-16-17)

Notice the deep linking, images – the whole nine yards.  This is almost exactly what Google looked like before I was blacklisted.

This is what a Google Search for “andrew eifler” returned after my site had been removed from the Google index:

(Screenshot of Google search for “andrew eifler” taken 8-12-17; this is what this search result looked like from mid-April to mid-August)

Neither Bing nor Yahoo (which is powered by Bing) removed me from their index at any time – yet still, just getting removed by Google was crushing.

You can see the overall impact on my monthly traffic below.

(Total sessions on andreweifler.com between October ’16 and October ’17)

I first noticed that something was wrong in mid-June ‘17, about two months after this site had been removed from Google.  I’m a casual blogger, so I don’t often look at site analytics, but when I did, I saw that overall traffic had been decimated.  After poking around, I realized traffic from Google had dropped to near zero.

At the time, I had no idea why Google had delisted me, although my mind immediately jumped to the very critical article I had written about Google just a few months prior.


Whistling Vivaldi and Stereotype Threat

I’ve recently started reading Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele, a book about how stereotypes impact our identities and our lives.

The story is told from the perspective of Steele, a university professor and social psychologist studying (among other things) the underperformance of minority students at the university level.  At the core of his research are a series of studies on what he calls “stereotype threat” – that is – how the risk of confirming a stereotype affects our performance.

His findings can be roughly summarized as follows:

If you’re being given a test and:

1) The test is meant to be an evaluation of your skills in a specific area
2) The area in which you’re being tested is an area where your group (gender, ethnicity, etc.) stereotypically underperforms
3) You really care about being good at the area where you’re being tested (it’s meaningful to you)

You will probably perform below the level of your true ability.

Said differently – the threat of confirming a pre-existing stereotype by performing poorly will be sufficiently distracting to lower your performance on the test.

This was seen in his tests in a number of areas including:

  • Women taking advanced math tests
  • Racial minorities taking college admission tests

He even called out this same effect on white male students when being tested in the area of athletics (where white male students stereotypically perform worse than their African American peers).

I find these studies extremely interesting, especially because they somewhat confirm my hypotheses here: http://www.andreweifler.com/why-is-d-n-i-important/.  It’s also very disturbing to think that stereotype-threat-induced-underperformance is probably most often viewed as stereotype confirming behavior – which is truly a tragedy.

I was thinking more about Steele’s work last week and how to describe stereotype threat in an accessible way.  Here’s what I came up with:


Great by Choice

I recently finished reading Jim Collins latest book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

I like Jim Collins and think that he does excellent work, however I tend to be somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to his process.  I’ve read most of his books and they all share a similar formula:

  • Start with a research question that pertains to the theme: Why does one group of companies succeed while others fail?
  • Pick a group of companies to study that have succeeded
  • Pick a similar group of companies who have not succeeded
  • Study the differences between the two groups of companies and explain the results using catchy descriptors
  • Take a moment to defend the validity of the prior book (and quickly explain why the “successful” companies from the last book are now out of business)
  • Explain how the research lessons apply to non-business audiences (e.g. churches, schools, sports teams, etc.) in an effort to expand the target market for the book

What sets Collins apart from other business authors is his devotion to proper academic research methodologies.  His work is deeply data driven and he is constantly referencing the rigor of his research process.  He even includes sections for “limitations of research” and “methodology” alluding to the structure of an academic paper.

For those of you who think that most business books are pointless exercises in confirmation bias written by poorly informed charlatans looking to make a buck – Jim Collins is a good author for you.

In Great by Choice, there were a few different sections, but the part I liked best was the section where Collins analyzed the characterizes of people he called “10Xers” or leaders that produced results that were 10 times better than the “comparison” leaders (throughout the book, “comparison” is used as a euphemism for “unsuccessful”).

Collins found that there were three primary characteristics that separated 10X leaders from comparison leaders – which he represents with the following catchy descriptors:

  • Fanatic Discipline (in short – stay even keel, make a plan and stick to it; never over-extend)
  • Productive Paranoia (Never rest on your laurels and always work like there is someone out to take what’s yours)
  • Empirical Creativity (When faced with decisions, look to empirical data and never just follow convention)

The explanation here I found deeply compelling, however after reading Collins work, I always end up with two pretty strong reactions:

My first reaction is tends to be: All of this is bullshit.


Sapiens and the Recent Events in Charlottesville

I recently finished reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Hurari and it has safely earned a spot on the list of my favorite books.

The story follows a rough historical timeline starting millions of years ago with the evolution of homo sapiens and ending with Ray Kurzweil-esq predictions for the future of human technology.  I enjoyed the whole text, but the best part by far was the first 100 pages where Hurari addresses a question that I’ve never even thought to ask before:

Why are sapiens the only humans?

After all – there are many species of cats (the genus “Felis”), from house cats (felis catus) to jungle cats, (felis chaus) and there are many species of dogs (genus “canus”), from common domesticated dogs (cannis lupus familiaris) to coyotes (canis latrans), why aren’t there many species of humans (genus “homo”)?

The answer is: there were.  Once upon a time there were multiple species of humans.


How Price Sensitive is Your Customer

One of the biggest differences between successful and struggling businesses comes down to one question: has price sensitive is your customer?

It seems like common sense, but I didn’t fully understand what caused price sensitivity until recently.  Here are some of the main factors that I’ve seen contribute to price sensitivity (or lack there of):

  • How visible is your fee to your customer?

Is your fee one of just a few expenses that your customer has to manage or is it one of several dozen?  Does your fee have it’s own line item in your customer’s financial reporting, or is your fee non-transparently tucked into another larger category?  The more visible your fee is to your customer, the more price sensitive they will be.

  • What percentage of your customer’s budget is your fee?

Does your fee represent a small part of a large budget or does your fee represent a large part of a small budget?  The larger the proportion of your customer’s budget you take, the more sensitive your customer (regardless of the actual size of the budget).

  • Is your product or service seen as an expense or an investment?

For most people, buying a house is very visible and expensive, but people see it as an investment, so they are relatively less price sensitive.  Buying a car is more like an expense, and people tend to be much more price sensitive when shopping for cars.

Competition definitely has an impact on price sensitivity (the more providers that offer what you do, the more downward pricing pressure you will feel), but from what I’ve seen – this impact is muted compared to the three bullets above.  There are some very crowded industries where customers still lack price sensitivity (e.g. medical expenses).

A very price sensitive customer almost always makes for a very difficult business.  But, if you find yourself with sensitive customers, it’s not the end of the world.


Political Correctness

(Disclaimer: This is the third piece in a three part series on Diversity and Inclusion. I’m lucky to work at a company like AppNexus that values D&I and provides training for employees – however not all companies are as forward thinking as AppNexus.  The below post was inspired by a few different workplace stories I heard about through friends and family that I’ve combined into one fictitious case- enjoy.)

Consider this is case.

A manager is given a warning by HR that he said something insensitive on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity to an employee.

To protect the employee, the manager is not given an explanation of the offense, nor the name of the employee – he’s just told that if he does it again, he’ll be fired.

The problem is: the manager legitimately does not know what he did.  He’s not a hateful person, just ignorant.  He doesn’t know what it feels like to be someone of a different gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity and probably has said things all his life that could be heard as slightly offensive.

Ultimately the manager repeats the offense and is fired. Still without explanation.

The manager is outraged.  He can’t believe what’s happening and can only conclude that the company has gotten too “politically correct.”

Two things are wrong here.


Why is Diversity and Inclusion Important?

Last week Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned over a litany of diversity and inclusion (D&I) related troubles.  I’ve read a lot of the coverage (including the blog post by Susan Fowler that started it all) and it’s pretty bad.  Fowler (and other female engineers) were repeatedly harassed and discriminated against, and then shamed and threatened by HR for reporting the offenses.

I’m happy that last week brought significant changes at Uber, however, in some ways, holding Uber up as the golden case study for D&I-done-wrong is problematic.  At Uber, the D&I offenses are so bad they clearly cross the line of moral, ethical, and legal wrongdoing.

Taking the Uber example, one might draw the conclusion that absent any criminal-level D&I violations, there is nothing more to worry about – and this would be a mistake.

The Uber discussion, in my mind, misses the point of why D&I is important.  D&I certainly can get to the point of moral, ethical, and legal violations – but even when it doesn’t, D&I is still important because it’s good for business.

So – why is D&I good for business?  I’ll explain.

A few years back I watched Michael Sandel’s incredible online course on Justice.  The course if published by Harvard University and – if you haven’t seen it – it’s really quite fantastic.  Lecture number eight explores the question “What is a fair start” and dives deep into the societal distribution of wealth and income.

(Note – AppNexus employees will enjoy a fun cameo at 16:22 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcL66zx_6No&t=16m22s)

Near the end of the lecture – an articulate student in the balcony presents the opinion that wealth should be distributed according to merit.  He gives the example that he worked hard his entire life and was able to gain admittance to Harvard as a result (making a connection between hard work and success).

In a dramatic rebuttal – Sandel demonstrates that even hard work is influenced by a variety of societal and cultural variables.  He demonstrates this fact by asking who in the classroom is the first-born child in their family (and nearly everyone raises their hand).

The point being made here is, if something as arbitrary as birth order can influence success in life, then is it “fair” to reward people who are more “successful”?

In the lecture, this point pertained to equality and wealth distribution, but it’s also very interesting to consider this “first born” example in the context of Diversity and Inclusion.

I’ll admit, it’s not the best example – traditional discussions of D&I don’t usually cover birth order, but this happens to be a topic that, as a youngest sibling, I have some vivid experience with.

To illustrate, let me tell a story.


Real Diversity and Inclusion is Subtle

I participated in my first corporate diversity training about ten years ago.  I remember it well.  My company had hired a production studio to create films depicting “real life” diversity and inclusion scenes.  Each scene would teach a different lesson about diversity – the training covered gender, age, race, religion, etc.  We even hired a troop of “diversity educators”/actors to come to the office and perform live for employees.  It was actually quite entertaining – part diversity training, part live theatre.

The training has stuck with me over the years.

One of the things that has stuck with me the most was how completely over the top the scenes were.  Each scene would start out largely the same in a normal office environment.  Employees would be in a meeting or sitting around talking about something completely benign.  Then, all of the sudden, the scene would turn on a dime and someone would say something grossly inappropriate.  In the film version of the training – they would even change the background music – in the same way the music changes when the villain appears in a horror movie.

A few examples from the training:

  • Colleagues were preparing for a work dinner with clients – everything is going fine until one of the male colleagues tells a female coworker to wear a low-cut shirt (cue evil music).
  • Employees are at an office birthday party that looks totally friendly, just a few younger employees celebrating the birthday of an older colleague – then they cut to the cake that says, “over the hill” (evil music again).


Well, We Didn’t Die


Last month, I spent a weekend down in Florida on Clearwater beach.  The occasion was somewhat of an impromptu high school reunion – 14 friends joined, many who I hadn’t seen since we graduated from high school in 2003.

We spent most of the weekend hanging out on the beach and learning about each other’s lives.  Everyone had an interesting story to tell, I truly enjoyed catching up with old friends, and, for the most part, the weekend went off without a hitch.

There was one little bump in the road though.