Signal May 13: An Instant Fortune, Algorithms FTW!

Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram

Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram

In this week’s Signal: Vanity Fair on Kevin Systrom; What if machines finally ran the world?; get back to your quick, dirty, scrappy roots; Eric Schmidt on the morality of data collection; interactive ads that enable viewers to interject their own media; data, not content, is king; digital marketers should swear off the “B” word; brands are relying less on agencies and more on publishers for content; how to be a great CMO; John Battelle discusses his take on Google Glass; and more.

To the links …

The Money Shot (Vanity Fair) Kara Swisher reports on Kevin Systrom’s wild ride from the suburbs of Boston to becoming CEO of Instagram, and on what really happened when Facebook bought his company for $1B last year. A long, but worthy, read.

How Algorithms Will Dominate the World and How We Can Beat Them (B2C) Jean Pascal Mathieu recently attended what he calls an “absolutely terrifying conference” presented by the MIT Media Lab’s Kevin Slavin, who discussed how algorithms and machines are progressively taking over our lives. Slavin outlined a series of examples to support his theory, concluding that we shouldn’t be afraid of machines, but rather realize that they are only truly powerful when humans are involved.

The Importance of Quick and Dirty (Inc.) Jason Fried, co-founder and president of 37signals, wants startups to know that an obsessive focus on quality can be a bad thing. When creating a quick-and-dirty demo for your own company, for example, don’t focus on perfecting it, rather just see if it will work. “A company gets better at the things it practices,” he writes. “Practice quality, and you get better at quality. But quality takes time, so by working solely on quality, you end up losing something else that’s important—speed. … Startups should embrace their scrappiness, not rush to toss it aside. The ability to run with scissors is a blessing, not a curse.”

Google’s Eric Schmidt On Data Privacy: The Internet Needs A Delete Button (FC) On May 6, at NYU’s Stern Business School, economist Nouriel Roubini grilled Eric Schmidt about Google’s evolving role in personal privacy. Roubini described a future when we might embed technology into our bodies to track our health or consumption patterns, claiming that Google Glass is a step in this direction. Schmidt disagreed with Roubini’s assessment of things to come, saying, “I think you’re describing a world of tracking which I think is highly unlikely to occur, because people will be upset about it in the same way you are. Governments won’t allow it, and it’ll be bad business.” But what about the moral issues surrounding data collection? “This lack of a delete button on the Internet is in fact a significant issue,” added Schmidt. “There are times when erasure [of data] is the right thing … and there are times when it is inappropriate. How do we decide? We have to have that debate now.”

Chute raises $7M led by Foundry Group, Unveils Ads, a Platform Adding Real-Time Media Into Banners (TNW) Chute Ads, a new service from media sharing startup Chute, is designed to allow brands to serve interactive ads that enable viewers to interject their own media. Starting with Conde Nast Traveler, banners can be placed on the network that allow photos and videos to be added in real-time. For example, Nike might have a stock image featured on Conde Nast’s network of sites, and invite viewers to upload their own images to fit the campaign. TNW reports that advertisers who are interested in utilizing a Chute Ad will be able to select from one of several formats. All brands will need to do is provide a skeleton design and Chute’s service will overlay on top of it.

Unseating a King: At Meredith Corp. Data, Not Content, Reigns Supreme (Audience Development) According to IBM, humans create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily. About 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. That number doubles about every 40 months. Liz Schimel, EVP and Chief Digital Officer at Meredith, believes that data has performed a coup and ousted content as king. In this Q&A, Schimel details Meredith’s data collection and implementation strategy and the various ways her team is using data to support the growth and development of both existing and new products. “Both the king and queen are extremely important,” says Schimel, “but we feel like we can’t be great at our core business of creating great content and amassing scaled audiences without depth of expertise on the data side.”

Digital Marketers Should Aim For Influence, Not Branding (Ad Exchanger) Adam Heimlich of Razorfish believes that digital is not a continuation of the old method of media influence. “People who know branding can plainly see that search, display and social ain’t it. …It’s time for digital marketers to admit that top advertisers’ focus on traditional media for branding is a data-driven decision,” he writes. “We’ll serve our interests better by asserting that new media influences people in a new way.”

In Content Era, What’s the Role of Agencies? (Digiday) Agencies are finding that many brands are relying less on them and more on publishers for content. That said, what are we to make of the agency role? “Let’s be honest,” writes Giselle Abramovich, “agencies aren’t the best choice for content creation. That’s not what they’re all about. Authenticity also comes into question. After all, having someone create content on your behalf isn’t exactly being authentic and real.” In addition, brands are finding that it’s proving to be less expensive to create a full-service team internally.

How To Be A Great CMO (Forbes) Michael Lazerow, CMO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, knows what takes to be a great CMO in today’s age of social, local, and mobile. Lazerow, who will speak at the CM Summit this month, sold his last company, Buddy Media, to for $745 million. Here are his eight tips to help CMOs become truly great in this age of SoLoMo.


40+ CEOs, CMOs, VCs and media leaders in two days of unscripted conversation. (Recently added: Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann.) Come to the CM Summit to join the conversation about “Bridging Data and Humanity.” New York City, May 21-22. The only conference this year curated by your faithful correspondent.

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Is Google Glass First of Many Mobile Alternatives? (Bloomberg) Our own John Battelle discusses his take on Google Glass, OpenCo New York (May 22-23), and the New York tech scene with Cory Johnson on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West” (Video). Battelle’s OpenCo is “a mashup of an open studio tour and a business conference, with the vibe of a music festival.” The idea behind it is to identify and celebrate innovative companies by ‘opening up’ the traditional conference model and getting people out into the cities, walking from company to company to soak up the culture and see founders in their native environments.

This Video Of One Half-Second Of High Frequency Trading Is Insane, Terrifying (HuffPost) A new video by the research firm Nanex shows one half-second of trading in just one stock —Johnson & Johnson. Representing more than 1,200 orders and 215 actual trades occurring on May 2, the video illustrates the rise of high-frequency trading robots over the years, providing the first clear look at what those robots are doing every day, all day, now that they control more than half of all market volume.

Publishers: Beware of Easy Money (Digiday) When Criteo approached Vivaki to buy their inventory through a Criteo network, Marco Bertozzi, Executive Managing Director and EVP of EMEA at Vivaki, was prompted to think about the sales policies of publishers. Criteo has created a good business according to Bertozzi, “but they got there through persuading publishers that they should sell to them quality impressions, in some instances first look, even above direct and brand channels at a low cpm vs those direct channels but high vs the RTB market. …Problem is that they buy a lot of it and need to get rid of it and so they want other people to buy it from them, whether that’s trading desks, ad networks or DSPs.” Is it time to ditch the flat cpm and embrace the auctions and private marketplaces? It sure is, says Bertozzi.

EBay Plans to Share Its Users’ Data With Brands Faces Perception Issues (Adweek) Following a similar move by Amazon, eBay will soon start letting brands build out audience segments using its wealth of shopping data so they can target ads to consumers on non-eBay sites. Ebay has been building its advertising business for years and has recently made a key hire. But the question remains, will the typical eBay shopper be as valuable to an advertiser as someone who pays full price at Amazon?

Betaworks’ Vision For the Future of Online News (Mashable) Seth Fiegerman talks to Betaworks’ CEO John Borthwick about the company’s goal to create an ecosystem of media products that improves the way readers discover and consume content online, and about what a 21st century media company really should look like. Borthwick “eventually settled on a few fundamental principles for such a company,” writes Fiegerman. “It would be data-driven. It wouldn’t need to own all the expensive assets that traditional media corporations do. It would be more focused on distribution, but not tied to a particular method of distribution. It would be, [in Borthwick’s words], a ‘loose federation of pieces.’”

Ad Tech’s Got a Business Model Problem (Digiday) Michael Greene, director of research and marketing strategy at Audience Science, a data management platform, believes that the biggest problem in digital advertising is broken economics, and that it’s an issue only marketers themselves can fix. “It’s convenient to push the blame for digital advertising’s ills onto the supply side, and certainly publishers need to be accountable,” he posits. “But for many of the biggest sources of waste in digital advertising today – from bot traffic to frequency overload – advertisers are the only ones capable of enforcing rules across all publisher and inventory sources.”

Has Big Data Made Anonymity Impossible? (MIT Technology Review) Patrick Tucker discusses the privacy legislation introduced by the European Union in 1995, which defined “personal data” as any information that could identify a person, directly or indirectly. Because the amount of data created each year has grown exponentially, he believes that the definition “encompasses far more information than those European legislators could ever have imagined—easily more than all the bits and bytes in the entire world when they wrote their law 18 years ago.” Today, modern data science is finding that nearly any type of data can be used, much like a fingerprint, to identify the person who created it.

Aereo, Citing Tweets and Conference Calls, Fires Off a New Legal Salvo at CBS (ATD) Peter Kafka provides the latest on Aereo’s legal battle with CBS over the issue of unauthorized streaming of copyrighted television programming. Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia will be at the CM Summit, May 21-22 in New York City, to join the conversation about “Bridging Data and Humanity.”

Digitas And HuffPost Attempt ‘Real-Time’ Native Ads (Ad Exchanger) Earlier this month at the Digitas NewFront, Huffington Post executives said they would offer their native advertising content distribution system exclusively to the Publicis Groupe interactive shop’s clients. “More than ever, we see that brands want…to respond and react and reach a specific audience in real-time,” Travis Donovan, Huffington Post’s executive products editor, told Ad Exchanger. “This is for brands that want to be relevant within the moment. I don’t think any other publication – with the kind of mass audience that Huffington Post has – ever made it so easy to do that until now.”

Marketing Technology LUMAscape (Shildeshare) The marketing tech world, illustrated in one big slide.

5 Brands Winning at Pinterest (Digiday) According to a new study by Digitas, the top integrated global brand agency, and Curalate, the only marketing and analytics suite for Pinterest and Instagram, 70 percent of brand engagement on Pinterest is generated by users, not brands themselves. But of the brands that are on Pinterest, some have figured out better than others how to make use of the social image-gathering site. This piece covers the top five.