Category Archives: Content

The FIFA eWorld Cup 2018

Electronic Arts is the owner EA Sports, the world’s leading sports video gaming label. EA Sports produces the FIFA soccer game series, named after the sport’s governing body, as well as video games for the NFL, NBA, NHL, PGA, and UFC.

So it’s big news when Electronic Arts partners with FIFA to launch the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018. While professional soccer players will be battling it out on the pitch during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, professional esports players will be doing the same behind their video game consoles.

The partnership is yet another signal of just how far esports has come in the 6 years since esports streaming service Twitch introduced the sport to the masses in 2011.

Toys R Us’ bankruptcy

I remember how I used to always look forward to going to the local Toys R Us store when I was a child. I was therefore suprised, and disappointed, to read the news that Toys R Us is filing for bankruptcy earlier this week. I imagine that many adults who relied on the retailer for their childhood toys felt the same way.

Most of the stories covering the bankruptcy have focused on Toys R Us’ inability to pay off its debts as the source of the bankruptcy. While that is indeed the final manisfestation of the problem which led to the company’s bankruptcy filing, this final manifestation of the problem is actually the result of the company’s profits not being large enough to cover its debts.

And the shortfall in profit is the result of the primarily offline toy retailer losing sales to two alternatives. The first is online toy retailers and the second is smartphone and tablet apps that offer children an alternative source of entertainment to toys. These are the core problems, and both of these core problems are examples of technological progress.

As tough as it is to see Toys R Us go, the fact that technology is responsible both for the company’s departure and as an alternative to the products it sold, is a small consolation.

Learning the fundamentals to create the application

In a post from October 2016, I wrote that “if we hope to create or support the creation of an application, in other words if we’re an entrepreneur or an investor, we need to understand the textbook fundamentals [behind the application]”.

This is in contrast to diving straight into the application without engaging with the primary sources necessary to understand the fundamentals behind the technology, or, even worse, trying to get a grasp of the fundamentals by reading secondary accounts (like most blog posts and podcasts) of the technology. Since the latter doesn’t take a structured approach to building your knowledge base in a particular technology from the ground up, you’re left with many holes in your understanding.

The best source for acquiring textbook fundamentals (or video or audio fundamentals, depending on the medium of your choice) is schools. Fortunately, we live in an age when many leading global universities make available the content of their classes online, and often for free.

For example, Princeton University offers a Coursera course on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. I recently completed the 11 week course and have learned more about cryptocurrencies in general and bitcoin in particular through the course than through the hours I’ve spent reading secondary accounts of the same technologies.

Sinemia’s Facebook Messenger bot

Sinemia, a monthly movie membership club and content site where we’re investors, recently launched its Facebook Messenger bot.

If you go to the Facebook Messenger app and search for Sinemia, you can chat with Sinemia’s bot to discover movie theaters close to you, browse movie screening times, and read articles about the movies.

Equally important, if you can’t find what you’re looking for by interacting with Sinemia’s bot, you can also request to be handed off to a human agent. This is a very important feature for bots which are in their early development stages to ensure that they’re able to respond to the full needs of the humans that they’re interacting with.

As a Sinemia member and regular user, I find the Sinemia app to be a more convenient way to reach the same information as that available through Sinemia’s Messenger bot. However, for people who don’t use the Sinemia app or who do but are looking for a different channel to reach the same information, Sinemia’s Messenger bot provides a great alternative.

Twitter product features inspired by the Oscars

Yesterday morning, I saw a stream of tweets in my feed from different people all sharing a mishap that occurred at the Oscars. I couldn’t grasp what had happened at first but as I read more tweets I eventually discovered that La La Land had mistakenly been given the Oscar for Best Picture in place of its actual recipient Moonlight.

Naturally, what I wanted to do next is to see video footage of how the mishap took place and how it was corrected. I imagine that many Twitter users wanted to do the same. And that’s when I went off Twitter.

After searching for a few minutes on the web, I eventually came across the footage.

However, I’m sure that the same footage had been shared by some accounts on Twitter. I just didn’t happen to follow them. If Twitter had presented me with that video footage together with the tweets I was reading, I wouldn’t have left Twitter and I would have had a much better Twitter experience.

Twitter actually does have a feature to show such video footage to you. It’s in a separate tab called Moments. However, users want to see relevant video footage juxtaposed with the textual tweets they’re reading. Going to a separate tab is a behavior with as much friction as going to a separate website for the user and, partly because of this reason, Moments usage hasn’t taken off.

If the clearly relevant curated video content within Moments were presented at the right position in the main feed of users who follow several people who share a burst of tweets about a specific topic, the experience of the main feed would improve and Twitter wouldn’t need to be two products lumped into one (or at the very least, if Twitter chooses to keep Moments, the Moments experience wouldn’t be any worse).

 

Sinemia’s new round

Sinemia, a movie membership and loyalty club that also operates movie content sites, recently completed its Series A funding round.

500 Startups was the first to participate in this round last November, and this was followed by Revo Capital who led the roughly $1.5M total round this month.

This investment makes us happy for two reasons.

First, it will help Sinemia establish new partnerships to grow in Turkey while also giving it the fuel to test the US market.

Second, this marks our first co-investment with Revo. We welcome the Revo team to the company.

News algorithms with a human touch

3 weeks ago, I wrote about how the explosion in news content and the challenge of fact-checking this news content is leading to widespread misinformation.

The timing of the post was particularly appropriate as, following the results of the US presidential elections, reports have emerged that draw attention to how people are producing articles with false information designed to attract clicks and generate revenue, and spreading these articles on social media sites like Facebook. The argument is that these factually incorrect articles helped Trump win the US election.

I don’t agree with this assessment. These articles containing false information are just one of several factors which contributed to the election outcome. And they’re a small one at that. In addition, although perhaps to different extents, they impacted both candidates.

However, the widespread distribution of these factually incorrect articles does lead to an important question. What responsibility, if any, do social media sites like Facebook have to monitor the factual accuracy of the content that they’re helping spread?

Facebook argues that it doesn’t have this responsibility because it is simply a distributor of content. It is not a media company that produces the content.

While true, distributors of online news content have a very different role than offline distributors of newspapers. Online content is effectively infinite while offline content isn’t. This gives online content distributors the ability to influence what readers consume to a far greater extent than offline newsstands. While a newsstand could display all the newspapers available in the country, Facebook has to choose what content to display within your newsfeed. It’s physically impossible to show it all.

So far, Facebook has chosen to prioritize the content it displays based on a black box algorithm which appears designed to maximize user engagement and hence Facebook’s revenue. The problem with this approach is that few users care about the facts. Most are just looking for the next adrenaline rush. So content which meets this demand gets clicks and is pushed to the top of the news feed where it gets more clicks, irrespective of factual accuracy.

But if this isn’t the right approach because factually correct content is intrinsically valuable and this approach often directs our attention to factually incorrect content, then what is the right approach?

One possibility is for Facebook to have a fact checking team, or to work with a third party fact checking team, to only surface content that it deems factually correct. The problem with this approach is that, whenever humans have absolute power like this, it’s up for abuse. One of social media’s greatest advantages over traditional media is that it doesn’t exercise editorial influence (at least in most cases). Allowing Facebook to be the arbiter of factual accuracy would give it much greater editorial powers. This is dangerous and should be avoided.

I believe that the solution lies at the middle of these two extremes. An engagement-optimizing algorithm isn’t the solution, but a human fact-checking team that can override the algorithm whenever it wants to isn’t the solution either.

Instead, Facebook’s algorithm needs to evolve to include factual accuracy as one of the important variables which it uses to determine which articles to surface in its users’ news feeds. This is similar to Google’s search results reflecting not only the number of links to a specific page but also the quality of the sites providing these links. I don’t know the variables taken into account in Facebook’s algorithm but I doubt that factual accuracy is a variable with an important weight, if it is even a variable at all.

I recognize that what I’m proposing isn’t a perfect solution.

The factual accuracy variable will be subject to human bias, at least until we get machines to perform fact-checking for us. But even then, these machines will initially be designed by humans so they’ll also continue to reflect our biases.

And false articles that get clicks may still surface at the top of news feeds if their engagement levels overcome the weight of the penalty they receive due to their factual inaccuracy.

However, a perfect solution doesn’t exist. The best we can hope for is to reward factual accuracy as much as we can without giving the humans responsible for deciding on this factual accuracy limitless power. Enhancing an algorithm with a human touch (not a human override) is the best option available.

This leaves three questions outstanding.

First, what weight will be assigned to the factual accuracy variable?

Second, how and by whom will the variable be measured?

Third, what motivation (or regulation) will ensure that Facebook adopts a factual accuracy variable that lowers its user engagement and revenue?

Pvgna

Pvgna (pronounced “pugna”, which means “battle” in Latin) is a professionally produced e-sports content subscription service where we’re investors. For $5/month, Pvgna gives you access to a wide range of game-specific e-sports content including hero guides, game analyses, and pro plays.

In the world of e-sports content, there are two elephants in the room. The first is Twitch, which focuses on the live-streaming of e-sports content, and the second is YouTube which features pre-recorded user-generated e-sports content. Pvgna’s goal is to offer more in-depth and higher quality content than that available through both of these platforms.

To achieve this goal, the company’s initial content focus is on the very popular Dota 2 game. Pvgna currently has over 450 unique pieces of Dota 2 content available, with more coming online each week. After Dota 2, Pvgna will begin serving content around other popular e-sports games.

E-sports has been around for less than a decade. In contrast, traditional sports like American football, basketball, baseball, and hockey have each been around for over a century. Despite this, the League of Legends (a very popular e-sports game) finals viewership figure is second only to that of the NFL finals (36M vs 114M). More people watch the League of Legends finals than each of the NBA finals (20M), MLB finals (15M), and NHL finals (6M). And League of Legends is just one game among many.

The trend is clear. E-sports fans will soon outnumber those of traditional sports. And these fans want content that helps them better understand, follow, and play their favorite games. Pvgna is well positioned to be the destination that best serves this need.

Fact checking

Yesterday, I read a Webrazzi article on the launch of Teyit.org (“teyit” means “confirmation” in English). Teyit.org‘s goal is to fact check Turkish news articles for their accuracy.

Since fact checking is currently a largely human activity, it isn’t easily scalable. It isn’t possible to fact check every article. To address this issue, Teyit.org first ranks articles based on the value which is at stake dependent on the accuracy of the article’s content. Although this is a subjective assessment, it’s the best approach available to us as of today.

Teyit.org prioritizes those articles with a high value at stake and has its research team check the accuracy of the content of these articles. Based on their findings, researchers mark articles as being accurate, inaccurate, confusing, or suspicious, and share a detailed write-up of their findings to support the mark they’ve given.

The internet has reduced the cost of distributing content down to zero. And social media has made this content available to a widespread audience almost instantaneously. The result is an ever increasing pace of content consumption and a reduction in the cost of spreading misinformation (whether intentional or in the attempt to be the first to publish) because, by the time the misinformation inherent in an article emerges, most people have already jumped onto the next news headline.

We need to slow down. This means that we need to not only identify fact from fiction, but also keep people’s attention focused on what we’ve identified long enough for people to become aware of the facts. This isn’t easy in a world where pleasant fiction is easier to sell than brutal facts.

Teyit.org is a great attempt to distinguish fact from fiction. Its bigger challenge will be to get people to care about the facts. I hope it succeeds.

Zafaf.net follow up

I wrote about our online wedding marketplace Dugun‘s Middle East expansion under the Zafaf.net brand name in an earlier post.

The Middle East’s leading tech news website Wamda recently also covered Zafaf.net. The piece shares some of the initial challenges faced by the Zafaf.net team, describes how the team overcame these challenges, and highlights some of Zafaf.net’s promising initial metrics.

You can read the full piece here.