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Grow Hack Tech

Is Technological Progress Slowing Down?

Technology is amazing. And it seems to get even more impressive every year. Every day, there’s some new gadget or breakthrough in the news worth getting excited about. And every year, our collective capabilities as a species seem to be getting broader and further-reaching. 

For decades, we’ve seen a veritable explosion in technological development – an exponential curve of innovation that constantly takes us to new heights. And we’re told that this technological curve is continuing – that we’re still growing exponentially, with massive leaps forward every year. 

But is this really true? 

There’s a compelling case to be made that while technological progress is still moving forward, it’s slowing down. And if that’s true, we need to be prepared for the consequences of such a shift in momentum. 

The Low-Hanging Fruit

Our first clue that tech innovation is slowing down is a change to the traditional model of tech development. In many ways, technology is all about solving problems; every new tech advancement is a solution for some long-standing issue. It makes sense that our current wave of tech advancement resembles an exponential curve because new technologies make it faster and easier to solve other, often unrelated problems. 

For example, the development of the internet was revolutionary for technological development overall. People now can review massive databases of information, communicate with other like-minded professionals, share ideas, and even publish their ideas to a broader audience. These capabilities have led to new ideas and new technologies that otherwise could never have been possible. 

But this trajectory is limited. In the course of tech development, we often explore new territory very quickly – but only for a limited period of time. Think of it this way. As early human beings began exploring new territory, they found themselves surrounded by an abundance of game animals, trees, and fish. But as they hunted, harvested lumber, and fished, many of those resources began to dry up. In other words, they’d taken all the low-hanging fruit, and were forced to come up with new ideas. They had to explore new territory, invent new agricultural methods, and even find new sources of nourishment. 

Our current burst of technological progress could be almost exclusively focused on low-hanging fruit. We’re solving the easiest problems first, and we’re solving them in quick succession. But the hard problems – like general intelligence-level AI, efficient battery storage, and even finding a cure for cancer – show little progress even over the course of decades. 

Any futurist will tell you that all of humanity’s problems can be solved eventually. But we have to understand that our pace of innovation tends to slow down as we master all the “easy� problems and start looking at the “hard� ones. 

Digital Innovation vs. Chemical Innovation 

We also need to understand that most of the tech progress we’ve seen in the past 30 or 40 years has been limited to the digital world. These technologies have been astounding, accelerated by novel high-growth startups, but they’ve almost been exclusively focused on digital communication efficiency. The internet, software engineering, and AI have all taken amazing strides forward. But on the level of chemistry and physics, we’ve advanced very little. 

We’re still incredibly reliant on non-renewable resources to fuel our consumption. We haven’t discovered any groundbreaking new elements, molecules, or chemical processes. And our understanding of the universe at the base level of physics hasn’t changed much, if at all, since the 1980s. We’re still struggling to reconcile major physics ideas that were first introduced nearly 100 years ago. 

So what? Digital innovation may be so incredibly fast-paced that it can be the conduit through which we solve all other problems, right? 

That may not be the case. For the majority of the digital age, we’ve depended on the momentum of Moore’s law. Moore’s law is an informal observation that the number of transistors that we can fit on a dense integrated circuit tends to double every two years. In other words, our computing power can double every two years, leading to major breakthroughs in a number of different technologies. 

However, it appears that the age of Moore’s law may be nearing its end. There’s an absolute physical limit to the amount of space on a transistor chip. With exponential growth since the 1960s, we’ve gone from integrated circuits with 10 transistors to ICs with something like 10 billion transistors. How much further can we really go without breaking the laws of physics? 

We may be able to push things even further, but to do so, we’ll need to invest in high-end chipmaking equipment and innovate entirely new manufacturing methods. Doing so will sharply increase the cost of chip production, ultimately negating the cost-effectiveness benefits. 

Of course, there’s a solid counterargument here. It holds that digital innovation may continue at the same rate of exponential growth even if we’re unable to maintain the consistency of Moore’s law; even if the number of transistors on a chip remains more or less stagnant, we can find new ways to use the chips we already have. 

Consumer Products and Perceptions 

We see an endless conveyor belt of new gadgets and new consumer-facing technologies emerging on a constant basis. But how innovative are all these products, really? 

Apple introduced the iPhone, a game-changing new type of technology, back in 2007. It combined several existing technologies into one, comprehensive unit, and changed the way we think about mobile tech forever. In the past 14 years, how much innovation have we truly seen in this space? We’ve seen a flock of competitors coming out with smartphone options of their own. And of course, we’ve seen Apple unveil a new model of iPhone nearly every year. 

But these new, “innovative� smartphones only make marginal improvements to the original formula. Their cameras are sharper. Their processing power is beefier. Their storage capacity and battery life are more robust. But they can hardly be considered new technology, at least not at the same groundbreaking level of their predecessor. 

As consumers, we’re getting used to a slower pace of technological breakthroughs. We’re content to see new smartphones, new video game consoles, and new TVs that offer merely slight improvements over their counterparts, rather than completely changing the game – and this is enough for us to continue thinking that we’re living in an age of exponential technology growth. 

What Does a Tech Slowdown Mean? 

So what does all this mean? Is it really a big deal that there’s a major tech slowdown? 

Much of our economic growth depends on technological innovation. Countless retirement plans like 401(k) depend on the growth of the stock market, which in turn depends on baseline economic growth; a slowdown in tech innovation leads to a slowdown in GDP, resulting in a cascade of economic effects that could cripple the economy at large. 

The larger danger is that we don’t realize the tech slowdown is occurring until it’s too late. Tech stocks are being traded and inflated as if they’re inventing fundamentally new technologies; as a general trend, they multiply in price in response to even the most meager announcements. If carried out for years to come, this could result in a massive tech bubble, or a broader investment bubble, that pops once investors begin realizing just how slow our growth has crawled. 

Of course, this slowdown may be merely a temporary lull. Just as the digital era sparked the launch of a million new problem-solving technologies, we may be on the cusp of another, equally paradigm-shifting breakthrough. To get there, we’ll need to refocus our research efforts and accept the limitations of the digital space. 

Our half-century long honeymoon with explosive tech growth in the digital era has been incredible, but it’s nearing its end. If we want to keep moving forward (as we should), we need to reset our expectations, redouble our research efforts, and start looking into new territory for technological expansion. 

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global startups Startups

How Tech Startups Redefined Gig Work (and Where It Goes From Here)

We’re living in the golden era of the gig economy. At least, some of us consider it golden. Regardless of how you personally feel about the gig economy, there’s no denying that it has reached peak popularity for consumers, employees, and businesses – thanks in part to the amazing tech startups that led us here. 

But where exactly did the gig economy come from? And where does it go from here? 

What Is the Gig Economy? 

Let’s start with a primer on the gig economy. The “gig economy� refers to a number of trends related to the issuance and availability of “gig work.� In other words, a lot of people are freelancing and a lot of companies are willing to hire and work with freelancers. 

Freelancers aren’t technically employees. They aren’t protected or bound by the same laws and regulations that traditional employees are. For example, minimum wage laws, workers’ compensation laws, and maternity leave laws may not apply to freelancers. 

Employers benefit from this because they get to save money and hire more flexibly. They don’t have to pay as much money for employee benefits, they don’t have to spend time or money complying with complicated laws, and they can hire people on a flexible basis – and only for the work that actually needs to get done. 

Employees can also benefit from this arrangement. As a freelancer, they’re generally not bound by non-compete clauses, which means they can work for multiple employers/clients at the same time. They can also work as much or as little as they want, creating their own schedule and enjoying the benefits of a practically unlimited income. 

However, there are some downsides to the gig economy as well (as we’ll see). 

A Brief History of Gig Work

Gig work has been around for a long time. The term “gig� itself was coined by jazz musicians looking for a way to describe shows and concerts for which they were hired. Over the years, businesses in certain industries employed temp workers and freelancers when they had short-term, temporary, or frequently changing needs. 

However, the gig economy itself didn’t develop much until a handful of powerful tech startups stepped in.

Early Apps and Connective Tissue

The gig economy began to grow as the internet began to see widespread adoption. Craigslist, one of the earliest classified-ad-style websites, emerged to connect employees and employers, and allow people to make temporary arrangements with one another. If you needed a fence painted, or if you needed someone to do a reading for your audiobook, or if you needed a professional model to show off your company’s latest fashion, you could find them on Craigslist. 

In turn, a number of other connection-based sites arose and the gig economy began to flourish. 

The Uber Effect

Things began to change in the early 2010s, with the advent of Uber and similar tech startups. In case you aren’t familiar, the Uber app functioned like a ridesharing and taxi hailing service in one. With Uber, you can hail a ride from an Uber driver, get to your destination, then pay your driver, all within the app. As a driver, you won’t work directly from Uber, but the Uber app can connect you to individual riders in need of a ride. 

In the wake of Uber’s early success, we saw the rise in popularity of a number of similar apps, all of which allowed buyers and sellers to efficiently find each other. These platforms made gig work both more possible and more popular for a variety of reasons: 

  • The emergence of new markets. Some of these apps created new markets where there were no opportunities before. Uber itself forged a kind of middle ground between calling for a taxi and asking a friend to bum a ride. Airbnb allowed homeowners to rent a room efficiently to new tenants in a way they couldn’t before. Other apps invented entire mini-industries from the ground up, like renting power tools or providing grocery shopping services. 
  • Convenience for buyers. Buyers, including both individuals and companies, could find professionals easier than ever before. If you have temporary needs, you can’t afford to hire someone full-time, but these apps made it possible to find a kind of temporary employee. 
  • Convenience for sellers/producers. These apps were also convenient for sellers and producers. Rather than going through the trouble of starting their own business and marketing themselves, or finding a restrictive full-time position, they could take on jobs whenever and however they wanted. 
  • Minimal interference and natural development. Most tech startups following this formula created small-scale free market conditions. Pricing, worker availability, and consumer demand found a way to balance each other out in a way that became favorable to all parties. 

Collectively, the rise of these tech startups helped change the image of gig work from a “last-ditch effort� of someone who couldn’t find a “real� job to a viable economic opportunity for enterprising individuals. It helped to transform the gig economy into a landscape of value and empowerment. 

Remote Work Options 

The options available for freelancing and gig work have only increased with the rising trend of remote work. New technologies like streamlined video chatting and robust project management platforms have made it possible for a wider range of professionals to work independently from home. 

With no need for an in-house workforce, companies are increasingly open to the idea of managing a team of freelancers. And individual workers are seeing the benefits of working remotely for a handful of different clients, rather than pouring everything into a single employer and going to the same office every day. 

The Obstacles in the Way of Gig Work

Of course, the gig economy isn’t purely advantageous, and it isn’t loved by everyone. There are some key threats that could jeopardize the future of gig work, including: 

  • Regulations. Politicians are increasingly pushing for stricter regulations surrounding gig work. Employees are currently protected by a number of fairness and safety laws, which prevent employers from taking advantage of them or putting them in unsafe conditions. Currently, gig workers have little to no protection in this area. While new protections could put gig workers in a more favorable situation, it would also reduce some of the natural advantages of the arrangement, potentially reducing the number of gigs available for freelancers. 
  • Demand for benefits. One of the drawbacks of being a gig worker is that you generally won’t have access to employer benefits. You won’t have health insurance through your employer and you won’t be able to tap into a retirement program like a 401(k). If a greater percentage of gig workers grow dissatisfied with this arrangement, they may make a conscious push to change the norms within the gig economy (or pick up a full-time job instead). 
  • Worker dependence and mistreatment. Over time, a gig worker may become dependent on a client, platform, or employer; for example, an Uber driver may not feel able to leave Uber because they’ll be without a steady income. This type of environment can lead to abuse on the part of the employer; knowing their workforce is dependent on them, they can cut pay, slash benefits, and impose stricter performance requirements with reckless abandon. Of course, in a free market, these types of actions would be unsustainable. 

What Is the Future of Gig Work? 

So what does the future have in store for gig work? It seems like new technologies and increasingly flexible environments are favoring further developments for employers and freelancers. But at the same time, there are bigger political pushes to impose new regulations and restrictions on the world of gig work. Public demands, gig worker satisfaction, and corporate lobbying will collectively determine whether the gig economy will continue to grow or whether it will be permanently reined in. 

 

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Entrepreneurs Startups

Will Startup Culture Get Stronger or Weaker From Here?

For the past couple of decades, the United States and countries around the world have felt something akin to startup fever. Millions of young and inexperienced entrepreneurs are excited at the prospect of starting an innovative new business of their own. Millions of savvy and new investors are eager to cash in on the next Google or Apple. And culturally, we’re all fascinated to hear stories about underdogs that become tech unicorns and innovative geniuses who come up with world-changing ideas.

This startup culture has led to ingenious developments, widespread economic growth, and accessible new technologies for millions of other businesses. But what are the future prospects of this trend? Will startup culture grow even stronger from here? Or are we in a bubble that’s about to burst? 

Factors for Startup Culture

Let’s start by looking at the factors responsible for the development of this hot startup culture. 

  • Explosive potential. One of the obvious points of interest here is the potential for explosive growth that each startup offers. Today’s tech giants, which have become household names worth billions, or even a trillion dollars, started in a garage with just a handful of people. Investors are thrilled at the idea of buying shares of a tech startup for $5,000 and turning that into $500,000 in less than a decade. This doesn’t happen often, but it happens enough that people are hungry to find promising young startups and watch them grow. 
  • Underdog stories. We all love underdog stories, and many startups embody this idea. An entrepreneur with a cool idea and a few thousand dollars changes the world with their creative new app and ends up becoming a multi-millionaire. It’s a great story, and one we’ve seen unfold many times over. It makes us more likely to support people trying to achieve this dream and makes us think about trying to achieve it for ourselves. 
  • Accessibility. It’s hard to argue that it’s “easyâ€� to launch a tech startup, but it’s certainly a more accessible opportunity for entrepreneurs than they’ve had in the past. This is especially true now that remote work is becoming more popular, and tech companies don’t have to invest much money into real estate or infrastructure. Anyone with a promising idea has the potential to create a startup all of their own – and even if they don’t, they can fantasize about the possibilities. This draws us further into the admiration of startups and entrepreneurs. 
  • Novel technologies. Our culture loves novel technologies and it’s easy to see why. When a fancy new app allows you to save an hour a day on manual tasks, or when you can share memes with your friends in some completely innovative way, it improves your quality of life. On a less sexy level, new technologies also improve workplace efficiency, helping countless entrepreneurs in other industries create more jobs and increase productivity. We love to see new businesses bring these technologies to light. 
  • Freedom and flexibility. Startups are representative of freedom in some ways. These companies spring forth from the imaginations of people who want to change the world – and often want to create their own work cultures and environments. Most people highly value flexibility and autonomy, and startups embody this. 
  • Challenging the status quo. We can also see startups as challenging the status quo. New startups often introduce agility into stagnant industries, forcing long-established juggernauts to change or become obsolete. This novelty breathes new life into the market and helps us see things in a new light. 

Is There Any Pushback? 

So are there any factors working against the propagation of startup culture? 

The answer is a resounding “yes.� 

  • Anti-monopolistic and anti-capitalistic sentiments. We’re beginning to distrust tech companies and be more skeptical of entrepreneurs. In recent years, there’s been some degree of backlash against powerful companies, wealthy individuals, and industries dominated by a handful of superstars – even if those superstars created the entire industry from scratch. Anti-monopolistic and anti-capitalistic sentiments put a damper on the thrill of tech startups for many. 
  • CEO distrust. We’re also seeing a wave of distrust surrounding major tech corporations – and by extension, nimble tech startups. Platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, have been susceptible to misinformation from fake news and nefarious sources. Many social media users are increasingly concerned with privacy. And millions of consumers look at new “freeâ€� platforms with skepticism, knowing that nothing is truly free. This hasn’t deterred any new startups from emerging yet, but if this trend accelerates, it could create a more hostile environment. 
  • Economic valuation issues. Investors are excited about new tech startups, but they might be a little too excited. Over the past decade, we’ve seen crazy new heights in the stock prices of promising tech companies. Price to earning (PE) ratios have skyrocketed, and many investors fear the forthcoming consequences of a practical economic bubble. 
  • Funding accessibility. Venture capitalists and angel investors are more than willing to stake their money on new startups – but not just any startup. Over time, investor funds have been concentrated more heavily into only the most encouraging ideas. This is a logical and understandable move, but it’s made it harder to enter into the space. 
  • Employment issues. Solid leadership can make any work environment tolerable, but many employees are reluctant to work for a young tech startup. Startups typically offer low pay (due to limited funding), while maintaining a very demanding work culture, and being relatively unstable. This makes it hard for new startups to create new jobs and attract new employees. 
  • Failure rates. We tend to glamorize the most successful startups that have arisen in the tech industry, but the failures are much less visible. The truth is, the majority of startups fail within just a few years of being started. Many of those entrepreneurs go on to start other businesses, eventually finding success, but the high rate of failure may eventually become more visible – and develop into a turnoff that weakens the influence of startup culture. 
  • Other types of businesses. Startup entrepreneurship is economically powerful, but it’s not the only way to pursue business management or entrepreneurship. There are plenty of other available routes, including buying an existing business, flipping businesses, starting a franchise and other options. We work with dozens of marketing business owners who simply white label our link building services, reselling them to their own business owner clients. It’s a hands-off approach with a great ROI for those with existing connections. 

The Case for Stronger Startup Culture

So is it possible that startup culture could continue growing stronger in the coming years? 

Most of the factors leading to the development and growth of startup culture are still here – and are in no danger of weakening anytime soon. New technologies are still exciting to the masses, investors are still thrilled at the idea of making money, and there’s no shortage of great ideas still to come. Ballooning stock prices tell us there’s no startup fatigue setting in, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made startup entrepreneurship more attractive (due to remote work opportunities and limited potential for other types of businesses). 

The Case for Weaker Startup Culture

That said, we could be in store for a reversal of momentum. Anti-monopolistic, anti-capitalistic, and privacy-conscious voices are seemingly growing stronger, pushing for stricter regulations and the dismantling of economic structures that currently support tech startups. If the entrepreneurial landscape becomes more hostile to up-and-coming young business owners, we may see lower rates of new business creation. Still, it would likely take many years, if not decades, for our collective fascination with startups to fade away. 

No matter how you look at it, the strong startup culture in the United States seems poised to stay. There are threats that stand in the way of its utter domination, and there’s always the possibility of a mini-economic crash fueled by overinflated stock prices, but the fundamental factors that support our love of startups remain strong. It’s going to remain a good time to start a tech business at least for the foreseeable future. 

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Entrepreneurs

How Entrepreneurship Became Democratized (and Where It Goes From Here)

Over the past 20 or 30 years, entrepreneurship has become democratized—and that’s a great thing, for the most part. But if we’re to better understand the tenets of entrepreneurial democratization and keep pushing for positive changes, we need to delve deeper into this topic. 

What exactly is entrepreneurial democratization? How did it develop? And where can it go from here? 

What Is Entrepreneurial Democratization? 

Let’s start with the term entrepreneurial democratization. Democracy is a system of government we’re all familiar with—one in which every individual has a say. But democratization in this context refers to accessibility; in other words, how easy is it for a person to engage in this activity? 

Democratized entrepreneurship means it’s easy for people to start businesses of their own, regardless of their background, their current income level, their previous knowledge and experience, and other factors. Over the years, this has increased sharply; today, almost anyone can start a business with minimal hurdles, depending on the model they choose. 

Why Is Entrepreneurial Democratization Important? 

Why is this an important topic? Democratized entrepreneurship offers a lot of advantages. For individuals, it means more freedom and flexibility when it comes to starting businesses. If you’re down on your luck, unemployed with no savings, you still have a chance to make something of yourself by creating a business from scratch. If you’ve spent 30 years building a career in one specific niche, you can still pivot and try to start something new. 

It’s also important from a societal, economic, and cultural perspective. More accessible entrepreneurship means more people are going to be interested in starting businesses. New businesses lead to further technological innovation, more job creation, and profound economic growth in surrounding areas. 

So what is it that spurred this great age of democratized entrepreneurship? 

Website Builders and the Information Age

First, we need to acknowledge the role of the internet and all the marvelous tools that have come along with it. These days, it’s easy to build a website thanks to the prevalence of website builders. Using one of these innovative tools, you can design your website for free using basic templates—even if you have no previous coding or design knowledge and no money to pay a professional for help. 

It’s also enormously beneficial to be able to consult the entirety of the internet when researching your business plan and making plans for the future. With a simple Google search, you can instantly see who your competition is, learn more about your target demographics, and even find a business plan template that you can use as a starting point for your work. 

Marketing Tactics and Outreach

The internet has also changed the landscape of marketing and advertising. These days, digital marketing reigns supreme. With even a small budget, an entrepreneur can easily invest in a strategy that has the power to propel their business to competitive dominance. You can focus on writing and popularizing online content and optimize your site for search engines, practicing search engine optimization (SEO) to rank higher and earn more organic traffic. You can leverage the power of social media platforms, where it’s free to create an account and make new posts. You can also tap into pay per click (PPC) ads to drive guaranteed traffic to your site for a fixed fee per visitor. 

The diversity of marketing options, the low costs, and the low barriers to entry here make it easier than ever to support a growing business.  

Entrepreneurial Interest 

We’re also seeing a new wave of entrepreneurial interest. People have always been interested in starting their own businesses, whether they want to make a lot of money or just have more flexibility in their daily schedule. But we’re seeing a massive resurgence of entrepreneurial interest that has created an environment that’s even more favorable to launching a new business. 

For example, there are dozens of entrepreneurial podcasts to listen to. There are probably countless meetup groups and organizations in your city. There are hundreds of channels where you can find mentorship, peer support, and guidance. No matter where you look, you’ll be able to find encouragement when starting a new business. 

Education 

These days, it’s possible to start a business with minimal education. You don’t need a formal background in business. You don’t need a master’s degree. All you need is a great idea, a solid understanding of business financials, and the confidence to make a compelling presentation to the people who might fund or support your business. 

Loans and Financial Accessibility

This is also an era of unprecedented financial accessibility for entrepreneurs. For starters, we should acknowledge that it’s cheaper to start a business than it’s ever been before. You don’t need a physical retail space; you can sell online. You don’t need a factory to produce goods; you can sell digital services. You don’t even need an office space; you can operate remotely. And you can call upon countless online tools and educational resources to get almost everything you need for free. 

If you do need more money to start a business, it’s relatively easy to get it. Business loans have lax requirements and low interest rates, and active angel investors and VCs are always looking for the next hot startup. 

The Spark of Innovation 

Modern innovation looks different than innovation of the past. To truly innovate 30 years ago, you might have needed to invest millions of dollars into a factory, utilizing some relatively unknown chemical process to make new materials. These days, you can innovate just by writing a new piece of software. 

It’s possible for a single individual to innovate and make technological progress, even with limited experience. A single app can change the world. 

Incubators and Accelerators

Have you noticed any new incubators or accelerators in your city? I’m guessing you have. These organizations are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed, giving them mentorship, direction, advice, and sometimes even funding to make their business plan a reality. And they’re becoming much more popular. Knowing that such an organization exists might be enough to push someone over the edge, encouraging them to pursue entrepreneurship. Getting involved with an accelerator or incubator can also greatly increase your chances of success and give you a chance to help other entrepreneurs like you along the way. 

Software Tools

In addition, the software tools (and the comparison sites that promote them) for small business are extensive, making it easy to find something that fits a need. Today’s entrepreneurs have a multiplicity of tools that are table stakes for managing a small business (e.g. CRM, marketing, finance, etc.). But sometimes overwhelming to make a decision due to analysis paralysis. Luckily, other entrepreneurs can help provide the reviews and feedback to help for quick decision making, which is one of the biggest boon for small business owners. Most entrepreneurs make decisions based on recommendations.

What’s Next? 

Where does it go from here? If we’re lucky, entrepreneurship should become even more democratized. This trend has built a lot of momentum over the years, and it’s likely to accelerate even further. These are just some of the developments that could help it flourish: 

  • Democratized ownership. One key avenue of development could be democratized ownership. Right now, if you want a piece of a company, you’ll have to put in assets of your own as a venture capitalist, angel investor, or similar interested party. Otherwise, you might have access to stock options as an employee if the company eventually goes public. But in the near future, we could see a model that incorporates the blockchain and tokenization to grant employees and partners even more access. 
  • Diversified VC portfolios. Modern venture capitalists are hungry for tech unicorns, and they tend to be fixated on certain types of business models. In the future, we could substantially benefit form an environment with more diversified and distributed portfolios. 
  • New funding models. We could also see the development of new funding models entirely. Equity crowdfunding is already possible (even though you’ll have to jump through some hoops to make it happen), so we could easily see development along these lines in the future. 

Hopefully, we’ll continue to see entrepreneurship become further democratized. With more people starting businesses, more people investing in businesses, and more people interested in entrepreneurship in general, we could see marked economic benefits for decades to come. 

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Tech technology predictions

Where Are the Drones and Self-Driving Cars? The Problem With Tech Predictions

As early as 2010, journalists have been predicting that self-driving cars were about to “take over the world,� or some variation of that phrase. Google’s first self-driving car model, a Toyota Prius, had more than 150,000 successful miles logged in 2010. Since then, there’s been a rotating series of claims that “the year of the self-driving car� would be 2013. Then 2014. Then 2015. And so on. 

And of course, self-driving cars aren’t the only example of a technology being heralded a bit too much and a bit too early. We’ve also heard about the limitless potential of drone delivery—for the last five years or so, despite little progress actually being made. We hear about how smart homes are about to replace traditional homes entirely. And every once in a while, we hear about a promising new breakthrough in a technology that has the power to connect our brains directly to the internet. 

Let’s not hold our breath for that one. 

So why is it that so many bold technology predictions turn out to be overly ambitious? Are we that bad at predicting the course of technological development? Or is there something else at play here? 

Turns out, there are several factors intersecting to produce this effect. 

“Me First� Marketing 

First, we have to consider the power of marketing and the power of competition. In the tech world, it’s not enough to make a great new technology—it pays to be first. If you’re the first company to achieve success in a new area of tech, you’ll instantly achieve a permanent advantage over your competitors. If Google perfects a robot butler before Apple does, they’ll immediately and forever be associated with butler robots—which could eventually add up to billions of dollars in additional market share. 

Because of this competitive pressure, companies are inclined to overstate their progress. A corporate representative might imply that their self-driving cars are almost ready to go, when in reality they may need a few more years of refinement; but getting to say “we’re close� gives you an edge over your competitors. 

This isn’t to say that all tech companies are lying about their progress, of course. But they’re certainly all pressing to advance as quickly as possible, and they’re all eager to be seen as the frontrunner in their respective industry. Accordingly, they may be inclined to overstate or exaggerate things—even if it’s just a little bit. 

The Sensationalism of Modern Journalism 

Next, we need to think about the sensationalism of modern journalism. If tech company representatives overstate their progress slightly, journalists have the power to exaggerate the claim even further. 

In the modern era, journalism is all about clicks. For most publications, it’s much more valuable to go viral on social media than it is to produce a reputable, fact-based story. Instead of relying on consistent paying subscribers, most news outlets make money through onsite ads—and those ads can only generate revenue if their stories get clicks. 

Guess which kinds of stories get clicks? The sensational ones. The ones that evoke strong emotions. The ones that inspire heated debates. The controversial ones that make bold claims. 

Because of this, media publications are highly likely to publish a story that claims some kind of futuristic technology is almost here—even if that’s far from the truth. There are no real repercussions to posting a story that “2013 is the year of the self-driving car,� because it will be forgotten quickly—and you can just write a story that “2014 is the year of the self-driving car� next year. 

There’s also an illusion that occurs, distorting our sense of how sensationalist the media truly is, and it all depends on survivorship bias. 

For example, let’s say five publishers produce stories on a new technology; three of them boldly claim that it’s nearly here, while the other two are more modest in their reporting. The three bold claimers get a ton of comments, likes, and shares, and their headlines are seen all over social media. The two modest claimers get buried. To the casual observer, it seems like every story you see is sensationalist and overblown—when in reality, 40 percent of stories are accurate, despite going unseen. 

Slow Adaptation and Adoption 

Tech accessibility depends on acceptance and adoption. Consumers must fully buy into a technology for it to begin circulating, and in many cases, government regulators and politicians have to be on board as well. Society can be slow to adapt; many technologies are risky, intimidating, or simply hard to understand. And some people don’t like change in general. 

If politicians or consumers make it difficult, even a fully polished new technology can remain in tech purgatory for years. 

Unforeseeable Developmental Issues 

Of course, some technologies end up stagnating because of unforeseen developmental issues. There’s a critical hurdle that can’t be easily overcome, like a safety issue that hasn’t been resolved, or a lack of viable power. In some cases, major technologies are held up because of insufficient advancements in other areas—like new kinds of batteries or more durable materials. 

The Death of Moore’s Law

For much of the modern technological era, we’ve been benefitting from Moore’s Law, an informal argument that we can practically double our computing power every 18 months or so. Tech innovation has been remarkably fast, exponentially taking us to new heights. 

But now, Moore’s Law is… dead. Innovation has slowed. Our progress isn’t nearly as fast as it used to be, we fail more frequently and we’re coming up on some major physical barriers—limits to the paths of growth we’ve relied on for decades. It’s getting harder and harder to innovate, but at the same time, we expect lightning-fast innovation. It’s a recipe for bold claims and disappointing results. 

Consumer Hype

We also need to acknowledge the role of consumer hype in this equation. Consumers tend to be crazy about new technology, overestimating its utility and overvaluing the companies creating those technologies. Companies like Tesla, on the forefront of tech innovation for their respective niches, are trading at price-to-earning (P/E) ratios that far exceed the rest of the market. And people are talking about them nonstop. 

People are paying close attention to game-changing technologies, and they’re constantly hungry for optimistic news. So why not give it to them? 

The Retrospective Effect

Finally, we should consider the retrospective bias that tends to affect technological development. Usually, when a new technology is introduced, it’s clunky, ineffective, and/or inaccessible to the broader public. Over time, it gradually evolves, inching its way into our daily lives. Only years later does it become fully integrated, at which point we falsely remember using that technology for years, saying something like, “oh, that’s always been there.� 

Voice search, for example, has been around since 2011, but its early iterations were unreliable and hard to use. It wasn’t until 2016 or so that it truly became a powerful and universally used tool—but people still feel like voice search has been around for a decade. 

Right now, game-changing technologies are being developed. Self-driving cars are being tested on the streets. Delivery drones are being manufactured. We’re just a few steps away from full integration. Maybe in a few years, we’ll look back and say “that’s been around since 2013!�

I bet you won’t have to look far to find an article that claims 2021 to be the year that self-driving cars or autonomous drone fleet deliveries finally take hold. And for all we know, they may be right. But looking back, it seems like most of our bold tech predictions end up embarrassingly wrong. And we should consider that whenever reading about some sexy new technology that has the power to save the world in just a few months. 

The post Where Are the Drones and Self-Driving Cars? The Problem With Tech Predictions appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
Google Marketing search engine search engine optimization SEO Tech

What Does the Future of Online Search Look Like?

Online search has evolved so gradually that many people find it hard to track its growth. One day, voice-based search seemed like a dumb gimmick that only heard what you said half the time. The next day, it felt like voice search had been working well for years. 

But the fact is, over the 20ish years it’s been around, online search has changed dramatically. It has evolved from a clunky, barely-functional tool for finding specific webpages to being the ultimate channel for knowledge and discovery. With just a phrase, you can summon accurate information on any topic, get answers to any common question, find the exact product you’re looking for, or simply discover more about a subject. 

So where do we go from here? How does search get better? And how could it change our interactions with technology overall? 

How Search Has Evolved

Before we can look into the future, we have to look at the past. How has search evolved to date? 

The frontrunner in the search engine world is Google. It became the dominant online search competitor from the moment it entered the scene, and today, it retains share of nearly two-thirds of all online searches. Its brand is synonymous with online search, and it continues to set standards for how other search engines operate. 

It’s important to remember that Google, now owned by Alphabet, is a for-profit company. The service is free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection, but ultimately, Google is interested in making money. Its main source of revenue is advertising; when people click ads, the businesses who placed those ads pay a small sum of money to Google. 

Accordingly, to serve the best ads and attract as many money-generating users as possible, Google is incentivized to give users the best possible experience. 

This amounts to achieving several sub-goals, including: 

  • Providing more relevant results. Google has long been the primary search engine choice because of its ability to conjure up relevant results—in other words, to provide users with content that matches their queries. In the old days, this amounted to finding content that contained keywords and phrases similar to what was included in the user’s query. But over time, this evolved to Google systematically understanding the intent behind user queries as well as the purpose of content throughout the web. Today, it can find much more intelligent, qualitative matches. 
  • Providing more authoritative results. Additionally, Google has evolved to provide more authoritative results. Just because something is a topical match doesn’t mean it’s trustworthy—or that it’s going to be satisfying to an end user. The web is filled with spam and low-quality content, and part of Google’s job is to filter that content out. Over the years, it has developed much higher quality standards, capable of detecting spammy links, bad writing, and other signs that a website shouldn’t be trusted. 
  • Providing a quicker, more intuitive interface. Google has also developed its search engine to provide users with a faster, more intuitive interface. You can get results almost instantaneously, even if you search a convoluted phrase—and you can search using any number of different methods, such as voice-based search. 
  • Providing direct information and answers. Google has also attempted to simplify and hasten the search process by giving users direct information—rather than merely directing them to a website that might have the answer. If you search for a relatively simple, answerable question (like “who was the first President of the United States?â€�), you’ll get an immediate answer—no clicking required. This not only makes the user experience simpler and more enjoyable, it also keeps the user on Google for a longer period of time, increasing the likelihood that they’ll click an ad. 

We can expect Google to continue evolving along these pathways. But what could further evolution along these lines look like? 

New Ways to Interact With Search Engines

First, we’ll likely see the emergence of new ways to interact with search engines. Rather than simply typing in a query or using our voices, we’ll have a variety of new modes of engagement. 

  • New devices. For starters, we’ll see search become more integrated with a wider range of devices. Already, we’re conducting searches with our laptops, smartphones, tablets, and speakers throughout the house. In the future, the internet of things may introduce us to even newer, more innovative modes of engagements. Search-capable devices may be practically everywhere. 
  • Conversations. Voice search has already represented a massive breakthrough, so what if we could search in a more interactive way—like through conversation? Having a search “agentâ€� guide us through our search could give us even more customization options—and give us more relevant results than ever. 
  • Gestures. What’s even faster and easier than searching with your voice? In the future, you may be able to search using simple gestures. With the right device and ample user prep, it could be possible to use gestures like pointing, nodding, or even blinking to search and browse results. 
  • Thoughts. Though likely reserved for the distant future, a brain-AI interface (like Neuralink) could even make it possible to search using only your thoughts. 

Personalization and Prediction 

In some ways, Google can be considered a data company. Its advertising network relies heavily on its ability to give advertisers meaningful data about their advertising targets. Additionally, search results already rely heavily on user data; your demographic group, your previous search history, and even the way you interact online can all shape your search results. 

In the future, this data-centric search model will grow to become even more powerful. Driven by big data and artificial intelligence (AI), Google and other search engines may be capable of actively predicting your searches before you execute them, providing you with results they think you need before you truly need them. At the very least, we’ll see even more personalized experiences, with search results tailored specifically for individuals based on a litany of data points. 

Alternatives to Google

While Google continues to retain ownership of the largest share of online search, there are other search competitors that are slowly rising. For example, Bing is every bit as functional as Google, with some distinct advantages, and DuckDuckGo is becoming an increasingly popular choice for users concerned about privacy. Additionally, there’s plenty of room for a new, agile, innovative startup to disrupt the industry—potentially rethinking search from the ground up. 

In the coming years, we could see a paradigm shift here. It all depends on the entrepreneurs and programmers at competing tech companies and startups. If a new player or an existing competitor finds a way to unseat Google, it would probably be because they offer a fundamentally different experience—one that’s difficult to imagine, given our immense familiarity with the current scope of online search. 

Higher Quality Standards

Though difficult to execute from a programming perspective, Google and its rival search engines could make a push to introduce even higher quality standards than before. Despite their best efforts, there’s still an abundance of badly written content and irrelevant links on the internet. Additionally, search engine optimization (SEO) makes it almost trivially easy for skilled content creators to manipulate search rankings in their favor. More advanced techniques could potentially filter content based on depth, accuracy, and possibly even intention—clearing up search results with better content than ever. 

It’s unlikely that we’ll see a major transformation of search in the next few years. For the foreseeable future, we’ll likely witness a gradual unfolding of new features and small updates to the search engines we’ve come to know and love. But beyond that, as new innovators attempt to disrupt the industry and older players strive to remain dominant, we could see a fundamental rethinking of the average search experience. By the end of the decade, online search could be practically unrecognizable. 

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Categories
Digital Marketing Digital Marketing Strategies Marketing

Why Do Most Digital Marketing Strategies Fail?

Digital marketing strategies are arguably the best way to grow a business—especially a tech startup that’s looking to reach a wide audience and scale with online product and service offerings. But the sad truth is that employing a digital marketing strategy is no guarantee of success.

It’s hard to determine what percentage of digital marketing strategies succeed or fail, since the definition of “success� varies (as we’ll see). However, it’s reasonable to conclude that the majority of digital marketing strategies don’t achieve their full potential—and a disproportionate number of strategies end up losing money for their respective businesses.

So why is it that so many digital marketing strategies fail?

Defining Success

First, we need to define what “success� in digital marketing is—and incidentally, this is the first point of failure for startup entrepreneurs. Too many people go into marketing without a clear definition of success of their own to guide the strategy. If you don’t know what success looks like, how can you possibly achieve it?

There are a few different ways to define success in marketing, but the most common metric is your return on investment, or ROI. Your ROI is a measure of how much money a strategy brought your business, compared to how much you spent to achieve those results. A positive ROI means you made money, and the higher your ROI is, the better. A negative ROI is a clear indication that some element of your strategy isn’t working.

However, you may be more interested in achieving a specific level of success; for example, you may want your marketing strategy to bring in 100,000 new customers, regardless of how high or low the ROI is. What’s important is that you have some goal and some definition of success to drive you.

Lack of a Coherent Vision

Similarly, many digital marketing strategies fail because they lack a coherent, overarching vision. A marketing strategy is a set of ideas and directives designed to help you achieve a goal. Within that strategy are many tactics you’ll use, such as email marketing or search engine optimization (SEO).

Too often, marketers focus exclusively on tactics; they execute the ground-level work to bring new customers to the brand, but they don’t have a “big picture� vision to tie all those ground-level tactics together. Without a foundation to provide a map for all those individual tactics, those tactics will remain unguided, and may fail.

Inconsistent Branding

Your company’s brand is at the heart of all its marketing, advertising, and core messaging—or at least, it should be. Throughout all these materials, your brand should be front and center, and it should be presented consistently.

On a superficial level, you can think about your company’s name, identity as it relates to colors, logo, and other visual features. But on a deeper level, you should be thinking about your core values, your tone, your voice, and how your brand is different than your competitors. These features should shine through whatever other messages you want to present—and should be consistent across all mediums and channels.

Overly Independent Channels

Modern digital marketing includes attention to a multitude of different channels, including email, social media, search engine results pages (SERPs), and banners on various websites. There are dozens of ways to reach your customers, and the most effective marketers know that you’ll need some combination of these to see the best results.

However, there’s a difference between adopting a true “omnichannel� strategy and simply investing in many different channels simultaneously. Well-executed omnichannel marketing strategies attempt to unify these channels and give customers a cohesive overall experience. If each channel offers a different message and an experience so unique that it feels like a different brand, it’s not going to work in your favor.

Cheap and/or Spammy Tactics

In an effort to see fast results or spend as little as possible, some brands succumb to investing in spammy or cheap marketing tactics. For example, they may buy spammy backlinks in an effort to boost their domain authority or buy an email list to send marketing emails to as many people as possible—even if they never signed up to receive those emails.

In the short-term, some of these tactics can work. They provide decent on-paper results. But long-term, they almost never pan out. Eventually, your business could attract a penalty from Google or get blacklisted by email service providers. And even if you escape that fate, your reputation may take a massive hit.

Not Investing Enough

On a similar note, some digital marketing strategies fail because the business wasn’t willing to invest enough to make the strategy work. Sometimes, it takes more money to invest in quality work; a $10,000 designed website is probably going to look better and be more functional than a $100 one. Other times, investment is a form of trouncing the competition. For example, if all your competitors are paying $10,000 per month on marketing in a specific channel, and you’re only paying $1,000 per month, you’re not going to beat them. If you spend $15,000 per month, you’ll almost certainly rise to the top.

Additionally, many digital marketing strategies (like SEO and social media marketing) take time to develop. If you only invest money for a month, you’ll never get to see the true fruits of your labor.

Obviously, there’s such a thing as investing too much, but investing too little can also be a death sentence.

Taking Competition Head On

Your startup is going to have competition, whether it’s now or later. Competing effectively is all about finding a way to compete indirectly. If you try to compete directly, you’ll be butting heads against an entity that already has experience in this area, or that is willing to outspend you. Instead, try to compete in a way that renders their power useless.

For example, instead of competing to win the attention of a national audience, try to appeal to a local audience. You could also appeal to a different target demographic.

Investing Too Much Too Early

Digital marketing depends on an ongoing process of measurement, evaluation, and adaptation. The more time you spend marketing and advertising, the more you’ll learn about your audience, your competition, and even your brand itself. With this increased knowledge, you’ll be able to spend money more efficiently and market “better.�

This course requires your business to gradually increase its investment over time. If you invest too much, too quickly, you’ll be investing quite heavily into a strategy that has not yet proven itself, with minimal knowledge to work with.

Lack of Measurement

Marketing without measurement is like throwing darts blindfolded. You can’t see the target and you can’t see whether your shots are landing. Despite this, many startups are perfectly willing to treat their marketing strategies this way.

If you want to be effective, you need to be measuring everything and studying those metrics. How much are you spending? How many people are you reaching? If you change a variable in your messaging or distribution, how do your engagement metrics change?

Doing Everything Internally

It’s possible to market your business exclusively with an internal team—but it’s not always productive or efficient. Most of the time, it’s better to work with a dedicated professional outside your business, such as a marketing agency or a team of independent contractors. This way, your internal staff can stay focused on your core products and services, and you can get access to more dedicated specialists.

Refusing to Adapt

Marketing strategies must change if they’re going to become successful or remain successful. You need to learn from the past, study the changing competition, and consider adopting new technologies and new approaches. Otherwise, you’re going to fall behind. Some digital marketing strategies fail simply because their executors failed to keep up with the latest changes.

Digital marketing can be tricky to pull off effectively, but digital marketing success is well within reach for most startups. If you work hard to avoid these common pitfalls, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting the results you want.

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#artificialintelligence AI

The Biggest Ethical Concerns in the Future of AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly improving, becoming an embedded feature of almost any type of software platform you can imagine, and serving as the foundation for countless types of digital assistants. It’s used in everything from data analytics and pattern recognition to automation and speech replication. 

The potential of this technology has sparked imaginative minds for decades, inspiring science fiction authors, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between to speculate about what an AI-driven future could look like. But as we get nearer and nearer to a hypothetical technological singularity, there are some ethical concerns we need to keep in mind. 

Unemployment and Job Availability 

Up first is the problem of unemployment. AI certainly has the power to automate tasks that were once capable of completion only with manual human effort. 

At one extreme, experts argue that this could one day be devastating for our economy and human wellbeing; AI could become so advanced and so prevalent that it replaces the majority of human jobs. This would lead to record unemployment numbers, which could tank the economy and lead to widespread depression—and, subsequently, other problems like crime rates. 

At the other extreme, experts argue that AI will mostly change jobs that already exist; rather than replacing jobs, AI would enhance them, giving people an opportunity to improve their skillsets and advance. 

The ethical dilemma here largely rests with employers. If you could leverage AI to replace a human being, it would increase efficiency and reduce costs, while possibly improving safety as well, would you do it? Doing so seems like the logical move, but at scale, lots of businesses making these types of decisions could have dangerous consequences. 

Technology Access and Wealth Inequality

We also need to think about the accessibility of AI technology, and its potential effects on wealth inequality in the future. Currently, the entities with the most advanced AI tend to be big tech companies and wealthy individuals. Google, for example, leverages AI for its traditional business operations, including software development as well as experimental novelties—like beating the world’s best Go player. 

AI has the power to greatly improve productive capacity, innovation, and even creativity. Whoever has access to the most advanced AI will have an immense and ever-growing advantage over people with inferior access. Given that only the wealthiest people and most powerful companies will have access to the most powerful AI, this will almost certainly make the wealth and power gaps that already exist much stronger. 

But what’s the alternative? Should there be an authority to dole out access to AI? If so, who should make these decisions? The answer isn’t so simple. 

What It Means to Be Human

Using AI to modify human intelligence or change how humans interact would also require us to consider what it means to be human. If a human being demonstrates an intellectual feat with the help of an implanted AI chip, can we still consider it a human feat? If we heavily rely on AI interactions rather than human interactions for our daily needs, what kind of effect would it have on our mood and wellbeing? Should we change our approach to AI to avoid this? 

The Paperclip Maximizer and Other Problems of AI Being “Too Good�

One of the most familiar problems in AI is its potential to be “too good.� Essentially, this means the AI is incredibly powerful and designed to do a specific task, but its performance has unforeseen consequences. 

The thought experiment commonly cited to explore this idea is the “paperclip maximizer,� an AI designed to make paperclips as efficiently as possible. This machine’s only purpose is to make paperclips, so if left to its own devices, it may start making paperclips out of finite material resources, eventually exhausting the planet. And if you try to turn it off, it may stop you—since you’re getting in the way of its only function, making paperclips. The machine isn’t malevolent or even conscious, but capable of highly destructive actions. 

This dilemma is made even more complicated by the fact that most programmers won’t know the holes in their own programming until its too late. Currently, no regulatory body can dictate how AI must be programmed to avoid such catastrophes because the problem is, by definition, invisible. Should we continue pushing the limits of AI regardless? Or slow our momentum until we can better address this issue? 

Bias and Uneven Benefits 

As we use rudimentary forms of AI in our daily life, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the biases lurking within their coding. Conversational AI, facial recognition algorithms, and even search engines were largely designed by similar demographics, and therefore ignore the problems faced by other demographics. For example, facial recognition systems may be better at recognizing white faces than the faces of minority populations. 

Again, who is going to be responsible for solving this problem? A more diverse workforce of programmers could potentially counteract these effects, but is this a guarantee? And if so, how would you enforce such a policy? 

Privacy and Security 

Consumers are also growing increasingly concerned about their privacy and security when it comes to AI, and for good reason. Today’s tech consumers are getting used to having devices and software constantly involved in their lives; their smartphones, smart speakers, and other devices are always listening and gathering data on them. Every action you take on the web, from checking a social media app to searching for a product, is logged. 

On the surface, this may not seem like much of an issue. But if powerful AI is in the wrong hands, it could easily be exploited. A sufficiently motivated individual, company, or rogue hacker could leverage AI to learn about potential targets and attack them—or else use their information for nefarious purposes. 

The Evil Genius Problem 

Speaking of nefarious purposes, another ethical concern in the AI world is the “evil genius� problem. In other words, what controls can we put in place to prevent powerful AI from getting in the hands of an “evil genius,� and who should be responsible for those controls? 

This problem is similar to the problem with nuclear weapons. If even one “evil� person gets access to these technologies, they could do untold damage to the world. The best recommended solution for nuclear weapons has been disarmament, or limiting the number of weapons currently available, on all sides. But AI would be much more difficult to control—plus, we’d be missing out on all the potential benefits of AI by limiting its progression. 

AI Rights 

Science fiction authors like to imagine a world where AI is so complex that it’s practically indistinguishable from human intelligence. Experts debate whether this is possible, but let’s assume it is. Would it be in our best interests to treat this AI like a “true� form of intelligence? Would that mean it has the same rights as a human being? 

This opens the door to a large subset of ethical considerations. For example, it calls back to our question on “what it means to be human,� and forces us to consider whether shutting down a machine could someday qualify as murder. 

Of all the ethical considerations on this list, this is one of the most far-off. We’re nowhere near territory that could make AI seem like human-level intelligence. 

The Technological Singularity 

There’s also the prospect of the technological singularity—the point at which AI becomes so powerful that it surpasses human intelligence in every conceivable way, doing more than simply replacing some functions that have been traditionally very manual. When this happens, AI would conceivably be able to improve itself—and operate without human intervention. 

What would this mean for the future? Could we ever be confident that this machine will operate with humanity’s best interests in mind? Would the best course of action be avoiding this level of advancement at all costs? 

There isn’t a clear answer for any of these ethical dilemmas, which is why they remain such powerful and important dilemmas to consider. If we’re going to continue advancing technologically while remaining a safe, ethical, and productive culture, we need to take these concerns seriously as we continue making progress. 

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Categories
information overload Productivity Web

Does Modern Tech Demand an “Information Diet?”

The miracle of modern technology is that it provides us with all the information we ever wanted—and then some. In the span of a few seconds, you can easily learn facts about science, history, and other subjects. You can send a message to people all over the world. And you can gather the latest details on a developing news story. 

All this information is seen as a universal positive, but there may be some negative consequences to the abundance of information. Author Clay Johnson wrote a book that focuses on this topic to a degree, The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption. Since then, the term “information diet� has grown in popularity, serving as a potential remedy to the negative consequences of too much information. 

But what is an information diet, exactly, and can it truly help you be happier, healthier, and more productive in the modern world? 

The Abundance of Information 

Let’s start by addressing the true nature of the abundance of information. We all have access to dozens of internet-connected devices, all of which have the capacity to link us to many different types of information. 

For example: 

  • Email. Most of us receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails every day. We get emails from coworkers, clients, friends, family, and of course, marketers interested in selling us new products. 
  • Project/task management platforms. Online management platforms have streamlined work for millions of people, but they also have the downside of overloading people with communications. 
  • Social media. Similarly, social media grants us the power to connect with an audience of billions (literally). We can choose to engage with groups and organizations that share our interests and views, or just connect with friends and family members. Either way, these feeds are typically presented to us in an infinite scrolling manner, making it all too easy to keep consuming more. 
  • Notifications. Email, management platforms, and social media platforms are all complicated by the universal presence of notifications. Most modern apps are designed to give us alerts to grab our attention as often as possible, usually whenever some new information becomes available—such as a new message or a new post. 
  • Online content. Content marketing is one of the most popular and powerful online marketing strategies available, in part because of the demand for online content. People are eager to consume more articles, videos, and images on a daily basis, and there’s no shortage of people willing to create them. There are vast content networks in play, with millions of blogs and millions of distribution channels. It’s almost impossible to spend time online without running into them. 

Our lives are saturated with these and other forms of content, bombarding us with a never-ending stream of information. 

Three Problems With Information Overabundance 

So what’s the big deal? More information has historically been a good thing, allowing people to become better educated and better informed on current events—not to mention, better entertained in their personal lives. 

But there are three big problems with the information overabundance: 

  1. Low quality information. First, the constant demand for content leads to an increase in the production and consumption of low-quality information. This effect is easiest to see in the context of journalism; news companies are motivated to produce new stories as quickly as possible and in high volume, leading to premature reporting and shoddy work. This is partially responsible for the fake news problem. 
  2. False conclusions. Even if the information being presented to you is true, the constant bombardment of information can make you draw false conclusions. For example, let’s say you see 3 new stories each day about people who were killed in shark attacks, over the course of a week. In reality, there are (at most, considering potential overlap) 21 shark attacks out of literally billions of people swimming in ocean waters. But to you, it seems like shark attacks are happening constantly—and to everyone who goes in the water. This is also a problem with echo chambers, leading people to believe that the majority of the population agrees with whatever view they happen to hold. 
  3. Fatigue. Perhaps most importantly, too much information leaves us with fatigue. Reading too many news stories can leave us feeling helpless, tired, and depressed. Too many notifications can exhaust our attention and render us apathetic and anxious. Too much time scrolling on social media can make us feel empty at the end of a long day. 

How an Information Diet Can Help

An information diet works much like a food diet. With a food diet, the problem to be solved is similar; you’re eating too much food and/or food that’s too low-quality. The solution is threefold: 

  • Awareness. First, you need to be aware of what you’re consuming. In a food diet, the goal is to recognize your biggest indulgences, and the foods that are responsible for your overeating. In an information diet, the idea is to recognize your biggest distractors and sources of low-quality content. 
  • Curation. Second, you need to prioritize high-quality sources over low-quality sources. In a food diet, that means prioritizing things like fruits and vegetables over fast food and sugary desserts. In an information diet, that means getting your information from reputable publishers, rather than echo chambers and reactionary outlets. 
  • Limitation. Third, you need to limit your intake. In a food diet, that means restricting your caloric intake. In an information diet, that means reducing the number of platforms you use (and the number of notifications you receive). 

Key Tips for Success

If you want to be successful with an information diet, these are some of your best tips for success: 

  • Turn off notifications. Notifications have been a problem for a long time. They distract us from our responsibilities, demand our attention, and leave us feeling fatigued. If possible, it’s best to eliminate them altogether. You can check your email, social media accounts, and other platforms manually whenever you want to see if there’s something new available for you. This should reduce the amount of your attention that’s seized unnecessarily. 
  • Set time limits for content and social apps. Most modern devices have built-in functionality to control the amount of time you spend on apps (even if you have to enable child control settings). If there are specific apps that make you waste time (like social media apps), set a strict time limit to prevent yourself from overusing them. 
  • Reduce your number of apps. It might be better to reduce the number of apps you use overall. If you have half a dozen social media platforms to wade through, try narrowing that list down to one or two. Consider following only a handful of blogs and content creators, rather than a litany of them. 
  • Set proactive expectations with others. Some content you consume is comprised of messages from others, so set proactive expectations with them. Let them know you may not respond to messages right away, and you might be using social platforms less frequently. 
  • Review your sources. Think critically about the content sources providing content for your consumption. Are they a reputable source or simply the latest influencer whose incentive is only the next promotion? Are the creators doing a good job of providing all the relevant details? Are they fact-checking their work? Is this content making a positive impact on your life? Does it have any measurable value? 
  • Take inventory of your own emotions. Finally, take inventory of your own emotions. When you read a story, does it fill you with anger? When you get a notification, do you find yourself annoyed? Pay attention to the types of content that seem to have a negative impact on you and avoid those pieces of content however you can. 

Is an information diet going to instantly relieve you of all the problems associated with modern technology? Certainly not. But there’s almost no disadvantage to practicing basic habits like reviewing sources of information and limiting the time you spend on information-dense apps—and the upside could be tremendous. Consider going on an information diet of your own design whether you’re interested in higher productivity, less fatigue, or just an overall better sense of wellbeing. 

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What To Do When WordPress Fails

At 19% of overall website CMS market share, WordPress is the proverbial elephant in the room.

But, WordPress is not without its warts.

As the dominant player in the market, hackers are more likely to create malware and nefarious code insertions on a content management system that is more ubiquitous.

Hacking WordPress is a numbers game. If a hacker plays the numbers using a dominant tool, they are much more likely to succeed. It’s statistically less probable if they pursue such a strategy using Joomla, Squarespace or Webflow.

More recent was the latest WordPress website malware scheme which injected hidden code into the index.php file of unsuspecting WordPress sites. Even the the most religiously stalwart WordPress developers will admit there inherent flaws that occur naturally in a product that reaches the mainstream.

WordPress can and does fail, but before it does, it is best to consider preventative measures to prevent its failure, loss of content, theft of customer data or worse. In the event that the extensibility of WordPress limits some feature-rich sites from experiencing their full potential, there may be other options that can, not without their own cost, fulfill the need for speed, extensibility, security and other features that an out-of-the-box WordPress build simply does not have.

Secure Your Site

As in anything in life, the ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s why we purchase insurance policies and get cancer wellness screenings. The same is true for your website. It’s only one of the reasons we recommend a regular and recurring website maintenance schedule and report to ensure you come through with a clean bill of health.

Securing a WordPress website is more than simply having it on the right server and including an SSL certificate. It includes regularly insuring the site’s theme, plugins and code are not exposed to improper function insertions, backlink insertions, data high-jacking or outright site destruction.

Update and Remove Plugins 

Some hosts include services that monitor known bad-actor plugins and lack of core WordPress updates that can be areas of weakness that hackers are more easily able to exploit. Some such hosts will automatically remove those they deem a threat. Consequently, if not performed automatically, plugin monitoring and updates should be done minimally monthly to ensure they meet quality guidelines

Any WordPress plugin considered for a given website should also be weighed by the following before even being implemented at all:

  • Does this plugin provide significant business, technical or marketing value to the website that is mission-critical? If not, do not install it.
  • Is this plugin regularly updated by an active developer (or preferably developer team), ensuring its continued quality existence into the future?
  • Is the plugin a known threat (e.g. Trojan Horse) in the WordPress community? What are the reviews of the plugin?
  • Does the desired plugin play well with other plugins?
  • Does the intended plugin use resources like a pig (e.g. does it require a lot of front-end Javascript)?
  • Could you live without it? If not, is there a replacement that is better and even more secure?

In addition to updating the plugins themselves, updating to the patch and global updates of the WordPress CMS will also be critical in ensuring the latest security protocols are implemented for site security. Care should be exercised in the updates of both of these simultaneously as an update of one can tend to disrupt the effectiveness of the other.

Implement Proper Redundancy Protocols

When a site is hosted properly, redundant backup points can help provide a great insurance policy against any code insertions, hacks or otherwise issues with your WordPress site. Daily backup points, including the option to immediately backup and/or revert to a previous version of a live or dev-server website can be extremely helpful, especially in the event of a website attack or disaster.

Redundancy protocols can even include off-site backups, allowing security for sites that have a great deal of content and work invested in their success. Backup capabilities and protocols are a nice fail-safe in the event of a server or hacker issue, but they unfortunately do not solve all the inherent problems with the WordPress architecture.

Speed Is Paramount

Search engines have stated that site speed and other core site vitals will only become part of the algorithm in 2021, but they may play a more significant role in ranking varying websites among one another. As such, site speed will

Static site generators that are not as ubiquitous tend to be much faster than WordPress. And, given that speed will be a definite ranking factor for search heading into 2021 and beyond, considering function over form when it comes to website design may be worthwhile in the near future.

Sites that have moved to static site generators have reported load speeds of up to eight times faster than those that run on WordPress alone. However, switching to a static site generator like Gatsby may require a great deal of input from your design and software development team, depending on your WordPress site’s complexity and the sheer volume of your content.

When discussing site speed, it is critical to note that site speed is not meant to enhance search engine load times, but is a fundamental aspect of web usability and user experience. Slow loading websites offer a poor experience. Google and other search engines want to ensure they are delivering the best experience to users. Site speed is a huge component of that user experience.

The Downsides

While all of the above may appear to make WordPress look like the scum of the CMS world, the reality remains that WordPress still holds the developer community captive by a landslide. Its ubiquity has created an ecosystem of developers and designers who are committed to seeing WordPress success.

But, its success is also its downfall. The more successful WordPress is, the greater likelihood that hackers will use it to exploit ignorant and unsuspecting victims who, in most cases are small business owners whose livelihood can be significantly and negatively impacted if a website does not work properly.

Additionally, any time one discusses the move, redesign or redevelopment of a legacy website–regardless of how simple you intend on making it—there are always significant time and monetary costs to seeing such a project is implemented properly. These are all factors that need to be weighed against questions of speed and security for other alternative more static options.

WordPress Alternatives to Consider

It’s not just about preventing or fixing an unintended WordPress failures. More importantly and always paramount is the need to provide users with the best possible experience. WordPress can fail at security and can fail at site speed. Known quantities that can act as alternatives to WordPress include Joomla, Drupal, Squarespace and Webflow, to name just a few.

In addition, static site generators–even those that combine with WordPress as a CMS (e.g. Next.js, Hugo, Gatsby & Jekyll) can provide an added layer of security and speed enhancements not currently had in a standard WordPress installation.

However, your own situation and feature needs may be best served by out-of-the-box themes, plugins and WSYWIG creators that simply make life easier (and often less expensive) for the website neophyte. But where speed and security are concerned, there are definite workarounds and alternatives to a failure by WordPress.

 

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