Clean Contacts: The Illusive Grail

Among the many unimportant-in-the-scheme-of-world-civilization disruptions that SV is focused on, one of the most pernicious problems remains the world of contacts database management.

People today are changing jobs so often, that it’s impossible to keep track of how to reach people you do not see regularly in person. I’d wager at least 20% of your current contact database is out-of-date.

As someone who routinely obsesses about the cleanliness of my digital data, I’ve tried them all. But each solution has its drawbacks. They all operate on an uneasy plane where absolute perfection (which means every contact is updated the minute someone changes their jobs without those individuals having to do anything) is creepily intrusive. And even with those advanced intrusive apps, they require your network to grant permission. So it is only as good as the opt-ins of your network. No one is crazy enough to retread Plaxo’s steps of trying to spam all of your contacts to get them to sign up.

But any solution that requires individuals to make active edits will fail to be useful. Think about how many people forget to update their LinkedIn accounts. Because people won’t remember. And there’s not the immediate utility in making that change.

I’ve realized now that a contact database can never be a passive, in-the-background intelligent system. It requires more work than you probably want to put into it. It requires your attention and your awareness of who is important and how you can keep track of them. I’m excited to try out Mia Contacts because a) I’m always oddly excited to try our contacts systems and b) it realizes you need to put in the work to make it work. We’ll see how it goes.

Future of Sports Media Will Never Come

It’s not that long ago that sports media was a sort of hegemony. ESPN loomed large and controlled an overwhelming majority of cable live sports programming and highlights. The local dailies and print icon Sports Illustrated handled the commentary.

ESPN could be forgiven if it felt like it had perfected the sports media experience. Sportscenter was where you went if you wanted to know what was happening in the sporting world, even if you grimaced at the puns and the Chris Bermanisms, and the unearned hipness.

The emergence of blogs, Deadspin primarily, and the tinkering from ESPN to launch commentary beachheads on its dot-com, irrevocably changed the landscape. Now everyone knew no one consumed sports similarly, and niche brands could tackle the various.

Imagine, if you will, three Dallas Cowboy fans. One may very well live and die with the Cowboys W-L record, foist any criticism back on the critic as jealousy or hatred, excuse the transgressions of its star players in order to benefit from their athletic prowess. Another may like the Cowboys, but also the Texans (because they love all Texas), the Broncos (because they went to school in Colorado), and also hold love in his or her hearts for Eli Manning because he helms his or her repeat-champion fantasy football team. The third revels in the inevitable ineptitude of the Cowboys because he or she hates Jerry Jones and has come to expect the implosion, he or she lives for the LOL Cowboys coverage.

These three fans, seemingly interconnected by one team, have different wants and needs. They are not perfectly served by one publication. And those groups could be split even further down (the intense Cowboys fans who loves all Dallas teams; another intense fan who hates all other sports).

And this was a big thing before the national anthem protests, which will further bifurcate the fanbases. The protests were divisive (as most protests are!) and my brief reading of the situation that a majority of the younger sports commentators were for the protests. Your newspaper columnists, your Barstools, your Clay Travises were against it.

ESPN had governed this wide serfdom of sports fans for a while, and you could forgive it for thinking it appealed to all fans. Politics and breadth of choice have intervened. ESPN will never be as powerful again.

But what happens to sports media. Thousands of barely-scrapping-by outlets? Two similar mega-outlets that differ only in their takes on social justice? It’s uncertain. Two recent events make that clear.

Event #1 was ESPN canning its short-lived partnership with Barstool Sports (a late-night program called Barstool Van Talk) after one episode. The specific content, it seems, was not the problem; it was the association with Barstool Sports, an emerging media property that does not worry about causing offense. The decisions of ESPN, which is the closest real-life approximation of the below Simpson clip, deserve no closer examination than to say it is the spiritual heir to MTV in the 1990s, when it desperately tried to understand what should be popular (Gregorian-chant Enigma was a 90s MTV staple! So was 30s revival Squirrel Nut Zippers! I could go on forever). ESPN is forever touching live wires and burning itself and never learning and glancing into the distance where a live wire lays waiting. ESPN walks over).


ESPN, illustrated via GIPHY

I can certainly imagine a world where Barstool Sports becomes more viable than ESPN, only until the money gets too large to be rude and then the cycle continues with a cruder upstart ESPN-ing them.

The second news of note was a particularly illuminating New York Times article on the prospects of The Athletic, a national/local sports news hybrid. The founders are optimistic that the talent they acquire when local newspapers layoff sports writers is an unvarnished gain, as opposed to a simultaneous warning sign for their own prospects.

Good sports writing comes from everywhere and nowhere, it’s very hard for any brand to compete with the careful curation of that content from elsewhere.

I consume a lot of sports media, and I’m not sure what threshold a subscription site has to hit for me to pay. I am not rushing to subscribe to a site helmed by tech bros, even if they hire the smartest minds. Read the cautionary tale from The National. FWIW, I think the Internet makes it harder than easier for what The Athletic is looking to do.

But I am perhaps too niche for any service – I prefer the absurdist work by Jon Bois and incredibly detailed tactical football (soccer) analysis that is costly and not for everyone. This is not an attempt at bragging. I am not easily bucketed, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Sports media wars will never settle, which means there will always opportunities for the Barstools and The Athletics; and ESPN will forever be defending its turf. But no one should feel confident gloating. Because it’s going to be hard.

We Do Not Know What We’re Building

Some thoughts on the recent news.

Facebook and Twitter are learning what we’ve known for awhile: their products are beyond their control.

White supremacists are using Twitter to harass people and Russia are using both to interfere with democracy. What can (and should) both companies do in light of this stark reality? They don’t know. The people have some ideas, but those ideas are often too expensive or self-immolating to implement (such as: Facebook and Twitter should shut down for the public good).

It is fallacious for either company to claim they have never gotten into censorship. They both have on individual occasions, but they don’t know what it would look like as a blanket policy. Neither company wants to have to parse what is acceptable and unacceptable unpopular speech.  And no one is happy with their sporadic decisions, which have sometimes followed no logical reasoning.

Perhaps we people were never supposed to be able to communicate with such speed and transparency. The fact that any one individual can willingly and maliciously spread false information that reaches millions of people without any true repercussions is the biggest threat from these sites.

That the public is gullible enough to take specious claims and accept them as facts is a seemingly unfixable disease. Education is not the issue; it’s our desire to have our biases confirmed. Previously, we’d have to search out the viable publication that slanted stories to our base. Now, we can just find the craziest thing online and believe it full cloth.

Facebook and Twitter are definitely worried about regulation and, to a lesser extent, optics, so you will see some movement on their part to address the above issues. But not sure they will be able to fix what is their operating principle: the wide dissemination of information without gatekeepers.

You Have 20 Minutes to Respond to This

How to unpack the most recent New York Times Corner Office column featuring Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports? There’s a couple of interesting quotes, but this particular passage got the play on journalism, markets, and socialism Twitter (the Holy Trinity).

The easy joke here is to claim it’s paradoxical that such a bro-y site would have such exacting standards, but that barb doesn’t really jibe with reality. Any company – especially ones that pursue quote-unquote frivolous things — can be workplace boiler rooms. The businesses with the least serious subject matter an be the most seriously minded when it comes to work ethic. I’m far from surprised that this quote came from a lad & sports bible, and not a hedge fund.

But Nardini’s comment above touches upon a couple of interesting points, which I will break out below. While there are no doubt A-type people and others who support such an approach, let’s assume more people will have a negative reaction to that quote, then positive. As such:

1) A tough job market (overall and within media) enables this sort of behavior. If the workers had more power (as they sometimes do in industries where everyone is growing and skilled talent is rare), this would not be a thing many bosses said. When the company has slim pickings in talent, they try to not force the issue or make unforced errors. Nardini clearly feels they can weed through people who will not respond within three hours to find the high intensity workers because there’s enough chum out there.

2) This is a net-negative strategy. Even if your team is replete with an ideal-to-you staff of always on workers, they will get burned out, whether that does or does not show up in an eye test or whether they do or do not confess that to you. Countless research backs it up.

3) Her other comments – which are wiser than the ones being passed around – seemingly contradict a reliance on this approach. She talks about how there are two types of people – the 90% and the 10%. The 10% are people who are not super-dependable most of the time, but have a 10% capacity for brilliance that outstrips the others. Her growth as a manager, she says, has come from learning how to utilize the 10%. Now, if she is using a Sat morning response time as a baseline for hires, she is clearly going to miss out on people who respect their own free time, but then are the biggest assets for a company during the work week.

4) This is just bad for society as a whole. While Nardini is clearly monomaniacally focused on her own company, it contributes to a wider responsibility worker drones feel they owe to their company. Employer-employee transactions should hew to a fair exchange as much as possible. Clearly, we are far from that, and how close we should be undoubtedly influences your political beliefs, but expanding that ravine is going to lead us to nothing but trouble. So let’s hope this is a teaching moment for business.