Roads to … nowhere?

Google Maps admits its business listings are riddled with errors and outright fraudulent entries.

The news reports hit fast and furious this week when the media got wind of the millions upon millions of “faux” business listings on Google Maps, thanks to a new Wall Street Journal exposé.

It’s true that there are a ton of map listings displayed by Google on search engine results pages, but the latest estimates are that there are more than 11 million falsely listed businesses that pop up on Google searches on any given business day.

That number may seem eyebrow-raising, but it’s hardly “new news.” Recall the reports that date as far back as a half-decade — to wit:

  • In 2014, cyber-security expert Bryan Seely showed how easy it was to use the Internet’s open architecture to record telephone conversations and create fraudulent Google Maps listings and locations.
  • In 2017, Google released a report titled Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps, wherein it was estimated that one in ten fake listings belonged to actual real-live businesses such as restaurants and motels, but that nefarious third-parties had claimed ownership of them. Why do this? So that the unscrupulous bad-actors could deceive the targeted businesses into paying search referral fees.

Google is owning up to its continuing challenges, this week issuing a statement as follows:

“We understand the concerns of those people and businesses impacted by local business scammers, and back in 2017 we announced the progress we’d made. There was still work to be done then, and there’s still work to be done now.  We have an entire team dedicated to addressing these issues and taking constant action to remove profiles that violate our policies.”

But is “constant action” enough? Certain business trades are so riddled with fake listings, it’s probably best to steer clear of them altogether.  Electricians, plumbers and other contractors are particularly sketchy categories, where roughly 40% of Google Maps listings are estimated to be fraudulent entries.

The Wall Street Journal‘s recent exposé, published on June 24th, reported on a search its researchers conducted for plumbers in New York City.  Of the top 20 Google search results returned, only two actually exist where they’re reported to be located and accept customers at the addresses listed.  That’s pretty awful performance even if you’re grading on a curve.

A measure of progress has been made; Google reports that in 2018 it removed some 3 million fake business listings. But that still leaves another 11 million of them out there, silently mocking …

The wider implications of the “deliver it to my door” mentality.

There’s been quite a bit of attention paid to the impact of online retail on bricks-and-mortar sectors like shopping centers.  More than a few of them have started looking like Potemkin Villages. Some forecasts predict that the number of indoor shopping malls in America will contract by as much as one-third in the coming years.

On the other hand, the changing dynamics of e-tailing are having the opposite effect when it comes to shipping logistics … because not only are consumers shopping online in record numbers, they’re also taking advantage of delivery options that are bringing merchandise directly to them in 24 or 48 hours – even same-day deliveries in some cases.

What this means is that the efficiencies in procurement, inventory and distribution that drove many distribution centers to be built in outlying locations aren’t exactly working in today’s “deliver it to me and deliver it to me now” mindset.

[This is why we’re hearing about solutions such as drone deliveries – but that’s still a ways in the future and could eventually begin to cause congestion in a new realm – up in the air.]

In the meantime, more delivery vehicles than ever are competing with commuter traffic on already-congested highways during peak time periods. A shortage of qualified truckers is spurring development of driverless trucking, while the delivery system as a whole is running at full capacity (if not full efficiency).

Of particular concern is the so-called “last mile” delivery aspect in urban environments. It isn’t merely the issue of traffic congestion.  It’s also city planning codes (outdated), parking restrictions (made even more difficult thanks to the current fad in “progressive” cities of adding bike lanes while removing on-street stopping and parking), and load limitations (adding even more challenges and complexity).

But nature abhors a vacuum, and there are some interesting developments happening to address the challenges. The use of data analytics is growing exponentially, with route maps, GPS data, and real-time expected-versus-actual travel time updates allowing for transport rerouting to happen “in the moment.”

Other novel solutions, such as smart lockers that receive multiple shipments in a central location, plus the use of mobile warehouses within urban areas enabling less reliance on the big remote distribution centers, are emerging.

Burgeoning ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are contributing to more congestion in urban areas – just think how many more ride-sharing vehicles are on the road today compared to taxi cabs in the past. But in rural or remote areas the opposite issue is in play – difficult accessibility.  This is where drone deliveries are a welcome development — including during in the wake of natural disaster occurrences where traditional transportation methods might be impossible — or at the very least highly dangerous.

What are your thoughts about the friction between “convenience and congestion”?  Will technology help us smooth out the rough edges — or are we in for even more frustrations?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Facebook attempts to clean up its act.

Is it enough?

Watching Facebook these days as it pivots from diffusing one “rude development” to another seems a little like watching someone perform a combination plate-spinning and whack-a-mole act.

We’ll call it the Facebook Follies.  The question is … is it working?

Last month, Facebook issued its newest Community Enforcement Report – a document that updates the world about improvements the social media giant is making to its platform to enable it to live up to its stated community standards.

Among the improvements touted by the latest report:

  • Facebook reports now that ~5% of monthly active accounts are fake. (Still, 5% represents nearly 120 million users.)
  • Facebook reports now that its ability to automatically detect “hate speech” in social posts has jumped from a ~24% incidence in 2018 to ~65% today. (But this means that one-third of hate speech posts are still going undetected.)

Moreover, Facebook now reports that for every 10,000 times Facebook content is viewed by users:

  • ~25 views contain content that violates Facebook’s violence policy
  • ~14 views contain content violating Facebook’s adult nudity and sexual activity policy
  • Fewer than 3 views contain content violating Facebook’s policies for each of these categories: global terrorism; child nudity, and sexual exploitation

The community enforcement information is being reported as “wins” for Facebook … but people can’t be faulted for thinking that Facebook could (and should) be doing much better.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

On a different type of matter, this past week it was reported that Facebook has agreed to settle a class-action complaint that accused the social platform of inflating viewing metrics on Facebook videos by up to 900%.

Although details of the settlement haven’t been revealed, this development appears to close the book on criticisms that were lodged as far back as 2016, in which advertisers charged that Facebook hadn’t investigated and corrected errors in its metrics — nor allowed for third-party verification of the metrics.

It’s yet another agenda item that’s now been ticked off the list – at least in Facebook’s eyes. But now another controversy has now erupted as reported over the past few days in The Wall Street Journal.

Described in a front-page article bylined by veteran WSJ reporters John McKinnon, Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and Jeff Horwitz, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears linked to “potentially problematic privacy practices” that date all the way back to 2012, when Facebook signed a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission but that it may have violated subsequently.

Contemporaneous e-mail communications retrieved from the time period suggest that Zuckerberg was more than merely passively involved in deliberations about a particular app that claimed to have built a database stocked with information about millions of Facebook users. Purportedly, the app developer had the ability to display the Facebook user information to others — regardless of those users’ privacy settings on Facebook.  The e-mails in question detail speculation about how many other apps were stockpiling such kinds of user data, but the evidence shows little or no subsequent action being taken to shut down the data mining activities.

Another view.

These latest developments raise questions about the veracity of Facebook’s stated intentions to redouble its efforts to uphold community standards and focus more on user privacy, including moving toward encrypted and “ephemeral” messaging products that are better aligned with the European Union’s existing privacy laws that the United States may also be poised to adopt in the future.

Apparently Facebook recognizes the problem: It’s ramping up its global advertising spending to “rebuild trust” — to the tune of doubling its previous ad expenditures.  Here’s what Facebook’s marketing head Antonio Lucio is saying:

“There’s no question we made mistakes, and we’re in the process of addressing them one after the other.  But we have to tell that story to the world on the trust side as well as the value site.”

Ad-tracking company Kantar notes a big increase already in Facebook’s U.S. ad spending — up to nearly $385 million in 2018 compared to only around $50 million the year before.  As for the campaigns themselves, Facebook is relying on a number of big-name ad agencies like Wieden+Kennedy, Leo Burnett and Ogilvy for developing its various campaigns.

Another view.

There’s more than a little irony in that.

Considering the latest news items, what are your thoughts about Facebook? Are they on the right track … or is it “too little, too late”?  Are their intentions honorable … or are they simply engaged in “window dressing” to get people off their case?  Let us know your thoughts.

“Wake me when it’s over”: Corporate podcasting goes over like a zinc zeppelin with employee audiences.

Just because podcasts have become a popular means of communication in a broader sense doesn’t mean that they’re the slam-dunk tactic to successfully achieve every kind of communications objective. Still, that’s what an increasing number of large corporations have decided to do.

And yet … an article by writers Austen Hufford and Patrick McGroarty that appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal paints a picture of what many of us have suspected all along about podcasts that are produced by corporations for their employees and other “stakeholders.”

These self-important testaments to “corporate whatever” have as much impact as the printed memos of yore – you know, the ones with sky-high BS-meter ratings – had.

Which is to say … not much.

Invariably, podcast topics are ones which next to no one in the employee trenches cares anything about. As a result, corporate podcast open stats are abysmal – running between 10% and 15% if they’re lucky.

And the paltry open rates alone don’t tell the entire story. How many people are tuning them out after just a minute or two of listening, once it becomes clear that it’s yet another yawner of a topic that senior leadership deems “important” and that corporate communications departments try mightily but unsuccessfully to bring alive.

More often than not, the production values of these corporate podcasts have all the pizzazz of a cold mashed potato sandwich. Consider this breathless declaration by PR director Lindsay Colker in a December 18th Netflix podcast:

“I think that Netflix has taught me so much more than information about a job. The person that I was, coming into Netflix, is an entirely different person than the person I am now.”

This response, posted by a Netflix employee on the Apple iTunes store site, is all-too-predictable:

“Hard to follow, boring and dry hosts, and tooooo long.”

Or this recent American Airlines podcast that covered the company’s three major strategic objectives for 2019. After company president Robert Isom described the strategies for the podcast audience, host Ron DeFeo, an American Airlines communications vice president exclaimed, “That’s awesome!”

Employee reaction was far different. Here’s one response from an American Airlines pilot:

“How about you tell me why I should listen to this? A healthy employee doesn’t live and breathe their job 24/7, and the last thing they’re going to do after being on a plane for 12 hours is listen to a podcast.”

Ouch.

Perhaps because of this kind employee pushback, one company, Huntington Ingalls Industries, permits its workers to count the time they spend listening to the company’s podcast on their time sheets.

One suspects that absolutely every HII employee is posting 15 minutes on their timesheets each time a podcast is released – whether or not they’re actually listening to it. (That may also explain why each HII podcast is strictly limited to just 15 minutes in length …)

Every company interviewed by the writers of The Wall Street Journal story admitted that engagement levels with their corporate podcasts are disappointing.  PPG Industries’ response is illustrative.  With only a few hundred listeners tuning in each month out of a total employee base of more than 47,000 workers, “We have a ways to go,” admits Mark Silvey, PPG’s director of corporate communications.

What do you think? Will corporations find themselves riding a wave of success with their podcasting?  Or are they swimming upstream against the triple currents of apathy, ennui, and snark? Will corporate podcasting become tomorrow’s “obvious tactic” or end up being yesterday’s “glorious failure”? Feel free to share your perspectives with other readers.

What are the most stressful jobs in America?

Soldier, firefighter and police officer positions are obvious, but jobs in media are right up there, too.

It’s human nature to complain about workplace stress. But which jobs are the ones that actually carry the most stress?

If you ask most people, they’d probably cite jobs in the military, police and firefighting as particularly stressful ones because of the inherent dangers of working on the job. Airline pilots would be up there as well.

And yes, those jobs do rank the highest among the many jobs surveyed about by employment portal CareerCast in its newest research on the topic. But of the other jobs that make the “Top 10 most stressful” list, several of them might surprise you:

Most Stressful: CareerCast Stress Scores by Profession (2019)

#1. Enlisted military personnel (E3, 4 years experience): 73

#2. Firefighter:  72

#3. Airline pilot:  61

#4. Police officer:  52

#5. Broadcaster:  51

#6. Event coordinator:  51

#7. News reporter:  50

#8. PR executive:  49

#9. Senior corporate executive:  49

#10. Taxi driver:  48

According to the CareerCast research findings, based on an evaluation of 11 potential stress factors including meeting deadlines, job hazards, physical demands and public interaction requirements, more than three-fourths of respondents in the 2019 survey rated their job stress at 7 or higher on a 10-point scale.

The most common stress contributors cited were “meeting deadlines’ (~38% of respondents) and “interacting with the public” (~14%).

Upon reflection, it’s perhaps understandable why workers in media positions feel like they are under particular stress – what with “fake news” claims and a constant barrage of criticism from both the left and the right which can go beyond being simply irritants into some much more stress-inducing.

What if someone wanted to make a career change and switch to a job that’s at the opposite end of the stress scale? CareerCast has identified those positions, too.  Here are the “least stressful” jobs as found in its 2019 research results:

Least Stressful: CareerCast 2019 Stress Score by Profession

#1. Diagnostic medical sonographer:  5

#2. Compliance officer:  6

#3: Hair stylist:  7

#4. Audiologist:  7

#5. University professor:  8

#6. Medical records technician:  9

#7. Jeweler:  9

#8: Operations research analyst:  9

#9. Pharmacy technician:  9

#10. Massage therapist:  10

Interestingly, one might assume that the most stressful jobs in America would carry a commensurate salary premium, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case.  The average median salary for the Top 10 “most stressful” jobs in America is hardly distinguishable from those of the Top 10 “least stressful” jobs – differing by only around 4%.  It seems like those latter workers are onto something!

More information about the CareerCast findings can be viewed here.

Music industry mashup: Streaming audio sets the pace.

… while digital downloads fade and physical music media sales hold steady.

The music industry revenue reports issued annually by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are always interesting to look at, because they chronicle the big trends in how people are consuming their music.

The 2018 RIAA report is particularly enlightening, as it finds that streaming audio now accounts for three-fourths of all U.S. music industry revenue. With more than 50 million Americans subscribing to at least one streaming service, those revenue stats certainly make sense.

Moreover, the RIAA report states that 2018 revenues from streaming music platforms amounted to nearly $7.5 billion. That compares to just $1.1 billion (~11%) for digital downloads and $1.2 billion (~12%) for physical media sales.

Equally significant, streaming revenues account for nearly all of the revenue growth experienced across the entire industry – and the growth is dramatic. Streaming revenues jumped ~30% between 2017 and 2018, whereas growth in the other segments was essentially flat.

Within the streaming segment, all three major sectors – premium subscriptions, ad-supported on-demand streaming, and streaming radio – experienced revenue growth.  But paid subscriptions continue to comprise the biggest chunk of revenue; they make up ~73% of all streaming revenues, or $5.4 million.

Ad-supported on-demand streaming is also proving to be quite popular with users, but while revenues grew by some 15% in 2018 to reach $760 million, it’s pretty clear that ad-supported streaming audio services lag behind in terms of generating revenues. Ad-supported streaming may account for more than one-third of all streaming activity … but only ~8% of streaming revenues.

The third segment — radio streaming services – looks to be a particularly bright spot. These services are evolving nicely, passing the $1 billion mare in revenues in 2018 for the first time.

But the main takeaway is this:  Streaming audio now represents the “mainstream” while digital downloads are going the way of the cassette tape in an earlier era. And physical media (CDs, vinyl) have stabilized to a degree that many observers might not have anticipated happening just a few years ago.

More information from the 2018 RIAA report can be viewed here.

What are your own personal music consumption preferences? Feel free to share your thoughts with other readers here.

Klout’s gone (thankfully) … but get ready for Skorr.

Social influence/reputation scores – what no one really wants – come back for Round 2.

Who remembers Klout anymore?  When the social media “influence rater” was quietly shuttered in mid-2018,

Klout was just a faint glimmer of what it had once been.  Over a 10-year arc, the social influence “Klout Score” went from being something some people cared about to being something no one bothered with.

Through some rather opaque algorithms, Klout purported to measure the reach and influence of people’s social networks and correlate the content they created to measure how others interacted with that content.

Klout used major social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and LinkedIn (plus a few less important ones like Foursquare and Google+, but not SnapChat or Pinterest) to create a person’s so-called “Klout Score” ranging from 0 to 100.  The higher the score, the more “social clout” the person presumably had.

The resulting score was something that many people discounted, noting that prolific bloggers ended up having Klout Scores significantly higher than even the president of the United States.

Others looked at their own modest Klout Scores and freaked out.

But as it turned out, all of it was “much ado about nothing” — so much blue smoke and mirrors.  MediaPost columnist Kaila Colbin put her finger on the reality of it all when she wrote this about the foundation upon which Klout was built:

[The idea that] “the carrot, the reward, is the influence you have — that is backwards. Influence is not a reward or an end-result.  It is a byproduct of actually being good …”

Colbin continued:

“A service like Klout promotes the ambition of being influential, but there are no shortcuts. Show up. Express yourself wholeheartedly. Deliver value. Ask yourself what you can give your community. The influence will take care of itself.”

As if on cue, starting about halfway into its decade-long life, Klout began to show significant cracks in its foundation. Klout’s presence began to weaken as more people raised questions about the company’s well-guarded methodology by which its scores were determined.

Still others began to label the scheme “socially evil” in that Klout was in the business of exploiting the “status anxiety” of the people who paid attention to the scores.

But perhaps the biggest knock came when search engine specialist Sean Golliher analyzed the Klout scores of Twitter users and discovered that the number of Twitter followers was sufficient to explain 95% of the Klout scores assigned to those users. That finding validated the suspicions many had about Klout all along that its rating system was an elaborate architecture based on very little at all.

The last few years of Klout played out like so many other high-flying wonders of the cyberworld:  A change of ownership that failed to stem the negative trends, followed by mounting irrelevance and finally closing down the entire enterprise.

At the time Klout was shuttered in May 2018, few even noticed. Indeed, for many Internet users it was as if Klout had never existed.

But cyberspace being what it is, no sooner had Klout disappeared than a new social influence/reputation protocol emerged to take its place.

This time it’s Skorr, sporting the high-minded tagline “grow socially” and described by its backers as follows:

“[We] are now building a decentralized reputation protocol for the Internet: making reputation immutable and anonymity accountable … This reputation protocol allows individuals, organizations and things to create one or multiple reputations, depending on their identity.  Each reputation will be immutable, verifiable and traceable — and as such, the actor can be held accountable.”

Over on the company’s website, we read that not only will Skorr allow people to measure their influence, it “will also allow you to challenge your friends on different social contests and invite them to social media disputes.”

Isn’t that just what we need: more ways to help people argue more online.

Let’s hope that this new influence/reputation “protocol” will go the way of the last one — and that it happens a whole lot quicker this time around.