In a written statement, the company complained that what was originally designed to “serve as a forum for thoughtful and intelligent debate that would allow our global audience to engage with one another” had devolved into a free-for-all, with the comments sections “hijacked by users hiding behind pseudonyms spewing vitriol, bigotry, racism and sectarianism.”
“The possibility of having any form of debate was virtually nonexistent,” the al-Jazeera statement added – as if any further explanation for their action was needed.
I have a comment of my own in response to al-Jazeera: “Welcome to reality.”
Al-Jazeera is hardly an innocuous website in cyberspace. It reports on some of the most explosive developments affecting the most volatile regions of the world. Considering the sparring parties in these never-ending conflicts, complaining about “sectarianism” is almost laughable.
Is there a more “sectarian” group of people on the face of the earth than those who are exorcised about the inhabitants of the Middle East – or of Muslims, Christians and Jews in general? I don’t know of any.
As for the comments section being a repository of derision and hate, how is anyone surprised? What other result could one expect – especially since there was little or no attempt by al-Jazeera personnel to moderate the comments section?
The fact is, unmoderated comments sections that also allow for poster anonymity are a blanket invitation for “the inmates running the asylum.” Comments that are left in these “anything’s allowed” forums chase the well-intentioned participants away – and fast.
On the other hand, I’ve found plenty of well-moderated forums and comments sections that are as valuable as the underlying articles themselves.
That doesn’t happen all by itself, of course. Good moderation takes effective policies – requiring commentators to identify themselves for a start. It also requires an ever-watchful eye.
Evidently, al-Jazeera and others like them found the not-insignificant effort required to perform this degree of moderation to be unworthy of their time or financial resources. And as a result, their forums became worthless.
When it comes to the news, Americans say they’re tired of so much attention on celebrity gossip and scandal stories … but are they really?
Experience has shown that healthy foods on the menu at fast food establishments test well in consumer attitudinal surveys — only to bomb big time when actually introduced.
It seems as though many people answer the way they think they’re “supposed” to respond, even though they’ll never actually opt for the apple slices in lieu of the order of fries.
I wonder if the same dynamics are at work in a recent Harris Poll, which queried ~2,500 Americans age 18 or over about their preferences for news topics. The online survey was conducted in August 2014, with the results released this past week.
For starters, three-fourths of the respondents felt that celebrity gossip and scandal stories receive too much coverage.
Indeed, many believe that entertainment news in general receives too much attention in the news:
Celebrity gossip and scandal stories: ~76% claim too much attention is paid in the news
Entertainment news in general: ~49%
Professional spectator sports: ~44%
Politics and elections: ~33%
And which topics do people feel aren’t covered sufficiently in the news? It’s everything that’s “good for you”:
Education topics: ~47% believe too little attention is paid in the news
Local/national humanitarian issues: ~47%
Science topics: ~45%
Government corruption and scandals: ~44%
Corporate corruption and white collar crime: ~42%
Global humanitarian issues: ~33%
Health topics: ~30%
I suspect that the “actual reality” is different from how the survey participants responded. If news organizations weren’t seeing keen interest generated by their celebrity, entertainment and sports stories, they would stop producing them. Simple as that.
MarketingSherpa was seeking insights as to how marketers track metrics for a whole host of channels like PPC advertising, SEO initiatives, social media, display advertising, e-mail marketing and content marketing, among others.
The results compiled by MarketingSherpa are based on research and data collected during 2012 from more than 1,100 marketing professionals across a full range of industries worldwide.
The research covers a wide variety of marketing analytics tools and practices, along with challenges and budget constraints faced by marketers in the course of carrying out their responsibilities.
The 2013 Marketing Analytics Benchmark Reportis big – to the tune of ~325 presentation slides and 425+ data charts plus commentary – and rather costly as well.
But it may be just the ticket for marketers who are looking for the latest insights on how to tackle measurement in today’s “smorgasbord” marketing landscape.
One set of data points that I find particularly interesting is in identifying the marketing metrics that companies routinely track. The MarketingSherpa research has found that that e-mail open rates and clickthrough rates continue to be the most prevalent forms of measurement:
Open rate: ~78% routinely track this metric
Clickthrough rate: ~73%
Several other metrics are tracked by about half (or more) of the respondents:
Unsubscribe rate: ~65% routinely track
Deliverability rate: ~55%
Conversion rate: ~54%
Clicks-per-link in e-mail: ~49%
List size: ~48%
On the other hand, several other metrics are being tracked by a distinct minority of companies:
ROI: ~28% routinely track
Complaint rate: ~25%
Social sharing rate: ~21%
On one hand, seeing ROI tracking so far down the list is disappointing … until we remind ourselves that accurate ROI measurement is a function of having good data on 5 or 10 other factors. If any one of them is off by a significant degree, it affects the veracity of the ROI conclusions.
Yet another example where “talk” is most definitely “cheap.”
The statistics presented by the author – including those showing the middle class “squeeze,” a smaller proportion of Americans falling within the middle class as compared to poorer or richer segments – are indeed sobering.
But in reading the article, I also got the sense that the premise of the argument – that the economic conditions in the America of 50 years ago represented the “norm” – may be flawed.
What if the conditions today represent the “norm” and the conditions back then are the ones that were “skewed”?
I shared the article with my brother, Nelson Nones. As someone who has lived and worked outside the United States for years (in Europe and Asia), to me his thoughts on world economic matters are always worth hearing because he has the benefit of weighing issues from a global perspective instead of simply a more parochial one (like mine).
Here’s what Nelson shared with me:
I have a very no-nonsense view of what’s happening to the American middle class, and why. The American Dream was “real,” the article says, during the post-World War II prosperity of the 1950s when a “middle-class family bought a house, put a car (or two) in the driveway, and raised children who ran around a safe neighborhood and later went to college with their parents’ support.”
This characterization paints a scene that is peaceful, tranquil, secure and prosperous – but it completely misses a couple salient points:
The Cold War – The 1950s were also a time of fallout shelters and fighting Communism. It’s easy to forget all that.
The Communist and Socialist countries – two of which today are part of the “BRIC” countries (Brazil-Russia-India-China). Russia (then the Soviet Union) and China barricaded themselves and their vassal states behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains – and slowly but inexorably starved themselves to death economically. The other two, Brazil and India, barricaded themselves to a degree as well. As an example, they threw out Coca-Cola and forced the locals to drink the disgusting domestic variants Campa-Cola in Brazil and Thums Up in India, just to thumb their noses (no pun intended) at those wicked ex-Colonialists and American capitalists.
In other words, while income equality and middle class prosperity were peaking in America between 1945 and 1970, the situation at the global level was exactly the opposite.
As we all know, the political and economic barricades fell quickly in late 1980s and early 1990s. The effect is precisely what political economist Adam Smith predicted in The Wealth of Nations (1776):
“If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it from them with some part of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage.”
Not coincidentally, Singapore’s per capita GDP today, at US$50,800 (according to the CIA World Factbook) exceeds that of the United States, at US$48,400. Of course Singapore is a small country and it’s just one example – but it’s a telling one.
I would argue that the American Dream, or at least the ideal of it framed in the 1950s, might have been “real” at the time (people, after all, were buying real houses and cars with real money). But it was temporary. And it could never be permanent if you believe Adam Smith.
Consider this: Many of the middle-class breadwinners were union workers. Their rising incomes were directly attributable to collective bargaining agreements that American companies could afford to enter into because they had little or no foreign competition and hence could pass rising costs on to the very consumers who benefited from those agreements.
Today, some of those same companies are bankrupting themselves just to rid themselves of unions and the unfunded pension liabilities they took on board when the good times were rolling. And why is this? Because they have to fight foreign competition just to stay alive. (This CNBC article, published just a few days ago, says it all.)
I would also contend that today’s “scaled back” notions of the American Dream might reflect the more realistic (less idealistic) views of the vast number of immigrants who have come to America since the barricades have fallen – many of whom fall squarely within the article’s definition of “middle class” (which I calculate to be $13,725 – $39,215 per year per capita, using the per-household figures quoted in the article divided by the current average U.S. household size).
For these immigrants, the assurance of being able to “hold on for dear life” is actually a big step up from the mayhem, extortion, hidebound traditions and general hopelessness that often run rampant in the countries or societies they’ve fled.
It astonishes me that this National Journal article hardly mentions any of the above: The word “foreign” can’t be found anywhere in the article … “immigration” appears only once in the context of how Hispanic immigration is exerting a “steady downward pull on income” … and “union” is stated only once in the context of children in the 1950s skipping college and entering the workforce with a “secure, often union-protected job.”
How could the article’s author have missed what is so obvious? I’m quite sure she’s not so ignorant … so she must have an agenda. But if that’s the case, and if I were to believe her agenda-based screed, what would that make me?
Just like author Any Sullivan, my brother Nelson has a strong point of view about the current situation of the American middle class!
As for me, I think the article’s statistics are real. But I also believe that post-war conditions in America were an anomaly borne of special circumstances. For the author to treat them as the “baseline” for evaluating the “fairness” of all that has come since … reveals a serious flaw in the underlying argument.
Besides, what’s “fair” today versus what was “fair” 50 years ago takes on a completely different complexion based on where one lives in the world!
OK, readers: Have at it. What’s your perspective? Please share your thoughts here.
My own view is somewhat conflicted. I see evidence of some people who cheerfully relish the bullhorn – and attention – that social media appears to give them.
But social media can be deceiving in that a “personal environment” can be built that seems like the whole world is watching and listening – but in reality it’s just a constructed edifice more akin to a Potemkin village.
But I can also see clear evidence of some of the more “Type B” people I know who have made quite an impact on social media by virtue of some very impressive contributions – written information, videos, photography, etc.
In those cases, social media has been a way to extend influence well beyond a small circle of friends or colleagues – and far more than could ever be possible before.
How about you? What are your thoughts on this topic and what have you observed? Please share them here if you’re so inclined.
Thirty years ago, the rite of passage going from being a kid to adulthood had to include having your own automobile.
Not so today.
In fact, the percentage of young adults who even have their driver’s license has declined considerably: In the early 1980s, nearly half of 16-year-olds in America had a driver’s license. By 2010, that percentage had dropped to just ~28%.
What happened between then and now? A number of things, but the biggest may be the rise of consumer electronics and social media.
Recall what an automobile could provide a young adult in the 1980s: access to all of the kid-popular activities of the day: shopping, music, movies, getting together with friends, and so forth.
Today, teens can access pretty much all of that right at their fingertips via the Internet or a smartphone.
You want clothes? Order them online.
Music? Download it to your smartphone.
Communicate with friends? Just Skype or text away.
Meanwhile, between more sophisticated, costly auto maintenance and the high price of gasoline, owning a car has only become more expensive.
Auto insurance premiums for teens? Outta sight.
Plus, it’s just more of a hassle to get a license today. Driver education classes are disappearing from many a public school classroom, the casualty of budget cuts. Stricter state laws make it much more difficult and time-consuming to rack up the necessary behind-the-wheel training hours prior to taking driving tests.
The result is fewer kids getting licensed during their teen years.
In 1983, nearly 70% of 17-year-old Americans had drivers licenses … a figure that dropped to just ~46% by 2010.
Even for 18-year-olds, the percentage holding drivers licenses declined from ~80% in 1983 to only about 60% in 2010.
A recent survey conducted by Zipcar found that millennials (people age 18 to 34) would rather shop online than in stores. No car needed for that.
And when presented the choice between giving up their phone or their tablet computer or their car … two thirds of the Zipcar survey respondents would forego the car.
This is a veritable sea change in attitudes about wheels.
In fact, one could conclude that the very things that cars once represented – the “vehicle” that enabled you to “do what you want, see who you want and be what you want” – is what actually describes the digital and social media world today.
Meanwhile … the car is now just a way to get to your part-time job. Ugh.
BlackBerry has announced that it will finally introduce its new Z10 touchscreen smartphone model in the United States next week, in conjunction with its AT&T program.
That’s about a month after sales of the Z10 began in the United Kingdom, Canada and several other countries.
Does this signify a comeback of sorts for BlackBerry?
If it does, it will be a dramatic reversal of fortune, as the company has been on a steady downward trajectory ever since the release of the first Apple iPhone in 2007.
But speaking as the owner of a BlackBerry device, I have to admit that the company has seemed to be hopefully behind the curve for quite a few years now. And this latest, last-ditch effort is coming up against stiff competition, such as Samsung’s new Galaxy smartphone which is debuting at the very same time.
BlackBerry’s recently installed CEO, Thorsten Heins, has stated publicly that the company has to regain some of its market share in the U.S. in order to be successful.
But the news on this front doesn’t look promising at all, as corporate accounts — long the company’s bread-and-butter busines– appear to be falling away.
In February, The Home Depot reported that it was replacing all of its company-issued BlackBerry devices with iPhones.
There are an estimated 14 billion+ web pages in existence. But even with this massive number, you can navigate from any single one of those pages to any other in 19 clicks or less.
That’s the finding of Albert-László Barabási, a Hungarian-Romanian physicist and network theorist. He’s constructed a simulated model of the web, and in doing so discovered that of the ~1 trillion web documents in existence (this figure includes every image or other file hosted on every one of the ~14 billion web pages), most are poorly connected.
In other words, they’re linked to just a few other pages or documents.
But the web also has a smallish number of pages associated with search engines, indexes and aggregators that are highly connected and can move from one area of cyberspace to another.
It is these “super-potent” nodes that allow people to navigate from most areas to most others relatively easily.
Hence Barabási’s “19 clicks or fewer” finding.
He posits that the web mirrors fundamental human experience: the impulse for people to tend to cluster into communities (both real and virtual).
Thus, the pages that make up the web aren’t linked randomly. They’re part of an interconnected organizational structure that includes country, region, subject/topic area and so forth.
It’s official. With nearly $21 billion in ad revenue generated during the first half of 2012, Google now attracts more advertising business than all U.S. print media combined.
That is correct: German-based statistics portal Statista reports that Google garnered ~$20.8 billion in total ad revenues over the period, while all U.S. newspapers and magazines took in only about $19.2 billion.
Never mind that the comparison isn’t completely apples-to-apples … in that print revenues are for the United States only, while Google generates ad revenues worldwide. Still, it’s a dramatic milestone, and it says a lot about the fortunes (and future) of print versus online advertising.
Statista has helpfully published trend charts that show how quickly the ad picture has changed (see above). Only a few years ago, print advertising dominated the scene, but the trajectories of it and Google have been on opposite paths ever since.
It was inevitable that the lines would eventually cross, but how many could have foreseen it happening as early as 2012?
As if on cue, Advance Publications, a company that owns a number of venerable newspapers in New Orleans, Cleveland and elsewhere, has just announced that it is likely to cut the publication frequency of the Plain Dealer newspaper from its current seven days a week.
If Advance follows through on its intentions, it will join the New Orleans Times Picayune as a daily newspaper that’s no longer a daily.
The publisher’s letter to Plain Dealer readers described the newspaper’s future in lofty terms, noting that changes were coming as the paper seeks to “embrace dynamic shifts in the way information is consumed.” And other such language.
It also noted that the pending changes are “not about cost-cutting.” But who believes that?
And in fact, the publisher’s letter states also that “if we maintain the status quo, we risk doing what everyone – our employees, advertisers and the community – wants to avoid: disappearing.”
If people don’t see a correlation between the Statista data and what the Plain Dealer has in store for its readers … they’re living on another planet.
As an adjunct to my recent blog post recounting the views of my expat brother, Nelson Nones, on immigration policy and its impact on national identity, here’s another interesting missive – this time from Sweden where my brother is currently working on a long-term consulting job.
What he writes is a cautionary tale on how not to deal with the tide of foreign nationals flooding in …
I’m staying in Södertälje, a town of about 65,000 people located 22 miles southwest of Stockholm. Although Södertälje is today considered part of the greater Stockholm area, albeit on the fringe, it is an old factory town.
I’m here because Astra AB, which merged with Zeneca Group of the United Kingdom to form pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca, was founded here in 1919. Today AstraZeneca has two manufacturing sites in Södertälje, one of which is the largest tableting plant in the world.
One bit of trivia you’ll find out here: It’s the hometown of tennis star Björn Borg.
As most people know, Sweden is a very socialist market economy. The Swedes I know tell me that the only real difference between the Right (mainly represented by the “Moderate Party”) and Left (mainly represented by the “Swedish Social Democratic Party” which is Sweden’s largest political party) is their position on whether (Left) or not (Right) the government should run state-owned enterprises.
Sweden has a very generous public welfare system financed by the second-highest tax regime in the world, after Denmark. Personal income tax starts at 29%, but anyone earning over ~US$ 52,000 per year will pay between 49% and 60%.
Throw in the 25% value added tax (VAT) which is similar to sales tax in America, and you’ll get an idea of just how high the taxes are here.
Sweden is Europe’s fifth-largest country by area (not counting European Russia) but its population is only 9.5 million, so it is Europe’s third most sparsely populated country, after Norway and Finland (again, not counting European Russia and also excluding Iceland). Sweden is also relatively poorly endowed with natural resources. For example, neighboring Norway has large North Sea oil reserves, but Sweden has none.
Recognizing this, the Swedish government aggressively pursued a policy of promoting large-scale industrial development after World War II, and this is one reason why Sweden has so many large industrial companies today. They include AstraZeneca, Volvo, Ericsson, Scania (also headquartered in Södertälje), Skanska, Saab and Alfa Laval.
To build these industries Sweden needed workers – lots of them. So it entered into a trade agreement with other Northern European countries back in 1952 which established a common labor market and free movement across borders. As a result, Sweden successfully attracted a large number of immigrants during the 1950s and 1960s from countries such as Finland, Germany, and even the Baltic States.
Another piece of important background information concerns greater Stockholm’s development since World War II. Unlike most big American cities, very few people in the Stockholm area (including Södertälje) live in single-family detached homes. Most of them live in apartments that were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s as part of Sweden’s Million Programme to build 1 million new dwellings in 10 years (for more information, see the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Programme).
One of the main motivations of the Million Programme was to build affordable housing for the immigrant workers recruited to fuel Sweden’s industrial growth, and quite a few of those houses were built in Södertälje because it was already a well-established factory town.
To give an idea of how prevalent this sort of housing is, I had dinner recently with one of AstraZeneca’s senior executives and his family at their home, which is a flat in a small development on the outskirts of Södertälje consisting of two-story apartment blocks, four flats per block. It’s a beautiful home, but it still is … a flat.
How It Went Wrong
Partly because of its liberal immigration policy over the years, Sweden is also one of the world’s most accommodating countries for political refugees. In recent years, many of them have come from the Middle East; specifically Christian Iraqis and Assyrians facing religious persecution, and also Muslims.
A very large number of these refugees settled in Södertälje. Today, approximately 40% of Södertälje’s population is foreign-born and, outside of Iraq, Södertälje is the largest enclave of Iraqis in the world.
Why Södertälje? Local opinions differ, but from what I can piece together it appears that:
Although Sweden’s industrial development policy proved very successful at first, employment in large industries is now in decline. As one example, AstraZeneca shut down its R&D center in Södertälje earlier this year in order to cut costs and consolidate R&D activities in the United Kingdom. (Previously, the Södertälje R&D center employed ~1,000 people.) Sweden’s automotive industries, especially Saab, have been hit hard by the global recession. It doesn’t help that Sweden is a very high-cost manufacturing locale today, so the country has lost many of the competitive advantages it possessed in prior years. As in America, industries have attempted to reduce high labor costs through automation, further reducing local employment.
Södertälje’s residential vacancy rate surged as job losses mounted and people moved away to find work elsewhere.
The Swedish government pays 100% of the housing cost for political refugees, who typically are unemployable because they lack the necessary language and/or job skills.
Södertälje is a convenient place to house these refugees, because vacant flats are readily available at (relatively) low cost, and because the town is on Stockholm’s urban fringe where the new arrivals are least likely to disrupt the area’s social fabric.
One of the Södertälje neighborhoods where the refugee population lives is Hovsjö (a tongue-twister pronounced something like “hoe-joo”). It was a Million Programme project put up between 1971 and 1975.
Unlike American ghetto neighborhoods, this one is on the far fringes of Södertälje, on top of a hill in the middle of a huge pine forest, and adjacent to a stunningly beautiful lake. It has 2,200 apartments, mostly in high-rise buildings, and is home to over 5,000 people.
“There are families who are prisoners in their own homes.” Hovsjö Muslims, newly arrived refugees and people who stand out, are all becoming victims of harassment in Hovsjö. “I do not know why they harass me,” says Louris Kalo.
Hovsjö has become calmer for most people. But for a minority, it has become a living hell. Arriving refugees – especially Muslims – are particularly vulnerable.
“The problem must be taken seriously by politicians. There are families who are prisoners in their own homes, who take their children to kindergarten and then lock themselves inside out of fear,” says Hovsjö police chief Niclas Johansson.
One victim, who is neither Muslim nor Iraqi, is hairdresser Louris Kalo. She is Syrian but from Syria, not Turkey. “I do not know why they harass me, but the police and Securitas [the private security company] have been really kind to follow me home.”
For some reason, perhaps because she is a single woman and supports herself, she is met by taunts and she has repeatedly been forced to lock herself in her apartment after over 30 youths threw eggs at her salon and wrote bad words on the door. “Most of Hovsjö’s families are good and I do not want to move from here. But for the sake of the young people, I hope their parents do something about it before it is too late.”
Politicians know that in the past, Muslims were targeted by Christian immigrant groups. Now, however, even Iraqi Christians suffer hate crimes.
According to Mayor Anders Lago, the basic problem is that Södertälje is forced to accept too many applicants, creating segregated areas. “Södertälje has no agreement to accept any refugees at all. All those who come here do so because they have chosen to live here. But Sodertalje cannot shoulder this burden alone, so we want the government’s help to repeal the law that currently allows refugees to decide for themselves where they want to stay.”
Other news accounts point to a rising tide of violence between Christians and Muslims in Hovsjö, particularly between gangs of unemployed youths. All of the bad blood between Christians and Muslims is simply spreading over from the Middle East to bucolic Sweden.
Hovsjö is not alone. There are at least two other areas that are nearly as bad in Södertälje, one of which is right up the hill from the house where I had my recent dinner (and I witnessed quite a bit of police activity then).
My dinner hosts, who are the stereotypically Swedish family and very nice people to boot, spent much of our evening together deploring the present situation in Södertälje.
I might add that, like most Swedes, they don’t mind paying high taxes, but they bitterly resent seeing their tax money given away to “hooligans,” as they would say.
The Moral of the Story
If you’re going to open the door to immigrants and refugees, then:
Don’t put the new arrivals on the dole.
Make sure they’re able to earn their own living after they arrive – not by offering “make work” jobs, but through the cumulative effects of fiscal and economic policies that stimulate domestic demand for workers having the skills, knowledge and abilities that the new arrivals possess.
Remove whatever incentives might cause the new arrivals to crowd into ghettoes (like the Mexican border zone in the U.S., or the dreary estates of Södertälje). As an example of an alternative approach, America’s immigration policy in the 19th century was to give away rural (and widely dispersed) homesteads to immigrants.
Focus on attracting immigrants for economic or educational reasons, not on refugees for humanitarian reasons. This may sound harsh, but it’s not as cruel as the social dysfunction (and even mayhem) that exists in places like Hovsjö.
As people say, “The road to h*ll is paved with good intentions.” I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and reaction to what Nelson is reporting from “bucolic Sweden.” Could it be that the grass is not actually greener …?