Last month, in its second round of layoffs in as many years, comedy hub Funny or Die reportedly eliminated its entire editorial team following a trend of comedy websites scaling back, shutting down, or restructuring their business model away from original online content.
Hours after CEO Mike Farah delivered the news via an internal memo, Matt Klinman took to Twitter, writing, “Mark Zuckerberg just walked into Funny or Die and laid off all my friends.” It was a strong sentiment for the longtime comedy creator, who started out at UCB and The Onion before launching Pitch, the Funny or Die-incubated joke-writing app, in 2017.
This article really has so much. It also contains a microcosm of what’s been happening in journalism recently as well. I have a feeling that if outlets like Funny or Die were to go back and own their original content, there would still be a way for them to exist, we just need to evolve the internet away from the centralized direction we’ve been moving for the past decade and change.
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia
eliminated its entire editorial team following a trend of comedy websites scaling back, shutting down, or restructuring their business model away from original online content. Hours after CEO Mike Farah delivered the news via an internal memo, Matt Klinman took to Twitter, writing, “Mark Zuckerberg just walked into Funny or Die and laid off all my friends.” It was a strong sentiment for the longtime comedy creator, who started out at UCB and The Onion before launching Pitch, the Funny or Die-incubated joke-writing app, in 2017.
“Mark Zuckerberg just walked into Funny or Die and laid off all my friends.”
The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet.
Facebook has created a centrally designed internet. It’s a lamer, shittier looking internet.
The EU has a bunch of laws kicking in to keep this in check — one is algorithmic transparency, where these places need to tell me why they are showing me something.
If someone at Facebook sees this, I want them to know, if they care at all about the idea that was the internet, they need to start thinking through what they are doing. Otherwise, then you’re just like Lennie from Of Mice and Men — a big dumb oaf crushing the little mouse of the internet over and over and not realizing it.
And I want it to feel that way to other people so that when they go to a cool website, they are inspired: They see human beings putting love and care into something.
Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content.
It’s like if The New York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see.
And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore.
This is where webmentions on sites can become valuable. People posting “read” posts or “watch” posts (or even comments) indicating that they saw something could be the indicator to the originating site that something is interesting/valuable and could be displayed by that site. (This is kind of like follower counts, but for individual pieces of content, so naturally one would need to be careful about gaming.)
Here’s another analogy, and I learned this in an ecology class: In the 1800s (or something), there were big lords, or kings or something, who had giant estates with these large forests. And there were these foresters who had this whole notion of how to make a perfectly designed forest, where the trees would be pristinely manicured and in these perfect rows, and they would get rid of all the gross stuff and dirt. It was just trees in a perfect, human-devised formation that you could walk through. Within a generation, these trees were emaciated and dying. Because that’s how a forest works — it needs to be chaotic. It needs bugs and leaves, it makes the whole thriving ecosystem possible. That’s what this new internet should be. It won’t survive as this human-designed, top-down thing that is optimized for programmatic ads. It feels like a desert. There’s no nutrition, there’s no opportunity to do anything cool.
Recommending things for people is a personal act, and there are people who are good at it. There are critics. There are blogs. It’s not beneficial to us to turn content recommendations over to an algorithm, especially one that’s been optimized for garbage.
the internet was a better place 3-4 years ago. It used to be fruitful, but it’s like a desert now.
Facebook is the great de-contextualizer.
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