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Month: February 2022

Business update and launch of the forum

Hi guys,

I wanted to give you an update on the business and general ideas for the future.

I started this page all the way back in 2014. The world has changed a lot since then.

The average post used to reach 15% of the audience. The page would grow at about 10% a month. Now its lucky to even get 500 new followers every month. At first I thought maybe there are only so many language fans out there but other pages have had similar problems.

Traffic on my Facebook page is way down but it is still going strong and even growing in other places.

I went full time in 2018. Its now my job. I am overjoyed that I am able to do this as a job but that also means that I need to keep the business in mind.

I suppose you never really forgot the first thing that meant something to you. Your first movie, video, or even in my case your first social media.

I have connected with so many people and made so many friends. It has been a huge positive in my life.

But there have been some negatives. Direct help from Facebook when needed (like when my page got hacked) has been extremely difficult to get. Once I was able to get help from a Facebook employee who just happened to be a fan of the page. To that person, you know who you are, thank you so much for your help.

Getting help through official channels on Facebook is almost impossible.

Running a site with around 1.9 billion active users is not easy. Before I became Steve the vagabond I was a programmer. Dealing with tech is hard but dealing with humans is harder.

I don’t envy them the task of dealing with 1.9 billion users.

That said though, Facebook has made zero effort to make the experience of getting help from them easier. While it’s not easy to handle so many users, a culture could be built that focuses on user happiness and fulfilment.

Identifying common user issues and sending them to the appropriate place. Watching for trends in user behaviour, not for the purposes of advertising, but for the purposes of understanding users needs and desires.

Having run this page for close to 8 years I have had a lot of time to think about what social media could be, and what it currently is.

Facebook has from day one focused on profits over users.

It would be disingenuous of me not to thank Facebook for giving me my start. Its undeniable Facebook gave me the platform which allowed me to connect with so many. For the platform they gave me and allowed me to use to connect with so many, I thank them.

That being said though, it is clear users are not first in their mind. Apple has implemented changes to their app which defaults user tracking to off and Google is working on the same. Facebook’s response is laughably petulant. They said they care so much about the users and this change would hurt Facebook’s ability to help them.

This is a flat out lie. Facebook never cared about its users.

I am a content producer and Facebook is a platform. The relationship between content producer and platform can often be adversarial as goals are not aligned.

The reason I made the page in the first place was to have fun. Starting a business was the last thing on my mind. I had only recently quit my job because of depression and started taking anti depressants (my depression has long since become a memory, I am fine now, no need to worry about me). I was extremely fortunate to be in a position where my parents could look after me. I just made memes, posted jokes and had fun.

It was only because of the amazing response from all you guys (likes, comments and shares really do matter, not just to the algorithm and the growth of the page, but to me personally) that I was able to grow this little page into a business.

A secret in the industry is that Facebook doesn’t make the kind of money that its level of users would suggest. Google made $181.69 billion in 2020. Facebook had $85 billion. Google makes more than twice what Facebook makes. Facebook is the third largest website after Google and Youtube but makes a fraction of their revenue.

Facebook has a monetisation problem. Facebook doesn’t know how to monetise their platform. People started joining Facebook as a way to connect with family and friends. It has a easy to use interface and a large user base. And the people flooded in. But Facebook needed to make money to run their company. So they turned to ads.

But here’s the issue. People don’t go to Facebook to look for things, and they never have. They go to Facebook to look at cat pictures and to see what their friends have been up to. This means that people don’t click on ads. People only click on ads when they are looking for something.

Google on the other hand is all about finding stuff. So if you are looking for a car, and an ad shows up offering cars, you will probably click it because it is showing you the thing you want.

This means the click through rate (the percentage of times those who see an ad click on it) is triple on Google vs Facebook and sometimes even higher.

A lot of this was already clear years ago. But it didn’t matter. Facebook was growing and Facebook had a metro ton of users. Having a large userbase is also a good thing because they drive engagement. They use the website and then tell their friends.

But in the mid 10’s stories started coming out about what companies connected with Facebook were doing. Cambridge Analytica were doing dodgy things. All of the data was obtained from Facebook’s own services. Facebook offered truckloads of data to whoever wanted it. You just had to get a user to click “Yes, Facebook can read my user data” and they had it.

Over time people talked more about intrusive ads and how annoying they were. Some people started leaving Facebook in protest. Behind the scenes Facebook was hiring tons of data analysts so they could work out how to get more data about its users. They could then offer this data to advertisers. The more personalised and detailed, the more they could offer.

Either because of dropping click through rate, or a desire to make more money (or both, who knows) Facebook started dropping the publication rates of posts on Facebook pages to encourage people to pay for advertising to push their publication rates back up to previous levels.

This is where the story comes back to how it effect my experience. A few years ago I got 10k likes in one day. A fluke to be sure, but it was possible because Facebook still sent posts to lots of people.

Then Facebook decided to turn the publication rates down. Posts that reached tens of thousands of people now reached a few thousand or less. This meant fewer people to my website and Patreon and other places. But could I complain? Not really. I haven’t paid for advertising because I couldn’t (I don’t earn enough money for it to be worth it) and now I don’t want to.

And a few years ago they turned it down again.

I understand producer and platform have a tug of war situation where the platform wants things that suit them and producers want things that suit them but Facebook recently has just yanked so hard I am just like “I am dropping this fucking rope, fuck this”. If there is no one putting anything on the platform because all the producers left, then users will leave to and then Facebook will have no one to advertise.

This was already starting to happen 5 years ago. I already thought Facebook was going to die back then. These things take time. I was in the thick of it, but you probably wouldn’t know unless you were a producer. But people have slowly been learning about it. Facebook recently lost daily active users for the first time ever. Its gonna take time for the news to spread that Facebook isn’t a place for producers anymore but it will happen.

I don’t want to stand by and just let the ship sink while I am on it. So I want to make a place for language fans to hang out. I like Facebook’s format. I would like to keep some of the ideas that were implemented here.

But this brings me to another point: moderation.

Moderation is actually really difficult. Everyone has their own ideas of what should and shouldn’t be allowed so its not hard for an individual to work out if they want something or not. But how to do scale that up for a company that has 2 billion users? Automation is used a lot but that brings its own problems.

Computers are absolutely awful at context and will ban you regardless of context. Want to report that someone did something bad? Nope, you can’t say asshole. You have to say it the way the AI likes or you get in trouble.

I used to be a programmer so I know how computers think. But I also know how programmers think and a lot of programmer are overly enamoured in the power of technology.

Linguistics and humanities has taught me a lot about other parts of life. Nothing really replaces a human mind. We can’t calculate like computers but we still do tons of stuff better than computers because we can apply rational thought rather than cold rigid logic.

I can’t promise to solve all these problems. But I can promise to think about users first. I am a user too and I want to make an environment that I would want to use as a user.

Things will change and evolve as they always do but I want to keep moving with the change.

I created a website where we can hang out and you can post memes, where you will know what the rules are, and where you know that ultimately you are amongst other people merely mediated by technology, not just a cog in a machine. It’s probably gonna be a bumpy ride as we work out how to run such a place, but I want it to be different.

You can join any time you like. It will be free and I want to try to keep it free. It will be supported by my computer. The only caveat is that I will also use it to promote and support my company. I will post about my magazine and youtube. But that’s it.

I want to have a more honest conversation about the relationship between company and user. With Facebook no one knew what they were getting into. At least here you will know and I will work to maintain that open and honest conversation because first and foremost I like this stuff and I want to have fun with it. If I am having fun, I am sure you will too.

Wherever you go in life, I wish you good travels. Whenever (or if ever) they turn off the lights here on Facebook, just know that I have enjoyed the hell out of the last 7 years and I can’t wait to see what adventures we get up to together in the future.

Any questions about this can be sent to my email steve@sillylinguistics.com

The new website is here
https://forum.sillylinguistics.com

Cheers,
Steve

Save a Linguist, Learn a Dialect!

By Sofia Bragaglia

Today I am going to talk about a very important linguistic phenomenon: dialects. Specifically, why they are important and why people should learn them.

I was born in a small Italian town and grew up with my parents and my grandparents.

My grandparents were born in the 30s, a time when the Italian language was already standardised and used nationally, but not very widespread in smaller towns and in the countryside; so they grew up speaking their dialect. However, because of historical and political stances, they were taught that dialects were inappropriate and a symbol of low education. So, when I was around the house, they made a promise not to speak in what was, as a matter of fact, their native tongue.