the looming content optimization

plus: another dumb gambit

One thing that I think about a lot and that I occasionally bring up in conversation is the 2013 dramedy film You Are Here, starring Amy Poehler, Owen Wilson, and Zach Galifianakis. It was written and directed by Matthew Weiner, who was at that point riding the wave of astronomical success and acclaim brought by his television show, Mad Men. The film, per Wikipedia, “follows a bipolar man who inherits his estranged father’s fortune and must then battle his sister in court for it while simultaneously battling his psychological issues.”

I have never seen this movie and I never will, but the reason I’m constantly thinking about it is because You Are Here was such a huge flop that it triggered something that rarely happens: a title change. The extremely good Edge of Tomorrow is also known as Live Die Repeat in international territories and on home video. In February, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) had its title changed to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey after a flop opening weekend. Warner Bros. realized that maybe it should frontload the fact that the movie stars one of its most bankable superheroes.

The reason I often think about You Are Here, however, is because its title change was one of shameless opportunism. You Are Here became Are You Here. What the new title does not do: convey anything additional about what happens in this movie. What the new title does do: place it at the top of alphabetically sorted on-demand video listings.

The change is a very crude growth hack. Why hope that someone gets to the Ys when you can put them in the As?

A lot of decisions that people make regarding online content has to do with where it ends up in the sort. Google’s ranking algorithm led to the rise of search engine optimization, or SEO. Facebook’s News Feed led to the rise of social optimization, and every platform – from FB, to Instagram, to Twitter, to TikTok – that uses automated personalization has its own type of alchemy. Alphabetic sort rarely factors into the equation when it comes to tech companies trying to goose their engagement numbers. Will that change soon? Maybe. Probably not. I’m just riffing here.

Earlier this month, I got bored and installed the iOS 14 beta, which is not perfect but does do one great thing, which is let me hide apps from the Home Screen. You can put them in an omnibus menu that appears if you flip all the way to the right. This is incredible, to me, because finally I can hide the app for my wifi-enable sous vide circulator without have to uninstall it entirely. I might need it!!! Just in case!!!!!!!!! Like, I might need the Chipotle app or the parking app for a city I don’t live in. I have a few dozen apps on my phone and maybe six that I use more than twice a month.

The thing about the new app menu is that if you go into your big list of installed apps, it’s sorted… alphabetically Like the Start menu in Windows. This is a new phenomenon to me on iOS. It feels… weird. Smartphone app menus have always been a very messy, illustrative experience. They appear on the menu in the order in which they are installed, sorted unintentionally by priority. You can place the apps in folders but I hate the app folders, because I always forget where they are.

A new app menu with a new sorting menu brings a new type of growth hacking into the mix. All I’m saying is that I will not be surprised when a bunch of new apps called Aardvark and Aesop and Abner and Aptly and whatever hit the market in like six months, having tested names and found that engagement is higher when they appear that the top of the app menu.


See also: Lady A

The new iOS 14 features are just one instance of the branding phenomena that sorting algorithms have created. Last month, the band Lady Antebellum, decided to rename themselves Lady A, without checking to see if anyone had been performing under that name. A black woman, Anita White, has been using the moniker for a decade.

One of the main issues was that, aside from the infringement, White had built up a considerable, optimized web presence as Lady A. Merely by announcing that they were changing their name, the members of the more prominent Lady Antebellum have taken up all of the Lady A SEO. Asking White to pick a new name is not just a creative decision, there are economics associated with it. Lady Antebellum is now in the process of suing for permission to use the name as well, balking at White’s request for $10 million (half of which would have gone towards restoring the decade of brand-building that the band wiped out; the other half of which White says would have gone to charity).

In the past, this might just be marketing and name recognition, but on the internet, there are literal namespaces that only one person can occupy at any given time. (ladya.com does not connect to a server, lady-a.com connects to the charming website of an antiques dealer whose been selling stuff online since 1997.) Merely by announcing the switch the band has recontextualized White as existing only in relation to Lady Antebellum. Search for Lady A on any search engine or streaming music service and you get the band, not the woman.

Maybe the great race for A-names will be upon us. Or maybe I’m wrong. Equally plausible.


Did you think the above section(s) stunk? Does it seem like I wrote a half-baked thinkpiece and banked it well ahead of today so I wouldn’t have to work on this newsletter too much while I’m on vacation? Well?? You’re correct. I would never lie to you. Maybe go back and read the one about Ted accounts.

Elsewhere…


Calling all rich BNet readers…

Earlier this week, bumbling CEO Mark Zuckerberg put the “dummy” in “dummy thicc” when he was photographed eFoiling off the coast of Hawaii while wearing an aggressive amount of protection from the sun.

Until Thursday afternoon, I am in Nantucket, MA, where a two-hour eFoil lesson costs $600. Are you fiscally irresponsible enough to venmo me $600 so that I can recreate the Zuckerberg photo? The clock is ticking…

(Further context for wary buyers: I am already capable of waterskiing [including slalom], wakeboarding, and wakesurfing. I am a mediocre airchairist. I think all of these skills combined make it highly likely that I will be able to eFoil.)

***Message me to find out if this is a bit! It is, but that does not change the fact that I will also actually do it because I am committed to the bit.***


Thank you for reading BNet. If I can make one reccommendation? It’d be the new Paper Mario. Love that Mario.