The problem with fake news…

You can’t go online these days without seeing someone screaming about #FakeNews. If you read the news at all you come across either someone defending themselves against a charge, accusing someone else of it, discussing the phenomenon, or simply expressing dismay over this entire situation.

Here’s my problem with the charge of fake news: no one is perfect 100% of the time and facts (usually) require context. 

Pick a news site, any news site. I can guarantee they were wrong about something in the past 6 months. I can also guarantee that they ran a misleading headline in the past 6 months (usually the last 6 hours).

This trend of screaming Fake News at everything matters because the behavior pattern can apply to just about anything. Grocery store accidentally mislabels a product price? Fake News! Your favorite store opens 10 minutes late? Fake News! Your friends don’t show up to your party after RSVPing? Fake News! (Probably because you yell fake news at everything.)

The real question we should be asking is whether there is a trend behind the pattern of reporting from either an individual or news organization.

  • Do their articles consistently only tell one side of the story? Partisan News!
  • Do their articles consistently have misleading, eye-popping headlines? Clickbait News!
  • Do they consistently only report what others have already reported? Late-to-the-Party News!
  • Are they just reporting opinions instead of actual news? Hot-Takes News!
  • Are they consistently misreporting stories and issuing corrections or retractions? Bad News!
  • Are they actually making up stories for the purpose of misleading readers? Fake News!
  • Are they writing stories that we personally disagree with but are still based on either fact or opinion? Real-but-we-don’t-like-it News!

Most “fake news” actually falls into the last bucket. People yell Fake News because it catches the ear and implies malicious intent. There is a sense of immediate dis-crediting that can happen when the label is applied. Worryingly, there really is Fake News out there that ends up in circulation without the tag because the finger pointing is going in the wrong directions.

Luckily, Fake News as a label is following a classic bubble pattern. The more legitimate content that gets caught up in the label, the less meaning the label has before it eventually loses all meaning.


Is it #fakenews or is it just a story that is still in progress?

I hate this fake news trend. Fake news is just the newest unmeasurable buzzword. The concept is fine but it is something that is largely unprovable except for the most extreme cases. Who is to say that one person’s real perception of reality is fake news while another’s is real news?

This concept of fake news is simply new categorization for the historical trend of trying to influence readers to a writer’s point of view. All writers are trying to influence – they are trying to convince a reader that they are someone that should be subscribed to daily or cause an action or cause a way of thinking to occur (good or bad). No one writes so that they can be forgotten.

The problem now is that journalism itself is beginning to become as politicized as normal politics are. How long until reality TV shows are simply branded #fakenews and everyone boycotts them? That’s what they are even if everyone knows it. But then again, the fact that they are on television and drawing an audience of millions is real news. Just like that fake news becomes real news because of the cultural situation.

99% of news is real news. That doesn’t mean that it is valuable, neutral, independent, accurate, timely or presented correctly. 99% of news is being written and prepared for a certain audience with a certain view and a certain way of viewing the world. DailyKos and Breitbart are simply two sides of the same coin. They draw an audience that thinks a certain way, runs off opposing views, become an echo chamber for their views and attempt to mold the audience to even further agreeing to the desired views.

Neither are necessarily fake news, they simply present information in a way that appeals to each of their (very large) audiences. Opinion is news and much of what goes out is simply opinion informed by some select facts sprinkled in.

But regardless, fake news is just 2017’s buzz word. Let’s kill it and focus on the root causes that are actually happening – clickbait journalism (because that’s how many journalists are paid online), partisan bickering, echo-chamber reporting, selective presentation of fact and generally unresearched writing. These are things that can each be fixed, identified and tagged. Let’s start there.

Nate Silver was right, saying otherwise is just misleading.

This one is a little late given that the election was a month ago but I still think it is worthwhile given the opinions I still hear about his performance.

I’m walking out of this election with an increased respect for Nate Silver and the work he is doing at Statistics and prediction modeling is hard. Even that is an understatement because anytime you try to predict the future – even tomorrow – it’s more likely that you end up slight wrong that completely right.

A big portion of my job involves trying to understand the impact of decisions today on the business tomorrow. If we build out an office for 40 people today, what is the likelihood we have to close or expand it in 3 years? What is the likelihood that we can support 50 people in the same place without redoing the furniture? Is this city still going to be the right location for this function based on both business and geographic trends?

Nate Silver took a beating the 2 weeks leading up to the election. He was consistently and regularly called out for being too optimistic about Donald Trump’s chances of being elected president.

Why do I respect Nate Silver more today than before? Because he understands the single biggest rule of data analysis: Garbage in, Garbage out. If ou have any questions at all about the quality of the data you are being given to use it is your responsibility to account for that fact and note its potential impacts. Saying that you were wrong because the data was wrong is exactly the wrong answer because the follow-up question is “did you have any reason to suspect the data was wrong?” and any answer other than “yes” makes you incompetent in this case.

Data is fickle and many people think that data itself provides an answer. But if that was really true then IBM’s Watson would have taken over the planet already. Real intelligence is in being able to understand what data means. Where is it best applied, where should it not be applied at all, where is it misleading, where is it incomplete, where is it biased, what conditions could lead to a change in trends…. There is an art to being able to actually deal with data.

It does not surprise me in the slightest that most polling aggregators this year showed Clinton at a 98% chance of winning the election. The data seemed to reflect that. Relying on the cold hard numbers would point almost any model that direction. But this simply proves that some people are better at this than others and you should never trust any model until you sense check its approach, its strengths and its weaknesses. It’s like restaurants. The aggregators who gave 90%+ chance to Clinton are fast food, they throw everything in and give you a generic burger. Those that talked a lot about uncertainty are actually chefs, they know what to do with the raw food they are handed and throw out the worst and make the best sing before the plate goes out.

Quick, how many employees were in your offices last week?

Corporate Real Estate is hard.  Our job is to provide space to a business that doesn’t give us all the information we need or real control over how space is used.  It is a reactionary game that we play.

Trying to forecast how much space we need next year without an accurate forecast of the business is crazy.  Trying to reduce risk through collaborative space and seat sharing is also out of the question if managers don’t enable their employees to use it. 

Accurate forecasts start with information.  Data is the currency of the current age.  You can’t play Moneyball if the only metric you are given is last year’s batting average for players with more than 400 at bats. It is not even good enough for broad assumptions.  

The question is, how much money are you leaving on the table by not knowing how you are using your real estate?

Content dictates Design dictates Content. #ux #ui

Designing systems is hard.  Designing simple, easy-to-use systems is harder.  Figuring out where to start and the structure is often the hardest.  If you get the starting point wrong you will find yourself starting over from the beginning more than a handful of times.

Content and Design have a dependent relationship.  Without content you have nothing to show but without design you have no way to show it.  One without the other is useless.

At the same time, content must be constructed based on the way it is intended to be displayed and consumed.  Content that doesn’t account for the design will lead to confusion and messiness.  Design that is created without knowing the type of content to be used will often be misaligned for the message being delivered.

Biographies are not (typically) meant to be consumed in an ad hoc, random fashion.  You would want more structure and searchability (both visual and digital) to the design.  However, case studies may be best when displayed in a less structured method.

Process steps are best when displayed in some linear flow.  If you display a process in a non-linear order then it won’t make any sense.  Similarly, displaying whitepapers or blog posts in a linear (time-based) manner may be discounting some of your best writing that gets pushed down just because it isn’t the newest.

Design and Content is a never ending give and take.  There is not one best way to display a given type of information just as there is no one way to design an application, system or webpage.  The next step in the thought is that Design dictates Brand (also known as the Apple phenomenon).  How you build and design gives clues as to who you are and how you think.

Culture is what you do, not what you say.

Culture may be the single biggest factor in the success or failure of a small business.  Some cultures allow an idea to thrive, cultivate and grow.  Others can cause an otherwise great idea to die on the vine.  The difficulty is that the same cultures do not work the same in all situations.

Even in larger groups culture is of critical import.  It’s everything from how  new employees figure out what to do, how the team supports each other outside of defined projects and how innovation happens.  Culture plays a tremendous role in all that we do.

Too often management attempts to drive culture from the top down.  They say that employees should collaborate but then don’t provide the mechanisms.  They say that new employees should be brought in but then schedules don’t allow for it.  It’s usually well intended but the actions don’t quite live up to the intentions.  It’s better to have a culture that tries and sometimes doesn’t achieve all that is desired than a culture that consistently fails to meet its goals.  Under-promise, over-deliver.

Actions tell us everything we need to know – both about a company and individuals.

My brother graduated from Parris Island on Friday. In some ways it’s surreal and in others it makes perfect sense.

But either way I can’t express how proud I am of what he’s putting himself through because of what he wants to do.  It’s not for everyone but for those that it is for it is an amazing calling.