Social Pulse, Week of 12-14

Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology, and consumer habits that impact the social web and our culture. Sign up to get this in your inbox every Friday here.

The Blob Opera: Google’s latest machine learning experiment is Blob Opera, where you control four colorful blobs by changing what pitch they sing – either set to traditional holiday carols or make your own. The creators trained a machine learning model on voice recordings, and the blobs are singing what the algorithm “thinks” opera sounds like, based on what it learned through the training. An additional model works to enable the harmonizing. Try it here. Mobile is best. Google’s Arts & Culture App is better.

Unpacking Social Media’s Cultural Impact in 2020: The global events of 2020 had a huge impact on the culture of the social web this year.

AR Baby Yoda (aka Grogu) in Your House: Simply Google search “Baby Yoda,” “Grogu,” “The Child,” or “The Mandalorian” on mobile or in the Google app, scroll down to the Knowledge Panel with a Wikipedia summary of the character, click “View in 3D” and BOOM – you’ve got Grogu projected into your home (or whereever you want to put him) via the magic of native mobile browser augmented reality. Or maybe it’s The Force.

Anonymous Video Chat Apps Are Growing In Popularity Again: Ten year-old anonymous video chat app Omegle is finding a new life thanks to YouTube and TikTok. Even Roblox has introduced a similar feature, called Ro-Meet and yes, it’s more kid friendly than Omegle. The rise of this type of social networking is creating new memes, including a satisfying trend of spurning famous TikTok influencers by pretending not to know them.

Fitness Subscriptions and Wearables Compete for Your Steps (and $$): Watch out Peloton! This week Apple launched Apple Fitness+, a new fitness app with recorded exercise classes that you can do from an Apple TV, iPad or iPhone, so long as you own an Apple Watch. Also this week, Amazon made its Amazon Halo wrist-based wearable and app-based classes available to the public. Although Greg’s review is NOT GREAT: “If you aren’t an Apple Watch or Fitbit fan and are looking for an entry-level wearable (without a screen, clock, alarm, or speaker) that stores photos of yourself half-naked and you’ll probably have to replace within the year, Amazon Halo could be the device for you.”

App of the Week: This week news app Gawq launched its 1.0 app with the objective of creating radical transparency through algorithm-free news aggregation. Users can filter out Opinions, Non-News, Paid News and Pay Walls in curating their feeds. And whatever you click will not affect what you see in the app tomorrow. Try it out here.

Business Reads of the Week: Five Research-Backed Tips to Make Zoom Calls Less Exhausting; How Couples Can Find Balance While Working from Home; Conferences After Covid Will Be Shorter—and Smarter; What if you could do it all over?

Buzzword of the Week: GEO, aka Gif Engine Optimization, aka getting your brand’s GIFs into culture.

Quick hits:


Social Pulse, Week of 11-30

Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology and consumer habits that impact the social web. These are summed up in a round-up called Social Pulse. Sign up to get this in your inbox every Friday here.

2020 in Review: Tis the season for listicles and end of year lists, including YouTube’s top-trending videos and creators of 2020, GIPHY’s Most-Viewed GIFs of 2020, Twitter’s Best Tweets of 2020, and TikTok’s Top 100 of 2020.

Holiday Playlist: here’s my annual go-to “Swansong Christmas” playlist for 8 hours of holiday cheer.

Crunch Your 2020 Music Habit: Spotify released its annual Wrapped analysis of your streaming data. This year’s results are purposely made to be shared on social and feature some gamification where you get to choose your top decade, podcast, and genre. See yours here. Sorry Apple Music people.

Chess is Exploding Online: Thanks to the success of The Queen’s Gambit, launched on Netflix just a month ago, global searches for “chess” have doubled, eBay searches for chess sets tripled, and reported an all-tie record of new member signups – more than 100,000 new chess players every day. You can imagine lots of chess boards for gifts this month and plenty of time to play online over the holiday break, which means we should expect an even bigger chess boom in the first weeks of 2021.

Facial Recognition Adapts to Masks: Based on new research from the National Institute for Standards and Technology, developers have adapted their algorithms to support face recognition on subjects potentially wearing face masks and they are making headway. After a review of 6.2 million images through a cumulative total of 152 algorithms, the research shows error rates are still higher with masks, but the technology is greatly improving. Unfortunately this technology tends to be abused, so look for pushback as the algorithms get better.

Consumers Are Obsessed With Feel-Good Short-Form Content Right Now: Short-form content (< 10 min long) of cooking, comedy, DIY and crafting video has proven to be an effective mood booster and digital distraction. 69% of U.S. consumers spend 30 minutes to 3 hours watching these videos each day. Key quote: “People don’t view these videos as a guilty pleasure, but as a necessary part of their wellness routines…. more than one in three Americans consider consuming this content to be a healthy part of their lifestyles.”

Five Lessons From Chappelle: Ben Thompson’s Stratechery goes deep on Dave Chappelle’s storytelling and modern approach to marketing himself. Key quote: “Chappelle has the platform to appeal directly to his fans that his predecessors, all of whom despised the networks and labels and their contracts just as much if not more than he does, lacked. That Chappelle’s Instagram post is no different in format from one posted by you or me is a feature, not a bug.”

Is Mys the new Hygge? Either way, you need a candle: Last year had all of us taking about Danish “hygge” and enjoying some cozy and comfortable moments. But this winter a growing new trend is Swedish “mys.” Key quote: “Hygge is much broader than mys… The essence of mys is the feeling of warmth, like being wrapped in a woolen blanket amid lighted candles while sipping a steaming mug of tea with a purring cat on your lap.”

Reddit, Roblox, Gaming & OnlyFans Stats to Watch: Reddit averaged 52M daily active users in October (up 44% YoY) and hit $100M+ in 2019 in ad revenue (on track to 70%+ in 2020). Roblox filed an IPO, with its 31.1 million daily average users (DAUs), generating $589 million in revenue in the first nine months of 2020. For every dollar of revenue Roblox takes in, it creates $0.50 in cash (note: Amazon’s is $0.07 in free cash flow per dollar of revenue). Four of every five U.S. consumers played a game in the last six months, spending 26% more time and 33% more money on games than the same period in the previous year. OnlyFans grew faster than any other creator platform this year (this link is safe for work, I promise). Although it started with adult creators, OnlyFans is now expanding into new verticals (music, sports, comedy) and new markets (Latina America, Asia).

Business Reads of the Week: Phone addiction not driven by notifications, study finds; Digital Tools Are Revolutionizing Mental Health Care in the U.S.; How much money do Christmas albums make?

Greg’s Gift Guide Picks for Every Budget: DJI Mini 2 drone ($450), Oculus Quest 2 ($300), Nintendo Switch ($300), Amazon Echo Frames ($250), First Avenue LEGO set ($50), Starry Wave Puzzle ($35), Simon Stålenhag’s Tales from the Loop book ($26), Arby’s 13-Hour Puzzle ($25), Amazon Echo Auto ($20), Fiddle Fone wooden phone surrogate ($18), Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland book ($15),  A bag of tiny novelty hands ($10).

Quick Hits: