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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Despite Snapchat’s IPO, it’s not just another Silicon Valley tech titan” was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd February 2017 12.05 UTC

Snap, the company formerly known as Snapchat, has finally confirmed it is planning to go public, with an IPO expected sometime in March. If all goes to plan, the company should net somewhere in the realm of $25bn (£20bn) from the public offering, shooting it past Twitter in market cap terms and cementing its position as one of the largest social media companies in the world.

But while it sounds like the typical final evolution of a Silicon Valley titan, Snap has deliberately charted a very different route from its most obvious competitors for much of its history.

Brits got a taste of that distinction early last month, when Snap announced plans to set up its international “hub” in the UK. The UK office, which has grown from six to 75 staff in the last year, will not only be the taxable base for Snap’s British revenue, but also for all revenue made in third countries which do not (yet) have their own local establishment. For the countries where Snap does have its own office – currently France, Australia, Ukraine and Canada – revenue earned there will be booked there.

While Snap was keen to emphasise that the announcement did not constitute launching an “international HQ”, its choice nonetheless represented a stark contrast with the typical approach of US tech companies.

Firms like Apple, Google and Facebook have all taken a more monolithic approach: incorporating an international HQ in a low tax and regulation jurisdiction, such as Ireland or Luxembourg, and booking as much revenue as possible there, while shrinking local outposts to small subsidiary companies which legally do little other than provide “services” to the main, revenue-generating arm of the corporation.

When it announced the change, a Snap spokesperson downplayed the difference, describing it as a common-sense decision to align the company’s structure with its business. But it was just the latest in a long line of choices which reflect the company’s unwavering commitment to not follow the norms of the tech industry.

The first, and most obvious, of those is pure geography: Snap is not based in Silicon Valley. And unlike Uber (based in Oakland) or Twitter (based in San Francisco proper), that’s not San Franciscan nitpicking: Snap is based about 400 miles south, in Venice, Los Angeles.

That original distinction has led to a very different culture inside Snap from its ostensible peers. Take advertising, the core revenue stream for both Snapchat and Facebook. At the latter, the entire pipeline is programmatic: any advertiser, large or small, can visit ads.facebook.com, plug in payment information, and create an advert. Those adverts can be targeted as narrowly or broadly as the advertiser desires, and can be billed in a variety of ways, from paying a flat fee for every thousand views to payments per click, per like, and more.

After a certain scale, Facebook does involve humans in the process, but even then, the actual ad buy remains automatic. That’s very different from Snapchat’s approach: Last year, 100% of the company’s ad revenue – $58.1m, according to research firm emarketer – came from adverts on Discover, the firm’s publishing platform. Those adverts are the digital equivalent of old print display adverts: designed by real people, placed in the system by Snapchat, and overseen before they go live. Snapchat even sold them in the same way as print ads, charging a fixed price for each slot, rather than using an automatic bidding system like the majority of online adverts.

Even last year, when Snapchat’s revenue stream branched out into other products, it was still the case that every dollar it took needed the oversight of a human. On top of Discover adverts – which took $150m in 2016, according to emarketer – Snapchat sold sponsored Live Stores, taking $96m; sponsored lenses, taking $73m, and sponsored geofilters, taking $29m. Of those, only the last can be made with minimal involvement from Snapchat, thanks to the firm’s on-demand geofilter platform. Even then, though, Snapchat still manually inspects every filter before letting it on the platform.

The company is working on adding a bit more automation to its product, with an advertising API available for businesses to “programmatically buy, optimise, and measure advertising campaigns in real time”, according to its S-1 form filed with the US securities and exchange commission. But it has shown no indication, yet, of moving to the fully hands-off approach of competitors.

Part of the reason for that is another massive distinction between Snap and it’s peers: the company doesn’t really care about profiling its users. Speaking in 2015, chief executive Evan Spiegel explained his dislike of data-driven advertising products, saying “I got an ad this morning for something I was thinking about buying yesterday, and it’s really annoying. We care about not being creepy. That’s something that’s really important to us.”

Avoiding the creepiness has played out in a number of ways. For one, it’s meant that Snapchat, unlike Facebook or Twitter, has a motivation to keep its user base fairly concentrated. Its S-1 highlights the fact that its users tend to be in wealthy countries, with good internet connections and powerful mobile devices, as well as skewing young and female. To a traditional advertising-based service, that’s worth expanding on, because every additional user represents more adverts that can be sold. But for Snapchat, the focus means that it can sell ads targeted at a specific demographic, without needing to gather personalised data about its users. You buy an advert on Snapchat, you know roughly who sees it: that’s the sales pitch.

But the question for Snap going forward isn’t whether it is different from the Silicon Valley norm. Instead, it’s whether it can convince investors that that difference is worth preserving. Snap has few users, no profits and an unsteady plan for growth, but it’s being groomed as a potential competitor to Facebook. The pressure from Wall Street will be to head down the path that Zuckerberg laid out five years ago, and it’s up to Evan Spiegel and his team to convince the money that an alternative way is possible – and profitable.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Platforms v creators: the battle for the internet economy” was written by Rosie Spinks, for theguardian.com on Friday 11th November 2016 08.00 UTC

Detroit-based digital artist Molly Soda’s latest book project was borne of Instagram, but not in the way you might think.

When the multimedia artist noticed her photos being removed from Instagram for violating the community guidelines, she teamed up with co-curator and artist Arvida Byström and put out an open call for submissions of photos banned by the network. The resulting project, the book Pics or it Didn’t Happen, is due out early next year.

Their subversive project is interesting for its range of imagery – banned images include everything from nipples and pubic hair to a woman wearing a hijab and holding an iPhone. Despite building a name for herself in the art world largely through networks like Tumblr and Instagram, Soda says that she regularly thinks about the fact that those platforms don’t have her career interests in mind when designing their networks’ policies.

“I don’t feel like Instagram as an app necessarily owes me anything,” Soda explains. “I’m willingly using these social media platforms but the internet has set itself up in this guided and streamlined way where everyone follows these rules in order to facilitate whatever it is they’re trying to promote. Meanwhile, these platforms are huge corporate entities with an entirely different set of interests — I don’t think many [creators] realise the reality of what they’re dealing with, including myself.”

Indeed, as the internet economy is maturing, this nascent tension between big internet platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and the creators that provide them with content comes into focus. Platforms need users to create content which elicits the kind of engagement that is attractive to advertisers. Users need the platforms to reach wide audiences and potential revenue streams, but they want it without fear of censorship. However, since few brands want to be sandwiched between racism and pornography, it’s up to platforms to figure out how to find the sweet spot of policing their networks without prompting frustrated creators to move on to their competitors.

Laura Chernikoff is the executive director of the Internet Creators Guild, which was formed earlier this year to represent the interests of creators to big internet companies. She says that one of the primary ways this tension manifests is through opaque user guidelines, or the lists of rules which outline what content is liable to be removed or demonetised.

In response to criticism around content removal, last month Facebook publicly admitted that “observing global standards for our community is complex” and announced that they would be “allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest — even if they might otherwise violate our standards.”

In September, YouTube weathered a backlash from many high profile creators when it tweaked its notification process for content that is deemed advertiser-unfriendly, spawning the hashtag #YouTubePartyOver. Chernikoff explains how the controversy perfectly displayed both sides of the debate.

“The guidelines themselves are very broad and are being enforced by an algorithm without a lot of clear information about what YouTube is looking for, people think it has to do with tags, metadata, and titles, but it’s not known exactly how it works,” Chernikoff explains. “However, it’s easy to understand why the guidelines have to be broad. It is YouTube’s platform and they need to make it a safe space for brands which is a huge part of what’s going on here.”

Chernikoff notes that compared to other more impenetrable social networks like Facebook, YouTube has been reaching out to creators and nurturing them. Though sources say it would be unlikely for YouTube (or any large internet company) to outline their exact criteria for content removal and/or demonetisation – because then it’d be easier to thwart – a spokesperson for YouTube contacted by the Guardian pointed to an example of that: a recent announcement “that every creator who has joined the partner programme can get answers via email from a real person at YouTube within one business day”.

“While our policy of de-monetising videos due to advertiser-friendly concerns hasn’t changed, we’ve recently improved the notification and appeal process to ensure better communication to our creators,” the spokesperson went on to say. “Creators are the lifeblood of YouTube and we’re totally committed to ensuring their growth and success.”

So, what’s a creator who wants to make a living on the internet, without fear of their business model being pulled out from underneath them, to do? Chernikoff says across networks, many creators are realising the need to diversify their portfolio and not limit their business model to one that’s entirely dependent on a single social network, be it an ad-revenue share model such as YouTube or a more indirect, brand-building route such as Instagram. Indeed, prominent YouTubers such as Philip DeFranco have spoken publicly about intentionally tapping other revenue streams, which can include merchandise, direct crowdfunding, brand deals, and other partnerships, to financially underpin their channels.

Frankie Greek is a Snapchat journalist who frequently speaks about these trends and helps brands make sense of them as a consultant. She said much of creators’ discontent stems from how much the internet has changed in a short amount of time.

“People are super resistant to change and there was a time when the internet was in a way this counter-culture, underground thing,” Greek said. “Now, a network like YouTube has grown into an enormous community and business model. As much as people might think otherwise, YouTube is mainstream media now.”

For her part, Greek says that watching the evolution of making a living online has influenced her career strategy. In addition to her large Snapchat following, Greek has a professional background in TV and radio production and skills ranging from video editing to hosting live streams and event coverage. In a sense, she serves as a kind of poster child for this online diversification strategy.

“I’m kind of glad that this is the wave of content creators that I’m on. I’ve been a part of this world for so long as a viewer and you get to see people build these empires,” Greek says. “Snapchat has been so helpful as shortcut, but I’m also using my skills in a lot of other ways – the best advice I can give to other content creators is to diversify your revenue streams and get out on as many platforms as you can until you find the right formula for you.”

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Ramsey McGrory was CEO of AddThis in 2012. This story originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2012.

There are voices which claim, with a barely shrouded hint of indignation, that social media is a Wild West of unfiltered interactions of varied importance, and not a substitute for traditional online advertising. Social data, nonetheless, has begun to redefine the digital publishing landscape and social media’s role has become inextricable from that of advertising technology as a preferred method of brand messaging.

Ramsey McGrory, CEO of AddThis (formerly Clearspring), believes that social content publishing is fundamentally transforming the way brands and their marketers connect with audiences across multiple platforms, supplanting the old ideas about the role of advertising technology. “Social media is a horizontal force that connects with all of the vertical elements that we create, such as mobile, display, search and traditional publishing,” said Mr. McGrory in an interview with The Advertising Technology Review. “Social is a layer that is forcing advertisers to become publishers and publishers to become advertisers”, Mr. McGrory asserts.

The AddThis social sharing technology has been installed by publishers on 14 million websites and loads 90 billion times per month. The day that AddThis decides to create a new model of content or data management for brands, it may dwarf some of the America’s largest advertising technology companies simply by default. AddThis gains much of its value from its data and its ability to turn that data into enriched portraits of consumer behavior for brands and publishers.

Aggregating its data, AddThis has the largest interest and sharing graph on the open web. There is also the possibility that AddThis, by virtue of its scale and the intrinsic value of content-derived consumer data, may be able to turn the publishing and advertising technology industries inside out.

“Traditionally, if you wanted to read content, you went to the publisher’s domain, now, that content is increasingly being distributed through many channels,” said Mr. McGrory. “Publishers are now thinking of ways to get consumers to become content distribution channels,” Mr. McGrory believes. The key determinant of publisher success, according to Mr. McGrory, is how well publishers are able to use powerful content to win loyal consumer fans whom willingly integrate their content choices into their interactions with their social graph.

Content sharing and the rich data that accompanies it has changed the way brands look at the very definition of engagement, speeding an industry-wide shift from click-based metrics to a model which promotes lasting consumer-brand connections. The role of AddThis in this shift is, according to Mr. McGrory, not only to facilitate content sharing for consumers, but also to serve as a reservoir of rich data.

No one shares banner ads, but content shares are rich in “organic” data, giving clues to a consumer’s psychographic landscape in a way that a banner click simply cannot. The genius of AddThis is its simplicity as a channel to bring consumer content preferences closer to social data in a logic-driven way, allowing brands to use valuable data to personalize consumer’s online experiences. “A lot of marketers spend a lot of time at the top of the funnel, attempting to gauge and inspire awareness, interest, and intent,” said Mr. McGrory. “If you can leverage the power of social across paid, owned and earned media you can accelerate consumer brand awareness and action.”

The AddThis suite of social tools maps the content and social connections of its 1.3 billion users, allowing brands to use site, search and social data to create customized content and ad experiences in real time. This combination of data sources, when joined with the ability to graph connections on such a large scale, creates an effective fail-safe for marketers interested in amplifying the value of their own audience data, even data derived outside of the AddThis suite.

“The world of anonymous data has collided with the world of the personal, allowing marketers to connect the dots between content sharing and online behavior while still respecting privacy,” stated Mr. McGrory. “There is a powerful gush of data that marketers and publishers have not had access to; nor have they had the tools to leverage that data,” said Mr. McGrory. “Creating social tools leveraging big data allows publishers to create deeper engagement experiences and marketers to create better campaigns,” Mr. McGrory believes.

Social data is bringing an end to the shotgun approach to advertising, causing advertisers to think more critically about how to enable consumer engagement experiences, and how those experiences may be shared in a way that multiplies their impact across numerous audiences. Mr. McGrory highlighted several new social tools that AddThis launched recently which expand beyond sharing, and hinted that the company has plans that to venture much further into the territory of social technology and data. “The question that we ask every day is,” quipped Mr. McGrory, “when we have a data set this large and the DNA to build social technology, what do we build? “Imagine how many areas into which you can drive value for publishers and advertisers with intelligence that leverages the power of the open web.”

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