Wiser! #70: Removing paywalls and building a community is the new direction for Wiser! as it gets into its 2nd year. Plus the focus is on the tech economy in Ukraine: facial recognition, TikTok and Crypto donations.
What's going on with Wiser!?
Let me explain why you've not had a newsletter for a couple of weeks. First, I just turned 60 and had family and friends come to stay with us in Spain to help me celebrate the big one. I had a brilliant 2 weeks of quality time with my daughters and besties.
Second, I've been reflecting on the feedback you gave me in the survey. To all of you who took the time to respond, thank you. 🙏 It was invaluable feedback that I will share in next week's Newsletter.
Lastly, the thing I've been mulling over the most is the business model for Wiser! I started with the idea of a paid newsletter. Along with a gazillion others!
Here's the thing...Substack opened up the newsletter market by integrating all the different bits you need to run a newsletter. The gangster move from the venture-funded platform was to make it free to use. Instead of committing to upfront costs and the agro of integrating a blogsite, memberships, payments and bulk emails (don't get me started on bulk email), Substack launched an oven-ready platform.
Twitter followed suit and bought Revue. Linkedin jumped on the bandwagon and rolled out its version of a newsletter offering. Brand new players like Beehiiv started popping up.
Then came the pandemic. This was the gasoline on the fire that accelerated the creator economy (in the days when could afford gasoline). Millions of people started looking for things to do in lockdown. I was one of them. Wiser! is a product of the pandemic and the inspiration I took from my daughter Emily as I watched her grow in the creator space.
The consequence is that the newsletter space is super-crowded. There is a lot of content out there for free, a lot of it rubbish mind you, but it's still out there taking up space. Plus, you have professional journalist sites that are offering terrific value for money with a million times more content at the same price point.
Write it and they will come (or so I thought)
A year ago, I had a plan to focus exclusively on paid-for content. A year later and I've learnt that paid-for content needs to be super-niche, expert and content-rich. I love doing the deep dives but they're time-consuming and I cover a broad range of topics.
Going deep is hard. Going deep enough to justify paid-for content is even harder when you're a team of 1.
Without a big enough audience (Wiser! has around 800 subscribers and an open rate that averages 35%), the effort that goes into the deep dives isn't matched by the airtime they receive. A problem made worse when the content sits behind a paywall.
I realised that I was asking people (like you) to pay before I had earnt the right to do so. That's not me and that's not what I intended at the outset!
The truth is, it's the deep dives that I want everyone to have the benefit of. So, while I figure out how to fund Wiser! I've taken down all the paywalls, refunded all subscriptions and moved to free content. I'd love to keep it that way too!
To be clear, I'm not saying never-again when it comes to paid-for content, just not now.
So, where next?
Subscribers and Community
My focus is on growing 2 audiences. A big one that for now I'm simply calling "Subscribers". This is for those who only want to subscribe to the Wiser! mailing list and get engaging and valuable free content every week. If I can build a big enough email list then I can attract sponsorship and advertising. Maybe even generate income from promoting products and services.
You can help me grow. By forwarding Wiser! to friends and family or sharing on your social networks. If you get any value from Wiser! there's a good chance that your network will as well.
The other audience is a smaller, but more engaged one. This is the "Community". This is a subset of the big audience and is for those Subscribers that want more than just a free weekly email.
Communities are the next big thing, especially as the social media model continues to break down. Some of you have already told me that you're interested in being part of a Wiser! Community. That's why I'm going to start one for those of you who share the same interests as me. My current thinking is to build:
- A members-only Discord channel at the centre of the Community. A place for discussion, debate and the sharing of ideas and content amongst the group.
- Community Members still get some exclusive content. The deep dives have not completely vanished from the portfolio!
- For those that prefer visual content, I'm revamping the YouTube channel with a mix of free and Community Member content.
- For the audiophiles, recorded readings of Wiser! content will sit within the Community Membership.
On top of all of that, I'm working on an exciting collaboration to launch a podcast...but I can't say any more about it just yet. 🤫
The key is that the Community will be a paid-for membership. I'm still working on and getting feedback from those who are already interested. If want to be part of it as one of the founding members, reply to this email and your name will go on page 1 of the member's roster.
And, if you're willing to trust me to deliver on my promise, use this link and sign up now as a Founder. There's a small charge to act as a placeholder on the system. As soon as I finalise the details you will be the first to know. If you don't like what you see when it comes out, you can have an unconditional full refund, no questions asked. (I did this to gauge the level of firm interest since it requires you to make a small, fully refundable, commitment).
Any questions, suggestions, feedback...get in touch. Reply to this email and let me know what you think. Thank you 🙏
The Horrors of War
The stark reality of the horrors of war are filling the news feeds every day. Like a lot of people, I've become an armchair expert. My subjective biases are having a field day overruling points of view I don't like. I wish I could say I was 100% objective, but that's an unachievable desire.
To compensate for my brain's preference for jumping to conclusions, I've taken to reading anything that is more than 280 characters of "insight". Next on my list comes a book that was personally recommended to me, called Putin's People.* It was written in 2020 and I'm reliably informed that it paints a disturbing picture of how Putin systematically built a web of influence, particularly in the UK (it doesn't read so good for Boris Johnson), and also into the USA (where it doesn't read so good for Donald Trump either!).
I'm not going to venture into the world of geopolitics. However, there were 3 Ukraine stories that caught my attention for this issue of Wiser!
Facial Recognition Software Used to Identify Killed Russian Soldiers
BackStory: Facial recognition software is being used by Ukraine to identify deceased Russian troops through their social media profiles.
Forbes reported that Ukraine is using Clearview AI (a subject I'll be covering in a deep dive shortly).
TikTok and the WarTok in Ukraine
BackStory: TikTok has seen a surge in Ukraine-related material since the 24th of February. Videos tagged with Ukraine had recorded more than 31 billion views by the end of last week. (For comparison, the hashtag “#ukraine” on Instagram had just 33 million posts.)
A report in the New York Times said that Ukraine content on TikTok "outpaces that on platforms more than twice its size".
According to this detailed Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center for Media report, TikTok is particularly vulnerable to being used for misinformation in the Ukraine invasion.
Further research by NewsGuard into misinformation found a new TikTok account could be fed bogus material regarding the Ukraine crisis within "40 minutes of joining up".
President Zelenskyy Legalises Crypto
BackStory: A key feature of the news about the Ukraine invasion has been the role of cryptocurrency.
In response to the unprecedented use of crypto to get funding into Ukraine, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov wrote on Telegram:
“With the beginning of the war, cryptocurrencies became a powerful tool for attracting additional funding to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In more than three weeks of war, the Crypto Fund of Ukraine has raised more than $54 million in cryptocurrencies.”
P.S: At last night's Oscars, Crypto.com ran this ad.
No mention of cryptocurrency. No repeat of the Super Bowl power ad. Just a simple call to action to donate. And the message "In Ukraine, the basics are now essentials."
* This link to Putin's People on Amazon is an affiliate link. It's the first time I've used it and not entirely sure what will happen. In theory, if you buy the book from this link, I will get a small commission. Check out the latest price of Putin's People on Amazon.
Insight and Information from the Tech Economy
📲Arizona to Allow iPhones to Carry the User's Drivers Licence
The US state will be the first to enable iPhone users to store driver licence data in the Apple Wallet. Arizonans can use these licences to go through TSA checkpoints, but not for traffic stops. Another step towards the mobile being the centre of our universe. Lose your phone like I did and you'll understand exactly what I mean! Source: MacRumors
🤣Trump Jr Launches an Unbiased News Service
‘I’m sure it will be just as successful as Truth Social’ said nobody ever...that was until the words were uttered by Donald Trump Jr last week. They came after he launched MxM News. According to Axios, Trump Jr and a handful of other ex-Trumpers have high hopes that MxM will be as "disruptive as Fox News". MxM News promises to provide “mainstream news without mainstream bias.” Only Ricky Gervais writes irony this good! 🤣 Source: Why bother? Nobody cares.
👟Adidas Files AI Patent for Individualised Footwear
Adidas wants to use AI to improve the process for transforming data into shoes. The idea is that an individual user's data will be used to create a shoe that is highly specific to that individual. Without comprising the cost efficiency of mass production. Source: US Patents Office
🎵Spotify on Hunt for Web3 Experts
The Financial Times reports that Spotify is ‘drawing up plans to add blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens to its streaming service’. This comes after Spotify placed prominent job ads for Web3 futurists. Outside of Spotify, CEO Daniel Ek has pledged to invest €1 billion over the next decade to invest in European technology companies working on everything from machine learning to biotechnology, material sciences and energy. Source: Financial Times
🚗Elon Musk Opens Tesla Gigafactory in Germany
The world's richest man (if you ignore the claims that Putin is wealthier) was in Berlin last week to open Tesla's first factory outside the US and China. Previously, Teslas sold in Europe came from Shanghai. The shift to Germany reduces the reliance on China for the Tesla supply-chain to support the European market.
The Berlin Gigafactory opened two years after construction began, costing $5 billion. When it was first announced, Tesla shares traded at around $70. Upon opening the factory and seeing the first 30 European Tesla's roll off the production line, Tesla stock rose above $1,000 as the rest of the market fell. Source: The Daily Upside
🧠One Step Closer to Brain Controlled Computers
A 36-year-old man who is completely paralysed by late-stage ALS (the condition that afflicted Stephen Hawking) was able to communicate with his family thanks to a brain implant. It’s the first time that someone who is fully ‘locked in’ has been able to communicate in full sentences using his thoughts. The man spelt out numerous sentences, including, "I love my cool son".
The importance of this is huge. I can think of 2 huge reasons to start. First, for any human being who is deprived of the ability to communicate it must be the greatest of gifts. (BTW, I watched CODA last night, a few hours before Will Smith punched Chris Rock. It's a deserved winner of Best Picture. There is one scene that puts you in the shoes of a person with hearing loss. OMG, Powerful!)
Second, the Metaverse. Imagine being able to just "think" something and it happens. No need to say "hey google, is it going to rain?" Instead, just think the question and a robot arm will pop out of the cupboard holding an umbrella for you. 🤦♂️ (Not quite, but you get my drift!)
Think that's far fetched? Snap, owners of Snapchat, just bought a firm called NextMind. They make a headband that reads brain signals for the user to communicate with devices using only thought. Snap is building the next generation of Augmented Reality Glasses and are definitely ones to watch in the Metaverse. Sources: Science, TechCrunch
For the past year, I have used BuyMeACoffee.com as a place where readers like you can make small donations towards the upkeep of Wiser! It has worked great and the donation page is still up and running here.
However, to make life easier and simpler (and remove the need for you to leave Wiser! to make a donation), there's a new way.
You can become a Supporter for €1.79/month (or €19.79/year, if you prefer to make 1 easy payment). This way your donations will be recorded as part of your membership on the site and not held separately. You can manage your Supporter payments at any time from your Wiser! account details, including cancelling at any time.
w/Follow me on Social Media
Still the number 1 place for bloggers and writers (IMHO).
Reddit: Building a community on the Wiser! sub-reddit.
YouTube: Over 37,000 views last time I looked
Instagram: the place to make writing visual.
If so, please forward it to a colleague or a friend. It will only take you 10 seconds to do it. Writing it took me 10 hours. 🙏
Let us know what you think about this subject by putting your comments, thoughts or feedback in the comment section below. ☟