I'm Drew Breunig and I obsess about technology, media, language, and culture. I live in New York, studied anthropology, and work at PlaceIQ.


To Foursquare’s credit, the default recommendations you see upon opening the app are more personalized, as they’re largely based on the “tastes” you’ve picked prior. Which is a nice feature, certainly. But in all the times I’ve used Foursquare over the past few years, the one discovery feature I favored over all others was the ability to only search places where friends had previously checked in. Now that that filter is gone, the best you can do is impotently scroll through places the people you follow have “recommended.” It may sound like a technicality, but the lack of control makes the entire process feel more distant.

From Gizmodo’s review of the new Foursquare.

Per our analysis yesterday, FourSquare isn’t even at Trust Level 2: recommendations are not trusted blindly, only with outside qualifications which the human trusts.

Gizmodo’s review of the new Foursquare app highlights a problem: we never trusted Foursquare recommendations, just the recommendations of our friends. This doesn’t bode well for the two-app strategy.

On Convenience-Tech and Trusting Technology

Time for more Yo thought pieces (and you thought they were done!) as the one-touch design model spreads. Today Push for Pizza, an app that does exactly that. Watch the usually well-made Sandwich video:

The current wave of convenience-tech products (Uber, Push for Pizza, all 1-day delivery applications…) suggest that our technical capabilities outstrip our ability to package them.

It feels like 1999 all over again. Suddenly anything can have a webpage, so it can. Suddenly anything can have an app, so it can. Suddenly anything can be on-demand, so it will be.

This phase of the tech industry is what I’d like to call the Malcolm Phase, named after a wise man who once commented that people become “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And we all know what happened next.

But unlike cloned dinosaurs, all of these applications are inevitable. The question is are they inevitable right now.

Think about 1999. Pets.com died a fiery death, but now we have Wag. WebVan failed but FreshDirect thrives. Kozmo’s business model dusted off the ashes and was reborn as Seamless, Grubhub, and more.

Why the failure then and success now?

As I see it, while technology may advance quickly, human behaviors are sluggish. We are advancing slowly on a road towards complete faith in digital transactions. Using pizza as an example, here are the phases of trust we’re advancing along:

  1. Trust in Digital Purchases: “If I pay for pizza on a website, will they receive my money and actually delivery a pizza to me?” (this wasn’t present in 1999)
  2. Trust in Digital Recommendations: “Does this service know of a better place to get pizza than I do?” (we’re barely at this point now)
  3. Trust in Digital Completion: “Does this app know a great place to get pizza from and how to get it to my house?” (Push for Pizza is aiming here)
  4. Trust in Digital Instigation: “Does this app know when I’m going to want pizza?” (Some are already planning for this)

Another good way to think about this is the various job we’re hiring the app or service to be:

  1. Cashier: Take my money, give me goods.
  2. Concierge: Give me a few ideas, let me make the choice.
  3. Admin: Go research and complete a transaction for me.
  4. Proxy: Anticipate my purchase needs and execute them.

Obviously these trust levels are related to disposable income. If you have a ton of money you won’t mind if an Admin or Proxy screws up every now and then. But for most people, we’re only at trust level 1 and 2. Yelp and other’s recommendations have a high enough hit rate that we’re willing to spend money on an untested restaurant regularly.

But Push for Pizza jumps to trust level 3. And I’m not sure we’re ready for the commitment.

To their credit, they’re taking a smart approach: the risk costs are low for the user (pizza is cheap and relatively commodified), the audience is focused and impulsive (did you catch the brief shot of one of the kids exhaling smoke in the video above?), and the trust precedent is set (Uber has paved the way, which was handled cleverly in the video without being tired). We’ll have to wait to see if these tactics will be enough. Best of luck to them1.

  1. The biggest reason I think they won’t succeed, beyond slow user adoption, is that these three strategies (commodified product, focused audience, early adopter customers familiar with the business model) are rarely all aligned. Pizza is not a commodity in affluent, tech-savvy markets like New York, San Francisco, and LA. The core audience will never try again if they hit the button and Dominos arrives. 

Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.


Another reason backing off from that always-on Kinect was a sound decision.

Colin Campbell, writing for Polygon:

Created by Upper One Games in association with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, [Never Alone] is inspired by the people who have lived in Alaska for many thousands of years, surviving through a closeness to their unforgiving environment. It is difficult for many of us, cosseted by technology and a complex society, to appreciate their worldview. This game allows us to glimpse life in a new way.

The CITC sees this video game as a way to defend their culture, by telling the rest of us that the Inupiat exist and that they have value. The story underpinning Never Alone is one of survival, not just of the girl Nuna (the word means ‘Land’) but also of where she is from.

The game begins with a narrator speaking in Inupiat, a language of striking beauty and resonance. Its art style is taken from Alaska Native scrimshaw carvings. There is a deep attention to detail in the way the snow, ice and frigid water is portrayed. Strange creatures appear, from their ancient myths. The levels are based on stories handed down from one generation to the next, stories about survival , interdependence, resiliency and inter-generational exchange, the idea that wisdom can be exchanged between young and old, between humans of every stripe.

This type of collaboration should be the future of anthropology.

Vladimir Putin's New Anti-Americanism 

If you’re following any of the news regarding Russia or Ukraine, I strongly recommend Remnick’s piece on our last ambassador to Russia, Putin, and the current Russian mood.

But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents. We have to make sure that they don’t escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy. And as long as we do that, then I think history is on our side.

Obama, as interviewed by the Economist.

He immediately followed up with a fantastic jab/segue: “Anything on the US economy? I noticed the occasional cover story saying how unfriendly to business we are.”

For about $12, Sprint will soon let subscribers buy a wireless plan that only connects to Facebook . For that same price, they could choose instead to connect only with Twitter , Instagram or Pinterest—or for $10 more, enjoy unlimited use of all four. Another $5 gets them unlimited streaming of a music app of their choice. The plan, offered under the company’s Virgin Mobile brand of prepaid service, comes as wireless carriers are experimenting with ways to make wireless Internet access more affordable for the poorest consumers by offering special deals on slices of the Web.


This really leaves me torn. I hate preferred service models but love the idea of data plans at ~$10 rates (or really anything under $40), especially on prepaid plans.

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