The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

BuzzFeed’s Business Model

BuzzFeed is worth at least its latest $850 million valuation, and probably much more. It’s a media company, but it’s not (primarily) a content company; its core competence is the technology of marketing. BuzzFeed proves with its content that it knows how to reach huge, young, mobile audiences. Then “it can then sell that secret sauce to advertisers, and help them reach the same audience, using the same tools” (1,320 words)

The Hedge Fund That Ate Argentina

A BROWSER BONUS: Our content partnership with Foreign Affairs allows us to bring Browser subscribers the full text of selected FA articles. Here, Felix Salmon explains how an American hedge fund’s claims against Argentina, upheld by US courts, threaten national sovereignty and the international financial system (Our link takes non-subscribers to the Foreign Affairs website, which has a metered paywall) (2,430 words)

Jonah Peretti Goes Long

Big, meaty interview with Buzzfeed founder, viral content guru. “If the forest is dry and it’s been hot and the trees are close together, you can just drop a match and the whole thing will burn. There was a period between 2001 and 2003 when the dry forest was ready to burn. If you made something that was pretty funny and had qualities that caused people to want to share and talk and discuss, then things would spread pretty far” (23,000 words)

How Citibike Is Like Ecuador

Deep dive into why New York’s bike-rental scheme is wobbling badly. Much useful wisdom about public-private partnerships. Basic problem: the private operator is incompetent, but can’t be dislodged, because there isn’t an alternative. The renting formalities are so complex that they repel casual users who are meant to provide the profits. The “Citibike” branding has been so successful that no secondary sponsors can be found (2,240 words)

Joe Stiglitz On High-Frequency Trading

A rather brilliant set of notes by Salmon on a rather brilliant speech by Stiglitz, making the case against market volatility in general and high-frequency trading in particular. Markets should “reward people who find out information about the real economy”. But HFT robots “steal the rents that otherwise would have gone to those who had invested in information”, with the result that “the market will become less informative” (1,650 words)

Is There A Wonk Bubble?

Eggheads win the media. Nate Silver’s 538 and Ezra Klein’s Vox lead the way. Coming soon: David Leonhardt’s Upshot, and Jonathan Cohn’s policy site at New Republic. Is it a bubble? No, it’s the internet: “People who are interested in the minutiae of policy can talk to each other without having to worry about why the average reader should care. On the Internet, there’s no such thing as the average reader” (2,330 words)

Mark Zuckerberg, The Warren Buffett Of Tech

Buffett is the “classic conglomerator: he’ll buy any business, so long as it’s good”. Zuckerberg is starting to do the same thing in tech, with his purchases of Instagram, WhatsApp and, most recently, Oculus. None is an obvious fit with Facebook. But by now Zuckerberg is investing for a future beyond Facebook. He “knows that his flagship won’t last forever”. So he has “decided to build himself a flotilla” (535 words)

Satoshi: Why Newsweek Isn’t Convincing

Post-mortem on Newsweek‘s cover story claiming to have identified the inventor of Bitcoin. The writer, Leah McGrath Goodman, did a “huge amount of work” amassing circumstantial evidence. Her fatal error was to frame her story as a revelation of fact. She would have done much better to frame it as a quest, sharing the evidence and ending with a tentative identification of the most-plausible candidate (2,390 words)

Broadband Competition Relies On Regulation

Why the cable companies’ broadband monopoly is bad for America. “We already have perfectly adequate pipes running into our homes, capable of delivering enough broadband for nearly everybody’s purposes. What we don’t need is a brand-new nationwide broadband network. What we do need is the ability of different companies to provide broadband services to America’s households” (860 words)

Facebook’s Horrible Stroke Of Genius

Facebook’s $19bn purchase of WhatsApp “is a statement by Zuckerberg that mobile matters more than money. He’s right about that. Without mobile, it doesn’t matter how much money Facebook has. If you’re asking whether Zuckerberg paid too much for WhatsApp, you’re asking the wrong question. Zuckerberg is sending a message, here, that Facebook will never stop in its attempt to dominate mobile” (1,135 words)

Why Quants Don’t Know Everything

The quants always win at first — in finance, in sports, in computer dating, in national security. They discover “numerical patterns or ingenious algorithms” that beat existing markets. But then their edge disappears, because the new markets that they create have new patterns and new behaviours that can be gamed in new ways — and often more easily, by targeting the quants’ own explicit metrics (2,110 words)

Rules For Writing About Art Auctions

Top 20% of pieces bring in 90% of auction revenues every year, and get 90% of headlines. Smarter to focus on artists who aren’t selling well: “The auction houses do a very good job of expectations management: if the estimate is low, and the price realised is equally low, it’s easy to think there’s nothing newsworthy going on — even if, a few years ago, the same piece might have sold for multiples of what it’s now able to fetch” (840 words)

China’s Broken Art Market

Thoughts provoked by the recent New York Times investigation, Forging An Art Market In China. You can certainly read the original, which is in that overwrought Snowfall style; or you can go straight to Felix, who extracts the main points, explains and critiques them, and adds some conclusions at a much brisker pace. “If you’re speculating in Chinese art, you’d better have your exit planned out. Because the bubble is certain to burst” (1,160 words)

Kill The Sticky Nav

“It might have been the Slate redesign which pushed me over the edge, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just PTSD from Reuters Next. But I will seriously donate a substantial amount of money to anybody who can build a browser plugin which automatically kills all persistent navbars, or sticky navs. It has become the single most annoying thing on the news web, overtaking even the much-loathed pagination for that title” (1,130 words)

The Idiocy Of Crowds

Start-ups can now crowdsource equity. Investors: don’t go there. “Right now — the tail end of the ZIRP experiment — is the absolute worst possible time to embark upon this general solicitation road. Even the smart money has started funding companies at utterly bonkers valuations. When you then open up the dumb money to projects which the smart money has passed on, the outcome is certain, and not pleasant” (1,000 words)

Jeff Bezos And His Journalists

Jeff Bezos is a great businessman. His acquisition of the Washington Post is logical and promising. But he’s going to need a management style there very different from the one that’s worked so well at at Amazon. “At a large newspaper, the default mode cannot be hyper-efficient. Greatness emerges mysteriously from the slack in the system, from source lunches and newsroom cross-pollination and expensive editorial whims” (1,340 words)

In Praise Of Stevie Cohen

Why hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen, now facing criminal charges, may be “the greatest stock-market trader of all time” — and what that means. Trading is not investing. “It is more about understanding probabilities, taking advantage of fleeting arbitrage opportunities, and ‘reading the tape’ — understanding the way that money is flowing around the market, and how those flows are going to manifest themselves in securities prices” (1,280 words)

How Do You Restructure A Guarantee?

Well-pointed summary of new Lee Buchheit paper (here; also worth downloading). Sovereign debt guarantees have multiplied, as a way of masking national debts. How do you deal with them when the issuer is forced into a debt restructuring? You cannot safely leave them out of the haircut; not can you easily bring them in. Conclusion: “If you thought that sovereign debt restructuring has been difficult until now, you ain’t seen nothing yet” (590 words)

Adventures With “Free” Checking

When you take a free checking account, you invite your bank to make money out of you any other way that it can. Bogus fees in America, bogus products in Britain. “Retail banking is broken, it’s broken everywhere, it’s endemically reliant on hidden fees, and if you think your bank is being transparent about how it’s making money from you, or if you think that your banking is free, then you’re almost certainly mistaken” (1,650 words)

Promiscuous Media

The rise of new open publishing platforms — Tumblr, Medium, Facebook among them — increases writers’ mobility, flexibility. Mainstream publishers would do well to embrace this. “Certain journalists will be wonderfully active on Pinterest; others will develop huge followings on LinkedIn. Their employers will be gifted with a new way to extend their brand to people they never reached before, in what feels a very personal manner” (1,172 words)

The Bitcoin Bubble and the Future of Currency

Analysis. The price of Bitcoin has gone exponential and is bouncing around at crazy levels. There’s a bubble. There will be a crash. But the product — an anonymous, computer-generated, digital currency — is admirable. “Bitcoin is in many ways the best and cleanest payments mechanism the world has ever seen. So if we’re ever going to create something better, we’re going to have to learn from what bitcoin does right – as well as what it does wrong. The source code for bitcoin is free and public, which means that just about every hacker and cryptographer in the world has had a crack at it. And they’ve all come to the same conclusion: it really works” (5,056 words)

The Cyprus Precedent

Lots written on the bailout; here’s the piece to read. Big winner is the ECB, which has propped up the Cyprus banks and will get all its money back. Russian depositors take a 10% haircut, but that’s better than losing everything. Big losers are the humiliated Cyprus government, and small local depositors who thought their savings were guaranteed

Andrew Sullivan Goes It Alone

“Sullivan is burning no bridges here. If this works, great; if it doesn’t work, I’m sure that there will be a fair few publications out there willing to add their names to the list of places which have hosted the Dish”

Philanthropy: You’re Doing It Wrong

“Philanthropy is one of those areas where the richer you are, the more likely you are to be doing it spectacularly wrong.” So let’s run down the list of the ways super-rich donors aren’t as helpful as they think they are

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