A Lesson From Lisbon
Future News 152
‘It just about works, but that’s good enough’ — is the unofficial mantra for Portugal’s capital city. That’s because Lisbon is sort of falling apart, but it’s sort of not.
The trains work, so do the roads and its look like the trash gets collected too — which is more you can say about the UK these days. It ain’t pretty, it’s rustic. And it only qualifies as ‘cool’ because of the utilitarian nature of the place.
If it didn’t ‘work’, more people would be shouting abut why the whole city needs a lick of paint, why the sidewalks are a lawsuit waiting to happen and why no one is cleaning up the graffiti dashed across every-other wall.
These issues don’t seem to bother the average Lisbonite, who, for their part, are giving the tourists no reasons to complain either as they offer up the Atlantic’s best seafood alongside a cold and crisp Sagres for a very agreeable $10 a-pop.
It now makes a lot of sense to me why the annual technology jamboree that is Web Summit is held in Lisbon: the city is Europe’s ultimate proving ground for what actually works. Uber works, so do e-scooters and contactless is everywhere. As for the whole ‘digital nomad’ thing, we will have to wait and see how that goes.
The utilitarian lesson is one which the nu-news media industry is still learning. BuzzFeed (now at ~$1 per share) is hurting and Vice is still looking to get sold (Semafor recently wrote on Shane Smith here). Both were cultural phenomenons in their heydays, but both shied away — arguably, for good reasons at the time — from becoming ultra-consistent information providers.
A 5,000 word essay on New York’s best hot dog or an alternative take on a war in far-flung area of the globe will get you buzz, while a regular flow of solid output targeted at a relatively niche audience — preferably delivered to your inbox — will get you loyal and sticky readers. Punchbowl, Axios, Politico and Morning Brew are providing the point that ‘boring’ does actually work.
The same can be said of the success of the metaverse. The opportunity for the media is still being undersold. This is partly because a very narrow definition of the ‘metaverse’ has taken hold.
For many, the metaverse is about a bunch of 3D-sandbox worlds which can be experienced via a virtual reality headset (a VR Second Life, basically). As I’ve written before, the sleeping technology giant in all of this is augmented reality.
Why? Because the borders between the offline and online worlds will increasingly become porous. In many ways it already is, with your smartphone serving as the main gateway into the digital world. There will be more and more gateways in the future, with some operating as ‘open’ on a 24/7 basis.
As such, some commentators have been a little too quick to judge Mark Zuckerberg’s shift to AI. The metaverse’s foundational technologies are not binary and in many ways machine-learning will catalyse the creation of a more functional metaverse.
If I’ve learnt one thing from Lisbon so far, it’s that deep down it’s all about utility. Have a cool Sagres on me, I’m off out. Future News will return propa next week. In the meantime, you may enjoy this debate I took part in with New York’s Deadline Club. Tchau!
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