The perfect echo chamber

I used to criticize Facebook for creating an echo chamber. My argument was – as almost every one else – that Facebook should show users what is right, not what they agree with.

I overestimated the level of transparency the internet brings. When the political events were happening in Egypt and the local media was hiding the truth, I thought as soon as every one joins Facebook/twitter the truth will be revealed. I was wrong. It happened to some extent, but the echo chambers were much stronger.

One of the main drivers of hostility on the internet is people seeing their core beliefs being attacked. Regardless of the side, seeing something we disagree with triggers our survival response and hence we become hostile to the adversary.

I am recently giving this a lot of thought. I started to think Facebook shouldn’t try to avoid echo chambers, it should strive to create the perfect one.

If you have the perfect echo chamber and only see the things you agree with, you won’t feel the internet is unsafe as it is now. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but this behavior is why people are moving more towards private conversations.

That being said, it makes me question why we don’t have this until now, this is what I could think of

  • Nobody thought of it. I highly doubt.
  • It is not technically feasible. I also doubt to some extent.
  • It drives engagement down. If we only see things we agree with, we are less likely to engage with the content. Less engagement means less time spent on site, less ads to be served, and less money to be made.

That’s my theory.

Writing

Many of my friends want to start blogging. They ask me where to start. I tell everyone I have a few simple rules I keep in mind when writing.

“Real Artists Ship” – Steve Jobs

The key to commit to writing is to hit the publish button. Most people don’t write out of the fear their posts won’t be liked. Here is a surprise: nobody is reading what you write, and nobody will share what you write saying they don’t like it.

There is a second reason to shipping, the only way to get better at anything is to actually do it. The more you do it, the more mistakes you make, which leads to becoming better.

“Anything you say may be used against you” – The Miranda warning

This is one of the traps I fell into multiple times. Opinions are not safe on the internet. I think before publishing any post, if my position has changed, can this post harm me in any way? If the answer is yes, I don’t publish.

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time” – Leo Tolstoy

Things take time. Don’t expect to an audience from day one. I used to focus on how many people are reading what I write. I slowly adapted the mentality of doing it for myself, and for helping others. Not having Facebook also helped.

One of the most joyful moments is when someone messages me because they benefited from something I wrote. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is great.

Hit publish.

Shoe Dog

I recently finished the memoir of Nike’s founder Phil Knight. I didn’t know it is pronounced “Nikee” and not “Nike like Bike”.

It is a clear story of passion and persistence. The book reminds me of “The hard thing about hard things” by Ben Horowitz. It has the same pattern of a series of ups and downs with extremes on both ends. The main difference I felt was Phil’s story was more personal. He talked more about how he felt and what was he thinking when things were happening. It kinda makes you feel in his shoe.

It is a story of mastery. Starting the company with his three decades older coach is a great example of the evolution from apprenticeship to mastery. They both had passion for shoes and running. Phil had the energy, while Bowerman had the experience that made him innovate on shoe designs. I feel envious he was this lucky to find such a mentor.

The book is well written and worth the time. There are countless quotes to share but those two are the ones I liked the most.

  • “We’re also finishing construction on a new athletic facility, which we plan to dedicate to our mothers, Dot and Lota. On a plaque next to the entrance will go an inscription: Because mothers are our first coaches.”
  • “When goods don’t pass international borders, soldiers will. Though I’ve been known to call business war without bullets, it’s actually a wonderful bulwark against war. Trade is the path of coexistence, cooperation. Peace feeds on prosperity.”

NPS

Every time someone says we should use Net Promoter Score I get a feeling of irritation. It is neither a metric that tells you something you can act on, nor a KPI that indicates the health of your product.

It is biased. Those who buy will be promoters, and those who don’t will be detractors.

It is lagging. In the online world you instantly see the drop in sales, engagement, or whatever core metric you are optimizing, before sending out a survey to customers asking them about the likelihood of recommending the product.

It is non-actionable. The NPS score is a result of multiple core metrics coming together. Successful companies monitor core metrics closely. If some of these metrics get better while others get messed up, it is hard to justify the change in the NPS without looking at each of the core metrics separately.

NPS – most of the time – just creates distraction. Focus on the core metrics is more actionable, and leads to better results.

If you are looking for alternatives to NPS, I think the closest metrics are retention, and virality coefficient. Those two reflect actual product usage, they are actionable, and don’t have the vanity of asking someone “Would you do this?”.

2X for Kids

I speed up almost every thing I watch or listen to 1.25 to 2X. It doesn’t work for all types of content but – most of the time – it is more efficient.

There is always the question of comprehension. My level is bound – to big extent – by my childhood, where I watched and listened to things at base speed.

Now my brain is less plastic. Changing my wiring to comprehend more of the faster speed will take years.

Since our language comprehension happens at childhood, would kids be able to comprehend more in less time if they always watch/listen to things at faster speeds? If yes, does this mean we are able to have humans that are capable of processing more information than us?

I don’t know.

Non-Proliferation of Robotic Weapons

Yesterday Boston Dynamics posted a video of their humanoid robot Atlas jumping before doing a backflip.

This made me think of the next generation of weapons of mass destruction.

While Uranium is hard to acquire, transport, and enrich, the new weapons of mass destruction will be made of silicon.

Their software will be available on GitHub for any nation or terrorism group to fork their own. The defense against them will be remote people trying to hack into them.

This will also minize the gap between nations. Instead of having to build your own arsenal of robots, it will be easier to just hack into your adversaries’ robots and make them attack their makers.

Interesting times ahead.

The new echo chambers

This morning I saw those tweets by Patrick. They made me think a lot about the answers. The last question was the most interesting one.

Thinking about it, I would argue we never had “great, open to all” online communities.

The early adopters of every new social platform were like minded people. Because they were early adopters, it is expected they come from the most open minded percentiles of the society. The content they created early on attracted similar minded people to the conversation.

The communities were not great, open to all. They were in their early stages.

As the platforms grew, the social cohesion of the network started decaying. Facebook tried solving this by the news feed algorithm. The news feed created an algorithmic echo chamber. The algorithmic echo chamber made people stick to the platform while the conversation was still interesting.

After a while, the networks became saturated. Everyone is now on Facebook, twitter, and Quora. This resulted in two things

1) Conversation regression to the mean. It is no longer interesting, thought provoking as the early days. It is average.

2) Public scrutiny, and abuse towards contrarian opinions – regardless of the side – became much bigger.

This led people to try finding a new safe echo chamber. The easiest solution is private groups. Handpicked similar minded people who share the same interests. They can discuss whatever they want without feeling threatened by the public.

Back to Patrick’s questions. I think we need new echo chambers that can maintain their social cohesion, while giving the opportunity for new people to join the conversation. Until then, private groups are the new echo chambers.

I contacted 300+ hotels in Berlin asking about handicapped rooms, it is not what I thought

What every one is missing.

tl;dr I launched www.mostafita.com a directory of wheelchair accessible hotels with detailed room information. You can find accessible rooms with single, double, triple beds, and even shared beds in accessible hostels.

Travel is one of my peak anxiety drivers. Normally I am relaxed until it comes to physical threats. It makes sense for someone who can get fractured easily.

Travel is also one of my peak enjoyment drivers, but I am anxious until I get safely to the destination. The main reason is not being sure if my accommodation fits my needs. Even with all the current modern technology, you don’t know what to expect in a hotel room until you get there.

My process to book a room goes like this

  • I go to booking.com or Expedia, search for hotels that have “Facilities for disabled guests”, or “Wheelchair Accessible”. Those are self reported labels that could only be used to refine the search. No guarantees.
  • I call the hotel to ask if they have wheelchair accessible rooms. Some say they have it. Some don’t know what I am talking about although they list themselves as accessible. I ask about the availability of those rooms for the dates I am traveling.
  • I go to booking/Expedia and book the room, writing in the notes I need the accessible one.
  • I call the hotel again to confirm they will reserve the accessible room for me. Sometimes they tell me “oh, you booked the wrong room, the accessible rooms are of that category which is more expensive, you have to change the room and pay the difference”.

This process only covers the simple use case, finding a double/twin room. Finding information about single, triple, family, or four bed accessible rooms is wishful thinking. You can’t find this anywhere.

I finally manage to set everything, and go.

Then comes the surprise

I was in Prague, I verified the hotel’s accessibility in advance. I got there to find 5 steps I have to climb to be able to get in. There was no bell to call for assistance. Luckily, I had a friend with me. He went inside and called the receptionist. It turned out there was a handicapped lift through the delivery garage. I needed someone every time I wanted to get in or out of the hotel to help me. The handicapped lift was small, someone with a bigger wheelchair wouldn’t fit in it.

In Oslo, the hotel bathroom didn’t have a way to block the water from getting into the room. Every time I took a shower, the water leaked all over the carpet inside room. I had to get the room service every morning to dry the mess.

Most recently in Hamburg, they told me they have an accessible room with a shower chair and everything. I went there to find the shower has a large step that needs some acrobats from my side to be able to get in. The bathroom was too narrow. The bathroom door opened to the inside, making it hard to close the door with the wheelchair inside.

Those are just examples from my experience. I won’t talk about heavy doors, rooms far away from the elevator, unapproachable wardrobes, and more.

What every one is missing

20% of Europe population is above 65 years old[1]. That’s 125+ million people. Those are the ones with the most disposable income, and the highest chances of having mobility related issues.

There are 5 million wheelchair users in Europe. This number will likely grow in the coming years given the aging population.

Based on this Skift podcast[2], “ according to a study commissioned in 2015 by the Open Doors Organization, adults with disabilities in the U.S. spend $17.3 billion a year on leisure and business travel. Over the two years before the study, 26 million adults with disabilities took 73 million trips.”. Those are US stats, I wonder what are the numbers for Europe, the biggest travel market in the world.

Even millennials, with the current state of travel Permanxiety[3] as Skift coined it. I am sure there are many people who are just like me, not knowing what to expect in their hotel room. This just adds an extra level of anxiety that could’ve been avoided.

So…

I contacted 300+ hotels in Berlin. I emailed all of them, phoned most of them, and visited the rest. I started collecting room specific information on wheelchair accessible rooms. This is what I found.

Accessibility is there, it is just unevenly distributed

There is no correlation between how big a hotel is and the number of wheelchair accessible rooms.

The biggest hotel in Berlin is “Park-Inn Alexanderplatz”. They brag about having 1112 rooms, making them the biggest hotel in Berlin. Only two rooms are accessible. A small boutique hotel like “38 Hotels” with ~40 rooms also have two accessible rooms.

The vast majority of hotels have less than 5 accessible rooms. The most frequent numbers are 1, and 2.

Accessibility is undefined

Handicapped room? Disabled people room? Wheelchair accessible room? Every hotel has a different name. I had to change the question multiple times before getting an answer.

This is not the only problem, when hotels think they are accessible, sometimes they are really not.

 

An “accessible” hotel room in Berlin, there is no space next to the bed for a wheelchair to fit, on both sides.
In all the hotels I visited, few had a wardrobe with a hanger that could get low enough for someone in a wheelchair to access. Normally the receptionist got surprised when I started highlighting inaccessible parts.

Accessibility is inaccessible

You can easily find information about pets on hotel websites. Try finding information about accessible rooms, good luck with that. I visited all the websites of the hotels I had to call/visit. Some even refused to email me photos of the rooms before booking it saying we are not allowed to do this.

we have 2 rooms in our hotel that are wheelchair accessible.

The rooms follow industrialized standards.

We cannot provide photos.

This hotel chain with “The rooms follow industrialized standards” is the same one in the first photo with no space next to the beds.

I can only remember one hotel allowing booking the accessible room(s) directly on their website. Nobody does this.

The bright side

I created Mostafita.com a directory with Berlin hotels accessible rooms information.

So far I verified 120 hotels, 90 of them have photos. I only put photos of the accessible rooms, not generic photos that tell you nothing.

I didn’t only cover the simple case of double/twin rooms. You can filter by hotels with accessible Double, Twin, Triple, or Four beds. You can also filter by hostels with accessible shared dormitories and accessible shared bathrooms.

This is just the beginning. I will keep adding more hotels, more rooms, and more information. My goal is to map every accessible room in every hotel starting with Berlin. You can follow the progress by subscribing here.

Summary

  • There is now a directory with ~100 wheelchair accessible/elderly adapted hotels in Berlin. You can find all the info you need for anxiety free travel.
  • If Google street view maps every street and building, why can’t we see the inside of every hotel room and be able to book that exact room? When I book an Airbnb I can see exactly where I am going to sleep, but I pay more for a hotel and I don’t know what to expect.
  • Hotels are missing up-selling opportunities by treating all rooms as equal. Two rooms overlooking the noisy street, one on the first, and one on the 5th floor shouldn’t be sold at the same price. An accessible room isn’t the same as a non-accessible one.

If I can read all the details, and see the photos of my Airbnb before booking it, why can’t I have the same level of details for my hotel room where I am mostly paying more?
Resources

www.mostafita.com

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Population_structure_and_ageing

[2] https://skift.com/2017/02/02/skift-podcast-the-evolution-of-accessible-travel/

[3] https://skift.com/2017/09/25/travel-in-an-age-of-permanxiety/

Berlin Contrast

When I walk in Berlin, it is easy to see the contrast between the soviet and the American parts. This contrast gets more mixed in areas in the middle like Alexanderplatz. There you can see a soviet style building right next to a modern, American style one.

There is a list of buildings in Leipziger str that I used to call “عمارات العبور” due to their striking resemblance to a group of buildings built by the Egyptian army in Cairo. I later discovered they fall into the soviet part and were built by the soviets.

This shows how Egypt picked up the military communism mentality in the fifties and never left it. While Berlin managed to do the transition, and joined the west.