blue_beetle's fame continues April 27, 2018 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Slate traces the history of the "you're not the customer, you're the product" line back to blue_beetle's so famous it's on our frickin t-shirts comment.
posted by leotrotsky to MetaFilter-Related at 6:56 AM (36 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

I love that there is a product that says "you're the product" on it. MetaFilter, you're the best!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:14 AM on April 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


Is there a compendium of everything that's filtered out from MetaFilter to the wider world?
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 7:46 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


There's probably a page on the wiki. If not, you can create one!

Wikis: Julian Assange has no clue what we are.

posted by leotrotsky at 8:12 AM on April 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


Here's the t-shirt, btw. There's only 4 left.

this Meta post was not a ploy to sell off remaining T-shirt stock.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:14 AM on April 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


There's probably a page on the wiki. If not, you can create one!

Both MeFi Press and Metafilter in Popular Culture could use some attention.
posted by zamboni at 8:15 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I bought one of those as a gift for a friend. No idea if she liked it but I felt warm and fuzzy buying it and the quality was just fine.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:16 AM on April 27, 2018


That Slate article traces the history through blue_beetles moment back to its origins in late 60's TV, and says that it's inaccurate to apply that to Facebook today.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:48 AM on April 27, 2018


Right, but Slate pitches, so... maybe they're just wrong again?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:30 AM on April 27, 2018


Correctly attributing that quote is like dancing about architecture.
posted by chococat at 9:43 AM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I wore that shirt to choir practice, and a +70-ish white lady who's always on FB for her grandkids' photos said, "???"

I said, "It's about Facebook" (I know it's not just Facebook). She said, "...Huh."

A few months later, I wore the shirt there again. She said, "Y'know, that shirt really made me think. Thanks."

I should wear that shirt more often.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:10 AM on April 27, 2018 [37 favorites]


not completely.
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on April 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


That is one of my favourite shirts. I love wearing it to hacker events. It always gets plenty of kudos there.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:14 AM on April 27, 2018


I should wear that shirt more often.

Next time, have her take a picture and post it on Facebook. She'd be the edgiest kid in the quilting bee.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:02 PM on April 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


blue_beetle's comment remains the most elegant and succinct version of this observation. (Slate missed the Adbusters "edgy" anti-commercial "The Product Is You" from the 90s in tracing variations on this concept.)
posted by Doktor Zed at 1:21 PM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Well... you could leave off the last two words ("being sold") and the meaning would remain intact. So while I'll happily grant that it's the most elegant and succinct version, it's not the most succinct version possible.

Not that it matters. It's fine.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:23 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I saw that NYTimes headline and thought of that comment and tshirt. High fives MeFi, blue_beetle, Miko, leotrotsky, hand gets tired, stops.
posted by theora55 at 2:50 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


There's only 4 left.

Call it 3. I just bought a second one. My ladies' XL emphasizes my beer gut so I hesitate to wear it but I think the men's 2XL will be very comfy.
posted by bendy at 8:16 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


The original tv quote that I recall reading or hearing in the 70’s was something like this: Television is not in the business of providing information to viewers; it’s in the business of delivering eyeballs to advertisers.

That’s broadly paraphrased & I have no idea where I originally heard it - I was a child. But it dovetails with the Facebook context, as social media is gradually replacing the television as the public’s passive form of entertainment.

Compel them to look, by any means necessary, more or less, is what both industries have done since the advent of on-screen (or hell, even olde tyme radio) advertising. “Up next, The salacious details. But first, a word from our sponsors.”
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:26 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

it’s 2018, and it’s time for Facebook’s critics to move past what has become a tired cliché.
- Stale Magazine
posted by flabdablet at 3:23 AM on April 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Interesting, thoughtful, and satisfyingly detailed.

It's also worth noting that “Television Delivers People," not only proves that this specific idea has been around a long time. It also proves that turning forty seconds of text into an incredibly tedious video predates youtube by at least 23 years. (I realize it was originally broadcast on television, the context matters, and the stylistic choices were intentional. I assume it's meant to drive the viewer mad with hopeless frustration. But, still. . . it does.)
posted by eotvos at 8:18 AM on April 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I guess it's a good thing that a user named blue_beetle wrote this, instead of say, fishfucker.
posted by yhbc at 9:50 PM on April 28, 2018 [12 favorites]


I was talking to my mother (age 69) about Facebook recently, and she mentioned the concept. I was surprised and a bit amused to hear her say it.

So, it’s finally reached the Baby Boomers who still get most of their news from TV, magazines, and newspapers. (Actually, she now reads the local newspaper on her iPad using their silly app that basically serves up a PDF of the print edition instead of a web page.)
posted by D.C. at 3:32 AM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


If we don’t like how Facebook is treating us, we shouldn’t throw up our hands and call ourselves the product of a system over which we have no control. We should act like people—customers, workers, citizens, whatever—who have the power to demand change.

FFS. Noting, correctly, that if "you're not the customer, you're the product" is not the same thing as throwing up our hands and pretending we have no control. Just, grrrr. Stupid, stupid Slate. The fact that the idea dates to television doesn't make the idea wrong nor outdated.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:55 AM on April 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


The fact that the idea dates to television doesn't make the idea wrong nor outdated.

Absolutely not. It shouldn't surprise us in the least that Boomers get it - the media critics of the 60s and 70s who started analyzing this dynamic were Boomers themselves, or older than that even. The notion of ad-supported content has very, very long roots and was reaching a peak in mainstream media in the latter half of the 20th century. Sophisticated manipulation of people using content is what, say, Mad Men is all about, and people were very well aware even in the 70s and 80s that their eyeballs were being sold to advertisers so they could enjoy TV shows and newspaper articles. It's an old idea, but the intrusiveness of the increasingly intimate tactics being used in the era of data accumulation and searchability is bringing it much closer to home.
posted by Miko at 8:00 AM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


blue_beetle's comment dates from late August, 2010.

I saw then Wired editor Chris Anderson talk about the idea in late April, 2010 - and subsequently posted about it here in early May, 2010. I remember seeing other articulations of the idea on MeFi throughout that summer, and was struck at how blue_beetle's iteration was the one to really catch.

FWIW, my recollection is Anderson's talk was one he gave a lot. And he talked about this idea sort of tangentially, to a room full of publishers and associated software people. So as an idea - yes, it's probably been around for a while. But not as explicitly or with as much resonance as when blue_beetle put it together into the now famous if..., then... formulation that really brings it home.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


blue_beetle's comment dates from late August, 2010

idiopath, on May 17, 2010:
The member of facebook is not a customer, they are the product. The advertisers are the customers.
link
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:19 PM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


OMG the gauntlet has been thrown down!
posted by hippybear at 8:28 PM on April 30, 2018


idiopath, on May 17, 2010:

I am SHOOK.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:23 AM on May 1, 2018


I think the blue_beetle formulation is just one of those examples of an idea already in circulation being expressed nicely at a moment when the mass market was ready for it and the means of circulation were perfectly in tune. He (?) was rephrasing something already well accepted among media critics in a pointed way, and presented it in a well-crafted nugget, using the handy "if..then" framing pointed out above; but as I've argued all along, people have been saying the same for decades. As a cultural history thing, the focus on this particular utterance to the exclusion of its long history is interesting, and a sort of a textbook Gladwellian phenomenon in the way it took off amid a specific set of people and outlets.

Perhaps part of it is that the "if" clause directly implicates the "you" in the mechanism, whereas just pointing out that a system exploits people in the language many had used before doesn't as obviously point out an individual's role in it.
posted by Miko at 6:23 AM on May 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I was talking to my mother (age 69) about Facebook recently

nice
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:18 AM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that the statement isn't universally true; exceptions can and do exist when they are funded entirely via philanthropy (whether grants, individual donations, etc.) For example, the Wikimedia Foundation's sites, most notably Wikipedia.

Which is not to say Wikipedia is without problems, but, well... Wikipedia's got 99 problems, but treating its users as products ain't one.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2018


exceptions can and do exist when they are funded entirely via philanthropy \

As a nonprofiteer, I must disagree with even this. When you seek donations, impact- number of people reached/transformed/served, and how deeply - is your success indicator. it's what you "sell" to grantors and donors in order to secure their funding. So, though these organizations exist for service and the "customers" are their reason for being, they (and their experience) are in a sense the product being sold to donors.
posted by Miko at 9:11 AM on May 1, 2018


A fair point, but I think the implication in all the variations of the statement is that the viewers/users/etc. are being sold as the targets for advertising; in contrast to philanthropy, where the recipients have been "sold" to the donors only insofar as the knowledge that people who needed help received that help.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I also hold that part of blue_beetle's brilliancy (in crafting the comment) was to move from the specific to the abstract, putting a point which is (I think we all agree) specifically true in many modern cases, into a mode befitting a universal principal.

So, part of the joy of the formula is that it invites and inspires one to think about just how true that universal proposition is (or would be), and whether there are any limits to its applicability (or whether there are none).

And the fact that the abstract formulation of the principal inspires such discussion should itself alert us to the possibility of an even higher level of abstraction.

That is to say: if you're not overthinking it, you're not on Metafilter: you are the beans being plated! ;-)
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:12 AM on May 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Just, grrrr. Stupid, stupid Slate.

Agree completely. I like Slate enough that I subscribe but that article was the perfect (and poorly argued) example of headline-based article writing.
posted by roolya_boolya at 3:29 PM on May 1, 2018


"If I wanted to see what those publishers were publishing, I would be on their sites, not bothering with a middleman like digg."

That's a funny blast from the past. I want to see what publishers are releasing but the last thing I want to do is go digging through their websites about it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:25 PM on May 3, 2018


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