1.) Does the machine learning algorithm behind toutiao abide by the censorship effort from Beijing? For example, are any of the contents about the disappearance of the wife of the nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobao censored?
2.) What happens when the Chinese government demand board seats, much like Tencent and Alibaba? Or is toutiao already working with the Chinese government closely?
3.) Do you know whether or not toutiao is allowing this technology to be outsourced to other dictatorship countries that would allow their leaders to effectively control the contents people read every day?
4.) Are you aware that toutiao is spreading its influence into East Asia, and possibly India, and is it possible that it would spread Chinese government's message through its apps?
Every Chinese social media app/company has to follow the Chinese censorship rules, so yes. Toutiao has an army of censors working to censor the content.
Toutiao is just another company who runs for profits. Profits are focused. I don't see its popularity outside China even in East Asia.
You may worry more about your own right-wing Indian government.
Hu told BBC that three years of house arrest had thrown Liu into deep depression and a health professional had been prescribing anti-depressants medication for her. 
-- 1984, George Orwell
> The engine learns quickly – for most users, it takes less than one day to successfully learn their interests (indicated by 80% read rates).
That is insane. I don't know of any other platform (except for maybe image heavy subreddits?) that have that rate of content consumption. Facebook obviously tries, but they are so focused on their limited content sources that they frequently don't have the content people want. Twitter has similar issues, if there aren't 50 tweets you want to read in a row, as you keep scrolling Twitter has to drop the quality of content down to make sure the feed shows something.
But by being willing to surface any type of content (give users what they want), it sounds like Toutiao has been able to fully leverage AI, removing constraints on what content exists naturally leads to better results.
Also, it is a miracle if they truly solved ad targeting. In comparison, I am still getting ads for a belt I bought 3 weeks ago.
No, it's not. It's just easier to learn to entertain the average people, than to entertain the smaller group of more tasteful people, or to learn and sell things.
I was also quite impressed when I learnt the figures, and am still impressed at the fact that it managed to capture the mode of people's interest, but my every attempt to use Toutiao has ended in pain. I certainly spent longer than one day.
The main differentiator is the Toutiao is able to leverage AI to write good grammar article ... in Chinese when there aren't enough content already. The China has SO MUCH data required for deep learning due to its population and omnipresent of mobile devices. Other countries just couldn't compete.
I have an account on Youtube that I used for only a specific interest.
Youtube's suggestions are pretty bad. And they've declined in quality. And Youtube makes a strong effort to selling me mainstream content that I uniformly reject. And I can find better recommendations on suggested videos fitting my interest than I find on the Youtube landing for my account. And I'd be for Youtube to keep a list of search terms and such for further viewing.
My deduction from this is that Youtube is more interested in pushing content of other people's choice than giving me what I want. And that's pretty standard for how all media has worked since the early days of radio.
So it seems like it would be easy for a content company to get engagement by giving people what they want to view. And the challenge problem is often what people want to view doesn't garner much payment per views. And so having a bunch of engagement by itself doesn't give you success, rather what makes money is careful balance of desired content and pushed-content (IE crap).
Check out this article: https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/30/16222850/youtube-google-b...
Toutiao stays true to Asian usability dogmas and opens all links in new tabs (target="_blank").
It's a problem orthogonal to what Google solved earlier in the millenium, which is roughly "How do I find an answer on the Internet to a question I already have in mind?"
As the Internet has developed, the cost of content creation and data have decreased dramatically. And so the sheer quantity of content has exploded. Every consumer tech company has partially recognized this problem - Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Instagram, Snapchat, and Medium all want to recommend you relevant content, all have adopted feeds of articles and posts and pictures, and all desperately want your continued attention.
At this point, there's likely good content on the Internet for every single person's taste (like Anu said, there's a very long tail of content creators). The service that provides the most relevant selection of it will win consumer interest and usage at the largest scale.
And it certainly seems that Toutiao has leapfrogged everyone else in this regard. I'm very excited (but also a little wary) to see what they come up with in the future.
i.e. my youtube front page just shows the same 100 video links over and over and over.
there isn't even a really good way to discover relevant content in the channels i've already subscribed to. it's pretty lame.
The related videos are never relevant, letting a child meander through YouTube invariably winds up showing my kids super inappropriate content. The YouTube mobile app sucks horribly (ios) I literally think that YouTube is one of the worst ubiquitous services there is.
Your insightful analysis of Toutiao's AI depth is enough to tempt one to dip a toe should shares trade publicly. But the revenue growth (contextual ad based) is phenomenal as well. Any clues as to how they might seek to expand into paid content or media? Or otherwise grow beyond Chinese language centric markets?
Chinese startup Toutiao raising funds at over $20 billion valuation
I see how this could easily be manipulated into an extremely powerful propaganda tool - especially hiding behind a guise of "algorithms" are doing all the work - and yet it is not mentioned at all in the post.
We have already seen how content systems like Facebook, Google, and Twitter can be manipulated via botnets, but when a central power manages this it can obviously get significantly worse.
Does this concern you as an investor who lives in America?
In my opinion it's the absence of this topic from the article that makes YC look tone deaf once again by glossing over a serious repercussion that technology can have on society for the sake of self-promotion -- especially given current events regarding the manipulation of social networks by foreign entities and a very serious history of censorship and media control.
And given the amount of money in China, why did Toutiao need or want non-Chinese investors, particularly individual investors?
I'm guessing there's a part of the app where the user goes for Q&As. If a user asks "How do I flush my car's cooling system?", does the question get sent to all users who like cars?
so many wasted lives
Because word boundaries aren't marked, you need word segmentation, which requires understanding in lots of cases. (Can't tell where a word ends and the next one begins if you don't know what they mean.)
Many words have a literal meaning and a metaphorical one (e.g. 纠结 can mean both "tangled" and "confused").
Different synonyms being used for the same concept are common as well, especially when you contrast formal vs. informal writing.
Misspellings can happen too, where a character is substituted with a similar character that has the same pronunciation. Sometimes completely different characters are used as a kind of pun.
Grepping is less likely to yield false positives (unless you're looking for a single-character word that can appear in compounds), but there is no easy way to do fuzzy matching to account for misspelled words.
Most probably this might not get a reply but I still wanted to know about this statement -
"During the 2016 Olympics, a Toutiao bot wrote original news coverage, publishing stories on major events more quickly than traditional media outlets. The bot-written articles enjoyed read rates (# of reads and # of impressions) in line with those produced at a slower speed and higher cost by human writers on average."
1. What does writing original news coverage entail? Did the bot put together couple of news source to create an article or do you mean it transcribed the news from the live video feed as it happened?
2. How much of the bot feed works due to high declension? . Because normally bot structure and output tend to make less sense as the sentence structure comes out all wrong.
Additionally, there is quite a lot of focus on getting user to stay on the platform. Not to sound alarmist here but doesn't it mean you are most of the time helping people reinforce their world views? News should be reported as is but then if user engagement is so important news will be written right or left wing just to keep the user on platform.
Anyone else deeply uncomfortable with this? Not a useful app, an addictive app. :/
The (Beijing?) smog pictured here is somehow more poignant since the article has 0 to do with pollution... just people living their lives. Scary.
You can copy/paste each string into google translate individually, if you're patient enough ;)
Why does Toutiao use this metric to measure quality of an article?
Toutiao is a privately owned company held in Beijing. Am I being paranoid? They can claim machine learning (and they probably do). However, until we can be 100% certain the Chinese government is not involved, I wouldn't personally trust any of the stats.
They can't force users to download the app and use it (without us knowing it), can they? They could control the content it shows users, but how does that make the stats inaccurate?
1: If so many people are ok with it, then why not take a vote? If they are ok with it, they will vote for the current government. If they are not ok, then this argument is false and the current government should be voted out of office. Either way, a vote is good for China.
2: If the citizens are ok with it, then why does the government have to censor criticism and non-government ideas, run massive propaganda operations on their own citizens, jail dissenters, and oppress Tibet and Xinjiang? How do you know if the citizens are ok with it?
3: Parts of China that do have democracy and human rights, Taiwan and Hong Kong, seem to like those things very much - it's not a popular idea in those regions, or even an idea at all, to trade in democracy and human rights for the mainland's political system; no Taiwanese candidate makes that pitch to the voters! Also, people in Taiwan and Hong Kong are far more prosperous per capita than those on the mainland (I'm excluding Hong Kong from the "mainland" in this case.)
> certain freedom tradeoffs vs. improvements in other areas of quality of life.
It's not a tradeoff, it's just a needless sacrifice. All the wealthiest, most secure nations it the world have democracy and human rights. It's not a Western thing; that includes the wealthiest regions of China, Japan, South Korea, etc. What is the Communist dictatorship providing in this tradeoff?
> Its not an issue that you can easily simplify
'It's complicated' is not an answer, it's the avoidance of one.
Name a '1st world' nation that isn't democratic. But plenty of poorer nations trade.
One theory is that democracy provides greater political stability and the rule of law, and those are essential to prosperity. People are not willing to risk their life savings on a business when the government or some other powerful figure can just take it away, or if political instability will undermine their economic opportunities.
I think the correlation between democracy and prosperity is indicative of causation in the opposite direction: citizens of prosperous countries want a say in matters that affect them, and they have the time on their hands to campaign for their causes. Many countries have only become democratic when their economies were already prospering, e.g. South Korea, which was a military dictatorship for much of its initial growth.
I also don't think that democracy is the best way to provide stability, since the election cycle tends to create uncertainty on relatively short timescales. How are you going to build a business if the electorate might decide in a few years that they want to make it illegal, or impose stricter regulations, or demand higher taxes? For maximum stability, an autocracy with a slow but predictable bureaucracy would be much better. Of course, if that means your slow but predictable death, it becomes the much worse option, but few people seem to be concerned about that in China.
See my original post, above. The Chinese government clearly is concerned that many people in China are concerned about it.
> I also don't think that democracy is the best way to provide stability, since the election cycle tends to create uncertainty on relatively short timescales. How are you going to build a business if the electorate might decide in a few years that they want to make it illegal, or impose stricter regulations, or demand higher taxes?
That's not how democracies work; they don't elect kings and queens, who can arbitrarily change laws. They elect officials to a wide variety of roles, all responsible to the electorate, who must agree on changes through legal processes. In the U.S., a majority of the House, of the Senate (and sometimes 60% of the Senate), and the President must all agree on a new law. Also, the law must pass muster in the courts, and be legal under the Constitution. Also, voters get a powerful say in what the laws are. If you don't like a proposed or actual law, you can speak up, build support, and influence the outcome - it happens all the time. Finally, the federal government's power is limited to federal issues; states and localities override federal policies or create their own policies all the time. You can see the current U.S. president's lack of success in his legislative agenda as an example of how democracies work.
In an autocracy, one person can arbitrarily change whatever they want - they are not subject to other laws, a constitution, representative legislative bodies, electorates, or any of those other influences.
And the outcomes are clear: All the most stable countries are democracies, and even when they were much poorer than today (such as the U.S. in the 18th century).
In your explanation of the way the US political system provides stability, the important factor is not that bureaucrats are elected, but that their process is slow. It would be equally stable if they were appointed by birthright or any other undemocratic process.
That voters get input into the legislative process is of course a good thing for them in aggregate, but the progress it creates diminishes stability. You can't just keep running your business the same way when the legal environment keeps changing.
Worse, the number of people who get input means that the outcome will be very uncertain. Maybe the law fails to gather support, or it is passed but later ruled unconstitutional, or it is amended after the next election cycle. You have to account for all of these possibilities. Things would be much more stable if you knew far in advance what will happen.
You have convinced me that a single person being able to influence everything might not be very stable either, depending on how fast that individual changes their mind. I now think that a large body of decision makers, appointed for life by any process (be it democratic, autocratic or random) requiring a large quorum of agreement for any decision, would be the most stable system.
If you really want to argue that democracy causes stability, your last sentence should have been: "All democracies are stable countries ...". But I'm not sure you could really argue that, considering the number of democracies who went through very unstable periods in their history. (E.g. civil war in the US.)
But whatever your theories, the data is that democracies do have the most stable and predictable business and legal environments, and more so than China where instability and lack of rule of law is a complaint of businesses, especially foreign ones. Almost all the world's leading businesses are based in democracies; the vast majority of business is done in democracies. Those monarchies that ran the world for millennia didn't perform so well.
It's not just predictability either; corruption is a huge problem. In places with lifetime appointments, what happens to corrupt leaders? They can't be voted out, and lacking the rule of law and separation of powers, they will not be investigated and tried (unless a more powerful leader causes them to be). And why should we think that lifetime appointees will care at all about the voters? The lesson is, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Countries without democracies, in fact, stagnate (such as China until the encounter with the West in the 19th century and again under the Communists (compare w/ Taiwan and Hong Kong), the USSR, N. Korea (compare with S. Korea) and many, many more). Also, by not giving citizens a forceful voice, they ignore and overlook citizens' interests, leaving serious issues unaddressed. Even the well-intentioned cannot centrally plan politics any better than they can centrally plan economics - nobody knows enough to understand and address the needs of hundreds of millions.
Finally, one reason democracies have more prosperity is that they are more dynamic. In autocracies, economic success tends to depend much more on access to those in power. The government will never allow a SpaceX to challenge the favorites of the powerful, Boeing and NASA; or allow Microsoft and Compaq to take down IBM; the Internet to take down the telecomm system (at least not until it was proven to be a necessity in the West), etc. It's because the autocrats have no reason to allow a challenge to their own power and every reason to prevent it.
I'm afraid this debate was settled long ago, around 1776 in the U.S., and monarchy and autocracy clearly lost.
However, I find it interesting that you mention the examples of PRC vs. ROC and North vs. South Korea as autocracy vs. democracy. In fact, after World War II, all four of them were military dictatorships/one-party states, none of them particularly inclined towards democracy. The only difference was their alliance to either the USSR (PRC and NK) or the US (ROC and SK). This helped ROC and SK to develop their economies (still under autocratic rule) and likely contributed to their eventual transition to democracy (while keeping their economic growth).
That would seem to indicate that economic development leads to democracy, and not the other way around. I tried to make this point in my previous comments, but you did not address it. I'd like to know what you think about that.
That's not what I said. I said autocracies stagnate; wealthy democracies are the most dynamic, innovative economies, in business, technology, science, culture and everything else. That's where the Internet, web, Facebook, the startup business model, financial engineering, bitcoin, globalization, open source, rock'n'roll, hip hop, electronic dance music, personal computers and smartphones, modern 'deep learning' AI, and almost any other innovation you can name comes from. It's where science, capitalism, democracy, universal human rights, and much more came from.
I personally think any sufficiently large company in China is partially government-controlled. But does it change any of the business analysis presented here?