As often happens, I found myself last week explaining why there is such a difference between what the Rude Baguette says about the French Tech Market and “what you’ve heard elsewhere.” Over the last two years, I’ve learned that “what you’ve heard elsewhere” is usually akin to “I haven’t heard anything, therefore there must be nothing,” or, more commonly, “I’ve read one article, and it was negative, so that means there is a 100% negative attitude towards France.”
Don’t assume that what you read is proportionately representative of what is happening…
Most would agree that the Internet has put the entire world’s information at our fingertips; however the illogical conclusion that many of us have jumped to (including myself, in many cases) is that, if all information is available on the Internet (which it isn’t, once you factor in language), and the most popular information surfaces to the top (which it doesn’t, in many cases), then if I read the most popular sources extensively (which we don’t), then what I read will be proportionately representative of what’s going on.
That is, if I read “NewsSite.com” everyday, and “NewsSite.com” covers tech startups all around the world, then the number of startups they write about per country will be proportionately representative to what’s going on. Additionally, if every article I read from sources comes to the same conclusion, then it must be true – a nice bit of groupthink if I’ve ever seen one.
The problem with these assertions is that :
- NewsSite.com is written by humans, most of whom are in a physical location, speaking a specific language (usually English).
- NewsSite.com caters to groupthink – they want to validate your opinions, and they want to write about things you’re going to read.
This means that they will :
- Focus on news that is most accessible to them (i.e: English-language news, in their country)
- Have a culture-influenced bias towards news coming from certain countries
- Write about news that you want to read about, instead of news that will be of most value to you
Concretely, this means that tech blogs don’t cover non-Anglophone markets, no matter how big they are. France & Germany, for example, make up half the population of the United States, with a much better infrastructure, higher education, and a unified currency – this is why we’re launching the Rüde Pretzel – however, French & German journalists tend to write in French & German, languages that many Anglophones don’t speak, and therefore don’t have visibility to. Of course, in the startup world, we encourage all startups to release press releases in English and have English-language sites, but that doesn’t preclude VCs that I ran into at TechCrunch Disrupt from referring to Dailymotion, a $400 Million profitable company with offices opening in Asia, as “an embarrassment.” After all, yada-yada-yada- Yahoo debacle, right?
To assume that your local news source is providing you visibility into non-Anglophone markets (unless otherwise specifically stated – Arctic Startups, Venture Village, RusBase, etc.), is a mistake – they cover what they know, and they know Anglophone markets.
This applies to startups as well…
This same logic, oddly enough, has led to the offspring of many startups that leave journalists, VCs, and entrepreneurs alike wondering “did you even do a Google search to see if this exists?” The problem goes as follows: “I have this problem, so other people must as well. The solution hasn’t been presented to me, so it must not exist. Therefore I will create it.”
The idea that all solutions to current problems will fall into your lap – whether or not your news outlet tells you they will bring it to you or not – is absurd; however, a simple Google search will normally show you a list of people already working on solving the same problem. While the existence of competitors shouldn’t deter you, a company that is backed by several rounds of funding and currently spreading like wildfire (whether in your home market or not) is probably reason enough to speculate as to whether you are the best person to solve this problem.
The Internet – a gift and a curse
The ultimate problem boils down to the fact that, because we have everything at our fingertips, we assume that all of that information will naturally make its way to us. The reality is much more cruel: because we assume that we are receiving a curated amount of news from trusted sources (Google News, Reddit, etc.), we ultimately receive an ever-shrinking representation of news, as groupthink kicks in in our network. One negative opinion gets repeated so many times that it’s ultimately validated by a mirrored version of itself, like gossip spreading through an American high school.
The victims of this outbreak are more often than not non-Anglophone markets. On the one hand, you can’t blame France for reporting most of its news via French-language news outlets; on the other hand, it ultimately means that they are leaving the British to report their news in English, and hundreds of years of strained international relations weigh on a culture hard, even when the subject is seemingly non-political.
From a media side, the solution, of course, is us. A bit narcissistic, I know, but I mean ‘us’ in the general sense – the solution and responsibility falls into the laps of media outlets, to only report on subjects where they have the local expertise to justify it.
This is why Rude Baguette covers France: because we would be lying if we said we cover Europe. Sure, we delve into German & European topics occasionally – mostly in comparison to France or when the issue is international – but we focus on being the best at what we do, and upholding that responsibility. When we say we cover a topic, we do so with the knowledge that we have the local manpower to do so, not an international correspondent being fed a fraction of the news from limited sources. Our journalists are bilingual, and our opinions are informed.
From a reader side, the solution is to avoid curation, unless you’re the one doing the curating. Filters on applications like Flipboard and Feedly make only the self-validating and sensationalist stories come to the top. “Meritocratic” feeds like Hackernews & Reddit have the same defaults, as only a fraction of visitors look at the raw feed of posted news, and much of the front-page articles are being manipulated in order to get where they are.
When you go digging for what you’re looking for, you will find it. If you don’t pick up a shovel, all you’re going to get is the manure that sits on the top.