ChatGPT Ate My Website
OpenAI's new "plugins" point to a new chat-driven architecture for the internet. Why you should think more about media formats. Plus, the best doc this year.
Welcome to People vs Algorithms #62.
I look for patterns in media, business and culture. My POV is informed by 30 years of leadership in media and advertising businesses.
Sometimes it’s nice to read in the browser.
An uncertain future
This week we got another signal as to why ChatGPT is so disruptive to media and everything we've come to understand as the modern internet. The announcement seemed innocent enough, the introduction of OpenAI's new plugin framework. Plugins? Sounds benign. But the concept is consequential, perhaps the most important signal in six months of dizzying AI news.
ChapGPT seeks to rearrange the interface of the internet. Plugins show what it might look like.
Plugins layer proprietary data sets and functionality on top of the core ChatGPT engine; the chat experience is enhanced with all the applications that make the web useful. From the announcement:
Though not a perfect analogy, plugins can be “eyes and ears” for language models, giving them access to information that is too recent, too personal, or too specific to be included in the training data. In response to a user’s explicit request, plugins can also enable language models to perform safe, constrained actions on their behalf, increasing the usefulness of the system overall.
Just a few weeks ago, OpenAI released a set of API’s to power all manner of third party application workflows, setting off a flurry of innovation. Plugins will build on this in momentum in a different way. In a sense, plugins are the mirror image of an API. API's push AI functionality into distributed environments, plugins pull datasets and functionality into the ChatGPT vortex.
Think of them as a website stripped of form. Expedia is a website that helps you book flights. As a plugin, Expedia brings travel booking to chat. Today's Wikipedia-like ChatGPT experience develops important new utility, and soon, personalized real time answers to useful commands like "Book me a cheap flight to Miami this weekend with a decent dog-friendly hotel on the beach.”
Expedia is reborn as an appendage of ChatGPT. The change amounts to a fundamental reordering of things, a power shift to OpenAI or any owner of a AI engine and the underlying compute that powers it. It’s a pretty big deal.
OpenAI is effectively redefining the compute experience around a new interface concept and web operating model. Consumers will move eventually, compelled by the convenience of a new AI assisted experience. Companies will move in lock step, threatened by a weakening web distribution paradigm. OpenAI (and a few others) will benefit from network effects as the world shifts to experience the internet around their new generative capability. New applications will feed their AI brain. As it gets smarter, power concentrates around this small group of companies with capital and compute scale to keep innovating generative capability. The Google threat is real and it’s not just from Bing.
Early plugin partnerships include Expedia, Klarna, Opentable, Instacart, WolframAlpha; functional applications with datasets that add immediate utility to chat experience (demo here). Zapier, another partner, allows you to connect 5,000+ apps (like Google Sheets, Gmail, or Slack) and interact with them directly inside ChatGPT.
Perhaps more disconcerting to media types is the browsing integration prototype that automates the retrieval and summarization of content from the web inside the chat window leveraging Bing search. Now you ChatGPT journey can be completely up-to-date, summoning real time content results directly to the chat interface without tiresome browsing or pesky advertising.
Analogies can be made to the mobile app ecosystem like Apple’s App Store. App's delivered a better experience because the code was closer to the metal of the machine, the experience could tap native features of the phone like camera and maps, plus complex application experiences could exploit a more powerful and intuitive UX framework. Things got better for the consumer, but harder for companies that had to develop for an entirely new environment. Apple and to a lesser extent Google / Android exploited the position to set the rules and establish an entirely new tollbooth, this one around 30% of revenue generated from an app. What's more, developers now had to play by platform rules, subject to the restrictions of a slow-moving gatekeeper who wanted to control the mobile user experience.
The App Store was good for Apple. It was good for dominant ad led social media companies who could invest and leverage native capabilities. It was not great for all but a few media companies.
The plugin structure will enhance consumer chat value proposition immediately. Undoing years of search-to-web behavior will take time. Growth of the old web will slow as the change unfolds.
Naturally, everyone on the planet with a website and digital business will clamor to be part of the plugin program. ChatGPT becomes a new gatekeeper, like the App Store. The fundamental architecture of the web begins a shift from Google down to ChatGPT up.
None of the messy IP, rev share or advertising consequences associated with controlling a new distribution choke point have been near fully contemplated, including Section 230 which will not protect platforms from liability like it did with search and social platforms
The change will complicate valuation models for digital businesses dependent on Google traffic to feed a web or app model. It’s just getting too hard to predict the trajectory of existing models three to five years out.
Seems to me anyone with a digital business should be paying very close attention. The consequences of the next change are as broad and deep as the internet.
(In even more fascinating news, OpenAI put $23M into humanoid robot company, 1X. This plugin model is gonna take a bit longer.)
ON THE PODCAST
The building blocks of media
Let's say someone gave you a check for a few million dollars to start a media company. What would you do with it? I mean, setting aside your personal predilections as a media person. Assume, of course, that you had an unmet audience need in mind. What media types and platforms would you prioritize? What kind of talent would you recruit? Who would pay to you to do it? Importantly, how would you bring in all together in your very own media format and how might this make you unique?
This week on the People vs Algorithms podcast we dig into formats. Format thinking is more important that ever. It’s just harder to stand out now. At best they become a recipe for differentiation, a core building block of a media brand.
Format importance might be dismissed in the publishing world as temporary schtick. Axios would disagree and sees their bullet-driven Smart Brevity as central to their mission. Semafor has attempted to carve out their own format style too with the "Semaform." At best the become synonymous with the brand and central to an organization's creative process, like how the tight, byline-free, well researched, authoritative edit of the Economist defined its editorial approach and encompasses everything we understand about the brand.
In the video world formats are everything, the essence of the creative offering, a competition show, a sitcom, a doc, and a specific unique take on each.
Defined too broadly, the format is just the style in which you make media. But when we find a visible formula that runs through the entire business, they can unify and distinguish.
The best formats align with the business model that supports them. One could see the NFL as the ultimate commercial friendly format, a game custom made for incessant and lucrative commercial breaks.
The flip side of the insane pace of change in media, are endless opportunities for format innovation. Today you can make and distribute pretty much anything you want. AI is adding an entirely new dimension to the format game, like deep fakes of ex-presidents shit talking while playing video games.
After TikTok CEO Shou Chew's uneven performance this week in front of congress, the fate of media's most innovative format breeding ground is uncertain. No platform has teased more format creativity from more people than TikTok. Here everybody is a format auteur. Creation tools drive innovation. Duets are a simple example, giving everybody a way to create side-by-side with a video from another creator on the platform, birthing a new class of content and cultural interaction. Much of this is fleeting self expression, akin to the next photo or AR filter. But, look closely and you will find the seeds of the next mass entertainment phenomenon or maybe just a new derelict self-help companion.
Have a great weekend…/ Troy
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
An extraordinarily moving documentary that intertwines artist Nan Goldin’s dark personal history, her emergence in the 1980’s art world with her fierce campaign to tear down the Sackler family’s art world legacy. Highly recommended.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a 2022 American documentary film which explores the career of Nan Goldin and the fall of the Sackler family. The film is produced, co-edited and directed by Laura Poitras. Poitras said, "Nan's art and vision has inspired my work for years, and has influenced generations of filmmakers."
The film premiered on September 3, 2022, at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, where it was awarded the Golden Lion, making it the second documentary (following Sacro GRA in 2013) to win the top prize at Venice. It also screened at the 2022 New York Film Festival, where it was the festival's centerpiece film and for which Goldin designed two official posters. The film was released in cinemas by Neon on November 23, 2022. It received acclaim from critics and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 95th Academy Awards.