Media analysis Society Technology

The Queen’s Gambit isn’t just bad. It is proof that Netflix has made us stupid.

You will be extremely hard-pressed to find a negative review of “The Queen’s Gambit”, a Netflix series about a chess prodigy. So let me do my best.

We are living in a cinema-free pandemic period with limited choices. Important major international releases are frozen, production of new ones restricted seriously. Netflix can sit at a table with the producers of the new 007 and ask for it at a ridiculously low price because it is going stale and they don’t have many options. So let me start another way around. How did I hear about the Queen’s Gambit?

It was on Netflix’s reccomendations. We all know that it is a bad reccomendation engine but what other options do we have? Check it out on IMDB? That is getting worse every day as Amazon hasn’t spent time improving it in ages. First reviews? Always gloating for any old crap. So we take the bait, the Netflix promo on Netflix makes it look better than others, you see the first episode and then, well, the rest, because you are on the binge machine that is Netflix. Worse still, friends and family are also stuck in the same rut so we are not even cross checking. The Emperor has no clothes but, meh, let’s wait till the parade is over before saying it. And when you have invested eight hours on the parade of the mini series you are highly unlikely to admit it was wasted on mediocrity.

I will go further than that. The Queen’s Gambit is downright insulting and dangerous. Take for example the topic of substance abuse. The way it is presented we are left with the impression that it is a) easy to control b) useful for chess playing and c) with no long term consequences. Or maybe let’s see how the series portrays a woman entering a male-dominated realm: a) everything is polite b) nothing particularly nasty happens to her and c) grandmasters lose to her and immediately offer to help train her for her next challenge. This level of lying is insulting to millions of women of that era and even today. Women’s rights organizations should be an uproar.

In fact all the topics touched by this series are done in such a superficial way that it is problematic. Take the scene where she visits a hippy house to enjoy marijuana for example. It is the cleanest and least messy den ever shown on television to represent a hippy household. My daughter didn’t even understand the point of the scene as our heroine hoovered and tidied the place after a one night stand , also confusingly presented. This isn’t political correctness, it isn’t the opposite. It is just terrible movie-making that fails to really touch the audience in any meaningful way.

The Queen’s Gambit is an insult to so many great chess movies, so many true chess stories, to the heroes that battled hate in the Cold War. It isn’t just bad TV, it has a negative impact. People won’t start playing chess because of it, they will start pretending to play chess for a while maybe.

So my movie review would be like this: “If you are really bored with the pandemic in lockdown and have no access to anything else other than Netflix, if you want to mindlessly waste 8 hours of your life without learning anything of consequence, don’t miss it!”

The serious social and technological problem remains: how will we fix recommendation engines? If we introduce a social aspect to them, can we as a society, ensure we hold ourselves up to any level of intelligent critique? Or do we just want to have fun? Well the Queen’s Gambit is not even fun.

Business Communication Marketing Media analysis Technology

In praise of fake profiles

If you are in sales or marketing and above 25 years of age, you are probably wrong.  The assumptions you base your decisions on are severely limited.  We often thank our kids for ideas, for keeping us “in touch”, but it is much much more complicated a matter.  And extremely important.   I have hundreds of fake profiles.   Not sure if “fake” is the correct term.  I pretend to be someone I am not as a form of market research.  In fact it is often the first thing I do when presented with a new project.

It starts with a fake Google account.  This is vital.  Search results are personalized.  You will never get it all perfect, but if you at least persuade it that you live wherever you are researching and then make sure you do Google searches logged in from this fake Google profile, the world you are seeing will be a little more like your target.  Sign up for whatever products and services you are looking for from this signed in Chrome browser.    You have to try and live the part.

With Facebook things are even more dangerous.  That person in marketing you think is “up to speed with all this new stuff”, well, just isn’t.   If I have a really successful Instagram account, or a very active personal Facebook profile I only see what that particular profile’s take on the world is.   Some days I might whiz through multiple profiles to check up on them, just housekeeping.  Hard to describe just how different it feels to be in each newsfeed.  Some are simply based in different locations, with friends from a particular island or city.  Age differences are even more stunning.  The same political event which fills your friends’ timelines when you are 50, doesn’t even appear when you are 16.

It isn’t fashionable anymore, but I always make sure my fake people have a website, blog or other public trove of information on whatever topic I am researching.   This gives me unique insights into what people are looking for.   It is the “honeypot” approach.  In content marketing it is easier to just start testing ideas like this.  And when the first organic google searches land my way, it is like Christmas day!  Somebody wrote what they wanted to know in Google and came to me, fake me, this particular person.  Why?  How?  What cyberspace hole did I fill with what I just did?

If anything, building a fake profile is a humbling experience.  Because you realize just how complex a web social beings like humans create.  We earn trust.  Slowly.   A “follow” by a 13 year old is a very, very, very different action to a “follow” by a 60 year old.  He then posts what he just had for breakfast without thinking about it, while the senior citizen is carefully crafting a comment as if he is writing to the Economist.

Marketing people are often fooled by their own brand.  In the case of social media they are also sidetracked by their personal profiles and habits.  These are extremely dynamic, immature new mediums, still jostling for position, changing architecture and interfaces.   There is no agreed way to assess them, no specific assigned meaning to what we all do with them.  So get off your high horse and mingle with the natives.

Media analysis

Greece vs Greek: a wor(l)d of difference

Looking at the volume of web searches (Google data) for the two words, there a number of interesting things to note:

Global volume of web searches by word

The glaring conclusion is that “Hellas” (the proper name for the region) is hardly used.   Also “Greeks” are seldom requested as people.   There is a seasonality.   Searches drop off in July and August, possibly as many expatriot Greeks return to the homeland and stop searching for it online.  (A smaller, similar drop occurs in December.)   The most interesting thing to note about this (randomized) data from Google is that the two words do not actually always follow each other closely in their trends.   It starts making sense if we see


what words are associated with each:

1.ancient greece
4.athens greece
5.greece map
6.greece weather
8.greece holidays
35 of greece
10.greece travel


Greece is about travel, Athens and holidays.   Whereas “Greek” is about yoghurt, salad and all things Greek like:

1.the greek
2.greek movies
3.greek mythology
5.greek gods
6.greek subs
7.ancient greek
8.greek god
10.greek alphabet

“Greek” is used as a common tag for online activities for Greeks all over the world.  This becomes more evident when we see the common searches around “Greek” and focus only on the region of Greece:

“Greek-style” yogurts are similar to Greek strained yogurt, but may be thickened with thickening agents, or if made the traditional way, are based on domestic (rather than Greek) milk.



1.greek subs
3.greek movies
4.greek subtitles
6.greek torrent
7.greek tv
9.greek movie
10.greek video


In fact there are great regional variations to the search.   In the US for example “Greek” is closely associated to Greek ancient history and Greek products.  (And thanks to New Yorkers especially – obviously more concerned with the quality of their food!)

Web searches (US only)

Notice the difference in seasonality as the blue line (searches for “Greece”) is relatively stable.   In the UK, the picture is almost the exact opposite!