How to build a better TikTok
如何打造一个更好的TikTok

开源重构 Reconstituted-书迷号 shumihao.com

“A MAINSTREAM GIANT goes countercultural.” That is how the technology press described the decision in the early 2000s by IBM, then a paragon of corporate IT, to back Linux, an obscure operating system written by a ragtag collection of activist coders. In the event, the unnatural combination wound up being a match made in computing heaven. It turned Linux into a serious rival to Microsoft’s Windows, then the dominant operating system, and justified the decentralised way that Linux had been developed. This benefited IBM and fuelled the rise of cloud computing, which is mostly powered by Linux and similar “open source” software.
“主流巨人走上反主流文化之路。”当本世纪初IBM决定支持Linux时,科技媒体做出了这样的评述。当时IBM是企业级IT服务里的模范生,而Linux则是由一群激进程序员的“乌合之众”编写的不知名操作系统。结果,这个反常的组合却成了计算产业的天作之合。它把Linux变成了当时一家独大的微软Windows操作系统的有力竞争对手,证明了Linux去中心化开发方式的合理性。它让IBM受益,也推动了云计算的兴起——云计算主要是由Linux以及与它类似的“开源”软件支撑的。

The tech industry may soon witness a similarly curious pairing. Microsoft and Oracle, a big software firm, are—along with other, less serious suitors—fighting over TikTok, a Chinese-owned short-video app. Its sale is far from assured. But if a deal were struck it too could prove momentous, this time as a chance to redefine how big online platforms are run. TikTok could become the Linux of social media—and a model for others.
科技行业可能很快又会出现一个类似的奇特组合。微软和大型软件公司甲骨文正在争夺来自中国的短视频应用TikTok(其他竞购者相对而言希望不大)。TikTok的出售前景远未明朗。但如果最终达成交易,可能同样会显现重大的意义——这一次是有机会重新定义大型网络平台的运作方式。TikTok可能会成为社交媒体界的Linux,并成为其他公司的模板。

The current debate over platform governance centres on two options, neither of them appealing. Governments tell firms what to do (in part already the case in Germany). Or firms can regulate themselves (as happens in most other places, including America). In a recent paper Dipayan Ghosh and Josh Simons of Harvard University propose a third way, more fitting for what the authors call “algorithmic infrastructure”—utilities for the digital public square. Governments should set a broad framework and let platforms experiment within it, the authors suggest.
目前围绕平台治理的争论聚焦两种方案,但两者都不甚理想。要么由政府指挥企业做什么(德国在一定程度上已经如此),要么让公司自我规范(包括美国在内的大多数其他地方是这样)。哈佛大学的迪帕严·高希(Dipayan Ghosh)和乔什·西蒙斯(Josh Simons)在近期发表的一篇论文中提出了第三种方案,更适用于他们所说的“算法基础设施”也就是数字公众广场中的公用事业。两位作者认为,政府应该建立一个宽泛的框架,允许平台在框架内试验。

TikTok could become just such an experiment. It is a young service unburdened by an ingrained business model or governance structure. ByteDance, its Chinese owner, has barely begun building these for the American market. None of TikTok’s wooers, including Oracle and Microsoft, has much experience running a social-media platform. So each could try something new as TikTok takes on social media’s incumbents, notably Facebook and Google.
TikTok或许恰巧可以成为这样一个试验。作为一个年轻的服务平台,它不受什么根深蒂固的商业模式或治理结构的拖累。它的中国母公司字节跳动才刚刚开始为美国市场建立这些东西。包括甲骨文和微软在内的TikTok的竞购者都没有多少运营社交媒体平台的经验。因此它们在TikTok挑战以Facebook和谷歌为代表的社交媒体霸主时,都可能尝试一些新鲜的打法。

Start with the business model. Social-media firms make almost all their money from advertising. This pushes them to collect as much user data as possible, the better to target ads. Critics call this “surveillance capitalism”. It also gives them every reason to make their services as addictive as possible, so users watch more ads.
先说商业模式。社交媒体公司的收入几乎全部来自广告。这促使它们尽可能多地收集用户数据,从而更好地定向投放广告。批评者称之为“监视资本主义”。同样因为这种商业模式,它们也会想方设法地让用户上瘾,以求让他们观看更多广告。

The new owner is unlikely to do away with advertising in favour of subscriptions; teenagers are notoriously unwilling to pay for online content. But the new TikTok could offer an ad-free version for those who prefer to pay with cash rather than attention. It could also consider other revenue sources, for example taking a cut from enabling seamless sales of something users see in a clip or charging professional influencers once they have reached a certain prominence (1m followers should be worth at least $100 a month to TikTok stars). As for ads, TikTok could target only broad categories of users instead of individuals, much as firms once bought ads in newspapers. Advertisers, who love microtargeting, need not necessarily object, so long as TikTok remains popular with its coveted young demographic group.
TikTok易主后不太可能为了订阅而放弃广告:众所周知,青少年极其抗拒为线上内容付费。但是新的TikTok可以提供一个无广告版本,迎合那些宁愿花点钱而不看广告的用户。它也可以考虑其他收入来源,例如让用户无缝购买在短片中看到的商品,然后从中抽成,或者在专业播主达到一定的知名度后向其收费(对于TikTok网红来说,一百万粉丝至少值得每月支付100美元)。至于广告,TikTok可以面向广泛的用户类型投放,而不是针对个人定向投放,就像当年企业在报纸上刊登广告那样。虽然广告主喜欢精准定向投放,但只要TikTok在其觊觎的年轻群体中仍然大受欢迎,它们未必会反对。

Respectful management of data offers another business opportunity. TikTok could give users more control, telling them how much their data are worth and managing information on their behalf, as a data trust of sorts. Other firms could tap your TikTok “data account” if you agree and they pay—a model pioneered by startups like digi.me and CitizenMe, which pocket a share of the proceeds from the data deals.
尊重用户的数据管理方式也带来了另一个商机。TikTok可以赋予用户更大的控制权,让他们知道自己的数据的价值,并代表他们管理这些信息,类似某种数据信托。如果你同意,其他公司可以付费使用你的TikTok“数据账户”——这种模式由digi.me和CitizenMe等创业公司首创,它们从这类数据交易中获得收益分成。

Perhaps most important, the new owner could turn TikTok from a social-media service to a digital commonwealth, governed by a set of rules akin to a constitution with its own checks and balances. User councils (a legislature, if you will) could have a say in writing guidelines for content moderation. Management (the executive branch) would be obliged to follow due process. And people who felt their posts had been wrongfully taken down could appeal to an independent arbiter (the judiciary). Facebook has toyed with platform constitutionalism: it once let users vote on privacy changes (mostly as a PR stunt) and now has an “oversight board” to hear user appeals (a more serious effort). But the social network introduced these only in response to mounting criticisms. Drafting rules at the outset might make them more credible.
也许最重要的是,TikTok的新东家有可能把它从一个社交媒体服务转变成一个数字共和国,遵循一套类似公约的规则,并有自己的制衡机制。用户委员会(你可以把它看作立法机构)在制定内容审核准则方面有发言权。公司管理层(行政机构)必须遵照正当程序。而那些觉得自己被不当删帖的用户可以向独立的仲裁部门(司法机构)申诉。Facebook也尝试了一些平台公约:它曾经让用户就隐私政策的修订投票(更多是个公关噱头),现在设立了一个“监督委员会”来听取用户申诉(这是更认真的一步)。但这个社交网络只是为了回应日益增多的批评而推出了这些举措。从一开始就设定规则可能会让规则更可信可靠。

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Why would any company limit itself this way? For one thing, it is what some firms say they want. Microsoft in particular claims to be a responsible tech giant. In January its chief executive, Satya Nadella, told fellow plutocrats in Davos about the need for “data dignity”—ie, granting users more control over their data and a bigger share of the value these data create. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, last year wrote a book in which he argued that technology firms “must accept greater responsibility for the future”.
为什么会有公司这样去自我设限?首先,是一些企业声称自己想要这么做。特别是微软,它自称是一个负责任的科技巨头。今年1月,微软的首席执行官萨提亚·纳德拉(Satya Nadella)在大咖云集的达沃斯论坛上指出“数据尊严”的必要性,也就是要让用户对自己的数据拥有更多控制权,从这些数据创造的价值中分得更大的份额。微软的总裁布拉德·史密斯(Brad Smith)去年写了一本书,主张科技公司“必须对未来承担更大责任”。

Governments increasingly concur. In its Digital Services Act, to be unveiled later this year, the European Union is likely to demand transparency and due process from social-media platforms. In America, ideas for making them more accountable appear on both sides of the partisan divide. “Citizens who are using these platforms every day should have a say in what content is acceptable,” says Johnnie Moore, an evangelical leader who has the ear of President Donald Trump. Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate, has launched a campaign to get online firms to pay users a “digital dividend”. Getting ahead of such ideas makes more sense than re-engineering platforms later to comply.
各地政府也日益认同这一点。在将于今年晚些时候发布的《数字服务法》(Digital Services Act)中,欧盟很可能会要求社交媒体平台保证透明度和正当程序。在美国,民主共和两党都有更多地向这些平台问责的想法。“那些每天都在使用这些平台的公民应该有发言权来决定什么内容是可接受的。” 特朗普的非官方顾问、福音派领袖约翰尼·摩尔(Johnnie Moore)表示。前民主党总统参选人杨安泽发起了一项运动,要求互联网公司向用户支付“数字红利”。与其日后改造平台来迎合这种思潮,还不如提前部署。

Today’s social-media titans will resist change. But they may reconsider, as Microsoft did with Linux. Mr Nadella’s predecessor, Steve Ballmer, once called open-source software “a cancer”. Today, Microsoft is one of the biggest users of and contributors to such projects. Surreal as it sounds, 20 years from now Facebook and Google may have reconstituted themselves for the better, too.■
今天的社交媒体巨头会抵制变革。但它们也可能改变主意,就像微软当年对Linux那样。纳德拉的前任史蒂夫·鲍尔默(Steve Ballmer)曾说开源软件是“癌症”。如今,微软已成为开源项目最大的使用者和参与者之一。现在这么说或许难以置信,但20年后Facebook和谷歌可能也已自我重构,焕发新生。