Longreads + Open Thread

Tim Horton's, Gamers, Little Frog, Land, Privacy, Billionaires


  • From Marketing BS, an interview with the head of retail and CPG marketing for Tim Horton's. I was not aware until reading this piece just how dominant the company is in Canada; the company has 50% share of fast food locations in Canada. This makes every CPG decision fraught: there's a huge opportunity to either cannibalize restaurant sales or to somehow annoy customers. This is a good look at how marketers operate in those circumstances.

  • Why Are Gamers So Much Better Than Scientists at Catching Fraud?” I've argued before that buggy games are a leading indicator of changes in average software quality; gamers like finding exploits, and exploits are a variety of bug, so they end up uncovering quality issues fast. But there's also a cultural difference: gamers seem to expect higher quality software. The fact that games are not a means to an end, but are the end itself, makes gamers more sensitive to quality issues than many other software users—and, in the case highlighted in the article, much more aware of fraud.

  • A profile of Żabka, or "little frog," a ubiquitous convenience store in Poland. Partly a tale of scale and execution, partly one about shifting norms, and partly a story about regulatory arbitrage. (Via Ben Sixsmith.)

  • Philo of MD&A has thoughts on land, particularly the extreme value differences between urban and rural real estate, and what drives them.

  • Can ad privacy be reimagined by keeping data under the control of users, while still using it to target ads? This approach does seem to push out the efficient frontier of the targeting versus privacy tradeoff. It will be interesting to see what regulators think: it accomplishes some of their end goals, but also gives them less to do.

  • Applied Divinity Studies bites the bullet: you should become a billionaire. This is a fun piece, which is enjoyable at several different levels of seriousness. As a general observation, the goals people seem most disinclined to pursue are the ones that are logically possible but face long odds and require significant sacrifices along the way; we are very good at manufacturing excuses that these aims are immoral, not as fun as they look, actually impossible, etc. It's good to counteract this bias by picking one and actually trying to do it.


  • A Great Leap Forward: this book combines careful econometric analysis and some compelling anecdotes to argue that the Great Depression was a period of unusually rapid productivity growth, and that many of the obvious explanations (less productive workers getting laid off, defense spending late in the period) don't explain this. Worth reading not just to contextualize the mid-century productivity boom but to get a better understanding of all the complexities of measuring contributions to economic growth over time.

Open Thread

  • Drop in any links of interest to Diff readers, including things you wrote.

  • Some economic trends have a surprisingly long duration. Railroads, electrification, and computers all seem to have peaked in impact decades after they were first used. (Genomics, which I wrote about in yesterday's issue, may also qualify.) What are some other technologies—tangible products or organizational structures—that at still early in their deployment phase?