My Internet: Nicholas Thompson
The Atlantic CEO is thinking through alternative ways that social media can work.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Most weeks, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Nicholas Thompson, the CEO of The Atlantic and former Editor in Chief of Wired. (Disclosure: Kate sometimes writes for The Atlantic, where we have both worked.) Nick posts a video every day on LinkedIn, joined a group chat for runners at Davos, and once wrote a viral tweet that prompted a congratulatory email from Andy Borowitz. —Nick
Many media CEOs agree: The subscription model aligns the incentives of the publisher with the incentives of the reader.
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: The Shakira strawberry jam memes I saw this morning. [Editor’s note: Nick filled this out a few weeks ago.]
EMBEDDED: What shows up on your TikTok For You page?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: First thing I saw this morning was AI-generated art. It shows the algorithm is working!
EMBEDDED: Has your Twitter experience changed since Elon Musk took over? What would it take for you to quit?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: It’s fewer people I know. There are many more memes and videos. It’s more like TikTok. But everything is more like TikTok and I’m definitely not quitting.
EMBEDDED: Have you found any good alternatives to Twitter?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: I’m on Post and Mastodon. But mostly I’m spending time trying to think through new alternative ways that social media can work; not ways that we can recreate the functionality of Twitter.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: It’s mostly where I post pictures from parenting and my life as a runner. The other platforms are for stories and ideas.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: YouTube is phenomenal. I watch soccer highlights with my kids; how-to videos when things are broken; acoustic guitar players; and old track meets.
EMBEDDED: Have you had posts go viral? What is that experience like?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: The first tweet I ever had with over 1,000 RTs was about Mitt Romney’s election results. (I remember getting a congratulatory email from Andy Borowitz.) It was a simpler time on Twitter. Now any viral political post would come with all kinds of hostility that wasn’t there back then.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Des Linden.
EMBEDDED: Do you typically start searches on Google, Reddit, TikTok, or another source?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: I generally start on Google. But I’m beginning to use Chat.GPT more. I am also experimenting with you.com. I do think this is a moment where there could be real competition in search. One of the most interesting stories to understand this year is why Chat.GPT came out of Open.AI and not Google.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Well, The Atlantic is the best source of news in the world. I’ve also been testing a new app made by some friends, which is in beta, that’s phenomenal. More on that in the coming weeks.
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite Substack or other independent newsletters?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Besides this one? I’ll go with Stratechery by Ben Thompson.
EMBEDDED: What’s one positive media trend? What’s one negative trend?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: The trend toward subscription business models is generally a good trend. It aligns the incentives of the reader more directly with the incentives of the publisher. I do worry about the boom in affiliate revenue models (where you get a cut out of sales from products you review). I helped build that up at Wired, and we have started a very small one at The Atlantic. But it’s a revenue source that could go away any moment if Amazon decides to pull the plug. The ethics are also hard to guarantee, and I’m not certain there are good universal standards across the Web.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: I listen all the time. I listen to UpFirst from NPR or The Global News Podcast from the BBC while making breakfast for the kids. Then I listen to longer conversational podcasts—usually about tech—while I run-commute into work.
EMBEDDED: How has using LinkedIn benefitted you, if at all?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: I use it all the time and it’s been great. I post a daily video, usually about 2-3 minutes, on the “Most interesting thing in tech” and have done so for years. I’ve gotten great feedback, learned new things, met new people. It’s probably the social media platform that has benefitted me the most. I’ve tried the same format on my Facebook and TikTok pages much less successfully. If anyone wants to give me advice on how to translate it, I’d appreciate it.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Do you miss it?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Not really. And now that my oldest son is on it, I think I’ll never be able to go on.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Discord, Slack, or Facebook? What’s the most useful or entertaining one?
EMBEDDED: Do you have any predictions for cryptocurrency, the metaverse, and/or Web3?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: The metaverse, at least if we mean immersive 3D worlds, will become a real and substantial thing. We will use AR glasses that occlude and can turn into VR some years into the future. There will be great games and options. I’m skeptical though that it will become a universal platform or that we’ll traverse each of the different worlds. Maybe!
My hope for Web3 is that we start to find real use cases now that the bubble in crypto is winding down. The fast money polluted what is a truly powerful computing idea.
EMBEDDED: What most excites you about AI text and art generators? What most concerns you?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: It’s going to change writing in ways we can’t possibly anticipate right now. The history of tech is one in which, in general, new technologies come and disrupt some existing jobs, but, net-net, create new ones. There are periods of transition but things usually work out for the better. I hope that’s what will happen here.
EMBEDDED: What’s your most-used messaging app?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Signal for work. WhatsApp for coordinating my kids’ soccer schedules. iMessage for friends.
EMBEDDED: Do any of your group chats have a name that you’re willing to share?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: “Davos mountain running club”: for coordinating runs in the mountains while I was out at the World Economic Forum. Have you ever gotten a dorkier answer than that?
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Upside-down smiley face. It’s a friendly, but funny, way to respond that can mean anything from “nice” to “aw shucks.”
EMBEDDED: Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: No. And I don’t like them.
EMBEDDED: Do you pay for a music streaming service, and if so, which one? When was the last time you bought a music download or vinyl record, CD, or tape?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Spotify. I bought my nephew, who is learning saxophone, A Love Supreme on vinyl for Christmas.
EMBEDDED: Is there any content you want but can’t seem to find anywhere online?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Consistently good and informative conversations with people from all across the Internet.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
NICHOLAS THOMPSON: Every time I check Parse.ly and a lot of people are reading The Atlantic, it brings me joy.
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