“If this isn’t every flipped house, then I don’t know what it is. Look at that kitchen,” Bryan Stanley says to the camera as he pans it around a newly renovated home kitchen. “The gray kind weathered kind of vinyl flooring, white subway tile….” He trails off, heading toward the sink. “Just the most basic granite or quartz, whatever the heck countertops those are. And dishwasher…” he starts to wiggle the dishwasher. “Not installed.” Indeed, it isn’t. He heads across the room to open a white cupboard and gently scratches the corner near the chrome knob. “Cheap cabinets. This is every time.”
It’s an incredibly satisfying roast of a hyper-specific thing that you may have never noticed, but once you do, you’ll see everywhere (that kitchen IS ubiquitous) that pits us (people who believe we have good taste) against them (bad, greedy flippers). This is what TikTok is perfect for, and of course, the video went viral.
Stanley does not do viral dances or comedy or any of the things TikTok stars are known for. He’s a 35-year-old home inspector in Kansas City, Missouri, who typically wears khakis and a collared work shirt with his company logo on it. He started posting videos of his home inspections last year. He’s been shocked by not only how many people want to watch his videos, but also seen how they have drummed up his business. He’s gotten several clients who reached out over TikTok, something that has never happened on Facebook or Instagram. “On Instagram, people don’t want your stock photos, or your vague ‘let me help you if you’re in the market’ messaging,” he told BuzzFeed News. “TikTok shows a person and a personality more than Instagram would for this kind of content.”
Across TikTok, content about real estate — tours of beautiful homes, roasting of McMansions, home inspectors, real estate agents, mortgage advice, DIY how-tos — is flourishing.
One reason for the explosion of this content is a pandemic-related surge even among people who aren’t anywhere close to buying a house. As people are trapped inside their homes, they’re compelled to both the escapism of browsing Zillow and the desire to fix up their current surroundings.
Another is that millennials are now on TikTok, and they’re buying homes. One of those slightly older people who fell into Real Estate TikTok is Cynthia Guerrero. “My husband and I became obsessed during the pandemic,” she told BuzzFeed News. “We had nothing to do so we downloaded TikTok. We watch TikToks together before going to bed.” While she loved watching HGTV and had had Zillow on her phone to browse for a long time, she wasn’t actively looking to buy a house. Then she saw a house tour of a newly constructed home in Forney, Texas, posted by a local real estate agent, and she fell in love. Her family will be moving in in April.
This isn’t even the only house that the agent, Joseph Felling, has sold over TikTok. Nicholas Pierce and his wife closed this month on a house outside of Dallas they bought with Felling after seeing a similar model home on his account.
In addition to those two homes he’s closed on, he has about 20 to 25 new clients that came over the app. “How did I get into TikTok? COVID times,” Felling told BuzzFeed News. “You’re sitting on the couch, listening to this whole thing about Trump is going to take it down, and I wanted to check it out. I started scrolling and said, Wow, there’s something there.”
Felling’s videos are typically tours of moderately priced but attractive homes in the Dallas–Fort Worth suburbs with a caption like “This is what $350,990 will get you in Allen, TX” (residents of large expensive cities should be advised to view these with a trigger warning).
Viet Shelton, a spokesperson for Zillow said that this spring, the real estate app saw traffic on its site and app surge 50% more than last year. “Everyone’s looking for a little escapism and to daydream, and Zillowsurfng is a fun and easy outlet for that,” Shelton told BuzzFeed News.
“Most people with generation wealth built it with real estate. As a Black woman, I see that there’s a huge gap in generational wealth”
The median age for a first time home buyer is 32, and according to app analyst SensorTower, about a third of TikTok users are 30 and older – it’s no longer just for teens. And improbably, home buying has surged during the pandemic, partly driven by low mortgage rates and new flexibility to work remotely. “We’re seeing lots of people using digital tools instead to shop for a home, and while it may be surprising that TikTok users are home shopping, if you look at who is buying a home, it makes sense,” said Shelton.
However, there isn’t exactly a deluge of realtors on the app yet. “In the spring of 2020, Realtors® were surveyed and only 2% were using TikTok professionally and 6% for personal use” said Jessica Lautz, National Association of Realtors vice president of demographics and behavioral insights. “However, it is likely these shares have grown since the use of all forms of technology in real estate has increased exponentially during the pandemic.”
It’s not just home tours that go viral.
Quen Williams is a real estate agent in Austin, TX who has gained over 300,000 followers in just a few months. Williams posts videos of herself talking directly to the camera, giving solid financial advice on steps to buying a home: how to get a mortgage, how much to put as a down payment, how to build credit, and how to pick an agent.
Williams told BuzzFeed News that while she sees people around her age (she’s 32) engaging with her videos the most, she also sees “younger people who have no idea what I’m talking about, but they’re like, ‘I don’t know what credit is, but I’m going to get my credit together and follow what you say!’” She sees it as a personal mission to teach financial literacy to younger people. “This stuff should be taught to us. I shouldn’t have had to wait until I was 30 years old to learn about mortgages and finances when I went into the real estate world,” she said.
“I wish I was lying when I told you the staircase was dead fucking center in the front of this house.”
“My ultimate goal is for people to have financial wealth and freedom and build generational wealth,” she said. “Most people with generation wealth built it with real estate. As a Black woman, I see that there’s a huge gap in generational wealth between white households and Black households, and the biggest difference in that is homeownership. I want everyone to know it is attainable.”
The pandemic has made Zillow surfing a perfect way to pass the time at home. With many jobs temporarily or permanently remote, young people in cramped apartments in expensive cities have started dreamily searching in faraway areas where a large house seems affordable. But the pleasure of scrolling through photos of beautiful houses has a flip side: the pleasure of harshly judging the garish interiors and poor design choices.
Eric Morris, 23, who declined to give his last name and goes by @cyberexboyfriend has a popular series he calls “Roasting McMansions on Zillow” on TikTok. “Ever just not plan out your architectural design so badly you have to put two support beams right next to each other?” he writes, as he points out two oddly placed beams in the living room. In another video about the bathroom of a $5 million home, he impunes the “Elmer’s glued-on-ass stone” of the living room wall and says, “I wish I was lying when I told you the staircase was dead fucking center in the front of this house.”
A woman who goes by @leighinnyc critiques the opulent mansions listed for sale by women of the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo. A five-part series titled “Reasons I Love Teresa Giudice’s Home” points out the absurd elements (windows that don’t match, a wrought iron gate to the kitchen, cabinets that don’t line up). The person behind it seems to have a professional knowledge of architecture, even though one certainly doesn’t need a degree to note that the house is tacky.
“I think people like watching [these] because it’s one of the few counterpoints to the HGTV zeitgeist,” Eric told BuzzFeed News. “Even on TikTok or YouTube, there’s one type of person and taste who dominates the culture in interior design. Like McMansion Hell before it, it mostly comes from a place of love and just helping people understand the rules before they break them or like why something looks cheap to others.”
Fuse Box TikTok exists, and it’s lit.
Part of the desire to see some home that’s terrible, be it a North Jersey reality show nightmare or Zillow shitteau drives the joy of the home inspector TikToks. Another home inspector, who goes by “Inspector AJ,’” notices that people enjoy watching videos of fucked-up houses with weird bad things that don’t pass inspection. In one with over a million views, AJ points out how the wrong kind of screws were used to install a cabinet. This is no Renegade dance, it’s not particularly funny, and it’s not based on a meme. It lacks most of the things that would normally make a TikTok video go viral — yet the comments are full of people who say they’ve had similar experiences with faulty cabinet screws or lamenting that their own home inspector wasn’t as thorough as AJ.
AJ has received dozens of messages from people who want to know how to become a home inspector after seeing him do it. AJ is excited by this. “The field is dominated by single white older men over 45, but it doesn’t have to be,” he told BuzzFeed News. “We’re getting a lot of female applicants under 30 who are applying for their license, and it’s exciting to see that change.”
Interest in craftsmanship and the less glamorous side of home DIY is also flourishing on TikTok. There’s more than one account that posts quality electrician work. One of these is a faceless electrician who posts videos set to popular songs of fuse boxes he’s installed, with special attention to his tidy work in arranging the cords. Yes, Fuse Box TikTok exists, and it’s lit. (Sorry.)
Hector Eduardo, a 31-year-old who documents his renovations of a 1920s house on @thegrovehousesocal, has had viral videos where he criticizes other popular DIY projects. One of these was talking about how bad an idea doing an epoxy finish on a countertop was — essentially painting faux-marble onto a kitchen counter (it isn’t food-safe, according to Eduardo). His audience loves watching the debunks of design trends, although “I’ve gotten some backlash because I shat on wood floors,” Eduardo told BuzzFeed News (he means figuratively shat, not literally).
None of the real estate TikTokers I spoke with aspired for social media success before TikTok. Compared to the aspirational home design and DIY images on Pinterest and Instagram, or the semi-staged renovations on HGTV, TikTok prioritizes more of a “real” version of how homes look — ugly cabinets, faulty wiring, leaky roofs, and all. And it turns out, this is just as compelling to watch.
US attacks Australia’s ‘extraordinary’ plan to make Google and Facebook pay for news | Media
The United States has urged the Australian government to ditch draft media laws that would force tech giants Google and Facebook to pay news organisations for sharing their content.
The US, in a submission to an Australian parliamentary inquiry, has said that the proposed legislation is unreasonable, impractical, “fundamentally imbalanced” and could run counter to the US-Australia free trade agreement.
The media laws would impose a mandatory code of conduct on digital platforms which would allow for both individual and collective bargaining by Australian media companies to determine payment for displaying news content in Google Search and on Facebook.
It also allows for an arbiter to have the final say if news companies and the US tech giants can’t agree on a fair price and it requires the latter to provide media outlets with 14 days advance notice of algorithmic changes that would affect their business.
The laws were tabled in parliament in December and are currently before a Senate committee. In a submission to that committee, the office of the US trade representative said the proposed world-first laws “may result in harmful outcomes”.
It called on the Australian government to shelve the proposal, arguing that directly intervening in the market to distribute advertising revenue was “extraordinary” and “a significant step that needs to be carefully thought through and justified”.
“In the view of the United States, it would be preferable to pursue additional market study and consultation to identify a specific market failure that might be addressed first though a voluntary code, and if demonstrably ineffective, through Australia’s regulatory rule-making process where stakeholders can participate by weighing in on options and providing evidence in support of or opposition to specific proposals,” the submission states.
“We respectfully request that Australia reconsider whether legislation is needed.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was initially asked to develop a voluntary code but the federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, requested in April 2020 that it instead pursue a mandatory code following a sharp dive in advertising revenue and the closure of several regional newspapers in April.
The mandatory code has broad support from the news industry in Australia including from Guardian Australia.
The US made the same points in an earlier submission to the ACCC when the mandatory code was first announced.
The submission to the Senate inquiry by the assistant trade representative for services and investment, Daniel Bahar, and the assistant trade representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Karl Ehlers, said that while some changes had been made to the proposed legislation it “does not substantially address key US concerns”.
The US is concerned the draft code grants the responsible minister broad discretion to nominate a tech company as being subject to “a highly prescriptive, burdensome code without having first established a violation of existing Australian law or a market failure”. The submission states the legislation is “designed to exclusively target (as an initial matter) two US companies”.
It also said the process for determining compensation for news companies was “fundamentally imbalanced” in favour of media outlets to the point of “preferential treatment” because it requires the arbiter to take into account the cost of news production and its value to the digital platform – but not the cost of running and hosting content on a digital platform and the value that gives to the news company.
The submission said the US government “urges Australia” to consider whether allowing an arbitrator to mandate remuneration would allow full compliance with article 20.5 of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement which “requires Australia and the United States to provide for appeals against administrative or bureaucratic decisions”.
The US said it was “inappropriate” for the draft code to allow for collective bargaining, a measure introduced to allow smaller media players to band together, saying it was “a departure from broadly accepted competition principles”.
It said provisions that effectively prevent Google and Facebook from circumventing the bargaining process by displaying content from aggregating news sites was “disproportionately punitive”. At best, it said, that measure should only apply to Australian media companies.
“If the price of withdrawing from the Australian domestic news market is essentially a requirement to forgo making any news-related content available in Australia, that price appears both unreasonable and impractical,” the submission said.
It said the requirement for tech companies to compensate Australian news companies for coverage – including coverage of international news – while foreign media companies offering the same news would not be compensated “could raise concerns with respect to Australia’s international trade obligations”
The requirement that tech companies provide data on users accessing news content and advance notice of changes to proprietary algorithms could also be in breach of the Australia-US free trade agreement, the submission stated. “Given the United States’ significant outstanding concerns, we urge Australia not to rush the passage of this legislative proposal.”
Submissions to the Senate committee closed on Monday. It will hold its first hearing on Friday.
Google denies claim of anticompetitive agreement with Facebook
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai gestures during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 22, 2020.
(Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Google on Sunday disputed claims from a group of attorneys general, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, that its ad-buying arrangement with Facebook was anticompetitive.
In a blog post, Google’s director of economic policy Adam Cohen called the lawsuit from 10 Republican-led states “misleading.” The statement is Google’s most extensive response yet to the lawsuit, which is also the only one to name Facebook as a “co-conspirator.” The company faces two other complaints from a bipartisan group of attorneys general and from the Justice Department.
The statement followed a New York Times article earlier on Sunday that described more details of the alleged arrangement, citing an unredacted draft of the complaint. The Wall Street Journal previously reported on the unredacted draft in December.
According to that version of the complaint as described by the Times, a Google executive saw an “existential threat” in Facebook’s 2017 announcement that it was testing a move into the ad space. Facebook was considering a project in header bidding at the time, a form of ad buying that allows publishers to circumvent dependence on Google’s platforms.
But that project came to an end when the two reached an agreement in 2018 for Facebook to become a partner in Google’s Open Bidding project, which allows competing ad exchanges alongside its own, but takes a fee from winning bids. That agreement was unlike others offered to partners in the alliance, according to members interviewed by the Times who declined to be identified for fear of endangering their relationship with Google.
Google allegedly offered Facebook more time to bid for ads than other members of the alliance, according to the documents and interviews presented by the Times. Google also allegedly offered Facebook more insight into who would be on the receiving end of ads and a guaranteed “win rate” for bids, the Times reported. The two agreed to “cooperate and assist” each other in the event the agreement was investigated for competition concerns, the documents showed.
In the blog post responding to the allegations, Cohen defended Open Bidding as a tool that benefits publishers. Cohen wrote that Open Bidding addresses some of the problems with header bidding, like slow-loading pages, and that header bidding is still a growing market, citing a 2019 eMarketer report.
Cohen noted that Google’s agreement with Facebook had been widely reported at the time and said that it simply allows Facebook and its advertisers to participate in Open Bidding.
“We absolutely don’t,” manipulate auctions in Facebook’s favor, Cohen wrote. The agreement doesn’t prevent Facebook from pursuing header bidding and still requires the company and its advertising network to make the highest bid to win, Cohen wrote. He also said that Google’s fees for advertisers are lower than the industry average and said there is plenty of competition in the space.
“Partnerships like this are common in the industry, and we have similar agreements with several other companies,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Facebook continues to invest in these partnerships, and create new ones, which help increase competition in ad auctions to create the best outcomes for advertisers and publishers. Any suggestion that these types of agreements harm competition is baseless.”
One day after the Texas-led group filed its lawsuit against Google, a bipartisan coalitions of 38 states and territories sued Google over another set of antitrust concerns, including allegedly exclusionary contracts and discriminatory behavior against competitors on its search results pages. The Justice Department and a group of Republican-led states earlier sued Google over some of the same concerns over contracts.
Facebook separately faces complaints from the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general from 48 states and territories claiming it violated anti-monopoly law.
Super Meat Boy Forever review – a gristly challenge | Games
Ten years ago, attempting to conquer Super Meat Boy became a weekly ritual for me and my friends. We’d take turns throwing ourselves at the latest torturous arrangement of spinning blades, lava, missiles and near-impossible wall jumps until we couldn’t take it any more, passing the pad around until someone finally made it one level further. Mistime a jump and you’d explode in a splatter of red that stained the level, etching a record of your failures on the architecture. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played, and yet I remember it so fondly – I can still summon the exact layouts of particularly cruel levels, and the rush I felt on conquering them.
Super Meat Boy Forever was conceived as a smartphone-friendly version of the original, but over time it evolved into a sequel. This time, Meat Boy (or Bandage Girl, the damsel elevated to a player character) moves under their own unstoppable momentum, and our job is to jump and dash at the right time. The levels are now randomly generated, with enemies and layouts that remix themselves every time you start a new game. In theory this makes it infinitely replayable, a fount of continual, unpredictable challenge – but it loses so much in the transition that I didn’t feel like returning to it.
The pain and the pleasure of platformers such as this is their precision: the controls must be so tight, the jumping and running so perfectly predictable, that your failures are always your own. In Super Meat Boy Forever, though, enemies can turn up in especially unfair places, and the architecture of the levels sometimes feels thrown together as opposed to carefully placed by human hand. Its difficulty feels vindictive rather than playful, and oddly soulless, like trying to beat a computer at chess. For all its challenges, it felt as if I could feel the creators cheering me through the original Super Meat Boy’s death chambers, willing me onwards. Here, the algorithm is coldly indifferent to your efforts, and, despite the offbeat art and quirky vibe, the game is a punishing gauntlet that’s not worth running.
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