Thought Starters: mobile internet, adblockers, sexism in the workplace and the developing world

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through the articles, research and opinion pieces I’ve read over the last week or so, highlighting the more interesting trends, developments and changes in the world we live in. This time we’re looking at the growth of mobile, the role of adblockers, the impacts and origins of sexism in the workplace and the internet in the developing world among other things. Happy reading.

The growth of mobile has seen the emergence of a whole new range of digital channels, but Visual Capitalist’s research points to the largest platforms all being controlled by Microsoft, Google or Facebook. That being said, there are range of platforms (WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Netflix, Spotify) that fall short of a billion users but dominate within their respective sectors or geographies and could present a challenge to the market incumbents:

Apps or programmes with more than one billion active users

The IAB (US) recently released research which profiles how American consumers are using their PCs and smartphones. What is apparent is the continuing move to mobile  although the same research points to computers still registering a higher volume of internet views pointing to the different ways these devices are used:

Nearly Two-Thirds of All Internet Time is Spent on a Mobile Device

Google and Facebook have responded well to consumers’ growing use of smartphones, taking more than half of the available mobile ad revenues and leaving the remaining players fighting over the scraps in the US. eMarketer’s forecast suggests this isn’t going to change any time soon:

Net US mobile ad revenue share by company forecast

A continuing note of concern for media operators is the growth of adblocking with 22% of Britons using the software with this rising to 47% among 18-24 year olds according to Internet Advertising Bureau (UK) commissioned research.

Dean Dubley’s analysis suggests the introduction of mobile adblocking services won’t decimate the online media sector but is likely to further strengthen the hand of Google and Facebook:

The bottom line is that screaming headlines in stories like those from ZeroHedge (link) about “the risk to Internet companies’ business models” are nonsense. Ironically, it’s Google and Facebook’s approach to advertising that is safe. Small online publications using other advertising channels may not be so lucky. I noticed this tweet referencing mobile advertising growth forecasts from Goldman Sachs (link) which seems to suggest that Wall St is sanguine about the adblocking “threat” and that rapid growth in revenues will continue.

Among the likely responses by media operators to growing adblocker usage is a growing reliance on native advertising which is reflected in Enders Analysis’ recent forecast for Yahoo:

Forecast for the growth of native advertising in Europe

Whilst a few apps such as Facebook are nearly universal in their appeal, others give a clearer indicator as to who the user might be. Researchers have looked to profile the correlation between the ownership of different mobile apps and various demographic characteristics and income to develop profiles of mobile users. You can check out who they think you are in quiz – they got my gender and age wrong (I’m definitely male and over the age of 32) although I’m guessing not being a US resident probably didn’t help the profiling process.

Slack has been touted as the solution to the problem of information overload in the workplace with over 2 million daily active users. Samuel Hulick provides a more sceptical view warning that this “asynchronish” is in many cases compounding rather than addressing the problem:

Maybe you will say I’m afraid of commitment, but I’m just not interested in a relationship that seems to want to swallow up more and more of my time and attention, and demand that more and more of my interactions with other people go through you first.

Jeff Goodell has written an extended feature article on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Worth a read if you’re keen to get up to speed with what’s happening in the sector:

Despite advances like smarter algorithms and more capable robots, the future of superintelligent machines is still more sci-fi than science. Right now, says Yann LeCun, the director of Facebook AI Research, “AIs are nowhere near as smart as a rat.” Yes, with years of programming and millions of dollars, IBM built Watson, the machine that beat the smartest humans at Jeopardy! in 2011 and is now the basis for the company’s “cognitive computing” initiative. It can read 800 million pages a second and can digest the entire corpus of Wikipedia, not to mention decades of law and medical journals. Yet it cannot teach you how to ride a bike because its intelligence is narrow – it knows nothing about how the world actually works

Developments in software technology including artificial intelligence are rapidly expanding the scope of what computers can do. Nathaniel Popper profiles Kensho’s role in automating some of Goldman Sach’s research roles, highlighting how automation is increasingly emerging as a threat to white collar jobs:

The lead author on the Oxford paper, Carl Benedikt Frey, told me that he was aware that new technologies created jobs even as they destroyed them. But, Frey was quick to add, just because the total number of jobs stays the same doesn’t mean there are no disruptions along the way. The automation of textile work may not have driven up the national unemployment rate, but vast swathes of the American South suffered all the same. When it comes to those A.T.M.s, there has, in fact, been a recent steady decline in both the number of bank branches and the number of bank tellers, even as the number of low-paid workers in remote call centers has grown.

This points to a disconcerting possibility: Perhaps this time the machines really are reducing overall employment levels. In a recent survey of futurists and technologists, the Pew Research Institute found that about half foresee a future in which jobs continue to disappear at a faster rate than they are created.

Virtual reality is another technology that’s spilling out of the lab. Whilst it’s great to see the technology in the real world, Daniel Harvey profiles how a lack of diversity is leading to accidental sexism reflecting wider problems in the tech sector:

Based on that pattern it should come as no surprise that VR suffers from much the same. Motion sickness in VR has plagued the format since its inception. Women have shown a greater tendency toward VR-induced nausea than men. But why? It’s all about unconscious bias and technology’s notorious self-selection bias.

Discrimination is certainly not something exclusive to the tech sector. The absence of women in the boardrooms of many FTSE 100 or Fortune 500 companies reflects a range of barriers and will hold back their performance given they’re less able to reflect the needs of half the world’s consumers. It’s worth heading over to The Economist site where you can play with an interactive version of the following:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/03/daily-chart-0?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/thebestandworstplacestobeaworkingwoman&%3Ffsrc%3Dscn/=tw/dc

Facebook recently released its State of Connectivity report which profiles barriers to internet access for the developing world as part of its internet.org initiative. The key barriers to access highlighted in the report are the state of connectivity, availability of infrastructure, affordability, relevance and readiness of the population:

Barriers to internet access for developing world consumers

A valuable complement to Facebook’s report is Pew Research Center’s recently released research which looks at smartphone ownership and internet usage around the world including developing countries:

Percent of adults who use the internet at least occasionally or report owning a smartphone

With Britain’s Brexit referendum coming up on the 23rd of June, The Economist has profiled the regions that are europhile and eurosceptic:

UK regions' attitudes to Brexit

Whilst Europe is generally becoming more urbanised, this process (like technology) is unevenly distributed with different cities experiencing significant growth (Istanbul, Brussels, Amsterdam) or decline (Katowice, Ruhr, Katowice, Ostrava, Bucharest):

Europe cities growth and decline

Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui profile changes in patterns of relationships and marriage in the US, highlighting the role of assortative mating in reinforcing social class and undermining social mobility:

Assortative mating is the idea that people marry people like themselves, with similar education and earnings potential and the values and lifestyle that come with them. It was common in the early 20th century, dipped in the middle of the century and has sharply risen in recent years — a pattern that roughly mirrors income inequality in the United States, according to research by Robert Mare, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. People are now more likely to marry people with similar educational attainment — even after controlling for differences between men and women, like the fact that women were once less likely to attend college.

The featured image is a mural by ecb / Hendrik Beikirch for the St+Art India event in New Delhi and published in StreetArtNews

What I’m reading…favourite blogs and websites

You’ll find a list of some of my favourite blogs and websites below. There’s plenty more I could add but the quality of content for these is generally consistent and I’d argue worth adding to your RSS feed.

TECHNOLOGY

AsymcoHorace Dediu’s blog which focuses on mobile and Apple. Great for taking the wind out of the sails of Apple’s enemies.

Recent favourite: Desktop Computer takes an irreverent looks at the evolution of Apple’s computer offering.

Benedict Evans: blog of Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans focusing on technology on technology and mobile. Great for a window into where technology is heading.

Recent favourite: Mobile, ecosystems and the death of PCs looks at the growth of the mobile ecosystem and the key differences from the PC ecosystem that preceded it.

Continuations: blog for Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger providing a look into trends in technology and the startup sector and venturing out to broader societal trends.

Daring Fireball: blog focusing on consumer electronics, focusing on the world of Apple as John Gruber sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Recent favourite: Bloomberg: Apple gets more bang for its R&D buck

Digits to Dollars: blog for the D2D Advisory providing analysis and commentary on the technology, communications and the startup space.

Recent favourite: The Consumerization of the Automobile Supply Chain looks at automobile industry’s move to an increasingly software driven model which is undermining the position of the market incumbents.

Learning by Shipping: blog of former president of the Windows Division of Microsoft and now Andreessen Horowitz partner Steven Sinofsky focusing on development and management within the tech space.

Recent favourite: Frictionless Design Choices looks at the importance of reducing the energy required by an experience when designing a product (not to be confused with reducing the surface area of an experience).

Stratechery: freemium blog produced by Ben Thompson focusing on the intersection of technology and media. Whilst the website has a subscription offering, Ben provides a weekly posting which I would suggest is a must read.

Recent favourite: Beyond Disruption takes critical look at Clayton Christensen’s theory of market disruption -it’s not all about disruptive or sustaining innovation.

MARKETING

Inside Intercom: Intercom is marketing automation and customer service platform which publishes a valuable collection of content focusing on how to improve customer experiences.

Recent favourite: Our New Book: Intercom on Customer Support profiles the release of their latest best practice guide – informative and readable.

Occam’s Razor: blog for Google Digital Marketing Evangelist Avinash Kaushik. Whilst the blog is no thing of beauty, Avinash’s data driven approach to marketing provides a refreshing scientific view on how to engage and sell.

Recent favourite: How To Suck At Social Media: An Indispensable Guide For Businesses looks critically at the role of social media in B2B and B2C marketing.

WeAreSocial: blog of the high profile social media agency of the same name. The blog provides a valuable weekly roundup of interesting product launches and case studies and the regional roundups of digital and social statistics.

Recent favourite: Digital in Southeast Asia in 2015 provides statistics on internet, social media and mobile usage in in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and East Timor.

JOURNALISM AND SOCIETY

Longform: blog providing a heads up on interesting longform journalism as well as profiling their podcast which I would also firmly recommend checking out.

Longreads: operating like the Longform blog, providing recommendations for stories worth adding to your Pocket account.

Marginal Revolution: blog of the American academic economist Tyler Cowen. A great source of information for new research, shedding light on different corners of the society we live in.

Recent Favourite: Shipping storage cost sentences to ponder pointed out how ridiculously low shipping costs are at present.

Remains of the Day: Eugene Wei’s blog where he highlights interesting content he’s found online with an emphasis on technology, the internet,  filmmaking, photography, and pop culture.

Recent favourite: Crime and Punishment looks at the mismatch between crime and punishment in the US.

CREATIVE

The Inspiration: blog pulling together a collection of visually led creative which includes but is not limited to content from the marketing and advertising sector.

CR Blog: blog providing a showcase for some of the great content in the Creative Review magazine.

Recent favourite: Cassetteboy on making mash-ups, helping David Cameron get piggy with it, and the joy of Sony Vegas

StreetArtNews: regular publisher of street art from around the world.

MUSIC

FACT: website that’s closest to my own musical orientation with its concentration on  bleeps, beats and breaks. I’ve got a particular soft spot for their Friday rundown of the best free mixes available online.

Pitchfork: whilst Pitchfork’s indie heartland isn’t quite my thing, the site’s coverage of other genres is more than enough to keep me coming back for more.

Resident Advisor: my days of clubbing seem to be something of a distant memory now, but I still like to keep an eye on the sounds that used to make me move.

CYCLING

As Easy As Riding A Bike: tireless blog by Mark Treasure campaigning for a safer cycling  with focusing on issues affecting London.

Recent favourite: Cycling Needs a Backlash points out that the increasingly public backlash against cycling points to

Inner Ring: professional cycling has become my guilty pleasure following critics pontificating on the season’s races, cyclists, teams and industry machinations. Inner Ring has it covered.

Recent favourite(s): Highlights of the Season – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 covering the most entertaining moments in this year’s cycling season.

CyclingTips: another site providing coverage of professional cycling as well as the competitive end of recreational cycling with a recently launched companion site covering women’s cycling. The site’s Daily News Digests gives a great rundown of the day’s major news but it’s the site’s use of photography that really makes it for me.

Recent favourite: Roadtripping Iceland provides an introduction to cycle touring the backroads of Iceland.

While Out Riding: Cass Gilbert’s online journal as he takes the road less travelled by fat bike.  Photography is enough to make you want to jump on the next plane to Bolivia/Patagonia/Columbia.

Recent favourite: Mongolia… coming soon

Bikepacking.com: website dedicated to the growing field of bikepacking. It’s the site’s route guides which are particularly enticing providing you with the why and how for planning your next expedition.

Recent favourite: Bikerafting Alaska’s Lost Coast, Yakutat-Glacier Bay.

Let me know if you think there’s other blogs and websites you think I should be adding to the list.

The featured image is an Alexey Luka mural in Košice, Slovakia

Thought Starters

New Geography has produced a ranking of the most influential cities. For the moment, the ranking is dominated by the old world with London, New York and Paris on top but Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai and Beijing all make the top 10.

Silicon Valley retains its position as the epicentre of the technology world but growing costs mean that the region see it taking on a role of growing startups rather than initiating them according to Armando Biondi:

Or getting teams from 10 to 1,000 people, that’s hard. And that’s what Silicon Valley does best and is most excited about. And, coincidentally, that’s also where most of the company value is generated. The consequence? Silicon Valley is no longer the best place to start a company (unless you’ve already been living there for a while now, of course) because everywhere else is. And “everywhere else” is the rest of the world — with cheaper talent, lower cost of living, and good access to initial capital as well — but also the rest of the U.S. outside of the tech hubs.

Technology has long history of disrupting employment and current developments in software look like more than continuing this trend going on the following video:

Researchers at Oxford Martin School at Oxford University have looked at the effect of computerisation in more detail with 47% of current jobs potentially at risk over the next 10-20 years. For those with a shorter attention span, you can find an abbreviated version at Gizmag:

Susceptible to ComputerisationNielsen’s reporting on American’s media consumption habits point to smartphone and online video usage growing rapidly with a decline in traditional television viewing:

Growth Mobile Phone Usage

Research from GlobalWebIndex provides a more international view, with  European consumers spending more time with traditional media than their Asian equivalents:

Online vs Traditional MediaProviding further fuel to the argument that not all global consumers are the same is the following graph from Benedict Evans pointing to the variation in market share for mobile operating systems:

Smartphone OS

Steven Sinofsky looks at the key characteristics of the mobile operating system which differentiate it from  to the PC model. A valuable lesson in some of the factors that are reshaping the technology landscape.

Farhad Manjoo looks at the limitations of the smartphones and their shortcomings in providing a more personalised and contextually based experience to consumers:

Like a bumbling concierge, your phone often tries to assist you without pausing to consider any of the basic information it collects about your life. For instance, your phone has access to your calendar, and it also knows your physical location. So why isn’t it smarter about sending you the right notification at the right time — for instance, not during a first date? Why can’t it prioritize alerts from your wife and your boss over notifications for tweets from your high school pals?

David Holmes contrasts coverage of the Ferguson riots on Twitter and Facebook, with the algorithmic based approach of the latter providing less opportunity for hard news to get through for those who are interested:

Twitter, on the other hand, with the exception of the occasional promoted tweet, presents a raw feed of the people you follow, nothing more, nothing less. Users can carefully select the people they follow, so if you’re the type of politically-minded news junkie who wants to know the latest in the Michael Brown killing or any other major news story, you can curate the accounts you follow accordingly. That’s why no matter how hard Facebook tries to be akin to your daily newspaper, it’s still got nothing on Twitter when it comes to news.

Holmes goes on to suggest that this situation may change over time as Twitter looks to adopt a  more filtered approach to the feed it presents to consumers.

There’s been a lot of talk about email becoming marginalised in the home and work environment with the growth of mobile messaging and collaboration platforms such as Slack. Alexis C Madrigal presents a convincing counterargument pointing to the unbundling of email as increasing its relevance to modern consumers:

The metaphor of electronic mail never fully fit how people use e-mail. But, now, perhaps it might. Email could become a home for the kinds of communications that come in the mail: letters from actual people, bills, personalized advertisements, and periodicals. 

An interesting lens in which to view American society through is mentions of bacon and kale in social media which apparently correlates with state’s political leanings. A high indexing for kale correlates with a liberal, whilst high indexing on bacon correlates with a conservative bias.

Kale-Vs-BaconIf you have more than a passing interest in Russian society, the Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia exhibition on at the Photographer’s Gallery in London is well worth a look. Interesting window into Russia at the turn of the century as well as Soviet ruling elite’s move to control how Russian society was portrayed.

Varvara Stepanova Red Army Men

The featured image is a Cinzah Merkens piece for the  Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans – Mexico Expedition in Isla Mujeres, Mexico and covered in ArrestedMotion.

What does 2014 hold? Questions I’m looking to see answered this coming year

There’s been lots of talk about trends and technologies that are likely to affect us in the coming years. The following are some of the questions I’m interested to have answered come this time next year.

Mobile Ecosystem

Will we see Samsung fork its Android offering in 2014? Samsung is developing an increasingly comprehensive selection of alternative mobile apps and services but Google is doing everything it can to raise the price of those who go it alone with Android.

Will we see Xiaomi develop a tangible presence in Western Markets? The company has a strong selection of handsets at competitive prices with growing interest in the brand abroad. Whether this is enough to see it stand out among other players Android (Samsung, HTC, Sony Mobile, LG, Nexus, Huawei, ASUS etc) remains to be seen.

Will CyanogenMod’s open source model enables it to grow beyond its tech savvy Android user base? The mobile operating system recently received funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, Redpoint Ventures and Tencent but also faced a setback with Google’s removal of the software installer from the Play Store. CyanogenMod will need to make it as easy and safe as possible for users as the majority of people will be content with the status quo.

What wearable computing forms will break out of the current niche of early adopters? Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear have received mixed reviews from various commentators but there is a huge opportunity here with a wide selection of potential uses — something that is likely to see a range of form factors rather than a Swiss army knife approach where one tool solves all problems.

Mobile Messaging

Will we see Kik, Line or KakaoTalk make a substantial inroads in Western Europe? WhatsApp has carved out a strong position but the mobile messaging sector is not a category where winner necessarily takes all.

WhatsApp has stated that they’re not looking to diversify beyond mobile messaging, but it will be interesting to see if this changes given the success of Kik, Line and KakaoTalk in developing alternative revenue streams?

Will Snapchat manage to capture the public imagination in a similar manner to the way it has for teens over the course of the next year?

Social Media

Will Facebook’s changes to the News Feed see the demise of virality mills (Upworthy, Buzzfeed et al)?

Will Foursquare’s adoption of push notifications see wider adoption of the location based social network? Manually checking in is a clunky solution and it will be interesting to see whether this change of tack will be enough to gain mass appeal.

Gaming

Will the Steam Machine and Oculus Rift manage to break the stranglehold of Playstation and Xbox have in the gaming console market? Question will be moot if Steam (and their hardware partners) and Oculus VR don’t meet their target of a 2014 consumer release.

Internet and Society

Does the UK public care enough about what they see online to raise a fuss about ISP’s adoption of porn filtering? There’s been plenty of evidence pointing to the systems questionable effectiveness but the general public doesn’t seem to be up in arms about it.

Instore

Will retail brands be willing to invest in the relatively untested Bluetooth 4.0 (iBeacon, Paypal Beacon etc) technologies or will it be a case of wait and see?

Will Apple’s adoption of iBeacon in iOS7 permanently stall the introduction of NFC indefinitely?

Digital Currencies

Will we see Bitcoin become adopted as a method of payment outside the black economy? The recent erratic shifts in value of the currency make it a risky proposition for retailers without the infrastructure to adjust to changing prices.

Peak Car and the Workplace: A look at potential changes in commuting and the office

David Levinson provides an interesting look at the concept of Peak Car, painting a picture of how society might look in 20 years time predicting people become less dependent on the automobile.

The blog post puts forward the view that we will be working significantly less hours in the office and spending less years in the workforce. Accommodating this change in office hours would be a further blurring of the boundaries between work and home, more flexible working practices and the adoption of technology to enable communication and collaboration outside the office (eg Yammer, Tibbr, Huddle etc).

This obviously has plenty of advantages for consumers, with long commutes associated with increased amounts of stress, divorce and other social ills.

Whether we see this come into play remains to be seen. Figures from the OECD point to a moderate decline in the average working hours in nearly all member countries including the United Kingdom — although this doesn’t amount to anywhere close to the days off work that Levinson suggests. We are also not seeing a drop in the age that people retirement among OECD countries and this is not likely to be something encouraged by governments faced with a drop in their work force dependency ratio.

We have seen the Department of Work and Pensions advocating for flexible working practices, pointing to the advantages of falls in absenteeism, increased retention rates and productivity, easier recruitment and greater employee loyalty. But this position is not necessarily unanimous given recent policy changes at Yahoo! and Hewlett Packard although discussions with Jacob Morgan suggest that these companies introduced these measures to address company specific problems.

As for the current picture,there is definitely evidence to suggest that we’ve seen a crest in traffic volumes with Transport for London showing that 1999 saw a peak in traffic flows. Whether this holds when United Kingdom returns to robust growth remains to be seen.

Traffic levels on major roads in Greater London 1993 — 2010, Transport for London, March 2012
Traffic levels on major roads in Greater London 1993 — 2010, Transport for London, March 2012