Thought Starters: self driving cars, Brexit and the US elections

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more  interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last few weeks. This edition looks at the evolution of self driving cars, the rise and fall of the Gülen movement, the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and the US elections which appear increasingly beyond parody.

A Be Heard Group survey of senior marketers and advertisers points to what some see should be the optimum marketing mix in our current age:
The new marketing mix

As more traditional marketing channels lose some of their lustre (despite the exhortations of the Ad Contrarian), one of the channels gaining ground is influencer marketing. The following figures from The Economist give a guide to what influencers are typically earning across YouTube, Facebook and Instagram:

Average earnings for influenver posts on selected social media platforms

Whilst the US has seen more than its fair share of innovations in virtual reality technology, The Economist points to China as being one of the leaders in its application with real estate and education leading the way:

Virtual reality headset shipments forecast

We’re living in an increasingly visual world with Instagram and Snapchat growing their hold on consumers’ attention. This is reflected in the growing in value of the image sensor market seen in figures compiled by Andreessen Horowitz although one of the interesting conclusions is the declining importance of the camera in a world where smartphones are everywhere:

Cameras in everything, except in cameras

Whilst venture capitalists have seemingly become the cool kids of the financial sector, figures from CB Insights and KPMG International point to VC investments in startups as having declined over the past four quarters:

Venture capital investments into start-ups have declined in the past four quarters.

One area that has seen considerable venture capital investment of late is in technologies around self driving cars. Tesla’s latest demonstration video (albeit in perfect conditions) points to the progress being made despite earlier hiccups. Tesla are apparently looking to charge owners between $8000-$10,000 for the service and it won’t be made available at least initially to owners looking to use it for ridesharing services:

Will Knight looks at Uber’s trial of self driving cars in Pittsburgh, contrasting the experience for passengers with those provided by human drivers and points to the barriers that will need to be overcome before we see more of these services on our streets:

So I catch a ride with a guy named Brian, who drives a beat-up Hyundai Sonata. Brian says he’s seen several automated Ubers around town, but he can’t imagine a ride in them being as good as one with him. Brian then takes a wrong turn and gets completely lost. To be fair, though, he weaves through traffic just as well as a self-driving car. Also, when the map on his phone leads us to a bridge that’s closed for repairs, he simply asks a couple of road workers for directions and then improvises a new route. He’s friendly, too, offering to waive the fare and buy me a beer to make up for the inconvenience. It makes you realize that automated Ubers will offer a very different experience. Fewer wrong turns and overbearing drivers, yes, but also no one to help put your suitcase in the trunk or return a lost iPhone.

China manufacturing sector has often been characterised in the past as a clone shop and Josh Horwitz’s coverage of the copying of the Stikbox Kickstarter campaign suggests that the country hasn’t outgrown this yet.  Keyboardio’s visit to Shenzen in China provides a more sympathetic view of the country pointing to how seemingly any electronic device can be purchased at a knockdown price.

Analysis from the Financial Times points to China as being the source of the greatest share of the world’s merger and acquisition flows:
China dominates M&A flows

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown after the attempted coup had me guessing that this was a false flag operation which Erdoğan was using as an opportunity to strengthen his hold on power. Dexter Filkin’s detailed profile of Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen movement suggests that Erdoğan’s claims weren’t simply hot air, although the impact has been to strengthen his hold on power:

The irony of the attempted coup is that Erdoğan has emerged stronger than ever. The popular uprising that stopped the plot was led in many cases by people who disliked Erdoğan only marginally less than they disliked the prospect of a military regime. But the result has been to set up Erdoğan and his party to rule, with nearly absolute authority, for as long as he wants. “Even before the coup attempt, we had concerns that the government and the President were approaching politics and governance in ways that were designed to lock in a competitive advantage—to insure you would have perpetual one-party rule,” the second Western diplomat said.

Like many Britons, I’ve been left trying to digest the impact that the Brexit referendum will have on our lives. Simon Head provides a valuable look at the financial fallout that will follow a hard Brexit that Theresa May is calling for:

It must now embark on a series of marathon negotiations with its EU ex-partners, certain only in the knowledge that the trading regime that will emerge from them may be far less favorable to business located in Britain than the one that exists now. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances more likely to convince foreign businesses in Britain that they should act on their warnings to leave the country or reduce their presence there, and instead take up residence within the secure  confines of the Single European Market. The British economy and the British people will suffer the consequences.

Immigration proved one of the defining issues of the Brexit referendum. It’s interesting to compare foreign born population with those regions that chose to vote for leaving the European Union (no easy correlation):

Estimated population of the UK

The American elections are inevitably drawing comparisons with the Brexit referendum with the rise of a populist candidate whose campaigning clearly blurs the line between fact and fiction. Evan Osnos provides a look at what the world is likely to be facing should Donald Trump win the presidential election:

Modern Presidents have occasionally been constrained by isolated acts of disobedience by government officials. To confront terrorism, Trump has said, “you have to take out their families,” work on “closing that Internet up in some ways,” and use tactics that are “frankly unthinkable” and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” General Michael Hayden, a former head of the C.I.A. and of the National Security Agency, predicts that senior officers would refuse to carry out those proposals. “You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” he has said.

One of the key characteristics of US politics over the last 20 years has been growing polarisation between Republican and Democrat supporters.  The media has had more than a hand in this election cycle with research from BuzzFeed pointing to hyperpartisan Facebook pages particularly from the right pushing untrue stories. Sarah Smarsh provides an alternative viewpoint, pointing to traditional media’s lack of sympathy for Trump supporters, compounding their alienation from mainstream politics:

The economic trench between reporter and reported on has never been more hazardous than at this moment of historic wealth disparity, though, when stories focus more often on the stock market than on people who own no stocks. American journalism has been willfully obtuse about the grievances on Main Streets for decades – surely a factor in digging the hole of resentment that Trump’s venom now fills. That the term “populism” has become a pejorative among prominent liberal commentators should give us great pause. A journalism that embodies the plutocracy it’s supposed to critique has failed its watchdog duty and lost the respect of people who call bullshit when they see it.

Research from Raj Chetty, David Cutler and Michael Stepner point to wealth as helping the rich afford more than just the finer things in life. There findings point to the richest 1% of U.S. males living 15 years longer than the poorest 1%:

Life Expectancy versus Household Income

Whilst we’re on the subject of human health, BBC’s The Inquiry podcast looks at the growing mess we’re in with the declining effectiveness of antibiotics – hardly a new story but an important reminder nonetheless. Unfortunately research from the European Medicines Agency points to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture as continuing in Europe which will further compound the issue.

Another podcast I’d like to plug is Tyler Cowen’s interview with Vox founder Ezra Klein. Both commentators provide valuable coverage of the world we live in, the former through his blog Marginal Revolution and the latter through podcasts The Weeds (with Sarah Kliff, and Matt Yglesias) and the Ezra Klein Show.

The featured image at the top of the page is Silencio by Christian Riffel.

Thought Starters: TV, messaging, innovation and tension in Israel among other things…

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review the research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at the evolving worlds of mobile messaging and television, the increasing pace of innovation and profiles of network effects, intergenerational equity, Israel, Denmark and Brazil among other things.

Tomaž Štolfa reports on the evolution of the messaging formats, from IRC through to the movement to richer model we have today which goes well beyond acting as a means of basic peer to peer communication:

Each message has the potential to be a mini application. It might be just an application that displays text, a photo, or alternatively presents an interface for something more complex in the constrained environment of a message cell. There is an unlimited set of opportunities to create bite size applications like a photo carousel, media players, mini games, inventory items, in-messaging payments, and many others.

Snapchat has emerged as one of the break out winners in the mobile messaging space although monetisation has definitely trailed far behind user growth. Mark Suster argues that Snapchat’s reach, immediacy, authenticity, engagement, geography, brand recall and monetisation point to it being a channel you’ll see a whole lot more of in months and years to come.

Matthew Ball and Tal Shachar do some crystal ball gazing for the television and online video sector and positing three different business models (scale feed; social feed; and identity feeds) that are likely to provide significant business models in the future:

The end of traditional television has begun. That much is clear. And even if authentication is figured out, TV Everywhere isn’t the answer. The future of video will look, behave, be valued and interacted with very differently than it has in the past. It won’t just be a digital adaption of linear, and it won’t just be more Netflixes.

CB Insights’ Corporate Innovation Trends provides a window into why there’s so much incessant talk about disruption. Various technologies and business strategies are making it much easier to launch a startup:

Cost to launch a tech startup

At the other end of the scale, companies are finding their moment in the spotlight shrinking with firms on average spending less time in the S&P 500 Index:

Average company lifespan on S&P 500 Index

Before you put all your life savings behind a high growth startup, it’s worth repeating that 92% of tech startups fail. There’s no secret ingredient for successful startups but a recent presentation from Andreessen Horowitz focuses on the role of network effects, contrasting it with economies of scale and virality which it is sometimes confused with:

Network effects versus Virality versus Economies of scale

Ross Baird and Lenny Mendonca call for business models that address the financial and geographical concentrations of wealth typically associated with the startup economy:

We need to figure out how to make the system work for everyone in the face of technological changes. We need policymakers to incentivize regional and industry diversity in our innovation, and entrepreneurs to focus on the larger, thornier questions related to building businesses that share the wealth better among those who create them — not design a system to spread the crumbs a little better.

Doc Searls and David Weinberger  who are among the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, have pulled together some new “clues” in their call for a more collaborative open internet:

Sure, apps offer a nice experience. But the Web is about links that constantly reach out, connecting us without end. For lives and ideas, completion is death. Choose life.

The globalisation of the world economy can be clearly seen in a recently released report from McKinsey with growth in interregional data. Among the causes and effects are that startups are finding it easier to tap global markets whilst consumers are increasingly looking to interact with communities of interest rather than proximity:

Global flow of data and communication
Morgane Santos gives a spirited called for Designer Daves to take a less conformist approach to digital design in what should be a still evolving medium:

Certainly, design should follow some basic paradigms to make whatever we’re designing easy to use. All scissors look fundamentally the same because that’s what works.

But digital design—whether it’s for desktop, mobile, VR, games, whatever—is still relatively young. We simply do not know what the best solutions are. At best, we’ve reached a local maximum. And so long as we reward predictable designs, we will never move past this local maximum.

Much of the attention on income inequality has focused on the growing share earned by the very wealthy. Research in The Guardian on the other hand has pointed to the disproportionate share of disposable income held by older age cohorts with younger audiences having to fight increasingly hard to get a foot up on the economic ladder:
Pensioners have seen significantly higher disposable income growth than young people in almost every wealthy country over the last few decades
 The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always presented something of a conundrum with sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians tempered by concerns for the more moderate Jews looking for a peaceful resolution. Recently released research from the Pew Research Center sheds some light on the Jewish and Arabic populations and points to the growing political divide between the two. Unfortunately a peaceful resolution looks increasingly far off:
Israel's diverse religious landscape
Whilst we’re on the subject of the Middle East, The Economist looks at which countries are (or aren’t) being generous in their welcome towards Syrian refugees:
Syrian refugees by country
 One country that hasn’t welcomed them with open arms is Denmark. Hugh Eakin looks at the increasingly hostile attitude among many Danes and the Danish political system to the plight of refugees which unfortunately is becoming increasingly reflective of many other European countries:
In January, more than 60,000 refugees arrived in Europe, a thirty-five-fold increase from the same month last year; but in Denmark, according to Politiken, the number of asylum-seekers has steadily declined since the start of the year, with only 1,400 seeking to enter the country. In limiting the kind of social turmoil now playing out in Germany, Sweden, and France, the Danes may yet come through the current crisis a more stable, united, and open society than any of their neighbors. But they may also have shown that this openness extends no farther than the Danish frontier.
Many international news reports from Brazil seem to point to a country that has had enough of corruption in the ruling PT party. Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fishman and David Miranda give a more balanced account, not denying accounts of corruption but also pointing to a ruling elite who would like to see the democratically elected government out of power:
Corruption among Brazil’s political class — including the top levels of the PT — is real and substantial. But Brazil’s plutocrats, their media, and the upper and middle classes are glaringly exploiting this corruption scandal to achieve what they have failed for years to accomplish democratically: the removal of PT from power.
The featured image is an Add Fuel mural from the Memoire Urbane Festival in Gaeta, Italy and published in StreetArtNews.

What I’m listening to…favourite podcasts and radio shows

For someone who spends a fair bit of time on his bike, podcasts provide a great opportunity to learn and be entertained whilst on the go.  The following provide a run through of the shows that regularly have me hitting the download button:

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY

a16z podcast: Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s podcast uses interviews with industry leaders and commentators to shed light on a range of technology and innovation related issues from the startup sector. A case of content marketing that works.

Recent favourite: Interview with Soylent founder Rob Rhinehart.

Benchmark Podcast: Bloomberg created podcast providing a youthful look at the global economy.

Exponent: Ben Thompson and James Allworth provide thoughtful discussion on the intersection of technology, business and society.

Meanwhile in the FutureRose Eveleth puts forward scenarios of what the future might be like and in the process getting listeners to think more clearly about what kind of society they want to live in.

Planet Money: Long running NPR show looking at various stories through the lens of economics – much more entertaining than the blurb might suggest.

Recent favourite:  The tale of the onion king looks at how Vince Kosuga once cornered the market for onions in the US.

Product Hunt Radio: Podcast in which founders, makers and investors from the startup community are interviewed about their products and their own personal journey.

Radiolab: Radio showing coming out of WNYC weaving stories and science together.

Recent favourite: Birthstory looks at how far an Israeli gay couple went to have kids of their own.

Reply All: Podcast looking at the internet and its impact on the society we live in with an irreverent style.

Recent favourite: A look at the experience of students at Colgate University who were subjected to bigoted commentary from anonymous social media app Yik Yak.

StartUp: Podcast series following the ups and downs of starting your own business. The first series follows the founding of podcast network Gimlet Media and the second series profiles the efforts of online dating service Dating Ring.

What’s Tech: Podcast profiling a single technology issue on each show, starting with the basics and expanding out to explore key issues and controversies. Recent shows have covered quantified self, sex tech, biohacking, space colonisation and online advertising.

NEWS AND ANALYSIS

The Inquiry: BBC radio show focuses on one topical issue each week with recent issues covering whether ISIS can be defeated, corruption in Nigeria and Russian geopolitics.

Longform Podcast: Interviews notable journalists about their careers and the stories that have made them. Great insights into the lengths journalists get to the trust and creating a compelling narrative.

More or Less: Behind the Stats: BBC podcast taking a critical look at numbers reported in the news and in many cases pouring cold water on some pretty outlandish claims.

Rear Vision: Radio show from the Australian ABC network looking predominantly at international issues but also occasionally delving into important Australian subjects. Recent coverage has included Muslim immigration into Europe, the recent Turkish and Canadian elections and the lack of plurality in media voices in Australia.

Thinking Allowed: BBC radio show profiling new research predominately with an ethnographic slant with recent coverage including TTIP, non religious cultures, singlehood and social class in its various forms.

The Weeds: If you’re interested in the interface between politics and policy, this podcast from the Vox will provide plenty of food for thought. Pretty US centric in terms of the policy issues covered but the discussions and conclusions are equally relevant for most developed countries.

ARTS AND CULTURE 

99% Invisible: Podcast about design and architecture with recent shows including a look at the history of Monopoly, drinking fountains and the military’s quest for rations that last for ever that the troops actually want to eat.

Recent favourite: Children of the Magenta covering the perils of inflight automation

Desert Island Discs: This BBC Radio institution was something I’d avoided for many years thinking that it was a show about music (something I like to think I already know a lot about). What I found instead was a show where music is a door opener to revealing conversations about people’s lives and history.

CYCLING

The Bike Show: Jack Thurston gives a broader perspective on the world of cycling, taking a look at social, cultural and political issues in cycling and occasionally dabbling in the world of cycle sport.

Cyclingnews Podcast/ The Cycling Podcast / The Recon Ride: Shows for the cycling aficionado, providing listeners with a pre and post ride commentary on the big rides in the professional calendar.

The featured image is a mural called Home by Reka in New York City and published in StreetArtNews.

 

Thought Starters: the fallacy of maximising shareholder value, the impact of climate change on your wallet and our responses to ISIS

The following is a look through articles, research and opinion pieces highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

The following figures presented by DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach point to the fact that the global economy isn’t out of the woods yet:

Global nominal GDP growth

Steve Denning uses Roger L. Martin’s analysis in Fixing the Game to point out how management’s focus on maximising shareholder value comes at the expense of long term value creation and ultimately society:

“In today’s paradoxical world of maximizing shareholder value, which Jack Welch himself has called “the dumbest idea in the world”, the situation is the reverse. CEOs and their top managers have massive incentives to focus most of their attentions on the expectations market, rather than the real job of running the company producing real products and services.”

Om Malik covers the release of the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, highlighting growing penetration of different technologies (smartphones, mobile internet etc) and the regions where we’re forecasted to see  particularly strong growth:

Connected devices forecast

We’re seeing technology have an increasingly significant role in the employment landscape as machine learning, robotics and a growing array of sensors expand the range of tasks we can automate. The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andrew G Haldane recently gave a speech where he explored these changes and their implications which can be found in an abbreviated form on re/code:

Average probability of automation by occupation

Chris Field and Katharine Mach profile the work of Marshall Burke, Solomon Hsiang, and Edward Miguel who have researched the economic impacts of climate change. With the Paris Climate Change Conference fast approaching, now is an important time to make your concerns known about global warming to your local government – not one to stand on the sidelines for:

“Their conclusion delivers two blockbusters. First, in contrast to past studies, they argue that 21st century warming could lead to huge global-scale macroeconomic impacts. The best estimate from Burke and colleagues is that business as usual emissions throughout the 21st century will decrease per capita GDP by 23% below what it would otherwise be, with the possibility of a much larger impact.

Secondly, they conclude that both the size and the direction of the temperature effect depend on the starting temperature. Countries with an average yearly temperature greater than 13°C (55°F) will see decreased economic growth as temperatures rise.”

Before you suggest the issue of climate change is too difficult, it’s worth reviewing research at the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University which points to the feasibility of a move to a society that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels: 

“In a few decades, the world could be powered by nothing but wind, water, and sunlight. That’s the conclusion of a new study released just before world leaders head to Paris to strike a climate deal.

“These are basically plans showing it’s technically and economically feasible to change the energy infrastructure of all of these different countries,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, who worked with University of California colleagues to analyze energy roadmaps for 139 countries.”

Chain founder Adam Ludwin is interviewed for Andreessen Horowitz’s podcast focusing on the growing world of blockchain innovation. Among the subjects covered are the merging cultures of finance and tech, the price of bitcoin, the importance of blockchain (rather than bitcoin) and a review of  private and permissioned blockchains and uses for colored coins and sidechains:

Michael Vakulenko looks at at how the movement to self driving cars is likely to unseat traditional manufacturers’ position in the car market. Among the particular technologies and innovations he points to as catalysing change are services and apps, transportation platforms, fleet routing and navigation:

“It’s still too early in the game to say which companies will dominate the future transportation market. One thing is a safe bet: The future transportation ecosystem will look very different from the existing automotive industry. It will resemble modern technology ecosystems with their platform business models, permissionless innovation by developers, and domination of software-centric companies.”

Technology based disruption hasn’t received the same level of media attention in education as it has in other sectors with the possible exceptions MOOCs reflecting a more constrained funding pool and the comparatively complex web of different stakeholders. The NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition provides a valuable review of emerging innovations in the primary and secondary education sector, with technologies typically augmenting rather than replacing current ways of working:

Edtech Trends

The New York Times‘ experiment with Google Cardboard has gained lots of plaudits for pushing the boundary for online journalism at scale. Whilst the experiment has catalysed interest in these new formats, Will Smith stresses the need for fully featured virtual reality platforms such as Oculus Rift to differentiate themselves from Google Cardboard:

“In the meantime, if you enjoyed your first taste of VR, courtesy of Cardboard and 360 video, that’s great! Welcome to the future! But if that first taste of VR turned your stomach, please know that it doesn’t have to be this way. The problems that affected you have been solved—you just need better hardware than comes free with the Sunday paper.”

Steve Albini wrote the essay The Problem with Music in 1994 critiquing the music industry and its ability to both give musicians money and then take it back with a litany of expenses. Albini gave an update of sorts last year at the Face the Music conference where he saw musicians as now being in a better position to take control of their own destiny:

The Socio-Economic Segregation in European Capital Cities project has been looking at levels of inequality and the proximity of the rich and poor in 12 different cities across Europe. Richard Florida’s summary of the research points to a general trend of increasing income inequality (measured by Gini coefficient) and residential segregation (measured by index of dissimilarity) across Europe, although Tallinn and Oslo make for interesting outliers:

European Cities Economic Segregation and Inequality

ISIS’ attack on Paris on the 13th of November was a tragedy which has led to some important discussions about how we deal with the threat of terrorism. The Economist’s look at global deaths from terrorism puts the deaths in perspective, pointing to how much the West has in many cases been spared the worst effects of terrorism:

Global deaths from terrorism

The attacks have led to renewed calls for backdoors in secure products and encryption software. Kim Zetter provides a valuable rebuttal starting with the lack of evidence to support the view that the terrorists used encryption technology.  She then goes on to point out that there will always be homebrewed encryption alternatives, encryption doesn’t hide metadata and weakening existing products ultimately makes everyone vulnerable:

“If Snowden has taught us anything, it’s that the intel agencies are drowning in data,” EFF Attorney Nate Cardozo says. “They have this ‘collect it all mentality’ and that has led to a ridiculous amount of data in their possession. It’s not about having enough data; it’s a matter of not knowing what to do with the data they already have. That’s been true since before 9/11, and it’s even more true now.”

Adam Shatz writing for the London Review of Books reports more broadly on ISIS’ aims with the terrorist attacks and the options the West has in reducing chances of future incidents:

“Now IS is unrivalled among jihadist groups, and no one knows quite what to do that won’t make the problem worse. Anything that can be done now risks being too little, too late. It’s true that IS is no match, militarily, for the West. The attacks of 13 November were in the anarchist tradition of the ‘propaganda of the deed’, and we shouldn’t fall for it: the social order of Europe isn’t in jeopardy. But it would also be a mistake to underestimate the problem. IS has managed to insert itself, with no small amount of cunning, and with acute sensitivity to feelings of humiliation, into two of the most intractable conflicts of our time: the relationship of European societies to their internal, Muslim ‘others’ and the sectarian power struggles that have engulfed the lands of Iraq and Syria since 2003.”

One of my real concerns is that the attacks could further marginalise Muslim populations already living in Western Europe and USA and lead to the closing of borders to refugees fleeing turmoil in places like Syria and Afghanistan. By doing this, the West would essentially be handing ISIS a victory of sorts as Adam Taylor reports:

“The very same refugees entering Europe are often the very same civilians who face the indiscriminate violence and cruel injustice in lands controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (though, it should be noted, many in Syria are also threatened by the brutal actions of the Syrian government). Globally, studies have shown that Muslims tend to make up the largest proportion of terror victims, with countries such as Syria and Iraq registering the highest toll.

If Muslim refugees come to Europe and are welcomed, it deeply undercuts the Islamic State’s legitimacy. Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has helpfully catalogued some of the Islamic State’s messages on the refugees pouring into Europe from the Middle East. The messages give the impression of deep discomfort and even jealousy that the Muslim population the Islamic State so covets for its self-proclaimed “caliphate” would rather live in “infidel” Western lands.”

The Economist’s analysis of health spending and life expectancy point to the fact that there’s a far from direct correlation between the two with the United States’s poor performance in particular standing out:

Health spending and life expectancy at birth

Raffi Khatchadourian has written a thought provoking profile of Nick Bostrom for the New Yorker profiling the latter’s research into whether developments in artificial intelligence and other technologies will lead to human extinction. His approach is definitely more thoughtful than your average Hollywood blockbuster.

The featured image is Phoenix by DALeast in Penang, Malaysia and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: China, Twitter, startups and the role of food

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

China’s digital media sector has developed its own distinct characteristics with unique properties and innovations that set it apart from many markets in the West. WeAreSocial profile key digital, social and mobile benchmark statistics for the Chinese that give a taste for the key players:

The markets have not responded kindly to Twitter’s performance with one of the company’s largest investors Chris Sacca pitching in with what he feels Twitter should be doing. James Gleich provides a contrasting opinion, suggesting that it’s doing a great job as it is and leadership should be wary of turning the service on its head (even if the returns don’t satisfy investors):

“Twitter doesn’t just want to make it easy for users to find tweets. They want to make it easier for marketers to find users. Everyone wants to know the secret of how to use Twitter to reach their million potential customers. I will tell you the secret. You can’t do it. Twitter is not a giant megaphone. There is no mouthpiece. Those 300 million people, that glistening prize, are not waiting for your message. They’re not tuning to your channels. They’re choosing their own.”

Research from Branch Metrics points to the benefits of contextual deep linking, something that will become increasingly important as we move more toward an app based world:

Advantages of Contextual Deep LinkingThere’s been growing speculation about Apple’s development of their own car as the company looks to expand its footprint outside its heartland of computers and portable devices. Benedict Evans takes  an  insightful look at the market opportunity for the likes of Apple and also how new technologies and business models are likely to see the market evolve.

Mark Suster looks at the dangers of pouring investment into early stage startups where capital inflows can undo the hunger that makes startups so dangerous to the status quo. An interesting complement to this is Andreessen Horowitz’s compilation of startup metrics which provide a guide for those of you looking to assess which opportunities are really in a healthy financial position.

There’s been a lot of talk about unbundling in the cable television industry, particularly in the US which will impact what shows are produced and how they’re distributed in the future. Jan Dawson looks at the factors which will impact on whether consumers will stay with the incumbents or move to the new players such as Netflix and HBO Now.

There’s no denying there’s been a real change in what media consumers are interacting with, particularly among the younger generations. David Pakman takes a closer look, pointing to the growth in media forms which enable self expression and communication:

Media Consump

Tim Wu writing for the New Yorker takes a closer look at the growing hours faced by America’s more educated, as the age of leisure moves further off into the distance:

“What counts as work, in the skilled trades, has some intrinsic limits; once a house or bridge is built, that’s the end of it. But in white-collar jobs, the amount of work can expand infinitely through the generation of false necessities—that is, reasons for driving people as hard as possible that have nothing to do with real social or economic needs.”

The jury is still out on the ultimate effect that the digitisation of culture is having on the careers of artists and other cultural makers. Steven Johnson provides a convincing case of the benefits for musicians, filmmakers and authors with a blurring of the boundaries between professionals and interested amateurs.

We’ve seen food’s profile grow in terms of contemporary culture providing an intersection of material and experiential culture. Eugene Wei profiles this move, drawing on a recent Econtalk podcast feature Rachel Laudan:

“Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it’s because food and dining still offer true scarcity whereas music is so freely available everywhere that it’s become a poor signaling mechanism for status and taste.”

You can see this issue explored further with Joe Pinsker’s interview of Eve Turow focusing on the Millennials’ obsession with food in The Atlantic.

The featured image is Rage & Fury by Nootk! in Moscow, Russia.

Thought Starters: venture capital, role of mobile and some favourite podcasts

The following is a collection of articles, thought pieces, presentations and podcasts highlighting interesting trends and changes in the world you and I live in.

Andreessen Horowitz recently released a presentation which looked at venture capital funding in the US which sparked off more conversations on whether there’s a tech bubble. Ben Thompson expands on this to provide his view on the value of the growing number of unicorns:

I think it’s this dichotomy that makes the current bubble discussion so difficult: most unicorns may be overvalued, but in aggregate they are probably undervalued. It turns out winner-take-all doesn’t apply just to the markets these startups are targeting, it applies to the startups themselves.

Ben Thompson profiles Google’s data centric strategy with Facebook’s strategy which focuses on personalisation with Twitter seemingly unable to deploy either approaches:

Facebook vs Google

Benedict Evans provides contrasting review of business strategy in the digital age, looking at the importance of curation in an age of abundance providing a review of different approaches:

  1. There is giving you what you already know you want (Amazon, Google)
  2. There is working out what you want (Amazon and Google’s aspiration)
  3. And then there is suggesting what you might want (Heywood Hill).

It’s also worth spending time with Evans’ updated Mobile is Eating the World presentation.

I have concerns about the way that pornography is reshaping sexual relations in the modern era, but Maria Konnikova’s account suggest that pornography might be more a symptom than a cause of modern ills.

A recent issue of the New Yorker has a fascinating look at a case of hate crime in North Carolina and the expanding scope of euthanasia.

For lovers of history and data visualisations,  Neil Halloran’s piece on deaths in World War 2 makes compelling viewing. Check it out The Fallen of World War II for an interactive version

I’ve been going through something of a  podcast binge recently, turning my cycle rides around town into more enriching affairs. Shows that have hit the spot recently include the following:

Children of the Magenta looking at the perils of automation in aircraft.

The Takeover looking at how a boring Facebook group developed a life of its own.

Antibodies Part 1: CRISPR looks at recent advances in gene therapy which are both exciting and bewildering.

The Birth and Death of the Price Tag looks at changes in pricing without even mentioning Uber’s surge pricing.

The President was Here leaves me even more enamoured with Barack Obama.

The featured photograph is of a Reka piece from Milan, Italy published in StreetArtNews.

What I’m Listening To

I’ve recently developed a renewed love for podcasts, providing me with the opportunity to squeeze in more into my day as I cycle to work.

Find below a list of some of the spoken podcasts that I’ve been enjoying and shine a bit of light on the world we live in. What it doesn’t include is the countless musical podcasts I follow via Soundcloud and Mixcloud which occupy those moments where I need something requiring somewhat less thought.

Society, Culture and Economy

The Moth

The Moth provides spoken word performances which are great examples of how stories can send you on an emotional rollercoaster.

99% Invisible

Roman Mars hosts a regular podcast looking at an entertaining range of topics covering humans’ interaction with design. Among the topics covered are Youppi!guerilla sign making and Penn Station among many others,

Radiolab

Radiolab puts the spotlight on a different subject each week, providing a critical and entertaining perspective. A case in point was a recent episode looking at the role of American Indians in the early history of American football, which was fascinating, even for someone with little to no interest in the sport.

Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics like Radiolab looks at a different topic for each episode, using a mixture of Economics and Sociology, providing a follow on from Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book with the same name. Recent issues have looked at terrorism, energy efficiency, job security and the flu vaccine. More engaging than the description might suggest.

The Economist Radio

The Economist’s Soundcloud page provides bite sized episodes that come in around 3 minutes in length. Valuable windows into different topics but frustratingly short when it comes to providing a companion when you’re travelling from A > B.

Digital Culture

StartUp

StartUp provides a window into the ups and downs of founding a startup. It’s worth going back to their first edition as this is one podcast where you get a sense of a journey and the traversing of the many obstacles that founders typically face.

Reply All

Produced by Gimlet Media who also produce StartUp podcast. Reply All looks at a different subject each week relating to internet with subjects covered including the origins of email, the demands of hosting photos of Kim Kardashian’s derrière and France’s Minitel among other things.

TLDR

TLDR provides a similar format to Reply All, covering a different internet related topic each week but with a more activist agenda highlighting issues of discrimination and bias whilst keeping it entertaining.

Digital Economy and Strategy

Exponent

Talk show hosted by Ben Thompson of Stratechery fame and strategist James Allworth. They look at a broad range of issues relating to digital strategy typically using Ben Thompson’s writing as a starting point. Among the issues covered are copyright law, the internet of things, blogging’s future and a review of the strategy of leading digital companies including Apple, Google, Xiaomi and Microsoft.

A16Z

A16Z is venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s regular podcast profiling . Like Exponent, the show, looks at the internet with a more business focused lens than either Reply All or TLDR. Shows cover a range of digital trends bringing in key opinion makers from Silicon Valley. I’m  a particular fan of their coverage of  the impact of growing use of smartphones, with Benedict Evans’ commentary proving particularly worth a listen.

Cycling

The Bike Show

Jack Thurston provides a window into the many different aspects of cycling culture including history, activism and the large and small adventures of people on their bikes.

The Cycling Podcast

Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Frieve provide a window into the world of professional cycling for those of us frustrated by the lack of coverage in the mainstream press.

The featured image is by Chu at the Ciudad Cultural Konex in Buenos Aires and was published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters

A mixed collection of materials looking at societal trends, the role of technology and other content that has resonated with me.

The World Bank has combined population and GDP per capita statistics in a graph, providing an indication of current spending power as well as an indication of future opportunity.

Real GDP Per Capita and Share of Global Population

Gartner has updated its Hype Cycle which gives an indication of maturity and adoption of different technology platforms around the world.

Gartner Hype Cycle

American consumers are now faced with a growing array of video content through a range of platforms but consumer spending has actually decreased according to analysis from Liam Boluk.  In a world of all you can eat subscriptions such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, consumers are arguably choosing to spend their money elsewhere.

Entertainment Industry Ecosystem

Andreessen Horowitz has announced a $50 million investment in BuzzFeed, gaining mixed reactions from the news media.  Felix Salmon warns that comparing BuzzFeed to traditional media sources risks missing the business’ true potential.

The best way to think of BuzzFeed’s various products, then, is probably as a proof of concept: it’s a way to show advertisers that the company is able to reach a large, young, mobile, social audience in a multitude of different ways. The ability to reach those people is something of a holy grail for advertisers, who are therefore very willing to pay top dollar to anybody who can help them achieve their goal. The idea is that if BuzzFeed can reach a broad audience with its various editorial products, it can then sell that secret sauce to advertisers, and help them reach the same audience, using the same tools.

There’s been a lot of noise lately about the unbundling of mobile apps in Western markets with the launch of Foursquare’s Swarm and the splitting out of Facebook Messenger. Taylor Davidson warns against seeing this as a natural conclusion with app extensions, deep linking and notifications providing a countervailing force to this trend.

And as the platforms, hardware, and operating systems in mobile continue to change how people use their devices, don’t be surprised if the rationale behind unbundling shifts as well.

I think we think of unbundling as the end-state, but instead, it’s a process that leads to it’s reversal. Unbundling creates the incentives for rebundling.

The constant, as usual, is change.

We’ve seen strong growth from shared economy based enterprises such as Uber and Airbnb which use rating systems as a means of engendering trust on the part of consumers. Danny Crichton in an article for TechCrunch warns of the corrosive effect of these computational trust systems on wider society.

Our growing need to feel connected is confirmed by research from the US which found that 60% of US internet users were almost always connected.

Three in five internet users are almost always connected

British communications marker regulator Ofcom’s report The Communications Market 2014 is a treasure trove of insights into the UK market. Find below some key insights.

Reinforcing the earlier message of the always on lifestyle is the following graph looking at consumers engagement with media and communications during their waking hours.

Media Consumption Activity

Looking at how media and communications time is spent across different age cohorts provides clues as to how we can expect media to move in the future.

Media by Time

A similar analysis of internet consumption by device type points to the importance of smartphones for younger audiences.

Device usage internet

Providing further data on the UK market in the 4GEE Media Living Index which provides figures on mobile data usage from EE customers. Among the interesting data points are the following which point to the strong presence of Tango in the mobile messaging space and Soundcloud in audio streaming.

Instant Messaging Audio Analysis from Comscore points to Snapchat moving from outsider to well established member of the communications space in the US having long passed what Comscore considers critical mass in the 18-24 aged audience segment.

Snapchat PenetrationPew Research Center’s analysis of Twitter traffic provides an interesting breakdown of social communities and how they interact, converge and/or diverge. Something well worth considering when we see issues emerge that have the potential to bring us together or divide us.

Twitter CommunitiesMalcolm Gladwell’s look at organised crime among immigrant groups in the US point to this ‘career’ as being seen as an important enabler of upward mobility in what makes for an enjoyable read.

The point of the crooked-ladder argument and “A Family Business” was that criminal activity, under those circumstances, was not rebellion; it wasn’t a rejection of legitimate society. It was an attempt to join in.

If you find yourself in London between now and the end of August, do check out Lucy Sparrow’s The Cornershop in the Columbia Road area recreating various household goods in felt. You can find an interview with the artist over at Folksy.

felt-food

The featured image is Beautiful Bridge #1 by Sabina Lang & Daniel Baumann in Recoleta, Buenos Aires.

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 12

Ben Thompson continues his series looking at the weakening position of the newspaper sector. He points to the fact that newspapers doesn’t necessarily have the best content or a wealth of customer weakening its ability to personalise its media and advertising offering . Thompson instead see a more atomised media sector with specialist providers and a smaller number of dedicated news organisations delivering the news we traditionally associate with newspapers.

Bloomberg looks at the Internet of Money as cryptocurrencies develop a growing range of use cases beyond simply acting as an alternative to fiat currency. For more of a background look at the pros and cons of  Bitcoin, try Freakonomics’ recent podcast

Andreessen Horowitz’s podcast series is proving a great source of insights into the technology and startup sector with recent episodes looking at full stack startups, mobile discovery and Bitcoin among others. Definitely worth following.

Twitter has an issue with onboarding, with users typically requiring a considerable investment in time before they get that ‘aha’ moment. Quartz looks at some of the obstacles Twitter faces in making the social network a more comfortable place for consumers.

Why people quit Twitter

Filmed in 2011 and still sounding fresh is Rory Sutherland’s TED talk looking at the importance of framing an issue or problem in engaging consumers.

Simon Kemp posts some thought starters for We Are Social looking at the evolving nature of marketing in an increasingly social and data driven age.

Felix Salmon looks at Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift as the former’s move to become a tech conglomerate rather than an attempt to bring the world of virtual reality into social media.

GigaOm looks at the less friendly reception received by Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter supporters to the news that its being acquired by Facebook. As with many crowdfunding initiatives, supporters have no equity but strong identification with the funded projects.

Courtney Myers gives an overview of the London startup sector for General Assembly.

It’s men rather than women that are more likely to be living with their parents as young adults in the Western world according to figures from FiveThirtyEight.

datablog-chalabi-living-with-parents

Giving a rather amusing and scary view of the male species is Dissent’s reporting on the pick up artist community’s response to Ukraine’s attempts to align itself with Europe.

Going rather against my own preconceptions about the Australian male is this campaign from Snickers in Australia

The featured image is ELLIPSE by GoddoG in Arles, France.