Thought Starters: Google I/O, property puzzle in England and rates of innovation

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at Google and Apple at a crossroads, England’s property market and questions over the rate of innovation among other things:

Whilst many technological and social indicators point to the lead that Western Europe and North America has over the developing world, there are cases where incumbent infrastructure slows down the introduction of new technologies. An example of this from  the World Economic Forum is the lead Sub-Saharan Africa has in mobile money accounts, aided by the lack of traditional financial services infrastructure:

Sub-Saharan Africa has worlds largest share of mobile money accounts

Interesting benchmark figures from Pew Research on the use of online services by the American population. There’s obviously plenty of opportunity for growth still across many different categories:

72% of Americans have used some type of shared or on-demand online services

Google I/O developer conference happened on Wednesday which saw the launch of new virtual reality, mobile messaging, smart home and virtual assistant platforms and updates for Android, Android Wear and Android Auto. It’s worth checking out The Verge’s coverage of the leading announcements if you’re wanting more details on what to expect in the coming months.

Ben Thompson has an interesting follow on to the conference pointing to Google’s technical process but also suggesting that other factors at play are likely to hamper the organisation’s success:

The problem is that as much as Google may be ahead, the company is also on the clock: every interaction with Siri, every signal sent to Facebook, every command answered by Alexa, is one that is not only not captured by Google but also one that is captured by its competitors. Yes, it is likely Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are all behind Google when it comes to machine learning and artificial intelligence — hugely so, in many cases — but it is not a fair fight. Google’s competitors, by virtue of owning the customer, need only be good enough, and they will get better. Google has a far higher bar to clear — it is asking users and in come cases their networks to not only change their behavior but willingly introduce more friction into their lives — and its technology will have to be special indeed to replicate the company’s original success as a business.

Another company that’s had a strong run but for which the future is harder to anticipate is Apple. Marco Arment has been a valuable commentator and proponent of Apple and its broader ecosystem and his concerns about Apple’s long term health should definitely be taken seriously:

But if Google’s right, it won’t be enough to buy Siri’s creators again or partner with Yelp for another few years. If Apple needs strong AI and big-data services in the next decade to remain competitive, they need to have already been developing that talent and those assets, in-house, extensively, for years. They need to be a big-data-services company. Their big-data AI services need to be far better, smarter, and more reliable than they are. And I just don’t see that happening.

As a venture capitalist, David Pakman has a vested interest in a more entrepreneurial music ecosystem. That being said, I do believe he has a strong point talking about how major record labels are squeezing some of the innovation out of the music sector:

In my mind, it would have been in the long-term best interests of the recorded music business to enable the widespread success of thousands of companies, each paying fair but not bone-crushing royalties back to labels, artists and publishers. But the high royalty rates imposed upon startups, even after clear signs over the past 19 years that the strategy killed companies, prevented a healthy ecosystem from emerging. It’s a bed the music industry made for itself, and now it is left to lie in it.

Whilst there’s a been a lot of talk about the polarisation of incomes in the West, research from Walter Frick points to a similar polarisation in corporate performance with leading firms galloping ahead of everyone else:

The gap between the most productive firms and the rest is growing

Donald Trump’s nomination for the Republican party is pretty much a given now, and I’m glad to see more and more commentators coming out to express their opposition to his candidacy. Robert Kagan’s is definitely among the more eloquent, let’s just hope the US population listens to reason:

And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

The UK referendum on whether the country chooses to leave the European Union is fast approaching leading to some scaremongering  from the pro Brexit camp.  Providing a rather different perspective is research from Philippe Legrain who points out the economic benefits potentially provided by the influx of refugees to Europe:

Refugees who arrived in Europe last year could repay spending on them almost twice over within just five years, according to one of the first in-depth investigations into the impact incomers have on host communities.

Refugees will create more jobs, increase demand for services and products, and fill gaps in European workforces – while their wages will help fund dwindling pensions pots and public finances, says Philippe Legrain, a former economic adviser to the president of the European commission.

Over the following decade, England’s population rose by 4.1m while its housing stock rose by only 1.7m, something which any economist will tell you is going to cause some problems. This shortage is exacerbated by disparities between local authorities as The Economist recently mapped (click through for the interactive version):

Housing stock v demand

A further indication of the overheated nature of certain parts of the UK housing sector can be seen in the fact that the average first time buyer in London now earns £85k and has a deposit of £123k according to the ONS figures:

London First Time Buyers

Frans de Waal has taken a critical look at economics, pointing to its vision of the self interested human being rather different from how societies developed or currently operate:

Economists should reread the work of their father figure, Adam Smith, who saw society as a huge machine. Its wheels are polished by virtue, whereas vice causes them to grate. The machine just won’t run smoothly without a strong community sense in every citizen. Smith saw honesty, morality, sympathy and justice as essential companions to the invisible hand of the market. His views were based on our being a social species, born in a community with responsibilities towards the community.

There’s been a lot of debate over the rate of innovation, with the naysayers  attitudes illustrated by Peter Thiel’s infamous statement “We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters.” Neil Irwin has looked at the big inventions over the last 150 years, and suggests the nature of what is being invented might have changed but the pace of innovation hasn’t:
In short, the sheer number of ways a person can be in touch with others, and consume information or entertainment, has exploded, and the price has collapsed.

This is the area in which human life has changed the most in the last 46 years. We live and travel much as we did in 1970. We eat more variety of foods. Products of all types keep getting a little safer, a little more efficient, a little better designed.

But the real revolution of recent decades is in the supercomputer most people keep in their pocket. And how that stacks up against the advances of yesteryear is the great question of whether an era of innovation remains underway, or has slowed way down.

One innovation I am expecting to see much more of in the coming years is augmented reality with its fusing of the virtual and real life. Keiichi Matsuda provides a rather dystopian view of the world we might face in years to come:

The featured image is from eko.

Thought Starters: social media, Apple, banking and changes to employment and income

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at the competing social media platforms and their roles, whether Apple can innovate, banking and its relationship with fintech and changes in employment and income among other things. 

Robinson Meyer revisits Reid Hoffman’s look at social networks and the parallels he draws between them and the seven deadly sins:

“Social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins,” the LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist said. “Zynga is sloth. LinkedIn is greed. With Facebook, it’s vanity, and how people choose to present themselves to their friends.”

Research from Social Fresh, Firebrand Group and Simply Measured points to Facebook being comfortably ahead of other social media platforms in terms of ROI:

Social Media Platforms that Produce the Best ROI According to Social Media Marketers Worldwide March 2016

Whilst Snapchat is making growing inroads among younger audiences in the US, Instagram for the moment is proving a more popular medium for advertisers according to L2 Think Tank’s research:

Snapchat vs Instagram Adoption Among Brands Worldwide by Industry

Twitter recently reclassified its mobile app as a news service rather than social media in Apple’s App Store. Pew Research’s recent findings point to how the services have a different relationship with news content with Facebook driving more traffic whilst users referred by Twitter typically spending more time with the visited content:

On cellphones more visits come from Facebook

Given the increasingly important role that Facebook plays in distributing content, it’s no surprise that commentators cried foul when Gizmodo reported that Facebook was suppressing conservative news. A more careful reading of the news by Tyler Cowen and Ben Thompson suggests this isn’t quite as significant as the headlines suggest:

This, then, is the deep irony of this controversy: Facebook is receiving a huge amount of criticism for allegedly biasing the news via the empowerment of a team of human curators to make editorial decisions, as opposed to relying on what was previously thought to be an algorithm; it is an algorithm, though — the algorithm that powers the News Feed, with the goal of driving engagement — that is arguably doing more damage to our politics than the most biased human editor ever could. The fact of the matter is that, on the part of Facebook people actually see — the News Feed, not Trending News — conservatives see conservative stories, and liberals see liberal ones; the middle of the road is as hard to find as a viable business model for journalism (these things are not disconnected).

James Allworth profiles Apple’s business strategy and suggests that the company’s success is one of the key things holding the company back:

And it appears that Apple has fallen into exactly the same trap. Rather than start anew — with a beginner’s mind—what the above reveals to me is that they’ve tried to take the last paradigm and just jam it into the new one. The old has bled into the new. The result, at least as it stands now: just like Microsoft did, Apple knows what needs to be built — a phone-disrupting device. It’s just that they can’t bring themselves to let go of the past in order to do the job properly.

Whilst the Apple Watch hasn’t proved the breakthrough success for Apple that the iPhone provided, Neil Cybart’s analysis of Apple’s R&D expenditure points to something big coming soon:

Apple R&D Expense (Annual)

At the more nascent end of the technology ecosystem, Jared Friedman’s analysis of applicants to the Y Combinator programme provides a valuable window into the type of startups we’re likely to see more of in the very near future. Think more apps, SAAS businesses and platforms based on messaging, Slack and virtual reality among other things:

Messaging & Communications

For those of you working in startups looking to improve your product and people management, you’d be well advised to read Mike Davidson’s account of life as Vice President of Design at Twitter. He covers a lot of ground so I’m not going to try and summarise it, but it’s well worth checking out.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more nuts and bolts approach to improving your digital presence, Nick Kolenda’s 125 easy tweaks provides a good starting point, even if you don’t agree with everything he has to say.

The banking sector won no popularity contests over the last  9 years with its practices fueling the global financial crisis. James Surowiecki reviews moves to reform the sector suggesting improvements have been made but there’s still some way to go:

Of course, there’s much about Wall Street that Dodd-Frank has not changed. Bankers still make absurd amounts of money. Hedge-fund and private-equity managers still benefit from the carried-interest tax loophole. The big banks, though smaller, are still too big. “If you wanted financial reform to radically downsize the financial sector, or thought it was going to make a major dent in income inequality, you’re bound to be disappointed,” Konczal says. And Dodd-Frank’s work is still unfinished: many of the rules it authorized have yet to be written, and the banks are lobbying to have them written in their favor. As Ziegler told me, “The progress that’s been made is precarious. It can be unravelled.” But precarious progress is progress. Regulation involves a constant struggle to keep rules in place and to enforce the ones that are there. Dodd-Frank shows that that struggle is not necessarily a futile one: sometimes government really does regulate business, and not the other way around.

In Fintech circles there’s a lot of talk about the power of startups to disrupt the banking sector but Josh Constine suggests that these startups may actually strengthen rather than undermine your relationship with your bank:

But what many of these startups have in common is that they all rely on connecting to your existing bank to fund your accounts with them or receive money. Rather than shun the startups, the incumbents have built bridges to let you hook fintech products into your bank accounts.

The result is that while banking is changing rapidly, you might be more reluctant to change which bank you use, according to several fintech founders and VCs I spoke to.

There’s been increasingly vociferous discussions  about the impact that automation will have on employment over the long term. Josh Zumbrun’s analysis of US figures provides an indication of where things are heading.  Employment among knowledge workers and non-routine manual workers is proving much less susceptible to automation and is showing much stronger rates of growth compared to employment with routinised workflows:

The Rise of the Knowledge Worker

Pew Research figures point to the polarisation of wealth in American society as not simply coming from growing income and assets among the wealthiest but also due to the relative decline of the country’s middle-income households:

The middle class is shrinking nearly everywhere

Ed Hawkins’ data visualisation of climate over the last 150 years provides a valuable reminder that now is not the time for us all to put our heads in the sand:

Global temperature change (1850-2016)

Elisabeth Zerofsky’s profile of Marine Le Pen provides a reminder of the growing tide of nationalism in European politics and attempts to try provide a more “palatable” face on a movement that was previously at the fringe of European politics.

I am keen to hear your thoughts any of the above, whether you vehemently agree or disagree, so please don’t hesitate to use the comments field.

The featured image is a MOMO piece commissioned by the City of Sydney.

Thought Starters: ubiquitous smartphones, post-PC and universal basic income

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at the transition from a PC to a smartphone-dominated world, the story behind financial results from Apple and Facebook, the growth of Sci-Hub and a closer look at the universal basic income model among other things:

Benedict Evans profiles the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone and how the mobile market is changing as the technology becomes increasingly commodified:

Smartphones have unique scale for tech

Steven Sinofsky moves to an iPad Pro for his daily computing requirements and shares his experiences. As the PC loses its hegemony, raises new challenges and opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs:

The shift to this new form factor and new platform will bring with it cultural changes that take advantage of what are perceived as disadvantages. As makers, being early is essential, otherwise you are late.

For more on the topic of post-PC world, I’d suggest reading Paul Thurrott’s reluctant forecast of the demise of Microsoft’s Windows and Steven Sinofsky and Benedict Evans rounding out their thoughts on the a16z podcast:

The release of quarterly results has provided a valuable window into the ups and downs of some of the world’s tech giants. Neil Cybart’s analysis of Apple’s financial results suggests we’ve reached peak iPhone, with sales hit by longer upgrade cycles and fewer easy growth opportunities:

iPhone Unit Sales Growth (trailing 12 months)

Apple CEO Tim Cook has emphasised the company’s service offerings in recent announcements. It’s worth having a read of Ben Thompson’s analysis of this move as the company looks to avoid being typecast as simply a maker of beautiful devices:

With regards to the iPhone, it’s hard to see its record revenues and profits ever being surpassed by another product, by Apple or anyone else: it is in many respects the perfect device from a business perspective, and given that whatever replaces it will likely be significantly less dependent on a physical interface and even more dependent on the cloud (which will help commoditize the hardware), it will likely be sold for much less and with much smaller profit margins.

Facebook had more joy with its financial results growing monthly and daily active users and mobile’s share of traffic although growing presence in developing markets is dragging down its average revenue per user. Whilst recent research suggests that people might be increasingly wary of sharing their personal thoughts on Facebook, the social network maintains a strong role as onramp to many consumers’ digital world as Will Oremus comments:

The company has reinvented itself in two distinct ways. First, Facebook as a platform has been quietly evolving into something different than a social network—something less personal, but no less useful. Second, Facebook as a company has been furiously hedging its bets on the future of technology and social media, to the point that it is no longer properly described as merely a social network—no more than Alphabet (né Google) is properly described as a search website.

So what has the Facebook app and site become, if not a social network? The answer is rather obvious when you watch how people use it. It has become a personalized portal to the online world.

Whilst tech unicorns have typically avoided the scrutiny of the stock market by staying private, analysis of sales of ping-pong tables in Silicon Valley suggest that venture capital funding might not be as free flowing as it once was:

Sales of ping-pong tables to companies at a Silicon Valley store correlate with venture-capital deals made during the same quarter.

Whilst we’re on the subject of startups, it’s worth reading Chris Dixon’s call for entrepreneurs to look broadly to better understand future threats and opportunities, namechecking automation of logistics, apps, video and voice services:

Think of the internet economic loop as a model train track. Positions in front of you can redirect traffic around you. Positions after you can build new tracks that bypass you. New technologies come along (which often look toy-like and unthreatening at first) that create entirely new tracks that render the previous tracks obsolete.

The American IAB has released research tracking consumers’ use of smartphones and tablets when shopping, pointing to the ways different age categories use their devices. This providing both a threat and an opportunity for traditional bricks and mortar retailers:

Smartphone as Shopping Assistant

John Bohannon profiles the growth of Sci-Hub which offers users a means of accessing copyrighted academic research regardless of whether people have the necessary institutional resources. The service provides a valuable source for researchers in less well-funded institutions, but usage statistics suggest that users include plenty of people with the necessary credentials and are simply looking for more user-friendly alternatives:

Server log data for the website Sci-Hub from September 2015 through February 2015

With predictions of automation threatening employment across an increasingly broad spectrum of jobs, there’s been growing calls for the introduction of universal basic income. This would essentially provide a guaranteed income to all regardless of employment status and has gained an interesting collection of supporters from both ends of the political spectrum. It’s something I am expecting to hear a lot more about in the coming months and you get an introduction to the concept from Tim Harford (shorter version), Andrew Flowers (longer version) and the Freakonomics team (podcast version).

The featured image is a Nerone mural from Bordeaux, France published in ekosystem.

Thought Starters: mobile’s evolution, the gang of four, sadness on Tumblr and Brexit

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through the articles, research and opinion pieces I’ve read, highlighting the more interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. This edition looks at the evolution of mobile, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook’s stranglehold on media and technology, Tumblr’s role among teens and the upcoming Brexit referendum among other things. Happy reading. 

With the Mobile World Congress on in Barcelona, Benedict Evans looks back at how we’ve got to today’s mobile ecosystem and how various incumbents were wrongfooted by these changes:

It’s always fun to laugh at the people who said the future would never happen. But it’s more useful to look at the people who got it almost right, but not quite enough. That’s what happened in mobile. As we look now at new emerging industries, such as VR and AR or autonomous cars, we can see many of the same issues. The big picture 20 years out is actually the easy part, but the details are the difference between Nokia and DoCoMo ruling the world and the world as it actually happened. There’s going to be a bunch of stuff that’ll happen by 2025 that we’d find just as weird.

The recent launches of Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages aim to get content to consumers faster on their mobile phone (as well as keeping content within their respective domains). The following graph should give you an idea of why load times are so important for consumers:

Cognitive load associated with stressful situations

Bruce Schneier gives a valuable defence of Apple’s refusal to handover the ‘keys’ to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. I am not so sure if it’s quite as cut and dry as Schneier makes out but there’s a strong case for not opening back doors given that there are plenty of people whose governments are less benevolent than are own:

What the FBI wants to do would make us less secure, even though it’s in the name of keeping us safe from harm. Powerful governments, democratic and totalitarian alike, want access to user data for both law enforcement and social control. We cannot build a backdoor that only works for a particular type of government, or only in the presence of a particular court order.

NYU Stern Professor Scott Galloway provides a rapid fire look at the growing stranglehold that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have on the media and technology sector – entertaining and informative:

A valuable companion to Galloway’s video is The Guardian’s presentation on key trends in the media sector focusing on where consumers are spending their time, emerging media models and podcasting among other things:

Whilst Tumblr might not be living up to Yahoo’s expectations with its monetisation, theres’ no denying its cultural impact. Elspeth Reeve provides a window into where Tumblr fits into teens’ digital lives:

Wong explained that teens perform joy on Instagram but confess sadness on Tumblr. The site, he said, is a “safe haven from their local friends. … On Tumblr they tell their most personal stories. They share things that they normally wouldn’t share with their local friends because of the fear of judgment. That has held true for every person that I’ve met.”

The IAB UK is pushing the importance of online advertising in the living room, pointing out that television isn’t the only game in town if you want consumers’ attention:

“Second screening is ingrained to such a degree that all screens are now equal, there’s no hierarchy, only fragmentation of attention – actually switch-screening is a much more accurate term,” says Tim Elkington, the IAB’s Chief Strategy Officer. “Furthermore, entertainment is only a small part of the living room media activity. It’s now a multifunctional space where people jump between individual and group activities, be it shopping, social media, emails, work or messaging.”

Ben Carlson explores why bear markets are so painful for consumers and businesses (and it’s not just the hole it leaves in their pockets):

One of the reasons for this is because of the difference between the nature of bull and bear markets. There’s an old saying that stocks take the escalator up but the elevator down. Bull markets are fairly slow and methodical. Bear markets are violent and come in waves. Bull markets take time to climb the wall of worry while bear markets can wipe out a decent amount of those gains in a hurry.

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has provoked renewed interest in the issue of income inequality. Dr Max Roser’s analysis points to rising inequality in English speaking countries which contrasts with the other developed economies profiled:

Share of Total Income going to the Top 1%

Britain is now in Brexit fever as debates  rage over whether the country should leave the European Union following the announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron of a referendum in July. The Economist has done a quick roundup of some of the arguments those for and against Brexit are pushing:

Arguments for and against Brexit, according to the main campaigns

One of the big uncertainties is the impact that Brexit will have on the UK’s economy. Chris Giles looks at three possible scenarios, a Booming Britain, a Troubled Transition and a Disastrous Decision.

The Economist point to the importance of education as key arbiter in determining Briton’s perceptions of Brexit. Tertiary education in particular providing a different filter to view these changes as well as increasing the potential benefits from being part of the European Union:

In the long term, this bodes well for pro-Europeans. University attendance has exploded, which suggests that Britain will become more internationalist and comfortable with EU co-operation. Yet in the meantime it seems the country will be increasingly polarised: liberal, Cambridge-like places on the one side; nationalist, Peterborough-like ones on the other and an ever-shrinking middle ground between the two, as the population bifurcates into those whose skills make them globally competitive and those who must compete with robots and the mass workforces of the emerging economies. Democracy—especially in a system as centralised and majoritarian as that of Britain—assumes some common premises and experiences, a foundation that thanks to the great educational-cultural divide is now at risk. Eventually Britain will look more like Cambridge than it does today. But until then decades of division and mutual alienation await.

Another country that is having a rather mixed relationship with the European Union is Poland. Christian Davies follows Jarosław Kaczyński and the Law & Justice party’s rise to power and concerns about growing nationalism and authoritarianism:

Commonly labelled conservative or nationalist, Law and Justice blends the religious and patriotic rituals of Poland’s long history of resistance to foreign oppression with hostility to free-market capitalism and a heavy dose of conspiracy regarding the machinations of Poland’s enemies. It is the vanguard of a movement that goes far beyond the party itself, supported by sympathetic smaller parties, ultra-Catholic media, nationalist youth organisations and an assortment of cranks and cynics who share a hostility to liberalism in all its guises. As foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski told the German tabloid Bild, his government “only wants to cure our country of a few illnesses”, such as: “a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians, who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion … What moves most Poles [is] tradition, historical awareness, love of country, faith in God and normal family life between a woman and a man.”

Valentine’s Day this year was awash with media coverage of online dating and the impact it is having on relationships. It’s interesting to look back on how people have met their other halves in the past. These figures might not be right up to date (certainly pre Tinder) but they do give a valuable indicator of changing social trends:

How heterosexual US couples met their romantic partners 1940-2009

The featured image is a Hitotzuki mural from the POW! WOW! festival in Hawaii and published in Arrested Motion.

Thought Starters: Apple vs Google, fintech, Bitcoin’s failing health, emerging markets and income inequality

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through the articles, research and opinion pieces I’ve read, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. In this week’s edition we’ll look at virtual reality, the looming battle between Apple and Google, the fintech opportunity, Bitcoin’s (poor) health, emerging markets, income inequality and lots more.

Goran Peuc has called on designers to focus more on getting users to their destination as smoothly as possible, avoiding unwarranted complexity and features. Among the services he highlights as doing it right are Google Search, Nest, Dropbox and Gov.uk:

People are not really into using products. Any time spent by a user operating an interface, twisting knobs, pulling levers or tapping buttons is time wasted. Rather, people are more interested in the end result and in obtaining that result in the quickest, least intrusive and most efficient manner possible. And these are two fundamentally different concepts — usage versus results — which, at the very least, differentiate good product design from poor product design or, on a smaller scale, a good feature from a bad one.

2016 is likely to be a big year for virtual reality as it moves from vapourware to tangible experiences in consumers hands. Peter Rojas looks at some of the key issues affecting what the VR landscape will be come the end of 2016:

It feels like we’re on the cusp of an entirely new world of immersive computing, but VR as an industry is still completely wide open in a way which more established markets like mobile and desktop computing are not.

Facebook has begun releasing an SDK for Facebook Messenger enabling developers to build interactive experiences within the messaging platform with actions such as shop, book, travel and more. This brings Facebook closer to the WeChat model whereby users feel less need to leave the messaging platform to complete tasks. Uber is among the first partners to trial the service (see below):

 


 

GlobalWebIndex has released its figures for the global penetration of adblockers which gives you an indication of why their growth was highlighted as a trend to watch in a number of media commentators’ end of year roundup:

Ad-blocking is here to stay

Mehdi Daoudi contrasts Google’s web centric strategy with Apple’s app centric approach   are taking to online media with Mountain’s app centric approach, with both arguing that they have the user’s interests at heart. Media publishers are increasingly feeling like the meat in the sandwich, as these technology titans try and wrest control of consumers’ attention and eyeballs:

What’s really going on here? No one is saying that Google and Apple aren’t genuinely interested in creating the best possible online experiences. But the recent announcements are skirmishes in a bigger war for Internet dominance, with these behemoths and others trying to stifle each others’ business models, sway advertising trends in their own favor, and gain a bigger piece of the online advertising pie. The end-user experience argument is their Trojan Horse, and other companies, large or small, are unwilling pawns in their master plans.

Startup L. Jackson has been one of the most amusing and at times insightful commentators on the world of startups and Silicon Valley. Chris Dixon has pulled together some of his best tweets:

Concerns about the overvaluation of tech startups appear to be having a real impact on angel and venture capital funding, with CB Insights‘ figures pointing to a decline in the number of deals and funding in the last quarter in the US. Probably more a case of a market correcting for a bulge rather than the popping of a bubble:

US Tech Seed Deal Activity

The fintech sector has been one of the hotspots in London’s startup sector. TransferWise’s The Future of Finance profiles why there’s so much interest in the sector with its talk of disrupting traditional financial institutions and also looks at which categories consumers are most receptive to new entrants:

Consumers’ predictions of their own uptake of fintech over the next 10 years

Capgemini’s survey of the financial services sector provides a contrasting perspective, pointing to financial institutions in many cases being more concerned about larger technology players rather than the new range of fintech startups:
A view of the competitive threat by banking vertical

Bitcoin is one of the technologies that many commentators were forecasting would turn the financial services on its head. Whilst banks and other financial institutions are increasingly experimenting with blockchain solutions, bitcoin pioneer Mike Hearn’s prognosis for Bitcoin is less than healthy:

Why has Bitcoin failed? It has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system.

Academic publishing is one sector that has proven surprisingly resistant to change with commercial publishers continuing to act as tollkeeper. Jason Schmitt looks at Elsevier and asks whether we’re on the cusp of change towards a much more open model of information sharing:

Time will tell if open access will be the needed disruption to allow the academic environment to right itself or if a new market emerges from startup incubators like the Center for Open Science. Regardless of how the future vision is realized, most in the academic community hope that the new iteration of scholarly articles and publishing will do more good toward humankind than that of a hefty profit margin.

You can gauge the shift in the global economy from Oxford Economics‘ forecast of the major economic centres in 2030 in this visualisation by CityMetric, which points to an increasingly China orientated world:

Cities that will contribute the most to growth in global GDP by 2030

Whilst the global economy has definitely been moving east, the short to medium term outlook for many emerging markets isn’t nearly as rosy. Ian Talley profiles some of the barriers that are likely to hold back many countries’ economic growth:

Not so emerging markets

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Nattavudh Powdthavee’s research points to a negative correlation between income inequality and life satisfaction:Overall well-being drops as national income inequality rises

Another area where the Nordics have excelled is press freedom with Finland, Norway and Denmark leading Reporters without Borders global league table:

2015 World Press Freedom Index

Whilst London sometimes feels like it’s bursting at the seams, the city reward its residents with one of the most diverse collections of ethnicities in the world (great if you’re a culinary explorer). The Economist has used Office of National Statistics data to highlight the leading ethnicities for each of London’s electoral wards in an interactive map (click on the map below for the interactive version):

London's ethnic map

Dive like Hector is the featured image by  Telmo Miel, painted in Christchurch, New Zealand on top of the YMCA building and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: Chinese digital media, iPhone’s dominance, Holacracy and Europe’s lagging digital innovation

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.

We are seeing Chinese businesses increasingly innovate and excel, providing business models that set themselves apart from businesses in the West. Digital media and communications have been a particularly fertile ground illustrated by the following table which illustrates how diversified the revenue streams of Tencent and YY are compared to their American counterparts:

Tencent Facebook YY and Youtube Monetisation

Apple is carving an increasingly dominant place in the world’s smartphone marketplace in terms of market share and profit. Some critics have questioned whether Apple can continue this growth trajectory, but Ben Thompson provides a strong defence for why we’re not likely to see this train derailing in the near future:

Smartphone Marketshare

Closely tied to the issue of smartphone ownership is the penetration of different mobile browsers. Here again Akamai’s figures point to Apple’s Mobile Safari browser dominating globally:

Global Mobile Browser Share

Roger D. Hodge looks at the ups and downs of Zappos’ introduction of the Holacracy system for self-organisation. It’s a long article but provides a valuable window into the challenges (and some of the opportunities) of introducing radical organisational change:

Zappos' Models of Organisation

As we embed the internet in an more aspects of  our lives, countries’ digital readiness provides an increasingly important measure of future economic health. Tufts University created the Digital Evolution Index to measure the building of digital capacity and many European countries don’t come out particularly well according to Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi:

Digital Evolution Index

One digital innovation with its roots in Europe is the blockchain platform Ethereum (although there’s definitely an argument for it being a global project). Vinay Gupta provides a valuable look at the development of blockchain and smart contracts within the wider context of the evolution of databases and the internet.

Christina Farr looks at the rise and fall of the home cleaning service Homejoy, providing important lessons for startups aiming for growth at all costs.

A lot of media attention has focused on the rapid rise in San Francisco property prices, so it’s interesting to see UBS’ comparison of how overvalued the city’s real estate is compared to other leading cities:

Global Real Estate Bubble Index

Eric Jaffe’s analysis of trends in working hours over the last 130 years points to a downward trend – lets hope that we see this trend continue without leaving us all unemployed:

Annual Hours of Work

The featured image is a mural in Covilhã, Portugal by Pantonio and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: potential for micropayments, notifications and a closer look at WeWork

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

As the online media sector grapples with the impact of ad blockers on their business model, we’re likely to see growing interest in micropayments. Frédéric Filloux profiles Dutch platform Blendle and how their business model takes a collaborative approach with media operators:

“Blendle benefits from exceptionally favorable trade winds. The traditional advertising model is crumbling under the pressure of programmatic buying and of the pervasiveness of adblockers. In addition, Blendle also takes advantage of limitations in paywall models that mostly target the heavy, affluent users segment, but exclude the younger audiences that are Blendle’s main target (today two-third of Blendle users are under 35). From the legacy media perspective, this makes the paid-by-the-article system more attractive than ever.”

Figures from comScore in the US point to mobile and tablet app usage following the power law with a few apps monopolising consumers’ attention:Time spent per app

John Borthwick profiles the role of notifications as the smartphone becomes the centre of our digital lives:

“Right now we are witnessing another round of unbundling as the notification screen becomes the primary interface for mobile computing. It’s easy to get fixated with notifications as a feature — they are a feature for an app. But they are also part of this broader unbundling cycle and they are part of an architectural shift from pull to a push. It’s an interesting time.”

Steve Cheney looks at how Apple has used its expertise in microchips to carve out a competitive advantage in smartphones with potential to do the same in other market categories.

WeWork is positioning itself more as disruptive tech startup rather than traditional property company as a means of buttressing its market valuation. Nitasha Tiku takes a closer look and asks whether the company is really that different from more traditional commercial property providers:

“These slides show how easy it is to create a good-looking growth curve — not just for WeWork, but for all of its peers in the current tech climate. “You put together a model. It spits out whatever it spits out based on the inputs,” Sussman told BuzzFeed News. “I always say, ‘If you gave David Copperfield or Harry Potter Microsoft Excel, they could do even more amazing magic.’” The basis for WeWork’s five-year forecasts, he said, all rests on its assumptions. “Key metrics like membership growth, pricing, and square footage leased drive the whole model. Change those inputs and everything changes.” Input in, pivot out.”

On the topic of startups and their respective valuations, the following slide provides an interesting look at how Slack is miles ahead in terms of the value of each customer according to L2:

Valuations per user

Having grown up (at least initially) with the printed word, it’s fascinating to see the growth of YouTube as an information channel for the under 55s according to Ofcom research:

Sources used when looking for information online

The Pew Research Center has released figures looking at how social media usage has changed over the last 10 years. No great revelations but an interesting window into how usage has grown and how it does (or doesn’t) vary by age, gender, education and income:

Social Media vs Income

Corporate taxation (or the lack thereof) continues to pop up in the headlines with Facebook apparently paying out just £4,327 in tax UK despite giving out £35m in staff bonuses according to a Guardian report. Among the tricks of the trade are the use of offshore shore bases which The Economist highlights with FDI inflows:

FDI inflows as percentage of GDP

Using figures from the American Community Survey, the United States Census Bureau points to women overtaking men in having a bachelor degree or higher in the US (although pay equity looks much further off):

Comparison of Gender vs Tertiary Qualification in US

Whilst Britain’s role in Europe may be in question with talk of Brexit, English becomes increasingly dominant among languages taught in primary schools in the European Union according to the Pew Research Center:

Growing dominance of English language in Europe

The featured image is Dark Perimeter / Basic Primary Shapes by the Argentinian artist Elian Chali for Nuit Blanche in Brussels and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 18

This edition of Thought Starters includes a few pieces that take a more critical view of our interactions with the internet and technology as well as the usual analysis of recent developments in media, technology and society in general.

Ex mobile junkie Jeremy Vandehey gives his advice on how to live more of your life without your smartphone, arguing that this will enrich your relationships and personal experiences .

This is your brain on mobile

In a similar mode, Kathleen Davis gives her account of how she survives and thrives in the tech sector despite never having owned a smartphone.

Mike Feibus looks at the growing success of Chromebook within the PC sector which he attributes to strategic mistakes on Microsoft’s part and points to future success as again being closely tied to the latter’s strategy.

Beacon location based services have been getting a lot of attention lately in the media, particularly in terms of what they can do for the retail sector. Bobby Gill looks at alternative use cases for beacons in the education, dating, home electronics, events and sports sectors.

David Hariri provides a spirited defence of the web application, pointing to the benefits of more open based models of development when compared to the more closed mobile app approach. I am definitely all for a more open web but any judgement on the appropriate strategy needs to be weighed against a range of factors including functionality, audience and budget.

A report in the Financial Times points to Apple looking to launch an offering in the connected home sector at the Worldwide Developer Conference on June 2. Roger Kay takes a critical look at Apple’s attempts to operate in the Internet of Things sector, pointing to the company’s controlling tendencies in an environment that is typically based on a more collaborative approach between different players.  Benedict Evans in contrast, takes a broader view of the Internet of Things sector and looks at the contrasting strategies of Apple and Google.

Maciej Cegłowski’s talk, The Internet With A Human Face provides a valuable critique of the centralisation of the web, the growth of Big Data and the inability of the internet to forget.

The Internet with a Human Face

The centralisation of the web has gained a spike in coverage over the course of the last week due in large part to a trio of issues. Matthew Ingram has a look at the three talking points, Amazon’s negotiations with publisher Hatchette, Google’s search algorithm’s impact on metafilter and Facebook’s impact on what news journalism is being brought to consumers’ attention.

Ben Thompson looks more closely at Amazon’s relationship with the publishing industry,  characterising the former as nasty and the latter as incompetent.

Amazon hasn’t exactly been quick in coming out in defending itself in its dispute with Hatchette, but it has been interesting to see them use News Genius as a means of publicising their position. I reckon we’re going to see more of this going forward.

Programmatic buying is making a big impact in the online advertising sector, so its interesting to hear John Battelle warning of the loss of context when media is simply bought on the basis of audience.

Advertisers Continue Rapid Adoption of Programmatic Buying

On a less critical note is Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report which reports on key statistics and trends in the digital sector. Coverage includes growth in mobile, online advertising, mobile messaging and a look at emerging business models online and the digital sector in China. A great way of quickly getting up to speed with what is going on online.

Cycling is a subject close to my heart so I was intrigued by Felix Salmon’s analysis of New York City’s Citi Bike scheme. Well worth a read, even if you aren’t a pedaler. 

Richard Florida takes a fascinating look at the relationship between the popularity of heavy metal and a countries’ economic health.

Though metal may be the music of choice for some alienated working-class males, it enjoys its greatest popularity in the most advanced, most tolerant, and knowledge-based places in the world.  Strange as it may seem, heavy metal springs not from the poisoned slag of alienation and despair but the loamy soil of post-industrial prosperity.

The featured image is a piece by  Maya Hayuk for the Asphalte Festival in Charleroi, Belgium and found on StreetArtNews.