Thought Starters: innovation, unicorns and a critical look at the sharing economy

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.

Matt Ridley focuses on the forces that drive innovation forward, describing it as a more organic and chaotic environment that isn’t something that governments can readily turn on or off:

“The implications of this new way of seeing technology—as an autonomous, evolving entity that continues to progress whoever is in charge—are startling. People are pawns in a process. We ride rather than drive the innovation wave. Technology will find its inventors, rather than vice versa. Short of bumping off half the population, there is little that we can do to stop it from happening, and even that might not work.”

Activate provide a valuable look at the intersection of media and technology, focusing on the evolution of media usage, mobile messaging, audio, television and mobile apps. Good overview of how the landscape is likely to evolve over the next year:

Benedict Evans and Steven Sinofsky explore how smartphones represent the latest format in computers evolution, expanding technologies reach and ask what might be next in this cycle:

Wall Street Journal’s data visualisation (click through for the interactive version) makes apparent the massive growth in valuation of various venture funded startups over the last two years…exciting but also scarey:

Companies valued at $1 billion or more by venture-capital firms

The rapid growth of various unicorns has not come without its critics. Airbnb has accelerated the process of gentrification as property developers shift their focus from local residents to visiting tourists in markets already dealing with shortages of affordable housing. Steven Hill states:

“In a tight housing market, rent-controlled apartments are prey for what we might call “slamlords,” who promote condo conversions or renovations that would justify massive rent increases. Airbnb provides another layer—a powerful financial incentive as well as a technique for landlords to convert their apartment buildings into tourist hotels.”

Zeynep Tufekci looks more broadly at startups associated with the ‘sharing economy’, characterising them as fueling a growing gap  between the winners and losers in our current labour market:

“It sounds great, except for the ugly reality which lurks under the proliferation of “uber for…”s: the calcification of the two-tiered system between the overworked who need and can afford the “uber for…”s and the underpaid who are stuck in its 1099 economy of unstable, low wages.”

For the moment, the impact of the “gig economy” might be overstated. Figures from America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics points to self employment as actually decreasing in recent years (although that’s not to say this trend will continue):

The Self Employment Rate in the US

The majority of developed market economies are facing the challenge of an aging population as fertility rates decline so it’s interesting to look at those countries with large young populations with China and India standing out. A closer look at the statistics by John Poole reveals some more unsettling truths with China “missing” about 24 million girls between the ages of 0 and 19:

Half the world's teens live in these 7 countries
Countries with the largest teen populations

Climate change is reshaping our planet and forcing many indigenous ecosystems to adapt with a negative impact on our planet’s biodiversity. The effect on countries’ economies is more of a mixed bag according to Marshall Burke, Sol Hsiang, Ted Miguel’s forecast with winners and losers (click on the map for more detailed information). Whether such modelling can accurately accommodate all the different consequences of climate change remains to be seen:

Economic Impact of Climate Change on the World

The featured image is a mural by Italian artist Tellas in Shoreditch, London and 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.

Messages That Resonate

This is part of an irregular series of blog posts looking at marketing and digital communications which have caught my attention. This will complement Thought Starters which will look more at trends, strategies and ideas.

Guinness has launched a new brand campaign using Kanye West’s Black Skinhead, looking to cement the brand’s strong presence in Africa. It’s an interesting celebration of black culture for a brand that is closely associated with Ireland in the rest of the world.

Gap’s latest campaign is imploring consumers to ‘Dress Normal’ as the brand looks to align itself with  normcore whereby people look to blend in rather than stand out.

Newcastle Brown Ale is asking consumers to send in their ‘mediocre’ photos in an interesting spin on user generated content that continues with the brand’s cheeky tone of voice.

A mixture of strong gameplay and fond childhood memories of petanque has made Swag 2014 curiously addictive.  You don’t need an elaborate virtual environments to create compelling gaming experiences.

Swag2014

Greggs faced a public relations crisis when a derogatory image turned up on Google’s search results for the brand. Digiday profiles how some nimble footwork from the brand turned around a negative situation and ultimately shone the brand in a positive light.

Greggs Crisis

Instagram launched Hyperlapse over the course of the last week providing consumers with the opportunity to create tracking shots and fast time lapse videos for iPhone . Adweek profiles how brands including Bud Light, Burton, Mercedes-Benz and Mountain Dew have responded quickly to this new opportunity.

Twitter is enabling increasingly rich interactions for consumers and brands via the social media platform with Acura’s car configurator probably the most advanced yet. An interesting case of a brand transporting itself to where consumers although would love to see what the engagement levels are for the campaign.

Acura Tweet

The eyes dominate how consumers experience digital environments, so it’s interesting to see brands using other senses to engage with consumers.

GE has commissioned electronic musician Matthew Dear to create music using sounds from GE’s research centres from around the world which is downloadable from Soundcloud.

IBM on the other hand  has commissioned musician James Murphy to convert data from tennis matches at the US Open into ‘music’, creating somewhat more random output.

Muji is looking to help consumers relax in a seemingly ever accelerating world with a mobile app (Android and iOS) incorporating audio recordings of nature. A simple idea that ties in nicely with Muji’s  uncluttered brand aesthetic.

Amplifon is looking to enrich Google’s Street View offering with a sound framework to enable sounds in 3D to be embedded into Google’s mapping offering. 

Zach Hamed provides a valuable comparison between Citymapper and Google Maps, pointing out how the former provides a better experience in many use cases with a series of short videos and animated GIFs. Another valuable lesson in the importance of understanding the consumer and aligning your user experience around the relevant insights.

The Cronulla Riots in Sydney marked a sad day for Australia with racially motivated riots over a series of nights. Almost 10 years later Australian television channel SBS reflects back on the events with an interactive documentary. Powerful and rather disheartening viewing.

Cronulla Riots

There has been a lot of talk about how digital tools are enabling the sharing economy but Pumpipumpe has taken a distinctly analog approach.  People are encouraged to put stickers on their mailbox letting neighbours know what household goods they’re willing to lend their neighbours. A simple solution to a simple problem.

Pumpipumpe Stickers

The featured image at the top of the page is a piece by Pejac in Paris and found on StreetArtNews.