Thought Starters: venture capital’s global hubs, blockchains and Facebook’s ups and downs and Amazon as more than just a retailer (and we’re not talking about AWS)

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. This edition looks at the global hubs for venture capital, blockchains ups and downs, Facebook’s success and challenges and Amazon’s move from retailer to service provider among other trends and insights.

A profile of Martin Prosperity Institute points to the dominance the US has in venture capital with London ranking 7th among metropolitan centres:

Venture capital investment by metropolitan area

There’s been a lot of talk of the potential for blockchain technologies to upend the incumbents in the financial services sector, but the major banks are beginning to make themselves known. Tanaya Macheel profiles different blockchain based initiatives by some of the major American banks which includes attempts to patent innovations in a sector previously associated closely with open source technology:

Blocking off the Blockchain

Keeping on the blockchain theme, Timothy B. Lee profiles the growing pains that Bitcoin is experiencing as growing demand challenges the infrastructure of the technology as it currently stands:

The Bitcoin community is currently locked in a debate about whether to follow that same trajectory: whether to grow quickly at the cost of possibly becoming more centralized. The difference is that the way the Bitcoin network works means that early adopters have an effective veto over further growth. If a critical mass of Bitcoin stakeholders refuse to accept larger blocks, the Bitcoin network could be stuck with its current, limited capacity for years to come.

WhatsApp has done a great job of expanding its reach which has seen it recently pass the 1 billion user maker despite having only 57 engineers. What the mobile messaging platform has been less successful in doing is monetising its user base compared to Line and WeChat as Terence Lee reports although there are indications this is likely to change:

WhatsApp Statistics

Amazon is one organisation that has done a great job of monetising its platform, moving from a bare bones online retailer to a dominant player in retail providing a range of ecommerce related services to third parties (see illustration below). This ties in nicely with a recent Jan Dawson blog post where he stresses the need for providers to absorb as many activities as possible (eg Facebook) or alternatively be on as many domains as possible (eg Uber):

Amazon ecommerce value chain

An interesting recent development in Amazon’s strategy is its experiment with the opening of a physical store in Seattle with reports that they plan on rolling out 300 to 400 stores across the US in the future.

Tal Shachar with Liam Boluk point to the growing glut of content that consumers face across a range of media and with this comes the growing issue of discovery and opportunities for content curation. Sentiments further echoed in a recent post by Benedict Evans:

WeAreSocial have recently published the Digital in 2016 report, providing a range of digital benchmark statistics including internet, mobile internet, social media and mobile app usage along with a range of other indicators. Well worth bookmarking for future use:

It’s financial results season in the US with recent announcements from Apple, Alphabet and Facebook. One of the interesting points to emerge from Facebook’s results is how well the company has transitioned to a mobile first company since 2010 as Alice Truong reports:

Facebook's mobile users as percentage of all active users

Where Facebook has been less successful is in the launch of its Free Basics offering in India. The service looks to offer free access to limited selection of mobile optimised content to mobile users but has come into fierce opposition from net neutrality campaigners in India according to Lauren Smiley’s report:

Free Basics only serves a tiny Facebook-endorsed portion of the Internet to users for free — a “walled garden” as opponents call it — while users must pay to access anything else on the web. As Backchannel has been chronicling for some time, they see it as a violation of the principle of net neutrality, that all things on the internet should be treated the same to preserve competition: no faster data connection for deep-pocketed companies, no charging consumers for some sites but not others, no cordoning off slices of the internet by private companies.

Sometimes the internet doesn’t prove quite as virtual as you’d imagine. Dan Wang profiles the physical delivery of data to servers around the world by content delivery networks (CDNs) as a means of speeding up the delivery of content to internet users in a curious mix of the physical and the virtual:

So instead of using the Internet to transfer big pieces of data, companies have turned to the global freight network. High-traffic websites copy data onto hard drives (which are no bigger than what you’d use to back up your laptop), pack them into cardboard boxes, and then fly them around the world. They can be in a box in the belly of a passenger plane, right beside cartons full of iPhones.

Business Insider profiles the digital habits of American teens. Whilst the sample size of 60 is a far from representative sample, it does provide some interesting insights into the habits of younger consumers:

Most Important Social Networks Among Teens

Alexander J. Motyl warns of a Russian collapse, fueled by an economy hamstrung by its dependence on a declining petroleum market and a political system resistant to change and reform:

The problem for Putin—and for Russia—is that the political–economic system is resistant to change. Such a dysfunctional economy is sustainable only if it is controlled by a self-serving bureaucratic caste that places its own interests above those of the country. In turn, a deeply corrupt authoritarian system needs to have a dictator at its core, one who coordinates and balances elite interests and appetites. Putin’s innovation is to have transformed himself into a cult-like figure whose legitimacy depends on his seemingly boundless youth and vigor. Such leaders, though, eventually become victims of their own personality cult and, like Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Mussolini, do not leave office voluntarily. Russia is thus trapped between the Scylla of systemic decay and the Charybdis of systemic stasis. Under such conditions, Putin will draw increasingly on Russian chauvinism, imperialism, and ethnocentrism for legitimacy.

Ben Judah recently published This is London: Life and Death in the World Citytaking the approach of a foreign correspondent to reporting on the experience of immigrants in his home city.  His interview in London School of Economics’ lecture series is well worth a listen for anyone interested in the experience and impact of London’s many immigrant communities:

The featured image is a CT mural from Torino published in ekosystem.

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: 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

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

Authors of The Age of Cryptocurrency, Michael  Casey and Paul Vigna talk about how Bitcoin is no longer being seen as a novelty in the world’s financial system.

Leslie Berlin provides a valuable account of the history of Silicon Valley, pointing to the technical, cultural, and financial forces that have shaped its growth.

Silicon Valley
Santa Clara Valley before it became Silicon Valley, OSU Special Collections.

Amazon recently released its financial results which broke out figures for its AWS cloud computing offering for the first time. Ben Thompson profiled the growth of Amazon and the increasingly important role that AWS now plays for the tech juggernaut, fueling the company’s forays into new markets. Jan Dawson on the other hand takes a critical look at some of Amazon’s forays into foreign markets which have met with mixed success and suggests that the company should double down on those markets where it has critical mass.

Amazon Services
Amazon’s array of services with Jan Dawson arguing that the company should concentrate on depth rather than reach.

Elon Musk’s launch of Tesla Energy has raised a lot of comments about the disruption of the electricity sector. Davide Castelvecchi takes a more critical view

Senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development, Michael Clemens argues the case for opening Europe’s doors to immigration, providing a marked contrast to politicians response in the European Union.

The UK election has come to a close and I can’t claim to be happy with the result. The Financial Times has some valuable data visualisations which allow readers to quickly grasp trends in voting.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.55.28

Want to know where you’re likely to find racism? PLOS ONE used Google’s search data, providing a source of information that’s free of some of the biases traditionally associated with survey data on racism:

Google Racism

Ryoji Ikeda’s Supersymmetry exhibition at the Vinyl Factory’s Brewer Street Car Park space is well worth a visit for fans of digital art at a more visceral level.

The featured image is 1010 piece in Fondi, Italy for Memoire Urbane and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters

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

The on-demand economy has been getting a lot of attention lately as Uber, Lyft and Postmates among others expand their market share. There could be a fly in the ointment if drivers and other providers of services are redefined as employees.  Kashmir Hill explores lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan’s efforts move to change the balance of power.

We’re moving increasingly towards a software driven world where it’s less about the physical and more about the digital guts. John Deere have used these changes to claim that purchases of their tractors amounts to implied license rather than ownership. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone down well among John Deere customers.

John Deere 8760 farm tractor with a folded farm tractor disc attached driving down a country road in Indiana.

Moore’s Law recently reached its 50th anniversary. Arnold Thackray, David Brock and Rachel Jones look at the history of the theory whilst The Economist looks at whether it’s forecast of constantly increasing power and decreasing costs still stands in the present day.

MooresLaw Whilst the rapidly evolving world of cryptocurrencies receive growing attention in the media, it’s interesting to have a look at the history of earlier digital currencies. Jake Halpern’s takes a look at the ups and downs of Liberty Reserve.

Felix Salmon uses Nathaniel Popper’s book Digital Gold as a starting point to highlight the huge gender imbalance in the Bitcoin world and looks at how this is likely to hold back the cryptocurrency’s development.

Benedict Evans looks at Google’s strategy in a world where the growth of mobile is making the world it operates in, increasingly complex:

The key change in all of this, I think, is that Google has gone from a world of almost perfect clarity – a text search box, a web-link index, a middle-class family’s home – to one of perfect complexity – every possible kind of user, device, access and data type. It’s gone from a firehose to a rain storm. But on the other hand, no-one knows water like Google. No-one else has the same lead in building understanding of how to deal with this.

Mobile phones’ reach is constantly expanding. Pew Research Center reports on the growing impact of mobile in Africa, illustrating why services like M-Pesa have such huge potential as business categories are reimagined with new technology.

Mobile Africa

Things do Jobs brings together a strong collection of images that illustrate how our smartphones are much more than phones:

Things to Do

Changes within the music industry have raised the spectre of the disintermediation of record labels as musicians gain a more direct channels for communicating with their fans. Zack O’Malley reports on how the major labels have looked to future proof their position by gaining a growing share of music startups which could well see them survive long into the future.

Music has often been associated  rightly or wrongly with youthful rebellion and politics. David Stubbs argues that politics was more of a sideline and suggests today’s musicians are in many cases as active as those of their forebearers

Eben Weiss (aka Bike Snob NYC) gives an impassioned call for a transport system in the Washington Post that better respects the interests of cyclists – an interest close to my heart.

If you find yourself at a loose end in London, you could do worse than checking out Carol Bove’s exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery.

Carol Bove

The featured image is a MOMO piece at Ace Hotel Palm Springs, California

 

Thought Starters

The Fletcher School at Tufts University has researched which countries have the most evolved digital economy and which ones are growing there’s the fastest. The report in the Harvard Business Review provides a valuable look at which countries are on the up and which ones are seeing their lead decline:

Digital ReadySteve Wildstrom profiles Cyanogen’s position in the smartphone sector which is currently dominated by Android and Apple’s iOS. Cyanogen is touted by some as providing a third ecosystem, particularly in markets where AOSP (as opposed to Google branded Android) dominates.

MIT’s Technology Review has looked at the use of bitcoin as currency which suggests that it’s not making significant inroads against traditional fiat money despite all the media attention. That being said, I’m still a strong believer in cryptocurrencies’ innovative potential, although as the underlying technology is employed in different domains:

Bitcoin use

Another report in the Harvard Business Review points this time to the considerable advances society has made in increasing the resource efficiency in extraction and manufacturing industries. Unfortunately these efficiencies are more than counterbalanced by increases in population and increasing consumption:

Resources

In another report in the MIT’s Technology Review, the publication profiles what it sees as the top 10 technological breakthroughs for 2015. Among the innovations profiled are Magic Leapnano-architecture, internet of DNA and Apple Pay.

Josh Elman argues that startups should not focus on monetisation initially, arguing that entrepreneurs should be focusing on growth and engagement.

Marcy Goldman provides a valuable defence of self-publishing, arguing that it shouldn’t be seen as the poor cousin of going through a traditional publisher in this current era.

Following on from a recent look at my favourite podcasts is a panel discussion looking at the format including David Carr of The New York Times, Sarah Koenig, host and producer of Serial and Alex Blumberg, creator of the podcast StartUp and founder of Gimlet Media:

The featured image is a mural by Pejac found on Street Art Utopia.

Thought Starters

A mixed collection of materials looking at societal trends and the impact of technology on the way we live.

Slate looks at separatist movements in Europe in light of the recent decision by Scotland to maintain its ties with the United Kingdom:

Separatist

McKinsey’s forecast for the luxury market points to the growing role of emerging economies. Luxury brands shouldn’t count on a free ride though with Chinese consumers proving less receptive to Western luxury brands than in the past according to a report in The Guardian:

Luxury

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, venture capitalist Bill Gurley has raised concerns about the ‘burn rate’ of startups and the potential risks of a tech bubble  bursting. We may not see this happen in the immediate future but a correction does look increasingly inevitable.

The Financial Times profiles the emerging FinTech sector and the challenges it poses to the incumbents in the banking and financial services sector.

Bitcoin is one of the technologies that is providing a disruptive force in the financial services sector, with Fred Ehrsam from  Bitcoin wallet provider Coinbase giving an introduction to the cryptocurrency:

GlobalWebIndex figures confirm the commonly held view  that tablets are frequently shared whilst mobile phones are more closely associated with the individual:

Devices

Comscore research points to mobile apps taking a dominant role in the time  American’s spend with their smartphones with pointers on the when where and why of app usage:

Mobile App Usage

Results from Shopify points to  50.3% of traffic coming from mobile and just 49.7% from computers among customers using their eCommerce solution. Whilst this doesn’t purport to represent a  statistically sound sample of all eCommerce transactions, it does provide another data point supporting the need for companies to adopt a mobile first strategy:

Mobile Commerce

Code and Theory’s Dan Gardener and Mike Treff call for an approach to responsive design that goes beyond the screen size of device use, encompassing factors such as location, time of day and duration:

Responsive

The social network Ello launched in March of this year but is now beginning to reach critical mass, with consumers attracted by the promise of a system that isn’t based on pervasive tracking and surveillance. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its critics with Andy Baio pointing out the funding provided by venture capital which may see its more ethical policies watered down with time.

Ello

eMarketer figures point to social media taking a growing overall figure and share of UK’s advertising spend, with Facebook dominating brand’s spend on social networks:

UK Social Ad Spending

 GlobalWebIndex figures on Instagram users doesn’t provide any great surprises with steady growth, younger audience and strong indexing among middle and higher income earners:

Instagram

GlobalWebIndex also provide figures for the often overlooked Viber with 12% of the mobile audience use Viber each month,  providing a valuable reminder of  the diversity in the mobile messaging space.

ReadWrite looks at which countries have the fastest internet with South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong taking the top three places:

Fastest Broadband

Ezekiel J. Emanuel provides a fascinating opinion piece arguing that we should be placing more emphasis on quality rather than quantity of  life. Putting this into a more personal context, he stresses that we would like only palliative rather than curative care after the age of 75:

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

Mark Buchanan, drawing on Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future, warns of societal problems associated with the internet with the concentrations of power and the disenfranchising of large sectors of society. Another book to add to the reading list.

We’re seeing telecommuting increasingly promoted as providing flexibility to employees with the potential to better combine the demands of work and home, but it’s not a one sided coin. Lenika Cruz provides a personal account of how working from home aggravated her agoraphobia:

To be clear: Working from home didn’t cause my agoraphobia, it just enabled it. As someone who already had latent anxiety issues, I lacked incentive to prove myself wrong about all the imagined catastrophes that could occur if I were “trapped” somewhere. Telecommuting offered me the retreat I craved, but it helped to reinforce my avoidance patterns. And so the agoraphobia blossomed.

The featured image is a DALeast piece that was created as part of the Dunedin Mural Project and found on Arrested Motion.

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 17

A lot of noise is being made about the rapid growth of ecommerce and the  effect this is having on bricks and mortar retail. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru provides an alternative view,  pointing to the continuing growth in the traditional retail sector and the need to distinguish between retailers making the right (and wrong) decisions.

Geoffrey Moore gives a rather sobering view on the effect that technology is having on America’s middle class and suggests some potential avenues to address this.

Marc Andreessen is interviewed in the Washington Post providing commentary on the impact of revelations on NSA surveillance, net neutrality and bitcoin. His commentary on the latter is particularly interesting and marks out why Andreessen Horowitz are investing heavily in the sector.

E-commerce would’ve gotten built on top of this, instead of getting built on top of the credit card network. We knew we were missing this; we just didn’t know what it was. There is no reason on earth for anybody to be on the Internet today to be typing in a credit card number to buy something. It’s insane, because — which is why you have all these security problems, the Target hack and all this crazy…. And these high fees, this high fraud rate. It doesn’t make sense online to have a payment mechanism that requires you to hand over your credentials to make a payment. That’s just an invitation to fraud and identity theft. It’s just stupid.

But we didn’t have the better way of doing it. So we didn’t know what else to do, and now we have the better way of doing it. Now, it’s going to take time. We’re quite confident that when we’re sitting here in 20 years, we’ll be talking about Bitcoin the way we talk about the Internet today. We just need time for it to play out.

Moving customers over to a subscription model of payments may provide companies with a valuable regular income stream but Brian S Hall points out that this is   not necessarily in the consumer’s best interests.

Timothy B Lee looks at the New York Times’s Innovation report which identifies new disruptive players, but also suggests that the organisation like many incumbents is poorly placed to meet the challenge of new entrants.

Game Oven recently wrote a piece looking at the difficulties in writing software for Android given the fragmented hardware and software environment. Benedict Evans built on this post , pointing to the problems of Android fragmentation but also suggesting that the movement to a more cloud based environment may alleviate many of the current problems associated with developing for Android.

Deloitte has released its latest Media Consumer report looking at changes in media consumption patterns in the UK. Among the areas covered are device ownership, television consumption, trust in journalism, use of social media, cinema viewing, gaming and streaming of music.

Percentage of households that have at least one of these devices

 Julie Ask looks at the role of disintermediaries in an increasingly mobile centred environment, with social media, mapping, entertainment, commerce and payments growing in strategic importance.

Today, a third crop of platforms are laying the groundwork to step into the powerful position of “owning the customer,” by serving them in mobile moments. Consumers expect to be able to get what they want in their immediate context and moment of need. They will reach for their phone for information and services. The issue is, most brands aren’’t yet there for their customers in this moment, challenged to even get customers to visit their mobile website or download the brand’s mobile app.

That’s where the platforms that dominate minutes of use, such as popular messaging and social media apps, come into play. It’s not hard to imagine a future where a small set of highly contextual and curated disintermediaries offer consumers a portal to the universe of services on mobile devices. Companies should consider the possibility of a future where their access to consumers is through this small set of disintermediaries

JWT Intelligence has a look at the mobile payments sector which is encumbered by the chicken and egg scenario. Consumers won’t use a service if they’re not familiar with it but retailers won’t invest in a platform if it’s not widely adopted. Efforts are being made to increase adoption and Apple is a potentially disruptive player waiting in the wings.

A growing amount of attention has been given to the mobile messaging sector lately, particularly in light of Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp. Line and WeChat are similar (provide text and photo messaging but different from the more traditional mobile messaging players  with Mark Bivens and Jerry Yang comparing the two Asian powerhouses on Bivens’ blog.

I am a strong believer that we will see some version of enhanced eyewear make inroads in the future  but Matt Lake’s review points to  Google Glass being some way from the medium’s end goal.

There’s been a lot of talk lately of a cooling in tablet sales with commentators suggesting that the smartphone can more than adequately fulfill many of the use cases. Providing a counterpoint to these suggestions is research from Flurry which point to growing usage by tablet owners.

Tablet usage

Matthew Yglesias looks critically at the content that Facebook looks to share among its users following Director of Product at Facebook’s recent rant about the state of the media.

Relationship status is one of those sensitive areas that users aren’t always willing to make public on Facebook. In an attempt to overcome consumers’ reluctance (and provide another data source), Facebook is providing consumers with the opportunity to directly ask fellow users what their current relationship status is.

Relationship Status

Facebook has added song and television show identification (à la Shazam) to its iOS and Android app, providing the opportunity to further enrich its collection of consumer data.

Facebook Music and TV Id

Whilst digital technologies such as HTML5 and WebGL are enabling a richer array of experiences online, the majority of online spend is still very much on direct response advertising in the US according to eMarketer figures.

Digital Ad Spending ShareThe featured image is Reliefs by Evgeniy Dikson

 

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.

 

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 11

Enders Analysis figures point to the increasingly important role of mobile as consumers onramp to the internet in the UK. Mobile apps apparently account for 4 in 5 of consumers mobile minutes.

UK average time spent online per month by device

Ofcom figures point to UK having the fastest broadband access among the big five economies of Europe. UK also has the highest broadband take-up (83%); highest proportion of people to have bought goods online over a year (77%); highest weekly usage of the internet (87%); and lowest proportion of people who have never used the internet (8%). Figures aren’t always so flattering when comparisons include the Nordics and Denmark.

Mathilde Collin provides a valuable look at where email is and isn’t relevant within organisational communications on the Intercom blog.

The Unbundling of Email at Work

Venture capitalist Chris Dixon looks at where we’re seeing innovation and startups in the Bitcoin sector.

The “outing” of Dorian Nakamoto as founder of Satoshi Nakamoto has prompted a whirlwind of press interest and some valuable analysis of the role of the media. Felix Salmon has used RapGenius as a novel means of analysing Dorian Nakamoto’s recent statement denying involvement whilst Mike Hearn gives a breakdown of some of the key holes in the Newsweek story.

Debate continues on the pros and cons of Google Glass. Among the range of opinions is Joe Schoech arguing that the product is poorly implemented whilst Mike Elgan argues that concerns about privacy are misplaced.

Nate Silver puts forward his agenda with the newly launched FiveThirtyEight data journalism platform which should  provide a valuable new voice to the media sector. Building on this is Ben Thompson looking at FiveThirtyEight’s launch in the context of an increasingly rich selection of journalism that’s available online:

No longer are my reading choices constrained by time and especially place. Why should I pick up the Wisconsin State Journal – or the Taipei Times – when I can read Nate Silver, Ezra Klein, Bill Simmons, and the myriad other links served up by Twitter? I, and everyone else interested in news, politics, or sports, can read the best with less effort – and cost – than it ever took to read the merely average just a few short years ago.

The New Yorker profiles the shopping mall whose role in American society is beginning to fray in the face of  online competition  and consumers quest for a more authentic experience.

The malls are busy, well-tended, and vibrant, though they are still malls: a simulacrum of culture, in the same way that the Cinderella Castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom is a representation of medieval life, without the chamber pots and periodic sieges.

Einar Öberg  has developed a website that provides you with the opportunity to turn your neighbourhood into an urban jungle.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 10.10.53The featured image is a Drew Tyndell, Ben Niznik and Derek Bruno mural from Living Walls and was found on Drew’s Flickr page.