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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.