Thought Starters: Andreessen’s forecast, Google Assistant, Brexit and the global wealthy

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 Marc Andreessen’s forecast for the future of tech, Google’s recent keynote address and launch of Google Assistant, an update on Brexit and a look at how the wealth differ between countries among other matters.

The advertising industry has seen a lot of change over the last 15 years with the growth of online advertising, social media and smartphones all impacting how brands reach consumers. What Eric Chemi’s analysis of DB5’s figures suggests is that these changes haven’t really enabled the marketing industry to take a greater share of the pie with advertising budgets staying constant as a proportion of GDP:

Ad industry's flat-line growth

One more recent window into how the world of marketing is changing can be seen in product discovery. Amazon is now where more than half of online US consumers begin their product searches according to Spencer Soper’s report on Bloomreach research, with the online retail behemoth strengthening its hold on consumers thanks to its low prices, growing delivery network and Amazon Prime offering.

Marc Andreessen in an interview with Timothy B. Lee gives his view on where technology and innovation will be sending us next. This sees him cast his opinion on artificial intelligence, drones, employment and autonomous cars:

To me the problem is clear: The problem is insufficient technological adoption, innovation, and disruption in these high-escalating price sectors of the economy. My thesis is that we’re not in a tech bubble — we’re in a tech bust. Our problem isn’t too much technology or people being too excited about technology. The problem is we don’t have nearly enough technology. These cartel-like legacy industries are way too hard to disrupt.

Google’s I/O 2016 keynote saw the company launch various new offerings including the Pixel smartphone, Daydream virtual reality headset, Chromecast Ultra streaming device, Google Wifi router and Google Home smart home assistant. The most interesting feature from the Pixel smartphone is Google Assistant, offering a real step forward from Google Now and Apple’s Siri:

Ben Thompson’s analysis of the launch of Google Assistant points to it as signalling a real change in Google’s mobile strategy, with its move to limit the service to Pixel rather than all Android handsets:

Google has a business-model problem: the “I’m Feeling Lucky Button” guaranteed that the search in question would not make Google any money. After all, if a user doesn’t have to choose from search results, said user also doesn’t have the opportunity to click an ad, thus choosing the winner of the competition Google created between its advertisers for user attention. Google Assistant has the exact same problem: where do the ads go?

After all, if a user doesn’t have to choose from search results, said user also doesn’t have the opportunity to click an ad, thus choosing the winner of the competition Google created between its advertisers for user attention.

Sony is in the throes of releasing its Playstation VR headset which is expected to be a frontrunner in the race to get virtual reality in consumers’ living room. Brian X. Chen’s review suggests we’re still a long way off from having virtual reality in most of our homes:

Virtual reality is still in its early days, and it’s unclear whether it will ever catch on with people beyond gamers. If you already own a PlayStation, spending a few hundred dollars for the headgear and accessories is a worthwhile purchase to get started on virtual reality.

But for the average consumer, the thrill of virtual-reality gaming with PlayStation VR may be fleeting. Initially, virtual reality will probably mesmerize you because it’s so unlike any gaming experience you have ever had. But the scarce number of good games available today, combined with the fatigue you will experience after 30 minutes of game play, may drive you back to gaming on your smartphone or television screen.

Another area that might not live up to the current hype is self driving cars. We’re seeing Google and Uber trying out live experiments but there’s little sign of these being available to consumers (Tesla’s Autopilot is a much more limited version of self driving) and Tom Simonite suggests we’re not likely to have this situation change anytime soon:

But don’t expect to toss out your driver’s license in 2021. Five years isn’t long enough to create vehicles good enough at driving to roam extensively without human input, say researchers working on autonomous cars. They predict that Ford and others will meet their targets by creating small fleets of vehicles limited to small, controlled areas.

One area where we have seen real change is in consumers’ growing adoption of digital photography, fueled by the now ubiquitous smartphone.  It’s been interesting to watch is how smartphone  software is increasingly giving high end cameras a run for their money in their picture quality as Michael Zhang’s comparison of the iPhone 7 and Leica M9-P attests to:

iPhone 7 vs Leica M9-P: a side-by-side photo comparison

Diane Coyle provides a valuable refresher on how the move into the digital age is changing our conceptions of property ownership:

Conceptions of property seem to be evolving again with the rise of the “sharing economy”. The ease of using digital matching platforms make the consumer’s decision to buy or rent less stark than in the past ; the legal ownership rights are clear but the economic choices and consequences are changing.
The wider point is that technology and the law have between them significant effects on the kinds of market transactions that take place. Some consequences might seem minor. Others concern land grabs for economic assets.

Brexit has been thrust back into the spotlight by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that the country will start formal negotiations for Britain to leave the EU by March 2017. Gideon Rachman criticises May for essentially giving away one of the few bargaining chips that the country has in its negotiations with the European Union:

So why has Mrs May been so reckless? The short answer is politics. If the prime minister had delayed triggering Article 50 any longer she might have faced a revolt from Conservative MPs, who would have feared that she was backsliding on Brexit. By making her announcement just before the Tory party conference, she has also guaranteed herself some favourable headlines and applause in the conference hall. She may have bought herself another couple of years in 10 Downing Street. But she has also significantly increased the chances that Brexit will cause severe damage to the British economy.

Theresa May and British foreign secretary Boris Johnson would be well advised to give an ear to Centre for European Reform director Charles Grant who provides some valuable advice on how we would best negotiate Brexit.

There’s been a lot of talk of protecting manufacturing jobs in both the US and UK but does this really reflect problems of contemporary society?  Binyamin Appelbaum suggests it might be more a case of reflecting the group that shouts the loudest rather than those most worthy of support:

The enduring political focus on factory workers partly reflects the low profile of the new working class. Instead of white men who make stuff, the group is increasingly made up of minority women who serve people. “That transformation really has rendered the working class invisible,” says Tamara Draut, the author of “Sleeping Giant,” a recent book about this demographic transformation and its political consequences.

The old working class still controls the megaphone of the labor movement, in part because unions have struggled to organize service workers. Manufacturing was, logistically speaking, easier to organize. There were lots of workers at each factory, and most knew one another. Service work is more dispersed and done in smaller crews. Workers living in the same city and employed by the same retail chain, for example, would likely know only a handful of their compatriots. Fostering a sense of trust and shared purpose under these conditions is difficult.

Tyler Cowen draws on Jonathan Wai and David Lincoln’s research into the global wealthy to point out differences between countries with some counterintuitive results:

Percentage of rich individuals who primarily inherited their wealth

Our World in Data provides a reassuring forecast of the growing levels of education we can expect in the coming years. This should go someway to addressing the issue of global population growth and increasing standards of living:

Projection of the total world population by level of education

The Economist has collated Nobel laureates’ age at the date of their award and the trend is definitely older (with the exception of the Peace category). Now if only I’d achieved half as much as Malala Yousafzai had by the age of 17:

Age of Nobel laureates at date of award

Amnesty International has released the following map which points to the disproportionate load that some countries are bearing in the hosting of the world’s refugees. What makes this even more concerning is the state of many of these countries’ economies leaving them ill placed to host refugees compared to the countries of Western Europe and North America:

The world's top 10 refugee host countries

The featured image at the top of the page is Stone Quarry by Zest in Villars-Fontaine, France which was published in StreetArtNews.

Who to follow on Twitter

There’s been a lot of talk in the press recently about Twitter’s move to an algorithmic feed. There’s definite potential if it eases the burden of sifting through our current feed but there’s a real risk that in doing so, Twitter might loose the ‘special sauce’ that makes it so attractive to its current users (it’s worth reading Adam D’Angelo on this).

I figured now might be a good time to give a plug for the Twitter accounts that provide me with a healthy signal to noise ratio and generally avoid double posting (my current pet hate).

Tech, Startups, Media and Marketing

Balaji S. Srinivasan tech analyst, CEO of 21 inc of, board partner of Andreessen Horowitz and blockchain fan.

Ben Thompson technology analyst behind the Stratechery blog and host of the Exponent podcast.

Benedict Evans technology analyst with a focus on mobile who is now working as partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Apparently not a great fan of cultural world of San Francisco despite living there.

Chris Dixon Hunch founder and another Andreessen Horowitz with pointers on the world of technology and startups.

Ian Maude UK based technology, media and internet analyst working for the Be Heard Group.

Marc Andreessen cofounder of Netscape, Loudcloud and now Andreessen Horowitz with strong opinions on technology, economics, the world of startups and politics (libertarian). Bit more noise to signal than the other recommendations.

Om Malik technology analyst, founder of GigaOm and now partner at True Ventures

News and Analysis

If You Only…  Matter cofounder Bobbie Johnson provides a recommended long form journalism read each day.

Max Roser: typically provides an antidote to the naysayers of the world with data that point to human development around the world.

The Economist Daily Charts: provides a regular feed of charts, maps and infographics shedding light on issues in the news.

Tim Harford, journalist who writes as the Undercover Economist at the Financial Times and presenter of More or Less on Radio 4. Great for shining light on some of the issues that matter.

Cycling

Inner Ring: providing updates on the Inner Ring website and announcements from the world of professional cycling

And Me…

Finally, if you’re interested in following me on Twitter, more digital content can be found here and if you like riding bikes there’s here as well.

The featured image is No Amnesia by Pastel in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA

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 10

The following provides a roundup of some of the articles, thought pieces and content which have got me thinking recently.

I still require some convincing on whether Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp makes financial sense. There has been a lot of talk of how WhatsApp will retain much of its management independence and will honour existing privacy arrangements including not collecting user data for advertising. These restrictions will hamstring the service’s utility for Facebook, but the service’s astonishing growth may make the question moot as these figures from Om Malik suggest.

mau-vs-age-final

The Flurry Blog looks at the growth of Android personalisation apps such as Facebook Home and Yahoo’s Aviate as being the next mobile battleground. Rapid growth, albeit off a small base and an interesting counterpoint to the growing attention to mobile messaging.

Growth in Peronalization Apps for Android-resized-600

Casey Research takes a critical view on Bitcoin, pointing out that the system is only as strong as its weakest link with a shortage of security and trust likely to encumber the currency  for the  time being.

Marc Andreessen provides some of the more intelligent commentary on the technology sector and his forecast for the media sector definitely provides food for thought.  As a counterpoint, the Columbia Journalism Review takes a less rosy view of the disruption technology is bringing to the sector.

The Wall Street Journal points to the continuing dominance of bricks and mortar in America’s retail sector – Amazon (and other eCommerce operators) still has plenty of opportunity to take a greater share of the pie.

Bricks and Mortar Retail

Microco.sm has publicly launched its online forum offering,  providing some much needed competition to Vanilla, vBulletin and Invision PB. It’s worth adding that despite all the talk of social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, forums retain an important role in enabling conversations with customers as profiled in research published in the Journal of Marketing Research and profiled in Convince & Convert.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has done some great work making Britain’s public services more available online. The GDS‘ dashboard provides a valuable window into what devices consumers are using in the UK.

Activity on GOV>UK

The Financial Times looks at how automation is making growing inroads into white collar employment as software increasingly eats the world.

Technology- Rise of the replicants

Satellites are continuing to make images of Earth more and more available so its intriguing to see video now coming into play as Skybox’s offering comes online.

Most societies at least play lip service to the issue of social mobility, so its interesting to read Professor Gregory Clark’s research which points to mobility as being comparatively unaffected by social policy. We are better off addressing the results of inequality rather than expecting social reforms to enable the move from barrow boy to banker.

Evan Selinger in Wired looks critically at the launch of BroApp and suggests we might be outsourcing our humanity by relying on such tools.

The Wellcome Trust looks through its Mosaic website looks at the health benefits of cycling and what different cities are doing (or not doing) to encourage it.

Southwark Bridge, London by Sarah Maycock/Handsome Frank
Southwark Bridge, London by Sarah Maycock/Handsome Frank

The featured image is Caffarena 86 by Nelio from La Boca, Buenos Aires.

 

Thought starters: content that has got me thinking 9

The following provides a roundup of some of the articles, thought pieces and content which have got me thinking recently.

Organisational intranets are too often where content goes to die. SmallWorlders look at how to get colleagues interacting more with their organisational intranets.

The Atlantic looks at the difficulties in choosing metrics that give a true representation of website traffic – no one measure is going to provide a cure-all.

Russell Holly gives his verdict on Google Glass – good but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

The rapid growth of the mobile based social network Secret (currently iOS only) has seen a growing interest in user anonymity online. Wired and PandoDaily profile Secret and the the anonymous trend (and Secret’s pseudo anonymity) whilst Chris Poole and Sam Altman give arguments for and against anonymity.

Secret

Wired profiles Amazon’s Flow mobile app which uses image recognition to reduces the hurdle to purchase for mobile users.

The New Yorker takes an extended look at Amazon’s effects on the book industry for consumers and for the publishing sector.

Maserati’s Superbowl television advertisement didn’t exactly send a stampede of customers in the direction of their local Maserati dealerships. Advertising Age has done an interesting analysis on what else Maserati could otherwise have bought with their media budget.

Bitcoin payment solutions are looking less and less like science fiction, so it’s valuable to hear from an ecommerce retailer about their experiences in using the alternative currency.

McKinsey reviews the growth in mass customisation which has been given a boost by various technological innovations and is allowing companies to better engage with their audiences.

Europe’s stalled economic performance has prompted a lot of hand wringing, with the region often criticised for its lack of innovation. INSEAD’s Bruce Lanvin puts this idea under the microscope and provides a rather different conclusion.

Featured image comes from French artist Nelio.

 

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 7

The following provides a roundup of some of the articles and thought pieces which have got me thinking recently.

Pratik Dholakiya profiles different scientific studies into social media, highlighting some important findings. Among the conclusions are the following: consumer to consumer interactions on Facebook assets that are particularly important in influencing sales; the development of viral content should be framed in terms of retaining as well as expanding your audience; and community activities (eg forums) have a crucial role in contributing to sales when compared to traditional media.

GlobalWebIndex have produced a short report looking at the global penetration of different social networks, which are growing fastest, with regional and age breakdowns.

GWI Social Summary January 2014, Global Web Index

Epidemiological methods are used to predict the future decline of Facebook (apparently significant between 2015 and 2017) by researchers from Princeton University. More information on the research over at AllFacebook although there are some dissenting views.

David Meyer points to over eager social marketers as handicapping the newly launched social network Jelly before its even had a chance to build up a decent audience.

asda-jelly-tiger-bread-250-201_250

Joy of Tech provides a wry take on Google’s recent acquisition of the Nest Labs home automation company.

Joy of Tech

Matt Cutts looks at the demise of guest blogging as it becomes more and more associated with spammy SEO.

Marc Andreessen wrote an essay in the New York Times which gives a welcome introduction into the wider potential of Bitcoins particularly in terms of payments. Glenn Fleishman who has already written an article on Bitcoins for the Economist, wrote a response in Medium to Andreessen’s essay calling out various inaccuracies and/0r inconsistencies. Both are well worth a read.

Whilst there’s been a lot of attention on the monetisation strategies of Line, WeChat and other mobile messaging platforms, WhatsApp continues to grow at a rapid rate according to the latest Mashable report.

WhatsApp Doubles Active Users in 10 Months

GigaOm looks at the case of a business person who was outed as transgender in a investigative report in Grantland which may have contributed to her committing suicide. Aside from the ethics of disclosing someone’s gender, it also points to the ability for stories published online to have a much greater reach and impact than the print equivalent. Christina Kahrl has written a follow on piece in Grantland looking at the mistakes made in the publication of the piece vis-a-vis which is similarly worth a read.

Chris McKinlay took an extraordinarily analytical approach to finding a match on OkCupid. The Wired story makes for an interesting analysis of how big data can be used in a more personal setting.

For those of you who have caught Spike Jonze’s new film Her (which I thoroughly recommend), New York magazine has had a look at how far off we are from having a Samantha like virtual assistant.