Thought Starters: self driving cars, Brexit and the US elections

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more  interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last few weeks. This edition looks at the evolution of self driving cars, the rise and fall of the Gülen movement, the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and the US elections which appear increasingly beyond parody.

A Be Heard Group survey of senior marketers and advertisers points to what some see should be the optimum marketing mix in our current age:
The new marketing mix

As more traditional marketing channels lose some of their lustre (despite the exhortations of the Ad Contrarian), one of the channels gaining ground is influencer marketing. The following figures from The Economist give a guide to what influencers are typically earning across YouTube, Facebook and Instagram:

Average earnings for influenver posts on selected social media platforms

Whilst the US has seen more than its fair share of innovations in virtual reality technology, The Economist points to China as being one of the leaders in its application with real estate and education leading the way:

Virtual reality headset shipments forecast

We’re living in an increasingly visual world with Instagram and Snapchat growing their hold on consumers’ attention. This is reflected in the growing in value of the image sensor market seen in figures compiled by Andreessen Horowitz although one of the interesting conclusions is the declining importance of the camera in a world where smartphones are everywhere:

Cameras in everything, except in cameras

Whilst venture capitalists have seemingly become the cool kids of the financial sector, figures from CB Insights and KPMG International point to VC investments in startups as having declined over the past four quarters:

Venture capital investments into start-ups have declined in the past four quarters.

One area that has seen considerable venture capital investment of late is in technologies around self driving cars. Tesla’s latest demonstration video (albeit in perfect conditions) points to the progress being made despite earlier hiccups. Tesla are apparently looking to charge owners between $8000-$10,000 for the service and it won’t be made available at least initially to owners looking to use it for ridesharing services:

Will Knight looks at Uber’s trial of self driving cars in Pittsburgh, contrasting the experience for passengers with those provided by human drivers and points to the barriers that will need to be overcome before we see more of these services on our streets:

So I catch a ride with a guy named Brian, who drives a beat-up Hyundai Sonata. Brian says he’s seen several automated Ubers around town, but he can’t imagine a ride in them being as good as one with him. Brian then takes a wrong turn and gets completely lost. To be fair, though, he weaves through traffic just as well as a self-driving car. Also, when the map on his phone leads us to a bridge that’s closed for repairs, he simply asks a couple of road workers for directions and then improvises a new route. He’s friendly, too, offering to waive the fare and buy me a beer to make up for the inconvenience. It makes you realize that automated Ubers will offer a very different experience. Fewer wrong turns and overbearing drivers, yes, but also no one to help put your suitcase in the trunk or return a lost iPhone.

China manufacturing sector has often been characterised in the past as a clone shop and Josh Horwitz’s coverage of the copying of the Stikbox Kickstarter campaign suggests that the country hasn’t outgrown this yet.  Keyboardio’s visit to Shenzen in China provides a more sympathetic view of the country pointing to how seemingly any electronic device can be purchased at a knockdown price.

Analysis from the Financial Times points to China as being the source of the greatest share of the world’s merger and acquisition flows:
China dominates M&A flows

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown after the attempted coup had me guessing that this was a false flag operation which Erdoğan was using as an opportunity to strengthen his hold on power. Dexter Filkin’s detailed profile of Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen movement suggests that Erdoğan’s claims weren’t simply hot air, although the impact has been to strengthen his hold on power:

The irony of the attempted coup is that Erdoğan has emerged stronger than ever. The popular uprising that stopped the plot was led in many cases by people who disliked Erdoğan only marginally less than they disliked the prospect of a military regime. But the result has been to set up Erdoğan and his party to rule, with nearly absolute authority, for as long as he wants. “Even before the coup attempt, we had concerns that the government and the President were approaching politics and governance in ways that were designed to lock in a competitive advantage—to insure you would have perpetual one-party rule,” the second Western diplomat said.

Like many Britons, I’ve been left trying to digest the impact that the Brexit referendum will have on our lives. Simon Head provides a valuable look at the financial fallout that will follow a hard Brexit that Theresa May is calling for:

It must now embark on a series of marathon negotiations with its EU ex-partners, certain only in the knowledge that the trading regime that will emerge from them may be far less favorable to business located in Britain than the one that exists now. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances more likely to convince foreign businesses in Britain that they should act on their warnings to leave the country or reduce their presence there, and instead take up residence within the secure  confines of the Single European Market. The British economy and the British people will suffer the consequences.

Immigration proved one of the defining issues of the Brexit referendum. It’s interesting to compare foreign born population with those regions that chose to vote for leaving the European Union (no easy correlation):

Estimated population of the UK

The American elections are inevitably drawing comparisons with the Brexit referendum with the rise of a populist candidate whose campaigning clearly blurs the line between fact and fiction. Evan Osnos provides a look at what the world is likely to be facing should Donald Trump win the presidential election:

Modern Presidents have occasionally been constrained by isolated acts of disobedience by government officials. To confront terrorism, Trump has said, “you have to take out their families,” work on “closing that Internet up in some ways,” and use tactics that are “frankly unthinkable” and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” General Michael Hayden, a former head of the C.I.A. and of the National Security Agency, predicts that senior officers would refuse to carry out those proposals. “You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” he has said.

One of the key characteristics of US politics over the last 20 years has been growing polarisation between Republican and Democrat supporters.  The media has had more than a hand in this election cycle with research from BuzzFeed pointing to hyperpartisan Facebook pages particularly from the right pushing untrue stories. Sarah Smarsh provides an alternative viewpoint, pointing to traditional media’s lack of sympathy for Trump supporters, compounding their alienation from mainstream politics:

The economic trench between reporter and reported on has never been more hazardous than at this moment of historic wealth disparity, though, when stories focus more often on the stock market than on people who own no stocks. American journalism has been willfully obtuse about the grievances on Main Streets for decades – surely a factor in digging the hole of resentment that Trump’s venom now fills. That the term “populism” has become a pejorative among prominent liberal commentators should give us great pause. A journalism that embodies the plutocracy it’s supposed to critique has failed its watchdog duty and lost the respect of people who call bullshit when they see it.

Research from Raj Chetty, David Cutler and Michael Stepner point to wealth as helping the rich afford more than just the finer things in life. There findings point to the richest 1% of U.S. males living 15 years longer than the poorest 1%:

Life Expectancy versus Household Income

Whilst we’re on the subject of human health, BBC’s The Inquiry podcast looks at the growing mess we’re in with the declining effectiveness of antibiotics – hardly a new story but an important reminder nonetheless. Unfortunately research from the European Medicines Agency points to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture as continuing in Europe which will further compound the issue.

Another podcast I’d like to plug is Tyler Cowen’s interview with Vox founder Ezra Klein. Both commentators provide valuable coverage of the world we live in, the former through his blog Marginal Revolution and the latter through podcasts The Weeds (with Sarah Kliff, and Matt Yglesias) and the Ezra Klein Show.

The featured image at the top of the page is Silencio by Christian Riffel.

Thought Starters: young people’s media and device use, Facebook Messenger’s evolution, grey zone conflicts and the gender pay gap

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through articles, research and opinion pieces, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in.  Among the stories and research we look at in this edition are the habits of children and young adults, the growth of Facebook Messenger, grey zone conflicts, the gender pay gap and lots more.

There’s been growing speculation that Twitter may increase the character length of its posting as it looks to get ahead of Facebook in its user growth stakes (see below).  Shira Ovide gives a strong argument for retaining it as it is, although I would argue there’s definitely scope for excluding links, images and video URLs from tweets’ character limit:

Comparison growth monthly active users of Facebook and Twitter

Younger audiences given an indication of future habits of  the general population. Dan Kopf analysis young adults habits in the American Time Use Survey which unsurprisingly points to growing gaming, computer use and reading and decline in time spent watching television:

Which leisure activities are twentysomethings spending more time on?

Benedict Evans on the other hand has used Ofcom’s Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report to look at the habits of British children which points to the substantial transition to mobile phones and tablets:

What would children miss

Flurry has released their analysis of Europeans’ use of smartphones and tablets based on their app data which shows wide variations in device penetration as well as giving clues on how mobile devices are being used:

Smart device penetration in Europe

Facebook has done a great job of transitioning to a mobile world with 78% of its ad revenues now coming from mobile. Facebook though is not one to rest on its laurels, with Facebook Messenger seen as a key component in strengthening its hold on mobile consumers. Facebook has just published a review of highlights for Messenger from 2015 which gives an indication of the social network’s ambitions for the mobile messaging service:

Facebook Messenger 2015 highlights

As mobile phones approach market saturation in developed markets, consumer electronics brands are looking to new categories for a boost in their revenues. Unfortunately for the brands, Accenture‘s global research profiled by Matt Rosoff  suggests that consumers aren’t getting caught up in the hype for new products despite a growing array of offerings:

Consumers are bored with today's tech and nervous about tomorrow's

Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey points to growing marketing budgets and an emphasis on digital commerce, innovation, sales conversion and customer retention. You can find further analysis of the survey results from Simon Yates who points among things to the blurring distinction between offline and online marketing:

Marketing budgets continue to grow

Interested in knowing what jobs are likely to keep you employed into the future? The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis has analysed employment and unemployment rates for jobs on the basis of how routinised and levels of cognition which might give you some pointers whether you need to be retraining:

Routine vs Non Routine Cognitive vs Manual EmploymentFigures from Bloomberg point to the substantial cuts in employment some banks have taken post financial crisis. It might be rather too optimistic to hope that those people whose actions fueled the crisis might have been among the first to leave:

Staff cuts at the World's biggest banks

Cass R. Sunstein profiles Gabriel Zucman’s The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens, examining the growing role that tax havens play in enabling corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Zucman’s analysis provides a guide to the scale of the problem and also points to the successes and failures different institutions have had in addressing the problem of tax evasion:

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, you might expect that there would be an international crackdown on the use of tax havens, and as we shall see, international attention is indeed growing. But the numbers demonstrate that no crackdown has occurred. In Luxembourg, offshore wealth actually increased from 2008 to 2012 (by 20 percent). In Switzerland, the increase has been comparable; foreign holdings are now close to an all-time high. Disturbingly, the new wealth is coming mostly from developing countries, which poses a serious problem in light of the severe strains on their limited budgets.

China’s economy is going through a rough patch, with the share market in a nose dive.  Given the over inflated valuation of many of the assets. Given the overinflated value of many of the assets in the country’s equity markets, this trend is unlikely to change (unless the government chooses to prop it up):

China Battles to Shore Up World's Priciest Stock Market

High profile Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Graham’s recent blog posting in which he argues that income inequality per se is not a bad has inevitably kicked up a storm of reactions. Among the more nuanced responses is Ben Thompson’s analysis who points to the risks and benefits associated with a more deregulated economy and calls out for the need for a strong social safety net that is independent of our employers:

Technology is changing the world, and it is naive to not expect the world to begin to push back. Rather than always be reactionary, it is past time for the technology industry broadly and Silicon Valley in particular to get serious about what that world will look like in the future, especially given the fact there is actually a way forward that is a win for not just technology companies and their investors, but for those who are impacted — i.e. everyone. Just as we should separate the means by which Uber allocates drivers from the ability to pay for a ride, it makes sense to separate work from the provision of a social safety net, and those most able to capitalize on this new world order should be the most willing to pay.

The conflict in Syria and the resulting flood of refugees fleeing to Europe is unfortunately leading to an anti immigration backlash in many European countries. Victims aside from the refugees fleeing harm in the middle of a European winter include the Schengen Agreement which previously allowed the free flow of people across much of mainland Europe:

Recent changes to crossing Europe's borders

Peter Pomerantsev uses the examples of China in the South China Sea, Russia in Crimea and Syria and ISIS with its terrorist attacks to highlight the growing importance of messy grey zone conflicts around the world:

It’s a brave new war without beginning or end, where the borders of peace and war, serviceman and civilian have become utterly blurred—and where you and I are both a target and a weapon.

Whilst we’re on the subject of globalisation and its impacts, The Economist has updated its Big Mac Index, pointing to who is paying over the odds for their guilty pleasure:

The Big Mac Index

The Freakonomics podcast is one of my regular listening appointments and this week’s edition looking at the causes and effects of the gender pay gap is well worth downloading.

The featured mural is by eko from his Flickr page.

What I’m reading…favourite blogs and websites

You’ll find a list of some of my favourite blogs and websites below. There’s plenty more I could add but the quality of content for these is generally consistent and I’d argue worth adding to your RSS feed.

TECHNOLOGY

AsymcoHorace Dediu’s blog which focuses on mobile and Apple. Great for taking the wind out of the sails of Apple’s enemies.

Recent favourite: Desktop Computer takes an irreverent looks at the evolution of Apple’s computer offering.

Benedict Evans: blog of Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans focusing on technology on technology and mobile. Great for a window into where technology is heading.

Recent favourite: Mobile, ecosystems and the death of PCs looks at the growth of the mobile ecosystem and the key differences from the PC ecosystem that preceded it.

Continuations: blog for Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger providing a look into trends in technology and the startup sector and venturing out to broader societal trends.

Daring Fireball: blog focusing on consumer electronics, focusing on the world of Apple as John Gruber sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Recent favourite: Bloomberg: Apple gets more bang for its R&D buck

Digits to Dollars: blog for the D2D Advisory providing analysis and commentary on the technology, communications and the startup space.

Recent favourite: The Consumerization of the Automobile Supply Chain looks at automobile industry’s move to an increasingly software driven model which is undermining the position of the market incumbents.

Learning by Shipping: blog of former president of the Windows Division of Microsoft and now Andreessen Horowitz partner Steven Sinofsky focusing on development and management within the tech space.

Recent favourite: Frictionless Design Choices looks at the importance of reducing the energy required by an experience when designing a product (not to be confused with reducing the surface area of an experience).

Stratechery: freemium blog produced by Ben Thompson focusing on the intersection of technology and media. Whilst the website has a subscription offering, Ben provides a weekly posting which I would suggest is a must read.

Recent favourite: Beyond Disruption takes critical look at Clayton Christensen’s theory of market disruption -it’s not all about disruptive or sustaining innovation.

MARKETING

Inside Intercom: Intercom is marketing automation and customer service platform which publishes a valuable collection of content focusing on how to improve customer experiences.

Recent favourite: Our New Book: Intercom on Customer Support profiles the release of their latest best practice guide – informative and readable.

Occam’s Razor: blog for Google Digital Marketing Evangelist Avinash Kaushik. Whilst the blog is no thing of beauty, Avinash’s data driven approach to marketing provides a refreshing scientific view on how to engage and sell.

Recent favourite: How To Suck At Social Media: An Indispensable Guide For Businesses looks critically at the role of social media in B2B and B2C marketing.

WeAreSocial: blog of the high profile social media agency of the same name. The blog provides a valuable weekly roundup of interesting product launches and case studies and the regional roundups of digital and social statistics.

Recent favourite: Digital in Southeast Asia in 2015 provides statistics on internet, social media and mobile usage in in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and East Timor.

JOURNALISM AND SOCIETY

Longform: blog providing a heads up on interesting longform journalism as well as profiling their podcast which I would also firmly recommend checking out.

Longreads: operating like the Longform blog, providing recommendations for stories worth adding to your Pocket account.

Marginal Revolution: blog of the American academic economist Tyler Cowen. A great source of information for new research, shedding light on different corners of the society we live in.

Recent Favourite: Shipping storage cost sentences to ponder pointed out how ridiculously low shipping costs are at present.

Remains of the Day: Eugene Wei’s blog where he highlights interesting content he’s found online with an emphasis on technology, the internet,  filmmaking, photography, and pop culture.

Recent favourite: Crime and Punishment looks at the mismatch between crime and punishment in the US.

CREATIVE

The Inspiration: blog pulling together a collection of visually led creative which includes but is not limited to content from the marketing and advertising sector.

CR Blog: blog providing a showcase for some of the great content in the Creative Review magazine.

Recent favourite: Cassetteboy on making mash-ups, helping David Cameron get piggy with it, and the joy of Sony Vegas

StreetArtNews: regular publisher of street art from around the world.

MUSIC

FACT: website that’s closest to my own musical orientation with its concentration on  bleeps, beats and breaks. I’ve got a particular soft spot for their Friday rundown of the best free mixes available online.

Pitchfork: whilst Pitchfork’s indie heartland isn’t quite my thing, the site’s coverage of other genres is more than enough to keep me coming back for more.

Resident Advisor: my days of clubbing seem to be something of a distant memory now, but I still like to keep an eye on the sounds that used to make me move.

CYCLING

As Easy As Riding A Bike: tireless blog by Mark Treasure campaigning for a safer cycling  with focusing on issues affecting London.

Recent favourite: Cycling Needs a Backlash points out that the increasingly public backlash against cycling points to

Inner Ring: professional cycling has become my guilty pleasure following critics pontificating on the season’s races, cyclists, teams and industry machinations. Inner Ring has it covered.

Recent favourite(s): Highlights of the Season – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 covering the most entertaining moments in this year’s cycling season.

CyclingTips: another site providing coverage of professional cycling as well as the competitive end of recreational cycling with a recently launched companion site covering women’s cycling. The site’s Daily News Digests gives a great rundown of the day’s major news but it’s the site’s use of photography that really makes it for me.

Recent favourite: Roadtripping Iceland provides an introduction to cycle touring the backroads of Iceland.

While Out Riding: Cass Gilbert’s online journal as he takes the road less travelled by fat bike.  Photography is enough to make you want to jump on the next plane to Bolivia/Patagonia/Columbia.

Recent favourite: Mongolia… coming soon

Bikepacking.com: website dedicated to the growing field of bikepacking. It’s the site’s route guides which are particularly enticing providing you with the why and how for planning your next expedition.

Recent favourite: Bikerafting Alaska’s Lost Coast, Yakutat-Glacier Bay.

Let me know if you think there’s other blogs and websites you think I should be adding to the list.

The featured image is an Alexey Luka mural in Košice, Slovakia