Thought Starters: Uber, Machine Learning, “Alt-Right” Democracy and Globalisation

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more  interesting (and hopefully well informed) opinions that I’ve read over the last few weeks. This edition is dominated by the fallout from the American elections with people looking at the reasons for the rise of such an unconventional candidate and a look at what we might expect from Donald Trump’s presidency:

Is the tide turning on Uber? There’s no disputing that the ridesharing model has become a key plank of our transport infrastructure. Question is will Uber’s pool of cash be enough to keep the company going until self driving cars arrive? Yves Smith and Eric Newcomer weigh in:

Published financial data shows that Uber is losing more money than any startup in history and that its ability to capture customers and drivers from incumbent operators is entirely due to $2 billion in annual investor subsidies. The vast majority of media coverage presumes Uber is following the path of prominent digitally-based startups whose large initial losses transformed into strong profits within a few years.

This presumption is contradicted by Uber’s actual financial results, which show no meaningful margin improvement through 2015 while the limited margin improvements achieved in 2016 can be entirely explained by Uber-imposed cutbacks to driver compensation. It is also contradicted by the fact that Uber lacks the major scale and network economies that allowed digitally-based startups to achieve rapid margin improvement.

Benedict Evans released the latest version of his Mobile is Eating the World presentation which looks at the growing synergies between mobile and machine learning, with a particularly focus on retail or automotive:

Lighting everything up with machine learning

Benedict’s presentation points to mobile apps as the dominant means for consumers to interacting with the digital world. As mobile becomes ubiquitous, we’re seeing consumers sticking to the apps they know according to research from Adobe in the US:

App abandoment is on the rise as consumers stick to the apps they know

Amazon is taking advantage of mobile technology to further automate the process of shopping with their soon to launch AmazonGo offering. Better experience for consumers, less employment for retail workers:

As mobile matures, we’re seeing the next gold rush emerging in machine learning. Sam DeBrule has pulled together a valuable collection of information sources if you’re keen to track developments in the sector as they increasingly spill over into the real world:

Machine Intelligence Startups & Tools

Providing a counterpoint to Silicon Valley boosterism is Om Malik’s column warning that technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that the startup sector needs to be more aware of these changes if it’s to avoid a major backlash:

“It is not just Facebook. It is time for our industry to pause and take a moment to think: as technology finds its way into our daily existence in new and previously unimagined ways, we need to learn about those who are threatened by it. Empathy is not a buzzword but something to be practiced. Let’s start by not raging on our Facebook feeds but, instead, taking a trip to parts of America where five-dollar lattes and freshly pressed juices are not perks but a reminder of haves and have-nots. Otherwise, come 2020, Silicon Valley will have become an even bigger villain in the popular imagination, much like its East Coast counterpart, Wall Street.”

Ryan Broderick tracks the rise of the “alt-right” in the US and Europe and how social media provides fertile ground for its growth.

“Facebook doesn’t want to challenge you, they don’t want to upset you, because they know that if you’re challenged on their platform, you wouldn’t want to use it as much,” Derakhshan said. “The very fact that you cannot show your reaction to anything you see on Facebook by saying that you agree or disagree or that it’s true or false and you can only show your emotions to it is very telling.”

UK’s telecommunications regulator regularly releases research looking at Britons’ use of media and technology. Their most recent report covers media use and attitudes among children and young people aged 5-15, providing a valuable window into where media is heading in the future:

Media used by children aged 5-14 at home

Pew Research’s research from the US point to ebooks market share as stabilising with a similar story for printed books. Another valuable finding is that consumers are now increasingly reading e-books on tablets, PCs and smartphones rather than just dedicated e-book readers:

Print books continue to be more popular than e-books or audio books

Americans have traditionally been strong believers in economic progress with the expectation that they will be better financially positioned than their parents. Research from Raj Chetty profiled by David Leonhardt points to this no longer being the case, a situation which is presumably leading to growing dissatisfaction with the political status quo:

Chance of making more money than your parents by age cohort in the US

Much has been made of Donald Trump’s call for bringing manufacturing back to the US with suggestions that he’ll bring in more protectionist trade policy. Mark Muro in his coverage of the American manufacturing points to how automation is seeing the sector become increasingly divorced from its blue colour labour roots:

More Output, Less Employment

Another initiative Donald Trump has been touting is investment in America’s infrastructure which is one area where the Democrats and Republicans could potentially find common ground…but the devil is in the details. Ronald A Klain’s analysis of the initiative suggests that it’s more likely to line the pockets of those already working on projects rather than providing a boost to employment:

First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.

China’s economic growth is unprecedented, but a darkening political climate has led to growing suggestions that this trend may be derailed in the future as the country adopts a more authoritarian stance:

% of world GDP from year 1700 to 2008

The rise of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Marie Le Pen among others points to a backlash against globalisation, but analysis from The Economist point to this trend not being shared by all countries:

Attitudes towards globalisation against change in GDP per person

Amanda Taub profiles Yascha Mounk’s research pointing to declining support for democracy among many developed countries, coinciding with the growth of the “Far Right”…Although Erik Voeten’s analysis suggests it’s not quite as severe as the graph below suggest:

Percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy

Given the rise of the far right, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder’s 20 lessons from 20th century provides valuable advice on fighting a rise in authoritarianism  (even if it is aimed at an American readership):

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

The Danish concept of hygge has become very much of the moment with its harking back to a simpler age but Charlotte Higgins suggests that the UK’s reinterpretation of the idea is not quite so healthy:

If, for Danes themselves, hygge has an element of fantasy – through the way it draws back from difficulties, difference and debate – then the British import is a fantasy of a fantasy. Hygge may be quintessentially Danish, but there is something utterly British about the nostalgic longing for the simple accoutrements of an earlier time – especially if it can be bought. At the same time, it is hard to deny that just at the moment, the most natural thing in the world is to want to huddle round the fire and wish the outside away. Settle in: it’s going to be a long winter.

The featured image is a MOMO mural from Sicily.

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: children’s media use, app streaming, Dribbbilisation and privacy

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.

Ofcom released Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report this month which provides a detailed look at the media consumption and device usage of children and teenagers in the UK. Among the interesting statistics are changes in the social media usage and inevitably high penetration of smartphones:

Main social media site used by children

Consumers movement from a browser to an increasingly app based interactive experience poses a significant threat to Google’s business model where the majority of income continues to come from search.  Among the ways that Google is looking to address this threat is the deeper indexing of content from apps and the launching of app streaming smoothing the transition from search to app usage.  You can see an example of it in action below with a search for a hotel in Chicago leading to the Hotel Tonight Android app below:

Google App Streaming

A further indication of the growing importance of mobile can be seen in the growing share mobile is taking of ecommerce revenues in the US according to figures from comScore:

Mobile commerce as share of total ecommerce revenues

An interesting companion piece to comScore’s forecast are figures from the Wall Street Journal which point to a decline in retail space per capita in the US which is no doubt fueled by growing ecommerce sales:

Retail space decline

WeChat provides an interesting case study in how we might see the mobile ecosystem developing in the West with mobile messaging becoming a hub for an increasingly diverse range of services. Edith Yeung profiles some of the different services currently offered in China – we’re beginning to see this with Facebook Messenger’s expansion of functionality and there’ll no doubt be plenty more to come in the near future.

Paul Adams criticises many designers for paying too much attention to aesthetics and not enough attention to purpose in what he describes as the Dribbbilisation of Design (referencing design showcase site Dribbble).  Adams argues that designers need to give greater consideration to outcomes, structure and interaction, particularly as we move to an environment where interactive design permeates everything:
The Dribbblisation of Design

Tony Aube points to the move to an increasingly messaging based world driven by artificial intelligence as making the traditional model of visual user interfaces irrelevant:

“What I do believe, however, is that these new technologies are going to fundamentally change how we approach design. This is necessary to understand for those planning to have a career in tech. In a future where computers can see, talk, listen and reply to you, what good are your awesome pixel-perfect Sketch skills going to be?

Let this be fair warning against complacency. As UI designers, we have a tendency to presume a UI is the solution to every new design problem. If anything, the AI revolution will force us to reset our presumption on what it means to design for interaction. It will push us to leave our comfort zone and look at the bigger picture, bringing our focus on the design of the experience rather than the actual screen. And that is an exciting future for designers.”

Benedict Evans reviews the competition for control of the television which he characterises as a ultimately a sideshow to the broader battles for the PC and more recently the smartphone and tablet:

“Games consoles’ closed ecosystem delivered huge innovation in games, but not in much else. The web’s open, permissionless innovation beat the closed, top-down visions of interactive TV and the information superhighway. The more abstracted, simplified and closed UX model of smartphones and especially iOS helps to take them to a much broader audience than the PC could reach, and the relative safety of installing an app due to that ‘closed’ aspect enables billions of installs and a new route to market for video. It’s not that open or closed win, but that you need the right kind of open in the right place.”

GroupM has released its forecast for the UK media sector, with a continuation in the trend of decline in print advertising and robust growth from television and interactive advertising:

Media Spend Forecast

The Flexport blog looks at the overinvestment in freight shipping capacity where the impact has been compounded by a decline in Chinese exports leading to some unintended consequences:

“It costs $300 to move a 40-foot container from Rotterdam to Shanghai, which is barely enough to cover the cost of fuel, handling, and Suez Canal fees. Here’s some more context. Let’s say that you want to travel for a year; it’s cheaper to put your personal belongings in a shipping container as it sails around the world than to keep it at a local mini-storage facility.”

Germany has long been a manufacturing powerhouse (see below). What The Economist asks is whether the country can adapt to an environment where a greater share of the value added comes from outside the traditional domains of designing and assembling goods:

Manufacturing as percentage of GDP

Turkey’s recent shooting down of a Russian air force plane has raised serious concerns about a further escalation of the conflict in Syria. Liam Denning argues the conflict reflects the increasingly embattled position Russia faces as oil prices decline (I wouldn’t paint Turkey’s role as necessarily benevolent given its support for anti Kurdish forces in Syria):

“Two things flow from this. First, Syria may represent just one front in a many sided struggle by resource-dependent countries such as Russia to maintain their position in oil and gas markets that suddenly look more like actual competitive markets than they did just a few years ago as new supply has entered the scene. That, rather than a Turkish border dispute, is the central geopolitical drama affecting energy.”

We’re seeing privacy at the centre of debates around online advertising and state surveillance but Greg Ferenstein explains that the concept of privacy is a relatively new one. He explores the emergence of privacy and looks at how we’re likely to see it further evolve in years to come:

The History of Privacy

The Economist has produced a valuable interactive infographic (it’s worth visiting The Economist for the interactive version) allowing viewers to examine which countries are doing a better job of empowering women in the workplace. Britain seemingly doesn’t do well in any of the measures:

The glass-ceiling index

The US is often characterised as deeply religious which has an inevitable impact on national and ultimately international politics. Given this, it’s interesting to see Pew Research Center’s latest recent research into religion and faith pointing to the country becoming more secular:

How the U.S. public became less religious

The featured image is Pistache, Bleu Gris et Noir by eko.

Thought Starters: Facebook grows, software as the new oil and the music industry evolves

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.

Facebook’s release of quarterly financials point to strong growth in mobile users and video although costs grew at as faster rate than revenue. This seen a reshuffling of the S&P 500 in the US with the social networking overtaking a still healthy General Electric and Amazon.

Biggest S&P 500 Companies by Market Cap

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson points to software as taking the place of oil in securing a disproportionate share of the global economy’s economic surplus going forward:

“Companies that control the software infrastructure of the information revolution will sit back and collect the economic surplus of the information revolution and that will be a path to vast wealth and economic power. It has already happened but I think we are just beginning to see the operating leverage of these software based business models.”

We’ve seen a growing number of startups pass the $1bn valuation mark in recent years but a much smaller number have chosen to expose themselves to closer scrutiny and take themselves public. One of the enablers of this has been the availability of venture capital which is looking more and more like traditional debt financing:

“This is hardly an equity instrument at all,” says Altman. “Investors are buying debt but dressing it up close enough to equity to maintain their venture capital fund exemption status. In a world of 0 percent interest rates, people become pretty focused on finding new sources for fixed income.”

Consumers’ media consumption habits are inevitably changing when faced with a growing array of choices. Traditional television channels have up until recently managed to hold its own but Liam Boluk’s analysis points a substantial drop in viewing habits among younger consumers in the US:

Change in Time Spent Watching Television in the US

Content marketing appeared to provide an obvious choice for many brands looking to engage with their audiences providing relevant content in return for consumers’ attention. As Greg Satell points out, it’s not quite that easy as a growing glut of content is making it harder for companies to get their brand noticed unless your content really stands out:

“Yet despite these scattered successes, there is mounting evidence that most marketers’ content efforts are failing.  The Content Marketing Institute reports that although the majority of B2B and B2C marketers have some kind of content marketing program, less than 40% find those efforts effective.  Clearly, things need to improve.”

Songkick’s Ian Hogarth points to the convergence of radio, on-demand music and concert ticketing as reshaping the music industry, with data enabling musicians to foster a closer connections with their audiences:

“The integration of these three, previously distinct industries will produce a richer experience for artists and fans, unlock a ton of additional subscription, ticketing and advertising revenue for artists and create a better experience for fans. It will resolve the central tension between fans, artists and technology companies that so much ink has been spilled about.”

David Pakman argues strongly that as the automotive sector evolves with the introduction of electrification, software and data, traditional manufacturers will be poorly placed to fend off competition from new entrants:

“I am confident many of the existing automotive companies will produce cars with autonomous features. And some of them will be quite good. And eventually they will produce some fully autonomous electric cars too. In the meantime, there are many super-strong, thoughtful entrepreneurs with lots of incredible hardware and software experience working to fundamentally redefine what consumers should expect from cars.”

Chrissie Giles provides a fascinating look at Britain’s changing relationship with alcohol as the industry adapted to changing societal norms and trends which saw UK reach ‘peak booze’ in 2004:

“As the new century began, alcohol was easier to access, cheaper to buy and more enthusiastically marketed than it had been for decades. By 2004, Brits were drinking well over twice as much as they had been half a century earlier. The nation stood atop Peak Booze, and my generation was drinking the most.”

There’s a general expectation that we should see health statistics improve over time with advancements in healthcare seeing many problems either addressed or mitigated.  So it’s rather shocking to see research from Anne Case and Angus Deaton point to growing mortality among non-hispanic middle aged males in the US:

America's middle-aged mortality

The featured image is by Argentinean artist Pastel in Playa del Carmen, México published in StreetArtNews.

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

The following is a look through articles, research and opinion pieces highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Self Employment Rate in the US

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

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

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

Economic Impact of Climate Change on the World

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

Thought Starters: China, Twitter, startups and the role of food

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

China’s digital media sector has developed its own distinct characteristics with unique properties and innovations that set it apart from many markets in the West. WeAreSocial profile key digital, social and mobile benchmark statistics for the Chinese that give a taste for the key players:

The markets have not responded kindly to Twitter’s performance with one of the company’s largest investors Chris Sacca pitching in with what he feels Twitter should be doing. James Gleich provides a contrasting opinion, suggesting that it’s doing a great job as it is and leadership should be wary of turning the service on its head (even if the returns don’t satisfy investors):

“Twitter doesn’t just want to make it easy for users to find tweets. They want to make it easier for marketers to find users. Everyone wants to know the secret of how to use Twitter to reach their million potential customers. I will tell you the secret. You can’t do it. Twitter is not a giant megaphone. There is no mouthpiece. Those 300 million people, that glistening prize, are not waiting for your message. They’re not tuning to your channels. They’re choosing their own.”

Research from Branch Metrics points to the benefits of contextual deep linking, something that will become increasingly important as we move more toward an app based world:

Advantages of Contextual Deep LinkingThere’s been growing speculation about Apple’s development of their own car as the company looks to expand its footprint outside its heartland of computers and portable devices. Benedict Evans takes  an  insightful look at the market opportunity for the likes of Apple and also how new technologies and business models are likely to see the market evolve.

Mark Suster looks at the dangers of pouring investment into early stage startups where capital inflows can undo the hunger that makes startups so dangerous to the status quo. An interesting complement to this is Andreessen Horowitz’s compilation of startup metrics which provide a guide for those of you looking to assess which opportunities are really in a healthy financial position.

There’s been a lot of talk about unbundling in the cable television industry, particularly in the US which will impact what shows are produced and how they’re distributed in the future. Jan Dawson looks at the factors which will impact on whether consumers will stay with the incumbents or move to the new players such as Netflix and HBO Now.

There’s no denying there’s been a real change in what media consumers are interacting with, particularly among the younger generations. David Pakman takes a closer look, pointing to the growth in media forms which enable self expression and communication:

Media Consump

Tim Wu writing for the New Yorker takes a closer look at the growing hours faced by America’s more educated, as the age of leisure moves further off into the distance:

“What counts as work, in the skilled trades, has some intrinsic limits; once a house or bridge is built, that’s the end of it. But in white-collar jobs, the amount of work can expand infinitely through the generation of false necessities—that is, reasons for driving people as hard as possible that have nothing to do with real social or economic needs.”

The jury is still out on the ultimate effect that the digitisation of culture is having on the careers of artists and other cultural makers. Steven Johnson provides a convincing case of the benefits for musicians, filmmakers and authors with a blurring of the boundaries between professionals and interested amateurs.

We’ve seen food’s profile grow in terms of contemporary culture providing an intersection of material and experiential culture. Eugene Wei profiles this move, drawing on a recent Econtalk podcast feature Rachel Laudan:

“Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it’s because food and dining still offer true scarcity whereas music is so freely available everywhere that it’s become a poor signaling mechanism for status and taste.”

You can see this issue explored further with Joe Pinsker’s interview of Eve Turow focusing on the Millennials’ obsession with food in The Atlantic.

The featured image is Rage & Fury by Nootk! in Moscow, Russia.

Thought Starters

I have recently taken on full time work on top of other commitments, so I’m finding my time to blog is less than I have had in the past. Find below content recently that has caught my attention.

I’ve seen my own consumption of podcasts increase sharply over the last year, so it’s great to see NY Magazine profile this burgeoning media format:

“Radio has been saved the disruption that has happened to other media. It’s been frozen in time for 50 years,” Blumberg said. “Now that everyone is walking around with a radio in their pocket at all times, and now that all cars are going to be connected, the form can flourish again.”

Recent figures point to Facebook as doing a great job in muscling in on Youtube’s role as host of online video according to Comscore figures:

Online Video Comscore Benedict Evan’s Mobile is Eating the World presentation provides a valuable look at how mobile is coming to dominate the consumer technology landscape:

Evans’ view is further backed up by John Lewis whose recently released retail report points to mobile overtaking desktop for online traffic:

Mobile vs PC

There’s a looming battle in the US in the mobile payments space between Apple Pay and the retailer backed CurrentC. Reports that CurrentC has been hacked before it has fully launched and reports of the system’s poor user experience suggest it might be a one horse race:

When it comes to actually paying, the system gets even more cumbersome. CurrentC describes the process on its support site: You need to select a “Pay with CurrentC” option on the register, activate your phone, open the CurrentC app, enter a four-digit passcode, press the “Pay” button, “either scan the Secure Paycode that the cashier presents (default) or press the Show button at the bottom of your screen to allow the cashier to scan your Secure Paycode,” select the account you want to pay with, and then press a “Pay Now” button.

Whilst mobile payments is in its relative infancy at the moment, the indifferent attitude that many millennials have to cash points to this space as being increasingly important in years to come:

Currency_Figure

Ben Thompson looks at the media sector, analysing which elements are extracting the most value, drawing an analogy with the iPhone and its components manufacturers:

The Smiling Curve for publishing

John Kirk takes a critical look at market research and points to it as providing a much better source of insights in enhancing existing products rather than providing guidance on new product categories:

We’re very, very good at explaining why things won’t work. We’re not nearly as good at imagining creative new ways things might work.

A look at the quality of life index by The Economist point to a rapidly narrowing gap between rich, emerging and poor countries:

Quality of Life The Economist takes a valuable look at Iran pointing to a country that is becoming less radical and more secular:

The regime may remain suspicious of the West, and drone on about seeding revolutions in oppressor countries, but the revolutionary fervour and drab conformism have gone. Iran is desperate to trade with whomever will buy its oil. Globalisation trumps puritanism even here.

I am a strong believer in the view that climate change is one of the major issues that needs to be addressed now if we’re to have a real chance of living comfortably on this planet going forward. The following graph from Bloomberg gives me some hope although the inconsistency of supply and issues of storage means that we’re not likely to see a wholesale switch to solar in the immediate future:

Solar Energy If you’ve ever wondered how hard it would be to pick up another European language, the following visualisation should provide a useful guide, found on Etymologikon:

LanguageI recently discovered the Earth View from Google Maps Chrome extension which provides a view of Earth each time you open a new tab – certainly beats the traditional blank screen:

Google Earth

The featured image is GoddoG’s piece from the Festival K-live in Sète, France.

Thought Starters

New Geography has produced a ranking of the most influential cities. For the moment, the ranking is dominated by the old world with London, New York and Paris on top but Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai and Beijing all make the top 10.

Silicon Valley retains its position as the epicentre of the technology world but growing costs mean that the region see it taking on a role of growing startups rather than initiating them according to Armando Biondi:

Or getting teams from 10 to 1,000 people, that’s hard. And that’s what Silicon Valley does best and is most excited about. And, coincidentally, that’s also where most of the company value is generated. The consequence? Silicon Valley is no longer the best place to start a company (unless you’ve already been living there for a while now, of course) because everywhere else is. And “everywhere else” is the rest of the world — with cheaper talent, lower cost of living, and good access to initial capital as well — but also the rest of the U.S. outside of the tech hubs.

Technology has long history of disrupting employment and current developments in software look like more than continuing this trend going on the following video:

Researchers at Oxford Martin School at Oxford University have looked at the effect of computerisation in more detail with 47% of current jobs potentially at risk over the next 10-20 years. For those with a shorter attention span, you can find an abbreviated version at Gizmag:

Susceptible to ComputerisationNielsen’s reporting on American’s media consumption habits point to smartphone and online video usage growing rapidly with a decline in traditional television viewing:

Growth Mobile Phone Usage

Research from GlobalWebIndex provides a more international view, with  European consumers spending more time with traditional media than their Asian equivalents:

Online vs Traditional MediaProviding further fuel to the argument that not all global consumers are the same is the following graph from Benedict Evans pointing to the variation in market share for mobile operating systems:

Smartphone OS

Steven Sinofsky looks at the key characteristics of the mobile operating system which differentiate it from  to the PC model. A valuable lesson in some of the factors that are reshaping the technology landscape.

Farhad Manjoo looks at the limitations of the smartphones and their shortcomings in providing a more personalised and contextually based experience to consumers:

Like a bumbling concierge, your phone often tries to assist you without pausing to consider any of the basic information it collects about your life. For instance, your phone has access to your calendar, and it also knows your physical location. So why isn’t it smarter about sending you the right notification at the right time — for instance, not during a first date? Why can’t it prioritize alerts from your wife and your boss over notifications for tweets from your high school pals?

David Holmes contrasts coverage of the Ferguson riots on Twitter and Facebook, with the algorithmic based approach of the latter providing less opportunity for hard news to get through for those who are interested:

Twitter, on the other hand, with the exception of the occasional promoted tweet, presents a raw feed of the people you follow, nothing more, nothing less. Users can carefully select the people they follow, so if you’re the type of politically-minded news junkie who wants to know the latest in the Michael Brown killing or any other major news story, you can curate the accounts you follow accordingly. That’s why no matter how hard Facebook tries to be akin to your daily newspaper, it’s still got nothing on Twitter when it comes to news.

Holmes goes on to suggest that this situation may change over time as Twitter looks to adopt a  more filtered approach to the feed it presents to consumers.

There’s been a lot of talk about email becoming marginalised in the home and work environment with the growth of mobile messaging and collaboration platforms such as Slack. Alexis C Madrigal presents a convincing counterargument pointing to the unbundling of email as increasing its relevance to modern consumers:

The metaphor of electronic mail never fully fit how people use e-mail. But, now, perhaps it might. Email could become a home for the kinds of communications that come in the mail: letters from actual people, bills, personalized advertisements, and periodicals. 

An interesting lens in which to view American society through is mentions of bacon and kale in social media which apparently correlates with state’s political leanings. A high indexing for kale correlates with a liberal, whilst high indexing on bacon correlates with a conservative bias.

Kale-Vs-BaconIf you have more than a passing interest in Russian society, the Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia exhibition on at the Photographer’s Gallery in London is well worth a look. Interesting window into Russia at the turn of the century as well as Soviet ruling elite’s move to control how Russian society was portrayed.

Varvara Stepanova Red Army Men

The featured image is a Cinzah Merkens piece for the  Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans – Mexico Expedition in Isla Mujeres, Mexico and covered in ArrestedMotion.

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

 

The Changing Outdoor Advertising Landscape

The growth of the digital media  has brought considerable change to the media landscape.  Television has managed to more than hold its own over the last ten years but the newspaper and publishing sector has seen dramatic declines as consumers switch to free online alternatives. Unfortunately for the print industry, PWC’s forecasts point to  this trend continuing.

Sector growth in UK entertainment and media

Out-of-home advertising is another of the more traditional media formats that has managed to go against the trend of declining revenues. The UK out-of-home media sector has managed to continued the growth trend that followed the London Olympics.

Changes in technology have strengthened out-of-home advertising’s position, putting it in a comparatively strong position vis-a-vis other media channels. I’ll look at some of the key developments in the sector.

Outdoor joins the world of Big Data

The first development is the industry is taking a much more methodical approach to reporting on consumer’s exposure to outdoor media. In the past the outdoor sector’s reporting was a lot less robust than the equivalent for television and digital but initiatives such as Route in the UK and TAB Out of Home Ratings in the US are going a long way to address this.

Route  uses mobile technology to track a 28,000 person UK sample and understand the likelihood as to whether audiences will have seen  the outdoor assets (and not simply having been in proximity to it).

The system also enables the profiling of the poster by audience type  (demographics, behaviours and media consumption) rather than raw numbers, enabling more targeted approaches and facilitating cross media campaigns.

This reduces wastage in outdoor media campaigns and has put it in a more equal footing with other media channels where they have traditionally had a richer pool of consumer data to pull on.

Digitally Enriched Outdoor Advertising

The second development I would point to in out-of-home media sector is the growth in digital outdoor advertising.

Digital outdoor advertising when coupled with appropriate content management systems has given media owners the opportunity to serve different creative based on the  time of day as well as enabling a more rapid turnaround in creative.

The Sun’s Second Sight campaign provides an example of these forces at work, promoting the day’s headlines to commuters during the morning rush hour.

The Sun Second Sight

Digital formats also provide the opportunity to enrich creative executions. British Airway’s #lookup in Piccadilly Circus used a video advertising billboard to show pictures of a young child tracking a British Airways plane flying overhead with live flight information.

Interacting with Outdoor Advertising

The third development I would point to is the growing array of response channels now provided to out-of-home advertisers. Outdoor advertising has traditionally been associated with broadcast advertising, using bold imagery and sharp copy to catch consumers eye. Abbot Mead Vickers’ pioneering work on The Economist and TBWA/Chiat/Day’s work on Apple’s iPod Silhouettes campaign provides an interesting case study of how messages can resonate long after the creative was experienced.

The growing prevalence of mobile phones and more specifically  smartphone has changed the landscape for outdoor advertisers, giving the media space to have a life beyond the four corners of a billboard.  The use of SMS short codes, QR codes and NFC has provided advertisers with a means of engaging with consumers, provided the appropriate incentives (music downloads, games. discounts etc) are given.

Universal Pictures tried this with its outdoor campaign for Despicable Me 2 which saw users able to control elements of a digital billboard after synchronising their smartphone with users then able to share the results with their social networks.

Advertisers also have the opportunity to enrich their outdoor campaigns using augmented reality mobile apps such as Aurasma, Layar, Blippar and Vuforia. These enable the creation of a virtual layer on top of the outdoor creative,  providing the opportunity to inform and entertain

Whilst the results can proving exciting for consumers, the need to download a mobile app in the majority of cases often leaves these campaigns better suited to print or packaging based campaigns where the consumer has more time interacting with the creative.

SMS short codes, QR codes and NFC have all been held up as providing a more universal means of forging a channel with consumers but stumbling blocks remain with user experience, awareness and device compatibility issues.  The emergence of BLE enabled smartphones and beacon based technology raises the prospect of an improved channel for communicating with consumers, but it remains a largely unproven channel at this stage.

Analog Still has a Role

Digital outdoor revenues are experiencing strong growth but its important to remember that this is off a small base and traditional analog advertising still makes up the majority of outdoor revenues.  Analog outdoor poster campaigns still have a lot to offer advertisers and don’t need to worry about technology getting in the way of an impactful message.

Online advertising stalwart Google’s campaign promoting voice search for mobile is one of my outdoor favourites, showing what can be done when smart copy and media placement are paired together.

Pih-ka-di-lee sur-khus

Competition with the Mobile Screen

One of the interesting issues that the outdoor sector needs to address is the competition for consumer’s attention when out-of-the-home. Consumers are spending growing amounts of time with their mobile phones – something that’s particularly apparent in the UK.

Time Spent Using Phones Online Per Month

Whilst the growing penetration of smartphones provides a valuable means of bringing campaigns to life, it also provides a competitor for consumers attention when on the go.  Whilst this is arguably not the case for drivers, anyone who has walked down a major high street over the last year will have experienced  the perils of zombie texters.

For outdoor to be a success, the industry will need to ensure that outdoor advertising continues to entertain and inform rather than simply confronting and disrupts as people go about their daily lives.

The featured image is Sixe Paredes’s mural for Asphalte in Charleroi, Belgium and covered in StreetArtNews.