Thought Starters: post carbon futures, social class and Brazil

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 venture capital, Uber’s valuation, mobile commerce, innovations in the telecom and the energy sector, social class and Brazil among other things.

Benedict Evans has written a valuable overview of the venture capital sector, pointing to the importance of winning big rather than winning often, with failure a necessary part of the equation for investors if they really want to get ahead:

There are no 10x deals

Uber has been one of the darlings of the startup sector with its position further strengthened by the sale of its Chinese subsidiary which was proving a drain on its finances. Steve LeVine has looked to pour some cold water on Uber’s current valuation suggesting that the brand is not necessarily the sure thing that some investors would have you believe:

With Uber, you have a singular brand with a credible story. The question is whether that brand and that credibility, plus the other assets on Uber’s balance sheet, add up to $62.5 billion. Here is a business under siege by rivals big and Lilliputian, in the midst of a cannibalistic pricing race to the bottom, bleeding cash and losing money while battling well-heeled, technologically savvy incumbents displaying every intention of owning the space themselves.

Ofcom released its annual Communications Market report, providing a whole host of benchmark statistics for the UK across television, online video, radio, telecoms and the internet. Well worth bookmarking:

Household take-up of digital communications/ AV devices: 2006-2016

Mobile commerce is definitely on the rise as we spend more and more time glued to our smartphone screens. What’s interesting is that for all the talk of the opportunities of mobile apps, browser based purchasing dominates with a lead that’s growing according to Andy Favell:

Access Method for Mobile Shoppers

Federic Filloux looks at how the traditional media players have been sidelined by the news aggregators (primarily Facebook and Google) and newer media outlets more attuned to the rapid fire news cycles of the current age:

For the news industry, this huge economic gap carries two likely consequences: internet giants and digital native news outlets will have tremendous financial firepower to do whatever it takes in terms of marketing or their ability to go further into the general information segment (cf. Snapchat); and the network effect will apply even further when advertising dollars keep drying up for what will be increasingly seen as niche media.

More broadly, except for the old, educated and affluent segment of the population, the vast majority will be informed by a rapid-fire of superficial and shallow contents spat by the social firehose. Expect more Brexit hurricanes and Trump floods in the future.

Self driving cars are reshape our relationship with the automobile but it’s not just the driver who will be impacted by these changes as Robin Chase explores:

We’re at a fork on that roadmap. One direction leads to a productive new century where cities are more sustainable, livable, equitable, and just.

But if we take the wrong turn, we’re at a dead end. Cities are already complex and chaotic places in which to live and work. If we allow the introduction of automated vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution).

There’s no disputing the fact that mobile is reshaping the world we live in with data via hardwired, mobile and wifi networks fueling the growth in an ever expanding range of devices (smartphones, sports trackers etc) and services (mobile messaging Shazam etc). Our current infrastructure isn’t really built for these growing demandsJeff Hecht looks at what providers are doing to future proof our telecoms infrastructure:

Bottleneck Engineering

The energy sector is facing growing calls to switch away from fossil fuel based energy given the growing threat from climate change. Renewable energy has traditionally been handicapped by intermittent supply and the costs of energy storage whilst nuclear is costly and has a rather mixed safety record. Tim Harford points to the potentially valuable role of price signals in getting the energy market to travel in the right direction:

Overall, there is little prospect of running out of fossil fuels, and it seems unlikely that alternative energy sources will outcompete them. And yet we must make the shift, or risk catastrophic climate change. Our reserves of fossil fuels may be no constraint but the atmosphere’s capacity to safely absorb carbon dioxide is.

There is some space for optimism. Renewable energy sources are no longer impossibly costly. Nor is nuclear power, even though the costs have moved in the wrong direction. We cannot wait for the market to make the switch unaided — but the gap is no longer so wide that sensible policy cannot bridge it. The centrepiece of such a policy would be to raise the price of carbon dioxide emissions, using internationally co-ordinated taxes or their equivalent. Such a tax would make renewable energy sources more attractive — as well as encouraging energy efficient technologies and behaviour. Market forces can do the rest. Low carbon energy is not free — but it is worth paying for.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points to innovations in energy storage as giving more than a helping hand,  changing what is economically viable and potentially making Hinkley Point look like something of a white elephant:

This transforms the calculus of energy policy. The question for the British government as it designs a strategy fit for the 21st Century – and wrestles with an exorbitant commitment to Hinkley Point – is no longer whether this form of back-up power will ever be commercially viable, but whether the inflection point arrives in the early-2020s or in the late 2020s.

Simon Hattenstone  has taken a critical at meritocracy in the UK in light of Theresa May’s recent cabinet appointments which are less dominated by Etonians than her predecessor David Cameron. This raises the question will we see real change or more of the same?

Lee Elliot Major of the Sutton Trust, talks of an academic arms race. “Every time opportunities widen for those from less privileged backgrounds, the middle classes find some way of defining merit to their advantage again. Never underestimate the skills and the tenacity of the middle classes to reinforce their privileged position in society. So there was a university expansion, but if you look at the more prestigious universities, there’s still a stark gap in terms of those from more advantaged backgrounds versus those from disadvantaged backgrounds. And increasingly you’re seeing post-graduate degrees.”

The rise of Donald Trump has prompted much soul searching among political commentators in the US pointing to it as a symptom of the growing social inequality. Research from Gallup provides a more nuanced analysis as Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo report:

According to this new analysis, those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared with people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed.

Yet while Trump’s supporters might be comparatively well off themselves, they come from places where their neighbors endure other forms of hardship. In their communities, white residents are dying younger, and it is harder for young people who grow up poor to get ahead.

Alec MacGillis looks more broadly at the growth of a white underclass in the US which has  provided a fertile ground for Trump’s more xenophobic view of the world:

So why are white Americans in downwardly mobile areas feeling a despair that appears to be driving stark increases in substance abuse and suicide? In my own reporting in Vance’s home ground of southwestern Ohio and ancestral territory of eastern Kentucky, I have encountered racial anxiety and antagonism, for sure. But far more striking is the general aura of decline that hangs over towns in which medical-supply stores and pawn shops dominate decrepit main streets, and Victorians stand crumbling, unoccupied. Talk with those still sticking it out, the body-shop worker and the dollar-store clerk and the unemployed miner, and the fatalism is clear: Things were much better in an earlier time, and no future awaits in places that have been left behind by polished people in gleaming cities. The most painful comparison is not with supposedly ascendant minorities—it’s with the fortunes of one’s own parents or, by now, grandparents. The demoralizing effect of decay enveloping the place you live cannot be underestimated. And the bitterness—the “primal scorn”—that Donald Trump has tapped into among white Americans in struggling areas is aimed not just at those of foreign extraction. It is directed toward fellow countrymen who have become foreigners of a different sort, looking down on the natives, if they bother to look at all.

Reflecting the current race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, The Economist suggests that politics will increasingly be about open versus closed models rather than the traditional battles between left and right:

Left, right, left, right

The Rio Olympics has put Brazil in the spotlight during a tumultuous period in its political history. Franklin Foer has a valuable piece that provides a valuable background to recent events:

But the public’s understandable despair isn’t wholly shared by the experts I spoke with. Stepping back, they saw unlikely causes for hope. Impeachment revealed the worst about Brazilian democracy—and the worst wasn’t so terrible. There’s no talk of returning to dictatorship, no real fear of a Hugo Chávez–like figure clouding the sky. Impeachment was a poor showing of democracy, but it was still democracy. Even with all the budgetary turmoil, Bolsa Família remains firmly ensconced. Austerity will whack the poor, yet Lula’s evolution of Brazilian social democracy won’t reverse course. Most important, the Petrobras scandal is so spectacular that its grasp on the popular imagination doesn’t seem to be slipping. Indeed, Temer’s impeachment gambit has yet to slow the Moro investigation. Brazil has a once-in-a-generation chance to untether its politics from its debilitating state of codependence with the big firms. Hosting the Olympics was never going to bring Brazil the national greatness Lula advertised. Freeing its democracy and economy from the plague of corruption could.

Saudi Arabia feels for many of us like a different world given the way that religion shapes everyone’s lives. Studio D’s research into the lives of young Saudi’s provides a valuable window of how people adjust and if that whets your appetite, it’s also worth reading Jessi Hempel’s coverage of the research process:
For Saudi female youth the smartphone is the great liberator
The featured image is a Gue mural photographed by Angelo Jaroszuk Bogasz at the Altrove Street Art Festival in Catanzaro, Italy and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: the move to mobile, Oculus Rift, post Arab Spring and experiments with universal basic income

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. This edition includes a look at the growing importance of mobile, questions about Oculus Rift, coverage of Middle East post Arab Spring, Finland’s experiment with the universal basic income and much more.

The International Telecommunications Union’s Measuring the Information Society Report provides a valuable collection of telecom statistics with an accompanying webpage enabling users to quick compare different countries and regions. What becomes quickly apparent in some of the statistics is how less developed countries have skipped of fixed telecoms as they make the transition directly to a mobile world:

ICT access by development status

Whilst the move to mobile is particularly apparent in many developing countries, figures from Enders Analysis point to UK’s own transition to mobile in internet use, ecommerce and online advertising:

Monetisation of mobile devices

Taking this further, Benedict Evans puts forward 16 hypotheses on how mobile has reshaped the technology landscape. Well worth spending time with this and the his accompanying articles.

Neural nets are one of the areas where we’re seeing significant advances in artificial intelligence.  Steven Levy has an entertaining profile of the work Alexander Mordvintsev and his attempts to understand how these neural nets work which has led to computationally produced images that are probably best described as psychedelic:

Inside Deep Dreams: How Google Made Its Computers Go Crazy

Oculus Rift has become the poster boy for the virtual reality community but Jason Pfaff suggests the need for expensive goggles tethered to a powerful Windows PC and poor user experience could see it quickly disrupted:

Which brings me to Oculus, and their flagship product, the Rift.  Today, as anyone with an Oculus development kit (DK2) will tell you, the experience provided by the hardware is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.  It is pure, blissful magic.  But, and this is key, to get to that experience you have to do a few things you haven’t done in a long time.  For starters, you need to buy a premium and Windows based PC.  Then, you have to find a massive file on an online store and wait minutes for it to download and eat large swaths of your memory.  Then you go into Windows Explorer, paste it from your download folder to the folder Oculus will read from, and then you extract the files.  Think about that.  Then you crack open that folder to find the one that launches it, then you click, then you wait, and then you hope.  And if it doesn’t work, you try another folder or another file, or look for another file called “Direct to Rift mode” to see if that forces the app through to the display.  This is repeated for every app, piece of content or game you want to display on your Rift. A lot of friction.

The media sector continues to evolve as consumers move their content consumption online and content producers find their access to consumers increasingly dictated by social media. The Nieman Foundation has asked a long list of opinion makers what they think are the important issues and trends for journalism in 2016.

Consumers are moving to non linear television with the use of PVRs (eg Sky+HD box), catch up television services (eg BBC iPlayer) and subscriptions to streaming video services (eg Netflix). James Poniewozik looks at what this means for the makers and consumers of television programmes:

HBO series like “Deadwood” — which jettisoned the ad breaks and content restrictions of network TV — have been compared to Dickens’s serial novels. Watching a streaming series is even more like reading a book — you receive it as a seamless whole, you set your own schedule — but it’s also like video gaming. Binge-watching is immersive. It’s user-directed. It creates a dynamic that I call “The Suck”: that narcotic, tidal feeling of getting drawn into a show and letting it wash over you for hours. “Play next episode” is the default, and it’s so easy. It can be competitive, even. Your friends are posting their progress, hour by hour, on social media. (“OMG #JessicaJones episode 10!! Woke up at 3 a.m. to watch!”) Each episode becomes a level to unlock.

With those new mechanics comes a new relationship with the audience. Traditional television — what the jargonmeisters now call “linear TV” — assumes that your time is scarce and it has you for a few precious hours before bed. The streaming services assume they own your free time, whenever it comes — travel, holidays, weekends — to fill with five- and 10-hour entertainments.

Tom Mitchell and Patti Waldmeir look at the massive growth in China’s  business elite and the growing tension with the ruling Communist Party which has seen the temporary disappearance of a number of business leaders:

The number of dollar billionaires in China

Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is about to come out of copyright in Germany which has prompted The Economist to look at the shadow Nazi rule casts on contemporary German society:

If a country can ever be said to be good, Germany today can. And yet Germans know that whenever others are angry with them, they will paint a Hitler moustache on posters of their chancellor. Many Germans are fed up with this—with being “blackmailed”, as Bild, the leading tabloid, complained this spring, when Greece unexpectedly brought war reparations into negotiations about bail-outs in the euro crisis. Other Germans, mainly on the left, fret about a new “post-post-nationalism”, as Germany tentatively articulates its self-interest abroad. For most countries, this would count as normal. For Germany, it remains complicated.

Gilbert Achcar and Nada Matta look at the more recent legacy of the Arab Spring five years on from its beginnings in Tunisia, and they point to why some countries where more successful in their transitioning than others:

Five years into the uprisings, however, counterrevolutionary forces composed of the old regimes and Islamic fundamentalist forces have regained the political initiative, and are now violently vying for control. Egypt is under a worse dictatorship than before its uprising, and civil wars have broken out in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Hundreds of thousands have died, and many millions have been displaced.

It’s also well worth reading Scott Atran’s detailed analysis of the rise of ISIS in which he draws parallels with earlier revolutionary movements and the conviction of its members which is in stark contrast to much of its opponents:

Civilisations rise and fall on the vitality of their cultural ideals, not their material assets alone. History shows that most societies have sacred values for which their people would passionately fight, risking serious loss and even death rather than compromise. Our research suggests this is so for many who join ISIS, and for many Kurds who oppose them on the frontlines. But, so far, we find no comparable willingness among the majority of youth that we sample in Western democracies. With the defeat of fascism and communism, have their lives defaulted to the quest for comfort and safety? Is this enough to ensure the survival, much less triumph, of values we have come to take for granted, on which we believe our world is based? More than the threat from violent jihadis, this might be the key existential issue for open societies today.

There’s been a lot of talk about a movement from corporate to self-employment. For those people whose skills are in demand, this can offer substantial benefits but for the less in demand, the transition to the freelance economy can pose significant challenges to individuals financial security. One of the solutions being suggested to this problem is the introduction of a universal basic income, guaranteeing all members of society an income regardless of their situation. Ben Schiller covers Finland’s experiment with the model, with the country seeing real potential benefits in terms of security, incentives to work and reduced bureaucracy:

The Finnish government likes the concept, and it’s putting serious resources behind a national experiment. Starting in 2017, up to 100,000 Finns could get up to 1,000 euros a month, in lieu of other benefits. These lucky souls won’t have to work. They won’t have to prove they’re in poverty to get the money. For two years, they’ll get a fixed amount to do with what they will.

The featured image is a mural produced by 108 for Bien Urbain in Besancon, France and found on ekosystem.

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

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

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

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

Separatist

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

Luxury

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

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

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

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

Devices

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

Mobile App Usage

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

Mobile Commerce

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

Responsive

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

Ello

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

UK Social Ad Spending

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

Instagram

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

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

Fastest Broadband

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 19

This week is a varied collection of resources. Topics include a look at Japan, Europe’s leading economies, the growing role of mobile, Tesla’s sharing of its intellectual property, collaboration across different industry, rising costs in the tertiary sector and the role of the European white working class. I hope you enjoy it.

David Pilling looks at the intertwined relations of Japan and China in their role of neighbours and competitors and how this reflects Japan’s self image.

Europe’s ten most competitive economies according to the World Economic Forum, with the Nordics definitely coming out ahead.

Europe2020 Competitiveness ReportMarc Andreessen argues that we don’t need to worry about robots eating all the jobs, with technology based innovation providing greater opportunities for modern society.

GlobalWebIndex looks at what devices we are using to get online, PC still on top but mobile growing.

GWIGrowing signs of mobile’s significance as key markets within Europe pass 50% smartphone penetration market according to eMarketer figures.

Smartphone Penetration Europe

The growing penetration of smartphones is reflected in rapid forecasted growth in mobile data and mobile ecommerce reported on in the Ericsson Mobility Report.

Mobile data growth

Mobile Commerce Growth

Whilst they say a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes a words are more appropriate. Econsultancy have pulled together a strong collection of quotes looking at mobile and mobile marketing.

In today’s modern world, people are either asleep or connected.

Janice H. Reinold, Rosetta Marketing

Bubba Murarka looks at the current and future evolution of mobile advertising which he sees as happening over three stages.

Gartner Digital Marketing Transit Map is over a year old now but provides a window into increasingly elaborate world

Gartner Digital Marketing Transit Map

Intellectual property is viewed by many companies as an important economic moat, providing a barrier against encroaching competitors. So it’s been interesting to see commentators response to Tesla Motors sharing its electric vehicle technology, with Sarah Gray pointing out that the brand’s competitor could be more readily defined as petroleum powered car sector rather than other brands’ electric powered vehicles.

Whilst a lot of attention is currently being given to social media, you need to also bear in mind the capabilities of search and email marketing, as reflected in Custora research publicised on Pamorama.

Acquisition Channel Growth

Box have surveyed different industry sectors collaboration pointing to the fact that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all forms

Industry Collaboration

Tertiary education appears to be on an inexorable growth in costs which Thomas Frank takes a critical look at. This growth in costs is putting a university education out of reach of more and more people and is leaving the sector ripe for disruption from organisations like Coursera and Udacity.

Education Inflation

Simon Kuper looks at Europe’s white working class in light of the surging popularity of anti-immigration populists in the European elections drawing on research from the Open Society Foundations.

The Howard Griffin Gallery is fast turning into one of my favourites, with an interesting selection of artists and an intelligent use of their space on Shoreditch High Street. The Bob Mazzer exhibition is no exception.

Clockwell

The featured image is a piece by Matt W. Moore from Brooklyn, New York.

Taking a Mobile First Approach to Retail

I gave the following presentation recently on the application of Mobile First within a retail environment. You can find the accompanying text and references in the post below.

Slide 1: Cell Towers by Rebecca Rothfus

Slide 2:  There’s no escaping the fact that mobile is here as smartphone and tablet penetration increases.

Slide 3:  Mobile is now taking the lion’s share of growth in ecommerce sales with tablets performing strongly and sales from smartphones growing particularly fast.

Tipping point reached in e-Retail, as mobile now accounts for all online growth, IMRG, 2013,

Slide 4:  Whilst sales are on the increase, it’s also important to look at mobile as an important contributor to offline and online sales.

The growing influence of mobile in store, Deloitte, 2013,

Slide 5:  I’ve taken a broader view of mobile first, looking at how retailers can better enable their offering to mobile and tablet users. It’s important to note that the retail sector is not homogenous and different strategies are going to work better for different parts of the industry.

Slide 6:  Mobile and tablet devices are getting more and more capable, but their form factor provide some limitations. Among these are more limited keyboard, smaller screen size and less powerful process. This raises the need for a digital presence that’s built with these constraints in mind.

On top of this, further impetus is driven by Google’s search optimisation policy which is penalising websites with slow mobile load times.

2014: the mobile SEO timebomb, Econsultancy, 2013

Slide 7:  Despite mobile device’s technical limitations, consumers expect their mobile devices to deliver a similar level of performance to their desktop equivalent.

The World Has Gone Multi-Screen, Google, 2013

Slide 8: The different formats of mobiles, tablets and PCs provide different optimum use cases.

The mobile screen is great for snack sized content. Tablet screen is a more lean back medium which is great for consuming media. PCs on the other hand are often described as lean forward medium where the user is better orientated to interacting with the content.

But for mobile devices, it’s not all about limitations as they’re increasingly loaded with a range of sensors which give them capabilities not provided by your PC.

There is a real need for digital resources to be designed in a way that reflects these differences. 

From Smartphones to Tablets – The Changing Landscape, immobi, 2013

Slide 9:  Mobile First asks designers to ensure that their designs will work within these constraints and not simply provide a lesser experience.

This has seen the growth of adaptive and responsive web design and…

Slide 10:  The emergence of card based user design formats, all of which look to adapt readily to the different devices form factors.

Designing for mobile use also means legible typography, content that renders in both portrait and landscape, concise content, avoidance of plugins such as Flash, click to call functionality and the minimising of user text input.

Why cards are the future of the web, Intercom,

Slide 11:  It’s also important to remember it’s not simply about the visual appearance but also ensuring that consumers have an easy way to navigate to where they want. This means a user experience designed for navigating by touch and meta data designed to enable the mobile searcher to quickly get from A to B.

The Mobile Playbook, Google, 2013

Slide 12:  The constraints of mobile mobile devices also make payments more difficult than on your typical PC. So it’s well worth giving thought to services such as Amazon Payments and Paypal which reduce the obstacles to purchase for mobile users.

We’re also beginning to see new models of payments emerge with initiatives such as Starbucks’ Tweet a Coffee and the use of mobile messaging platforms to make payments.

The future of mobile payments, Medium,

2014: the year of ‘Buy with Google’? Econsultancy

Hugo Barra, Vice President, Xiaomi Global & Loic Le Meur, LeWeb, 2013

Social commerce, the influence of China and other tech trends for Southeast Asia in 2014, TheNextWeb,

Slide 13:  It’s also important to consider native apps. These typically enable a great degree of personalisation, can make better use of phones’ native functionality, can be used offline and are typically quicker to start up.

Ocado on the Go, Ocado

Slide 14:  Mobile apps also provide a means of getting consumers to engage with your brand outside of just the purchase process. Content that informs and or entertains has the opportunity to put multiple shop windows in front of the consumer. Examples of these include Tesco’s meal planner or for a more light hearted approach, American retailer Home Depot’s mobile game.

It’s important to stress given the increasingly crowded nature of the app ecosystem, you cannot adopt a build and they will come approach.

Tesco Food, iTunes,

Corso’s Cornhole Challenge, Home Depot, iTunes,

Home Depot tackles mobile gaming to score sales, Mobile Commerce Daily,

Slide 15:  Consumers are faced with an endless array of choices, so the content needs to be compelling and the app needs to work well or consumers will simply go elsewhere.

Any mobile app developed needs to be promoted as it’s rare for a resource to go viral without a bit of a foot up.

Mobile app based strategy is not without its hurdles given that development is platform specific leading to the exclusion of users on other platforms. 

As an example, Android has the greater penetration in the UK but research points to iOS users making greater use of their devices’ functionality including spending more online. There’s also evidence that points to different audience profiles for the different mobile platforms.

Finally, Android has a more fragmented environment with a much wider range of devices and operating systems complicating any app roll out.

Android and iOS Demographics In The US, AVC, 2013,

Alert: Mobile Traffic and Sales Surge on Christmas Day 2013, IBM, 2013

Building Android first, Kidogo,

App Store Distribution, Apple,

Dashboards, Android,

The horrible state of Android fragmentation, iDownloadBlog,

Slide 17:  Whilst the majority of social networks function on PCs, it’s often on mobiles and tablets where they come into their own, particularly when it comes to the sharing of content and it’s on these devices we’re seeing the strongest growth.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

Facebook’s Monthly Active Users Up 23% to 1.11B; Daily Users Up 26% To 665M; Mobile MAUs Up 54% To 751M, TechCrunch, 2013,

Slide 18:  This raises the need to optimise social channels for mobile users.

Whilst many of the principles remain the same as for desktop, there is even greater emphasis on brevity of content and the use of strong imagery to catch the eye of users.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

UK retailers make a splash on Twitter as Christmas nears, Twitter Advertising Blog, 2013,

See yourself in Times Sq. on #NYE! Twitter, https://twitter.com/MasterCard/status/416657951428857856

What You Need To Know About Facebook Mobile Ads, Entrepreneur, 2013,

Slide 19:  Instagram, Vine and Snapchat are all built on Mobile First principles and provide great opportunities to reach consumers in a way that takes the best advantage of the limited screen space of the mobile phone with paid and earned media campaigns.

Are mobile social ads overhyped? Mobile Marketer, 2013

Co-op claims retail ‘first’ with Snapchat campaign, Marketing, 2013

Nordstrom: Vine on Vine, Brands on Vine, 2013

Slide 20:  Pinterest has been a powerful generator of retail traffic with the platform offering a strong mobile presence. Driving traffic to Pinterest provides a great means of increasing consumer engagement with retailer’s brand and potentially to purchase. 

It’s also important to consider other opportunities in the social space with Polyvore in particular standing out with its ability to generate sales traffic.

Mobile users are nearly twice as likely to share content on social networks as desktop users, Social Media Marketing: The ROI is not MIA, Mobile Marketing Watch, 2013

One social network you’ve never heard of drives 20% of all social commerce, VentureBeat, 2013 ,

New iPad and iPhone Updates: Collections, Shop on iPad and More, Polyvore Blog,

Slide 22:  Despite the growing penetration of mobile and tablets, the media world has still to adjust their spend to reflect this change. 

At a basic level, adding the use of mobile media in conjunction with traditional advertising brings an incremental lift in marketing campaigns.

Study: Mobile Video Ads Complement TV Campaigns, AdColony, 2012

Slide 23:  But where the concept of cross media activity really comes into its own is where different media are used together, increasing consumers’ engagement with the message.

The World Has Gone Multi-Screen, Google, 2013,

Slide 24:  A good example of this is the use of augmented reality apps, bringing traditional static media to life and providing a response channel for consumers.

Tesco Homeplus ‘Virtual Supermarket’, Streething, 2011,

Layar Creator brings interactive augmented reality to print media, The Verge, 2012,

Track My Macca, Protein, 2013

Slide 25:  We are also seeing the integration of mobile functionality into television advertising that goes well beyond simply providing a URL or hashtag.

Twitter now provides the opportunity to target advertising at Twitter users who have identified themselves as watching a particular programme, Kia is asking users to play tennis against their television and mobile app Shazam is being used as a response channel for viewers. We’re likely to see a whole lot more of these initiatives going forward.

TV conversation targeting launches in the UK and US: Coming soon to Brazil, Canada, France, and Spain, Twitter Advertising Blog, 2013,

Kia Game On Tennis, Google Play,

Expedia drives mobile bookings via TV campaign, trip-a-day giveaway, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013,

Slide 26:  Where it gets really exciting is when different digital screens are combined creating an altogether richer interactive experience. Google has been doing this with its Chrome Experiments, and Orange had a go at it with it’s Hello 2014 campaign that ran over New Year’s Eve.

This multiscreening approach offers real potential but doesn’t come without its own problems.

The varied nature of mobile devices brings technical challenges, although the rise of HTML5, WebGL and other technologies are proving important enablers. More generally, different media platforms have been developed on different principles and cross media platforms are requiring the development of common frameworks.

hello 2014, Orange,

Orange Rings in the New Year with a Dual-Screen Experience, Counsel, 2014

Slide 27:  One of the key differentiators of mobile is its portability, raising place as an important variable. Location based services provide retailers with the opportunity to help get consumers into physical stores and keep them returning.

To put this in perspective 57% of smartphone users look for information at least once a week and 25% of smartphone users look for information daily.

Google statistics quoted in Optimizing Your Local Presence for Mobile Search (and vice versa!), Distilled, 2013

Slide 28:  Retailers need to ensure their physical stores are findable, with locations in online map services, retailers own mobile properties and location based services such as Fourquare and Facebook Mobile.

Attract new customers with local ads on the Google Maps app, Inside AdWords, 2013,

Tesco Groceries, iTunes,

 Slide 29:  Building on the earlier location based services is the finding of products, services and information instore using third party resources such as Google maps or via owned media.

Let indoor Google Maps be your guide this holiday shopping season, Google Maps, 2012,

Lowe’s personalizes mobile shopping via in-store app features, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013

Slide 30:  It’s also worth encouraging customers to check in via Foursquare and Facebook, providing the retailer with free publicity across the consumer’s social networks.

Location based marketing is seen by many as a godsend, offering the opportunity to reach consumers when it takes them the least effort to purchase. The problem is that close proximity alone is not necessarily a good indicator of whether the consumer would make a good prospect. The best results come when location is paired with other variables to give a robust means of targeting consumers. We also need to be acutely aware of overloading consumers with marketing messages which could lead to their abandonment of this channel.

Powerful yet simple to use, Foursquare for Business,

Slide 32:  Mobile is coming to play a significant role in the instore retail environment.

The growing influence of mobile in store, Deloitte, 2013,

Slide 33:  Mobile apps like Amazon’s Price Check have raised the spectre of showrooming, as ecommerce operators aim to turn bricks and mortar shops into the display stands for their own operations.

And there is plenty of evidence to support consumers using their mobiles to check prices.

The Mobile Playbook, Google, 2013

Slide 34:  But international research by the Columbia Business School points to consumers engaging in a broad range of activities instore and it’s not simply a case of try there and buy elsewhere.

Showrooming and the Rise of the Mobile-Assisted Shopper, Columbia Business School, 2013,

Slide 35:  The use of instore maps provides a means of getting consumers to your goods and services, but where smartphones really come into their own is enriching the retail environment. This has traditionally required the sometimes clumsy process of scanning QR codes but NFC and Bluetooth Low Engery Beacons are providing a more seamless experience for mobile users.

This provides smartphone users with the opportunity to find out further information about the store and its products and services. Like an Amazon user, an instore shopper has the potential to pull down consumer and expert reviews, product demonstration videos and comparisons whilst keeping within the retailers’s digital and physical environment.

Apple’s iBeacon and NFC, DigitalLab, 2013,

Slide 36: We are also seeing smartphones used to deliver offers, promotions and rewards. A lot of noise is currently being made about the introduction of beacon based programmes enabling users to receive location specific deals, discounts and recommendations.

What is shopBeacon?   shopkick

Cartwheel by Target, Target

Macy’s Dips Toes in Brave New Marketing World, TechNewsWorld, 2013

Slide 37:  Mobile payments is another area we are seeing a significant change, offering consumers an easier way to purchase instore whilst avoiding unnecessary queues.

There are a range of solutions currently on offer, with mobile payment providers such as Google Wallet, Paypal, Masterpass and Square but it’s in the area of retailer specific solutions that we’re seeing the greatest success.

When considering mobile payments and beacon based initiatives, it’s also important to think about how any instore promotions will be integrated with retailer’s loyalty programmes and discounting campaigns which are also increasingly mobile enabled.

Like the use of instore beacons, mobile payments is very much a nascent field in which we’re seeing a rapid evolution of best practice.

Apple Store, iTunes,

KFC’s Mobile Shopping App sees 90pc of users placing orders via mobile, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013,

KFC Fasttrack, iTunes

Walmart, iTunes,

2014: the year of ‘Buy with Google’? Econsultancy, 2014

I’m Still Waiting for My Phone to Become My Wallet, New York Times, 2013

Target leverages Facebook to bolster downloads for new mobile deals app, Mobile Commerce Daily, 2013

Slide 39:  The above quote comes from the New York Times paints a rather unwelcoming picture for the bricks and mortar retailer, but it’s not all bad. Mobile has the real potential to strengthen the hands of retailers with a physical presence. A more positive note was recently sung by IBM who have touted buying local as one of the key forecasted trends over the next five years driven by the opportunities of a more digital enriched shopping experience.

eBay’s Strategy for Taking On Amazon, New York Times, 2013

Buying local will beat online, IBM, 2013

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 3

Algorithms have the potential to surround ourselves with like minded people and information that supports our viewpoint in what some people call a filter bubble. Given these concerns, it is great to see innovations that bring together people with alternative views together. Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the future.

Horace Dediu tracks the growing role of smartphones and tablets in online purchasing in the US drawing on the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark study. GlobalWebIndex provides a view on how PC, mobiles and tablets are used during the purchace process. Ecommerce is not a PC monopoly particularly as we see PC sales decline.

Asymco: When will the migration from PCs be complete?

Ben Bajarin looks at the increasingly diverse world of Android ecosystems in which Google is a player but my no means the only beneficiary.

Benedict Evans looks at the BBC figures for iPlayer which points to the online service making up a fraction of overall television viewership for now, although growing tablet penetration of tablets may see this change.

Benedict Evans: The Limits of Online Video

Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic provides a thoughtful piece on some of the negative aspects associated with automation as we rely increasingly on machines.

GlobalWebIndex give their view on what are the most used social services worldwide.

GlobalWebIndex: Chart of The Day: Twitter and Google+ Tied As The Second Most Used Social Services Globally

Frank Chimero’s meditation on the role of the screen and interactive design is worth spending some time with.

Diesel makes Tumblr friendly animated GIFs in its latest experiential campaign.

Diesel GIF Booth, Adverblog

Patagonia has long had a socially responsible image and has created a lot of noise with its recent calls for people to buy less. Worn Wear is the brand’s latest initiative celebrating the clothing that lasts you for years which it has supported with a short film contrasting its position with other retailers during Cyber Monday. The strategy has apparently been successful with growing sales for the outdoor brand.

Gallery Analytics is an installation for exhibitions that’s able to generate data about behavior of visitors and present this data in a Google Analytics-like environment. By setting up a mesh Wi-Fi network and combining it with custom-made software, Gallery Analytics is able to track every Wi-Fi-enabled device (such as a smartphone) moving around in the area in real-time. I can imagine we will see more of this kind of thing as iBeacon comes into play.

The Pop-Up City: Google Analytics For Physical Environments