Thought Starters: decacorns, the iPad Pro opportunity and the implications of CRISPR

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.

CB Insights profiles the growing valuations of the “decacorns” (private companies valued at over $10bn). Fidelity’s recent markdown of investments in Dropbox and Snapchat could be simply related to these companies’ specific circumstances or potential sign of a market correction:

Deals to Top Private Company Unicorns Valued at Over $10bn

Apple’s hoping that the release of the iPad Pro will give its tablet offering a much needed boost and the product’s performance mean that the iPad will be seen increasingly as a device to create as well as consume as John Gruber comments:

“We’ve now reached an inflection point. The new MacBook is slower, gets worse battery life, and even its cheapest configuration costs $200 morethan the top-of-the-line iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is more powerful, cheaper, has a better display, and gets better battery life. It’s not a clear cut-and-dry win — MacBooks still have more RAM (the iPad Pro, in all configurations, has 4 GB of RAM, although Apple still isn’t publishing this information — MacBook Pros have either 8 or 16 GB), are expandable, and offer far more storage. But at a fundamental level — CPU speed, GPU speed, quality of the display, quality of the sound output, and overall responsiveness of interface — the iPad Pro is a better computer than a MacBook or MacBook Air, and a worthy rival to the far more expensive MacBook Pros.”

One of the trends driving growth in a new range of startups is the shift to smartphones which is profiled in these global figures from Creative Strategies:

Percentage of time spent by device

90% of the time consumers spend on smartphones is spent in apps according to Flurry figures with Facebook, Google and Apple dominating in terms of the reach of their apps according to comScore figures:

Top 15 Smartphone Apps

Britney Summit-Gil looks at how the internet has enabled consumers to be better informed on a whole host of issues, but has lagged when it comes to understanding their own communities:

Internet users say digital tech makes them better informed than 5 years ago

Online advertising has been criticised for providing metrics that fail to reflect audience exposure.  Seb Joseph explores The Economist’s move to offer attention metrics which will better reflect consumers’ actual exposure to advertising:

“Working with analytics partners Chartbeat and Moat Analytics, The Economist tracks active time view – only counting a view when an ad is in view and the reader is actively engaged, i.e typing or scrolling up and down the page. Only those impressions that generate over 5 seconds of active view time will count towards the attention buy.”

Before brands throw all their media budget behind these new online advertising opportunities, it’s worth considering GroupM research which points to television’s lead in generating short to medium term sales (bearing in mind the research was commissioned by TV marketing body Thinkbox):

“GroupM found that media account for on average 39% of sales in the short to medium term (within three months of a campaign finishing); 33% of these media-driven sales are from TV advertising, more than any other communication channel. Paid-for online search created 22%, online display 12%, affiliates 10%, print 8%, direct mail 8%, radio 3% and outdoor 1%.”

Online media also needs to contend with declines in referral traffic from Facebook according to a report from Matthew Ingram. It’s far from clear  whether this is a result of a content glut or Facebook dialing back traffic but it does highlight how vulnerable mainstream content providers are to changes by Facebook and other intermediaries:

“The other nagging fear for media companies is that Facebook is essentially engaging in a large-scale bait and switch, by encouraging them to host all of their output on its platform, but then gradually turning off the traffic tap so that their reach declines. At that point, the social network can recommend a number of ways to boost the reach again—including by paying for promoted posts and other forms of advertising. Facebook would no doubt protest that it is doing nothing of the kind, but the fear remains.”

Michael Specter profiles the growing opportunities to manipulate our DNA with CRISPR/Cas system whilst Erik Parens chooses to explore the ethical implications of gene editing:

‘That seemingly simple question takes us to the heart of a deep tension that decent parents have felt for a very long time, but that will become ever more intense if a technology such as CRISPR-Cas9 is in fact safe and effective. I refer here to the tension between the ethical obligation of parents to accept their children as they are, and their ethical obligation to shape them.”

Rising wages in China mean that the country is facing growing competition for the title of factory to the world with Mexico also benefiting from its close proximity to the US according to a report from Ana Campoy:

Productivity Adjusted Labour Rates

UNHCR figures put the sheer scale of Europe’s refugee crisis in perspective, with the problem unlikely to abate given conflict in Syria and Afghanistan:

Migrant arrivals via the Mediterranean

If you find yourself in London over the next month, I’d strongly recommend checking out Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors exhibition at the Brewer Street Car Park. A wonderful respite from the increasingly frenetic activity of central London in Christmas shopping mode.

The featured image is a Jessie and Katey mural on Ahui Street in Hawaii for the POW WOW festival.

Thought Starters: Facebook keeps on developing, augmented reality and a declining Saudi Arabia

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

As mentioned in the last Thought Starters column, ad blockers pose a serious challenge to the online media industry which has traditionally relied on giving away content in return for providing eyeballs for online advertising. Ben Bajarin puts the case for native advertising and sponsored content as a potential panacea for the industry’s problems.

Whilst the media industry’s confidence has taken something of hit with all the talk of ad blockers, at least comScore’s figures from the US point to a growing appetite for content online driven by growth in mobile consumption:

Average Monthy Audience Across Digital Mobile and Desktop

Quartz profiles research by Helani Galpaya into consumers’ use of internet in the developing world. Among the findings are a considerable proportion of users didn’t see access to Facebook as being part of the internet and the inevitable disparity between the revenues Facebook receives from developed and developing world consumers:

Internet users and Facebook users per 100 people

Speaking of Facebook, the social network has been busy. October has seen the launch of the brand awareness optimization tool enabling marketers to understand audiences that have spent more time watching campaigns on Facebook, providing a more nuanced view than simply counting Likes.  Facebook has also expanded what consumers can do with their profiles which includes using animated GIFs for their profile photos, allowing people to be a little more expressive with how they present themselves:

Gil Dibner’s quarterly roundup of the European venture capital sector provides a valuable look at where money is going in the region’s startup sector:

Andreessen Horowitz General Partner and WealthFront co founder Jeff Jordan looks at why startups need to singlemindedly focus on growth if they’re to succeed and need to quickly adjust course when growth stalls:

Why? Because the unexpected slowing of growth in a “growth” business presents an existential risk to the company. Growth rates over a company’s history tend to move only one way over time (down); even in hypergrowth companies, growth rates tend to fall to earth … which is why I’ve referred to this effect as “gravity.”

Once gravity takes hold, it’s very hard to reaccelerate the growth of the business. Slowing growth portends a strong possibility that the company will never again experience prior levels of growth going forward.

The last ten years has seen a lot of talk about the experience economy as consumers look to define themselves increasingly by what they do (rather than what they own). This presents a real opportunity for a platform that could bring the right events to consumers’ attention but Hugh Malkin provides a valuable look at why this problem hasn’t been ‘solved’ yet.

Norman Chan’s coverage of the Oculus Connect 2 conference provides a valuable window into developments in the virtual reality sector. Oculus’ Medium platform was among the more mesmerising developments that caught my attention:

A recent holiday where I ran out of reading material had me temporarily reassessing whether a Kindle would be a smart purchase. Given my own thoughts, it was interesting to read Craig Mod’s review of his own digital reading habits which are seeing no shortage of articles being read on mobile devices but a disenchantment with digital books:

As our hardware has grown more powerful and our screens more capable, our book-reading software has largely stagnated

Saudi Arabia presents an interesting case study of the resource curse where an abundance of natural resources delays the need to address structural problems within society. Nafeez Ahmed points out that Saudis won’t be able to put their head in the sand for too much longer as its oil exports fail to keep up with its expanding population:

Like many of its neighbours, such deep-rooted structural realities mean that Saudi Arabia is indeed on the brink of protracted state failure, a process likely to take-off in the next few years, becoming truly obvious well within a decade.

Urban sprawl typically leads to growing dependence on the car but think tank Sustainable Prosperity point out some of the other costs associated with less compact urban forms:

Urban vs Suburban

It was disheartening to hear about the mass shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. Unfortunately Google Trends results point to Americans’ limited attention span when it comes to the issue of guns and gun control (at least until the next tragic shooting):

Relative Google search interest in recent mass shootings

The AOI World Illustration Awards exhibition is on at Somerset House. Among the pieces that caught my eye were Oliver Kugler’s portraits of Syrian Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. Beautiful work and very topical:

Issa

The featured image is Legacy by Alexey Luka for the Cibus in Fabula project in Milan.

Thought Starters: the changing media landscape, smartphones’ impact on our lives and Volkswagen’s blunder

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

The last year has seen growing interest among banks and other large financial institutions in blockchain based solutions. The technology has real benefits but also comes with limitations which Ben Milne from Dwolla explores.

Blockchain and bitcoin have been closely associated with open source technology, but Brian Armstrong argues for a more balanced attitude to intellectual property as the technology matures and patent trolls emerge.

Facebook is looking to grow its presence in developing markets as it rebrands its Internet.org app as Free Basics by Facebook:

Free Basics by Facebook

The marketing and media landscape is continuing to evolve rapidly with Goldman Sachs pointing to the growth of closed advertising systems, the role of Google and media consolidation as being key drivers for change.

Jason Kint and Vincent Peyrègne in their analysis point to the unfettered chasing of advertising dollars as inevitably to the growth in ad blockers (see below).  In response, they’re calling for the industry to proactively respond with the development of guidelines which will see a more responsible attitude to consumer privacy and online advertising banners:  Online Advertising Death Spiral

Armando Biondi on the other hand looks at the increasingly fragmented marketing technology landscape and points to how this is redefining the role of the CMO to one who increasingly manages a range of technology service providers.

SAP have worked with the team at Information is Beautiful to produce an interactive infographic providing an introduction to the internet of things. You can get a taste of it below but I’d recommend clicking through to get the full interactive version:

Introduction to the Internet of Things

Dan Frommer asks why we’re still calling that device in our pocket a phone when talking makes up only a small part of its use according to Akamai research:

Global monthly mobile traffic

It’s worth having a look at comScore’s 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report if you want to a window into how consumers are using their smartphones:

Smartphones are reshaping the way that consumers communicate with each other, not just digitally but also impacting on our conversations in the real world. Sherry Turkle looks at those aspects that change and stay the same.

Volkswagen’s rigging of emissions tests in the US has seen the automotive brand deservedly take a big hit. Nature takes a closer look at the story and some of the wider problems associated with diesel automotive emissions. But before you single out Volkswagen, it’s also worth looking at research from Transport & Environment which points out other brands that have been pushing the boundaries:

Car emissions comparison

The United Nations Refugee Agency have produced the following video which does a great job of putting Europe’s refugee crisis in context and suggests who could be doing more:

The featured image is Black Machine by NEVERCREW  in Turin, Italy and was published in unurth.

If you’re interested in a more regular and unfiltered stream of information and insights, I’d suggest you follow my Pinboard and Pinterest accounts.

Thought Starters: innovation, incomes, employment and happiness

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

The Global Innovation Report as the name suggests ranks the innovation levels of various countries. The Economist recently published the following which points to Britain doing strongly:

Global Innovation Ranking

Figures from the US Census Bureau indicate growth in jobs but no commensurate increase in median incomes as represented in the following graph from the Economic Policy Institute:

Real Median Household Income

Whilst there’s been a lot of noise about the growing wealth of the top 1%, analysis by the Brookings Institute points to the relative success of the upper middle class in the US in recent years:

“While the rise in income and wealth at the very top is eye-catching, it also distracts attention from the action a little lower down the income distribution. The idea that the real divide is between ordinary members of the bottom 99 percent and the rich 1 percent is a dangerous one, since it makes it easier for those in the upper middle class to convince themselves they are in the same economic boat as the rest of America; they’re not.”

Maintaining overall income is not going to get any easier in the future due to an ageing population, with Morgan Stanley figures point to a decline in the total working population since 2005:

Working Age Population

There’s been lots of speculation recently on the effect that technology is having on the labour market. James Bessen suggests that we’re looking at a process of displacement rather than replacement of labour with a need for a labour force that is more adept at using technology:

“While technology takes over some tasks, it also increases demand for goods and services and hence increases demand for workers performing the remaining tasks. Instead of just eliminating jobs, new jobs are also created, sometimes in different occupations.”

Eurostat figures point to where Europeans spend comparatively more (or less) of their income on proportionately. Rather surprised to find UK’s spend on alcohol and tobacco to be lower than the European average:

European Household Spending

Marco Arment’s launch and then pulling of the Peace adblocker for iOS has led to renewed focus on the plight of the online media industry. Ben Thompson takes a look at some of the key pressures facing the industry and comes up with some recommendations if they want to be profitable.

Among the recent announcements at Apple’s Special Event on the 0th of September was the launch of the iPhone Upgrade Programme. Benedict Evans‘ takes a closer look at the initiative and how it shifts the balance of power from the mobile networks to Apple.

It’s also worth reading Benedict Evans’ piece critiquing talk of the  mobile internet given that internet access via mobile devices is increasingly the norm rather than the exception

Facebook has updated its Pages offering as it looks to provide a more relevant platform  for small businesses’ which includes an ecommerce offering and better design for mobile users:

Facebook Pages Update

Adam Piore writing for Nautilus looks at the role of human contact in making us happy and the impact that social networks are having on these relationships.

The featured image is a piece called Huemul produced by Pastel in Buenos Aires and published in StreetArtNews.

 

Thought starters: content that has got me thinking 9

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

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

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

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

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

Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image comes from French artist Nelio.

 

Ad blockers: Consumers friends or foe?

The media sector is going through a period of transition as it moves increasingly from print to online. A potential complication in this move is the increasing growth of adblocking software by consumers.

Adblocking software typically acts as an extension on browsers, allowing users to block a range of advertising formats including banners, pop-ups and video ads including content on Facebook and YouTube.

Adblock Plus is the most well known of the extension providers and has argued that it aims to promote advertising that is more user friendly — although their position is somewhat undermined by their unblocking of advertising from some sites for a share of their revenues.

For internet users faced with an increasingly disruptive array of online advertising formats (driven by falling response rates), this provides a welcome relief and is reflected in the growth of these services. A recent report from PageFair estimated 22.7% of internet users are employing adblocking software with an annual growth rate of 43% per year.

Media outlets do have the option of blocking viewers using adblocking services but many appear reluctant so far as seen by Ars Technica’s approach. As the use of adblockers becomes the norm rather than simply an edge case, this is likely to be revisited.

Reductions in online advertising revenues are also likely to bring forward the introduction of paywalls and the move towards native advertising where the line between content and advertising is blurred. Neither solution present particularly attractive solutions for consumers looking for a free ride.

As for me, I am going to continue to use Adblock Plus, but I am adding those sites I care about to the list of manually whitelisted domains. This way I can hopefully see this sites continue to offer advertising sponsored content well into the future.

New containers: A look at the growth of new formats in web journalism

The majority of news content we receive from mainstream news organisations comes in relatively standard containers supported by text, images and increasingly video content. The use of standard format by news organisations fits in with news organisation’s needs to deliver a constant stream of output and an attempt to keep consumers within their own ecosystem.

Typhoon Haiyan: UN launches $301m Philippines aid appeal, BBC News
Typhoon Haiyan: UN launches $301m Philippines aid appeal, BBC News

Recently we have seen a willingness on the part of a few news media organisations to experiment with different containers. The New York Times in particular is one of the pioneers with feature articles on a deadly avalanche, the neglected corners of Russia, race horse jockey Russell Baze, the fighting of wildfires and the geopolitics of the South China Sea. Other media outlets have engaged in similar efforts with leading examples including Rolling Stone on white hat hackers and the melting Greenland glaciers, the Guardian on the role of the NSA and a wildfire in Tasmania, Wired’s profile of Richard Branson, Grantland on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, ESPN’s profile of Dock Ellis, Seattle Times on ocean acidification, the NRC on the Kunsthal robbery and Pitchfork profiling Daft Punk.

Alaska Media Lab points to the use of larger images, parallax scrolling, full width pages, plentiful white space, video and scroll based events as being characteristic of these new forms.

But the new formats are as much about what has been left out. Content extraneous to the subject is typically removed including links to other content and in most cases advertising. This increases the impact of the story for readers and removes the temptation for viewers to browse to another story.

A Game of Shark and Minnow, New York Times
A Game of Shark and Minnow, New York Times

These stories though are not without their burdens. The pioneering nature of these formats mean that they typically require hosting outside media organisation’s traditional content management systems. The rich media content environment that makes many of these stories so compelling typically requires more resources from photographers, videographers, illustrators and web designers on top of the the usual diet of news reporters and editors.

The lack of links to unrelated content within the container raises the likelihood that consumers will navigate off site content when they have finished consuming the article. Finally the lack of advertising means that these containers don’t currently present a viable business model, particularly when weighed against the costs of their production.

Hopefully as these new containers become more commonplace, we will see media organisations find ways of making them pay without undoing the features that make them so attractive for the readers.