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

Content that has caught my eye recently or got me thinking. I particularly recommend Tim Urban’s article on artificial intelligence.

WeAreSocial provide their wrap up of key digital up of key digital, social and mobile statistics for 30 key global markets as well as regional overviews – a valuable reference source:

Flurry’s mobile statistics point to lifestyle & shopping as growing rapidly in consumers’ use of mobile, providing a stark contrast to the more well established mobile gaming:

Time Spent Mobile

Whilst global tablet penetration continues to grow, we’re seeing a drop in the phenomenal growth rates of earlier years according to eMarketer’s forecast:

Tablets

Joichi Ito compares and contrasts the development of the internet with bitcoin,  providing a valuable lens in which to understand the fundamentals of the cryptocurrency and how it may develop in the future.

Steven Levy looks at how Google adapted its business strategy to better accommodate an increasingly mobile driven world:

Knowledge Graph structures the world’s information in a vast database. Voice Search incorporates spoken language into Search. Google Now tells what people want to know before they ask. All three, not coincidentally, are tied to Google’s focus on mobile. Though certainly not an exhaustive list, those components — and the way they work together— have helped transform Google Search in the past three years, from a delivery system of “ten blue links” into something almost psychic: a system that doesn’t behave like a computer but an intelligent hive of knowledge that wisely interprets and satisfies your information needs. And it did it all when you weren’t looking.

Benedict Evans similarly looks at how Google adapted Android and Apple adapted iOS to changing market environment and capabilities. Whilst in some respects, their positions are closer now than they were in the past, the companies strategy are based on fundamentally different underpinnings.

Nick Bilton profiles Snapchat Stories and how it fits in to the increasingly diverse range of communication channels available to consumers and particularly teenagers and young adults. Snapchat is looking to sell the service to advertisers, big question is whether it’s asking too much for the service with commentators both for and against.

Microsoft publicly revealed their HoloLens offering, taking the concept of enhanced eyewear a stage beyond Google Glass. It’s a fascinating project although it will be interesting to see if Microsoft does a better job than Google in overcoming consumers misgivings about wearing a computer on their face. Read a first hand experience of using the eyewear over on Wired:

Tim Urban profiles the growth of artificial intelligence, profiling the transition from Artificial Narrow Intelligence to Artificial Superintelligence and the innovations that are likely to enable this:

Intelligence2

The Verge highlights the role of British based Gamma Group International in supporting Bahraini regime through spyware enabling the surveillance and hacking of activists digital communications. Given the more insidious uses that surveillance can be put to, I’m not a fan of David Cameron’s proposal for backdoor access to digital communications and also given the damage this could do to the UK’s digital sector as covered by Cory Doctorow.

Raffi Khatchadourian looks at Affectiva’s move to digitally read consumers’ emotions through the tracking of facial expressions. Obvious implications for measuring the impact of marketing communications but it’ll be interesting to see how it gets used for other purposes.

LSE Cities has pulled together a data visualisation illustrating how much population densities vary among the world’s major cities and published in Vox.

City Pop Density

Aaron Sankin looks at racial preferences among users of OkCupid and Tinder which points to biases among different ethnic groups, including among those who typically claim otherwise.

The featured image is mural by Nelio and Simek in Lyon.

Thought Starters

A mixed collection of materials looking at societal trends, the role of technology and other content that has resonated with me.

The World Bank has combined population and GDP per capita statistics in a graph, providing an indication of current spending power as well as an indication of future opportunity.

Real GDP Per Capita and Share of Global Population

Gartner has updated its Hype Cycle which gives an indication of maturity and adoption of different technology platforms around the world.

Gartner Hype Cycle

American consumers are now faced with a growing array of video content through a range of platforms but consumer spending has actually decreased according to analysis from Liam Boluk.  In a world of all you can eat subscriptions such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, consumers are arguably choosing to spend their money elsewhere.

Entertainment Industry Ecosystem

Andreessen Horowitz has announced a $50 million investment in BuzzFeed, gaining mixed reactions from the news media.  Felix Salmon warns that comparing BuzzFeed to traditional media sources risks missing the business’ true potential.

The best way to think of BuzzFeed’s various products, then, is probably as a proof of concept: it’s a way to show advertisers that the company is able to reach a large, young, mobile, social audience in a multitude of different ways. The ability to reach those people is something of a holy grail for advertisers, who are therefore very willing to pay top dollar to anybody who can help them achieve their goal. The idea is that if BuzzFeed can reach a broad audience with its various editorial products, it can then sell that secret sauce to advertisers, and help them reach the same audience, using the same tools.

There’s been a lot of noise lately about the unbundling of mobile apps in Western markets with the launch of Foursquare’s Swarm and the splitting out of Facebook Messenger. Taylor Davidson warns against seeing this as a natural conclusion with app extensions, deep linking and notifications providing a countervailing force to this trend.

And as the platforms, hardware, and operating systems in mobile continue to change how people use their devices, don’t be surprised if the rationale behind unbundling shifts as well.

I think we think of unbundling as the end-state, but instead, it’s a process that leads to it’s reversal. Unbundling creates the incentives for rebundling.

The constant, as usual, is change.

We’ve seen strong growth from shared economy based enterprises such as Uber and Airbnb which use rating systems as a means of engendering trust on the part of consumers. Danny Crichton in an article for TechCrunch warns of the corrosive effect of these computational trust systems on wider society.

Our growing need to feel connected is confirmed by research from the US which found that 60% of US internet users were almost always connected.

Three in five internet users are almost always connected

British communications marker regulator Ofcom’s report The Communications Market 2014 is a treasure trove of insights into the UK market. Find below some key insights.

Reinforcing the earlier message of the always on lifestyle is the following graph looking at consumers engagement with media and communications during their waking hours.

Media Consumption Activity

Looking at how media and communications time is spent across different age cohorts provides clues as to how we can expect media to move in the future.

Media by Time

A similar analysis of internet consumption by device type points to the importance of smartphones for younger audiences.

Device usage internet

Providing further data on the UK market in the 4GEE Media Living Index which provides figures on mobile data usage from EE customers. Among the interesting data points are the following which point to the strong presence of Tango in the mobile messaging space and Soundcloud in audio streaming.

Instant Messaging Audio Analysis from Comscore points to Snapchat moving from outsider to well established member of the communications space in the US having long passed what Comscore considers critical mass in the 18-24 aged audience segment.

Snapchat PenetrationPew Research Center’s analysis of Twitter traffic provides an interesting breakdown of social communities and how they interact, converge and/or diverge. Something well worth considering when we see issues emerge that have the potential to bring us together or divide us.

Twitter CommunitiesMalcolm Gladwell’s look at organised crime among immigrant groups in the US point to this ‘career’ as being seen as an important enabler of upward mobility in what makes for an enjoyable read.

The point of the crooked-ladder argument and “A Family Business” was that criminal activity, under those circumstances, was not rebellion; it wasn’t a rejection of legitimate society. It was an attempt to join in.

If you find yourself in London between now and the end of August, do check out Lucy Sparrow’s The Cornershop in the Columbia Road area recreating various household goods in felt. You can find an interview with the artist over at Folksy.

felt-food

The featured image is Beautiful Bridge #1 by Sabina Lang & Daniel Baumann in Recoleta, Buenos Aires.