Categories
Thought Starters

Thought Starters: Google’s AMP, FANG, unicorns and the decline of the car

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through the articles, research and opinion pieces I’ve read, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. In this week’s edition we look at Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), FANG, unicorns, the decline of the car and smartphones in Myanmar among other things.

App Annie’s analysis of mobile app usage points to Google Play downloads continuing to exceed iOS downloads but Apple’s App Store revenues comfortably exceeding Google’s. Just bear in mind that Google Play doesn’t currently operate in China (although it has plans to) with the majority of Android handsets running on a version of the Android Open Source Platform (AOSP):

Annual Worldwide App Revenue

Instagram has seen a substantial drop in both follower growth and engagement levels according to Locowise figures. Whilst both figures were higher than for Facebook and Twitter, the social network is looking less and less like a free lunch:

Instagram Growth & Engagement Rates

As noted in the previous edition of Thought Starters, Google and Apple have competing visions of how content should be distributed with Apple taking an app centric view with the enabling of in app ad blocking and the launch of Apple News. Google on the other hand is putting its weight behind the open web which is no surprise given its reliance on search for a large proportion of its revenues. Google’s key initiatives has been the launch of Accelerated Mobile Pages which will improve load times and provide a better experience for mobile users than the current set up.  Frédéric Filloux comments :

Privately, Google people make no mystery of their intention to clean the advertising mess. They want to get rid of the invasive formats that, by ruining the user experience, contributed to the explosion of ad blockers and threatened a large segment of the digital economy. To that end, the AMP ecosystem is their weapon of choice

Ben Thompson draws parallels in the business strategies of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (FANG) pointing out how their stranglehold on a key access point has given them near insurmountable positions in the consumer economy:

None of the FANG companies created what most considered the most valuable pieces of their respective ecosystems; they simply made those pieces easier for consumers to access, so consumers increasingly discovered said pieces via the FANG home pages. And, given that Internet made distribution free, that meant the FANG companies were well on their way to having far more power and monetization potential than anyone realized.

Whilst there’s been a recent readjustment in the valuation of a number of tech startups, Spoke Intelligence and VB Profiles research calculates there’s still 208 startups that are worth more than $1bn and 21 worth more than $10bn:

Categorisation of startups with over a $1bn valuation

Europe has had some success with GP. Bullhound’s research pointing to 40 European startups reaching the $1bn valuation mark. Where the region falls short is in building these startups to the level of Facebook, Uber or Airbnb:

Cumulative Value of European unicorns

Adam Davidson looks at the phenomenon of corporations hoarding cash rather than using it to invest in acquisitions or return to shareholders:

Which leaves one last question: Why? The answer, perhaps, is that both the executives and the investors in these industries believe that something big is coming, but — this is crucial — they’re not sure what it will be.

Licensed drivers as a percentage of their age group

The automotive sector is beginning to enter a transition phase. New technologies are emerging (notably move to electric drive trains and self driving technologies) and consumers are beginning to think more in terms of transport solutions (eg Uber) rather than simply car ownership.

An interesting indication of change in the latter was a University of Michigan study of state driver’s licensing statistics that showed in the number of under 25 year olds applying for a driver’s license in the US.

Clive Thompson takes an interesting look at what the implications for cities where car ownership declines, aided by growing indifference to car use among the young and the growth of  ride sharing services.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that auto manufacturers are dead in the water. Automotive manufacturers are experimenting with service based models such as Ford’s FordPass and GM has recently made a large investment in Lyft. That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if many of these firms increasingly get reduced to makers of commoditised hardware much like the PC manufacturers of today.

Tech in Asia figures point to the phenomenal growth in smartphone penetration in Myanmar (see below) as the country leapfrogs over the PC era. A useful complement to the Tech in Asia article is Craig Mod’s account of ethnographic research in Myanmar which looks at some of the fundamental differences in the way that smartphones and Facebook are used in developing countries:

Percentage of Myanmar population with cellular subscriptions

Consumers are spending more of their time with their smartphones, but the mobile user interface in its current form places limits (as well as advantages) in what users can do.  Scott Jenson looks at where mobile’s user experience falls short of the PC and provides some suggestions on how they could be addressed:

Most businesses still use desktops/laptops for the simple reason that people get more work done on them. If you say that “business use” no longer matters, you’re just confusing the new and old market effect. I’m not saying desktop will beat mobile. I’m also not saying we’ll have desktop computing forever. But there are nuanced differences between desktop UX and mobile UX, and they have important implications.

There’s more evidence of the shift in the global economy from emerging to developed world markets. Emerging markets experienced an estimated $735bn in net capital outflows last year with all but $59bn of that coming from China according to recently released figures from the Institute of International Finance:

Net capital flows to China

Timothy Taylor has pulled together data visualisations which allow readers to compare the relative strengths of different economies including this one from the How Much team:

The World's Economy Divided by Area

Oxfam released research during the recent World Economic Forum claiming that the world’s 62 richest individuals have same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity. There’s been some interesting critiques of Oxfam’s calculation, notably from Felix Salmon,  but I would argue the figures provide a valuable catalyst for conversations about the concentrations of wealth:

Share of global wealth

One illustration of the impact of growing concentration of wealth can be found in Jane Mayer’s profile of the Koch brother’s political campaigning in the US:

A new, data-filled study by the Harvard scholars Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez reports that the Kochs have established centralized command of a “nationally-federated, full-service, ideologically focused” machine that “operates on the scale of a national U.S. political party.” The Koch network, they conclude, acts like a “force field,” pulling Republican candidates and office-holders further to the right. Last week, the Times reported that funds from the Koch network are fuelling both ongoing rebellions against government control of Western land and the legal challenge to labor unions that is before the Supreme Court.

Laurence Dodds profiles the Hatton Garden raid in London and suggests it may well be the end of an era as criminals look for new ways for parting people from their worldly possessions:

It doesn’t quite have the romance of Hatton Garden. But while the age of John Dillinger and the Great Train Robbery is over, a new, digital lawlessness has come into being which is every bit as lucrative. It has its own romantic myths, its own folk heroes, because as long as someone is getting away with what the rest of us can only dream of, the cult of the outlaw will stay alive — in whatever form it can.

PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman’s Reply All podcast is a regular appointment in my listening schedule providing an irreverent look at the internet. A recent episode looks at the lack of diversity in the tech world (coverage from 11:50) and how this ultimately handicaps their performance. Informative and entertaining.

The featured image is the mural Mr Rooster by Etam Cru, located on the corner of 8th and Wall in the downtown Flower District in Los Angeles and published in Sour Harvest.

Categories
My Digital Footprint

What I’m listening to…favourite podcasts and radio shows

For someone who spends a fair bit of time on his bike, podcasts provide a great opportunity to learn and be entertained whilst on the go.  The following provide a run through of the shows that regularly have me hitting the download button:

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY

a16z podcast: Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s podcast uses interviews with industry leaders and commentators to shed light on a range of technology and innovation related issues from the startup sector. A case of content marketing that works.

Recent favourite: Interview with Soylent founder Rob Rhinehart.

Benchmark Podcast: Bloomberg created podcast providing a youthful look at the global economy.

Exponent: Ben Thompson and James Allworth provide thoughtful discussion on the intersection of technology, business and society.

Meanwhile in the FutureRose Eveleth puts forward scenarios of what the future might be like and in the process getting listeners to think more clearly about what kind of society they want to live in.

Planet Money: Long running NPR show looking at various stories through the lens of economics – much more entertaining than the blurb might suggest.

Recent favourite:  The tale of the onion king looks at how Vince Kosuga once cornered the market for onions in the US.

Product Hunt Radio: Podcast in which founders, makers and investors from the startup community are interviewed about their products and their own personal journey.

Radiolab: Radio showing coming out of WNYC weaving stories and science together.

Recent favourite: Birthstory looks at how far an Israeli gay couple went to have kids of their own.

Reply All: Podcast looking at the internet and its impact on the society we live in with an irreverent style.

Recent favourite: A look at the experience of students at Colgate University who were subjected to bigoted commentary from anonymous social media app Yik Yak.

StartUp: Podcast series following the ups and downs of starting your own business. The first series follows the founding of podcast network Gimlet Media and the second series profiles the efforts of online dating service Dating Ring.

What’s Tech: Podcast profiling a single technology issue on each show, starting with the basics and expanding out to explore key issues and controversies. Recent shows have covered quantified self, sex tech, biohacking, space colonisation and online advertising.

NEWS AND ANALYSIS

The Inquiry: BBC radio show focuses on one topical issue each week with recent issues covering whether ISIS can be defeated, corruption in Nigeria and Russian geopolitics.

Longform Podcast: Interviews notable journalists about their careers and the stories that have made them. Great insights into the lengths journalists get to the trust and creating a compelling narrative.

More or Less: Behind the Stats: BBC podcast taking a critical look at numbers reported in the news and in many cases pouring cold water on some pretty outlandish claims.

Rear Vision: Radio show from the Australian ABC network looking predominantly at international issues but also occasionally delving into important Australian subjects. Recent coverage has included Muslim immigration into Europe, the recent Turkish and Canadian elections and the lack of plurality in media voices in Australia.

Thinking Allowed: BBC radio show profiling new research predominately with an ethnographic slant with recent coverage including TTIP, non religious cultures, singlehood and social class in its various forms.

The Weeds: If you’re interested in the interface between politics and policy, this podcast from the Vox will provide plenty of food for thought. Pretty US centric in terms of the policy issues covered but the discussions and conclusions are equally relevant for most developed countries.

ARTS AND CULTURE 

99% Invisible: Podcast about design and architecture with recent shows including a look at the history of Monopoly, drinking fountains and the military’s quest for rations that last for ever that the troops actually want to eat.

Recent favourite: Children of the Magenta covering the perils of inflight automation

Desert Island Discs: This BBC Radio institution was something I’d avoided for many years thinking that it was a show about music (something I like to think I already know a lot about). What I found instead was a show where music is a door opener to revealing conversations about people’s lives and history.

CYCLING

The Bike Show: Jack Thurston gives a broader perspective on the world of cycling, taking a look at social, cultural and political issues in cycling and occasionally dabbling in the world of cycle sport.

Cyclingnews Podcast/ The Cycling Podcast / The Recon Ride: Shows for the cycling aficionado, providing listeners with a pre and post ride commentary on the big rides in the professional calendar.

The featured image is a mural called Home by Reka in New York City and published in StreetArtNews.

 

Categories
My Digital Footprint

What I’m Listening To

I’ve recently developed a renewed love for podcasts, providing me with the opportunity to squeeze in more into my day as I cycle to work.

Find below a list of some of the spoken podcasts that I’ve been enjoying and shine a bit of light on the world we live in. What it doesn’t include is the countless musical podcasts I follow via Soundcloud and Mixcloud which occupy those moments where I need something requiring somewhat less thought.

Society, Culture and Economy

The Moth

The Moth provides spoken word performances which are great examples of how stories can send you on an emotional rollercoaster.

99% Invisible

Roman Mars hosts a regular podcast looking at an entertaining range of topics covering humans’ interaction with design. Among the topics covered are Youppi!guerilla sign making and Penn Station among many others,

Radiolab

Radiolab puts the spotlight on a different subject each week, providing a critical and entertaining perspective. A case in point was a recent episode looking at the role of American Indians in the early history of American football, which was fascinating, even for someone with little to no interest in the sport.

Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics like Radiolab looks at a different topic for each episode, using a mixture of Economics and Sociology, providing a follow on from Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book with the same name. Recent issues have looked at terrorism, energy efficiency, job security and the flu vaccine. More engaging than the description might suggest.

The Economist Radio

The Economist’s Soundcloud page provides bite sized episodes that come in around 3 minutes in length. Valuable windows into different topics but frustratingly short when it comes to providing a companion when you’re travelling from A > B.

Digital Culture

StartUp

StartUp provides a window into the ups and downs of founding a startup. It’s worth going back to their first edition as this is one podcast where you get a sense of a journey and the traversing of the many obstacles that founders typically face.

Reply All

Produced by Gimlet Media who also produce StartUp podcast. Reply All looks at a different subject each week relating to internet with subjects covered including the origins of email, the demands of hosting photos of Kim Kardashian’s derrière and France’s Minitel among other things.

TLDR

TLDR provides a similar format to Reply All, covering a different internet related topic each week but with a more activist agenda highlighting issues of discrimination and bias whilst keeping it entertaining.

Digital Economy and Strategy

Exponent

Talk show hosted by Ben Thompson of Stratechery fame and strategist James Allworth. They look at a broad range of issues relating to digital strategy typically using Ben Thompson’s writing as a starting point. Among the issues covered are copyright law, the internet of things, blogging’s future and a review of the strategy of leading digital companies including Apple, Google, Xiaomi and Microsoft.

A16Z

A16Z is venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s regular podcast profiling . Like Exponent, the show, looks at the internet with a more business focused lens than either Reply All or TLDR. Shows cover a range of digital trends bringing in key opinion makers from Silicon Valley. I’m  a particular fan of their coverage of  the impact of growing use of smartphones, with Benedict Evans’ commentary proving particularly worth a listen.

Cycling

The Bike Show

Jack Thurston provides a window into the many different aspects of cycling culture including history, activism and the large and small adventures of people on their bikes.

The Cycling Podcast

Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Frieve provide a window into the world of professional cycling for those of us frustrated by the lack of coverage in the mainstream press.

The featured image is by Chu at the Ciudad Cultural Konex in Buenos Aires and was published in StreetArtNews.