Thought Starters: self driving cars, Brexit and the US elections

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more  interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last few weeks. This edition looks at the evolution of self driving cars, the rise and fall of the Gülen movement, the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and the US elections which appear increasingly beyond parody.

A Be Heard Group survey of senior marketers and advertisers points to what some see should be the optimum marketing mix in our current age:
The new marketing mix

As more traditional marketing channels lose some of their lustre (despite the exhortations of the Ad Contrarian), one of the channels gaining ground is influencer marketing. The following figures from The Economist give a guide to what influencers are typically earning across YouTube, Facebook and Instagram:

Average earnings for influenver posts on selected social media platforms

Whilst the US has seen more than its fair share of innovations in virtual reality technology, The Economist points to China as being one of the leaders in its application with real estate and education leading the way:

Virtual reality headset shipments forecast

We’re living in an increasingly visual world with Instagram and Snapchat growing their hold on consumers’ attention. This is reflected in the growing in value of the image sensor market seen in figures compiled by Andreessen Horowitz although one of the interesting conclusions is the declining importance of the camera in a world where smartphones are everywhere:

Cameras in everything, except in cameras

Whilst venture capitalists have seemingly become the cool kids of the financial sector, figures from CB Insights and KPMG International point to VC investments in startups as having declined over the past four quarters:

Venture capital investments into start-ups have declined in the past four quarters.

One area that has seen considerable venture capital investment of late is in technologies around self driving cars. Tesla’s latest demonstration video (albeit in perfect conditions) points to the progress being made despite earlier hiccups. Tesla are apparently looking to charge owners between $8000-$10,000 for the service and it won’t be made available at least initially to owners looking to use it for ridesharing services:

Will Knight looks at Uber’s trial of self driving cars in Pittsburgh, contrasting the experience for passengers with those provided by human drivers and points to the barriers that will need to be overcome before we see more of these services on our streets:

So I catch a ride with a guy named Brian, who drives a beat-up Hyundai Sonata. Brian says he’s seen several automated Ubers around town, but he can’t imagine a ride in them being as good as one with him. Brian then takes a wrong turn and gets completely lost. To be fair, though, he weaves through traffic just as well as a self-driving car. Also, when the map on his phone leads us to a bridge that’s closed for repairs, he simply asks a couple of road workers for directions and then improvises a new route. He’s friendly, too, offering to waive the fare and buy me a beer to make up for the inconvenience. It makes you realize that automated Ubers will offer a very different experience. Fewer wrong turns and overbearing drivers, yes, but also no one to help put your suitcase in the trunk or return a lost iPhone.

China manufacturing sector has often been characterised in the past as a clone shop and Josh Horwitz’s coverage of the copying of the Stikbox Kickstarter campaign suggests that the country hasn’t outgrown this yet.  Keyboardio’s visit to Shenzen in China provides a more sympathetic view of the country pointing to how seemingly any electronic device can be purchased at a knockdown price.

Analysis from the Financial Times points to China as being the source of the greatest share of the world’s merger and acquisition flows:
China dominates M&A flows

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown after the attempted coup had me guessing that this was a false flag operation which Erdoğan was using as an opportunity to strengthen his hold on power. Dexter Filkin’s detailed profile of Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen movement suggests that Erdoğan’s claims weren’t simply hot air, although the impact has been to strengthen his hold on power:

The irony of the attempted coup is that Erdoğan has emerged stronger than ever. The popular uprising that stopped the plot was led in many cases by people who disliked Erdoğan only marginally less than they disliked the prospect of a military regime. But the result has been to set up Erdoğan and his party to rule, with nearly absolute authority, for as long as he wants. “Even before the coup attempt, we had concerns that the government and the President were approaching politics and governance in ways that were designed to lock in a competitive advantage—to insure you would have perpetual one-party rule,” the second Western diplomat said.

Like many Britons, I’ve been left trying to digest the impact that the Brexit referendum will have on our lives. Simon Head provides a valuable look at the financial fallout that will follow a hard Brexit that Theresa May is calling for:

It must now embark on a series of marathon negotiations with its EU ex-partners, certain only in the knowledge that the trading regime that will emerge from them may be far less favorable to business located in Britain than the one that exists now. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances more likely to convince foreign businesses in Britain that they should act on their warnings to leave the country or reduce their presence there, and instead take up residence within the secure  confines of the Single European Market. The British economy and the British people will suffer the consequences.

Immigration proved one of the defining issues of the Brexit referendum. It’s interesting to compare foreign born population with those regions that chose to vote for leaving the European Union (no easy correlation):

Estimated population of the UK

The American elections are inevitably drawing comparisons with the Brexit referendum with the rise of a populist candidate whose campaigning clearly blurs the line between fact and fiction. Evan Osnos provides a look at what the world is likely to be facing should Donald Trump win the presidential election:

Modern Presidents have occasionally been constrained by isolated acts of disobedience by government officials. To confront terrorism, Trump has said, “you have to take out their families,” work on “closing that Internet up in some ways,” and use tactics that are “frankly unthinkable” and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” General Michael Hayden, a former head of the C.I.A. and of the National Security Agency, predicts that senior officers would refuse to carry out those proposals. “You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” he has said.

One of the key characteristics of US politics over the last 20 years has been growing polarisation between Republican and Democrat supporters.  The media has had more than a hand in this election cycle with research from BuzzFeed pointing to hyperpartisan Facebook pages particularly from the right pushing untrue stories. Sarah Smarsh provides an alternative viewpoint, pointing to traditional media’s lack of sympathy for Trump supporters, compounding their alienation from mainstream politics:

The economic trench between reporter and reported on has never been more hazardous than at this moment of historic wealth disparity, though, when stories focus more often on the stock market than on people who own no stocks. American journalism has been willfully obtuse about the grievances on Main Streets for decades – surely a factor in digging the hole of resentment that Trump’s venom now fills. That the term “populism” has become a pejorative among prominent liberal commentators should give us great pause. A journalism that embodies the plutocracy it’s supposed to critique has failed its watchdog duty and lost the respect of people who call bullshit when they see it.

Research from Raj Chetty, David Cutler and Michael Stepner point to wealth as helping the rich afford more than just the finer things in life. There findings point to the richest 1% of U.S. males living 15 years longer than the poorest 1%:

Life Expectancy versus Household Income

Whilst we’re on the subject of human health, BBC’s The Inquiry podcast looks at the growing mess we’re in with the declining effectiveness of antibiotics – hardly a new story but an important reminder nonetheless. Unfortunately research from the European Medicines Agency points to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture as continuing in Europe which will further compound the issue.

Another podcast I’d like to plug is Tyler Cowen’s interview with Vox founder Ezra Klein. Both commentators provide valuable coverage of the world we live in, the former through his blog Marginal Revolution and the latter through podcasts The Weeds (with Sarah Kliff, and Matt Yglesias) and the Ezra Klein Show.

The featured image at the top of the page is Silencio by Christian Riffel.

Thought Starters

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

Despite the growth of the internet, television continues to retain a strong hold on our media habits, but what is changing is how we watch it. Figures from GlobalWebIndex point to younger cohorts moving towards online viewing, something that’s even more prevalent in developing markets:

Traditional vs Online TV

Statistics from Britain’s Office of National Statistics point to continuing growth in broadband, mobile internet and provide information on what consumers are doing online:

Internet Activities

Ethan Zuckerman takes a critical look at the growth of the advertising funded internet. He points to consumers’ loss of privacy as businesses look to capture more elaborate collections of data to enable the more sophisticated targeting of online advertising:

Once we’ve assumed that advertising is the default model to support the Internet, the next step is obvious: We need more data so we can make our targeted ads appear to be more effective. Cegłowski explains, “We’re addicted to ‘big data’ not because it’s effective now, but because we need it to tell better stories.” So we build businesses that promise investors that advertising will be more invasive, ubiquitous, and targeted and that we will collect more data about our users and their behavior.

The mobile app industry has seen rapid growth over the last five years, but commentators and analysts are pointing to a maturing of the sector with the Financial Times taking a more detailed look:

Yet amid the apparent wealth, the mood is gloomy among the independent coders and small businesses that make most of the apps now available for Apple and Google devices.

Luc Vandal, founder of Montreal app shop Edovia, sums up the feeling of many: “Let’s face it, the app gold rush is over.”

Smartphones have traditionally provided  a more secure environment aided by the more restricted environment that software works in when compared to the traditional PC. Unfortunately this may not be enough with John McAfee warning that security is becoming increasingly threatened by mobile apps which carry malicious payloads.

The open source nature of the Android ecosystem has fostered a broader array of devices when compared to the more closed environment of Apple’s iOS. OpenSignal have updated their report looking at the fragmentation within the Android ecosystem profiling both the range of devices as well as the operating system versions employed:

Android FragmentationAnother interesting chart from OpenSignal’s presentation looks at the growing array of sensors in Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone, confirming the devices role as more than just a phone (loss of temperature and barometer sensors presumably  to enable S5’s water resistance):

Sensor Fragmentation

eMarketer’s forecast for the UK market point to  Android and iOS continuing to dominate with BlackBerry and Symbian falling off rapidly and WindowsPhone coming up a distant third:

MobileOS Market Share

Amazon has moved into the mobile payments market with its Amazon Local Register offering with pricing that is designed to grab marketshare from Square and PayPal Here. Whether we’ll see this being a big money earner for Amazon remains to be seen although the company is well known for taking a long term view when it comes to new market opportunities:

I’ve spent many hours listening to Soundcloud with favourite contributors including 99% Invisible, Andreessen Horowitz and The Fader among many others.  So it’s with interest and concern that I’ve greeted Soundcloud’s latest announcement to commercialise it’s streaming audio service:

Now SoundCloud has decided it is time to grow up. On Thursday, as part of a new licensing deal with entertainment companies, SoundCloud will begin incorporating advertising and for the first time let artists and record labels collect royalties. Eventually, it plans to introduce a paid subscription that will let listeners skip those ads, as they can with Spotify and other licensed services.

As consumers spend more time on their smartphones, Facebook has provided a growing array of services for consumers to spend their time either through acquisition (eg Instagram) or in house development (eg Poke, Slingshot). Mark Milian charts Facebook’s mixed results in developing its own solutions but goes on to suggests that they may be on to a winner with Bolt:

Bolt

Facebook provide a great means of establishing maintaining ties with friends irrespective of location. A contrasting approach is the social network Nextdoor which looks to foster networks among local communities with The Verge describing it as the ‘anti Facebook.’

nextdoorThere’s been some pointed commentary lately contrasting the Twitter and Facebook’s approach to their respective newsfeeds. Facebook’s algorithmically  driven newsfeed has been criticised for the  ducking of harder news (eg Ferguson) whilst focusing its coverage on more light hearted viral content (eg Ice Bucket Challenge) .

Twitter’s approach is often characterised as being great for more advanced users with its unedited stream of content,  but the onboarding process has long been criticised as bewildering for newer users. Twitter is experimenting with a move that will see it injecting  content into the newsfeeds of users that it believes they will like, a move that hasn’t been welcomed by some users:

Twitter pollutes

Consumers are spending time on a broadening array of media with newspapers and online news portals no longer monopolising consumer’s attention when it comes to news coverage. Mathew Ingram looks at how news media are using a growing array of channels to reach consumers with NowThisNews’ Snapchat on Ferguson given as an example of where things might be heading:

As ridiculous as the updates posted to Snapchat may look, with poorly handwritten text superimposed on newsy images, NowThis News has gotten something right that many media outlets continue to struggle with: namely, that if it is to be effective, news needs to reach people where they are, not sit on a home page somewhere waiting for people to show up.

Technology report Chris O’Brien’s departure from Silicon Valley has prompted him to look at the region’s ups and downs. Among the greatest opportunities he sees is the Maker movement which PSFK have recently launched a profile of:

Another tech hub which is growing in international prominence is Shenzen in China. The  city provides an important incubator for hardware innovations with Joichi Ito  of MIT’s Media Lab writing a fascinating profile of this exotic ecosystem for LinkedIn.

Much has been made of the way that new technologies and processes have enabled consumers to escape the confines of a traditional 9 to 5 employment. But the benefits are not equally distributed. The New York Times points to the burden that scheduling software is placing on families and  David Mayer criticising the lack of protection for participants in the on demand workplace.

The Brookings Institute takes a closer look at inequality and social mobility, highlighting the effect that education, marital status and race have on people’s attempts to move up the socioeconomic ladder:

The featured image is of a Hannah Stouffer creation for Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans – Mexico Expedition in Isla Mujeres, Mexico and reported in Arrested Motion.