Thought Starters: A look at Facebook, Snapchat, hidden truths and London

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at adtech bloat, Facebook and Snapchat’s role in the social media landscape, the truth behind the statistics and London’s changing economic landscape. 

There’s been a lot of coverage about the growing adtech bloatware face and the countervailing rise of ad blockers as consumers look to improve their user experience and increase their privacy. I have considerable sympathy for the media sector which is in many cases scrabbling for a decent revenue model. But the situation doesn’t look great when consumers end up footing the bill with growing data chargers as highlighted by Rob Leathern:

When I cover deceptive ad practices/fraud, some people find it interesting, sure, but when I have explained how mobile websites are making far less money from ads than you’re paying in mobile data… People. Got. Pissed.

A recent report in The Information (paywall) points to consumers using Facebook less to share their personal thoughts, although figures from GlobalWebIndex indicate these might be part of a broader trend:

Decline in personal sharing on social networks

Ben Thompson puts Facebook’s position in the context of the broader social media landscape, contrasting it with the more personal mediums such as Snapchat (see below). Facebook’s launch of Moments and Facebook Live suggest it’s not happy being typecast in just this role:

It is increasingly clear that there are two types of social apps: one is the phone book, and one is the phone. The phone book is incredibly valuable: it connects you to anyone, whether they be a personal friend, an acquaintance, or a business. The social phone book, though, goes much further: it allows the creation of ad hoc groups for an event or network, it is continually updated with the status of anyone you may know or wish to know, and it even provides an unlimited supply of entertaining professionally produced content whenever you feel the slightest bit bored.

The phone, on the other hand, is personal: it is about communication between you and someone you purposely reach out to. True, telemarketing calls can happen, but they are annoying and often dismissed. The phone is simply about the conversation that is happening right now, one that will be gone the moment you hang up.

The growth of smartphones has had more than a helping hand in the growth of sexting among teenagers. This has raised serious questions for lawmakers who face criminalising teenagers using child pornography laws that were designed with different situations in mind and risk compounding the problem as Madeleine Thomas reports:

“You can allow them, or you can prohibit them, but [teens] are going to sext and they are going to have sex regardless,” Hasinoff says. “The potential for harm that technology creates is legitimately new, but the way we’re dealing with it is just completely the wrong approach. If you think you can stop it by criminalizing consensual sexters, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Snapchat is one of the platforms most closely associated with sexting with figures from comScore showing the disproportionately high share of younger age categories when compared to other social networks in the US:

Demographic Composition % of Major Social Networks

Snapchat’s recent launch of an updated version of its mobile messaging platform with a richer range of features again put it in the spotlight and left many marketers wondering how they can get onboard. Dakota Shane Nunley does his bit to pour cold water on some of this excitement pointing out there are plenty of situations where Snapchat simply doesn’t make sense:

Snapchat is not for:

  1. Big brands looking to be “relatable” (unless those brands are buying space on Discover, Filters, or paying Influencers)
  2. Businesses not based around an individual or personality
  3. People without a social following elsewhere
  4. Most small to mi-sized businesses

The commercial launch of Oculus Rift has left many commentators wondering whether virtual reality is the next big thing. The platform’s hardware costs mean that it’s not going to challenge the smartphone for the foreseeable future but that will change over time. For a closer look, it’s worth having a read of Benedict Evans’ look at the different development paths and the relationship with its cousin, augmented reality:

If one can answer those questions, then AR has the potential to be a new computing platform in a way that VR cannot – AR can be with you everywhere whereas VR needs a room, and so AR could be the next universal computing platform after mobile. 

The transition from physical to digital distribution of music has been a far from smooth one with no shortage of musicians complaining that the shift to a streaming model is leaving them out in the cold. Figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry suggest the industry may have now turned a corner with the fastest revenue growth since 1998 – whether that money reaches musicians remains to be seen:

Music sales growing at fastest rate since 1998

The Guardian is one of my go to news sources even if I am not always in sync with their view of the world and their drift to a more lifestyle format. Given this, I was disheartened to read Michael Wolff’s analysis of the organisation’s management under Alan Rusbridger which suggests it may face the same fate of other newspapers struggling to make the transition to a digital world:

Alan Rusbridger’s disciples consider him a visionary, but the former Guardian editor oversaw enormous losses, a huge fall in circulation and a ruinous faith in free content. Now, as he returns as chairman of its parent company, has his legacy of unchecked idealism condemned the iconic brand to terminal decline?

Right through my university career I identified as politically correct reflecting strongly held views on the sexism, racism and homophobia of various aspects of contemporary society. Given this, I’ve watched with considerable interest recent debates around political correctness particularly in American universities of today with commentators pointing to activists overreaching and the silencing of broader debates. Whilst I feel too far removed to give a considered judgement, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s article in The Atlantic and Lauren Modery’s commentary on Medium gave me plenty of food for thought.

Tim Harford has become one of my favourite commentators, separating the truth from fiction in news reports via the More or Less radio show/podcast and his regular column in the Financial Times. A recently penned feature article profiles the distortion of statistics and outright lies by politicians looking to shore up support among the general public – something well worth reading as UK approaches the Brexit referendum and the US head towards their presidential elections:

Perhaps the lies aren’t the real enemy here. Lies can be refuted; liars can be exposed. But bullshit? Bullshit is a stickier problem. Bullshit corrodes the very idea that the truth is out there, waiting to be discovered by a careful mind. It undermines the notion that the truth matters. As Harry Frankfurt himself wrote, the bullshitter “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

Whilst we’re on the subject of politics and its impacts, CEPR have had a look at the economic impacts of Brexit and it’s unsuprisingly not positive:

The economic consequences of leaving the EU will depend on what policies the UK adopts following Brexit. But lower trade due to reduced integration with EU countries is likely to cost the UK economy far more than is gained from lower contributions to the EU budget.

Even setting aside foreign investment, migration and the dynamic consequences of reduced trade, we estimate the effects of Brexit on trade and the UK’s contribution to the EU budget would be equivalent to a fall in income of between 1.3% and 2.6%. And once we include the long-run effects of Brexit on productivity, the decline in income increases to between 6.3% and 9.5%. Other possible political or economic benefits of Brexit, such as better regulation, would have to be very large to outweigh such losses.

Diet is one area where we’ve seen the media and public opinions shaped by evidence that often falls well short of gold standard in scientific research. Ian Leslie’s fascinating coverage of attitudes to sugar points to a situation where strong scientific wasn’t enough to change societal norms with personal politics getting in the way of the truth (see below). Unfortunately many countries are now paying the price with growing obesity rates:

It is a familiar complaint. By opening the gates of publishing to all, the internet has flattened hierarchies everywhere they exist. We no longer live in a world in which elites of accredited experts are able to dominate conversations about complex or contested matters. Politicians cannot rely on the aura of office to persuade, newspapers struggle to assert the superior integrity of their stories. It is not clear that this change is, overall, a boon for the public realm. But in areas where experts have a track record of getting it wrong, it is hard to see how it could be worse. If ever there was a case that an information democracy, even a very messy one, is preferable to an information oligarchy, then the history of nutrition advice is it.

There’s been growing awareness of discrimination faced by women in the workplace, reflected in the lack of women in leadership roles and the gender pay gap. Whilst a lot of attention focuses on the need for flexibility in the workplace and familial demands, research from ICEDR suggests that what thirtysomething women are really interested in is better pay:

The top 5 reasons people in their 30s leave companies

London has long had a character that set it apart from the rest of the UK both in terms of its international character and its economic output. One of the more recent consequences of this is the growing squeeze on poorer residents, reflected in the decline in the number of children eligible for free school meals as London’s central boroughs increasingly gentrify (see below). It’s no surprise that first time buyers are finding it increasingly hard to get on the property ladder compared to the rest of the country with regulation compounding the problem of population pressures:

Free school meal eligibilitySilicon Valley with its sea of office parks provides a rather different development model to London. Hunter Oatman-Stanford provides a fascinating look at the growth of this suburban corporate campus model as companies looked to flee inner cities. Unfortunately by sealing themselves off from the rest of society, businesses risk losing touch with the noisy and chaotic world they’re in many cases trying to serve:

While many modern office developments specifically include lounges or multipurpose zones where employees might randomly interact with one another, these spaces are entirely limited to office staff—with the aim that conversations would further relationships or spark ideas beneficial to the business. “I look at Apple’s Norman Foster building, and it’s 1952 all over again,” Mozingo says. “There’s nothing innovative about it. It’s a classic corporate estate from the 1950s, with a big block of parking. Meanwhile, Google is building another version of the office park with a swoopy roof and cool details—but it does nothing innovative.”

Online dating is reshaping the way people meet their flings / boyfriends / girlfriends / future partners. You can see this in Michael J. Rosenfeld and Reuben J. Thomas’s research from the US (see table below). The 2009 cut off date suggests the graph is substantially underreporting the current situation given the growing penetration of smartphones, services such as Tinder and growing social acceptance of online dating.  Alex Mayyasi reports on some of the consequences of this trend including a likely growth in assortative mating which is ultimately likely to undermine social mobility:

How straight couples met their partner

Whilst we’re on the subject of relationships, it’s worth reading Gay Talese’s account of one motel owner’s voyeurism. You might not learn a whole lot about human relationships, but it does makes for an entertaining read.

The featured image is a GoddoG mural from Bordeaux published in ekosystem.

 

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 2

There has been some interesting analysis surfacing looking at the different mobile and tablet platforms and their respective audiences. Benedict Evans raises the important point that Android tablets encompass a broad array of devices making comparisons between Android and iOS tablets very difficult. Daniel Eran Dilger expands on this, pointing to IDC, Gartner and Strategy Analytics’ failure to properly unpick the tablet and smartphone market leading to a situation where apples (iPads and iPhones) are compared with oranges (low spec Android phones and tablets). The ecosystem of mobile apps and their respective community of developers has a vital role to play in the success of any mobile operating systems (no apps > no sales). In North America and Western Europe, iOS dominates the developer community, but Mark Wilcox points out that this isn’t the case for Asia and Latin America. Something to bear in mind as Asia becomes a growing source of innovation in the mobile sector.

Global Platform Preferences

Ben Thompson has taken a valuable look at the different channels consumers are using to interact with online. It’s well worth reading his commentary on the roles of the different channels.

Social Communication Map

Whilst Silicon Valley may no longer have a near monopoly on startups, it still provides one of the driving forces for the tech sector. In this presentation, Loic Le Meur looks at some of the organisations and innovations that have gained a profile in the region. Wearable computing has been getting some renewed attention with a preview of the Glass Development Kit for developers. Thomas Claburn explores some of the myths currently associated with the wearable computing sector. The Guardian continue their great work on data visualisations with a look at which corporations have made a major contribution towards global warming.

The Guardian Contributors to Global Warming

I moved from an iPhone to an Android device a couple of years ago. Whilst the Android app ecosystem is moving towards parity, every so often you come across an app that you wish there was an Android equivalent. The latest one is I PIXEL U which enables users to pixelate particular aspects of their photographs.IPIXELU_COVER2

Google has created a charming pair of binoculars to celebrate the Sydney Opera House’s fortieth anniversary, giving consumers a window to other inspirational places.

24 hour music video has been created to support Pharrell Williams’ song Happy. Beautifully executed promotion of music outside your standard Youtube container. Google profile Doctor Who with their latest doodle and when activated, leads users through to an online game. Find out more about the Whodle over at the Guardian.

Doctor Who Google

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.

What’s happening to our newspapers…A look at the changing position of newspapers in our media landscape.

The newspaper sector is facing something of a cross roads with a general decline in readership and advertising revenues for print publications. The internet is providing a valuable alternative distribution channel to print, particularly as smartphones and tablets find themselves increasingly in the hands of UK consumers. Media Consumer Survey 2013: Love in a cold climate, Deloitte, 2013 The web though provides a mixed story on whether online advertising revenues will fill the hole. News outlets can no longer rely on their role as curator of users view on the world as consumers turn to social media and an array of services such as Flipboard and Zite to navigate around what might be important to them. This change has the potential to lead to a decrease in web traffic for the newspaper websites and also arguably increases the leverage of high profile journalists who have less need for the prestige of a newspaper byline (see the recent departure of Walter Mossberg and David Pogue as a litmus test of sorts). But all is far from lost for our traditional providers of news who aren’t simply standing still. The Daily Mail and The Guardian are both interesting examples of news organisations that are adapting to the digital age. Both organisations are embracing audiences beyond those reachable by their printing presses and have adapted their newsrooms to the always on news cycle. Results from Guardian News and Media (the Guardian and Observer’s publisher) point to an increase in online revenues that counterbalances the decline in print revenues, providing some vindication of the organisation’s digital-first strategy announced in 2011. Reassuring news, given the important role the Guardian and other newspapers have played in raising the profile of important societal to the society we live in.