Thought Starters: digital landscape, journalism, virtual reality and globalisation in a changing world

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at views on the evolving digital landscape, journalism’s changing role, naysayers on virtual reality and the impact of globalisation among other things:

Mary Meeker has released her annual Internet Trends presentation providing a valuable look at the intersection of technology and commerce. You can catch videos of Mary Meeker’s presentation along with those from Jeff BezosBill and Melinda Gates, Elon Musk, Sundar Pichai among others from the recent Code conference:

Providing something of an antidote to Meeker and friends’ boosterism are Nitasha Tiku’s and Emily Bell’s analysis of the conference and the less desirable impacts of our move towards an increasingly technology mediated world:

A fascinating aspect of the Kleiner Perkins ritual is how the extremely detailed and comprehensive slide deck leaves unsaid the important extrapolations that can be made from it. There is no room here for a mention of Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor who secretly funded Hulk Hogan’s devastating lawsuit against gossip and news site Gawker, and the subsequent debate about the controls on and role of free speech in a powerful commercial sphere. Population and employment trends are nodded to without a discussion of how every job we currently hold is going to be done better by a robot. There is a celebration of listening devices, and “audio search”, and an unrelated chart about how people feel about privacy and data without an explicit link being made between the two.

LUMA’s State of Digital Media offers another tech positive look at the way the internet is evolving, although as the name suggests, the presentation narrows its view to the world of digital media:

Much has been made about the risks and opportunities presented by ad blocking services. Unfortunately despite all the talk, there’s far from a consensus on how widespread their use actually is as Jessica Davies shows:

Ad blocking rates in Europe and US

Ben Matthews has pulled together a typology of the online video sector for those of you looking to get your head around the different players:

Online video ecosystem

The Economist looks at how Europe’s tighter regulatory environment has stunted the growth of internet based platform companies but goes on to suggest China and USA are likely to follow a similar path in watching over their digital giants in future:

Market capitalisation of platform companies

Facebook is one of the platform companies that appears pretty unassailable at present and it’s using its chokehold on consumers’ media consumption to dial back the content reaching consumers according to Hannah Kuchler’s report:

Media companies publishing to Facebook are reaching 42 per cent fewer people with each story since January, a new report claims, putting pressure on the social network to explain how it has changed its algorithm.

Stories posted to Facebook reached an average of 68,000 users in May, down from about 117,000 in January, according to SocialFlow, a platform used by publishers to post half a million stories to Facebook and other social media sites each month.

Twitter has become something of a whipping boy for tech journalists with Paul Smalera highlighting the platform’s abuse problem aided and abetted by the relative anonymity provided to Twitter users (vis-à-vis Facebook):

Today, Twitter is in desperate need of a similarly elegant solution to its abuse problem. Jack Dorsey may have to take a hit to the company’s growth and its stock price, to fix things. But our real world and online identities have merged. And people don’t like to feel unsafe or subject to anonymous attack. If Twitter keeps shedding users who refuse to tolerate hate speech, Dorsey won’t have to worry about Twitter’s viability and future for too much longer, anyway.

Speaking of journalists, Jessica Conditt’s profile of US Bureau of Labour statistics points to the massive decline in people working for America’s newspapers with some of the slack being picked up by internet publishing and broadcasting:

Employment in selected information industries, seasonally adjusted

Whilst we’re on the subject of journalism, it’s been fascinating and concerning watching the debates around Peter Thiel’s support for legal action against Gawker. I’d support the view that Gawker regularly overstepped lines of decency. That being said, I’d hate to see publishers change their reporting practices based on the fear of legal action from a few wealthy individuals as reflected in Nicholas Lemann’s musings:

The Republican candidate for President, for whom Thiel plans to serve as a California delegate, has said, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money”—meaning, he’ll do what he can to overturn the Sullivan standard. The Gawker case may be only the first in a string of lawsuits that unleash a generation’s worth of resentment against the uniquely legally privileged position of the American press, at a moment when the press is far more vulnerable, economically and culturally, than it used to be. Journalists and their lawyers ought to be arming themselves for a protracted war.

Ericsson has updated its Mobility Report providing statistics on the growth of mobile telecommunications and use of mobile data including coverage of the Internet of Things:

Subscriptions/lines, subscribers (billion)

Is virtual reality at the top of the hype cycle? There’s no doubt that there’s huge potential for immersive virtual experiences but questions remain as to whether current offerings have mass market potential. Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick has questioned whether there is much of a market for a $2000 system (although this will inevitably come down). Probably more concerning is Steve Baker’s critique of the technical limitations of the current platforms which are likely to limit longer periods of use:

I’ve been working with these displays – both the $80,000 kind and the $500 kind – for years. Almost everyone can tolerate wearing them for several minutes before getting sick. About half of people feel sick after a few minutes – and (maybe) half of them get so sick that they have to take off the goggles ASAP. Anecdotal evidence – sadly.

Most of the demo’s that are given at trade shows and other industry events are just a few minutes long. I don’t know whether that’ s intentional or not…but it explains why so many people THINK that they’re going to love VR – sadly, they won’t realize the problem until AFTER they’ve splurged $500 on one of these gizmos.

 “It’s way too expensive right now,” Zelnick said at the Cowen and Company Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, “There is no market for a $2000 entertainment device that requires you to dedicate a room to the activity. I don’t know what people could be thinking. Maybe some of the people in this room have a room to dedicate to an entertainment activity, but back here in the real world? That’s not what we have in America.”

Labour productivity is an important indicator of the future health of countries’ economies and despite all the talk of automation and robot apocalypse, recent figures from Steven Rattner don’t look encouraging:

Labour productivity growth in G7 countries

Vincent Bevins looks at the rise of presidential candidates taking a critical view on international trade at a time when the US is doing rather well out of the process of globalisation (although the benefits are often very unequally distributed):

Indeed, down here this seems like an especially odd moment for the United States to complain. China is again an exception, but in developing countries, globalization often meant giving up on financial controls and the long-held dream of producing anything more advanced than raw materials. The logic of comparative advantage dictated that from South America to South Africa, poorer countries would either rip stuff out of the Earth and sell it abroad, or allow their people to provide cheap labor.

For a brief, shining moment in the first decade of the century, it seemed like this was kind of working. We spent time lamenting the environmental and human impact, but we also celebrated that there were at least revenues. The BRICS acronym came to symbolize the power these countries might (again) have a chance to attain. The 2008 implosion of the world economy—caused by the United States—offered a space for them to occupy, or so it seemed. But the last four years have brought a brutal reversal. Commodities prices were dependent on Chinese growth, and when they dropped, along with the price of oil, countries relying on this model saw their entire economic and political systems disrupted. Meanwhile, the United States is again ascendant, having once more proved its ability to reinvent itself as the dominant global power.

The United States is still by far the richest large country on the globe. So why is the boss of the world whining about globalization?

The RSA hosts some great talks providing windows into our current society and where it’s heading. A recent highlight was Parag Khanna’s recent talk examining the world’s evolving geographical landscape in a digital age where connectivity increasingly transcends sovereignty:

Yale’s Environmental Policy Index provides a valuable measure of which countries are doing well in addressing the world’s many environmental problems. Not too many surprises but it’s worth reading the full report for a more detailed analysis across nine different categories:

Global Environmental Performance Index results

Cigarette smoking is declining as a health issue across much of the developed world as it gets sidelined by regulations and controls. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for many developing countries where the tobacco industry is making inroads according to WHO figures:

Where did smoking rates rise between 2000 and 2015?

Social media and cultural tribes can sometimes make interesting bedfellows. Tasbeeh Herwees provides a  colourful look at the growth of shoplifting communities on Tumblr as American teenagers look for new outlets for their rebellion:

Barbie and Unicorn-Lift abide by a prevailing rule in the lifting community, one of many informal commandments shared among the bloggers: Thou shalt not rip off mom-and-pop shops.

The impact statement from Brock Allen Turner’s rape victim provides a first hand account of why intoxication doesn’t provide any justification for non consensual sexual intercourse. Difficult but important reading:

I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name.

The featured image is Gaze, an installation by STFNV in Tbilisi, Georgia for the 4GB music festival and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: the rise of artificial intelligence, a look at YouNow, what’s going on in content marketing and a climate change update

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through articles, research and opinion pieces, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. This edition includes signs of growing interest in artificial intelligence, a profile of the YouNow live streaming service,  a review of the UK’s content marketing sector, a look  at climate change post COP21 and lots more.

Artificial intelligence has been one of those innovations that’s often talked about but rarely seen but there are signs this is beginning to change.  Jack Clark profiles recent developments which provide indicators of the technologies readiness to move out of the laboratory:

AI Learns to Pin the Tail on the Donkey

Another technology that is apparently gaining traction are virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana. MindMeld’s research points to a substantial uptake in usage in the last six months (tipping point?) although as a provider of such services, MindMeld is not exactly a neutral voice:

When did you first start using voice search:commands?

Digital audio landscape  has continued to evolve as we move from an ownership to an increasingly streaming based model. Parviz Parvizi has looked to map out the current landscape (see below) and also suggests where we’re likely to see a blurring of boundaries in the near future as the market continues to evolve:

Digital Audio Landscape

I’ve been an avid follower of the Tumblr platform for some years, with the service fitting very much into a space which users broadcast their identity and interests. It will be interesting to see whether the platform’s launch of messaging provides a catalyst for communities of interest among strangers:

Unlike Facebook Messenger or services like WhatsApp, Karp says this is a tool for connecting people who actually don’t know each other in the real world. They may have the same interests and often reblog each other’s work, but have never met in real life.

Ofcom recently released its annual International Communications Market Report,  providing a valuable collection of media and communication statistics. Statistics typically cover UK, France, Germany, Italy, USA, Japan, Australia and Spain , but also include Sweden, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Brazil, Russia, India, China and Nigeria for some data sets:

Checking smartphone at the start of the day

Amanda Hess profiles rapidly emerging livestreaming platform YouNow which is apparently making an impression on teenage audiences:

“…on YouNow, you don’t see what the broadcaster sees—you see the broadcaster himself. You click into a stream and stare into his eyes. YouNow’s camera is always set, by default, to selfie mode. The whole site is designed to create personalities and foster fandoms around them.

Consumers are spending more time in app on their mobile phone. Unfortunately for retailers this doesn’t mean that developing an app is necessarily the road to success, with comScore research from the US pointing to 51% of users having three or less retail apps. That doesn’t leave much space for an app from your local craft beer emporium:

How many mobile retail apps do you currently have on your smartphone

Content marketing is definitely having its moment in the sun with organisations seeing it as a valuable means of getting their story across to consumers and organisations. Unfortunately this also means that it’s harder to get yourself noticed in an increasingly crowded field. The Content Marketing Institute has released its report looking at what British brands are doing to get themselves noticed:

China was seen by many international brands as the land of opportunity driven by strong economic growth and a population seemingly infatuated with international brands. Angela Doland’s profile of China now suggests the honeymoon might now be over as as competition increases and the economy slows, but the sheer size of the market means that it’s still very hard to ignore:

By 2030, 66% of the world’s middle class will be in Asia, according to Brookings Institution calculations. Only 21% will be in North America and Europe combined. “From a marketing perspective, that statistic tells the whole story of what the challenge is,” Mr. Dumont said. “Asia is the future, and with the world’s largest middle class, China is at the center of it.”

China’s slowing down economy is also having a substantial flow-on effect on global commodity prices, the majority of which now down on where they were a year ago:

Commodity Carnage

Another field apparently in decline is the American middle class. Pew Research Center’s research points to a growing polarisation in household income levels:

Share of adults living in middle-income households is falling

Brad Plumer’s analysis of the recent climate change conference in Paris suggests that it will be some years before we really get an indication on whether it was a success on addressing the issue of global warming.  What is reassuring is seeing research pointing to a reduction in CO2 emissions driven by a fall in the emissions intensity of GDP and a drop in China’s CO2 emissions attributed to a drop in coal consumption. This is a trend we’ll need to see continue if we’re to see the rise in global temperature come down to manageable levels:

Global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and industry since 1990 and emissions intensity CO2/GDP

London’s skyline has seen a lot of changes over the last 10 years as the City of London Corporation has liberalised height restrictions in the City. Oliver Wainwright and Monica Ulmanu’s review of the recent and proposed changes and the article’s accompanying visualisations are well worth reading if you have more than a passing interest in London’s architecture and urban landscape:

All lines lead to St Paul’s

As the process of gentrification continues in the heart of many of the world’s great cities, Jordan Fraade considers whether we’re likely to see the suburbs get the same cultural treatment as areas like Brooklyn and Hackney:

Despite all that ink spilled about repurposed lofts and bike lanes, it’s quite likely that if you’re scraping by as a graphic designer, writer or even nonprofit employee in a big city, you’re going to end up in the ‘burbs after all. What does that mean for our suburbs? Will millennials remake them in their image? Is America destined to become a country of “Hipsturbia?”

The featured image is a Farid Rueda mural in Uruapan, Mexico published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends and changes in the world you and I live in.

Benedict Evans looks at which organisations can really benefit from a mobile app based digital strategy:

Do you have the kind of relationship, and proposition, that people will want to engage with  enough to put your icon on their phone? If the answer to this is ‘yes’, then you should have an app – if only because the app store is the way to do that that people understand, and they’ll look for you in the app store.

Nielsen figures point to 30 being the ceiling for the number of mobile apps typically used by consumers:

Mobile Apps

GlobalWebIndex figures point to Pinterest and Tumblr’s rapid growth globally, albeit off a much smaller base than the likes of Facebook:

Pinterest and Tumblr

Providing a more flattering view for Facebook are figures from the UK published by Ofcom in its Adults’ media use and attitudes Report 2015. The report also has plenty of coverage of UK consumer’s use of other media and devices:

Social media sites

There has been a lot of coverage in the media press on Facebook’s launch of Instant Articles. The service sees consumers access content on Facebook’s servers rather than being directed onto the publishers own platforms. This represents a further strengthening of Facebook’s position, but as Vox points out, has a certain inevitability to it.

Eugene Wei contrasts minimalist and frictionless design, suggesting that we should typically be aiming for the latter:

Minimalist design is about reducing the surface area of an experience. Frictionless design is about reducing the energy required by an experience.

Evolutionary biologist Josh Roseneau has looked at the correlations between faith groups in the USA and their attitudes towards evolution and environmental regulations:

Climate vs Religion

The Longform Podcast has been a recent discovery, with journalists interviewed about the story behind the story. A recent episode profiles  reporter Sarah Maslin Nir coverage of the New York nail salon industry and the brazen exploitation of its workforce. You can find Nir’s story over on the New York Times.

Well renowned journalist Seymour Hersh wrote a valuable article in the London Review of Books pointing out major inconsistencies in the United States’ account of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately some commentators have chosen to attack the journalist rather than the story as Trevor Timm details in an account for the Columbia Journalism Review.

In an interesting interplay of film and gentrification, Nick Carr provides an account of life as a location scout in New York trying to find a quintessential New York which increasingly doesn’t exist.

Chip Rowe looks at the different design flaws in the human body and suggests some hacks to rectify them:

Evolution constructed our bodies with the biological equivalent of duct tape and lumber scraps. And the only way to refine the form (short of an asteroid strike or nuclear detonation to wipe clean the slate) is to jerry-rig the current model. “Evolution doesn’t produce perfection,” explains Alan Mann, a physical anthropologist at Princeton University. “It produces function.”

The featured image is Vegan To’ona’i by Askew One in Auckland, New Zealand and the photo was published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters

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

The European Commission has released the Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion. The title might not roll off the tongue but it provides a broad range of European statistics including health outcomes, the environment, human development, demographics, crime, the economy and education among other things:

Change in Population The Economist has created an index of where the best country to be born is by looking at a range of quality of life indicators. Care to move to Switzerland?

Where to be born

Retale have pulled together an interactive infographic using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data to providers users with the opportunity to see how the activities of different audiences vary by demographic in the US:

Time Survey

JWTIntelligence has pulled together a report looking at changing family structures in the US. Among the trends highlighted is the evolving nature of the nuclear family, growth in solo living, multigenerational and silver families and the rise of friends as part of family type networks:

The Internet of Things has been getting a lot of attention from the technology sector. The Wall Street Journal looks to pour some cold water on things by pointing out the failure to institute common standards as providing devices interacting that aren’t from the same brand:

Without a common software standard, devices will remain locked into what the German industry experts calls “island solutions”– brands that have a portfolio of products that can talk with each other but won’t be compatible with other brands.

The number of apps available to smartphone and tablet consumers keeps on expanding, but the average consumer only users four according to research from Nielsen:

App Usage

The GlobalWebIndex continues to infographics providing a window into global consumers use of digital.  Recent releases have looked at where WhatsApp, Vine and Pinterest are making an impact:

WhatsApp

Zeynep Tufekci gives an impassioned defence of Twitter in its current form, pointing to the advantages of surfacing content by the human flock rather than an algorithm:

I honestly doubt that there is an algorithm in the world that can reliably surface such unexpected content, so well. An algorithm can perhaps surface guaranteed content, but it cannot surface unexpected, diverse and sometimes weird content exactly because of how algorithms work: they know what they already know. Yet, there is a vast amount of judgement and knowledge that is in the heads of Twitter users that the algorithm will inevitably flatten as it works from the data it has: past user behavior and metrics.

As Twitter broadens its offering to partners by integrating ecommerce functionality with consumers’ Twitter stream with the  trialling of a Buy now button. Whilst the trial is relatively limited in scope at this stage, we can presumably expect to see it rolling out more widely soon:

Research from AOL Platforms points to Youtube as having an important role in introducing products and closing the sale when compared to other social media:

Purchase Funnel

Facebook’s quarterly earning figures released in July pointed to the company as doing a good job of growing its revenues. Analysis from Neustar suggests this position may well continue given that Facebook’s network offering is proving a leader in terms of reach efficiency and average cost although its position is trumped by ad exchanges in the quality of its audience:

Cost Index Online Advertising

Facebook is looking to be more sensitive to consumers’ privacy concerns with the  launch of its  Privacy Checkup to help users better manage their privacy settings:

A report from PageFair points to a 69% increase in the number of consumers using adblock software in the US, raising concerns that online media may be increasingly threatened by declining ad revenues.

Adobe recently released its U.S. Mobile Benchmark Report providing a range of charts shedding light on how users and marketers are taking advantage of mobile. Among the interesting statistics is the use of GPS location data and use of beacon technology:

Location Data

Another interesting data point to emerge from the Adobe presentation is the flatlining of tablet’s share of page views. This provides further ammunition to some commentators’ arguments that tablets are getting squeezed between phablets (smartphones with screen size between 5.01 to 6.9 inches diagonally) and PCs:

Tablet vs Mobile Usage

The growing importance of phablets is given further credence by Flurry’s recently released figures which point to growing market share and TECHnalysis Research’s forecast for forecasted sales in the coming years:

Unit Forecast by Sales notebooks desktops tablets smartphones phablets
Unit Forecast by Sales notebooks desktops tablets smartphones phablets

Apple’s launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is likely to provide a boost to its smartphone marketshare.  Samsung on the other hand is likely to find itself increasingly squeezed between Apple above and a growing array of Chinese based manufacturers (Xiaomi, Lenovo, Huawei, Coolpad etc) at the mid to lower end:

Smartphone Market Share

Amazon’s Fire Phone was released with much fanfare in late July but the fact that it’s now dropped the price by $200 suggests it hasn’t been a winner among consumers.

Putting this all in perspective is Benedict Evans’ valuable blog post looking at Amazon’s failure to post a substantial profit despite its large revenues:

Amazon Revenue vs Income

Evans points to Amazon’s willingness to reinvest any potential profits back into the business. Some of these investments aren’t going to be an immediate success, but others such as the Kindle have enabled Amazon to gain a market leading position:

Amazon Profit Model

Reddit gets strongly criticised by T.C. Sottek following its failure to take action on the release of nude celebrity photos:

Reddit, he wrote, is “not just a company running a website where one can post links and discuss them, but the government of a new type of community.” So, then, what type of government is Reddit? It’s the kind any reasonable person would want to overthrow.

Tim Harford looks at how we can improve our forecasting, pointing to better understanding probabilistic reasoning, working collaboratively and being open minded as key contributors:

Masha Gessen looks at how the Russian population is being squeezed between declining birth rates and falling mortality rates, pointing towards a loss of hope as a key contributor:

If this is true—if Russians are dying for lack of hope, as they seem to be—then the question that is still looking for its researcher is, Why haven’t Russians experienced hope in the last quarter century? Or, more precisely in light of the grim continuity of Russian death, What happened to Russians over the course of the Soviet century that has rendered them incapable of hope?

The featured image at the top of the page is a PARKER by GoddoG and DelwooD in Biarritz and found on GoddoG’s Flickr stream.