Thought Starters: Uber, Machine Learning, “Alt-Right” Democracy and Globalisation

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more  interesting (and hopefully well informed) opinions that I’ve read over the last few weeks. This edition is dominated by the fallout from the American elections with people looking at the reasons for the rise of such an unconventional candidate and a look at what we might expect from Donald Trump’s presidency:

Is the tide turning on Uber? There’s no disputing that the ridesharing model has become a key plank of our transport infrastructure. Question is will Uber’s pool of cash be enough to keep the company going until self driving cars arrive? Yves Smith and Eric Newcomer weigh in:

Published financial data shows that Uber is losing more money than any startup in history and that its ability to capture customers and drivers from incumbent operators is entirely due to $2 billion in annual investor subsidies. The vast majority of media coverage presumes Uber is following the path of prominent digitally-based startups whose large initial losses transformed into strong profits within a few years.

This presumption is contradicted by Uber’s actual financial results, which show no meaningful margin improvement through 2015 while the limited margin improvements achieved in 2016 can be entirely explained by Uber-imposed cutbacks to driver compensation. It is also contradicted by the fact that Uber lacks the major scale and network economies that allowed digitally-based startups to achieve rapid margin improvement.

Benedict Evans released the latest version of his Mobile is Eating the World presentation which looks at the growing synergies between mobile and machine learning, with a particularly focus on retail or automotive:

Lighting everything up with machine learning

Benedict’s presentation points to mobile apps as the dominant means for consumers to interacting with the digital world. As mobile becomes ubiquitous, we’re seeing consumers sticking to the apps they know according to research from Adobe in the US:

App abandoment is on the rise as consumers stick to the apps they know

Amazon is taking advantage of mobile technology to further automate the process of shopping with their soon to launch AmazonGo offering. Better experience for consumers, less employment for retail workers:

As mobile matures, we’re seeing the next gold rush emerging in machine learning. Sam DeBrule has pulled together a valuable collection of information sources if you’re keen to track developments in the sector as they increasingly spill over into the real world:

Machine Intelligence Startups & Tools

Providing a counterpoint to Silicon Valley boosterism is Om Malik’s column warning that technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that the startup sector needs to be more aware of these changes if it’s to avoid a major backlash:

“It is not just Facebook. It is time for our industry to pause and take a moment to think: as technology finds its way into our daily existence in new and previously unimagined ways, we need to learn about those who are threatened by it. Empathy is not a buzzword but something to be practiced. Let’s start by not raging on our Facebook feeds but, instead, taking a trip to parts of America where five-dollar lattes and freshly pressed juices are not perks but a reminder of haves and have-nots. Otherwise, come 2020, Silicon Valley will have become an even bigger villain in the popular imagination, much like its East Coast counterpart, Wall Street.”

Ryan Broderick tracks the rise of the “alt-right” in the US and Europe and how social media provides fertile ground for its growth.

“Facebook doesn’t want to challenge you, they don’t want to upset you, because they know that if you’re challenged on their platform, you wouldn’t want to use it as much,” Derakhshan said. “The very fact that you cannot show your reaction to anything you see on Facebook by saying that you agree or disagree or that it’s true or false and you can only show your emotions to it is very telling.”

UK’s telecommunications regulator regularly releases research looking at Britons’ use of media and technology. Their most recent report covers media use and attitudes among children and young people aged 5-15, providing a valuable window into where media is heading in the future:

Media used by children aged 5-14 at home

Pew Research’s research from the US point to ebooks market share as stabilising with a similar story for printed books. Another valuable finding is that consumers are now increasingly reading e-books on tablets, PCs and smartphones rather than just dedicated e-book readers:

Print books continue to be more popular than e-books or audio books

Americans have traditionally been strong believers in economic progress with the expectation that they will be better financially positioned than their parents. Research from Raj Chetty profiled by David Leonhardt points to this no longer being the case, a situation which is presumably leading to growing dissatisfaction with the political status quo:

Chance of making more money than your parents by age cohort in the US

Much has been made of Donald Trump’s call for bringing manufacturing back to the US with suggestions that he’ll bring in more protectionist trade policy. Mark Muro in his coverage of the American manufacturing points to how automation is seeing the sector become increasingly divorced from its blue colour labour roots:

More Output, Less Employment

Another initiative Donald Trump has been touting is investment in America’s infrastructure which is one area where the Democrats and Republicans could potentially find common ground…but the devil is in the details. Ronald A Klain’s analysis of the initiative suggests that it’s more likely to line the pockets of those already working on projects rather than providing a boost to employment:

First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.

China’s economic growth is unprecedented, but a darkening political climate has led to growing suggestions that this trend may be derailed in the future as the country adopts a more authoritarian stance:

% of world GDP from year 1700 to 2008

The rise of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Marie Le Pen among others points to a backlash against globalisation, but analysis from The Economist point to this trend not being shared by all countries:

Attitudes towards globalisation against change in GDP per person

Amanda Taub profiles Yascha Mounk’s research pointing to declining support for democracy among many developed countries, coinciding with the growth of the “Far Right”…Although Erik Voeten’s analysis suggests it’s not quite as severe as the graph below suggest:

Percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy

Given the rise of the far right, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder’s 20 lessons from 20th century provides valuable advice on fighting a rise in authoritarianism  (even if it is aimed at an American readership):

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

The Danish concept of hygge has become very much of the moment with its harking back to a simpler age but Charlotte Higgins suggests that the UK’s reinterpretation of the idea is not quite so healthy:

If, for Danes themselves, hygge has an element of fantasy – through the way it draws back from difficulties, difference and debate – then the British import is a fantasy of a fantasy. Hygge may be quintessentially Danish, but there is something utterly British about the nostalgic longing for the simple accoutrements of an earlier time – especially if it can be bought. At the same time, it is hard to deny that just at the moment, the most natural thing in the world is to want to huddle round the fire and wish the outside away. Settle in: it’s going to be a long winter.

The featured image is a MOMO mural from Sicily.

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: post carbon futures, social class and Brazil

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 venture capital, Uber’s valuation, mobile commerce, innovations in the telecom and the energy sector, social class and Brazil among other things.

Benedict Evans has written a valuable overview of the venture capital sector, pointing to the importance of winning big rather than winning often, with failure a necessary part of the equation for investors if they really want to get ahead:

There are no 10x deals

Uber has been one of the darlings of the startup sector with its position further strengthened by the sale of its Chinese subsidiary which was proving a drain on its finances. Steve LeVine has looked to pour some cold water on Uber’s current valuation suggesting that the brand is not necessarily the sure thing that some investors would have you believe:

With Uber, you have a singular brand with a credible story. The question is whether that brand and that credibility, plus the other assets on Uber’s balance sheet, add up to $62.5 billion. Here is a business under siege by rivals big and Lilliputian, in the midst of a cannibalistic pricing race to the bottom, bleeding cash and losing money while battling well-heeled, technologically savvy incumbents displaying every intention of owning the space themselves.

Ofcom released its annual Communications Market report, providing a whole host of benchmark statistics for the UK across television, online video, radio, telecoms and the internet. Well worth bookmarking:

Household take-up of digital communications/ AV devices: 2006-2016

Mobile commerce is definitely on the rise as we spend more and more time glued to our smartphone screens. What’s interesting is that for all the talk of the opportunities of mobile apps, browser based purchasing dominates with a lead that’s growing according to Andy Favell:

Access Method for Mobile Shoppers

Federic Filloux looks at how the traditional media players have been sidelined by the news aggregators (primarily Facebook and Google) and newer media outlets more attuned to the rapid fire news cycles of the current age:

For the news industry, this huge economic gap carries two likely consequences: internet giants and digital native news outlets will have tremendous financial firepower to do whatever it takes in terms of marketing or their ability to go further into the general information segment (cf. Snapchat); and the network effect will apply even further when advertising dollars keep drying up for what will be increasingly seen as niche media.

More broadly, except for the old, educated and affluent segment of the population, the vast majority will be informed by a rapid-fire of superficial and shallow contents spat by the social firehose. Expect more Brexit hurricanes and Trump floods in the future.

Self driving cars are reshape our relationship with the automobile but it’s not just the driver who will be impacted by these changes as Robin Chase explores:

We’re at a fork on that roadmap. One direction leads to a productive new century where cities are more sustainable, livable, equitable, and just.

But if we take the wrong turn, we’re at a dead end. Cities are already complex and chaotic places in which to live and work. If we allow the introduction of automated vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution).

There’s no disputing the fact that mobile is reshaping the world we live in with data via hardwired, mobile and wifi networks fueling the growth in an ever expanding range of devices (smartphones, sports trackers etc) and services (mobile messaging Shazam etc). Our current infrastructure isn’t really built for these growing demandsJeff Hecht looks at what providers are doing to future proof our telecoms infrastructure:

Bottleneck Engineering

The energy sector is facing growing calls to switch away from fossil fuel based energy given the growing threat from climate change. Renewable energy has traditionally been handicapped by intermittent supply and the costs of energy storage whilst nuclear is costly and has a rather mixed safety record. Tim Harford points to the potentially valuable role of price signals in getting the energy market to travel in the right direction:

Overall, there is little prospect of running out of fossil fuels, and it seems unlikely that alternative energy sources will outcompete them. And yet we must make the shift, or risk catastrophic climate change. Our reserves of fossil fuels may be no constraint but the atmosphere’s capacity to safely absorb carbon dioxide is.

There is some space for optimism. Renewable energy sources are no longer impossibly costly. Nor is nuclear power, even though the costs have moved in the wrong direction. We cannot wait for the market to make the switch unaided — but the gap is no longer so wide that sensible policy cannot bridge it. The centrepiece of such a policy would be to raise the price of carbon dioxide emissions, using internationally co-ordinated taxes or their equivalent. Such a tax would make renewable energy sources more attractive — as well as encouraging energy efficient technologies and behaviour. Market forces can do the rest. Low carbon energy is not free — but it is worth paying for.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points to innovations in energy storage as giving more than a helping hand,  changing what is economically viable and potentially making Hinkley Point look like something of a white elephant:

This transforms the calculus of energy policy. The question for the British government as it designs a strategy fit for the 21st Century – and wrestles with an exorbitant commitment to Hinkley Point – is no longer whether this form of back-up power will ever be commercially viable, but whether the inflection point arrives in the early-2020s or in the late 2020s.

Simon Hattenstone  has taken a critical at meritocracy in the UK in light of Theresa May’s recent cabinet appointments which are less dominated by Etonians than her predecessor David Cameron. This raises the question will we see real change or more of the same?

Lee Elliot Major of the Sutton Trust, talks of an academic arms race. “Every time opportunities widen for those from less privileged backgrounds, the middle classes find some way of defining merit to their advantage again. Never underestimate the skills and the tenacity of the middle classes to reinforce their privileged position in society. So there was a university expansion, but if you look at the more prestigious universities, there’s still a stark gap in terms of those from more advantaged backgrounds versus those from disadvantaged backgrounds. And increasingly you’re seeing post-graduate degrees.”

The rise of Donald Trump has prompted much soul searching among political commentators in the US pointing to it as a symptom of the growing social inequality. Research from Gallup provides a more nuanced analysis as Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo report:

According to this new analysis, those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared with people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed.

Yet while Trump’s supporters might be comparatively well off themselves, they come from places where their neighbors endure other forms of hardship. In their communities, white residents are dying younger, and it is harder for young people who grow up poor to get ahead.

Alec MacGillis looks more broadly at the growth of a white underclass in the US which has  provided a fertile ground for Trump’s more xenophobic view of the world:

So why are white Americans in downwardly mobile areas feeling a despair that appears to be driving stark increases in substance abuse and suicide? In my own reporting in Vance’s home ground of southwestern Ohio and ancestral territory of eastern Kentucky, I have encountered racial anxiety and antagonism, for sure. But far more striking is the general aura of decline that hangs over towns in which medical-supply stores and pawn shops dominate decrepit main streets, and Victorians stand crumbling, unoccupied. Talk with those still sticking it out, the body-shop worker and the dollar-store clerk and the unemployed miner, and the fatalism is clear: Things were much better in an earlier time, and no future awaits in places that have been left behind by polished people in gleaming cities. The most painful comparison is not with supposedly ascendant minorities—it’s with the fortunes of one’s own parents or, by now, grandparents. The demoralizing effect of decay enveloping the place you live cannot be underestimated. And the bitterness—the “primal scorn”—that Donald Trump has tapped into among white Americans in struggling areas is aimed not just at those of foreign extraction. It is directed toward fellow countrymen who have become foreigners of a different sort, looking down on the natives, if they bother to look at all.

Reflecting the current race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, The Economist suggests that politics will increasingly be about open versus closed models rather than the traditional battles between left and right:

Left, right, left, right

The Rio Olympics has put Brazil in the spotlight during a tumultuous period in its political history. Franklin Foer has a valuable piece that provides a valuable background to recent events:

But the public’s understandable despair isn’t wholly shared by the experts I spoke with. Stepping back, they saw unlikely causes for hope. Impeachment revealed the worst about Brazilian democracy—and the worst wasn’t so terrible. There’s no talk of returning to dictatorship, no real fear of a Hugo Chávez–like figure clouding the sky. Impeachment was a poor showing of democracy, but it was still democracy. Even with all the budgetary turmoil, Bolsa Família remains firmly ensconced. Austerity will whack the poor, yet Lula’s evolution of Brazilian social democracy won’t reverse course. Most important, the Petrobras scandal is so spectacular that its grasp on the popular imagination doesn’t seem to be slipping. Indeed, Temer’s impeachment gambit has yet to slow the Moro investigation. Brazil has a once-in-a-generation chance to untether its politics from its debilitating state of codependence with the big firms. Hosting the Olympics was never going to bring Brazil the national greatness Lula advertised. Freeing its democracy and economy from the plague of corruption could.

Saudi Arabia feels for many of us like a different world given the way that religion shapes everyone’s lives. Studio D’s research into the lives of young Saudi’s provides a valuable window of how people adjust and if that whets your appetite, it’s also worth reading Jessi Hempel’s coverage of the research process:
For Saudi female youth the smartphone is the great liberator
The featured image is a Gue mural photographed by Angelo Jaroszuk Bogasz at the Altrove Street Art Festival in Catanzaro, Italy and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: innovation, intellectual capital & circular economy

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 questions over the pace of innovation, the growing portability of intellectual capital, the American presidential nominations and the circular economy among other things, all making for great weekend reading.

David Rotman profiles the work of economist Robert J. Gordon who takes a relatively dim view of the productivity gains over the last ten years. A valuable perspective although one focusing on economic gains doesn’t necessarily encompass other benefits enabled by new technologies and innovations:

Peak innovation

An interesting complement to the Rotman’s article is Prashant Gandhi, Somesh Khanna and Sree Ramaswamy’s review of the levels of digitisation across different parts of the US economy. Information technology inevitably leads the charge but it’s more valuable to look at the laggards where we’re likely to see considerable changes and innovations in the coming years:

How Digitally Advanced is your Sector?

One area that we have seen substantial advances recently is technologies that enable remote teams to more readily collaborate (eg Slack). Samuel Hammond points to a world where intellectual capital is increasingly portable even if immigration barriers mean that this mobility is more virtual than actual:

Consistent with the premature futurism thesis, smart writers have been predicting large and looming social implications from telecommuting and remote work for decades, only to have their visions stymied by some unforeseen technical or psychological barrier. While hiring international freelancers has gotten a lot easier, for many jobs people just prefer face to face contact. Yet we seem to be finally reaching a critical point where video streaming, virtual reality, and collaboration tools are converging to make even the most complex team production viable across borders.

Uber is one of the shining stars of the startup sector with its growth and funding leading many entrepreneurs to pitch their business as ‘Uber for ____’. Farhad Manjoo points out that we should be wary of trying to draw direct parallels between Uber and other business use cases given the particular characteristics the ridesharing:

But Uber’s success was in many ways unique. For one thing, it was attacking a vulnerable market. In many cities, the taxi business was a customer-unfriendly protectionist racket that artificially inflated prices and cared little about customer service. The opportunity for Uber to become a regular part of people’s lives was huge. Many people take cars every day, so hook them once and you have repeat customers. Finally, cars are the second-most-expensive things people buy, and the most frequent thing we do with them is park. That monumental inefficiency left Uber ample room to extract a profit even after undercutting what we now pay for cars.

But how many other markets are there like that? Not many. Some services were used frequently by consumers, but weren’t that valuable — things related to food, for instance, offered low margins. Other businesses funded in low-frequency and low-value areas “were a trap,” Mr. Walk said.

Dan Lyons’ rather humourous account of joining HubSpot provides a valuable antidote to some of the overinflated hubris sometimes associated with startups:

The truth is that we’re selling software that lets companies, most of them small businesses like pool installers and flower shops, sell more stuff. The world of online marketing, where HubSpot operates, though, has a reputation for being kind of grubby. Our customers include people who make a living bombarding people with email offers, or gaming Google’s search algorithm, or figuring out which kind of misleading subject line is most likely to trick someone into opening a message. Online marketing is not quite as sleazy as Internet porn, but it’s not much better either.

A lot of noise has been made about younger consumers fleeing Facebook for the newer social media platforms but comScore data from the US points to the platform maintaining its appeal among millennials – suggest we’d  see teenage audiences telling a rather different story:

Age 18-34 Digital Audience Penetration vs Engagement of Leading Social Networks

Snapchat updated its mobile messaging platform recently providing a richer range of features for users as well as changing its privacy policy which is likely to see a broader array of targeting options for Snapchat advertisers. It’s worth reading Ben Thompson’s piece on Snapchat if you want to take a broader look at how the platform has evolved since its launch in 2011.

Virtual reality is now well and truly out in the open with Oculus Rift now available to the general public. Brian X. Chen’s review of the headset suggests that in its current state, it’s one for the early adopters:

The Rift’s graphics, sound and head tracking, which is the device’s ability to follow where the viewer looks, do feel like something out of science fiction. While the system’s setup is somewhat complex, the smoothness of the graphics and the high-quality design of the headgear make virtual reality feel ready for prime time.

And yet there may be a higher reward for those who wait to buy the Rift.

Soundcloud Go launched on the 29th of March in the US, adding to the list of streaming providers that are offering a subscription service for music consumers. Another route to monetise content might sound great for musicians but Dave Wiskus’ review of the service suggests something much more insidious:

You can slice it, package it, or spin it however you like, but the bare fact is that you’re making money off of songs you aren’t paying for. Worse, you’re doing it while perpetuating an air of exclusivity around the concept of making money. All while you’re pretending to be a friend to the little guy. There’s nothing artist-friendly about this approach.

Sven Skafisk’s overlaying of smartphone sales on top of traditional camera sales illustrates how much mobile phones have come to dominate how the majority of consumers experience photography – click through for the full length chart which really puts things in perspective:

CIPA camera production

The success of Amazon’s Alexa highlights the significant market opportunity for user friendly smart home solutions, which has even led to religious authorities offering advice on its use during Shabbos. What consumers may be less aware of is that in many cases they are buying into a service rather than a piece of hardware with the demise of Revolv leaving consumers in the lurch (although it looks like Nest may be stepping in to address some of these concerns now).

With the release of the Panama Papers, it’s worth revisiting which countries enable financial secrecy. One of the interesting insights to come out of the reports is the relatively limited number of Americans caught up in reports reflecting relatively lax controls in some states. The US falls in third place in the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index.

NPR’s Planet Money (well worth subscribing to their podcast) has looked at the changing structure of employment in the US where you can see changes both in terms of the number of jobs and as percent of the total. No huge surprises but it will be interesting to see how the chart changes as machine learning and artificial intelligence make inroads into white collar professions which have traditionally proven more immune to automation:

The Decline of Farming and the Rise of Everything Else

Another podcast worth recommending is Vox’s The Weeds, providing a valuable window into American politics and policy. A recent episode looks at the tax implications of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ policies (from 34:20). One of the interesting conclusions is how comparatively robust both Democratic candidates proposals are compared to the leading Republican candidates despite Clinton and Sanders taking rather different policy approaches:

One area where Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump do seem to have something in common is their relatively protectionist approach to trade. Whilst I am all for ensuring employees gets appropriate protection around the world, it could put a real dampener on emerging markets’ economies as Jordan Weissmann points out:

With those last few words, Sanders has effectively written off trade with any country that is not already rich and prosperous—which is simply inhumane.

Encouraging the circular economy is likely to be a more appropriate way of encouraging local employment. Walter R. Stahel profiles this closed loop approach to production which offers benefits in terms of reduced emissions, increasing in employment and reduction in waste:

Closing Loops

As UK fast approaches the Brexit referendum, immigration and the country’s health system lead concerns facing Briton’s – issues not unrelated given the reliance Britain’s NHS has on foreign born staff:

What do you see as the most important issues facing Britain

Potentially allaying the concerns of immigration opponents is research from Mette Foged and Giovanni Peri in Denmark which points to the benefits of immigration, even for the low skilled populations:

Instead of a small negative effect on the local native-born — as most studies in the U.S. tend to find — Foged and Peri found a positive effect. That’s right — low-skilled immigrants actually raised the wages of their less-educated native-born counterparts in the surrounding area. The data followed the native-born workers for a long time, letting the authors confirm that the change was durable.

The featured image is a Nelio mural made for the Marion gallery in Panama.

Thought Starters: mobile internet, adblockers, sexism in the workplace and the developing world

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through the articles, research and opinion pieces I’ve read over the last week or so, highlighting the more interesting trends, developments and changes in the world we live in. This time we’re looking at the growth of mobile, the role of adblockers, the impacts and origins of sexism in the workplace and the internet in the developing world among other things. Happy reading.

The growth of mobile has seen the emergence of a whole new range of digital channels, but Visual Capitalist’s research points to the largest platforms all being controlled by Microsoft, Google or Facebook. That being said, there are range of platforms (WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Netflix, Spotify) that fall short of a billion users but dominate within their respective sectors or geographies and could present a challenge to the market incumbents:

Apps or programmes with more than one billion active users

The IAB (US) recently released research which profiles how American consumers are using their PCs and smartphones. What is apparent is the continuing move to mobile  although the same research points to computers still registering a higher volume of internet views pointing to the different ways these devices are used:

Nearly Two-Thirds of All Internet Time is Spent on a Mobile Device

Google and Facebook have responded well to consumers’ growing use of smartphones, taking more than half of the available mobile ad revenues and leaving the remaining players fighting over the scraps in the US. eMarketer’s forecast suggests this isn’t going to change any time soon:

Net US mobile ad revenue share by company forecast

A continuing note of concern for media operators is the growth of adblocking with 22% of Britons using the software with this rising to 47% among 18-24 year olds according to Internet Advertising Bureau (UK) commissioned research.

Dean Dubley’s analysis suggests the introduction of mobile adblocking services won’t decimate the online media sector but is likely to further strengthen the hand of Google and Facebook:

The bottom line is that screaming headlines in stories like those from ZeroHedge (link) about “the risk to Internet companies’ business models” are nonsense. Ironically, it’s Google and Facebook’s approach to advertising that is safe. Small online publications using other advertising channels may not be so lucky. I noticed this tweet referencing mobile advertising growth forecasts from Goldman Sachs (link) which seems to suggest that Wall St is sanguine about the adblocking “threat” and that rapid growth in revenues will continue.

Among the likely responses by media operators to growing adblocker usage is a growing reliance on native advertising which is reflected in Enders Analysis’ recent forecast for Yahoo:

Forecast for the growth of native advertising in Europe

Whilst a few apps such as Facebook are nearly universal in their appeal, others give a clearer indicator as to who the user might be. Researchers have looked to profile the correlation between the ownership of different mobile apps and various demographic characteristics and income to develop profiles of mobile users. You can check out who they think you are in quiz – they got my gender and age wrong (I’m definitely male and over the age of 32) although I’m guessing not being a US resident probably didn’t help the profiling process.

Slack has been touted as the solution to the problem of information overload in the workplace with over 2 million daily active users. Samuel Hulick provides a more sceptical view warning that this “asynchronish” is in many cases compounding rather than addressing the problem:

Maybe you will say I’m afraid of commitment, but I’m just not interested in a relationship that seems to want to swallow up more and more of my time and attention, and demand that more and more of my interactions with other people go through you first.

Jeff Goodell has written an extended feature article on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Worth a read if you’re keen to get up to speed with what’s happening in the sector:

Despite advances like smarter algorithms and more capable robots, the future of superintelligent machines is still more sci-fi than science. Right now, says Yann LeCun, the director of Facebook AI Research, “AIs are nowhere near as smart as a rat.” Yes, with years of programming and millions of dollars, IBM built Watson, the machine that beat the smartest humans at Jeopardy! in 2011 and is now the basis for the company’s “cognitive computing” initiative. It can read 800 million pages a second and can digest the entire corpus of Wikipedia, not to mention decades of law and medical journals. Yet it cannot teach you how to ride a bike because its intelligence is narrow – it knows nothing about how the world actually works

Developments in software technology including artificial intelligence are rapidly expanding the scope of what computers can do. Nathaniel Popper profiles Kensho’s role in automating some of Goldman Sach’s research roles, highlighting how automation is increasingly emerging as a threat to white collar jobs:

The lead author on the Oxford paper, Carl Benedikt Frey, told me that he was aware that new technologies created jobs even as they destroyed them. But, Frey was quick to add, just because the total number of jobs stays the same doesn’t mean there are no disruptions along the way. The automation of textile work may not have driven up the national unemployment rate, but vast swathes of the American South suffered all the same. When it comes to those A.T.M.s, there has, in fact, been a recent steady decline in both the number of bank branches and the number of bank tellers, even as the number of low-paid workers in remote call centers has grown.

This points to a disconcerting possibility: Perhaps this time the machines really are reducing overall employment levels. In a recent survey of futurists and technologists, the Pew Research Institute found that about half foresee a future in which jobs continue to disappear at a faster rate than they are created.

Virtual reality is another technology that’s spilling out of the lab. Whilst it’s great to see the technology in the real world, Daniel Harvey profiles how a lack of diversity is leading to accidental sexism reflecting wider problems in the tech sector:

Based on that pattern it should come as no surprise that VR suffers from much the same. Motion sickness in VR has plagued the format since its inception. Women have shown a greater tendency toward VR-induced nausea than men. But why? It’s all about unconscious bias and technology’s notorious self-selection bias.

Discrimination is certainly not something exclusive to the tech sector. The absence of women in the boardrooms of many FTSE 100 or Fortune 500 companies reflects a range of barriers and will hold back their performance given they’re less able to reflect the needs of half the world’s consumers. It’s worth heading over to The Economist site where you can play with an interactive version of the following:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/03/daily-chart-0?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/thebestandworstplacestobeaworkingwoman&%3Ffsrc%3Dscn/=tw/dc

Facebook recently released its State of Connectivity report which profiles barriers to internet access for the developing world as part of its internet.org initiative. The key barriers to access highlighted in the report are the state of connectivity, availability of infrastructure, affordability, relevance and readiness of the population:

Barriers to internet access for developing world consumers

A valuable complement to Facebook’s report is Pew Research Center’s recently released research which looks at smartphone ownership and internet usage around the world including developing countries:

Percent of adults who use the internet at least occasionally or report owning a smartphone

With Britain’s Brexit referendum coming up on the 23rd of June, The Economist has profiled the regions that are europhile and eurosceptic:

UK regions' attitudes to Brexit

Whilst Europe is generally becoming more urbanised, this process (like technology) is unevenly distributed with different cities experiencing significant growth (Istanbul, Brussels, Amsterdam) or decline (Katowice, Ruhr, Katowice, Ostrava, Bucharest):

Europe cities growth and decline

Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui profile changes in patterns of relationships and marriage in the US, highlighting the role of assortative mating in reinforcing social class and undermining social mobility:

Assortative mating is the idea that people marry people like themselves, with similar education and earnings potential and the values and lifestyle that come with them. It was common in the early 20th century, dipped in the middle of the century and has sharply risen in recent years — a pattern that roughly mirrors income inequality in the United States, according to research by Robert Mare, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. People are now more likely to marry people with similar educational attainment — even after controlling for differences between men and women, like the fact that women were once less likely to attend college.

The featured image is a mural by ecb / Hendrik Beikirch for the St+Art India event in New Delhi and published in StreetArtNews

Thought Starters: Moore’s Law, Snapchat, questions about online advertising and the perils of Donald Trump

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through the articles, research and opinion pieces I’ve read, highlighting the more interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. This edition looks at Moore’s Law, the ins and outs of Snapchat, some of the questions being raised out online advertising and the threat Donald Trump poses to politics among other things.

Nature recently published an article profiling Moore’s Law and how semiconductor manufacturers are looking at avenues beyond simply adding more  transistors to chips. It’ll be interesting to see how the technology industry adapts given the cornerstone that Moore’s Law and the associated industry roadmap of innovation has provided in enabling the computing infused world we live in today.

One of the challenges the semiconductor industry has had to face is the transition from PC to mobile which can be clearly seen in the following graph from Creative Strategies’ Ben Bajarin with the rapid growth of Android, iOS and AOSP:

Platform installed base

Quartz’s recent release of a mobile app provides an interesting example of publishers adapting to mobile, offering a stripped back feed of notifications and advertising, familiar to anyone using mobile messaging services:

Quartz mobile app

Snapchat can prove baffling for the uninitiated, with a user interface and visual language that sets it apart from the more traditional social networks (I’m looking at you Facebook and Twitter). Ben Rosen provides a handy guide, drawing on sage advice from his 13 year old sister:

Snapchat Filters

Whilst mobile, PCs and tablets are the dominant paradigms, we’re also beginning to see the emergence of a growing array of new devices blurring the boundaries of what a computing device is. The Amazon Echo is one of the more interesting devices to hit the market recently with the Uber integration providing an indication that the world envisioned in Her isn’t as far off as some people would have you believe:

The online advertising industry has been one of the clear winners over the last ten years with Google and Facebook in particular coming out ahead according to analysis from the Be Heard Group:

Net change in global ad spend / revenue

That’s not to say the online advertising industry is away laughing. The sector has come under growing scrutiny for failing to deliver for advertisers with Bloomberg last year pointing to growing click fraud with some advertising networks clearly dominated by bot rather than human traffic.

Another key metric is advertising viewability – there’s no point serving an advert to a human if the creative can’t be seen. Research from Meetrics points to a large proportion of European advertising not meeting IAB and the Media Rating Council (MRC) viewability, food for thought for media buyers:

Number of ads that are viewable (%)

Ben Thompson in a recent posting points to the stranglehold that Facebook and Google have on the online advertising market, offering greater effectiveness, reach, and ROI than their smaller competitors:

Here’s the kicker, though, and the big difference from the era of analog advertising: the Facebook and Google platforms turn TV and radio’s disadvantages on their head:

  • Facebook and Google have the most inventory and are still growing in terms of both users and ad-load; there is no temporal limitation that works to the benefit of other properties (and Facebook in particular is ramping up efforts to advertise using Facebook data on non-Facebook properties)
  • It is cheaper to produce ads for only Facebook and Google instead of making something custom for every potential advertising platform
  • Facebook and Google have the best tracking, extending not only to digital purchases but increasingly to off-line purchases as well

Facebook doesn’t always get its way with the recent judgement by the Indian Government’s blocking the social network’s Free Basics service. A case of neocolonialism by a hungry multinational or an honest attempt to widen internet access to the digitally excluded? I’ll let you be the judge.

Another social network that’s taken a hit recently is Twitter. Whilst the company has been  improving its monetisation of traffic, latest figures point to negative user growth which definitely takes some of the shine off things for investors:

Twitter user growth goes negative

Twitter isn’t the only tech company that’s taken a battering of late with talk of a popping of the tech bubble. A more careful examination of stock performances suggest that investors’ FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) has fueled the valuation of some companies well above what they were worth, whilst the fundamentals of others hold up to closer scrutiny:

Stock Performance Since October 5th 2015

Donald Trump’s run for president has kept many of us well entertained over the last few months but Ezra Klein gives a pointed reminder of why we shouldn’t be taking his candidacy lightly:

Trump answers America’s rage with more rage. As the journalist Molly Ball observed, “All the other candidates say ‘Americans are angry, and I understand.’ Trump says, ‘I’M angry.'” Trump doesn’t offer solutions so much as he offers villains. His message isn’t so much that he’ll help you as he’ll hurt them.

As Britain’s decision on Brexit looms, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz provides an impassioned defence of British membership of the European Union:

Dan Fox provides a valuable defence of pretentiousness in The Guardian, suggesting that it typically says more about the accuser than the accused:

Being pretentious is rarely harmful to anyone. Accusing others of it is. You can use the word “pretentious” as a weapon with which to bludgeon other people’s creative efforts, but in shutting them down the accusation will shatter in your hand and out will bleed your own insecurities, prejudices and unquestioned assumptions. And that is why pretentiousness matters. It is a false note of objective judgment, and when it rings we can hear what society values in culture, hear how we perceive our individual selves.

The featured image is a GoddoG mural from LED Thionville in France.

Thought Starters: Facebook’s M, Privacy, Driverless Cars, the Dating Apocalypse and more

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

Research from Flurry profiled by Yahoo points to the dominant role that apps have in the mobile ecosystem. The following graph doesn’t tell the entire story given the ability to reach web pages within a mobile app but does show the comparatively marginal role of the mobile browser:

Time_spent_on_Mobile

Facebook has launched its M virtual assistant as part of its Messenger offering and was recently profiled in Wired.  It has been rolled out to only a limited audience at this stage and what’s particularly interesting about the service is its use of humans as the system’s artificial intelligence develops a robust knowledge base:

“In the larger world of AI-driven personal assistants, M may seem like a regression. And as Facebook tests the tool with the public, it’s unclear whether this human-machine partnership can keep pace as the project expands to an ever-larger audience. But in a counterintuitive way, M may actually be a step forward for AI.”

Instagram now offers consumers and brands the opportunity to share photos and videos that are rectangles and not simply the iconic squares that we’ve become so used to.  Advertising Age has a look at the likely impact for brands:

There has been an awakening… #StarWars #TheForceAwakens

A post shared by Star Wars (@starwars) on

WeAreSocial follow up their profile of China with a profile of the world’s other fast developing behemoth with topline digital, social and mobile statistics for India:

A lot of noise has been made by commentators and critics about the cost in privacy that consumers are paying for the free services provided by Facebook and Google (“If you’re not paying for it; you’re the product”). Andrew McAfee jumps to their defence arguing that consumers are getting a fair deal, particularly given the plethora of consumer information already available to marketers:

“It’s true that all the information about me and my social network that these companies have could be used to help insurers and credit-card companies pick customers and price discriminate among them. But they already do that, and do it within the confines of a lot of regulation and consumer protection. I’m just not sure how much “worse” it would get if Google, Facebook and others started piping them our data.”

Maxwell Wessel looks at how the introduction of driverless cars is likely to restructure the auto industry, with the car forecasted to become less of a personal luxury and more of a utility.

The launch of UberPool brings Uber into closer competition with public transport with users picked up along what are being labelled as Smart Routes.  Given this, it was encouraging to see Nate Silver and Reuben Fischer-Baum argue that Uber and public transport are complementary and will hopefully get more cars off the road in urban centres:

Uber and Public Transport versus the Car

China’s economy seems to have hit the skids recently with Tyler Cowen giving a good overview of some of the key reasons for the downturn.  The BBC put together the following infographic which show why China’s economy isn’t significant just for the Chinese and investors in the country’s economy:

China's central role in world trade

Nancy Jo Sales‘ report on the impact of Tinder on relationships kicked up more than its fair share of criticism. Moira Weigel rightly points out that there’s been a long list of societal and technological changes that have created significant changes in courtship rituals without human society falling apart. Looking at the issue from another angle, Jon Birger’s analysis points to imbalances in education levels among men and women as creating a source of growing tension in relationship patterns.

Europe’s refugee crisis has deservedly dominated news headlines recently and the following infographic from the Washington Post illustrates why the scale of the crisis in Syria is so tragic. Please show your support:

Syria_popIf you’re in London between now and the 20th of September, I’d recommend a visit to the Photographers’ Gallery where the Shirley Baker exhibition Women Children and Loitering Men is well worth a view:

Hulme, May 1965 © Shirley Baker Estate Courtesy of the Shirley Baker Estate

The feature image was produced by Eko and published in his Flickr stream.

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.

The on-demand economy has been getting a lot of attention lately as Uber, Lyft and Postmates among others expand their market share. There could be a fly in the ointment if drivers and other providers of services are redefined as employees.  Kashmir Hill explores lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan’s efforts move to change the balance of power.

We’re moving increasingly towards a software driven world where it’s less about the physical and more about the digital guts. John Deere have used these changes to claim that purchases of their tractors amounts to implied license rather than ownership. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone down well among John Deere customers.

John Deere 8760 farm tractor with a folded farm tractor disc attached driving down a country road in Indiana.

Moore’s Law recently reached its 50th anniversary. Arnold Thackray, David Brock and Rachel Jones look at the history of the theory whilst The Economist looks at whether it’s forecast of constantly increasing power and decreasing costs still stands in the present day.

MooresLaw Whilst the rapidly evolving world of cryptocurrencies receive growing attention in the media, it’s interesting to have a look at the history of earlier digital currencies. Jake Halpern’s takes a look at the ups and downs of Liberty Reserve.

Felix Salmon uses Nathaniel Popper’s book Digital Gold as a starting point to highlight the huge gender imbalance in the Bitcoin world and looks at how this is likely to hold back the cryptocurrency’s development.

Benedict Evans looks at Google’s strategy in a world where the growth of mobile is making the world it operates in, increasingly complex:

The key change in all of this, I think, is that Google has gone from a world of almost perfect clarity – a text search box, a web-link index, a middle-class family’s home – to one of perfect complexity – every possible kind of user, device, access and data type. It’s gone from a firehose to a rain storm. But on the other hand, no-one knows water like Google. No-one else has the same lead in building understanding of how to deal with this.

Mobile phones’ reach is constantly expanding. Pew Research Center reports on the growing impact of mobile in Africa, illustrating why services like M-Pesa have such huge potential as business categories are reimagined with new technology.

Mobile Africa

Things do Jobs brings together a strong collection of images that illustrate how our smartphones are much more than phones:

Things to Do

Changes within the music industry have raised the spectre of the disintermediation of record labels as musicians gain a more direct channels for communicating with their fans. Zack O’Malley reports on how the major labels have looked to future proof their position by gaining a growing share of music startups which could well see them survive long into the future.

Music has often been associated  rightly or wrongly with youthful rebellion and politics. David Stubbs argues that politics was more of a sideline and suggests today’s musicians are in many cases as active as those of their forebearers

Eben Weiss (aka Bike Snob NYC) gives an impassioned call for a transport system in the Washington Post that better respects the interests of cyclists – an interest close to my heart.

If you find yourself at a loose end in London, you could do worse than checking out Carol Bove’s exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery.

Carol Bove

The featured image is a MOMO piece at Ace Hotel Palm Springs, California

 

Thought Starters

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

We’re seeing a rapid growth in some of the developing world’s major cities as rural populations migrate in search of better economic opportunities. Joel Kotkin takes a critical look at this phenomenon, pointing out that there in many cases isn’t the necessary demand needed for unskilled labour that will lift these populations out of poverty:

Here’s the difficult truth: Most emerging megacities, particularly outside of China, face bleak prospects. Emerging megacities like Kinshasa or Lima do not command important global niches. Their problems are often ignored or minimized by those who inhabit what commentator Rajiv Desai has described as “the VIP zone of cities,” where there is “reliable electric power, adequate water supply, and any sanitation at all.” Outside the zone, Desai notes, even much of the middle class have to “endure inhuman conditions” of congested, cratered roads, unreliable energy, and undrinkable water.

Research from  Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers points to money being able to help buy happiness, with this correlation appearing not to even tail off for more wealthy consumers:

Life satisfaction and income

There has been a lot of talk about disruption, particularly from Silicon Valley with commentators pointing to the threat this process poses to market incumbents. Research from Ian Hathaway and Robert Litan looks to pour some cold water on this view. Among the research’s finding are  that the US is seeing a declining number of start ups which are faced with growing failure rates whilst older enterprises are taking up a growing share of the overall number of businesses:

Companies by Age

Jamil Anderlini reports on growing property prices in China with warnings of a property bubble.  This could have serious negative effects on the country’s economy. A frightening prospect given the size of the country’s population and economy and the role on effect for the rest of the world:

Property Price Comparison

Benedict Evans looks at the impact that mobile is likely to have on the World’s population, with its impact reaching well beyond the developed world consumers associated with the PC driven internet:

Global Adult Population

There’s been a fair bit of noise recently about the declining role of the tablet with lacklustre sales and phablets arguably providing a good enough solution for many consumers. In response, Walt Mossberg jumps to the tablets defence, arguing that there are enough use cases to ensure that the format will see continuing success in the coming years:

I believed then, and now, that the success of the iPad depended not on whether it would wholly replace the laptop, but on whether it could be the best, or most convenient, computer in enough common scenarios for which the laptop (and, to a lesser extent, the smartphone) had been the go-to choice.

Android continues to be the dominant mobile operating system among global consumers market share. Despite this, Semil Shah argues that the development of an Android mobile app should run a distant second for the majority of startup businesses:

The common wisdom used to be iOS first, Android second — but I think it needs to be amended right now to the following: “With the caveat there may be a small handful of apps which need to be on Android early, mobile startups should be iOS first (of course) and resist the urge to make Android second too soon.” For a product early in its life cycle, the return on investment often can’t be justified.

Pew Research’s work points to consumers as being less willing to discuss serious issues via social media when compared to other social channels leading to what they’ve dubbed the ‘Spiral of Silence.’

Social Debates

Competition is hotting up in the ride sharing business with Uber recruiting drivers from its competitor Lyft – a not unusual practice in a competitive market. What Farhad Manjoo points out is that despite the best effortsof Uber and Lyft, there’s little in the way of differentiation between the two which face serious risk of commodification.

 The Atlantic profiles Google’s experiments with drone delivery suggesting that Amazon’s well publicised forays into this area weren’t simply a publicity stunt. Whilst the technology is interesting, what I found most interesting was the argument that this would enable a move towards a more access based society

Those ideas, in turn, became key planks in the original conception of the “sharing economy,” imagined as one in which the world could make much less stuff because efficient, digital logistics would let each asset be used by more people.

“It would help move us from an ownership society to an access society. We would have more of a community feel to the things in our lives,” Teller preached.

In the ‘something to look forward to’ basket is Juno director Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children which looks like taking a less than flattering look at the role of technology on the way we live our lives.

The featured image at the top of the page is a piece by by Paulo Arraiano in Djerba, Tunisia and found on StreetArtNews.

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.