- Recycle Journalism – This was the year that recycle journalism came to the fore. It’s been a trend for a long time, already when I was writing for the magazine Space in the 90’s, I was experimenting with it, and Sweden’s Nojesguiden had a fun tradition of creating interviews using questions from other magazines’ interviews, but this year, it was everywhere. New media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Gawker are in large parts based on recycling and reshuffling material, but this year even more traditional magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek had pieces which were made up of lists of articles from other outlets, such as their year-end jealousy list. Slate capped the year by doing a list of (social) media outrages for each day of the year. This trend is perhaps inevitable given the vast and increasing amount of content creation, which means that not all of it can be original content (as with this article itself!). Perhaps it can even be useful given the impossibility of keeping up with everything (unless you’re Jason Hirschhorn of Media Redef who seems to have 25 hours in his day!)
- Snowdenification – One of the outcomes from the NSA leaks has been the rise of apps that promise anonymity or not storing data. Two of the most talked about apps of the year were Secret and Whisper, which lets users share sentiments anonymously. Snapchat, with its self-destructing photos, continued to gain in popularity, and recently, we saw the launch of Confide, which lets users send self-destructing text messages.
- Long tail in analog – The creation of digital content was supposed to enable the long tail, i.e. with a distribution cost of zero, we could all enjoy whatever niche content we wanted. That ended up not being the case, with mainstream music/films/videos still dominating digital. Instead, it’s in the analog space that we are seeing extremely niche products, with the success of magazines like Brot (a German magazine dedicated only to bread!) and Modern Farmer (which I can only imagine is, as its name suggests, for modern farmers). Likewise, we saw Serial blow up and reach mass audiences that podcasts earlier could only dream of.
- Fights for digital distribution and pricing rights – Taylor Swift picked a fight with Spotify, and Hachette picked a fight with Amazon, and all over, music labels, artists and film studios were worrying about how to price their products for digital distribution and how to maintain control.
- Algorithms beats curation – Another highly visible fight this year took place between Spotify, the reigning master in the algorithm corner, and Beats Music, the newcomer in the curation corner. We’ll have to see how much focus is given to curation when Beats is relaunched by Apple next year, but for now Spotify has the lead, with steadily improving algorithms.
- Corporate Content – Benetton has long had its own magazine, Colors, which received praise this year for its World Cup issue, but this year, corporate content has become one of the main trends. One aspect of this is native advertising, which has become the buzzword du jour in digital advertising. Other advertisers took it even further and launched their own magazines with quite limited branding, such as GE.
- Data journalism – Big data is making its mark on all industries, and the news industry is no exception. The launch of Nate Silver’s 538 heralded an onslaught of data journalism, and there were suddenly infographics wherever you looked. The belief in data as the ultimate objective source was quickly questioned, however, and it turned out that data journalism has biases just like regular journalism, it just has more graphs to back it up with. That’s not to say that some of it wasn’t great, though, NYT’s The Upshot did great work around the US midterm elections.
- Explanatory journalism. The other surprising trend this year was explanatory journalism. Alain de Botton published his book News: A Manual, where he called for news to be kinder to the reader and function more like an oracle helping the reader navigate life. Whether or not as a response to Alain, Ezra Klein this year left Washington Post and launched Vox, which became the torch-bearer for explanatory journalism. Again, it was a worthwhile aim, and some of the pieces served to provide much-needed background, but in order to maintain the 24/7 flow of a digital news site, some explanations proved a bit silly, and “Vox explains” could seemingly be attached to anything from ISIS to Easter Eggs.
- Drone journalism – The rise of affordable drones and cameras provided journalists, and especially photographers, with a fantastic new tool to investigate and report. There are still many question marks, not least around FAA regulations, but this is clearly something that will only grow. A related phenomenon is the launch of mini-satellites which can be used to provide high-definition images in close to real-time.
- Google’s Right to be Forgotten – A scary trend in Europe was for Google to remove links to websites under the court ruling dubbed “Right to be forgotten”. This could potentially be admissible for individual websites that are defamatory, or simply out-of-date, but it was applied to stories on many news sites, such as BBC stories about specific CEOs, etc, where it has no right at all. That is called editing history, and has no place in a modern society.
- Medical 3D-printing – With the breakthroughs in the use of 3D-printing for medical purposes, the potential for breakthroughs in healthcare is huge, and could radically lower healthcare costs over time.
- Rosetta’s Philae comet landing – The landing of the small Philae probe on its moving target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, was a nice step forward for space exploration, and gave us some much needed hope in terms of how we can start to explore space again.
- Big data silver lining in Ebola outbreak – With all the terrible news coming out of the Ebola-affected countries, it was nice to see at least a little bit of silver lining from this outbreak – a number of organizations were able to use big data from e.g. mobiles to help map the outbreak. This kind of use case will hopefully help stem future outbreaks.
- VR Tech – After decades of false promises, the advent this year of Oculus Rift and Magic Leap seems to suggest that we are finally seeing breakthroughs in the field of virtual reality. Having tested the first version of Oculus Rift, it’s easy to see why Mark Zuckerberg was so excited about non-gaming uses of Oculus for all kinds of purposes, from social interactions, to travel and medicine.
- Modi – The election of Narendra Modi this year has potentially the highest multiplier effect of any elected politician. Given the enormous population of India and the large percentage of them that live in extreme poverty, if Modi can change their lives just with a sliver, the resulting effect would be the largest upgrade of human quality of living since the early days of China’s rise under Deng Xiaoping.
- Climate deals – Recently emboldened President Obama’s climate deal with China, and the global deal that it facilitated are reasons to cheer. They are not enough, but it is still a huge step forward for the world to have a global deal in place. Although it is not enough to prevent temperature rises that will affect millions of people, the fact that there is a framework in place gives me hope that it can be built upon, and have measures added to it, both for climate change prevention, and climate change reversal.
- Google’s self-driving cars – With the success of Google’s experiments with autonomous vehicles, and those of other car manufacturers joining the fray, such as Sweden’s Volvo, a future where we can read books while being driven to our location of choice seems just a matter of time.
- Tesla – The huge success of Tesla this year gives me hope that electric cars can become mainstream, they just need the right branding and performance. Hopefully the new battery factory can help spread the revolution.
- Disruptive technology in the universe of atoms as well as bits – For most of the digital revolution, disruption has happened in the universe of bits only, i.e. it has been only digital functions that have seen change. Now, however, we are increasingly seeing the application of data in real life, changing the functions of analogue, tangible functions. For example, Waze is revolutionizing how we navigate traffic, based on vast amounts of data and payments are becoming digitized with Bitcoin and Apple Pay. This will change our lives to an even greater degree than the bits disruptions.
- Sleep Science – More and more studies from sleep scientists are coming out that show that the circadian rhythms of most people would be better suited for a workday that starts and ends later. I don’t expect to see a change soon, but these kinds of recommendations, long seen as mumbo jumbo, are finally getting some traction. Perhaps we can all soon sleep in just a little bit longer, which would add tremendously to our cumulative world happiness.
Technology has always shaped the way we read books, from Gutenberg to Kindles, but it feels like the pace of changes is speeding up in recent times, and in some very positive ways.
One of the big enablers has been the application of big data and better analytics to books, book reviews and data on reading. Amazon‘s recommendations are getting better and better. Now Goodreads, picked up by Amazon earlier this year, is proving to be a really useful platform. It is not always spot on in terms of recommendations, and they keep sending me emails about books from the Young Adult section, but having a social network based on reading is quite nice. It does yield a lot of good ideas for new books to read, as well as new appreciation the hidden literate depths of one’s more peripheral Facebook friends!
BookVibe is a new fun book discovery tool, which picks books to recommend based on what books are discussed in my Twitter and Facebook feeds. My current list of recommendations include everyone from the expected (Carl Sagan, Freakonomics, Sherry Turkle), to more unexpected books about Dungeons and Dragons or something called “The Harbinger”.
There’s also Booklamp.org, which aims to be the Pandora of books, by defining and matching the “genome” of books. For fiction, the results are not that convincing (I get better recommendations from Amazon). It works better for non-fiction, but it seems the DNA of a book is still fairly elusive.
The other big change we’ve witnessed recently is the time-shifting of reading. After watching TV content was inexorably changed by Tivo, and later Netflix, timeshifting has moved to reading, with all the wonderful tools we now have at our disposal. I can no longer live without Instapaper and Pocket. I also love the Longform app’s curated take on articles. Om Malik discusses how he uses Pocket here.
Even if it’s an age of TL;DR, in which we have ever less time to read, it seems these innovations are at least helping us make the most of what we read.