Top 10 Media Trends of the Year

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

2014 Top 10 Things that make me pessimistic for the future

A few days ago, we covered the top things in 2014 that made me optimistic, but unfortunately, there were also many things that left me more pessimistic for the future. Here are the top 10 of pessimistic events and trends.
  1. Internet balkanization – One of the unfortunate effects of the Snowden leaks has been previously democratic countries such as Germany and Brazil wanting to join Iran and China in creating their own walled-in pockets of the internet. Add the increased efforts of Russia and Turkey to crack down on internet freedoms in their countries, and the future for an open internet is starting to look bleak.
  2. 5,000 deaths to jihadi terrorism in November – Already before the awful Taliban attack on the school in Pakistan, new statistics had just been released saying that there had been 5,000 deaths due to jihadi terrorism in November alone, a trend that doesn’t seem likely to stop anytime soon. Many of these are perpetrated by Boko Haram, and get much less attention in Western media than similar attacks by ISIS/Al Qaeda offshoots.
  3. Lone wolf attacks – This year has seen an uptick in lone wolf attacks, such as the Sydney cafe hostage situation recently. These kind of lone wolf attacks, which might be inspired by ISIS, but not affiliated with them, are very hard for security agencies to intercept, and seem to be on the increase.
  4. Failure to punish anyone for the financial crisis – The moment for punishing anyone for the financial crisis and making any substantial changes to the unstable parts of the financial system seems now to have passed. It is also striking to see how fines for manipulating interest rates or currency rates, as seen with this year’s Libor and FX scandals, are now seen almost just as an expected cost of doing business.
  5. Europe’s Google war – Instead of trying to stimulate innovation within Europe, several countries in Europe and members of the European Parliament seem instead set on counterproductive measures such as calling for the breakup of Google and implementing “the Google tax”. Not to mention the whole Right to be Forgotten-fiasco. The European Parliament should focus instead of creating local competitors.
  6. 23 and me ban – The US is not immune to putting in place bans on innovative companies, as we have seen with the ban on 23 and me to continue their revolutionary genome mapping service. We are just in the beginning of the genomics revolution, but it seems backward by the FDA to ban 23 and me from continuing their service.
  7. Crime as a service – As everything goes on-demand over the internet, apparently a new trend is crime as a service, where teams of hackers can be hired for a cheap sum to perform cybercrimes. This might even have been the case in the Sony hack.
  8. Antibiotic super-resistance – This year has seen a continue uptick in hospital cases of antibiotic resistance, due to over usage for livestock and over-prescription to unnecessary illnesses. This risks setting us back to the middle ages. The recent acquisition by Merck of Cubist shows the huge need in this area.
  9. The Third Industrial Revolution from a global equality perspective – While 3d-printing and additive manufacturing techniques seem set to bring about massive productivity gains in developed countries, there is also a fear that this means that the next set of countries won’t see the uptick in living standards that the last set of production countries (China, East Asia) saw by being the factories for the world.
  10. Technological innovation driving returns to capital rather than labor – It is an unfortunate side effect of technological innovation that, while the service benefits might be shared among the many, the financial benefits tend to accrue only to existing capital, due to the tendency of new innovations to create monopolies and lower the cost of inputs such as labor.

Top 10 Trends of 2014

Some of the key trends that shaped 2014:
  1. Inequality – The growth in inequality, both within countries and between countries, was one of the key themes of the year, from Obama’s speech in the beginning of the year to Thomas Piketty’s book which defined large parts of the academic debate.
  2. Commoditization of all assets – This was the year that the sharing economy really took hold, with all its many positive effects, but also giving a feeling that there is an ongoing commoditization of all assets – from the car you drive (Uber), to your apartment (Airbnb), to your time (Taskrabbit).
  3. Mindfulness – This was the year that mindfulness and meditation became huge, with the increased popularity of smartphone apps like Buddhify and Silicon Valley companies all competing to offer the most mindfulness-friendly environment.
  4. U.S. Energy independence – OPEC’s decision to not take action on their production the other week feels like a defining moment for the shale revolution and the US energy independence.
  5. Payments finally going mobile – There have been many promising mobile payment solutions, but now with the launch of Apple Pay, it feels like this might finally be about to take off. A group in Sweden have already implanted chips into their bodies, in order to not even have to whip out their smartphone.
  6. Robotics – Robotics is on the verge of a breakthrough, perhaps not yet in terms of consumer robots, but at least in terms of manufacturing and automation. Nowhere was this more clear than with Google buying up robotics companies left, right and center this year, like Boston Dynamics and DeepMind.
  7. Miniaturization – Another interesting Google announcement this year was the Google smart contact lens, a contact lens with sensors that can measure health stats, showing the enormous potential of miniaturization and sensors in everything.
  8. The rise of a Sino-centric Asia – With China forming its own development banks to rival the World Bank and IMF, it has thrown down the gauntlet to start shaping Asia in its image. The ADIZ in the East China Sea was put up last year, and one in the South China Sea seems to be just a matter of time.
  9. Immortality – This year saw a steady rise in the use of health-tracking devices, techniques to extend human lives, and not to mention diets with less calorie consumption meant to extend life.
  10. Smart Urbanization – The world is getting more and more urbanized, with more than 50% of the world’s population in cities since a few years back. The need is therefore for smart urban solutions. This year saw this trend taking shape, with architects, designers and entrepreneurs joining urban planners in designing smart solutions.

Can Republicans own innovation?

Never thought I would say this, but I actually like this piece from Grover Norquist on Reuters. His idea is that Republicans should use the sharing economy to take back the urban demographic from the Democrats. It’s worth reading.

It is not on the strength of the argument that I would advocate looking at the piece – his basic argument is that the sharing economy is created by democrats in the Bay Area, a classic Democratic area, and it will clash with unions, another strongly Democratic group. This sounds like it could be a clash, but it probably won’t happen, since neither the Democrats in California nor the young liberals using Uber and Airbnb would turn against the Democrats in the short term even if Lyft doesn’t get a license in all cities.

The aspects which I find more interesting with the piece is that of the politics of tech. Tech and Silicon Valley were apolitical for a long time, churning out new products and not getting involved in the politics of the Hill. This started to change a few years ago, with armies of Google and Facebook lobbyists descending on DC to lobby for skilled immigration and driverless cars regulation.

Tech and innovation present a new way for Republicans to create a new interesting narrative for themselves. Republicans have for the last few years moved away from their historical role of being the party of intellectual leadership and become the anti-intellectual party instead. The role of defender of innovation on philosophical grounds could be a fruitful path to connect with young voters on a deeper level.

Innovation is tightly linked to free markets, and the lack of unnecessary regulation. We all want to the future where we read a book while being driven to work by our driverless car and get our sandwiches delivered by Amazon Prime Air drones. And with the Democrats being tied down to a lot of status quo-keeping regulation, that future is probably more of a Republican future.

Watson goes to Africa

IBM_WatsonGood news this morning that IBM’s Watson is coming to Africa. The project is named Lucy, after the first human ancestor, which is a bit odd and pretentious, but the idea of bringing big data and AI to Africa to help places like Lagos leapfrog, is a very positive one.

Google is grabbing all the headlines for AI these days, with for example the acquisition of Deep Mind the other week, but Watson is a good reminder that Google is not the only one working on it.

After Google’s blimps bringing Internet to Africa, hopefully Google and IBM can engage in an African land grab, similar to what China and Japan is doing, with positive effects for people and businesses across the continent.

 
Picture by Clockready (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Amazon unveils drone delivery plans

With Amazon unveiling its plans for drone delivery, they’re upping the stakes in their fight with Google, both in terms of autonomous vehicles (Drone delivery versus autonomous cars), as well as in the ongoing fight over which company fulfills the most of our geeky, utopian fantasies. Bezos continues to fight the good fight, soon to dominate print innovation through Washington Post and retail innovation through Prime Air.

Although, we mustn’t forget all the regulatory hurdles this has to pass.

The video Bezos unveiled can be found here. I talked about delivery by drones in China in an earlier post. Another earlier post talked about Google being the most utopian of the current big tech companies, which I might have to revisit. This post discussed other new delivery mechanisms.

I just hope this will be included free of charge in my existing Prime subscription! Amazon doesn’t care about profits, right?

We need Apple to create the iHome in order for the Internet of Things to go mass market

Bellfield_walled_garden
Every major disruptive innovation we’ve had over the last decades has started as a walled garden.

The Web started with AOL and Compuserve building their own closed off small corners of web pages. Reuters’ open-system financial terminals never stood a chance against the sleek Bloomberg terminals. Smartphones and tablets didn’t take off until Apple took out all the unnecessary fluff and designed a sleek user experience, heavily controlled in terms of content. Social media didn’t fully take off with MySpace‘s messy, do-what-you-want interface, but rather with the heavily locked-down interface of Facebook.

It seems that it’s a necessary trade-off to do in the first stages of a new technology, sacrificing functionality for usability. Then, after the initial walled garden has existed for a few years, successful, “messier” options can succeed.

Once users have gotten used to the gist of the service, and a need has been established, then they start venturing out for more options. Now for example, after 6 years with iOS, the messier, customizable Android has now become the dominant driver of smartphone innovation.

Even for the Internet as a whole, it seems people now want their own “splinternets”. The much-faster, university-only Internet 2 was hyped for a long time, and now of course, in the wake of Snowden, Brazil and other countries want their own Internets.

Now, it seems we need the same thing for the Internet of things. Products run on a number of different standards, products don’t talk to each other if they’re from different manufacturers, and setting everything up can get really complicated. A lot of functionality exists, but it’s often pointless, like the washing machine discussed the other day on the O’Reilly Radar podcast that is somehow Internet-enabled, but doesn’t actually do anything useful with that connection.

Further, security is an issue. As Stacey Higginbotham discussed the other week on the GigaOm Internet of Things podcast, the way it is today, someone could hack into your coffeemaker and wreak every-day havoc.

We therefore need Apple to step up to the plate and play its role of chief technology simplifier and beautifier. Don’t let Nest beat you to it (or these guys). Imagine a sleek iHome console that cuts out unnecessary functionality and delivers a seamless experience. That would rejuvenate my hope in Apple.

India dreaming

In his speech at Rice in 1962, President Kennedy said: We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon[…], not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. It set off a dream of space exploration that spurred on American science and technology innovation for almost 50 years.

This week, India sent off its first mission to Mars. This was also the first Mars mission from a developing country. Like the efforts of the US, in the middle of its Cold War with the Soviet Union, this is one of the starting shots in a space and technology war between India and China. But despite the political justifications, it is likely to have hugely beneficial effects for the country.

Many commentators, in and outside of India said that this is money that could be better spent on the many Indian poor. Even if India’s space program operates on a budget that would fund one day of NASA’s, it can course sometimes be hard to see how you can justify space exploration trips, lasting many years and with uncertain payoffs, when you have people starving in the country’s here and now.

But it is likely to be money well-spent. In the West, all the “dreaming” budgets, of space exploration, and of large-scale science fiction-style projects are largely being slashed and being put on the back burner. Stian Westlake argued in the FT recently that we need Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, and large, dream-like projects like it to spur on our collective imagination. With a few exceptions, such as the Hyperloop, a few space Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects, the US has stopped dreaming, which is having huge ramifications on the level of science and technology being developed. I wrote earlier here about how Google is one of the few institutions that have the imperative (and resources) to push for moonshot projects.

Judith Shulevitz, in the New Republic, argued recently that the classic American liberal arts has driven many of the scientific advances. For example, the tablet computer was envisioned in Star Trek, and cyberspace was first suggested by C W. That is another one of the “dreaming” budgets being cut, as money is spent on educating engineers who will make only incremental innovations rather than revolutionary ones. She argues that the current decline of liberal arts education means that we will face decades of less innovation.

There is clearly a case to be made for these kind of dreaming projects. I am happy to see India take the step to dream, despite all of its day-to-day issues. Like Indian economist Amartya Sen said, development is freedom. And space exploration is a huge driver for development, by letting a generation of Indians dream.

Image from NASA Earth Observatory

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Pop-ups are the new black

Pop Plus

Pop-up stores are all the rage these days. In an age of shifty consumer demand, due to the lingering recession and the glut of new products coming out, as well as the need to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace, pop-up stores make perfect sense. They require low upfront investment in an age of increasingly pricey real estate, and they can generate high value in sales and gain valuable attention to the cause or the brand.

There has over the last years been some great examples of pop-up stores used for pure retail. See for example this Business Insider listicle of creative pop-ups.

What’s interesting now is that the concept is moving beyond pure retail, and becoming a versatile tool in several industries. There was recently a pop-up store in Sweden that allowed for printing-on-demand of magazines. This seems like a great solution for the new generation of print magazines. For magazines, their online presence will be their main avenue, but it is vitally important to exist in print also. However, it’s an expensive proposition. Printing-on-demand in pop-up stores therefore seems like a great solution.

For more dire human needs, there was recently a discussion in the Monocle 24’s The Stack podcast of how pop-ups can be used in crisis areas, to quickly supply critical materials. One could indeed argue that the whole pop-up revolution takes its inspiration from the by-necessity ephemeral efforts of help organizations, such as UNHCR.

Google Glass and Future Health 25822

And then, last week, San Francisco and the global tech community was mystified as to what Google was doing building barges in the San Francisco Bay. The mystery was solved (for now) with the revelation that it will be a movable pop-up showroom for Google Glass! It sounds like it could indeed be awesome – it could have different rooms with different use cases for Google Glass, and show off this potentially revolutionary product in revolutionary way. It follows on from the niche/luxury efforts they’ve had so far, with $1500 for the explorer program.

Photo credits: Wikipedia, tedeytan

Tech meets fashion for Apple, Google and Yahoo

Français : burberry

Image representing Google Glass as depicted in...

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of fun examples of tech and fashion cross-pollinating lately.

We saw Google giving Vogue some Google Glass, which ended up being featured in a weird, but cool fashion feature, that looked like a 60’s futurism vision. Then Marissa Meyer posed for Vogue in classy, non-CEO-style photos recently (such as upside down on a lounge chair).

Today, we find out that Angela Ahrendts, who is credited of having turned around Burberry (with a lot of help from wunderkind Christopher Bailey) will take over the role of SVP of Retail, online and offline. It’s great to see that this role is finally filled, as Ron Johnson has been away for quite some time, and Apple stores have been less innovative over the last years. It’s also interesting to see that she gets ownership of both offline retail as well as the online stores, which is a similar combination of domains that Jony Ive has for hardware and software design. It shows that Cook is following the Jobs CEO style of concentrating power in the hands of just a few, key lieutenants. And it’s not all women, Apple made another fashion recruitment this summer, of Paul Deneve from Yves Saint Laurent.

All this cross-pollination makes perfect sense since smart phones and other tech products have become important fashion accessories over the last years, and this seems set only to continue with more and more wearables coming onto the scene. Fast Company has for a long time featured tech-savvy designers as innovators, such as Jenna Lyons. We’ve also seen some great tie-ins for tech brands, such as iPhone 5S’s being used in Burberry fashion shows, and Instagram fast becoming the key platform for fashion brands.

However, as much as the tech world can benefit from this infusion of fashion glamour, I’m not sure if it’s a win-win situation. In a few years, when people wear Google Glass over their eyes, an Apple iWatch on one arm and a Fitbit Force on the other, and why not a Melon headband on your head, you’ll probably need to wear something like the below to match it…

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2000

Photo credits: Wikipedia, CrunchBase, victorismaelsoto