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.

Which will be the next big tech IPO?

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Given the recent Whatsapp acquisition, with its (according to some) crazy valuation, and a recent FT article on crazy valuations of tech stocks, I thought it might be a good time to look at the upcoming batch of potential large tech IPOs, their most recent valuations, and see which ones might be the first ones to list.

  1. Spotify: Spotify, the Swedish online music streaming service, has made a number of moves recently that hint on an upcoming IPO. Just this week, it acquired the company behind one of its music recommendations algorithm, which was seen as tying up a loose end pre-IPO, and drew up a credit line. It was last year valued at $4bn based on equity sold, but will probably be valued higher when it goes public. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  2. Square: Square, also known as Jack Dorsey’s “other” company, has an implied valuation of $5bn, and was earlier rumored to have an IPO this year. It is seeking to make “receipts sexy” (good luck!) and to upend store payments (much needed). Lately, it has been suggested this IPO might not come this year. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  3. Dropbox: Dropbox, the cloud file storage service, just got valued at $10bn (!), so it definitely leads the valuation game of the next bunch. It has a large and growing user base, and the users really like the brand, but it’s hard to justify that price tag for a company with such small barriers to entry. All they have right now is a lead in building an (admittedly strong) consumer brand. There might also be some built-in inertia for users to move once it’s installed on all their devices. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  4. Box: The B2B cousin of Dropbox. Also likely to IPO this year. Seen as a rival to Dropbox, both who gets top IPO first and in terms of dominating the cloud. For now, they still focus on different customers, but are likely to overlap at a later stage. Valued at $2bn in December. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  5. Uber: Valued at $3.4bn in the fall when Google took a stake, which is huge (Lyft, its fellow car service, is valued at $700 million). Currently solving the problem of getting people from point A to point B, but in the future, might become a platform for solving many other similar day-to-day problems. Has a nice, “Google-like” approach to solving business problems. Expanding rapidly in Asia and everywhere. Has said IPO is still far off. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  6. Weibo: Before posting profits recently, valued at $7bn. After disappointing results, now a perhaps more reasonable, albeit still huge, $5.1bn. Known as “China’s Twitter”, it should theoretically have a huge potential, with the regular Twitter blocked, but its growth has been stalling and users have been moving to WeChat. Needs to IPO soon. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  7. Markit: An innovative financial information provider. Competing with Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg. Looking to IPO later this year, with a valuation of $5bn. Revenues of $861 million in 2012, so more established than some of the other companies on this list. Temasek took stake last year. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  8. Alibaba: The Chinese ecommerce company will probably be the biggest IPO of them all, with its dominant position in the Chinese ecommerce market, which is forecast to be worth $420bn in 2020. Valued at $153bn. IPO has been rumored to happen for quite a while, and will probably happen this year. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: High.
  9. Snapchat: Famously turned down Facebook’s $3bn offer last year. No talk of IPO recently. Valued at $2bn now. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  10. Pinterest: The online scrapboard, and now the third biggest social networkValued at $3.8bn late last year. Not likely to IPO anytime soon, perhaps more likely to be acquired by someone instead. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Low.
  11. Airbnb: The sharing economy darling, and a classic Blue Ocean Strategy (leveraging the previously underutilised and zero-valued resource of empty apartments).Valued at $2.5bn last year. No immediate signs of IPO. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Medium.
  12. Xiaomi: “China’s Apple.” Valued at $10bn. Has said won’t IPO in 5 years. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Very low.
  13. Palantir: The big data/security company. Valued at $9bn. Has mostly stayed under the radar, and might stay that way for the foreseeable future. Likelihood of 2014 IPO: Very low.

Any other one you look forward to? Let me know in the comments or @malcmur.

Today’s digital-philosophy mash-up: Sartre meets Foursquare

The BBC Click podcast today mentioned a fantastic new, anti-social, app, actually called Hell is Other People. Meant more a satirical joke than an actual app, it nevertheless provides fully fledged “anti-social” functionality, by telling you where to go to get as far away as possible from your Foursquare friends.

It is an awesome idea, and a welcome commentary on the increasing need to socialize everything we do. Philosophically, we are facing a conundrum as to what it means to live as humans completely socially, devoid of our normal boundaries which separate private and public. Sartre would go insane at the idea of Facebook (although he might like the nihilism of Snapchat). It will take us a long time to figure out what it means for our sanity. I look forward to discuss this with my all-digital children when they’re old enough to realize there was a past before YouTube and iPads.

It makes me long for the Economist to bring back their Thinking Space app, which was meant to show places in the city where one could think in peace. But maybe another app can’t be the solution to being too digital? FastCompany tells us to #unplug, but that can’t be the solution either.