Weekly Links & Thoughts #85

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #84

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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  • This is Your Life in Silicon Valley (2)
    Even though this parody piece focuses on people actually living in and around the Silicon Valley, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the regular readers of this weekly link list recognize themselves in parts. My favorite quote: “You are all too busy making your own points and citing articles to really listen to each other. ” I really know that one. Others do, too (thanks @polexa for sharing this video).
  • Scenes From the Terrifying, Already Forgotten JFK Airport Shooting That Wasn’t (3)
    A gripping eye-witness account of a recent mass panic that took place at New York’s JFK airport after people thought they were experiencing a mass shooting. A powerful reminder of how false stories evolve, spread and set people in motion.
  • “A Honeypot For Assholes”: Inside Twitter’s 10-Year Failure To Stop Harassment (3)
    Twitter didn’t like this lengthy Buzzfeed feature. Unsurprisingly. But clearly, the company failed in coming up with effective tools and solutions to the troll problem. However, one needs to be fair and admit that stopping harassment on a global publishing service is more complicated than some seem to think. Regulating speech is a messy business with possibly far-reaching consequences for every user. Imagine you want to jokingly tweet “You are such a moron” to your best friend on Twitter but it doesn’t let you because its algorithm has identified this tweet as harassment. This wouldn’t be a good approach. Nevertheless, Twitter needs to do something. My hope is that it will follow a principle based on the idea that everyone keeps their right to post whatever they want, but that every user also gets the right to not having to see what others are trying to catch their attention with. Currently, that’s not really possible (except for verified accounts, which are being rolled out more broadly, but which still are not available to everyone). If you want to use Twitter the way it is intended, you are basically forced to pay attention to your mentions.
  • No Control: Thoughts On The End Of The Headphone Jack And The Future Of Digital Music (3)
    Smart, critical analysis of Apple’s love-hate-relationship with DRM and the problematic decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone – which, like so many things, can been viewed through an optimistic lense and a pessimistic one, depending on one’s focus.
  • The Worry Piece (2)
    An accurate description of the widespread type of opinion piece that expresses concern about the negative impact of technology on social behavior and personal well-being; the one that always includes the recommendation that people should read a book.
  • The Internet Doesn’t Route Around Surveillance (1)
    A rather depressing quote from the article: “If people are concerned about the confidentiality and integrity of their communications, they will have to treat the internet at large as a hostile network over which one must tunnel securely.”
  • Cortana: The spy in Windows 10 (2)
    The trade-off between a futuristic user experience & privacy seems to be especially big with Windows 10 and Cortana. Or maybe it’s just the same as with every other current system.
  • The Chinese answer to Apple is falling apart (1)
    In technology, you never know which company will be the next to rather quickly go through the process of rise & fall. The latest contender: China’s former smartphone shooting star Xiaomi.
  • China’s big Artificial Intelligence (AI) push (2)
    Meanwhile, Chinese companies are making big advances with the proliferation of AI, fostered by a favorable environment for this discipline, such as the weak protection of people’s personal data.
  • Putting a computer in your brain is no longer science fiction (2)
    Great. Still waiting for that chip which would provide me with perfect skills in a specific language. I’m serious, actually. I cannot prioritize learning Mandarin & Arabic right now, but it’d love to speak it.
  • Edward Snowden is now earning up to $25,000 a speech (1)
    I admire what Snowden did and the risks he took. Good to hear that he can fund his (probably rather weird) life in Russia. However, I had the “pleasure” to listen to one of his live interviews (at an event that otherwise was fantastic). It felt as if it was pre-recorded. Everything Snowden said sounded canned. His answers to questions were too long, which I interpret as a sign that he has started to take himself way too seriously. Overall he gave the impression that he is so intertwined with “his” topic that there is no room for any doubt, any joke, any counter argument, any human touch. It makes me a bit wary of him.
  • Move over, phones. Cars are becoming the new mobile target for marketers (2)
    Sounds like another reason not to own a car. Although, of course, one could – as always – argue that showing highly targeted personalized ads to people driving are better than the most irrelevant billboards you stare at while waiting for or sitting in the subway. But somehow, I personally don’t feel that way.
  • News is afflicted by its own climate change: It’s called social (2)
    A pretty clever metaphor.
  • Revenge of the nerds (2)
    The Economist points to a trend its author observed among Silicon Valley’s big shots: The former nerds are using their freedom, technology and (tiny parts) of their money to turn themselves into superfit “jocks”.
  • The bandwidth bottleneck that is throttling the Internet (3)
    Very informative post about the latest challenges and expected solutions to satisfy the ever increasing need of bandwidth.
  • Inside the mind of a venture capitalist (2)
    Bad news for those not in the rocket business: These days, a venture capitalist is more likely to fund a startup aiming for space than a social web app. At least this one.
  • Pirate Bay is The King of Torrents Once Again (1)
    I lost track of how many times over the past 10 years I’ve been reading about news that sounded like the end of The Pirate Bay. And yet, it’s still there. Astonishing.
  • Forget Self-Driving Cars: Autonomous Trucks, Trains And Ships Will Transform Commerce (2)
    Smart drivers of trucks & captains of ships would already today keep their eyes open for that online course about remote management of driverless truck, train & ship fleets. They’ll need this skill soon if they want to have a future in their industry.
  • Kanye West, Leonard Cohen And Death Of The Creative Full Stop (2)
    Interesting point: Why are most music releases considered finished once they have been released (with the exception of remixes)? Yes, mostly because of historical limitations of physical media. In the digital age, the approach maybe should change. Because it could.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #83

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Recently on meshedsociety.com

  • Stories is to Instagram what Streaming was to Netflix
    Is Instagram’s new Stories feature just a little gimmick for Instagram fans to play with? I don’t think so. I’d argue that it’s the future of Instagram. The same way as Streaming was the future for Netflix when Netflix still was a DVD-by-mail company.

Video of the week

  • William Talking Blockchains At Google
    Sometimes, hearing someone speak about a complex technology is so much more comprehensible than reading about it. That’s how I felt when watching this talk. Well and vididly explained what the Blockchain is and what it can be used for.

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Stories is to Instagram what Streaming was to Netflix

Instagram Stories

Here is a German version of this text.

In less than 2 years, Netflix will celebrate the 20th anniversary since its public launch. Over the period of those 2 decades, the face and business model of the company has changed completely. What started as an US-only DVD-by-mail service became a global platform for on-demand streaming of shows and movies.

At some point after the millennium shift, the company’s CEO Reed Hastings realized that physical media has no future. In order to survive, he had to “pivot” his company and switch to streaming video. But he could not do it from one day to another. He didn’t want to damage the brand and upset its millions of subscribers. Furthermore, he needed the splendid revenue from the DVD business to finance the new initiative. So he introduced streaming as an additional service and turned it into the company’s core only very slowly, over a couple of years. Today, the DVD-by-mail still exists, but has lost 75 % of its members since the peak in 2010. At one point in the future, it will vanish.

The history of Netflix as analogy for Instagram

The Netflix case is one of the rather rare examples where a company managed to radically transform itself before technical advancements and changing customer desires would make it obsolete. What Netflix pulled of can help to understand recent news coming from Instagram.

Instagram just introduced its “Stories” feature, which lets people share ephemeral photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. As has been widely reported and acknowledged by Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom, Stories is almost identical to a Snapchat feature with the same name (“Stories”). Whether one likes it or not doesn’t matter: Instagram Stories is the new thing, and it plays a critical strategic role for the Facebook-owned company: There is a chance that Instagram’s iconic stream of carefully crafted, heavily filtered shots is the equivalent of Netflix’ DVD-by-mail offering and is poised to become outdated and neglected over time. Applying this analogy, Snapchat Stories won’t just be an additional feature within Instagram. It would eventually become the core and heart of the app; what Instagram stands for.

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Certainly, it’s much harder to predict the future of the classical Instagram feed than it was for the Netflix CEO to forecast the decline of the DVD. However, there is a case to be made for seeing Instagram’s scrollable photo & video feed as threatened in the mid- to long term:

Instagram’s feed was built for the early smartphone years

When Instagram launched back in 2010, smartphones just experienced their grand breakthrough. Suddenly, millions carried fairly good cameras in their pockets, and Instagram as well as a couple of copycats leveraged these cameras and people’s excitement about the new ability to share everything they see with the world, instantly and edited for beauty.

In 2016, the novelty of smartphone cameras and Instagram’s filters has worn off. As has the excitement and enthusiasm about fine-tuned photos of coffee art, sunsets, beaches and colorful food compositions. Of course millions still publish these kind of things on the service every day. Once something becomes a habit, it sticks. Nevertheless, over time and with new, more innovative and more creative services, an existing app concept can start to feel antiquated. This is exactly what Snapchat Stories did to Instagram: It made Instagram and its endless scrolling look and feel a bit dated. The seamless sharing and consumption of videos (and photos) on Snapchat is just a more modern, contemporary and fun experience (the clunky, not intuitive user interface aside). Also, after years of edited Instagram photos showing the happy, pretty and sometimes artificial sides of life, authenticity is in great demand. Snapchat Stories’ ephemeral character – meaning that photos and videos can only be watched for 24 hours – totally hit a nerve.

Usage patterns of long-term users matter

Again, it is hard to predict the future of the Instagram feed. The app keeps growing and it just crossed the 500 million active user milestone. However, what’s more interesting is whether early users are still as much into Instagram as before. At least in the US, the user numbers seem to have stalled. Among US teens, Snapchat has risen to become the “most important social network”. Also in the US, Snapchat has overtaken Instagram regarding the amount of time users spend in the app.

These statistics don’t tell too much about usage patterns of long-term Instagram users. But considering these statistics and factoring in the general excitement about video and services specifically built for video as well as the common human tendency to seek new experiences, I’d say chances are bigger that Instagram’s feed won’t exist anymore in 5 years than that it still will exist. However, the only entity that might be able to make an accurate prediction right now based on actual user data is Instagram itself. And the fact that it launched Stories the way it did and basically forced it into everyone’s field of attention – even though Stories must be considered a completely different product than Instagram’s scrollable feed – is an indicator for that the company could be witnessing, on average, decreasing user activity of certain user groups.

What happens next

In the end, there are 2 ways to understand the launch of Instagram Stories: Either CEO Kevin Systrom and his boss, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, think that Instagram should accommodate two or even more different types of services within one app in order to compete with Snapchat (in fact, Snapchat pretty much also consists of multiple different products). Or they indeed see Snapchat Stories as something comparable to Netflix’s early streaming ambitions: A new service which eventually could replace the original one. That of course would require Stories to become a hit. At the moment, even Systrom and Zuckerberg probably don’t have enough internal data to know for sure that Stories will catch on – probably. So obviously they won’t have decided yet about a roadmap for abandoning the feed. But their reasoning might go like this: If user adoption for Stories looks good and reaches certain set Key Performance Indicators (KPA), it will be pushed hard and given an increasing amount of attention and room within the Instagram app. If that happens, the importance of and activity within the classical Instagram feed will naturally drop. And that would be its death*.

Instagram Stories has the potential to be a pivot akin to the one Netflix did. But it all depends on whether users like it, of course.

*There is bonus scenario: If user adoption goes well, Instagram could eventually launch a second app and force people who started to enjoy the Stories feature into that one, similarly to how Facebook proceeded with spinning off Messenger. But that would preserve Instagram the way it is and thus only makes sense if Instagram’s internal numbers do NOT indicate, on average, a decreasing activity among long-term users.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #82

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Recently on meshedsociety.com

  • What 1 billion iPhones mean for the world
    The old structure and order of the world is being shaken up right now. Pinpointing the force that causes all this remains a challenge. But here is a suggestion: the Internet-enabled smartphone.

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What 1 billion iPhones mean for the world

Forest

 

You can read this article in German here.

Not being able to see the forest for the trees – this well-known saying applies quite well to the perception of today’s state of the world. Most observant people feel that some major shifts are happening. That the order and structure that they are used to are being shaken up. Not only a few would probably connect events, trends and developments that cause them to feel these shifts in some way or another to the rise of the Internet, at least partially.

But to pinpoint what really is going on appears to be much much harder. Simply referring to the Internet and digital technology as root for the events that dominate today’s news and shape current conflicts seems vague and somewhat like a cliché. It’ll only convince those who already are convinced of the Internet’s far-reaching impact on humanity. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #81

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Video of the week

  • Shenzhen, hardware, openness
    15 minutes worth watching about China’s Silicon Valley, Shenzhen. I once was almost there, when I took the Hong Kong Metro to the Chinese border. Due to open questions about my permission to enter without a Visa, I changed my mind at the very last second. In fact, it was already too late to just turn around. Instead I had to go through some administrative procedure with Chinese border guards to be allowed back into Hong Kong. That’s why Shenzhen is still on my list :)

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When you hear about everything bad 1.5 billion people do, almost instantly

Most people, especially those who pay attention to online media and social media, will have a hard time not to notice: It seems as if there is a constant and every-increasing stream of bad news involving violent acts coming from places close and far. Shootings, terror attacks, gang rapes and so on.

Lots of people are debating whether the subjective impression of more “large-scale” incidents is representing reality accurately or whether it is just the consequence of selective perception caused by Internet-fueled changes in the media and news landscape. Plenty of statistics are pointing towards decline of violence over the past decades. However, there is always a delay until statistics are available for the most current times, which is why a definite verdict about the period right now is difficult. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #80

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #79

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with thoughtful opinion pieces, interesting analyses and significant yet under-reported information bits from the digital and technology world. Published and annotated every Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Recently published on meshedsociety.com

  • Facebook, Snapchat and others must hate Pokémon Go
    The immediate large-scale success of the new AR/mixed reality smartphone game Pokémon Go is fascinating from many angles. One of the especially significant ones: the effects on the attention economy and what that kind of sudden redistribution of user time means for the large social media companies.

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