Spotify’s voice platform problems

In addition to the struggle of finding a path to profitability, Spotify, the pioneer of music streaming (and a company which I have been following since its closed beta launch in Sweden in 2007), has two new problems, one right now and the other in the mid to long term.

The near-term problem is Apple’s smart speaker HomePod which will go on sale in the US, UK and Australia this Friday, with additional markets to follow in the upcoming months.

HomePod will only play well with Apple’s own music streaming service, Apple Music. Other streaming apps can be used via AirPlay, but HomePod owners won’t be able to control playback through their voice.

In the US, Apple Music is already said to be gaining subscribers at a higher rate than Spotify. For every new owner of an HomePod, Spotify will be a worse choice than Apple Music. Existing Spotify subscribers in the US who decide to purchase an HomePod will have a big incentive to switch, and Apple makes it easy by offering a free trial for Apple Music. Continue Reading

Humans have handed over their minds to the AI

Who decides which information and knowledge people have access to?
Increasingly, algorithms.

  • People get information and news from feeds, search engines and recommendation systems which heavily rely on algorithmic personalization.
  • Publishers and media companies produce content based on expected and past performance within the algorithmic distribution system.
  • Journalists, opinion leaders and book authors produce and share information that has been gathered under the influence of algorithms.
  • All this happens within an environment of self-reinforcing feedback loops that particularly rewards sensationalism, outrage, hatred and other negative emotions. And many people are unable to stop exposing themselves to these negative emotions on a near-constant basis, as they cleverly trigger the brain’s primal, primitive urges.

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AirPods and competitors: The big impact of small wireless headphones

A German version of this text can be found here.

2018 is only a few days old, but my digital life has already significantly improved: A few weeks ago I finally purchased wireless earphones. Not Apple’s AirPods but a similar product, since I prefer real in-ear headphones. And wow, what a difference the cable-free lifestyle makes.

Ever since I got my first Walkman in the mid 90s, I, like many others, had to struggle with the cables that carried the sound to the ears. There was no alternative. Tangled cables were the norm. No day went by without at least one short moment of frustration caused by cables that somehow were in the way or that accidentally got stuck and subsequently violently pulled out of the ears. While this certainly is a first world problem, it’s one that was eagerly waiting for a solution. Now it is here. Continue Reading

Is Digital Capitalism Aligned With Public Interest? Probably not.

2017 has been (another) very eventful year. The consequences of the shift to digital are more apparent and far-reaching than ever. When reflecting on the trends that currently are reshaping the world, one can take many perspectives. What I consistently end up with when pondering current events, is the following question: In the digital age, is “traditional” capitalism still sufficiently aligned with the interests of the people? And my answers is: probably not. Read on why, and what Swiss cheese has to do with it.

The basic idea of capitalism is clever: acknowledging that the pursuit of self-interest is the best motivator for people to get stuff done, and then building a framework which ensures that the results of this pursuit are channeled into overall improvements for everybody. Genius. And this approach indeed has led to unprecedented wealth, growth and prosperity, over many decades, if not centuries (depending on where you look and when you start counting). Continue Reading

A culture of responsible behavior is possible and could save the web

Here you can read a German version of this text.

In order to prevent the web’s demise, the emergence of a culture of responsible behavior is required. Examples from the “analogue” world prove that under certain circumstances, such a culture is possible.

Why do people participate in elections, even though they know that abstaining wouldn’t have any measurable impact on the result? Some other force drives them to invest time and energy into casting their vote: A learned and internalized sense of responsibility which derives from the realization that many small actions taken together lead to a big impact.

A similar principle comes into effect when people separate and recycle trash. This is a very popular “sport” in my country of origin, Germany. Again, the individual effect of not separating is negligible. And unlike with voting, there isn’t even immediate direct feedback about the positive effects of recycling (or the negative of not recycling) available. So technically, until very recently (before a law that went into effect in 2015 actually made recycling mandatory), there was very little incentive to put the effort into separating the trash. Yet, in 2006, an astonishing 92 percent of Germans reported separating their trash. Continue Reading

Smart speakers are for music, but that’s not only good news for Apple

You can read a German version of this article here.

The majority of people in the U.S. who own a smart home speaker use the device for a limited number of trivial tasks. That is a result of a recent study conducted by the consulting firm Activate (original presentation, see chart #30). Listening to music, asking general questions or getting the weather, as well as using alarm and timer functionality are dominating use cases. More than three quarters of the respondents own a device belonging to the Amazon Echo product line. Eleven percent use a Google Home.

A few months ago, PwC published the results of a representative survey among owners of Amazon Echo in Germany. Even here, music consumption ranked as the most common use case, with 52 percent saying that they listen to music over the device. 30 percent expressed at least theoretical willingness to use a smart speaker to control other smart home devices. Continue Reading

Facebook bought tbh – but not the similar app with the same name that launched in 2013

Facebook has acquired a smartphone app named tbh (which stands for “To be honest“). It allows its currently 2.5 million users in the U.S., to give compliments to each other. According to TechCrunch, the app was launched in August by a Canadian startup called Midnight Labs, which according to its founder had built about 15 products since 2010. None of them really flourished. Until now.

The name “tbh” sounded familiar to me in an app context. I researched my old blog posts. Indeed, back in 2013, I had written an article (in German) mentioning an UK-based app called TBH. This service went nowhere. The app and website are not available anymore and any mentioning of it on the web dates back to 2013. The TBH website’s only available 2013 record on doesn’t produce a proper site anymore. But if you read the press release from TBH 2013, both apps’ philosophies sound very similar: Continue Reading

The Silicon Valley’s four crises

Here you can read this article in German.

The famous mantras “Move fast and break things” and “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission” aren’t sexy anymore. Nowadays they stand as symbols for the Silicon Valley’s multiple crises.

The Silicon Valley is going through its biggest crisis since the Dotcom crash. In fact, it’s engulfed in four different crises at once.

Loss of domestic political support

Some of the Silicon Valley’s biggest firms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are being used for systematic political manipulation. There is no doubt about that anymore. Only the extend remains unclear. Investigations are ongoing. Meanwhile, tech firms are facing harsh criticism for being both too generous with censorship and restrictions of speech, or too negligent with doing so. Additionally, more people are asking themselves to which extend the tech industry contributes to the increasing wealth inequality in the region. There perhaps is no other place in an economically developed country in which so many millionaires walk or drive by so many homeless people every day, than San Francisco. The consequence of all this: Both the political right as well as the political left are becoming skeptical of the Valley’s biggest players. Without political support or at least leeway, disruption will be a lot harder.

Polarizing cultural transformation

Since its emergence, the Silicon Valley’s technology industry has been dominated by males and has shown a lack of ethnic diversity. Criticism of this structural homogeneity and calls for change have become pretty loud lately. The stereotypical-male mono culture is being confronted with a new reality, in which sexual harassment, unequal treatment and decisions based on homogeneous life experiences and world views are being called out instead of swept under the carpet. This is necessary and important. As these debates easily become heated, emotional and ideological, and as a rapid cultural transformation seldom happens without severe internal tension (Google Memo anyone), the Valley’s focus is now on itself. Instead of disrupting markets, the Silicon Valley is forced to disrupt itself.

Global regulation

The European Union has been trying to limit the tech firm’s tax avoidance practices for a long time. Now the pressure is increasing. Signs of election meddling, monopolist tendencies and systematic rule breaking involving companies such as Google, Facebook and Uber, offer additional motives for regulators in Europe and elsewhere to tighten the screws on the Californian giants (as well as on their competitors from up North the Pacific coast, such as Amazon and Microsoft). The famous Valley mantras “Move fast and break things” and “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission” have lost their positive-rebellious tone. They now rather represent the arrogance and ignorance of the Silicon Valley ideology.

Anti-technology backlash

Every euphoria is succeeded by a period of disillusionment and disappointment. The technology sector has just entered such a period. Critical reports about the negative impact of gadget’s and digital networks’ ubiquity in daily lives aren’t longer being produced by and celebrated among technophobes, but rather by former internet evangelists and early adopters who have been trying out any new device, app and service imaginable, but who are now starting to discover the costs of the digital revolution for their own well-being and for humanity at large. This process is probably a healthy and normal one. First the pendulum swings to one side, then to the opposite one. Eventually, it reaches an equilibrium position. But the fading enthusiasm for a never-ending flood of digital consumer innovation will, at least in the short term, hurt Silicon Valley, as the Valley juggernauts have perfected the creation of this very digital consumer innovation and turned it into a vast and possibly historically unique source of profit.

It’s unclear where this all ends, but it’s clear that the Silicon Valley’s culture and companies are about to change dramatically.

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Facebook needs you to consume Stories, not news

Soon, Instagram will let users post Stories directly to their Facebook profile. This is huge. The launch of Stories has been a big success for Instagram. But Facebook’s own implementation of the functionality hasn’t seen widespread user adoption at all. With the latest move, Facebook makes clear that it is willing to do anything to make Facebook users consume Stories – even if the Stories “originally” have been uploaded to (Facebook-owned) Instagram.

By generating more Stories content on Facebook, the social network certainly hopes to create an additional opportunity to show ads. There is a natural limit on how many ads the company can show in the news feed before users get fed up. But, to speculate a bit, this is not the only reason for the introduction of a cross-posting feature from Instagram Stories to Facebook Stories: It might be simply that the Facebook management wants to get rid of the news feed altogether.

The news feed is the cause of many of Facebook’s current concerns and public conflicts in regards to fake news, (foreign) election meddling and the erosion of democracy and its institutions. Without the news feed, these issues would presumably become much less impactful. Even Stories can be utilized for malicious purposes, but Stories are created and consumed differently than the news feed, with a much bigger focus on people’s personal experiences, not world news. Re-purposing external content for viral distribution via Stories is, at least for the moment, harder, as is viral sharing. That could change in the future. But as a functionality in an early stage of its life cycle and with few to no expectations from Facebook users about their interaction with Stories, Facebook has the opportunity to leverage its learnings from the past to shape (and limit) Stories in a way so they’ll be less susceptible to systematic democracy hacking.

The news feed has become to Facebook what the Diesel now is for German car manufacturers: A big headache. The only reason why Facebook has to stick to it is because as long as the news feed is the heart of the Facebook experience, this is where people see ads, and so this is where Facebook needs people to spend as much time as possible. But there is no reason to believe that Facebook sees the existence of the news feed as essential to its future. In fact, in 2017 the news feed has become a weakness of Facebook, if not actually a threat to it. Aggressively pushing people to Stories is the best way for the company to put itself into a position where it can let go of the feed and all the issues associated with it.

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The Apple Watch with LTE + AirPods is the future

Here is a German version of this article.

In June 2015 I dubbed the emergence of smart assistants for the home the “next iPhone moment” (and the first since the launch of the actual iPhone). After Apple’s recent product announcements, another breakthrough of a new digital product appears to be imminent – or to be more precise, in this case it is a combination of two products: The Apple Watch LTE together with Apple’s wireless headphones, AirPods. I find it at least 80 percent likely that these two gadgets will massively grow in sales and completely redefine the mobile ecosystem over the next couple of years. Continue Reading