The year when social media died

Here you can read this article in German.

To me, 2016 was the year when social media as we knew it died. About ten years after the rise of the Web 2.0, the emergence of mass-market social networking (which started in my definition with Facebook, not with MySpace) and Facebook’s introduction of the news feed, 2016 marked for me the end of an era. During the last quarter, I dramatically reduced the time spent with the leading feed-based (and story-based) social media services. I stopped tweeting and paying attention to my Twitter timeline, only using the app for direct messaging and as a push channel for this blog. I don’t post a lot individual stuff anymore on Facebook, and when accessing facebook.com, a browser extension hides the news feed. I also spend only a tiny amount of time with Snapchat (where I wasn’t really active anyway) and Instagram. And I feel great, experiencing no fear of missing out (FOMO) at all.

These steps are the result of a plain and simple personal cost-benefit-analysis. For about ten years, I perceived social media to deliver large amounts of value to my life and society with comparatively little costs. That changed in 2016. I started to see one-to-many social networking rather as a burden than as a source of pleasure and useful interaction. After a few months of introspection I decided that it was time to close the chapter; to stop permanently consuming and filling social feeds and to abandon constantly thinking aloud in 140 characters.

Let me explain what the costs are that led me onto this path. Continue Reading

From someone in a country without Amazon, a few questions about Alexa

Switzerland and Sweden have a couple of things in common. First, the names seem to be similar enough in many languages so that mixing up both countries is a very common phenomenon. Second, there are certain commonalities in regards to people’s mentality, for example a tendency to avoid conflict (for me, as a German living in Sweden and working with Swiss companies, there has been and still is a lot to learn). Third, in neither of the two countries, Amazon is operating its online store. This is in so far remarkable as I know that many people in Amazon’s core markets cannot even imagine anymore how life would be without the e-commerce giant. The reality from a customer perspective: It’s a bit inconvenient.

For the Swiss, Amazon.ch forwards directly to Amazon.de, offers free standard shipping above a certain order value, and obviously there’s no language barrier navigating the site. However, if you order from Switzerland which is not part of the European Union, you might end up having to pay additional customs charges in order to be able to pickup your package. In Sweden and the other Nordic countries, people are also forced to order from Amazon sites in other European countries (or the U.S.). Local versions in Nordic languages don’t exist. In Sweden, amazon.se is only a parked domain. Continue Reading

Really too big to fail

This article can be read in German here.

Let’s have a look at the following list of common points of criticism, alleged weaknesses, (pr) scandals and public missteps that many of today’s leading internet and IT giants are well familiar with from the various parts of their life cycle.

  • “One trick pony” – a business and revenue model based on only one pillar, which eventually will collapse.
  • Costly “moonshots” – experimental projects completely unrelated to the current business model which won’t be contributing to the company result for a long time.
  • Overpriced, highly speculative acquisitions of companies that maybe one day might become a threat or revenue source.
  • Lack of profitability
  • Massive overvaluation.
  • Burning of investor money.
  • Unethical predatory competition.
  • Unfair exploitation of a leading market position / tendencies to become monopolies.
  • Violations of data protection and privacy needs of users/customers.
  • Lack of innovation regarding upcoming products.
  • Introduction of features and changes which, at least initially, are not welcomed by the users/customers and are not in their interests.
  • Blatant copying of functions or ideas from rivals.
  • Negative impact of certain functions or products on the general well-being and happiness of users.
  • Prevention of interoperability with other services and data portability through limitations of developer APIs.
  • Creation of “walled gardens”.
  • Changing user needs that will lead to people leaving a service in huge numbers.
  • Participation in governmental surveillance programs which undermine the trust of users/customers.
  • Editorial censorship based on questionable moral principles.
  • Data leaks and security issues.
  • Systematic violations of existing laws.
  • Interference with Presidential elections.

Continue Reading

The U.S. election & Facebook’s other problem

Facebook might just face its biggest crisis since the founding more than 12 years ago.

A lot of people think that the social network’s newsfeed impacted the US presidential election by fostering filter bubbles and by encouraging (and benefiting from) the politically motivated creation and distribution of fake news. The allegations have been surfacing more frequently over the past months. Ater the surprising victory of Donald Trump, the pressure on the company to fix flaws is mounting. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just published his thoughts on the issue, emphasizing the “extreme” unlikelihood that hoaxes changed the outcome of the election in one direction or the other. However, he promises improvements and further research into the matter nonetheless.

We’ll see what the company comes up with. But while many eyes are focusing on the factual issue of the newsfeed algorithm’s impact, the crisis includes a second dimension of trouble for the social networking giant, and it’s a significant one: The allegations pose a huge threat to Facebook’s internal unity and employer brand. Continue Reading

The distraction economy

Distraction

For many years, ever since the publication of Eli Pariser’s book that coined the term, there has been an ongoing debate about the digital “filter bubble”. With the increasing polarization of recent times and the rise of Donald Trump, the filter bubble once again is receiving major attention.

But it is probable that the discussion about the phenomenon of filter bubbles is just a distraction. And distractions are a much more significant problem. We humans have a tendency to constantly focus our attention on things that don’t really matter. Why? Because it allows us to pick the debates and fights that we understand, neglecting everything that appears to be too complicated to deal with. Continue Reading

13 facts about work in the age of automation

In the 21st century human labor and, as a consequence, the foundation of the society will be changing dramatically due to the rapid progress of information technology. The shift will likely be similarly wide-reaching as the industrialization. Unfortunately, debates about the opportunities, threats and necessary steps often turn into arguments about ideology and world views, instead of objectively acknowledging the facts and proposing constructive, unbiased actions.

But what are those objective facts by the way, that apply no matter one’s view of the world and of the economic system? I’ll try to collect a few of them which, from my point of view, should represent the basis for a consensus. Continue Reading

Turns out, the Internet is no big “world improvement machine”

Data Center

This year the World Wide Web celebrated its 25th anniversary. The Internet as underlying technological platform is about twice as old. Compared to a human life that’s a significant amount. But compared to the historic existence of humanity and to other groundbreaking inventions of the past, the Internet (and the web) are still green behind the ears.

In consequence, any prediction and analysis about the Internet’s short, mid and long term impact on life and people is flawed and inevitably incomplete. The insane complexity that is being added to the world through global connectivity requires a level of systems thinking which no one is capable of. Generally, it’s only in hindsight that a technology’s importance and implications can objectively be assessed. Today, we know very well how the printing press, electricity and the railway have changed the world. When it comes to the Internet, there cannot be any hindsight yet, since it is still so young. Basically, everyone is totally clueless.

However, with each year that passes, the number of data points and information bits about the Internet’s effects on society and humanity is growing. While no one has the full picture yet, this year something is getting more obvious than ever before: The Internet is increasingly being utilized for goals contrary to what its proponents initially hoped for, which would be a more open, more democratic, more prosperous, more knowledgeable, more equal world. Continue Reading

The deeper meaning of Spotify’s Discover Weekly

Discover Weekly

Streaming services have changed how people listen to music. But they have not changed the fundamentals of the music business: Labels sign artists, invest lots of money into turning them into sought-after superstars, and collect royalties from third parties who want to use or redistribute the music. Since most listeners would not be willing to commit to a digital music streaming service that lacks releases of the big label artists, Spotify & Co have to enter into expensive licensing agreements with the major labels. These licensing fees usually have to be paid per user and month, which makes it challenging for streaming services to ever achieve economies of scale. That explains why a service such as Spotify still isn’t profitable, despite 40 million paying subcribers: The more users it has, the more royalties have to be paid to the license owners, who then in turn pay the artists signed with them based on how popular their tunes are on the service. Here is Spotify’s own explanation of how it pays royalties.

For streaming services, the most desirable change in market dynamics would be if subscribers stopped seeing the availability of major label releases as a requirement for agreeing to pay the monthly subscription fee. So far, such an approach has not been successful for any serious contender in the streaming race. In fact, SoundCloud tried to grow without costly label deals and official licensing, focusing on independents instead, but didnt’ manage to turn this strategy into a working business model. The Berlin-based company is now adopting the conventional paid subscription model.

However, a seemingly trivial innovation introduced by Spotify last year, could lead to a paradigm shift in the streaming business: Continue Reading

Apple AirPods vs Google Glass

You can read a German version of this article here

AirPods vs Glass

I am currently in a mood between anticipation and disappointment about a new gadget: Apple’s upcoming new wireless headphones AirPods. I see a significant potential in the new headphone device that is said to hit the stores in the end of October, and I’d love to try integrating it into my digital life. However, the AirPods’ shape is nearly identical to the one of the default iPhone headphones “EarPods”, and those just do not stay in my ears longer than a few seconds. Any pair of dirt-cheap no-name headphones are fitting better for me. As long as Apple won’t release a second version with a different shape, I won’t shell out the €179 for a pair of AirPods.

That’s a shame of course, because as a concept, I see much more in those little gadgets than just a wireless version of standard in-ear headphones. This Slate article and this one on TechCrunch do a good job explaining the product and the big picture behind. In regards to the strategical meaning for Apple and the implications for the users and the digital landscape, I actually see some major similarities to Google’s (failed) Augmented Reality headset Glass. Let’s have a closer look at that comparison. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #86

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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Length indicator: 1 = short, 2 = medium, 3 = long

  • Yuval Noah Harari on big data, Google and the end of free will (3)
    A brilliant analysis of our age of “dataism”, put into an historical context, by the author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari.
  • Robots Can Restore Our Humanity (2)
    And here we have an optimistic take on how robots and automation will force our society to give up on the scalable efficiency model which is increasingly disfunctional anyway, and to find ways to evolve human work. One of many smart pharagraphs from the piece: “Go check out a children’s playground and show me a child that doesn’t have creativity and imagination. We all have that potential and a strong desire to express that potential. The challenge is that we have been processed by a series of institutions, starting with our school systems, that were designed to squeeze out these attributes in the name of scalable efficiency.”
  • Which Country Would Win in the Programming Olympics? (2)
    In part surprising and generally very insightful rankings about where the world’s best programmers come from. Switzerland is among the leading countries, whereas the U.S. and India didn’t make it into the top 20.
  • Other People’s Money: The Apple Story (1)
    A brief, knowledgeable commentary on the various aspects of the EU commission’s billion dollar tax decisions regarding Apple.
  • Nations Can Be Startups, Too (1)
    The metaphor of a nation as startup is useful because it can totally change one’s thinking of what’s possible.
  • No Filter: DJ Khaled and the FTC’s Snapchat Problem (2)
    With the rise of Snapchat’s and Instagram’s stories feature, ephemeral user-generated content is becoming widespread. That causes headache for regulators such as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC): One of its tasks is to ensure that advertisements and paid-for product endorsements are clearly marked as such. However, the investigation of violations is difficult if celebrities and influencers such as DJ Khaled get paid for saying things in a Snapchat or Instagram Story that vanishes 24 hours later.
  • How Uber’s Failure in Japan Can Help Startups Everywhere (3)
    A smart analysis of Uber’s failed attempt to apply the “U.S. playbook” everywhere in the world.
  • How Nextdoor reduced racist posts by 75% (2)
    Intelligent user design and dialogues can help to build a less hostile online environment, as the experiments of leading U.S. neighborhood network Nextdoor have proven.
  • Qwant: The encrypted search engine that really could challenge Google (2)
    Informative profile of Qwant, an ambitious search engine founded and based in France, highlighting among other things the challenges that competitors of Google are facing.
  • Alexa, give me the news: How outlets are tailoring their coverage for Amazon’s new platform (3)
    There is a chance that Amazon’s smart home speaker Echo and the corresponding software-based personal assistant Alexa will emerge as an important platform for news distribution. This report details the early trials and experimental approaches by media outlets.
  • How I Used & Abused My Tesla (3)
    The ultimate hype article, featuring a Tesla that has been used as an Uber car as well as the “world’s fastest hotel” on Airbnb. However, apart from the evangelism, the post also provides plenty of interesting insights.
  • Volvo is quietly becoming a tech superpower (2)
    While Tesla is the tech community’s favorite car, most incumbents from the automotive industry are scaling up their tech ambitions as well. Another frontrunner is Volvo, according to this piece.
  • Facebook recommended that this psychiatrist’s patients friend each other (2)
    The strange thing with Facebook is that it is uncomfortably “aware” in moments when users don’t appreciate it, but it fails to be intelligent when it actually would be useful: Like when I am adding a person who stands next to me by typing his/her name, and Facebook doesn’t seem to leverage our (approximate) location to make a quick suggestion.
  • The Difference Between “Remote” and “Remote-First” (2)
    My favorite way of working is remotely, so no one needs to convince me of the appeal of a “remote first” company culture.
  • Rethinking Retail: When Location Is a Liability (2)
    Giant retail chains are struggling in an environment in which their cost-intense portfolio of local stores and the attached old-school mindset is becoming a burden.
  • Indian ISPs Speed Up BitTorrent by ‘Peering’ with a Torrent Site (1)
    Fantastic example of how the torrent technology can be used for innovation.
  • Using the Blockchain to Fuel a P2P Solar Revolution (2)
    One of the sheer unlimited possible use cases of the Blockchain.
  • Victory for Net Neutrality in Europe (1)
    I am putting this link at the end of the list, despite its huge importance. But hopefully everyone has heard the good news already. Thanks to all the activists who relentlessly fought for this over so many years.

Recently on meshedsociety.com

  • The one big question about today’s groundbreaking emerging technologies
    Will Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality, autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, automation & robots, drones, Blockchains and 3D printing reach mass-market adoption all at once, or will a few of these emerging technologies go through more years or even decades of maturing? The answer will shape the next years and decades.

Video of the week

  • Flow of People
    A video showing how long time it takes for 200 people to cross a starting line, depending on their means of transportation. Not sure what to conclude, but obviously, cars take much more space, which causes delays.

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