Quartz’s new app has come half way in reinventing news

You probably have heard about Quartz’s new innovative iPhone app. Over the past days, the news about it was all over the Internet. It’s too early to conclude whether this app will turn out to be a hit among users. The texting-styled user experience is definitely innovative and fits very well to this year’s hype topic, conversational interfaces. However, in the end, the possibilities to interact with the news items are pretty limited, which can quickly lead to boredom.

But that does not need to remain like this. In fact, Quartz has come half way in changing the distribution and presentation of digital news for good. What’s missing? The text field in which readers can write their questions, comments and requests and through which they can access all the information and knowledge they desire about a specific piece of news. Such a field would require what’s usually labeled “artificial intelligence”, but the absence of that does not surprise. Creating a personal news bot that is capable of interacting with users around news and that understands their remarks and inquiries was, until recently, pretty close to rocket science. And it’s still hard.

Thanks the recent advancements in regards to deep learning and artificial intelligence as well as to initiatives that plan to open source the underlying algorithms, maybe very soon the creation of conversational smart bots which natively “understand” the information they serve will become much easier. But we are not there yet, which means that from Quartz’s perspective it made sense to start with something simple. Continue Reading

A suggestion for Twitter: stop looking for new users

The acceleration of Twitter’s growth and identity crisis has motivated many tech pundits, journalists and bloggers to present their take on what Twitter should do in order to find a way out of its dilemma. I have a little contribution myself. I promise it’s short and (hopefully) different to what you might have read elsewhere.

So what should Twitter do? It should stop to desperately look for ways to get new users onto the service. Instead it should turn Twitter into the best experience imaginable for its officially 320 million monthly active users!
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Netflix is the next phase of globalization

For Netflix, 2016 could not have started better. First, the video streaming company announced its availability in 130 additional countries, reaching a point of near-global presence. Then it revealed new user numbers, showing a record international growth (not including the 130 new markets), sending the stock price through the roof.

What’s even more interesting than the powerful kick-off is the company’s long-term vision which over the past 2 weeks was outlined in multiple interviews by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who currently is on a PR tour. Hastings stated in an interview that his goal is to be able to offer the same video catalog worldwide in 10 years from now. One way to get there, according to Hastings: Securing global rights to all newly licensed content. Another one: Massively investing in content specifically produced for Netflix. Last year, the service had launched 450 hours of original content. In 2016, the goal is to launch more than 600 hours of original content.

Hastings clearly wants to turn Netflix into the first global TV network, and he is well on his way. If he succeeds, this will have huge consequences not only for traditional TV stations, but for global media – and for globalization. Netflix’s plan could change much more than individual TV consumption. It could shrink the world yet a significant bit more. Continue Reading

Digital communication lacks a human side and Virtual Reality could change that

Over the past years, fighting hate speech has become one of the most pressing challenges of the digital world. The very nature of public one-to-many text communication eliminates some of the mental and emotional checkpoints that prevent people in face-to-face encounters from passionately insulting each other. The satirical website The Onion perfectly illustrated this fundamental issue in 2013 with an article titled “Seemingly Mentally Ill Internet Commenter Presumably Functions In Outside World”. There just is something in humans which enables them to express their darkest, most cruel thoughts about others when they do not have to observe the immediate emotional reaction of their “target”. Which is also why it has become a thing to have public figures or people who have been targeted with hate speech to read inflammatory, hateful online comments loud.

While it is important that politicians and online platforms are working on new solutions to prevent aggressive online users from crossing the line, the chances for big progress in today’s digital environment are not too good – at least as long as one does not promote the creation of a repressive surveillance state which heavily polices citizen’s each and every online remark.

Perhaps, online hate speech will remain an issue as long as digital communication physically and emotionally disconnects and separates the communication parties from each other. Does that mean there is no hope? There is: Virtual Reality. Continue Reading

AI-powered chatbots and the future of language learning

Chatbots are one of the next big things. Facebook’s experimental feature M, Slack’s Slackbot or bot-add ons for existing messengers like Whatsapp and Telegram such as Murdoch or WhatsBot show where we are heading: Into a world of conversational interfaces based on texting. Despite all fancy interaction tech available, texting has evolved as the world population’s most favourite way of interaction. Over the next years, more people will start to have text conversations with machines, so called bots. Conversations that thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning could feel pretty much like those with people from our “human” contact list. Even though sometimes still, what is presented to be a bot actually could be a human.

One area in which I hope that text-based conversational interfaces will flourish is language learning. The other day, I myself acted as a language learning bot, and the results were promising. Continue Reading

Ask what your country can do for you (and the world)

Over the span of a lifetime, most people have various changing employers/jobs. A couple of decades ago this thought would have upset many. Nowadays, it is considered the default in most developed regions and industries. But when it comes to countries of residence and nationalities, the majority of people follow the ideal of lifelong loyalty and dedication to one country and culture – usually the one they grew up in.

Many, if not most people, have internalized the idea of belonging into the country they are citizen of. Some are even developing quite an advanced level of patriotism and nationalism. Others do not go quite that far, but still are willing to put an effort into “their” country. John F. Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” stands emblematic for that mindset. Continue Reading