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

A road trip with a Tesla: Being part of the future

A few days ago I had the opportunity to drive a Tesla Model S from Zurich to Berlin. Of course I took it. I don’t own a car but I love road trips, especially on the German highway system, which in large parts has no speed limit (I still think this is one of the most crazy facts about otherwise safety-aware Germany). Of course I also was curious about the experience of driving an electrical car of the U.S. company that single-handedly is disrupting the car industry.

I decided to describe my experience in few paragraphs. Most Tesla trip reports and reviews are created by fans and therefore come with a certain emotional coloring. I’ll explain the reason for that later on. I however consider myself neutral. I take the position of an Average Joe who knows little about cars, who is not very passionate about them overall but who has done a couple of significant road trips over the past decade through Germany and across Europe. So I can make at least some comparisons.

During my studies I worked for a car rental company, mostly cleaning them, but occasionally I got to transfer vehicles from one station to another. I still remember vividly how I transferred a powerful Audi A8 from the German city of Hannover to Berlin and how simultaneously amazing and scary it felt to pelt along at 250 km/h. Mostly amazing.

However, slightly disappointed, I have to conclude the Model S is not yet suitable for those with a need for speed. Continue Reading

Uber, Lyft and tipping

I rarely use Uber, and even less often its biggest competitor Lyft, since the latter one is only active in the US. However, I attended the two most recent editions of the SXSW Festival in Austin, which gave me the opportunity to compare.

LyftFor the most, the experience is the same. What’s different is that during conversations with Lyft drivers, they end up telling you that they prefer driving for Lyft over Uber. I have yet to hear the opposite. One key reason for that: Lyft encourages riders to tip their drivers after a completed ride, and tipping is done right from within the app. Uber on the other hand has no tipping option and it specifically states that tipping is not necessary.

During my rides with Lyft I realized: Tipping is not only an appreciated option among the drivers, but even I felt much better knowing that I can reward my driver for good service and a nice attitude. Since I usually don’t carry cash, even if I would like to tip an Uber driver (who until now only is allowed to accept cash tips if the passenger insists), I could not. Continue Reading

Why not being on WhatsApp not being a big deal is a big deal

Here is a confession: I am not on WhatsApp. I have been using the service a while ago, when I tested to distribute blog posts through WhatsApp. Other than that I just never felt the pressure to use it: I use various other messaging services (Facebook Messenger, Threema, iMessage, Slack, Twitter Direct Messages, Swarm, occasionally email, rarely Snapchat but possibly more often in the future) and usually I am able to reach everyone that I want to reach conveniently in one way or another.

While not being a WhatsApp user might not sound like a big deal for Americans, as a European, this is not something you hear every day. WhatsApp nowadays counts more than 1 billion people as active users, and Europe had been one of the app’s first regions of rapid growth. In Germany, Europe’s most populous country, the number of WhatsApp users is said to be north of 35 million. You have to search really hard to find someone who does not have WhatsApp on their smartphone.
Continue Reading

Driving a car lost its magic

Here you can read this article in German.

I don’t own a car. A few days ago I went on a little road trip with a rental car, and it opened my eyes.

Two things were different than in the past: Firstly, there has been massive progress within the field of self-driving and intelligent cars over the past years and months. I have never been reading and learning as much about the advancements as during recent times, simply because the topic is ubiquitous nowadays.

My trip has taught me that the frequent occupation with the question of self-driving cars has actually shaped me a lot: I was looking much more critical on my own driving as well as on the driving of other road users. I was seeing the role of the human factor in driving through a totally different perspective: the risky passing maneuvers on roads with only one lane per direction. The aggressiveness of certain drivers. The driving mistakes which fortunately did not ended up ugly. All of a sudden it felt completely anachronistic to me to see how humans try to control these heavy, many dozens of horse powers-powered metal cages on wheels with such a confidence. A misplaced confidence of course. We all know how many accidents happen every day, leading to injured and casualties. Continue Reading

The supposed disadvantages of digital technology

Here are three recent events that, at first glance, are not connected to each other.

A couple of days ago, two Israeli soldiers accidentally drove into a Palestinian refugee camp, provoking clashes that left a Palestinian man dead. The soldiers had been using the Google-owned navigation app Waze which apparently sent them the wrong way.

Around the same time, news surfaced that for the first time, an autonomous Google car had caused an accident. In all previous incidents, other parties were those responsible for accidents.

Still ongoing is the dispute between Apple (and its supporting allies) and the US government about whether the FBI should be able to access a dead terrorist’s smartphone by forcing Apple to create a backdoor.

These three different events don’t have anything specifically to do with each other. However, they are representing a common theme: The supposed disadvantages of digital technology. Highlighting those is considered a popular discipline among mass media outlets, techno skeptics, intelligence agencies and certain political groups. Continue Reading

Why tablets are among the best gadgets ever made

For years, followers of the tech media have been seeing the same kind of headline over and over again: Tablet sales are shrinking. Last year, tablet shipments declined by 10.1 %. The fourth quarter of 2015 was the fifth quarter in a row to see a decrease year over year. While still millions of tablets are being sold, for the tech industry, the device category seems to be increasingly unattractive. Some even state that “Tablets are dead”. And because of that, counter-intuitively, the tablet belongs to the best affordable computing gadgets ever made. Not for the manufacturers and companies in the tablet business, of course. But for consumers as well as for the environment.

Apart from the rise of big-sized smartphones that cannibalize tablets, the long upgrade cycle of tablets is generally singled out as the main reason for the lack of growth in the tablet market. Simply put, if you buy a tablet, you won’t need to buy a new one for the next, say, 3 years. At least. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the upgrade cycle of a tablet is longer than an iPhone, probably between an iPhone and a PC. Smartphones are, on average, being replaced about every 2 years. But a tablet which was bought in 2013 still might seem totally acceptable to its owners even today.

It’s understandable from an industry perspective to find this characteristic unfortunate. But that should not matter from a consumer point of view. A gadget category which meets the demands of its owners well enough to eliminate the need for constant upgrades is a reason for celebration, not for grief. It’s good for the consumer, and it’s better for the environment, too.

The tablet is dead, long live the tablet. Literally.

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The benefit of a strong Europe

The theme of this site is “the present and future of the connected world – from an European point of view”. Unfortunately, the “European point of view” is broadly under attack these days, due to various internal and external crises which put heavy pressure on the continent. The currently discussed parting of the EU and the UK is the most symbolic in a chain of events which, at least for the moment, weaken the EU. Based on the polls, about half the British actually do support a breakup between their country and the EU. You can find plenty of EU skeptics in many other EU member states, too.

I do understand the underlying motivations that make people turn against the idea of a unified political Europe and I try my best to be empathic. However, I think people who believe that exiting or weakening the EU will make their life and their country better in the mid and long run are wrong. Continue Reading

The responsibilities of a curator

The Internet has led to an atomization of news. Instead of reading a specific newspaper each day and one or two magazines each week or month, an increasingly common behavior pattern among younger generations is a pick-and-choose approach. People read what they find interesting, no matter which source. The discovery of content happens mostly through social media. The publisher brands are moving into the background. Instead, friends and online contacts are representing the “seal of approval” for a specific piece of content. “If person X has recommended a text, video or podcast, I might want to check it out, because I like person X/know that person X has a similar taste, interests or worldview”.

I’ve just described the rise of the curator. In the digital context, curators are people who distribute content created by others. Nowadays most people with an interest in digital media are aware of the phenomenon. However, I argue that the majority of “regular” people, who act as curators on the big social networks and who do not follow the digital media industry’s discourse, are not aware of the implications of the curation trend. They are not aware that being a curator comes with duties and responsibilites. 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