The end of roaming surcharges is a milestone for the EU

Here is a German version of this text.

On March 26 1995, the Schengen Agreement about open borders within the then “European Economic Community” (predecessor of the European Union) went into effect. From that day on, people crossing borders between initially seven countries didn’t have to undergo the usual border checks. Today, people living in or visiting 26 European countries do not have to show their passport or ID when crossing the border to another participating country (with a few temporary exceptions). The treaty must be considered a milestone for the internal integration of Europe. This week’s finalized decision by the European Parliament to end EU roaming surcharges has a similarly significant dimension.

After many years of tenacious negotiations, various setbacks and fierce resistance by the telecommunications carriers, customers of mobile operators from EU countries who travel to another EU country will, timely for the summer holidays, be able to call, send texts and use the Internet without additional charges. The target date of June 15 2017 will therefore go into the history books of European integration as March 26 1995 did previously. Continue Reading

Zuckerberg’s globalization manifesto says: “it’s really, really… really complicated”

That’s the type of coincidence I like: Just a few days after I opened a blog post with the rhetorical question about what’s keeping Mark Zuckerberg up at night, the Facebook CEO published an extensive open letter titled “Building a global community”, offering a few hints (reading time according to Instapaper: 23 minutes).

In what certainly must be called a “manifesto”, Zuckerberg offers his view on why globalization is experiencing a backlash and outlines on which principles Facebook will attempt to help tackling these issues.

Significant self-criticism is (unsurprisingly) missing. The text lacks any sincere acknowledgements of possible direct causations between certain unfortunate global trends and the rise of Facebook – which grew from 0 to almost 2 billion active members within only a bit more than 10 years.

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Countering monopolistic tendencies in tech

The Federal Cartel Office of Germany is evaluating whether it should broaden the set of criteria that it applies to investigate and approve company acquisitions. Specifically, it could start to consider the transaction volume of a deal in order to assess the significance of a planned acquisition, according to the agency’s president Andreas Mundt (interview in German).

News about enhanced examination procedures have already made the rounds over the past weeks and, according to German startup magazine Gründerszene, caused a stir within the country’s startup scene. Not surprisingly, the prospects of even more rules are not popular among German entrepreneurs and investors, who are chronically faced with the infamous German bureaucracy and hostility towards entrepreneurship. Continue Reading

Patreon is about to achieve what Flattr didn’t manage to

A couple of years ago, the Swedish micro donation service Flattr caught the attention of bloggers in Germany and some other places in Europe. However, despite a sudden momentum, an honorable idea and an innovative execution, the startup never managed to reach the critical mass that would be necessary to make the concept of users supporting creatives with small donations work on a big scale. Flattr is still around, but unfortunately it lost its momentum.

Now it looks like another company, the San Francisco based startup Patreon, is more successful at establishing a global platform that connects creators with fans who are willing to chip in a few bucks. Patreon was founded in 2013 by the Indie Musician Jack Conte and his friend Sam Yam. The service allows individual producers of creative content to set up a profile and to gather so called “Patrons”. Patrons are fans/followers who are willing to pay a one-time or monthly amount to their preferred creator(s). Patreon takes a cut of 5 % as commission, the remaining amount is being paid out to creators. Continue Reading

Mini-posts: Snapchat vs Facebook, app unbundling, Stockholm’s tipping point

I’m trying out a new format with a post comprising of 2-3 mini-posts about trends and news from the tech world. A maximum of 10 sentences per post.

4 billion video views
Snapchat has announced 4 billion daily video views. Usually I would not pay any attention to such a vanity metric. But in this case, the number allows for an enlightening comparison: Just a couple of months ago, in April, Facebook reached the same milestone of 4 billion daily video views (sidenote: YouTube did so in the beginning of 2012). Facebook has almost 1 billion daily active users, compared to Snapchat’s nearly 100 million daily active users. The videos on Snapchat are extremely short, presumably much shorter than those on Facebook. That aside, an average Snapchat user views 10 times as many videos a day as a Facebook user. No surprise Snapchat is so hot.

Unbundling works – for Google and Facebook
Last year, many major Internet companies started to move certain features from their existing apps into newly launched, separate apps. “Unbundling” (or “app constellations“) was the latest trend, utilized by all the big names. A new comScore report shows for which companies this has worked the best: Facebook and Google (which in fact had been relying on this strategy for quite some time already). Among the top 10 most popular smartphone apps in the U.S. on iOS and Android combined, 3 are owned by Facebook (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram), and 5 by Google (YouTube, Search, Google Play, Google Maps, Gmail). Pandora Play and Yahoo Stocks are the only apps within the top 10 that are not owned by either company. Facebook’s initially controversial move to spin-off Messenger totally paid off. Meanwhile, unbundling did not work so well for other tech giants. Related news: Just this weekend, Google released Street View as yet another seperate app.

comScore

Stockholm’s tech tipping point
The VC fund SparkLabs recently published a ranking of the 10 hottest startup ecosystems in the world, and Stockholm ranked second after the Silicon Valley. While the accuracy of these kind of reports always can (and should) be questioned, the good result of the Swedish capital did not surprise me. In fact, it seems apparent to me that the city has reached its tipping point. From now on, past success and experience helps to build new, even bigger successes, with guaranteed international attention. Last Wednesday I attended a great conference, Stockholm Tech Fest. The amount of local bigshots among the speakers who shared their insights and experiences was astonishing. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, Skype-founder and seriel entrepreneur/VC Niklas Zennström, Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Delivery Hero CEO Niklas Östberg (Berlin-based but Swedish), Truecaller Co-founder Nami Zarringhalam were among the speakers. I am truly excited about what comes next.

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What the Ashley Madison hack means for the digital age

With a certain amount of fascination and astonishment I am following how the story of the hack of the extramarital dating site Ashley Madison is evolving. It was especially insightful to learn about all the types of questions, worries and concerns that members, scammers and distrustful spouses/partners have about the user data that had been dumped on the Internet following the hack. Many users of the site seem terrified of the thought of being exposed as cheaters. Sadly, even suicide cases by Ashley Madison customers are being reported. Meanwhile, criminals are trying to capitalize on the desperation of users through extortion.

First and foremost, the incident teaches yet another lesson about that in our digital era, sensitive data is not really safe. That itself is not news though. What I find more interesting to muse about is how technology forces us to examine our ways of living and the social contracts and norms that are the foundation of our modern societies. Continue Reading

I am now e-resident of Estonia

e-resident 1

A couple of months ago I wrote about Estonia’s innovative e-residency project. Shortly after I applied for an e-residency myself. This can be done online. After entering all necessary data, providing a passport scan and paying the application fee of 50 Euro, I only had to wait for the email notifying me that my smart e-resident ID card + card reader were ready for pickup at the Estonian embassy. This took a little bit longer than I expected, but a few days ago I received the email.

e-resident 2

So here I am, proudly calling myself e-resident of Estonia. Whenever I want to use Estonia’s e-services, like opening a business or running banking errands, I insert the ID card into a USB reader and authenticate myself through a dedicated software. At the moment I do not know whether I will have immediate use of the e-residency (as an actual resident of Sweden I already enjoy some quite advanced e-government services). But I felt that such an unconventional idea deserves full support, and I am pretty excited to see how this initiative will develop in the future. Other countries, take note!

A new rewards app from Sweden gets me excited

It does not happen often anymore that a new mobile app can get me excited. But now it did happen. The Swedish startup Wrapp has built what I think is the best offers/rewards shopping service I have seen so far.

Wrapp itself is not a totally new company. A couple of years ago the Stockholm-based startup released its first product, a social gifting app which subsequently was copied by the German company builder Rocket Internet. However, the concept never caught on with the masses. But instead of giving up, Wrapp took its remaining funds and built a new product. It recently has been released in closed beta, initially only for users in Sweden. I assume that more countries will follow, since the website is already available in English.

I signed up for the Beta a while ago and have now been testing the new Wrapp. And it is really cool. Continue Reading

Facebook Instant Articles will launch with European partners The Guardian, BBC, Spiegel, Bild

Usually I do not intend to publish breaking news on meshedsociety.com. But what to do when a certain kind of newsworthy information just finds its way to you? As someone who has been covering tech daily for many years, ignoring it would feel like a big sin.

Although admittedly, most facts about this particular news have already been circulating as rumors. An open secret, so to speak. So here is the deal:

Facebook officially unveils today (Wednesday) that it will host “native” content from well-known publishers inside its mobile app (update: link to the announcement). The feature will go live with a couple of launch partners in the U.S. (among others The New York Times, National Geographic and The Atlantic) starting from today.

For the German market, the launch will happen in a few weeks, starting with two major publishers: Der Spiegel and Bild. Other international media brand that are partnering with Facebook for the “Instant Articles” feature are The Guardian and BBC. Continue Reading

Nobody needs Apple’s streaming service except Apple itself

Streaming

If you want to listen to streaming music, there are plenty of services to choose from. Spotify, Deezer and Rdio are probably the most well-known ones, but even the big Internet giants such as Amazon and Google have their own offerings. And now there is Tidal as well.

Typical for this business is that these services are all more or less the same. Minor differences in regards to user interface, features, pricing and the size of the available music catalog exist. But overall, what users get from the various players is pretty similar: Millions of songs and albums on demand, accessible across various types of devices either for free with certain limitations (and annoying ads) or at a price point of around 10 USD/Euro per month.

Traditionally, every new streaming service that launches does add very little value. But at least it can be considered a good thing from a competition point of view, since customers usually win if the number of companies that are courting them increases. However, the situation with Apple’s upcoming revamp of Beats Music, which the company acquired last year and which is designed to become the strategical successor of iTunes, is different.

Apple’s upcoming streaming service looks to be toxic to the ecosystem of digital music consumption. Nobody needs it. Ok, that’s the same as with any new streaming service. But the big issue is that Apple actively tries to sabotage other streaming services by trying to convince labels and artists to end support for free tiers and to get exclusive deals that no other service would benefit from. As media reports have indicated, antitrust officials in the U.S. and Europe are now looking closer at the company’s practices.

Apple behaves in an unacceptable way. Because iTunes music sales are decreasing, the company feels it needs to take over the streaming segment. But since it is late to the party, differentiation is so tricky and Apple’s track record with providing a user friendly iTunes software is not a great one, the chosen strategy appears to be to use the existing relations with the music industry heavy hitters to force the competition to weaken their products. Because only then Apple’s upcoming streaming service can shine.

But with its aggressive lobbying, Apple could have harmed its own position. Unsurprisingly, Spotify has decided to fight back. According to The Verge, the Swedish company has criticized Apple’s App store revenue share. Like other providers of digital goods, Spotify has to hand over a 30 percent cut of subscription revenue it generates through the iOS app to Apple. That obviously creates an unfair competitive advantage for Apple’s planned streaming service. For each 10 Euro charged to users of Spotify and Apple’s streaming service, only 7 Euro would end up at Spotify, but the full amount would go to Apple. One does not need to be an expert in antitrust law to see the issue.

Apple might frame its stance against the free tier as a support of the artists and music industry as a whole. But considering how iTunes actually destroyed the music industry, one should not rely too much on Apple’s expressed sympathies for the musicians. Apple does not care about what is good for music. It is my personal opinion but I see Spotify’s Daniel Ek as more authentic when it comes to the intention to support musicians. He started Spotify to end piracy, which might actually have worked (nowadays, who still downloads MP3 illegally?). What has Apple actually done for music, except promoting U2? I am not referring here to the consumer – the iPod and iTunes were certainly big deals from a consumer point of view when they arrived. But the iPod also thrived because of piracy. Apple simply created a great gadget to listen to all the music that people had downloaded through filesharing platforms.

If Apple wants to put its weight behind a music streaming service, so be it. But it should not act plain evil and hostile towards the competitor’s customers. A company with cash reserves of $178 billion can afford to not behave like a bully.

(Photo: Flickr/Per-Olof Forsberg, CC BY 2.0)