Libra is another WhatsApp moment for Facebook and regulators must not let it happen

In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, and two years later it acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Despite initial mockery for what many perceived to be outlandish amounts for startups with zero revenue, these deals turned out to be some of the most important strategic decisions Facebook ever made. The company prevented future competitors (as well as another tech giant from buying them), gained access to massive amounts of additional user data, and – maybe most importantly – it created fallback solutions in case the original Facebook would lose its appeal to people. The positive psychological effect of this cannot be underestimated, because it allowed for entire different forms of risk taking. Instagram and WhatsApp became Facebook’s psychological “safety net”.

WhatsApp and Instagram play a critical role in how the company Facebook got into today’s dominant position. Through at least one (but often two or even all) of these services, the company is entrenched in the daily life of billions of people. At times Facebook already appears too big to fail, considering that the vast number of cases of serious missteps and data scandals that the company has been involved in over the past years haven’t diminished the company’s societal role at all, nor significantly impacted its financial performance. Many people simply feel that they cannot leave Facebook (or WhatsApp, or Instagram).

Today even some market-friendly observers acknowledge that the competition authorities shouldn’t have given green light for the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. But at their time, the evaluation of whether an acquisition would threaten competition was made solely based on the financial numbers. And since WhatsApp and Instagram didn’t make any money, the regulators didn’t see any major problems.

Now everybody is wiser, and there is widespread understanding that in today’s digital economy, the perspective of antitrust has to change and to adjust to new circumstances and phenomenon.

Facebook’s announced launch of Libra, a “simple global currency and financial infrastructure that can empower billions of people”, is in an important way another WhatsApp moment: It is again Facebook making a move without precedent which doesn’t show any measurable signs of potential anti-competitiveness right now, but which risks massively increasing the company’s entrenchment in the future, making it invincible possibly for decades to come.

Libra is not an acquisition but a joint financial project with about two dozen other tech & payment firms, venture capitalists and some non-profits (presumably to make it look friendlier), so the tools regulators have at their disposal and the entities that could be involved are different ones. Also, I am not a regulation and antitrust expert. My argument therefore is not a legal one. It’s a reminder of how the regulators twice missed putting brakes on Facebook’s expansion when they should have done it, and how Libra likely can turn out to be another watershed moment for Facebook, with far reaching-consequences if not prevented.

My stance is straight forward: Facebook should not be allowed to run, lead or play a significant role in any kind of undertaking which involves the creation of an alternative currency which extends beyond one of its own services, or any other undertaking which will, in the long run, make it harder for consumers to choose alternatives to critical services provided by Facebook or its subsidiaries. And looking at the level of ambition of Libra as well as Facebook’s massive reach, nobody should believe that the goal would be anything else than total domination of the global payments market.

Facebook is already very powerful, featuring multiple layers of lock-in effects. Therefore, for this company, an extreme level of regulatory scrutiny is justified. Because there is such a thing as too big, too powerful. Particularly in the age of algorithms and surveillance capitalism. A lot is at stake. Too much to take this lightly or to let oneself be lured by the appeal of “crypto”.

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meshedsociety weekly #221

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • WeChat and the Surveillance State (bbc.com, 4 minutes)
    The Chinese surveillance state is already quite scary. Defending indivdiual freedom will clearly be one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, alongside fixing the climate crisis.
  • The New Wilderness (idlewords.com, 9 minutes)
    Same topic, and something which does happen in democratic countries as well: We are slowly losing “ambient privacy”, writes Maciej Cegłowski. He describes this form of privacy as the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. He also makes the following crucial point: “Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don’t have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society. “
  • The Solution to Free Speech is a Functional Marketplace of Varied Venues (nextbison.wordpress.com, 4 minutes)
    Important observation by Amy Bruckman who among other things is a moderator at Reddit: When there are multiple spaces with different social norms, we can have a marketplace of ideas, and people can choose the space where they are most comfortable. This is the case on Reddit, where – for example – different subreddits for science topics have different norms and rules (e.g. “no jokes” in one, but not in another). But that type of marketplace doesn’t work unless people have alternatives and make smart choice.
  • A restaurant owner who asked for 1-star Yelp reviews (thehustle.co, 9 minutes)
    I wasn’t aware of how controversial Yelp is among restaurant owners, and how questionable its sales practices are considered to be. One restaurant owner had the truly ingenious idea to fight back and to create awareness by asking customers to write 1-star reviews.
  • Does the news reflect what we die from? (ourworldindata.org, 8 minutes)
    No, they don’t. Entirely unsurprising, but the discrepancy is nicely visualized. Personally I don’t think this is fixable with the current evolutionary state of the human mind. Factoring in statistics into our thinking and emotional processing isn’t something that comes natural for most (for many, it doesn’t seem to function at all). Therefore, both the reporting as well as the demand for certain types of news are skewed.
  • Google’s 7 best acquisitions (om.co, 3 minutes)
    Not only Facebook hit the jackpot with its past acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. Google also made some important strategic deals that have helped the giant evolve and keeping it a dominant player in the ever-changing Internet ecosystem.
  • How Did WeWork’s Adam Neumann Build a $47B Company? (nymag.com, 30 minutes)
    The WeWork founder appears to be yet another megalomaniacal entrepreneur type. Although he doesn’t want to build a colony in space but instead to “elevate the world’s consciousness”.
  • How Dropbox is finally breaking free of the folder (fastcompany.com, 9 minutes)
    Reinventing oneself at this stage is not without risks. Let’s see how this’ll go.
  • Parts List for the Metaverse (highfidelity.com, 9 minutes)
    The Metaverse is the name for a collective AR/VR-powered shared virtual space. Philip Rosedale, founder of legendary virtual world Second Life, is now working on creating the metaverse. In this blog post, he describes the key parts that need to be in place to make the concept become reality: 3D audio, big crowds, reputation, interconnected spaces, infinite detail, live editing, programmable atoms, payments.
  • Estonia’s government AI will tell you when to see the doctor (sifted.eu, 5 minutes)
    Estonia doesn’t worry about the risks of AI and instead looks to embrace it wherever possible. It’s a boon and very useful to have pioneers like this. Other, more cautious countries should observe and try to adopt what works well (although there isn’t a guarantee of course that what works in one country and culture would produce similar outcomes elsewhere).
  • Training a single AI model can emit as much carbon as five cars in their lifetimes (technologyreview.com, 14 minutes)
    Much of the latest research in AI neglects efficiency, and that’s a problem.
  • Driverless Congestion (ethz.ch, 5 minutes)
    A simulation for the city of Zurich shows that driverless taxis would not displace personal transport in cities as long as automated private vehicles are also available, simply because people would find their own driverless vehicle extremely convenient to use, and might even increase their driving.
  • Finland leads list of Europe’s most digitally advanced nations (venturebeat.com, 2 minutes)
    According to the European Union’s (EU) annual report on digital societies, Finland, Sweden and The Netherlands are the 3 most digitally advanced countries in the EU.
  • The Discipline of Mastering Mental States (zenhabits.net, 5 minutes)
    For doing meaningful work, the appropriate mental state matters, which is why it is important to monitor mental states. However, an advanced skill is to be able to do what one needs to do, regardless of the mental state one is in. Either way, it requires mastery.
  • The Surprisingly Simple Method to Get Good at Anything (optimizemy.life, 6 minutes)
    Repetition. Maybe it is too obvious, but this piece does a good job of explaining why this applied to all the historical geniuses as well, from Isaac Asimov to Thomas Edison, from Mozart to Picasso.
  • They See It. They Like It. They Want It. They Rent It. (nytimes.com, 9 minutes)
    Many young (American) urbanites have resigned themselves to a life of non-ownership, abandoning the dream of their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before them, often out of financial necessity. But renting isn’t just a matter of necessity these days. It’s become almost posh.
  • IKEA creates easily packable furniture for urban nomads (newatlas.com, 2 minutes)
    Smart idea! If you, after all, want to own furniture (instead of renting it), it should be easy to move it to a different location.
  • Micropayments-for-news pioneer Blendle is pivoting from micropayments (niemanlab.org, 5 minutes)
    Time to face it: The business model of charging on a per article-basis doesn’t work well when targeting a broader, general interest audience. The mental costs for the user are too high.

Quotation of the week:

  • “Putting more and more mental models into your brain is like putting more and more windows into a house: more light comes in, and you see things better and better.
    Oussama Ammar in “Learn to learn” (salon.thefamily.co, 12 minutes)


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meshedsociety weekly #220

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • How close are we to a smart toilet? (versionone.vc, 3 minutes)
    I let the first paragraph speak for what this piece is about: “Imagine a future, maybe 20-25 years from now, when there’s a smart toilet in every home. Picture it: the smart toilet, a device that collects our fecal matter and provides information about our health via our microbiome.” Actually, doesn’t that sound like a no-brainer?
  • The Inevitable Same-ification of the Internet (matthewstrom.com, 4 minutes)
    Why do many leading websites and apps end up looking so similar to each other? It’s not a sign of a broken system, but an emergent phenomenon that arises from a few simple rules, writes Matthew Ström. He draws an analogy to birds: They don’t communicate directly with each other, but they still form a cohesive and ever-evolving flock.
  • When Grown-Ups Get Caught in Teens’ AirDrop Crossfire (theatlantic.com, 7 minutes)
    Almost surprising that sending memes and other images to friends (or strangers) via AirDrop only now is becoming a wider trend.
  • Augmented reality affects people’s behavior in the real world (news.stanford.edu, 4 minutes)
    Fascinating: If people see a virtual avatar sitting on a chair in front of them, they tend not to want to sit on this chair afterwards. The presence of AR content appears to linger after the goggles are taken off.
  • On YouTube’s Digital Playground, an Open Gate for Pedophiles (nytimes.com, 7 minutes)
    The tech giants’ recommendation engines are increasingly becoming the worst of what tech has to offer.
  • An oral history of USB, the port that changed everything (fastcompany.com, 22 minutes)
    Computer history. The early (idea) work on USB began in 1992. Then, in 1998, with the release of the iMac, Apple became the first to include USB as the only plug on its computers.
  • Swedish Startup to Bring Pogo Sticks to Cities as E-Scooter Alternative (sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com, 2 minutes)
    This actually appears to be a serious undertaking. Right now I cannot really imagine people moving through cities in large numbers on pogo sticks, but I’d love to be wrong.
  • Tech & the Trade Wars (om.co, 2 minutes)
    The supply chains in technology are incredibly enmeshed. With the escalating trade war between the US and China, significant, complicated and expensive transitions have to be expected.
  • How To Reduce Social Media (medium.com, 2 minutes)
    12 creative ways to reduce social media consumption. Among them (and possibly the least serious suggestion): “I choose to have a windows phone”.
  • Apple’s $1000 monitor stand is a massive and unnecessary PR fail (9to5mac.com, 4 minutes)
    Did Apple really not foresee why announcing a $1000 monitor stand for a $5000 monitor (instead of selling a $6000 monitor including the stand) would provoke negative and mocking reactions? It’s hard to believe. Either this is a serious case of lost contact with reality (not entirely to be ruled out for that company), or: Could this have been a deliberate provocation of outrage which only looks like a PR fail, but in reality is simply a way to make people pay attention to the company’s new high end display? Because this clearly worked. The Apple brand is strong enough that there won’t be any serious damage anyway.
  • The iPad turnaround (medium.com, 4 minutes)
    Meanwhile, the iPad is taken seriously again by Apple.
  • How does Apple privately find offline devices? (blog.cryptographyengineering.com, 7 minutes)
    I hope you excuse this issue’s large amount of Apple-related pieces. But this is really interesting: For the new “find my” feature, Apple turns its existing network of iPhones into a massive crowdsourced location tracking system. “Every active iPhone will continuously monitor for Bluetooth Low Energy beacon messages that might be coming from a lost device”. It does sound like having potential for a privacy nightmare, but the company claims that the system actually does provide strong privacy.
  • Problems with Tesla’s dashboard touch screens (fastcompany.com, 6 minutes)
    One of the issues pointed out here: Unlike with physical buttons, the Tesla’s touch screen makes no-look operation impossible—which raises the stakes for any non-ideal button positioning.
  • Uber eats Uber Eats, embedding it in the main app (techcrunch.com, 3 minutes)
    Just a speculation, but could Uber be tempted to try to become another “super app”? In North America and Europa, there so far isn’t one.
  • How Early-Stage VCs Decide Where to Invest (wired.com, 8 minutes)
    An informative excerpt from the new book “Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It”, by Andreessen Horowitz’ managing partner Scott Kupor. According to him, the fundamental question VCs are trying to answer is this: “Why back this founder against this problem set versus waiting to see who else may come along with a better organic understanding of the problem?”
  • Jevons paradox (en.wikipedia.org, 12 minutes)
    This is new for me and quite a useful concept/mental model for understanding certain trends: Jevons paradox occurs when technological progress or government policy increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the rate of consumption of that resource rises due to increasing demand.
  • The Collapsing Crime Rates of the ’90s Might Have Been Driven by Cellphones (theatlantic.com, 6 minutes)
    A new theory: The arrival of mobile phones made holding territory for gangs in the US less important, which reduced intergang conflict and lowered profits from drug sales.
  • The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan (wired.com, 16 minutes)
    The author did an epic walk, 620 miles alone across Japan, over six weeks. To be able to use digital networks for sharing without being used by them (and lose the meditative, contemplative experience), he came up with a couple of very creative solutions (thanks Moritz for pointing me to this one).

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meshedsociety weekly #219

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • I miss blind, dumb enthusiasm for new tech (thenextweb.com, 5 minutes)
    It’s been 10 years since Google unveiled Google Wave (the older ones among you might remember). Martin Bryant expresses how he misses those days when the tech (blogger/journalist) crowd got enthusiastic about the latest thing to try out, instead of immediately pondering how a new product or service might make the world worse (which often is today’s default mode). I sometimes miss those times too. But reality has caught up. Back then, we very stupid and too naive. This only could last so long. In 2019, for better or worse, everything is political. Particularly tech. And therefore, it is being treated accordingly. A lot has changed in tech and the world since 2009.
  • Google Can’t Figure Out What YouTube Is (onezero.medium.com, 7 minutes)
    YouTube is a different thing for different people, and it tries to cater to all of them, which means that maybe it cannot excel at anything.
  • How Phonies and self-promoters came to rule the world (theage.com.au, 22 minutes)
    Our obsession with money and susceptibility to charisma, over-confidence and surface gloss have propelled us into an age where sham, spin, trickery and twaddle have become the new norms, writes Shelley Gare. This part from her piece is really crushing: “Each day, just by absorbing the news headlines, or turning on our devices and opening our email or hopping onto Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, we find ourselves navigating a shifting landscape of spin, sham, fake news, false claims, phishing, pretense, exaggeration, obfuscation, contradiction, empty promises, extravagant PR and outright lies, scams and fraud. And that’s before we head into work.”
  • Fintech startup Transferwise has turned employees into millionaires (sifted.eu, 4 minutes)
    Talking about money… When you join a startup and accept the often less-than-stellar working conditions, then this is really what you would hope for: The London-based fintech Transferwise has minted 33 new millionaires, bringing the total number of employees or investors with six-figure holdings in the payments company to more than 150.
  • Crowds (thereformedbroker.com, 6 minutes)
    Once crowds discover a formerly unexploited opportunity and throw money and technology at it – whether on Mount Everest, in investing, in podcasting, music festivals or craft beers – the very opportunity (at least in its original meaning) is gone.
  • There Is Too Much Stuff (theatlantic.com, 6 minutes)
    When you type “hangers” into Amazon’s search box, the mega-retailer delivers “over 200,000” options.
  • Blockchains and the “Intelligent Machine” Economy (medium.com, 9 minutes)
    What blockchain technology actually is good for beyond utopian fantasies still remains an open question. Tory Green has one of the more compelling suggestions: The blockchain will act as the “glue” that holds the emerging “intelligent machine” economy – consisting of hundreds of billions of connected devices – together and will facilitate transactions in these decentralized networks.
  • A City Is Not a Computer (placesjournal.org, 18 minutes)
    Tech firms want to reinvent the city, and optimizing it following the ideology and principles that worked for the computer and the web. But is that desirable for the future of cities? Shannon Mattern doesn’ think so, and she outlines why she rejects the metaphor of cities as computers.
  • The potentially seedy side of the hotel bed jumping community (thespinoff.co.nz, 7 minutes)
    From the “weird things social media brought us” department.
  • What Airbnb’s New Fee Structure Means for Travelers (thepointsguy.com, 9 minutes)
    Airbnb is one of the few sites for accommodations that charges travelers guest fees, which are being added during the final booking step. In order to better compete with hotel chains and online travel agencies, that is about to change, with implications for hosts and guests alike.
  • The Serene Pleasure of Watching People Cook in the Chinese Countryside (eater.com, 4 minutes)
    Good stuff. I’m getting hungry. Here are some clips.
  • The end of mobile (ben-evans.com, 4 minutes)
    About 5 billion people own a mobile phone, of which 4 billion own a smartphone. It’s the end of the story of the rise of the mobile phone (and smartphone). Now, what’s next?
  • Google’s Chrome Becomes Web ‘Gatekeeper’ and Rivals Complain (bloomberg.com, 7 minutes)
    Talk about domination: Chrome is the clear leader in the browser market, so it controls how the standards are set. Most other major browsers are now built on the Chromium software code base that Google maintains. 
  • Shut down social media platforms, ex-Facebook adviser urges (cbc.ca, 3 minutes)
    Roger McNamee, Mark Zuckerberg’s former mentor and an early investor in Facebook, who lately turned into one of the company’s biggest critics, suggests that countries should shut down Facebook, at least temporarily, in order to protect citizens’ privacy online and curb the spread of disinformation.
  • The iPod of VR is here, and you should try it (fastcompany.com, 5 minutes)
    Apparently, the new VR headset Quest by Facebook-owned Oculus is pretty good (although here is a critical take on the pricing of the device and games). Too bad for me. Moving forward, I personally will not let another Facebook-owned product into my life. There is no trust left.
  • Mass Appropriation, Radical Remixing, and the Democratization of AI Art (artnome.com, 13 minutes)
    The upcoming democratization of artificial intelligence for artists and designers will drive a revolution in aesthetics and art, writes Jason Bailey.
  • An Interview With A Man Who Eats Leftover Food From Strangers’ Plates In Restaurants (theconcourse.deadspin.com, 11 minutes)
    This was probably my favorite read this week. Like so often, if you closely inspect a social norm, it starts to look pretty strange.
  • Why are we rich but hopeless (invertedpassion.com, 8 minutes)
    Astute observation by Paras Chopra: “As we collectively pursue progress, what we become angry about is the loss that we’re incapable of anticipating at the time of conceiving our progressive visions”.

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meshedsociety weekly #218

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • Smartphones Are Toys First, Tools Second (raptitude.com, 6 minutes)
    The possibilities for individual flourishing that were introduced with smartphones are almost endless. Yet, many people are desperately exploring strategies to reduce their smartphone use. Why this conflict? David Cain: The smartphone “might be the most compelling object ever created and not because of its value as a tool, but because of its value as a toy.
  • Hobbling Huawei: How America woke up to the threat from 5G (reuters.com, 17 minutes)
    Due to the transience of daily news, it’s easy to miss the significance of the geopolitical conflict surrounding Huawei. This looks like the beginning of a technology cold war between China and the US, and 5G is at the heart of it.
  • America’s newest stock exchange wants to fix one of capitalism’s fundamental challenges (vox.com, 9 minutes)
    Eric Ries, the author of one of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurship bibles, “The learn startup”, is creating a new stock exchange, called “Long-Term Stock Exchange”. It’s mission is in the name: Fighting the short-termism that characterizes the incumbents.
  • Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard on Mindful Consumption (bthechange.com, 16 minutes)
    Great read! I find the philosophy of mindful consumption more compelling and promising for achieving a collective reduction of emissions than the environmentalist dogma of sacrifice as a moral virtue. Mindful consumption is not that hard, actually. In the end, one just has to ask oneself two questions: Is the thing one is about to buy really needed? Or does it create actual happiness? Admittedly, prerequisite is awareness of the workings of one’s mind, which require its own effort. The author’s experience resembles mine, as well: “In recent years, as my mindfulness practice has deepened, I naturally began buying less stuff”.
  • All London Underground users will be track using Wi-Fi (wired.co.uk, 6 minutes)
    Researching how people move through utilizing the Wi-Fi sensors of their smartphones. Smart (and possibly not too intrusive, although it depends).
  • The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet (onezero.medium.com, 6 minutes)
    Yancey Strickler writes about the flocking towards online spaces where “depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments” (such as newsletters, podcasts, private chat groups), and the possible negative consequences for individual influence. Personally, I worry about a scenario in which the loudest, most extreme, most neurotic people are those left with the online megaphones (who then are being amplified by traditional media), whereas people who understand that constant arguing and engaging in outrage on social media is bad for their sanity and well-being, withdraw. My impression is that this trend is in full effect (and I am complicit because I withdrew, too).
  • The platform patrons (cjr.org, 19 minutes)
    Facebook and Google have committed more than half a billion dollars to various journalistic programs and media partnerships over the past three years. These mega-platforms are now two of the largest funders of journalism in the world.
  • Google’s Duplex Uses A.I. to Mimic Humans (Sometimes) (nytimes.com, 7 minutes)
    This is just so surreal: Google launched Duplex as a technology which, at this stage, is capable of calling restaurants and booking a table, while sounding like a human. But in 25 percent of the calls, an actual human is doing the live-talking. However, the person on other end doesn’t know whether she/he is speaking to a machine pretending to be a human, or to a human who sounds exactly like a machine acting like a human.
  • SoFar Sounds house concerts raises $25M, but bands get just $100 (techcrunch.com, 4 minutes)
    A London-based startup called SoFar lets musicians play in intimate venues, such as people’s living rooms or small shops. The company pays $100 per band for a 25 minute set according to the article, and keeps the rest – which can be significantly more, depending on the number of attendees.
  • Minecraft Earth Wants to Be the Next Pokémon Go—But Bigger (wired.com, 8 minutes)
    This could turn into something big: Microsoft plans to launch a global, augmented-reality version of its cult game Minecraft.
  • Automakers Are Rethinking the Timetable for Fully Autonomous Cars (designnews.com, 9 minutes)
    Was there really anyone who seriously believed that this technology would be ready to be deployed at a large-scale within a few years?! Technological challenges aside, I still see the ethical dimension as the biggest obstacle. There simply is much less acceptance for any fatality caused by a computer driver than caused by a human driver, for all kinds of reasons, rational and irrational ones. Which means that as long as self-driving cars won’t be absolutely perfect (if that is even possible), their break-through will be severely hampered. A workaround could be the introduction of a dedicated road system which is exclusively reserved for self-driving cars, and which basically comes with a new, opt-in ethical framework. Such a system could then slowly expand.
  • Habits always form (m.signalvnoise.com, 1 minutes)
    Short and wise: Most of the habits we have are habits we ended up with after years of unconscious behavior. So it’s good to be aware of that process, which is happening with every single thing we do.
  • Precrastination: The Dark Side of Getting Things Done (nickwignall.com, 9 minutes)
    Wow, I had never put a label on this mechanism, but I certainly know it too well, and most likely some of you do, too: “Pre-crastination is the compulsion to immediately work on new tasks, despite long-term costs and tradeoffs.”
  • What Happens When You Always Wear Headphones (theatlantic.com, 3 minutes)
    “Urban Millennials like me don’t inhabit a world that allows for much privacy. We’ve been squeezed into closely packed offices, closely packed subway cars, and closely packed apartments. Everyone else’s noises are constantly everywhere, so your head is the only personal space you can get.”
  • Toward a New Frontier in Human Intelligence: The Person-Centered Approach (blogs.scientificamerican.com, 10 minutes)
    With the adoption of new technologies, researchers have begun to view an individual’s intelligence at a more microscopic level, able to capture all sorts of fascinating variations – across days, within days, and even moment-to-moment. That might undermine the validity of the IQ score, which represents a one-time intellectual deviation from other people who all took the test at different times in a sterile testing environment. Related: “IQ rates are dropping in many developed countries“.
  • Facebook’s A.I. Whiz Now Faces the Task of Cleaning It Up. Sometimes That Brings Him to Tears. (nytimes.com, 14 minutes)
    Would you want to work at Facebook as the person in charge of building the automated tools to sort through and erase the millions of posts with toxic content?! I seriously thought to myself “poor guy” while reading.
  • This Software Giant Runs on One Man’s Gut (bloomberg.com, 6 minutes)
    Marc Benioff, chairman and co-chief executive officer of CRM giant Salesforce.com, apparently has a reputation as an “emotional buyer”. “Sometimes he’ll buy a company during a meeting that had nothing to do with acquisition talks”.

Podcast episode of the week:

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meshedsociety weekly #217

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • The Tyranny of Ideas (nadiaeghbal.com, 7 minutes)
    What if you see the world through a lens in which it is run by ideas, rather than people? Nadia Eghbal writes about this thought-provoking perspective, in which people are intermediaries, voice boxes for some persistent idea-virus that’s seized upon them and is speaking through their corporeal form.
  • I turned my interview task for Google into a startup (uxdesign.cc, 5 minutes)
    He didn’t get the job but made the best (or the better?) out of it.
  • Sorry, your hardware is all software now (staceyoniot.com, 5 minutes)
    Google decided to turn Nest smart home devices that were once capable of independent communication with other devices into a zombie controlled by Google Home. It highlights an ongoing challenge for the sector: Smart products behave more like software than hardware.
  • Unraveling The JPEG (parametric.press, 19 minutes)
    A deep dive into the compression magic of the JPEG file format. “As we unravel the layers of compression, we learn a bit about perception and vision, and about what details our eyes are most sensitive to.”
  • What is the opposite of guacamole? (aiweirdness.com, 2 minutes)
    The hilarious results of tasking an AI with showing the opposite of an object on an image.
  • Evidence that pop music is getting sadder and angrier (bbc.com, 7 minutes)
    An algorithm analyzed the lyrics of 6,150 Billboard Hot 100 singles from 1951 to 2016. It revealed that the expressions of anger and disgust roughly doubled over those 65 years, for instance, while fear increased by more than 50%.
  • Study Finds Most Ransomware Solutions Just Pay Out Crypto (coindesk.com, 4 minutes)
    Companies that offer solutions to other companies that fell victim of ransomware might pretend to be specialists in fixing the problem with software, but according to a new study, they sometimes simply pay the ransom.
  • Only 4% of people trust what influencers say online (thedrum.com, 3 minutes)
    Do “influencers” deserve their label if almost nobody trusts them? However, of course it is possible that people are still influenced even though they claim not to trust an “influencer”.
  • How Silicon Valley’s successes are fueled by an underclass of ‘ghost workers’ (theverge.com, 9 minutes)
    Interview with Mary L. Gray who wrote a book about the invisible labor that powers our technology platforms. According to Gray, the great paradox of AI is that the desire to eliminate human work generates new tasks for humans.
  • A Geocode Is Not an Address (wired.com, 5 minutes)
    Geocoding systems such as the one devised by a company called What3Words offer unique codes that correspond to geographic coordinates. They are supposedly helpful for regions with inadequate or non-existing address systems. But on a philosophical level, they cannot be a full substitute.
  • The Slippery Slope of In-Product Messaging (matthewstrom.com, 4 minutes)
    Lots of apps are utilizing in-app education such as a chatbot or guided tours for new users. But investment in in-product education can limit user experience, as convincingly outlined in this piece. Like in the physical world, it might be smarter to design a tool so it is intuitively understood, instead of having to actively inform people how to use it.
  • How to thrive in an unknowable future (sivers.org, 2 minutes)
    If you like me find value in stoicism and buddhist philosophy, then you might find these suggestions proposed by Derek Sivers in 2016 inspirational or simply recognize them as the way how you look at things. Otherwise, they possibly sound extreme.
  • Part Of The Conversation (lefsetz.com, 6 minutes)
    Music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz muses about people’s need to be part of a conversation (like him I have never watched Game of Thrones, which means not being part of the GoT conversation), the fragmentation in media consumption, and the huge potential for the company that creates the product that brings in everybody.
  • Even Astronauts Binge-Watch TV While in Space (theatlantic.com, 5 minutes)
    Astronaut Drew Feustel had watched all seven seasons of Game of Thrones while on the International Space Station.
  • When Did it Became Impossible to Say, ‘I Don’t Know’? (melmagazine.com, 7 minutes)
    I suspect that most people prefer to pretend having a clue instead of admitting that they don’t know because they intuitively understand that they, themselves, fall for this when others practice this. We are easily tricked by well-presented confidence and therefore we know that employing this approach often is effective. Just my theory.
  • How scooter startups Tier and Voi plan to conquer Germany (sifted.eu, 6 minutes)
    True to the stereotype, before letting e-scooters onto its cities’ streets, Germany had to create the appropriate rules and legal framework. Now, if nothing unexpected happens, the various protagonists finally are able to enter this potentially big market.
  • One year later, restaurants are still confused by Google Duplex (theverge.com, 7 minutes)
    For people working in restaurants in the US, receiving automated, but human-sounding calls from Google Duplex still is a weird confusing experience. However, it also represents a polite type of caller.
  • Against Advice (thepointmag.com, 6 minutes)
    When someone is found to have specialized knowledge that provokes public engagement and interest, you can bet she will be asked to offer suggestions as to how others might follow in her footsteps. And you can bet those suggestions will be useless.”

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meshedsociety weekly #216

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • Fortnite is free, but kids are getting bullied into spending money (polygon.com, 11 minutes)
    The thing kids playing Fortnite want to avoid at all costs: Playing with the default skin, which comes with a significant social stigma, gets them bullied as well as called “default” (which in that context is an insult).
  • These Robotic Objects Are Designed to Be Stabbed and Beaten to Help You Feel Better (spectrum.ieee.org, 8 minutes)
    Researcher Michal Luria and her colleagues created the concept of “cathartic objects”: robotic contraptions that you can beat, stab, smash, and swear at to help yourself feel better; devices that are specifically designed for letting humans vent negative emotions.
  • It’s Time to Break Up Facebook (nytimes.com, 25 minutes)
    In my eyes, it matters comparatively little that the author of this lengthy opinion piece is Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder who left the company in 2007. His opinion is as good (or bad) as the one of any other expert. What matters more is the argumentation and ideas put forward. He suggests, among other things, that Facebook should be forced to spin off Instagram and WhatsApp into independent companies. Such a step would definitely change the power dynamics in the social web and messaging space and make the whole sector competitive again. And it would put the original Facebook under quite some pressure, because suddenly, there won’t be a fallback anymore.
  • Rethinking digital service design could reduce their environmental impact (bristol.ac.uk, 3 minutes)
    Fascinating: If YouTube would avoid sending video to users who only want to listen to audio, the estimated reduction in CO2 emissions would correspondent to the annual carbon footprint of 30,000 UK homes.
  • Learning to sell the iPhone (sixcolors.com, 8 minutes)
    For a very long time, Apple didn’t need to make much of an attempt to actually sell iPhones. That has changed. Nowadays, employees at Apple retail stores are apparently actually expected to move the product.
  • On the Utility Fallacy (calnewport.com, 3 minutes)
    Useful concept: The utility fallacy is the tendency, when evaluating the impact of a technology, to confine your attention to comparing the technical features of the new technology to what it replaced. In reality, the more important story is almost always how the technology ends up mutating our socio-cultural dynamics.
  • The Information Diet (futurecrun.ch, 15 minutes)
    What if one would approach information consumption through a similar framework as one would use to accomplish a healthy diet? Compelling framing of a real problem: widespread over-consumption of junk information/news.
  • The Case for Modern Productivity Tools (medium.com, 3 minutes)
    An increasing number of startups are realizing the power of spreadsheets and the spreadsheet “metaphor” as an end-user development approach. The target group are users who don’t see themselves as programmers but want to create their own “IT solutions”.
  • On Social Machines for Algorithmic Regulation (PDF) (arxiv.org, 20 minutes)
    Easy-to-read research paper exploring how even without China-style official governmental planning, an algorithmically-shaped and -controlled society could emerge, and what the technological, ethical and political implications would be.
  • History of the Capital AI & Market Failures in the Attention Economy (kortina.nyc, 28 minutes)
    A thought-provoking analogy: In the same way as a well-intended and on paper useful AI can have ill-designed structures and incentives leading to undesirable feedback loops and outcomes, the same can apply to capitalism. And instead of giving up on all the benefits of these systems, its better to improve them and to re-align the incentives.
  • AI tech generates entire bodies of people who don’t exist (ctvnews.ca, 2 minutes)
    An AI developed in Japan can now generate high-resolution, photorealistic renderings of bodies, faces, clothing and hair of people who don’t exist. Online fashion stores might love that technology. Their human models probably not.
  • The Challenge of Abundance: Boredom, Meaning, and the Struggle of Mental Freedom (singularityhub.com, 7 minutes)
    In a world of abundance, which we never have been closer to than today, a massive challenge emerges: to come to grips with our own individuality and freedom.
  • Markets Are 10X Bigger Than Ever (blog.eladgil.com, 6 minutes)
    Valuations of tech companies as well as the size of financing rounds and IPOs keeps growing, and one simple explanation is that software markets and businesses today are several times bigger than they were 10-15 years ago.
  • Airbnb Spawned an Ecosystem of Startups (bloomberg.com, 5 minutes)
    Along with the rise of Airbnb, money has been pouring into digital travel startups that help keep the noise low and the sheets crisp.
  • Spotify’s leanback instant listening app Stations hits iOS (techcrunch.com, 3 minutes)
    For years, I have been wishing for Spotify to release a secondary, highly simplified single-purpose app. In Australia, Spotify is now testing a minimalist mobile app which gives direct access to various types of stations.
    I hope they’ll expand this concept. I’d have nothing against multiple Spotify-operated special-purpose apps. One for playlists, one for podcasts, one for audiobooks…
  • The hyper-specialist shops of Berlin (theguardian.com, 9 minutes)
    The German capital hosts the world’s first specialist ant shop, and that’s just one of the surprisingly large number of shops in Berlin that sell only one thing.

Video of the week

  • A Conversation with Mark Zuckerberg and Yuval Noah Harari (newsroom.fb.com)
    I found myself totally captivated by this 90 minute long exchange between author Yuval Noah Harari (who does not need any introduction to this audience, I’m sure) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It’s a truly amazing chat, and despite having been organized by Facebook itself, does not feel like a corporate publishing at all (except visually. On what planet did the spaceship land in which this was filmed?!) Harari’s takes and arguments are pretty inconvenient to Zuckerberg and Facebook. Kudos to the company for having done that. It’s great to see Zuckerberg patiently exposing himself to the type of critical view points put forward by Harari.

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meshedsociety weekly #215

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • Software, the Tough Tomato Principle, and the Great Weirdening of the World (florentcrivello.com, 12 minutes)
    Florent Crivello invents the “Tough Tomato Principle” as an iteration of Marshall McLuhan’s famous “The medium is the message”: We make tools so they accommodate the world; until the world remolds itself so it accommodates our tools. Currently our world is remolding itself to software.
  • Microsoft, currently the most valuable company, is having a Nadellaissance (bloomberg.com, 15 minutes)
    Microsoft survived an innovator’s dilemma as well as an identity crisis, thanks to its CEO Satya Nadella. How did he do it? One important thing was radically de-emphasizing the Windows brand and massively focusing on the cloud. According to the text, he also has “no swagger”.
  • Jack Dorsey Is Gwyneth Paltrow for Silicon Valley (nytimes.com, 6 minutes
    Besides his jobs as CEO of Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey has become a lifestyle guru with a loyal following.
  • What I learned moving from my smart home to an apartment (staceyoniot.com, 6 minutes)
    For those who are embracing the smart home, moving may become a bit more of a mentally complicated task
  • Google Is Eating Our Mail (tablix.org, 5 minutes)
    The problem with one email client being so dominant like Gmail: If it rejects emails (like in this case from a private email server) for illegitimate reasons, it undermines a lot of the technology’s traditional strengths and open philosophy.
  • How to Write Email with Military Precision (hbr.org, 4 minutes)
    Writing an email like described in this piece from 2016 might be efficient, but how would recipients feel about the robotic tone?
  • The Efficiency Delusion (onezero.medium.com, 9 minutes)
    On the technology industry’s obsession with removing friction and seeing everything as an efficiency problem, and the wider implications: “Some human or civic interactions thrive when they’re deliberate and erode when they’re sped up.
  • 22 Things I Learned as a Tech Entrepreneur (The Hard Way) (innospective.net, 14 minutes)
    Great collection of startup wisdom.
  • This Estonian Start-Up Has Become a Thorn in Uber’s Side (nytimes.com, 6 minutes)
    Might Bolt have the potential to become a serious European Uber rival?
  • Estonia’s e-revolution rolls on: Now it’s first in Europe with cross-border e-prescriptions (zdnet.com, 4 minutes)
    While we are at the topic of Estonia: The country has implemented Europe’s first cross-border digital prescription service for residents of Finland. Finns can now buy their medicine prescribed by doctors in Finland at pharmacies in Estonia.
  • The gig economy is quietly undermining a century of worker protections (qz.com, 6 minutes)
    Apart from the flexibility in regards to the schedule, it’s hard to argue against that gig workers’ overall have a more vulnerable position in comparison to employed workers. On the other hand, gig work is most likely better than being unemployed, which some of the gig workers would have been.
  • A Coming Crisis of Cognition (medium.com, 15 minutes)
    Jeff Jarvis ponders the implications of journalism being obsessed with stories and narratives to try to explain human motivation, while growing evidence from neuroscience shows that human behaviors aren’t necessarily driven by clear purposes, ends, or goals.
  • How Twitter Users Compare to the General Public (pewinternet.org, 9 minutes)
    The 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by U.S. users.
  • The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over (theatlantic.com, 8 minutes)
    According to Taylor Lorenz (probably the best journalist right now when it comes to stories about youth culture-related social media trends), a year ago an influencer could post a shot with manicured hands on a coffee cup and rake in the likes, while now people will unfollow.
  • Apple employs an in-house philosopher (qz.com, 3 minutes)
    … but he is not allowed to talk about it to the press. Of course not.
  • I Can’t Do Anything for Fun Anymore; Every Hobby Is an Attempt to Make Money (bennettnotes.com, 2 minutes)
    I have kind of the opposite “problem”sometimes: There is an urge in me to protect hobbies (= activities that deliver happiness) from becoming business opportunities (out of worry that this might kill the joy). Related: David Kadavy on why it is important to create for yourself first, not for success.
  • Gallup Global Emotions Report (bbc.com, 2 minutes)
    I find this report fascinating. It doesn’t look at overall happiness but at the presence of positive and negative emotions. The countries where most people report daily positive emotions are all in Latin America.

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meshedsociety weekly #214

Here is a new issue of meshedsociety weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world.


If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email.


Please note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • People Wearing AirPods Are Making Things Awkward for Everyone Else (buzzfeednews.com, 5 minutes)
    Presumably exactly as intended by Apple: A wearable its wearer never has to remove. With digital etiquette dilemmas as the consequence.
  • Who Goes Public When? Tech Companies Maneuver to Stand Out in the Horde (nytimes.com, 5 minutes)
    When dozens of startups and tech companies are looking to go public over the course of a few weeks or months, among them some giants, then timing is everything: “The biggest concern has been steering clear of the week that Uber goes public”.
  • “Land Lordz” Service Powers Airbnb Scams (krebsonsecurity.com, 3 minutes)
    How an Airbnb scam enabled by the software-as-a-service “Land Lordz” works. So even in 2019, substituting an “s” with a “z” is still a thing within the “online underground”.
  • The Good Algorithm (om.co, 2 minutes)
    Om Malik praising the algorithm which stitched the data from eight radio telescopes together into the already famous black hole photo. Which brings up the question what a photo actually is. Malik: “I wonder how and when the lessons from this achievement will impact the future of photography, computer vision, and augmented reality.”
  • First production chair designed with artificial intelligence unveiled (dezeen.com, 3 minutes)
    The software firm Autodesk has unveiled what it claims is “the first chair in production created by artificial intelligence in collaboration with human beings”. The question the AI was presented with: “Do you know how we can rest our bodies using the least amount of material?”
  • AI is not coming for you (blairreeves.me, 8 minutes)
    Worth keeping in mind that “‘artificial intelligence’ is mostly a constructed catch-all term. That’s why, there is no need to “regulate AI”, according to Blair Reeves. What’s needed according to him is that “our concept of ‘freedom’ must expand to include not only the liberty to do certain things, but also liberty from the effects of certain technologies at scale”. And obviously he’s not talking about AI-created chairs.
  • Why the world’s leading AI charity decided to take billions from investors (vox.com, 11 minutes)
    In 2015 Elon Musk and others created the OpenAI foundation. A few weeks ago the organization (which Musk meanwhile had left) announced the shift from nonprofit to a hybrid nonprofit and for-profit model – in order to be able to raise billions from investors to do AI research. In this interview OpenAI co-founders Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever talk with Kelsey Piper about the step, the organization’s goals and AGI (artificial general intelligence).
  • “Ethics” and Ethics (ia.net, 19 minutes)
    The more the damaging aspects of the tech giants’ business models and inventions are becoming evident, the more demand appears to be there for ethics. Although, as Oliver Reichenstein points out, the focus is more on “ethics” (with quotes) rather than ethics. Lots of “ethics” initiatives within the industry are little more than fig leafs. Reichenstein hopes that more philosophers would discuss the basis of moral decisions outside of their academic circles in order to help tech firms on becoming more ethical. And he also calls for tech employees to ask themselves: “Is what we’re doing making people free? Or is it imprisoning them? Is it connecting humans or is it providing us data to sell crap? Is what we are doing our moral duty or are we following orders?”
  • The Impossible Burger is going to change the world (blog.rongarret.info, 1 minutes)
    How awesome it would be if a meat-free burger single-handedly could change the world :) On the same topic: What makes the Impossible Burger look and taste like real beef.
  • Why cyclists are great customers at cafés (linkedin.com, 1 minute)
    Unlike the “laptop brigade”, cyclists are apparently hungry, thirsty, crowd round the tables and are leaving quickly.
  • Why Apple Settled With Qualcomm (daringfireball.net, 4 minutes)
    Apple solved its 5G dilemma by ending a years-long legal fight with semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company Qualcomm.
  • The life of Julian Assange, according to the Spaniards who watched over him (elpais.com, 8 minutes)
    How Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange lived during his seven years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London. One thing we learned: Lots of celebrities came to visit him, such as pop icon Lady Gaga, actor John Cusack, Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon and the designer Vivienne Westwood, who used to bring Assange food.
  • Investor Meeting Seating (alexcornell.com, 3 minutes)
    Hilarious and yet profound visual analysis of different seating situations during meetings between startup founders and investors. To varying degree, the provided insights might also be useful in other business/professional meetings.
  • The Worst Thing About Instagram Might Be Going Away (gizmodo.com, 1 minute)
    At least in theory, I find the idea to hide the like count which currently is being tested by Instagram compelling. Twitter is reportedly also “rethinking” the like button.
  • LinkedIn has a fake-profile problem (digiday.com, 5 minutes)
    LinkedIn might have a fake-profile problem, but otherwise, I do find it oddly pleasant and entertaining to spend some minutes there, skimming through the feed. Very little outrage, divisiveness and political tribalism.
  • Spotify, the Decline of Playlists and the Rise of Podcasts (musicindustryblog.wordpress.com, 4 minutes)
    When it comes to music streaming, it turns out that passive audiences can generate more streams, and thus rightsholder pay outs, than engaged aficionados.
  • Nature Isn’t Sacred and We Should Replace It (mavenroundtable.io, 8 minutes)
    For some, this text might be a bit hard to digest. A transhumanist presenting his perspective on the flaws of nature, the boundaries of biology and its inherent suffering as well as the illusions of environmentalism. While I generally have a bunch of doubts about the transhumanist ideology, I do think that there are some important, thought-proving points being made here. The article kept popping up at lot in my mind over the past days.
  • South Korea now recycles 95% of its food waste (weform.com, 3 minutes)
    That is impressive.

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Insights and learnings after 10 years as a curator

After soon about 10 years as freelance curator (first part time, now basically full time for various projects) with focus on written content, I am going to share some insights and learnings.

For those not familiar with the term “curation”: I would define it as the process of systematically selecting and recommending relevant information or creative work generated by others.

In this piece I am focusing on curation of text (news, analyses, essays, commentary, longform journalism, specialized information), but of course curation isn’t limited to one media form.

Synergies & marginal costs
“Synergies” might sound like boring corporate speak, but as a freelance curator, synergies are your biggest ally. As long as the topics that you have to keep an eye on for different curation projects don’t expand too much, an additional output product does only add a marginal amount of additional time required for monitoring. You are already reading most of the things anyway for your other project(s). If you, for example, spend 2-3 hours a day reading tech and startup news for one daily newsletter, producing another curated output product related to tech and startups (maybe about a specific niche within tech/startups) won’t require additional 2-3 hours of daily reading. In other words, producing only one output product comes with the highest costs in required production time/product. With each additional output product (within the same sphere of topics), the marginal costs of producing it decrease. Continue Reading