Sunday Seven: teams, timing and terror

An abbreviated list of the most interesting articles of the week:

What’s Next in Computing? – by Chris Dixon, via Medium

Venture capitalist Chris Dixon gives us a concise overview of technology product evolution over the past few decades, and a glimpse of what is just down the road…

“If the 10–15 year pattern repeats itself, the next computing era should enter its growth phase in the next few years. In that scenario, we should already be in the gestation phase. There are a number of important trends in both hardware and software that give us a glimpse into what the next era of computing might be.”

Gestation phase advances in both hardware and software will soon make car technology, drones, the Internet of Things, wearables, virtual and augmented reality a part of our daily life, each giving rise to further innovation.

“I tend to think we are on the cusp of not one but multiple new eras. The “peace dividend of the smartphone war” created a Cambrian explosion of new devices, and developments in software, especially AI, will make those devices smart and useful. Many of the futuristic technologies discussed above exist today, and will be broadly accessible in the near future.”

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Take a look at the finalists for this year’s Smithsonian Annual Photo Contest:… Amazing…

by Wan Shun Luk for The Smithsonian

by Wan Shun Luk for The Smithsonian

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What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – by Charles Duhigg, for The New York Times

This article is not as much about Google as the title would have you believe. It’s actually a fascinating psychological profile of team dynamics, which highlights the complex layers of interaction and personality. I promise you, it’ll make you re-think how you work.

“We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

And who you work with. While there seems to be no “formula” for successful teams, the research stresses that psychological safety is an essential factor. Look around you, and back at your work history, and you’ll be amazed at how often this is overlooked.

“Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.”

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The Deactivation of the American Worker – by Carter Maness, for The Awl

I do seem to be focussing on the workforce this week… Here Carter Maness takes on the role of social media and work tools in our relationship with work. Especially in the termination of that relationship. New platforms – Slack, Zenefits, any of the “market economy” apps – make it easier than ever for employers to sever agreements, and for employees to move somewhere else.

““Is my Slack down or am I fired?” is a good joke in a Freudian sense because it reveals a deeper truth about how tenuous jobs have become… As the open office, with its cacophonous lack of privacy and false promise of improved collaboration, is replaced by a virtual one running on labor and benefits platforms like Slack and Zenefits (lol), the American employee is increasingly no longer an employee at all, but someone granted the privilege to work by a network administrator, an opportunity just as easily revoked.”

Platforms are streamlining a firm’s relationship with an employee. Or, an employee’s relationship with his or her firm. Employees are easier to hire, and certainly to fire, which pushes them closer to commodities in terms of flexibility. Replace, re-assign, remove – it’s almost as if employees themselves are becoming apps, to be slotted in where applicable.

“Job security will be left to decay in the supply closets of skyscrapers. The future office space is within a chat application; future departments are virtual rooms where work is transparently archived for future versions of you. This means job roles take on a more concrete meaning while the person doing the job is less important than ever.”

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I dared two expert hackers to destroy my life. Here’s what happened. – by Kevin Roose, for Fusion

This is very frightening. Deep respect to the author for putting himself through this. Read it, and tighten up your passwords.

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Google Unveils Neural Network with “Superhuman” Ability to Determine the Location of Almost Any Image – from MIT Technology Review

geoguessr

Have you ever played Geoguessr? Huge amounts of fun, and an ideal way to armchair travel. I’ve seen quite a bit of the world, and I’m terrible at it, but I love the guessing and the imagining. So with interest I clicked on the above headline…

…and read about how PlaNet, the neural network developed by a Google team, can predict with “superhuman accuracy” the location of any image. It gets the location correct to city-level accuracy 10% of the time, and to country-level accuracy 28% of the time.

“In total, PlaNet won 28 of the 50 rounds with a median localization error of 1131.7 km, while the median human localization error was 2320.75 km.”

Wait a minute… So the PlaNet won just over half the games? With a standard margin of error, that’s almost a draw. And it gets 70% of country locations wrong? Apparently it gets the continent right 48% of the time… That’s the same as saying that it gets it wrong more often than it gets it right. And they call that superhuman? Really? I’m confused.

Ok, I get it, it’s a start. And with each iteration, the machines will get smarter. The neural net’s search function is pretty impressive. We don’t know what it can be used for yet (other than to play Geoguessr), but that’s not important. We had no idea what computers would be used for when they hit the shelves.

But I take issue with the misleading headline. And the fact that no author was cited for the article is suspicious. Marketing is important, but overstating and partial reporting in a scientific technology publication doesn’t help anyone.

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LinkedIn and the Golden Age of American Eduction – by Ryan Craig, for TechCrunch

Yet another article touting the advantages of online education. It’s accessible to anyone, real time. It enables a more in-depth focus on result. It’s quantifiable.

“It is a fair bet that employers will be enthusiastic at the prospect of data-driven-based hiring, rather than relying on opaque degrees in order to qualify candidates.”

I am a self-confessed (and happy) MOOC addict. Yet I strongly disagree that online education solves hiring difficulties.Treating us as widgets with numbers attached to our profile does not solve the problem, or the necessity, of pulling together a team that works well, that can get things done and can solve problems. Scores don’t help with that. As we say from the article on Google teams above, the psychological profile of candidates is very, very important. For most jobs, anyway. If all we need to do is perform a function, then a score should be good enough to indicate whether or not we can fulfil the requirement. But if we are expected to be part of a team, to react and to create, then much more than a score is in play. Employers know this, which is why I doubt very much that they will eagerly embrace data-based hiring. I don’t think they ever relied on opaque degrees, either.

“Employees will celebrate, as well. For the first time, they will have a GPS for their own human capital development. Students will be able to ascertain which educational programs are likely to pay off. Those that don’t, will fail.”

Just because you’ve taken an online course, doesn’t mean that you know the stuff. Online exams are SO much easier than classroom, no-textbooks-or-calculators-allowed ones.

And while online courses are making huge advances in the class interaction component, it is still sorely lacking compared to the physical equivalent. No-one can argue that your classmates aren’t an important part of the learning experience.

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Two things I enjoyed this week:

· A crazy but beautiful video of a crazy man creating beautiful patterns in the snow. Why? No idea. But it’s amazing.

· The Geoguessr game I mentioned above. It’s an ideal time waster, because you come back to the now with the feeling that you’ve travelled the world.

geoguessr2

Virtual reality and the news

Imagine this: you get a buzz on your phone that alerts you to the “breaking news” of a fire in a downtown warehouse. You drop what you are doing, grab your headset, plug it into your phone, and a couple of taps later you are standing outside the safety cordon, looking around at the spraying water and the stunned spectators. An ambulance screeches to a halt to your left. You turn to watch the medics jump out and set up the stretcher. A policeman emerges to your right and urges you to move away. You turn your head just in time to see part of the building collapse.

You’ve no doubt seen the scuba-diving-like goggles covering people’s rapt faces in images from Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress this week. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to try some of these VR headsets yourself. Whether you’ve taken them for a spin or not, it isn’t hard to appreciate the awesome potential of visual experience that you actively participate in. We are so used to sitting and watching a flat screen that our neural wires have configured themselves to assume that that is “viewing”. External visual stimulation is in two dimensions. Even the awkward 3d movies that require special glasses… well, however clever, it’s still based on a flat screen in front of you.

virtual reality journalism

image via Wired

But a visual experience that you actually form part of? That you can influence? In which you can affect what you see? That level of interaction is already commonplace in gaming, but with virtual reality it takes on a whole new dimension (literally and figuratively). Being able to affect the experience just by turning your head is a totally different sense of empowerment. Imagine a virtual reality movie (or maybe you’re one of the lucky few who’s already seen one) – your line of sight becomes part of the plot, and since you control that, you yourself play a part in the experience.

What does all this have to do with the news? With media outlets constantly searching for ways to engage their audience, and with the tech constantly seeking out new use cases, it was inevitable that the two would meet. And in the process, raise more fundamental questions than either party expected. More on this later.

The development is still new, the projects are still limited in number and reach, and the technology is far from perfect. But stuff is happening in the sector, and some interesting projects are attracting attention. Back in late 2014, digital artist and filmmaker Chris Milk (I’ve written about his amazing work often before) set up Vrse, a production company for VR documentaries. Among its early projects were a film about the Millions March in New York, produced with Vice, and an emotional piece on the plight of children in refugee camps, produced with the United Nations. Waves of Grace, another collaboration with Vice, documented life in an Ebola camp.

virtual reality journalism

image from Clouds Over Sidra

Production company RYOT has a history of VR documentaries, and has partnered with organizations such as The Huffington Post and Associated Press. AP just last week announced a new partnership with chip maker AMD to launch a VR news channel.

At the end of last year The New York Times gave away Google’s cardboard VR viewer to its readers, so that they could enjoy the documentary “The Displaced”, about children in refugee camps, on its new VR app. Since then the company has released several more VR documentaries, including one on the US presidential campaign and the vigils after the Paris attacks.

virtual reality journalism

Fusion, the digital news outlet funded by Univision and Disney, announced in August of last year the creation of a virtual reality unit. ABC, the news division of Disney, recently demonstrated virtual reality reporting on its show Good Morning America.

These are not isolated examples. The list of news organizations experimenting with this format is growing almost weekly, and the storytelling potential is being harnessed by other institutions with stories to tell, such as NGOs.

Why? Because the emotional impact is significant, and all journalists and story tellers want to connect emotionally with their audience. By “placing them at the centre of the action”, they can draw the audience in, convey more than words can, and create a lasting memory. They can stimulate the imagination, and most importantly, generate empathy. This empathy can transform initiatives, and motivate people to learn more, to think, even to help. The power of the immersion has producers and journalists excited over the possibilities and the potential impact. Note the shift from storytelling to story experiences.

And yet, the empathy quotient – while most likely higher than for flat-screen viewing – is still limited. Visually, the experience is very cool. But the technology is not yet perfect, what you see does not look real. Almost, but in most films you can see the joining lines, and unless your headset is very good, there is some distortion. And your experience is limited to vision, which not the only sense used in experiential empathy. The technology does not yet take into account important details such as smell, sound, temperature, wind, dust, moisture… Full immersion it is not.

Note that none of VR news examples seen so far are breaking news stories. They are documentaries. While definitely an important part of journalism, can documentaries be considered news? Or are they more in the category of education? It’s just a short step from documentary-style virtual reality reporting to VR in the classroom. Getting the next generation to empathise with world crises (refugee migration, climate change) and historical situations (social development, military strategy) will have a significant impact on the comprehension of cause and effect, while stimulating even more creativity in communication. The boundaries between journalism and education begin to blur.

It could be argued that the technology limits the potential application for VR news reporting. The need for special equipment to enjoy the experience is a barrier. Google’s Cardboard viewer is cheap and very cool but flimsy and a bit clunky. Higher-quality headsets are expensive, and not yet widely available. But prices are coming down and more variety is entering the market. And the films generally can be viewed on a flat screen, using the mouse or your finger to turn around.

virtual reality journalism

image from Waves of Grace

And at the moment each VR film takes up considerable time and expense. Breaking news coverage would require a logistical and editorial scramble. That will probably change, though, as the technology gets more accessible, and more creatives come up with fresh ways to use it. Giroptic sells its tiny 360º camera – with native YouTube support – for under $500. At the Mobile World Congress this week both Samsung and LG launched 360º cameras, which will make it easier than ever for anyone to film and upload virtual reality footage.

Citizen journalism itself raises many issues. Combine that with the as-yet-untested impact of immersion reporting, and the subject gets complicated. Which brings us to the deeper questions that we referred to earlier.

Here we go:

To what extent can we let the news become entertainment? Seeing a disaster unfold before our very eyes is compelling, but to a generation that grew up with video games of intense but lifelike situations, the divorce between reality and immersive screen can get fuzzy.

Are we fooling ourselves that empathy can come from a video? Being able to control your line of sight is cool, but does it really make you feel like you are there? How much can you feel part of a war-torn slum when you’re in your sanitized, comfortable and clean living room? How much can you experience the chill of the mountain when you’re slumped on your sofa in a T-shirt? Are the characters in the film actually part of your life? Is a memory from a VR experience the same as a memory from a real life encounter? And to what extent can we smugly believe that we understand when we can turn off the VR at any time?

Does the growth of VR make us even more vulnerable to media manipulation, this time on a deeper, more sensory level? Given the (relative) intensity of the experience, do we not need to be even more careful about the messages that get through? If so, who decides what gets through and what doesn’t? Is it ok to include commercial advertisements in such a deep, visceral experience? Where is the line between neutral and biased reporting? When does a message become propaganda? And although in VR you have the impression that you are controlling what you see, in reality your set of potential experiences is chosen and limited by the storyteller, by the director and the production team. To what extent are we living their experience, along with their interpretation and biases?

Will this become mainstream? VR is still a very niche experience, accessible to those with a headset (expensive) or a Cardboard viewer (cool, cheap and clunky). But this will change, as the New York Time’s viewer giveaway introduced hundreds of thousands to the concept for the first time, and Samsung gives away VR headsets with pre-orders of its new S7 phone. As prices come down and the technology improves, VR headsets will become more accessible, but will they become ubiquitous? The cool factor is huge. But is it enough to overcome expense, logistics and discomfort?

These questions are important, and we can’t let the excitement over the technology whisk us along without a thought for the possible consequences. But nor can we let fear of the consequences stop the development. Virtual reality’s potential is breath-taking, in so many fields, including those we haven’t even thought of yet. The aesthetics, the reach and the connection with our innate curiosity can transform experiences for all ages and professions.

As usual, philosophy, ethics and legislation are way behind reality. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t marvel at the technology’s accomplishments, ­­­test the limits of its reach and enjoy the creativity behind the material. And above all, find new ways to tell stories, because there are so many stories to tell.

Sunday Seven: bubbles, progress and celebrity

There were a ton of great articles this week, so many that I had to arbitrarily choose which made it into this summary. Not an easy choice. I’ll be tweeting the rest over the next few days, so follow me on Twitter at @noelleinmadrid. (And I’m still trying to figure out WHAT is going on with the formatting here… Several posts seem to have disappeared from the feed, along with my sidebar. Working on it…).

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Secondary Shops Flooded With Unicorn Sellers – by Connie Loizos, for TechCrunch

Is that the popping of the bubble that we hear? This may be premature, but if you take the jug of cold water that this article delivers in terms of evidence that unicorn valuations are falling fast, and combine it with increasing and vocal concern about the state of the world economy, you may start to hear that much-feared (but probably inevitable) sound.

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Not Another African Tech Article – by Clinton Mutambo, for TechCrunch

image via TechCrunch

image via TechCrunch

Speaking of popping bubbles, I finally found an article that questions the tech world’s interest in Africa and points out how hard it will be for us from the “western world” to apply what we know to their circumstances. See? Even that sentence sounded a bit condescending. Clinton recommends that we stop thinking that they need our help, and just step back and watch them grow their own way.

“The lack of data and “exotic charm” of Africa makes it an easy target for baseless, heavily flawed or downright ridiculous content. This benefits no one, as it has the effect of painting a false picture about the continent and each of its 54 diverse states. Everyone from potential investors to collaborators is made more ignorant by most articles.”

As Clinton points out, “technology doesn’t operate in a silo”, and the evolution of the sector is inextricably entwined with its cultural, social and economic development. And that needs to be left up to the Africans. We should try to avoid the colonialist mistakes of the previous century.

“There shouldn’t be a tug of war this time around. Extending perceptions of such only advances exploitative tendencies that have contributed toward the challenges in Africa.”

And enough with the paternalistic articles that treat Africa as one entity. It isn’t.

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The highly profitable, deeply adorable, and emotionally fraught world of Instagram’s famous animals – by Corinne Purtill, for Quartz

hedgehogs

Ok, so I’m including this article mainly because of the adorable pictures. However, its tongue-in-cheek take on the role of social media is worth reading.

“The pet world on Instagram is as stylized and edited as the human one. Fur looks pristine. There are no litter boxes in sight. The lighting is perfect. Even animals on social media live better than you do.”

There is actually a celebrity dog management agency. Not kidding.

All this leaves me with the feeling that Instagram is replacing TV in the crazy fame stakes.

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The financialization of news is dimming the lights of the local press – by Ken Doctor, for NiemanLab

An in-depth and penetrating macro, big-picture article on the news industry and the decline of print publishing. Ken starts by painting a relatively apocalyptic picture of the world economy:

“The data points have been coming at us increasingly rapidly. What had been just a long downward slide is now getting wacky. Erratic behavior on one side of the country is quickly trumped by weirder happenings on the other, until even more befuddling news makes us forget the oddities of last month. These are all signs of a deeper reckoning than all the reckonings we’ve so far seen. And as bad as it the U.S. right now, also consider the deepening plight of our northern neighbors in Canada and the tinderbox that Europe is becoming.”

… and continues with the demise of local and print news:

“Print is dying, and that’s not news — it’s just news that the news industry itself shies away from publishing, believing the nonsense that publishing the truth is a main cause of the decline. It’s not news reading that’s going away, though: that’s grown by leaps and bounds. It’s still the great digital disruption of local newspapers’ monopoly businesses that has caused the major impacts — impacts greatly exacerbated, sadly, by publishers’ own inability to reinvent themselves for the new age.”

The “financialization” of the press – the running of media companies on a profit basis – is inevitable in this disruptive, fail fast, media-as-an-investment cycle. But it is also gutting the spirit of reporting, and commoditizing our attention even further.

“Yes, money matters, but it’s that beating heart of the business — creating news that local citizens need to run their governments and better their lives — that still has to be an antidote to the single-minded financial view of local news. (If “the market” won’t support local news, many have said to me, than maybe it isn’t needed. I ask them: If the same were true of education, the arts, or even roads, where would our struggling democracy be?)”

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A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace – by John Perry Barlow

This is absolutely not from the past week, it’s from 1996, but it should be taken out, dusted and re-read every now and then. It may sound a bit dated, but it’s surprising how still relevant it is, and it’s fascinating to see how far the internet world has veered from its initial libertarian motivation of sharing information.

“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks.”

Apart from the sentiment which will make your heart beat just a little bit faster, the declaration contains stunning (if at times grandiloquent) language:

“You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves… In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.”

While awakening the debate about regulation/safety vs. decentralization/freedom (reminiscent of the debates around bitcoin), Barlow does point out that the Internet exists in and because of the physical world, that it is not completely separate.

“Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.”

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The chips are down for Moore’s law – by M. Mitchell Waldrop for Nature

Moore’s Law is reaching its natural end? Now what?

“Every time the scale is halved, manufacturers need a whole new generation of ever more precise photolithography machines. Building a new fab line today requires an investment typically measured in many billions of dollars — something only a handful of companies can afford. And the fragmentation of the market triggered by mobile devices is making it harder to recoup that money.“ As soon as the cost per transistor at the next node exceeds the existing cost,” says Bottoms, “the scaling stops.””

So, this is where ingenuity and innovation take over.

“At least some industry insiders, including Shekhar Borkar, head of Intel’s advanced microprocessor research, are optimists. Yes, he says, Moore’s law is coming to an end in a literal sense, because the exponential growth in transistor count cannot continue. But from the consumer perspective, “Moore’s law simply states that user value doubles every two years”. And in that form, the law will continue as long as the industry can keep stuffing its devices with new functionality.

The ideas are out there, says Borkar. “Our job is to engineer them.””

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What will the bank of the future look like? – by Taavet Hinrikus, via the World Economic Forum

Maybe I’m obsessing a bit too much over banks this week, but there are some interesting ideas worth thinking about. Banks are changing, that’s obvious. As they should, that’s pretty obvious, too. Or is it? And what do we want them to change into?

“The most important result will be the true democratisation of finance. The nature of the current “bundled” model of banking is fundamentally unfair. The costs of the system and the profits of the banks are overwhelmingly accrued from fees and charges that hit the poorest hardest.”

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2 things I really enjoyed this week:

· A classic from the Ink Spots, circa 1940 – “Whispering Grass”. Just listen to the words. It’s not often you hear a crooning song about “babbling trees”.

· A hypnotic and truly inspiring book: Humans of New York. If you don’t follow the account on Tumblr, you should. The book is a collection of some of the more interesting anecdotes (although how he can choose is beyond me, they’re all really interesting), each one showing the incredible variety and creativity of the human spirit. I plan to look at this again and again and again.

humans of new york

humans of new york 1

Sunday Seven: filters, floating and finance

Some interesting tech articles and ideas from the past week:

Here’s What’s Wrong With Algorithmic Filtering on Twitter – by Matthew Ingram, for Fortune

While ostensibly about Twitter, this article is really about the role that algorithms play in the world that we live in, sorry, I mean the news that we see.

“In a nutshell, the problem with filtering is that the algorithm — which of course is programmed and tweaked by human beings, with all their unconscious biases and hidden agendas — is the one that decides what content you see and when. So ultimately it will decide whether you see photos of refugees on the beach in Turkey and shootings in Ferguson or ice-bucket videos and photos of puppies.

Does that have real-world consequences? Of course it does, as sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has pointed out in a number of blog posts. It can serve to reinforce the “filter bubble” that human beings naturally form around themselves, and that can affect the way they see the world and thus the way they behave in that world.”

Are you ok with only seeing what someone else wants you to see? The problem is, with so much out there, we need filters, it’s just not manageable otherwise. Even if we choose to design our own filters, is that not self-limiting? What impact will this have on ideas and discourse?

“By definition, algorithmic filtering means that you are not the one who is choosing what to see and not see. A program written by someone else is doing that. And while this may be helpful — because of the sheer volume of content out there — it comes with biases and risks, and we shouldn’t downplay them. As social platforms become a larger part of how we communicate, we need to confront them head on.”

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One of the craziest music videos I’ve ever seen – by OKGo

Whatever you think of OKGo’s music (this song’s not bad but will never make my all-time favourite list), the art here is the video. It’s crazy fun, very clever and quite unforgettable.

If you’ve ever wondered what opening a piñata in zero gravity would be like, watch this.

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What Would Actually Happen If We Broke Up The Banks? – by Michael Maiello, for Rolling Stone

I include this article because the structure of banks going forward will have so much influence on the role of money in society, and on the rollout of alternative forms of financing. We’ve all grown up in an era of Big Banks, and we lived through a Big-Bank-initiated recession. And while regulation has tightened and the IPO market has lost its allure, the overall structure of our main financial institutions has not changed much.

As this article points out, fintech companies are encroaching onto the bank’s territory. But most, especially P2P lenders, are struggling to be true to the initial calling, which is peers lending to peers.

“After the financial crisis, the banks shied away from making consumer and small-business loans. Some online start-ups like Lending Club and OnDeck entered the scene, as a way for people to lend money to each other directly, without going through a bank. But that model didn’t quite work. Matching up a guy who needs $10,000 to buy a pizza oven with a willing lender is rough work. Enter hedge funds, which are now increasingly buying the loans that Lending Club and OnDeck make.”

Yet once (ok, if) we achieve bank fragmentation, then smaller challengers will have more of a chance to innovate, to create new services and to capture market share. Size used to be the ultimate goal, the only way to achieve uniform customer service quality and scaled efficiencies. Yet today metrics and agility make client retention a matter of analysis and design. And as what we ask of our banks changes, so should their focus and priorities. The fragmentation of banks would both increase their value as a whole, and generate a new field of finance for the new business world we live in.

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A Look at the Marketplace Lending Originator Ecosystem – by Michael Gilroy, for TechCrunch

Speaking of the difficulties that marketplace lenders are having, here is a look at the “commoditization” of their product. P2P loans have gone from being a finance disruptor and an innovation that will revolutionize the banking sector, to a replicable product. The swashbuckling romance is gone. Now, selling alternative finance is a question of packaging and pricing.

“On the surface, e-commerce and marketplace lending are two incredibly different types of businesses. One has disrupted stores like Macy’s and Sears by selling anything from underwear to couches in a regulation-lite environment. The other disrupted massive banking institutions such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America by selling highly regulated loans.

However, when you peel back the layers, MPLs and e-commerce platforms provide a relatively fungible product, where differentiation comes down to customer experience and price, in markets that breed increasingly low barriers to entry.”

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Information Overload and the Tricky Art of Single-Tasking – by Alina Selyukh

A radical idea – stop multitasking???? really???? – that has turned out to be surprisingly refreshing. I’ve tried it, and life is better when you 1) accept that you’re not going to be able to read everything and connect to everyone that you want to in the course of the day, and 2) that doesn’t make you less of a person.

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How ‘Aggregation Theory’ is Fueling a Multi-Trillion Dollar Technology Revolution – by Tikue Anazodo, via Medium

Product distribution used to be a relatively monopolistic endeavour, with profitability and reach going to the largest players. Not anymore. Now, anyone can distribute.

“Over the last two decades, the distribution chain for most goods and services have been redefined end-to-end. The distributor’s role in the chain has been commoditized. ‘Makers’ can now bring their goods and services direct to consumers.

This turned out to be both good and bad.

Good in the sense that makers can essentially become their own distributors by creating their own websites and distributing to consumers directly through their own channels. They get to choose what, when, where and how to distribute.

Bad in the sense that because all makers were given the ability to create independent outlets for distribution, discovery became exponentially more complex for the demand side of the equation i.e. consumers would effectively have to navigate millions of independent outlets to find goods, services and content.

Enter the ‘aggregators’.”

Tikue then goes on to list the largest 10 (by market capitalization) public consumer internet companies. Guess what? They’re all aggregators. Interesting.

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My Little Sister Taught Me How To “Snapchat Like The Teens” – by Ben Rosen, for BuzzFeed

via BuzzFeed

via BuzzFeed

Much more riveting than it has any right to be, this “how-to” on Snapchat turns out to be more about teen culture and the role media plays in the social scene. Surprising, disconcerting and slightly awe-inspiring.

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Things I’ve been enjoying this week:

· This

Really, it’s a service that’s actually called “This”, and it sends you a daily email with 5 recommended reads from around the web. What I love about it is that it gets me reading things outside my circle of interest. There’s no way I can keep up with all the great media sites out there, I barely manage to keep up with my sector. This broadens my scope and introduces me to great journalists that I might otherwise never come across. And it keeps me from becoming boring. I hope.

this 2

· The History of the Internet

As an example of how boring I could become if left to my own devices, the other thing I’m geeking out over this week is a MOOC on Coursera called “Internet History, Technology and Security”, from the University of Michigan. Seriously interesting and very well done, it includes relaxed and enthralling lectures by Charles Severance, and interviews with the people who developed the Internet! It’s half way through, but the videos are worth watching even if you don’t take the course, especially the ones in weeks 5 and 6 that explain how the whole thing works.

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I hope that you’re enjoying your weekend!