Innovation Newsletter — July

Welcome to this months innovation newsletter. In a world that changes at breakneck speed this newsletter is designed to give you an overview of key developments from the last month, placed in the context of wider market conditions and with a splash of opinion. If you like it, why not sign up here

There is a Chinese curse which says “may you live in interesting times,” and while it seems like a truism, the reality is that the last few momentous weeks show the relentless and increasing pace of change in the world. It seems ironic that being more tightly connected than ever before, and with far easier access to information, we’re breaking up into smaller units and fighting ignorance.

Well, let’s hope this month’s newsletter provides a tiny bit of guidance though these “interesting times.”

More Bad News for Publishers

So these days, how do you get your news? 
Most publishers are rapidly seeing their homepage dying as social media becomes the distributor and aggregator of news. Editors are no longer curators; our friends and software are. Good content can now explode via Twitter, Apple News, Facebook, Google, and others, but increasingly publishers are finding themselves no longer in control. So when Facebook this week makes it harder for news outlets to reach people, when drop-offs occur, when you can’t escape new walled gardens, and in a world in which 43% of people don’t even know where their news comes from, things are tough for quality publishers.

US publishers are embracing change aggressively, whether it’s adopting VR (and becoming TV companies), throwing themselves at every emerging social feed, or creating content especially for platforms like Snapchat. Indeed, interesting times are ahead.

Video Becomes the New Atomic Unit of the Internet

Dial-up access speeds and slow computers meant the internet was first built on the written word. Later 3G, widespread broadband access, and our phones’ better cameras meant the web turned visual. Pictures became the standard unit of the web. Now, thanks to 4G, better streaming technology, and new expectations, video is becoming the default atomic unit.

From Facebook Live paying BuzzFeed and celebrities to live-stream on the platform, to publishers like The New York Times making VR TV content, video is becoming the norm. A key question is whether this is pulled from consumers who love the richness of content or if it’s publishers loving the easier monetization of a channel that can basically charge greater CPM’s and is harder to ad block. The jury is still out.

The fact that all screens are increasingly digital and screens now cost less than printed photos means everything around us can soon move. We have to forget assumptions of the past and embrace ad units that are not TV ads.

The Death of Apps

Yikes, if we look across both iPhone and Android users, the average US smartphone owner downloaded zero apps last month.

We’ve long been saying that mobile is the way forward and that homepages are dying, but how can this be happening to apps? Aren’t they the future?

Some think it’s because of bots, some think thedeath has been exaggerated, but I think the answer is neither. For a while, I’ve been convinced that the internet will soon become a web of apps and that we’ll use fewer apps (like IM, Maps, and social media) as new portals to this internet. I think increasingly, apps run in the background as a thinner, more personal, more predictive notifications layer. This piece I wrote here explains more.

Social Media’s Filter Bubble Is Getting Worse

It’s apparent by many indicators that life is getting more extreme. From wealth distribution to weather to political opinions, it seems that life is only getting more polarized. The shock of Brexit for many seemed contradictory to a world in which information is more readily accessed than ever and people are more closely connected.

Oddly, while many woke up that morning shocked because everyone they knew agreed with them, half the nation was not shocked for the same reason. It’s long been known that the algorithm Facebook uses to determine what users see is likely to be creating “bubbles” that allow us to see only what and who we agree with. I wrote a piecehere a while ago that seems more relevant than ever. The question becomes: What do we do about it? How can software introduce us to contrary, uncomfortable views?

More Media Moments Than Ever

The snatched glances in the elevator, the nonchalant swipe in the subway car, the mobile phone has made more moments in life media moments than anything we’ve ever known.

We’re now watching TV with the phone dominating our glance. We’re multitasking like never before. So I liked this piece showing that in the US, adults now consume one hour more of media per day than just one year ago.

We often think of these being more complex and fragmented times, but to some extent things are getting simpler, everything is becoming digital, and devices are making more moments mediated. If anything, the mobile phone has nothing to do with being mobile or a phone; it’s more a device bringing us closer to things and creating time.

Payments Get Easier, Everywhere

I think a lot about friction in life, whether it’s hotels asking for your credit card info three times or airlines that never remember your passport details. It’s the companies that remove this that thrive.

The current payment landscape, especially in the US, is a strange mess of legacy systems and disruptive new entrants and messy payment systems like chip and sign. We are between the paradigm of cash, credit cards, and new user facing layers on top like Apple Pay. So this month, I’ve been pleased to see various movements to make paying for things easier.

Apple Pay is becoming available on the web,Samsung Pay is becoming free to retailers, and even Microsoft is opening a wallet. Realistically, vast changes are ahead. How does Blockchain technology disintermediate banking layers? How does a company like Blendle dominate micro-payments for content? Do millennials even need banks when they have Venmo? WeChat did more transactions in one day over Chinese New Year than PayPal did in all of 2015.

Video of the Month

A Focus On China

Over the years, I’ve been to China a few times. The relentless pace of development, the insane investments in infrastructure, and the buildings that reflect images I’ve only ever seen in books about the future have always startled me.

My recent visit showed me the only country I know that’s built entirely for the modern world, presenting a paradigm shift in what’s possible when you build for a mobile-first, eCommerce-driven commercial environment. It’s perhaps time we stopped looking over our shoulders at China and instead play catch-up. This BBC series will help you understand more.

Part one. Part two.

4 Shorts

  • The Atlantic sums up changing media consumption nicely.
  • This is the best piece you will read on Brexit: lessons for all on data, sociology, and the changing world.
  • I wrote this on the “post digital age,” explaining how life one day will get more simple in the next of three digital eras.
  • This “Digital News Report” shines a light on the changing way we consume news.

Thought of the Month

To save money, Foxconn last month replaced 60,000 workers in one factory with robots. If labor in China is too expensive, then things are about to get interesting everywhere. If the role of education is to furnish children with the tools, knowledge, and skills to thrive in 2030 and beyond, we probably need to be thinking about what that world looks like and what they need to succeed. My bet is creativity, curiosity, and empathy.

Trend of the Month

Democratization of Creativity

While some of us have grown up with helpful teachers telling us we had creative talent, success for generations of people in the fields of writing, photography, music, film, and other creative endeavors has been against all odds. The tools for creation have until recently been prohibitively expensive, from professional cameras to music recording studios (even typewriters limited journalism careers). Distribution was an even greater impediment: printing and marketing CD’s called for record labels, writers needed a book deal, and videographers needed a film studio to support them. Success until now has always been entirely a function of a system of experts, from editors at newspapers to A&R people.

At a time when production equipment is cheaper than ever and distribution is easier than ever (from YouTube to Vimeo, from Medium to LinkedIn, from Instagram to 500px), we’re seeing in theory a democratic, open, transparent system in which the cream rises to the top. We have machines like Kickstarter to fund good ideas and 3D printing to make cheap prototyping. Whether it’s the maker movement, work environments like WeWork, or continued relatively easy access to seed funding, we’re at a time when people with a good idea or a raw skill can be more in control of their success than ever before. During a time when a comment in the FT went viral, when YouTube celebrities front “TV shows,” when my eight-year-old nephew is writing code, and when Amazon let’s anyone self-publish, it’s interesting to marvel at new dynamics that put people in control. The next big challenge: How do we improve search, discovery, and curation to ensure in a world of abundance, the best stuff is always found.

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