Sign in the workshop at HAXLR8R, Shenzhen

52 Things I Learned in 2014

Tom Whitwell
5 min readDec 19, 2014


Moving from a full-time job at The Times to a series of fascinating consulting gigs has given me a little more time to read, travel and think

  1. In 2014, men and women were 39% more likely to click on an image of a bearded man than the same man clean-shaven [Julian Scharman]
  2. For the first time ever, the tech industry is selling not just to big corporations or middle-class families but to four fifths of all the adults on earth — it is selling to people who don’t have mains electricity or running water and substitute spending on cigarettes for mobile. [Ben Evans]
  3. In just 15 years from 1995 to 2010, violent crimes in the US fell from 51 per thousand people to 15 per thousand. [Stephen Johnson]
  4. China has completed one large dam every day since 1949 [Marginal Revolution]
  5. Instead of real computers, car makers are installing video-streaming terminals into dashboards. Your car’s software is actually running on your phone, or in a datacentre somewhere. [Gigaom]
  6. “An optimal price is one that is accepted but not without some initial resistance.” [Ash Maurya]
  7. Extortion attacks that combine letters (paper ones, sent through the post) with anonymous Bitcoin accounts are an increasing problem in the US [Krebs]
  8. Anything sold in a British Pound Shop was probably sourced from one building in Yiwu, China. [Dan Williams]
  9. A company called GroupLens built a recommendation system that could triple or quadruple people’s reading time for news articles. They did it in 1992. [Adam Curtis]
  10. “The greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2044 were not invented until after 2014” [Kevin Kelly]
  11. Ad network Sharethrough have put up $1m to promote worthwhile content, chosen by an advisory board [James Robinson]
  12. Content network Outbrain displays 150 billion links every month [Casey Newton]
  13. 60% of people installing news apps opt out of push notifications. [Shannon Levis]
  14. Recurring revenue is magic [Jeff Bussgang]
  15. Calling users users is probably a good idea [Russell Davies]
  16. “People aren’t looking for something to read — they’re looking for something they can share with their friends to make it seem like they really care about what’s happening in the world around them.” [Nathaniel Mott]
  17. Chinese scientists are developing a way to send live fish through the postal system in a form of suspended animation [Nicola Twilley]
  18. When Buzzfeed started, they had trouble raising money because they insisted on employing journalists, rather than algorithms, to write their articles. [Felix Salmon]
  19. “Huffington Post’s top story was a video of a beagle stealing chicken nuggets.” [David Holmes]
  20. Peak Vinyl was 1981. Peak Cassette was 1989. Peak CD was 2001. [IFPI]
  21. Skimmers placed on cashpoints can now transmit your stolen card data by text message [Krebs]
  22. A company called Orbital Insight is now selling data based on the shadows cast by half-finished Chinese buildings as an economic indicator [Geoff Manaugh]
  23. At midnight on August 16th 2014, Google turned off a mysterious feature in Google Translate. Until then, “lorem ipsum” translated as “China” while “Lorem Ipsum” returned ‘NATO’. Different variations returned many strange results. [Krebs]
  24. Chinese phone cloners were making supersized iPhones long before they were announced in September. They’ve been selling 7” and 10” iphones since before the iPad was launched. [Lyn Jeffery]
  25. USB Condoms are now a thing (they’re not what you think) [Case 1] [Case 2]
  26. 30% of all web traffic is generated by bots and clickfarms [Matthew Ingram]
  27. In 2014, only 14% of apps installed are used for more than one day. In 2013 that figure was 25%. [Mack Flavelle] [Thanks, Stef]
  28. In China, the chat interface is becoming the dominant way to communicate with official bodies. When dealing with banks, hospitals, or government agencies, you can ask any question by text, image or voice, and it will be routed either to a bot or to a human. [Dan Grover]
  29. Last year, Facebook made a fortune selling app install advertisements. Next year, they’ll make another fortune selling app reengagment advertisements [John Battelle]
  30. Publishers are building physical spaces to accommodate their brand extensions; Good Housekeeping have a huge storefront space in Soho, The Guardian are converting a goods shed in Kings Cross. [John Payne]
  31. is a a very effective memento mori.
  32. Tabletop lets you use a Google spreadsheet as a CMS (I used it for Tips from Musicians and a few secret projects) [Tabletop]
  33. After lunch on 16th November 2013, Ryan Hoover launched an email list called Product Hunt on Linkydink, a free email service from Makeshift in Old Street. In September 2014 Product Hunt was valued at $22m after a $6m investment from Andreessen Horowitz. [Ryan Hoover]
  34. Mystery Skype is a game teachers play, connecting together digital whiteboards in two classrooms in different countries, letting the children try to work out which country they’re talking to [Zofia Ciechowska]
  35. LaunchRock is a very quick way to create a convincing-looking product landing page, collect signups and gauge interest in an idea.
  36. “Elections are almost as important to YouTube’s ad ecosystem as Christmas” [Hank Green]
  37. The Onion’s art department works incredibly hard. It turns out it’s much harder to make up the news from scratch than to cut and paste it from agencies. [Dan Nosowitz]
  38. 75% of Ikea’s product shots are actually CGI renders[Kirsty Parkin]
  39. How one startup used giveaways to recruit 150,000 subscribers in nine months [Noah Kagan]
  40. used to spend $15 to acquire each new member — just an email address, not a paying punter [Erin Griffith]
  41. In 1996, Bill Gates predicted pretty much everything that would happen with media on the Internet [Bill Gates]
  42. 3,000 twitter followers puts you in the top 1% [Peter Kafka]
  43. Twitter earns just over a cent and a half each time you look at your timeline [James Robinson]
  44. If you try to write 25 headlines for every story you write, you’ll usually come up with pretty good headlines [Morgan Brown]
  45. Until late 2013, one company was selling a mailing list of rape victims for 8¢ a name [Yasha Levine]
  46. Journalists at The Verge aren’t allowed to see traffic figures. [Dan Lyons]
  47. Tinder is a huge, fascinating, psychology experiment. [Anne Helen Petersen]
  48. “Membership” is the new “Paywall” (TBH I knew this before 2014) [Ricardo Bilton]
  49. Designing digital editorial products is pretty much all about feedback loops [Andrew Chen]
  50. Amazon customers spend an average of $529 a year. Amazon Prime customers spend $1,340. [David Holmes]
  51. In the future, art galleries will be curated with ‘Things they can put on Instagram” in mind [Russell Davies]
  52. By writing emotionally involving stories about random trinkets, researchers were able to sell $129 worth of tat on eBay for $3,612.[Dan Ariely]

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Tom Whitwell

Consultant at Magnetic (formerly Fluxx), reformed journalist, hardware designer.