Third Wave Escapism

How we celebrated our 5th anniversary

5y Third Wave

A couple of weeks ago, we had our fifth anniversary as a company. So how to celebrate that? A party, a press event, a publication? One thing we’ve learned in the last years is to trust our guts and do what feels right. And what we wanted to do more than anything else is take our friends and get away for a bit.

We rented an amazing house, about 2.5 hours outside of Berlin in the so-called mecklenburgische Schweiz, invited 20 of our friends, packed our trunks full of food and drinks and escaped for the weekend. We knew we did the right thing when the most common feedback after the weekend was: “I really needed this.”

Giving our hard-working friends a breather was the most rewarding thing we could do to celebrate. And in reflecting about this, I think it actually tells me a lot more about the kinda company Igor and I want to have and continue building.

I let the photos by Nicola explain the rest.

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

5y Third Wave

Articles & Talks – Q2/2015

Our article in the Tinius Trust Annual Report 2014 and a couple of talks

Time flies when you’re deep in client work. So here are a couple of things that happened recently.

Tinius Trust Annual Report

Tinius Trust Annual Report 2014

When the Tinius Trust asked us to write an article for their annual report, we used the opportunity to flash out a more detailed description of our framework for media companies, adding examples for all the parts. What we didn’t expect was that they would take our text and apply some great editorial design and even add beautiful illustrations.

artikel im tinius trust report

You can read our article here: A framework for building media companies in the digital world

You can download the full report with articles from experts like Tanya Cordrey, Kevin Delaney and Ernst-Jan Pfauth here: PDF

Republica 2015

Igor and I both gave talks (in German) at this years’ republica conference here in Berlin. You can watch them on YouTube.

johannes at republica 2015

Johannes: Mensch, Macht, Maschine – Wer bestimmt wie wir morgen arbeiten?

igor at republica 2015

Igor: Ein Plädoyer für eine Non-Profit Medienlandschaft

And a couple more talks in the last months…

Please get in contact if you’re interested in booking us to speak at your event.

Our Client Alucobond

Patricia Stubbe from our client company 3A Composites and the Alucobond brand has written an article for the German website pressesprecher on working with us and doing social media in a b2b context: Social Media im B2B-Bereich

Filtrate 13/2015 – Facebook and the Publishers

Facebook wants to host original content by publishers like the NY Times and Buzzfeed. We’ve been following the story the whole week and have collected the most interesting tidbits and insights.

Filtrate is a blogging format inspired by Matt Webb and Michael Sippey: “Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what’s left gets published on Friday.”

1.

It has been on the horizon since last autumn and this week, the NY Times officially anounced it: Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content

In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

The official reason for Facebook to do this: speed and user experience:

Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless. News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter.

Yeah, right…

2.

Joshua Benton from Niemanlab about Facebook’s true motivation:

Facebook controls a huge share of the traffic publishers get — 40 percent or more in many cases. Combine that with the appification of people’s online life — the retreat from the open web toward a few social-media icons on your phone’s home screen — and you start to get at the motivations here. Facebook has fallen into the role of audience gatekeeper for many publishers, and it’s offering (!) to optimize that relationship.

And the current publishers dilema:

The game for traditional publishers now is all about short-term/long-term tradeoffs. Of course, in the long run, you want to control the customer and advertiser relationships. But today, in 2015, Facebook controls a large share of your audience and has user data you have no hope of matching.

3.

John Battelle gets much more criticial and poses a couple of questions that publishers should ask themselves before hosting their content on Facebook.

  • Do you have full and unfettered access to reader data? Will Facebook have access to your customer data?
  • Do you have full and unfettered control over your advertising relationships and data? Will Facebook have access to that data?
  • Do you have certainty over the levers of circulation marketing, including the price of reader acquisition and engagement?
  • Do you have control over your core product, so you can craft your reader’s experience as an expression of your brand?
  • Do you have any proof that publishers using another company’s proprietary platform have ever created a lasting and sustainable business? He sums up his perspective like this: I can’t really think of any publisher who thrived on someone else’s platform, for the reasons I laid out above. Sure, a lot of apps have done well, but in the main they were either hit businesses (gaming) or free services that kept their customer and revenue models well away from Apple or Google’s grasp (everybody else ever).

4.

But Battelle also see some differences between publishers like the NY Times and companies like Buzzfeed.

Which brings us to BuzzFeed, which has taken a delightfully inverse approach to platform economics — that is to say, it embraces the distribution of its content independent of its home base. Of course, it can do so because its core revenue model is native advertising content, which is distributed in the same fashion as original editorial content. This model suits BuzzFeed very, very well.

So for Buzzfeed this deal with Facebook makes a lot of sense because their business model is in the content and the audience it reaches as Felix Salmon describes:

BuzzFeed has built its business model around its ability to ensure that any piece of content, whether it’s a cat listicle or an ad or a news story, reaches as much of its intended target audience as possible.

Which means that Buzzfeed – unlike the NY Times – isn’t dependent on its brand and that lets them benefit much more from deals that will get them bigger audiences for the price of less brand perception.

5.

This is the appropriate time to dig up the great essay The Next Internet Is TV by John Herman on The Awl from the beginning of February.

The prospect of Facebook, for example, as a primary host for news organizations, not just an outsized source of traffic, is depressing even if you like Facebook. A new generation of artists and creative people ceding the still-fresh dream of direct compensation and independence to mediated advertising arrangements with accidentally enormous middlemen apps that have no special interest in publishing beyond value extraction through advertising is the early internet utopian’s worst-case scenario.

His hypothesis: Publisher on the web will end up where TV producers have been for a long time: filling up channels with content.

And so one more obvious theoretical question for this particular view of the future that seems to be quite popular right now, in which we have circled back to TV via the internet or apps or social media or even TV itself: Wasn’t the internet supposed to be BETTER, somehow, in all its broken decentralized chaos and glory? The TV industry, which is mediated at every possible point, is a brutal interface for culture and commerce.

6.

John Herman chimend in again this week with a more specific take on Facebook hosting publisher’s content..

Their presence in News Feed will seem slightly easier and more natural than the presence of their competitors, whose manipulative headlines—which have been carefully optimized to convince you to leave Facebook to go to another site—will read an awful lot like spam.

Could one side-effect of this move by Facebook be that we will see the end of headlines like “You won’t believe what happened next,” finally?

There is a helpful symmetry here, if you’ll grant it. Online publishers, with more readers than ever, are looking desperately for the next thing; Facebook, with more people using its core product than ever, is doing the same. The difference, of course, is that publishers’ next thing already belongs to someone else. Their future belongs to Facebook’s past.

It’s a bit ironic that publishers desperately want to be part of Facebook’s newsfeed while Facebook is looking intensively for the next big thing after the newsfeed.

7.

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic reminds us that Facebook had encouraged publishers before to heavily invest in a FB technology.

Facebook selects a couple news organizations and asks them to invest heavily in a native tool that gives news stories—news stories!—an unprecedentedly high-ranking in users’ feed. They do, and for a few months, they see increased traffic in the millions. And then, one day, Facebook’s engineering team realizes that this new tool is cutting engagement and winds it down.

The whole endavour was known as the “social reader” back then and for a short time, it brought early adopters like the Washington Post a couple of million more impressions. Until Facebook decided that users didn’t like the feautre and suddenly turned it off one morning and with it all that traffic.

8.

Wednesday night, Facebook introduced a couple of new things at their developer conference F8. The stuff around the Messenger are less relevant for publishers than the advertising-related anouncements. Digiday summed it up like this:

Facebook is gradually positioning itself to become the data, media-consumption and sharing backbone for the entire digital media industry.

9.

As part of Wednesday’s update, Facebook is also expanding LiveRail’s ad management capabilities to mobile display advertising, meaning publishers can use the technology to sell both video and display ads on their mobile apps.

…writes re/code. LiveRail is the ad server that Facebook is running.

What’s significant in this announcement is that LiveRail will now use its anonymized user data to help publishers serve better targeted advertising on platforms that aren’t Facebook. So instead of relying on things like Internet cookies to help publishers target a Web visitor, publishers using LiveRail will be able to add Facebook’s user data into the mix to get a better idea of who’s watching the ad.

This is huge. And Google should be very afraid. Facebook is really starting to eat into their core business.

LiveRail and its ingestion of Facebook data “makes Facebook an important operating system of the digital ecosystem, certainly being able to rival Google and its DoubleClick infrastructure,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, a targeted television advertising company. “This puts their lead in some areas under pressure. Certainly in the digital video area, Google should be worried.”

But it also means that Facebook is not focussed on what’s happning on their own platform. They also want to make their data useable to advertisers on other platforms, outside the Facebook ecosystem, sorry, “family of apps.”

The move speaks to Facebook’s desire to be a major advertising partner for publishers, brands and agencies outside its own properties.

That balance might actually make some more publishers consider their offering to host content.

10.

11.

Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie from the NY Times R&D Lab gave a great talk at FutureEverything that summed up a lot of the current trends in (digital) publishing.

Introducing a Digital Framework for Media Companies

We have collected our insights on the media landscape into a new model.

This is a revised version of the framework that we released on March, 19. Check the change notes at the end of the article.

Since releasing our Future of News Publishing report last year and since actually putting it together about two years ago, we have been observing the news publishing industry continually. Collecting weak signals, we were trying to spot the behaviors that seem to be helping publishers not only to survive but to move forward. Taking a step back, we saw similar patterns emerging again and again. So it was time to put them into a framework.

The purpose of this framework is to put the most important aspects of a publishing company in the digital world into a model1. It’s not a how-to guide for building a news publishing product. It’s a mental model how to think about and develop core parts of the business.

The Key Components

audience product business infrastructure

The model itself is simple. It’s a triangle that connects the three main areas of a media company from our (current) perspective and puts the audience in the middle.

1. Audience

Every media company needs to start with and evolve around its audience: the readers, viewers, listeners, commentators, community etc.

2. Product

This is not only all the content that is written, produced, recorded, filmed or created in any way. The editorial strategy and the “voice” (as in tonality) are part of this, too. It’s also the talent: the writers, the journalists, the photographers, the film crews, the fact checkers and researchers. Also the formats: articles, slideshows, listicles, quizzes, clips, interviews, op-eds etc.

We also include the frontend here – how the audience perceives the content: websites, apps, email newsletters, magazines, newspapers, PDFs, ebook readers, etc – the user experience. From our observation, it’s almost impossible to create a digital media product while distinguishing to strongly between the content and its delivery.

3. Business

All the ways that the company makes money. We’ve touched on a lot of the new possibilities and business models for media businesses to make money in the Future of News Publishing report. From advertising and sales to events to consulting and much more.

4. Infrastructure

These are the server, tools and systems that keep the company running. But it’s also where the content is created: the content management systems, the databases, the communications channels, the analytics dashboard, the tools and gadgets for reporting, writing, recording, maintaining and distributing.

The Key Insights

So far, nothing new. Most media businesses have always consisted of these aspects. So what’s the difference in a digital world? Here are the two main insights:

1. Collaboration

All three areas of the company and their connected departments must be not only constantly in contact but actually collaborating. The days when the product development was cut off from the newsroom and journalists never spent a thought on where their salary came from are gone.

Much has been said and written about the wall between the journalism side and the business side of news publishing entities also known as the divide between church and state. And we’re most certainly endorsing a transparent approach to native advertising and the likes. But in a time when fresh ideas are in desperate need, we think that too much is lost by people from the different departments not thinking and working together.

We think that one of the best ways to set up a media business for the digital world is to not separate the three aspects into different departments but to hire people who feel comfortable in two or more areas. The best way to avoid silos is to have them breached by individuals who have clear goals that span more than one area.

All three areas also need to be perpetually connected to the audience. Product needs to know what they are interested in, what’s their take on things and what’s helping them in their day/work/life. Business needs to know where the audience’s money is going, what they are willing to spend and how they value the content. Infrastructure needs to continuously update its understanding of the audience’s consumption behavior, their favorite tools and devices and how they prefer to pay.

Some of this means being in a continuous conversation with the audience. For other insights, it means looking a studies, reports and conducting individual research. A lot of it means just prototyping and testing.

2. Iteration

iteration of product, business, infrastructure

The complexity and rapid progression of the digital world makes it hard to just plan, implement and then run with a finished product. One of the core principles of the digital context is to have a small idea, test it, improve it, test it again, improve it again and so on. It’s all about perpetual iteration.

This insight is the biggest change of how media companies are working in the digital world. It’s also the part that current media companies and even a lot of the ones “born digital” struggle with.

Some media companies iterate their content. They try out new formats, writing styles, video story lines etc. Others are experimenting with new business models like opening up an event space, releasing special purpose apps or starting an agency business. But only very few media companies iterate in their infrastructure development like continuously working on making their websites work better and optimizing the CMS and the publishing process.

We think that to be successful as a publisher in the future, a company needs to iterate in all three areas of our model all the time. And it shouldn’t keep the iteration loops inside each area. Every iteration in one area should be shared with the other areas to inspire the iterations there. The result is a constant renewal of the whole company.

constant iteration

An example: A company comes up with a new idea for a content format. It will prototype it and test the idea with its audience. The audience feedback might also inform new ideas for business models that might go along with this format. If the company doesn’t have an in-house design-and-development team, this prototyping would be difficult and expensive. But if the project team consists of members who are connected to all three areas, they can iterate towards a viable new outcome rapidly.

That’s why we see a lot of good initial ideas fail. The technological development is outsourced and only involved until the launch. And we think that it is impossible to create a successful digital media product without iterating it constantly.

What’s next?

That is the basic concept of our framework for digital media companies. So what can you do with it right now?

  • Use it to analyze different media companies and see how they cover the different areas…or not.
  • Check the viability of your own (media) company and discover blind spots that you hadn’t thought about in this context yet.
  • Investigate the core digital paradigm of constant iteration and ask yourself what that means for your company and team structures, your processes, your project planning and your business model(s).

This introduction to the framework has only been one step for us. Next up is collecting lots of feedback and, of course, iterating the model. And we are writing more in-depth articles about all the different aspects of the framework.

If you have questions about or feedback for the framework, please get in contact.

Added on June, 24 2015

We’ve written an extended version of this articles with a lot more examples for the Tinius Trust Annual Report. Check it out over here: A framework for building media companies in the digital world

Change Notes v1.1 – March, 24 2015

It is a core principle of this model that the three areas are very closely connected and thus certainlty overlap in a lot of places. We took a first shot sorting aspects into the different areas. But Florian Steglich gave us some great feedback on how to rearrange a couple of things. Here’s his redrawing of our model.

  • We changed Content to Product and added all the frontend/user experience elements to this area.
  • We changed Product to Infrastructure.

Here is an in-between version that Johannes drew in a hotel room in Barcelona for his talk at the IAM 2015 conference. It said “technology” where it now says “infrastructure.” We changed it to infrastructure because we think that technology is an essential part of all three areas.


  1. We’re not talking about digital companies per se as in companies, which have a digital product. When we talk about the “digital world,” we mean a world that is heavily influenced by the characteristics of “the digital.” A media company might only sell a print product. But it still has to deal with “digital aspects” like growing complexity, shorter attention span, internal communications based on email and much more. In the digital world, every company is also a tech company. 

Work Note: New Meetup fatnine

We’re starting a new meetup on Friday mornings every couple of weeks.

It’s been quite a while since we had our last meetup back in Kreuzberg. And it feels like a good time to start a new one. Distrikt Coffee is a beautiful new cafe in our neighbourhood (on Bergstraße between Torstraße and Invalidenstraße) with excellent coffee and tea and tons of space. 

So from next Friday on, we will be there every couple of weeks from 9 to 10am. Anyone is welcome to come by and join the conversation. There won’t be any prepared talks, pitches, specific topics, hashtags or Facebook events. Just coffee/tea and conversations. 

To follow the tradition of the old meetup, we’re calling this one Friday At Nine (fatnine). We have set up a newsletter to send out new dates and reminders for the meetup. Sign up here. 

The first meetup will be this Friday (the 6th) at 9am. We’re looking forward to having a chat with you. 

Two notes about Distrikt Coffee: They serve Ozone espresso beans and Companion teas, both excellent choices. Their kitchen opens at 9:30am. Before that time, they only have pastries. 

Other meetup names that didn’t make the cut: Luddite LinkedIn, Slackline (from Slack offline), Distrikt NEIN, Breakfast First Release Later, Dark Social, You Had Me At 8:30 and Break Fast & Make Things…

Work Note: Christmas Cards

A little making-of of our Christmas cards.

Third Wave Christmas Card

Sometime last autumn we decided that we wanted to send out Christmas cards for the first time. The question was how we can make it something a little special. So we thought “Why not print them ourselves?”

Sabrina Sundermann is the owner of a print shop here in Berlin in Prenzlauer Berg called Small Caps. She has a wonderful collection of printing presses that she not only uses to produce all the cards and posters your can buy at here shop and in shops around Berlin. She also offers workshops on those printing presses.

DSC_6002

On a Thursday afternoon in November, we met Sabrina at her shop to let her teach us how we can print our Christmas cards. First, she showed us how the serveral presses work and we decided for the Golding Pearl. Then it was time to get going and put together the quote we wanted to have on the front of our card.

After much brainstorming, Igor and I had decided to go with a quote from scifi author Ramez Naam:

To understand a thing is to gain the power to change it.

In the last months, this quote has become a bit of a company motto for us. It decribes the very heart of what motivates us in our consulting work.

DSC_5950

Putting together a sentence in movable type is very fiddly work for untrained fingers like ours. It’s definitely not for the impatient (like a certain person in our company).

DSC_5932

After putting the letters together and fixing the quote in a frame, we then had to do a test print to see if the quote was placed correctly on the card. It took quite a bit of test prints and adjusting the position until we got it right. When something that you usually do in seconds on a screen takes half an hour when done by hand, you gain a lot of respect for book printing before the computer.

DSC_6060

Sometime that evening we also realized that with the mentioned quote on the front and our URL on the back of the card, we weren’t creating a specific Christmas card. Yeah, I know, we’re smart like that. So we printed 100 cards instead of just 40, because we can use them for all kinds of occasions.

Two weeks before Christmas, we finally found the time to sit down, write our thanks and best wishes inside the cards and sent them out to our clients and partners. The whole process from printing the cards to writing our messages by hand was quite a rewarding act. Good ol’ print never ceases to amaze us.

Photos by Nicola Holtkamp

TW Reads: November 2014

Five of our favorite articles from this month featuring Qinn Norton and Dan Hill.

What is required is not less technology, but more compassion.

Laurie Penny

  • Clockwork City, Responsive City, Predictive City and Adjacent Incumbents
    Dan Hill about the impact of predictive analytics on cities is not only a good critic of some “smart cities thinking.” It also features a convenient list of links to all the problem with Uber (minus the one from this week).
  • Against Productivity
    Quinn Norton might just be our favorite writer of this year. But even by her standard, this an exceptional piece that beautifully questions our common thinking. This one will stick for quite some time.
  • The Dads of Tech
    Astra Taylor and Joanne McNeil are challenging our assumptions about the gendered history of tech. Also, strong criticism of the tech pundit caste.
  • Make technological utopia easier with this one weird trick
    Paul Graham Raven picks up Kevin Kelly’s “desirable-future haikus“ thing and shows how we can have motivating and positively challenging utopias by leaving one all too common specifier out of the equation.
  • Sharing you can Believe in
    Cameron Tonkinwise can look back on more than a decade of researching what is known today as the “sharing economy” (never without the quotes). So he shows us what a complex and serious criticism of this current hype can look like.

The Future of News Publishing – A Report

We’re releasing a deck from 2013 about the news publishing industry to the public.

In spring 2013, we conducted a workshop for a large newspaper. They needed an outside perspective on the state of publishing, social media, digital etc. So we used that opportunity to put all our favorite cases and insights from the media industry into this one deck. It has been fascinating to observe how publishers all over the world have started to implement a lot of the ideas, we’ve mentioned here.

More than one year later, we’re still coming back to this presentation constantly. It has also served as the basis for the start of our podcast (in German). The deck is nowhere near a complete snapshot of the industry, but it covers the most important points for us at that time. This is why we have decided to release it to the public.

Work Note: 4 years in

Reflecting on four years of Third Wave.

Third Wave by Kai Müller Third Wave by Kai Müller

Last Saturday, Igor and I went for a drink in a bar in Prenzlauer Berg to celebrate the 4th anniversary of our company. The last time we’ve been there was more then three years ago when Third Wave was much younger and rather inexperienced. It was good to reflect on what had happened in the meantime.

To be honest, I’ve been feeling rather lucky in the last months to still be doing this. We saw quite a few people that we admire and who are much smarter than us having to close their businesses. People like the brilliant minds at Berg in London, who have influenced us tremendously (take some time to look at all their projects). Once again, it made us more aware of how fast it can all go away and that we should not take it for granted that we still have the opportunity to build a business around our ideas.

And ideas, we have more then ever. But unlike before, we’re making them all part of a bigger plan. It’s something that we’ve avoided for the last years to stay flexible and see where all of this would take us. But now, with the experience of four years and inumerous projects, a more focussed vision emerges for us. It’s about time that this strategy consultancy gets a strategy…

So Third Wave is changing. New initiatives like the podcast are the forerunners of the direction we’re heading. We’re not going to announce more right now, because we’ve also learnt in the last four years that it’s better to show what you’ve done than to talk about something you’re planning.

But it all feels good right now. Just the two of us is still the best choice for us how to run this company. We enjoy our office and our lovely office mates. We are doing some of our best work these days with clients that we have a great relationship with. As of this year, we also somehow got a lot more clients in Berlin1, which makes for less traveling. There are even rumors of an office dog.

So here’s to the next four years of Third Wave. Thank you all for coming along.


  1. Igor did the math recently.