Facebook readying itself to provide financial services in form of remittance and electronic money

Facebook will soon offer remittance and electronic money services. It’s another piece of the puzzle after the launch of Internet.org and buying Whatsapp.

The authorisation from Ireland’s central bank to become an “e-money” institution would allow Facebook to issue units of stored monetary value that represent a claim against the company. This e-money would be valid throughout Europe via a process known as “passporting”.

This is just another piece of the puzzle that Facebook is executing with determination.

The devil is in the detail on this one, though. Internet.org and buying Whatsapp have been clear plays towards the not-yet-developed world. Facebook can grow in the US and Europe by making ads more expensive per user. That works so far. Especially with organic reach approaching Zero. There is growth in optimization for the next few years. Especially now that Facebook seems to have understood how to work mobile.

But the growth that is needed to get to a distant future, one that might involve having bought Oculus, is only going to materialize by getting all those other internet users onto the platform. While that might not be a literal goal – there is no chance for them getting everybody –, this might not be as far from the vision that Mark Zuckerberg seems to pursue.

A big step towards that goal was the acquisition of Whatsapp and its presence and brand recognizability in said markets. While mobile is on its way to be king in our world, it already is in Africa and many parts of Asia. Feature phones still rule, but smartphones are on the rise. Especially with Huawei & Co. dumping cheap, reliable hardware powered by Android on everybody that holds a Nokia feature phone in their hands.

One, if not the, major application of mobile phones is those markets is dealing with money. It’s a big place and banks aren’t as accessible. Money is being managed, for years now, through services. Sending money (P2P/remittance)? Not a problem. Paying for groceries? Not a problem. Name a scenario that you wish would work here and it’s already an old thing in at least part of Africa.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 15.57.24

That’s why it’s so interesting that Facebook is about to acquire a remittance license in Europe. tl;dr – it makes total sense.

We’ve been part of a project that involved building a payment service into / for Facebook since 2011. For the record, I do not know, if our client is in some way involved what Facebook seems to be doing right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. That being said, when we started I didn’t know much about how money transfer works. Things changed in the last 3 years.

Europe is a messy, extremely tightly regulated market for financial services and products. At least from the perspective of anybody with a banking license or with the desire to have one. Compared to other markets, it’s still a “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”-situation. Additionally, many not-yet-developed countries are using European knowledge to build regulation for themselves.

Another expect is that to provide good remittance services, one has to be present in the market from which the money will flow to somewhere. Since remittance is used predominantly by foreign workers who transfer their money from the place of their work to the place where they and their family live, it makes a lot of sense for Facebook to be present in Europe. Both because European citizens are moving quite often between countries to earn their money as well as foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia are coming here to make a living, often financing the life of their relatives in the places they came from.

As a strategy, it makes all perfect sense. Buy yourself the app that people use to communicate with each other on the devices that they use for communicating and banking, get yourself a “banking license” to one day connect everything inside one company (and possibly one application).

If successful, this will have catastrophic consequences for the open web. The tragic part, for me, is the eloquence and decisiveness of Facebook in the execution of a vision. I can’t help myself, but to admire that.

Week 125

Brut Magazin published three interview clips with Igor and me (in German). See us talking about our work and our thinking on topics like strategy, digital dualism and ethics.

Brut Magazin

This week, we have something different for you. A few weeks ago, a couple of students visited us to film an interview with us for the next edition of the Brut Magazin. Those poor guys had to listen to us for two hours, only pleading for a break when they needed to empty their memory cards.

Brut Magazin Interview Igor

You can now watch the results on the freshly launched Brut Magazin Website. There’s an 11 minutes long clip, in which we talk about who we are, what we do and why we don’t think that digital makes us stupid. There are two more shorter clips, in which we talk about ethics in our consulting work and introduce our approach to the 4-days-work-week. All videos are in German.

Brut Magazin Interview

Brut Magazin Interview

The Videos:

Week 112

Maddie discusses the process of writing to strangers.

Writing to strangers

One of the most intimidating things I have to do now and again, both at work and outside of work, is writing to people I don’t know. There is something about contacting people in writing that can be scarier than in person.

In person it is far easier to correct yourself, and to read how your communication approach is working through the other person’s behavior and reactions. This is especially the case upon meeting someone for the first time, at which point you’re still trying to figure him or her out. First-time conversations are constant revisions of strategy, in terms of language used, but also in sentiments expressed and body language. I have little trouble doing this; I usually enjoy it. In writing, these revisions are not as readily available, and while the outcome may be good, the process can be stressful.

An even scarier situation is where you want to make a good impression on somebody you don’t know. The scariest of all goes one step further: you also want or need something from the other person. There may be a benefit for them too, but ultimately you want them to do you a favor. Even if you have the best of intentions and your request is not at all unreasonable, this can feel uncomfortable, or even grimy.

This situation can be embarrassing, though quite often unjustifiably so. I’ve decided that at least for me the embarrassment is inevitable, and that as long as my intentions were good, and I tried my best to be polite (but not too polite) and friendly (but not too friendly), I don’t need to feel ashamed about contacting this person. And should things go pear-shaped and my words are wildly misinterpreted, I can always do as various GOP politicians have been doing of late, and say that ‘I felt it in my heart’ that I had to say the things I said. (I jest.)

What further complicates this matter, and as a linguist I’m perhaps a little too tuned in to these things, is that different languages/cultures deal with these situations completely differently. In Irish and British English at least, the tendency when writing to someone for something you need or want is to make yourself smaller, apologizing, using conditionals (‘would you please,’ ‘it would be very helpful if,’ ‘if you wouldn’t mind, could you’) and plenty of pleases and thank-yous. The unfortunate thing about this technique is that it can come off as disingenuous or even passive-aggressive. In German it seems to be more acceptable to be carefully polite, but still direct about your wishes. Since I write in these and a bit of my first language, American, it can be complicated to respect the respective traditions.

I have a sort of mental decision tree that I traverse in order to decide whether to, and if so how to, write to a stranger. This is a strategy still very much in development, and it certainly has its shortcomings. (Feel free to suggest improvements.)

  1. Do I need to contact this person at all?
    No? Then don’t, unless 2. is the case. Especially if it’s to ask them to do work you could really have done yourself. That’s when things get properly embarrassing.
    Yes? Then proceed with 3.

  2. Do I want to contact this person?
    No? If you don’t need to and you don’t want to, then what are you doing here?
    Yes? Proceed with 3.

  3. Do I want to contact this person to get to know them better? Or, do I only wish to thank or congratulate this person, or show appreciation?
    No? Proceed with 4.
    Yes? Write. Be quick, don’t overthink (but reread to be sure your message is clear), don’t throw out the draft or leave it sitting around for ages out of shyness. The person may not read your message, or may not care, but chances are that he or she will be happy to have made an impression on someone. And there’s even a small chance that it could be hugely encouraging, and really make a difference. Who knows, perhaps you’ll even get to work together on some project in the future.

  4. Do I want something from them but don’t really mind if I don’t get it?
    No? Proceed with 5.
    Yes? Ask away, but do so out of a genuine appreciation, and figure out a way that the thing you want could be of use to them too. Don’t be presumptuous, ask very nicely, and explain the situation and your motivations. If the motivations aren’t reasonable, don’t write.

  5. Do I need something, and this person may be able to help, or may know someone who could help?
    No? Then unfortunately the solution isn’t in this tree, and you’ll have to figure out something new.
    Yes? If contacting out of necessity, make sure beforehand that you are not able to get what you need on your own, and that there aren’t people you already know who can help, since these are usually more likely to respond. Once that is established, .

In higher-risk situations, I tend to get someone else to look over my note, especially if it’s in a foreign language, to make sure I haven’t said anything unwittingly that is inappropriate or ambiguous.

Of course the whole process of writing to a stranger is even more complex than all of this. But I think discussing the complexities can help identify which concerns are justified and which ones can be safely ignored. It can also help in figuring out whether or not the point of the conversation is a worthwhile one, or if it could be adapted to produce more interesting results.

Week 104: The first Input Day

Igor is reporting from his first input day in the first week of the 4-day-work week experiment.

If you think that we always have everything neatly planned out, let me put it this way: today is officially the first day of our 4-day workweek experiment and Monday will be my “input-day” for the rest of October. And yet, here I am writing this week note. That’s not a bad thing. Experiments come and go, but well established and functioning processes don’t always need to make a step back for innovation. Not every system needs to be broken all the time.

When it comes to experiments, it is also wise not to try to make a too-rigid rule system. The purpose is to roam free, adjust as needed and find the sweet spot that will eventually become a routine. Introducing a 4-day-work week in a small, still young company can seem easy, but it’s not and I’m looking forward to find out which of the small things that where part of a 5-day-work week will have to adapt. While at it, I will continue doing certain things on input days that are part of the usual other days. Like checking the accounts of the company, invoicing clients (as a small company, never ever be late about this) and updating the to-do list. If I would make myself not do all those things, because I decided that it’s an input day, I’d probably end up being distracted by those small things and not get any of the reading done that I prepared for the day. It helps more to clear your mind by finishing those small tasks instead of writing them down on a ever growing to-do list.

As for the way I approach this input-day: I got up as I usually do (around 7am), got on my bike and went for a 40 minute gym session. Cleared my mind, got back, ate breakfast (fried eggs, fresh veggies and a good piece of bread with butter) and went into reading for the next three hours. My current favourite for saving things to my to-read list is Quote.fm. If I find something interesting for a newsletter we publish or the weekly reads, I’m saving it to pinboard for the rest of the team to see. With Evernote and their Clearly extension, I’m dissecting every article for good, usable quotes and research material. I’m very much looking forward to the business version of Evernote that will – hopefully! – make it actually usable for collaboration.

So long, we will keep you posted about the progress of our experiment.

In case you have missed it: check out our interview with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, of Good Night Lamp and Designswarm.

The 4-Day Workweek

Starting October 1st, we will experiment with a 4-day workweek to explore if we can be more productive that way.

As of October 1st, we will be switching to a 4-day workweek. Technically, this will only affect Johannes and myself, because our trainees are working half of their week at VCCP and Maddie actually started with a 4-day work week contract at Third Wave.

This is an experiment and should be also judged as such. Since we are not sure if this is actually something that we can make work for ourselves, we decided to test this for the next two months. It is our goal both to learn from it and to share as many insights about it as possible. If it’s something that’s not compatible with our line of work, so be it. While there are plenty of people out there who are proclaiming that theirs is the one and only method to approach a balanced work week, we don’t belong to them. It probably helps that it is not part of our business model to write and publish a book. At least not on this topic.

So, why are we doing this? There are plenty of reasons. One of which is the quest for being more productive. We noticed two things over the course of the last couple of months. The first one is that being rested helps you to be more productive. While this might seem extremely obvious, it is nevertheless hard to achieve. Secondly, scarcity of time leads to higher output per measurable time interval. We’ve known this for a while now, but lacked the ability to make this knowledge actionable. Part of this experiment is to find out if this is actually true when implemented consistently.

It should be noted that we do not necessarily see the fifth day as a typical day off. It is our attempt to distribute our energy better into output and input days. We want to create a better way for us to focus on the work without having the fear that we’re missing out on reading something. Most of the things that we do read end up being not as time sensitive as they sometimes appear to be and we want to see if we can spend our fifth day on reading, exploring and just giving our brains the ability to wonder without instantly feeling guilty that we are not working.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that nobody will be available on any given Friday. Johannes and I will be doing our 20% shift on different days.

Let the test begin. We’ll keep you posted on our observations.

The Essentials – Our best blog articles

These are our favorite articles from our blog. If you want to know more about us and the topics we’re interested in, this is a good place to start.

Our Publications

Our Thinking (Out Loud)

You want to dig deeper? These articles will give you a good insight into our thinking:

The History of Our Company

We’ve been writing notes to reflect on our work. Combined, they tell the story of our company.

to be continued

A glimpse into the near future

We asked a bunch of peers and friends to share some thoughts with us. What are the main drivers of change in their respective fields, what does that mean, and what type of change do they hope for? Here are the results. Enjoy!

Around the end of the year, media outlets regularly try to out-predict each other. Particularly in tech journalism, The Next Top Ten Trends To Watch or The Top Apps For 2012 are everywhere. They’re easy to write and get clicked and linked like crazy, so editors love these lists. Who’s to blame them? I openly admit: Even though I grin smugly while doing so, I read these lists myself. I’m as guilty as anyone.

That said, we wanted to go beyond just a top 10 link list, both in breadth and depth. So we asked a bunch of peers and friends to share some thoughts with us. What are the main drivers of change in their respective fields, what does that mean, and what type of change do they hope for?

We tried to capture specific insights into different fields & industries (deep knowledge), expectations (what will happen) and desires (what should happen).

Among those we asked were designers, scientists, strategists, and a few people who, like us, squarely “sit in between the chairs”, as the Germans say.

A big thank you to those brave souls who took up the challenge: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Dannie Jost, Georgina Voss, Mike Arauz, Sami Niemelä, Stefan Erschwendner and Tamao Funahashi. Your input is much, much appreciated. You’re awesome.

Meet the participants

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino is an interaction designer & entrepreneur. She is the co-curator of This Happened London and a collaborator at the design partnership RIG London. She has been focused on the “Internet of Things” and its implications in the design of everyday products since 2005. Her work has been exhibited at the Milan Furniture Fair, London Design Festival, The Victoria & Albert Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Dr Dannie Jost has been Consulting Science Advisor and Senior Research Fellow at the World Trade Institute (WTI), NCCR Trade Regulation, Law Faculty, University of Bern, Switzerland since 2008. She works in policy and regulation issues where science, technology and trade are involved. Work in progress includes advising federal agencies on the scope of action for nanomaterial regulation within the framework of international trade law.

Dr Georgina Voss is a Research Fellow at the Faculty of Arts, Brighton University, and also holds teaching and visiting positions at Sussex University and the Science and Technology Studies Department, UCL. Prior to this, Georgina was the Research Manager at Tinker London where she managed the Homesense Project. Georgina has conducted research for organizations including MIT, the European Commission, WIRED UK, and BERG; and has been an invited speaker at renowned international conferences.

Mike Arauz is a Strategy Director at Undercurrent, and lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Since moving to New York City in 2000, Mike has led many lives. Starting as a theater actor and director, Mike studied acting at The Atlantic Theatre Company, and performed improv and sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

Sami Niemelä is a designer. He is also one of the founding partners and the creative director of Nordkapp, a Helsinki-based design consultancy. At times, he lectures about design to business people and likes to talk about cities, behavior, ubiquitous computing and cyborgs in public.

Stefan Erschwendner is co-founder and managing partner of the interdisciplinary think tank LHBS in Vienna, Austria. LHBS is specialized in cultural innovation and helps companies and brands to understand how emerging patterns of human behavior across categories can create new opportunity spaces for branding and innovation.

Tamao Funahashi is a freelance photographer, born in Tokyo, living and working in Aomori city. A graduate of visual art communication design from Musashino Art University, Tokyo, she has worked in museums (Aomori Prefectural Museum and Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum of Art) and newspaper companies (Asahi Shimbun and The Nikkei) for 10 years. Her photos have been featured on CD and DVD covers, in books and magazines, and also at some galleries.

A glimpse into the near future
View more presentations from Third Wave GmbH

A word on how to use these slides

We tried to make these slides primarily an embeddable version of this blog post. You’ll find the blog post pretty much copied and pasted in the speaker notes on Slideshare. You’ll find them on Slideshare right next to the comments.

Methodology

We asked for unstructured responses to two questions and ran a qualitative analysis, clustering individual ideas by field and into the (slightly fuzzy) categories “drivers”, “indicators”, “implications” and “hopes”.

To be respectful of the participants’ time, we didn’t require any particular format. Some responded in bullet points and idea sketches, some included screenshots. A few sent more or less fully publishable longform. (Dannie actually wrote more or less an essay which we posted over here.) Either format was fine for us, and that way we received a wall chock-full of ideas and data points:

Post it notes “Post it notes” by the waving cat, on Flickr. CC (by-nc-sa).

After compiling everything, we went at it in a quite exploratory way, adding our own insights, expectations and hopes, and compiled it all in this blog post.

Please note that the absolute majority of the ideas in here come straight from our participants. With the volume of ideas and their overlap, it was impossible to directly reference every point of input, so we highlighted just a few quotes. It’s the participants who collectively deserve the credit. Again, thank you!

Findings

There are a number of key drivers of change as well as megatrends that stand out. We’re keeping them deliberately fuzzy as there’s plenty of overlap between these. They influence and reinforce each other.

The big drivers of change

Our panel sees a few very concrete drivers built around technologies as well as global external factors at work:

  • Connections: Ubiquitous networked sensors and computers, the Internet of Things. Everything becomes more networked, with vast implications.
  • The Data Layer: Across the world, there is a layer of data that is growing thicker and more dense by the day. It is fed by our online behavior, by sensor networks, by the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • Alternative means of production: The rise of rapid prototyping, 3D printing & open-source hardware.
  • External, global factors: Economic and environmental woes & aging populations in industrialized countries increase the pressure to change, adapt and innovate. Stagnation and preserving the status quo isn’t a viable option.

Trends

Some of the key ways these drivers manifest are the following. We’ll dig deeper into these and many more.

  • Small pieces loosely joined: The network as the dominant paradigm in most fields (economy, work, organization, technology). This brings with it a trend towards smaller organizational units – think freelancers, single households, startups, local food production, bottom-up innovation.
  • New interfaces, ranging from more human (gestures etc) to machine-readable (robots, sensors, IoT).
  • The times they are a’changing: Massive disruption across the board. Nothing stays as it was or is, ranging from economy to organization to education. “Digital” is one of the main drivers, but not the only one.

snow patrol:make this go on forever “snow patrol: make this go on forever” by visualpanic, on Flickr. CC (by).

Expectations and Hopes

One thing becomes clear. Our experts all agree that we live in interesting times. Things are changing, and rapidly so. Nothing stays as it is; the status quo turns into a state of flux. While in some, mostly global contexts this includes massive collateral damage (global financial markets, global warming), there are plenty of cracks and new, as of yet largely unregulated areas where innovation thrives.

Let’s break it down by categories. The boundaries are blurry as everything is increasingly connected. Squeezed in between the expectations are the hopes, the desired development as our expert panel and we see it.

Economy & Media

As the global economy remains shaky at best, we expect things to go smaller, more granular. This means further rise of freelancers and talent networks. Innovation is coming increasingly from startups and other independent actors rather than big R&D departments. As global governance systems – unable to adapt quickly enough to new realities – fail to some degree, there are cracks in regulation where bottom-up innovation thrives. This can happen in more formal contexts, like when big corporations try to get a piece of the cake by establishing VC-style investment divisions. Or it can happen by way of Sterling-esque “Favela Chic”-style street smarts.

This comes with a certain rise of more self-reliant communities as trust in institutions is shrinking. We expect to see manifestations of this in many places. The local food movement along with urban gardening is just one of the first and most obvious. The growing popularity of Collaborative Consumption projects is another.

Speaking of institutions, mass media are entering the endgame of this second phase of the web. The fight for control over and profit from the internet is on. The established players (broadcasters, telcos and infrastructure providers like Time Warner, Verizon etc) and the new establishment (Google, Facebook, Apple etc) will fight it out. Expect nasty lawsuits, mergers and acquisitions and plenty of chaos. In the short term, this is likely to be at the expense of consumers. Media and content industries will have to re-invent themselves bottom-up to cope with change and harness new technologies.

What’s interesting is that the business models of all these companies are very diverse. There’s a lot of overlap certainly, but there’s also a lot of diversity. Seeing who breaks through with Content? Social network management? Relevance? Convenience? User experience? to establish new dominance will be a fascinating battle to watch unfold.

–Mike Arauz, Undercurrent

Sami Niemelä shares the story of an election campaign project he’s been involved with pro bono, getting candidate Pekka Haavisto to the final election round:

Our spark lit a fire and pretty much started a perfect storm. The old media is clueless about this, it’s clear they have no capacity to understand the mechanics of mesh democracy and social media.

What he’s hinting at is this: media outlets don’t have the basic understanding to see what’s going on, so how could they even begin to harness the change? We think it’s important to note that this is what happens at the organizational level – individuals inside the media outlets might be very well versed, yet there are internal and external factors that prevent appropriate action. In some cases the org chart gets in the way, in others the profit margin just doesn’t easily allow major changes to the otherwise “functioning” business. Working around these organizational restrictions is a major road block. Again, size matters as smaller units are more agile.

In terms of economy and businesses, we’ll increasingly see the effects of what has been going on for the last few years: Whatever is touched by “digital” is changed massively. The impact is usually most visible in the business model, in organizational structures or in product development, but every single field is affected.

Grace Hopper and UNIVAC “Grace Hopper and UNIVAC” by public.resource.org, on Flickr. CC (by).

Apropos product development. We expect to see a period where the product design & development industry will suffer just like the content industry did. Collaborative design processes, open source hardware and 3D printing in all its shapes and forms will uproot this whole industry in ways hard to grasp yet. Particularly the open, flat infrastructures we see evolving in 3D printing today will have profound impacts driven by hobbyists and free market demand alike. We have seen the first Kickstarter projects that collected north of one million US dollars, and we expect crowdsourcing to gain in importance quickly. Some companies will harness this demand and make it work for themselves – imagine a high-priced, gorgeously designed and strongly regulated market for (DRM’d) 3D print models by Apple, maybe even before the decade is over.

Which companies will dominate in this New World Order? Our guess is: the ones that best adapt their business model to truly harness sharing. Incentives to make your creations available to others could be financial – kickbacks, discounts etc – or non-financial: sharing is caring, as the old saying goes. From today’s point of view, Google and Facebook are obvious candidates to leverage this redistribution of data, just as Apple could build a strong platform for sharing. However, this is a fickle, fast-moving industry, and a strong contender might come out of nowhere. We dare not make a prediction.

We hope to see Arduino, prototyping and 3D printing become more accessible and gain the power to democratize the means of production. Only then will we also see growing ecologies of businesses built around these tools. It will be thriving, exciting, and very, very normal.

Tech & Web

Tech & Web is a wide field. Since we recruited strongly from that background, this is also at the very core of our collection of predictions. So let us divvy this up into smaller chunks.

We’ve established the dominance of the digital already. Its younger, but no less powerful sisters are ubiquitous 3D printing and rapid prototyping as well as the Internet of Things. Overall, we expect networked technology to become even more ubiquitous, and more invisible. This is right at the intersection of two notions mentioned before: everything becomes smaller & more granular, and there’s a new data layer spanning all aspects of our lives.

We used to like our technology visible as a sign of high tech quality – we proudly displayed our TVs, stereos, computers. It stood out. But as technology became ubiquitous, we entered a phase of humanized and intuitive technology, popularized by the likes of Minority Report and iPhones. Now we are seeing the rise of invisible technology – technology simply baked into daily life, utilized but non-intrusive.

–Stefan Erschwendner, LHBS

From a design perspective, this changes a few things. A networked environment can and should be able to react more contextually and more appropriately to our needs. Interfaces should become more subtle; gestural interfaces will proliferate and turn technology even more into a true extension of ourselves. Ambient technology ranging from playful applications like the Bubblino to more work-related tools like interactive whiteboards become more powerful, and if not more useful, then at least smarter.

The proliferation of gestural interfaces (iPhones and Android touch-screen mobile phones, iPads and other touch-screen tablets, and XBox Kinect-type motion-driven interfaces) will have a quiet, yet seismic affect on disintegrating the boundary between the technological and the human. In the more distant future when we take the integration of digital/computer with our physical and mental selves for granted, we’ll look back on these few years as one of the major milestones along that road, due in large part to how gestural interfaces contributed to making technology a true extension of ourselves.

–Mike Arauz, Undercurrent

The looming problematic that is the third industrial revolution is going to open up some interesting design challenges. Design has a chance to truly influence and make the world a better place here. A long as we as an industry get over the needs and wants of selling glorified sugar to infant children.

–Sami Niemelä, Nordkapp

Consumer electronics will be better designed and much better networked then today, thanks to the open web. Once it becomes industry best practice to put APIs on our gadgets and services and we can more easily make our things talk to each other, our experience will be a league better.

On the other hand, not all things look bright. We and our stuff are becoming ever more digitally connected. Yet this does not mean that we will always feel more connected on a personal level. There will be the occasional feeling of intense loneliness, as well as a demand & need for smaller, more protected social networks. Think the next iteration of Path or Instagram. The group/list/circle concept is as yet only rudimentarily developed. We think that will change as social software and non-human actors grow more sophisticated.

Avioncitos “Avioncitos” by josemanuelerre, on Flickr. CC (by-nd).

The rise of indie tech movements isn’t going to slow anytime soon. We already mentioned makerbots, 3D printing and collaborative design. Add the more techy flavor of the DIY/craft scene, physical computing and group funding and you get a pretty potent mix. This means a massive change in how we perceive physical goods. If that doesn’t replace the current system of massive, mainstream-oriented production, then at least it will complement it through small production runs and mass customization. We’re talking about the real thing, not swapping colored pieces of plastic. Remixing will increasingly be applicable to physical goods, like toys. Today we see only the tip of the iceberg, the equivalent of the home computing movement in the 70s. Industrial production as we know it today will experience a profound disruption. Who will turn out to be today’s Wozniak and build the next Apple?

I hope these kind of products and services we may see in the near future will come with open-source platforms that allow you create your very own network and run it on a server of your choice. To find the right (or better) balance between access and security, convenience and control, global approach and local action, etc., more positive interactions and discussions will be needed for sure.

–Tamao Funahashi

Physical goods will face piracy in very similar terms as digital goods today when consumers can just print knock-off toys and spare parts. Intellectual property will be redefined yet again.

Arduino has become a ubiquitous tool, rapid prototyping at home will become ubiquitous and as interesting as a hammer or a set of nails. Which means that ecologies of businesses will grow around the tools. You hire a plumber to fix your kitchen even if you could probably figure it out yourself don’t you? Will you have your furniture designed online and press print? Most probably.

–Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, RIG

As a side note, who is responsible if a 3D printed object fails? Current laws might struggle just a tad with this.

While multi-purpose devices like the iPad will grow in popularity, they will not at all kill single-purpose devices like the Kindle. This follows a rough pattern. New products will end up as features in multi-purpose devices for less demanding consumers, while power users will always favor dedicated devices. The core of adaption stays in the software and the surrounding ecosystem. As iOS and Android have shown us, functionally largely equivalent devices and services can be used to create very different types of ecosystems.

Speaking of ecosystems, Social Media services are run by companies and thus legitimately need to earn money. The rules of user consent and privacy will be put to the test. The privacy wars will be one of the big conflicts in the years to come. Always remember: if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. If you’re not paying, you’re being sold.

Things get smarter, and by “smarter” we really mean more connected and responsive. In households we can already see the first steps of networking, but smart homes are still quite a way off. The more interesting innovation in the field doesn’t come from the big R&D departments but from more bottom-up, user-centric design studios (like our friend and contributor Alexandra) and hobbyists from all kinds of backgrounds.

In the automotive industry, things look a little different as car manufacturers explore new technologies but won’t just let any hobbyist play with their software. They get support from the big tech companies like the Facebooks and Googles. Driverless car, anyone? Again, gestural interfaces will also help control both your car and your home in more human, intuitive ways. And while we’re putting chips in our environment, let’s not forget pets and humans, either: RFID chips might make a good implant if there’s a valid, convincing use case that is so good that it tops the inherent creepiness we associate with chip implants today.

A field that will see massive change is the health and fitness sector. Over the last couple of years we’ve gotten a first glimpse at where things are going through the Quantified Self movement. There’s a lot more to come, though. What we know today as the Quantified Self (QS), the measurement of body and behavioral data for further analysis, will become more embedded in our daily lives as sensors get cheaper and network usage gets both easier and more ubiquitous. QS will get a simpler, more snappy name; seem less strange as applications are mainstreamed and become easier to use; be more hidden and embedded. The challenge will be to find more meaning and relevance in the measurements and, as boundaries between humans and technology grow ever more blurry, to make sure that the necessary privacy safeguards are in place. Non-human actors, namely bots in both the software and the hardware sense, will find lots of use in medical contexts.

Nike Fuelband is a start, esp. its Swatch-time like common measurement. But it’s not enough yet. Context makes it relevant when it should be the other way around.

–Sami Niemelä, Nordkapp

We hope that we will, on a global as well as local scale, be able to close the growing technology gap between rich and poor. Technology can empower and democratize, or it can be exclusive. We think that inclusion is key.

We hope to find a balance between access & security, between convenience & control, between global & local needs. All of these dichotomies axes represent legitimate needs and agendas that often are highly complex. Yet this is where we as a society need all the smart minds we can find.

We hope that our networks, including the Web and the Internet of Things, will be free & open, as this is the basic foundation for true innovation and democracy. To harness the smarts of the tech community, we need a true read-write web.

We hope to see more mature & more valuable social networking software. More nuance and sophistication, more focus on user needs than marketers’ needs. In other words, not just iterations of Facebook, but a different paradigm.

Life, Politics, Design

As the industrialized countries globally face aging populations, smaller families and single households, needs in housing and social care change drastically. Examples? Increasingly, the need for tele-medicine and assisted care will rise. Our smart homes will need to double as early warning systems in case the inhabitant has medical issues.

In the face of even stronger globalization, the need for cultural identity grows stronger again. What will be the primary point of cultural reference? Nation, city, block, tribe, operating system?

Global mobility, especially among young professionals, fosters a lifestyle of less – at least in terms of physical ownership. The lifestyle of “digital nomads” isn’t a rare exception anymore, but becoming the norm in at least our industry. And no matter where you are, chances are your data lives in the cloud anyway. The physical things you own can easily become a burden rather than an asset. Again, we refer to our trusted Guide To The Clutterless, Mr. Bruce Sterling for guidance on what to keep – and what to give away.

Education will change drastically. The US model of university funding is broken, yet it is copied and implemented across the globe. The #Occupy movement featured student loans prominently, and for a reason. More educational material than ever before is available online for free. Yet questions of how to curate and how to validate & certify knowledge acquired this way remain. Will a Harvard degree stay the most desirable standard of education? Which institutions could provide validation services? Maybe Open Badges are a careful step in the right direction.

Everyone hot-desks, people have lockers, the buildings are empty vessels for activity. (…) It’s education as office work. We all know hot-desking only works for journalists, that it kills ideas, innovation and community building but it’s the most efficient use of space for education as a corporate activity. Education will be powered by corporations not government.

–Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, RIG

School design, after hardly changing for the better part of the last century, is taking a sharp turn towards corporate settings. This is just one of many symptoms of the corporate influence on education. It’s a double-edged sword: on one hand, big companies step in where governments don’t provide the best education, and help get students ready for their careers. On the other hand, this kind of education is aimed primarily at streamlining corporate careers. Do we want a Google University? How would it be biased? Is it a bad influence or good for choice? Questions we can only ask, not answer.

Increased awareness that the ‘democratisation’ of technology is still a limited process, and that people who can engage in it are still those in regions with fast broadband, access to a free/open internet, access to tablets/PCs/smartphones etc. Aiming to create inclusive processes of social/political/cultural participation, rather than privileging those who already have substantial social and technological capital. In practical terms this means keeping libraries open – maybe opening more of them – as they may be the only space where many citizens can access the internet; not shifting educational tools entirely to ‘e-books’ and online learning; recognising that digital techs complement, not replace, paper.

–Georgina Voss

We should ask equivalent questions for museums. The one thing we already know is this: museums are going to get a tech overhaul as they get more connected. Lots has been happening in that space, and there’s more to come. We recommend looking at the fantastic work our friend Jake Barton has been doing in New York. Networks help us overcome growth barriers. This holds true for the small (self-reliant or mutually supportive communities) as well as for larger societal challenges. Just to name a few: finding better solutions for outdated copyright laws and industry protection. More flexible work visa regulations for a globally mobile workforce including tax models and pension plans that should move with the person. While easily explained historically, the paperwork associated with moving and working internationally creates barriers that stand in the way of global talent distribution and equal chances.

I would like to see my peers tackle financial regulation, social equity, and produce technology that liberates instead of technology that enslaves. A lot of technology today enslaves, it does not liberate. Come to think of it, the same can be said of regulations and laws that are there to guarantee our freedoms but that over time have been highjacked in the service of few and alienate the masses. The results are not pretty. I exaggerate. Still, sometimes it looks like one large group gets the obligations, and a small minority get the rights. That is not the idea.

–Dannie Jost, WTI

Programming and basic electronics skills will be the true lingua franca, and hopefully will be taught in primary school. A key moment of the networked, new century will be when good ol’ hardware stores will install “computing aisles”.

A whole new industry focused on pre-production processes will arise, as opposed to those focused on final products. Instead of IKEA we might go to a cutting & printing place for furniture, toys or spare parts. As one of the leading producers of final products today, Apple merits a closer look. Will they go away, stay largely untouched because their production methods are so advanced, or build a beautiful, highly restrictive and controlled 3D printing platform?

We hope that this Third Industrial Revolution will provide apt solutions for the more-than-just-interesting design challenges the world faces.

We hope that designers will put their skills to use to design for a better world, and focus on values, attitudes and resources that increase quality of life.

We hope that governments invest massively in R&D to foster innovation beyond the high-risk, financially driven free market.

Cities

As organizers of the Cognitive Cities Conference and urbanism geeks, we were particularly happy to see visions of the future of cities among the input, too.

Cities have always been a focal point for innovation and early tech adoption. We expect urban spaces to open up to all kinds of connected things, ranging from smart screen solutions to responsive buildings and vehicles.

Cultural identity, as mentioned before, might be provided or at least fostered on the local level. Think urban “villages” within cities, strong tribe-like connections. These “tribes” might be defined regionally, within the city, or by shared interests, spread out across several cities.

Either way, we can expect that cities will become more responsive, both on an architectural and a transportation level. Truly interesting things won’t happen in the planned corporate cities of East Asia, but in the messy underbellies of big, organically grown cities, ranging from Sterling’s notion of Favela Chic to grassroots tech activism in the hackerspaces of New York, Hong Kong, Berlin, Rio and Shanghai.

So what? (aka What does it all mean?)

Now where does all that leave us? We see some big drivers of change as outlined in the beginning. Across the field and in all disciplines, things are getting more connected. This holds true for the global – world, country, economy, internet – as well as the super local – our homes, our gadgets, our bodies. The network is the absolute paradigm, now more than ever. Decentralization means a redistribution of power. It also means that if you pull one string, something might unravel in unexpected places. If there’s one thing that seems certain, it’s that we’re headed for more complexity, not less. In your business, embrace this complexity. There’s a ton of opportunities in there.

grandmaster FLAX ~ II “grandmaster FLAX ~ II” by striatic, on Flickr. CC (by).

The cultural and socio-economic implications of all these things are huge. In a nutshell, we expect culture to thrive while parts of the content industries fail. Yet, the overall global economic structures will lead to certain uncertainties that foster small, bottom-up business and innovation.

That said, this is a blog about digital strategy, so let’s not go to deep into fields where we lack reliable data and rather look at the things we actually know.

Rather than giving any concrete answers, we have more questions for your business.

  • Look at your current business. What are its touchpoints with the digital sphere? Do you get as much out of every single one as you possibly could? Where do you not currently see any of these touchpoints? Have a really thorough look at those places – chances are you’re missing something.
  • How can you connect all aspects of your organization with all the other parts? How can you connect them more with people, ideas, products outside your sphere of direct influence? Looking at these scenarios through your users’ eyes, what would really have a positive impact? What would make you say “whoa!”, and mean it?
  • Does your business rely on a centralized offer that sells scarcity? Think again.
  • Whatever you offer, chances are it’s going to be hacked. Hope that it is: if it’s not relevant enough to get hacked, you’re in trouble. Encourage the interaction, empower these power users. They’re your best friends.
  • Is there someone in your company who smugly says they have “no clue about technology”? We think that’s nothing to boast of. Offer to help and build structures that allow your teams to stay on top of trends. Also, make sure everybody knows that feeling good for not knowing things isn’t an option1.
  • Whether you offer software, a service or a physical product, do you play fair? Do you allow for your users to export their data? Is it easy? Do you monetize your users’ data? Do they know how, and what it means? Can they opt out, for example by paying a premium? Are there bits of fine print in your ToS that you’re embarrassed by? When are you going to rewrite them? Why don’t you invite your users to pitch in?
  • If you sell physical goods, how is the stuff you ship better than a copy might be? What’s unique in your process, your team, your culture?
  • When was the last time you asked your team for ideas on improving what you do? When was the last time you implemented their proposals?
  • What data exists as a by-product of your offerings? How do you use it to create value for your community? Can you make the data directly available to the community?

We hope these questions help you make your organization fitter for the near future.

We have all the reasons in the world to believe that the trends outlined above will, in some way or another, manifest. We’d love to see you take full advantage of them. We can influence the way the world develops – together, in small steps, by asking the right questions.

I’d like to leave you with this quote by our friend Dannie Jost. Seems to me this is the right mental setting for the next few years:

The times ahead will surprise us. I will continue to search for the perfect hot chocolate mix.

See you on the other side.

Feel free to spread this

Again, we’d like to thank our friends & contributors, who all took the time to pitch in with their ideas and thoughts. We’re grateful for their input. Feel free to reuse this material. We publish both this text and the presentation under a Creative Commons license (by-nc), so you can use it for non-commercial purposes.


  1. Unless you’re a candidate in the Republican primaries. Sorry, couldn’t help ourselves. 

Dannie Jost: The times ahead will surprise us

For our recent forecasting project, we asked some friends and experts for their insights, expectation and hope for the next three to five years. Dannie Jost replied with a very publishable piece that we’d like to share in full with you.

For our recent forecasting project, we asked a number of friends and experts for their insights, expectations and hopes for the next three to five years. How will technology change our lives? Our friend and CoCities speaker Dr Dannie Jost replied with this following piece that we’d like to share in full with you.

I should have been an astronomer: I like to think in terms of light years and orders of magnitude. In 3-5 years not much happens, just fluctuations. Still, punditry is something that everyone ought to engage with at least once in a lifetime. It was about time that I give it a try.

What are the most interesting big trends and drivers that will shape the next 3-5 years, how might they manifest, and what are the main implications?

For the next 3-5 years the big trends and drivers that will shape our existence will be the shrinking of the economy, the development of a new understanding of what sustainability is, the discovery that governance systems are failing, and the increased frequency of extreme weather events. The main implications will be a tendency to concentrate on those values, attitudes, and resources that make a difference in the quality of one’s life. There will be a mixture of the intensity of loneliness, and an increase in the value of clan values.

This does not mean that there will be no conflicts, it may even be that the conflicts between social classes – the haves and have nots – will intensify within and across national sovereignty borders. I have a bad feeling that democracy and liberalism are eroding and that human rights and obligations are good candidates for a collaborative reengineering project. I know that capitalism is broken, but thank Charles Schwab for voicing it out loud.

Imagine that the world’s governments, instead of restructuring their administrations, reducing costs, getting a grip on corruption, concentrate on improving the social cohesion and infrastructure, put the squeeze on the taxpayers that are already overtaxed (aka ‘the poor’) and leave the few wealthy living in overabundance and tax free. Somehow that is not a recipe for peace. Strangely enough this is the trend as we watch the world deal with the so-called financial and the euro crisis. I do not like the developments one bit.

The question that remains for me is whether I will remain a complaining observer, and if there will be any action that I will take to interfere with these developments.

How could the world be made more desirable over the next 3-5 years? In other words, which problems would you like your peers to tackle over the next few years, or which parameters to change?

I would like to see my peers tackle financial regulation, social equity, and produce technology that liberates instead of technology that enslaves. A lot of technology today enslaves, it does not liberate. Come to think of it, the same can be said of regulations and laws that are there to guarantee our freedoms but that over time have been highjacked in the service of few and alienate the masses. The results are not pretty. I exaggerate. Still, sometimes it looks like one large group gets the obligations, and a small minority get the rights. That is not the idea. I do not like that bit either.

Which parameters should change is not the question I would ask. It implies a deterministic approach to a deterministic world. I would invite exploration and I would include discipline in the exploration. The exploration will aid in finding the emerging temporary parameters that can be used to shape the world and create the society that we want. Techno-determinism is not the way to go. Determinism is just not the way that the Universe is built. The Universe is evolving and we are interacting with it albeit on a small scale in the grand scale of things, and in a big way in the small scope of our planet.

All our information-generating capabilities only reveal the limits of of knowledge and the confines of our cognitive abilities. We are not doomed, but the rollercoaster ride of evolution has barely began.

I would like to see some of my own ideas gain traction, but the ink is not even dry on some of those plans. Still, the plans are quite concrete. I enjoy playing and exploring the ideas of monopolies and competition and their relationship to innovation and public goods. For example, the pharmaceutical industry operates with a business model derived from hardcore capitalism, and that model is fairly kaputt.

Thanks for the questions. These are good questions. The more I try to answer them, the more evident it is to me that I do not have a clue. The times ahead will surprise us. I will continue to search for the perfect hot chocolate mix. Hopes I have for a smart phone that is a wifi fox and has no more than ten apps. For dishes and laundry, I will rely on house help and electric appliances.

Dr Dannie Jost has been Consulting Science Advisor and Senior Research Fellow at the World Trade Institute (WTI), NCCR Trade Regulation, Law Faculty, University of Bern, Switzerland since 2008. She works in policy and regulation issues where science, technology and trade are involved. Work in progress includes advising federal agencies on the scope of action for nanomaterial regulation within the framework of international trade law.

Please note: This piece is released under Creative Commons (by-nc). For your attribution, please refer to the author, Dr Dannie Jost.

Cyborgs, identities & asking the right questions

We’re all cyborgs, says our friend Sami Niemelä in a talk he gave at Playful Conference in London the other day. Some thoughts on how human and machine identities, and why we can’t find answers just yet.

Our friend and former CoCities speaker Sami Niemalä (of Nordkapp fame) gave a talk at Playful. Sadly we had to miss it, but he posted his slides online:

I love the way he dives into the discussion if (and how) we qualify as cyborgs. More importantly, though, he shows nicely how the future isn’t the polished thing it was expected to be back in the olden, black-and-white days. Instead it’s gorgeously broken and bursting full of weirdness (tweeting plants are just the top of the iceberg).

As he points out, designing machines and household appliances to behave in a human way (if that’s even desirable) is hard:

Should every single thing at your house have needs and feelings? Would you like to have an emo couch or the more rational one. Is this a question you want to think about?

We’re still figuring out the right questions

This is something we need to think about much, much more. While we in the industry are experimenting with certain types of behaviors, and the industry as a whole is going through various stages of learning, it’s important that we remember that we won’t solve any of these questions. In fact, I believe we’re nowehere near a point where we can even try to answer any of these questions, and are rather at a point where we’re still trying to figure out the right questions.

And we see this popping up all over the place: Sami collected a few great examples of weirdness and Uncanny Valley in his presentation. We’ve been discussing software agents that (seem to) emulate human behaviors like Foursquare check-ins, Retweets and (re-)blogging with David Bausola. (He builds some of those software agents. They’re called Weavrs. I set up a few to experiment, and they’re roaming the web freely, which is fascinating to no end.)

Identities

Speaking of identities. While software, services, products have long since started to develop identities that at least emulate human behavior, we haven’t even figured out how to project real human identity on the web.

Above, you see a talk by Christopher Poole, aka moot, founder of 4chan and its tamer brother Canvas. At Web 2.0 Summit, he explored the different ways that the big services like Facebook and Google approach identity. And he (rightfully, I think) smacks them left and right:

Google and Facebook would have you believe that you’re a mirror, but in fact, we’re more like diamonds.

The current model on the web is to assume that you have one identity, and that you just need to be able to share different bits of information with different groups. But our online identities should be multi-faceted, since that’s how it works in the physical world as well. As Chris Poole states, it’s not about who we share to (as Google+ assumes with Circles, and Facebook with lists), but who we share as. Am I posting this as a friend, coworker, son?

This is a hugely complex topic; yet, it’s one of those big questions that we need to work out. In our work, when we talk to clients, we often don’t have simple answers for these questions. (In fact, if anyone claimed they had simple answers, I’d be seriously suspicious.) What we try, though, is to work out the right questions, and then take it from there.

We produce more data, more and different data trails; we can access big data & aggregated data; increasingly personal data, too. When you look at building a service or product, make sure to look at the different aspects & contexts of data and identities, of how your thing might be used in different contexts. And allow for plenty of experimentation – you might not yet be asking the right questions. We’ve been exploring this cluster of topics and data trails (ranging from web data to city data to body data and beyond) in various formats, from Cognitive Cities Conference to talks and workshops at PICNIC and WINnovation, and we’ll keep digging. Follow this blog and our tweets for upcoming workshops.

Quantifying future

On Thursday, I was in Hamburg following the invitation by the lovely people from Brainjuicer to speak at their WINnovation event. I always enjoy an opportunity to go to Hamburg, so I went and talked about Quantified Self and Cities.

On Thursday, I was in Hamburg following the invitation by the lovely people from Brainjuicer to speak at their WINnovation event.

It was a last-minute kind of thing after David – the man with the Weavrs – arranged the conversation. Nonetheless, I always enjoy an opportunity to go to Hamburg and in this case I even was asked to talk about Quantified Self and Cities. In essence, it was a short talk version of the workshop David, Peter and I gave at PICNIC only a few of weeks ago. I wasn’t perfectly sure about the setup of the event – as I said, it was all very last-minute –, I really didn’t know what kind of a crowd would be there and on what level people would be on this topic. Hence I decided to go into a deep dive, offer the people who are already familiar with the topic a few insights and leave everybody else with enough ideas to build their questions. Seemingly, it all worked out fairly well.

Somebody told me later at the dinner that he didn’t fully understand the topic, but it seemed as if it showed a potential future. This made me smile, because that is exactly what we try to do at Third Wave.

This might sound a bit over-the-top, but all in all that it’s pretty much spot on. Not all our projects are based on the fringes, no. But we expect from ourselves that we know what is happening on those fringes, because every time we sit down to work on strategy for our clients, we can provide them with something that is not focused on the next few months, but actually can survive the next few years. In many cases, those fringe topics don’t have a big impact on our client’s business model (yet), but they might at some point – and being prepared for it helps in the long run.

There will be a video of the talk soon. Follow us on twitter (@thirdwaveberlin) and grab the link there.