Third Wave GmbH digital strategy consultancy Fri, 04 Jul 2014 12:50:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 TW Reads – About that Facebook study Fri, 04 Jul 2014 12:50:06 +0000

The more I read people’s reactions to this study, the more I’ve started to think the outrage has nothing to do with the study at all. There is a growing amount of negative sentiment towards Facebook and other companies that collect and use data about people. In short, there’s anger at the practice of big data.

–danah boyd

Observing the kerfuffle around the Facebook “emotion contagion” study this week, one could see two typical reactions:

  • “How could they do this? This is outrages!“
  • “What are you angry about? Everybody is doing this all the time!“

But besides all the typical gut reactions, I was hoping that a more nuanced discussion would be triggered by this. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Here are our favorite articles about the Facebook study and connected topics that show how a conversation can be elevated by looking deeper and trying a more balanced approach, minding the complexity that comes with these kinds of topics.

Zeynep Tufekci in Facebook and Engineering the Public

Tufekci was one of the first to react, speaking mostly to the research community, demanding that it speaks to (new) power and uses it’s methods and models to investigate the manipulative abilities of tech companies.

To me, this resignation to online corporate power is a troubling attitude because these large corporations (and governments and political campaigns) now have new tools and stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams. These tools are new, this power is new and evolving. It’s exactly the time to speak up!

danah boyd in What does the Facebook experiment teach us?

boyd first looked in detail at how “informed consent” works and the context of scientific research today. She then analyzes what we can learn about the public’s fear of big data by examining the reactions to the study.

Information companies aren’t the same as pharmaceuticals. They don’t need to do clinical trials before they put a product on the market. They can psychologically manipulate their users all they want without being remotely public about exactly what they’re doing. And as the public, we can only guess what the black box is doing.

Kate Crawford in The Test We Can—and Should—Run on Facebook

Crawford suggests that Facebook should do an experiment. They should let people opt-in to take part in research studies.

There is a tendency in big data studies to accord merit to massive sample sizes, regardless of the importance of the question or the significance of the findings. But if there’s something we’ve learned from the emotional contagion study, a large number of participants and data points does not necessarily produce good research.

Whitney Erin Boesel in Facebook’s Controversial Experiment: Big Tech Is the New Big Pharma

Boesel points to the difficult distinction between human subject research and data science in big data projects like this one. Another consequence is that the lines between corporate research and academic research are blurring with data companies offering lucrative jobs to scientists.

We need to create new basic standards for social and behavioral research, and these standards must apply equally to corporations and institutions, to market researchers and academic researchers, to data scientists and social scientists alike.

What they all talk about is the new power that these data companies hold, which demands a much bigger sensibility towards their users and in handling their data. In my opinion, this is maybe the biggest issue that the tech companies and the big data industry is facing right now.

Anab Jain in Valley of the Meatpuppets

With an increase in monitoring, surveillance, AI and big data, this ambiguity, this sense of uncertainty and unconnectedness will become more pronounced. Invisible wars over autonomy will become a recurring leitmotif of the 21st century.

All of this connects tremendously to a talk Anab Jain gave at Future Everything this year and which she posted this week.
She looks at the topic of power from a surveillance point of view, but goes much, much deeper to reveal the patterns that influence us and the approaches that will help us to create our own way.

As designers we believe it is important to think about wider complexities in order to challenge the deeper assumptions about technological power and control.

Highly recommended reading!

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TW Reads – A Future of News edition Fri, 27 Jun 2014 13:17:41 +0000

“To be successful, digital publications must do more than permit a story to come together — they must also empower the kind of prolific, creative collaboration required to bring off stories that can seduce even the most distracted readers.”


As Igor mentioned in his work note, we quite enjoy observing the news media industry at the moment. When the NY Times Innovation Report was released, we – once again – noticed the undercurrent of a theme we’ve been running with for some time now: in the future every company will also be a tech company. Or in this case: every journalism company will also be a tech company.

The merging of literature and technology is also true for journalism and technology. And it’s not only about how to get your content to your audience but also about infrastructure is changing consumption and thus creation.

We see the strongest potential for future success with approaches that show a joint passion for reporting, production, delivery and communication.

Here are some articles and links from the last few weeks on that topic:

  • The Atlantic: Method Journalism
Alexis Madrigal analyzes how this round of new media sites like Vox, FiveThirtyEight and others are no longer about an “area of coverage” but a “method of coverage.”
  • NY Times: Scoop – A Glimpse Into the NYTimes CMS
    In times when some in Germany think that 10 percent of a new media endeavor’s budget for tech is too much, this is an interesting look at the new, digital-first CMS that the NY Times is building. It’s a little more than just setting up a WordPress instance.
  • Editorially joins Vox Media
Besides being glad that the smart people behind failed startup Editorially having found a new home, this announcement is actually full of interesting insights. The Editorially team will help Vox Media to optimize the editorial workflow (see the quote above).
  • Forbes: The Invention Of News: How The World Came To Know About Itself
    In the heated debates about the future of news, we tend to forget about the history of news and what we can learn from that. Andrew Pettegree has written the go-to book about it and this interview makes us want to buy it.
  • BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti Goes Long
When even people like Seth Godin think that BuzzFeed is about cats and listicles, we’d recommend looking a bit deeper. And this (very) long interview with its founder Jonah Peretti is an excellent place to start. Trust us on this one.
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Work Note – Literature and Technology at the Electric Book Fair 2014 Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:35:35 +0000

@RugeElisabeth und @jkleske auf der @ebf_berlin über das Lesen im 21. Jahrhundert. War interessant. #ebf14

— Leander Wattig (@leanderwattig) June 22, 2014

Our work relationship with our client Elisabeth Ruge is based on our mutual fondness of literature and interest in the effects of technological progress. So when the opportunity arrived to give a talk together, we chose to use our dualism between literature and technology as the format.

Last Saturday, the digital indie-publishing scene got together at Supermarkt in Berlin-Wedding for the Electric Book Fair. Elisabeth Ruge and I (Johannes) talked about ‘Reading in the 21st century’ making the case that we’re reading more then ever. We looked at different aspects like the serialization of novels, customized/algorithmic novels and social reading with her providing the historic/literary perspective and me talking about the technological facets. Our main examples was once again Wattpad, which for me remains one of the strongest signals for what reading (and thus writing) might become in the near future.

Our goal was to show that one can’t really separate those two sides or, to be more precise, that one shouldn’t to be successful. From what I can tell, the talk was received well.

Here are three (German) articles that cover our presentation:

Elisabeth and I will host a workshop at the Epublish Congress in November.

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Work Note – Back in the writing business Tue, 17 Jun 2014 08:00:29 +0000 Clever strategy to first announce a massive change in how we want to approach publishing and than just stop writing all together.

Please don’t do this at home. Or at work, for that matter.

There are both professional as well as personal reasons that led to this particular (non-)execution of a strategy that we still want to test in the field.

Professionally, we have experienced a peak in work load. Not utterly unexpected, but mixed with the fact that I became a dad (it’s a girl!) a tiny bit earlier than estimated, it led to an unprecedented reshuffling of priorities, in which family and direct client work have top priority.

Practically speaking, while I was enjoying and easing into a family routine, Johannes successfully managed to juggle all project at once. The understanding and flexibility that all of our partners and clients showed to a sudden change of pace reminded us how privileged we are to be able to work with those people.

Now that I’m back, we returning to an old routine and this post is an attempt to get back to writing. In that sense, here is a run down of things that we have been up to.

Publishing, publishing … and publishing

In various capacities, we maintain our focus on the publishing industry and keep a very close eye on industry news and developments. In that context, we couldn’t avoid the leaked New York Times report and Amazon’s very public confrontation both with Hachette as well as Warner Bros.

NYT Report

It’s a rare gift to get access to an internal strategy document from one of the leading brands in the publishing industry. There are a couple of findings that sprang to mind, but overall I’d have to agree with BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti that they are very hard on themselves and especially on their digital team and not hard enough on the print people. Considering especially the scope of things in Germany, where the pinnacle of news innovation seems to be a crowd funding project by journalists, the NYT performs beyond what most other media organizations can offer.

On a side note: it was reinforcing to see some of the findings and business model adjustment suggestions that we made for a client in Moscow last year in a similar form in the NYT report.

Amazon vs Hachette vs Bornier vs Warner

In a remarkably public way, Amazon and Hachette (they apply similar mechanics with Bornier and Warner) decided to show the world how much both sides don’t care for each other. The mechanics that Amazon applies have been document fairly publicly and – probably not to a big surprise – not quite in the market places favor.

Despite the assumed premise that Amazon does everything with the consumer in mind, they do not seem to back off in highlight of all the negative PR. In this context, the only thing that we can now hope for is for a leaked report on how much business they lose. If any.

Be it for the consumer or not, the consumer is the one that made it possible for Amazon to pull this off. The “everything store” has created a cross-industries pull effect of unprecedented proportions. They fell comfortable enough to not provide the customer with the exact thing that they want, because they know that the same customer will come back to buy something else from them anyway. A book or two more not sold isn’t going to make a behemoth of that size flinch. At this point, it would need a cross-industries collaboration to back Amazon into the corner they so deserve to be in.

Mobile Payments

As for years now, we are still constantly involved in various projects about mobile payment.

There is an unravelling happening in the industry. Starting with Square. A company that went quickly from being the darling example of all innovators to a disputed, cash-burning entity that apparently can neither find a buyer because of its overblown valuation nor does have the balance sheet that would make an IPO possible.

Despite all that, Square’s solution was regarded as the benchmark of the industry. It has to say something that this very solution is shelved now.

Mobile Wallets don’t catch on, because they are build in a way that mostly benefits the maker of the wallet, not the user. Many, if not most, mobile wallets are made by companies outside of the finance business. The play is to take away some of the power from the companies who are making a profit on cash and credit. Banks, credit card issuers, etc.

Problem is: for now, mobile wallets can’t be designed in a way that assumes that they are the only way to pay out there. Which they aren’t. Cash and plastic aren’t going to go extinct any time soon. I see a bright future for companies who succeed in building a mobile wallet as part of a larger ecosystem of payment methods. There is plenty of money in that too.

That’s basically what we have been exploring in the field. What might this look like? Where is the market for such a venture? Making feature lists, discussing business plans. This is an ongoing project, expect us to talk more about some of the insights.

With that, I’m signing off after a long update.

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TW Reads – Zeynep Tufekci Sat, 17 May 2014 07:45:40 +0000 We crack ourselves up sometimes: We wrote about all those changes to our blogging formats and then we just stopped publishing new articles. But the excuse is the best we can have. We got drowned in work and new projects.

So while we grind away, how about some reading material from people much smarter than us. Like Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep). She’s a sociologist, working as an “assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill at at the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) with an affiliate appointment in the Department of Sociology.” Her work on protest and social media as much as her observations on Turkey got our attention. And she has been on a roll in the last couple of months, putting out the most insightful articles on Medium and other outlets.

Here are some of our favorites:

No, Nate, brogrammers may not be macho, but that’s not all there is to it
How French High Theory and Dr. Seuss can help explain Silicon Valley’s Gender Blindspots

A Brief Primer on Human Social Networks, or How to Keep $16 Billion In Your Pocket
1. Listen to social scientists. 2. Don’t reinvent sociology 101. 3. … 4. Keep $16 billion in your pocket

Diversity, Credit and Hashtag Activism
How a Nigerian Movement Got Hijacked

Everyone Is Getting Turkey’s Twitter Block Wrong
Turkey isn’t trying to be North Korea, China or Iran; it’s trying to be Azerbaijan

After the Protests
About protest movements and social media

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Work Note – A Desk Update Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:21:24 +0000 Standing Desks

My week note about our standing desks might have been one of the most influential posts I’ve ever written. At least two dozen people have approached me since to tell me that they got the stuff from Ikea and are standing up for work now, too. So to follow up on that post, it’s only fair to say that we just took down the tables and are sitting at our desks again. The reason is pretty simple.

This was meant as an experiment to test how it is to work standing up before we make a larger investment into proper solutions (like this one, for example). I can’t speak for Igor, but for me it worked quite well. But what also became clear pretty quickly was that I need a solution that I can adapt flexibly. I’m changing positions a lot throughout the day and the fixed standing desk makes that difficult.

Sitting Desk

So at some point soon, I want a flexible desk that I can sit on and stand on. Until then, I’m back to sitting down. And now with more options as we just bought a sofa from what used to be Readmill.

All of you who’ve also got the Ikea desk, are you still using it? Have you switched to other solutions?

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Changes to our blogging Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:58:33 +0000 For a recent presentation, I looked at the numbers for our company blog archive. In the last three years, we have published over 320 blog posts. That’s a lot of text, especially if someone hasn’t been following us for long.

I feel tempted to ramble on about the problems with a content industry, focused on the stream and the real-time distribution of information. But let’s keep it practical for now.

Our blog archive weighs a ton

The status: We have a blog with a lot of articles, most of which are Week Notes and Weekly Reads with varying quality and depth. There are also a few longer articles and article series that are more timeless and of higher quality. (I’ve started to gather some of them here some time ago).
Our problem: people visiting our website for the first time only have the blog page to dive into our written thinking. The blog concept over-emphasizes the newest articles instead of the ones that are more relevant to new visitors.

Also, we feel it’s time to change our publishing habits a bit. The Week Notes have served us well to make us write every week and keep our peers informed about what we’re doing and thinking about at Third Wave. But we have stretched the format quite a bit. It’s time to talk less about us directly and more about our observations and opinions on our fields of interest (the futures of work and publishing, for example).

New architecture, new formats

So to make our thinking more accessible to new visitors and more relevant to our (future) clients, we will rework our blog in two ways:

  1. Change the information architecture to add a topic-focused entrance.
  2. Adapt the article formats to our current mode of writing.

Number 1 will take a bit more time. But number 2, we can do now. So here are the three new article formats for our blog.

1. Third Wave Work Notes

The Week Notes will become Work Notes. This is where we continue to talk about the specifics of our company. The main difference – as the name suggests – will be that we won’t publish them on a weekly basis but whenever something comes up. We will also try to keep them short and informative.

Newsletter subscribers will receive an email with all Work Notes at the beginning of the next month.

2. Third Wave Reads

We’re keeping the reads but will switch to a bi-weekly schedule. Each edition focus on one of our main topics and will be published on Fridays again.

Newsletter subscribers will receive each edition right before the weekend.

3. Third Wave Commentary

This is will be our new main category on the blog. Each week, one of us will write an article about an idea, an observation, an analysis or something else that’s on our mind. The challenge for ourselves is to always provide a unique insight or opinion. Not only “Here’s something interesting,” but also “Here’s what we think about it.” We’ll see where this will take us…

Newsletter subscribers will receive our commentary at the beginning of each week.

That’s what we have planed for the next weeks. As always, we will try it out and see what works for us and what not. Please feel free to make suggestions…and demand more cowbell.

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Facebook readying itself to provide financial services in form of remittance and electronic money Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:00:31 +0000

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. 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.

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The economics of new media ventures like Vox Thu, 10 Apr 2014 15:51:59 +0000

Just about every company with a reputation problem, for instance, should be jumping at the opportunity to be able to tell their story using Vox’s technology and platform.

In what is yet another masterful analysis of the news industry, Felix Salmon writes the quote above at the end of his article about, Ezra Klein and The Washington Post.

The rest of the article is great, but this part is fantastic. At least to me. I don’t hide my fascination with new outlets like Buzzfeed or Vox, but I wasn’t quite sure whether the economics behind those venture will work. While the current inflow of VC money into news organizations is paying for the current unraveling, I am still not sure if long-form, investigative journalism and VC money can work together. That being said, VC’s obviously do not invest into journalism, they always invested in the tech. It’s the only part of companies like Buzzfeed at Vox that is scalable at a rate that is remotely interesting to venture capitalist. My hesitation was that: if those companies don’t earn money quickly enough, it is not the developers who will be fired first.

But with that one bit of information in Salmon’s blog post, I got a missing piece of the information needed to understand the economics of a venture like Vox.

If you are active in the publishing and / or media industry, you will have heard of buzzwords like brands as publishers or native advertising.

Native advertising is now a proliferated instrument in the ad business. Facebook does it. Tumblr does it (somebody on Twitter said that Tumblr is Yahoo’s native advertising format, which is both funny and can be correct). does it. has build a piece of technology that, as Salmon mentions as well, allowed Ezra Klein to build a new news outlet in 15 weeks. 15 weeks! That’s nothing. That’s the time that the management of a German newspapers requires to decide whether or not to launch a new blog. If they are lucky and can bypass the print editorial team.

With flagship products like, The Verge and Polygon, Vox ensures that they can shape the market according to their needs and build the technology to power it.

Enter brands as publishers. Simply put: why should a brand spend money on advertising, if they can spend that money on creating their own content for their own properties? That’s something that very few brands pulled off successfully and it took most of them a decade to become good at it. Like Red Bull.

But if a company like can launch a whole news outlet in 15 weeks, I bet they can build – on top of their technology and distribution experience – a communication channel for a client that could generate them a mid-size six figure marketing budget. Something along the lines of what they just did for Intel. And here is the ultimate kicker. This is now burned money as it is with advertising. It doesn’t only take away the budget that Intel might have spent with a publisher like The Washington Post, it also ensures that they build something that will make Vox’s technology better and more competitive.

That’s why it scales.

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Week 181 – The Literatur Digital Conference Fri, 28 Mar 2014 13:22:27 +0000 As Igor mentioned last week, we spent the weekend at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt1 in Berlin attending the Literatur Digital conference. It was organized by Fiktion, a collective of authors and publishers that sees more opportunities in digitalization for authors and serious fiction than dangers. The program was a good mix of theoretical and practical aspects with national and international speakers. It was a pity that the audience seemed to mostly consist of like-minded writers and publishers. There was little debate that would have pushed the conversation forward. So I enjoyed the back channel bantering with the few other Twitterers present.

Elisabeth, Igor and I used our panel to talk about publishing for the new context of reading and writing. Each of us introduced one example of an entity, doing something different while not waiting for the industry to decide on the right way forward.
Elisabeth showed how Maria Popova has taken Brainpickings from a newsletter with some inspirational links to a media brand with 7 million readers per month. It’s fascinating how she is using new media patterns (like listicles and book trailers) to re-introduce and promote a lot of classics of world literature.
Igor talked about Readmill as an example of a social ebook app that helps readers to engage deeper with digital text and have more conversations about it. He also demonstrated how the immense costs for a license for the Adobe DRM that companies like Readmill have to pay, hurt publishers. When they demand DRM, only the big platforms can afford it. If publishers want to see more competition for Amazon’s ebook business, dropping DRM demands would be a good start2.
I presented Wattpad, a Canadian startup that has created a platform for reading and, more importantly, writing. It has over 20 million active users, most of them teenagers. It’s a fascinating example of a new generation of writers who are learning to build reader communities and receive massive feedback from the get-go. The details about Wattpad are best summed up in this NY Times piece from last Sunday.

What all these examples have in common is their enormous passion for the written word. They are all struggling to find their business model. But that hasn’t kept them from pushing forward and bringing better texts to more readers. It’s an enthusiasm that they share with most attendants of Literatur Digital. I hope that these types of events get more attention in the future. The German publishing industry is in dire need of some well-balanced passion for the art form. Neither cynicism and conservatism nor blind faith in technology and the digital will create a prosperous future for writers. What is needed is some critical optimism. For Elisabeth, Igor and I, this panel was also a good example of the future collaboration we aim for. Her expertise as a former publisher and our insights into the digital landscape made for a good mix of observations and predictions in our talk.

I’m writing this at Il Baretto, an Italian cafe in the wartehalle of Zurich’s main train station3. We’re on our way to a big workshop with our client 3A Composites. They have just released the iPad version of their digital magazine Forms & Elements, developed by our friends at MoreSleep.
After this major milestone from the 4-year roadmap we created for them almost two years ago, it’s time to reflect on the general vision of the strategy and plan the next milestones in more detail. We’re looking forward to two exciting days.

  1. All of a sudden, it feels like I’m spending a lot of weekends at the HKW. The reason is that they’ve put together a pretty decent conference program. It started this year with Transmediale and continued with Narrating War and others. If you’re looking to widen your horizon on the weekend, the HKW is an excellent place to visit. It’s a nice building, too, including a restaurant with a lot of tables outside along the Spree. Now that spring is coming back, it’s a beautiful place to spend a Saturday afternoon in the shadow of the Kanzleramt. 

  2. And due to the late publishing date of this week note, I have to add that Readmill is rumored to be bought by Dropbox. It’s an “acqui-hire,“ which means that Dropbox wants the talent and will presumably kill the app. There you go, publishing industry, another good effort bites the dust, because you were neither interest interested in making it work nor made it at least easier by not demanding a lot of money for DRM licenses that could have gone into development or new ideas. 

  3. The coffee is a typical over-burned robusta hell, but the chocolate croissants might be the best I’ve ever had. 

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