Work Note: Standing Desk Update

The Ikea Bekant desk frame is our new standing desk solution.

standing desks

Back in April, we took down our Ikea hacked standing desks until we would find an adjustable solution. As of last week, we’re standing again. Martin made us aware of the Ikea Bekant frame that comes without a table top and costs 430,- Euros. The assemble – that includes attaching the frame to our old table tops – takes about 30 to 40 minutes and you should definitely use the included net to keep the electronics in place.

Assembling the standing desks

After working with this desk for about a week now, I couldn’t be happier about our solution. Being able to quickly adjust the desk to sitting or standing makes all the difference for the right posture throughout my work day.

Now we need to find a better solution for all those cables hanging from our desks…

TW Podcast 2: Buzzfeed

[Post in German] Wir erklären wie Buzzfeed Native Advertising verwendet und was die Plattform so besonders macht.

Nachdem wir uns in Ausgabe 1 des TW Podcasts mit Native Advertising beschäftigt haben, schauen wir uns nun die Diskussion um dieses und ähnliche Werbeformate in der Medienbranche an. Dabei schauen wir uns insbesondere Buzzfeed an und erklären, wie Native Advertising dort funktioniert und was die Plattform so besonders macht.

Der Third Wave Podcast ist inzwischen auch als Feed sowie in iTunes und angeschlossenen Podcastverzeichnissen verfügbar.

TW Reads: Wearables

A collection of articles by Ben Hammersley, Ben Evans and others about the bigger ideas around wearable devices.

Whatever kind of device Apple will or will not introduce at their keynote today, we always like to take the opportunity to look beyond the immediate products and specs and think about the longer term implications. Here are some of the smartest reflections on wearables and this emerging category of devices that we have read this year so far.

The Third Wave of Computing

The point isn’t the gadget: it’s the combination of the intimacy of a device that is always with us and that only we use, with the power of cloud-based processing and storage

At the beginning of the year, Ben Hammersley provided a good overview of the current state of wearables including positive and negative future scenarios, Apple rumors, a categorization into introspective (like step counting) and extrospective (like small cameras) and other hints at the discussions around wearables.

Link: Wearables: the third wave of computing

Meet the Godfather of Wearables

It all started with beavers.

Before looking at the future of wearables, it’s always good to learn about their past. 30 years ago, Alex Pentland combined computer- and social sciences to use computers to observe human behaviors. In 1986, he inaugurated the Wearable Computing Project at MIT. It was the “first place dedicated exclusively to the creation of wearables.”

Link: Meet the godfather of wearables | The Verge

How to make Wearables stick

While the functionality of devices may drive initial sales, to create long-term value they have to be used long-term and drive healthy behavior change in users.

We’ve been arguing for a long time that the biggest challenge for companies in the quantified self category is long-term engagement of their customers with their devices. Michael A.M. Davies explains how habit formation, social motivation, and goal reinforcement are key for behavior change and thus continuous motivation. If companies don’t get this right, (introspective) wearables will be mostly know as the electronic waste we all have laying around.

Link: How to make wearables stick: Use them to change human behavior | VentureBeat | Gadgets | by Michael A. M. Davies, Endeavour Partners

Cards, Code and Wearables

The company most likely to kill native apps is Apple.

Wearables mostly can’t exist on their own. They need to be tethered to a device, usually a smartphone to connect to the internet. Ben Evans looks at Android Wear and the rumors around Apple’s Healthbook to think about how apps and streams and screens will work together in the near future.

Link: Cards, code and wearables — Benedict Evans

Sensors and Sensitivity

Putting sensors elsewhere, into objects we come into contact with at certain times or in certain situations, contextualizes them — allowing use-cases to be more targeted and, as a result, more purposeful — and potentially more powerful.

With the hype around wearables, we tend to forget that we can put sensors into other objects around us. Natasha Lomas makes the case for these kinds of anti-wearables and gives some examples. Like a car seat that tracks our pulse and stress levels. Using sensors in this way makes for much more focused use-cases that serve specific purposes, instead of just tracking some flippant lifestyle metrics. Maybe we should think more about the objects we can put sensors in instead of all the sensors we can put on.

Link: Sensors And Sensitivity | TechCrunch

TW Podcast 1: Native Advertising

[Post in German] Das Werbeformat Native Advertising ist das Thema unserer ersten Podcast-Ausgabe. Was ist Native Advertising? Was sind die typischen Beispiele? Was sind Vor- und Nachteile?

TW Podcast 1: Native Advertising

Ausgabe 0: Wir starten einen Podcast

Wir haben die erste Ausgabe unseres Podcasts für den 1. September versprochen und hier ist sie. Vorab in der Ausgabe 0 erklärt Igor noch mal kurz, warum wir diesen Podcast begonnen haben und weshalb wir ihn auf Deutsch machen.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/165437825″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Unsere Idee für den Third Wave Podcast

Die inhaltliche Idee, mit der wir diesen Podcast beginnen, ist sich bestimmte Themen aus der aktuellen Konversation um Technologie, Digitalisierung, Kommunikation und Gesellschaft raus zu picken und sie grundlegender vorzustellen. Der Podcast ist weniger als Beitrag zur Diskussion gedacht und mehr als Unterstützung für Menschen, die verstehen wollen, worum die Diskussion geht und was für Konsequenzen die Themen für ihre Arbeit haben.

Ausgabe 1: Native Advertising

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/165438230″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Als erstes Thema haben wir uns Native Advertising ausgesucht. Dieses digitale Werbeformat sorgt nicht nur bei Google und Facebook für steigende Gewinnen, sondern sieht sich auch einer zunehmenden Kritik ausgesetzt. Manch einer wird den Begriff vielleicht sogar zum ersten mal durch den Beitrag von John Oliver wahrgenommen haben.

Wir schauen uns an, was Native Advertising eigentlich genau ist, was die typischen Beispiele sind und worin die Vorteile für Anbieter und Werbetreibende liegen. Dazu kommen unsere eigenen Erfahrungen auf Facebook. All das kompakt in 20 Minuten.

Feedback willkommen

Feedback zum Podcast ist uns willkommen. Typischerweise braucht ein neuer Podcast ein paar Episoden, bis man das richtige Format, die passende Technik und vieles mehr verfeinert hat. Deswegen sind gerade zu Beginn Rückmeldungen und Verbesserungstipps hilfreich.

Wir wollen ein paar Episoden abwarten, bevor wir den Podcast auf iTunes und den anderen Podcastplattformen veröffentlichen. Wer bis dahin keine Episode verpassen will kann sich unseren Newsletter abonnieren. Einen RSS-Feed reichen wir nach, sobald uns SoundCloud für das Podcast-Programm frei geschaltet hat.

Vielen Dank an Jan und Marcel für die Unterstützung.

Work Note: We’re starting a podcast

On September 1, 2014 we will launch our new podcast (in German).

microphone

Podcasts are back

We’ve been fascinated by the rise and fall and now rise again of podcasting. I remember my first experiments with the format almost ten years ago. And now with the smartphones allowing a much easier consumption of podcasts, it seems like it’s taking off again.

I think it’s a good sign that ideas, which can’t build enough moment right away when they emerge, are still able to have a second coming once the context from a technological and a behavioral point of view is right. It means we’re not discarding everything straightaway that fails on the first try. There’s still room to let ideas ripen.

So, podcasts. I’ve been involved with two podcasts throughout the last 12 to 18 months. I Grow Digital is a podcast about the Quantified Self, wearables and connected topics like transhumanism that I’ve been doing with Christian Grasse and Florian Schumacher. I also am a regular guest on Marcel Weiss’ neunetzcast where we talk about Facebook buying things and similar topics. Both podcasts are in German.

And so will be the podcast that Igor and I are starting. We’ve been enjoying the format ourselves for some time now and want to use it to talk to an audience that might get turned off by all our English writing.

The Third Wave Podcast is coming soon

The development of the concept will be an on-going process but we want to make sure to not add YetAnotherPodcastWithTwoDudesTalkingTechNews(TM) to the field. The idea we’re starting with is to pick a broader topic behind recent news and look at it from all sides. Less discussion, more explanation. The rest will be based on the feedback we’ll get.

The main reason for this blog post is to set ourselves a public deadline. So here we go: on September 1, 2014 we will release the first episode.
As always, we do this as an experiment to find out if the format works for us and if we can actually produce some content with value for an audience. So far, we got all the hardware we need (thanks to Jan for lending us his usb-microphone). I need to figure out some details around hosting and publishing. But that should be doable until next Monday. Until then…

Work Note: Talk from the #ebf14 (German)

Here’s the video of a talk I gave with our client Elisabeth Ruge at the Electric Book Fair 2014 in Berlin.

The Electric Book Fair in Berlin was an event for the independent publishing scene. Together with our client Elisabeth Ruge, I gave a talk (in German) about reading in the 21st century. Elisabeth and I used our different backgrounds to look at three possible trends from the perspective of literature (Elisabeth) and technology (me). We believe that these two perspectives most come together for the future of publishing.

Work Note: Why and how we use Slack

After trying out several tools, we’re now using Slack and found some fun hacks to extend its functionality.

slack-thirdwave
It’s not like there’s a lack of solutions for teams and companies to communicate internally. Without even getting into email this time, there are plenty solutions for chatting between coworkers. From Skype group-chats to IRC channels to IM. There’s also dedicated professional chat app like Campfire and HipChat. Let’s just say that “Somebody needs to fix group chats for teams,” wasn’t uttered a lot.

Searching for an internal chat tool

As a 2-person company, Igor and I didn’t need much for the part of our daily communication when we are not in the same room. We tried out IRC with an encrypted room, guarded by a bot, mostly out of nostalgia for The Web We Lost. It didn’t stick because IRC is not the best protocol for the mobile age. Neither is Jabber/Instant Messaging. Going back and forth between different devices is hard for these protocols. And Skype wasn’t an option after various leaks put a lot of Microsoft’s security for the service in question.

We settled on iMessage. It works across macs and iphones, is comparatively secure and it’s free. So when the hype around a new chat app for teams called Slack started to build up, we didn’t see the need for us. But after friends kept praising it, curiosity won.

Execution makes the difference

Slack is a startup, founded by the flickr co-founders Stewart Butterfield and Cal Henderson. Once more (just like flickr), it emerged as a side project while Butterfield was developing a game. Check out this extensive portrait from Wired for a detailed story how Slack came to be.

There’s a lot of typical Silicon-Valley rhetoric around Slack about big product visions. But where Slack shines for us is in execution. This is app feels like the developers and designers keep asking: “if this feature was invented today, how would it be done right?”

Here are some of the features:

  • Its notification system is smart. It will ping you when there is a new messages. If you don’t react within a certain time, it will send you an email, informing you about the latest activities in your chat rooms. If you get a notification on your phone and check the chat room on your computer, it will take the notification away on your phone.
  • It tries to display some details about links that you put into a chat. Put in a Soundcloud link and it will show the player for that track. Same for videos, tweets etc.
  • Slack understands that not everyone is a full-time employee of one company anymore. More and more people freelance or need to work with several teams and companies. So they made switching between different Slack accounts easy. A practice I hope to see taken on by a lot more app developers.

More than just a chat tool

Where Slack really shows its strength is in the integration of other tools, services and platforms. For example: we use Asana to coordinate our tasks. In Slack, I can see when Igor has added a task and I get a special notification if he delegated the task to me. I can even add tasks from the chat room.
We also get pings when someone subscribes to our newsletter or when one of us has send a tweet with the company Twitter account. This is where Slack’s vision of being the central hub for your company’s communication is starting to make sense.

There’s also some fun stuff you can do with that. We have created a chat room called #fav and are using it with Slack’s integration of IFTTT. Now whenever one of us is faving a tweet or an article in Instapaper, a message is send to that chat room. We have another one for music that is connected to our Soundcloud accounts. I’ve turned off notifications for these chat rooms to not be bothered every time Igor (or Martin or Jens, our office mates) favs something. But I like going in there from time to time to see what got Igor’s attention.

We’re sold

All these features and how they are implemented convinced us to use Slack as our main communication tool. We think it’s worth it, even for a 2-person company. Using it with our office mates also offers us a glimpse at the benefits it can have for larger teams. And so far we haven’t used features like search and document exchange (with connection to Dropbox etc.). Let’s hope that Slack won’t be bought too soon.

TW Reads: Future of Work (August 2014)

Featuring articles about what to learn from independent workers, opinions on the “second machine age,” and thoughts on the work skills of the future.

The TW Reads are collections of links to articles from the web, curated by Third Wave. Each collection is focussed on one topic.

Learning from independent workers

Bryan Boyer has written a fantastic series of essays about the future or work. He looks at trends and motivations among independent workers today to provide a framework for designing services and policies for the work of tomorrow:

  1. Bye bye, Busytown
    Understanding independent work
  2. The Leading Edge
    Independents are an early warning system for the economy
  3. Market realities and networked dreams
    Independent work between the cracks of the old economy
  4. Fringe benefits
    Independent work beyond the individual

On the “second machine age”

Work skills of the future

  • Constructive Uncertainty
    Now that we are more aware of our cognitive biases, how can we create work-arounds in group settings? Stowe Boyd recommends a concept introduced by Howard Ross: constructive uncertainty.
  • Constructive Procrastination
    A well-balanced reflection of technology-induced procrastination by Frank Hangler, mentioning among many examples the concept of digital dualism by Jurgenson and Morozov’s famous safe.

TW Commentary – Journalism thwarted by technology

Looking at the Deca cooperative as an example of how journalism must learn to understand the technology layer that influences every aspect of its future endeavors.

Deca

A promising long-form-journalism project

Deca is a new cooperative of journalists from all over the world. Specializing in long-form/magazine writing, they’ve won numerous awards individually. Inspired by the Magnum photo-agency from the 50s they now want to see what they can achieve as a group, but independent from bigger publishers. When Igor and I stumbled upon their Kickstarter campaign, we instantly “backed” them. They hit all the right buttons for us:

  • A diverse group of women and men from different backgrounds with lots of experience. A group big enough to bundle resources, but small enough to stay flexible and not getting to dependent on large donations to sustain the business.
  • A defined product and process with a completed first story that showed what kind of topics and quality to expect.
  • A humble goal for the campaign that made clear that they indeed want a little kickstart, not a blanco check.
  • A solid understanding that independent journalism endeavors include contain a great deal of community involvement and thus management, as their Kickstarter rewards show.
  • This Forbes article shows how they are even starting to do something that looks like on-the-job training for future journalists.

But most of all, we loved their positive attitude. Instead of laments to the decline of good writing, they emphasized the opportunities of change. They don’t want to “save journalism”, but “travel the world over to find the stories that matter, then telling them.”

The Kickstarter campaign worked well. They hit their goal of $20,000 within three and a half days and made more than $32,000 in the end. Soon after, they released their second story. All in all, a fine example how to start a journalistic endeavor in 2014. But now it seems like they’ve fall into the same trap as so many similar projects by underestimating one aspect: the technological side.

Thwarted by a technical problem

The platform they are using for their iOS app and the web app seems to have big problems with the sign up of all their backers. And it also seems that there’s no easy fix. The developers of the platform are working hard to find the bug. I can only imagine how frustrating this must be, especially because they can do nothing but wait until someone else has found the solution. And in the meantime, they have to do customer service (which they do well) instead of finding stories.

We are seeing this again and again: promising new approaches to journalism that get caught up in technical difficulties. Journalists obviously focus on the journalistic part of their work. If they are progressive, they also have a good understanding of the business side of things.
But now, there’s this layer that influences every aspect of a journalism company: the technology. From researching stories to the editorial process (writing, editing, fact-checking, versions management) to delivery via content-management systems and printing infrastructure to digital payment in apps and for subscriptions to communication with colleagues and readers etc. The need for these technologies is not new. But the options and with them the opportunities have exploded. The easiest solution is to outsource most of these aspects to external vendors. But Deca just learned how frustrating this can be.

Every journalism company will also be a tech company

The next step is not to try to bring all the technological aspects of a journalism endeavor in house. That would be a 20th century solution to a networked 21st century world. The way forward for journalism is to acknowledge and even embrace the role of technology in its business and get smart about it. The better journalists understand how the technology they need to deal with works and how they can use it to their advantage the better they can brief vendors, estimate costs and develop ideas how to get closer to their stories and their readers.

I understand that journalists want to focus on what they perceive to be the crux of their work, researching, investigating, reporting. But I have this hunch that journalists who get more interested in the technological aspects of their work will be more successful in the coming years.1

The current sign-up problems of the Deca app will be fixed soon, I’m sure, and the Deca team will continue to deliver great stories. But I’m also sure that this episode will have shown them to never again underestimate the influence of technology on their work and the connection with their readers. I’m keen to see how they are going to use this knowledge to their advantage.

Check out Deca at decastories.com.


  1. My hidden agenda for journalists interested in technology: I want better analysis of the influence of technology and the people in power behind it on our world. 

TW Reads – About that Facebook study

5 articles that show how to elevate a conversation about big data, the tech industry and the scientific community.

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!