TW Reads: November 2014

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

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

Laurie Penny

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

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 Reads: Mobile Payments

An excerpt from our reading list on the mobile payment industry.

As we’ve mentioned before, we’ve been involved in the mobile payment industry for quite a while. Since we’re keeping track of the most interesting things happening in the industry, we thought there is no reason why we shouldn’t be sharing some of the most interesting reads or announcements in this field with our readers.

Mobile Payment Today – Mobile wallets: will value actually drive adoption?

Despite the collective efforts of some of the largest companies in the world promoting their supposedly superior products, just 16% of mobile device owners have used their phone to make an in-store payment. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

In light of possible announcement by Apple next Tuesday, it’s prudent to analyze why the collective effort of so many companies across continents and nations left so much to be desired when it comes to building a significant mobile payment solution. In an unusual turn of events, Mobile Payment Today – being so often just a press release portal for a similarly named industry – provides exactly that: a poignant analysis.

Link: Mobile Payments Today

Re/Code – Here’s How Amazon Might Take Over Brick-and-Mortar Retail

Broadly, they said the world’s largest online retailer aims to make it easy for a wider array of brick-and-mortar shops to sell on Amazon while giving Amazon shoppers another way to receive orders on the same day they are purchased.

Nothing has stirred up the mobile payment industry quite as much in the recent weeks as Amazon’s announcement to dive deeper into payments. Not only did they release a device and service that is a direct competitor to Square, Paypal and many others, they’re also attempting to do what they always do: compete through a better price. The device is cheaper, the rates are lower. Especially the last part will make it hard for store owners to resist the Amazon offer.

But there seems to be more than that. Jason Del Rey over at Re/Code has been a keen observer of everything Amazon. It almost feels as if he is for Amazon what Kara Swisher for to Yahoo. Always watching, always acquiring a new source. His analysis concludes that not only is Amazon going after Paypal’s business, it is actually all a ploy to get many of those brick & mortar shops onto their platform, enable them to participate in the glorious experience of ecommerce and enhance Amazon’s ability to make same-day deliveries of every-day products. This, obviously, seems somewhat far-fetched and yet not at all unlikely considering the Bezosnian appetite.

Link: Re/Code

Eater – OpenTable testing mobile payments

Restaurant reservations website OpenTable has officially launched a new payment feature on its mobile app that works at over 45 restaurants in New York City.

While OpenTable isn’t a huge operation in Germany, some restaurants still use it. It feels more like a gimmick here. Mostly because the way restaurants operate here and in the US is so different.

In the US on the other hand, OpenTable is a huge thing and they charge a lot, too. It became so bad that many restaurant owners are comparing it to the Mafia and having to pay protection money to the mafia. Effectively, if you’re not on the platform, people are significantly less likely to visit the restaurant. On the other hand, if you’re using OpenTable, they are suffocating you with the cost of using the service.

In this light, you might not hear that many restaurant owners rejoicing after the announcement that OpenTable is experimenting with payment solutions. Especially if you consider that while there are many, many other services in this field, not many are as likely to succeed in it as OpenTable. If they do, restaurant owners will only have to transfer a bigger cut to the service.

Link: Eater

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 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!

TW Reads – A Future of News edition

Five articles about the Future of News and why it needs a merging of journalism and technology.

“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.”

Editorially

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.

TW Reads – Zeynep Tufekci

Here are five articles from sociologist Zeynep Tufekci about protests and social media.

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