Work Note: New Meetup fatnine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Note: Christmas Cards

A little making-of of our Christmas cards.

Third Wave Christmas Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Nicola Holtkamp

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…

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.

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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.

Work Note – Literature and Technology at the Electric Book Fair 2014

Johannes joined forces with our client Elisabeth Ruge for a talk about reading in the 21st century.

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.

Work Note – Back in the writing business

A big update after a long pause.

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.

Work Note – A Desk Update

It’s back to sitting desks for us. Until we get proper flexible desks.

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?

Changes to our blogging

Our new article formats and a new architecture coming up for our blog

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.