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.

Who is being shallow? How you should be thinking about Buzzfeed

The discussions around the latest financing round for Buzzfeed revealed, once again, that the company is still being misjudged. Here is why they’re the future of publishing.

In his latest column, David Carr writes about the uncertain future of spun-out print newspapers. At the same time, Andressen Horrowitz announces that they have invested 50 Million into Buzzfeed through a post that Chris Dixon, a partner in the firm, published on his private blog. They value the new-media firm at 850 Million dollars. If you have read any news about this, you’ve probably encountered the comparison to the price that Jeff Bezos paid for The Washington Post and how Buzzfeed’s value exceeds it by 600 Million.

The media landscape has been unraveling since the early 90s. No news here. News is, though, that so few journalist are able to report the fact that after all those years there is now a new breed of media companies that provide a plausible alternative to how media and news publishing companies have operated so far.

Technology is the backbone

For a venture capitalist, there is nominally little difference between Buzzfeed and Facebook or Twitter. They are investing into the technology capabilities of those companies, not into their editorial staff.

BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management. Engineers are 1st class citizens

There is a clear distinction here between Buzzfeed (or a Vox Media) and its predecessors. While traditional news organizations only involve themselves as much with technology as they feel necessary to accomplish their main objective (journalism), new media companies like Buzzfeed build technology that provides an abundance in scaling opportunities. That in turn makes them both profitable and susceptible to the interest of VCs and allows them, for now, to maintain an editorial stuff of 200, invest significant resources into investigative journalism and long-form reporting.

But there is more

As a media outlet, Buzzfeed is competing for the same advertising dollars as other media outlets, but they aren’t doing so with the same products. In his talk at the Guardian Media Summit a year ago, Jonah Peretti, Buzzfeed’s CEO, said that he considers display ads to be a historic mistake that soon will be corrected. While so many of us certainly can relate to the statement, I’m sure someone at Google and Yahoo will refer to how much money this “mistake” is making them. Fact is, Buzzfeed would never attempt to compromise the experience for the user by adding ads to its site. In fact, you don’t see any display advertising on the website whatsoever. Instead of charging advertisers money for displaying ads that nobody wants to see, Buzzfeed is charging advertisers for helping them to create content that both solve the communication need of the advertiser as well as ensuring that it creates value for the recipient. For Buzzfeed this means a better user experience and the luxury not to compete in a plummeting display ad market. Advertisers get a significantly better engagement on their marketing message. This way, Buzzfeed is both a media outlet as well as the advertising agency.

To round this up:

  • Buzzfeed created a technology that allows them to build the product that users want
  • Buzzfeed offers advertisers native advertising products by allowing them to use the same tech that their editorial stuff is using to create stories thus making the advertiser happy and themselves very profitable
  • This in turn allows them to produce the kind of content that is being asked for right now

buzzfeed explained

After years in which we have seen the validity of traditional media-business models erode, companies like Buzzfeed and Vox Media at least provide a viable alternative. One doesn’t have to agree fully with any of those approaches. Looking closely, one can find sufficient reason to be doubtful about the path those new companies are taking.

The core learning, on which so many in the traditional media landscape are focusing when debating Buzzfeed, is certainly not that one has to adopt listicals with funny cat photos or a subversively viral approach to formulating headlines. Those cursory observations are preventing an old industry from learning exactly what it needs to learn from those newcomers.

This is an exciting time to be involved in publishing, journalism and media. Here at Third Wave, we strongly disagree with the notion there is a lack of good content. In fact, the opposite is the case. The difference is that great content is out there, it’s just hard to find and even harder to finance. That too is not due to lack of financial resources. In the Netherlands, De Correspondent have raised 1.7 Million in a crowdfunding campaign to launch a new media entity, in Germany a less exciting project managed to raise over a Million. There are also smaller success stories such as Deca. Those projects prove that there is both money and willingness to pay for good content. Crowdfunding it itself isn’t a business model, nor should it ever be considered one. It might work for certain projects, but it won’t be enough to provide a scalable business model that will ensure the continued existence of the fourth estate.

There is a wonderful, long interview – published on Medium, of course – between Felix Salmon and Jonah Peretti (CEO of Buzzfeed). It’s personal. It provides context to understand why Peretti is able, so far, to navigate first The Huffington Post and now Buzzfeed to being such huge success in the media world.

Be of the net, not just on it.

–Emily Bell, Director of Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia J School

Buzzfeed certainly is.

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.


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

  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. 

Week 120

Refining our learning project and focusing on technology’s impact on how people teach themselves, and helpful articles from Aaron Swartz’s blog.

Refining our project on learning

We’re still at work on building a repository of information and discussions on the impact technology is currently having on learning, or rather autodidactic learning as we decided recently. Guiding question: How is today’s technology changing the way people teach themselves things? While this topic encompasses quite a lot of what we were previously trying to tackle, it focuses on an area that currently abounds with particularly heated discussion. If you would like to talk to us on this topic, please get in touch – we appreciate as much perspective as we can get.

A thought on narrowing scope

Embracing fuzziness is something we like to do here – but it’s important to acknowledge when the fuzziness is simply too fuzzy to handle. In trying to do justice to the immensity of our learning topic, we initially thought that we would simply take samples from a broad range of fields. After a bit of discussion, though, it seemed a better idea to rein in the scope just a little bit, so that we have just one major lens to look through. This unified perspective then makes it easier to know where to start with each subtopic. The volume of possibilities becomes a more countable (or at least less uncountable) infinity, if you will, which is particularly helpful for the detail-oriented amongst us.

More reads from Aaron Swartz

I wasn’t familiar with any of Aaron Swartz’s writing until last week. I came across his series of blogposts called Raw Nerve, subtitled “a series on getting better at life” – and it really struck a chord with me.

In his introductory post, he touches on a problem that is so universally experienced that it can become almost invisible.

If someone was annoying me, I’d choose to avoid them. If something was bugging me, I’d choose to stop thinking about it. I mostly kept my eyes on what was in front of me.

His observations in this series hold just as well for individuals as they do for companies, and he goes into a great amount of detail as to why we behave like this, and what we can do to avoid this mentality. I encourage anyone, whether in search of advice for improving their business, their own work or themselves, to have a look at these pieces.

An update on the Quantified Self

In this article, we check up on the current goings-on in the realm of QS.

A few months back, we put together a series of blogposts on the Quantified Self. We’ve had a look around at what’s been happening in the QS field in the meantime, and have put together this update, with some interesting new apps, products and articles.

Apps and gadgets

TenXer is a personal assistant startup, founded by Jeff Ma, who as it happens was a member of the MIT Blackjack Team. It aims to increase your productivity at work by helping you track your progress in relation to set goals. RescueTime, a competitor, operates under a similar concept, monitoring your computer activity to give you feedback on how you’re spending your time.

Alohar is a platform that includes a software development kit for Android and iPhone, and services that gather detailed data on location (how many times you’ve been there, how often you usually stay) and movement. Applications for this information could be both QS-related and commercial.

HealthyShare is the product of a cooperation between Facebook and General Electric. Just in time for the Olympics, the two giants bond for a piece of the QS cake, in the form of an app that provides the user with a selection of Olympian-sponsored challenges to promote good health.

Lift is an iPhone app designed to help people achieve any kind of goal, big or small. This startup with the rather ambitious desire to “eliminate willpower as a factor in achieving goals” has been backed by Twitter’s founders and is set to launch in August 2012.

Samsung S Health, an app for the Galaxy S III phone, allows users to track their weight, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

Nike and Microsoft have come out with Nike+ Kinect Training, an exercise program for Xbox 360. Combining two hugely popular platforms, this could be big.

The Garmin Swim watch (article in German) is designed for swimmers to keep track of their exercise.


Mashable: Wearable Tech
An infographic giving a helpful overview of various kinds of wearable gadgetry, some of which are QS-related.

The Atlantic: The Measured Man
A detailed and extensive article about the oft-mentioned Larry Smarr, who diagnosed his own case of Crohn’s disease through self-quantification, and who goes to unusual lengths to chart his own health.

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Biohackers’ mining their own bodies’ data
Dave Asprey is a famous and extreme believer in QS and body-hacking. This article documents the measures he takes to control his own body, discusses the motives behind bodyhacking and explores associated risks.

Week 93

The first impressions of a somewhat late adopter of the smartphone, and thoughts on the importance of testing things for yourself.

A thought on judgment vs experience

As I’m writing this Week Note, I’m racing through the fields somewhere between Warsaw and Konin, on the train back to Berlin. I’m also typing on a phone. This is a novelty for me: I inherited Igor’s Android phone a couple weeks ago, after he finally caved and switched to the iPhone (incidentally also a hand-me-down, from Johannes). This is my first experience using a smartphone for more than a minute at a time. I felt somewhat traitorous for deserting my dumbphone, a rather ordinary clamshell Nokia from about 2007, but after a couple weeks of holding a small brain in my hands every time I feel like getting in touch with someone or taking note of something, I’m very impressed with the selection of tools available to me. I have, however, compromised and have not gotten a data plan, so my internet usage is restricted to WiFi. We’ll see how long that lasts. Even so, I feel like I’m understanding that little bit more of the culture I’m working in.

It feels like something of a turning point, getting to know the medium through which the general consensus says is The Future. I’ve been hearing and reading things about “mobile” for a few years now, and yet never really digested any of it, since it didn’t apply to me. I didn’t really want to venture into this unfamiliar mobile realm because I dreaded the added responsibility that would come with more awareness of what was happening from minute to minute among my friends, or at work, or in the news. I didn’t want to be informed of everything, nor did I want to turn into someone who checks her phone constantly. But since I hadn’t tried it, I didn’t realize that it was also uncomplicated to scale down or up my level of informedness, and that I would still be perfectly aware that not every piece of information I receive requires an immediate reaction.

The strongest impacts of an emergent technology are always unanticipated. You can’t know what people are going to do until they get their hands on it and start using it on a daily basis, using it to make a buck and u­sing it for criminal purposes and all the different things that people do.
– William Gibson1

As workers in the digital sphere, we have a responsibility to try out the technologies we talk about. No amount of research on a given technology can stack up to being a user and trying it out for yourself, experiencing its genius, its annoyances or its idiosyncracies. We should try to keep questioning our position on certain technologies, and periodically reassess our biases.

  1. Mentioned in a presentation by Sami Niemelä at the BMW Guggenheim Lab in Berlin on July 16th. 

What we read this week (15 June)

This week was all about speculations. Standing with one foot in the present and one foot in the future, we were reading about the downfall and rise of contemporary technologies, what science fiction has to do with economics, a futuristic urban art project and the digital metamorphosis of Starbucks.

Quotes of the week

The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.

Tom Clancy

Articles of the week

  • Chris Ziegler: Pre to postmortem: the inside story of the death of Palm and webOS
    The “international darlings” Palm and webOS disappeared in the sea of the global irrelevance within only 31 months. Read about the factors that undermined the foundations of the promising device and platform.
  • Wired: Economist Paul Krugman Is a Hard-Core Science Fiction Fan
    Paul Krugman: American economist, Professor at Princeton University and science fiction amateur. He claims that nothing else gives you more opportunities to think about possibilities than science fiction. In this interview conducted by Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, Krugman talks about psychohistory, trends among fellow economists and his deep affinity for science fiction.
  • Under Tomorrows Sky with Liam Young
    Under Tomorrows Sky is a project initiated by Liam Young in collaboration with the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale and a variety of inventive people such as scientists, digital poets or speculative gamers. It aims at developing a proposal for a future city with complete visionary structure. The project will be exhibited at MU art space in Eindhoven (NL) on August 10th.
  • Venture Beat: How Starbucks is turning itself into a tech company
    The biggest international coffee company and coffeehouse chain is turning the tide when it comes to running an expansive business today. The article explains, step-by-step, the digital success of Starbucks and why it should be perceived as a role model in digital engagement.
  • Splatf: Exploring The New Foursquare
    If we could say that growth is the new business currency, then we could say that Foursquare is becoming pretty rich. Last week, the new version of Foursquare was published. Its creators decided to slightly modify the concept behind the previous versions of Foursquare in order to improve the user experience and meet their new expectations.

A glimpse into the near future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the participants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A word on how to use these slides

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

The big drivers of change

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

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


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

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

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

Expectations and Hopes

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

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

Economy & Media

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

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

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

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

–Mike Arauz, Undercurrent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tech & Web

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

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

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

–Stefan Erschwendner, LHBS

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

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

–Mike Arauz, Undercurrent

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

–Sami Niemelä, Nordkapp

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

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

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

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

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

–Tamao Funahashi

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

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

–Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, RIG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Sami Niemelä, Nordkapp

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

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

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

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

Life, Politics, Design

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

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

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

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

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

–Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, RIG

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

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

–Georgina Voss

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

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

–Dannie Jost, WTI

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the other side.

Feel free to spread this

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

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

What we read this week (18 Nov)

While we retreat for a few days of strategic planning, brainstorming and relaxation, we have a long list of fantastic reading material for you. Enjoy!

How to cope with change

Change is inevitable. We can resist it as long as we want to, it will always win in the end. So the best solution is to reduce the “pain from struggling against the change”. Here’s what we came up with for how to cope with change.

We kicked off our “Uncomfortable Talk” at LHBS last week with this quote from our old pal Galadriel:

The world is changed; I can feel it in the water, I can feel it in the earth, I can smell it in the air.

We think that she’s spot on, not only for Middle Earth but also for our world in the 21st century. Technology and Moore’s law are changing the face of every industry out there. So we followed that quote with a tour de force about some of the changes we see in our cities, our work and our media happening right now.

There’s so much amazing stuff happening our there. From the possibilities of analyzing collective data of people moving through public transport systems to challenging consumerism with collaborative consumption and open source product development to publishers losing the monopoly on distribution. We are excited by change. We always have been. But we are a small minority. That’s why we were able to talk about the stuff that excites us but label it “Uncomfortable”. The stuff that gets us going makes others cringe and tremble. But as our friend Ben Hammersley said recently at the Lift conference:

The pain isn’t from the change, the pain is from the struggling against the change.

We humans in general don’t like change. We feel the safest if everything stays just like it is. That’s why we mostly re-elect the person in charge than the new and uncertain one. That’s why every change to Facebook triggers the creation of “Bring back the old Facebook”-petitions and that’s why every technological advancement in our history has been deemed the end of the world, be it the emergence of the written word, the invention of the printing press, the railway etc. The funny thing is that we always adapt. It took a lot of years with the written words, still about 50 with the printing press and now only a couple of days with Facebook. Nevermind the music industry which seems to go back to the printing press time frame for adapting to digital.

Change is inevitable. We can resist it as long as we want to, it will always win in the end. Nothing has ever gone back to how it was before. In the long-term we only move forward or stall, there is no reverse gear. So the best solution is to reduce the “pain from struggling against the change”. Here’s what we came up with for how to cope with change.

Stay curious

I can attribute my own success and the success of many of my friends to the fact that we are really curious, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn

I am obsessively interested in everything.

Michael Wolff

People feel overwhelmed by information overload, but for us, all this information, insight and inspiration available is a great thing. If there’s one shared thread between us three at Third Wave, than it is to have no boundaries to what seems interesting and relevant. The key is to let go and let serendipity do its work. Trying to know everything is futile but letting the flow of information take you wherever it goes will open the way for all kinds of interesting aspects and opportunities.

Embrace complexity

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

Embracing complexity is a scarce trait, worth acquiring.

Seth Godin

If you’re curious about everything you begin to comprehend the complexity of things. Everything is connected. Trying to shoebox things is so 20th century. We’ve created too many solutions that never worked because we cut down the problem to what we perceived as the core and by this missed all the subtleties and nuances of the situation. Embracing complexity means to do more big-picture thinking to create a “feeling”, some sort of bigger understanding for the whole situation and than work back down to the level of the problem. It will take more time and much more iterations but it will also create much more sustainable solutions.

Tinker away

One recurring theme in almost all the people that I look at is that they have a lot of hobbies. The innovators are constantly working on three, four or five pet projects — beyond their main job.

Steven B. Johnson

We didn’t sit around a boardroom thinking, here are 10 ideas to build into a company. We like building products, and if it became a business? Great!

Dennis Crowley

If you are curious about everything and embrace complexity, you almost automatically end up at what Steven Johnson describes above as a common threat among innovators. You never work at only one project and you have to try out a lot to understand the complications of it. You have to immerse yourself into it, try it out in all kinds of ways and see how it connects with your other projects. That’s one reason why we just did a conference on the future of cities for example. It helped us to deep dive into everything happening with cities and technologies so that if you ask us now about location-based services or creating a crowdsource-platform for city improvements, we can provide you with a much more informed expertise. We’re already lining up new topics to immerse ourselves into.

So for us, staying curious, embracing complexity and tinkering away is the best approach we’ve found yet to cope with the constant change that’s going on in our world. We can only encourage you stop struggling against the change and look at the possibilities it holds. And if you need some help with that, give us a call or write us an email.