Information & Interfaces

I’m still stuck on the narrative of consumption – both on the intent and interest front, as I wrote in Intent, Interest & Internet Dominance, as well as on the interfaces through which it will happen, something I started writing on in Consumer- facing AI : Phase One.

In this era of abundant choice, a device I use when fighting battles with myself on personal consumption is the can-want-need framework. ‘Can’ is made increasingly easier now because of convenience, ‘want’ by the choices around, and sticking to ‘need’ is a very difficult task! I read a really good post which has mirrored this in the (consumer) technology space – “How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds…“. More

Intent, Interest & Internet dominance

Facebook’s new move to dominate advertising by expanding its audience network to non users got me thinking about its interest based approach, and in contrast Google’s intent based approach. While both approaches have their place in the scheme of consumption, it reminded me something I posted a while back on a completely different context – choices.

We live in an era of (relative) abundance and are spoilt for choices. Consequently (to generalise) it has become more difficult than ever to stick to conscious choices. Increasingly we consume more because we can (largely influenced by our social network) than because we need. I see this as a parallel to interest & intent. I also think that the more data Facebook collects across its properties about users (and non users) the closer it will get to making intent an even lesser part of our consumption than it is now.  More

Sounds like a brand

An earlier post’s title was reasonably self explanatory -“Convenience & Choices“, but to summarise, I had dwelt on the abundance of choice we have on all fronts these days, and its (inverse) relationship with conscious choice. I’d quoted from a wonderful article on the death of video stores, The enemy of video stores was convenience. The victim of convenience is conscious choice. The post was subjective, and more a consumer/individual perspective, but what does it to the supply side, or specifically, brands?

Would it be fair to say that convenience is an enemy of brands as well? Let me explain. There are ‘brands’ that have been built on the proposition of convenience. Given the internet’s penchant for eliminating middlemen who do not provide its kind of value, and its ability to create convenient interfaces, everything from Google and Amazon downwards is built on the idea of convenience. That’s not what I am talking of. My line of thought is whether convenience (also) leads to a certain kind of commoditisation – it becomes not so much about what I want, but more about how easily I am getting it. So long as the product/service is comparable in terms of price and value proposition, and not necessarily superior, I’d be fine. The premium is on ease and time, and not on the brand/product.  More

A shift in the world order

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It has been a while since I wrote about nation states, or notion states as I call them. Now is not really a good time to bring this up in India, but hey, it’s a free country. Oh, wait! Therefore, let’s talk about Apple vs the FBI on where digital security ends and national security begins. (via The GuardianWashington-Silicon Valley shadowboxing as the publication puts it, and Apple has the support of Google, Facebook and Twitter. [If this were happening in India, by now Tim Cook would have probably been lynched by a mob, and charged for sedition – now a very loose word that can be applied to even things such as sneezing while watching the Republic Day parade on TV]

This battle is interesting as it is because it will set a precedent for an individual’s privacy rights, and is being fought between the world’s most valuable corporation and the world’s biggest (one might even say only) superpower. On one side, we have and entity whose decisions affect billions of lives around the world, and on the other, a country marked by boundaries but influencing policies that affect an equal number. Phenomenally intriguing and layered as this is, I actually find it riveting because I see a couple of my favourite narratives coming to a boil. More

Alpha Bets

Yahoo’s seemingly imminent demise, and the flip flop at the very top of the food chain – Apple taking back the title of the most valuable company in the world before you could say Alphabet – made me wonder about the next theatre of war. I’ve been fascinated with GAFA (is that AAFA now?) for a while, though I prefer the title that Scott Galloway gave them a year back – The Four Horsemen. If you haven’t seen his presentation from the DLD conference, you should. It gives a lot of perspective on the scale at which Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple operate, and the impact they are having on every other business there is.

The Four Horsemen symbolise conquest, and that’s what each of them are after. That’s also why I’m inclined to think that the fate of our species is increasingly tied to the fates of these four companies! While they are not busy fighting turf wars with the ‘smaller’ folks like Uber, Netflix, Slack, China etc, they are increasingly encroaching each others’ key focus areas – from shopping to providing internet to health to devices to social to VR to OS (phones, cars, things!) to content to.. you get the picture! This year, Scott’s presentation was on the same subject and titled ‘Gang of Four‘. It makes things even clearer!


Real Virtuality

Much has been written about 2016 being the year of Virtual Reality, (or not) but at CES and beyond, one theme that I’ve been noticing is Real Virtuality. The phrase – I meant it as innocent wordplay to describe the thought I had, but the irony is that it is actually the name of a game! Irony, because my thoughts were around ‘real’ businesses (with obvious physical manifestations) entering relatively more virtual environments. ‘Virtuality‘ in philosophy is what is not real, but displays the full qualities of the real. 

While it had been floating around in my head, this post on GigaOm, on car manufacturers and their self-renewing straddle attempt in the future of the car economy, is what lent it a bit more solidity. The post mentions a few partnerships – Ford with Amazon for a virtual assistant service, GM and Lyft potentially for driverless cars. Ford is also well into its own autonomous vehicles agenda, has a partnership with DJI for drone-to-vehicle communications, (via) and has launched a wearables lab to test smartwatch integration with its cars. The car manufacturers are also developing their own systems, and are thereby in frenemy zone with the OS folks – Apple & Android.  More

The transience of consumption & marketing

Rajesh wrote a very interesting post recently on ownership, and how it would impact brand/marketing/purchase. My own view of ownership has undergone a massive change in the last couple of years, thanks to a combination of factors like increasing life spans, the changing nature of jobs, and the rise of on-demand services. Add to that extreme income disparity, economic flux, and technological advances that have the potential to create obsolescence faster than ever before, and I’m reasonably sure the concept of ownership is up for a revamp.

Rajesh brings up two factors that caused previous generations to value ownership – financial success (trophies) and asset building. If I have to analyse my own motivations in the past, both of these would find a place. If I dig deeper, I also see a couple of others. One would be lack of access on demand. (eg. music/movie CDs, books, even say, photographs) You can see how streaming and cloud storage have changed this. The other subtext I can vaguely discern is ‘control’. A car, home, all lend an air of certainty and being in control. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in middle class India which had quite a lot of experience with scarcity. But in the line of anti fragile thinking, the key skill going forward would be agility rather than trying to retain control. In essence, a whole lot of cases for ownership that no longer seem relevant.  More

A worked up future

One of the most fascinating reads I’ve come across online recently is Breaking Smart. I’ve only reached Chapter 5 of 22 in Season 1, but it’s already given me a whole lot of insights and perspectives not only on its primary premise – “software is eating the world” – but also on the future of work and employment, an area I have been very interested in for a while now. Chapter 3 (Getting Reoriented) for instance, dwells upon how classic generational conflicts of previous eras is playing out as an economy-wide technological disruption nowThis chapter also talks of the dilemma that pretty much everyone faces these days, (though I can’t be sure how many have thought about/acknowledged this) should I abandon some of my investments in the industrial social order and join the dynamic new social order, or hold on to the status quo as long as possible?  More

Empathy & Monoculture

Thanks to Shefaly, I saw this excellent video on Aeon about “outrospection.” As opposed to discovering who we are and what we do in this world by looking inwards (introspection), “outrospection” is about discovering it through cognitive empathy – consciously looking to understand the perspectives of others, and going beyond the labels we might have made for them. The idea is that outrospection is the ask of the times we live in, and not introspection.

I quite disagree with that either-or view, and think both have their place in this era. They both work in tandem. For example, to let go of my prejudices, I’d have to understand why they exist in the first place and then proceed to change my perspective. Here outrospection follows introspection. Once I let go of my biases and listen more objectively, my worldview and my view of myself starts shifting again. In this case, introspection follows outrospection. As Lao Tzu says,

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Algorithms, the institution of the future!

Tom Goodwin’s precise summing up of the shifting business environment is now legend – Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening. 

Institutional realignment is now on an accelerated path. In this superb, nuanced post titled ‘Uber and AirBnB make the rules now – but to whose benefit?“, Vili Lehdonvirta brings up very interesting perspectives. (To paraphrase)

– If buyers switch to a new market, sometimes sellers have no choice but to follow, irrespective of whether it brings them gains or losses (eg. if there is very little business outside of Uber to be had)

– Even if everyone participates with interests intact, the collective effects on society may not always be positive (eg. AirBnB rooms causing nuisance to neighbours)

– These conflicting interests are usually reconciled by political institutions, but they face the challenge of siding with incumbents or upstarts.

And towards the end of the article, this very important thought – these new platforms appear to provide access to those who have been denied it by the institutions and processes thus far, but is it that simple? In this context, the new jobs being created are quite different from the typical ‘job’ description. That brings me to a key institution – the traditional workplace.