Tag Archives: Google

Platform Capitalism: The New Economy of the Future?

My latest article, just published on Impakter Magazine:

BOOK REVIEW: PLATFORM CAPITALISM BY NICK SRNICEK, PUBLISHED BY POLITY (DECEMBER 2016) 120 PAGES

Platform Capitalism

Platform capitalism is the latest buzzword, replacing what used to be called “eco-systems”. It is also sometimes confused with the “gig economy” or the “sharing economy”, enthusiastically embraced by politicians as the answer to the Great Recession.

Uber, AirBnB, TaskRabbit and the like are viewed as saviors, providing jobs to those who wouldn’t have any or rounding off the pay of those who make too little. Their apps create a digital space where service providers and users meet; the needs of the latter are satisfied by the former while the app owners take a fair percentage off every transaction.

THE BLESSED AGE OF POST-CAPITALISM?

Technology enthusiasts see platform capitalism, created by the digital revolution, as a benign form of capitalism ushering in a new blessed age where people come into their own, workers find instant demand for their services and consumers get what they want at the tap of a button on their smartphone.

Before we go on, let’s get one piece of semantics out of the way: Platform capitalism should not be confused with the “sharing economy” (insofar as it exists at all). Platform capitalism has nothing to do with “sharing” in the sense of an exchange of goods or services at no cost to those engaged in the exchange. Platform capitalism is capitalism pure and simple: You pay for the goods and services you get, nothing is free – even if transaction costs tend to be lower online. Lower but still substantial: Uber, for example, creams off 25 percent of every taxi ride. The difference is that it’s not done through an exchange of cash in the real world, it is done digitally.

And, according to the proponents of platform capitalism, there is an added advantage: The middleman is cut out, costs to users are thus automatically reduced. This is the capitalism of the future, they enthuse. Thanks to the digital revolution, we are into the age of “post-capitalism”.

Not true, argue the critics: The basic exploitative nature of capitalism has not changed. Middlemen are replaced by new gatekeepers. “Many of the old middlemen and retailers disappear but only to be replaced by much more powerful gatekeepers,” complained one disgruntled German blogger.

Is platform capitalism heralding a bright new future or is it just the latest form of exploitative capitalism?

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Filed under Book review, Digital Revolution, Economics, non-fiction, politics, Startups, Tech

The Future According to Google

Cover of "Zoolander"

The United States has historically been a laboratory of the future for the rest of the world: I remember how I was awed when I arrived in New York in the 1960s and saw what the future looked like, with gigantic highways, sprawling suburbs and televisions everywhere.

Now the US is doing it again, if you know where to look. David Leonhardt, heading The Upshot, a new New York Times venture focused on investigative and analytical journalism (and that means data-crunching), recently reported the results of a study done following a suggestion from Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian.

I bet Google’s chief economist hadn’t expected the kind of results shown in that study…

The piece, titled “Inequality and Web Search Trends – In One America, Guns and Diet. In the Other, Cameras and ‘Zoolander‘”, explains how the research was done. Serious stuff, analyzing a decade of search data county by county across the whole of the US, categorized by an income-education-health index and then comparing the results to web searches on Google to uncover people’s interests and concerns at both ends of the income distribution.

What rich people search for on Google compared to poor people.

Leonhardt summarized the picture in a couple of striking sentences: “In the hardest places to live in the United States, people spend a lot of time thinking about diets and religion. In the easiest places to live, people spend a lot of time thinking about cameras.”

The portrait is suggestive.

Rich people are concerned with acquiring the latest technology and traveling to distant lands. The poor worry about their health and look for weight-loss diets (the new poverty in America is associated with obesity).

The article concludes on a note of pessimism, highlighting the fact that the rich are “intent on passing down their way of life to the next generation, via Baby Bjorns and early access to technology.”

As noted by Leonhardt, “That last point may be the most troubling. The different subjects that occupy people’s thoughts aren’t just a window into American life today. They’re a window onto future inequality, too.”

Yes, that’s what future inequality will look like: access to new technology and round-the-world travel will be reserved to the rich and likely to be denied to the masses. Why?  Too expensive.Another NYT article from The Upshot suggests that we may all be stuck in rut: there is evidence that in climbing the social ladder, geographic location matters. The chances that a child raised in the bottom fifth will rise to the top are lowest in the “old South”, around 4% in places like Atlanta and Charlotte. Conversely, they are much better in the North, for example 33% in Willinston, North Dakota. Clearly, parental and school environment matters.

Does this sound depressing to you? To me, it does. Yet, I believe it’s important to know where we’re headed as a civilization. The 20th century saw the rise of the middle class, and that rise continues around the world, as people in developing countries are climbing out of poverty. But the middle class has stalled in America and the on-going (triple dip?) recession in Europe is not helping. It looks like the happy days of the middle class are over in the developed world…

Personally, I hope I’m wrong about that. Still, I did try to imagine our future on the basis of such trends and the result (as all those following this blog already know) can be found in my latest book “Forever Young”. My goal was simple, I did not want to write fantasy science fiction, I wanted to take a “hard” look at what our future would really be like. I only wish this NYT study had come out sooner, as I was writing my book, but at least I feel vindicated: this is confirmation that my premise is sound…Nevertheless, I still hope the trends towards inequality that we see today – especially in a book like Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” – will ultimately prove wrong.

Can the Millennials get us out of the inequality rut?

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To Publish AND Perish – Will the Tsunami of e-books Destroy our Culture?

This article was published on Impakter (under my real name, Claude Forthomme):

https://i0.wp.com/impakter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/paisaje15-1050x582.jpg

To Publish and Perish

on 20 August, 2014 at 09:00

Amazon and its 3.4 Million E-Books: the End of Culture?

For a long while now, people have debated how many e-books Amazon carried it in its Kindle Store, because Amazon has never divulged the data. Some daringly ventured the figure of 1.5 million. Wrong! The real figure is close to 3.4 million and I found it by chance, as I was navigating Amazon’s website for Amazon Associates which provides links, banners and widgets you can upload to your blog to help advertise Amazon products.
Here it is in a screen shot I took on August 19, 2014:
Look at what the red arrow points to: “Results from Amazon Kindle Store…3,376,174 . Three days later that figure had grown by over 9,000 units and stood at 3,385,243, climbing ever closer to 3.4 million. This means that everyday over 3,000 titles are added, that’s over one million books per year – and probably growing at an exponential rate that I cannot calculate for the moment; I haven’t got the data though Amazon does (I wonder whether they are as scared as I am).

Or to put it another way: It takes one hour to add 12 books, one new title every five minutes.

You can bet that in 10 years time the number of titles in the Kindle Store could be anywhere between 20 and 40 million books.

This is as many books as Google is said to have scanned globally, drawing from all the world’s libraries (the latest reported figure dates to last year and was 33 million books).

Surprised? I’m not, not really. Internet guru Jaron Lanier, in his fascinating book “Who Owns the Future” suggests that we should eventually expect as many writers online as there are readers. If he’s right (and there’s not reason to believe him wrong), we still have some way to go. But it will surely happen, and probably sooner than you think.

When that happens, what will the e-book market look like? Lanier reminds us that this is what happened to music already.

Are books like music? Not quite, books are a more complete codification of ideas, they can play on emotions the way music does (for example, a romance novel or lines of poetry) but they also encapsulate ideas and ideology (from Hegel to Marx to contemporary thought gurus, like Lanier himself).

So can we expect our culture to get crushed under the numbers?

Again, Lanier tells us how he sees the future. Books will be increasingly linked to devices – think of how the rise of e-books was linked to the Kindle. When that happens, says Lanier: “some good books from otherwise obscure authors will come into being. These will usually come to light as part of the rapid-growth phase, or “free rise” of a new channel or device for delivering the book experience.” He doesn’t say it, but of course Amanda Hocking and John Locke‘s sudden rise to fame immediately comes to mind. They enjoyed a “heightened visibility” on the Kindle, as they were “uniquely available early on on that device.” And Lanier to conclude: “In this way, an interesting author with just the right timing will occasionally get a big boost from a tech transition”.

Is that good for authors? No, says Lanier, “the total money flowing to authors in the system will decline to a fraction of what it was before digital networks.” The future reserved to authors is exactly the same as what musicians are facing today: “Most authors will make most of their book-related money in real time, from traveling, live appearances or consulting instead of book sales.”

Authors in future will be a vastly different lot from what they are today, no more hiding in the ivory tower as “independent scholars”

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Filed under genre fiction, Literature, social media

Is Google Plus on its Way Out?

I just published one of my articles on a new cool magazine, Impakter. Here’s the opening:

The geeks are convinced of it, Google is about to snuff out Google Plus. The younger generations, the Millenials in particular, consider Google+ a social media disaster. Something totally useless, even laughable. A month ago, Google Plus’ founding father, Vic Gundotra, resigned and rumors were that Google+ staff was being relocated, possibly to the Android platform.
Does that spell the end for Google+?
A lot of people in the blogosphere think so. Tech Crunch is convinced of it…

To read the rest, click here.

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A Writer’s Quandary: To Blog in a Niche or Not to Blog?

Like every writer who starts out, I was told I should have an Internet presence, an easily recognizable brand. That’s why I started this blog back in 2009 as a way to brand myself. I also got on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and scores of other sites.

On day one, I had one reader visit my blog: my husband. On day two, my kids joined in, I had three readers. Today, 419 posts later, I am nearing the 400 mark of daily visits and 10,000 visits per month. Lately I started a mirror blog on WordPress with the same posts because I have followers over there who hadn’t realized that my main blog is here. For some obscure reason, the Word Press and Blogger universes are separate.
If I look at my Google stats, I’m read everywhere, from Canada to China, though most of my traffic comes from the States. My bounce rate is very low, time spent on the site is fairly high (5 to 6 minutes) and some 20 percent of my visitors return. Inexplicably, traffic fluctuates wildly, the Alexa ranking can go as high as 2000k and as low 200 k. Still, not too bad, considering a total of more than 150 million blogs worldwide. That mind-boggling number comes from WP magazine, see here, with an estimated 170,000 new blogs added everyday! 

A tsunami of blogs. Such numbers make one wonder whether there aren’t too many blogs around…

So was it worth the effort? Because, don’t kid yourself, to maintain a blog is a BIG effort. Some people have real short posts and can do it everyday.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. I always have tons of things to say about everything and then, there’s a bigger problem: like a lot of writers, I don’t fit into a mold. Yet, to succeed, you need to do niche blogging. And Google’s newly launched “semantic search” system (I posted about it, see here) works best if you blog in a niche and turn yourself into an “expert” with a resulting “author page” that stands out.

If you don’t blog in a niche, the danger is that Google bypasses you, your blog doesn’t turn up in searches and you get forgotten in your corner.

That worries me.

It means that if you want to stand out, Google forces you to stay in your niche. Thinking “out of the box” is not allowed! That’s tough for writers (like me) who are broadly interested in the human condition. Posting about all sorts of different subjects weakens your status as an expert: for Google, you can’t be an expert in a vast array of things.  

Because Google’s algorithms confuse expertise with critical thinking. The two are not the same. You can be an expert in your domain and a very poor critical thinker. The ability for critical thinking depends more on how you appraise a situation than on how much you know about it.

Go tell Google computers!

Looking at my blog as a whole, the experience has been positive: my readership has grown steadily overtime and lately I’m getting more and more comments. That’s a real satisfaction and I’m thankful to those of you who have taken the time to comment. But I worry. Have I done something wrong? Like any writer, I aspire to get my fiction read by the greatest number. Does that mean I should do like my fellow writers, discuss books and writing problems etc?

The trouble is I don’t often feel like “talking shop”. My interests are varied and to talk shop, there are plenty of wonderful writers’ and readers’ communities like Goodreads, Shelfari, TheNextBigWriter, ReadWave, Authonomy etc and I’ve joined them all, at one point or another.

It all boils down to one question: who should the blog be for? I believe it’s a two-way street. A blogger needs an audience. You always write for somebody, to either convince or entertain that person or both. You need to ask yourself what kind of audience inspires you and stimulates you – and write for that audience. Because if you’re not stimulated, you can’t write. At least, that’s the way it is for me. If my blog is not exclusively aimed at other writers  that’s because I just can’t limit myself to other writers. When I blog, I have in mind  all sorts of people and their problems and not just writers and writing. Sure, writers interest me too. The upheavals caused by the digital revolution make publishing a particularly fascinating subject and I want to know as much as I can about it and share that knowledge. But for me, the world doesn’t end there.

Am I wrong? I guess only time will tell…when my blog hits the 10,000 visits a day mark!

I have a question for you and I’d be grateful if you could drop a word in the comments below. Am I right to go out in all directions or should I focus on a niche and write only about books, the publishing industry, writing techniques? Do you enjoy reading my posts that are never twice about the same subject or would you prefer to visit my blog knowing exactly what you are going to find? As a writer, are you also tempted to blog beyond any given “niche”? After all, writers are observers of the “human condition”, and that means their interests cannot be contained in a “niche”…

Photo credit: Visit Carol Manser’s post “How to Choose a Good Niche Blog Topic”, on My Second Million blog, click here.

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