Start up: real China lessons, map the past, India’s phone problem, and more


A Surface Pro: wouldn’t these yank up falling PC figures? Don’t get your hopes up too high. Photo by 麻吉小兔 on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Beyond the copycats: 5 things I learned about the internet in China » Medium

Chenyu Zheng: In July 2014, my colleague and I moved to China to set up Whisper’s operations in Shenzhen. The subsequent 14 months were my first real experience working in China, on a startup. I was fully immersed in China’s booming tech scene. This humbling journey not only made me more grounded and connected to my roots, but also taught me life-long lessons.

She has five observations, of which this is the key one:

China is far beyond copying the West. Great innovation is happening everywhere in China.

Copying a popular app directly to China does not work — only when a validated need is combined with proper localization by the right team at the right timing. In Chinese, we say 天时地利人和。

(1) For example, Zhihu (30m registered users as of Aug 2015 and raised series C funding from Tencent in Nov 2015) is a leading Q&A platform with significant media distribution in China. At first glance, it could be China’s version of Quora, but it’s far beyond a copycat.

In my mind, it combines Pinterest-style lifestyle, fitness, inspiration photos with Quora’s Q&A and knowledge sharing. Their motto 与世界分享你的知识、经验和见解, which translates to “Share with the world your knowledge, experience and opinion.” Interestingly, the founders are journalists turned entrepreneurs and their stand-alone app Zhihu Daily is a leading media distribution platform in China. For tech worker or lifestyle blogger, having your article selected by Zhihu Daily is a great honor and adds credibility.

Most of my Western friends know about major SNS [social network services] such as Weibo, Wechat, QQ, but for any real China insider, Zhihu is a blossoming platform that people are rushing to build a presence on. It is similar to the trend I observe that Instagram influencers now direct their fans to follow them on Snapchat. The quality and $ value per Zhihu follower are way above Weibo.

(2) With 600m MAU [monthly average users] as of Aug 2015, WeChat is the Facebook of China. It is no exaggeration to regard it as a Swiss Army knife. When you make new acquaintance, the first thing to ask is not their phone number, but scan each other’s WeChat QR code.

On Wechat, I order my Didi taxi, pay for grocery at 711, AA with friends at a meal, top up my cellphone, pay for water & utility, order a ferry ticket to Macau, you name it. In addition, I can order fresh produce, snacks, fresh made yogurt from Wechat official accounts. Not to mention that most of my news and media consumption are from WeChat moment. Everything I need to make life convenient is all within Wechat.

When the smartphone isn’t the platform, but gets abstracted away. How soon will that happen in the west?
link to this extract


Maps from the past – programmatically »Thenmap

Use the Thenmap API to fetch historical geodata as GeoJSON or TopoJSON, or prerendered maps as SVG files.

Pass a year and preferred coordinate system or projection, and the API will give you all borders in return. Like the world in 1956, or Swedish municipalities from 1979.

The Thenmap API currently holds:

• World borders, from 1945
• Swedish municipalities, from 1974 (a few borders in southern Sweden still missing from 1973)
• Swedish counties, from 1968
• Finnish municipalities, from 2011
• US states, from 1865
• Municipalities of Greenland, from 1979

Learn more by reading the full documentation.

Neat. Built by Leo Wallentin of Journalism++Stockholm.
link to this extract


PC market finishes 2015 as expected, hopefully setting the stage for a more stable future » IDC

Gloom and doom – the figures for “traditional” PCs are back down to 2007 levels, with only Apple growing year-on-year, while the big players grab more of the market.

Note this though, because IDC doesn’t count these:

Detachable tablets, which are counted separately from PCs, are growing quickly but from a small base. Adding those units to PC shipments would boost growth by roughly 6 percentage points in the fourth quarter and 3 percentage points for all of 2015, bringing year-on-year growth for 4Q15 to a decline of about -5% and -7.5% for all of 2015. The impact for 2016 will be larger as detachable tablet volume grows, boosting earlier forecasts of PC growth in 2016 from -3.1% to growth of 1 to 2%.

That translates to about 4m “detachables” (ie they come with a keyboard, rather than offering the keyboard as an extra – so the iPad Pro is a tablet, not a detachable) shipped in Q4, and 8m in the whole year.

I think the Surface Pro also counts as a “tablet” under IDC’s definition. Nobody’s happy with this, of course.

So the numbers are pretty small, but they’re principally where the profit is – if you’re not Apple.
link to this extract


Digital publishers face a winter of discontent » Digiday

Ricardo Bilton:

The sunny days of hot growth for digital publishers are fading into a memory as many now face a long, dark winter.

Many venture-backed publishers are coming up to the limits of scale. Their models were based on eye-popping audience-growth figures and the presumption that business would follow. That’s not always the case. And traffic growth inevitably hits a ceiling.

At Business Insider, for example, traffic increased 10% to 40m monthly uniques over the past year, following an 80% increase the year prior. BuzzFeed’s growth was flat this year, at 75.3m uniques in November, after a year in which it grew 42%. (All figures are U.S. cross-platform figures, from comScore.) Mashable’s traffic, on the other hand, grew at a faster rate from November 2013 to November 2014 compared to a year later: 18% vs. 32%. Gawker Media, which spent most of last year in turmoil, has seen a 16% year-over-year decline in unique visitors.

“There’s that sense that not all of these digital news startups will see continuing hockey stick-like growth,” said Ken Doctor, principal analyst at Outsell. “Fall behind in growth, and the current value of these companies may plummet; it’s a momentum game, win or lose.”

A notable point in this: Buzzfeed pays millions of dollars annually for Facebook traffic. Mashable, of course, is reckoned to be shopping itself around.
link to this extract


A billion users may not be enough for India’s phone industry » Bloomberg Business

Bhuma Shrivastava :

India just signed up its billionth mobile-phone customer, joining China as the only countries to cross that milestone.

Yet that 10-digit base may not be enough to keep the industry from struggling. Asia’s third largest economy is crowded with a dozen wireless carriers – more than in any other country – spectrum is hard to come by and regulatory risks are high. Add it all up and it’s no wonder they deliver lower profitability than phone operators in other parts of Asia, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

“There are too many of them all fighting for limited spectrum,” said Chris Lane, a telecommunications analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong. “In China by comparison, 1.3 billion subscribers are serviced by just three operators. The government in China allocates spectrum on the basis of need, and at no cost to the operators. As a result, the Chinese operators get scale benefits that Indian operators are unable to achieve.”

Raises the question of what the optimum number of mobile (or other) operators is for any country to create a competitive but also sustainable market. Four? Five?
link to this extract


Software turns smartphone into 3-D scanner » BetaBoston

Nidhi Subbaraman:

A team led by Brown professor Gabriel Taubin developed software that could sync up a basic light-pattern projector with a smartphone or camera that can work on “burst” mode.

The patterns illuminate an object in the right sequence as the camera takes photographs, creating a series of images that can then be stitched together to create a 3-D rendering, to use as a model on the computer or to run through a 3-D printer.

You could pick up any object — the curved receiver of a rotary phone, say — scan its surface, upload that scan to a computer program, and print out a replica.

“You need to capture an image at the proper time. You need the camera and the projector to be synchronized,” Taubin said.

The team presented its research at the Association of Computing Machinery’s SIGGRAPH Asia conference in November.

Disruption.
link to this extract


Why women aren’t buying smartwatches » Racked

Nicola Fumo:

Part of the advantage fitness trackers have over smartwatches with female consumers seems to be their simplicity. “The common knock against general-purpose smartwatches today is that they’re very overwhelming; they do too much,” Fitbit CEO James Park told The Verge. Kaspar Heinrici, who designs traditional watches as well as connected devices for Fossil as its associate creative director, told Racked that the most common pushback it gets from women on wearables is a similar lack of seeing the need. “The first reaction to technical products from women is ‘Oh, I don’t really need that functionality,’ or ‘That’s too much for me,'” he says. Fitness trackers are straightforward and, even more importantly, they offer the promise of a better self.

Aspiration is a strong tool in selling fashion. Think of the purchase motivations behind clothes, jewelry, or cosmetics. Largely, these aren’t replenishment buys like razor blades or socks, and they’re not thoughtful “big gadget” investments like televisions or washing machines. An internal tick is convinced life will be better with the confidence that comes with a dress that fits just so, a designer bag that communicates status, or the seamless disguising of under eye circles. Fitness trackers make an obvious path to an improved self; an increased awareness of behaviors that can be altered for results (more rest, fewer pounds, what have you). With all of their notifications and connected apps, smartwatches have yet to leverage the siren call of “me, but better.”

Though I’d say I know as many women who have Apple Watches as men. Android Wear, however – only men.
link to this extract


A top venture capitalist thinks startups are causing inequality. He’s wrong. » Vox

This critique is a week old, but Ezra Klein makes a number of good points (all of them worth reading) about this much-debated essay, including this:

An important point Graham makes is that while people are angry about income inequality, they usually prioritize fixing other problems. When it comes down to it, they really care about poverty, or social mobility, or median wages, or political power.

Consider two worlds. In one, the Gini coefficient — the standard measure of inequality — remains the same, but median wages are double their current level. In another, the Gini coefficient falls, but median wages are 10 percent lower and poverty is 3 percentage points higher.

Would anyone choose the second world? Bueller?

But having made that point, Graham spends much of his essay grappling with strawmen. Statements like “Ending economic inequality would mean ending startups” confuse the conversation. No one is talking about ending startups. No one is even talking about ending inequality. And you can certainly ameliorate inequality without destroying the ability to found new companies. Sweden, for instance, has a higher startup rate than America, and less income inequality — as do a number of other countries.

He also includes this useful graphic to show that, au contraire Mr Graham, the number of startups is actually falling as a percentage of all companies in the US:

It feels important to bear these things in mind: Silicon Valley suffers from an extreme myopia, which is fine if you’re trying to build a web service, less so if you’re doling out world advice.
link to this extract


Google picks former Obama adviser to lead global public policy » The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

Google, facing increased scrutiny from European regulators, has hired a former senior adviser to President Obama to lead its global public policy team.

Caroline Atkinson, who left her position as a White House deputy national security adviser last month, will join Google in March and be based in Washington.

Her most pressing task will be to temper concerns by antitrust enforcement officials in the European Union, which has accused the company of abusing its dominance in web search.

Ms. Atkinson, who joined the administration in 2011, is the latest in a string of Obama administration officials to join Silicon Valley companies. David Plouffe, also a former adviser, joined Uber in August 2014, and Jay Carney, a former press secretary, was hired by Amazon early last year.

Replaces Rachel Whetstone, who left for Uber in May.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s