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The best things I read in 2014

Pope Francis is pictured by mobile phones as he arrives to lead a special audience for Vatican employees and their families at the Paul VI's hall at the Vatican December 22, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianch
Reuters/Alessandro Bianch
Mobile is eating the world.
  • Frédéric Filloux
By Frédéric Filloux

Editor, Monday Note

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

For this year’s last Monday Note, I chose to share a few interesting topics I followed in 2014. I expect many of them will stay relevant in next year’s news cycle. Here are my picks, in about 40 links.

The great mobile takeover…

Next year, the vast majority of media will see more than 50% of their traffic coming from mobile devices (Facebook is way ahead with 65%). We might see a new breed of mobile-only quality media, but the ecosystem still has to come up with ad formats that don’t irritate audiences, and adjusting revenue streams won’t be easy. Last October, Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans came up with his Mobile is Eating the World stack of data. It goes in the same direction as Mary Meeker’s bi-annual State of the Internet slide deck, thus reinterpreted by the Atlantic: Mobile Is Eating Global Attention: 10 Graphs on the State of the Internet.

…and how it will impact the “Next Billion”

Quartz coined the “Next Billion” phrase and went on to build a cluster of conferences around it (the next is May 19 in London). If 85% of the world population lives within range of a cell tower (including 2G connectivity), 4.3 billion people are still not connected to the web. They will do so by getting a smartphone. According to the GSMA trade group, the number of smartphones will increase by three billion by 2020 as the infrastructure is built and handset prices keep falling (they cost currently less than $75).

More in this series of links from Quartz:

Internet cafes in the developing world find out what happens when everyone gets a smartphone
How to map wealth in Africa using nothing but mobile-phone minutes
How to sell gigabytes to people who’ve never heard of them
This mobile operator wants to charge $2.50 a year for access to Facebook
Kenya’s merchants are warming up to a payment system born in a Seattle basement

Last Fall, BusinessWeek ran a special edition about tech outside Silicon Valley. I found these two pieces especially worth reading:
China’s Xiaomi, the World’s Fastest-Growing Phone Maker
Ten Days in Kenya With No Cash, Only a Phone in Nairobi.

Thanks to fancy technologies, 2015 will see all internet titans competing for these billions of potential customers. In 2013, Wired came up with The Untold Story of Google’s Quest to Bring the Internet Everywhere—By Balloon, followed by this recent update, Google’s Balloon Internet Experiment, One Year Later.

Time Magazine broke all limits of “access journalism” (lots of space in exchange of an exclusive) with this cover story:

It’s a nine pages quasi-stenographed account of a press junket arranged by Facebook in India. In it, Lev Grossman “soberly” sums things up:

Over the past decade, humanity hasn’t just adopted Facebook; we’ve fallen on it like starving people who have been who have been waiting for it our entire lives as it were the last missing piece of our social infrastructure as a species.

Since it is behind a paywall I’m not providing a link for this de facto press kit (I assume you can live without it.)

The social doubters

Not everyone has been touched by grace as Lev Grossman was. Among skeptics, Alexis Madrigal–now at Fusion and formerly of The Atlantic—is one of my favorite. Last month, he wrote The Fall of Facebook, a contrarian piece in which he states that “The social network future dominance is far from assured.” He is not the only one to cast such doubt. Bloomberg, for instance, notes that Facebook’s Popularity Among Teens Dips Again, while its columnist Leonid Bershidsky, in his trademark stern way, contends Google Deserves Its Valuation, Facebook Doesn’t. On the social phenomenon, this NYT OpEd piece, The Flight From Conversation by MIT professor Sherry Turkle, is a must read.

Journalism

2014 has been quite a year for journalism with endless reverberations of the Snowden affair and the subsequent release of Citizen Four. A must-read of the documentary background is this NYT story:

The Snowden affair is sure to give a boost to investigative reporting.

I bet 2015 will see the rise of Pierre Omidyar’s media venture First Look Media. The project has been mocked for its stumbling debut (read Mathew Ingram piece First Look Media has forgotten the number one rule of startups). A few weeks ago, I spoke with Pierre and John Temple, First Look’s chief, at a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Our discussion fell under the Chatham House Rule, meaning I’m not saying who exactly said what. To me, both men have the vision (and the funding) to build a media organization that could rattle the right cages. (A good read: The Pierre Omidyar Insurgency — New York Magazine). I simply hope Pierre and John will look beyond the United States—there are plenty of stories in Europe as well. Still on journalism, don’t miss Dan Gillmor’s piece about The New Editors of the Internet (The Atlantic); it raises interesting questions about who controls what we see and don’t see on the Web.

Ebola was—and remains—one of the big stories of the year.

I have two friends—two American doctors—who have been on the front line in Sierra Leone and Liberia for months. There is not a single day when I don’t think about their commitment and the risks they take to help the victims of this terrible disease.

Just to grasp the gruesomeness of the situation, watch this video from Time Magazine in which photojournalist John Moore explains his coverage of the epidemic.

Mashable also published Eyewitness to Hell: Life in Ebola-Ravaged Liberia, a horrifying photo essay. Also among the must-reads: Inside the Ebola Wars and In the Ebola Ward, both by The New Yorker’s Richard Preston, an expert on the matter and author of the famous book The Hot Zone. On the economics side, Businessweek came up with this cover story: How the U.S. Screwed Up in the Fight Against Ebola

The rise of the Islamic State was the other big story of the year

Here are my picks in the abundant coverage. First, Vice News’ subjective, but extremely effective four-part videos were a revelation. For the first time, a reporter was embedded (sort of) in ISIS. (He had to obey the Rules for Journalists in Deir Ezzor compiled by Syria Deeply.)

More classical but definitely a must-read is Guardian’s Isis: the inside story by Martin Chulov, probably the best account so far. As backgrounders, read ISIS’ Harsh Brand of Islam Is Rooted in Austere Saudi Creed (NYT), The Ancestors of ISIS (NYT), How ISIS Works (NYT) and How the US Created the Islamic State  (Vice).

Miscellaneous

Let’s conclude with subjects such as the Sony hack. First, to get an idea of the relentlessness of the cyberattacks the US faces on a permanent basis, have a look at this real-time map:

As far as Sony is concerned, the studio’s apparent cowardice shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Still, was the stolen information legitimate news fodder? Certainly not, yells Aaron Sorkin in a New York Times OpEd: The Press Shouldn’t Help the Sony Hackers. Of course it is, retorts Los Angeles Times’ business columnist Michael Hiltzik: Why the press must report those Sony hacks.

In the Sharing Economy, Workers Find Both Freedom and Uncertainty (NYT), or the reality of a Uber/Lyft driver. Uber will remain a big story in 2015 as its ruthlessness will keep feeding the news cycle (read Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s Warpath (Vanity Fair)

The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault (NYT) by Natasha Singer, who came up with extraordinary journalistic work on the women who dare to fight the institution.

And finally, another Vanity Fair feature, How Marine Salvage Master Nick Sloane Refloated Costa Concordia, and a moving report from the New Yorker, Weather Man, Life at a Remote Russian Weather Station including the work of a fabulous young photographer, Evgenia Abugaeva, herself born in the Russian Arctic town of Tiksi.

Happy holiday reading. See you next year.

You can read more of Monday Note’s coverage of technology and media here.

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