Harvard Friday Five


Priscilla McGregor-Kerr

08 Jun 2018

At Harvard we stay up to date with the latest news and trends shaping the tech world by rounding up the top stories each week. We’ve recapped our favourite stories from the last few weeks to create May’s news round-up. Sign up to the newsletter if you like what you see, and get more like this in your inbox every Friday.

Mary Meeker publishes 2018 internet trends

Tech analyst Mary Meeker has been publishing an in-depth slide deck on internet trends for many years. On the 30th May she published her 2018 report and as usual it’s full of fascinating stats and ideas, even if not everyone always agrees with Meeker’s conclusions. The overall message this year is that the digital sector is reaching maturity in a number of ways – smartphone shipments flattened and internet user growth is cooling off. But we’re spending more time with our gadgets, and e-commerce and voice-controlled products are still in boom mode. The full deck – all 294 slides – is available here, but some good round-ups are here and here.

Musk proposes “journalist rating” system

Tesla founder Elon Musk has ruffled feathers this on the 23rd May by suggesting he might set up a rating system for journalists’ accuracy. It appears he’s been angered by negative coverage of Tesla’s technology and future prospects. This storm has become another example of the cultural gap between Big Tech, with its ambitious plans to change the world, and the shorter-term news priorities of the media. As some commentators have pointed out, part of the reason for Musk’s irritation at the media is because Tesla relies so much on positive coverage. A good story = better access to investor cash.

UK tech sector grew 2.6x faster than the rest of the economy

Tech Nation (formerly TechUK) is the body set up by the government to encourage the UK’s tech industry. Every year it publishes a report that provides the definitive health check on the state of the sector. This year’s report, published on the 17th May, found that the UK’s tech sector is worth £184bn and grew 2.6 times faster than the rest of the economy last year. However only 19% of tech workers are female and only 15% are from BAME backgrounds. Get all of the stats here.

Google I/O shows off AI advances

It’s conference season and the 8th-10th May was the turn of Google to show off its wares at I/O. Scooping up the headlines was Google Duplex, an AI functionality that can make calls and reservations on behalf of users. Duplex brings together a number of Google's technological investments including natural language understanding, deep learning and text to speech. The news received something of a backlash from tech commentators, however, who accused Google of removing natural human interactions and blurring the lines between human and artificial engagement. Elsewhere at I/O, Google announced Gmail Smart Compose. This new AI-powered feature promises to intelligently work out what you're trying to write and even to predict whole emails. It's a logical extension of the existing Smart Reply feature in Gmail, and simply appears as you start to compose an email in your browser.

Snapchat scrambles to fix redesign

When Snap redesigned its Snapchat app back in February it was intended to make it easier to use for a wider audience. But instead it's managed to massively irritate its core user base. Evan Spiegel's statement on the 1st May, promising another overhaul of the app's user interface, is the result of a 25% drop in share price following the company's latest earnings call. The "re-redesign" tries to address users' frustrations about the lack of chronological stories and make it easier for them to distinguish friends from brands. It's a cautionary tale about the fundamental importance of listening to and acting on customer preferences. With WhatsApp's Status offering growing rapidly it'll be interesting to see if another redesign is enough to recapture users' attention. Sign up to our Friday Five newsletter to get stories like these in your inbox every week