Monday, March 17, 2014

Catching up on the history of the future


It's been some time since I posted on  Many things have happened in my own life since last July, not the least of which is my sense of what this technology blog should be about.

This is a quick post, just to warm up, but three points to make:

  1. Tech reporting and commentary suffers from the "24 hour news" syndrome.  There are  scads of analysts and reporters trying to reach a limited audience, but there are few truly newsworthy things going on.  Like cable news, what happens in that case is that trivial matters get blown up to the status of "BREAKING NEWS!" Furthermore, search engine optimization has taken over editorial content and headline writing.  So we get a huge volume of stories that contain the same carefully-vetted keywords, and oftentimes the outcome is boring at best, bilgewater reporting at worst.  I'll try to keep my mouth shut unless I have something worth your time to say.  If fewer people find Infrics because I didn't worship the SEO gods, so be it.
  2. In a little over a month, it will have been 3 years since got started.  I'm happy to say that the big ideas I introduced as coverage areas have held up pretty well as guideposts for the direction of emerging tech and societal trends: a)the emergence of services that can be recombined in different ways to achieve enterprise value.  One surprising, and related, development is the way that idea is being expressed in the consumer space through companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb.  More on that soon.  b) the growing personalization of our interactions with businesses and each other, enabled by ever-increasing sophistication of data analysis, location awareness, social connection, and context.  c) the move toward decoupling of content, consumption, and transmission of information.  This idea, which I aggregate under the term "stateless," is gaining in momentum and influence.  In posts to come, I'll offer some ideas about what that means.
  3. In keeping with the "different from bilgewater" idea expressed above, I'm going to change the tone here a little.  You'll still see the occasional long-form analytical reports, but there will be a lot more "letter from Don to you" posts as well, more like a conventional blog.  I voluntarily left a job that paid me very well in order to start Infrics; some things about that choice turned out well, some things have been, shall I say, a learning experience.  I'll talk about both, and about what I've learned about business and enterprise tech along the way. 
One last thing.  I now live in northern California, in the San Francisco Bay area.  I'm a lot closer to some of the most exciting things going on in technology, so I hope to find some of them and share them.  If you're close by, let me know what you're up to.  Friends and colleagues all over the world, if you're headed to SF or Silicon Valley, please look me up.  I'm still at

Monday, July 1, 2013

What if Big Data is about more than detailed analytics? HP's ultrapersonalized Indigo printing

Big data: touted as a way to know more about consumers than ever before.  But twist the idea just a little, and you get new opportunities to personalize data and product delivery in ways never before possible.

HP Indigo digital presses allow Coca-Cola® to get personal

This page from HP demonstrates how digital techniques scaled out the big data idea to 800 million labels for Coke:

Personalization and big data are both examples new abilities to be granular at incredibly detailed levels.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Secure data, not perimeters, as we move to the cloud-based stateless future

Image from

Cloudpro: Security at the Edge of the Cloud

This article makes a clear point about the need to evolve security models with the proliferation of multiple inroads to computing.  BYOD and cloud, author Davey Winder says, make the old style "secure the castle" security model unworkable--because there is no longer just one castle.  Instead, he argues, secure the data itself when you must deal with multiple perimeters.

This idea goes hand in hand with the decoupling inherent in the stateless idea:  data, apps, and device, once decoupled from each other, lend themselves especially well to the multi-perimeter security model.  Further, if a device like a Chromebook is run pure cloud, with virtually everything stored away from the device, the need to secure the machine itself is dramatically reduced.

Thanks to tech writer Ron Miller on Google+ for the heads up on this article.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

All Google Glass apps to be web based: tidbit hiding in NY Times Bits Blog

Google Glass image from NT Times Bits blog
Google Emulates Apple in Restricting Apps for Glass -

This story from the Times' tech blog, is about restrictions on developers, but the real news for me was this:

"The apps, which will be called Glassware, will be cloud-based, like Web apps, as opposed to living on the device like cellphone apps. "

So, it appears that Google is going with the stateless future for Glass, a good sign, and an indication of their commitment to an ecosystem of web-delivered applications.

'via Blog this'

Monday, April 15, 2013

New York Times reports: the biggest cable network isn't cable, it's streaming video

More Cracks In TV’s Business Model -

This is an excellent article examining "unbundling," when consumer choice overrides the current business models of TV networks and other media outlets.  If you're read for a while, you'll see two big themes here:

--Greater consumer power and choice about media: The Era of You
As author David Carr points out, "Historically, once the consumer decides, it doesn’t matter what stakeholders want. They can’t stop what’s coming." 

--Decoupling of content from distribution and consumption: statelessness
Like many forms of media, legacy behavior is to preserve high profits by linking the art you buy (TV show, movie, book, application for your computer, music) to some form of distribution method (cable, iTunes, Google Play, physical DVD or CD) and to a fixed location or device for consumption (home TV set, movie theater, downloaded copy on your specific computer, tablet, or phone.)  

Unrealized across the board in the emerging scenario is the massive business and profit opportunity in digital content licensing that works with the stateless model, and allows the license purchaser to consume the art via the distribution model and on the device of their choosing.  

Let's keep watching this story: there's much more to come.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mary Meeker calls us the "Asset-Light Generation." Consumers do their best to live stateless, even though the future is still arriving

Will we be burdened by technology, or will it free us?
Slide from KPCB
Kleiner Perkins analyst Mary Meeker has used a new term to describe our emerging tech world: "asset-light."  The slide shows us this idea in a snapshot. You can know a lot and do a lot with few encumbrances, and consumers are adopting asset-light behaviors rapidly.

With that idea, she has given a name to one of the central concepts of statelessness.  In the stateless future, data, applications, and device have been decoupled from each other. Because everything's always available, on every device, asset-light behavior is a natural outcome.

My take on that idea is this: consumer behavior is already anticipating that future, but our applications, operating systems, and devices have yet to catch up.

It's a simple concept; asset-light behavior is setting our expectations, creating the next wave in our bigger "life with technology" picture.  To fully realize those expectations,  it takes stateless apps, data, and devices.  The stage is set for an explosion of "everything, everywhere, all the time."

The next wave?  In 1980, Alvin Toffler's "Third Wave" postulated that humanity has gone through major eras, which he called "waves." Toffler said we have been through waves one and two: agricultural and industrial. We were all embarking on the third, the information age, which is still emerging.  Computing, central to the information age, has had waves as well.

  1. Mainframe: You go to your stuff, which is immovable and unshareable.
  2. Client-Server: I carry all my stuff with me, often spread across many devices.
  3. Stateless future: I don't carry any of my stuff, but I can get all of it whenever I want.
This "whenever I want" idea drives the benefits of statelessness.  It's the thing that makes it possible for us to be "asset-light." In the stateless future, everything you own is available on every device in every location: phone, tablet, laptop, TV, store, car, airplane.  Because everything you need is everywhere you are, you and I will no longer be bound by the need to lug it around.

Once the apps and data are independent of the device, no one need ever again carry a complete data center with them. When you think about it, that's really the the central idea of fat OS laptops, tablets, and phones; they're all little self-contained packages of computing power, operating system, apps, and data: legacies all the way back to the first PCs and sneakernet file transfers.   There are two early exceptions, stateless devices from Google (Chrome OS) and Mozilla (Firefox OS.)  The stateless future promises we'll have all our stuff with us without the burden of the packed briefcase carried by the businessperson on the left in the photo above.

Asset-light behavior--acting stateless but with "all my stuff with me" technology--comes at a huge cost.   The legacy of the client-server model shackles each of us to security risks, incredibly frustrating app and OS updates, needless cost and complexity of devices.  Even with media and data files in the cloud, synchronizing multiple local copies to support the old model is practically stone age.

The thing is, almost the entire mobile and consumerization movement, which appears revolutionary, is still just a kludge to get us to asset-light stateless behaviors because the background architectures of applications, data rights, storage, and operating systems have not caught up with the way many of us already live.

This is a fascinating way to think of technology.  We have created the tech equivalent of cognitive dissonance; the way we live and the technologies that we use to make that life possible are not in line with each other.  In my opinion, the idea of an asset-light generation is a solid marker that the stateless future is destined to become real.

Meeker's presentation, from last December at Stanford, is here.  The description of the asset-light generation begins on slide 59.
2012 KPCB Internet Trends Year-End Update from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

 This link will run a search of all the coverage of the stateless future, sorted by date, most recent first. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Google Think: Creation, Curation, Connection, Community define "Gen C"

Gen C illustration from Google Think
Introducing Gen C - The YouTube Generation – Think Insights – Google: "Gen C is a powerful new force in consumer culture. It’s a term we use to describe people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection, and community. It’s not an age group; it’s an attitude and mindset defined by key characteristics. 80% of Gen C is made up of millennials, YouTube’s core (though by no means only) audience."

Here is a link to the report as a .pdf

I'm not sure we're quite ready for yet another "Gen (insert letter of choice here,)" but the 4 Cs do capture a lot of what seems to be going on in our use of technology and our consumption of content.

Synchronous content consumption and communication: in decline or on the way out?

This made me think a little more deeply about a couple of related artifacts of daily life I've noticed lately, and they both deal with synchronicity:
  • The days of consuming content in a synchronous fashion, like tuning in to a network broadcast of a sitcom every week at the same time, seem terribly old fashioned now.  It's much more "at the time, in the place, and on the device I choose."  Have you also noticed the growth of chunking out time and consuming TV series in multiple episodes all at once?

    This does not portend well for TV networks, cable companies, and satellite providers, but it fits in perfectly with the idea of the stateless future, in which we've blown apart the old links that tied content to specific storage, delivery, and consumption mechanisms.  There is probably collateral damage to in-theater movie viewing as well; when you can see a movie in HD at home on a big screen with excellent surround sound, streamed on the internet at the time of your choice, that has become a highly-viable option compared with the big screen (and social) experience at the theater.

    Asynchronous content consumption is yet one more sign that business models built on tight links between content, delivery, and consumption are in danger.  If they don't change to accommodate this emerging reality, their days are likely numbered.
  • There is a new mode of personal communication I see more and more often Instead of purely synchronous, like a phone call or video conference that happens in real time, or asynchronous, like e-mail, but near-synchronous.  This is the text message effect: "I will answer you quickly, but don't interrupt me without notice for a phone call."  I find myself resenting phone calls that come in unannounced, and cautious about initiating one myself without texting first to check "is this a good time to talk."

    We are more connected than ever before, but also seem to demand a greater level of control in just how we divide our time among the screens, keyboards, and speakers of our daily lives.  The "I am multitasking and will get back to you soon" near synchronous effect could be our means of handling those demands.