Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mashable/Sandvine networks: How the US consumes real-time entertainment online

The move to online media is happening very quickly.  This is important, because it reflects both the reason that stateless devices--that deliver cloud-based applications and content--are the wave of the future, and the enabling factor of having rich content available online.  Click this link for my article on the stateless future of media

Here is's article, which includes this infographic:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Apps belong on the web

Scott Jenson image from
Mobile Apps Must Die!

This article from .net magazine reiterates core ideas I advocate about stateless computing:

Applications and data belong on the web. 
Devices are for network connection, display, user interface, and consumption of web-based content.
Thanks to Devlin Dunsmore on Google+ for the alert about this article.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mary Meeker's annual report on the state of the internet

This is one of the most valuable reports you can find; it's free and available for download.

Internet Trends 2011  

Among the findings:

  • 81% of users of top internet properties are outside the USA
  • smartphones and tablets outshipped PCs (desktop, laptop) in Q4, 2010
  • mega-trend of 21st century: empowerment of people via connected mobile devices

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 is purple today, October 20

Spirit Day: to honor Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Transgendered youth.
To fight bullying of young people who are different, and in honor of those who have taken their own lives when the torment of being different was too much to bear.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

C-suite talk: can you make complexity disappear?

Building blocks, not jigsaw pieces.
Image from

In the last of the C-suite articles, I talked about managing complexity, either by relentlessly simplifying processes and applications, or by abstracting a complex service in such a way that it appears simple to those who consume it.  This time, let’s take a closer look at the latter: how to use complexity abstraction and why it’s an underappreciated business tool.

A service oriented enterprise is composed of 4 service tiers (for more on service tiers, see “How Technology Disappears”):

  1. Lines of business, end users
  2. Service Orchestration
  3. Service Management
  4. Infrastructure
There are exceptions, but in general, the tiers build on one another: service management uses the products of the infrastructure service to enable service orchestration to serve end users. One of the simplest measurements of success at each level is the degree to which service providers can offer consumers freedom from concern over where the service came from and how it was provisioned. It just works.

This is not revolutionary, but it’s very actionable. By simplifying and standardizing component parts of complex things, the care taken by providers at each service tier abstracts the complex into a simple, consumable product.  How can you do this?

  • Standardize: practice strong, almost rigid exception management when customization is requested at lower service tiers.  This is an area, especially in IT, where businesses have traditionally operated backwards.  Your business and your employees are locked down to enable success of highly customized infrastructure and applications, when it should be exactly the other way: very high levels of standardization at lower levels in support of ease of deployment and customization at the user side.  If you are abstracting complex services by standardizing their component parts, you almost automatically guarantee your business is right-side-up here.
  • Reliability engineering: Attack the weakest link in a complex process, and do the heavy lifting required to get its reliability up. Think of your car engine: the ignition system and fuel delivery systems were once high-maintenance items that demanded a fairly high level of driver involvement. Today, both are handled by computers. The Bosch computer in my old car has now managed ignition and fuel injection without attention for 22 years. Reliability is a great complexity abstraction if you make it a component of service delivery.
  • Building blocks, not jigsaw puzzle pieces: each can be assembled into something useful, but jigsaws can only be assembled one way.  Building blocks are the ultimate abstraction, and can create many outcomes from standard shapes. That structure is the metaphor for your abstracted complexity.  If it only has one purpose, it it worth it?
  • Externalize: instead of creating abstraction inside your own four walls, pay someone else to do it for you, and purchase a consumable service, which appears simple to you as the consumer. This is the province of services like cloud computing, third party payroll managers, and distribution services like UPS.  Their success lies in managing away the complex so you don’t have to.  It’s their core business strength.  Is it really worth it to make it part of yours?  The greater core simplicity you can structure into your business--the areas that don’t justify customization or added complexity--the more opportunities this solution presents.  The explosive growth in enterprise-ready external services and their abilities is also moving favorably in your direction.

The idea is to create a virtuous circle: structuring for managed services enables simplification and abstraction of complexity, which enables greater agility and higher business efficiencies. It sets you up for “one question to rule them all,” namely, “do I have to care about where that service came from, or can I just put it to work?”

Now streaming live and free: MIT's EmTech conference

I've posted here that the annual EmTech conference at MIT is one of the best conferences I've ever attended.

I can't be there this year, but it's on today (Tuesday, October 18) and tomorrow, live streaming and free to watch:

Follow on Twitter: #emtechmit

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"Beauty and the Beast" teaches us the future of social commerce

If you want to understand where technology is taking us, look no further than Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  Although Belle longs to escape her provincial life, in her small village everyone knows everyone else, and daily life is a series of highly personal interactions among village folk.

Once we grew beyond a single small village, we’ve used technology ranging from iron keys to letters of credit to chip-encoded passports to confirm our identity and our rights. Something you possessed took the place of village recognition as proof that “it’s me!”

As things got more complex there were fewer interactions between people who actually knew each other. Technology enabled more and more distance between people, and more layers of separation between those who consume and those who provide.  “Good morning, Belle!” has been replaced by “please listen carefully, as menu options have recently changed.”

That’s the background for the revolution technology is now making possible: the re-emergence of the village metaphor. We’ve already seen our village become the “wall” on Facebook or its equivalent, and in constant touch with different circles of friends and interests.  Google picked up on that very idea with the “circles” in Google Plus.  

Replacing the fact that everyone in the village knows you and will vouch for you hasn’t caught up yet.  Nothing has quite given us a new version of “hi, how are you, would you like your favorite table?” “Hi, neighbor, try the apple pie today, it’s delicious!” “Shall I just put that on your tab?” Proving who you are by the fact that you’re just plain recognized and known is long gone.  Yelp and Foursquare and other early versions of recommendation engines are trying to apply technology to the “try the pie” equation, but they are still very primitive, require that you actively work to find things out, and are disconnected and ad hoc.

You’ve probably heard “social” attached to way too many things by now: the social network buzzwords and all the associated catchphrases: social selling, social enterprise, social graph.  It’s communities of interest, not communities of place.  But at its heart, the online social world, our “circles,” represents Belle’s village, with internet nodes replacing cobblestone streets.

The “era of you” concept is based in the idea that technology can re-personalize a lot of everyday life and business transactions, and that the village metaphor has much to teach us as it does.

  • You are the hub of a network of information, all coming into view as consumable services that can be combined into a “you” layer.  As I’ve pointed out in discussions about the forthcoming digital personal assistant, it can access your roles, your rights, your preferences, and your behaviors to facilitate work, shopping, travel, entertainment, learning, and social interaction.  Technology can recognize things and people to provide context in real time.  
  • Technology can enable a new security model based on circles of community: circles of trust.  Using the “degrees of separation” model, shared contacts across contact circles attest that you are authentic; a “likelihood of mutuality” algorithm can generate authentication that is not two-or-three-part, but thousand-part, almost impossible to game or falsify. It duplicates at scale the village dialog, “I don’t know you, but my best friend does, and if he says you’re OK, that’s enough for me.”
  • Objects and people can also now recognize you, in ways that can re-introduce the village “I know you, come on in” proof of identity.  Adding to mutuality-based authentication, facial recognition programs can now recognize you with very high accuracy.  Add a layer of “you” service to attest that you’re in a role, location, and activity that meets the standards of authentication.  At that point, we’ve really done completely away with the need for such familiar objects as keys, licenses, passports, credit cards, and tickets--and the bane of modern technology, the password.  If you belong on that plane, in that theater, charging that meal, driving that car, the world-as-village knows and allows it without further action.  The digital wallet concept, is suddenly very old news.  Tap-to-pay, near field communications?  SO yesterday.  “I know it’s you, here’s your receipt.”

The possibility takes the standard CRM “one single view of the customer” a big step forward: “one single view of YOU.”  There’s no reason Starbucks shouldn’t know your favorite drink and your name as you approach the counter.  There’s no reason your airline can’t recognize your travel patterns, offer to bill your ticket to your corporate account because it has figured out your itinerary is a business trip, and pre-populate your expense reports.  Will we see this reality of the entire world treating you like royalty? Not likely to happen.  But will we see someone who sees the value in providing the integrative “you” layer, and someone else who grows their business dramatically with tech-assisted personalization?  Will demand for personalized services grow? Count on it.  The digital personal assistant could be the user iterface to this richness of personalization.  

This “re-villagization” of security and commerce show us another side of the social promise of technology.   Authentication and personalization represent great opportunities to deconstruct old ideas into services that can be used in many ways, and to use technology to re-introduce highly personalized services that feel like village life in its most idealized form.   Who will dream big enough to bring it to us?  As Belle said, “there must be more than this provincial life.”

Thank you, Belle.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Your near-future life: meet Rosie, the digital personal assistant

In the not-too-distant future, a digital personal assistant will be a major part of your life. Trust me on this.  Here’s why:
It's a Jacobsen Egg Chair. Rosie told me.
  1. For all the tech miracles we live with every day, we are using a relatively small percentage of what’s possible in ways useful enough to really enrich our lives. We’re nearing a transformational moment in the way technology will bring ordinary people highly personalized and valuable services that once were the hallmarks of extreme wealth. Because of that, it’s an important reflection of the Big Idea, “the era of you.”
  2. We’re nearing simultaneous maturity of many enabling technologies to make the fully-realized digital assistant practical.
  3. The digital personal assistant offers the vendor who supplies it the nirvana of commercial technologists: the opportunity to be your gateway to all that richness of experience, and profit from nearly every interaction you have with the world. It will make the current battle for search look like a small skirmish.
Visualizing all the personal digital assistant promises: let’s tell a story.  In the fictional account from 2006 reported here, John Porter used a personal digital assistant as he went to a sales meeting in Chicago.  Today, he arrives at SFO for a meeting in Mountain View, deplaning in terminal 2.  He has named his next-generation assistant “Rosie.”

“Rosie, that was a short connection at ORD, did my bag make it onto this plane with me?”
Yes, American shows it on the loaded plane manifest. It’s coming out at baggage claim 2.  There are 2 Peet’s coffee locations in this terminal, the closest is just ahead on your left.”
  • GPS and compass to know where John is and where he is going
  • Web services interface to the AA information system
  • Accessing SFO online map and merchant list
  • Personal preference record: “alert me when an airport Peet’s or Starbucks is nearby.”
“Those midcentury lounge chairs are amazing, Rosie.  I’ve seen them before, who designed them?”
“That’s the Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.”
“That’s it! Who sells them, what’s the price and availability?”
“Design Within Reach has them on sale through October 18, about $5000 in fabric, $11,000 in leather. Some colors are available for immediate delivery.”
“Hmm, I wonder.  Any mention of them from my friends?”
“Angela Roberts saw them in this terminal last month, and said, ‘I have GOT to get one of these’ in a Facebook status update.  There are 3 DWR stores in San Francisco, and one in Palo Alto, do you want to see the chair in person?’s currently not in stock at the Potrero Hill store, skip that one.”
“Any store near the Ferry Building? I’m going to the Farmers’ Market there tomorrow morning.”
“455 Jackson, near Sansome, it’s about 6 blocks from the Ferry Building. It closes at 5:00 on Saturday.”
“Perfect. Remind me when I finish lunch tomorrow.”
  • Image recognition, already possible with Google Goggles.  John will likely wear a microcamera in his glasses frame, or on his wireless earbud.
  • DWR website for product, sale, information
  • personal shopping history, Rosie knows that John has done business with DWR and likes to shop there.
  • Real time search of John’s social contacts and the information they have shared with him.
  • AI logic: Rosie learned from history that when John asks more than one followup question, she should volunteer additional detail.
  • Real-time access of individual store inventory from DWR
  • Interaction with online maps and mashup of multiple locations
“Uh-oh. Rosie, I know this woman walking up, and she obviously recognizes me, but who is it? Where do I know her from?”
“That’s Meg Whitman, past CEO of HP. You spoke with her at the executive briefing last spring.”
“It is? But she looks so different! What happened?”
“The San Francisco Chronicle reported that, after she was ousted by the board, she “had a complete change of heart about corporations and politics.” She’s currently advising on strategy.”
“I had heard that, but tie-dye?”
“It appears to be from Made by a  handcrafter in Berkeley.”
“Quick, what’s the situation at HP now?”
“She was the CEO before Steve Ballmer.”
“You mean...”
“Yes, before Ballmer was ousted in favor of Robert Scoble. She’s been gone from HP for 4 months. I sent her a note on your behalf congratulating her on her work with progressive politics.”
“MEG! How nice to see you again, you look wonderful!”
  • Facial recognition
  • Personal interaction history
  • real-time access of historical news records

(aboard the tram to the car rental center)

“Rosie, how long until my first meeting in Mountain View?”  Do I have time for lunch?
“Your meeting is in 2 hours. With current traffic, driving time on the 101 is about 40 minutes.”
“Is my car ready? What did I get this time?”
“You can have a Prius right now, or if you wait 10 minutes while they prep it, a Fusion hybrid, which do you want?”
“Put me in the Fusion, Rosie.  Let’s have XM Classic Vinyl on the radio.”
“Done. You’re checked in, the car is on the left aisle, about halfway down on the right. The seats and mirrors are set for you, but there’s no power recline, you’ll need to adjust that when you get in.”
“Thanks, Rosie. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
  • Calendar, location, real-time traffic access, and intelligence to answer, “do I have time.”
  • Real-time interaction with rental agency information
  • Digital personal assistant interaction with car telematics and settings, using John’s preferences.

There is very little in this scenario that is not possible right now. The “extra set of eyes” camera is needed for recognition of things and people without extra effort.  The integration of rights and preferences across many situations has yet to be achieved  The central idea, that we already have access to a lot of useful information, but have to act deliberately and take our attention away from the rest of life to find it, is already there, we are living it every day with smartphones.  

Part of this is our own expectations. It’s been so long that truly personal service has been available, we expect to stop what we’re doing and go do self service.  It’s great that technology has put so much in our hands; it’s just that the digital assistant will help make the next big step, to seamless, automatic provisioning of information and actions.  The personal digital assistant is a practical realization of the benefits of splitting content from presentation, which was one of the key things we got from web 2.0. By combining it with mobility, context, location awareness, and the machine recognition of things and people, there’s a really good chance we’ll all get very spoiled, very quickly.

The introduction by Apple of the improved version of their early iteration of the DPA, Siri, makes this an especially good time to elevate this discussion, and begin thinking about business opportunities--and threats--it suggests.  Siri is cool. But it represents perhaps 30% of what the truly powerful digital assistant will be, as Rosie demonstrated.  

If you haven’t seen Siri yet, here is an excellent demo:

Apple's Siri demo

Although you’re seeing a lot of coverage, Siri is by no means the only player in the DPA game.  Take a look at this report:

Search Engine Land: Alternatives to Siri

As I’ve said, I think this idea has the potential to have a major disruptive influence, and possibly represent a shift in the order and market power of the big tech companies. Who will be the big players? Who is most likely to win?  That report is coming soon.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Digital personal assistants: AI at your service, the ultimate "era of you" technology

I have to confess: I've never been senior enough in an organization to have my own personal assistant. But I've certainly worked closely enough with the vice presidents and C-suite crowd to see great personal assistants in action.
Digital personal assistants combine
elements of Hal 9000 and
Rosie, the robotic maid from
the Jetsons.
(without that annoying
"kill all the crew" part.)
Images from

They know everything about what their boss is doing, where he or she is, what's important, and who has access.  They find things out, make appointments, get payments made and received, manage travel and entertainment: in general, they make the details of the boss's life easier, thereby letting the boss be more productive. Personal assistants are not appreciated nearly as much as they should be, but they are definitely seen as one of the great perks of being in senior management.

I believe that's about to change.

The evolution of several technology trends suggests  that one of the most important, disruptive, and profitable technologies on the horizon is the digital version of that invaluable staff member, with abilities augmented by artificial intelligence.  This is the ultimate expression of "the era of you" idea, in which technology gives individuals highly-customized services and information that once was the hallmark of the wealthy and highly privileged. It's augmented reality combined with someone you know and trust.

Today is an important day to get this story published, because a friend of mine posted a link last night to this story about news likely to break today from Apple:

Co-founder of Siri: Assistant launch is a 'world-changing event"

I had been alerting people to the importance of the Siri product before Apple bought it.  This is one of those "if A is possible and B is possible, then what C could exist?" tech trigger events.  Voice recognition, mobile connection, location awareness, and the ability to mash together useful information from multiple sources can all be brought to bear to make the personal assistant possible.

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote in 2006, thinking of this idea as an extension of identity management:

“Even though he could pull up his entire office environment anywhere in the world, John made it a point to visit the office in person at least once a week, and today he had a face to face meeting with his marketing work team.  As the cab glided to a stop in front of the corporate research center, the display on his phone mirrored the charges on the cab system, and from the tiny wireless earbud he wore nonstop, his DC (digital concierge) asked “authorize to pay?” When he said “yes, add a $2 tip”, his voiceprint granted the payment; since the system knew he was in his business role, it compared the trip origin and destination, determined it was authorized business, and automatically billed the fare to his team project work center, while it took the $2 from his personal account. 
The door swung open steps ahead of John’s entry as a heads up display nearby showed “Welcome back, Mr. Porter”.  Although the system had wirelessly polled John’s phone to identify him and authorize his entry, if anyone else had tried to use the phone, it wouldn’t have worked.  The microchip implanted in John’s forearm had been digitally linked to his phone; without his presence, the phone and every bit of information it contained would have been useless. 
The 86th floor SE conference room had spectacular views.  When John entered the building, the room’s digital attendee list changed his name from black to blue.  Those already inside the conference room showed up in green.  “Hey Amy, who’s already here? Display only.” he asked his concierge. (Nobody had planned it, but as people began buying the concierge service from Google, they began insisting that it be programmed with personalities, and frequently referred to their computer assistant by name.) Since he didn’t need the names read to him, he just sent the list to the phone’s HD display. 
As John entered the conference room and sat down, the conference table recognized him, and his personal environment appeared on the screen at his seat, set to “work”.  When he finished the meeting, he’d switch to his personal life system and securely check home e-mail.  On presence screens throughout the company, people who had buddied him saw his status change to “in meeting, unavailable”.  John’s supervisor Ellen also had a second line under his name “marketing meeting at research center,” as did colleagues he had added to his work “trust list”. As his boss, Ellen had rights to call or message him in the meeting, but vendors and most of the rest of the world would automatically get his voicemail, IM catcher, or e-mail if they tried to reach him.”
Every event listed in John’s workday is possible with technology we now have.  Identity management tracks authorizations, yes.  But it also measures other crucial elements: location, presence, and role.  By interacting with the system day to day, users will build a complex database of their own preferences, overlaid with the rights and responsibilities that are part of work, family, and personal life. "

That was 5 years ago, but the idea is there: a friendly personal assistant, managing interactions between you and the world, seamlessly transitioning back and forth between business and personal life.  I called it a "digital concierge" then.  By now, I think it's pretty likely that facial recognition will be the authenticator rather than a two-part system using an implanted chip linked to a phone.  One key is the heuristic nature of the digital assistant.  It learns through interaction rather than complex settings of preferences, so it gets ever-better through use, and ever more personalized.

Once fully realized, I think the digital personal assistant will make some people rich beyond the dreams of avarice.  I also don't think a lot of people see this yet, so this morning, in advance of whatever Apple announces, consider this a heads-up.

--more on "the era of you," part of's big ideas series

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Innovation Starvation | World Policy Institute

John Battelle tweeted a link to this story today: how our world of Too Much Information kills efforts to take risk on behalf of innovation, why we need science fiction to rekindle a belief in the future. And why big stuff never gets done.

It's worthwhile reading, great insight for business and society.

Innovation Starvation | World Policy Institute:

'via Blog this'