Wednesday, December 26, 2012

5 Trends In HTML5 In 2012

This is from ReadWrite Mobile:  5 Trends In HTML5 In 2012:

As you know, I think the move to stateless data, apps, and devices is one of the biggest trends shaping our technology future.  HTML5 is one of the keys, a language that enables apps to be written as pure web applications, needing no local installation or updates--the app, its security, and its updates all run in the cloud.  Your phone, tablet, laptop: they all deliver you that app via some sort of browser.

Two important points to remember in this article:
  • Performance matters, as demonstrated by the challenges Facebook has faced in preferentially offering web apps.  When devices are not optimized for web delivery, web apps face an uneven playing field.  There is still a lot of evolution to come in this aspect of stateless app delivery.
  • Never forget that the best tech idea can be deliberately hindered when it challenges another business model.  Apple's deliberate crippling of web technologies in order to protect its own app store is a classic case, and ironic when viewed next to Apple's own efforts to discourage the use of Flash in favor of HTML5-like web content delivery.
The future still favors web delivery of applications and content; this article is a reminder that the future does not come in a steady stream, but in fits and "quantum change" bursts. 

'via Blog this'

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Trust is the new black" And other trends for 2013 from Ford Motor Company

Ford has a very active futurist effort; today for the first time, they offered a public view of their thinking.

Looking Further with Ford: 13 Trends for 2013

The link is to the .pdf of the presentation.  A couple of takeaways:

  • Ford recognizes that people believe they can do good through their choices of companies to support.  For business, this means added importance for corporate social responsibility and diligence in social media monitoring.
  • Customers also expect a more direct relationship with those companies, a trend one analyst summarized by saying, "consumers want to be a market of one."  This is a direct tie-in with Infrics' Era of You idea, in which we see personalization of experience at a more and more granular level. 
Video of the presentation, discussion of the ideas, and a Q & A are on Ford's Livestream channel

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When technology enables greater personalization, why do so many companies throw it out the window when offering customer service?

Say “yes” to speak with a representative -- service automation frustrating customers -- Peter Weill | MIT Sloan Experts:
In the category of "major trends waiting to happen" is the computer assisted customer service system that adds to the customer experience, not merely a misplaced use of tech to save money at customers' expense.

In the linked article, MIT's Peter Weill examines a tactic called "softscaling," now being used by some companies with great success.

What are the triggers for better customer service?

  • Genuine end-to-end customer relationship management (CRM,) one of the most promising uses of Big Data
  • New forms of human-machine interaction, especially the maturation of voice interaction systems
  • Artificial Intelligence that senses emotion levels, understands complex interactions, and escalates to human agents in the same way a caring person would escalate to a supervisor: "I think we can help you better if I bring in my boss, who has specific experience in this area."
  • Business education/enlightenment to appreciate the changed rules of customer engagement and the bottom-line value of greater personalization at the front-line customer service level

'via Blog this'

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Herman Miller Co. on new technologies and the office of the future.

New Technologies, New Behaviors – Research Summaries – Herman Miller:

This is actually very cool--a look at business and workplace technology through the eyes of a furniture manufacturer.  In addition to being the source for Eames Lounge Chairs and George Miller benches, Herman Miller is also a major supplier of office systems: what we sometimes derisively refer to as "cube farms."

What should an office look like when we are using new technologies and new collaboration tools to work with?
'via Blog this'

Monday, October 8, 2012

When you no longer have to know or care where your servers are, you're stateless

ReadWriteWeb DeathWatch: In-House Datacenters:

This is part of the reason I see the stateless revolution as one of the biggest technology trends.  The ReadWriteWeb article mentions the Netflix migration to Amazon Web Services: from 2500 in-house servers to 50.

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thank you

Last night, crossed 20,000 pageviews since I started it in May, 2011.

I know that many websites, including popular blogs, see more than that in a typical morning; but I'm building my reputation from scratch, and I think Infrics' subject area is more "narrowcasting" than mass market. Ten pageviews by the right people are worth more to me than thousands from those to whom my work has no meaning.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who has read my articles, shared them, and left comments.  If you have ideas for articles or for ways I can serve you better, please let me know:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

From Dreamforce 2012: 6 min video of the near future

Videos that show us visions of the future are a great way to make emerging tech ideas real.

This one, used to open's 2012 Dreamforce conference, is essentially an ad for the slogan: everything you need is everywhere you are.

Although it was produced to show off Salesforce's offerings, there are two major themes in play here:

  • Extreme personalization of experience.  Technology is used to deliver highly individualized information across a broad range of experiences.  This is at the heart of the big idea, the era of you.
  • Through touch, voice, heads-up displays, and ubiquitous connectivity, the benefits of technology are used more easily, in more places, and more often.  Technology gets out of the way, and disappears.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My how you've changed! Technology research meets Social, Consumerization, Freemium

The same social community models you use on Facebook and Twitter are at work in the world of technology and business research, breaking down barriers between you and research providers, driving new business models and new forms of information sharing.

You can use Amazon and a credit card to buy and deploy business technology faster than you can get it from your IT department. The same consumerization effect has come to research; there is a lot you can access directly, without any need of IT and their contract with Gartner or Forrester. Both effects are changing the way research is bought and sold.   

For most people in business, this is good news, with one exception; if you’re a CIO seeing your clients in the business disintermediate IT altogether in their search for technology information, this may be cause for alarm. I
f you’re Gartner, Forrester, or IDC, it could have implications for your business model itself and the traditional clientele who have driven your success.

In fact, the whole process of information gathering is changing. The very means of finding and sharing expertise is different than it was even 5 years ago.  At the same time, the areas where businesses seek expertise are changing as well, as some technologies mature and others are in states of rapid change.  

I’ve spent several months talking with people who have been in traditional research roles and are now leading emerging models for research.  This is the first of three articles on research in the era of you.

The sources:

  • Bruce Richardson, former Chief Research Officer of American Manufacturing Research (AMR, was acquired by Gartner at the end of 2009.) He is now Chief Enterprise Strategist at
  • Charlene Li, bestselling author (Open Leadership,) former analyst at Forrester Research, now founder and partner at Altimeter Research in San Mateo, CA.
  • Lora Cecere, one of the most respected supply chain analysts in the world, who founded her own practice, Supply Chain Insights. Cecere led supply chain research at AMR until it was acquired by Gartner. She has also worked in private industry and as a Gartner analyst.

Tech research is big business

Doing business better by knowing more is hardly a new idea. Enterprises need information, and companies have grown up to supply research on business and technology. It is a big business unto itself. There is a lot of information for sale: product and vendor comparisons, market share reports, best practice recommendations, advice on emerging technologies and business trends, facilitated peer groups, strategy coaching. Within the big research firms there are benchmarking services, contract negotiating services, conference and seminar divisions.

If you are a research buyer, one thing is not immediately obvious: the research companies also sell a lot of research back to the companies they cover, especially market and purchasing trends.

If you are a vendor mentioned in a product review, especially a favorable one, you will pay handsomely for reprint and distribution rights. This leads to an uneasy symbiosis between those who sell research and those who sell goods and services covered by that research. They need each other, and the success of the relationship hinges in large part on consumers’ continued belief that there is no “pay-for-play,” the ability of a vendor to buy favorable coverage by buying research products. 

The research business also supports a shadow business within the tech companies: analyst relations. AR is a branch of public relations devoted strictly to the analyst community, and to the management of the message sent about tech products and services. However, there appears to be little coverage of research as a business. Richardson said, “In 20 years at AMR, I don’t think we ever got profiled as a company. Nobody ever came in and asked about what we were doing.” 

In fact, Infrics' research coverage has the highest readership of any topic; the comparison of Gartner, Forrester, and IDC is the most read article since went live in mid-2011. You can read it here:

Evaluating research companies: Gartner, Forrester, and IDC

I estimate the combined annual revenues of the top players in enterprise research to be in the $2 billion range. 

The research landscape is changing

It’s not just new community models that have changed things; the very business topics that once fed millions of dollars of research spend are in flux as well.  Here are four things that change what tech research means, and how you use it:

When it comes to research, social networks and social business have broken down barriers between those who have and those who want.  Our online social world enables frictionless creation of communities, low inertia in-and-out flow of information, and ease of access to subject matter experts.  Lora Cecere has over 3000 followers on Twitter, to whom she can broadcast updates in real time and at no cost.  She also gains a research resource of her own.  Compared with the old days within a big research company, which would assemble research panels, Cecere said, “now, I’ve got 3,000 people on the other end...and I use people I know for research panels.  It’s much more valuable than buying it, and we have accessibility to do that through social media.”  

Unlike traditional research models which were primarily a one-to-many publication approach, Cecere can use social tools to work with clients and sources in a different way.   “What I have tried to do is build a many-to-many model through my community,” she explained, which allows a different kind of value.  “The model is changing from a one-to-one to a one-to-many and a many-to-many model.”  

This aspect of social-enabled research fits well with independent analysts, or firms that use the freemium model (see below) to drive sales of consulting services; it is far harder to apply in the case of the large-format research firm in which the business model is based on being the gatekeeper of access to analysts.  

What about the social shopping aspect that we see in the consumer space?  If you're buying a phone or a television, or deciding which restaurant to visit, product and company reviews are increasingly part of your buying process.  Partly that happens through social means like Facebook, but it has also led to the emergence of review sites like Yelp and Angie's List. But so far there is no for enterprise software and services.  Why not?

Richardson and I talked about the nature of information sharing in business.  He said, “You know, to be honest, I think there are lots of gatherings of CIOs where they get together in various forums and actually sit and actually share ideas.  I think it’s one thing to share ideas on ‘what are you going to do about SAP, they’ve come back and offered us a three-year term license where it’s all you can eat. What did you decide to do?’  That’s one thing versus ‘we’re completely changing our supply chain strategy to focus on direct store delivery.  What was your experience in that space?’   

“Something like that, that has real strategic implications, where you may have retained a McKinsey or a Kearney or another big consulting company, I don’t think you’re quite willing to give away what you just spent millions on, which may be ongoing.  I think what people are willing to share differs.  If it’s a kind of horizontal issue, or a broad-based issue, like how you manage a vendor, what made you decide to go with vendor A versus vendor B, that’s a lot different than actually changing your strategy.”

“I think really smart buyers go for the formal network where they get together and ask a lot of questions, and then what they might do with a research firm is validate some of the ideas, or look to see if there’s other industries or other companies that are doing something similar that they might be able to talk to.”  

It first referred to the practice of end users bringing their own devices into the workplace, but consumerization has broadened to include direct tech purchases by lines of business, bypassing IT.  Cecere said, “the buyer of technology has changed, from the software service to the line of business user, so 40%, based on quantitative studies I’ve seen, is really through the line of business, and the power of IT has diminished.”  You can see the same thing happening in research, as the research buyers are coming more frequently from lines of business other than IT.  Cecere said, “I think Gartner and Forrester serve very different markets, that Gartner’s married to IT and so is Forrester, and I think we haven’t figured out how to serve the line of business buyer yet and there are different research models trying to do that.”  

The enterprise application market has matured.  
The world of networked desktop and laptop computers, of big client-server enterprise applications, of the huge IT department, has only been with us for about 20 years, and it’s growing up.  

That era saw the rise of the big enterprise applications like ERP, the ubiquitous presence of e-mail, and the corporate intranet.  Later on, we added internet and mobile devices to the lives of knowledge workers.  But there are hardly any big ERP deployments that have not been done yet, the large enterprise market is saturated.  The market is consolidating around a few very large vendors. The needs that drove the success of large research firms are not the same as the current needs of the marketplace.  Many of the big questions that drove people to Gartner and Forrester have been answered.

I asked Richardson what he thought was the highest value proposition today for a traditional research firm.  He explained, “I think it’s in areas that aren’t well understood, or are continuously evolving.  I think a lot of the classic IT stuff, I don’t think there’s any mystery, I think we’ve figured it out.  There’s always going to be issues on integration, because that’s not going to go away. Master data management’s always going to be important.  Security, governance, yup.  You’ll always need kind of point specialists that know all of that stuff.  But the idea of reading another report on 'how to get the most out of your ERP system,' you know, that’s gone.“

“I think every other segment in enterprise apps has also matured so now you’re down to a handful of providers.  You look at the software space, you’re down to JDA Software, Manhattan, E2open, and Red Prairie, there’s been so much consolidation.  You look at the BI space, all those BI vendors are either part of larger vendors, there’s only a handful of independents--a SAS and a MicroStrategy, maybe a couple of other wannabes.  The CRM space is greatly consolidated, you know, PLM, you’re hard pressed to name a big independent company.  Dassault is the last big pure play; UGS is owned by Siemens.  The market’s consolidated; when I started in the business, it was all about helping companies with vendor selection, so I think the mystery and confusion, there’s just so few choices, you can do your own due diligence.”

Research buyer frustration during those massive ERP deployments has also spilled over as dissatisfaction with traditional research models.  Dissatisfaction with one model means opportunity for another; for buyers of research and consulting services, there are more choices.

Freemium: it’s hard to compete with “free.”
The freemium business model has disrupted a lot of businesses, and research is no exception.  It’s always going to have a TANSTAAFL “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” hook: ad-supported (like e-mail,) or free for a limited number of users but pay for any more.  

Some firms, like, have a “some articles are free, but pay a relatively small annual fee (theirs is $295) for a fully-featured product and get it all.”  In the case of new research models, there is a lot of free content, offered as a way to build reputation and market for paid engagements.

Traditional research is based for the most part on the sale of “seats,” licenses to access and read research reports, but with very tight controls on that access and the distribution of the purchased content.  Freemium turns that inside out.  That is good news for consumers, a business model challenge if you are selling research seats.

At Altimeter, almost all of their content is free.  Li approaches the competitive market this way:  “we realize that to charge someone for research, you have to have a machine, and that a small company having a machine against Gartner and Forrester and IDC is going to be very difficult to do.  So do you want to fight the battle on their terms or do you want to choose a different battlefield?”    Li believes Altimeter would never have been able to compete on that model.  I asked her what she means about having a machine.

“In order to charge a syndicated subscription of even five thousand dollars a year, you have to produce a lot of research.  A typical seat for a Gartner, Forrester, IDC is about $20-25 thousand. Hundreds of pieces of research.  As a small firm, how much research can you produce? What’s the value of that research?  People will typically pay a couple of hundred dollars, $250-500 for a pretty decent piece of research, and if we had done that, played a game against that, it would have reduced the number of people who are willing to pay, people who would actually see it and our ability to influence the market and have a presence in the market would have been close to zero.”

“This is a world class level of research we’re putting out, same level of investment and quality  as many of these other firms. Highly specific and pragmatic in terms of offering solutions to people, and we make it freely available, so we get hundreds of thousands of views of our research.  So an OK research report will get 40, 50 thousand views, 40 or 50 thousand people will have seen that piece of research.  This is fantastic marketing.  And then, what people really want these days isn’t a piece of research.  That comes with a value, and the value is being able to put that into action, and the value that we can create is to personalize that. Advisory is where we make all of our money at this point.”

The New Expertise: Virtualized, Cloud-sourced

In many ways, the research landscape changes outlined here mirror the movement to the cloud and to virtualized application environments: more choices, from more sources, at lower cost, and with greater ability to scale up and down at will.  The traditional big-research contract, like a fixed server in your data center, attempts to be a one-stop answer to your research needs, and like a fixed server, those needs are subject to change over time.  

Few would argue that Gartner, Forrester, and IDC are in serious danger, but few would challenge that they are now only one part of a resource portfolio that’s more social, has many more sources, and presents opportunities to access better information at lower cost.  

How do you approach expertise and information gathering in your own organization?  This series in the coverage of the business of research will continue with two more articles:

  • Walk this way, talk this way: pioneers reshape the research business model, and how that impacts traditional research vendors
  • Thanks, I’ll do it myself: a hands-on guide to tech research in a social world

Monday, September 17, 2012

CIO Magazine on millenials at work: It's the Era of You

CIOs Look Ahead: Millennials, Consumer Tech and the Future

Two great quotes from this article on

"45 percent of young professionals would accept a lower-paying job if it had more flexibility on device choice, social media access and mobility."

"Millennials will either drive your IT policy or your attrition rate." 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I moved all my data to the cloud: living stateless all the time with Google Drive and Chrome OS

Sometimes the new is easier when it looks like the familiar.
Here is a screen capture of my Google Drive interface, using a friendly 
tree-hierarchy folder layout. For this folder of classic car photos,
I'm using a large-icon preview.

Everything is in the cloud, but you'd never know.
Would you store all of your data in the cloud?

Everything? Documents, photos, music, video? Not a single item in local storage other than what's cached in the browser?

I did just that.  This is the story of why I did and how that happened. When your data lives in the cloud, you have decoupled it from local storage. You can access your stuff on every machine, because it's no longer tied to the particular machine you have in your hand.   Data becomes stateless.

I believe it's a big trend, an important enabling technology.

In the stateless future, every device is a blank slate, ready to become what you ask of it.  Lose it, have it stolen, run over it with a truck--you don't have to care, because everything that makes the machine yours is in the cloud, free from any specific machine and ready to use the moment you sign in somewhere else, on some other device.  There is a lot to say about this idea; Infrics' coverage and advocacy of the stateless future is here.

So far, Google is the only major company bringing this idea to market*.  Improvements in the ChromeOS stateless operating system and in the Google Drive cloud data service made something possible and easy last month, my move to all-cloud-data, all-the-time.

In other words, last month, I turned my Chromebook into a dumb box.  Using drag and drop between windows in ChromeOS, I moved every file I had stored locally on the machine's flashdrive up to the cloud, and onto Google Drive.  It is now my default storage mechanism and the solid state storage on the Chromebook is empty.  There is an exception: my music and videos are in Google Play Music and Amazon Cloud Player--still cloud-based, but not part of Drive. Even though cloud-data-only is practical, we are not quite there in terms of a truly unified cloud data system.  The digital ecosystem needs work.

It doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all.  I set Drive as my default storage within ChromeOS settings, so I can save to Drive directly.  I can print any document or photo or web page to a .pdf stored in Drive. I can attach files to mail from Drive, or upload directly from Drive without any local presence of the file (as I did to import the screen capture above into this post.)

You can throw everything into Drive as one big bucket, and retrieve it on the fly using search; if you prefer more structure, use Drive's tree structure of nested folders to organize files.  It feels just like the comfortable C: drive I've used for 20 years on legacy systems, but it's as stateless as tomorrow.  Unlike the old C: drive, I can get to every file I own on any device I use without ever synching anything.

Local data is the answer to a need from the earliest days of hardwired networks, low bandwidth, and legacy thinking.  We are past those days. I gave up local data, because I believe it's time to move on.  Now, no laptop hard drive crash can hurt me, no thief can cost me months of work by taking my computer.  I never back up anything, because there is nothing that needs to be backed up.  I'll never fail to give a presentation because I left my computer in the taxi, or because I brought the wrong SD card. Everything I need is everywhere I am.

*Mozilla's stateless FirefoxOS for mobile devices is very promising, and near-market.  Because they are tied to local applications and fat operating systems like Mac OS, iOS, and Windows, I do not consider the cloud data offerings from Apple and Microsoft to be serious stateless contenders--yet.  Cloud data services like Dropbox are close to being stateless, but lack ease of integration to be useful alternatives to the Google Drive/ChromeOS pairing of stateless OS and stateless data.  There is much room for discussion on this point in the comments.  I hope you will share your ideas and questions.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Amazon Web Services: $1B in stateless computing revenue, "less than 10% of its eventual size" -- NYT

Active in Cloud, Amazon Reshapes Computing -

When an AWS customer speculated on the price of a server--which he never has to buy thanks to Amazon's servers in the cloud--he said, "for me, that would be like knowing what the price of a sword is."

This is an excellent article from the New York Times.  The success of Amazon's effort highlights three important Big Ideas:

  • Abstract complexity
    If you can't eliminate the complex, manage it so the part that is consumed appears simple.  AWS abstracts the entire data center so well, end users neither know nor care how it happened.  Don't Know, Don't Care (DKDC) is one of the biggest enablers of:
  • the Service Oriented Enterprise
    Up to now, buying, configuring and managing servers and the place they live was like a piece of a very elaborate jigsaw puzzle.  It had many edges and only fit together in one way with other similarly elaborate pieces.  AWS is like Lego blocks: standard and predictable. It can be assembled in millions of ways. When the elements of business processes are decomposed into reusable component parts, it's the difference between a Lego store and the impossibly jumbled Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter stories.
  • Decouple data, applications, and machines
    Remember, cloud computing, for all its (mostly justified) hype, is only one part of the stateless future.  AWS represents the impact of stateless processing power at the top level; imagine the same impact propagated across personal and mobile computing, user data, and the applications in your enterprise, and you begin to see the true promise of the stateless future

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New tech research models: threat to Gartner and Forrester, opportunity for you?

Business models, the realities of making money by selling goods or services, change.

  • You don't see many Tower Records stores any more, do you?  The retail music business model changed with digital distribution, and stores selling CDs were cut out of the picture. 
  • How long has it been since you made a phone call from a pay phone?  Mobile technology ruined that business model.
  • Remember the original AOL?  Pay us for your ability to get online, and we'll offer internet access along with our packaged services?  I do, but just barely; the original AOL for Windows did not even have a browser.  But you weren't supposed to need one, AOL provided everything.  

Could the big research company business model
be headed for a similar fate?
Research about technology has a business model too.  There are many variations, but one of the most common models is to pay for an annual contract with a large research company--typically Gartner, Forrester, or IDC--with the expectation that their size will get you most of the knowledge you need to make better choices.  To make sure you're really covered, many companies buy a portfolio of more than one of those contracts.   But in general, it's the original AOL idea applied to research.  

I've written about the business of research, and as you may remember, buying those portfolios was part of my career for many years.  In my opinion, some of the same trends I cover--mobility, social networks, the "freemium" model--are triggers that imply a threat to the "big research" business model.  Even if not, remember your old standby, the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats?)  If changes in access to business tech research represent a threat to the big companies, they may also give your own enterprise an opportunity to get a broader range of information, at much lower cost, and with far better decision-making impact.  

In the past few months, I've been talking to former leaders from big research about this idea, and about the future of the business.  In articles to come, we'll hear what it's like to set off on your own as an expert, and how that business model can succeed.  We'll talk about social means of gaining business and tech expertise, how to move from a one-to-many model (such as Gartner/Forrester) to a many-to-many model, as exemplified by specialized individual consultants.  

And I'll report about an emerging trend: the growth of tech information requests coming directly from the business, not the IT department.  The last point is significant; it's another way in which the consumerization of business threatens to disintermediate the IT department, thereby threatening the business model of IT itself.  It's pure Era of You effect in action.

The first of the three-part series on new research models:
My, how you've changed: Technology research meets Social, Consumerization, Freemium

This article is part of ongoing coverage of the business of research:

How are you handling research within your own organization?  Do you feel that big research contracts are a good investment?  Are you turning more to blogs and direct contact with subject matter experts?  I'd like to include your experiences in this series.  Let me hear from you. 

AOL sign in screen image:

Friday, August 10, 2012

"A Chromebook needs no care and feeding:" Michael Horowitz

Wake up and smell the Chrome | Computerworld Blogs:

Since I advocate stateless computing--the decoupling of data, applications, and devices--it stands to reason I think that Google's ChromeOS is a breakthrough.  I've used a Chromebook for 14 months, only booting up my Windows laptop once a week or so; I Skype on it, and yesterday I needed to rip a CD so that I could upload it to cloud storage.

This is an excellent post from Computerworld's Michael Horowitz, comparing the experience of keeping a ChromeOS machine up to date (no action ever needed) with another expert's routine to achieve the same thing with a fat operating system.  Here is the money quote:

Yes, a Chromebook is less functional than a laptop running Windows, OS X or Linux. But, it requires no maintenance. Let me say that again: no maintenance. Try and let that sink in, if not for yourself (this is Computerworld after all), then for the non-techies you know. A Chromebook needs no care and feeding. 
I believe that ChromeOS will continue to improve functionality much more quickly than any legacy OS will get rid of updates, scans for malware and viruses, and the need to back up data.

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fast Company on the freemium business model: Infrics on the ways it may endanger the big research companies

How To Thrive In The Free-Product Economy | Fast Company:

Here is the major quote from this excellent Fast Company article:

If a product on the market can be monetized by any means other than directly selling it, a comparable version of that product will eventually be offered for free.

The "freemium" business model--free services as a gateway to monetization--is showing up in many places.  WiFi, which was a pay-to-use service in its earliest iteration, is classic.  You still pay in some situations, like on board an airplane, and in some hotels and most airports.  But Starbucks and thousands of other businesses deliver the internet for free as an incentive to spend money in other ways.   

I'm in the process of learning more about the future of technology research.  In the interviews with former leaders and insiders of the classic paid research model (Gartner, Forrester, IDC, etc.) one trend is emerging.  Those paid models are about to face a threat from social means of business research, and from the idea of giving away research findings in the hope of earning money from paid consulting work. is based on that model; everything on the site is free, there are no subscription or access fees.  As the writer and owner of the site, I hope you'll like what you read well enough to hire me to assist your company or team with emerging technology strategy.  Look for the article on new research business models soon. It will include resources to lower your own research costs while getting better advice and insights.

How much longer will the big research company model hold up?  Is it in danger of being "freemiumed" to death, or will the big companies be disintermediated into irrelevancy?  What do you think?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

iTunes, Google Play, Amazon: digital ecosystems fail the stateless future, digital content IAM offers opportunity, hope

As John Battelle pointed out in his own blog post a few days ago about the Google Nexus 7 tablet, the company you choose for your digital ecosystem matters.  How we pay for, manage, and consume content is becoming more and more important.  That's because content--words, audio, video, and applications--represents the sentinel trend of the entire stateless revolution.  Content is digital, stored in the cloud, and separated (or decoupled) from the delivery mechanism and the way you consume it. 

In a pure version of this, you would pay for a license for the creative part, and then own it.  You would decide where it would be stored, how and when it would be delivered to you, and on what device you consumed it.

My own Nexus 7 arrived a couple of days ago.  As reported all over the web, it's optimized as a consumption device for the offerings of Google Play, their digital ecosystem of books, magazines, music, movies, and TV.  This is hardly a radical idea.  The iOS/iTunes pairing and the Amazon Kindle Fire are also designed toward the same goal; each claims to offer a complete one-stop answer for all your media purchase, storage, and consumption needs.
Content bound to media: how quaint
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What doesn't get mentioned often is just how carefully each is designed to make sure you don't get or consume content from the competitors.  That's the business model: create a single point of contact for digital media, keep it inside your own four walls, and sell it as a package.  Alas for big companies, that's the big-box retail model brought to the web, isn't it? As a consumer, you trade convenience for lock-in and more limited choice.

In that way, the business models from each company work directly against your own increasing ability to own and control your own content.  At the same time, across almost everything we see in technology, the real trend is toward personalization, more specialized choice, and the movement of tech power further away from big companies and ever closer to the end user.  

When you think about digital ecosystems as part of a business plan, rather than a reflection of where society and technology are taking us, there is a disconnect.  Where there is a disconnect, there is a need and a possibility.  Where there is a need, there is a business opportunity, and the likelihood of disruption.

 Later in this article, I'll introduce the idea of externalizing that control with Digital Content Identity and Access Management, and offer ideas about the way that one change may profoundly alter the way we think of digital ecosystems.

Historically, the physical manifestation of art--words, sounds, images--was bound to the thing that brought that content to you.  It could have been words on the page of a magazine or a book, or the tracks on an LP or CD.  When you paid for the physical thing, you bought a license for the artistic part at the same time.

The core of the stateless idea is that each of those elements is decoupled from the others; data and applications are cloud-delivered, and consumed on a machine designed to deliver a user interface and a connection to the cloud content.  The inevitable trend is toward separation of content from delivery mechanism from consumption mechanism.   So what happens to the license, your payment for the true worth of a book, a song, or a movie?  For the most part, when you become part of a digital ecosystem, it is still bound to the delivery mechanism, and your newfound digital freedom has been limited.

There is no iTunes app for Android, for instance.  You can "own" streaming movies through Amazon, but you can only access them through the video player on Amazon's website, which is Flash-only, therefore off-limits for iOS and my new Nexus tablet, which is Android Jellybean and also not Flash-enabled.  Digital books from Amazon are linked to their own Kindle device--and even though you've paid for a Kindle book, you can't loan it to anyone the way you could with a physical book (correction: shortly after I published the story, a reader let me know that you can, in fact, loan a Kindle book on a one-time basis to another reader. I think that is good news.)

Google Play is somewhat less controlled, but it's still a "four-walls" kind of thing.  Buy a song from Google, where do you have to manage it?  Yup. If any of these sites goes down, do you have rights to access a licensed copy of your content somewhere else?  No.  If your account is hacked, who do you have to go through to regain access to your content?  The ecosystem.  I think you see the point.  As things stand now, you only own content you buy if you play by the rules of the company that sold it to you. 

It's as if, 25 years ago, you bought a Fleetwood Mac CD from a Virgin Megastore, could only store it in their proprietary CD case, and only play it on a Virgin player.  I exaggerate, of course, but the point is, we have all gained one freedom--online access to our stuff--by trading control of it to the company we choose for that digital ecosystem.

The promise of stateless digital content is unfulfilled.  If ever there was an area facing a perfect storm of technology change, new user expectations, and old business ideas fighting to stay alive, this is the place.

What is the opportunity?  Digital content identity and access management (DCIAM) 

As part of your online identity, this company will--once it exists--maintain a database of all the digital rights you own, authenticate you as the rightful owner, and verify you as licensed owner of cloud-sourced digital content.  Accessible as a universal web service, and independent of any ecosystem, this is a not only a logical outcome of the move to stateless, it is a huge enabling technology for:

  • Further disintermediation of traditional media companies, as independent artists' reward system would move outside the media companies' control.  If you are a media company, it is now in your interest to make sure your product can be sold in the widest-possible range of locations, because what you are selling is just the license, now handled by a trusted third party.  If your business model is based on artificially high prices based on forced linkage between content, delivery, and consumption, that model will be in significant danger.  
  • New sales models, in essence re-enabling in digital format the old megastore idea, in which you could pay for a license for any content from any publisher or creator.  As the consumer, you would no longer be hindered by the fact that your ecosystem vendor does not have sales agreements with every source.
  • New digital content storage, management, and delivery vendors, who maintain libraries of content in common, and follow the cloud shared tenancy model to supply you with your content via DCIAM authentication.  Any device, any time.  If one vendor is down, DCIAM eliminates barriers to your access through another source.
  • New ultra-personalized "stations" combining delivery of your own licensed content with new content paid for via advertising or subscription.  I've already written about this idea as applied to, in which Pandora saves broadcast license fees by subtracting them from any content they play you that you already own.  If I paid for "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac when I bought rights to the "Rumours" album, there is no longer any reason why Pandora should pay BMI or ASCAP if they stream it to me.  DCIAM makes granular song-by-song licensing not only possible, but powerful.

    Using DCIAM, the same model might further the distruption of the traditional video network concept and the cable/satellite industry.  We are already seeing a big consumer push toward a-la-carte TV; DCIAM can push that further toward the consumer.  If Pandora can deliver me a personalized audio experience of female jazz singers from the 50s, there is no logical reason why I can't get my own cooking channel on TV, assembling the best shows currently on the Food Network, Bravo, PBS, and the Travel Channel.  DCIAM would also manage one-time use licenses, such as for a TV show, either via purchase or paid by acceptance of advertising.  This is essentially a new network model, not of broadcasting, but of extreme narrowcasting.  DCIAM enables the business model.
  • Handled properly, the marketing opportunities presented by one common database of a consumer's taste and purchasing history for content can use DCIAM to radically personalize ad delivery in cases where content consumption is still ad-supported.  Ad personalization is still wildly fragmented, and largely because information about purchases and interests is localized to the sites that control the ecosystem.  Once that is externalized, those barriers are gone.  This is "era of you" personalization brought home in the form of a huge business opportunity.  If digital ecosystems are the sentinel of the stateless future, digital ad personalization is that sentinel's entrepreneurial cousin.

Technology triggers are in action here.  Changes in what is possible--stateless licensing, content, delivery, and consumption--mean that opportunity is near for a company who moves beyond the current digital ecosystem model.  In so doing, they access business opportunities that make current ecosystem efforts look miserly by comparison.  

Combine DCIAM with the upcoming revolution in digital personal assistants, and you begin to see the true battle of the giants for your loyalty in the near future.  

There are big questions.  Who will bring this to you?  Who will still be a significant vendor in 5 years? Who will you trust? articles referenced in this report:

Don screams into his laptop at  Computer says no.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Nexus 7 and The Cloud Commit Conundrum: Google Wins (For Now) | John Battelle's Search Blog

The Nexus 7 and The Cloud Commit Conundrum: Google Wins (For Now) | John Battelle's Search Blog:

When John Battelle expresses an opinion, I take notice.  His article is not just another review of the new Nexus 7 tablet, but a discussion about what your choice of devices means in terms of your commitment to the ecosystem of the company that brings it to you.  In his words, "your choice of tablet or phone...becomes a choice about what kind of a company you want as a partner in your digital life."

I have a Nexus 7 on order, and will report on my own experience with it in the near future.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Student's Smart Microsoft Rebranding Is Better Than The Real Thing | Co.Design: business + innovation + design

Image from

A Student's Smart Microsoft Rebranding Is Better Than The Real Thing | Co.Design: business + innovation + design

I think the Fastcodesign branch of Fast Company does some very nice work.  Design is an important part of the way the future will look and feel; it's important.

Lately, the idea that you use a screen to simulate the 3-D look of real objects has started to seem very old-fashioned.  Compare Apple's "bookcase" metaphor on iOS to the rebranding of Google's online look (no drop shadows, no "raised-looking" buttons.)  If you view the article's slides on this student's MS rebranding, there's some excellent discussion of this next generation of thinking about digital design.

Friday, July 6, 2012

For CEOs: 10-minute business process/technology dashboard

Technology and business processes are locked together.  Each supports the other, each is dependent on the other--a mismatch between them can be deadly, a great match can mean synergy and profits.  They can make or break the business you are trying to run.

That's why I developed this executive 10-minute benchmark tool, to help you see those relationships more clearly, and to generate an enterprise process/tech snapshot as a kickstarter for strategy planning. It may help you know where you need to transform your business or whether you can simply bring it into sharper focus.

The highest-level parts of business are grouped into 4 big categories:  Things You Sell, Your Customers, How You Work, and Your People.  For each area, rate it 0-10, asking yourself:

--does it do what I need?
--is it current?  Does it reflect best practices, or a legacy that can be improved? Or retired?
--does this process take advantage of the existing technology?
--does this technology fully support the existing process?
--does process hold back our technology, or does our technology hold back the process?
--is this a pain point or a reward center?
--is it more complex than it should be?
--does it add value or competitive advantage?  Could it?

Here is an example I populated to demonstrate the concept.  Formulas average your input across the categories, and automatically flag red-yellow-green depending on the values entered.   At the bottom is an average across all the processes and technologies.

Here is a blank Process and Technology Dashboard Tool you can copy to do the exercise yourself.


--This version is directed at the C-suite, especially the CEO or COO, or another officer who has an overview of the entire company.  Clearly, a lot of sub-processes and technologies are rolled up into their highest levels in this version of the tool.  To work this idea as part of a strategy evaluation, I recommend that the first iteration be a gestalt response--not a compilation of metrics, but the C-suite's sense of where things are.

--By expanding the idea, and pushing it out to departments, you can then build similar reports at higher detail, adding lines under Supply Chain, for instance, to list all the component processes and technologies.  The end result will be a map of your entire enterprise process/technology system.  

--Compare results generated closer to the processes with those predicted by executives.  The differences will point out the accuracy--or lack thereof--of many of the executive business metrics you use.

--How do your existing strategic plans fit with this view of your enterprise?  Are you paying attention to the right things, at the right level and sense of urgency?

Please do give me feedback; this is the first publication of this tool and this idea on  I am building out toolsets to be part of an overall offering for on-site workshops on Strategy in the World of the Future.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pano's PC Killer -

Image from
 "Honey, does this Pano box make my Chrome OS look fat?"

Pano's PC Killer -

This is a fascinating development, the stateless idea extended to the point that more of the local OS has moved to the cloud. It appears to be solely a terminus for a cloud-based virtualized desktop.

A company in the traditional personal computer business “is like a saguaro cactus that has been shot,” (Pano CEO John)...Kish said. “It can stand for another 20 years without showing it, but it’s dead.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mozilla’s Boot To Gecko Becomes Firefox OS, Scores Support From Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, ZTE, And More | TechCrunch

Image from TechCrunch 
Mozilla’s Boot To Gecko Becomes Firefox OS, Scores Support From Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, ZTE, And More | TechCrunch:

The more-or-less official launch of what started at Boot 2 Gecko.  The big news here is the likelihood of an explosion in very low cost smartphones, and the first deployment of a stateless operating system for the mobile space (link is to all the stateless coverage, including a curated list of Boot 2 Gecko articles.) Firefox OS has the potential to be for smart phones what Chrome OS is for computers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Don screams into his laptop at computer says no

Speedbumps on the road to the era of you

"No, NO, NO!! That is not what I want! Stop it!!"  That's me, this past weekend, rushing to click "thumbs down" again, and increasingly frustrated with each bad choice suggested to me by  My situation: long-time enthusiast and Pandora user, multi-year payer of the annual $36 premium for ad-free Pandora One.  Trying to create a new station called "Jazz Bistro with Piano," that would recreate the feeling of a small acoustic jazz club, good music for twilight on into a peaceful evening.

The reality: bumping over and over into Pandora's music choice algorithm, which can't understand what I want, and has no means by which I can tell it.  After a while I had clicked "thumbs down" so many times I ran into the daily limit on skipped songs, so my custom radio station just stared at me blankly when I tried to give it feedback, one of those dreaded "computer says no" situations.

The state of personalization for ideas that involve personal taste, like music and movies has a long way to go. Right now, we could call it the era of "a little bit of you." Let's go into the Pandora experience and see this in action.

Example one:  my "Indigo Girls" station is acoustic singer-songwriters, with a bit of preference for female artists.  Besides the namesake duo, it's a natural place for artists like Carole King, James Taylor, and Laura Nyro.  Also for Mary Chapin Carpenter, or so I thought; Pandora groups her with country artists, making her an outlier in my station, but still well within my taste.  Alas, the result is an  open door to all sorts of country music I don't want on this station, and no way to instruct the system that Ms. Carpenter appeals for other reasons.  I like country music sometimes, but this station isn't where I want to hear it.

Cartoon from
Back to the "Jazz Bistro" effort: as you may know, you "seed" a Pandora station with artists or songs, and the system tries to figure out what you like.  In theory, a "thumbs up or thumbs down" toggle allows you to teach the station to reflect your preferences more closely.  But it works very poorly.  Case in point for this station: I seeded it with the name of French pop jazz composer Claude Bolling.  In the 70s, his "Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano" was the heart and soul of many a brunch, many a fern bar.  It was on the best seller charts for 10 years.  Bolling would be a great addition to my new station.  What does Pandora pick up on?  French. Flute. Classical (because Bolling was sold under a classical label.)  I spent the next 5 songs in a row clicking "NO" on classical french flute pieces, and finally went back in frustration to delete poor Mr. Bolling altogether.  It wasn't his fault, he was a victim of "a little bit of you," in which Pandora uses a sledgehammer where a pair of tweezers would have been a better tool.

Last year, Fast Company did a feature on Pandora's efforts to add social features, and to refine personalization.  They quoted Chief Technology Officer Tom Conrad, who believes that "personalization is the foundation for the total product and user experience."

Here's the thing: it's just not that personalized yet. Pandora is very proud of its Music Genome Project, which seeks to identify metadata on millions of pieces of music, feeding the ability of the algorithm to find music you like.  It's now added features to add input from others like you through the social tools.  But the core of "music you like," your own feedback, is still remarkably coarse and of limited use.  The general feeling Pandora's selection process offers is, "you're not really qualified to do something this advanced, but we are."

Pandora is a case where personalization has a good start, but with two steps, it can fully enter the era of you and give each user a richer experience.  Not to mention, it can give Pandora a competitive edge against a raft of competitors in the music recommendation field.

--Let users specify the elements that are important to them: for my attempted Jazz Bistro station, it would include

  • Jazz or jazz influence
  • Acoustic
  • solo or small ensemble
  • Mix of vocal and instrumental pieces
  • Some specific artists of my choice: like the Claude Bolling example above, or Bobby Short, who is to me the ultimate jazz bistro artist. 
--Use the Music Genome Project resources, but temper it with user input: When I went back to the Jazz Bistro station I've been trying to create, the first selection was by Nat King Cole.  That's good, in general, his music is perfect.  So I clicked, "why was this track selected" and got this:  "Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features swing elements, smooth vocals, romantic lyrics, an electric guitar solo and a piano solo."  Right, as far as it goes, but I don't want electric guitar, especially a solo.  Each time this dialog comes up, Pandora should let me thumbs down the characteristics that don't fit and thumbs up the ones that matter. It should also be heuristic to learn the common metadata elements that drive my choices for this station.  

Extreme personalization can go the other way as well, into Pandora's own infrastructure and licensing models.  Last year I discussed this in an article on new models of content ownership based on our emerging stateless future.  The gist of it is this:  if I pay once, anywhere, for a license for personal use of a song, video, book, or software, it is my right to consume it anywhere, at any time, on the device of my choosing.  If I've ever bought James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," a Pandora micro-personalization subroutine should be able to poll my library of purchased works, and not pay a performance royalty to stream it to me.  If giving me the best possible personal radio station is the external expression of the era of you, this model is its internal, enterprise expression. 

I'm still trying to get my new station right, and ever-hopeful for the success of  They are so close to being great, and I'd much rather have the imperfect version of today than be tied to old-fashioned terrestrial radio.  They just need to understand that personalization works best when you remember to involve the person at the deepest levels. 

You can listen to the two stations I discussed:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The $4 Million Complaint Call |

Inc. Magazine presents a great example of the idea that customer service is really the heart of social business, and something many companies don't understand.

In the era of you, individuals--customers--have much greater power to influence your success or failure.

The $4 Million Complaint Call |

'via Blog this'

Friday, June 15, 2012

My year with a Chromebook and ChromeOS: stateless in real life

Today is the one-year anniversary of the delivery of my Samsung Chromebook, the first commercially-available laptop with a stateless operating system.  So how did it go?  I'll do this in bullet points, ending with a few about what's going right with ChromeOS, and why many people still don't understand what's going on here.

--The best thing I can say about ChromeOS is that I haven't used anything else for the whole year.  There are a few exceptions: I've booted up my Windows laptop to use Skype, because some friends and I use it to stay in touch; there is no Skype version for ChromeOS.  That's more habit than anything else, Google Chat and Google Voice are fine substitutes, but the friend I talk with most often has trouble getting them to work on his Mac.  I've occasionally needed to create or edit something in Microsoft Office-compatible formats, and the locally-installed version of OpenOffice on my Windows computer still does that a little better than Google Docs. Since June 15, 2011, everything you've seen on has been written, formatted, and published from my Chromebook.

--Although I'm still using the same machine as a year ago, ChromeOS has grown into a completely new operating system in that time, with windows, a taskbar, drag-and-drop file ability, and as of today, even a desktop I can customize with my own images.  ChromeOS did another of its silent, in-the-background updates yesterday, and new features appeared like magic.  Notice that my own photo of the Golden Gate Bridge is now the desktop.

--One of the biggest challenges I faced a year ago was that ChromeOS didn't have a cloud-based equivalent of the familiar C:/ drive from my old computer.  I could--and sometimes had to--store things locally on the flash drive. It's still there, but in the Developer-mode version of ChromeOS I'm running, storage is now fully cloud integrated with Google Drive. I can save to, attach from, rename, delete, and drag-to-move files on the cloud directory as easily as those stored on my local machine. Or from one to the other, as shown in this screen capture.

Looks familiar: dragging a file from local storage to Google Drive, using windows on a desktop.
--I've never once been interrupted by a nag screen to update anything, or a virus scan that needs to run; neither of those is needed or possible on ChromeOS.

--The "what will I do if I have no internet" fear turns out to be unfounded. WiFi is almost everywhere, and when it's not, I use the built-in 3G Verizon connection, prepaid at 100mb/month free for two years.  Even though 100 megs is practically nothing in today's use patterns, I've never once used up the entire allotment in a month.

What's going right:

--Improvements to the user interface (UI).  The windowing environment is familiar and comfortable.  But it's all rendered using browser technologies, and has all the inherent benefits of a stateless OS.  It just LOOKS like other operating systems. I can take a sledgehammer to this machine, and not lose a thing; all I need do is sign on to a new one, and my whole world is there at once.  No other OS can make this claim, and it's huge.

--Upgrades to file management that reduce the need to store anything on the local machine.

--Improvements to web applications and Chrome extensions that extend the value of the "world from the cloud" experience.  The Google Docs suite of products is getting better--a lot better--all the time. There are more and better web apps every day, like the whole suite of photo and audio tools now available from

--New ChromeOS computers that use increased power to improve the UI in resolution and speed. The heart of the stateless idea is that the local machine provides connection to the cloud and the elements of a good UI experience; that's where you can add bells and whistles with good effect.

What people still don't "get."

--Complaints about the ability to run applications locally.  They miss the point: you use a stateless OS so that you don't need local apps at all. Google has added offline viewing of documents and e-mail, and ChromeOS has always had the ability to display .pdfs, play stored audio, and show locally stored images when not connected.  But each of those is geared for what turns out to be a very small number of cases, and the number of times when the ability to run offline apps is truly needed is growing smaller by the day. Working to make the offline experience on ChromeOS more like a legacy computer is wasted energy at best, a betrayal of the stateless promise at worst.

--Comparisons to Windows-this or Mac-that.  Microsoft and Apple are battling each other to make a better steam locomotive, while the stateless future is one of jets and rockets.  Fat OSes are just plain old-fashioned now, they are only relevant because of legacy, not because of need.  If I were AAPL or MS, I'd fight to perpetuate my fat operating system, too.  But I consider that battle to be essentially over, and they both lost.

--The idea that ChromeOS devices should be cheap.  I have to confess to mixed feelings about this; yes, you need less machine to run the stateless world, that's a big part of the stateless appeal.  Some stateless devices should be so cheap as to be practically throwaways, but some may be very elegant expressions of personal taste, status, and professional standing.  Today, we're somewhere in the middle.  But it does appear clear that the initial prices we're seeing for new-generation Chromebooks reflect the ability to get people to pay more in order to say "look, I'm first."  Look for prices to drop within 6 months.

Clearly, I have a point of view here, and it's on the side of any stateless device. But I don't arrive at those feelings out of thin air.  For a look at the complete coverage of stateless, click the Stateless Future tab on the page header.

More soon.  Please let me know of your own experiences, or your thoughts about ChromeOS and stateless, either in the comments, or e-mail, or message me on Google+.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The lure of the moving image, cloud cameras, and personal social networks:, part 2

Open source dog and cat images: openiconlibrary
Camera image:

This is the second part of my talk with co-founder Tom Sheffler.  In this part of our discussion, we learn that shared video can create important social networks that are personal and small, rather than large and wide-ranging.  We discuss the role of emerging technologies, and which will be most important (hint: bandwidth is big.)  Sheffler reflects on the expectation that internet services should be free, and how that impacts a company that both gives away and charges for its services. (read the first part of the interview here.)

DH:  One of the areas, one of the artifacts of the emerging world of business and technology is that they collide in new ways.  Small firms can look bigger, but conversely, with social technologies, if they do it right, a big firm can be more personal.  I think that’s a much bigger challenge for the big firm to find a way to relate to their millions of customers more individually.  It looks like a promise, and that leads me into what you’re seeing about the social use of video.

TS:  This is really interesting.  We had a researcher from Intel contact some of our users directly and she also took a look at our site, and what’s happening is that people--what she observed and we’ve observed--is that some people use the remote viewing of a space as a way to share an experience and to bond.  We’ve noticed a couple of examples, very small ways, but fascinating.

One case she gave was a guy who had a camera in his garage, focused on the dog. And he shared his view by sharing his account with his mother, who was in another state, and his mother used to look at the dog, used to love to, as a way to bond with her son.  One day the dog got out, or was eating something he shouldn’t.  The mom texted the son, saying “I just saw your dog, you better get home and take care of him.”  So they had this way of mom and son, over many, many miles, bonding over the shared remote viewing of the dog, so there’s this very small social circle forming around a shared resource, which is very different from a big social network like Facebook or something.  

On an individual level, because I’m building this service, I see how people are using it.  We have live views and I’ve seen people tuning in every day at their home from Cupertino and DC, and we’re not sure exactly what we’re doing, but somehow a traveler and someone at home, they would use the live feature to keep watch over something.  We’re trying to facilitate shared use of the camera for very small, very personal social networks.

DH:  So a child halfway across the country could keep an eye on an aged parent...

TS: Exactly. And to help that, we now have the ability to invite other users to view your camera and also share text on there if you want.  The use of watching your parent, that’s a great example.  You may not need to see what they’re doing every day, exactly what they’re doing, but it’s enough to see that, “OK, Dad got up and moved around today.”  You can imagine an older parent with each of their children being granted access to that camera.  And our job is to provide the security that no one’s looking at that that shouldn’t be.  We do see people sharing a view of a space as a way to stay in touch with each other, and a way to facilitate a personal relationship. So it’s not just a tech tool.

DH: As if their house were next door when it can’t be physically.

TS: And sometimes I think a passive viewing of a space, is a little seems that people like it in a way that’s different from picking up a phone and having a very structured communication. It’s “ah, I want to see what’s going on over there. OK, everything’s good.”

DH: Do you think, as bandwidths improve, you’ll see a market for essentially, a picture window, where there will be high definition cameras at amazing viewpoints around the world, and you can choose what you’re seeing?  Would be part of delivering that, do you think, or would that be someone else’s business?

TS:  We could be part of delivering that.  We’re a video delivery, but we’re also an archive and analyze platform, too.  We’re definitely going to be providing that, and we have stop motion video now, we’ll have smoother video.

DH: As the technologies, the enabling technologies for your business evolve and get better, what impacts do you see on your ability to do what you do? In terms of bandwidth and cameras, what are you thinking about along those lines?

TS:’s been up an running for over two years, two and a half years, we’ve been working on this for three years, and we’ve seen a noticeable speed increase in uploads and downloads, and downloads to handheld devices in particular.  Some of what we were trying to do a few years ago seemed very aggressive in terms of the end-user bandwidth to the home and the bandwidth to the viewer. We shot for an aggressive bandwidth growth; we shot for performance on uploads and downloads that seemed a little aggressive at the time and now is working very well for us.

DH: I came to know of by talking to Jenna at Mission Cats, I don’t know if she was one of your early customers, but she’s certainly a fan, and I see on your website that you have a picture of Mission Cats as one of your customers.  It looks great.

TS:  Yeah I personally love Mission Cats, they’re big fans of ours.

DH: The ability of individuals to choose and deploy technology has certainly changed a lot in the last ten years, even in the last five.  The ability of a company of yours to come into existence, essentially just buying things out of thin air as services from other cloud providers, has changed a lot, too.  Is this your first startup?

TS: It’s my first startup.

DH: Tell me what it’s like to begin a company with those kinds of technological abilities that you have now...

TS: The things I’ve worked on have always been about high performance.  I was with NASA, I worked on supercomputers.  (When I was with Rambus) I worked on the memory chips for PlayStation 3...the fastest memory chips on the planet when we made it.  So when I saw this challenge, I saw a tremendous amount of compute power and bandwidth growing, and I thought, ‘What I know how to do is to manage complexity and bring it to people,” so this has been really exciting, because we’re building something that really hasn’t existed in this form--as a consumer, public cloud service.  It’s really exciting to me, not just to build it, but to watch people like Jenna put it work.  (They tell us) ‘We’re using this so that the parents of our guests (that’s what they call the kitties) can look in and see what’s going on, and that’s a capability that Jenna wouldn’t have been able to put up servers or video relays, or develop plug-ins.  She didn’t have to.  But make no mistake, they’re very sophisticated.  

They’ve got cameras and software set up, and an alarm system.  Have you met her?

DH: I interviewed her at Mission Cats when I was here in November.  I do cat rescue, I have cats at home.  7x7 San Francisco did a feature on them, and I learned about 7x7 because (author of Tales of the City) Armistead Maupin posted about the 7x7 website on his Facebook page.  So because of that post by Armistead Maupin I knew of them, and because of visiting them, I knew of you.  And that in itself is a kind of social thing that is unlike what we have been used to in the past.  

How would a company like have made itself known to the world before the existence of the online social world out there?

TS: We’ve done a good job I think in blogging and capturing word of mouth.  I personally like Mission Cats because I like what they’re doing.

We’ve had one round of investment...a lot of the way we’ve built the traffic and the business is through very personal channels. I have my own blog. We’ve done search engine optimization.  In the end, it’s just all work.

DH: The process of innovation, where someone looks at A and B, and sees the C--I’ve written a couple of articles on what I call technology triggers.  For instance, the invention of the cassette led people to accept the idea of mobility for their music. With the Sony Walkman, people began to think of music as something that was mobile and that they could structure--mixtapes.  And then the advent of the CD introduced the digital format, and along came broadband.  The outcome was the near-destruction of the CD industry because it couldn’t adapt to the “C” that the “A” and “B” created, the possibility of shared music.  

I’m always curious to think about what’s going on right now, what technologies are the “A” and “B” now that some creative minds are out there saying, ‘if I can do THAT, and I have THIS ability, then I can create this product.  You guys seem like a classic example of the growing pervasiveness and lower cost of home-based cameras, the pervasiveness of internet connection and the presence of cloud-based storage and traffic management services, so the outcome of all of that is the ability to have a company like yours.

TS: The cameras have been around for a number of years. Individual home bandwidths have been really important for making this a usable system.  Another thing is just the pervasiveness of WiFi in homes.  I’d say that’s kind of an obvious one, but most of these cameras are wireless and it really hasn’t been until fairly recently that people are comfortable putting all sorts of WiFi devices in their homes.  It’s been a couple of years now.

DH: We probably have ten or so in our own home.  

TS: Think back ten years ago, which is an age ago in internet time.  I don’t think I had anything wireless. And now I have music systems and computers and cameras. If I do a network scan, there’s 20 things that show up, some of which are things that are not computers that I interact with myself, they’re machines talking to machines.  

Part of the genesis of, the reason the name is “sensor” and not “camera” is because we saw--and Adam, our CEO, had a lot to do with this vision--a future of all sorts of things emitting data.  Machines that sense their environment and send out information about that environment.

DH: Would your product tap into that as it emerges?

TS: Yeah.  What happened was, we built some environmental sensors, for example a power sensor monitoring a TV, we had light sensors.  And the graphs of these data were interesting, but what was really captivating was video. There’s just no way around that. Video grabs peoples’ attention. That’s what people seemed to be interested in.  I think going forward, it would be great to be able to cross-correlate data of environments with visual representations of those environments.

One of the problems with video is there’s just too much of it.  If you want to make sense of a remote environment, we believe that compute power in the cloud can help.  And right now we offer a somewhat simple version of video summarization.  We capture the frames where something’s happened, and we’ve thrown away a lot of it, and we help bubble up to the top the most important information through summaries.

DH: ...but the machine interpretation of what’s going on is completely in its infancy.

TS: It’s very primitive right now.  I would say that right now, is laying the pipes for funneling the information around, and we’re doing some elementary analysis.  But I can imagine a world where, you walk in and one camera picks you up and a sensor notices a light change, and you travel to a different camera, and up in the cloud we’re seeing “here’s Donald. He entered this room, he entered another room.”  We can stitch these together and summarize the scene and mail it to Tom, who’s responsible for managing this space.

DH: Or send me a text if my ex shows up at my front door.  Or any number of possibilities. What about third party analysis and search enablement of your publicly-displayed video?

TS: Right, right, like a Twitter feed...

DH: Or if Google starts monitoring public feeds and say you want an image of the new Audi model, and it could analyze the cameras and tell you if one is nearby.  In the new Avengers movie, there’s a scene where they’re looking for Loki, the bad guy, and they’re using technology to analyze every publicly-available video feed in the world, and they stop him when he shows up in Germany.

TS: People see things like that in movies and they come to expect it, and then it comes to be.  It’ll happen.  

DH: When I saw that, I started to think about your company.

TS: I know in security agencies they have the ability to scan crowds using high-def cameras.  What we’re trying to do is to bring some of those very advanced supercomputer techniques to a level where consumers have access to it.

DH: It may not be that far away.

TS. It’s probably NOT going to be that far away.  We already do have the ability to recognize faces in a feed, so with fairly elementary motion detection we can annotate images where we see something moving.  In the lab, we can detect the presence of a face, which is an interesting thing.  We don’t know whose face it is.  It could be an intruder, it could be the UPS guy, but just the presence of a face could be interesting enough to generate a text.  A person has shown up at your house.

DH: People like you, who are involved in unifying those information feeds, are a part of a bigger picture that’s emerging that none of us quite understand yet.  We see pieces of it.

TS: We see pieces of it. We know that some of those feeds have to be there.  I think that’s part of my feeling about what we’re doing.  There’s a lot of uses for this data, and someone has to build a conduit first. “

We have seen the first wave of spontaneous capture of images and sound as more and more people carry smartphones, which allow them to capture both on the spur of the moment.  With the Google Glass project, that could become a hands-free real time ability: “take a video of this conversation.”  I asked Sheffler about just that possibility.

TS: I don’t think it’s too far away. I don’t think it’s too long until people are used to the fact that they’re carrying around something that records everything they’re doing, and the sooner it gets off the device that’s attached to you and into someplace where it can be analyzed and shared, the better.

DH: the other piece of that I’m seeing on the way is, I see you approaching 50 yards away, and think “I know that guy. Where do I know him from?”  It recognizes your face, interacts with my history, and tells me “That’s Tom Sheffler, you interviewed him last night.”

TS: Actually, that’d be helpful for me too.

DH: Let me wrap up by talking about your monetization model.  You’re a freemium model, you have a free offering and then tiers of priced services.

TS: Right.  So our free service is useful and limited, and what we hope is that it offers utility to people but that they also get a glimpse of what they could do if they had more data stored, and alerts, and higher resolution images.  

DH: There’s no advertising on, you’re not using that model at all.

TS: And we’re hoping not to.  I think that’s going to be a challenge.  We want people to find value in what we offer and want to pay.  We do have people doing just that, we have people praising us.  We have a couple of people that have solved crimes using the service. There was a woman who went to court over a building issue at her store.  Because she had her camera on in the middle of the night, she caught the building owner doing something, and they settled in court.  These things happen where the ten or thirty dollars a month we’re asking an individual or a business to pay isn’t really very much.  The challenge is that many people think that things on the internet are free; but the things that are free are ad-supported.

DH: If you grow more into the enterprise space or the business space, do you think there will be more inherent acceptance of the idea of paying?

TS: I do.  A business expects to pay for monitoring, and with a payment comes a promise of quality and we’re offering that promise of quality and security and backup even on our free plan.  We may be giving too much away right now.