Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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

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

Here is a link to the report as a .pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

5 things that won't exist in the (stateless) future

In my opinion, the trend markers for technology and business point to a future that is stateless: one in which data, applications, and the devices that interact with them are all decoupled from one another. Some of the current top-level predators of the tech world are endangered species.

Cloud computing is fundamentally stateless.  So is all the banking you do on your bank's website. The Chromebook is the first stateless laptop, with a stateless phone OS on the way from Firefox.  My coverage of stateless includes business cases, impact on licensing, apps, and digital rights, and a 5-step "try it now" guide for businesses:

The Stateless Future

As that future emerges, these 5 things are endangered:

  1. Fat operating systems: MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Android are all built on a central idea of the tech past, that operating systems, applications, data, and device are tied to each other.  The OS future belongs to lightweight systems that move beyond that concept: they provide connection to the net, user interface for web apps and data, and almost none of the other client-server complexity that fat OSes entail.

    Today, the only two OSes that reflect that future are Google's Chrome OS and Mozilla's Firefox OS. The old-fashioned operating system vendors may one day play catch-up, but their legacy operating systems are already extinct.
  2. Local applications, app downloads, app updates:  all of these disappear when web-sourced applications reach maturity.  App stores as we know them will likely continue, but the apps they sell will be web-sourced, not installed locally.
  3. Branded, device-specific media sales and delivery: iTunes and Google Play have a terminal illness.  They are efforts to keep users locked in to ecosystems of music, applications, written word, and video that perpetuate a business model based on outdated technology concepts.  As such they're both easy targets for stateless rights management, and the disintermediation of Apple or Google; unless they change profoundly, and fairly soon, they will both be irrelevant.

    Who is most closely aligned with the future?, with their HTML5 web app, their retroactive cloud-enablement of CD music bought in the past by their customers, and their willingness to meet customers on any device, any place, any time.  Amazon doesn't have to care about OS or device, as long as you buy from them.  
  4. Cost as an indicator of the power of your device: Once, tech status came from the speed and power of your PC, laptop, mobile or tablet.  Processors, RAM, storage space, all those markers of your tech cred no longer matter when the power is in the web, and essentially unlimited.  See Google's Pixel Chromebook as the harbinger of this effect.  It's expensive, but where is the money? In the display and user interface, and in the construction, which looks good enough for an executive to show proudly in the boardroom.

    The $1400 Pixel has faced critical disdain because it scarcely does anything more than a $250 Samsung Chromebook.  But that is exactly the point.  The Pixel reflects the stateless future, and a wave of technology democratization.

    The need for social and business positioning has always been with us; for the last 20 years or so, the device you carried gained status from what it could do, and how much you spent for it.

    When tech ability ceases to differentiate, other status markers come into play.  Possible outcome: status-branding of devices, such as a Coach mobile phone, or a Mont Blanc laptop.
  5.  Device encumbrance: a clumsy term, but an important idea.  Your entire world of contacts, data, apps, and all media need no longer be connected to any specific device in your possession.  Forget your laptop?  Lose your phone?  It no longer matters, beyond whatever status your specific machine brings you (see #3 above.)  Buy a $10 cheap temporary phone, log in, and everything you ever had is with you again.

    NONE OF YOUR STUFF resides on the device.  The security benefits of this effect alone make a hugely compelling business case for enterprises.  
This list is intended to be provocative, to challenge ingrained ideas about the nature of our devices and about ownership of the content they currently hold.  The old concept is that data, application, operating system, and machine are tightly linked; let go of that, and every one of these outcomes is not only possible, but likely. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013 "customer company" video, more era-of-you in action

Earlier this week, I posted a link to's blog post on the new "customer company" approach at   Here is their own video explaining and celebrating the idea.  Know more, in more places, and have ever-more-powerful choices.  That's what the era of you is all about.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Personalization matters: three articles speak to the heart of "the era of you"

When I first started talking in 2011 about "the era of you" as one of the big ideas driving our tech and business future,   I wrote:
The era of you: a great idea revolutionized by 21st century technology
Image from the Palm Springs Automobilist Facebook site

"It’s partly about the way the internet and social networks are changing our sense of what a community means. It’s about the increasing ability of end users in enterprises to choose and deploy their own technology solutions. It’s about the flattening of power structures in business and the increasing power of consumers to interact with businesses. But none of these by itself expresses the big idea; each of these trends is a part of the bigger concept:

Technology is enabling individuals to know more, in more places and situations, and have increasingly powerful choices about the way they live and work. We are entering the era of you."

The era of you stakes are getting higher, reshaping business models and business strategy.  Here are recent articles that drive the point home:

--from Fast Company
Why Companies Now Have to Romance the Same Customers They Once Bought

--from cloud integrator Appirio, on
Salesforce’s shift in message is a recognition that consumers have more power than ever before in a connected world. No longer are they at the mercy of companies that treat them poorly; they have a loud, far-reaching voice with real power in the marketplace.

Gartner finds that CIOs now identify Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as their top IT spending priority

Finally, here is my report on what Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" can teach us about the power of technology. It can personalize business relationships and reintroduce the small village metaphor on the stage of the whole world:

We can now 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.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Touch, biomechanical sensors, heads-up: human-machine interaction news

Interface moving beyond mouse, keyboard - SFGate:

Leap Motion supplied this photo for the SFGate article:
replacing the mouse with gesture control.
OK, "thinking out of the box" has become an incredibly trite, overused term to describe innovative approaches.

But new ways of interacting with machines--computers, displays, 3-D projections--mean there IS no box.  This short Bloomberg update published by the San Francisco Chronicle summarizes what's on the horizon.

I think the muscle-sensing Myo device from Thalmic labs  (video at right) is an especially interesting idea: worn on your forearm, it senses muscle motion down to precise finger movements, and translates it into ways to interact with displays or projected images.  I saw Microsoft labs demo an early version of this idea in 2010 at MIT's EmTech conference; as a for-instance, say you are wearing Google Glass, and want to enter text by typing, rather than voice (a PIN, or something personal.)  Glass could project a virtual keyboard into your field of vision, while the Myo device senses you typing on any surface with your fingers, translating it into a virtual image of your hand at the projected keyboard.

As technology gets better, it disappears.  Our behaviors of interacting with tech can become more transparent and more subtle.  This is an amazing area of rapid development in technology.

Friday, March 1, 2013

These 10 trends are hiding in plain sight: decoding technology triggers

--If we learn to ask the right questions, and apply the right tools, we can see important technology and business events before they happen: these "hide in plain sight" trends are technology triggers.    

First, here is the concept:

When Phillips introduced the compact cassette tape in 1962, they didn't foresee that Sony would use the idea in 1979 to bring us the Walkman.  The cassette made music portable and easy to copy at home.  The Walkman introduced us to the idea that we could hear what we wanted anywhere, and no longer be at the mercy of a radio station programmer when we weren't in front of our record player at home.  Cassettes were a technology trigger; why didn't we see it coming?

  • it took time for the tech to get better, 
  • and it took genius for someone to see it as a new business opportunity.  

Sony went on to rule the personal portable music business for many years, until other triggers made the cassette obsolete.  Except that Sony didn't see that coming, and lost its market dominance.

That's the nature of triggers, they're often cool in their own right, but rarely appreciated in real time for the true impact they will have. One trigger begets another; without the Walkman, would the market have been ready for the idea of the iPod?

Can we do better at that "real-time" part, and be the early Sony with the Walkman instead of the Sony that got blindsided by the iPod?  Can we think of triggers in ways to jumpstart innovation, or give our business a competitive advantage?

Maybe.  I've put this tool together and shown it before, based on the idea that you can take elements of a big idea--in this case, music--and look at the evolution of the ideas as horizontal timelines.  Back away, and the verticals reveal the big shifts brought on by trigger technologies or events.

Here is what it looks like:

We can track the cascades of trigger technologies through the entire reshaping of music sales and consumption.  Beyond cassettes and Walkmans, we had compact discs digitizing music, and home PCs powerful enough to rip, store and copy at very high quality: trigger.  Perhaps the ultimate trigger event was broadband to the home, enabling frictionless sharing, real-time streaming music, and online digital music stores.

So that's the background.  There are triggers in play at this moment, here are 10 I think are worth watching:

  1. Maturity of machine voice recognition and interaction-by-voice Voice interaction is still crude, hindering its adoption for hands-free machine operation, customer service, text entry.  Maturity here triggers a world of possibilities. Impact: Automobile interaction, digital personal assistants, customer service, almost all mobile services and social interactions.
  2. Computer image recognition and taxonomy Computers still do a poor job of recognizing things, and an even worse job of detailed identification.  The ability to say “what building is this?  What kind of plant is this? Who is that?” will extend the power of search to the entire visual world. All the workarounds we use to take the place of simple recognition, like barcodes, RFID, QR codes, can simply disappear. Impact: shopping, education, travel, social interaction, manufacturing, digital personal assistants. #3-5 deal with the major trigger effect of artificial intelligence as it matures and comes into daily life
  3. AI: context The ability to infer meaning by context is a crucial enabler for digital personal assistants and other more sophisticated computer tasks.  A spouse learns quickly not to talk about Aunt Marge’s boyfriend when he’s around her ex, a contextual simplicity that still baffles computers.  Success here is easier to identify by example than by descriptor.  
    Contextual AI would know that a traveler in NYC who says, “directions to airport” would want JFK instead of LaGuardia because of his existing flight itinerary for that day. We are seeing glimmers of this trigger in Apple's Siri and in Google Now.
  4. AI: nuance Beyond context, the use of artificial intelligence to derive the more fine-grained nuance of a situation is a necessary enabler to unlock high value computer services like excellent machine-based customer service, and the use of computers to automate currently-tedious but vital tasks like data cleansing. There is a huge range of tasks currently using disengaged, low-paid and low-job-interest humans simply because the nuance trigger has not matured in the AI space. Impact: customer service, digital personal assistants, security.
  5. AI: enterprise data and application integration Businesses already know how much master data management means. They are aware how important it is, how impactful if they could seamlessly work with data across many situations, applications, and languages. But even if all new products were designed to work together out of the box, this fact remains. When it comes to the "as-is" state of data and apps, corporations must deal with high expense, little agility, and the "IT says no" mentality. It's due to the burden of the programs and services that are already installed and handling day-to-day business, and the business model pressures of vendors who would be endangered if you could plug and play applications from anyone. Once this AI trigger matures, we can apply computer speed to data concepts like this: "customer," "client," and "name" can mean the same person. This ability takes both contextual awareness and a fine sense of nuance--including the appreciation of the proper time to call for human help. But once it emerges, there is hope to manage that data nightmare with speed, accuracy, and transparency--to make it appear that those systems are cooperating because AI is applying real-time integration that makes it happen.
  6. Stateless apps, data, and devices Anyone who has read my posts on will see this as a soapbox topic for me. Data, applications, and machines have historically been linked, tied to one another like members of a chain gang. Once you decouple them from each other, you can use each to its best advantage, at the time you want and on the device that makes the most sense. Data is available everywhere, applications work seamlessly on any device, and the machines themselves can be dramatically less expensive. The "lightness" that the stateless decoupling enables is revolutionary; it is the source for the slogan on the masthead of this site: "everything you need is everywhere you are." As the stateless idea matures and gains market penetration, the trigger cascades into modular, just-in-time application development and delivery, to revolutionary models of rights purchase and ownership, and to radical agility in the development and deployment of devices.
  7. Digital rights management and rights ecosystems Hopelessly fragmented, driven by efforts to preserve legacy business models, contentious, and volatile, our current system of digital rights is a mess.  Ownership and licensing rights involve three layers: creators, sellers, and buyers. Of these, buyers of music, video, books, and applications are the least well served in the current model.

    The trigger-to-come: the separation of rights control from its current tight links to those who sell and deliver content. An independent third party rights unifier serving the buyer will explode the existing business models, and bring new opportunities for sales, storage, and delivery of digital content.
  8. 3-D printing Kudos have to go to Jackie Fenn at Gartner, who has told us for at least 10 years that 3-D printing is an important idea.  

    I have to say I agree, but as cool as 3-D printing sounds as a concept, I believe the true impact lies beyond the "wow" factor. Where we'll see revolutionary change lies in the businesses and related technologies it will trigger.  The state of the art is still crude, slow, and expensive, but so were laser printers in the 80s.

    The closest analogy I can think of for the most profound trigger effect is that this digitizes things in the way that CDs brought us digitized music.  Who will profit and who will lose when you can “rip” an object, make a perfect copy, store and transmit it online, and share it at will? Some clear impacts: manufacturing, including supply chain; extreme personalization of "made" goods; and the new importance of rights management for objects that can be printed at will.
  9. Social authentication Tech security to date relies on two things: something you have (key) and something you know (password.)  We are very close to the ability to allow a return to the most fundamental, earliest form of authentication: who you know.   Social authentication will enable a huge shift to make security technologies transparent and invisible.  Just as you once ran a tab at the corner restaurant because they knew you personally, that small-village ability could soon spread to our entire online and in-person lives.
  10. Ubiquitous broadband It’s not “you can never be too rich or too thin,” it’s “you can never be too fast or have too much bandwidth.”

    Broadband connections, primarily mobile ones, are immature but growing fast.  This one trigger sets of a cascade of abilities from stateless computing to emerging economy enablement to social revolution. We saw one such revolution in the trigger breakdown illustration for music shown above. This is a case that is less about the technology itself maturing than about its deployment worldwide at higher and higher speeds and at lower and lower cost.
As I've said, trigger events and technologies can be stealthy. I think these cover most of the ones on my radar right now, but I'd like to hear from you. What else is hiding in plain sight? What will we look back on in 5 years and wonder, "why didn't I see that coming?" coverage of tech triggers will continue, and I'll be working to expand several of the ones listed here into separate, more detailed articles. Broadband is first of the list, look for that report very soon.