A Conversation About Technology

With Sherry Turkle’s opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times, The Flight From Conversation, a dialog has sprung up about the impact of today’s social technologies on personal interaction.  These kinds of commentaries always appear when new technologies emerge that offer new ways for people to interact and engage. And they are true in a way.

Years ago, a co-worker had a tendency to send me emails even though he was two cubes away .  It annoyed me and felt like he was avoiding face-to-face interaction.  I responded by constantly parking myself in his cube to engage in a conversation on all of the items he emailed me.  The one-to-one conversations lead to a better understanding between us and ultimately more effective email communication.

Surely all of us have sat in long, boring meetings doing our email, or texting on our iPhone only to be embarrassed when our name is mentioned or something comes up later that we missed while being distracted.   I think Sherry Turkle’s article is a good reminder that sometimes putting down the technology and seeking people out for a face-to-face conversation is the right solution.  Ultimately our most important relationships are with people.  We should not lose sight of that.  Technology often does facilitate those relationships but we have to have judgment in how we use it.

We are all guilty of using the latest gadget to excess.  When all you have is a bright, shiny new hammer (or social networking site), everything looks like a nail.  Social networking isn’t bad except when it is.  Everybody should lighten up, social networking has a place in your life, it just shouldn’t BE your life.

Steve

I spent last night and this morning reading about Steve Jobs passing and all of the tributes to him. But to me his death is much more personal. I went to work for Apple right after college in 1981. It was an amazing place to be. It was a place where meritocracy ruled, good ideas were valued, and people actually believed they could change the world. I didn’t know anything about Steve when I interviewed at Apple but I could just tell that something exciting was going on there. I had to be a part of it. A few months later I heard Steve speak at a company event for the first time. It blew my mind. Here was a leader who spoke with passion about what the company was doing, who put things in terms that everyone in the organization understood. He never said let’s make $5B or have a gross margin of 40%. He said, let’s make insanely great products that will change the world. Let’s face it he inspired us to do more than our best, to go the extra mile. He made us all realize that every detail mattered and our hard work made a difference. That experience shaped my life and drives what I do everyday.

We all know that Steve had perhaps the greatest second and third acts in American business at Pixar and Apple. He brought us products that have literally changed the way people live, work and play. No one who knew Steve was surprised. We can list out all of the things that he was great at – a visionary, a great marketer, a great businessman.

Let me add to all of that a great human being. For someone who had so much wealth and power, Steve lived a very down to earth life. I live a couple of blocks from Steve, and over the years I have seen him in town at the grocery store, walking his daughter to school, and handing out candy at Halloween. The man didn’t want to be a celebrity, he wanted to do something far more important and profound – live a real life and help make the world a better and more interesting place.

In this day and age of celebrity above all else, he is something truly unique and to be admired. We will miss him. The world is a lesser place without him. He is irreplaceable.

Apple Then And Now

I can’t resist posting this. A great piece on TechCrunch showing Apple’s 1987 Knowledge Navigator video and yesterday’s video piece on Siri from Apple’s announcement. It is uncanny how many concepts that are currently emerging are foreshadowed in the Knowledge Navigator video. Of course, people who worked at Apple back then, including me, know that many of these concepts have been around for quite a while. The big challenges back then were around processing power, network connections, and oh yeah, pricing.

It is great to see this stuff happen and kudos to Apple for once again leading the way. You can check out the article here.

GigaOm Mobilize

It’s a new week so I thought I would do a little catching up in advance of the iPhone5 announcement tomorrow.  Last week I attended the GIGA OM Mobilize conference in San Francisco.  It was well attended and had some great sessions although no earth shattering news or important product announcements.  Here is a quick summary of the things that resonated with me.

Creating Products For People

The conference kicked off with a presentation from Olof Schybergson, CEO of Fjord, on designing fluid and connected experiences. He had four key takeaways, 1) the user is the OS so we need to understand users not just the technology, 2) Privacy is a type of currency, if you expect users to give up some privacy you had better offer them something of value in return, 3) the digital becomes the physical as location and mobile become more pervasive, and 4) this mashup economy will need orchestrators, people and companies that can bring together data, ideas and groups in meaningful ways.

On the High Engagement App panel Neil Young, CEO and Co-Founder of ngmoco had some great comments on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, analytics.  He said, “You become what you measure.”  And that measuring alone without vision is worthless so make sure that you think about what you want to measure clearly.

By The Numbers

A few of the sessions provided insight on market numbers for mobile.  Jonathan Carson of Nielsen Mobile covered how phone users currently divide their time between apps (43% with top 50 apps, 38% with all other apps) and browser (9%).  He did point out that there is a lot of turnover in the top 50 apps with 11 swapping out in a single month.  Tablets are a different story, reversing the usage pattern of phones to show lots of web usage.  He also pointed out that long form content gets the biggest lift from tablet products with the top categories in order of most usage being news, books, download music, TV, movies, magazines, streaming video, and sports.  There is apparently a lot of multitasking and simultaneous usage with tablets such as web browsing while watching TV.

The other number that got a lot of play came from a conversation with Erick Tseng, Head of Mobile Products at Facebook on day two.  Facebook currently has 800M+ users and 350M mobile users.  With their efforts in emerging markets mobile users will out number online users very soon and effectively, Facebook will be a mobile company!

Show Me The Money

There were several panels on money: the digital kind, as in payments, as well as monetizing apps and games.  The payment sessions were the most interesting with major payments providers such as PayPal, Visa, Intuit and Verifone admitting that mobile payments will take a while to roll out.  They also were frank about the difficulty in substantially improving the experience from the current card swipe status quo that is pretty fast and easy.  NFC was put in the proper perspective of merely being a possible technology, not a solution in and of itself.  They also pointed out the challenges of getting merchants to adopt any new technologies.  That may ultimately be an even bigger issue than consumer adoption.

Keith Rabois, COO of Square also spoke.  What they are doing is very compelling because it is potentially opening up entirely new markets of pervasive interchange from person to person.  Talk about a big vision: these guys have it.

The Other Platform

Sprinkled throughout several presentations was the notion that the third mobile platform beyond Android and iOS is HTML5.  Early in the program Tom Conrad, CTO of Pandora touted the advantages of using HTML5 as a rapid development environment that allows them to build, test and iterate very quickly unlike either of the app platforms which require more testing, approvals and no easy A/B testing. HTML5 came up repeatedly.  It was front and center in the Slideshow announcement that they would be using HTML5 now instead of Adobe Flash, and in many of the enterprise tablet panels.  Obviously there is much debate about the potential impact of WindowsPhone7, WebOS or RIM but I’d put my money on HTML5.

Tablets In The Enterprise

The second day had many sessions on mobile in the enterprise, or in the current lexicon, “the consumerization of IT.”  With smartphones (mostly iPhone and Android) and tablets (iPad) invading enterprises, IT has realized that it has to respond, and not just by saying no.  It is clear that tablets have the potential to change the order of things within the enterprise as entire functions like sales adopt them en masse.  It looks like HTML5 is likely to be the big winner here as it is more feasible to find these types of resources than app platform developers who are in short supply.  Nonetheless there are ample reasons to consider apps as well.  This is an important and quickly expanding area for market growth.

All in all it was time well spent.  Now on to new phones.

The Gamer In All Of Us

I saw a brief blurb in TechCrunch yesterday about a company that recently launched beta versions of iOS and Android apps that turn healthy eating into a game.  This got me thinking about games and gaming overall.  Jane McGonigal of The Institute for the Future has done tons of research on games that is just fascinating, including developing several alternative reality games such as World Without Oil, Cryptozoo, and Evoke.  It is worthwhile to check out her website at http://janemcgonigal.com/.  She also has an interesting book out earlier this year called “Reality is Broken.”

There are many opportunities to make games that add value to people’s lives, Jane is great at getting you to look at everything you are doing for the potential to make it a game.  She also has a great list of practical advice for gamers – and parents of gamers – check it out here.

Eating the World

Recently there was a great op ed piece in the Wall St. Journal by Marc Andreessen.  He posits the theory that “Software is Eating the World.”  Sounds silly as a headline but he argues that far from being a market bubble, that “we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.”

I, for one, couldn’t agree with him more.  The current technology trends of mobile, social, cloud services and data mash-ups require every business (and many public sector organizations) to rethink what they are doing and how.  This presents a ton of opportunity for those who are willing to take it.

Here is a link to the article.