Location, Location, Location

June 4th, 2010, by Ted Shelton | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback
Yes the joke has been made before - what has long been said about the real estate industry is now also true of the mobile industry and even of the Internet more broadly as mobile access continues to grow and eventually becomes the primary way we access the Internet. The ability to detect a user's location is changing the way we design and use applications and is already creating enormous new business opportunities. What is truly amazing is that this is only the first of a series of sensors we'll carry with us in our phones -- the "low hanging fruit" of the mobile revolution that the 2010s will bring to our society.

Data courtesy of Open-FirstHere at Open-First we have been studying the emergence of the mobile paradigm and have been applying our knowledge in advising our corporate clients. The graph shown here is an important key to understanding the tremendous shift underway. It shows the first 5 quarters of user growth for the now enormously popular Twitter service, and the more recently launched Foursquare service. Both of these services can be seen as "lightweight social networks" in the sense that they provide one particular way in which people will interact, as opposed to Facebook and others that aggregate a variety of interaction modes.

But Foursquare reached 1 million users in half the time that Twitter did, even after a huge growth spurt for Twitter following the 2007 SXSW conference, largely acknowledged as the point at which the technology world "discovered" Twitter. Why has Foursquare grown so much more quickly?

In our opinion the disparate growth has everything to do with what Geoff Moore called in his famous book of the same name, "Crossing the Chasm." At the risk of losing all of the subtlety of Geoffrey's invaluable book (go buy it and read it if you haven't already) the simple explanation for how a product moves from "visionaries" to "pragmatists" is by providing some easily understood real value in the use of the product. Thus the difference in the growth rate of Twitter and Foursquare in our view was the time it took for each to establish that value.

Foursquare's advantage in this race was location. The shift is at once subtle but fundamental. Twitter is at heart a message bus, merely a facility that enables a wide range of activities. But Foursquare inherently incorporates purpose into its use. One could even say that location is a proxy for purpose -- I am in a particular place because I am doing a specific thing there. Others that come to that place are likely to be doing something similar for similar reasons. I immediately share purpose with others -- a social network of purpose will prove its value much more rapidly than a social network of interest like Twitter.

And even aside from mobile we currently have an explosion of social networks of purpose. The social buying site Groupon for example. But the other important aspect of Foursquare is the way in which it is leveraging a mobile sensor, in this case GPS for establishing location. This is important because we are about to see an explosion in the number and variety of sensors deployed in the built environment and on our bodies, generating vast new quantities of data, often into social pools (see Dr. Andreas Weigend's Social Data Revolution for more on this).

In each case, as a type of sensor is popularized, new applications (and new businesses) will emerge and because they will be tightly coupled with purpose, these applications will leap to "pragmatists" quickly and grow in importance and use quickly. What are these other sensors you ask? How about a device that accurately monitors how many calories you are burning? Or a personal pollutant sensor? Location will be extended to monitor social proximity and we'll also know more and more about an individual's activities while with others based on text, audio, and visual content collected and correlated based on content location tagging.

Our mobile phones have been turned into a global distributed sensor network. These devices will contain an increasing level of sophistication in what they are able to sense and transmit into networked database that will then overlay and correlate data from other sources. In a recent guest post for TechCrunch Robert Scoble imagines how this new world of location based services will change the way we live -- Location 2012.

And really, this is just the beginning.

Social networks, corporations and ambivalent purpose

October 18th, 2009, by Haydn Shaughnessy | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

My Sunday mornings are currently spent catching  up on John Hagel and John Seely Brown’s Shift Index work. Though this concept is not directly in their work I would like to air it - the ambivalent purpose of social networks in business. To all the people I am linked to in LinkedIn, at least for a while, I used to say, so how can we help each other? How can I help you? What will you do for me? I never got a constructive response to those questions.

Here is why organisations are better than networks.

First, in passing this morning I read JSB and JH’s comments on the large organisation:

Only 20% of people are passionate about their work, and the least passionate are likely to be working in large organisations.

The fear is large organisations end up staffed by people who really don’t care.

My feeling about large organisations is their future lies in being platforms that organise people in any way that leads to sustainable revenue. JSB and JH see it slightly differently:

“We believe big institutions will become more relevant than ever-once they focus not just on efficiency but on providing platforms for individuals to systematically experiment, learn, and innovate. As scalable learning replaces scalable efficiency big institutions will become more appealing to talented individuals.”

I like the idealism in that statement but as a knowledge worker I educate myself, by and large. It gives me advantages to do it that way. And I am increasingly inclined towards greater degrees of individualism.

And yet, I like organisations. I like them for this reason:

“….the second reason we believe that large-scale corporations will remain a prominent feature of our professional landscape: because they will be best positioned to develop and support scalable, long-term, trust-based relationships. Think about it. Even the most accomplished networker supported by social networks like Facebook can develop only a limited number of trust-based relationships. On the other hand, a large institution could scale these kinds of relationships far more rapidly and broadly than any individual could.”

Yes, this is what makes me an organisation man. The fact that they provide a short cut to trusted relationships. And relationships where a revenue purpose might emerge without ambivalence. Ambivalent purpose is one of the big snags with social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook - really guys I want to be linked to you not because I admire that profile but for business purposes and that is both enough and worth while.

The Unbundling of “Augmented Reality” — Behold the Bionic Eye

September 13th, 2009, by Giovanni Rodriguez | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

In a story that got a bunch of reporters and bloggers excited this week (check out the post on CNN.com), Babak Parviz, a professor at the University of Washington, recently wrote about LED and radio-powered contact lenses that could both monitor health and display information over the user’s visual field. The latter functionality — information display — was the bigger story this weeks, exciting the legions of writers who are following each and every advance in “augmented reality.”

In case you haven’t been following the trend story, augmented reality is a set of technologies that enable consumers to digitally display relevant data over the image of an object. Most AR projects and experiments, however, are being conducted on the screens of smartphones. For a great demo, see the video below, by the very hot Netherlands-based AR company, Layar.

The excitement — and hype — that the Parviz article is generating is understandable. While the bundling of various technologies on smartphones — computation, video display, GPS, compass technology, messaging — appear to be driving the adoption of augmented reality, in theory there’s nothing stopping savvy technology vendors from unbundling these technologies and adapting them to the way the body naturally performs in the physical world. The Parviz lens is not the only attempt to unbundle technology. Earlier this year, a team from the MIT Media Lab unveiled a prototype for an AR-like product that enables the consumer to project data on any surface.

On a more theoretical level, just this week Nokia released a demo for a group of products that work together to create a “mixed reality” for the consumer. The most interesting of the products was a pair of spectacles that project data — e.g., the weather, news headlines, text messages from your — above the main field of vision.

Critics of these various unbundlings claim that consumers will never allow themselves to be encumbered by new tech appendanges. But that’s what makes the contact lens so provocative. There are many of — people who are too vain — who would never wear glasses. And there are many of us — people who are too fussy, too lazy, or too disorganized — who would never wear contacts. But I’d bet that there are even more of us — people who just fear looking dorky — who would never walk down the street pointing our phones at people, places, and things. With the options for “better vision” ever increasing, AR is beginning to look like it’s really going to happen.

Flu alerts, metatrend style

September 3rd, 2009, by Chris | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

We’re interested in ways of gleaning new insights from online data, and also in new ways of delivering those insights. So, our ears pricked up when we heard about a recently-launched iPhone application - called “Outbreaks Near Me” - based on MIT’s HealthMap resource.

From HealthMap.com

HealthMap monitors and maps semantic references to various illnesses through news reports and social media channels, giving users a potential early warning of outbreaks. It’s one among a number of interesting health data mashups that have cropped up, including Google Flu Trends - a similar initiative, which bases its findings on search trends, rather than media or blog comment.

Some are sceptical about the utility of these initiatives as standalone tools - false positives are an issue for example in both comment monitoring and search data. This scepticism is often justified, but we’re mainly interested in their contribution to metatrend analysis. Their value really becomes apparent when you look at combining the outputs from many different data sources together.

We can measure flu trends now by a combination of social media listening and aggregated search trends, but what else can we add to the mix? There have been successful attempts in the past to identify outbreaks through pharmacy sales data, and in the future technologies like FLIR (forward looking infrared cameras) might also have a contribution to make. More data, tighter insights, better value.

Edward R Murrow, Hurricane Bill, and the iPhone.

August 23rd, 2009, by Peter Hirshberg | located in Conversations | Comments off | trackback

Edward R Murrow was describing the London Blitz and the fierce resistance of the British people as Hurricane Bill attacked me not once, but twice yesterday. Amidst steely grey skies and giant sea swells in Brigehampton, the waves ultimately engulfed my iPod shuffle, sunglasses and me in a first surprise attack as I was running. Seconds later and 1.5 miles away the waves washed up on the entire beach where my friends were, claiming beach towels, Conde Nast magazines whose only possible purpose in life is Hamptons beach reading, and my brand new iPhone 3G . The iPod Shuffle hung on through Bob Edwards' audiobook description of Murrow on the courage of pensioners and flower ladies during the blitz. And while telling the story of brave resistance of 1941, the shuffle finally gave way, its valor not lost on me.

And then, silence. I was without communication and humbled. But also awed by the power of nature who was merely playing around and not serious at all. (The hurricane, after all, was 500 miles to the east...)

Minutes later, I see it. Amazingly, improbably buried in the sand-- one wet, sandy iPhone. And remarkably, still displaying incoming texts though otherwise going haywire (Intermittent RF electronics, warnings flashing constantly.) And sand in every orifice preventing any connections at all. I won't go into the ensuing unpleasantness.

Yet now, 22 hours and a big bottle of compressed CO2 air blast cleaner later, the iPhone and iPod recover. Completely, it seems. I'm left wondering: did they really just survive an encounter with a sandy, briny Atlantic? Or is this just borrowed time, and a good time to schedule an appointment at the Genius Bar? Either way, I'm impressed!