free html hit counter Internet Big Five Archives - John Battelle's Search Blog

The Waze Effect: Flocking, AI, and Private Regulatory Capture

By - February 03, 2016

Screenshot_2015-04-20-18-03-49-1_resized-738987(image)

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were heading across the San Rafael bridge to downtown Oakland for a show at the Fox Theatre. As all Bay area drivers know, there’s a historically awful stretch of Interstate 80 along that route – a permanent traffic sh*t show. I considered taking San Pablo road, a major thoroughfare which parallels the freeway. But my wife fired up Waze instead, and we proceeded to follow an intricate set of instructions which took us onto frontage roads, side streets, and counter-intuitive detours. Despite our shared unease (unfamiliar streets through some blighted neighborhoods), we trusted the Waze algorithms – and we weren’t alone. In fact, a continuous stream of automobiles snaked along the very same improbable route – and inside the cars ahead and behind me, I saw glowing blue screens delivering similar instructions to the drivers within.

About a year or so ago I started regularly using the Waze app  – which is to say, I started using it on familiar routes: to and from work, going to the ballpark, maneuvering across San Francisco for a meeting. Prior to that I only used the navigation app as an occasional replacement for Google Maps –  when I wasn’t sure how to get from point A to point B.

Of course, Waze is a revelation for the uninitiated. It essentially turns your car into an autonomous vehicle, with you as a simple robot executing the commands of an extraordinarily sophisticated and crowd-sourced AI.

But as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’re a regular “Wazer,” the app is driving a tangible “flocking” behavior in a significant percentage of drivers on the road. In essence, Waze has built a real time layer of data and commands over our current traffic infrastructure. This new layer is owned and operated by a for-profit company (Google, which owns Waze), its algorithms necessarily protected as intellectual property. And because it’s so much better than what we had before, nearly everyone is thrilled with the deal (there are some upset homeowners tired of those new traffic flows, for instance).

Since the rise of the automobile, we’ve managed traffic flows through a public commons – a slow moving but accountable ecosystem of local and national ordinances (speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, etc) that were more or less consistent across all publicly owned road ways.

Information-first tech platforms like Waze, Uber, and Airbnb are delivering innovative solutions to real world problems that were simply impossible for governments to address (or even imagine). At what point will Waze or something like it integrate with the traffic grid, and start to control the lights?

I’ve written before about how we’re slowly replacing our public commons with corporate, for-profit solutions – but I sense a quickening afoot. There’s an inevitable collision between the public’s right to know, and a corporation’s need for profit (predicated on establishing competitive moats and protecting core intellectual property).  How exactly do these algorithms choose how best to guide us around? Is it fair to route traffic past people’s homes and/or away from roadside businesses? Should we just throw up our hands and “trust the tech?”

We’ve already been practicing solutions to these questions, first with the Web, then with Google search and the Facebook Newsfeed, and now with Waze. But absent a more robust dialog addressing these issues, we run a real risk of creating a new kind of regulatory capture – not in the classic sense, where corrupt public officials preference one company over another, but rather a more private kind, where a for-profit corporation literally becomes the regulatory framework itself – not through malicious intent or greed, but simply by offering a better way.

  • Content Marquee

FaceSense: Sometimes (OK, A Lot of Times) Your Predictions Are A Tad Early

By - January 11, 2016

Way back in 2012 – four years ago in real time, three decades or so in Internet time – I predicted that Facebook would build an alternative to Google’s AdSense based on its extraordinary data set. I was right, but…off by a few years. From Ad Exchanger:

AdExchanger has learned Facebook Audience Network is one month into a test involving about 10 publishers that would see the ad network’s placements run on mobile web pages. The expansion brings its own set of technical hurdles, along with a large revenue expansion opportunity for Audience Network, which reached a $1 billion run rate last quarter.

…A Facebook rep confirmed the test and Diply’s involvement, but declined further comment.

“This is Facebook coming in and offering an alternative to AdSense,” said a source with knowledge of the test who did not want to be identified revealing private information.

From my post Predictions 2012 #3: The Facebook Ad Network:

Facebook will …launch a web-wide advertising network along the lines of Google’s AdSense. I’ve talked about this for years (short handing it as “FaceSense,”) and I’ve asked Mark Zuckerberg, Carolyn Everson, Bret Taylor, and Sheryl Sandberg about it on stage and off. The answer is always the same: We’re not interested in launching a web ad network at this time.

I predict that line will change in 2012. Here’s why:

– Once public, Facebook will need to keep demonstrating new lines of revenue and growth. Sure, the company already has the attention of 1/7th of all time spent “on the web.” But there’s a lot more attention out there on the Independent Web, and the default ad service for that other 6/7ths is Google’s AdSense, a multi-billion dollar business.

– Facebook already has its hooks into millions of websites with its Open Graph suite – all those Like, Recommend, Share, Connect, and Facebook Comment plugins. These buttons are pumping data about how the web is being used directly into Facebook’s servers. That data can then be combined with all the native Social Graph data Facebook already has, making for a powerful offering to marketers across the entire web. Think of it as “social retargeting” – marketers will be able to buy attention on Facebook.com, then know where folks are across the web, and amplify their messaging out there as well.

– Because Facebook is already integrated into millions of sites, it’ll be a relative snap for the company to start signing up publishers to offer their inventory to the social giant. It will be interesting to see what terms Facebook offers/requires – I’m assuming the company will match Google and others’ non-exclusivity (IE, you can use any ad network you want), but don’t assume this will be the case. Facebook may have an ace or two up their sleeve in how they go to market here.

– Lastly, let’s not forget that the team who built and ran AdSense is now at Facebook (that’d be Sheryl Sandberg and her ad ops chief David Fischer, oh, and one of the “fathers of AdSense,” Gokul Rajaram).

Critical to the success and rollout of Facebook’s web ads will be two key factors. One, the structural underpinning of the system: AdSense scans the content of a page and delivers relevant ads (though many other factors are now creeping into its system). This leverages Google’s core competence as a search engine (it’s already scanning the page for search.) Facebook’s core leverage is knowing who you are and what you’ve done inside the Facebook ecosystem, so the key structural construct for its web ad network will turn on how the company leverages that data. I imagine the new ad network might initially roll out just to sites that have Facebook Connect installed, so that visitors to those sites are already “inside” the Facebook network, so to speak.

The second issue is what may as well be called the “creepiness factor.”  Search display retargeting is still a gray area – a lot of folks don’t like being chased across the web by ads that know what sites you’ve recently visited or what terms you’ve searched for. Cultural acceptance of ads on third party sites that seem to know who your friends are, what you ate for dinner last night, or what movies you recently watched might provoke a societal immune response. But that’s not stopped Facebook to date. I don’t expect it will in this case either.

 

 

 

Predictions 2015: How’d I Do?

By - December 28, 2015

ea8e9ff77d5d1332ef85b4eded4b28953aa4f64bEach January for the past 13 years, I’ve been making predictions on this site. Twelve months later, I pull back and review how those predictions have fared. I’ve already got a running list of predictions for 2016, but in this post, I want to handicap how my prognostications for 2015 turned out.

I made a total of 12 predictions in 2015, so I’ll run through each in turn.

1. Uber will begin to consolidate its namesake position in the “The Uber-ization of everything” trend. 

In essence, I predicted that Uber would launch delivery and logistics businesses in 2015. This wasn’t particularly insightful of me – the company had already launched two small pilots (UberEssentials and UberFresh)  in the Fall of 2014. But in January 2015, Uber killed UberEssentials, and for months, there was no expansion of either service. So was I wrong? Nope. In April 2015, Uber launched UberEats in four markets (since grown to a dozen), and this past October, Uber launched Uber Rush in three major US cities.  I think I got this one right.

2. Related, Uber will be the center of a worldwide conversation about the impact of tech and business culture on the world. 

Well, again I think I got this one right. And again, it was a pretty safe bet that the company would be the talk of tech and culture throughout 2015. A major proof, to my mind, was Rachel Whetstone’s decampment from head of Google comms to take a similar role at Uber this past May. For nearly a decade, Whetstone had successfully guided Google as it consolidated its position as the world’s most controversial and talked about tech brand (yes, yes, Facebook and Apple might compete for that honor, but we can argue that another time). But in 2015, Uber was the go to protagonist (and antagonist) of the tech conversation, from its incessant opportunistic fundraising to its starring role in critical economic, policy and cultural issues. I think it’s fair to say the company took pole position from Google, Facebook, and Apple in 2015.

3. Google will face existential competition from Facebook due to Facebook’s Atlas offering.

This prediction stemmed from my penchant for adtech geekery, and while I think it will prove long term true, I didn’t find a lot of proof that it came to fruition in 2015. Facebook made steady gains here, including the hiring of key Google adtech talent, but I think this one needs another year to prove out.

4. The Apple Watch will be seen as a success.

Well, you didn’t see this one coming did you? I’m usually an Apple naysayer (though I love the Mac), but I believed that the watch was a natural extension of the phone, and I still believe this to be the case. The results are decidedly mixed – Apple’s Tim Cook agrees with me, naturally. But plenty of others believe Apple’s foray into wearables was a disappointment. Apple doesn’t break out units shipped for its watches (a strong sign the company is itself disappointed), and estimates range from a low of single digit millions to a high of nearly 20 million. Given the paucity of data here, all I have is my gut, and my gut says, the Apple Watch was a push. Not a failure, not a success. Since I said it was going to be seen as a success, I think I whiffed this one.

5. And Apple Pay will not.

Long term, I think I’ll be proven wrong on this one, but in 2015, I think I got it right. This Fall, Bloomberg called Apple Pay “underwhelming,” and Cook’s prediction that 2015 would be “the year of Apple Pay” is widely seen as off the mark. However, I think 2016 will prove Cook directionally correct.

6. But Beacons will re-emerge and take root.

Ummm…my first reaction to this one is to cringe – beacons were not really top of mind for anyone in tech this past year. And try as I might, I couldn’t find proof otherwise. So, another whiff, at least for now.

7. Google’s Nest will build or buy a scaled home automation service business.

Well, no. Nest did launch a developer platform, which is related, but not the same. I still think this is a natural fit for Nest, but it didn’t happen in 2015. Whiff.

8. A breakout healthcare startup will emerge in the consumer consciousness

Well, does Theranos count? Because, well, I think it does. Not in the way I had expected, but still…give me half credit for this one.

9. A breakout mobile startup will force us to rethink the mobile user interface.

Oh man, we are so so so close here. Overall, my intent with this prediction was to say that in 2015, we’ll finally realize that it’s time to break out of the “apps and home screen” approach to mobile. And I really think that happened. Just so much great work happening here. There’s Google App Streaming, of course. And there’s Wrap. And this widely cited post from Intercom.io on the end of apps as we know them. And much, much more. But again, no one breakout mobile startup that acted as a forcing function. Alas. I’d say half credit here, right on the intent, wrong on the specifics.

10. At least one hotly-anticipated IPO will fizzle, leading many to declare that the “tech correction” has begun.

Ok, pretty much nailed this one.

11. China will falter.

My point here was that China could not keep growing the way it had been, nor would its endless cyber attacks on US and other corporate assets continue to go unnoticed. And in 2015, both were called on the carpet.

12. Adtech comes back.

My final prediction was that adtech would rebound by the end of 2015, after a terrible 2014. And while the public adtech stocks are still battered, I think I got this one right as well. Rubicon, seen as a bellwether in the category, is on an upward trajectory after hitting a low in September. AppNexus is once again looking to go public, and my sources with knowledge of the company say it’s doing quite well. And while I can’t delve into specifics, I’ve never been more bullish about sovrn Holdings, where I am Chair. The company completed an opportunistic financing round in 2015, and is positively killing it going into 2016. Overall, I think the world is going to figure out that adtech is about more than ads – it’s about creating an open, accessible processing and notification layer for the entire Internet. In 2015, adtech was definitely back.

So overall, how’d I do? Well, by my count, I got seven right and two half right, and whiffed on three. Not a bad year, to be honest – 8 of 12, for an average of .750. That’s at the upper end of my predictions, which usually come in between .500 and .750. I guess I’ll try again in a week or so. Till then, thanks for reading in 2015. I plan on writing a lot more in 2016…here, at NewCo, and on Medium and LinkedIn as well.

Have a great New Year, folks. See you in 2016.

Google Unveils App Streaming: Is This The Platform That Unifies Apps And The Web?

By - November 27, 2015

app-stream-w-dotsFor years I’ve been predicting that mobile apps were a fad – there’s no way we’d settle for such a crappy, de-linked, “chiclet-ized” approach to information and services management. Instead, I argued that a new model would emerge, one that combined the open values of a link-powered web with the mobility, sensors, and personalization of apps. It wasn’t easy to make this argument, because for years Apple, Facebook, and even Google were steadily proving me wrong. Apps (and the mobile platforms where they lived) marched steadfastly to dominance, surpassing the PC Web in both attention and most certainly investor buzz. I mean, who’d ever invest in a “website” anymore?!

The PC web, it seems, is well and truly dead, just like everyone says it was.

Then last week, Google announced App Streaming. This is the chocolate meeting the peanut butter, folks. If this can scale, we may finally be close to breaking the app’s stranglehold on our collective imagination.

In case you missed the news, Google App Streaming is a clever, brute force hack that allows native mobile apps to be streamed in real time over Google’s core infrastructure – no app download required (for details, read Danny here). In other words, App Streaming makes apps act like websites – instantly available through a link, even if you’ve never installed the app on your phone.

It’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time Google has used its massive infrastructure to surmount a seemingly intractable technical challenge. To stand up its original search service, Google successfully put the entire World Wide Web in RAM – creating its own speedy and super-scalable version of what you and I understood to be the Internet.  In essence, to serve us the Web, Google became the Web, along the way creating the fastest growing company in history. It’d be an awful neat hack if Google managed to swallow not just the Web, but also the entire world of apps as well.

I believe that’s exactly what the company is trying to do. This may well be the Web killing apps – something I predicted a year ago.  If so, all I can say is good riddance.

Back in 2004 (11 years ago!), I wrote a Thinking Out Loud post about a fanciful idea I called “Google Business Services.” What if Google became a core platform for the creation of all kinds of new third party services?

What if Google becomes an application server cum platform for business innovation? I mean, a service, a platform service, that any business could build upon? In other words, an ecologic potentiality – “Hey guys, over here at Google Business Services Inc. we’ve got the entire web in RAM and the ability to mirror your data across the web to any location in real time. We’ve got plug in services like search, email, social networking, and commerce clearing, not to mention a shitload of bandwidth and storage, cheap. So…what do you want to build today?”

I was wrong about Google dominating social networking as a service – this was in the pre-Facebook days of Orkut, mind you – but if Google gets its way with App Streaming, Facebook will simply be one more service on the Google platform.

Plenty of questions remain about App Streaming, the most interesting being how it will play with Apple and Facebook. But if you are an app developer, one of your most intractable problems is getting folks past the twin obstacles of download and re-engagement. If Google can prove that App Streaming scales, I can’t imagine any developer who wouldn’t want to take advantage of it.

 

It’s Time to Flip the Bit on Publishing and Data

By - September 27, 2015

adblock-plus(image BI)

My god, do we like to talk about ourselves.

That’s my takeaway from the recent algae-bloom of writing around ad blocking and fraud lately – most of it tinged with apocalyptic implications for the future of independent publishing. I’ve hung back from writing because I’ve been so busy *reading* everything – like this piece by Anil. Or this “expose” by Bloomberg (honestly, this is not a new story!). Or this one by Jason, this by Frederic, this by Doc, or this by Cory.

Cory calls for a new model, and I think he’s right. I’ve been thinking and talking and writing about new models in publishing and media for a good long time. Perhaps now is the time to revive an idea I’ve been on about for years.

Because as Tim points out, quoting Schrage, great new companies aren’t created by assuming that we keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. They instead demand that we alter our behavior entirely, because the benefit is so great. As Ben put it, publishers need to rethink their business models. In a private post on his daily (subscription-based) newsletter, Ben further points out that the iPhone didn’t succeed because it followed the generally acceptable rules of Clayton Christensen’s famous disruption thesis, it worked precisely because it didn’t. It created so much value that people were willing to change their behavior, from using a phone to call and text people, to using it to connect them to the Internet and its extraordinarily broad set of services. Same goes for Facebook, Uber, and many other “unicorns” that have forced new behaviors (sharing all our data into a central platform, shifting from flagging a cab to pushing a button, etc.).

So this begs the question: What is the new set of behaviors consumers might adopt with regard to publishing? And what might be the 10x shift in value creation that augurs such a shift? Might there be an antlered pony buried within all this fraud and ad-blocking horseshit?

First the (somewhat easier) bit – the new set of behaviors. To me this has to do with the relationship of publisher and reader/audience member. The rise of free content on the Web has broken what was previously a clear one-to-one relationship: reader subscribed to a periodical, delivering demographic and geographic data in the process. Now, that relationship has been re-aggregated through a crazy quilt of advertising technologies seeking to identify who you are and what you might want. This “advertising industrial complex” has led to the conditions we all now lament – hundreds of data-sucking ad trackers on most web pages, slow load times, crappy ads, and massive fraud which takes advantage of a disjointed and leaky ecosystem.

But what if user behavior actually reverted to a direct, one to one relationship between publisher and reader? What if that data that advertisers so openly covet – your name, age, zip code, interests, etc. – was held by the *reader*, instead of the publisher or the adtech industry? And what if, upon coming to a new site for the first time, that site simply asked “will you please share your data with us, so we may serve you the best and most appropriate ads?” If you say no, perhaps the content doesn’t load. But why say no – if you’re in control and the data will only make your life better?

I’ve argued for just such a model in We Have Yet to Clothe Ourselves In Data. We Will. The bit that has to flip is summarized in this quote:

We lack an ecosystem that encourages innovation in data use, because the major platforms hoard our data. This is retarded, in the nominal/verb sense of the word. Facebook’s picture of me is quite different from Google’s, Twitter’s, Apple’s, or Acxiom’s*. Imagine what might happen if I, as the co-creator of all that data, could share it all with various third parties that I trusted? Imagine further if I could mash it up with other data entities – be they friends of mine, bands I like, or even brands?

It’s insane that as consumers we outsource our data wardrobe to Facebook, Apple, Google, and the hot mess that is the adtech industry. The consumer behavior I believe will change our world, and by extension the economics of publishing and advertising, is a shift in control of our own data from third party platforms to ourselves as the platform. Put in Internet terms, from the server to the node (we’re the nodes). If this happens, all manner of innovation and efficiency will erupt.

But the rub lies in the second part of this innovation equation: What will be the astonishing, disruptive force that drives such a shift? What is the Uber or Facebook or iPhone that will drive this shift in data use behavior?

God, if I knew that…I’d start that company. But I sense when it does break out (and I am certain it will), it will seem hugely obvious. How frustrating to not know what it is. Like a vivid dream lost seconds after waking, it haunts me every day. Any ideas?!

Spanning SF and Oakland: The First Ever NewCo Bay Bridge Festival Lineup Is Out!

By - August 20, 2015

Bay Bridge banner

While NewCo has been celebrating unique San Francisco companies for three years, 2015 is the first year we’ve produced our hometown festival with a fully staffed and funded team. And it shows: We’re adding Oakland as a companion city to San Francisco this year, and more than 200 companies will be opening their doors for a four-day festival this October 5th through 8th – by far the largest festival we’ve ever produced.

In case you’ve missed our other posts about NewCo festivals, NewCo is a unique, city-based event that turns traditional business conferences inside out. Instead of sitting in a stuffy hotel ballroom and hearing an endless queue of startup CEOs pitching from the stage, NewCo attendees get out into the modern working city, and get inside the headquarters of the city’s most interesting and inspiration companies, hearing from the founders and senior teams in their native environment. Just as Airbnb (an SF NewCo) creates more intimate and distributed travel experiences by taking people out of sterile hotels and into the homes of hosts around the world, NewCo enables its festival goers to experience the “homes” of startups and established companies from a wide array of industries. Each NewCo company is hand selected for its unique mission and the positive change it is creating in its chosen market.

There’s a lot of goodness and new features to this year’s Bay Bridge Festival (the moniker we’ve given the combination of Oakland and San Francisco). First off, of course, is the addition of Oakland to the lineup. Often called the Brooklyn of San Francisco, Oakland has become a major center of innovation in its own right, with its own particular strengths in clean energy, social impact, food & hospitality, and of course tech and Internet. On Thursday October 8th, Oakland will shine. Check out a sampling of Oakland NewCos opening their doors: Kapor Center for Social Impact, SchoolZilla, Ask.fm, Gracenote, City of Oakland, Blue Bottle Coffee, Allotrope Partners, Numi Organic Tea, 99designs, and Sungevity.

We’ll end the Oakland festival with a special meetup at The New Parish, an awesome music venue right in the center of Oakland’s vibrant Uptown entertainment district. Our Oakland VIP kickoff is Oct. 7th at the stunning offices of Gensler – some of the best views in the bay, and given Gensler’s reputation as one of the finest architectural firms in the world, these offices are not to be missed.

NewCo San Francisco will kick off on Oct. 5th with a VIP event at WeWork’s downtown offices. Over the following two days you’ll have a chance to visit some of the most intriguing companies on the planet, including Airbnb, Slack, AltSchool, SV Angel, The Battery, Lyft, PCH, Compass Family Services, San Francisco Mayor’s Office, Twitter, Bloomberg, Leap Motion, Pinterest, One Medical,  Betabrand, Cloudera, Medium, LiveRamp, LinkedIn, Google, Uber, and more than 125 others.

This year we’ve added a lunch hour, a much requested respite, and NewCo itself will provide lunch at our Presidio headquarters on day two (October 7th). We’ve also added a meetup at the end of day one, at the headquarters of Westfield Labs in the center of the Westfield Mall on Market Street. We’ll be adding even more special events as we get closer to the actual dates, so be sure to check the schedule early and often. This one promises to be our best event ever (though to be honest, it’ll be hard to beat what Amsterdam, Austin, and Cincinnati pulled off earlier this year!)

NewCo works like a music festival: There are 10-15 companies “playing” at any given time, so you have to chose which one you want to attend. Most companies fill up quickly, so smart attendees register early and pick their schedules right away, to insure their spot (Google, Pandora, Blue Bottle, Airbnb, and Slack are nearly full!). We’ve got an early bird discount going for the next week or so, and our goal is to have more than 3,000 festival goers celebrating the best companies in San Francisco and Oakland. Register now – I look forward to seeing you out and about two of the best cities in the world!

 

Predictions 2015: Uber, Google, Apple, Beacons, Health, Nest, China, Adtech…

By - January 04, 2015

1-nostradamus2015. My eleventh year of making predictions. Seems everyone’s gotten onto this particular bus, and I’m now late to the party – I never get around to writing till the weekend – when I have open hours in front of me, and plenty of time to contemplate That Which May Come.

There are several keys to getting predictions right. First, you need to pay attention to long term secular trends – big changes that have been in the works for a while. Second, you need to call the timing – will those trends break into the mainstream this coming year? Last year, for example, I predicted that 2014 would be the year that the Internet would “adopt the planet as its cause.” I think I was right on the secular trend, but utterly wrong on the timing.

Third, you need to pay attention to patterns that have yet to emerge, but have a high probability of breaking out in the near term. A good example of this is my declaring that Twitter would become a major media platform three years ago.

So what might happen in 2015? The year to come feels clearer to me than 2014, which I labeled “A Difficult Year To See.” Plenty of interesting technology, Internet, and media trends seem poised to break out in 2015. Here’s my cut at them.

1. Uber will begin to consolidate its namesake position in the ” The Uber-ization of everything” trend. When we think of Uber, we think of black cars, of getting around from one place to another. But Uber has the brand permission to expand its brand to mean more than transportation. If you think of Uber as a company that takes a previously expensive, complicated, and inefficient process and leverages the Internet, mobile devices, the 1099 economy, and logistics to create a 10X better offering, there’s no reason the company won’t identify and pick off one or more similar markets in 2015. Uber is already making moves in delivery, a natural adjacency, but I imagine the company may either buy or build its way into markets that feel – at least initially – a bit further afield.

2. Related, Uber will be the center of a worldwide conversation about the impact of tech and business culture on the world. Put another way, Uber will replace Google, Facebook, and Apple as the centerpiece of a debate around the change wrought by the powerful tincture of technology and capitalism. This has already begun, of course, but 2015 will be when it comes to a dramatic head. I’m not quite sure how, but it’ll be obvious when it happens.

3. Google will face existential competition from Facebook due to Facebook’s Atlas offering, to the point where Google will find a way to connect its search and personal data to its Doubleclick asset. This will require changes to long-held pillars of its Privacy Policy – and thanks to legal complications from its search near-monoply, these changes will be tortured and painful. But in the faec of Facebook’s superior personalization capabilities, Google will have no choice. Google has long owned web advertising through its consolidation of a universal adtech stack. It’s the default platform for both publishers and advertisers, the 900-pound gorilla of ad serving, measurement, and delivery. But Facebook is attacking Google head on here with a rebuilt Atlas product that allows advertisers to target users of its ubiquitous service across the web. It will take time for Atlas to grow into meaningful market share, but advertisers love high quality personalization, and that’s what Facebook offers. Google’s in a difficult position here  – its privacy position was crafted for a world where there was no meaningful competition in web advertising. Now there is. The phrase to watch is this one: “We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.”

4. The Apple Watch will be seen as a success. I know, I know, I’m wandering into a morass here, as many others have already predicted that the watch will or will not work in 2015. But the use case, to me, is simply too strong to ignore, and I believe Apple will be first to prove it. I think Fred’s post was misunderstood, he didn’t say Apple’s watch won’t succeed, he just said it won’t be an iPod, iPhone, or iPad. And he’s right – no way will Apple sell as many units as those hits. We’re talking fashion here, and not everyone wants an Apple on their wrist. But I think we’re all ready to stop pulling out our phone every time we get a new text, email, or social media update. And for a significant number of folks, the Apple Watch will be how we change that behavior.

5. And Apple Pay will not. Apple Pay is slick, and it works, according to those I’ve talked with (I don’t use an iPhone, so I am certainly at a disadvantage here). But I’m basing this prediction on my sense of market need – does the market need a new way to pay? I’m not certain the current system – credit cards, cash – is so inefficient that it will motivate consumers to switch en masse this year, and for Apple Pay to be a success, I think that has to happen. I’m not saying the service won’t show good uptake and growth, it most likely will. But until there’s an orthogonal reason to use it that gives us all a much stronger value proposition, I don’t think Apple Pay will take over the world. In five years, I’d say the reverse will be true, but by then, we’ll have universal expenditure tracking and integration with a larger ecosystem of financial management tools, an ecosystem that is still underdeveloped and fractured at the moment.

6. But Beacons will re-emerge and take root. Remember iBeacons? They created quite a fuss when launched some 18 months ago, but since then, no one’s really paid them much nevermind. That will change in 2015 as ambient intelligence starts to be part of the fabric of everyday life. By year’s end, beacons will be a red hot market, and a platform for many a startup funding round.

7. Google’s Nest will build or buy a scaled home automation service business. Nest is a home automation business, but it’s also invested in rolling trucks to help its consumers install its growing suite of gadgets. Why stop there? The modern home is now a complicated mess of mismatched technology – there’s spotty wifi that works in one room but not another, dumb phone systems that don’t integrate with anything, and AV systems that break down more than they work. Shouldn’t someone 10X the home technology platform? Yes! And Nest is the brand with permission to do just that. It won’t hurt that by becoming the best home system integrator in the world, Nest will sell a shit-ton of its own devices.

8. A breakout healthcare startup will emerge in the consumer consciousness. Hard to say which one, as there are a ton of them, but the time is ripe for a startup to breakout that changes how we view our relationship to health data and services. One such startup will become the darling of the press and the exemplar of how healthcare services “should work.”

9. A breakout mobile startup will force us to rethink the mobile user interface. The time feels right for a new approach to mobile interfaces, and tons of startups are busy rethinking the space (see my posts on the subject here). I’m not predicting that the “chiclet-ized” approach to apps and OSes will break down in 2015, that’d be too much change to happen in one year. But as with healthcare above, a startup will break out that opens the industry’s eyes to new ways of interacting with our mobile devices. It’s about time.

10. At least one hotly-anticipated IPO will fizzle, leading many to declare that the “tech correction” has begun. Will it be Box, Dropbox, or Square? Spotify, Pinterest, or even Uber? I don’t know, but with so many deeply funded startups in the IPO zone, and our current tech boom entering its fifth year, the cycle is poised to pendulate. And yes, I just used “pendulate” for the first time in my writing life.

11. China will falter. This may be controversial, but again, using my keys of “secular trends, timing, and emerging trends,” it strikes me that China is due for a correction of its own. The US tech markets have a complicated and fractious relationship with China, and now that Alibaba is public and reportedly acquisitive, all manner of issues will be forced to the front burner. The Valley is anticipating a flood of Chinese tech competition and lucre in 2015, and I can’t imagine this comes without policy ramifications. Used to be, China regularly spied on US corporations, and we shrugged it off. No more. China is widely understood to have a brittle, centrally controlled, and deeply corrupt power structure. I expect this mix of illegal behavior (the spying and corruption) and easy money will cause powerful companies in the US to lobby Washington for relief, and I expect Washington will be willing to take action. One to watch, to be sure.

12. Adtech comes back. Adtech, a sector that took a beating this past year, will once again be seen as a strong, investable market. The sector has matured, and is no longer dominated by one-note business models dependent on a culture of fraud. This trend has already begun to play out with acquisitions in 2014 – LiveRamp, Datalogix, Blue Kai come to mind. With major players like Oracle, Salesforce, Facebook, Adobe, SAP, IBM and Google battling it out over marketing automation, it’ll be a very good year to be a differentiated adtech startup.

Well, there’s a dozen predictions for you, and I feel like I could do another twelve. But I think I’ll leave it there, and leave it to the fates to see how I did in one year’s time. Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to a great 2015!

 

Related:

Predictions 2014

2014: How I Did

Predictions 2013

2013: How I Did

Predictions 2012

2012: How I Did

 

What Will Search Look Like In Mobile? A Visit With Jack

By - December 18, 2014

I’ve come across any number of interesting startups in my ongoing grok of the mobile world (related posts: 1, 2, 3).  And the pace has quickened as founders have begun to reach out to me to share their work. As you might expect, there’s a large group of folks building ambitious stuff – services that assume the current hegemony in mobile won’t stand for much longer. These I find fascinating – and worthy of deeper dives.

First up is Jack Mobile, a stealthy search startup founded a year or so ago by Charles Jolley, previously at Facebook and Apple, and Mike Hanson, a senior engineer at Mozilla and Cisco who early in his career wrote version 1.0 of the Sherlock search app for Apple. Jack was funded early this year by Greylock, where Mike was an EIR.

I’d link to something about Jack – but there’s pretty much nothing save a single page asking “What Is Jack?” Now that Charles and Mike have given me a peek into what Jack is in fact all about, I can report that it’s fascinating stuff, and at its heart is the problem of search in a post web world, followed quite directly by the problem of search’s UI overall. Whn you break free from the assumptions of sitting at a desk in front of a PC, what might search look like? What is search when your device is a phone, or a watch, or embedded in your clothing or the air around you?

Jack is trying to answer that question, and the team is rethinking some core user interface assumptions along the way.

Search on mobile is by almost any measure broken – the core assumptions of what makes search work on the web are absent on your device. On your phone, there are no links to index, no publicly accessible commons of web pages to crawl and analyze. Just a phalanx of isolated chiclets – disconnected apps, each focused on a particular service. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to search in mobile, in fact, we search a lot on our phones. But the results we get ain’t that great. In the main, that’s because when we search on our phone, we get answers from…the web. But as Jolley and Hanson pointed out, answers from the web often fail when presented to us in the context of mobile.

BattelleMediaMobilevWeb

Mobile search queries are just…different. Let’s explore why:

– Context. When you search on your phone (or later, on any “liberated” device), you’re more likely than not in completely different context from when you’re “on the web.” Mobile searches tend to be service related – “How do I get to this address,” and/or location driven: “What are good nightspots nearby.”

– Query & Corpus. Because of this context, *what* we want to search is focused in a far smaller potential corpus of material. Mobile searches tend to have one exact answer – we aren’t loking for a list of links that we then want to peruse, we want an answer to a specific contextual question – mobile searches bias toward service and action as the query result. That means search’s presumptive barrier of completeness (the cost Google bears of keeping the entire Internet in RAM, for example) is not a barrier on mobile. You don’t have to have ALL the possible information “indexed” – just the right information.  And what information is that? Well, that leads us to ….

– Signal. With mobile, rich new signals are available that could (and should) inform search results (but don’t). Certainly the most robust such signal is your current location, but that’s just the start. Others include your location history (where you’ve been), the apps loaded on your phone, your usage history with those apps,  and the structure inherent in those apps to begin with. Which begs a huge possible difference in…

– User Interface. Search on mobile, for now, is identical to search on the web. It’s a command line interface, where you type in your query, and you get blue links for results. Google’s been working hard to address this, and the combination of its universal search product, which surfaces “one true answer”, with voice search, is a real step forward. But the folks at Jack showed me another potential search interface for mobile, and I found it quite compelling. That approach? Well, I’d call it “conversational.”

The Conversational Search Interface

Way back in 2004 I met with Gary Flake, then a senior technology executive at Overture, a leading search firm of the day (Yahoo! later acquired Overture, which fueled Yahoo!’s search results until the Microsoft deal in 2009.) Even way back then, before mobile was a thing, I was frustrated with search’s interface.

I asked him why we couldn’t move forward in search interface – the “ten blue links” approach was so … flat. I wanted to ask one question, get results, and then ask another. Or better yet, I wanted the service to ask me a question – “You entered ‘Jaguars’ – did you mean the football team, the car, the cats, or something else?” Gary looked at me ruefully and said something I’ve never forgotten: “If only I had just one modal dialog box…”

What he meant was that search, at that point, was a race for the best ten blue links, and anything that got in the way of that, like a modal dialog box that popped up and asked a refining question, would mean that a very large percentage of folks would abandon the search. And abandonment of the search meant loss of revenue.

But that idea – of search as a series of back and forth exchanges, a conversation if you will – has always stuck with me. So imagine my surprise when Jolley and Hanson showed me a very early prototype of Jack Mobile’s search interface and it looked like….a conversation!

Jolley and Hanson have asked me to not report the details of their prototype interface, but suffice to say, it’s quite different, and it looks and feels far more like a back and forth than anything on the web. It’s delightful, and using the service is also cool. Jack knows where you are, so if you ask it “Guardians of the Galaxy” it’ll find showtimes near where you are, and return that information as the result. If you ask it “Italian restaurants,” Jack won’t give you a list of places with the most Google+ reviews – it’ll give you highly rated eateries near where you are right now, perhaps enhanced by reviews relevant to you given the fact that you have the GrubHub or OpenTable app on your phone.

Takeaways

Jack is still in very early stages, but the co-founders had a number of key insights from their work so far. The first has to do with completeness – while long tail edge cases rule the roost in web search, mobile has far more distribution of “head end” search – which means you can narrow your indexing and your algorithms and still satisfy a large majority of queries.

Also, mobile search is deeply personal – there’s almost no such thing as one size fits all result. In mobile, results should be rewarded because they are the most likely answer, not because a ranking system has pre-determined them as most authoritative. Searching for “BMW 3 series” while standing at a Mercedes dealership should most certainly bring a different result than the same search from a Taco Bell on Interstate 5. While personalized search has become a mainstream attribute of Google, the truth is, it’s quite shallow – on the web, Google knows precious little about you. But your phone knows quite a bit. Unlocking all that data is still too hard, but it’s coming.

But perhaps the most interesting implication of Jack’s approach to search lies in how it might drive a new ecosystem between “publishers” and “audience members.” Web search, Hanson points out, is all about the consumer – the creator of the web page is a second-class citizen, stuck in a suckers’ deal of sorts: You have to “publish” your presence on the web, or risk irrelevance, but you are entirely at the mercy of black box forces you don’t understand when it comes to how people might find you. Hanson posits a different model for Jack’s index, one in which publishers deliver their app and content structures to Jack via a proprietary feed of discrete, small units tagged to specific query types.  If this sounds a bit like semantic search, well it is. Hanson, a veteran of open web standards fights via his work at Mozilla, told me he has “deep scar tissue” around the topic, but at the same time, he and Jolley sense that with mobile, a new kind of level playing field just might allow semantic, personalized search to truly emerge.

There are far more questions than answers hanging over Jack, but that’s why it’s interesting – here’s a small, well funded team of search, web, and mobile experts really leaning into a new way to think about a massive problem/opportunity set. It’s certainly one to watch in 2015.

Google: The Information-First Conglomerate

By - November 21, 2014
FortunePageCover

Larry Page on the cover of Fortune, Nov. 13 2014

Last week Google CEO Larry Page got the Fortune magazine cover treatment, the latest of many such pieces attempting to quantify Google’ sprawling business. The business press is obsessed with answering the question of whether we’ve reached “Peak Google.” (Clearly Fortune’s opinion is that we have not, given they named him “Businessperson of the Year.”)

“Peak Google” is what I like to call a “contagious misconception” – it seems to make sense, and therefore is worthy of consideration. After all, we’ve seen IBM, Microsoft, and other companies hit their peaks, only to drop back as they face the innovator’s dilemma.  Search is past its prime, Google is a search company, ergo – Peak Google.

But as the Fortune piece argues (and yes, I’m quoted, for what that’s worth), Google has a lot more going on beyond search. And while it continues to milk that multi billion-dollar quarterly profit center, it’s built five additional billion-dollar businesses – some of which are directly related to its search empire, but others that are not. Google Apps/Cloud, YouTube/Play, Android, Ventures, and Adtech are already past the billion-dollar mark. Huge businesses in waiting include plays in home automation (Nest), healthcare (Calico), transportation (Chauffeur/self driving cars), and connectivity (Fiber). Beyond that group lie a dozen or so potential blockbusters in energy, robotics, AI, wearables, and the unknown moonshots behind the curtains at GoogleX.

It’s that stunning breadth of scope – what Fortune calls the company’s seemingly limitless ambition – that has caused a prolonged internal debate around Google mission statement:

“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Page has been floating trial balloons about expanding Google’s mission statement for nearly two years. When Tony Faddell, CEO of Nest, announced Google’s acquisition to his staff in January of 2013, Page took the stage and took questions from the stunned audience. One staffer asked Page why Google had any interest in a home automation company – it seemed quite orthogonal to Google’s focus on search, apps, and mobile. According to sources at the event, Page answered by acknowledging that Google’s mission statement may not be large enough to contain his company’s ambitions.

Since that first admission, Page has been testing out the idea of an expanded mission, and with Fortune he aired his ambivalence in public, telling Miguel Helft that “it’s probably a bit too narrow.” And on first blush, that seems right – what does a thermostat have to do with organizing the world’s information, anyway?

Actually, quite a lot.

When you look at Google through the lens of what I call “information first” businesses, things start to make a lot more sense. By that measure, Google is not only an information-first company, it’s also the world’s first information-first conglomerate – starting or buying businesses in every market undergoing the transition from “matter first” to “information-first.”

We see the transportation business shifting to information first, for example. The currently maligned but nevertheless extraordinary Uber is proof of it, but so is Zip Car, Tesla, and the entire autonomous car industry. The true value of these new kind of businesses is in how they understand information flows in the transportation markets, then execute new approaches to old problems (how do I get from here to there?) using novel and/or more efficient methods based on information technologies. Uber doesn’t put cars (commodities) or drivers (means of production) first – it puts information processing first. The cars and driver then reorganize to the new information flows and – voila! – a $17 billion company is born in four years. Uber proves that if you solve difficult information processing problems in traditional markets, you can create world beating value. Airbnb, DocuSign, Lending Club, and many more are further examples of the same thesis.

So what markets are ripe for transition to an information first framework? Well, let’s break down what makes for a “ripe” market. I think there are two key attributes of a market ready to be radically shifted by an information-first approach. First, a market where there’s liquidity of poorly organized and processed information. In other words, there’s a ton of data, but it’s not well organized or computed. Think about the world wide web in 1998, for example. Sh*t tons of information, terribly organized and lacking a processing layer. Google came in and – voila – a multi billion dollar company was born in five short years. Secondly, look for a market currently controlled through centralized chokepoints, but with the potential to be rapidly reorganized if and when consumers gain control. Again, look at search – before Google, portals like AOL and Yahoo ruled the web. Everyone went to a chokepoint to “see what was on the Internet.” After Google, consumers took control of their own web surfing.

So…what markets have both data liquidity and are currently controlled by centralized chokepoints? Well, let’s look at mobile. Tons of data, terribly organized, controlled by the chokepoints of carriers and OS vendors. Check! Or, how about healthcare? Oh hellz yeah! Energy? Yep! Connectivity? Most certainly! Markets where there’s not yet liquidity of information, but there’s about to be – home automation, food, retail – are also ripe for reinvention.

The world is turning into information, and that information wants to be organized, accessible, and useful. I don’t think Google’s mission needs to change at all. Whether or not they knew it at the time, Google created a manifesto that I believe will prove to be dead on in the context of an economic shift to a information-first paradigm. And when the history of this era is written, I’d wager that Google will be seen as the first information-first conglomerate to both identify and exploit that shift.

The Internet Big Five: Doubling In Three Years On A Trillion Dollar Base

By - November 16, 2014

From time to time I have tracked what I call the “Internet Big Five” – the key platform technology companies that are driving the Internet economy. Nearly three years ago I wrote the first of this series – The Internet Big Five. I identified Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook as the “big five,” and compared their relative strengths in financials, consumer reach, and technology strengths. Some of the metrics were admittedly subjective – ranking relative offerings in “engagement” and “data,” for example.

It seems about time to take another look at the Big Five, and to consider a changeup – the introduction of Alibaba as a public company in the US certainly merits consideration. But before I do that, let’s quickly take a look at how the companies have fared over three short years.

Nov. 14 big five market cap

The first thing to observe is this: The top five Internet companies had a combined market cap of nearly one trillion dollars three years ago, a very large base to be sure. But in those three short years, the group managed to almost double their market cap – to $1.8 trillion. That’s impressive growth, and a testament to how central the markets believe these companies to be in our economy. Also, in terms of relative market cap, the Big Five have stayed pretty constant, with Facebook lapping Amazon, but not reaching the heights of Google, Microsoft, or Apple. It’s interesting to see that the market still values Microsoft above Google, something I imagine might change over the next three years.

Stock prices show a similar trajectory. You’d have almost doubled your money if you had invested in these five companies back in late 2011:

Nov. 14 stock big five

Clearly these companies are killing it at a very large scale. And Alibaba, at a market cap of nearly $300 billion, can now claim its place comfortably on the list above both Facebook and Amazon.

But what about strategic strengths? This is the area I find fascinating. Two years ago I wrote The Internet Big Five By Product Strength , and featured this chart:

TheIntBigFiveByProdv2-1024x642

Pulling back, it strikes me that the chart needs a refresh – something I hope to do during the more reflective down time of the coming holidays.  I’d also like to add in Alibaba. But a quick scan of this two year-old chart shows some interesting developments.

In Operating Systems, Social, and Entertainment, each company’s position has pretty much remained constant, but Facebook’s Oculus purchase bears watching in all three fronts.  In Productivity Software, Google’s position has strengthened, as has Apple, but I’d give the edge to Google, whose Apps suite has gained serious traction. In Advertising, Facebook is now very strong, Amazon has also strengthened, and it seems Apple has determined that advertising is a necessary evil not worth pushing very hard. “Tablet” doesn’t feel like a category to break out separately anymore – in the next rev, I’ll probably just call it “mobile devices.” In that category, Microsoft keeps trying but not gaining traction, Amazon flopped with Fire Phone but holds steady with Kindle and Fire tablets, and Facebook seems uncertain if it wants to play. Google and Apple remain the kings. Search as a category that bears scrutiny – what is “search” in a post mobile world, anyway? This question is fundamental to the next five or so years in computing, I’d warrant – expect more posts on that over the holidays. In Payment, Apple has strengthened, And in Voice, almost all the players have improved as well.

All of these companies have shifted over the past three years, some in unpredictable ways. With Page back at Google, the company has broadened its scope to include wearables, transportation, health, and energy. It’s become what I’d call the world’s first information-first conglomerate. Apple has kept its narrow hardware focus, expanding slowly into wearables (the watch) and shying from bets outside its clear wheelhouse. The market seems to be rewarding this focus. Facebook has made some big bets with drones and VR, and its advertising business is on a tear. Amazon hasn’t have any breakaway hits over the past three years, and I sense the company is uncertain how to proceed given the maturity of its core market.

In fact, one way to think about these behemoths is to identify and explore their core cash cows, and then map their strategies to diversify from that core. To wit:

Apple ———> Hardware

Microsoft —–> Desktop, Enterprise SW

Google ——–> Search Advertising

Amazon ——-> eCommerce

Faecbook —–> Social Advertising

Perhaps that’ll be the fodder for another post.