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Do You Have a Mission or…Are You *On* A Mission? On Being a NewCo

By - May 15, 2014

A sampling of NewCos from our 2013 NYC festival.

 (Cross posted from the NewCo blog…)

About a year ago I wrote a piece outlining the kinds of companies we were looking for as we began the first full year of the NewCo festival circuit. Back then, NewCo was called “OpenCo,” and we were just starting to understand our mission of identifying and celebrating a major trend changing businesses everywhere. In a way, we were exploring a story that had yet to become fully expressed, and that post was my first attempt at declaring the narrative.

A lot has happened in the past year. We’ve thrown four more festivals – in LondonNew YorkDetroit and San Francisco. Thousands of people have experienced the working environment of hundreds of innovative companies in those cities. And just this week, we’re kicking off an expanded NewCo lineup – eight cities in all – repeating last year’s venues, and adding Amsterdam (happening now!), BoulderLos Angeles and Silicon Valley. So it’s a great time to revisit my post from a year ago, and once again ask the question – what makes a NewCo?

Well, we’ve given that a fair bit of thought. Last year, I noted that a new breed of company is emerging, one that takes “work” as more than punching a clock or doing a job. In fact, “work” can be much more – it can be a passion, a drive, a community, and a force for positive change. That’s why we intentionally use the metaphor of music in our language – sure, making music is a “job,” but it’s also an expression of joy, community, and kinship.

Anyone who has worked in a company we call a “NewCo” has experienced that vibe – working at a place where the music you make creates positive change for customers, partners, and your community. I certainly felt that happening at the places I’ve worked, and I see it every day in the companies I visit, and the companies who apply to be featured in NewCo festival events. Earlier this spring, we convened a small band of our own to sharpen our focus around “what makes a NewCo.” To start, we needed to lay out the big narrative of what’s happening in our economy. To wit:

Our world is at an inflection point – we are transitioning from a command and control economy to one that is networked and far more flexible. Driven by the central tenet of capitalism – profit – corporations have become one of the most powerful actors on the global stage. Besides government, no other institution in society has amassed as much wealth, power, and control as the corporation.

But at their core, corporations are just people. And over the past few decades, in parallel with the rise of the Internet, those people have begun a quiet revolution, redfining what a “corporation” can be.  A new kind of organization – one that measures its success on more than profit – has emerged. We call these companies “NewCos.” In a world driven by a deeply networked economy, NewCos are building a new, purpose-driven way of work, one that is more nimble, nuanced, and open than previous rigid and hierarchical models of business.

Out of that narrative came a number of core principles that guide our selection of NewCos in each market:

A NewCo …

–       Is on a mission. Sure, any company can have a mission, but a NewCo sees itself as on a mission to change the world for the better. NewCos embrace the profit motive, but are about more than making money.

–       Is driven by an idea. NewCos are about a big idea, one that drives their mission and purpose as an organization. NewCo people love to tell their company’s story – it’s a deeply felt part of their identity.

…and by people. The core of every NewCo are the people who comprise the organization, and the people it serves. A NewCo is never a “faceless corporation.”  It’s more like a band – a group of people coming together to create something that adds value to the world.

–       Is platform’d. The rise of the Internet Economy has meant that no company is an island.  We are all interconnected. NewCos are either platforms in their own right, and/or they understand how to participate in the platform ecosystem of open collaboration and considered data sharing. We call this being platform’d.

–       Trusts the open. The word “open” has many meanings, but for NewCos, “open” has a clear test: When faced with a choice between closed and controlling vs. a more sharing, open tack, a NewCo tilts toward the latter. This applies to much more than technology stacks – it is applied to partnerships, transparency, and community as well.

–       Is of the City. NewCos revel in the tapestry of cities – their pulse, their diverse communities, and their density of networks, information and humanity.

–       Gives to get. NewCos realize their value comes from serving their communities – their customers, sure, but also any community where the NewCo has an impact. NewCos believe you get back what you give to your community.  And when you’re truly connected to your communities, no one has the energy to be an assh*le.

–       Loves the work. NewCos are reinventing what work means and how its done. NewCos believe work can be joyous – it does not have to suck. NewCos view “work” as a positive expression of identity. To that end, NewCo workspaces are powerful expressions of a company’s identity.

I hope you can feel the music we’re trying to make here at NewCo, and if you are part of a company that vibes with what we laid out above, that you’ll consider applying to join the festival, opening your doors to partners, colleagues, and friends, and celebrating the change happening in our interconnected, global economy. Here’s to a new way of work!

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What Is Google?

By - April 09, 2014

Every so often it’s fun to see what Google says about itself via its autocomplete function. For your enjoyment, a few choice images:

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Else 4.7.14: So Much Information, Precious Little Insight

By - April 06, 2014

appsvwebReading over my picks from the past week, I noticed a strong theme – we’re using more and more apps, creating more and more data, but we’re not seeing the true value we might from connecting all the dots. Sure, the NSA is – and Facebook, Google, and other large platforms are as well. But imagine what happens when *we* get those insights?! A move from the center (big platforms) to the node (us) of the information ecosystem seems imminent…

Apps Solidify Leadership Six Years into the Mobile Revolution – Flurry 

Nearly three hours a day on our mobile phones (and we’re not talking). Most of that time we’re in “AppWorld” – not on “the open web.” That is a scary trend, to my mind. But I think it’s temporary. Or rather, I hope it is.

Facebook Explores Anonymity Features – Re/code

Turns out, as a service, you have to provide what people want. For the most part. Facebook is considering the impact of apps like SnapChat and Secret. Clearly, it’s not what the social networking giant *wants* – but perhaps this is a worm turning.

NSA chief’s legacy is shaped by big data, for better and worse – latimes.com

Indeed, if this outgoing NSA Director *missed* the big data revolution, he’d have been outgoing a long time ago…

Google Tops Exxon Mobil to Become World’s 2nd Most Valuable Company – Mashable

Apple is still #1. I wonder how long this will last, given Google’s ambitious push into entirely new markets.

Don’t eat that! SRI built a calorie-counting food app that works via a photo snap — Tech News and Analysis

Yes, I want this. Please. And please make it work with my Fuelband?!

Surprise, surprise: my online metadata actually reveals where I’ve been – Ars Technica

Startling to see how easy it is for someone with a few bits of digital information to figure out quite a lot more about us.

Forget the Quantified Self. We Need to Build the Quantified Us | Design – WIRED

Yes. I’ve been on about this for some time. Because of AppWorld, all these silos of data have yet to get to second and third-order insights. But we are starting to, slowly…

Google Weighs a Plunge into Mobile Phone Services – The Information

Most likley Google won’t do it the way the carriers are doing it. And I for one hope they go for it.

The Mozilla Manifesto – Mozilla

In light of the CEO controversy, worth remembering what it is about Mozilla that makes it unique.

The Fifth Protocol – Startup Boy

Because no edition of Else is complete without some thinking about Bitcoin.

We Are the Builders of Tech Revolutions. Why Are They Still a Surprise? | Blog | design mind

Reading this closely, and he’s talking about what I opened with – connecting all the dots…

Introducing #Climate

By - April 03, 2014


As many of you know, each year I write a set of predictions about the industry – this year, however, I had a bit of a hard time getting going. The reason? A persistent sense of “existential anxiety” around climate change. In Predictions 2014: A Difficult Year To See, I wrote:

I’ve been mulling these predictions for months, yet one overwhelming storm cloud has been obscuring my otherwise consistent forecasting abilities. The subject of this cloud has nothing – directly – to do with digital media, marketing, technology or platform ecosystems – the places where I focus much of my writing. But while the topic is orthogonal at best, it’s weighing heavily on me.

So what’s making it harder than usual to predict what might happen over the coming year? In a phrase, it’s global warming. I know, that’s not remotely the topic of this site, nor is it in any way a subject I can claim even a modicum of expertise. But as I bend to the work of a new year in our industry, I can’t help but wonder if our efforts to create a better world through technology are made rather small when compared to the environmental alarm bells going off around the globe.

I’ve been worried about the effects of our increasingly technologized culture on the earth’s carefully balanced ecosystem for some time now. But, perhaps like you, I’ve kept it to myself, and assuaged my concerns with a vague sense that we’ll figure it out through a combination of policy, individual and social action, and technological solutions. Up until recently, I felt we had enough time to reverse the impact we’ve inflicted on our environment. It seemed we were figuring it out, slowly but surely.

But if this latest report from the UN is any indication, we’re not figuring it out fast enough. In fact, the “the costs of inaction are catastrophic,” according to Sec. of State John Kerry.

So how can we take action? In my post, I noted:

As Ben Horowitz pointed out recently, one key meaning of technology is  “a better way of doing things.” So if we believe that, shouldn’t we bend our technologic infrastructure to the world’s greatest problem? If not – why not? Are the climate deniers right? I for one don’t believe they are. But I can’t prove they aren’t. So this constant existential anxiety grows within me – and if conversations with many others in our industry is any indication, I’m not alone.

Indeed, I am not alone, and today, a stellar group of people voted with their reputation and joined the #Climate movement. Sure, a hashtag isn’t going to change the world alone, but it’s a start – and it’s more than just posting on social networks. Created by my friend Josh Felser and a dedicated team, #Climate is “leveraging the social media reach of several dozen “influencers” to spread the word about concrete actions that citizens can take to confront the challenges of global warming. The tech-heavy class of inaugural influencers, who have a combined reach of 80 million people on Facebook and Twitter, include: Al Gore, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Medium founder Evan Williams, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, actor Mark Ruffalo and the NBA.” (Re/Code)

I’m honored to be included in the list and will be using the app from now on. If you follow me on Twitter, I hope you’ll find my calls to action worthy of your time. Who knows, we might just be starting something….

 

To Win The Newsfeed, Facebook Should Put Its Users In Control

By - April 01, 2014


Lost in the latest Facebook kerfuffle (if you’ve missed it, read this cheeky Eat24 post, and the hundreds of articles it prompted) is the fact that we all seemed quite confused about what Facebook’s newsfeed is supposed to be. Is it an intimate channel for peer to peer communication, where you stay in touch with people who matter to you? Is is a place you go to find out what’s happening in the world at large, a watercooler of sorts, a newspaper, as Zuckerberg has said? Is it a marketing channel, where any brand can pay for the right to pitch you things based on your stated or inferred interests? Is it all of these things? Can it be?

We’re in the midst of finding out. Of course, I have an opinion. It boils down to this: Facebook’s newsfeed should be what I tell it to be, not what Facebook – or anyone else – tells me it should be. If I want to fill my newsfeed with Eat24 sushi porn, then it should be brimming with it. If I tell it to only show musings from Dwight Schrute and  Marc Cuban, then that’s what I want to see. If I love what Mickey D’s is posting and want to see the best of their posts as determined by engagement, then Big Mac me. And if I prefer to keep it to my immediate family, then damnit, show me that.

If the cost of giving me that kind of control is that I have to see a marketer’s post every five or six entries, I’m cool with that. That’s what Twitter does, and it doesn’t bother me, it’s table stakes, I get it. But what I think Facebook’s got wrong is where they’ve instrumented the controls. Facebook spends an inordinate amount of time and energy tweaking a black box set of algorithms to figure out what it thinks I want in my feed, boiling an ever-larger ocean of content into a stream of stuff it believes I want. For reasons I can’t fathom, it doesn’t give me the chance to truly curate my feed, beyond some clunky lists and filters which, from what I can tell, are only good for blocking people or indicating preference for a particular feed (but not saying, for example, “show me everything from this source.”)

Facebook is therefore viewed as paternalistic – it has a vibe of “we’ll figure out what’s best to show you.” You have *some* input into the feed, but you are not encouraged to actively curate it the way you can curate friends or brands on Instagram or Twitter (and I think both have a long way to go as well). I think Facebook could trump all this debate once and for all by putting the end-user of its service in charge, and iterating the newsfeed based on that feedback. Scary, perhaps, but ultimately liberating and, more importantly, truly authentic. Over time, the value will accrue back. As we say around the office at NewCo, give (control) to get (benefit back).

 

Thinking Out Loud: Potential Information

By - March 20, 2014
o-ALPINE-SLIDE-PARK-CITY-570

Plenty of potential at the top of this particular system.

(image) If you took first-year physics in school, you’re familiar with the concepts of potential and kinetic energy. If you skipped Physics, here’s a brief review: Kinetic energy is energy possessed by bodies in motion. Potential energy is energy stored inside a body that has the potential to create motion. It’s sort of kinetic energy’s twin – the two work in concert, defining how pretty much everything moves around in physical space.

I like to think of potential energy as a force that’s waiting to become kinetic. For example, if you climb up a slide, you have expressed kinetic energy to overcome the force of gravity and bring your “mass” (your body) to the top. Once you sit at the top of that slide, you are full of the potential energy created by your climb – which you may once again express as kinetic energy on your way back down. Gravity provides what is known as the field, or system, which drives all this energy transfer.

For whatever reason, these principles of kinetic and potential energy have always resonated with me. They are easily grasped, to be certain, but it’s also how evocative they are. Everything around us is either in motion or it’s not – objects are either animated by kinetic energy (a rock flying through the air), or they are at rest, awaiting a kinetic event which might create action and possibly some narrative consequence (a rock laying on the street, picked up by an angry protestor….).

To me, kinetic and potential energy are the bedrock of narrative – there is energy all around us, and once that energy is set in motion, the human drama unfolds. The rock provides mass, the protestor brings energy, and gravity animates the consequence of a stone thrown…

Because we are physical beings, the principles of motion and force are hard wired into how we navigate the world – we understand gravity, even if we can’t run the equations to prove its cause and effect. But when it comes to the world of digital information, we struggle with a framework for understanding cause and effect – in particular with how information interacts with the physical world. We speak of “software eating the world,” “the Internet of Things,” and we massify “data” by declaring it “Big.” But these concepts remain for the most part abstract. It’s hard for many of us to grasp the impact of digital technology on the “real world” of things like rocks, homes, cars, and trees. We lack a metaphor that hits home.

But lately I’ve been using the basic principles of kinetic and potential energy as a metaphor in casual conversations, and it seems to have some resonance. Now, I’m not a physicist, and it’s entirely possible I’ve mangled the concepts as I think out loud here. Please pile on and help me express this as best I can. But in the meantime…

…allow me to introduce the idea of potential information. Like potential energy, the idea of potential information is that all physical objects contain the potential to release information if placed in the right system. In the physical world, we have a very large scale system already in place – it’s called gravity. Gravity provides a field of play, the animating system which allows physical objects (a rock, a child at the top of a slide) to become kinetic and create a narrative (a rock thrown in anger, a child whooping in delight as she slides toward the sand below).

It seems to me that if we were to push this potential information metaphor, then we need our gravity – our system that allows for potential information to become kinetic, and to create narratives that matter. To my mind, that system is digital technology, broadly, and the Internet, specifically. When objects enter the system of technology and the Internet, they are animated with the potential to become information objects. Before contact with the Internet, they contain potential information, but that information is repressed, because it has no system which allows for its expression.

In this framework, it strikes me that many of the most valuable companies in the world are in the business of unlocking potential information – of turning the physical into information. Amazon and eBay unlocked the value of merchandise’s potential information. Airbnb turns the potential information of spare bedrooms into kinetic information valued at nearly $10 billion and counting. Uber unlocked the potential information trapped inside transportation systems.  Nest is animating the potential information lurking in all of our homes. And Facebook leveraged the potential information lurking in our real world relationships.

I’d wager that the most valuable companies yet to be built will share this trait of animating potential information. One of the best ideas I’ve heard in the past few weeks was a pitch from an inmate at San Quentin (part of The Last Mile, an amazing program worthy of all your support). This particular entrepreneur, a former utilities worker, wanted to unlock all the potential information residing in underground gas, sewage, and other utilities. In fact, nearly every good idea I’ve come across over the past few years has had to do with animating potential information of some kind.

Which brings us to Google – and back to Nest. In its first decade, Google was most certainly in the business of animating potential information, but it wasn’t physical information. Instead, Google identified an underutilized class of potential information – the link – and transformed it into a new asset – search. A link is not a physical artifact, but Google treated as if it were, “mapping” the Web and profiting from that new map’s extraordinary value.

Now the race is on to create a new map – a map of all the potential information in the real world. What’s the value of potential information coming off a jet engine, or  a wind turbine? GE’s already on it. What about exploiting the potential information created by your body? Yep, that’d be Jawbone, FitBit, Nike, and scores of others. The potential information inside agriculture? Chris Anderson’s all over it. And with Nest, Google is becoming a company that unlocks not only the information potential of the Web, but of the physical world we inhabit (and yes, it’s already made huge and related moves via its Chauffeur, Earth, Maps, and other projects).

Of course, potential information can be leveraged for more than world-beating startups. The NSA understands the value of potential information, that’s why the agency has been storing as much potential information as it possibly can. What does it mean when government has access to all that potential information? (At least we are having the dialog now – it seems if we didn’t have Edward Snowden, we’d have to create him, no?)

Our world is becoming information – but then again, it’s always had that potential. Alas, I’m just a layman when it comes to understanding information theory, and how information actually interacts with physical mass (and yes, there’s a lot of science here, far more than I can grok for the purposes of this post.) But the exciting thing is that we get to be present at the moment all this information is animated into narratives that will have dramatic consequences for our world. This is a story I plan to read deeply in over the coming year, and I hope you’ll join me as I write more about it here.

Buh-Bye, CableCo

By - February 13, 2014

chromecastWhen it comes to television business models and the endless debate about “cutting the cord,” I consider myself in the “fast follower” camp – I’m not willing to endure the headaches and technical backflips required to get rid of cable entirely, but I sure am open to alternatives should they present themselves. I’m eager for Aereo to get to San Francisco, but until it does, I’ve stuck with my way-too-expensive cable subscription.

My rants on cable’s products (here’s my favorite – still true after 8 years!) and services (please don’t get me started) are well known by friends and family, but because I have had no simple alternative, I pay more than $200 a month to Comcast, who announced plans today to consolidate its market by purchasing one its largest peers, Time Warner.

But in the past few months, a clever, $35 device from Google has started to chip away at Comcast’s grip on my family television viewership. You’ve probably heard about it – it’s called Chromecast. It’s a neat little hack – it looks like a USB storage dongle, but you plug it into any HDMI port on a standard flatscreen. It uses wifi to sync with your mobile phone or tablet, and within minutes you are watching Netflix, YouTube, or your browser on your television. It’s kind of magic, and it’s changed how we watch TV completely.

The reason my Comcast bill is so high boils down to a luxury tax: I get charged something like ten bucks a month for “extra” cable boxes. I don’t *need* these boxes, but if I *want* a TV screen in secondary places (my music room, office, etc.) I have to pay for the privilege. Turns out, I really only use those screens for watching movies and shows on demand. Comcast’s on demand service is so lame, I can’t really describe it here, so I prefer to use NetFlix or Hulu – both of which work with Chromecast. Goodbye, cable boxes!

It’ll be interesting to watch services slowly but – to my mind – inevitably bail on the cablecos. First to go will have to be sports networks – I’d far rather subscribe to the MLB channel than overpay Comcast to see my beloved Giants. I imagine local news will be next – since they are often already available via the web (which you can stream via a Chrome browser).

In fact, there’s a ton of video on the web – much of it very high quality, but there’s really not been much *programming* of that video for audiences who live in a post-cable world. Well, I’ve joined that world, happily, and I hope the programming will soon catch up with the distribution. Chromecast just opened up its platform for third party applications – a big move that could bring a lot of innovation to “television” – something it desperately needs, given it’s been in the grips of monopoly for decades. Buh-bye, Cableco!

 

Bill Gates Active Again At Microsoft? Bad Idea.

By - February 04, 2014

bill(image) This story reporting that Gates will return to Microsoft “one day a week” to focus on “product” has been lighting up the news this week. But while the idea of a founder returning to the mothership resonates widely in our industry (Jobs at Apple, Dorsey at Twitter), in Gates’ case I don’t think it makes much sense.

It’s no secret in our industry that Microsoft has struggled when it comes to product. It’s a very distant third in mobile (even though folks praise its offerings), its search engine Bing has struggled to win share against Google despite billions invested, and the same is true for Surface, which is well done but selling about one tablet for every 26 or so iPads (and that’s not counting Android). And then there’s past history – you know, when Gates was far more involved: the Zune (crushed by the iPod), that smart watch (way too early), and oh Lord, remember Clippy and Bob?

If anything, what Gates brought to the product party over the past two decades was a sense of what was going to be possible, rather than what is going to work right now. He’s been absolutely right on the trends, but wrong on the execution against those trends. And while his gravitas and brand would certainly help rally the troops in Redmond, counting on him to actually create product sounds like grasping at straws, and ultimately would prove a huge distraction.

Not to mention, a return to an active role at Microsoft would be a bad move for Gates’ personal brand, which along with Bill Clinton, is one of the most remarkable transformation stories of our era. Lest we forget, Gates was perhaps the most demonized figure of our industry, pilloried and humbled by the US Justice Department and widely ostracized as a unethical, colleague-berating monopolist. The most famous corporate motto of our time – “Don’t be evil” – can thank Microsoft for its early resonance. In its formative years, Google was fervently anti-Microsoft, and it made hay on that positioning.

Bill Gates has become the patron saint of  philanthropy and the poster child of rebirth, and from what I can tell, rightly so. Why tarnish that extraordinary legacy by coming back to Microsoft at this late date? Working one day a week at a company famous for its bureaucracy won’t change things much, and might in fact make things worse – if the product teams at Microsoft spend their time trying to get Gates’ blessing instead of creating product/market fit, that’s just adding unnecessary distraction in a market that rewards focus and execution.

If Gates really wants to make an impact at Microsoft, he’d have to throw himself entirely back into the company, focusing the majority of his intellect and passion on the company he founded nearly 40 years ago. And I’m guessing he doesn’t want to do that – it’s just too big a risk, and it’d mean he’d have to shift his focus from saving millions of lives to beating Google, Apple, and Samsung at making software and devices. That doesn’t sound like a very good trade.

 

Step One: Turn The World To Data. Step Two?

By - February 03, 2014

housenumbers1Is the public ready to accept the infinite glance of our own technology? That question springs up nearly everywhere I look these days, from the land rush in “deep learning” and AI companies (here, here, here) to the cultural stir that accompanied Spike Jonze’ Her. The relentless flow of Snowden NSA revelations, commercial data breaches, and our culture’s ongoing battle over personal data further frame the question.

But no single development made me sit up and ponder as much as the recent news that Google’s using neural networks to decode images of street addresses. On its face, the story isn’t that big a deal: Through its Street View program, Google collects a vast set of images, including pictures of actual addresses. This address data is very useful to Google, as the piece notes: “The company uses the images to read house numbers and match them to their geolocation. This physically locates the position of each building in its database.”

In the past, Google has used teams of humans to “read” its street address images – in essence, to render images into actionable data. But using neural network technology, the company has trained computers to extract that data automatically – and with a level of accuracy that meets or beats human operators.Not to mention, it’s a hell of a lot faster, cheaper, and scaleable.

Sure, this means Google doesn’t have to pay people to stare at pictures of house numbers all day, but to me, it means a lot more. When I read this piece, the first thing that popped into my mind was “anything that can be seen by a human, will soon be seen by a machine.” And if it’s of value, it will be turned into data, and that data will be leveraged by both humans and machines – in ways we don’t quite fathom given our analog roots.

I remember putting up my first street number, on a house in Marin my wife and I had just purchased that was in need of some repair. I went to the hardware store, purchased a classic “6” and “3”, and proudly hammered them onto a fence facing the street. It was a public declaration, to be sure – I wanted to be found by mailmen, housewarming partygoers, and future visitors. But when I put those numbers on my fence, I wasn’t wittingly creating a new entry in the database of intentions. Google Street View didn’t exist back then, and the act of placing a street number in public view was a far more “private” declaration. Sure, my address was a matter of record – with a bit of shoe leather, anyone could go down to public records and find out where I lived. But as the world becomes machine readable data, we’re slowly realizing the full power of the word “public.”

In the US and many other places, the “public” has the right to view and record anything that is in sight from a public place – this is the basis for tools like Street View. Step one of Street View was to get the pictures in place – in a few short years, we’ve gotten used to the idea that nearly any place on earth can now be visited as a set of images on Google. But I don’t think we’ve quite thought through what happens when those images turn into data that is “understood” by machines. We’re on the cusp of that awakening. I imagine it’s going to be quite a story.

Update: Given the theme of “turning into data” I was remiss to not mention the concept of “faceprints” in this piece. As addresses are to our home, our faces are to our identity, see this NYT piece for an overview.

 

The Four Phases of CES: I, Consumer, Am Electronic

By - January 08, 2014

CESCES is a huge event, one that almost everybody in our industry has been to at least once, if not multiple times. I’ve been going for the better part of 25 years, so I’ve seen a lot of change. And after my first day here, the biggest takeaway I’m getting is a sense of deja vu.

Back in the early days, CES was mostly about exciting new televisions, clock radios, and stereo components. Call that the first incarnation of CES – literally, electronics for consumers. Stuff you plugged in, stuff that “electrified” your life with sound and video.

But starting in the mid to late 1908s, a brash new industry was starting to take over the “buzz” on the show floor – personal computers. PCs were becoming a “consumer electronic” and for the next decade or so, PCs were the “it” industry at CES. The PC era of CES was its second incarnation, and it brought our industry onto the show floor in a big way.

By 2000, CES morphed yet again, and the brash new industry at the center of buzz was the consumer Internet. Yahoo, AOL, and myriad now-dead startups competed for headlines and hot-party tickets. The Consumer Internet marked CES’s third phase change.

A fourth phase came in the last five to ten years – the mobile wave. Nokia and Blackberry, then Samsung, Apple, and Google became major players at the event.

The funny thing is, as each of these waves have hit CES, none of them have eliminated the wave before. CES was always a crazy quilt where you’d find cheesy aftermarket car stereo folks right next to the slickest new laptop, or the latest robotic toy for your kid.

But this year, I think the biggest trend is how these once-separate parts of CES are getting mashed together. In a way, CES is once again all about consumer electronics, but they are all computers now, they are all connected through the Internet, and they are mobile and location aware.

The two biggest stories here are the rise of the connected car, on the one hand, and the Internet of Things, on the other. The auto industry has always been here, but mostly represented by after-market players who did massive car stereo installations. Now every major auto maker is here in force, touting their cars as mobile, Internet-connected experience machines with app stores and serious computing power. Auto makers know their future lies in the marriage of their “platform” – the car itself – with the digital fabric of our lives.

Meanwhile, the other big story is how everything – from babies clothes to the machines that wash them – has become a “consumer electronic” – thanks to the Internet of Things. (Stephen Wolfram has even announced a computable database of “connected devices.”) Autos are simply one more connected device – albeit one of our most prized and expensive ones.

I’m left, after one day of meetings and chance encounters, with the sense that four massive tectonic plates – consumer devices, PCs, mobile platforms, and the Internet – are crashing up against one another, causing chaos, opportunity, and more change than we’ve seen in any previous era. There are few standards or touchstones for how this will all work out, but one thing is clear – at the center of this stands the individual – the “Consumer.” And the essence of who that person is is described by data – data that is computed through devices, platforms, and Internet services. We have a long, long way to go before our industry creates a seamless experience across all consumer electronics, based on that data. But to me, that’s probably the biggest opportunity there is. I’ll unpack this idea in a later post, but for now, it’s off to more CES madness.