Cue The Future

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"I'm living in the future, so the present is my past" -Kayne West

Obama’s missed legacy

I’m a big fan of Obama, and have publicly supported him on this blog several times. I think, by in large, he’s done a great job of managing the presidency and engaging in traditional politics — which is, in my opinion, his biggest (and most annoying) failure.

Obama stopped mobilizing his supporters when he took office. His email database, SMS database, and social lists have been relegated to un-targeted and 2nd-rate messages. Used effectively, those tools could have been extremely powerful tools in Obama’s push for agenda items like healthcare.  It would have galvanized and involved a broad audience of people, which would have made the public view of the debate more of a citizen v. citizen issue.

This would have been messier. It might have even cost us healthcare reform. But if Obama pushed his main agenda points by proxy through millions of supporters who signed up to be involved (email/SMS/social), it would have ushered in an age of consistent engagement by forcing the other side to engage their base similarly.

Obama could have created a legacy of being the man who brought the public back into the fold, who engaged the common man more than once a term. That’s one of the many reasons I voted for him — because he represented that promise.  Instead, you hear that “Social Media in the Age of Obama” is all about how this marketing channel is changing campaigning.  Trust me, that wasn’t the part of the process that needed better engagement tools.

The concern of privacy

I read an interesting article on USA Today’s website: “Some ditch social networks to reclaim time, privacy

The reporting is on the trend of more and more people quitting social networks.  What spoke to me most is how much of a minority opinion this was. Here’s a quote:

Lucca, Italy-based Seppukoo helped 20,000 people erase themselves from Facebook after the site launched last fall. Two-month-old Web 2.0 Suicide Machine — where a noose dangles near a ticker tracking the digital mayhem (“181,898 friends have been unfriended, 329,908 tweets removed”) — has been used by 2,600 people. Thousands more are waiting to be accommodated by the site’s small server, says Walter Langelaar, 32, one of three programmers who created the “art project” for Moddr, a media lab in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

20,000 people?

2,600 people?

Facebook has 400 Million active users. Twitter is in the mid 8-digits. Myspace is in the hundreds of millions.

With more users, you’ll have more attrition — I don’t think the “trend” being reported here is much to think about. Facebook has maintained incredible user-activation (50% of it’s users log-in daily). The examples in the article are clearly  from a minority.

My friend Ben Casnocha posted yesterday about privacy, RIP Privacy and Identiy Synthesis on the Web.  It’s a good read, and I would wager he would agree with my statements above, especially given his statement that: “many users do not understand how their personal information is tracked and displayed. But I do not think the majority mainstream users of any age care and I think no young people care. Young people will soon replace old people.”

Ben and I may be buying slinkys on this one, but the privacy argument is becoming moot.  Here’s my outlook:

  1. There are still large risks associated with giving up privacy, but far fewer than decades past.
  2. Our culture is clearly headed to sharing more, not less, information.

Bottom Line:  Privacy is dying. We are wasting our time trying to save it. Instead, let’s make the world safer for those who are living out in the open — because pretty soon, the majority of us will be.

It sounds radical, and full of the brashness of youth, but… I’m pretty sure it’s correct. I think that message needs to be spread wide and far. And I don’t just mean removing the risk to US Citizens like those profiled in USA Today above, I mean protesters in Iran. As Jonathan Zittrain noticed in a talk I attended last year, Iran could pretty easily/cheeply use Amazon Mechanical Turk to identify and persecute dissidents (starts at 32:45).  The safety of privacy will increasingly be an illusion that can be destroyed almost at-will by those with real power.

You want that in twitter friendly length?  No problem. Put this in your pipe and tweet it:

“Focus on making the world safer for living without privacy — soon, you won’t have any left.” /via @tylerwillis  http://bit.ly/bOdSSN

The creator of Gmail on the iPad

I’m a big fan of Paul Buchheit, the guy coined “Don’t be evil” and created both Gmail and Friendfeed. Now he’s working at Facebook, cooking up exciting things I’m sure.  He’s wrote a post about product design, using the iPod, iPad and Gmail as examples today. It’s a great read if you’re thinking about how to build a new product.  It is required reading for all entrepreneurs.

He thinks about the iPad similarly to me, which makes me pretty excited — when smart people come to the same conclusion as you entirely separately, you are on to something; and Paul is very, very smart.  I’m humbled and excited.  Here are excerpts from our two posts, back to back:

Here’s what I wrote:

The most impressive innovation, and the one that truly makes Ambient Computing possible, was the A4 chip.  That chip is at the hart of the new devices speed and responsiveness. While, I hope this new chip design extends to the iPhone in the future, it currently, makes the iPad capable of near-instant boot and it empowers applications to be incredibly responsive.  It removes all of the experience associated with computing other than getting into your desired program and completing your goal.

If Apple has built a machine that almost entirely removes the starting cost of completing an action on a traditional computer (which, even in good scenarios, often takes 20-30 seconds on non apple machines), then it has created a machine that’s much more capable of capturing cognitive inspiration from it’s owner – making you, as the user, more likely to act on your ideas.  Apple is already good at this (going from sleep/closed to working on a new macbook is generally a sub-10 second proposition), but carrying a laptop with you everywhere is a nuisance, and pulling a computer out of your bag for a 1 minute task in most situations is awkward (and often rude). Smartphones already handle these issues well, but they are generally sluggish and unreliable for anything but the simplest tasks.

If I was Scott Forstall, I’d be focused on empowering applications that resonate heavily with this crowd:  cookbooks come to mind, board games also, news/photos/communication will be killer (and already are on the machine), what else?

Here’s Paul’s take:

So where does this leave the iPad, with it’s lack of process managers, file managers, window managers, and all the other “missing” junk? I’m not sure, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I spend more time browsing the web from my iPhone than from my laptop. I’m not entirely sure why, but part of it is the simplicity. My iPhone is ready to use in under 1/2 second, while my laptop always takes at least a few seconds to wake up, and then there’s a bunch of stuff going on that distracts me. The iPhone is a simple appliance that I use without a second thought, but my laptop feels like a complex machine that causes me to pause and consider if it’s worth the effort right now. The downside of the iPhone is that it’s small and slow (though the smallness is certainly a feature as well). That alone guarantees that I’ll buy one to leave sitting next to the couch, but I’m kind of atypical.

Ultimately, the real value of this device will be in the new things that people do once they have a fast, simple, and sharable internet window sitting around. At home we’ll casually browse the web, share photos (in person), and play board games (Bret’s idea — very compelling)…

Jersey Shore: isolation as a requirement for insular cultural groups

If you haven’t heard of MTV’s newest reality show: “Jersey Shore,” then you might be living under a rock. It follows the (mis)adventures of 7 Italian-Americans spending the summer partying at the Jersey Shore.

I wasn’t a watcher, but I got to enjoy some of the more choice quotes through my co-workers (thanks guys!). However, yesterday my roommate threw a few episodes on during a lazy Saturday morning.

What hit me is how much I was reminded of a line from Goodfellas where Karen starts getting introduced to the culture of being a mafia wife:

“there was never any outsiders around, absolutely never… being around each other all the time made everything seem all the more normal.”

Any community that engages in activity that the general public finds unsavory, faces a lot of pressure to conform to the group. Avoiding the general public is an effective defense mechanism against this pressure, but ends up creating a feedback loop where that group becomes more isolated and gets less feedback from the general public.

Is isolation a requirement for counter-cultural groups?

Just to be clear:
The show has caught a LOT of flack for promoting negative Italian sterotypes. These 7 self-described “guidos and guidettes” are definitely pretty polarizing figures. It’s hard to justify their status as nationally televised personalities (read: potential role-models), but I’m not going to pass judgement on them. They are young party-goers who are not particularly unique in prioritizing the fun of a highly-sexualized party lifestyle over more socially redeeming pursuits.

My take is that any blame here fits squarely with the network execs who are exploiting the choices of these young adults through a slew of reality programs (Real World, Road Rules, etc.).

Steve Jobs changes computing (again)

Dear Reader,  I apologize for the length of this article. It’s actually two articles smashed into one.  All together this post will take roughly 5 minutes to read.  I generally like to keep my posts shorter, but, I felt this level of completeness was required to deliver you any real value in a topic so loudly discussed as this product launch.
Thank you for reading.  -Tyler Willis

Today marked an historic announcement. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about Obama’s first State of the Union, but rather Steve Jobs’ unveiling of the new iPad.  So, how has Uncle Steve changed the game? Let’s take a look.

A perfect machine for Baby Boomers

I’m convinced the iPad is the perfect unit for a selling into a large market that hasn’t been catered to yet, has plenty of disposable income, and is would benefit the most immediately from what we will all come to recognize as a new type of computer: Baby Boomers.

At the time of the 2000 census, there were more than 79-million Baby Boomers in the US whom are now starting to slow down the pace of their daily lives as they transition towards retirement. Their personal computing needs (outside the office) aren’t very intensive — they communicate via email, read the news, share photos, maybe use video chat and do light research.

So, it would seem that current laptop or desktop computers do far more than is necessary for this audience.  And since added complexity often causes frustration, there may be a better solution. What would the perfect “home computer” for a boomer look like?

That machine would be:
– Simple to understand and use
– Quickly capable of completing tasks (see below)
– Be available whenever and wherever a need to interact with the digital world arose.

Here’s what that computer should be able to accomplish:
– Email/Calendar
– Booking movie tickets or reservations online
– Looking up references (online recipes, fact checking, manuals, etc.)
– Video chating with their family
– Storing pictures of family trips or events
– Occasionally doing light amounts of work
– Online Banking
(note: this is not intended to be exhaustive list,)

When you think about a machine that handles those common tasks well, and does so in a very responsive and always accessible way, the iPad is really the first good answer (more will follow if the iPad is successful).

Apple creates Ambient Computing

This type of machine represents a new concept — Ambient Computing.  Ambient Computing is robust enough to handle most computing tasks but requires much less effort to access than a traditional computer.

The most impressive innovation, and the one that truly makes Ambient Computing possible, was the A4 chip.  That chip is at the hart of the new devices speed and responsiveness. While, I hope this new chip design extends to the iPhone in the future, it currently, makes the iPad capable of near-instant boot and it empowers applications to be incredibly responsive.  It removes all of the experience associated with computing other than getting into your desired program and completing your goal.

If Apple has built a machine that almost entirely removes the starting cost of completing an action on a traditional computer (which, even in good scenarios, often takes 20-30 seconds on non apple machines), then it has created a machine that’s much more capable of capturing cognitive inspiration from it’s owner – making you, as the user, more likely to act on your ideas.  Apple is already good at this (going from sleep/closed to working on a new macbook is generally a sub-10 second proposition), but carrying a laptop with you everywhere is a nuisance, and pulling a computer out of your bag for a 1 minute task in most situations is awkward (and often rude). Smartphones already handle these issues well, but they are generally sluggish and unreliable for anything but the simplest tasks.

Bridging the accessibility of a mobile device with the robustness and trustworthiness of a full computer, will appeal to the large audience generally — which will grow over time.  But, Apple’s best bet for establishing this device category is to put up impressive sales numbers for the first model.  There’s also a huge immediate ability to replace the standard machine for lightweight home PC users – like baby boomers, as outlined above — or families, as outlined by Kottke.  If I was Scott Forstall, I’d be focused on empowering applications that resonate heavily with this crowd:  cookbooks come to mind, board games also, news/photos/communication will be killer (and already are on the machine), what else?

Sure, there are fairly unacceptable limitations like no camera, no easy solution for printing/scanning periphery, and questionable support of other screens (TV) for media content, which will have to be ironed out in V2. There are also broader reaching issues that might cause trouble for Apple: like the lack of flash support and the inability to show and track most web advertisements in mobile Safari. But with the hardware improvements announced today, the content and consumer-billing relationships Apple has built, and the knowledge that they can improve over several generations (do you remember the first iPod?), I think we are looking at a large market that Apple has a good chance of succeeding in.

That’s why I’m bullish on the iPad. With the keyboard dock, this could be a full-on replacement PC for some non-power consumers (Think of  WebTV — and trust me, WebTV users didn’t need multi-tasking). For heavier users, this still provides a great “ambient computing” experience that can allow someone to act on their immediate thoughts with far lower effort (creating more personal value), while still having a more robust machine capable of handling more demanding tasks.

I’m concerned about the movement away from open systems, but, that doesn’t change the writing on the wall for this type of device need — kudos to Apple for seeing and defining a great first step at an ambient computing device that I expect to become a category definer.

Great job Apple.

Ancillary thoughts that might be interesting to you:
– Who called this first?  Carl Howe back in 2005?
– I think the computing setup of the future looks like cheapish, durable long-term machines at home and work (think mac mini), smartphone for always there, and a “slate” for heavier-duty work that can travel with you. Phones and slates will change every 1-2 years, the stable machines will go 4-6.  Heavy duty tasks (ex: quickbooks), will migrate towards the slate over time.  At some point, you’ll see home/work machines becoming just docks/enhancements to the “brain” of your slate.  Slates will have to allow for more open computing for this future to occur (i.e. the iPad technology will have to run/support full OSX.
– Many of my friends hate the lack of multi-tasking. Let me make a bold statement: multi-tasking is not important in ambient computing, which, by it’s nature, will be most useful for single tasking.  Multi-tasking is a nice to have, but one that threatens Apple’s music sales (streaming pandora vs. using itunes) and encourages pundits to classify the machine as a replacement computer (hmm, kinda like I’m doing above), which Apple doesn’t want as it would set consumer expectations for the device too high and possibly cannibalize laptop sales (which are much higher margin right now).

About the Author

Tyler Willis is the Vice President of Business Development at Unified, which builds enterprise marketing technology for brands and agencies.

This blog is about how the future will affect technology, marketing, and the things we care about most. Learn more about Tyler.

Speaking

Tyler is a featured speaker and instructor for The American Marketing Association, and is a popular speaker on topics related to social marketing and how technology is changing our lives.

Recent engagements:
- South by Southwest
- American Marketing Association
- TMP Directional Marketing Client Summit

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Lightweight Update

I write infrequent (quarterly at most), semi-formal updates of what I'm doing and thinking.


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