Patterns: Technology & Culture – January 2009

[This is the first of what I hope to be regular notes and analysis on some of the current prevailing trends in technology and, uh... culture.]

1. Video telepresence & “presence-based telecommunication services”
Instant messaging, Twittering, and the explosive rise and symbiosis of online video and consumer mobile capture are creating a seismic shift in communication, reporting, and collaboration across the globe. From 3rd world African fisherman using mobile IM to coordinate catch-and-sell markets for the best returns, to CNN partnering with Facebook to bring participatory democracy to new vistas during the 2009 inaugural ceremonies for President Obama , the era of instant communication is getting closer and closer to standard run-time procedures for much of humanity. This level of communication is extraordinarily compelling for numerous reasons, yet for the most part it has not yet been considered a core guideline for enterprise-scale operations. While some companies are starting to get the value of broadcast push-to-many networks, and some have been using internal IM solutions informally, most are now using telepresence video solutions for meetings and presentations.

Who to watch: Cisco & Adobe, mano a mano. Cisco is pushing the future of its online meeting service, TelePresence, in ads showing civic installations of 2-way video walls connecting towns across the world. Adobe continues to market it’s Flash-based teleconferencing solution, Adobe Connect, as a desktop and hosted service, via Acrobat.com. Of course, anything that drives more bandwidth through those increasingly clogged arterial Intertubes makes Cisco very happy. Video is huge and hosting more and more of it will require companies to budget for bigger & better routers to handle the throughput. Any win for Adobe & Flash is a win for Cisco. Any loss for Adobe is also a win for Cisco. Also, watch for anyone gaining traction in securing IM channels or building Twitter-like solutions for internal enterprise deployment.

Related: Video. Cisco & Adobe again heading into the same territory with internet TV’s, telepresence, and the might of Adobe Flash. But with 1080p & h.264 support, combined with their hardware wizardry, Cisco is well-positioned to capitalize on bringing Netflix & the web straight to your TV. Cisco is the new gorilla in the corner that people should be paying attention to. But don’t take your eyes off Google cause they certainly want a piece of the video ad pie.

2. Business Intelligence, Personal Intelligence
The term “business intelligence” has been around for a while but it’s showing up more and more across the tech world as traditional business practices begin to leverage emergent technologies to better manage their enterprise. Businesses can now track vast amounts of data in great detail across numerous channels, both internally and in the marketplace. As they face growing piles of valuable information, the enterprise is beginning to realize the powerful advantage of proactively managing both its acquisition & management through rich client dashboards. Such dynamic dashboards are allowing precise interrogation of vast stores of transactional data rendered in elegant and easily-digestible visualizations. Have a look at the Nasdaq Adobe AIR dashboard as an example of modern data management. New tools are evolving to better serve the same goal: help business know itself and its customers better.

Naturally, people are also finding ways to use these technologies to manage and optimize their behaviors, hence the emerging filed of Personal Intelligence. Tools and services make it simple for users to collect and analyze data on energy consumption, caloric intake, weight loss, menstrual/fertility cycles, family budgets, and innumerable other niches including the extremely compelling world of the Awakened Consumer. Some offer web services or desktop apps but the mobile web platform that many humans now have with them at all times is becoming the ideal place for capturing behavioral metrics, crunching the numbers, and displaying trends in pretty graphs and animations. Often these apps include access to relevant social networks where users can share tips & results and find the camaraderie & encouragement that’s so helpful to effectively changing habits. Again, the goal is the same as in business intel: help people know themselves better and manage their own behaviors successfully.

Who to watch: In BI, SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, and Adobe PDF. All of these players should be radically re-evaluating their klunky, out-dated UI and static approaches to data structuring. They should be building semantics directly into their database and wiring up elegant and flexible dynamic front-ends that allow customers to get more out of their data. These application should make the user more effective at their job, not force them to interface with an overweight bureaucratic intermediary. (And don’t even get me started on forms…) Not only should these folks be rebuilding their software but they should very intelligently consider what data, forms, and formatting really mean in the mobile landscape. It’s not as easy as porting PDF to mobile or reconfiguring the SAP front-end to fit in a phone window. Mobile solutions for enterprise data must be appropriate to human use, first and foremost, and should ditch any allegiance to the existing desktop solution.

In PI, honestly the most interesting stuff is happening on the iPhone. Personal management apps like Carbon Tracker, LoseIt!, BrainHack, iPeriod, BP Buddy Blood Pressure Helper, & GoodGuide enable people to better engineer their habits towards their goals and empower them to make better decisions about their actions as consumers.

Related: The Semantic Web. Also called Web 3.0, the notion is that the present web exists as a uniquely human endeavor, consisting mostly of text and images from which we humans are readily capable of extracting meaning & relationships. However, software is not so adept at making inferential connections and understanding context. Semantic architects seek to standardize the approaches for building a relational context that can be understood and used by agents. They look at descriptive frameworks like XML, RDF, approaches like Sparql, & OWL, as well HTML-based microformats to build both bottom-up semantics and top-down context and taxonomies. Services like Amazon Also Recommends leverage contextual relationships to make product recommendations based on key text in your current selection. For both BI & PI, the result is much greater efficiency and relevance for intelligent agents tasked with the Herculean tasks of sifting through ridiculous amounts of data to fish out the key bits most important to you.

The most active and visible players in the semantic game are Reuters/Calais, AdaptiveBlue, Powerset, and Expert System, but be sure that Google is heavily invested in this initiative. While the W3C is sorting out the plan we may all suddenly turn around and realize Google just built the semantic web. When heavyweights get behind a particular solution it tends to become a standard.

3. Crowd Content & Citizen Journalism
For the inauguration of Barack Obama, CNN partnered with Facebook to bring to the presidency what CurrentTV & Twitter brought to the election: direct broadcast user participation. CurrentTV mashed up tagged Twitter messages with the live streams of the presidential debates. Next to its inauguration stream, CNN included a live feed from Facebook users commenting on the swearing-in ceremonies. Suddenly, the audience became part of the broadcast. With Adobe, Cisco, Microsoft et al chomping at the bit, you can expect this kind of participatory content to be on your TV screen soon. Those crazy news ticker overlays crowding around Greta Van Sustren or whatever talking head will include tweets from Jim Bob in Philly. We are the new empowered crowd. Of course, industry & enterprise beware: the empowered crowd can rebel and turn into a mob.

Combining location-aware telepresence & instant communication with cameras & publishing tools, smartphone mobile devices are empowering users with the ability to capture and broadcast local events with unfiltered and immediate reporting. When a police confrontation occurred on a rail platform in Oakland, Ca. bystanders immediately pulled out their mobiles and started recording. The resulting public videos of deadly force exercised by an officer drew major media attention and impacted the ability of courts to manage the evidence. When US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River last week the first reports were issued from passengers and nearby boat crews via mobile SMS to Twitter, then quickly broadcast out across social networks. Increasingly, some of the most significant global events of the past year – the Chengdu earthquake, the Mumbai terror attacks – have arrived to the masses first via Twitter. Mobile devices and broadcast services like Twitter are wiring people to the global cloud as ground-level sensors. We are the broadcast nodes.

Who to watch: Facebook & Twitter, of course. CNN, CurrentTV. And watch the major print & broadcast networks as they scramble to get with the times or perish. Also, city municipalities who will (eventually) leverage these tools to generate business intelligence for managing their communities. Expect increasing challenges to notions of privacy and surveillance, as well as a surge in mobile and web applications that build reporting tools & broadcast functions into social networks.

And one final aside: Autodesk. Building energy analysis directly into their BIM and CAD applications, designing advanced multitouch HIC solutions, and even opening their own Soma tech gallery to show off their magic, Autodesk has been kicking serious ass and is a model for how to evolve the enterprise to meet the times.

7 comments

  1. admin

    Other trends to watch:
    - PC-to-TV streaming; viewer empowerment (Boxee).
    - set top on-demand movie rental (Netflix, Blockbuster).
    - TV’s with direct web access (Cisco, Adobe/Intel).
    - Adobe Flash getting all up in TV/Movie menus; will enable mashup w/ viewer commentary, social groups.
    - How will set-tops differentiate services from direct web TV’s?
    - Netflix leading the pack into direct HD to set-top/TV.

    [I'll probably address some of these more deeply in future Patterns.]

  2. admin

    I just found out about HumanConcepts. They make software that models the possible outcomes of workforce re-deployments. Very interesting meta-analysis for business intel. From their website:

    Reacting quickly to change is imperative to success. This means understanding your workforce and being able to quickly shift directions. Whether your organization is growing, reorganizing or merging, it is essential to make informed decisions and take action.

    [My Twitter comment was "I wonder if they modeled me out of a job..."]

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  7. Game Marketing

    Because of numerous cultural elements that a specific to a place or territory, a video game, already released in some places and that looks completely problem-free in one place may be looked upon as the devil incarnate once released in a new territory. This is one of the reasons why video game adaptation – unlike translation- is extremely important for video games.

    However these facts raise an important questions: when does the “localization” of content stop being “localization” and turn into full-on “censorship”? Should gamers accept this?

    I will show you a simple example, Yakuza 3 on PS3 shows well how thin the frontier between censorship and localization can be. A lot of gamers complained because some scenes and important elements of the games where changed when the game made it to US.

    Now the question is: do all of these elements actually required to be changed? Isn’t that just based on a stereotype that American gamers tend to be more religious and concerned about nudity and violence? I assume that someone purchasing the third installment in a game series would normally have a pretty good idea as to what kind of content they were getting into, especially with a series such as Yakuza, which is relatively well-known. The games even receive ratings similar to films, giving the consumer an even better idea of what the game in question contains.

    Most of gamers are reasonable adults who just want to enjoy the game as it is, instead of playing an edited, censored version of it. So please, developers, think of gamers first when you are localizing your games.

    Game translation is not censorship and should be adapted to players in a certain territory.

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