[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
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.
My thoughts submitted to the Adobe Reader Blog for the post Take the Adobe Reader Survey. As a former Adobe employee who worked on Acrobat & PDF I have a lot of personal interest in seeing the format grow and evolve.
The growing public perception is that PDF is too bulky and increasingly too opaque for the networked world. This is because PDF’s have not kept up with the prevailing trends of transparency, findability, and collaboration. PDF is important as a container with certain rights & privileges (DigSig, Security, Markup, Forms), but the data inside a PDF is far more important. Currently, PDF’s are way too opaque, too bloated, and do not clearly convey value to most users. This is especially true on mobile (why would I chose to view PDF on mobile if not required by an enterprise I need to engage with?). For most enterprises and customers, PDF is a cloud of data more than a display standard. It’s value is no longer in consistent display of fonts and formatting. It’s in the data within the millions of PDF’s that the IRS has, for example. Even as a Forms front-end it’s difficult to see why Reader/Acrobat is a better solution than a robust customizable Flash interface. The Flash-based Portfolios feature is a step in this direction.
How can Reader add value to the massive volumes of archival PDF that already exist? Answer: 1) replace Reader with a robust, customizable Flash front-end, and 2) engineer semantic data* into new & existing PDF’s so that cloud agents can sift through the documents and return meaningful results. Both of these strategies should focus heavily on supporting Live Cycle for both distilling and evaluation of PDF’s.
The static viewer model is dying. People need to be able to search, sort, find, annotate, and share. Reader is already too heavy to be of value in a browser, much less on a mobile device. Any mobile solution must dis-aggregate formatting from data and be able to dynamically reconfigure the display to present only the important data/form elements to the mobile user. At the very least, PDF’s need some serious reformatting before they can be of any real value on the mobile platform. There’s just not enough real estate. Furthermore, any PDF-mobile solution must begin with the realization that mobile = personal, collaborative, locative.
If Adobe doesn’t do this, you can bet there will be lucrative opportunities for others who understand that the value of data is no longer in it’s formatting. It’s in accessibility and structured reporting. Frankly, any business intelligence solution that doesn’t address the growing heap of PDF’s lying in their servers will fail to really leverage their own data effectively.
* I think I’m starting to use the term “semantic” a bit loosely. Essentially, I’m suggesting that Acrobat should engineer active creation of RDF structures inside PDF COS and as header info. PDFLib should extend to support both writing & reading of this framework. Likewise, top-down text analysis should spider both doc text and COS to construct relevant metadata (RDF & taxonomies) written into the PDF file header. The point is to make PDF’s as transparent & searchable as possible to those actors & agents with access rights.
When Redmonk’s James Governor opined that Cisco might make a play for Adobe Systems, bells went off in my head. It suddenly made a lot of sense and made me realize I should really be paying more attention to Cisco.
Cisco competing with Apple? Who would have thunk it? To really make its ambitions count I believe Cisco will make a play for Adobe, filling out a video internet value chain from low to high production to the web.
Adobe is arguably the predominant enabler of web video, with much of the web firmly invested in Flash and all of it’s platform components & accessories. Cisco knows how to make hardware and has not been at all shy about their goals in the consumer digital market, pursuing rich internet-enabled media on set top boxes and in TVs. Recall not too long ago the legal battle with Apple over the term “iPhone”. And at CES in January Cisco is expected to introduce a new line of consumer media products.
Cisco Systems, the dominant provider of the digital pipes that run the Internet, is making a big play in digital entertainment. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January in Las Vegas, it plans to introduce a new line of products, including a digital stereo system that is meant to move music wirelessly around a house.
That is the first small move in a long-term strategy to take on Apple, Sony and the other giants of consumer electronics. Cisco is working on other gadgets that will let people watch Internet video on their televisions more easily. And its biggest bet is that people will want to use a version of its corporate videoconferencing system called Telepresence to chat with their friends over their high-definition televisions.
While this article notes the looming battle with Apple & Sony it should be considered that the set-top and video market is clearly of interest to Adobe, as well as the obvious similarities between Telepresence & Adobe Connect for video conferencing solutions. Cisco & Adobe are both invested in the Open Screen project but the relationship between the two will surely get closer whether or not some sort of acquisition is in play.
The strategy for Cisco, of course, is to encourage more high-bandwidth content running through all those Cisco routers that will need to be upgraded to keep up with the throughput. There’s no greater bandwidth hog than video and its just exploding with the boom in cheap consumer video hardware and turnkey hobbyist solutions. Adobe would be wise to pursue the authoring side of this hobbyist video boom, and focus on an aggressively marketed, cross-platform Premiere Express solution, as well as developing an ecology for video capture and publish from mobile devices. Meanwhile, their set-top Flash initiative will continue to intrigue Cisco and if the two are not already talking to make sure Cisco is using Flash everywhere possible, then somebody at Adobe needs to get busy and make it happen.
It remains to be seen whether Cisco might make an acquisition play or Adobe but it seems likely that the future of the two companies will be tightly coupled.