[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.
[This is a reply I left recently to a Global Futures question about the near-future of the web. It goes a little off-topic at the end but such is the risk of systems analysis. Everything's connected.]
Within 10-15 years mobile devices will constantly interact with the world around us, analyzing objects, faces, signage, locations, and anything else their sensors can engage. Camera viewfinders will identify visual sources using algorithms to match them up with cloud data repositories. Bluetooth and GPS will interact on sub-channels silently exchanging relationships with embedded sensors across devices and objects. A user’s mobile device will become their IP address hosting much of their profile information and mediating relationships across social nets, commercial transactions, security clearances, and the array of increasingly smart objects and devices.
Cloud access and screen presence will be nearly ubiquitous further blurring the line between desktop, laptop, server, mobile devices, and the objects in our world. It will all be screens interfacing between data, objects, and humans. Amidst the overwhelming data/content glut we will outsource mathematical chores to cloud agents dedicated to scraping data and filtering the bits that are pertinent to our personalized affinities and needs. These data streams will be highly dynamic and cloud agents will send them to rich media layers that will render the results in comprehensible and meaningful displays.
The human sensorium and its interaction with reality will be highly augmented through mobile devices that layer rich information over the world around us. The digital world will move heavily into the natural analog world as the boundaries between the two further erode. This will be readily apparent in the increasing amount of communication we will receive from appliances, vehicles, storefronts, other people, animals, and even plants all wired to the cloud. Meanwhile, cloud agents will sort through vast amounts of human behavioral information creating smart profiles and socioeconomic and environmental systems models with incredible complexity and increasing predictive ability. The cloud itself will be made more intelligible to agents by the standardization of semantic web protocols implemented into most new sites and services. Agents will concatenate to tie services together into meta-functions, just as human collectives will be much more common as we move into increasingly multicellular functional bodies.
The sense of self and our philosophical paradigms will be iterating and revising on an almost weekly basis as we spread out across the cloud and innumerable virtual spaces connected through instantaneous communication. Virtual worlds themselves will be increasingly common but will break out of the walled-garden models of the present, allowing comm channels and video streams to move freely between them and the social web. World of Warcraft will have live video feeds from in-world out to device displays. Mobile GPS will report a user’s real-world location as well as their virtual location, mashing both into Google Maps and the SketchUp-enabled virtual map of the planet.
All of this abstraction will press back on the world and create even greater value for real face-to-face interactions. Familial bonds will be more and more cherished and local communities will take greater and greater control of their lives away from unreliable global supply chains and profit-driven corporate bodies. Most families will engage in some form of gardening to supplement their food supply. The state itself will be hollowed out through over-extended conflicts and insurgencies coupled with ongoing failures to manage domestic civic instabilities. Power outages and water failures will be common in large cities. This will of course further invigorate alternative energy technologies and shift civic responsibilities to local communities. US manufacturing will have partially shifted towards alternative energy capture and storage but much of the real successes will be in small progressive towns rallying around local resources, small-scale fab, and pre-existing economic successes.
All in all, the future will be a rich collage. Totally new and much the same as it has been.
The folks over at Twitchboard.net have the right idea. From their site:
TwitchBoard listens to your twitter account, and forwards messages on to other internet services based on what it hears. Our first service will automatically save any links you tweet to the del.icio.us bookmarking service. We’re working on connections to many other services — stay tuned!
This simple tool is a software agent built on the web platform. It lives on a server as a script watching your personal datastream – Twitter, in this case. The initial service notices when you have put an url in your tweet, grabs it, and passes it along to your del.icio.us account as a bookmark. It effectively concatenates two web services together to optimize your workflow and eliminate the need to double post. It extends the function of Twitter to include the function of Del.icio.us
recapitulating the phylogenetic imperative evolving from unicellular function to multicellular. Twitterl.icio.us!
Twitchboard represents the emerging class of cloud agents that will help us sort and search the massive volumes of data we interact with regularly. Our connections are getting too dense and the data we’re working with is growing far too big for us humans to handle manually. We need subroutines customized to our interests, affiliations, businesses, and collaborations that can do the heavy data lifting for us while we focus on the meaningful expressions these agents will create for us from the noise.
Increasingly we’ll have swarms of such agents running across our digital lives doing our bidding and the bidding of numerous marketing and security agencies as well. These tools will have particular value across the enterprise where they will monitor workflows & financial movements, gather market data from clouds, and sift through productivity metrics to formulate valuable business intel. Agents will tell us about our lives and our health delivering colorful abstracts with pretty animated datasets showing how much we drove this week, how many miles we walked, tasks completed vs. outstanding, and much more feedback based on an array of scripts & sensors.
Twitchboard is using the fertile comm grounds of Twitter and it’s API to watch the datastream for keywords that can drive additional services. You can bet they’re also deriving all sorts of interesting meta-patterns from the Twitter feed that will be plugged into further modular mashups and visualizations. Through it’s popularity and the openness of it’s API Twitter is lighting a roadmap towards the semantic web. Groups like Twitchboard are building the services reading the machine web and helping us better manage the mountains of data piling up, meanwhile giving rise to a class of autonomous agents moving across devices, sensors, cameras, and clouds.
[Kudos to Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb for mentioning me & this post in her column!]