Google Glass: “technology closer to your senses”

Google Glass

You’re looking at a new invention that may revolutionize our interaction with digital devices.

Connecting devices to the body, or, at least, wrapping devices around parts of the body, will be the next big thing. Apple is developing a watch that cuffs the wrist and provides information via a curved glass display. Google is going further.

A wonderful story published in The Verge provides lots of interesting insight, for this is not simply a product concept, but a potential shift in the ways that we think about interaction between humans and between humans and machines. Here’s an excerpt:

Human beings have developed a new problem since the advent of the iPhone and the following mobile revolution: no one is paying attention to anything they’re actually doing. Everyone seems to be looking down at something or through something. Those perfect moments watching your favorite band play or your kid’s recital are either being captured via the lens of a device that sits between you and the actual experience, or being interrupted by constant notifications. Pings from the outside world, breaking into what used to be whole, personal moments.

Steve goes on. “We wondered, what if we brought technology closer to your senses? Would that allow you to more quickly get information and connect with other people but do so in a way — with a design — that gets out of your way when you’re not interacting with technology? That’s sort of what led us to Glass.” I can’t stop looking at the lens above his right eye. “It’s a new wearable technology. It’s a very ambitious way to tackle this problem, but that’s really sort of the underpinning of why we worked on Glass.”

I encourage you to go to The Verge report, watch the video (which is on the page), and start thinking differently about a future that may arrive as soon as 2014.

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Amazon: Any Thing, Any Where, Any Time

Amazon-HiddenEmpireFaberNovel is a website filled with interesting, well, I’m not sure what to call these packages of visual information. They’re kinda sorta PowerPoint presentations, but they feel more like a new kind of business book.

Originally, I was going to tell you that there’s a good (updated 2013) story of how Amazon is taking over the world. The presentation, above, tells a compelling tale about how the e-commerce giant has grown, offering considerable detail on the business side, and lots of insight about Amazon’s likely future.

As I went through the 84 slides, I became curious about who was telling the story, and became interested in FaberNovel, the publisher who offers this material under a Creative Commons license. As I browsed, I found an All About Google FaberNovel, too. And another about Google, Facebook, HTML5, the list is both impressive and multi-lingual (that is, presentations are available in multiple languages).

The stories are well-told, simply illustrated, and rely upon diagrams and other simple PowerPoint graphic techniques (nobody will be impressed by the visuals, but the stories are good; Edward Tufte’s magic wand would greatly benefit this material).

I’d start with the Amazon story because it contains so many “oh, that’s why!” or “that’s how, that’s a really good idea” or “what an awesome story of business strategy.” moments. Some of it is likely to be familiar, but it’s unlikely that most people have connected the dots. Sure, 84 pages may seem like a lot, but it’s not more than a half-hour of your life, unless you’re a serious student of e-commerce business.

Interesting discovery.

Innovation versus Institutions

Innovating from inside of an organization is stunning in its difficulty, frustration, and often, it’s difficult to understand why even the simplest of ideas meets with such a high level of friction and sluggish progress. Again, I’ll thank NYU Professor Clay Shirky for his book, Here Comes Everybody, for some sparks that led to this article.

You may recall that my previous post dealt with the connections between the individuals who form a group or a network of groups. Within an organization, those connections are weighted, in part by company hierarchy, in part by control over resources, and in part on the history and fluidity of past relationships. In other words, connections within an organization are often complicated by internal and external factors. And, of course, not every relationship is equally valued. Some connections are stronger than others. You might recall the old 80/20 rule, for example, in which 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people.

Well, it turns out that the 80/20 rule doesn’t much apply to innovation, or to community interactions. If you look closely at Wikipedia–easily the largest informal group enterprise we’ve ever generated as humans–“fewer than two percent of Wikipedia users every contribute, yet that is enough to create profound value for millions of users. Wikipedia would not be possible if there were concern for inequality.” With a publish-then-filter model now overtaking the older, highly institutionalized model of research-write-edit-rewrite-publish, much more gets written, and errors are corrected along the way, particularly in articles that matter. (Those that don’t much matter are rarely accessed, and so, rarely corrected.) So we have a small number of people–nowhere near 20 percent of the total Wikipedia user base–contributing large amounts for an operation that is a nonprofit, not a business.

It’s here that the divergence becomes interesting. Imagine a business taking on the writing of the world’s largest encyclopedia, one that is never quite published, but always exists in draft form. Companies just don’t work that way–they have processes, standards, and overhead, project management, deliverables, and the entire structure of jobs and careers relies, mostly, upon incremental improvements to the status quo. Very large projects are within the reach of larger institutions, but the process of planning, developing, politicking, funding, hiring and moving people…none of it is simple, and there are ample opportunities for slowdowns, moving off track, shifting priorities, and so much more. That’s how institutions work: they perfect processes over time, but they struggle with entirely new endeavors because the status quo makes so much more sense than the risky new proposition. Massive shifts in thinking are not easy to absorb. Large-scale systemic change does not make sense.

There are fewer than 100 copies of the EB print edition still available (but none in this binding). If you want one, click on this link now (don’t wait!).

Except, of course, that significant, often large-scale, systemic change is becoming a new normal. There is no more Encyclopaedia Britannica in print, no more Tower Records stores, no more Kodak film (well, almost none), no more barriers to global video distribution, no reason why a clever sentence or article can’t be seen by millions of people just an instant after the draft is complete.

So status quo is part of the reason why institutions and innovation aren’t always BFF. But there’s another component, equally important: freedom to fail. When an institution fails, it risks funding, loss of customers, and shifts in leadership. When innovators fail, they may cry in their beer on Friday night, but on Monday morning, they’re back at work, having learned from the flop. No shareholder worries, no customer loss (okay, maybe a little), and in the end, probably more valuable learning than systemic damage. So institutions do all they can to avoid failure, and often, this means extracting the heart of a project or venture, or obfuscating, or demanding more analysis, or some other status quo maneuver. And individuals who are part of, for example, an open source community, correct the errors and move on without substantial loss of momentum (because the primary reason for that community’s existence is to DO things and to avoid NOT DOING things). In this shifted paradigm, the institution struggles to make substantive progress, knowing that the less encumbered other may well cause the death of their venture.

Shirky: “Open source is a profound threat, not because the open source ecosystem is out-succeeding commercial efforts but because it is out-failing them. Because the open source ecosystem, and by extension open systems generally, rely upon peer production, the work on these systems can be considerably more experimental, at considerably less cost, than any firm can afford. Why? The most important reasons are that open systems lower the cost of failure, they do not create biases in favor of predictable but substandard outcomes, and they make it simpler to integrate the contributions of people who contribute only a single idea. The overall effect of failure is its likelihood times its cost. Most organizations attempt to reduce the effect of failure by reducing its likelihood…(making safe choices). Open source doesn’t reduce the likelihood of failure, it reduces the cost of failure; it essentially gets its failure for free…cheap failure, valuable as it is, is also a key part of a more complex advantage: the exploration of multiple possibilities.”

What now? If you haven’t yet read Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, do it now. If you’ve already done that, you may take the rest of week off. Here he is at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society talking about his work….

I Want to Watch TV on My iPad (The Plot Thickens)

Here’s the original story published on March 6, 2012:

You’re looking at an array of television antennas. These antennas are used to capture local broadcast signals that you can watch, if you pay a monthly subscription fee, on your computer, tablet, or phone. Aereo (formerly Bamboom) is the company behind the scheme, and, as you might expect, they’ll be spending a lot of time in the legal system as they argue with broadcasters regarding the rights and wrongs of live retransmission (that is, if Aereo is to survive, the broadcast networks want to see monthly cash–just like they receive from the cable operators).

Ah, the free airwaves, the ones that broadcasters use for the public good. Ah, the intellectual property that broadcasters carry over those airwaves, the IP that cable service providers pay to carry. Ah, the unresolved legal gotcha!! Any company that attempts to make those signals available via a secondary distribution scheme must pay for the right, or so say the broadcast networks.

The price for the service? $12 per month. The debut date? March 12. The place: for now, the New York metropolitan area.

For cord cutters, this may be a terrific deal. But it’s unclear whether the courts will block Aereo’s progress, as they have with ivi.tv and others who attempted to climb the walls of the castle without paying the required tribute (or, as I’m adding in my updated version of this article… others who attempted to challenge the current system of copyright and payments for distribution rights to intellectual property).

Slingbox? That’s okay. Over-the-air mobile TV? That’s not ready yet, except in a few markets on a test basis. Watch over-the-air TV? Sure. Watch via cable or satellite? As long as you’re paying for the privilege. Watch on another device? Nope, not yet. Or, maybe the answer is yes. We’ll find out in a few weeks.

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Here’s the update that I wrote on March 12, 2012:

From Bloomberg: Predicting a “great fight” with traditional media companies, billionaire Barry Diller said he plans to expand his new Aereo Web-based television service to 75 to 100 cities within a year, reports Bloomberg.

Diller, speaking at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, noted that efforts by Walt Disney Co. and other media companies to cite copyright violations were “absolutely predictable,” since entrenched companies always protect their turf, the story says.

Want to know more? Here’s a bunch of links:

The tech explanation:

http://www.techspot.com/news/47467-aereo-offers-tv-over-internet-with-antennas-engineered-to-comply-with-law.html

The consumer angle:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/dorothypomerantz/2012/02/29/how-much-are-you-willing-to-pay-to-cut-the-cord/

The business story:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204059804577229451364593094.html?mod=wsj_share_tweet#printMode

The investment story:

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2012/02/14/iac-l20-million-aereo-barry-diller-vc.html?s=print

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Here’s the update as of July 17, 2012

Again from Bloomberg (July 13, 2012): “A U.S. district judge this week allowed Aereo to continue operating while television networks pursue a copyright lawsuit against the company. Aereo captures broadcast signals with small antennas and streams them to devices such as Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad, without paying for the programming.” As a result of the ruling, Diller is now planning a nationwide rollout.

As I pondered what all of this might mean, I read an essay on TV NewsCheck’s website, written by television executive Lee Spieckerman. I contacted him, and we spoke for a while about the ruling and its implications. In short, he believes that Judge Nathan bungled the decision:

“We see loopy rulings from Federal judges all the time, and I think this fits into that category… She misread the governing law!”

Spieckerman’s argument is based in part upon law and in part upon common industry practice. His legal argument tracks back to a 1993 law which requires operators of paid television systems to secure the necessary rights from local broadcasters. The concept is called “retransmission consent” and that ruling has proven to be something of a windfall for local broadcasters as a result of the fees paid by cable operators in exchange for this consent. According to  Spieckerman, these fees are now worth about $2 billion to the commercial broadcast network, plus an additional several billion dollars to local stations. This, plus the additional revenues from political advertising resulting from the Citizens United decision, provide the advertising base necessary for local television news to survive. (Seems to me, we should all understand the economics and consequences of this new approach to journalism funding–a worthwhile topic for a future article). Back to his other argument: “there is no tradition in this country for renting antennas–nobody rents antennas!”

Digging deeper with Mr. Spieckerman, and the real argument emerges. This is all about copyright infringement, and protection of distribution rights associated with intellectual property. Judge Nathan’s ruling begins to disrupt a system by which cable operators compensate owners of cable networks and local stations. ESPN receives $4.69 per cable subscriber–do the math and that’s about $50 per year per subscriber multiplied by 100 million subscribers, and that’s $5 billion per year in subscription fees. Spieckerman believes local broadcast station fees to be 20-50 cents, but acknowledges that these deals are confidential. (Consider that Comcast, Time Warner, and other cable operators charge consumers charge those 100 million subscribers over $1,000 per year–1o0 million x $100 = $100,0o0,000,000, or $100 billion, also good raw material for another Digital Insider article.)

Of course, the local station operators are anxious to negotiate with Diller’s Aereo. And Diller is anxious to go with the Judge’s ruling because it requires no fees. For now, according to Bloomberg,

We’re going to really start marketing… Within a year and a half, certainly by ’13, we’ll be in most major markets.”

To which Mr. Spieckerman counters:

Who is going to be next? This is a pandora’s box, and when you start circumventing and tearing down the few elements there are in the industry and inviting the destruction of an important industry. If I have any intellectual property that I want to distribute, I do not want anybody able to steal my material.”

Moyers to Public TV: Reinvent Yourself!

These are some of my favorite excerpts from an inspiring speech by one of public television’s long-term heroes, Bill Moyers. He delivered the speech in November, 2010 at a gathering of public television programming executives…

“The core problem is that we still don’t have an expansive national vision of what we’re about, where we want to go and what we want to become. Until we are able to say clearly and comprehensively what it is we really want to do, how much it will cost, and how we intend to get there, we can’t blame Congress, the White House or even the foundations for not supporting us more fully.

…There’s a huge vacuum between the [public television] system, nationally and locally, and the big foundations and no one has yet been inspired or capable enough to link the two at the level of a consensus national plan.

There are always people who remain afraid of change or an unknown process, fearful of where it might lead.  But by contrast, the British and Canadians go through periodic charter reviews that invoke a national conversation; there’s a culture of discussion and planning for public media in those nations that help them survive even the worst assaults from detractors or vested interests. This could be a reason that public support for public media in nations like the U.K. exceeds $80 per capita, while we’re still limping along on $1.49 per capita.

…In the meantime, I’m here to tell you that even within the fiscal crisis public television currently faces, we have an opportunity to serve the public — to renew our bond to our communities.

You may not have money for in-depth documentaries or other high-end productions but you have cameras, microphones, studios and the trust of the community. You can be the ombudsman for the public within your reach, provide the venue for forums, teach-ins, town meetings, and debates over the issues that matter to people where they live, telecast in an atmosphere of openness and clarity without the mean and mindless rhetoric or cant that are so triumphant today. Civic engagement is the lifeblood of democracy and the bedrock of its legitimacy. No media can nurture, foster, and empower it the way we can.

…Meanwhile, let me offer just a few other ideas for you to consider:  Take a whole evening of primetime and give it to a forum for the fight in your neighborhoods over charter schools. Do the same for other distressed public institutions — your libraries, for example.

Or how about one week inviting as many social workers as you can get into your studio and asking them to share what they see every day — how people are coping each day with these worst hard times?  Do a series of workshops on Occupy Wall Street, pro and con.  Out there in Iowa, find the lady carrying the placard I saw last weekend on television that read: “I couldn’t afford to buy a politician so I bought this sign.” Bring her into the studio with her local member of Congress — have them talk frankly to each other about their different perceptions of money in politics. Do an evening of primetime on the fight going on right now in your state over redistricting — gerrymandering — the outcome will influence your state’s position and power for the next 10 years. Get folks aware and involved. If you don’t, who will? Certainly not the commercial stations in your market, that’s for sure.

…since David H. Koch of Koch Industries is on the board of both WGBH and WNET, I’d ask him to round up his billionaire buddies — and in a nonpartisan spirit reach out to civic-minded progressive billionaires like George Soros — and together create an independent, fully endowed, self-governing production center (free of any partisan strings or influence) for American drama that would bring our epic history and culture to the screen just like we’ve brought over the Brits’ Downton Abbey, make room for Jefferson’s Monticello! Now, there’s an Upstairs Downstairs story the public would make a pledge to see.

…What we need is a makeover of our own — a rebirth, yes, of vision, imagination, and creativity, but above all a structure and scheme for the 2lst century, one that uses the resources that the digital platform provides to realize the goals of our founders: diversity, public access, civic discourse, experimentation, a welcoming place for independent spirits.

The whole speech–including his idea for public television’s equivalent of a constitutional convention– can be found here:

http://www.current.org/pb/pb1122moyers-remarks.html

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