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20 Years Ago (Part 3): Yahoo, the Web, and Love at First “Site”

A few months passed between when I first heard about the web in January 1994 and when I actually saw it for the very first time. And that’s probably a good thing, since early 1994 was the exact period of time in which “dot coms” exploded on to the world wide web1, rapidly extending the diversity of web content far beyond its original subject matter, particle physics.

In April of 1994, when I finally downloaded Mosaic, I headed straight to the one site known to make it super-easy to discover and experience all of that new and diverse content: Yahoo. But I didn’t get there by typing “yahoo.com”.

It is true that the site had just embraced the short, fun, and memorable name, Yahoo, after operating for a few months with the unwieldy moniker “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”. But, hard to believe now, once they chose the new name, Jerry Yang and David Filo did not immediately secure the yahoo domain. (In fact the site would not start to operate as yahoo.com until January 1995!) As a result, all of us who heard about Yahoo by word-of-mouth sometime in 1994 had to also know and correctly type the URL associated with Jerry’s workstation on Stanford campus: akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo2.

Below is the Yahoo I saw (or as close as we can now get; this screenshot is from some unknown date between April and December 1994). It may look ungainly to you now, but for me, and for so many others, this was the page that made the web a case of  “love at first site”:

Yahoo 1994

With this proto-Yahoo, if you had interest in a specific site or topic, you could quickly navigate the site’s hierarchy and find what you were looking for. But if you were curious, bored, or just new to the web (as most of us were), the awesome top-level navigation was where the action was. With the total number of servers on the web doubling every three months, What’s new? What’s cool? What’s popular? and “Random link” provided the perfect options for exploration and serendipity. Like so many others, I quickly became addicted, coming back multiple times a day to find new sites, and to watch the exponential growth of the web across a large and growing number of content categories.

What sorts of cool, new sites might one discover via Yahoo?

One of my early favorites was “IUMA” (short for the Internet Underground Music Archive). Years before Napster, this site let you discover and download digital music (in the MP2 format) from hundreds of indie bands. Hard to believe, but CNN had already done a short piece of them in March 1994. Well worth a watch:

(BTW, I’ll have more to say about IUMA in a future post, but that story comes later in the year.)

I’d love to show you more of the web from Spring of 1994, but almost all of the sites that inspired me then are now long gone.

To be continued

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1Insight from the model I built, starting with data from M.I.T.’s Matthew Gray

2From a great article on Yahoo on History-Computer.com

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20 Years Ago (Part 2): The Web of January 1994

[This is the second post in a series looking back on 1994, the year in which the web transitioned from a platform for scientists to a commercial interaction medium. At the end of my first post, set in January 1994, I revealed that I didn’t know what a web server was.]

How could I, a product manager at a company that sold high-performance UNIX workstations and servers, not know what a web server was? The simple truth is that in January 1994, I had never seen nor heard of the web. Hardly anyone had.

Through a bit of online archeology, I now know that the total number of web servers in existence at the time was less than 8001 – and they were almost all of the “.edu” flavor2, hosted at places like CERN and SLAC. And although there’s no count of how many people were on the web at the time, my best estimate is 3.7 million3.

The web of January 1994 is largely gone, and cannot be re-constructed. But, believe it or not, in that month some folks at Georgia Tech’s Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center did what must be the very first web-based survey attempting to characterize the users of the “world wide web”. James Pitkow and Margaret Recker were trying to learn things like: which browsers were people using, how frequently were they surfing the web, and some basic facts about who those early adopters were (and to see whether, as they believed, the web would be a better platform for surveys than email had been).

And even more surprising than knowing such a survey was done so early, is discovering, as I did a few days ago, that the original survey and its results are still online!

So, let’s use those survey results to travel back in time to a very different web than the one we experience today. First up: gender. Apparently, the web of January 1994 was, to put it mildly, a bit of a boys club. Males accounted for a whopping 95% of respondents. I assume this says far less about the web than it does about the professions that were among its earliest users. (Physics, I’m looking at you!)

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And these folks diverged from the mainstream in another significant way. They were not surfing the early web on commodity hardware from the old “Wintel” duopoly. No, 92% of them were on UNIX workstations (and most likely enjoying always-on broadband connections via Ethernet, versus slow, intermittent connectivity via dial-up).

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Remember the browser war, when Microsoft and Netscape fought each other, tooth and nail? Well, that was still a ways off, as Netscape did not yet exist, and Microsoft had no plans for making a web browser. Nonetheless, the browser question offered no fewer than five choices, listed alphabetically (Cello, Lynx, Mosaic, Other, and Samba). As it turns out, that was three choices too many. Mosaic, developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at NCSA and released less than 12 months earlier, had completely taken over, accounting for 97% of respondents! (The remaining 3% were using Lynx, a text-based browser developed by Lou Montulli, Michael Grobe, and Charles Rezac at University of Kansas).

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It’s also interesting what the survey reveals about the utility of the early web. With fewer than 800 total servers on the web, it’s easy to imagine that usage would be fairly infrequent. Quite the contrary; 20% of respondents used their browser more than nine times a day! Another 18% accessed the web 5 to 8 times a day. And another 42% reported one to four times a day. Together, that’s 80% of early users finding the web so essential that they used it every single day.

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You can see all of the graphs here, and read the full paper here. Who knows just how representative this data is of the whole of the web at the time? But as far as I can tell, it is the only such dataset of its kind from that time period, so let’s be thankful that it exists, is online, and can be read by modern browsers.

To be continued

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1The number 800 comes from a model I built, starting with data from M.I.T.’s Matthew Gray, which counts 623 servers in December 1993 rising to 2,738 by June 1994.

2Also from Matthew Gray

3The 3.7 million estimate I backed into, based on data for 1995 through 1999 from Internet World Stats, with year-over-year growth of approximately 110%

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20 Years Ago (Part 1): A Very Good Month

[1994 was an historic year, both for Silicon Valley and for me. So, this will serve to kick off a series of “20 Years Ago” posts to try to capture some of the missing history from the year when the web began its transition from something just for science and academia to an exponentially-growing interactive medium for everybody. This first post focuses on the first month of the year. And to put it in perspective, January 1994 was the month in which Jerry Yang and David Filo launched “David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” which they would later be rename “Yahoo!”.]

20 years ago this month, I got my “golden ticket” into Silicon Valley.

I had graduated from Stanford Business School seven months earlier, but between an economy still slowly emerging from recession and having an undergraduate degree that was neither engineering nor computer science1, I struggled to find a full-time job at a tech company. But by December of 1993, I had managed to land a very promising contractor position at Silicon Graphics in the “low-end” division that had recently launched the company’s newest product, the Indy workstation. And that proved to be quite fortuitous in a number of ways.

First off, Silicon Graphics was going to have its first-ever presence at MacWorld Expo a few weeks later, and, strangely, everyone seemed keen to let “the new guy” take the marketing lead, not just for the low-end division, but for the whole company. (This, despite the fact that I didn’t know any of our products in depth, hadn’t been to a MacWorld, and had never organized a major trade show presence.) There was a lot to do, with great urgency, and there would be a big spotlight on my effort. So, whether I succeeded or failed, the results would be spectacularly visible.

Second, the guy who hired me as a contractor, the Indy product manager, was already eyeing his next role, a chance to participate in the birth of a new division within the company, something called Silicon Studio, that was setting out to create high-end authoring software for interactive multimedia content. But for his transfer to be gladly accepted, he had an obligation to find a back-fill for his current role. And so, when I managed to not screw up our debut at MacWorld2, I essentially got hired and promoted at the same time, stepping into the shoes of the guy who had signed me to a try-before-you-buy contract just weeks before!

sgi_logo1

Soon, I would enthusiastically tell anyone who would listen that I was thrilled to have “the best job in Silicon Valley.” Why? Because I was the freakin’ product manager for the newest, sexiest, highest-volume product for what was clearly the hottest company in Silicon Valley. Yes, now but a dim memory, in 1994, Silicon Graphics was so hot that it was featured in a BusinessWeek cover story, breathlessly entitled “The Gee-Whiz Company”.

In that feature, Rob Hof would describe us as “the most magical computer maker on the planet” and then go on to report:

In an industry marked by huge hype, Silicon Graphics is the genuine article: a truly innovative company with clearly unique products. “They’re the new Apple,” says Morgan Stanley & Co. analyst Steven M. Milunovich. Then, mulling Apple’s recent struggles, he corrects himself: “The Microsoft of computer graphics.”

So, there I was, no longer searching, having landed at the best possible place, with the best possible job. That alone was enough to make January 1994 a very memorable month, but there was one more door about to open for me. And it was to a far bigger opportunity – but one that would take me more than a few months to fully grasp.

It started with an invitation in the mail to a party celebrating Wired magazine’s first anniversary.

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[Photo credit: The Original Wired Magazine, 1993 on Facebook.]

I was a Wired fanboy. I’d read every issue cover-to-cover, and even tried landing a job there a few months earlier. So I was thrilled to get an invite (likely only as a result of spending a lot of Silicon Graphics marketing dollars at MacWorld). The event was in San Francisco, in a huge brick warehouse on Third, near Wired’s headquarters in South Park. Back then there weren’t very many startups in San Francisco; that was yet to come, with Wired to serve as “ground zero” for the City’s emergent “dot-com” scene.

At a time when most people thought of technology as boring or nerdy, Wired managed to make computers, software, and networking seem as edgy as a new designer drug and as wild as a rave (at a time when those were a thing). So, dressed all in black, I put on my new Doc Martin boots, and headed out from my Lower Haight apartment, ready to rock.

Looking back now, I can hardly distinguish that particular party from many others in the ‘90’s – dark setting, loud music, drinks, packed crowd. What I do vividly remember, thought, is meeting Jonathan Steuer, who worked at Wired and had the tantalizing title of “Online Tsar”. I suspect he is the very first person I handed a business card with “Indy Product Manager” on it. Once he heard where I worked and what I worked on, Jonathan got very excited.

“I want to use Indys as the web servers for a project I’m working on,” he said.

“Awesome,” I replied, without missing a beat. “Just one question – what’s a web server?”

To be continued

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1 Although my first major at M.I.T. was Physics, mid-way through my sophomore year I did the unthinkable and shifted over to the Humanties department, majoring in Creative Writing

2 MacWorld ended up being a great event for Silicon Graphics. Here’s a great quote from a piece in the San Jose Mercury News by David Plotnikoff, entitled The house party at the end of the Interactive Highway:

Raster Masters, a team of performance artists from Silicon Graphics, put on the best demo of the week, in the McBean Theater. The live interactive graphics show was downright seamless. The performance, which featured algorithm technology developed recently at NASA, was an M.C. Escher-meets- Brian Eno-on-acid kinda thing. They should have required seat belts in the theater.

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Life as an “Explorer”

I’ve had the very good fortune of being part of the Explorer program for Google Glass for two weeks now. In an upcoming post, I’ll give a full review of the product, but for now I thought it would be interesting to share what it feels like to be among the earliest non-employee users of this revolutionary new platform.

First off, I’d say the Explorer program is a brilliant (and necessary) move. There’s no doubt that Glass is both revolutionary and controversial. Reactions to the product are all over the map, and it’s going to take society a while to get comfortable with this new generation of technology. So, having a small group of early adopters acting as ambassadors for the product makes a ton of sense. I’d also say that this is a program well suited to confident extroverts — and one that I imagine would be quite painful for all others.

Wearing Glass in public generates lots of reactions, ranging from stares, to audible murmurings (“Glass!” “He’s got Glass!”), to lots of unplanned conversations with complete strangers. Glass is a conversation starter with familiars, too, like the folks working the cash register at my local coffee shop and grocery store.

I’ve now discussed Glass with over 100 friends, family members, familiars, and strangers — and let more than 40 of them try the product. The reactions can be grouped into two buckets: fear and loathing; and curiosity and joy.

Fear and Loathing

There are definitely some folks freaked out by Glass. Not so much by what it actually does and how I find myself using it, but by what they think it must do. These folks, mostly men and mostly over the age of 30, assume the device is constantly recording, or at the very least wearers of Glass are constantly and secretly snapping photos. Common reactions from this crowd are:

  • Are you recording right now?
  • Don’t take my picture.
  • Why do you need those?
  • Take those off!
  • You look ridiculous.

Conversations about Glass with those who have already formed a strong negative opinion tend to go poorly. I’m keen to help people understand how the product works, and what I like about it, in hopes of dispelling some of the misconceptions. So far, I don’t think I changed anyone’s mind. Oh, well.

Curiosity and Joy

Fortunately, even more people think Glass is a wonder to behold. These folks come in all ages and genders, but I’ve noticed a certain pattern; everyone under the age of 18 that I’ve discussed Glass with is very excited by the product.

Folks in the curiosity and joy camp tend ask a lot of questions, like:

  • What are those?
  • Are those glasses?
  • What do they do?
  • What are you seeing?
  • Do you work at Google?
  • How much do they cost?
  • How did you get them?

Letting the curious try on my Glass is almost always a rewarding experience. At the grocery store a few days ago, a young man working there asked me a few questions. He had never heard of Glass and had no expectations of what it might do. I offered to let him try them on, but he said “no”. He asked another question, though, so I offered one more time. “Just for a second,” he said. And when he put them on, and saw a few events on my timeline, his face lit up with an enormous smile. “Oh, my God!” he said, and it sounded like he was having a religious experience.

Here’s someone in the curiosity and joy camp:

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I will admit that part of the fun of the Explorer program, especially at this early stage, is that despite the freaked out minority, wearing Glass around Silicon Valley feels a bit like how I imagine it feels to be a celebrity. I’m noticed wherever I go, and strangers are keen to engage with me in really positive ways. Some have asked to get their picture taken with me. Curious.

There’s an interesting irony here: right now, in wearing Glass, I’m giving up some of my privacy, as I no longer blend into the crowd. But that seems only fair, given the privacy concerns of others about this new product.

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Recalling the Early Days of the Web

I was there at the birth of the web, and I’d like to share my story…

(I’m not talking about the awesome sprouting of the underpinnings of the World Wide Web in the early ’90’s at physics research hubs like CERN and SLAC, but rather the Big Bang of the commercial web that rapidly emerged upon that foundation in 1994 and 1995 at a bunch of startups across Silicon Valley, unleashing one of the biggest waves of game-changing entrepreneurship the world has ever seen.)

I was at the veritable right place at the right time for this once-in-a-career opportunity, having become the product manager for the Indy workstation at Silicon Graphics (SGI) in early 1994. That bright blue UNIX “pizza box” (which, painfully, I admit most of you have probably never heard of) was truly at the center of the action at the earliest days of the commercial web.

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You see, the Indy workstation was the development platform for Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at NCSA when they created the Mosaic browser. And it became the primary software development and web-serving platform in the earliest days of Mosaic Communications Corporation (an electrifying startup, founded by Marc and SGI’s founder and recently departed Chairman, Jim Clark, that would soon change its name to Netscape). And it was the sexy server hardware proudly used by some of the most prominent sites of the early web, including HotWired (the first online magazine), Organic Online (the very first interactive ad agency), and Virtual Vineyards (not only the first online wine seller, but the very first web-based retailer, period). As Indy’s product manager, I had a unique opportunity to follow my product into one of the most rapidly exploding markets in the history of computing — an opportunity I seized with gusto.

But as it turns out, those very early days of the commercial web, long before the “dot com bubble” of 1998 and 1999, are, for the most part, ironically and tragically ungoogleable. Of course, the Way Back Machine gives some glimmers of the old days, but its earliest records go no further back than 1996. And while Wikipedia has posts that give some of the backstory, the fact is that very little remains of the websites, press releases, and news stories of 1994 and 1995.

So, I believe that now is a good time for me to start writing down my memories of that historic time. With luck, it might inspire others to come forward with their own anecdotes.

In the coming weeks, I plan to share first-hand accounts of the inside stories behind a number of industry “firsts,” including the first advertising deal of the web, the first business-oriented web conference, the first platform-wide licensing deal for Netscape, the first visual HTML editor, the first web server product line, and the first licensing deal for Java. Back then, we cared a lot about what print publications wrote about us, so I hope to include some photos of long lost pubs, like Interactive Week. :)

If you were a part of those stories and want to add to the narrative, please email me or add your comments along the way!

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Glass: the Most Important Product since the iPhone

Okay, so we’re some number of months away from the Google’s introduction of Glass to the world, and much has already been written, but I wanted to add my thoughts to the conversation. Why? Because so much of what I’ve read so far either leans toward skepticism or, while positive, takes a fairly narrow view of what I think will be a real game-changer. Let me outline why I believe that Google Glass will prove to be the most important product since the iPhone…

A New Primary UI

The iPhone put an always-connected computer in our pockets, giving us a new way to access and interact with the digital world. But as much as I love smartphones, there is something sad about our addictive fixation with their tiny, smudgy, bacteria-covered screens. Glass promises to be a great liberator, offering a new primary UI to so many things:

  • Your smartphone: While some see Glass as competition with smartphones, I am confident that being able to access my iPhone without taking it out of my pocket will make me use it and love it even more. Instead of fumbling for the device in my pocket, unlocking it, and swiping, clicking, or typing to get to what I need, I’ll have the power of the iPhone always available to me, right before my eyes, and controllable by voice command. I also suspect that Glass will make me even more curious about how switching to an Android smartphone might enrich my life. Google has a huge ecosystem-type opportunity to make the combo of Glass + Android smartphone as awesome as the interplay between my iPhone and my Apple TV.
  • Google: The coolest moment for me in the recently released promo video for Glass (embedded above) was how they used the company name not just as a verb, but as a command. Yes, you will soon be able to “Google” anything, anytime, anywhere, simply by saying, “Google” and what you’re looking for. Imagine what impact that will have at scale for Google’s core business. Glass will solidify Google’s dominance of search as the web enters its third chapter with a UI that is omnipresent and natural.
  • Your cloud: Glass will also serve as a UI to your own Google-hosted cloud services, not only giving you super-convenient access to your stuff, but more importantly giving you a dramatic shift in the most important constraints around sharing: convenience and privacy. Expect Google to make it easy, fun, and rewarding to stream ever more of your life to their cloud (whether or not you choose to share it to others).
  • Your “people layer”: Of course, the ambitions of Glass intersect with the strategic imperatives of Google+, and give Google a not-to-miss second chance to define how we share our life moments with the people we care about. Hangouts are clearly a big part of the plan, though the forward-facing POV camera seems better suited for new kinds of virtual presence sharing scenarios. It will also be very interesting to see how Glass acts as an interface to social platforms not owned by Google. Pay close attention to what comes of Mark Zuckerberg’s fascination with this game-changing UI to social. Might Google and Facebook finally find a common ground?

Together, I expect this new, way-more-accessible UI to drive an order-of-magnitude increase in my picture taking, video shooting, searching, map usage, and so on. Google will end up knowing way more about me — and, in return, deliver to me ever-more personalized and proactive services. And I am totally cool with that.

A New Compute Platform

A new primary UI to your digital/online world is, of course, a pretty rare and extraordinary thing, but Glass is some much more than just an elegant UI layer. It is nothing less than a new generation of compute platform as transformative as the four generations that came before it: mainframe, mini, personal computer, and smartphone. Glass ushers in the era of wearable computing.

If Glass emerged from any of the other tech titans, there would be a question about whether or how much it would be “open.” But this is Google, so we can expect open-ness to be a central and defining feature of the platform. Expect a robust app economy to emerge — one that takes full advantage a new three-tier model: Glass + smartphone + cloud.

Actually, it’s even richer and more complicated than that. For Glass is but one type of wearable computer. Apple’s rumored to be working on an iWatch, and there are already several fitness tracking devices on the market. Over time, expect Glass apps to interconnect with an ever more diverse network of sensors on (or in) our bodies.

A New Google

Just as the iPhone re-invented Apple, the introduction of Glass is re-defining moment for Google. What has been almost exclusively a software company will now become a consumer electronics company. I wish them much success in this big transition.

Update, 3.7.13:

I got to test drive Glass this evening, out and about in downtown Palo Alto, and I stand by the title and substance of this blogpost more firmly than before. Three takeaways from the experience:

1) Huge convenience factor. While waiting to be seated at a crowded restaurant, I needed to know if there was a risk I’d be late to pick up my daughter. Instead of pulling out my iPhone, I just tilted my head up slightly and saw the time. Awesome! More importantly, my beloved iPhone, so central to my life, requires me to pull out my reading glasses. Glass? Not at all. I found the display remarkably crisp and easy to read without my reading glasses. And that was true, whether looking at a photo I had taken, a map, or the menu items. (Also, the speech interface works amazingly well in a noisy environment.)

2) Super comfortable. A lot of folks are worried that a computer on your face would be heavy and awkward. In my testing, Glass was as comfortable as my reading glasses or a pair of sunglasses. Very well designed, even though first generation. Imagine what Moore’s Law will do for this new product category.

3) Glasshole” or rockstar? Many try to put Glass down for being awkward from the perspective of fashion and social comfort. I’ve thought for months that wouldn’t be a problem, and that, instead, the high-end price tag and great design would give the product a “luxury halo”. After experiencing the reaction in a pub and a restaurant, I’d have to say the skeptics will be eating crow. Wearing Glass in 2013 is awesome. Strangers come up and engage with you. People notice you enter the room. Friends ask lots of questions. It’s a bit like being a rockstar (at least in Palo Alto).

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Where I’ve Landed

After a wonderfully restorative break, it is now time for me to jump back into startup land…

I am pleased to announce that I’m re-uniting with another legendary Plaxo alum, Blake Commagere, and joining his startup, MediaSpike, as the company’s COO. We’re building a revolutionary new advertising platform for digital product placement in social and mobile games. The company is aligned with the inevitable future of advertising, which will be less about interruption and distraction and more about encounters between people and brands that are contextual, digital, and interactive – and when done correctly, loved.

Here’s recent coverage of MediaSpike in TechCrunch. Our awesome backers include Google Ventures, Raptor Ventures, 500 Startups, and Team Downey (Robert Downey Jr.’s production company), and more.

For those wondering how big an opportunity this is, consider how dramatically the media landscape is changing and what that means for marketers:

  • Gaming is on the rise (at the cost of other media), with humans now spending over 3 billion hours a week playing video games.
  • In the digital world, attention is shifting at an accelerating pace from the desktop to smartphones and tablets (in the process, threatening established forms of online advertising, especially banner ads).
  • Spurred by the continued rise in DVR-based time-shifting and commercial-skipping, brand advertisers are shifting more and more of their spend toward product placement (with paid product placement projected to top $6 billion in 2014).
  • Despite concerns about how best to do mobile advertising, it is already huge ($2.6 billion in U.S. and $6.4 billion worldwide) and expected to grow rapidly (reaching $11.9 billion in U.S. and $23.6 billion worldwide by 2016).

Bottom line: the attention economy is undergoing a tectonic shift away from traditional media and the desktop and toward smartphones, tablets, and interactive digital content. Advertising needs to be reinvented for this new world, and the folks who figure it out will be digging into tasty slices of a very large and rapidly growing pie.

So, if you’re a marketer for a major consumer brand or a developer of an interesting social or mobile game, please join the revolution. (You can reach me at: john at mediaspike dot com.) Onward!

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An Amazon Wishlist: The Top 3 Features I Really Want Added to My Kindle

To the Kindle team at Amazon:

I am a very happy recent convert to eBooks, having finally purchased a Kindle when the new generation of your e-Reader product line was announced last Fall. As hoped, I am reading more books now than I have in years, due to my Kindle Touch’s combination of eye-friendly e-ink, great form factor, easy sampling, and frictionless purchasing. (Plus, having a bit more free time at the moment.)

But, after reading a bunch of eBooks in recent weeks, I keep running into parts of the Kindle user experience that clearly fall short of the full potential of a cloud-based digital book service. (See my recent post on creating consumer services that are radically more personalized.) Perhaps the following three features on my wishlist are already in your near-term product pipeline, but if not, please consider adding them. Your customers will be happier and more engaged, and you will sell way more eBooks!

Feature One: Transform all Book Titles into Links. Okay, this one seems obvious (at least to me), but the implications of it are revolutionary. Most of my reading in recent weeks has been non-fiction. I am learning about a bunch of different topics that I’ve been meaning to research. Each book I read makes dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of references to other books. Oft times, I think, “Oh, I really should read that book next (or soon).” If you rendered all book titles inside Kindle eBooks as links, each reference would give me the chance to order a sample (or make a purchase) on the spot, then continue on with my reading. This would obviously be great for your business. Plus, in the process, you would end up building the strategically potent Web of Books. More on that in a moment…

Feature Two: Embrace the “End of Book” Moment. Getting to the end of a great book is always a magical moment, a time to pause, take a deep breath, and marvel at humanity’s unique ability to capture and transmit learning through the written word. But in the digital domain, it is also a chance to suck the reader deeper into their relationship with the author, the subject, and Amazon itself. You already let people rate and review books (and other products). Why, oh why, is that option not presented to me at the moment of finishing an eBook? After all, I am in a “signed in” state, so it would be pretty low friction for me. And while you’re at it, surely there are a bunch of suggestions you can make for what books I might want to read next (even if I don’t give you any feedback on the one I just finished). Among the lists of suggestions should be “Books referenced in this book” and “Books that reference this book,” leveraging your ever-growing Web of Books.

Feature Three: Connect to the Social Web. Okay, it is 2012. Is there really no social integration on the Kindle? After I finished my last eBook, I really didn’t know what book to buy next. So I posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus to see what my friends would suggest I read. The process was fun and engaging, but it could have been so much better. When I finish reading an eBook, make it easy for me to share that out to my social networks (along with a link back into Amazon’s Web of Books). As I’m reading, I might also want to also passively share what book I’m reading to my “intimate social graph” on my new obsession, Path. And, of course, the more you mash up the Social Web and the Web of Books, the better your recommendation engine can be. You can extend it further by mapping between Facebook likes (of books, authors, bands, etc.) and your Web of Books, and automatically suggesting eBooks that I ought to find interesting. This is just the tip of the iceberg for social.

Thanks in advance for listening. And apologies to my relatively new 55″ Samsung TV (purchased via Amazon), who is feeling a bit jealous all of a sudden, as I spend less time watching TV and more time reading eBooks on my Kindle. :)

[Oh, and when Joseph Smarr reviewed a draft of this post, he pointed me to this video from Kevin Rose, in which he shares his own feature wishlist for improving e-Readers, including some smart ideas for social integration (in the second half of the video).]

Okay, one last thing…

When I sample an eBook and decide to purchase it at the end of reading the sample, please give me an easy way to jump into the purchased book at the place where the sample ends.

[Update: Amazon PR reached out to me to let me know that some of these features already exist. Specifically, some of the end-of-book options, like rating, sharing to connected social networks, and seeing recommended books. I appreciate the outreach, and am glad that some of this is already “there”. That said, I think that especially for non-fiction books, these features are buried, since I (and most readers), don’t page through every page of notes at the end of the book. So, I didn’t find these features until I went specifically looking for them. Might there be a way to elevate them?]

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The consumer tech Megatrend for 2012: Pervasive Personal Clouds

It’s once again time for making predictions for the coming year. Here I go (with thanks to all who contributed thoughts on key trends in recent weeks via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and face-to-face)…

Expect four big waves to smash together in 2012 to create a single megatrend that will rock the consumer tech sector for years to come. The familiar waves of Cloud, Mobile, and Social will fuse with a new, but rapidly emerging wave of Connected Devices to unleash a virtual sky-full of “Pervasive Personal Clouds.” These clouds will enable the delivery of radically smarter, more adaptive consumer services that will delight you in unexpected ways by knowing way more about you: who you are, where you are, your history of usage, your tastes, who your friends are, what they like, and more.

Privacy may not be dead (yet), but you will find yourself increasingly happy to hand over your personal information in exchange for better service, more control, or both. And if you’re a service provider, you need to think about how you can tap these new capabilities to meet a competitive bar of personalization that will be rising rapidly.

Pervasive Personal Clouds

Before bringing it all together, let’s first look at each of the four component waves:

Cloud. What’s exciting about cloud computing in the consumer landscape is its duality: not just all of your data and content “up there,” safe, secure, and accessible to you anywhere/anytime; but also an ever-growing mountain of data about you and your usage of any given service. Together these lay the foundation for “Personalization 2.0,” a complete rethinking of what service means.

Mobile. Smartphones move the liberating power of your personal computer off of your desk and into your hands, and that is a game-changer. But there’s more to come, as your smartphone becomes your all-in-one, always-with-you device, gaining capabilities well beyond that of a PC. Already, this location-aware, networked-computer-in-your-pocket has taken on the functionality of phone, web browser, Walkman, game system, camera, camcorder, television, nav system, watch, and more. More recently, it has started to become your wallet and your cash register. And in 2012, it should start become the authoritative, automated, device-based form of your identity that will unlock an amazing world of truly personalized experiences in your home — or wherever you go.

Connected Devices. Ironically, as the smartphone subsumes the capabilities of ever more standalone devices via its expanding sensor payload, Moore’s Law enables an explosion of other, smaller/embedded devices, previously not possible to manufacture. Digital, Internet-connected devices are popping up around our houses (for example, Nest, disrupting the sleepy thermostat market)  and on our bodies (Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Zeo sleep monitor, etc.), able to interact with the cloud and our mobile devices. The combination of Cloud, Mobile, and Connected Devices signifies a tectonic shift to the “post-PC” era. Expect surprises in 2012 and beyond, as connected devices get small enough to fit into the buttons on your shirt or jacket.

Social. The last of the four waves (and historically the main topic of this blog) is less a technology trend and more a major cultural shift in attitudes and behavior toward sharing and privacy. It was fascinating to watch, when a few years back Facebook went from a college-only community to something accessible to adults of all ages. It could easily have gone wrong — with the adults coming in and spoiling all the fun. Instead, they adapted and embraced sharing in a way they never had before, and the party just got better. Over the years, Facebook has continued to move us all toward ever-more-open sharing — and they’re not done with us yet! Watch as “frictionless sharing” in 2012 goes from something only young folks think is normal to a mainstream behavior.

Pervasive Personal Cloud megatrend. Together, these four elements form the Pervasive Personal Cloud, a radically better way of delivering consumer services by knowing way more about you than was ever possible previously. This approach to consumer services changes the dynamics of how information is gathered (taking out all of the friction), how user experiences are personalized, how content/features/products are discovered (social vs. search), and how that discovery turns into consumption.

And these changes will play out across every major vertical and horizontal market — and invade or create a wide variety of niches. You will have your entertainment cloud (comprised of your music cloud, your video/TV cloud, your news cloud, and more), your communications cloud, and your personal productivity cloud, of course.

But you will also have your personal health cloud, which will shift the balance of power from the medical establishment to you. Your personal health cloud may include your running cloud, your sleep history cloud, you blood cloud, your genomic cloud, and, ultimately, your human biome cloud, and more. (For more info on this trend, see Larry Smarr’s 10-year quest for quantified health. And, yes, Larry’s the father of my former partner-in-crime, Joseph Smarr, and he has inspired me to get my own personal health clouds up and running. More on that in an upcoming post.) BTW, do you know how much of your typical night of sleep is comprised of the mysterious, dream-filled, learning-and-memory-enhancing REM phase? I do:

Hey, hey, you get off of my cloud! (Or not.)

But in what other ways will these Pervasive Personal Clouds impact the balance of power between vendors and consumers? Expect to see very interesting tension between two opposing forces: cloud lock-in and cloud disintermediation.

One the one side, Apple, Google, and Amazon, among others, will seek to habituate and addict you to their various cloud services. My favorite Steve Jobs quote from the recent Isaacson bio is, “I’m going to take MobileMe and make it free, and we’re going to make syncing content simple. We are building a server farm in North Carolina. We can provide all the syncing you need, and that way we can lock in the customer.” (“Maniacal laugh. Maniacal laugh.”)

The opposing force is Facebook, likely to surpass 1 billion active users in 2012, and aiming to be a new kind of middleman, helping consumers discover and connect with the various cloud services through frictionless sharing. In that model, companies like Spotify, Hulu, and Netflix can enjoy hyperviral growth in exchange for piping all of their users’ activity streams into the Facebook data vault. What happens if Facebook decides to use this data to make it easy to switch from one cloud vendor to another?

It will be fascinating to watch. Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe we should all pipe more and more of our personal cloud services through Facebook, in order to minimize vendor lock-in.

What do you think? Exciting or creepy?

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Tunerfish/Comcast/Plaxo: What a ride!

Today is my last day at Tunerfish/Comcast/Plaxo — and the end of my longest ride in Silicon Valley (a sequence of positions that started in March 2006 when I joined Plaxo as the company’s first VP of Marketing).

I’m proud to have played a key role in the turnaround of the Plaxo brand and product, a re-invention that helped pave the way for the acquisition of the company by our largest customer, Comcast, in May 2008 (one of the best exits of the year, especially given the economic meltdown that followed). While at Comcast, I had the great privilege of founding and leading Tunerfish, a new business unit in what would become the white-hot market space of social TV. I took Tunerfish from concept to secret skunkworks, to launch at TechCrunch Disrupt, and on to what is now a really great service, built by one of the best product design and development teams I’ve ever worked with. In short, a fantastic run!

But I’m a startup guy, not meant for a long stay at a huge corporation, and it is now time for me to head on to my next Silicon Valley adventure.  (BTW, If you’ve got an interesting consumer Web startup that could use a seasoned product/marketing/business leader, I’d love to chat.)

I will really miss the awesome folks at what is now the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center (home to four teams working on the future of entertainment and communications), and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the great stuff under development there roll out in the coming months. In particular, I’m keen to see how the Tunerfish team brings social/discovery/personalization features to the Xfinity touchpoints in millions of homes — and how they’ll continue to evolve my favorite social TV app.

Oh, and I’ll also miss the awesome view from the office, overlooking the dirigible hangars at Moffett:

Onward and upward!

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