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!

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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.

SGI_Indy_front

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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More Fire Power for Google’s Social Web Team

Early this morning, the Social Web TV broke the news that Chris Messina is joining Google! This follows on the heels of Joseph Smarr’s announcement in December that he would be leaving Plaxo to join Google. The new episode is entitled “Another one bites the dust” and it’s must-see Social Web TV…

TechCrunch has picked up the story from Chris’s post.

Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s

Kaliya's computer

It’s all too easy to view the first decade of the 21st Century as just an unmitigated series of disasters: September 11th, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the meltdown of the global financial system, to name just a few.

But the 2000s also saw continued acceleration in the advance of technology and its impact on society, as we continued to ride the exponential curve of Moore’s Law. So, let me offer my “Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s”…

The Dot Com Bubble Collapse. (Yes, even this list starts with a disaster.) We entered the new decade and the new century drunk with optimism that recessions were a thing of the past, with a firm belief that the Internet’s transformational power had created an unprecedented “long boom“. And then, in March of 2000, the Bubble burst, sending Silicon Valley into a multi-year “nuclear winter.” Internet companies of all sizes imploded, unemployment rose, buildings went vacant, vendors started requiring cash (rather than asking for equity), and the venture capital fire hose turned into a trickle.

Broadband and Wi-Fi. While many of us licked our wounds and wondered whether Silicon Valley would ever recover, the underlying fabric of the Internet just kept getter better. Broadband access crossed over from early adopter to mainstream, and Wi-Fi hotspots spread like wildfire, fueling a rapidly growing addiction to the Internet. Ten years ago, most of us sipped the Web through dial-up straws; now we expect high-speed access everywhere, all-the-time.

Google IPO. In the first half of the 2000s, one company defied the pessimism and came to symbolize the hope of a return of the good old days. Google reminded us that the Bubble was less about the true Silicon Valley and more about the madness of irrational investment behavior on Wall Street. And their profitability and growth were so strong that they could do what no one else could since the collapse — pull off a tech IPO. Heck, they not only IPO’d, they dictated their own terms to the Street, with a Dutch auction in the summer of 2004. Indeed, for most of the 2000s, Google was the undisputed hottest company of Silicon Valley. [Correction: Dave McClure points out that another high-flier, PayPal, was the first tech IPO, post 9/11. He's got a lot of other great additions, too, so be sure to read his comments. Thanks, Dave!]

Blogging. Though blogging started in the ’90′s, it would take until the middle of the 2000s for it to become a powerful mainstream force. But by decade’s end, sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, Techmeme, CNET, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat, and ZDnet, among many others, had completely transformed how we discover, consume, and create tech news. And it wasn’t just tech. The power of blogging was transforming every facet of the news business, from politics to sports — and even to the paranormal, like when a Bigfoot hunter held a press conference in Palo Alto.

YouTube. In the ’60′s, it was said that “the revolution will be televised”. In the 2000s, it became clear that it would be uploaded to YouTube. The video sharing site blasted off from the emerging “Web 2.0″ scene in early 2005, rocketed to mainstream impact, and got acquired for $1.6 billion by Google — all in less than two years! Suddenly, Silicon Valley was once again a place where a few people could get together, build something innovative, have big impact on the world, and get ridiculously rich in the process. The Web 2.0 revolution was in full force, with hundreds of new companies with funny names popping up all over, embracing user-generated content and social virality.

Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and team did not invent social networking, but they apparently internalized all of the right lessons from those that had come before, including Plaxo (the first socially viral “people layer” network, founded by Sean Parker, Cameron Ring, and Todd Masonis), Friendster, and MySpace. Facebook exploded out of Mark’s dorm room, riding a potent exponential growth curve that continues to this day, propelling Facebook to the center stage of the Internet industry — and finally giving Google a run for the money in the “hottest company in Silicon Valley” category.

Twitter. As the 2000s come to a close, a new contender is rising, not from Silicon Valley, proper, but from the Ground Zero of the Dot Com Bubble of 10 years ago: San Francisco. Twitter, a darling of the early adopter set, launched at the cool geek confab, SXSW, in 2006, and remained decidedly niche for so long, that many thought it might be remembered primarily for its “fail whale”. But Twitter eventually connected with celebrities and mainstream media outlets, like CNN, and the chirpy little bird soared into the stratosphere.

Ereaders (Kindle, nook, and more to come). Books are one of the most important inventions in human history. Major breakthroughs (like the Internet) are often compared with the impact of Gutenberg‘s movable type press from the 1400s. As the 2000s are coming to a close, “ereaders” are revolutionizing the concept of a book, turning it from a physical object to a digital item pulled from the clouds. In the coming decade, the impact will be enormous.

Apple, iPod, and iPhone. For a company that almost died in the ’90s, the 2000s have been a truly remarkable decade for Apple, featuring a return to profitability, a string of hot new products, the launch of two new billion-dollar-plus product lines (iPod/iTune and iPhone), and the reinvention of the music and mobile phone industries. Silicon Valley sees “Big Waves” only once every 15 years on average, but we’re ending the 2000s, riding two distinct and reinforcing Mavericks, and one of them is embodied by the iPhone. The iPhone has given birth to a new ecosystem, much the same way the personal computer did in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and is inspiring vigorous competition in what had been a technological backwater. Of course, the other really Big Wave is the emergence of…

The Social Web. When Sean Parker and team pitched Mike Moritz at Sequoia, seeking venture funding for Plaxo in the dark days of 2002, it was not just to solve the real and vexing problem of stale address books. The billion dollar opportunity they pitched was that the Internet, for all its great impact, would not reach its full potential unless and until someone brought to it the missing “people layer”. If real identity and real relationships could be combined with network effect and Internet-style interoperability, they said, something really big would happen. Of course, like so many big, bold visions, getting there has taken multiple attempts, and now involves a really dynamic collaboration between big Internet companies, “Open Stack” grass-roots communities (like OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, the Open Web Foundation, and OpenSocial), and lots of startups, but we exit the 2000s seeing proof-points all around of the emergence of an open and interoperable Social Web. It’s becoming increasingly common to visit a new website and be able to use an online identity you’ve established at Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a growing list of other identity providers, and get a new account (without having to repeat the dreadful process of choosing a new password, filling out a bunch of forms, importing your address book, and re-friending the same long list of familiars you’ve friended so many times before). Look to the coming decade to bring us an amazing array of new startups native to this new Social Web.

What do you think? Are these the right 10? Nominate others via comments.

And, now all that’s left is to wish you all a Happy New Decade!

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