Month: August 2009

Mobile digital banking is great! – Or not!

Mobile digital banking is good. Under a new plan backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the former Microsoft CEO’s charitable organization, the mobile industry will be given a kickstart of $12.5 million to give those in the developing regions their first bank account–on their mobile phones.

Mobile digital banking is bad. Even under the highest security conditions, mobile phones can go missing, like the HTC Touch running a pre-release version of Windows Mobile or the next-gen iPhone at the heart of a tragic story about an employee losing his life over the loss of the prototype at an Apple contract manufacturer in China.

But besides the potential for plain old losing the phone – by accident or theft – there’s also the dark side of your digital money and /or bank account being rendered useless on your mobile phone by cyber-hooligans, as some Black Hat briefing presenters recently proved.

Me?  I’m sticking with plastic for a little while longer.

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Get excited – and improve your net wealth!

“When the going gets tough…” – well you know how it goes. That’s one good byproduct of what the pundits are calling the Great Panic, i.e., the awful global economic downturn of the past two years.

 The good byproduct being that companies have gotten more steeled in understanding what they are all about, their essential values. When those values embrace the customers and workers, along with their shared interests, then great things happen – high performance cultures emerge.

One of the great reads about high performance cultures, in my opinion is the book “Corporate Culture and Performance,” by John Kotter and James Heskett. For as long as there have been management consultants, there’s been a lot of jibber jabber about the importance of corporate values and culture.

Which is what I loved about this book when I discovered it. Because the authors applied some empirical methods and data analysis to the case. I cite this key passage in Chapter 1, page 11 (of my copy): “We found that firms with cultures that emphasized all the key managerial constituencies (employees, customers, and stock/stakeholders) and leadership from managers at all levels outperformed firms that did not have those cultural traits by a huge margin.”

But, it gets better: “Over an eleven-year period, the former increased revenues by an average of 682 percent versus 166 percent for the latter, expanded their work forces by 282 percent versus 36 percent, grew their stock prices by 901 percent versus 74 percent, and improved their net revenues by 756 percent versus 1 percent.”

Now that’s what I call some serious motivation for getting your CFO to invest in the “touch feely” stuff, come your next budget review cycle! The book was published in 1992, so the period documented was pre-dot com boom/bust, instead covering the economic cycle of the 1980s, most compared to the current one.

The process of actually influencing your company’s leadership to build a high(er) performing culture is a whole other subject. One resource I will offer, however, is what I view as some of the best new insight on organizational change management that has come along in 20 years, from VitalSmarts, in a book called “Influencer.” I highly recommend it!

In the “Influencer,” you’ll read about a model of influence, in which two of its critical components are peer pressure and peer support. Regarding peer pressure and support, two very different but fine examples of the peer effect in action are the series of broadcast commercials developed by New Zealand Airlines and the “Get Excited” design campaign described in the New York Times earlier this year.

Each in its own way, provides an example of leaders, managers, and workers engaged in an activity that they believe captures the essence of their culture. And, as Kotter and Heskett have documented, getting excited about your culture can definitely have a direct impact on improving your net worth!

Sterling SXSW Rant 2007

In honor of the South-by-Southwest, aka SXSW, “Panel Picker” going live today (for those who are registered for the Interactive conference, please remember to cast a vote for my panel “Controlling Robots Through the Web!”), I dug up some raw notes from my trusty Dell laptop that I jotted down at SXSW 2007, as I recall, on my similarly trusty Palm Treo.
Anyone who has read my blog posts knows that I have admired the self-styled rants of Bruce Sterling over the years. In addition to catching his standing-room-only talk that Spring, I had the pleasure and good sport of hosting a panel with Bruce and Lux Research’s Matthew Nordan in the Fall of 2007 at the first annual Clean Energy Venture Summit. You can read more about that experience at my “Freshtech Friday” (formerly “Cleantech Friday”) guest blog on AustinStartup.com.

Anyhow, I make no apologies for the outline form of the following, because it’s been more than two years since that session. But, just browsing them gives you a little insight to the unique, crazy quilt outline from which Mssr. Sterling delivers his rant. 

  • Henry Jenkins like das capital-enamored w/fandom (http://www.henryjenkins.org/)
  • Lev Manovich-cultural, legal – soft or creole media (http://www.manovich.net/)
  • yogi ba/enkler-wiki?
  • Richard Stallman (http://www.stallman.org/)
  • drm and broadband eats everything
  • no convergence
  • rfid-sxsw tag on all
  • first world is global-market
  • 2nd world is govts
  • 3rd world is common space peer prod
  • 4th world is disorder-tearing up world and abandoning the map
  • social networks-fragile or resilient
  • businesses stop being a business
  • global proletariat
  • laptop gypsies-very vulnerable
  • novelty mash-ups – not novel
  • “when you have a laser, everything looks laser-able” [<=SG comment: I love sound bites like this one!]
  • deviant art, not great-too easy, digital folk culture-don’t valorize
  • blog-gone by 2017, usefulness is as a platform for something-what?
  • turn on internet and leave the room- semiotic pollution…90 percent is spam and robbery
  • Reed Hundt-evil medium that debases impoverished (http://www.reedhundt.com/)
  • broadcast is powerful-security services get broadband via channel
  • frontline…
  • trust construction
  • things that were formerly professionals are falling apart-lots of hungry polar bears
  • underworld news at digg, slash.dot,
  • hw is radically unstable
  • al qaeda-they are the best at commons based peer production, military, religious, existence proof
  • well behaved appliance – not creative
  • Eastern European… gift-serenity

It’s sort of like reading the data stream from your REM sleep period, isn’t it? Anyhow, whether I am speaking at the SXSW Interactive festival or not, I find that the annual Sterling rant is just about worth the price of admission, on its own.

Hope to see you there in 2010!

Lasers and bikes

I’m always on the lookout for innovative hardware and software gadgetry that seek to make life easier. There are some great gadget websites for everything from the pragmatic (like healthcare) to the preposterous (like the entertainment of a fish training kit). In my opinion, what you learn by browsing and occasionally using these gadgets is that they portend some radical changes coming to user interface design – an area that is ripe for some major advances.

 For example, I enjoy lasers. And I enjoy bikes. But, lasers and bikes together: now that’s pretty cool! That’s what gadget makers LightLane came up with their “Instant Bike Lane” described earlier this year in Wired…check it out.

I also enjoy magic. Which is what intrigued me when I heard about Microsoft’s J Allard filing a patent for a magic wand earlier this year. Personally, I’m surprised more hasn’t happened by now in this kind of device control, with all of the advances we’ve had in microprocessors, RFID, wireless communications, etc. I’m not expecting Click, but I do expect to be able to do more through remote motion in the near future.

But perhaps, the better remote controlling input source is speech, rather than motion. Does anyone remember the innovative communications interface Wildfire? Wildfire combined acceptable-for-the-times voice recognition with the female version of Hal for speech synthesis. For mid-1990s technology, it was pretty innovative. I’d love to see an affordable, plug-and-play voice technology (input & output) get introduced into the home or office market.

For a different take on the human-gadget interface discussion, there is the field of biometric access. Some interesting developments there, starting to move biometrics from the exclusive sphere of high-end security and the military to more consumer-oriented, mass form factors. A few to mention:

If you’ve got an interesting idea a gadget and / or an experience to share about its UI, please let me know!

Trackle me Elmo

There’s been a great deal of noise about the era of location-based services.  The intensity of the subject – epitomized by issue 17.02 of Wired devoted to the GPS revolution – has been fueled by the iPhone and other smart devices with GPS-ready capability.

Much of the activity has been around helping you get from your present location to your intended destination, a’la Google Maps or keeping track of your friends’ locations and activity status, a’la Google Latitude. Other popular location-based AppStore apps involve locating places to dine, via UrbanSpoon, or locating other service providers from banks to hospitals, via AroundMe.

These are clever and often useful services, but I recently came across a new one called Trackle with a couple of added dimensions worth noting. (You can read a nice intro to Trackle by Josh Lowensohn.)

The first added dimension of note is Trackle’s focus on using and managing alerts, all of which are location-based. If you aren’t hip to alerts yet, you are seriously missing out on one of the web’s more useful features, as they basically provide a way for you find out about anything when it happens, i.e., “I want know about ‘xyz’ when it happens anywhere on the web.”

Well, what Trackle does is enable to you create or select (via a handy pre-developed catalog) a bevy of alerts, that it calls Tracklets, for a variety of purposes. The more popular Tracklets to date generate alerts for things like crime, stocks, home values, and jobs.

The other added dimension of Trackle is how it organizes all of this location-based information into a single inbox. This helps mitigate one of the more annoying problems with all other location-based notification and alert systems: they all tend to act like they are the only ones that exist – very “me” centric.  Trackle puts all of the alerts in a single inbox, which can be sorted and categorized, according to your preferences.

I think it’s interesting to think about how a product like Trackle could be extended. For example, what if Trackle captured a much richer profile of its users; things like:

  • your personal interests
  • schedule availability
  • days of vacation time remaining in the year, and
  • general budget for travel and leisure to your top 5 desired locations

Then, what if it mapped that rich user profile against hotels, events, restaurants, and other attractions? Add the location and schedules of your friends and family, and you’ve got “Travel Agency 2.0.”

Talk to the (Digital) Hand

Take a look through the screen shots below. 

I’ll bet that is a set of companies you’ve never heard of, including:

But, between them, these companies took down $43,500,000 in the first quarter of this year, along a pretty even distribution (the largest was Offerpal, at $15 million).

What do they do? They are among a rapidly growing band of virtual goods companies that are getting some big bets placed on them, in an expectation that they are onto something. CNET blogger Dave Rosenberg provided a nice shout outto these and a handful of others in the sector that is worth a quick read.

Second Lifeis rightly regarded as having pioneered the modern era of virtual goods for grownups at a serious enough level to have attracted substantial corporate interest and experimentation. Close behind, The Simshas added the social,Seinfeld-ian spin to the virtual experience. And while there are clearly many satisfied Sims players and SL corporate success stories, there has been plenty of room to learn and build newer offerings that extend the model.

That’s what these companies like Offerpal Media and Nurien are doing and, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

As Don Tapscott often says in his keynotes about his latest book, Grown Up Digital, the under-25 net generation is a generation “bathed in bits.” Certainly they know the difference between the physical and digital worlds – we all do.  But the beauty of well-done virtual experiences is that they provide for an immersive reinvention or amplification of one’s self.

I believe many of these virtual goods companies are just taking the 2-D platforms of Facebook and LinkedIn and extending them the logical next step into 3-D information and commerce platforms.

Already, Hollywood has shown that it thinks 3-D movies are where the public wants to go. With a virtual, 3-D platform, you won’t just exchange information with your friends and colleagues, but your virtual self will interact with them, negotiate, meet, and conduct business.

It will be very interesting indeed, to see where all of this leads, but I urge you to check out some of these technologies.

Grandpa Iron Man

Not long ago, I wrote about opportunities in aging. The main point of the prior post was that there will be many business opportunities – ranging from the mundane to the esoteric – that will emerge as the population ages.

Somewhere in this range, I would put the potential for powered exoskeletons (or exos) to hit the mainstream consciousness. They have already tickled our entertainment fancy in recent memory, with the popularity of 2008’s Iron Man movie.  But, for a Youtube primer on the variety of real-life exoskeletons that are in circulation today, take a quick tour of the following:

I listed them, based on personal opinion, in the order of least likely to be used by the average citizen to most potential for mainstream adoption, with something like the BB technology getting my nod as the closest to being used by someone in the near future.

When you consider that there are half a million knee operations a year, trending to three million in the U.S. in the next couple of decades, the notion of consumer exos makes sense. Add age to injury, with another baby boomer reaching age 60 every seven seconds, and the population of potential consumers gets sizeable rapidly.

Personally, I’m excited about the potential for the elderly, injured, or afflicted (I grew up with a mom who was mobility impaired by MS) to have the option to strap on an exoskeleton-style device like a version of one of the BB models and be able to gain a measure of mobility that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Continued developments in areas like specialized microprocessors and lightweight nanotechnology-based materials lead me to believe that it’s not a question of “if it will happen” but “when.”