That was three years ago, right after Apple bought Siri, launched iAds, and was relentlessly touting the growth of its app ecosystem. I was certain Apple was going to figure out a way to create value above the level of a particular app, using all that tasty data it had within its restrictive walled garden to build the next generation iOS interface.
But so far, Apple has failed to innovate inside its own ecosystem (unless you count minimalist icons and bright base colors as innovation). Three years later, we’re still stuck in a user interface of app-filled screens, most of which we never use, each disconnected from the other save for the fact they happen to reside on your phone, possibly right next to each other, but otherwise unaware of the value they might reap should they magically start sharing links and data with each other. (You know, the way the web works.)
This has to change.
Google knows it, which is why I find Google Now so fascinating. Apple knows it too – the days of home screens littered with app icons are numbered. What will replace it?
My guess is some kind of intelligent, search-driven interface that “understands” you, based on the intent you signal through your use of all kinds of apps – including browser apps, of course, as well as true search apps like Siri (or Google Now). This new kind of interface responds to your voice as well as your location, your history, and anything else you might willingly (or unwittingly) feed it. It will strive to always put the very thing you need at your fingertips – something that simply isn’t possible without understanding your interactions as the equivalent of …. well, a personal interest graph.
And to do that, Apple needs a powerful engine, the kind of engine that, say, has been hard at work understanding a massive corpus of interest data for, say, six or so years. Something like Topsy.
I go along with some of John’s complaints. As I have added a few dozen apps that I use regularly to my iPhone, the UX has become an impediment. Yes, iOS 7 is an improvement, but its the same old restaurant with better tablecloths.
I’d like to see a better UX, and search offers some great angles. And it’s a good idea to buy new talent, considering how bad Spotlight was for so long (and it’s still not wonderful). In particular, creating elements in the OS where apps could register and allow a search to index their data stores, so that I could search against the data and not just apps. Including, of course, Twitter data, and all sorts of other things that could be relevant.
So, maybe we should call this app-centric search, not app search.
“A new era of production has begun. Its principles of organization are as different from those of the industrial era as those of the industrial era were different from the agricultural. The cybernation revolution has been brought about by the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine. This results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor. Cybernation is already reorganizing the economic and social system to meet its own needs.”—
This committee included Linus Pauling (Nobel Prize in Chemistry), Gunnar Myrdal (Nobel Prize in Economics), and a long list of other notables, and the report was written for Lyndon Johnson.
They were right, they just got the timing wrong. It wasn’t the first wave of computers — laid down on top of existing business processes — that is emphemeralizing most human labor. It’s today’s wave, the new explosion of computing scale — in our hands (foreground) and in the cloud (background) — into which we are moving everything, and through which we can monitor and computicate with everything that’s connected: people, sensors, devices, intelligent and dumb apps, and autonomous gear.
I scratched my head a little after watching the Amazon Prime Air video (see here), and considered the impact of delivery drones and autonomous vehicles on the future of work:
[…]the big question about drones and autonomous vehicles in general is about the impact on work. Right off the bat, the several million people (mostly men) employed as truck and delivery drivers will be out of a job. Yes, some of them might get work in the Amazon warehouses, but as soon as AI and robots are up to it, those jobs will be gone too.
This won’t be limited to megacorporations like Amazon, although Amazon might be planning to leverage this as an additional industry disruptor, like they’ve done with Amazon’s elastic computing technologies. Imagine a local florist, Bette, in downtown Beacon NY (my home) wanting to make a delivery to a local customer’s home. No longer reliant on Ralph, her former part-time driver, she simply logs into Amazon Prime Air, types in some details, and twenty minutes later a drone touches down in the loading zone outside her store, picks up the flowers for Mrs Johnson, and takes off for North Brett Street.
Of course, her flowers arrive by an autonomous truck three times weekly, and her Samsung Smart Pallet communicates with the truck, gathers her flowers, and brings them to her cold room, without the services of Sheila, her former part-time assistant.
But Ralph and Sheila are off starting microbusinesses, where autonomous vehicles make the economics work.
As someone who made the leap from print to electronic publishing over thirty years ago people often ask me to expound on the “future of the book.” Frankly, I can’t stand the question, especially when asked simplistically. For starters it needs more specificity. Are we talking 2 years, 10 years or 100 years? And what does the questioner mean by “book” anyway? Are they asking about the evolution of the physical object or its role in the social fabric?
It’s a long story but over the past thirty years my definition of “book” has undergone a major shift. At the beginning I simply defined a book in terms of its physical nature — paper pages infused with ink, bound into what we know as the codex. But then in the late 1970s with the advent of new media technologies we began to see the possibility of extending the notion of the page to include audio and video, imagining books with audio and video components. To make this work conceptually, we started defining books not in terms of their physical components but how they are used. From this perspective a book isn’t ink on bound paper, but rather “a user-driven medium” where the reader is in complete control of how they access the contents. With laser videodiscs and then cd-roms users/readers started “reading” motion pictures; transforming the traditionally producer-driven experience where the user simply sat in a chair with no control of pace or sequence into a fully user-driven medium.
This definition worked up through the era of the laser videodisc and the cd-rom, but completely fell apart with the rise of the internet. Without an “object” to tie it to, I started to talk about a book as the vehicle humans use to move ideas around time and space.
People often expressed opposition to my freewheeling license with definitions but I learned to push back, explaining that it may take decades, maybe even a century for stable new modes of expression and the words to describe them to emerge. For now I argued, it’s better to continuously redefine the definition of “book” until something else clearly takes its place.
Now that we can easily create, manage, and share chunks of ‘content’ — writing, images, video, commentary, and metadata — digital books and other digital containers for information start to smell a lot alike.
Perhaps a better question is ‘what is the future of…’ for the constituent activities, like the future of poetry, or fiction, or erotic photography. The containers will increasingly be soft copy.
In an era where the coffee table has a touch screen, the idea of coffee table ‘books’ will be just a rendering on the screen of these works, that can be opened and read on the table, or on the visitor’s personal tablet.
Stein goes on in this essay to discuss this new sort of book as becoming social objects, where readers can participate in public or private communities commenting on a work, such as in classrooms, the workplace, or the open web.
This is where books blend and intermix with other web-based and digital forms of information, and where our intentions in the use of the objects is shown as the only consideration that matters, not the historical meaning of something like a ‘book’.
“The medium, or process, of our time — electric technology — is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to “the others”. And they’re changing dramatically.”—Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message
Imagine that I am reading an article by Richard Florida, and I want to save snippets of it in my Workflowy. If Workflowy had a bookmarklet — which is a strange omission — I would click on it, and it would do the following:
Capture the URL of the page
Capture the title of the article (if possible)
Capture any selected text
Place these in three appropriately labeled and editable fields
Display some mechanism for indicating where the new item should be nested in my Workflowy
Show an ‘Add’ button, which I’d press to add after selecting a location.
As a fallback, I’d like a bookmarklet that captures title, URL, and any selected text in a single text string, so I can cut and paste to Workflowy.
I’ve been using my Todoist bookmarklet, but it is less than optimal, since it places the URL first in the edit buffer and the page title second, in parens, for its own task creation purposes.
The good news is that I found a bookmarklet that was almost what I wanted, and I hacked it to be workable.
The original bookmarklet is from 5typos.net, and created a three line text string with the page title, the URL, and any selected text from the page. Here’s it is, unescaped:
“If there’s no constructive conflict, if people don’t feel comfortable publicly disagreeing, you’re never going to get great ideas.”—Adam Bryant interviews Dolf van den Brink of Heineken USA, on Transparency
“If you want a culture of innovation, there are certain conditions for it. The culture of an organization is about habits and habitats—creating a habitat where people feel their ideas are welcomed, empowered and rewarded, and creating a physical environment that develops new ideas.”—Ken Robinson
Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, says that a year ago he realized that Intel had misestimated the swing to companion computing devices (tablets and smartphones), but now that’s behind them. Now they are going to push hard to be good at everything, and everything is going to be fine.
Businesses will also build their own cloud computing systems, Intel executives said, because it will be vastly cheaper to own them than to use public systems like Amazon Web Services. Amazon has argued that its service is cheaper.
In 2011, Intel projected revenue from business would grow 13 percent this year, but it fell 1 percent. Intel now projects business revenue will rise 8 percent by 2017.
The cloud business, along with high-performance computing and telecommunications sales, is expected to grow in excess of 20 percent in that time, Intel said. That could more than make up for a shortfall, should Intel have to cut prices or be disappointed in its still-critical PC business.
Renee James, Intel’s president, also talked about offering cloud services, like security, and chip manufacturing services, which could also give Intel a new revenue base as it comes to terms with its PC-centric past. The future, as one executive said, is a world in which “everything that has electricity will have intelligence,” and that will ultimately be the base of Intel’s new model.
Still, at the end of the session, Intel said it would be investing more heavily in tablets and cloud, a little bit less in PCs and phones.
Obviously, Renee James is out of her mind if she thinks businesses are going to build homegrown private clouds in any serious numbers, instead of moving to hosted solutions like Amazon. Fear might cause a spike or two — CIOs being risk averse at core — but the swing to hosted cloud will make them look like trilobites in a few years.
Intel is still hoping that the PC business will grow so they can fund their move to tablets and smartphones. Meanwhile, the market is poised to move to wearables and calm computing (like internet-of-things home sensors, connected appliances, and a shifting array of smart gizmos). The bottom has already dropped out of the market for everything they know how to do.
Security services? It looks like everyone that was selling servers, chips, and other hardware is now self-marginalizing to selling security software.
It’s fairly evident that Intel won’t be able to halt the power glide fast enough. Short Intel.
Krugman parses Larry Summers recent IMF talk, and finds at the core the hard paradoxes of the postnormal: Secular Stagnation, where the liquidity trap inverts the order of the economic universe.
If you take a secular stagnation view seriously, it has some radical implications – and Larry goes there.
Currently, even policymakers who are willing to concede that the liquidity trap makes nonsense of conventional notions of policy prudence are busy preparing for the time when normality returns. This means that they are preoccupied with the idea that they must act now to head off future crises. Yet this crisis isn’t over – and as Larry says, “Most of what would be done under the aegis of preventing a future crisis would be counterproductive.”
He goes on to say that the officially respectable policy agenda involves “doing less with monetary policy than was done before and doing less with fiscal policy than was done before,” even though the economy remains deeply depressed. And he says, a bit fuzzily but bravely all the same, that even improved financial regulation is not necessarily a good thing – that it may discourage irresponsible lending and borrowing at a time when more spending of any kind is good for the economy.
Amazing stuff – and if we really are looking at secular stagnation, he’s right.
Of course, the underlying problem in all of this is simply that real interest rates are too high. But, you say, they’re negative – zero nominal rates minus at least some expected inflation. To which the answer is, so? If the market wants a strongly negative real interest rate, we’ll have persistent problems until we find a way to deliver such a rate.
One way to get there would be to reconstruct our whole monetary system – say, eliminate paper money and pay negative interest rates on deposits. Another way would be to take advantage of the next boom – whether it’s a bubble or driven by expansionary fiscal policy – to push inflation substantially higher, and keep it there. Or maybe, possibly, we could go theKrugman 1998/Abe 2013 route of pushing up inflation through the sheer power of self-fulfilling expectations.
Any such suggestions are, of course, met with outrage. How dare anyone suggest that virtuous individuals, people who are prudent and save for the future, face expropriation? How can you suggest steadily eroding their savings either through inflation or through negative interest rates? It’s tyranny!
But in a liquidity trap saving may be a personal virtue, but it’s a social vice. And in an economy facing secular stagnation, this isn’t just a temporary state of affairs, it’s the norm. Assuring people that they can get a positive rate of return on safe assets means promising them something the market doesn’t want to deliver – it’s like farm price supports, except for rentiers.
Oh, and one last point. If we’re going to have persistently negative real interest rates along with at least somewhat positive overall economic growth, the panic over public debt looks even more foolish than people like me have been saying: servicing the debt in the sense of stabilizing the ratio of debt to GDP has no cost, in fact negative cost.
I could go on, but by now I hope you’ve gotten the point. What Larry did at the IMF wasn’t just give an interesting speech. He laid down what amounts to a very radical manifesto. And I very much fear that he may be right.
“We have to look for power sources here, and distribution networks we were never taught, routes of power our teachers never imagined, or were encouraged to avoid… we have to find meters whose scales are unknown in the world, draw our own schematics, getting feedback, making connections, reducing the error, trying to learn the real function… zeroing in on what incalculable plot?”—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
Unless you are in business or first class, flying has become increasingly dreadful. There is less room between the seats. The lousy food and wine cost extra. You often have to pay to check your bags. And it can be harder to score space in an overhead bin than a seat at a Manhattan bar. Why would anyone want to add overcaffeinated road warriors jabbering away on their phones to this already foul environment?
Ok. Let’s step back a minute. What about the overcaffeinated road warriors in the bar at the airport before you get on the plane, or in the shuttle bus, or the hotel lobby?
You could make the case that no one should be able to talk on a phone when other are trapped in a closed environment — like a plane, airport, bus, or while waiting for a train — but we don’t regulate phone use in those places. In fact, we accept the necessity and convenience of cell phones in basically every possible place that they can be used.
Flying on an airplane is not some weekend escape at a spa where we place hot rocks on our chakras and seek enlightenment. It’s just another mode of transit.
Yes, air travel has gone downhill, like most things in the postnormal. And yes, airlines will exploit this opportunity to gouge another pound of flesh from the meat that waddles on and off their planes. That’s the way things work.
But to hold to some quaint, antiquated notion of peace and quiet in the air is laughable. Airplanes are loud in the first place — 60-90 decibels — so anyone with any sense will bring earplugs, hearing protection earmuffs, or noise cancelling headphones. This is especially true of road warriors, who otherwise can get cumulative hearing loss.
So get over your antiquated, 1970s attitudes about phones on planes. In a connected world, people will naturally use whatever technologies they can to remain connected: their livelihoods and relationships are at stake.
Kris Gale is the VP of product engineering at Yammer, and in this interview from the New Visionaries series at GigaOM Research I get a chance to learn how they upended the conventional approach to work management and adopted a hyperlean approach instead:
Stowe Boyd: Yammer is one of a growing wave of companies where developers are given unusual latitude in determining how to get work done. Perhaps you could start by describing how Yammer has migrated away from an organizational culture in which managers break up work into manageable tasks and assign that work to specific people. What is the alternative, and why is it better?
The breakthrough was realizing that we didn’t have to assign work through our reporting hierarchy.Kris Gale: When Yammer began, we were a few engineers with diverse skills working closely together to get things done. Because our tasks weren’t abstracted away from the company’s goals, we had so much more context, and that context allowed us to make the million tiny tradeoffs that make up software engineering more effectively than I was used to in engineering departments of more than a few people. And because we didn’t need a reporting structure yet, we didn’t have to build any assumptions into our org structure that prevented us from changing priorities or direction.
As we grew, we began to need reporting structures, and we tried out both of what I think of as the classic engineering team models. We tried horizontal teams that owned layers of technology across the product and vertical teams that owned slices of the product across technology. Both slowed us down in different ways. Horizontal teams created queues of work between teams that slowed us down: for example, the frontend team would need an API change from a backend team, and this request would sit as a request somewhere until the backend team had time to address it. Vertical teams caused us to waste cycles working on things that weren’t always our critical priorities: if we had a messaging team, we’d end up working on messaging features every month, even if it were more strategically important to the business to start work in some new area of the product.
The breakthrough was realizing that we didn’t have to assign work through our reporting hierarchy. Instead of the head of engineering breaking a goal up into what the X team needs to do and what the Y team needs to do, then assigning those things to the managers of the teams to be further broken up into tasks, we said we’d just take an engineer from X team and one from Y team and dedicate them to solving the business problem however they best saw fit, then move on to something else. All of Yammer’s organizational methodology in engineering came from that: How do we build mechanisms to force all of our work to happen in small, temporary, fully-dedicated, autonomous, cross-functional teams? Or: How do we scale engineering so that all problems get solved the way we’d have solved them in the first year of the company?
“So, skeuomorphs are about the shape we choose for the containers we build. This requires plasticity. Softness. Screens are a special material without much precedent, save plastic. And I think it’s best to view screens as a material for interaction and interface design.”—Frank Chimero, What Screens Want (via quartey)
A comment I made that actually got applause during an open and free-wheeling session at IBM’s Cloud Forum, today.
Because of the increasing pace of business today, the only sensible strategy is to become more risk tolerant, but companies are not in general adopting that mindset. Things are moving faster but business leaders are not moving to reduce the friction in their business to keep pace.
The average company lifetime was 75 years 50 years ago, and today it is fifteen. I bet that in five it will be down to ten, and that’s because management still thinks it’s smarter to operate with a foot on the brake instead of on the accelerator. It seems that should be true, it’s intuitive, but it isn’t anymore.
We’ve moved into a new economy where the fundamental rules have changed, and the operating premises the past are not only broken, but dangerous.