An Intriguingly Utopian Vision For The Future Of Technology

You may have seen this two-year old video but I saw it today and thought it’s worthy of highlighting.   It puts together a quite intriguing vision of how we’ll interact with the web and technology in the future.

Entrepreneurs, you might want to look for ideas of how you can get involved building some of these things starting today.

Advertisements

I’m Actually Deathly Afraid Of The Future For The United States

There is an unsettling feeling deep in my stomach and it’s been sitting there for quite a while. It’s strange and difficult to describe but I will try.

On paper and compared to billions of others around the world I was born into the best possible situation. I am a white male, American born, brown hair, blue eyes and born into middle class America. I went through the local school system and then on to a public university. Nothing about my nuclear family or extended family is anything extraordinary in terms of wealth or prestige yet we are well educated and hard working. We had enough and we’re comfortable but by no means from the lucky sperm club.

That’s no problem you say; America is land of opportunity. And as you already know from the history of the United States, each and every person has the freedom to pursue their dreams and the opportunity to change their fortune for themselves and future generations to come. It’s been that way since we defeated the King and established our free land called America.

Not anymore, it’s looking like.

We are on the brink of ultimate collapse as a country, a society and a world. Our national debt is at record levels and actually at an inconceivable height, numbers at which politicians throw around with no thought as to how bad they actually are. If we were a person, we would have already gone through bankruptcy court at least a few times.

Our health care system is in shambles, with stories of people going broke and bankrupt from a simple X-ray or MRI scan. Think about that for a second: middle class working citizens are being ruined financially due to basic routine medical visits at the same time someone is driving home from the appointment in their Bentley and profiting from them mightily.

That’s simply bullshit.

And the fact is the trend-line is not looking any better should scare you too. You think the financial collapse of 2008 was rough, from what I am learning it will not only get worse but we’ll probably not “come back to normal” but ultimately establish a new normal. They just keep printing dollars and putting them into circulation like a person keeps the faucet running in the tub while the drain is open, all the while wondering why the tub doesn’t ever get full. We’ll basically deflate any value our currency has, which will only be the beginning of our troubles.

Foreign countries holding much of our debt will at some point come calling. I wonder what we’ll say… I hope it’s not China and their billion plus citizens.

Education is becoming the new “housing boom” and the biggest lie in America. “Sure kid, go $100,000 in debt to learn nothing that applies to real skills being required from you in today’s working world and then spend the next 10 or 20 years trying to pay it back.” It is said most employers are not able to find and hire the right people with adequate skills to meet their job requirements. This, at a time when record number of people are applying for jobs tells me we’re misaligned and in desperate need of change.

Even scarier is the fact that college will become so expensive and so few will afford the ability go to a university we’ll just end up back full-circle to when the elite are formally educated and the rest of the population isn’t. I hope that doesn’t happen in my lifetime but it seems as if we are sliding down that road already.

Oh, and did you know there is $1Trillion in student loan debt in the United States?

Yes, a debt that will just keep growing because the interest on such a large of amount will never be paid down. The result is a crippling our future work force before they even enter into the world.

It’s truly absurd and I feel sorry for kids and families today who don’t know what to do but feel like the only thing to do is “go into more debt I guess!”

Of course, that is at the same time our entire education system is in denial to the fact that we are losing ground on the rest of the world. We lack the most in STEM areas, the very skills our most important innovations are requiring from employees.

I think what is bothering me the most is the wealth gap forming between the top 1% and the rest of us. It’s bothering me because the law of compound interest tells me it will never change – it will only get worse. The rich get richer because the more money you have, the more money you earn on the return from the money you already have in the bank. I recently posted a short video on the subject and it’s worth a view. To go further, it’s not that I am jealous or wish I had billions of dollars (although I am pretty creative and would have a fun time investing and giving back if I did) but I am worried such an uneven distribution of wealth will lead us down a road we will only regret once we hit the point of no return.

When the majority of a resource (wealth) is held tightly and by a specific few, corruption and manipulation is inevitable. Look no further than our neighbors to the south. Go spend a few months in the backcountry of Mexico and then tell me you want the rich to get richer in the U.S.. Due to the mighty dollar, anyone who wishes they had more will bend their moral and ethical standards to better their lot. And anyone who has more than enough money will use it to not only get what they want but to hold onto what they already have. This mean lying, cheating, stealing, feuding, protecting, enslaving. threatening and killing. The creeping and uneasy feeling I have is that we are too far down the road to turn it around.

At this point you may be thinking to yourself “boy Nick, bad day?”

No, not really.

It’s more like I keep reading pieces about the state of government, education, financial situation and the current state of our society. I am actually trying to take my head out of the sand and look at the reality of the situation. I am asking myself what it is that I can do to help, in whatever ways I can.

I hope you are now too.

Will it help if I create a company that positively affects the economy in some way? Do I just give up and go get a middle income job so I am secure in my future? My fear (for myself, my eventual kids and everyone else) is that middle class job will not be there anymore. What will $50,000 a year buy us in 10 years down the road?

My guess is not much.

So, I plow on. I challenge myself to figure out a solution for 1) myself and 2) the greater public. For myself, it means I need to create ongoing income and wealth independent of an employer or the government.

Why? Because I have a sneaking suspicion those things might not be around or dependable in the future, at the time when I will need them the most.

In a funny way I feel we have come back to the roots of entrepreneurialism – people going out on their own and creating something for themselves which financially and economically can withstand outside forces to keep them alive and protected. Something that pays you consistently or in a very large lump sum so you and your family are secure and safe.

Also, I feel the only way out of this mess will be creative entrepreneurship. It’s not ALL doom and gloom you know. We have the opportunity to create new ideas, new ways of life that will lead our society to new and better places. Only these new ideas must not depend on the government and traditional economic ways. They must be new ideas for the new world we now live in.

What ever we do we mustn’t put money back into the 1% hands or we’ll just end up expediting our own downfall.

My question: is that even possible?

It will be interesting to see what happens.

The Future of Mobile Payments Will Be ‘Artificial Intelligence’

This is a section taken from a recent article I wrote on PayPal’s x.com network.  

How we interact with computers—and to an extent the rest of the world—is changing. As you know, we no longer log on or are required to go to a computer to get online. We now carry computers with us all day, every day; we are always connected.

We do not have to reidentify ourselves and re-enter our credentials each time we go online. And with the inception of Siri, along with other crude artificial intelligence (AI) interfaces, it is now apparent that we will leverage new blends of AI and intelligent data systems integrated within our mobile devices to create very personal consumer experiences.

These technologies and more will drastically change our purchasing experiences. I see a future where the specific mobile device you carry doesn’t have any bearing on how you make a mobile payment. Take simple text, for example. It is fair to say that text messaging has taken over as the most common form of digital communication on the planet, with 6 billion capable devices and more than 8 trillion messages sent in 2011.

But what if SMS and messaging technologies were not only created for basic communications, but for commerce as well? Imagine being able to say things like “send a message to the coffee shop telling them I will be there in 10 minutes and I will have the usual,” and by the time you get there, your correct drink is sitting on the counter, already paid for.

This is not too far off. Actually, the technical requirements are manageable, and the right pieces just need to be put in the right places. The next few years will bring a fundamental shift in the economy as merchants and business adopt this popular method of communication and use it as a new form of commerce. It is already being accomplished through simple text, voice, and gestures, thanks to natural language processing within your mobile device.

Personalization will also become prevalent and is another key component in the future of payments. Today, most merchants still require voice calls to communicate with them; when it comes time to transact, the customer must actually be present with cash or credit card in hand. Think about how far brick-and-mortar retailers need to go to catch up with the e-commerce world. Even today, when I call a local merchant I’m asked to identify myself and to read my payment information (aloud) if I want to make a purchase.

How secure is that?

Interestingly, this lack of personalization does not change when I am present. As I walk in the door, the merchant has no idea who I am, how many times I have visited that location and what my purchase history there might look like. In a word, these retailers are ignorant. They lack the necessary and vital information to not only improve their operations but also make my customer experience much, much better. And why do I still need to stand in a line for them to swipe my card and write my signature before I leave?

A whole new world of possibilities opens up when personalized connections between customer and merchant are made available through mobile technologies and artificial intelligence.  Customers will be able to quickly find and interact with a merchant, requesting more information or making purchases when and where they feel most compelled. Since identification and payment credentials will have already been verified and stored securely in the cloud, transactions then become frictionless.  Merchants are not only afforded a more efficient method of communications and transactions, but also a unique perspective on each customer and a clearer picture of their entire customer base—in real time.

Visit x.com/devzone to read the whole article.

Social Search Series Part IV: Will Quora Be More Valuable Than Google?

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search. Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies. No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks. This is part IV of the series.  For background, check out the previous articles Part I here and  part IIand Part III here.

Googling may be the most popular way we currently search for information but mark my words, it will not be the primary way you find information in the future.  The previous articles in this series describe how the web has changed, grown exponentially, become more social and ultimately more difficult for traditional search engines to index.  That means you, as a user, are usually getting the wrong end of the search stick.

This article is about what keeps Google up shivering at night – the future of search lies not in what you know, but in who you know.

The search environment is splintering and I am postulating the next generation of search will reside within your network of contacts.  I call it Social Search.  In my first article a graph was used to illustrate four quadrants separating the field of emerging social search startups.  In my third article I talked about the first quadrant, Location Relevance, and what happens when you combine social, location and.  It looks as if a few associated startups, LOCQL and Localmind, are positioned well to change the very way we interact and search locally.

Quadrant: Location Agnostic

The next subcategory in social search can be referred to as Location Agnostic.  Some social search applications do not integrate location-based technologies into their functionality, but more or less originate around specific topics and expert knowledge.  Although these applications are location agnostic, they still can be relevant to many users and possibly become large search companies.  Refer back to my original post for the entire list, but here I will cover two of the best positioned startups.

StackExchange

Originally designed for professional and enthusiast programmers, Stackoverflow has emerged as one of the leaders in the social search space.  The StackExchange Network encompasses an additional 57 social sites like cooking, photography, etc.  Each of these sites is uniquely focused on it’s specific topic, and is called a “StackExchange”.  Collectively they are the StackExchange Network and with nice growth numbers now see almost 15 million users each month.

Here’s how it works: After someone asks a question, members of the StackExchange community propose answers. Others vote on those answers. Very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer.

The growth of StackExchange is just another proof point aimed directly to replace swimming through the vast sea of links on the web, most of which are content farms or spam.  Simply put, these new approaches help people find better information quicker.  The unique take on mining expert knowledge for user search and discovery is quite clearly the future of search.  It is what I have been referring to over the past few articles “the future of search lies within your network of contacts“.

According to co-founder/CEO Joel Spolsky, the old question and answer model became flawed.  “I sort of feel like the first generation of Q&A sites, Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and those, ended up accidentally being used for entertainment purposes. If you look at Yahoo Answers, it’s being used as a chat for teenage girls. It’s not really being used to get answers.”

StackOverflow’s answer is to focus on experts“We only select verticals where we have a critical mass of a couple hundred experts in the domain. We’re only interested in the domains where there’s something to learn – a corpus of knowledge, there’s a canon of knowledge, and people sharing knowledge are called experts.”

So why do I believe the future of search lies in a networks like StackExchange?  When experts are willing to divulge their knowledge, a site is able to collect and organize it, and more and more people start to use and share the information – *bing* the picture starts to become clearer.

Interestingly, Spolsky might not fully agree with my vision just yet.  “Our expectation is for the most part, people like to type their questions into Google and they’re not going to go to a specific site that often.”  Maybe he just can’t imagine a world where you could start following these experts, ones who you can look upon to bring you specific knowledge in areas of personal interest? In that world you wouldn’t have to go to Google anymore.  And what if you could infuse your social contacts in a way that…

Quora

QuoraQuora, founded by former Facebook employees, aims to build THE go-to application for the world’s wisdom and knowledge.  The cool thing about Quora is not only can you search and vote answers up or down, you can follow well known individuals as they continue to add their knowledge to the site.  Quora is combining the best of questions, answers, social contacts and search in an effort to build out a rich knowledge platform rivaled by no one.

They are the new Silicon Valley darling, garnering much attention and valuations around $1 billion yet still remaining a fraction of the size of StackExchange. Thus far they have maintained their focus on the relatively smaller tech community and it’s unknown if they can uphold their quality of answers as they grow in quantity of questions.

I searched Quora on the secret to getting actual value out of Quora, and as if on cue, here is an answer from Mircea Goia, a Web developer and web consultant (image above:

The value of Quora, as I see it, is that it connects you directly with the experts, experts which can give you elaborate answers on specific questions (the same would be on Stackoverflow.com for example if you are a programmer).

Where else could I find answers given by people like Yishan Wong, J.C. Hewitt, Mark Hughes, Marc Bodnick, Ken Miyamoto, Marc Andreessen, Ashton Kutcher, Adam D’Angelo, Max Levchin, Reed Hastings, Jonas M Luster and many other experts?

You have to find topics you are interested in and discover the experts.

On Google you find results, yes, but you have to sift through them, sort them, decide if they are right or not for you (you have to validate – here on Quora others are validating an answer), which takes time. Many times what you find is not so in dept as you may want. And it’s not personal either.

The greatest thing about these new search services is the best results and answers are voted to the top by other knowledgeable users, providing a much better user experience when observing results.  No more 10 links to a page.  No more SEO crap, where you see the first 10 results yet know they are there because someone knew how to “optimize” the site.  Superior optimization does not lead to superior information.

Although Quora currently attracts a relatively small user base, it might be to their advantage at this stage of the game.   As Yahoo answers became flooded with users, the the quality of information went way down, rendering the service meaningless to any serious web query.  If Quora can correctly harness the cornerstones of expert knowledge, social sharing and social discovery, as well as manage an appropriate growth curve becoming valuable to more and more web users, they have an opportunity to challenge the traditional search incumbents.

The value in Quora seems to be in what most see as in its incredible potential.  Semil Shah, recently on his own Social Search kick as well, has put the future of Quora best:

When all of these Quora threads are tagged in context within topics and subtopics, it builds out the site’s ultimate secret weapon: Topic Ontology. The ontology built so far within Quora is staggering.  For many topics in traditional verticals, the site has already mapped out all the relevant topics and subtopics, tagged them against other relevant pages, and created an entire hidden architecture of related pages that are all built into its own system with little to no contamination. Think of these topics as plates on a planet, rubbing against one another and moving over time to form entire new land masses — this is how fundamentally groundbreaking Quora could be for the web.

As I noted last time, research has shown that subjective queries can be monetized at 5x – 10x higher than objective queries.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all this is going, Shah agrees: “advertisements that are targeted against specific Quora threads will know everyone who has subscribed to that thread, their explicit interests, and related questions. That alone on an ad-model basis could be worth billions of dollars.”  The problem incumbents face is these types of platforms are so different they are usually built from the ground up using a whole new infrastructure, not tacked onto an existing search tool.  I wonder if Google and Microsoft have asked “What’s The future of Search?” on Quora lately?

The question remains – What will happen to Google’s dominant search position as these new platforms grow and take shape?  If history repeats itself, Google will be moved aside as another platform takes over (or a multitude of platforms share space in a more equal search market).  Once dominant IBM shed it’s power position to Microsoft.  Aol, valued at one time around $160 billion, lost it’s early web dominance to Google.  Facebook has emerged and has a stranglehold on the social networking space with a very interesting future ahead of them.

What Shah and myself are trying to get people to understand is this: “At the same time, no matter what, behind the scenes, Quora is slowly learning about our interests (both explicit and implicit), they way we use language, and our intent through search, following, and voting, using all of this information to perhaps reorganize the web and lay a new foundation for years to come.”  Same could be said about Facebook.  These are interesting times to say the least.

Look for my next post in this Social Search Series, as I determine if long term information still has a search value on today’s real time web.

@jnickhughes

Social + Location + Real time + These 2 Startups = The Future of Search

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part III of the series.  For background, check out Part I and part II.

Social, although hot right now, is not the only technology transforming the web today.  Location-based social search applications are bridging the gap between our online and offline worlds – and in doing so creating a whole new way for people to find and use information.

This post dives into the new territory of Location Relevant Social Search.

We first determined the traditional question and answer model is now insufficient, since the system doesn’t know your exact location, who your friends are or have any contextual understanding of your query.   The resulting answers are typically of low quality and relevance proving a broken model.

Additionally, search technology needs renovating and although Google is currently King of the Search Land they still have a lot to do if they want to hold onto their throne.  Basically, the amount of information on the web is growing so quickly that even the major search engines are bringing back mostly meaningless results.

I am postulating the next generation of search will reside within your network of contacts, and I call it Social Search.  In my first article a graph was used to illustrate four quadrants separating the field of emerging social search startups.  The first quadrant revolves around Location Relevance and it looks as if a few associated startups are positioned well to change the very way we interact and search online.

First, a few tenets we can stand on when talking about Location based social search applications:

  • Most of the worlds information is generated, organized and stored by human beings
  • People generating information are always at a specific location found with exact coordinates
  • So naturally, generated information always has specific geographical data attached to it
  • Combining those data sets: Search + Social + Location + Context = Maximum Relevance

In a related post, Evan Britton noted “the goal of real time search engines is to inform the public of what is going on right now.  By adding location data, internet users can be specifically informed as to the happenings in a city.”  Indeed, real time search results are incomplete without geographical data included in the context.  Location relevance completes the equation to help provide users with the best possible results when searching for specific information.

Location based technologies are changing our lives in every way imaginable.  Take the emerging location tracking application Glympse for example.  Watching someone drive along a map on their way to meet you, being found when lost on a mountain side or viewing thousands of people moving throughout your city in real-time are just a few ways Glympse will change our lives.

Or think about a similar application Geoloqi, a service using persistent location tracking to trigger notifications tied to real-world places.  Maybe it’s a note you or a family member left for you at the grocery store or maybe it’s part of a set of geolocated data that you opt-into subscribing to as a layer because it was of interest to you.  Some use the app to let their co-workers know how quickly they are getting through traffic to arrive at work.  Make no mistake, location aware applications are already changing the way we interact on the web.

Quadrant: Location Relevance

So what happens when you combine social, searching and location?   Annotating results with specific geolocation data when a query is submitted is fundamental to providing users with the BEST answer possible.  According to Bing, over 50% of mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place.  Think how often you quickly grab your mobile device to search for something.  Exactly.  The search world needs to catch up to the intricacies of how we are using the web today.

You can find the entire list of emerging social search startups here, but I am highlighting two emerging startups innovating location-based search and are poised to be big players in the search space.

LOCQL

LOCQL, Seattle startup some would refer to as “Foursquare Meets Quora”, has smartly put together two basic premises; 1) everybody knows a little bit about something and 2) location specific information always make things more valuable.  Marry those together, involve some game mechanics and you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based on where you currently find yourself. Using social power, LOCQL finds the missing links between the user’s queries and the places in the local landscape for which they are searching. They are still in beta but anyone can use the application.

LOCQL Co-founder Robert Mao can see the future of search lies within humans; “The idea for LOCQL came from our life experiences, as International travelers we traveled to many different places, relocated our home’s several times in different countries. There are so many ‘best kept secrets’ only local people know about, those who’ve been there just know it. Unfortunately, without a service like LOCQL, you won’t be able to find it from the web, nor can you find it through search engines.”

A major problem with current search engines is the “objective vs subjective” issue, and the qualitative differences found between their results.  Through quantitative analysis, Mao found up to 60 percent of location intended searches are subjective, meaning relevance can vary a lot between two different users searching on the same subject. “Social search is basically harnessing collective intelligence by crowdsourcing the answer from real people, so by nature it better solves the queries which are subjective.”

With LOCQL, users search or submit on topics and questions – typically in relation to a specific location – and receive highly relevant, useful answers.  “Who has the best burger joint in Seattle?” searched on LOCQL would give you one or two specific answers left by other LOCQL users who actually know the answer.  The same searching on Google will send back hundreds of useless links, most gamed by SEO keywords.  Plus one for LOCQL.

LocalMind

Where LOCQL is building a repository of location based information, Localmind, co-founded by Lenny Rachitsky and Beau Haugh, is centered around a real-time social search platform.  It can be thought of as the power of omniscience at your fingertips — the ability to know what’s happening anywhere in the world, right now.

According to CEO Lenny Rachitsky, they are working on a somewhat obvious concept. “We’re living in the 21st century for god sakes; we have data on people’s locations, we have always-on devices in our pockets, we have all kinds of sensors in our devices and in our world. We know more about what’s happening across the country than we do at the restaurant we’re thinking about going to. We are putting all those pieces together and solving that problem.”

Localmind allows you to send questions to users checked-in anywhere around the world to help solve your basic needs and inquires –  like how crowded is the bar, how many girls at the club, how good is the food at the restaurant, how long is the line at the airport.  More interesting uses include people sending questions to Japan after the tsunami asking if there’s anything they can do to help, or people getting free concert tickets when asking about a concert venue, or saving a family a few hours of travel by finding out a certain hotel was closed.

It has been found that subjective queries can be monetized at 5x – 10x higher than objective queries.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all this is going.  Google and Microsoft, I hope you are listening.  The problem incumbents face is these types of platforms are so different they are usually built from the ground up using a whole new infrastructure, not tacked onto an existing search tool.

Lenny noted there are 4 core things they focus on: 1) Your preferences, 2) your friends preferences, 3) your current location, and 4) your exact date and time.  Combining those gives users much more relevant and useful information.  Interestingly, Google would have no clue how to answer those above searches and probably just shrugs its big shoulders if you try.  Alas, plus one for Localmind.

The much accomplished team of three launched Localmind at SXSW in March and have already shipped four major updates to the iPhone app.  Their Android app is in it’s final beta release and will be entering the marketplace in a few weeks, and they also have an open API (www.localmind.com/api) that allows anyone to built on top of their platform.  Amazingly, Rachitsky says 70% of searches are answered in 5 minutes and they just reached 20,000 users, both numbers are satisfactory to Rachitsky at this point.

With a newly raised angel round of funding and relocation plans to San Fransisco, Localmind looks like they are warming up to play some hardball.  And LOCQL, a relatively quiet startup still in their beta release, is very strong technically and has a promising future a head of them.  Indeed, it seems both are ready to play David to Google’s Goliath.  Now, where is that rock again?

Next time, I will determine if Location Agnostic applications are changing the way we are searching on the web.  Yes, I’m looking at you Quora.

Here’s A Glympse Into The Future, Circa 2016

July 6th, 2016

I sit nervously at the corner table waiting for her to arrive.  It is 6:15pm on a rainy Tuesday evening in Seattle, WA

“Oh man, what if she bails on me?”  What would I tell the guys?”

I am nervous because this is an extremely exciting night –  it’s my first date with Sarah, a beautiful young woman I met a few weeks ago.

This is my big chance.

If she is late, what does that mean?”  My mind is racing.  “Should I text her to find out where she is?  Or would that just be annoying”

So many thoughts are running through my head it’s about ready to burst.  Then I remember hearing traffic is horrible so I figure it might be a while before she gets here.

“… but wait, I don’t think she’s driving on any major freeways… Nick, pull it together.  You have more nervous energy than Secretariat did at the gate before winning the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown in 1973.”

Buzz.  Up pops a message on my phone.  “Sarah says: On my way. I may be late, traffic…  Click for a Glympse of my location”.   Relieved, I now see she is indeed on the 520 bridge crossing Lake Washington, currently traveling at 10 mph and her estimated time of arrival is 6:35pm.  I am then able to watch her as she approaches the restaurant.  She actually arrives around 6:30pm and as a matter of fact we have a great dinner.

 “The ‘hey, where are you?’ question happens quite often each day.  And that’s where we saw the real opportunity.  If we can make it easier to share location, more rich, more dynamic, make it simple without privacy concerns… almost a reflex in peoples lives, that’s where we want to be.” –  Bryan Trussel, Glympse CEO. (Full interview here)

Earlier that afternoon I decided to go hiking up at Snow Lake, a cherished Seattle day hike in the North Cascades.  This is a nice 3 mile jaunt up and over a large crest and then down into the most extraordinary scenery you could find within one hour of a metropolitan city.  Turquoise blue water, evergreen trees, snowy patches on the high cresting rocks and blue skies all around make this one of my favorite getaways.

I have been up there many times before but today an eerie feeling fell over me as I was hiking around.  Luckily I turned Glympse on before I left my car and sent it out to a few hikers around the area as a safety precaution so I didn’t get lost, or worse.  As fate would have it, the former got the best of me and I found myself lost in the wilderness.  Frantically, I looked around – all 360 degrees seemed unfamiliar – and I started to wonder if this was really the end.

“Great, now what am I going to do?” 

I quickly sent out an SOS from my Glympse application, which goes out to all who are currently tracking my whereabouts.  Like a smoke signal of an earlier era the SOS message is a high level alert that I am currently in trouble.  With a view of my Glympse, a pair of hikers located me, gave me some water and together we walked down the mountain to our cars.  Saved by Glympse.

“The ‘i’m late for the meeting, here’s my location’ case might be the entry point, but then people will start using Glympse more and more deeply in their life.”  –  Bryan Trussel, Glympse CEO. (Full interview here)

You think that’s crazy?  Here is an even wilder situation that happened earlier in the morning.  I was walking to a meeting downtown when I decided to take a Glympse of the city of Seattle at 8:05 am.  I pulled out my iPhone 10 and with one finger swipe I was able to see thousands of little dots moving about the city.  Those dots were actual people, moving in real-time all around me.  Double tapping the map zoomed me in on one city block, illumining people choosing to reveal their exact location and identity to me and other Glympse users.

I juxtaposed all the people on the highlighted block with my networks and found out three close colleagues and one old high school friend were within 300 yards from me.

Dude, this is cool.

Viewing this block using Glympse helped me more effectively navigate my next 10 minutes.  I shook hands with one colleague, booked a much needed follow-up meeting with another and surprised an old friend with a friendly “long time, no see”.  Ah yes, technology.  What a day.

“In terms of privacy, we do several things, A) you never share your location until you say go, B) you set the timeline so it stops when you want it to, automatically, C) we put ‘stop broadcasting’ very prominently in the UI, and you can delete any Glympse at any time, it disappears from your phone as well as off our servers.” –  Bryan Trussel, Glympse CEO.  (Full interview here)

Present Day

For the record, the above scenario will indeed be normal behavior by the year 2016.  Just you watch.

Much has been documented about the location tracking mobile application Glympse.  It allows you to purposely share your location and lets people see and track your whereabouts at any moment.  And it’s as simple as sending a text (Robert Scoble does a great overview here).

“Uh, why would I do that?” is the normal response from anyone I talk to about Glympse.  They also said that about putting their credit cards on the internet 15 years ago and I think we all know how that turned out.

I think people will ease into it, just like e-commerce.  Remember back in 1996, no one wanted to place their credit card online. over time eBay, Amazon and others developed a positive reputation for security.  And people warmed up to putting their card online.  We want to be this brand, “this is a Glympse enabled app” so people will trust it. –  Bryan Trussel, Glympse CEO. (Full interview here)

To be honest, I too was initially skeptical but after a rather interesting conversation recently with Glympse CEO Bryan Trussel I am now convinced otherwise.  Once you get past the “I would never share my location” gut reaction, you start to grasp the idea and realize this is the future showing itself to you.  The image to the right is a Glympse Bryan sent as he traveled to our meeting.  I have to say it was pretty amazing watching him get closer and closer to me and then see him walk in the door right on time.

By no exception Bryan is a visionary:

Take from the beginning of time, from the caveman going out and slaughtering the mammoth (family members wondering where they are), from the ship going out on the horizon and people on the shore wondering “where’s the ship”  to the pony express riding the horse, to the telegraph, to now a telephone, now everything is real-time… so if you fast forward accounting for advances in technology… you see a pattern of something people have done since the beginning of time – wondering about someone’s location and whereabouts.  And we will have this need 50 years in the future, If you can take that and make it easier, more rich and simple… we think it’s a good place to be. –  Bryan Trussel, Glympse CEO. (Full interview here)

Available on many different mobile devices, eclipsing one million users and recently closing a $7.5 million Series B round of financing, The Redmond based Glympse seems to have positioned itself at the forefront of the next major trend in mobile space – location sharing applications.

What makes Glympse so intriguing is the practical/utility application as opposed to a game mechanic approach.  It’s tough to argue which is better, but the power of Glympse is quite obvious.  Those three uses I described in the year 2016 help illustrate why the need to locate is a human desire and why sharing our location with people will be a second nature behavior.  It’s not scary, it’s useful.  I believe we could be doing those things now, we just need more people using Glympse.   So go and get it.  It might just save your life.

Do we really have to wait 5 years for such a great day?

The Future of Search: Why Humanoids Will Rein Over Androids

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part II of the series, you can find part I here.

In my last post I briefly covered how the nature of the web is rapidly shifting toward social.  I also noted the future of search does not look bright for Google, who seems to constantly struggle connecting social dots.  I call this new category (formerly known as Q&A) Social Search and here’s why I think it is emerging as the future of the web.

Semil Shah, in a recent post suggested Google is Asking the Wrong Question With Social.  He seems to agree with my stance:

Before the Internet, most “search” was conducted through offline directories and by the time-honored evolutionary tradition of asking questions. “Where would you recommend I stay on my trip to Hawaii?” “What dish did you order at that new restaurant in the hotel?” “Where can I get the best deal on that hotel?” Google has elegantly stripped down these queries and trained us to, instead, enter the following text in a search box: “Hawaii + hotel deal” or “Hawaii + restaurant + popular dish.”

Now, that might be how some geeks actually ask questions in real life, but this is not how we are wired to search. We are most accustomed to asking questions as an extension of our own curiosities.  And while Google keyword search is incredibly efficient, the content it points us to is unfortunately declining in quality. The bottom line is that although it’s never been easier to search online, it’s getting harder and harder to find exactly what we’re looking for because there are perverse incentives to not only create, but also promote, keyword-optimized content.

Eloquently put: traditional online search goes against our biological inclination of gathering information – asking questions.  Naturally, humans tend to search for information through asking other people questions because we intuitively know everyone is an expert at something.  And as hard as Google tries it cannot create an algorithm as intelligent as a human being, let alone harness the quality of knowledge curated from many different people and perspectives.

So what’s the point of social Q&A and why is it merging into the next form of search?

I would postulate the original point of asking questions – even dating back to prehistoric times – was actually search.  It was how humans searched for information before Google, PageRank and keywords were available.  Cavemen conducted searches when they asked others where they made their last killing for the same reason we, in the 21st century, type “pizza” into a Google search bar; to find out where to have dinner.  Because most humans are now constantly connected, it feels more natural to use social tools to find information.  Notice how often we send out messages on Facebook or twitter asking our friends  this or that, if they have eaten at a certain Pizzeria or seen the latest Transformers movie.  It is not a coincidence social questions are increasing at a rapid rate.

As I was talking to a CEO the other day he made an interesting analogy I think fits well in this discussion.  During the first internet wave (mid 90’s), it was fascinating how you could sit in a coffee shop in Seattle and somehow find information, communicate and do business with another person in a place like Tokyo.  Borders became irrelevant as the web layered on a communication system that spanned the globe.  Never before in human history had we experienced this phenomenon and it certainly was socially and economically transformational.  But today, do we really care about what is available to us in Tokyo?  More than what’s available in Seattle?  Do we want 1,000 different options displayed on 100 pages to requiring time and attention to sift through?  No, the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way.  We care about what is going on down the street, in our social circle and in our immediate local surroundings.  We want to be shown what is MOST relevant to us at the moment (and not have to see the rest).

It seems the cycle in Search has followed the same trajectory.  Google broke through because it discovered the very best way to 1) index and organize the web and 2) bring us information matching specific keywords when we searched.  But it’s a different web now.  The problem is there’s just too much information on the web today.  Like, waaaaaaaaay too much.  The major player(s) are struggling to instantly sift out 99.999% of the information in the world so they can provide us the most relevant and useful .001% – our answer.  What they lack is intuition.

For example I live in Seattle and right now I am hungry for pizza, in fact New York Style Pizza, so I choose to do a quick search on Google “New York Style Pizza” to find an viable option.  Observing the image above, it is clear Google is lacking in the contextual department.  Lil’ Frankies and Big Al’s are both pizza joints in New York City!  Amazingly, nothing on the page has anything to do with pizza here in Seattle.  This is not good.  I’m pretty sure my friends on Facebook or even growing local social search platforms such as CrowdBeacon or LOCQL would provide me a New York style pizza option closer than 2,400 miles.  I am aware Google has made strides in localization, but it is not apparent when I quickly use their main search tool.  This simple query illustrates how broken search is at the moment.

It is becoming clear to me, as more  and more information gets created each day, how important our network of social contacts are in bringing us information. More specifically, those two phenomenons are inversely related – as the amount of information grows, the tighter and more important my social contacts become. Why? Because as the amount of information increases we need context and location to help determine relevance. Context can help determine if I am searching for a pizza place in New York or if I am looking for New York style pizza. Location helps define if I am indeed looking for a New York style pizza joint here in Seattle.

Another noteworthy contextual observation is the innate difference between certain search decisions, for instance searching for a clothing retailer versus searching for a restaurant. I would be fine buying a shirt from a distant retailer in New York City. Ordering pizza…? Not so much. Google’s Android DNA doesn’t seem to understand humanoid nuances at all. I guarantee a social search application (powered by my friends) would intuitively understand the contextual and location nuances within my searches.

Understandably, this is freaking Google out and forcing them to push socially awkward applications onto their users at an increasing pace. Unfortunately this is not how social works, you simply cannot rush things on the first date or you will never have the opportunity for a second one. Google+ looks to be their best social offering as of yet, but only time will tell if they have finally aligned the social dots.

It is now clear why Google purchased Aardvark, one of the social search companies I highlighted in my last post. Just read this brief overview and think of how it could help us search:

Aardvark is a way to get quick, quality answers to questions from your extended social network. You can ask questions via an instant message buddy or email. The questions are then farmed out to your contacts (and their contacts) based on what they say they have knowledge of. If you ask taste related questions about music, books, movies, restaurants, etc., they’ll ask people who tend to show similar tastes as you in their profile.

It will be interesting to see how (and if) Google integrates Aardvark to help navigate this new search territory. Regardless of the outcome, I do not think Google will loose its shirt anytime soon. They have a stranglehold on the overall search market and most realize there are many different channels in search. I agree with Semil,”This type of search, or social discovery, will become important, but it won’t dominate search—it’s just one channel, and different social networks exist for different parts of our lives.” 

This is just the beginning of an incredible change in how we will find and use information and I cannot wait to see what emerges. In five years (2016)  we will not be looking at a white screen with blinking cursor begging us to type a few short words into the search vault so it can pull thousand’s of links for us to plow through.

In my next post I will go in-depth on the first of the four quadrants of social search, an area I believe has yet to fully experience this massive technological revolution.