Internet of Things

There is a lot of fear and denial floating around as industries, companies, and careers are disrupted by the accelerating growth of technology. I embrace that change and the possibilities it represents. Why not? It’s going to happen whether or not I (or you) choose to participate, and the things that are becoming possible are really quite breathtaking.

One area that holds both promise and threat is “the internet of things“. We tend to think of IoT in terms of store shelves that communicate to a retailer’s inventory system when it’s time for a new shipment, or refrigerators that remind us when it’s time to buy milk.

This sounds like the start of the PC era when the most significant use the average non-technical person could think of for PCs was organizing recipe cards. Take a look at Postscapes’ 2013 Internet of Things award winners for a small taste of where this is really going. The future belongs to those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and hack it.

One threat is that bad actors or well-intentioned but short-sighted organizations will misuse this potential in a way that hands too much power to the already powerful. Think NSA with capabilities magnified a hundred-fold. One can argue that large companies have the potential to misuse this power as well, as individual ethics are easily overwhelmed by shareholder imperatives.

But I’m not as concerned about the potential misuse of IoT by faceless organizations as I’m excited by the possibilities of creativity by brilliant individuals. The sensor technology is already cheap and accessible enough that individuals can begin to hack IoT in ways we haven’t yet imagined. I can’t imagine what that looks like but I’m looking forward to being astounded.


Big data for humans

Nearly every company is getting more data about customers, sales and interactions than it can quickly put to good use.  One fascinating solution is the development of artificial intelligence platforms that can extract insight from large datasets and communicate those insights in narrative form.narrativescience

For several years I’ve been following Narrative Science, a company that has pioneered an algorithmic approach to turning datasets into clearly-written, useful content designed for humans to read and understand. While their early efforts focused on taking  high school sports scores from thousands of games and turning them into instant articles indistinguishable from a local reporter’s efforts, their new Quill product is focused on business intelligence.

So why does this matter?  Think about the parts of your business that generate data; web analytics, ad ops, ecommerce, sales or customer service for example. How many of these generate (either manually or automatically) regular spreadsheets or charts for senior management to review? How often do these reports result in deep thinking about opportunities hidden in the data? Almost never. Unless the person assembling the reports is very good, their “insights” are unlikely to be very penetrating, and are therefore routinely ignored.

We already know that software can analyze and find useful connections and outliers in data far faster than people can. When software can also communicate those insights in clearly-written, logically presented prose, big data becomes a lot more interesting to mere humans.

Think how valuable it would be to deliver concise, insightful campaign summaries and recommendations every week to each of your advertisers, without hiring more people. How about a data product that delivers far more than just…data? Financial services and marketing automation companies are beginning to use tools like this, but the potential for competitive advantage is there for a great many companies. Do you have data that could be turned into a business-transforming product?

Don’t build 50 products, build one platform

Xcommerce platform

eBay's Xcommerce platform

If you haven’t read Steve Yegge’s eye-opening rant about the power of platforms vs. products, you should. He rambles and gets a bit technical (he is a Google engineer after all) but he brilliantly explains the value of building platforms that can be extended by others vs. building stand-alone products. This matters to much smaller companies as well, even publishers. Taking a platform approach to infrastructure you already need (like a customized web CMS) will at minimum save money, and could turn into a business in its own right for you. (more…)

Amazon’s brilliant power play: Kindle Fire

The new Kindle Fire, with the Silk browser.

Jeff Bezos, quoted in the NY Times, said about Amazon’s new tablet “Part of the Kindle Fire is of course the hardware, but really, it’s the software, the content, it’s the seamless integration of those things.”

Well, actually, it’s about Amazon’s new lightweight Silk browser, which is about to give them amazingly complete, detailed information about users. Privacy concerns? You betcha. Actionable consumer insights? Billions of dollars worth if this takes off the way other Kindle products have. (more…)

Innovation starts with people, not tools

Many businesses struggling with how to grow digital revenue decide “we need (insert CapEx investment here)”.  Sometimes they are right. I consulted with a B2B publisher who wanted a new CMS, because their existing CMS was an unmitigated disaster, and actively impeded their ability to grow revenue or traffic.

In their minds, the new CMS would deliver workflow efficiencies and SEO benefits (and it did) and increased revenues would follow, as if by magic (they did not). The new CMS certainly made it possible for them to innovate faster and more cheaply, but it didn’t actually supply them with the market-specific product innovation they needed. (more…)

How to find and hire Web developers

You need great Web developers but have no clue where to find them. You’re not alone. We hire entry-level journalists from j-schools, so can we find entry-level Web developers in university computer science or IT programs? No, we can’t.

College computer science and information technology programs are not producing the great Web developers marketers need. Part of the problem may be that “Web developer” does not actually describe a standard list of skills or competencies.