Jun 302016
 
facebook-business-likes

Two years ago Buzzfeed’s head of global operations visited Sydney and laid out the company’s vision of being the New York Times.

As Scott Lamb explained, an important part of the Buzzfeed model was generating traffic through social media shares — at that time a tactic which Iwas working well.

Since then the gloss has gone off Buzzfeed as the company misses financial targets and traffic plateaus.

Now Facebook has announced further changes to its newsfeed which sees more emphasis on users’ family and friends’ posts than news and brands.

Sites like Buzzfeed are left in a bind as one of their key sources for traffic dries up and, once again, Facebook’s cahnges show how risky it is for publishers and marketers to rely on individual online platforms.

In truth all of the major online services are predators with Facebook, along with Google and Amazon, being at the top of the food chain, just like tigers.

For those riding the internet tigers, the risk of being mauled is real. As Buzzfeed and others are finding.

Jun 102016
 
business return on assets is falling away

Ride service Uber has raised the game for logistics and delivery services in opening a group of Application Program Interfaces for third party developers.

The four functions available in the Uber Rush package cover delivery tracking, quotes and history. They make starting a logistics service or adding functions to a business far easier.

While there is a downside in the risk of being locked into Uber’s service this move will give a lot of developers the opportunity to develop delivery tracking products, for incumbent postal and courier services, this API is bad news on a number of levels.

Jun 062016
 
Google Apps Logo Ring hires

Ben Terrett, the former head of design at the UK Government’s Digital Service, tells GovInsider why the agency banned mobile phone apps with the British taxpayers saving £4.1bn over the following four years.

Instead the GDS insisted agencies built responsive web sites so pages would adapt to the devices they were being read upon, saving time and money being devoted to developing and maintaining individual apps for different platforms.

Apps are “very expensive to produce, and they’re very very expensive to maintain because you have to keep updating them when there are software changes,” GovInsider quotes Terrett.

For those of us who worry about the increasingly siloed and proprietary nature of the internet, Terret’s story is very good news. Apps are particularly problematic as they stunt innovation, lock users into platforms and give those who control the App stores – mainly Apple and Google – massive market power.

It’s no co-incidence Facebook are currently in the process of restricting web access to their messenger service. Locking users into their app gives them far more power over users and much more control over their data.

On the other hand, the open web means sites are more accessible and not subject to the corporate whims of whoever controls a given silo. It also means that any data collected is far more likely to be commoditised, something Facebook hates.

That government agencies and large corporations are realising the costs, risks and value they are handing over the gatekeepers by developing apps is encouraging. It would be good if they considered the other downsides of giving the web over to a small clique of companies.

 

May 242016
 
Cell phones in use

“We’re in the flip phone era of 5G networks, people don’t realise today’s 4G mobile standards were written for the era of the flip phone,” says John Smee, the Senior Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Research

John was speaking to me at chipset manufacturer Qualcomm’s San Diego head office to discuss the next generation of mobile phone services.

Putting together communications standards isn’t a simple thing, as John says “what we’re discussing now is what today’s five year olds will be using when they turn fifteen.”

John sees the new standard as giving the next generation of internet giants their market opening, pointing out companies such as Facebook and Uber benefitted from the rollout of 4G networks and some of today’s startups will get a similar boost from 5G services. “A few clicks and you’ve ordered a ride. That wouldn’t have been possible without 3G connectivity, high powered smartphones and networks that are scalable.”

“What are going to be some interesting new startups that become huge multibillion dollar industries from 2030,” he asks. “By definition we don’t understand the future.”

For telco executives being a ‘dumb pipe’ is one of their nightmares and John believes they can avoid that fate in a 5G world by concentrating on their advantages with licensed spectrum. “If they are looking a high reliability and low latency services then the quality of the connectivity they can offer becomes essential,” he says.

While the standards groups continue to work on the 5G standards, the technologies continue to evolve. John Smee’s message is that these new products are going to offer opportunities for new companies.

The trick is to figure out which of today’s startup companies will be the Uber or Facebook of 2025.

May 232016
 
Amazon echo

The winner of the upcoming fight over voice technologies will come down to who is the most open and provides the best utility believes Tad Toulis, VP for design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.

A struggle is looming between the different voice systems believes Tad Toulis, VP of Design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.

We were speaking at Sonos’ Santa Barbara office the day after Google launched its Google Home voice activated hub to compete with Amazon’s and Apple’s Siri systems.

“There’s a little bit of syntax difference with every device we use, so we’re about to re-enter this environment where we have competing formats.” states Toulis, hinting at the days of competing network types operating systems and file types.

For Sonos, that fight between formats is an opportunity believes Toulis. “Sonos was very early into this space, so much so that it’s had a few lives. The original proposition was a way to get people who were into music to have access to their digital music and enliven their home with that music.”

“At a certain point in that arc, that category started to shrink a little bit and streaming started to emerge. Now streaming has become mainstream and we’re facing another cycle.”

Generous systems

Voice though is a social thing and that changes how we interact with devices Toulis believes, “we want to talk out loud in generous way to a generous system.”

“What people want is a supportive, powerful experience that creates good options day to day,” says Toulis. “The technology is fast approaching a tipping point where it’s very human centric.”

“The promise is to figure who can do that in the most natural way so you’re not thinking about the syntax and more about the experience.”

Finding a place at the table

Like most smaller players in the marketplace, Toulis sees Sonos as being a nuetral intermediary between with the various technology empires.

“Sonos offers a place in that conversation. We also approach it in a different way because it’s not one of our businesses, it is our business.”

“I assume we’ll do what we’ve done with the music services. We’ve always believed that we do well when there are many players.”

Winning the voice wars

When asked who is likely to win the voice wars, Toulis is quite rightly guarded, “what I’ve seen over my career in technology is what wins is what works for people, it’s not always the best technologies that win. What wins is the technology value proposition, here’s a need that hasn’t been satisfied and here’s a way of doing it that is sticky.”

“The one that creates the solution with the least resistance will win,” says Toulis. “The best solutions are usually pretty obvious. The problem is you have a bunch of specialists looking at it, they can’t see how obvious it is because they are looking past the target. They’re either very close up.”

While Toulis’ view is attractive, the risk for companies like Sonos is the technology empires find their business models aren’t suited to being open or generous and controlling access to their services is more compelling for their managers and shareholders.

Hopefully open web and data will prove to be the market’s driving forces and certainly Ted Toulis’ and Sonos’ views are what users would prefer, the giants though may not prove to be so generous.

May 212016
 
Sonos_Play_5

Today I had the opportunity to tour the Santa Barbara headquarters of smart speaker manufacturer Sonos. I’ll be writing up a some more detailed accounts of some of the interesting things this fascinating company does.

One thing particularly interesting thing about Sonos is how it was established by four veterans of the original dot com era who had no experience in audio hardware or technology but had a vision of how they would like the stereo system of the future to look like.

That vision hasn’t come without change for the company, the shift to streaming has meant Sonos itself has had to pivot away from its original business model which entailed layoffs for the fast growing company last year.

How Sonos is navigating that shift, along with fostering a culture of openness and innovation is an interesting story that I’ll be telling over the next few weeks. In the meantime, my head is spinning from information overload.

May 012016
 
google-larry-page-sergei-brin-driverless-car

Breaking with the company’s tradition of the Sergi, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai writes this year’s founders letter laying out how the search engine giant is focusing of artificial intelligence and the machine learning.

Pichai’s view of the world seems to tie in very closely with founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin with him laying out a vision of making the internet and computers accessible to all.

The challenge for Google is the shift away from personal computers, something that the company is struggling with and a factor that Pichai acknowledges.

Today’s proliferation of “screens” goes well beyond phones, desktops, and tablets. Already, there are exciting developments as screens extend to your car, like Android Auto, or your wrist, like Android Wear. Virtual reality is also showing incredible promise—Google Cardboard has introduced more than 5 million people to the incredible, immersive and educational possibilities of VR.

Whether Google can execute on that vision and manages to diversify its revenues away from depending almost exclusively upon web advertising will be what defines Pichai’s time as the company’s CEO. He has a challenging task ahead.