Category Archives: evolution

When mobile phones become networked sensors

The Coming World of Mobile Sensors does a great job illustrating how mobile phones will impact our future. We’ll soon think of mobile phones not only as communication devices but also as sensors. This talk on Sensor Networks at the Lift conference first changed the way I think of mobile phones back in February 2007.

Imagine mobile phones as sensors constantly recording your geo-location, speed, altitude, temperature, nodes in proximity etc. Let’s ignore privacy concerns for a second. The data could be anonymized for example.

Data for personal use only

Even if the data is not shared with other devices some interesting applications are possible, e.g.

  • Personal diary of locations – searchable
  • Tracking of commute time – recommendations for best commute time
  • Weather history – searchable
  • Live blog geo-tagged photos as you take them

Data shared with nearby nodes

Now let’s allow the mobile devices to communicate with nodes in their proximity:

  • Personal diary is now also aware of who you were with at any given moment
  • People you keep running into but haven’t met can be introduced automatically

A German startup called aka-aki built a social network on top these two ideas. Your Bluetooth enabled phone tracks other phones in proximity. It basically keeps a trail of who you cross throughout the day. Another way to meet interesting people. Love it!

Data shared between all nodes – centrally aggregated

The real power of mobile sensors emerges when they’re networked together and the nodes have access to all the data (e.g. aggregated centrally). This totally changes the applications that are possible:

  • Real time traffic for your commute (I’ve written about this before)
  • Real-time weather in all locations as well as weather forecasts
  • Heat maps of sensor density indicating events

What other applications can you dream up?

When the ‘social context’ becomes ubiquitous

I start seeing more articles that emphasize the social¬† ‘features’ over the social ‘network’ (also see my post Increasing relevance by adding social networking features). This video on FriendConnect shows some examples and makes the difference more obvious.

I love Nova Spivack’s comparison to cars and how the choice of a Social Network will come down to personal preference (ultimately determined by brand). For this to happen the Social Networks will have to open up and support a common base feature set. This is already happening today but will accelerate. I’m convinced that soon most of our online activity will be aware of our friends and that ‘social context’ will lead to a more relevant user experience:

  • Amazon book and NetFlix movie suggestions based on what your friends like
  • Craiglist and ebay items from friends of friends
  • Search results ranking enhanced by sites friends clicked on
  • Yelp reviews and ratings from friends rather than 200 strangers
  • News that your friends have read

Things to think about:

  • ‘Friend’ is probably to strong a term. What are better terms? How will this evolve over time?
  • ‘Soocial context’ brings trust. Trust brings economic opportunities.
  • How can the 2nd and 3rd degree be used especially on commercial sites (LinkedIn is already using this)?
  • When will large retail sites grasp the concept and what kind of opportunities will arise?

And the big question is:  How can the Social Networks be open (interop) and closed (privacy) at the same time?

A Pause Button for my Email

Almost every article on improving your productivity recommends focusing your email activity on specific periods instead of checking your email every 10 minutes (or more frequently). While this is a great idea it doesn’t really work for me.

Most of my data is stored in email and I need my previously received messages as a data source. I can’t close my email for hours as it contains a lot of the information I need to work with. Now, what happens typically is what we all know all to well: I’m trying to find this one message and get distracted by incoming email. Before I know it I forget what I was actuallly looking for and wonder off.

The solution: Every email application needs a big pause button that temporarily suspends fetching new email! Sure, a similar result can be achieved by decreasing your fetch frequency in your settings. I wonder if there is a difference in behavior though when you consciously hit pause vs. just decreasing the frequency. You’re basically declaring that you want to focus on a task. And there is no doubt that there are no new messages. In the latter case there is always some uncertainty which might lead you to check.

I’ve been toying around with this idea for a few weeks now. Then this week a change on the corporate Mail server broke my Mail setup and I stopped receiving emails. It did indeed increase my focus and therefore productivity for a while as it reduced distractions. However once I realized that I’m not receiving any messages at all I started investigating what was up and trying to solve the problem. I’m not sure if there was a net benefit in productivity in the end. However it was good to experience that the world didn’t end just because I didn’t reply to any messages in 4 hours.

Dear Mashable – slow down please!

Mashable is one of the most comprehensive blogs covering web startups and technology. It’s written by a group of authors and they’re on a roll. I can barely keep up reading the posts at the pace they publish. The sheer volume of posts has actually made me consider unsubscribing as a few other blogs cover similar topics (Read/WriteWeb, Valleywag, Techcrunch). The quality of the content has kept me subscribed so far. The posts are well written and contain critical analysis.

Interestingly enough I don’t know who’s behind Mashable. This might be mainly due to the fact that I’m reading it in a feed reader where the author is not displayed anywhere. It’s not hard to find out who’s writing it, I just never bothered. The blog itself is important not the individual contributors, similarly to a newspaper. Compare this to Seth Godin or Doc Searls where the person takes the center stage. Can you build your personal brand as a contributor to a group blog?

Back to the blogs mentioned above: I unsubscribed from Techcrunch a while ago. Too much hype, not enough analysis. Plus the arrogant writing style annoyed me. Valleywag has gotten pretty good in terms of analysis and seeing through the hype. Plus it’s funny from time to time. Staying subscribed. Read/WriteWeb is more narrowly focused on the web compared to Mashable. There is a pretty big overlap between the two though. I go from planning to unsubscribe from Read/WriteWeb (Mashable is covering the same topics and more) to planning to unsubscribe from Mashable (Read/WriteWeb covers the essential). It’s interesting to have two point of views and resulting analysis on the same topic though. Staying subscribed to both for the time being.

I stumbled over a draft post on my feed reading habits from about a year ago. My list of subscriptions has changed significantly since then. I’ve unsubscribed from various blogs that didn’t add value. Most of them are probably still around but I stopped reading them. I do consider a few still must reads though namely gapingvoid and Seth Godin. I find both inspiring.

Wrapping up 2007

Reading my last post makes me laugh. After proclaiming to be back 9 months ago I’ve gone silent again. I’m giving it another shot. I realized that I’m spending a lot of time consuming and processing information without actually publishing – verbally or in written form – the outcome. A co-worker said a few months ago: Output, not input. This has stuck with me ever since and I’m trying to improve my input to output ratio.

The end of the year is always a time of reflection on the last 52 weeks, missed opportunities and what to do better next year. I think I’m typically too critical of my own achievements. 2007 has been an eventful year and I’m really happy with where I am. I’m always striving for more though and the slow pace of evolution sometimes causes dissatisfaction.

I’m enjoying the predictions for 2008 that surface on various blogs. And of course the analysis of last years predictions. It is a great way to do a review of what has happened. Often thought of as a silly game, predictions are in fact a result of deep reflection on the near to mid-term future and enable you to position yourself for success. Makes me think: I guess I’ll have to write up my own predictions.

Similarly New Year’s resolutions are a conscious analysis of your current situation and what you want to improve. Unfortunately the execution often breaks down. The act of coming up with resolutions is still worthwhile. I’ve decided to build my own Global Microbrand in 2008. It’s about being remarkable and such…

I just realized that I’ve been reading Hugh MacLeod and Seth Godin (see links above) since September 05 (or longer). Inspiring quality content kept me subscribed for so long. Rock on!