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Information & Interfaces

I’m still stuck on the narrative of consumption – both on the intent and interest front, as I wrote in Intent, Interest & Internet Dominance, as well as on the interfaces through which it will happen, something I started writing on in Consumer- facing AI : Phase One.

In this era of abundant choice, a device I use when fighting battles with myself on personal consumption is the can-want-need framework. ‘Can’ is made increasingly easier now because of convenience, ‘want’ by the choices around, and sticking to ‘need’ is a very difficult task! I read a really good post which has mirrored this in the (consumer) technology space – “How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds…“. More

Intent, Interest & Internet dominance

Facebook’s new move to dominate advertising by expanding its audience network to non users got me thinking about its interest based approach, and in contrast Google’s intent based approach. While both approaches have their place in the scheme of consumption, it reminded me something I posted a while back on a completely different context – choices.

We live in an era of (relative) abundance and are spoilt for choices. Consequently (to generalise) it has become more difficult than ever to stick to conscious choices. Increasingly we consume more because we can (largely influenced by our social network) than because we need. I see this as a parallel to interest & intent. I also think that the more data Facebook collects across its properties about users (and non users) the closer it will get to making intent an even lesser part of our consumption than it is now.  More

Consumer-facing AI : Phase One

Since the launch of the Messenger Platform and bots, (a handy summary by Mashable) the world has had a lot to say about this move by Facebook – ranging from “fantastic start” to “frustrating and useless“. Somewhere in the middle probably lies the truth. Facebook is, of course, not the only player in this specific game – to name a few, Slack, Telegram, Kik all are at it! A more elaborate representation of the landscape can be found here.

Somewhere in all this hype is a little grain of truth. For instance, two (plus one) trends, as explained in this post by MG Siegler, are pretty evident – the rise of messaging, app saturation and the increasing application of AI/machine learning. Bots are well placed in the intersection of these three. More

Alpha Bets

Yahoo’s seemingly imminent demise, and the flip flop at the very top of the food chain – Apple taking back the title of the most valuable company in the world before you could say Alphabet – made me wonder about the next theatre of war. I’ve been fascinated with GAFA (is that AAFA now?) for a while, though I prefer the title that Scott Galloway gave them a year back – The Four Horsemen. If you haven’t seen his presentation from the DLD conference, you should. It gives a lot of perspective on the scale at which Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple operate, and the impact they are having on every other business there is.

The Four Horsemen symbolise conquest, and that’s what each of them are after. That’s also why I’m inclined to think that the fate of our species is increasingly tied to the fates of these four companies! While they are not busy fighting turf wars with the ‘smaller’ folks like Uber, Netflix, Slack, China etc, they are increasingly encroaching each others’ key focus areas – from shopping to providing internet to health to devices to social to VR to OS (phones, cars, things!) to content to.. you get the picture! This year, Scott’s presentation was on the same subject and titled ‘Gang of Four‘. It makes things even clearer!

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Brand Interfaces

A couple of months ago, I had written a post on the inevitable ambient future of what we now call the internet, and the role of AI in it. The post was mostly on the rapidly changing nature of interfaces. The ones we actively interact with – mobile, VR/AR, gesture/haptic based tech – and the relatively more ambient ones like a certain kind of wearables and IoT. In that post, the argument was that Google was best placed to tie together data from mobile, social, sensor, location etc and give it context with the help of AI. (Hello, Alphabet!) As this Wired post states, Google is not a search company, it is a machine learning company. Do read about Google Brain while you’re at it! It has a role in several Google products we use, and shows the potential of what is possible when machine learning really works on content surfacing.

But all that is only context setting. Something that has been occupying a lot of my mind space these days is the impact of these continuing developments on brand communication and distribution. For years, the limitations of traditional media have forced brands to communicate to lumpy masses of ‘target audiences’. As the internet transitions into a much more ambient an ubiquitous form, all of brand marketing will be digital either overtly or under the hood. But even digital’s early versions have been on the same path, with incremental changes based on intent/interest. That, I think, is about to change fast. This superb article on the same subject puts it really well – we need not simply digital strategies but strategies for a digital world. It also explores the technological and platform advances that will allow frictionless experiences for consumers and what it means for brands.  More

In an ambient future…

Digi-Capital claims that by 2020, Virtual and Augmented Reality combined would have hit $150 bn, eclipsing mobile. What is interesting is that a recent Juniper report predicts an $80 bn market for wearables by 2020. (via) If I read that together, by 2020 we would have witnessed three interface cycles – mobile, wearables and AR+VR. The shelf life of interfaces is shrinking, much like other business cycles. In fact, in Trendwatching’s No Interface trend brief, you can get a preview of this. I’d think that by 2020 web access would be much better than what we have now, and with other technology like IoT advancing sufficiently, we would be poised for ambient interfaces to consume and create what we do on the web and mobile now.

It is widely believed that Google is only a challenger in the  mobile and wearable domains – to Facebook and Apple, despite Android. With Facebook’s Oculus move and Glass’ demise, it would seem that the interface that follows the two above would also see a fight. In an insightful post, Ben Evans asks “What does Google need on mobile?” He notes that all of Google’s play is about reach – to collect and surface data. Mobile, and specifically apps, challenge this and create a world of perfect complexity. He ends with saying that Google needs to win at search,  whatever that means and wherever and however far from PageRank that leads you. Christian Hernandez goes further in his post ‘Into the Age of Context‘. He points out that the glue that connects mobile, social and sensor trends is data, but to take it to the next level, it needs machine learning and AI. He sees Google Now as the perfect example of The Age of Context. More

The IoT battlefield

The last time I wrote about the Internet of Things, I hoped for an application layer that could sense and collect data and convert it into use cases. In fact, the title of the post was Interweb of Things, the nuanced difference between them being connection (IoT) and interoperability. (WoT) (read) In the few months since that post, there has been quite some activity in the space. I saw a very useful classification a few days ago that illustrated both the ‘things’ as well as the infrastructure and showed the possibilities of interoperability. (via)

IoT

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Natural Law

After a couple of years of Samsung, I bought a Moto X (2nd gen) phone, the Droid Turbo and Nexus 6 also being considerations. In the first few days of use, the automation that Moto’s Assist, Actions and Voice allows has impressed upon me the potential of such technologies and the dependency we could have on them.  As Karen Landis states in the Pew Internet Project’s Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age, “Implants and wearables will replace tools we carry or purchase…It will also redefine what a ‘thought’ is, as we won’t ‘think’ unassisted.

It reminded me of an article I’d read in Vanity Fair titled ‘The Human Factor“, and a particular observation in it – To put it briefly, automation has made it more and more unlikely that ordinary airline pilots will ever have to face a raw crisis in flight—but also more and more unlikely that they will be able to cope with such a crisis if one arises. This thought is elaborated in ‘Automation Makes Us Dumb‘, drawing the difference between two design philosophies – “technology – centred automation” and “human- centred automation”. The former is dominant now and if one were to extrapolate this , a scary thought emerges.

I think the best articulation of that scary thought is by George Dyson in Darwin Among the Machines – “In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.” I had seen this in Bill Joy’s amazing 2000 Wired article “Why the Future doesn’t need us“, which itself discusses the idea that Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species. More

The Change Imperative

Ever since I first wrote about institutional realignment, I have been more conscious of it and its implications on our lives. To a certain extent, even paranoid, because of the pace of change. Ray Kurzweil is hard at work to make himself immortal, and believes we should get really close by the 2030s. He has been right before on many things of this nature. Moore’s law, digitisation and everything related are also getting us really close to the singularity. I am reasonably convinced that I will see both in my lifetime. If you live to be 200 and have robots smarter than you around, what does that do to education, money, marriage, work and pretty much everything that constitutes life? On the flip side, natural resources are running out, and I can see the complications already. It’s not a good sight, or experience!

I am finding it impossible to wrap my head around what all of  this would mean to our concept of life. In the meanwhile, I do know that everything is changing at breakneck speed, and in order to survive, we need to be cognizant of things that can impact our lives – as individuals, and as organisations.  I have deliberately avoided the word ‘disruption’ because it gives me a sense of suddenness and it is a furiously debated topic these days. Rather, to quote John Green (said in another context) I think we’re in the first state of “Slowly, and then all at once”.  This, is my take on ‘Change’.

(Thanks Nikhil for helping on a couple of alphabets and Amit for Unsplash, the source of many images used)

 

Agile @ Scale

Prelude

I think I used ‘dis-aggregated social network‘ on this blog for the first time in 2009, referring to Google’s basket of services that were connected relatively flimsily then. IMO, Google has always been that way, even including Google+. (read) I remembered it when I tweeted this about Facebook – around the time news of their Fan Audience Network started trickling in.

It got me thinking (again) on ‘scale’, a recurring theme here. In a less complicated world, where the trends in the business landscape were significantly more linear, (growth, competition, consumption, economy) scale was a powerful weapon to wield. But it’s a different world now. Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Internet of Things, Wearables  and a hundred other things might completely disrupt the status quo and the need an incumbent brand satisfies. These are the known ones, and then there are the conceptually invisible (at this point) ones. Surviving (let alone thriving) in this shifting scenario requires agility, and it is difficult (though not impossible) to see scale and agility together. I looked to Google and Facebook for an approach towards this because not only are they surviving, they seem to be thriving. Yes, we’ll get to Amazon in a while.

What does it take to be agile at scale? I can think of four ingredients, the last three repurposed from the title of this post by JP Rangaswami.

Purpose

I remember talking about re-defining of scale at the Dachis Social Business Summit. The thrust of the presentation was that brands could engage consumers at scale only if they use currencies that create value for the user in the context of a shared purpose. I have elaborated it in this post at Medianama. Recently, I saw that Hugh MacLeod has brought it out beautifully here. Simply put

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(via)

Possibilities

The purpose need not have one constant rendition. As the landscape changes, a business will need to adapt it to suit changing circumstances. For that, a business needs to understand the possibilities. I saw a very good line in this post about being a maker – the more you work in the future, the less competition you will have. How much into the future a business needs to be working is subjective and depends on its dynamics, but if it doesn’t disrupt itself, someone else will gladly do it for them. (“The Jeff Bezos School of Long-Term Thinking” is a good read in this context)

Platforms

While purpose and possibilities are all good at high altitudes, a business also needs strong operational  platforms to back it up. As organisations scale, I have seen two things that affect agility. One, the processes that are introduced to create efficiency @ scale more often than not, become the goal instead of a means, slowing things down and taking away from actual goals. Two, as processes and manpower increase, silos are created. The good news is that it is easy to see technology platforms bringing more efficiency into processes as well as an iterative way of thinking in the near future. It is already happening in marketing. This, and many other factors are also dictating a consumer experience driven approach and are forcing organisations to break silos. As the entire brand/organisation becomes a platform (read) that regularly revisits its context and purpose in the life of a consumer, ‘everything becomes a node on the network

People

HuffPo had a post sometime back, citing Zappos, calling 2014 the year of workplace reinvention. It is interesting to note that parent company Amazon has apparently aped Zappos’ ‘pay to quit’ policy, even as more and more stories about working there being a ‘soul crushing experience‘ are coming out. Meanwhile, the two points it mentioned for this to happen are purpose and trust. These I’d say are the bedrock of culture. It’s intuitive that a workforce mindful of the organisation’s purpose and their role in it would keep an eye out for the business’ possibilities, be ready to work beyond silos towards a great consumer experience, and bring in others who would help the business scale. This, along with purpose, has to be the glue that holds it all together, enabling the organisation to move fast without cracking.

While different sectors are at disparate distances from a radical shift necessitated by technological developments, it is, I think, inevitable. In this fantastic post titled ‘Knowledge is faster than mortar‘, which looks at scale through a different lens, the author makes the point that ‘the old mechanisms don’t fit the new social structure.Old mechanisms were built to scale stability, new ones will have to be built to scale despite instability. Anti-fragile, so to speak. Indeed, we will see many manifestations as existing structures try to adapt – internal mechanisms like Amazon’s 2 pizza rule, consumer facing disaggregation like Facebook that have a corresponding internal wiring, or brands tweaking their 4Ps even further for different contexts. But whatever paths businesses choose, this will hold true

responsive-to-change

until next time, the fast and the curious