Google Social Circle


Google labs is testing a very interesting new feature within the Google search results which lists and ranks content from people that have connections to your own social networks, websites, blogs, etc.   It’s called Google Social Circle and I think this approach has a lot of potential…

More to come  at Technology Report

CES 2010 Coverage at Technology Report


The show is over and I’m back home in lovely rural Oregon, which is a lot like Las Vegas … if you take away the mega Casinos, lavish hotels, hundreds of national class restaurants, 24/7 dining, hundred-million-dollar theaters, zombie gamblers, throngs of people, massive convention centers, and the nasty city underbelly you find just away from the fancy venues.

For the next several days I’ll be writing up the show from the approximately 400 pictures I took of CES 2010 and Las Vegas over the past week.   That coverage will mostly be over at Technology Report

Although I tend to see things through Web 2.0 colored glasses I really think CES 2010 this year was really pushing the 3D TVs (skeptical of how well consumers will receive this) while ironically much more powerfully showcasing something something that cannot be directly sold – social networking and global device connectivity.

Tim O’Reilly and others have talked about “Web 3.0” which some see as a device-O-sphere  where our computers, cameras, phones, household appliances, cars, etc are all streaming data into online environments where that information can be used by other applications in a variety of ways.    I think we are very close to having the technical ability to do that, and soon we’ll see a lot more websites and other computerized ways to process and learn from that data stream.

Obviously there’s a downside in terms of the fact our personal drivacy is being eroded away but that ship has sailed and I’m optimistic that the Device-O-Sphere will bring us far more efficient ways to use our resources and time.

Inefficiency is massive in all sectors of the world and I think the folks who are fretting far too much about looming catastrophes from things like global warming should be spending a lot more of their valuable time helping to engineer systems that create energy and resource efficiencies by

1.  Finding the waste and 2. eliminating some of that waste.

FYI – start with your conventional water heater – for most turning it down a few degrees won’t create a noticeable change yet it will save more energy than switching off lights from now  through the climate apocalypse.

Technology Report

Future of Education Part I


My dad  (a retired Education Professor from NY State) asked for my view on technology and education in 200 words so I thought I’d post it here too.  Feel free to chime in with your views – I’d love to hear them and will pass along to dad, who is presenting education insights to his group:

Over the last 30 years it has been painful for me to watch how technology with all its wonderful educational potential has crept more than lept into the classroom. Even today, where most teachers are comfortable with technology in the classroom, students often remain more expert than teachers with computers.

However on the bright side of the education equation there are many remarkable new technologies and approaches to education that will gradually provide students with richer, more interactive, more international, less expensive, and higher quality forms of education.

Many innovations have already made their way into classrooms including games to help with all subjects, Google search to help children find topics, read news, track down information for reports, and more. Academics now routinely use the internet to research and report more effectively.  Many then blog their findings and opinions, leading to a rich interactive experience that helps to blur the often unnecessary lines drawn between classroom and real world or between teacher and student.

The most exciting example I have seen of a very innovative approach under development uses broadband internet, specialized projectors, regular video cameras, a special type of wall sized screen, and microsoft surface computing software. The system will allow groups of children from two different classrooms in different countries to interact in real time as if they were looking at each other through a transparent wall. Even the language barrier can be overcome using translation software so students in China or Europe could join with a class in the USA to learn and share cultural insights or any comments.

Why do blogs suck? A Blogging Revolution Needed?


Wait, no, I love blogs and blogging!   

However several folks in the  blog echo-chamber are suggesting correctly that there are problems with this  echo-chamber and problems with the many “me too” posts out there by people who want to be in TechMeme or otherwise get linked.     I actually think TechMeme’s got it close to right because creator Gabe Rivera has facilited the conversation algorithmically rather than allowing only the “insiders” to decide who is linked to and thus who gets to participate most actively in the tech buzz of the day. 

Tech blogging has become something of a mess even though there are advantages to having tech themes discussed ad nauseum in that I’d argue you can shake out the BS faster that way.  

Mark Evans has a thoughful post about why he thinks original blog thinking is so rare.    I don’t agree that original thinking is hard for most bloggers who tend to be a pretty thoughtful gang, but agree we don’t find enough good thinking on blogs.   Why?   Because we have created a problematic blog ecosystem that relies on human frailties and short attention spans.     I think it’s kind of a “welcome to the human race” thing and is not fixable.

 I wrote over there:

I don’t think original thought is all that difficult for many bloggers, rather most people tend to read a combination of groupthink and antagnostic dialog.  Thus the most read posts and blogs are not the most thoughtful.

I find that when I venture away from the major tech blogs I find the far more thoughtful posts – yours right here for example.

Ideally there would be a new blog revolution that would aggressively work to reconnect the thousands of new bloggers based on merit and thoughtfulness rather than old links from old sites with old thinking.  Sort of a human and algorithmic “revoting” for the best blogs.  I wonder how well the old “A list” would fare in that revote?  

CNET SWOT Analysis


CNET is back in the news as today brings layoffs and ominous internal memos so I thought I’d put out this CNET SWOT analysis I did over at the Techdirt Insight Community not so long ago:

CNET Mini SWOT

CNET Strengths:

Brand awareness and brand respect.   CNET has been one of technologies most recognizable and respected brands for many years, and continues to maintain the high respect of the technology community.

Writers.  CNETs technology writing and analysis is recognized as some of the best in technology.  Unbiased reviews and authoritative articles from seasoned technology journalists are the mainstay of CNETs content. 

Editorial staff.  CNETs reputation for editorial and quality control is unsurpassed in the industry.   

Dan Farber promotion.  Dan Farber is one of technologies most informed and seasoned professionals.   As a blogger who is extensively familiar with and actively participating in social media Dan was a great choice to help guide CNET into a more aggressive social networking posture.

Huge internet traffic.  CNET remains one of the most visited news sites on the internet.

High revenues with potential for high profitability.   CNET’s revenues are strong despite significant earnings declines in the past year. Zacks analysis suggests a modest profit downturn in the coming year, but CNET is still generating very substantial revenues and some profits.   Under a JANA acquisition scenario the aggressive management for profit could boost earnings significantly. 

CNET Weaknesses:

Labor intensive content production.  CNET’s quality writers and editors are her blessing and her curse.   Writers cost money and good writers, collectively, cost a lot of money.    Blogging and the social media revolution have led to an online environment that creates a tidal wave of quality tech-focused content every day at very low average cost per article.

News delays.   Although CNET remains very current, it simply cannot always compete with the 24/7/365 blogging community that is posting (and increasingly scooping) CNET and other media outlets when technology news breaks.  Again, the editorial standards force CNET to delay where bloggers and online journals will report first and ask questions later.  The practice is questionable from a journalism point of view, but usually it is just fine for advertisers and certainly helps with traffic generation as the early reports often garner the most page views. 

Earnings declines.   CNETs earnings are down significantly, placing huge pressure on the company to cut costs and increase monetization for content.    CNETs early success may have led them to incorrectly assume they would remain unchallenged in the tech news space where they are under pressure from both bigger players like Yahoo and smaller players like TechCrunch.

CNET Opportunities:   

Socialism!   CNET’s attempts to build an online CNET-centric community at the website have been modest and in many ways have failed.    With a sterling brand and reputation, CNET is in a great position to leverage the existing tech-centric user base into a number of community endeavors.   One small example would be to create more niche CNET communities online and then evangelize these communities via CNETs advertising as well as Facebook, Myspace, and other social media powerhouses.   Even more powerful would be to facilitate the creation of much more reader-driven content.   For example make registration for CNET simpler with just an email signup and encourage far more guest articles.   Digg style rankings for CNET articles would be another positive step in this direction.  

Be more like TechCrunch.  Mike Arrington has brilliantly leveraged the fast pace of internet journalism, modest journalism standards, advertisement flexibility, and most importantly the powers of social media.   Where TechCrunch initially produced content at a fraction of the cost of CNET using freelance writing and little office overhead, it also distributed and monetized this content in more powerful ways such as massive emailings and very aggressive social media participation and real socializing.   Once again however CNETs high journalistic standards provide some barriers here.   

JANA board coup:  If JANA succeeds in the fight to change the direction of CNET, and this appears likely, a new focus on monetization and innovation will lead to a stronger and more viable CNET.     Unfortunately profitability is probably going to call for a reduction in journalistic standards and quality coverage, but from a company health perspective CNET is likely to benefit from a leaner, faster, broader, but more superficial approach to tech news coverage.

CNET Threats: 

Diminished advertising revenues.   The coming recession may not hit online advertising as hard as some other sectors but online advertising spending growth is likely to slow in the coming year and possibly even go down.   Financial sectors, for example, were huge spenders last year and may be unable to continue spending at the same levels due to the housing crisis.  

Blogging and the social media revolution.   These represent a substantial threat to CNETs long term prospects and profitability.   Blogs and non-traditional media coverage are generating huge volumes of quality content every day, and technology focused content is especially abundant since blogging’s early adopters tended to be technology enthusiasts.  Bloggers are increasingly respected as quality journalists and analysts who in some cases have more expertise than the technology journalists that are covering the same story, product, or events.   Yet the average cost to produce a blogged story is effectively zero as many bloggers are writing simply for the fun of coverage and the internet soapbox.   Monetization of blogs is also becoming easier and more lucrative in the form of Google Adsense per click advertising as well as projects like Federated Media which match publishers to advertisers – a service for which advertisers are increasingly willing to pay a high premium.


A Google aquisition of CNET?

Despite the reasonable assumption that CNET has significant potential for a valuation far beyond current capitalization of approximately 1 billion,  I consider a Google aquisition *unlikely*.      Google’s actions and stated intention for many years have been to concentrate on content *monetization* and avoid content production.    Also, Google stresses the value of machine scalability which is not compatible with the labor intensive content and editorial style of CNET.   

That said, I think that CNET and Google cultures would be fairly compatible.  Not because they are similar but because they would have a high degree of mutual respect as leaders in their respective fields.  Where Google is relaxed, fast paced, and extremely innovative CNET culture appears to be more formal, professional, and along the lines of a traditional journalism environment with attention to detail, high journalistic standards, and an older workforce.    This is probably an acceptable recipe for a comfortable working relationship.

CNET Linkage:JANA Board Fight:
http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/080107/20080107005660.html?.v=1

Zacks YHOO summary:
http://biz.yahoo.com/zacks/080222/11619.html?.v=1

Journablogger Battle Dome 2008


Blogging people love a heated argument and Mike Arrington always aims to please, so he nailed Fred Wilson for a few inconsistencies in his otherwise very reasonable post suggesting the obvious – that blogs tend to have lower standards of accuracy than mainsteam journal articles.   I don’t think this can be reasonably disputed though I think on balance I’d rather have the fast paced, up to the minute blog coverage that is sometimes inaccurate than the next-day-fact-checked-cold-news that we sometimes see with mainstream technology coverage. 

Of course I hope the Journablogging does not upset Fred too much because I predict things will get *much* worse before they get better.   Monetizing is increasingly dependent on article output, and blogs like TechCrunch are pumping out articles faster than you can click on an RSS feed, and systems like TechMeme encourage mass postings to increase the chance you’ll be seen.    The flood of blogged tech news has only just begun, and accuracy is already one of the first casualties.

Matt explains all this wisely.  He’s pretty smart for a real journalist..

Singularity – the Movie – is near


Ray Kurzweil is one of the most exciting thinkers anywhere, and unlike some “futurist advocates” of the past he’s distinguished himself in several fields relevant to those he speaks about.    He’s producing a film based on his book “The Singularity is Near” that will take the form of a narrative storyline featuring cyberterror, nanotechnology, and virtual beings and also a documentary with interviews featuring many leading thinkers about the future of technology.    See the Singularity website for more.

Ironically the early misguided optimism about AI has led even some early AI pioneers to scoff at the notion we are near the brink of conscious computing.  Yet a lot of evidence now suggests we are near reaching the capability of creating consciousness in machines. 

First, the IBM Blue Brain project is within about 8 years of a good working model of the brain.  They are not claiming to seek “consciousness” with the model  – rather they are focusing on brain and disease research – but I see no reason to think they won’t soon attain a conscious computer as the machine approaches the number of connections we have in our own brains.  

Second, the computational power of computers is approaching that of a human brain.   Kurzweil discusses this at great length in “The Singularity is Near”, noting that exponentially improving processing and memory capacity will soon lead to plenty of power in computers to replicate human thinking patterns.

Third, the explosion in profitability for massively parallel computing power – such as that used by Google and Microsoft – will fuel innovation for many years to come.

The question of “Do you believe in a technological singularity” needs to be replaced with “what are we going to do when the singularity happens?”

Hey, I’ve written a lot more about the Singularity , because I think it’s the biggest thing to hit humanity since….ummmm…. the advent of humanity?