Tag Archives: Milestone

Julia the Mermaid

Loss of Innocence

Yesterday, my 10 year-old daughter, discovered that the Tooth Fairy no longer exists. I was packing to return home from our vacation and was about to stow some bandages in my toilet bag when she caught a glimpse of her note and tooth that she had left for T.F. under her pillow several days ago. It was a real shock for her.

My son, who is older, was different. He likes to figures stuff out for himself. My wife and I knew he no longer believed but weren’t sure when he stopped believing. He was a good sport about it though and kept Julia in the dark for the past few years, playing along, saying nothing. Today I finally asked him when he was clued in. He looked up from an episode of MythBusters and said he figured it out when he lost a tooth but decided not to tell us. He put the tooth under the pillow and nothing happend the next morning, the tooth was still there. Eliminating the variables, he put it together.

As fat tears rolled down Julia’s cheeks, between sniffles, I could feel her ache of losing something magical, something bigger than herself, someone with whom she could keep secrets. With the fall of the Tooth Fairy, others soon would follow. She tugged at this loose spiritual thread and asked me point blank about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and so on. Knowing it was time to come clean, I lay down the cards for her. By mid-morning, not only had the Tooth Fairy ceased to exist but all the other childhood myths lay shattered in pieces.

I wonder how this will change her over the next year. She’s about to go into 5th grade, the last grade before she goes on to Middle School. Many of her classmates have been telling her that Santa and the others do not exist but she’s been resisting them, choosing to have faith. Now, with that dream broken, she’ll be on the other side of the fence. Those who know the existentialist truth of a world without the Tooth Fairy.

A father worries, what will become of that innocent smile?

Photo by CC Marks

IBM Watson on Jeopardy

In a brilliant piece of PR, IBM Research stormed back on the scene matching their artificial intelligence computer, Watson, against top contestants of the popular American game show, Jeopardy. On February 14, 15, and 16 Watson’s competes against two humans on live television.

According a piece on Wired’s Epicenter blog, 25 IBM scientists spent four years building Watson. “Powered by 90 IBM Power 750 servers, Watson uses 15 terabytes of RAM, 2,880 processor cores and can operate at 80 teraflops, or 80 trillion operations per second”  The database of content upon which Watson draws its “knowledge” is from over 200 million pages from reference texts, movie scripts, entire encyclopedias, as well as, Wikipedia.

How did Watson do?

After the first day, Watson is tied with Ken Jennings for the lead at $5,000, beating out  Brad Rutter who has $2,000. For details on the game and some behind the scenes of what was going on, listen to the interview with Stephen Baker on Arik Hesseldahl’s post on All Things Digital.

Footage from a practice round back in January below.

More details at the IBM Watson mini-site and a documentary on Nova, Smartest Machine on Earth.

Social Discovery, Social Filtering, and other Web-Squared Shapes

It’s hard to wrap up a major conference, especially when you didn’t attend, but viewing things from a distance sometimes helps because only the loudest messages make it all the way over.

Before the conference even started, Fred Wilson threw out a one-liner that got people thinking. He called it the Golden Triangle.

The three current big megatrends in the web/tech sector are mobile, social, and real-time.

To Fred, the vectors between each of these points on his triangle represented the biggest opportunities over the next few years and where he, as a technology VC, was going to focus his attention.

Ross Mayfield, his line from the first Web 2.0 conference is still relevant, added Geo to Fred’s Triangle and posted his virtual napkin up on flickr.

ross mayfield web squared

The importance of Geo cannot be ignored as the most obvious (and easiest) way to add context to information which is being harvested and sent our way in increasingly alarming rates. We talk about a world in which there are 1 billion mobile devices. Imagine what happens when each of these gets a camera, gps, and bluetooth sensor and an IP connection to pull in real-time updates. Adds a new dimension to Right Here, Right Now.

So while HTML Page Indexers of yore were failing at finding us the best Chinese in Helsinki or plumber in London, Social Discovery became the new nectar. Facebook leads to FriendFeed leads to Twitter and now our capacity to consume and process has overloaded. Groups, Hashtags, Lists, Folders, call them what you will but this manual organization of streams is beginning to feel like e-mail folder management all over again. The Googles and Microsofts have added the Twitter firehose to their indexes but somehow I don’t see that as solving the problem unless they can filter on your social connections as well (rumor has it Google Profiles are about to play a much more important role Google Social Search is now live).

Which brings us to Social Filters.

Marshall Kirkpatrick has been following this topic for a long time. He bangs the Social Filter drum again in a post about Facebook’s News Feed redesign,

Someday social networking is going to be like the telephone. Today you can’t send messages from Facebook to people on MySpace or LinkedIn but that isn’t going to last forever. Just as you can call someone who uses T-Mobile from your Sprint phone, someday sharing and messaging between online social networks will be a given.

How will social networks retain users then? Why stick with Facebook when some smaller service offers a decentralized social networking service outside of Facebook’s control but still tied into your friends on Facebook and elsewhere?

These services will someday have to compete on user experience, when they no longer have your social connections locked-in. The service that does the best job filtering up the most important information you have coming your way will likely be the service you stick with. That’s going to be a key area of competition between social networks.

Yes, it’s no longer about who “owns” the social graph – it’s who provides the best services on top of a shared graph. Someone mentioned that Tim Berners Lee said at the conference that AOL was to WWW as Facebook is to distributed social networks. Just as we thought it silly that AOL wanted to put it’s famous wall around the internet, we may also look back in amazement thinking that anyone could have the audacity to think they could own the world’s social address book.

Some historical perspective from Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle in Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On

There is a race on right now to own the social graph. But we must ask whether this service is so fundamental that it needs to be open to all.

It’s easy to forget that only 15 years ago, email was as fragmented as social networking is today, with hundreds of incompatible email systems joined by fragile and congested gateways. One of those systems – internet RFC 822 email – became the gold standard for interchange.

We expect to see similar standardization in key internet utilities and subsystems. Vendors who are competing with a winner-takes-all mindset would be advised to join together to enable systems built from the best-of-breed data subsystems of cooperating companies.

Bringing it all together you can almost hear the synapses of the global brain achieve self-awareness. Not only are we moving to a web of sensors feeding real-time data into the grid, we are annotating it by injecting bits of human commentary and behaviors across an increasingly distributed social graph.

A phone in one corner of the world sends off a snapshot which is immediately re-tweeted via the world’s largest telephone tree. More reasoned minds pick up the samples, turn it over and examine it and later conclude that no, the calculated mass of the balloon could in fact not hold a small boy aloft – rumor refuted! Lesson learned and the network becomes a little smarter, more skeptical, less knee-jerk adolescent. Sentient if you will.

The pieces are in place, the machines are warmed up. It was fun while it lasted but it’s time to put Failblog aside and see if we can move on to tackle bigger problems. O’Reilly and Battelle wrap up with their call to arms,

2009 marks a pivot point in the history of the Web. It’s time to leverage the true power of the platform we’ve built. The Web is no longer an industry unto itself – the Web is now the world.

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Goodbye Alameda

Over the past month, I have been unwinding my life in the San Francisco Bay Area and getting ready to move the family (and dog) over to Helsinki, Finland where Nokia, my employer, is headquartered.

For the past four and half years we have been living in Alameda, an island in the East Bay, about 20 minutes from San Francisco, over the Bay Bridge. We settled here because, Izumi, spotting Alameda on a map noted it’s location in the middle of the Bay, making it most convenient to most locations.

It took two months of intense house hunting (remember, this was 2004, the peak of the housing bubble) but we finally found a place that we could call home. We lucked out and were fortunate to find a neighborhood that we loved on a block surrounded by families with children that really bonded with our kids and grew up together over the years.

Tyler started in kindergarden when we moved in and just finished forth grade, Julia’s  finished first grade. Edison School, where we walked our kids to school each day, is the only school that our kids really know. It’s been tough for them to imagine what their life will be like in Finland so it’s been hard for them to leave.

Izumi too has made many friends here and as we walk the island people often wave or honk their horn, it’s that kind of place. Because English is not Izumi’s native language and she didn’t grow up here, she sometimes misses some of the cultural references people make in casual conversation but the community embraced her and Izumi really came to feel like one of the community. It’s been rough for her to uproot herself and get ready for our move and the past few days have seen a lot of teary goodbyes.

It’s sad to leave but it also represents a new beginning, a fork in the road. We’ve had the good fortune to live in Tokyo, Princeton, and Alameda. Now we have a chance to live in Helsinki, in a semi-socialist country with a totally different climate – a place where we’ll live with a built-in sauna, the schools and hospitals are excellent, and when we arrive it will be light out until 10pm. We been given the choice to live day-to-day in Europe and add that to our life experiences. What we do with this experience and what we make of it is up to us.

We’re leaving Alameda today but are making plans for a reunion in Europe next Summer and hope to make it back for a visit the Christmas after next. Thank you Alameda for taking us in and keep in touch!

Goodbye Alameda
Photo by Tyler

There is no such thing as “Social Media”

For the past several years I have hitched my name to the phrase social media. I used it as a handle to describe the mix of blogs, photos, status updates, and other methods of personal broadcasting that I used to get the word out and solicit feedback on new ideas. In the past, there was a clear distinction between media produced this way, collaboratively, often by amateurs, and that which was popularly referred to as mainstream media.

We’ve reached a tipping point. In my mind the lines between social media  and other types of media are so blurred that it’s not even useful to distinguish the two, just drop the “social” because all media is now social. Take these examples from just the past few weeks:

Along with others, I first heard about the crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson via twitter. I was also amazed to see the twitpic photo featured on the network news stations – quality of composition was trumped by a camera phone that was in the right place at the right time. While the first reports were from twitter, more comprehensive coverage was to come later from the professionals but the twitpic and reader comments made up an important part of the overall package.

For the inauguration yesterday, CNN and Facebook shared a single URL. On the left side was a live video stream from CNN while on the right side was a stream of comments from Facebook.

CNN & Facebook
Screen Capture by Steve Garfield

While the video was very compelling, I have to confess that the real-time commentary from the peanut gallery on the right was absoultely captivating. If you measure media by the amount of attention given, most of my time was spent on Facebook feed. Mashable’s got more details on the numbers but it would be interesting to see a heat map of where people collectively spent their time on this page.

A couple years ago I asked how to define social media. In that post, Stowe Boyd said that is was defined by the, “annotations or social gestures left behind by active readers, such as comments, tags, bookmarks, and trackbacks.” Based on that definition, what we saw on CNN yesterday, and the ease with which people can create, reference, and annotate all media, it’s no longer useful to segment out something called “social media.”

There is no such thing as social media when all media is social.

A Proud Day for All Americans

Image via Tucker Weinmann
Image via Tucker Weinmann

I flew back from Denver last night on a plane full of Obama volunteers who were working Colorado to get out the vote. The pilot reported during the flight that McCain had conceded and the entire plane erupted in cheers the same way it did in the hotel bar when CNN called Pennsylvania and at the airport bar when Ohio went for Obama.

The excitement is palpable – electricity in the air stuff. Dan, one of the volunteers on the plane, came down the aisle to get everyone’s email address so he could start a mailing list of those that went through this experience together. When I asked him what it was like to knock on doors for the past few days, he said without any hint of sarcasm, it was a “religious experience.”

You never know what you’re going to get when someone opens up that door. Some give you the brush-off, some you need to tell them to put down their beer. But when you tell them that you travelled 1,000 miles because their vote is more important than yours, they listen.

In the end, there are the ones that can’t make it to the polls, their mother isn’t home from work yet, whatever. To those you say, “You know what, I’m going to make this fun for you, this is going to be a fun night.” In the end, they thank you for looking out for them. I don’t care who they vote for, it’s just the act of bonding with a fellow citizen that made it so worth it.

Two buddies of mine went to Nevada to volunteer and one of them, Jonathan Strauss, made a very good point in a post he did on his Blackberry, before the polls even closed. In a post titled, Why we’ve already won, Jonathan said that Barack Obama, even if he loses, has brought us all together in an important way.

I am so glad that we collectively feel this way – Barack has inherited a mess that is going to take everyone’s help to haul us above water again. To be walking into the Oval Office now is more challenging today that it’s been in a long while. But I can’t think of a better person than Barack to represent us abroad and lead us domestically to make things happen. If anyone can call on us to trust him to while we make individual sacrifices for the greater good, it’s Barack Obama.

I read somewhere that what we’ve done by electing a minority as President is the equivalent of the UK electing a Jamaican to lead their country. In one fell swoop we’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and shown the world that we really do stand by our creed that all men are created equal.

I’m really proud to be an American today.

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yahoo badge

Leaving Yahoo – Going Mobile

On Friday I’ll hand over my badge, laptop, and Blackberry, finishing up three years at Yahoo. I’m leaving MyBlogLog in the good hands of Todd Sampson to drive the product vision and manage the engineering team and Tilly McLain who will look over the day-to-day care and feeding of the site and community.

My self-proclaimed tag line on the internal company directory is turning Yahoo inside out. This has been my personal mission since I joined Yahoo a little over three years ago. There is great stuff to be shared at Yahoo, as long as you let people get to it in a way that’s useful to them.

I enjoyed working with people who shared my passion to transform Yahoo into to a modern platform. It hasn’t been easy – opening up programmatic access to Yahoo is fraught with many built-in conflicts. Third party content licenses, traffic guarantees, and international legal constraints all make it difficult to let services flow completely free. It’s an industry-wide problem. Much of the way the advertising industry measures the impact of their online campaigns is rooted in the pageview metric which runs counter to providing the best of what you’ve got via an API call. For folks such as ComScore (who help advertisers evaluate rates) an API call doesn’t count as a pageview or roll up into a CPM so it’s a hard to argue letting people get at data without forcing them to come to a pageview to get it.

But consumer demand on the internet is like a natural force. If you don’t go with the flow, the market will route around until it finds what it needs. As with ripped music files, if you don’t provide your data via an API and figure out how to build a business off of that, folks will scrape your pages or go to your competitor. Yahoo gets this and there are many people working to provide a structured way to get at their data in a sustainable way that can guarantee that they will be able to continue to provide it. Pay a visit to the Yahoo Developer Network site to see what’s there and watch this space as there’s more in the queue.

With this as a backdrop, I was invited to take my thinking to a new company and a new industry. In a few weeks I’ll be joining Nokia and working to make their devices more socially aware. The Nokia s60, iPhone, Blackberry and Android (rumored) application stores give us developer ecosystems around each device. What will the world be like when devices can communicate with each other via social networks, across device platforms, across mobile carrier networks? Much the same way the web browser has unified communication across Mac & PC, the mobile web will do the same for “broadband-enabled” cell phones. Add GPS (location), Bluetooth (proximity), integrated camera/video and a voice interface and you’ve got a whole new set of opportunities that are just too good to pass up.

Imagine this use case. Your phone knows your alarm goes off at 6am every morning, that you drive the San Mateo bridge every weekday on your way to work at around 7:30am. It’s entirely possible for your phone to automatically check traffic conditions before you leave sometime after you awake and let you know that there is heavier than normal traffic and suggest an alternate route and read it out to you in a phone call, while you drive. If you’ve got your calendar in there, there is no reason that your phone can’t offer to call ahead and let the people in your first meeting know that you’re running late. All the pieces are in place to make this happen, automatically, right on your device. That’s the kind of service that will enhance your life, that’s the kind of service suite I’m excited to build.

Thank you to everyone who lent an ear to my crazy talk in the early days and pointed me to others who would listen and helped me build a band of believers. A nowhere near complete list of shout outs include:

Craig Forman, Scott Gatz, and Don Loeb who brought me in and set me lose on management to get the wheels rolling.

Toby Coppel, Gerry Horkin, Dave Vockell, Gil Ben-Artzy, and David Katz, who took me under their wing in Corporate Development and helped me refine my message into bite-sized Powerpoint presentations and introduced me to the Harvey Ball.

Sumit Chachra, Aaron Stein, Josh Rangsikitpho, John Lindal, Josh Blatt, Cody Simms and others who fought the good fight down in Burbank.

Chad Dickerson, Jeremy Zawodny, Steve Spencer, Jonathan Strauss, Bradley Horowitz, Jeffery McManus, and Robi Ganguly who encouraged hackery and other inspirational corporate trickery.

Thank you especially Todd Sampson, Eric Marcoullier, John Sampson, Steve Ho, Chris Goffinet, Saurabh Sahni, Mani Kumar, Manny Miller, Tilly McLain, Robyn Tippins, Raymund Ramos, Micah Laaker, JR Conlin, Greg Cohn, Havi Hoffman, Cameron Marlow, Matt McAllister, Kent Brewster, Ryan Kennedy, Sam Pullara and all the other MyBlogLog faithful who encouraged or help me build some of the things I was talking about – we released some cool stuff which really pushed the edge and continue to lead the way.

Finally, thank you to my kids who taught me to look at social networks in a new light and and my wife who kept the family ticking and the home fires burning through it all.

For those interested in peering into a subset of what inspires me, here’s a sample of my OPML file. Keep up the good work Marshall, Louis, and Mark.

I’m going to take a week off to re-charge before the new gig kicks off at the Nokia offices in Mountain View. I’m looking forward to working with one of the original Yahoo bloggers, Russell Beattie. It’s been awhile since I’ve been a regular in the South Bay so if you’re interested in getting together, drop me a line.

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Cognitive Surplus will free up time to

One of the best talks at this year’s Web 2.0 Expo was Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus. In it he suggests that modern television is a, “cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.”

He concludes after describing how a child spent a few minutes looking for the mouse connected to her living room television;

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. 

The ironic thing is that I was stuck in the hallway and missed this talk. I read Clay’s transcript and was moved. But watching him deliver his talk on video was even more impactful (for instance, listening to the collective, “Ahhh!” from the crowd when he delivers the lines quoted above).

As with many involved in the tech industry, I watch very little television but when I do, it’s mediated by timeshifting technology that lets me watch it on my own terms. It’s either on Tivo or filtered through social pointers such as Jeremy’s blog post which determine which videos I invest time to watch.

“The web is in its infancy,” says Tim Berners-Lee and looking at the tools available to manage information flow it’s easy to see why. We’re shifting from a time of channel surfing to web surfing but the evolution from web portals to something more dynamic and efficient has only just begun. The vast wealth of information is still intoxicating and we constantly jump around afraid we’re going to miss something. What’s going to happen when we wake up from this second, “collective bender” and use our spare time to improve the world around us.

Then we will have the capacity, as Tim O’Reilly challenges us, to “wrestle with angels.”

End of an Era

Pay PhoneBack in February Western Union announced that it would no longer be sending telegrams ending a 150 year tradition of the hushed interruption by the butler of urgent news from lands far, far away.

Thus it is only fitting that today we hear that the New York Times has shut down its fabled Recording Room which was the journalist’s last savior for phoning in a scoop before deadline. No more dashing to the lobby of the racetrack to phone in results over a pay phone. AT & T even announced that they’re getting out of the payphone business all together.

I guess it’s about time for trenchcoats and fedoras to come back in style.