Will 2012 be the year of iTV?

Decent article by this title in Electronic Retailer caught my interest, since a big part of what I do is try to be right about what year is “the year” of <Whatever>.

The author looks at iTV as a consequence of 1) video-on-demand increasing and morphing into “appointment viewing” (meaning TV anywhere, anyscreen, anywhen) and 2) direct response technologies like AdWidgets (“bound” and “unbound”: see the article) and, the Holy Grail, a “universal TV buy button”.

She cites a source to the effect that 51% of digital TV households today have “iTV technology available”, which is a somewhat squishy phrase although an impressive percentage.

There’s still something broadcast-ey about this.  You get to pick what you watch and when, but all the interaction is you picking what brands will sell you or pitch to you.  Kind of a corporate picture of “interaction”.

My picture of interaction is more like the Web: you get to “surf”, you get to yak with others, you get to do goofy time-wasthing stuff that doesn’t transact or present you with a brand “message”.  When will iTV get to that milestone?



How will the Maker Movement break out?

The news that littleBits — a Maker startup which sells “mashup” hardware electronics kits for children of all ages — got a $3.65M investment from True Ventures and others was terrific.  And well-deserved.  Ayah Beir is a visionary CEO in the mold of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, although, to be fair, the canvas seems smaller.

And that’s the problem.  It’s terrific for a Maker startup to get funded, and to get interest from the likes of us VCs.

But I keep coming back to an analogy.  1977 or so.  The Homebrew Computer Clubs are all over.  Hackers are hacking hardware and software.  Scoffers are scoffing that it’s just a hobby.

Two things happened: The Steves built the Apple II, and Dan Bricklin built VisiCalc.

The original “killer app”.  Suddenly the $2000 price tag of an Apple II didn’t seem so egregious.  Suddenly the work of getting an Apple II to work didn’t seem so onerous.  It had a purpose.

I love littleBits, and I love kids and the hacking imagination.  I don’t think it’s the purpose of Making.

I don’t think 3-d printers are the purpose of Making either.  They’re very cool, and they are a kind of vivid logo for the movement.  But they are not what will make Making indispensable, that will make the costs not seem egregious, what will make the set-up not seem onerous.

What will?  Don’t know.  Looking for it.


What does “Big Data Storage” Look Like?

When we went from PC apps to Web apps we lost a bunch of things, but the worst was: the UI and UX went to hell.  Even with all the rich interaction add-ons, Web apps today are just not as (for want of a better word) delightful as native apps were, and won’t be for some time.  That’s probably reason #1 for mobile apps today: they are much more delightful than anything achievable through a web browser.

There’s an analogy with Big Data: the paradigm of distributing computation to the storage (which I talked about a bit last fall) is pretty powerful, but it’s a step backwards in terms of storage.  There were all kinds of good reason to centralize storage (or at least decouple it from computing), and while putting compute next to storage makes all kinds of sense, you now have the move the data into the storage that’s near the compute before you can compute on it.  Not bad, perhaps, if you have to do a whole passle of computing on a relatively static batch of data, but a real non-starter in near-real-time or even regularly-changing batches of data.

Which should be leading some teams to think from the ground up about how to design a storage and compute system that manages to distribute storage with respect to computing but centralize it with respect to locality or reference and management.

We’ve seen a couple of ideas in this area, and would like to see more.

Your thoughts?

Fred Wilson on “Free and Paid”

I retweeted a very thoughtful post by Fred Wilson on “Free vs. Paid.”

Wilson argues that free and freemium (a term he invented; I had no idea) are not the enemies of the consumer, and advertising is not evil.  Key quote:

This post is in reaction to the idea that services should be paid to ensure that they are appropriately focused on the consumer/user as opposed to the marketer/advertiser/sponsor.

Let’s start with advertising. I do not believe it is evil. In fact, I believe it is a fantastic way to support services that want the broadest adoption and want to be free. 

This is true, but not completely relevant.  Advertising is not evil, but it’s conflicted.  If a business is supplying a product or service to you, and someone else is paying for it, you will receive a suboptimal product or service whereever your interests and those of the payor diverge.

We see this in online, in politics, in television, in video, in audio.

And not just in ad-sponsored businesses.  Think of auto-body work and health insurance, for instance.  Anywhere that Jill pays for a service that Joe consumes, conflict can arise.

So the point is not to avoid ad-sponsored businesses, but to make sure that everyone understands, in plain and simple terms. the points of conflict and the quidae pro quo (if that’s the right plural).



Advertising on Social Media

David Card, as usual, has a very thoughtful post on the troubled adolescence of social media advertising.

The problem, as I see it, is figuring out the right way to introduce advertising into what is essentially a bunch of conversations.  The current approach is tantamount to stepping up to a couple of people talking and saying, “Your teeth will be whiter if you brush with Pepsodent”.  It’s moronic.  How can something like that be an effective approach?

(And it doesn’t get much more effective if you have a video of someone singing “You’ll wonder where the yellow went/When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”.  It’s the jarring disconnect between the conversation and the ad that causes trouble.)

A better approach: wear a t-shirt with the ad as you talk to your social mates.  They’ll ask about it: “What makes you so hot for Pepsodent.”  And then you tell them, “It makes my teeth whiter.”

A lot of vendors are going after this sort of thing (FULL DISCLOSURE: our portfolio company Adaptly is one of them), but no one’s figured out yet how to work an ad into a conversation in just that natural a manner.  Big unsolved problem.

Your thoughts?

Google software, flies in the ointment

As discussed in an earlier post I’m embarked on a slow but presumably irreversible journey from “thick” apps to thin ones, from desktop to multiple clients to cloud.

Part of the lure is that most of the software, most of the time, is kind of “nifty”: it’s satisfying, pleasurable, fun to use in a way that I think lies at the heart of successful software.  It feels right.

Google software mostly fits into this category.  I like gmail a lot, I like the rest of the suite.  I haven’t moved over from Office to Google Apps in any major way yet, but it could happen.

But Google doesn’t act like the kind of software company I used to work for.  If something goes wrong, they don’t necessarily man up and they don’t necessarily fix it.

Take my Google Chat voice/video plugin.  I hadn’t used it in a week or so, and when I went to make a call from Chat I got a notice that the plugin needed to be installed.  “That’s funny, it’s already installed,” I said, but went to the screen and pushed the button to install anyhow.  Nothing happened.  I can’t make a call and I can’t re-install.

I find getting to Help in google software to be very problematic, but I found some kind of help search screen somewhere behind my profile photo and searched for help on this topic.  Nothing.

I then do what I do nowadays with most cloud software, Google-d the  broad we for it.  Found some threads, but nothing official.

Finally I found a reference to a “known issues” notice in Google help (why it wasn’t discoverable by search I daren’t ask the search king) and find out that this plugin problem is a known problem and Google is working “hard” to resolve it.

Now I know that Google doesn’t always live up to their “do no evil” stuff, but telling me that my help query was, in effect, “very important to us” was a nasty reminder that Google’s main effort here was to keep disruption of their operations by us needy users to a minimum.

All very American-business-as-usual-in-the-teens, but with a wrinkle: a cloud company has no main number to call, no Vice President of Customer Service to write.  I can only step up the game, as I’m doing now, by complaining about them online.

I wish they were more accountable.

Your thoughts?

Thanks, @jlecat and Tom Lang from @videologygroup for bringing me NoSqlTapes

I look to Tom Lang, all-star CTO at our video advertising company Videology Group, for insights into digital advertising technology, Big Data, and cloud, because he worries about them every day and, unlike many, worries constructively by finding resources that will keep Videology out in front.

When I asked him for background about NoSQL/NewSQL, he turned me on to The NoSQL Tapes site, which is collection of roughly hour-long video interviews with the rock stars of the NoSQL movement.

I’ll admit it’s an effort in today’s information-snacking world to pay attention to anything for an hour, but even in smaller snacks it’s worth it.  What a great site to find out more background on NoSQL.

As it turns out, Jerome LeCat from Scality is one of the sponsors (or THE sponsor?) of NoSQLTapes.  Jerome (Twitter @jlecat) is a brilliant guy well worth listening to in his own right.

NoSQLTapes was a terrific idea.  I would welcome the same in other emerging technology areas.