Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

A few things missing in, most, coverage of Google buying Nest

Posted by shannonclark on January 14, 2014

ImageI’ve been following the acquisition of Nest by Google with a lot of interest and while there have been a lot of articles about the acquisition I think even the best tech blogs have missed a number of key points about this deal.

  1. Google Ventures is one of Nest’s major investors. The full details and specifics of Google Venture’s investment into Nest are not public but it has been noted that Google Ventures led two of the rounds of funding for Nest. As a result they are, most likely, a major shareholder and thus when this transaction closes a significant portion of the proceeds is likely heading to Google Ventures from Google (corporate). Google Ventures is run like a fund so this likely means a good return on that investment – but it is also likely the case that this fact helped Google be able to offer more for Nest than many other parties would have been able to (either for an acquisition or for another large round of funding. 
  2. The takeaway shouldn’t be that “home automation is hot”. Whether or not a given “sector” technology investing is “hot” is always a matter of debate, but it should be noted that while Nest is in the home automation space it isn’t only or even solely in that space, nor does that positioning really reflect what Google is likely trying to accomplish via acquiring Nest. Rather I would highlight Nest as being a successful example of a couple of key business trends.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in geeks | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

2014 – the battle of platforms continues

Posted by shannonclark on September 26, 2013

My wife and I are are a mixed couple.

Sure she’s Indian and I’m Irish-Jewish but that’s not what I meant. I meant that she’s on Android and I’m on iOS. Though we both also have iPads and share an older desktop iMac. I also have a MacBook Pro that is my primary computer.

We share a family Amazon Prime account though each use Kindle via apps not physical devices. We don’t, currently, have an Android tablet in the house.

As I look forward to 2014 I think we are an example of the looming battle of core platforms that a relatively small number of companies are waging. The companies that I would argue are battling this out are:

  • Amazon.com – especially with Kindle as their physical device but also with the growing features of Prime that have expanded well beyond free shipping. They are fighting for an increasing share of not just reading but all entertainment as well as all shopping for a growing number of families. And Amazon is powering a huge number of businesses via selling on Amazon.com and Amazon Web Services. Amazon payments is not as well known but is used by popular websites like Kickstarter.
  • Apple - obviously iOS is a massive platform and Apple is a platform for thousands (millions?) of app developers and companies that offer services to the huge and growing global iOS installed base (iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches) but Apple is also battling in the living room with Apple TV and their laptops and desktops are still very popular. While Apple is directly competing for entertainment time (iTunes Radio being their latest addition) and iBooks competes directly with Kindle, they are not competing for the eccommerce platform in the same way that Amazon or Google are.
  • Google - Android is their massive platform play on mobile phones and tablets and it is a huge success (if also a challenge in how many flavors of it our out in the wild). But Google’s platform plays don’t stop there. Chrome is a cross platform and important piece of their platform. Google+ is perhaps not a slam dunk success but it is an important piece of their puzzle and they have just recently announced a public roll out of their Google Shopping Express (currently limited to San Francisco and the Peninsula but presumably they plan on a larger scale rollout in the future) showing that they are looking for transactional solutions beyond advertising. If you can get what your family needs quickly, reliably and reasonably from local stores but delivered to you via Google they presumably see a way to make a lot of money offering that service.

There are many other companies that are also competing, though to a lesser degree.

  • Microsoft - hard to entirely rule out and their XBoxOne will likely be a huge hit this holiday season and gives them a footprint into many living rooms. But Bing is not as successful as Google, Surface is faring poorly against iOS and Android and while Windows 8 is big it is no longer as relevant of a platform as it once was as the focus for many consumers (and thus many companies and developers) has shifted very rapidly to mobile platforms. There while Windows Mobile / Phone (whatever they are calling it today) has some impressive phones from companies like Nokia, what it does not have is a large installed base or significant developer interest (there are applications and developers building for the platform but far fewer than for iOS or Android.
  • Ebay/Paypal - they have made some interesting acquisitions in the past year and have rolled out services like Ebay Now (that directly competes with Amazon Prime or Google Shopping Express for rapid fulfillment of ecommerce but they have lost their early community feeling and PayPal while still large and profitable has also made many people frustrated over the years as their anti-fraud systems have had many false positives. They remain a big online sales channel and PayPal is making inroads in other payments but they don’t have the same platform reach as other companies.
  • Comcast / Verizon / AT&T or other carriers/cable networks – this varies somewhat by region and is very different in other countries. but while Comcast certainly is competing for people’s entertainment dollars (directly with Apple/Microsoft/Amazon/Netflix for streaming/on-demand videos) and they have launched apps to expend to portable devices beyond TVs they don’t, yet, offer the other platforms of the companies above. But as the pipes upon which mobile phones, tablets, computers, consoles and entertainment devices like the Apple TV connect to the Internet and receive content they are certainly positioned to benefit from the success of other platform companies.

Are there any other companies I have missed? I know there are others outside of the US that are competing (and winning) as platforms. Companies like Alibaba in China (and indeed globally). Yahoo presumably wants to have a platform for consumers and businesses – who else?

Posted in customer service, Entrepreneurship, internet, microsoft, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Planning a new event

Posted by shannonclark on September 13, 2013

A year ago I started my most recent event – a weekly game night I host in San Francisco. It has been quite a nice small event – lots of fun, nearly 100 people on the mailing list for it and every week around 20 people gather in SOMA to play games (mostly Pathfinder Society but occasionally other games). All in all quite a nice event that I’m proud to have started and to continue to host and organize.

But it isn’t a professional event – though a few folks have found internships and made connections with others in the area it isn’t an event for professional networking.

I also recently moved out of San Francisco and down to East Palo Alto. Two months ago my wife gave birth to our son. So as I think about events that I attend and that I organize I have a new perspective.

Since moving to the Palo Alto area I haven’t gotten out to many industry events – I missed this year’s TechCrunch/August Capital summer party and I haven’t been going to meetups or networking events.

But this morning a thought occurred to me – what if I, once again, started my own event. An event I could invite the speakers I want to hear from to speak at and an event I could schedule for the time and place that would be most convenient for my wife and I (and our newborn).

My idea is to create a networking event that is designed to be parent friendly. An industry event that will accommodate kids of any age as well as their parents.

This means

  •  Kid and stroller friendly space – room to park strollers/wheel them, changing tables in the bathrooms, neither too bright nor too dark and definitely not too loud
  • A parent friendly time – breakfast, mid-morning, lunchtime or late-afternoon (after school) are all possibilities – I welcome feedback about the best time (after work/evening isn’t it)
  • Parking nearby (this is Silicon Valley so a necessary evil)
  • Great food that anyone of any age or dietary restrictions will enjoy – this means fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies from local producers etc.
  • Short talks (if any) with lots of time for Q&A – Demonstrations would also be excellent
  • Interactions – between people and with technology favored over dull slideshows or vapid chats.

The focus would be akin to many other technology events – getting smart people together to meet potential clients, partners, investors or employers. Topics might include marketing online, emerging technologies, new programming methods and languages, emerging technology and opportunities etc. But with a few specific focuses and goals.

  1. The people at the event are more important than the speakers (or the organizers) – the goal is very much to get people to talk with and interact with each other – and to talk about more than just their kids (but sure, their kids are a welcome topic here as well).
  2. Be open and encouraging to everyone – kids of any age (from newborn to teens), parents and non-parents, men and women. This isn’t intended to be a parents only group or a moms/dads group. The idea instead is to have amazing technology speakers and content – but just happen to be scheduled and designed to be kid friendly. Hopefully this means as well that this event draws a more diverse crowd (in all metrics of diversity) than most tech networking events tend to draw.
  3. Ideally it is a regular event not a one-time event and hopefully it builds a community around it as well as support of sponsors and venue(s).

Anyone want to help me with this? Especially if your company might want to sponsor or host (or speak) at this event! (Speakers won’t be from sponsors – though sponsors can suggest speakers they would like to hear from). Any friends who are parents want to offer suggestions for venues or times for an event like this?

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, personal, web2.0, working | 1 Comment »

Me and my son Avi

Posted by shannonclark on August 2, 2013

Me and my son Avi

A photo of myself and my son Avi just days after getting home from the hospital.

Much more to come and yes baby photos may show up here on this blog as well as on my personal feeds in social media. Since Avi’s birth I have been thinking a lot about the world that he is growing up in – and our role in creating that world for him and for everyone. I have long talked about the failure of our media (games, films, tv and books) to actually deal with technology as it is today let alone how it will be in the future. We are at a point in the history of innovation where changes have started happening faster than our imaginations can grasp. What is fictional and what is real is not at all intuitive or easy to remember – and what was “true” even just months ago may no longer be the case.

But and this is a huge but – this very failure of our collective imaginations are being used to drive business and political decisions as well as countless personal decisions every single day. And the impact of this disconnect is growing every day.

Posted in geeks | Leave a Comment »

Moving and Life updated

Posted by shannonclark on April 28, 2013

So I have been an infrequent blogger for the past few years – for many reasons, some work some personal, none really bad just been more active in other forums and haven’t had blogging inspiration. But I realized as I am in the midst of packing up our every belongings with my wife in preparation for our pending move next week that I havent’ been keeping my blog readers in the loop. 

So a few big personal bits of news, if you read me for technical tips, political views, food reviews or other matters feel free to skip this post and come back here for future posts. 

Okay for those who have stayed the highlights only updates from the past few years.

A year and a half ago I got married over Thanksgiving weekend here in San Francisco.

Married life has been wonderful and in July my wife and I will be adding to our family with the addition of our first child (we don’t know the baby’s sex and won’t until she or he arrives). 

Later this week we are leaving the “big city” behind and moving to East Palo Alto from San Francisco. While we are both urban dwellers at heart – I lived in Chicago for 16 years then San Francisco for nearly 7 years (with a brief 6 months stint in Berkeley, the one month in Oakland was actually a month in a bigger city than SF so doesn’t count for leaving the city behind) and my wife has lived in San Francisco for nearly 17 years herself so this is a pretty huge change for us both. But it is one that we are both very excited about – not lead because of the chance to be nearer to her family – and for the little things that are harder to have in a bigger city – like more than one bathroom – but which are quite helpful with a growing family.

After the move I hope to resume more active blogging – and will be spending some time gathering together my disparate online sites into a more cohesive whole. 

Posted in geeks | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Initial thoughts on Facebook Graph search

Posted by shannonclark on January 22, 2013

I’ve been playing around with the new Graph search which i just got this afternoon.

First impressions – BEST “tour” I’ve ever seen in a product – instead of canned searches & results the TOUR uses logical elements from your Facebook profile and actual live results (in my case “University of Chicago” then “my friends who attended the University of Chicago”)

Second impressions – very cool but the auto completion vs actual search is frustrating – and will be MUCH more so when (if) they allow searching in blobs of texts (i.e. updates, shares, posts etc) – much that I would want to actually search for won’t be possible.

For example something like “friends who are hiring” which would be awesome to get reasonable results for isn’t currently feasible.

And more playing with the searches also shows a lot about who is/isn’t keeping their profiles active and up-to-date. Definitely increases the value/importance of keeping elements of your FB profile accurate (companies you work/worked at for example). They also don’t quite get that distinction – i.e. Dave McClure showed up in a simple search I did for “friends who work at Paypal” (note that my search was in the present tense – of course I know Dave used to work there… )

This will also be useful but will suffer from the “when/how” do I use this? Will Graph search be available to me via the FB apps? Or just the website? Will it be a standalone mobile app (ala Messenger) What more complex use cases will this have beyond the obvious friend stalking/local restaurant suggestions types of things.

Seth Blank’s YourTrove.com is still FAR more useful for me – that lets me search stuff that has been shared with me (full text search of posts) – i.e. insanely useful in tracking down stuff I know someone shared with me at some point in the past but which I can’t recall the precise details (for example the private, friend’s only post where a friend shared the names of his newborn children)

Overall definitely going to be an interesting shift in how Facebook is used.

Posted in digital bedouin, internet, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Your Browser Alphabet

Posted by shannonclark on January 11, 2013

So a few days ago I came up with a fun yet revealing game – and asked folks on Twitter about it.

What is your browser alphabet?

That is, when you type a single letter what does your browser auto-complete to (if at all)? This may vary across the browsers you have installed and is, of course, based on your browsing and searching history in each of your browsers.

For me not every letter maps to a site and some more obscure letters map to sites I rarely use (but which are the only sites I use with any frequency that start with that letter). In my own case a few links, of sites I use the most, map to highly specific pages of a much much larger site. In most cases however the browser defaults to a fairly top level domain.

Safari (my secondary browser)

A is for accounts.google.com (yup, over Apple.com)

B is for bbc.co.uk

F is for Facebook.com

etc.

Browsers vary and a lot of this depends on what you have been visiting recently – but I think the full exercise can buy  revelation about what sites you actually spend the most time and may help you think about what you have been prioritizing. Sharing the full list almost certain reveals more of your self than most people would be comfortable sharing but I think it could easily be a very fun site/game to capture this info and compare it to others.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What are your get the New Year started rituals, habits or practices?

Posted by shannonclark on January 2, 2013

Philly Street

Do you do anything every first business day back from the new year break?

Do you try to get down to inbox zero for the new year?

Do you try to clear out RSS feeds, evaluate podcast subscriptions?

Try something new to start the year?

For me here are my goals and new habits for the new year.

  1. Clear my inbox, currently hovering just under 2000 emails – going to try to get that down to <100 by the end of the week
  2. Zero out my RSS feeds for the new year and likely unsubscribe from dozens (hundreds?) of feeds I rarely read last year – giving myself space for new subscriptions
  3. Try to write a blog post (or more than one) and schedule others to get myself into the habit of at least one blog post a week for 2013 (so check back with me in 2014 to see if I make that – goal is at least 52 blog posts to http://slowbrand.com/ orhttp://shannonclark.wordpress.com/
  4. Visit at least one new cafe or restaurant a week for 2013. Today I’m at The Wooly Pig on Hugo St in SF – a new cafe and a whole new street to me (haven’t been here before) Great food, good coffee, free wifi (in a tiny space) = a definite winner to start the new year. 
  5. Reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Every year I meet 100′s of people, some years 1000′s, and while I always form new friendships each year I’m not always great about staying in touch with old friends. Not just via once a year birthday greetings here on Facebook but by actively engaging with my friends – catching up on the phone, meeting up in person. In 2013 I’m going to try to reconnect with at least one old friend each week – and meet at least one new person each week (whether they become friends isn’t the primary goal)

Posted in digital bedouin, personal, time, working | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Idea – Small Business everyday – not just once a year on Saturday

Posted by shannonclark on November 19, 2012

This Saturday is the return of the American Express sponsored alternative to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday which is indeed a great event where American Express is using their marketing clout to promote shopping at local, small businesses. if you are an American Express cardholder you definitely should register before Nov 24th via the above link and qualify to get $25 credit if you spend more than $25 (on a single transaction) at a registered small business – either per the website above or a Square merchant.

No complaints about that emphasis from me but it did spark an idea and a question.

Why restrict this movement to one Saturday a year? Why not create a way to promote shopping from innovative businesses every day? 

Clearly there are a lot of complicated reasons to focus on a single day – for one it is a great way for American Express to leverage marketing dollars to make a single push and to emphasize the value of accepting American Express to small business merchants (i.e. since it costs more for the merchants anything like this day that adds value to that transaction via stretching marketing dollars is a win for small businesses) but I think there is a lot of great opportunities for networks of smart businesses to work together to create value for all participating merchants.

First however a few definitions and restrictions I would put on any such project were I to pursue it.

  1. The value for consumers in shopping at a small, local business should be the service they get and what they can get there that can’t easily be found elsewhere. In many cases this means businesses that offer unique items, often locally made and/or that support and service older items no longer available elsewhere. Used bookstores versus an only new bookstore for example.
  2. If I were running things I would emphasize the value of curation and editing over comprehensiveness. Small businesses win against the Amazon.coms and Walmarts not by competing on price or selection but by offering better service – which includes editing what is available to only sell great products. This in turn also allows for value to buyers even if the absolute price of a given good is the same (or even higher) than that good might be at a big box store or massive online site. Busy shoppers value service – and help in identifying the great versus the not-so-great is, for many, worth spending slightly more (avoiding the costs and time of returning items or replacing things that wear out quickly)
  3. Small businesses don’t necessarily mean tiny one-woman shops. Relative to the $100B+ massive big box chains like Walmart nearly every other retailer is “small” – small in this context primarily means in ethos and focus – though I think I would start with businesses primarily in the <$100M/year range (mostly in the <$10M range with many in the <$1M). These could be mid-sized businesses like San Francisco’s Rickshaw Bagworks or even smaller businesses like my wife’s design business.
  4. Here in SF we have an example of the type of thing I’m thinking about – SF Made is a network of 100′s of local to San Francisco makers – companies that aren’t just based in SF but in most cases manufacture what they sell here in San Francisco. SF Made is close to what I’m envisioning though I think it should be a national movement not just a local citywide one.

I don’t mind in thinking about this idea if it excludes many types of small businesses. The idea isn’t to promote shopping locally or at small businesses just because they are small or local – ignoring whether they offer great products at fair prices – rather the idea is to find a network of likeminded, related businesses that through pooling together can better market and promote the unique products and service they offer. Any such organization has to be about the value to buyers as much (perhaps even more so) than it is about the value to the local businesses. If it is this could be a highly sustainable movement – if the value isn’t there however or if it is too skewed towards one party over the other then this isn’t a sustainable, long term movement.

Groupon’s approach isn’t, I think, the right on – it emphasizes price over quality and service. What I’m thinking about would be a service that is not open to any business to join – but which rather is possibly a co-op where very business has to be approved in some manner (perhaps not by each other – this should be open even to “rivals” as long as they all meet the core criteria and philosophy). Once a member and once pooling marketing and promotional budgets the idea would be that this organization could do things that no single small business could reasonable take on – sustained online marketing campaigns, long running offline advertising and promotional campaigns etc. Possibly this organization would also serve as a negotiator on behalf of these smaller businesses for a wide variety of products and services (health insurance for example but also negotiating with payment processing firms like Square, American Express etc.

Posted in advertising, customer service, Entrepreneurship | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Services in iOS – wild speculation about how to evolve mobile OSes

Posted by shannonclark on October 29, 2012

photo of NeXT Cube by Joachim S. Müller used under a CC license

More than 20 years ago my primary computer was a NeXT cube – still among the best computers I have ever owned and many of the features of that computer are still revolutionary. Among those features is one that showed up in the Mac OS many versions ago but which has never been widely used – the concept of Services which are pieces of functionality that one application offers and makes available to all other applications on the computer.

Potentially incredibly powerful both for day to day use and for use inside of scripts to automate routine tasks these services have, however, never been widely used or understood.

So here is my crazy speculation – in response to this recent Google+ post on the future of Context and iOS by Robert ScobleApple should make it possible for every iOS application to expose services to other applications on the platform

This has lots of challenges – not least of which is data security and integrity – exposing services means passing data amongst applications on the platform and opens up the device to any number of privacy and security concerns – but the advantages that this could offer are also nearly endless.

Imagine an entire new class of applications – applications that aren’t designed to be run directly but instead which enhance every other application on the platform. A few immediate examples:

A public transit application that makes public transit directions available in EVERY application on the device that uses a map

A translation application that offers on the fly translation/language lookup of any bit of text inside any application on the device

A “share to …” service that adds a new service to the core sharing services baked into the OS (i.e. currently Twitter and Facebook but this would be a way to install one core element and get sharing features potentially everywhere on the platform

Today many applications actually bake into their codebases code for various third-party services – web analytics, social network login/sharing features. game score/matching features etc. It may be possible that in the future, should services be widely adopted, that many applications could have a smaller, more nimble codebase by leveraging a single, well updated and maintained codebase for common services (such as ad serving, analytics, etc) much as today they consume core iOS services such as Maps etc)

I should note that while I pay attention to mobile development and iOS development it has been sometime since I was actively and personally involved in the development of an iOS application so I may be misremembering certain details of how to build such applications under the current iOS. And yes there are always problems when 0ne application depends upon a 3rd party application for core services (i.e. an update to that 3rd party service may impact the performance of your application in potentially unforeseen ways)

But equally such a movement away from siloed applications to emphasizing services that one application can offer to other application could open up the iOS platform to countless new opportunities while also enabling smaller and faster applications.

These new Services applications could do all kinds of potentially crazy and innovative things – actions that would then be potentially available inside of every application on the device. From allowing for enhanced auto-completion (i.e. text snippets etc) to on-the-fly translation, to enhanced geographic contextual information to new forms of analytics the possibilities are nearly endless.

So that’s my “simple” suggestion – bring back Services in a big way.

Posted in mobile | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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