Searching for the Moon

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

Posts Tagged ‘future’

Imagining the future – or why the tech press lets us down

Posted by shannonclark on June 29, 2012

This week in San Francisco is Google I/O where Google gathers together some 6000 developers and woos them with the devices and API’s of the future that Google hopes will happen.

In the past this hasn’t always worked, sure it included launching Android which has been, mostly, a success but it also included launching Google Wave which while cool was not a success.

This year it included launching a pretty interesting Android tablet (the Nexus 7), a beautiful to look at in-home consumer electronics device (the Nexus Q – notable for among other reasons being made in the US), new Chromebooks, a new version of Android that (apparently) finally solves many of the UI issues that mobile OS has been plagued with and a bunch of other new APIs and services for developers to leverage to build new products on top of Android and Google+ (and other products of Google such as Maps).

Oh and it also featured one of the founders of Google channeling his full on geek ID by taking to stage in a homage to Tony Stark (Iron Man for you non-geeks, most specifically the movie version of Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr in the current Marvel series of major films, less so the original comics version) anyway Sergey Brin channeled Tony Stark with his keynote demonstration of Google Glass (and Hangouts and less clearly the hacker ethos and money of Google) to pull off perhaps the best demo in tech history. It involve skydivers leaping out of a Zeppelin while live-streaming multiple feeds of images and landing on the roof of the conference center in downtown San Francisco.

But with all of that happening this week we still see a technology press that mostly misses where the future is going – finding it hard to imagine mythical “real people” using any of the products demonstrated by Google this week and further mostly focusing on the tactical achievements of one company or the other in raising money or launching some latest and greatest version of something.

Where has the imagination gone?

My reference to Tony Stark/Iron Man is a telling one – a small handful of major motion pictures in the past few years, starting back with Minority Report and more recently with The Avengers do take seriously the attempt to envision the technology of the near-future and illustrate how we may interact with that technology in the future.

In many ways the story of the 1990’s (and early 2000’s) was a that of a generation of geeks who had grown up on Star Trek making much (though not all) of the technology of their childhood imaginations reality. Starting with the communicators (which gave us the industrial design inspiration for Motorola’s flip phones) and leading up to tricorders (our modern smartphones are coming close though still lacking a few sensors out of the box – though increasingly you can build something akin to a tricorder if you try…. and our iPads (and other tablets) have inspirations from Star Trek as well.

But if you think of the iconic fiction of this generation you see little to inspire future generations, few explorations of the real possible impact of technology that could be possible in the future.

And almost noone even gets what is possible today right in fiction – across any medium.

What is possible – not possible as in some obscure military lab – but possible as in “you can order it for next-day delivery” is beyond the imaginations of our creators of today. Sure Google Glass’s small formfactor wearable computer is only just available for pre-oders (and not shipping until sometime in 2013 – 2014 for consumers) but other examples of wearable computers have been around for years now. Our nearly throwaway devices – smartphones available for free (when you sign up for service) have more power and processors and sensors than the computers of just a few years ago.

We have autonomous cars, flying vehicles and walking robots (in many sizes and shapes and styles0. We have 3D printers in the home capable of amazing things. If you can imagine it you can also now get it made and delivered to any part of the globe in a phenomenally short period of time. And people across the globe are exploring what it means for billions (not millions – billions) of people to have digital access to each other.

The number of cell phones on this planet is rapidly approaching the number of people on this planet.

Yet out fictions rarely think about what happens when billions of people can share with each other, when billions of people are reachable and can pool together – sure in “small” groups but when billions of people are connected “small” can be millions of people.

The core assumptions of most of our economic and political thinking needs to change to accommodate the real impact of pervasive connectivity and technology on the globe but our creators in whom we rely upon for images of the future have let us down.

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Billion dollar ideas for the next decade

Posted by shannonclark on April 23, 2010

What will be the next set of Billion dollar industries?

In the past week one of the biggest angel investors in technology, Ron Conway, announced that he has closed a new venture fund and he spoke to TechCrunch about what he sees as the opportunities for the next few years, the opportunities he will be investing in with his new fund. He identified three “megatrends” – the real-time data, the social web and flash marketing.

I agree with Ron that these are big trends and that there are many companies already pursuing them but still many opportunities in these areas for new companies to be created and to succeed.

However I think there are a number of other very large opportunities which will be huge in the next decade, opportunities which will transform not just entire industries but how we (and by we I mean people around the globe) live. Some of these opportunities may require massive investments and infrastructure which means that the winners in these spaces will likely be existing large companies that navigate the transition to a new business model though there likely will be opportunities for large, venture backed (and eventually public IPO backed) companies to prosper in these spaces as well.

I’m sure there are other, very large opportunities, but here are a few which I have identified.

  1. Full lifecycle manufacturing – products which are designed to be recycled and reused. Yes, physical goods. As Moore’s Law continues to move forward the pace of technological change is rapidly increasing, manufacturing is increasingly global and nimble yet climate change concerns, the cost of transportation and energy and many other concerns suggests a need to reevaluate many products. My prediction is that across products from cars to toothpaste design for full-lifecycle use will inspire billions of dollars in new products and industry opportunities. Businesses designed to take products after the initial purchaser of the product is done with that good and reusing those products, at scale, to add value and reenter the value chain. This is much much more than just “recycling” it is an underlying shift in design. Done well this is highly “green” but will also be highly profitable with lower costs, multiple revenue streams and ongoing, engaged relationships with customers over the lifetime of the product – whether it is a car or toothpaste or a laptop computer.
  2. Renewal products to extend the usefulness and value of goods. Cars designed just two years ago have technology components which are already massively out of date and limited (20gb disks for the media players in the car). Laptops and desktop computers are typically out of date when you buy them and new models come out from most computer companies multiple times a year. And while the trend for the past few decades has been to replace our electronic devices (and indeed much of our consumer society) on a frequent basis, I think there is a huge opportunity for a new business of retrofitting and updating a wide array of devices. This opportunity is two-fold. The big but complicated part is retrofitting current products – such as cars made in the past decade with modernized electronics. The even bigger opportunity is when the design of products starts to shift to be designed for ongoing upgrades. This has happened in software in the past five years – both desktop and mobile applications (and to a degree server based applications) are almost all now designed to have ongoing and automatically checked for updates which allows these products to upgrade over time. My first generation iPhone is still useful over 3 years later as a result of having been designed to accept significant ongoing updates both for the core software of the device and for the dozens of applications I run upon it (which wasn’t even an option when I purchased the phone initially!)
  3. Many pieces loosely coupled. This is a trend which exists online and offline. In place of monolithic products whether software or hardware the next decade will see many more opportunities to integrate small discrete items together in ways they may have not been designed to be combined or expected to be used. In software the rise of widgets, such as Facebook’s recently announced Social Plugins is an example of this trend. In hardware this trend is a bit slower but there are examples of it in action in the home entertainment center changes of the past few years – the rise of Internet connected devices other than computers within many homes. Most Blue-ray players sold today, for example, come with wired or wireless Internet access and along with the ability to play Blue-Ray disks the ability to connect to Internet delivered services such as Pandora, NetFlix Streaming, Flickr and more. I predict that there are billion dollar opportunities for increasing the types of devices that can connect with each other and for more combinations of hardware and software working together. Specific short term opportunities I see are around Bluetooth devices that are more complex than keyboards, mice or headphones. Eye-fi’s line of wifi enabled SD cards is a great example of how a second part added to an existing device, say a basic digital camera, can transform the functionality of that device.
  4. Hyperlocal but global curated experiences. At first this may sound like a contradiction, how can an experience be both hyperlocal and global? What I mean by this is the emergence of new retail opportunities which combine deep connections and relationships with the local community around the retailer alongside of a global perspective and sourcing. The emergence of Third-wave coffee roasters over the past few years is one great case study. (here’s a list my favorite coffee places  in San Francisco). This trend is not limited to small, nimble entrepreneurs, even large corporations such as Walmart with their recent major switch to sourcing most of the fresh food they sell locally to each store is an example of this trend. But in the next decade I think there will be a major retailing shift & opportunity where hyperlocal smart retailers who deeply know the needs and interests of their local buyers connect to a global network and source parts of what they sell from across the globe, curate these elements carefully and present specific to their community goods and services. In many cases building and finishing these goods locally but sourcing parts and raw goods on a global scale. But increasingly not just sourcing from massive global businesses but buying nearly directly from global producers. Third Wave coffee roasters increasingly buy their green coffee directly from farmers across the globe. These small scale local retailers are able to afford to send buyers around the globe to source their beans and are building highly successful (and highly profitable businesses). Four Barrel Coffee here in San Francisco recently was quoted in a New York Times article on Coffee in San Francisco that their retail business alone is generating over $100,000 a month with a 45% profit margin. Add to that significant margin a large wholesale business and you have a highly successful new business. 45% margins in a retail business can sustain significant growth.
  5. Global brands, local products. New brands and businesses across the globe will with ever increasing frequency in the next decade expand outside of their initial “home” markets into a more competitive global market. The brands which will prosper in this new world will be ones which combine the best of global sourcing with local connections, resources and awareness. In the media space large media brands will emerge that translate media generated in one country & language into another. Viz Media in San Francisco, for example, translates highly successful Japanese media properties (Manga & Anima mostly) into English and has had great success. TOKYOPOP in LA is one of the most successful publishers (in any media) in the US with many of the bestsellers each year from their highly successful English language manga.

There are many other industries which are likely to generate new billion dollar businesses in the next decade but which I know a bit less about – a few of these are Cleantech, Biotechnology especially around drug design,  and Renewable energy.

What other Billion Dollar opportunities have I missed?

Which of these opportunities should I expand upon in future blog posts?

And yes, if you are a venture fund or investor and want to work with me on exploring these ideas in greater detail I’m available…

Posted in customer service, economics, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

What do you actually use your computers to do?

Posted by shannonclark on February 1, 2010

Last night I wrote about why I think the iPad will be a great device for content creation – and included a number of potential million dollar plus ideas.

Today as I read a bunch of blogs and articles covering the iPad I am struck by how many people who are objecting to the iPad or predicting that it will fail seem to have some idea of computer usage which differs, dramatically so, from how I have used my computers for the past decade and very much from how I use my computers today.

The image that people have of “using” a computer seems to involve lots of overlapping processes, deep customization of the system and a variety of applications running which all push the limits of the system.

My reality?

I usually have one application running on my computers – a browser. On my tablet I currently use Google Chrome as my primary browser (not least of which because it doesn’t have lots of extensions and thus loads quickly and smoothly).

Recently I have been using Mindjet’s MindManager (I have the old 7.0 version installed here) which I enjoy but really only barely use, mostly I use it to capture all my various ongoing projects, to-do lists and the like (in short as my electronic GTD system).

Occasionally I use an IM application, mostly Google gchat – which I could just about as easily just use from within the browser, though I do appreciate the occasional notifications that pop up about new messages in my primary inbox. Though since I have at least three main email addresses and only get notifications for one email address and then only for my inbox and not for the many important messages I get but autofilter into various labels, the utility of this notification service is minimal at best.

And when I sync my iPod and iPhone I fire up iTunes – but since my library is vastly larger than my laptop’s HD, doing so requires that I attach an external HD to my system for the syncing to work. I use a wide array of complex smart playlists to result in every device I own and sync getting exactly the content I want to reside on that particular device – which always includes the latest podcasts I have downloaded as well as any other new content I have recently added to my iTunes library (so if I buy new content, rip a CD or download legal digital content it will get onto my music player automatically and be added to the primary playlists I use to select what to listen to during my walks, waits for buses and other podcast listening opportunities during the day.

But that is about all the applications i use on a regular basis. Sure, I have some compilers installed on my laptop, the full MSFT Office suite and much more but the reality is that I almost never need to run any of these applications. And when I do other than looking up information in my browser from time to time, I rarely need to have multiple applications open at the same time – for one my screen resolution though good for a laptop is still so low that I almost always run every app I use in full window mode.

Perhaps I am missing something major about how people use their computers today – some suite of applications that everyone other than me uses – but I don’t think this is the case.

A few possibilities.

  1. Photo & Video editing. My digital camera died a few months ago and I have yet to replace it (need a camera but don’t have the spare funds to buy one at the moment) so I don’t do a lot of photo and no video editing. But there are some great online alternatives to applications such as Photoshop. Aviary is my personal favorite – they offer a wide range of image and vector art online editing tools along with even some music editing tools. Adobe even offers an iPhone application for Photo editing (limited but
  2. Games. I don’t have powerful enough video cards in either of my computers to do much gaming (definitely not in my tablet, my iMac could handle a bit more though there are far fewer MacOS games to select amongst). But PC gaming is and likely will remain a big deal. But so too is gaming on the iPhone and in the future on the iPad and I suspect very rapidly the iPad will attract games that may be better in many ways (or at least very uniquely different) than games not just on PC’s but even against games on any of the major game console systems. I predict that the iPad will be a gaming platform as big, perhaps bigger, than the current game consoles (not their portable game systems which the iPhone already is a potent competitor to but also the main game consoles – Wii, Playstation3 and Xbox360)
  3. Personal Finance. Here in the US we have started to shift into preparing for Tax season shortly. I know in the past many years I have used TurboTax in some form to help prepare my taxes and that many friends run software such as Quickbooks for their family finances or small business finances. That said, there is a reason why Intuit bought Mint last year. Finance software including tax preparation and small (and large) business bookkeeping is rapidly moving from local computers to web/cloud delivered products.
  4. Customized “run the business” applications. These vary by business but think the Point of Sale systems in a retail shop or restaurant. Even here, however, with the rise of platforms such as Square there are many opportunities for many retail transactions to move to the cloud & mobile applications.

So what uses of your personal or business computers have I missed?

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, mac, microsoft, mobile, networks, tablet pc, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

first look to the future – my hopes for 2010

Posted by shannonclark on December 30, 2009

Over the next few days I will likely post a flurry of posts here and on Slow Brand (where I just posted 2500+ words on why 2010 is a great year for print). Some will be looking forward, others will be thinking about the past year (and decade) but to start here are my hopes for 2010.

These are not resolutions, nor are they in any particular order. Some are small, some are pretty major.

  • see my niece who was born in Dec. This will probably mean taking a trip to NYC early in 2010 and, I hope, getting in a habit of more frequent visits to one of my favorite cities. Though my niece is just recently born, I want to be an engaged and active uncle. As she grows up I hope I can be a great uncle (and spoil her just a bit)
  • travel outside of the US. In 2009 I didn’t travel all that much, a few trips early in the year, but not many after. In 2010 I hope to spend time outside of the US, see the changing world. Hopefully this will include many countries and many types of travel – professional and personal.
  • the return of Chuck to TV (well the Web in my case). My girlfriend’s “tv boyfriend” is Chuck. I’m okay with this. And yes, our shared love of this show says a great deal about our relationship. I’m a geek but so, in many ways, is she.
  • the end of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who and the beginning of Matt Smith’s run. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan but never thought it would return to the TV, the past 5 years have been enhanced greatly by the return of Doctor Who to TV as well as the great spin-off series. I’ve loved David Tennant’s Doctor but I really look forward to what Steven Moffat does as the new show runner and I trust that I’ll love the new Doctor. My Decembers for the past few years have been made better by the Christmas Specials and this year my New Year’s Weekend as well.
  • SXSW. Every year since I moved out to the Bay Area I have attended SXSW staying for a few more days each year. In 2010 I hope to stay for even more of SXSW Music (and hope to convince my girlfriend to attend with me hopefully she will be working for a company by then which might send her to SXSW…)
  • A MeshWalk at Social Media Week San Francisco (Feb 1st). I will be organizing a MeshWalk here in San Francisco on Feb 1st as part of the larger Social Media Week activities in San Francisco. The format will be a Social Media Crawl – we will range between a number of businesses with offices in San Francisco in/around SOMA who will have open houses, demonstrations and drinks. Should be an amazing way to start a busy and great Social Media Week here in San Francisco.
  • MeshForum 2010. My hope is to pull together a full, multiple day MeshForum conference in 2010, probably in the late Spring in/around the Bay Area. It has been too many years since I last held a full MeshForum and the focus on the interdisciplinary study of Networks is even more important now than ever before.
  • Raising money for a new, social media related venture. I have been immersed in Social Media for a very long time, running an online game with 1000’s of players from my college dorm room in 1991, being active in USENET in the early 1990’s and on the web in many incarnations and forms ever since. As 2010 starts I am actively engaged in raising an early stage/angel round to fund a social media related venture. Watch my blogs for more details and updates but suffice it say that the focus will be on topics I have been writing about for years – the importance of Curation as the future of Media.

Of course if you are interested in supporting any of my ventures, especially the last three above contact me directly. Especially if your company is interested in sponsoring one or more of these events and online activities.

I also know a number of ventures, of many different scales, who are always looking for additional sponsors and creative advertisers, in 2010 I expect I will be connecting great advertisers and sponsors to amazing, unique and fantastic publishers online and offline.

Politically I have long been a strong supporter of Barack Obama and though some are disappointed in his 2009, I am not. He has achieved a great deal of what I expected and hoped he would, along with the support of his fantastic appointees. In 2010 I am eagerly awaiting still more achievements from the first great administration of my lifetime. Starting early in 2010 with, I hope, the passage of Health Care Reform which will have an immediate and important impact on the quality of my life.

I have a pre-existing condition (Asthma and related allergies and allergy caused conditions) which combined with looking at individual not group coverage would, currently, make getting high quality, affordable health insurance nearly impossible. With the passage of #HCR I should be able to get far more affordable coverage of a far higher quality w/o restrictions for my pre-existing conditions (which I should note are not expensive to treat and keep under control but do require annual expenditures for emergency inhalers and the like).

But more than any of these admittedly wide-ranging looks and hopes for 2010 my biggest one is stay worthy of the love of my girlfriend who has been, by leaps and bounds, the best part of 2009 by far.

I hope you have a great 2010 and look forward to reading about what you are looking forward to – whether big or small.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, politics, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »