Steve Jobs legacy: he personally brought Siri to Apple, saw that Siri had a contextual future

How does Silicon Valley and Apple miss Steve Jobs?

Well, on Monday night I was having dinner with Gary Morgenthaler, who was one of the investors in Siri, along with a few Siri team members and I heard stories that they weren’t able to tell me while Steve Jobs was alive.

For instance, Jobs called Siri management at least 30 times personally in about a month to convince them to join.

Also, Steve Jobs yelled at Apple managers who didn’t “get” why Siri was so important to Apple.

But most important to me, and the book I’m writing with Shel Israel: Jobs had already started working with the team on how to make Siri more contextually aware.

In fact, Norman Winarsky, who heads up SRI, the lab where Siri was developed, told me that SRI is about to start testing out a new app that will dig deeper into your email and your calendar to “assist” you in a much deeper way than Siri can right now.

What do we meet by context? Well, Siri today is pretty stupid about what’s on your calendar. Ask it “where is my next meeting?” and it will show you your next meeting, but it doesn’t know where it is. Close but no cigar. It gets worse from there.

Ask it “where is the best place to get lunch tomorrow?” and Siri answers with places near my home. Problem is that tomorrow I’m going to be at the Apple iPhone 5 launch in San Francisco. Siri is quite stupid about context, location, and a bunch of other things. Will it improve? Apple already announced some improvements to Siri, for instance Siri will, with iOS 6, be able to start applications. But it’s hardly expected to be contextually aware in any real way.

Ask Siri “what is my favorite gas station?” Siri answers “I don’t know.” The problem is, that isn’t really true. Apple knows what gas stations I’m most likely to stop at. Or it could, if it just knew how to contextually evaluate the data that both Verizon and Apple already have streaming from my phone. If it doesn’t know something like my favorite gas station, it certainly doesn’t know the answer to something simple like “how many times do I eat at Chinese restaurants?” That’s easily verifiable. Ask it such a question and it just brings up a list of Chinese restaurants near you. It doesn’t even try to accurately turn down the question.

But back to Jobs. He saw Siri’s potential to add a new, simpler, contextually-aware, user interface to any device. There are lots of rumors that Apple will use something like Siri in other products, like its Apple TV product. In fact, at dinner the other night I learned that at least one of the team members that remains at Apple is now working on a secret new project. I doubt we’ll learn about that tomorrow, but I’ll be looking for signs that Apple understands how to take us into the contextual age. I’ll be looking for signs that Steve Jobs’ passion for Siri is still being listened to.

Here’s two videos from the past that’s worth dredging up again. The first is of when Siri’s team visited my house to first show me Siri.

Here’s the investors in Siri talking about the inside scoop of what happened (minus the important Steve Jobs details that I learned this week): Part I and Part II.

An awesome contextual app for iPad and social software arrives: NextGuide, future of TV Guides

 

There are lots of TV guides on iPads, including a pretty good one from TV Guide itself. But the TV Guide one isn’t personalized like Next Guide is. It’s also not as beautiful. Here I meet with Jeremy Toeman, CEO of Dijit, which today is launching this new personalized TV guide.

This hooks up to Facebook and Twitter to bring a beautiful, customized TV guide to you. It’s yet another example of contextual software — one that brings you better experiences the more you tell the Internet about you.

Why is this so cool? Because over the past few years I’ve been telling Facebook more about what my favorite TV shows are. On my Facebook likes page you can see the 129 shows that I like. Next Guide uses this page to customize the layout and choices of TV shows it shows you.

But it goes further. It looks at other social behavior and even other content you liked to suggest new shows to you.

This shows another step toward what’s going to happen across the industry: that nearly everything we touch will get personalized thanks to data that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and other systems have been collecting on us.

It is scary when you see our data collection demonstrated in such a way, but it definitely makes for better services and experiences and NextGuide is a very clear example of the benefits of this new, contextual, age that’s coming at us very clearly.

I can’t wait until every app, website, and even our cars and hotels are personalized this way.

Some problems:

1. Facebook limits you to 5,200 likes. I’ve already started deleting likes that aren’t as important to me to make room for new likes since I already have about 5,000. I hope Facebook does away with that limitation.

2. Likes aren’t a very strong signal. For instance, I’m watching Breaking Bad right now in “catch up mode.” Over the past week I’ve watched dozens of shows. I’m hyper interested in Breaking Bad. To the exclusion of all other TV. But Facebook doesn’t know that and NextGuide doesn’t either. That will improve as I use NextGuide and signal to it what I actually am watching.

3. Most of you haven’t put enough likes into Facebook to really provide a hyper customized experience that matches your own experience. I have 5,000 likes with about 130 TV shows in there. You probably only have 25 to 50, and some of you aren’t even on Facebook yet. So your experience will be more generic than mine will, at least at first, until you start using the app and it starts customizing to your tastes.

But this is an impressive step, even given these limitations. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Facebook lists make Twitter and Google+ lists look lame in comparison

Over the last week, to get ready for a new season of videos on Building43 (we just loaded a new one about Inkling, an ebook company).

Why am I so list crazy on Facebook? Because this feature blows away the same feature on Twitter and on Google+.

Twitter can’t have more than 500 on one list. Facebook can. My startup list already has 834 companies on it. On Google+ I could make a similar list (except very few startups use Google+) but I couldn’t share it with you. Google+ only lets you share 500 items. Facebook doesn’t have limits.

If you look at my list of big tech companies you’ll see photos, graphics, and conversations. Big tech companies. Yes, they mostly are ads (what else do you expect big companies to do) but these ads are more satisfying than the same stuff on Twitter.

Google+ can’t show you what the list does instantly. For instance, my list of tech journalists and bloggers is very similar to one I have on Google+ but when my wife added it to her account she didn’t see any items. Not true on Facebook where you can see the consequences and benefits of any list without subscribing first. Just click.

When you subscribe to a list on Twitter, it doesn’t do anything to your feed. On Facebook some items from your lists will show up on your main feed, identified by the list they come from. So, subscribe to my Technology Startup Investors list and you’ll get one to four posts a day from it on your main feed. You can control this, of course.

Other lists I am working on here on Facebook:

For programmers. Tons of geeky sources.

Tech Industry Heroes. Really VIPs, people who have made a difference in the tech industry.

Other lists I subscribe to:

Photographers, by Thomas Hawk. Great list with about 200 great photographers.

Business News, by Vadim Lavrusik.

Tech Science, by Kaushik Iyer.

News, by Vadim Lavrusik.

There are a ton of lists here you can choose from on a variety of topics from sports to politics.

Please do let me know if you see anything that doesn’t belong on one of my lists or if there’s anything missing.

Oh, and next week I’ll be at Techcrunch Disrupt. If you have a new startup coming out there, please email me at scobleizer@gmail.com. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet, use the $100 off discount code Scobledsf12.

Some new geeky Facebook lists and advice for startups launching

The press takes a look at iPad 2

Yesterday I went through hundreds of startups’ Facebook pages. Why? I built a new list of hundreds of startups. You should subscribe to it. I also added a lot of investors onto my startup investor list. Subscribe to that one, too, and you’ll know what the money in the industry is thinking. Finally I also built a new list for programmers.

Why on Facebook? I’ve noticed a change lately. Facebook is the best place to build lists like these. Why?

1. Everyone is on Facebook. It is very rare that I can’t find a startup. Out of the 72 Y Combinator startups almost all of them were on Facebook.
2. The list-building facility in Facebook is better than Twitter or Google+. Twitter limits me to 500 things on each list. Facebook doesn’t. Plus, if you subscribe to lists they actually put some items from each list onto your main feed. Twitter doesn’t do anything when you follow a list. Finally, I haven’t hit a list limit yet on Facebook, where on Twitter I’m limited to 20 lists.

Anyway, that’s a long way of getting around to some things I’ve noticed that Startups could improve on when launching their companies (I’ll be at Techcrunch Disrupt with our awesome new video studio thanks to New Tek’s Tricaster to meet the latest startups launching. If you have a startup that’s launching there, make sure you email me and get on our calendar. scobleizer@gmail.com. If you want to go I arranged a $100 discount, use the Scobledsf12 code).

1. Get a name that’s searchable on ALL services. It’s amazing that about 10% of startups couldn’t be found on Facebook because they had common names or names that weren’t searchable.
2. Make sure a description of your business is on your Facebook page. Quite a few didn’t have a description.
3. Make sure you link to your website. It’s amazing to me to see how many businesses don’t link back to their main website.
4. Make sure there’s a call to action on your Facebook page “Download our app today and you’ll get $10 off” for instance. Very few startups do this. Ask for the sale! (Or the download or the click).
5. Use photos and videos often. The best startups post lots of imagery and videos. The worst ones? Text only. This is one reason why I take photos, so I’ll have some to use on my posts in the future (the photo above I shot at the iPad 2 launch).

While I’m thinking of Techcrunch Disrupt, here’s some ideas for how you can use your Facebook page to scale out your conference investment (it is expensive).

1. Post photos of your staff uniforms BEFORE the event. You do have a staff T shirt, right? Y Combinator does this so well. Every company at its demo day last week had its employees wearing a company T-shirt.
2. Tease us with what you are going to be doing. For instance, at our booth we’ll be using a new piece of video gear. You all will want to see it. That’s a tease. If you have a new UI, show us a piece of it, and say “you can see more at our booth.”
3. Make a list of competitors who will be disrupted by you. You do have competitors, right? You are better, right? If not, why are you going to Disrupt? Post a blog post about them and what makes you different. Heck, post a blog post about what makes THEM better than YOU! That will get attention and demonstrate you have real passion and credibility about the marketplace you serve.
4. Don’t listen to Techcrunch’s rules. They tell companies not to disclose what they are doing to journalists ahead of time. This is risky, yes. If one of those journalists leak before you get on stage you might get kicked out of the show. So, pick some journalists you trust, and give them a sneak peak, but embargo them. They will have a deeper story to augment the few minutes you get on stage. Companies that don’t take this risk really are lame and really ruin their “coming out” chances for huge and deep coverage. Remember, great companies are built, not launched.
5. Make sure your signage explains what you do quickly and efficiently. It’s amazing when I walk through an expo hall and can’t figure out what a company does just by walking past its booth. On Y Combinator’s brochure every company was described in four words or less. BufferBox simply said “Drop boxes for packages.” Vastrm says “Warby Parker for shirts.” Instacart says “Groceries delivered fast.” Everyday.me says “Personal timeline.” Every company figured out what it was and shrunk it down to four words or less. Everyone. You have no excuses.
6. Have a “schtick” that gets people to engage. Some companies have mini-golf contests. Others have funny people presenting. Others just have a fun contest. But you gotta find a way to stand out above the noise of expo halls.
7. Hand out some awesome swag. Word gets around that your booth is a must visit. Plus, even if they aren’t customers, maybe a few of the influencers will take photos of your swag and post them around.

Fun Twitter shirt seen at LIFT

What about you? Do you have any suggestions for companies launching?

Hanging out at Y Combinator demo day and I am now looking forward to Techcrunch Disrupt

I’m hanging out at Y Combinator‘s Demo Day and I think there’s a real problem here with the latest demo days. Each of 82 companies is getting two minutes and 15 seconds to talk about themselves to the audience. It’s like sitting through an entire day of advertisements about new companies that we have no context upon which to decide which companies are good, which ones to show you, etc. Tomorrow I’ll post my thoughts about the companies and will link to the best reports around the web from the day — unfortunately they aren’t live streaming it. You can watch live tweets on Twitter search here.

It’s very frustrating. It almost makes me want to go home with my list of companies, and just start making interview requests and playing with their products. In fact, that’s probably what I’ll do after lunch. The networking here is off the hook.

I far prefer an expo hall approach like what happens at Techcrunch Disrupt. Why?

1. Very quickly people tell me what the interesting companies are anyway. That already happened here at Y Combinator. The companies themselves are good “signalers” of who is hot. This happens at every company. I remember the day when Mint.com found me before its presentation at Techcrunch Disrupt.
2. I can spend a lot of time with those companies and I know where to find them in the expo hall. Here every company is wearing branded T-shirts, but it’s random and chaotic.
3. The folks on stage get questioned by judges, and have enough time to spend with them, so you can really learn something about those companies. Here you just get advertisement after advertisement. Which I guess is really necessary because there are 82 companies. If they took any longer than two or three minutes we’d be here for months. Which shows the value that the press and judges have. Curation is really needed here. But we’re sitting through all these because its Y Combinator.

Anyway, I’ve arranged to have a booth at Techcrunch Disrupt. We’re arranging to interview several companies there. Please email me at scobleizer@gmail.com if you want to get on the calendar. You’ll get more than two minutes to explain yourself, for sure. You can get in with a $100 discount if you use the code: Scobledsf12

UPDATE: during lunch it hit me. What this really needs is that it should be all demos all the time. The fact that they don’t demo their product keeps the focus on the wrong thing.

Six startups that predict an awesome YCombinator demo day this Tuesday

Six companies. If the other 80 companies that will be born on Tuesday are anything like these six, we are in for quite a week in Silicon Valley startup land.

Here’s a look at the four companies, two of which visited me in my Half Moon Bay, California, house on Friday to talk about Y Combinator and why it continues to be the best incubator and the one that most entrepreneurs hope to gain entry into.

Company One: Grid.

Go read about Grid on Techcrunch. That impressed me enough that I asked Josh to come by and spend some time with me, which is the video here. My only complaint is that Grid isn’t ready for prime time yet. The ideas are killer, but most people won’t be able to use this new kind of spreadsheet until sometime in 2013. I could listen to Josh, the founder, though, for hours. He worked at Microsoft on the Excel team and got stymied there because Microsoft doesn’t want to rethink its products. Heck, I wouldn’t. They are cash cows. But Josh’s ideas are awesome and I can’t wait to use his products.

Company Two: Smart Asset.

CEO Michael Carvin spent a bunch of time with me on Friday. He also was in Techcrunch a few days ago. Already 14,000 people have visited his site, which helps people make major purchase decisions. Like buying a house. His design hit me as being done by Edward Tufte, Carvin told me that his designer loves Tufte. When you enter a few things in his site has lots of sliders so you can adjust up and down your down payment and other details. It is one of the best done sites I’ve seen and I wish I had had this site when I purchased my house.

SmartAsset.com screen shot

Company Three: Hipset.

I love anything contextual that uses my Facebook data to bring me personalized experiences. Too many entrepreneurs are listening to the Facebook naysayers. When I was at Disneyland last week it seemed that EVERYONE was on Facebook. Only one guy in the audience of Chase Jarvis’ awesome photography show wasn’t on Facebook. And we’re putting more and more of our data into Facebook every day. Read more about Hipset on Techcrunch here.

Hipset takes that data and makes a music magazine out of it. Since I have more than 5,000 likes on Facebook (go ahead and steal my 300+ music likes to try this magazine out) Hipset really rocked for me. Love it, although it has quite a few things that need improvement. This needs to be an iPad app right now. The mobile experience is janky to say the least.

Company Four: Instacart.

These guys snuck into Y Combinator at beyond the last minute. How? Their product rocked. The story is on Techcrunch. What does it do? It does 1-hour grocery delivery. What we’re witnessing is the “Uberization of everything.” If you haven’t used the Uber car ride app yet, you should. Within a couple of years everything will have an app that looks like Uber and works like it too.

Company Five: Credictive.

When you meet founder Ela Madej, from Poland, she infects you with her passion for starting companies. This is her third company, which will let people give everyone credit for the site you are on. Last time I saw it it was an overlay for the Web that let you see who built that site. I thought it was an innovative competitor for Geekli.st, which lets geeks brag about the products they built or worked on. Why is that important? Well recruiters LOVE sites like these. I know, my neighbor John Poore is a recruiter (I did an audio interview with him a few weeks back).

Company Six: Boosted Boards.

When other entrepreneurs love what you do, you know you’re onto something. These guys take a skateboard and put a little electric motor onto it. I hear it’s quite a kick to ride and is something that will be hot with teenagers in no time.

Here’s a video that PandoDaily did about this company:

Well, there you have it. Six very different Y Combinator companies. I hear there are 82 companies that will be revealed on Tuesday, most for the first time in public. I’ll be there with my video camera looking for more great companies to highlight. Startups, if you want to get together, my phone number is +1-425-205-1921 or my email is scobleizer@gmail.com

Oh, and I also will be filming startups at the Techcrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco September 8-12. I’ve arranged with Techcrunch for a $100 discount. Just use the code: Scobledsf12. Hope to see you there!

Cinch.fm mobile audio service shuts down, demonstrates troubles of when you bet on services you don't control

Last night Cinch.fm (an audio service for mobile phones) announced it was shutting down (the parent company, BlogTalk Radio isn’t shutting down, just the Cinch.fm). Major bummer because I have more than 300 recordings on the service including some really historic ones with folks like Instagram’s founder, Kevin Systrom and more. That interview is here. Or it will be until October, when Cinch.fm shuts down for good.

In the past year I’ve moved my iPhone audio recordings to SoundCloud, which is really a great service and has much more funding behind it.

Last night I recorded my thoughts about what happens when services shut down and take parts of the Web with it:

Yes, I already have downloaded all the files, but any links to them will break. So, this is a real bummer.

Anyway, my Cinch.fm casts are at: http://cinch.fm/scobleizer
My new SoundCloud channel is at https://soundcloud.com/scobleizer

This is a real problem with using third-party services you don’t control to hold your life.

As more and more “contextual” services grab pieces of our lives, and study them, what about us will disappear if those companies disappear or decide to “pivot?” Something I’ll be thinking about as Shel and I work on our new book, “The Age of Context.” Speaking of the book, I took a couple of weeks off, but the book continues to hum along. More news coming soon.

No, this won’t get me to stop betting on third-party services like Google+, Facebook, or Twitter, but it does show there’s a risk to locating your content on places where you have no control or ownership.

Here’s the email Cinch.fm cast sent all its users last night:

Dear Cinch.FM users,

It is with great sadness that I announce that we are shutting down the Cinch.FM service. While we continue to believe that easily creating audio content has an important place in the digital world, we just do not have the engineering and product resources to maintain the service while continuing to invest in our main property, BlogTalkRadio. We’d like to make the transition off of Cinch.FM as smooth as possible for you by providing the steps necessary for preserving your content.

Effective August 20th, 2012, no new accounts can be created on Cinch.FM and for those of you with an existing Cinch.FM account, you will no longer be able to create new audio recordings.

Your existing content will remain online and available until October 20, 2012 – two months from the shut down date. Cinch.FM players that have been published on your blog or any other website will continue to function until that date. In addition, the RSS feed for your account will remain available for the same period.

If you would like to save any of your recordings, please log in to the Cinch.FM web site immediately and download your audio content. To download your content, you may login here. If you have a large volume of content that you would like to download, we recommend that you use the RSS feeds available in your account and a podcast client.

After October 20, 2012, your content will be permanently deleted, and we will not be able to retrieve it.

I know that many of you actively use the Cinch.FM service, but please know that this turn of events saddens us as well and we are truly sorry. We’re incredibly thankful for our Cinch.FM community of users.

Again thank you for being a Cinch.FM user.

Sincerely,

Bob Charish, COO Cinch.FM

Rackspace's Startup Liason Officer