eBay talks about a contextual future for its mobile efforts; update on our book "Age of Context"

eBay sells billions of dollars of things on mobile. Cars. Boats. Jewelry. Clothes. Gadgets. And more. Here Steve Yankovich, VP of mobile and platform at eBay, tells me how eBay is competing with Amazon. What the trends on mobile are.

eBay’s new eBay Now app lets you have things delivered from stores in San Francisco too. Will eBay expand this offering to other cities? I bet it will and Steve gives his insights there.

Finally, Shel Israel and Robert Scoble are working on a book about contextual software and Steve talks about how eBay is using contextual data to help purchasers in the future. Think of what eBay would do with Google’s wearable computers, coming next year, called “Project Glass.”

Try out eBay on your mobile.

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Speaking of context, you might know that I’m writing a book titled “the Age of Context” with Shel Israel, author at Forbes. We’ve been doing lots of interviews lately. Some of them below. We’ve visited Oakley, Qualcomm, JBL, Autodesk. At LeWeb I interviewed CEOs of Gnip (they have one of the only firehose licenses from Twitter) and the CMO of Salesforce. On Monday we’re visiting Facebook, along with talking to a bunch of startups. Tons more work to come.

We have made some progress on getting the book funded but we need some more help. We have one corporate sponsor, but they don’t want to be the only one funding the book. So, we need someone who can help us sell companies on a sponsorship (we want to do this book right, which means tons of travel, lots of interviews, and then putting a great product together with editors, designers, etc).

One of the best books I’ve ever seen is the Human Face of Big Data. That had several corporate sponsors. Why corporate sponsors? Because selling books simply doesn’t pay for the production of them anymore. At least not if you are only going to sell a few tens of thousands of copies. Hey, not everyone can be Tim Ferriss. :-)

If you are interested, contact me at scobleizer@gmail.com.

That said, we have a pretty good idea of where the book is going now, thanks to these first big interviews, and we are aiming at finishing it by the end of summer, 2013, and having it available to purchase by Christmas of next year.

Here’s some of the interviews we’ve done so far, with many more to come. We’d love your help, too! Let us know if you are seeing anything contextual happening. What’s that?

When you mix:

1. Sensors.
2. Wearable computers.
3. Big data and post-SQL databases.
4. Social networks.
5. Location data.

all together to make highly personalized services or products.

Oakley’s AirWave ski goggles with heads up display and contextual future:

Basis sensor for health monitoring.

Qualcomm’s augmented reality team:

Qualcomm’s healthcare team is seeing context and mobile:

Qualcomm’s President of Internet Services about Qualcomm’s vision of mobile’s future:

Foodspotting and Delectable CEOs talking about the mobile first world:

Vintank’s CEO talks to me about a contextual future (they provide 1.1 million tweets a day to wine industry):

Foursquare’s head of growth and analytics on contextual future:

MC Hammer (famous musician and entrepreneur) gives his tips for entrepreneurs as we head into a contextual future:

AOL’s CEO talks to me about AOL’s future in age of context:

Nest’s CEO (and guy who headed iPhone effort at Apple) talks to me about contextual future:

Geeking out with CEO of Apigee about contextual future:

Discussion with Maluuba’s CEO (contextual app for Android):

Discussion of future of customer service in contextual world with Harry Max (co-founder of wine.com):

Discussion of contextual customer service with CEO of SOcialAppsHQ:

Discussion of contextual social world with CMO of Salesforce:

Discussion of social streams in contextual world with CEO of Gnip at LeWeb:

Autodesk CTO on future in contextual world:

A new start with WordPress 3.5

senzari

Today WordPress 3.5 shipped. I quickly updated.

This year I’ve been bored with my blog. I spent a ton of time this year on Facebook. Today Facebook told me that I added 2,272 friends and liked 4,007 pages this year.

Yet I let WordPress languish. Why? Because posting inside the social networks, whether on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter, was easier. Less friction. And the people showed up in droves. A year ago I had about 15,000 followers on Facebook. Today I have 442,000.

So, today, I opened up WordPress. Wiped out the theme I had been using, and moved to a simple theme and just started writing.

The photo? It’s using a new photo upload feature in WordPress 3.5. That’s one thing that the social networks had made easier. So nice to see WordPress is getting easier to use again.

It’s of the Senzari team at LeWeb. I was interviewing them for our new book. The video should be up soon. They are building a new contextual music service.

Speaking of videos, have you checked into YouTube lately? YouTube has a nice new design and my channel is looking good.

This morning I interviewed Freshbook’s CEO using my iPhone on Soundcloud. We talked about tips for entrepreneurs and more. You really should listen to some of my audio interviews, they are quite good and intimate since I can have conversations that are just on my cell phone.

Anyway, the last month has seen a bunch of travel. Did you see the video I did with Michael Lazerow, CMO at Salesforce while on stage at LeWeb?

Finally, over on Google+ they opened a new feature, called Communities, last week. I quickly added one, for people who are building companies, and already 4,000+ people have joined.

Anyway, thanks to WordPress for updating and getting me back to blogging. Sorry for using the boring theme.

More to come on our book, The Age of Context. Lots of great interviews are in the bag for that, more to come.

The war on noise

George Takei believes its his right to make sure every single message he posts to Facebook gets through to his fans’ screens.

Jason Calacanis says that Facebook is in a bad war with George Takei.

I told Jason he’s wrong. What we’re really in is a war on noise.

Our computers bring us HUGE amounts of noise. On my screen right now is a new tweet every half a second. New email arrives every few seconds. It’s gotten to the point where I simply can’t answer more than about five percent of my email now. On Facebook new posts arrive every 10 seconds or so. On Quora? Every few minutes. On Instagram? New photos every few seconds on my accounts and I’m only following 300 people there. Chatter? Every few minutes a new post shows up on my screen from coworkers. And on and on.

I’ve been swimming in this noise  for a while and I’ve noticed a few things.

1. Marketers suck. Including me. Look at my big tech company list over on Facebook. Do you actually learn much?  A little, but marketers push themselves too much, and say too little.
2. No one is focused on what you want. Including me. I have a list of tech industry investors. Rich people. I want to hear from them about when they talk about investing, the economy, starting companies, trends, that kind of stuff. But do they stay focused? No. They talk about movies. Their vacations. Their kids. And more.
3.  Everyone is emotional. Including me. I have a list of tech industry VIPs. People who have changed the world. Invented Twitter. Or the Web. Or built Microsoft. Etc etc. But when they post about emotional topics like politics, religion, babies, pets, death, birth everyone goes crazy and reshares their posts.
4. Everyone has gone Gagnam Style. Including me. We love resharing. Retweeting. Talking. Liking. Pushing. Watch my tech news list and you’ll see the same story rehashed, repeated, reshaped, remashed.

We are great at generating noise.

So, what does this mean now that we’re leaving the social age and entering the contextual age?

Noise is about to get worse. A lot worse.

Why?

Sensors are generating noise. Look at the tweets coming off of people’s Nike Fuelbands. Noise.
Wearable computers will be more important. If you are wearing a pair of Google’s Project Glass wearable computers (coming within 18 months) do you want a constant stream of tweets to hit your eyes? Hell no. Even worse, if you are driving those might be a major distraction.
We’re posting more media. Look at the increase in photos on ALL services, especially Instagram. Aside, my new page on that service rocks. But you see the noise problems, don’t you? If you don’t care about my family and only care about when I photo stuff about tech, why is Instagram showing you the wine I drank, the bacon I ate, the sunset I shot, the beach I walked on?

The contextual age means we’re going to have to go to war on noise.

That means that George Takei will have to sit down and shut up. Even if I like him (I don’t, but my wife does, so I see many of his posts just because she likes them, which shares them with me) we see too many of his items. They waste our time, bring us low value compared to, say, the Economist. It’s rude that he is demanding that every one of his items gets to our screens. Really? Even when I’m driving? Even when I have a project to finish?

I’ve spent hundreds of hours studying Facebook’s EdgeRank (its noise reduction algorithms) and they are quite good. Far better than anything on Google+ or Twitter so far (or Quora, or LinkedIn, or Pheed, or App.net, or or or or or).

Here’s another way to look at it.

If you only had five minutes to read every morning, which means you could probably look at 20 items, what’s the best 20 items to show you?

George Takei, in the past 24 hours, has published seven items. Let’s say I liked 50 things that are like George. Are you saying, George, that your seven items should crowd out all other items? That’s bullshit.

I want Facebook to pick the best 20 items to show me every single time I refresh that screen. It does very well at it. Far better than Twitter and Google+ and others, so far.

Now, could the relevancy algorithms at Facebook be improved? Absolutely.  But they are the best we have so far and are showing the way into our new age of context.

I can’t wait for the war on noise to get really going.

Oh, some day I’ll tell you about why I wrote more than 1,500 Gmail filters. They throw away more than 300 emails every day. Every day. It’s the best thing I ever did for my productivity.

Context is the new battleground between Android and iOS

Contextual apps arrived at Techcrunch Disrupt. It’s not just Google Now that shows you information about your next meeting, either. I saw a bunch of cool apps that are using context and I kept hearing that iOS is behind.

Here, listen in as I talk with the team behind Maluuba, which is a new way to search, organize, and connect on your phone. Think of a new Siri.

Maluuba isn’t the only company that has told me that iOS is behind. Glympse‘s CEO, Bryan Trussel, told me his team develops its contextual mapping app on Android first, then moves it to iPhone.

Why is this?

A few reasons:

1. Android lets developers have access to the dialer so that app developers can watch who calls you and who you call.
2. Android lets developers look at the wifi and bluetooth radios on the phone so app developers can build better systems to track where you are, who you are near, and whether you are near things like your car.
3. Android lets developers ship and test without waiting up to three weeks to have their apps approved.

That said, there’s a counter point of view, which you’ll hear in my interview with Path’s CEO, Dave Morin (he is working on adding more contextual features to his app, which is a personal journal that’s quite popular).

What is this pro-iPhone point of view? Well, Path ships on both iPhone and Android. If you look at the market share numbers you know that for every iPhone sold Android sells about three devices. So, Path should be wildly more popular on Android than it is on iPhone. It’s not. In fact only about 30% of its customers are on Android. The rest are using iPhones. You might explain this away by some other factor but I’ve heard this from many many developers, including Starbucks and eBay. iPhone users use more apps. The ecosystem of apps is better on iOS. The profitability of app developers is better on iOS than on Android. On and on.

The dirty little secret is that users aren’t the same. My son’s friend showed me why. iOS users tend to be ones that really care about being online all the time. They also tend to be willing to pay for that. You might say they are richer users, which is partially true. My son’s friend shows me that she doesn’t have an unlimited data plan so she turns off her data on her phone and that she isn’t very app centric because she can’t afford the high availability data plans. She isn’t as good a user for app developers as, say, my son is, who keeps his phone’s data online all the time thanks to Verizon’s flat rate pricing on the iPhone.

At Techcrunch Disrupt I interviewed about 30 companies over three days. Most of them showed me that their apps are being developed on iOS first and they back up Dave Morin’s reasons why they go iOS first.

Some other things I saw at Techcrunch Disrupt, or didn’t see.

1. It’s clearly an Android vs. iOS world. It was extremely rare to see a Windows Phone, a RIM device, or anything that wasn’t running Android or iOS. There are even toys coming out that run iOS.
2. Nearly every developer is paying attention to the Age of Context and looking to build personalized features into their mobile apps.
3. Lots of people came up to me showing me apps on iPhones but they admit that they are really building prototypes of things that will ship on Google’s Project Glass next year. I saw two face detection companies, a slew of Siri competitors, and more that would be awesome on the Project Glass wearable computers that Google is working on.
4. While the new iPhone wasn’t all that exciting nearly everyone I asked admitted they were going to buy one. Even the Android fanboys said they are going to buy one for development reasons. I did meet a few people who hate Apple and still won’t buy one, but they were a rarity on the floor of Techcrunch Disrupt.
5. Most people aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in the contextual world, even though Qualcomm’s Gimbal team was one of the sponsors.
6. There are a LOT of concerns about two things amongst developers: 1. the freaky line. 2. Battery life. The freaky line is a concern because these technologies basically learn, and stalk, you. Already some of the apps, like Alohar’s Placeme, knows what gas stations you like, whether or not you attend church or strip clubs, and what routes you take to work. That freaks people out. The battery life is an issue because any of these developers who needs to turn on the GPS sensors in the phone increases the power consumption of the phone. Highlight is a good example of this. Turn it on and you’ll get about 20% fewer minutes out of your battery. For many that’s a killer.

When I was talking to Maluuba’s developers I noted that we’re in the Apple I days of contextual apps. The apps are ugly, don’t do much, and take too much battery life for the utility they provide. The team agreed and said to watch as user experiences with these apps get better and devices build in better software and hardware that won’t hit the battery as much. For instance, developers are already learning to be smarter about figuring out you’ve moved without turning on GPS.

Early adopters and developers are going to want to get Android devices to play around with this new contextual world. As Google’s Project Glass comes out next year the difference in ecosystems between iOS and Android will become more stark. Even Dave Morin admitted that his team will use Android more as R&D and as a proving ground for new, contextual features.

Is this dangerous for Apple?

I don’t think it is. Apple, at its best, isn’t a technology leader. Did anyone really use the Newton? No. The iPad, though, was very popular. Why? It took what the industry had been working on for a decade and simplified it.

So, watch for Apple to learn what works in terms of context and watch for Apple to be a fast follower that will bring a mass market product that my dad will use. For now my dad doesn’t care about context and I don’t have any reason to bring him the latest apps. They are too geeky, use too much power for what they deliver, and aren’t reliable enough. I can see that changing big time over the next two years, though, which is why Shel Israel and I are working on a book about the contextual age. It’s clear that we’re moving into a new age, it just will take a while to get out of the Apple I stage, where only a few hundred geeks are playing with it, to the Apple II stage where the mass market starts to show up.

Ignore it at your peril, though. It is the new mobile battlefield.

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.