On Facebook Acquisitions, Predicting the Future, and Messaging

In the book, How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, I learned that people aren’t very good at predicting the future, but they are okay at predicting the next thing. Our brains just aren’t wired to take 2 steps at once, but we can make 1 step + 1 more step fairly easily. Because this explanation sounds dumb, you know that it’s true. Let me give you an example from the book:

Hand a person a box of tacks, a book of matches, and a candle. Ask them to mount the candle on the wall.

Most people first start by making a shelf of tacks on the wall and then attempting to mount the candle on the shelf. Once they realize the box is empty and they see the shelf they think: I can use the box as a shelf and they correctly mount the box to the shelf with the tacks and put the candle in the box.

Facebook bought Oculus Rift. Facebook bought Whatsapp.

Months later we are just now seeing how those first steps are leading to the next steps. Oculus Rift lets people experience virtual worlds with other, real people in real-time. Whatsapp is a messenger platform. Facebook is a social media platform, which also features a heavy game element and already had Messenger. Messaging is already a bigger platform worldwide than social media and is set to grow. Gaming platforms like Steam, Xbox Live, and Battle.net are likely where Facebook is headed with their VR set, but I’m guessing they will have a live-meeting aspect as well.

I’m rambling now. I don’t know anything. Here’s what I know:

When I was young I used to have a third place to call my own. It was called “The Blue Lounge“. When that was threatened, I built an outdoor Blue Lounge. When that was taken away, I kept looking. I kept looking for a place that I could meet my friends and have a conversation. I dreamed of a day where I could virtually sit in a room with people just like I could back in the Blue Lounge. Now that day may be approaching.

But what about coffee?

I hear you. Get coffee together when you can. We’re not animals. Get out of your storage shed, onto your motorbike, and get down to The Raft to be with other people now and again. It’s good for you – and you just might save the world.

2014 Trends in Technology

We’re just about 50% through the year and a few people have been releasing new reports on trends so I thought I’d highlight some things here:

  • Mobile – while the ability to make money from apps may be harder now, the use of mobile devices is only going up (1,2). The future of mobile is a more integrated society with more access to information formatted in new, useful ways.
  • Biofeedback/Quantified Self – from Fitbit to the new iPhone, sensors are becoming smaller and more ubiquitous. Accelerometers are now embedded in the processors themselves and the new iWatch may include advanced biosensor features.
  • Open Data – data.gov is the biggest example, but there are other examples, which you can find at http://www.opendatanow.com/. New businesses are being formed around analyzing and using this newly accessible data.
  • API Access – not only do sites like data.gov have open data, but now sites like http://open.fda.gov/ have API access to that data; and sites like IFTTT and Zapier make it easy for non-programmers to move data around in complex ways.
  • 3D Printing – CDW and Staples now sell 3D printers. Kids are designing and printing their own objects. If you want to ride the next PC-like wave, this is it. It’s hard to see now because it’s so new, but this is a new industry.

If this interests you, compare it to the trends I speculated about the 13 trends changing the world in 2013 to see how many of them stayed true:

  1. Crowdfunding – Kickstarter just raised funding for Reading Rainbow.
  2. Crowdsourcing – The Reddit hive mind is the best detective on the planet.
  3. Open Source – Firefox just took their codebase closed-source.
  4. Insourcing – Robotics is allowing manufacturing to be cheaper in America.
  5. Infilling – Inner cities are encouraging growth to raise tax income locally.
  6. Cloud Apps – Chromebooks have risen in popularity and use.
  7. Long Tail – HBO shows now available on Amazon Instant Video.
  8. 3D Printing – SEE above.
  9. Augmented Reality – Facebook just bought Oculus Rift.
  10. Electric Cars – California’s biggest car manufacturer is now Tesla*.
  11. Private Space Exploration – Virgin Galactic not yet having regular flights, but SpaceX* is.
  12. Mobile Computing – SEE above.
  13. Mobile Payment Processing – Square and Starbucks continue to innovate.

Out of the 13 trends, I’d say at least 10 are still going strong, but at least one has stagnated, replaced by Open Data and API Integrations.

*Both Elon Musk companies.

13 Trends That Are Changing the World

Things change and will continue to change, that much we know. But sometimes the change is so incremental that it’s hard to notice. This post aims to take a step back and review where we are now and where we might be going.

  1. Crowdfunding – funding a project large or small used to be limited to knowing the right people, lucky breaks, or having a proven business model, but now a new method for funding a project has emerged. Crowdfunding allows many people to give small amounts, which in aggregate help fund a larger goal. It can be used to fund an art project, a new product, or even a political campaign. One of the most popular crowdfunding sites is Kickstarter, but AngelList has a list of crowdfunding sites here. Here is a list of crowdfunding for scientific research. We will continue to see more of these types of sites set up to serve more unique, niche areas of the economy.
  2. Crowdsourcing – breaking big jobs into little jobs that anyone can do or opening up a contest for a complex problem that anyone can enter are two forms of crowdsourcing. Sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk is an example of the former, creating small, repeatable tasks for people to perform while the X Prize Foundation is a good example of the latter where prize money is given to those who can show they can overcome big problems. Crowdsourcing has proven to be fuel for innovation when traditional methods just aren’t working. This will continue be a method used by organizations in the future.
  3. Open Source – building hardware or software while making the information, code, and plans public information has proven to be a viable way to build new companies, highlight worker skills, and help the world. Old theories about how people won’t work for free or that organizations won’t do anything that doesn’t directly make them money have been turned on their head by open source projects like Wikipedia and Mozilla. Android, the most widely used mobile operating system, is also open sourced, along with the backbone of the Internet, Linux and Apache. The future will continue to use open source initiatives.
  4. Insourcing – the opposite trend of outsourcing, this is where organizations begin pulling their talent, manufacturing, and logistics back inside their company, not as a vertical move, but one that makes sense for communication, intellectual capital protection, and patent creation. Some of this may run counter to the open source movement, but it nevertheless is still happening. Companies who used to outsource their call centers or programming to India are now bringing the operations back to the United States. Even Apple is now bringing the manufacture of some of its products back to the United States.
  5. Infilling – instead of building out and creating more sprawl, communities are choosing to build in and between existing buildings in order to create more dense, walkable neighborhoods. Instead of creating new housing editions, new home construction is occuring in exsiting neighborhoods between existing homes. According to the EPA, “Nearly three out of four large metropolitan regions saw an increased share of infill housing development during 2005-2009 compared to 2000-2004.” This trend then allows more benefit from public transportation, bike and walking paths, which are growing in popularity.
  6. Cloud Apps – storing data and running programs from shared servers instead of each organization running local programs on local servers is more efficient and allows for easier access to the data from a variety of devices and platforms (as long as they are on the Internet). The high-availability of the Internet coupled with low server costs and the near ubiquitousness of smartphones makes for a perfect storm for cloud apps to replace local workstation and server apps like Microsoft Office. In some ways, the operating system itself has become less relevant as it is increasingly used only as a gateway to Internet-based cloud apps.
  7. Long Tail – this is the idea that there is just as much value in a wide variety of small niches as there is in the biggest blockbuster hits of any industry. If you’ve ever heard the term, the riches are in the niches, it’s true just as much as the riches are in the blockbusters. Back when books required cutting down a tree to print and movies were only distributed on VHS and DVD, the cost of printing anything other than the most popular items was prohibitive, but with ebooks and streaming video, the cost of distribution is way less, leading to more choice and a longer tail of products. The same is happening with 3D printing technology.
  8. 3D Printing – while reductive 3D printing technology has been around for a while, it’s the additive type that is getting the most attention nowadays because instead of using milling drilling technology to reduce a block of material down, additive printing builds an object up, which uses less material. When coupled with open source 3D printing hardware and cheap 3D scanning technology like the Microsoft Kinect, a new hacker-like “maker culture” is emerging that is set to create a whole new industry. There is a new industrial revolution and it’s happening in garages all over the country, which will create untold new businesses.
  9. Augmented Reality – while hinting at it for over a year, Google has officially released Google Glass to a limited public. The glasses layover meta information about your environment that only you can see and interactive with via voice. This is only one type of augmented reality, but it’s one I’ve predicted to eventually take the place of mobile phones and why I think Warby Parker will be the next Apple. Why would people take the time to look at their mobile phone when they can have the same relationship always in view? This technology is bound to be disruptive to privacy and relationships, but only time will tell.
  10. Electric Cars – while natural gas, electricity, and even coal has been delivered to your home over the last century, we’ve always had to drive to the gas station to fill up our cars. Now, instead of laying new gasoline pipelines to our homes, we can use the electric lines to charge our cars overnight. It’s perfect for short commutes and teenagers you don’t want driving very far, but that will change. Battery technology and power infrastructure will continue to improve along with society’s point of view of how a car should be driven and when. Electric cars will only continue to grow in popularity thanks mostly to Tesla Motors.
  11. Private Space Exploration – it’s hard to talk about private space exploration and electric cars without bringing up Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors. If it weren’t for the development and sale of payment processor, PayPal, there might not be a space vehicle capable of servicing the International Space Station right now, which is what SpaceX is doing. But the bigger story is the men who are going to Mars (1,2) and the organizations planning on mining asteroids for profit. The future outlined in Aliens is finally coming to fruition, just in time for the new Star Wars to come out in a couple of years (with J.J. Abrams!).
  12. Mobile Computing – mobile computing may not seem like that big of a deal now because it’s used so much and so often it’s starting to fade into the background, but that’s precisely why I bring it up. We all have Internet access, calculators, video/still cameras, calendars, social networks, GPS receivers, and highly specialized apps in our pockets. Most of us could do our jobs if not run our companies from our smart phones. While there is some decent processing power, most of it happens on the cloud, which is also where most of our data is stored. It’s the way things work now and will be more so in the future.
  13. Mobile Payment Processing – while this technology seems less revolutionary than space travel or electric cars, the ability for any person to accept any form of payment at any time is now at hand. From mobile to mobile payment apps at your bank to specialized services like Square, the ability to take credit card payments or make a payment using your mobile phone through services like Starbucks’ app make the mobile payment revolution a real one. The era of paper money and checks is slowly dying as the rise of the smartphone and Internet access makes this process much more efficient. Look for these services to grow.

Of course there are more than these and some of you may argue as to the importance of these or others, but these are the ones I’ve been exposed to. It really boils down to three primary trends:

  • The love children of Smartphones and The Internet – what happens when the adjacent possible of two of the biggest technological contributions ever combine to form our new technological paradigm?
  • The love of Efficiency – electric cars and 3D printing are all about being more effecient and better stewards of our stuff – you shouldn’t have to move so much stuff around to move so much stuff around.
  • The love of Control – people want access to the stuff they want, whether it’s a new product, an old movie, their money, or their data – give it to them or they will find someone to give it to them for them.

Thoughts?

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