Thursday, October 13, 2011

Themes in Technology

A friend the other day asked me what sort of stuff is interesting to me in technology right now. I said a ton of stuff and started rattling off a lot of things I use or things I am interested in. As I thought about it more it sounded like a scattered list of things but fundamentally there are some commonality and classification if I spent some time thinking about it. Actually one of the most articulate ways I have seen this sort of classification presented is on the Foundry Group VC website where they talk about what they look at from an investment standpoint. Other VCs refer to this as their "investment thesis" in certain categories but I think Foundry does a great job laying things out and giving good examples of what the theme means and a selection of companies that represent the theme.

In addition to the conversation with my friend, I also realized that when Google + launched that I had some boiler plate about me stuff that represented what I was interested in back in 2004 and not necessarily what I am interested in in 2011. That is not to say that I am not still interested in those things, which in many cases I still am, it is just that with time and the change in technology I think a lot of those things have either been refined or have changed substantially. In any case, I have sort of hit the wall with the social networking sites and miss my blog so I thought it would be fun to share the themes that occupy my free thoughts and share some of the things that I either purchase or use on a frequent basis that are examples of those themes for me.

So going back to that old profile stuff from 2004, I think a recap is a good place to start.  My blog description says "regarding things like user generated content, content in general, technology and media."  Nice and broad I suppose.  At the time there was an explosion of things like blogs and photosharing sites and the early SNS sites like Friendster and Ryze and Linkedin.  I was certainly interested in those things and still find that with the exception of my blog, these things are still big powerful forces where I use the products or consume information from sites like that.  Having worked in digital media and both the music and film business, I still find content very interesting and certainly am still very interested in media, both in the sense of media as something a consumer watches, sees, reads, etc. as well as media in the way of advertising and advertising technology.

With that said, at chumby there is a lot of work that has been done with getting content onto interesting CE devices and also working with TV and TV related products.  We are also working to create advertising opportunities for our partners and think that there are some novel and interesting ways to do that.  In hindsight then, I really have spent a lot of time on the things I thought I would and hope to continue to do so.

When I stop though and look at what else I am interested in today, I see things grouped into a couple of categories that I think are worth sharing with my friends and others who might be interested.  I hope over the next several weeks to write a couple of posts that walk through these in detail but for now I would like to highlight these themes that occupy my waking hours when I am not busy at work.

The following is a brief classification and explanation of those areas for me:

Personal Automation - There are a number of services and products that automate tasks and make my life easier.  They range from online services like, to mobile applications like Tasker for Android, to actual hardware devices like Eyefi SD cards and X.10 devices.  Some of these are extremely powerful and I think that there will be an increase in new developments in this area as connectivity becomes more pervasive and computing becomes ubiquitous in devices below the traditional computing platforms.

Quantified Self - Not really sure how to describe this category other than to pay homage to the website that hits the crux of this category.  I have been using Nike+ since July of 2009.  I love this service and even though I am not a fan of Nike shoes it has converted me into a repeat buyer.  Other items like scales from Withings, hear rate monitors with web integration and devices like Fitbit are all at the front end of a wave of personal measurement for health and exercise related activities.  As a power user I see a lot of opportunity in this category.

Smart Parsing - The proliferation of developer platforms and API access has created amazing opportunities for people to integrate on top of existing data-sets and social graph information.  While gaming is huge, I am very interested in what I would refer to as "smart parsing".  Examples of this  are products like Tripit, which integrate Linkedin with an awesome tool that ingests information from a variety of sources, or Expensify that takes credit card data and integrates receipt gathering from smartphones or Instapaper which takes articles and cleans them for reading on devices like tablets.  I think that there is an infinite amount of opportunity for people to create exciting and interesting derivatives that results from the free flow of data between applications and that the critical piece is how you use parsing to create a good end user experience.

Post PC devices - You could say tablets but I think that is a part of it.  I use my Ipad every day.  I also use a smartphone every day.  I use an Ipod touch most days.  As we move to using these devices more frequently, or also start using things like Chrome netbooks, there are a number of problems that need to be addressed that are created by theses devices.  A big chunk of it falls into the "cloud" bucket, and I think that there is a lot to be done there, but there are also a lot of things that need to be dealt with around user experience and UI.  Computing beyond the desktop is a huge opportunity.

Productivity - There are so many awesome services that I use every day that make me more productive.  I use almost all of the Omni Applications products daily.  People on my teams have used 37 signals products at the last three companies I have been at.  I use Pogoplug, Dropbox and Evernote almost every day.  As we increase the amount of information we consume and increase the various ways we consume it, relying on productivity tools to manage the flow is going to become more critical for more people and that seems like a big opportunity to me.

There are several other areas that are of interest to me, but I think that they are a bit more nebulous to me in terms of how I define them so I am going to skip writing something long about them them for now but will share what I think they are.

Sports and technology - As a fantasy sports addict there are a number of tools that make my life easier and yet them still generally suck.  Lots of upside there.  Also, with kids in sports there are some amazing tools like Hudl that allow us to go through gam film with my son that re really cool but really rudimentary at this point.

Identity and Privacy - This is huge, very difficult, and  one of the biggest challenges the tech community faces.  It is also still early days and one could write on this forever.  It certainly is something I think about all the time but can't say that there are a lot of awesome services or products I am happy with right now.

Startup of 1 - This is really a mix of a lot of the things in the other categories but bottom line a person with a great idea has so many tools at their disposal that it is become increasingly easy to literally be a 1 man (or woman) show.  Probably worth a post at some time, but not in this series.

Ok, so that is a start.  Excited to start blogging again and can't wait to get going on the five areas outlined above.  Stay tuned.

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