Is Google Glass Really Just Google Ad Conditioning?

I read Joe Schoech’s rant about Google Glass today. It prompted me to think about Google as an advertising company once again.  It occurred to me that Google products, the ads are often placed in the upper right corner of the page.  With Google Glass, the content is always in the upper right corner of your field of vision.  But what if the the screen widens with a later version of Google Glass and the ads stay where your eyes have been trained to look.  This would be a user experience coup for Google. Think Pavlov’s Dog.  Hmm…

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Facebook Owns Oculus Rift Which Reminds Us of Summer 2007

In the Summer of 2007 Facebook launches the Facebook open developer platform and is called the “Anti-MySpace“.  Facebook’s move is like a Tsunami in the consumer Internet community.  Apple follows with the App Store and the iPhone which ramps up over the course of a few years and completely disrupts the mobile phone space.

Today, Facebook announces their acquisition of the Oculus Rift, maker of the hot crowd-funded VR headset that is all the rage in the gaming community right now.  This move follows Google Glass, but in a move similar to their Summer 2007 move Facebook is acquiring a platform that is hot with younger audiences while Google Glass’s main audience trends much older.

Could this be another Tsunami coming from Facebook? If you look to Facebook DC Tech group for chatter about this, it is virtually radio silence.  However, if you look to the West Coast consumer Internet thought leaders on Twitter tonight everyone is talking and excited.  I think this is going to be a lot bigger than people realize.

One key assumption about this is that with Facebook’s ownership of the leading VR technology platform the rules change.  This potentially changes how we interact with everything.  It also potentially changes how developers get their content into VR and how this content is monetized.  Business Content, Photos, Games, you name it all changes.  Sure, it will take a while for the technology to mature and for the price point to come down, but there will be a rush to embrace whatever Facebook has planned.  Have no doubt, Facebook already has big plans and they are probably already in motion.

So how is this different from Glass? Google Glass is going to be big if you want to watch Netflix on an airplane or if you want information to supplement what you are doing, hence their initiatives with Play.  But VR is completely immersive.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.



SXSWi 2014 Startups That Stood Out

@TheEyeTribe from Copenhagen lets you play video games with your eyes instead of controllers.  You blink to fire on what your eyes are focused on.  Their hardware device which looks strikingly similar to the Wii Sensor strip does the work. They have raised $1.8 Million so far according to a quick check of the web and were cool guys that we had beers with at the Captial Factory lounge between events.  One of the perks to being an @1776 member at SXSWi 2014 was that you got to hang out in the lounge.

@MapulseAPP by Locus Social, Inc. from DC’s 1776 is a startup that ended up winning a daily pitch competition hosted by @VentureBeat and placing third in the Best Mobile Category.  We are still not sure if the app won or lost the second category because there were some major bugs in the voting software.  A company without a pitch video won second in a video pitch contest and a company with 32 Twitter followers managed to pull 104,728 votes involving Twitter.  The app lets you visually explore trends, tweeters, and tweets in real time.

While there were others there, these were the two most interesting that I had a chance to interact with.  I generally avoided pitch events so I missed a lot of startups who were probably there with incredibly interesting ideas.  Next time…

Assembling A Panel on Device Prototyping

I am currently working on putting together a panel group on the subject of device prototyping here in Washington, DC.  It turns out that this is going to be a bit harder than initially anticipated.  It is not that that I could not find someone to be on a panel.  The challenge lies in finding people who are working on early prototypes that are hardware + software (embedded or otherwise).  Some examples of the types of things that I am looking for include: a product like Nest or a custom computer (not just the guts, but a new case design that is innovative), a new mobile device sensor that makes existing mobile devices capable of something new (ex: microscope or chemical sensor).  If you know someone with an interesting device they prototyped or maybe you are working on something then let’s talk.  Something tells me that a year from now this is not going to be so challenging.

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Don’t Kill the Messenger (This Includes Recruiters)

I have spent nine years building software engineering teams and companies.  You see a lot in that amount of time. You see macro and micro trends, earnings trends, promotions, companies that get funded and that just plain blow up (for good and bad reasons).  I would like to talk about a trend that I have noticed blowing up in a bad way over the last couple of years.  It is not a new trend, but it is reaching a new level and becoming a problem.

Remember the expression: “Don’t kill the messenger?”

I have noticed an increasing level of hatred directed toward corporate messengers.  It used to be directed at telemarketers, but today it is directed toward recruiters.

Before you assume anything about where I am going with this — don’t think for a second that I am not saying that there are not recruiters or recruiting operations out there that are as bad or worse than telemarketing agencies – I totally agree that there are.  Bad is bad, no matter what.  But that isn’t all recruiters any more than it is all founders, developers, designers, sales reps, testers, etc.

Recruiters are corporate messengers.  If you don’t like them then you need to stop hating on them all and just start making sure that you filter out the bad ones because they are essential to companies.  You want to focus on your job and so does your boss.  Some companies want you to recruit, to attend events and recruit, etc. but this is not something you or they can drop everything and do full time.

Companies have to hire bad recruiters and bad agencies for bad agencies to stay in business.  If you get someone that is particularly bad, tell your company not to use that agency or not to allow that agency to have that recruiter work on your job.

Another option is this:
If you would spend 15 minutes explaining to this person who is just a kid who recently graduated from college what you would prefer then maybe they would prove to be someone who could help you down the road when you need their help.  Entry level developers with CS degrees have the same problem: they did something with PHP so they can relate to it, but when they start doing things with Ruby on Rails or iOS they assume things are the same. The difference is that code reviews are between developers (peers or leads, etc.) vs. conversations and communications being between you and someone who will probably not know any better unless you give them feedback. Sure, some are just morons but the same applies to developers and other people within an organization.

Believe me, I have had a guy tell me to “F*CK OFF!!!!” only to come back to me months later asking me for help.

Developers are the worst about this. I think it is something about how the job requires people to be in tunnel vision all day nearly every day.  It wears out the emotional part of us that makes us empathize with others.  Sites like Hacker News often fuel the ego fire and make the problem worse.  A few days back there was an incident involving another hard wired issue that is similar in that it involved an us vs. them mentality with gender instead of recruiter as the key variable. Maybe the software industry is overdue for some sensitivity training or maybe we all just need to grow thicker skin.

I really hope that the software industry can grow up and make working in it more pleasant.  That said, it takes individual efforts to get there.  You never know when you are going to run off the key person that will help your startup or team win big someday.

Evolution of A Talent Ecosystem in DC

I have spent a great amount of time examining talent ecosystems around the US, but especially here in Washington, DC.  Today I learned that the DC Government is trying to encourage kids to plan their career around the Microsoft Technology stack and to encourage teachers to become evangelists along the way.

Here is a copy of the handout from the DC Government (note: this was given to me by someone from DC Government, not from Microsoft):MSCertPath

The left side of this brochure says: “Start by choosing your certification and career path” which concerns me a lot.  Kids don’t know that nearly all startups in Washington, DC are not using Microsoft’s C#.NET or SQL Server.  They don’t know that people at large companies predominantly use Java or that that Ruby on Rails and Python and PHP (with MySQL or PostGres) are used far more frequently than C#.NET.

I think it is great that kids are exposed to technology at an early age, but I really think it is a bad idea to start programming kids to be looking down a path through a lens that is being sponsored by a company.

This may be of absolutely not consequence in the grand scheme of things.  People who go on to college learn to program in Java or other languages, right (especially CS Majors)?  That may be true, but why waste their time? Why send them down the wrong path?

Here is another consideration.  Startups use MySQL because it is good, but also because it is open source and free.  SQL Server isn’t. Neither is Microsoft’s Visual Studio or Windows.  Startups prefer saving money so maybe that is a factor that the government should consider too.  But more importantly, a ton of families in DC are cash strapped.  If they are using Linux and open source technologies they could keep using their computers longer and for less money.  They could save their money for a college or community college education.

I guess this is basically just me expressing a bit of outrage that the DC Government would be so one sided.  I think it is a good thing for kids to learn to work with Excel and Word because they are the mainstream tools used in most businesses, but there are also great open source options like Open Office that people should be aware of.  Innovation comes from people knowing that they can take more than one path and being empowered to pursue those different paths.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea? Do you think there is room balance?  Are there other things going on that I am just not aware of here?  Debate on this is welcome too – jump right in in the comments. I learned to program in Basic on an Atari, then I learned Turbo Pascal in high school, then Java and VB6 in college along with PHP, and most recently Ruby on Rails.  It is great to encourage people to become life long learners so I’m most interested in balancing and accurate information being passed down.  We all win if kids enter the workforce with a realistic outlook.

The Startup Culture Dance In Goverment

For some quick background before getting right to it, I am a former Hill staffer and former founder of a startup designed to make government better for people.  My startup in the government category was a long time ago.  Every once in a while you get a new and interesting approach to how things work in government and it is either a blip on the radar or it has a lasting impact.

One trend that has often been discussed, but that has failed to really have an impact is the startup seeking to disrupt government.  You may recall, a movie indirectly taking on this subject.  There are plenty of founders who seek to “disrupt” things, but most of them lose interest as soon as things get hard, beyond the constraints of their wallet, or worth selling the company for.  It isn’t that they can’t, it is just that that change is less important than money or PR in most cases.

Let’s take a look at two trends that have had an impact:

The first is Teach For America.  This is an organization that I have a ton of respect for in theory. I don’t know a ton of things about how they work, but I do know they recruit people to teach who probably would not otherwise have done so.  They also do an amazing job of preparing new teachers and backing them up with a network and other resources.  This organization is not a tech startup, but it has a startup culture that has been actively disrupting education.  There have also been ripples beyond active Teach for America people created by quite a few alumni who have left and started startups that leverage both TFA alum experience and the TFA network.

The second example is the current administration’s (Obama) Presidential Innovation Fellows program.  This program has injected people from the startup and interactive agency community as well as people from the civic hacking for government space.  It is also worth pointing out that Jennifer Pahlka, the US Deputy CTO, who implemented and leads the program, previously served as the Co-Chair and General Manager for TechWeb (part of UMB PLC, a company with a market capitalization of $2.5 Billion), a partner to O’Reilly Media the organizer of a vast array of books, media and events with a large government subscription and buyer base.  A lot of us think that what we encounter startups in isolation, but people like Jennifer and Tim O’Reilly don’t.  They are selling to all of us in our respective buckets.  I’m pointing this out just to round out the picture.  So the Presidential Innovation Fellows program has been running for a couple of years now.  Whether it has a long lasting impact on government like TFA has had on schools is still unclear, but it is resulting in a few interesting developments.  One case in point is the GSA’s new organization: 18F (18th & F are the cross-streets of the office).  This new office, staffed by Presidential Innovation and potentially others (the list of staff is on the website, but bios are not) and is seeking to provide Federal agencies with “an in-house digital delivery team” to help improve “interaction between government and the businesses it serves.”  This could be a move to institutionalize the fellows program after Obama leaves office.

I see this as a step in the right direction and hope that the initiative succeeds.  There are a lot of government contractors and agencies that build to some standards that are rather unpleasant and an affront to my consumer and business focused self as far as user experience is concerned.

Like any startup, the people are key.  For programs like this to survive over time you really have to change the way things work.  Startup people are hand picked and incentivized.  I can’t imagine the government employee for life lining up so well with this.  Perhaps this is something that can be worked out, but I suspect that this will require more private sector participation.  For that to work we also need to see the private sector government contractor process to change dramatically.  When contracts get handed out to 8a’s and Alaska Native Corporations because they are the priority vendor, but not even remotely close to being the best user experience firm or even the best web agency or software product firm then you have a much larger issue.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this.  Please share them in the comments.