Posts Tagged ‘technology’

It beckons.

January 20, 2009

The most powerful symbol in my life:




The (1) calls seductively from the taskbar.  Such promise.  Such mystery. It must be revealed. Without hesitation.  Stop what you are doing immediately. Find out what lies behind the  (1)?

(How does one kick a gmail addiction?)


Google: Please index my life

November 1, 2008

One the greatest source of unrecorded, unorganized yet useful sets of information is the movements and activites in one’s life. 

  • Where were you on the night of March 23rd at 7PM?
  • Which bars have you been to in the area?
  • How much time do you spend in my apartment per week?

That data dies when you forget it.

I now know I emailed my college dean  4 times in April 2006, withdrew $60 from my checking account 10/12/2005, searched for “MTA map” on Google last Tuesday.    

Just like Microsoft indexes my mail, BOFA indexes my bank account and Google indexes my searches, I want someone to index my life.  This should be possible with a gps-enabled smartphone.

Does anyone know any efforts in this space? There’s Brightkite — the best of a underutilzied crop of geo-aware social networking iPhone apps. But those are too focused on socialization. I want to know more about myself, what I do, when I do it. I want a life dashboard. I want my personal history to be searchable.

If Google isn’t 2 years down this road already, there’s a big opportunity out there.

Chicken please

August 10, 2008

My liberal Boston high school used to hold an annual Oxfam “hunger banquet” to raise money and awareness for world hunger. Everyone in the school would draw a ticket to determine which meal they got:

  1. 15% get a normal cafeteria meal
  2. 35% get rice with a bit of gravy or beans
  3. 50% get a small portion of rice

Perhaps it’s time for Oxfam to change the game to reflect a changing world. Today’s middle class constitutes 30% of the world population, and that figure will rise to 52% by 2020 (see FP article). The growth will come in large part from developing countries (China, India).

This is great news for poor people, but also means increases in commodity prices (fixed supply on earth, rising demand). In addition, I can think of several big-picture economic implications:

  1. American hegemony will slowly recede as populations in other countries have increased access to education and military resources
  2. The new economic winners will no longer be those who use technology developed in rich nations to exploit natural resources or labor in poor nations (as during colonization, oil exploration, banana plantations, etc)
  3. The new economic winners will invent or apply technologies allowing fixed natural resources to meet growing consumer demand or otherwise increasing efficiency in peoples’ lives

The last of these suggests we should pay more attention to the Hand’s tech expert (here here here).

Hostage Valuation: Gmail’s worth $10 billion

August 3, 2008

Forget your DCF. I want to propose a new way to value internet properties: The Hostage Valuation.

Is Facebook worth $15 billion or $3 billion. Who knows? But here’s a decent way to test that. (Other thoughts from Sam here)

Suppose Facebook decides to holds its user’s content hostage and demand a ransom. “Pay me X dollars or you can never use the service again and we’ll delete your account.” How much would you pay? Most wouldn’t cough up a single cent. But some would. And a few would cough up quite a bit.

Google, of course, would never do this because it has a brand to protect with a range of products. But just for fun, let’s do a back-of-the-envelope Hostage Valuation for Gmail.

Number of users: ~100 million.
Number of active users: Let’s call it 50 million.

Let’s try to figure out if held hostage how much ransom each of those 50 million users would pay for continued access to their inboxes/outboxes.

Starting with me: Certainly above $1000, but probably less than $10,000. As a certified email addict, would guess that I’m in the top 5% in propensity to pay, but probably not the top 0.5%. Based off of that datapoint I propose the following assumptions (open for debate):

Percentiles 0 – 75% : Flick off Google and don’t pay anything
Percentiles 75 – 95%: Willing to cough up $100
Percentiles 95 – 99%: Willing to pay $2000
Top 1%: Willing to pay $10,000 on average (probably a few rich, email-holics willing to pay $1 million raising that average)

That yields an Hostage Valuation of Gmail of $10 billion. Sound reasonable?

Couple notes:
1) Assumes that Google is able to price discriminate well. My guess is they could. Base it off usage stats and demographic estimation from data mining.
2) Notice how the top 1% of users is worth as much as the other 99%. That’s the Long Tail.
3) Any ideas under what conditions the hostage valuation is greater than or less than a standard valuation?

My new hobby horse: GPS

June 24, 2008

As previously expressed here and here and here, I think prevalent mobile GPS technology is a total game changer and holds great promise to improve our offline lives.

Two more applications for the technology:

1) Time is money. And if there’s one place we waste a lot of time, it’s overbudgeting for car trips to account for traffic. If you MUST be somewhere at X time, you plan for the worst and leave a large cushion. Chances are you arrive early. GPS will largely eliminate the friction of time budgeting. It knows fairly precisely how long it takes to get from A to B because others are always driving all along the route you will take. It can ascertain current traffic conditions with unprecedented resolution by piecing together individual car speeds along the route in real time.

2) This is Oskar‘s idea: Ever wonder physically how close you’ve been to a certain celebrity in your lifetime? Me neither. But everyone who reads People Magazine has. And they’d love a GPS system that could tell them. (NB .. fairly certain I was once within 37 feet of Steve Buscemi. May 19th 2003)

Facebook vs. Gmail (advantage Gmail)

June 21, 2008

Web businesses are like tennis stars. Completely dominant for a few years and irrelevant quicker than you can say “AOL/Compuserve/Altavista/Napster/Yahoo/DoubleClick/Friendster/Hotmail.”

You can count on your two hands the number of web businesses that have remained market leaders in their space for more than 5 years. Try comparing that to any other industry.

People tend to think Facebook could be the next internet mainstay for three reasons:

  1. It understands the “social graph”
  2. It has incredible personal information about their users
  3. Switching costs are high (lots of blood/sweat into building your profile)

I think this all is true. But I don’t think Facebook is unique here. Gmail‘s got them beat on all three counts.

On the social graph (1): Facebook has your hundreds of “friends.” Gmail has your thousands of email contacts. Any measure of the strength of a social connection is skewed by Facebook usage patterns  (e.g. your real friends never write “Happy Birthday” on your wall. Facebook power users do). On the other hand, your friends do email you in rough proportion to the strength of your relationship. The folks that show up on my gChat sidebar are a pretty damn good measure of who is most important in my life at any given time.

On personal information (2): Facebook profile data is nice because it is standardized, but contains far less personal information than what’s locked inside my gmail account. The shear volume of information there is incredible and just a smart algorithm away from being a huge strategic asset.

On Switching Costs (3): Switching costs for leaving Facebook for another service do exist. Building profiles is annoying. So is porting pictures. The data portability movement is going to snipe away at Facebook switching costs soon enough and we are already seeing it open up more. Gmail owns me. And even if a moderately better service existed, I would not switch. My inbox and outbox are the two most important pieces of property in my life. Unfortunately I don’t own them. Google does and therefore has me captive.

Gmail’s got the staying power and is going to be around for a while. Facebook may or it may not. Time will tell.

Wish list: The second coming

May 19, 2008

This stuff is gold, Jerry, gold. I claim 5% equity and a full set of schwag produced by any resulting ventures.

Phil’s wishlist part 2 (see here for part 1)

1) A computer screen that doesn’t kill the eyes, tire the brain and suck out the soul. Would pay approximately double price for a laptop with a screen like the Kindle. LCDs are miserable.

2) Image organization software (e.g Picasa) that intelligently tagged your pictures based on cues. You would start tagging some photos manually and the software would use image recognition to automatically tag your other photos when it “recognized” someone — better yet it would search the internet for other pictures of those people and add them to an alternate photo library. (see here for an egregiously cool example of similar technology)

3) An internet password manager that actually succeeds in remembering your passwords.

4) Reciprocal couch surfing. If I know I’m taking a trip to say … Sri Lanka .. in 2 months, I post that on the website. Someone who is from Sri Lanka, but is visiting Santiago (my current home) between now and then would answer. I would put them up now. They would put me up in Sri Lanka in 2 months. Provides for a much better cultural exchange than a one-way couch surf.

5) A drug that postpones digestion. Good for when you get back from lunch and need to do something important but your brain is fighting your stomach for energy. Would be nice if you could pop a pill, and postpone digestion until later when your energy needs are not as urgent.

6) It’s time we solved the “when should I leave my house to meet Person X at location Y at time Z” coordination problem. There are two dimensions to this problem. First, you have to figure out how long it will take you to get to Location Y. Second, you need to account for how late / early the person you are meeting will be. (Side question: What do you do when you get to a bar before the person you are meeting? Wait outside or go inside and grab a drink?). The components to the solution are a combination of Hopstop/Mapquest and GPS. Hopstop/Mapquest calculates that Person A needs to leave before Person B and both are alerted to this fact. When Person A actually leaves, the GPS tracks their progress and sends a message to Person B at the exact moment he/she should leave. They arrive at more or less the same time barring any unexpected delays. Best part is that everyone could get aggregated statistics on how late/early they are. Prominent lateness offenders would be alerted, shamed and lashed publicly for wasting our time.

Another thought, GPS tracking (with permission — like in the above example) remains a mostly underutilized piece of commonly available technology. Total game-changer in my opinion, and much more so than with driving directions.