Timeline Of A Frictionless Life

Today I came across a relatively new (month-old) feature in Facebook Messenger: you can hail an Uber from within the app. Both Facebook and Uber act as (and have aspirations to be) interesting “front door” or “gateway” apps. For instance, for more and more people Facebook is not a page on the World Wide Web: it is the Web. All browsing starts in Facebook. Similarly, Uber has aspirations to be the first thing people think of when they want to move themselves around in a place.

Both of these “front door” functions actually are about reducing hassle, or friction. It is a hassle to find links to visit. It is a hassle to get in a car, drive yourself to a place, and park. Facebook and Uber remove those hassles (or intend to).

This frictionless society has been building inexorably, and it is interesting to think about its timeline and to reflect at how different the world has become and is becoming.

In thinking about this timeline, it is possible to start as early as 1969 when Arpanet was created, or 1989 when AOL was launched, or 1991 when the first Web page was published (actually that link points to a replica).

But instead I am thinking about the efforts and effects of major companies. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a dystopic history or the description of a pathway to an easier lifestyle — or it could be both.

In any event, think about it:

  • Amazon (buying things) established 1994
  • craigslist (local want-ad stuff) established 1995
  • Wells Fargo Web banking established 1995
  • Peapod (groceries) established 1996
  • Google (searching) established 1998
  • PayPal (paying people) established 1998
  • Wikipedia (knowledge) established 2001
  • iTunes (digital music) invented 2001
  • Gmail (best email) launched 2004
  • Facebook (social community) established 2004
  • YouTube (video) established 2005
  • Google Maps (wayfinding) launched 2005
  • Twitter launched 2006
  • Apple TV launched 2006
  • Hulu (broadcast TV) established 2007
  • iPhone launched 2007
  • Spotify (even easier music) established 2008
  • Uber (transportation) established 2009

Just the above list does not do justice to the massive dislocation that a handful of these companies have created. Just think about how altogether possible it is to:

  • Buy everything you need through Amazon (groceries through local delivery service like Peapod)
  • Maintain connected to community, communicate, and learn about news through Facebook
  • Pay all bills through web banking
  • Listen to any music you want through Spotify
  • Watch any filmed entertainment (TV shows or movies) through Apple TV
  • Get around using Uber
  • Find people to do housework through craigslist and pay them through PayPal

Each of these services is attempting to create a total “front door” ecosystem, and they have to varying degrees created footholds among and between each other (Facebook + Uber for example).

What else is ripe to become more frictionless? Making objects (3d printing)? Learning (Lynda)? Remembering things (Evernote)?

Using Square: Another Step Toward A Cashless Lifestyle

The 'Square' Card Reader

Yesterday, after long delays, I finally got my Square card reader, so I thought I would put it through its paces.

What is Square? It’s a way of accepting payments from regular people using credit cards. You get this little card reader that just plugs into your smartphone.

It is dead simple. Let’s say you just sold your friend an old Ace of Base CD. They don’t have cash. You just insert the little card reader doohickey into your smartphone, punch in the sale price, and swipe his card. He signs and that’s it. You get your money (minus a small percentage) deposited into your bank account each week (up to about $1,000, beyond that they make other arrangements).

I like this service, though it might not be for everyone. I like it because it is one less reason to carry cash around, and the mechanics of making it work are pretty seamless. Plus, the equipment is as small as a single die.

Here’s a demo video of me paying myself, to show you how it works:

New Collaborative Governance Council Mandated By Law in MN

One of my very first clients when I started working independently (I hung out my own shingle back in November 2003) was a group called the Policy Consensus Initiative, along with its sister organization the National Policy Consensus Center. I will always be grateful to PCI’s founder Chris Carlson and NPCC’s director Greg Wolf for giving me that needed boost in the early days. My work with PCI-NPCC involved helping them develop a strategic plan along with some key language and taglines.

PCI-NPCC works to increase the adoption of collaborative governance (where office holders use their innate convening power to bring together all parties to craft solutions to hard problems, working across sector and across jurisdictions) at the state and local level. Getting everyone involved together to work toward a solution seems like common sense, but one interesting facet of this work is that many of the rules and structures in government make it very difficult to do this.

I was therefore excited to learn of a new bill passed in Minnesota that establishes a “Collaborative Governance Council,” that includes office holders as well as others, with the goal of reducing barriers to collaboration.

Here is the article from PCI-NPCC’s newsletter:

Rep. Marsha Swails (l.) and Rep. Carol McFarlane (r.) high five after completion of the bill establishing Collaborative Governance Council
Rep. Marsha Swails (l.) and Rep. Carol McFarlane (r.) high five after completion of the bill establishing Collaborative Governance Council

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law to create a Collaborative Governance Council that will increase collaboration between state and local government.

The law creates a 12-member council to develop recommendations to increase governmental collaboration by:

  • reviewing laws and rules that slow collaboration efforts;
  • using technology to connect entities and share information;
  • modernizing financial transactions and facilitating credit and debit card transactions, electronic funds, transfers and electronic data interchanges; and
  • creating model forms for joint power agreements.

The council will include the State Auditor and a member of the League of Minnesota Cities; Minnesota Association of Townships; Association of Minnesota Counties; Minnesota School Board Association; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 5; MN Chamber of Commerce; Education Minnesota; and Service Employees International Union.

The bill was a bi-partisan effort, co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Swails and Rep. Carol McFarlane.

Initially, Reps. Swails and McFarlane convened a work group to examine shared services among school districts in Minnesota. Swails, a high school teacher, described the work group as “an informal process that was more like a classroom than anything else.” McFarlane and Swails traveled across the state together, attending Education Service Cooperative meetings, and heard more stories about the challenges local governments encountered in attempts to share services among school districts or among other units of government, such as fire departments. From these discussions, McFarlane and Swails realized that the question underlying many of these conversations was “what are the obstacles that keep communities from sharing?”

Swails noted that while some groups were initially skeptical of what the workgroup would accomplish, “Carol and I kept asking them to come to meetings. Building trust was key to getting people to want to be part of a solution, and so we did what we could to break down formalities. Carol and I sat at the witness table facing the group in the galley and engaged them in lively discussions rather than a formal hearing process”

As the bill passed in the House, 108-22, Rep. Swails twittered, “True bi-partisan work brought this to reality. Most important bill of my two terms.”

State auditor Rebecca Otto, who will chair the Council, said, “”Local governments are already collaborating, but we want to identify other areas where they could collaborate in these tight times. If there are laws in the way of allowing that to happen, we will make recommendations to change current statute.”

The Council’s first meeting will take place by July 30th of this year.

20 Jobs Of The Future

My latest article in my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today:

20 Jobs Of The Future

Here comes the future by Flickr user Max Kiesler
"Here comes the future" by Flickr user Max Kiesler

As part of the UK’s effort to promote science and science literacy among its populace, the Fast Future consulting firm has developed a list of twenty “jobs of the future,” and released a report detailing their implications.

These are the jobs, according the the report, that “we could be doing” sometime between 2010 and 2030.

Like many futurist efforts, the list is part reasonable, part fanciful, and creates in the reader the sense of amused vertigo one gets from reading decades-old accounts of what 1994 will look like. We are still not driving in floating cars, and no one even in 2000 imagined what Facebook would do to us.

So the list ought to be taken with a grain of salt, though the authors of the study go to great lengths to argue for its validity. However, the list provides an interesting study of what people are thinking will matter and it is a useful exercise to think about what we might add to the list.

Here, from the report, are the twenty jobs of the future:

  1. Body part maker. Advances in science will make the creation of body parts possible, requiring body part makers, body part stores and body part repair shops.
  2. Nano-medic. Advances in nanotechnology offer the potential for a range of sub-atomic ‘nanoscale’ devices, inserts and procedures that could transform personal healthcare. A new range of nano-medicine specialists will be required to administer these treatments.
  3. ‘Pharmer’ of genetically engineered crops and livestock. New-age farmers could be raising crops and livestock that have been genetically engineered to improve yields and produce therapeutic proteins. Possibilities include a vaccine-carrying tomato and therapeutic milk from cows, sheep and goats.
  4. Old age wellness manager/consultant. Specialists will draw on a range of medical, pharmaceutical, prosthetic, psychiatric, natural and fitness solutions to help manage the various health and personal needs of the ageing population.
  5. Memory augmentation surgeon. Surgeons will add extra memory capacity to people who want to increase their memory capacity. They will also help those who have been over-exposed to information in the course of their life and simply can no longer take on any more information thus leading to sensory shutdown.
  6. ‘New science’ ethicist. As scientific advances accelerate in new and emerging fields such as cloning, proteomics and nanotechnology, a new breed of ethicist may be required, who understands a range of underlying scientific fields and helps society make consistent choices about what developments to allow. Much of science will not be a question of can we, but should we.
  7. Space pilots, tour guides and architects. With Virgin Galactic and others pioneering space tourism, space trained pilots and tour guides will be needed, as well as designers to enable the habitation of space and other planets. Current projects at SICSA (University of Houston) include a greenhouse on Mars, lunar outposts and space exploration vehicles.
  8. Vertical farmers. There is growing interest in the concept of city-based vertical farms, with hydroponically-fed food being grown in multi-storey buildings. These offer the potential to dramatically increase farm yield and reduce environmental degradation. The managers of such entities will require expertise in a range of scientific disciplines, as well as engineering and commerce.
  9. Climate change reversal specialist. As the threats and impacts of climate change increase, a new breed of engineer-scientists will be required to help reduce or reverse the effects of climate change on particular locations. They will need to apply multi-disciplinary solutions ranging from filling the oceans with iron filings, to erecting giant umbrellas that deflect the sun’s rays.
  10. Quarantine enforcer. If a deadly virus starts spreading rapidly, few countries, and few people, will be prepared. Nurses will be in short supply. Moreover, as mortality rates rise, and neighbourhoods are shut down, someone will have to guard the gates.
  11. Weather modification police. The act of seeding clouds to create rain is already happening in some parts of the world, and is altering weather patterns thousands of miles away. Weather modification police will need to control and monitor who is allowed to shoot rockets containing silver iodine into the air – a way to provoke rainfall from passing clouds.
  12. Virtual lawyer. As more and more of our daily life goes online, specialists will be required to resolve legal disputes which could involve citizens resident in different legal jurisdictions.
  13. Avatar manager / Devotees. Virtual teacher Avatars could be used to support or even replace teachers in the elementary classroom, for instance, as computer personas that serve as personal interactive guides. The Devotee is the human that makes sure that the Avatar and the student are properly matched and engaged, etc.
  14. Alternative vehicle developers. Designers and builders will create the next generation of vehicle transport using alternative materials and fuels. Could the dream of underwater and flying cars become a reality within the next two decades?
  15. Narrowcasters. As broadcasting media becomes increasingly personalised, roles will emerge for specialists working with content providers and advertisers to create content tailored to individual needs. While mass market customization solutions may be automated, premium rate narrowcasting could be performed by humans.
  16. Waste data handler. Specialists will provide a secure data disposal service for those who do not want to be tracked, electronically or otherwise.
  17. Virtual clutter organizer. Specialists will help us organise our electronic lives. Clutter management would include effective handling of email, ensuring orderly storage of data, management of electronic IDs and rationalizing the applications we use.
  18. Time broker / Time bank trader. Alternative currencies will evolve their own markets – for example time banking already exists.
  19. Social ‘networking’ worker. Social workers will help those in some way traumatised or marginalised by social networking.
  20. Personal branders. An extension of the role played by executive coaches giving advice on how to create a personal ‘brand’ using social and other media. What personality are you projecting via your blog, Twitter, etc? What personal values do you want to build into your image – and is your image consistent with your real life persona and your goals?

What about you? What job do you think should be on the list?

Review Of Livescribe Smart Pen: Good For Leaders And Professionals On The Go

My latest piece is posted at Public Square Today, my blog at Washington Times Communities:

Review Of Livescribe Smartpen

Livescribe Smartpen
Livescribe Smartpen

For Christmas this year, some family members fulfilled a long-standing desire I’d had and got me a Livescribe Smart Pen. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and I think this product is a potential game-changer. As a tool for capturing, manipulating, and sharing notes on the go, it just can’t be beat.

The Livescribe is basically a special pen that works on special paper. The paper has a pattern printed on the background, which to the naked eye looks like a slight shading. The pen has a sensor that uses the pattern to determine where you are writing.

The pen records your pen strokes and can also record audio, connecting what it hears with what you are writing. This then syncs to desktop software. You can export the resulting pages into PDF and other formats, and share them in other ways.

I think this can be of great use to folks who are public leaders or are in the public eye. Such leaders need to always be recording, documenting, and sharing what they do but do not have the luxury of hanging around the office in front of the computer all the time. This can make all that much, much more seamless and simple.

You can see more about the Livescribe here and learn more about the company here.

(Affiliate link. I only include such links to products I endorse or trust.)

Wikipedia And What To Do About Growth

My latest piece is posted at Public Square Today, my blog at Washington Times Communities:

Wikipedia And What To Do About Growth

Typing Contest by Flickr user topgold
"Typing Contest" by Flickr user topgold

According to the Wall Street Journal, at least for those who pay to subscribe, the number of volunteer contributors to the massive Wikipedia has plummeted. 49,000 editors dropped out in Q1 2009, compared to just one tenth that in Q1 2008. . . .

[But] Wikipedia is [still] the fifth most popular web site in the world. It gets something like 325 million visitors per month. In the last twelve months, the traffic has grown 20%. It’s not about to collapse.

But it is changing. It is a different animal than it was when it was founded in 2001. It used to be freewheeling, dependent on consensus. Now it is dependent on hierarchy and swift corrections.

It’s become an institution. It now has institutional concerns (perpetual survival, reputation) that it did not used to have.

Many public leaders who establish initiatives find themselves facing the same inflection point.

Continue reading to see what to keep in mind when faced with such things!

Navigating The New Push-Pull World

Newspaper by Flcikr user brad.rourke
"Newspaper" by Flcikr user brad.rourke

This morning, as I went outside to pick up the many newspapers to which I subscribe to home delivery (I’m old school that way), I saw an extra bundle in the middle of the driveway. It was a free print version of a new online newspaper, being helpfully delivered to my doorstep.

My immediate thoughts were very negative. More to recycle. More to pick up every morning. More to read.

But my main thought was: No one asked me if I want this, they just toss it my way for me to deal with. This is the anger that so many feel when confronted with intrusions in daily life, and why spam is so objectionable. No one asked me. The implicit statement by the organization doing the spamming is: “Our goals are more important than your convenience.”

In the commercial world, junk mail has long been despised for just this reason. But, as the imperative to communicate more effectively spreads throughout the nonprofit and public sectors, we get more and more such unwelcome messages.

I get emails that seem to be directly from the heads of small- and medium-sized community benefit organizations from which I had never heard before. I am suddenly on new lists. They all tell me to click here, or respond there, in order to unsubscribe, which is nice. But I don’t unsubscribe, as I sort-of know the people and don’t want to hurt feelings.

This has caused me to pay far, far less attention to my email inbox than I used to, because I cannot control what comes into it. That’s the “push” approach to social marketing.

Meanwhile, information streams over which I do have control, like Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds, have become my main source of information.

The Pull World

That is the new, “Pull World.” There is a new best practice being developed before our eyes when it comes to social marketing. As is often the case, the nonprofit or community benefit sector is a bit behind the curve. It seems like they are all suddenly discovering targeted email newsletters, just as their utility is flying out the window.

What works in the Pull World? Useful sharing. This is what can drive effective social marketing in a world where mindshare is moving from passive receptacles (reading my Inbox) to active engagement (who am I following, what feeds am I reading). When organizations share usefully with me, I go ahead and pass those messages on to my own network.

The Pull World requires discipline from any organization. It’s not easy to move from a Push mentality to a Pull mentality. It’s even harder when you factor in the organizational needs that must be met – even in the public benefit sector, organizations are not in business just to share and make people feel good, they need to survive and thrive. That means, in many cases, that their marketing messages must get out there.

It is a fine line to walk between letting people know what we are up to, and just plain vanilla PR that will be ignored. There’s no magic bullet, and different organizations are answering this question in different ways:

  • Some organizations designate a few people to be their public face and unleash them to share however they choose.
  • Some organizations try to create an engaging mix of equal parts organizational PR, sharing of others’ work, and just useful information regardless of source.
  • Some organizations try to create communities where users create and share material that has to do with the organization.

Since there is not a consensus set of best practices yet, many organizations are trying all of these and more tactics all at once. For someone looking for The Answer, it may be dispiriting to learn that there isn’t one. But that’s just how things go at the beginning of adoption curves.

For now, most of these strategies are playing out in social media, but as the novelty of Twitter and Facebook wears off and they become unremarkable platforms, I believe these overall approaches may migrate across platforms.

The Push-Pull World

Eventually we may get to a Push-Pull world, where organizations will put out messages for people to pull down on the various sharing platforms, and will also have a set of close-in friends who have given permission to be pushed to. A great deal of an organization’s attention will be directed toward moving people from the Pull category to the Push category.

Thinking about that helpful newspaper in my driveway, it’s an attempt to create a Push relationship. But because it starts with Push, it is inherently intrusive. It’s essentially a strategy that goes like this: “We will push something into your life (a newspaper) and if you don’t complain we will keep pushing it. Our revenue model (display advertising) depends in part on the numbers of such packages we are pushing. We hope that eventually you will act in some way on something that is contained in one of our pushed messages, which will allow us to point to impact as well as reach.”

I wonder if strategies like that one will survive. They’re expensive, both in wasted material (newsprint), wasted energy, and wasted goodwill. On the other hand, maybe enough people respond, and they push enough numbers, to make it worthwhile.

But I think things are changing and someday soon we will chuckle at some of what we take for granted nowadays. The same way we chuckle at press releases sent by postal mail.

When will we get there? I don’t know. What will that look like? I don’t know that either. Some of today’s experiments will pan out, others won’t.

Now, I have one last admission to make. I do have an email list to which I send every week or two. I think that everyone on it wants to be there. But just in case, please let me know if you ever get an email you don’t want from me. It won’t hurt my feelings.

Meantime, I am going to spend a little more time on my sharing usefully.