A TED responsibility

by Robert Scoble on February 8, 2010

Chris Anderson of TED

The TED conference has given me a huge responsibility. They’ve handed me one of a small handful of press badges (as I understand it fewer than 10 are handed out every year). Regular tickets are $6,000 each and the conference was sold out more than a year ago (next year’s TED is already sold out).

They do put a major restraint on the press covering the event: no filming, or recording of sessions. Another restraint? No computers in the main session unless you want to sit in the back row. OK, I can live with that. So I doubt you’ll see a view of TED like I got of Chris Anderson, TED’s curator, in photo above, while he spoke at LeWeb.

But, really, this isn’t an event that generates news (except when last year Bill Gates released a bunch of mosquitos). If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk you’ll know that this isn’t about news, but is about expanding your mind. Coming up with new ideas. Hearing from people who are changing the world and being challenged to do the same with your own life.

In fact, they’ve asked me to not bring my computer or phones to the main sessions and just absorb the TED experience (Chris Anderson, the guy who runs TED, spoke at LeWeb a year ago and walked into the audience and told them all to close their laptops and listen, he really believes that we can’t learn if we’re multi-tasking and paying attention to email). As you might expect I’m thrilled at being asked to do this and I’m even going to report my time at the conference as vacation so that I won’t feel pressured to take care of Rackspace business while I’m there).

But when people invite you to a conference that costs everyone else $6,000 they are laying a huge responsibility to that person.

The question is, what’s the responsibility?

For me, I’m going to try to get as many interviews as I can outside of the main room. That’s one way of delivering value to you. But that’s just the baseline of the kind of responsibility that I’m feeling going into this. Can I step up my game this year? Can I improve the world my children are growing up in? That’s a little closer to the weight I feel through this gift.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, when I was first on musician Peter Himmelman’s show a couple of years ago I told him I try to live every day like a TED conference or a FOO Camp (O’Reilly’s famous conference where they invite a bunch of geeks to camp out over a weekend). I’ve been very fortunate to have had tons of great people in front of my camera lens (my off-the-cuff work is on YouTube, my pro work with Rocky Barbanica as cameraguy and producer is on building43).

That’s why I’m so excited and why I feel a ton of responsibility going into this event and I’ll try to bring you into the event as much as possible.

One thing, watch Chris Anderson’s Twitter account. He runs TED and is an inspiring figure in my life. He and his team has laid a heavy responsibility in front of me. How should I handle it? Here’s the schedule, who would you like me most to interview?

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Why if you miss Siri you’ll miss the future of the Web

by Robert Scoble on February 8, 2010

Siri is the most useful thing I’ve seen so far this year.

But after playing with it, getting an interview with its CEO (video here on building43) it’s even more important for you to pay attention to.

It is the best example of what the web will be.

Let’s go back.

Web 1994 was the “get me a domain and a page” era.
Web 2000 was the “make my page(s) interactive and put people on it” era.
Web 2010 is the “get rid of pages and glue APIs and people together” era.

Siri is the best example. First, it’s not a website. It’s an application you put on your phone (today iPhone, soon others like Android and Blackberry). Second, it isn’t a search engine, those are so 1998. It’s a system that assists you in your life.

Why is it so different?

Because on the back end they’ve stitched together a sizeable group of APIs from services like Opentable to Flightstats. With more coming soon.

Before it was common only for a couple of APIs to be joined together, here they have dozens. The system figures out which ones need to be used based on what you’re asking for.

That’s the other thing. You ask it to do stuff like “find me a pizza place near me” or “tell me the weather in Chicago this weekend.” With your voice or by typing commands.

Why is this really new and important? Don’t get confused by the awesome voice recognition engine that figures out your speech and what you want with pretty good accuracy. No, that’s not the really cool thing, although Microsoft and other companies have been working on natural language search for many years now and have been failing to come up with anything as useful as Siri.

No, the real secret sauce and huge impact on the future of the web is in the back end of this thing. A few months back the engineers at Siri gave me a secret look at how they stitch the APIs into the system. They’ve built a GUI that helps them hook up the APIs from, say, a new source like Foursquare, into the language recognition engine.

I just asked Siri “who checked into the Half Moon Bay Ritz?”

Now you and I know that we could look at Foursquare to find that answer, but Siri didn’t know the answer and brought me results from Bing. Very unsatisfying.

But the team now could hook up Foursquare’s APIs and make this question answerable.

Siri has developed a new programming language and GUI for the API web. This is huge, although it’s too bad that it’s so early and so hidden. We can’t help Siri’s developers out (if we could, maybe we could add Foursquare’s APIs tonight) and we can’t think of ways to make systems like Foursquare that would have APIs better designed to talk with a system like Siri’s.

I hope everyone takes a look at the video, it really shows the magic of this system, which is getting a lot of great reviews around the web. Most of the bloggers I’ve seen are slobbering over it, deservedly so.

This is the future of the web. How can we get there faster?

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I’ve now heard from three separate Google employees that Google will release a news feed that will compete with Facebook and Twitter. I expect to see a demo at Google’s IO conference in April. For hints at what’s coming you MUST look at two foundation-level services:

1. Google Profiles. Google is asking you to voluntarily add all sorts of information about yourself. So far I’ve told it more than I’ve told Facebook or Twitter, here’s my Google Profile. Why? Because it’s available to all of you and this data gets added all sorts of places in the Google ecosystem. It shows up on searches for my name at the bottom of the page, for instance.

2. Google’s Social Circles Connections. This just turned on last week but most people in the industry have missed the importance of what’s here. First, now you can see that Google is crawling not just its own profile info, but the networks we’re building in Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, Flickr, LinkedIn, Last.fm, and other social networks. You can’t see it, but the list it’s showing me is yards long. If you’ve filled in your Google Profile info, like I have, it knows a TON about you. If you’ve followed me on Google Chat (I’m at scobleizer@gmail.com if you want to follow me) or Twitter or FriendFeed you’ll see my entry show up there.

What is next? Well, that Google Profile page is looking pretty lame, isn’t it? What if Google added a news feed? What if they made an even better rolodex than the ones available anywhere else? Remember what happened when I got the Google Nexus One phone? I entered my email address and all my contacts instantly appeared. Oh, yeah, you didn’t realize that Google was keeping all your contacts, did you?

You can see the battle being drawn right in front of you. This is why I believe FriendFeed decided to sell to Facebook. They knew this war was coming and they didn’t stand a chance against this epic decade-long battle that is just beginning between Google and Facebook.

But that’s just one front. What’s the other front?

Look at Techmeme right now. What’s the top story? One where Techcrunch is saying that Apple has another tablet coming. I love that everyone is giving Techcrunch heck for that, but I’ve heard these rumors too. But look further and you’ll find this article where Techcrunch is pointing to a Google site that has a first taste of Google Chrome OS-based Tablet PCs.

I’ve been hearing these rumors from friends in Asia who are working on a variety of machines for Google’s new OS. Both netbook-style machines, which Steve Jobs says are crappy, but also slates that compete head on with the iPad.

Google is arrogant enough to take on Apple and Facebook in the same year.

So, who will come out ahead in this war? Believe it or not, Apple and Facebook will actually get stronger during this fight.

Already look at the PR we’ve been hearing the past month. It’s been nothing but Apple and Google. Apple and Google. Apple and Google.

Where’s Microsoft? Where’s Nokia? Where’s RIM? Where’s Twitter? Where’s LinkedIn? These are the losers if the battle keeps being framed by Apple and Google and Google and Facebook.

But who else wins? Developers, developers, developers, developers. Why? Because I’m hearing rumors that Twitter is trying to charge developers for access to its full-firehose feed. How much? I can’t yet say because I haven’t confirmed the figures with Twitter but let’s just say that the figures I’m hearing are BIG. Six to eight figures big depending on the size of the company.

Now, what if Google turns on a microblogging/status message system like Facebook or Twitter have (already done on Google Chat, but I was thinking more like what Facebook looks like)? What happens if they also open up an application store (oh, already done on Android, or as they announced yesterday for business apps)? What happens if they give away access to these APIs for free instead of trying to charge developers tons of money?

Boom, boom, boom. Developers love having these kinds of platforms in competition to keep access up and pricing down.

How can Microsoft get noticed enough to be considered part of this war?

Steve Ballmer has to call in the Master Chief. You know, the guy in Halo. A new Halo is coming later this year (I saw a preview at CES and it’s pretty cool). I’m hearing rumblings that Microsoft will use its Xbox Live service to get into both battlefields later this year (Microsoft has moved many top executives and engineers over to a new team designed to compete more effectively with Apple’s iPhone). One by bringing out a Zune phone. If it has Xbox Live and an Xbox gaming platform on it, look out. That would be HUGE. The other one by opening up its Xbox Live service to be more like Facebook. Xbox Live already has a marketplace and already has a social network that’s very good and that most of us tech bloggers don’t pay enough attention to. One problem: I’m hearing from employees who work inside these teams that the political will to really develop a good Xbox-playing smartphone isn’t there. If that’s true, look for Microsoft to remain shut out of the battlefield and to remain a loser in the mobile space.

What can Nokia do?

I think the best shot Nokia has is its Maemo platform, but it alone isn’t enough. It needs more. I’d almost say that it needs to buy something like Twitter AND buy Palm. But both of those ideas are so ludicrous (or will be received that way inside Nokia) that they won’t happen. Look for Nokia to continue to sell lots of stuff to the rest of the world but be locked out of the most profitable markets.

Research in Motion?

First RIM has to realize it has a problem. The minute some Chinese company develops a great Android-based phone with a great keyboard they will start to see lots of people shift away. But for now, because RIM has the best keyboards in the business, they don’t need to really innovate too much. That said, I’m starting to hear rumors that they are working on a dramatically different OS to compete with iPhone/iPad so it’ll be interesting to watch their moves. I still see them as losers, though, because Apple and Google are clearly taking away mindshare at minimum.

Anyway, it’s clear that Google is the most arrogant player on the field. They feel they can actually carry out a war with both Apple and Facebook and they feel they can win.

Personally I’m cheering for Google. Why? Because between Apple, Facebook, and Google, Google is the most open, least controlling, and transparent company of the three.

Of course, tomorrow night I’m going to an event at Facebook where they are showing off some new developer-focused stuff for PHP developers, so it’ll be interesting to watch all three of these companies battle over developers and mindshare. It’s fun to be a tech blogger again!

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I’m giving away my Kindle

by Robert Scoble on January 31, 2010

I’m giving away my Kindle. Why?

1. I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and I use that to read books a lot more than I use my Kindle.
2. I will get Apple’s iPad in two months and while that’s a shiny new object I’m sure I’ll use that a lot more to read books than the Kindle, at least until my eyes get strained as some of my commenters were promising would happen.
3. I have a stack of paper books that PR folks have sent me, so for the next two months I am going to try to catch up on those.
4. Even if I find after all of this that I like the Kindle better, I want the larger screen version of the Kindle, so this would let me get that.

So, how am I going to give it away?

Leave a comment here about what you’d do with yours by the end of the day Tuesday (Pacific Time). Most creative answer gets the Kindle. It’s in new condition. I will bias towards those who will use it to help the world, or who can’t afford to keep up on the latest gadget train. Sorry, it won’t come with an Amazon account so you’ll need to buy your own books.

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Google +will+ save Flash, a developer who uses it says

by Robert Scoble on January 30, 2010

I just recorded a 45 minute conversation on my iPhone while we sat on the deck at the Half Moon Bay Ritz with Luke Kilpatrick about Flash, Silverlight, Palm Pre, and a few other topics, but mostly focusing on what will happen to Flash.

Luke is a developer who uses Flash in his work for Altus Corporation and he also runs a variety of user groups in San Francisco. He’s one of the few people I know who loves his Palm Pre and he is a Flash believer so I thought it would be good to get a counterpoint to my post earlier.

At one point we talk about Adobe’s Openscreen Project where Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, pledges support for Flash and the Openscreen Project.

If you crunch the 45-minutes down it comes down to Google +will+ save Flash because Adobe’s 10.1 is finally ready for mobile phones. Adobe is, next month, going to show off its new mobile strategy, at the Mobile World Congress, he told me.

Anyway, want a good counterpoint to my “Can Flash be saved?” post? Here it is.

A few problems, though:

1. We haven’t seen the new Flash implementation for mobile phones.
2. We don’t know how well Google will do in its fight for mindshare against Apple (and, so far, Google has been coming in #2).
3. Even if the implementation is freaking awesome and Google makes headway with it Apple will still have close to 100 million devices that won’t have Flash on them by the end of the year.
4. Developers care about getting paid and so far Apple’s platform is better at getting them paid than other platforms. Will this change this year? Unknown.
5. Even if Adobe does everything perfectly and so does Google, Flash still has a major black eye amongst many developers. Can Adobe talk developers into supporting Flash with all of the angst I’m seeing about it? Luke says yes, but I’m still not sure.

Another point of view worth reading is John Gruber’s Daring Fireball post about Flash. “Developers go where the users are,” he says. I’d add developers also go where there’s a fun platform to develop for and my other developer friends are slobbering over themselves to develop for the iPad.

Yesterday I talked with Rackspace’s mobile developer, Mike Mayo, who developed our iPhone app for Rackspace Cloud. You should hear what he says about the iPad (a longer video with him will be up on building43 next week). I recorded a short audio conversation with him too, which I’m embedding here.

What do you think, has your view of Flash’ future changed this past week? Why or why not?

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Can Flash be saved?

by Robert Scoble on January 30, 2010

UPDATE: for a good counterpoint to this blog, see my new post titled “Google +will+ save Flash.”

Let’s go back a few years to when Firefox was just coming on the scene. Remember that? I remember that it didn’t work with a ton of websites. Things like banks, ecommerce sites, and others. Why not? Because those sites were coded specifically for the dominant Internet Explorer back then.

Some people thought Firefox was going to fail because of these broken links. Just like Adobe is trying to say that Apple’s iPad is going to fail because of its own set of broken links.

But just a few years later and have you seen a site that doesn’t work on Firefox? I haven’t.

What happened? Firefox FORCED developers to get on board with the standards-based web.

The same thing is happening now, based on my talks with developers: they are not including Flash in their future web plans any longer.

This has Adobe freaked out. Big time.

So, can Adobe save Flash? No.

But Google can.

The thing is, does Google want to? Google has been positioning itself as a company that supports the open web. It doesn’t like opaque boxes that aren’t friendly to the web. Google has been putting a lot of support behind HTML 5, for instance, and just a couple of weeks ago added support for HTML 5 to YouTube, which takes away a big chunk of Adobe’s argument (I bet Hulu and other players will soon jump onto the HTML 5 bandwagon, or, at minimum, will support the iPad/iPhone video streaming technologies. Even Ustream.tv has an iPhone app now that works fine with streaming video).

Google is widely seen as the only company right now that is challenging Apple at all (and even then, Google’s Android is clearly #2 in the race and doesn’t look like it will be able to challenge iPhone/iPad this year). After playing a bunch of great games on the iPhone, I don’t agree with the claims that Flash is needed anymore. If Adobe is losing people like me and the developers that decide the future of the web, they are in big trouble.

Could Nokia help Adobe out? No. The web elite don’t have Nokia phones and don’t care about Nokia.

Could Microsoft help Adobe out? Well, unless the Xbox all of a sudden supported Flash in some major and cool way, I don’t see Microsoft support mattering at all to the Web elite. And Microsoft is pushing its own Flash copy, Silverlight, which NBC is using for the Winter Olympics and RedBull is using for its Stratos event (it is expecting five million to watch a guy skyjump from 120,000 feet for the world record).

Could RIM help Adobe out? No, because its customers can’t use the web browser so it won’t be able to convince developers or consumers that it is a web leader.

Is there some way for Adobe to convince Apple that Flash matters? No. Adobe had three years to do that and has failed. That said, Adobe has invited press to its headquarters in the next few weeks to see its new platform and my friends who are using it say it’s pretty nice. Uses very little memory and is friendly on batteries.

So, Adobe’s best hope is to get Android to support Flash and Adobe’s best hope is that developers ignore the iPad and ignore the iPhone, or, at least, build better experiences on the Android and Google Chrome platforms that include Flash.

Well, it has one other thing it could do: it could come out with a set of developer tools that lets you build apps for the iPhone and iPad but that also let you deploy even better features to Android and other platforms.

The thing is, I bet those broken links start disappearing by summertime, so Adobe’s window to keep Flash relevant is closing quickly.

How about you? Can Flash be saved?

Adobe better have a great story to tell at SXSWi, because that’s where a lot of the Web elite gather each year. That means Adobe has six weeks to get an answer together for why Flash is relevant.

Can it do it? Can Flash be saved?

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